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Commander Jason Horn

Commander if the Call of Victory, Cruiser Class Warship

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a character in “Mass Effect: On the Edge”, as played by Quakernuts

Personality

I think fucked up matches his personality just fine. Mix in a little over-bravado, some gung-ho, and sprinkle on some psychotic fearlessness and you get the magnificent vision that is...Jason...HORN!

History

Age: 32

A man who enjoys living life on the edge. A traumatic event left Jason Horn with an extreme case of PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which locks the part of his brain that feels fear while enhancing other emotions such as anger or sadness. He's a shocktrooper, a leader, and sometimes a problem depending on the situation. He has a wicked sense of humour that borders on sexist, chauvinistic, supremist, and sometimes racist all at once. However, if you can get by these little personality traits, he is a straight up man that would do anything to make sure the mission succeeds and/or that his people make it out alive.

He commands the most heavily armed vessel in all of Omni Cell, a Cruiser bearing the name of the Call of Victory. After the destruction of the SIC Titan, it was recalled out of it's cell and reassigned to the remaining crew of the Titan. From here, they are able to bring the most, if somewhat public, damage to the Collectors.

Horn won't pass up that chance, and niether will his crew.

So begins...

Commander Jason Horn's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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Kelly watched as the marines managed to rally behind one another as debris rained from the sky, creating new cover from the machine gun emplacements the traitors and mercenaries had set up. The marines, renewed through this lucky chance and motivated by a marine who's name Kelly was unable to look at while having rounds whirl past her head, were attacking with a renewed vigour that made her almost proud to watch and embarrassed at the same time. She should have been the one giving that speech, been up here leading by example. Instead she was in the midst, easily mistaken for another marine. She had to get up, she had to do something. She had to remind not the marines, but herself as to why she had a command position in the first place. With the grip on her avenger tightening ever so slightly, she rounded the corner with the next batch of marines to move forward. As she rushed into the engagement, one simple fundamental fact started poking out in her mind.

She was horrible in hand to hand combat.

Biotics. Those would have to do. If she sat back while the rest of the group went in and fought, she would lose so much respect that she doubted she could gain it back. As the group of marines finally crashed into the fray, Kelly's mind simply went into automatic as a blue glow started to cover the entirety of her body. The first mercenary she ran into, the man looked her dead in the eyes before starting to raise his pistol. Kelly sent her hand forward, releasing a wave of pure biotic energy that caught a couple more eclipse mercs off guard and sent them all flying as a result. She put her hands on her rifle, and turned towards the next nearest one and fired her avenger into the man's back. Another flip around, and she emptied the rest of her clip into another. She quickly made to reload when a knife swiped up in front of her face, knocking the heat sink from her hand and nearly forcing her to the ground. She looked over to see an asari summoning up her own biotic skills to use in the field, and doubt clouded Kelly's mind as she made to react in the same moment. They both released at the same time, creating a double effect as the two 'pushes' caused one massive outward explosion of biotic energy, sending them and a few others flying. Kelly rolled a few more feet before finally coming to a stop, her shields were down to half strength, but they would be back up to normal in no time. Kelly did a quick check of herself to make sure nothing was broken or fractured, and she was up again, this time managing to get a heat sink into her avenger to reload it.

She and the other marines were doing well, for the most part. They weren't really making any ground, but nor were they really giving any. The two sides were almost at a complete stalemate as a group of eclipse mercenaries would manage to make a hole in the Cerberus marines only to be slaughtered further in and vice versa. Kelly mainly kept just out of arms reach of the mercenaries, firing avenger rounds and assisting with biotics when she could. It was hard, the mass of bodies preventing her from unleashing her own full biotic potential without hurting her own marines. She restricted herself to biotic pushes and lifts, which were slowly but surely draining her of stamina. After a few minutes of fighting, her breaths were coming in gasps as she forced herself to regain some stamina. She hadn't used her biotics this heavily since the Citadel battle, well over a year ago.

A few marines in front of Kelly had managed to breach a hole in the defensive line, and were just about to jump into a trench when the very luck that had allowed them to get this far backfired on them. Pieces of debris landed in front, behind, and on top of them as a fresh batch of space junk littered the battlefield. Kelly spared a glance upwards, seeing the GUARDIAN system firing down the more dangerous pieces but noticing the sheer amount of debris coming from the sky. With the numbers she was seeing, she doubted it could be any less than a whole ship that had just been critically wounded. She seriously hoped it was not their ship. She looked around, noticing that the falling ship pieces were more condensed, impacting closer and closer to the marines. Some were even managing to fall on mercenary and marine alike.

Kelly broke from her trance like state, and made to move forward once more. Debris impacted beside her, throwing her off balance as a stray shot ploughed into her back, sending her to the ground. She lost her grip on her avenger rifle as it flew out of her hands a few feet away from where she was now laying. She quickly wiped the grime from her visor, and made to crawl towards her weapon when a pulse came over her, picking her up and throwing her several yards back from the defensive line. She rolled, once more, to a stop on the ground and stayed there for a moment. The impact had winded her, but she had enough sense left to get a look at what had hit her. The asari, the one that she had deadlocked with her biotics before, was marching towards her with a purpose. Maybe the asari knew who she was, or maybe she simply didn't like people trying to beat her at what she did best. Either way, she was glowing with biotic energy as she stretched our her hand and Kelly felt herself lifted into the air. She struggled and reached for her pistol only to be prevented from doing so by being slammed into the ground. In the split second that she wasn't at the whim of the asari biotic, she stretched out her own hand and gave a push.

Unfortunately, the asari had been expecting that, and managed to sidestep and draw her own pistol. Kelly looked up, and tried to roll out of the way but was only marginally successful as the round pierced her shields and crashed through her visor sideways. It broke the shielding around her face, the broken visor glass creating gashes on her features and revealing the true light and nature on Ontarom as she was no longer hindered by a HUD. Blood clouded her vision as red drops poured into her eyes. She attempted to wipe it away, but the jagged remains of her visor prevented her from doing so effectively. She looked up in time to see the asari stepping up to her, and in a move she wasn't even sure would work, put her hands underneath her and twitched, creating a powerful biotic push. The result pushed her off the ground, much to the surprise of the asari, and while Kelly was flailing, managed to give another push that sent the asari flying backwards towards the defensive line. Kelly had gone up about five feet, and dropped with a crash that threatened to wind her once more. However, with the adrenaline now going full tilt in her body, she didn't feel the need to spend any more time on the ground. She looked for her assault rifle, but amidst the chaos was unable to lay eyes on it. She quickly took out her pistol, and looked for her new target.

Without her HUD aiding her, the scene almost became a blur. There were no more IFF tags, no warning indications, no shield status, there was nothing. If felt weird, knowing she had the protection of the armour without knowing the actual condition of it. As she peered around the battlefield, she finally caught sight of the asari as she came out of the crowd once more, giving another push that Kelly braced for with a biotic barrier. Once it dissipated Kelly looked up only to find a blue fist coming at her already exposed face. With a blow that felt a lot harder than it should have been, Kelly stumbled back a few feet but managed to get her pistol up to fire a few rounds. The asari charged through them, her shields taking the brunt as she grabbed Kelly's wrist and forced the weapon aside. Kelly let loose with her left arm, surrounding it with biotic energy and crushing it against the merc's face with a satisfying crunch. She brought up her knee quickly, but the asari moved to the side at the last second and grabbed her leg. With an almost supernatural movement, she had picked up the 2iC and tossed her another few good feet from the fight. Kelly once again found herself on the ground, wondering what she was doing trying to fight in an area that was obviously unsuited for her skill set. She rolled to aim her pistol, but was lifted another several feet on the ground before being repeatedly smashed to the ground.

She held her grip on the weapon, afraid that to lose it meant that she would be dead. She looked to the other marines for aid, but saw that they were all too busy with their own life or death situations to worry about hers. For the moment, she was on her own. When the asari finally finished pounding her to the ground, Kelly raised her weapon shakily to meet the threat, but was defeated when the asari ran up and kicked it out of her hand. Kelly raised her other hand to release another biotic push when her body was locked in place by a field generated by the asari. The alien gave a small grin on her bloodied and muddy face, and raised her pistol to Kelly's head.

When the sound of something burning caught their ear's attention, and the asari looked away for a split second, the field surrounding the Operative weakening as a result of the asari's attention being shifted. Kelly utilized it, giving the woman a quick kick before pushing her several feet into the air. As she reached the apex of her ascent, a fireball of debris came flying out the air, taking it and the mercenary hard into the ground a few feet from Kelly. For the time being, as she watched the smoke rise from the small crater that was now the asari's grave, Kelly could do nothing but lie there and breathe. She was absolutely exhausted, and nothing short of someone else pointing a gun in her face was going to get her to move. She looked up at the sky, watching as more pieces of debris came raining down from the sky, and almost missed the figure stepping into her line of sight. Instinct took over as she raised her arms to prepare her biotics, only to have them kicked away at the last possible moment.

"Jesus Operative, you could hurt someone with that you know."

Kelly simply blinked, trying to wipe the blood and grime from her face as the figure knelt next to her, clad in bright white armour that looked like it had been singed from some kind of fire. The man retracted his visor, giving an all too familiar grin.

"Save someone's life, and I get pushed away as thanks. I was expecting at least a boob flash."

Yep...it was Horn.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

30 minutes earlier.

"God damn it Nikki, I can't make this boat move any fucking faster, so unless you have some super AI powers that I was made unaware of, stick to doing what you do best and stop telling me how to NOT fight a battle!" Harold swore at the AI 'sitting' next to him in his piloting chair as the Call of Victory was being harassed by the enemy frigates. He had currently tried to put them on a close orbit of the planet, hoping the natural gravity of Ontarom would allow for some of their shots to be pulled off target. Apparently it wasn't working very well.

"I was merely making a combat suggestion Mr. Bretton." Nikki responded.

"Yeah, and if I push the engines any more, I risk the problem of a catastrophic overload which is just as deadly, if not more so, then one of their mass accelerator rounds puncturing our hull. You leave the piloting to me, and I'll leave that weird math computer shit to you."

"As you wish Mr. Bretton...incoming salvo." The ship rocked again as the ship was once again bombarded by the Eclipse ships. Harold swore to himself some more as he brought the Call of Victory as close to the planet as was physically safe and started pushing around the planet on a hard burn. As they finally got around the bend of the planet, they were bought a moments respite from the unforgiving barrage. Bretton quickly got on the comm.

"All stations, give me an update!"

"The update is that I have these weapons primed and we've done nothing but wait and get shot Lieutenant!" Jessie's voice came over the comm. obviously a little more than pissed at the fact that their first move in their new ship was to run away.

"Do you have any damage down there?" Harold asked, ignoring the weapon's officer attitude.

"No, we're good to go when you get some balls and learn to fi-"

"Noted Lieutenant." Harold quickly switched channels. "Engineering, 411."

"We're becoming dangerously close to overtaxed. I may be able to pump out enough energy here for another flyby if necessary, but if you keep going like this I estimate ten minutes before we face a total emergency shutdown and vent of the core." Jaconis came on, his ever calm voice in the face of battle or death a welcome change of pace from the weapon's officer's threats.

"Alright, Bretton out." Harold did a quick check to make sure there wasn't any hull breaches on the non-essential sections of the ship when it came to battle, and was happy to see that so far, his ship was intact. "Good...good."

"Attention Lieutenant Bretton. The third Eclipse ship is coming into range." Nikki notified Harold.

Shit, I was hoping for more time. Harold thought to himself as he prepped his weapons to fire on the ship, only to get more reverberations around the hull from weapon's fire by the other two Eclipse ships that were following him. "We appear to be flanked." Nikki stated calmly and Harold simply gritted his teeth. Not bothering with any words, threats, or prayers, he fired a barrage of ordnance at the ship in front of him, hovering directly over top of the research facility. He was rewarded with their shields flickering and dying, and with several explosions on their hull, but was disappointed when the ship simply turned to re-engage him.

"Fuck." He swore as he took a ship on another hard burn around the planet. He knew the Call of Victory couldn't take sustained fire from three frigates for more than a few minutes, and was simply trying to by them time.

"Lieutenant Bretton...taking the ship around the planet once more will only tax the engine more than we are capable of. Doing so runs the high risk of burning out the engine and leaving us in the open." Nikki stated.

"My options are pretty limited here Nikki, if you have a better battle plan, I would love to hear it."

"Yeah, we fight those pansy ass mercs who think they can wreck my ship." Harold looked back to see Commander Horn standing on the CIC. His body looked pretty much healed, save for a few new scars as he stared down the pilot. Everyone took the split second to stop and stare at their commanding officer, supposedly back from the dead as he wandered around the CIC. "Now, someone tell me what the hell is happening to my ship, and what the hell happened to my pilot!"

"Uhh, sir?" Harold asked, confusion setting in.

"Where the hell is Jack Nathan!?" Harold looked over at Nikki for a moment, his mouth hanging open to answer when another barrage forced him to look back at the controls. He immediately turned from the Commander and set a course for another hard burn around the planet.

"Lieutenant Bretton. We can't sustain another hard burn orbit, our engines will be overtaxed." Nikki reminded Harold once again.

"I am keenly aware of that, but we only need to get to cover so that we're facing two ships, instead of three. Once there, we should have better odds than this."

"Warning, second eclipse frigate is committing a hard burn. Third eclipse ship is following. We are being blocked. Third eclipse ship has taken spot in front of the damaged freighter." Nikki stated as Harold swore.

"Damn it, if they get their shields back on, then we're screwed even harder...maybe if I-"

"Maybe if you listened to your god damn Commander Lieutenant you would have an idea as to what to do." Horn yelled as he made his way to the cockpit.

"With all due respect sir, do you even know what's going on right now?!" Harold yelled back, and was met with a quick and firm slap from Jason.

"When you say 'with all due respect' I expect it to mean that and not 'shut the fuck up sir'." Jason said with a dangerous undertone before stepping back. "We are being fired on by three eclipse ships, one of which is heavily damaged and hovering over the ex-Cerberus base that my marines have been sent to take. That about sum it up?" Harold simply looked at him.

"Well...uhh...actually yeah..."

"Good. First order of business." Jason wandered back to the CIC. "Set a collision course for the ship acting as a barrier to his wounded brother."

"Sir?" Harold asked, and Jason shot him another glare which got the pilot to immediately turn around and start entering the coordinates. "Sir, we don't have the shield strength nor the hull integrity to survive a full on hit."

"Well duh Lieutenant, but neither do they." Horn replied as he watched the battle on the map that was now displaying from the CIC.

"Sir, taking them out in a last blaze of glory isn't going to do the marines any good down there. I know your record says your damn near suicidal in your feats but I have to st-"

"Never judge a man by his record until you have a face to face with him. As of now, I am ranking officer of this ship and if you so much as open your mouth again Lieutenant, I will rip out your tongue and make you lick your own asshole, are we clear?!" Harold simply looked at the man, who then took a step towards him before bowing his head and returning his attention to the display in front of him.

The elevator doors opened and Dr. Grass came running onto the bridge. "Has anyone se-" He immediately saw Horn, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Commander. You are in no shape to be ordering anyone around. You just came out of a coma, there are side effects to such a thing, you need to be monitored."

"As if such a thing will matter if we are all blown to pieces doctor. Sit back and enjoy the show until that happens or we win." Horn stated.

"Thirty seconds to collision." Nikki stated over the intercom.

"Oh, we're going suicidal again?" Lincoln stated as he crossed his arms.

"Twenty seconds to collision." Nikki stated once more as the entire room got silent watching as their ship got ever closer to the enemy frigates and the planet's gravity well. The enemy ship was either too stupid or to confident that the Call of Victory would not collide with their ship, and as such made no attempt to move, instead peppering the Victory's shields and hull with sporadic gunfire as it's sister ship farther out did the same thing. Warning lights blared in the CIC as booms could be heard throughout the room as shells and missiles impacted with the Victory.

"Ten seconds to collision."

"Lieutenant! Hard reverse, all the power you can muster." Harold hit the button quickly, and everyone felt the lurch as the ship started fighting the momentum and the gravity of the planet as every possible thruster and engine was used to stop them from crushing into the ships. "Battery, ready all weapons!"

"Already done!" McKrain answered as Jason watched the Call of Victory get ever so closer to the frigate. He looked towards the cockpit, the viewing hatch was open and they were so close you could make out the GUARDIAN defences on their hull.

"Sir, we are practically touching them! Imminent collision!" Harold stated as he struggled to find extra power for the ship to shift to the engines.

"All batteries, open fire!" Jason yelled as the ship, which was millimetres away from the enemy frigate in space terms, opened up at point blank. They were so close the shields protecting the frigate were immediately ripped to shreds as the mass accelerator cannon tore through them, and into the wounded ship behind them. Secondary explosions rippled along the hull, and then the missiles hit, sealing the fate of their first victim. The second ship, being already weakened from the Victory's first salvo, was also immediately destroyed as the Victory's main cannon ripped through several hulls and set off a lethal amount of secondary explosions, causing the ship to literally break apart and fall to the surface.

"We're caught in the gravity of the planet! Hold on!" Harold stated as his hands moved like lightning to compensate for the force of nature that had a hold on their ship.

"This is Jaconis!" Kevin stated over the bridge comm. "I've managed to squeeze as much juice as we're going to get out of here. We're going to lose power to the weapons for a couple of minutes, but I didn't see a choice. You'll feel it any second." Horn didn't have the time to reply as a gigantic burst of energy was fired from their reverse thrusters, managing to push them just outside the grip of the planet. Harold's hands were still flying, working on getting the ship to a firing position on the last Eclipse frigate, but stopped for a moment.

"The last frigate is breaking off...heading for FTL." Bretton stated as Horn looked at the screen in the CIC, and sure enough, within a few seconds the blip indicating their ship had vanished. The intercom suddenly burst to life again.

"This is Jaconis. A primary conduit to the engines burst from the power being pumped through it. I can patch it, but it's going to take a couple of minutes. Until then, we're not going anywhere unless you want a sudden and albeit hot death."

"No worries about that Kevin." Jason answered, staring at the display. "I think we're out of the woods for the moment." There was a pause.

"Am I safe to assume that I'm talking to Commander Horn?" Kevin asked. Jason simply smiled, and hit the ship wide intercom.

"Attention crew of the SIC Titan!"

"Uhh...Call of Victory sir." Harold interrupted. Jason simply looked over at the pilot.

"The what now?"

"Sir, long story short, you're on the Cerberus cruiser called the Call of Victory." Jason just gave him a curious look, before clearing his throat and continuing.

"Attention crew of the Call of Victory. This is Commander Horn. As some of you may know, I have apparently been in a medically induced coma for the past few weeks. Well, I'm here to say I kicked it's ass. That's right, the coma came at me like raging krogan and I kicked it so hard in the quads it turned into a salarian. Coma's can't keep me down, Collectors can't keep me down, and I sure as hell ain't going to let...whoever...is down there on the planet keep me down. As of now, I am re-assuming...or assuming since it's a new ship...command of this ship. Now, no more questions as to if this is really me, cause that's going to get real old real fast." Jason cut the comm. and looked over at the pilot.

"Situation."

"Well sir. Operative Invaru and both companies of marines went down to the planet to eliminate a rogue Cerberus scientist. We lost contact due to their satellite uplink being turned into a jamming device. We have no idea what is happening down there, but we do know their location." Harold stated for him. Horn simply stared at him for a moment, his face in absolute stupor.

"Operative Invaru...is down on the surface...fighting?"

"Yes sir."

"With guns?"

"Uhhh...yes...sir."

"And shooting at people?" Harold simply stared at him for a moment.

"Yes sir." Horn simply looked at the map overlay of the planet, his jaw hanging before he finally regained himself.

"Huh...alright." Jason stated. "Well, in that case, I'm going to take a Kodiak down there and shove it down their throats." Jason made to move off the bridge when both the pilot and Lincoln stopped him.

"Sir, the GUARDIAN system around the base prevents us from getting close. Until we know whether or not they've taken it out, you'd have to land a good ten minutes away." Harold talked after him.

"That and the fact that you just came out of a coma Commander. You're not exactly going to be ready to go right off the bat." Dr. Grass stated. Jason stopped for a moment, thinking as he rubbed his chin.

"So we know where they are, but can't get close due to some damn defences..." Jason's eyes lit up. "Is all my stuff here...including the stuff I brought in from Hephaestus station?" Harold and Lincoln looked at each other.

"As far as we know sir." Harold stated. Jason simply gave a wicked look.

"Awesome. Doc, get me some battle stims and come with me. You're not going to like this plan."

"Oh, and that's assuming I like any plan that has you smiling like a preteen who just got asked to the prom?" Lincoln retorted as they both made for the elevator, but as they turned to leave, Horn looked off to the side and noticed a familiar figure which he had managed to miss amidst the chaos of the battle. Vala Buchan stood there, her stoic face analyzing him even as he fixed her a deep glare.

"Commander Horn." She stated, her voice level. Horn pointed a finger at her, his face red with a barely suppressed anger at her being on his ship at all. His mouth fumbled with several words before he simply stopped and pointed solidly at her.

"I'll deal with you later." Jason stated as both he and Lincoln got into the elevator.

"You have such a way with words sir." Dr. Grass stated.

"Lincoln? Shut your nerd face before I shove a holodisk of anime asari down your throat and you shit a fan service."



_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Commander...this has got to be the stupidest idea I've heard from you...and I've been your medical officer for a year."

Lincoln stated this as TJ outfitted Horn in his prototype Apocalypse armour. Horn flexed his hand slightly, getting a feel for the extra weight of the armour once more as Lincoln continued. "You're in no condition to fight, and the stims I have you on aren't going to keep you going forever. There is going to be significant physical and mental trauma down there that might send your body into a total relapse once you're down on the surface, assuming you even make it that far." The doctor simply stared at him as TJ finished suiting him up.

"Thank you Keller." Jason stated as she gave a grunt and went back to working on something else. "And besides Doc, if I do make it to the surface, I'm sure I'd already be in a coma from planetary re-entry."

"On that note...this isn't going to work." Grass stated as they started walking towards the elevator.

"Come now, that's quitter talk. You sound like most of my love life." Grass simply rubbed his face as they both got into the lift.

"I'm serious. You're taking untested armour down to the planet from space! Skydiving is one thing, but even if you get through the atmosphere...there is no way you're going to slow down enough to survive the landing."

"That's why this thing has super jetpacks!" Horn stated, pointing to the oversized canisters on his back. "Besides, you worry too much. This sort of shit is the reason I'm with Cerberus...it's fucking awesome." Dr. Grass was about to say something else when the ship rocked once more.

"The eclipse ship has come back on our flank! We're under fire!" Harold came over the intercom just as Jason and Lincoln stepped out onto the CIC.

"Situation?" Horn asked as he made his way to the bridge.

"Engines are still down, and from what I can tell, we sucked a lot of juice breaking free from the planet's gravitational pull." Harold moved his hands quicker than Jason thought possible. "I can possibly reroute non-essential power to the guns, but it isn't going to be much. Essentially all we can do is wait and hope to hell Lieutenant Jaconis gets the engines back up so I can move." Jason looked at the man.

"Tell you what...you get those weapons going and you turn that mercenary piece of shit into an actual piece of shit, you understand?"

"Uhhh...well in order to fire on it...I have to be able to turn...cause it's behind us sir." Jason paused.

"Oh...right. Well, do that." Jason walked back into the CIC as Lincoln and Harold both watched him.

"Uh...sir, what are you doing?" Harold asked after him.

"I'm going down there...marines need my help. I'm a calming influence." Jason stated as he secured his helmet and stepped into the airlock. Harold was simply left staring after him as Grass placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Get used to it boy, for now worry about that other ship."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

((http://soundcloud.com/user7837224/dragon-rises))

Jason stood in the airlock for a second, wondering just how much opening the door while the room was still pressurized was going to hurt. He took a couple of breaths to prep himself to be ready to move, and pulled the emergency release hatch. The doors flew open and Horn was pulled into space like releasing a cord on a parachute. He started spinning through space at first uncontrolled until timed bursts from the boosters in his hands and feet made him stable. Before him was the entire planet of Ontarom, looming in green and blue. Jason was smiling as if he was a kid being given the choice of a toy at the local store. His HUD, previously blank, blinked to life as it gave him the standard display of shields, weapons, health, and comm. status. Among this there was also a single beam that dictated the path he should take to land where he wanted.

Unfortunately, directly in front of him was the wreckage of the two eclipse ships, debris floating freely and slowly being pulled to the planet. Horn looked was drawn to just how amazing the ships looked in space, completely destroyed and looming like dark leviathans in space. His vision was suddenly blocked when a huge piece of debris floated from up underneath him. He swore to himself as he used his boosters to flip himself around and under. Whether he liked it or not, the gauntlet had begun.

"Should have remembered blowing up the ships...I blow up so much stuff I forget...heh...I like blowing stuff up." Horn talked himself as he used his hands to hurl himself over another piece of debris in the endless silence of space. The next few minutes were spent with him having to use small amounts of fuel in order to propel himself through the debris field generated by the destruction of the Eclipse ships, but finally, after a few minutes of mind numbing navigation, Horn was through. Now he could clearly see the planet and the adrenaline in his body was at an all time high. The stimulants given to him by Dr. Grass were in full swing, and his heart was pumping faster than an over-clocked engine on an Omega pleasure barge trying to outrun the Alliance patrols. As he got closer and closer to the planet, his grin got wider and wider until the outlines of atmospheric re-entry started to burn around the shields of his armour.

His shield monitor appeared on his HUD and he watched as the gradual build up started to shrink them away. However, thanks to the large canisters on his back which provided both energy for the shield and fuel, the amount being drained was minimal. So, with nothing apparently wrong for the moment, he followed the predetermined path that was laid out for him by the computer built into the suit. The planet, however, was slowly disappearing behind the veil of fire covering his entire suit, and soon, all he could see was a raging inferno as he entered full atmospheric re-entry. "Huh, ok this is different....still cool." Jason spoke to himself as his suit rattled so hard it felt like it was going to fall apart.

Soon, a warning sign came onto his HUD. "Engage primary retro-rockets. Prepare for hard burn." Jason simply looked at the thing for a moment.

"Alrighty then." He spoke as he flipped himself so that the boosters were facing downwards, and fired them. The amount of force, he was sure, would have killed him if the shield didn't initially act as a inertial dampener with the extra juice being provided to it. The rockets still managed to create a sizable jolt to him as he felt himself being almost thrown around like a rag doll.

"Adjust course 3 degrees west." The computer stated.

"Yeah...trying you mechanical bitch." Jason stated as he did his best to try and control it. He used the manoeuvring thrusters in his hands and feet to make sure he was still on course when one in his hand suddenly burst, sending him into an uncontrolled spin as the other thrusters in his feet and hand spun him around. "Fucking...experimental...STOP GOD DAMN SPINNING!" Jason yelled as he shut off the thrusters and tried to manually correct himself using his experience from his time in the Demons. Within a few moments, he had stopped himself from spinning, and the fires from re-entry had died down, allowing him to see the ground below him.

He was still about 15,000 feet above the ground, but he used his magnification to look down on the absolute chaos that was happening with the marines and the Eclipse mercenaries. He was so busy looking at the battle, he was almost taken out of the sky by a large piece of metal flying in behind him. He burst over to the side, watching as the debris came flying down to the ground. Soon after that one, several others started appearing from behind him. "I really wish you were soldiers...but if I had to make an entrance...this is definitely on my top ten list." Jason said to the debris as they roared past him, their mass allowing them a faster decent then himself.

"Adjusting IFF tags, enhancing views...Combat mode engaged." The screen lit up with all the command statistics, along with IFF tags and troop locations as Horn got closer and closer to the surface. He started searching through the marines, noticing that they were surprisingly low casualty rate for the assault they were performing. So far, from what he could tell, thirty percent of the troops were incapacitated, either killed or too wounded to continue. As his eyes surveyed the scene, they finally fell on one tag that happened to be having a rough time.

Operative Kelly Invaru.

Horn watched through a series of magnifications as an asari mercenary started trashing Kelly, throwing her several feet away from the main melee fighting. "Oh fuck no, go find your own hot redhead!" Jason stated as he shifted his position and started diving down to the ground. Warnings came on in his HUD, but he disregarded them. He knew Kelly wasn't strong in battle, and melee fighting even more so. The feet left to the ground started counting down, until all he could hear was the constant blaring from the warning in his helmet. Moments before he hit the ground, he pulled up lateral to the ground and was rewarded with Kelly's impeccable timing pushing the asari directly into his flight path. "Not planned." Horn stated to himself as he collided with the asari nearly full force, the pure impact causing him to crash unexpectedly to the ground and creating a huge gouge in the earth.

Horn lay there for a moment, his helmet blaring warnings to him as he slowly got up. He quickly felt everything, but was surprised to find that nothing was broken. "How...?" Horn asked as he stared at the asari. The impact had broken her back and neck, killing her instantly. He checked his systems, and was surprised that a backup fail safe had been built into the system. When the collision with the asari was detected, power was shunted towards the shields and inertial dampeners, which shut off his jetpacks and caused him to slam to the ground. Either way, it most likely saved his life. His HUD flared with a couple of warnings, one of which was to 'Disengage Battery Packs'. He did so, and the huge canisters on his back shifted and fell off his person to the ground with a thud. He still had his rockets on his back, but he no longer had the shield power nor the fuel to sustain flight such as he did when he dropped to the planet. Horn then quickly remembered the thrashing this particular mercenary was giving his 2iC, and quickly climbed out of the mini crater he had created for himself.

A few feet away, a fair distance from the main fighting, he found Kelly laying there and her visor blown open. His mind went to worst case, but he gritted his teeth, forcing the anger from his mind as he came up beside her. Despite the damage, she was still showing stable life signs and he gave a smile behind his visor. As he stepped up to her side, she raised her arms as they glowed with biotic power. He quickly kicked them away, resorting to the quickest way to disarm her rather than the gentlest.

"Jesus Operative, you could hurt someone with that you know." Jason stated as he knelt next to her. She blinked, obviously in absolute confusion. He retracted his visor, and gave her a grin. "Save someone's life, and I get pushed away as thanks. I was expecting at least a boob flash." She gave a small smile.

"Sorry sir, I'll keep that in mind next time." She replied as Horn helped her sit up.

"Alright, we don't have time for much though. Where are we at?" Horn stated as she picked some broken pieces of her visor out of her helmet.

"Dr. Mueller, bottom floor...through the defensive line." Kelly managed to gasp out as she tried to catch her breath.

"Alright, do the marines have their own assignments?" Horn asked.

"Yes sir." Jason gave a nod as his visor snapped back into place.

"Good, stay here, rest up. Don't want you dying and losing my eye candy for when we get back to the apparently new ship." She looked at him for a moment, expecting more but when she got nothing, she shook her head.

"No, I have to get up, the rest are looking to m-"

"Yeah, and I'm here. My job is to kick ass, your job is to be beautiful and smart, let's not wreck the first one alright?" Horn patted her on the cheek of her helmet for a moment before breaking off and running straight towards the fighting. He grabbed his vindicator from his back, pouring round after round into any and all Eclipse mercenaries that got within his vision, and just as he reached the edge of the fighting, he lit up his jetpack and soared into the sky. For a moment, there was absolute silence for him as he looked on the battle. A split second was all he took as he launched himself at one of the mercenaries, landing on him in a spectacular fashion and driving him to the ground. Before the man knew what was going on, Horn had holstered his rifle and taken out his carnifex and combat blade. He pointed the pistol at the man's head, and quickly double tapped at point blank range, leaving little to the imagination or to the man's head as it simply exploded.

Another mercenary attempted to come up behind him, but as he swiped, Horn spun and caught his arm in the crux of his armpit. With a quick jerk, he heard the man's arm break and his scream cut through the battle, which Horn quickly silenced by slicing the man's throat. Horn looked over to see a couple of marines being pushed back by a group of four mercenaries making a push through their lines, and with a quick burst from his jetpack he managed to get to them so fast they had no idea what has going on. With a quick punch to throw the first one off, Horn threw his knife at the leader who was foolish enough to not wear a helmet. The blade buried itself in his skull nearly up to the hilt and he dropped. Horn looked to the first one, firing a couple of rounds into his chest, before being forced to duck from an incoming fist from one of the other two mercenaries. The two other marines jumped in quickly though, taking their attention off of him as he finished off the grounded mercenary with a final shot to the head. Horn looked towards the defensive line, noticing there were some ex-Cerberus marines were there, trying to shoot into the crowd.

He was about twenty feet from them, with a horde of Eclipse mercenaries attempting to block the way. He looked back towards the two marines he had just helped, and pointed at them. "You two, on my flank...Let's kick some ass!" They gave a quick 'yes sir' each and stepped in line behind him as he full out sprinted for the soldiers that were stationed in the trench.

The mercenaries noticed this of course, as they had with the several other attempts, and moved to stop his progress. Horn moved quick, mainly due to the battle stims seeing as he had been out of the game for a little while. His adrenaline amp was in full swing, everything moving at a pace much more manageable as he dodged the first two swings of combat blades. His gun moved up underneath one of the mercenary's chins as he ducked, and pulled the trigger, watching as blood sprayed out of the top of the mans skull as the Carnifex round punched clear through his shields and armour. Another mercenary turned to fire at Horn, and with a quick twist, Jason moved out of the shot, watching as it quite literally skimmed his shields making the surrounding area of his armour shimmer with shields as it passed him. Horn was upon the guy within a second, jumping into the air to punch the mercenary in the face. The gun for hire put up his hands in defence, but it was shattered the moment that Jason's fist connected with them. It prevented Jason from punching the guy in the face, but it still sent the mercenary staggering backwards, which lead to a series of punches to the chest and face that left the man bleeding and broken on the ground crying in pain.

As Jason forced his way through more and more mercenaries, more and more marines came in behind him and followed in the wake that he was tearing through these mercenaries. The Ex-Cerberus soldiers in the trenches were now almost solely focused on Horn's group, and were effectively stopping them from pushing any further. Jason looked at them, about to hit his jets once more to fly above them and land in their midst when suddenly the men in the trench were fired upon from their flank. A few went down immediately, and Horn turned to see another group of marines pouring into the trench from the relatively unguarded backside. "Sergeant Carson here, sorry for the late rendezvous, still here all the same." A marine came on the line as the Ex-Cerberus soldiers were quickly in a manner of disarray since their focus was now split. Horn didn't waste any time, igniting his jets and sending him right into the middle of the traitors.

With Horn now engaged in melee with them, and fire being poured into them, there was no doubt in their mind that they were dead men. So, the ex-Cerberus soldiers fought like dead men, throwing themselves at Horn and the other marines just so their comrades could get in a decent shot. Horn found himself on the receiving end of a bullet once or twice since one of them would literally tackle him with no regard to their own safety. Luckily for him, his shields held every time, and before long, the ex-Cerberus soldiers were either dead or dying on the ground. Horn looked to the commanding soldier of the flanking marines. "Secure the MG's! Start mowing down these eclipse fuckers from behind!" The man stood there for a second, before his HUD registered who was giving the orders and he gave a nod.

"Right away sir! Bersten! Get on that MG! Lyle! Gunther! With me!" Carson handed out orders as the one named Bersten hopped on the closest one and fired whenever he felt it safe enough to do so. Horn looked back into the melee and smiled. He reached down to one of the dead traitors, and plucked the combat blade out of his hand. This was going to get good.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

With their defensive line breached and fire pouring on them from both sides, the Eclipse mercenaries quickly lost any form of discipline they once held. They quickly broke into groups, if they didn't break ranks entirely, and were quickly and efficiently put down by the Cerberus marines. With them dead, the remaining marines took a moment to police the dead, treat their wounded, and grieve for their dead. Horn stood near the entrance to the facility, looking over the marines as they quickly tended to their duties. He had nothing to say to them, not now at least. He came down here to quickly to understand the full scale of the situation, and going off half cocked, despite that being his forte, was going to simply get them killed. He had managed to pull up information on the marine companies, including officers, company names, and current status, but was interrupted from delving any further when he noticed Kelly walking up to him.

