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Captain Azuric Villayn

Turian member of the Marathon crew; former pirate.

0 · 169 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

History

All we know so far about Captain Azuric Villayn is that he was once a member of the turian military, and a veteran from the Battle of Shanxi. Azuric joined the Vindicator team in Season 1, when Titus opened fire on the Captain's pirate ship in defense of the Vindicator. Azuric was left with only two other survivors in the bridge after the devastation of the Vindicator's thanix cannon. Titus showed mercy by evacuating Villayn and his two lieutenants, Darak and Arkan, allowing them passage aboard the Vindicator, followed by full membership as official crew members. Since then, the turians have been trusted and very valued teammates, with Titus taking them along on missions quite frequently; including the evacuation of Hephaestus Station, going after Horn and the Demons aboard the Collector cruiser, and the missions on L'curn and Elysium.

Villayn is currently training Braden Reynolds in advanced hand-to-hand combat techniques, offering the boy a wealth of wisdom after the shocking revelation of his past. During one of these training sessions, Azuric briefly revealed his past with the turian military before he became a pirate.

So begins...

Captain Azuric Villayn's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn

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"That was reckless," the Illusive Man scolded as he lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. A hologram of Kai Leng stood before on the projection pad of his quantum entanglement communicator. Hands were placed behind him in the small of his back, standing with feet spread to shoulder-width apart, and his eyes forward. The assassin was receiving a verbal beat-down from his employer over his mission to take out the asari commando, Aleena. His actions would have sparked an interstellar incident if it hadn't have been for his use of a tactical smoke grenade to clear the area of any witnesses.

"Titus recovered the body to the Vindicator. He's having it sent to you as we speak." It was no excuse; Leng never gave excuses. He simply gave the Illusive Man the information he wanted.

The Man took in another brief drag of his cigarette and then stood up from his chair. His tall figure cast a shadow across the glistening black tiles, blocking out the center of the large violet star behind him. "Good. But the Counsel and the Alliance are conducting two seperate, but very thorough, investigations into what happened on Elysium. I don't want you anywhere inside of their territories until Cerberus can clean this mess up. Just because there are no bodies, doesn't mean that you didn't leave behind a trace of evidence. Return to the Terminus at once; head back to Omega, and continue to keep an eye on Grayson. With Aleena out of the way, he's become our top priority, aside from the Collectors."

Leng returned a stiff nod and said, "Understood."

"I hope so," the Illusive Man retorted. "Don't fail me, Leng."

The transmission was cut on Kai Leng's part, but the Illusive Man didn't return to his seat. Just as anticipated, there was a tone and the projector pad lit up for a second time. The hologram of two more figures materialized where the image of the assassin once stood. Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor stood next each other, their posture far more relaxed than the last person to speak with their employer.

It was Miranda that spoke first, as always. "The clean-up on Anhur is just about finished. Our front organizations have contributed a large sum of resources into not only assisting in making everything look like another post-war rebellion, but also ensuring that no evidence of the Collectors or Commander Horn's team is left lying around. So far, the Alliance investigators haven't discovered anything remarkably unusual."

"I'm relieved to understand that the Collector's invasion of Anhur is going unnoticed," the Man said. "Good work, Miranda."

"This is going to be a real shock to the system for Commander Shepard," Jacob commented. "Asleep for two years...? If I were the commander, I'm not sure I'd believe that thousands of colonists just up and disappear."

The Illusive Man returned to his seat where a woman, who had appeared out of the shadows, gently placed a half-full glass of scotch on the arm rest. When he sat down, he lowered his cigarette into his ash tray and plucked up the glass to take a sip. "I agree completely, Jacob," he finally said. "And that's why we're not going to come out with everything right away and expect the commander to believe us. Shepard will have to learn what has been happening the hard way. And I expect you two remain absolutely quiet about the Collectors after the commander is fully revived."

The Man tapped a button on a small haptic interface that materialized above his chair's right arm and a larger interface popped into existence over his right shoulder. It was a list of locations and numbers. "A week prior to the Normandy's demise at the weapons of the Collectors, Aria T'Loak had discovered why several human colonies had simply vanished. Her and her scouts had stumbled across a trade between a Blue Suns party and several Collectors on Omega. After they crashed the little meeting, one of Aria's men discovered a datapad on a Blue Suns merc and handed it over to her. This information was what she saw on the screen."

Miranda and Jacob looked from their boss to the figures hovering in the background of his mysterious office.

Horizon: 643,315
Omega: 853,245
Freedom's Progress: 912,810
Citadel: 2,491,356
Eden Prime: 3,962,450
Terra Nova: 4,145,412
Earth: 11,490,225,106


"Those are... population totals," Jacob said in disbelief. "Earth? They've targeted Earth?"

The Illusive Man lowered his head and swirled the scotch around in his glass for a second, contemplating what to say next. Finally, he adjusted himself in his chair and said, "Obviously, the Blue Suns weren't aware of the many other targets the Collectors had in mind. That's why colonies like Anhur aren't listed, and this list was intercepted over a year ago. So far, none of these listed have fallen under attack, or vanished. But I have the unsettling feeling that they will go dark, soon. What makes tracking them, and intercepting them, so difficult is that we've realized the Collectors don't have the numbers to abduct entire colonies; only small settlements and cities without much security or established infrastructure. New Thebes was a target because of the post-war instability. The destruction left over from the Anhur Rebellions provided them with enough cover to make anything go unnoticed. If the Collectors attack any of the one's listed... by the time we realize it, we may be too late to stop them."

Miranda raised her knuckles to her chin and asked, "How many vessels do the Collectors have?"

"Right now; we suspect they may only have two. Commander Horn nearly destroyed one of them, but the Titan met its match. Regardless, its heavily damaged and vulnerable. If we can find it, we can narrow our targets down to just the one cruiser, and - with a bit of luck - track its movements."

"We've already lost two good commanding operatives in Omni Cell, sir," Jacob noted. "And from the recent reports I've read... we've nearly lost a third. If Omni needs a new recruit, I volunteer for the job." Jacob took a small step forward and placed his hands behind his back. But the Illusive Man only shook his head.

"No, Jacob," the Man said. "I need you with Miranda on the Lazarus Project. That space station would be vulnerable otherwise, and I can't risk Commander Shepard's body a second time." The operative nodded his understanding, though looked slightly disappointed when he stepped back in line with his colleague. "Omni does need two new commanders to replace the ones we lost. With a full team focused solely on the crippled cruiser, we'll be able to overwhelm them."

"Sounds good. Jacob and I will continue to monitor Shepard. We'll update you as the Lazarus Project progresses."

The Illusive Man nodded his approval and cut the transmission. When the room was once again quiet, he turned his chair around to face the violet star and took another sip of the scotch. When he lowered the glass, he looked down and at the barely noticable reflection of himself in the cylinder. He could make out the tiny blue lights that were his eyes... the eyes that were given to him.




"Good!" Villayn yelled, blocking a solid punch delivered by Braden to his forearm. The boy was learning, and learning fast, and the Captain knew it was mostly due to the rage that the young human had pent up inside. His instruction was well-received, and it was being put to good use. His sparring technique for releasing stress and anxiety was working well for the biotic. It was difficult, at first, to get Braden to accept his offer to spar. When he first arrived outside of the boy's quarters and knocked, all he received was pure silence in response. But persistent knocking after EDI informed him that Braden was, indeed, in there and wide awake finally got him at least a 'What do you want?'

After a minute of explaining to the human how much punching someone helped release that pressure cap that desperately needed loosening, Braden finally gave in and followed the turian down to the gym. Villayn started first by teaching him how to properly position himself in a hand-to-hand fight. Knees slightly bent at thirty degrees, feet shoulder-width apart, hands in the air with palms open. After the boy learned the basics with shuffling his feet and throwing a few solid punches, the captain moved on to more advance moves; kicking, dodging, weaving in and out, and recovering quickly after being knocked down - which Braden was demonstrating his mastery of right now after being thrown across the mat.

The boy rolled back and kicked his feet high in the air while simultaneously pushing off with his hands behind his shoulders. He used his body's momentum and arched to his heels, bringing himself back up in a brief second. But Villayn was no longer holding back. He had authorized Braden to do whatever was necessary to defend himself, which included using his biotics. As the captain had told him: in reality, there are no rules in war. It's a fight for your life, and only the strongest survive. As the turian charged him head-on, Braden had just enough time to build up the energy around him and manipulate enough gravity to pick Villayn up off of his feet. While the turian was suspended in mid-air, Braden charged forward and kicked off of his left foot, using his right to deliver a blow to the mid-section and released the gravitational hold he had on Villayn. The captain was sent backwards and crashing to the ground.

"Excellent!" he said with a prideful laugh. He then his talons up as he caught his breath. "Very good, boy. I think that's enough for one day."

Braden relaxed his stance and lowered his fists. The blue sarks of dark energy around his body faded into oblivion, and the teenager shook his head of the dizzyness that using such energy typically caused. His steps were light, only unstable, as he moved away and off the mat. "God, I need some food."

"You and me, both," Villayn replied. "How do you feel?"

"Sick in my head."

The turian bellowed, but shook his head and said, "No, I meant, do you feel any better now that you've got some of that anger out of your system?"

Braden looked up at him, but was silent for a moment before replying. "I guess so."

"Give it some time. I'm no expert on human emotions, but... I'm not a stranger to betrayal, either. Do you know why I left the turian military and became a pirate?" The boy wasn't sure he was in the mood in the story, but he shook his head "no" and looked back to Villayn for one anyway. "I used to be as naive as any other die-hard soldier," the captain went on. "There was once a time where I would obey any order, even it meant suicide. I fought at Shanxi; and yes, I killed your kind. But after the war, I taught myself to accept you humans. It wasn't until I began to notice the seperate opinions of the Turian Heirarchy - the racism, the disdain - that I realized soldiers like me were the real victims of war. We were puppets to them; just pawns in a game of ego-manipulated politics. Millions of turians were ready to accept humanity into the rest of the universe, but there just had to some higher up the food chain that thought otherwise. Their own xenophobia trickled down to the other colonies in our systems and spread an infectous influence. A lot of that hatred still exists today..."

The teen only looked down at the floor, unsure of what to say. Humans were no different, really. Villayn had every right to feel ashamed of his people for their opinions, but Braden felt the exact same animosity toward his fellow man. Prejudice will always be a vice in any culture; it didn't matter if you were human, turian, salarian, or even an esteemed asari. The quarians were a prime example; being a largest political target of racism for every sentient species. It was sad, but true.

"Come on," Villayn said after a while. "Time to get you some food."

"Sure," Braden said, nodding. He fell in behind Villayn as they left the gym and headed for the mess hall.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn

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Humans...

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Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn

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Oh that's why.

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Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn

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I was in the rest of the galaxy.

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

"Yes, ma'am."

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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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

"Copy that," Titus said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go, sir."

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

“Go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Erik! Shut up!”

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

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

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

[Begin playing soundtrack, "Embolden"]

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

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

“Lance: Kodiak. Move!”

“Aye-Aye! I’ll see you aboard!”

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

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

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

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

“Bringing the pain, mother fuckers!”

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

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






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

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

“Mom?” his hopeful voice cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do I find him?”

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

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

“Thank you, sir.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens

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Daniel unloaded yet another clip from his assault rifle at the encroaching horde as they scaled the building in such a way that it defied their lanky manner. Everyone seemed to be doing the same thing, and Daniel started having doubts about whether or not they would get out of here alive. Daniel was on the opposite side of the building from Tia when she went down to one knee, something was wrong. Nerita was the first to notice it, and between shots she yelled at Daniel. "Operative Saint is down." She stated, managing to sound neutral despite her voice being raised. Daniel spared a glance backwards, and could see that despite having no husks near her yet, she was struggling to stand upright.

"Carly, pull Saint's ass to the middle!" He ordered the marine, who complied without a word. Without consent, she grabbed the Operative under the shoulder and dragged her to the middle of the rooftop, allowing her the most space out of them. "Everyone watch your peripherals! We've got an open flank now, stay focused!" Daniel ordered as he kicked the face of a husk that was gripping the edge of the rooftop down into the crowd below. "Saint! What's your problem!?" Daniel asked, not exactly in the position for niceties at this point.

"Something's...wrong...I don't..." Tia seemed to be having a hard time breathing as she was barely able to fire her weapon at one of the husks that climbed over the ledge. Daniel cursed under his helmet as he fired until his weapon clicked. He reached for another thermal clip, only to find that his pack was empty. He switched to his Carnifex heavy pistol, already loaded with a thermal clip and started backing towards the middle of the rooftop.

"I'm out!" Daniel yelled into his comm.

"Same here sir!" Carly replied a second later as she backpeddled to meet him. Nerita stood her ground for a few more seconds before retreating to their position as well.

"I'm out as well." Her voice calm and cool as always. They picked their shots, making sure to make each one count as the husks found their way over the ledge. Even amidst the firing, Nerita spoke to Daniel. "What was that about getting out alive Lieutenant?" She said, her voice almost accusing. Daniel said nothing as he continued to fire. They still had at least one more boost on their packs, but where would it send them? It would drop them right in the middle of the horde with no way out. Evac couldn't get there in time if they called it right now, and they were all running out of ammunition. Daniel glared through his visor as his Carnifex ammo counter ticked down.

3

2

1

"Lieutenant Harrens?! Vindicator Kodiak 2 here! How about we give you a lift!" The Kodiak came around the building and parked a few feet away from the ledge to keep the husks from grabbing on. Daniel almost jumped for joy when the Kodiak appeared, but managed to keep his head.

"Nerita, clear us a path!" Daniel ordered. "Carly, get to the Kodiak, provide covering fire for as long as you can!"

"Yes sir!" They both stated as Nerita released a biotic throw that cleared a few husks off of the building clearing them an avenue of approach. Carly ran forward, and jumped the few feet landing on the Kodiak. She immediately turned around and used whatever ammo she had left. Nerita was next as she did the same thing, turning around to provide suppressing fire. Daniel stopped, and picked up Tia. She wasn't unconscious, but she wasn't able to move on her own fast enough. He quickly picked her up in a fireman carry, and brought her to the edge of the building. He built up enough speed, but still said something to Tia.

"This is most likely going to hurt, or kill us." Daniel said in a tone that meant he wasn't joking as he took the extra weight and tossed them both onto the Kodiak with a crash. Tia flew from his grasp, landing on the far side of the vessel in a heap, and Daniel was stuck hanging onto the edge of the Kodiak with his feet dangling below. Both Carly and Nerita grabbed a hold of each arm and yanked him up. As soon as he was inside, the door closed and he could feel them moving. Daniel didn't waste any time. "Pilot, what's our next destination?"

"We have to pick up a Vindicator sniper team about to be overrun sir, Captain Villayn." The pilot responded.

