0
followers
follow

Commander Benjamin Slatton

Rogue Commander of the Arras

0 · 191 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

Description

Ben isn't the most intimidating man at first glance. Not overly tall, with a dark complexion, the only thing about him that would really set off warning bells are all the scars. His hazel eyes are often ringed darkly, but they still possess a sharpness that seems out of place on a civilian. He keeps his black hair short, but not in a traditional solider's cut. He's in excellent shape, although his preference for loose, comfortable clothing hides it from prying eyes. If one didn't know any better, he'd look like a harmless, average person. Which is exactly the way Ben prefers it.

Personality

In combat, Benjamin is every bit the ruthless black ops commander you'd expect him to be, having zero qualms with harming or other wise maiming hostile forces in his pursuit of the objective. He expects perfection, and makes no excuses for his own short comings. Failure's will be handled promptly, swiftly, and without remorse. Threats are handled without delay, even if they must be silenced in disturbing ways. Benjamin rarely, if ever, visibly effected by the aftermath of his decisions, rationalizing it as he simply did what he had to. If one were to meet Benjamin first through combat, it would be difficult to understand how he acts off the field.

When the helmet comes off, Ben is like an entirely different person. He's friendly, chatty and more than happy to socialize, however, he tries to keep the professional separation his rank demands. He is admittedly terrible at it, not really able to stop himself for socializing with everyone from command staff to lowly privates. For all his willingness to help others, however, Ben is intensely private about his own affairs, and will politely, but firmly, stonewall anyone digging into his own issues in an attempt to help him. Left to his own devices, Ben tends to just relax wherever he can find a dark place, most likely in an attempt to catch a few hours of sleep, unlike some workaholics he knows.

History

Benjamin Slatton is the man behind Vala Buchan, the one responsible for both her induction into Cerberus, and all of her training as a Cerberus Black Ops Commando. He is also her fiancee, or at least, was until his abandoning of Cerberus with the ship he commands, the Arras. Vala has volunteered little about Ben, but what is known is that he is a dangerously competent combatant, capable of fighting Omni Cell's Commander Horn to a stalemate and successfully eluding both Horn and Vala to escape Hephaestus.

He has recently been confirmed to working with Oracle, an Alliance 'counter' to organizations like Cerberus or the Shadow Broker's network. His exact reasons for doing so are unknown, but it seems to be out of a desire for 'redemption' for his time with Cerberus.

So begins...

Commander Benjamin Slatton's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton

0.00 INK

“The injuries aren’t overly serious, Commander. He’ll be ready for interrogation in a few hours.” The man nodded in response to the doctor, although it likely told him nothing he didn’t already know. “If you’d like, sir, we’ll contact you when he’s awake. You could likely use some sleep after the mission.” He nodded again, watching them work on the unconscious figure for a moment longer before turning away and heading out of the small infirmary.

Just outside, a young woman, likely no older than twenty stood waiting, her face expressionless as she saluted sharply. “Commander Slatton, congratulations on your successful mission, Sir.” He stared for a moment, as if debating with himself over what to do, before returning the salute.

“Thank you, Miss Adler. Mind if we walk?” He started down the perfectly cleaned hallway, and Adler fell into step a respectful distance behind him. “I trust the things I asked for have been taken care of?” She nodded, even though he couldn’t see it, pulling up a few screens on her small data pad.

“Of course, Sir. The crew have, by and large, perfectly blended back into the normal life of their chosen worlds. We’ll have a few local agents checking in on them every few weeks to make sure no one suspects who they are or might have once been.” She flicked along through reports, pausing on another. “The Operator has sent us a detachment of the Aurora Initiative’s marines to act as security for the duration of our guest’s stay. Speaking of, I’ve managed to find his face in the Alliance Network. One Daniel Harrens, former Sergeant.”

“Excellent work, Ms. Adler. I think I’m beginning to understand why the Operator assigned you here.” He paused as they came upon the door that led into the main control area of the outpost, Adler quickly tapping her code into the small sleek console beside the door. It slide open without a sound, and they stepped into the relative darkness of the Ops command. It was small, with less than ten stations arrayed neatly in a semi circle before the long window that provided an elegant view of Asphodel’s surface and, beyond that, Zion dominating the moon‘s horizon. He took a moment to appreciate the view, as Alder crossed the room swiftly, her heels clacking evenly with every practiced step. “Anything changed while I was out?”

“Very little, Sir.” His assistant stood beside the lone chair that served as his personal workplace, fingers rapidly tapping away on her own small work station. “A small outbreak of the common cold amongst the technicians, but those infected has been quarantined to their quarters until their symptoms vanish. Also, should your equipment require any repairs, it will be slower. The armourer had a sl-”

“That’s quite alright, Ms. Adler. I trust you to handle the small details for me.” He walked across the room, slowly lowering himself into his seat with a sigh. “You’ve already forwarded the preliminary report to the Operator?” Adler nodded, not even looking up from whatever she was doing, and Ben chuckled lightly at her dedication. “Alright. Forward all pertinent reports and notices to my screen. I’m in the mood for some paperwork.”

“Of course, Sir.” Pulling up a few of the necessary files, she tapped the screen in front of her, dragging the holographic image with her slender finger and flicking it gently over to the Commander’s terminal. Behind them, a low whistle sounded. Slatton blinked, as he spun his chair about to look at the source.

“No wonder you’ve been hiding out here. All this fancy tech, the killer view, and your own personal assistant? They spoiled you, Benny.” A pair made their just inside the door way, one a man, the other a woman, although the former wasted no time approaching the commander with his practiced swagger. His soft brown hair was smoothed back into a messy ponytail, lips turned up slightly at the corner in a charming smile that seemed to set one naturally at ease. With lightly tanned skin, and the devious spark lurking behind his light blue eyes, it wasn't difficult to be drawn to the man, but Ben knew from experience that was the entire purpose of his delicately crafted appearance.

“Camarda…” Ben craned his neck a little to see the smaller figure still hovering by the door. “And Pacheo?” He glanced at Adler, who was glaring daggers at Camarda, who slowed to a stop a few paces away. “I really shouldn’t be surprised that you’re here, but I still am.”

Adler quickly spoke to answer the unasked question. “They refused Oracle‘s offer, Sir. Neither was willing to, as they put it, ‘fade away’. After repeated attempts to get them to see reason, they were offered positions here.” She glanced back at her screen. “It was the second report I sent you. I’m more curious as to how exactly you got into this portion of the base. I don’t recall giving either of you clearance.”

Camarda winked at the assistant, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the door. “You thought a measly keypad combination would keep a commando out? I think you’re smarter than that, Angel.” The woman frowned, but other than that, gave no indication of annoyance at his comment. “But, here we are, and we’re eager to get working. Or, at least, Pacheo is. You know how she is.”

The woman kept her distance, eyes watching Camarda impassively from behind. Ben nodded. “She likes to have something to do.” His eyes flicked over to Adler. “Ms. Adler, in regards to our new security force, what did Aurora send for us to work with?” In no time flat, his assistant had the information up on her screen, flicking it over in front of him, the hologram blurring slightly around Camarda.

