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Mass Effect: On the Edge - Redux

Mass Effect Universe


a part of Mass Effect: On the Edge - Redux, by Aion's Anima.

The entirety of the story. Try not to use this as an actual setting for posts.

Aion's Anima holds sovereignty over Mass Effect Universe, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

785 readers have been here.

Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:


Default Location for Mass Effect: On the Edge - Redux
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Mass Effect Universe

The entirety of the story. Try not to use this as an actual setting for posts.


Mass Effect Universe is a part of Mass Effect: On the Edge - Redux.

1 Places in Mass Effect Universe:

19 Characters Here

Vala Katarina Buchan [9] Tac-Operations Commander of the Eye of Infinity
Jonathan Titus [8] Captain and commanding officer of the Eye of Infinity.
Syrena Taylor [5] The Infinity's Executive Officer
Kelly Invaru [3] Cerberus Operative
Jason Horn [3] Commander of the Eye of Infinity's Marine Division
Martin Grien [2] Private Contractor on Commander Buchan's Payroll
Carly Loren [2] Heavy Weapons member of the Demons
Linda Graves [2] Sharpshooter of Demon Squad
Daniel Harrens [2] Second in Command of Demon Squad
Malina Topor [2] Private Contractor on Commander Buchan's Payroll

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2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Syrena Taylor Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus
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ImageThere was a very low hum of vibrations that echoed throughout the cruiser as the inertial dampeners kicked in to slow their velocity. About fifty meters ahead of the lone man standing at his usual perch in the center of the bridge was the large multi-layered glass shield protecting the helm and offering a fantastic, almost panoramic view of the endless sparkling abyss. The shifting blue and violet hues of FTL travel faded away from the ship's exterior and the helmsmen skillfully turned her about to bring a garden planet into view.

With sharp crystal blue eyes, the man standing at his perch looked over the giant heavenly body with a stalwart intensity. He contemplated his next moves, the decisions he would probably have to make. But with stern, unwavering eyes, he adjusted the collar of his white and black Cerberus officer's uniform and turned to march down off of his platform and into the CIC, which was the more elevated portion of the entire bridge, whereas the helm was dropped down below into a more open area. As he walked away, he ran his fingers through a lush crop of dark brown hair, which he had combed slightly backward.

The area in which he now stood was the heart of all operations aboard the Eye of Infinity. All information, combat or otherwise, eventually cycled its way through the terminals stationed along the bulkheads around him. In the center was a large holographic map of the Milky Way, with multiple icons scattered about to designate various Cerberus assets, allies, and suspected enemies. A flashing green icon indicated their exact coordinates in the Ptolemy system of the Kepler Verge.

Captain Jonathan Titus placed both hands down on the edge of the galaxy map and leaned over it to think for a moment. His eyes shifted over other data feeds that had been pulled up for him to review.

"Tell me again why we're here, Taylor?"

Commander Syrena Taylor, Captain Titus' second in command the Infinity's executive officer, stood up straight and came to a rigid posture with her hands behind her back out of respect for her captain. She was a beautiful woman, with a unique trait of blonde hair tied into a pony tail that dropped down and around her right shoulder. A deep set of brown eyes looked at him before she replied, "Sir. The Illusive Man wants us to investigate this planet, Sephoroy, which seems to be another location where a human colony up-and-vanished over night. So far, surface scans are detecting nothing out of the ordinary, save for a curiously complete lack of humanoid heat signatures."

"When did the colony go dark?" he inquired.

Taylor's lips tugged upward and to the left before reluctantly answering, "Five hours ago."

With a sigh, Captain Titus quipped, "And yet we're the ones that responded and not the Alliance."

"Captain?" one of the operators at a reconnaissance terminal spoke up, with a hand to his headset.

Captain Titus and Commander Taylor turned their heads to look at the young lad, who hadn't expected the immediate attention and looked frightened.

"Out with it, son. What'ya got?" Titus demanded.

"S-Sir, we're looking at a very large blast pattern burned into the surface near the colony's northern wall."

The two leaders exchanged a look before hurrying over to the terminal and leaned over the young man on both sides, which made him extremely uncomfortable, and peered at the image he was seeing. "Is that... an ignition burn?" Taylor inquired aloud.

"Looks like it, Titus," agreed. "And by its size, I'd say it was left there by one hell of a big ship. Vertical take-off, too, since it's almost circular. See where the engine exhausts were focused?" He pointed a finger at a few different, distinct burn markings.

"I can't think of any conventional vessel that still uses a vertical thrust take-off method anymore. Can you?"

"Nope..," the Captain concurred. "We're dealing with an unknown, here. Where's Buchan?"

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus
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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."

" 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.


"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."

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Jason Horn Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus
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There was a saying that many men and women uttered when entering a dangerous area or situation. 'Into the Belly of the Beast' as the phrase went, and here it could be taken quite literally. The Eye of Infinity was an amazing ship, capable of waging a small war on her own, but in the middle of the ship, the 11th and 12th decks specifically, marines filled the corridors and rooms. Men and women dressed in anything from full battle gear to gym clothes to casual sweats and t-shirts ran around, had some lunch, talked, trained, and milled about. These decks, fitted to keep the marines trained and fit at all times, housed between them: Four gyms, six firing ranges, 3 obstacle courses, 2 messes, and 2 massive VR simulation rooms meant for live fire exercises. The rest of the space was simply used for recreation, ranging from sporting areas to a bar near the back end of deck 11. None of the marines actually slept on these decks, everything here was meant to keep them active or occupied, and as such these decks, save for the back end where the bar was located, were mostly avoided by techs and officers who didn't need to be down there.

