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Operative Kelly Invaru

2iC to Commander Horn aboard the Call of Victory

0 · 1,449 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

Personality

Cold is not necessarily a word you would use with Kelly Invaru. Instead, her nature of being completely professional and neutral in all things business related makes it seem like she simply doesn't care about those underneath her. In fact, the opposite is true. She works so hard to maintain a professional atmosphere in order to instil a sense of respect to those around her, creating her own image to the other Cerberus personnel aboard the ship. She works so hard at this that the few times where she does allow herself to break down into more than a casual smirk or light laugh, she hides.

History

Age: 29

Kelly is the second in command to Jason Horn, leader of the Call of Victory. She's professional, patient, and completely at ease in dealing with not only people but information. If you need someone to plan something, she's the woman to go to. If you need something blown up, you go to Horn.

She was with Horn in the Citadel mission, with only Horn and herself surviving. She is privy to a few things that no one short of the Illusive man knows about the Commander, and guards them with a fierce loyalty. She only reveals small portions when Horn's past may be affecting his mission or his crew mates, but to this day, he trusts her above anyone else.

After Horn's explosive foray back into the living world, Kelly has stepped down as the leading officer of the Call of Victory, and has once again stepped back into the familiar role of information expert. Yet something has changed in Kelly, after their mission to Ontarom. New scars, new feelings, and despite once being a field agent, she now feels like information is something of a dying art when it comes to truly managing their resources. She's refused to have her scars healed, and this can only be an indicator as a possible change to her personality.

So begins...

Operative Kelly Invaru's Story

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The tour was not going smoothly to say the least. Captain Horn was everything Commander Horn wasn't. He was strict, disciplined, cold, and completely disrespectful of anyone below him. If it weren't for the fact that Kelly was the temporary lead of the Call of Victory, he would probably look at her in disdain as well. Already the man had nearly broken TJ's arm and insulted several marines on their trip through the third floor. They were on their way to the Armoury now to see Lieutenant O'Ryan and some of the Titan marines, but Kelly had a bit of time to ask a couple of questions. "Captain Horn?" She asked, Grayson stopped and looked at her.

"You have a question Operative Invaru?"

"A couple actually." Mustering her reserves of will to stand directly up to the man without so much as a tremble. "First question would be as to why you are really here." She stated it in a matter of fact tone, but beneath the surface she was really asking him 'Why are you here insulting our ship and our crew?'. Grayson looked down, his features appearing as if they were chiselled from stone for all the emotional reference they gave off.

"Officially I'm here on an inspection. Unofficially, I'm here to visit my son. It would appear that part is impossible."

"When was the last time you saw your son?" Kelly asked, and Horn cocked his head slightly.

"I fail to see how this is relevant." He stated, but straightened, seeing as there was no harm in answering. "If you must know...roughly over a year ago, a few days after the Citadel mission." He looked off into the distance for a moment. "He had changed, and we didn't part ways on the best of terms. I warned him that his new way of thinking would be the death of him, and he dismissed me as if I was some lowly grunt." Grayson said the last part with more than a hint of disdain, then returned his gaze to Kelly. "It would appear I was right once more."

"I think the Illusive man told you what happened to Jason." Kelly stated, and when Grayson didn't say anything she continued. "You can try and put up a hard front Captain, be the cold heartless leader of the Ascending Justice, but when you heard about your son nearly dying, you rushed out here to at least see if your boy was alright." Grayson took a step forward, but Kelly didn't back down. He leaned down until his face was right in hers.

"I don't recall asking you to prod into my personal feelings on the matter Operative, and I would do well to advise you to stop before you get too deep into something you can't handle." Kelly just gave a smirk.

"Captain, as per Cerberus protocols, I am acting Commander of this vessel. While on this ship, I hold supreme rank on all things that happen aboard the Victory. Treating me as if I am some secretary to Jason will only end up with you getting a swift departure back to the Ascending Justice and a firm reprimand sent to the Illusive Man."

"Are you threatening me Operative?" The Captain said, straightening back up.

"I am simply stating something that someone such as yourself should already know...Captain." Her tone was completely neutral and professional, which made it impact harder on the Captain as he stared at her for a moment.

"Very well, you have stated your case Operative. Come, let us meet your Lieutenant O'Ryan." Kelly simply nodded, and made her way to the Armoury.

A short walk later, and they entered the room. TJ was wearing a welding helmet and seeming to perform some repairs on some armour. She stopped long enough to look up, grunt, and continue with her work. Captain Horn said nothing, and acted as if she wasn't even there as he continued past her to the firing range. Kelly stood by the window, Leonard was pacing on the other side with his eyes glued on the targets. Captain Horn didn't wait to get noticed, he simply barged inside.

The marines didn't turn, and continued firing until O'Ryan turned around and saw who it was. "Officer on deck!" He yelled. Instantly the firearms were at the marines side and they all saluted smartly. These were the veterans of the Titan, and as such, were at an advantage when compared to the recruits of the Victory. Captain Horn returned the salute.

"At ease marines." Horn stated as he looked them all over. His face gave nothing away, but he didn't say anything either. He must have been satisfied with their physique and discipline. Grayson looked over to O'Ryan. "Lieutenant, you're the Battalion Commander here on the Call of Victory?"

"Yes sir." O'Ryan stated, remaining in a perfect position of 'at ease'. Grayson gave a nod as he brought the targets forward. As he inspected them, he gave a slight nod at the rate of accuracy within the marines.

"It would seem you're doing your job well Lieutenant." O'Ryan simply nodded.

"These marines are veterans of the SIC Titan sir. With respect to them, they didn't need much guidance. It looked like my predecessor, Lieutenant Nicola and Commander Horn know how to train their marines." Grayson continued to look at the charts.

"So it would seem. One thing he can do right. What about those marines who came with the Call of Victory?" Grayson asked.

"They need a little work sir, but I'll have them battle ready in no time."

"Good to hear Lieutenant. Keep up the good work. Dismissed." Grayson saluted, which was returned by O'Ryan and the marines.

"Yes sir." Leonard stated, before walking over and prepping new targets. Grayson and Kelly both walked out of the firing range, and out of the Armoury.

"It seems you have at least one capable officer among your crew Operative." Grayson stated as they walked on.

"They are all more than capable if given a chance to perform, rather than submit to judgement." Kelly retorted, which earned silence from the Captain. They came up to the medical bay, and Horn stopped . Kelly looked up at him, his hands clasped behind his back.

"If you wouldn't mind Operative, could I have a moment alone with my son?" Kelly stared up at him, knowing this was a hard thing for someone who puts on such a strong front to ask. She gave a nod, and Horn walked inside. A few moments later, Dr. Grass came out and stood next to Kelly in front of the medical bay.

"So that would be the illustrious father of our very own kamikaze soldier?" Dr. Grass asked as he tapped several things on his omni-tool.

"Yes it would." Kelly answered in a polite tone.

"Hmmm...I can definitely see why Horn wouldn't want to speak of him. He walked in, demanded I get out in the middle of diagnostics, and when I insisted on continuing them, he simply glared at me with such intensity I wondered if my glasses were going to break." Grass replied. Kelly just gave a small smile.

"He's a hard man to like...that's for sure." She stated as they waited a few minutes for the door to open. Eventually it did and Captain Horn stepped out.

"You may return to your duties Dr. Grass." Grayson stated, and Kelly looked over to see a comment coming out of Lincoln's mouth. Kelly interjected.

"He would love to." She stated politely as she gave him a gentle push towards the door. He looked back at her, but didn't argue as he disappeared within the confines of the medical bay. Grayson looked after him, and gave a gruff grunt as he looked back at Kelly.

"He seems to have an attitude, that should have been fixed when he was first posted with you."

"Maybe so, but suppressing one's ability to express themselves ends up with them becoming demoralized to perform their task." Kelly replied.

"This is the military, we operate with extreme discipline and regulations." Grayson said as they both started walking towards the elevator.

"This is Cerberus. You, above all else, should know we don't operate like the Alliance." Kelly replied once more, and Grayson went silent once again. She could tell he wasn't used to someone actually speaking up to him. They reached the elevator, and waited for it to come up. "Do you mind if I ask what you said to Horn, if you said anything at all?" Kelly asked as politely as she could muster.

"How is that any of your business?" Horn asked, his voice gruff and obviously displeased at being asked such personal questions. Kelly just shook her head.

"Captain, we're not aboard your ship. You don't need to continue acting as if you have absolutely no emotions while aboard the Victory." Grayson said nothing, and when the elevator came up, he stepped inside with silence. Once they pressed the button to the Battery level, Grayson continued to stare ahead.

"I asked for his forgiveness." Grayson stated, his voice still filled with gravel, but also some sorrow. Kelly looked up at him, but he did not return her gaze. He held himself well, showing no signs of what his voice conveyed.

"May I ask what for?" She stated, curiosity getting the better of her.

"Isn't it obvious?" Grayson returned.

They spent the rest of the drop in silence.

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The lift door opened, and Kelly and Captain Horn both stepped out onto the Battery deck, filled with technicians and engineers whose soul purpose aboard this ship was to make sure that the Call of Victory was one of the most formidable vessels in space. The entire deck was not necessarily dark, but the care of such an amount of weapons formed a greasy atmosphere. The air was clear, but the feeling of grime could be felt everywhere. Every technician was, in some way, dirty. Smears covered their faces, grime littered their uniforms, and their language was just as colourful. Swears filled the deck as some technicians would try something, only for it to spark and them go into a fit full of angry cursing. Kelly looked around, and although she didn't show it, she didn't like being on the Battery deck. She never prided herself on being a girly girl, but she had her limits.

"Officer on deck!" Kelly managed to yell above the din of welders and machines working hard to operate. Everyone stopped as quickly as they could, and snapped to attention. While they were not used to doing such a thing, it seemed that rumour mixed with Kelly's helpful announcement had made it evident to even the battery officers to not mess with the Captain.

"As you were." Grayson stated as they walked around the deck. The technicians and engineers were constantly looking over their shoulder at this point, wondering if Horn would suddenly descend upon them in a fit of military protocol. Instead, he wandered throughout the deck without so much as a word. Kelly kept glancing over at him, half expecting him to go berserk at some inane substandard protocol that they were overlooking. Instead, he casually walked around, only stopping to oversee a moment of work. Grayson must have caught her slight gaze, for he answered her unspoken question. "I am only being lenient this once in this regard in the fact that this is a new ship and you have had less than a day to get familiar with her. Were this your standard vessel, I would have already cited several non-regulation handlings of weapons under your command."

"Yes sir." Kelly said, consciously forcing her hand to remain behind her back and not pinch the bridge of her nose. It wasn't long before they got through the grime filled deck and met up with Battery Officer Jessie McKrain. Her hair was in a loose ponytail while an extremely dirty serviceman coverall was being worn on her person. She stood over one of the Disrupter Torpedo tubes, a plasma torch in one hand while the other held some safety goggles in place. Kelly shielded her eyes as they approached, while all Grayson had to do was simply squint his eyes. At first, she didn't seem to notice they were there, then Grayson cleared his throat in such a manner Kelly wondered if the whole deck had heard it.

It grabbed the Battery Officer's attention though, as she stopped and looked up at the both of them. She set down the plasma torch and set down her goggles. She took a cloth from one of her pockets to wipe some grime off her face as she stepped up to the duo. "There something I can help you with sirs?"

"The proper way to address a superior officer is to snap to attention, give a salute, and wait for it to be returned." Grayson said, his voice filled with poison. Jessie just looked up at him as if he was mentally challenged.

"Last time I checked, Kelly is my superior officer and she doesn't require that of me. In fact, I do a better job when actually doing my job rather than sitting here wondering if my hand is straight and if a stick is shoved far enough up my ass." Jessie retorted. Her voice was filled with sarcasm, but she wasn't calling him outright just yet. She had stated her case, and as much as Grayson wanted to dispute the fact, he looked at Kelly who simply spoke with her eyes. 'You touch her, and you'll leave here in a bodybag'.

Grayson looked back at McKrain. "What are you currently working on Officer?" Horn sidetracked to, even though it was obvious in the way his jaw locked that he didn't appreciate being talked to in such a way from an obvious inferior. Jessie looked back at the torpedo tube, and then looked back at the Captain.

"I'm trying to make sure that the tube doesn't explode when it fires sir." Jessie stated simply, and Grayson had a hard time judging if she was joking or whether that was her usual standard answer.

"What was the problem with it?" He asked as he walked over to the tube to give it an inspection.

"Do you want the technical version, or the Horn version?" Grayson looked up for a second, and then looked back at Jessie.

"Horn version?" He asked.

"Dumbed down sir." She stated in as matter of fact as she could. Grayson frowned but said nothing. Instead, he turned back around and looked at the tube.

"No need. Micro fractures within the metal overlay construction are providing a stress point that could be exploited with enough pressure. Given enough time, this crack would expand, and when the tube was used for firing, would actually detonate not only the casing, but the Disrupter Torpedo as well. Primary fixes include a solvent that hardens within the cracks to temporarily seal off the inside. What you are doing is using a plasma torch to melt the sections together, creating a lasting and stronger bond then the solvent could ever make." Grayson looked back at the Battery Officer. "How am I doing so far?"

Jessie did nothing as she simply blinked at what the man said. "Well...yes, you're right." Grayson walked back to her, torch and goggles in hand. He shoved them into her hands.

"If Jason took the time to learn every aspect of his job, not just shooting and killing, then you wouldn't have need for a Horn version." Grayson nodded back towards the tube. "I suggest you get back to work Lieutenant, before you test my patience once more." Jessie peered at the gear, then looked back at Kelly. She was obviously not used to having someone in a command position actually know what she was talking about. She did as she was told though, replacing the goggles on her eyes as she continued to work at the tube.

"I think I've seen all I need to see on this ship." Grayson stated as they made their way back to the elevator.

"Would you like to see engineering and cargo?" Kelly asked, hoping his answer would be no.

"No. I need to start moving towards my next destination, I've spent already too much time here. Besides, I'm sure your head Engineer will be just as insubordinate as most of the rest have been."

"Will you be filing a report on your findings then?" Kelly asked, bypassing the obvious insult towards their crew. They stopped in front of the elevator.

"Would it make a difference if I did?" He asked, looking her straight in the face.

"Not in the slightest Captain." Kelly said, stating in such a way that it came out as honest truth rather than snarky. Grayson gave a smirk, the only sign of him actually coming close a smile.

"I suspected that would be the case." The elevator door opened, and they stepped inside. "If this were my ship, there would be a massive change in leadership and crew rosters around here. Jason has allowed insubordination to seep into just about every aspect of his job. It will be the death of him if this coma isn't."

"Then maybe what you should do is support him, rather than criticise his every move." Grayson looked down at Kelly. "In my short experience, I've noticed the worst thing for a leader of men and women is to be second guessed by those above them. You are creating a cloud of doubt that you are very lucky hasn't clung to Commander Horn." Kelly stated, her voice soft, polite, and professional. One of the few reasons Grayson didn't berate her for speaking the words she did, was because she managed to still keep her tone and posture in check, making it a lesson and not a challenge.

"I'm not here to constantly look over his shoulder, to ensure he's making the right decisions, to help him when he needs it. I can only give my advice and hope he takes it."

"Then make sure he takes it as advice and not an order." Kelly stated. "You're his father, suggest what you would like to change, and don't make it seem as if you are giving him orders he must follow." Grayson simply looked down at the woman as the door opened.

"I didn't realise I was talking to the Yeoman Operative Invaru." Grayson stated as he stepped out and made his way to the airlock. Kelly simply gave a small smile, still a bit forced. "I will...consider this." Horn stated as he reached the airlock and looked back at Kelly. The inner door opened, waiting for the Captain to step inside. Horn snapped off a salute, which Kelly returned curtly. He took a moment to stand there, looking at the woman.

"I will say one thing Operative Invaru, he was lucky to get you. Keep him alive for me." Kelly simply nodded, and Captain walked through the airlock. A quick seal later, and the man was gone. Kelly waited until the second hatch had closed before releasing a pent up breath she had been holding for the entire duration of his visit. Linda came and stood next to her, looking at the airlock. There was a moment of silence between the two, before Linda spoke up.

"He's still an asshole." Kelly gave a smile and looked at her.

"You're a psychiatrist...aren't you supposed to not judge people?" Linda shrugged.

"I may be a shrink, but I ain't blind. That man was born in the pit of spite, I'm telling yah." Kelly simply sighed and shook her head. Linda gave her a pat on the back. "I applaud you for being able to deal with him though...that must have been entertaining." Kelly didn't say anything, and Linda nodded and went back to her duties.

Kelly turned, and was about to head into the elevator once more when their pilot, Harold, came over the speakers. "Operative Invaru, we just got a communiqué from the Illusive man." Kelly quickly made her way to the bridge, and found Harold tapping away at his console as he brought up the document that had been sent to them. "Looks like a snatch and grab mission to me...I'm just worried about what we're grabbing." Harold stated as Kelly looked it over.

She said nothing, and Harold looked back to make sure she was still there. "You're worried about it as well, aren't you."

"We have orders. Set a course to Lucr'n." Harold nodded, and Kelly made her way back to the Galaxy Map. She watched as the representation of the ship started moving towards the Mass Relay. Confirmed that they were on their way, she tapped her omni tool.

"Daniel." She stated, and after a few seconds, his voice came in over the omni-tool.

"Yes ma'am, what can I do for you?" He asked, he seemed to be out of breath, indicating he was probably exercising before her calling.

"We have a mission assigned to us. If you could come meet me in the briefing room, I think you'll find this one interesting."

"Understood ma'am, be there as soon as I can." He returned, and she cut the connection. Husks were dangerous and at best, creepy. Grabbing one was not only going to be difficult, seeing as there was usually more than one, but most likely mentally challenging. Seeing what regular people had been transformed into was always hard, and she never really got over the sight of her first one. Instead, she focused on the task itself, and not the goal. They needed a plan, and this was her first job as leader of this vessel. She had to make a good impression the first time, even if the entire crew already trusted her, she had to assert herself as a capable Commander.