She had removed her helmet, tossed it somewhere or to someone since it was practically useless now with the visor now smashed into tiny bits of glass. Horn had underestimated just how badly the glass had cut up her face. It still had that beauty to it that made her unmistakeably an officer and not a soldier, but a gash the crossed from the bottom of her left eye to the top of her mouth was clearly visible. Along with another gash that cross the bridge of her nose and ended on the ridge of her right eye. Without a reconstructive procedure, those would leave clearly visible scars. There were also more smaller ones that left blood trails of their own, but Horn could tell this was the last thing on his 2iC's mind. "Commander." She stated as she finally reached him. He retracted his visor to meet her gaze.

"What's going on beautiful? How we doin so far?" She gave a small smile and brought up her Omni-tool.

"We still have Titan company on the northern ridge. I managed to get in touch with O'Ryan briefly just a moment ago. He and his men are holding so far, but haven't been able to gain any decent ground since the debris came in and unfortunately took out a group of our marines. Their Mako was hit like ours, the cannon still operational but without any kind of hydraulic system to turn it, it's just as useless. Needless to say sir, they need some help over there." Horn looked at her, with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"So make the call Operative, what are we going to do?" Kelly looked at him for a moment.

"Well sir, I thought you would like to know all of the information in order to make a decis-"

"Nah, you make the decision. Far as I can tell, I'm on a new ship with a new crew and new marines. They don't know me, and right now, I only have the most basic of understanding of this mission. Battle stims are the only thing keeping me upright right now, and I'm in no condition to be giving orders when I'm as hyped up as I am now. So, Operative Kelly Invaru, what is your decision to help out the Titans." Kelly stared at him for a moment, putting on a neutral face but Horn saw right through it. She didn't like thinking she had some of the pressure taken off of her only for it to be placed right on her shoulders again. Jason knew that this was a mean way to do it, but she came down to the field of battle of her own choosing, and she needed to be able to make hard decisions without him saying 'yeah, let's do that' all the time. She looked away at the marines for a moment, taking the time to think as she always did. Before long, she had called over Sergeant Carson once more. He jogged up to them, giving them both a salute as he came to a stop.

"Sergeant Carson." Kelly started. "I want you to grab a group of about ten marines, and head to the north side of the facility. Assess the situation, and assist where you can. Chances are you will need to do something similar to what you did here and flank the defensive line. If all else fails, simply help Titans hold the line until we get finished within the facility. Am I understood?"

"Clearly ma'am. I'll get it done." Carson gave another salute and wandered off to grab his marines. Horn gave a smile.

"He respects you, you know." Kelly simply looked back at Jason, then back at the marines.

"It's most likely the scars." Kelly stated, her hand running across her face absent-minded.

"Hey, scars are sexy, just ask any lady I know." Kelly gave another small smile, before turning to the entrance to the facility.

"Our target is on the last floor. Orders are to kill him on sight."

"Goody." Horn stated as his visor slid on once more. "I love it when it's simple." Kelly made to move past him towards the door. She opened it to reveal a short hallway that lead to an elevator shaft. The elevator itself had been cut, as expected, and the shaft was empty. She made to move further in when Horn stopped her. "uhh...Operative...aren't you forgetting something?" Kelly looked up at him as he nodded towards the marines. Though she didn't show it, she was groaning on the inside. Horn gave a smile. "Do they know what they need to do?"

"Their individual targets should be on their squad leader's Omni-tools. They all know what needs to be done." Kelly stated as Horn gave a nod and turned towards the marines.

"Marines!" Horn shouted through the speakers in his helmet to every marine's radio. "Form up!" Marines who weren't tending to the wounded quickly formed up into their separate ranks and squads, each ready to wreak more carnage. "Guess who I am marines!" Horn shouted, and there was a moment of confusion from the marines.

"I am the baddest mother fucker you will ever meet!" Horn started pacing in front of the marines. "I am a shock trooper by trade, a ladies man by choice, and a fucking destroyer of my enemy's morale by destiny! Do you know what that makes you marines?!" Horn was shouting to his men and women. "That makes you fucking monsters! You are my hands, straightening into a bitch slap for anyone who decides they should try to fuck with us! Well guess what, we just finished with the first bitch slap, now we're going for the second one!" Horn pointed towards the base.

"Inside that tin can of a fortress is a man who is responsible for dragging us out here. Responsible for making us waste good men and women's lives to respond to some lunatic who thinks he's better than us! Well guess what! Look around you! Look at his army that you; Cerberus marines and commandos; completely and utterly ass raped! He thinks he's better than you while he hides down at the bottom of his shaft! Well, we're going to go in there. We're going to trash his home, kill his men, and blow his brains out at the point blank range of our guns! When we're done that! We're going to come back, we're going to look at the men and women who were injured or gave their lives so that we could get this far, and we're going to say 'Thank you for being a badass soldier!'" Horn took a moment to look at his marines before dropping his arms and raising his visor. "Because we are marines! We are soldiers! WE ARE MONSTERS!"

"Now, let's go in there...and teach them the fucking definition of Victory!" Horn closed his visor, and walked to Kelly, speaking in a hush tone. "You coming?" She simply gave a small smile.

"Came this far sir." Horn gave a wicked smile and Kelly's eyes widened for a moment. "Uh, I don't thi-" Horn scooped her up in his arms, and ran the distance of the hallway within a couple of seconds, and without so much as a backwards glance, dropped out of sight into the shaft, leaving the marines standing there for a moment before one private spoke out above the rest.

"Did that really just happen?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar

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The drop down the elevator shaft was shorter than Horn was expecting, and had to boost his jump jets harder than what he would have liked to avoid breaking his legs. Both he and Kelly came down with a crash on top of the elevator that was parked on the last floor, and he casually dropped her. She stood for a moment, looking around at the interior of the elevator shaft before looking to the Commander. "Was that really necessary?" She asked, a bit of humour in her voice.

"Hey, I have to solidify my absolute bat crazy-ness to the marines early on, or they'll just think I'm a crazy old man." Horn opened the top hatch of the elevator and swept his gun through the empty metal box. "Speaking of which...why do we have a new ship?" Kelly looked at him, but didn't say anything. Horn kept his eyes down in the elevator. "Because, you know, I would be pretty damn pissed to hear that I almost died to save a ship that didn't make it anyways. So chances are I'm going to need expendable marines within arms reach when I get back to the Victory, am I right?"

"I can explain everything once we are back on the Call of Victory sir." Horn stopped, and looked up at the woman for a second.

"Oh, I know you will. I expect it to be good Operative." Without a further word, Horn dropped into the elevator. Kelly took a small breather before joining him in the cramped space. When she dropped, Horn was already working on the doors, trying to force them open by hand. Kelly walked over, and tried the button first, expecting nothing to happen. Instead, the doors slid open and revealed a lone and empty hallway. "Huh." Horn stated as he prepped his rifle and slowly stalked forward. Kelly did the same, just a couple steps behind him and off to his right. After a few feet, they both stopped almost exactly in step with each other. Horn looked back at Kelly. "You feel it too huh?"

"Yeah...get some cover?" She asked, and Horn nodded and looked forward, only to see a couple of automated turrets lower from the ceiling. Without hesitation, they opened fire on the completely exposed duo as they pressed themselves to the side as tightly as they could.

"Fuck! Kelly! Barrier!" Kelly dodged a couple of shots and threw out her hands, encasing them both in a small bubble. The bullets ricocheted off of the biotic energy, but already she was feeling the strain of such a large amount of fire. She was already on one knee, breathing heavily and shaking quite visibly. Jason didn't waste any time, firing his vindicator assault rifle at the turrets through the barrier. He was disappointed to see his rounds bounce off the shields of the turrets. "Of course, he would leave the best stuff for himself." He looked back to Kelly, he looked like she was on the verge of exhaustion, and gave a sigh. So much for taking things easy.

He gave a look as to how far the guns were from them, estimated just how much thrust would be needed to get going and to stop, and how much would be needed to propel him just the right height into the air. In order for this to work, he would need to be completely on his toes. So, with one last look back to Kelly to see if she would even last that long, and a quick priming of a couple of grenades, he ran outside the barrier. Immediately, the guns swivelled to acquire their new target. Before the rounds could even start exiting the chamber, Jason switched on his jets. The force blew him forward far faster than he had anticipated, not taking into account that he was working with what could be classified as five sets of rockets instead of the usual one that was attached to his back. He quickly adjusted, slamming on the brakes and landing himself right underneath the pair of turrets. Once again, the turrets turned to greet him, but he pumped out enough juice from his suit to suspend him against the ceiling next to the turrets. He planted a grenade on the turret, and moved swiftly to the next where he repeated the process. In the second or so that it had taken him to do this, the turrets had completed their turn, and were attempting to fill him with so much lead he would have become a 20th century human pencil. He dropped to the ground, landing in a roll and feeling more than hearing the bullets impacting so close to the ground behind him his shields flickered. However, once he finished his roll, the grenades went off, well within the confines of the turret's shields. In a bright flash, both of the automated defences were nothing but scrap.

"Ha! That's why you never let a machine do what a true soldier could do better!" Horn looked back down the hallway to see if Kelly was there, and was surprised to see Nerita helping her stand. He jogged over, looking over Kelly's vitals as he did so. He almost let out a sigh of relief at seeing that she wasn't injured, just exhausted. "Nerita! My favourite purple lady! How's it hanging?" He then got a good look at all the armour she was wearing. "Well that's different...what happened to the whole trench coat bitch look?"

"It wasn't bullet proof." She stated flatly as Kelly finally got her own feet underneath her. Horn looked at her, cocking his head slightly to the side.

"You good to go, or do I need to send you topside to wait for the medivacs?" He asked.

"No sir, I'm good to go." She stated as she gripped her gun with renewed purpose. Nerita looked to her, then back to Horn. Jason simply shrugged.

"Alright then. Nerita, I take it your a free operative if your down here then?" Horn asked Nerita, who simply gave a nod in response deeming it satisfactory. "Goody then. I get to play pimp with an assault rifle. Let's go." Horn immediately took off down the hall, reaching the end and rounding the turn before the ladies could even get half way. Nerita looked to Kelly as they were both running to catch up.

"Good to have him back?" Nerita asked as Kelly gave a small smile.

"He's a good stress reliever." Kelly stated, realizing the dirty joke that could have been used by Horn a little too late, but Nerita simply nodded, knowing she meant command wise. As they neared the corner though, Horn was diving to the ground, and rolled towards them. He pushed himself off the floor and slammed his shoulder against the wall. Kelly and Nerita simply stared at him for a moment. He looked back at them and gave a large smile.

"Lots of bad guys. Apparently this guy is a huge narcissistic asshole who believes everyone should die for him." Horn paused for a moment. "Any similarities between this guy and yours truly is purely coincidental." He took a breath and looked back down the hallway. "About five traitor marines, bunkered down at the end of the hallway with a sufficient amount of cover to make anyone coming at them piss their pants. None of us have snipers, nor do we have a sufficient amount of explosive ordnance." Horn looked down for a moment, before looking at Kelly and Nerita and smiling.

A moment later, Nerita and Kelly rounded the corner, their biotic barriers overlapping each other and taking the strain off of each other while Horn walked in between them firing his vindicator with an almost psychotic glee. The traitors opened fire on the group, but the rounds met nothing but biotic energy as the two barriers put together were more than enough for the small hallway. Horn started picking off the marines as his rounds eventually found their way through their shields and into their fleshy bits. By the time they reached the end of the hallway, the traitors were either dead or dying, and their barrier was nothing more than a shredded piece of metal from the amount of vindicator rounds pouring into it. Nerita and Kelly let the barrier drop as they walked up to stand next to Horn. Together they came up to the final door. "His office should be on the other side." Kelly stated as Horn looked at her.

"Aw...so soon? I was hoping for at least...ten...maybe fifteen more kills before the day ended." Horn hit the switch and the door opened to reveal a large room filled with containers, ammo boxes, weapon racks, and about six prison cell-size glass containers on each side of the room, each holding a civilian dead or alive. Oh, and there was about twenty marines securing equipment in the room. When the door opened, everyone froze and looked at them. Horn, Kelly, and Nerita all stood there. Both sides were staring at each other, the marines most likely never having expected anyone to get through the hallways so quick, and Horn's group not expecting another research lab this far down. Horn simply smiled, and flared his jets slightly.

"Wicked."

One of the traitor marines finally got his wits about him, and made to move when Horn let loose with his assault rifle and dropped the man before he could grab his weapon. The other marines reacted quickly after that point, dropping whatever it was they were carrying and moving to cover while readying their weapons. Horn and his team moved inside the room and took up cover behind some ammo crates. Rounds peppered all around them, and Horn looked to Kelly. "What was that about this being his office? Weirdest fucking office I've ever seen!"

"This room isn't on the blue prints!" Kelly yelled as rounds flew by her face, leaving tracer marks as they did so. "Either Dr. Mueller manipulated the schematics before it was sent to the Illusive Man, or this room was built so recently as to have not been added to the archive material!" Kelly replied as she flinched from another bullet barrage. Horn just shrugged.

"I was just wondering. Hell, I got my wish, aside from having you trounce around the battlefield in a skimpy bikini." Horn looked to Nerita, who was simply staring at him. "What?! You would be there too! Equally skimpy."

"Is this really the time?" Nerita stated as she stood and took a couple shots before ducking down again. Horn smiled.

"It's always the time. Anyways..." Jason double checked his rifle before giving it a slap and smiling at the women. "Who's up for a little bit of kickass, Horn style?" Jason looked around his cover for a split second, and the moment he did, his shields flared as several rounds found his helmet. He ducked back, and slowly touched his face shield. "Huh...accurate fucks aren't they." Jason made sure his vindicator was loaded, and looked to the other two. "Well, it looks like the room is about forty feet long, we have about thirty feet in width. More than enough room to manoeuvre, less then enough room for a flanking position. Roof means no flying for me. You two are too tired to keep up the barrier trick for much longer, which leaves me with my favourite option of doing things."

"With great stupidity?" Nerita stated as she took a couple shots. Jason simply looked at her.

"Well duh." He stated as he rounded the corner and bolted it towards the next piece of cover. Immediately his shields flared as several rounds found their mark on his armour. He fired his assault rifle on the move, his rounds going wide but managing to make the traitors flinched. He slid feet first towards the next group of boxes, and by the time he had reached the cover, his shields were completely gone. He gave a sigh of relief and let out a smile. "Gets the blood pumping!" He yelled back at the other two as he primed his last grenade. He peeked around the corner once more, checking to see which group of marines were grouped together the most, and found three that were using one piece of cover together. It was a large crate metallic crate, more than sturdy enough to withstand standard gunfire. The rest were too spread out for the grenade to do any real damage, so Horn lobbed the grenade. "Suppressing fire!' Horn yelled.

Immediately Kelly and Nerita stood up from their cover, their weapons spewing molten death at the marines, effectively pinning them in place until the grenade landed at their feet. They were left with an impossible option as all three of them ran to get out of the killzone. Almost immediately they were mowed with a merciless barrage. When the grenade went off though, another surprise was waiting for them.

The crate was sturdy enough to resist gunfire, sure, but apparently not a frag grenade. A hole in the side of the crate burst open, and from the wreckage crawled two vorcha who let out a howl and launched themselves at the closest traitor marine. Suddenly the battle had become a three-way without Horn even making a sexual innuendo. The marine's fire was split between the oncoming Cerberus commandos and the vorcha prisoners. Horn, Kelly, and Nerita stood their ground. None of them were wanting to close the ranks while the vorcha were still standing, knowing that they would easily mistake them for their captors and attack them as well.

Normally the traitors were cool, calm, collected, and highly trained. However, Horn could see the sense of panic that was slowly overcoming them as they were forced to split their attention. Apparently none of these traitor marines were in a command position, sent down here to simply secure cargo and prep for transport was the most likely option. With no authoritative presence, these men were slowly but surely losing their nerve. By the time that the marines had managed to secure themselves, only five of them remained. Between Horn's commandos and the vorcha, the fight was over quickly.

Horn and the others stood slowly, their weapons down but ready to be drawn at a moment's notice. The vorcha turned, their eyes viciously set on them but not yet closing to attack. Their wounds, while some were consistent of the battle they had just waged, others were more reminiscent of torture. Most likely weapons testing due to the vorcha's ability to regenerate. They hissed and Horn walked closer, but he didn't stop until he was a foot away from them. There was a slight stare down, before Horn stepped aside. "You better run." Jason said to the two of them, who gave him one last stare before bolting it past them towards the elevators. Jason quickly tapped his comm. "Attention marines, couple of vorcha coming up the shaft. Do not fire unless provoked. Let them pass."

There was a slew of confirmations as Horn finally looked at the containers alongside the walls. The civilians that were still alive, ranging from asari to elcor to hanar stared at him with such a pain he couldn't help but feel it. Kelly walked up and touched the glass of one of the containers, holding a hanar hostage. It returned the gesture, placing a tentacle up to the glass as well. Her brows furrowed in confusion as she looked at the creature. Horn walked up beside her. "I know what that look is. What's the problem, aside from the obvious?"

"We were told that Dr. Mueller had only recently gone traitorous, due to his nature of using live test subjects." Kelly's eyes glossed over the Hanar, as if feeling some sort of deep connection with him. "However, we were led to believe that the moment he started this, he was told to stop." Kelly pointed to some of the scars on the hanar. "Those wounds are the result of weapons fire sir...and they've been there long enough to become barely noticeable scars." Horn looked at the Hanar, and sure enough he had several scars along his body, all the apparent result of weapons fire. "The implications are...unpleasant sir." Kelly stated as she looked to him. His face was hidden behind the reflective face plate of his helmet, but he didn't say a word.

"Nerita, get these people free and topside. Make sure they get the medical attention they deserve, but make no mistake, if they attack you, you put them down. Chances are if they can't recognize help when they see it, they're too far gone to help anyways." Nerita gave a nod and made her way towards the closest container with a live hostage inside. Jason motioned to Kelly. "C'mon, we have a mad doctor to kill." Kelly gave a slight nod and took two steps towards the next door before pausing and touching her ear. Horn looked back, but didn't say a word.

"Operative Invaru? This is Kodiak Lead. As you can tell, the satellite has been taken out of service, but we are still reading the GUARDIAN systems as operational. We have reports from marines on the ground that the system will be down within five minutes. Can you confirm?" Kelly stood there a moment, trying to remember the marines that were sent after the GUARDIAN system.

"Hold Kodiak Lead." Kelly remembered who was the lead on that assignment, and patched into their comms. "Sergeant Oberacker. What's the status on those GUARDIAN systems?" Kelly listened for a minute before a man came over the line.

"Ma'am, Corporal Stevenson here. Sergeant Oberacker is currently engaged. We will have the guns down in five minutes ma'am."

"Are you positive corporal? Would you bet the lives of every singly Kodiak pilot on it?" There was a pause as he seemed to think about this.

"I would bet my life on it ma'am." Kelly seemed to take that at face value, and nodded to herself.

"You have five minutes Corporal." Kelly cut the channel and switched back to Kodiak Lead. "You have a go Kodiak Lead. Good luck."

"Copy command. We are en route. Kodiak Lead out." The comm. went dead, and Kelly looked ahead at Horn who was returning from the door.

"You done? Can we continue with the ass kicking then?" Jason asked as he turned to start towards the door once more.

"Yes sir." Kelly replied as she caught up to him as he stood in front of the door. He gave the door a tap with his boot.

"Door's locked with some sort of advanced mathematical algorithm. Way above my knowledge to hack this baby open." Kelly looked around for a moment, feeling the walls for any sort of bump or sign that there was a panel underneath. Sure enough, she found something, and with a little help from Horn, pried the panel loose. Underneath was an array of electronic wiring mixed with several dozen secondary systems that neither one of them could begin to comprehend. Jason pushed Kelly back several paces, unholstered his pistol, and fired several rounds into the panel. They waited a few seconds, but were disappointed to see that the door remained closed. "That always works in the vids." Jason stated as his smile disappeared. Kelly simply stared at the panel for a second longer. Then, with a sudden hit of clarity, reached far into the panel and grabbed a massive coupling near the very rear of the wall. With a bit of a yank, the coupling came loose, and the door's lights went off.

"There, power's cut. Magnetic locks should also be offline. All we have to do is force the doors open ourselves." Kelly stated as she started towards the door. Horn gave a slight frown, but proceeded to the door.

"Yeah, but we'll be completely exposed to enemy fire because we'll have to be gripping the sides. If anyone is waiting on the other side, we get shot up." Jason stated as he gripped one side of the door.

"It was either this, or request an engineer from one of the other strike teams which could take minutes off our operational clock sir." Kelly stated as she started pulling on the door.

"Oh I know, don't get me wrong. Strike of genius from the beautiful 2iC, but still there could b-" As soon as the door opened a crack, a hail of fire peppered door. Kelly and Horn ducked off to the side out of harm's way, and just as they did the fire stopped. Horn and Kelly looked back to Nerita and the Civilians, who seemed either oblivious to the fire or were actively ignoring it. They returned their attention to the door.

"Cerberus commandos? Hah! You're fighting for the wrong side there marines!" A voice came from inside the room. "The so called Illusive man is pulling your strings puppets! COME ON!" Another hail of fire exited out the inch wide gap in the door. Horn looked to Kelly.

"I need to open this door. Pour some fire through, pin him down." Jason stated, barely giving any time before he gripped the door and started pulling. Kelly poked her avenger rifle through and started spraying hoping for the best. Once Horn had the door open a few inches, she was able to see inside. Dr. Mueller had a spacious office with a desk large enough to offer sizeable cover. Off to the side was a single large aquarium with the flawlessly white walls offered excellent luminosity to the entire room. The roof was an odd circular shape, metallic as opposed to the rest of the office. Aside from the aquarium and desk, the entire room was surprisingly sparse. The man himself looked almost exactly like his photo, except for the fact that he was carrying some sort of modified two handed minigun-esque weapon.

The rounds from Kelly's avenger dug into the desk and ricocheted off the wall behind the doctor, forcing his head down for a moment as Horn doubled his efforts to get the door open. Before long though, Dr. Mueller was once again pouring fire through the crack, and Horn was forced to stop and duck as one of the rounds nicked his hands. "Fuckin ass!" Jason swore as he gripped the door once more. Kelly fired once again, and after a short burst, was rewarded with the man swinging to his side and going down.

"I nicked him." Kelly stated as she put down her gun and helped her commander open the door wide enough for them to slip through. Once they were able to slip inside, they both immediately found their target laying on the floor covered in his own sticky blood. The minigun weapon that he had been using lay a few feet away, tossed from his hands when he went down. Once they got a better look, it appeared that Kelly's round had hit a lot closer to home than first imagined. The round had pierced just above his heart, closer to his neck than his shoulder. Despite the obvious pain that he must have been feeling, he still gave a wicked smile and laugh. Horn looked to Kelly.

"You started the fight, only proper you finish it. Make it quick, we need to head topside." Horn stepped off to the side, eyeing the office and making quick notes about it's interior. Kelly grabbed her pistol, but was surprised when the Doctor's hand shot out to meet hers.

"I'm not the man you were told to believe I was." Mueller looked over at Horn quickly, noticing his attention was elsewhere. "They told you I was the one performing the experiments? That part is true...but only to a degree." Kelly was torn between her orders from Horn to simply kill the man, and her natural curiosity that came from being an information specialist. She held her tongue, but also her gun hand, which allowed him to continue. "The Illusive Man sent you here to kill me because I wanted to stop the mass murder these people were committing. We rebelled because they were bringing in dozens of people of all races for weapons testing. None of them ever left this place, and while I'm not claiming to be a saint, I couldn't stand for the amount of death these people were inflicting all for the cause of advancing our own race." He coughed for a moment, blood spouting up.

"He played you...He played all of us...like a chess board...You're just a pup-"

A round shot out, and suddenly Mueller's brains were splattered all over the floor while Kelly jumped back in shock. She looked over to Horn, who's carnifex hand cannon was still smoking from the cylinder as he put it back into his holster. Kelly looked between the man and Horn, blood across her features as well from the well placed round.

"Sir! Why did you do that? He was telling us why he-" Kelly wasn't able to finish that sentence as Horn closed the distance between them with a quick few steps.

"My job isn't to ask why Operative! My job is to give an answer at muzzle velocity!" Horn stared at her for a moment. "Besides, while you were sitting there taken in by his crazed eyes and blood stained figure, his hand slowly pushed a button on the desk behind you!" Horn walked over, flipping the desk as he did so. Underneath was a simple red button, that was now flashing. "I knew it was too easy." Kelly simply stared at the desk, suddenly the seemingly light resistance making sense now. Dr. Mueller understood that if they got this far, he wasn't leaving. So, he might as well take as many as he could with him. However, going by his words it meant that they still had time to escape. If he was telling the truth to her, there would be time left for the civilians to get out of the base and free from the blast. If not, they would be dead and it wouldn't matter either way.

"Sir, I believe we still have time. We need everyone out now!" Horn looked to her.

"Well make the order Kelly! Don't tell me about it!" Jason grabbed her arm and started making their way back towards the elevator. Kelly put a finger up to her ear.

"All teams, this is Operative Kelly. Fall back from the base! I repeat, fall back from the base! A self destruct has been initiated!" While she was doing that, Horn was also talking within his helmet.

"Nerita, how are the civies holding up?"

"Fine. Some of the engineers got the elevators working again, we're walking out of the base as we speak." Nerita's calm voice came through clear as ever. Horn nodded to himself.

"Alright, get them on the first Kodiak out of here, catch a ride yourself. This place is going out with a bang." Horn and Kelly made their way out into the hallway and started sprinting for the exit. The entire time, Kelly's mind was elsewhere and she had to forcibly pull herself into the current situation. Horn said something, but Kelly didn't quite get it. It wasn't until he yanked on her arm that she realized they were in the elevator shaft.

"Kelly! Wake up! We're leaving!" Pulling the same move from before, Horn swept up Kelly before she could say another word and used the last reserves of his fuel to bolt himself out of the elevator box and back to the top floor. Jason's jets gave a sputter as they landed on the top floor, but they still made it. With a slightly anti-climatic sprint out of the building, Horn looked to see about half of the assaulting force still trying to get everyone off planet. A man came running towards Horn, immediately he saluted and Horn gave a grunt and made to move past the man.

"Ma'am, sir...We're trying to extract from the area but the simple thing is that it still takes time for the Kodiaks to get to the Victory and back." Kelly gave a nod towards him.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan...good to see you still standing as well." The man quickly recovered.

"You as well ma'am. Commander Horn? A pleasure to finally meet you." Jason simply stared at the man for a second.

"I will bother to learn your name, rank, and placement on my apparent new ship once we are out of immediate danger. If we can't fly, then get people to start running Lieutenant!" O'Ryan gave a nod, and turned around.

"Alright marines! Form up and get on! The rest of you, double time back to the b-" Before he could finish that sentence, there was rumble underneath the ground. Horn looked back at the entrance to the facility, and before anything else could happen, pushed Kelly off to one side and dived off to another as a plume of fire came shooting out of the entrance. The ground rose a few inches then fell, and then everything was still once more. Everyone was still looking around, trying to discern what exactly had just happened. Jason stood, looking around at everyone.

"Well...I was really kind of hoping for a bigger bang, but whatever works I guess. Was everyone out by the time it went off?" Horn asked.

"Yes sir." O'Ryan stated bluntly as he went off to oversee the rest of the extraction. Jason walked over to Kelly, and gave her a hand up. As she stood, Horn retracted his visor and looked at her.

"You're going to need to learn something when you start commanding your own vessel." Jason stated as she stared back at him. "Learning the how's and why's are all fine and dandy...but in the end. You have orders, you carry them out, and when you're on a time limit, you do it quickly." Jason stated as he stared long and hard at her before releasing his grip of her wrist. "I do not expect to have to say this again." Jason stated as he turned and started walking towards Kodiaks that were still on the ground. Kelly simply stared after him, then looked back towards the base. The man had been telling the truth, there was enough time for people to get out, and it was an explosion that insured only those left inside would die. Which meant that, in this case, the Call of Victory and her marines were essentially the bad guys. They had just murdered those who were trying to free slaves from captivity and certain death, and she couldn't get that thought out of her head. Prevalent over all of those was the fact that the Illusive Man had deliberately lied to her and her crew. As she dropped her gaze and made her way to the Kodiaks, there was one thing that she knew she could never do to the marines who had fought and died for this mission.

She could never tell them.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The moment that Horn touched down on the Call of Victory, he had called a meeting for all of his officers. Despite the protests of Dr. Grass, and even Kelly herself, he had shoved them off and made his way directly to the conference room, well, once he had figured out the layout to the conference room anyways. Once all the officers were seated around the table, and Horn at the head in full combat armour aside from his helmet which was placed off to the side, Kelly could only hope that he didn't take out his pistol and immediately start shooting the closest body.

"Thank you all for joining me today." Jason started as everyone stared at him. "Now, in order to get me back up to speed the quickest...what the fuck happened?" Everyone kind of looked around at everyone as their glances went to everyone else in the room. Horn pinched the bridge of his nose before letting out an exasperated sigh. "I'm going to say this now...No one is going to be walking out of this meeting happy. Why? Because I'm not going to be walking out of this meeting happy. So...Kelly." Horn turned to his 2iC. "I remember being pulled off the Collector ship and being tossed through space, which was cool, but shortly after exiting the craft, I blacked out. Start from there." Kelly clasped her hands together, obviously not wanting the job of telling him what happened, but recognizing her duty.

So, in enough detail to satisfy the Commander but not warrant an emotional outburst, she described what happened from the point the Commander left to where they were now. She listed off the names of the deceased from memory, including the technicians and marines who were, in command terms, barely noticeable. Of course, she knew which names he would react to the most. Brandon Nicola, Lara Teesar, Jack Nathan, and Linda Goram. Horn sat there, his expression hard to read not because there was no facial markers of emotions running through his face, but because there was so many. Anger? Sorrow? Regret? Guilt? They all showed up on his face at one point or another.

Kelly detailed the destruction of the SIC Titan, along with the missions that happened immediately after. She hesitated when she started to describe the botched mission on Elysium. She carefully worded her statements as Horn's eyes dug into hers over the details of Daniel's capture. This time, he was easy to read. There was so much vengeance in his eyes, she didn't doubt that some people thought he might actually assault the closest Alliance post, and keep going until he found his brother in arms. Instead, he remained quiet. Kelly finished up with the mission there on Ontarom against Dr. Mueller, but left out the details of what he said to her. Horn didn't ask, and she didn't want to tell. When she was done, she simply fell silent. In fact, the entire room did. Not a single soul dared to say a word as Horn sat there, his hands clasped in front of his face and his fingers touching at the tips on his lips. After a couple minutes of no one speaking, Horn took a breath.

"So...what you're really saying...is that I failed?" His voice was strong, but most likely due to the fact that he took the time to compose himself. The others might not be able to see it, but Kelly could tell he was just about at his breaking point when it came to bad news.

"No sir. Had you not gone over there and disabled their weapons systems, Commander Titus would have appeared on the scene to see nothing but wreckage. The survivors of the Titan are only alive because of you, Daniel, and Linda sir." Kelly replied, trying to defuse a possibly volatile situation. Horn placed his hands on the table in a forced calm, he kept his palms glued to the table for fear of his officers seeing them shaking.

"Survivors? You just told me a little less than a quarter of the people stationed on the Titan got out alive...less than a quarter Operative!" Jason's voice started to rise. "I lost a damn good soldier and friend on that fucking ship! I nearly died myself! Daniel is now a prisoner of war, possibly dead as well. A number of those people I would have shared a beer with happily and they are now gone forever. I wasn't even around to give them a proper send off as a Commander should...and you want me to celebrate what I did accomplish?!" Horn was standing by now, his anger getting worse by the second. "What I accomplished, Operative, was nothing more than a stupid idea that bought no more than possibly a hundred people a few more days!"

"Sir...that was more than what others could have done sir." Kelly's voice was completely neutral as always, but in this exact instance, she feared it was simply making the matter worse as he slapped a palm on the table and glared at her.

"Don't you dare try that fucking calm and collected routine with me Operative! I am not in the fucking mood!" Horn pinched the bridge of his nose again, forcing himself back into a more reasonable position. He sat back down and covered his face with his hands once more. Giving his features a good rub, and placed his hands back down on the table. He was forcibly more calm, but everyone could tell it wouldn't take much to set him off again. "I wanted more..." There was a moment of silence before he started looking around the table. The first person he laid eyes on was the new pilot. "Pilot!" He barked as Harold started and stared at him.

"Sir yes sir! Present sir! I'm here sir! I'm...Present...accounted...present?" Harold stuttered as his face went red with embarrassment from his social awkwardness. Horn was not in a laughing mood, and instead stared at him with daggers in his eyes. Horn took a moment to read the data pad that Kelly slid in front of him to get a good read on the man. After a split second of reading, Horn looked back up at the man.

"Let me make one thing...absolutely...crystal...and without doubt...clear." Jason stated, enunciating every word. Harold simply gulped in response. "When I give an order...I do not like being second guessed. I do not like being told that I'm wrong...I do not like it when my pilot turns into a cowering pussy just because it seems that he's outgunned!" Jason yelled the last part, causing most of the people to jump at the table, Harold especially. Jason calmed down slightly and looked at the man. "I'm not going to go ahead and say what you were doing was wrong, taking the ship into a close orbit was risky as well and time consuming, which is what you were going for and possibly saved the ship. But in my command...in my orders...we do not sit back on our heels and wait for our enemies to fuck up. We make them fuck up! We pressure them so hard until their tiny little heads explode into grey matter!" Jason let that thought sink in for a moment. "So, when I give you an order Lieutenant...what's going to be your response?"

"Ye...ye...yes sir." Harold stammered, obviously not accustomed to these sort of discussions. Horn gave a sharp nod.

"This is your one, and only warning Lieutenant. Next time I transfer you, or shoot you out the airlock, whichever seems to be easier at the time." Horn stated so flatly that no one could even begin to guess if he was serious. He followed the table to the next officer, reading up on him as he got to him. "Lieutenant Leonard O'Ryan." Horn stated.

"Sir." O'Ryan returned flatly. Horn started reading through his file, but judging by the way his finger was scrolling, it was quite intensive. Jason eventually tossed it down and stared at the man.

"I hope you know you're following a great soldier and leader O'Ryan." Jason stated, to which the Lieutenant's face remained solid as stone.

"I am quite aware sir. I am also aware that Lieutenant Nicola and I have differing command styles, and have managed to assimilate my ways of running things throughout the ship while you were out of commission. Drills are run by the clock, scores have been slightly im-"

"Enough Lieutenant." Horn stated wearily as he waved a hand slowly in front of him. "I don't need the entire spiel from you, I'm going to be reading it in what is to be a very dry report later on this week. I have nothing else to say to you." Horn picked up the datapad once more, but seemed to remember something and looked back up at the man. "Aside from no more saluting...ever." As he looked over at the next person on the table, if you were looking closely, you could see Kelly's hands flinch.

Horn paused on the name for a moment, looking between the woman and the datapad. He scrolled through it incredibly quick, before tossing it to the middle of the table. "Is this some sort of sick joke?" He stated quite flatly. Linda stared at him, curiosity etched on her features. Already, this was enough to warrant a response from Horn. "You better stop psycho analyzing me right fucking now." There was no threat to come after that, and that was the key point in telling whether or not Horn was planning immediate violence. Linda averted her eyes, but she was not one to back down easily.

