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Commander Jonathan Titus

Commander of the Oracle cruiser, the Marathon.

0 · 262 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

History

Commander Johnathan Titus - born in 2158, one year after the First Contact War - started in the Alliance Navy's Officer's Acadamy at the age of eighteen as a lieutenant, eventually becoming a decorated N7 Marine. A skilled marksman, strategist, natural-born leader, and charmingly charismatic; Titus fit the role of a fire team leader perfectly. He had been tasked with spearheading multiple behind-the-lines operations (mainly counter-terrorism against human colonies), and had successfully earned his captain bars before his contract came up for renewal in 2182. By that time, however, Titus had become fed up with the bureaucratic politics of the Alliance. There is no record of any incident one might suspect of having happened around that time to change his attitude, but he had made up his mind. Titus terminated the contract when rather than accepting an extension on his commission. Less than a month later, he was recruited by Cerberus.

The Illusive Man saw Titus' potential in leading humanity against any threat, allowing the former marine to prove himself through a series of trials. Johnathan completed each of the Illusive Man's assignments with skill and grace, and in 2184, was given command of his own starship, the Vindicator. One of the most technologically advanced starships of the current era, well beyond most capabilities of even Alliance vessels – which pride themselves on being state-of-the-art the Vindicator is now a second home to a little over one hundred souls, including its commander.

Titus may not always see eye-to-eye with the Illusive Man, due to his extreme moral character, yet he remains a fiercely loyal Cerberus operative. Even though he is not as prejudice against alien species as his fellow Cerberus comrades, he shares the organization’s vision for the advancement of the human race. He is prepared to see that vision through to the end, even if it means bearing the weight of being “extremist” in the eyes of the galactic community.

Season 2

Titus' loyalty begins to waver whenever the Illusive Man's motives become questionable and his methods far too harsh and cold for Titus' moral compass to cope with. After Commander Horn falls into a life-threatening coma, Keown's horrible fate, Braden's shocking revelation of his past, and the continued pressure to make the right call, the Vindicator's commander even starts to question Cerberus.

Later on, Titus is contacted by an old friend in the Alliance: Sibyl Carson. Carson has managed to move up the ranks since their as N7s, and is now the director of Oracle, taking on the title of "the Operator". When she assists in recovering Adam Reynolds' tags for Braden, she subtly offers him a chance to return to the Alliance. Titus refuses the offer, but Sibyl doesn't give up. She dispatches Adam Harrison, another N7 Marine and Oracle agent, who tracks Titus' whereabouts to Omega.

When the Illusive Man learns that the Omni Cell commander is becoming a liability, he orders Janis Freeman to assassinate Titus while they're on Omega. Harrison intervenes in the nick of time, saving Titus' life and helping the commander and his crew escape Omega on an Oracle frigate dubbed the Marathon.

Season 3

...

So begins...

Commander Jonathan Titus's Story

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Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus

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>.>

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Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus

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I'm on the wrong ship, again.

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Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus

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I really wouldn't do that, Lance.

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Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus

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Commander Jonathan Titus splits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: EDI Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers

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The arching spikes of discharging dark energy around the Vindicator's element zero core was tantalizing to the eyes. Being a biotic, Braden felt nearly renewed being so close to a massive sphere containing the same energy he could manipulate with his mind. The eezo core had a relaxing effect on his mind, despite the lack of nutrition. Lizzie, who had her head leaned back against his chest, with the two of them sitting on the floor of the core's surrounding deck against a bulkhead, had brought them some food from the mess hall to munch on. It wasn't much, but it was enough to keep the boy going for a while longer.

Both of the teenagers had spent the last hour with each other, in the exact same spot. The engineers hadn't objected once to their presence, and Braden assumed that was Lizzie's doing. He figured she must have convinced them sometime earlier in the day that they wouldn't get in the way. As Lizzie slumbered against him, his mind began to recall the events of the past day. Waking up and feeling hateful animosity towards Cerberus, finding comfort in the arms of the girl he loved, releasing the hate still inside him through Villayn's training, and finding peace once again with Lizzie. He still felt angry at the people he was working with, and he knew that only time would tell if he could truly trust Commander Titus and Yeoman Brown.




"Darcy, what the hell is up with the beret?" Titus demanded with an amused smirk as he approached the helm of the Vindicator. His pilot was wearing a black beret, perfectly formed over his right ear. Judging by the fact that the wool was smooth and shaven, Darcy must have had it for quite some time. Though it wasn't a part of the Cerberus crewman uniform, it matched the black, white, and gray colors.

Darcy spun around in his chair and revealed a giddy smile from cheek to cheek. "Isn't it sick, Commander? A few marines on deck five found them in starboard cargo, we must have accidentally picked up the shipment at our last resupply stop. Terminus depots aren't always the most reliable when it comes to tracking their customers' goods."

"That was three days ago," John noted, folding his arms.

"Yup. I've been shaping it in the shower every morning; finally shaved it last night and let it dry out. How does it look?"

Titus leaned back, inspecting the ridiculous hat left and right, but he honestly couldn't find much to object to. It was dorky, but sharp at the same time, and it conveyed an air professionalism about Darcy that Titus thought he would never see. Besides, the beret out-did the stupid ball caps any day of the week. After taking a moment to fully appreciate Darcy's new fashion accessory he let his arms drop and asked, "How many of those were in the shipment?"

"More than enough if you're thinking what I think you're thinking."

"Then I'll keep thinking." The commander moved around to stand beside Darcy, directly between him and EDI's ever-present sphere, and changed the subject, asking, "Is that our relay?" The mass relay Titus was referring to was growing closer as the Vindicator made its approach.

"That's it," Darcy confirmed, rapidly tapping away at his cyan-colored haptic interface. "We'll make the jump through and I'll plot us a direct course to Lucr'n. Our current ETA to target is two hours, fifteen minutes. Now EDI's already taken a look at the planet's recent geological surveys. She found a few things you might want to take note of."

On cue, the ship's AI chimed in with her report. "Lucr'n is located close enough to its system's sun to warrant the use of heat protective armor. Over the past millennia, the planet's protective atmospheric layers have deteriorated due to a build-up of greenhouse gases. This was most likely caused by a planet-wide war event during its final moments of civilization. Whatever cataclysm started the decay is no longer traceable. While your shields are strong enough to hold out against the penetrating radiation, they will be ineffective in a firefight. Mass accelerated rounds will go straight through and your hard suit's armor will have to absorb the impact alone."

"Wonderful," Titus mused. "So, what have the archeologists been using for protection?"

"Thermal resistant white suits," EDI replied. "They sacrifice armor in favor of specially designed shield boosters. The suits are also equipped with a thrust capacitor."

"A what?"

"Adding to the dangers of Lucr'n are frequent earthquakes and tectonic tremors, possibly another result of the cataclysm that ended the Prothean civilization-"

"It was the Reapers, EDI," Darcy retorted. "We all know it was the fucking Reapers."

Ignoring the helmsman's interuption, the AI carried on without any emotional inflection toward him. "Some quakes can cause large debris to break off of ruins and endanger the lives of nearby archeologists. To compensate, a back-mounted thrust capacitor provides a powerful enough boost - using a micro fission core - to propel the individual several hundred meters, safely removing them from the danger zone. It is not a 'jet pack', but a more level alternative."

Titus nodded, but rubbed his eyes. “Berets, earthquakes, and jump packs... Just get us to Lucr’n, Darcy.”

“Aye-aye, Commander.”

Titus spun around and walked back down the helm toward the CIC. As he passed through, he observed many of the CIC operators settling down in at their terminals, preparing for the eminent mission. Each of them, though they appeared to perform the same task as their neighbor, played a vital, unique role in keeping the Vindicator running and operational. Most of the technicians in the CIC were combat operations managers; relaying vital intelligence to and from the battle grounds, or assisting in space warfare. While EDI did most of the data logging and calculations, it was up her human counterparts to execute commands.

“I hope you’re ready, ladies and gents,” the commander said as he briskly made his way past them. “This mission is going to get interesting.”




“All hands, prepare for relay jump, in thirty seconds!” Engineer Sullivan announced as he practically ran at full speed from one end of the core room to the other, skipping nearly three full steps as he partially jumped up onto the main observation platform. In response, Braden and Lizzie, now fully awake and alert, jumped to their feet and made their way up to the platform for safety. Being too close to the drive core during a relay jump could be dangerous if something went wrong.

Already, the giant sphere began to pulse violently with massive arcs of discharging dark energy. “Core levels stable, eezo reaction normal,” Engineer Foster stated as she approached a wide haptic interface and began to busy herself at the controls. There was another pulse, one more massive than the others, and Braden figured that the Vindicator was now very close to the mass relay that Darcy was about to make a jump through.

There was a crackle over the core room’s intercom as Darcy’s amplified voice came over. “Relay jump commencing in three… two… one!” As soon as his tongue struck the “n” on “one”, a final pulse burst outward from the sphere. The room was blinded in a brief second of blue-white light, and Braden felt a surge of energy passing into his own body; a vibration spreading throughout his nervous system. His head went light, and the room started to spin. Though the light was now dissipating, nearly gone, so was his vision. During the final few seconds before total darkness, he felt his legs give out, and he saw the ceiling of the core room high above him come into view, and heard the muffled voices of his friends call out to him.

“Braden? Braden?!”

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

"Yes, ma'am."

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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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

"Copy that," Titus said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go, sir."

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

“Go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Erik! Shut up!”

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

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

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

[Begin playing soundtrack, "Embolden"]

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

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

“Lance: Kodiak. Move!”

“Aye-Aye! I’ll see you aboard!”

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

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

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

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

“Bringing the pain, mother fuckers!”

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

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






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

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

“Mom?” his hopeful voice cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do I find him?”

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

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

“Thank you, sir.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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#, as written by Gunneh
Sweat began to bead up on his brow, the temperature in the air seeming to raise as he focused on the task that had been set before him. His breathing grew heavier, fogging his visor heavily, but he kept his concentration as best he could.

"How's it going, Valentine," a female voice asked him through the comm. link in his helmet. He chuckled nervously as he adjusted his grip on the tool in his hand.

"Well," Valentine replied, "I'm staring at enough boom to level a whole city block or more, and the stench from these Vorcha that we mowed down to get to this beauty of a deathbringer is starting to make me gag. Aside from all that, I'm splendid. How's your day going?" She chuckled a bit at that. It made him feel a little better.

"I'd be much better if we weren't on a suicide mission," she replied. "Hurry up with that thing so we can get the fuck out of here, kay?"

"Sweetheart, if I rush anything with this, we might just end up meeting Jesus today. Don't make me meet him just yet. I'm not wearing my fancy underwear."

The las thing he heard was her laughing. That's the last thing he ever heard before the bullets started flying and the snarls of more Vorcha surrounded them. And then there was the explosion...


**************


"What can I get for you, sir?"

Sentry looked up from the bar slowly, the Asari barkeep's voice barely registering in his mind above the sound of his own thoughts. She smiled at him as pleasantly as she could, though he could see the muscles at the corners of her mouth twitching from forcing the expression. He smirked and pulled a cigarette and lighter from the button up pocket of his Cerberus Class Alpha dress uniform.

"Yeah, doll," he replied. "I'm gonna need a scotch, a cheese sandwich, and an ashtray."

"That's a little bit of an odd combonation at 10am, don't you think?"

"No one ever called me the smartest motherfucker," he said with a small chuckle as he pull his right arm up to the bar top and the orange light of his Omni-Tool sprang to life. He tapped at the VI or a second and then dropeed his arm back to his side as he pulled another drag off of the cigarette. "There you go, honey. Keep the change. Just no more questions, ok?"

"You got it, sir."

From somewhere overhead, an intercom shouted something about another ship pulling in to refeul. He thought he head Vindicator, but he wasn't looking to rush. The barkeep sat the frosted glass of scotch in front of him and the cheese sandich right next to it on what he could only guess to be the only paper plate left in the Milky Way. He scoffed and turned the glass up, draining the amber liquid in one gulp before he set about eating his sandwich.

It wasn't long before he felt someone's presence behind him. "Penny for your thoughts, Commander," Sentry asked, his mouth full of cheese sandwich.

The man he was expecting stepped out from the shadows into the neon lighting from the bar's overhang. He sported a similar Cerberus uniform, brown hair slicked back, and hazel eyes; darkened by the dim lighting. Instead of sitting, he merely stood next to the where Sentry sat, both hands behind his back.

"Mr. Valentine, I presume? Do you know who I am?"

Sentry swallowed hard, then took another drag off of his cigarette. "Commander Jonathan Titus, born 2158. Attended the Alliance Naval Academy as a lieutenant. Became a very decorated N7 Marine. Congratulations for that, by the way. Obtained the rank of captain by 2182 before leaving the Alliance for more the more human-favorable conditions that Cerberus offers. Made commander of the Vindicator in 2184." He took another bite of his sandwich, chewed and swallowed.

"You're not the only one that got a pretty little manilla folder, Commander."

He stood from his seat and tossed a nod towards the Asari behind the bar before picking up his bag and turning towards the boarding docks. "I suppose I'll go get myself situated, sir. If you need anything, you'l know where to find me."

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

“Promoted?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REYNOLDS
ADAM C
486850125 AN
O POS
CHRISTIAN


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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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#, as written by Gunneh
It wasn't long after Sentry made his first steps onto the Vindicator that a crew member found him and showed him to his quarters. His jaw dropped as he stared at the waterfall and the plants and what looked to be the cushiest bed he'd ever seen in his life. "Holy...I knew being a soldier would work out for me at some point," he said to himself as he began unpacking his things.

Minutes later, he was changed into a thick pair of navy blue cover-alls and taking his first steps into the Vindicator's shuttle bay and began his mental inventory: Four Kodiaks sat in their designated areas, all looking to be in working condition no matter how banged up, dented, or scratched they seemed to be. Tools were strewn here and there where the engineering crew had been working and just left their mess to be dealt with at a later point. He sighed inwardly and ran a hand through his messy ginger hair as he started picking up the tools at his feet.

The sound of whirring gears caught his attention just moments later, and he turned to see the shuttle bay door dropping, followed by the sound of hoverjets. He watched intently as a large metal container was maneuvered into the bay by a twiggy-looking man controling the pallet by his datapad. The man stopped the pallet underneath an unused spot for another Kodiak and turned to Sentry.

"Can you sign for this, please," the man asked. Sentry stared at the man for a moment, then at the container, and then back to the man.

"Um," Sentry replied, "you might want to get Commander Titus' signature for...whatever this is."

"Listen, man, I really don't care who signs for it. I just need you to get it out of my container and off of my pallet so I can go back to what I was doing."

Sentry looked back at the container and then snatched datapad from the man's hand, mumbling something about the man looking "ever-so-busy" and something else about how signing for packages wasn't his job, and a few choice curse words as well. The man nodded to him as he took the datapad back and dropped the pallet to the floor before fiddling with his Omni-Tool for a moment. The container's lid sprang open and hit the shuttle bay deck with a loud bang. His face contorted into a look of supreme confusion as he brought his Omni-Tool closer to his mouth.

"Uhm, Titus," Sentry said, the confusion evident, "we got a new toy..."

**************


"How'd the 'refueling stop' go, commander," Darcy asked as he spun his chair around to face Titus. There was a grin plastered across the helmsman's face, but there was something else about it that made Titus feel a bit awkward.

"It went...fine," Titus replied, though the upward inflection made the statement sound more like a question than anything else. "Braden liked his gift, we picked up Valentine...Yeah. It went fine."

"I saw you talking to a pretty lady, you sly dog," Darcy exclaimed in a very sing-songy voice. "Well, I mean, EDI 'saw' you with a pretty lady, but she was kind enough to fill me in on the latest gossip. Spill it. Who's the mystery woman, hmm? Did you kiss her? Please tell me you kissed her. I'm living vicariously through you, so if neither of us get lucky then no one's winnin-"

"Darcy," Titus replied, cutting the helmsman off, "she's just an old friend from the Academy who helped me get ahold of Braden's gift. Nothing more, nothing less." Darcy let out a disgusted sigh.

"Fiiiiiine," he said dejectedly, "don't fill me in on any juicy details."

"Just get the clearance for us to get out of here and stop whining, okay?" Darcy threw up a sarcastic salute

"Oui oui, mon capitaine!" He spun his chair back to the proper position and started fiddling with the displays in front of him. Titus was just about to leave when Darcy spoke up again. "Well that's odd."

"What's odd?"

"Well, for one, you won't give me the scoop on the pretty lady-"

"Darcy."

"-and for two, we're about three and a half tons heavier than we were when we docked. Three options: Braden's gift is made out of some sort of futuristic, super heavy steel that only he can carry, Mr. Valentine is an unholy ass-ton heavier than his dossier says he is, or....I haven't figured that last option out yet."

"Uhm, Titus...we've got a new toy..."

Titus looked down at his wrist as his Omni-Tool sprang to life and Valentine's voice came with it. "A new toy," he asked. "What do you mean we have a new toy, Valentine?"

"You might not believe me if I told you. Come on down here and check it out for yourself."

**************


"...he sent us a Hammerhead?"

Sentry nodded slowly as he hooked the Hammerhead onto the overhead mechanical arms and started hoisting the vehicle in behind the last Kodiak. "It would appear so, yes."

"...why would he send us a Hammerhead?"

"I have no idea. Got any missions lined up for us that would involve a three ton, self-healing, jumping hoverboard that has a big gun and can dig?" Titus ran a hand through his hair and sighed.

"Not so far as I know, but it's not like he ever gives me a straight forward answer in the first place." Titus held his hand out to Sentry and Sentry took it, shaking it firmly. "Welcome aboard the Vindicator, Valentine."

"Call me Sentry," he replied. "Is every day with you guys this weird?"

"Nope," Titus replied as he walked back towards the elevator. "It's worse, usually."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

Titus:

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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#, as written by Gunneh
Sentry cheacked over the controls one last time before he strapped his safety into place across his chest. The Hammerhead was online and ready to go, but that didn't ease his nerves in the slightest: His first op with the Vindicator and he was basically starting a full-on war. He sighed and pressed an almost invisible button on the side of his helmet, and a full HUD sprand to life in his view finder, complete with a compass, a link to the Hammerhead's defense systems, and a health monitor that read his own and Braden's vital signs. Everything checked out so far.

"Hammerhead to Viper," Sentry said in a monotone as he fired up the Hammerhead's engines. "How copy?"

