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Lance Williams

Lead battery officer aboard the Marathon.

0 · 100 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

History

Lance Williams is the main battery officer aboard the Vindicator, and loyal Cerberus operative. Until recently in the story, all the reader knew about this character was that he had a strong sense of humor, often sarcastic and playful. But unknown to many of his shipmates, Lance hides a dark history.

It isn't uncommon to find many racist attitudes amongst Cerberus troopers, and Lance is no exception. After turning away from his childhood dream of following in his parents' footsteps to join the Alliance, Lance became a hired gun and traveled the galaxy as a mercenary. He admitted to Braden Reynolds, during the teen's own loyalty mission, that he had killed before and that his actions are sins he must live with. After he left his career as a mercenary behind, Lance joined Cerberus and, after a year, met Commander Titus. At first, the two didn't quite get along, and it was Titus that eventually confronted the man about a sour attitude.

Lance admitted to his problem with being prejudice against aliens, mostly because he found them "annoying". He also revealed to his commander that he had tracked down a mercenary he used to work with that had a direct involvement in the sabotage and crash landing of a human frigate. He asked for Titus' help in hunting him down. The commander objected at first, but ultimately agreed to assist his crew member. In the end, however, when Lance had the alien at gun point, Titus managed to speak to him through reason and convince Lance that what he was about to do would haunt him forever.

Ten months later, in the middle of Omega, Officer Williams used the same reasoning with Braden, preventing the boy from executing his former batarian slave master out of cold revenge. While revealing his own past to the young biotic, Lance gave the implication that Commander Titus was the best leader the Vindicator would ever have, and the reader may assume the two to have a better, stronger relationship.

So begins...

Lance Williams's Story

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Character Portrait: Lance Williams

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I told you.

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Character Portrait: Lance Williams

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Turians aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer.

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Character Portrait: Lance Williams

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Lance Williams snuggles in close to Vala on her recovery bed.

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Character Portrait: Lance Williams

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Don't leave me!

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Character Portrait: Lance Williams

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Gah!

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Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers

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Braden twirled his fork in the small scoop of pasta linguini on his tray. The biotic was starving, but he and Lizzie had made plans for dinner earlier that day, and he didn't want to spoil his appetite, if food was the kind of dinner date she had in mind. Instead of filling himself up on the mess hall chow, he stuck to eating just enough to keep the headaches and dizziness at bay. It had been a long time now his diet with the Ascension Project, where all of the students had received strictly controlled meals consisting of nearly 2,000 calories each. The expensive provisionary diets were required if one were to exercise their biotic potential. Throughout the sparring match with Villayn, Braden had used his biotics in small doses, but had also refused to take any breathers. Combine the abnormal exertion of energy with a lack of a healthy breakfast and lunch, and the boy was flat out exhausted.

Villayn had been busy going on and on about interesting war stories, talking about his years as both a soldier and then as a pirate. His lieutenants, Arkan and Darak, chimed in with their own dramatic retellings and Braden found himself more intrigued by the minute. Rather than staring back with glazed over eyes, he was actually asking questions, like "What happened next?" and "What does that mean?".

The story telling continued on for nearly half an hour before a tall figure joined the group and sat down right next to Braden. The teen hardly recognized Lance until he fully turned his head to look up at the grease-covered battery operator, who was currently eye-balling Villayn with little emotion.

"Operative Williams, am I right?" Villayn asked, though with an air of caution in his voice.

"That's right," Lance replied. "Just finished up some heavy maintenance on the Thannix. I didn't realize one of the gold coils came loose when we used it against your ship."

Dead silence fell over the table. Braden received a distinct feeling of discomfort and wanted to slug the man in the shoulder for being so callous; yet, Lance's surprising comment had taken him by such surprise, the boy hardly knew how to react.

"My, my," the turian captain replied without a hint of emotional reaction, "I hope it was nothing too serious. I'd hate for carelessness to be the demise of us all."

Lance smirked and then glanced down at Braden. "These guys aren't troubling you, are they, little man?" The kind, gentle face he had on while looking down at the young human was completely different the look of unsavory disdain he had expressed towards the turians only seconds earlier.

"Uhm...," was all Braden could manage before the familiar, authoritative voice of Commander Titus bellowed from across the mess hall.

"Lance! Come on over here and sit with the rest of us! Keown's got a sick joke you have to hear!"

Lance ignored the request and kept looking into the teen's eyes. Braden felt a lump in his throat and his hands began to clench each other under the table. He knew he wasn't in trouble, or doing anything wrong, but the way Lance was boring into him with only a brutally invasive stare made it seem like he was.

"Williams!" The voice belonged to Operative Taylor and was far more demanding in nature.

The big man huffed before standing up from the seat and furiously grabbing his tray from the table. As he turned to head back and sit with the other officers, Braden leaned over and whispered to the turians, "Sorry. He's kind of-"

"You don't have to explain," Darak said, stopping Braden. "Trust us... we know."




After the awkward final moments in the mess hall, Braden turned in his tray and headed toward the quarters. He figured that Lizzie might wait for him in his room, or outside his door if she wanted to find him easily. There weren't many places aboard the Vindicator that the two hung out at. They were far too young to be given tasking that required muscle or technical knowhow, and the lounge was off-limits per Titus due to the alcohol; not that Braden really cared anyway, considering he had no interest in drinking something that tasted so vial to him. The CIC used to offer a mild form of amusement to walk through - watching operatives and navigators hard at work at their control terminals, or running around and barking orders during exercises or real-time events - but even the energetic command deck had lost its spark. Now, the two spent most of their time in each other’s' rooms; playing games, surfing the extranet for holovids, or even practicing their... relationship.

Once again, the hormonal teenager found his mind slipping into the proverbial gutter. He could no longer dismiss what they had as a simple flare. It very well could be the simple fact that she was the only female around his age on the ship, but even so... his attraction to her was undeniable. He wouldn't settle for any other girl, not after knowing Lizzie.

At first, he thought her voice echoing down the hall behind him was a figment of his imagination, but the second time his name was called; he forced himself to glance around. Lizzie was poking her head just around the corner at the end of the corridor, signaling with one finger for him to follow. She didn't have to ask twice...




His steely eyes stuck to the holographic image of the ancient device like glue as it twirled above the black, polished tiles before him. It wasn’t until a trickle of smoke from the lit cigarette in his fingers glided into his line of sight that the Illusive Man finally pulled himself out of his fascination. The object was old, far older than any of the sentient species in the galaxy today; maybe as old as the Protheans, but that’s what his concern was. The device had been oddly positioned in the middle of a Prothean tell – a city so old that it had the remnants of cities below it – and where most Prothean technology was now inactive and decayed beyond repair, this particular machine wasn’t. Any archeologist that dismissed the Reapers as myth would jump at the chance to study this “Prothean” artifact up close; but the Illusive Man knew better. It was obvious to him what it was, unmistakable.

The machine wasn’t like the monoliths he had encountered in his past; it was much larger, and instead of a spike-like shape, it had taken the form of four tall braces supporting a large, blue sphere. The sphere itself seemed to be nothing but powerful, kinetic energy; like the kind one would witness enveloping an element zero drive core. The design of the supports was definitely not Prothean, black and misshapen, compared to the more regal and elegant architecture of the dead race.

“Orders, sir?” asked the man behind him, projected by the pad of the Illusive Man’s communicator. He was an operative working inside one of Cerberus’ many command centers throughout the galaxy. He stood with hands behind his back and his feet slightly spread, appearing disciplined and ready to carry out any task his employer had for him.