Pacheo stepped closer, dark green eyes now focused on the display in front of her. Where Camarda was all about charm and appearance, Pacheo held fast to stern practicality and function. Her light black hair was neatly tucked into a bun, not a strand daring to poke out of place. Her soft white face was about as animate as a stone wall, nothing save for the subtle movement of her full lips disturbing the stillness of her face. How she managed to compress them into such a stern line was a mystery, but it had long been established among the crew that, if Pacheo actually relaxed once in awhile, she'd be quite the attractive woman. Ben was quiet for a moment, simply letting the silent woman examine every detail of the small detachment. After a few minutes, she spoke in a displeased whisper. “Not good.” Ben nodded in agreement, and Camarda could only shake his head at the two.

Ben dismissed the screen deftly, scrutinizing his former crew members for a moment. “Alright then. Pacheo, I’m going to put you in charge of the security detail. Ms. Adler, get her top level clearance and a room away from the rest of the staff.” The assistant set to work immediately, doing as ordered without hesitation. “Do whatever you deem fit to get them into tip top shape, Pacheo. Anyone gives you trouble, they can answer to me. Ms. Adler can instruct you on our facilities and general layout.”

“Sir.” Pacheo saluted, before Adler motioned for her to approach and the two began to speak in hushed tones over the little details. Ben and Camarda watched each other for a moment, before the latter sighed heavily.

“I can already tell what you’re going to say.” He adopted a serious face that comically matched Ben’s own, before speaking in his best impersonation of the dark skinned man. “No Fs, Camarda.” He scrunched his face up in an attempt to look threatening, but it only made him seem more ridiculous.

Ben raised an eyebrow, smiling at the man‘s antics. “Fs?” Camarda grinned as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, rubbing his nose with his thumb.

“Fraternization, flirting, fucking, frisking, friendly fun…” Adler spared a glance, but said nothing as Ben stifled a laugh.

“I’d appreciate that, yes. Last thing I need is you sleeping with most of my staff.”

“Then stop hiring attractive people.” Ben rose from his seat, starting towards the exit as Camarda dutifully turned to follow him along. “I can’t help it if you’ve got beautiful people kicking around doing nothing all day.” As they left the room, Ben’s smile dropped his face, and the door hissed shut behind them. As they walked, Camarda kept close, and dropped his voice to a whisper. “What’s got you riled, Benny?”

Ben opened his mouth to reply, when his comm unit chirped once in his ear. Pressing a finger to it, he spoke. “Commander Slatton. Go ahead.” There were a few moments of silence before the Commander bit his lip in response to whatever news he’d just received. “Understood. Have him moved, assign two guards, and I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Lowering his hand, he sighed at Camarda. “Let‘s call it a hunch.”

“I prefer to call it pessimism.” The commando ran a hand through his hair, sighing lightly as his friend slowed to a stop. “But, I suppose we’ll never get anywhere if I don’t bite the bullet. What’s your hunch?”

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


They had been sitting in silence for a half hour; neither man apparently wanting to talk to the other, although it was fairly understandable on the captive’s half. The guards, dressed in light armour baring the insignia of Aurora, shared a curious glance, as their apparent commander did little more than read from the data pad in his hand. The fact that their prisoner wasn’t even bound made them even more uncomfortable, but neither really wanted to voice this concern to the dark-skinned man between them.

Ben cleared his throat roughly, setting the data pad aside while his eyes examined the man across the table. “Well, I think I’m caught up on your Alliance service, Sergeant Harrens. Served in the 103rd, no real issues noted by your superiors…” Lacing his fingers in front of his face, the commander leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table, eyes never leaving Harren’s. “So, I suspect Cerberus recruited you with something other than a bigger pay check.” The guard’s stiffened at the mention of the infamous terrorist cell, faces betraying their own surprise. “Seems like as good as any place to start. Why did you leave the Alliance, Sergeant Harrens?”

“I didn’t like the food. Can you believe it? MREs every meal, everyday? Nasty.” Ben didn’t reply, watching with the same half-smile he’d had since the beginning of the session. “Alright, you caught me. The colour scheme clashed with my personal tastes, not to mention all that the officers in Cerberus are actually attractive.”

“I can agree with you there, but, if you’ll forgive me for speculating, I suspect it’s something similar to the average marine that joins up with Cerberus. Too much politics, not enough action? Close to the mark, Sergeant?” Harrens did nothing but watch, a wide grin stretched across his face, no doubt a mixture of painkillers and bravado. Ben smiled back, tapping a button on the data pad beside him. “Or maybe it was because you couldn’t stomach mercenary work. You’re not the kind of man to work for credits. And after your discharge…”

The slightest flinch was all the sign Harrens gave, but he caught it all the same. “Dereliction of duty. Abandoned your post in an ultimately futile bid to save civilians from being transported off planet by batarian slavers. After that, who would take you? Easy. Cerberus. They’d value someone with your skill set, and your betrayal by the Alliance would make it all the easier.” Slatton leaned back in his seat, eyes neutral as they took in Harrens body language. “Stop me if I’m close.”

“You’re getting there.”

Ben chuckled, tapping a few more keys on the data pad. “Well then, your service with Cerberus is up next. How long have you served with Commander…” He paused, glancing to the information displayed for a moment. “Jason Horn?”

“A little over a year. Kinda a crazy guy, but hey, who isn’t nowadays?” It wasn’t hard to notice the curiosity etched on the guard’s faces, no doubt wondering the point of this interrogation. Little of the information the commander was digging for seemed even remotely useful.

“Why did he place you in command on Elysium?”

“He thought I could handle it.” The way they watched each other made the simple nature of their conversation seem far more serious, as if the next few words would decide the entire outcome of this contest. The room was silent, save for Ben’s fingers tapping away short little notes about everything Daniel decided to ‘reveal’.

“Interesting. And what happened to your original ship? That wasn’t the same cruiser that was at the Hephaestus Station.”

“It’s called upgrades, ever heard of em? They’re great things.” Ben blinked impassively at the man‘s sarcasm, before sliding his data pad across the table. Daniel barely even blinked as he glanced down at the image on the screen.

“The Titan, right? Old girl has seen better days, so it seems more like a necessary switch.”

“Oh, so that’s where it went.”

“Is Commander Horn even still alive, Sergeant?”

“Well, wouldn’t you like to know?”

“There are a few possibilities; I’d rather just hear it from one of his own. He’d dead, he’s taken to hiding on his ship in orbit while his team takes all the risks, injured and deemed unfit for service…”

“Well, maybe he’s like, you know, betraying people he’s supposed to help. But if he was, I’d have to hunt and kill em.”

“Speaking from personal experience?”

“From A personal experience.”

“Do share.”

“Why should I? You’re smart. You can figure it out.”

"Anything I could come up with is conjecture at this point, Sergeant. That's why I'm asking, politely at first. Need be, we'll move to the less friendly methods of getting you to talk."

"You of all people should know I'm trained to resist torture. You know my record, the ship I serve on, and the people that I work with..." The captive leaned forward, and the guards twitched at his sudden closeness to the commander. "But you know nothing about me."