"This is my job and my name Commander. I can't change one, and the other comes naturally as part of my occupation. If you would prefer that I simply never look at you, I co-"

"You fucking bitch." Horn stated as he stood from the table before Kelly's hand came onto his shoulder. He looked over at her, and she was simply staring at him. There was an entire conversation with their eyes alone, and Horn slowly sat back down. He clasped his hands together, and through clenched teeth stated "I've got nothing else to say to you." As his eyes seemed glued to the door, Kelly thought the worst was over. He would start issuing orders, and hopefully retire to the gym to let out some excess frustration. Instead, she heard the words that she was dreading.

"What the fuck is she doing here?" Kelly looked over, and matched his gaze to that of Vala Buchan. Kelly made to respond, but Vala beat her to the punch.

"The Illusive Man place me here." She stated, her tone short and curt. She obviously didn't want to say any more than she wanted to. Horn just gave a mock nod, clapping his hands together.

"Well there you have it...the boss placed you here...Like he did last time? Like...how about disobeying my orders on my op, possibly endangering civvies because of...what was it? Oh right, a hardware upgrade." Horn stood up, leaning on the table towards her. "So let me rephrase my question then...Why are you still on my ship?"

"Because I listen to orders that matter Commander." Kelly's hands were clasped together so tightly now her knuckles were white, despite her face showing none of the anxiety. Vala stared directly into Horn's eyes, and he returned the favour. He slowly stood, his eyes never leaving the woman.

"Operative Invaru." His voice so cold his words would have frozen in the air if not for the climate control built in the ship. "Would you please inform the infirmary that they will have a patient very soon, and regardless of her state when we get to our next stop, that is when she will be getting off."

"Sir. Enough. The Illusive Man ordered her on the ship, there was nothing there to say that I couldn't take her on. I have orders, you have orders, we need to follow them sir."

Horn lost it.

"Orders?! Orders are what got me into this fucking predicament in the first place! Orders are what cost me my crew, my friends, my ship, nearly my life, and now apparently my authority! Don't you dare...Don't you fucking dare tell me to follow orders!" Just when Kelly thought it couldn't get much worse, it did when Vala decided to get yet another jab in.

"The irony...Follow your orders, but not the Illusive Man's." Horn immediately reached for his weapon, but Kelly was up and moving before he could clear it from his holster. She kept his hand down and stood between him and Vala.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan." Kelly stated, doing her best to keep her voice level despite having to hold back the Commander from legitimately killing the Operative on the spot. "Would you please have Vala removed from the this floor entirely. Escort her to her quarters, and she is to stay there until otherwise notified."

"Ma'am." O'Ryan stated as he got up from the table and grabbed Vala's arm and started hoisting her up from chair. He made no further comments as he did so.

"Cute, what a wonderful show of competence to your new command staff. So incapable of handling his basic emotion, and yet he's the one that will be calling the shots from now on. Truly inspiring 'Commander'." She gave a quick look to O'Ryan. "Don't bother." She stated, shrugging off his grasp and standing of her own accord. "I don't need to watch this anymore, it's making me sick." Vala made her way out the door and O'Ryan simply watched her leave. It took a couple of seconds for Horn to even realize she was gone, and calmed down slowly after that. Kelly looked at him, her hand still on his gun and forced him to give it up. After he had relinquished the weapon, she looked to the entire command staff who was staring wide eyed at the man who would be leading them.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan. Operative Buchan is not to leave her quarters unless otherwise specified. Set up a rotating guard to ensure so, and also inform her that failure to abide by these rules will have her classified as an intruder among this ship and be dealt with in such a fashion." She quickly turned to the others in order. "Lieutenants McKrain and Jaconis, Commander Horn expects up to date reports on the functioning of this ships engines and weapons by the end of this standard day. Same goes for you Lieutenant Bretton and Lieutenant Keller. Dr. Grass, Commander Horn will report to the infirmary once some of this business has been discussed and put behind us. Lieutenant Franks, I will talk with you when I get the chance." Kelly put her hands behind her back. "You're all dismissed."

There was a slight bit of hesitancy from all save Lieutenant O'Ryan who left immediately to perform his orders. Soon however, they were all gone, and the only ones left in the room were Kelly and Horn. Horn paced in the back, rubbing his head as he did so. Kelly let out a small sigh before turning to face him. It was obvious he was still angry, and that he needed some form of release. However, turning him loose now would only end up in a med bay full of broken bones and internal bleeding. "I...just...there..." He started and stopped sentences, as if he couldn't seem to form one to save his life. Kelly had only seen him like this once before, when the Shadow Broker agent had managed to infiltrate so far into the SIC Titan's inner workings.

"Sir, you need to retire to your quarters for the rest of the day." Kelly stated. Jason looked over, ready to argue, but Kelly simply stood there and locked eyes with them. "As of now, I'm deeming you unfit for command. Once you are able to calm down and get your senses back, I will see to it that command is returned to you. Until then, you are restricted to your quarters sir." Jason simply stared at her, his jaw hanging in disbelief that Kelly would actually take command away from him. Before he could argue, Nikki came over the speakers.

"As per Cerberus regulations regarding the psychological state of the Commander. It is deemed the second in command's duty to determine when a ship or base Commander has been so emotionally, mentally, or physically assaulted as to be declared unfit for service." Jason looked up at the speakers, back down to Kelly, and repeated a couple of times before he finally closed his mouth and sullenly walked past Kelly. She turned and watched him walk outside the door, and waited for it to close behind him.

"Nikki, keep an eye on him at all times. If he shows any threatening behaviour to crew, or more likely himself, notify me immediately." Kelly started walking and exited the room.

"Yes Operative."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It had only been a few hours since the conference room incident, or so it was already being called by the marine rumour mill. It was a well known fact that marines gossiped more than old women, and unfortunately this time it was true. Kelly's job over the past few hours had been dealing with the collateral damage and fallout from the meeting. Jessie, Kevin and TJ weren't complaining too much, having been around almost as long as Kelly herself had been. Grass was complaining about medical concerns, which was going to happen regardless, but the new additions had yet to really weigh in, and this concerned Kelly.

After finishing the paperwork, she was about to head out of her office when there was a light tap on her door. "Enter." She stated lightly, her voice back to her flawless neutrality. The door slid open to reveal Lieutenant O'Ryan. He took one step in and looked at her.

"Ma'am." He stated.

"Lieutenant." She returned, waving to a seat in front of her desk. The Lieutenant walked in, but did not take a seat. Instead, he slid a datapad over to her, which she quickly took a read over. As if to solidify what she had just read, O'Ryan stated it as well.

"I'm putting in for a transfer ma'am." Kelly looked confused, and stared up at the man. That was enough for him to explain himself. "With all due respect to you ma'am, I refuse to serve under a man who is so emotionally unstable that he is incapable of controlling his own anger against a fellow Cerberus Operative. You holding his leash and keeping him back does nothing to ease my mind when, in the end, he will be the one issuing the orders." Kelly stared at the datapad, and slowly put it down before looking up at the man.

"That's a fair reason Lieutenant. I take it you have gone over his combat record?"

"All the material that wasn't covered in black tape ma'am." O'Ryan stated, and Kelly nodded before going to her terminal and typing a few words. Before long, she had transferred some information to a highly coded and protected datapad, and slid it over to the Lieutenant.

"Judging by the fact that you're coming to me before filing your transfer means your looking for a reason to stay. My guess is you saw his combat record, and are confused by the man you saw. You must be wondering 'how does this man fit the words on his file?'" Kelly pointed to the datapad. "I want you to look long and hard at that before you decide whether or not to transfer. Be warned that that information is highly classified, your eyes only." O'Ryan looked at it, before looking up to the woman.

"Permission to speak freely ma'am?" Kelly simply gave a nod. "It is true, I was confused. Everything in this man's records, the battles he's been in and his standard combat scores are in the peaks. So imagine my confusion when I saw what appeared to be a ten year old child throwing a tantrum in the conference room. There, I saw what happens when a man gets too much power too fast." Kelly took in the words, nodding as he said them. "I'm not sure I could follow a man like that. To lead with emotion is one thing, to let it completely override logic is a death wish."

"That's true, Commander Horn is a very emotional leader. He cares about those under his command, but only after he's gotten to know and like them. He forms bonds over months, sometimes years of working together. Even then the people he works with, barely know him." Kelly looked at the man. "He came out of a coma, and instead of staying on the ship where he should have been, he immediately grabbed an untested experimental suit of armour and dropped to the planet from orbit. From there, he helped breach the line on Victory's side, and personally lead the assault on Dr. Mueller himself. All within a couple hours of getting out of his coma." Kelly looked at the man, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Now mix that trauma with the fact that after coming out of a coma, he learns that nearly his entire crew was killed. Among the dead were some of his closest friends."

"We've all lost friends ma'am, it's part of the job." O'Ryan countered.

"Yes, it is. However, you usually have time to cope, if not at the time, at least in the future. Horn didn't get any time, he didn't get a chance to say goodbye a true friend would. He simply pushed too many things on himself at once, and unfortunately that was the result."

"Yes ma'am, but with all due respect I don't believe that's an excuse to attempt to shoot a fellow Cerberus Operative." Kelly looked at her terminal a moment, before returning her gaze to him.

"I'm not even going to pretend to justify his actions on that particular occasion Lieutenant. I've already stated as to why and how he got to that emotional state in the first place." Kelly pointed to the datapad. "If you're looking for a reason to stay, you'll find it in there. If you don't, then you've made up your mind and I expect your transfer papers on my desk by morning." O'Ryan stared at Kelly for a moment, before dropping his gaze to the datapad in his hands. "Is that all Lieutenant?" Kelly asked.

"Yes ma'am." O'Ryan stated as he stood and saluted. Kelly didn't bother returning it, simply nodding towards the door. She returned her eyes to the screen when she heard O'Ryan speak once more. "Lieutenant." Kelly looked up to see Franks step inside the door, come in, and sit down in the chair across from her. Kelly clasped her hands in front of her, and gave her undivided attention. Linda gave a sigh, and leaned in on the desk as well.

"So, do you ever have to tell that the Commander has PTSD, or do most of the psychoanalysts figure it out and you tell them to keep it to themselves?" Linda started, and Kelly simply gave a small smile. She had been betting this was what she had come to see her about.

"It's not something I'm proud of hiding, if that's your question." Kelly stated, leaning back slightly. Linda simply gave a frown.

"I'm not joking this time Operative. This is serious. He's not the standard case of PTSD, I will give him that, but he's displaying a lot of symptoms." Before Kelly could interject, Linda held up her hand. "I know you're going to tell me that the situation and the information was a lot to take in, but c'mon Operative. He unholstered his pistol with the intention of shooting it at Vala."

"I realize that, I was the one who stepped in between." Kelly replied calmly. Linda simply sat back.

"Well then give me something chief. I can't sit here and morally keep this to myself simply on your word. This is something that, if not treated carefully, could get us all killed."

"I think it would save us more than kill us." Kelly stated as Linda gave her a confused expression. "You already know more than most simply through your occupation Lieutenant Franks. In fact, you know more than Commander Horn himself knows." Linda stared at her, still confused for a moment before going wide eyed and leaning in closer.

"You're kidding...He doesn't know?" Kelly gave a short nod. Linda sat back, taking it in. "That's...rare. Not unheard of in regular grunts, but someone in a command position...is that even safe?"

"His form of PTSD is the emotional type rather than mental stunting, hence the outburst in the conference room." Kelly stated. "Basically, as I understand it, his PTSD has locked out his ability to feel fear, while enhancing the sensations of every other emotion. Imagine a close friend dies for you, and amplify that feeling by at least two fold. And that's just for one person..." Linda gave a nod.

"Amplify that by all the news...all the deaths...all the 'apparent' failures...My god. I'm surprised he didn't completely break down. All those unbidden emotions pounding at your inner mental wall." Linda stared back at Kelly. "Which comes back to my original question. Is it safe?"

"He's saved my life and that of the crew due to his inability to feel fear more times than I can count. I've always been around to advise him when his rational thought is sometimes sidetracked by the lack of fear in death. He doesn't know about it, and in fact, he finds the whole concept of fear 'interesting'." Kelly replied, and Linda shook her head.

"But he's got to remember times when he was scared previously in his life. He has to know what it feels like." Kelly shook her head.

"According to him, he can remember the fact that he was scared, but he can't remember the sensation or the rush that came with it. It's like looking at picture, seeing someone with a frightened look on their face but feeling none of the fear that they are supposedly feeling." Linda nodded her head.

"Well that's...that's...I'm not sure if words accurately describe it right now." Kelly nodded, and they both sat there in silence for a moment. "So...this whole thing with psychiatrists..."

"It was always there, just became more prevalent after he was diagnosed and they made him go from one shrink to another, each one telling him he was 'fine'." Linda nodded once more. Before slapping her knees and standing up.

"Well then, that answers just about everything I wanted to ask."

"Keep in mind Lieutenant. This is confidential information, blacked out by the Illusive Man himself. You are not to tell anyone else about this, and the only reason I told you is because you already figured it out." Linda stared at her for a moment.

"I don't agree with it...I feel he has a right to know..." Kelly stared at her for a moment, but she continued. "But I'll follow orders. I won't tell him or anyone else unless directed by the Illusive Man or yourself." Kelly gave a nod, and motioned towards the door.

"If that's all Lieutenant, I have some work that desperately needs to get done." Linda clapped her hands together and walked to the door. Before opening it, she looked back at Kelly.

"When he finds out...you should either have a good excuse or a better hiding place. Cause I can guarantee he's going to come to you first...asking why." With that, Linda opened the door and left, leaving Kelly staring at the wall.

Yeah...I know.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It had been a full day from the Conference Incident, or what some marines were now calling the 'Berserker Ballroom'. The story had been convoluted. Apparently Horn had actually entered a fist fight with one of the Officers and did what he always did, kicked some ass. She had stopped those rumours immediately through a useful showing by Lieutenant O'Ryan who started laying on harsh punishments to those he found spreading rumours about the Command staff. It didn't help matters that Horn did what he always did when he wanted to blow off steam, and went to the gym to go up against any and all marines stupid or brave enough to challenge him. Luckily, the rumour mill that Kelly and Leonard shut down quickly managed to warn the marines enough to give him a wide berth. So instead, he did the next best thing.

Kelly had been staring at several requisition forms for new gym equipment that Horn had beaten, broken, or otherwise dismantled beyond all form of repair. She had already managed to get through them, and have them shipped, but that still didn't answer the problem of Horn. It had already been a day since she had to take Command from him, this time with him being conscious. It was not something she did lightly, nor was it something she very much enjoyed. Before she did it out of necessity, now it was the same thing but a very different feeling.

Now she was heading up to his quarters, to check on his status. She expected to find him still very much raging and trying to get all of that anger out of his system. So, needless to say, when the doors opened and she heard absolutely nothing, she was curious. "Commander?" She called.

"Over here." Horn replied, quite calmly. Kelly wandered in a few steps, and found Horn staring at his computer with a bottle of some form of alcohol sitting beside him. That was a bad combination in itself, and nearly made Kelly freeze when she noticed that the bottle was almost empty and Horn had yet to punch a hole in a wall. She walked forward, and took a seat in one of the chairs facing Horn's desk.

"How are you feeling sir?" She asked, getting straight to the point. Horn didn't bother looking at her.

"Feeling? That's an apt choice of wording." Horn was silent for a few minutes. "I guess guilt is a good one. Regret? Anger? The better question would be what am I not feeling." Horn stated as his eyes never left the screen. Kelly gave a nod and sat there, not saying a word. "What do I say Operative?" Jason finally broke his gaze from his screen, shoving it so Kelly could see what was on it.

'Dear Mr. and Ms. Nathan.' Was all that was typed onto the screen.

"I've been trying to write a letter to them for the past six hours. Six, Operative." Horn stated as he downed another shot of whatever drink he was consuming and poured himself another. "I've been thinking about things to tell them. How Jack was an awesome guy, how he's saved our asses multiple times, how he was someone I could very easily start a conversation with. Hell, sometimes I think of him as my best friend." Horn gave a small scoff, then a laugh. "Ain't that funny? I thought that someone I worked with, and barely knew outside of that was my best friend."

"There's no reason he couldn't have been your best friend sir." Kelly stated, not exactly sure as to what to say in the conversation. She was no psychiatrist, yet out of the crew she probably knew the Commander the best. Yet, she had never seen him quite like this, the opposite side of the spectrum so to speak. Horn gave another laugh that somehow ended up being sad.

"My life is this job Kelly. I've known nothing else. Schooling? Done through Cerberus boot camp...family outings? If I could actually see my mom or dad for five minutes, it was to tell me that I was doing great in boot camp and then they were off on another assignment. Friends? In a business like this, those...things are temporary at best." Horn cupped his mouth in his hands before placing them on the desk. "I haven't even gotten to Teesar, or Nicola...or Goram. All great people, save for one of them being a shrink, but none of them needed to die."

"Sir, you did all that you could. More than anyone could have done." Kelly stated, feeling like she might be saying this quite a few times in the next few days. She was starting to wonder if she preferred the depressed version of Horn, or the angry version.

"Yeah...yeah I did." Horn stated, which caught Kelly off guard. "I mean, I went on a suicide mission with two team members, one of which didn't come back and the other now a POW. Almost died myself, got put in a coma, came back to immediately fight a battle and lose my shit like a pathetic child." Jason looked at Kelly for a moment. "It's not the fact that I don't think I did all I could Operative, it's the fact that I did all I could and it still wasn't enough." Jason dropped silent, and so did Kelly.

After a couple minutes of silence, Kelly stood from the chair and looked over at the Commander. "Do you need another day Commander?" Jason looked up at her, giving her a small smile.

"According to Grass, I need two weeks. So yeah, I'll be good to go by tomorrow..." Horn looked at his screen, taking a deep breath. "I'll be good." Kelly gave a nod, and walked back towards the door, but stopped just short of leaving.

"You know, the marines are spreading rumours that you fought with an officer in the conference room." Kelly stated, Horn looked up at her.

"Tell them it was TJ. Everyone will understand and should the need arise, I'll actually kick her ass later to prove it to everyone." Kelly gave a soft smile, and Horn continued. "I'll be giving a formal apology to the various officers who were present at the meeting. They shouldn't have to see me when I...when that happens." Jason stated, and Kelly turned towards him.

"Does this apology extend to Vala Buchan as well?" Horn twitched visibly, and Kelly was worried that she had hit a nerve.

"Let me put it this way. The less we see each other, the longer this ship will last...am I clear?"

"Crystal sir." Kelly gave a nod, and with nothing else to say, calmly strode out of the room.

She understood full well...that Horn wasn't joking.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar Character Portrait: Carly Laren Character Portrait: Cecil Adams

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The Victory's gym was a blur of activity as multiple marines entered and left the area either done with their work out or just starting it. Nearly every machine was in use, from treadmills to punching bags to the sparring ring. In fact, inside the ring was something that was drawing the eyes of a few marines to watch, but most simply walked by. After all, Horn had been training Kelly in hand to hand combat techniques for a couple months at this point. Seeing them spar was something that was almost commonplace at this point.

Horn and Kelly stood at opposite corners of the ring, slowly the both started forward. Horn rolled his shoulders slightly, while Kelly simply brought her hands up in a standard Kuntao stance, an ancient Chinese martial style usually involving heavy use elbow and knee attacks mixed with deceiving the enemy with disorienting blows and cripple them through the use of nerve point strikes. This had been the style that Kelly had decided to go with, out of the entire library that was Horn's martial library. Horn himself stood in a loose kick boxer stance as they stared at each other. Both were in standard military work out gear, being black loose shorts and tight grey t-shirts. Training with Horn was one of the few times that Kelly also allowed herself a loose ponytail while technically on duty. While training with Horn hadn't changed her figure much, one thing differed from her standard look. Scars from her fight on Ontarom were still on her face. Simple deep line scratches on her otherwise immaculate face. One across her right cheek, and another across the bridge of her nose extending nearly all the way to her right ear. When she had been given the choice to get rid of them, she refused. They were her trophies, or her reminders, whichever one people wanted to believe.

They stared at each other for a bit longer, the other wanting the other to move forward first. Finally Horn grew impatient and took the first step forward. Instantly Kelly was moving forward, delivering a circling elbow to his temple, which he quickly and easily blocked with his forearm. He lashed out with his foot, which Kelly also blocked with her forearm. Almost immediately she was circling Horn while spinning in circles herself. An elbow lashed out at Horn, followed by a knee, a loose kick, another elbow, each of which Horn blocked out of practiced ease. In fact, from another perspective, it could have been taken that Horn was mocking her.

Finally, after about several unsuccessful attempts, Kelly backed up and stood several paces away from Horn. Already beads of sweat were starting to form on her face, and her breathing was slightly heavy. In the fifteen seconds that it had taken her to complete her attack, she had managed to deliver no less than 25 unsuccessful blows. Horn gave a wicked grin, and quickly shortened the distance between them with a quick jump. Instantly he delivered a triple kick at Kelly's side, which she was able to block with both her hands even as she flinched with each impact. When that attack was finished, Horn leapt into the air and performed a roundhouse kicked that forced Kelly to lean backwards to avoid the kick. Instead of simply landing on his feet, Horn dropped into a crouch upon falling from his roundhouse and swept at Kelly's feet. The blow connected, and Kelly was dropped to the floor almost instantly. Before she could regain her senses, Horn was on top of her, holding her forearms together with one hand. She struggled slightly before looking up at the smiling image of Jason.

"You know, someone could take this the wrong way." Jason started, staring off at some marines. "Here I am, sitting on top of my beautiful second in command, holding her arms together while she wears barely anything." Jason stopped for a moment. "Wait, is that similar to rape? Cause that would be wrong...incredibly wrong..." Horn paused a moment longer. "I...I am a bad man for the thought that just ran through my head. Cleanse!" Horn shook his head, and looked down at Kelly, who was only smirking slightly. Horn put on his best confused face, until he noticed the blue arcs of energy pulsing up his arm. Before he could do anything, Kelly released a biotic pulse that sent Horn flying to the other side of the mat. He managed to catch himself on the ropes, and was standing before anyone who wasn't looking realized what happened. Kelly herself stood, and dropped back into her Kuntao stance. "Biotics are illegal there babe!" Horn stated, Kelly shrugged.

"You told me nothing is illegal on the battlefield sir." Horn paused.

"Damn...I did. Well...fine then, if we're playing by those rules." Kelly's eyes went wide as he launched himself at her. Moving faster than Kelly was capable of reacting to, Horn's hand close around her arm, spinning and ending up behind her. He wrenched the arm upward, forcing Kelly off balance. From there he manoeuvred around her, switching to a wrestling style and picking up Kelly by the waist. In a mere moment, he had hoisted her onto his shoulder, and a moment later, crashed her hard onto the mat.

Horn gave a laugh as he stood over her and she rolled herself onto her back. She tried desperately to get her wind back as Horn knelt down next to her. "Don't quote my words like that Babe. Sure, battle, do whatever you want. Here, I'm here to train you to do without them. That way, when you need to use them, it's just one hell of a bonus."

"Yes...sir." She managed to squeak out as air finally started filling her lungs. Horn had barely broken a sweat at this point, but he was fairly sure he had damn near broken Invaru. So, with possibly inappropriate handling, he grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her up to the ropes so she could stand.

"Aw cmon...haven't you ever been suplexed?" Horn smiled. "Oh yeah, the sexual reference was planned."

"Can't say that I have sir." She stated, her neutral voice only flawed by the fact that she was still trying to breathe. Horn frowned.

"Now now Operative Invaru, lying is a sin and offence to your superior officer." Horn stated.

"I answered your one question sir." Horn was about to say something, but stopped as he realized what Kelly said. He looked at her to see her giving a slight smirk.

"You dirty Operative!" He stated as Nikki came over the comm.

"Commander Horn to the CIC. Commander Horn to the CIC." Horn sighed, rubbing his hands on his face.

"Damn, I was just getting started. Oh well, duty calls babe. Meet me up there when you manage to catch your breath." Horn stepped out of the mat, stopped, and turned back. "Sexual reference not intended, but still kind of funny." With that, he left the Operative leaning on the ropes in the sparring ring.

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Over the past two months since Horn's revival, the Call of Victory had managed to be nothing but an asset to the Omni Cell name. They had managed to run no less than 30 operations that ranged from assaulting a fortified stronghold, ship blockades, protection details, and Collector hit and runs. While the Call of Victory now bore new scars, it also now bore some new armour, and a more impressive array of weaponry. During what little downtime they had, Jason had managed to requisition that the ship be outfitted with Silaris armour, something that wouldn't have been possible in the timeframe they were given had the Illusive Man not bypassed some protocols and managed to get them on the list much faster than expected. During the time, the Victory had been patched up and prepped for all out war. Every gun had been inspected twice, hull integrity was made to be perfect. Shields were boosted past their operating capacity due to a newly installed cooling system for the generator. Needless to say, once the Call of Victory rolled out of the garage, so to speak, it was bristling with arms, armour, and a will to deliver death to the enemies of Cerberus and mankind.

During this timeframe as well, Horn had managed to quite successfully re-establish himself as Commander of a vessel. Several times he had managed to pull off something that would have been deemed suicidal by others. Time and again he has earned the respect of his officers and soldiers, and even though some of them refer to him as 'Commander Crazy' behind his back, he knew it was not meant as an insult. After the events of the Conference room when he first regained consciousness after his coma, he had managed to temper his temper, and lead by example. Many people had put that rumour and situation behind them, but Horn knew it would always be there. For now, he was simply glad that everyone was once again willing to follow his lead implicitly.

The elevator doors opened, and Horn walked out onto the CIC in nothing but his gym clothes and a towel draped over his neck. He looked off to his right, and gave a grin as Carly was standing there without her helmet on. Instead, she was opting to wear a Kuwashii visor rather than her standard helmet, her cropped brown hair giving her a very tomboy-ish look. "Corporal Carly!" Horn yelled right beside her, which caused her head to turn.

"Sir." She stated. Horn gave a frown, and instead gave her a hug right on the CIC, actually physically lifting her in the air even with her armour on. Carly simply gave a sigh, and the rest of the CIC didn't even look when Horn did this. "Is there a reason you feel the need to do this every time sir?"

"Oh C'mon Carly, I hardly see you otherwise. I would think that someone I personally recruited would be pleased by me being so emotional upon seeing them." Horn retorted.

"I realize that sir...but it's every time you step onto the CIC."

"Making it more special!" Horn yelled as he turned a quick ninety degrees. "Alrighty nerdlings! Tell your mighty overlord, master, and general leader in this mass of chaos just what it is that I had to come up here and not pin Operative Invaru to the ground for a bit longer?" Everyone went quiet, everyone wondering whether or not he was actually serious, or what he was actually doing with Operative Invaru.

"Ah Commander, a pleasure to engage in conversation with you once more." Cecil stepped around the CIC's main display, tipping his hat as their eyes met. Horn gave a smile and walked forward.

"Cecil, my good man." Horn stated, putting on his best regal accent. "I do believe that this entire...situation...that has...ah screw it." Horn stated, throwing away the regal accent. "Just tell me the good shit." Cecil gave a practiced smile and a slight bow.

"Nikki, if you would." There was a brief flash from the display as a system popped up. A few seconds passed, and the display re-arranged to zoom in on a small moon orbiting a planet. Horn simply crossed his arms, looking at the display for a moment before looking back to Cecil.

"Yes, it's a very pretty moon. What about it?" Cecil just gave another miniature bow.

"Well, when a certain Demon was...forcefully taken from us, Kelly approached me, asking me to reach out through my vast array of contacts for anything pertaining to Daniel and his whereabouts." Cecil pointed to the moon for emphasis. "I have a reliable source claiming that your missing brother in arms is, in fact, on Asphodel, the moon of Zion." Horn's face turned to stone, his eyes darting back between the display and Cecil to see if this was some sort of sick twisted joke.

"You're sure this information can be trusted?" Horn asked, all humour lost from his figure.

"I swear on it Commander. After all, Daniel was a good man, and the fact that he has been locked up with them for over two months now is nothing more than sickening to me. I would not relay this information if I did not believe there was a chance of him being there." Cecil finished and looked to the Commander, who only placed a hand on his shoulder.

"If he's there Cecil, anything within my power to give is yours." Cecil shook his head.

"We're all in this together now Commander. There's no need for favours." Horn gave a nod, and marched with renewed purpose from the CIC towards the Conference room.

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Horn had made his way from the CIC to the Conference room in record time without actually sprinting to the room, but was surprised to see Nerita leaning against the door to the room. Horn walked slowly up to the room, which grabbed Nerita's attention as she stood to face him. "Commander." She simply stated. Horn gave a nod in return.

"I assume there is a reason you're watching guard over an empty room?" Horn asked, his humour leaking through but still evident that he wasn't in much of a joking mood.

"Yes." Nerita stated bluntly, but seemed to be searching for the words. It took her a few seconds before she spoke again, a weird thing from someone who was stoic and always sure of her words. "I would like to be on the assault team that extracts Lieutenant Harrens." Horn raised an eyebrow, an odd request from someone who often sought to distance herself from just about everyone else.

"Is there a reason for this specific request?" Horn asked, knowing there was but wanting to hear it from her. She stared at him for a moment before answering his question.

"While you were in a coma, he managed to help Operative Invaru take charge of the Call of Victory in a purely battlefield operational way. I've talked to him a few times, I've worked with him more than that, and he's stood up for me when no one else has. I owe him this." She stated everything very flatly, almost with no emotion but Horn didn't take any insult from this. It was simply the fact that she was offering her services without being asked, the fact that she waited for Horn to show up, the fact that she had trouble getting her words out when he first asked her what was up that Horn knew she was genuinely wanting to get Daniel out of that hell hole. Horn gave a smile and smacked Nerita hard enough on her shoulder to make her teeter to one side.

"Hey, I can always use a biotic on my team. Sexy ones are even better. You still promised me a nurse outfit one day." Nerita simply gave a scoff and Horn let his smile drop a little. "In all honesty, I was probably going to ask you anyways. I appreciate you offering your services Nerita." The asari simply gave a nod, and walked past him back down the hallway. Horn watched her go for a moment, before breaching the doors to the Conference room.

"Nikki, get me the Illusive Man." Jason stated as the table started to retract into the floor. He stepped onto it, for the first time, wishing the quantum entanglement worked faster. He quickly solidified himself, placing his hands behind his back in an 'at east' posture. The moment the field solidified, he spotted the Illusive Man in his iconic office, sitting in his chair looking over what appeared to be reports. TIM didn't bother to acknowledge Horn until he was fully materialized, and even then it was only at a sidelong glance.

"Commander Horn." TIM started, the smoke trailing from his cigarette in between his fingers as he swiped the reports across his vision. "You're not due for another report for another few days. I assume this is about Daniel?" Horn paused for a moment, not knowing exactly how the Illusive Man knew what this was about, but reasoned it away with the fact of why else he would be calling him uninvited.

"Yes sir. We have reliable intel stating that Lieutenant Harrens is being held on the moon of Asphodel, in the Exodus Cluster." TIM simply took another drag on his cigarette, not bothering to say anything. "I'm...here talking to you sir to request permission to go after him." TIM allowed himself the smallest of smirks for the briefest of a second.

"No, Commander Horn." The Illusive Man stood up from his chair, closing the distance between them. "You came here to tell me you are going, whether I sanction it or not." Horn said nothing, but to be completely honest with himself, he would have gone even if the Illusive Man had said no. When Horn replied with nothing, TIM turned around, and took a few steps away from him before turning back to him. "I understand that the bond that forms between soldiers is strong Commander. A brotherhood shrouded in blood, glory, and death. These bonds can end up being as strong, or even stronger than family ties." TIM took another drag on his cigarette. "But I have to wonder the value of one man as opposed to the mission we are now embarked on."

"I have not forgotten my mission sir." Horn said, half defending himself, half wanting to end the conversation so he could get going.

"I realize that Commander, after all, after your recovery you and your crew have made good progress against the Collectors. Despite Omni Cell's setbacks, you are once again proving yourself an asset to Cerberus." TIM paused, and slowly made his way back to his chair. Once he was seated and snuffed out his cigarette, he locked his fingers together. "You have my permission to go after him, Commander Horn. Make note, however, that where he is being held is most likely an Oracle outpost of some sort. The men that attacked Lieutenant Harrens on Elysium were affiliated with Alliance. If that is the case, rescue your man, but make sure that outpost doesn't remain standing."

"Sir, you read my mind." Horn stated, a smile creeping onto his face like a kid who managed to get the candy bar from his father.

"Good. Get this matter done and out of the way Commander. We have bigger issues in the galaxy than the fate of one man." TIM cut the connection, and Horn was left standing in the conference room with a huge smile on his face.

"Nikki!" Horn yelled up at the ceiling. "Get the priests! We're going to get ourselves a Demon!"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton

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Horn paced down in the hangar in his full combat gear. He had once again donned his Apocalypse armour, but it was no longer the shining white that it used to be. After his initial trial run, Horn called a couple of favours and managed to get the scientists who had worked on the armour stationed on the Victory for a couple of days. Within the time they were given, they were able to boost the shield strength enough that the paint was purely an accessory at this point. Along with new experimental self-propulsion devices, the giant pack on his back had been cut down to nearly half it's size. The only problem being that the jetpack on his back was now a very vulnerable section on his body. He had the option to jettison the pack if necessary, but it was still very much in his mind that it could turn into one very large grenade. If he had too, he had a cool idea to get rid of it.

His armour was now more in line with the Demon fashion. His colour scheme was backwards, his armour now jet black with red detailing, and his visor now had it's own decal. When his visor was down, a blood red smile with matching blood red eyes was drawn onto the screen. His squad was called the Demons, he might as well look the part. The only problem being that he had to actually look at it when he took the armour off. He still had chills from the first time TJ had painted it on.

Kelly stood off to his left in her standard Cerberus uniform. Despite her actions on Ontarom two months ago, she was no more eager to get back into combat than Horn was to get back into a coma. She held her omni-tool up, scanning over each and every detail with immaculate precision. Along with Kelly, Tia and Nerita were suited up behind them, each ready in their own way to kick some ass and get Daniel out of the Oracle prison camp. The only people left to arrive were Lieutenant O'Ryan and his selected team. Horn was getting impatient waiting for them, pacing around the room or stopping for a few moments to tap his foot in one spot. When O'Ryan finally arrived, he made a note to salute Kelly, but not Jason. This suited the Commander fine, since he didn't necessarily like the gesture.

"Sir, Ma'am. Fireteam Owl reporting." The Lieutenant stated with the crispness of a drill sergeant. Kelly simply gave a nod towards him, Horn was less subtle as he clapped his hands together once.

"About fucking time Lieutenant! We have some asses to kick and one in particular to save. Kelly, brief them." Kelly gave another nod and stepped forward a moment. Her omni-tool was already lit, so the display simply changed to a layout of their supposed target.

"Marines. This is Lieutenant Harren's holding location." Kelly pressed a few more buttons on her tool. "If you bring up your omni-tool, the display shall be linked to your equipment." She waited a moment as they all followed her instructions and were soon holding an image that mirrored Operative Invaru's. "The exact blueprints of the base are unknown to us, but judging by the layout of the building based on standard operating construction, we've made an estimated guess as to where exactly the Lieutenant is being held." Horn quickly stepped in.

"Daniel is our main target. Regardless of his state of being, we do not leave that building until he back aboard this ship. Do I make myself clear marines!?" There was a chorus of 'yes sir' from Lieutenant O'Ryan and his team. Horn gave a nod, and stepped back behind Kelly who gave a small, polite smile.

