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Specialist Maya Salazar

Fire Team 3 Medic

0 · 458 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

Description

Maya is a tall woman, although she’s fairly average by Cerberus standards at 5’8”. Her chin length black hair typically sits in a tiny bun atop her head, framing her light grey eyes when she rarely lets it down. With a pale complexion and patches of freckles along her body, Maya looks like she’s spent a good deal of her life on ships with only periodic exposure to natural light. She usually has a slight ‘outbreak’ of freckles on her face after a mission, due to sunlight slipping through her visor.

She’s solidly built, although unlike other marines, Maya hasn't lost all traces of femininity with her training, perhaps due to her already strong physique from a life time of physical activity. Unlike most marines, Maya boasts a disturbingly high number of scars and marks from bullet wounds, shrapnel and other various close calls with deadly instruments. It’s subtle enough that most don’t notice, but she has a slight limp to her left leg from an old shrapnel wound.

Aside from her carnival of injuries, Maya only has one tattoo, on her right shoulder of Hermes Rod. It’s remarkably detailed and Maya regards it as her personal reward for her completion of medic training back in the Alliance.

Personality

If Ed is the figurative brains of the fire team, then Maya is most definitely it’s heart. Equal parts protective and tenacious, she’s ruthless about ensuring both the physical readiness and health of her companions despite her rather cynical attitude about their chances at long life. She meshes well with Logan’s more paternal instincts, while she and Roger have a habit of verbally quarrelling whenever the opportunity presents itself.

While she’s quick to criticize a mistake, Maya is largely willing to concede someone’s strong points, if behind a snide comment or two. Messing with her fire team is a sure fire way to earn her ire, and her somewhat sarcastic nature makes it slightly difficult for Maya to socialize well. Behind all her gruff and tough, the medic is a caring person though, and has a bit of notoriety with the extent she will go to aid an injured comrade.

Despite even that however, Maya is a surprisingly gentle women in her time away from her military requirements. While still sharp, it’s a startling sight to most on Maya’s assistant days in the med-bay, and the only other time she seems to act with such ease is when Roger and Logan occupy themselves for a day and leave her alone with Ed.

Whatever that might mean.

So begins...

Specialist Maya Salazar's Story

Characters Present

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

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“Check.” Logan blinked, looking at the holographic board in confusion for a moment, before a frown settled over his features. “Also mate.” The dark skinned private shook his head, a lopsided grin stretched across his face. His opponent flashed a grin of her own, grey eyes twinkling as she pressed the board to reset.

“You’re beating me faster and faster, Maya.” The woman in question laughed, drumming pale fingers against the table which held their game. “You might actually be able to beat Ed here soon.” Logan said of their auburn haired Corporal, catching the man's hazel gaze for a brief moment as the mention of his name.

“Not likely.” She snorted, sparing a glance over to the man in question, who sat with his back turned as his eyes flicked over an e-reader. “Corporal Sun Tzu royally trounces my ass every time he so much as looks at the board.”

Logan fixed her with a look, pushing one of his pawns forward to start the game. “Ed isn’t that good. He’s got some chops, but Sam always served his ass to him.” Maya raised an eyebrow, mirroring Logan’s opening move. “What was the final score again?”

“Something along the lines of 12-13, her favour.”

“Actually, it was 13-13.” The corporal glanced over his shoulder, his comrades fixing him with a suspicious look. “We had a private final match.” Logan shook his head, as Maya grinned widely at Ed. “What?”

“Private? Never pegged you as the type for those kinds of games, Ed.” She winked, sparing a glance to the board as Logan stroked his goatee for a moment before he knocked another pawn forward. Once again, she mirrored the move, earning a disgruntled grunt from her opponent. “C’mon, Logan, I don’t have all day to trounce your ass.”

“Me and Sam had a purely professional relationship, regardless of your baseless accusations.” There was a moment’s pause, before the corporal spun his chair around to face the board proper. “It’s just nice to play a game every now and again without the peanut gallery.” Sparing a glance down at the board, he moved Logan’s queen. “Checkmate, by the way.”

Logan blinked once, as Maya floundered to see a way out. Edward grinned, tucking his e-reader into his pocket. “You can’t do that, Ed! He never would have thought of that!”

“It’s my job to guide you, even if sometimes it means I have to put you in your place.” Rising from his seat, he rubbed his knuckle on Logan’s head, who simply grunted in annoyance, resetting the board. “I suspect our newest member has gotten himself into some kind of shit by now, since it shouldn’t take an hour to fetch some coffee.”

“It’s a big ship, he probably just got lost.” Logan replied, as Maya sighed and rose from her seat. “Aren’t we playing another?”

“Nope, Ed’s got me going to find Roger.” She ran her hands through her short black hair for a moment, as Ed fixed her with a look.

“I never said to.” She jabbed an accusatory finger into his chest, earning a grin. Despite her apparent sourness, she smiled good naturedly.

“I can read your face like a damn book, Ed. ‘Oh, Maya, be a dear and fetch the poor boy for me?’ It’s written all over your sorry mug.” She threw her hands up in mock surrender. “I’m just too nice for my own damn good!” Ed snatched her empty seat, watching her punch the door access panel. “And for the record, those low cut shirts were not purely professional, Ed.” The corporal rolled his eyes as the door hissed shut.

Logan shook his head in amusement, moving one of his pawns forward. “I wasn‘t aware your face spoke like some old British man.” A few moves passed in companionable silence, before Logan spoke again. “A private match though? Does that even really count?” Edward was silent for a moment, before a wry smile stretched across his face. There was silence between the two as slow realization dawned on the private’s face. “You didn’t.”

“It was one hell of a private match.”

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Roger Pollard sat lazily on one of the spare fuel units in the shuttle bay, sipping at his lukewarm coffee as the technicians went about their regular maintenance on the Kodiak’s. Rubbing a hand against the short brown stubble that wrapped around his chin, his jade eyes watched with feigned interest, even if his mind was on other things. Predominantly the boredom. So far, the Call of Victory had been about as dull as boot camp. It didn’t help that he’d been told nothing but rumours of how bloody badass the Commander was, constantly heading into the fray. Disappointing didn’t even really sum up his feelings about the giant floating tub. Even footsteps to his right drew his gaze, and the private grimaced at the sight of Maya Salazar. “I was hoping you wouldn’t come after me for at least another ten minutes. Circle back around and then I’ll come along willin-ow!”

Hoisting him up via a vice grip on his ear, Maya smiled, although it wasn’t exactly the most comforting thing he’d ever seen. “How about we go now, mmkay?” She released him, grinning all the wider as he muttered a few swears under his breath.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Save it for the officers, Roger.” She snorted. “Hell, you probably don’t even need it for them.”

“What about dear old Leo?” The man’s reputation had preceded him enough that even the relatively fresh private even knew he was and what he was like.

That gave her pause, and she scratched at her neck awkwardly. “Good point…why don’t we wait a bit before making enemies of the command staff? Much better suited to a Monday.” The marines started back the way Maya had come, travelling silently before Roger decided to break the ice.

“We’ll need to hit the mess for more coffee.”

“Procrastinating already? Oh, Ed is going to love you to pieces.” They rounded the corner and started down the hall towards the lift. “Have you heard the rumour kicking around?” Roger shook his head, stuffing his hands in the pockets as they boarded the lift. “Apparently we’ve got some high ranking brass on board.”

“Great, more people with a stick up their ass.”

“Captain Horn.”

Roger blinked once. “Wait…ain’t the Commander Horn?” Maya nodded with a knowing smile. “So then who the hell is…oh!”

“That’s the thought.”

Roger sighed, leaning on the railing as the lift rumbled to life. “Well, that’s just charming. Daddy comes to see his baby and we all get our heads torn off in the process.” Maya laughed, thumping the private on the arm.

“Daddykins is just worried. You’d be the same way if you had kids.” The lift opened, and the marines disembarked. “Assuming the rumour is true. Gossip isn’t exactly reliable.”

“Like the shit I’ve heard about our armourer? A half-breed krogan with territory issues and arms the size of me.”

“That TJ chick?”

Roger blinked in surprise. “Chick? It’s a woman?” His mind immediately began conjuring an image of what such a thing would look like, and he mock-gagged. “I’m avoiding the armoury.” They entered the mess moments later, noting the bitter moods of the few crew kicking around the area. A few muttered words about a Captain were heard, but other than that, no real clues materialized. “Maybe we should hurry back…”

“I’m inclined to agree.” They wasted no time filling up the cups of coffee for Logan and Edward, before grabbing their own and heading down the corridor towards the crew quarters. “With a little bit of luck, we’ll be able to slip into the room without running into this Captain.”

“Fortunately for you, I’m a lucky guy.” Roger winked as they rounded a corner, only to come face to face with a slab of a man decorated in more medals than either had fingers. There was a brief moment of silence as the marines craned their heads to look up at the rough face, before both visibly swallowed at the disapproving glare on the man’s face.

“What was that about being lucky?” Maya hissed under her breath, quickly shoving both her mugs into the private’s arms and snapping a salute. “Sir!” Roger swore, setting the mugs down carefully before mirroring the action.

The Captain returned the salute. “At ease.” They obeyed quickly, watching as he gave them both a slow once over, eyes narrowing when he finished the impromptu inspection. “Judging by your posture and your physique private, I would suggest more time in the gym, and less time in the mess hall.” Roger didn’t dare break the man’s gaze.

Operative Invaru, appearing from behind the massive Captain, spoke quickly. “Sir, these are Private Pollard and Spec-”

“I don’t care about names, only performance. I’m not liking what I’m seeing.”

“Sir, Private Pollard is a fresh recruit. He’s only been in active service for as long as the Call of Victory and a large portion of his training was dedicated to Kodiak piloting. Lt. O’Ryan will have him up to speed ASAP.” Maya spoke quickly, but in a respectful tone he’d never really heard the usually rough woman use.

The Captain’s gaze shifted to her. “Are you trying to make up excuses for the Private here, Specialist? If he needs you to stand up for him, then you are only solidifying the fact that he needs to train harder. Operative Kelly, continue with the tour. We're done here." He moved past them, the marines parting to let him past. Operative Invaru followed behind silently, and Roger bit his lip long enough for the two to get out of ear shot.

Once they felt safe enough, the private growled. “When his ship crashes because his pilot is too much of a roid monkey, I’m going to piss on his grave.” Maya patted his shoulder.

“I don’t think the Commander will appreciate that.”

“If the Commander is anything like his father…”

“Stuff it. Last thing I need is one of the vets hearing you trash talking and putting you in the Med-bay. Grab the coffee and let’s get moving.”

“Yes, yes, poor little Roger can’t fight the big bad marines.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” She grinned as the private retrieved the mugs. “Can’t have someone breaking your precious little face before I do.”

“You’re all heart, Maya.”

The setting changes from the-call-of-victory to The Vindicator

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar

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Characters Present

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

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“Checkmate.”

“…I fucking hate this game.” Roger threw his hands up in defeat, glaring darkly across the table at Edward. “I’m here to shoot things, not point little men around in some shitty board game.” The corporal shook his head, taking a sip of his coffee as the private continued his ramble. “When am I going to need to know the number of moves these things can make? Or about castling? When?”

Maya thumped him lightly on the head, before resting her coffee mug on it as a makeshift coaster. “Haven’t you ever seen a holo-vid? Many a brave hero has been saved by his ability to stay one step ahead of his enemy.” The private glared darkly, trying not to move so the coffee on his head didn‘t spill, although his lips twisted in a crooked smile.

“Ah yes, holos, the best source of life experience in the galaxy.”

Lifting her coffee from his head, Maya nodded. “Damn straight, and don’t you forget it.” Shoving the private roughly from his seat, the woman sat down across from her corporal, grinning wide. “Alright, Ed, I think it’s time for a rematch.”

“Somebody’s confident. What’s the score again?” Ed winked, earning a glare from the medic. Neither heard the tell tale hiss of the door‘s hydraulics. “Ah right, 30-6. My favour.”

“Pride before the fall!”

“Another time, Specialist.” The marines looked to the door, and Lieutenant O’Ryan stared back. They wasted no time jumping to attention and snapping a salute, which the officer quickly returned. “At ease. “ They complied instantly, as O’Ryan continued. “We have an upcoming mission, and you’re the team I’ve chosen to deploy. We have just less than two hours to prepare, and you each need to be briefed and prepped for special equipment use.” They nodded in understanding. “Head to the armoury immediately and retrieve your equipment, then report to the hangar. Operative Invaru will brief us on the details when we’re close. Corporal Stevenson, I‘ll need to speak with you over some of the equipment details.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” They chorused, and the lieutenant turned on his heel, leaving them to their orders. Roger broke his stance first, grinning wide at the prospect of some actual work. “It’s about damn time we get to do something! I was worried we were just gonna sit on our asses all day!”

Edward shot him a sharp look, and the private chuckled nervously at the sudden intensity behind the man‘s eyes. “Stow it, Private.” That caught his attention far more than the hard look. “This will be your first real operation, Pollard, and our first time working with you, not to mention our first impression on most of the officers. Keep the attitude in check, and don’t do anything stupid.”

The young marine blinked once, before waving his hand dismissively. “Alright, alright, I get it. I’ll try to suppress the sheer badassery in my blood.” The Corporal simply stared, before shifting his gaze to Maya.

“Salazar, get these two in gear and combat ready. I’ll meet you in the hangar for briefing.” She nodded, and the two shared a salute, before he disappeared into the hallway with only the faint echoes of his even footsteps to mark his passage. There was a brief moment of silence as the Specialist turned to look at the privates, before Roger opened his mouth.

“Someone mind telling me what the fuck that was?”

Logan chuckled softly. “Ed’s a bit of a different person when it’s mission time. He likes it to be professional.” Roger muttered disbelief, but Logan clasped his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it too much.”

Maya leaned casually against the bulkhead, eyebrows raised at the privates. “You girls done gossiping, or should me and Ed just take care of the whole mission so you can do your nails? I can give you some pointers if you want.” Roger’s sourness vanished, and he shot her a winning grin.

“Please! You poor bastards wouldn’t stand a chance without me!”

Maya snorted, starting out the door. “Well then, Private Badass, I suggest we go get guns and armour, or were you planning on killing people with smiles and jokes?” Roger growled, starting after her, leaving Logan behind in the room. The man sighed, flicking off the holographic chessboard before heading out after them, following the bickering echoes.

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Maya frowned as the lift came to a halt, allowing the three marines to disembark. For the better part of an hour and a half, they had been going over their equipment and safety protocols for the rocket that had been lovingly strapped to each of their backs. She’d done some stupid shit in her day, but there was little appeal to flinging herself about the atmosphere with a rocket. Roger was thrilled at the prospect of blasting all over the place, disappointed he’d only be able to do it twice. It really shouldn’t have surprised her. In the brief time they’d gotten to know the young marine, he’d painted a rather clear image of himself.

Now, however, was a different situation. Ed and O’Ryan were nowhere in sight, so she found a comfortable spot near the Kodiaks and settled in. Roger and Logan spoke, or rather, Roger did, and Logan spoke a word of agreement every few seconds when the private paused for breath. They’d never served with him, and as enjoyable as he was off duty, this was his trial with the team. Ed wouldn’t take any reckless shit, not from a kid like him. He’d sooner leave him in the Kodiak and deal with the shortened man power. She smiled beneath her visor as Logan laughed at some comment he’d made. Still, he’d made it through Cerberus’s recruitment and training, so he had to have some potential.

She glanced over to the approaching footsteps, waving two fingers in greeting to the armoured figure she knew was Ed. “Nice of you to join us, boss. Have a good chat with O’Ryan?” The corporal came to a stop beside her, helmeted head staring out towards the rest of their team.

“Nothing special. Recapping a few things, safety protocols for joint use of these retro boosters, his accompanying us on this mission…” Maya sighed, dropping her gaze to the floor.

“That last bit was your idea of a joke, right?” His silence was answer enough. “Bloody brilliant. I’ve got nothing against the Lieutenant, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not going to make wiseass’s first mission any easier.”

“I’m aware, but there was little to be done about it. Pollard will just have to rise to the occasion.”

“And if he fucks it up?” He clasped his hand on her shoulder for a moment, before patting her shoulder and starting forward.

“That’s why I bring you along, Maya, to keep our asses alive.” She snorted, straightening out and following a few steps behind him.

“And here I thought it was for my charm and stunning good looks.”

“Sorry to break it to you, I know how fragile you are.” Ed spoke as they reached the privates, who looked to their leader expectantly. “You two all geared?”

Logan nodded, and Roger flashed a thumbs up. “Retro Boosters secure and supposedly operational, although who can really trust the functioning of a mini-missile strapped to your back, am I right?” Maya snickered, while Ed just shook his head.

“We wouldn’t put it on you if we were worried it’d blow up, Pollard.”

“That’s what you want me to think. I’m onto your tricks.” He laughed, rolling his shoulders and cracking his knuckles expectantly. “Just fucking around. I can’t wait to test this puppy out.”

Maya raised an eyebrow. “You do know we’re suppose to use these things in emergencies, right, Roger?” The young marine shrugged, lacing his hands behind his head with a cocky grin. “You’re a nightmare waiting to happen.” The specialist looked to Logan for a moment, who responded with all of his usual enthusiasm, which was to say, he shrugged. Returning the gesture, she fixed her gaze back on Ed “Well, boss, I figure you should know our load out limitations. We’re equipped with only standard stuff. Avenger rifles and Predator pistols. They wouldn’t authorize an M-77 due to the retro booster. Risk of it detonating the rockets or some such bullshit.”

Edward nodded in understanding. “Well, hopefully we don’t run into anything heavy down there that needs your…womanly touch.” Before she could reply, the lift opened once again, and Operative Invaru stepped out swiftly. They had barely even noticed the rest of the team wandering in, but they wasted no time focusing on the Victory’s commanding officer. Wasting no time, she quickly launched into the briefing. The moment she announced their objective, Roger gave an audible mutter of ‘Dah fuck?’, only for O’Ryan to silence any further comments with a sharp look. Logan and Maya shared a knowing glance, but said nothing.

Once it came to the environment, the inclusion of the retro booster made perfect sense. The entire place seemed like a death trap waiting for someone stupid enough to spring it. Unfortunately, they seemed to be those unfortunate nitwits. Regardless, if this was anything like they were describing, Roger would be getting to test out the retro booster. It wasn’t overly visible behind the tinted visor, but you could practically feel the grin beaming underneath his helmet. Lieutenant Harrens promptly explained their search plans, which weren’t anything overly fancy. Standard sweep, really.

With the threat of the ground practically blowing up beneath your feet.

“Yep, Standard.” Maya muttered, earning an elbow to the rib from Ed, and she obediently shut her mouth for the rest of the briefing. The mention of another Commander joining the mission peaked all their interest, curious to see who else was in the Cell they had just transferred to. After the few questions where addressed, the teams loaded into the Kodiak.

The trip was generally quiet, save for the odd glance between Leonard and Nerita, although most of Fire Team 3 could feel Roger’s eyes practically boring a hole through the alien’s head. After a few moments of it, she fixed him with a cool look that just screamed hostility. “Something on your mind, soldier boy, or do I need to remind you why I’m on this ship?” There was a brief moment of silence, before the young marine moved to respond, earning a prompt thump on the back of his helmet from Maya. He shot her a look, and the two shot back whispered insults for a moment before he sunk back into his seat with a grunt.

The ship touched down minutes later, and Lieutenant Harrens gave them a few minutes of prep. O’Ryan stuck near Harrens, and the fire team took the moment to talk.

“Never really though we’d be dealing with husks again.” Maya muttered, as they paced about the perimeter of their little LZ. “Got enough of these fuckers in the Eden Prime War.” There was a satisfying click as she popped a heat sink into her Avenger, a dark grin settling on her lips. “Still, won’t hurt to put a few more in the dirt, right, Logan?”

“Agreed.” He stared out silently at the barren wastes that had once supposedly been a beautiful garden world. There was a tragic beauty to the desolate ruins of where life should have teemed. “They deserve to rest, not pace the earth.”

“Save the biblical shit.”

Roger sat lazily on a rock, watching the two of them continue their little ‘patrol’, when he heard the footsteps approaching. “They seem pissy, boss.” He glanced up at Ed, although it was impossible to gauge his reaction with the tinted black visor blocking his face. “What’s got their panties in a bunch?”

“Not my place to really say, Pollard.” The Corporal met his gaze. “If you really want to know, ask Salazar when we’re done here.”

“I figured Logan would be the better bet. Maya strikes me as the type to ignore those questions.”

“She dodges, but do you find Fischer particularly chatty normally?” That gave the cocky private pause. “Thought so. Don’t worry about it for now, Pollard. Focus on the job at hand.” The young marine sighed, rising to his feet.

“You got it, boss.” Un-holstering his rifle from his back, he jogged over to his comrades, shouting for them to wait up. Edward watched silently for a moment, before looking towards the rest of the mission‘s team. Most of them were veterans from the Titan, save for O’Ryan, but the man had a reputation all his own. He’d not had the privilege of getting to know any of them, but there was little doubt that they were skilled if Lieutenant Harrens had chosen them as his fire team.

This was a chance to make a positive impression on him and Operative Invaru, plus their actions would speak as a representation of their fellow marines back aboard the ship. Swallowing, he approached, noticing the tell tale steak of a Kodiak shuttle descending from the sky. It looked like their support was arriving. Stopping just behind Lieutenant O’Ryan, Edward saluted before speaking. “Sir, it looks as though Commander Titus’s team has arrived.”

O’Ryan nodded, focused on Harrens. “We’ll move out now, Lieutenant. Good hunting.” Without another word, O’Ryan and Edward started towards the remainder of Fire Team 3, who had wandered a little ways ahead. O’Ryan wasted no time taking control of the situation the second they caught up. “Alright, we’re commencing the operation. Check your corners, and keep in formation. If you spot a husk, radio it immediately. No exceptions, no excuses, no bullshit. Understood?”

“Yes, sir!”

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The steady walk through the ruins was uneventful, to put it mildly. The sweep found no husks, but the constant risk had the team on their toes. 13 husks alone wasn’t much, but the prospect of getting ambushed by the robotic slaves was unappealing. Every now and again, O’Ryan would order a quick sweep of the few buildings still structurally intact, and the team would snap through the darkened hallways and crushed debris, but the search rarely turned up more than dust and salvage.

Every now and again a tremor would halt their progress, and the team would have to stay put until the earth decided to quiet down again. Ed’s worries aboard the ship seemed to be realizing, the very ground threatening to split beneath their feet and swallow them whole.

A few foot prints in the dust might have been husks, but the tracks always ended up leading deeper into the city. O’Ryan forbade them from trailing them, and the marines had returned back to the pre-planned route without delay. “Are there even any husks here?” Roger asked after what felt like hours of searching. “I mean, aren’t they hostile? You’d think they’d have at least thrown something at us by now.”

“As much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree with Pollard.” Maya looked towards O’Ryan’s position at the head of the team. “The husks I remember didn’t wait. They just came at you like suicide bombers.” Logan nodded in agreement, but the Lieutenant turned to look at them, his gravely voice harsh.

“Stow the chatter, marines. Focus on finding the husk.”

“Yes, sir.”

Moments later, the shit hit the fan. The ground began to shake with a fury that made the tremors prior look like a temper tantrum. Cracks split beneath their feet, and the team shared a look between them. O’Ryan wasted no time, motioning back from center. “Fall back! Move! Now!” He didn’t need to tell them twice, all five breaking into a sprint away from seemed to be the epicentre of the rapidly worsening quake. Once they had managed only a few feet forward, the buildings ahead came alive with eerie blue light, and they ground to a stop.

The first husk to break from the building was cut down in hail of rifle rounds, but the moment its body hit the dirt, a legion of the creatures erupted from their hiding places. No orders were needed, the team falling into positions, cutting down swathes of the husks as they sprinted across the wide terrain. “Remind me again, didn’t we check those fucking buildings?! I don’t remember any fucking blue glowey fuckers!” Roger popped his heat sink, slamming another in and firing a burst into a husk that reared close.

Edward grit his teeth, firing a burst through a husk’s head before shredding another with the rest of his sink. “Shut up and shoot, Pollard!” Before he could reply, another building burst to life, swarming towards their right flank. “Shit!”

O’Ryan’s voice boomed over their comms, even and firm, seemingly unaffected by the mob pressing in on them. “Fischer, Stevenson, suppress the right flank! Salazar, Pollard, keep the front! I'll support as needed!”

Maya left off a burst, back pedalling slightly as the husks drew closer. Roger took up his position beside her, unloading wildly down range at the Reaper slaves. “I don’t even need to aim! Eat it bitches! I got plenty for everyone!”

She grinned at his enthusiasm, chambering a fresh heat sink. “Hey, Pollard!”

“What?”

“Fifty Credits says I get more than you!” He popped a heat sink, looking at her incredulously. “You’re keeping count, right?”

“No, but I’ll still take your money!” The two bumped fists quickly to seal the deal, before opening up with a renewed vigour.

Edward laughed over the comms, kicking a husk back from his meagre mound of cover. “They need to get their priorities straight.” Logan grunted in response, slamming the stock of his rifle into a husks face.

A shuddering groan echoed through the air, and the marines looked up at the teetering building looming over their head. The earthquake seemed to only be intensifying, and the once great sky scraper groaned louder, wavering on its aged beams. “Oh shit.” Ed had to agree with the quiet man's assessment.

“Fall back! NOW!” O’Ryan didn’t need to repeat himself, the fire team firing off a few more rounds before hurrying down the route they had originally planned to take. The supports gave out, and the super structure toppled, the looming shadow falling over the retreating soldiers. Each searched for all the speed they can muster, but the plummeting building threatened to crush them all. “Retro boosters! Go, go, go!”

The near simultaneous sound of the boosters charging filled the air, nearly drowned out by the groan of metal and screeching husks. Roger grinned wild beneath his helmet, slamming the launch key, only for the booster to lift him clean off his feet and tossing him forward. The others followed suit, bodies launched clear of the collapsing wreck as it buried their pursuers in a sea of rubble and debris.

Skidding to a stop, Roger wasted no time looking back towards the disaster that they had barely escaped. He laughed thunderously over the comms, as each of the team caught up and managed to stop themselves from pancaking into the ruins. “That was fucking awesome! Why the hell aren’t these things standard equipment?!” Edward panted slightly, staring back at the building that had almost become their grave. “Fuck it; I’m bringing this thing everywhere!”

“Cut the chatter, Private.” O’Ryan gave him a sharp look, and the young man winced visibly, before muttering something along the lines of ‘yes sir’. The Lieutenant took a moment to survey their surroundings, noting the lack of husks at the moment. “It seems we’ve got a moment of reprieve. Check your weapons, and heat sinks. Any injuries?”

Maya gave the group a quick once over, before shaking her head. “No injuries to report, sir.” She paused, as the Kodiak pilot’s voice came over the comm.

“Victory 3-2, incoming communication from the Call of Victory. It’s urgent.” The marines exchanged nervous looks, unable to shake the feeling things were about to get a lot worse.

Characters Present

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

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“Yes, I did sir. We’re moving now. Good luck.” O’Ryan cut the line, looking straight to Edward. “You heard it. Let’s move double time!” The fire team nodded in unison, moving quickly but cautiously towards the massive domes that marked the research camp. Gunfire echoed through the ruins around them, reminding each of the plights of their comrades fighting deeper inside the former Prothean city.

Regardless of their worry, they pressed on, but the absence of husks impossible to not notice. It was as if every single one of the abominations had simply vanished into thin air, but even without the mindless slaves, the city felt as if it was crushing in on the isolated marines. More than once, Roger popped off a few rounds into a lurking shadow, finding nothing but a twisted girder or pile of earth. The private panted heavily, eyes leaping to every angle of attack. “It’s way too quiet…”

O’Ryan didn’t even glance back, holding up a fist to signal a stop. Crouching down, they craned their necks to look up the slope to the research facility. The stretch of open ground, perhaps 30 feet or so, was littered with fallen husks, although mangled bodies soon started to mingle with the zombie fallen. Whatever guards the facility had seemed to have met their end, and the sole door that had protected the fragile contents was torn apart, a throng of husks pulsing around the entrance as they all tried to enter at once. “You were saying, Private?”

Roger chuckled humourlessly, his rifle trained on the abomination swarm. “How are we going to get through, sir?”

Edward stepped up slightly, sighting his rifle on the door. “I’ve got a surprise they might enjoy, Lieutenant. Concussive round. Should disperse them for a few moments to allow us entry. Only got the one, though.” O’Ryan nodded.

“That’ll do. On my mark, fire it straight for the door. Second he does, we go in. Thin them at the door.” Everyone checked their weapons quickly, knowing full well they likely wouldn’t get another chance once inside the facility. “Mark!” The round boomed as it launched, the marines breaking into a sprint the second it had left the barrel. Firing into the group, several fell before the bulk could even turn towards the new threat, seconds later the round clipped into one of the center husk’s chest, detonating in a flash of light that sent a hail of parts to pelt their armour.

O’Ryan hit the horde first, charging through the gap with his rifle barking shots every step of the way. Numerous as they were, the husks were notoriously fragile, shattering under the barrelling form of Logan, followed closely by Maya, thinning the flanks with feathered fire from her Predator, the heavy pistol punching holes clean through the robotic slaves. Edward was right behind her, laying down covering fire for the slightly slower Roger, who practically leapt over the encroaching horde to rejoin his team. Rolling to his feet, he and Ed poured fire backwards as they hurried into the building. “Fischer! Seal the secondary bulkhead!”

Logan wasted no time, sliding up to the control panel and dropping his rifle to the ground as his fingers moved furiously across the haptic keyboard. Countless lines of code flashed by his eyes, the tech specialist examining each rapidly before moving onto the next. The scraping screech of the husks drew closer, as Roger and Edward were forced to give more and more ground just to avoid being torn to shreds by the claws.

“Anytime now!” The corporal hissed, punching back a husk before blowing another’s legs off. It moaned, seemingly unaware of its injuries, crawling forward to attack again, only for the hydraulic hiss of the door to sound over the combat. The bulkhead slammed upwards, shearing the husk in half and taking the arms of several others off as it activated the locking mechanism. The team stared at the door silently for a moment, before breathing a sigh of relief.

“That’ll buy us some time,” Maya began, looking about the chamber they were in for any further hostiles. “But I doubt the other domes are gonna be much better.”

“Regardless, our objective is to secure as many of the scientists as possible, and escort them to safety.” He gestured towards the few rooms that the dome housed. “Sweep the area.” The marines complied without hesitation, and the lieutenant quickly opened the comm channel to the Kodiak waiting for them. “Lieutenant O’Ryan to Kodiak, come in.”

The pilot responded instantly. “Kodiak here, sir. What do you need?”

“Relay an order to the Victory; we need a secondary Kodiak on standby.” There was a moment of silence, before the pilot responded.

“Order away, sir.”

“Good. Do you have a vantage point on the facility?”

“Yes, sir. Those things are crawling out of every nook and cranny. There’s a landing facility on the northern side, but it’s covered in them. It’ll be the easiest extraction point, just needs to cool down a bit.” O’Ryan nodded as the fire team returned from their sweep, unfortunately empty handed.

“Get on standby. We’ll clear that zone out for you, and I want touch down the second it’s clear.” After the pilot gave an affirmative, he cut the line, and took lead of the squad once again. “Alright, we’ve got exfil coming but the LZ is hot. Fischer, we’re heading to the north side to clear it out.” Logan nodded. “Stevenson, take Pollard and Salazar and sweep as many of the domes as you can. Don’t risk it though. Be at the LZ in ten minutes, or I’ll come kick your ass there myself. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Let’s move!” The team split, Ed, Maya and Roger taking one access while Logan and O’Ryan hurried through another.

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The second dome was no better than the first, more dead scientists than there were husks. Once the sweep had confirmed all their fates, Edward lead them towards the third dome, a blood curdling scream greeting them the second the door hissed open. “Move!” Pounding down the corridor, they rounded it to find one of the scientists grappling with one of the deformed creatures, and a small swarm of the creatures barrelling forward to assist their kin in its bloody work. “Check your targets! Open fire!”

The first few husks dropped with little difficulty, before the others sensed the bigger threat and began their mad dash towards the marines. The avengers made short work of them at mid-range, but as the group reached them, the risk of friendly fire grew too great, and it degenerated into a melee. Maya ducked and weaved, pounding armoured fists against the joints, knowing the husks to be fragile to trauma. Her experience rewarded her, knocking off several arms and leaving one unfortunate husk wide open for a brutal uppercut that sent it’s head sailing through the air.

Edward kept the offensive, driving his combat knife into every opening he could find, his predator barking whenever a shot presented itself. The husks scored several scrapes against his armour, but the Assault armour was tough stuff and shrugged the hits away with minimal damage.

Roger fought far wilder, no real style or order to his hits, just pure adrenaline powered combat. He kicked, elbowed and punched, dealing as much as he took, but ignoring any of the lucky hit’s they managed to land. Grappling with one, he slammed its head into one of the research stations, rewarded with a shower of sparks and husk bits splattered across his visor.

