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Vala Katarina Buchan

Tac-Operations Commander of the Eye of Infinity

0 · 150 views · located in Mass Effect Universe

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

Description

Known Aliases: Mia Moir; Nyx; "Mother of Nightmares"
Gender: Female Image
Species: Human
Age: 34
Height: 5'8
Weight: 153
Race/Ethnicity: White
Group/Nation: Cerberus
Favorite Music: Classical
Favorite Color: Orange
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Alignment: Lawful Neutral - The Judge



Description

A veteran of the dark corners of the galaxy, Vala is quite adept at changing herself into whatever she needs to be for the job at hand, a chameleon of sorts that makes her slightly difficult to keep track of. This makes keeping tabs on her a bit of a nightmare for Cerberus's enemies, but the organization itself is familiar with her natural appearance.

Vala is a natural strawberry blonde, a rarity in the current age of mankind, but aside from a lone streak of the natural colour, her hair is typically dyed onyx black and left loose around her shoulders or in a low pony tail. The commander's eyes are topaz naturally, although thanks to some simple implants, Vala can shift the pigment of her eyes to a variety of colours with a few simple clicks of her omni-tool. She rarely changes them, save for when necessary, and they are easily one of her most distinguishing features.

Her physique is toned and lithe, built much like a gymnast that hints to her agility but disguises her strength. Her figure is modestly curved, and completely devoid of scar tissue in any shape or form.​

Psychology Report

Vala conducts herself with an air of professionalism, or at least she tries to. Driven by a near reckless determination to achieve and improve, Vala is loathe to admit her own weaknesses openly, even if she is privately very aware of them. Every imperfection feels like a personal failing, truly embodying the mentality of "my own worst enemy." An admitted workaholic, Commander Buchan is quick to occupy herself with something when left to her own devices, be it re-reading mission reports, training or badgering the unfortunate souls who've earned her ire.


There is little doubt that Vala suffers from an inferiority complex, although with age has come a stronger confidence than she had in her youth. While she may seem critical of others, she holds herself to the highest standard, one that she likely cannot reach. While others might buckle under this self pressure, for the Commander it seems to be more of a drive to overcome and push forward. While she might question her decisions, she will make them all the same and carry them out despite her own concerns.


When her guard is down, Vala is far more personable. To those she ranks as her friends, Vala has a much more relaxed temper, becomes surprisingly open about herself and her past, and reveals a sense of humor that one would be hard pressed to draw out in the average situation. While she attempts to keep work separate, she is ultimately a social person, and isn't beyond being seen as 'human' among her staff. To those not used to such a sight, however, she might as well be an entirely different person.

Dossier

Born on Terra Nova, in the capital city of Scott, Vala was raised predominantly by her mother, Johanna, as her father, Ramsey, served in the Alliance fleet as a combat pilot, notably in the Fifth Fleet for most of his career. Despite rarely seeing her father, Vala has always been close with both of her parents, although she has a notable difficulty telling them no when it comes to her personal decisions. This fact largely contributes to Vala's rather odd skill set from her youth, as her mother insisted on raising Vala as a 'proper young lady', whilst her father was content to rough house and teach her how to shoot when he was on leave. Since she refused to deny either of them, Vala was both a young lady, and a tomboy at the same time, or at least as much as a young child could be.

Vala dreamed most of her life to join the Alliance like her father, but despite a near perfect examination and a glowing recommendation by the recruiter, she was denied entry into service. It was in this time frame that she was approached by Benjamin Slatton, a family friend, about joining Cerberus. The exact details of how he convinced her aren't clear, but Vala was enlisted into Slatton's black ops unit. Much of her career with the organization is black-listed past this point, save for a few notes from training instructors that she terrified most of her fellow students

While not originally on a command track, Buchan took interest in the authority following her return to service after Benjamin Slatton's death. Many colleagues suspected the interest was her way of coping with the passing of her mentor and fiancee, but the Illusive Man gave her the chance once he deemed she was ready. She organized the formation of the "Nightmare" commando unit under Welles, and using an inherited network of contacts and associates from Slatton, she put her resources to work for the betterment of Cerberus's goals.

Trusted and accomplished, Vala has now been called upon to lend her experience in the darkness to Omni-cell and the Eye of Infinity under Captain Titus.

So begins...

Vala Katarina Buchan's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan

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A half dozen deep orange haptic interfaces sat suspended over the picture perfect polish of the immaculate black desk, but even shrouded by their gentle glow, it was next to impossible to miss the sharp topaz eyes peering over the information in the dim light of the Theatre. The heart of on the Eye of Infinity, the Theatre was built and furbished with spooks and commandos in mind, which immediately explained it's next to non-existent lighting. Dozens of haptic screens provided soft orange light to the space, but nothing that completely repelled the dark clinging to the fringes of the machinery.

The chamber was centered around a singular, large holographic display built into the bulkhead at the room's core, a 'stage' for the most pressing of matters on the unit's list of tasks, and right now that was Sephoroy, the most recent 'dark' colony. On one side lay the entrance, and straight across from it lay the desk of the Tac-Operations Commander, Vala Buchan. If the 'stage' was dormant, she was literally the first thing anyone would see upon entering. The transparent walls were next to invisible in the dark, keeping the Commander in plain sight while offering the soundless privacy her position required. If necessary, they could dim, ideal for private or sensitive conversations. Her elevated 'office' was a different stage of sorts, but it carried it's message with simplicity.

Raising a hand, she dismissed the screens in-front of her with a flick of the wrist, straightening from her seat as the desk retracted smoothly into the dark paneling beneath her feet. With a soundless stride, Vala crossed the office, translucent doors parting soundlessly as she approached and shutting seamlessly in her wake. Descending the short few steps, she came up to the display, the stronger light casting shadows across her pale skin. "So our scans are telling us that, aside from a total absence of human life, nothings wrong." She asked no one in particular, rubbing her thumb and index finger together as she flicked her eyes over the information before her.

"It doesn't make much sense, but that's the reality, Commander." To her immediate right, a younger brunette came up to the small terminal beside Vala. "Everything seems to check out as operational. Not even a sign of struggle." Running a hand through the dark black of her hair, Vala ignored the lone streak of blonde dangling off to the side of her vision.

"That many people don't vanish, Celeste." The operative nodded her agreement, softer features scrunching up as she tried to decipher the information. "Slavers aren't that good, and there's nothing on schedule for departing ships. All of the personal ships are still present, not that any one barge could hold that many people." There was a sudden flash of violet purple light to her left, and while Celeste jumped slightly at the sudden surge of colour, the Commander simply turned her head slightly to the source.

"Commander." The synthesized voice came from the holographic projection a 'man', dressed in a flawless three piece suit that stared at her with a face that looked like someone had literally pulled it straight from a magazine featuring some flawless model. She could see small details, accessories like watches and rings adorning it, but she focused on it's 'face'. "You don't think it's odd that there's a burn mark near the colony?"

"You must be CIP. The Illusive Man mentioned you briefly, I was wondering when you'd introduce yourself." Looking back to the display, she looked at the image the AI had pulled to her attention. She looked at it for a brief moment before raising a brow. "An ignition burn? Vertical at that."

Celeste tilted her head, confusion evident. "Nothing in any fleet I've heard of still uses vertical thrust to achieve take off anymore." The AI looked to her, and the intelligence operative continued. "Various prototypes were considered using the technology by various companies, but ultimately nothing ever came of it. It's just too dated."

"Eden Prime." Vala offered smoothly, looking towards the AI who had a rather smug grin upon his face. It had likely already worked out the 'solution' before they'd even begun speaking, but CIP seemed to enjoy watching them do the work. "The flagship of the rogue spectre, Saren, was capable of vertical take off. Although if I remember the footage correctly, it didn't have much in the way of traditional ignition."

"Are you familiar with the Collectors, Commander?" The image before her changed in the second the AI spoke, displaying a monstrous construct covered in strange almost organic structures, akin to some insect hive. "This is one of their vessels, courtesy of an old security file from a few decades before you were born. It was apparently 'meeting' with some mercenaries or slavers to acquire specimens."

"I though the Collectors were just a myth..." Celeste muttered, barely hiding her dislike of the alien vessel. "Aren't they rarely seen though? What's to say they even came to the colony?"

"Nothing, but look at how their ship landed." Vala motioned to the length of the colossal thing, it's sheer size dominating the horizon. "It's completely vertical, and that giant hole at it's base looks very much like a giant exhaust to me, even if I don't have an engineering degree. The sheer size of the ignition burns look like they could fit as well."

"...so the colony was visited by Collectors at some point?" The operative asked in disbelief, clutching her data-pad slightly tighter to her chest as the commander nodded. "Giant bug ships...oh good..."

"It's just a theory for now, Celeste. Let's not get ahead of ourselves too much. CIP, have you relayed this information?"

The AI rolled it's holographic eyes. "Of course. It's been relayed to the Captain and he's on his way here as we speak." With it's 'work' done, the hologram vanished and the AI 'left' them in only the lightest of senses. It was linked to most of their systems, so she honestly doubted there were many if any areas of the ship were it wasn't aware of everything. It's attitude was...interesting, but she didn't have the time to give it much thought with Captain Titus on his way down to the Theatre.

Aside from a brief introduction when they'd boarded, she'd not had a chance to get to know her superior beyond a brief review of his dossier. While not exactly their first meeting, it would be their first interaction in a professional sense, and it would be best to start it on the right foot. "Celeste, please see the Captain to my office when he arrives." She instructed, turning about as the analyst nodded a quick affirmative and taking the short climb back to her office.

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"That's all the data we really have at the moment, Captain." Vala finished, sliding the last haptic display off to the side of her desk."It's mostly speculation at this point, but it's all we can really gather from the bare minimum information of the scans." She thumbed the collar of her dress uniform, a rich black that mirrored the pristine white of the Captain's, fiddling slightly with the small polished pin of a bird fastened there. "I'm afraid even with this theory, there isn't much else I can tell you about possible threats."

The captain shifted his weight back on one foot and crossed his arms. Looking downward for a moment at the floor, he appeared to be weighing his options. Finally, he asked Vala, "If I asked you to prepare a planet-side recon team, how fast can you assemble one?"

Her reply came almost instantly. "I can have a team ready and in the hangar in no more than ten minutes." In truth, she'd already had a few of her commandos on standby once they'd entered the mission area, as it never hurt to have something waiting in the wings for an assignment.

"Good," Titus said approvingly "Let's keep the recon quiet; so I only want spec-ops in the field for now. I'll contact Commander Horn and have him place a few teams of his marines on standby in case your guys run into trouble."

He walked over to a large haptic display of the burn marking in the northern sector of the colony. "Your primary objective is to analyze this area and try to determine what kind of craft was there before, and - if possible - how long ago. We need to establish a timeline."

She nodded, fixing her gaze on the display knowingly. "Of course, Captain. I'll see to it personally." The burn mark was really their best bet at this point, unless any clues presented themselves in the colony but that was doubtful at best. "I'll keep our numbers light, no one will ever know we were there." She paused, looking to the older man. "Do we have a time frame on possible Alliance arrival? It'd be best to know of any time limits before we've got boots down there."

CIP materialized flawlessly from her desk, looking at her with something of a bored expression. "I've detected no distress signals from the colony sent to the Alliance. It is doubtful they even know the colony has gone dark at all. They most likely shall not respond in any form."

"Thank you, CIP." She looked away from the AI, back to Titus, who still seemed focused on the display before him. "Is there anything else, Captain?"

Titus turned his head slightly to look at Vala over his shoulder. "No, Commander. I'll leave you to it." He then turned and briskly walked out of her office, leaving the Theatre without delay. She watched him go before tapping an invisible key on the surface of her desk. "Major Welles, I want Gravette, Marczak, Arcsberg and Tachi in the hangar in five minutes, prepped for advanced recon."

"You got it, Ma'am. Will you be joining them?"

"I will be. I just need to retrieve my own team."

The setting changes from mass-effect-universe to Sephoroy

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Malina Topor Character Portrait: Martin Grien

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"Attention all hands. Mission is a go. We are now Code: Blue. I say again... Mission is a go. We are now Code: Blue." The primary hangar, home of their impressive fleet of Kodiak transports, immediately dropped into the blue hue overtaking the majority of the vessel, silhouetting the the figures quickly approaching the lone Kodiak hovering just off the hangar floor.

Four of the figures were nearly identical in their armour, sleek, light-less black that nearly disappeared into the dim, leaving only the faintest trace of the orange designs carved into their equipment. While the actual designs on the armour differed, each of the helmets possessed the same snarling, fang-filled grin and sharp 'eyes' wrapped around the small sockets on the helms for their users to see through. Each belonged to the Nightmares, the Eye of Infinity's commando unit that handled tac-operations as well as the...more clandestine operations that even Cerberus needed some distance from.

Following close behind came the chosen 'squad' for the Commander herself, although neither particularly looked liked they belonged among the commandos that boarded before them. The woman lead the two, not wearing her helmet just yet as her pierced lip moved soundlessly in what was likely annoyance, pushing a hand through her dark, blue streaked hair as the larger figure followed in her wake.

There was little to discern about the man encased within the thick combat armour covering his frame, although the armour itself looked as if it had been sent through hell and patched up a dozen times over. His helmeted head bobbed in time with seemingly silent cues from his companion, hands tapping idly on the heavy pistol at his hip. The two stopped just short of the ship, the woman glancing back at the Commander who approached with fluid strides. "Why exactly am I here again?" She asked dryly once the officer was within ear shot.

"Because you're rather familiar with ships and the like, Malina." Came her even reply, the face-plate of her helmet retracted back up along the top of the helm to keep her face visible prior to the mission. "And while I can drag any number of technicians down to the surface with me, in the worst case scenario, you're at least a reliable shot with that handgun." She gestured lightly to the predator pistol on her hip. "Besides, I pay you, remember?"

"You pay me to fly, not to walk into ghost colonies." Mal grumbled in annoyance, but the mercenary dutifully climbed aboard the Kodiak with a grunt. The commander looked to the armoured figure, before his companion barked from inside. "Martin, get in! We're not getting any younger." He complied with a light shrug, hauling himself up and situating himself inside as Vala gave the hangar a quick once over.

Another Kodiak was boarding a few troops, likely Commander Horn's standby teams. One of them, clad fully in the curious armour the small team was uniformly wearing, noticed her attention, and while no time could be spared for pleasantries, she gave the trooper an affirmative nod which was quickly returned before she climbed into the transport and the door sealed itself shut. With nearly perfect timing, the Captain came over the mission comm channel.

"Commander," Titus said, his voice firm and resolute in her ear, "you're clear to execute. I'm counting on you to bring us back some answers. Good luck." She gave a quick glance down to the pilot, who wasted no further time pulling the ship out of the hangar and into the void of space.

"Executing now, Captain." She replied evenly, tapping a small indent on her helmet to close the visor. As it sealed shut, the HUD initialized and quickly brought the world back to her senses, as she continued into the comm link. "Stand-by teams, how copy?" A second later, several 'Good copy' came back from the marine teams. "Excellent. We'll keep you posted. Buchan out."