This mission was going to get interesting in more ways than one.

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Kelly sat in the Comm. Room with Daniel, who was still wearing his workout gear of just a black muscle shirt and some black shorts. His hair was still wet from having given it a short wash, and he held a towel around his neck to wipe his face with when it needed it. They stood at the head of the table, listing off the communiqué they got from the Illusive man and mapping out the sector of the planet they would be exploring to try and get themselves a live husk.

"I still can't believe we're thinking about this. Those things are, quite literally, modern day zombies." Daniel said as he looked over the orders. Kelly simply nodded.

"I don't like the implications this mission gives us either, but it's straight from the Illusive man, and we have an obligation to follow." Kelly replied in her usual professional tone.

"The Illusive man is fucked up sometimes." Daniel replied, focusing his attention on the planet specs. "I mean, grabbing one husk would be hard enough, since there is always more than one." Daniel brought up a more detailed scan of the planet. "But radiation, electro-magnetic interference that fucks with our shields and equipment, earthquakes, jetpacks a necessity? This place is a walking death trap."

"And yet the scientists went down there most likely with excitement." Kelly stated as she gave him a small smile.

"I ain't no coward ma'am...I just don't like the odds of this. With Horn on the down low and Linda...gone, I'm the only one really certified to operate a jetpack with proficiency."

"We don't need to train them to sky dive with them Daniel, we only need them to know which button to hit that makes them go up." Kelly replied. "Besides, the section we'll be searching is relatively secure, and if we're lucky, the husk count will be only as much as 13, seeing as that is how many scientists have gone missing."

"Nothing is ever that simple." Daniel stated. He stopped for a moment, then looked over at her. "So what would you have us do?" Kelly looked over at Daniel, realizing he was testing her first command decision.

"We'll have two fire teams brought down; yours and another led by Lieutenant O'Ryan. From there, you will fan out in a standard search pattern." She stretched the frame to show the topography of the ruins and displayed courses for both fire teams. "From there, we'll search every area until we find one. Orders regarding possible other husks have not been stated, so we will assume that they are of no significance. Once we have one, we all pull out." Kelly looked up at him. "Coordinating with Titus's team, we'll be able to fan out over a large area. Radio contact from up here will be difficult, which is why we'll set up a small relay attached to a Kodiak here." Kelly marked another spot just outside the danger zone near the scientist's base. "This will allow us to bounce our signal and remain in contact with each other."

"You're not coming down ma'am?" Daniel asked, even though he already knew the answer. Kelly simply smiled.

"I may be temporarily in charge Lieutenant, but I'm not Commander Horn." She looked at the layout once more. "I was never much of a field operative, more of an information holder." Daniel simply nodded.

"So who will be in my team?" Daniel added.

"That is up to you to decide, although I would make the recommendation to take Operative St. Jean with you. Her biotic arm could come in handy when dealing with the husks. Aside from that, the decision is yours." Daniel went in deep thought for a moment.

"Alright, so say I take Saint with us, we need a biotic. One of the stronger ones we have is Nerita, or so I'm told. I'll take Carly along as well, another trained marine is always helpful to have along." Kelly nodded.

"Of course." She minimized the maps on the table. "Once you are on the ground, you will be given operational control of the situation. I will be updating you from the Victory as the mission progresses and keeping tabs on all teams. Call sign 'Oversight'". Daniel gave a nod.

"Alright, sounds like a done deal. When will we be arriving at Lucr'n?" Daniel asked.

"In just a little under 2 hours. You'll have time to rest up and get ready Lieutenant." Kelly gave a small smile. Daniel gave a wide one back.

"Yeah, I heard of walking off your cramps, but that would be nuts. I'll make sure everyone is geared up and ready to go ma'am." Daniel gave a nod, and walked out and left Kelly standing in the room looking at the empty table. It was a disturbing mission to say the least, but they all knew their roles in this situation. Harold's voice came over the intercom.

"Prepare for jump in 30 seconds." Kelly wandered out of the room and wandered into the CIC and watched as everyone prepared slightly differently. She hoped the mission went smoothly, but remembering Daniel's words as she could feel the hum of the mass effect enveloping them and taking them through the relay.

Nothing was ever that simple.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A couple hours later, and Kelly was standing with Daniel in front of the two fire teams in the Shuttle bay. Daniel was prepped in his standard 'Demon' gear, while everyone else in front of them was a mixture of differing armour types that suited their needs. For the most part, Lieutenant O'Ryan's Fire Team 3 wore strictly Cerberus assault armour with the added benefit of a small retro booster attached to their back allowing for a quick boost upwards, but the charge was limited to two due to fuel.

Carly wore the same thing as O'Ryan's fire team, while Nerita wore a modified version of light Colossus armour mixed with a Umbra Visor to help guide her biotic tendencies. Tia wore her standard armour mixed with whatever gear she deemed would help with the electro-magnetic tendencies and radiation. Each of them was also equipped with a retro booster to their back. Kelly took a step forward to address the group.

"Alright everyone. You have all been selected to perform a not so simple snatch and grab mission." Kelly tapped her omni tool, and brought up some screens on a holographic display that showed the image of a husk. "This will be our target. We refer to them as Husks. They are shells of their former selves, heavily indoctrinated by the reapers and nothing more than mindless servants to their machine masters." Kelly looked to everyone. "You will be required to bring one back alive for testing."

There was a few murmurs among Fire Team 3, but O'Ryan shot a quick glare backwards that instantly shut them up. Instead, the Lieutenant himself looked back to Kelly. "Has this ever been attempted before?" O'Ryan asked.

"No." Kelly stated bluntly. "We have never been in a position of opportunity to do so, nor has anyone's first thought been to capture one of these beings. As Daniel quoted to me earlier, these are modern day zombies, capable of nothing but destruction." She hit a button on her Omni tool and the image disappeared. "If we are correct, there should only be a maximum of 13 Husks, as that matches the number of missing scientists from the head researcher. Keep in mind, we only need one, deal with the rest as you see fit." Kelly hit another button on her Omni-tool and it brought up a display of the planet.

"This is Lucr'n. A volatile and unstable world at best. Electro magnetic interference omits much of your shields, meaning that any ballistic or kinetic force will be repelled by your armour alone. However, your shields should protect you from the sun's harmful radiation for a time." Kelly hit another button and the image zoomed in, revealing the collapsed city they would be searching. "This is the area where the scientists went missing. The planet is prone to large earthquakes, reaching farther than 10.0 on the Richter Scale, and often collapsing or destabilizing mass amounts of earth." Kelly shut off the image, and replaced her hands behind her back. "This is why you have all been fitted with retro boosters with enough fuel to supply two short jumps. Keep in mind that these are, in no way, like Lieutenant Harren's. They are to be used only in extreme measures." Kelly then motioned at the Kodiak.

"The Kodiak has been outfitted with a strengthened relay that will allow us to keep in limited communication with each other due to the electro-magnetic interference." Kelly turned back towards them. "As for the ground operation, Lieutenant Harrens has tactical lead. I will be aboard the Victory giving tactical data as the mission progresses." Kelly then looked back at Daniel. "Is there anything you would like to add Lieutenant?" Daniel gave a quick step forward.

"I realize this is not our standard mission, but that does not change things. We have our orders, so lets do them right." Daniel brought up his own Omni-tool, which showed an overlay of the region they would be scouting with arrows indicating search patterns. "Lieutenant O'Ryan, you will be taking Fire Team 3 along this ridge here." Daniel stated pointing to the top most region of the city. "From there, fan out and try to cover as much area as possible as you push inwards. Under no circumstances are you to lose visual contact with each other. It's dangerous enough with the earthquakes and radiation, but husks never act alone." Daniel pointed on the bottom section. "My team will be taking this bottom region here, we will meet up in the middle of the city here." Daniel marked a spot on the map. "From there, we will form into one unit, and make our way across the rugged landscape." Daniel looked to everyone to make sure they understood before shutting off the image and stepping behind Kelly once more.

"It will be dangerous down there, as Daniel stated, not just from the husks but the landscape as well. Exercise extreme caution." Kelly stated. "This is also a joint operation, meaning Commander Titus and his team will be on the ground as well, the Vindicator will be in orbit. He is not your commanding officer, and as such, you are not required to follow his orders. However, that being said he is an officer of superior rank in the same cell as us. He will be given the respect his position and standing award him." Kelly stopped and looked over everyone. "Any questions?"

"What about the missing scientists?" Carly spoke up. "Are we looking for them as well? What happens if we find one?"

"The missing scientists are secondary at best, once we have the husk we are being ordered to pull out of the region. If you are to spot a scientist that has been reported missing, approach with extreme caution and with the thought that they're most likely indoctrinated." Carly simply nodded.

"Any other questions?" Kelly asked.

[hr]

After Kelly had answered all questions, she had wished them luck and the teams were on their way to the surface. Lieutenant O'Ryan and his Fire Team 3 sat on one side of the Kodiak while Daniel's team sat on another. There was no animosity between the two teams save for Leonard's occasional look over at Nerita, which she returned. Daniel was sitting next to Tia during the descent, and couldn't help but look out the window. If this were his regular team, he would have jumped out a long time ago, but none of the people in this drop ship were trained or prepared for such a drop with calculated precision. Instead, he focused on St. Jean.

"Hey Saint." He said, grabbing her attention. "When we find that husk, I'm thinking that arm of yours is going to come in handy." He pointed to her bionic limb. "I've seen those claws shred through armour before, and with that, they wouldn't have any problem getting through our organic tissue underneath. With that limb there, I'm hoping it will be more resistant to such a thing when we get close to it." Daniel stated a bit bluntly. "Basically, when we see one, I'm going to be looking to you to move in first to capture. I know it's risky, but I promise to spring for any repairs it may need, along with a cold one once we get back...deal?" Before Daniel could shake on it, the Kodiak touched down and the door opened to reveal a rather bleak looking landscape.

"Alright everyone, let's hit it up!" Daniel marched out of the Kodiak and planted his boots on the soil first. Once everyone was out and the Kodiak was flying back into the sky, Daniel looked to everyone around them. "Alright, we wait until Commander Titus touches down, and then we proceed as planned. Prep while you can people." Daniel looked to the sky, waiting to see a Kodiak drop shuttle approaching.

He simply wanted this mission to be over with before it got too complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3

2

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Kelly stood aboard the CIC as she stared at the map with a slightly more than bored stare. They had backtracked to Earth once more in order to gain another supply of nanites for Tia who had somehow managed to get her own microscopic robots indoctrinated. However that managed to happen, Kelly could only guess. They had spent only a short amount of time back at Earth, another supply of the nanites arriving earlier than usual. Despite the rapid shipment, Dr. Grass was ordering that she be given time to rest, which meant she would be unavailable for at least the next mission.

They had gotten word shortly after they left Lucr'n that, despite the failure and almost deaths of the fireteams on the ground, Commander Titus had managed to procure a husk. Details were sketchy, but Kelly had managed to find out that it was Titus's own armourer, Erik Keown had been indoctrinated by the device found on the planet. Kelly couldn't even imagine what would have been going through the Commander's mind as he saw his crew member die in such a way that it shouldn't exist. She couldn't keep her mind on the lost though, she saw what happened to those who clung to what happened in the past and how they slowly drove themselves insane. Instead, she focused on what the next possible mission could be.

Speaking of which, she was surprised that they hadn't been issued another one yet. She surveyed through the galaxy map, looking for spots according to her information that would be hotspots for possible collector activity, or at the very least, slaver activity. While she was against slavery to her very core, it also meant that collectors might be near by seeing as they used mercs to capture all kinds of people to sell to the enigmatic aliens.

"Ma'am." Harold came over the intercom. Kelly simply looked up. "The Illusive man would like to speak with you in the comm. room." Kelly simply gave a nod, and made her way through the halls to the briefing room. There, the table slid into the ground, and she stepped forward. This was the first time that she would be addressing TIM as a commander of a vessel, even temporarily. She would be lying to herself if she said she was not slightly nervous. As the boot up sequence ended, the Illusive man came into view and Kelly stood straight with her hands behind her back.

"Reporting as ordered sir." She stated in as crisp a tone as she could. The Illusive man gave one last drag on his cigarette before rubbing it into the ash tray on his chair.

"Operative Invaru." He started, dragging the sentence on a little bit. "How is the Victory treating you?"

"Fine sir, reports are still flowing in from the battery and engineering decks, but she's a fine vessel. She'll suit our needs." Kelly replied.

"Good to hear. The Commander is still in a coma I see." TIM said, interlocking his fingers in front of him.

"Unfortunately yes sir. As you know, I have taken temporary command." TIM simply nodded.

"Yes Kelly, I am completely aware. I am also completely aware that you feel that your...skill set is not suited to leading an entire ship. I wanted to make sure that you are dedicated to serving the Call of Victory and her crew as Commander Horn would no doubt do." Kelly stiffened a slight bit.

"While I feel that I'm better suited to information gathering and secondary command decisions, I will do all that is within my power to ensure the survival and success of the Call of Victory sir." Kelly said with a conviction that surprised even her.

"Good." TIM said. "I was simply making sure you would be up to the job." The Illusive man tapped a few buttons on his command console, and a world came up on his view. "This is the planet Invictus, within the Caestus system amidst the Minos Wasteland cluster." TIM took another pause. "We have information that one of our more reliable informants within the Terminus systems, a Tyler Kowl, has been kidnapped by the Blue Suns and taken to this world."

Kelly looked at the planet, trying to glean as much information as she could about the place just off of her memory alone. "A hideout for many criminals and illegals if I remember correctly." Kelly stated. The Illusive Man simply nodded.

"You are." He stated. "The Blue Suns have managed to set up a base of operations on the planet on the very outskirts of the jungles." TIM pressed another button, and schematics of a building came on a screen. "Several reliable sources have managed to give us a fairly confident layout of their base of operations. A surprisingly large building considering the harshness of Invictus's tropical belt." TIM let the image hang there for a moment as he stared at Kelly.

"In case I'm being vague, your job is simply Operative Invaru. You will plot a course to Invictus, you will send a team in, and you will retrieve our contact before they either kill him or hand him off to whoever is paying them." The Illusive man lit another cigarette. "Am I understood?"

"Clearly sir. We will plot a course right away." TIM nodded, and made to disconnect the conversation before he paused.

"Oh, and you can tell Dr. Grass that I received the nanites from Operatic St. Jean. Keep an eye on her Operative. Indoctrination is not something to take lightly." Kelly simply nodded as TIM cut the connection and she was left in the briefing room once more.

"Mr. Bretton. Did you get that?" Kelly asked out loud.

"I wasn't listening in or anything..." His voice came over quietly, but he slowly added, "...but yeah, I did." Kelly ignored the awkwardness in his tone.

"Set a course to Invictus. Niki, get a hold of Lieutenant Harrens and tell him to meet me in the briefing room when he has the chance."

"Yes ma'am." The AI and the pilot intoned at the same time. Kelly looked around the room once more before exiting and heading back to the CIC. She had to start planning their approach to the situation, and she would need all the information about the planet she could get. It was going to be delicate, making sure they didn't perceive them as a threat before it was too late, as well as explaining to the native Turians as to why their ship was hovering in orbit. All this was flying through Kelly's mind before she had even reached the galaxy map, and at once she felt more at ease.

Despite this, she was at ease. Information was her strong suit, and she planned to use it to their full advantage.

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Kelly stood in the conference room, her hands on the table as she leaned forward going over the schematics for the base located on the edge of Invictus's tropical belt. The building was surprisingly deep and thought out for a simple mercenary gang hideout. In fact, she had only managed to pinpoint two methods of entry into the entire complex. Everything else was underground and was simply not an option. She had run over the entire map several times before Daniel walked in donning his standard Cerberus uniform. He gave her a crisp nod, which she returned. She noticed something about him though, a few bags were underneath his eyes that hadn't been there throughout his entire time with the Demons. She stared at him for slightly longer than necessary, but broke it off before it became noticeable. She had an idea what was bothering him, even if every other indicator he gave off showed he was ready to fight.

"Ma'am. We have a new Op to run?" His voice was, as usual, calm and confident as he stepped up to the table to look over the holographic display of the Blue Sun base. Kelly gave a nod.

"We're heading to Invictus for an informant grab, one of our own. He's being held by the Blue Suns within this underground complex on the outskirts of the planet's tropical belt." She stated as she retracted the view to show the planet itself. Daniel simply nodded, but didn't say anything more. It was obvious he wasn't familiar with the planet.

"Alright. Who we grabbing?" Daniel asked, ready to proceed for more information. Kelly switched the screen to show the face of a man in his late thirties. A red beard covered his face, but his head was bald otherwise. His dark brown eyes were covered by an arching brow that gave the man the impression of a dangerous Neanderthal. Daniel simply raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Really? He doesn't look like informant material."

"His speciality is with the various merc groups within the Terminus systems." Kelly stated. "You have to act tough, be tough if you wish to get anything out of the stone cold killers that populate that region of space." Daniel nodded once more.

"Makes sense, can't exactly be a bookworm with a pocket full of pens when the other guy is a soldier with a pocket full of ammo." Daniel switched the view back to the base itself. "So what can you tell me about this place? Do we have an estimate of strength? Maybe even some exploitable weaknesses such as a reactor of some sort, or maybe an air purifier." Kelly expanded the base to scan several rooms.

"As far as we know, they have a generator here, a few levels down from the surface." Kelly pointed to the area, and it lit up in a green color. "That won't do anything but shut down local electricity. They have several back up generators, all running at differing capacities." Kelly paused for a second, picking out the secondary generators. "The most I'm able to tell is that if you were to destroy that one, it would lead to power leakage all over the base, cutting power to a few doors and leaving a few hallways dark, but otherwise leaving the base intact. I would recommend it as a distraction tactic, nothing more." Daniel gave a nod as Kelly continued. "Aside from that, all other possible targets of opportunity are negligible, and will hinder you rather than help you." Kelly rotated the base slightly, bringing the view to what seemed to be the bottom floor.