“Loud and clear up here, Hammerhead,” Titus’ voice came back over the net.

"Spectacular," Sentry replied, forcing a smile. "How close are we to the drop zone?"

"About three hundred meters, actually," Darcy cut in. "I've brought us in as low as we can go. The hammerhead's thrusters should last long enough to bring you safely down to the surface; so long as you kick them on at one-hundred and fifty meters. Too soon and they'll burn out before you touch down; and too late, and you'll-"

"Land as softly as a feather being dropped onto a goose-down pillow? Why thank you for those kind, reassuring words of encouragement, Darcy my boy. I'm so glad that you wouldn't say something that would, oh I dunno, scare the kid half to death and/or make me wet myself in my new armour."

"You are most certainly welcome, kind sir," Darcy replied. "I do what I can. Mother always told me I was a giver. Two hundred meters."

Sentry looked over at Braden and nodded. "How're you feeling, boy-o?"

The kid looked back at him from one of the haptic interfaces inside the cramped piloting compartment. His face was pale, but he put on a defying smile and replied, "Fine!" He instantly glanced back at the terminal when he realized that he didn't need to yell it as loud as he did.

"Shit," Sentry said in mock surprise. "The kid's excited about work. Titus, where can I find more of him and what do you think a good price for them would be on the slave market?"

"Ooh," Darcy interjected. "That's tasteless and hilarious. I like this guy."

There was a pause on the net before Titus' voice came back over. "Braden... he didn't know...," he said slowly in a manner meant to calm someone down from bashing another's face into a bulkhead.

"Didn't know what," Sentry asked, looking over at Braden. The kid was staring at a fixed position on the wall of the Hammerhead with enough intensity that he could have melted a hole through the steel. And that's when it clicked in Sentry's mind.

"Oh. My. God. I am soooooo sorry," he pleaded. "Braden, dude, I had no idea and I just started and-"

"One hundred fifty meters," Darcy interrupted. "Green light."

"Thank you, Darcy," Sentry said sternly. His hands moved quickly around the console and the Hammerhead's thrusters burst to life, slowing their descent. "Braden, I'll tell you what: When we get back, I'll buy you a beer. Wait, how old are you? Nevermind. A cupcake. I'll buy you the best damned cupcake you've ever eaten."

The Hammerhead lurched a bit as they bumped into the planets surface a bit before the hoverjets shoved them back into the air. "Hammerhead to Viper, we've just touched down. Proceeding to target area."

"Roger, Hammerhead," Titus responded. "Stay safe."

"Aye, aye, commander," Sentry replied. "See you boys on the flipside."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: EDI

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"Captain!" one of the Aurora agents yelled while rapidly tapping away at an expansive haptic interface before him in the Aurora Project's Noveria command and control center. "Cerberus signature detected five hundred meters from the west perimeter! Closing fast!"

Marcus Shire stepped into the dim lighting that circled around the control room's ceiling directly overhead the many workstations similar to the beckoning agent's. He leaned in close to gain a better visual of what his operator was had found to be worthy of alarm, which was a live video feed of a fast approaching Hammerhead, adorned with the unmistakable white, black, and orange colors of Cerberus. Though their emblems were on the sides, and hard to make out in the relentless blizzard outside, the IFF's returned ping confirmed who was inside. A smirk formed across his grisly face and he stood up straight with both hands behind his back and his shoulders broad. "Condition Delta!" he barked. "It looks like Cerberus is bringing the fight to us."

The white lights overhead flashed to red, and the entire command room was now tinted in a darkened vermilion glow. Aurora officers picked up their paces, practically double-timing it across the raised walkways that ran in a similar circular pattern behind the control consoles, surrounding the primary battle operation table in the center of the room. Captain Shire guided himself with a calm grace back over to that very table, where he leaned forward on the chrome and overlooked a giant hologram of the terrain and his precious compound. One simple Hammerhead? Is that all?

He briefly wondered who in Cerberus had decided to attack him so boldly. The NDC could have very well detected and traced their presence on the planet already, and were perhaps sending a scouting party, but Cerberus wouldn't risk openly exposing themselves like that. No, it had be an outside cell; an operation being put together by someone that didn't have any direct ties to the technology corporations on Noveria. Commander Titus? The thought had definitely crossed his mind, and it seemed plausible. If that was true... The sly grin on Marcus' face grew twice as wide.

The captain was going to enjoy this little skirmish.




Commander Titus rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger, wanting to pound Sentry's skull in for the reckless slave comment in front of Braden. Yet, as he told the no-doubt perturbed teen, the man simply didn't know. Besides, there was always the off-chance that Braden might actually play it cool and forget about it. But there was also the chance that he could go on an emotionally-fueled biotic rampage through the ship when they got back. John shook his head free of the thoughts, wanting instead to just focus on the mission. It would be best to simply cross that bridge when he got there.

Both the commander and Operative Taylor stood above the Vindicator's galaxy map in the CIC. With the tap of his fingers on his Omni-tool, the map dissolved and a hologram of the area of operation materialized to take its place. Their new toy, highlighted in Cerberus' famous fiery orange, glided across the ice- and snow-covered terrain with ease. Aurora's compound had been built on a complex base of primarily concrete, with higher elements constructed using a metal alloy. EDI's scans revealed massive thermal heat signatures radiating from below the bases. They were more than likely some kind of heating system put in place to keep the ice from over-taking the foundations. The concrete, Titus also noticed, wasn't poured there; it was placed there. Giant slabs had been molded and dried off-world, and delivered to the location to provide a quick foundation for the base and vehicles.

Overall, it was a well fortified position. Tall cliffs surrounded the compound on all sides but the west, where Sentry was quickly making his approach from. GARDIAN defense turrets had been installed in all corners, capable of providing both air and ground defense; unlike the air-only turrets on Anhur and most colonies. EDI had marked the location of four different power-sources, each linking to a particular turret nearby. Since the compound did not have a single, primary power house, every one or two structures required their own source of energy. If Sentry was going to survive against the turrets, he would have to use the Hammerhead's maneuverability to sweep in and take out their power units. A single tower wouldn't be able to touch him up close because of its height, but his ass would be left open for the other three towers to take a shot if he wasn't in and out fast enough. There was also the concern of the two M35 Mako armored units. They were fast, but difficult to maneuver; and their armor was weakest in the rear. Yet, if their 155mm cannon managed to deliver a direct blow to the Hammerheard, Sentry and Braden might as well abort the mission and bail out.

Titus didn't like the odds; and he especially didn't like his decision to send Braden down there for a "learning experience". He wanted to punch himself in the face, or drive his head into the handrail he was leaning against in front of the map. Veronica had already voiced her disapproval, and if the boy came back in a body bag, she promised to personally eject him out of one of the torpedo tubes. As much as he wanted to bring the Vindicator in for the same kind of bombing run that Darcy performed back on Lucr'n, he knew he couldn't. The Illusive Man planned ahead: knowing that Aurora would have had air defenses waiting, he sent the Hammerhead. That was the only way they could pull this off. He began to wonder if that's also why he had specifically chosen Mr. Valentine to come along with the package.

"Titus," EDI said aloud over the speakers before materializing on a nearby projection terminal next to the map's viewing platform, "I have detected a lot of troop movement within the base. The Hammerhead's IFF has been pinged, and Aurora is now fully aware of who we are. Sentry is now in range of their GARDIAN defense towers."

"Any good news?"

"Yes. Dr. Porter has reconsidered ejecting your body out of a torpedo tube, given the intimate relationship you two share. She has, instead, opted to eject you out of the airlock if Mr. Reynold's returns deceased; finding it to be less cruel."




The memories of his year as a tortured slave under Gavin's abusive and twisted control had tried to crawl into the back of Braden's mind, but he bravely pushed them back. He had to be focused on the mission, and Sentry's joke was just that... a harmless joke. He couldn't blame the man for not knowing his past, even if he wanted to turn his brain back into the primordial muck it had evolved from. But such thoughts were also unhealthy, so the teenager sucked it up and returned his focus to the terminal in front of him. The controls and readings were a bit confusing to understand at first, but his time playing Divide and Conquer on the Jon Grissam Academy's computer network had taught him a thing or two about military lingo. As it turned out, the stuff in video games wasn't so different than the real thing nowadays.

An alert message suddenly flashed across his screen: HOSTILE ARTILLERY FIRE DETECTED! EVASIVE ACTION RECOMMENDED!

He didn't need to be a military brat to understand what that meant. "Uhm... dude! You might wanna-" His voice was overpowered by a boom! somewhere outside the Hammerhead. Considering they were still alive, and the hover tank hadn't rocked or jerked from an impact, Braden assumed that the shot had missed; but probably by only a few yards. Out of instinct, Braden reached for and pulled the M-8 Avenger that Titus had given him closer and set it directly up against his seat, securing the butt of the rifle with one hand pressing it against the cushion.

If need be, he was ready and willing to fight today.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: EDI Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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#, as written by Gunneh
Sentry urged the Hammerhead forward, weaving in and out of cover as best he could to avoid the artillery fire that was raining down around it. He cut a glance over to Braden and smirked at the sight of the boy clutching the Avenger to his chest as though it were a teddy bear or a shield that would keep the bad things away.

"Hammerhead to Viper," Sentry called out. "Mark those towers for us, please. Shit's already starting to go to hell down here and I'm not fond of the idea of getting lost in a warzone."

"Uploading the data to you now, Sentry," EDI replied to him. "There are four GARDIAN defense towers in all, each with its own power source located close by. My scans are picking up increased movement within the perimeter, and three Mako tanks are moving to intercept."

"Thanks for the good news, EDI," Sentry replied. He held the course steady as they crested a small hill and the entirety of the base was shown to them, along with the three Mako tanks that had taken up defensive positions near the western wall of the compound where Sentry was supposed to bring the Hammerhead through.

"The ride's going to get pretty bumpy from here on out, kid," Sentry said to Braden. "I've piloted one of these things quite a few times, though, so I know what I'm doing. The main thing I need from you is to not panic. I'm not going to let these assholes have the honor of killing us." Braden nodded and loosened his grip on the Avenger. "Good deal. Now let's have some fun."

Sentry hammered on the boost and the Hammerhead shot towards the compound like greased lightning. One of the Makos fired and Sentry swerved hard to the left, knowing full well that Braden's eyes were glued to the sight of the shell striking the snow where they'd just been moments before. Another tank fired and he zagged to the right, feeling the shake from the shell exploding into the earth somewhere to his left. His eyes darted to the guage on the console that displayed the amount of boost that the hovertank had before it needed to recharge, noted its dwindling levels and kicked the boosters on.

The Hammerhead shot into the air and soared over the Makos and whatever ground troops had shown up to support the tanks. He heard bullets pinging off of the armored hull and smirked to himself. He forced his full attention back to the console in front of him andspun the Hammerhead in the direction of the closest defense tower, kicking the boosters back on at full force to slow their descent.

Two Mako shells crisscrossed over the Hammerhead as Sentry pushed the hovertank through whatever gaps he could find, dodging troops, bullets, and GARDIAN shells alike. The VI rang out in a warning as a Mako pulled into line behind him. It fired, the shell slamming into the wall nearest the Hammerhead, showering the vehicle with debris from the blast. It fired again. This time the shell struck the ground just behind the Hammerhead and the explosion shook the hovertank hard, but Sentry steadied the controls and hit the boost again and shot off across the compound to the first GARDIAN power station.

"Just swing through," he said to himself as he neared the power station and swung the Hammerhead broadside, letting it float along parallel to the outer wall.

"Light the power supply up-"

He fired the Hammerhead's main gun several times in succession.

"-and then swing out around the back."

He drifted the vehicle around the back as EDI said something about one tower being offline. One single Mako was heading straight for the Hammerhead, and the driver seemed hell-bent on not changing his course. The tanks main gun fired and Sentry swerved to miss it. It fired again and the Hammerhead narrowly avoided the strike. Sentry's eyes darted up and across the compound and saqw the GARDIAN's moving for another shot. He looked over to Braden and then back at the Mako careening towards them. Someone had to move first, but not yet.

WARNING, the VI shouted, COLLISION IMMINENT.

"That's almost the plan, Sparky," Sentry mumbled. The Mako and Hammerhead were mere feet away from each other now. He saw Braden wince out of the corner of his eye, the boy bracing for impact.

And then Sentry swerved out of the way, missing the tank by inches. The Mako made a sharp move to try and follow the Hammerhead, but the GARDIAN shell that just been fired at the targeted Hammerhead struck the Mako instead.

"EDI," Sentry shouted as he shot off toward the next power station, "tell Titus that he owes me a beer for making that fucking trick work."

"Why don't you tell him yourself, Valentine," Titus replied. "Get the rest of the op done with that kind of style and we'll talk about it."

Sentry laughed and took the rest of the towers with a surprising amount of extra confidence. Even Braden had lost what little fear he'd had in his eyes and was now sporting what Sentry and Titus would have probably deemed a decent war face. Sentry wheeled the Hammerhead back around towards the western side of the compound where they had entered and began the long trek back to the exfil point.

"Hammerhead to Viper," Sentry said. "Prepare for exfil. ETA is ten minutes."

"Copy that, Hammerhead," Darcy replied.

"Good work, guys," Titus added. "Get back here some you can get some res-"

An explosion rocked the Hammeread and all the consoles flickered and then went dark. The hovertank dropped from its low altitude and jolted its two passengers around quite a bit, but when the movement stopped, Sentry was out of his seat and climbing through the emergency hatch. There was a decent sized chunk of the Hammerhead's outer hull missing and sparks shot out of the gash.

"Fuck," Sentry said to himself before opening his com to everyone. "Mayday. Hamerhead to Viper. We've been hit and we're experiencing some minor difficulties."

"What kind of minor difficulties," Titus asked, his voice more panicked than it had been moments before.

"A whole mess of critical system failures," Sentry replied as the bullets started pinging off the Hammerhead. He took cover as quick as he could and pulled the ML-77 rocket launcher from over shoulder. "Seems we happened to forget that there were two other Mako's on our tail because they had their heads shoved in the sand so well."

"Can you fix it," Titus asked. Sentry looked over at the gash for a second before a bullet whirred past his face and he darted back into cover.

"I can, but it'll leave us really uncovered while I get it done," he replied as he poked his head out of cover long enough to fire two rockets, each of them slamming into their respective Mako targets that had taken up a defensive position a few yards away. "I'd say...fifteen minutes, minimum."

"Get to it, Valentine."

"Aye aye, sir," Sentry replied as he tchrew down a combat drone and a sentry turret. "Braden, give me some cover fire. If you get into the shit, let me know."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine

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#, as written by Gunneh
"I like the new trick," Sentry said with a smile. "Remind me never to piss you off, alright?" Braden smiled in response, sank into the Hammerhead completely, and strapped himself into his seat. Sentry could tell that the charge had wiped the young man out, so he tapped away at the console as quick as he could and sent the Hammerhead racing off in the direction of the exfil point. He could hear the base's raid sirens echoing behind them and all he could do was smile to himself.

"Hammerhead to Viper," Sentry said as he looked over the consoles one more time to make sure that everything had stabilized back to almost its regular levels, "we're approaching the exfil point now. Get her in as close as you can because I'm not running on enough energy to make an Olympic sized leap in this thing."

"You got it, boss," Darcy replied. "I'm coming in low. Just, please, don't scuff the paint."

"I don't really give a rat's ass if he scuffs the paint or not," Titus' voice rang out. "Just get back on here in one piece, Valentine. There's been enough excitement for today."

"You're fuckinay right about that, sir," Sentry replied with a laugh.

**************


The cabin that Sentry had been given aboard the Vindicator looked basrely lived in: The walls weren't adorned with any kind of personal pictures, there were no books strewn across his desk, no clothes visible except for the ones he had on. There was only one thing that hadn't been in the cabin at the time of his move, and that was a picture frame on the bedside stand that held a photograph of a brunette woman.

Sentry tore his eyes away from the picture and looked down at the black and red leather jacket that covered his stout torso. His fingers slid across an embroidered N7 emblem on the chest and his eyes closed. He heard the door slide open somewhere ehind him and his eyes snapped open, his gaze caught once again on the picture.

"She's very pretty," he heard Titus say from behind him. "Yours?"

"She was, yeah," Sentry replied after a short silence, though his eyes never left the picture. "Every time I get back breathing from a mission, I always come back to my room and apologise over and over and over to her for not getting her out of there safely. I think she forgives me, but I just can't stop."

"What happened," Titus asked.

"Bad shit," Sentry replied, his gaze falling back to the N7 logo on his chest. "Really bad shit. Reason why I left the Alliance kind of shit. Reason why I never thought I'd wear this jacket again kind of shit."

"Sounds like a story," Titus replied as he moved forward and took a seat on the edge of Sentry's desk. "Care to talk about it?"

Sentry half-smiled and stood from his bunk, turning to his commanding officer. "Maybe some other time, sir. How's Braden doing?" Titus stood from the desk and the corners of his mouth tugged into a smirk. Sentry could tell how proud he was of the boy just from hearing his name.

"He's fine. The kid's in his room taking a well-deserved nap. I would say 'thanks for looking out for him, down there', but it seems he was the one looking out for you." Titus smiled to himself and he paced over to one of the windows in Sentry's quarters and stared into the passing abyss, beyond the blue emissions caused by the FTL speed.

"This is very true," Sentry said with a chuckle. "The boy's strong, Titus. I've never seen a biotic his age that could charge, and I've met maybe a handful of older biotics that could charge that far and that fast without passing out."

The commander nodded and replied, "Mr. Reynolds is equipped with the experimental L5x implants. While they're not the type designed for hard, fast strikes; they can up the biotic output of their user. His amps also came from the Ascension Project. So Braden has had a lot of money put into his training. Its only expected that he perform so well. But I want to be sure he's capable of doing more than just throwing his enemies around without touching them. I need him caught up to speed on everything else a good Cerberus operative needs to know. Captain Azuric Villayn - that turian in the blue armor you've seen walking around here - is training the boy in CQB. I'd like you to instruct him on how to properly handle and maintain his own weapon systems." Titus turned to face the man with a commissioning look. "Can you handle that?"

"Seems like a simple enough task, so I think I'm your man," Sentry replied with a nod. "Pick a time and send him to the armory. I'd be much obliged if we could hold out on it till tomorrow, though, if it's all the same to you."