One of the officers who was the opposite of this fact, walked through the hallways with a datapad in his hands and a female officer following behind him. A few marines jogged by, snapping salutes to him as they passed him which he ignored as he tended to do. Operative Invaru did the gesture for him, and continued to keep pace with the man. "Tell me something Kelly." Commander Jason Horn stated as he rounded a corner. Kelly didn't respond, but he knew she was listening. "Is it good that I want to punch every one of these marines who didn't reach the marksmanship score target, or bad that I want to inflict bodily harm unto those people until their score does improve?"

"While I believe a physical representation of the Commander's strength would reaffirm the marine's respect of their leader, I don't believe that strength should be targeted at our own people sir." Kelly stated, her tone neutral with a slight hint of levity to it as always.

"Ah, fine, good valid point and all that jazz. Get O'Ryan to single these...thirty soldiers out and make sure that by the end of the week they are at the top of the charts or bottom of the toilets. We can't have people who can't shoot being in a profession which requires good aim." Horn stated as they continued walking down the hallway, passing by the one of the gyms as they made their way to the bow of the ship on the 12th deck.

"It will be done sir." Kelly stated.

"Also, have we gotten the requisition forms approved? The ones for the extra guns that kill things?"

"We have over 4 dozen Avenger rifles with extended barrel attachments on route to the Infinity, we should receive them before the week is done."

"Alright, also the lat-"

"O'Ryan has private Anders cleaning the latrines sir, after his 'geth soldier in the woman's bathroom' incident."

"Good, what ab-"

"Your weapons and armor have been cleaned and repaired sir, although Major Valentine was insisting that you 'try not to get shot from every possible direction' during your next VR practice engagement sir."

"Ok...are you-"

"Going to stop finishing your sentences? Right after this one sir." Horn stopped for a second, and turned to face the Operative. There was a brief moment where he glared at the incredibly impassive face of his second in command, before holding out his hand. Kelly placed a single cup there. "Cream, 2 sugars sir." Horn took a sip, staring at the Operative a moment longer.

"Satisfactory, I'll allow you to live another day." Horn stated as he turned and continued his voyage.

"I stand relieved sir."


It was a short walk before Horn and Invaru found themselves at the bow of the ship. The sign on the door said 'Commander Horn's Office', in case it wasn't obvious where one was at the moment. The door slid open with a hiss, revealing a somewhat spacious working quarters. Off to the right was a standard desk and computer, adorned with a few framed medals and a bottle of alcohol, the type changing on the Commander's mood. On this particular day, there sat a half empty bottle of Asari Honey Mead. Behind the desk was a large shelf, complete with models ranging from battlefield dioramas to scale ships to small replica weapons.

Off to the left though, was where his office differentiated from that of a bookworm. Horn had his own mini armory set up in his quarters. His armor stood center against the wall, a black suit of protection with a skull imaged face mask. Off to each side of the armor were weapon stands, filled to the brim with anything ranging from Vindicator assault rifles to ML-77 Missile Launchers. A workbench accentuated the area, even if Horn's knowledge on weapon repair was limited to field know how, and finishing off the area was a mod cabinet holding a variety of scopes, barrels, clips, and stocks. It was often joked that Horn's office could outfit a platoon of soldiers.

Horn never laughed.

Jason made his way around his desk, flopping the datapad onto the metal surface before flopping himself into his chair and giving it a quick spin. "Tell me there anything else on my agenda that requires my presence, or can I actually go work out without interruption for one bloody day?"

"You have a meeting in a few hours with financial over the cost of requisitions sir. Also, Major O'Ryan was requesting a face time meeting regarding a few problem recruits he was having. He wanted to discuss best technique to 'break them in' as he stated." Horn stopped spinning for a moment, looking at his computer as he brought up the screen.

"Why have a meeting about requisitions when it's already been approved? That's like opting for an abortion after the baby's been born!" Horn stopped for a second. "That was incredibly low brow, wasn't it?"

"Incredibly so sir." Kelly stated, even though she never showed any sign of disgust or discomfort. Horn gave a nod, taking another sip from his coffee.

"Well alright then, I apologize for any offended parties who heard that joke, myself excluded." Jason spent a few moments staring at the screen, before talking again. "As for O'Ryan, he's not wanting a discussion he's wanting approval. Just tell him 'yes' and be done with it." Kelly nodded, bringing up her Omni-tool to relay the instructions.

"Done sir. Is there any further requirements from me?" Horn took another drink from his coffee, waving his hand as he did so.

"I'll call you if I can't tie my shoelace or some shit like that. Go do whatever it is you do when you're not shadowing me." Kelly gave a nod, exiting out of Horn's office as he returned to his computer. A flood of marine applicants sat on his screen, awaiting his yay or nay in terms of recruitment. He held a hand on his mouth as he flipped through the screen, noting with distaste a few of them, and others with a raised brow. It wasn't long before his omni-tool went off. His head was in the clouds as he continued sorting through the applicants, so he absent-mindedly touched the control to speak.

"You've reached badass, state your purpose and I'll be sure to give a fuck at the allotted time."

"This is Titus." Horn paused for a moment.

"Sorry sir, must have copied your answering machine message onto my omni tool at some point. What can I do for you?" Titus seemed to ignore the previous quip, which was fine with Horn.

"I'm sending Commander Buchan and a selection of her spec ops units planetside to investigate the dark colony. I need some of your marines standing by up here in case they need a low orbit insertion for rescue and evac. How fast can you get them ready?"

"They can be there in five minutes sir, I'll have the Demon's load up on a Kodiak and hold position for a high altitude insertion above the target area. I'll also have squads Parrot and Toucan standing by for hot extraction. Opposition?" Horn asked as the mission location popped up on his omni-tool next to the communication.