Her HUD brought up the status of her armour, and she gave it a cursory glance even though she'd already double checked prior to even putting the suit on. Her own personal set, the 'Nyx' as the armorers had once called it, was built and designed with her specifically in mind. Light-weight, it used traditional ceramic armour only in areas of low flexibility, such as the chest or shins. Beneath the plating, the suit's 'skin' was comprised of a reinforced synthetic weave, which offered the full range of motion heavy plating would restrict, while being far more resistant to weaponry than any squish skin could be.

The helmet's outer face was sleek and unadorned, with a slight indented ridge where it sealed when shut for the thin visor of orange running curved towards the helm's chin. The only real embellishment to the armour were thin, dim LED light stripes of orange that traced along the lines of the armour, barely noticeable but providing the smallest hint of colour along the frame of the gear. Satisfied everything was in perfect shape, she looked towards the forward view port as they drew closer to the colony world.

It didn't take long for Vala to notice the thick clouds rolling across the planet's sky. "What's the weather like down there?" She inquired, leaning partially over the pilot's shoulder as his helmet turned partially to her.

"Seems like a storm system is rolling in on the colony, Commander. The Kodiak won't have any troubles with any old storm, but judging by those clouds it's going to be a rather nasty one. Lots of rain and thunder, I'd bet." Visibility would likely be poor in a storm of that size, which would be beneficial to most of her normal operations, but not one that had her hunting for clues.

"I hope you like the rain then, Chekan."

"Love it." He grinned through his external speakers, before returning his full attention to the task at hand.

She looked back to her troops, giving them a once over out of habit. Operative Tachi looked practically unconscious, head leaning dully on the shoulder of Operative Arcsberg, who worked soundlessly on his omni-tool even as he leaned partially down to accommodate the shorter commando as a head rest. She gave the lightest of smiles beneath her helmet, before looking at the pair across from them, who were having a rather rapid conversation about the nature of colony systems.

Gravette and Marczak were technology experts, each more akin to a walking encyclopedia and always eager to discuss the deeper mechanics of their craft. She was content to let them continue their discussion, seeing as they'd likely just lose her if she tried to follow it any closer. She caught the ice blue of Malina's eyes staring at her from the rear of the transport, and the Commander moved closer as the shuttle began re-entry into the atmosphere with only a minor bump of turbulence. "I didn't let you fly..." She began knowingly.

"Don't act like you know what I'm thinking." The merc pilot shot back, even if her slightly raised voice betrayed that she'd hit the nail on the head.

"...because it's best to keep someone on board the transport on the off chance something is still down there." Mal's frown dulled slightly, knowing the logic behind the decision but still less than thrilled about having to ride in the back. "You can drive next time, I promise."

"You spoil her, Vala." Martin intoned softly, bringing the women's attention to him. Seated just beside his fellow mercenary, the soft-spoken man mechanically looked over the M-55 Argus in his grip, which looked just a beat to hell as his armour did. "It's good for her to ride every now and again. Makes her remember what it's like to be a passenger to someone else's whims." Despite the apparent edge to his words, there was no malice in his voice, and the pilot only gave him a warning look before pulling on her helmet and attaching it to the harness of her flight 'armor'.

"Maybe you're right." Buchan replied, unperturbed by the use of her first name by the man. Both Martin and Malina has long grown past that point with her, even if the officer was still technically paying them for their service to Cerberus. There was a soft chime in the cabin as they cleared through re-entry, indicating they'd be landing shortly. "You two stick with me once we land." She instructed, before looking over her shoulder and boomed to the commandos. "Nightmares, we'll have boots on shortly. We'll be dividing our efforts to recover as much information as we can, as quick as we can. Marczak, Gravette;"

"Commander." They acknowledged immediately, undivided attention upon their superior.

"Get into the colony administrative building and strip their mainframe. I want everything, unusual activity, security and maintenance logs, freighter shipments, mechanical failures; nothing slips the net. The colony systems are online, use their communication array to get the information up the the Eye ASAP so the analysts can get to work. Understood?"

"Perfectly, Commander."

"Tachi, Arcsberg; recon the colony, top to bottom. Scans aren't picking anything up, but sometimes machines miss what the eyes might catch. We're looking for anything that might tell us what happened here, so if something seems suspicious, check it out. If you find anything, make sure to sweep the whole scene; we're not going to miss something just because someone didn't check all the angles. If it needs analysis, secure it and we'll take it up with us." The two nodded an affirmative, and Vala continued. "We're not expecting resistance, but this colony went dark for a reason. Whatever did it could still be down there, so I expect you to proceed with due caution and prove why it is we call you Nightmares. Am I clear?"

"Crystal."

There was a slight lurch as the transport made planet-fall, opening it's side hatch to reveal the black storm front sweeping across the dark colony. Heavy rain pelted against the side of the hull, echoing in the small space as Vala motioned out into the downpour. "Let's get to it then."

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In the downpour, she could almost believe that the colony wasn't abandoned, it's residents instead tucked away into the prefab buildings to escape the chilling rain. Lights still shone from inside the various buildings, and the main boulevard she walked still had it's few streetlamps glowing like beacons in the storm. The commander slowed her stride for a brief moment, taking in her surroundings as the rain beat a steady rhythm on her helmet.

"Vala?" Malina whispered through her helmet, quiet and unsettled even though nothing outside could actually hear her words. "Why'd you stop? You find something..?" The mercenary strayed closer to the taller woman, although her gaze stayed focused on their surroundings.

After a moment, she replied softly, "No. Just taking it in." She looked up to the light illuminating her from above, before glancing to the mercenaries. "Hard to believe no one's here." She motioned forward with a flick of her head, resuming her stride. They quickly matched her pace, even as Mal wearily eyed the buildings they passed for any hidden surprises.

"You should relax." Martin remarked, earning a sharp look but continuing. "It's unlikely that there's anything here if the scans didn't pick anything up." She gave him the finger in response, earning a light chuckle from both him and the Commander. "I won't let the boogieman get you, alright?"

"I will beat that smile off your face, Martin." The threat was dulled by the way she jumped as a particular powerful boom of thunder rolled across the sky, but he made no further attempts to tease her as the trio approached the northern wall. It wasn't a massive structure, but provided a basic defense that the colonists could utilize. Approaching the gate, Vala entered the small empty gatehouse to flick the switch. "...the fuck is that?" She heard Malina exclaim incredulously.

Exiting quickly, the Commander was about to ask what was up when she noticed the unearthly glow coming from the coastline. Even with the great storm booming and blacking out the sky above them, it was impossible to miss the murky blue light rolling in on the turbulent waves whipped up by the downpour. It gave the entire coast an almost ghostly look, shrouded in darkness with only pale blue light stretched across the beach. "...I can't say I've seen that before. Some kind of...bio-luminescence?"

"Correct, Commander. Thanks to Sephoroy's nitrate and phosphorus rich environment and frequent storms blocking out sunlight, much of the oceans have giant algal blooms covering their surface. The bio-luminescence is unique to a rather durable species, and the colony even started exporting it recently. Quite popular for an algae among aquarium enthusiasts." CIP offered flawlessly, although she wasn't sure why it felt the need to answer her mostly meaningless statement. "It's largely harmless, so you don't need to worry about approaching it."

"The waves from the storm are much more of a concern, thank you, CIP." She acknowledged with a roll of her eyes. "Let's get this sample, Mal." Moving along the outer slope of the wall, it wasn't long before they came across the ignition burns. While the initial display had shown it's size, it took physically being near it to understand the actual scale of the area effect. "It's almost like a Dreadnought took off here."

"That'd almost be as impressive as managing to land the thing engine down." Malina retorted, moving further into the circle as she raised her omni-tool to do some scans. Martin followed a few steps behind her as Vala looked on. Some of the sand had even been glassed in the intense heat it seemed; little wet, shining patches amid the blackened ground. "The water is gonna make this that much more difficult..."

"We've got time, do what you need to." Shifting her weight onto one foot, the Commander shifted channels to the Nightmares. "Status update."

Gravette replied first. "We're uploading the database to the Eye right now, although the storm isn't helping matters any. It won't take long, then we'll see about tracking down any personal records that might have had some hints. Someone might have recorded something before...whatever happened to this place. We'll keep you updated if we stumble across anything." There was a light murmur of consensus from Marzcak, although he was obviously distracted by something so she gave it little mind.

Surprisingly, Tachi spoke next, instead of Arcsberg, sounding almost half asleep. "Spotted something in the southern quarter. Ran is checking it out now, but it looked like a couple of rifles just laying in the middle of the street." There was a light yawn from the sniper, but if Vala was bothered by it, she gave no sign. "Oh, he's sending me an update...a few discharges on the guns, judging by the heatsinks, and some big bugs laying nearby."

The last bit caught her attention. "Big bugs?" A moment later, an image popped up of a four legged bug that looked to be as large or perhaps larger than her fist. She stared at it for a long moment. "Collect those bugs, Arcsberg, I want the research teams on the Eye to have a look at them. I somehow doubt they're local."

"Of course, Commander." The operative replied, before the channel went quiet and Vala turned her attention back to the task at hand. Moving onto the burned area, she looked it over as she passed before noticing a surprisingly sleek looking patch of ground closer to the center of the pattern.

"Is that a rock?" She muttered, as the pilot stepped closer with her omni-tool. There was a flash of lightning, but in the brief moment of illumination, she saw thin ripples of electric-like energy ebb along the 'rocks' surface. "Malina!"

The mercenary jerked back as the 'rock' suddenly rose, pulsing with purple light that seemed almost biotic in nature. After a moment, twin lights shone on the floating constructs face, as long bladed limbs stabbed down into the charred ground. Malina fumbled back several steps, and it's front snapped to her immediately. The metallic skin of the construct shone lightly in the dull glow from the algae along the beach behind it, but in another flash of lightning, they saw the mound of skulls, human skulls, buried within it's 'maw'.

Thunder shattered the silence that had swallowed the team, as the construct screeched in a shrill, screaming choir; the noise a twisted blend of the maddening chitter of bugs and the grinding scrape of metal on metal. It drowned out even the constant pounding of the rain for a long moment, before the constructs eyes pulsed with thick purple light.

In the split second it took for the energy to collect, Vala lunged, throwing her arm forward as dark energy rippled up her frame and melded to her will. Martin, closer than her, was already moving himself in front of the startled pilot like a living shield as he swept his arm outward around her. The hexagonal shield of pale blue energy blinked into existence a second before the construct's eyes shot forth twin beams of light that slammed against the protective field. Pushing more energy into the shield, Vala grit her teeth as the machine pressed it's attack. "Martin!" She bellowed to the man, barely taking her attention from the construct to address him. "Get her back to the Kodiak, now!"

He nodded sharply, keeping himself between the strange construct and the pilot as he half picked her up half dragged her across the ground towards the colony. The construct stopped it's attack to turn it's gaze after them, but before it could fire it's blast again, twin lashes of pulsing blue energy slammed against it's side, making it wobble momentarily on it's feet before looking sharply to the source. The lashes grew out from Commander Buchan's wrists, powered by small amps hidden in the actual flesh of her arm, the dark energy coalescing into physical constructs that she gripped firmly in each hand.

"Nightmares, we have a confirmed hostile outside the Northern perimeter! Secure your current data and make sure Malina Topor reaches the Kodiak safely. She has the data." Whatever protests they might have had, she wasn't listening as the construct shrouded itself in the purple-blue glow of a biotic barrier. As if the armour on it's hide alone hadn't been bad enough.

It chittered almost curiously at her, ignoring the retreating mercs as it's new opponent squared her feet and calmly opened the line back to the Eye of Infinity. "Captain, I'm not sure if you're seeing this, but the scans were wrong." The construct drove it's long legs deep into the ground as it approached, the skulls inside it's mouth staring blankly at the woman before them. "There's definitely still something down here."

The setting changes from sephoroy to Mass Effect Universe

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Carly Loren Character Portrait: Linda Graves Character Portrait: Daniel Harrens

0.00 INK

Planet: Sephoroy
Ten thousand feet above ground level


"I'm telling you, Blasto is a horrible series. It's acting is stupid, it's picture is nothing more than stencil drawings, and the direction in which the series goes is a complete waste of time!" Linda Graves stated as she ran a rag over her rifle in a almost meditative gesture, her gaze never breaking from the weapon as the other party to the conversation slammed her fist down on the bench.

"Bullshit! I'll admit that Blasto the movie series isn't some kind of Da Vinci painting in a cinematic form, but it has everything that it needs to entertain you! Explosions! One liners! Funny moments! Over the top action!" Carly Loren stated as she held her Vindicator rifle on her lap.

"Oh, so it screams to the inner adolescent in you? I thought grown ups were past that sort of shit." Linda stated, her voice condescending to the point of sarcasm.

"Oh I'm sorry, I'm not the one who was crying at the end of Fleet and Flotilla!" Linda looked up sharply.

"That movie is an acclaimed masterpiece!"

"IT'S ABOUT A HELMET AND FACE CLAWS!" Linda looked up at Carly slightly before turning her gaze to the last squad mate in the Kodiak.

"Lieutenant, can you please inform Sergeant Loren here how culturally dead she is?"

"Oh no, I'm not about to get into the middle of that one. I generally like to have both arms in a non broken state and my pride intact." Daniel Harrens replied, giving a smile as he looked back at both of them through his raised face plate, his one hand constantly on his ear as he listened to the communications between Commander Buchan's team and the Infinity.

"Don't you worry about it LT, Linda over here is just scared to take me on herself because she has a thing with confined spaces." Carly stated as she looked over to their squad marksman who gave a slight glare to the woman.

"In this amount of space, I wouldn't have to aim and I could hit the broad side of a barn. Lucky for me, you're the same size." There was a slight amount of silence before Carly responded.

"Oh...Oh you didn't."

"I believe I just did, but don't worry, I'm sure someone will be around soon enough to milk the cows that are inside." Daniel held back a snicker as he turned back to see Carly getting slightly red faced from the whole ordeal.

"Oh don't worry Carly." Daniel stated as he looked back. "She's just jealous that, with you, there's something left to milk." Both of them paused and Linda looked to Daniel once more.

"A. Didn't you say you weren't taking sides and B. Did you just call me a whore?" Daniel held up a finger.

"Shhhhhh..." He stated as the comm. started getting more active from Commander Buchan herself. he could practically feel the finger being held up in his general direction from his marksman. Daniel listened intently as Buchan seemed to become more curious, and suddenly there was a flurry of orders being issued. Without having to be told, he knew they were under attack and he opened the side of the Kodiak. They were high enough up that they were above the cloud cover and the sun shone brightly into the compartment. Below them however, the clouds were dark as night, which would make a pinpoint drop difficult but not impossible. They would simply have to rely on their HUD to make it through and land near the Commander.