As soon as it began, the fight was over, and Edward wasted no time pumping the rest of his clip into the husk attacking the scientist. The woman collapsed backwards as it suddenly became deadweight, screaming as it fell atop of her lifeless. Roger promptly booted the corpse off her body, and pumped a round into it for good measure. One could never really be sure with husks. Maya knelt beside the woman, lowering the tint on her visor so the woman could see her face. “It’s alright, ma’am, we’re here. Are you injured?” She shook her head rapidly, eyes darting to the room behind her.

“W-we tried to hole up in the room when they got in.” She started to rise, Maya slowly guiding her to her feet, the woman wobbling slightly. “We have several injured.” Edward nodded to Roger, motioning towards the other rooms. “Can you..?”

“Don’t worry, ma’am. I’m a field medic. I’ll get them patched up.” Hurrying into the room, she grimaced at the sight. Two scientists sat huddled behind an over turned desk, pistols gripped in their shaking hands. One sported a nasty gash across the head, while a third lay silently behind them, their arm a bloody mess. Moving to the still scientist, she checked for a pulse, sighing in relief when she felt the feint thump of their heart. “I need to treat him immediately.” Pulling the small medical kit from its magnetic clamp on her back, she held out a roll of medical gauze to the others. “Bandage up that gash for me.” The woman nodded, wasting no time to do as ordered.

Focusing on the task at hand, the medic bit her tongue, retrieving one of the few medi-gel syringes and the other spare roll of gauze. The scientist was pale and gaunt from blood loss, and she doubted they would survive long without real proper treatment from an actual doctor. But it was her job to make sure they lasted long enough to get that treatment. Lifting the limb, she did her best to right the mangled bones before jabbing the syringe into the tissue and releasing its miraculous dose of medi-gel. How medics did their job before the wonder drug was beyond her.

She began to wrap the wound, but the sound of a single echoing gunshot drew her gaze to the door, eyes wide with worry. Had they run into a lone husk? Several more shots sounded, before the building fell silent, save for the distant rat-ta-tat-tat of automatic weapon fire from outside. The room was still for several seconds, before she opened the comm. “Ed? Roger? Everything alright?” Any worry was kept from her voice, but the scientists could almost see the way her body tensed beneath her armour, ready to move at the slightest provocation.

“Roger here. We’ve got a…” There was a muffled curse, but not of his usual type. “…got a dead one. Seems like he was the director. Dr. Kelton.” She sighed in relief, starting back on her work with the unconscious patient. The tension in his voice was palpable, and she tried to console the rookie marine.

“It’s alright, Roger. We can’t save them all.” It was quiet on the other end for a moment, before she heard a mutter of agreement. The medic frowned lightly, opening her mouth to speak, but Ed beat her to the punch.

“Alright, we’re heading back. It’s getting close to the deadline, and I’m not in the mood to piss of the Lt. Salazar, get the scientists moving, we’ll meet you at the corridor.”

“You got it, boss.” Slinging the scientists good arm over her shoulder, Maya hoisted the deadweight up, hauling the unconscious figure towards the door, the others falling in behind her.

“By the way, do they happen to have guns?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. We’re gonna need’em.”

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Ed hadn’t been lying. As they had regrouped, the previously sealed door to the dome had buckled, revealing a very pissed, screaming husk, whose head exploded promptly from a well placed predator round. Seconds later, everything went to hell. The door crumpled, and the husks barrelled in, but the corporal was faster. Ushering his squad through the other exit, he wasted no time dropping a pair of ‘presents’ for their guests. Sprinting down the hall, even he couldn’t suppress a grin at the satisfying boom that showered his back with bits. Spinning around, he sprinted backwards, firing bursts into the husks while periodically checking on the team ahead of him.

Maya pulled the unconscious scientist along, single handing her predator with a lethal accuracy. Roger lead the way, relaying on the stock of his Avenger more than the trigger, cracking any husks that got close away. The two marines worked in unison, Roger dispatching everything in a whirlwind of melee, with Maya picking off any that threatened his flanks. Every now and again, shouts of numbers barked over the combat, and Ed laughed over the comms, earning a few from his comrades.

The scientists, surprisingly, were actually helping out, even if their accuracy left something to be desired. Roger made sure to complain whenever one of the ‘nerds’, as he called them, winged his armour with a stray round. The pace was slower than they would have liked, but you couldn’t expect an egg-head to keep up with a marine. The door to the next door hissed open at the approach, a group of husks snapping their heads to look at the rapidly approaching private. They screeched, but Roger simply smirked beneath his helmet. “Face the wrath of Private Badass!” Drawing his Predator with one hand, he leapt towards the table that dominated the center of the room, covered in various pieces of equipment big and small.

He showed little care for the no doubt expensive materials, using his momentum to slide forward across the table on his back, Avenger spraying rounds one way while he focused more precision shots with the predator on the other. About the half way point, his slide ended, but he rolled to his feet and attached the pistol back to its clasp on his hip. Those husks that survived his initial assault pushed forward, prompting the marine to boot one straight in the jaw, detaching it with ease and sending it arcing across the room. The others opened fire without delay, cutting down the few remaining husks.

Roger laughed, striking a pose briefly on the table. “Nothing can sto-” He didn’t get to finish, as a grey hand coiled around his ankle and ripped it out from under him, sending him toppling to the floor. The husk, a legless one he now realized, wasted no time clambering atop him to try and attack the more vulnerable face. He managed to grip its wrists, preventing it from getting a swipe in, but also preventing him from retaliating. They wrestled for a moment, before the husk’s head jerked to the side suddenly, and it fell limp on his chest. Seconds later, a boot kicked the freshly dead-dead corpse off his body and Ed hoisted him up to his feet.

“Nicely done, Pollard.” There was some sarcasm to his tone, but Roger simply laughed in response. Climbing to his feet, he fell in behind the corporal, who opened the door leading to the landing pad and started down the hallway. Maya and the scientists were up front, but the group froze temporarily at the sound of rapid gunfire from just outside. Edward and Roger nodded at each other, moving past the worried scientists. “Salazar, keep a watch on the rear approach. We’ll support Lt. O’Ryan in securing the LZ.” The door hissed open, and the group squinted momentarily at the sudden surge of light. When their eyes adjusted, it took all Ed’s will to suppress a whistle.

O’Ryan and Logan stood practically back to back, forming a 360 degree circle that meant the untimely death of any husks foolish enough to press on their line. And press the husks did. Countless bodies littered the pad, and numerous thermal clips lay discarded amongst the fallen. Logan snapped his gaze to the door for a moment, nodding before opening fire on the encroaching husks once again. They needed no further notice.

Sprinting to their allies, Roger took up position beside Logan, adding his fire to the all ready impressive bullet rain the big man was laying down, while Edward took up arms beside O’Ryan. “You’re late, Corporal!”

“Sorry, sir! Had a run in with a few hundred of these bastards!” The Lt glanced at him, and Ed looked back. “Looks like you’re batting a thousand though, sir!”

O’Ryan pumped a burst into a husk, dropping it before it even neared the landing pad. “Fire Team 3 to Kodiak.”

“Kodiak, go ahead.”

O’Ryan looked out over the seemingly endless horde, his lips set in a thin line. “We’ve secured the LZ for the moment, but we need exfil ASAP.”

“We are Oscar Mike to your location, sir. ETA, two minutes.”

“What about Lieutenant Harrens?”

“Vindicator Kodiaks are handling it, sir.”

“Good, looks like we won’t need that second Kodiak.” He cut the line, before opening another to Maya. “Specialist.”

“Sir.”

“What’s our numbers and status?”

“We’ve got four scientists, sir, one heavily injured, and two others sustaining light injuries. Fourth only has superficial injuries.”

He nodded, letting off the last of his clip into a trio of husks, before popping the heat sink. “Get them out on the pad. They’re first aboard.” He slammed the clip home, noting grimly that it was his final one.

“Yes, sir.” The door to the dome opened seconds later, revealing two scientists hoisting a third as the fourth lead the way out onto the battlefield they were calling an LZ. Maya stepped backwards slowly, firing short bursts backwards into the corridor, trying to suppress the horde that had stirred within the research facility. “There’s no fucking end to these fuckers, is there?!”

Roger laughed, as he popped his Avenger’s heat sink. “C’mon, you’re not scared, are you? We’ve killed hundreds of these things already! What’s a few billion more?!” Despite the bravado, the private was visibly antsy, preferring to bounce about the pad instead of standing still. “Although a lift would be appreciated right now! I’m halfway through my last sink!” A husk leapt at the platform, and he unloaded into its head. “Scratch that. I’m tapped.”

Logan turned slightly, lobbing a sink to the private who snatched it out of the air and ready his rifle again. “That’s my last too.” He murmured, seemingly unphased as he turned back to his post and put another husk down. Maya frowned, but did little more than loose a burst into the nearest husk, biting her lip harshly. This was not her idea of a well run operation.

As the counter on O’Ryan’s rifle ran low, he glanced to the sky. The Kodiak swept in low, sweeping wide slightly to bash a few husks from it’s landing pad before opening its door. “Let’s move! Readings are picking up another quake!” As if on cue, the ground beneath them began to shake violently, earning a number of swears from the group. The scientists clambered aboard, gently seating their colleague down before strapping themselves in.

“Everyone on, double time!” O’Ryan back pedalled slightly, standing up on the hatch and laying down covering fire for the retreating marines. Logan was first in, followed closely by Edward. The ground beneath the LZ buckled, and the structure shook wildly beneath their feet. Groaning earth and protesting steel filled the air, and the pilot swore, veering the Kodiak upwards to avoid the crumpling landing pad. Maya pushed her body forward, adrenaline and training forcing her to go faster and faster as more of the landing pad shattered under the quake’s assault. Jumping the short distance, she half fell, half rolled into the open hatch, panting in relief as the Kodiak backed away a little further. A foul litany of curses filled the comms, as Roger weaved past the doggedly persistent husks and splintering metal. “I signed up to kill things, not outrun god-damn earthquakes! Be a hero to millions, not a fucking safety statistic!” He pumped his legs faster than he thought possible, eyes narrowed on the Kodiak hovering just up ahead. Every rumble threatened to be his doom, and the private briefly wondered how much it would suck to be buried underground with all the husks.

“Pollard! Booster! NOW!” Logan’s voice boomed in his ear, and the private swore under his breath. Aim the rocket on his back through a barrage of rock and steel to land in an opening maybe a few metres wide? He grinned wild beneath his helmet. If he was going to be pancaked by a rock, he might as well launch himself at it.

Pulling up the activate button, he took a steadying breath before slamming the key down, and the retro booster roared to life on his back. It flung him forward, bringing a primal yell from his lungs as the Kodiak grew closer and closer. Vaguely, he heard a mutter of ‘crazy bastard’ over the comm, before Lucr’n herself threw up on final protest to his escape. The ground erupted, shards of stone pelting against the hovering ship, and causing it to lurch upwards. “OH FUCK!” Flinging his hand up to catch the lip, the private paled as the booster faltered and died, his momentum slipping and his body dipped back down towards the ground. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!”

His body jerked to a stop, and he blinked for a moment before gazing upwards at the dark visor of his saviour. “Pollard, I’m going to kick your fucking ass when we get back, you psychotic Sonuvabitch!” Blinking once, he laughed at the concern.

“Why yes it is nice to be alive, thank you for the concern.” As they hauled him aboard, the Kodiak peeled away, hatch shutting just in time for them to fireworks from the Vindicator’s barrage. The detonations didn’t out of place at all on the violently turbulent planet below, and Fire Team 3 glanced between each other for a moment.

They couldn’t help but laugh.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard

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The firing range was mostly deserted, save for a lone marine, squeezing round after round from a Predator pistol through a series of targets. Ejecting a sink from the gun, he glanced up at the virtual display that clocked his accuracy. Seventy seven percent. A thin frown stretched across his lips. Grabbing another heat sink, he readied the gun, and tapped the restart button for the drill. It was a basic one. Simple humanoid targets would pop out of cover, and he had to drop them. The sink was drained before he knew it, and the display lit up with his score. Eighty percent.

Sighing, he reached for another heat sink, only to find the box he’d managed to talk out of TJ missing. Had the massive armourer had a change of heart? The thought of the massive woman actually managing to sneak up and grab the box without him noticing was a terrifying prospect. Nothing that big should move so quiet. Setting the pistol down, he turned to go look for the illusive box, only to find a heat sink staring him in the face. “You’re a pretty solid shot. But you don’t strike me as the type to practice, so why don’t you tell me what’s eating you?”

He chuckled, taking the sink and twirling it in his hand. “You aren’t the yeoman, Maya. I’ll be fine.” The woman shook her head, sitting up on the table for weapons as the private readied his firearm. “Shit, I barely know you and I already know you won’t ease off.”

“At least you can learn quickly.” Roger steadied himself, lining the sights and releasing a slow breath. “C’mon, we’re on the same side, Roger. I was right there beside you down there. Husks ain’t pretty, but you were dropping with a smile.” The two marines were silent for a moment, before the private hit the button, and started shooting. “What happened while you were off with Ed?”

He stopped in the middle of the drill, swallowing once, before firing again, his shot wide and missing the target completely. “We found the Director.” He shot again, eying the counter on his gun for a moment, shaking his head to clear his thoughts and try and focus. “He was…babbling when we entered the room.”

“His entire team had been slaughtered in minutes, Roger, can’t really blame him for being…loopy.”

“No, it wasn’t…he didn’t even seem to register that me and Ed were there. He kept mumbling, even as Ed tried talking to him. I couldn’t really make it out at first; I was kinda focused on not being mauled from behind by a husk.” Setting the pistol down on the small stand by his ‘lane’, the private turned fully to the specialist. Her hands propped up her head, elbows resting on her knees as her feet kicked absently, and for a moment, he smirked. If it weren’t for the stockpile of weaponry around them, they might have looked like regular people having a conversation. “Anyway, Ed tried getting closer, and he just suddenly went stiff, staring at us like we were something from a horror movie. He even tried to shoot Ed, but his accuracy was shit.”

Pollard glanced up at his score, noting the abysmal thirty four percent on the display. “I’m one to talk.” Maya chuckled, tossing him another heat sink, which he deftly caught out of the air.

“You just lack focus, young one.”

“Of course, sensei.” They shared a light chuckle, before the private continued his story. “At that point we were both a little on edge, and I had my rifle levelled on the director. He…I can’t think of anything to describe it as other than terrified beyond all reason. His clothes were soaked, and his eyes were like glass. He started screaming about furious gods, steel harbingers of extinction and genocide birthed from the depths of the void. Felt like I was in church or something for a moment.” He gripped the pistol, eyes downcast. “And then he just…”

He raised the predator, tapping it against his forehead and giving the trigger a squeeze. Maya leapt from the table, eyes wide for a spilt second, before her features darkened, the spent heat sink clattering harmlessly to the floor. Roger snickered, a playful smile on his lips. “You thought I’d actually shoot myself?” The specialist’s response was a furious straight to the eye, and the private toppled easily from the force of the hit. “Okay, suicide jokes, not okay.”

“Don’t fucking point your gun at your head, you Sonuvabitch!” She scolded, stooping over the private with a furious scowl. “I thought that thing was still loaded!” He raised his hands in mock surrender, and she gave him an enthusiastic charlie-horse.

“Easy! I got out of my first mission without any serious injuries; I’d like to keep it that way!” His smile was playful, and she chuckled despite herself.

“Fine. But pull that shit again, and we’re going to have a few rounds in the ring to sort your ass backwards sense of humour out, deal?” She held out her hand, and the private took it. After a quick shake, she hoisted him to his feet, twisting his arm slightly. “As for the deal about the director…we’re in a fucked up time, Roger. This shit isn’t gonna get any easier from here on out. If it’s fucking with your head this much, it might be worth seeing the Yeoman. It’s her job, after all.”

He winced. “If it’ll stop you from breaking my arm, I’ll think about giving her a visit, alright?” She grinned, releasing his hand and turning back to the weapon’s table. “Well, I think I’m going to go get some ice for my face. You don’t hold back, do you?”

“Not if you deserve it.” As he moved for the door, she hoisted an M-97 Viper off the table, and whistled. “Get back here. I want to see something.” Roger turned, raising an eyebrow at the weapon curiously.

“A sniper rifle?”

She nodded, walking over to the lane specifically for sniper use. “You’re a pretty solid shot. Eighty percent is pretty damn good for a rookie, even with an accurate pistol.” Jerking her head towards the range, Maya held out the gun to the hesitant private. “C’mon, where’s that Private Badass? Did we leave him on Lucr’n and get Private Pussy?”

He scoffed, striding up to her and grabbing the rifle. “Still your tongue, heretic.” The Viper was much heavier than his Avenger, and it took him a few moments to get use to the weight. Once he’d gotten somewhat of a handle on the gun, he settled into a kneeling position, and flicked out the bipod. Maya watched with an amused smirk as he fumbled with the set up, but his dedicated attempt was solid, despite his inexperience. “Okay…I think it’s ready.” There was a pause. “I think.”

“Got a heat sink?”

“Yep.”

“Safety’s off?” The private tapped the gun once, nodding an affirmative. “Alright. Let’s just see what kinda shot you can pull off, alright?” Pressing the key on the interface, a single target propped up, vaguely humanoid like the others. Roger released a breath, before looking through the scope. “Whenever you’re ready.”

After a few moments, Roger’s finger tensed on the trigger, before feathering it quickly, several cracks echoing through the range. He straightened slightly, looking up at the display as it called up a zoomed in image of the target. “I shot six times…” He murmured looking at the bullet marks.

“So, this bastard is…” Maya squinted. “Missing an ear, a nipple, a chunk of his shoulder, and most of his throat.” She glanced at the private, who lowered the rifle to the table. “4/6, and the fucker is dead. Not bad for your first time.”

Roger chuckled. “It’s not exactly my first time. I use to go on hunting trips when I was younger.” Maya nodded once, glancing up at the sheet again. She tapped a few keys on her omni-tool, saving the image before dismissing the firing range interface.

“Must have been fun. Family trips?”

“Yeah. My dad took me out.” He popped the half spent heat sink from the Viper, and tossed it in a bin for spent sinks. “Been years since I last went though.”

“Well, at least your aim hasn’t gone to total shit, right?”

He snorted in amusement. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” He paused, looking at her with curiosity. “I meant to ask, what brought you up here anyway? You’ve gotta have something better to do than track me down.” Maya shrugged as they opened the small door that lead back into the armoury. Neither spoke as they half tip-toed, half ran past TJ, who was focusing on whatever repairs had been required today. The rumours surrounding the woman had tempered most of the Victory marines enough to know not to really pester her for anything unless you really needed it. And if you really needed it, you went to ask O’Ryan for it.

As the door hissed shut behind them, the marines casually made their way to the lift, exchanging hellos with the few marines on guard duty around the CIC. “Believe it or not,” Maya began as they boarded the lift behind a pair of technicians. “I actually did come looking for you. Originally, I was going to hit you for that stunt you pulled on Lucr’n, but when I saw you on the range, I figured you needed to talk more than you needed a beating.”

He smiled lopsidedly, trying his best to ignore the fact that she had come solely to kick his ass. “Thanks. Believe it or not, talking did help a bit.” She nodded, returning the smile.

“No need, Roger. You’re part of the team. I’ve got your back through thick and thin. Same goes for Logan and Ed.” The lift stopped on the Battery deck, and the technicians departed. Roger got only a brief glimpse of the various systems before the door hissed shut. He’d never actually gotten to walk about the second floor, always being shooed away by one of the techs before he could even get through the first door. Apparently they didn’t want the marines accidentally mucking up something important.

“I’ll do my best to watch yours. I’m sure it won’t be too hard to keep an eye on you.” He grinned, and she thumped him in the arm playfully.

“Stuff it, Private.”

“Aye, ma’am. Stuffing it.” As the lift lurched to a stop, he stretched for a moment, before disembarking right behind Maya. “Oh, I meant to ask! On Lucr’n, you and Logan were…edgy. Like something was bugging you both. You two familiar with the planet or something?” She stopped in her tracks, glancing back at him with a mild look of surprise. “What?”

“I’m surprised you noticed. You’re more perceptive than I gave you credit for.” Ignoring his mutters of annoyance, the specialist ran a hand through her hair, sighing lightly. “Not so much the planet, Roger, as just husks in general.” Glancing about, she nodded her head towards the mess hall, and he followed her to a spare table. “We don’t talk about it much, and if Logan asks, I didn’t tell you, alright?”

“Well, he’ll probably guess anyway, but sure.”

“I’ll deal with it. Me and Logan haven’t been with Cerberus very long, actually. We were with the Alliance at the start of the Eden Prime War. The geth…well, they didn’t take prisoners for information. Anyone who went missing, it wasn’t much of a surprise to find bits of their armour on a husk during the next fight.” She grimaced, pinching her nose as if it would hold back the unpleasant memories. “It’s hard to look at a husk anymore without thinking about the fact that it use to be someone. Despite the name…there was still something to them, ya know?”

The private nodded slowly, as if he had difficultly understanding but was trying. Maya shook her head slowly. “Don’t think about it too much. If we’re lucky, we won’t be running into those for a long, long time.”

“I’d be fine with that. Those things give me the creeps.” He glanced towards the serving line, pondering for a moment whether or not to go get some chow. It was then that a thought dawned on him. “43.” Maya blinked once, before giving him a confused look. “You heard me. 43.”

“43 what?”

“I shot 43.”

Realization dawned on her face, and the specialist gave him a tiny smile. “You actually fucking counted?” She shook her head incredulously as he nodded enthusiastically.

“We pounded on it, that bet was made legit.” He stretched out, lacing his fingers behind his head. “And since you forgot to count, I suppose that means you owe me fifty credits. I’ll take it right now, if you don’t mind.” He held out his omni-tool, waiting for her to grab her credit chit.

“47.”

It was his turn to be surprised. “You’re making that up. That’s a straight up fucking lie. You didn’t count!” Maya waved her finger in his face, fighting off laughter at his protests. “Prove it!”

“I didn’t ask you to prove yours.”

“But!”

“I didn’t say anything because I figured you wouldn’t want to lose. Since you’re being such a good sport, I’ll take it right now.” He opened his mouth several times to protest, before slumping onto the table and fishing through his pocket for his credit chit. He held it out to her, but as she reached for it, another hand swooped in and snatched it. Both glanced up to see Logan tap it against him Omni-tool. “…what the hell are you doing, Logan?”

“53.” They stared up at him, and he smiled knowingly at them both. “Better luck next time.” The big man set down Roger’s chit, and glanced at Maya. “Where’s your share?”

She grimaced, reaching into her pocket. “Yeah, yeah…”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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As all the marines aboard the Victory, Fire Team 3 had it’s duties around the ship. Some days, it consisted of cleaning a certain section, be it the firing range, or the latrines, but most days, it was the relentless training and ass-kicking courtesy of O’Ryan. Then there was the rare day where they got to do something mildly important, and stand guard. As important as standing guard on a ship full of fully trained soldiers was, really. Still, it was better than cleaning up vomit from whoever had snuck a bad batch of booze aboard.

Today in particular, they had hit the proverbial jackpot. Tasked with guarding the bridge, and on a mission day as well. Maya and Logan took the far side, guarding the approach to the bridge, whilst Ed and Roger had the fun of watching the lift. Being his first real time on guard duty, the private twitched every time the doors hissed open, half turning to check it before Ed would still him with a subtle shake of the head.

“You going to panic every time that door opens, Roger?”

“What if there‘s a threat? My back is already partially to it, I’m not getting shot just because I didn’t take the time to look.” Despite their chatter, the two marines remained rigid in their posts, the intimidating figures of their assault armour looming over the CIC crew. The conversation was kept to private comm channels between the team, and helped keep the air of professionalism the job required.

They certainly didn’t need O’Ryan getting after them for chatting too much. “I’d like to think the average crew member isn’t going to be pulling a rifle on you.”

“They might pull a pistol.”

“Yes, but your armour will take the semi-auto rounds long enough for you to get your ass out of the line of fire. An Avenger on full auto would be an entirely different story.”

“You know…that doesn’t really assure me, Ed.” The corporal chuckled, shifting his gaze back to Operative Invaru’s hunched form as she oversaw the mission being conducted on the planet below. There was a moment of silence, before the chatty private spoke again. “So, what’s the job again?”

“Dear god, Pollard, shut the fuck up!” Maya’s voice barked over the comm, and the private visibly winced at the sudden yell. “Seriously! You’re worse than a woman!”

“You would know, right?” Logan’s deep rumble was a far cry from the ranting of his squad mates, and Ed could have sworn the man was trying to make a joke for a change.

“Logan, armour or no, I will hit you.”

“Alrighty, ladies, that’s enough.” The marines gave varying degrees of acknowledgement. “As for the mission, Pollard, I don’t exactly have the top level clearance to get the details.”

“Right…well, one of the Kodiak techs said only Lt Harrens and the blue bit-” There was a chorus of groans, and the private caught himself. “I mean…Nerita, got on the shuttle.”

“Two man team?” Ed glanced across the CIC, squinting pointlessly at the screens in an attempt to make something out. “If I had to make a guess, then it’d be a quiet operation. Can’t risk sending too many in, gotta be something valuable…”

The lift opened, and Roger once again half turned to check it, although this time, it might have actually been wise. Operative St Jean strode from the lift, and for all her composure, Ed could practically feel the bad juju radiating off the woman. He stiffened automatically, taking a cautious step forward while motioning for Roger to hang back.

“Operative Invaru…might I have a word, Ma’am?” St Jean’s tone was formal, but there was an edge to it, and Ed found himself hovering another step forward, noting in the corner of his eye that Maya and Logan were shifting slightly, gearing themselves for what might come.

Operative Invaru looked up, and Ed couldn‘t help but be impressed by the woman‘s seemingly unflappable calm. If he felt as uncomfortable as he did, there was no doubt she was aware of it. “We’re in the middle of a mission, Operative. Can’t it wait?”

“Not really, Ma’am.” St Jean moved closer, and Ed broke fully from his post, moving within reaching distance of the woman, visor locked on her back and Invaru‘s gaze. The slightest signal from her, and it‘d be go time. “Was it your idea or Daniel’s to leave me behind on this mission?”

“Be ready, people.” He murmured, and a chorus of affirmatives sounded across the comm, each marine watching the two with bated breath.

“It was mine, Operative. While I recognize that you are especially suited to this sort of mission, you just came out of Med Bay and haven’t fully recovered. I’m not about to have a repeat of what happened on Lucr’n.” The room was tense, and he found it a little stifling inside his armour. This was the issue with bridge duty, he mused. Something like this would never even get raised eyebrow in the marine quarters, but the second you add in a rank, everything gets escalated.

“That was a one-time incident. I’m fine. Daniel and Nerita need me down there.” It didn’t help that St Jean had a pistol at her hip. His eyes snapped to her hands as they tightened into fists, but they never made a move towards the gun.

“The first time is always a one time, that's why the second time is called a repeat. I understand and respect that you want to get back to duty, but, I am not prepared to send you back on a mission so soon in case you have a relapse. But, if Daniel decides to use you, I will back his decision to call you in on the next mission.” Whatever he had heard about Kelly was obviously true, he decided in that moment. The woman had a knack for speaking that made him feel like he’d done something wrong. And he hadn’t even done anything. “If there’s nothing else, Operative?”

Tia turned and left with bridge without another word, leaving the room to breath a collective sigh of relief. Staring after her for a moment, Ed half turned back to Kelly, who only gave him a split second glance out of the corner of her eye. It was all the dismissal he needed, and he promptly saluted and returned to Roger’s side. “Pollard.”

“Yeah?”

“Watch the lift for a minute.” The corporal walked away before the private could voice any protest, approaching the door that St Jean had left through. It slid open, and he entered slowly, visor watching the still form of St Jean just standing in the center. After a moment of silence, he flicked his external speakers on, and cleared his throat. “Everything alright, Ma’am?”

She turned to look at the marine with an angry expression, but it soon smoothed away. "I will be." She unclenched her fists with a visible effort, "I don't like being left behind. Not even a little bit. Those two saved my ass. I should be watching their backs." She turned to face the corporal and crossed her arms comfortably, "Right?"

Ed nodded once. “Nobody gets left behind, Ma’am.” He took an at ease stance, not eager to upset a superior officer, if she was one. Operative was a difficult title to truly piece into a command chain, so it was best to play it safe, rather than get an earful on insubordination. “If I may though, maybe this down time is their way of watching your back? I’d never take one of my team out if it meant risking their life on an injury, even if it meant I had a harder fight ahead of me.” He paused, before adding another ‘Ma’am.’

"Just Saint is fine. We aren't in the Alliance, anymore." It seems she had picked up on his attempt to be respectful. He let his body relax slightly, as much as his bulky armour would allow.
She nodded, "I know. I know. And Daniel would do just that. So would Operative Invaru and for that matter, maybe even Nerita." Her smile flashed momentarily. "Doesn't mean I have to like it." She jerked her chin toward the bridge, "Better get back. I'm fine. I'm not in the habit of attacking my crew mates in anger."

“I didn’t think you were the type, Saint, but it never hurts to be cautious.” He extended an armoured hand to her, smiling beneath his blackened visor. “Corporal Edward Stevenson, 3rd platoon, Victory Company. A pleasure to properly meet you, Saint, instead of going off the few rumours the Titan marines are willing to share.”

Tia took the offered hand easily. "Good to meet you, Stevenson." She smiled a little sadly, "There aren't many Titan Marines left to spread rumours, I'm afraid." She released his hand, "Heard good things about your crew."

He stepped back slightly, nodding once. “Sorry to bring it up. The Titan was a tragedy. The entire reason I’m wearing this armour instead of a lighter make is due to that, actually. Command deemed it best if we wore the best armour whenever we needed armour. Hopefully save a few extra lives.” He chuckled humourlessly. “As for what you’ve heard, I just hope we can live up to the billing. There’s quite a few greenhorns on this crew, and they’ve still got some growing to do.”

He turned towards the door. “Speaking of which, I best get back to my greenhorn and make sure he’s not having a heart attack every time someone visit’s the bridge.” He pressed to fingers against his helmet in a casual salute. “It’s been a pleasure, Saint. I’ll see you around.”

Tia chuckled. "Catch you later, then, Stevenson. And good luck." She turned and left, as Ed opened the door back to the bridge and took up his spot near Roger again, who spared him a glance as he returned.

“What were you doing exactly, Ed?”

Switching back to the private comm channel, Edward shook his head at the question. “Getting to know a veteran, Roger. A handy thing. Maybe you should look into it? They can keep you from getting your ass blown off with a few easy pointers.”

Roger snorted roughly. “Yeah, that’ll be the day. I don’t need old people giving me pointers.”

“I’ll pass that on to O’Ryan then.” If the private’s head had turned any faster, he’d have gotten whiplash.

“You wouldn’t fucking dare!”

“Try me.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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Ed could barely react, watching Daniel toss Carly backwards while simultaneously kicking Tia away from the door. Stacked behind Carly, the corporal was the only one of the squad not tossed by the Lieutenant, but when he turned his head to look at the LT, he caught the flash bangs nearly full beam, staggering backwards from the sheer intensity of the charges crashing against his senses. Partially blind and his ears ringing slightly, he scrambled backwards, tripping and stumbling over his own feet.

Disoriented, he still recognized the sound of rifle fire, and these sounded a rank or two above the Avenger’s that the guards downstairs had been using. He felt a hand grab his cuff, and tossed him further down the hall, dumping him unceremoniously on the ground as the heavy bark of a Carnifex echoed in his ears. Ed remembered at some point he’d seen Tia with an SMG, meaning his rescuer was likely Carly. “What’s the sit-rep?!” He half-yelled, still unable to get rid of the ringing in his ears. His vision returned, and he could see the barely contained fury shaking the younger woman’s frame as she traded shots with their assailants. “Sit-rep!” He repeated, thankfully he’d kept his on Carnifex in all the confusion.

A round clipped the door right near his head, and Ed needed no more prompting to get even lower to the floor and get some use out of the makeshift cover Carly had fashioned out of the door. She was furious, and he tried to yell over the roar of gunfire.

“Keep your head! We’ve got no shields or armour! One of those hits, and you’re not getting up!” She was swearing, crushed short sounds that he wasn’t even sure were actually words, but she kept her head down. Ed spared a glance across the hall, noting Tia had taken a similar defensive position opposite them. Their position was terrible, and they were most definitely not equipped to be fighting…

He peaked out for a split second to catch a glimpse of the white and blue armour of their ambushers, ducking back in when one of the barrels snapped towards him and tore up the spot his head had been not a second ago. The design was unfamiliar to him, and he swore mentally at the lack of equipment preventing him from getting at least a goddamn picture to show the brass. Blind firing wasn’t even an option in this position; they’d just take his hand off. The soldier was keenly aware of how terrible their position was, and something in his shoulder area was stinging like hell, but he didn’t check, knowing full well he could manage until he saw the full extent of the injury later.

The second the gunfire stopped, Carly was off like a rocket, with Tia hot on her heels. He pushed off the floor, hoisting himself up to standing and hurrying after the two. Ed ran at an admittedly slower pace, barely reaching the team before Carly smashed herself through the doorway like a furious Krogan. Whatever training they were putting her through was working rather well.

Training or no, though, they weren‘t fast enough, and Ed could only stop and watch the ship containing their commanding officer soar off into the sky. As an alarm began to blare over the city, he joined the others on the edge, swallowing a knot in his throat at the sight of countless Kodiaks mounting their troops and prepping for dust off. They were going to be swarmed in minutes.