"Scans aren't picking up anything, so any possible enemies are unknown to us. Buchan has a hunch that it may be the Collectors though. If so, only available intel we have on them suggests they use an exotic type of highly advanced non-projectile weaponry. Be ready for anything."

"Collateral?" Horn stated, already typing orders off to Lieutenant Daniel Harrens, second in command of the Demon shock troopers to suit up and to head to hangar 1.

"Negative. No signs of civvies in or around the structures. I'm authorizing any level of force you deem necessary."

"It's not even my birthday sir, thank you. The Demon's are already en route to Hangar 1. They'll be in position by the time Commander Buchan's troops hit the ground. Anything else sir?" Horn stated, already bringing up Major O'Ryan's comm.

"That's all Commander. I'll let you get back to fixing that answering machine. Titus out." The call went dead, and Horn shrugged to himself.

"Could have been worse." Jason stated to himself as Leonard's face filled the Omni-tool screen.

"Sir." O'Ryan stated, and nothing else. He was a man of few words, but filled with results. He and Horn sometimes butted heads about military protocol, but in the end he followed orders and did a damn good job. Horn was glad he was overseeing the training and general welfare of the marines under his command.

"I'm sending you a mission briefing now. Get squads Parrot and Toucan loaded and in Hangar 1 in five minutes, you're on hot extraction detail, weapons heavy. Also, I want you personally overseeing this operation Major." O'Ryan simply nodded.

"Expecting trouble?" Leonard stated even as it showed that he was running through the halls to get to the armory.

"Not exactly, but Collectors are suggested to be behind this. If that's the case, and they do show up, I want someone there who I know will make damn sure to collect every bit of battlefield data we can." If O'Ryan took any pride in the compliment, he didn't show it.

"Understood sir. Five minutes." The link went dead, and Horn was left sitting at his desk feeling slightly anti climatic. He gave a sigh as he turned back towards his computer, giving a stare at his armor which seemed to be taunting him from across the room, feeling the urge to strap it on and go down to the ground himself. Giving a grunt he took another drink of his coffee as he turned back to the recruitment roster.

Get a command they said, it will be great they said...bunch of pencil pushing pussies.

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Syrena Taylor Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus
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Titus leaned with a relaxed posture against the side of the railing of his captain's perch overlooking the lower end of the Infinity's bridge. His arms were crossed and his eyes were lost in deep thought. Sending men into a dark zone was not how he wanted to start off Omni Cell's mission, but all unknowns must eventually be made known. Sometimes, you had to take a leap of faith and just trust that everything would turn out alright in the end. Without sufficient intel to go off of however, such uplifting thoughts weren't so effective. But he couldn't show his concern in front of his subordinates. A ship's commanding officer must always appear to be sure of himself, even when he doesn't have a winning hand.

The sound of light footsteps behind him brought Titus back to reality and glanced over to see Commander Taylor standing at the foot of the perch. "What do you think of your unit commanders so far, captain?"

Shrugging his shoulders, the man replied, "I've only had the chance to briefly meet them, but so far they seem very capable. Buchan clearly isn't the type to let any nonsense get in the way of the mission, and Horn is... well Horn is a whole other breed of marine. I like him, though. Both are good people in their own right."

"And me, sir?"

Titus focused on Taylor for a moment. He hadn't actually gotten to know his second-in-command yet either beyond introductions and a standard formal post briefing. "I dunno, Commander Taylor. What can you bring to my table?"

As if filled with a new level of self-confidence and a brimming ego, Syrena Taylor slid two fingers through fallen strands of her blonde hair and tucked them back over the top of her right ear. "Well, sir... I may not seem like the type, but I've taken charge before as a commanding officer. Once in the thick of a fight against a rogue mercenary gang in the Terminus. I was in charge of a Cerberus frigate then. The other time, long ago when I joined Cerberus, I was in a fire team of marines as a green-kneed lieutenant. Our leader had taken a round through his helmet after losing his shields."

Titus recalled a few close encounters like hers before. "So you took charge of the team?"

"No, actually. Another did; but he tried to betray us and offer to exchange Cerberus intel for our lives... his life, really. I wasn't about to let that happen. I'd rather have died then sell out any secrets. So I hid myself... and waited until that bastard lined himself up perfectly in front of the enemy commander. With a smooth squeeze of the trigger, I sniped a clean hole through both of their heads. Solid payback for what they did to my own fire team leader."

The captain grinned.

"What?" she said, a bit of a blush on her cheeks suddenly.

"It's seems you have a no-bull-shit leadership policy as well, commander," Titus replied. "So you can snipe, can you?"

"I can," Taylor said matter-of-factly.

"Care to measure your skills against mine sometime after this mission?"

Taylor raised a intrigued brow. "You're a marksman also, sir?"

"I've got a few stories to tell; I can say that."

"Captain!" one of the operators back in the CIC shouted. "They're ready to go, sir!"

Captain Jonathan Titus pushed off against the railing and oriented his body to face forward toward the bow. "Open my twenty-one." On his command, one of the communication specialists in the CIC activated the CO's ship-wide intercom system. After hearing the audible ping from a hidden speaker somewhere on his perch, Titus said in a clear tone, "Attention all hands. Mission is a go. We are now Code: Blue. I say again... Mission is a go. We are now Code: Blue."

As if on queue, the lights in the entire bridge dimmed and the white's shut off completely to be switched out with a low-blue hue, indicating the initiation of a black-operation. Most of the ship, save for personnel quarters, medical and science rooms, and other key areas that need sufficient lighting, were now also filled with the same blue lighting as the bridge. During operations, different colors and lighting patterns indicated different statuses. In this case, all non-essential extra-net communications are blocked, extra-curricular and recreational activities are suspended, and current-watch defense station personnel are on stand by.