Should they be given the order anyways. Daniel tensed near the door, every fiber of his being telling him to jump and get down there but knowing that once they did, their hand would be shone. If the hostiles had more troops down there, then the element of surprise would mean nothing. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Captain Titus gave the order.

"Aye sir, Demons en route. ETA thirty seconds." Daniel stated as he looked back, only to see Carly and Linda diving literally head first out the other side of the Kodiak. Without a moment's hesitation, Daniel followed them. His HUD immediately filled with relevant information, but unlike a standard marine's display, it also showed drop coordinates and warnings of possible obstacles and hazards in the way. In this instance, the warning symbol was going crazy due to the lightning of the storm, but their shields would negate that.

Or at least, Daniel hoped they would.

"Alright you know the drill ladies. Linda find yourself a good perch, Carly you're on guard detail. I have the heat brigade." Daniel shouted as he entered the clouds and was immediately pelted with rain.

"It's almost as if we've done this before." Linda chipped in as she altered course to find her prefered vantage point.

"Careful Lieutenant, you might just start inspiring confidence." Carly added, and Daniel couldn't help but roll his eyes. A moment ago they were ready to rip into each other, but now they were tag teaming him. Such was the nature of this team though, and no matter what they understood that their lives hinged on each other. It wasn't long before they broke through the bottom of the clouds, and Daniel could half make out where he was going to land. Not long now.

Linda fired her jets first, most likely compensating to land on a building. Carly and Daniel started at roughly the same time. Their entire landing was based on a series of controlled jet boosts that, coupled with muscle enhancing armor pieces, allowed them to survive the freefall. As Daniel edged closer though, his eyes got wide at what he was looking at exactly. He was a couple seconds behind Carly in landing, who managed to touch down just a mere few feet beside Vala with a bit of a crash and ending in a roll into a kneeling position. Daniel landed much the same way, although at the end of his roll he hit his jets again to gain some distance from the...thing that he was now looking at.

The rain and overall storm may have been adding to the eerie effect that this creature was having on him, or it might have simply been the multitude of skulls peering out at him from underneath the equivalent of a turtle shell. Either way, it stopped to look at him, as he was only a few feet from the creature at this point. He paused for only a second while his mind tried to grasp what the creature was, before bringing up his vindicator and firing several rounds into it's faces while running around it.

It seemed to flinch for a split second before it screamed and arced upwards on it's legs. Daniel didn't have time to understand what was happening before a pulsing blue light split from it's eyes and hit him dead center, pushing him back. His shields were draining so fast from the continuous laser that it felt like someone had simply taken the battery out of his suit. Luckily, the Demon armor was designed to have stronger than average shields to compensate for a lower than average durability and armor integrity. In the split second it took Daniel to realize what was going on, he hit his jets and boosted directly over top of the creature, landing hard on the other side as he landed in a slide. Daniel quickly propped himself on his stomach, using his elbows as a brace to fire his Vindicator repeatedly as the creature turned. A rocket slammed into the side of the creature alongside more assault rifle fire, which only seemed to piss the creature off as it turned to face Vala and Carly. A second later, a sharp crack broke through the storm, one could easily mistake it for thunder but at that moment a round impacted on the creature's biotic barrier, making one of it's several heads flip back for a moment.

"Increased barrier strength, armor piercing rounds are barely having an effect." Linda stated from her position on top of a colony building a distance away.

"The rocket just seemed to make it angry...what is this fucking thing?" Carly stated as she loaded another rocket into her weapon. The creature seemed ready to unleash another burst from it's weapon on Vala and Carly, but at that moment it seemed to pause even as the rest of them continued their fire. Suddenly it lifted off into the air and started floating towards the colony.

"Linda! Stay on that creature! Don't lose sight of it!" Daniel stated as he made his way to Commander Buchan and Carly.

"Understood sir." Linda stated, her jets flaring in the distance as she did her best to keep up with the creature. Daniel managed to get to Vala and Carly just as Commander Buchan was finishing up her call.

"You've got incoming Chekan! Get moving!" Daniel stopped just short of them, nodding to the Commander.

"Commander Buchan. Lieutenant Harrens, Sergeant Loren, and Sergeant Graves reporting. Our orders are to kill the creature but you hold tactical command. How do you want to proceed?"

"Cautiously but quickly Lieutenant. That thing is heading straight for the space port, which is supposed to be extraction." Commander Buchan replied to which Daniel gave a nod. It wasn't a battle plan, but her saying that basically left it up to Daniel to interpret what was 'cautious' and what wasn't.

"Alright, we better get moving then...Ma'am." Daniel stated before bursting into a run for the gate with Carly and Vala following closely behind.

They had just reached wall and were heading towards the space port when Linda came over the comm. "Lieutenant, Commander, the...thing has hit the space port. Your primary extraction is down." There was a slight pause for a moment before the Commander spoke.

"Did the pilot get out?"

"Yes ma'am, he and the others are heading towards the secondary extraction point with the marines. Currently it's preoccupied with ripping the Kodiak to shreds." There was a slight pause before Linda spoke again. "Scratch that, two spooks are on the other side of the space port and firing. Effect is negligible."

"Alright." Daniel stated. "We'll kill it when we get there. What's the area like?"

"Crowded with buildings sir. Good cover, but our packs will be limited in mobility. Also, this thing seems to have the ability to send out some kind of...pulse. It nearly took out the Commander's troops when it landed with it."

"Good to know, we're coming in, keep the fire up." Daniel stated as he gave a look back at Carly. "Get high, and get a bead with the rockets."

"Aye sir." Carly replied, her jets flaring a moment after, propelling her high into the sky towards the sky port. Daniel and Vala entered the space sport mere moments after the order to witness the Collector Creation literally ripping the door off the side of the Kodiak. Several puncture marks from the creature's spiked legs could be seen pocket marking the transport.

Sniper rounds peppered the creature while the odd rocket came flying in and sometimes went wide as the creature twisted and turned unnaturally. Two special forces operatives were bunkered down on a second story window, firing in controlled bursts at the creature with the odd overload hitting the barriers of the creature. A shrill shriek came out of it's many mouths as one rocket found it's mark right in the middle of the pack of skulls. It looked over at Daniel and Vala, and arced up on it's legs for a moment. "Incoming!" Daniel shouted as both he and Vala dodged in separate directions. Daniel gave a boost of his pack, increasing the distance of his barrel roll and safely putting him behind cover as the beam passed over top of him.

Fire continued to pepper the creature, and it seemed it was at least having some effect as it seemed to shy away from the rounds peppering it. Daniel slammed a new heat sink into his Vindicator as the creature shrieked and released some sort of electrical pulse that fell just short of their cover.

"See...pulse." Linda stated as more sniper rounds echoed through the space port. Daniel peered above his cover for a moment and gauged the situation. The creature seemed to be heavily armored and with a fairly strong biotic barrier judging by the purple shimmer deflecting the rounds as they found their mark. It was strong enough to rip through the Kodiak's armor, shot lasers from it's eyes like something out of science fiction, and was capable of a electrical pulse that Daniel had no inclination to get close to.

Yep, this was going to be a tough fight. Daniel gritted his teeth slight, bought his rifle to bear, and opened fire.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Malina Topor Character Portrait: Martin Grien Character Portrait: Carly Loren Character Portrait: Linda Graves Character Portrait: Daniel Harrens

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So these were Commander Horn's 'Demons'. She watched them pepper the construct with fire, her own rifle, an M-96 Mattock, at the ready but not yet raised to fire as the thing seemed to just absorb the endless pile of fire they were dumping on it. She'd read over their profiles when she'd taken the position, as she had with the large majority of the crew as expected of someone in her 'department'. An interesting group, but before she could really afford them any attention, Buchan needed to deal with the monster that was currently ruining their entire operation.

"How close are you to the spaceport?" She inquired briskly, shouldering her rifle and feathering the trigger. The stronger rounds didn't phase the thing's shields, even as rockets and sniper fire pelted it.

"We're just about there, Chekan is ready to go the moment we get there." Malina replied shakily, clearly running out of breath and a little concerned about the monster she'd just barely gotten away from. "Are you alright?"

"Wouldn't be radioing if I wasn't." Vala assured her, gritting her teeth as the Mattock hissed it's overheat warning and jettisoned it's heat-sink past her shoulder. "Tachi, Arcsberg, I want you two to head back with the data. Gravette, Marczak, I'm going to need you on the edge of the colo-" She cut herself off mid-sentence as the creature looked to her for a moment and seemingly prepared to fire it's eye weaponry again. Just as she tensed to dive aside from the attack though, it stopped, turning partially before it's legs tucked under it's body and it hovered off into the air.

She shot after it briefly, but it's departure made no sense. Why would it disengage after being so focused on whatever was near it? Her eyes widened with realization. The shuttle was preparing to take off. Snapping to the operational comm, she barked hastily into the line. "You've got incoming Chekan! Get moving!" There was a panicked grunt of acknowledgement, as the Demon lead approached her, stopping a few steps away.

"Commander Buchan. Lieutenant Harrens, Sergeant Loren, and Sergeant Graves reporting. Our orders are to kill the creature but you hold tactical command. How do you want to proceed?" They were capable soldiers, and time was something she didn't have until her vulnerable personnel were safe. A battle plan would need to wait.

"Cautiously but quickly Lieutenant. That thing is heading straight for the space port, which is supposed to be extraction." If he was hoping for more instruction, there was no outward sign, and the Lieutenant turned towards the colony as he replied.

"Alright, we better get moving then...Ma'am." The two soldiers burst into a heavy run, but the officer quickly matched their pace, knowing she could go faster but it would be unwise to split from her reinforcements with such a dangerous foe before them. As they passed through the gate, the third demon, Graves, spoke through the comm line.

"Lieutenant, Commander, the...thing has hit the space port. Your primary extraction is down." Her stride quickened sharply at the news, pulling slightly ahead of the two. Chekan had been warned, but he had only a precious few moments, and the pilot likely would have tried to pull the ship out instead of abandoning it.

The mental race didn't show in her voice beyond the brief pause before she replied. "Did the pilot get out?"

"Yes ma'am, he and the others are heading towards the secondary extraction point with the marines. Currently it's preoccupied with ripping the Kodiak to shreds." She released a breath she didn't realize she was holding in relief, before Graves spoke again. "Scratch that, two spooks are on the other side of the space port and firing. Effect is negligible."

The Nightmares were splitting the work it seemed. Made sense, given the situation. The lack of mention of another sniper hinted that Tachi and Arcsberg were the ones handling the extraction, ideal given their recon skills. A secondary ambush would be hard to slip past them. She glanced partially as Sergeant Loren hit the thrusters on her jet-pack, peeling off into the darkened sky in search of vantage, leaving the Lieutenant with her.

Moments later, the two entered the spaceport, where the construct was brutally rending the Kodiak apart with bladed limbs. Well, that certainly made close quarters even more of a dangerous prospect, as the hull crumpled under it's onslaught. Sighting Gravette and Marczak, she noted with pleasure that neither had sustained any real injuries judging by feedback on her HUD. The Nightmare's SMGs would be helpful for dealing with the construct's damn barrier, but wouldn't help much with the actual armour protecting the damn thing.

"Incoming!" Her attention snapped to the horror, shifting her footing mid-stride to launch herself into a side aerial out of the attacks path, landing smoothly on the rain slick concrete with Mattock raised. She fired a few staggering shots, drawing it's attention from the cover it was blasting furiously.

It took several steps towards the Commander, while the others poured more and more fire onto the construct in seemingly futile effort to bring the monster down. It's barrier flickered briefly, before dissolving around it and letting one of the sniper rounds crash into it's armoured hide. Before they could capitalize further on the barrier's dissolution, it screamed in it's chittering choir before pulse erupted from it's body and swept across the ground. She back-pedaled several steps, but the attack dissipated a few steps before her harmlessly.

"See...pulse." The sniper commented dryly, her rounds still punishing the creature's shield. The thing was practically a living tank the way it was defended, without even considering it's defensive capabilities. Taking advantage of it's momentary distraction, Vala rushed across another patch of open ground, ignoring it's endless noise behind her. Leaping a toppled mound of shipping containers, she ducked into the cover as the creature raked its lasers of her position.

Random fire wasn't going to bring this thing down, and it would only leave them low on ammunition the longer it dragged on. Clearing her throat, Vala took control. "Sergeant Loren, Sergeant Graves. Ceasing firing on the construct." The effect was instant, the sniper shots no longer ringing like thunder to accompany the storm. "It's barrier is more than capable of handling the fire you're producing, and we'll need the heavy hits for the armour. Conserve your ammunition, wait for it's barrier to drop, then give it hell." A few affirmatives chimed in her ear.

There was a mechanical hiss on the far side of her cover, and Vala broke into another sprint as the construct clambered over her cover in search of the elusive commander. "Nightmares, you've got the guns and the offensive programs to get that thing's barriers down. Pelt it with everything you have, but don't waste your ammo when it's down, leave it's hide to the Demons." She slide along the slick ground as another blast nicked her shields, the heat of the energy seeping through the hardened weave like a miniature sun.

The slide carried her straight into the cover the Lieutenant had occupied, and she pressed her back to the battered shipping containers as she looked at the man through the small rivers of rain running down her visor. "Lieutenant, I hear you're something of an engineer."

"Only on Tuesdays Ma'am...luckily it's a Tuesday."

She grinned at his joke, even if he couldn't see it. "It's my lucky day, isn't it? We're going to get you some time, Lieutenant, and I want you to re-purpose my mulched Kodiak. We spent good money on it, and I want some bang for our buck." There was only a brief pause before he replied.

"I'm going to assume that you want me to make the Kodiak into a massive grenade. I am incredibly OK with this. I need cover."

"Cover I can provide. Martin!" As if on cue, the hulking armour of the mercenary gunman came barreling into the space port, his Argus barking furiously as the construct swerved to face the new target. It arced it's legs in preparation to fire, but Vala leaped her cover in one fluid motion, dark energy materializing along her arms and arcing out into dozens of dark blue strands. As her hands snapped tight on the base of the energy, the strands coalesced into two whips, which she brought smashing into the construct's face with a full swing of her body.

The durable creature rolled backwards from the unexpected hit, catching itself in midair and righting quickly to retaliate. The commander gave the merc a quick glance, nodding to the right before breaking left as the two split apart to avoid it's return fire. The Lieutenant didn't need any further incentive, hopping his cover and hauling across the space port to the mangled shuttle.

"All forces!" Vala barked as she rolled roughly across the ground to dodge a sudden lunge from the hulking monster. "We need to keep this thing occupied so the Lieutenant can jury-rig our finale. It gets near him, give it hell to get it's attention so he can work. Otherwise, only fire when it's effective. I have no intentions of-" The creature's bladed limb sliced down near her; air whistling as it passed and she contorted to avoid the second limb.

Smashing the base of one of the whips into it's barrier, the biotic fields reacted to each other's presence, detonating violently and flinging her back from the construct several feet. She skidded to a stop on her heels, shields flickering from the sudden force they'd been exposed. "...I have no intentions of repeating myself. Am I clear?"