"Confirmed. Do you have spare thermal clips back here?" Daniel asked next.

"Top shelf on the left side, there should be a bundle of them." Daniel reached up into the compartment and grabbed a few thermal clips for himself and tossed out a few more to Nerita and Carly.

"Carly, patch her up, see what's wrong with her. Nerita, with me." Within moments, the pilots voice was heard once more.

"Opening the doors in five seconds!" He said. Daniel and Nerita stood on either side of the door, and the moment it opened, they saw yet another horde almost directly on top of the sniper team. They unloaded their new found clips from their rifles as Villayn's team simply broke and ran for the Kodiak. Daniel and Nerita didn't let up, slaughtering dozens of the creatures as Villayn and his team finally got aboard the vessel. The door closed, and the feeling of them lifting into the air was such a welcome reprieve that Daniel actually sat down placed his head on his rifle.

"Thank you for your assistance." Villayn stated, looking between Nerita and Daniel as he took a seat himself.

"Not a problem." Daniel stated, allowing himself some rest. The Turian managed a look over at Carly and Saint, who were crouched in a corner. He didn't say anything though, for the lack of wounds was apparent yet she was in obvious pain. "Carly, what's the issue?" Daniel asked.

"Physically she's fine sir. Whatever is affecting her, it's beyond what little medical knowledge I have." Carly replied.

"She's been sick for a few days Lieutenant." Nerita spoke up as well, but didn't say anything else. Daniel simply looked over at her.

"Sick? Aren't the nanites in her body supposed to prevent that?"

"Maybe it is the nanites." Daniel looked over at Villayn who simply looked back. "When we were aboard the Collector vessel, she was hit and her suit was breached. Seeing the way these...Reapers can control organic beings, it might have happened then when the nanites came into direct contact with them." Daniel simply shook his head.

"Indoctrination doesn't work that way. Hell, I've had my suit breached before by these bastards, I'm still good to go."

"Yes, but you don't have microscopic robots in your bloodstream." Villayn stated. Daniel looked over at Tia, then Carly.

"It seems logical sir. I can't see anything else wrong with her." Daniel looked down, before opening a comm. channel to the Victory.

"Overwatch, this is Fireteam 1, we're going to need a medical team standing by upon our departure."

"Already in place Lieutenant." Kelly replied. "Fireteam 2 is on their way up as well with survivors from the research team. Dr. Grass is standing by."

"Copy, Fireteam 1 out." Daniel cut the connection and looked over everyone else. This mission had been FUBAR, and there was literally no one to blame. No one could have known the numbers, let alone about how powerful the damn artifact really was. In the end, the mission was a failure at least on their part. They failed in securing a husk, and barely got out with their lives.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Kelly stood watching through the window to the shuttle bay, waiting for Fireteam 2 to come aboard with the wounded scientists from the research base. Dr. Grass was waiting just outside the door with a couple of nurses and orderlies to assist with the wounded. Finally, the Kodiak came aboard, and Dr. Grass wasted no time meeting the group at the Kodiak. A couple of the scientists were put on stretchers to avoid further damage, while others were carefully walked off. Kelly stood patiently from behind the window, watching as O'Ryan's team approached the door and came out into the hallway to meet with Operative Invaru.

Once Leonard was within the hallway, he removed his helmet and gave a smart salute. The others followed their Lieutenant, and Kelly returned it but gave Leonard a look. "I already told you to stop with the salutes Lieutenant."

"Sorry ma'am, old habits die hard." He replied as he turned towards the rest of the fireteam.

"Squad! Debriefing will take place an hour from now, dismissed!" He stated. He was about to turn back around, when he stopped himself. "Oh, and good work out there team." He dismissed them as he turned his back on them to talk to Invaru. They quietly walked away from the two officers, leaving them to their conversation.

"Give me the quick version Lieutenant." Kelly asked, placing her hands behind her back. Leonard held his helmet under his arm as he swiped a hand through his hair.

"Well...the plan was a bust ma'am. Unless Fireteam 1 managed to get a husk, which I highly doubt, the Illusive man isn't going to be pleased with us."

"Where did all the husks come from?" Kelly asked, seeing if Leonard knew more than her.

"I don't know ma'am, but if I had to guess I would say numerous pirate and private research groups going for the same thing these researchers were going for. These ruins always attract the greedy, the brilliant, and the stupid." Kelly simply nodded. "Do we have word from Lieutenant Harrens?" O'Ryan asked keeping his voice neutral.

"They're on their way up as well. They have wounded, but they're all accounted for." Kelly replied, and Lieutenant O'Ryan nodded as he stopped himself mid-salute.

"Good to hear ma'am. If you need me for a formal debrief, you know where to find me." He turned smartly and made his way to the elevator. Kelly stood there watching him leave for a moment, before turning back to the window. Just a couple minutes later, another Kodiak was making its way into the shuttle bay. The elevator door opened at almost the exact same time, and Dr. Grass came out once more.

"You're timing is impeccable Doctor." Kelly said with a slight smile. He simply adjusted his glasses as a couple of orderlies came behind him with a stretcher.

"In my job, timing is what saves half the patients. Did he tell you the nature of the wounded at all?" Grass asked watching as the Kodiak finally docked.


"No Doctor." Kelly replied, and Grass simply gave a sigh.

"And people say marines are the only ones who go in blind." As soon as the words were out, Grass opened the door and walked in. "Alright, let's get in there." Kelly waited outside the bay, knowing that the Kodiak was actually the Vindicator's and would need to leave once Daniel's team was off. It took a couple of minutes, but she saw Tia loaded up on a stretcher much to her discontent and taken out. Even as they passed by through the door to the elevator, she could tell Saint wasn't liking the doting father treatment that Lincoln liked to hand out to everyone.

Once Daniel's team was safely inside the ship, the Kodiak left to join the Vindicator. Daniel, Nerita, and Carly all stood in front of Kelly who only seemed to look over them. "I assume you were unsuccessful in grabbing a husk Lieutenant?" Kelly asked, her voice not reprimanding but asking a simple question.

"No ma'am. We'll have to hope that the Commander Titus managed to grab one himself." Daniel responded as he gave a wave to dismiss the others. Carly and Nerita both gave a nod before heading off towards the elevator. "The truth, ma'am, is that we barely got out of there ourselves. I do not recommend sending another team down, even with the bombardment the artifact got with the Vindicator's cannons. There are simply too many for them to have gotten them all."

"Understood Lieutenant. Go, get some rest and hand in your report of the situation when you are able too." Daniel gave a nod and left for the elevator. Kelly turned towards the window for a moment looking into the shuttle bay as if waiting for something. After a few moments, she herself left the area and took the elevator back up to the CIC.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Sibyl Carson

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Titus turned and watched after Valentine brushed past him and made his way to the Vindicator’s docking bridge. He remained where he was for a minute, waiting until the air lock closed behind his new crew member, before walking back out into the main terminal. He continued to walk, gently weaving in and out of several spacers and travelers waiting for their vessels to refuel or finish being worked on. As he was now deep within the Terminus systems the language barrier was dense, with the tongues of several cultures feeling reverberating about the terminal.

He finally came to a stop when a woman’s voice, singing in perfect English, asked from within an alcove, “Long time no see, Captain.”

Titus turned and smiled to the dark haired woman leaning her shoulder against the wall with arms and legs crossed. “Lieutenant Carson,” he said, stepping closer to the woman named Sibyl. “It’s has been a long time hasn’t it?” John opened slightly opened his arms and she pushed off of the wall to accept the embrace, returning the smile.

After stepped back to her spot, she asked, “It’s Commander now, actually.”

“Promoted?”

“To the head of a new Alliance program called Oracle. Though, I’m surprised you didn’t already know.”

Titus shrugged his shoulders and slightly shook his head. “The Illusive Man must have forgotten to mention that the last time we spoke. So what’s Oracle?”

Sibyl leaned out of the alcove only enough for her to glance up and down both directions of the terminal. In a lower voice, she replied, “It’s the navy’s new special intelligence division. After my work in their InOps branch, they offered me the position of ‘the Operator’; the director of this new and improved group of spooks.”

John raised a brow. “The Operator? You’re not going to become recluse on a space station orbiting some random gas giant now, are you?”

His friend laughed and poked him in the stomach. “Of course not; so long as there’s one mystery man already doing that, the galaxy can sleep well at night.” She bent down to one knee, dipping her hand into a small bag that had been laid by her feet. A second later, she stood back up and revealed a small black box that she had recovered from the satchel. There was a silver piece on the front, where one would normally press in and lift up to release the latches and open the lid; but Titus recognized this particular model to be designed as a security lock box, built to protect small items of immense value; jewelry, credit chits, data disks, anything else a paranoid – or just very careful – individual could not trust themselves enough to keep on their person.

“I’ve brought what you asked for,” she said, handing the box over to him. “There is a DNA scanner on either side of the box. It’s been coded to only allow him to open it. He’ll just have to place each index finger on either side, let it read his DNA from his skin cells, and then he can just push in and up on the silver latch on the front. Simple; but secure.”

Titus took the box in both hands, examined it for a second – feeling the weight, the volume, the mere eye value – and nodded his thanks to Sibyl. “I could use someone like you on my team, Carson.”

Sibyl smiled, but replied, “Sorry, Titus; but I can’t. I have a duty with the Alliance, and my loyalty is also with them. I may look out for humanity just as much as you or the Illusive Man, but Oracle has standards; the first of which being integrity.”

It seemed a shadow had just been cast over Titus as he looked slightly away from the woman who used to serve with him as an N7 marine. They had been through hell and back in more than ways than one, and always came out stronger, closer, and more defined by their actions in the field. Both of them had taken lives, but in doing so they have saved thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands. Now, they had gone their separate ways. John had joined Cerberus, and Sibyl had migrated to the intelligence community. Now, he felt he was being accused; and if that’s what her aim was, she had every right to do so. He couldn’t blame her, and wouldn’t.

“I have to go, Titus,” she said abruptly, looking down at her Omni tool which had pinged aloud to grab her attention.

“Uhm, yeah. I’ll see you around, Sibyl,” he replied.

She turned to leave, stepping out of her alcove and past John; but before reaching even ten feet from him, she stopped and looked back. “You know Commander Titus,” she began, “it’s not you that should be asking me to tag along. It should be me asking you.” After passing him a quick wink of her eye, she turned back and disappeared into a crowd of humans that walked through a nearby air lock.

“Perfect timing as always,” John mused before heading the opposite direction with a smirk on his face.




Braden’s slammed downward and crashed into the blue mat in the center of the gym’s floor. Every last bit of biotic energy he had built up around his body channeled through his arm and released into a widespread shockwave, surging out from his knuckles. The blue and purple blast sent Villayn, Darak, and Arkan flying in an outward direction. The turian captain crashed into one of the treadmills situated in the corner of the room. His head rolled around for a second as he struggled to recover.

“Okay!” Villayn said, holding up his talons. “That’s enough for today.”

Arkan stumbled back onto the mat, and gave the human child a heavy pat on his shoulder. Braden was so exhausted from the session that he dropped to his knees as soon as Arkan’s talons made contact. “You okay?” the turian lieutenant asked sincerely.

“I’m fine,” Braden replied, standing back up to his feet with ferocity, attempting to maintain a tough appearance, which made Darak laugh.

Villayn walked over, but had a more serious look than his friends. “Promise me you’ll eat a full meal this time,” he said, pointing one of his long, bony digits at the boy. “Dr. Porter gave me an ear full the other day. I never realized that your species’ females can be just as aggressive as the asari. She actually had me worried she’d eject me out the air lock if you wound up on one of her recovery beds again after our training.”

Braden laughed and shrugged. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly.

The door to the gym hissed open and Commander Titus stepped in. He was carrying a small security box designed for private belongings. He nodded in greeting to Braden before looking to Villayn to ask, “Would you mind giving Mr. Reynolds and I a moment together, Captain? I won’t take too much of your time.”

“Take as long as you want, Commander,” Villayn replied with a nod. “We’ve just finished up for the day. You should know he’s doing quite well; already able to take on all three of us and come out on top.”

Titus actually seemed pleased with Villayn’s praise for the teen. “Well then, I’ll definitely have to come down and watch tomorrow. Thanks for everything you’re doing, Captain.”

“My pleasure, Titus,” Villayn replied as he made his way out of the gym with Darak and Arkan behind him.

When the door hissed shut once more, Titus walked over and onto the mat to meet Braden. He handed the boy the small box, who took it with great curiosity in his eyes. “What’s in it?” he inquired.

“Open it and find out,” John said gently.

Braden pressed each index finger on the sides of the box, and heeded to the sound of a hum coming from somewhere within. After a tiny click was heard at the front, he pressed his thumbs on the silver latch, press in, and then up. He transitioned one hand under the box for support as his other hand gently and slowly lifted the top back. Inside, he saw two titanium dog tags on a matching chain, perfectly polished, resting like feathers on a satin-gray silk display pillow. He reached in and gently lifted the tags off of the pillow, setting the box down on the mat after doing so, and lightly ran his thumb over the embellished print.

REYNOLDS
ADAM C
486850125 AN
O POS
CHRISTIAN


The boy’s knees began to shake, and Titus’ arms reached around behind his back and pulled him in close. Heavy, overwhelming sobs violently bore into his jacket, but John stood there the whole time: looking ahead, holding him close, and letting the young man release it all. Braden’s arms close around his torso and they remained locked in the center of the room for several minutes before Braden finally pulled away and looked back at the tags.

“Service Chief Adam Reynolds,” Titus said after a long silence, “that was your father. He was a very brave man, Braden. He was a proud Alliance MP, who gave his life defending you and your mother. You’ve gone through the last two years not being able to remember who they were. I figured it would help if you had something that the geth or Gavin didn’t take away from you.”

Braden lifted the chain around his neck, and let the tags rest against the outside of his shirt. His fingers twirled and fumbled with his father’s precious identity for a few seconds before whispering the words, “Thank you.”

John pulled the teen in for a final hug, rubbing a rough hand through his already messy hair before letting him go, and said, “Now, go eat. Veronica just about smashed my head into the wall because you passed out last time.”

Braden raised a brow and replied, “She is so my mom!”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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Titus sat behind his desk in the captain’s quarters and tapped the key on the side of his computer’s screen to bring up the haptic interfaces. An unread message was waiting for him in his secure inbox, indicated by a flashing icon in the corner of the desktop. He tapped the icon the screen flickered to show a message sent to him personally by the Illusive Man. This wasn’t entirely uncommon. Sometimes there was simply no need to use the communications room, especially if the mission wasn’t critically regarding the Collectors or Reapers. Sometimes Cerberus Command would stumble across issues that needed to be resolved with a more militant approach, rather than using their clandestine resources. That’s where Omni Cell came into play. While the Omni commanders were primarily focused on slowing down the Collectors, standard Cerberus missions could still be delegated to them; and if the details were sent from their employer personally, it had to be of some importance.