"Very well, then. Expect him in your armory tomorrow at 0800 hours." Titus turned and started for the door, as he stepped in between the threshold, he glanced back at Sentry and added, "And Valentine... if you ever need to talk, I have an open door policy." The commander left it at that and stepped back into the corridor to allow the door to slide shut completely.

The setting changes from noveria to The Vindicator

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: The Illusive Man

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"You need a haircut," Lizzie insisted with her fingers combing through the mess on Braden's head. The young teen only snickered and let out a chuckle of amusement as he watched her reflection massage his neck and shoulder muscles in one of the windows of his - or their, really - room's starboard windows.

Eventually, his gazed focused on his own reflection. He had matured greatly since joining the Vindicator; not just mentally, but physically as well. His chin and jaw line were becoming more distinct, as well as his muscular tone. The training with Captain Villayn and the frequent use of his biotics kept his body in shape. He was still small, but he felt great; and looked it. From time to time, however, it wasn't just his body that he would find himself admiring. While Lizzie herself hadn't changed much since they first met, her body was always attracting his wandering eyes. Her eyes and lips were gracefully cute, and the rest of her was... irresistible. Especially now that he was sitting down on the foot of the bed and she had risen up on her knees to press down on his shoulders. The tilt in the window had given him a cruel, teaing angle and perfect reflection of her womanhood.

"You're staring again," she whispered, making him blush and divert his eyes elsewhere. As if to torture him more, her hand reached down and slowly slid across his bare chest. When he felt her lips on his neck, he squirmed and laughed. It was foolish, but he couldn't help it. She started laughing too.

Braden pulled himself away, but only turn around and gently push Lizzie back onto the mattress. Every nerve in his body screamed out, and a tiny voice in the back of his head was trying to say that what he was doing was wrong. Yet his adolescence and sexual desires urged him to keep going. As Lizzie laid out straight on the covers, he crawled over her, bringing his chest close to her, feeling her breasts press into him when she breathed in.

"Braden...," she started, stopping the boy from kissing her at the last second. "What are we doing?"

The young teen pulled himself up enough to look at her with fresh eyes. She was concerned, perhaps even frightened; and as she should be. Braden quickly pushed back and away, nearly falling off the side of the bed. He was red with embarrassment, but also felt guilty and overwhelmed with fear. "I- God, I'm so sorry! I don't know what I was thinking! I just-"

He felt her hands over his shoulders a second later, stopping him before he could ramble. "Its okay," she cooed. "Its okay. We're not ready yet."

"Yet?" He turned to see Lizzie smiling out of his peripherals. She leaned in and pecked him on the corner of his lips.

"Yet," she promised.




The next morning seemed to drag. By the time Titus had made it to the helm, he was already sipping down a second cup of coffee; which was a rarity for him. At most, the commander would hardly finish one cup, preferring to take only a few sips and let the rest sit on the edge of the galaxy map all day until Operative Taylor insisted he toss the cup in the trash. Maybe the recent increase in stress was causing him to act differently, or perhaps he was beginning to feel older.

No, it wasn't age, he told himself. He had been one of the youngest soldiers to hold the rank of Captain in the Alliance. In Cerberus, he still held that same rank. “Commander" was simply a title to them, and it wouldn't change unless the Illusive Man hand picked him to be promoted to one of his esteemed generals.

The thought of Cerberus becoming its own army only disturbed him. They were supposed to be covert, but with how things were going, the Illusive Man was making them look like any other galactic fleet out there: generals and their troops, ships outfitted with thannix cannons, and entire space stations devoted to the research and development of weapons. How much longer until Titus left Cerberus like he left the Alliance?

"Something on your mind, Commander?" Darcy asked, glancing up at a gloomy Titus standing just over his shoulder.

"Just stuff that's better kept to one's self, Darcy," John replied.

A tone sounded from Darcy's haptic interface. "Look's like the boss wants to see you upstairs,” he said, tapping a key to acknowledge the notification. John silently nodded in response and spun around to hastily make his way back down the bridge and into the CIC. He past by the multitude of technicians and navigation experts, offering a nod in greeting to Taylor as she gazed over the galaxy map, and entered the elevator. Stretching his index finger out from its snugged position around the warm coffee cup, he pressed the command to take him up to deck one, and then took a final, long gulp of the miracle liquid. In the back of his mind, he prayed the Illusive Man had not read his thoughts light years away. The timing of this summoning was uncomfortable, if he were to say the least.

At the ping and opening of the elevator, John stepped out and headed straight forward into the conference room, only stopping for a single second to leave the near-empty coffee outside. Once inside, EDI, as usual, had begun closing the outer shutters to darken the circular room, and the table disappeared into the floor. The Man's familiar office materialized around John. Today's star an odd complexity of deep reds and a tint of violet. As usual, nothing about it was recognizable.

“Commander Titus,” the Illusive Man greeted, lighting a fresh cigarette. “You look a little tired. I hope your burning out too quickly. The threat hasn't gone away over a few weeks.”

Titus straightened himself out before replying, “Don't worry about me, sir. I'm willing and able for whatever task you have for the Vindicator next.”

The Man smiled after letting go of a stream of smoke. “That's what I like to hear.”

Before the conversation carried forward, a figure came into view next to John. The commander shot a surprised sideways glance to Terrance Sinclair. “Professor?”

“Commander,” Sinclair said in return before turning his attention to the Illusive Man. “Happy to report, sir, that Operative Buchan's nervous system has received the immunity to O-E without rejection; and her new L5x implants are operating as hoped. She'll be fit for duty again in no time.”

“Excellent news, Professor,” the Illusive Man said, well pleased.

Titus was lost. “O-E?”

“Omega-enkaphalin, Commander,” Sinclair explained. “It's a biotic-supression drug that was secretly developed by Cerberus in 2169; codenamed 'Project Trapdoor'.”

“I'm having all of our biotics undergo nanosurgery so their bodies can adopt an immunity to the drug,” the Man said. “I don't want our own weapon turned against us.”

Titus nodded his understanding. “I see. What about Serena Taylor, or Braden Reynolds? They're both biotics, and on my crew. Will they have to undergo the same surgery?”

Sinclair shook his head. “Operative Taylor received her immunity shortly before Sovereign's attack of the Citadel. Braden received his at the Ascension Project when they installed his amps and implants. Cerberus is making sure all of the human biotics trained at the Grissam academy are made immune to omega-enkaphalin as part of our agenda to advance our race's own biotic abilities.”

“Well put, Professor,” the Illusive Man commented. “Thank you for your report. You're dismissed.” Sinclair bowed and humbly stepped out of the three-dimensional conversation; leaving Titus and his employer alone to carry on.

“How much do you know about our history with the quarians, Commander?” the Man asked.

John smirked. “Enough to know that we royally pissed them off, recently. Something about a bomb and a girl from the Ascension Project. Grayson's doing, right? Before he went rogue?”

“Vaguely, yes. Since that incident, we've had trouble to inserting spies into the Migrant Fleet, and I'm rapidly running out of eyes and ears inside their flotilla. Their entire population is strictly quarian-only; so we have to rely on converting some of their own to be our agents; and that's not always easy. If they're still apart of the tight community that makes up their fleet, then they're usually loyal to the core. Quarians aren't ones to have loose lips these days. Any small thing that threatens the security of the Migrant Fleet sends them over the edge. Thus, our only viable option left is to infiltrate and install our bugs. But to do this, I need the best infiltrators we have. Unfortunately, Vala still needs time to recuperate; and I have Kai Leng on an important assignment of his own.”

Titus shrugged his shoulders, not quite understanding why the Illusive Man was going to him about this. The Vindicator had no other infiltrators that were capable of the mission. He was right about Vala still needing to recover after the surgery; and other than her, no one on his crew had the technical or strategic know-how to replace her. “So... what do you need me for?”

“The truth is, Commander, I don't. But within a few hours, I will. I'm dispatching another infiltrator to your crew. Like Vala, he deserves high praise from me. In fact, he's so skilled at his job that I have working as an inside man in an organization I believe you've recently discovered. Does the name 'Oracle' ring a bell?”

John's eyes widened and his mouth almost flew open. “Ugh... Yes; it does.” He then folded his arms across his chest. “But I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that you know about my relationship with Sibyl Carson, that particular organization's director, now should I?”

The Illusive Man smiled and took another drag of his cigarette. “No,” he said while blowing out the smoke. “You shouldn't. The agent's name is Janis; Janis Freeman. He makes infiltration, sabotage, and assassination his profession; practically an art. Where Operative Leng performs with the grace of a magician; Operative Freeman dazzles with the charm of a politician. They're both cunning, deceptive, and highly skilled; but for this particular mission, Freeman's expertise is preferred.”

“So how shall I proceed with the mission once Janis is aboard my ship?”

“He's on his way now via another Cerberus frigate. Once he transfers under your command, I want you to travel to Omega. In the past, I had one our agents bargain with an exiled quarian to gain the secrets of boarding the Migrant Fleet. He taught us how its done: through the use of unique pass phrases. Unfortunately, he couldn't provide us with what was required. The pass phrases taught to him in particular had been black listed per his banishment from the flotilla. We had to torture a captured quarian for his phrases. One denotes an 'all secure' message; where the other is a duress phrase. This time, however, we've cut a deal with a quarian whose not banned, and he's willing to trade his phrases.”

“What was the deal?” Titus asked, looking sharp for the catch.

“The quarian's name is Jal'Ishtet nar Idenna. It just so happens that the Idenna is the particular vessel in the flotilla that I need bugs installed inside the most. In exchange for getting you on that ship, he's asking for a large amount of the drug Hallex. We're not entirely sure of the reason for this odd request. Perhaps that's something you and Janis can find out while talking with him; though I have a feeling its a simple drug triad business.”

“Anything else I should know?”

The Illusive Man stood up from his chair, holding his cigarette down to just above his waste line. “There is one other thing...,” he replied, taking a moment's pause as he considered his words. “I'm well aware of your last visit to Omega, and Braden's particular attempt at exacting revenge on his former slave master. While I'm not concerned about that in particular, I am concerned about the possible consequences that situation may have led to in regards to Aria T'Loak. I hope her seeing you again won't be problem, Commander.”

Titus placed his hands behind his back and straighted himself with the discipline of the soldier he was. “No, sir. I can assure you that Cerberus presence on Omega is of no concern to her right now. I managed to smooth things over when we last spoke.”

“I know you did, Titus. I'm just making sure you understand that Cerberus - I - can't afford to be on bad terms with her at the moment.”

“Understood, sir.”

The Illusive Man took a final drag of his cigarette. “Good.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus

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Titus stood on the other side of the conference room table with his arms crossed over his chest, and one foot and shoulder back as he scrutinized the man named Janis Freeman, standing directly across from him. From the start, when Operative Freeman first set foot on the Vindicator, the commander didn't like him. He seemed sly, full of himself, and all-around untrustworthy. According to the man's Cerberus dossier, he was a political infiltrator and veteran double-agent; sent to work for the enemy, only to find and exploit their greatest weaknesses. Perhaps it was simply the Cerberus influence of distrust that was influencing Titus to eye the man with the utmost suspicion, but one thing was for certain: you can never fully trust a man that hasn't lost something. Everyone so far on his crew has had to either make hard sacrifices, or witness something – or someone – close be taken from them. Mr. Freeman seems to have lost nothing, nor does he have anything to lose.

“So,” the commander began, “Oracle, huh?”

Janis smiled and nodded. “Oracle.”

“How's-?”

“-You're friend? Oh, she's fine. Not to worry, though, Commander; the Illusive Man has no plans for Ms. Carson yet.”

“Yet...”

There was an awkward, hanging silence in the room as the two men continued to exchange dubious looks. Finally, through saving grace, the door to the briefing room whooshed open and Serena Taylor came inside and down the few steps leading to the center of the room. When she joined her own section of the table, she broke the ice by asking, “So... Omega? We've already been their once during this mission.” She looked over to Janis. “Mind filling us in on what exactly needs to happen when we arrive back on that infested station?”

Freeman smirked at Taylor's implicit prejudice and then raised his arm to bring up his Omni-tool. A few key strokes had projected a holographic map of the station in the center of the conference table. He commanded the image to zoom in on a particular area of the station and the render the more minute details of small dive bar. “One of our alien contacts on the station, a volus named Korvin Don, has offered his bar for the meeting with our quarian to take place. Its not exactly a 'safe house', but its out of the way from any of the major gang activity. Now, knowing quarians, our contact is probably going to ask for his petty Hallex right away; which is currently sitting in the Vindicator's port side cargo bay.”

“Nice to know I've got drugs aboard by ship,” Titus retorted. He quickly withdrew when he saw Serena's cold 'shut up' glance from the side.

Ignoring the comment, Freeman carried on with his briefing. “The quarian, Jal, will find that his requested Hallex has been moved to the bay of his choosing once we meet up with him. We're obviously not going to be dragging a dozen crates of Hallex through Omega streets. That's just asking for it.”

“A dozen crates?” This time it was Serena that had interrupted.

Janis nodded without loosing his bearing. “Jal has been trading illegal intoxicants for some time now. He found the business to be more... profitable than his pilgrimage. Whatever floats his boat, I guess; Cerberus is happy to trade whatever street drug he desires for the valuable information he's offering.”

“About that,” Titus interrupted. “How can we be sure he's giving us the right codes? What if he tricks us into giving the Migrant Fleet a duress code when he attempt to board?”

Janis grinned. “Let me handle that, Commander.”

The whoosh of the door echoed in the room again and the three occupants turned their heads to stare at Braden marching through the threshold. There was a tempered fire in his eyes, and both of his fists were clinched. “You're going back there?” he demanded.

The teen stopped just short of Titus, who began to beg the question, “How did you-?”

“Darcy told me,” Braden responded.

The commander sighed and rubbed his temple. “I'm sorry, son; but I won't be taking you with me this time. This particular mission requires a lot of expertise in a certain art – something you haven't been properly trained in yet.”

Braden looked heartbroken, and also furious. He turned his head down to hide the creeping emotions. Serena placed a hand on his shoulder and gently turned the young man around to guide him out of the briefing room. When the blast doors closed behind them, Janis was the first to speak.

“I've read his dossier. Tragic... what happened to him.” The man's icy gaze peered over to the table to Titus. His arms crossed over his chest and head tilted low, he muttered, “He'll make a good asset to Cerberus one day.”

John only glanced to Janis out of his peripherals, his body still facing the door that Serena and Braden walked out of. The man's heartless words struck a chord somewhere within him and he could only blame himself for that cold truth. An “asset”? Is that what Janis sees in the boy? Just another assassin stripped of his free will; ordered to do the Illusive Man's bidding?

“Something wrong, Commander?” Janis asked, pulling John from his doubtful thoughts about the organization he worked for.

The soldier straightened himself out and rolled his shoulders back. “No. Let's carry on with the plan.”




Titus wasn't too surprised to find that the same turian from last time was standing at the end of the docking bay, waiting to register the commander's now-second arrival to the infamous station. The Talon mercenary looked his customer up and down with a suspicious eye as he took the CHA credit chit that John extended to him.

“Back again, huh?” the turian asked rhetorically. “Where's the armor?”

John, Serena, and Janis were wearing typical civilian clothes. Titus had chosen to sport a tan leather jacket and black cargo trousers. A Hahne-Kedar Kessler pistol had been concealed by the jacket, attached to the belt. He knew the merc wouldn't care what kind of fire power they brought onto Omega; his job was to simply collect credits. Everyone on the station was carrying some kind of piece. Guns weren't intimidating to the people here; they're merely a means of protection.

“Won't be needing it this time,” Titus replied with a small smile to try and lighten the stiff mood.

“Uh-huh...” The turian swiped the credit chit over his Omni-tool and handed it back. “Enjoy your stay on Omega.”

The trio walked out of the docking station and into the crowded streets. Janis led the way to Korvin's bar with Titus taking up the rear to watch their backs. Serena walked in between, tapping at her Omni-tool to complete the transfer of the Hallex crates into the Talon's cargo depot at the dock. The fees the merc group was charging for the shipment were unbelievably high, and she silently thanked herself for Cerberus' funding.

When the three of them stopped at a taxi port, Serena punched in a summon command for the next available skycar on a nearby console. After completing a nominal fair towards the volus merchant that ran the small-time cab business, the woman turned and said, “Our destination is near Afterlife in the upper districts. It'll be faster if we hitch a ride instead of taking the primary elevators that run through the station's pylons.”

“You want us to take one of those filthy-ass things?” Janis asked.

Serena shrugged her shoulders. “If it gets where you need to go, what does it matter?”

“It matters because I don't want to step out of a cab with alien piss on the bottom of my two-thousand credit pants.”

John exchanged a bemused look with his second-in-command and then said, “Well at least Mr. Clean, here, won't set off any contamination alarms when we infiltrate the Migrant Fleet.”

“Oh, you're funny...”

The skycar landed a few feet away from them and Serena popped the hatch, taking the driver's seat. John sat shotgun, while Janis carefully positioned himself in the back, ensuring before he sat completely down that the seat was free of any foreign substances – liquid or otherwise. When the hatch closed, Serena skillfully piloted the cab up into the higher portions of the station, following a single pylon to the top. Details of the underbelly of the mined asteroid became more apparent the closer they got; and within a few more minutes, Serena saw an available cab port near where they wanted to go, and expertly straightened out the skycar for a gentle landing.

A tone sounded when the hatch popped open and the haptic control interface on both the driver and passenger side faded out of existence. Janis was the first out of the skycar, quickly twisting around to check the underside of his trousers, brushing away at whatever nonexistent disgust had attached itself to him.

“Question,” Titus began, “do you always such expensive taste to on missions?”

Janis finished checking himself and then straightened out to face Titus with a wide grin. He slid both hands into his trouser pockets, pushing back the folds of his pearl white blazer, and replied, “Expensive taste is a sign of success. Success yields respect. Respect yields power.”

John leaned back and folded his arms. “But you're an infiltrator. What kind of respect and power do you hope to hold over someone's head when you technically don't exist?”

