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Darcy Mansfield

The Marathon's skilled helmsman

0 · 305 views · located in The Marathon (Cruiser)

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

So begins...

Darcy Mansfield's Story

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

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

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

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

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

“Go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Erik! Shut up!”

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

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

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

[Begin playing soundtrack, "Embolden"]

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

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

“Lance: Kodiak. Move!”

“Aye-Aye! I’ll see you aboard!”

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

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

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

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

“Bringing the pain, mother fuckers!”

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

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






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

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

“Mom?” his hopeful voice cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do I find him?”

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

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

“Thank you, sir.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: 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: 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 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.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Crystal, ma’am,” Titus nodded.

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

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

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

“Oracle has a cruiser?”

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

“True that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Likewise,” she responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How many other ships does Oracle have?”

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

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

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

“Who’s in charge of it now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What in the…” Titus began.

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

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

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

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

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

“Twenty, sir,” he instantly replied.

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fifteen,” the human bartered.

“Nineteen,” Gavin countered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” the boy finally said.




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

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

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

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

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

“Someone’s cocky.”

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

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

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




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

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

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

“Sir.”

“How strong is your unit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

This was it.

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

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

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

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aren’t they?” the turian said cynically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”And what position would that be?”

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

“What is your point?” Jacob inquired

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

“Help one another?” Jacob asked curiously

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

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

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

“Okay ‘partner, shoot.”


********

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

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

“My name is Jason.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

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

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

“Is that the new Valkyrie?” Titus asked.

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

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

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

“What’s that for?” Titus inquired.

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

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

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

“You got it, Cap’n.”




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You flew Tridents, too, then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ready, Lieutenant?” Titus asked.

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

“Oh?”

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

“This guy isn’t schizo, is he?”

Harrison only shrugged his shoulders.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

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

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"Captain?" Azuric asked. "Titus!"

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

“You injured?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you require assistance. sir?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Passing directives now, Captain.”

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




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

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

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

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

“We know this for sure?” Rhodie inquired.

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

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

“Pardon, sir?” Dike asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ready your pilots.”

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

“Major Thomas.”

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

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

“Aye-aye, sir!”

“Darcy!”

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

“Do it.”

“Setting course.”

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Darcy Mansfield Character Portrait: Jacob Torx Character Portrait: Jason Trox Character Portrait: Sonya Marie Jackson Character Portrait: Petr Orlav

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~Bing ~

There was a chime as the solid steel door retreated into the walls, revealing the bleak and personality deprived office of Petr. The walls, unlike the personal quarters of Jacob, were decorated with only the chrome coloring of the ships hull and only essential items lined the floor. A large metallic desk waited quietly in the center, Petr’s computer hummed silently atop of it, accompanied by nothing more than a lamp and a stack of files. A book shelf sat in the corner, lined with books in Russian and all of which were historical documentaries, mostly about old intelligence agencies from the 20th and 21st centuries, like the KGB, FSB, CIA and even the OSS. Aside from a bed, small reading table and a few chairs, that was all the decoration the room had.

Petr sighed, taking another cigarette from a pack slightly protruding from the charcoal black overcoat he was wearing. The man always had a tendency to dress formal, not because he was required to but because he enjoyed it. He disliked the looseness of casual clothing, so he wore the snug fitting formal wear instead since walking around with a muscle shirt wasn’t exactly his style.

Lighting up his cigarette, Petr removed his coat so that he was only wearing his white collard shirt on his torso. He gently placed the coat of his desk chair then took a seat, his fingers dancing across the holographic keyboard of his computer as a flurry of tobacco smoke lofted up over his head. “Let us see.” Petr murmured to himself as the screen lit up and showed him his home screen. He tapped a small icon in the top left corner and the computer instantly took him to a new screen with a text box that read “ Вызов храбрый ” (call of the brave). Petr began typing in the box, a poem, which he used for a security password.

Stand strong, for only brave men reside here
Here in the place, the place for men with no fear
For these men of powerful blood, no glory awaits
No matter the circumstance, they have chosen their fates

Selfless and strong, they live to fight our many enemies
Fighting in the shadows, never afraid, no matter the entities
No enemy is too big, for they are the best, the best God ever made
So as you lay down your head, remember these words so they never fade

Brothers stand tall, brothers stand proud
When we are done, our work will be a shroud
But we will always remember the brave who fall
The ones forever known as heroes, who died for us all.”