Titus:

As you may be well aware of by now, I’ve had a special package delivered to your frigate’s shuttle bay. The M-44 Hammerhead will assist you in your next mission.

Your friend, Captain Marcus Shire, has mobilized Aurora resources on Noveria, in the Attican Traverse. We’ve pinpointed their activity in a remote region on the ice planet, far from the controlling grip of the Noveria Development Corporation. Shire is believed to be investigating Cerberus involvement in the NDC, and if his suspicions are confirmed to be true, will proceed to launch an attack on their headquarters. Since Noveria is outside of Counsel space, an Alliance-sanctioned attack on the company would go unquestioned, if simply scrutinized.

Yes, we are involved in many of NDC’s projects, as we just so happen to be one of their larger financial supporters. In return, the company provides us with reliable, high technology. Some of the twenty four other technology corporations established on the independent planet are actually Cerberus front organizations.

Commander, if we allow Aurora to interfere in our operations on Noveria, the setbacks would be detrimental. Since you’re the one that attracted Aurora’s attention to us in the first place - and, no doubt, sparked what appears to be a need for revenge from Captain Shire – I’m assigning the Vindicator the sole task of driving them from the system. Use the Hammerhead to destroy their forward operating compound, as well as any and all heavy militarized equipment they’ve imported.

I’ve assigned the Call of Victory to their own mission involving the Blue Suns, so you won’t have any assistance from them during this ordeal. Take care, Titus, and be sure to let Shire know to never interfere with our business.


The commander closed out of the message and leaned back in his seat for a moment, smiling to himself. “It seems I’ve started a war. Nice.”




“Can I at least have the chance to breathe fir-!”

“Nope!” Lizzie insisted as she shoved another spoon of Braden’s dinner in his mouth. The turians joining them only chuckled. “You’ll eat and you’ll like it.”

“Yesh, muhm,” Braden mumbled as he chewed as the food and swallowed. His cheeks were red with embarrassment, but he couldn’t do a thing about it. He was stuck in that seat, being force-fed by his girlfriend in front of everyone in the mess hall, and all so he wouldn’t pass out again.

The stern figure of Commander Titus gliding across the mess hall in Lizzie’s background caught Braden’s attention. When she had brought another spoonful up to his mouth, his hand intercepted her wrist and gently lowered it. “I can feed myself, now,” he said. “Thanks.”

Lizzie grimaced, but silently sipped her coke. The two of them sat and ate their meals quietly for a long while before she finally spoke up. “Where’d you get the tags?” she asked, nodding to the dog tags hanging down on the outside of Braden’s black shirt.

The boy’s hand reached up and gently tightened around them. “They were my father’s,” he said, looking down and away from the rest of group. “Titus gave them to me.”

“The son of a soldier,” Villayn commented. “I’m sure he would be proud of what you’re doing, kid.”

A shadow suddenly loomed over the table and everyone glanced up to see the commander standing at the end, hands behind his back and shoulders broad. “Reynolds… You up for a mission?”




Sentry, Braden, and Titus stood inside the briefing room, watching as the distorted blue light around the Vindicator’s tower faded away when the frigate exited FTL speeds. The large blue and violet planet of Noveria dominated the view. Simply looking at it made the young man shiver; an icy cold tingle running up and down his spine.

“Noveria,” the commander said as he turned to face the hologram in the center of the conference table. It was a layout of a particular surface area dominated on one end by what appeared to be a large military compound. The other end was nothing but cliffs, ice, and snow. “The mission is simple. The Vindicator will drop into low orbit, using the dense cloud cover in the atmosphere for cover. Darcy will keep the stealth systems while you-” Titus pointed across the table to Sentry “-pilot the Hammerhead down to the surface from the shuttle bay. Once on the ground, hit ‘em hard. EDI’s scans haven’t detected any heavy armor yet, but don’t be surprised if you run across a Mako or two. If that’s the case, the Hammerhead can easily outmaneuver them; even get the drop on them… if you know what I mean. Your objective is simple: destroy any and all militarized equipment in sight.”

Sentry nodded, studying the holographic map. He then asked, looking to the teenager standing next to Titus, “One question: What’s up with the kid?”

“His name is Braden Reynolds, and he’s a biotic… the best in my book. The Hammerhead doesn’t have much room for an entire fire team dressed in full combat armor. Only Braden and you will be planet-side. I’ll be in the CIC with Operative Taylor coordinating as your handlers and battlefield operators. Mr. Reynolds is along for the ride to simply learn; but if you find yourself in a sticky situation, he can use his own talents to your advantage. He’s a quick learner; give him a chance.”

"You've got it, bossman. One thing, though: If he comes back in a box, don't come hunting for my head. You won't have to hunt very hard seeing as how I'll be in the next box over, but I frown very heavily upon corpse desecration."

“Noted,” Titus replied with a smirk that he couldn’t help. Even Braden found the man’s surprisingly facetious response to be amusing. “Alright. We drop in one hour. Both of you need to get ready.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine Character Portrait: Sibyl Carson Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Mass Effect
On the Edge
Season 3


Image


Jonathan Titus carefully stood just before the middle of the three large glass windows of the observation deck on what Oracle called “the Lookout”; a space station developed in secret, and masked by the bulk of the Alliance’s Fifth Fleet guarding Earth. This lone station served no military purpose, nor a diplomatic one; it was simply an outpost and small intelligence hub. In essence, it was just another dot among Oracle’s vast network of secret locations all throughout the Milky Way.

As Titus looked out over Earth, far below the Lookout, he wondered about his crew; or former crew. For the past two months he had simply been Jonathan Titus: former Alliance, former Cerberus, and now a simple civilian under the careful watch and custody of Oracle and the Alliance. In a sense, he was a prisoner; and he was waiting for the results of his commutation hearing.

Though Sibyl had personally vouched for Titus and his crew, the commutation board would have to render their unbiased ruling. Which of them would be deemed worthy to return to active duty for the Alliance? Which of them would be let go but barred from service? And which of them would be faced with war crimes, terrorism, dereliction of duty (had they been former Alliance); or charged with treason, espionage, sabotage, or anything else the board could dig up?

Whatever a price Jonathan would be forced to pay, if he must, he would gladly do so. He had no fear of what might happen to him, but he did fear for the men and women that had served Cerberus under his leadership. He had never, not once, given them an order thought to be malicious, or unbefitting of a soldier’s honor. He could not count a single moment when any of his crew had committed a criminal act, or done something that would be considered heinous or a war crime; save for the fact that they worked for Cerberus. That alone had been the whole reason for the stripping of his rank, and the detention under Oracle supervision. That alone was what the commutation board was dealing with right now. Yes, they had worked for a terrorist organization, and had carried out orders personally handed down by the galaxy’s most feared villain. Yet, in the process, they had managed to hold onto their dignity, their humanity.

As Jonathan stood there, with hands buried in his trouser pockets, he thought of Darcy and his witty jokes. The man’s careless bravado had pulled his ass out of the fire more times than one; and always a laughable punch line ready when he flew the Vindicator in for a daring rescue. Jonathan also thought of Lance, and how much he has grown and come to understand that hatred is a means only to the end of a man himself. Then there was Serena, her grace and professionalism always providing a worthy second opinion to any situation. If it wasn’t for her, Jonathan would lack in both the strength and wisdom he had come to gain over his time with Cerberus. And Veronica; oh, Veronica… Since he had been confined to the Lookout, Jonathan has only seen her but a few times. The entire crew had been separated and still remained apart from one another. He longed to look into her eyes again, to feel her breath against his lips, to embrace her in his arms.

And what of the children, Braden and Elizabeth? Would they be tried as war criminals despite their young age? Or the turians, Villayn and his lieutenants? There was also Sentry, who had just come aboard their mission, eager and ready to do the galaxy some good by putting his solidified knowledge of tech and weapons up against Reaper forces. And Elizabeth’s mother, Nina, who had been with them since the mission to Hephaestus, working alongside Terrance on upgrading some of the Vindicator’s more advanced tech.

These men and women were far more than just Cerberus grunts carrying out galactic crimes. They were and still are dignified, caring, and good-hearted people. During his own commutation hearing, their commander spoke for every single one of them. There was not a name on the Vindicator’s roster that he had not personally known and he had not vouched for. When the board asked what he thought of himself… He replied, “Ask my crew.”

Then there was Dianna Henricksen. Before picking her up on Omega, Titus had no idea that Dianna was actually an escaped convict and fugitive murderer wanted by the Alliance. This had come at little surprise to Titus. After all, she wouldn't be the only murderer on the Vindicator crew. But how would she fair in her own commutation hearing? Would the Alliance lock her back up?

Footsteps approached and stopped just beside him. He recognized Sibyl out of his peripherals and sighed before asking, “Well? What’s the verdict?”

He refused to look at her face, worried that the expression would only disappoint him, or give him the wrong idea. So, instead, he waited for her reply, clenching his fists in his pockets.

“Well…,” Sibyl quietly began, crossing her arms and looking out of the window at Earth with the same gloomy stance as her longtime friend, “…you’ll need a new uniform. I’m thinking one of blue and gold?”

Titus’s head jerked a full ninety degrees, so fast that he barely noticed the numbing pop in his neck. “Seriously?!”

Sibyl opened a clinched fist and revealed a brass pin in her palm, the Alliance’s arching “A” emblem. “You, and every one of your crew, have been cleared of all charges and offered a place in Oracle. While you aren’t officially apart of any of the Alliance’s fleet, you are Alliance again, nonetheless. You’re just working for me now.”

“Everyone?” Titus asked, still finding it hard to believe.

“Everyone,” Sibyl confirmed, nodding with a smile. “The two children you brought along were definitely a matter of debate for the board. But in light of your ability to teach, control, and above all, protect them; they deemed it okay for the kids to remain under your custody and supervision. However, you’re not Cerberus anymore. And while Oracle may or may not have skirted the lines of galactic treatise, we cannot condone child soldiers. Braden Reynolds is to no longer be used as a military asset. Is that clear?”

“Crystal, ma’am,” Titus nodded.

“Good. Welcome back, Captain.” Sibyl moved gracefully around and started walking toward the opposite end of the room that she had entered from.

“Captain?” Titus inquired, hastening to catch up to her.

Sibyl, again, smiled at his surprise. “You heard me right, Captain. The board cleared you of charges and handed you over to me; so to me falls the decision of your rank. I’ve decided to give you back the rank you had on your previous tour with the Alliance. Besides, a cruiser is better suited for a captain than a commander.”

“Oracle has a cruiser?”

“I see we’ve got a lot of talking to do,” Sibyl jested. “Come. Let’s take a walk.”




“Officer on deck!” one of the servicemen yelled to the top of his lungs as Sibyl Carson and Captain Titus boarded the Marathon. They had exited one of the portside airlocks and walked straight into the cruiser’s bridge; where every man and woman that had been working diligently at their stations stopped to stand at attention. The serviceman who had announced their presence was rendering a stiff and disciplined salute. “Ma’am. Sir,” he said in greeting.

Sibyl returned a salute of her own and shouted, “Carry on!” The bridge’s occupants returned to their work immediately.

Titus noted that the Marathon’s bridge was much larger than the CIC on the Vindicator. Then again, this was a cruiser; and a bridge is more than just a Combat Information Center. It’s the entire administration department of the ship. Communications, navigation, mission control, and warfare suites are all monitored and manipulated on the bridge. The helm, which was built in just below the bridge’s main deck, was ahead and to the left of the airlock, down a small ramp. That’s where Sibyl and Titus were headed to now.

“Darcy!” Jonathan said out of excitement to see his trusted helmsman and friend seated at the primary control terminal in the center of the stretched-out deck.

The man, who never looked better in a pristine Alliance uniform, jumped from his chair and bear hugged Titus. “Forgive the insubordination, Captain, but it’s damn good to see you! I was sure they were going to can you and put you in shackles.”

“Come on, Darcy,” Titus said. “If a control freak like the Illusive Man can’t hold me down, who is there that can?”

“True that.”

Titus nodded to Darcy’s controls. “So how does the Marathon compare to the Vindicator?”

“Well it’s like comparing a dog to a cat. Bigger, badder, and definitely a lot meaner; but not as quick and agile. However, where the Marathon lacks in mobility, it makes up for in flexibility. We’ve got four hangar bays with fighters and interceptors always ready to dish out some quick and deadly striking power in case we run up against frigates. And get this: our fighters are armed with new Thanix missiles capable of ripping a giant hole in ships the size of the Vindicator. Someone’s got to be pretty ballsy to take us on.”

Titus smiled, but more in response to seeing how happy and enthusiastic Darcy was. The man hadn’t lost a bit of his humorous charm since putting on that blue and white uniform. The two finished up their conversation and Titus let Darcy continue with whatever he was doing before he got there, and Sibyl led the way back into the bridge.

“Captain,” the familiar voice of Serena Taylor said over Titus’ shoulder.

Titus whirled around to find Taylor smiling at him; a datapad held down at her side. Her blond hair had been tied back into a neat ponytail and kept up and off her shoulders and the collar of her Alliance uniform.

“Taylor,” Titus said with a smile. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Likewise,” she responded.

“So are you still my second in command?” he asked.

“What else would I be?” she asked with a grin.

“Well I’m sure Sib can always assign you to the mess hall,” Titus joked.

Taylor laughed and replied, “You know damn well I can’t cook. Oh and since the Alliance didn’t exactly have a rank for me, your friend, Miss Carson, pinned on a Staff Commander medal.”

“Commander Taylor,” Titus said, getting the feel of the rank and name. “Now that’s hot.”

As Sibyl and Titus continued their tour of the Marathon, Titus took the time to ask her a few questions regarding the ship itself.

“The frigate that picked me up on Omega was also named the Marathon. Does Oracle have two Marathons, or what?”

“Correct,” Sib said. “The frigate is named after the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, and the cruiser is named after the same city. Greek-Athenian history. The frigate uses the same stealth technology that the Normandy SR had. We tried to find ways to apply the same tech to a cruiser, but as it just happens, that’s a little out of our technological league right. But we haven’t given up on the idea. We wanted to give you the cruiser, rather than the frigate, because we’re well aware that the Illusive Man has several of his cronies looking for you right now and the extra muscle will help.”

“Thanks,” Titus mumbled, unsure just how eager Invaru and Ross must be to get their hands on him.

“All of your fighters, interceptors, and Kodiak shuttles are equipped with stealth tech, though. So don’t worry, you can still get the drop on your enemies planetside.”

“How many other ships does Oracle have?”

“Militarized ships? That’s it. One frigate, one cruiser; both named the Marathon. We have several recon frigates, but they aren’t built for combat and have only defensive weapon systems. If Oracle ever needs to use any heavy hitters, we call up Aurora.”