"Affirmative."

Nothing more needed said, as the Tac-Commander weaved back from another of the construct's swiping limbs, gritting her teeth in annoyance even as Martin blasted it's barrier from behind relentlessly. The Nightmares were peppering it with fire, one of the two dropping from the window into the spaceport to move to another firing vantage as the other fired numerous overloads from their omni-tool. She had to give it credit, whatever it was. This thing was relentless.

With feline grace, Vala back-flipped neatly away from the crashing claws, her landing immediately twisting into a butterfly twist as her feet touched the ground, neatly weaving over a sweep of one of it's legs like it's every move was telegraphed to the commander before it even tried. Its assault was interrupted by a sudden impact crashing into it's side; the construct's gaze shifting to Martin as the mercenary deftly slipped another concussive shot into the launcher on his Argus. It blasted at him, but the thickly plated mercenary made no effort to move as his shields flared in defense of his bulky frame.

Vala's HUD fed her an alert on the shield status, and she looked to the merc cautiously as she gained some distance from the construct, biotic lashes still trailing in glowing arcs through the rainfall in her wake. As his shields collapsed , Martin stepped from it's beam, raising his gun just as the barriers collapsed under the endless barrage from the Nightmare pair. The Concussive shot blasted out even as he pumped the trigger of the rifle, pounding the constructs body as the boom of the sniper rifle roared back into the fray.

It's hide withstood the onslaught, even as thin rivulets of strange blue liquid trailed from the small damage the construct took. It lunged forward with a screech at the mercenary, but caught a rocket mid-flight and lost it's momentum in a howl of fury and perhaps 'pain'. Martin took several steps forward, hammering the trigger relentlessly as his rounds set small fires to it's hide, undaunted by the danger the creature posed even as he closed on it.

His aim shifted to the constructs 'maw', pumping the various skulls with rounds before they howled in unison and it reared up into the air like it had before. He tilted his head back to see it, before something immaterial took hold of his armour and ripped him backwards like he was no more than a feather. The pulse tore through the ground as the construct brought it's body crashing down, barrier once more pulsing along it's unnatural hide. The sudden tug dumped him like a toy behind Vala, who quickly raised a barrier before her as the pulse collided with the energy.

The energy nearly shredded the barrier, the pulse barely pushing around the confines of the protective dark energy before flickering and leaving the Commander largely untouched save for more laboured breaths. "Calm down, Martin." She muttered through her external speakers, barely looking back at the gunman. "I don't need a corpse at the moment."

The merc hauled himself up with a barely dignified grunt, one hand still firmly locked on his rifle even as the construct focused it's attention on the suddenly renewed fire from the Nightmares. "Right." He replied curtly, his neutral tone betraying little of his own thoughts. He resumed firing without much delay, quickly earning the construct's ire once more as he popped a spent heatsink and slammed another home.

Rifle fire began to echo from the rooftops, likely Sergeant Loren growing tired of waiting for shots with her ML-77, which would see the barriers down even faster if they kept it occupied. "Lieutenant! How long?"

"It's pretty much ready, Commander!" He replied quickly. "I can trigger it on your go." She looked back to the ruined Kodiak before over to the construct that was blasting it's eye weapons at anything that moved in much less methodical patterns.

"Get it's barriers down!" She ordered, crossing the star-port and hauling herself up onto the Kodiak. The Infinity forces wasted no time pounding the machine with everything at their disposal, nearly matching the rain in the amount of rounds racing towards the construct. It's barriers, formidable though they were, didn't hold long under such concentrated fire and as they flickered, Vala raised her biotic whips and lashed them at the machine. The energy collided with the hull of the construct, but instead of smashing, the dark energy molded itself to the smooth surface and gripped it.

It screeched furiously, as the Tac-Commander dug her heels into the mangled remains of the shuttle and willed the energy to pull. The bladed limbs scratched and dug into the concrete to stop the movement, but before they could find proper purchase, a sniper round shattered through one of the slender legs at the joint. Suddenly unbalanced, the construct didn't have time to right itself as a rocket smashed into it's side, tilting it even further off center, before one last concussive shot shattered another of it's slender limbs to send it's bulk crashing to the concrete.

Digging up whatever she could find, Vala dragged the construct forward, inch by inch across the pavement even as it's remaining claws scratched fruitlessly for purchase. With a pulse of dark energy, she ripped it the last few feet into the Kodiak's side, burying it's head into the brutalized passenger cabin. "Lieutenant! Now!"

There was a blast of the engineer's jet-pack, before she felt his arms catch her under her shoulders and the two rocketed up and away from the shuttle. Dissolving her whips, Vala threw on last blast of energy at the construct to slam it back into the ground as it tried fruitlessly to rise, before Daniel hit the detonator flashing on his omni-tool. There was only a split second delay before the core of the ship exploded, engulfing the construct and most of the spaceport in fire.

"A sizable blast for just a few minutes work, Lieutenant." She commented idly, eyes straying from the blast zone to ensure that the teams had cleared the blast alright. It didn't take much to see that they'd managed to avoid the thick of the explosion, but they seemed on edge still. As they neared the ground, she understood why immediately. The maddening chitter hadn't stopped. "Set me down."
She dropped from his grip as they drew close to the ground, landing in a half jog as she crossed back towards the crater where her shuttle had once been. The heat of the scorched ground was sweltering, but she ignored it as she approached the mangled wreck that had once been the construct. Most of it's hull was blasted apart, splaying the twisted remains of what looked like it might have been human once across the concrete, but the 'face' of it remained partially intact.

It's chittering quieted as she approached, eyes flickering with light she assumed was supposed to be an attempt to blast her again. Drawing her pistol, a Phalanx, she calmly aimed into the cluster of heads. "Infinity, this is Commander Buchan. The threat has been neutralized, and I've got some remains we can likely analyze." She squeezed a trio of rounds into the mass, and the chittering finally quieted completely, but as soon as it did, the battered hull simply crumpled like ash.

In mere seconds, there was nothing left of the construct but the vanishing fragments of it's body, which soon vanished into the flames licking the air around her against the steady beat of the rain. "...cancel that. It seems to have dissolved." She ground out, inwardly furious that such valuable resources had literally just melted away right in front of her. "We're heading for extraction, Infinity."

Stepping out of the ruined spaceport, Vala glanced at the troops for a moment. "We're moving out. Time for exfil." She instructed, looking partially to the Demon's after she spoke. "And thank you for your assistance." She didn't wait for a reply, already moving off towards the marker on her HUD for the rendezvous with the shuttles. Her mind already swam with possibilities, but those would have to wait for later. "Major O'Ryan, we're en-route to your position. I've had more than my fill of this colony." The commander spared the empty buildings one last, distance glance, before trudging out into the mud after the troops. True to her trade, there were no prints left in her wake, just the dying embers of the flames to mark their passage, and soon those too would fade.

Forgotten, as it should be.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Syrena Taylor Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: The Illusive Man

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Commander Taylor watched from the side as Titus stood rigid with hands behind his back and feet spread shoulder-width apart atop his perch overlooking the front of the bridge. With several monitors surrounding him, he practically had a 360-degree view of the battlefield with the combination of every unit’s live HUD feed. She was impressed with his calm and collected posture given the situation and the gravity of facing an unknown and insanely powerful beast.

She heard a few of the operators back in the CIC commenting on the situation as they watched part of the fight below from their own monitors and relayed tactical data.

“Okay, so by Skyball standards, what would you rank their difficulty below? Bronze, silver, or gold?” one of the technicians asked his colleague.

“Hmm, I’d say gold.”

“Really?” a third technician asked aloud, jumping into the conversation. "‘Cause the barrier on that thing is over-powered! I was going to go with platinum.”

“Platinum?” the first asked.

“Yeah, they introduced it as a difficulty level last week.”

Taylor simply shrugged her shoulders and ignored them. It was probably their own way of coping with what was going on. Some people mask their anxiety with humor, others do it with bravado. And then some – she looked back at Titus, still quiet and steadfast – feed off of it. Was the Infinity’s captain such a person? There was an interesting aura to Captain Titus that intrigued her.




When the kodiaks returned, dozens of marines and staff personnel alike were in the hangar to cheer on their returning comrades for a job well-done given their first mission. As the Nightmares and Demons disembarked their shuttles, technicians and medical personnel dashed through from the crowd to start their routine check-ups and ensure everyone was alright. A team from the science division hurried over with a datapad to download any collected data as well as several cases to secure any physical collections.

“CAPTAIN ON DECK!” someone bellowed at the top of his lungs. His voiced echoed clearly over every other sound and each and every person in the hangar stopped what they were doing to snap to attention.

Titus was soon marching his way through a now-separated crowd, making a straight bee line towards the returned troops. Commander Taylor was just on the man’s heels. The two of them stopped directly before Commander Buchan. The Tac-Commander wasted no time with her salute, her face-visor retracting back to reveal her sweat-slicked brow and the light labour to her breath. Despite the evident fatigue, her topaz eyes remained sharp and focused on the Captain’s face, as if she had just done a bit of paperwork instead of an operation. “Captain Titus, sir.”

Titus returned the salute after a dramatic pause, and then lowered it with a welcoming smile. On cue, Syrena turned around and barked, “AT EASE! RETURN TO YOUR POSTS!” The crowd began to disperse with a lowered sense of cheery applause, but the hype and excitement was still there.

“Congratulations on your first successful mission, commander,” Titus said. Suddenly his features turned into a more serious expression and he quietly said, “Walk with me. I’ll debrief you on our way back to S-1.” He gave a nod to Taylor, quietly dismissing her, and then turned on heel and began to march toward the hangar’s elevator.

“Thank you, Captain.” Vala replied respectfully, sparing only a brief glance back to her forces and giving them slight gesture before following just a few steps behind her superior. It was difficult to be sure she was following; the commander’s steps unnaturally quiet even in her armor, but she stuck close like a shadow.

“That thing,” he began after the two of them stepped into the elevator and the doors closed, “that you encountered… You were the closest to it during the fight. What could you make of it? Was it Collector tech, or something else?”

She was quiet for a long moment, likely reviewing the encounter over, before the Commander released a light sigh. “...it’s difficult to say, Captain. While the construct clearly had some organic make up, other parts of it were without a doubt technological. What little information there is on the collectors themselves implies they use potent technology created primarily out of organic tissue.” Her hand brushed her arm, looking down at the slightly scorched weave. “The presence of Husks as well makes me question it’s origin. Before it disintegrated, I saw chunks of it’s insides and it was quite literally...made of them. They were almost indistinguishable from the Husks created during the Eden Prime War.”

“CIP made a very similar observation during your fight. He confirmed that the construct is of ‘organic and inorganic material’. This gives us good reason to believe that the Reapers may yet again have a presence in the galaxy. The data your team extracted should be under intense scrutiny at this very moment. I’ll have the science division forward your office any results they find.” Titus turned his head and glanced down at her wrists. “You… were in the Phoenix Initiative, right?”

She had a mild look of surprise for a moment, before nodding slightly. “Yes, I was. I graduated from the Initiative several years back, prior to my first command. It’s fairly well classified, I’m surprised you’re familiar with it, sir.”

“I’ve seen a lot of things since joining Cerberus, and met a lot of people from all over. One of them was a friend that went through the same program. He… didn’t turn out the way they wanted him to. A loose end when it was all over with.”

“Several of my fellow trainees met similar ends. It’s...an unforgiving regimen, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.” She looked down to her hands, almost lost in thought. “It’s like the Director said. The Initiative is built to kill you...so you can rise from the ashes.” She laughed lightly. “I don’t think that ever gave anyone much peace of mind.” As quickly as it had come, her laughter vanished. “I hope I won’t bring up unpleasant memories for you, Captain. The last thing I want is to become a liability to your operation.”

“You’re not the liability, Miss Buchan,” Titus said suddenly. The elevator dinged and the doors slid open to reveal the rear of the CIC. Titus stepped out of the elevator and looked back at Commander Buchan through his peripheral. “Good work, again. Get some rest. I’ll begin my debriefing with the Illusive Man shortly and mention your efforts today.”

She studied him for a moment, but if she desired to question his final statement, she did not express it. “Thank you, Captain. I won’t delay you.” With the debrief concluded, she wasted little time exiting the lift and heading into the rear section of S-1, where the officer quarters and offices were housed.



Captain Titus stood firm in one of the darkest rooms of the Infinity. It was a fairly round chamber with only one object in the center, built into the paneling of the floor, a sort of smooth and circular gray pad with accenting blue LED lights bordering the circumference. The chamber itself was situated behind the war room, which was directly below the main bridge and CIC.

Titus took a deep breath and stepped onto the center of the pad and stood at a rigid parade rest while the device hummed and the blue lights flickered. Any other dim light in the chamber automatically turned off and an orange holographic grid rose up around him. A new environment faded into view, someplace that was not the Infinity. He could see the abysmal depth of space and millions of stars surrounding him. A black tiled floor stretched out several meters in each direction, and their polished surface reflected the brilliant radiance of a giant dying star directly in front of him. Between Titus and the gas giant was a lone figure seated in a chrome chair, and behind him were several haptic interfaces of various data feeds, news reports, and secured messages.

The Illusive Man was wearing his signature Giuli Vorn with an open collared shirt. A lit cigarette was braced in his right hand and his left was lightly braced around a glass of amber liquid sitting on the arm rest of his chair.

“Captain Titus,” the shadowed man greeted as he lifted the cigarette to his lips. After taking a short drag, he said, “Congratulations on Omni Cell’s first successful mission. I just finished reading your report… You should pass my thanks on to Commander Buchan for her excellent leadership in the field.”

“Thank you, sir, I will,” Titus replied with a nod of his head.

“My top advisers are already analyzing the data that Professor Sinclair has forwarded to us. Your team’s suspicions of the Collectors appear to be correct, but I won’t jump to conclusion until we have more concrete data. The Collectors are an enigmatic species that the galaxy knows very little about. They guard their secrets better than I do… at times.”

“What about the thing we encountered in the colony?” Titus inquired.

“Ah, yes… I believe one of my scientists has given it a codename for our research indexes: ‘praetorian’. That type of unit’s capability is best suited for guarding key locations and objectives. By what was described in the reports, that thing was definitely outfitted with Reaper technology. And because of that, that is why we have chosen to hold off on assuming the Collectors are solely responsible. If they are involved, they may simply be more pawns of the Reapers, as the Geth and the Spectre Saren Arterius were.” The Illusive Man paused to take a small sip of his drink.

“Where do we go from here, sir?”

Titus’ employer stood up from his seat, leaving his drink but holding his cigarette low and in front of him. A hologram appeared before the two men, the Milky Way, in all its brilliance and vastness, scaled down to a small map. “For now, Omni Cell is the strong arm of Cerberus. While you are to still to be discreet and quiet, you are to protect our existing assets, secure new ones, and repel any and all threats to this organization. I have given you an army, one versatile and capable of performing many feats, but an army alone is not enough to win this very unconventional war against an enemy we know next to nothing about. What are their goals, their purpose, what are they capable of? To solve these questions, you will need to continue enriching the Infinity’s resources. Recruit more bodies, the best and brightest, the most skilled and capable. Give your commanders all the tools they will need and more to accomplish this mission and every other that comes your way.”