"Yes, Lieutenant Harrens is your main objective. However, we are to cause as much collateral damage as possible to the facility. For this purpose, each of you will be outfitted with several high explosive charges." Horn walked over to a couple of crates and popped them open, revealing several high grade planted explosives. "This does not necessarily mean you will need them. You're secondary objective will be to map the facility, and determine just how far it goes down into the surface. Any more than a few levels, and those charges will be needed to take out the supports and collapse the base from the inside. If it appears to be less than a few floors down, there will be no need for the charges. We will be firing the cannon from orbit and destroying the base that way."

Kelly looked over to Horn, who clapped his hands together. "Alright, so first thing is first. Fireteam Owl! Attention!" Horn yelled, showing off his more commanding tone as he did so. The entire team, including O'Ryan snapped to attention. "Aside from O'Ryan...Names! Sound off!"

"Corporal Stevenson sir!"

"Specialist Salazar sir!"

"Private Fischer sir!"

"Private Pollard sir!" Horn gave a nod as each stated their names. Even though their names and rank were displayed through the visor's HUD, he preferred hearing them say their name so it was committed to memory. With this done, Horn relaxed slightly into his more casual command setting.

"Alright marines. Enemy forces down at this outpost are sketchy at best. I wouldn't place more than a platoon strength in there. Add in a few techs, medics, administrative staff, the likes. I don't like to speculate, but we run this right, we get in and out before they understand that we just fucked them hard." Horn stood in front of them, his arms crossed across his chest. "As you know and Operative Invaru has stated, we're facing Oracle. From my understanding, I ran into a few of their operatives while on Hephaestus. They are well equipped, armoured, and trained. Expect nothing less than Alliance bred and controlled, and nothing more than fucking badass. Understand?!"

"Yes sir!" They stated in unison. Horn gave a nod.

"Alright, not going to bother you with the 'stay together, stay alive' bullshit, I'll leave that to Lieutenant O'Ryan. For now, if you find Daniel before I do, notify me and get him to the extraction point. Do not wait for me or my team, he is priority." Horn looked to Kelly. "Anything else to add?"

"Automated defences are most likely abundant in the base. Be on the lookout for hidden turrets, defensive lasers and mechs." Horn nodded once more, looking to the marines.

"Alright, you heard the lady. Watch out for mechanical booby traps and let's go get ourselves a Demon!" Horn made a waving motion towards the Kodiak and the marines jogged to board the transport. He walked back to Nerita and Tia. "Well? What are you waiting for? Board the Kodiak."

"You're not joining us sir?" Tia asked, looking towards the Kodiak and back towards Horn. Horn gave a smile behind his visor, mimicking the blood red paintjob.

"No, Operative. We don't know the anti-air capabilities of the facility yet. If I head out before you do, I can draw some of the fire. Also, we're going to need an area to land. The pilot knows to simply follow my FOF signal." Horn looked over to Kelly, who gave a nod before leaving the shuttle bay. He looked back to Nerita and Tia, giving a nod towards the Kodiak. Nerita followed without another word, and Tia followed suit. Once they were within the Kodiak, Horn looked up at the ceiling. "Alright Nikki, drop the hatch and let's kill shit!"

"Affirmative sir. Opening the Shuttle Bay Doors." Horn watched as the floor beneath him started to separate, revealing the planet down below. The already punched in coordinates of the base showed a way point trail to his destination as it recognized open space. Once the doors were open wide enough for him to jump, he looked over the Kodiak and gave a mock salute.

"See you grunts on the ground!" Without another word, Horn dived through the opening.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Horn crouched down on a relatively open area, just a few yards from the entrance to the base. Surprisingly, there had been no Anti-air fire directed at him. It was almost like they had either turned it off, or not anticipated someone finding them here and didn't build any. Either way, Horn didn't like it and mumbled to himself right up to the point that the Kodiak landed a few seconds after he did. The doors opened and his team, along with the marines, trotted out to rendezvous with him. Horn pointed towards O'Ryan. "Take your team through that door!" Horn pointed towards another entrance a few more yards away. "Sweep the base, room through room, and kill everything that isn't Daniel."

"Understood sir." O'Ryan stated. "Owl! On me, we're moving!"

Horn watched as the Lieutenant's team as they jogged to the entrance. Meanwhile, Nerita and Tia had pushed ahead of him and taken up spots on either side of their door. Horn walked up, and with a slight motion towards Tia, she hacked the door and gained them entrance in a few seconds. Horn's Vindicator came up, quickly sweeping through the hallway to ensure there would be no unneeded surprises. When it became evident that there was nothing there, at least initially, they proceeded.

As they wandered down the hallway, rooms sat empty on either side of them. This didn't prevent them from opening and clearing each and every one, stopping only to allow Tia to pull a schematic of the base off of one of the terminals. It was bothering Jason to a visible point, his hand coiled around his Vindicator with so much tension it looked like he was going to break his rifle, his fingers played a silent drum roll near the trigger of the weapon. When they finally reached the end of the hallway, having entered and cleared 6 rooms to this point, Jason took a moment to look around. "They had to be here...We noticed activity when we came into the system...so where are they?" Before anyone could answer, Lieutenant O'Ryan came over the comm.

"Commander?" Horn put a hand up to his helmet.

"Hit me Lieutenant."

"Sir, it looks like they have either evacuated, or are in the process of it. We just passed a mess hall, food was still on the tables and warm." Horn quickly turned around.

"Saint! Where is the Hangar?" There was a moment as Tia brought up her Omni-tool.

"It's on the other side of the base sir." Horn was about to take off when Nerita spoke.

"How is it that they're evacuating but we're not picking up any ships leaving the planet?" Horn paused and then cursed at himself. "Because they got fucking cloaks on their ships." He switched to a platoon frequency so O'Ryan could hear him. "Everyone! converge on the hangar! Move it, or so help me god if they take Daniel off this planet I will be throwing each and everyone of you into space to chase them! DO YOU UNDERSTAND!?"

"Yes sir. Owl converging." O'Ryan replied, calm as ever. Horn didn't waste any time as he started sprinting down the hallways and switching channels to the Call of Victory at the same time.

"Kelly! I want a missile barrage at these coordinates!" He brought up his omni-tool mid sprint, sending in a firing solution while rounding a corner.

"Sir, that's dangerously close to the facility. We can't guarantee that the shots won't hit you." Kelly replied, her neutral voice only spurring Horn on further.

"God fucking damn it Kelly! I gave you an order, not a suggestion! I don't want you to destroy the hangars or the ships, just prevent them from leaving! Get it done!" There was a brief pause.

"Acknowledged...entering firing solution."

"Good, now we-FUCK!" Horn rounded another corner, and barely stopped in time as a couple of automated turrets sprung out of the ground. He turned to his right, hit the button to open the door, and dived in as the guns started firing. "Down! Down!" Horn yelled, but luckily he had damn near left Nerita and Tia in the dust when he had started running. They were still behind the corner when the guns had opened fire.

"Saint! Overload their systems! Nerita, when their shields are down, I want you to molecular transform those pieces of metal into nothing but oversized lawn ornaments for rednecks!" As soon as Horn finished saying that, a large explosion from a distance away caused the entire facility to shake, nearly throwing them all off balance for a moment.

"Yes sir." Tia responded while Nerita only gave a nod. Within a couple of seconds, with their respective powers working in combo, the turrets had been neutralized. Horn took a moment, and realized for the first time that he heard breathing in the room. He spun around, his weapon at the ready, only to find a sole person in the room, dangling from hooks like a piece of meat. Horn cautiously strode forward until he was but a foot from the man. With a quick look, his anger turned to relief as he recognized it was Daniel, back to anger as he realized what they had done to him. A quick glance at the rest of the room told him all he needed to know about this section of the facility as torture tools lay strewn about the interior of the area.

"Hey...Lieutenant." Daniel didn't respond, so Horn grabbed his chin, retracted his visor and forced his face up. "Daniel you son of a bitch you better not be dying on me. That's bad luck and I would be sad. Seriously, a couple of man tears for you at your funeral. No more than two though, they're precious." Daniel stirred for a moment, his eyes glazed over as he looked up, and then slowly around the room. By this point Tia and Nerita had joined him in what Horn was now mentally dubbing the 'fucker-upper room'.

"What...there..." Daniel suddenly jerked up, spurred by some reserve of adrenaline he had managed to somehow keep to himself. "Where is that son of bitch sir! I want him dead!" Horn just placed his hands on his hips.

"First Kelly doesn't flash me when I save her, and now you don't even thank me and say a prayer to me not being in a coma. Jeez, you guys are real assholes, you know that?" Daniel shook his head, but didn't smile as Horn cut him down from the hooks.

"Sorry sir. Glad to see you're not dead sir." Daniel stated, his voice low as he dropped unceremoniously to the ground. Horn put one of Daniel's arms around his shoulders and attempted to help him stand, only for Daniel to push him away. "I can stand." Was all he said as he propped himself and slowly managed to get himself upright. Horn looked at him, and even knowing the fact that torture can change a man, was surprised by the dark look behind Daniel's once friendly eyes. Before Horn could say anything, a light flashed in the corner as a woman in blue administrative attire strode forward. Her shoulder length brown hair was let down, her bangs slightly swept off to her left as she stood a few feet from Horn through the Quantum Entanglement Device. Horn stared at her as she didn't bat even an eye at them.

"You must be Commander Horn. Captain Titus speaks very highly of you." The woman spoke, her voice light and almost inquisitive. Horn narrowed his eyes at you.

"Putting two and two together...You're the head of Oracle..." It was more a statement then a question as Horn strode forward, less than a foot between them now and dwarfing the woman by a good few inches. She gave a slight smirk, regarding him with a very curious gaze, reminding him of Kelly when she was analyzing something.

"In a sense. We all answer to a higher power." Horn stared at her as another rumble forced everyone but Horn to regain their balance. Horn's face did not change, a very dangerous stare looking into the woman's eyes.

"You made two very dear mistakes...One of them was capturing one of my people." She gave a smile.

"And the second?" She asked, her tone almost mocking the Commander.

"Showing me your face." Horn stated as his visor closed, showing the red demon smile and eyes, before raising his gun and firing a couple of bursts into the QEC. The Oracle leader's image flashed for a moment, she gave one last smirk at him and then disappeared entirely. Horn turned towards the others, who were simply staring at him by this point. He gave a cheeky smile behind his visor before clapping his hands together.

"Don't have time to play politics with the woman trying to act like she has dick the size of a dreadnought." Horn took a breath. "Alrighty then." Horn stated as he motioned for Nerita and Tia to patch Daniel up. He stepped back and opened a channel once more. "Lieutenant? We have Harrens. How close are you to the Hangar."

"We're just entering now sir..." There was a brief moment of silence before O'Ryan yelled back into the comm. "Everyone down! Down! Pollard! Salazar! Take the right flank! Fischer! Stevenson! Suppress the shuttles! Keep them off!" There was another moment as fire errupted, and even without the comm. open, Horn could hear the fire from where he was. "Sir! They're still evacuating! Two shuttles left!" There was another explosion as the Victory's firing solution came very close to facility, shaking them all down to their core. O'Ryan came back onto the comm. again. "Sir! Call off the attack! The missiles are getting too close! Friendly fire is a possibility!"

"Fuck!" Horn swore to himself as he connected to the Victory once more. "Kelly! Stop the attack! We have friendlies in the Hangar."

"Noted. Ceasing firing solution." Kelly stated back, but Horn could almost swear there was a 'I told you so' in her tone. Horn didn't say anything as he looked back at Daniel.

"I need to go help Lieutenant O'Ryan and his team. Nerita, Saint, get Daniel to extraction." Daniel looked up with a quickness that defied his current state of being, and shoved Nerita and Tia off of him.

"Not without getting a shot at that bastard who did this sir." Daniel stated as he walked with a noticeable limp towards Horn. Horn put his hand, blocking him from passing through the threshold of the door.

"Lieutenant, you're wounded, been tortured for the past two months, are possibly on the verge of collapse...and your lips are really chapped. Seriously, get some lip balm or something. You're in no shape to be fighting!" Daniel looked him straight in the eyes.

"How soon did you get into a fight after your coma sir?" Horn looked at the man, before realizing he couldn't have known and looked at his feet.

"Well...uhhh...that doesn't really count cause I'm me. The circumstances were different, reason, explanation, and bullshit excuses go here." Horn stated but Daniel didn't even give him a smile.

"Well sir, the circumstances are different as well. I may not be 'you', but I sure as hell not going to limp off while you guys try to kill the guy who did this to me." Daniel reached over, and took the carnifex off of Horn's side. "So, with all due respect sir...if you don't want me to go after him." Daniel made sure the carnifex was loaded, and of course it was.

"Then shoot me." Horn stared him down for a moment before giving a devilish grin.

"This is like a bad action movie! Revenge! Plots! Super badass monologue moment with a one liner! It's got it all...except...TIA! NERITA! Bikinis! Now!" Both of the women simply deadpanned at him. Horn gave a mock pout at them. "Oh well, worth a try. Well then..." Horn whipped his head towards the door, motioning his arm towards the threshold.

"Let's kill us some bad guys."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Horn jumped over the remains of yet another automated turret that tried and failed to stop them. The fire from Owl's fight was getting louder every second, and Horn was sprinting as fast as he possibly could. Nerita and Tia were helping Daniel along, slowing their progress considerably, but that was understandable and excused. Horn didn't want to rescue his friend only to watch him die from one well placed round from one of the Oracle marines. Horn ran through another set of doors, and was rewarded with the final stretch before the hangar. Gunfire could be heard from the other side, and he didn't bother to check where his team was at the moment as he burst through the doors with all the grace of a drunken elcor.

In the two seconds it took to survey the scene, he managed to make out a squad's worth of enemy marines left, and saw that O'Ryan and his team had been engaged in hand to hand by what appeared to be the commander of the facility. Giving a quick glance at the man, the way he was moving was definitely familiar. Horn's mind flashed back to the Hephaestus, his fighting of the enemy Commander there. He gritted his teeth as he remembered the fact that the man got away, but managed to pull himself back to the present long enough to survey Owl's condition. By the looks of it, Owl was royally getting shit stomped, so Horn didn't waste any time. He pumped a clip into one of the enemy marines as he ran, and once he was close enough, holstered his rifle in favour of his combat blade. Horn ignited his jets, and literally flew at the commander, stopping just short to deliver a roundhouse kick to the man's chest.

The Commander finished delivering a powerful haymaker to one of the marines, laying him out on the ground and skidding a couple of feet, before looking over and seeing the terrifying sight of Horn flying directly at him. A mixture of training, experience, and luck managed to get him to duck in time as the roundhouse missed entirely. What the Commander didn't expect, was for Horn to put his hands forward to completely stop his momentum forward with the control jets built into his palms, and deliver a solid knee to the face as the jets in his boots boosted him upwards. The Commander flew backwards, landing on his back several feet away, but quickly getting back to his feet.

"Motherfucker...we have some unfinished business!" Horn stated as he spun the combat blade in his hand and ran towards the man. With the briefest of flares, Horn kicked up both his feet towards the Commander, who blocked them easily. For the moment, the Commander was on the defensive as Horn unleashed a flurry of blows amped up by split second flares of his manoeuvring jets in his hands in feet. Gunfire was erupting all around them as Horn's team, along with fireteam Owl fought off the Oracle marines, but Horn was deaf to it all as he developed tunnel vision at the man in front of him.

Suddenly the Commander gripped Horn's wrist as he tried to punch for the man's temple. With a quick flick, he had Horn flip sideways to avoid breaking his wrist. With another move, the Commander had delivered three moderate-power punches to Horn's chest, forcing him back a couple feet. Suddenly the Commander switched tactics, and pushed the offensive, launching a flurry of attacks as he too brought out his own combat blade. It felt like a re-enactment of Hephaestus as both of them swung, stabbed, punched, and kicked at each other. Blades sparked as they met, rounds flew by both of their faces but neither paid any attention to them.

The animosity of the fight was not lost on either of them, with both of their visors down staring at reflections of their own helmets in the reflection of their enemy. It was like metaphorically fighting themselves, which might as well have been accurate as the fight seemed more like a elaborate dance of death. Each other would land a couple of blows only to be blocked, dodged, or parried to be on the receiving end of the blows. Despite the fact that the fight felt like it was going on a few hours, most likely for both, something caught the attention of the Commander.

Another Oracle marine dropped as a hail of fire peppered him from Owl. With a quick movement, the Commander dodged inside Horn's guard, driving his combat blade up through Horn's hand as he made to punch the man once inside. Horn gritted his teeth, not expecting such a gutsy, and ultimately feeble attack considering that he was now at the mercy of Horn. Instead of reeling from the attack, Horn wrenched his hand, causing the wound to deepen, but also making the Commander lose his grip on the hilt. Horn drove his knee up into the Commander's stomach, causing him to double over ever so slightly. He quickly drove his own blade towards the Commanders back, but with a quick twist from his nemesis, it landed deep into his shoulder instead, even though the Commander barely gave notice. Before the Commander could do anything else, Horn managed to close his wounded hand into a fist and drive it into the Commander's face. With the split second it bought him, the Commander reeling from the hit, Horn jumped up and delivered a drop kick which sent the man flying several feet backwards.

Both of them landed in a roll, and Horn immediately looked to his hand, finally assessing the damage. The blade had gone through his palm, the hilt on one side and the blade on the other. When he looked up, he saw the Commander give him a look before turning and heading for the nearest transport. "Oh fuck no!" Horn shouted as he reached for his carnifex, only to find a empty holster. A litany of curses emptied his mouth as he remembered Daniel took the pistol in order to fight. Without wasting a moment, he attempted to grab his Vindicator from his back, but it was too late.

Before he could fire after the man, gunfire peppered his shields, forcing him to dodge to the side and find cover. Almost the moment he hit cover, he heard the doors close on the Kodiaks. He looked up over his cover of crates to see the Kodiaks lift into the air, and the doors to the Hangar open. Almost immediately, the oxygen started getting sucked out of the hangar as everyone prepped themselves up against something. "O'Ryan! Get those doors closed!" Horn yelled. With a quick order, one of the men from Owl was running to the nearest terminal. Within a few seconds, the doors were sealing themselves up again, but it was too late. The Oracle Kodiaks were gone. All that was left was the silence of the base, mixed in with the feeling of a pyrrhic victory. They had gotten Daniel back, but the man who did this got away and would try again. Horn stared at the exit to the hangar for a moment longer, only looking away when O'Ryan and his team jogged over. One of the marines was helping the other stand, but it didn't look too serious. For the most part, their wounds looked superficial. O'Ryan retracted his visor to look at Jason, his gaze flicking to the knife embedded in Jason's palm for a moment.

"I'm fine Lieutenant, to answer your unspoken question." Jason stated as he gripped the hilt of the blade and gave a quick tug. Blood spray painted the floor and Jason's armour as he had to literally bite his tongue until the taste of copper filled his mouth. "Mother..." Jason stated as he took a deep breath. He took a moment to look at his palm, before pointing at the marines with the blade end of the knife. "Don't do this at home, it's incredibly stupid...especially since this is serrated. Also hurts...a lot." With a few more muttered swears, he switched the knife to a reverse grip, and turned towards his team.

They were hunkered down near the entrance to the hangar, just inside near some metal piping. Upon closer inspection, Nerita and Tia were looking over Daniel, who had gotten a little paler since they had taken him off the hook. He still gripped the carnifex in his hand with a singular purpose, his knuckles as white as his face. Jason crouched next to the man, who lazily turned his head towards him. Despite his posture, his eyes showed a remarkable amount of self-awareness, despite the obvious physical trauma.

"Did you kill him sir?" Daniel asked. Jason retracted his visor, looking at Daniel before looking down slightly.

"No...but I did give him a pretty bad case of acupuncture." Horn lifted his hand to show his wound. "Had to repay the favour." Daniel nodded, obvious disappointment in his movements as Horn put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry Lieutenant. He won't get far. I know what his boss looks like, I'm here to protect all of us, and next time I see that guy he won't have a way out." Daniel gave a nod, but looked like all his efforts were on not passing out. Horn gave a pat on his shoulder. "Nerita, Saint. Carry him to extraction. He's had a hell of a two month leave." They both nodded as they took a spot under each arm. Horn paced away, his good hand reaching for his helmet.

"Victory? This is Horn. The facility is a go for orbital destruction. Send down the Kodiaks for extraction."

"Affirmative Commander." Kelly stated back as Horn turned around to see O'Ryan standing there. His team wasn't that far off, although they looked like they were talking amongst themselves more.

"Permission to speak freely sir." O'Ryan stated, to which Horn only nodded. "We are going to go after them right? I'm not to talk of vengeance, or revenge...but this was an attack on us, and Oracle is posing a big enough threat that they could disrupt our original goal. We can't stop the Collectors if we have to worry about the Alliance deliberately targeting us." Horn put up a hand, stopping the man in his tracks.

"Oh, I know." Jason stated. "Game plan's changed. We now know what the leader of Oracle looks like. We figure out who that bitch is, we find her, and we kill her. Then, for good measure, we blow up everything that has to do with Oracle." Horn looked at the blade in his hand. "But, I wanna kill that fucker who did this to Daniel and keeps running from me." Jason stated as walked past O'Ryan, who turned towards him.

"Sir, with all due respect, we can't let personal vendettas cloud our judgements and goals." Horn turned back towards the man, giving a smile.

"Oh, but it is personal." Horn held up the enemy Commander's blade.

"That asswipe has my knife."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn

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“Have I ever mentioned I really really want armour like that?” Roger looked wistfully out the viewport as Horn promptly leapt up the hangar, the Kodiak hovering out after him moments later. “I mean seriously…that’s just awesome.”

Maya snorted in her seat just beside the private. “You have the balls to jump out of a spaceship in a suit of armour? That’d I’d like to see.” Drumming her fingers on the side of her avenger, the medic glanced over her shoulder to watch their descent. “Takes a special breed of crazy to do that. Guess the boss is just the type.”

“Its badass is what it is!”

“You can’t be badass when you pancake into the surface at Mach 3.” She grinned behind her visor as his shoulders slumped. “That’s a bit beyond my medical skills, same for Dr. Grass.” There was a light chuckle from Ed, and she looked to the corporal.

“Is it just part of the training that makes medical personnel into pessimists, or is it a rare exception just for you and him?” The medic nudged him roughly with her elbow. “Just saying.”

“If you knew all the ways you squishy bastards could get yourselves killed, you’d be no better!” She huffed, crossing her arms across her chest while Ed and Roger shared a light laugh at her expense. “Especially with this accident prone little bastard!” Maya thumped her fist on his side, earning a grunt from Roger.

“Watch it!”

“Make m-”

“Stow the chatter, marines.” O’Ryan’s voice silenced them all instantly, the Lieutenant not even looking over his shoulder to address them. “We’re approaching the LZ.” Surely enough, the Kodiak touched down moments later, the door opening and the teams quickly disembarking from the shuttle. As they approached, Commander Horn wasted no time firing off their instructions.

“Take your team through that door!” Horn pointed towards another entrance a few more yards away. “Sweep the base, room through room, and kill everything that isn't Daniel.”

“Understood sir.” O'Ryan stated. “Owl! On me, we're moving!” The marines jogged briskly after their superior, Roger sparing a sidelong glance at the commander as they went before focusing his eyes on O’Ryan’s back. Stacking up to the door, they waited only a moment before the Lieutenant gave Logan an affirmative nod.

The engineer wasted no time hacking through the door, and the team swept through the empty hall with cautious steps. The first room was swept cautiously, but was as empty as the hall. After the first few rooms were cleared with zero enemy contact, the marines began to exchange confused glances, and even O’Ryan seem slightly perturbed by the utter absence of any hostile forces.

Once the hall was secure, Ed spoke quietly. “I know there aren’t many, but there should be something by now. They’d have a system alarm for the doors opening at least.” O’Ryan paused at an intersection, looking down the halls for a moment before looking partially over his shoulder at Logan.

“Fischer, did you secure a map from one of the terminals?” Logan nodded, tapping a few quick keys on his omni-tool to sync it with the Fire team’s HUD. O’Ryan went quiet for a minute, before gesturing down the right hall. “Head out. I have a suspicion.”

Complying, the marines moved quietly down the hall, checking the few rooms that sporadically lined the passage with little success. O’Ryan largely ignored the checks, moving ever forward towards some destination he didn’t deem necessary to mention. As they approached a larger-than-usual door, the Lieutenant quickly tapped the key to open it, revealing a small cafeteria.

As they fanned out, Maya stopped by one of the tables, noting most of them still had food on them. Examining the plate for a moment, the medic pressed her finger into it curiously, blinking in surprise when the warmth registered through her suit. “Sir, all of this is still warm.”

O’Ryan simply grunted, speaking into the general comm. “Commander?” There was only a moment’s pause before Horn replied.

“Hit me Lieutenant.”

“Sir, it looks like they have either evacuated, or are in the process of it. We just passed a mess hall; food was still on the tables and warm.” He motioned for the marines to follow him, and Owl quickly filtered out of the room to continue their search. They had barely made it halfway down the next hall when Horn’s voice boomed in their collective ears.

“Everyone! Converge on the hangar! Move it or so help me god, if they get Daniel off this planet, I will be throwing each and every one of you into space to chase them! DO YOU UNDERSTAND!?” Roger and Maya exchanged a concerned glance, while Logan raised an eyebrow at the sudden threat from their superior.

Ed looked to O’Ryan, who remained characteristically stoic, offering only a calm “Yes sir. Owl converging.” He gave the motion to move out, and the fire team quickly broke into a sprint while O’Ryan led the way towards the hangar. They encountered no resistance for the first portion, but as they rounded a corner leading towards the hangar, the entire facility shook from a heavy blast not far from their position.

“The fuck was that?” Roger asked nervously, wobbling on his feet while the other exchanged worried glances. Logan frowned slightly as he replied.

“Too much power for explosives. Likely an orbital strike.”

“We’re still in here!” Maya snapped, but O’Ryan was completely unphased, simply starting forward again with a wordless command for them to follow. “God dammit!” She swore, running after the Lieutenant with her team. Halfway down the hallway, small panels on the wall flipped around to reveal a pair of auto-turrets that were quickly training on the approaching marines.

Logan’s hand snapped out, omni-tool blinking once as a powerful electric burst surged into the first exposed turret; the energy then arcing across the hallway to fry the circuitry of it’s twin. Ed raised his rifle in unison with O’Ryan, both men firing a relentless burst into the turrets as they spun up their guns. A hail of bullets carved towards the two, but before the rounds could reach the corporal, the Lieutenant roughly shoved him aside as he dropped to a knee and continued firing.

The first turret crumpled under the assault, but the second’s powerful rounds took a toll on O’Ryan’s shields, forcing the Lieutenant to swerve aside to avoid a fatal barrage. The barrel swerved to compensate, but a single shot cracked, and the barrel of the gun crumpled from the hit. The system went offline seconds later, and the team glanced back to Roger, still staring down the scope of his Viper rather surprised he’d managed to actually hit the target.

“Good shot.” The private blinked incredulously at the unexpected praise as he lowered the Viper. The Lieutenant quickly rose, jerking his head down the hallway as the team started forward once again. Roger lagged behind only for a moment, before quickening his pace to catch up, the smallest grin on his face.

It took only a few minutes to reach the Hangar, barely any other obstacles appearing in their way to stop them. As they approached, Horn spoke quickly over the comms. “Lieutenant? We have Harrens. How close are you to the hangar?” As if on cue, they slowed outside the door to their destination, stacking quickly as O’Ryan replied.

“We’re just entering now, sir…” Logan opened the door swiftly, and they rushed into the room as quickly as possible. Within seconds of entering, Owl spotted their targets…ready and waiting behind a small miniature perimeter just outside one of their remaining Kodiaks. The response from the hostile marines was immediate and delivered via a hailstorm of rounds flying from their position to the exposed fire team. "Everyone down! Down! Pollard! Salazar! Take the right flank! Fischer! Stevenson! Suppress the shuttles! Keep them off!"

Maya and Roger complied instantly, surging off to the right for the few meagre crates that littered the hangar bay, the medic firing off bursts from her avenger while the private focused on getting his ass not shot to bits. Logan instinctively took a knee, calmly firing several bursts at the Kodiak doors to prevent the occupants from assisting, while Ed took a more focused stab at those outside who had yet to board. If they couldn’t get on, they couldn’t escape.

“Sir! They're still evacuating! Two shuttles left!” The entire hangar shook with the force of the sudden detonation just outside the massive hangar doors, tossing Roger from his feet while Maya half staggered half slid into their small ‘cover‘.

“I ain’t in the mood to get blown to chunks today!”

“Sir! Call off the attack! The missiles are getting too close! Friendly fire is a possibility!” Horn seemed to comply, leaving Owl to their work. The Lieutenant and two exposed marines hurried across the open ground to the Maya’s position, who did her best to suppress and provide cover fire for them. The five barely fit beside each other, ducking low to avoid the shots. “Pollard!”

“S-sir!”

“Get low and get an angle on them! The Viper won’t do you any good in this position! Go!” The private nodded quickly, laying low on his stomach and crawling out past several smaller crates. His armour made the task even more difficult, but he focused on getting clear and trying to keep himself as small as possible so he didn’t get spotted. The exposure made his breath sharpen in a slight panic, but he swallowed it the best he could, dragging himself inch by inch away from his team.

Once he’d managed to get a short distance away, and could easily see the small support pillar with which he could take cover, Roger sprung up onto his feet and sprinted like a madman. A few shouts in voices he didn’t recognize signalled that the Oracle goons had spotted him, but before more than few rounds could slice past him; the private was tucked quietly behind his pillar.

With several steadying breaths, and a quick check of his Viper, the young marksmen-in-training leaned slowly around the corner, eyes zeroing in on the first marine he sighted. Not yet confident enough in his shot, he aimed center mass, before taking a slow breath, and exhaling calmly. A moment later, he squeezed the trigger.

The marine jerked with a spray of crimson, collapsing behind the barricade with a pained cry. “Nice shot!” Ed complimented, although his voice quickly turned serious again. “We’ve got movement inside the Kodiak!” Roger was already taking aim as the figure dropped from the cabin silently into the battle. A few rounds winged his shields, but the man didn’t seem to even flinch, the cold white of his armour highlighted by several small blue lights. “That’s one of the men from Elysium!”

“Taking the shot!” Roger barked in reply, only for the helmeted head to snap in his direction at the last second, his shot ringing out and slicing the air where he’d once occupied. The private tried to quickly sight the man again for another shot, only to freeze when he found the figure in his scope again.

Running straight at him.

Leaning back out of his scope, Roger back-pedalled slightly as the figure close the distance between them blindingly fast. He could hear several concerned shouts from the team, but the white armoured man was upon him before the private could really process what was happening. Gripping the barrel of his viper, the Oracle soldier slammed the stock backwards into his shoulder, loosening his grip on the rifle which was promptly ripped from his hands. Staggering from the sudden force, Roger couldn’t even manage to throw his arms up as the sniper rifle was swung in a deadly arc like a club and smashed across his visor.

The systems in his armour blared an alert, but his opponent wasted no further time with the inexperienced combatant, driving several powerful fists into his sides before laying the private out with a vicious uppercut that toppled him like a domino. Roger collapsed into a heap without a sound, as the soldier spun behind the pillar to avoid Owl’s furious counter-attack.

“Roger’s down!” Maya shouted, already rising to her feet, when a hand rested calmly on her shoulder for a brief second. She barely turned her head before O’Ryan blitzed past her, body crouched low as he bull-rushed the gap between their cover and the pillar. “Fuck!”

“Suppressing fire!” Ed barked, and the trio leapt up to spray the Kodiaks with rounds. Few of the hostiles dared to fire, but one or two peeked their rifles up to blind fire in O’Ryan’s direction, but the Lieutenant seemed to ignore the rounds as he drew closer to the pillar. His shields blinked a warning when they dropped low, but his armour took the rounds without complaint as he crossed the last few steps.

Rounding the pillar, his Avenger was already barking by the time the Oracle soldier came into view, which reacted quickly and expertly, putting more of the pillar between him and the rifle. O’Ryan kept firing, quickly gripping Roger’s shoulder and pulling backwards. The private stirred slightly, gripping his Viper as he began to move backwards. The fire team watched with concern as O’Ryan backed around the corner, firing rapidly and in succession to keep the marines as suppressed as possible.

“Pollard, get up!” O’Ryan barked at the younger man, who was pushing lightly with his feet in a sluggish attempt to stand. “Now!” The private grunted roughly, shaking his head slightly to shake off the blur and disorientation from the blow to his head. The Avenger clicked in warning as it overheated, and O’Ryan flicked his eyes up to the pillar as the attacker emerged as if he’d been counting down the rounds. With a barely irritated grunt, the Lieutenant discarded his Avenger and reached for his Predator. Roger hazily swung his Viper forward, quick-firing a pair of shots at the rapidly approaching soldier. Only one round connected, impacting forcefully against his shields but slowing his momentum for a few extra seconds.

O’Ryan wasted no time dragging the private back a few extra steps before giving a mighty pull/push that skidded the disoriented rookie into the relative safety of their cover. Drawing his Predator, he tried to level it but the soldier was fast enough to palm the barrel aside before he could fire. The fight quickly became focused around the pistol, O’Ryan using his free hand to strike and parry whilst trying to bring the gun into play.

The soldier moved fluidly between his strikes, never letting the pistol gets a solid enough bead on him before bashing it aside once more. Every strike the lieutenant threw was blocked or used to weaken his stance for the inevitable counter-attack. O’Ryan shifted his focus, attempting to strike in unison with his pistol to keep the man’s attention split, but was met with only moderate success.

The soldier never seemed to take his focus purely off the pistol, allowing several strikes past his guard to ensure that the gun was removed from play. Using it to his advantage, O’Ryan pressed the attack with several jabs against the unprotected side before swiftly discarding the pistol for a vicious straight cross that crushed into the soldier’s jaw and jerked his head to the side.

It was only as his opponent’s foot jabbed forward between his legs and shattered his stance that the Lieutenant realized his mistake. Without the stability of his powered stance, the soldier was quick to grip his extended arm and toss the heavily armoured man straight over his shoulder with the momentum. O’Ryan landed with a thunderous thud flat on his back, the wind temporarily leaving his lungs from the force of it.

The soldier barely paid him a second thought, expertly weaving back to avoid a power jab from Maya who had roared into the fight with a furious swear over the comms. “Get the fuck away from them!” Her external speakers roared arms up in a southpaw boxing style as she pressed the soldier back with dozens of speed jabs that blocked with a mirror stance of her own, giving the ground that she seemed to want while taking little in the way of damage.

“C’mon, bring it! Can’t fight someone who knows how?!” She hissed; sweeping a few range finding jabs while focusing on the soldier’s stance. It was odd. His stance seemingly held very little in the way of combat, a relaxed stance with loose hands at his side, focusing purely on the way that she moved and sidestepping most of the strikes that came close to him. “Just gonna stare?!”

Behind her, Logan darted forward to retrieve O’Ryan, largely undisturbed by the remaining marines who used the distraction from their ally to embark several of their own to the protective cabin of the waiting Kodiak. Ed fired a few shots while Roger began to haul himself back up, recovering from his encounter seemingly no worse for wear.

Maya pressed into the guard, already seething inside for payback at the Unknown Soldier, throwing a jab before hammering in with a hook for his kidneys. Blocking the jab with swift twist, he followed through with a knuckle strike into Maya’s shoulder that sucked the momentum from her hook. Growling in frustration, she pushed the attack again, trying several jabs with an uppercut, only to find the man weaving out of the way of her attacks with nothing in the way of counter-attack.

“Fight me, damn it!” The medic screamed, throwing her weight into a left cross as the soldier regained his footing.