Like a switch had been flipped, Ben’s faced hardened, eyes narrowing into slits as his hand shot up, constricting around Daniel’s throat. The tension in the room was palpable. “Then we’re on an even playing field, Sergeant. You know my name, and my face.” With a grunt, he hauled Daniel up, slamming the man onto the table with no regard for his injuries. “You know nothing of what I’m capable of, or what I’ve done. Do not make the mistake of assuming you hold the cards here, Daniel.”

The man laughed in between fits of coughing, eyes zeroed in on Ben’s dark gaze. “Cards? Dude, you ain’t even playing with a full deck!” He laughed louder for a moment, before Benjamin pressed harder on his throat.

“You speak so confidently.” As the man beneath him started to gasp more frantically, the commander eased his grip, ever so slightly. “Why is that?” The frigid tone of his voice made it seem as if a whole other man had taken over the interrogation, his once relaxed body language now rigid and military.

“Because fuck you, that’s why!” Daniel roughly spat, gripping at the wrist of the hand around his throat, trying to break the hold. Slatton glanced up at the guards, seemingly ignoring the man thrashing beneath him.

“Inform Adler that I need Pacheo.” One of the men nodded, stepping out of the room while the other tried his best to maintain the composure his post asked of him. Ben’s free hand grabbed Daniel’s arm, twisting it roughly to stop him from struggling anymore. “Stop.”

"In case you haven't figured it out yet, let me spell it to you...YOU AIN'T GETTING ANYTHING OUT OF ME!" Daniel swung with his free hand to strike Benjamin in the face, but his target ducked back fluidly, dodging the strike. In one motion, he released the man’s throat, catching his other arm by the wrist and twisting until he heard the tell tale shatter of the bones inside.

Daniel thrashed, but to his credit, the man made no sound. “We had the chance to do this without causing further injury. You’ve made it clear that injury is the last method available to us.” The door hissed open, and the guard returned with Pacheo in tow. She took one glance at the room before looking back to the guard.

“Supplies.” The man blinked at her for a moment, before nodding hesitantly and stepping back out the door. Seemingly satisfied with this, she looked back to the Commander. “Information?”

“In the file.”

“We’re after..?”

“Everything.” The woman nodded sharply, sitting in the seat Benjamin had occupied a few minutes ago, and flipping open the file. Her eyes shot over the information quickly, pausing every now and again to examine the man pinned to the table. He had turned white as a sheet, and his teeth were clenched tightly to keep from screaming.

Despite the pain, he managed an insult. “Aww, you brought a cheerleader.” Pacheo’s eyes flicked up from the file.

“He’s a talker. The more he talks, the more confident he‘ll be.” She went back to her reading. “He will need to be gagged.” The man grit his teeth into a savage smile.

“Looks like someone has a fetish!” Benjamin raised a hand to strike again, but Pacheo stopped him with the slight tilt of her head. The commander stared at the woman for a moment, before dropping his gaze back to the man on the table.

“Slatton, I will get the information. Go rest.” Her eyes flicked to the thick bags beneath his eyes, and he nodded once. “Is there anything you’re after, sir?” Harrens chuckled, but far from the frantic laughter of adrenaline and painkillers. It was cold, and sharp.

"Slatton huh...When I get out of here, and you can rest assured of that..." He sat up slowly, face hovering dangerously close to Slatton‘s. "I'll tell Vala you said hi.” Pacheo tensed visibly at the name, her deadpan flickering as his words sunk in. Benjamin stared back, the corner of his mouth turned up in the lightest hint of a smile.

“You know what I want, Pacheo. Get it.” She nodded, the door gliding open behind her as the guard returned with a small bag. She took the bag and opened it, seemingly pleased with the ‘supplies’ the man had fetched. “She wants something done, do it. No questions. Clear?” The guards responded automatically, and the commander took his leave of the interrogation.

As he stepped into the hall, he felt the smug grin of Harrens burning into his back. The man had struck a nerve and knew it. “How’s that hunch coming?” Camarda’s voice echoed down the hall, and Ben half turned to fix the man with a cold stare. The commando’s response was to grin wider, closing the distance between the two in a few strides and slinging his arm over Ben’s shoulder. “You were right, I take it?”

Ben nodded slowly, although from the distant look in his eyes, he was rather distracted. “They’ll be coming to get him. We don’t have much time to prepare.” Camarda raised an eyebrow.

“You know this how?”

“Because it’s what I would do.”

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

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

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

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

“Answers.”

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

“Numbers. Names. Capability.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a mistake.”

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

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

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

The door slammed shut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who? Maya and Roger?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good. I love you.”

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

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

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

“What?! You and a blue strip-”

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

“Uhm…no..?”

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

“She looks…nice?”

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

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ML-77?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Corporal Stevenson sir!"

"Specialist Salazar sir!"

"Private Fischer sir!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

"Hit me Lieutenant."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Acknowledged...entering firing solution."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let's kill us some bad guys."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That asswipe has my knife."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Jason Trox

0.00 INK

The blast doors to the Marathon’s main armory bay parted as Titus casually made his way inside. He gave a nod to a few of Sentry’s subordinates as they momentarily paused in their duties to offer a salute. “Carry on,” the Captain said. “You know by now I’m no fan of that.” The Armorers gave a quick “Aye-aye” before looking back to tinker with the weapons they had been detailing. As Titus continued his walk through the bay, he found Sentry up and around the next corner, examining a very fine rifle with absolutely no scratches or signs of use. In fact, it was a design that Titus had only seen before on a datapad.

“Is that the new Valkyrie?” Titus asked.

Sentry turned his head to see the Captain through his peripherals. “Yes sir, boss,” he replied. “We picked them up on the Citadel before our early departure. The specs for the design were released only a few months ago, and the first prototypes are already rolling out to the Alliance and C-Sec. The turians even requested some to try out.”

Titus approached the workbench the rifle had been placed on to get a better view. It some ways, the engineering and design was similar to the M-8 Avenger, but where the classic rifle had a large arch on the top of the upper receiver, the Valkryie was flat. The new weapon did keep the redundant barrel below the primary, however, in the case of a stoppage or malfunction. According to the specs that Titus remembered overlooking, the Valkyrie operated with a two-round burst system, rather than the rapid fire of its predecessor. Thus, the new weapon sacrificed suppression for accuracy; but as a trained sharpshooter, Titus never really cared for the spray-and-pray guns. A burst module would do well for him.

The Captain’s eyes glanced over to a piece of equipment lying next to the rifle. It appeared to be a modified lower barrel, but the receiver attachment had been slightly altered and the barrel itself was built to fire a larger caliber.

“What’s that for?” Titus inquired.

A grin spread on Sentry’s face. “That...,” he began, unlatching the lower redundant barrel from the Valkyrie using the disassembly lever on the lower receiver, “is one of my favorite new toys. It’s an attachment for most modern assault rifles; capable of firing a forty millimeter concussion round at any enemy targeted on your visor’s HUD. Powerful little son of a bitch, too. My favorite part is that you can point the rifle well away from your target, pull the trigger, and watch the round correct its course by turning through the air and slamming right into the bad guy’s side.” Sentry finished installing the modified barrel on the Valkyrie and handed the weapon to Titus with the same twisted grin. “It’s called the ‘concussive shot’, Captain. It’s range is as good as your targeting system is.”