“The Aurora Initiative?” Titus stopped in the middle of the corridor they were walking through. “I remember running into them a couple of times.”

Sibyl stopped and turned to face her friend. “Yes; and I’m sorry about that, Jonathan. You’ll be pleased to know that I personally insured Captain Shire was replaced as the director of the Aurora Initiative.”

“Who’s in charge of it now?”

Sibyl grinned. “You’ll see soon enough.”

The ship was noticeably darker than the lighter, utilitarian environment of a Cerberus vessel. While the chrome and osmium was still there, as reflective and brilliant as ever, the corridors and main areas of the decks were kept in low light. This was typical of most Alliance warships. Even though a cruiser had enough power to light a city, much of that energy was reserved for emergency situations; thus non-essential systems, including unnecessary lights, were only used when they were actually needed.

The Marathon was comprised of ten decks and was currently home to two hundred and fifty souls. Not surprisingly, however, the decks weren’t all that crowded. With ten of them, more than twice the space the Vindicator had, there was plenty of room for the marines and servicemen to move about unhindered and not feel cramped.

The first deck was the bridge, helm, primary QEC chamber, and the Captain’s Quarters. Sibyl and Titus were now traversing the fifth deck, which held two of the enlisted ranks quarters, the gymnasium, lounge, mess hall, and an observation deck on each side of the ship.

Titus had to admit, he was greatly impressed with the Marathon. It had a bolstering amount of resources that rivaled Cerberus cruisers, and the technological upgrades that Oracle had installed made it a finally cut gem. The more he toured the ship, the wider his smile became and the more excited he was to be back in an Alliance uniform. As he moved throughout the decks and their corridors, he saw familiar faces. Veronica was as happy as ever to kiss him and whisper devious plans for the night in his ear; and the turian trio went out of their way to actually smile and slug his shoulder (all three of them). Lance, of course, was already talking up an egotistical storm about how he made his “new uniform shit look good”; and the timid Braden Reynolds grappled onto Titus’ torso without shame. Sentry wouldn’t shut up about all the new toys he’s able to play with now in the armory on deck seven; and Dianna set aside her moodiness long enough to actually nod in Titus’ direction.

Dianna simply being there meant good news. But curious as to why, Titus asked Sibyl, "Mind if I ask how Miss Henricksen survived her hearing?"

"She never had one," was all that Sibyl replied with. The neutral tone and obvious unwillingness to carry that conversation forward let Titus know that, that was all he needed to know. Besides, it wouldn't really surprise him too much if Oracle had other blacklisted or disavowed assets working for them.

Now on deck seven, Titus and Sibyl had just left the armory and were headed towards the hangar bays. Before they arrived, however, Sibyl took a detour and headed in a completely different direction. Titus noted that the sign on the bulkhead read “Training Chambers” next to the arrow pointed to wear Sibyl was heading for.

“What am I going to find down here?” Titus asked as they passed through the opening blast doors and into a large white chamber in the shape of a giant box. The lighting in the room was practically blinding compared to the darker environment of the rest of the ship and Titus’ eyes had to take a second or two to adjust.

When he could see clearly again, there was a man standing ahead of them wearing a black tank top, cargo pants, and combat boots. Sweat dripped down his face and forehead as he concentrated on the cushion-clad opponent before him. The two were holding what appeared to be katana.

“What in the…” Titus began.

“Captain, I’m sure you remember Agent Harrison,” Sibyl said, gesturing an open hand to the man in the tank top, who was now lashing out skillfully at his training opponent. The suited man deflected the swipes with ease, but Harrison used his free hand and struck his opponent with what Titus instantly recognized as a biotic push. The tell-tale violet hue and electric pulses were unmistakable.

“So he’s a spy, a ninja, and a biotic?”

“Agent Harrison,” Sibyl replied, “is one of the first recruits of a new initiative Oracle is heading off. You and I both know from experience in the field that the N7 program needs more than just muscle nowadays. It needs flexibility, ingenuity, and variety. I’m making sure they get that, and I’ll be the one to deliver. The recruits aren’t ready yet, but someday soon… they will be. You should see some of the other specialists we’re training up. Biotic ninja spies are only the beginning.” She finished her last sentence with a smirk.

Harrison relaxed his katana and walked over to where Carson and Titus were standing. “Sir,” he said, and offered a salute after transitioning the sword to his left hand. After the Captain returned his own salute, Harrison said, “If I may, it’s an honor to be serving under your command. I’ve read your dossier and you had quite the reputation in the N7 before you left. Even all the stuff you did when you worked with Cerberus is commendable.”

Titus never got to see the face agent that saved his life since he had never removed his visor, but now that he was looking the man in his brown eyes, he was quite surprised to see how young Harrison was. The first words out of his mouth were, “How old are you, kid?”

“Twenty, sir,” he instantly replied.

“You weren’t much older when you started hitting your stride, Jonathan,” Sibyl reminded. “Adam, here, in more ways than one, is a lot like you.”

“Adam, huh?” Titus extended an open hand and the young man took it with a firm shake. “Glad to have you on the team.”

“Glad to be here,” he replied. Adam’s handshake was relaxed, loose; the sign of a very timid young man. His physique was average, but that was typical of most biotics since it was hard to gain a lot of muscle when they constantly burned anything they ate within a matter of a few hours. His smile was wide, eyes soft, and his short brown hair a slight mess. He looked as though he should be in college, rather than be an N7 marine with a damn sword.




Braden’s room wasn’t as spacious as the one he had on the Vindicator, but it did come with more shelf space for personal effects, a bookcase filled with an assortment of novels for teens (courtesy of Sibyl Carson), and a private bathroom. The bathroom had to be the one thing that the boy was most thankful for, as Cerberus vessels hardly account for dependents of crew members to be aboard, especially minors. Braden had to take care of business in the latrine aboard the Vindicator like everyone else, but had to time his showers carefully, with an officer standing outside to hold off anyone until he was done; per Titus’ strict orders.

The room was still an officer’s quarters, however, and so he had the luxury of a double-windowed view of the galaxy, perfect ambient lighting for relaxation, carpeting soothing to tired feet, and cushioned furniture that one could fall asleep on instantaneously. Another accommodation that his new room had, that the one on the Vindicator didn’t, was a music system with hidden speakers in every wall.

Braden approached the small haptic interface on the wall that controlled his sound system and surfed through the many different tracks until he found a title that seemed familiar. When he pressed the play command, the speakers allowed the music to slowly fade in. He instantly recognized the opening beats and strings of the new age track and his mind raced back to his days on Omega. He remembered the song as one of many popular hits that entertained the various drug-induced, alcohol-poisoned, patron scum of Afterlife. In an instant, he was lost in painful memories.

“Who’s this?” one of Gavin’s clients asked. The constant flashing of red and orange club lights distorted the human’s facial expressions, but Braden knew the man was grinning by the malicious sound of his voice.

Gavin’s calloused hand tightened over Braden’s shoulder, sparking pain from a very recently inflicted wound, and barked, “Not for sale.”

“Is he at least available for rent?” the human asked, waving a credit chit in the air, further impressing the two asari glued to either side of him at his VIP booth.

Gavin’s silence meant that he was considering the offer, probably debating a price. Braden actually prayed that he would accept. One night, that’s all he asked for; one night to get away from his batarian owner. He wouldn’t technically be free, probably ever, but it would at least [i]feel
like freedom. Anything was better than being Gavin’s chikolah.

“Two thousand credits,” Gavin demanded. Braden’s hopes were instantly slashed to pieces. Two thousand was a steep price to pay for one night. Gavin always informed the client of his prices based on a nightly fee. The poor boy just knew that the human would refuse to pay that much for him. But yet, he still tried.

“Fifteen,” the human bartered.

“Nineteen,” Gavin countered.

“Make it seventeen, and I’ll buy some of your dust, too.” Braden was shocked. Whoever this man was, he wasn’t going to walk away without a fight. There was still hope after all.

“Fine,” Gavin grunted, shoving Braden so hard and so fast that he flopped over the table, knocking over one of the asari’s drinks. “Don’t be so clumsy, you idiot boy!” Gavin shouted, showing that, even though he was renting out his most prized possession, he still held authority over him. He then said to the human, “One night. That’s it. And the dust will be a thousand; or are you going to try and barter with me on that?”

“Of course not, my friend,” the man said. “And I’ll be sure to return the kid in pristine condition.”[/i]

Lizzie’s knocking dragged Braden back out of his horrible past. She was standing in his doorway, leaning partially inside; a gleeful smile on her face. But that smile quickly faded when she saw her boyfriend trying to fake one of his own. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Uhm, nothing,” Braden stuttered, instantly turning away to hide the tears welling up in his eyes. His free hand shot up to the interface to cut off the music, but before he could return it to his side, he felt Lizzie’s delicate fingers catch his wrist.

“Hey,” she said, her whispering voice soothing to his ears. “You can tell me.”

“You’d never understand.” As much as he hated to say that to her, he knew he was right. How would anyone ever know what he went through without having gone through the same torment themselves? How does one tell another that they were a slave; bidded on, used and abused over and over. He was nothing but a toy to sadistic psychopaths, drunkards, and drug addicts. He was a ruthless batarian’s pet and personal property.

“Maybe not,” Lizzie replied. “But you can still talk to me about it. I’m always willing to listen to you, no matter what or when.” Elizabeth’s hand tightened around Braden’s and they stood there for a moment, together in silence.

“Okay,” the boy finally said.




With the targeting reticule lined up for a perfect headshot, Villayn carefully squeezed his talon back on the Viper’s trigger until he felt the recoil of the round firing off and the subtle discharge ringing throughout the long range shooting gallery. Azuric remained peering down the rifle’s scope to observe the headshot in the target’s human-shaped silhouette.

“Very nice,” Sentry’s voice commented over the range’s intercom, coming from the safety of the control room behind Villayn. “Keep that up and you’ll be able to knock out one target per minute.”

“It would be easier for me to concentrate without the sarcasm,” the captain quipped. “Besides, perfect precision shots like that require patience. Something I doubt a loose-cannon like yourself would understand.”

Villayn heard Sentry’s happy chuckle before the armorer replied, “Is that a challenge?”

“Please,” Azuric said. “Don’t be so foolish. A turian can out-shoot a human any day.”

“Someone’s cocky.”

The hissing of the blast doors at the back of the gallery caught Villayn’s attention and he turned his head to see Darak walking inside. Thumbing a talon over his shoulder, the lieutenant said, “Have you checked out the gym yet? Two whole stories. Pretty nice.” Darak stopped next to Villayn and turned to look down the range at his captain’s target. After shrugging his shoulders he said, “Good, but... not your best.”

Sentry started balling in laughter over the intercom as Villayn leaned back, appearing to be visibly insulted his lieutenant’s observation. But he soon dropped the act and said, “I admit, maybe I’ve lost my touch after two months of not being allowed to handle a weapon. I didn’t think the Alliance would actually hold us in custody along with the rest of Titus’ crew. Not until the hierarchy officially gave us the cold shoulder, anyway.”

“Yes, but it was definitely for the best, sir,” Darak reminded him. “I much prefer what we’re doing now anyway.”




The main conference room on the Marathon was a lot larger than the one on the Vindicator, though not as dramatically perplexing; that is, it didn’t have a giant half-dome that looked out into the depths of space. Instead, it was enclosed by in an oval of glass, where the walls of the corridor wrapping around the outside had several mounted paintings from the late 21st century, a few more recent masterpieces; all of which were of a contemporary style. The glass surrounding the conference room doubled as both a sound barrier and a cradle for several screens of information. White lighting kept the area brightly lit, a nice contrast from the rest of the ship.

Captain Titus was seated at the head of the oval table, with many other faces, some new and some familiar, occupying the other seats. Titus held a blue datapad in his hand and quietly scanned through the briefs of each person at the table. After taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he placed the datapad on the surface of the black, marble-top table, leaned back in his chair, and said, “Well. It will definitely take me some time to memorize each of your names, but no more than a few days, tops. Anyway, let’s move on to the first order of business; which will be the cooperation between the ex-Cerberus personnel that served with me before and now, and the have-been Alliance personnel also serving aboard this ship. I want to make this perfectly clear: we are all in this fight together, through thick and thin. If anyone has a problem working with another individual aboard this ship, they are expected to speak up to their supervisor... with the proper paperwork in hand requesting a transfer to a new assignment. I have a very low tolerance for childish bickering.

“Now that I’ve made myself clear on that issue; let’s move on to something lighter. Security, for instance.” Titus looked down the table towards a man with strikingly white hair and a matching beard. Though his hair would make one assume the man is ready for retirement, he was enjoying a good stride in his mid thirties. “Staff Lieutenant Torx,” the Captain addressed.

“Sir.”

“How strong is your unit?”

As if expecting the question right from the start, the Marathon’s Chief of Security Operations replied with a slight Texan accent, “Twenty are ‘round-the-clock security specialists, Captain. They operate on rotating shifts. The rest of the one hundred and twenty-five marines aboard the Marathon are all capable of performing security tasks should we be boarded.”

“Sounds good.” Titus looked down one seat toward Sentry. “Weapons count, Sentry?”

With a smile, the armorer replied, “I’ve got 200 Avengers, 75 Mattocks, 20 Mantises and Vipers, 100 M-77’s, 100 Katanas - er, the shotgun kind, not the fancy sword kind that boy-wonder has.” Sentry nodded in Harrison’s direction, who was sitting right across from him. Adam only rolled his eyes and Sentry continued from where he left off. “200 Predators, 50 Phalanxes, and... well, a whole shit ton of other goodies. I even have a few Argus assault rifles down there.”

“So we have enough to start a Second Contact War,” Titus mused. “Good.”

Titus’s eyes moved to the opposite side of the table and he scanned down until he found a young first class serviceman with dark brown hair and a not-quite-five o’clock shadow. He had to be as young as Adam by the looks of it. “Connor... DeMarco, was it?”

The young serviceman nervously straightened his posture in his chair and stammered out a quick “Yes, sir!”

“Don’t be so skittish, kid,” Titus remarked. “You’re my comm specialist, correct?”

“That’s correct, sir. I monitor all in- and out-bound tactical communiques, maintain the QECs and Prophet’s connection, and I’m also your primary handler in the field.”

“And off the field?” Harrison asked aloud, looking right at Connor.

Everyone in the room found themselves glancing back and forth between the two men, wondering just what in the world Harrison was referring to, especially when Connor's blushing red face started to contrast with the white and blue of his uniform.

“Okay...,” Titus said, finally halting the awkward moment. “Well, DeMarco, welcome to the team. Moving on...”