"Are we alone, CIP?" Titus asked, knowing the AI was always listening and available.

Punctually answering, the intelligence materialized a hologram of himself in the air next to the perch. With arms crossed and a slightly annoyed expression, the he responded, "I believe it be wise to ask that question before starting a mission, captain."

Titus shifted his eyes but didn't turn his head. He need not say anything.

Simulating a sigh, the AI corrected himself and said, "Affirmative, sir. Pulse scans detect no vessel signatures in the system. We are alone."

John turned over his shoulder briefly to ask aloud, "Do I have comms with Buchan?"

One of the field handlers raised a thumb-up signal and nodded his head while bracing his ear piece with the other.

"Commander," Titus said, turning back to face forward and crossed his arms, "you're clear to execute. I'm counting on you to bring us back some answers. Good luck."

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Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus
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With the storm clouds covering the area of operation, there wasn't much that the command team aboard the Infinity could do but sit and wait for comm chatter and look through the Nightmares' HUD feeds. So far, everything seemed to be going smoothly. Commander Buchan's troops had landed, and the Demons and exfil outfit were circling in low-atmo above the area.

"Captain," a technician said from behind, bringing Titus' attention away from the helm of the bridge, "your coffee, sir." John took the warm mug and offered a quick thanks before dismissing the young man to return to his duties. Two Irish creamers, four sugars; his preferred and only blend. A smooth sip of the warm liquid brought a welcoming rush through his body and he felt refreshed and reawakened in the dull silence of suspense and wondering.

As he began to take another sip of the coffee, a comm channel opened over the bridge speakers and Commander Buchan's voice, barely audible over the sound of a hybrid noise of metal and something beyond his comprehension, blurted out, "Captain, I'm not sure if you're seeing this, but the scans were wrong. ... There's definitely still something down here."

Calmly swallowing what little liquid he had taken onto his pallet, Titus lowered the mug and sharply commanded, "I want Buchan's HUD on screen, now!" A haptic display sprang to life at the end of his perch and his eyes slightly widened in surprise at what the Commander herself was in front of, planetside. "What the fu- CIP! Get me an analysis."

The AI materialized in the air on the other side of the perch's railing and spat off, "Initial scans indicate this creature is a construct of organic and inorganic make-up. I am also detecting traces of element zero within, which would explain the violet luminescence and what appears to be a biotic barrier around its body. Further analysis indicates the lower hemisphere of its shell is made up of... human husks."

"Give me command and control."

"Affirmative, Captain. You now have battlefield authority."

With a networked comm channel opened to everyone of his troops on Sephoroy, Titus ordered, "Lieutenant Harrens, deploy your Demons and execute hit-and-runs on that thing. Give Commander Buchan some breathing room to take it out. Break. Lieutenant O'Ryan, meet up with all Nightmares carrying essential data at rally-point alpha and extract them to the Infinity. Break. Commander Buchan, you now have control... take charge of your forces. Kill that thing."

4 Characters Present

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

6 Characters Present

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


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.

4 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Syrena Taylor Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus 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. “’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’ 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 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.

9 Characters Present

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

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."

" 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."


"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."


"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."

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Syrena Taylor Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus
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The final rippling boom of John’s M-92 Mantis could be heard clearly through the protection of his headphones. His shoulder was only slightly sore from the small percentage of the kickback that the shock absorbers in the rifle’s buttstock couldn’t handle, but other than that, he was perfectly fine after going through five thermal clips in the Infinity’s marksman range on Deck 6. He was wearing a casual get-up with a brown leather jacket, dark jeans falling over an old, but well kept, pair of black combat boots from his days as an actual marine.

Standing at the firing point to his right was Commander Taylor - wearing surprisingly easy-going combination of a black hoodie and high denim shorts, and tan hiking boots - who had also just finished a volley of rounds. As promised, they had met up to compare their skills with a rifle and scope.

“Bay is clear,” one of the CATM technicians announced over the range’s PA. “Weapons cold. Stand by for target analysis.” Orange haptic interfaces sprang to life in front of John and Syrena, displaying their individual target scores, exact hit locations, total time between each shot, an averaged-out accuracy percentage based on vitals and possible weak spots in standard armor loadouts, and a side-by-side image comparison of both targets for each results display. “Uhm… Well… I’ve never seen this before, but it looks like both of you tied, sir and ma’am. Total accuracy for both is 98%. Each of you hit different areas, of course, and both of you also display unique firing patterns and rifleman habits, but the data doesn’t lie.”

John and Syrena looked at each before exchanging a quick laugh. “Un-freaking-believable,” the Captain said. “A tie?”

“You heard him, sir.”

He smirked. “Just John. You’ve earned that much, Taylor.”

She whipped her blonde ponytail back over her shoulder. “In that case,” she said, shoulder the rifle and kicking the spent thermal clips into small trap at her feet for ammunition recovery, “call me Syrena.”

“That story you were telling me before,” John began, “the one about having to take down a fellow agent before he betrayed you and your team. Was that the first time you killed someone?”

Slightly surprised by the question, the woman inquired, “It… was the first time I had killed another human. Why do you ask?”

With a shrug of his shoulders, John replied, “Intuition. I’ve learned that most soldiers find out what their real talents are in the most extreme circumstances.”

As the two made their way back to the arming window at the rear of the range, Syrena remarked, “If you’re trying to psychoanalyze me, sir, don’t bother. Everything you need to know is in my dossier. Surely the Illusive Man has provided you with everyone’s complete biography.”