Janis' grin seemed to morph into a wicked smile as his head tilted downward. “All the more reason to be cautious when dealing with someone like me. Too many unknowns.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Sibyl Carson Character Portrait: Dianna Henricksen Character Portrait: Janis Freeman

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A blonde woman dressed as a typical mercenary flying out of a bar window was the last thing John had expected to happen during their casual walk to their objective. It was typical that such a sporadic event had to take place only a hundred meters from the place they were supposed to meeting with the quarian. As Serena helped her commander back to his feet, Janis moved to take cover behind a large column. Serena deployed a biotic shield before her, and John drew his pistol from under his jacket. He rushed to help the woman to cover behind a low, but solid kiosk.

"Are you injured?" he asked, checking her over while ducking his head lower as a barrage of shotgun rounds pelleted the other side of their cover.

"I'm fine!" The stranger peeked over during a lull in the firefight before glanced back down. "Just a Krogan charge; I've handled far worse."

John raised a brow at her, but quickly ignored the hard-to-believe tale. "Serena! Cripple him!"

Without hesitation Taylor hit the Krogan dead on with a biotic warp; bringing the large barbarian to the floor in agony. He may have been a two ton tank, but any organism can easily fall prey to an attack at the molecular level. As Serena's warp slowly tore him apart, the woman that had crashed into John stood up and place several well-aimed shots into the beast's cranium. John and Janis both leaned out of cover to focus their own fire on the asari that had tried to be a lone ranger and leap out into the middle of the street with biotics flaring. The two Cerberus operatives made quick work of her.

"That's all of them," Serena announced. The four of them entered the bar and observed the damage. An astonished whistle was all that came from Janis as he looked over the chaotic destruction. In one of the corners was a lone mercenary, covered in blood and clearly dead.

"Dammit," the woman said as she quickly made her way over to the body to check for a pulse. After as second or two, she closed the man's eyelids out of respect and stood back up. "Well... I guess I'm out of a job again."

"Who was that?" John asked.

"No one important," she replied. "Just a former colleague now." When she was sure the rest of the area was secure, she holstered her weapon and approached the three. "You guys obviously aren't typical civilians. No uniforms, no gang emblems, no distinguishing tats... Who are you guys?" She leaned back on one heel and folded her arms, a curious look in her eyes.

Serena and John looked to each other, seemingly trading telepathic thoughts and wondering just how to answer that question. Eventually the commander returned with an answer. "We're with a covert human group."

"Well," she said, "Terra Firma isn't much into military ops; and the Alliance wouldn't be found within light-years of Omega. That leaves only one organization you' could possibly be with... Cerberus."

"Clever girl," Janis commented. "And just who might you be?"




Agent Harrison's footsteps echoed across the reflective glass floor in the Operator's office dome as he made his over to her desk just beyond the center of the room. She stood with her back to him, dressed in the same, conservative-style suit she always wore, facing an array of holographic screens in front of her. They were strung out from the floor to the ceiling of the dome, panning out in a horizontal arc from one side to the other. Outside, was nothing but a dense, bluish atmosphere of a classified gas planet in a classified classified system. The station sat at a high altitude, but low enough to be completely covered and practically undetectable by simply surface scans from wandering (more like lost) non-military ships.

Adam finished his long walk through the interior of the Oracle station and stood with his hands behind the small of his back, waiting for Operator Carson to acknowledge his presence; which she eventually did so by simply turning her head to see him through her peripherals. "Ma'am," he began, "the Cerberus operative that Commander Slatton captured has been transported to our facility on Asphodel. We've mobilized Aurora assets in the area as a defense force in case Cerberus tries to take their man back. All Aurora knows is that they're safe-guarding a high-value target. They don't know who or why."

"Good to hear, Mr. Harrison," Sibyl replied. "But I didn't call you in here for a status update on the Harrens interrogation. Instead, I have a more important task for you. One that requires expediency, but delicacy."

"I'm listening."

Sibyl tapped on a haptic keypad in front of her and a hologram of a man with slick brown hair and a trimmed goatee materialized right before Adam. The man stood rigid, with military posture, and was wearing a Cerberus officer's uniform. The details jutting out to the side in the hologram labelled the individual as a Commander Johnathan Titus. He was a former N7 Marine, and a highly decorated officer of the Alliance Navy. Why he left was anyone's guess. But Adam didn't see why Sibyl was showing him this information.

"Ma'am, isn't Agent Freeman assigned to Commander Titus?"

"He was," she replied with a hint of spite in her voice. "But InOps has intercepted orders from a Cerberus command relay; orders meant specifically for Freeman. I'm afraid we've been dealing with a double-agent this entire time. Janis' loyalty, it turns out, is not with us after all." She turned to walk around her desk and leaned against the front of it. The hologram of Titus faded, and Adam was left staring directly at the Operator. "You're the only one left I can fully trust, Adam. Agent Freeman is working against us, trying to ensure Titus remains loyal to the Illusive Man. I can't have that. Somewhere within him is the man of honor I used to know and work with. I want the old Titus back; and I'm assigning you to protect him and do just that."

Adam was quite astonished by the assignment. He had been on countless protection missions before, but none of them involved protecting an enemy target. "So... just how am I supposed to convince Commander Titus that he's on the wrong side?"

"Play to his morality. I know John. He'll do everything in his power to protect the innocent; and that's why the Illusive Man's decisions are beginning to wear him down. With every op that Cerberus pulls that puts civilian lives in danger, practically making them petty sacrifices to achieve their goals, Titus' loyalty decreases. I know this because he's not one to just throw away his values. I can read it between the lines of the after-action reports InOps intercepts; and if the Illusive Man is personally assigned Janis to play tug-of-war with us, I know he's at the point of neutrality. You're my final pull, Adam. Are you up for it?"

Harrison took a minute to think over what was being asked of him. The mission would obviously involve either infiltration of Titus' ship, or a covert interference in his next operation. The latter would probably work best, seeing as Janis is already aboard the Vindicator. Being spotted by Freeman would be an instant mission failure. "Alright," he said, "I'm in. Where do I start?"

"I'll have Prophet keep you posted on Titus' locations. You'll need in get in close and sometime when Janis isn't around."

"It's like you're reading my mind," Adam commented.




"I'm assuming that was the typical riffraff of Omega?" Prophet's voice said in Adam's earpiece as the agent lay low on the catwalk overlooking the practically destroyed bar, below. Tracking the Vindicator wasn't as hard as it sounded during the intel brief, or according to the frigate's specs on a datapad. All one had to do was look for a CHA-owned cruise ship travelling in the Omega cluster. Its not everyday that a luxury cruise frigate just happens to dawdle in the Terminus systems. Cerberus sure had a funny way of defining covert.

"Yes, and no," Adam replied in a hushed whisper. He was leaning against a large support brace on the catwalk, perfectly hidden by the light-bending tactical cloak around his Oracle black-ops armor and Valkyrie assault rifle. He watched as Titus entered the bar after the firefight with a woman that had been tossed through a window by a krogan. "Lost sight of HVT. Re-positioning." Adam quickly moved down the catwalk a ways until he found himself just above a ledge that the catwalk branched out over top of. After securing the rifle to the magnetic clip on his back, he grabbed a hold of the railing and threw his weight over, landing gracefully on both feet on the ledge below. He then went prone and had a perfect view into the building from his new angle. "Eyes back on," he whispered into the comm. "They're not doing much. Just talking."

"Operator Carson would like me to remind you that 'time is of the essence', Agent Harrison," Prophet stated.

"Yeah, yeah. Tell her I'm moving as fast as they'll let me."

"Or you can just tell me yourself, Adam," Sibyl's voice came over. "You know the beauty of having quantum entanglers these days is that you can do practically anything with them; even hook an AI up to one."

Adam smiled to himself. "Never bothered to ask how I could talk to Prophet with absolutely no lag, let alone see that he's available at every Oracle outpost and base across the galaxy. Let me guess, you've got a QEC terminal in Omega that broadcasts data over a tight-beam range to my personal comm equipment, right?"

"More or less," Sibyl answered. "We're Oracle. We've got assets and equipment staged everywhere. In a sense, we're just networked and rooted as Cerberus. The only difference between us two is that I've got more friends and allies. It's hard to keep company when you're an elite asshole with a racist agenda."

The three that Adam had been tailing for quite some time now had finally exited the ruined bar and continued down the street; but his eyes widened in a bit of surprise. His HUD zoomed in to focus on the blond woman that had been thrown out of the bar. She was now moving along with Titus' group. "Hold on," he said, "it looks like your friend's team has a passenger."

"I know, I'm looking at your visor feed now," Sibyl said. "Prophet, can you get me a facial recognition scan? I want to know who she is."

"One moment, please." There was a few seconds of silence as the AI went to work on identifying the new female in the group. Finally, "Subject is former Alliance marine Dianna Henricksen. Reports show that she escaped an Alliance military confinement facility on Keckson several weeks ago; imprisoned for the first degree murder of her former CO. A biotic; vanguard class, and very deadly. I recommend extreme caution if you run into her."

"New friend?" Adam suggested.

"Probably," Sibyl answered. "Keep your guard up, but I want your eyes on Janis even more. It's him I'm more worried about. He may look like a smooth talker in his file, but he's also a deadly accurate assassin. One of my... or the Illusive Man's best."

"Roger that. They're on the move... and so am I."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Sibyl Carson Character Portrait: Dianna Henricksen Character Portrait: Janis Freeman Character Portrait: Adam Harrison

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Jal'Ishtet nar Idenna sat in one of the dark corners at the other end of the bar, completely alone and out of earshot of others. Titus and his crew wasted no time in making for him. Dianna broke off halfway there and took up a seat at the bar. Serena positioned herself against a wall facing toward Jal', keeping to the shadows. It was only Titus and Janis that joined their contact at his corner booth. The quarian's digits began nervously fumbling on the table's surface when the humans sat down across from him.

"You must be the Illusive Man's attack dog," Jal' asserted.

Titus maintained a steady frown, but narrowed his eyes. He could tell the quarian was trying to put on a tough look, but he clearly wasn't any good at it. "One of them. Jal'Ishtet, I presume?"

The quarian began looking in every direction around the bar, with barely visible eyes behind the darkened green visor hiding his face bouncing up and down, and from left to right. When he was sure that all was clear and no one was eavesdropping on the conversation, he raised a nervously shaking hand and begged, "Quiet! I can't be seen or heard talking to you. And I caution you using my name."

Janis shook his head. "We've shipped the Hallex to the loading bay of your choosing, Jal'," he said. "Just tell us what we want to know and you'll never have to see us again. Trust us; no one's going find out we ever talked."

Jal' relaxed a bit, but his eyes still darted around the room. They eventually stopped and locked onto Dianna, who was still sitting at the bar. "I've seen her before," he said. "She's with one of the gangs here on Omega; and I know for a fact that she's not Cerberus. How many other outsiders are aware we're meeting here? So far, you're not doing a very good job of earning my trust."

"You wanna talk trust?" Janis scolded. "How hypocritical is that? You're the one who's trading off classified information that will allow us to infiltrate the Migrant Fleet, betraying the trust of your own people."

"You humans have a saying: 'Trust is a two-way street.' My own people betrayed me first, Cerberus. I offered them a gift upon my return from the pilgrimage, but my captain rejected it. He said that my gift was unworthy of being accepted. Hallex may be a hallucinogen, but certain properties of the drug can be extracted for medical purposes. Each dose contains high concentrations of tygliceride-folic acid. A modified folic acid that only be produced through the chemical combinations found in the drug. TF18, as the medical experts have labeled it, can be used to fight a number of infections that my people are vulnerable to every time there's a simple valve leak."

"Let me guess," John said. "You offered a bunch of Hallex to the captain of the Idenna; but he refused. He didn't understand your intentions and he didn't give you a chance to explain their medical benefits."

The quarian nodded. "He didn't trust me. So to hell with them all."

There was a noise from inside Janis' jacket pocket and the man reach inside to take out a small communicator. He glanced briefly at the screen before getting up the seat. He glance down to Titus and quickly said, "Excuse me. I have to take this." The man swiftly walked through the bar and ducked out of the entrance. Titus didn't really think much of it. As a double-agent, the man must always be busy answering both Cerberus' and Oracle's bidding. He could only guess who was trying to get a hold of him now. What was really none of his business, and he wouldn't dare try and guess what the call was about either, fearing it would open a can of worms or simply cloud his judgment with too many negative thoughts. At times, secrets are best left with their keepers.




Adam remained in the shadows, but kept his adaptive cloaking system online as an added precaution. He had only been staking out the bar for a few minutes before Janis came walking outside. A pocket communicator was in his palm, and from the looks of the glow on his face from the screen, he guessed he was in the middle of a video conference. It had to be Cerberus. After Sibyl's startling investigation revealing Janis as a double-agent, there was no reason in the galaxy for Oracle to be contacting him now.

Harrison waiting on the sidelines and observed Janis speaking into the communicator. For a moment, it seemed as if it was just a normal, everyday conversation, but something suddenly changed and the man's expression turned to one of surprise. The Cerberus operative looked over his shoulder, in Adam's direction, and the Oracle agent froze solid. He was sure that Janis was staring right at him, but after the man turned away to look elsewhere, Adam relaxed. Still, things weren't quite right. Janis was definitely making sure that no one was listening in on the conversation, and Harrison knew for certain that whoever Janis was speaking to had just told him something unsettling. This was quickly confirmed when the man revealed a pistol from within his jacket and terminated the call on the communicator. Janis took one last look around before heading back inside the bar, a determined look in his eye.

"Shit!" Adam hissed as he darted from the shadows, his cloak flickering as the processor fought to keep up with his dead sprint.




Titus and Jal' were just about wrapped up with their meeting before he heard Janis over his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Commander Titus; but it appears I've been ordered to eliminate you."

"What?" Titus shot around in his seat only to stare down the barrel of Janis' pistol. The man had aimed it at him so fast that Serena and Dianna hardly had the time to react. Both of the women had their own weapons drawn and pointed at Janis, but neither dared to fire for fear of putting Titus' own life at risk. All of them knew that under the expensive attire, Janis still charging up biotics would most certainly force Janis to execute Titus on the spot.

"It appears your friend has caught me red handed. My access to Oracle resources has been cut off, and the Illusive Man has personally ordered me to terminate your contract with Cerberus."

"I don't understand. What have I done to the Illusive Man? Why am I even involved?"

"The Man has seen your loyalty to Cerberus waver for some time now. Sibyl sought to take advantage of that and recruit you to Oracle; but the Man thought he'd give you another chance and sent me to persuade you otherwise. I was to never deliver Sibyl's offer to you, but instead work to ensure you stay where you are. It seems though that my cover has been blown, and the boss wants me to simply kill you before another of the Operator's agents reaches you."

Janis' finger slowly squeezed on the pistol's trigger, but before it could be pulled back far enough to fire a round into Titus' skull, something burst through the front door of the bar and explosion just meters from away from the two of them sent Janis flying through the air and leaving Titus' completely deaf. Only after a few seconds of fighting off the disorientation did John recognize the effects of a high-impact concussion grenade. Whoever tossed it had just saved his life. He struggled to gain his balance when he crawled away from the booth, still fighting off the dizziness. His hearing was muffled and his sight was hazy. Seconds later, he felt someone lifting him to his feet. He glanced up to see Serena's concerned face. Her lips were moving, but he could hardly understand what she was saying. Finally, her words became clear.

"Titus?! Answer me dammit! Are you alright?!"

"I'm fine!" he managed to say.

Dianna's voiced called out to them. "Hey! We're not done yet!" They both looked from her to the man she was pointed a gun at, wearing white and black armor with no logos. His visor was pitch black with multiple blue slits of light forming a chevron pattern. He was wielding on the Alliance's new Valkyrie assault rifles, but wasn't pointing it at any of them. Titus looked back over his shoulder to see an unconscious Janis lying on the floor. Jal' was ducking below the table they had been sitting at, in fear for his life.

"It's fine, Dianna," Titus said, gently removing Serena's hand from his shoulder as well. "I don't think this guy is our enemy." He looked into the visor of his mysterious savior and asked, "Am I right?"

"Adam Harrison," the stranger said behind the visor. "I don't have time to explain, but I'm with Oracle. You can either come with me or-"

"They're they are! Get 'em!"

Everyone in the bar whirled around to see a gang of mercs bursting through the door with brandished weapons. From the look of the armor, Titus guessed they were with the last gang that Dianna's previous employer had been meeting with. Harrison opened fire before the first man through the door could pull his own trigger. "Out the back! Move!" Dianna and Adam kept the new comers suppressed as Serena and John led the way to the back of the bar. They charged through the a storage room and Adam briefly stopped to topple over a large supply rack to block off the door. They used the extra minute he bought them to sprint out the back door to the bar and disappear into a filthy alley on the other side.

The four of the kept running, with Adam leading the way. "We need to get back to the Vindicator," Titus exclaimed.

"No can do," Serena replied. "You heard Freeman. The Illusive Man wants you dead. Cerberus Command will already overridden EDI by now. The Vindicator won't budge until reinforcements arrive at Omega to take her back."

"I sure know how to pick 'em," Dianna quipped. "In less than an hour I'm already having to look for new work."

"Don't sell us out that easily, miss," Titus retorted. "You'll only miss more fun. Anyway," he looked back to Serena, "what's the plan, then?"

For the first time in a long time, his second-in-command was a loss for words. She struggled to think, but the entire situation was unbelievable. One minute they were being praised by their boss for their successes, and the next he's wanting them dead. "I don't know," she finally said.

"Perhaps I can be of further assistance," Harrison said. "The Operator didn't send me here alone. There's an Aurora frigate not far from where the Vindicator is docked now; the Marathon. We can be there in minuets if we take a sky car."

Titus, Serena, and Dianna all slowed to a stop in the middle of the street. The gang that was chasing them was nowhere around for the time being, all of them desperately needed to catch their breath. Adam wasn't phased in the slightest from the constant running, however; and turned around to look at them as if he was waiting on a child to hurry up their shoe.

"I appreciate the offer," Titus said, "but I don't know you."

John saw Adam placed two fingers to the side of his helmet for a few seconds. It was evident he was communicating to someone, probably a contact on the ship he had mentioned. What he didn't expect to happen was a hologram emit directly between them, and the figure of Sibyl Carson materialize in the middle of the street. She stood with hands on her hips and a stern look in her eyes. "Commander Johnathan Titus, get on that damn ship!"

He could only smile and say, "Nice to see you too, Sib."




Veronica dashed outside the airlock leading to the Marathon where Titus was standing, speaking with Adam. Her eyes were fixed on the datapad in her hand. "John, we've got a problem."