[Begin playing Infinite, Immortal - from Fired Earth Music]

By the time Titus had briefly learned the job of everyone in the conference room, his heavy eyes beckoned sleep and he decided it was time to wrap up their little meet n’ greet. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, standing up from his seat, “this mission is not going to be an easy one. Our goals are many, and diverse. Cerberus is hell-bent on ensuring that I’m dead, and Oracle is buried. The Collectors are going to continue to try and abduct unsuspecting humans from fringe colonies. And, hell, I’m sure the Shadow Broker is planning on making a few plays, himself. But no matter who our enemy is, or what they throw at us, or how long we must travel the stars; nothing can stop us as long as we stick together. Lives are counting on our success, people. Let’s not let them down. Dismissed.”




"Are you ready, Captain?" Commander Taylor asked as Titus walked up to stand beside her at the galaxy map. "Way-points plotted and uploaded to the helm. Waiting on Alliance Naval Traffic Control to give us the green light."

Titus smiled and he held his shoulders back, taking in a deep breath as he glanced around the bridge. All eyes were now on him. Everyone had stopped what they were doing, waiting for the go-order from both the traffic controllers and Titus himself. Far ahead at the helm, Titus could see Darcy turning around in his seat to also join in on the dramatic stare, silhouetted by the full magnificent glow of Earth far below them all.

The speakers in the ceiling above crackled and a male's voice echoed through the bridge. "A-N-T-C to Marathon, standby for green light."

This was it.

Thirty seconds later, the voice came back. "A-N-T-C to Marathon, you are green in three.... two.... one. Clear to leave station. ... Good luck, Marathon."

Titus opened his mouth, but paused momentarily to savor this moment. It's not everyday you get launch off on a new mission with a new ship and new crew members. When he was ready, and when everyone had just about had enough of hanging onto the edge of their seats to hear the few simple words, the Captain bellowed, "You heard the man! Darcy! Put us on course to the Sol Relay!"

"Aye-Aye, Captain!" Darcy yelled back over the deafening sound of applause that filled the entirety of the command deck.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Jason Trox Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Jason and Lizzie ran through the dimly lit, metallic hall of the Marathon as they made their way to the medical bay. While they were off having a good time there was apparently some craziness went down. Some people were in the medical bay, and one of them was Braden. Obviously when that went out over the comm it sent Lizzie running for the ship like the road runner from those old Looney Toons cartoons. She had barely slowed down the whole way through the Citadel, and it was near impossible to get her to sit still in the cab. Even now she was charging past people like getting there was going to somehow save his life.

“Lizzie! Slow down!” Jason called too her with a voice that was weak and choppy from the lack of breathe. As she reached the elevator that would take her down to the medical bay she was forced to stop for a second to wait for it to arrive. “Oh thank God.” Jason let out through gasped words as he caught up to the girl. Jason bent over at the waist and took a few short breathes so that he could slow his repertory rate down before moving over to Lizzie who seemed to be damn near hyper ventilating “Lizzie, I’m sure he is fine okay?” Jason reassured her.

“Oh God please let him be okay.” She prayed, basically ignoring anything Jason had said.

“Lizzie just calm down.” Jason urged, but it made no difference to the girl who had gotten red and was breathing hard from the marathon she just ran. Before anybody could get another word in, the elevator doors slid open and Lizzie hopped inside without a moment’s hesitation. Jason jumped in after her and waited as she frantically hit the down button. Jason continued to give words that were meant to calm the girl, but they just seemed to have the opposite effect. The elevator doors slid closed and shot off down towards the deck containing the medical bay of the Marathon. There was silence the whole way down, aside from Lizzie’s prayers which she said quietly under her breathe. This girl and her blind faith…it was sad to Jason really. He couldn’t understand with all the bad things in the universe how people could just give themselves over to such silly beliefs.

The doors slid back open with a hiss of air and Lizzie was off again. Well the moment of rest was fun while it lasted. Jason took off after her as she charged past the marines and medical crew who were walking silently in the halls. She took a sudden right through a set of double doors which opened before her. She looked around frantically for Braden who was nowhere in site “Excuse me miss.” Lizzie spoke to a passing nurse “Where is Braden Reynolds?” she asked with panic

“Oh yes the biotic boy” the nurse said aloud “He is in the back, examination room 3.” The women answered “Don’t worry he is just fine, barely a scratch on him.” She smiled reassuringly and Lizzie gave a sigh of relief. She turned to Jason with a smile on her face “He’s okay.” She said as if Jason wasn’t standing in the room when the nurse had said it.

“Yeah I heard.” He said, trying to fake the same amount of relief she was feeling.

“Let’s go see him.” She was more giving a command then a suggestion it would seem by the tone of her voice and the fact that she just walked off as soon as she said it. Jason followed her too a room in the back that was marked by an illuminated 3 on the wall. The two entered to find Braden sitting in a chair sipping juice through a straw and watching that Harrison guy hugging some boy that Jason didn’t recognize.

“Braden! I thought you were hurt!” Lizzie exclaimed as she ran over too the boy and threw her arms around his neck. He seemed shocked for a second before his mind realized what was happening and let his hands fall onto her back

“No, no I’m fine.” He said in soothing voice, he seemed rather happy to see the girl. Then his eyes fell on Jason, it was like an instant hatred filled his eyes for some reason unbeknownst to Jason. “Why is he here?” Braden asked defensively. Aren’t you just a bundle of joy? Jason thought himself as Lizzie leaned out of the embrace and looked to him

“Jason and I were just hanging out on the Citadel when we heard that you were in the medical bay.” She gave a sweet smile too Jason, and this seemed to set make Braden even more angry.

He looked to Jason with a look of irritation “I see.” He said bitterly. Jason let air leak from his lips as he gave an arrogant glare to Braden

“Yeah, I’m just going to go.” He said patronizingly, he turned on his heel and began his walk back to the elevator. Just as he reached the double doors of the medical bay he heard a voice call out from behind him

“Jason, wait up!” Jason spun his head and saw Lizzie running up to him with a smile across her face

“What is it Lizzie?” Jason asked as he turned to meet her.

She stopped a few feet from him and looked at him with those sparkling eyes of hers “I just wanted to say thank you.”

“For what?” Jason couldn’t imagine why she would be thanking him

“Well just for taking me out to that club and stuff. It was really fun.” She smiled with the cutest of smiles, and suddenly Jason felt a feeling rising from his stomach into his chest.

“Oh it was no problem.” Jason said with a grin, and then she came closer and wrapped her arms around Jason’s torso for a quick embrace. That was all it took for Jason’s heart to almost explode out of his chest cavity, it lasted only a few seconds but too Jason it lasted even less. He wanted it to last for a long time, minute’s maybe even hours but it seemed to end so quickly. She backed out of the embrace and backed up a bit with that same smile still across her face.

“I’ll talk to you later Jason.” She said as she turned and walked back towards the medical bay. Jason watched her until she was out of sight, then he smiled to himself and turned back for the elevator with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. Nothing was going to ruin this mood, not by a long shot. He hit the button next to the elevator and waited for it to arrive, thinking of Lizzie the whole time.

*******

“Motherfucking lazy ass C-SEC.” Jacob was grumbling to himself as he returned to the Marathon after having a long chat with the cop in charge of searching for that would be assassin. It was such a simple task, shut down the damn cab services and secure all the exits off the Citadel, but they couldn’t even do that. They were the protectors of the most important diplomatic location in council space and they couldn’t secure their own territory. Wastes of useful space was all those damn “Officers” were. He hated being a cop, but at least on Earth the cops could make a perimeter and keep someone from leaving a closed area.

He just wanted to go get some chow from the mess and then go back to his room and look through the personnel files. He needed to know more about these damn biotics that were taking up his breathing air. Jacob walked down the dimly lit halls of the ship, without his hangover the darkness was once again unwelcome to Jacob. He hated not being able to see down the hall, it made him feel vulnerable, weak and useless. He walked up too the elevator and slammed on the button to call the lift up to his level. The elevator doors slid open to reveal Jason, leaning against the wall of the elevator with a grin as wide as the Great Plains. It was shocking to say the least; his son hadn’t smiled since he picked him up from his Brother on the Citadel. “You seem…happy.” Jacob stated with caution as he entered the elevator.

“Do I?” Jason said in a matter of fact like tone

“Yes. You do…oh lord son what did you do?” Jacob asked with worry as the boy stepped in front of the elevator doors to stop them from closing

“Just because I’m happy doesn’t mean I’m fucking doing something wrong…” he turned and looked at his father “ Dad ” he said with irritation.

“Watch your mouth boy!” Jacob exclaimed as he took a step forward “I’m your father goddamn it.”

Jason was so angry at his father…he always was “Could have fooled me.” Like a bolt of lightning Jacob reached out and grabbed Jason’s shirt with his metallic fingers and brought him close like he was going to hit him. Jason’s fathers breathe smelled heavily of whiskey like always and it was sickening. It took that fuzzy feeling in Jason’s stomach and turned it into a turning mess of vomit that he had to struggle to keep down. “What are you going to do…hit me?” Jason growled

All of the sudden, as if he had come to some revelation, Jacob stopped and just looked at his son. The hate that filled Jason’s eyes gave Jacob a feeling of sorrow…one that he could feel deep in his heart. He sighed and his grip loosened until Jason was completely free from the metal fingers of his father’s hand “No son…I wouldn’t hit you.” He looked to Jason with guilty eyes “I could never hurt you.”

Jason didn’t know what to feel at first…he actually had to think about how he felt about what his father had just said. How messed up was that? He thought for a long while, just starring at his father and having an internal battle with himself over what his reaction should be. But as always, the angry little boy won over his reasoning and he just shook his head “Of course you wouldn’t…you’re weak that’s why mom is dead.” Then before his father could even register his words Jason moved from the elevators doors and they closed immediately. By the time the words finally made it through Jacobs mind his son was gone and his heart had dropped down into his stomach. weak the words rang in Jacob’s head like an echo in an deep cave. weak…you’re weak…that is why mom is dead. it was hard to hear those words, and as the elevator took him to the mess hall he kept repeating the words in his mind. He had been weak…he had been stupid and now his family was torn apart.

Jacob moved to the chief with an almost zombie like movement, his body was on the marathon but his mind was lost in a sea of thoughts and regrets. The guilt that flowed through his veins every moment of everyday came back in full force, he needed to eat this food and then it was drinking time. He needed it if he hoped to pull himself together ever. He took the plate of food the chief had prepared and sat at a table, alone besides a few marines who sat and spoke amongst themselves in hushed words. Jacob just sat and slowly nibbled on what food he had and continued to lose himself in guilt filled memories that continued to haunt him. His wife’s face was feeling his minds eye….so beautiful and then that arm…that arm that would change his life forever reaches out and grabs her face in the palm of its hand. Jacob shuttered as he relieved the moment…the moment when his wife’s head was crushed like an egg in the hand of that monstrosity.

Someone sat down across from Jacob and threw him back into reality. When Jacob looked up he saw that the person who had sat across from him was a turian who Jacob recognized from around the Marathon. “How are you Lieutenant?” obviously the alien knew him

“Been better.” He looked at the turian trying to place who he was, then it hit him “You’re that pirate aren’t you?”

“Ex-pirate.” The turian said “you’re that ex C-SEC officer aren’t you?”

“Nope, never was C-SEC. I was a cop back on Earth though.” Jacob said as he starred the turian down. Call him crazy but he didn’t trust criminals.
“Ah, then we should get along quite well.” The turian said as he leaned back in his chair

“What makes you say that ‘partner?” Jacob asked in his usual Texan accent

“Come now ‘officer’, you know as well as I do that your people are as dirty as mine. The difference is yours don’t like to admit it.” Jacob had to give it to the turian, he had an interesting way of starting a conversation.

“Interesting observation there, except not all of ‘my kind’ is dirty.” Jacob repented in a calm voice

“Aren’t they?” the turian said cynically

Jacob just stared at the turian for a moment before taking in a spoonful of the soup he had retrieved from the chief. He put the spoon back in the bowl and looked the turian dead in the eyes “What’s your name pirate?”

“Azuric. And I already know yours Jacob.” Azuric said as he returned the aging cops stare

“So what brings you over too me Azuric?” Jacob asked

“I heard about the happenings at the cube, heard you did a good job.”

“We lost the assassins, forgive me if I disagree.” Jacob said as he spooned some more soup into his mouth

“Yes but your tactics were solid as I hear.” The turian then got in closer “I also heard you fought with Titus over some orders.”

Jacob gave Azuric a crooked stare “Word spreads quickly around this ship doesn’t it?”

The turian shrugged “If you listen in the right places.”

“What of are little…argument?” Jacob asked with curiosity as he spooned more soup into his mouth

“I like Titus as much as the next guy on this ship. He spared my life a long time ago. But…” he got in a little closer and put his talons on the table “You fought with a commanding officer, showed that you were not just a pawn to be used for his will that is something to be admired amongst men and women who will follow orders blindly like many of these marines.”

Jacob looked at Azuric, trying to figure out what the alien was getting at “Some people may consider that a bad trait ‘partner.”

“Ah yes.” Azuric sat back in his seat with a grin “But not me, I find it something of great intelligence. I find it even better when it is a man in a position such as we were.”

”And what position would that be?”

“I was a soldier in my younger days; you were a man of the law. The two are not as different as one might think. Both require courage, bravery…sacrifice and most of all the willingness to follow orders to the letter.” The turian went on

“What is your point?” Jacob inquired

“My point Lieutenant is that I and you are not so different. I may have been a pirate, but I have the feeling you were not always the man you claim to be.” He looked at Jacob with seriousness across his face “I have the feeling that you once traveled a path not so different then mine. It is in your eyes Jacob…I can see it. That is why I have come too you now, I want to speak too you so that maybe we can help one another some day.”

“Help one another?” Jacob asked curiously

“We are on the same side now, are we not Jacob?”

Jacob leaned in “so what is it that you want to talk about?”

The turian grabbed a drink he had brought over with him and took a sip “For now let us speak of our exploits, you can tell a lot about a man from a story he tells and the battle scars he has to accompany them.” His mandibles twitched a little as he looked at Jacob, who stared right back at the turian’s face, covered in that metallic like skin of theirs. Eventually Jacob slightly nodded and sat back in his seat,

“Okay ‘partner, shoot.”


********

Jason continued to wonder the halls of the dimly lit space craft. He enjoyed walking the ship actually; it was the first time he had ever been on a military craft before. He eventually found his way up too the helm where Darcy, the ships helmsmen, was busy messing with some controls on the ships many panels. Jason walked up too the man who was paying no attention to what was behind him. When Jason was within a few feet Darcy suddenly realized there was somebody behind him and he jumped in his seat

“Holy hell, don’t sneak up on me like that Braden.” Darcy exclaimed as he looked at Jason “Oh wait, you’re not Braden; you don’t have that stupid look on your face.” Jason looked at the helmsman with crookedness in his eyes “It was a joke man.” The helmsman said as he spun around and continued to mess with the panels “So who are you kid?” Darcy asked

“My name is Jason.”