“What do we do, Corporal?!” The desperate edge in the private’s voice was painful, and he barely managed to glance at her, thankful the mask still hid his worried face. Tia was all over Carly before the corporal even respond.

“What do you mean ‘What do we do’? We go after Daniel! We can’t leave him here!” Ed looked at the two for a moment, before turning away and walking towards the building. He stayed silent as his mind rolled with what their next move should be.

The marine in him was roaring at him to get the Lieutenant back, to save the man who’d saved them all from the ambush. The survival instincts were screaming back with the need to ensure their own damn survival first. The relentless back and forth was maddening, but as he looked at the others in his peripheries, the leader in him made its opinion known. He tapped the comm. “This is Ground Team. Need immediate extraction at Exfil Alpha.” He paused for the slightest moment, answering the question before it was asked. “Lieutenant Harrens has been captured by an unknown hostile force. I am assuming temporary command. Exfil Alpha, I need you here yesterday. How copy?”

“Oscar Mike to Exfil Alpha.” He nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat and forcing everything down to appear in control. He hoped it showed as he glanced back at Tia and Carly.

“Prep for extraction. We’re leaving.”

His voice was stone cold, unflinching and not welcoming any challenge to his decision. One set of footsteps moved to join him, and he paused as he awaited the inevitable dispute. “We are not leaving! So long as Daniel is out there, we are not extracting!” He turned, eyes hard behind the mask, as he walked a few steps towards Tia, daring her to step up.

“And do you have a plan for dealing with dozens upon dozens of trained Alliance marines in full body armour with assault rifles? Cause I would love to hear it!” His tone was even and authorative, tinted with just the slightest waver hinting at the barely constrained emotion. She, however, was more than happy to get in his face, stepping right up close, imposing and intimidating.

“No damn it! I don’t have a plan! We don’t leave men behind! We can’t leave men behind!” The corporal reached up, tearing the mask off and sending it clattering across the roof, face grim and eyes blazing as he brought himself even closer.

"Sometimes, you have to leave men behind! We don't always have a goddamn choice! The Lt gave the order to fall back, and I am following that order. He sacrificed himself so we could get out, and I am NOT about to throw that away! We're extracting and that's MY call. If you don't like it, then I'll pull goddamn rank! Fall in line before I make you!" He threw it at her, everything he felt and then some, hoping the furious emotion would break her resolve, but the operative remained unflinching. They stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, before Carly’s voice sounded across the heli-pad.

“Corporal! Operative! We don’t have time for this! The Alliance is going to be on top of us!” She was right, and he knew it. They needed to go, but he couldn’t break from this stare down. His spine was thick, but Tia might as well have had one made of pure steel. His head screamed at her to just buckle, so that they could go, so no one else had to die. His eyes just tried to glare holes through her head. “We can fight later, right now, let’s get out of here!”

Carly pulled on them both, and Ed winced silently at the sudden jerk of his shoulder. He followed Carly dutifully; half-dragged by the younger woman’s brisker pace. Once inside the Kodiak, they were unceremoniously shaken as the shuttle peeled away from the rapidly approaching hostile, not to mention armed, Alliance Kodiaks. As they climbed into the atmosphere, the corporal swallowed dryly, not even daring to look at the others as he leaned his head against the door of the shuttle.

They’d missed the targets. They’d walked into an ambush. They’d lost their commanding officer and had almost risked the entire ship with their, HIS, delayed call of exfil. The failure left a bitter taste in his mouth, and the fact that there was literally nothing they could have done only reinforced the feeling of uselessness that hung over him like a shroud. “I’m sorry.” It was a whisper, but he was sure in the silent passenger cabin, it had rung clear all the same. Ed tapped his head against the cold metal, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to ignore the damn throbbing in his shoulder.

The shuttle docked, but the team could barely move before they felt the powerful ‘lurch’ of a FTL jump. It’d be minutes before they’d reach the mass relay, but with luck, the Alliance wouldn’t have scrambled in time to make any attempt at interception. The shuttle opened, and Ed found himself only a few feet away from the last person on the ship he’d wanted to see. “Operative Invaru.” He saluted, ignoring the pain the rigid posture put on his injury.

“Corporal Stevenson.” He’d heard the woman talk a few times before, but there was something unsettling about the flawless neutrality right now. There was none of the undertones he remembered, the little things that compelled you to think the way she saw fit. It was cold, he decided, and suppressed a shiver. “Go to the Med-Bay and get your injury treated. I want all of you in the briefing room for debrief in twenty minutes.” She looked to each of them momentarily to ensure they understood, before turning crisply on her heel and boarding the lift.

If the others said anything, Ed didn’t hear it, moving soundlessly forward, eyes downcast. He heard slightly hurried footsteps following, and held up a hand to silence anything that they might have had to say. Casting a glance over his shoulder at the slightly worried face of Carly, Ed gave a weak shake of his head. “Save it for the debrief. I need to sort my head.” The private seemed to understand, lips settling into a thin line and nodding.

The lift slid open, and there was a brief pause as he just stared at the empty lift for a moment. The light blood loss made him feel sluggish, and part of him still wanted to look at the damn injury and see what exactly it was. Running a hand through his hair, the man hit the button for the Crew Deck with a strike from his fist, leaving the silent gaze of worried comrades behind. The moment he did, he’d feel the full brunt of it.

He chuckled humourlessly. That’d make a good lesson for Pollard. The lift opened, and he disembarked, bee lining straight to the Med-Bay, ignoring the few curious glances from the marines stationed on deck. As the door hissed open, he was mildly surprised to find Maya standing silently at one of the stations, watching as Dr. Grass looked over the still form of Commander Horn. Ed was silent for a minute, letting the two continue, before Lincoln’s eyes snapped over to him in his peripheries. “Maya.” The specialist glanced up from her station, blinking when she saw Ed in the doorway.

“Oh, Ed. What’s up?” She glanced at his shoulder, making a face that was somewhere between disgust and annoyance. “Nice. Didn’t think to slap some medigel on it?”

“We didn’t really bring any. Hindsight.” The short clipped tone he spoke in, immediately told something was seriously wrong, and she crossed the room quickly.

“I’ve got him, Doc. You worry bout the boss.” Lincoln nodded once, seemingly satisfied with the field medic handling the injury. Maya gestured to one of the tables, and the corporal sat down on the edge with a wordless grunt. He felt a little light headed, but Maya soon appeared with the solution, frowning heavily at the bleeding tissue. “Your good luck holds out yet again, Ed. Sliced through a few layers of skin, but that’s it. Gonna sting,”

He nodded, and gritted his teeth when the syringe dug into the damaged skin. The cooling rush of the cure-all made him sigh slightly in relief, and Maya smiled down at him. “Thanks.” He muttered, returning the smile half-heartedly.

“You alright, Ed? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Sorry, Salazar. I think it’s classified.” The use of her last name sent the message, and the medic stepped back to let him up, brow creased with worry. “I need to get to debrief.”

The woman nodded once, patting his good shoulder. “Sure. I’ll be here afterwards if you need to talk or anything, alright?” Ed simply nodded, turning on his heel and heading for the door. Dr. Grass once more glanced up from his work.

“Don’t go saluting anyone till the medigel sets, soldier. I can’t have you burning through all my supplies for some formalities.” Ed waved a hand in acknowledgement, as the door hissed shut behind him. Maya looked back at the doctor, who shook his head at her. “Congratulations, Maya, you know how to use a medigel syringe.”

She snorted. “Thanks, Doc.”

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

Ed was the last to arrive to the briefing room, although not by much. He had stopped briefly by his room to change back into his marine casuals, mostly to avoid reeking of coagulated blood in front of the brass. As the door opened, he stepped inside, standing a rigid attention when he sighted O’Ryan and Operative Invaru. To his credit, he didn’t salute as the doctor had ordered, but he maintained the strict stance that the Lieutenant had drilled into his head.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Ma’am. Sir.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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Like a hammer to an anvil, the music blared in a furious roar over the rather densely populated training room of the Call. Most of the marines did their routine without pause, ignoring the screeching instruments and howling vocals in languages no one present could even begin to identify. Some, however, sent furious glares towards the source of the blasting noise, squatting on a stool in the center of the sparring ring with the telltale glow of an Omni-tool illuminating her features.

Sweat stained the dark grey of her tank top, black straps of a sports bra barely visible under the loose fitting shirt. Tight shorts adorned muscled legs, and a light cloud of smoke hung around her figure, obscuring her ever so slightly. Deep red hair hung loose around her face, shading deceptively gentle eyes that sparked with mirth as a lone figure stormed up to the edge of the ring, shouting to catch her attention. “Hey! Turn that shit the fuck down!” Rolling her head lazily, the woman grinned lopsidedly at the young man, glowing end of an electronic cigarette dangling from her lips.

“I don’t hear any shit.” She paused, fake realization lighting up her features. “Oh, you mean my music.” Rolling the cigarette about with her tongue, she mused on his words for a moment or two, before shrugging. “Eh. I like this track. Maybe when it’s done.” Laughing at his displeased growl, she winked cheekily at the pissed off soldier, turning her back to him without another word.

“Don’t fucking turn your back to me!” He roared, grabbing the ropes and hauling himself to the outer lip. As he moved to climb into the ring, she held up a finger, waggling it back and forth. He growled like a dog with its hackles raised as she warningly looked over her shoulder again.

“One chance, Greenknee.”

“The fuck you calling Greenknee?!”

“You come in this ring; I’m throwing your ass out of it over the top rope. Jump down and go work out with your buddies.” Despite it being a warning, her teasing laugh only seemed to spur him further into anger, and the ‘Greenknee’ stepped through the ropes without hesitation. The woman laughed, straightening fluidly and tossing her stool out of the ropes with a deft flick of the hand. Muscles tightened and stretched along her back as she cracked her shoulders, before pointing a finger at one of the marines sitting just outside. “Feldmann!”

The man glanced up at his name, before sighing heavily. “Ring out. No breaking bones. Ring ring, fight’s on.” He shouted loud enough to be heard, making the coming brawl ‘official’ She smiled in appreciation, winking at the exasperated marine before turning to the charging man with a laugh far too happy for a fight.

“Let’s dance, Greenknee!” The man’s charge was easily side stepped, and she swiftly tripped his leg with a subtle jerk of her leg. He stumbled to a stop, his opponent strolling casually along the edge of the ring, pearly whites on full display as she watched him. He moved in, slower this time, hands clenched into fists as he stalked towards her.

Coming to a stop, she motioned for him to come closer, and he lunged in with a haymaker. She deftly sidestepped, deftly trapping his wrist and bicep in a vice grip before tossing the man with his own momentum clear over her shoulder. He slammed against the thankfully padded ring with an echoing thud, and she sighed in seeming disappointment. “You can do better, right? Show me the guns, Greenknee.” He rolled to his stomach, quickly moving to pick himself up, but she didn’t seem fond of that idea.

The kick to the jaw snapped his head back with a lovely crack, but she wasn’t about to relent. Gripping the man by shirt, she hauled him up to his feet, stepping back to avoid his flailing attempts to hit her back. A few teasing jabs to the chest got him stalking forward once more, and the fake pout on her face kept the anger in him already boiling. Walking slowly backwards, she beckoned the marine with her fingers teasingly, until she found herself too tight to the ropes. “Oops.”

He grinned with bloody lips, leaping forward to take advantage of her perceived mistake. His grapple met thin air, but a deft strike to the stomach forced whatever air was in his lungs out. Before he could sort the attack, her hands dug into his skull, driving it without hesitation into the corner post. “I was hoping for better.” She sighed, let him fall from her grip before pushing his body under the bottom rope and letting it fall to the floor below. Placing her hands on her hips, she gazed down at the unconscious man before the awkward clearing of a throat drew her gaze to the other side of the ring.

“Uh…Sergeant Oberacker?” Roger stood on the outside of the ring, craning his neck to try and get a look at the unfortunate bastard lying on the ground behind her. “…please tell me you didn’t call him here as well.” The slight note of fear in his voice made Oberacker laugh, bouncing on the balls of her feet for a moment before crossing the ring with an extended hand.

“Nah, Private…” She paused, glancing back at the dazed body. “…Deckard? Deckard. Private Deckard didn’t care for batarian prog rock, and thought fighting was better than manners.” The young private blinked, eyes flicking over to her omni-tool which still blared the unceremonious cacophony that she was passing off as…music. Oberacker seemed to catch on, shaking his hand before turning down the riotous sound. “For batarian’s…this is progressive. Very progressive. Trust me.”

“I’ll…take your word for it?”

“Squinties ain’t good for much, but they make good fighting music, I’ll give them that.” The private climbed into the ring, watching her curiously as she retrieved her fallen cigarette. After a moment of fiddling with it, she took a slow breath, smiling wide at him. “You’re a little late, Pollard. I had to entertain myself.”

“I’ll send Deckard my apologies…Maya held me up for some ‘tips’.” The redheaded sergeant snorted in amusement, smoke rolling from her lips as she breathed in the nicotine. “What did you need me for, anyway?”

“Straight to business? That’s no fun. We’ve barely said three words to each other before today, and you’re gonna play the serious card on me?” Feldmann laughed from the sidelines, no doubt having caught sight of the befuddled expression on the young man’s face. “Smile, Roger, it suits you better.”

His reply was slow, and deliberate, as if he expected O’Ryan to leap out at him at any moment for being ‘casual’ with a superior officer. “I…thank you? Aren’t I suppose to….I dunno, act serious?” She fixed him with a look, and it made him feel like he had missed something important.

“By all means.” She stepped up close, and despite standing even with her, Roger felt small under her smirking gaze. “But don’t think it’s gonna get you anywhere quickly.” Oberacker slapped his cheek lightly. “I’m a Sergeant First Class, and I forget to iron my uniform most days.”

Feldmann snorted from the sidelines. “When you actually attempt to wear it.” She shot the man a pointed look. “Just making sure the boy knows his facts. Can’t have you twisting his innocent mind with your honeyed lies.”

Oberacker laughed, flipping the bird at his back. “And the day we find an innocent marine, I’ll eat your boots, Ken.” Feldmann waved dismissively over his shoulder, and she turned her attention back to the confused private. “Now then, I called you here for a reason. First things first, whatever ‘tips’ Maya gave you, forget them.”

“Ma’am?”

“Roger, unless brass in in earshot, you call me Ma’am or Sergeant again, I will hit you.”

“You’re as bad as Maya…” He trailed off, as she paced across the ring lazily. “So, Oberacker then? Or should I never address you by name? She-who-shall-not-be-named?” She blew a light cloud of smoke, staring out through the observation window for a moment before replying.

“Sparrow.”

“Sparrow.” He repeated; as if to test it out, ensure nothing bad would happen after uttering his superior’s name aloud. It was almost funny how hesitant he was to say it. “Alright so, Sparrow…why should I forget everything Maya told me?”

“Because I’m better than Maya is, and her close-combat style is garbage.” Sparrow frowned over her shoulder at him. “I’ve noticed you say her name just fine. Trying to make me jealous, Roger?”

“What..? Wait, no! Hey, hell no! She’s on my team, so I know her on a first name basis! Same with Logan and Ed! Maya, god n-” The devious smirk on the Sergeant’s face made him stop, squeezing his eyes shut. “…I walked into that.”

“That you did.” Seemingly content with her teasing, Sparrow clapped her hands together, signalling a more focused conversation. “Now then, as Platoon Chief, I have access to your training schedule, and couldn’t help but notice you were going to be having some sparring time with Edward today.”

“Yeah, we were supposed to.”

“Well, seeing as Ed is shitty in hand to hand, and Maya’s got him booked in with Franks, I’ll be taking over your advanced hand to hand training for today.” She smiled, flicking off her cigarette and tucking it behind an ear. “We’re gonna see how well you do, and I may just take it over completely if I think you’re not up to snuff. Once I figure out what you‘ve got to work with, we‘ll refresh whatever needs refreshed, and then get into some fun stuff.”

“Careful. The amount of times Maya hits me in a day, you’d think I’m an addictive punching bag.” He joked, cracking his knuckles hesitantly as the woman in front of him busied herself tying her hair up into a messy ponytail to keep it out of her face. “Wait, Ed‘s going to see the Yeoman?”

“He’s being too angsty, so Maya booked him in.” When Roger opened his mouth to continue, she held up a finger for silence, and he snapped his mouth shut. “Good boy. Let Ed get himself taken care of. I’ll take good care of you, I promise.” She winked playfully. “It’ll only hurt in the good way.”

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Of his many traits and flaws, one thing Edward always was, is punctual. To anything, even if he didn’t want to be there, if he was supposed to be there, you could expect Ed to be there. Walking silently down the hall, eyes focused on the steady march of his feet, Ed did his best to keep the displeasure off his face. If marines and techs stepping out his way was any indication, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Beside one of the hall’s myriad identical doors, a small glowing panel read Yeoman Franks, and the corporal slowed to a stop in front of it. For a moment, he just stood outside the door, hand raised to knock. The temptation to just turn and walk away was growing with every passing second, but before he could act on it, the steady knock of knuckles against steel announced his presence. It was silent at first, before the door hissed open and the yeoman called him into the room.



Crossing the threshold, the marine looked at the yeoman seated behind her desk, eyes focused on the data pad in her hand, head nodding slightly to the beat of the old, ambient rock music filling the office. She didn’t look up, and he made no move to leave the entrance, at least not until she finally tapped a key and looked up to him. “Ah, Mister Edward Jonathan Stevenson, right on time. Have a seat.” The use of his full name earned a raised brow, but he obeyed regardless, sitting in one of the twin reclining chairs she had motioned to. Yeoman Franks wasn’t as prompt, taking her time to let the song finish before flicking off the terminal and moving to the seat opposite him. After a brief pause, she spoke again. “Alright Ed, why are you here?”

The corporal responded automatically. “Specialist Salazar spoke with you and arranged this meeting, Ma’am. You tell me.” The woman smiled, taking a moment to tap a few things into the data pad on her armrest. The feeling of being observed unsettled him; that everything he said or did in this woman’s eye was being catalogued and analyzed.

“No, marine, you tell me. Your squad is worried about you and apparently your attitude has been anything but pleasant lately. So you tell me Ed...why are you here?" He crossed his fingers, sinking into the seat under her searching gaze. The inquisitiveness of her voice was prying, and he fought the urge to shake his head to dispel its effect.

“I’m fine.”

She laughed, and that got his attention back to her. She rose from the chair, gesturing to the door as she walked back to her desk. “Ok then Corporal, you’re free to leave.” He blinked in surprise as she turned her music back on, settling into her chair and going back to whatever she’d been doing when he’d first arrived. Slowly, he rose from the seat, watching her in his peripheries. She made no move to speak, and the corporal took the invitation at face value, reaching to tap the interface on the door. “When you see lieutenant Harrens, mention that I would like to see him"
.
And just like that, whether he knew it or not, she had him. “…what did you just say?” His body tensed, turning on his heel to fix her with a withering glare. Linda was already crossing the room, a resigned smile on her face.

"You know what I said, and it's because of your reaction..." She leaned over, tapping a few keys on the door that sent a small tone echoing in the room. "That you aren't leaving this room until I deem otherwise Corporal." Linda retook her position in the reclining chair, crossing her legs as she watched him. "Do you want to stop lying to me now?"


"I'm not lying." His eyes narrowed on the locked door, knowing full well he was stuck. "I'm fine."

"If you were 'fine', you wouldn't have reacted so strongly to one statement. You froze corporal; your tension was visible in every aspect of your body…” She motioned to his rigid stance. “...and your eyes are glazed over. Don’t make me dissect your mind like a mortician does autopsies."

"The only man not fine is the man who got left behind." He held her gaze, eyes sharp despite the dullness she noted. "Enlisted don't take responsibility, ma'am. Simple as that. I. Am. Fine."

She shrugged with a sense of casualness that didn’t do justice to what they were talking about. As if she didn’t care. "Then why are you?"

"Why am I what?"

"Taking responsibility...quite obviously I might add."

Ed fell silent, body rigid as if he was rooted in place by the door. His hands shook by his side, and his composure cracked for a moment as he rounded fully on the yeoman, eyes dark. "Because it was MY call! My decision! My choice! It was MINE to make, and no amount of bullshit I hear is going to change that fact!" His voice boomed in the closed room, echoing in his ears but despite the volume it still sounded weak.

"Yes, it was your choice." Nothing else needed to be said, the marine standing still as Franks tapped away on the data pad. After a moment of neither saying anything, the yeoman motioned to the chair in front of her. Ed took the seat, stiff and robotic as he moved. "Let me make myself clear Ed." She leaned closer. "My job isn't to tell you you made the right or wrong decision. It isn't to tell you that it was your choice to make or the man's next to you. I'm not here to blame you, put you on the spot, or even bother trying to understand why you’re so upset over one thing. My job, in this particular aspect of my career, is to help you move on and get past it." She paused for a moment, watching his eyes. "Do we understand each other?"


He nodded stiffly. "Good. Now...I want you to tell me the mission in detail. From the moment that you were chosen to the moment that you got back." Ed started slowly, recounting his selection for the mission, his preparation, even the doubts in the park and his talk with Carly. The fight was glazed over; sparing the yeoman the gritty details, save for the brief but frantic struggle at the top of the building.

As he spoke about his brief confrontation with Tia, he lingered, doubt lacing his words as he spoke about the decision but he kept his face neutral. Linda said nothing the entire time, simply making notes and positive nods for him to continue. When he finished, the marine sunk back into his chair, eyes watching his hands twiddle pointlessly.

"Alright." Linda leaned back in her chair, resting her chin on her hand in thought for a moment. "Tell me...was there possibly an option, any option whatsoever, to go after Daniel that didn't include putting not only you but also the others lives and the entire ship in danger?” He was quiet for a moment, not looking up from his hands.

“I…don’t know.”

"You don't know, so that's it Ed? Your problem is you don't know. You don't know if Daniel is alive or dead, and that's what I think is tearing you apart on the inside. So please, for both of our sakes, drop the marine hung ho bullshit that I see 24/7 on this damn boat and tell me how you plan to not fix the problem, but fix yourself."

"Isn't that your job?” His dry words did little to stop her, the yeoman simply continuing along as if he was being perfectly co-operative.

“My job has very loose guidelines on how it's supposed to be conducted. In the end, I could prescribe you with some sort of anti depressant regime which is what the other shrinks would do, but I find the lasting solutions are the ones that are created by the patient themselves."

"There's a very simple solution. Find the men who ambushed us. Shoot them all."

"Simple, sure but it won't solve your problem"

"Won't know that till we try."

Linda shook her head knowingly. "Oh yes we do know. If your problem is not knowing about Daniel, killing the people responsible and still not knowing will lead to the same situation just with more blood lust." She leaned in slightly, her tone more serious than before. "I've seen marines go mad when their friends went Mia, unable to deal with the fact of not knowing. Some of them just shut down, others went gun crazy and put everyone at risk through a show of stupid vengeance and self-entitlement. Guess which road you're starting to take."



Ed wasn‘t much for being stubborn, but her words echoed hollow in his ears. Gritting his teeth, the corporal murmured. “The road which puts the men who tried to kill us in an early grave, and that sounds like a pretty damn good road to me." She wasn’t about to give him an easy victory it seemed.

"And what happens to your squad Ed? What happens to any loved ones out there Ed? People try to kill you; us on a daily basis, it's what we signed for. Throwing your life away for one man who I understand you barely know...seems pretty stupid." His eyes narrowed, but he didn’t look up from his hands.

"Welcome to an army, Ma‘am. I fight to save people I don't know, and will never know. I am expected to lay my life down. We all know the risks. Don't try and lecture me on them."

"But I am lecturing you on them corporal. Because you seem to forget that we lose people every day. It is the job, it is our life, and it is something that a man who has to lead, bleed, and succeed against all odds should start seeing with his own two eyes."

"You think I haven't? You think I'm some greenhorn pissing himself over a corpse? I've dragged dead men off the field, I've lead my team to the best of my damn ability. But here I am, being told to get over watching a man who trusted me get dragged off to God knows where." His voice rose with each passing word, but his restraint kept him practically bolted to his chair, fists tightening till his knuckles were white. "You think people just forget that? You think we make a pretty little plan in our heads and we get all better?"

"No I don't. You've made good progress today, Ed." Whatever he’d been expecting, Edward hadn’t seen that coming. She smiled, making a few final notes on her data pad before setting it aside and focusing on the confused marine. "I believe you’re a good person Ed, with a bit strong of a moral compass. Come back tomorrow after you've thought about everything you've said in better detail."

He opened his mouth, but Linda was already moving back towards her desk, data pad tucked neatly under her arm and the slightest spring in her step. She enjoyed her work, he concluded, slowly rising from his seat with a light sigh. They’d done little, but, as much as he hated to admit it, simply speaking with her had already taken a load off his mind.

“That isn't an order by the way; it's completely optional...even if I do advise the visit." She tapped a key on her desk, the door’s interface blinking green as the corporal approached. “I’ll make sure Maya doesn’t book you in again as well.” She paused, glancing at a small alert on her computer. “Speak of the devil.” The door hissed open, Maya’s hand raised to knock and her eyes widening in surprise as Ed suddenly appeared in her field of vision. “Miss Salazar.”

The specialist nodded lightly at the yeoman, eyes darting over to the silent man every few seconds trying to gauge his reaction to the session. After a moment, he sighed heavily, giving her a slightly crooked smile that made her sigh in turn. “Thank god…I thought your first reaction was going to be taking a swing at me.” The corporal shook his head.

“We both know that’d be pointless.” He glanced over his shoulder, nodding in gratitude to Linda before stepping through the doorway and letting it close behind him. “You just here to check up on me, or is there a reason you came looking?”

“A mission, actually.” Ed stiffened at the words, and Maya quickly continued. “Not for us, Ed. For everyone.”

“The platoon?”

“No, I mean everyone. Titan Company, Victory Company, even the special ops people. If we can shoot a rifle, we’re getting boots on the ground tomorrow.” A chill rolled down his spine, already uneasy as to what sort of mission would need a small army’s worth of marines to achieve it. “Command doesn’t want to fuck around anymore, I think.”

“That or they’ve decided to start a small war. Does everyone already know?” Maya nodded as the pair started down the hallway in quick, synchronized steps.

“Yeah, Logan’s catching the tail end of an engineer pow-wow on GARDIAN systems. Roger…well, Oberacker has him in the med-bay.” The venom in her words as she mentioned the platoon chief’s name felt like it could kill, and Ed bit down a half-hearted chuckle. “She got a little rough on him during her advanced hand-to-hand. One of his eyes looks like a plum. Lot of good that’s gonna do him tomorrow.”

“He’ll be fine. Grass will get it patched up and he’ll be fighting fit.” The corporal assured her, his tone even and resolute, as she’d come to expect from him when it was time to be serious. “I’m more worried about his head. It’s going to be big tomorrow, and he might not be ready.”

“I think that’s what we’re here for Ed. Keep his head on straight.”

“Let’s hope that’s enough.”

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Sitting in the Kodiak, feeling the shakes and bumps of the shuttle as it descended through the atmosphere to the planet below, Logan was silent. It was a word often associated with the large engineer, by the much more raucous breed of marines that often filled the ranks. In this Kodiak, and no doubt the other transporting the other half of Third Platoon, it was surprisingly loud for a group facing the brutal assault Command had planned. Raising his eyes from the floor, Logan gave the occupants a once over.

Edward stood closer to the door, conversing with Fire Team 2’s lead Feldmann, with Fire Team 4’s lead Ramirez listening to the two men talk. Of the four leads present in this Kodiak, Ramirez was the newest, but he was a compliant man and willing to listen when others spoke. Fire Team 1’s lead, Sparrow, stood just behind the pilot, watching out the front as they drew closer and closer to touchdown. Periodically, she’d glance over her shoulder, checking over those present, maybe even shouting something at one of them, before going back to her silent watch. He doubted the waiting was making this easier on the platoon chief.

Maya sat to his left, going over a few firefight tips with Roger and a few other young privates. Platoon 3 was the platoon with the most Greenknees, as Sparrow affectionately called them; tasked with getting them up to speed in the more abundant downtime they were provided. For most of the privates, this would be their first real combat situation, but they kept their spirits up, making bets and boasting to each other. Whether it was out of fear or confidence, Logan couldn’t be sure. He had little doubt he’d not seem some of them after today.

With that last thought, Logan uncoiled his hand, placing his fingers lightly against his right forearm, bowing his helmeted head as he did so. Breathing deep, he closed his eyes, the chatter and noise of the ship around him fading into the background. After a moment, he spoke in reverent whisper. “I bind to myself today – God’s Power to guide me, God’s Might to uphold me, God’s Wisdom to teach me, God’s Eye to watch over me God’s Ear to hear me, God’s Word to give me speech, God’s Hand to guide me, God’s Way to lie before me, God’s Shield to shelter me, God’s Host to secure me, Against the snares of demons, against the seductions of vices, against the lusts of nature, Against everyone who meditates injury to me, whether far or near, whether few or with many.” The ship gave on final lurch, as Sparrow’s voice boomed over the chatter.

“We‘re 2 minutes out! Ready up!” The passenger cabin filled with the flurry of last minute preparations, and the activating clicks and beeps of the marines’ weapons. Logan lifted his head, fingers not moving from his arm as his eyes lingered on each helmet one final time, before Maya’s own jutted down into view.

“You ready?”

Logan’s external speakers crackled briefly. “Christ with me.” Maya cracked a wry grin, pounding a knuckle against his helmet before handing him his M-8 Avenger. The engineer took it gratefully, rising to a standing position as the ship prepared to touch down.

“Well, make sure he brings a rifle too. We can use the extra gun.” Logan chuckled, giving his gun a once over before the final system boot ups of the group’s Cerberus Assault Armour finished. The room flooded with the blinking readies of HUDs, and Sparrow pounded her fist against her chest as she looked over the marines. They mirrored the action, and she wasted no time leading them out of the Kodiak as soon as its bay doors opened up.

The sight of over one hundred marines pouring out of their Kodiaks was a sight foreign to most of them, and a few even slowed in their hurried strides to gaze at the sheer number of them all mobilizing in unison towards their forward positions. Roger jogged lightly behind Logan, Ed and Maya moving in unison just ahead of the two. The younger private was uncharacteristically quiet, but before long his mouth came back enough to comment. “This place is pretty gorgeous. No wonder they built a base out here, no one would look for a weapon’s facility in paradise.”

“No one but us.” Logan remarked, and Roger picked up his pace to move beside the bigger man. “You ready for this?” The question was innocent, but the private diverted his gaze. Logan’s eyes never drifted from the front of his helmet, but it still felt like the engineer was watching him. “Doubt can be lethal, Roger.”

“I know! I’m just a little nervous, cut me some slack. These aren’t zombies, these are thinking people. Gonna be harder to kill is all.” His voice cracked slightly at the word kill, and Logan caught the subtle glance Maya cast back at the private.

“No Private Badass today, got it?” She called, and Roger nodded and affirmative, hands coiling around his Vindicator rifle tighter. “You’ll be fine, just keep your head down.” The medic smiled behind her visor, trying to reassure him. “I’ve got your back.”

As the pack of marines slowed, their conversation fell to the way side, and the air was still save for the pounding feet of countless men and women marching towards a death trap. Roger swallowed hard, fingers digging into his rifle painfully.

“Keep your head down. Just keep your head down.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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This many people weren’t supposed to be this quiet. Roger and the others were in roughly the center of the herd, but aside from the steady beat of dozens of footsteps, there was very little actually being said. No doubt the private channels were alive with pre-mission chatter, but there was that collective hush that came right before the bullets started flying. That was what unnerved the marines, and Roger found his hands shaking slightly, hidden by the bulk of his armour, but judging by the way Maya kept glancing back at him, she was very aware of it.

It made sense, when he thought about it. She’d mention once that, being a field medic, her suit had a few slight changes, linking her HUD with their vitals and likely with any of the marines in the local area. His heart was hammering in his ears, and there was little doubt she knew exactly why. The front of the herd began to climb up the sloped side of a small hill, and Roger grimaced at the prospect of running uphill in the slab of ceramic plate they called armour. Once at the top, the objective was laid out in all its glory, and the young private cocked his head to the side in confusion. “Huh…that…actually doesn’t look so bad.”

Ed nodded slightly at his comment. “And that’s what’s wrong with it.”

“Uh…say what?” The corporal glanced back, Maya turning with him to chuckle at Roger. “You guys seeing something I’m not?” The specialist shook her head, resting the visor of her helmet in her hand as Ed responded.

“Pollard, if you were expecting an assault, would you build fortifications then leave them empty for the enemy?” The private shook his head as the team lead continued. “That’s what’s wrong with it. Why build it and not use it? They likely already know we’re here.”

Roger looked back out at the trenches. “Well…I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.” Logan chuckled silently at Maya’s exasperated sigh, with Edward simply turning to look back out at the facility, right as Carson began to speak.

“Alright marines arm up and get your running boots on! Keep an eye on your squad, keep them safe, and stay alive. Let's go!” The man turned and started running down the hill, and Victory Company wasted no time following him down towards the base. The descent was silent; each marine focusing on the task at hand with the dedication that O’Ryan had spent hours pounding into their skulls. Even Roger kept his mouth shut, eyes watching the building as if it was going to rear up to kill them itself. As the first few marines crossed the threshold, there was an audible pop, and a blue ball flew above the facility. Roger slowed slightly to watch, only for a rough shove by Logan to stagger him forward.