“Captain,” Darcy’s voice rang over the intercom, “we’re approaching the Nariph fuel depot. ETA, seven minutes.”

Nodding, Titus handed Sentry back the Valkyrie. “Keep up the excellent work, Valentine,” he commented. “I’d like one of these prepped and ready for my upcoming mission over Thenusi; and throw on one of those concussive shot launchers.”

“You got it, Cap’n.”




“Got a new co-pilot there, Darcy?” Titus asked as he approached the helm, noticing Trox’s son in one of the seats next to the Marathon’s helmsman.

Darcy and Jason glanced at each other, and Titus saw that the young man suddenly became unsure if he should even be sitting in the seat he was in. But Darcy stopped him before the teen jumped up to leave. “No worries, kid; it’s cool. Right Captain?” Darcy turned his chair around to face up to Titus, giving his boss the poorest puppy-dog face he could come up with.

Jonathan rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and replied, “I don’t care; so long as ‘Darcy Junior’ here doesn't crash my ship into the station. Speaking of which, what’s our status. Is our contact already there?”

Darcy spun back around and started tapping his fingers across his many interfaces as he responded, “Not many ships are docked out there, sir. The Pylos Nebula isn't the most popular area in the Terminus; too many ion storms and pirates hiding within the gas clouds. If the Oracle asset we’re meeting up with is there, he isn't showing much sign of it.”

Titus looked out of the helm and saw that they were surrounded in mists of reds, pinks, and violets. He briefly recalled the nebula had been named after some Greek settlement, but the named escaped him. As he stared beyond the view port he saw the fuel station that Darcy was piloting toward sticking out of the wall of a gas cloud. There were three other ships attached to the docks, all frigates, that Titus could make out. Below the station was also a landing bay for Kodiaks and other small vessels. Based on the distance and angle of the Marathon’s approach, Titus could not see inside the bay to recognize any other spacecraft. This Ben character was either on the station by now, or not.

“We’ll have to park her here, Captain,” Darcy said after a moment, taking Titus out of his thoughts. “We’re too big to actually dock to the station, so you’ll need to take one of our Kodiaks.”

The Captain gave a quick nod and turned around to head back into the bridge. “DeMarco,” he shouted across the CIC as he continued to make his way toward the elevators, “call up Harrison and have him meet me down in the shuttle bays.”

“Right away, sir!” Connor replied as he walked over to his station and pulled up a voice channel.

The ride down to the shuttle bays wasn't long. Titus found himself stepping out into the ready areas as soon as he got off the elevator on the fifth deck. To his right was the male ready rooms, and to his left was the female ready rooms. Each side offered an expansive locker room, showers, and latrines. Beyond the changing areas were small armories that Sentry’s troops would operate during missions to issue out-going marines and pilots the firearms and other special equipment they would need before departing the Marathon. Titus skipped past the ready area, however, preferring to take the long corridor that led straight from the elevators to the hangars.

One of Sentry’s armorers met him at the end of the corridor before the blast doors to the first bay. He handed the Captain a single M-3 Predator pistol, which Titus attached to a small magnetic clip on the belt of his Alliance BDU.

Once inside the large hangar bay, Titus made his way over to a UT-47 Kodiak that was nearly finished being prepped by a few servicemen. Staff Commander Terrance Rhodie was overseeing the preparations, standing a few feet away with a datapad in his hand. According to his dossier, Rhodie was the commander of the Marathon’s flight squadrons, which meant that if it flew, he was in charge of it. Titus and Rhodie ran into each other the day before. He was a good soldier, and an experienced Trident pilot who earned the Medal of Valor for his efforts during the Battle of the Citadel.

“Ah, Captain,” Rhodie said as he placed the datapad down on a nearby crate and walked over to greet Titus. The two men exchanged a quick handshake.

“Commander,” the Captain replied. “How are we looking down here?”

“Your Kodiak is almost ready to go, sir. Lieutenant Eleanor Bishop will be your pilot today. She’s one of my best troops.”

A brunette woman in a form-fitting jumpsuit with air wings pinned above her breast walked over to the two men. She stood before them both, with a breather helmet tucked under her left arm, and offered a sharp salute. “Sirs, 1st Lieutenant Bishop reporting for duty.”

“At ease, L-T,” Titus said, returning to the salute in kind. Normally he would brief Bishop that he didn’t care for saluting, but doing so in front of her own commanding officer, Rhodie, would only cause confusion; not to mention it was simply disrespectful in front of other officers that might actually hold the tradition to standard. “Tell me about yourself,” Titus requested.

Eleanor took a more relaxed stance, leaning most of her weight back on one foot in a casual posture. “Well all the details are in my service record, Captain, but I've been commissioned for about three years now. My whole family flew with the Alliance. Some were fighter pilots, others were transport. I’m a mix of both. Like Commander Rhodie, I started out flying Tridents as a second lieutenant. In fact, we flew together during the B-o-C. I was his wingmate. After that, I requested for transfer in order to stay under his command, and I took up learning how to fly the Kodiak. She’s a clunky beast, but you just have to know how to be gentle with her.”

“You flew Tridents, too, then?”

“Yes sir, I did. But only a few times. I was a Hawk interceptor pilot at first, flying out of the SSV Shenyang. I was spaceborn when the Geth overwhelmed my cruiser and destroyed it. Minutes later, I found myself docking on the New York and running into then-Staff Lieutenant Rhodie. They put me in a Trident and we flew off together to keep up the fight.”

“Losing friends on the Shinyang didn’t stop you from continuing the fight?” Titus asked, though with sincerity.

Eleanor looked down and off to the side a bit as she replied, “Not at the time, sir. But when it was all over, that’s when reality hit. The SSV Normandy destroyed that... thing... and the battle was over with. Most returned to their posts, but some of us... had to hitch a ride; hoping he would run into familiar faces. It was tough. Commander Rhodie and I became good friends after that. He helped me cope.” Appearing hopeful that she had not killed the mood, Bishop looked up and said, “Sorry, sir. I don’t mean to be a downer.”

Titus merely shook his head and replied with a smile, “No, no, Lieutenant; you’re fine. It sounds like you’ve had a hell of a career so far. It also sounds like you’re someone I can trust with my life out there.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Eleanor replied with a beaming smile. “I won’t let you down, sir!” She snapped another quick salute before returning to the Kodiak to finish preparations.

Commander Rhodie turned to Titus after she left them and said, “El’s a good kid, and a very promising pilot. I’ve selected her to be your personal shuttle pilot as long as she’s aboard the Marathon; if thats alright with you, sir.”

“I don’t think I could ask for anyone more worthy, Commander,” Jonathan replied.

“Captain!” Titus turned around to see Harrison walked toward him. The man was wearing a brown leather jacket over a dark t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. The bulge of a pistol could be seen underneath the jacket.

“Ready, Lieutenant?” Titus asked.