“Jason? Like the murderer from those old horror movies?” Darcy asked

“Ummm sure I guess.” Jason said, not knowing what the hell the man was talking about.

“Of course you don’t know what i'm talking about.” Darcy sighed “Just know that it is bad ass kid.”

Jason chuckled “I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

“Of course you will, I said it after all.” Darcy turned to look at Jason “So what brings you up here ski mask?”

“What?”

Darcy shook his head “Never mind. What’s up?”

“Nothing really.” Jason said as he got closer too the control panels “I uh, just wanted to see how the ship worked.”

Darcy looked a little surprised “You’re interested in star ships?”

“Yeah, actually this is the first warship I have ever been in; I’m interested in how it all works.”

Darcy grinned “Well kid, you have come to the right place. Come over here and you can learn a thing or two from the best.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Sonya Marie Jackson Character Portrait: Petr Orlav

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The turian was a lot more pleasant to be around the Jacob had initially expected, and considering he was an ex-pirate, it was somewhat of miracle that Jacob could even stand the sight of him. However, there was something about Azuric that Jacob couldn’t help but like about the man. Maybe it was because they both had similar experiences with the slimy black undergrowth of the universe that most people are ignorant too or just pretend that they don’t see it. As Jacob had learned from Azuric, the turian had spent years as a Pirate after leaving the turian military and he had even been to many of the same places as Jacob and around the same time even. The two had sat for quite some time just sharing stories of their exploits with one another. It wasn’t long until two hours had gone by and Jacob had no idea until he got a call from Jackson.

“Hello?” Jacob said as he answered the communications hail his omni tool

“LT, you feel like coming down to the range and putting some holes in targets?” Sarah Jackson’s voice asked through the speakers of the tool

“Aren’t you supposed to be on duty Jackson?” Jacob inquired to the woman

“Um, no I was off duty an hour ago. Did you lose track of time old man?” Jackson teased her CO who she knew was not even in his forties. Jacob was baffled, had he talked to the alien that long? He thought it had been a half hour at most; apparently this was the best conversation he had, had in a long time because he never talked to anyone for two hours.

“Who you calling, old man? I ought to come down there a whoop your ass Jackson.”

“Then come get me Lieutenant.” Jackson said before hanging up the line. Jacob grinned, he had forgotten about his wanting to drink, for the time being at least. He looked at the turian with friendly eyes “How ‘bout it partner? You want to come down and smoke some targets?”

“No, I can’t. Not right now at least, but maybe another time.” The turian said apologetically. Jacob shrugged; he understood that the alien must have had other things to do, so he would not insist

“Suit yourself.” Jacob replied as he reached his hand out for the turian to shake “It was nice talking with you.” The turian reached his hand out and wrapped his talons around Jacob’s hand in a strong and firm grip

“The feeling is mutual Lieutenant.” Azuric said

With that Jacob left the company of the alien and headed in the direction of training room. The walk through the halls was as irritating to Jacob as ever, the dim lighting sabotaging his sight and nagging his mind with the fact that he couldn’t do a damn thing to fix it. He wasn’t a young man anymore and he just knew that the lighting on this ship was going to be a constant headache for him.

As Jacob approached the metallic door of the training area, the two halves of the door slid apart to reveal a man with graying blonde hair watching as a brunette woman starred down the scope of a long rifle. Neither of the two looked over as Jacob strode into the room, observing as the woman slowly breathed in and out. The blonde haired man was directly behind her, taking a long drag on his cigarette. His hair, though still noticeably blonde, was getting very light and had hints of gray brushed across it. His face did little to show his age aside from a few wrinkles and some crow’s feet.

The blonde blew a fog of smoke from his mouth before speaking to the woman in a Russian accented voice “Come on, I have seen hanar who can aim faster than you.” The man said in a voice that one might take seriously if they did not know him.

“Fuck you, Petr.” The woman said, not taking her eyes from the scope “at least I can walk faster than a drunken elcor.” She teased back

“Let us hope your target moves that slow, holy shit.” Petr replied with a grin of victory curled across his face

“I see you two are having fun.” Jacob observed as he walked over to Petr and starred down the range at the woman’s target

“Always.” Petr remarked as he continued to peer down at the snipers target. At the end of the long range he could make out the silhouette of a target hanging from a rafter. From the looks of it, it was in the shape of a human and displayed everything from the waist up.

“How long you been aiming, Jackson?” Jacob asked the woman as he stood over her, his long shadow cast over most of her body

“I just reloaded for this shot a few seconds before you walked in.” Jackson said in mock, angry tone.

“See, too fucking slow I told you.” Petr said without as much as a chuckle, but Jackson knew he was kidding. Petr then let some ash from his cigarette drop onto the sleek metal floor of the training room. Jacob looked at the ash, then back up to Petr with a disapproving glare “Somebody will pick it up I’m sure.” Jacob shrugged and looked back down range just as Jackson pulled the trigger of her rifle and put a metal slug right into the chest of the silhouette.

Before the roar of the first shot had even dissipated another round was unleashed, the metal projectile tearing down range before slamming violently into the target. The two holes were less than inches apart; each one was right on target where a human’s sternum would be. If the target were real, the rounds would have torn his chest apart and sent fragments of bone tearing into vital organs. If the shockwave from the impact didn’t kill them, the internal damage would unless they got to a good surgeon right away.

“Still haven’t lost my touch!” Jackson exclaimed as she picked her rifle up and shot up onto her feet. She spun around, and looked at her two comrades with a grin sparking from her plump lips.

“Luck and skill, are two different things, my dear.” Petr teased as if he were not impressed. He received nothing but a middle finger in his face from the woman.

“Now, now kids try to play nice.”

“Kids? I am older than you.” Petr remarked coldly as he flicked his cigarette into a far corner of the room

“He doesn’t look like it though. If I didn’t know him I’d guess he was old enough to have fought in world war two.” Jackson remarked, her oddly colored eyes watching Jacob with a soft and friendly stare. The woman’s eyes could only be described as stunning, small dark blue dots floating in a light blue sea where you could slightly make out the signs of cybernetic implants.

“Why do I come to hang out with you two?” Jacob said mockingly

“Because no one else can stand you.” Petr made a reply to which Jacob just rolled his eyes too

“What are you talking about?” Jackson giggled “No one can stand you either, that’s why you got stuck at a desk job.”

There was a silent pause before Petr said anything “I got stuck at a desk job, because I am good at what I do.” Petr rebutted, his grey, stormy eyes watching Jackson like humorless pits of bottled up emotion. The man was not above joking, but his utter inability to display any emotion even remotely resembling joy tended to take the fun out of situations to people who didn’t know him. Hell, when Jacob first met him he thought the man was just a plain out asshole because of how coldly he spoke to everyone. However, he soon came to realize the man was just an oddball when it came to displaying emotions.

“Uh huh. I think you like just staying there because you can’t shoot for shit.” Jackson said with eyes that longed for a challenge

“I could out shoot either of ya.” Jacob interrupted

“Well then, put your money where your mouth is LT!” Jackson flaunted “Let’s say…a hundred credits?” she smiled mischievously at the two men, one hand on her hip, the other on the rifle sling which hung over her standard military fatigues. Jacob stroked metallic fingers through his beard as he contemplated Jackson’s bet
“I’ll see your one hundred and raise ya another one.” Jacob said with a poker face as if he were in a game of Texas hold e’m.

“I’ll take that action.” Jackson accepted with a thick layer of excitement in her voice “How about you Orlav? You gonna walk the walk?”

Petr shook his head he lightly brushed passed his two comrades “As much as I want to play silly games with you two.” Petr said in that emotionless voice of his “I have real work to do.” Another joke said in a tone serious enough to sound insubordinate

“Don’t be a pussy!” Jackson called out to Petr as he shoved his hands in his slacks and continued to stride out of the room without so much as a flinch.

“I have to be prepared to run some security protocols, on the man Titus is bringing back to the ship.” Petr said sternly as the metal doors opened before him. Jackson tried to shout one last teasing remark at the man, but the doors slid shut before she could get it out.

A few moments of thick silence ensued, as Jacob and Jackson starred at the door for a moment. “That guy.” Jackson muttered, shaking her head in wandering thoughts “I will never understand him.”

“Don’t freight over it.” Jacob said as he turned to Jackson, his voice a little more country sounding in correspondence to his unusual level of happiness “Sometimes I reckon Petr doesn’t understand Petr.” He grinned wickedly at the woman “now, what about this bet of ours?”

Jackson licked her lips with anticipation, her cybernetic eyes starring right into his “Let’s say six shots, to hit six moving targets at six hundred meters?” she patted her custom built rifle “we can use this.” Jackson loved her snipers, when she first came aboard the Marathon she was in the finishing stages of creating the rifle she now uses. It resembles something of a cross between a Black Widow anti-material rifle and a Mantis sniper rifle. While it still has the overall bulk that a Black Widow possesses, Jackson was able to slim the rifle down and give it more of a Mantis shape. She claims that it is less heavy than a Black Widow rifle, but it still maintains the three shot capabilities of the rifle while having a kick almost equivalent to a Mantis and the destructive power of the BW.

“Sounds like a bet to me. But I go first.” Jacob said as he walked over and put a hand on the sling of Jackson’s rifle

She grinned as she slid the sling off her shoulder “As you wish lieutenant, it won’t make a difference I’m still going to get that four hundred credits.” She said slightly as she flowed around him to a slightly elevated platform not too far from where they stood.
“You’re going to be sorry Jackson!” Jacob called as he walked up onto the platform and began to set up shop. Jacob laid on the metal plate form, his jawbone pressed against the butt of the rifle and looking down the scope at the range, ready to fire.

"You ready?" Jackson said as she looked at Jacob who was just wrapping his right hand around the grip of the weapon while the metallic fingers of his left hand graced the stock of the rifle

"Start them up." Jacob called out. Jackson hit a button on a nearby control panel and six human shaped targets began to dance around down range. Jackson didn't require binoculars, her implants allowed her to zoom in slightly if she strained them enough. The zoom wasn't a hell of a lot but it was enough to see if Jacob was hitting or not.

Jacob took his time firing...his breath steady and calm as he squeezed his first round out. It slammed into the first target, hitting i near the stomach, he took aim at his second target and slowly stalked it's movements through the scope. He squeezed the trigger again and the round tore down range, but again it hit in the stomach. The rest of the rounds were no different, each was fired off only after a few long breaths, but always hit a little lower than what Jacob wanted.

Jackson smiled as Jacob stood from his prone position and allowed his comrade to take up her place behind the rifle. She smiled up at her CO and with unwavering confidence remarked "You ready to lose LT?"

"If you ever shut up and shoot." Jacob chuckled with a smile.

"Can't shoot until you press the button old man " she teased him a lot about his age, although he was not much older than she was, but he defiantly didn't look that young.

Jacob hit the button just as Jackson had for her and then he took out a pair of small binoculars from a small metal tray attached to the platform. He watched as Jackson took one short breath and fired a round straight into the heart of the first target. She readjusted, took a short breath and fired her second round into the next target. By the time she reached her first reload Jacob knew he had lost, the woman had fired off three rounds in a matter of about ten seconds and hit each target square in the chest. It took Jacob ten seconds to get off one round, let alone three.

As Jackson finished unloading her final round into the chest of the helpless target at the end of the range, she stood up with a modest look of victory spread across her lips "Looks like you lost LT." she grinned at him cynically as she held her hand out gently "Pay up."

Jacob screwed up his face. There was no way he could argue she had won, the woman had kicked his ass and there was no way around that "I let you win, you know." Jacob said as he walked past Jackson with a fake sternness across his face.

"Yeah, i'm sure." Jackson said as she followed close behind her CO "And I suppose that means I won't be getting my money?"

Jacob smiled "No, no you will. Just, you will have to wait until I get around to it. I said two hundred credits, I never said when I'd give it to ya."

Jackson smiled and rolled her eyes as she followed Jacob out of the range "Don't worry about it, I'll just steal the money from Petr when he is not at his desk." she joked as the doors shut behind them

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: The Illusive Man Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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“That’s it, Bishop,” Titus said with one hand bracing the headrest of his pilot’s seat as she guided the kodiak in closer to the Cerberus station above Thenusi. “Nice and easy.”

The heavy footsteps of Villayn approached from behind and Titus glanced at the turian through his peripherals. “Cerberus must have been put a small fortune into the cloaking tech that was hiding this station,” Azuric commented. “Imagine how deadly their vessels could be if they found a way to apply it to moving objects.”

Titus reached over his shoulder to grab the Valkyrie rifle that Sentry had prepped for him before they left, double checking that the concussive shot launcher was secured to below the primary barrel. “I’m not sure I want to even think about that. The Vindicator was deadly enough with a stealth drive and thanix cannon.” A few memories of his former ship flashed by in the back of his mind, but the Captain suppressed them as quickly as they had come. He was about to start a firefight in enemy territory; he last thing he needed to do was lose focus and reminisce in the past.

Looking at the radar, Jonathan noted that Cobalt’s kodiak was riding along next to them as they should be. Thankfully, the station wasn’t armed with any GARDIAN turrets, making their approach a piece of cake. But what was unsettling was that, along with the lack of automated defenses, there wasn’t a single Cerberus vessel in the system left to guard the station. The only kind of defense they had was the cloak. Something didn’t sit right with Titus about all of this, and he knew that Adam and Azuric had the same feelings, as both were oddly quiet and their eyes were scanning every reading from the computers and scanners, and eying the station with intensity as Lieutenant Bishop drew closer.

“ETA, thirty seconds,” Bishop announced.

Titus took her queue and his team gathered with him at the loading door on the kodiak’s port side, readying their weapons. Villayn had a Viper sniper rifle attached to the magnetic clip on his back, with a Scimitar shotgun in hand; Harrison was equipped with an M-3 Predator in hand, and his katana sheathed over his shoulder.

“Harrison,” Titus said, gaining the man’s attention.

“Sir?”

“Throw up a barrier in front of us as soon as we touch down. I don’t want to take a hail of fire as we make our way out of this fatal funnel.”

“You got it, boss.”

A fatal funnel was military slang for a doorway that could mean certain death upon entering or exiting. It was all a camping soldier would need to watch if it was the only route available for his enemy to pass through. In this case, they would be exiting a tin can through one door, entering an entire landing bay with an unknown layout and an unknown number of targets. Harrison’s biotics would be of use to stop the first barrage of incoming fire in case Cerberus had set up an ambush. And if they were smart, such an ambush was already waiting for them.