"Your target is at the bottom of the base, approximately five levels down from the surface in a holding area meant to hold just a few people by the looks of it. There is a guard post near the elevator, meaning that any attempts to walk in the front door will most likely result in an alarm." She pointed to another area, which highlighted in the favoured color of green. "There's a ventilation shaft that runs from the edge of the fourth level right into the middle of the fifth level. It's a lengthy crawl, but will ensure that your presence will remain undetected." She expanded back to the outer view of the bunker, showing only a small building with a single door.

"The door is actually an elevator, the first level being the entrance to the base. No doubt this bunker has been in operation for quite some time. However, taking the straight path is not the only one in this case." She flipped the view around to the back of the building, showing a small window that appeared to be sealed with a metal sheeting. "This is one of their emergency exits, which leads to the first level in the bunker. It's considerably less noticeable, but will no doubt take time that you may not be able to afford." Kelly stepped off from the table, and came over to stand in front of the Lieutenant.

"Aside from these, the base has several automated turrets, alarms, and sensor nets increasing in difficulty as you proceed lower into the complex. You will need to be calm, focused, and cautious in order to avoid tripping an alarm Lieutenant." Daniel simply stared at the map, a hand over his mouth as his eyes indicated deep thought. Kelly tilted her head slightly. "Can you handle it Lieutenant?" Daniel stood there for a few moments longer before responding without looking over.

"I will admit ma'am, this isn't my standard operation. I'm a shock troop combat engineer. Infiltration is better suited to someone like Operative Buchan." He stood there for a moment longer. "Just how mandatory is it that we remain undetected through this entire field trip?"

"It is preferred." Kelly stated as she looked back at the specs for the base. "While these blueprints for the building may be relatively current, there is no guarantee that we are looking at the exact layout. They could have more exits than we may know about, or have increased their manpower in the time that it has taken us to get there. Either way, we don't want them to know we're making a move until it's already taken." Daniel nodded as Kelly looked back to him. Suddenly his face lit up.

"Hey, wasn't one of Saint's specializations infiltration?" Kelly shook her head, and Daniel returned to looking at the base with slight disappointment.

"That's true, but due to her nature regarding the last mission, I'm pulling her for this one. We'll see where she's at for the next operation, but for now, I don't feel safe sending her down there when she could have a relapse and compromise the entire operation." Daniel gave a slow nod.

"Of course, should have thought of that." Daniel gave it some more thought. "Well, I'm going to need a more flexible team then. People who are quick on their feet, able to move freely from point to point." Kelly looked at the man once more.

"Who do you have in mind Lieutenant?"

"Nerita will be coming. Despite her not being a full fledged soldier, she's a powerful biotic who is calm under extreme circumstances. She's also shown the ability to move quickly and quietly when she needs to." Daniel gave it some more thought. "Carly's good, but she's better suited to a front up fight. Tia's out on conditional leave, I haven't had time to look over the marine's qualifications..." Daniel stopped thinking for a moment. "It may be just me and her that go down there ma'am. I can't think of anyone else at the moment who would fit the bill for what we need." Kelly gave a nod.

"Understandable. The Call of Victory is meant for straight up fights, not infiltration tactics. I will have a couple of Fireteams ready to extract you, and retrieve you if necessary." Daniel gave a nod, and turned to walk out. Kelly just about let him, but turned to face him once more.

"Lieutenant Harrens."

Daniel stopped just as the door opened, and he turned back towards her. "Yes ma'am?"

"Is there something bothering you?" Kelly asked, her question genuine. Daniel cocked his head slightly.

"No ma'am, why?" Kelly gave a soft smile.

"I've known you for over a year Lieutenant, you're a horrible liar." Daniel looked off to the side for a moment, before returning his gaze back to his superior officer.

"With all due respect ma'am, I'm fine. I'm combat ready and able." Daniel waited for an answer, and when Kelly said nothing, he gave another nod. "If you'll excuse me, I need to prep and inform Nerita." He walked halfway out the door when Kelly spoke after him once more.

"Taking command is never easy Lieutenant, and it never should be. Lives rest on your words and your actions, and you can only take solace in what happened, instead of what could have happened." Daniel stopped but didn't look back. "What happened on Lucr'n was not your fault."

"That's where you're wrong ma'am." Daniel stated looking over his shoulder. he quickly made his way out of the room. Kelly looked back at the display for a moment, knowing full well that Daniel was dwelling on the fact that, had it not been for the timely extraction of the Vindicator Kodiak, he would have led his team to their deaths. A reality check like that rarely plants itself in your lap, but instead prefers to slap you in the face. Kelly shut off the display, and quietly made her way out of the room.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"You get all that Nerita?" Daniel asked as he slipped on his mask and made sure his gear was secure.

"It's pretty straight forward Lieutenant." Nerita stated calmly as she prepped her gear along with Daniel down in the Shuttle Bay. It had been a couple hours since Daniel had gotten the briefing from Kelly, and they were now orbiting Invictus waiting for the green light aboard one of the Kodiaks. They were to fly in, just outside of their sensor range, and proceed to the outside of the base on foot. Resistance was supposed to be light until they were actually within the base, where the real challenge was. "I still don't think it's wise for just the two of us to do this Lieutenant." Daniel fixed his gauntlets as he looked up at her.

"Bringing more people poses a greater risk of detection. Besides, this ship was built and manned for the purpose of waging war, not hiding in the shadows. We're the best, and only people suited to this sort of mission." Daniel stated.

"You're a shock trooper who drops into battle from 10,000 feet with a jetpack. I don't think that classifies as infiltration." Nerita stated.

"And your the only alien among a Cerberus vessel who shoves out biotic powers as if they were candy." Daniel smiled behind his mask. "We both have our faults, but we'll do the best we can with what we got. You with me on this?" Nerita gave a shrug.

"Yeah. I'm with you." She stated simply as she took a seat once her gear was on. Daniel simply nodded and was about to say something else when Kelly came over the speakers.

"You're green for launch Lieutenant. Be careful down there, but keep in mind we are on the clock. We have no idea if they plan to move the informant." Daniel gave a nod as he felt the Kodiak lift off.

"Acknowledged ma'am, will let you know when we reach the surface." Daniel sat down opposite of Nerita, and they sat through the casual descent in silence.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It was only a few minutes, but soon the Kodiak was touching down on the ground. "Here's your stop sir. Good luck." The pilot stated as the door opened to reveal a desert with a line of trees off in the distance as far as the eye could see.

"Appreciated Private." Daniel stepped out, and Nerita followed behind him. Once they were firmly on the ground, the Kodiak lifted into the ear, and they started their slow plod forward.

"This is Lieutenant Harrens. We're on the ground and moving to objective."

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"...And this was all we were able to bring back ma'am."

Daniel stated in the comm. room just a few short minutes after they had docked with the Call of Victory. His armour was still on, and dried blood was still visible in sections where he had taken hits. His armour's personal field medical systems would be able to keep him going for much longer than would be necessary now, so he felt no real need to rush down to Dr. Grass's ever so condescending but professional care. Kelly stood across the table from him, holding the small data packet so carefully it looked like she was afraid that a twitch might destroy the tiny device. Her eyes carefully went over each inch of it, looking as if she was expecting something else from the device. Instead, she eventually put it down and looked back up at Daniel, placing her hands behind her back.

"You did what you could Lieutenant. If he was dead before you got there, then you made the right choice in leaving him there, his body would have provided nothing. I will see what this data packet contains, and then ship it to the Illusive Man. If our informant was intelligent in any sense of the word, it should contain any information right up to his capture." Kelly nodded towards the door. "That will be all Lieutenant, might want to get down to the infirmary before Dr. Grass comes parading through the ship looking for whose spilling all the blood on the ship."

"You got it ma'am, wouldn't want to have the doting mother on my case, now would I?" Daniel stated, and turned to walk away only to have the door open and watch as Dr. Grass walked in.

"Considering I'm neither a parent nor a member of the female gender, I find your joke in poor taste Mr. Harrens." Lincoln looked around at the comm. room before settling on Kelly. "I assume you are done with him, so I can get him patched up yet again because someone forgot to tell our marines how to duck in basic training."

"He's all yours doctor." Kelly stated with a slight smile on her face. Daniel simply shook his head as he walked out of the room past Dr. Grass.

"Indeed. 'doting mother'? Where did you come up with these jokes? A morgue?" Lincoln stated as he followed after the Demon.

"Well first you have to have a sense of humour to know what the word 'joke' means Doctor." Daniel retorted as the door closed behind them. Kelly simply shook her head, and picked up the data packet once more. She slowly slipped it onto the middle of the table, and watched as the lights dimmed slightly.

"Niki, can you read what is in this packet please." Kelly asked the ship A.I.

"It is encrypted using standard Cerberus protocols, along with a personalized defence algorithm that uses a six digit code encoded within a series of repeating signals. This will take a moment to break." There was literally a one second pause from the machine. "Completed, bringing up the documents now." The table flashed and showed several dozen reports, all depicting movements on several mercenary groups with the Terminus Systems. Most were standard troop movements, the occasional raid on a small commercial vessel or rival mercenary group, but what got Kelly's attention was a file near the back locked with it's own private security shielding. Niki broke through it within seconds, the file having been locked once again with Cerberus protocols. Once it was through, Kelly waved her hand a couple of times, and flashed through the files. Her eyes narrowed as she continued to scroll through them.

Hovering right in front of her was reports for slave transports, destinations, manifests, and trade deals. What really got her attention was the large amounts of humans being shipped to several locations, bought by 'unknown benefactors'. She couldn't be certain, but she would have placed her money on Collectors. The problem with the information though was that several of these transactions had already occurred and the next one wasn't to happen for several days. Alongside with this, all the planets or meeting spaces that were selected were close to mass relays or otherwise somewhere near a quick escape route. If they were to go in guns blazing, any ships in the area would be able to bug out quickly enough that the Victory wouldn't be able to do anything about it. "Niki, please see to it that the Illusive Man gets these files, and make sure you highlight this specific file for him if you please." Kelly stated as she shut down the files and the room lit up once more.

"Of course Operative Invaru." Kelly watched as it showed the files downloading, and then it quickly finished and the entire display ended. "Is there anything else Operative?" Niki asked as Kelly made for the door.

"Nothing for the moment Niki." The door opened, and Kelly walked out. "But I have a feeling we may have another run in with the collectors coming our way."

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Aw c'mon Daniel! You never talk about missions! With Horn out of the fight for at least awhile, I thought you would take the opportunity to shine! Tell us some tales of your dashing heroism with a jetpack and all that jazz!" Jessie stated as she dug into some of the food provided by the Victory cooks. Several other members of the ship were around the table as well, ranging from marines to engineers to technicians. Daniel simply shook his head and smiled.

"You know I try not to brag, you're trying to bring an addiction on me McKrain!" There was a small laughter at the table.

"Hey, well we can't have you being all golden boy on us, you don't even have a vice! You don't drink much, you don't smoke, of course you don't do any drugs legal or otherwise before or after you joined the military, so there's got to be something." She stated, a wicked smile on her lips as she placed her elbows on the table and leaned forward. "Maybe he's a closet sex fiend fella's. Being in the military reigns it in, but maybe he does all this crazy shit so members of the opposite sex will be attracted to his crazy notions." There was a couple a faked gasps throughout the table, mixed with some laughter.

"Oh, I think we all know who the sex fiend is at this table, don't we Jessie. After all, you do work with really big guns for a living." There was another bout of laughter as Daniel finished up his meal.

"At least I won't be obvious and deny it all the time, trying to hide my inner tendencies. You've got nothing Harrens." She grabbed another forkfull of food, and Daniel raised an eyebrow at her.

"Oh really? Scuttlebutt says you have something going for the Commander." Her eyes went wide and she nearly spit out her food as the table erupted in laughter.

"What?! When did this...Where did...Wh-...When did this start?!" She demanded. Daniel simply shrugged and gave a knowing smile.

"Oh you know, right after you went to see him in the infirmary with flowers. Kelly caught you apparently, and you nearly got embarrassed. That was the best part." To her credit, she regained her composure quite quickly.

"He just saved our lives, and I get called a lovesick puppy when I try to show some appreciation, God, the rumours that go around this place."

"Hey, I was there too you know. I never got any of this so called appreciation." Daniel stated as Jessie narrowed her eyes at him.

"Well too bad regs prevent me from thanking you properly Danny boy." There was more laughter from the crowd at the table, along with a couple of 'Ooooooh's. Daniel simply gave a slight laugh.

"I'm just pulling your chain McKrain, no need to get all huffy on me." Before Jessie could say another word, the distinct image of Kevin Jaconis appeared behind her.

"Jessie?" He asked, and she turned around. "If you're done with your food, I need to run some calibrations by you. Some of the guns are having a bigger draw then they should, and I need to make sure that it's not an error on your end before I make any adjustments."

"Are you implying I make mistakes Kevin?" Jessie said in a fake insulted tone.

"All the time." Kevin stated in such a grouchy voice that if people hadn't known him, would have taken him seriously. Jessie simply gave a sigh, and grabbed one more bite of her food.

"Duty calls boys. Enjoy the meal." The two of them left the mess, leaving Daniel and the crew men to talk about missions, leave, and possible family on the fringe worlds that were being targeted. Most of the talk was uplifting, but some of it still rang sour with the crew in some ways. Any talk about what happened with the Titan still immediately got side tracked to something else, and they tried to avoid bringing up Linda anywhere in their conversation. It wasn't until Nerita showed up that the conversations really died down. She stood there slightly awkward as everyone seemed to pause to stare at her, the lone alien on a pro-human ship. Daniel looked up and offered a smile.

"You need something Nerita? Have a seat." She took a moment, watching as the eyes stared her down, but eventually sat down. The man next to Daniel gave a cough, an unspoken signal that he didn't approve. Daniel held up one finger to Nerita. "One moment Nerita." Daniel turned to the man, who grimaced and nodded towards Nerita.

"She's not one of us." He stated in a tone that said everything. He didn't want her there, and nothing Daniel said was going to make him change his mind.

"Well that's too bad private. Last time I checked, I outranked you. Therefore, I suggest you shut up before I decide to personally take you to the sparring ring and let Nerita have her five rounds out of you." The marine looked over at Nerita, giving her a once over before scoffing.

"I'm sorry, I'm not in the habit of beating up the helpless." Daniel didn't know the man personally, and for once, was glad he didn't. The bigotry spewing from this man was insulting, but he gave a smile anyways.

"So it's settled. After lunch, you and Nerita will head to Observation, where I will enjoy watching you get your ass handed to you so thoroughly you will have to spend a week picking it up off of the ring." Daniel stated as the man looked between him and Nerita, who gave a small smirk as she dug into her meal. The man's bravado all but disappeared when he saw that smirk, the one that told of hidden knowledge beneath the surface. he turned to say something but before he could, Daniel interjected once more. "Oh, and that's an order there Private. You don't get a chance to back out now." The man's shoulders slumped slightly, and he turned back towards his food. Daniel gave a large smile as he turned back towards everyone.

"Now, where were we?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Kelly stood aboard the CIC staring off into the Galaxy map. She had been running over the systems, scanning for activity of note and had yet to see anything that might even be remotely worth looking into. She took her eyes off the holographic screen long enough to look out over the technicians that were currently on duty. Like always they were behaving in a very professional manner, with little conversation going on between any of them. The few that were talking were doing so in a hushed manner, preferring not to disturb the quiet atmosphere of the deck. Kelly gave a slight smile, it was nice to see that her presence brought about this change, seeing as when Horn was on the deck, it was noisy but usually filled with good humour. She was about to return to her relatively boring task of scanning systems, when a voice could be heard all over the CIC coming from the bridge.

“God damn it Niki! Every God damn time! Just once...just once I would like to enjoy something in peace without some obscure warning of something that doesn’t even matter!” Kelly looked at the others, who were simply looking at each other. She slowly made her way around the galaxy map, clasping her hands behind her back as she entered t he bridge and saw Harold fervently trying to wipe something off of his pants. Kelly raised an eyebrow at the situation, but said nothing, and Bretton had yet to recognize her presence. “The asteroid is several million kilometres away, easily avoidable. I just wanted to enjoy some quiet, finish eating my damn sandwich, and watch the stars go by? Is that so hard?”

“As you wish Mr. Bretton, although I would recommend that you be careful of your tone and your words in the presence of a superior officer.” Niki retorted, and Harold gave a disbelieving laugh.

“You’re calling yourself a superior officer now? That isn’t even possible! You’re just an A...She’s right behind me, isn’t she?”

“Yes I am Mr. Bretton. Is there a reason you are yelling at Niki with the highest volume you can muster?” Kelly stated as she looked at the pilot. His face immediately went red as he coughed slightly. He finished wiping something from his lap.

“Well...uhh...I was...” He stopped long enough to realize what it looked like he was doing, and got wide eyed. “Enjoying my sandwich here!” He yelled, his face bright red and suddenly he gripped his face. “Just eating a sandwich here, in complete silence. When Niki here comes on at damn near top volume to warn me about some obscure and easily avoidable asteroid.” He looked back at her to see her simply staring at him with a neutral expression. He coughed slightly once more. “It scared the shi-...It scared me ma’am, and I dropped my sandwich on my lap, Mayo and all.”

“You do know we have a mess hall, right Mr. Bretton?” Kelly asked. “You do have time when you can go down there to eat a decent meal.”

“Yeah...but I’m not so good with people...” Harold stated, his face as red as a beet by now. “That and I enjoy the silence.” He glared at the pad that held Niki’s avatar. “You know, when it’s not interrupted.” Harold stared at the pad for a few more moments before returning his gaze back to the controls.

“I felt that the information was relevant, and needed to be conveyed. I apologize for any inconvenience that I may have caused.” Niki stated, her form shifting to indicate that it was ‘talking’. Harold threw his hands in the air.

“Yeah, you’ve only done it several times. So either you’re doing it on purpose, or you’re an AI with a learning disability.”