“As you wish.” Was his the cold reply, echoing in her ears as his hand snapped upwards, ensnaring her wrist and using the momentum to rip her several steps forward. Weaving past the trapped limb, the soldier hesitated only for the slightest moment before delivering a brutal palm strike to the joint of her shoulder than ended with a sickening pop that sounded through her armour.

The limb fell dead in seconds; the marine barely staggering to a stop before the wave of pain hit her body like a landslide. “O-oh. Fuck..me…” She stammered, half-collapsing to her knees as her good hand tentatively touched her shoulder; sending fresh pain surging through her nerves and making the medic shake in her weakened attempts to stay standing.

“Maya!” Ed shouted, gun trained towards the soldier, but unable to fire as he still stood strategically behind the injured soldier. “Fall back! Now!” She hissed under her breath, raising teary eyes to the soldier and spitting venom in her voice.

“F-fuck you, you p-p-piece of shit.” Straightening slightly, her arm dangling limp at her side, Maya raised her remaining arm into the boxing stance, glaring daggers through her visor. “You think that’s g-gonna stop me..? FUCK YOU.” She lunged with a jab, but he easily side-stepped it, striking lightly against her injured shoulder.

She staggered back several steps, swallowing harshly as a cold sweat broke out across her body. “Damn it, Maya! Move!” Ed shouted again, ducking down behind cover as a few of the marines took shots at his exposed form. “You’re already i-”

“I fucking know! Shut up!” She lunged with a jab, and the soldier moved to block. Grinning wild, Maya stopped the fake short, pivoting her body in a full circle that brought her limp arm up through momentum and slammed it across the soldier’s face. The hit barely fazed the man, watching calmly as she collapsed down from the pain. Despite the helmet, it wasn’t hard to hear the marine’s injured screams from within; a foul litany of swears that’d have made a sailor blush thrice over.

The soldier’s head snapped forward as Ed straightened his rifle for a shot at his suddenly exposed form, and he quickly gripped the injured medic by her damaged arm and ripped her in front of him as a living shield. The pained scream echoing out of her helmet made Ed freeze, lowering his rifle slightly as the soldier glanced partially at the Kodiaks. Most of the marines had already embarked thanks to his distraction, meaning he’d likely be able to disengage here shortl-

“Shoot the fucker!” Maya barked, and his attention snapped back to the barrel of a familiar Viper aimed towards him. “DO IT!” Roger squeezed the trigger despite himself, the round impacting clean on the shields of his armour, but pushing hard enough against the barrier that it jerked his head backwards all the same. The medic threw her elbow back into his stomach, trying to break free of his grip but he held fast long enough to regain his bearings.

Before the private could manage another shot, he released Maya’s arm, roughly booting the medic forward into her ally, who staggered forward to catch her. The short distraction was all he needed, closing the slight gap between them in a few quick strides. As Roger attempted to catch Maya, Ed side-stepped the falling medic slightly to get a shot at their attacker, only to find the man already well within striking distance.

Shunting the injured medic to the ground with a rough hit of his shoulder, he caught Roger unawares across the face with a powerful elbow that toppled the already disoriented private once more. Ed’s Avenger barked a pair of rounds that connected slightly with his stomach, but did little to stop the approach. Gripping Ed by the helmet, he swept the man’s feet out from under him and drove him painfully to the ground.

A surge of energy hit his suits systems like a thunderbolt, and the soldier spasmed once at the unexpected attack before being shoulder checked from atop Ed. Logan’s omni-tool sparked dangerously with the energy of an overload, and the soldier eyed it cautiously as the large engineer pressed in closer.

Logan swept the weapon at him, forcing the hostile back with every attempt. He made few attempts to attack though, knowing full well he wasn’t up to par with the man before him’s skill level. All around him, however, Owl was recovering, and with numbers they would overwhelm him. Both men seemed to know this, as the soldier finally stopped his retreat.

Logan struck with the makeshift tazer, but was blocked lower along the forearm, preventing the electrical effect from reaching its target. The engineer couldn’t raise a guard against the soldier’s sudden low kicks that hit at his sides, before using a palm thrust to distance the two. Logan gritted his teeth, as a quick flick of his fingers setting the omni-tool to a different function, launching an incendiary orb. Before he could fire the attack, the soldier closed inside his guard, throwing an uppercut that rattled Logan’s teeth in his mouth.

Ed rose with a grunt, barely locking eyes with Logan for a split second before the two nodded in unison. Logan swung down with both fists for the man’s head while Ed turned his Avenger into a club for a strike on the man’s unsuspecting flank.

Their target seemed to have other plans, stepping outside Logan’s attack while spinning on his heel and turning his body fully into a hi-kick that collided with Ed’s temple. The corporal staggered to the side, as he finished the spin into a massive haymaker that laid Logan flat out on his back. Roger stared incredulously at the man who’d so simply dispatched their entire fire team; eyes wide as saucers as his attention began to shift back towards him.

It was then that Horn soared onto the scene. Literally. The commander blasted in on his jets, delivering a mighty roundhouse kick that, while the soldier dodged it, set him up perfectly for a massive knee to the face thanks to the jets in his boots. It sent the seemingly implacable man flying, rolling to a stop but it was only seconds before he was back on his feet.

“Fire team Owl, on your feet! Fire on the Kodiaks!” O’Ryan barked, and the three men rose without any further prompting. Maya struggled fruitlessly to rise to her feet, blindly firing her Avenger with her remaining arm at the Kodiak in a defiant, if ineffectual, attempt to fight.

Roger popped a fresh heat sink into the Viper, relying on quickly popping over the cover to fire quickly sighted shots at the remaining marines, while the others focused on those brave enough to emerge for longer than a few seconds. One such marine emerged, quickly catching a viper round to the chest before the others cut him down in a hail of Avenger fire.

The few remaining marines outside the Kodiak quickly retreated inside the protective cabin, taking several shots as they did but it seemed that they were finally running thin on ammunition. “Stevenson, get a frag in that Kod-” O’Ryan stopped mid-sentence as the sight of the soldier sprinting for the Kodiaks came into view. “Concentrate fire! Bring him down!”

Owl pumped every round they could managed at the retreating figure, but he seemed to ignore every bullet that grazed his armour, despite his failing shields. As they failed, he leapt forward and disappeared into the Kodiak cabin seconds before the hatch hissed shut. The hangar bay doors quickly began to open; atmosphere slowing beginning to vent into the bare planet outside. “O’Ryan! Get those doors closed!”

Logan responded without instruction, rushing over to one of the scattered terminals and quickly overriding the command access. In seconds, the doors had resealed, but the Kodiaks had already made their escape, leaving the team with a bitter taste in their mouth. “Fall in.” O’Ryan commanded, and Ed helped a shaking Maya up to her feet gently. Logan and Roger followed closely behind, sharing concerned glances as she limped dully alongside the corporal.

Horn seemed transfixed by the hangar doors as they approached, before all five looked down at the knife lodged in his hand. Roger soundlessly muttered a ‘badass’ to himself, as Horn finally seemed to take notice of the weapon. “I'm fine Lieutenant, to answer your unspoken question.” The commander stated as he gripped the hilt of the blade and gave a quick tug. Blood spray painted the floor and Jason's armour and Roger found himself shuddering despite his attempt at composure. “Mother…” He took a moment to look at his palm, before pointing at them with the blade end of the knife. “Don't do this at home; it's incredibly stupid...especially since this is serrated. Also hurts...a lot.”

He seemed satisfied, or something of the sort, turning off towards his own team as O’Ryan looked back at the others. His eyes lingered on each of them for a moment, before settling on Maya. “Salazar, holding together?” There wasn’t any seeming concern in the question, but that was just how O’Ryan always seemed to be. Owl was used to that by now.

“I’m…” She breathed, voice deathly quiet despite the feigned bravado she was trying to convey. “…it’s dislocated.” Her knees shook, and Ed reinforced his hold on the woman, keeping her good arm secure over his shoulder. “Meds…keeping me…going. Need…to see Grass, though.”

O’Ryan gave a stiff nod, saying nothing more as he stepped over to the Commander once more. Roger watched the Lieutenant go, before turning back to his team. Ed’s attention was solely focused on Maya, and he could almost hear some hushed words being murmured to the injured medic, but he didn’t bother to pry. Instead, he said what was already lingering on his mind. “…what the hell was that guy?”

Ed sighed. “I’m asking myself the same thing. It’s one thing to take out me or you, but he fought all of us, all in a row, and we barely managed to break his stride.” The corporal glanced down at the blood on the ground from Horn’s injury. “He fought the Commander just the same. I think we’re lucky he showed up when he did…that wasn’t just some regular grunt.”

Logan nodded in agreement. “He was likely the man in charge of the entire facility. This means…” He cast a glance towards Horn and O’Ryan. “He was the one behind all of this.”

“And he got away.” Ed scowled, voice dropping low with disgust. Roger felt himself shrink in on himself, immediately realizing his failure to fire a killing shot on the man when he’d first stepped from the Kodiak. “We should have killed him. It means all this shit can just happen again!” Ed’s voice rose the slightest degree, earning a light grunt from Maya.

“Ed…you’re a great guy and all, but when you get moody, you jostle me…” She muttered loudly enough for the others to hear. “And mangled or not, I’ll still break you face if you keep it up.” Despite the threat, it wasn’t hard to hear the pained smile in her words, which brought Ed’s voice right back down to normal.

“Got it. Sorry.” He offered, earning a light laugh from the injured medic. O’Ryan barked a shout for Logan, and the engineer quickly complied, heading off for one of the terminals to enable the Kodiaks to land for extraction. Roger looked down at the Viper in his hands, before attaching it to the magnetic clip on his back. “You shot pretty well today.”

He blinked, glancing at Ed. “You think?”

“Yeah, I do. Got Maya out of a tight spot, and you even managed to help O’Ryan out.” The corporal gave a light smile, which prompt Roger to respond with a toothy grin. “Might just make a sniper out of you someday.”

“Damn straight! Just wait and see! You’ll be able to tell people one day that you knew the Great Roger Pollard when he was just getting started!” The boast lightened the mood considerably, earning matching laughs from Maya and Ed, although the former complained about the laughter jostling her injury.

As the Kodiak came into view, his smile dulled the slightest bit, as his eyes softened ever so slightly. Just getting started, huh? He thought idly, glancing at the Viper resting on his shoulder.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Nerita  T'Lar Character Portrait: Carly Laren

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The trip back up to the Call of Victory couldn't have been longer if they had been trapped in a black hole. The entire time Horn's eyes kept shifting between the window back to Daniel as his face got paler and paler. Horn kept his eyes on his friend for a little longer before going back to the window. No one said anything, and he didn't want them to. Yes, they did what they wanted to do, yes they got who they had wanted to get. The problem being is that Horn knew what torture could do to a man. That a scarring event such as the one that Daniel went through, Horn knew that he wasn't going to be the same man that he ever was. Even when he first woke up, much of that friendliness, mirth, and general happy feeling was gone from the man. Replaced with a sole desire that overrode even the feeling of relief to see his friends.

Horn had already radioed ahead, asking for Dr. Grass to ready the medical room for their patient. As soon as the Kodiak docked with the Call, Horn walked over to Daniel and gave him a once over. He had passed out a few minutes ago, scars and fresh wounds covered his body, and what little was left of his clothes was nothing but a giant red rag. Without asking for consent, nodding to his fellow soldiers, or even acknowledging the fact that they were still there, he picked Daniel up in a fireman's carry. He walked over to the Kodiak door so fast, one might have thought he was going to barrel right through it. Instead, with a mighty pull, he opened the door so hard and fast that the Kodiak rocked before he took off sprinting across the shuttle bay.

Once he reached the elevator, he didn't wait up. The marines, for the most part were alright. At least, they weren't unconscious, possibly bleeding out. He hit the button to get to the med bay, and watched as the doors closed in front of him in slow motion.

For what was minutes but seemed like hours, Horn stood there with Daniel on his back. The man breathed in slow, quiet gasps. The sound of laboured, but controlled breathing. Horn fidgeted in the elevator, putting his weight on one leg then the next, constantly looking from the floor to the door in hopes that it would open sooner rather than later. When it finally opened, Horn was treated to a group of marines crowded around the elevator.

They started clapping, but Horn paid them no mind as he quite literally bull rushed his way through the crowd. Anyone that wasn't smart enough to get out of his way was bashed aside roughly. Some of the marines landed on the ground, but they didn't do anything aside from crawling away. Once they actually realized what was going on, the clapping stopped as the doors to the medical bay opened and Grass stood there looking at Horn. Jason braced for some sort of sarcastic remark before the operating began, but instead Lincoln simply motioned towards the prepared cot.

"Put him there Commander and get out of my bay." Horn complied without hesitation as he tried to gently lay Daniel on the cot, failing slightly as the bed bounced lightly as Daniel fell into it. Once that was done, Horn took a step back but remained looking at his friend laying on the table. He wasn't afraid that his friend might die, that was part of the job. He was more angry at the fact that he believed this to be his fault. Had he not been stupid and gotten himself in a coma, Daniel would have never been taken as a POW, none of this would have happened. Anger directed itself inwards before Horn noticed the hand on his chest pushing him out of the bay. "Commander. Out. You want him to live? Let me do my job in peace!" Grass stated as the Commander backed up step by step until finally he took his hand off of Jason's chest and the medical bay door closed. Marines on the floor kept their distance, but were still wandering around and paying attention to what was going on. After a couple seconds of standing there at the door, Horn turned and walked to the elevator. Knowing that the marine's eyes were on him, he took off his helmet and placed it under the crook of his arm as he reached the elevator and pushed the button. He turned around, and gave them each a look.

"You marines enjoy the show? Would you like it to become an interactive commentary on the very short lives of Cerberus marines?!" The marines got the hint as they all started going about their regular duties. "That's what I thought." Horn stated as he turned back around in time to see the elevator doors open. Private Fischer stormed out with Specialist Salazar on his back. She was yelling something almost incoherent at Fischer, but Horn simply decided to get out of their way as the rest of the fire team strode out. O'Ryan was the last one out of the box, his helmet in his hand at his side as he gave a nod to the Commander. They walked on by, Horn not bothering to say anything as he got onto the lift and pressed the button for the CIC.

A few moments later, Horn was stepping out onto the CIC. Unlike the marine 'campus' no one bothered to applaud him for his mission, which he was extremely grateful for. Kelly stood next to the display, turning slightly at the ding of the elevator. She gave a curt smile, looking past him into the elevator than back at him again. "Went straight to the medical bay sir?" She asked politely.

"Yep, boy's in rough shape." Horn answered flatly as he looked at a 3D image of the base they had just raided. "Was there any sign of those transports the Oracle assholes were using? Anything we could follow?"

"Negative sir." Kelly looped through the tape of the battle, showing that about two seconds after the Kodiaks left the hangar, their signs disappeared entirely. "Miniature stealth drives in each one. It looks like these guys are better financed than we thought." Horn put a hand up to his mouth, dragging it down off of his face.

"Yeah..." Horn stated, his eyes glued to the picture of the base. "But they're still Alliance. They're bound by a code of ethics and laws that they can't skirt around." Jason stated as he slowly paced around the image, Kelly following a few steps behind him with her hands clasped behind her back. "Which means that, while they may have the law on their side, and possibly the entire Alliance fleet...they don't have our leeway." Horn stated, finally stopping once he reached the other side of the display.

"Are you sure sir?" Kelly asked as Horn looked to her. "We just found Lieutenant Harrens, tortured to the near point of death inside that base. I thought Alliance had strict mandates about the treatment of POW's." Jason paused, looking at the image and then back to Kelly.

"So basically the Alliance created an organization that is us, just on the other side..." Horn stated rather than asked. "The Illusive man told us they were our equivalents on that side, I just didn't expect an exact match." Kelly said nothing, and there was complete silence on the deck aside from the noises coming from occupied consoles. "Is that base destroyed yet?" Jason asked.

"Yes sir, confirmed destruction by the time you reached the Victory." Kelly responded as Jason rolled his shoulders. Giving a slight sigh as he turned to leave. Kelly tilted her head slightly.

"Sir, if you don't mind me saying...I expected you be a bit more...angry." Jason stopped and looked back at her.

"And why's that Operative? Because the Oracle Commander got away?" Jason gave a smile. "Oh don't you worry, I will find and kill him. However, I'm happier knowing that we got Daniel back...don't try and switch my mood Operative." Jason answered as he turned and strode off.

"Yes sir. Helmsman, set course for patrol route Alpha." Kelly stated.

"Aye Ma'am, setting course for patrol route Alpha." Harold responded as Jason once more entered the elevator.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A couple hours and a shower later, Horn was sitting in his quarters. Reports littered his desk, along with an empty bottle of alcohol and medals scattered every which direction. He was currently trying to finish his report to the Illusive man, almost done too, when the intercom blared into his quarters.

"Commander?" The voice asked, Horn recognized it as Grass.

"Yeah doc? How's the patient?" Jason could literally hear Grass scoff through the intercom.

"You mean patients? Specialist Salazar got her shoulder dislocated by someone who knew how to put the hurt on your marines. Tell me, have you ever thought of bone replacement? Might help with some of the issues you are having with the breaking and dislocat-"

"Doc, I am really not in the mood. So unless you want your bones replaced by a vacuum of space that used to be your spine, I suggest you get to the point." Jason stated, and there was a slight pause.

"Lieutenant Harrens is awake sir. Preliminary results indicate that, given a few weeks of recuperation, he'll be good to go." Horn got up, but before he went through the door, he stopped.

"Wait, ready to go? Just like that? No long term effects?" Horn asked.

"Well there is calcification of the bones at numerous joints, as well as evidence of medical procedures meant to repair, not inflict pain. If they wanted to kill him, there would have been no need. Without that medical care, he would be maimed beyond all hope of returning to active duty. It seems your little torture troops like to keep their subjects alive longer than needed, or Lieutenant Harrens simply lasted that long."

"No Doc, it just means that whoever was doing the interrogating loved the act of torture so much, they kept him alive as entertainment." Horn stated as he exited his quarters and made for the elevator.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A short ride later, and Horn was back on deck 3. When he entered the deck, most of the marines did their best to simply stay out of his way, remembering his words fro a few hours before. With this in mind, Jason made a beeline for the Medical Bay, and upon entering, was rewarded by seeing Daniel sitting on the table rather than lying on it. Grass was running some tests, and as he lifted Daniel's arms up and down, Horn had to take a guess and say they were joint stress related. He had had enough of those to recognize one when it was taking place. Daniel had been looking at the doctor the entire time, but when the door opened, his head perked up slowly and he got a good look at the Commander. Despite everything, his facial expression didn't change. It remained in a stoic, almost pained look that warranted further investigation.

"Dr. Grass. How is my favourite sky fall buddy doing?" Grass looked over, back to his notes, and then held the datapad at his side.

"About as well as any soldier who's been under torture for over two months Commander. Why he's practically shooting a rainbow out of his ass." Horn glared at the man, who simply rolled his eyes. "He's fine Commander. Although, and I'm going to be enforcing this one, he is not to perform any combat missions for the next few weeks or until I deem him fit for duty. There are no obvious signs of lasting damage aside from obvious corrosion of bone and skin tissue, but I need to make sure." Horn gave a nod.

"Alright fine. Clear out for a moment Doc." Jason stated, Grass made ready to say something, but stopped just short and walked out quietly. Jason looked at Daniel, who simply looked at him back. There was an awkward moment as neither of them could figure out what precisely to say, until Horn clapped his hands. "So...How you doin?"

"I've been better sir." Daniel stated, Horn already picking up on the lack of mirth that usually accompanied his words. Horn walked to the other table, and leaned on it, crossing his arms as he did so.

"Well that's an understatement. However, I'm not asking physically Lieutenant." Horn asked, and Daniel's head perked up. Horn continued. "I've been tortured as well Lieutenant, I know what that kind of damage can do to a man. Physically they may heal, but mentally that's a different question."

"How long were you tortured sir?" Daniel asked, skipping the when knowing he wouldn't get an answer out of the Commander.

"3..." Horn stated and Daniel stared at him, his eyes giving a very disbelieving look. "Days." Horn finished. "But, it was a very harrowing experience with buzz saws, pain-poison injections and the like."

"Well sir, I don't think 3 days can compare to 2 months, 4 days, 11 hours, 5 minutes and 32 seconds." Horn looked over at Daniel, who gave a shrug. "I didn't really have much else to do."

"Which is why I'm concerned Daniel." Jason stated, forgoing his usual gung-ho bravado and showing genuine sympathy. He moved across the distance, and sat down on the same table as Daniel. "I was tortured for 3 days, I still remember the time quite vividly. You were there for..." Horn paused, trying to remember what Daniel had said, but failed. "Quite longer." He ended up going with. He put a hand on the man's shoulder, but Daniel only looked forward. "I need to know that Lieutenant Harrens is still in there."

"He still here sir." Daniel stated. "He's just a little bit more angry now." Horn looked down to see him subconsciously clenching his fists. Horn gave a smile.

"Well, you still have emotion, that's good." Horn stated as he hopped off the table and stood in front of the man. He gripped both of Daniel's shoulders and gave the man one good shake, enough to get his eyes to meet up with Horn. "Listen to me Daniel. You are my friend and brother. First thing I did when I got up, aside from immediately jumping from the ship into the atmosphere and assisting in an assault on a heavily fortified traitor Cerberus scientist, was start a search for you." Horn looked down for a moment, before looking up. "When I woke up, I found myself on a new ship, with new marines, with dead friends, and a lot of anger. So much so, and I'm ashamed to say it, I nearly shot another Cerberus Operative."

"Mind if I ask who sir?" Daniel asked. Horn simply waved his hand.

"That's not important, but listen." Jason took a breath. "You were the one friend that was still out there. Not confirmed dead, and still had hope. Then we found you, and we brought you back." Daniel looked at himself for a second.

"Well as far as I can tell, I'm not dead." Horn shook the man lightly again.

"Your body isn't dead marine! But I look at you, and I start to see a different person. I understand, I sympathize, but I didn't go in there looking to rescue some angry man who forgot how to smile and in it's place put a blood lust that would never be sated." Horn paused. "I went in there to rescue a friend. A friend I'm having a hard time seeing when I look at you. Do you understand."

Daniel looked down from Horn. There was a few moments where nothing was said. Finally Daniel looked up again. "Yes sir, I understand." Horn gave a nod, finally releasing his shoulders.

"I don't expect you to go back to completely how you were before, nor do I expect an immediate improvement. Just do me one favour." Horn gave a smile, lightly slapping Daniel on the face. "Don't forget to smile you bitch!" Daniel gave a smirk, which was more than Horn was hoping for in this little session. There was a hiss at the door, and Horn was already speaking before he turned. "Damn it Doc, ten minutes from your duty ai-"

A blur rushed by him as Daniel was quite literally tackled from the table. Horn just gawked as he half-ran over to see Daniel cringing on the floor and Jessie giving him a bear hug. "You're back! You're alive! That's awesome! Did you know that's awesome! Commander tell him that's awesome!" Horn just stared incredulously at the pair as Daniel looked down at Jessie clutching him in a bear hug.

"Lieutenant McKrain...Do you mind tell me why you're trying to straddle Lieutenant Harrens...and why I didn't get a tackle sex hug when I woke up?" Jessie got up, helping Daniel back up as well.

"Well sir, he's more recent and you were...well you were in a really bad mood when you first got up." Jessie kind of shied away from the question, but Horn knew exactly the mood he was when he first got up. Horn opened his mouth to speak before glaring at Daniel.

"Barely back for a day and already he's stealing the ladies from me." The door hissed once more. "Doc, good timing! Get him to st-" Horn paused when he saw that Kelly was standing in the doorway in immaculate posture. She cocked her head slightly to one side.

"I'm sorry Commander...you were wanting Dr. Grass for something." Horn paused for a second, not moving a muscle.

"Nooooo...What did you need Operative?"

"Nothing sir. I came here to see Lieutenant Harrens. I only got news that he was awake." Kelly walked past Horn to stand next to Daniel, while Horn stared at them all opened mouth trying to form words but failing. Daniel looked at the Commander, giving a genuine smile and shrugging. Horn glared, pointing at the man with two fingers.

"You coy son of a bitch." Jessie gave a laugh and Kelly simply smiled. Horn shook his head, and made to leave. As the door opened, Tia, Nerita, and Carly were all standing there. Horn just stared. "Do you ladies just want to drop your panties now and join the fuck fest going on back there? Or should I assume you are here purely for the 'we love Daniel in a non-sexual way' club?"

"I'm...sorry sir?" Tia stated, which Carly just pushed inside.

"Hell yeah sir! There's a Daniel love party going on here?! Let's do this up!" Horn visibly twitched. Nerita stared at the Commander for a moment before pushing past him, Tia following her. Horn looked back to see the mini-harem that Daniel had now accumulated. They all stared back at him, Carly and Jessie teasing with Daniel's hair just to add effect as the veins were visible on Horn's neck.

"What do I have to do to get a fan club going for Horn?! I jump out of ships for fucks sake! SHIPS! Do I have to punch a collector in the throat? Lose a leg!? Kick a Krogan in the pancreas?! Do Krogans have pancreases...pancreasi?" Horn turned and walked out of the door. "Lincoln! Doc! Hey! Do Krogan have pancreases!?"

The door closed as nearly everyone let out a laugh.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: The Illusive Man Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff

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“How have the drills been progressing, Major?” Lieutenant Commander Sinoff had a certain gift with words, something that made even requests or questions seem like a statement of absolute truth. Sitting behind his desk, he still managed to somehow dwarf the major standing before him as he thumbed through the various files scattered across his work station. “Any issues?”

“None, sir.” The major replied quickly, knowing better than to waste his superior’s time with unnecessary exposition. “All the marines are performing as instructed.” The 2IC nodded in seeming satisfaction, flicking his eyes across a report.

“I want them up to speed on the strategies I’ve forwarded before the week is out, Major.” Wyatt’s eyes shifted to focus on the man fully, the intensity of his gaze only reinforcing his already massive presence. “If they cannot, they will be replaced by those who can.”

“A week, sir?”

“It is enough time. We cannot afford to sit idle while our marines learn, and no operation will be compromised by their incompetence.” Rising from his seat, Sinoff took the briefest of moments to straighten his officer’s uniform. “Have you received the Fire Teams call signs?”

“Yes, sir. An interesting selection.”

“More biblical than I might like, but life has taught that a symbol can be as motivating as survival from some.” The 2IC cracked his neck with a slight twist of his head, neutral eyes boring in on the Major. “That will be all, Major Tarrick. I expect a full report on their progress by tomorrow. You are dismissed.” Tarrick saluted sharply, turning on his heel and heading out the doors to carry out his instructions.

Wyatt stepped round his desk, still reading one of the myriad reports on his data pad as he left his quarters and started towards the lift. He passed through the mess hall briefly, the chatter silencing the moment his heavy foot falls crossed its threshold. Nothing save the scraping of forks and the slightest whisper reached his ears, but the 2IC paid the assorted troops no mind as he passed.

Tucking the data pad neatly under his arm, the ex-mercenary pressed the key for the lift firmly. Moments later the lift opened, although Wyatt couldn’t board until its occupants disembarked. More importantly, he noted with the slightest of raised brows, was their current method of disembarking.

“Lieutenant Commander Sinoff!” The pair inside chorused, snapping a salute in perfect unison that normally would have satisfied the demand….had the woman not been perched happily atop the man’s shoulders. “Missed you at debrief, sir! Should have heard what Commander Buchan got up to!”

“Caught a bullet with her teeth!”

“Hella-impressive!”

The 2IC only raised his brow the slightest amount, before stepping casually to the side to allow them passage. “Eat.” He calmly intoned, and the two seemed to need no extra prompting to get moving. The man started forward, gripping his partner’s thighs to keep her stable as he broke into a light jog towards the Mess Hall. As he embarked, he could hear the woman shout happily at the top of her lungs.

“Hail the conquering heroes!”

“Welles.” He murmured, already more than familiar with his fellow Lieutenant Commander’s…less than professional unit. Or perhaps it was a few bad apples. There hadn’t been time to properly inspect them all, but these ‘Hounds’ had a pedigree that was backed. If they couldn’t properly behave, perhaps he’d speak with Commander Buchan over some appropriate discipline to sharpen them up.

As the lift disembarked at Deck 2, Wyatt strode fluidly into the CIC, acknowledging the guards with the barest flick of his fingers. Stepping up to one of the two workstations beside the galaxy map’s stern facing portion, he placed the data pad on the small surface before giving the present staff a cursory once over. Most were dutifully attending to their duties, save for one who sat quietly at a notably dormant station.

Approaching quietly, the 2IC stood squarely behind the technician’s station for a moment, before clearing his throat roughly. The woman stiffened, quickly about facing her chair and hopping to her feet. She looked like a panicking rabbit next to Wyatt’s size, but she swallowed the instinct to flee and saluted the man as firmly as she could manage. Which clearly wasn’t much, by the way her knees wobbled. “S-s-s-sir! S-sorry, sir!”

“Agent Govern, correct?” The petite figure nodded quickly, as his eyes turned to her station. “You handle field communications and information, correct?” Again, she nodded. Pressing the side of his index to his lips, Wyatt thought for a brief moment. A lack of operations meant the woman was technically off-duty. She was still attending her station, regardless of its status, leaving little to be desired. Save for an idle technician with nothing to do outside of combat. “Is that your only currently assigned task?”

“Uhm…y-yes, sir.”

“Inefficient.” The swiftness of the reply made her shrink, growing somehow smaller before him. “Outside of combat operations, you’re unused manpower. A secondary function would be appropriate to properly fill your time. Enthusiasm for your task aside, idle hands are worthless.” His mind immediately turned to tasks and assignments that could be placed on the young woman. The mess could always use another set, as well as the maintenance teams. Her small size could make her an asset for the difficult to reach systems. If she had steady hands, perhaps a medical assistant.

A quick glance to her still shaking extremities dismissed the thought as quickly as it had come. There was value in he- “Lieutenant Commander?” The cheerful call of the pilot interrupted his train of thought, and his eyes snapped to the small display on the terminal displaying the grinning man’s face. “Sorry to cut in, but Jo informed me of your observation. Govern handles information, yeah?”

“Make your point, Helmsmen, and make it quick.”

Wyatt’s flat instruction made Ronas sigh, before nodding. “Well, I’ve got a rather unused terminal up here in the cockpit, and Jo’s always feeding all sorts of info from our sensors through it. If Govern’s got nothing to do, having someone sort through it all to tell me what’s actually important and isn’t just useless junk data. Jo could easily transfer the functions from her work terminal up here.”

“And why is the EDI unit insufficient at sorting this information?”

“She’s great at it…she just has stupid priorities at times. Jo will blurt out anything of the most microscopic interest at max volume straight into my ear. Plus we could free up some more runtime for the professor and his tests. He’d love that, I’m sure.”

“Running minimal scans does not negatively affect my runtime in anyway, Mr. Chekan.”

“Shows what I know about top-secret illegal AI programs.” The pilot chuckled, leaning back in his chair. “Just an offer, sir. Keeps her at her station while keeping her busy, you know?”

Wyatt opened his mouth to respond, but another voice from just behind him sounded instead. “Sounds like a fine suggestion. Govern, got get yourself situated, and we can iron out the exact details later.” The agent nodded quickly, quietly excusing herself as Ronas gave a victorious fist pump on the display before vanishing. The 2IC turned to the source, nodding politely at Scorpion, who was watching him with vague annoyance. “You have a serious issue with micro-managing, you know that?”

“Pardon?”

“Ships are little more organic than you’re probably used to. These people, and by extension you, are pretty much living on this floating tin can. Efficiency is great and all, but you’ve got to keep in mind that if they’re not happy, they’re not going to work as well.” The scarred woman glanced down the path to the helm. “Letting Govern work up there kills two birds with one stones. Sure, the AI is probably marginally faster than her at sorting through all that crap. But now she and the pilot have company, which will improve morale. Follow?”

He nodded stiffly, clearly not entirely thrilled with the prospect. Scorpion chuckled, leaning on her cane. “We aren’t mercenaries, Sinoff. Half these people are here because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves and the rest are either money-grubbing asses or people with power fantasy.”

“A practical view, if somewhat jaded.” He commented dryly, although she had learned quickly that Wyatt’s sense of humour was a far rarer thing that idle conversation deserved, and this was not it ‘shining’ through. “The debrief went well, I trust?”

“To a degree…it’s like herding hyper-active pyjaks with those two commandos.” Dropping into the abandoned chair left by Govern, Alexis released a low sigh. “Sometimes you question how certain people get such a high pedigree…”

“The unorthodox has its own unique value.” Alexis’s eyes slanted curiously towards the approaching form with an all too familiar swagger. “There are many cases to reference in history where the unconventional has accomplished things beyond expectations.”

“Nulfem.” Sinoff gave little in way of greeting, an action mirrored by his ‘mentor’, who simply nodded her head sharply towards the suited yeoman. “Elaborate.”

“Do I have to?” Slowing to a stop, Keagan looked between the two with his knowing smile, hands tucked neatly in the pockets of his slacks. “I’d much rather let the cards do the talking for me.”

“I’m gonna get sick of your card metaphors really quick, aren’t I?” Alexis quipped, slouching even further into her seat as the two man regarded each other. “You’re more interested in watching the hand play out, right?”

“If you can win, never make your opponent fold. Bluff until it is too late to realize their folly. A basic strategy that truly won’t hold up in competitive play, but for the sake of analogy, effective.” His eyes danced with amusement, noting the slight irritation on the operative’s face. “Tell me, Mrs. Sedlack, what is the definition of insanity?”

That piqued her interest, causing Alexis to straighten slightly in her seat. “Depends who you ask.” Keagan shook his finger, sighing in disappointment.

“You’re knowledgeable enough to know. Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Turning towards the galaxy map, the yeoman pulled one of his hands from its pocket, deftly flipping a coin along his knuckles as he spoke. “Now, say for the sake of expedience, we had a ship much like this one.”

“A stealth vessel, equipped primarily with operatives and recruits geared towards operations of a deniable nature. Her commander, inexperienced and young, assisted by a pragmatic and wiser veteran. The combination is unorthodox, but the oddity of it somehow works. The vessel sees great success…before disaster.”

Sinoff crossed his arms, watching Nulfem calmly but with faint suspicion. Where was the reason to this conversation? A hypothetical ship much akin to the Deliverance? His eyes shifted to Scorpion, only to find the woman sitting grimly on the edge of her seat with her eyes narrowed into slits. “Operative?”

Keagan‘s smile grew wider, and the air between the three grew cold and tense. He never turned to face her properly, contently watching out of the corners of his vision. “Aha, so you see the reasoning do you, Mrs. Sedlack? History has such a terrible insistence of repeating itself…but I’d rather avoid that coming to pass. Much like you, I suspect. That’s why you agreed to come onboard, hm?”

“It won‘t.” She muttered, gripping the head of her cane tightly.

The yeoman simply shrugged, flicking his coin of his knuckles into the air. “It’s my job to ensure it doesn’t, Mrs. Sedlack…but the tragedy of chance makes this a rather risky gamble.” Catching the coin in the flat of his palm, he regarded the result for a moment before smiling again. “But then, those are the most enjoyable games to play.”

She gave a soundless laugh, although her hard features said nothing of amusement. “You really do enjoy those games, huh?” Keagan nodded wordlessly, slipping his hand back into the pocket of his slacks as he turned from the pair. “Mind if I ask why you’re playing?”

“Because a game isn’t much fun unless you stand to lose something…but I suppose I’m alone in the sentiment.” His fingers snapped, and he glanced over his shoulder with a light-hearted smile. “Oh, I almost forgot. The Illusive Man is currently briefing the commander on our next assignment. I believe there is going to be a strategy meeting after the briefing with our allies, so it would be in our best interest if you both were in attendance.”