The Illusive Man slowly turned his chair around, away from the hologram of the device, and lowered his cigarette over his ash tray to flick off the build-up on the end of the stick. “Dispatch the Vindicator and the Call of the Victory to Lucr’n. Once on the surface, they’ll need to exercise extreme caution, especially when they approach the dig site. How many reports have we intercepted pertaining to sudden disappearances amongst the archeologists?”

“Dr. Kelton, the team’s director, has received reports of at least thirteen missing persons. He’s becoming paranoid and has withdrawn all of the scientists from the dig site. Their base camp is located approximately one klick south of the artifact. Since their withdrawal, no one seems to have gone missing, or is showing signs of indoctrination. Of course… Dr. Kelton wouldn’t know of indoctrination, so… our intelligence analysts suggest precautionary measures should be taken around them, regardless.”

The Man took a quick drag of his cigarette and rested his arm back down before saying, “Titus and Invaru only to obtain one Husk. I don’t image it being too difficult for them… as long as they keep their distance from the artifact and also ensure they’re not within the vicinity of its effect for too long.”

“And after they’ve succeeded? What should we do about the device?”

“Until we know about the process of indoctrination and develop a successful counter measure, I’m not willing to risk lives to study it, nor destroy it. Remove the archeologists and have the entire Prothean city cordoned off.”

“Yes, sir,” the operative said before the transmission was cut.

The Illusive Man turned back around to face the hologram, and took a deeper drag of his cigarette. He allowed his mind to fall back into the thought pattern of fascination and intrigue. The technology the Reapers possessed was evidently beyond all modern comprehension; but it was still a device that was created, not simply begotten – that much was clear. If he could find a way to recreate the technology of the Reapers, perhaps this war could take a turn for the better. Perhaps humanity would finally acquire the tools they need to dominate the stars.

As he sat in the violet light of the dying star outside the grand view port of his office, the words of Clark’s Third Law echo in the back of his mind: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn

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"Ready for touch down," the Kodiak pilot stated over the intercom in the passenger hold. "Three... two... one." Titus felt the familiar bump of a landing and the hatch rasied open, blinding everyone inside for a few seconds as their eyes adjusted to the blazing sun of Lucr'n. More untraviolet rays than a garden planet should have broke through a weak atmosphere. In order to protect themselves, everyone had darkened their visors, hiding their eyes from the harmful light. Titus now had a breather attached to the bottom of his Kestrel visor, where his mouth and chin would otherwise be exposed under normal circumstances. Oxygen on the planet was all but contaminated with gases, or either no longer preseant at all.

Looking around, the team gathered the surroundings of the science team's encampment. The structures were temporary domes connected by corridors, but they were built to withstand the harsh conditions of Lucr'n and were, no doubt, EM hardened in order to protect the vital electrical and communication equipment inside. After Lance, Keown, and Captain Villayn and his turian lieutenants stepped out, the Kodiak took off and headed for a location just outside the encampment to await egress orders.

Presumably one of the scientists, wearing the white suit that EDI had talked about, came running out of the nearest shelter immediately to greet them. "Commander Titus?" a female voice asked through the visor's external speaker.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Dr. Franchesca Naomilla." The two briefly shook hands. "I wish we could have reached your other teams, but they're already in the field. I believe they're waiting on you to move in as well before you conduct your investigation. Look, your men won't last very long out there wearing what they're wearing." She pointed to Titus' suit and then to the Cerberus assault armor of Keown and Lance. She also glanced back at the turians and their own combat armor."

Titus raised a hand and said, "Don't worry, doc. Our intelligence told us of Lucr'n's conditions. I chose only the best, and only the ones most capable of operating in extreme climates. Our shields may suffer, but the armor can take a beating any day of the week."

Despite the man's confident rebuttal, Dr. Naomilla only shook her head and gestured for the Cerberus team to follow her inside the shelter. "Come with me," she said. "I refuse to let you go out there without one of these."




It took a minute or two for Titus to remove the Kestrel armor and replace it with what Dr. Naomilla had referred to as the Augmented Reaction Suit. According to her, it was developed in Japan and based of an age old video game model. Though they couldn't replicate the "time bending" capabilities of the late video game's suit, they replaced that fictional function with something more practical and achievable: a fission powered jump pack. "Luckily we have a multi-species team of humans, asari, and turians," Naomilla said, handing Captain Villayn an ARS helmet. The three turians had chosen to exchange their own suits for the ARS, but Lance and Keown opted to have only the fission packs attacked to the back of their Cerberus assault armor, preferring to keep the heavy plating for when they encountered husks at close range. Kinetic barriers do nothing to protect against melee attacks or point blank gunfire.

Titus attached the helmet and stepped into the latrine to gaze at himself in the mirror. The armor was less bulky than the Kestrel. Though it lacked in armor in comparisson, if what the doctor said was true, the kinetic barrier technology was the most advanced around and would be able to withstand the electromagnetic interference of Lucr'n. As EDI had stated, the armor was nearly all white, save the black squish suit underneath. The visor was currently open, retracted back around Titus' head, exposing his face and some of his hair above his forehead. He tapped a small button on the side of the neck and the visor jutted forward, wrapped around the top of his head and lower chin first, and then covering the rest with a dark visor that dropped down.

"Ready, Commander?" he heard Keown ask outside. Titus turned to see the man standing at the door to the latrine, ready for combat with the buttstock of his Avenger resting in the cradle of his arm, pointing toward the ceiling. His armorer always had a bring-it-on kind of stance when geared up for a mission.

"Let's go," he replied. "Time to grab us a husk."




Lucr'n was more than a wasteland, it was the result of a ravaging carnage that happened fifty thousand years ago. Where they were now was probably one of the most populated cities on the Prothean world. According to what EDI had told them, it was also constructed on top of older cities, ruins that may have even survived the Reaper assault. There was no telling what was down there, and perhaps that's why the archeologists were here to begin with. Their research priorities no doubt changed upon the discovery of the Reaper (or "Prothean") artifact in the city's center.

"Commander," the voice of the Kodiak's pilot said over the comm. There was moderate interference in the transmission, probably caused by the EM radiation, "if you're going to stay in touch with the Vindicator, you'll have reroute transmission through me. The Kodiak's own comm arrays will be strong enough to reach the CIC, but only if you stay topside. So no exploring, okay?"

"Copy that," Titus said.

The rest of the hike was mostly bland. Historians probably wet themselves over the sights Titus was surrouding himself with, but he honestly had no interest in any of it at the moment. If he were here on a science expedition it would be different. However, he was having to climb and vault over the debris left behind by the Reaper invasion. Prothean architecture that once graced the garden world Lucr'n had been, was no lying in heaps across the footpaths, covered in dust and stained by centuries of harmful sun light. Every few seconds a powerful gust would cause Titus and his team to activate the magnetic seals on their boots - if they were even standing atop some kind of centuries-old metal alloy that would sustain them; if not, they would have duck low and hang on to whatever they could find. Then there were the tremors. So far, they weren't anywhere near a 10.0 readout, but they were enough to cause even the most acrobatic man to loose his balance.

"Titus," EDI said through the Kodiak's comm connection, "the Victory fireteams and your own are all converging on the center plaza. After further scans, I've detected that the artifact is very large and emitting an emetting a high energy ouput. I recommend caution around the device and that you limit your time in the location to stave off the effects of indoctrination."

"No need to worry about us, EDI," Lance replied, as the whole team could listen in on the communications. "We can handle a few creepy voices."

"Hostile, spotted!" Darak shouted over the net. "One hundred meters, eleven o'clock."