As Petr entered the last stanza the computer took him to yet another screen that depicted security camera footage on the left and a record of everyone who left or entered the ship on the right. He needed to run security checks on the man that Titus decided to bring on the ship, Benjamin Slatton. Petr didn’t even know what the man looked like, but it wouldn’t be hard finding him.
“Prophet, find me security footage of Benjamin Slatton.” Petr slurred the name a little in his Russian accent, but Prophet was smart enough to understand.

“Analyzing now Detective.” Prophet responded. Unlike Jacob and Sonya, who was technically a Gunnery Sergeant, Petr never received an official military ranking. They just shoved the title of Detective on him and told him he only had authority over the whole crew, aside from the captain and Jacob, if he had probable cause for security reasons. So pretty much, he was barely even a glorified cop for this ship. “Opening footage now Detective.”

Petr observed as his screen lit up with a video from the shuttle bay just as Titus had returned. The video depicted the Captain speaking with Ben as they exited the small shuttle, and Petr watched for the opportune moment to pause it. He watched as the two exited, followed by a few more crew members, and then as Ben turned toward the camera the Detective stopped the footage.

“Okay, run facial Identification on him and bring up his records.” It was probably a waste of time, but Petr had a process. He always checked backgrounds of new crew members, out of paranoia mostly. There was a few seconds of silence as Prophet completed the task that Petr had given to him. As soon as it was completed, another window glowed to life on Petr’s screen.

“Complete.” Prophet notified as the new window brought up the picture of Ben, followed by long pages of info. Instantly, Petr noticed something that struck him as problematic.

“You are sure this is the right profile Prophet?” Petr asked with his tone still as stale as it was in the training room.

“Yes, I too noticed the inconstancy Detective. However, I have already run the check 40,562 times and this is the only profile that appeared” Prophet chimed through the speakers in the walls.

“Interesting.” Petr, said with a slight intrigue breaking through his usual emotionless self. The face of the profile was correct, but the name that was written above it read Benjamin Pothier . “It appears that our friend is not who he says he is.”

Petr began to scroll through the pages of info that appeared next to the picture of Ben. According to the biography, Ben was born on Terra Nova to civilian parents. He had an average life of school and didn’t get into much trouble, and eventually found his way into Alliance Intelligence Operations as a consultant. Even there this guy didn’t look to be anything special, an average career of not doing shit that was overly important. “Well, well, well. Prophet, search the name Benjamin Slatton in the Alliance records database.” Petr observed his screen as the window for Ben Potheir disappeared and a list that looked infinite replaced it. “Ебать меня” Petr cussed in Russian as he looked at the massive list of names that had compiled on his screen like a digital river of text.
“Is there a problem Detective?” Prophet asked innocently

“No, I love shifting through billions of names.” Petr responded coldly as he began to shuffle through name after name.

[Benjamin Slatton, Gender: Male, Age: 45….occupation chef.]

[Benjamin Slatton, Gender: Male, Age 12…occupation: Not applicable]

[Benjamin Slatton. Gender: Female, Age 27…occupation: Exotic Dancer]

“What the fuck, were her parents thinking?” Petr murmured as he came across that last name. He continued to shift through page after page of Ben’s, all of which were defiantly not the man he was looking for. Perhaps he was looking in the wrong place.

“Prophet, search the name Benjamin Slatton under deceased in the ADB.” Petr ordered, as he sat back in his chair and waited for the AI to do his bidding. Again, a list as long as life appeared in front of Petr, so he decided to narrow the search again “Narrow the search to within the last ten years, and also search only for cases where no body was recovered.”

“Yes, Detective.” Prophet responded as the list was again shortened, this time to a much more manageable size. Petr began his grueling scan of the names, some people were lost at sea on various planets, and others lost in space or incinerated by explosions or fires. However, none of the circumstances seemed odd in any way that would catch his attention. Eventually, each name just began to look exactly like the last, normal and unworthy of any suspicion. Twenty names in, forty, fifty, eighty, one-hundred and still nothing that was of use.

Fire at chemical plant…ship crashed during landing…ship attacked by unknown mercenary faction? Petr stopped and looked at name number 106. He tapped the name and brought up the man’s profile, there was no picture available. However, there was some personal info there…Birth Place: Scott, Terra Nova. Petr grinned as he read the place of Ben’s birth “I think I have you now.” He continued to read down to see that under occupations it read that he was an ex-marine, and next to it there was a special note made by someone at an earlier time.

“Possibly affiliated with Cerberus operations, allegations still under investigation.” Somehow Petr doubted that they were still looking into that since the date of death on the profile was six years ago. According to the rest of the profile, Ben’s ship exploded when the element zero core went critical after an unknown group of raiders got a lucky shot off in battle. Bullshit Petr thought to himself, there is no way they raiders would take a risk of blowing the ship before looting it…somebody rigged that core to blow.