Titus turned away from Adam and asked, "I'm guessing we're missing someone, right?"

"Just one: Vala Buchan."

This took the commander by complete surprise. Of all the people that could have been missing, he would thought Vala would be the last. "I thought she would have been transported with the other medical bay patients."

"She woke up from the anesthetic shortly after you left the Vindicator. She insisted upon leaving the bay, as she did the last time she was supposed to be on recovery status, and no one has seen her since."

Titus brought a palm to his face. "This day just keeps getting better and better."

"I'm sorry, Titus," Adam said, "but we have to go... now."

The blast door on the far side of the docking bay whooshed open and the three of them saw Janis Freeman dashing into view with a large device in his hands. Only when he shouldered it did they realize that he was carrying an ML-77 rocket launcher. Harrison ushered the Titus and Dr. Porter into the airlock and spun around quickly to place a several shots from his Valkyrie down range toward Janis. One of the rounds managed to impact the man's leg right as he pulled the trigger on the launcher, sending a rocket off target. The projectile impacted with a bulkhead near the airlock; a little too close for comfort.

When all of them were safely inside's the ship's own airlock, Adam commanded, "Helmsman! Disengage docking protocols! Get us to the nearest mass relay!"

"Aye-aye, sir," an unfamiliar voice answered over the intercom. A second later the three of them heard multiple metallic clanks as the locks disengaged from the dock's bridge. They were now safely drifting away from the station. Titus was the first out of the airlock, making his way through completely unknown territory, trying to find a window anywhere on what appeared to be the Marathon's bridge. When he finally found one, he pressed himself up against the glass to see the docked Vindicator, only four ports down from where the Marathon had been a minute ago, becoming ever more distant.

Characters Present

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

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Mass Effect
On the Edge
Season 3


Image


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Crystal, ma’am,” Titus nodded.

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

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

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

“Oracle has a cruiser?”

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

“True that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Likewise,” she responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How many other ships does Oracle have?”

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

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

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

“Who’s in charge of it now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What in the…” Titus began.

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

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

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

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

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

“Twenty, sir,” he instantly replied.

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fifteen,” the human bartered.

“Nineteen,” Gavin countered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” the boy finally said.




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

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

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

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

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

“Someone’s cocky.”

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

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

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




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

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

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

“Sir.”

“How strong is your unit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

This was it.

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Stephen "Sentry" Valentine Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Jason Trox Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Damn I look like my grandfather.” Jacob Trox muttered with his light Texan accent, as he starred deeply into the small mirror in his quarters. He kept stroking a palm through his thin hair white hair atop his head. He had been grey for a long time, though he was only in his thirties, but it was always covered up by his hat so the only hint of age you could see was the short white beard that sat on his chin like a mass of cotton on his face. Why did you have to go grey early dad you rat bastard , he thought silently to himself. He stopped fiddling with his old mans hair, before he decided to hang himself from depression. He instead began to depress himself with the attire that was forced upon him by the alliance. It wasn’t that he disliked looking official, he just disliked the lack of comfort that came with looking official. The clothing was always too loose in places you didn’t need it, and too tight in places you did. He sighed deeply to himself “Now I remember why I hated being a cop.”

He stepped away from the mirror and strode his way over to the bed that sat in the middle of the dimly quarters. As he did he admired the stirrups, saddles, and pictures of his him state of Texas that flanked the walls around the bed. They might have told him he can’t wear dusters or cowboy hats, but damn it he was going to bring some decoration for his room. He reached under the bed and retrieved a large metallic box that had been delivered to him just the other day by an Alliance requisitions officer. He set the box atop his bed and pressed the open button onto of its lid. The box made a smooth metallic grinding sound as the lid split into two separate sections that slid to either side of the box, revealing a set of armor and a large 1940s style wooden baton. “Perfect” Jacob grinned as he looked as his delivery. He picked up the chest plate that shinned like a diamond in the dim light of his quarters, across the right side of the chest plate it read “Military Police” and on the left, just above heart level, was an alliance emblem. The armor was split into separate sections, unlike the average set of military armor.

He ran his hand over the smooth grey metal of the chest armor, past the white lettering and the two dark blue lines that ran vertically down its center. He puffed some air, never thought I’d be a flat foot again , he thought to himself. He turned the armor around and looked at the large white lettering that read POLICE [/i] before slipping the armor over his head. After a few moments of fiddling with it’s positioning, he finally pressed the back and front halves together, making a sharp clank as the two linked together through the magnets hidden within its kinetically protected plates. He grabbed the rest of the armor, which consisted of elbow, forearm, shin, knee and fist guards, and strapped them on. Still uncomfortable as hell , he thought as he moved to the mirror to check that everything was in order. Yep, just as he thought, he looked exactly like a cop again, felt just as uncomfortable as one too. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, 20th century, tin Texas Ranger badge and looked at it with a sympathetic stare “At least I don’t have to wear that damn built that you did.” He said to the badge as if it were a person in the room with him.

He looked at the time displayed on the holographic clock next to his bed; it was almost time for his new boss’s group therapy session. He walked back to the box, grabbed the baton then hooked it to his built with the magnet implanted within the oak wood. Call him old fashioned, but he preferred a nice solid object to the fancy electronic batons they used today. He tried to get a stun gun, but the Requisitions officer said that he didn’t have a license for any company that sold them. Oh well he thought as he patted his giant wooden stick this would get the job done . He grabbed his pistol and attached it to his side as he walked towards the door, which he had hung a steer skull above. The doors slid open with a rush of chilled air that shook Jacob to his bones. He walked out into the dimly lit hall; the Marathon was so dark all the damn time. He didn’t like it, made him strain his eyes to see down the hall which just plain out pissed him off. He looked back at his quarters, at least I have my own room he thought as the doors slid shut.

He continued down the hall past countless barracks and quarters, all full of people he didn’t, or just barely, knew. He wasn’t sure if he would care to know them really, all these career alliance types were so prim and proper all the damn time made him a little sick to his stomach. Maybe he should have just turned down the offer and stuck to his own business out in the terminus systems. But the money was good, he smiled as he reached into his left side pocket and took out a small flask decorated with engravings of Asari, it let him afford some great hooch. He unscrewed the top and took a swig, “Yeah, that’s the stuff.” He whispered to himself as he replaced the cap and shoved back into his pocket. He continued down the shiny halls, past uptight marines and other crew members, before stopping at a door before the elevator leading that would take him to the deck where the boss had requested his presence. Oh what was that guys name again? Typo? Titanic? Tidies? Tummy Tickler? He didn’t remember but it was something like that. He knocked on the door

“Jason, you still in there?” he called out to the occupant of the room

“Yeah, what’s it too you?” Jason growled through the door

Jacob glared through the door “Don’t you use that tone with me boy, or I’ll come in there and whoop your ass!” he snarled

“Hmmm” Jason answered unconvincingly

“Get out here and met some of the other kids, I here they are somewhere around here.” He ordered

“I don’t want to meet the other kids, probably just a bunch of dumbasses.” Yep, he was his father’s son alright, that’s what worried him. He needed to get more social; even if he refused to talk to Jacob like a human he needed some interaction.

“Just do it, son or I’ll hogtie you and hang you from the hull!” Jacob snapped, this time there was no reply. That boy is going to be the death of me he thought as he headed for the elevator and started his way to the deck containing the conference room.

Jacob strutted into the conference room, his foot long baton knocking against his left leg guard, resting his right arm on his pistol like some sheriff from a Wild West movie. He was the last one too, that was never good. He must have heard the time wrong. Oh well, he saw that Commander Tummy Tickler, or whatever his name was, sat at the front of the table. The reason he could see him was thanks to the fact that this part of the ship actually had enough light to see your own hand in front of your face. The glass around the room acted like computer screens and lightly reflected the figures at the conference table. What a rag tag bunch they were. Commander, Tummy Tickler was scanning each of them over with his eyes and studying a small data pad, when suddenly he stopped, leaned back and began.

“Well. It will definitely take me some time to memorize each of your names, but no more than a few days, tops. Anyway, let’s move on to the first order of business; which will be the cooperation between the ex-Cerberus personnel that served with me before and now, and the have-been Alliance personnel also serving aboard this ship. I want to make this perfectly clear: we are all in this fight together, through thick and thin. If anyone has a problem working with another individual aboard this ship, they are expected to speak up to their supervisor... with the proper paperwork in hand requesting a transfer to a new assignment. I have a very low tolerance for childish bickering.” Sir, yes sir, Jacob said in a stereotypical marine voice within his own head.

“Now that I’ve made myself clear on that issue; let’s move on to something lighter. Security, for instance.” Captain, Tummy Tickler said. Jacob was already running through a series of questions he might ask in his mind. He wanted to make himself look good, and then he might get some slack around here and get some more Red Giant, Whiskey and Asari made cigars from Thessia when his supply ran short. “Staff Lieutenant Torx,” The boss addressed him by name and rank. Jacob couldn’t lie, being he was basically a gun for higher he couldn’t complain about the high rank they gave him.

“Sir.” Jacob responded, resisting the urge to call him Tummy Tickler

“How strong is your unit?” The captain inquired. Really that was it? Lighter then he had hoped and too uptight for his liking. He wanted men who were strictly disciplined but didn’t feel the need to point out every break of protocol.

“Twenty are ‘round the clock security specialists, Captain.” Tummy Tickler he thought to himself, fighting not to burst out laughing as he continued “They operate on rotating shifts. The rest of the one hundred and twenty-five marines aboard the Marathon are all capable of performing security tasks should we be boarded.” He had ordered that the security specialists paint over the words on their armor that read [b] SECURITY
and replace it with the big bold POLICE instead. In his experience security was somebody you feared would call the cops, but police you feared because you knew they would tack direct action and put foot to ass. Fear commands respect, men may hate us, but we do not ask for their love…only their fear.” He quoted Erwin Rommel from the 20th century. Probably a little harsh considering police are there to protect the people, but only two things command respect in this universe. Politeness and fear, and criminals didn’t respect politeness so obviously the latter was the only option. That was Jacob’s opinion.

“Sounds good.” Titus looked down one seat toward Sentry. “Weapons count, Sentry?” He addressed another man in the room. The guy looked like an asshole to Jacob, but hey if he did his job and stayed out of his way he could care less. Jacob kind of tuned out the weapons count since he already knew it for security purposes, but he did partially take notice when Captain called upon a boy by the name of Connor. The boy shot up straight like he had just seen a group of Asari strippers walk by “Yes, sir?” replied. This kid was new, he could tell. Probably nineteen or twenty, he was going to get on Jacobs nerves with all this nervous high and tight shit. Maybe he was just in a bad mood today; he needed a long drinking session. The kid blabbed his mouth for a bit, and Jacob just thought about the long drink he would have after this damn meeting….

*******

Jason opened the door into the dimly lit hallway; it was a nice change from the usual blinding lights of the Citadel. He stoked a hand through his short blonde hair and moved to the elevator. He pressed the button for a random deck; he had been locked away in his room since he got here, so it was time to take a look around. The door opened and he found himself starring right at a mess hall. Oh yeah baby, jack pot, just what he was looking for. He made his way over to the service section of the hall, ducking and weaving through tables and chairs, and grabbed himself a glass of water and a roll before continuing on his tour. This place was pretty amazing, the dim lights, the soldiers, and it was a lot less crowded then the Citadel where you bumped into some alien every step you took. Arm room was always a luxury for him on the Citadel, at least when he snuck out of the house. His uncle never let him go places, so that was another plus about being on this ship. No C-SEC uncle to tell him where he couldn’t go or what he couldn’t do, his father didn’t give a rat’s ass about him and the Marines just ignored him for the most part so he could do whatever he wanted.

He made his way down halls, and went from deck to deck trying to find something to keep his attention. Finally he found something that got his attention, a young blonde standing in the doorway to a room. He grinned to himself hubba, hubba, I knew this place had to have some kind of fun. he strode his way over like he was some smooth cat and stepped up right behind her.

“Maybe not,” The girl said to some guy inside the room. He looked like he was going to break down and cry or something. Huh, and this chick must have been into him. “But you can still talk to me about it. I’m always willing to listen to you, no matter what or when.” Seriously? Jason thought as the girl took the boys hand.

“Okay.” The boy replied. Seriously? This guy and her?

“Well hello there.” Jason said with a self righteous smirk on his face.

The girl turned around and faced Jason “Oh…hello, I didn’t see you there. Who are you?” she asked, with a slight irritation in her voice. The guy just glared at him from behind her like he had just come over and punched a baby in the face.
“Names Jason Trox.” He replied with a grin “And who are you lovely girl” he asked with arrogance overflowing in his words.

“Lizzie.” She answered “And this is Braden.” Branden huh? He looked like a push over. But, Jason thought that about everybody, who wasn’t him.

“Nice to meet you Lizzie” he said, totally ignoring Braden “Want to go somewhere and talk a little?” he said with so much self pride that it stunk.

Lizzie gave him a dirty look “If you don’t mind we are busy.” She snarled as she walked inside the room with Braden and closed the door in Jason’s face. Fine then, kind of an uppity chick wasn’t she? He grinned, in time he thought. He turned and walked for the elevator, maybe he would go find the pilot. Jason had heard he was some good fun.

*****

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Captain, Tummy Tickler said, standing up from his seat, “this mission is not going to be an easy one. Our goals are many, and diverse. Cerberus is hell-bent on ensuring that I’m dead, and Oracle is buried. The Collectors are going to continue to try and abduct unsuspecting humans from fringe colonies. And, hell, I’m sure the Shadow Broker is planning on making a few plays, himself. But no matter who our enemy is, or what they throw at us, or how long we must travel the stars; nothing can stop us as long as we stick together. Lives are counting on our success, people. Let’s not let them down. Dismissed.” Oh great, he was one of those “inspirational” bosses. He was going to be one of those people who would make an inspirational speech on bowl movements if people could listen to it. He could just see it coming. Just like the Chief at the Police Department he worked at when he was in his early twenties.

He stood up and exited the room as fast as he could; he needed a stiff drink after that long and grueling waste of time. He made his way to the elevator with a purpose behind his steps and slammed on the button to take him to the deck containing his quarters. As soon as the doors closed he took his flask out and began to chug the last bit of Red Giant whiskey he had filled it with. That was the good stuff. Once the doors opened he shoved the flask back into his pocket and walked over to his son’s door and knocked.

“You still in there Jason?” there was no answer. “Jason?” He called again, but still no answer. That meant he either listened or he wasn’t talking to him yet again. Ever since he had gotten him from his brother on the Citadel, the kid hadn’t treated him like his father. Oh well, eventually he would come around, but right now it was drinking time. Jacob strode his way over to his quarters, opened the door and locked it tight behind him. He threw off his gear onto the bed, then made his way to his cabinet and opened the bottom drawer. In it was a safe with a fingerprint code and number code lock. He punched in the numbers 73301 the zip code for his home town of Austin, Texas. He then placed his thumb on the fingerprint scanner and the safe made a loud clank as it unlocked. Inside was a small box of “ Thessia Premium grade cigars those were for a special occasion, so he instead took a larger box marked “ Matriarch Zeena’s finest ” another good Asari made cigar, but nowhere the grade of the Thessia Premium. He took a cigar, then stuck the box back into the safe and locked it. He then made his way over to a small liquor cabinet next to his bed and took out one of his four bottles of Red Giant Whiskey, moving aside a bottle of Serrice Ice, Whiskey yet another special occasion item, and grabbed a glass, then poured himself a shot. He lit up his cigar with a lighter he kept inside a drawer at the top of the liquor cabinet and began his night of drinking. Soon he would be drunk enough to take out that data pad in the drawer with his lighter…and relive those painful memories.

The intercom in his quarters soon sparked to life and a male voice came through "A-N-T-C to Marathon, standby for green light." here we go Jacob thought “A-N-T-C to Marathon, you are green in three.... two.... one. Clear to leave station. ... Good luck, Marathon."

There was a moment of silence before Captain, Tummy Ticklers voice cracked over the intercom "You heard the man! Darcy! Put us on course to the Sol Relay!"

“Aye-Aye Captain” the pilots voice replied back.

Jacob raised his glass in the air “Yippee-ki-yay” he whispered under his breath, as the ship sped off for the SOL relay.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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"What was that about?" Connor demanded when he and Adam moved over to a quiet corner outside the conference room. The look on his face still had a bit of fluster to it, but his eyes betrayed just how upset he had become at Harrison's not-so-subtle flirting.

Adam only shrugged his shoulders and said, "Hey, man, I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself. I didn't mean to do that to you."

Connor shook his head but waited for a few individuals to pass them by before he spoke up again, not wanting their conversation to be overheard by eavesdroppers. "Look, I just don't want us to get caught. The crew may have dismissed your comment as harmless joking between two guys, but another could out us."

By now the two were completely alone, and Adam placed his hands on Connor's shoulders, bringing himself closer to the serviceman. A romantic relationship between an officer and an enlisted was strictly forbidden. Fraternization, the term applied to such unprofessional conduct in the military, can be punishable by dishonorable discharge. But Adam and Connor were both willing to risk that fate in order to be together. Most aboard the Marathon knew that Adam was openly bisexual, but no one knew about Connor being gay. It wasn't exactly something the young man is proud of, coming from a family that still holds on to dying traditional values.

"Relax," Adam intimately whispered before pecking Connor on the forehead. "We're going to be just fine. Besides, I have a feeling that Captain Titus isn't the type of person to bring down the hammer if we're caught. Just be yourself, and keep doing your job, and we'll be okay."

Connor nodded several times, convinced by Adam's assurance, and said, "Okay. Okay, you're right. I'm, ah... I'm gonna go back to my post on the bridge now. Everyone should be getting ready for our send off."






Titus sat down behind the console at his desk in the captain's quarters. In one hand he held a freshly brewed cup of steaming coffee, laced with smooth Irish cream and loaded with several packets of pure cane sugar. His previous quarters, aboard the Vindicator, didn't offer the convenience of a fancy coffee maker built into the bulkhead. The Alliance sure has upgraded, he thought to himself.

With a tap from his free hand's index finger, the console sprang to life before him and a series of small haptic projections materialized above the desk's surface. The blinding white of Oracle's interfaces made him blink several times and he had to take a moment for his eyes to adjust. He had been used to the orange interfaces of Cerberus' operating systems, and the change in the color scheme would take some getting used to. On the screen immediately in front of him, a flashing message icon caught his attention. Titus tapped the icon to bring up a list of important messages. The first message, and one tagged with a high priority indicator, was from Sibyl. Jonathan wasted no time in opening her message.