“Yes, sir,” he replied. “Just one thing you should know before we meet up with Commander Slatton.”

“Oh?”

Adam was now standing shoulder to shoulder with Titus and he whispered in a low voice. “I’ve never actually met the guy before, but the Operator told me to pass on that he can be a bit... different. Out of uniform, he’s ‘Ben’; in uniform, he’s ‘Commander’. It’s no so much of a split personality as it is his... personality molded by a past. That’s how Miss Carson put it, anyway. Not sure what that means.”

“This guy isn’t schizo, is he?”

Harrison only shrugged his shoulders.




As the UT-47 Kodiak approached the fuel depot, Titus watched as Lieutenant Bishop switch over to a radio frequency connecting her with the station operators. “Teranus station, this is Alliance vessel Mike-Two-Two-Niner, requested docking permission. PAC count is three.”

There was a momentary pause before a turian voice replied over the net, audible to Titus and Harrison in the back. “Mike-Two-Two-Niner; Teranus. Permission granted. Maintain approach speed at forty knots and proceed to lower hangar bay, spot three. How copy?”

“Copy that, Teranus; thanks.” Bishop looked back to her companions after cutting the comm channel and said, “Okay, sirs; we may be neck deep in the Terminus systems, but this fuel station is a green zone owned by the Turian Hierarchy. For diplomatic reasons, they demand that all weapons remain aboard shuttles. I won’t tell you what to do, but I suggest you find a way to hide your toys if you want to deboard with them.”

“Thanks, Bishop,” Titus replied. “Harrison, we’ll comply and leave our stuff here. If we get into trouble, your biotics should be more than enough to make up for our lack of firearms.” Adam nodded in compliance as he and Jonathan detached their pistols from the magnetic clips on their belts, sliding them underneath their seats in the back of the Kodiak.

Eleanor skillfully guided the transport through the mass effect field that protected the hangar bay entrance and landed the craft precisely on the mark for their landing spot. Harrison popped open the load door and the two soldiers stepped out together, immediately taking in their surroundings. The hangar bay of Teranus looked about as large as the one they had just left on the Marathon. Multiple stories high and large enough to accommodate most personal craft that are too small to connect with the docking bridges around the rest of the station.

Titus looked back to Bishop, who was busying herself with post-flight checks in the cockpit, and gave her a quick wave. She nodded back before returning to her checks. The rendezvous with Slatton shouldn't take too long, so the Captain hoped to be back within a half hour; but where exactly they were to be meeting the asset on the depot was entirely unknown to him. On the bright side, the station wasn't very large. Most of the zones were restricted to staff and fuels personnel. Only four decks were available for civilians: the upper and lower hangar bays, the primary lobbies, and the terminals for the docking bridges up top. The first area they would choose to look for him in was obvious; the lobbies on the second deck was where all civilians would eventually migrate to as they waited for their vessels to be refueled and resupplied. It was a small mall, in essence. Gift shops, restaurants, latrines, and other services could be found upstairs.

As the two gentlemen made their way toward the elevators, shouting across the hangar bay floor caught Titus’ attention. He looked over to find two batarians ganging up on a human who must have crossed them in some manner or other. The batarians were about to turn a metal pipe and a utility wrench into bludgeoning weapons; and the scrawny human male was fearfully backing away.

The batarians drew menacingly closer. “Hey!” Titus bellowed, marching over to the group, with a confused Adam in tow. “What’s going on here?”

One of the batarians narrowed his four eyes at Titus before jabbing his pipe toward the human. “Your kin thought it would be wise to walk through our landing zone and dislodge the refueling hose.”

Jonathan looked towards the man, “Is this true?”

“I didn’t mean to!” the human cried in defense, still backing away from the other batarian. “I was trying to head towards the elevators and I tripped over the tube. It dislodged after I fell over it; it’s not like I purposely yanked it out of their ship!”

Titus then looked back toward the batarian that made the accusation. “Shouldn’t you be telling station security about this?”

“Why?” the batarian snapped back. “So the turians can side with the humans for the sake of diplomacy?”

Jonathan shook his head. “Look, if this man is innocent and you beat him with a few tools, you only make yourself look worse. The best thing to do here is just forgive and forget. Depot staff can clean up the mess, the security can give him a warning, and you two can move on.”

The batarian only grew more annoyed. “You humans think you’ve got everything figured out,” he insisted. “Your kind is pathetic.”

“That’s racism talking,” Titus countered. “Look, I’m trying to get you to do the right thing and let this go. The man tripped, and you’re ready to beat him to death over it. Would you do the same thing if he were one of you? Or is it simply because he’s a human like me that you’re grasping a pipe as if its a weapon?”

Both of the batarians took a step back and the one that Titus was talking to looked down for a moment in thought. Eventually, he tossed the pipe down. “Forget it, Brack. It’s not worth it.” His friend turned away from the human and walked back towards their ship, grumbling inaudible curses. The first batarian then looked at Titus and nodded his head to the left, saying, “Fine, human. I suppose you have a point. Just get him out of my site.”

As the batarian turned around to leave, Titus glared at the human with a ‘get lost’ face. The man whispered his thanks and sprinted off towards the elevators. Both the captain and Harrison turned to walk in the same direction, and as they casually made their way across the hangar floor, Adam said in a hushed tone, “And that’s one of the reasons I find it hard to understand why you ever joined Cerberus in the first place.”

Titus’ eyes shifted over to see Adam walking shoulder to shoulder with him. “That’s a long story, Lieutenant,” he responded, words void of emotion. “Another time, perhaps.”

The ride in the elevator to the lobby was sluggish. Teranus was an old station, and the elevator cars actually gave Titus cause for concern as they made their way up in a rickety box no bigger than a closet. Even with the churning of the coil motors above and below them, they could hear the bulkheads creak and moan with somber echoes. When they exited, they did so with a quick step, relieved they were once again in a much safer area of the depot.

Adam was the first spot the asset, recognizing him from the holo pics that Sibyl had forwarded before they left the Marathon. Benjamin Slatton was sitting in a row of waiting chairs, reading one of the public news pads. He seemed very relaxed for such an experienced soldier. Tan cargo pants, casual shoes, and a gray, loose-fitting hoodie thrown over a white t-shirt. Most military members only look so relaxed when they’re on leave or separated from their contract. The haircut was also out of the norm. Sure, Titus and Adam both had hair that was too long to be in regs, but they at least took the effort to make their cuts look good and clean. Benjamin’s dark hair, however, was messy and ragged; like he had just rolled out of bed.

“Excuse me,” Titus said as he approached and stood directly in front of the man, “are you Benjamin Slatton?”

Hazel eyes flicked up from the news pad, thick bags lining them as he regarded the two men for a brief moment. After a thick pause, he nodded slightly, rising from his seat to face Titus eye-to-eye. “That would be me, yes,” He finally said. “You must be Jonathan and Adam.”

“We have a kodiak waiting in the lower bay,” Titus said, extending an open hand to Ben for a firm shake. “Do you have everything you need?”