“Captain,” Bishop called back from the cockpit, “we’re inside the hangar! I’ll maintain hover at five feet. Prepare to jump in five... four... three... two...” One second later, the hatch popped and the door raised open, allowing the team of three to leap forward onto the ground. Harrison jumped the furthest, taking a diving roll as soon as he landed on the cold surface of the bay. As soon as he stopped in a kneeling position, he threw out his arms and a violet dome of concentrated biotic energy large enough to cover himself, Titus, and Villayn materialized.

Azuric and Jonathan scanned their sectors for several seconds, waiting for a Cerberus marine to take a shot; but nothing came. No gunfire, no shouting. Something was definitely off. Titus looked over to Dianna’s team as they remained in cover behind several cargo crates and small storage containers. Ostrander’s eyes looked to his own, waiting for any orders.

“No soldiers, no turrets.” Villayn said. “Where’s the welcoming committee?”

With a grunt Titus stood up and laid a hand on Adam’s shoulder, letting him know that he could take down the barrier. As Harrison complied, Jonathan still kept his gun up, waiting to see if some hiding Cerberus soldiers would take the bait. But when silence still dominated the hangar, he began to believe that they weren’t in any immediate danger.

“Cobalt!” Titus called out across the bay to Ostrander’s team. “Stick with the plan; take port-side! We’ll take starboard! Keep DeMarco informed every two mike!” He glanced to Villayn and Adam next and said, “Let’s move; keep your guard up.”

As the teams split up, moving towards different exits to the hangar, Titus heard the two kodiaks leaving through the atmospheric mass effect field that protected the bay’s docking entrance. Once the mission was complete, they would return for extraction.

The first door they came upon, just passed the emergency airlock that led out of the hangar and into the rest of the station, had its access interfaced colored orange. It was a standard lock that could be easily bypassed with any military-grade Omni-tool. Adam approached and started to tap away at his Omni-tool’s programs, but Jonathan stopped him. “No, I got it. The door is probably sealed using Cerberus protocols. Luckily, I’ve still got some of them memorized.” Sure enough, the door’s lock gave way within seconds of Titus’ bypassing hack and his team was barreling through with weapons ready.

A long, white and chrome corridor stretched out in front of them. It had seemed like forever since Titus had been aboard anything of Cerberus design. The utilitarian feel of the station seemed like a memory. It had only been two months, but being back now was like a dream.

“Eyes sharp,” he whispered as they passed by several doors on either side of them. As he glanced through the windows built into the walls on each side of the corridor, he saw that they were passing by a series of small laboratories and offices. All of them were empty, but there was signs of recent use. Beakers had been filled with chemicals and liquids, haptic computer terminals were online and running programs, and a radio was even playing a mix of music in one of the offices.

The corridor eventually ended at the open entrance to a larger lab, where multiple counters had been cluttered with experiments, terminals, and stacks of papers. As Titus glanced around, he determined that this room had been used for some kind of bio-chemical testing, as there were multiple samples of organ tissues kept in large, fluid-filled containers, and beakers filled with the same kind of dark, purple liquid mixed with a mesh of what appeared to be hundreds or thousands of tiny synthetic particles.

“What is all of this stuff?” Azuric asked, examining one of the liquid containers.

“Whatever it is, I wouldn’t touch it. Cerberus likes to experiment with biological and chemical weaponry.”

“Hey,” Harrison said, getting his two comrades to look over in his direction. “Coffee’s hot.” He was pointing to a half-full glass pot of coffee in the corner of the lab. The pot was sitting on top of a burner plate, and Titus could make out a tiny trickle of steam rising into the air.

“So we know that this place hasn’t been abandoned for long,” Titus concluded. “But where the heck is everyone?”

"I can answer that," Connor DeMarco's voice sounded off in their headsets. "Cobalt Team just stumbled their way into a lobby of some kind. It appears all of the station's staff had moved themselves there to stay out of our way. The marines turned over their weapons and ammo without a fight. They were never equipped to defend against an assault."

"Then what were they equipped for?" Harrison asked.

"They won't say," Connor answered.

The team pressed on, moving out of the lab and into another corridor that wrapped around a few corners and bulkheads. Titus finally stopped outside of an office, where the door had been left open and all of the lights on. As Villayn and Harrison posted up outside, keeping their weapons trained down each end of the corridor, Titus entered the office and walked around the desk, picking up a datapad that had been left on. He noticed a that the pad’s owner had left a recent voice memo and out of curiosity, his finger tapped the play command. A female’s voice began playing.

”The subject seems to be responding well to the injection treatment and initial results are promising. The nanites are enhancing available muscle tissue, while also constructing synthetic components both inside and outside of the body. Furthermore, the changes seem to have given the subject biotic abilities; a completely unexpected result as no element zero was used during the infusion.

I have only one concern about this project though... As the results of the experiment continue to manifest, I’ve noticed increased intelligence and awareness in the subject, as well as hostility. Carver was injured the other day while trying to obtain a tissue sample from the subject’s forearm. In response, I’ve ordered for increased security in and around Epsilon Sector. No one gets in without my explicit authorization.

...

...I’ve never seen anything like this before.”


There was a slight shuffle at the end of the recording as the anonymous Cerberus scientist proceeded to end her recording. Titus downloaded the voice memo to his Omni-tool before returning the datapad to the desk. After exiting the office, he re-equipped his Valkyrie and gathered Adam and Azuric to continue with him on down the corridor.

“We’re heading to Epsilon Sector,” he said as they walked with a quickened pace. “I want to know what the hell is down there.”

After another minute of wandering empty corridors and inspecting vacant offices and quiet labs, they finally approached upon a large blast door that read “EPSILON” in bold, painted lettering across the top of the door’s archway. The lock interface was colored red, signifying that the area beyond was on total lock-down. Hacking through the door would take a long while, but Titus wasn’t discouraged in the slightest. He knelt down and instantly brought up his Omni-tool’s hacking program for a second time.

“Keep watch, you two,” he ordered as he tapped away at the program. Just as he thought, however, that it would be a good minute before he made any progress, the lock interface flashed to green and the blast doors hissed. Titus immediately jumped back, slightly surprised, and drew his Valkyrie over his shoulder. Adam and Azuric also whirled around with weapons poised as the doors parted to reveal a dark and gloomy laboratory beyond the threshold.

The team entered slowly after receiving no contact, scanning every which way for any hiding hostiles. Dark shadows covered every corner and bulkhead, and the white, shining atmosphere of the previous sections they had traveled through seemed to be completely absent from this new sector, with black paneling and carbon steel. Several tanks had been aligned on either side of the room, all filled with a blue liquid. They seemed to be holding vats for biological specimens; or so Titus assumed as they quietly moved on through the lab.

Eventually, the team rounded a corner, where they stopped to see something suspended in the center of a large, open chamber, lit up by a series of spotlights above. Sturdy chains held an alien-humanoid in place, and multiple tubes, both liquid-carrying and electrical of some kind, were attached to its body. The pale blue skin, mixed with cybernetics and tubes protruding in and out of the body, was that was needed for Titus to recognize a husk when he saw one. But when he examined the former human in more detail, his eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open.

“What... the... fuck? Keown?!” Titus dropped the Valkyrie, letting it dangle by his side. Disbelief held the captain’s emotions hostage as his eyes stared at his friend’s body. Or perhaps it wasn’t his friend anymore. Keown’s corpse had turned into a mechanical android, bearing hardly any tissue and completely mangled by cybernetics and other synthetic hardware. He looked exactly one of the husks they had fought on Lucr’n. The only way Titus was able to recognize his friend was by the few distinct features left on his face. Its face.

Villayn stepped forward and examined the body up close when Titus refused to bring himself one inch closer. Azuric turned back after a moment and said, “We turians never forget a face. It comes naturally I suppose when one’s race isn’t as diverse as yours. This is definitely your friend; no doubt about it.”

“What the hell happened to him?” Adam asked.

Titus turned his head slightly in Adam’s direction, gazing at the young soldier through his peripherals. His response was a solemn one. “He made the ultimate sacrifice so others might live. In the end... he became a puppet for the Reapers.”

There was a ping off to the side and the three whirled around in the sound’s direction with guns poised. Titus instantly recognized the flat circular projection pad of a QEC. The blue lights around the inner edge of the pad grew brighter as the machine hummed to life. A second later, the Illusive Man’s bodily projection materialized before the three of them, standing tall with broad shoulders and his habitual cigarette in his left hand.

“Quite the contrary, Captain,” the Man said. “The man you knew is more than a puppet; or, rather, will be.”

With anger in his voice, Titus barked, “You told me Cerberus would take care of him. You gave me your word, and I trusted you!”

Calm, as always, the Illusive Man rebounded the question with one of his own. “In the same way I trusted you?

“Let’s not fool ourselves, here,” Titus shot back, pointing an accusing finger at his former employer. “You’re the one that ordered Janus to shoot me in the back. You betrayed my team and I first. And from the looks of things here, you never intended to take care of Erik. You turned him into another science project. This whole time, you could have been finding a way to reverse indoctrination, but look at this!

The Illusive Man turned his cold eyes toward the hanging husk that was once Erik Keown. “I am looking, Titus. And what I see is the potential for humanity to reach the apex of our evolution.”

John couldn’t believe what he just heard and shook his head, exclaiming, “You’re delusional!”

“Hardly. I may be ambitious, Captain; but I know what my goals are and how to achieve them. I doubt the same can be said of you. You were with the Alliance once before, and then you came to me, and now you’re back there again. You let your emotions lead you, not your logic. And that’s a flaw I aim to perfect... by using the same means of control the Reapers use over these ‘husks’ that the rest of the galaxy even refuses to acknowledge.”

“And you question whose side I’m on?” Titus demanded. “Listen to yourself! You claim Cerberus’ goal is to protect humanity, but you’re willing to expose them to Reaper technology. Why not just hand them over to the Collectors? Why even bother stopping them, or giving Omni Cell a purpose? You think our species, or the rest of the galaxy for that matter, will allow you to make a decision like that for them? Controlling evolution like that? Or is evolution really your plan?”

The Illusive Man frowned and shook his head in apparent disappointment. “You were always temperamental, Titus,” he finally said. “Tell me: since you’re so opposed to the idea of controlling the fates of others; how do you justify dropping that Ardat-Yakshi off of the building on Illium? What was her name again?”

“Mirian...,” Titus muttered with a clamped jaw. “She blew a child over the edge of that building without a care in the world.”

“But even after EDI assured you that Operative Buchan had saved the boy; you chose to let go. You chose her fate, in light of the fact that Braden was alive.”

“That’s not the poi-”

“And then there’s Braden, himself. A young boy that you let tag along on your ship. You ordered armor that fit his size. You gave him a gun and allowed Sentry to instruct him on how to use firearms. You turned him into a child soldier and took away the peaceful future he could have had.”

“No!” Titus snapped. “You wanted recon drones around that facility on Eden Prime. You wanted to use those kids for yourself once their biotics were advanced enough. You would have turned them into mindless weapons!”

“And what was the young Mr. Reynolds to you, Titus? Was he not a weapon in the end? Another asset to be used for the mission?”

There was another pause between the two men. Titus was fuming behind his visor, but the Illusive Man remained perfectly calm. He took a long drag of his cigarette; the smoke floating in the air around him until it disappeared from the projection. Finally, the Illusive Man said, “You and I are so much alike. We both seek to control the situation around us, whatever it may be. But where you rely on your convictions, allowing emotions to overcome your logic; I rely on reason and intuition, paving the way for cunning innovation. But we are both men of ruthless ambition who will stop at nothing to get what we want. There’s no denying that.”

Titus’ lips twisted into a smirk. “Then you’d best be ready. Because what I want right now... is to see you stopped.”

“I expected as much,” the Man responded. “That’s why I’ve already begun purging every Oracle asset we’ve uncovered in the Daedalus system. I’m sure Commanders Horn and Buchan will be happy to see you again.”

“Then I’ll stop them first,” Titus replied with confidence.

“If you choose to go after Jason and Vala,” the Man interjected, “I’m afraid Adam Harrison will lose a dear friend of his.”

“Excuse me?!” Adam snapped as he hurried over the Illusive Man’s projection. “What is that supposed to mean?”

A smile spread across the Illusive Man’s lips. “You should ask your illustrious Captain Titus about my best assassin, Kai Leng. I’ve sent him and Commander Ross to retrieve some valuable data collected from the dragons teeth that plagued the Citadel during Sovereign’s invasion a year prior. I believe a certain Lieutenant Kyle is in charge of overseeing the security of that research, and the well-being of the Oracle scientists that have extracted and are analyzing the data.”

Both Titus and Harrison were clenching their fists in complete anger.

“It appears you have a choice to make, Titus,” the Man went on. “Rush to save the girl and the data, or rush to save Miss Carson’s precious assets. I’m afraid you won’t be able to accomplish both.” The Illusive Man paused to take quick drag of his cigarette. “It had been a pleasure working with you, Jonathan Titus. Now,” he paused to raise a finger and say, “stay out of my wa-”

Before his former boss could finish the threat, the captain shot the QEC pad with a burst from his Valkyrie, hastily nullifying the projection. He lowered the rifle and turned to look at Adam and Villayn with a smile behind his visor. “I thought I’d be the one to hang up this time.”

Without allowing a second of a chance for another comment to be made, there was a sudden and terrifying shriek that pierced the cold air of the lab. All three turned on heel and raised their guns at Erik’s husk, which was now fully awake and struggling to break free of the chain and tubes that suspended him from the ceiling above.

"It's aliiiive!" Adam yelled in an almost dramatic fashion, flaring up a biotic barrier around his armor.

"Orders, Captain?!" Villayn demanded.

Titus grunted as he thought of what to do. His rational mind told him that the thing he was looking at was another of a hundred Reaper-controlled husks. But on the other hand, he was looking at what was left of his friend. That was Erik's face; Erik's body. No! he told himself. That's not Erik Keown anymore! That's the enemy!

"Put him out of his misery!" he ordered.

Adam and Azuric, without hesitation, emptied an entire thermal clip into the hanging corpse. When the mangled body had finally stopped moving and screeching, Titus thought it was over with. But he was dead wrong. A second later, the husk woke up a second, much to their surprise, and a shock wave of dark energy burst outward from its body, obliterating its restraints and sending all three to their backs. When Titus and his team had recovered to their feet, the husk was loose and rapidly crawling towards them on the floor at an incredible speed. Within the blink of an eye, it was already leaping through the air at Villayn, who raised his talons to fend it off. The husk grabbed onto the turian and fiercely started tried to swipe and scratch at him.

"Aarrrgghh!" Azuric yelled.

"Hang on!" Adam cried as he unsheathed his katana with one hand and unleashed a biotic throw with his other, knocking the husk clean off of Villayn. Erik's body was sent crashing into one of the containment vats, spilling liquid all over the floor. The gush of plasma-like fluid knocked Titus' dropped Valkyrie several feet away.