“It would not do you well to insult the AI that might be protecting our lives against cyber warfare down the road.” Kelly stated. “However, in the future, try to keep your outbursts...non-existent if they tend to be about unimportant issues Mr. Bretton. I doubt the entire deck needed to hear that you dropped a sandwich on your lap.” Harold seemed to sink into his seat.

“Yes ma’am.” He said quietly, and Kelly gave a nod and turned to walk away when she heard the console beep once. There was a brief pause before Harold called after her. “Ma’am! Communiqué from the Illusive Man.” Kelly wandered back, and Harold quickly put it on a datapad for her to read. Once she had it in her hands, she slowly walked back to the galaxy map as she read the information before her.

Apparently the entire mission was a group assassination, or execution. In short, a group of highly powerful people, both financially and politically, had come together to form a committee that furthered their own goals. These people had been interfering with Cerberus for quite some time now, using their own private army to attack frigates loaded with supplies, or raid small time research outposts whose main defence was secrecy. How they were getting this information had been handled, a few crooked informants that were now...out of the way. The Call of Victory’s job was to now eliminate the main power behind the driving force of the pain in their neck. Kelly read the roster, and saw that there were six men, and one woman who sat on the board, and that they met regularly at different locations. While their current whereabouts were unknown, it was recognized that they would be meeting on Elysium in the Veta system. That location made Kelly frown for a couple of reasons.

One, Elysium was now highly defended by mobile planetary defence cannons. If the Victory was to enter airspace unannounced, they would be destroyed. Luckily, the Illusive Man had already taken care of that aspect. The Call of Victory was to remain on time for their arrival, and would be under the name of the ‘The Journey’, an armed merchant vessel trading in weapons and armed goods. This would explain their heavily armed nature, and why they were in the system in the first place. However, that did nothing to dissuade her concerns for the second problem.

Elysium was under heavy Alliance control. They would have better security, authorities would be better trained and equipped, and it was almost a guarantee that the Alliance kept a contingent of marines there along with frigates at any given time. It was going to be a tight rope of a walk. Getting in wasn’t going to be nearly as hard as getting out. Kelly set a course for Elysium, timing her travel route to arrive at the planet within the timeframe for the next galactic day. This time was good, as it would allow Daniel and the others at least some measure of rest before their next mission. She quickly turned from the galaxy map though, and walked through the hallways to the comm. Room. She wasn’t there to talk to the Illusive Man however, seeing as he would have called her if he was going to debrief her personally, but rather she laid the datapad on the table and brought up several images.

The first image that came up was the building and a two block radius. The building itself was twenty stories high, belonging to a local and small time corporation known as Kreen Exporting Company, or KEC for short. It had several elevators for people to ascend and descend, along with its own private security force which resembled an army. That was unusual for such a small time company, which only brought more suspicion on itself. However, that was the only thing out of the ordinary. Employees came and went as they were paid to do, and each of the group members from the execution list was linked to the company as well, making it easy for them to come and go as they pleased. The surrounding area was a mixture of modern architecture and parks that featured some very nice flora and fauna. If they went in armour, it would draw way too much attention and allow for the council to notice them coming, not to mention the security checks they would have to go through. Kelly put a hand underneath her chin, and held it there for a moment as she went over the area in detail, drawing a plan as she went.

After about an hour of analyzing the layout, the group member biographies, and possible entry/exit plans, she closed the file and stood there for a moment. She now had a plan, but she would have to run it by Daniel first. He had become the go-to soldier it seemed, since Horn had been left out of the action. Speaking of which, she hadn’t gone down too see him in quite some time, maybe it was time that she took a moment to find out just how he was doing if she could find the time. However, she had to focus on the mission at hand. “Niki, where is Daniel now?” Kelly asked the A.I.

“Lieutenant Harrens is currently in the Observatory overseeing some sparring.” Niki returned, and Kelly gave a slight nod.

“Thank you Niki.” Kelly stated as she left the comm. Room and made her way to the elevator.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Daniel stood against the wall in his casual Cerberus uniform, watching as the private geared up for the fight. He was doing several stretches, trying to warm up his muscles as best he could for the upcoming ‘slaughter’ he had deemed it. Daniel knew who he meant, but he doubted it would end up that way. Nerita stood at the opposite corner of the sparring ring, slowly taking off her trench coat and placing it on the corner. Underneath she wore a tight fitting red T-shirt and some standard black pants that matched her black trench coat. She rolled her shoulders slightly, but aside from that, leaned against the pole in the corner and waited for the private to finish his stretching.

Cecil wandered into the gym, his face alight with a smile as he looked over the crowd. Daniel looked over and gave a smile of his own. “Cecil! Where have you been? Haven’t seen you around in awhile.”
“Oh you know, here and there. I’ve been appointed as the procurement officer, something that suits my talents.” Cecil gave a slight sigh and smiled. “Sometimes the marines are worse than the salesmen, but that’s just the way things go. It keeps me busy, and keeps me out of the line of fire for the most part.” Cecil nodded towards the ring. “I heard about a certain ‘challenge’ being issued?” Daniel gave a small laugh.

“Yeah, we get to see what happens when arrogance over comes respect and common sense.” Daniel said. “I think it should be an interesting fight at the very least.” Cecil clapped his hands together and rubbed them.

“Well splendid, I believe there is money to be made here!” Cecil removed his hat and held it up. “Hello fellows! Betting has opened! Who are you going to choose to win! Betting starts at 5 credits! 5 credits!”

Already credits were being handed out as people started betting on the fights. A couple of marines asked Daniel if he wanted to bet, but he respectively declined. He was here to watch Nerita prove once and for all that she belonged on this ship, regardless of her race, not make money off of her when she undoubtedly kicked this man’s ass. The private finally finished, and looked over at the Lieutenant. “I just want to know, isn’t using biotics in a sparring match against come kind of regulations or something?”

“I don’t see why it would be.” Daniel stated, giving a small smile.

“Well, it could be used to unfair advantage, and the amount of force used could very easily kill.” The private returned.

“True, but you are also a couple weight classes above Nerita, an unfair advantage. You could also use your weight to kill Nerita given the chance.” Daniel gave a laugh. “Commander Horn took a bionic limb to the face Private; you aren’t getting out of this fight because you’re too much of a pansy to take her on!” The Private’s face went red as anger errupted into his features.

“I’m not afraid, just cautious sir!” The Private stated as he stepped into the ring, a grey muscle shirt and long grey boxers adorning him. To his credit, the man was built very large and tough. Daniel doubted even he could have taken the man on in a fair fight one on one, but knew that large guys tended to be slow, predictable, if incredibly hard hitting. The Private did give Nerita a once over though, noticing that she wasn’t even in gym gear, and cocked his head to the side. “You not even going to bother to change bluesy? You given up already?”

Nerita simply gave a smirk as she pushed off the corner, and stepped up to the middle of the ring. She was no more than two feet away from the man, staring him dead in the eyes. The man looked like he wanted to give ground from the stare alone, but held his ground. Daniel spoke up. “Alright, we keep this clean, no cheap shots from either one of you. Aside from that, everything else goes, and the fight ends when I say it does. We clear?”

“Yes sir!” The Private answered, Nerita simply nodded.

“Alright.” Daniel stated. “Give each other some room.” Both of them parted and put about ten feet between them. Daniel gave a smile as people were already starting to cheer.

“Light it up!” He stated as everyone started cheering and the Private stepped forward, his arms in a standard boxing style. Nerita held her arms low, her hands flexing and a blue glow coming about her as her biotics flared to life. The Private saw this, and entered a more defensive state. There was a tense few moments as both waited for the other to do something first, but finally the Private got impatient, and launched a quick jab at Nerita’s head. She ducked, and launched her palm out. It connected with the Private’s chest with minimal force, but a quick twitch sent out a burst of biotics that sent the man stumbling back and clutching his chest. The Private looked up at the Asari, who returned to her posture before the attack, and remained in one spot. Nerita could have easily have killed him had she chose, but instead she simply pushed him back with minimal force. The Private closed the distance, and faked with his right hand, and launched a haymaker with his left.

Nerita flipped the right hand away, and ducked underneath the haymaker, catching it as it swung by. She held it against the man in an awkward fashion across his body. She stepped up, and head butted the man in the face, but that wasn’t enough. As the man was stunned for that millisecond, Nerita launched several punches in the soft spot right underneath the rib cage, managing to make the man flinch with each hit. The man pushed off, and launched a flurry of hits towards Nerita’s face, who managed to deflect or block a majority of them with the aid of her biotics. However, near the end, Nerita slipped up, and let a couple punches connect with her face. The Private took the opportunity to grab her from the shoulder and inside of the thigh and lift her above his head. He then flipped her and intended to crash her to the mat, only to have a blue glow surround her and prevent her from hitting the ground. She punched upwards with a biotically enhanced fist, and watched as the man sailed upwards and landed hard on his back. Nerita stood slowly, as did the man. Both were bleeding, the Private from his nose, and Nerita from her mouth. They stepped up to each other once more, and the man attempted to grab her and pin her in place. Instead, she broke the grapple, connecting with a fist to the Private’s face, followed by a knee to the gut as the man doubled over. She rolled over his back in a smooth fashion, and grabbed his head. She launched her knee upward but was stopped when the Private placed his hands in the way, and forced her leg back down. He quickly launched himself at her, tackling her to the ground punched her several times in the gut before she could react.

She reached out with her palm, and sent out a pulse that sent the man flying backwards into the ropes. He doubled over for a moment, and Nerita took the moment to summon some reserve pain-killer adrenaline and launched herself at the man. She jumped up, planning on drop kicking the man in the chest, but was met with a sidestep and a grab as the Private gripped her legs and in a devastating move swung her around and crashed her into the mat. She lay there for a moment before the man gripped her head, and literally lifted her in the air by her cranium alone and drove it into the mat once more. The crowd was in an uproar, some cheering others grumbling about the loss of their money. Daniel simply stood there as the Private looked at the Asari, who was unmoving on the mat, and then to Daniel. “She was going to kick my ass huh LT? I think I just proved my point! Humans will always be better, and she...” The Private pointed back to the Asari. “Is not one of us.” Daniel simply shrugged, and gave a smile. He then leaned forward for a moment.

“Good show Nerita, now if you don’t mind, clean up the mess will you?” Daniel stated. The Private gave a confused expression before turning back to see Nerita climbing to her feet. She looked over at the man, her face bloodied and bruised and the glare she was giving him was enough to kill on its own. The Private looked back to Daniel, then to Nerita.

“I won the fight though!” The Private stated. Daniel shrugged.

“Obviously not, she’s still standing.” The Private grunted and turned back towards the Asari to receive a hard right hook in the face. The man stumbled back a moment, only to receive another left hook to the face, followed by another right. A flurry of hits connected with the man before he was even able to put his arms up in defence. The moment he put his hands up to his face, Nerita hit him in the gut with a biotically enhanced uppercut that literally lifted the man up in the air a foot. All the air left him as he was left struggling to stand, but Nerita didn’t let up. Instead, she kicked his knee from behind, forcing him into a kneeling position. She twirled around to the front, and delivered a sharp biotic kick to the man’s chest, sending him flying to the ground and rolling around the mat. When he stopped, he gasped for air, only to have his throat gripped by the asari, and thanks to some fine usage of biotics and mass effect fields, Nerita lifted him off the ground with one hand, and punched him in the gut a few times with enough biotic power to make sure he wouldn’t be eating for a week.

“Nerita!” Daniel yelled across the mat. People simply stared with absolute silence at the sudden viciousness of one that had always been so calm and reserved. Nerita looked back, panting heavily and purple blood smearing her features. She had a slightly crazed look about her as she held the man there. “It’s done, he’s got nothing left. You’ve won.” Daniel stated, indicating the match was over. She stared at him for a moment, then looked back at the man who was for the most part, slack in her grip save for holding onto her arm as it choked him. Her eyes narrowed at the man as heavy breaths escaped her, but she finally dropped him to the ground and the man simply collapsed. Nerita let heavy breaths escape her as she wiped her face with the back of her hand, smearing some of her blood over her features. She looked at the liquid on her hand, and gave it a quick flick to the ground to get rid of most of it.

Without another word to the rest of the crowd that was still watching her, she grabbed her trench coat, slipped through the ropes, and exited the gym in a rather quick manner. Daniel watched as she left, a different side emerging from her today as Cecil simply smiled and came up beside Daniel. “I don’t know about you Mr. Harrens, but I made a killing!” He shook his hat and the sound of credits jostling around inside was unmistakable. He placed a few within his vest, but simply left the rest in his hat. He gave a quick nod, and made for the door after Nerita. Daniel looked around at everyone, most over the shock now and simply grumbling about the lost money while a few were in the ring already trying to help the Private to his feet. Daniel simply shook his head and went to leave and nearly collided full on with Kelly. He jerked back quickly and surprise etched his face. “Damn you’re quiet!” Daniel stated when he regained composure.

“When I need to be Lieutenant. Are you free?” The question was more of a kindness than an actual inquiry. It was an order in the most polite form. Daniel looked around at everyone, and caught a glimpse of the Private being dragged out of the ring no doubt on his way to see Dr. Grass. Daniel had actually meant to go after Nerita to ask her what was with the whole ‘rage’ thing that just happened, but he guessed he would have to wait.

“Yeah, what’s new?” Daniel asked as he started following Kelly out of the Observation room and into the hallway.

“Another mission, we need to go over the details.” Kelly stated as they reached the elevator.

“Of course.” Daniel stated as they waited for the elevator in silence, boarded, and headed up to the 2nd deck.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Once they were in the comm. Room, Kelly brought up a layout of the building and its surrounding layout, along with the limited bios of the members of the council they were going to kill. Daniel walked around the table slowly, gripping his chin deep in thought as Kelly walked him through the objectives, and some of the finer points of the operation, mainly including extraction. When she had finished, Daniel stood still for a moment, and dropped his hands on the table. “Let me get this straight. They want us to somehow get to the top of a twenty story building on an Alliance dominated world complete with mobile planetary batteries and kill a group of people that technically doesn’t exist and get away before the Alliance can muster a proper response?”

“I wouldn’t have put it quite as bluntly, but yes.” Kelly stated with a slight smile. Daniel threw his hands in the air.

“Why do they keep giving us this shit? I’m a combat engineer, not an infiltration engineer!” Daniel stated.

“No, but we do have one on hand.” Daniel paused.

“Yeah. Is Tia cleared for active duty yet, or is she still under house arrest?”

“If you decide to take her with you on this mission, I will allow it although I would recommend a high level of scrutiny when dealing with her. A relapse, regardless of whether or not she’s treated, is highly possible.” Kelly stated as Daniel leaned on the table once more.

“Yeah, but what else about this mission isn’t risky?” Daniel asked as he looked over everything on the table, doing his best to formulate a plan. “Can we bring up security specs of this building?” Daniel asked. Instantly a blue outline of several items within the map lit up, indicating possible security precautions. A giant blue block was in the basement. “Looks like we found our main security server.” Daniel stated.

“I believe that hub controls the cameras, and possibly the DNA scanners as well.” Kelly stated. “Shutting them down would reroute power almost instantly to another location...here.” Kelly enlarged the map, showing a separate warehouse-like building several blocks away. “This location here is programmed to instantly activate in the case of an unscheduled shut off, which would leave only a second for a window, not enough time to do any real amount of work.” Kelly stated.

“What happens if that one goes offline as well?” Daniel stated, a small inkling of a plan coming to fruition.

“Then the security within the building would switch to a third redundant battery operated internal source. You can’t access it from the corporate building or anywhere that would be feasible to visit.” Kelly answered.

“Alright, how long of a delay would there be if both servers were to be taken out at the same time?” Daniel asked.

“Around a minute, give or take a few seconds depending on the possible delay between servers and the redundant system. This would be the biggest window you would be able to achieve.”

“Alright, so we blast both at the same time, but the question is how to get to the bottom server.” Daniel pondered as he wandered around the table once more.

“I may have an answer for that.” Kelly stated. Kelly zoomed in on a small building a few feet from the corporation building. “These security booths hold around 4 guards at any one time. They have their own basement, filled with a small assortment of weapons but more importantly, a possible route into the basement without going through standard channels.” The screen did a 3D view of the wall in the basement, and showed the gap between the guard outpost, and the server room of the corporation building. “It would take some time and work, seeing as there is a fair amount of earth and concrete between you and the target, but it should be doable within ten minutes of constant work if you send only one person.”

“Alright, I can send Tia in through there; have her shut down the servers in sync with the backup ones. That solves our initial entry.” Daniel zoomed out, and brought it to the lobby. “However, even if the scanners are down, we still have to worry about the guards and the elevators. What are the rules of engagement on this one? Are we dealing with civilian security, or private army?”

“These are private army security, hired soldiers who would do anything for the bottom line. I’ll leave the ROE up to you Lieutenant.” Daniel gave a slow nod.

“Alright, so what are the numbers of the guard here? Are the elevators set up on an emergency shutdown sequence when the servers go down?” Daniel asked.

“As far as we know, the lobby holds about ten guards at any given time, with an unknown number patrolling the many levels of the building. The top floor, however, should be heavily guarded. Expect resistance once you get up there.” Kelly zoomed in on the elevators. “The elevators should shut down and await either a security or a CEO clearance before they move again. If you were planning on climbing the shaft, you might have to worry about the elevator suddenly moving.”

“Unless we disable it from the inside. What about external security? Won’t they come running once we start shooting the place up?” Daniel asked.

“I can assist there Lieutenant Harrens.” Niki spoke up. “When the servers go down there will be a limited window of opportunity. If you upload me to the security console within the main lobby, I can enter the building in a lockdown mode, preventing any access or exit from the building. I can also eliminate all override codes to the doors, preventing guards from spreading throughout the building unchecked.”

“Thanks Niki.” Daniel stated. “Alright, so we have our way in. We’ll need some climbing gear to get up the shafts, seeing as I doubt I’ll be able to walk around the streets in full armour. Once we get to the top, we eliminate the group, and how do we extract?” Kelly brought up the landing pad on the top of the building.