All of them aimed their weapons in the direction of Darak's Mantis sniper rifle. Sure enough, a Husk was bumbling around the broken support beam of a once mighty sky scraper. It appeared to be alone, no other of its kind in the vacinity. Titus smiled to himself under the ARS visor, thinking that this mission was now all too easy. It wasn't a smile of satisfaction, however; it was the smile of knowing a challenge when he saw one. One Husk, by its lonesome, easily spotted? The trap was obvious. Husks may be stupid, senseless, but they all knew who they were controlled by.

"Villayn," Titus began, "take your team and dig in up there." He pointed up high to the ruins of a small building that provided excellent an excellent sniping position. "I'll take my guys and head down closer to the Husk." He then turned to Keown and Lance. "Stay close to me. If there's more of them, I don't want anyone caught in an ambush alone."

After receiving their orders, the fire teams split up and branced out. By the time Titus' team reached cover only a ten meters away from the lone Husk, the turians had reached their sniping position. Villayn had come over the comm next. "Commander; Villayn. I'm seeing what looks like the artifact EDI was talking about. It's only fifty meters ahead you, beyond those ruins. I've got a clear view of... what the? Titus, there's more of them, and they're all massed around that damn thing. Including the one you're about grab, I'm counting thirteen - the same number as Dr. Naomilla's missing archeologists."

"Well," Keown whispered, "now that we know for sure what happened them, how are we going to explain that to the doc? I'm not sure she's going to take well to the fact that her team members had been 'indoctrinated' by mythological machines and turned into mindless, bio-cybernetic puppets."

Titus only glared back at him through the visor, though slightly amused. "One thing at a time, okay? Let's just focus on grabbing that husk."

The three cautiosly moved out of the cover when the Husk turned its back to them. Lance was leading the group, being the strongest, and would try and grapple onto the hideous mutant from behind. Titus and Keown slowly flanked him, moving out in either direction in a semi-circle and keeping their weapons trained on the target. When Lance was only a foot away from lunging at it, the worst happened...

"Tremor!" Arkan's voice was barely heard over the rumble of earth beneath them and the creaking and moanings of the surroudings ruins. Lance lost his balance and fell backward, and Keown had squeezed on the trigger of his Avenger, sending a mass accelerated round into the Husk's gray skull before it could attack his downed partner now that it had been fully aware of their presence.

"Shit! Target lost! I say, again, target lost!" Titus yelled over the net. The earthquake was still going, however, and the three of them stumbled around and tried to find something to hang onto.

"Titus!" Villayn yelled. "Those Husks at the artifact: they look pissed! I think they know you're here and they're running in your direction. I'm also hearing gunfire in the distance. I think its coming from the Victory teams, but I can't be sure. Get the hell outta there! Now!"

The Commander gestured for Lance and Keown to follow suit as he darted back toward the way the came, but slid to a halt when the sight of more Husks came out of the ruined structure adjacent to the route's opening. "What the fuck?! Where'd these guys come from?!"

"I guess Dr. Naomilla's team aren't the first ones to dig this site!" Keown exclaimed. "Come on, we need to move the other way."

"Commander, there's a scafolding that has been constructed by the science team above the artifact," Darak explained. "You can use the high ground to your advantage against the Husks if you can get around them."

There was no need for futher explanation as Titus and his men were already sprinting at full speed through the ruins. The earthquake made it difficult to keep a solid pace and balance as they ran, but for the most part, the footpaths remained clear... until a chunk of debris fell right in front of them by about twenty yards. Titus glanced back just long enough to confirm that the Husks were still on their tail; and sure enough, he saw the hord of mindless, angry imbiciles galloping after them. Their pale gray-blue arms were swinging left and right, and their mouths were stuck open, moaning and screeching at them. Their glowing blue eyes seemed to pierce through John's blackened visor, and it felt like the Reapers could see could his every movement through them. The scariest thing was that they probably could.

"The Illusive Man better know what he's doing!" Titus yelled to no one in particular as he brought up his Omni tool and tapped the command button that had been linked to the ARS's jump pack. He heard only a second of a humming tone behind him before his entire body felt the thrust of the fission engine mounted inside the back of the armor. He could see the blue shimmer of a mass effect field materializing directly in front of him to protect him against the powerful G-forces as his body accelerated into the air, straight over the fallen rubble. He glanced briefly to his sides to see that Lance and Keown had safely made it over with him.

"That chuck of scrap will slow 'em down enough to buy us time to get to the scafolding," Keown stated, and they took off to complete their dash to the artifact.

When they arrived, the machine was nothing like either of them had ever before seen. The construct was definitely Reaper design, not Prothean, but that's not what had amazed Titus. Four tall braces supported a giant sphere of electrical energy, pulsing with arces of electricity all around it. It was nearly twenty meters tall, and twenty meters in diameter. The scafolding that been placed there by the science teams was supported between two tall structures, originally built by the Protheans. It began to make a bridge from one structure to the other, but when either side reached the sphere, the scafolding broke off in either direction, wrapping around the top of the sphere to complete a full circle before connecting with the scafolding on the other side. The round-about walkway was meant to observe the object from five meters above at several different angles, looking down.

"Here they come," Lance said, readying his Avenger and taking aim at the approaching hord of Husks. "They're going to try and make it up here with us. There are only two ways they can do that: the stair case we came up over here, or," he nodded his head toward the opposite structure, where the far end of the observation bridge was connected, "the staircase over there."

"Stay here and cover this point," Titus ordered. "Keown, take the other end. I'll use the Excalibur's rifle mode and take center to cover you both." With that, they split up. Lance remained where he was, taking cover behind a crate of supplies left behind by the research teams, and opened fire when the Husks came close to the first step. Where Titus stopped at the center of the round-about observation bridge, Keown ran past to the other staircase. The commander unclipped the Excalibur heavy pistols from their magnetic clips on his legs and attached them together, end-to-end, to forge the powerful sniper rifle they could become. He then used his Omni tool to quickly syncronize the weapon system to his new ASR visor. It took about thirty seconds to properly callibrate the targeting reticules, but once he got it, he braced himself forward against the railing and lined up a perfect shot with one of the husks making his way up to Keown. After squeezing the trigger, a round caused its head to explode against the wall to the Prothean structure. "Suck it," he mused.

"Titus? Commander Titus?" Dr. Naomilla's voice asked in a panic over the net. "Oh, God, I hope you can read me! I don't know what's going on out there, but we're being attacked! These... these monsters are just coming out of nowhere! They've breached the entrances to our structures and are brutalizing my friends! They're killing them! I don't know what these are! Some look human, others turian... I don't know! Please! Help us!"

"Doc?! Doctor Naomilla!?" Titus tried to summon her back over the net, but he was only answered by static. "Ground team to Kodiak."

"Go, sir."

"What's your status? Are you secure?"

"All's well over here, Commander. You ready for pick-up?"

"Not yet. We haven't acquired an asset. Instead, I need you to relay a message to the Vindicator, and have them relay the same message to the Victory. If they can spare the time, those scientists need our help. Operative Invaru has the option of either rerouting her teams to the science division's encampment, or she can have them press on and help us here. But those people need help, and fast!"

"Aye-aye, sir. EDI's got the message, she's sending it now."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers

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Lieutenant Harrens’ decision to try and draw some of the pressure away from Titus’ own team only helped for a few moments. The husk numbers were simply too great and cutting them down seemed to do nothing. When the Victory team used their jump packs to land atop a ruined structure, the husks left on the ground turned to resume their assault on Titus, despite several attempting to follow the escapees by scaling the building’s walls.

“Commander!” Lance called out, loading a fresh thermal clip into his M-8 Avenger. “We can’t keep this up! I’m running low on ammo; and they just keep coming!”