“Move.” The big man didn’t even look up, practically pushing the smaller man along with the thick of his shoulder. The first of the nests rose from the base, and the engineer grit his teeth as the private stiffened in front of him. “Down!” With a grunt, he practically threw Roger the last few feet into the nearest trench, sending him tumbling ass over head into an undignified heap. The air burst to life with the booming rattle of machine gun fire, and Roger hauled himself upwards to look back out for Logan.

The engineer raced forward, rounds ripping up the ground around his feet and shredding his shields like they were made of cardboard. He grunted in pain as a spray clipped his shoulder plates, sending him into a slight spin that sent him sprawling into the dirt. Roger hopped up to the lip, throwing his hand out and gripping Logan’s own, bracing his legs against the side of the trench and pulling the man into the relative safety. They lay there for a second as the battle screamed around them, before Maya’s voice punched through the static. “I’ve got vitals flare! Logan, you alright?”

“I’m fine. Took a few rounds, but the squish suit’s got them sealed.” There was an audible sigh of relief from the specialist before the engineer continued. “Is Ed with you?”

The corporal responded. “I am. We must have gotten split up in the initial ambush.” There was a brief pause of silence as the thundering ring of explosions filled the air and Kelly’s command overrode the private squad chatter.

“Marines! The trenches are mined! I repeat, the trenches are mined!”

Roger swore colourfully as Logan did a quick check of their trench for any unwanted explosives. Satisfied they were clear; Logan opened the comm channel again. “That’s going to complicate things.”

A detonation sounded again, and Maya swore violently in the background of Ed’s comm. “We’re going to get slaughtered if we stay put. I’m linking a way point to your HUD now; we’re going to rendezvous with you and Feldmann’s team there. We’re Bravo Squad. Switch to channel SB-72T. How copy?”

“I copy. See you there.” The engineer switched comm channels quickly, immediately being buffeted by the calm shouts of ‘INCOMING!’ from Feldmann’s team. There was no time to react, as the trench filled with a plume of dirt and rubble from a mortar detonating above them. As the dust cleared, Logan swept the dust from his visor, giving the sprawled form of his trench-mate a light tap with his foot. “On your feet.”

Roger groaned, his head hammering from the noise of the blast, but he complied, staggering up into a low crouch. Logan wiped the smudge from his visor, locking eyes with the private as another series of mortar rounds detonated nearby. “We…uh…we need to…move up, right?” He muttered and stammered, eliciting a frown from his team-mate.

“We’re syncing up with Ed and Maya, as well as Fire Team 2. You follow me, you keep low, and when I say move, you run like the devil himself is on your heels. Alright?” Roger didn’t really respond, and Logan thumped his shoulder with a rough punch. “Focus, Roger, you focus on me. You understand?” After a moment of silence, the younger man nodded, and Logan peered above the lip for a moment.

The company was pinned all over, but there were fewer bodies on the ground than he’d been expecting. He spotted the sprinting forms of two marines, wagering it was Ed and Maya. He waited for a break in the fire, as the machine guns trained on a new target, before hauling himself roughly up the ledge. “Up and over, Roger!” He barked, and the private complied, scrambling up behind him and breaking into a low sprint towards the nearest trench.

“What about the mines?!” Roger whispered into the comms, and Logan simply retrieved a small grenade from his side before lobbing it into the trench. A moment later, their HUD blinked as several Cerberus IFFs appeared in the trench, before a resounding detonation engulfed the strip. They both dropped in seconds later, but the trench was devoid of bodies, littered with shrapnel but little else. “The fuck?”

“IFF grenade. A few of the engineers and me whipped them up before the mission. Usually meant for misleading, but they should be able to fool the mines detection.” The engineer sunk deeper into the dirt as the lip exploded under a salvo of MG fire.

“Got anything for those MGs?” The desperate tone of his voice made Logan chuckle humourlessly.

“If we were closer, I might be able to fire the heat sink for a few moments, but at this distance? We need a ML-77.” Roger groaned, sinking to his knees and resting his head against the wall. “The Mako might hit that one; just keep your head on straight.” It was then Feldmann’s voice came over the comm, slightly irritated as he spoke.

“Heads up people, we’ve got a few friends visiting from the Terminus.” Logan and Roger looked skyward, as a number of Eclipse Gun-ships appeared on the horizon. “Eclipse from the look of it.”

Carson cut through the chatter. “Missiles up people! Bring’em down!” There was a chorus of affirmatives across the open channel, and there was only a moment’s pause before a hell storm of missiles burst from the trenches. With every ship downed, the marines roared enthusiastically, but as the fourth claimed their Mako in a salvo of missiles, the chatter fell into a deafening silence.

Roger swallowed roughly. “What was that about the Mako, Logan?”

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The screaming wail of mortars rang in near perfect harmony, screeching over the constant hammering bangs of the MGs in rhythm that was both completely horrifying, and yet entrancing at the same time. Another mortar detonated inches from the trench, spraying the occupants with dirt and making the Greenknees hug the sides even tighter than should have been possible in their bulky armour.

Beside them, Sparrow sat, eyes closed as she hummed softly to herself, a strange tune of no real melody that almost tried to mirror the chaos raging outside their small little ‘fort’. Beside her, Ramirez was squatted; his back to her and eyes peering round the lip for a way up. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t finding any.

Sparrow cracked an eye, her visor tint having faded to allow the others to see her face, watching Ramirez for a moment. “You got a plan to shatter the entire enemy line yourself, Ramirez?” She asked, not even blinking as another mortar detonated a few feet away from their trench.

The man glanced back at her, face obscured behind his darkened visor, but she could gather the intent easily enough. “It’s better than sitting here getting shot at.” She shook her finger, slowly digging her heels into the loose dirt until they found purchase, before hoisting herself into a low crouch.

“They’ve built these trenches well, Corporal. It’s a kill zone, and it’s one hell of a kill zone at that. We may have cover, ignoring the mines, but we frankly can’t get anywhere with the amount of fire they’re laying down. The issue is going to be…” She paused, a mortar showering them in another spray of dirt. “…that we’re going to lose our patience. We’ve got no way to retreat without being sitting ducks for those guns, so the only way we can go is forward.”

“Which is right into their bullets.”

“Exactly. And while I’m sure the man in charge is hoping we don’t, but even if we do manage to pierce his defensive line, we’ve got an entire base to secure that’ll be rigged top to bottom in booby traps and traitors.” She chuckled for a moment, glancing over the Greenknees towards another trench. “Gotta admit, the bastard is one smart motherfucker. Shame we’re gonna kill him.”

Ramirez shook his head slowly, wincing as another barrage of mortars sounded around them. “You’re rather confident in that fact, Ma’am. Care to share why exactly?” The corporal poked over the lip, firing a burst from his Avenger before ducking back down before the MGs could train on his position.

“Because we’ve been backed into a corner.” She grinned savagely beneath her helmet, pulling her Mattock from its rest against the trench wall and settling her grip. “And that’s when you fight hardest. No way out, but through them.” She laughed again, deep and loud, although the noise was a little unsettling to the others in the trench. “My kind of fight! Get your asses up! We’re moving up, ladies!”

The Greenknees complied, hesitantly at first, but they knew better than to disobey an order from the Platoon chief, settling into a stance similar to her own. Ramirez locked eyes with her, and her grin only strengthened at the intensity lurking behind his visor. The man was placing his trust in her. She’d have to see it wasn’t misplaced.

“Feldmann!” She called over the radio, earning a near instant “Ma’am!” from the man. “I’ve got a favour and your boys are just what the doctor ordered!”

“All do respect, Ma’am, tell the doctor to fuck off! What do you need?” The static made it a little difficult to hear, but she paid it little mind, tapping a few keys on her personal omni-tool that brought up dozens of displays for the soldiers in her platoon. For a moment, she paused to examine the KIA statuses blinking for a few of her men, before she dismissed the majority of the beacons with the exception of Feldmann’s squad.

He was holed up on one of the flanks, with the rest of the ‘Bravo’ squad, composing of Edward’s fire team as well, who seemed to have gotten separated from each other. No matter, she mused, glancing towards the MGs with the best vantage on her position. “I’m marking some MGs on your HUD. Get their attention so Alpha can gain some ground.” She paused, before adding with a laugh. “And try not to get your wrinkly ass shot up. That’s the last thing Grass needs today.”

Feldmann laughed over the comm. “Will do, Ma’am. Try not to get those kids killed now. Not everyone is as tough as you.”

“They damn well will be when I’m done with ‘em.” Sparrow glanced back at the marines, flicking her eyes over each of them. The HUD wasted little time displaying their vitals and names as she looked to each, and she spared only a moment to commit each name to memory. “Ladies, Feldmann’s gonna give us a distraction! Now, I know you’re all probably a little freaked out by the amount of hell raining from the sky, so here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m going to go first, and you’re all going to fix your eyes on my fine ass, and follow it until I damn well tell you to stop. We clear?” The privates simply stared back at her, Ramirez snickering quietly. Sparrow simply shook her head. “Hand it to you on a platter, and you don’t even take it. Kids today!”

Two marines from Feldmann’s squad emerged from their trench, weapons blasting as Feldmann himself stepped up partially on the lip to fire off a rocket from the ML-77 at their unlucky targets. It took only seconds for the guns to divert their fire, and Sparrow wasted no time hauling herself over the lip. “Go, go, go!” She had barely gotten halfway to her target trench when the ground in front of her broke apart, a white coated mech rising fluidly from the dirt.

There was little point to firing so close, so Sparrow simply balled one of her hands into a fist and slammed it across the fragile screen that dominated the machine’s ‘face’. Feeling nothing, the VI was already reaching for its pistol, but the blunt stock of her Mattock promptly caved in it’s already weakened ‘head’, and it toppled over into a heap. The ground was seemingly falling apart around them, as more and more of the ‘sleeping’ mechs woke up, and she promptly recognized them as LOKIs. Before anymore thought could be given, Sparrow found the Mgs no longer distracted by Feldmann and turning back to the doubtlessly juicy target an exposed marine made.

She rolled to the side as the first gun opened up on her position, shields flaring as several rounds tore through the fringes of the barrier. She could feel the force as the rounds hissed by, and for a moment, she found herself thankful the MGs had a seemingly slow turning speed. The precious extra seconds she’d bought with her roll were spent scrambling behind a tank trap, although she was a little surprised when Ramirez fumbled into a nook beside her. “Good to see you in one piece, Ramirez. Where’s the Greenknees?”

“Back in the trench, Ma’am. Soon as the LOKIs showed up, I ordered them back.” She nodded, their position chipping and shattering under the powerful assault. The constant jabbering of the LOKIs echoed in the second long pauses between gunfire, and Ramirez braved the bullet hail for a moment to pump a round through one’s head, ending its blathering permanently. “I hate these things.”

“We’re in agreement then!” She jerked her head towards a trench to their right, and Ramirez nodded. “I’ll cover. Frag it, and then get in.” He complied, popping a grenade off his belt and lobbing it expertly into the trench, which sent the trench up in a brilliant burst of light. Sparrow stepped up, pumping round after round into the encroaching LOKIs, as Ramirez burst out beside her, firing his Avenger blindly into the mechs as he ran. He threw himself into the cleared trench with a grunt, and Sparrow was after him the moment he disappeared into the dirt.

She had fewer margins for error, the ground around her feet erupting in a hail of bullets that made the dirt uneven beneath her feet as she pounded across the small space. Her shields flickered, slowing the rounds as best they could but the sheer number of rounds quickly depleted them and her HUD blinked red in warning, but the sergeant ignored it, throwing herself into the trench with a pained grunt. She landed on the balls of her heels, rolling forward until she bumped into Ramirez, who panted with his back to the wall of the trench. “You know, these things aren’t overly great to run in.” He knocked his knuckles against his helmet as Sparrow laughed.

“C’mon, I’m barely even sweating!”

“That’s not helping your cas-” He stopped abruptly, tilting his head and gesturing towards her side. “You’re bleeding, Ma’am.” Despite the slight concern in his voice, she didn‘t seem overly worried herself. Glancing down at the area he gestured at, Sparrow was surprised to notice a small stain of red on the grime smeared white of her armour. A moment of careful prodding found the source or at least, the small breach in her armour that had been the source. Her squish skin had already patched the hole shut with a heavy dose of medigel, which combined with the adrenaline to make the wound’s pain all but non-existent.

“One of the LOKIs must have winged me. Impressive for one of those worthless VI.” She peered over at the base, gritting her teeth in frustration. They still had a good distance to do, and the constant alerts for injuries pinging in her helmet was a grim reminder of how limited their resources were. With the Mako slagged, there wasn’t many ways they were going to get themselves in range to assault without shredding eighty percent of the company. “We’re gonna need a small miracle to get up there alive…”

As if on cue, the horizon came alive, an echoing blast that thundered even though it was clearly miles away, a massive mushroom cloud of debris dominating the sky. She and Ramirez stared for a moment silently, before the man punctuated it with a well placed “What the fuck was that?!”

Sparrow held up a finger, as if she intended to speak, although it was a short minute before she actually said anything. “Either Logan’s imaginary friend decided to start pulling his weight…or someone in orbit is plenty pissed off.” Shouldering her Mattock, she gave the platoon status a once over before looking to Ramirez. “I’m not banking on any more help though, so let’s get moving. Line ain’t going to break itself.”

“You’ve got it, Ma’am.”

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High in orbit, Vala stared silently at the overlay of Ontarom, a small display on her Omni-tool rolling slowly through the same briefing that had been read to the marines before their mission. Every now and again, she’d pause, glancing about at the various technicians before resuming her watch of the overlay. It was pointless, had no function and was frankly mind-numbingly boring, but there was nothing she could really do to stifle the feelings of uselessness.

She’d paid Dr. Grass a visit a day prior to the mission, and the man had been more than content to poke and prod and test until he was absolutely confident that she wasn’t about to keel over or fall into a fit of spasms. With a relatively clean bill of health, and the sternest warnings that she should not, under ANY circumstances, be exerting herself for the next few days, he’d been content to let her wander the ship.

As if the flying tub had anything she could actually do to pass the time. Training outside of light cardio was forbidden, and after her first visit to the mess hall, she’d quickly reasoned that she’d not be visiting again while there were marines present. They were a raucous bunch, and her fragile head couldn’t handle their noise. She’d spent an hour lying in her room groaning last time, and she was not eager to repeat the experience. She paused at the thought. All of the marines had been mobilized for the mission, and most of the techs would be occupied during mission time.

She straightened, a light smile stretching across her face at the prospect of a nice quiet meal and turned towards the lift. She had barely taken a step when the entire ship suddenly shook with the force of impact, and Vala deftly grabbed onto the railing around the galaxy map to keep herself from being tossed to the floor. The overlay of Ontarom disappeared immediately, replaced by a small area view of planet’s immediate surroundings, and several small pings marking their previously unknown attackers in plain sight. Three icons, quickly identified as Eclipse, and marked as frigates, moved swiftly on the display, and Vala looked up towards the helm, noting the pilot’s hands deftly flying over the displays she could make out from the back of his chair. “Time to see what kind of guns this tub has…”

The EDI unit of the Victory, Nikki if she remembered correctly, came over the PA, quickly announcing “All hands, brace for impact.” Vala barely had time to grip the railing tighter before the ship shook violently under the punishing salvo from the mercs. Her arm stung from the force it took to keep herself rooted in place, her knuckles white from the strength of her grip. Hissing, she barely moved between the next set of salvos, trying not to be flung like some of the unfortunate techs.

The red warning lights blared, and she squeezed her eyes shut, wondering why they needed to be on in the first place. Anyone who wasn’t aware they were under attack at this point was a blithering idiot, and the lights weren’t going to help in the slightest. The techs moved quickly, shouting to each other and working at a blistering pace to handle the thousands of little things the ship needed done. The organized chaos of it all only cemented the tense feeling in her gut.

There was truly nothing she could do in this situation to help, either on the ground or up here in orbit. The utter uselessness was unwelcome, unpleasant, and at this point, far too familiar for her taste. As the Call began its hard burn, and the threat of attack faded, Vala didn’t release her vice grip on the railing, staring darkly into the display’s soft glow.

Everything was on their shoulders, and there was nothing she could do to change that.

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“Down, down!” Ed’s voice roared over the static filled comms, and Roger barely had time to pull his head down from the rim of their trench before a hail of fire tore the space he’d been occupying moments before. The private sat for a moment on his haunches, blinking slowly as the ringing in his ears slowly began to fade. He and Logan had managed to bound up and catch up with Ed and Maya, although the entire advance had stalled completely at this point, no real cover between the marines and the final defensive line occupied by, from what he’d seen, a small army’s worth of mercenaries and ex-Cerberus marines.

A rough shake rattled the private, and he sluggishly turned his head towards the source, startling back slightly at the unexpected proximity of Ed’s helmet. The corporal stared at him through their visors, and for a moment, Roger swore he saw the man’s lips moving. As the ringing faded, Ed’s voice, dulled by something he couldn’t quite place, managed to break through. “Roger! C’mon, private, we need your head in the game right now!”

“Y-yeah? What is it, Ed?” He mumbled hands slackening on his rifle as his team lead looked over his shoulder.

“Maya, soon as you get McCarthy stabilized; give Roger a minute or two. Combat-stress.” The private followed his corporal’s gaze, the HUD readout identifying Maya as she hunkered over the prone form of a seemingly unconscious marine, hands deftly working on a rather large wound that had seemingly mauled most of the man’s arm.

“Fuck! Talk to him! We can’t do jack-shit for combat-stress out here! Hendricks! I need your hands, get over here!” Another marine moved into view, crouched low as he stepped towards the combat-medic, but there was a powerful snap before he jerked and collapsed into the dirt, a spray of red splattering across Roger’s visor. Maya turned instantly, already hauling McCarthy tighter to the wall as she shouted over the comms. “Hendricks? Hendricks, get the fuck up!” There was a moment’s pause, and Roger stared in silent horror at the completely still body lying on the ground. “God fucking dammit! Hendricks is KIA and McCarthy isn’t going to be doing jackshit for us today!”

“Do what you can to get him comfortable, Maya, and we’ll mark the trench for Medivac.” The medic simply shook her head; fingers deftly dressing the wounds of her patient, as Ed shook Roger’s shoulder again, trying to pull the private from the body lying in the trench with them. “Look at me kid, c’mon. Don’t go tunnel vision on us.”

Trying to swallow the knot, Roger looked at Ed, but his lips fumbled for words until his stomach wretched in protest. His visor slid open instantly, the suit having detected the upcoming vomit, and the private fell forward onto his hands and knees, dumping the contents of his stomach all over the blood stained trench. Ed rubbed a soothing hand on his back, keeping the young man from moving too far forward and into the waiting sights of the hostile snipers. “F-fuck.” He breathed in between retches, and Ed chuckled humourlessly.

“Better to toss it up. Any better?” Fumbling back against the trench wall, Roger nodded slowly, diverting his gaze from the body as his visor once more slid closed to obscure his face. “Good. Maya how is he?” The medic wiped her hands on the legs of her armour, ignoring the grime that smeared her fingers as she did.

“As stable as I can get him without the Med-bay’s tools.” She glanced over, giving Hendricks’ fallen form a soft salute. “Was a stupid thing to ask. Fuck. Should have known better.” The bitterness in her voice was uncharacteristic of her, but Ed was quick to address it.

“We do the best we can with what we got.” He pointed up at the building, flicking his eyes over the others in their crowded trench. “And unless we get into that building, then Hendricks and a lot of other good men and women are dying for nothing. I need all of you on your A-game. Clear?”

“You got it, Ed.” Maya acknowledged, as Logan spared a moment to haul Hendricks’s into relative safety and retrieved the fallen man’s dog tags.

“Of course.” The large man murmured, before bowing his head as his hand tightened around the chain. There was a brief moment of silence, his lips moving in soundless prayer, but it passed quickly, the tags tucked away and his rifle readied once more for combat. His eyes drifted skyward, and the engineer quickly gestured upwards, the others quickly following and staring at the blazing fireballs falling from the sky.

Maya broke the stupor. “What the fuck is that?” As the debris crashed deep into the earth, there was only a moment of pause before the marines quickly noticed the large slab of metal now resting comfortably between them and the defensive line of the traitors. There was little hesitation as several other marines leapt from their trenches and swarmed up to the new piece of cover.

Logan looked to her, before answering in a soft tone. “His providence.”

Maya laughed lightly at the engineer, popping the heat sink of her Avenger. “Well, certainly beats a gun! Thank him for me!” Already the comms were filling with chatter of the possibility of assaulting distance, and the once desperate voices now had a hopeful, if not ecstatic hint of joy in their voices. More and more confirmations began to bark back and forth, and the LOKI mechs began to drop with more frequency at the marine’s growing morale. “Just the freak chance we needed from the look of it!”

Ed nodded, hauling Roger up into a low crouch like the rest of them. “We need some good luck, and Logan’s friend decided to provide. I’m not much in the mood to argue with the big man, so let’s make use of this.” He tapped his helmet twice on the ear, signalling for the others to switch comm channels, and the fire team joined the general channel in time for a rather boisterous declaration for Sergeant Oberacker.

“Ladies! The mercenaries are coming out of their hidey holes to play! I don’t know about you lot, but I think it’s about damn time we got some payback on these assholes!” Roger peered over the lip of the trench, spotting Oberacker’s marker on the slab of debris that had fallen, and he could make out a pair of glowing blades seemingly having grown straight out of her omni-tool, one attached to each hand. “So let’s show these traitors and guns-for-hire how a REAL marine kicks some ass! Victory Company!” The Sergeant rose in a fluid turn around the cover, driving the glowing blade into an Eclipse mercenary’s head with a brutal uppercut. “Let’s tell these fucks our motto! Cause we…”

“DON‘T GO DOWN!”

“TILL?”

“YOU’RE IN THE GROUND!” There comms filled with the echoing roar, and the trenches came alive as the marines surged over the barriers, barrelling forward to meet the Eclipse with guns and blades at the ready, a living tide that seemed to simply ignore the faltering fire of the MGs, unable to fire into the melee without risking a shot at their own men. Curses, swears and yelling filled the comm, and it was all Roger could do to keep pace with his team as they mounted the lip and rushed forward towards the melee.

The Eclipse mercs, to their credit, held their ground, seemingly unphased by the onslaught of furious marines, firing off incendiary bursts and electrical arcs of overload with impunity. Few marines even faltered under the attacks, the durability of their assault armour absorbing the damage with little difficulty, as they crashed into the hostile ranks.

Maya wasted little time clipping her Avenger to its magnetic lock on her shoulder, pulling out the Katana holstered on the small of her back with a sadistic laugh that betrayed her desire for some payback. She wasted little time blasting into the mercs, focusing on the thick clusters of them to avoid any friendly fire.

Logan was a different beast, using his large size and own tech talents to help support the fresher fighters that found themselves locked in with more experience mercenaries, distracting them with his intimidating size so the beginners might strike unimpeded.

Ed moved into the thick of things immediately, not even moving to holster his Vindicator, instead loosing point blank bursts into the exposed flanks of the mercenaries, and clubbing any stupid enough to engage him with the stock of the trusty weapon.

Try as he might, Roger couldn’t keep tabs on his fire team, eyes darting back and forth through the chaotic swirl of melee and HUD icons that sent his brain into a dangerous state of sensory overload. His Predator was held loosely in his grip, but anytime he dared to tighten it to shoot an exposed target, the pressing throng simply whisked it away again, leaving him stumbling and confused.

The edges of his vision blurred and darkened, and the tunnelled scope of his vision spotted a mercenary approaching the exposed back of a friendly HUD. His hands tightened on instinct, squeezing off a vicious burst that didn’t end until his gun was clicking with an overheated sink and the mercenary was dropping unceremoniously to the ground. Roger blinked once, hands slackening on the gun, transfixed by the fallen merc, unaware of the marine he rescued turning back towards him, hands encased in a familiar orange glow of an omni-tool, only shaped into short pointed blades made of seemingly nothing more than light.

“I…” The private’s gun fell from his hand, dropping forgotten to the dirt as he took a staggering step back, eyes dilating wildly as they focused, refocused, and blurred on the body. The one he’d made. He’d pulled the trigger, hadn’t he? He shook his head, falling back another step, eyes never daring to stare from the body. The marine was running towards him, hands outstretched, pointing at him. Accusation? He’d killed the mercenary. They all had! How could they blame him for one?! It was just one! Who were they to judg-?

The ringing bang shut his mind down, and his entire body stiffened before his legs collapsed from beneath him, landing roughly on his knees. Roger’s breaths shortened every attempt to breathe becoming a painful shudder that did nothing to ease his shortness of breath. A blur of motion barely distracted him from the sudden numbness spreading across his chest, his hand tentatively reaching across his chest until it found an unexpected indentation. There was a pause, before he pushed his fingers into it, nearly screaming as they dug inside, his body protesting with a violent spasm that sent him face first into the dirt.

His HUD blinked red rapidly, monitors blaring about his injury, but the private simply lay on his stomach, eyes hazily trying to stare into the dirt outside his visor. He lay there for what seemed like a short eternity, watching small granules of dirt dance and shake in the fury of battle that surrounded him, before someone gripped his shoulder and roughly ripped him over onto his back, the sudden motion snapping him back to painful alertness. “-oger! C’mon, Private, talk to me!”

He tilted his head the slightest degree, mumbling something unintelligible before gasping in pain at the agony trying to breathe brought with it. The marine above him was visibly relieved, and his HUD took a brief moment from its constant alarms to identify it as Oberacker. Coughing roughly, with a mind addled on adrenaline and endorphins, he still managed to choke out a weak “Ma‘am.”

“Formal even with a hole in your chest? Your mother must be damn proud.” She laughed, a humourless thing but he offered a weak grin to her attempt to joke. “Salazar’s gonna get you fixed up, Roger, alright? We just need you to focus on staying awake, no matter what. Can you do that?” His head lulled, rolling about, and the sergeant gripped the tip of his helmet to keep it up straight. “Talk to me, Roger, c’mon.”

“You…sure I can’t sleep..? I’m…pretty sleepy…” He mumbled, small surges of pain preventing him from really passing out, but Sparrow didn’t seem interested in trying their luck.

“You go to sleep; I’m going to make O’Ryan give you latrine duty for two months, Roger.” Another marine dashed up, tossing a shotgun over to Sparrow who snatched it out of the air and pumped the heat sink out. “Salazar, he’s got a hole in his chest. Eclipse bastard got behind him with a Predator.”

The medic nodded, already reaching for his arm to haul him up. “Up we go.” She grunted, as Roger’s feet fumbled beneath him for purchase, but she managed to at least get him standing as Sparrow took a step back towards the thick of the melee, pumping off a blast from the shotgun.

“Can you fix him?” The question hung in the air, before Maya began moving towards the trenches. “Salazar, I asked you a question. Is he going to make it?”

Maya turned back slightly, her helmet obscuring her face, but the intensity in her voice made everything perfectly clear. “I’m going to give him the best damn chance he has, but if we want him alive…” There was a silence, the two women simply staring each other down. “…those GARDIANS got to go, Oberacker.”

“Only a few dozen mercenaries to rip through.”

“Ed and Logan will be happy to help.” Sparrow said nothing more, already storming back into the fray as Maya dragged Roger behind the fallen debris from orbit, hunkering down with the few other marines who were trading shots with the MG nests and snipers. She laid Roger gently on the ground, touching the hole in his chest softly. “…all I have to do is keep you alive till they do.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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Combat had always held a sort of brutal thrill for Sparrow. True combat, anyway. She enjoyed sparring with the marines as much as anyone, teaching the Greenknees to fight dirty and intelligently, and making smug assholes squirm when she threatened to break something. It was fun.

But a life and death fight was a whole different kind of animal. No friendly pats on the back, no witty remarks, no blaringly obnoxious music unless you managed to start one in a club. It drew a line in the dirt, to kill, or be killed, and left you to it. The thrill of adrenaline pounding through her veins and her heart hammering in her head just made the cocktail of violence sweeter.

The Katana barked loudly, splattering the remains of a mercenary’s head across her visor and armour. A jovial grin stretched across her face as she pumped the weapon fluidly as it turned to the next victim, blasting another one of the mercs to bloody chunks as she caught his flank unaware. Her HUD blinked a quick warning that the Katana had overheated, and Sparrow spun it in her grip into a impromptu bashing stick that was quickly applied to the nearest helmet with an Eclipse ‘E’ on it.

“Ramirez! Where’d you get off to?” She barked into the general channel, and a quick flickering green display told her to switch to a designated channel, which she promptly did, while tossing the Katana forward as a sacrificial lamb to a looming incinerate blast. “Ramirez?”

“You rang, ma’am?” He replied, panting slightly and grunting with exertion from what she could tell was some thick fighting.

“Hopefully I’m not interrupting anything important. Hang on a moment.” The sergeant rushed forward a few steps, thicker into the throng of melee to grip a ballsy mercenary who’d decided to grapple with one of the younger privates in her platoon. The merc barely turned to address the threat before she drove her fist roughly into the side of his head, her omni-tool growing fluidly into a shimmering blade seconds before impact. Kicking the man roughly away, she gave the private a confident nod before gesturing to the fringes.

The soldier complied, heading quickly to the lighter fighting where his inexperience hopefully wouldn’t get him killed. Sparrow didn’t need any heroes today. The woman glanced back towards the trenches for a brief moment, brow creasing in annoyance. Any more heroes, anyway. The distraction betrayed her, instinct alone preventing her from being stuck by the vicious knife swipe from one of the more combat capable Eclipses. She stepped back, hands raised slightly as she watched the figure approach, their abnormally large helmet combined with the long lanky limbs made it a dead giveaway that it was a Salarian, and Sparrow’s eyes narrowed in anger.

“Ma’am? Are you alright? Ma’am?” Ramirez called in her ear, and Sparrow barely grunted in response, watching the Salarian spin his knife about in his grip as she cracked her knuckles expectantly.

“Ramirez, see if you and some of the boys can‘t make a push. I want that line broken. I‘ll be there in a minute.” She muttered, a dark grin stretched across her face as her opponent surged forward with speed only a Salarian could muster, knife slashing across the thick belly of her armour in a shower of sparks as she threw a vicious haymaker straight for the face. Her armour held, but the fist met nothing but air, the merc weaving low around the strike as the knife flew deftly from one hand to another, bringing it around to stab swiftly at the exposed back.

Sparrow turned with the alien, raising her arm to block the strike, barely even flinching as the knife dug through the soft gap of her armour and into the tissue beneath. She kicked out at its legs, but the Salarian relinquished its grip on the knife to leap backwards, Sparrow moving quickly in pursuit, lunging with a blitz of rapid punches.

The salarian’s speed made hitting it a chore, as the two weaved through the skirmish with lightning fast exchanges of kicks and strikes that were equally met with blocks and counters that did little more than tire them both. The salarian, impatient as to his species’ standard, wasted little time trying to give himself an edge, his omni-tool flaring into a brilliant sphere of pulsing electrical energy that arced dangerously off his armour.

Sparrow stepped back to dodge a sweep of the weapon, her systems jolting and flickering as a few arcs leapt from the sphere onto her armour. The mercenary wasted no time pressing his advantage, driving the fist at her like a ward to keep their distance while he swiftly retrieved the pistol clipped to his hip. Growling through her teeth, Sparrow sidestepped the next strike of the energy, feeling the pulse buzz and sting at the skin of her face through the helmet.

Her hand snapped upward, catching the salarian by the base of his omni-tool, and locking his arm with a deft twist in the crux of her arm pit. His gun snapped up to end the fight, but Sparrow countered quickly, her hand smashing the gun roughly aside as a round shredded along the top of her shoulder blade. She reared her head back before the pistol could be brought back into play, slamming it forward into the front of the salarian’s visor, which cracked from the force of the reinforced power of the assault armour.

The alien staggered back, Sparrow releasing his arm only to slam her elbow into the joint with a satisfying crack from the salarian’s weak bones. The mercenary howled in pain, only to be silenced by a powerful knuckle first back hand that sent him sprawling to the ground. His good arm grabbed at the ground to pull himself away, but Sparrow promptly stomped his wrist, pinning him in place with another shattered limb. She grinned predatorily through her visor, eyes alight as she raised her other leg up above the salarian’s head. “Bye bye.”

The crunch vibrated up through her leg and the sickly green splatter up her calf only made Sparrow’s grin widen, shaking a few chunks off her boot before turning back towards the thick of the melee, catching the leaping flight of someone in armour barely identifiable as Cerberus, her HUD quickly flashing the word Commander before they vanished from view into the enemies defensive line. After a moment of tight jawed thought, she pressed back into the fight once more, content to figure out who exactly was flying around once the immediate threat of mercenaries were buried.

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As the last of the Eclipse fell, Sparrow sat slightly hunched upon the freshly balled up body of some unfortunate mercenary that she’d deem worthy of being chair material. Her eyes were clouded in thought, watching as a few of the marines silently policed the dead for thermal clips, her back turned to the trench that had become something akin to their ‘field’ hospital. The medics were tending to the wounded, most of whom were either unconscious or so close to death’s door that there was little more than morphine to ease their passing.