Titus,

By now, the Marathon will have reached Citadel space and you'll be wanting to go on a shopping spree. Before getting too carried away with your down time, I recommend speaking with Agent Harrison about Operation: Subtle Wind.

In brief, we've had our eye on Thenusi, a barren planet in the Dirada system. A pirate gang we've paid off to act as one of our assets in the Terminus has noted a lot of Cerberus cargo going into that system and vanishing when they approach Thenusi. The funny thing is that they never appear to land on the planet: the vessels just up and vanish before they reach the planet's gravity well. I suspect Cerberus has cooked up some kind of cloak that prevents both visual and scanner detection.

I'm not big on going after Cerberus without more intel, but whatever it is they're doing, it's obviously not related to stopping the Collector advance based on the data you gave us. None of the vessels were Omni-related and there are no human colonies that deep in the Terminus. Find out what their planning, Captain.

As I said: speak with Adam. He was the agent in charge of gathering the intel before I reassigned him to track you down, and can give you a better scope of the mission.

-The Operator

P.S. Enjoy the coffee.


Titus smiled at Sibyl's post script. She always knows.

The captain continued to read through his messages. Some of them were welcome-backs from old comrades he hadn't seen since his N7 years, and others were formal requests from the crew, forwarded by Serena. Engineering would need some kind of new cupplings, services was requesting food of similar quality that they had heard rumor about the Vindicator having, and acquisitions was in need of a license renewal for Serrice Council gear. Luckily, all of that could be found and imported from the Citadel once they docked.

Thinking about that reminded Titus to actually check up on the Marathon's approach. He set down his now-empty coffee mug, threw on the Alliance officer jacket hanging in his locker, and exited his quarters. The walk to the bridge was actually rather lengthy, but he did appreciate not having to step into an elevator anymore just to transition from his quarters to the command environment. As he marched down the corridor, he passed by a few of the unfamiliar Oracle faces that had come along with the Marathon. Unknowing of Titus' more relaxed policies, each of them snapped a sharp salute as he passed by. He returned the gesture without a word, but made a mental note to address that during his first official captain's call on the ship.

Titus walked through the blast doors leading into the bridge and saw Serena standing before an array of haptic projections that were taller than herself. Again, they were as white as white could be, as were all of the interfaces on the bridge.

"Not to sound like a child in the backseat of a skycar," Titus began, "but... are we there, yet?"

Serena looked over at him as he stood next to her, laughed, and said, "Darcy's hailing Citadel docking control right now."

Titus moved forward through the bridge, leaving Serena to continue with whatever it was she had been doing when he had entered. As he came closer to the edge of the bridge's command platform, he passed by several terminals arranged in two columns and four rows. He walked down the aisle between them. These terminals were used for both navigational and alert-level purposes. The terminals on the sides, built against the bulkheads surrounding the outside of the platform, were used for combat purposes. Half controlled sectors of fire for the GUARDIAN laser defenses, and the other half maintained constant communication with the fighters and interceptors.

When the captain reached the edge of the platform, he saw Darcy and his helm team below him, skillfully piloting the Marathon into the open arms of the Citadel. Titus looked out of the large view port dominating the head of the bridge, admiring the galaxy's largest space station, the home of the galactic council and symbol of unity. The Cerberus goal to place humanity above that unity suddenly rang hollow to him as he stood tall in his Alliance colors, hands behind his back and shoulders broad.

"Copy that, Control," Darcy said below in his communique. "Proceeding to docking bay whiskey, zero-seven-niner. Will inform when complete." Darcy glanced back to Titus and gave his captain a thumb-up signal, showing they had clearance to dock. According to the projections on one of the navigator's terminals, the Marathon would be docking at an Alliance-controlled port midway up one of the station's five arms. From there, they could catch skycabs to get anywhere they needed to go on the Citadel.

Titus nodded back to Darcy and turned around to head back towards Serena. On his way toward her he asked, "Where's Agent Harrison?"

"Couldn't say," she replied, continuing to stare at the screens in front of her. "Prophet?"

A cyan-colored silhouette of a human male materialized between the too of them, facing directly toward Titus. With hands behind its back, it said, "Agent Harrison can be found in his quarters on the deck below. Room ten, starboard side."

"Neat," Titus said. "Are you always available? Like the AI on my last ship?"

"Yes. I maintain a constant QE connection to the Marathon - both the cruiser and frigate. While I do not control any of the systems on either vessel, I can integrate myself with onboard sensors and serve as an adviser."

"The EDI units Cerberus is field testing have advanced cyber warfare suites. If we come under attack by such measures, will you be at risk?"

"There is always a chance I may come under attack as long as I maintain a connection to the Marathon. But I have my own cyber warfare suites to protect myself should I be confronted with such attacks. Unfortunately, my defenses do not extend to your ship. The Marathon relies on highly advanced VIs in charge of protecting critical systems. Each VI is assigned a different system to protect and maintain, and their source codes vary from one another. This ensures that one virus won't be enough to cripple multiple systems."

"So you're an adviser, my liaison to Oracle and the Operator, and I can talk to you practically whenever and wherever I want to. What else is there to know about you?"

Without answering Titus' question, Prophet's hologram disappeared, leaving the captain slightly confused.

Serena allowed herself a light laugh and said, "Prophet did the same thing to me earlier. I believe Oracle designed it to safeguard information like that. Instead of telling you you don't have clearance to know something, it just stops talking completely. Far different than EDI."

"I guess so," Titus commented.





The second deck was comprised of the officer quarters and administrative offices, as well as the tech labs, a secondary sick bay, war room, and a secondary QEC room. Titus made his way through the central corridor leading away from the stairs that led directly up to the bridge above. The second deck was where the elevators actually reached to and were just ahead of him at the end of the hall. On either side of the two elevators was another hallway, one leading left, and the other right. Titus made his way toward the starboard side when he reached the elevators, hanging a left - which would be right if facing toward the helm.

Titus continued down the hall until he came up to room ten. The slim haptic screen next to the door read "Harrison". After knocking a quick three times, Jonathan stood patiently in the hallway until the door hissed apart with brilliantly smooth speed, disappearing into the walls on each side. He heard no welcome come from within, but considering Harrison had to have opened the door himself, Titus took the initiative and stepped through the threshold.

Once inside, he glanced around the agent's domain. Like the other private quarters, the interior offered far better lighting than the rest of the ship. On the Vindicator, the office and living areas were kept separate from each other; but on the Marathon, the spaces were blended together. Lights were built into both the bulkheads and the furniture, most of it providing dim ambiance to the atmosphere of the room. A twin-sized bed occupied one of the corners up against a long window, and a desk stood on the opposite side of the room on Jonathan's right.

The hiss of another door turned the captain's attention over to a corner beyond the desk and he saw Harrison appear a second later from the bathroom beyond. The young Oracle agent was mopping up remnants of toothpaste around his mouth with a white rag. His dark hair was still wet from the shower he had obviously taken; and a light, clean aroma began filling the living area.

"Captain," he said, turning slightly to toss the rag back into the bathroom before the door automatically shut.

"Prophet said I might find you here," Titus returned.

Adam moved over and sat down at his desk. He leaned over in front of a small standing mirror positioned in the corner of the surface and fixed the collar of his uniform. As he made the adjustment, he solemnly said, "And you won't find me anywhere else, usually. Most of my time is spend behind this desk scanning through mission reports and analyzing intel. On the off-chance I'm not in my quarters, you can probably find me in the training chamber below or using the secondary QEC on this deck."

"Well then," Titus began as he sat down on a white recliner put off from the desk, "I'm glad you're in your element because I need to ask you about a particular assignment."

Adam relaxed in his desk chair and waited for the captain to continue.

"What can you tell me about Operation: Subtle Wind?"

Adam leaned back further in his chair to kick his boots up on the surface of the desk. With one hand he opened the drawer closest to him and took out a datapad. With the tap of a finger, the dim blue, haptic interface sprang to life within the cradle of the pad and Adam tapped away at a series of commands. Almost instantly, the lighting in the quarters dimmed and a hologram materialized in the center of the room. A scaled, rotating model of a ship that Titus had never seen before floated a few feet above the floor.

"This little lady'," Adam began in reference to the unmarked frigate, "is the Lorivac. She's a pirate vessel. Crew is mostly turian, some batarian, and a few are asari. About a year ago, Oracle began to pay good credits for any tips on Cerberus activity; under the guise of Alliance InOps, of course. We've seen a flood of valuable intel since we started the campaign. The Lorivac's contribution is the latest, and the Operator has taken interest."

"Oracle works with pirates? Isn't that along the lines of negotiating with terrorists?"

Adam smirk and shrugged a shoulder. "Officially? Yes. But Oracle doesn't 'officially' exist. Besides, for each pirate that comes forward with information, the thicker they make our dossiers on their own ship's activity."

"So, intel-wise, it's like taking out two birds with one stone."

The agent nodded. "Exactly. It makes our job a lot easier later on, when we decide to track them down and eliminate another player from the board. But, returning the matter at hand... After travelling to the Dirada system myself, I can confirm that Cerberus has put up a kind of highly advanced cloaking veil to hide whatever it is they're doing. All of my scans revealed the same kind of dark spot above the planet."

Adam tapped another few keys on the datapad and the hologram changed from the Lorivac to an image of Thenusi. The white planet was riddled with meteor craters and since the surface was perfectly clear to the naked eye, there was no atmosphere. The heavenly body looked a lot like Earth's very own moon, but with fewer terrain variations.

"Somewhere, floating above this planet, I suspect lies a Cerberus station. What they're doing, exactly, we haven't a single clue; and that's why we're investigating."

"I have experience with remote Cerberus space stations. Most of them, indeed, are kept hidden; so this doesn't surprise me. I've never heard of a cloak like that, however. Most stealth systems designed for stations and vessels are only designed to fool scans; but one that can fool a real set of eyes? That's new."

"After your team is finished with Citadel errands, you can hit the relays for Dirada whenever you'd like."

Titus stood up from the recliner, and Adam stood with him, quickly turning off the hologram from the datapad and returning the room's lighting to a normal state.

"Will you be going down with the rest of the errand-runners, then?" Titus inquired.

Adam gave the question a moment of thought before replying. "I would like to stretch my legs for a bit."




The air contained within the Citadel's ward was cool and refreshing. Artificial breezes swayed through Jonathan's hair as he walked the moderately busy streets with Adam, Lance, and Braden. So far, the supply requests sent up to him through the chain of command had been taken care of and now the crew was spending the rest of the time they had on shopping for personal items, enjoying a nice meal, or sight-seeing. Serena had seen to it that everyone had been instructed to stay within five blocks of the human embassy branch they had docked at. While each race's home embassy was on the Presidium ring at the end of the station, the wards were so massive that smaller embassy offices were established so their respective races could have shorter commutes in case they were in need of representation or political asylum.

Braden had been wanting to visit a biotics gym called The Cube after seeing a advertisement for it outside a local restaurant. Lance volunteered to keep an eye on him after hearing the word "gym". Since Adam himself was a gifted - not to mention, well-trained - biotic, he decided to tag along to see what the place offered. Jonathan saw the opportunity to learn more about the Oracle agent and his talents, so he joined the group as well. As all four of them walked together, Braden always several axious paces ahead of the group, Titus and Harrison found themselves in pleasant conversation.

Adam's so-called "elite" N7 training had begun almost a year ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Recently, biotics had been classified into two main categories for military purposes; adepts and vanguards. While adepts were skilled manipulators of dark energy, vanguards were aggressive biotic soldiers. Adam was a vanguard, and a very quick one. A combination of unique, classified amps and implants granted the man the ability to amplify his biotic potential without sacrificing much energy. A balance of martial arts training and acute attention to detail added speed and flexibility. With technology and disciplined training combined with swordplay, he had been nicknamed "Slayer" by the program's directors. Similarly, a nickname was given to each of the other specialized "elites".

"Slayer, huh?" Titus mused after hearing Adam's retelling of the training program.

Adam allowed himself a small chuckle. "Yeah, it is kind of cheesy; but as I said, they were all given nicknames."

"Do all of you have katanas?"

"No. Just two of us. The other one is Lieutenant Kyle; an infiltrator."

"What's her nickname?"

"Shadow."

Titus laughed. "How cliche."

"Tell me about it," Adam returned with a grin.

A minute later, their conversation was interrupted with Braden shouting, "Finally!" Adam and Jonathan looked ahead to see Lance and the teenager heading inside a very large building. It appeared to be a warehouse from the looks of it, but the clean exterior and vibrant white and cyan lights indicated otherwise. A large holographic sign above the main entrance read "The Cube", and a scrolling marque beneath read, "Biotics fitness and training - Join our membership program, today!"

Once inside, Titus saw that the place was a widely popular attraction. The area may have been human-dominant, but The Cube had become a place for many biotic-potential species. A lot of asari were roaming around, even multiple drell. While it was clear to him which of the patrons were there to train - based on the fact that they were wearing workout attire, what he didn't understand was the large amount of those who weren't. Many were simply wearing everyday outfits, whether they were work uniforms, tailored suits, or casual clothes that were still too restrictive to go to a gym in.

And then he understood.

The roar of cheers and jeers coming from within a larger room beyond the entrance said it all. The Cube wasn't just a gym, it was an arena. While there were facilities inside where biotics could train in peace or without the pressure of an audience, the main attraction and source of revenue was the central chamber, where willing biotics were pitted against each other in a tournament style fashion.

The four of them made their way into the arena chamber, but before they could get a good look at what was going on, a pudgy volus behind a small podium - miraculously shorter than he was - flagged them down with his claw-like hand.

"Hey, there, ... Earth-clan!" He shouted, taking annoying, interrupting breaths through his breather. "Which one of you are skilled enough ... to take on the Cube Champion? ... It's only five-hundred credits ... to enter."

"Cube Champion?" Lance asked.

"Yes! ... She's the leanest, meanest, most vicious biotic fighter on the Citadel! ... If you can take her down ... the reward is ten thousand credits and a life-time membership."

Titus was going to simply say that they were there to watch, but before he had a chance to open his mouth, Adam stepped forward and handed the volus his credit chit.

"Sounds like fun," he said with a smile. "I'm in."

Titus stared at Harrison for a moment, completely bewildered at the young man's tenacity. "Adam?"

"We've got a few more hours to kill, Captain," he explained. "I figure, why not?"

The volus finished swiping the credit chit over his omni tool and completed the transaction. "Very well, Earth-clan. ... The locker room for contestants is down that way and to the left. ... When your name is called, you may proceed onto the arena floor through that same locker room. ... Good luck!"

Adam took his credit chit back and waved a relaxed, two-finger salute to the gang. "I'll see you guys from the floor! Don't forget to cheer!" Before anyone could say a word, he disappeared down the way that the volus had pointed.

Left both confused and slightly excited, Titus followed Lance and Braden into the arena's bleachers. The rows of seats were stacked back at an incline of ten rows high. Black seats surrounded a white square floor in the center of the room. Titus noticed that the arena floor appeared to consist of several tiles. This was odd, however, considering that most arena floors are completely solid. Scattered about the arena floor were several small disks, left loose and in no particular pattern of arrangement. Titus guessed that these could be used by contestants as biotically-propelled projectiles.

Currently, two contestants occupied the floor. One of them was a well-built human male in a muscle tank top and tight spandex shorts. The other was a slim, and very beautiful, violet-shaded asari. The asari was wearing a black, form-fitting outfit with cut-off sleeves. Light boots allowed her to be quick on her feet and long pants protected her legs. She danced across the arena floor elegantly as she charged up a terrifying biotic bolt and sent it flying from an open palm toward her human opponent.

The man tried to move one of the many disks in the way of the bolt, but he was too slow. His body repulsed backwards into the arena wall when the blast of dark energy slammed into his gut. A loud buzzer sounded overhead and an announcer's quickly versed - obviously salarian - voice blasted over unseen speakers.

"After putting up a valiant effort, the challenger has been knocked out by touching the boundary! A good show! Sadly, however, only three minutes in the ring; not even close to the previous challenger's outstanding seven minute survival! Well, folks: the Champion has won again!"

As the crowd wildly cheered on their champion, Titus overheard Braden complaining. "Beat by a girl?!"

Lance laughed and said, "Remember, kid; the asari are naturally biotic. It's actually no surprise that this place's 'champion' is one of them."

Titus returned his attention to the arena as soon as the next match started. This time the competition seemed a little more even. Both contestants were asari. However, as soon as Titus was beginning to anticipate an interesting fight, the challenger was knocked out from a barrage of flying disks. She didn't stand a chance.

"I sure hope Agent Harrison knows what he just bought himself into."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Elizabeth "Lizzie" Rikers Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Jason Trox

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“Attention crew, the Marathon has docked” a crackly voice boomed and threw Jacob out of an uneasy, alcohol induced slumber. He looked at his ceiling, right into to the lights that were as harsh to his eyes as looking straight at a sun. His head was pounding like a baby Thresher Maw was digging around his brain. His inebriation had worn off, and now the hours of post drinking fun was about to begin. Jacob slowly sat up on the bed, and as he did his data pad fell off his chest and onto the floor. He looked at it blankly for a few moments before what had happened registered in his mind. Jacob rubbed his eyes, then bent over and grabbed the data pad with a slight groan. He flipped it over to reveal the image of beautiful young blonde women, wearing a gorgeous smile along with an amazing white dress. The picture would have brought a feeling of warmth to most, but to Jacob it brought only anger and pain. He quickly threw the pad back into the drawer and slammed it shut, the drink would give him the courage to look at those memories another day.

Jacob slowly stood from the bed, trying hard not to let his wooziness get the better of him and cause him to crash to the floor. “Ahh, Prophet?” Jacob groaned, and prophets blue image appeared on a panel at the far side of the room in response.

“Hello, Staff Lieutenant Trox. Did you enjoy your nap?”

“Enjoyed the hooch before hand more, where in Sam hill did we dock?” Jacob asked as he scratched his head.

“The Marathon has docked with the Citadel, Staff Lieutenant.”