Villayn’s voice came over the comm next, with more bad news. “I’m afraid Operative Williams is right, Titus. Our sniper rounds are rapidly depleting, and these things are trying to make their way to us. It won’t be long before they get smart and come up on our flank. We need to exfil.”

Titus nodded in agreement, though he doubted anyone of his teammates saw the gesture of accord in the middle of the shit storm they had gotten themselves into. He opened up a direct line to the Kodiak. “Ground team to Kodiak.”

“Go.”

“Send a message to the Vindicator. Tell Darcy I want his ass in the atmosphere, ASAP. This artifact is too dangerous to be left intact. If the boss wants a husk, he can have a pile of them… dead. Also, Lieutenant Harrins and Captain Villayn are split up from us. Egress them first, then have Darcy send another Kodiak to pick up my team. How copy?”

“I copy that, Commander. They’ve got the message, Helmsman Mansfield is bringing the Vindicator into suborbital altitude now and I’m oscar-mike to the LT’s location. ETA: one mike.”

Titus repositioned himself against the railing and opened up a hail of fire against any husk that crossed into his scope. He shouted orders for Lance and Erik to hold their positions and keep firing. The seconds ticked by, John counting every one of them as he fired, chambered, and fired again. Finally, when things seemed grim, he saw the Kodiak that had brought them in arrive in time to pick Lt. Harrens’ team up off the rooftop, hovering just a few feet away with the passenger bay door open for them to jump inside. When the team was loaded, it dipped down to Villayn’s sniper nest, allowing the three turians to cram inside with their colleagues from the Victory with only seconds to spare of husks overwhelming their position.

Now we just need to hold off a minute longer, Titus thought. He only hoped that minute would be a second, picturing Darcy’s bringing the Vindicator through the cloud cover and reigning down a firestorm barrage of air-to-surface missiles. Before he could finish the hopeful thoughts, however, another earthquake rumbled beneath them. This time, a chunk of debris from the structure supporting Keown’s end gave away and crashed into the scaffolding. It destroyed the staircase, preventing the husks from advancing on his end, and the operative nearly escaped being crushed himself. But when Titus ran over to help his comrade to his feet, the worst happened. The observation bridge began to give away from the impact of the debris, and Erik found himself tumbling toward the center.

“Erik!” Titus yelled as he tossed his Excalibur to Lance and dived on his stomach to try and catch his friend’s hand before he fell completely over, towards the artifact in the center. His palm and fingers grabbed onto Keown’s wrist at the last second, but he was forced to use his free hand and claw into the grating of the catwalk, lest he pulled over by the weight of Keown’s heavy Cerberus armor. His arm was straining and his wrist was screaming to let go, but the commander held on.

“John! Dammit! Let me go! You don’t have time to waste by trying to pull me up! Go help-”

“You don’t give me orders, dammit!” Titus yelled back. “Now don’t you fucking let go! Pull yourself up here! Now!”

“I can’t… You know that. I’m too heavy in this shit. If I use both arms, I’ll just bring you down with me.”

“Erik! Shut up!”

“Tell the Illusive Man… that since he wanted a husk so bad… I volunteered myself.

“No! You son of a-” But it was too late to convince him otherwise. Operative Erik Keown let go of his commander’s wrist and forced his own out of Titus’ grip. His body plummeted and punched through the energy sphere atop the four Reaper supports. Time seemed to slow as John watched his friend fall all the way through, rattled by arcs of electricity and energy spikes until he exited through the bottom of the sphere and continued to fall until he crashed on the dusty surface below. “Aaaagggghhh!”

Titus brought himself completely over onto the catwalk and pushed himself up. He took several deep breaths and took a second to absorb what had just happened. It wasn’t the first time as a soldier that he had witness a man give his life for a cause; and so he knew exactly what to do. A life given out of noble pursuit must not be taken for granted, not simply dismissed or only wept for. Titus raised his head, straightened his back, and rolled his shoulders. He turned around sharply and picked up the Excalibur rifle from Lance, who was continuing to mow down husks charging after him with tears rolling down both cheeks. He had seen what had happened… what Erik chose to do; and he was venting by unloading every thermal clip he had left onto the sorry, forgotten slaves.

[Begin playing soundtrack, "Embolden"]

Disengaging the rifle mode, John separated the Excalibur pistols and rearmed them with new thermal clips. Out of daring rage and a need to avenge Erik’s death, to honor his sacrifice, the Commander, flanked by Operative Williams, charged down the staircase, unloading round after round into the husks. Barrels collided with faces, and rocketing rounds pulverized those faces. Every cybernetic freak of nature that came too close to the duo fell to their fury.

The engines of a Kodiak roared overhead and Titus’ eyes glanced up only long enough to look past it at towards the Vindicator breaking through the cloud cover. Darcy was already giving orders to unload the much-needed rocket barrage. All the commander had to do now was retrieve Erik’s body from underneath the artifact’s sphere before the Vindicator’s hell storm destroyed it and buried the fallen hero.

“Lance: Kodiak. Move!”

“Aye-Aye! I’ll see you aboard!”

As Williams took off sprinting for the landing Kodiak, Titus spun around and aimed his torso toward the artifact’s base. He punched the activation for the ARS’ fission pack and rocketed at high velocity toward his target. A husk had managed to break into his flight path and Titus took aim with one of the Excalibur pistols, driving the barrel into the mutant’s screaming mouth. The neck snapped back under the speed, effectively “killing” it, but the commander pulled the trigger anyway, exploding the husk’s cranium with an overkill shot.

When he landed, Titus rolled for several feet; finally stopping to a skidding halt before Keown’s lifeless corpse. In order to carry the man, Titus had to field-strip the Cerberus armor off of him. The visor came first, and John could see the man’s already pale-skin; unusual, but no doubt a side-effect of the artifact’s sphere. The chest plate, shoulder pads, gauntlets, and leggings came after. It was a hassle, constantly having to left and heave Erik’s body in order to get to every release latch; but when everything had finally come off, Titus lifted his friend into a fireman’s carry over his shoulders and ran as fast as he could.

Thankfully, the Kodiak’s pilot had repositioned closer to the artifact, though safely away from the sphere’s energy output. The passenger hatch flew open and Keown jumped out to assist his commander in helping to carry Keown’s body inside. Two other Vindicator marines lent their support in gently bringing in their fallen comrade.

The Kodiak rapidly pulled away, just in time for the missile strike to enforce its punishment on the Prothean ruins and Reaper artifact. Because the Vindicator was in close, Darcy’s transmissions came through crystal clear.

“Bringing the pain, mother fuckers!”

Each of the flanking structures that had been used to support the observation bridge around the artifact crumbled inward, landing on top of the device and effectively destroying it once and for all. As Titus watched the devastation unfold beneath them as the Kodiak approached closer to the open landing bay of his ship, he heard a sharp ringing in both ears, and his head spun. A gravel voice in the back of his mind, one that spoke with authority and determination, was none like he had heard before. Unrecognizable, but worthy of his attention.

You cannot stop us, human. This war you wage is a pathetic and futile attempt at escaping what is destined to come.






Braden… Braden… Come on, sweetie. Time to get up.

The young Reynolds awoke in one of the medical bay’s recovery beds in a sweat, gasping for air. He through the covers back, attempting to cool his half naked body down as quickly as possible before it went up in flames. Every muscle cried out in pain, and he only ended up falling back on the sweat-soaked pillow and bed sheets. As he lay there, starring up into the light above him, he kept thinking of the woman’s voice he heard in his dreams before waking. It was familiar, comforting, loving.

“Mom?” his hopeful voice cracked.