“Alpha extraction will be the topside of the building, where a Kodiak should be waiting if everything goes according to plan. If not...” Kelly brought the map out to a couple blocks away, to a relatively flat park. “We’ll perform a hot extraction here. If we need to use this one, chances are you may be on your own to get out of the system. We have a very limited window in which we can stay in orbit once the mission goals have been accomplished.”

“Wait, landing pad? What’s to stop the group from bugging out to the landing pad once we start shooting up the place?” Daniel asked.

“There is a double reinforced door leading to the landing pad. When I eliminate the override codes, this will effectively trap them within the room.” Niki stated.

“Understood.” Daniel stopped once more, and stared at the screen. Chances are, like always, nothing would happen exactly according to plan. He would have to improvise like he usually did, but damn it all if he wasn’t going to be prepared. “I’ll need Tia along, to deal with the server in the basement, along with the elevators and eliminating its ability to move without explosives. I’ll bring Carly along for the power, and I’ll get Lieutenant O’Ryan to get me a marine to round out the group with 4. I need backpacks and/or satchels to bring in some weapons and the climbing gear, and we’ll also need masks to make sure our identities will still be saved when they undoubtedly check the cameras. Generic weapons, gear, clothing, etc, just so we blend in with the average hitman/robbery crowd.”

“It’s all been taken care of. Cecil has already brought in several items which may be of use to you, and will be able to special order anything else that you may need.” Kelly stated. “Is there anything else you wish to discuss Lieutenant?” Daniel simply gave a smile.

“I know I’m going to be halfway through this mission, and think of some critically important question that I forgot to ask.” Daniel gave a small laugh. “I think I’m good for the moment ma’am. I think best on my feet anyways.” Kelly gave a nod.

“Understood. We’ll arrive in one galactic day, enough time for you to rest and be energized for the next mission Lieutenant. I suggest you take it.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice ma’am.” Daniel stated as he made his way through the door and out into the hallway. The door closed behind him, and Kelly stared at the display for a few more moments before shutting down the screen and walking out.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Daniel stood in the comm. room, waiting to start the briefing. Kelly was there as well, standing slightly off to the side to allow Daniel to conduct the briefing as he saw fit. She was there for any possible information that she may be able to offer, along with answering any questions that may be above Daniel’s head. Daniel was taking deep breaths as he scanned over the blueprints for the building for what was probably the tenth time this morning. Kelly gave a small smile. “The layout isn’t going to change overnight Lieutenant. You worried about something?” She asked, even though she could read the man like a book, she preferred hearing it from him rather than guessing what the problem was. Daniel shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, the way I look at it. We’re going to be walking into a corporate building with masks and guns with potentially over a dozen innocent people in the lobby alone.” Daniel looked at the blueprints once more. “I can’t help but feel like a legitimate terrorist the more I think about this.” Daniel looked over at her. “I mean, it’s not like we haven’t been called that before...but those always felt more like actual operations...this one just feels wrong. Half of those people won’t know why they’re being attacked.” Kelly gave a soft smile.

“Maybe...but those aren’t the people you’re there for. The private security is well aware of what they are doing and who they are helping, and the people you are there to kill are murdering hundreds of our soldiers, scientists, and civilians.” Kelly stated as she pointed to the top floor on the diagram. “You can look at it in the sense that it feels wrong that you are doing this, or you can think of it in the sense of the lives you are saving cutting the head off the snake. Lieutenant, the methods may be shady, but the goal is deserving.” Kelly backed up slightly. “Just remember what you are there for. ROE is up to you, so don’t shoot anyone you don’t think deserves it. We’ll get through this fine Daniel.” Daniel gave a nod.

“Yeah, I get ya.” Daniel looked back at the map. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I understand you.” They entered a slight silence for a couple of minutes before the first of Daniel’s handpicked squad showed up in the comm. Room. He gave a head nod to each as they entered, and shortly everyone was within the confines of the room. Daniel was standing at the head of the table, and Kelly was standing back near the wall, the shadows overtaking her as the lights dimmed to allow the display to be properly viewed. Daniel looked over everyone and took a step off of the table. “Alright people, the mission I’ve picked you all for is a bit...controversial to say the least.” Daniel brought up the building with detail.

“We are to head into this building, get to the top floor, and eliminate 6 individuals.” Daniel brought up the limited dossiers for everyone to look over. “That is our goal...our methods however are going to be a bit different than normal. Seeing as how Elysium is an Alliance controlled world, with a contingent of marines and several ships within minutes of the planet at any given time, we can’t exactly do a hot drop in the middle of the park. We have to walk on eggshells for as long as we can, and when we do go hot, we need to move quickly. We have a limited window before the Alliance decides to stick its nose in our business. So no logos, no armour, and no civilian casualties if we can help it. Private security is fair game.” Daniel broadened the display to show several blocks. “Alright...so here’s the plan.”

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The briefing had gone routine, running over everyone’s roles along with Tia’s specialized position in dealing with the primary server within the building’s basement. The team was already walking on Elysium already, having taken an unmarked Kodiak down to the local Trading center under the flag of the weapon merchant ship ‘The Journey’. The entire team walked in a staggered formation, loosely together but not showing any sort of purpose or coordination. That was good, last thing Daniel wanted was to tip off any Alliance authorities that there may be more to these people than they let on. Every time a marine walked by, Daniel had to mentally brace himself not to flinch in case they were giving him a once over.

He knew he was just nervous, as he felt they all were, but deep down knew he had nothing to worry about. Everyone was wearing their civvies, and was indistinguishable from the average Joe within the city limits. Daniel himself wore a black fitting T-shirt, some green cargo pants, a black ball cap and some mirrored shades. Normally he never wore anything on his head, but he wanted to keep his identity a secret for as long as he possibly could. Everyone else was wearing their own chosen gear, Carly choosing a light sweater with what looked like a blue T-Shirt underneath and blue jeans to go along with it. She also chose to wear a small grey toque on her head, a very old fashion choice but it suited her. The only thing that was really the same with everyone was the fact that they were all wearing backpacks with the exception of Tia, who was carrying a gym bag to compensate for the extra equipment needed to break through the wall in the guard post. Daniel took another breath, and looked up at the Kreen Exporting Company HQ that was starting to loom in front of him.

The team had already managed to slip into the warehouse containing the secondary servers, and set charges to detonate without running into anyone. There were security cameras, but Daniel had used that same virus he had used on Invictus to run an infinite loop while they planted the charges. Now, they were walking in the courtyard leading up to the building. It was quite beautiful to be honest, a sparkling white walkway that lead to a simple large fountain that spewed water in the air and let it cascade down in a waterfall-like fashion. The walkway split off into four different directions at the point, covering North, East, South, and West. Trees were randomly seen on the perfectly mown grass, and the entrance of the building was adorned with color coordinated flowers that looked like they needed a full time caretaker simply to maintain them. The only thing marring the vision of peace and serenity were the guard posts that could be seen in the distance, along with the occasional guard walking through the courtyard. Daniel made it to the fountain, and took a seat, laying the backpack next to his legs. Everyone formed around him, and after looking around quickly and discretely, he looked at Tia.

“You know what to do, the guard post closest to the building on the far side. You have fifteen minutes before we breach, have it done in ten.” He leaned forward slightly. “No gunfire if you can manage it, we don’t want an alert until we’re ready for it. Go.” Tia gave a quick nod, and walked with purpose through the courtyard. Carly watched her go, and looked to Ed for a second before looking back to Daniel.

“So what do we do until then?” She asked, Daniel reached into his backpack and pulled out a small sandwich.

“We chill. We can’t do anything until Tia finishes with her section. In the meantime, enjoy the scenery; we won’t get much chance to look at it once this all starts.” Daniel took a bite out of his sandwich, and looked over at Ed. “And Stevenson, take a seat, you look like you’re going to have a heart attack.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Daniel and the crew had been sitting around the fountain for about ten minutes now, watching as people walked by and enjoying the scenery. However, ten minutes was long enough to warrant an update, and he tapped his ear once when no one was looking, and went back to looking out at the trees and the walkways. “Tia, what’s your progress?” He waited a few tense moments before he was answered with heavy breathing by what seemed an exhausted infiltration engineer.

“I’m good, just about done...you?” She asked, and Daniel frowned slightly. He had been hoping she would be inside by now, but they couldn’t afford to wait much longer.

“We’re making our way inside. You have five minutes to get that server set to detonate and rendezvous with us. Harrens out.” Daniel cut the connection and waited a few minutes before looking around at the others. “Come on.” He stated as he grabbed his bag and started walking towards the entrance slowly enough to buy Tia some time but not look suspicious at the same time. Carly caught up to him.

“Something wrong?” She asked as Daniel started walking up the stairs, casting a quick glance at his watch to grab the time. She had one more minute.

“Not yet, we’ll see.” Daniel stated. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, Tia had forty seconds to set the charge and get clear. Daniel took this moment to look around for guards, and seeing none, brought his bag around and reached into his bag. “Everybody prep.” Daniel grabbed an old hockey mask and slipped it over his face after putting away his sunglasses. Ed and Carly did the same, sporting the exact same hockey mask as well. He looked at his watch. Twenty seconds, it would have to do. He quickly grabbed his carnifex out of the bag along with a detonator, and whipped it onto his back. “It’s show time.” Daniel said quietly, and kicked in the door with a loud crash.

The lobby was immaculate, with everything so white that it seemed that the light was coming from the walls and not the fixtures themselves. The floor was laminated and Daniel could swear that he could see his reflection in the nicely polished floor. About ten feet across from him was a DNA Scanner leading to the console that Daniel needed to get to. Pictures of modern art littered the walls, and the ceiling was the same bright white as the walls. Aside from a few scattered statues, the lobby was essentially bare.

Oh right, there was also about twenty civilians in the immediate area followed by another eight or so guards.

Daniel pushed the detonator in his hand, preferring not to give anyone any more warning than he had to. The detonation rocked the lobby, and the guards, who were unprepared for it, stumbled. “Light it up!” Daniel shouted to Ed and Carly as he rushed across the open ground towards the now dysfunctional and open security feature. Before the guards could regain their composure, three of them were down with heavy pistol rounds puncturing through their shields and armour while the civilians all screamed and tried to run towards the door. The guards that survived the initial onslaught returned fire with their modified M-8 Avenger assault rifles, some of them even hitting the civilians that were trying to escape. Upon closer inspection, it was seen that each guard’s weapon had an extended barrel as well as a modified scope, making them a slightly higher threat. Daniel broke off his stare at their weapons and made a last ditch dive into the DNA Scanner as rounds peppered the ground right behind him. He looked back only for a moment to see Ed and Carly breaking for whatever cover was possibly available to them. Daniel climbed to his feet and ran to the end of the Scanner, but was met with two guards opening the door from the other end.

Thinking on his feet, he quickly hit one of them with an overload, which jumped to the second man. Both stopped dead in their tracks as the electricity coursed through their body and destroyed their shields. From there Daniel pumped three rounds into one man and emptied the clip in the second. He was out the end of the Scanner before they both hit the floor and turned the corner quickly, hopping the desk in order to get to the computer. “Twenty seconds.” Niki reminded him as he furiously started typing on the computer. He could still hear gunfire from the lobby, and only hoped he was fast enough to stop reinforcements from coming up behind them. Within a couple seconds, Daniel linked his omni-tool to their security system, and tapped his ear.

“Niki, we’re good, go!” Daniel shouted as he ran back through the Scanner.

“Acknowledged, shutting down security, closing exits, assuming control of all backup systems...commencing shut down.” Daniel looked through the Scanner and could see several guards running up the stairs to the door only to be shut out at the last possible second by a large metal door falling from the top of the doors, blocking their progress. The entire building’s lighting shut down and red emergency lights switched on in their absence. Daniel took cover within the Scanner, and poked his head around the corner. He ducked back inside as a flurry of rounds pinged against the metal wall. Suddenly a barrage of pistol shots silenced the shooter, and Daniel looked around to see the would-be guard lying in a pool of his own blood. Looking around, he saw that the rest of the guards were either dead or dying on the ground, a couple moaning as the pain overcame them.

“Alright...that has to be a record for eliminating a room full of enemies.” Daniel stated more to himself then anything. Carly and Ed joined him near the scanner and he waved them through as he walked back towards the elevator. He brought his hand up to his ear once more as he passed through the Scanner. “Tia, what’s your status?”

“Right here Lieutenant.” Tia answered from off to Daniel’s right as she came running up the stairs from the basement. Despite the cameras being offline by now, he was still glad to see she remembered to put on her mask. He didn’t want any problems with their possible liberty out in space.

“Good, we’re all here and everything’s going smoothly.” Daniel stated as he came up to one of the elevator doors. “Niki, if you please.” A second later and the door opened to the elevator. Daniel stepped inside, and opened the top hatch and quickly climbed through before looking back down at them. “Alright Tia, rig the last of the explosives on this elevator so there’s no chance of it coming up and turning us all into pancakes.” Daniel looked at all of them with a slight smile behind his mask.

“After that, we go climbing.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Ed could barely react, watching Daniel toss Carly backwards while simultaneously kicking Tia away from the door. Stacked behind Carly, the corporal was the only one of the squad not tossed by the Lieutenant, but when he turned his head to look at the LT, he caught the flash bangs nearly full beam, staggering backwards from the sheer intensity of the charges crashing against his senses. Partially blind and his ears ringing slightly, he scrambled backwards, tripping and stumbling over his own feet.

Disoriented, he still recognized the sound of rifle fire, and these sounded a rank or two above the Avenger’s that the guards downstairs had been using. He felt a hand grab his cuff, and tossed him further down the hall, dumping him unceremoniously on the ground as the heavy bark of a Carnifex echoed in his ears. Ed remembered at some point he’d seen Tia with an SMG, meaning his rescuer was likely Carly. “What’s the sit-rep?!” He half-yelled, still unable to get rid of the ringing in his ears. His vision returned, and he could see the barely contained fury shaking the younger woman’s frame as she traded shots with their assailants. “Sit-rep!” He repeated, thankfully he’d kept his on Carnifex in all the confusion.

A round clipped the door right near his head, and Ed needed no more prompting to get even lower to the floor and get some use out of the makeshift cover Carly had fashioned out of the door. She was furious, and he tried to yell over the roar of gunfire.

“Keep your head! We’ve got no shields or armour! One of those hits, and you’re not getting up!” She was swearing, crushed short sounds that he wasn’t even sure were actually words, but she kept her head down. Ed spared a glance across the hall, noting Tia had taken a similar defensive position opposite them. Their position was terrible, and they were most definitely not equipped to be fighting…

He peaked out for a split second to catch a glimpse of the white and blue armour of their ambushers, ducking back in when one of the barrels snapped towards him and tore up the spot his head had been not a second ago. The design was unfamiliar to him, and he swore mentally at the lack of equipment preventing him from getting at least a goddamn picture to show the brass. Blind firing wasn’t even an option in this position; they’d just take his hand off. The soldier was keenly aware of how terrible their position was, and something in his shoulder area was stinging like hell, but he didn’t check, knowing full well he could manage until he saw the full extent of the injury later.

The second the gunfire stopped, Carly was off like a rocket, with Tia hot on her heels. He pushed off the floor, hoisting himself up to standing and hurrying after the two. Ed ran at an admittedly slower pace, barely reaching the team before Carly smashed herself through the doorway like a furious Krogan. Whatever training they were putting her through was working rather well.

Training or no, though, they weren‘t fast enough, and Ed could only stop and watch the ship containing their commanding officer soar off into the sky. As an alarm began to blare over the city, he joined the others on the edge, swallowing a knot in his throat at the sight of countless Kodiaks mounting their troops and prepping for dust off. They were going to be swarmed in minutes.

“What do we do, Corporal?!” The desperate edge in the private’s voice was painful, and he barely managed to glance at her, thankful the mask still hid his worried face. Tia was all over Carly before the corporal even respond.

“What do you mean ‘What do we do’? We go after Daniel! We can’t leave him here!” Ed looked at the two for a moment, before turning away and walking towards the building. He stayed silent as his mind rolled with what their next move should be.

The marine in him was roaring at him to get the Lieutenant back, to save the man who’d saved them all from the ambush. The survival instincts were screaming back with the need to ensure their own damn survival first. The relentless back and forth was maddening, but as he looked at the others in his peripheries, the leader in him made its opinion known. He tapped the comm. “This is Ground Team. Need immediate extraction at Exfil Alpha.” He paused for the slightest moment, answering the question before it was asked. “Lieutenant Harrens has been captured by an unknown hostile force. I am assuming temporary command. Exfil Alpha, I need you here yesterday. How copy?”

“Oscar Mike to Exfil Alpha.” He nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat and forcing everything down to appear in control. He hoped it showed as he glanced back at Tia and Carly.

“Prep for extraction. We’re leaving.”

His voice was stone cold, unflinching and not welcoming any challenge to his decision. One set of footsteps moved to join him, and he paused as he awaited the inevitable dispute. “We are not leaving! So long as Daniel is out there, we are not extracting!” He turned, eyes hard behind the mask, as he walked a few steps towards Tia, daring her to step up.

“And do you have a plan for dealing with dozens upon dozens of trained Alliance marines in full body armour with assault rifles? Cause I would love to hear it!” His tone was even and authorative, tinted with just the slightest waver hinting at the barely constrained emotion. She, however, was more than happy to get in his face, stepping right up close, imposing and intimidating.

“No damn it! I don’t have a plan! We don’t leave men behind! We can’t leave men behind!” The corporal reached up, tearing the mask off and sending it clattering across the roof, face grim and eyes blazing as he brought himself even closer.

"Sometimes, you have to leave men behind! We don't always have a goddamn choice! The Lt gave the order to fall back, and I am following that order. He sacrificed himself so we could get out, and I am NOT about to throw that away! We're extracting and that's MY call. If you don't like it, then I'll pull goddamn rank! Fall in line before I make you!" He threw it at her, everything he felt and then some, hoping the furious emotion would break her resolve, but the operative remained unflinching. They stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, before Carly’s voice sounded across the heli-pad.