As he spoke, Titus saw dozens of orange Cerberus symbols pop up on the small galaxy map, indicating opportunities, assets, and points of interest. He knew that the Illusive Man was providing an example, a sneak-peek into everything that the man has dug his fingers into across the span of known space.

“And one more thing, Captain…,” the Illusive Man paused and took another, longer drag of his cigarette. The orange tip lit up brightly, almost rivaling luminescence of his blue eyes. “Commander Syrena Taylor is more than just your executive officer for the Infinity. She’s also your second-in-command for a team that I want you to assemble. They will be your personal assets, soldiers that you will have direct command over, and – if need be – accompany on missions that aren’t suited for your other subordinates.”

Titus raised a brow. “What exactly will this team of mine specialize in?”

“They will often deploy as a single, solo unit to environments that need their expertise. On occasion, however, if you wish to go with them, so be it. Commander Taylor will take over command of the Infinity while you’re away. I’m giving this opportunity to you as an outlet to continue to prove yourself valuable to me. I need every asset to be versatile and capable of performing any task I assign to them. That includes you, Captain Titus.”

The Captain snapped to attention and gave the Illusive Man an impressive salute. “Yes, sir.”

“I’m glad you understand. I’ve forwarded to the details of a certain turian I think you’d be interested in recruiting for this team. He’s a pirate, but one with exceptional skill and a mindset that I like.”

Again, John raised an inquisitive brow and asked, “A… turian, sir?”

“I’m not against the idea of enlisting the aid of aliens in order to accomplish our objectives, Captain. So long as they know their place, you are free to diversify your crew as you see fit. Commander Taylor will have more details for you on the turian’s whereabouts.

“Also, for the Infinity’s next major assignment, speak with Commander Buchan. There’s an investor in the private arms market that has been causing my assets a bit of trouble lately. I’ve sent the details to her.”

“Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?”

The Illusive Man turned his back to Titus and eyed the many monitors now in front of him before casually walking around to the side of his chair and dabbing the spent cigarette into a tiny ash tray. “No, Captain. That will be all.” After dropping the crumbled stick from his fingers, he pressed a command on a haptic interface that sprang up near him and the environment that the QEC had generated began to grow dark and fade into oblivion.

Captain Titus remained standing where he was as the orange holographic grid slowly fell down around him. The faint hum of the QEC’s pad silenced itself shortly after, and the lights of the empty room flickered back on.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker Character Portrait: Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Edward Johnson Stevenson Character Portrait: Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Malina Topor Character Portrait: Martin Grien

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2 Hours Later...

Deck 2 of the Eye of Infinity was one of it's quieter portions, predominantly occupied by offices and quarters for the many junior officers aboard the cruiser. What few amenities it had were predominantly restricted for officer use, so it kept the deck largely free of unnecessary personnel. She enjoyed the peace and quiet it provided, away from the bustle of the crew. Vala passed by a few of the ship's MAs, sparing them a brief glance out of the corner of her eye as she went, but neither seemed to pay her any heed. Not that they needed to.

Following the mission, she'd retreated to her quarters for a well deserved shower and a change of clothes, opting for something casual instead of her officer's uniform. She fiddled with the phoenix pin affixed to the lapel of her double-breasted, charcoal grey coat, left open to reveal her light white blouse and the small black choker round her neck. With soft black slacks and leather boots that extended up much of her shin, she didn't look like she was the Tac-Operations Commander, and in her down time, she preferred it that way.

Brushing a few strands of her loose hair from her vision, she slowed to a stop before one of the many bulkhead doors along the deck. It was polished and smooth, with the words 'Serket's Sting' emblazoned upon the metal with the image of a scorpion just beneath the text. With a quick swipe of her hand, the red haptic interface hovering above the surface turned green, and the door slid open, the interior greeting her with soft lighting and gentle ambient music.

Crossing the threshold, she gave the room a curious once-over as she approached the long, polished bar that stretched along the entirety of the lounge's left wall. Countless bottles lined the glass-faced fridges behind the counter, beers and liqueurs collected from all corners of the galaxy for the enjoyment of it's patrons. Across from it, sat a series of booths built into the bulkhead of the wall; open but still providing seclusion if so desired. Slightly elevated beyond the main area, there was a small recreational area with pool tables as well as a few tables for cards. A familiar face sat behind one such table, but she gave the figure little more than a wave as she took one of the seats at the bar.

"Howdy, Ivory." The even drawl drew her eyes to the source, who grinned at her from behind the bar. The bartender wasn't a very tall woman, standing a few inches shorter than the commander herself, with a much more relaxed posture than the military patrons who frequented her lounge. Her dark brown eyes were friendly, and the lopsided grin on her pale face was welcoming even if it hinted at the slight threat of venom. "Nice of you to finally visit my fine establishment."

"I've been busy, Alexis." Vala replied lightly, returning the woman's smile as she tapped a nail on the smooth counter. "It looks great. Did they let you design it?" Alexis glanced out at the room, nodding slightly. "Who knew you could actually put something cohesive together aside from a raid?"

"Bite me." The bartender shot back, laughing at the jab nonetheless. "It's my second bar, I got all the stupid things worked out when I made the first one." She glanced through her black bangs pointedly. "More than I can say for some people."

"Point taken." Vala slipped off her coat, handing it to Alexis as her eyes flicked over the various drinks. "Seen much of the staff yet?"

"Nah. First bit on a new ship is pretty chaotic as everyone finds their groove. No one has time to kick back and enjoy some booze." She explained, moving down the bar to place the coat in the small closet hidden behind it. The commander took the brief chance to examine the white dress shirt and smooth black vest her friend had donned as her uniform, chuckling lightly at the sloppily rolled sleeves that exposed her heavily scarred arms. "Something funny?"

"Nope. Hopefully you start getting some business soon. I can't imagine it's fun being in here all day with only Nulfem for company." An amused laugh echoed from the rec-area, earning a grin from Vala as the bartender rooted through one of the fridges for a drink. "Although it's restricted access so I'm not sure if you're going to get too many."

"Restricted to Officers." Alexis placed a bottle of beer down before her, popping off the cap with practiced ease before continuing. "And I don't know if you checked the rosters, but this ship has enough officers to fill this place a couple times over with how many divisions it has. Not that it matters. I get paid even if all I do is stand here all day."

"Which would bore you to tears."

"Makes the prosthetic itch too." She knocked against her left leg, which echoed with a metallic ring softly. "I miss the days of just the cane."

"All you did was complain about being tired when you had the cane." Vala retorted, taking a tentative first sip of her drink. "...that's not bad."

"Almost as if I know you or something." Alexis joked, leaning her hip on the counter with an arm out as her brace. "Its a popular brand in the colonies right now, so I snagged a few crates to see what the fuss was about. Can't say it's too my tastes, but at least someone likes it." There was a brief pause before she continued. "So, since the ship went all blue earlier..."

"That was for me, yes. And I'm of the impression everything is likely classified in 16 different ways." The two shared knowing looks, before Vala sighed into her drink. "It was stressful, let's say. Hence why I'm here."

"And I was hoping it was for my company." The entrance hissed open, and the two glanced to the new patrons. Alexis cocked an eyebrow. "I don't remember you two being officers." Malina stuck out her tongue, piercing glinting briefly in the dim light before the mercenary trudged over to the bar and dropped into a stool beside Vala. "By all means, make yourself at home."

"Thanks, 'Scorpion'." Mal remarked, leaning her elbows on the counter and letting her head hang back with a heavy sigh. Martin stood for a moment, before his partner jerked her head at the stool next to hers. "Park it." The quiet man complied, lowering himself into his seat slowly. "Moron got a burn from his little 'bad-ass' moment. Had to get some cooling gel from the med-bay." She explained, shooting him a sideways glare that the gunman only acknowledge with a half-glance.

"Charming. What's your poison?" Alexis inquired dryly, getting a soft 'water' from Martin and a demand for something hard from the pilot. "Coming right up." The bartender moved off to fill the order, leaving the three in a companionable silence.

Not that Mal was one for quiet. "...so have the eggheads found anything worthwhile?"

Vala chuckled as she took a small sip of her drink. "It's been what? 2 hours at most, Mal? They're scientists, not miracle workers." The mercenary grunted irritably. "It didn't even hit you, I made sure of that. No need to be so grumpy."

"You fought a death bug the size of a shuttle filled with skulls. Why aren't you grumpy? Or at least stressed?" Malina fired back, sitting straight and spinning her seat slightly to face the commander fully. "If I had had Deadra-"

"That thing would have tried to mulch it as well. As soon as it got up, it would have noticed it just like it did the shuttle and come to mulch it. Guns or no, we don't know if we'd have been able to stop it before it got to the gunship." Vala stated evenly, eyes sharply sliding to her friend. "I'm not prepared to make that kind of gamble on your life for a few bits of data, Malina." As if to emphasize the end of the conversation, Alexis returned, placing down the mercenaries' drinks.

"Man, I wish I had been a merc back in my field days. I didn't know it gave me sassing rights." The bartender smirked, earning a muttered grumble from the pilot as she took her drink. Vala simply chuckled at the two, sparing a glance up towards the recreation area.

"Sounds like you had quite the day." A smooth voice intoned, and she turned her seat 180 to look at the suited figure addressing her. She knew who it was the moment she saw the designer suit, glancing up to the perfect smile and neutral eyes of the man, ignoring the cards he shuffled idly in his hands. "Commander Buchan. A pleasure as always."

"Nulfem. What brings you down from your table?" She replied respectfully, setting her drink aside while the others looked to the man curiously. "I hope it's not too challenge me to a game, since we both know I've learnt my lesson by now."

His smile shifted into a grin, his shuffling coming to a perfect stop. "A man can dream, can he not? It's so difficult to find someone to play with these days." Slipping the deck into his pocket smoothly, Nulfem looked to Alexis briefly. "Another whiskey if you don't mind." She turned to the fridges, as he continued. "But perhaps there are more to my motives. I thought I might congratulate you," He motioned to the mercenaries with one hand, "and your team on your successful operation. Minus perhaps the kodiak destruction."

"I can't say I was thrilled with destroying a shuttle on my first operation aboard the cruiser myself." Vala admitted. "But thank you, Keagan. Have you seen anything recently in your network that might have pertained to Sephoroy?"

"Nothing, I'm afraid. I would have brought it to your attention otherwise."

"I figured as much. Well, keep me informed if anything happens to come up. I doubt we've gotten anything conclusive out of this yet, so I'm not taking anything off the table." She looked to her bottle, mostly empty. "But I'm not here for much work. Relaxation is my objective for tonight."

"Heaven forbid." Alexis muttered, placing a fresh bottle down for her and sliding Nulfem's whiskey to him on a coaster. "I'm still amazed you even took time to come see me, let alone actually chill out."

"You make it sound like I'm still a workaholic, Alexis."

The bartender snorted. "You are. Just a recovering one."

"Allow me to prove you wrong. Nulfem, how about a game?" He raised a brow, but she held up a finger sharply. "Pool. Not a card game. I've got War-Games with Commander Horn tomorrow, I don't need the stress of trying to make you not cheat."

"I don't cheat." He explained casually, collecting his drink. "I just happen to always win."

"Sure." She looked to the others. "You interested in a round? You too, Alexis, I don't think you have much to worry about clientele wise."

"Ignoring that last bit, sure, I think I can take some time to put you in your place." Scorpion answered, her grin betraying her interest in the game. "Maybe if you win I won't charge you."

"Hell, that's enough to get me on board." Malina butted in, rubbing her hands together eagerly. "Martin will play too." If he gave any mind to her just deciding his participation, Martin didn't show it, simply smiling and shaking his head. "No crying when I win though!"

"I'll hold back the tears somehow, I'm sure." Alexis replied, rounding the bar. "Let's get this going, people. I don't have all night." Vala chuckled, grabbing her drink and following after them.

"Alright, so who's playing first?"

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10 Hours Later...

If there was one thing that Sparrow hated more than paperwork, it was alarms. Predominantly alarm clocks, since it was difficult to hate fire alarms, impact alarms, and shield alarms since they were just trying to make her aware to stay not dead. Alarms clocks on the other hand, existed purely to ruin perfectly good sleep, and that was just sick and wrong on so many levels.

Analyzing her hate though, did not make the damn thing shut up. Pushing herself up with a light groan, the redhead tugged the covers off and shot a menacing, but groggy, glare at the haptic alarm happily screeching beside her bed. A quick slap from her hand stopped it's cacophony, but the damage was done, and she was awake. Why had she not turned the damn thing off when it was her only 'sleep-in' day?

There was a light breath beside her, and the reason came back with sudden clarity. Ah, yes. Preoccupied. She thought, glancing to the source which was still sound asleep despite the awful racket. He...really can sleep through just about anything, huh? Her emerald eyes softened lightly as she leaned partially down over the slipping man, a gentle smile on her face as she touched the stubble along his jaw. Her skin looked much paler next to his natural tan, even feeling warmer to the touch. "Hey, Roger." She murmured, half-tempted to simply go right back to sleep in the very welcoming warmth.

After a moment, his hazel eyes flickered open, half-asleep but they found her own and settled there. After a moment, he yawned out. "Mornin', Lieuten-" Her hand smacked him gently on the side of the face, her smile flickering briefly into a tight, displeased line. "...sorry. Morning, Sparrow." She pulled back as he sat up, rubbing his eyes wearily. "I haven't slept like that in awhile..."

"Can't say I have either." She replied, rising from the mattress with a stretch and a crack of her neck. "But then, I have a fairly good idea as to why, and I hope it can be a more regular thing." The lieutenant grinned back at Roger, who diverted his gaze with a slight blush. "That aside, it's our first free day together on-board this tub. I say we see what she's got to offer, take a bit of a grand tour."

The younger man nodded. "Sounds good to me. I'll have to head back to my room for...ah, change of clothes." He glanced to the scattered uniforms on the floor, before a pair of jeans promptly collided with his face. "I'm not going to wear one of you-these are mine. Why do you..?"

"Seriously? You really think I don't keep a few spares in your size kicking around?" She laughed, grinning at him as she rummaged through her closet. "It's easier to have some on hand, just in case." Easier if you just stayed here, honestly. She added mentally, glancing at him in her peripheries as he got out of bed.

"Yeah, that makes sense." Roger agreed, eyeing the jeans before looking to her. "Do I get a shirt too? Or am I supposed to just wander the ship half-dressed?" Sparrow paused, a t-shirt in hand as she rubbed her chin in thought.

"I was going to give you one, but now that you mention it..." Her grin turned impish, as he paled slightly. "I wouldn't be entirely opposed to the idea."