The Citadel huh, good timing he needed to speak to his brother about something. He knew that the alliance was keeping tabs on Cerberus, specifically the Oracle. It was one of the many benefits of having good contacts within criminal organizations and corporations, you always got nice intel. However, he didn’t have as good of contacts as his brother did; he knew some diplomats and big wigs up in the government office. If anyone he knew could get some dirt on Cerberus, it would be his brother and his friends. He would go see him, get some information and some help. He wouldn’t tell the boss quite yet, it was always better to ask for forgiveness rather then permission.

“Thank you Prophet.”

“Yes Staff Lieutenant” Prophet answered emotionlessly as its blue avatar vanished from the panel. With that Jacob removed his clothing and jumped into the shower so that he could attempt to make him look presentable to for the boss. After his shower was complete, he brushed his teeth and hoped that the strong smell of a quarter bottle of Red Giant would die off just enough so that he didn’t smell like a brewery. He got dressed and strapped on his armor; he didn’t like walking around public places without armor protection, especially in an alliance uniform. As he strapped his pistol to his right side, and attached the baton to his left side, at a slant, he threw to painkillers into his mouth and swallowed them down. Hopefully that would keep his headache at bay. He grabbed a pair of darkly tinted sunglasses and marched out of his bedroom door. He never thought he would be so glad to have these dimly lit hallways before. He walked to the elevator and slammed the button, figuring his son wouldn’t answer him or was already gone so what was the point of even knocking on his door?

The elevator opened to reveal two familiar faces, Captain Tummy Tickler and that government spook Harrison.

“Howdy, ‘boss.” Jacob said as he entered the elevator and gave a friendly look to the men, even that damn biotic.

“Hello Jacob, how are you?” Captain Tummy Tickler asked, and it was obvious by the look on his face that he noticed the strong sent of alcohol on his head of security.

“I’m doing jus’ fine sir.” He replied

“You smell like you had a bit of a party when you went back to your quarters, Staff Lieutenant.” The stinking biotic butted in.

“What’s it too you spook?” Jacob growled

“Staff Lieutenant. Is there a problem, any at all?” the Captain intervened

You damn military types Jacob thought as he turned his gaze to the Captain thinking you can push me around like you own me. [i] You better lift your weight…’boss. “None sir.” He then glared at Harrison and you…you fucking mutant, you just stay away from me “None at all.” He whispered.

******

Jason took the initiative and decided to try his luck with that Lizzie girl again. He found her on the lower decks just leaving her room.

“Hey, Lizzie!” Jason called out to her

“Oh…you again.” She huffed back

“Ah, don’t be like that.” He said with a cocky grin.

“I’ll be however I want, thank you.” She replied with aggravation

“Look.” Jason said “Maybe I made the wrong impression, but I ain’t that bad one you get to know me.”

“Some how I doubt that.” Lizzie repented

“Come on, you just need to hang with me, then you will see.” Jason urged with that same cockyness he seemed to always have floating around him

“See what? That you’re more then just ignorant and oblivious?” Lizzie asked sarcastically and crossed her arms

“Especially that I’m more then oblivious and Ignorant, I’m also arrogant and misunderstood.” He joked, taking the chance to look Lizzie over as she rolled her eyes.

“You just do not give up do you?”

“Come on, I used to live on the Citadel I know all the good places to have fun.”

“I don’t thin me and you are into the same kind of fun.” She replied

“Oh and why is that?” Jason inquired

“Because, I doubt you take the word of God very seriously.” She was right, but what did he care?

“Sure I do, but nowhere in the bible does it say you can’t have a little fun once in a while” at least he was pretty sure it didn’t “plus it will give us a chance to get to know each other. I mean we are going to be living here on the same ship for a long time, so it is probably a good idea wouldn’t you agree?”

She looked at him with her lips screwed up for a moment “I guess you’re right. But don’t think this means you can try anything on me.”

Jason raised his hands in a mock surrender “Would never dream of it.” yet

“Good. And if I don’t want to go somewhere, I’m not going to go understood?”

“Crystal, ma’am.” Ma’am? Well he still was his father’s son.

“Then let’s go.”

********

The harsh artificial sunlight of the Citadel damn near knocked Jacob’s lights out. Hangover and huge artificial lights were not a good mix. He had left Harrison and Captain Tummy Tickler at the ships dock port and was making his way through the crowds of aliens towards the C-SEC headquarters on the Kitohi Ward. His brother was the lead director of the C-SEC Special Response School that was located in the Kithoi Ward headquarters. Last Jacob heard, his brother was up for some kind of promotion but he wasn’t sure what exactly it was, or if he even got it.

Jacob didn’t like being in large crowds like this, especially in a place like Kithoi Ward, which tended to be filled with the most degenerate and disgusting of all life in Citadel space. That’s why the Special Response unit was based out of this Ward; it was the one that needed them most. The streets were littered with drugged out civilians, and it smelled like all the residence had taken their trash outside and started burning it. It confused Jacob how such a place could look so clean and orderly, yet be so disgusting at the same time. As he walked Jacob passed a small bar a turian came stumbling out in a drunken stupor and slammed right into Jacob like he wasn’t even there.

“Hey you ugly ass human, watch where your going!” the turian spat into Jacobs face.

“You just picked the wrong ‘ugly ass human’ to fuck with, on the wrong day. So just turn your ass around and walk away.” Jacob growled. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with drunken aliens, not with a hangover like this.

“The hell did you just say to me?” the turian snapped as he grabbed the handle of a blade he had at his side. Oh great, he just got here and he was going to have to kill an alien. How was he going to explain this?

“Look, just walk away before you get a new hole to breath through ‘partner” Jacob urged as he put a hand on his pistol. Just then, a group of three more turians emerged from the crowd in defense of their fellow alien.

“There a problem here...primate?” one of the new turian asked, cracking his knuckles as he moved to the illumination of a street lamp which revealed the white skull shaped face paint he wore.

“There is about to be.” Jacob answered calmly as he started calculations in his head. Four targets, two yards away with about a foot and a half spread between them. They would be easy targets for a quick shot.

“Oh really. I think I like the sound of that.” One of the sober aliens hissed as he reached behind his back, probably for a weapon “I don’t like Police, especially human ones.” He continued as he read the words on Jacobs vest.

“What the hell is going on here Sar.” A human, male, voice bellowed from behind Jacob. By this time the crowd around the situation had started to clear out of the area, leaving the street basically deserted except for the Jacob, his opponents and this new figure. The folks around these parts knew when to stay clear of something, because the last thing they wanted was to be there when C-SEC starting asking questions.

“Another human? Don’t you idiots know that your kind isn’t welcome on these streets?” Jacob looked to his right, just for a split second so he could see who owned this new voice. It was a tall, Indian man who bore a C-SEC uniform, and Jacob recognized him immediately.

“Sar,” the Indian spoke to the turian, with the skull face paint, in a thick Indian accent “You and your men have already been arrested for assault on humans two times, if there is a third you’ll be going away a long time.”

The turian grinned, “What if we make sure there aren’t any witnesses this time?” he started to laugh as his arm came out just half of the way from behind his body.

The Indian C-SEC officer looked to Jacobs gun arm “You still got those reflexes of yours Jacob?” Jacob smiled, that was a queue if he had ever gotten one. “Just no messes please.” The Indian finished and then without so much as a slight flinch to give away his actions, Jacob, grabbed the handle of his pistol, brought it up so it was at his hip and facing the turians, then fired four rounds with lightning speed. Each metal slug hitting within inches of his intended target, he had a hangover what could you expect? The drunkard got one to leg, while the other three took rounds right to their shoulders. The skull faced one took the round in the arm that was behind his back, and he dropped the grenade he had pulled out, and was planning to use to blow Jacob and the officer to hell.

“Ah! Son of a bitch!” The skull faced turian screamed as he grabbed his shoulder.

“Ha.” Jacob laughed “I still got e’m.” The turians held their limbs in pain, not even bothering to retaliate.

“You! I’ll kill you!” the turian screamed at Jacob as he continued to hold his shoulder.

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea. He is an angry man, and if you make him any angrier…I think I was to busy eating a donut in my squad car to see the murder who killed four turians outside the Lowrides bar. So I suggest you pick up this drunk and get out of here…now” The C-SEC officer replied coldly. That’s what Jacob liked about this ward; the C-SEC officers knew how to deal with the local populace. It wasn’t like the other wards that were ‘high grade’. Here, everyone was a criminal and they had to be dealt with harshly.

The skull faced turian was just about to stay something when he supposed pack of loyal followers rushed over to the downed drunk and started pulling him off into a nearby alley. The skull faced turian looked genuinely shocked that the others were betraying him. “Stop! Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he tried to get his men to stop, but they paid him no mind. So, instead, the turian looked at the Indian and Jacob with a stare of pure disgust “This isn’t over.” He growled as he ran off into the alley after his men. Jacob holstered his weapon and turned towards the C-SEC officer.

“Umar! You son of a bitch how are ‘ya” Jacob exclaimed with cheer as he tuck his hand out to the C-SEC officer

“You are a crazy man.” Umar said as he shook Jacob’s hand “You should know better then to walk around these lower streets. You know the aliens don’t take kindly to us humans here.”

“I never got hired for my smarts.” Jacob replied. Umar was a good friend, and had been ever since Jacob met him during one of his bounties here on the Citadel a few years back. He knew Jacob’s brother as well.

“No kidding, my friend.” Umar chuckled “Here, come get in my patrol unit, we shouldn’t stick around too long.” The two ran their way over to Umar’s skycar patrol vehicle and hopped in. As soon as the car was off the ground and soaring through the skylanes, Umar began again “What brings you back here my friend? You finally decide to take up a job here?”

Jacob laughed as he rubbed his temples with index fingers, trying to calm his headache “Hell no. I told ‘ya the flatfoot life isn’t for me ‘partner” He thought about being a C-SEC officer and using his brother’s status to get him assigned to Kitohi Ward. However, even though the rules were able to be bent to extremes here, the rules and regulations still got in the way too many times. Jacob couldn’t go back to that life. Not now, at least while he was with Oracle. He was making good money, and helping defeat a great threat that nobody would complain to him if he broke moral ethics to do it.

Umar looked at him crookedly “You okay, my friend?”

“Yeah, just got a hell of a hangover.” Jacob replied

Umar shook his head “You have to stop drinking so much, my friend.”

“Makes me feel warm inside.” Jacob half joked

“You should try following the path of Hinduism my friend; it may help you find peace.”

Jacob looked at him with sympathetic eyes “I lost all faith a long time ago Umar, if you’re smart you will too.”

“Perhaps I do not wish to trade happiness for logic my friend.” Umar replied “Now, I suppose you are here to see your brother, yes?”

“That’d be right.” All the sudden the sky car took a nose dive, and then came to a complete stop outside the C-SEC headquarters building.

“Then get out.” Umar said with a joking tone. The man was good company, but he didn’t like to be held up when he was on duty.

“Thanks Umar.” Jacob said as he extended his hand and shook Umar’s “I’ll get in touch with you again soon.”

“I hope you do, my friend.” Umar said as Jacob opened the door of the skycar, and then slammed it shut when he was outside. Umar took off, probably to continue the rest of his shift, leaving Jacob outside the HQ alone. The C-SEC headquarters on Kitohi ward was its own independent building. Its metallic frame shone a magnificent starlight tint of white from the finish that covered the building. A massive C-SEC emblem was implanted right above the doorway and was illuminated from behind by a dark blue light, and a marvelous fountain circulated water between two massive stairways that led to the front doors. As Jacob made his way up the stairs he saw his reflection in the crystal clear water that rushed down a series of waves and small ramps before being sucked into drains at the bottom and then circulated to the top to restart the process. It was a beautiful building.

As Jacob approached the front doors, they slid open and led him into a small twenty foot by twenty foot room that contained six doors leading into the department, but each was locked. As the door to the outside closed behind him a female voice crackled over an intercom “Hello, welcome to the Kitohi Ward C-SEC Headquarters, how may I help you today?”

“I’m here to see Special Response Director Trox.” Jacob answered

“Okay, what is your business with Deputy Executor Trox?” Deputy Executor? So he did get promoted

“I’m his brother, Jacob Trox.”

“Okay, please wait there for me.” The female voice said so sweetly it was sickening then disappeared. Jacob waited a good five minuets before the voice returned “Your brother will be waiting for you in his office, please reference the map in the lobby to find it.”

“Thank you.” Jacob said as one of the doors unlocked. He walked through the door and found himself in a massive lobby. There were multiple black luxury couches spread around the room, and in the center was a thirty foot statue of four C-SEC officers, an asari, turian, salarian and a human. Engraved on the statue’s base were the words “A proud family, dedicated to protecting the citizens of the Citadel” The walls and floor tiles were white as pearls, and the lights were so harsh that Jacobs sunglasses barely helped to keep his hangover headache at bay. He tried his best to ignore the pain as he went over to a holomap located next to the doors. He activated it with a hand stroke and found his brothers office on the map. It was on the fifth floor, right below the roof level of the building. Jacob took the elevator to the fifth floor, and then walked down to his brother’s office at the end of a long, mind numbingly white hall. Why the Citadel government buildings insisted on being so damn bright and clean, he’d never know.

He walked right through the door, in too much pain to care about knocking, and found a man in a tidy C-SEC dress uniform; he had jet black hair and a clean shaven face. His cheeks caved in a little, and his nose was pointed, helping give notice to his dark eyes. Lucky bastard took after their mother; he didn’t have to deal with the early graying.

“Holy horse shit, Jacob! Your looking about as friendly as a Texas smile.” Jacob’s brother exclaimed as he stood from his seat and came around his desk to embrace his brother. After that, it became clear that his brother had gotten a little soggy around the mid section.

“Jack!” Jacob said with cheer as he returned his brother’s embrace. Once they parted, Jacob patted his brother’s stomach “What the hell happened to you? It looks like if I told you to haul ass it would take you two trips.”

“Oh ha, ha at least I don’t look old enough to have seen the baby Jesus born.” Jack repented. Jacob didn’t respond, he just threw his brother the bird and walked around him “So, Jason didn’t come with ‘ya I see.”

“Of course not, that boy is gonna drive me plumb crazy.” Jacob replied, he always got more country around his brother who liked to use the old country talk whenever he could.

“He still isn’t whipped into shape?” Jack asked

“Nope.”

“Just beat his ass like a red headed step child.” Jack suggested as Jacob examined the name plate on his brother’s desk that read “ Deputy Executor Trox

“Trust me, I’ve thought about it multiple times. So you got promoted?”

“Yep, I’m now one of the four Deputy Executors that control the four wards outside of the presidium, where the Executor has control.”

“So what, you just work with the Kitohi Ward?” Jacob asked with genuine curiosity

“It isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’m as a busy as a cat trying to hide shit on a marble floor.” Jack answered “But come now, Jacob there has to be a reason you came here looking for me. And what’s the deal with the Alliance uniform? Thought you were done with the formal things.”

“I was, until they offered me a shit load of money. That’s why I came and got Jason back from you a few months back. I’m posted on an alliance vessel, big secret mission stuff.” Jacob answered

“And this has something to do with me don’t it?” Jack said with a crooked smile

“Yes. I need your help. We are looking for a certain group of racist humans.”

“Are you now? Which one?” Jack asked

“Think Greek ‘partner” Jacob replied with cold eyes

“That’s one dangerous group you’re screwing with there Jacob.” His brother said with a sudden stroke of seriousness “What do you think I can do for you?”

Jacob got real quiet “I need you to call in some favors, some of my contacts in the pirate and mercenary communities have told me that the group that I’m currently employed with is tracking their movements all over the Terminus. I need to know what some of the higher ups know.”

“Who exactly?”

“Special Tactics and Reconnaissance level, high clearance stuff.”

“That’s a hell of an order.” Jack replied.

“Can you get it done Jack?”

Jack thought for a second, looking at his brother with a thoughtful glare, then sighed “Maybe, but I can’t promise anything. However, a little bird told me about a threat on the Citadel.”

“Cerberus?”

“One and only. Word is they have spies all around this place, some close enough to be a direct threat to the council. It’s so bad that a Specter paid me a visit the other day. A salarian called Tumak.”

“And?” Jacob said as he sat on the edge of his brother’s desk

“He thinks they may have gotten in as far as C-SEC. I’m supposed to start extensive background checks of all human officers and detectives. He also gave me orders to hit any possible terrorist safe houses as soon as solid leads come in.”

“Wouldn’t that cause a lot of attention?” Jacob asked, puzzled

“Said that he would issue me warrants on the premise that the safe houses are drug dens, a press release was already sent out to the media that says a major Red Sand problem is springing up, so when I do get leads they can be played off.”

“Then it’s worse then I thought. Can you get me more info?”

“Like I said, I’ll try. But, you know what you’re asking for is as big as hell and half of Texas.”

“I know, but I need that-

Just then the door to the office slid open and tall, red headed woman strutted in, wearing a blue dress. Her eyes were a brilliant green that reflected shear intelligence “Oh, I’m sorry am I interrupting Jack?”

“No! Of course not! Come her honey. Jacob, this is my girlfriend Margret, the most beautiful woman on the Citadel.” He said as he kissed her on the cheek.

“Oh you stop it!” she giggled playfully

Jacob got up and reached his hand out and shook Janet’s hand “Nice to meet you ma’am.” Jacob said with his sweetest Texan voice “My brother sure did find himself a looker.”

“Oh no, now I have to tell two of you I’m not all that great.” She said with a playful role of her eyes. Jack wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and kissed her neck

“Don’t be so modest.” He whispered

“Oh knock it off, your brother is here!” than, she did something that ruined the moment for Jacob. She used a small biotic push to playfully hit Jack, he smiled at first but then he remembered his brother.

Jacob didn’t say a word; he just stood up, walked around the two lovers, and out the door. “Jacob! Stay here Margret.” Jack let go of his girlfriend and ran after his brother “Jacob stop!”

“I’m leaving; please just get me my information.” He said as he stopped, still facing away from his brother.

“Jacob, you can’t keep doing this. I love her, so you’re going to have to learn to live with her.”

“She’s your problem, not mine.” Jacob said coldly

“You can’t blame all biotics for what happened-

Jacob interrupted with hissed words “Watch me.” Then he continued down the hall “Goodbye Jack, I’ll be in touch.” Jack watched as his brother get in the elevator and left, not looking back at him once as he did….