Harrison sprinted towards the husk at it stammered to recover from his throw, katana ready to strike. But the husk acted too fast once again, raising its bony hand and forcing Adam into the air with its own biotic abilities. The lieutenant struggled to break free, dropping his blade to the floor as he tried to fight an invisible force. With a flick of the wrist, the husk sent Adam barreling through the air, and crashing him into a bulk head.

"Son of a bitch!" Titus yelled as he sprinted for his rifle. The husk now raced after him, screeching as he dashed across the floor. Jonathan felt the adrenaline surge through his body, and he knew that he was panicking. He could hardly recall the last time he had been this afraid. That was something he also didn't understand: he had been in touch situations many times before, and had handled the unknown with composure and ease. He had faced the countless number of husks on Lucr'n. This shouldn't be any different. Was it the fact that it was Keown that he was having to face that made him so hesitant and afraid?

His hand felt the body of the Valkyrie rifle before his mind could even finish processing its image. Finally drawn back to the situation unfolding around him, Titus grabbed the grip of the weapon and whirled around, falling back on his buttocks as the husk leaped at hip through the air. Without wasting another second to hesitate, Titus tapped a tiny button on the lower receiver of the weapon and pulled the trigger, unleashing a chaotic burst from the bottom barrel. The twenty millimeter slug that shot forward from the Valkyrie immediately locked onto its target and slammed into the husk's face. Upon impact, the cranium shattered and the body violently twisted backward, flying to the ground in a mangled heap.

It took a moment for everything to finish processing. Titus slowly looked around the room; from Villayn, to Adam, to the Keown's corrupted and destroyed body. His men were recovering and shaking off the husk's violent attacks; but Jonathan could only sit where he was, holding himself up ever so slightly from lying completely on the wet floor. His hands still braced the rifle, finger still pressed back at the trigger.

"Captain?" Azuric asked. "Titus!"

Jonathan's mind was yanked back to reality and he shook his head. "Son of a bitch!"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Dianna Henricksen Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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"Captain?" Azuric asked. "Titus!"

Jonathan's mind was yanked back to reality and he shook his head. "Son of a bitch!" The Captain forced himself to stand up with the help of the sturdy Valkryie and took a second to regain his balance. He felt physically sick at the sight of Erik’s ugly, mangled corpse lying on the floor several feet away from him. When memories of the former comrade in arms started to cloud his thoughts again, he quickly averted his eyes to Adam, who was being helped to his feet by Azuric.

“You injured?”

“Nah,” he said, only to grunt and grasp at his side. “Well, argh... not bad anyway.” Harrison took a few breaths, filling his lungs with steady gasps of fresh air. “I wasn’t expecting biotics,” he managed to say. “Since when are husks-?”

“That was no ordinary husk,” Azuric cut him off. “Remember, this is Cerberus we’re dealing with. They have ways of making the impossible quite possible.”

There was crackle in Titus’ earpeace before Ostrander’s voice boomed through. “Captain; this is Cobalt Alpha. Do you read me?

The stress in her voice made the Captain realize that she was probably trying to contact them during the fight. Either Eri- or the husk’s, Titus reminded himself, phenomenal biotics caused an interference in the comm channel, or the adrenaline simply wouldn’t allow himself to hear anything else but the screaming and gunfire.

“Go ahead, Cobalt Alpha,” he said calmly.

“Do you require assistance. sir?”

Titus looked around the room for any other experiments that might jump out of the bulkheads at them. When he was sure the area was secure and they were safe again, he replied, “That’s a negative. We’ve wrapped up here. What’s your status?”

“Multiple civvies and sec-po detained, Captain. Our side’s clear.”

“Copy that. Escort the detainees back to the hangar bay. Break. Marathon Alpha.”

Connor’s voice chimed in with a response. “Go, sir.”

“Dispatch Sierra Zero-Zero-Two-and-Four; have same RV Cobalt and take over detainee ops. Have Sierra Zero-Zero-One sweep starboard and Three sweep port.”

“Passing directives now, Captain.”

With orders given and the comm channel now clear, Titus looked over to his teammates, awaiting directives themselves. The Captain swung his Valkryie over his shoulder and let the rifle collapse in on itself and attach to the magnetic clips on the back of his armor before saying, “Come on, you two. We’ve got a nasty decision to make.”




The war room on the command deck was full. A single, large, circular chamber wrapped in tactical displays, real-time information and data feeds, support terminals, combat information analysts, and a host of other support personnel made up the life and blood of the room. Sensitive information constantly cycled through every haptic interface, scanned by busy Oracle intelligence operatives, and then carefully digested by both Oracle and Aurora brass. Anything that needed a final say would go straight to the captain, or, if he was unavailable, to Commander Taylor.

In the center of chamber was a circular war table, where a large blue haptic interface covered the top. A layout of the Daedalus system had been brought up, covering the entire display with critical information and details about every planet, moon, and station. Multiple individuals were huddled around the display, including Titus, Taylor, DeMarco and Harrison. Other faces included the Marathon’s lead intelligence analyst, Staff Lieutenant Rene Dike; Commander Rhodie, the squadron commander; and Major Rhonda Thomas, the Sierra fire teams commander.

“This is the latest intel we have on Daedalus,” Lieutenant Dike announced in a calm manner. The averaged height woman was wearing her Alliance BDUs. The Captain noticed that she had kept the garments below the vest tightly pressed and looking sharp, with the hint of a lightly applied starch by the nearly perfect creases. There was no point to wearing them, given her MOS as an intelligence analyst, but he knew that most pencil pushers in the military did this because it was as close as they could get to living on the edge. He even wondered if this whole situation was possibly the first of its calibre for her.

“We know there are least two Cerberus signatures in the system,” she continued. “Only one, however, a cruiser-class, is showing up on scans.”

“We know this for sure?” Rhodie inquired.

“Yes, sir. If you’ll see here,” Dike pointed to where evident conflict was taking place by the Alliance-tagged distress beacons in one area of the system, “we’ve got multiple distress signals originating from this area, put out at the exact same time as these...” Her finger moved to a planet on the opposite side of the system’s sun where more distress beacons were flashing. Nearby those same beacons was the Cerberus cruiser, designated by a light-gray four-arrow reticule. “Considering we have no available scanning data of what’s happening on the opposite end of the system from the cruiser, we can make a safe assumption that Cerberus has a stealth class over in that area.

Commander Taylor, who stood opposite from Titus across the war table, instantly raised her head with a serious are-you-thinking-what-I’m-thinking? look. The Captain nodded his head. “The Vindicator.”

“Pardon, sir?” Dike asked.

Titus explained, “The Cerberus frigate I commanded before defecting to Oracle. When I spoke with the Illusive Man, he said Commander Buchan.” He now spoke directly to Taylor. “We left her on Omega... with the Vindicator.”

“I see,” Rhodie commented. “Then at least we won’t be flying in there totally blind.”

“Flying in?” Harrison spoke up, eyes showing how much he didn’t approve of the idea at all. He then turned to Titus, “Sir, what about stopping the Illusive Man from getting his hands on that research data? What about Lieutenant Kyle? Oracle has invested millions into that lab, and there are hundreds of innocents working there are now in harms way. The assets we have in Daedalus knew the risks when they signed their contract with Oracle. That Reaper data is a hundred times more important.”

“So you’re suggesting we sacrifice an entire system to save some science experiment?” Major Thomas argued. “As far as the majority of the galaxy is concerned, the Reapers are a myth. That ‘data’ is likely a bunch of a false positives only playing with the imagination of a few hopeful eggheads.”

“Easy, Major,” Commander Taylor calmly intervened. “Both targets are of great strategic importance. Whether or not they’re eggheads or spooks, they’re people... and they’re people we need alive.” When the room had quieted, Taylor looked to Harrison. “Lieutenant, you said earlier that there’s an N7 at that research station?”

“Affirmative, ma’am,” Adam said, doing his best to remain calm, even though it was evident he knew what Serena was about to suggest. “Lieutenant Amanda Kyle. We graduated from the Villa together. She’s in the same Oracle attachment that I’m in.”

Commander Taylor looked over to Titus, as did everyone else around the table, save for Adam, who was staring at the display over the war table with a blank expression.

“If you ask me,” a random voice called out by surprise, forcing all in the room to turn their heads and see Benjamin Slatton leaning against a terminal in the shadows, “you’ll want to go for the system.”

“How long have you been there?” Taylor asked with a quirked brow.

With a bit of a smirk, the Oracle commander shrugged his shoulders and pushed himself away from the terminal, casually walking over to the war table and placing himself between Rhodie and Thomas - both of whom gave him a quizzical stare of bewilderment.

“It’s an easier decision than you might think, Titus,” he said. “You can’t sacrifice a whole system simply to save data that can be rediscovered with time.”

This was not easy. In war, tough calls can’t always be avoided. The facts and the costs had been laid out in front of him, and it was now up to him as the Marathon’s captain to decide which target they would go after. Daedalus was under attack, and if they delayed any longer, the entire system could be lost. Countless more innocents... Alliance, Oracle, Aurora, and non-combatants could be killed. On the other hand, if they go after Daedalus, they would be giving up valuable Reaper data; practically handing it over to the Illusive Man on a silver platter, only advancing Cerberus’ knowledge and, if the fight against Keown’s husk had anything to prove, their arsenal of biological weaponry.

But Titus has seen the trends of science from the combat boots of both uniforms. He’s seen what Cerberus is capable of, and now he’s seeing what Oracle and the Alliance are capable of. If Cerberus gains a new technology, or a better weapon... the Alliance will find a way to counter it. The system comes first.

“Commander Rhodie,” Titus said, staring intently at the display over the war table.

The commanding office of the Marathon’s fighter and interceptor squadrons snapped to attention and held a sharp salute. “Sir.”

“Ready your pilots.”

“Aye-Aye, Captain!” Rhodie replied, turning on heel to depart the war room.

“Major Thomas.”

“Sir,” the fire team commander replied with equal ferocity and discipline.

“Make sure your Sierra teams get some chow and resupply. They’ll be heading back out.”

“Aye-aye, sir!”

“Darcy!”

The helmsman had most likely been eavesdropping on the entire meeting as his reply was instantaneous. “Daedalus, sir?”

“Do it.”

“Setting course.”

“Listen up,” Titus spoke aloud to the others remaining around the table. “I don’t like it when my enemy forces me to make a decision like this. When we enter that system, we will give them no quarter.” His words were clear and precise. Their mission had been given to them. It was time to respond. “Dismissed.”




The captain’s eyes looked into themselves through their reflection in the glass. As the Marathon travelled at FTL speeds to the nearest mass relay, Titus watched the shifting blue and violet lights wrap around the exterior of his ship through the window in his cabin. Such a display of magnificence deserved an orchestra of sounds, he thought; or a symphony. But in the abyss of silence around him, his mind was left to imagine the strings, the brass, and the woods. Eventually, though, it just became too much, and too difficult to bear.

Silence. He was surrounded by it. On the inside, he knew he was defeated, but on the outside he maintained that same all-is-well attitude. Only those close to him would be able to tell by the look in his eyes that all was indeed not well. For years now, he had tried to hold onto a strict set of core beliefs; values that he had taught himself a very long time ago as a marine in the trenches. Always do good. Always be just. They were the values he reminded himself of during the tough calls.

The Illusive Man had called him to the carpet. He had shown Titus just how arrogant he had become, and just how vulnerable he actually was. He hated his former employer, but he hated himself just as much. The Illusive Man was right. He had been a fool to think he was morally above everyone else. Some moral code I made, he thought.

A knock at his door woke him from his thoughts and Titus yelled, “It’s open!” The door opened with a smooth slide and hiss, revealing the young Braden to be standing on the other side of the threshold. “Braden?” Titus said. “Is something wrong?”

“I was going to ask you that,” the teenager replied. Titus eyed him for a moment, observing how much the kid had changed over the last several months; not just physically, but mentally. He had grown stronger, more intelligent.

“Oh?” Titus asked, trying his best to downplay his obviously depressed mood.

Braden walked into further into the room, allowing the door to close behind him. With all the casual, nonchalant manner of an adolescent male, Reynolds moved over the small two-seater sofa in the quarters and collapsed onto the cushion, leaning back and placing an arm lazily over the armrest. “Yup,” he finally said.

If I’m about to be counseled by a kid..., Titus put a stop to the thought before it finished. Maybe that’s exactly what he needed. No uniforms, no commanders, no intelligence analysts; but the simple mind of a child. True, Braden was far from being a child now, but he still had an optimistic outlook on life; and that optimism had only evolved into something greater ever since coming aboard Titus’ team and facing down his past. There were still a few shadows of the past haunting him, Titus was sure of that; but if anyone on the Marathon had a clear mind right now, it was him.

“Tell me, Braden,” Titus began, “and be honest... Have I failed?”

Braden raised an inquisitive brow. “What do you mean?”

Titus looked back out of the window, returning his eyes to the blue shifts of the FTL travel. When he spoke, his voice was distant, but loud enough for the young man to hear. “I thought I could be the moral center of this crew. But the Illusive Man showed me that I’m clearly not.” He turned back to Braden and with a saddened expression and defeated eyes, he said, “I tried to protect you.”

There was a long silence between the two of them. Titus found himself unable to look at the kid any longer and let his eyes fall to the floor of his cabin. He had never felt more ashamed about anything. For a soldier to admit defeat with such remorse was... unbecoming.

“Yeah,” Braden finally spoke. “You did.” Titus was sure he would have felt some kind of pain in his heart in response if there was any feeling left in him at all; but when he was sure that Braden’s answer was final, the boy said, “You failed... when you joined Cerberus.”

Somehow intrigued by the young man’s response, Titus’ eyes glanced back up to him. “And so did I,” he continued, “when I joined you. You said you wanted me to come with you, and gave me the choice. I chose. I decided to tag along with terrorists. I knew who you guys were. A team of people that all failed when they made the same choice I made.”

The boy stood up from the sofa and said, “It’s what we do after we fail that counts.”

As if by magic, Titus’ spirit was instantly lifted and he felt himself smiling. He turned around to fully face Braden and leaned back against the window. He crossed his arms and said, “Huh... How did you become so damn brilliant?”

With a quirky smile and shrug of his shoulders, the teen replied, “Liz likes to drown me in psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo from time-to-time. I think it’s starting to rub off on me.”

The two shared a laugh and Titus said, “Well keep her close, Braden. You’ve found yourself a very intelligent young lady.”

“Yeah...,” Braden said with a blush of red on his above his cheeks, “speaking of Liz; you think you can give me a bit of advice?” Titus’ eyes nearly popped out of his head and when Braden realized how that sounded, he ferociously shook his hands and exclaimed, “Not about that!