Alexis nodded sharply, rising from her seat with a grunt of exertion. “Oh goodie…I love strategizing with big-shots.” The statement earned a laugh from Keagan, and she fixed him with a quizzical look. “What?”

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy this particular meeting, Mrs. Sedlack.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“…and that concludes my report, sir.”

She was predictably quiet, standing still and straight before him like it was the most important meeting of her short life. Considering its nature, perhaps it was accurate. The first mission could make or break an entire career, but with its success came peace of mind. He spoke through smoke filled breaths, watching her impassive eyes dutifully bore into his own. “Excellent work, Commander Buchan. Your time on Mavigon has been well spent.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“With the field test complete, it’s time we begin the true work, however.” The enigmatic leader laced his fingers before his face, still obscured by the linger smoke of his cigarette. For a few moments, there was silence as the Man gave his haptic interface a few keystrokes. With a lingering breath of his cigarette, he rose from his seat and stepped up before the gas giant that dominated his view port. With his back to her, he spoke. “It appears that my initial...assumption of our copycat organization in the Alliance was...inaccurate."


“So far, Oracle has done nothing but strike against Cerberus, Omni Cell in particular with the betrayal of Commander Titus and the capture of Lieutenant Daniel Harrens.” He turned back, eyes impassive and cold.
“Several strikes are, as I have just recently been made aware of, being planned and executed against us as we speak…” Slow smoke rolled from his lips, obscuring the Man‘s face, an unsettling sight which made Vala instinctively straighten. “Which is why I have decided that these alliance ‘shadows’ need to be shown their folly in provoking the sleeping giant.”

Reaching down, he tapped a key on the armrest, bringing up a large display that he calmly approached. “This is the Daedalus system. It rests on the border between Alliance and Terminus Space, with only a small colony of importance. Despite it being somewhat infamous as a staging ground for mercenaries, raiders, and overall crime; it remains a prime spot for intelligence gathering on numerous organizations.” Swiping his hand across the display, it switched quickly to a list of names. Ten in total, with several pictures located beside each dossier. “These...are Oracle assets…” He took a slow drag of his cigarette. “Eliminate them.”

Assassination then. She was more than equipped for the task. Before the Commander could speak, however, he swiped his hand again, revealing several images of various buildings and facilities. “All these facilities belong primarily to Oracle, and must be destroyed as well.” He paused for a moment, taking a final slow breath of his cigarette before dismissing the display. “This is, by no means, a crippling move to Oracle. The fact that they have successfully lead strikes against our organization shows that their influence runs deeper than I previously imagined…” He moved back to his chair, lowering himself into the seat like a king upon his throne.

“I am disinclined to allow that trend to continue. This is the beginning, and while it is not fatal, it will be damaging. No one on that list leaves Daedalus alive; not one of those buildings will be standing…and if Oracle or it’s long arm, Aurora, tries to impede you…” Slowly and deliberately, he snuffed the flame of his cigarette in the ash tray. “Ensure they never interfere again. Do you think you can handle that, Commanders?"

Vala was about to speak when his words clicked, and she blinked in confusion. “Commanders, sir?” The Man’s gaze focused on her for only a brief moment, as he touched a key on his armrest. There was a ping from the QEC beneath her feet, and the area to her ‘right’ became suddenly clear. Standing there, she found none other than Commander Jason Horn, who was looking at her with what she knew was an exact mirror of her own incredulous stare.

“Both of you will be working in tandem in this operation, to deal as much damage as possible to Oracle.” The Illusive Man’s eyes shut slowly, fingers lacing before his face as the silence between the Commanders grew thick. “This is not a matter of discussion, and I trust that neither of you will allow personal issues to hinder the operation.” His eyes opened, boring down on them with cold intensity. “The mission takes priority. Am I clear, Commanders?”

Vala nodded sharply, looking to Horn and giving the faintest inclination of her head in greeting. “Commander Horn. It’s been a long time.” Long enough, she secretly hoped, for their mutual dislike to have dulled for some semblance of co-operation between them.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: The Illusive Man

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"You seriously did an individual report on each and every soldier on the ship?" Horn asked, his jaw partially open while his eyes scanned the datapad in front of him.

"Yes sir." O'Ryan answered, standing at an 'at ease' posture in Horn's private quarters. Horn read through it a bit more, before setting the datapad down and looking at the man.

"Tell me Lieutenant...When do you sleep?"

"During the night cycle sir." O'Ryan answered without hesitation. Horn stared at the man for a second, raising a finger to say something, then clasping his mouth shut.

"Well Lieutenant, thank you for giving me reading material for a month. I'll be sure to go over it, when I'm not out kicking ass, taking names, and taking numbers if you get what I mean..."

"Understood sir." O'Ryan answered, no humour in his voice evident. Horn just narrowed his eyes at the man.

"Dismissed Lieutenant." Jason stated, and Leonard briskly turned on his heel and left. Once the elevator door closed, Jason shook his head and shoved the datapad onto a pile of other paperwork and associated documents. "God damn stiff-ass manufactured marine. I've seen hulls bend farther than that man does when he stands at attention." Jason stated as he dipped into some other reports that he had been neglecting. He had only gotten five minutes into it when there was the ding of the elevator, soon followed by rapping on the door.

"Enter my abode!" Horn shouted, deepening his voice for effect. When the door opened, Daniel quietly walked inside. Horn looked up, almost immediately throwing the report in his hand off to the side before giving a broad smile. "Danny boy!" Horn clasped his hands together and Daniel took a seat in the chair opposite of Horn's desk. "What can I do for you? Requisition? Lunch? Hooker? Back Massage?" Daniel gave a small smile before waving it off.

"No sir. Although, requisition is one way of putting it." Horn leaned back, forming his pointer fingers into a gun and putting them up to his lips.

"I'm listening."

Daniel took a moment to compose himself, before leaning forward. "Well sir, when I was 'temporary leave', I had a lot of time to think." Horn nodded, not saying a word. "Well, I got to thinking about our squad sir. How there was only three of us, now two. Had I not made it out of that base, you would be the only certified 'Demon' on the ship."

"But you did make it out of the Daniel." Horn interrupted. Daniel waved his hand and shook his head.

"Not the point sir. The point is, there are too few of us to really make a difference."

"But the Demons are my squad...it's just a nickname for my personal entourage." Jason countered, trying to see right where Daniel was going with this.

"Sir, I'm trying to say, there should be more of us." Horn leaned in.

"How much more Lieutenant?"

"A company's worth sir." Daniel stated, and both sat in silence for a second. Horn sat back slowly putting his hand up for a second.

"So wait...let me see if I understand what you're asking of me." Horn looked to the side for a moment, laying his hand out flat in front of him. "In between catching up on mission reports, doing more missions which add to that report pile there, commandeering an armed Cerberus cruiser, and keeping myself in peak physical form..." Horn paused for one more moment. "You want me to somehow, someway gather near a 100 marines, train them in the art of being a shock trooper, and teach them how to use jetpacks safely and efficiently?" Horn shook his head. "I'm sorry Lieutenant, I simply don't have the time or resources to do so."

Daniel nodded his head, but didn't back down. "I wasn't thinking that you would be training them sir, aside from the odd time you could get away from..." Daniel pointed to the pile of reports. "Busy schedule. I could do it sir, I have the skills and expertise to provide adequate training." Horn put a hand up to his mouth, sliding it down. He shook his head again.

"A company is still too much. 100 marines, if we put it into statistics, that's almost a guaranteed 3 deaths per mission due to mechanical failure or human error during drop alone. We can't do it."

"A platoon then sir. 5 fire teams, each independent and capable of working on their own." Daniel said, trying to grasp at straws.

"Who would lead them in the field Lieutenant?" Horn leaned forward. "You? As much as I have faith in your abilities to command and inspire respect from your soldiers, I need you for my squad." Jason stated, and Daniel put his hands forward in a pleading motion.

"Then I simply train them. We assign the best out of the group, give them a promotion and field command of the platoon when out on assignment." Horn sat in silence. "25 to 30 troops max, 5 fire teams and more shock troopers to kick some ass sir." Daniel stared at the man for a moment. "We can't continue to do this alone sir."

"I'll give it some thought Lieutenant." Horn stated, leaning over his desk again and grabbing one of the reports. "For now, that's all. Dismissed." Daniel opened his mouth to say something else, but slowly shut it and stood up from his chair slowly. He walked partially to the door, before turning and looking at Jason.

"I never thought you would turn down a bigger boot to kick some ass sir." Jason looked up for a moment.

"I never said no, Lieutenant. Now, if you don't mind...I have reports that need to be finished." Daniel quickly turned and left at that point. Horn was left there, sitting at his desk staring at the mountains of datapads in front of him. He gave a sigh and paused.

"Fuck...where was I...Oh hell no."

______________________________________________________________________________________________________


Horn stepped out of the elevator later, his fingers squeezing the bridge of his nose in a death grip. He started walking off to his right, and Invaru instinctively fell in step right beside him.

"Anything I should know going into the meeting with the Illusive Man? His mood? Is it his time of month? Does he know about the cafeteria incident? Cause I'm about One hundred percent sure that wasn't me."

"No sir, aside from the fact that he has another mission for us, he was his usual stoic self." Kelly answered, humour aside whenever she talked about their mutual boss. Horn gave a sigh as the door parted and he started walking down the hallway to the conference room.

"Oh goody...another few reports to add to the every growing piece of shit datapad mountain I got going on my desk."

"I did warn you that it would catch up with you sir." Kelly stated, and Horn looked over at her.

"If you say 'I told you so' one more damn time Invaru...I will enforce the bikini uniform for all attractive shipmates and say you sanctioned it." Kelly cocked her head slightly.

"And who do you think would believe that sir?" Horn slumped.

"Nobody, but a man can dream can't he?" The door to the conference room opened, and the table instinctively sunk into the floor. Kelly stood by the door, her hands softly clasped behind her back as Horn stepped onto the pad and the orange grid surrounded him. The Illusive Man's office started to form around Horn electronically, and silently placing his hands behind his back, the briefing started.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

No one would ever say that Horn was a patient man, or that he never said what was on his mind, but the one exception to that rule would be the Illusive Man. As TIM stepped through the briefing, anger being recognized if not shown by Horn's employer. There were targets, both soft and hard, and all of them were to be eliminated. Horn loved missions like these, save for the assassination bit. He had had his little stint in Black Ops, and he rather preferred the straight and narrow path of a marine to being a behind the scenes manipulating cutthroat. As TIM continued through the briefing, detailing and emphasizing that none of these targets were to be left standing, Horn barely moved an inch.

Horn could understand the use of his ship and crew for the hard targets, after all, what better way to assault multiple buildings than with a cruiser and 200 marines at your side. However, the softer targets, the assassinations would be tricky for a small army to eliminate. They were small targets, easily concealed and would easily see marines dropping down in Kodiaks to search for them. There would be too much warning, and they didn't have the manpower or a fleet to blockade the system. It was requiring too much from a ship and crew that were used to open ground fighting. Horn kept this thought in mind as TIM continued his briefing.

Nearing the end, Horn could swear he could hear venom dripping from TIM's words. He made sure to point out the fact that this was only the start, that Oracle picked the wrong fight and now they were going to feel the full weight of a Cerberus. What Horn didn't expect was the plural use of his rank when TIM suddenly sat down. "Sorry sir...'Commanders'?"

TIM hit a switch, and out of all the people that could have been standing beside him, it had to be the one that had nearly shot. Vala stood there, giving the same look that he was probably giving her. The next few words out of TIM's mouth were static to Horn as inside he fumed. He held it back for the sole reason they were in the Illusive Man's presence, but by the time he regained focus of what was at hand, TIM was already staring at them.

"Commander Horn, it's been a long time." Vala stated, her face neutral and stoic, no doubt feeling roughly the same thing Horn was but with less intensity. Horn gave her a look.

"Yeah." Was all he stated as he looked to TIM. "Sir, with all due respect, Operative Buchan and I do-"

"It's Commander now, Commander." TIM stated, taking a drag of his cigarette. Horn took a breath, regaining his focus.

"Commander Buchan and I do not get along at the best of times. I fear putting us both in a high stress, risk, and gain operation would hamper the both of us." TIM took another drag, before standing up and releasing the smoke into the air.

"Tell me, Commander. Is your ship prepared for assassinations?" Horn went to speak, but was immediately shut down when TIM continued. "No, it isn't. Your ship is geared towards assaults, overwhelming firepower, manpower, and killing power. You have 200 marines Commander, that's it. Marines, not special operations troopers, nor black operation operatives. Where as Commander Buchan is your complete opposite." TIM took a drag out of his cigarette once more, allowing time for the smoke to exit out of his nose.

"She has a stealth frigate, a small ship able to manoeuvre unseen. She has special operation troopers bred for infiltration, assassination, espionage, and sabotage. While it is true, she could take out the buildings with her troopers, there is a less likely chance that she will be able to complete it. Your troops will have the advantage in numbers and firepower, ensuring those buildings destruction." TIM turned around, returning to his chair.

"Regardless of your opinion on the matter, Commander Horn. You compliment each other, filling the gaps that the other leaves behind. Whatever your personal feelings are on the matter, I expect them to be replaced by a professional attitude." Horn straightened slightly.

"Yes sir, understood sir." TIM gave a small nod.

"Are we expecting Aurora interference?" Vala added, bypassing the whole explanation as to why she and Horn were being paired up.

"Aurora does have a presence in the sector. As far as we can confirm, there are at least 2 frigates in the area, and an unknown number of Aurora troops on the planets themselves." TIM took yet another moment to compose himself. "There should be a sizeable Aurora land force in the sector, waiting to aid Oracle assets in case of emergency. These Aurora soldiers and ships aren't necessarily targets, but they are still attached to Oracle. If you are given the opportunity to eliminate them, you will do so."

"Sir." Horn spoke up. "My concern is with the soft targets. What's to stop them from rabbiting the moment our ships enter the sector?"

"Simply put Commander, you need to be faster at eliminating them then they are at running away. They aren't expecting an attack, they don't believe they are compromised, and therefore should have their guard down. Commander Buchan's ship will assist greatly in this matter with the Tantalus drive core and it's stealth capabilities." TIM took another drag on his smoke before snubbing it on the ash tray sitting on the arm of his chair. "This is not meant to be a siege Commander, this is meant to be a blitz. Strike hard, strike fast, and leave nothing standing."

"What's the RoE on collateral damage sir?" Vala stated, and TIM locked his fingers together.

"This is an alliance system, but that being said, they are also humans. If it's unavoidable and deemed necessary to complete the objective, then you have permission." Vala nodded. TIM gave a moment for any other questions to pop up, and when none did, he stood up once more.

"I expect this mission to be done quickly and efficiently Commanders. I will not tolerate failure." TIM's finger hovered over the end call button on his interface, but he looked up at them for one last moment. "Good luck." The connection cut, but the interface didn't shut down. Instead, Horn and Vala were stuck on the same pad from two different ships. The Illusive Man must have rigged it so that they could talk strategy if they wished. Right now, Horn simply wanted out and to think about what needed to be done.

"Commander Horn, should we dis-"

"I'll contact you when I have a rough plan etched out." Horn stated before abruptly ending the call and watching as the conference room filled his vision once more. He rolled his shoulders slightly, before turning and seeing Kelly still standing next to the door.

"Issues with the mission layout Commander?" Kelly asked as Horn stormed back towards the door muttering something about 'luck' and 'favourite operative.'. The door opened and he looked to Operative Invaru.

"I need you in the CIC, we have a strategy we need to at least get an outline of before I start talking to Commander Buchan." Kelly cocked her head slightly. Horn gave a sigh. "Yeah, the bitch got herself a ship, remind me to send a card. Now, we have work to do."

"If you don't mind sir, the Illusive Man requested my presence after the meeting for a short time." Kelly stated, Horn looked at her.

"He didn't mention anything when he cut the call." Jason stated, and Kelly gave a small smile.

"With all due respect Commander, my information level is higher than yours when it comes to subjects outside of the Cell. I was an information agent before I was your 2iC." Horn gave this a moments thought, then waved his hand as he walked off.

"Alright, just try to hurry up. If we keep Vala waiting any longer than she needs to, I have a feeling this meeting will turn ugly in a heartbeat." Kelly gave a nod to the man's back, and as the doors closed, turned towards the conference table.

"Nikki, please connect me to the Illusive Man. Lockdown the room as well." Kelly stated as the table retracted into the floor once more.

"Acknowledged Operative." Kelly stepped within the perimeter of the QED and watched as the orange grid surrounded her. Before long, she was in the Illusive Man's office. He was in the middle of pouring himself some scotch near his chair when he looked up.

"Operative Invaru. Your report isn't due for another 24 hours." Kelly gave a small smile, standing straighter than usual.

"Sir, if you didn't mind, I had some questions I would like answers to." TIM looked at her for a moment, pausing in his pouring before giving a nod and continuing. Kelly took a moment to formulate her questions in her mind, and by the time she was finished, the Illusive Man was taking a seat in his favourite chair.

"As you are aware, we have retrieved Lieutenant Harrens from an Oracle outpost." TIM sat there, taking a small sip from his drink, waiting for Invaru to continue. "I took some time, and looked back towards Cecil's contacts. A drug ring run out of Afterlife on Omega. A group of thugs who, for better or for worse, are fairly reliable in their information gathering." Kelly stated. "My question is this. How is it that a man with limited connections using a sources that are mediocre at best manage to find an Oracle outpost before you?" TIM paused for a split second, lowering his drink to the holder on the arm of his chair.

"Operative Invaru, if I didn't know better, I would assume that you are insinuating that I intentionally withheld information regarding another Cerberus soldier in enemy hands." TIM stated, his voice as neutral as Kelly's.

"No sir, I am simply asking a question." Kelly stated, her voice never wavering past professional neutrality, and her form never slipping past perfectly rigid. TIM weaved his fingers together, glancing at Invaru over top of them.

"Are you asking out of curiosity, or suspicion Operative?" Kelly stood still, not entirely sure herself. TIM stood up, walking closer to her. "The fact that you have called upon me, unannounced and accusing me of withholding information regarding the safe keeping of Lieutenant Harrens is not only insulting, Operative Invaru, but embarrassing on your part." TIM's voice was calm, but there was always an undertone in the words chosen, not how they were said.

"Either way sir, I would like to know. This ship, it's crew, and it's mission need to be at one hundred percent. We can't do that if we are not playing with all of our pieces. Pieces, which could have been rectified by you at any point." TIM paced in front of Kelly.

"Let me put this into perspective for you, Operative." TIM stated, talking a moment to think about his words. "Everyone has a role to play. Every piece has its place, its mission, and its end run. In chess, it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice a rook for a bishop, a pawn for a knight..." TIM looked Kelly in the eyes. "A queen, for a king." TIM stopped pacing, placing himself a few feet in front of Kelly.

"The truth of the matter Operative, is that I was not actively searching for Lieutenant Harrens. I wasn't listening, I wasn't looking, I wasn't even peripherally keeping an eye out." TIM stated, his bionic eyes staring into Kelly's. "Lieutenant Harrens is, and always will be, a soldier. His record is exceptional, his scores almost immaculate. Personality wise, he is a good man with good intentions. But at the end of the day, soldiers have two things that are required of them. One being fight when they are told to..."

"And die when you need them to." Kelly finished. TIM gave the briefest of smirks before it disappeared again.

"If you can finish the quote, you know who wrote it." TIM stated. Kelly paused for a moment, taking time to think before answering.

"Captain Grayson Horn sir." TIM nodded before turning and sitting back down in his chair.

"Commander Jason Horn may be different than his father, but that is only in regards to his friends. Had Daniel not been his friend and only surviving squad mate, do you think he would have searched that hard for some marine so far down that chain he or she was holding the anchor?"

"No sir." Kelly stated, knowing already that she had lost all footing in this meeting. TIM gave a nod.

"That is correct. So to answer your question Operative." TIM gingerly grabbed his glass, taking a sip before continuing. "No, I did not know where Lieutenant Harrens was." Kelly gave a nod, but didn't say anything. TIM motioned with his glass. "Was there something else you wished to discuss Operative?" Kelly took a moment, not wanting any sign of any emotion to come out of her. Instead, she answered in her cool and calm manner as always.

"No sir, no further questions." TIM nodded, bringing up the display on his chair. He gave her one last look.

"Remember your place Operative. Eve disobeyed the rule of God, ate of the forbidden fruit, and was cast from the kingdom of heaven...do not befall the same fate." TIM cut the connection, leaving Kelly standing there, a rare feeling of anger present in her body as she mentally calmed herself down. The Illusive Man had told her a bold face lie. He had known about the base, about Daniel, about the Commander stationed there, and he had simply put it to the side.

Kelly turned from the QED and made for the door.

For the moment, one war was good enough.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff Character Portrait: Charlie Welles

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“Commander Horn, should we dis-”

“I'll contact you when I have a rough plan etched out.” Before she could even respond, he ended the call, leaving Vala standing in the conference room with something akin to a scowl on her face. It was wonderful to know Horn was still the exact same as he’d been before her two month ‘vacation’. Reigning in the irritation welling up in her gut, the Commander took a slow breath.

She’d use the time he was strategizing to meet with her own staff and make her own strategies for the various targets as well. It would be time well spent, she mentally assured herself, and they’d have something of a civil strategy meeting after they had both prepared. Civil wasn’t a word she’d ever consider between herself and the jetpack-obsessed adrenaline junkie, but the Illusive Man expected it.

She would simply have to provide. “He really knows to get under your skin, huh?” Snapping her eyes to the door, Vala frowned half-heartedly at Scorpion as she casually approached the rising table and took a seat atop the surface with a happy sigh. “Commander Horn, right? I didn’t really get much info on him, but I’ve heard you’re not fond of each other.”

“No.” Vala sharply replied, rounding the table towards the ‘head’ on the far side of the conference room. “But, whatever he may feel aside, I am willing and able to put my personal feelings aside for the duration of this operation. It’s as simple as that.” Alexis nodded to herself as Wyatt stepped quickly into the room and took up a place opposite Alexis at the table. “Keagan gathered you both, I take it? Any word if he was going to get Welles?”

On cue, the door hissed open and Charlie jogged into the room with a quick wave. “Hope I didn’t keep you, was in the middle of a workout.” He took a spot beside Alexis, leaning partially on the table as he gulped for air. “What’s the work today, Commander?”

Vala tapped a few keys on the interface before her, and the image of the Daedalus system appeared. “The operation is straight-forward, but will likely be difficult. We’ve been tasked with the removal of several known Oracle assets within the Daedalus system, a mixture of both soft and hard targets. For that reason…” She tapped a few more keys, and a small image of the Call of Victory appeared. “This will be a joint operation between the Deliverance and the Call of Victory. It’s Commander, Jason Horn, and I will be going over strategy for the upcoming operation shortly, but we need to have some basis of a plan to begin with.”

The display shifted to the lists of targets, and the command staff gave them a quick once over. Alexis was the first to speak, rubbing her chin idly. “The hard targets are likely better suited for the Call; given that it’s a cruiser and will likely pack more ordinance than us…” Charlie nodded in agreement, motioning towards the names.

“The Hounds can likely hit most of the marks without any help from the Call’s marines as well. This information is up to date, yeah?”

Alexis nodded sharply. “I’d bank on it, given the reliability of the Illusive Man’s contacts. This seems fairly straight forward, but…”

“It would only be straight forward if we can rely on the targets remaining in place.” Sinoff gruffly continued; arms crossed across his chest as his eyes coldly examined the information on display. “The first sign of trouble, they’ll head aground.”

“Bingo.” Alexis chimed.

The 2IC pressed a finger to his lips. “Even ignoring that, we should be expecting Aurora resistance, correct? Any word on numbers?” Vala shook her head slightly, glancing at the man in her peripheries.

“Nothing exact, aside from a pair of scout frigates patrolling the area.”

Sinoff nodded, focusing his attention on the overview of the system. “Then they are logically our first hurdle. If either of the frigates can signal our presence, we’ll be lucky to get half of these targets. And no matter how good the excuse, a cruiser dropping in will ring warning bells.” Alexis nodded, and Vala drummed a finger on the table.

“Then we’ll hit them with the Thanix cannon. It’ll shred those frigates to pieces.”

“I don’t think that’ll work, Commander.” Charlie murmured, running a hand through his beard. “No matter how strong this cannon you’re talking about is, it’s not going to kill a frigate in one shot unless we’re somehow packing a dreadnaught MAC. Chances are; first sign of trouble, a VI will fire off a warning to the other.”

She frowned, but found herself nodding in agreement. It was a logical failsafe. “Then how do you suggest we take care of the frigates quietly, Lieutenant Commander?” The commando rubbed his chin for a few moments, before the faintest spark lit up behind his eyes. “You’ve got something?”

“Jo, can you bring up a standard blueprint for an Alliance frigate?” The AI complied wordlessly, the display snapping to the layout within seconds of his request. The others watched Charlie curiously examine the layout for a few moments, before his face split into a pleased grin. “I’ve got just the ticket. We’ll board it.”

Alexis’s face lit up, and Vala could tell there was something about the ballsy-ness of such an action that excited the old operative. “Now that’s a curious thought. We’re not an assault team here, what exactly do you plan to do on board the frigate?”

“It’s relatively straight forward. If we can get me and two pairs of my Hounds on that ship, we can kill both frigates in one giant clusterfuck of explosions.” He looked to Vala, and the confidence of his smile spoke wonders to her. Tapping a slender finger on the table a few times, she shot Sinoff a look in curiosity. The man took the opportunity to speak.

“And if they detect your presence? It’ll simply cause the exact thing we’re trying to avoid.”

“Jo can help with that, actually.” Alexis offered, bringing their attention to her. “Let’s say we send the Hounds over, but before Charlie gets stuck in with the crew, we attach a simple short-wave jammer to the hull? The GARDIAN systems won’t be online outside of combat, and it’ll take a while for the scans to notice something as small as a jammer attached to the ship. If Jo manages the jammer, we can make sure whatever messages they send…don’t get out.”

After a moment, the stoic 2IC nodded in confirmation, and Vala gave a slightly reluctant sigh. “If you’re all on board, then I only have one real question, I suppose.” Inquisitive eyes flicked to Charlie, who met them with all the confidence in the world. “What exactly are you planning on doing over there, Welles?”

Rubbing his palms together with a childish glee, he wasted no time bringing their attention back to the display. “Now that, you see, is going to be the fun part…”

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“That’ll be all, you’re dismissed.” Vala sighed heavily as Welles and Sinoff saluted and headed off to prepare for the operation ahead. If only she could be doing the same, instead of waiting for a call from Horn of all people. The young commander leaned partially on the conference table, staring through the still glowing display of Daedalus at Alexis’s back. The scarred woman leaned back on the table, watching her right back with a curious gaze. “I can’t believe I’m going ahead with this.”

Scorpion suppressed a laugh, twirling her cane idly in her free hand. “I have to say, it’s a pretty ballsy idea for only your second operation. You’ve got yourself one mad bastard in that one.” The younger woman deadpanned at her friend, turning the display off silently and dropping the room into a more ambient lighting. They sat in a companionable silence for a few moments, before the operative sighed. “You holding up alright?”

“…well enough, I suppose.” She admitted; resting her cheek on her knuckles as her brow furrowed in thought. “Still hasn’t really sunk in yet, you know? Almost feels like they’re running the ship, and I’m just riding along with them.” She was still only for a moment longer, sighing again and straightening out with a groan. “Remind me to get a chair for in here…I can’t take all this standing if I’ve got to be at every damn meeting.”

“We’ll get you a nice throne, Ivory.” Alexis called teasingly, resting her cane across her shoulders as she smiled across the table. “It’s what they’re here for. Hell, it’s sorta what I’m here for. I don’t think anyone is really expecting you to run a warship perfectly right away, especially not at your age.” Her eyes drifted to the view port behind Vala, and they glossed over as if she was remembering something far away. “…he wasn’t much better.”

“What was that?” Vala perked up, only to be promptly shot down by a dismissive wave of the hand. “You know I hate secrets…”

“You hate secrets that are dangling in front of you. Such a woman you are.” The playful jeer got a chuckle, and Alexis tapped her cane once on her shoulder before placing it properly on the ground. “Don’t sweat it; it’s not important right now.” Straightening out, she took a long look at the viewport. “Although, be careful how much you rely on these guys, yeah?”

Before she could inquire as to what exactly Alexis meant by those words, Jo’s voice sounded. “Commander Buchan, we are receiving an incoming QE transmission from the Call of Victory.” The room didn’t shift, as Vala paused for the briefest of moments to consider making Horn wait as payback for his earlier rudeness. At the lack of response, Jo continued, microscopically more insistent than before. “It likely pertains to the upcoming operation, Commander.”

Sighing heavily, Vala rounded the table. “I know, Jo. Let it through.” With a soft ‘Affirmative’, the room darkened once more, shutters sliding over the ‘dome’ as the table sunk into the floor like it had never been there before. The pad hummed beneath her feet, and she idly noted the Alexis hadn’t left the room, instead leaning just outside the projection area.

Moments later, and she was standing in a seemingly ‘empty’ place with only darkness and the twin figures of Horn and Invaru appeared across from her. Vala nodded ever so slightly, crossing her arms as she regarded them both. “Ready now?” She questioned dryly, focusing her attention on Horn. He simply nodded, and she inclined her head partially. “Alright then, let’s get on with it.”

Operative Invaru tapped a key, bringing up the display of the system, although by this point it was almost a formality. She’d been staring at the damn thing for most of the day already; it was practically ingrained in her mind. “Did you want to start, Commander Buchan?” The slight enunciation of the title made it painfully clear what he thought of it, but for the sake of the operation, she gave no reaction.

“Certainly.” Clearing her throat, Vala tapped a few keys on her omni-tool, bringing up a smaller display of a typical Alliance frigate. “Due to the nature of our operation, we can’t afford detection before the majority of our pieces are in play. The scout frigates pose the first and most immediate threat to detection, given the fact that your cruiser has no stealth technology. Therefore, I’m prepared to use the Deliverance to secure the system before you arrive.”

Horn seemed skeptical. “Against two frigates? How do you plan to take out both before one of them sends off a distress signal to the soft targets?” Vala straightened ever so slightly, motioning to the frigate calmly.

“They won’t be able to send for help. They’ll be silenced for the duration of our operation, and if all goes according to plan, it will create enough of a disturbance that even your ship will be able to enter the system without being noticed straight away.” Lacing her hands behind her back, Vala gave the slightest smirk. “There’s really nothing else that can be done. Anything else just runs the risk of detection, while this plan reduces it to practically nothing.”

“Part of me wants to know how you plan to do that, and the other part doesn't care so long as it gets done.” He motioned to Kelly, who quickly brought up a display of the various buildings and facilities that needed to be destroyed. “The Call of Victory will be dealing with the hard targets, sending a small contingent of marines armed with enough explosives to destroy half a city.” A red X crossed out each of the hard targets, leaving the faces of the soft targets. “This is more your area of expertise, but the targets are well dispersed. How do you want to divide the targets up?”

Rubbing her chin, Vala examined the faces in thought for a moment. “We should likely focus on the difficulty of access for each target…those harder to reach should be handled by my operatives, while the others can be hit with your marines.” She flicked her eyes over the targets. “It’s really a matter of picking who though, and ensuring we can get forces on station before anyone knows we’re there…display target information.” She instructed, and the images of the targets expanded to reveal more about each individual.

Vala gave each a preliminary sweep. “We’ll want to avoid as much collateral damage as we can. My operatives can hit the marks in the population centers, since they’ll be far more precise than your marines. Those will be…” She tapped several images, which vanished as soon as her finger moved on. Moving to tap a fifth, she paused as it didn’t vanish like the others.

An EDI, she wasn’t sure if it was her’s or Horn’s, spoke. “Commander Buchan, the provided information for that target indicates that it will not be removed easily.” She tilted her head, re-examining the info again.

“High-rise office building, large civilian presence…but he’s in a corner office. A sniper should have no trouble picking him off.” She paused, scrolling further down the information before a frown crossed her features. “Office is bullet-proofed…perfect.”

“The office is bullet proof, but the man himself isn't. Display the blueprints for the building." A moment later, and the building itself was highlighted. “I can send a small marine detachment to the ground floor, and work their way up. It won't be quiet, and this man will know they're there long before they got to him." Horn stretched his hands out, and widened the image. “Set up a sniper team across from the building, his most logical escape route is to run for the roof and get a ride. When he does, that's when your snipers will have a shot.”

Rubbing her chin, Vala nodded sharply. “The private security won’t likely provide opposition for your marines, but they’ll still need to carve a few floors worth to properly spook him.” Seemingly pleased with the plan of attack, she flicked the image to the side, examining the remaining targets. “The remaining marks are isolated, or even on actual military facilities…most of them should be right up your alley.”

Horn reached up, tapping the image of a military commander. "While I would love to say that marines can handle anything and everything, this one would be a problem. Nikki, bring up the base specifics.” A spreadsheet popped up beside the man’s head, roughly listing resources, manpower and vehicles. It wasn’t exactly a small number. "I'd have to commit a sizable portion of my manpower to take out this one man, which I simply can't spare. We need to thin his numbers...or at least create a distraction."

“A distraction…” Vala muttered, only for the slow steady steps behind her to draw her attention to Alexis as she stepped into the projection pad. Horn’s gaze shifted to the woman, and Kelly gave a wordless greeting in the way of a polite nod. “Got something?”

“Distractions seem something a boisterous man like yourself are more fond of than us shadowed types.” She joked lightly, tapping the screen for a few moments. “Marines by their nature are rowdy, so why not put it to use? Do a strike raid, and while the base is scrambling to get on it’s toes…the general loses his head.”

"I doubt the general would lose his head to a small assault. If he did, he wouldn't be in the position he currently holds." Horn placed a hand up to his mouth. "While the smoke screen could work, my marines wouldn't be able to take on a full compliment of Aurora marines for long. 2 minutes, max before I tell them to get their asses out of there. That's how long your operatives would have to find the general, and put a bullet into his head."

Scorpion chuckled lightly, tapping her cheek once before speaking. “Jo, display Operatives Letsinger and Alto.” The two commandos profiles appeared on the screen, small and filled mostly with text save for the small image of a crown that Vala didn’t bother to ask about. “Infiltration specialists. I’d be willing to bet my good leg they can handle a little ‘speed run’, provided your troops can keep the base properly occupied.”

"My marines will handle it, just don't fuck up." Horn stated, obviously ready to move onto the next topic at hand. The woman just grinned and nodded, glancing briefly to Vala who met her eyes silently and motioned for her to continue.

"Of course, Commander. They won’t disappoint." With an idle swipe of her fingers, she brought up another image seemingly at random. “She’ll be tricky as well. Jo, schematics.” Dismissing the majority of the other displays, they were promptly replaced by a large layout of a facility. “Let’s see…choke points, remotely controlled blast doors, security mechs…it’s like a miniature fortress.” Kelly and Horn stared at the display in silence for a minute, before she pointed out one of the rooms.

“That looks like a central security hub, if we could get a team in there, we could have access to the entire buildings defense systems.”

Horn wasted no time in continuing the thought. “There would need to be two teams, they can't get to the security hub and their target at the same time. That and the fact that they should have some sort of VI with all this tech, which means any attempt to leave the security room would end up with all the security measures coming back online.” Nodding in approval, Alexis motioned to one of the entrances to the base.

“Then, let’s take a lesson from a scorpion and use a pincer.” Circling a small area on the display, she quickly mapped out a route through the facility, pausing every so often to think before tracing along again. “If the strike team can gain access to the facility, following this route will lead them past most of the chokepoints, while…” Thumbing through the floors, she came to the roof and highlighted the entrance.