Fast approaching, but light footsteps could be heard approaching him from the side, and another familiar voice pierced the silence of the ward. “No, honey; I’m afraid not,” answered Dr. Porter as she came into view of Braden’s peripherals. Her head bobbed above him as she checked his vitals on her Omni tool. When she done, she gently slid a cool hand underneath Braden’s neck and then worked her way up to the back of his head, slowly lifting it to remove the old pillow and replace it with a fresh, dry one.

“You’ve been out for several hours,” she said. “You knew better than to go so long without a sufficient amount of food in your system. Biotics need the calories, Braden. If Tony hadn’t have raced your unconscious body up here as fast as he did, you could have slipped into a coma. We don’t need two heroes hanging between life and death, now do we?”

Braden couldn’t bear to look at her. The why she was scolding him, upset but loving, reminded him too much of his own mother. He messed up, but Veronica was there to take care of him, a sick child in need. He actually felt… “Sorry…”

Veronica folded her arms, but offered a warm smile. She walked around the bed to check up on a monitor and said, “No need to be all blue about it. Your girlfriend told me the whole story. Personally, I think it was romantic how you held out for her; but professionally, I’d say you were an idiot.” She chuckled when she said this, finding the conclusive judgment to be quite amusing now that the boy was going to be okay. “We had to stick you with a few IVs, to rehydrate you and get enough nutrition in your system to keep you going. I’m sure you’re starving though, so I’ll have a tray brought in from the mess hall. Mess Sergeant Miles is already preparing something special for you. Oh, and, sorry about the clothing situation. Your body was reacting to the lack of sustenance by creating a fever; that’s why you’re sweating and dehydrated. I’ve got your shirt, jeans, and boots over there on the chair.” She pointed to the white and chrome chair adjacent to his recovery bed. Braden recognized it as the exact same chair he sat in while Vala Buchan was recovering after saving his life on Illium.

“If Lizzie comes in to see you, make sure to keep the covers pulled over.” Veronica winked before turning away. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to check up on Operative Buchan.”

“Vala’s here?” Braden asked. He turned his head over to see the woman sleeping peacefully – as ironic as that seems – in another recovery bed at the end of the bay.

“Yes,” the doc replied. “She just underwent surgery to have her biotic implants upgraded to the new L5x. She’s like you now.”

Veronica continued on down the bay to check on Vala’s readings. Braden could only watch the blonde woman sleep soundly and wonder why in the galaxy she would put herself through the immense risk of doing such a thing. Braden’s own implantation surgery was risky enough, and that’s when he was at the age it was supposed to be done. At Vala’s age, such a procedure could be life-threatening if not handled right. He had been outfitted with the Ascension Project's experimental L4 implants when he had been taken into the care of the academy. His upgrade to the L5x didn't happen until a year later when he was selected to be apart of the Eden Prime training. The surgery left him sore for weeks, and he would often suffer from mind-splitting headaches. He wondered if Vala was going to have to endure the same effects.

"Okay, so... not a bad first date," Lizzie said, startling Braden so much he nearly jumped out of the covers. The teens locked eyes for a moment and started to laugh. Lizzie pulled the chair over to the edge of the bed and sat down, holding Braden's left hand under both of hers. "You scared me down there," she said after a while, unable to look him in the eye. When she finally looked up, she had tears in her eyes. "Don't ever do that again."

"Liz, I-" Before he could finish, she stood up and leaned over him, meeting her lips with his own. They remained there for well over a minute, and Braden could hear the persistent tone of his heart rate on the nearby monitor beep slightly faster. Finally, Lizzie pulled away but only enough to stare into his eyes with an inch between their noses.

The boy opened his mouth again to say something, but her finger pressed down ontop of them. "Wait," she whispered. "I'll come back after you eat." Her finger slid down from his lips, brushed down his chin, and dropped to his exposed upper chest. Before pulling away, she gave him a light peck on his forehead.

Dr. Porter returned and placed a bottle of water on the folder-over table attached to his recovery bed and courteously unscrewed the cap. "She's a keeper," she mused at the expense of a red-faced Braden. She turned away and headed back to her desk near the front of the bay, taking her seat a second later to begin to tapping away at her haptic keyboard. As she worked, the boy took small, but greedy gulps of the water. He wasn't sure why, but there was something in the air that didn't quite feel right.

"Where's the commander?" he asked. Veronica's typing came to a dead stop, but she only stared straight forward, completely quiet. "What's wrong? Did... something happen?"

Dr. Porter finally turned to look at him with an expressionless face. "He's... down in the Kodiak bay," she said. "Operative Keown..." She only sighed, unable to finish what Braden already knew. The teenager threw the covers off and over the side of the bed, fighting the protest of his sore and cramped muscles as his legs hung over the edge. "Braden! No! You can't be moving around just yet!" Veronica jumped up from her seat and raced over to stop him, but Braden held up his hand as he slid off the matress and reached for his clothes.

"No," he insisted, "don't."

If he were any younger, or less assertive, Dr. Porter probably would have restrained him to the bed, but he had made his intentions crystal clear. There was no stopping him. He struggled to pull on the jeans and shirt, but didn't bother with the boots. The floors of the Vindicator were cold, but flat and clear, and would only offer some relief to his body's fever if he went barefoot. The first few steps were a rush to the head, but he quickly gained his balance as he made his way closer and faster to the door.

Finally, leaning the against the threshold, Braden swiped his hand in front of the access panel and turned back to look at Veronica and say, "Don't worry about me. I'll be back; I promise."




Braden quietly stumbled out of the lift and into the Vindicator’s Kodiak bay. No one had heard the blast doors hissing as he stepped out, or they at least paid no attention to him. As the boy looked around, he saw what must of the been the Vindicator’s entire crew, all gathered and standing in two impressive military formations of several ranks. Each Cerberus crewman was standing with feed shoulder-width apart, and their hands clasped into a V in the small of their backs. Parade rest, they called it.

The room was quiet, save for an echoing tapping sound somewhere near the front of the formations. Braden snuck around behind several supply crates and mechanical units. When he finally found a perfect view of the front of the formation he saw Commander Titus standing at the head of another smaller formation. Four men and two women, dressed in the black and white dress uniform of Cerberus’ higher ranking officers were unfolding a blue and white fabric between the six of them. Gently they lowered their arms, but kept their backs straight, and allowed the cloth to rest on top of an object between them; three of them on one side, three on the other side. A whispered command was given by one of them, but Braden was unsure who it was, and the six instantly snapped to face the rest of their shipmates. Another command was given, and Braden noticed this time that it was one of the men in the rear of the six. In response, all of them marched through the center of the formations. As the heels of their boots met the metallic surface of the Kodiak bay, the tapping sound from earlier was revealed, as was their role.

Those six were the Vindicator’s honor guard; and they had just unfolding and rested a blue and white flag atop of a fallen soldier’s casket. To whom the casket belonged was no mystery. Dr. Porter had already given Braden the answer up in the medical bay. Though he could not see the flag’s emblem, he recognized the colors. His time aboard the Jon Grissam space station while, attending the Ascension Project as a biotic student, allowed him to become familiar with the Alliance.

How Operative Keown died, Braden did not know. But what was clear to him now was that he must have been a former member of the Alliance Navy; and Commander Titus was giving him the honor worthy of a soldier that had made the ultimate sacrifice. The commander himself seemed grimmer than the rest of his shipmates. His eyes were downcast, full of sorrow and guilt. The young teenager had spent enough of his life feeling the same emotions that it was easy for him to tell when others were experiencing them.