The drop-shield at the arming window opened and another red-hatted CATM technician was standing on the other side with an outstretched hand to retrieve Titus’ Mantis. “He has, for the most part,” John replied as he handed off the weapon, “but they’re about as dull as a Jane Austen book.”


“Really? Pride and Prejudice? Sense and Sensibility?”

“No and no.”

“I guess no one reads the classics anymore.”

The two of them were on their way back up to the S-1 decks now, standing in one of the elevators that reached through most of the Infinity’s hull. On their way up, they continued to get to know each other. John went on and on about his love of classic Earth philosophers and artists, while Syrena expressed her equally invigorating passion for music and the visual arts.

“You were in BAaT?” John asked surprisingly after Syrena finished talking about a song that had captivated her during her days in the Conatix-run program. Both of them were now stepping out of the elevator and onto Deck 2.

“Again, sir, it’s all in that ‘Jane Austen’ file of mine.”

“It’s John, seriously; just John,” Titus said, rubbing the back of his neck out of the awkwardness. “So you’re a biotic, then?”

“Not nearly as talented as Commander Buchan, but yes. I know a few tricks and can send enemies flying into a wall if I so desire. Trapping some in a stasis field is perfect when I don’t otherwise have the time to line up a good shot. When my parents learned what I was, they had me enrolled in the program. Whether because they were afraid or they wanted me to be some god damn super hero, I don’t know.”

“You never asked?”

“Never got the chance to. I… don’t want to relive that past, sir. If you don’t mind.”

“I understand that most biotics that went through BAaT were stuck with the L-2 implants after it closed down,” Titus noted.

Syrena passed two fingers gently over the back of her neck and beneath her ponytail. “For the most part, yes. But Cerberus values its biotics. When I signed on, I immediately underwent surgery to have my L-2 switched out with the newer L-3. It suffices for right now, but I’m sure the Illusive Man will want to change that again when the time comes. Or perhaps he’s saving his resources for biotic assets more like Buchan.”

That was the second time in a single minute that Syrena had mentioned the other commander. Either she was an admirer or simply jealous. Or perhaps he was thinking too much into it. He had a habit of doing that from time to time with people under his command; a big brother sentimentality that he knew he would never be able to let go of.

“If I may change topics,” Titus said, “the Illusive Man talked to me about a mission he had sent you details on-”

“Captain Azuric Villayn,” Syrena interrupted, knowing exactly what John was switching the subject to. “Turian pirate, or former pirate as of late. His ship and most of his crew were annihilated recently in the Terminus Systems by a rival gang. Recent intel suggests he’s pinned down on a wasteland planet called Aitarus, it’s in the Talava System.”

“The Illusive Man said I’d need him for some kind of team he wants us to assemble.”

Syrena nodded her head as they rounded a corner and stopped outside of Serket’s Lounge. Crossing her arms, she stated, “Buchan has her Nightmares. Horn has his Demons. Each of those teams have a particular specialty: one is infiltration and subterfuge, and the other shock and awe. However, both are limited by their need for the Infinity’s operational support. While it’s plausible they can be sent on long-range missions across the Galaxy without us, it’s ill-advised for the cell’s mission. So, the Illusive Man wants a third team, one that can operate outside of the Infinity’s reach; but at the same time, be able to expand the cell’s entire AO.”

“And what would we call this team?”

“That,” she raised a finger with one hand while activating the door to the lounge with the other, “is something we’ll need to decide now won’t we?”

The ambient music from inside the lounge washed over him, and John didn’t realize how much he had missed the tranquility of a pleasant beat after hearing nothing but the hum of air purifiers and ship systems in between the bulkheads.

As they approached the bar stools, Syrena continued speaking. “I’ll be departing in about ten hours. I’ll catch enough Z’s so Rhodie doesn’t piss himself over me breaking crew rest protocol and then fly myself to Aitarus. I’ve already reserved one of the shuttles in the main hangar bay.”

“You said Aitarus was a ‘wasteland’ planet?” Titus asked, leaning forward over the bar slightly to get a good look at top shelf liquors.

“Level 2 atmospheric hazard; but I’ll be fine. Villayn’s pinned on that planet because it serves as a popular merc outpost. I’ll land near one of their outposts and commandeer a Mako. I shouldn’t be EVA for more than five minutes.”

“And you think they’ll just let you walk in and take one of their vehicles.”

“Please, Cap-… John. It’s not like this is my first rodeo. I’m going in to pull a turian out of a foxhole. That alone qualifies me enough to handle a few mercs that can’t hit the broadside of a dreadnaught.”

“That makes me wonder just how qualified this turian is,” Titus quipped.

Syrena shrugged. “The Illusive Man is recommending him. That’s enough to satisfy me. But the gang he’s made enemies out of is different than the mercs I’m stealing the Mako from. Where Villayn is pinned down is about fifty kilometers northeast of my landing zone.”

“That’s a bit of a drive.”

“It has to be, otherwise I’ll give myself away and Villayn is good as dead. I can’t risk him jumping and thinking I’m the enemy, come to shoot him in the back.”

Titus was impressed. Syrena had really thought the mission through, and it was evident she had conducted missions like this before for Cerberus.

“Well,” he said, “good luck. Although, it seems strange that my XO is leaving immediately after our maiden voyage.”

“I’ll be back before you know it. We’ve got a tie to break, remember?”

“So you served under Commander Taylor before?” a tall and stocky black man asked the Infinity’s lead helmsman, leaning against a railing near the primary flight and navigation controls. “Williams” was embroidered across the right breast of his Cerberus crew uniform.