“One of the tech specialist pairs can be dropped covertly on the roof and move on the security control room. The strike team should hold up…” Flicking back through, she jabbed one of the rooms seemingly at random. “…here as a ‘diversion’ from the control team’s infiltration. Once the security systems are under control…”

Before Scorpion could continue her ramble, Vala tapped her shoulder with a chuckle. “The strike team can easily progress through the facility while the defences are used to slow the defenders, right?” It had been awhile since she’d seen the operative in the mission mindset, but it seemed her enthusiasm for it had not diminished much in her ‘retirement’.

“Right on the money, Commander.”

"That could work, but is also incredibly risky for my marines. Any failure to capture and hold that security booth leaves them trapped in a small room with a lot of guns pointed in their direction." Horn‘s eyes went to Vala, and she met his gaze with hidden unease. “Are your people up to it?”

Well, there was a question she didn’t have an immediate answer to. There was no real way to answer the question, at least, not in a way that inspired confidence. The only members she’d seen in anything relating to action were Jones and El, and there wasn’t really much to be said there. The mission had to take priority though. She straightened, meeting Horn’s gaze properly. “I can’t ask your men to do something I wouldn’t. If need be, I’ll lead the strike team myself.”

There was a thick silence for a moment, before Horn gave a light ‘Huh.’ She barely raised her brow at his reaction, and the Commander didn’t bother addressing it. “No, you shouldn't be needed for this one. You're going to be needed elsewhere for the other assassinations.”

“Then you’ll send marines, or do you want my own to do this?”

“We'll send both. The marines will forge their way through the facility while your operatives clear a path through the defences for them via their security hub.” She wasn’t sure if he trusted her, or rather looking for a place to blame her, but Vala nodded in agreement to his plan. They had little other options.

“Then I’ll trust the remaining targets to you, Commander.” With those words, the display vanished, leaving the four of them standing in the darkness. “I doubt neither of us wishes to waste each other’s time with the exact details of our plans. We’ll be mobilizing for Daedalus immediately, and will signal you when it’s clear to come through.”

Horn gave a slight nod, faintest hint of a grin on his face. “Hopefully, you can keep your emotions in check this time around Commander?” She tensed for just a moment, before staring darkly at the man with a face blank of emotion.

“Of course. I just ask you watch your trigger finger around my men.” Pressing her hand into the shape of a gun, she aimed it casually at the man before making a soft ‘bang’. Jo, blessedly intelligent as the machine was, seemed to catch the subtle cue and shut the call down without hesitation; silencing any possible retort. Alexis glanced at Vala, who turned sharply on her heel and stalked towards the door with a look of bloody murder on her features.

“Someone knows how to push your buttons.” She idly commented, but was ignored as Vala stalked from the room and into her personal quarters. The Commander wasted no time stepping up to the armour locker built into the wall, and pressing a key that opened the storage unit.

Gripping the helmet with one hand, she tapped a finger to her comm piece. “Chekan, get us on course to the Daedalus system.” There was a curt “Ma’am” and she tapped the comm again. “Welles, I want your team geared and ready before we’re there.”

“Can do.”

“And Charlie?”

“Yes, Commander?”

“It better be damn impressive.” She cut the line before he could reply, looking at her helmet for a moment before focusing on the rest of her armour.

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Sitting silently on the lip of the Kodiak shuttle, Charlie was almost perfectly still save for the subtle rise and fall of his chest with every breath. The flight crew were finishing their final checks on the shuttle, and he could already see most of them beginning to shift their attention to the Gunship across the bay where the mercenary girl was barking instructions on handling and components.

Inside the cabin behind him, his chosen team occupied themselves as they waited for the final all-clear for their operation. Five in total, including himself, the decision on who exactly to bring was an easy one. Since the target was a warship, Operatives Gravette and Marczak were an automatic shoe in for their expertise in tech and demolitions. The two sat quietly beside each other one, calmly reviewing blueprints and schematics on their omni-tools in what he was certain was complete techno-gibberish.

On the other side, he had the privilege of watching El and Jonesy having a rather lively game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, although it was immediately and constantly ruined by the rising absurdity of their chosen ‘objects’. He’d tuned them out the moment El had tried to make a krogan with her hands and Jonesy was attempting to symbolize the genophage. He’d almost taken McNeary and Cottam for their close quarter talents, but with a delicate operation like this, the last thing they needed was a ‘points’ war between those two.

Perking his head up slightly, Charlie watched as the lift opened and Commander Buchan emerged in full battle rattle with her helmet tucked neatly under her arm. The cold intensity of her eyes made him chuckle, and suddenly more of the dossier he’d been presented was beginning to make itself known. She certainly looked like a different woman as she strode powerfully across the hangar towards the Kodiak. Hopping from his perch, the Lieutenant Commander saluted sharply, and she returned it without a missed beat. “Commander Buchan, I was expecting you to be on the bridge.”

She shook her head, glancing at his selected team for a moment before looking back at his faceplate. “This is a real assignment in comparison to the Citadel operation, and I don’t think I should be absent on the largest risk.” Charlie glanced back at the team, tapping his helmet around the ears for a moment in a wordless sign to ignore them. Vala seemed familiar with the lingo, fixing him immediately with a suspicious look. “Is there an issue?”

“I’m not going to, nor can I actually, tell you not to come, but it’s not exactly in our best interest for you to be accompanying us on this, Commander.” The tightness of her lips said all of what she thought of that notion, and Charlie moved to explain himself. “It’s not a matter of capability; it’s more a matter of compatibility. I’ve read your dossier, but aside from what little I saw on the Citadel from the helmet feeds, I’ve never seen you in action personally. Nor have you really seen me or my teams.”

“Then it’s best to accompany one another on a mission so we can become properly accustomed with each other.”

“Which we can do anytime, you say the word…but this is a high risk operation. Anything goes wrong over there, and we’re in so deep that it’s more likely we aren’t coming out. We can‘t have that uncertainty on the back of our minds, me or you.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, lowering his voice slightly. “And frankly, it’s a lot worse for morale to lose the actual Commander than the dude with the awesome beard.”

Her eyes flicked down to the hangar floor as she considered his words, and after a moment, she nodded. “What you’re saying makes sense. Alright, I’ll leave this to you then.” It wasn’t hard to guess she didn’t like sitting it out, but Charlie was thankful she was open to his advice. The ability to do so was more valuable than he cared to admit. “But don’t go making any mistakes, Welles. I’m not eager to have casualties. If you can’t do it, simply go to plan B and exfil ASAP.”

“I don’t make a habit of getting myself killed, so no need to worry. I’ll have the ship primed before you can ready the champagne for the fireworks.” She chuckled lightly, nodding a sight affirmative before Ronas came over the intercom.

“We’ve reached our target destination, Commander. Jo’s eager to get started, so just say the word.”

“Have we confirmation from the Victory that it’s in position outside the relay?”

Govern answered her question quickly, speaking slightly faster than necessary in a likely attempt to get off the intercom as fast as possible. “Y-yes, Commander, they’re in position and awaiting our signal.”

“Excellent. All hands clear the deck!” Vala barked the order, and the staff quickly filtered through the door to the other compartments on the level. Charlie idly noticed that the mercenary didn’t leave her cockpit, most likely having sealed it so she could continue her preparations. Vala extended a hand to the commando, and he took it lightly. “Best of luck over there, Welles. Impress me.”

Laughing, Charlie gave her hand a firm shake. “I‘ll see what trouble I can stir up for you, Buchan.” Hoisting himself up into the cabin, the Hounds Commander ducked into the dim lighting without a backwards glance; the pilot sealing the door behind him as the hangar began to open. Through the view port, he could see Vala calmly place the helmet on her head, sealing it seconds before the atmosphere vented violently out into space. She didn’t move an inch, powerful magnets in her boots no doubt locking her in place as the Kodiak drifted out into the void.

“Stealth systems active. En route to drop point.” The pilot calmly announced, and Charlie turned his attention to the team now watching him expectantly from their seats. It was next to impossible to see any difference between the five Hounds, at least, to those unfamiliar with the unit. As its lead, Charlie could tell who each figure was without the helpful markers in his HUD, the distinct markings on each pair’s marking telling him all he needed to know.

“Alright, I’ve already gone over the hard stuff, so just a few refreshers. First,” He held up his hand, revealing a small device clamped round his wrist that extended over the palm slight with what looked like a small hole. “Micro-thrusters. Been awhile since we’ve used em, so time for a basic refresher. These are for manoeuvring, not propulsion, so don’t try and be a speedster. The fuel is pretty limited, so keep in mind that we’ve got a return trip to make.”

Pulling his fingers back away from his palm, a small burst hissed from the port, before vanishing as the hand relaxed. “Just got to lock your hand like that to activate. Got it?” Gravette and Marczak nodded lightly, while the other pair fired off a pair of unintelligible noises that he took as confirmation. “Alright, now, I shouldn’t have to remind you that this is an Aurora frigate, not your standard Alliance fare. They aren’t going to be Special Forces or anything, but don’t make things easy on them. We’ve got to impress the boss so I want only your A-game.”

Gravette raised a finger, and Charlie motioned for her to go ahead. “Commander, have we determined our entry point yet?”

“Good question. We’re playing it by ear at this point. Once we’re in-position and have placed the jammer, Jo is going to find us an entrance. I’m hoping we can hit the airlock since it’s a straight shot from there, but we’ll just have to adapt to what’s available.”

El laughed in delight. “How bout the main gun? That thing is always open! Can crawl right up the shaft!” She and her partner exchanged excited glances at the prospect of climbing a mass accelerator cannon, but Charlie shook his head.

“Already thought of that, but the blue prints are saying that the hole won’t be big enough for those hips of yours, El. We’ll have to take a boring route.”

“Booo…”

Charlie just smiled knowingly at the woman. “Next time we raid a ship, I’ll make extra sure it’s got a big enough gun just for you, fair?” He turned his attention to Marczak, who was attentively typing away at his omni-tool with little concern for the briefing. “You’re good for the FTL plotter?”

The man didn’t even lift his head, studiously examining the blueprint on the small display before him. “Typically FTL plotters are used on private vessels, which lack the level of encryption that an actual warship has. The firewalls will be the most difficult part, but once the plotter is attached and the systems scrubbed of counter-measures…”

“So, yes then.”

“It’ll work.”

“Then just say so next time.” Charlie glanced back over his shoulder towards the pilot, who was watching them quietly out of the corner of his eye. “How we looking?”

“We’re just about at the drop point. No signs from the target that they’re aware of our presence. Still, best to make the drop as quickly as possible.” Tapping his helmet once, the pilot’s visor sealed and hissed as it pressurized. Moments later, his external speaker crackled. “Get ready.”

Charlie motioned to his team, who were already getting up from their seats. The tech pair wasted little time fishing a pair of devices out from underneath them, one no larger than a stone while the other looked like a slightly over-sized Frisbee with several small lights alone it’s surface. Securing them to a small magnetic strip on their back, they flashed a thumbs-up as they joined the others by the hatch. “We’re good to go.”

“Opening hatch in 3...2...1...” There was a brief hiss as the door began to open, before the atmosphere inside quickly vented and the Hounds disengaged the magnetic clamps in their boots to be taken along with the surge of air. They were barely out of the Kodiak before the shuttle was closing and on its way back to the Deliverance. “Good luck in there.”

“Thanks.” Charlie drifted for only a few moments, before clearing his throat and gesturing towards the frigate that sat idle before them. They’d taken the liberty of rigging a fake S.O.S. in the area, to at least ensure the frigate would come by. It wasn’t unheard of for the odd old transmission to be picked up by a ship’s comms, but most ships would at least check to ensure there wasn’t actually someone stranded.

Almost made him feel bad to take advantage of the kindness of their enemy, but there was little time for such considerations. “Hades, this is Pack Lead, we are commencing the operation, how copy?” There was only a brief pause before the response came, Agent Govern’s voice firm but light.

“This is Hades, Pack Lead; I read you loud and clear.” It was like an entirely different woman was speaking to him, and it had always been a subject of amusement for the Hounds commander. Celeste was a natural at her job, despite her utter fragility in typical conversation. “Please proceed with the operation and keep us updated. Good luck, Pack Lead.”

“Solid copy, Hades.” Focusing his attention on the target before him, Charlie gave a small burst from his micro-thrusters to begin his approach, tailing after the others who had decided to advance without his go ahead. “Last I checked I’m the one with the fancy stripes!” He teased over the comms, watching in amusement as Jones rolled over mid-‘flight’ to shrug carelessly before firing another boost from his thrusters and cementing his lead. El wasn’t far behind her partner, with Gravette and Marczak dutifully following along.

As they all drifted closer and closer to the target, the hull became more and more visible as well as a small nav beacon placed on their HUD to mark their desired landing zone. What made the AI choose that particular spot was unknown, but he wasn’t really in a position to be questioning its judgement.

The five operatives adjusted their course expertly and in a few seconds they made touch down on the hull, magnetic clamps instantly fixing them to the surface. “And here we can see the majestic Aurora scout frigate, known for its skittish nature and tendency to explode in a brilliant display of fire.” Jones narrated as the more tech inclined pair gave their surroundings a brief once over, eyes lingering on the scattered GARDIANs along the hull.

“How long until they give up on the SOS?” Gravette asked as Marczak knelt down beside her and retrieved the jammer from its clamp on his back. “I’d rather not be stuck on the outside of a ship in FTL.” Charlie walked along the ‘spine’ of the ship for a few moments, carefully watching for any hidden windows beneath his feet.

“No way of knowing for sure. Sooner they’re jammed and we’re inside, the better. Marczak, get that thing online ASAP. I’m going to go see if I can’t nab us a little Intel.” As he spoke, the optical camouflage shimmered over his frame and he continued down the ship’s hull towards the helm. It took very little time to traverse the exterior, save for carefully weaving wide of any of the GARDIANs to avoid accidentally triggering them by pressure or any such nonsense that might have been installed, and it wasn’t long until he was sliding slowly down the small window that looked into the bridge.

Peering through, Charlie noted the preoccupied pilot quietly before his eyes flicked to the area behind him. Unlike their own ship, where the helm was an extended distance away from the CIC, Alliance vessels preferred a more…tightly packed central hub. In the event of equipment failure, it reduced the reliance on comm systems, enabling the captain to promptly and immediately relay his orders to the various stations that managed the ship. The only downside was that this made the bridge a much easier target, and it was very easy to scope out by anyone who happened to be looking in the window.

Arguably, he could understand why the latter wasn’t a priority on most vessels. What he found in the CIC, however, wasn’t to his liking. The SOS, or perhaps the lack of a seeming source for the signal, had drawn the frigate’s leader to an impromptu pow-wow with some of his staff. Did he smell a rat, or was he just looking for opinions? Regardless, the numbers were a little thick for his liking, automatically ruling out the airlock as their access point.

Climbing back up the ship, he rubbed his chin in habit, trying pointlessly to stroke his beard through the helmet. If they had taken the SOS seriously, as it seemed they were, there was little doubt they’d have prepped a shuttle in the hangar in case they needed it. It’d be thick with flight staff and possibly a few combat personnel for the ‘rescue’. The hangar opening would immediately alert the entire ship, and that would kill the whole operation right then and there.

“Sir, the jammer is online.” Marczak’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and he gave a half-committed grunt as he approached the group again. “Problem?” The operative looked at him expectantly, the golden eyes on the visor staring at the commander blankly.

“We’re lacking an entry point.” El’s voice sounded for the briefest second, but Charlie’s hand snapped up immediately. “Already said the gun is too small. That’s a no go.” She deflated, Jones patting her sympathetically on the back as the others exchanged looks. “Bridge is too occupied and the hangar is just one giant alarm.”

“Commander Welles, if I may offer a suggestion?” Jo’s synthetic voice cut over their comm channel, and he waited expectantly for the machine’s advice. “Utilizing the jammer, I should be able to hack into and isolate systems for the enemy frigate. It is possible that I will be able to activate an emergency engine shut-down for ‘maintenance’.”

“And this helps us how?” Gravette commented dryly, the hacker clearly amused at the prospect of a bundle of code advising her. “The engines aren’t exactly a doorway.”

Celeste’s voice came over the comms, far less interrupting than her AI counterpart. “This is Hades. Pack Lead, according to the schematics Jo has provided me; there is actually a possible route through the engines.”

“Say what now?”

Celeste continued. “While corvettes and fighters are easily maintained externally, warships like frigates have engines that are too large for such basic maintenance. Most have small ‘access routes’ that enable engineers to enter the internal workings of the engine and do the necessary repairs. There are both internal and external access points.”

There was a pause for a moment, before Charlie stated with incredulity, “Did you just say I should crawl through the engine of a hostile warship, Hades?” There was a suppressed, dual squeal of excitement from Jones and El that he pushed out of his mind. “We’re already high risk enough, don’t you think?”

“Commander Welles, there are few other viable possibilities that do not result in detection, and upon detection, the odds of mission failure and total pack elimination jump by-”

“Okay, engine crawling it is.” He interrupted with a defeated sigh, a light smirk on his face despite himself. “I said I’d make it impressive, didn’t I? Hades, please advise Commander Buchan of our ‘plan’. Jo, if you would be so kind as to remove the fire from those engines…”

“Of course, Commander Welles. Marking the location of the access hatch on your HUD now.” The icon appeared instantly, and Charlie jerked his head in the direction of it as he moved silently towards the engines. “Please refrain from opening the hatch until the engine has fully ceased activity. The temperature within is enough to fuse your armour to your skin.”

“You sure love freaking people out, don’t you?”

“I was not aware that this information would unsettle you, Commander. The biometrics in your suits is suggesting excitement.”

“Jones and El are throwing off your readings.” Approaching the hatch as he moved along the ‘wing’ of the ship, Charlie knelt beside it and smoothed his hand along the surface. This would certainly be a first in his career, and there wasn’t much he could say that for these days. His team circled around the hatch, and he glanced at all of them. “Jones, El, you’re first in. Marczak and Gravette, you’re in next. I’ll bring up the rear.”

“Copy.”

“Deactivating engine…now.” The hull beneath their feet vibrated forcefully for a few moments, before the vibrations dulled and eventually disappeared. There was a thick pause, before Jo spoke again. “The engine has full ceased function. You are clear to enter.” Charlie tapped a few keys on the access panel, and it hissed open without delay. The pack wasted no time; dropping into the cramped ‘tunnel’ and beginning the slow crawl up the shaft.

The shaft was blazing hot, even with the machines around them dormant, and he could feel thick beads of sweat beginning to form on his neck and back through his armour. “Fucking A, it’s hotter than the bloody sun in here!”

“The ambient temperature is currentl-”

“Shut up! Just because you know it, doesn’t mean I want to hear it!” Gravette snapped at the AI, which quieted at the woman’s outburst. The comms were silent for only a moment longer, before a new voice came over the system.

“Am I hearing Govern correctly, Welles?” The slight tint of disbelief in Vala’s voice made the man sigh quietly to himself. Crawling through a small furnace on his very first operation for her, oh yes, he was painting a wonderfully sane picture of himself. “You’re going to go through the engine?”

“Correction, Commander…I am currently going through the engine. And it’s absolutely lovely in here, let me tell you.” Panting slightly, he glanced at his HUD before flicking his attention back to the task at hand. Or at least, he would have, had he not noticed the small thermometer display tucked into the corner slowly starting to rise. “…it’s getting hotter?”

Vala didn’t even miss a beat. “What.” He could hear muffled barked shouts in the background, likely her demanding something from whoever was in her immediate vicinity. The thermometer continued its slow climb, but the pace was beginning to accelerate.

“Uh…”

“Commander Welles, it appears the crew has deemed the emergency shutdown as a system glitch and are reactivating the engine. It is currently powering up, and is likely the source of the temperature spike.”

“You hear that Jonesy? We’ve been invited to a barbeque!” El called cheerfully in the space up ahead, although he could see the both of them already moving at a much faster pace than before. “You think I can get you medium rare?”

“I’m much better crispy!”

“Not the time!” Marczak shouted, moving as fast as he could after the nimbler leaders with Gravette practically climbing over him in a frantic attempt to get out of the engine as fast as physically possible. Charlie wasn’t far behind, but the spike was already growing faster and faster.

“Jo, how long we got?!”

“I have delayed it as best I can but it can be estimated to fully activate in 26 and a half seconds.” The timer popped up immediately in his HUD, before Jo offered more of her sage-like wisdom with the same terrible timing. “Please be advised, by the ten second mark, your armour will begin to melt.”

“Thank you for that.” He hissed, pulling himself along the rungs as fast as he could make himself go. The tightness of the shaft clearly wasn’t meant for speedy escapes, and the compact nature made his armour grind and chafe against the edges.

His eyes flicked to the timer, swallowing as it dropped below the 20 second point. The others had a good lead on him, if the small ‘map’ provided by the suit was any indication, and they’d likely reach the end before he did. “Found the door!” Jones shouted over the comm, no doubt already fumbling through it as he spoke.

As the others vanished from the shaft one by one, Charlie climbed quicker and quicker, but the timer dropped lower and lower. With one last frantic glance at the countdown, Charlie gave an inward groan before pulling on one of the rungs as hard as he could before locking both his hands out.

The thrusters kicked in instantly, hissing full blast in tandem with enough force to propel the commando. Sparks arced off his armour as he ricocheted around the shaft, but there was no point to swearing or complaining about the rough treatment before they launched him full tilt out the small shaft and into the proper gravity of the ship’s engineering deck.

Landing in a heap a few feet from the hatch, Charlie picked himself up slowly, cloak flickering over his body as he glanced about wearily for anyone who might have seen his…graceless exit. “Next time…we’re going through the airlock.” Muttering under his breath, the commando glanced to his team, who all had hunkered down around the access hatch.

The map quickly displayed their location, and each gave it a cursory glance before turning their attention to their leader. “Hades, this is Pack Lead…we have gained access to the frigate and are moving to the second objective. Please also make a note that engine access is not a viable access route except in the most desperate of times.”

The light giggle before she spoke soothed his nerves somewhat. At least someone was enjoying this. “Solid copy, Pack Lead. Please be advised, Commander Buchan has assigned a secondary objective for you.” She waited for a beat before continuing. “If possible, we need you to access the frigate captain’s personal terminal and access his files pertaining to Oracle. It may prove useful in the upcoming operations. How copy?”

“Solid copy. I’ll take care of it personally. Jo, paint his quarters for me.” He jabbed a finger at the others. “You four take care of the bridge and get that FTL plotter rigged up. Once you’re in there…I’m not worried about alarms.” He dragged a finger across his neck, and the operatives nodded in understanding. “Alright, make me proud, and show off a little for the Commander. Got to be damn impressive.”

They filtered off quickly, soundlessly moving along the grated floor like a wraith before vanishing from sight in the various shadows of the deck. Alliance ships liked to be low light, which just made their job all the easier. Eying his map for a moment, the commando considered his route for a minute. The CIC was on the second deck, while the crew quarters, along with the Captain’s, were on the third, one up from him.

“Do we have a location on the boss of this tub?” He asked as he stalked through the darkness towards one of the access ladders. “I get the feeling he’ll have made some special encryptions on that data, and I’m not really the best hacker around.”

“The Captain appears to be taking a shower on the crew deck. To access his private files, I recommend acquiring his Omni-tool.”

The commando smirked, eyes flicking down the hall as he disappeared soundlessly through one of the doors. “Jo, you read my mind.”

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The CIC was quiet, despite the ‘excitement’ of the day. The technicians moved between their stations in an efficient but leisurely fashion, no doubt familiar with the dullness of their patrol route by now. Terminus or not, the system didn’t have much in the way of value, even for slavers and pirates, which made it a relatively easy post.

A few guards milled about the deck, but even to professional eyes, the Hounds were in their element in the dark. The four crept along the corners with perfect precision, each pair of eyes watching a different avenue as they worked towards their objective. Marczak and Gravette split off wordlessly as they approached the helm; him readying the plotter while she slowly drew the predator from her hip and brought it level with the man’s temple.

Behind them, El and Jones were already sizing up their first mark. The lone patrolling guard was left to Jones, quietly memorizing the man’s ‘route’ as he wandered through the technicians. El, pressed flush to a wall, had her gaze settled comfortably on the men guarding the lift, hands coiled around her Tempest SMG. Without any cue between them, the Hounds struck.

The Predator fired first, silenced round neatly punching a hole clean through the pilot’s skull and splattering the panel beside him with grey matter. Gravette spun on her heel as Marczak pulled the body from the seat, pumping a pair of rounds into the ensign in the co-pilot’s chair, shattering his jaw with the first round that muffled the panicked yell.

The patrolling guard turned, finding only a pair combat blades driving up through the mesh of his neck and puncturing both jugulars. With a violent jerk, the knives ripped out the sides in a shower of crimson, splattering the cloaked arms with gore as the blades retracted swiftly into the gauntlets.

El’s Tempest unloaded with unrelenting speed, dozens of rounds pumping into the first guard’s shield to overload the system, and as they collapsed under the hail her aim sharpened into a perfect burst through the man’s helmet that slicked the wall behind him. The second guard turned in a panic to address the threat, promptly hammered under the hail of bullets before Gravette’s Predator delivered a coup de grace from across the CIC.

Before the bodies had even fully collapsed, Jones and El’s attention immediately shifted to the stunned technicians. Jones pulled his Tempest up to the ready, and they fired in tandem across the various stations. Neither flinched as their rounds carved the unprotected personnel apart, shattering the various terminals as they methodically sprayed every inch of their respective sides with the Tempest’s vicious fire rate. El’s heat sink hissed a warning, but her hand snapped up to catch the heat sink Jones tossed over his shoulder to her and popped it in instantly.

As the last station went dark, the pair paused in their firing before a blaring alert sounded over the deck and echoed throughout the ship. They blinked in unison, before turning to the choking cough coming from one of the half destroyed stations. The woman in the seat stared coldly at them, several bullet wounds on her chest bleeding heavily as her hand slumped down from the interface. Jones tilted his head for a second before firing a round through her forehead. “That‘s one hell of an alarm clock…wonder what she wanted to wake up?”

“Clearly she wanted the janitorial technician. This CIC is a disaster zone! Are all Alliance ships so messy?”

Marczak turned about in the pilot’s seat, seemingly unbothered by the blood splattered along his new chair. “Talk later. You two secure the access ladders, Delois; get the elevator offline for now.” The operative’s chair swivelled back into position, and he called in annoyance over his shoulder. “And be quiet. I need to concentrate.”

His partner nodded in understanding, already crossing towards the lift with her Omni tool at the ready. Jones and El gave off centered mock salutes before heading for the ladders themselves. Connecting the FTL plotter to the systems, Marczak watched as the system immediately began to try and reject the hardware. His fingers flew across the interface, rapidly countering every defence the ship’s VI threw at his device with methodical precision.

It was an interesting challenge after so long, the high-end VI of an Alliance program compared to the typical security networks of private companies and mercenaries. The corner of his mouth turned up slightly, the thought of making a copy of the program for some tests back on the ship flashing across his mind. It was pointless when they had their very own AI to practice on though, and with that thought, he rapidly uploaded several dozen pre-made ‘worm’ viruses. The rapid replication of the virus would bog down the VI, making it difficult for the machine to properly counter his hacking.

“Archie.” Gravette’s voice sounded in his comm piece, and he grunted in slightly annoyance at being interrupted. “They have back up VI fighting for the elevator controls.”

“Tch.” Of the two, Gravette was the superior hacker, but if she was taking the time to mention it, then they were likely blitzkrieg her with dozens of inferior VI to overwhelm human reflexes. So the Alliance was getting somewhat crafty. “How long?”

“10 minutes.”

“Tch.”
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Sitting calmly in the shadows, Charlie watched as the various marines aboard the ship scrambled out of their bunks or away from their meals to race for their weapons. They’d had no idea that there was even a threat aboard the ship, and now his team already had access to the heart of their vessel. In their shoes, he’d have simple boarded an escape pod at this point.

The mind of a marine and a commando were different things though. His eyes flicked silently down the hall way towards the Captain’s quarters, noting the soldiers standing guard out front of the bulkhead. Intelligent. A threat suddenly appears; guard the ‘head’ of the snake while the rest kill the attackers. As the majority of the marines disappeared in the echoing stampede for the lift across the ship, he moved silently forward.

Nothing obscured him, save for the faintest shimmer of the cloak over his frame. Rolling his shoulders, Charlie retrieved the twin Predators at his hips and took the briefest second the enable the ‘disrupter’ setting on each of them. The slight charge provided for each round made them shred easily through shields, making the heavy pistol all the more dangerous.

One of the guards squinted, raising his Avenger and aiming towards the shimmer of his cloak. “Huh. Guess you’re better trained than your average Alliance grunt.” He commented, aiming the guns at both men simultaneously. “Lucky me.”

The cloak vanished as he opened fire, ducking to the side to avoid the burst of fire from the assault rifles ahead of him. His fingers never left the triggers, rolling swiftly across the floor as the pistols firing in tandem at the guards. Neither had anything much for cover, giving him the advantage with his mobility while the disruptor rounds quickly brought down the men’s shields. Holstering one predator, the last rounds of his heat sink punched a trio of clean holes into the man’s breast plate.

Several rounds from the rifle clipped his shields, but the hissing warnings of a weapon overheat echoed in the tight space. Before the marine could even try to pop a fresh heat sink, Charlie closed the distance and struck the pistol across the man’s face. The man staggered, but threw his arm up to block the weapon on its return swing. They struggled for a brief moment, before the commando hit the release for the heat sink and it ejected the burning hot material across the man’s arm.

Crying out in pain, he jerked back, clutching the wicked burns along his arm for a moment before the Predator took the thought from his mind along with most of his spinal cord. Holding the smoking gun casually, Charlie flicked his gaze to the dead men for only a minute before pressing his Omni tool up to the encrypted bulk-head and engaged the bypass. As the device did its work, he stepped to the side of the doorway.

The moment the encryption finished, the bulkhead hissed open and the thunderous bang that echoed out of the room made him pause. “…a Carnifex? Really? I want these guys budget…” Thumbing a grenade of his hip, he primed it with a quick tap before tossing it round the corner. There was a muffled ‘Oh shi-’ before the room filled with a flash of light.

Flicking his wrist, the knife hidden inside his gauntlet ejected into his palm as he stepped through the doorway with knife and pistol at the ready. The captain was ducked behind his desk, clearly fighting the effects of the flash bang as the commando crept closer. His steps were soundless, but the man was clearly on high alert. With a quick tap of the trigger, Charlie fired a round through the coffee mug atop the desk before stepping forward and aside rapidly as the Captain rose to return fire. The Carnifex punched a neat hole through the space he’d once occupied, but before the Captain could retreat back into cover, the combat knife flew blade deep into his fingers.

Screaming in pain, he dropped the weapon, only for Charlie to slam the hand down onto the table and rip the blade free, ignoring the mangled fingers on his hand as he drove the knife through the back of the palm to pin the limb to the surface. The captain howled in pain, pulling on the hand pointlessly as the commando circled round the desk and crouched down in front of him. “Nicely played, Captain.” There was no response beyond pained noises, and his external speakers crackled with humourless laughter. “Now that I have your attention, though, I’m going to need your codes.”

“G-go to hell.”

“I’d love to, but I can’t until I’ve got your codes. Now, there’s two ways we can do this, and you’re not going to like the second one…” The golden eyes on his helmet seemed to shine in the low light of the room, and the officer diverted his gaze. “Difficult. You Alliance types, always so damn proud.”

“Commander.”

“Gravette, what’s up?”

“We aren’t going to be in control of the elevator much longer. We need to finish up here, and quick.” He tapped his chin, still watching the defiant soldier before him. “Archie is almost done, but the VI is starting to try and kick him out as well.”

“Would the codes make them stop?”

“Definitely.”

“I’ll bring them to you. Others watching the ladders?”

“Affirmative.”

“Tell them I’ll be there momentarily.” Cutting the call, he glanced to the Omni tool on the officer’s unpinned hand. “You’re in luck, I’m needed elsewhere. I’ll just be taking this and be on my way.” Tugging the small device off the man’s arm, it unexpectedly powered down the moment it was off. There was a moment of silence as the two men looked at the device. “It reads your biometrics. Clever.”

Reattaching it to the arm, it quickly powered back up as if it had never turned off. Sighing heavily, the commando brought up his own Omni tool, tapping a few commands on the interface before the energy along it hummed into a thick and broad blade more akin to a machete. “I said you wouldn’t like this…”

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“2 minutes.” Gravette announced coldly, rapidly typing on her omni tool to fire dozens of counter measures to the brute force attacks the VI were throwing at her constantly. Her hands were beginning to get tired, constantly trying to compete with the instantaneous reaction speed of the programs. The challenge of it had lost its appeal shortly, especially when she considered the fact that there was a lift full of armed marines waiting for the inevitable outcome of this ‘fight’.

“I need 3.” Marczak replied, still not looking up from his work across the CIC.

“You have 2.”

“We’ll do it in 1.” Emerging from one of the side doors, Charlie casually waved with his free hand as El hurried over to the door opposite her’s to retrieve Jones. “Think you can keep them occupied for a little longer, Gravette?”

“Does Sorin have a bad temper?”

“Heh.” Striding across the CIC, the commando nodded in greeting as Archie turned partially in his seat to look at him. “Need a hand?” He asked casually, tossing the mangled limb still partially covered in Alliance dress blues to his operative.

The tech specialist caught it without hesitation, barely giving a glance to the small trickles of red still running down his superior’s gauntlet. “Biometrics?”

“Yup. Pretty fancy for Alliance Tech. Bastard even had a Carnifex.” Nodding idly, Archie turned back to his station and placing the omni tool on the small interface awkwardly. Confident the man could handle it from here, Charlie turned towards the others. “Jones, El!” The two looked to him in unison, and he motioned towards the airlock. “We‘re leaving.”

“We’re not going back out the engine way?”

“No. No, we are not.” The two groaned as they trotted towards into the waiting airlock. “Gravette. One last salvo, then let’s get moving.” The woman nodded, giving a few taps on the display before hurrying across the CIC to join the rest of the team. “Archie?”

“Just a moment…”

Charlie glanced at the elevator, the interface lighting up as it kicked in once more. “Now would be nice…” Thumbing another grenade from his belt, the commando primed it in his hand as Archie finished the final keystroke.

“It’s locked in!”

“Then we’re leaving.” Tossing the grenade across the CIC, it bounced once before rolling to a stop at the elevator, which dinged and opened seconds before the weapon went off. The bridge filled with the brilliant white flash, and the Hounds stepped back into the airlock as it hissed shut. Seconds later, the exterior door opened and the five commandos were vented out the side. “Thrusters on! Get clear before it hits FTL!”

The thrusters ignited in unison, full burn to push them out of the frigate’s mass effect field as its engines roared to full power. In another second, it blinked from sight, and the Hounds used the last remnants of their fuel to kill their forward momentum.

Floating casually, Charlie tapped his helmet. “Hades, this is Pack Lead. Operation is a success. We’re signalling our location for pick up.” There was a brief pause before Vala’s voice came over.

“You’ve confirmed it?”

“Archie likely spliced into one of the hull cameras, yeah?” He nodded an affirmative, holding up his omni-tool and tapping a few keys. “He’ll forward it to you, Commander.” There was silence for a moment, before a frigid laugh sent chills rolling down his spine. “Uh…Buchan?”

“Damn impressive, Welles. Sending your pick up. Good work.”

“…thanks?”

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Back on the Deliverance, Vala watched the camera feed on the main display of the CIC. It was seemingly innocent enough at first, nothing save the ‘warping’ light from FTL travel. It was only in the last moments as the camera feed was slowed by almost impossible amounts by Jo’s careful filter that one could see a near identical frigate appear just before the camera seconds before the entire bow crumpled into the stern of the other ship. The last thing on the camera was little more than a fiery plume of destruction that spoke beautifully of both ship’s ultimate fates.