Her eyes flicked to the side of her helmet, mouthing the names listed on the small roster to herself for a moment before diverting her gaze back to the battlefield before her. For what it was worth, they had won. Through brimstone, hellfire and more than one ambush, they’d battered their way through it all and stood victorious. The sounds of battle still raged from the other side of the compound, but the faint echo of mortar shells and howling MG fire was dull to her ears.

Light footsteps made her turn her head, watching as Feldmann and Ramirez approached solemnly, waving two fingers to them lazily in greeting. “Gentlemen.” She called once in earshot, a light smile stretching across her face as the visor slid open to ease conversation. “Hell of a fight, wasn’t it?”

Ramirez nodded empathically, as Feldmann grunted unenthusiastically. “Something like that. How’re you holding up?” He gestured towards the various breaks and drying blood trails along her armour; Sparrow roughly shrugging in response.

“Nothing serious.”

“Going to get them patched up?” Ramirez asked lightly, watching Sparrow’s gaze shift back out to the trenches as the marines slowly began to trudge back towards the facility. One walked slower than the rest, fists clenched around a cluster of dangling dog tags, visor betraying nothing of the soldier within.

“Lot of other people need them more than me.” She breathed, licking her suddenly dry lips. “Could go for a smoke, though.” There was a moment of silence between the three as the marines passed, Sparrow’s eyes lingering on each as they brushed past her. Feldmann stopped one of them with a hand on the shoulder, obviously offering the soldier some words over private channels before letting the man continue on. “How are your boys?”

Feldmann glanced at her. “They’re in the clear. Nearly lost one to a mortar, but her shields took the brunt of it for her. Won’t be fighting with the shrapnel, but she’s alive.” She nodded, looking slowly over to Ramirez, whose gaze was fixed solely on his dirt stained boots. Feldmann bowed his head for a moment, before turning and heading off after the other marines, leaving the sergeant and the corporal alone.

Sparrow didn’t say anything at first, straightening up from her seat and staring at the horizon for a few moments of silence. He found his voice after a minute. “We’re going to kill them all, yeah?” The words were low and dark, but Sparrow simply nodded.

“Yeah. Every last fucking one of em, Ramirez.” They said nothing else, turning from the fallen on the field and hiking after Feldmann to the mass of marines rapidly forming in front of the curiously armoured figure from before. Now that the situation had at least mildly calmed down, she gave her HUD a moment to recognize the man, although she did a double take when it displayed Commander Jason Horn. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

He promptly responded. "Guess who I am marines!" There was a beat of silence, as no one really had any real idea as to how to respond to that, before he continued.

"I am the baddest mother fucker you will ever meet!" The Commander began to pace, something she’d never really seen outside of holovids. "I am a shock trooper by trade, a ladies man by choice, and a fucking destroyer of my enemy's morale by destiny! Do you know what that makes you marines?! That makes you fucking monsters! You are my hands, straightening into a bitch slap for anyone who decides they should try to fuck with us! Well guess what, we just finished with the first bitch slap, now we're going for the second one!" Sparrow grinned in amusement as he jabbed a finger at the base behind him.

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

Without barely a moment’s pause, the Commander hoisted Operative Invaru into his arms, and dropped himself, and her, into the elevator shaft without another word. After another moment, a lone private voiced what was likely the general consensus. “Did that really just happen?”

Sparrow spent a moment quietly laughing to herself, before turning with the other platoon chiefs to their respective soldiers. Sparrow spoke over the Platoon 3 comm channel, her voice back to it’s loud and boisterous self. “Well, that’s one hell of a first impression, isn’t it?” There was a chorus of agreement, before she gestured to her omni-tool, her marines quickly pulling up their own as the display of the base appeared. “Here’s the deal. We’re not lucky like 1 and 2 are. They’re going into the depths with the Commander and mopping up whatever excuse for resistance is down there. We, on the other hand…”

The image blinked to a still of the GARDIAN guns on the facility. “Get to do some real work. The GARDIANs are keeping our Kodiaks from getting close, and that means no Medivacs until those peashooters are offline. I don’t think I need to tell any of you how important it is that we get these guns offline, and get it done ASAP. Our brothers and sisters are bleeding, and Command is looking to us to get the job done! You’re my Greenknees, but today you’re the Commander’s monsters. Now, I’m sure plenty of traitors are going to be trying to get in our way. I say, let them. For every marine we ship in a casket, I want ten traitors in a hole! Hell, not even a hole! They don’t even deserve that!” There was an chorus of angry shouts, and Sparrow took a step towards her platoon.

“Every last traitor in there dies, unless Brass says otherwise. Clear?”

“Yes, Sergeant!”

“Good! We’re splitting into two strike teams! The floor isn’t very big, but it’s going to be fortified and full of chokepoints. Use grenades to your advantage, and if you can’t find cover, make cover! Meat-shields are good for a few bullets and no one is gonna miss ‘em. I’ll be leading one team; Corporal Feldmann will lead the other! Fire team One, Three and Four! You’re coming with me! Two, Five, Six and Seven, you’re with Feldmann! Start rigging the rappels! I want boots on Floor Nine in ten minutes! Move!”

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The descent down the shaft was painlessly quick once the initial rappels were secure. Sparrow’s team had descended first, boots planted firmly on the wall of the shaft as she practically sprinted down the length of the blackened tube. Only the faint light of her omni-tool provided the visibility to spot the interior markings designating the floors. Once she’d reached the ninth, the sergeant slowed to a stop, holding her hand out behind her for the charges to breach the sealed bulkhead.

After a moment of still, she felt the weight of the charge in her hand, and she brought it around to secure it to the bulkhead. It took a few quiet moments, and any second she half expected the doors to slide open and a traitor to be waiting with his gun at the ready, but the shaft stayed still, save for the soft voices echoing down from the rest of the team above. Once primed, Sparrow hastily retreated up her rappel, flashing a thumbs up to Logan once she was clear. The engineer’s omni-tool presented a quick countdown that started rapidly flicking down to zero.

Sharing a quick glance with Ed, Sparrow readied her Mattock, legs braced against the wall as the timer flicked down to zero. The blast swallowed the shaft in a plume of smoke, the sound of rending metal and muffled screams echoing up as Sparrow gave an affirmative nod to Ed, pushing off the wall with her feet and letting the rappel run loose. For a second, there was only peaceful freefall, the sensation of nothing beneath you and nothing to catch you, before the rappel tightened and swung her and Ed harshly towards their freshly created breach. Ed, being a decent shot, was already firing through the swirl of smoke, precisely why she’d chosen him to follow her into the breach.

She on the other hand, was there to compensate for his terrible hand to hand. Unclipping her rappel with a jerk of her hand, Sparrow soared through slagged bulkhead moments before Ed’s legs connected with the edges to brace him on the opening. She landed in a roll, Mattock rising with her to snap a shot through a lone marine attempting to secure the secondary bulkhead against their approach. A pair to her right quickly fell to a trio of bursts from Ed’s Vindicator, freeing her to engage another pair rushing into the smoke filled chamber to secure the gap in their defences.

The thick black smoke was nearly choking, even through the filters in her helmet, but Sparrow caught the first traitor unaware with the stock of her Mattock, shattering his own visor with a scream that sent him staggering. The second turned to engage, Avenger aiming for a vital shot that Sparrow barely managed to avoid by slamming her palm across the barrel, her shields stopping the first two rounds before the third punched painfully through her hip.

She returned fire, feathering the trigger on the Mattock as fast as her fingers would go, punching several holes clean through the traitor’s shields, and then clean through the traitor, splattering the wall behind him with red. The threat slumping to the floor, Sparrow staggered to the wall, resting against it as Ed climbed through the breach and pumped a burst through the shattered visor of the remaining marine, before pounding his fist against the bulkhead seal, closing the entrance to their ‘landing’ to give them a few moments to breath, which Sparrow was immediately thankful for.

Her strike team wasted no time filtering through the breach, quickly stacking against the sealed door and readying themselves for the blitz to come. Feldmann’s team had taken another shaft, towards a larger entry point and would be tasked with occupying the majority of the traitors so Sparrow’s team could flank and rout. Simple, yet effective. She’d always preferred these plans. Fewer variables, less chance to fuck up.

Her team was noticeably smaller than Feldmann’s, and as she gave the assembling marines a look over, it wasn’t hard to notice why. Her own fire team was fine, all present and accounted for, but Ed’s was short two, and Ramirez’s lacked one as well. She scowled beneath her visor, knowing there was at least still a chance to save some of the wounded. Provided they did their job.

With that thought, she straightened from the wall, medi-gel already numbing the wound and patching it up as quickly as possible. Ed and Logan stood stacked on the right side of the door, Ed’s hand stretched for the access panel, just waiting for the signal to open. On the left, one of her team, Devera, was waiting, hand clenched around a pair of grenades. The marine watched her approach, tilting his head slightly at the faint limp she moved with. “You alright, Sergeant?”

“Never better.” She replied, taking position behind him and giving a confident pat on his shoulder plate. “Everyone ready up. We’ll be going in soon.” As the remaining marines stacked up, Sparrow switched channels, and was promptly greeted by Feldmann’s voice.

“I take it you’re in position then?” The static was made worse by the fact they were so deep underground, but she got the gist easily enough. “We’re ready whenever you are. Just say the word, and we’ll carve a hole for you.”

“You know how to sweet talk a girl, Feldmann. Give’em hell.”

“Can do.” She switched back, in time for the sound of several detonations echoing through the chambers beyond the door. The strike team remained silent, everyone double, then triple checking their weapons for the fight to come. Sparrow eyed her heat sink solemnly, popping it out and sliding in a fresh one as she listened to the muted voices from the others. Not surprisingly, the majority of the mutters were just that, wordless mutters meant to do nothing more than to soothe their own nerves, but she could pick out Ed’s voice.

“No one else. Not a single person more.” The words were like a mantra, repeated over and over while he remained frozen in position to open the door and begin the attack. Over his shoulder, she could see Logan’s eyes locked on the access, burning with intensity she’d not seen on the big man often. It was unexpected, but not really surprising. All the teams were close, and one of their own was hanging by a thread. She’d be pissed.

Hell, she was pissed. No one was allowed to mess with her marines but her. They were her punching bag, and she was their proverbial den mother. Growling under her breath, she held up a clenched fist parallel to her head, and the minimal noise in the room fell to silence. There was a brief lull in gunfire beyond the door, and she spoke. “Go.”

Ed pressed the access panel, the doors swishing open as Devera stepped forward slightly to toss the primed grenades into the room beyond. There was only a second of silence before the grenades detonated and the room beyond filled with shouts and yells.

Ed and Devera went around the corner first, firing into the ‘flank of the traitors and quickly over turning the few still manning the hastily constructed defences outside their access point. Sparrow followed them out, focusing her fire on the door to the next room, which was open likely to provide the traitors with ease of movement. Ramirez’s boys quickly brought up the rear, claiming the traitor’s fortifications for their own and putting a concentrated hail of fire on the traitor positions ahead of them. Tapping Devera’s shoulder, Sparrow gestured to one of the doors adjacent to her. “Take Pinnick and Lares, sweep that room, and trash anything you find!”

“Roger!” Devera quickly grab the others, and they swept into the room with disciplined ease. Sparrow fixed her eyes forward, ducking behind the ramshackle cover as the traitors returned fire. The hall was long, hastily fortified and the traitors were still fortifying towards the back of it. Past them, she could make out more traitors firing in the opposite direction, likely trying to suppress Feldmann’s assault.

No doubt they’d fortified the main server room and were prepping it to beat off the attack. These traitors were, whether they knew it or not, simply being used to buy time for the true defence to be co-ordinated. The longer it took, the harder they’d have to fight. “Fischer, put some fire on them! Stevenson! Ramirez! With me!” Logan stepped out, not even flinching as the rounds peppered his shields, pouring as much fire as his Avenger could manage at the few traitors manning the next ‘hurdle’. Sparrow spun round the man as the bullets stopped flying for a moment, taking advantage of the heat sinks overheat to sprint across the gap with her Mattock barking suppression at the ducking marines.

The first one rose as she reached the barricade of desks and chairs, but a powerful blue arc of electricity made the man spasm violently before she cleared the barricade, tackling him to the ground as Ramirez and Ed followed her right into the thick of them. The traitors had an extra man over them, and he quickly moved to pull Sparrow off his ally, but she spun roughly off the man, slamming her elbow at the soft joint near his knee. There was a brief fleshy resistance, before something caved and the kneecap forcibly left its place, the man screaming in pain as the bone found another place in his leg to rest. Hooking her arm around his leg, she ripped the limb out from underneath him, using the momentum to simultaneously bring herself back to her feet.

A quick tap from her Mattock punched a round through his shields like paper, and the screaming man went silent. The one she’d tackled faired little better, throwing his hands up in vain to stop her from firing a trio through his chest. She didn’t have time to celebrate, the next ‘hurdle’ already firing on the marines. Devera’s team quickly moved into the next room up the hall, and she secretly hoped that they’d find something that could terminate the GARDIANS without having to slog through a small army of traitors.

As if on cue, two panels along the ceiling pulled apart, a large automated turret emerging from the gap and its barrel swivelling towards them threateningly. “Fuck me.” She breathed, barely managing to duck behind covered as the weapon began to spray the barricade with fire.

“Sergeant, these desks won’t hold up against that for long!” Ramirez shouted, and she resisted the urge to scream ‘No really?!’ Her mind raced lightning quick, and her eyes quickly went to Logan. She stared for a moment, before looking up at the turret and smirking at it’s positioning above the traitors.

“Fischer! Get into that turrets IFF!” The engineer glanced up at the weapon, before nodding an affirmative, nestling in tight to the cover and pulling up a few screens on his omni-tool. The desk to her back groaned and sparked the metal suffering under the withering salvo of seemingly endless bullets. Ramirez knelt beside her, practically bouncing in place as their cover grew thinner and thinner with each passing second.

“Sergeant!” He called, worry evident in his voice, and she shot Logan a look, still dutifully working on his omni tool. “Sergeant!” She grit her teeth, looking to the other marines tightly clustered behind her.

‘C’mon…c’mon…’

A round punched through the desk, splitting the floor beside her with a crack and Ramirez duck lower to the floor, practically on his stomach now. “Sergeant!”

“Now would be helpful, Fischer!”

Logan rose suddenly and with more speed than one expected from a man his size, thrusting his omni tool towards the turret and the weapon seized suddenly, the hail of fire stopping without warning. After a second of seemingly nothing, its system reactivated, barrel lowering towards the marines beneath it and opening up on its former masters. The turret made short work of the few men there, but before it could swivel to face the final hurdle, it powered down and retreated back into the ceiling. Likely the work of the Professor.

“Cutting it close there, eh, Fischer?” Ramirez muttered, earning a thump on the back of the head from Ed. “Sorry, sorry.”

Logan was seemingly unphased, already looking towards the final wave standing between them and the flanking charge Feldmann was likely waiting for. Sparrow spent only a moment looking, before jutting a hand out to Ramirez expectantly. “Gimme the ML-77.”

The corporal gave her a look, but her tone didn’t leave room for argument, and he un-holstered the weapon from his back. She took it and stood up onto the lip of their mangled cover. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” The young man breathed, earning a hearty laugh from the sergeant.

“I’d get low.” The traitors barely had seen her when she squeezed the trigger twice, sending a pair of missiles streaking down the hallway, uncaring of the tight quarters. The first impacted roughly against their barricade, shattering it and sending the two manning it sprawling backwards as the second missile raced past through the still open bulkhead. After a moment, the room beyond filled with fiery plume, and Sparrow tossed the spent launcher to the ground behind her, a satisfied grin stretched across her face as Feldmann’s voice came over the comms.

“Sparrow! Did you shoot a goddamn missile in a fucking building?!” She gestured forward to her marines, and they wasted no time moving towards the destroyed cover to mop up what was left of the traitors.

“That may be the case, yes. Did it work?”

“Are you fucking insane?!”

“Did it work, Feldmann?” There was a moment of stiff silence. “Is that a yes?”

“You almost took off my leg, but…yes. We’re breaking through.”

“Then you’re not allowed to be mad at me.” She broke into a light sprint, catching up to her marines as they pushed into the flank of the traitors. Now scissored between two forces, they were rapidly falling back into what she could only assume was the main server room, leaving the auto turrets to try and suppress the marines with little success. The joint efforts of Logan and the other engineers made short work of the turrets internal circuitry, freeing the marines to press into the traitor’s final bastion of defence.

It was impressive, to say the least. A practical wall of thick crates, with gaps for the traitors to fire out of but narrow enough to make return fire difficult. The marines were forced to hug the walls to avoid the razor hail of hostile fire, and Sparrow silently cursed her impatience at wasting the ML on the ramshackle.

After a few tense minutes of trading fire, Ramirez’s voice broke over the comms, in surprisingly clarity. “Sergeant! On the right portion, some of the crates look unstable!” She looked to the area he spoke of, and sure enough, some of the crates had been stacked atop each other, but the rush of the job seemed to have made the traitors sloppy. The stack was unbalanced, the lip jutting out far too much for crate to be as secure as the others.

“Good eyes! Get a frag on it, if we can topple it, we can get in there!” Ramirez complied quickly, sprinting from his cover to the next available piece closer to weak point. The lead gripped a grenade from his belt, rising fluidly from cover to lob the explosive. It had barely left his hand when a bright arc of flaming orange leapt from the barricades and crashed against the side of his armour. “Fuck! Ramirez!”

“Shit! Shit!” The corporal thrashed in his cover, the burning plasma eating away at the Assault Armour like it was nothing at all. Before she could move to assist though, Ramirez spoke in a panicked rush. “Oh, oh fuck! The grenades! It’s triggering the fucking grenades!”

“Toss them! Fucking toss them!” She screamed, watching as the corporal crouched while desperately pulling at the grenades fastened to his belt. “Ramirez! Get them of-”

“They won’t come loose.” His voice was grim, and his helmet turned towards the barricade in front of them. There was only a moment’s pause, before he leapt clean over his cover and broke into a sprint towards the tower of crates. Sparrow rose to her feet, but a rough arm hooked around her waist, hauling her back to the ground as Ramirez raced by.

“RAMIREZ!” She screamed in the comm, ignored as more and more of the traitors turned their guns onto the lone marine sprinting towards their position. His shields broke and shattered, and the rounds began to punch bloody holes in his chest, but he didn’t stop, throwing his shoulder against the stack moments before the grenades detonated. “No. No! NO!” Gore and chunks of armour showered against the barricade, and the detonation shook the stack, the crates groaning lightly before toppling to the ground with a thundering crash.

Sparrow lay on her side, eyes wide as her hand stretched towards the place the corporal had been just seconds before. Ed crouched just above her, having held her back from trying to stop the man, but the darkness obscuring his features and utter silence spoke of his own pain. Slamming her fists on the floor, Sparrow barely thought to turn off her comms as she screamed inside the confines of her helmet. Feldmann and his team moved forward to the new cover, some even hopping through the breach to battle the traitors within.

“Sparrow?” He looked to the woman, watching her push herself up from the floor and seeing the fury practically radiating off her frame.

“Kill them all.”

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“C’mon, Roger…” Maya breathed, hunched over the wounded private as she pumped the breather on his mouth to feed him the precious oxygen his body needed. The wound was serious; one of the worst she’d dealt with in a long time, a messy punch through his lung that had missed his heart by what she could only assume was inches. His skin had gone pale, and face gaunt from the blood loss, but she’d managed to stop the majority of the bleeding with impromptu cauterizing of the damage with her omni tool.

Grass would likely tear her head off, making it more difficult to fix the damage, but she was quickly running out of options. The other medics were busy with the others, thankfully managing well enough that she hadn’t been forced to leave Roger’s side just yet. Glancing up at the facility, the medic watched the guns atop it for a moment. “Come on, Ed…” She whispered, glancing up towards the sky above. The atmosphere had been filled with burning chunks of ships, falling slowly through the atmosphere in blazing, and brilliant streaks of glowing red.

One of the other medics called to her, and she looked over her shoulder. “We’re getting communications from within the base. Looks like they’ve managed to shut down the jamming signal. No word on the GARDIANs yet.” She nodded, opening another comm channel to the Kodiaks who she hoped were at least still close.

“This is Specialist Salazar. The GARDIAN systems are still functional, but we have several injured who are in need of immediate and serious medical attention. We’re going to need Medivacs ground side as soon as the guns are down, how copy?”

One of the pilots responded. “Solid copy, Specialist. Kodiaks are dusting off now, and will maintain minimal distance to your position till the guns are down. Do we have an estimate?” She bit her lip.

“I’ll contact the marines inside.” Cycling through channels quickly, Maya barely listened to a blip of each group before hopping to the next to find her platoon. After a minute of searching, she heard the familiar sound of Ed’s voice. “Ed!”

There was a beat, before he responded. “Maya, what is it? We’re in the thick of it right now.”

“I know, but I’ve got the Kodiaks on standby for Medivacs and they’re after an ETA.” She was quiet for a moment, looking at Roger’s quiet features. “…I don’t know how much longer I can keep him stable…” She whispered, and the corporal spoke gently, despite the gunfire she could hear echoing around him.

“You’re doing great, Maya. We’re mopping up. Five minutes.” The comm channel went quiet, and she knew he was focused back on task once again. With an affirmative nod to no one, she switched back to the Kodiak channels.

“Five minutes. We’ll prep the wounded for transport, and be waiting. How copy?”

There were a few moments of silence, likely the Kodiaks checking with the commander. What if she didn‘t approve? The marines couldn‘t wait the extra time it‘d take for the Kodiaks to come after the GARDIANs were down. Finally, the pilot spoke. “Solid copy. We are Oscar Mike to your position. Let’s hope those guns are down.” The pilot seemed willing to risk the guns, and Maya was silently thankful that they were en-route. With one last check of Roger’s vitals to ensure he was stable, she rose and turned to the others.

“Kodiaks are on the way! Get everyone prepped for transport! Triage!” The next few minutes were a blur of hurried bracing and loading the wounded onto rapid fabrication stretchers. All the wounded were lined into groups based on the severity of their wounds, with the majority of those still conscious accepting their position as last off the field.

Once the preparation was complete, all eyes turned to the sky, towards the fast approaching silhouettes of the Kodiaks. Dread settled into Maya’s stomach as the GARDIANs on the facility perked and began to swivel towards the approaching transports. Every medic held their breath as the Kodiaks entered the range of the cannons, and the first cannon rapidly adjusted its barrel, lining up its shot. “Fuck, they’re not off!” She breathed, as the Kodiak veered rapidly to dodge a shot that never came.

The remaining GARDIANs went still, and the marines let loose a cheer. Organized chaos fell upon the field hospital as the first Kodiak touched down, and Maya recruited the less injured to help haul the critical into the waiting transports. The pilots even disembarked to help out, the lead giving her a grin when she got him to help her. “Five minutes on the nose. I owe your friends in there a drink.” She offered a light smile.

“Get these guys to Grass safely, and I’ll buy the flight staff a round.”

“Deal.” Roger was rigged into the first Kodiak with the other serious injuries, and the pilot embarked to take them up to the waiting med bay. Maya resisted the urge to go with him, despite the worry about her young squad mate and friend… She couldn’t do anything more for the private, and the marines down here needed her more.

If Logan was here, he’d have said he was in God’s hands. She watched the Kodiak begin to lift off, hoping to whatever was out there that Grass’s hands were just as good.

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Waking up felt like…

Well, frankly, it felt like he’d been hit by a truck. Or ten.

Roger’s eyes opened slowly, adjusting painfully to the bright sterile white light with a few rapid, tear filled blinks. Sitting up slowly, the private winced at the pain in his chest and felt something like stitches in his chest throb in protest. The first few thoughts to enter his head were basic. Hunger, the need to piss, and a fearsome thirst to down the first bit of water he found.

With those out of the way, his drug-addled mind set about deciphering why he was in the med bay. After a few moments of thought, the mission came back to him, and with it, came all the panicking rush about his squad, his health, the man he’d shot, the rest of the marines. The blitz of movement and thought didn’t settled well with his stomach, and Roger promptly found himself emptying it into the small bucket beside his bed.

A soft chuckle sounded behind him, and he felt a light hand rub on his back smoothly. Once his stomach was content with its disposal, he flopped back into his bed, and blinked in surprise at his visitor. Sparrow lowered herself onto a small stool that had been brought to his bedside, a small bag of something clenched in her hand as she gave him a lopsided smile. “Welcome back to the land of the living, Roger. Did you manage to beat the Grim Reaper at cards or something?”

He coughed his voice dry and raspy. “I wish, Ma’am.” Sparrow groaned loudly, pressing a palm to his forehead and shoving it back into his pillow.

“You are impossible. O’Ryan is better at brainwashing than I thought!”

“I get it.” He muttered, earning another smile from the sergeant as she reached into her little bag and pulled out a small red fruit with a long green stem. Roger blinked once. “Is…that a cherry?”

“Mhm.” She responded, pulling the stem out and popping it into her mouth with a pleased sigh. “After that clusterfuck, I felt like rewarding myself, and got Cecil to ship some in. Fresh off the shuttle.” She retrieved another, glancing at the private. “Want one?”

“Can’t say I’ve ever had one…” Sparrow held it out by the stem, and he took it with a light thank you, popping the small fruit in his mouth and chewing slowly. “That’s pretty tast-ow!”

“Oh, watch out for the pits. They hurt when you bite them.” She snickered at the look he shot her; helping herself to another while Roger fished the pit out of his mouth. “How you holding up?”

Tossing the pit into his bucket, the private gave a light shrug, wincing slightly at the motion. “I’ve…been better?” He sighed, sinking further into the bed. “I mean, nothing like choking on your first major mission and nearly getting my chest blown open the first time I get shot…”

“Could be worse. Could have hit your heart.”

“That’s reassuring…”

She shrugged, spitting her pit into the bucket. “I’m serious. Not everyone was as lucky as you.” He looked at her quickly, eyes slightly wide at the implication. As if she could read his mind, she continued. “They’re all fine, Roger. Barely any worse for wear, minus worrying about you.” He heaved a sigh, and she smiled a little wider. “A lot of people have been worrying about you.”

“Seriously?”

“Yup. Most every officer came down to see how you were doing. Even O’Ryan stopped by. Shed a tear and said you’re the best soldier he’s ever seen.” The private frowned at her jest, and the sergeant just grinned back at him. “Had you going for a moment there…but, not entirely inaccurate.”

“What do you mean?”

“O’Ryan has checked on the wounded once or twice. And most of the platoon has been waiting for your lazy ass to wake up.”

“Hey, I’m not la-” He paused, thinking for a moment at the implications of her words. “…how long have I been out?”

“Oh, bout…three days, give or take? I mean, you woke up a bit every now and again, but never really truly awake. Not enough to have a conversation with. I’m just lucky to have been stopping by when you decided to stop playing sleeping beauty.” She chewed on another cherry, as Roger chuckled at the joke.

“Well, I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have their punching bag back. Were…you just checking on me, Sparrow?” She raised an eyebrow at him, although whether at him actually using her name unprompted or his question he couldn’t guess.

“I suppose I was.” She admitted, rolling a cherry in her palm. “I do owe you a bit.” He raised an eyebrow, and she shook her head. “That merc you shot on Ontarom was going after me. I didn’t even know he was there. Saved my ass, Roger.” Blinking in surprise, the private fumbled for a response.

“That…was you? Seriously? A merc got the drop on you? How’d that hap-” He was cut off by the sergeant clasping her hand over his mouth, a disapproving frown on her face.

“Don’t go blabbing about it. I’m human, I make mistakes. You had my back.” She released his mouth, a light, but genuine smile on her face. “So thanks, Roger. Nice to know I can count on you.”

“Yeah…I mean, I’m not that great of a shot, it was more of a fluke and all…” Sparrow heaved a sigh, rising from the stool and looking down at the private with a smirk.

“You are utterly clueless, you know that?” She fished one last cherry out of her bag, and set it down on his chest. “For the record, no more hero antics from here on out, alright? Marines ain’t any good to me dead, and that goes double for you.” She started towards the door before he could respond, pausing as she approached the door to glance over her shoulder at him. “Oh, and as soon as you’re out of that bed, O’Ryan’s got a training regiment upgrade to get you back in shape, plus you’ll be starting marksmanship training.”

He grimaced. “Great…anything else, Sparrow?”

She tossed a cherry in her mouth, grinning wide at the young man. “I’m thinking hand to hand training with me on a weekly basis.”

“…seriously?”

She laughed at his reaction, but made no attempt to imply it was a joke. “Get some rest, Roger. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other from here on out.” The sergeant turned back to the door and disappeared behind the bulkhead. Roger sat quietly in his bed for a moment, glancing down at the cherry she’d left on his chest.

“Well…could be worse."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton

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The room was quiet, as it often was. It was a point of credit to their prisoner, that despite it all, he remained deathly silent. Arms bound above his head, and attached to a hook, he dangled like a corpse, feet inches from the ground, which was coated in a thin sheen of red crimson. The guards had been given a temporary respite for rest, leaving Pacheo and the commander in the room alone with the man.

The woman occupied herself with a small table, cluttered with blades, hooks and other devices that didn’t seem to belong in the sleek, pristine base. The commander sat on a chair, a few feet from the prisoner, arms crossed impassively as he watched the man sway slightly from side to side. There had been little achieved, but every man had a breaking point, and every day brought them closer to his.

He stirred slightly, lifting his bleeding face to look at his ‘host’. “Why are you doing this?” Slatton straightened slightly in his seat, black-ringed eyes watching the man with subdued curiosity.

“Answers.”

“And what answers could you possibly want from me?” It was a familiar routine, one that Harrens rarely relented in. He’d speak, throw his words at them, before his seemingly aimless ramble would find its point and try to hammer at them. Ben didn’t bother holding his look.

“Numbers. Names. Capability.”

“I mean, what answers are you really after…” A curious choice of words, and a cursory glance towards Pacheo showed no protest to conversation with the man. Standing from his seat, the commander met his eyes once more, noticing the fragility inside them, but barely hidden sadness watching him. “We’ve been at this for weeks…by now, anything about numbers, names and capabilities…you already know. What are you really after..?”

“You haven’t been very co-operative. Why should I tell you?”

“For the simple fact we’re both tired of playing this game.”

“I’d imagine you would be.” After a moment’s pause, Slatton continued. “You should know, and I already suspect you do, but we’ll cut to the chase. Vala Katharina Buchan. This ends when you tell me what you know.”

“Vala Buchan.” His head hung, and for a while, it seemed as if the man was done for the day. Without warning though, he continued. “I’m being tortured…because I happen to work with someone you used to know…” There was a cold pause, before he broke into a hysteric laugh, growing faster and faster, although Benjamin could see thin rivulets of what looked like tears streaming down the man’s face.

As suddenly as the laughter had started, it stopped, Daniel looking back at his captor once more. "I've been a marine most of my adult life...I joined with sole purpose of helping people. The Alliance was good at first; until they prevented us from at least trying to save those people from slavers...I joined Cerberus with the thought of never letting that happen again."

He took a shuddering breath. "I don't know how many people I've saved, plenty. I've seen their faces, the way they look at me but don't know me. The way they see the symbol patched onto my armour and immediately run in fear. To them, I'm a terrorist. It doesn't matter if I just saved their family or butchered their dog in front of their children...I'll still be labelled with the fanatics."

"Yet, I didn't care. I was happy, because I never cared for recognition. I didn't care that they didn't know me, I didn't care that they hated the people I worked for, I didn't care that they hated me simply for being with them. All I cared about was the fact that they could move on, be safe, and enjoy what lives I helped give them regardless of their feelings."

His eyes fell, only for a moment. "I'm not saying I'm a saint, I've done some horrible things in the name of orders...where you caught me was one. Assassination of some political pen pushers who had been undercutting the boss. Yet, I went in there with the thought that the longer they operated, the more of our people died. I went in there with the thought that I was saving more lives then I was taking. A risk/reward scenario."

There was a thick pause; Benjamin’s face never betraying his thoughts, even as Daniel ranted. "My mission...my standing mission is to fight the Collectors at every turn we can. You know why that is Ben? TO SAVE LIVES!" He lunged, as far as he could from his position, tears streaming down his face. Ben didn‘t bother to step back, letting the man thrash in vain. "AND YOU'RE TELLING ME I'M BEING TORTURED BECAUSE YOU CAN'T GET OVER A GOD DAMN GIRLFRIEND?!"

He fell limp, head shaking slightly. "This is pointless...you're pointless...this whole god damn rivalry between us is pointless. If you so desperately want your damn soldier to come back to you..." The two men stared each other down, Daniel‘s hardening as he watched emotionless eyes. "Kill me...she'll come running, you trust me."

They stayed like that for a few minutes, simply staring each other down. Neither spoke, only the heavy, panting breaths and slight shuffle of Pacheo disturbing the silence. It was when she turned from her tools, Ben finally spoke. “Leave us.” There was no hesitation, just a sharp nod as she disappeared out the door. As it hissed shut, he continued. “Tell me…do the ends justify the means?”

"My boss would tell me yeah...I wouldn't agree, but I would follow orders."