“Corporal! Operative! We don’t have time for this! The Alliance is going to be on top of us!” She was right, and he knew it. They needed to go, but he couldn’t break from this stare down. His spine was thick, but Tia might as well have had one made of pure steel. His head screamed at her to just buckle, so that they could go, so no one else had to die. His eyes just tried to glare holes through her head. “We can fight later, right now, let’s get out of here!”

Carly pulled on them both, and Ed winced silently at the sudden jerk of his shoulder. He followed Carly dutifully; half-dragged by the younger woman’s brisker pace. Once inside the Kodiak, they were unceremoniously shaken as the shuttle peeled away from the rapidly approaching hostile, not to mention armed, Alliance Kodiaks. As they climbed into the atmosphere, the corporal swallowed dryly, not even daring to look at the others as he leaned his head against the door of the shuttle.

They’d missed the targets. They’d walked into an ambush. They’d lost their commanding officer and had almost risked the entire ship with their, HIS, delayed call of exfil. The failure left a bitter taste in his mouth, and the fact that there was literally nothing they could have done only reinforced the feeling of uselessness that hung over him like a shroud. “I’m sorry.” It was a whisper, but he was sure in the silent passenger cabin, it had rung clear all the same. Ed tapped his head against the cold metal, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to ignore the damn throbbing in his shoulder.

The shuttle docked, but the team could barely move before they felt the powerful ‘lurch’ of a FTL jump. It’d be minutes before they’d reach the mass relay, but with luck, the Alliance wouldn’t have scrambled in time to make any attempt at interception. The shuttle opened, and Ed found himself only a few feet away from the last person on the ship he’d wanted to see. “Operative Invaru.” He saluted, ignoring the pain the rigid posture put on his injury.

“Corporal Stevenson.” He’d heard the woman talk a few times before, but there was something unsettling about the flawless neutrality right now. There was none of the undertones he remembered, the little things that compelled you to think the way she saw fit. It was cold, he decided, and suppressed a shiver. “Go to the Med-Bay and get your injury treated. I want all of you in the briefing room for debrief in twenty minutes.” She looked to each of them momentarily to ensure they understood, before turning crisply on her heel and boarding the lift.

If the others said anything, Ed didn’t hear it, moving soundlessly forward, eyes downcast. He heard slightly hurried footsteps following, and held up a hand to silence anything that they might have had to say. Casting a glance over his shoulder at the slightly worried face of Carly, Ed gave a weak shake of his head. “Save it for the debrief. I need to sort my head.” The private seemed to understand, lips settling into a thin line and nodding.

The lift slid open, and there was a brief pause as he just stared at the empty lift for a moment. The light blood loss made him feel sluggish, and part of him still wanted to look at the damn injury and see what exactly it was. Running a hand through his hair, the man hit the button for the Crew Deck with a strike from his fist, leaving the silent gaze of worried comrades behind. The moment he did, he’d feel the full brunt of it.

He chuckled humourlessly. That’d make a good lesson for Pollard. The lift opened, and he disembarked, bee lining straight to the Med-Bay, ignoring the few curious glances from the marines stationed on deck. As the door hissed open, he was mildly surprised to find Maya standing silently at one of the stations, watching as Dr. Grass looked over the still form of Commander Horn. Ed was silent for a minute, letting the two continue, before Lincoln’s eyes snapped over to him in his peripheries. “Maya.” The specialist glanced up from her station, blinking when she saw Ed in the doorway.

“Oh, Ed. What’s up?” She glanced at his shoulder, making a face that was somewhere between disgust and annoyance. “Nice. Didn’t think to slap some medigel on it?”

“We didn’t really bring any. Hindsight.” The short clipped tone he spoke in, immediately told something was seriously wrong, and she crossed the room quickly.

“I’ve got him, Doc. You worry bout the boss.” Lincoln nodded once, seemingly satisfied with the field medic handling the injury. Maya gestured to one of the tables, and the corporal sat down on the edge with a wordless grunt. He felt a little light headed, but Maya soon appeared with the solution, frowning heavily at the bleeding tissue. “Your good luck holds out yet again, Ed. Sliced through a few layers of skin, but that’s it. Gonna sting,”

He nodded, and gritted his teeth when the syringe dug into the damaged skin. The cooling rush of the cure-all made him sigh slightly in relief, and Maya smiled down at him. “Thanks.” He muttered, returning the smile half-heartedly.

“You alright, Ed? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Sorry, Salazar. I think it’s classified.” The use of her last name sent the message, and the medic stepped back to let him up, brow creased with worry. “I need to get to debrief.”

The woman nodded once, patting his good shoulder. “Sure. I’ll be here afterwards if you need to talk or anything, alright?” Ed simply nodded, turning on his heel and heading for the door. Dr. Grass once more glanced up from his work.

“Don’t go saluting anyone till the medigel sets, soldier. I can’t have you burning through all my supplies for some formalities.” Ed waved a hand in acknowledgement, as the door hissed shut behind him. Maya looked back at the doctor, who shook his head at her. “Congratulations, Maya, you know how to use a medigel syringe.”

She snorted. “Thanks, Doc.”

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Ed was the last to arrive to the briefing room, although not by much. He had stopped briefly by his room to change back into his marine casuals, mostly to avoid reeking of coagulated blood in front of the brass. As the door opened, he stepped inside, standing a rigid attention when he sighted O’Ryan and Operative Invaru. To his credit, he didn’t salute as the doctor had ordered, but he maintained the strict stance that the Lieutenant had drilled into his head.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Ma’am. Sir.”

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Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Kelly stood aboard the Call of Victory, hands clasped behind her back and eyes glued to the display on the CIC screen since Daniel and his team had left the ship. She couldn’t help but feel somewhat useless in these regards, seeing as radio contact was to be kept at a minimal in order to maintain their cover and hopefully stay out of the watchful eyes of the Alliance. Linda came up behind her slowly, almost seeming like she didn’t want to interrupt whatever meditative stance Kelly had managed to take standing up. Kelly didn’t bother looking back, instead her eyes remained fixed on the display. “Is there something I can do for you Ms. Franks?”

“Oh, you know ma’am, just checking up on our command statue aboard the CIC.” Linda said with a slight amount of humour to her voice. “If you stand any more rigid, I believe that someone might actually have to carry you out of here.” Kelly didn’t bother giving a smile, and instead remained fixated on the display. Linda took a step forward, looked at Kelly for a second, and then brought her voice down to a whisper. “Ma’am, I may joke but that doesn’t mean my intent is not serious. Being this rigid for so long is not a good thing. It’s a sign of extreme stress and possible underlying emotional issues.” Kelly broke her trance and looked at the Yeoman.

“If that is all Ms. Franks, I have to continue to monitor the situation so that when the time comes, we are ready to move within a moment’s notice. When that time comes, our very lives will depend on me giving the right command at the right time to the right people. It is then up to me to make sure that those people do it correctly, swiftly, and without fear of what may go wrong.” Kelly looked back to the display once more. “You may think of this mission as a cake walk Ms. Franks, but the truth is that it’s a lot more dangerous than we would like to believe. One wrong move and we have the Alliance gunning us down before we can get a couple hundred Kilometers away from the planet. So, if you would like to schedule a time in which we can get together so that you can analyze me some more, please email me a timeframe and I will accommodate accordingly.” Kelly had managed to say this in a cold, yet professional tone all the while keeping her voice low enough that even the closest tech couldn’t hear her. Linda seemed to stare at her for a moment, but her face showed a determination that Kelly was unused to, working with the likes of Yeoman Teesar.

“I believe I will ma’am, and I will put it under the order of a medical examination, so therefore you will be obliged to attend. Tell me Operative Invaru, when was the last time you had a psychological exam?” Kelly didn’t even hesitate.

“I take one annually; my last one was a few months ago.”

“So you haven’t had one since the Titan incident.” Kelly paused for a moment.

“No.” She finally answered. Linda put a hand through her hair once before marking something down on the datapad. A few moments later, and she looked up once more.

“Alright, you’re scheduled. I will expect you at the given time.” Linda made to walk away, paused, and turned back. “I can also read slight body language as well ma’am, and it’s my job to make you hate me.” Kelly didn’t move. “You’re very good ma’am, I will give you that, but everyone has tells.” Linda returned to her post on the other side of the CIC and Kelly relaxed a mental breath. She had been slightly stressed out as of late. She knew that others looked to her for leadership, that others believed she could run the ship, but she didn’t believe that they looked up to her. Lead them? Sure. Guide them? Sure. Be something they aspire to be? That part she wasn’t so sure she could imbue them with. Despite having always played second role to Commander Horn, she had been completely comfortable there, never having to worry about being a role model, only a messenger and a task giver. Now that she was in the driver seat, with lives hanging in the balance on her ability to remain at her peak, she felt it pressing down on her shoulders. In the back of her mind, she hated Linda for bringing this topic up and making her think about it while a mission was at hand, and the other part understood that she was doing her job. Kelly mentally refreshed and regained her former posture staring into the display. She would stand here all day if that’s what it meant to make sure that nothing went wrong with this mission.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It was a little over an hour later that Nikki confirmed that she had been given access to the building’s internal security and had overridden the safety procedures. The mission was still sensitive however, and direct contact was not recommended. Kelly had taken to pacing around the table now, the CIC displaying the building’s schematics, but no real time status of the team on the ground. Such a thing might link the Call of Victory to the happenings at the corporate building, and have the Alliance come down on their heels. All they could do was wait for either the all clear, or trouble signs from Daniel and his team. To be honest, Kelly felt a little jittery about this mission. She didn’t show it of course, but it was one of the rare times where she really didn’t have a part in it in any way aside from planning. She was used to watching over teams, guiding them when necessary and providing plans of attack on the go. While Nikki was capable of thinking faster than any human, she was nowhere near as creative when it came to human ingenuity.

It was a few more minutes before a call came through from the Kodiak pilot. “This is K-1, Overwatch do you copy?” Kelly walked to the front of the CIC and stood above the galaxy map on the slight pedestal overlooking the display.

“This is Overwatch. What’s your status?”

“We are green for pickup at Alpha site...” The crew of the Victory started giving a slight cheer but the pilot continued. “Although our plans have fallen through. Lieutenant Harrens has been captured by an unknown hostile and Corporal Stevenson has taken temporary field command. I’m en route to engage in hot pick up from encroaching Alliance targets. Copy?” Everyone on board the Victory was silent for a moment. First their Commander was down, and now their field Commander was a hostage to an enemy they didn’t even know the name. Kelly stood there, her composure, solid through many things, was shaken and for the time being, she didn’t know what to say. “Overwatch, do you copy?” The pilot repeated, which broke Kelly out of her trance.

“We copy K-1, continue with pick up and return with speed. Outwatch out.” Kelly turned to the technicians manning the scanners. “What’s our status with the Alliance? Are we targeted yet?” The young technician turned to her quickly.

“We haven’t been targeted by planetary cannons yet ma’am, but increased Alliance chatter seems to indicate they know of a Cerberus ship in orbit. There are currently only two other ships ma’am, it’s only a matter of minutes.”

“Nikki, is there any way for you to jam their communications?” Kelly asked.

“No, and even if I had the ability, the moment that I were to take down their communications, it would leave a trail that would lead them straight to the ship.” Nikki replied over the speakers. Kelly looked at the display again. The technician on the Scanner spoke up once more.

“K-1 is leaving atmosphere, estimated time to arrival is one minute.”

“Have the hangar already open. Lieutenant Bretton, set a course and get us underway once they are docked. If need be, fire when fired upon.” Kelly stated as she turned from the podium only to meet the gaze of Linda off to her left.

“Yes ma’am.” Harold replied as Kelly held the stare for a moment longer before heading into the elevator and heading down to the hangar.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It wasn’t long before Kelly stood before the Kodiak transport arrived in the Hangar, Kelly was already there and standing a few feet away from the craft. She could feel the ship kick into gear as it turned to flee from the system. As the team got out, her irrational side of her mind hoping that Daniel was still on board was crushed as only three people got out. Her face remained ever professional, her posture as rigid as someone straight out of officer’s academy, but her mind was racing as to what she was going to do now. She was now down two field commanders, and was quickly losing people to deal with threats that required bullets and muscle rather than information and planning. As her mind raced, her veins chilled, her heart grew cold, and her voice carried with it ice sharp enough to pierce flesh. Edward Stevenson was the first to notice her as he wandered up and saluted. “Operative Invaru.”

“Corporal Stevenson.” Her voice came out cold, colder than she had ever been able to muster. The stress, another friend gone possibly dead, and not knowing what to do next despite that being her so called best ability were causing what emotions she did allow to show through to shut down. Despite this being evident through her tone, her posture remained the same, and her conscious self remained unaware. She gave them a once over. “Go to the Med-Bay and get your injury treated. I want all of you in the briefing room for debrief in twenty minutes.” She said to them before crisply turning on her heel and heading to the elevator. She had planning to do, she had people to replace, events to set in motion, and emotions to push to the side.



Kelly stood in the Briefing room ten minutes later, her hand up to her chin as she stared down at the blank table deep in thought. Her mind was racing with possibilities, scenarios, plans, and even contingencies as to what would or could happen next, and after that, and after that. The sound of the door opening broke her from trance as she looked up and saw the uniformed Lieutenant O’Ryan standing there giving a smart salute. She gave a slight wave of the hand, and he joined her at the head of the table. “Ma’am.” He stated as he came up beside her. “I’m...sorry about Lieutenant Harrens. I knew that you two knew each other for some time.”

“We had known each other for a little over a year and a half now Lieutenant. Men and women die, go missing, and switch sides. Its war, we all have to get used to it.” Kelly stated in such a cold tone it even shocked her mentally. O’Ryan’s jaw locked slightly as he stared at the door.

“Of course ma’am, I meant no disrespect.” Kelly gave a small sigh.

“I apologize Lieutenant. I simply have too many things on my mind to be worrying over the life of one man, regardless of his standing on this vessel.” Leo gave a nod.

“I understand ma’am, duty always comes first.” Kelly said nothing, and they stood there in silence as the first of the team started to wander in. Eventually the team was assembled, and Kelly looked at each and every one of them before turning to Saint.

“Alright. From the beginning. Saint?” Kelly listened to each detail that came from the Operative’s mouth; from her part of the infiltration, to the pacification of the lobby and climbing the elevators, right up to the ambush. She detailed the ambush, how it was perfectly set up, how Daniel was confused for Horn, and how everything was too bang on for it to be a simple information leak.

“Some one knew we were coming ma’am. The security people knew nothing about the last minute switch to get the targets out and in turn the soldiers thought they were grabbing Horn. Someone on the Illusive Man’s payroll is playing both sides.” Tia stated. “I didn’t get a perfect look at their armor or the Kodiak, maybe Carly or Edward did. I’m not sure what the markings might give you.” She leaned her elbows onto the table top, massaging the torn knuckles of her synthetic hand. “We’re being picked apart like a carcass being stripped by buzzards. Ma’am.”

Kelly looked over to the two of them. “Did you happen to make the armour?” She asked to both of them. Carly looked over to Ed who looked between Kelly and o’Ryan.

“It’s a design I’m not familiar with. It looked more advanced than typical marine fare, with white and light blue colour scheme. No emblems I could make out.” Ed spoke up.

“There was no difference between ranking as well.” Carly stated. “The leader wore the exact same armour as the men he was commanding. No insignias, no modifications, no colour changes.” Kelly nodded and looked at all three of them before returning to Carly and Edward.

“And you both agree with Operative St. Jean’s version of the story?” Kelly asked.

“Yes ma’am.” They answered in unison. Kelly turned around, staring at the wall for a moment. O’Ryan looked over but said nothing. Kelly had so many questions, but none of them could be answered by the team here. Without turning, Kelly spoke to them.

“Alright. You are free to go, you are to return to your respective duties immediately unless otherwise medically stated by Dr. Grass.” There was a pause before Kelly continued. “We may have lost one of our field commanders, but that doesn’t mean our duties stop. Dismissed.” Kelly wasn’t watching as she heard them get up, but saw out of the corner of her eye O’Ryan’s eyes snap to someone.

“Is there something you wish to say Corporal?” His usual drill sergeant tone gone and replaced with that of a proper officer asking a question. There seemed to be an air of awkward silence as everyone stopped and Stevenson thought of the words to say.

“I would just like to apologize sirs. I should have taken that hit, I should have dragged him out of there...He was our superior officer and I failed to...”

“Excuse me, it sounds like you’re taking blame there corporal.” O’Ryan interrupted. This stopped Ed dead in his tracks. O’Ryan stepped around the table and Kelly turned to watch. “Now, last time I checked, the enlisted did not take anything without permission. Did I give you permission to take the blame corporal?”

“No sir, but I...” O’Ryan was in his face now.

“No, I didn’t corporal. And until I tell you that you can take that blame and shove it up your ass so far that it can see daylight when open your mouth to talk, you will assume that you have no blame to take, am I clear on that?”

“Yes sir.” Stevenson replied.

“I’m sorry, I heard the sound of a little bitch crying because he came back alive and someone else didn’t. You want to be able to lead one day Corporal Stevenson? Show me you are capable of leading!”

“Yes sir!” Stevenson yelled. O’Ryan stared the man down, who was standing at rigid attention, before backing off slowly.

“That’s better corporal.” O’Ryan stated, no longer yelling. “Now, as I recall, you were given an order to return to your duties by the Commander of this vessel. I suggest you don’t waste any more of her time and get to it.” O’Ryan looked over all of them. “All of you!” Stevenson and Carly snapped off a salute and quickly left the room with Tia. Once the door was closed, O’Ryan looked over at Kelly. “You have to be tough to them when they’re in a slump. Can’t allow them to feel like their emotions can have a grip on them, can’t be a shoulder to cry on, can’t be a recorder to listen to what they have to say. You have to be the reality that hits them in the face and makes them realize just how important staying in control is.” Kelly stared at the man for a second as he stood there, awaiting an order. Kelly simply gave a nod.