The entire CIC was silent as she watched it over and over again. It was only at Sinoff’s quiet cough that Vala spoke, first to the AI. “Jo, send this file along with our all clear to Commander Horn.” She then straightened, back rigid and shoulders broad with her head high as she called over the deck. “Once we’ve retrieved our team, we’ll be commencing with the true objectives of this operation! I’m expecting the best from all of you! Begin final preparations!”

Nothing more to say, she turned on her heel and stepped down from the main display, flicking her eyes to Alexis as she passed. “Almost like an actual commander, Ivory.” The scarred woman watched her curiously, calling after her. “Why send the feed, by the way?” Vala paused, turning back to face her friend partially.

“Because it’s going to piss him right the hell off.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita  T'Lar Character Portrait: Carly Laren

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With the call cut, Horn stood there for a moment, facing the direction that Commander Buchan and her assistant had been simple moments before. Kelly was already typing information into her omni-tool, most likely directing the information side of the entire conversation to the most relevant members of the Call of Victory staff. After a couple of seconds, she noticed that Horn had not moved, and pried her eyes away from her tool to look at him. "Something the matter sir?" She asked, her tone inquisitive and nothing more. Horn gave a smirk as this seemed to break him out of his reverie. He turned around and started walking back to the hallway.

"Nothing's the problem Operative." Horn paused for a second, and looked back at her smiling. "It's been far too long since I've had a good competition." Horn gave a laugh to a joke that only he seemed to understand. Kelly's brow furrowed as she tried to understand exactly what he meant, and as he made his way through the door she clicked almost immediately as she took after him.

She caught up to him in the hallway, still typing away on her omni-tool as they walked. "So you assume that Commander Buchan meant to goad you into a one-upmanship?" Kelly asked as they rounded the corner into the CIC.

"What else would you see it as Operative Invaru? I hate her, she hates me. The only reason we were even talking is because the Illusive Man ordered it. There is only one natural evolution to this path." Horn rubbed his hands together. "A good ol' 'I'm better than you' competition." Horn looked over the map. "Lieutenant Bretton! Take us to the Mass Effect Relay linking to the Daedalus system and hold position."

"Affirmative sir." Came the Lieutenant's response and he started preparing the necessary calculations and preparations of the ship.

"Nikki, give me ship wide." There was a slight beep as the AI did as she was told. Horn had a permanent smile on his face as he started pacing around the CIC. "Attention beautiful and handsome crew of the Call of Victory, this is your ever present and badass Commander speaking. We are about to embark on our most daring, our most dangerous, and our most pivotal mission to date. Some of you might be hearing this, and getting scared. Others, excited. Even more, horny. Kinky, I know, but it happens." Horn stopped pacing for a moment.

"However! Now is not the time for feelings, good or otherwise! Because, ladies and gentlemen! We are needed..." Horn placed his hands on the CIC console. "To show Commander Vala Buchan just how a ship and her crew should operate! We are needed to explain to her, and her crew just how much marines kick ass! We are needed to show that this ship, her crew, and her illustrious Commander get shit done!" Horn paced around the CIC once more. "So marines! Prep yourselves! Battery officers! Load the weapons! Techies! Write me some god damn miracle code! Ladies! Hand me your numbers!" Horn reached the head of the CIC, stepping up to the command balcony.

"Brace yourselves Men and Women of the Call of Victory! We're going to war." Horn made a slashing motion across his neck, and Nikki cut the connection. Horn looked over to Kelly, his smile beaming. Kelly simply stared at him for a moment.

"Sir, you do realize you made it sound like we are going to attack the Deliverance..." Horn paused for a second.

"Nikki!" Without needing to be told, Nikki activated the ship wide comm. again. "Right, to clarify, we're not actually going after Commander Buchan, it's a joint operation and we're going to show them up...That is all." Horn cut the call again, and looked to Operative Invaru who had a slight smirk on her face.

"You are such a buzz kill Kelly."

________

It wasn't long before the Call of Victory was just outside the Daedalus system, awaiting the go ahead from the Deliverance. Horn stood on the bridge in full combat gear. His visor was retracted as he paced around the CIC. Nerita leaned against a wall, also in full combat gear. Carly was standing at an 'at ease' posture near the head of the display table. The entire bridge was tense, no one really saying anything and no sounds being made aside from the occasional clicking from the CIC techs, and sounds being made from Kelly's omni-tool as she managed the flood of information between the officers of the Victory.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan and both companies are ready for departure sir, awaiting your go ahead." Kelly stated. "Lieutenant McKrain has confirmed that all weapons are loaded, greased, and, according to her report, 'prettied up for the coming ball'. Nikki has our cyber-warfare suites working at full capacity. Sergeant Jaconis reports that the engines are 'good to go' and, if necessary, can be pushed operational limits for more than 20 minutes should we have the need." Horn already knew this of course, having read the report simply ten minutes ago. Kelly was simply filling the gap of space that was full with the utter impatience of her Commander to get started.

"Yeah..." Jason stated, his teeth grating slightly. "Now if Mrs. BlackieOps could figure out how to command her troops, and finish up whatever the hell she wanted to do with the frigates, we could do our fucking jobs." Jason stated, Nerita and Carly looking to each other but not saying a word.

"Imagine how I feel." Daniel replied, leaning against the wall next to the elevator, going largely unnoticed by the crew. Horn pointed a finger at him.

"Don't start with me. You're barely standing, so I don't need you going gung ho and asking me to put you into this op."

"Sir, with all due respect, pot calling the kettle black." Daniel retorted, his voice slightly sarcastic.

"That may be, but I have one thing you don't." Horn stated, giving him a smirk. "Command over this vessel and her crew, so there." Daniel simply shook his head as Jason gave a beaming smile at everyone as Harold yelled back from the bridge.

"Uhhhh...sir, incoming call from the Deliverance." Horn slapped his hands on the CIC.

"Finally! So did they fuck up? Are we needed to clean up the shit storm?!" Jason yelled. Harold hesitated.

"Um, not entirely sir. She's sent a video message, linking it to the CIC display now." Horn cocked his head slightly, before watching as the display lit up in front of him. At first, it was nothing more than a ship's outer hull camera. It wasn't long before they figured out it was from the Aurora frigate.

"What is this shit?" Horn asked quietly, watching as the space distorted around the camera to show FTL speeds. Within less than a second, the other Aurora frigate came into view. Another second and both ships collided, leaving the screen with nothing but static. Horn stood there, blankly staring at the display. Kelly's eyes shifted to the Commander, as did everyone else's. From the bridge came the only voice courageous, or stupid enough to speak.

"Holy shit, that was badass!" Harold stated as he looked back at the display. Horn's head snapped to the side, his eyes screaming murder at the man who shrunk to half his size under the gaze. "I mean....uhhhh, bad...bad Commander Buchan...who does that...right?"

"Daedalus! NOW!" Horn yelled and Harold nearly squeaked in his seat as the ship lurched for the Mass Effect Relay. Horn put his hands on the display console, taking deep breaths as he silently cursed underneath his breath. Kelly looked at him for a moment before Kelly wandered up to the bridge.

"Brace for Relay jump." Harold stated, his voice still slightly shake. There was a moment before the ship was enveloped in blue static, and instantly the Call of Victory was in the Daedalus system. Kelly looked through the windows, not being able to physically see the remains of the frigate, but able to know where they were due to the radar system aboard the Call of Victory.

"Get me a secure line to the Deliverance." Kelly instructed. Harold complied without a word, and soon Vala's face appeared on the screen.

"Operative Invaru." Vala stated. Kelly gave a light smile.

"Commander Buchan." Kelly stated, all business. "We are en route to our first objective, good job on clearing out the frigates." Vala gave a nod.

"I take it you received the feed then?" Vala inquired, and before Kelly could respond, there was a crash in the background. Kelly looked back to see Horn prying his fist out of one of the technician consoles.

"Fucking cunt of a whore! It's on!" Horn stormed out of the CIC, Nerita and Carly following him into the elevator. Kelly looked back at Vala.

"He congratulates you on a job well done. I will contact you should the need arise Commander. Victory out." Kelly cut the connection. Harold looked up at her, then back at the elevator.

"Ma'am, permission to speak, or I guess permission to ask permission to do something...is that a thing?" Kelly looked down at him.

"What is it you need Lieutenant?"

"A change of shorts! Commander Horn scares the shit out of me...ma'am."

__

Lieutenant O'Ryan stood in the hold, once again standing in front of nearly the entire compliment of the Victory's manpower. Marines stood in an at ease posture in front of him, everyone formed into their individual fireteams behind their company commander. Leonard said nothing, for he didn't feel the need. His helmet rest on the crate directly behind him, his eyes glued to his omni-tool as he read and re-read every single mission objective. It was straight forward, there was nothing disputing the fact, but after Ontarom, he wanted to be as prepared as he physically could.

He would spare a glance at his marines every so often, noticing the slight twitches from a few marines, the nervous ones that despite having fought one hell of a battle a few days ago, were still not sure of their own combat abilities. There was nothing O'Ryan could do to shake that feeling, he knew that from experience. The only thing he could hope for is that they would bring themselves out of the dark cloud of self doubt in time before they caught a round to the chest or a shell to the brain.

Despite not a word being said, O'Ryan knew that marines were using private channels to talk back and forth, every single one of them having their helmets donned. That was good, being able to talk was a sign of either confidence, or an attempt to gain some. Leonard gave an inwards sigh as his eyes returned to his omni-tool, only to be interrupted by Commander Horn's voice over his comm.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan?" Leonard put a hand up to his ear.

"Yes sir." He stated.

"We're moving into position, are the joint ops teams ready?" Leonard looked to the Kodiaks in the shuttle bay, already filled with fireteams ready to mobilize at a moment's notice.

"That's affirmative sir, ready to launch when you give the word."

"Alright, one minute 'till launch." With that, the channel was cut, and O'Ryan was left staring at the Kodiaks. He had hand picked the teams for these specific missions based on several aspects due to their working together with black ops soldiers. One of the main things he had to keep in mind, would be their ability to survive should the black ops soldiers leave them high and dry with no backup and no way out. Which left out a lot of rookies.

In the end, he picked Victory 2nd Platoon to take over the Joint Ops. Two fireteams per each joint op, leaving another 2 to be temporarily assigned to another platoon. Fireteams Cockatoo and Lory were going after the base general, teams Aracari and Eagle were to flush out the corporate paranoia man, and Rosella and Dove were to push their way through the Oracle gauntlet. Leaving Vulture and Osprey as the floaters. Despite them not voice it, he could feel their resentment of not being sent with the majority of their platoon. The problem being is that he knew how black op soldiers operated. Give them a few troops to help, but any more hinders them.

O'Ryan stopped looking at through the window long enough to grab his helmet and attach it. In the upper corner of his HUD, a timer revealed 20 seconds remaining. He quickly connected a channel to the joint op fireteams. "Alright marines. You each have your duties, so I'm not going to bother restating them. What I will say though, is watch your backs out there. These are joint ops, but don't expect the Deliverance's special forces to bail you out should you get into trouble. Keep your head, do what you're needed to do, and assist wherever necessary. Understood?"

"Yes sir, we got this one." Sergeant Lowavich said. A solid man with a light sense of humor in the best of times. He was a people person, making O'Ryan sometimes question exactly how he got into the marines in the first place. The Kodiak doors closed, and when the timer reached zero, the doors opened, and the Kodiaks dropped out into the reaches of space. Mere seconds after that, the elevator door opened to reveal Commander Horn and his entourage of Nerita and Carly, each one suited up for combat and ready to go. Leonard noticed that Horn's face shield was down, revealing his now iconic red devil smile. That was never a good sign.

"First teams are away sir, they will let us know when they make landfall." Horn took up a spot beside the Lieutenant.

"Yep, good, yep..." Horn stated, clearly agitated about something. O'Ryan refrained from asking about it. Asking him what was wrong would only spike his anger, poking a tiger with a stick and seeing if it will talk to you about it's life's problems only leads to you getting mauled, eaten, and shit out in a matter of minutes. It was a good few minutes before the first teams reported back.

"Overwatch, This is Cockatoo and Lory, we've touched down and are making for the rendevous. Will update on an as needed basis."

"Roger that Cockatoo and Lory, good luck out there." Kelly replied over the comm. to the teams. The other two weren't far behind.

"Overwatch, Aracari and Eagle on the ground and moving to kick some ass!"

"Overwatch, Rosella and Dove here. En route to rendezvous." Each one was responded in the same manner as the first from Operative Invaru, and shortly after the Kodiaks were back in the hangar and the ship was moving again.

"Titan first platoon! Load up!" O'Ryan shouted as the marines moved to comply wordlessly.

"Two minutes until arrival." Kelly stated over the hangar speakers. O'Ryan waited for the entire platoon to embark before speaking.

"Alright marines! Your objectives are a set of listening posts that Oracle has set inside the city of New Grankshaw. It's not a metropolis, but expect some civilian interference. Each listening post is designed, and functioning as a commercial building. As follows; A clothing store, a sports paraphernalia outlet, a restaurant, and a drinking establishment. Aurora presence in the city is predicted to be minimal, but hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The biggest obstacle will be the collateral damage that is, without a doubt, bound to happen. I will leave the ROE on that matter up to you Sergeant Lewana."

"Understood sir." Lewana stated, not saying anything more than she had to. O'Ryan gave a nod through the window.

"You each have enough explosives on you level each buildings yourselves, but don't get trigger happy with them. A bigger explosion means more notice. More notice, means more alliance grunts coming to stop you."

"Twenty seconds." Kelly stated, O'Ryan looked up for a second before addressing the marines once more.

"Alright, close the hatches! Get down there! Get the job done! And come back alive! Understood marines!?"

"Sir yes sir!" They stated with a practiced measure. The Kodiak's doors closed, and soon the ships were plummeting to the planet beneath them. There was an awkward few minutes with no one saying anything, and nothing really being heard except for the Commander's now pacing steps. He was getting antsy, and wanted to move.

"This is Titan first platoon. We're on the ground and en route to our first objective. How copy?" Lewana suddenly came over the comm.

"Good copy, good luck down there. Overwatch out." Kelly returned, and shortly afterwards the Kodiaks returned. This pattern repeated itself 3 more times, each time another platoon being selected and given targets.

Victory first platoon had been given the target of a series of Aurora outposts within city limits. Moderate resistance, but they wouldn't know they were coming. Besides the fact that their size limited the number of marines on station, they deemed it manageable. Titan third platoon was issued a manufacturing plant that was under the ruse it was creating commercial grade building equipment, when in reality, it was crafting military grade armors and weapons for Oracle special forces troops. Located in the industrial district of a smaller town on a separate planet, civilian resistance was projected to be relatively low. Lastly, Victory third platoon was issued one of the tougher ones. An Oracle operations center, set up in the middle of a metropolis to look like a corporate headquarters of a law firm, was set for demolitions. The problem being was that it was filled with civvies and oracle agents alike, and was three stories tall. O'Ryan didn't like the target, felt it was more like a terrorist attack than a legitimate military target, but he had his orders and so did Oberacker. She was to have that building leveled, regardless of collateral damage.

And so that left O'Ryan with Titan second platoon plus two teams from Titan first platoon. They were the assassins of the bunch. Assigned to take out oracle agents in easy to reach, but heavily defended zones. O'Ryan stood with his men, awaiting the Kodiaks to come back from deploying Victory third platoon. Horn was practically bouncing by this point, but wasn't deigning to say anything. By the posture of Nerita and Carly, they were glad he wasn't voicing his anticipation and/or frustration.

"Alright Titans." O'Ryan started. "We have our targets, we have our ROE, and we have the means to accomplish our mission." Leonard looked up at them through the visor of his helmet. "I understand you didn't sign up to be assassins, you didn't sign up to carve your way through humans to get at another human. We're Cerberus, we're pro-human, and in the end, you signed up to advance humanity." Leonard looked at his gun once more.

"Our original objective in this cell, was to stall and/or stop the collectors from taking our people. These agents, this Oracle Alliance agency and their attack dogs, Aurora, are stopping us from doing just that. Unprovoked attacks on our people, our ships, and our facilities have proven that we can't simply ignore these people. They won't go away of their own free will." O'Ryan slid his gun onto his back. "So it's our job to make them."

He brought up his omni-tool. "We have several targets, split up throughout the system and with no doubt a large compliment of Aurora marines at least on station. We need to be fast and efficient if we want to get this done before the Alliance sends their fleets to investigate the area." O'Ryan turned at the sound of the Kodiaks coming back into the bay, and already Horn and his team were moving to one of the Kodiaks. Leonard looked back at his marines.

"We have our orders, our means, and our transportation." O'Ryan started walking towards the Kodiaks. "Let's get this done so we can get back to work." The platoon followed in his footsteps, walking into the hangar as Horn's team hopped into one of the Kodiaks. O'Ryan's team stepped into the same Kodiak as Horn's team, and immediately took a seat. The door closed, and within moments, everyone could feel the gut churning feeling of the Kodiak dropping out of the Victory's shuttle bay.

Horn was the only one left standing, his one hand on the bar above him, and the other flexing in front of him. "How's the hand sir?" Carly asked, a slight amount of humor in her voice.

"A little sore." Horn stated, looking down at it slightly. "But not enough to not smack some sense into smartass corporals...corporal." Carly looked down slightly.

"Understood sir." Carly stated, and the Kodiak became absolutely silent. O'Ryan looked between the Titan soldiers, to Horn's group, to the ground. He had nothing to say, nothing to offer, and wasn't one to really talk when he didn't have to. It wasn't long before the tremble of atmospheric re-entry was felt throughout the hold of the Kodiak, and minutes later the door opened up.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan." The pilot stated. "Your stop. Good luck." O'Ryan nodded, standing up and stepping out the door. The Titan fireteams followed his lead. Once all of the Titans were out, he looked up at Horn, who simply gave a thumbs up.

"Don't get dead Lieutenant." Horn stated.

"You too sir." O'Ryan returned as the door to the Kodiak shut, and soon the dropship was flying back into open space. Leonard simply checked his weapon once more before turning towards his objective marker.

"Alright Titans, let's move."

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Horn's team didn't have long to go after they dropped off O'Ryan and his Titans. Their target, a corporate executive by the name of Nicolai Breshnov, was stationed out of a mining outpost large enough to be a small town hovering over the single gas giant in the system. According to the man's profile, he was supposed to be a nice enough guy, but was still known for being a ruthless business man when it came down to it. It was also noted that Helium-3 deposits mined from the gas giant were also used to fund the Oracle war effort against Cerberus, which was enough to get this man, Nicolai Breshnov, on the list.

It was meant to be simple. Aside from a lightly armed security force, the mining station was to be unguarded from such assaults. Horn's hand never left the railing as the sight of the station appeared in the distance. "Do we have a plan?" Nerita asked, opening her mouth for the first time since Horn had picked her to accompany him on the mission.

"Oh you know, generally we kill anything that gets in our way and take out the target in a very timely fashion."

"Won't the station go into lockdown the moment we step on board?" Carly asked, Horn gave a smile.

"Well, timely fashion really just means moving really fast. I have Nikki running interference on their command line input things that close the station up, so that should buy us some time. Otherwise, we really have to hope we're faster at fucking up their dudes then they are at pushing buttons." Horn couldn't see Carly's eyes through the visor of her helmet, but he knew she was rolling them right now. "And don't roll your eyes at me corporal, I make my best plans up on the spot." Carly paused.

"So wait...you made this up just when Nerita asked sir?"

"Of course not, I ain't some kind of rookie." Horn stated, watching as the Kodiak came closer to the airlock, and finally clamped on. "If I was, I wouldn't be so damned confident! Not to mention good looking and generally a badass." Carly shook her head, while Nerita simply said nothing to that statement. A moment later and the Kodiak shook with the feeling of clamping down on an airlock.

"We're latched sir. Patching Nikki into the system now." The pilot stated, a few moments later, and the door to the Kodiak opened to reveal an opened airlock seal.

"Commander. I am inside the system and running interference on their lockdown systems. This is a temporary measure, I will not be able to stop them from initiating quarantine for longer than ten minutes." Horn gave a nod, making sure his gear was all in place before stepping off.

"Goody, that means nine minutes of fucking around. C'mon ladies! Let's kill us some assholes." Nerita and Carly stepped off the Kodiak behind him as they jogged to the airlock.

The inside of the station was slightly more luxurious than Horn would have pegged it to be, seeing as it was supposed to be a mining oversight station. Artificial plants littered the lobby that the airlock was attached too. An almost blinding white was used in every facet of the building's color scheme, along with some ornate artwork and sculptures. Benches, chairs, and even a small eating area with full blown tables and what looked like waiting staff was farther in the lobby.

Oh yeah, there was also a dozen or so security guards bunkered down behind any cover they could grab, every weapon currently trained on the Cerberus team. Horn stopped, his two teammates came to a stop as well.

"Drop your weapons and surrender!" One of the closest guards yelled, his eyes peering through his helmet and over the sights of his avenger. Horn gave a smirk.

"Nerita, do what the man said...Oh wait, let me change that a bit...Make them drop." Nerita flashed blue for a single moment before a pulse was sent out, catching the nearest guards and lifting them into the air. Carly was already moving before the pulse was sent, sending a quick rebuttal to the guards in the form of concentrated avenger fire. Horn launched himself forward with a small burst from his jets, catching the first guard lifted into the air. With a roundhouse kick, he sent the man flying into another one of his compatriots and saw the two men fall head over heels.

The guards returned in kind, their rifles barking death to the Cerberus team as they were all forced to find some cover. Nerita had her Karpovs barking as she was forced to duck after only a few shots. Horn looked over to her. "Nerita, give me a barrier!" She nodded, holstering her pistols and shoving out her hands to create a bubble around them. She flinched with every impact from one of the guard's weapons, so they didn't have long. "Corporal! Let's kill these degenerate fucks!"

"Aye sir!" She stated as they both popped up from behind their cover and started firing from the relative safety of the biotic bubble. Several guards dropped as the rounds shorted out their shields and pierced their armor. By the time that Nerita couldn't hold the barrier up any more, there were only six guards left.

"Alright, rest up a bit Nerita. Carly, give me suppressing fire on the left flank. Do not let them shoot me." Horn stated as he holstered his rifle.

"Shoot you sir?" Before she could get an answer, Horn was already jumping over his cover and sprinting to the guards on the right. Naturally, they stood up to fire at him, but Horn raised his carnifex. The first few rounds killed one of the three soldiers that he was charging at as another boost of his rockets sent him flying over the other two. He landed in a roll facing them, and before the two guards could turn to shoot at him, he fired his thrusters again, tackling one of the men back over the cover. A quick flick of his knife into the man's throat ensured that he was out of the action. A few rounds peppered his shields as he looked back at the last man who was desperately trying to put Horn down. Horn dived for cover, waited a split second, before rolling over the cover and planting a vicious left hook across the man's jaw which sent him stumbling back slightly.

Horn flipped his knife so he was holding the blade, and threw it with enough force it solidly planted itself in the man's shoulder. The guard gave a well of pain, but was quickly silenced as Horn punched him three times in the stomach, causing him to double over. A quick jerk on the knife, spinning it so the blade was down, a quick twirl for dramatic effect, and he had buried the knife up to the hilt in the man's neck, right below the base of the skull, severing the spinal and nerve columns to the rest of his body. The guard dropped without a sound.

Horn looked at the rest of the guards, who were now trying to force a retreat through the suppressing fire. They were panicking, and it was without doubt that the original guard that had tried to get them to lower their weapons was, at the very least, their on-duty security chief. There was no order to this retreat, they simply broke and tried to run. Horn switched to his rifle, and with the help of Nerita and Carly, quickly wiped up the rest of the guard detail. Horn rolled his shoulders as his two squad mates came to join him. "Well that was invigorating. Nothing like a good fight to get the blood pumping, am I right?"

"If you say so sir." Carly answered while Nerita paced slightly. She would never admit it, but Nerita loved a good fight almost as much as Horn did. Jason gave a smile behind his helmet, before turning a map overlay of the station on in the corner of his HUD. It displayed where his target was located to be, and a path to get there.

"Alright, I doubt that's the only security they have on board, despite the station being smaller on the inside than I had imagined. C'mon, we only have about seven and a half minutes before this place locks down." Horn stated as he took off down the corridors. Nerita and Carly followed suit.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A couple of isolated guard fights and a short jog later, the team found themselves in an administrative area. Desks littered the main floor, complimented with fake fauna and computer screens. A pair of staircases twisted to meet on an upper level, where a single door lead to the head administrator, or CEO in this case. Computer screens, emulating a tropical environment were showcasing a jungle as if it was just outside, and benches littered the entire area. This place was meant to be busy all the time.

And of course, it was.

This time, however, it wasn't guardsmen. Civilians huddled in fear with their family or coworkers as Horn, Nerita, and Carly walked in slowly to the lobby. Everyone saw them, and immediately went quiet.

"Guard!" Carly yelled, their weapons coming to bear, but the man immediately put up his hands. He wasn't wearing his helmet, showcasing his baby smooth skin and youthful eyes. The man couldn't have been more than nineteen years old.

"Woah! Woah!" He yelled. "No man...no! I...I don't want to die alright." Horn stared at him down the sights of his vindicator for a moment, before nodding to Carly. She holstered her weapon, wandering over and securing him of his weapons, of which there was none. He must have dumped them and just given up. Part of Horn was disgusted at this guardsman, so easily giving up on his duty. Another part was simply glad he didn't have to waste a bullet on the man. Yeah, he was only nineteen possibly, but by nineteen Horn had already been fighting Cerberus's enemies on the frontlines. Carly looked over to Horn, who tapped his temple. Carly gave a nod, delivering an elbow to the man's head. There was a few gasps and screams as the man dropped, unconscious. It could have possibly killed him, but there was no time to perform a less effective method.

"Nerita, Carly. Stay here and make sure no one tries to play hero." Jason stated as he started jogging up the stairs. They had two minutes to spare before Nikki estimated she would lose control of the station, so Horn was rushing when he came to the final door. When he pressed the button however, the door simply gave a rude beep in response. Jason tried the button a couple of other times, and was met with the same thing.

"Nikki, why is this door locked. I thought you were still in the system." Jason asked, walking to the balcony to overlook the administrative area.

"The door, and the cameras surrounding that office are on a closed circuit. I have no access to their workings." The AI stated. Horn gave a silent curse.

"Alright, he doesn't have a way out of there, does he?"

"Negative."

"Is there a way for me to blast through this door?"

"Negative, the door is reinforced and would take too long for conventional arms and explosives to expedite an entrance." Jason gripped the bridge of his nose, squinting his eyes as he could feel a migraine coming up.

"I suppose the system that controls the doors and cameras is also inside the office."

"Affirmative." Jason paused in thought for a moment, looking over the civilians and then looking back at the door. On the side, there was a keypad and retinal scanner, one that looked like Daniel would even have trouble with it if he were here. Just thinking of that reminded how much the man would have come in handy right at this moment. Another idea sparked in Jason's mind.

"Nikki, aside from Nicolai, bring me up a list of the administrative staff. Specifically, I want his second in command." There was a slight pause, before a name popped up along with a picture of woman in her late sixties showed up on his visor. Jason switched to his speakers.

"Brenda Killson!" Jason yelled, jumping over the banister and giving a short boost of his jets to land safely. Utter silence permeated the lobby. Jason continued his slow walk towards the civilians. "Brenda Killson!" He stated again, looking at the eyes of every one. Jason looked to his team. "Find her." They gave a nod and started wading through the civilians. The team took a few moments to search the faces, but after a quick search, they turned up nothing. They reconvened in the middle of the lobby.

"She might have fled already." Carly stated over a private channel to them.

"Nah, if she did, Overwatch would have let us know an escape pod had jettisoned from the station. I don't remember killing an old hag, so she's somewhere on this station." Jason rubbed his jaw for a second, an idea forming in his head however nasty. "Alright ladies, I need you to follow my lead. This is going to get messy, but you need to trust me, alright?" They both gave a quick nod, and Horn switched to his external speakers.

"Ladies and gentlemen of this fine establishment! How's everyone doing? Good? That's good." Horn looked around to the civilians, all still huddling in fear. "Now, I need to ask you a question, a very serious question, in which case a very serious answer will be needed. If anyone answers with some stupid ass remark like 'your mom' or the like, I will boot you in the face so hard your head will implant itself in your ass." Jason looked to everyone again, before taking a breath.

"Where is...Brenda Killson?" Jason looked around, everyone was quiet and nobody was pointing anywhere. "Anyone?" Jason asked again. "I really don't want this to get nasty." Jason stated one last time, before giving a sigh as he was met with the same response. He switched to a private channel once more.

"It's going to get dark in here, just play the part." Jason looked through the crowd, and saw someone who looked to be higher up in the food chain. He walked briskly over to the man, and yanked him out of the crowd by his collar. A few people around him tried to cling to him, but another firm yank quickly made them lose their grip. Horn's carnifex was in his hand now as he held the man down on his knees.

"Seeing as we have no volunteers, I would like to present to you forced entry number one." Horn stated to the rest of the civilians. Jason looked down at the man. He was younger than him, no more than his mid-twenties. His jet black hair was swept back, and his suit was immaculately pressed, save for Horn's rough grip around the collar. The man's eyes, a mixture of fear and pain were darting around the room, looking for salvation where there was none. "Now, I'm going to ask you a very simple question." Horn stated.

"I don't know anything man! I don't! I'm just an accountant! A financial advisor! I do-" Horn belted him across the face with his gun, creating a gash on the side of the man's face and shutting him up.

"I haven't asked a question yet, so do my bleeding ears a favor and shut the fuck up until I do." Horn looked up to the civilians to see if anyone looked like they were going to try anything. After a moment of ensuring they weren't, he looked back at the man. "Where is Brenda Killson?"

"Look! I-I-I don't know! I've never met the woman! Everything from her was done through a sub-manager! Honestly! All I do is shuffle money! I swear!" Horn made a 'tsk' sound.

"Really? You sure you don't see her in the crowd? Your life kind of depends on your answer." Horn stated, his gun creeping up to the man's head.

"I DON'T SEE HER MAN!" The man yelled, clearly in tears now as the barrel of the gun rested against the financial advisor's temple. Horn shook his head.

"Well then, I see how this could go." Horn stated, looking to the other civilians. "See, I'm going to bring each and every one of you up here, and I'm going to ask the same question. If I get what I want, you live. If I don't..." Horn looked down at the man, his eyes shut tight and tears streaming down his face. "You'll end up like this guy." Horn halfway pulled the trigger when a voice in the crowd pierced the room.

"That won't be necessary." Horn looked up, his finger relaxing as Brenda Killson appeared from whatever hiding spot she had been cowering in. Jason looked her over once. She wore a grey business jacket and matching skirt. Horn had seen people hide their age well, but on this woman it showed. Wrinkles littered her face and was matched with snow white hair, which was pulled tightly into a professional looking bun.

Professional women and their buns. Jason thought, looking at the man once more before roughly shoving him back into the group of people. Horn nodded to her, which brought Nerita and Carly grabbing her by each arm and dragging her before Horn. "Ms. Killson." Jason stated, letting his visor's paint job do most of the work for him. "You're going to unlock the door upstairs for us."

"And if I don't?" She stated, rather matter-of-factly. Horn cocked his head, and faster than anyone could react, he raised his arm and fired a single round. Everyone screamed, and looked to where the round had went. The man was paralyzed in fear as a smoking hole was permeating heat inches above his head.

"The next one makes a hole in his face rather than the wall, along with everyone else in this room." Jason stated, being as matter-of-fact about it as Brenda was. She glared at him for a moment, before walking of her own accord up the stairs. Horn switched to a private channel. "Ladies, make sure no one becomes a hero while I'm gone." They both gave a nod, and broke off to watch the rest of the civilians while Jason climbed the stairs with Ms. Killson.

They reached the top of the plateau, and made their way to the keypad and scanner. She paused for a moment, looking over her shoulder at him. "Who are you? Mercenary? Assassins?"

"I'm the guy with the gun who makes the rules. Rule number one: shut the fuck up and open the door." Jason stated, pushing the gun against the back of her head. She complied without stating another word, and with a couple of beeping sounds, the door's holographic interface flashed green. Jason grabbed the woman by the shoulder, forcing her to walk in front of him.

"A human shield. How noble of you." She stated, Jason simply looked at her.

"I never claimed to be a good person." Jason stated as the door opened and they walked through. Nicolai peered over his desk, his aging frame seeming youthful enough for his job. He gave a small smile, and stood up.

"Well, it appears my work has cau-" Without hesitation, Jason shoved the lady aside, and pumped three rounds into the man's chest. Without a word, he dropped, making a soppy squish sound as the remnants of his body crashed to the ground. Brenda's eyes went wide, tears instantly forming in her eyes as she desperately tried to grasp what had just happened while Horn made his way around the table to confirm the kill. The man's body was a mess, the carnifex's rounds on an unarmored targeted decimating it to look more like a bad cafeteria meatloaf than human remains. Just to be sure, Jason pumped another round into the man's head, completely destroying the skull and leaving nothing but blood splatter where the cranium was supposed to be.

Jason took a moment to stare at the man, then walked around the desk past the crying Brenda Killson without a word. As Jason exited, Brenda whipped around and screamed at him. "I HOPE YOU BURN YOU SADISTIC SON OF A BITCH!" Jason looked back at her, contemplating killing her as a potential Oracle asset, but decided against it.

"Lady, I burn on a regular basis, so Hell can get in line." Jason stated as he calmly walked back down the stairs to the mass of civilians who were either crying or shielding their loved ones from any retribution. Nerita and Carly looked to Horn, who simply nodded towards the exit. Without a word, the three of them made their way back through the hallways to the waiting Kodiak.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Once aboard the Kodiak, everyone was still silent. Jason had taken to sitting this time around, his helmet sitting in his lap as he stared up at the ceiling. Carly's helmet remain on, as did Nerita's goggles. Carly seemed to stare at Jason for the longest time after they left, and finally Horn gave a sigh. "If you have something to say Carly, say it." It took a few moments, but finally she blurted something out.

"Sir, that was some dark shit." She stated quite bluntly. Horn gave a slow nod.

"Yep." Was all he said in return. There was an awkward silence between them as Carly expected more, but Jason said nothing else.

"Does it not bother you at all? Scaring those people half to death? Threatening their families? Their lives?" Carly stated, looking for something that Horn wasn't willing to divulge.

"Carly, do you know how many people I've made either so scared they literally shit their pants, or so sad they cry themselves to sleep every night?" Jason stated, looking at the woman, who replied with a stare. Jason sat forward, clasping his hands together. "Being a soldier doesn't necessarily mean being the good guys. Hell, we have the dirties jobs known in the universe. We kill people for a living Carly, and justify it as 'orders'. How many times have you thought 'that mercenary might have a family' or 'that soldier is a good father or mother'?" Carly looked down for a moment, providing the only answer that Jason needed as he sat back once more.

"I'm not proud of what I did in there Carly, if that's what you're implying." Jason stated. "I had a job with a time constraint, so I didn't want to waste any finding a woman when there was a faster way."

"Would you have actually killed that man sir?" She asked, Horn stared at her blankly.

"I'm trying not to take that as an insult. Despite the man being a banker, and I hate bankers, my carnifex had it's safety on." Horn stated, staring at her. "You are thinking too hard Corporal. Thinking's dangerous for the enlisted, they start questioning things...like orders, missions, and morality when the truth of the matter is this. When you are told to shoot, you shoot. When you are told to rest, you rest, and when you are told to kill a man through whatever means necessary, you take that to heart." Jason looked to the both of them now. "I'll tell you what I told Brenda Killson right before I pulled the trigger on Nicolai Breshnov...I never claimed to be a good person." Horn sat up now, his hand reaching for his ear piece, deigning the conversation finished.

"Overwatch, give me our next target