“Erik Keown,” the commander said aloud, lifting his head to face his crew. “A man. A soldier. A friend. He sacrificed himself so that we may continue to fight for our survival; for our freedom. I knew Erik; and he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“It pains me that I must return an empty casket to his family; and even more so that I cannot tell them why. Because of the importance of our mission, and the oath we have sworn to secrecy, I cannot explain to them that Erik Keown’s body is slowly becoming a tool for our enemy to use. But I can tell them this: that his sacrifice will not have been made in vain. Cerberus will avenge Erik Keown; and the Reapers… they will pay for what they have done and what they’re doing.

“But we have a mission. And we all knew the risks of this mission. So did Operative Keown. So if we’re going to bring humanity’s wrath to our enemies, then we must first annihilate their Collector servants. So if you want revenge as much as I want it right now… then set your cross hairs on them. The crew of the SIC Titan, Erik Keown, and all of the innocent humans that have been taken from their homes – the women, children, infants – deserve to be avenged.

“So we carry on; and we’ll wait for the right moment to hit them with everything we’ve got. And when we do… we’ll make them hurt so much that their masters will feel it all the way out in dark space.”

There was silence in the room once again, and the Vindicator’s commander snapped to the position of attention with arms straight down to his sides. He held his chin high and in a one, loud command, yelled, “ATTENTION!” Upon the command, every man and woman in the formations before him snapped to the position of attention. Their boots, all in sync with one another, made a thundering echo throughout the entire bay. “CENTER! FACE!” Both of the formations snapped out a perfect facing movement, turning their bodies to face the opposite formation across the center aisle.

Braden repositioned to another end of the line of cargo crates for a better view. The tapping of the honor guards’ heels could be heard again, echoing down the aisle. When he finally found another spot, he watched as the six of them were already carrying Keown’s empty casket, still adorned with the Alliance flag, down the aisle. As it passed by the servicemen, each rank presented a very slow salute. It wasn’t fast, like a traditional salute, but the presentation of arms given to the fallen – raised six paces before the honor guard, and lowered six paces after. Gentle and humble, but honorable.

The casket was gently carried up a small ramp and into the passenger bay of an awaiting Kodiak. When the honor guard carefully lowered it onto the floor and secured the clamps that would hold the casket in place during flight, Commander Titus marched down the aisle, head held high. He continued on up the ramp until he was merely a foot away and looked down at the casket. Like the his crew behind him, the leader presented a slow salute, held it for several seconds while whispering inaudible words, and then lowered it.




“Titus,” the Illusive Man said, putting out a cigarette in his tray as the hologram of the Vindicator’s commander materialized before him on his projection pad, “I’ve just received word back from the Alliance. Keown’s belongings and casket have been safely received. No interruptions, no discrepancies. I’ve personally contacted his family, providing an explanation for what happened; however, if you still wish to send a personal message condolence yourself, I’m sure they would appreciate it.”

John nodded his head. “I was going to do that anyway, sir. It’s just… difficult, right now.”

The Illusive Man stood up from his seat and slowly walked forward to Titus’ hologram. “Take all the time you need, Commander. It might be best to let Erik’s loved ones have time to mourn first, anyway. It will only be easier for them to receive your message afterward.”

“I see.” Titus didn’t want to spend the entire conversation with his employer wallowing in sorrow; and the he was sure the Illusive Man didn’t want that either. He was still assigned to a mission, and it had to take priority, regardless of the situation. “The Vindicator is standing by for orders.”

“I'm not willing to put either you or the Call of Victory back up against the Collectors just yet; not after the hits both of you have taken. Omni Cell still needs time to recover, and besides, two of my best operatives aren’t even battle capable. Vala is still recovering from her surgery, and Jason is still in a coma. When he’ll wake up, no one knows. Thus, his second-in-command must learn how to take the reins of his ship and get used to it. She’s our contingency plan should Commander Horn fall any farther away from us.

“Instead, I’m splitting the Vindicator and the Call of Victory up again to complete some smaller assignments. While we’re analyzing Keown’s body as it progresses through the stages of becoming a husk, I want you two to focus on gathering back your strength. The Vindicator is now down a man, so I suggest you start with that. I’ve already taken the liberty of contacting a skilled combat engineer by the name of Stephen Valentine. He goes by the name "Sentry"; and will prove to be a valuable new member of your team.”

“Where do I find him?”

“He’ll be waiting for you at a refueling station in the Terminus. Go to the Chandrasekhar system; and dock at the station orbiting Hebat. Once you meet up with him, I’ll send a personal message to your terminal with your next assignment.”

Titus nodded, but before the Illusive Man cut the transmission, he held his finger over the kill button for a moment. “And Commander... you have my word that I’ll treat Erik’s body with the utmost respect.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

Titus,

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

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

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

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

-The Operator

P.S. Enjoy the coffee.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I guess so," Titus commented.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

"Do all of you have katanas?"

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

"What's her nickname?"

"Shadow."

Titus laughed. "How cliche."

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

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

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

And then he understood.

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

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

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

"Cube Champion?" Lance asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

“In a room full of ego-maniacal men?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unbounded possibility, he thought. I like that.




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

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

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

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

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

Great, Adam thought. The show must go on.

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

“....-the fuck?”




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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No funny stuff, I promise.”


******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is fifteen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And why not?” Jason arrogantly asked

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

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

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

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

“Then what is it?” Lizzie asked impatiently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir?” Jacob asked with shock

“Hold your fire.” The Captain repeated

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

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

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

“Aye-aye, sir.” Jackson replied.

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff Character Portrait: Charlie Welles

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As she reared the second whip for the strike, Vala’s eyes noticed the slightest flicker in her peripheries, seconds before the biotic barrier defended Harrison from her attack. The Deliverance commander took a step back, but another bubble soon snapped around her, severing the extended whip and making the removed end vanish into nothing. It took her only a moment to process it, eyes snapping instantly to the newcomer to the arena. She was still under his gaze, helmeted gaze watching silently.


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

It was a possibility she should have prepared for. She’d seen him in the picture, departing the Marathon with Titus, Harrison and Lance. There was always a chance he was going to get involved. Quietly, never letting the N7 leave her field of vision, she turned more to focus on the young man. Her external speakers crackled. “Braden...you shouldn’t be getting involved.”

"Involved?" the boy responded, his expression conveying insult. "I've been involved."

“That doesn’t mean you should continue to be.” Her eyes flicked cautiously to the N7, who seemed to be as locked down as she was. “This isn’t your fight. There’s no need for you to be here.” Her words faltered, as she considered her orders for a moment. Titus was to be eliminated if possible, and the logical extension meant that applied to his crew. Was Braden..? “Did Titus send you down here?”

"No," he said, though not as loudly as he had previously spoken. "I'm here on my own. Why are you fighting us? I know you’re Cerberus... and we're not anymore, but... We were friends. Right?" Casting her eyes at the floor, Vala thought for a moment before responding.

“Yes. Yes, we were.” Her voice was soft, and she stepped towards the edge of the barrier, touching it lightly with the tips of her fingers. “And there’s very little that says you can’t still be my friend, Braden.” Her gaze shifted, staring up at Titus behind him. “Save for the very people I’m fighting. After all…I’m a terrorist to them. A murderer.”

"N-no!" Braden shook his head, seemingly rejecting the idea. A bead of sweat could be seen trickling down from his forehead. Constantly maintaining the strength of the barriers was beginning to take its toll. "That's not true," he went on. "You do what's right. You protect... You have to. That's what Cerberus stands for; right? You saved me."

Vala tapped a key on her omni-tool, visor of the Nyx parting into the sides of her helmet to reveal her face. Her eyes watched the boy softly, a gentle smile upturning her lips. “That’s right. I fight to protect. We can’t save everyone…but we’re willing to do what has to be done to save lives.” She lowered her hand from the barrier. “Cerberus will always fight to protect us. Always.”