“We’re not so different, as much as the thought may disgust you.” He sat, slowly and deliberately, fingers lacing in front of his face. “You’re willing to follow orders. You’re willing to bloody your hands. The irony that men on either side can be similar.” He laughed, but it was devoid of humour. Daniel leaned on his bound arms, eyes narrowed.

"You misunderstand our mentality. Yes, we're both doing our job, but where we differ is the fact that I wouldn't continue doing this shit, day in and day out for months! BECAUSE OF A SINGLE FUCKING WOMAN!"

“You’re so damn focused on her, but you don’t even understand!” Ben hissed, eyes flashing dangerously at the restrained soldier. “You haven’t seen how far you’re going to go, you haven’t been to the bottom, only to see how far you’ve sunk! One day, you’ll wake up to the blood, the bodies, the screams and wonder HOW you ever thought you had done ANYTHING good!” His fists coiled tightly, composure cracking as he rose from his seat.

“The clarity it hits with will leave you breathless. You’ll have dragged everything precious into the black with you, and as you try and claw out, you’ll see the demons YOU made trying to drag you back!” He stepped closer, gripping the bloodstained collar and pulling the marine inches from himself. “And with every fix, you just make more blood. I don’t justify my means, nor will I try to. I know full well we’re past that point.”

"If you're so focused on the fact that you've fucked up more than you've succeeded, then tell me this." Daniel leaned forward. "Why are you still here?"

“Because before they kill me, I’m going to correct as many of my mistakes as possible.” Ben released the cuff, pushing him back a few steps in the process. “Because I hope someday, I won’t just be remembered as a butcher. But I doubt that.” There was a quiet pause, Ben shaking his head slowly. “But you’re right about one thing, Daniel. This is pointless.”

He stepped back, eyes dully watching his captive. “I hoped you’d have something, anything useful, but it seems this was all for nothing. It’s worth nothing to you, but I’m sorry for that. Perhaps it would have been better to just kill you on Elysium.” Ben shook his head. “It matters little. You won’t be here much longer.”

Daniel was stone-faced. "So what, you plan to kill me now? Isn't that how a soldier's life should end? With a round from one warrior to another?"

“I’m not going to kill you. Never was in the plan.” He tapped the key on the door, which slid open soundlessly.

“That’s a mistake.”

“Most likely.” The commander turned back to the man. “But I’ve made plenty. One more isn’t going to kill me. Not yet.”

"That's where you’re wrong." Daniel looked up at him. "If you seriously think I'm going to forgive you, for two months of torture, simple because you didn't kill me." He strained once more on his bindings. "You don't know me...You don't know Horn."

“Daniel.” Ben’s voice was cold and low. “I don’t expect your forgiveness. I frankly don’t want it.” Ben stepped out through the door. “Not only are you incapable of killing me…you don’t understand something important.” With a final glance over his shoulder, Ben grinned. “She won’t let either of you, because she has to know.”

The door slammed shut.

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“And she goes, ‘Oh hell no! They’re not coming in the room!’ I asked why, and she just said one thing. Any guesses?” Maya looked around the table expectantly, eyes glinting mischievously as she burned off the first card of the deck, tossing the others two cards in rapid succession. At the men’s silence, she continued. “She says, and I shit you not…you are not bringing Pollard anywhere near my bedroom.”

Logan chuckled softly, each of the marines tossing forward a few chips, Maya and Roger posting their usual big blind while Ed and Logan favoured a small blind. “Someone is making a name for himself with the women.”

Ed raised an eyebrow at the engineer. “Not the good kind.”

Roger, fiddling with his cards, grumbled under his breath. “Not even my fault…Davids screwed me over…” Maya grinned toothily, as everyone quickly threw in to match. She burned another card, promptly laying three cards in front of them.

“You’ve been saying that for awhile. What exactly did he do?” Ed asked, tapping his knuckles on the table while Logan tossed in his cards. Roger and Maya shot each other suspicious glares, before the private threw in another ten, followed immediately by Maya’s fifteen.

“He got some footage of the woman’s showers…and fed it onto my omni-tool. Go figure he timed it perfectly for an inspection…only reason I’m not cleaning the latrines with sand-paper is because O’Ryan knows I can’t hack a camera to save my life…” The private rested his chin on his hand, eying his cards again. “Hasn’t stopped eighty percent of the women on the ship from thinking I’m some vile perverted ass…”

“You aren’t vile.” Logan commented, earning a sidelong glare from the young man. “Just growing. It’s natural at your age.”

“But I didn’t even look at it! O’Ryan deleted it the second he found it!”

“Not much you can do.” Ed watched as Maya burned off another card, laying another out onto the table. “For what it’s worth, Maya still talks to you. Same with Oberacker.”

“Oh yes, because I love female interaction that constantly involves me getting the piss kicked out of me…” He mumbled, tapping the table for check while Maya and Ed threw in some small raises. “I can’t be the only one who would enjoy some, oh I don’t know…gentle female company? Maybe womanly?”

“You saying I ain’t womanly?” Salazar hissed, cocking her fist threateningly.

“About as womanly as a turian.” He deadpanned, earning a slug to the shoulder which nearly sent him toppling out of his chair. “Worth it.”

Ed rubbed his chin, checking his cards as Maya revealed the final card. “So, you don’t enjoy your time with the Sergeant?” The corporal threw in his bet as the private thought for a moment.

“…well…not that I don’t enjoy it.” He fumbled, flicking forward a bet. “Just…you know. Would prefer to have some time not getting my ass kicked by her.”

“Good luck on that. Oberacker doesn’t understand anything other than beating the piss out of something.” Maya muttered, clearly annoyed at their conversation topic. “Just take your beatings and get away when they’re done. Oberacker will eat you alive. Alright, show the cards!”

The three revealed their hands, and Ed grinned. “Royal flush.” As Ed collected his winnings, Maya began shuffling the deck again.

Logan turned slightly to Roger. “Why not suggest it then?” He raised an eyebrow in confusion, prompting Logan to continue. “Ask Sparrow to take a break from the hand-to-hand. It’s not like it’s absolutely vital since you have marksmen training with O’Ryan.”

Pausing in thought, he chuckled sheepishly. “Maybe. I don’t know; she seems to enjoy herself. I’d feel bad if I ruined something she liked. Can’t really complain when a sergeant takes time out of her day to teach you, right?” Maya snapped her wrist, making a whip sound as she did. “Stuff it.”

Before she could deal, Logan’s omni-tool chirped a quick tone, drawing their attention. A small screen blinked across the device, flashing the words ‘incoming call’ over and over. Roger raised an eyebrow, but Logan rose from his seat. “Excuse me.” Maya and Ed simply nodded, attention turning back to their card game, Roger watching the engineer curiously.

As the door slid shut, Logan heard Maya demand the private’s attention, chuckling as he tapped a few keys to synchronize the call. After a few moments, it linked, and his omni-tool focused into a small ring around his palm, which he pressed to his ear with a smile. “Hey.” There was a brief pause, the lag from the distance before the caller responded.

“Hey there, stranger. I was hoping you’d be free.” The woman’s voice was soft, and he could practically feel the smile in her words.

“You know I’ve always got time for you.” He murmured, leaning back against the wall. “I’ve been meaning to call you, but they’ve been keeping us busy.”

“Don’t worry about it. How‘re you? Things quiet out there?” He nodded, although she couldn’t see it.

“Quiet enough. Been a bit of a dry spell. Good to get some rest in.” Logan chuckled lightly, rolling his shoulder slightly. “No big new holes to worry about. Shoulder’s a little stiff these days.”

“Then you best go easy on it, Logan, or I’ll take your ear off when you visit…” She warned, but he knew from experience she had that playful smirk on her face. “…but do try to be careful.”

“Always.” He murmured, earning a contented sigh. “How’re things back home? Teril keeping you busy?” There was a long groan. “A handful, I take it?”

“More like a pyjaks on sugar. She gets into everything the moment I turn my back! Always fiddling with data pads or the computer…a little engineer in the making.” Despite the exasperation, her affection was equally clear. “I wonder where she got that from.”

“Haven’t a clue.” Logan teased, turning towards the door slightly when he heard the sounds of scuffling behind it. “Sounds like they’re at it again…”

“Who? Maya and Roger?”

“Yeah…Roger seemed a little curious when I left the room. Maya’s probably scolding him.” She laughed, and he gave a confused look. “What?”

“Those two are something else. Like siblings the way they squabble.” She was quiet for a moment, before asking innocently. “Why would he be curious?”

The engineer frowned lightly at his reflection in the metal. “He’s…not entirely aware that I have you in my life.” She made a noise of confirmation. “Not that I’m worried about it, he’s just…young. And stupid.”

“I think he just doesn’t know any better, Logan.” Sighing into his hand, he nodded to no one in particular. “Maybe give him a chance. He might just surprise you. I’ve learnt that humans can be full of all sorts of them.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll give him a chance.” The sound of struggle grew louder, and Logan heaved a sigh. “I gotta go. Maya’s gonna kill him if I don’t get back in there.”

“I suppose…” She pouted, and for a moment, he simply considered letting Maya strangle Roger. The thought was quickly pushed out of his head, as she continued. “Come visit us soon, okay? I know it’s tough, but Teril has been missing you.”

“Just her?” A playful laugh was her reply, and Logan continued. “I’ll see what I can do. Shouldn’t be too difficult.” He pressed his hand to the access panel, causing it to hiss open. Inside, Roger was sprawled on the floor, Maya having pinned the private down with her fist raised threateningly. The pair paused their bickering long enough to notice his presence. “I’ll call you soon.”

“Good. I love you.”

“Love you too. Good night, Te’leia.” With the last exchange, he ended the call, staring at his team-mates with a light smile. “Do I want to know?”

“Te’leia? What kinda name is Te’leia?” Maya watched with poorly hidden interest, while Ed focused on shuffling the cards for the game he assumed they’d eventually continue. “Sounds…weird.”

“It’s rather popular on Nevos.” You could practically watch the gears begin to turn in his head, but Logan found it easier to cut to the chase. “Te’leia is an asari-”

“What?! You and a blue strip-”

Logan’s tone was low, and cautioning. “And my wife.” The words died in Roger’s mouth, which snapped shut as his eyes widened to the size of saucers. The engineer motioned to Maya, who climbed off him and retook her place at the table while he knelt down next to him. “Not what you were expecting was it?”

“Uhm…no..?”

“It’s fine to be confused.” Logan smiled, pulling the young man to his feet and dusting off his shoulder. Tapping a key on his omni-tool, Logan pulled up a small picture an asari. “This is her.” Roger glanced to the picture. The asari, Te’leia apparently, leant against a railing, over looking what looked like the presidium. Her skin was a light shade of violet, thin rings of reddish-white encircling her eyes partially, other small white marks forming a secondary ring near where a human might have eyebrows. Dressed in a white sundress, with a light smile upturning her lips, it was difficult to really focus on her as…alien.

“She looks…nice?”

“Don’t be too honest now…” Maya teased, and Roger turned sharply with a glare. “You done? Can we just get back to our game?” Logan rose, closing the picture while he gave the private quizzical look. He took a moment, rubbing his face before just giving a shrug.

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

They didn’t get a chance to start. "Pack up the game, leave the winnings until next time. Everyone, on me." O’Ryan’s voice boomed in the small room, and all four immediately turned to the man. Roger had the slightest hint of disappointment on his face.

“I had a good feeling about the next hand too…” Ed quickly packed up the cards, with Maya taking a quick snapshot of the assorted chips for later sorting. The game dealt with, the fire team fell into step behind the Lieutenant, already knowing why he was visiting.

“Got an Op, sir?” Ed asked respectfully.

“Yes. Something that might be interesting to you especially, Corporal.”

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Fisting the gauntlet of his Assault Armour, Roger flexed each finger experimentally while Logan and Ed finished their gear up beside him. Idly glancing around, Roger mused on how many times he’d been in the prep room over the past few months. It was a section of the armoury he was far too familiar with; row after row of lockers with names displayed on small LED signs. It was incredibly big, despite the cramped feeling he got whenever he had to get his armour. During the few missions when the majority of the marines were deployed, whole platoons could crowd into the dense space for rapid arming.

With a few curtained change ‘booths’ for the marines to get into their skin-tight squish skin, no one was spared having to enter. Privacy was something you got when in your armour or off duty. Attaching the last few pieces of his armour, Roger idly glanced at one of said booths, Maya swearing colourfully behind the cover at her uncooperative squish.

“This will be an assault based operation.” O’Ryan grunted; helmet locked firmly under his arm while he watched them begin to finish up. “Avengers and Predators.” Logan and Ed nodded, gripping the rifle and pistol from their respective lockers and attaching them to their magnetic holsters. Maya’s voice called over the curtain.

“ML-77?”

“No.” Was his blunt reply, which she sighed in response to. “No need for heavy weapons in tight quarters.” Roger nodded in agreement, finishing up with his armour and reaching for his rifle. “Pollard, catch.” He turned partially, barely reacting in time to stop the white blur streaking for his face. Fumbling with the object for a few moments, the private managed to stop its tumble; blinking as it unfolded into an M-97 Mantis.

“Uh…sir..?” He mumbled, looking up at the Lieutenant with slightly widened eyes. O’Ryan’s face was as stoic as ever.

"Training only gets you so far Pollard. You want to be a sniper..." The man stepped close, looking him dead in the eye. "Prove it." It took all of his willpower not to shrivel under the intensity of O’Ryan’s gaze, mentally thanking Oberacker for beating some extra spine into him.

“R-right, sir! I will!” The Lieutenant stared down his nose at the private, who swallowed roughly. “I will, sir!”

“We’ll see.” Without another word, he turned his attention to the emergent Maya, who was rapidly fastening her armour. “Double time, Salazar. We’ll be meeting the Commander in the hangar bay.”

Ed glanced at the woman, chuckling as she finished the last few attachments. “You know how he hates waiting.” She grimaced, grabbing her avenger and predator and giving them a quick check to ensure everything was in working order.

“Good point. All good, sir.” With a satisfied nod, O’Ryan nodded towards the door and they followed him back into the main room of the armoury. With a quick direction to grab some thermals, and a cautionary glare from TJ that the box near her was off-limits, they stored several spare clips in their armour. Satisfied they were all properly geared, O’Ryan lead the way out, TJ gave a grin and the advice to ‘bust some heads in’.

A short ride on the lift brought them to the hangar, where Horn and his chosen team were already waiting. Roger recognized them both right away, St. Jean and Nerita, although he avoided looking at the latter, mind still processing Logan’s own revelation earlier. The Commander looked somewhere between bored and giddy, an odd companion to the perfectly neutral face of Operative Invaru, who watched them approach evenly.

The Lieutenant came to a stop, offering a crisp salute to the Operative before turning full to the Commander, each action mimicked by the fire team behind them. “Sir, Ma’am. Fire Team Owl, reporting.”

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Corporal Stevenson sir!"

"Specialist Salazar sir!"

"Private Fischer sir!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

"Hit me Lieutenant."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Acknowledged...entering firing solution."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let's kill us some bad guys."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That asswipe has my knife."

Characters Present

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

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

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

“Its badass is what it is!”

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

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

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

“Watch it!”

“Make m-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hit me Lieutenant.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“S-sir!”

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

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

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

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

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

Running straight at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker

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There was something inherently wrong, Roger decided in the minutes spent in suffocating silence aboard the Kodiak, with anything that could reduce Commander Horn to stoic silence. Standing awkwardly a few steps away from the man, the private noticed every time he glanced towards the injured form of the Lieutenant. It was like the commander was standing alone in the cabin, each of them just a piece of furniture.

He wouldn’t pretend to know the Commander. The figure of the armour, the machine that seemed to live on combat, perhaps. He’d seen it charge in the operations. The power and ferocity and fearless bravado of it all was amazing, there was little doubt in his mind. But the man inside it, the thing that drove all that technology and muscle was an absolute mystery. He didn’t even consider Horn human half the time. The man seemed to be larger than life.

As the Kodiak began to dock, the Commander stirred. No words were shared, no addresses, not even a simple flick of the hand. He gripped the wounded man, hoisted him into a fireman’s carry, and threw the door open with enough force to tilt the still hovering transport and dropped to the Hangar floor without sound. Wobbling on his feet, Roger stared after his lightning fast strides, watching silently as Horn disappeared behind the lift’s doors.

The team filtered past him, O’Ryan disembarking with a light grunt as Ed and Logan eased a slightly delirious Maya onto the larger man’s back for ease of transport. As they began to move away, Roger stared quietly after them, but made no move to follow. It was only when he felt the faint touch on his shoulder that the private straightened, glancing at the pilot who was watching him curiously. “You alive in there?”

“Uhm…yeah. Zoned out. My bad.” Without a response, he dropped down to the floor, starting slowly after the team. It was a silly thing to worry about, really. The humanity of someone you thought above it all. It probably should have been comforting to know there was probably something like a person guiding all that ability. Pollard broke into a light jog, not wanting to keep Maya from the med-bay any longer than necessary.

As he boarded, Ed wasted little time pressing the button for the 3rd deck, and the lift rumbled to life. As the vibrations shook Logan slightly, Maya groaned in protest. “Stop…isn’t there stairs we can take…?” The engineer didn’t move, as Ed glanced up at their injured medic.

“I think stairs would make it worse, really. The lift’s faster after all.” She groaned at his assurances, and the corporal chuckled lightly. “You’re always saying we’re a bunch of pansies who can’t take a hit. It’s a little entertaining to see the shoe on the other foot.” Her head snapped towards him so fast, Roger swore she must have gotten whiplash. Logan sighed heavily, and Ed held up his hands in mock surrender.

“I’d like to see you pull half the crap I did today, Mister Can’t-Throw-A-Punch-To-Save-His-Life!” Maya leaned towards him, jabbing at his helmet with her finger. “You’d have dropped like a sack of potatoes from the abuse I took! Don’t even try to compare me to your piss-ass pain toler-” The lift opened with a hiss, and Logan wasted no time hurrying out the door and away from Ed with Maya still trapped firmly on his back. “Hey! Turn around; I’m not done lecturing his ass!”

Roger gave the corporal a look. “That was on purpose.” Ed grinned sheepishly as they disembarked, reaching up to remove his helmet. Roger did the same, and the men sighed slightly in relief once free of the confines. The private barely noticed Horn’s towering form board the lift behind them, but said nothing. It wasn’t his place. “You really shouldn’t provoke her when she’s injured, Ed.”

“Anger is a hell of an anaesthetic, or so I’ve been told. She stopped complaining, didn’t she?” The two turned towards the Med-bay, pausing as O’Ryan turned for another direction. They gave a prompt salute that the Lieutenant returned before giving a light ‘Dismissed’ and heading on his way. The marines needed no further prompting to catch up to their squad, but by the time they reached the doors, Logan was already outside.

Helmet on the ground, with the sole of his boot resting on the top, the engineer leaned quietly against the bulkhead as they approached. One of his eyes opened the slightest slit as they stepped closer before closing again. He didn’t need any prompting. “Dr. Grass is occupied with the Lieutenant, so he sedated Maya for the time being. She’s out cold already.”

“How’d it look?”

“I’m not much of a doctor.” Was his curt reply, and the corporal nodded in understanding. “Debrief?”

“Don’t think there’s going to be a traditional one today. So…good work out there, gentlemen.” Stretching his shoulders, Ed gave the door a slightly longing look before nodding to himself. “Well, we’re not going to do any good standing around cluttering his doorway. Let’s get ourselves out of this armour and a bit of grub from the chow hall. I think we’ve earned a little time to relax.”

Logan nodded affirmatively, as Roger stifled a yawn. “I’m thinking a nap…maybe a shower. In that order. Getting the piss kicked out of me is sleepy work…” The trio shared a slight sigh before trudging back towards the lift in silence.

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Sparrow twirled the wrench idly between her fingers, forest green eyes dulling trailing its spins and bumps as she played with the tool. The deck around her was in a constant state of organized chaos, techs moving past in all directions and calling to each other as they shifted between their tasks. None of the other decks ever seemed to get quite as hectic as the weapons did, but that was to be expected. The Victory had more guns than a ship properly needed, and thus maintaining their condensed version of the Turian national armoury was a full-time job.

Or so she was repeatedly told whenever she asked why these people insisted on working nearly 24/7 on giant rock throwers. Gripping the wrench by the handle, the Sergeant leaned back on her improvised stool and tossed it onto an already cluttered beyond belief work station. “I’ll admit; I’m impressed. You can somehow find something fun about this.”

From beneath one of the torpedo tubes, there was a muffled laugh as sparks showered from the work being done. “Are you just here to complain?” Sparrow grinned slightly, although they couldn’t see it.

“I don’t come here for your company, that’s for certain. I swear you don’t have ears for anything that doesn’t speak ‘high-yield destruction’ or ‘tactical payload of fiery pain’.” The sergeant thumbed out her electronic cigarette, perching it on her lips only for a sharp noise from below to interrupt her. “What?”

“Don’t ‘what’ me. You know you can’t use that thing on this deck.”

“It’s not even a real spark; its nicotine and fake smoke. If this blows something up, I’ll eat my boot.” The voice grunted with effort as they clambered out from under the tube system. As her head emerged, Jessie McKrain fixed the marine with a simple stare. “Even you’ve turned against me…” With a mock sigh, Sparrow spun the offending device in her fingers before tucking it behind her ear with a slight pout.

“I could never turn on such a lovable jarhead.” Wiping the grime from her hands, the Battery Officer took a moment to fiddle with her suddenly lopsided ponytail. “But I’d rather avoid you causing an explosion and wrecking my guns. Cause then I’d have to kill you.” The sergeant laughed lightly.

“I’d like to see that sometime. It’d be refreshing to see a techie in the ring.” The brunette paused, fixing the marine with a warning glance.

“Don’t quote me on that. Last thing I need is that getting around…” Sparrow hopped up from her stool, falling into step behind the Battery Officer as she made her way through the crowded workspaces of her team. Every now and again she’d take a moment to shout an instruction or thought to one of the techs, who’d rattle off a response in their strange techie language. “So, what brings you to the guns today anyway? Something on your mind?”

“Boredom, mostly. It was supposed to be hand-to-hand day with Roger, but O’Ryan called them out on another mission.” She sighed in annoyance. “Which is good for them and all, but it’s not exactly good for the rest who do nothing but sit on their ass all day. I don’t need 30 bored marines running around.”

“So you are here to complain.” Jessie stopped at a terminal, tapping a few keys on the haptic interface as she watched Sparrow in her peripheries. “Roger…you’ve said that name before…he’s the private you’re always kicking the piss out of, right?”

“I train him.”

“When it comes to you, I’m sure that’s the exact same thing.” The sergeant grinned in fake innocence, looking far more like the cat that swallowed the canary. “Why not just grab another one of the privates and beat the tar out of them? Seems like it’d fix the boredom just the same.” Tapping her chin in thought, she coyly added. “Or is it his face you specifically want to break?”

“I don’t like what you’re implying, Lieutenant…” The redhead leaned against her work station with crossed arms, fingers tapping idly on her biceps as she thought. “But true, to some degree. It’d be kind of annoying to reset all the lessons I’ve already done with Roger for some other grunt. I’d rather finish what I start before getting another one going.”

“Mhm.” Jessie hummed knowingly, causing Sparrow to shoot the woman a look. “Well, if you’re not going to find yourself another punching bag, then I suppose you’ll have to be patient until your preferred one comes back.” Chuckling, she half turned from her work. “A monumental task for you, I’m sure.”

“I can be plenty patient, I’ll have you know.”

“Right. That’s why you came here instead of doing something mildly productive with your down time, like…oh, I don’t know, paperwork? Exercise? Or are you looking for an introductory lesson on warship weaponry? I could run you through a few basic maintenance procedures, if you like.” Sparrow’s grimace said it all, and Jessie gave a light laugh. “Didn’t think so.”


“I’ll stick with herding idiots, thanks.”

“Suit yourself. Guns don’t talk back as much as marines.” Jessie tapped a few keys on the terminal, furrowing her brow in thought as she continued. “How are your boys, anyway? Said they were giving you a migraine the other day.”

“They’re going to be the death of me. The rest of the platoon, easy to handle. All of them will listen to whatever I say, and don’t cause too much trouble. Nothing I can’t talk out with O’Ryan and a few hours of disciplinary duties. Robin is just…I don’t understand how three morons can cause that much trouble.”

Jessie flicked her eyes up momentarily. “Robin?”

“Ah yeah. They assigned call signs for all the fire teams a few weeks back. For some reason, Victory’s theme is birds.” The Battery Officer stared silently for a moment, opening her mouth to speak quickly, but Sparrow beat her to the punch. “Yes. My team is Fire Team Sparrow.”

“I bet it’s because of you.”

“I really doubt the Brass picked a theme just because my name happens to be a bird. I’ve already got every other platoon blaming me for it, don’t you get on that bandwagon.”

Jessie raised a sceptical brow. “What other reason could they have?” The sergeant shrugged carelessly.

“I don’t know. Maybe the boss man just likes birds.”

“Horn? You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s no way he’d be an avian-enthusiast. Just doesn’t fit him…like, at all.”

“You’d know, eh? Doesn’t fit the jet-packed badass that makes your heart go a flutter?” Jessie gripped a wrench from her belt, glaring at the sergeant threateningly.

“Enough with that bloody rumour! That’s all it is, a rumour!” The marine raised her hands defensively, sticking her tongue out mockingly at the woman’s reaction.

“Alright, don’t take my head off with that thing…” She grinned playfully. “You ever show him how aggressive you get? He might like it~!” Sparrow ducked back to dodge the playful swing of the wrench, bouncing on her heels as her grin widened. “Feisty!”

“You don’t know when to quit, do you?” Jessie laughed, raising the wrench into a mock fighting pose. “Be careful marine! I know wrench-fu!” Sparrow snickered as one of the technicians approached the pair quickly. They looked to the young man in unison, and he looked to the Battery Chief with a smile.

“Hey Lieutenant! Vikki up in the CIC told me that Daniel’s awake!” There was a thick pause as the information clicked in Jessie’s brain, and Sparrow blinked in surprise as she practically lit up with a thousand watt smile and wide eyes.

“He’s back?! He’s here?! Awake?!”

Her eyes snapped to the redhead, who waved her hand towards the elevator dismissively. “I’m sure he’d love to see a friend. Get moving.” Jessie nodded enthusiastically, practically breaking into a sprint towards the lift.

“I’ll talk to you later!” The sergeant waved two fingers after her retreating back, chuckling as her lips spread into a smile.

“Well, guess that means Roger’ll be back.” Rolling her shoulders, Sparrow’s smile sharpened into an expectant grin. “And my afternoon just freed up.”

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Roger stepped quietly into the gym, a light frown on his features as he surveyed the surprisingly empty gymnasium. A few marines milled about on the treadmills and weights, but it was far from the usual crowd. The reason for his being there was lying lazily on the lip of the ring, eyes closed as she breathed thin wisps of smoke that hung round her head like a cloud. The private was half tempted to just turn around while she wasn’t paying attention, but…

“Sergeant.” He called, and she sat up quickly, looking towards him with a sharp smile. “You said you needed me?” Sparrow dropped down from the lip, crossing towards him quickly.

“Roger! What’d I say about ranks?” He chuckled as she stopped in front of him, hands laced behind her head as she gave him a once over. “Mission went well, I hear. Not that that’s surprising with you guys. Always being the perfect little troopers.” She slapped his shoulder slightly, noticing immediately when the private winced at the treatment. “You alright?”

“Better than Maya.” He rubbed his shoulder with a grimace. “We ran into someone like Horn down there. Kicked the living piss out of everyone, even O’Ryan.” The private shrugged his arm partially out of his uniform, showing the thick purpling bruise on the shoulder joint. Sparrow frowned, half reaching to touch the bruise before letting her hand drop back down to her side.

“Shit, that looks like it smarts.” Sighing, she glanced longingly back at the ring. “Guess that kind of shoots my plans in the foot. I don’t really want to cause you anymore damage…”

“I’d normally be up for it, but I’ve already filled my ass-kicked quota of the day.” She nodded disappointment evident on her face. The private was quiet for a moment, before clearing his throat awkwardly. “If that was all you had planned…” Sparrow glanced at him quizzically, as he shifted his gaze off to the suddenly interesting wall. “I…don’t really have anything else to go do if you want to go get some food or something…”

“I ate just a little while ago.” She admitted; smirking to herself as the private slouched the slightest bit. “But since I’ve got nothing on the go, we could always just head over to the Observation Bay.” He blinked in confusion. “What?”

“What can you do in the Observation Bay?” Laughing, the sergeant tugged on his arm and started out the door. Roger trailed after her, still unsure as to what exactly his superior had in mind. She wasn’t exactly the type for quiet reflection and relaxation…or was she? The thought hadn’t crossed his mind, since every time he saw her was either in the sparring ring, leading platoon exercises or loud and threatening lectures to whoever had done something stupid. Her down time was an utter mystery.

“Hello? You still in there?” Blinking once, he took stock of his immediate surroundings, before his eyes zeroed in on Sparrow, who stood predominantly in his face with her brow raised curiously and lips set in a bemused smile. “Aha, a spark of intelligence!”

“S-sorry.” He stammered; hopping back a few steps as the sergeant chuckled. The bay was completely abandoned save for the two of them, which wasn’t really surprising given the contents of their crew. Most of the marines Roger knew would rather be doing drills than sitting in the peaceful silence of the Observation Bay. “It’s kinda surprising to see you come here.”

“Is it?” She rounded one of the benches and strode up to the currently closed grand bay window. Thumbing a small switch beside it, Sparrow grinned happily as the shutter peeled back to revealed the aurora-like effect of FTL. The colours danced and weaved in a light show that showered the room in the curious refractions of light. Silhouetted against the splendour, it wasn’t hard to miss the large, but gentle smile that split Sparrow’s face. “I don’t think so.”

“I’ve…never really seen this before.” He breathed as she crossed back to the bench beside him. “Does this always happen?”

“Yeah. One of the few perks of coming to the Observation Bay when we’re heading someplace.” Dropping onto the bench, she stretched out into a comfortable position. “And when we’re not, it’s got a great view of the stars.”

“You stargaze? Really?”

“It may surprise you, but there is more to me than just fighting and herding Greenknees.” She teased, gesturing to the spot beside her. He sat down hesitantly, leaning on his knees as his eyes drifted between Sparrow and the lights outside.

“Just doesn’t seem like something you’d like. A little too…peaceful.”

Sparrow chuckled, leaning back in her seat. “Even I get sick of it sometimes. I’m only human after all.” She released a long, content sigh, and he could see the smile on her face in his peripheries. “Nice to have some company for a change, though. Like the show?” He nodded softly, and she chuckled happily. “Well, you’re welcome to join me from here on, Roger.” She patted his shoulder, and he ignored the slight sting to glance at her curiously. “I’ll point out some constellations for you.”

“Aren’t constellations kinda specific in the way you look at them?”

The question made her pause, however shortly. She gave it only a moment of thought before shrugging. “I guess so. Guess we’ll just have to keep watching till we can spot one.” The smile she had was infectious, and he found himself mirroring it with a laugh.

“Alright, sounds good to me.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff

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Drumming a finger impatiently on the polished, ultra-basic stainless steel of her work station, Sparrow stared dully at the duty roster on the display of her work terminal. She hated making duty rosters with a passion; hell, she hated eighty percent of the desk work her position entailed. Whoever got cleaning the heads would complain. Whoever got stuck guarding the armoury, near the furious slab of flesh that threatened to tear their limbs off if they twitched, would complain. The only thing they could all agree on was complaining in general about how ruthless O’Ryan’s training was.

Resting her forehead against the desk, the sergeant gave a low groan as she dug her fingers into her scalp. Couldn’t she just lead the little bastards, and make someone else get them to do the rest of their jobs? Wasn’t she supposed to have an assistant? There was an automated hiss from the door, signalling someone had entered the office but she didn’t look up as whoever they were moved into the room. Judging by the footsteps, there were two, confirmed by one of the chairs across from her sliding out while a hand came to rest on her shoulder.

“You’re actually working for once, Sparrow?” She lifted her head slightly, loose red hair obscuring her vision of the source until she brushed it aside lazily and fixed him with a less than amused expression. “Or attempting to, at least.” Sergeant First Class Nathan Percy chuckled lightly, his wrinkled face smiling down at her. His light brown hair was already beginning to grey in some places, and his face had the beginnings of a salt and pepper beard forming. It was difficult to believe the man was only three years her senior, but after something like Titan, it wasn’t surprising to see a man gain a few years.

“Stow it, Nathan.” She muttered, leaning on her cheek on her arm with a faux frown on her lips. “I’ve got duty rosters crawling out my ass and then some disciplinary actions to issue to some unfortunate idiots.” Her fellow sergeant laughed, removing his hand as he dropped into one of the work stations to her right.

The room was a joint office that had been set up for the NCOs to use for their work regarding their companies and platoons respectively. The platoon leads had a trio of work terminals lining opposite ends of a large rectangular ‘desk’ while the Master Sergeants enjoyed their own private work stations in the two back corners. Aside from the work areas, it was mostly unfurnished, save for a small couch that hugged the right hand corner when you entered the room, with a small coffee table and, more importantly, coffee machine sitting atop it.