“We will be in touch soon Lieutenant, but for now, that is all.” Kelly stated. Leonard gave a smart salute, and promptly left the briefing room. Kelly placed her hands on the table, and let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. A mole in Cerberus? Worse, one that was actively feeding them information on Omni Cell? One thing was for sure, as she stepped around the table to activate the Quantum Entanglement...

She was going to get some god damn answers.

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As the holographic interface surrounded Kelly, projecting her new environment, she stood completely rock still. Her hands were held behind her back slightly tighter than she was used to, and had to forcefully work at keeping her hands loose, so as to not let the slightest emotion sink out when she was talking with her boss. As the interface finished its scan of her, she was rewarded with the familiar large, shifting gas giant that was right outside the Illusive Man’s window. The Illusive Man stood at the far end, his back to the Quantum Entanglement device, and his hands were surprisingly void of any cigarettes this time around. Kelly stood there, knowing that he knew that she was there, and knowing that he would start talking when he wanted to. After a slight silence, TIM gave a small sigh. “This unit was supposed to be some of the best men and women in the known galaxy...fighting a threat bigger than any politician on Earth or Arcturus Station could possibly comprehend.” TIM turned to Kelly, and slowly started walking forward. “Yet it seems that this unit, this cell...is only capable of getting its officers killed or captured.” TIM took a seat in his favorite chair. “Tell me Operative Invaru, why is that the case?”

Kelly stiffened a slight bit, knowing he was looking for a place to find a problem and correct it. One wrong word, one wrong move, and she could find herself in the worst post possible, or worse. “Sir, our team was ambushed planet side. When they got to the room, the targets weren’t there. In their place were some heavily armed soldiers in an armour configuration that our team didn’t recognize...” Kelly took a breath for a moment. “First Lieutenant Harrens was captured in the ambush.” TIM took all the information without batting an eye as Kelly recounted the tale of the ambush, his finger hovering over the holographic display and eyes shifting between her and the screen as she talked.

“That much I can see from the reports filtering in from the ground team sent...and the armour configuration...without a picture I can’t be certain but it sounds like our little brother in the Alliance wants a slice of the cake.” Kelly looked over at him, confused. He took a moment of silence, before lacing his fingers together. “There is an Alliance program being run, called Oracle. It’s the Alliance’s way of trying to keep tabs on all of our operations. They work much in the same way we do, with separate cells dedicated to different areas of operations. What they lack, however, is the funding and manpower. They’ve been watching us for awhile now, this is the first time they’ve acted in any measurable amount.” Kelly looked at him, her eyes growing cold and metaphorical frost falling from her shoulders.

“Sir, was there a reason we weren’t told this? We could have gone in prepared for a possible ambush, been more careful, understood the risks...”

“Everyone understands the risks they take when they join up with this organization Operative Invaru.” TIM stood up, stepping closer to the QE pad and raising his voice slightly. “This job requires sacrifice from the soldiers, the scientists, and the operatives to function. This is a known fact, something that you should already be fully aware of Operative Invaru.” TIM stared her down for a moment, his very presence forcing her to back down. He took a step back, and pulled a cigarette from his breast pocket. After lighting it and giving it a slight inhale, he spoke. “I didn’t tell you because I was just as much in the dark as you were. Despite their lack of means, they are surprisingly resourceful. My contacts didn’t know about the ambush until it was already made.” TIM sat back down in his chair. “I made the mistake of underestimating them, their reach, and their tenacity. Make no mistake Operative Invaru, this will not happen again.”

“Forgive my...abruptness sir, but how can we possibly understand the risks if you won’t tell us.” Her trademark professional tone returned for that brief moment, possibly the only thing preventing her from being fired or eliminated at this point. The Illusive Man didn’t raise his voice lightly. TIM waved his hand around, trailing smoke behind the cigarette as he did.

“I can’t have my agents, soldiers, and scientists being spooked by every single rumour out there. We are always under threat of attack, under threat of espionage, under threat of morality rearing its head. The truth is, Operative Invaru, is that I didn’t notify you because we had been ‘under threat’ from Oracle for some time now. They had done nothing previous to the ambush that indicated they had the means or the motivation to actively strike at this organization.” The Illusive Man looked Kelly straight in the eyes. “Had I told you, you would have dismissed it as a rumour as well. Something that happens every day, something that is constantly watched but blatantly ignored by the people who don’t need to know what the threat actually is.” TIM relaxed for a moment. “I suggest you drop the matter Operative, there is nothing more to discuss here.”

“Understood sir.” Kelly’s voice was cold, and despite her best efforts, it was getting obvious to see that she was angered by this betrayal, however small. It cost her a crew member and a friend. “Is that all sir?"

“Three things. First...” TIM took a drag on his cigarette. “Commander Titus is no longer with us.” Before Kelly could say anything, TIM held up a hand. “He’s not dead Operative, he’s betrayed us. Those men who attacked your squad and took Lieutenant Harrens, he’s joined up with them. He’s with Oracle now. From this moment on, if you come into contact with the former Commander, you are to eliminate him with extreme prejudice. Are we clear?”

“Crystal sir.” Kelly replied.

“He left the Vindicator when he fled from Omega station, salvage teams have been sent out to recover the ship. Your priority is to get to the station, and pick up a crew member he left behind.” He took another drag on the cigarette. “Vala Buchan. She’ll be staying with you until I deem otherwise, so I suggest you make something comfortable for the Operative, after all, she just had brain surgery.”

“I’m sorry sir? Are we talking injury?” Kelly inquired.

“No, we’re talking implant upgrade to L5’s. She’s up and moving, but I wouldn’t expect much from her for awhile.” The Illusive Man took a moment of silence once more. “Two, I have another mission for you. I realize that you would want to rest and recuperate from the loss of your temporary field Commander, but this is something that simply can’t wait.” TIM hit a button on his display and a planet appeared before them. “This is Ontarom. You may remember the planet from the Corporal Toombs incident.”

“The one where a soldier came back from the supposed dead to kill the Cerberus Scientists that had abducted him?” Kelly asked as she looked at the rotating planet.

“That would be correct.” TIM took one last drag on his cigarette before snuffing it out. “Since then we had established a research station on the other side of the planet. With the help of some sympathizers within the human colonies, and some bribes towards some of the Alliance officials in the area, we were able to set up a base of sizeable proportions.” TIM touched a button, and the image zoomed in on an area near the south pole of the planet. Kelly took one look at it, and raised an eyebrow.

“That’s not just a research station...” Kelly stated. The base itself was built like a fortress. Noticeable weapon emplacements couldn’t be seen from the image that she was given, but she had to guess they had some sort of hidden arsenal there. Aside from that, it was built to withstand a sizeable attack. Kelly guessed that it had to do with the Alliance personnel on the planet, in case they decided the bribes weren’t enough. TIM pressed another button, and showed that the base went several floors underground as well.

“You’re correct in a sense. It’s a weapon’s developing facility.” Kelly looked up at the man as if he was mad.

“You placed a weapons developing facility on an Alliance controlled world?” Kelly asked, unable to keep the incredulity from seeping into her words.

“Money can buy many things Operative Invaru. Peace and quiet happens to be one of the cheapest. Besides, being an Alliance controlled planet is the equivalent to having a drunken mother who only registers you exist when you stop feeding her alcohol. Even if we were to launch an attack from this base, I doubt the Alliance would respond with any speed to do anything about it.” TIM looked up at Kelly once more. “Which is good, considering what I’m tasking you with.” Kelly looked up curiously, and the screen switched to a balding man with a marine’s build but scientist’s attire.

“This is Doctor Harvey Mueller. He was our lead scientist within the Ontarom Outpost, but since then has proven that he is...too difficult to handle.” The image changed to several videos all depicting horrible weapon experimentation involving live targets varying from human to asari to elcor. “While the loss of such life is...saddening, the real problem happens to be the fact that he is drawing attention to us. We are already under enough scrutiny as is from the galactic community, and could deal without this headache.”

“I’m going to guess that you already asked him to stop?” Kelly asked. TIM looked back at the videos.

“Of course, several times under pain of death this last time. He’s managed to gain the favour of most of the marines and scientists in the area. Either through sheer racist zealously, or fear of death.” The videos changed to one video of Cerberus marines fighting one another throughout the base, vying for control of key sectors. “As of 8 am yesterday morning galactic time, the outpost officially went off the grid and assumed rogue.” Another button push and the screen disappeared. “Your mission is to go in there, and liquidate the entire area; marines, scientists, anyone that has sided with Dr. Mueller regardless of the reason. Be forewarned, this is not an easy enter and clear operation Operative.” TIM leaned forward a bit. “With Commander Horn still in a coma and Lieutenant Harrens currently MIA, this task will be all the much harder. They will be armed, they will fight, and there will be death for both sides.”

“What kind of numbers can we expect sir?” Kelly asked without missing a beat.

“The marine contingent based out of the outpost wasn’t large, 50 marines maximum. With the infighting, I would put their current numbers at around 30 to 40.”

“What can we expect defensively?”

“The outpost was equipped with a Guardian anti-air system built into the roof of the complex. However reports indicate that the loyalist marines managed to at least damage their systems before they were overrun. I have no knowledge of anything else, as they have managed to effectively cut us out of the systems. The reports and data have been sent to your on board AI.” TIM leaned back once more. “Be forewarned Operative Invaru. Dr. Mueller is a brilliant man. He may have been planning this coup for months before it actually came to fruition. Expect the unexpected.”

“Understood sir.” Kelly stood there for a moment, the both of them looking at each other in complete silence. “What was the third thing sir?” TIM stood from his chair, and walked towards the window slightly, his back facing Kelly.

“Omni Cell has fallen into disarray Operative. Reports, actions, and statistics are all saying the same thing.” The Illusive man turned back towards Kelly. “And that is Omni is costing me more money than it is worth.” Kelly did her best to not visibly stiffen. TIM walked forward slowly, his footsteps echoing in the chamber. “I do not work in the business of failures, nor do I work in the business of losing money Operative Invaru. Completing this mission, despite the lack of knowledge and resources would go a long way towards solidifying the reason as to why you were formed in the first place.” TIM was up to Kelly now, staring her down through the holographic interface. “Do not disappoint me Operative, I do not react well to disappointment.” With that, the connection was cut and Kelly was left standing in the briefing room feeling slightly out of breath. In his own twisted, mind-bending way, he had just threatened her job and her life. This mission was part of message, that failures and rogue agents would be hunted, they would be killed, and they would be forgotten. Kelly took a deep breath, and looked around the room slightly.

“Nikki, did you get the data transfer from the Illusive Man?” She asked the room.

“Acknowledged Operative Invaru, we can view it at your leisure.” Nikki answered. Kelly shook her head.

“In time, for now, there is someone I need to go meet.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“To be honest ma’am, I thought you weren’t going to show up.” Linda said as Kelly stepped into her room/office. The place was incredibly clean, save for her desk which had data pads tossed all over and old fashioned paper cluttering the free space. Off to the side were too chairs, one of them with a prop desk to write on, and the other with the ability to recline. Kelly knew which one was hers. “Just take a seat ma’am, and we’ll get started.” Kelly paused for a second, suddenly getting the feeling that Horn probably got whenever he was getting a psych exam. She walked over, and took a seat in the reclining chair, and remained silent for the few minutes it took Linda to grab her things and sit down in her desk-chair. She wrote a couple of things on her datapad, before putting it down and leaning forward on her elbows. “So, what’s on your mind Kelly?”

Kelly was slightly taken back by the casual use of her first name, usually one ever used by either Horn or Daniel on rare occasions. Linda just gave a smile. “I’m here to examine your brain Operative, and you’re concerned over the use of your first name? That’s cute.” Her tone was slightly condescending, which was strange for a psychiatrist. Kelly had always been with the ones that were all business, no jokes, and completely to the point. They never joked with her, or in this case, talk down to her.

“I thought I was here for you to tell me.” Kelly stated in a neutral tone as she disregarded Linda’s previous statement. Linda gave a smile, and wrote something else down on her pad.

“Well how do you think I do that Kelly? I can’t tell you what’s on your mind if you don’t tell me what you believe is on it.” Linda said as she looked over to the Operative. Kelly simply stared her down. Linda gave a sigh, and looked down for a moment before returning her gaze. “We can do this as easily as you like, or you can try and fight it. I find more problems if you fight it, just so you understand.”

“I understand that you tried to undermine my established position as a leader of the vessel while we were on the CIC in front of dozens of techs, who now might be questioning my mental health because of you whispering in my ear Ms. Franks.” Linda sat back in fake shock as she put yet another note on her datapad. Once again, Kelly’s voice was neutral as ever.

“Kelly, in the short time that I have known you, I have been able to observe a many things. An amount that actually surprises me considering how composed and in control you are at any given time. Would you like me to read them to you?” They looked at each other for a second, and when Kelly didn’t respond, Linda held up the pad and began reading from it. “Operative Kelly Invaru. Outer control is apparent, but a sign of inner turmoil as her constant need to be ‘in on the action’ has managed to portray a sense of over-achieving, along with subtle symptoms of extreme stress.” Linda looked up at Kelly, who simply held her glare. Linda continued. “While I have not known Kelly long enough to understand what she was like prior to her position as temporary Commander of the Call of Victory, it is obvious that she doesn’t feel comfortable in the position. The makeup that hides the bags under her eyes, the subtle twitches she’s developed when she hears bad news, to the point where she seemed to freeze when she heard that Lieutenant Harrens had been captured. All point to extreme stress, and possible psychological disorders of varying degrees should this routine keep up.” Linda looked up once more, and gave a smile. “Kelly, I’ve learned what a jaw lock looks like, I can see you physically trying to suppress your need to clench your fists, and your constant staring is indicating signs of anger.”

Linda sighed and put the datapad down. She took a moment to compose her thoughts before speaking. “I’m trying to show you what you are going to become should you keep up with this behaviour ma’am. Despite this show of control, this cold air of professionalism, this image of non-caring objectiveness, you are falling apart on the inside.” Linda sat back for a moment, tapping a finger against her chin. “I want you to describe Commander Horn to me.”

“I’m sorry?” Kelly stated neutrally despite everything being said.

“Describe Commander Horn to me.” Linda stated once more. “Not physically, but as a person. Who is he, what, in your mind, makes him tick?” Kelly kept her gaze with the woman a few moments longer before looking down and coming up with an answer.

“He’s...overbearing, sarcastic, sexist at times, often crude, sometimes rude, and most of the time simply acting as if he was a man that was going into his freshman year of college.” Kelly stated.

“So why do you follow him?” Linda asked. Without missing a beat, Kelly answered.

“Because despite that there are qualities that save his character. He’s brave, charismatic, loyal, courageous, witty, funny, and willing to do whatever is necessary to not only finish a mission but to save as many people as he can. He’s one of the few Commanders out there that I can say that without a doubt he would take a bullet for anyone on this ship...even TJ.”

“Sounds like you’ve spent some time analyzing his character Kelly.”

“It was my job.” Kelly retorted.

“Do you admire him?” Linda asked suddenly. Kelly looked at the woman.

“If by admire, you mean respect and trust him with my life, then yes.” Kelly stated. Linda gave a smile as she jotted yet another note down on the pad. She looked up, playing with her nails.

“Oh come on, you’ve been with him what? Over a year now? He’s the kind of guy that manages to put on a certain air of charm regardless of the things he says or does.” Linda gave a wicked smile. “And judging by the way your pupils dilated as if you were reliving a memory when you spoke of him is surprising. That and how quickly you came to jump to his defense when I started question him.” Kelly simply stared at the woman.

“It was my job to analyze him, to keep him on track, and make sure he knew what the threats, risks, and rewards were. He didn’t necessarily like it, but again, it was my job.” Kelly retorted.

“And now it’s your turn. You’re Horn, I’m Kelly. I’m analyzing you, and you hate it, much like his dossier says that he hates shrinks.” Linda leaned forward once again. “You’re trying to live up to his legacy without realizing you’re trying to live up to anyone. You’re trying to play it to your style, only to realize that you’re in a far bigger shadow than you thought you were.” Kelly looked down for a moment, giving a sigh and hating the fact that she was right. She had been trying to live up to Horn ever since he had gone off to the Collector Cruiser. She wasn’t a soldier; she was an analyst and a strategist. Linda continued. “I can sit here all day, and list to you your pros and cons, but that’s not what I’m here for.” Linda stood up, and took a seat on the arm of the chair Kelly was on. “I’m here to make you realize, you aren’t Horn...you will never be Horn...as far as I read, no one can really ever be Horn.” Linda gave a smile, and Kelly smirked. “I want you to be yourself, not for me or for the Illusive Man, or even for the crew. I want you to be you for you. This stress of the job, losing people, watching and not being able to do a damn thing about it...it’s not something you can control. You have to place faith in the right people, and when those people are willing to follow you simply because of who you are rather than what your position is, that’s when you know you’ve raised yourself to the point you’re trying to hoist yourself to.” Kelly looked up to Linda.

“Stop stressing, stop worrying, and stop crying on the inside for Horn or Harrens. Instead, do something about it. Take a break, have a rest, let some sleep clear that confused brain of yours and wake up in a few hours refreshed. Then, when everything is ready to go...” Linda stood up again, and grabbed her datapad. “We’re going to find those mother fuckers who took Daniel and treat them to several different kinds of hell for taking our field Commander.” Kelly gave a small smile before standing up from the chair. She paused once she was standing.

“You are not the standard type of psychiatrist Ms. Franks.” Kelly said, her tone slightly lighter now. Linda gave a laugh.

“Kelly, I’ve learned that you military types are so used to balding men in glasses asking you ‘what does this picture look like’ that you never actually learn what is mentally wrong or fit with you. I’m here to help you, not send a daily report off to God knows where so I can collect my paycheck.” Linda looked over at her. “Whether you like it or not, we’re all in this together...and I don’t like seeing my Commander troubled.” Kelly stood there for a moment longer, before taking a couple of steps towards the door.

“I...appreciate the concern Ms. Franks.” Kelly stated, and just before the door opened, Linda yelled after her.

“Hey!” Kelly turned and caught a bottle of pills, she looked them over and recognized them as sleeping pills. “There’s enough in there for a couple of nights, just to get you caught up. And for God’s sake ma’am, in this room, it’s Linda!” Kelly gave another small smile before walking out the door.