Braden's eyes narrowed and he lowered his head to the ground, taking heavy breaths in order to keep the oxygen flowing and stay concentrated. "Then stop this," he finally said. His fingers twitched slightly as the violet hue around his hands faded and the barriers dissipated.

Harrison was immediately back in a defensive stance, but he made no move to attack her. She watched him for only a moment, as the shouts from the arena around her reached her ears. Several officers, six or so if she counted correctly, entered the bleachers, quickly taking position around the arena. After a moment of quiet consideration, Vala nodded lightly.

“Alright, Braden. I can do that today.” Her smile sadden, eyes not drifting from the boy. “But I can’t stop forever. These people attacked us first. They took my friend. They tried to kill us.” The infiltrator took a slow step towards the teen, holding her hand out to him. “I don’t want you caught in that crossfire. I know someplace far from this…somewhere all this fighting isn’t. A place you could have some peace, and grow into the man you want to be.”

Braden took a step back, regaining his focus after his use of biotics. After he took a moment of pause to consider Vala's offer, he sadly shook his head no. "I don't know what I want yet." Her hand fell back to her side, nodding to his response.

“That’s fine.” Looking to the guns trained on her, Vala’s eyes squeezed shut, her smile slowly fading. “When you decide…let me know. Stay safe until then, okay?” There was no disappointment in her voice, just an understanding of the boy’s fragile state. “And if you ever need me, I‘ll come running.” Her visor clicked shut over her face, once more concealing her from the prying eyes of the world. “El, Jones.”

“Looking a little hot down there, Ma’am…” El commented, signalling they’d at least been paying attention. “We’ve got eyes on a marksman who thinks your head is mighty pretty.”

“I figured, but I’m not overly worried.”

Jones was quick to reply. “Can you catch bullets with your teeth? Cause that’d be pretty fucking amazing.” Ignoring the commando, Vala tilted her head back slightly, looking past the military police to stare coldly at the man behind them. Her speakers crackled and boomed, amplified by the arena acoustics.

“Content to sit up there while others run into the fray, ‘Captain’?”

A corner of Titus' lips turn into an upward smirk and he replied with equal volume, "Braden jumped down there to confront you on his own, Vala. I had nothing to do with that. Besides, I don't have a gun or biotics. I'm no fool."

“Some might argue otherwise with your choices of late.” Pulling a small pistol-like contraption from her belt, she fired it off towards the catwalk; the carbon fibre arcing high into the air before imbedding itself in the fixture above. “Best be ready next time. I won’t hesitate.” With a solid tug and a fluid flick of the hand, she fastened the line to her belt, the small system whirring to lift and hoisting the infiltrator high into the air. She watched the man for a moment longer, before looking down at Braden. “Till then, Jonathan.”

Without another word, her cloak flickered over her body, and Vala vanished from sight. There was a pause, before Lance shouted at the darkness above. “Not even a ‘Hey, Lance!’?! C’mon! I’m here too!” There was a moment’s pause, before her voice echoed down from above, dry and un-amused.

“Hello, Lance.”

The man grinned at no one in particular. “Told you we have a thing.”

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Their flight from the cube was smooth, dodging the few security forces present to disperse into the streets. The cloak made it difficult to spot the trio, but even so they clung to the few precious shadows available to them in the flashy neon lights of the citadel. El and Jones spent the entire time firing back and forth between each other, so fast that Vala didn’t even bother to attempt to keep up with their conversation.

As they crept into a narrow but deserted alley, Vala hunkered down in an attempt to catch her breath. Something the commandos instantly noticed. “You alright, Ma’am? Sound a little tired.” El asked; concern in her voice.

Vala nodded as the Hound knelt next to her, Jones opting to keep an eye out for any patrols from C-Sec. Jo had passed along a hacked channel of C-Sec communication, and they had increased their presence in the area in response to their little…show. It wasn’t clear if they knew they’d ‘escaped’, but the threat of running into C-Sec in combat armour was unappealing.

“Open up.” She felt El knock lightly on the visor, but she could see the small hip flask the woman was offering. “Got some energy juice for you. Keep you running till we can get out of this junk.”

“Stripping with the boss, El? This I gotta see.” Jones quipped, earning a playful glare from his partner. “Watch duty, right. Gotta make sure it’s a private show.” Vala chose not to comment, making a note to speak with Charlie when she returned to the Deliverance about his commandos. Taking the small flask, her visor parted slightly, enough for her to press the liquid to her lips and take a slight swig. It was, pleasantly, not alcohol, instead some sort of smoothie like drink.

Offering the flask back, Vala remained seated for a few moments longer. “Biotics always get so tired…” El mused aloud; not really straying from her superior’s side. “That stuff you pulled was impressive as hell. Guess it’s got a price?”

“Everything has a price.” Vala responded, pushing off the wall to stand straight once more. “And I’d be thrilled if we can keep it low. Let’s get moving. Jo, can you get us a path past most of the patrols?” In no time flat, a route quickly painted itself on their HUD map. “Good work. Jones, take point.” He nodded, quickly heading deeper into the alley with Vala and El close behind.

It took only a half hour for them to weave across the district, dodging dozens of patrols on route to the safe house. Once inside, she wasted little time shedding the Nyx and storing it back in the case which they’d hauled it in with. Jones wasted little time securing it to his back, while El gave Vala another swig of that strange brew of hers. “You two will be fine to get back to the ship?”

“No sweat.” Jones grinned, adjusting the straps slightly. “The Citadel has so many holes in its security it’s sad. We could probably walk through the front door if we really wanted to.” Vala fixed him with a stern look, as he hastily added. “Not that we do in the slightest. Quiet as mice.”

“I’ll keep him in line.” El chuckled, stepping over beside her partner. “Meet you back on the Deliverance, Ma’am. We owe you a drink after the show you put on.” The two gave light, two fingered salutes before their cloaks made them vanish into the black of the room. After their footsteps echoed into silence, Vala rose and hauled herself up the ladder into the familiar cramped hall that led to the deserted alley.

Taking a minute to assess the surroundings, Vala slid on her sunglasses, glancing at the various passers-by. Pressing a finger to the comm piece in her ear, she spoke. “Keagan. How we looking?”

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

Rendezvousing with Keagan was smooth, waiting in the same intersection they’d split up for her. As she approached, her eyes caught glimpse of the small bag dangling from his grip as he lazily waved his hand at waist level. Once close enough to talk, she pointed at it. “Did some shopping after lunch?” The sarcasm was thick, but he took it good-naturedly.

“Not at all. I actually just picked up some food for you, Ms. Moir. An excellent Fettuccini Alfredo, made by an asari chef so skilled you could have sworn she was born in Italy.” He paused, as if entertaining the thought, a slight smile etched on his face. “Not as impossible as it might sound really…it’s almost like a different planet there anyway.”

Vala shook her head slightly, taking the bag graciously as they fell into step with each other, heading back the way they’d come. “Thanks….although how did you know I li-”

“Your affection for pasta is not much of a secret, I assure you. Anyone with a second grade education can deduce that by the way your eyes lit up when I mentioned it.” His smile had the slightest, arrogant edge, but she couldn’t really fault him for it. “Besides, you’ll find I know far more about you than you might suspect. I always do my research, and quite thoroughly.”

“I’m not sure if I should be glad or disturbed…”

“No need to decide right away.” Seemingly satisfied with their inane conversation, he shifted focus to the mission. “I take it you managed to get the message across? The news networks have been a buzz about your little show.”

“I think it was clear. Harrison got lucky today, if…there hadn’t been outside interference, he’d be leaving the Cube in pieces.”

“And your cover?”