“I’m ready to go when you are,” Ben replied, accepting the handshake with a firm grasp of his own, “but my friends are just finishing up.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder and Titus looked around to see two other humans walking their way. He hadn’t expected Slatton to be accompanied by “friends”, but he maintained his composure and simply nodded. He honestly had no objection to it.

The first of the two seemed to a man of good taste and class. He was wearing a white Devore with a satin gray collared shirt beneath the two-thousand credit jacket. Such an outfit reminded the captain of Janis, but where that bastard’s hair was kept loose behind the shoulders, this man wore his in a bit of a hectic ponytail. His skin was lightly tanned, a surprising trait among those that served aboard ships; and there was a certain kind of aura about him, probably by the way he carried himself, that told everyone in the room he was a bit of a slick player.

Walking slightly behind this man, was a gloomier member of the gang. Dark hair, dark eyes, a dark expression overall gave this woman an almost dangerous allure of intrigue. She was neat, with her hair tied into a bun, and her clothes perfectly ironed and pressed to very seems. Her shoulders were broad and set back, but she did not carry herself with the pride that her companion did. Rather, she walked across the lobby in an almost dominating, though oddly subtle fashion. Titus judged this woman as one of those that spoke softly, but carries a big stick.

“Lieutenant Commander Camarda, reports as ordered, Captain,” the man said, rendering a nonchalant salute.

“Lieutenant Commander Pacheo,” his partner said with a more flat tone, but nonetheless respectful.

“A pleasure to meet you all,” Titus replied, addressing all three. “Welcome to the Marathon team.”

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

0.00 INK

"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!

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton Character Portrait: Petr Orlav

0.00 INK

It had taken considerable time and effort to secure the room Prophet had deemed the “quietest” and a final favour from the captain to convince its tenant to trade. Panting quietly on sweat soaked sheets, Benjamin found himself questioning it’s actual worth. The silence was better for him, arguably, but when the difference was a few minutes, one had to wonder. An idle glance told him he’d managed a few hours so perhaps the value was there. Shedding his soaked shirt, the Oracle commander rose from bed and stepped into the modest ‘living’ room that doubled as his work space.

With a casual flick of his eyes, he waved gently to the sole other occupant of the chamber. Perched demurely on the small sofa along the far wall, Pacheo glanced to him between black bangs illuminated in the gentle glow of her E-reader. Neither seemed phased by the other’s presence as he pulled a wrinkled white shirt from a small mound of laundry beside his desk. Giving it a quick glance to ensure it was ‘clean’, he tugged it over his head as he turned his attention fully to his colleague. “Was I loud?” He asked innocently, smiling lightly at the subtle shake of her head. “Any embarrassing confessions?”

“You called for her.” The softness of her voice was hard to catch, but Ben had experience on his side. His smile softened into a melancholic upturn, hazel eyes drifting to the small viewport beside the seat. “Thinking about her?”

“A little, yeah.” Sinking into his seat, the commander lifted his legs onto his desk and leaned back with a light groan. “Can‘t help it some days, you know?” Rubbing a finger under his nose, Ben’s eyes shifted back to her. “How’s the book? That author put out the new book yet?” She frowned tightly, eyes instantly half-lidded in annoyance as he chuckled. “That’s a no. I thought a salarian would write faster.”

“A good novel can’t be rushed.”

“Of course. What’re you reading now, then?”

She looked back down to the E-reader. “Mystery.”

“Sounds promising.” They fell into silence, although it was neither strained nor awkward. Pacheo was a woman of few words, and she enjoyed the quiet as much as her superior did so neither felt the need to interrupt it with needless banter. Although there was one who did, and Ben perked up slightly when he noted the man’s absence. “Do I want to know what Camarda is up to..?”

Her eyes didn’t even leave the book, continuing to read as she replied, “I believed he was going to take a shower then track down the pilot who flew us over from the Nariph fuel depot…Bishop, I believe.” He sighed through an amused smile.

“He’s relentless, isn’t he?”

“Mhm.”

Standing up from his seat, Ben grabbed one of his hoodies from his cloths pile as he started towards the door. “I better stop him…” Pacheo flicked a finger across the screen, moving onto another page as she wondered aloud.

“Temporary at best.”

“Long enough to tell Titus what I’ve let loose in his ship.”

“Easier to ask for forgiveness.”

“I’m fond of the hard way.” He rebutted, flicking the hood up with a grin at the woman. She simply shook her head, and the commander left her to the book, stepping into the dimly lit hallway with an idle glance in both directions. Rather than wandering aimlessly, he opted to make use of the ‘eyes’ he knew were watching him. “Prophet, you there?”

“Of course, sir.” The AI replied instantly in his ear piece, facilitating a much easier and more private conversation. “It is good to speak with you again. How might I be of assistance?”

“I’m pretty sure I told you to call me Ben…” He commented idly, rubbing under his nose with a light grin. “Nice to hear from you too. I’m looking for one Lieutenant Commander Camarda. Got anything for me?” Prophet took only a moment to process the request.

“Your associate is currently departing the flight deck. He has been conversing with Lieutenant Bishop.” The AI paused, before continuing. “Apologies for the intrusion, but Detective Orlav is requesting your presence in the Conference room for a routine security interview.”

There was a thick pause, Ben’s eyes darkening slightly for a moment. “Access level?”

“All relevant classified information has remained classified, as per your arrangement with the Operator.” His features lightened instantly, and the commander grinned lopsidedly at nothing in particular.

“Alright then, might as well humour the detective for a bit. Tell Camarda to keep it in his pants for me, would you?” He turned on his heel and started down the hallway, chewing idly on his lip beneath the protective shadow of his hoodie. Job or not, it never sat right when people started to dig into his past, even without the clearance level necessary. He’d met far too many hackers in his career to trust simple encryption.

It seems he’d have to get rid of this Orlav’s curiosity right at the source.

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

Quietly walking the hall towards the conference room, Ben glided soundlessly past the various personnel using the hallway, ignoring the few lingering gazes his curious appearance garnered. His clothing was far more casual than most would likely wear aboard a warship, and the hood likely made him seem more suspicious than necessary. “Aren’t I supposed to be good at blending..?”

The corridor was decorated with paintings that he assumed were supposed to be rather impressive. Pausing in front of one such piece, he stared at the ‘art’ for a few moments before shaking his head with a chuckle. The ‘finer’ things in life weren’t really his thing, and the artistic merit of contemporary pieces was just as confusing as the galactic stock market.

Trudging the final few steps to the glass ‘oval’, he pulled the door open to where he saw the waiting figure of who he assumed was this Detective Orlav. Slatton waved lightly before burying his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, crossing the room with a lazy gait. How exactly did one get the ‘rank’ of Detective anyway? Wasn’t exactly a military designation, and Ben wondered idly if he was about to be grilled by a civilian.

Dropping into a chair opposite the greying man, Ben’s tired eyes locked momentarily with his, before flashing a toothy grin that didn’t belong on someone with the title ‘Commander’. “You rang, Detective Orlav? Worried I’m up to something nasty?” He leaned back in the chair, propping his bare feet up on the sleek table without delay. “Or is this just a courtesy call?”