The young man he had been speaking with, Flight Lieutenant Darcy Mansfield, replied while tapping away at a series of new commands to confirm the Infinity’s next FTL vectors, “Yeah. She’s actually pretty cool once you get to know her; and her skills as a commanding officer put most Alliance vets to shame. She was a damn good CO when we flew together on the SSV Rapier.”

“The Rapier?” Williams asked, crossing his arms and looking out beyond the main view port at the helm.

“It was one of five frigates in a Cerberus wolf pack. We were testing out a mock prototype of a new Tantilus drive core technology; an upgrade of what the SSV Normandy was rumored to have after intel leaks… You know, Commander Shepard’s famous vessel?”

“Yeah, the whole galaxy’s heard of her; a real beauty of ingenuity.”

First Lieutenant Lance Williams is one of the Infinity’s chief battery officers. He and Darcy had been pals since they first joined Cerberus less than five years ago, meeting up for the first time during their training, and keeping in touch afterward via FTL communiques and the occasional Skyball multiplayer game. When they ran into each other on the Infinity for the first time again, it was off to Serket’s for booze, stories, and more booze. Now sobered up and fit for another duty cycle, they were enjoying some free time at the helm.

“What about Commander Horn?” Lance asked. “Know anything about him?”

Darcy shrugged and then stretched out his arms and cracked his knuckles. “Nope… Other than what I hear around the rumor mill, he’s a fairly mysterious guy. I mean, sure, he acts tough and macho on the outside, everyone can see that. But who is he really? Where’d he come from? Nobody knows…”

“And Commander Buchan? Did you check out the ass on that one?” Lance asked with a devilish smirk, shifting his eyes to the side to make sure no one was eavesdropping on them.

“Ha! Don’t even try, man. She’s way out of your league. You saw the mission vids when they were on Sephoroy; she can create these biotic… tentacle things that can snap you in half!”

With the grin of a champion, Lance proudly declared with fists on his hips and chest out, “I can handle a little BDSM.”

Darcy actually paused in his work and looked up at his friend with a raised brow.

As Taylor approached, the blast doors to the main R&D lab on deck four parted for her entry and revealed a very large room that was probably twice as bright as any other area on the Infinity. Lab tables, test tubes, gadgets and gizmos, the latest prototypes in nearly all lines of armaments and field weaponry, and a dozen scientists and lab technicians were scattered about.

“Ah! Commander!” a British male’s voice called out to her.

Syrena turned to see Professor Terrance Sinclair striding over to greet her while wiping his hands dry with a white, sterile cloth. Before he finished his approached, he tossed the rag on a nearby lab table and stretched out his hand in kind, saying, “No worries, ma’am; I promised I just finished washing them. I was inspecting some of the samples that the Nightmares brought back.”

She politely accepted the professor’s handshake. For a man in his sixties, he was surprisingly young looking, though that was all thanks to advancements in modern medical science and the prolonging of the average human mortality rate. Though his skin was smooth and relatively free of any wrinkles, he did have signs of gray hairs mixed into his natural black. In fact, two streaks of silver passed by along each side above his ears, giving him a very interesting, regal look. “Oh, no it’s perfectly alright,” she replied. “What have you learned about them, by the way?”

“We’ve been able to confirm the fuel compound, but it will take time to make an accurate assessment of where it might have come from. A Collector vessel is one plausible hypothesis, but to leave scorch marks that large on the surface… it’d have to be an engine fit for a cruiser.”

“A cruiser? But that doesn’t make sense. How could they land something so large on that planet without the use of a more modern drive technology?”

“And that’s where we’re running into a wall, ma’am. But enough about that! We’ve got plenty of time to point fingers and besides, that’s not what you’re here for…”

Syrena nodded. “Correct. You have something to show me before my mission?”

The professor turned and waved a finger for her to follow him to the back of the lab, where upon a lone table laid a black and pristine rifle, very similar in appearance to an M-98 Widow Anti-Materiel Rifle.

“What… is that?” she demanded, suddenly excited.

With a bit of a laugh, Sinclair responded, “I figured you might like it without me saying a word.” He stepped around to the other side of the lab table. “The Alliance has been looking into ways to improve the M-98’s rate of fire while still maintaining its destructive force and round velocity. The solution is a new thermal clip design specifically meant for the anti-materiel rifle that allows it to fire up to three shots in semi-automatic succession before the need to eject it.”

“And it’s still just as powerful?” Syrena inquired, leaning closer to get a good look at the weapon’s beauty first-hand.

“Well, it’s slightly less powerful that its predecessor, but you can still down a krogan with a single well-placed shot. I’m afraid the weight hasn’t been improved much either, but they did manage to shave off a good eight kilograms, dropping it down to thirty-one in total thanks to a new alloy compaction method for the upper and lower receivers.”

“Do you mind-?” Syrena started to ask motion towards the rifle. Sinclair nodded eagerly and the commander carefully handled the weapon in both arms. Sure enough, it was still heavy as hell, but the added strength artificially provided by her field armor would make that hardly noticeable. “Three rounds, you said?”

“Correct. Other than the introduction of the semi-automatic system, the cycle of operations is relatively the same. The ejection port is on the right of the upper receiver, and you can insert a fresh clip below and to the left ahead of the trigger guard.”

“How much per unit?”

Sinclair looked down and smirked while scratching the back of his head. “Uhm… would you believe me if I said they’re going for 300,000 credits through Spectre Requisitions?”

Syrena suddenly clutched the rifle even tighter, as if afraid to let it drop. “Say what?!”

“Well… that’s kinda what you should expect with new weapons technology. The Alliance is keeping this hush-hush, but they’ve sold a few units to the Spectres for field testing. Cerberus managed to get their hands on the specs to construct our own, so don’t worry… it’s not like we’re actually buying them right off the market. You can expect the price to drop by about 50,000 in a couple of years, though.”