There was an airy, mocking chuckle from the station in front of her, and Sparrow shot the source a look. “You wouldn’t have so much work to do at once if you actually did it when you got it, Oberacker.” One of her fellow Victory leads sat across from her, Jessica Mareen, who led the First platoon. The brown-skinned woman flashed a knowing grin at her colleague’s deepening frown, powering up her terminal with a tap as she brushed a few locks of raven black hair from her eyes. “Don’t act so testy, it’s your own fault. Always off picking fights with your troops, or lazing around the observation bay…”

“It’s called hands-on-training, Mareen. It’s good for morale!”

“Who’s? Yours or theirs? I’m quite sure you get enough jollies from beating on those poor privates all the time!” Nathan snickered as Sparrow slumped back into her seat, knowing a losing battle when she saw one. “Actually, I think there’s been a noted drop in injuries from your platoon…why is that?”

“Beats me.”

Nathan, who hadn’t even attempted to power up his work station, was quick to refute her. “The word going around the ship, I hear it’s more because you’ve focused your abuse onto one particular marine. One of the privates…Ronald, was it?”

“It’s Roger.” She corrected, although she immediately bit her tongue at his smug grin. “Don’t set me up like that, Nathan, I still want to believe you’ve got my back…” He held his hands up in mock defence, looking like she’d actually hurt him, at least until she jabbed a threatening finger in his direction and the Titan relented.

Mareen rolled her eyes as her fingers typed away on her haptic interface, sorting through her workload with a practiced ease that made Sparrow slightly envious of the older woman’s experience with leadership. Nathan finally fired up his own, still nudging her slightly in the ribs with his elbow to assure her that the teasing would resume when they didn’t have work to do.

As much as she could do without them prodding her about beating up one of her privates, the sergeant almost wished they’d continue so she had an excuse not to try and finish this damn roster. Or hell, that she could go and train that damn private, because that’s what it was, training, no matter how much Nathan poked her in the side with his overly pointy elbow. Pressing her head on the desk again, Sparrow exhaled sharply, suddenly wishing she had had the foresight to bring her cigarette. “Some days, I wonder if O’Ryan promoted you as a punishment…” Mareen muttered through an amused smirk.

“That would be cruel and unorthodox…” There was a long pause before she tilted her head back to face the woman with a grimace. “Which makes me think that he might have.” Summoning up the will to at least attempt the roster, her fingers lifted to the haptic interface as she regarded the information one more time.

The door hissed open as she moved for her first keystroke, and the three sergeants turned their heads in unison to see the newcomer, surprised to find Tyler Carson, the Master Sergeant in charge of Victory Company. Whatever the man had been intending to say was immediately cut short as the intercom came to life with the always boisterous and demanding Commander Horn on the other end.

“Attention beautiful and handsome crew of the Call of Victory, this is your ever present and badass Commander speaking. We are about to embark on our most daring, our most dangerous, and our most pivotal mission to date. Some of you might be hearing this, and getting scared. Others, excited. Even more, horny. Kinky, I know, but it happens.” Sparrow chuckled lightly at the man’s antics, leaning her head on the flat of her palm.

“However! Now is not the time for feelings, good or otherwise! Because, ladies and gentlemen! We are needed…” There was a beat of silence, for what she assumed was dramatic effect. “To show Commander Vala Buchan just how a ship and her crew should operate! We are needed to explain to her, and her crew just how much marines kick ass! We are needed to show that this ship, her crew, and her illustrious Commander get shit done! So marines! Prep yourselves! Battery officers! Load the weapons! Techies! Write me some god damn miracle code! Ladies! Hand me your numbers! Brace yourselves Men and Women of the Call of Victory! We're going to war.”

The sergeants shared a few curious glances amongst each other, before the intercom crackled again. “Right, to clarify, we're not actually going after Commander Buchan, it's a joint operation and we're going to show them up...That is all.” The intercom went dead, for good this time, and Carson rubbed his temple for a moment before chuckling humourlessly.

“Well, you all heard the man. Get everyone prepping.” Whatever his original purpose for visiting the office had been cast aside, Carson turning back out the door and heading off down the hall with an even stride. Sparrow was still for only a moment longer, before rolling her head to look back at her untouched duty roster.

“Well, looks like this will have to wait.” She snapped her fingers. “I was really looking forward to it too!”

Nathan rolled his eyes, flicking his terminal off as Mareen rose from her seat and bee-lined out the door to go muster her platoon. “Sure you were, Sparrow. Sure you were.” He replied casually, patting the woman on the shoulder as he stood and headed for the door. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were waiting for some sort of excuse.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Waving her hand over her shoulder, Sparrow straightened from her seat with a groan, having sat idle in it far too long for her liking. How someone could handle a desk job all day was beyond her. With a happy grin, she flicked off her terminal and spun on her heel for the door, lazily shaking the sleep out of her leg as she moved. “Kicking ass is so much better than paperwork!”

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This was not better than paperwork.

She’d been briefed, quickly, of the target her platoon was expected to take care of. An operations center, hidden in a corporate building stuffed to the gills with civilians. Her jaw was tight, worrying the inside of her lip as she flipped through the details again and again. The building needed to go; collateral damage was a non-issue. ROE was up to her. Almost complete operational freedom.

That made it difficult. Blowing up civilians didn’t sit right in her gut. It wasn’t right. She’d been halfway through a half assed battle plan when she heard footsteps approach from her right, glancing up from her omni-tool to regard Lieutenant O’Ryan and Operative St. Jean. Both had already donned their full battle rattle, and she bit her lip anxiously at the fact she was still sluggishly pulling her’s on even though most everyone else was already prepped. “What’s up, Lieutenant?” She asked quickly as she secured her greaves to the squish-skin suit.

“I’m making an addition to your roster, Sergeant.” O’Ryan replied evenly; if he noted her lack of gear he wasn’t saying anything about it. She was silently thankful for that. Her nerves didn’t need more to worry about. He motioned lightly to the operative behind him, and Sparrow nodded in both greeting and acknowledgement to the woman. “St. Jean is well versed in demolitions, and given the inexperience of your platoon, she’ll do more good with you than the others.”

Saint nodded back, offering a light smile that didn’t quite reach her entire face. “Got your back.” The sergeant watched the woman for a second, before looking back down at her omni-tool.

“Right, I’ll put her to good use, sir.” She murmured, already trying to rattle up a new plan to incorporate the veteran’s skill set. There was a palpable pause, and she found herself glancing back up to look at O’Ryan’s face. It was a mask, as always, but she couldn’t help feeling that there was something more lurking behind his stony visage. “Sir..?”

Before she could continue, he turned and spoke to Saint. “Operative St. Jean, you’ll be taking orders directly for Sergeant Oberacker. I’m sure it needs no mention, but for the duration of the operation, treat her word as my own.” The operative glanced to the sergeant briefly, and then looked back to the Lieutenant.

“Understood.”

Seemingly satisfied, O’Ryan’s eyes flicked back to the platoon lead. “Finish your preparations, Sergeant. Your platoon is already mustering.” Without waiting for a response, the Lieutenant turned and left the women to their devices, his broad back firm and immediately dissuading any further attempts to speak with him.

“You got it…” Sparrow muttered, securing the last harness for her greaves before digging into the equipment locker for her chest plate. Her eyes dully flicked over the ceramic plates, smoothing her fingers against the material before looking at the operative in her peripheries. It was almost unsettling how quiet and still the operative was, breaking it momentarily to check over her gear before her honey brown eyes glanced over to lock with Sparrow’s forest green.

“Just how inexperienced is this team going to be?” There was a detached sort of tone in her voice, but the sergeant ignored it as she tugged on her chest plate and began to engage its clamps. Whatever the source of the question, curiosity or annoyance at being paired with rookies, Sparrow didn’t have the inclination to decipher, nearly mumbling her reply.

“Victory 3rd is basically a training platoon, Saint. We don’t see as much action as the rest because I’ve got to teach the Greenknees how to be soldiers. They’re not useless, but they aren’t as good as the crews you’re use to working with.” As the last clamp fastened, she turned partially to the woman, watching her with dull eyes. “I’ll pair you with one of the more experienced teams, though. I’m sure you’re not interested in deadweight slowing you down.”

The operative shrugged a single shoulder. “I’ll go where you think it’s best to complete the mission and get back home,” There was a brief pause, before she added as an afterthought, “ma’am.” Tugging on her gauntlets with a grunt, Sparrow tucked her helmet under her arm as her weapons clung to the magnetic holsters on her armour.

“Let’s not bother with ma’ams, Saint. Outside of today, I don’t even know if your rank deserves salute or a friendly grunt. I’d prefer we just keep things simple.” The operative gave a smile, surprisingly genuine from what little she’d seen of the woman.

“So would I.”

Perfect. One less thing for her to worry about. The quagmire of ethics and morality she was going to be wading into neck-deep was bad enough with her platoon’s lives on the line. She seriously didn’t need fancy titles making the situation more complicated. Kicking her locker shut with a flick of her foot, Sparrow sighed heavily, tapping her forehead with her free hand as she started towards the door. “Let’s go see who your team is gonna be.”

If there was a response, the redhead didn’t hear it, the thick footfalls of her boots echoing as she trudged out of the armoury prep room with her new ‘ace’ in tow. Who would be best served by the addition of Saint to their squad? The fire teams rolled up on a list inside her head, and she immediately crossed out Robin. Birkingham would have enough on his hands dealing with his three little idiots, and the operative would only further unnerve the corporal.

Working up the list, she found herself discarding Pebbler as well, if only due to Detts inexperience with his command position. He’d been promoted after Ontarom, but hadn’t seen much action since. Saint would likely end up hijacking his command, and he needed to get the experience.

Kakariki and Eclectus wouldn’t be half bad choices; both Thielst and DeGeorge were familiar with their teams and had proven reliable under pressure. Both already had an engineer-in-training though, and again the need for experience was weighing in favour of leaving them be.

Boarding the lift, Sparrow leaned back onto the small railing with a muted sigh, staring at nothing in particular as she rummaged around in her mind. Her own fire team would be focused on the fighting aspect, being the most experienced, followed closely by Swan and Owl in that regard. Her mind derailed for a brief moment at the thought of Owl and the thick, purpling bruise she’d seen on Roger. They’d had a rough mission, and extremely recently. She’d have to give them a lighter duty on this mission, maybe an over-watch, or-

Biting her lip, the sergeant shook her head. Now wasn’t the time for playing worried mother, not when she needed her best boots available. They’d perform fine, she assured herself, and refocused on the task at hand. This, really, was practically decided.

Amazon. The squad that had formerly belonged to Ramirez. She pushed the younger corporal from her mind, instead focusing on the present. Unlike Pebbler, Amazon hadn’t had one of the rookie members promoted to fill Ramirez’s shoes, instead having a corporal of some experience transferred from a guard roster within another cell. Corporal Jane Galt, or as Sparrow sometimes referred to her as, ‘Lady Ed’.

The two were very similar, preferring to lead by example and taking the largest risks themselves to preserve the safety of their squad. It made them ideal for the ‘training’ nature of the platoon, and in some cases, Galt’s cautious nature made her a better fit than Ed’s ‘Can-do’ attitude. Her team was still rather fresh, only two of the original four having survived Ontarom with a fresh Greenknee filling out the final slot. All of them were basic riflemen to boot.

“Amazon.” She announced aloud as the elevator slowed to a stop. Saint looked at her slightly curious as they disembarked in unison. “I’m going to assign you to Fire Team Amazon. Corporal Galt can put you to the most use.” She figured, anyway. She didn’t mention that part though. Didn’t exactly instil confidence.

The hangar bay was crowded, as it typically was whenever someone deemed it necessary to stuff all the fully armoured marines into a single area, but Sparrow brushed through the masses with only the slightest exertion and a few slight shoves with her plated shoulders. Most of the marines were waiting for their big briefing, and she found her platoon milling about much as they always did. They always had trouble standing still without someone of authority shooting them death glares.

Approaching Amazon, she splayed her hand above her head in greeting, and the Greenknees shared suspicious glances behind their helmets. They clearly didn’t find the idea of the Sergeant seeking them out very appealing. Galt tilted her head back slightly, peering at the approaching women through hazel bangs and gesturing softly with her hand in greeting. The corporal didn’t speak much, her pale lips set in a thin line as Sparrow slowed to a stop in front of her. “Sergeant.” Her eyes flicked to Saint. “Operative.”

“Hey, Galt.” Sparrow offered lightly, stooping down to be at eye level with the seated marine. Setting her helmet on the ground in front of her, the redhead watched Galt fiddle with the predator gripped loosely in her hand before motioning at the gun. “Having some issues with it?”

“Trigger’s a little stiff, Sergeant. Nothing important, just want it back the way it was.” The corporal’s even reply got a nod from her superior, as the soldier attached the gun back to it’s magnetic clamp at her hip. The look in her dull brown eyes prompted Sparrow to speak, and she cleared her throat.

“Right, well, we’ve been given the operative here,” She thumped the back of her palm against Saint’s leg armour, “for the day, and I’ve decided to assign her to your team. She’s got some skills in what we’ll be dealing with today, and your team is…lacking in that department.” It wasn’t exactly praise, and she offered an apologetic smile as the private’s shoulders slumped ever so slightly in their armour.

“Of course, Sergeant.” Galt was unphased, straightening to her feet and Sparrow mirrored the action. “Something with tech on the agenda today?” The redhead glanced back at the operative, raising a brow at her before flicking back to Galt. “She looks like a techie.”

“You’re a sharp one, huh? O’Ryan will flesh out the details.” The sergeant stepped back from the team, leaving Saint with a nod of her head as she filtered through the ranks as O’Ryan’s voice boomed through the hangar for attention. Any who weren’t already in position quickly scrambled to comply and she found her fire team in their proper location a few moments later. They nodded in greeting as she took her place at the front, and all eyes in the hangar zeroed in on O’Ryan.

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There wasn’t much to consider strategy wise, realistically. Their target was in the downtown core of a major city and it needed to get blown the fuck up. There was no tactical way to manoeuvre 32 fully armoured marines into a position without every goddamn head within a city block seeing them. Quiet was out of the question, which meant they were about to get very, very noisy. They’d been the second last to deploy, and she saw that was for a good reason now.

“Here’s the plan.” She began, eyes flicking over the team present in her Kodiak even as her voice carried through the comm unit to the others. “There’s no easy, pretty access point to this building. It’s public, it’s in the open, and it’s just after lunch. Our objective, as you know, is the entire building. The Oracle bastards inside it aren’t the only ones. There are civilians inside as well.” She bit her lip, squeezing her eyes shut behind the visor as she continued without any trace of the concern in her voice.

“And I didn’t sign up to turn you all into a bunch of cutthroats. We’re going to do this the hard way. Swan, Owl and Amazon, you’ll be dropping on the roof. Sparrow will be taking the front door, along with Eclectus, Kakariki, Pebbler and Robin.” She found herself pacing, a habit she didn’t like that was beginning to rear its head whenever she was on the spot.

“Amazon and Kakariki, you’re to prioritize the placement of the demo charges. Use the designated locations that the AI is providing for minimal collateral damage. I want this building falling straight down, not into the streets.” Glancing at the timer in her HUD, she sucked in a breath before continuing. “Eclectus, you and Pebbler are going to be my guard dogs. Anyone tries to come in the front door, chase them off.”

“As for Owl and Swan, you’ll be helping Sparrow and Robin clears the building. I’ve got one general rule, and each and everyone one of you will be holding it near and dear to your heart. Don’t shoot anyone who doesn’t deserve to get shot. Don’t go making orphans without a damn good cause.” Her voice hitched ever so slightly at the word orphan, but she barrelled through, slamming her foot down to end her pacing. “If they won’t leave, make them. And if you can’t…”

The timer expired, and the hatch to her left began to hiss open. “Well…do what you gotta do. Let’s get this done.” Without another word, the sergeant turned to the open hatch and dropped the small distance to the ground. Landing with a grunt, Sparrow un-holstered her Mattock as she stared up the street towards the target. Her HUD was already painting the dozens of civilians lining the streets in neutral colours, as the remaining fire teams poured out of their Kodiaks behind her.

Above the building, she could see the others dropping onto the roof, and the sergeant began her grim march straight up towards the building. 19 sets of boots echoed loudly behind her, and the street was beginning to swell with a collective feeling of dread as the armoured figures marched forward. They weren’t Alliance. There was none of the familiar blues. People didn’t want to believe that though. Nothing bad would happen to you.

Smashing that illusion was what upset her the most. Sparrow fired a trio of rounds, shattering the glass doors leading into the building and the street was no longer quiet. Shouts and screams tore at her ears as the reality descended upon awestruck colonists. Thundering feet and racing sky cars carried the crowds away, and the sergeant was thankful for that. She didn’t need any extra blood today.

Stomping up the stairs two at a time, she was soon striding through the ruined entrance with her rifle squarely trained on the pair of men manning the small security booth. Neither looked like they‘d ever actually dealt with more than a vandal, let alone considered the possibility of combating an entire platoon worth of marines.

Thankful no one attempted to reach for their pistol, as Sparrow motioned with her gun for them to back the fuck away before mounting the small counter and taking over their position. “You’re off early today. Get the fuck out.” She hissed over her external speakers, and both men needed no further prompting to get their asses clear of the building. Turning to the system behind her, she tapped a few keys, bringing up VI listing the building schematics and current population totals.

“Eclectus, Pebbler, get cosy.” She barked; the fire teams in question quickly dragging all the various furniture in the lobby to rig up some proper cover. She hated corporate buildings for that reason. They were never designed to make firefights convenient. So much open space and fancy ceilings and holographic displays of fancy company logos or stocks.

Before she could continue her tangential thought process, the elevator behind her dinged. There as a split second delay as she turned to face the occupants, before the striking blue glow shot out of the parting doors and smashed itself into her chest. The air immediately left her lungs, as the sheer power of the energy slammed her backwards into, and over, the counter behind her and dumping her flat on her back on the ground with a pained cough.

It was only a few seconds later that the lobby erupted into a firefight that she couldn’t see as her vision danced from the sudden impact. “Sonuvabitch…” She whispered, clutching her throbbing stomach for a moment as she pushed off the floor with her other hand. Gripping the counter, she hauled herself up as the brief surge in gunfire died down, whatever had been standing in the elevator having been reduced to little more than chunks. “Tasty.”

“You alright, Ma’am?” She heard Lares ask worriedly, looking at the man to her right with a slight grimace. “Got your Mattock.” He held out the weapon and she took it with a light nod of appreciation. Patting her sore stomach, Sparrow started around the counter with the rest of her fire team falling in behind.

“Looks like there’s going to be more than just civvies in here…” She mused as she stepped over the bullet pocked corpse, ignoring the dull squish of her boots in the gore staining the small elevator. Tapping her comm piece, Sparrow spoke quickly. “Roof teams, just a heads up but some of these spooks have some experience. One just tried to make me a stain on the lobby floor.”

“Always making friends.” Feldmann replied quickly. “We’ll keep an eye out; see if we can avoid any nasty surprises from our hosts. See you in a few.” Grunting in acknowledgement, she cut the line, levelling her Mattock on the controls for the elevator and pumping a few rounds into the circuitry. Satisfied no one would be riding it to sneak up on her again; she looked to the fire teams fortifying the entranceway.

“How we looking?”

Corporal DeGeorge looked back at her, shaking her head slightly. “Local police is already beginning to show, Ma’am.” The woman called, and Sparrow frowned beneath her visor. It must have shown in her body language, cause DeGeorge quickly added, “Not many yet, and they aren’t making any attempts to come in. Probably planning to barricade us in until the real heavy lifters can come.”

“Perfect.” She snarled, tapping her comm for platoon wide as she motioned her team towards one of the doors leading to the staircase. “Get to work everyone. I want these civvies out in five minutes, and this building falling in ten.” Kakariki was already rigging the first of their demo charges to one of the designated positions before Sparrow looked slightly to the corporal in charge of Robin. “Birkingham, take your boys and these two,” She gestured to two of her own team. “And start sweeping the second floor. Me and Devera will take care of whatever’s down here.”

The man nodded, starting up the stairs with the marines in tow as Sparrow called after them. “And make sure they take the stairs!” Leaning back into the lobby, she shouted at no one in particular. “Someone shut the lift off, ASAP.” Devera chuckled lightly at her, and the sergeant squeezed a light sigh out of tight lips. “I hate this job.”

“Didn‘t you just break the lift?” He asked curiously, as Sparrow stopped by the double doors leading into the minimal security offices that co-ordinated all of the security personnel for the facility.

“I’ve learnt never to under-estimate a determined hostile with technical skills. Breaking it and shutting it off will at least make life much harder.”

“And we get to take the stairs.” He joked, standing opposite to her with his hand on the door handle. “They don’t make buildings like this very often anymore. Real doors? Pretty classy.”

“Shame we’re going to level it, right?” She fired back, leaning out of the way of the door and tugging it open quickly. There was a brief silence, before she peeked around the corner and caught a glimpse of the half dozen weapons levelled on the doorway. The security office wasn’t big, by any stretch, nor particularly designed to resist prolonged attack she could tell, but they obviously had a weapon’s locker inside since the weapons pointing her way were assault rifles instead of the predator’s their lobby counterparts had been using.

Ducking back behind the door frame to avoid getting her face blown off in the salvo of fire that erupted from the guards. “Well, they’re not going anywhere easily.” Devera commented, pulling a grenade from his hip and holding it up for her to see. “Could clear them right out.”

For a brief second, the sergeant considered it, but she knew well enough that the security teams weren’t actually Oracle. No doubt hired to guard what they thought was just any old building in the downtown core, blissfully unaware of the fact that it was actually a front operation for a shady organization. Having a conscience was more trouble than it was worth. Shaking her head no, she switched her speakers to external.

“Hey! Guys!” There was only silence from the room beyond, save for the shuffling of a few feet and muffled whispers she couldn’t make out. “I know you can hear me in there, so hear me out, alright? You’ve got yourselves a pretty solid bottleneck here, and judging by those guns I saw you could probably make sure nothing gets through this doorway for an hour or two. That’s a pretty good plan.” She motioned with her fingers at Devera, and he sceptically tossed her the grenade. “Only problem is, we’ve got this.” She caught the small sphere and held it out in the doorway for a moment. “If you’re not military, I’ll fill you in. Standard issue fragmentation grenade, typical Alliance fare, with a wounding radius of around 20 meters. If I toss this in there, what do you think it’s going to do?”

She half expected one of them to take a pot shot at her hand, but the threat of the weapon she held seemed to be making them cautious. Devera seemed utterly perplexed by this approach, but didn’t voice his thoughts aside from the quizzical tilt of his head. “So now that we have your attention, let’s make a deal. You boys probably don’t work for Oracle, yeah? You’re just honest people doing honest work for an honest day’s pay. I can respect that and I don’t want to punish you for that. So, if you put down the guns…and let us come inside, we’ll let you go. Simple as that. Just like everyone else in the lobby. Nobody needs to get hurt. Does that sound good?”

Someone found their voice, an older man by the sound of it. “How can we trust you? If we’re unarmed, what’s to stop you?” She was still, shutting her eyes for a moment before retracting the hand that held the grenade and attaching it to her belt. After a heavy breath, she tossed her Mattock around the corner into the room beyond, earning a startled yell. “The hell are yo-”

She upholstered her predator next, throwing it inside as well before looking to Devera who was shaking his head furiously at her for the sheer stupidity of this plan. “I’m stepping out. Those are my guns.” She pushed off the wall and stepped into full view of the doorway, letting her visor’s tint vanish so the security forces could see her face, however little it showed. “See? No guns, just my grenades.” Her hands out at her sides, she pointed briefly to the weapons attached to her hips. “Now my friend outside still has his, and the rest of my platoon is spread throughout the building, so I don’t think it’s in your best interest to squeeze those triggers. I’m out on a limb here for you guys, so how about we put those weapons down and nobody has to lose their head?”

The fuck was she thinking? The fuck was she doing right now? Her adrenaline implants were dialling up without any need for prompting, the prospect of staring down six automatic weapons alone causing her heart to hammer in her chest. If they fired, she’d have a chance, however small. She could duck back into cover at a moment’s notice, even if they’d land a few hits before she could. Devera could toss a grenade and that’d be that. It’d trash her mattock and predator, but with luck there would something in the weapon’s locker she could borrow.

She scanned their faces, all men of varying ages, but some were young. One looked like he wasn’t even legally allowed to drink yet and she found herself focusing on him out of them all. This was just a job; she wanted to say, not worth getting yourself shot over. This is just a pay check. Put the gun down. She didn’t want to kill a kid. She didn’t want to see this whenever she tried to look at one of the privates. For a split second, she pictured Roger, stuck in a helmet slightly too big for his head and staring down the most intimidating thing he‘d likely ever seen in his young life. Her face softened.

“C’mon. This ain’t worth it.”

As the kid dropped the gun, she smiled. It took only a few nervous glances between the remaining guards before they cautiously began to lower their weapons to the ground, with the older man being the last to relinquish his weapon with a stoic nod. “And you’ll keep your word?”

“Of course. Devera, escort these gentlemen to the lobby and get them on their way. Make sure the police don’t mistake them for us.” Devera stepped cautiously around the corner, his weapon still in hand but lowered in compliance. Sparrow motioned with her head for them to get moving, and the guards filtered out in front of the marine as her squad mate spared a long look at his superior. “Yes?”

“You have some serious screws loose, Oberacker.”

“That’s why they promoted me.” They said nothing more, as he moved to escort his charges out of the building, calling loudly so they wouldn’t surprise the teams waiting in the lobby. As soon as he was out of her immediate vicinity, Sparrow released a long shaky breath as she stooped down to the ground to retrieve her weapons. “Hooookay, Sparrow, you’re going to see Grass and get on some meds after this, you crazy bitch.” She stammered to herself jokingly as she attached the weapons back to their appropriate places and took stock of the room.

There wasn’t anything overly special about it, just a fairly standard security office that was perhaps slightly shinier than most she’d seen? Not really something to tip one off to the secret funding and shadowy sorts that had created the structure, or at least repurposed it. Scanning the work stations, nothing leapt to her as inherently out of place.

Stepping backwards out of the room, she spoke across the platoon channel. “Status. How we doing people?”

“Swan. In good shape, clearing the last few rooms on the top floor with Owl.” She nodded, meeting Devera at the foot of the stairs and starting up towards the second floor.

“Amazon. Third floor is almost rigged completely. Placing the last few charges.”

“Eclectus. No attempted entries so far and civilians are being received safely. Police encirclement is tightening though, and we’ve got a few Kodiaks dropping off boys in blue with body armour a little thick to be LEOs.”

Sparrow stopped on the stairs at a group of civilians descending with their hands raised partially above their heads, standing aside so they might pass. Every single one kept their eyes locked on her as they shuffled by, the fear almost palpable as they quickened their strides to carry them to safety. “Robin. We’ve a…slight issue, ma’am.” The sergeant grimaced.

“Talk to me.”

“Most of the second floor has been cleared…”

“But?”

“…but we’ve run into some resistance. Not a hostile, I don’t think, but one of the civilians isn’t complying. He’s staying in his office, and I can’t get him to come out.” Pulling the door open as she reached the floor, she ushered an approaching civilian into the door with a sharp jerk of the head, before focusing on her HUD to locate the corporal.

“Why not drag him out?”

There was a long pause, before the man sighed. “I’m worried, Ma’am. Anytime I’ve stepped into the room, he’s got his hands beneath his desk, in the drawers or something. If he’s got something in there, at close range…”

“Our shields won’t count for much. I get ya.” Following the readout on her HUD, she waved Devera off to assist the others in clearing the floor before rounding the corner to find Corporal Birkingham shuffling nervously in front of the door to one of the corner offices. He noticed her approach and hurried over to meet her halfway. The man was always a bundle of nerves. “I’ll take it from here. Go keep your boys from throwing each other out a window or something.”

“They probably would…” He bemoaned, nodding in compliance and hurrying to check on his fire team. She watched his retreating back for a moment before continuing down the hall and pausing outside the sleek glass wall that separated the room from the more typical workspaces scattered throughout the level. The man sat behind his desk, fingers laced in front of his bowed head and she could see the sweat beads dripping down his forehead and staining the collar of his suit.

Readying her predator, she pulled the door open quietly and stepped into the room with her eyes locked on the man, who flicked his head up to meet her gaze, looking like a cornered animal staring down the hungry predator. “Yo.” The pistol remained at her side, but the man was painfully aware of it’s presence by the way his widening eyes kept darting to it. “I hear you’re not going to leave. Why’s that?”

“There’s no reason to.” There was a conviction to his voice, but it shook under her faceless gaze. “You don’t want to hurt us? Then why should I leave?”

“Decent idea. Minus the fact that I’m going to blow this place up.” He stiffened in his seat. “Yeah. You probably shouldn’t be here for that. C’mon, let’s get you out.” The sergeant took a step forward, and the man’s hands darted beneath the desk quickly. She froze, pistol raising slightly at her side but stopping after a few inches when he made no further movements. “Take it easy.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Can’t say. Now why don’t you stand up and take your hands out from under the desk, alright?”

“You can’t just come in here and make demands! Waving your guns around and shooting innocent people!” His voice was rising in pitch, and Sparrow swallowed the lump forming in her throat as his eyes burned accusingly on her visor. “What gives you the right?!”

“Relax! No one innocent has died today! No one innocent WILL die today! The building is all we’re after! Now back away from the desk!” Her voice rose, despite her attempt to keep it even to calm the man, and he seemed even more spurred by the escalation.

“Why the hell should I listen to some piece of shit terrorist?!” He roared, slamming one hand the desk as he rose sharply from his seat. She could see the muscle tension through his shoulders and arms, her breath hitching as the obscured arm began to emerge with tightened knuckles around…something. Rationality lost its place. A lifetime of close calls and near-death experiences overwhelmed thought and her arms straightened the pistol into a ready position. The world had the speed suddenly sucked from it, as implants roared to life at the perceived threat.

There was no time for protest, finger tightening on the trigger and the round punching clean through the soft tissue of the breast.

The second round tore over the shoulder, shattering the glass off the corner office and tossing the man off balance.

The third ripped through the soft tissue of the throat, which sent the figure toppling backwards through the still fragmenting window.

Her footsteps thundered to the edge as the air filled with panicked gasps and screams, stepping to the lip long enough to see the body crumple into the concrete, splattering blood and grey matter across the street and nearby police vehicles. Sparrow stared silently out the window, feeling the heads turn upwards towards her with accusing horror. Her body didn’t feel anything, hands still tight on the gun by her side.

The implants deactivated, colour returning to the world as she became aware of her own ragged breathing. Idly, her brain recognized the danger of exposure with the sheer number of LEOs below but she was sluggish. Stumbling backwards from the shattered window, her hip hit the desk, and she let herself lean against it as her eyes flicked down to the smooth title of the office floor. She trailed the small splatters of blood, before catching the glint of something metal.

The sergeant stooped down, brushing armoured fingers over the reddened surface of the broad faced, platinum watch; feeling the soft cracks in the casing from its sudden fall. Picking it up with an almost reverent care, it ticked dully in her ears as the old-style device sat plainly upon her palm.

There were footsteps by the door, but she didn’t look until she heard a voice calling to her. Forest green eyes flicked over to see Pinnick watching cautiously from the doorway, unquestioning but it was obvious she had an idea of what had transpired. “What is it?”

“We’ve got something you’re going to want to see, Ma’am.” She nodded dully, lowering her hand and tucking the watch away soundlessly. “Ma’am?”

“Yeah. Show me.”

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Pinnick lead the way, guiding her past the last few civilians exiting from the top floor and into the executive offices that made up the bulk of the top floors space. The offices were all deserted now, and save for the few still bodies of what she assumed were Oracle agents; there was little sign of any struggle. Pinnick motioned her into one of the rooms, and she entered to find it occupied by Amazon and Private Fischer from Fire Team Owl. He was working quietly on his omni-tool, a small blue haptic interface illuminating the wall behind him curiously.

Saint was tapping away on the soft blue of its keyboard just behind the large figure, clearly focused on whatever it was the two were working on. Sparrow glanced to her right, spotting a bloodied man kneeling in the corner with one of the privates standing watch over him. His face was bowed, but it wasn’t hard to sense to sheer anger radiating from his hunched form. “I’m assuming he’s not a civilian?” She asked, tone lacking its usual joviality but no one seemed to notice.

“Oracle agent, or so we have to assume. We caught him in the middle of wiping a data-mine, so we got Saint and Fischer to take a stab at digging out whatever’s on there.” Corporal Galt replied evenly, seemingly at ease with the current situation. “All the charges up here have been set as well.”

“Good work.” The sergeant looked to the engineer duo. “I’m assuming there’s a reason we have him alive then?”

Galt nodded in the corner of her vision. “Mhm. Saint said there was a chance it could be encrypted to Oracle agents by a retinal scanner or the like.” Saint glanced up with a nod at the mention of her name.

“Or perhaps other code encryption. That’s why he’s not dead and missing body parts.” That might have been a joke from a majority of the marines she knew, but the deadpan Saint wore as she spoke made the sergeant glance back at the man just to make sure he still had everything attached.

“Right. Have either of you had any trouble then? Encryptions or otherwise?”

“A couple bio feedback killers, but we quashed those. I'm sure there's another layer, but we haven't come across it yet." Saint didn’t bother looking up from her work this time, and Sparrow turned her attention more to the captured man. Not like she actually understood most of the techno-gibberish that engineers were so fond of.