The detective looked at Ben, eyes neutral as he stared at the commander. “I must say Ben,” He began, his Russian accent thick as he spoke, “You are very interesting. Tell me, how did you end up here?”

Ben blinked passively, pulling a hand from his pocket to fiddle with the strings of his hoodie. “I took a shuttle. Shouldn’t that be pretty obvious? Was a bit of a cramped flight, but you can’t always go first class.” Petr nodded as he interlaced his fingers and placed his hands on the desk

“I assume it was a first class shuttle, Consultant Pothier.”

“Hardly. Alliance can’t afford to be flying nobodies around in top of the line ships. Gotta save that for the big dogs.” He stretched with a tired yawn, lacing his hands behind his head as he fixed the man with a bored expression. “Is this really why you want to talk to me? My travel accommodations? Could have just asked Prophet for that, not like I’m going to get offended.”

“Yes, the Alliance has a nasty habit of that, do they not?” The detective pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, placing one in his mouth before flicking one out and offering it to Ben. “Do you smoke?”

“Nah.”

Orlav nodded, sticking the cigarette back into the pack before retrieving the lighter from his pants pocket. “Admirable, I must stop this probably.” The detective remarked as he lit the cigarette and took a long drag. “They will kill me, especially at my age.” He blew a long stream of smoke into the air as he slowly brought the cigarette down, pointing it casually at the commander. “But you wouldn't have to worry about that...would you?”

“I‘m not some immortal, Detective. I bleed like anyone else.” Ben grinned, rubbing under his nose with a light chuckle. “But I get the feeling we’re on the track you want to be on, so maybe it’s time you came out with it, yeah?”

“Fair enough Mister Slatton. We both know that is your real name, and that this consultant of yours is nothing more than a disguise.” Orlav lifted the cigarette back up to his mouth and put it between his lips. He then reached into his on of his many anterior coat pockets “That alone causes little for me to worry about.” After a moment, he pulled out a data-pad and slid across the table to Ben “What disturbs me is that you are a walking corpse on my ship.”

“I’m stubborn what can I say.” He yawned sleepily, blinking a few times to dispel the urge to rest. “It’s not like I’m trying to hide my name or anything. What’s the point? Its jut a name.” Pulling his feet down, the commander cracked his shoulder sluggishly before continuing. “So, what about a dead man disturbs you so much, Detective?”

“I have had my experiences in the field that I am sure you are in.” Was the reply as he blew more smoke into the air. “I don't trust anyone in our business, especially those who are affiliated with Cerberus. Now, I don't expect that you will tell me anything Benjamin, but know this.” Orlav leaned into the table “I will be watching you, and if you pull on any of the strings that are used to control you, I will deal with it personally.” He leaned back and put the cigarette out on the table before continuing “This is not a threat, just fair warning.”

There was silence only for a moment, Ben’s expression dull as his eyes regarded the man. “Let me clarify your thought process, Detective.” His voice had lost its humour, and in whole his entire demeanour shifted into something more serious as he blankly addressed the man. “There are no strings. No cords. No arrangements. I work with this organization and by extension this ship, of my own accord.” The hood cast shadows over his face; the slightest upturn on his lips the only expression visible. “What you see of me is what I deem appropriate for you to see of me. While I appreciate the ‘warning’, it is ultimately pointless.”

His eyes flicked to the mark on the table left by the cigarette. “Your efforts will be better spent elsewhere. If you claim experience in my ‘field’ then you should be no doubt aware that we likely have traitors in our midst already. They should be your focus, unless you subscribe to the belief that Oracle stands at par with the veterans of the galaxy’s shadows. In which case, I recommend a new line of work.”

He let his words hang for a moment, before his eyes coldly found Orlav’s again. “And might I remind you, Detective, that it is Commander Slatton, regardless of your perceived position aboard this ship.”

“I hold no official rank Benjamin. I could call you Хуесос, and all they could do is kick me out. That would matter little to me.” The man met his eyes evenly. “And there are no traitors on this ship... because I am on it.”

“Then you are far too naïve for a man your age, Orlav.” Slatton straightened in his seat, fingers laced before his face with cold intensity. “An oracle who opposes hell’s great hound, it does not take a prophet to foresee the jaws around its throat.” He tapped a finger on the conference table, the sound firm and echoing within the glass oval. “Consider this your ‘fair’ warning. If you attempt to dig into my past again, there will be repercussions. I will instruct Prophet to inform me of any such attempts. I trust I have made myself perfectly clear?”

"I enjoy your optimism in Prophet's ability to control me. Perhaps you are the naive one." Orlav stood from his seat and straightened his attire for a moment. “Men are told words, loyalty, unity and brotherhood, Words said to keep the faith of the fearful, But in the end these words do no good, for in the end, fear makes traitors of the faithful.” Petr recited the poem of his own devise without so much as a pause as he walked towards the door “We will talk again soon, Commander.”

Slatton’s eyes drifted to the man’s back for a moment. “Detective.” The commander paused for a moment, leaning back in his chair with a solemn frown. “The next time you speak to me, ensure all of your affairs are in order.”

Orlav stopped as he opened the door, not looking over as he responded. “Next time I speak to you, it will be when I am investigating you for the murders of all those innocent people on that ship.” And with that, the Russian exited the conference room, as Slatton rose slowly from his seat.

“Prophet.”

“You called, sir?”

“I want to know if Orlav tries digging again. If he can think faster than an artificial intelligence, then perhaps he’ll slip it by you. I doubt it.” Slatton rubbed his lip, eyes blank as he continued. “And if he insists on pushing this subject…”

“Please refrain from taking matters into your own hands, Commander Slatton.”

His eyes flicked casually to the ceiling, as if the AI was staring down at him. “Then I highly recommend you inform the Operator of this meeting and take this ‘detective’ off my case. Or she’ll find herself short one snoop.” He paused with a heavy sigh. “Don’t even bother; I know she’s already listening. Fix this, or I will, Carson.” After a moment, the tension left his body and he offered a light smirk. “And for the last time Prophet, it’s Ben.”

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

Having retreated to his quarters shortly after the meeting with the ship’s ‘Internal Affairs Officer’, Ben sat idle behind his desk as he lazily bounced a grey ball between his hands on the polished surface. He hadn’t done much else for the better part of the day, and Pacheo had left to go get them both some food from the Mess Hall with Camarda.

His eyes drooped periodically, but there was little chance that he was lucky enough to fall asleep from boredom. He’d given up on that possibility years ago. Catching the ball firmly, he leaned back in his seat while spinning it idly in his palm. “There is just nothing to do here, is there..?”

A small holographic image of Prophet appeared on the small display integrated into his desk, and the AI gave the same polite smile in greeting it always had since they’d first met back on Bekenstein. “Benjamin, I have informed the Operator of your request as instructed. She has no reply at this time.”

“Well, hopefully she takes it seriously. I’m really not trying to make waves here by slitting some over-zealous Russian’s throat, but-”

“If I may, is it really wise to resort to such matters so early into the situation?”

“Sometimes things need to be addressed immediately, Prophet. For example, what if one of the crew thought it wise to expose the Alliance using an AI, even though you are very much illegal? We’d contain it immediately, right?”