"Uh...you might approve but I think I might get skinned alive if it gets to O'Ryan or the Commander..." The private mumbled, looking far more concerned than was likely warranted. "I'm kind of attached to it where it is, you know..?"

"I suppose I am as well. I might have trained you a little...too good." The lieutenant tossed him the shirt, before tugging off her own and grabbing a few random items from her closet. "Hurry up, I want to get moving!" The door to her personal bathroom open sharply as she stepped over, glancing at him with a raised brow. "Shower time, c'mon."

"Uh..."

"I have a water budget, so you either get in now, or you wait and go to the public use ones later." She stated, gesturing sharply to the open door. After a moment, he tentatively crossed the room to her, earning a grin. "Actually got the hint? I am training you well." Placing a quick kiss on his cheek, she stuck her tongue out as she pulled him in. "It's just a shower, Private, so relax."

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

"I still can't really get over the fact that the food in the Mess actually tastes like food." Sparrow rambled happily, earning a smile from her partner as he tried to keep pace with her stride. The two moved along the marine deck, her arm wrapped around his with fingers laced, actually looking the part of a couple despite being on a massive warship.

"It's a little surprising, yeah. Better than the stuff they gave us back in the old cell." The private's cheeks held the slightest tint of red, she noted, but Roger had somehow managed to remain somewhat shy about their relationship despite her...less than subtle handling. "I guess that's just a perk of being in a combat outfit?"

"They have to make it up to us, since we have to run at bullets more now." They shared a light laugh, their pace slowing as she considered where next to head. "What should we do now? There's bound to be a few observation bays around, we could see what the views like...or I heard we have a pool. Could be worth checking out." He gave her a skeptical look. "You don't believe me?"

"How could they justify a pool on a cruiser? I mean, yeah, it's huge, but that just seems...ridiculous?" Before Sparrow could respond, another voice cut into their conversation.

"Cerberus has more cash than they know what to do with, obviously." A rough hand slapped Roger's shoulder, as the source stepped up beside him. "For a rich kid, you sure lack imagination." The woman's light grey eyes flicked to Sparrow, dulling with poorly hidden dislike, an expression the lieutenant mirrored. "Lieutenant."

"Salazar." The two shared a cold gaze for a moment longer, before two more men appeared on Salazar's flank. "Hey, Ed, Logan." Roger gave the three a slight wave with his free hand, face noticeably redder at their presence. "I hope you aren't planning on snatching him for some fire-team stuff. I'm not above pulling rank."

Salazar opened her mouth quickly, but Ed beat her to the punch. "I was more wondering where he was, Ma'am. I should have guessed he was with you. Day off, finally?" His tone was friendly, but respectful, and it made the sergeant an agreeable man.

"Yup. Taking a proper tour, seeing the sights. Did you know the food here is edible? Amazing!" Ed chuckled, hazel eyes friendly as the Lieutenant grinned. "Nice beard, by the way. Amazed the Major hasn't made you shave it." She leaned out partially, looking up at Logan. "Yours too, big guy." The tall black man nodded politely, his neatly trimmed beard turning slightly salt and pepper with age.

Ed touched his 5'o'clock shadow for a moment, chuckling lightly. "I think he has a bit of trust that I'm not trying to grow a biker beard or anything. And I've heard we have quite the few oddities on the Eye, facilities wise." He looked to Roger with a friendly smile. "A bigger firing range so our marksmen can work on their shots, for example."

"My aim is fine." The private retorted, shooting his team lead an annoyed look. "I can shoot better than you can, and Maya can't even hit in the same area as me." The dark haired woman jabbed her elbow into his ribs. "Hey, don't hit me just because it's true!"

"And yet I'm the one who stitches up your bullet holes, so watch the sass, punk." She fired back, although the banter wasn't hostile; more akin to siblings bickering over nothing than actual conflict. "You guys gonna check out the war-game today?" Sparrow perked up slightly at the mention.

"They're doing one today? With who?"

"Some marines from Pantheon, last I checked." Ed offered, drumming a finger on his cheek while he searched his memory. "I heard they got some of the spec ops teams from S-2 involved, though. A bit of a competition between divisions, I guess."

"Pantheon better stomp those spooks, or they'll make us all look bad." Maya remarked, cracking her knuckles habitually. "Course, how hard can it be to beat up a bunch of guys who just hide all day?"

Logan shook his head, giving his team-mate a knowing look. "I somehow doubt they're just good at hiding, Maya." His deep bass rumbled softly, and she glanced up at him. "Perhaps we should go so you can see what exactly special forces are..."

"Hey, no skin off my back. It'll probably be over in five minutes anyway."

"Would you two care to join us?" Ed inquired, looking to Sparrow. "Or are you more interested in just doing your own thing?"

"I don't see why we can't take some time to watch a bit of violence." The lieutenant looked to Roger, who provided no resistance beyond a slight shrug. "We can go explore after it's done. Not like the ship is going anywhere."

"You're the boss."

Maya shot the young marksman a disapproving frown. "You're not supposed to admit it, Roger." Sparrow puffed her chest out a bit, grinning triumphantly.

"Don't waste your breath, I am clearly wearing the pants here." She shot him an impish look. "Hell, he's wearing one of my pairs right now."

"You said these pants were MINE!" He fired back immediately, only to freeze the moment it left his mouth. "...I walked into that." The group shared a laugh at his expense, as he placed his head in his free hand. "...these are mine, right? Please tell me they are."

"A girl has to keep her secrets."

"Sparrow..."

"Later, alright? Let's catch the war-game first, and then maybe I'll tell you." She tugged him along, even though he wanted to drag his feet in protest to her teasing. "Maybe." He did his best to ignore the whipping sounds Maya was making behind his back, relenting and giving the redhead a soft smile despite himself.

"Alright fine...but I better not be wearing girl pants."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker Character Portrait: Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Edward Johnson Stevenson Character Portrait: Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Jason Horn

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Kelly finished tapping away on her omni-tool, her report on unit cohesiveness and effectiveness using the miracle that was their long range communications array to be sent to Cerberus 'HQ' for lack of a better term. While she reported directly to the Illusive Man in other forms, her day to day duties were mainly for the financial and logistic arm of Cerberus. She sat in a modest little office up on Deck one, as opposed to the marine deck where Commander Horn would undoubtedly be bored out of his mind dealing with his own set of logistical reports. Kelly took a breath for a moment, running her hands through her hair slightly before turning off her omni-tool and standing up from her small, actual wood desk. Just by looking at her 'room' so to speak, one could guess just what sort of person she was.

Her desk was legitimate wood from one of Earth's own lumber refineries. Her chair was a simple black leather wheel chair that she would never admit to spinning in from time to time. Aside from the obviously expensive desk, her office was quite bare. Minimal items were placed on said desk aside from what was ultimately necessary such as her computer, clock and other work related holopads which contained forms and reports of varying degrees of importance. She also had a couple chairs opposite of her desk, metal rather than wood this time. The only other items in her entire office were a couple pictures hanging on the walls of tropical paradises, often filled with birds of varying shapes, sizes, and colors.

She looked at the clock on her desk, realizing the time and grabbing one of the holopads from her desk. A few fireteams were to be squaring up against some of Commander Buchan's Nightmares in what should be an entertaining and potentially Commander angering scenario. Making sure that her desk was locked along with her computer, she double checked the report she grabbed and made her way for the door.
______________________________________________________________________

Kelly entered the observation deck to the VR room on Deck eleven, noticing that she was the first one there. The room was naturally dark, meant to highlight the massive one way window leading into the VR room, along with several monitors from the cameras dotting the massive practice simulation experience. She knew Horn would be there eventually, once he got finished filing his reports and dealing with whatever bureaucracy that he needed to do on a day to day basis. She didn't know if Commander Buchan would be joining them as she would have similar if not more paperwork to do than Horn. She brought up the Holopad, and started writing the report for the simulation that would be used to analyze mistakes, opportunities, and points of success for further review and to refine the marines into more efficient soldiers.

Kelly waited about another ten minutes before the first of the marines arrived, O'Ryan leading the pack into the room. Within minutes of them arriving, the rest followed suit. O'Ryan already knew what the drill was for today, and immediately set about asking CIP to modify the VR room for his purpose. Within seconds the barren room had translated into a lush jungle with a small camp comprised of different size tents, defenses, and points of interest. In the middle sat a large command tent. O'Ryan immediately donned his helmet, fading into the marines with only a few design choices on his armor differentiating him from the average grunt.

He started commanding them around the camp, setting up patrol routes and guard posts, along with setting up heavy weapon installations that, of course, were loaded with dummy ammo. Non-lethal but still hit like a train, at least, according to Commander Horn. As O'Ryan set about fortifying his base, Kelly refreshed her mind on the scenario.

The marines would be tasked with protecting a VIP until extraction, which would take place exactly 15 minutes after simulation start. They were given five minutes prior to that time to properly set themselves up and prepare. The Nightmares would then be introduced, starting the timer, and be given the simple if somewhat complicated job of eliminating the VIP through whatever means necessary. Three fireteams of marines plus the VIP equaling out to sixteen soldiers, against two pairs of Nightmares, equaling four black ops units. It should be an interesting match up.

Part way through the marine set up, the door opened up to reveal a marine looking in a pausing upon seeing Kelly. She gave a slight smile as Edward gave a nod. "Ma'am." He stated.

"Sergeant." She stated as he and a group of others filed in. She gave them a quick look, but otherwise stood in the room looking through the glass and sometimes making notes. They talked amongst themselves, but Kelly didn't pay them any mind as her attention was primarily on her report of the simulation. The off duty marines in the observation room quieted suddenly when the door opened for a second time. In stepped the Nightmare Commander, a daunting title to be sure, Vala Buchan.

"Operative" Vala stated, walking in to stand beside Kelly.

"Commander." Kelly replied with a slight smile like she did with the enlisted before returning to her report and watching as the timer started counting down from the fifteen minute mark. The war game had officially started.

"I'm surprised that Commander Horn isn't here." Vala stated, her gaze never shifting from the glass and monitors.

"His other duties are preventing him from viewing the war game. He did tell me that he would be here however, given the opportunity." Vala simply nodded at this statement, watching as glimpses of the Nightmares showed up on the monitors from time to time as they flitted around the camp getting a feel for the patrols and guards. While they were highly trained, there was no way that they would be able to take on all fifteen marines if they were spotted.

Five minutes in, and little had happened. The enlisted beside Kelly seemed to be getting a bit anxious, expecting more action from the game. Almost exactly at the six minute mark, the door to the observation room opened up and Horn walked in, his hand on his ear and his voice booming in the silence that was the occupied space.

"No, listen...Everything on that list has already been approved. What do you mean unnecessary? THIS ENTIRE FUCKING CONVERSATION IS UNNECESSARY! How many times do I need to tell you, stop calling me after the fucking fact bitching about some god forsaken rocket launcher that you thought was 'excessive' for my marines!... Listen you number crunching little pin prick of a man...oh you're a woman. Well I'm sorry, I just thought you would have to have some form of BALLS in order to keep doing this to me, because you are asking for me to perform a lobotomy on you through your god damn NASAL CAVITY!... Yes, finally! Stop fucking calling me! If you don't want something to go through, fucking deny it then and give a legitimate reason or so help me GOD I will find a way to get to your house, break open the door, break every single piece of furniture that you own, light them on fire, and then shoot the ashes and ask you if it was FUCKING EXCESSIVE!"

Horn jabbed his finger at his omni-tool, letting out a heavy sigh and wiping a hand across his face as he stared at everyone in the room. "Marines, Operative, Commander." He stated as matter of fact as he could, making it seem like the previous conversation hadn't even happened.

"Commander." Vala stated, looking at Horn. "Requisitions giving you a hard time?"

"If I could punch every single accountant with an over-inflated sense of worth, power, and authority, I would need new fists because mine would be worn to the fucking bone." Horn stated as he stared through the glass.

"And they'd have to approve the replacements, so I would suggest against it." Vala responded coolly, her eyes also never wavering from the ongoing simulation.

"Semantics. So, anyone dead yet?"

"None yet sir." Kelly stated, piping up for the first time since his entrance. "The nightmares are observing the camp, but I would estimate that they'll attack soon." Kelly looked to Vala for confirmation, but she seemed focused on the screen. Kelly and Horn tracked her eyes as a couple of marines suddenly got pulled into the underbrush of the forest, almost undoubtedly 'dead'. Horn put his hands in front of him, his mouth open as he seemed halfway through a comment in his mind before deciding that it would be best to simply incredulously stare. He brought a hand to his mouth as the simulation continued and everyone in the observation room was quiet.

Soon enough, marines started reporting missing members and quickly rearranging their search patterns to locate the Nightmares. Horn could only barely contain himself as one by one, the marines fell. After the sixth marine was taken out, Horn had had enough.

"Are you fucking blind! He's right there! In the bush! What's he doing? Possibly taking a shit or putting a bullet through your empty skull! OPEN UP YOUR EYES MARINES AND USE YOUR GOD DAMN SENSES!" Another marine was taken out and Horn threw his hands in the air. "Seriously? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!"

"Not one for watching from the sidelines, are you Commander?" Vala stated, sparing a glance over at Horn who simply gave an exasperated sigh.

"No, I'm not! But going in there and doing it myself wouldn't teach these marines anything! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! TURN AROUND! TURN THE FUCK AR-and now you're dead, congrats marine you just made some loved ones cry." This continued for some time, until what was left of the marines managed to corner and take out two of the nightmares, but even then Horn was not satisfied.

"That took you forever! Two thirds of your force is gone marines! Two thirds! And there's still another two out there! Get your shit together an-" A light flipped on in the VR room as CIP came over the speakers.

"Simulation ended. The victory goes to the Nightmares through VIP assassination." O'Ryan came striding out of the Command tent, his helmet under his arm as a single red splat of paint indicated that he had been shot in the head and effectively killed. The other two Nightmares came striding out after him. Horn held his face in his hands for a moment before pressing a button next to the window. The one way window quickly turned into a standard window, allowing for everyone to see them inside the observation room.

"Attention marines, I would like to congratulate you on a job well done...in showing me a most pathetic attempt of defense I have seen in quite some time. Not only is the VIP dead, but so is most of your force. Had this been real, you now would be faced with the very real threat of the special forces operatives slitting your throats for 'fun' since they already achieved their objective." Horn paused for a moment, looking at the marines as a few held their heads high and others solemnly looked at the ground. "As of this moment, all of you have 3 hours of PT that I want done...immediately." There was no groaning, but Horn could practically feel it coming off of them.

"You heard the Commander!" O'Ryan stated, grabbing the nearest marine and shoving them towards the door. "Your 3 hours start now!" Horn held his hand on the button.

"Major O'Ryan?"

"Yes sir?" O'Ryan stated, looking back up at the glass.

"I said all, not enlisted." O'Ryan seemed to stiffen for a moment, before giving a nod.