“Anything of value?”

“Junk data, largely.” Logan answered, lowering his omni-tool slightly as he watched the sergeant for a moment. He seemed aware that something was unsettling her, but if he was, the engineer didn’t mention it. “He managed to scrub most of the information about their work here. So far, everything else has been observation notes about a few local figures of importance and agents within the building.” Saint gave another nod, still intently focused on her work.

Sparrow occupied herself by examining the silent captive for a few moments, before there was a light yip of satisfaction from behind her and she met with Tia’s gaze. “Well now. Look at that. A bolt hole.” There was a brief pause before she clarified. “It looks like there’s an escape route.”

“Can these guys get anymore cliché?” The sergeant muttered, watching contently as the data was uploaded to Saint’s omni-tool, and then quickly linked to her own. Glancing at the schematics for a few brief moments, she frowned. “The security office? I knew there was something off about it…” Dismissing the display with a sigh, she looked back to the engineers. “Fischer, get back to your team, I think this mine is tapped.” He nodded and stepped out the door quickly. “We’re pretty much done…once Kakariki has the last charges set, we’re leaving. Which leaves us with you…”

The room’s attention came to focus fully on the Oracle agent, who still made no attempt to look at the surrounding marines. Before she could think properly on the man’s fate, her comm line barked sharply in her ear. “Ma’am! Ma’am! We gotta go! We gotta go!” The normally calm DeGeorge was practically yelling straight in her ear, and as she opened her mouth to ask what had gotten the corporal so riled up, the answer came in the form of the thunderous M35 155 mm shell. The building practically shook from the impact, and the marines immediately looked between each other frantically. “They’re deploying a fucking tank to cover the infantry‘s movement! The Alliance is not fucking happy with us!”

“I got that, Corporal. Keep the doors secure as long as you can, we’ve got a new escape plan.” Galt looked to her curiously, but the sergeant was already switching to the platoon wide. “Victory 3rd! Times up! Everyone get your asses to the ground floor! We’re going to make use of an Oracle escape route to get out of this shit-hole. Move!”

There was no chorus of affirmatives, just the silence of understanding that spoke of the gravity of their situation. “Sergeant?” Galt asked questioningly, earning a sharp look from her superior.

“I want your team into that hole first. Get as far down it as fast as possible and tell me what the hell is waiting on the other side.” She stepped out the room, pointing a finger at her own team. “Once we’re on the ground floor, we’re taking over for Pebbler and Eclectus. We’re the last ones out. Any objections, feel free to climb into the hole with the others.” There were no complaints, and she spared a glance back at the room, seeing the Oracle agent’s feet just beyond the door frame. “We don’t have time for him now.”

The teams began to move, Sparrow watching for a few moments before a subtle crack of a pistol broke over the battle beginning below their feet. Turning sharply, the forest green of her eyes narrowed sharply as the Oracle agent slumped over as Saint exited the room calmly with her sidearm drawn. Before the engineer could move past, the sergeant gripped her arm sharply, glaring coldly down at the shorter woman. “The fuck is wrong with you?!”

She was in the process of holstering the weapon when Sparrow caught the limb by the bicep, digging into it harshly and making her flinch. Saint’s eyes watched her visor curiously, as if she was the one behaving oddly. “You said we didn’t have time for him. He’s the enemy.”

“We don’t just execute people! We’re not some terrorist fuckshow that offs everything in its way! You…you…” She gripped her head, an echoing ring of shattering glass pounding in her head with every heavy beat of her heart. “God-dammit, go! Get the fuck moving, now!” She practically threw the limb forward, not even looking at the operative as she sucked in air angrily to calm her nerves.

“Sergeant?” Devera stepped up cautiously, placing a hand on her shoulder and nearly taking a fist to the stomach as she whipped around sharply to stare into his visor. “You alright?”

“I don’t frankly know. Let’s move.”

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The lobby was in chaos as she descended; thick clouds of dust and shattering ceramic filling the air and choking her filters. The HUD painted the friendly units in the lobby, and she immediately raised her Mattock to pour fire on the encroaching Alliance troops. The marines turned to put fire on her, but she wasted little time sprinting across the gap between the exit of the stairs and the security desk, sliding over the counter and dropping into cover from the counter attack. “Status! NOW!”

“Amazon. We’re in the tunnel, moving as fast as we can. It’s cramped as hell, can only move single file.”

“Fucking perfect! Eclectus, Pebbler! Fall back to the security office!”

“Ma’am!” The corporals chorused, immediately rising from the battered barricades they’d crafted to lay suppressing fire with the sergeant’s fire team as the privates rose and sprinted to the ‘safety’ of their chosen escape route.

“Robin is inside, Owl is entering now.” Corporal Stevenson spoke calmly, but she wasted no breath on a reply as another 155mm shell sailed through the lobby and blasted a hole in the back wall; showering her position with chunks of crumbling ceramic and concrete. Ignoring the thick coating of dust, she rose to fire on the fresh wave of marines storming through the battered entrance.

Lares slid over the counter beside her, but popped back up immediately to trade shots with his avenger. “Eclectus’s boys are in. DeGeorge, fall back!” He shouted to the lone corporal, who nodded in compliance and started a slow steady retreat while laying covering fire.

“Pebbler! You’re up next! Go, go, go!” Sparrow demanded, watching two of the figures fall back quickly while the third hovered by the fourth. “The fuck are you doing! Move, Detts!”

“Copy that, Ma’am. Give them hell, Mar.” The Corporal fell away, leaving the one last silhouette on the barricade, propped up against it with a rifle in hand. The sergeant rose to climb over, but the swirling dust cleared for a moment and she caught sight of the bloodied stump where the private’s leg should have been. The soldier, the display told her it was Brooke Mar, flashed a vigorous thumbs up, and Sparrow could only stare before forcing herself to throw one back to the young girl.

The Alliance marines seemed aware of the abandoned cover, quickly moving through the swirls of dust to utilize it for themselves, only to quickly find themselves staring down an avenger in a very open area. The private fired widely into the group, accuracy understandably shit with her injuries, but when the enemy was bunched, it wasn’t necessary. Sparrow suppressed on the opposite flank, motioning sharply with her finger for Devera to take Eclectus’s abandoned cover as another tank round blew another sizeable hole in the building. “They’re gonna bring it down on us at this rate!”

“Should have saved the bombs!” Mar replied groggily, tossing her avenger aside and drawing her predator up to pump a few rounds at the marines trying to clip the barely visible soldier. “They’ll bring it down for us!” The team shared a look, hearing the fear that was lurking underneath her voice, but no one made mention.

“That’s awfully kind of them, isn’t it?” Pinnick replied, still positioned within the stairwell as she pumped a few rounds from her Mattock.

“Very kind. I might…” The private trailed off, sliding down into the mangled barricade as the pistol clattered to the ground. “…just have to pay them back.” The words were laboured, as she tugged at her belt and pulled it closer to her head. “One good turn…”

Mar’s voice hitched, sounding more like a pained sob than any attempt to speak. Sparrow straightened out of cover, firing with a furious roar at the marines rushing towards the private. “You’ve done enough, Brooke.” Her heat-sink hissed in overheat, and the Alliance team swarmed the battered barricade. The helmet turned towards her, before the belt came alive. There was only a split second as the first marine peered over the ledge to see the belt tight against their cover. The sergeant raised a hand in salute.

Brooke’s smile carried in her words. “Thanks.” The lobby shook as the grenades detonated in unison, blowing the barricade to chunks and shredding the marines in a hail of shrapnel. Lares pulled Sparrow down to avoid the brunt of the blast, and she sat quietly beneath the counter for several moments.

“Status?” She spoke softly, and Feldmann replied just as lightly.

“We’re all in. Come on.” Pulling up her omni-tool, she looked down at the master control she’d been granted for the explosives. Her hand lingered above the switch, before swallowing sharply. Pressing the switch, a countdown quickly appeared in her HUD, and her team likely saw it too.

“Let’s get going.” Hopping the counter, she fired a few staccato bursts as Lares and Pinnick moved into the hallway leading to the security office. Devera fell back slowly, laying down suppressing with his avenger. There was a furious rev of the engine, and Sparrow looked sharply to the doorway as the Mako barrelled up the steps, apparently done with patiently shelling them and intending to bring itself to the forefront. “Move!”

Lares dropped into the hatch first, sliding down the ladder as fast as the bulk of his armour would allow. Pinnick was practically stomping on him as she began to climb inside, trying to make space for Devera and Sparrow as the Mako rolled to a stop at the end of the hallway. The cannon swivelled as the pair rushed through the doorway, Devera swinging around to slam it shut just as the echoing boom of the cannon crashed against their ears.

The door splintered apart, and the next thing she knew, Sparrow was sprawled on the ground beside the escape hatch with her head ringing furiously in her ears and Pinnick yelling up the chute at her. “Sparrow! Get inside!”

She rolled over, pushing herself forward for a second before feeling the soft wet squish beneath her gloves and her eyes noticed the faint mist of red dancing in the air in front of her eyes. The countdown timer blinked in warning, but she glanced about the room slowly. The red was everywhere. She could feel bits of moisture escaping her dust clogged filters, but as she took one final stock, Pinnick screamed up at her. “Get inside and shut the fucking hatch!”

The sergeant nodded to nothing, fumbling down into the hatch and pulling the top shut. She descended a few rungs before the world began to shake and the sound of collapsing steel and rending metal filled the air. The intensity, so close by shook her violently and she lost her grip on the ladder, skidding down several rungs before catching one around her elbow. Staring dully down the shaft of barely lit darkness, she saw Pinnick’s visor staring up though black with the lights on opposite sides of her head.

Neither said anything until the sergeant had disentangled herself from the ladder and finished her descent. At the bottom, Sparrow sat for a long moment, just breathing while Pinnick watched quietly. Lares stood alone further down the hall, the occasional nodding of his head indicating he was likely speaking with the platoon. “Sparrow?” Pinnick broke the silence as she knelt in front of the SO, placing a hand lightly on her shoulder. “I’m…I…”

“What are you on abou…where the hell is Dever-” Her eyes widened, immediately raising her arm up towards her visor and into the light from the helmet. The sickly red liquid clung to the back of her hand and arm, sharpening her breath into painful gasps. Her stomach churned in a fit of tumbling emotions, slamming the hand roughly against the wall as her heartbeat began to hammer in her ears. Hand coiling into a fist, she slammed it on the wall, forcing herself to release a long rolling breath as she forced the anger to the forefront of the emotional blur.

“Sparrow?” Pinnick asked cautiously, stepping back as the sergeant rose to her feet.

“Let’s get moving.” She intoned; voice even and firm, but beneath the control her blood burned, molten and scorching her veins. The marine stared back for a moment, eventually nodding and hurrying after Lares who waved them forward before moving further into the cramped passage way. Sparrow’s steps were heavy, never leaving their backs as her shoulders chafed on the constricting walls of their escape route. “Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker, do you copy?” She asked into the static filled communication channel, but there was no reply through the white noise. “Great…probably too deep.”

Glancing to the low ceiling above her head, she shook her head before quickening her pace to catch up to her remaining fire team. They travelled in silence for a few minutes, before reaching the slightly wider chamber housing the ladder up to the surface. “Inconspicuous, huh?” Lares muttered, slinging his rifle and starting up the ladder.

“Maybe it’ll come out in a phone booth.” Pinnick offered, gaze lingering on their silent leader for a second before following her comrade up the ladder. Sparrow reached up once she was a good ways up it, glancing back down the hallway.

“Feldmann, how are things up there?” There was less static as she began to climb, and eventually the Corporal’s voice became clear.

“We’re going to need to hit the ground running.” He replied, sounding slightly out of breath and more irritated by the second. “The streets are far too abandoned for this time of day, and I’ve seen Kodiaks ducking behind buildings nearby. They’re going to swarm us.”

“Cause that’s what we need.”

“What we need is an extraction point.”

“I’m working on it.” She shot back, hauling herself out of the hatch into a dimly lit room, unfurnished and looking like it hadn’t seen something alive in a few months. Light poured in from a small staircase to her right, and she took it two at a time to emerge into an alley of little description. The majority of the platoon was scattered throughout the space, watching cautiously for any approaching hostiles. It wouldn’t hide this many marines for long.

With that in mind, she tried again. “Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker, do you copy?” There was a beat of silence, and she was about to speak again when Invaru’s voice sounded in her ear, neutral and professional as always.

“This is Overwatch, update.”

Silently breathing thanks, Sparrow looked out the alleyway towards the streets beyond. “We’ve destroyed the target, but the Alliance had encircled the building. An Oracle escape route provided an out, but the primary extraction isn’t going to work. Requesting an updated extraction point.”

"One moment." The Operative’s voice was completely calm, almost to the point that it had the opposite effect on her own nerves. There was a light thrum beginning to fill the air, but she shook her head as Invaru continued. "There is a lot that has been cleared for construction a few blocks away, past an open market and more corporate buildings. Alley ways and the bazaar should provide limited cover from Alliance armour and air. Note, we are sending Kodiaks to await you but will remain a few clicks away from the evac point until you reach it so as to limit fire from Alliance forces. How copy?"

“Solid copy, Overwatch.” The new evac point blinked up on her HUD, syncing with the platoon’s displays and painting the point for them. She motioned in the direction as she readied her mattock. “Overwatch, I’m-” The thrum grew into the roar of an engine, and Sparrow’s eyes snapped wide at the familiarity of the sound. “Gunship! Move!”

An A-91 swept in low over the alleyway, turret on the underside of its nose spraying the narrow space indiscriminately. Several rounds glanced off her shields, but she instinctively shielded her face for a moment before forcing herself forward several steps. The gunship swept high through the buildings, likely to bank around for a proper strike. “Get going now! Fuck formation, just go! Stick to cover!”

No one needed additional prompting, and the platoon barrelled out of the alleyway in a stampede as the air began to fill with that heavy thrum once more. In her ear, she heard Invaru, still unflappably calm, “Ground team, status?” and she bit her lip as she thundered out of the alleyway after her soldiers.

“Alliance A-91, Overwatch!” She made sure to avoid yelling it to her superior, even if everything in her right now was saying yelling was the best possible thing, preferably accompanied by swears. Numerous Kodiak shuttles swept overhead, bay doors opening and the occupants peppering fire on the marines. “And now the marines are swooping in!”

“Can you hold?”

It only took her a brief second to consider a response; sliding roughly on a leg behind an idle sky car as the gunship loomed back out of the skyline with its sights firmly set on her pitiful little block of metal. “This isn’t even mine, dude!” The gunship cared little for whoever the unfortunate bastard who owned the car was; firing a salvo from its machine gun as it began to sweep along the street. They lacked any heavy munitions, and she wasn’t the type to try and bring down a gunship with only determination and an assault rifle. “Negative on that. We’re not even going to try. We’re moving to the evac point now.”

There was a rumbling down the road from whence they’d come, and it was only with dread that Sparrow turned her head from the gunship to find exactly what she feared looming further down the street. “Another goddamn Mako?! We already crushed one!”

There was a long pause on the comm, but there wasn’t time to question what had gotten a hold of the Operative’s tongue. “Alleyway! Keep moving!” The marines looked at her in surprise, what with the gunship still laying down suppressing fire on their meagre cover, but they listened, vaulting their cover and swerving into the first alleyway available to them.

It was a point of pride that they maintained proper tactics, fire teams leapfrogging in tandem while others diverted the attention of their attackers by trading a few shots with the Kodiaks and gunship. It wasn’t the quickest thing though, and the Mako wasn’t slowing down, so she stepped out from behind her thoroughly mangled cover. “Sup asshole?!” The Mattock barked a few shots, and the turret swivelled towards the sergeant with lethal intention. “Just swimming in good decisions today, huh, Sparrow?”

Diving to the side, the 155mm round raced past with a hissing wail; detonating a few feet behind her and tossing her several more feet ass over head and covering her armour in even more dust. Clawing forward, she scrambled for the alleyway as the coaxial LMG peppered the street around her. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-” Another shell raced past, deafening her ears with the proximity as she swerved sharply into the alleyway.

"Continue with the route provided, I will re-route resources towards you. Overwatch out." Invaru spoke softly, but that was likely just the fact that her ears were still ringing. The platoon was mostly at the other end, and her stride quickly ate the ground between them as the first team stepped into the street beyond. No sooner than the first one was exposed, the air filled with gunfire and thick plumes of shattering concrete erupted around their feet. One of the marines barely had time to react, dozens of rounds shredding their armour as the others in the team dived backwards to avoid the burst.

No sooner had the body hit the ground did the Gunship bank in low at the end of the alleyway, floodlights blinding the immediate marines as it’s gun readied another burst. Sparrow pressed herself behind a dumpster, as the teams scrambled for makeshift cover, but the roaring engine rising over the gunfire told her they’d soon be pincered between two vehicles they lacked the means to defeat. “Engineers! Burn it!”

There was a shared pause, before each of the engineers leaned out from their hiding places and fired off an incinerate blast. Positioned as it was, it couldn’t react quickly to the attack, and took the majority of the blasts straight on. Typically designed for anti-infantry, an incinerate blast wasn’t going to bring down a gunship, but as the canopy went up in a blaze, the pilot wasn’t going to be shooting straight.

The A-91 banked out of their way, in the nick of time as the Mako rolled to a stop at the opposite end and brought its cannon to bear. The first blast clipped one of the buildings, showering the marines in debris but obscuring the alleyway somewhat. There was no need to prompt them, all the teams already dashing out into the street beyond as the Mako carved the alley apart with its machine gun. Sparrow flicked her eyes to the HUD, noting the distance to the evac point and wondering where the hell those ‘resources’ were.

Sliding across the hood of another sky car, she traded shots with a circling pair of Kodiaks, winging the shields of the occupants but never managing to do more than that. One of the shuttles banked low, catching another team off guard and shattering the visor of one of the marines who crumpled backwards. One of the nearby marines flung a grenade into the open cabin, which detonated with a satisfying boom that sent the shuttle corkscrewing for a moment, before it righted itself and swept off into the sky, doors closing on the likely shredded occupants.

They swept through another alleyway to dodge the Mako as it weaved onto the street, and the market came into view just up the road. “Triple time it! Into the market!” She barked, turning the platoon’s attention forward. Some of the privates lagged slightly, the weight of their armour and frantic pace no doubt exhausting them but they didn’t fall completely behind. As the first teams burst into the abandoned market, Sparrow skidded to a stop at the entrance way and waved them forward. “Come on, come on!”

The A-91 swept in through the skyline, like a bird of prey as its missile pods opened and primed their payloads. The sergeant looked to the sky, gritting her teeth and urging the privates to run faster. After a moment, the missiles fired, and the street erupted into plumes of fire as the warheads detonated. She almost ran into the strike herself, but Lares caught her shoulder and pulled her back into the relative safety of the small, roofed hall leading into the market.

As soon as the blasts subsided, she pushed past the man off, darting out into the street and catching glimpse of what was left of those who hadn’t made it inside. She stared blankly for a long moment, unwilling to pull her eyes away from the mangled chunks that were supposed to have been her soldiers.

Before she could turn back, one of the bodies moved, and Sparrow quickly crossed the distance to find a lone private pinned underneath another, likely having shielded them from the worst of the blast. A jagged shard of metal jutted out of a large scar in the assault amour, but she knew better than to pull it out. It’d block the bleeding somewhat. “Lares! Give me a hand!”

The specialist complied instantly, moving to the injured man’s side and helping her haul him up to his feet whilst slinging his arm over his shoulder. “We’re going to have to carry him to the evac point, Sparrow.” He cautioned over a private channel, not opposing the idea, simply feeling it needed to be said.

“I’ll haul him myself if I need to.” They entered the market proper, and she frowned when she noticed the majority of the platoon hunkered down near the opposite entrance. “The hell are we waiting for?!”

Pinnick, positioned on one of the entering tunnels, looked to her sharply. “They dropped marines on the far side! The tunnels are a funnel, Ma’am!” As if to prove her point, a barrage of gunfire sliced the tunnel apart, as if a warning shot. “We’re not getting out this way without some heavy causalities!”

“Then fuck, we’ll go back around!”

“Down!” Lares shoved roughly on the private, dumping the soldier in Sparrow’s arms as he shoved the three of them clear of the tunnel they’d just entered. He spun around on his knee, dropping an Alliance marine that had scouted ahead, before bouncing a grenade expertly off the wall and further into the passage, which was met by shouts. It detonated a few seconds later, but it seemed it had done little more than clear the entryway. “They’re blocking this way too.” He muttered grimly, as Eclectus, Pebbler and Robin switched over from the opposite position to help lock it down.

Sparrow, still clutching the injured marine, looked quickly around the market, eyes searching for another way out but finding nothing. After a moment, she swallowed heavily. “Everyone…lock it down and dig in your heels. Salazar, get over here, I’ve got injured.” She hauled the man several feet to the small administrative building that sat in the center of the market, smashing the window with a quick shot and dragging him inside. The medic joined her moments later, and Sparrow relinquished the injured man before climbing up to the second floor.

It wasn’t a tall structure, only just rising above the enclosing “ring” of shops that had become the walls of their little fortress prison. The second floor was ideal for watching the market below, numerous bay windows that afforded an optimal view of all goings on while obscuring the occupant behind slightly tinted glass. It provided the vantage she needed to manage their perimeter properly.

First things first. “Amazon; break off and search the shops. Barricade any entrances you find, and radio back if you get hit with too heavy a breach. Kakariki, Robin; Rip down these stalls, throw up some makeshift barricades. Everyone, keep a close eye on your heat sinks. Manage them and make every shot count. I doubt we’re just going to find a box lying around.” Her initial instructions delivered, the sergeant switched the channel and took a calming breath before speaking.

“Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker. Secondary evac point is a no go; the Alliance has encircled us in the market. We have multiple wounded and we need extraction, how copy?”

“Good copy, standby.”

Standby? Standby. She wanted them to standby?! Sparrow resisted the urge to scream something, moving close to the windows to see below her when she heard the blaring hum of engines. A shower of rounds pelted the marines entrenching themselves in the market, and as it banked around, she saw the flame scarred canopy of that damn gunship once more. “You don’t know when to fucking quit, do you?!”

“Man down!” Feldmann barked, and she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. The bitter-sweet taste of iron filled her senses, and Sparrow slammed a fist against the window futility. There were too many avenues of attack here. Sure they had choke points, but they didn’t have the ammunition, or the manpower or the equipment to hold off everything the Alliance could bring to bear. How long until they brought in mortars? Or breached the buildings to allow armour to enter?

“Pollard!” She barked, hearing a slightly startled noise from the private in question. “Get up here; I have a job for your eyes.” She saw him pull away from his position, questioningly glancing up at the windows that hid her from view but obeying. The sergeant turned back towards the stairs, greeting him with a sharp wave even as the gunship did another strafe past, thankfully not claiming anymore of her marines.

“What do you need, Ma’am?”

She motioned to the gunship that was winding up for another pass. “I need you to keep your eyes on that gunship as much as possible, and whenever it’s about to make a pass, you warn everyone on the platoon wide. If we can keep our heads down, it shouldn’t do much more damage. Got it?”

He nodded sharply, stepping past her to keep tabs on the gunship as it readied its avenue of approach. She opened her mouth to speak, but Operative Invaru spoke, and the colour began to drain from her face. “Ground team this is Overwatch. We are attempting to send you reinforcements, but as of the moment you are on your own. If you can get to a secure location, the Kodiaks are still on standby just outside the city limits.”

Sparrow was still; body slackening as she blinked repeatedly; mouth working around half formed words before finally spitting incredulously. “On our own?! I’ve got an army worth of marines and hardware shooting at us, and we should try and get to a secure location?! This is as secure as it gets right now! I need something, anything, right the hell NOW!”

"Sergeant...The closest available unit I have is the Commander and his team, who are not outfitted with enough heavy ordnance to take on the Alliance Army. If they were to jump down, it would be the Commander at risk. Aside from that, all other marine teams are positioned around the system and assigned to their duties; the Kodiaks are already waiting for you. The only other option would be to use the MAC cannon from the Cruiser..."

There was a long pause, and Sparrow looked down quietly to the floor as her hand tightened around the grip of her gun. Outside the glass, the battle waged, marines trading fire as best they could as the Alliance continued to push and try to break the defensive line. She wanted to yell, swear, curse and rant. She wanted to sit down and just wait. Watching the private moving frantically in the corner of her eye, Sparrow found the clarity, however brief, to speak.

“…No, Ma’am. That isn’t an option. I apologize for my outburst.” She glanced to her rifle, dangling loose in her grip. “Thank you for trying, Ma’am. I’ll see what I can do. Sergeant Oberacker out.” The line went dead, and she stood still in the room as the combat raged. Nothing was coming. This was it.

“Coming for a pass, down!” Roger shouted as the Gunship swept past, hurrying across the room when he noticed the stillness possessing her. The private glanced about for a moment, before crossing a few steps towards her, calling softly. “…Sergeant?” She twitched at his voice, looking to him quickly. “Is…everything alright, ma’am?”

They simply stared at each other, as if the visors weren’t there, as if she was just looking right at his eyes. Weren’t they jade? A bright jade, always had a shine to them, even when he seemed upset. In the faint reflection of her helmet, she could see her own, and they looked dull. Accepting. “Yeah.” She breathed, lying through her teeth and forcing a fake smile that he couldn’t see but it assured him all the same. “Focus on that gunship, Roger.”

The young man tilted his head at the use of his name, but quickly fell back to his task as Sparrow looked out through the glass. Howling screams echoed in the sky, signalling mortars that soon smashed into the market; throwing fire and steel through the air. Shapes began to stir over the buildings, and she raised her rifle as the first drone began to rise above the rooftop. “Keep calm.” She spoke softly, but he heard her all the same, pausing mid-stride to look at her before she opened fire.

Adrenaline implants kicking into full gear, Sparrow could watch in perfectly clarity as her round sent cracks arcing and weaving from the impact into a chaotic spider’s web. As she fired the second, the window splintered, shards of glass refracting the light and shining as they fell. Her third would fire as the first found its mark in the rising machine, followed closely by its successors and making the poorly armoured drone drop back from whence it had come.

It was only one, though, and the rest of wing rose unphased by the destruction of the first. Her eyes swept the assorted barrels as she fired more rounds into the formation, and was both frustrated and relieved to find nothing but the standard assault build. As a second drone corkscrewed into the roof from it‘s damage, the wing split into smaller groups, sweeping out and down into the market as she stepped to the edge to continue firing. “Drones!” She boomed loudly, and several marines reacted to the invading presence.

The drones weaved through the remaining stalls with surprising grace, firing staccato bursts to hinder the marine’s shields but finding little in the way of physical damage to the actual armour of their prey. She looked up to the roofs again as more wings began to appear, knowing full well the danger of drones lay in their numbers, not their ability.

One of the wings set its sights squarely on her, exposed as she was in the broken window and fired a synchronized burst. Her shields flared and failed, but she barely reacted, trading shot for shot as the barrage shattered against her assault armour. Her shoulder jerked roughly as the ceramic plating guarding her left pectoral shattered, and she was in the process of righting her weapon to fire again when a hand roughly gripped her shoulder and pulled her back from the lip several steps.

Two of the surviving drones swept in to finish their work, but met their ends at the quick shots that pierced the ‘head’ of the machines. Roger released a breath as he holstered his Predator, letting go of her shoulder when she gave a sharp tug on the limb in question. The mangled plate immediately caught his gaze, but to his credit the private didn’t point it out. “Be more careful, Ma’am.” He spoke quietly, unsure of himself in ‘chastising’ a superior.

“Why-” The words died in her mouth as a deafening blast filled the marketplace, and their heads snapped in unison to the crumbling walls that marked the blast-site. She moved forward to ‘see’ the damage, but it was for little more than her own personal confirmation. The drones were keeping the marines occupied, and now a new, large doorway had been made straight into the heart of their defence. She couldn’t summon the will to curse.

Roger hovered behind her, clutching his Viper tightly as his eyes flicked to her still back. “What should we do, Ma’am?” She gave no response, watching as teams moved from the other points towards the new gap, firing into the hole without needing any further prompting. “Ma’am?”

She could see how this was going to go. It didn’t take a master of strategy. The Alliance would continue breaching, creating new entrances and spreading them thin while drones thinned out their ammo count. There was no hope of breaching the encirclement at this point, and there was no help coming. Eventually, a point would break. And then it would be over.

How do you keep fighting when it’s only to prolong the inevitable? God, she just wanted to sit down and wait for the bastards to rush in. Was that too much? Her muscles ached and she felt every beat of her heart crisp and painful in her chest. She loved to fight, but now…it felt so pointless. She couldn’t save the platoon. She didn’t have the resources. The knowledge. The drive.

“Sparrow?”

Opening her mouth to speak, Sparrow looked to Roger. She froze mid-turn; her heart leaping into her throat and choking any words that intended to come. The damning hum of the gunship filled the blackening sky, as it swept down into view with its barrel aimed at their exposed bodies. They had no cover. It would hit him first.

The drive wasn’t so hard to find, it seemed. She swept forward, discarding her mattock as her arms snapped up around the private’s body to lock around his torso. There was no time for delicacy, pitching the younger soldier sideways as she threw her body weight with him. They landed in a heap as the gunship opened fire, but the sergeant raised her arms to shield his helmet as the gun caught up to them.

Those few seconds passed so slowly, their shields bleeding together to deflect some of the damage but inevitably buckling under the onslaught. She made no attempt to move, or uncover the private to protect herself more. Shaking with every hit, she kept her visor pressed tight to his, so close that the tint did little to obscure their faces and she could see the panic filling his eyes. Was this the inevitable part? A living shield to a comrade, to a friend, to a...whatever the hell this private was supposed to mean to her that she was willingly putting herself between him and a machine gun?

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad way to go. Maybe it was a good way to go. She still didn’t want to go.

The gunfire stopped. Seconds later, a blast of heat washed over them followed by a thunderous crash of rent metal. For a moment, she waited, expecting the gunship to resume firing and finish what it started. When nothing came, she straightened from her protective coil and looked out the ravaged windows to see no sign of the A-91. “What..?”

Blinding beams of light surged down from the sky, and the air reeked of burning ozone as the lights swept in great arcs around the walls. She tried to rise to her feet, wincing as she felt the warm trickle of blood down her side. Sparrow clutched her injury tightly, slightly surprised when her free arm was tugged over Pollard’s shoulder and he hoisted her up to her feet. Helping the sergeant across the room, the pair reached the lip in time to hear an unfamiliar but commanding voice fill the platoon-wide channel.

“This is Lieutenant Commander Sinoff of the Deliverance. I am assuming control of this conflict. Commence your extraction immediately, Victory 3rd. This is out of your hands now.” She stared in stunned silence at the frigate now hovering over their position; its GARDIAN lasers carving swathes through the suddenly outgunned Alliance forces. She nodded slowly, pulling her limb from Roger’s shoulder and straightening out as best she could.

“This is Sergeant Oberacker of the Victory 3rd.” She paused, staring at the sleek black ship for a moment longer before looking down at the marines below. “…thank you, Deliverance. You really pulled our ass out of the fire.”

“Speak thanks to your superiors, Sergeant. I would not be assisting if not for them.” The line went dead, and she nodded dully, already in the process of switching channels. In the corner of her eye, she saw Roger hurry down the stairs, but paid little mind to his departure as the connection stabilized.

“Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker…the Deliverance is holding position above our own and is holding the Alliance forces at bay. I am requesting extraction, how copy?” There was a beat of silence, likely the Operative checking for a proper confirmation before she replied.

"Acknowledged, ground team, Kodiaks are en route to your location. Overwatch out." If she didn’t know any better, she might have thought that Invaru had sounded relieved. The sergeant stepped towards the stairs, only to be met in a rush by Salazar with Roger a few steps behind. So that’s where he had been going. The medic shot her a look, something between incredulous and appreciative, but neither had the desire to go into that at the moment.

After a brief once over, Salazar ushered her downstairs and forced her into a seat before digging into her med-kit. Her squish skin must have rent rather badly for the medic to actually need to do some field work, but as she felt the disinfectant sting at gashes along her back she hadn’t been aware she had, Sparrow dully resigned herself to the treatment. A few other marines lay nearby, sporting long gashes and cracks to the ablative plating of their assault armour. Each looked like they’d been through hell. It wouldn’t be far off the mark for today.

There was a beep in her ear, and she tapped her comm unit quickly. “Sergeant Oberacker, go ahead.”

“Sergeant, this is Flight Lieutenant Stephen Medwin. We’re en-route to your location; do you have a preferred LZ?” She looked dryly up to the frigate still looming over their heads like a vigilant guardian.

“Park it near the big warship. You can‘t miss it.”

“Copy that, Sergeant. See you in a few. Medwin out.” Dropping her hand back to her side, Sparrow released a long side as Salazar finished the last touches on her injuries and excused herself to another room. The sergeant stared quietly at the ground, slowly beginning to look through the operation in her mind.

She felt none of her usual accomplishment, none of the post mission celebration. Raising a dust stained hand, her eyes picked the small flicks of red still clinging to the normally white polished plating. Maybe this wasn’t supposed to feel like an actual victory, not with the way it went, not with what it cost. She didn’t want to think about it, really, not right now. She was alive. They were alive, and that should be enough.