******

“See this place isn’t so bad.” Jason said as he sat with Lizzie on the side of a balcony overlooking the presidium reservoir. It was one of the nicer places he knew on the Citadel, he figured it would be a good place to start. He took a bite out of the Comet Ice crème bar that he had bought from a kiosk near the docking bays. He had paid for the cab ride here, then bought both him and Lizzie an Ice crème with hopes that it would make up for him pissing her off the other day.

“Yeah, it’s nice. I like the breeze, even though it’s fake.” Lizzie said

Jason laughed “Yeah, I kind of miss feeling that breeze everyday.”

“You used to live here?” Lizzie asked

“Yeah, my uncle works for C-SEC. I lived with him for all of my teenage years until recently”

Lizzie looked at him with puzzlement “But you’re with your dad now aren’t you?”

“Yeah, he just got me back a few months ago, when he got hired to be aboard the Marathon.”

Lizzie looked as if she was trying to tread softly, so not to upset Jason “Why did you not live with him?”

Jason stopped for a second, and just starred out over the waters “A long time ago…something bad happened in my family. My dad…he stopped being himself and then one day he just put me on a shuttle and sent me here. I hated it…so crowded, and my uncle never let me do anything.” He stopped for a second to remember back to how much he had hated the Citadel back then “But now that I’m back, I remember some things I miss.”

Lizzie looked at him with thoughtful eyes “I’m so sorry Jason.”

Jason shook his head “No, don’t be.” He said then slowly tried to put an arm around Lizzie. However, she shrugged his arm off and moved away

“What did I tell you? No funny business okay?!” She growled with irritation

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.” Damn it he thought this girl is going to be harder then I thought

“It’s okay…this time.” She warned. For the next few minutes the two sat in silence as the cool breeze brushed based them gently.

“Hey, I have somewhere more fun to show you.” Jason said

“Where?”

“Just trust me, come one.” Jason urged as he stood up. Lizzie looked at him with uncertain eyes “I know how to have fun here.” He said with that grin of arrogance.

“Okay…we will see.” Lizzie said as she stood up and they walked back towards the cab station…

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Braden Reynolds Character Portrait: Lance Williams Character Portrait: Adam Harrison Character Portrait: Connor DeMarco

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Connor returned to his post after ensuring that the shipment of supplies ordered by Commander Taylor had made it to where they were supposed to go. Engineering would definitely be thankful for the new couplings they needed for goodness knows what, and he was looking forward to some of the food items that he noticed going down to the kitchens. But despite everything running smoothly, the young communications specialist was walking mess of emotions.

All of my life, he thought, I’ve been living a half-truth.

He knew something was definitely wrong with him when he approached his terminal on the bridge and could hardly remember why the code script to a GUI he had been writing was open on the main screen. Why can’t I remember working on something as simple as this? Connor ran both hands through his thick of brush of hair and closed his eyes, trying to repress all other thoughts and simply focus on his job.

There was a ping from the terminal speakers and Connor glanced down in the corner of the main screen to see a flashing message icon, indicating a new e-mail. He tapped the icon to pull up the incoming message and saw that it was from his mother.

Hey hun. Just checking in on you. Your father and I haven’t heard anything in a while and we’re getting kinda worried. Please just let us know that everything’s okay. Love you!

It stung; not being able to bring himself to write a reply. Instead, Connor deleted the e-mail and went back to working on the code script. But his heart was slowly breaking. His family didn’t know about him; the real him. And so, he thought that as long as he continued to ignore them, they would eventually stop acknowledging they even had a son. Wouldn’t that be easier? If the problem would just eventually fade away?

Another ping pulled his attention back to the inbox still up on his terminal. At first, he thought it was his mother being stubborn enough to send yet another message, but he was slightly relieved to see that it was a message from different source. Only when he saw who sent it, did he fall back into a depressed mood.




Yeoman Brown’s office was warm; a pleasant surprise when compared to the rest of the ship’s chilling temperature. But, regardless of the climate, Connor felt extremely uncomfortable being in the room. He would much rather be occupying himself with rewriting an operating system than sitting on a shrink’s recliner. In truth, he was only in here because he was ordered to be; as was the everyone else on the ship. By orders of the Captain himself, all personnel were required to speak with Major Lisa Brown at some point after departure from Lookout Station. Appointments had been pre-scheduled, of course, so Ms. Brown needn’t see everyone at once. Connor’s appointment landed on today; and he was none too thrilled after receiving the notification from her via his inbox.

The woman sat across from him in a low chair, legs crossed, and a data pad in graceful hands. As she skimmed through what had to be his entire life in a convenient little dossier, Connor fidgeted with his thumbs, resorting to picking at the fine white cloth of his recliner. Eventually, Brown lowered the data pad to just above her knee and looked the young serviceman right in the eye.

“So, Connor,” she began, “if I may use your first name; how are you liking it aboard the Marathon so far?”

It appeared this wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, as the yeoman had decided to open with such a generic question, and one that he had been asked a dozen times already since the start of the mission. “Fine,” he replied, trying his best to not roll his eyes.

“And you’re comfortable bunking in the barracks with other crew members?”

“I am.”

“In a room full of ego-maniacal men?”

Where is she going with this? he wondered. The question before seemed just as normal as the opening, but that last one sent up a red flag. Does she know? “I’m... sorry?”

Brown smiled and then glanced at her data pad, quickly saying, “Let’s move on.” Her finger tapped the screen of her tap several times and she lightly bit her bottom lip, indicating she had found something of interest to switch the topic to. “According to your demographics profile, you were raised on the eastern U.S. coast; and you’re family is from Aviano. But I’m curious, though... your psych profile, from June, contains notes from Dr. Hiemer, your psychologist from technical training, that the American side of your family is from the southern region of the U.S.”

Connor raised an eyebrow. “That’s correct, ma’am.”

“So, from which side of your family do get the feeling that your orientation makes you less than human?”

The question felt like a rock just hit him square in the face. It was unexpected, to say the least. “Excuse me, ma’am?” Connor finally stammered out after catching his breath.

“Connor,” Lisa calmingly said, “Dr. Hiemer had the same hunch I did when he first saw you; and, according to his notes, after he listened to you carry on a conversation both with him and others, he was pretty confident that you’re gay. And so am I. Not only that, but your family seems to have a few members with mixed orientations; so, genetically speaking, it would make sense.”

DeMarco took a moment to collect himself and his thoughts before replying. “I, uhm... I’m not sure what to say that, ma’am. I mean, I suppose... Yes. I am gay; but I don’t see why you’re asking about that.”

“I’m not,” Lisa said simply. “My question was, which side of your-”

“I know what the question was, ma’am,” Conner interrupted, only to take a deep breath and realize he was wrong to interrupt a ranking officer. But Lisa didn’t seem to mind. It was part of her job, after all; to tap into the emotional spring of her patients. “The southern half of my family,” Conner finally admitted. “They’re the ones that have an issue with me being... gay. Or, they would, if they knew.”

“You haven’t told them,” Lisa simplified. “Because you’re afraid of what they might say?”

Connor took a moment to think about the answer to that, picking again at the fabric of the recliner. As his fingers plucked, thoughts and memories swarmed his mind. Eventually, he asked, “When you were younger, did you ever want something so badly that you took it without informing or asking, because you were so afraid of hearing your parents say ‘no’?”

Lisa nodded her head with a genuine smile. “Plenty of times,” she replied.

“I don’t want to be someone that I’m not, ma’am. So I try to be myself. But the word ‘no’ is always in the back of mind. I can’t seem to get away from it. The only way I know how to ignore it, is by giving into it and hiding my orientation.”

“Are you, perhaps, conflicted on whether or not ‘no’ is right? Because science says something else.”

“I understand that, ma’am. And I know that there is nothing wrong with who I am; but, for some reason, and one that I cannot explain... I want to believe that there is. For my family’s sake? I don’t know.”

Lisa looked at her pad again, but only for a quick second. “Your family is religious, correct?” At Connor’s nod, she continued. “What about you? Is there, perhaps, a spiritual element involved in your inner struggle?”

“Well, I used to be religious, ma’am. But I stopped practicing when I recognized my orientation. I still believe in a higher power, sure. But I don’t invest in doctrine or dogma anymore. That’s something my family doesn’t understand, either. They’ve seen me become progressively more liberal, and they don’t know it’s because I’m not one of ‘them’.”

“But you said that part of you wants this old doctrine to be correct. That something is wrong with you being who you are.”

“Is it wrong to want life to be as simple as black and white?”

LIsa smiled again and replied, “So, if given the chance, you would trade unbounded possibility for limited familiarity?”

Profound. Connor had to give Yeoman Brown some credit; she knew how to do her job well, or he at least hoped this was her doing a good job. This was someone other than Adam that he could talk to about all of this, and someone that would not only understand, but offer advice with the backing of a respectable academic pedigree. Cerberus knew how to pick ‘em.

“Connor,” she said, “I want you to keep being who you are. You don’t have to come out just yet, if you don’t want to. But I do want you to keep seeing Adam - and yes, I know about him, too; something like that is far too obvious to keep secret around here - and keep talking to him as well as me. He can listen, as any good lover should; and so can I when he’s not available. When you leave my office here in a moment, I want you, finally, to remember this above all else: there are times when we must disappoint the ones that tell us ‘no’; to free ourselves of the burden of being someone whom we are not meant to be.”

DeMarco left the yeoman’s office feeling strangely lighter on his feet, and also slightly smiling at the corners. He had entered Miss Brown’s office expecting a boring, dragged-out session of psychoanalyzing to the point of exhaustion; but though there was definitely a fair amount of psychoanalyzing, the appointment didn’t take very long at all, nor was it boring.

Unbounded possibility, he thought. I like that.




“Didn’t see me coming, did you, Oracle?”

It didn’t take Adam long to process the fact that the new comer, decked out in full battle rattle, who had leaped down in front of him seconds ago wasn’t apart of the official fight.

“No,” the N7 replied. “And I take it you don’t have a gym membership.”

There was a loud kathud as the mechanics beneath the arena floor activated and lowered the obstacles back into their starting positions, completely smoothing everything out. As soon as the audience could clearly see from all angles, Adam could hear the echoing gasps and see the surprised, and also excited, expressions. The voice of the salarian commentator started spouting out over the intercom again.

“Holy ancestors of the Dalatrass, folks! Just as our bio readings suggested, the champion is out of the fight and someone new has entered the ring! As medical teams retrieve our beloved champion from the floor, let’s watch what this new warrior has brought to the Cube!”

Great, Adam thought. The show must go on.

Twenty feet now separated Adam and the mysterious challenger. Without his own gear, this would be tough fight, but he didn’t exactly need it. He had trained under plenty of extreme conditions at the Villa before ever receiving the implants and amps he has now. After fighting with the asari, he knew that the arena floor had twenty-five disks scattered across the surface, each one no farther than ten or fifteen feet from another. He could throw his body into a biotic charge, and release the barrier he had put up in his fight with the champion. The charge would at least stumble her if she managed to withstand it, giving him the opportunity to unleash the nova (the name given to the shock wave technique that was produce by rapidly disbanding one’s biotic barrier), which would infuse her shields with a charge of dark energy. After that, he would need to send a small bolt of energy from his hand to detonate an explosion and send the challenger flying.

Better now or never, he thought, as he took in a deep breath and brought his hands back. A field of dark energy emerged around him and he felt a sudden surge of adrenaline. Tunnel vision instantly set in, blacking out everything but his target. With butterflies in his stomach, Adam felt his body drastically lunge before all feeling went numb. In the blink of an eye, he was already right in the challenger’s face, but as soon as he was sure he had her, vision completely blacked out. When he could see again, his entire body cried out in pain and he realized he was laying on his back. Without hesitating, Adam pushed the pain to the back of his mind and forced himself to recover.

“Unbelievable, ladies and gentlemen!” The commentator’s voice was slightly muffled by the ringing in Adam’s ears, but it came through, nonetheless. “The newcomer just used her own biotics to detonate the field around Harrison! This fight just keeps more exciting by the second! What will our contender try next to gain the upper hand?”

Adam smirked at the question. Time for a game changer, he mused. There are a few things his amps and implants don’t need his specialized armor to pull off. With upward motions from both hands, Harrison raised two of the fighting disks from nearby on the arena floor. After jerking his arms toward each other, the disks went flying toward either side of his opponent. It was an easy attack to dodge, and, as expected, the challenger simply leaped backward.

But while she was distracted by the disks and still slightly focused on where Adam was standing, the N7 leaped forward as she leaped backward, twisting his body around to face back toward the stands... and vanished in a sudden puff of black and violet, smoking dark energy.

Before his challenger realized what had happened, Adam’s left arm reached around from behind and tightened against her neck. His right hand reach up from behind and braced the top of her helmet, bringing it back so the crook of his left arm was free to ensnare the woman’s trachea. With his opponent in a successful figure four rear naked choke, Adam hissed, “Who the hell are you?!”




Titus was on his feet, rapidly spouting commands into the communicator of his lit up Omni-tool. “I want Trox and a team down here, ASAP!”

“Aye-Aye, Captain!” Connor’s voice responded over the net.

“Lance,” Titus barked, turning to the man, “I need you to... Lance?” His friend was leaning forward on the bleacher and eyes were intently staring at the battle. Titus wasn’t sure if the guy simply didn’t realize what was going on, or if he spotted something that the Captain had not.

After a short moment, Lance stood up and with a confident grin, said, “I know that ass.”

“....-the fuck?”




“Ask your precious Captain,” the woman’s venomous voice was distorted by the visor, but Adam doubted he would recognize it anyway. To no surprise, she put up a struggle, bring her head back, pushing against his right palm, and then grabbing his left elbow to push up and away, simultaneous grasping onto the wrist of his right hand. Once nearly out of the choke hold, Vala released his left elbow and used the now free arm to send her own elbow into the left side of the marine’s abdominals. Harrison buckled slightly from the pain, giving his opponent more room to wiggle out of his grasp and turn around to place his right arm into a very painful arm bar. She then delivered a series of breathtaking kicks to his abs, primarily focused on his already injured side.

Using one of the delays in between the kicks, Adam put as much as he could muster into an outburst of dark energy from his body; unleashing a mighty sphere that forced the stranger to release her vice grip on his arm and send her flying several yards across the arena floor. But in his peripherals, she had no problem sticking a graceful landing.

This bitch is a like some kind of damn cat, he thought. Quick. Graceful. Highly disciplined. But who does she work for?

It didn’t take him long to figure it out. Although there were no discernible logos or emblems on the woman’s strange armor, which seemed to come from some skunk works program, what she had said about asking his precious Captain finally clicked. Titus is ex-Cerberus. And Oracle had been expecting the Illusive Man to send someone out to clean up the mess. Adam’s opponent was no doubt a Cerberus agent out to perform just that. But then there was one other question: why is she fighting him? Titus was sitting just behind him in the stands. Either she had a heart and didn’t want to put innocent lives in danger, or she was only here to make a point. Or both. Whichever the case, he would have to figure things out later.

“Time to end this,” he grunted. Adam put himself into a defensive posture, but fired up his biotics once again. This time, he intended to use all of the arena’s disks. Within seconds, each one on the floor possessed a faint violet tint of dark energy rippling across their surfaces. As he carefully raised them all simultaneously in the air, he focused in on his target, and began unleashing two at a time. As expected, the woman dodged them gracefully, ducking and weaving as they came in close, ensuring that he would be unable to turn them around in time to retarget her. But once again, they were only for distraction and showmanship. With ten left floating, he sent them all at once to her, following it up by leaping through the air and twisting his body up and around in an aerial flip, landing on one foot and unleashing a powerful shockwave from the punch of a fist. The shockwave attack wasn’t quite as strong as his signature slash attack, primarily because he didn’t have a specially crafted katana equipped with a biotic amplifier; but he wouldn’t need it.

When he thought he finally had her, the woman pulled off a trick of her own. Every one of the ten disks suddenly exploded when they reached a level that put them parallel to each other; and with them out of the way, she successfully dodged the would-be-fatal shockwave. Adam stared wide-eyed at the woman, who now stood with cocked back shoulders, and a proud head held high, as long lashes of light-blue energy extended from her wrists. The tell-tale signs of biotic energy made it obvious that these whip-like tentacles weren’t technological accessories, but pure dark energy morphed and molded into a form that could grapple, and tear through, matter.

The woman wound back and lashed forward with one of the whips. Its range and speed was absolutely incredible, and Adam barely had time to roll out of the way. When he recovered to his feet, he looked up only to see another one flying toward him. But then the remarkable happened...




“You’re sure?” Titus demanded after Lance made the claim that the stranger was Vala Buchan.

Braden, having overheard everything and watching the fight unfold in front of his very eyes, was left confused and wondering. He fully understood that Cerberus would be after them; and they would probably never give up on chasing Captain Titus and his allies; but why did they have to send Vala? Was it a personal vendetta? A score to settle?

No, he thought, this isn’t right. We were all friends once... Weren’t we?

Memories from the Vindicator flashed through his mind in the form images and broken words. He remembered having a childish crush on the woman, along with Lance. He remembered how Vala had saved his life on Illium. And he remembered how strong, resilient, and courageous she had been. She was a role model to him. And now what was she? An enemy?

Without hesitation, Braden stood up from his seat and ran forward, leaping down across the bleachers. He heard Titus and Lance yell after him, but he wouldn’t let them stop him. With long strides and leaps downward, he hastened toward the arena floor; the familiar tingle of biotic energy sparking up and down his spine. When he reached the protective barrier that prevented stray biotics and disks from flying into the audience, he leaped off a guard rail and unleashed a powerful shockwave from his own body as he flew through the air. At such a close proximity, the barrier shattered into pieces, and large chucks of the reinforced glass fell into the arena beyond, him along with them, landing easily on his feet.

Looking up after the landing, he saw Adam dodge one of the violent whips that Vala had sent toward him at blinding speed; but the man wouldn’t be able to move out of the way of the second one, already on its way above the floor. Hardly thinking of a proper plan, Braden threw up both hands and felt a surge of adrenaline rush through his system. In an instant, a purple sphere phased into existence around Adam, repelling the lash in the nick of time. A second later, another sphere formed around Vala, cutting off the tail of the lash and forcing the energy to fade into oblivion.

“Stop!” he cried, catching his breath. Braden remained where he was standing, breathing heavily and focusing on keeping the barriers active and strong. He wasn’t sure how long he could hold the two at bay from one another, but he had to try.

“Vala?” he inquired after a few seconds. “Is that really you?”