“Safe. They won’t be able to identify me from what little face I showed.” The pair slowed, foot traffic slightly congested from C-Sec officers moving through the area. “So long as the Hounds make it back to the Deliverance in one piece, it’s safe to chalk up a success.”

“Delightful. I can think of few better ways to christen a new vessel.” Stroking his chin, Keagan watched a pair of officers move past as they drew closer to the CHA private dock. “A tad sluggish for C-Sec. You’d think they’d have gotten more personnel on site faster.”

Vala didn’t respond; face setting into even neutrality as they approached the lift back to the ship. As they rose above the slight chaos on the streets below, Keagan simply shook his head. “Really, what did they think was going to happen?”

“Who?”

“This Oracle. Making enemies is the worst thing you can do in the backrooms.”

“Speaking from experience?”

Keagan chuckled, not bothering to respond as the lift opened to the Deliverance and the aide from before. She smiled at Keagan, but was clearly more preoccupied with work behind her small station. The two walked casually up towards the ship, airlock hissing open to greet them and sealing behind them once they were inside.

Vala shot him a sharp look. “How often am I going to be stuck as this ‘Mia Moir’, by the way?” He tapped his chin, thinking on the subject while the decontamination cycle purified them of any bacteria.

“Generally whenever you decide to go romping about on Alliance worlds, or the Citadel. Our pesky counterpart has cast a wide net to ensnare our operatives. Fortunately for us…their eyes are limited, just like ours. The ship is a safe haven, so feel free to be yourself.” The interior seal opened, and the yeoman stepped out quickly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have some work to take care of.”

“Of course.” He headed towards the lift, and Vala watched him go for a moment before the movement of the pilot chair caught her eye. She half-turned to Ronas, who grinned in greeting. “Enjoying yourself, Ronas?”

“Just breaking in my chair, really. If we’re stealthy, I’ll be spending most of my time in this seat doing nothing much, so I’d like to be as comfortable as I can make it.”

“No excuse to get lazy.”

“Relaxed is different from lazy. It’s always better to be relaxed than a bundle of nerves; those guys are really twitchy when they fly.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Carry on then.” Footsteps echoing behind her, Vala turned to greet the source, blinking when she came face to chest with who she could only assume was Sinoff. Tilting her head back slightly, she raised an eyebrow at the man. “Need me for something, Lieutenant Commander?”

“Operative Sedlack would like to speak with you, Commander.” He replied, gesturing down the helm to the CIC, where Alexis was leaning against the galaxy map display. Wyatt wasted little time answering the unspoken question on her lips. “Her cane isn't effective in a ship environment. The long stretches are proving to be exhausting.” To his credit, he didn’t seem overly bothered by playing errand boy for his ‘mentor’.

“I don’t really understand how she gets around a bar on that thing, let alone an entire floor. I’ll talk to her, thanks for telling me.” She started past him, pausing with an affirmative pat to his chest. “And feel free to pass it onto a grunt next time. You’re busy without playing messenger.” He nodded in affirmative, and she continued on, hearing the future 2IC give a sharp order to Ronas as she went.

As she approached, Alexis gave her a weary wave, looking rather worn out for someone who’d spent all their time on ship. “Welcome back, Ivory. Nice work out there.” Vala grinned lightly as she continued. “I already forwarded a preliminary report to the Illusive Man, so you’re off the hook for now.”

“Thanks. I could have taken care of it, you know.” The older woman scoffed, waving her hand dismissively. “I use to do more paperwork than you did, Scorpion…”

“I’m giving you some free time, if you want to piss it away on fancy reports, that’s your prerogative.” Straightening up from the display, she planted her cane firmly, already looking displeased with the prospect of having to move. “More importantly though, there’s someone I figure you should meet.” Her stride was understandably slow, and the two circled round the CIC slowly until they reached a small station near the Helm’s walkway.

Alexis announced their presence by slamming the bottom of her cane on the floor loudly, causing the station’s operator to practically come out of their skin, spinning the chair around in a panic and half-leaping into a standing position. “I’m sorry, Ma’am! Won’t happen again Ma-”

“You’re not in trouble, Govern.” Alexis commented dryly, clearly amused by her panicked reaction. She gestured to Vala, who offered a hand in greeting. “This is the Commander. Vala Buchan. Commander, Agent Celeste Govern.”

“Pleasure.” The woman quickly took the hand, shaking it meekly before retracting it and fiddling with the hem of her uniform. She didn’t have the look of a fighter, a small frame with a huddled posture. Her eyes were light green, and her soft brown hair was bobbed around her chin for a slightly more professional look than most of her crew hand. “What is it you do in the CIC, Agent?”

“Oh, I’m…not really important in the CIC. I’m the field handler. Your field handler, actually.” Vala blinked, looking at Alexis who simply nodded in reply.

“But if you’re the handler…”

“Didn’t feel she was necessary.” Scorpion admitted, tapping a finger against her cane in thought. “Which seems to have been accurate? I’ll make sure Govern is on hand for all your future missions, though.”

“Please do…” Ignoring Alexis’s casual explanation, she focused back on Celeste. “So, do you have much experience?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I've actually been a handler primarily with the Hell Hounds. Lieutenant Commander Welles helped me with my initial training, and has tried to keep me close to the unit ever since.” That was unexpected. Celeste didn’t look like the type to handle the blacker shades well, but perhaps she had a few hidden fires that Vala wasn’t aware of.

“You’re associated with them? I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad…” Celeste titled her head, slightly confused. “I just met some of the Hounds on my operation is all. They’re good, if a little…eccentric.”

The handler gave a light smile, accompanied by a soft, airy laugh. “That’s the Hounds alright. You get use to it pretty quick.” She wasn’t really sure if getting use to the oddity of those two was really in her best interest, but she didn’t give any outward sign. Before they could continue, Ronas appeared beside Celeste, looking mildly irritated. “Oh, Helmsman Chekan. Is something the matter?”

His deadpan spoke wonders. “I have an invisible woman banging on my window.” The trio of women blinked in response, varying degrees of confusion on their faces. Vala clued in first.

“Oh! El!” Celeste straightened at the mention of the Hound, looking back at her station which had a pair of blinking lights alerting her to the attempted communications.

“Oops! I got distracted! I’ll let them in right now.” She hopped into her seat, quickly sliding on a headset as she gave an apologetic look to Ronas. “I’m sorry, Helmsman.” The man watched her for a moment, before sighing and waving it off.

“Don’t sweat it. Just nearly gave me a heart attack.” He started back towards the Helm, and Celeste gave one last glance to Vala.

“It was nice to meet you, Commander.”

“Likewise.” Deciding it best to let her work, the pair started towards the lift, Alexis lagging behind a few steps. Looking over her shoulder, Commander Buchan gave her friend a light-hearted sigh. “You know you should head to the med-bay, see about getting something a little sturdier.”

“Probably.” The operative grunted. “But I’ll labour on for at least another day before then.”

“Your pride wouldn't let you do any less.” Watching her friend retake her perch, Vala debated mentally what she should do with her time before filing a report. They wouldn't leave the Citadel right away, not until C-Sec got a little less riled up, and Alexis had taken care of the report for the time being. Deep in thought, Vala tapped the key to the lift, which opened instantly to reveal Charlie.

“Ah, perfect.” She blinked in surprise at his sudden appearance, looking up at the commando. “I was hoping I’d catch you, Commander.”

“Oh?”

Welles gave her a large grin, motioning for her to board the lift. “If you've got the time, I think it’s time to properly introduce you to the Hell Hounds.” She chuckled breathlessly, stepping onto the lift. “Can’t have El and Jones giving you a bad impression of us all.”