The AI seemed to pause for thought, more of a conversational quirk he suspected since it had likely processed his statement the moment it left his mouth. “In the theoretical situation, yes.” Ben nodded, spinning the ball in his palm.

“Now, while I can’t say my past is exactly top-level national secrets…” His eyes fell to the floor, and the ball dropped from his hand suddenly as Ben’s figure shrunk the slightest degree. Pressing a hand to his face, the commander dug the nails roughly into his temples for a moment before continuing. “…the last thing I, and by extension we, need is someone digging that up in plain view.”

“I see, Benjamin.”

“Don’t mistake this for eager. I just want the past to finally stay in the past…and things will run smoother if it does.” Flicking his gaze down to the fallen ball, Ben grunted as he bent over to retrieve it. “Hyper-intelligence or not, don’t worry about it, Prophet. I’m confident my favourite robot can keep an old man from digging around too much.” Tossing the ball up once, there was a light laugh from the man. “And congrats on the name. Only took you three months.”

“Thank you.” The AI retorted, with almost the slightest hint of humour in his voice.

“So, anything worth mentioning going on? Dangerous intrigues? Dastardly conspiracies? Some decent sparring partners, maybe?”

“While we may lack the intensity of plots, sparring partners you will find in no short supply. I will happily compile a list of suitable opponents that are capable of standing more on your skill level.” The AI went silent for a moment as it combed the ship records and the like, before a small list of names appeared on the display. “I trust these will be to standard.”

Ben glanced at the list, raising an eyebrow curiously. “The Captain’s on here, but you’ve got him greyed out.”

“The Captain is currently preparing a meeting with the command staff ove-” Before Prophet could finish, Ben was up and around his desk in the blink of an eye. “Benjamin, you are not technically a member of the ship’s commander staff.”

“I am an intelligence consultant, aren’t I?” He fired back, punching open the door with a grin. “And that sounds infinitely more like the intrigue I asked you about. Don’t hold out on me, P!”

“I do not believe your alias constitutes as sufficient reason to be included.”

“I’m going, that’s final. Tell Pacheo and Camarda I stepped out, would you?” There was no reply from the AI, a sign which he took as acceptance as he moved down the hall towards the lift. A fancy meeting with the command staff didn’t sound like it’d need a conference room, no more like something akin to a war room.

With that in mind, Ben called up the location of said room in his head from his brief review of the ship’s layout shortly after his arrival. Command deck. It’d likely be encrypted to keep the rank and file out and away from sensitive information. Would he have the clearance? Not likely. As if that would keep a good commando out.

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

The low light of Alliance vessels suited Ben well, giving countless places to ‘hide’ even when they were in plain sight. Propped up against a terminal, obscured by the dark lighting, Ben felt perfectly at home in the darkness watching the meeting begin before him. When Prophet had mentioned the command staff, he hadn’t been kidding. Everyone present, save for the skittish looking younger man, were part of the brief who’s who he’d been given when he’d come aboard.

They all were grimly focused on the display in front of them, the Daedalus system by the look of the read outs. His eyes snapped to the first one to speak; Lieutenant Dike if he remembered correctly, as she began their little pow-wow. “This is the latest intel we have on Daedalus,” She announced, and he leaned forward with only slightly increased interest. “We know there are least two Cerberus signatures in the system. Only one, however, a cruiser-class, is showing up on scans.”

“We know this for sure?” The flight commander asked, and Ben cracked a one-sided grin at his doubt. Smart to want solid answers before heading into the fray.

Dike replied quickly. “Yes, sir. If you’ll see here, we 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.”

Ben’s eyes flicked to Taylor’s head as it rose at the mention of the stealth frigate, giving the Captain a serious look that he met with an assenting nod. The two had suspicions already? Curious. “The Vindicator.”

Dike asked the question no doubt on everyone’s mind. “Pardon, sir?”

Titus wasted no time explaining. “The Cerberus frigate I commanded before defecting to Oracle. When I spoke with the Illusive Man, he said Commander Buchan.” The next words from his mouth were soundless to Ben, his whole body tensing at the mention of Buchan. Buchan. Vala Buchan. Commander Buchan.

His mind snapped to alertness he wasn’t accustomed to, racing as the continuing meeting echoed dimly in the background whilst his brain tried to sort this information. It was just a suspicion, but the words had been spoken by the Illusive Man himself. Commander, oh god, he’d made her a commander?! A ship, was she ready to handle that? How much had changed in the year? The Vala he’d known, the one he knew he saw on Hephaestus…she couldn’t be leading a ship, could she?

His eyes snapped back to Titus, watching the man with cold intensity. How much did he know? Could he fill in the missing information? The meeting shifted to talk of data and Reapers, but nothing that was said was penetrating. The information could be regained; he rationalized, but an entire system?

A system that she was in. Could they catch her? Would they get there in time to make that possible? He didn’t know, and the lack of knowledge made his head throb painfully. Benjamin sucked in a heavy breath, soothing his hammering mind for a blissful moment as the meeting fell into silence.

He’d risk it. “If you ask me,” He began, alerting the entire room to his presence immediately as he meet the inquisitive stares head on. “You’ll want to go for the system.”

“How long have you been there?”

He smirked slightly, forcing himself to exude the calm confidence that this meeting required despite the churning tempest in his stomach. Pushing off the terminal, he ignored the question as he placed himself firmly between Rhodie and Thomas - a move far bolder than the simplicity of it seemed to suggest. They formed the ‘power base’ of the vessel, and he had placed himself amongst them. Quiet, but effective psychology.

“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.” Cold arithmetic, he’d once heard it called. The brutal rationality that war demanded, where one must sacrifice to gain. The information, he knew, was more valuable in the long term. The Reapers; a far greater threat than a simple Cerberus purge. But Cerberus opposed the Reapers. The information would be used against them, he reasoned. It was safe to sacrifice.

Nothing was thought of the lives stationed at the location, at least not now. To think of them would cripple the resolve to remain firm. To influence this decision. To make it fall the way he wished. After a minute of silence, Titus spoke with a firmness that told them all a decision had been made.

Somewhere in the pit of his mind, he apologized soundlessly. “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!”

“Daedalus, sir?”

“Do it.”

Internally, Ben released a breath as the slightest tension of his body rolled out and left him standing far looser than he had been moments before. Tucking his hands silently back into his hoodie pockets, his eyes focused on the Captain who didn’t seem finished quite yet with their little briefing.

“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. Dismissed.”

The commando was motionless; watching stoically as the others immediately turned and went to their various duties. He lingered, as did Titus for a brief moment, watching the man calmly straighten up from the display. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments, and Ben ducked his head down slowly. “You made the right call, Jonathan.”

The lie passed through his teeth like it was natural, and Ben was silent as the captain left the room without another word. Titus could have reached the decision on his own, he rationalized. They’d not known each other long enough; there wasn’t the camaraderie to solidify his opinion to the man. Simple white lies, he knew. Little white lies and "good" intentions.

Tugging his hood down over his face, Benjamin cracked a sad smile. “Commander Buchan, huh?” The guilt would have to wait.