"Yes sir." O'Ryan ran to the door, dropping his helmet off by the stand and taking a jog into the hallways. The rest of the marines followed suit in a varying fashion of pain. Horn released his hand from the button, looking to Kelly for a moment as the window once again became one way.

"I want suggestions and practice strategies on my desk tomorrow morning on how to better prepare for these situations. I do not want this happening again."

"With all due respect Commander, Commander Buchan's Nightmares are highly trained operatives specializing in situations such as these." Kelly stated, cradling her report in one hand.

"Operative Invaru, if this was real, they would be dead. All of them would be dead, and I'll be damned if I think that's 'acceptable'. Once O'Ryan is done his extra PT, tell him to report to me immediately." Kelly nodded, keeping her mouth shut as a sign that Horn was not to be toyed with in this type of mood. He wasn't irrational, but he was highly protective of his marines despite his various methods of training.

"They caught Anika and Gunnar." Vala stated, crossing her arms and looking at the two of them. "It will be a good lesson for them." Horn looked back at her for a moment.

"15 marines, not including O'Ryan walked into that simulation. 6 walked out not having been killed. Learning experience or no, this is not acceptable, and obviously the training we have them going through isn't proving to be enough for this type of a situation." Horn turned back to Kelly. "Reports, strategies, O'Ryan. Get it done." Horn stated before turning and leaving the observation room. Vala followed shortly behind, pausing only long enough to glance at Kelly.

"I suppose that's the answer." She stated, before making for the door. One of the enlisted in the room spoke up before Commander Buchan had actually left.

"So...how hard is it to stomp spooks Maya?"

"...Shut up." This bit of conversation got a chuckle out of the black ops Commander, who paused in the doorway.

"You're welcome to try anytime you like." She stated, looking at the marines for a moment before leaving. The marines got quiet after that, and left shortly after. When everyone was gone, Kelly allowed herself a sigh. Horn was never easy to deal with when he got worked up, and nothing worked him up quicker than seeing his marines fail while all he could do was watch.

Finishing the final touches on her draft, she signed it off, saved it, and sent it to her computer for later touch ups. Taking one last look at the VR room as the jungle literally faded away into nothingness, she left the observation room.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan

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It wasn't hard to tell the ring was occupied, judging by the furious grunts and yells as the mat shook from every impact as the occupants hammered into each other. The man and the woman seemed fully intent on turning the other into paste, although the perceptive would notice that both were reigning in their hits to avoid lasting damage. The Tac-Commander wasn't entirely sure if that was because of concern or because she happened to be watching. She hoped for the former, but suspected the latter.

"They're something else, huh, Ma'am?" An amused voice sounded beside her; Vala not even sparing a glance to the man. "No time to lick their wounds, just straight to beating the tar of each other. That's dedication."

"I'd rather they dedicate their time to getting along." She replied with a slight hint of annoyance in her voice, finally looking at the figure beside her. "Since I doubt they've had any improvements since your last report, hm, Charlie?"

Major Welles, or Charlie as most people called him, grinned through the deep brown beard wrapping his chin, dark blue eyes sparking with amusement. "I don't know what to tell you. Both of them got through selection and training, no issues." Charlie functioned as the Tac-Commander's right hand, so to speak, when it came to the combat portion of her section; managing and leading the Nightmares in her absence with the help of a few of his own staff. The man lacked Vala's more serious professionalism, but had a keen eye for people thanks in part to his much more relaxed nature. "We could give them some extra sessions?"

"If it was that easy, I think it would have sorted itself out already." Heaving a sigh, she stepped further into the gymnasium, making a stay gesture to her subordinate as she approached the ring. "Shepsle, Javier." She called lightly, but neither seemed to register her voice as Vala drew closer. "That focused, huh?" Charlie always seemed to pick the difficult ones. He was probably doing it on purpose.

Stopping on the lip, she fixed the combatants with a much more scrutinizing gaze. Her eyes went to Shepsle first, as the woman hurled Javier over her shoulder with an angry roar to bounce off the mat. Her warm brown skin shone lightly with sweat, her thick lips parted as her chest heaved for breath while her partner righted himself. Much like all of the unit, the entirety of Shepsle's eyes were gold, although she had a long scar slashing through her eyebrow and across her cheek, slightly obscured by the small part in her chocolate brown bob.

As the agent went back on the offensive, it drew attention to what most noticed immediately about the Nightmare, her prosthetic right arm. It stood out immediately with it's sleek, silver shape, and as it collided with Javier's side, Vala could see the cybernetics coil and stiffen through the somewhat transparent epidermal 'skin' along the limb. Some found it a little unsettling, but Shepsle had never seemed disturbed or troubled by it, more-so proud of it. The black tank top the agent wore exposed the whole of the limb, as well as the numerous scars around the artificial shoulder. While hidden from view by her pants, Shepsle's right leg was prosthetic as well, although the way Javier lingered when the leg connected gave it's presence away. Her natural body did not suffer from the presence of the artificial limbs though; the rest of her physique in excellent condition, as one would expect from a special forces agent.

Javier drove his shoulder into her stomach, hoisting Shepsle up and slamming her down on the mat with a grunt of exertion. His complexion was a lighter brown than his partner; a trickle of crimson from his nose mixing with the thin black of his mustache. His eyes were literally identical to her own, golden as expected; matching his smooth but strong features with a small goatee along his chin and his dark black hair kept short but longer than traditional soldier 'buzz-cuts'.

While he lacked the more impressive cybernetics Shepsle did, Javier was not wanting in physical fitness; his body toned and well built, perhaps even more so than his partner's to 'compete' with her prosthetic. He wasn't shy about his physique, not even bothering with a shirt for this little spar of theirs. Javier lacked any real markings on his frame, although she wagered he'd likely get some ink before too long in the Nightmares, same with Shepsle.

While she would have been content to simply observe the two a little longer, the bruises they were only worsening made the Commander clear her throat roughly, slamming a hand on the side of the ring to get their attention. "Agents!" She thundered, voice surprisingly neutral despite the volume, and the pair stopped their brawl when it clicked who exactly was yelling at them.

"Commander!" They chorused, moving to properly salute but Vala stopped them cold with raised hand and a less than amused stare.

"A little late for that, I'm afraid." The comment made the two stiffen, locking their eyes forward and standing at a rigid attention as she climbed up the side and slipped through the ropes. "I'm going to take the liberty of assuming that this little brawl is over the results of the war-game?" Neither met her gaze, which was more of an answer than they likely realized. "If I wanted a one-sided conversation, I'd talk to a wall, agents. Speak freely, but answer me."

After a pause, Gunnar bit the bullet. "Yes, Commander." He slackened in his stance, shifting his jaw as he mulled his words. "Anika's fuck up got us caught, and by those greenhorns! It's embarrassing." As he spoke, his partner turned partially towards him, shoulders tensing as she reigned in the obvious desire to hit him. "What kind of special forces gets caught by a bunch of recruits and privates?"

"I don't know, what kind of special forces pushes the perimeter when we have a team already moments away from securing the objective!" Anika shot back, making no effort to disguise her own anger. "You're blaming my 'fuck up'? You pushed in when the patrol routes were all fucked up, what kind of moron thinks that a good idea?!"

"If you thought it was so fucking stupid, why did you follow me in then?!" Both of the agents were in each others faces now, seemingly oblivious to Vala's presence once again and ready to kill each other.

"We're partners, asshole! I'm supposed to stick with you, no matter how much I'd like to see your ass get shot!"

"Okay." Vala muttered, eyes flashing blue briefly before she clapped her hands together and released a brief burst of dark energy that nearly knocked both of them off their feet. "You should both mull that for a moment. Partners." They watched her cautiously, obviously unsettled by the small ripples of dark energy still flickering along her body. "Like it or not, that's what you are, for as long as you're members of this unit. It's not changing." Neither tried to retort or contest with her gaze nearly burning holes through their heads. "So, I strongly recommend you both work on your issues with each other, in ways beyond simply beating the tar out your partner."

When they didn't respond, she continued. "Now, seeing as you both have plenty of bruises, this little spar is over. If I find out from the Major that either of you try and start another today, you'll both be in this ring with McNeary and Cottam, and I will let them use their knives. Clear?" The agents paled at her threat, nodding their understanding rapidly. "Good. Hit the showers and get some food. Dismissed." They shared a glance, before obeying and exiting the ring. Before either of them could get out of earshot, Vala called over her shoulder. "And I expect you to spend the rest of the day together." Gunnar groaned loudly at the order, and her sharp ears picked up the muffled 'fuck' from Anika, but after a moment she got the 'Yes, Ma'am' from both.

Satisfied they would heed her instructions, Vala wasted little time exiting the gym, Charlie following a few steps behind. "You think it's wise to make them stick together?" He questioned curiously. "It's just going to make them fight more."

"They need to learn to communicate, especially when things are heated." She answered flatly. "If they actually talked for a few minutes without an insult, I'm positive they'd get along famously. They're just too stubborn and proud to bother." Shaking her head, Vala spared a look back at the Major. "Bluntly, Charlie, do you just pick people to give me headaches?"

"Maybe?" The officer grinned through a laugh, lacing his hands behind his head as the two headed towards the lift. "Heather thinks I'm just playing matchmaker, but I suppose neither of those options would be mutually exclusive, huh?" Part of her wanted to smack the grin off his face, but instead she just gave the man a light smile.

"You've got the track record for both, honestly...but count me as skeptical for those two." They boarded the lift in tandem, and the conversation shifted to more mundane work; small reports about the Nightmares status, schedules and requisitions. Nothing really required her direct attention, but she preferred to stay up to date regardless. By the time they'd reached the Theatre, Charlie had finished up the last of his reports. "Everything seems to be going smoothly, then."

"Ignoring the typical bumps that come with relocating, yeah. Once we get a proper schedule cemented with Commander Horn for the VR facilities, we'll be able to get the unit in for some extra practice as well, but he's understandably got it booked a lot." The Major glanced at his omni-tool. "That time already, huh? I've got to run; got some requisition forms to file before the next shipment cut off."

"Down to the last minute."

"You know it. See you later, Commander." He gave a two fingered salute, before heading off the way they'd come, as Vala stepped through the bulkhead to the Theatre. Her eyes adjusted to the dark quickly, flicking over the dim room quickly. While many would assume the Theatre was very small, the darkness concealed it's overall size, and the various divisions within the chamber. Around the centre 'stage', there were four sections dedicated to the tasks S2 was charged with handling: Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence, Crypt-analysis, and Sabotage.

Each section had access to the massive network the Illusive Man had provided the Theatre, allowing them to co-ordinate their efforts with resources across Cerberus's impressive operational territory. While they were focused primarily on the Infinity's operations, the Theatre was capable of utilizing assets light-years away to assist and defend the cruiser. While Vala herself wasn't omni-present, the various heads of the sections ensured that little if anything would slip the net in their various departments, allowing her to focus on the most pressing of issues.

As she rounded the main display, the Tac-Commander was greeted by Operative Govern. "Commander. Perfect timing, we've received some new mission information from High Command." She held out a pair of data-pads, which Vala wasted no time taking. "As well, all the reports for the last duty cycle have been complied, just like you asked." Celeste Govern was the head of the Crypt-analysis section, although she often functioned as Vala's unofficial assistant, her left hand to use the familiar analogy. The operative was several years younger, but had a natural brilliance for her field and brought some much needed pep to the intelligence division with her naturally sunny disposition.

"Thank you, Celeste." She flicked through the data-pad quickly, looking over towards the Sabotage division where a thin trail of smoke could be seen rising above the 'main' terminal. "Havard, I don't see your report in here." After a beat, a blonde haired woman leaned her head around the terminal, cigarette perched on her lips as she raised a brow.

"The hell? Celeste, I forwarded that to you, didn't I?" Radley Havard was the Sabotage lead, one of the few members of S2 with a traditional rank, Gunnery Chief. A former engineer, Havard had been transferred into the intelligence side of things to apply her knowledge on building and maintaining things to destroying them. It fit well with her somewhat grumpy nature, but Vala had long just decided to ignore her more prickly nature since she was plenty good at her job. "Where did it go then..?" Even if she occasionally lost her reports.

"You mean this?" A masculine voice called, rounding the center display beside Havard with a data-pad. It belonged to Nolan Demarcus, head of Counter-I, and the only one who Vala hadn't worked with prior to this assignment. The dark skinned man chuckled at Havard's confused mumbling, looking over to the Tac-Commander with sharp hazel eyes. "Mine is there, right, Commander?" His voice was a gentle but deep thing, a pleasant baritone that suited him well, she had decided. His dark hair was done in braided dreads, pulled back and hung in a low ponytail between his shoulder blades; generally giving away his status as a non-combatant.

"Yes, thank you." He crossed over to her, standing a good few inches taller than the commander with a physique that, while not quite on par with a soldier, said that he didn't spend all day sitting behind a desk; passing the data-pad to her growing stack. "I'll go over them and get approval for anything we need to take care of." They nodded in unison, and she climbed the short few steps to her office to go over the information for this new mission. It likely wouldn't be long before Titus came to her about it if High Command had bothered sending it to her.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan

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Darcy had just finished eating a breakfast plate of two omelets, French toast, and hash browns in the mess hall on deck three. As he walked across the room to return his empty tray to the drop-off counter near the kitchen, he picked up on a news burst echoing from the omni-tool of a nearby serviceman.

“Renowned C-Sec Officer Roger Harkin was permanently relieved of duty yesterday. Harkin was one of the first humans in C-Sec, but has brought continued shame on the policing organization after several incidents involving abuse of suspects during interrogations, bribery charges, and – more recently – extortion and racketeering. Executor Palin declined to comment on Harkin’s charges, but has stated this will not affect the employment of humans in C-Sec or their current postings, as some circulating rumors have suggested…”

The flight lieutenant poured himself a cup of coffee at a kiosk near the exit to the mess hall and left with a few packets of sugar and creamer. Darcy made his way toward the elevator down the corridor, passing by a few MAs as he walked. Travelling the span of the ship helped him realize just how big of a bitch this thing was… and he had been chosen, along with a couple of others, to help fly her. Before, he had been piloting frigates, one of them under the direction of Commander Taylor; but he had never sat behind the controls of a cruiser before. Everything was… different. The ship was difficult to maneuver, and he could almost feel the mass when controlling the helm. But at the same time, it was just as much of a thrill ride as a frigate, only unique in its own way. The power, the drive, the monstrosity of it all. Invigorating.

Stepping out of one of the elevators and onto the command deck, he strolled his way through the CIC and then down one of the stairs that dropped past the Captain’s Perch. He then walked through the lower level of the enormous bridge, where many young navigators were helping to oversee and examine the plotted FTL vectors, keeping an eye out of ion storms and other anomalies that could interfere with scans and navigation.