The commander set the rifle back down on the table. “Have it ready for me before I leave. I’ll put it to better use than any Spectre.”

“Of course, Commander,” Sinclair enthusiastically acknowledged. “Happy hunting.”

8 Characters Present

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

" 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.

1 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.

1 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Syrena Taylor
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Liberty Mission – The Turian

Her ship was but a microbial spec of light when she entered the Talava system and exited FTL speeds. With the incessant pinging of her alarm, Commander Taylor awoke in the pilot seat and sat up, rubbing her eyes of the dreariness that typically came along with the quietness of travelling alone across the galaxy. She punched in a command on the haptic console in front of her to raise the ceramic barriers protecting the forward view port of the small starship’s helm. She was closing in on the small red planet, eclipsed in shadow by the burning orange star beyond it. In a way, it was very similar to Sol’s Mercury: close proximity to the system’s sun, short orbit span of about 0.3 Earth years, trace atmospheric pressure, high amounts of solar radiation, intense gravity, and a lot of tectonic activity below the crust.

It was one of the best planets on which a mercenary outfit can hide, since it’s often overlooked and ignored by civilians and mining corporations. The surface offers little in the way of valuable minerals; mostly just common silicates, completely unremarkable.

Leaning forward, she tapped in another command and brought up a secured FTL communications channel back to the Infinity and started her high-priority video message. “This is Commander Syrena Taylor, Omni Cell. I’m now 20,000 kilometers from Aitarus. Mission status is green. Will report in once successful. Taylor out.” A single tap of her finger closed the transmission. It would take a while for the communique to reach back to the Infinity through the comm buoys, but Captain Titus would be pleased to hear of a safe journey so far, regardless.

“Alright,” she whispered to herself, punching in the next waypoint vectors for the ship. “Time to pick up a turian.”

The ship’s autopilot program flawlessly descended down to Aitarus and smoothly landed outside of a small compound of white plated buildings designed to reflect most of the radiation from Talava’s close-proximity star. With the airlock fully repressurized to match Aitarus’ conditions, the blast door to her vessel hissed open and Commander Taylor went sprinting out in her black Cerberus-logoed Ajax armor. Her right hand reached over her shoulder and grabbed the compacted Black Widow Anti-Materiel Rifle, which quickly unpacked itself and extended to its full length.

A radar alert sprang up on her hood with a blaring warning sound, indicating approaching hostile units. Her landing had not gone unnoticed and several mercenaries had come barreling out of the compound in Devlon Industries armor specifically designed to protect them from Aitarus’ hazardous radiation levels. Her own Ajax armor wasn’t as protective as theirs, but she would be able to survive EVA for ten minutes before needing to commandeer one of their pressured land vehicles.

Her first objective was to locate one such vehicle, and the intel reports before her mission suggested that a Mako near the back of the compound was her best bet. As she ran at full speed, she quickly came upon the welcome wagon that equally high-tailed it over to her. Sliding into cover behind a heavy boulder, she leaned around and quickly shouldered the rifle with the help of the synthetic strength enhancers in her armor. The rifle weighed approximately thirty-one kilograms, which was far too heavy for an average soldier to run around with; but Syrena was more than the average soldier with the Ajax technology.

“Hello there…,” she murmured as she brought the head of a batarian into her crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. Even with the lack of a solid atmosphere, the bang of the Widow sounded off with a violent shockwave that sent adrenaline rushing through her spine. She nearly killed over laughing from the sudden burst of excitement. When she regained focus, the upper half of the batarian was missing and his comrades went fleeing in every direction.

“Thanks for stepping aside, boys.”

Taylor got up and took a flanking detour to one side of her original path toward the compound, preferring the high ground alongside a short ridge to the valley that the mercs had chosen to occupy on their way to her. A few more stopped to recover their bravery and take a few pop shots at her with their Avenger rifles. She slid into more cover and leaned over to skillfully fire two more times, one shot for each of two turian. Their torsos were obliterated by the high-impact rounds. Before they finished collapsing, she had already popped the spent thermal clip and was reaching for another.

Once fully reloaded and ready to go, Syrena got up again and finished her dash to the compound. Sliding down the hillside, kicking red dust and silicates up around her, she landed on two feet and double-timed to the Mako. Now that she was in a close quarters environment, she collapsed the Widow and reached for the M-5 Phalanx on her hip. With it fully retracted, she heard the powering-up of the high-powered blue laser below the barrel. As if on cue, another batarian whirled around a corner up ahead and attempted to raise a very nasty-looking Kishock harpoon gun. If they were at a greater distance, he would have had the advantage, but the Kishock takes time to charge before unleashing it’s projectile.

“Idiot.” Syrena whipped up her Phalanx and waited until she visually confirmed the blue dot between his four eyes and fired two quick rounds into his skull. As his limp body collapsed toward her, she saw a salarian merc running out from the compound merely meters away. Hearing the charge cycle still going on the Kishock, as the batarian’s grip hadn’t yet released the trigger, she quickly grabbed the barrel and his body and twisted them around to raise the rifle at the salarian. When the skinny bastard realized what she was doing, it was too late and the alien was thrown violently backward when the harpoon pierced the chest plate of his armor and hooked his body mid-flight.

Another alarm went off in her helmet and her eyes briefly glanced to her lower HUD to see the hazard warning flaring. Her suit’s systems would soon start to fail with the high radiation levels and she’d be exposed. Dropping the batarian to the ground, she continued her sprint toward the Mako, where a turian stood, simply staring at her by the pressure lock on the side of the vehicle. Even though he had a rifle in his hands, he refused to fire. Perhaps it was fear that had gripped him, or a common sense that just told him he’d be no match. Whatever it was, he eventually stepped aside and shook his head.