When Petr finally reached the end of the profile, he was met by small link to an external site. He couldn’t resist the urge, and he clicked it, sending him to a memorial page on some news site. The page had dozens of pictures, all of them depicting the ship before and after the supposed attack. None of them were of any interest to Petr…all except one. The last picture he came to was of the crew aboard this ship right before it left the day of the attack. All of the faces were smiling and happy as if it were going to be the best day of their lives.

Petr’s lips spread into a mischievous grin as he scanned the faces “Prophet, notify Benjamin that I would like to see him in the conference room for his interview…we have much to discuss.”

****

“Okay people, move your asses!” Jacob shouted as he watched his team gear up in the security armory “If we are going into any system where Cerberus is setting up camp, I don’t want my security team sitting around like a bunch of pansies!”

“Aye, sir!” the men replied as they suited up in their combat gear. Jacob had heard about the possible fight that they were heading into, so Jacob wanted to make sure he had a team ready to repel a boarding party if Cerberus got cocky.

“LT.” Sonya asked from behind as she walked up next to her superior “What do you want me to do?”

Jacob looked at the woman who was clad in her armor with her rifle over one shoulder “Take Alpha squad and go to the hanger. If anybody besides our people land there I want you ready to give them a dirt nap.”

“Aye, sir.” She gave a crisp salute, and then she walked into the fray of security officers to gather a team.

“Bravo squad, are you shiny yet?” Jacob shouted across the room, wanting to know if they were already prepared and ready to fight in their reflective armor.

“Aye, sir, shiny and dangerous!” A solider shouted back from across the room, his voice faint due to the sounds of armor being adjusted and snapped on.

“Good! You boys are coming with me to the Bridge; we are going to be the fast response team!” If something happened during the battle that needed an immediate response, he and Bravo would take care of it. Bravo team ran over to Jacob, who waited with his metallic fingers motioning them to hurry “Come on, I want to get up there before the fun starts.”

***

Jason watched as Darcy punched in some coordinates on the control panel of the Marathon. “Okay kid, watch this.” The helmsmen remarked with a grin as the blue streaks of light began swimming their way across the ship's window. The FTL drive had kicked in and sent the ship zipping through the void of space.

“Jesus, that looks amazing.” Jason remarked as admired the blue streaks out the window

“Eh, you get used to it.” Darcy replied with a shrug as he sat back in his seat “But it never gets old.” The helmsman looked at Jason with a cockiness that radiated throughout the bridge “So kid, are you going to try to be a pilot?” he asked, placing his hands behind his head and leaning into them.

Jason had to maul over the question, he had never really thought about it before. In fact…he had never really thought about what he was going to do with his life. What had he been doing all these years? He was almost eighteen and he had no plan, he had been living in the past so long that his future never occurred to him. He should have been looking ahead…it’s what his mom would have wanted. He grabbed at his chest, over his heart as he suppressed the tears that threatened to slip out of his eyes. He was thrown back into the moment when he felt Darcy’s eyes studying him; he didn’t want the pilot to ask any questions so he answered quickly “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Jason looked up to see the pilot looking at him, the look in his eyes making it obvious that he was trying to sort through the teens strange reaction to such a simple question. “I see. Well, let me tell you.” Darcy said, ignoring Jason’s actions “its well worth it kid.”

“It is?” Jason asked, slowly taking his hand away from his heart.

Like a bolt of lightening Darcy’s hand shot out in front of him, his finger pointing the star dotted abyss out the window “Look at this, who else gets to see stuff like that.” He said as he admired the stars zipping by like bullets “Seeing it from a view port and seeing it in the driver’s seat are way different kid.” Darcy remarked as he rested his hand back in place behind him.

“What about a home, don’t you miss being on a planet, or somewhere settled in?” Jason asked as his sad eyes observed the scene out the window “Somewhere…normal?”

There was a moment of silence, where the two just watched the stars go by outside the ship. Then, in a voice as sure as rain Darcy replied “Kid…this ship and all of this space out here is my home. It’s better than any house you could find anywhere.”

That hit Jason like a ton of bricks, space…a home? Jason contemplated the man’s words as he looked out the window. His eyes glided across the endless deep, his mind beginning to see a new light…a home.

“Plus if you’re lucky, you get to blow shit up too.” Darcy interjected, interrupting Jason’s thoughts “Which I think is a pretty good perk.”