As he approached the helm, he saw Lieutenant Harold Bretton sitting on the right-side controls. There were two stations for two active helmsmen. Darcy was usually set up on the left, with Harold on the right. Together, they coordinated the Infinity’s movements as her co-pilots. Harold typically handled the FTL travel, while Darcy handled solar travel and relay jumping. Of course, they can both cover for each other when on breaks, so their jobs weren’t so specialized that they had to have the other. In combat, they would work in unison; but neither of them have had the opportunity to experience that thrill, yet… thank goodness.

“I can take over, if you want,” Darcy said as he approached his terminal and lowered himself into the reclined seat. “Breakfast is kick ass down on deck three. I recommend the French toast. Nice and buttery, and they practically layer it in powdered sugar like a cake.”

He glanced over to see CIP’s ridiculously regal hologram projected next to Harold’s terminal. They had been conversing – or bitching – about something that Darcy hadn’t picked up on yet.

"Your behaviour is atypical of the standard human aboard this vessel Lieutenant Bretton." CIP stated as his form stood with his hands clasped behind his back.

"Really? You're saying that because I've never been to a strip club, that I'm not normal?" Harold stated, his hands absent-mindedly hovering over the controls.

"The average ship personnel have visited a 'strip club' of some design on an average of 3.1 times in their life cycle. Some are exceptions to that rule, if you are to believe Commander Horn for example, he has boasted he has visited hundreds in his life. Given the time and distance of travel required, I find that to be inaccurate." CIP stated, his voice level and condescending.

"Well I'm sorry my libido isn't living up to your standards...ya god damn glowy ass prick."

"You are offended? Have I insinuated that you are not a masculine version of your species?" Harold paused, his face going slightly red.

"What?! I...the...NO!"

“CIP, stop being an ass,” Darcy admonished.

The AI turned its holographic head towards Mansfield and bluntly stated, “I was only trying to understand why many of the males assigned to the Infinity’s crew often make derogatory references to private establishments that seem to parade females in ways that common human society has perceived as degrading. It appears Lieutenant Bretton was unable to provide any useful insight to my inquiry.”

“Well,” Darcy began, raising his hands as if to gesture his point, “the answer is simple… boobs and asses. And sometimes belly buttons; those are great for taking shots.”

CIP stares at the two men for several seconds. “That is… unsanitary.”

"Yeah, ok, deal with Darcy then if you want insight into the human libido you overwritten piece of code." Harold stated, slumping back down in his seat and placing his cap lower over his face.

“Cerberus regulations are clear, Mister Bretton,” CIP woefully said. “Sleeping on post is considered a dereliction of duty.”

Harold propped his feet up on the dashboard, carefully lifting one foot and bringing it down on the console, CIP's image flashed and then disappeared. Harold then rearranged himself to get slightly more comfortable.




With less than eight hours remaining before the staging point for the next mission that the Illusive Man had mentioned, Captain Titus made his way down to deck four where the Cerberus Logistics Center – otherwise known as “the Theatre” – was housed. With luck, Commander Buchan would be available to give him the run-down of the mission and provide their strategy. From what little information the Illusive Man had given him during debrief after the last snatch-and-grab, John was assuming this mission would require a more… delicate approach.

The blast doors to the Theatre hissed opened and he walked into the dark chamber once again. One of the technicians near the entrance tried to stand and announce his presence, but he raised a calm hand. “Sit down, son. Keep doing what you were doing.”

The captain made his through the Theatre and approached Vala’s transparent office, opening the door after a quick, gentle knock.

“Captain,” the woman said, standing up in a split second and gesturing for Titus to take a seat in front of her desk.

“Okay, Commander,” the captain began, moving over to sit down, “tell me about this ‘private investor’ we’re paying a visit.”

"Quintin Savage; a relative newcomer to the black market scene operating on Bekenstein, but if the records we're seeing are any indication, he's been moving some serious credits, and clients of his include some of our… not so friendly rivals.”

“Which rivals?”

Vala passed the datapad over to Titus, “The Shadow Broker is one of them; which is a surprise, as I always thought Barla Von was the Broker’s primary agent when it comes to funds transfers; although when my agents took a closer look, it seems that it’s the other way around for Mr. Savage. Rather than him providing secure and indiscriminant accounting for the Broker and his shadow agents, they are actually funding him. In turn, Savage is investing this money in the arms trade and military-grade training for contractors. We suspect he’s helping the Shadow Broker build his private army.”

“So how can we nail him?”

With a smile, the commander replied, “Not all of his funding comes from the Broker, for understandable reasons. He sometimes needs to raise the credits on his own, through barely-legal means. One such method is an exclusive auction that he hosts once every standard galactic year. The Illusive Man wants us to infiltrate this auction, which is scheduled to start here very shortly, and… ‘apply the pressure’. Unfortunately, we’re not prepared for this. The mission was dropped on us so soon that we’ll need to hire someone with expertise outside of the Infinity’s crew.” She tapped a key on her desk’s haptic keyboard and an image of a sly looking man with a pear-white smile and grey fedora perched on his head sprang up between them.

“Who’s this?”

"Cecil Adams. A private contractor with a talent for high society work. He operates in the same system as our mark, so he'll either be invited or more than capable of pulling a few strings to get someone in. If you're feeling opportunistic, he's been marked by High Command as a person of interest, so if we can, I'm sure they'd like it if we could...sway him to our side. He's got quite the silver tongue though, so he's not someone who can be easily manipulated. It's pretty much his job, after all."

Titus leaned back and folded his arms. "It sounds like we just need one or two people on the ground to handle this then. I'll leave it to you to pick the most qualified for the mission. We're looking for charisma, grace, charm..."

Nodding her head in acknowledgment, Buchan replied, “I'd offer to go myself, but I have some time-sensitive work I need to take care of for the intelligence side of our operations. For something upper crust, Operative Invaru would be a good choice. It's typically where she worked before her current assignment. I can deploy a Nightmare team as well, as an emergency fall back option if anything goes wrong."

Titus raised a brow. “Are you expecting trouble?”

“Remember, Captain, Savage is an investor in the private arms industry for the Shadow Broker. I doubt Cerberus’ number one enemy is going to leave an asset as valuable as him unprotected.”

“If this guy is so dangerous, why don’t we just off him?”

“The Illusive Man believes Mr. Savage can eventually be turned into one of our own assets. This mission is a show of a strength; subtle, of course, but still a show. The objective here is to deliver a message. If the man wants to foolishly ignore us, then we can… dispose of him.”

Titus stood up from his chair and turned to leave Buchan’s office. “It sounds like you’ve got this under control, Commander. When we arrive, let me know when I’m needed in the CIC.”

Vala stood as the captain started to leave the room. “Of course, sir.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Jason Horn

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The gym on Deck 11 was a flurry of activity as marines and some technicians worked what physical training they could into their day. Treadmills lined the right wall, nearly every single one occupied. Weights and other assorted exercise machines meant to increase overall muscle mass were assorted along the left wall. The wall farthest from the entrance was an assortment of different items, from 'yoga' mats to punching bags to a small basketball court. Dead center in the middle of the gym was a boxing ring, where marines crowded around in order to watch others beat themselves silly in a way of practice and to see who was better one on one.

Commander Horn stood at the far end of the gym, a punching bag receiving a brutal array of punches as he went for a solid minute, throwing heavy punches until he was forced to stop and prevent the bag from swinging every direction. Sweat beaded his brow, and his grey muscle shirt was already covered in perspiration as he continued his onslaught of blows against the poor sack of leather. Operative Invaru stood off to one side, her eyes glued to the omni-tool in front of her.

"Marine enlistment is down this quarter, as such your request to create another company of marines is on hold until further information can be gathered." Kelly stated, her fingers swiping past articles on the semi-transparent tool. Horn simply grunted, though from exertion or disdain was unknown.

"Figures. It's hard to get people to sign up when Cerberus isn't exactly known for saving all the lives in the universe like the Alliance is." Horn said with more than a hint of sarcasm. He respected the Alliance enough to be wary of their forces, but that was it. He didn't believe they were the honorable machine that everyone made them out to be.

"Could be Commander, or could simply be due to the fact that everyone is still in a false sense of security. We can get marines for replacements if necessary, but the hundred or so soldiers required to start up another company is not available at this time." Kelly stated, her omni-tool flashing slightly as Horn grabbed the punching bag and delivered several elbow hits to it before stopping for a moment.

"Fine, fine. Whatever, I can deal with only two hundred some marines kicking ass. For the moment anyways, but if they want us to really start kicking things into gear on our own, we're going to need the firepower to get it done." Horn looked over at Kelly, who seemed to be reading something on her omni-tool that had grabbed her entire attention. "Kelly?" Horn stated.

"Sorry sir." Kelly stated, becoming aware of the conversation. "It seems Commander Buchan has received a mission from the Illusive Man that requires my talents. I'm to report to the Theatre for a briefing." Horn stared at her for a moment.

"Where does she get off thinking she can just pull people from my detachment like that?" Horn stated, more than a little angry at the audacity of it.

"Captain Titus has given her full authority to pull who she deems fit." Kelly stated, reading further in. Horn paused, then scoffed for a moment.

"Ok fine, but I'm going there for the briefing as well." Jason stated as he walked over and grabbed a towel, wiping his face down. Kelly looked up, cocking an eyebrow for a moment. Horn looked up from the towel, staring at her for a second. "What? You're still my second and under my command, if any of my troops get sent off, I am made fully aware of what's going on." Kelly gave a small smile.

"Of course sir."

________________________________________________________________________

After Horn had changed into something that didn't smell like roadkill mixed with a Krogan's sex life, and looked somewhat presentable in his standard uniform, Horn and Kelly walked into the aptly named Theater. The HQ of sorts for Vala's information special ops division fit into every stereotype that Horn had for anyone that referred to themselves as 'special' and happened to belong in the military. One of the first things that Horn noticed was the fact that the rather large looking office complex of an HQ was lacking in the visual aid department, mainly lighting.

Horn and Kelly walked in, and a few of the technicians looked up at them but otherwise didn't do anything. "Lights...have you heard of them?" Horn stated, looking around the place. As he stated this, two of the technicians rounded the main display. One of the technicians looked to the Commander.

"Can't say I have Commander, what do they do?" Horn was about to respond, finger in the air before the other technician spoke up.

"Commander, Operative. Welcome to the Theatre. I'm Operative Celeste Govern, and this is Operative Nolan Demarcus. Commander Buchan is waiting for you in her office." Horn looked to Kelly for a second before shrugging and motioning for them to lead the way, even though he could obviously see Commander Buchan through the glass walls of her office staring at the haptic interface on her desk. Operative Demarcus opened the door for them into Commander Buchan's office, and they both walked in.

Commander Buchan looked up from her work for a moment. "Operative Invaru, Commander Horn." Vala stated, before motioning to the chairs in front of her desk. Horn and Kelly both took a seat, and Vala looked over at Horn. "Are you here for the mission Commander? Or did you need something else from me?"

"If one of my subordinates is being sent on a mission, I would like to know everything about it." Horn stated as matter of factly as he could, trying not to let his irritation at the whole thing shine through. He made himself more comfortable on the chair, before motioning for Vala to start.

"Fair enough." Buchan stated, as she tapped a few more buttons on her haptic interface. "The mission we've been tasked with is a high society infiltration" Vala tapped a few more buttons and some pictures of Bekenstein showed up as holographic images between them. "I'm sure both of you are familiar with Bekenstein and it's rather famous reputation as the home of the rich and famous. You're going to be infiltrating Quintin Savage's..." Another image popped up of the target, a rather dapper if somewhat sinister looking man. "annual private auction to apply subtle pressure on his business decisions of late."

"Ordinarily this would be a rather simple operation, but there's more going on in the background that's going to make things slightly more difficult." Vala peered over at Kelly. "Savage is on the Shadow Broker's payroll, meaning he's going to have some of the best security credits can buy, and there's a high chance of several agents hidden amongst the party guests as...insurance for the investment. We can't leave him be, make no mistake; he's not going to just buckle his knee with someone like the Broker looming."

Horn stared at the pictures, but didn't say anything. He looked to Kelly, recognizing that she was the one actually going to the ground and that this used to be her forte. He understood why they needed her, but he wasn't going to let go of the irritation like that. Kelly took long enough to analyze the pictures as if they were a puzzle before speaking. "How do we plan to apply the pressure? Presence alone won't make him understand that we're a bigger threat than the Shadow Broker."

"The pressure will be applied incrementally." Vala replied. "And will be largely handled on my end. I have agents working through the various decoy accounts and encryptions upon Mr. Savage's businesses and fronts; once they're in, we'll hit him first in the funds. Ideally, he'll wisen up quickly, but in the event that he's stubborn, I'm deploying several Nightmares to the surface to rig a few harmless explosives around the compound." Vala brought up images of the compound with several marks around the building, indicating the bombing sites. "They'll be mostly for show. Loud and forceful, but little in terms of actual destruction. You'll be at no risk of harm from them."

"Not matter his defenses, we'll show Mr. Savage that we have the resources to penetrate them, regardless of who lines his pockets. You're primarily going to be the face of that threat." Kelly nodded, looking over to Horn who simply shrugged.

"And, worst case scenario, he still refuses our offer?" Kelly stated.

"Then we drain his account and kill him. No half measures." Vala stated bluntly, which earned a nod from Kelly.

"Will I be going in alone?"

"No, as I've said, I'm deploying several pairs of Nightmares down to the surface. One of the teams will be charged with your care primarily...as for the party itself..." Kelly and Horn could both sense her hesitation, but neither said anything. She tapped a finger onto her desk, and the image of a sharply dressed man appeared before them. "You'll be accompanying Cecil Adams into the actual event itself. A third party contractor in the Bekenstein market who's been hired for the operation." Kelly looked the man over, but this time it was Horn who spoke up.

"Why don't we have a Cerberus asset on the ground for this op? Why hire a merc, regardless of how sharply dressed he is?" Vala leaned forward slightly, parting the displays with a few finger flicks to face them fully.

"This op was sprung on us rather short notice. Simply put, there isn't enough time to construct an entire alias to explain her presence, and not have it immediately picked apart by the Shadow Broker's own logistics. Bekenstein is a very well documented place, you can't just appear and claim to be somebody without people digging around."

"Cecil Adams, while lacking our resources, is a man already in the area, and already known. In the few hours we have, he can pull the few strings he needs to explain the Operative." Vala laced her fingers together in front of her face. "We either gamble on him, or we gamble on Savage not making his investments to fund the Shadow Broker's personal army." Vala paused for a moment. "I'm not a fan of it, but the recommendation comes straight from High Command."

Horn paused for a moment, before shrugging. He was never one for cloak and dagger actions but he understood the need for them. He looked over to Kelly, who brought up the images on her own omni-tool. "What's the parameters for communication? Are we worried about interceptions?"

"Minimal communication, as little as possible. CIP will handle the encryption and transmission to ensure security, but obviously we don't want to risk any of our intentions slipping out." Vala leaned back in her chair. "You'll have a tight beam radio as well, so you'll be free to communicate with your escorts without risk of someone picking it up" Kelly gave a nod, mulling everything over before looking over to Vala once more.

"So when do I leave?"