“Not even worth it,” he commented aloud through his helmet’s external speakers.

“Smart choice,” Syrena said as she dashed by and slid to a stop at the pressure door.

At full speed, it took her less than thirty minutes to reach the main compound on the planet. Somewhere inside the massive complex of attached structures stretching out before her on the horizon was Captain Azuric Villayn, a turian pirate stuck inside with two surviving crew members of a ship he recently lost in combat in Aitarus’ orbit. Upon approach, she drove by what was presumably the captain’s escape pod, heavily wrecked from an obviously rough landing. It was miracle he had even survived.

Catching her slightly off guard, the radio inside the Mako blared to life and a batarian’s rough and gravelly voice shouted over the speaker. “It’s about time you idiots arrived! Villayn is pinned down in the supply bay on the south side. If you ambush him from behind, we can finally get the bastard!”

The batarian speaking must have been the mercenary leader and the one in charge of the base. He also must imagine Syrena to be reinforcements from the compound she had stolen the Mako from. It was probably best that she didn’t reply and keep the element of surprise as long as possible. This was actually working out to her advantage. She had been spending the drive thinking of ways to infiltrate the compound and find Villayn as quickly as possible. She hadn’t expected to be waved on in as a friendly.

“This should be fun,” she said to herself after killing the comm.

Sure enough, when she steered the Mako toward the supply bay’s vehicle airlock, a couple of the base’s mercenaries were waiting for her, standing in a relaxed and non-hostile manner. One of them, a turian, patched into the Mako’s radio frequency.

“He’s got two others that are still alive with him. They’ve been watching this entrance and have sniped anyone daring enough to try it. But if you roll in there with that Mako, they won’t stand a chance!”

The mercenaries opened the airlock’s blast shields and allowed Syrena to drive the vehicle right on it. As soon as the doors closed behind her, the chamber’s pressurization sequence started and she took in a deep breath and let go of the controls momentarily to shake out the tension. She was partially amazed she was able to get in so easily and no one even bothered to check to see who the hell was actually inside.

With the pressurization complete, the blast doors in front of the Mako hissed open and parted. Sure enough, she spotted two heavily armored turians right off the bat, taking cover behind large metal crates that had been serving as their hasty defensive fighting position. When they saw the Mako, the looks on their faces were filled with shock and terror.

Syrena drove the tank-like vehicle further into the storage bay. Beyond the stack of crates and at the far side of the area was a catwalk that led to a raised loading platform. Several batarians were taking cover behind the low wall of the platform, trying to fire down on the turians’ position. She could see Villayn, wearing black and blue Devlon armor, returning volleys of fire every now and then.

“Now’s your chance!” the batarian commander exclaimed over the Mako’s radio. “Use the cannon and obliterate them!”

“Nah,” Sryena replied into the mic before aiming the cannon at the batarian’s men above the platform. With a sly grin she pulled the trigger on the cannon controls and fired an explosive round at them. Screaming was heard over the radio, followed by nothing but static. She continued to rotate the cannon around the bay and annihilate any other hold-outs that had taken up different positions of cover.

When the bay was cleared out, she left the driver seat and exited the Mako on the side. Villayn and his men cautiously stood up from their cover after checking to make sure they were in the clear and walked over toward her with their weapons raised.

“Who the hell are you?” the captain demanded.

Looking him up and down, Syrena could see that he was definitely a hardened veteran. His armor was covered in dings and kinks that were both recent and old, with worn paint here and there, and a few parts that had sure-signs of modification or repair. His skull-like face was adorned in blue war-paint of a distinct design, as were his men’s, indicating they were from the same turian colony.

“I’m Syrena Taylor,” she stated bluntly. “Also known as the girl that just saved your asses. How long have you been holed up in here?”

Azuric and his two compatriots exchanged looks of both confusion and relief before he replied, “A few days, if you can believe that. We had this whole bay to ourselves after sealing the main corridor that leads to the rest of the compound at the far end, but they blasted through there this morning. Until then, we had an easy bottle neck here at the airlock.”

“You did a damn fine job if you managed to survive this long, Captain.”

“I’m sorry,” Azuric interjected, “but I’m afraid you still have me at a disadvantage here.”

Syrena nodded and then removed her helmet, letting her blonde hair flow down behind her neck. With a deep breath of fresh air, she said, “Long story short, I work for a privately funded and covert human group that needs your help. Our employer caught wind of your predicament and sent me to pull you out. Quid pro quo. We scratch your back and get you off this god-forsaken rock, and you help us in return.”

One of the two with Villayn spoke up. “She’s with Cerberus, she means to say. I’d recognize that symbol anywhere.” He pointed to her shoulder pauldrons, which, indeed, had the Cerberus logo painted on them.

“Cerberus?!” Azuric exclaimed. “Why the hell should we help a pro-human group that detests other species?”

“I think you’ll find that the particular cell I work with is different than the xenophobes that the galactic media likes to portray. Look, if we couldn’t stand other species, why the heck did I just travel thousands of light years to save your asses?” She knocked her plated knuckles on the side of the Mako’s hull to emphasize her point.

“Yes… Why, indeed?” the turian captain inquired with suspicion.

Syrena sighed and replaced her helmet. She turned to walk back towards the pressure lock of the Mako. Before climbing back in, she looked at them and said, “Come with me back to our cruiser and meet my captain. If you still don’t want to work together, then you’ll be free to leave. Either way, I’m your ticket off this planet. So… are we going, or what?”

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Katarina Buchan Character Portrait: Jonathan Titus
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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.”

3 Characters Present

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