“Of course.” She said lightly as the door closed behind her. She took one more look at the pills, knowing there was still a few hours before their rendezvous with Operative Buchan. She slipped them into her pocket, and made her way towards her own room. She could really use one restful sleep before the rest of the shit hit the fan.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“And we are docked.” Harold stated as Kelly looked over his shoulder at Omega Station.

“Good, is Operative Buchan waiting?” Kelly asked. Harold pressed few buttons before a confirmation came across.

“It looks like it boss...I mean ma’am...sir?...Ma’am?...Commander.” Kelly looked down at the man as he quite easily became flustered.

“Ma’am will do fine Mr. Bretton.” Harold nodded sheepishly, keeping his head down as he no doubt scrutinized himself once more on acting like an idiot. Kelly walked back through the CIC feeling like a new person. The sleep brought on by the pills had allowed her the first restful slumber she had had since Horn had gone comatose. Her military form was, once again, immaculate as her eyes surveyed everything and everyone. Despite the loss of Daniel, the failure of the mission, and the threat by the Illusive Man, she walked around as if nothing was the matter. In actuality, she was still stressing on the inside as to how everything was going to work, but she had a purpose now. Once Vala was on the ship, they had a mission that needed to be completed and that was her sole concern for the time being. She could worry about Daniel, about Horn, about her job, about her life, or she could focus on the things that she could actually work on. Despite the talk with Linda, which went surprisingly well, she felt like she could fall into a stress remission at the drop of the hat if she thought too long and hard about the far seen problems. So instead, she flushed them out of her mind, and as she stood in front of the airlock, she focused solely on what was happening right now.

When the door opened, Kelly found a rather disheveled Operative Buchan. She looked like she had been hit by a truck, but Kelly chalked that up to a combination of brain surgery and Commander betrayal. She stood there, her neutral eyes looking at the woman with a small smile on her face.

“Operative Buchan. Welcome to the Call of Victory.”

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Vala stared for a half second at Invaru, before a slight smile upturned the corners of her mouth. “Glad to be here.” She stepped into the airlock, a lone marine following behind her, dutifully pushing along the Nyx in a small trolley. “She looks like a beauty. Hold up well since you got her?” Kelly smiled softly as she led the way to the elevator.

“"More or less. Things haven't exactly been going well for the Cell as a whole, or at least, from what I'm told.” The woman’s neutral was light, but it seemed to hint at something, which Vala read loud and clear. The marine trudged behind them, seemingly emotionless behind the black of his helmet visor, stopping only when Vala did, like he didn’t even process the rest of the people around him.

“I’m not surprised you’ve heard about it…” Her eyes narrowed, her sharp gaze focused on the floor like it was the most interesting thing in the world. She continued, unaware of the bitter venom tainting her words. “I can barely believe it, and yet I feel blind for not seeing the signs earlier.” As they approached the elevator, the commando released a surprisingly shaky breath, swaying lightly in place as Invaru called the lift. “Shouldn’t have left it up to the double agent though. I would have done it.”

There was a silence, and Vala brought her free hand to her forehead, muttering unintelligible noises under her breath. She had a headache coming on, and today was already bad enough. She didn’t need anything else going wrong. "Maybe you would have, but that wouldn't change our current situation. We would still be down a Commander..." She felt eyes upon her, and looked up at Kelly, caught off guard by the woman’s stone-like gaze. "Have you been briefed on Lieutenant Harrens?"

Vala stopped cold, eyes widening in surprise. “Daniel? No, why? What happened?” Kelly said nothing as they boarded the lift, the marine keeping his distance from the two so as not to intrude on their conversation. The Victory’s current commander stayed silent for a few moments, watching the lift tick away the floors as they approached the crew deck. The waiting only made her more anxious.

"Lieutenant Harrens has been captured and is considered MIA for the time being." Vala stiffened, somehow looking more shocked than she had been before. The door pinged open, and Kelly started out, pausing for a moment to let Vala’s properly catch up. "What limited Intel we have suggests that it was an Alliance black ops unit called Oracle that made the ambush." Invaru glanced back at Vala; head cocked ever so slightly to the side, and face blank. Almost cold. The commando couldn’t help but wonder if the woman even noticed his absence. "His disappearance changes nothing. As of now, we are heading towards our next mission. We will be there within a couple of days."

Nodding once, Vala glanced back at the marine behind her, making sure he was still coming along like instructed. The man was, silent as a mouse, and unaware of the few spare glances the resident crew were giving his armoured figure. “I see…” Brow furrowing in thought, Vala went over the information she’d heard from Nulfem earlier, particularly the scarce information he’d provided on Oracle. “They hit us with a raid and pulled out Titus…Nulfem was wrong when he called them little.” With a quick shake of her head, Vala jogged forward slightly to catch up to Invaru proper, falling into step with the taller woman. “What’s the mission?”

Kelly gave her a small smile. "One that you won't be going on, in your condition." Vala sighed as they came to a stop in front of a door, likely meaning it was to serve as her quarters. She nodded towards the door, and the marine wasted little time opening it and hauling the Nyx inside. "It's a raid. Not much demand for a black ops operative such as yourself, nor the need to put your health at further risk after your surgery." As Kelly spoke, Vala managed to glance around the working marine at the room beyond. It was very simple, with the bunks on each side switched out for a single double bed and a small desk on the other side. It was smaller than the room Vala had been given on the Titan, but it would suit her needs for the time being. The bed looked reasonably comfortable as well, so that was a small plus. "On that note, you should also check in with Dr. Grass. He would like to be kept appraised of your condition, and would like to check to make sure nothing is...well in his words...'missing'." Kelly turned towards her, her form immaculate and perfect as ever. "Any questions?"

Vala frowned deeply at the ‘missing’ comment. “I’ve walked across Omega, secured terminals and purged data today, and he worries that something is missing? I’m past that point.” She was silent for a moment, watching Kelly’s expressionless face. “But, I suppose I can humour him. Where’s the Med Bay?”

"The Med bay is just further along this deck Operative Buchan." Kelly gave another small smile. "And that's the reason he wants to see you...just because you aren't falling over dead now doesn't mean you won't be in a few hours." Vala sighed, muttering something along the lines of agreement.

“And there’s no way to convince you to lift the ban, is there?”

"The Ban stays, Operative Buchan." She could feel the woman giving her the once over and swallowed down the woozy feeling in her stomach to stare back firm. "You're barely standing as is, and in a crowded and most likely shell shocked environment, you'll be out of your element." Vala didn‘t flinch, resolute as the two locked eyes for a fraction of a second. "The most I can do is permit you to be aboard the CIC when the mission starts, but that is as far as my leniency goes." After a pause, Vala nodded in agreement.

“Alright. Thank you.” She stretched, suppressing a yawn but failing rather miserable. The commando leaned against the bulkhead, chuckling sleepily. “That’s all I need. I won’t keep you, I’m sure you’ve got a full plate with the mission and all.”

"Alright Operative Buchan, I will be on the CIC if you need anything." With that, Kelly returned the way they’d come, the heel of her boot echoing down the hall until it finally disappeared all together. As if on cue, the marine emerged from her quarters, saluting sharply to the operative before standing at attention.

His external speakers crackled to life, his voice even and respectful. “Ma’am, the armour is set up, as per your instructions, ma‘am.” His form was impressive, not even wavering under the weight of his black armour. “Do you require anything else, ma’am?” Thinking for a moment, Vala tapped a finger against her lip, before shaking her head.

“No, I think that’s enough. I should be able to handle the rest. You’re dismissed.” He saluted again, and she saluted back, and he wasted no more of her time, heading down the hall towards the lift. Vala watched him go, before turning her gaze into the room that was now officially hers. There was much to be done, no doubt, reading over reports from when she was unconscious, debugging, setting up the terminal, unpacking, plus a visit to the med-bay to satisfy Dr. Grass.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Vala thought about all this, and felt tired just from the process of sorting it all mentally, never mind actually doing it. Falling back onto the bed, desperately trying to ignore the pounding hammers at the back of her skull, she debated getting up and going to see the doctor right now. The bed was warm though. Very warm. And comfortable. “Fuck it.” She murmured, grabbing the sheets and pulling them around her. “He can wait a few hours.”

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"So...what's your take on everything?"

Jessie McKrain leaned against the side of the railing as Kevin Jaconis lay on his back, attempting to fix a couple of power couplings. He only gave a grunt in response.

"We lose people, it's part of the job description." Kevin's harsh voice cut through the engine room without the slightest of emotion. This was a man who was so used to losing people that he couldn't even bring himself to fake sympathy. Jessie simply frowned at the man, even though she knew he couldn't see her.

"Well that's heartless. Daniel's a good guy, he didn't deserve to have that happen to him. Horn, well Horn probably had it coming since he was born with his attitude but still. Neither one deserved what they got." Jessie replied still looking at the prone form of the man.

"Yeah, well life ain't about what we deserve Jes. If it were, I would be sipping margaritas on a beach somewhere where no war could ever touch me. There would be nothing but a calm beach, with gentle rolling waves and a small cabin for me to rest my head when I got tired." There was a bit of a shock and Kevin grumbled several different curses before finally pulling himself up from underneath the panel. "Instead, I get to look after a warship. I get to make sure she can run fine, I get to make sure she can make someone else as cynical as me."

"I don't think anyone can be as cynical as you Kev. Hell, you practically invented the ideology." Jessie smiled back as Kevin grabbed a rag and wiped his hands. He looked over at her, gave a grunt in response, and started walking towards the Eezo core in the center of the floor. "But what I mean is that the saying 'karma is a bitch' should start to apply somewhere here. What exactly did they do to piss off Karma?"

"You're seriously asking this question girl?" Kevin stated, looking back at her with an incredulous look. He gave a sigh and pinched his nose. "They are soldiers girl! What do soldiers do for a living? They kill. It's what they are trained to do. Daniel could have won the Nobel Peace Prize on Earth for all Karma cares, all it knows is that he pulled the trigger to end some poor sucker's life." Kevin gave a sigh once more as he walked until he got to the control panel for the Eezo core. "You work on guns the size of tanks, and yet you are question why a soldier would be captured or killed? Did you actually go to school?"

"I could ask you the same question, the way you fix things around here." Jessie gave a sly smile as Kevin frowned and tapped a few buttons on the control panel. "Soldier or not, the two of them didn't hurt anyone that didn't deserve it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I can understand them getting shot at, captured, and killed...but it doesn't seem fair in the grand scheme of things. These guys save lives, and all they get in thanks is either a bullet to the face or grievous injury. Just sucks is all."

"Yeah, well get used to it. Life's a bitch."

"Oh, I wouldn't quite say that my good duo." Kevin and Jessie both turned to see Cecil walking towards them casually with a small box in his hand.

"Cecil! How's it going?" Jessie asked, her face all smiles. Cecil gave a smile back and a shrug.

"Oh you know, requisitioning equipment, talking to the crew, running an illegal betting den when no one is looking. My usual." He gave a grin and reached into the box to produce a delicious looking cookie. "Got them shipped in from Earth, tasty little things. Care for one?" Cecil offered the box, and Jessie took one but Kevin made no acknowledgment that they were there. Cecil shrugged once more. "Now it seems I've walked in on a deeply philosophical discussion. Care to explain?" Jessie looked to Kevin, who only grunted once more in response. Jessie took the couple of minutes to go over her discussion with Jaconis, Cecil the entire time deciding to munch on a cookie. When she was done, he waved the cookie slightly in front of him.

"Well, Mr. Jaconis has a point in that soldiers tend to always end up where they send others. However, let's look at this from an optimistic point of view." Cecil put the box down on a nearby table, and looked up at Jessie. "Commander Horn is still in a coma, but he is technically alive. Lieutenant Harrens has been taken hostage from the alliance equivalent of Cerberus, Oracle, but is deemed as MIA rather than KIA." Cecil finished munching on his cookie before continuing. "The way I see it, they both could have been easily killed. Horn could have died on the operating table, or on the Collector vessel. Harrens could have been shot and killed down there on Elysium. They could be confirmed dead rather than a shady type of unknown. As far as I'm concerned, until someone finds them and confirms that their heart no longer functions, they are beating the odds as a soldier." Cecil gave a smile. "And that, my beautifully dirty Jessie, is why they are already getting the better side of Karma. Most soldiers like them die within a year, statistically speaking. Someone is watching out for them, albeit in a really round about way." Cecil grabbed his box and tipped his hat.

"However, I need to be leaving. I still have plenty of cookies and more hungry crew. Always a pleasure McKrain, Jaconis."

"Later Cecil." Jessie smiled as she thought about what he said. Kevin simply grunted. As Cecil disappeared down the hallway. Jessie and Kevin sat there in silence for a moment before Jessie turned to Kevin. "Why can't you have that positive of an outlook on life?"

"Fuck off."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The past couple of days had gone by in a blur of activity that Kelly had managed to keep up with due to practice and determination. The preparation, the anticipation, the butterflies in your stomach as you rushed to the next mission, these were all things she was capable and comfortable dealing with. Over the past two days, She and Lieutenant O'Ryan had gone over the details of the base extensively, but kept an open mind and speculated on what possible upgrades they could have made in the few days they were given to prepare. The blueprints were extensive, but anything could happen when a man such as Dr. Mueller was in charge of the base. He was a genius, if his file was anything to go by, and anything these blue prints said about defences was most likely going to be outdated by the time they got there.

As far as they knew, the base had Guardian anti-air turrets set up around the immediate vicinity of the base, making a direct drop into the heart of the storm impossible until they were destroyed. It was also known that a uplink dish, while meant to send streams of data back to the Illusive Man, could easily be rigged to jam any signal within a certain range of the base. This could prove to be problematic, seeing that if they got within range of the base, they wouldn't be able to call in air support nor would they be able to communicate with the Victory in any form until the uplink dish was destroyed. Another thing that threw their plans for a loop was the fact that this was a weapon's testing facility. Any number of experimental weapons could be within the confines of it's halls, which meant they would be dealing with complete unknowns in terms of enemy armament. It had Kelly metaphorically pulling her hair out a couple of times as the variables continued to stack despite the amount of information they were given on the base and the people within it.

Kelly didn't visit Linda again, despite her repeated attempts to rope her into another session. Kelly explained it away, claiming she didn't have the time for a psychiatrist appointment, when in reality she had adopted the Horn view of things and just really didn't like psychiatrists. She didn't like people digging into her head, especially as easily as Linda had done. That meeting, while it had calmed her down some and the sleeping pills had worked wonders, still unnerved her as to how much she was showing to the trained eye. She had worked for years to perfect the fact that she remained to project professional imagery in the worst of times, yet this woman had walked in and read her as she had stormed around the CIC voicing her thoughts with a speakerphone. It disturbed her to say the least, and she preferred to shove it to the side and deal with the more pressing issue for the moment.

Every marine was going to be needed for this assault, and as such Lieutenant O'Ryan had gone on a training binge as he forced each and every marine to be prepared both mentally and physically for the battle. He made sure they all had enough rest before the battle, since a tired marine was a marine that made mistakes, but short of that he worked their asses of in order to get them fit for duty and to make sure that the majority of them made it back. Squads could be seen running through the halls almost around the clock for the two days that it took them to get to Ontarom, along with weapon's training and strategic thinking exercises. They were all given 8 hours of uninterrupted sleeping time aboard the Call of Victory prior to the mission, allowing them to be rested and as prepared as they could be for the mission. Kelly had to admit, when Leonard wanted to whip the marines into shape, he did so with an almost calculating precision.

However, the day of the assault was upon them, and Kelly stood aboard the CIC. Her hands were clasped behind her back as she stood behind Harold on the bridge and looked out the window as the FTL speeds caused beautiful and colourful displays of space to appear through the canopy. Harold looked over his screen before giving it a double check and turning back towards Kelly. "Ma'am, we're half an hour out." Kelly gave a nod, knowing that O'Ryan was already assembling the marines to meet on the shuttle deck. She would need to be there in order to give parts of the briefing herself and to show them exactly what would be happening down there on the planet. Her posture, facial expression, and very air about her didn't change as her thoughts ran into a ditch of doubt. There was a very real possibility that this mission could end in failure once more, and then where would they be? Would Kelly be fired? Liquidated? What about the marine causalities? What would happen to the innocent people sent to the Ontarom base should they fail? They would most likely continue to be experimented on and killed in the name of creating more weapons, and Kelly wouldn't allow that. She had never been known for her caring nature, but she signed up because she believed in protecting those who couldn't protect themselves.

"Ma'am." Kelly's thoughts were interrupted by O'Ryan coming in over the intercom.

"Go ahead Lieutenant." Kelly replied, already knowing what the call was about.

"We're assembled, should I start with the briefing?"

"Yes. I will be down in a few minutes to go into further detail."

"Affirmative." O'Ryan said before cutting the connection. Kelly stood there for a few moments before turning briskly on her heel and making for the elevator. Whatever was down there...they would be prepared.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Affirmative." O'Ryan stated before letting his omni-tool fade from existence on his arm. He was wearing his full Cerberus assault armour, exactly the same as the 200 or so marines that stood in front of him, save for his helmet resting on the engine of a nearby Kodiak. On the field of battle, without the IFF tags built into their armour, they would have no idea who was who. Leonard continued to stare at the marines, who were in a relaxed form of 'at ease'. They were all highly trained and motivated, the only difference being that Titan company marines were wearing slightly denser armour and carrying the heaviest of the weapons that were given to the marines. Some of them carried Mattock assault rifles, others carried the M-22 Eviscerator shotgun. For the most part, the Victory Company marines carried the standard Avenger or Vindicator assault rifles. Each marine squad had also been issued with the ML-77 Missile Launcher as well, deeming it necessary to have heavy weapons ready. O'Ryan took a step forward, each marine watching intently from behind their visor. The entire bay was silent, waiting for the man who would be leading the assault to start the briefing.
"Marines!" O'Ryan started as stepped up to them. He wasn't used to dealing with so many soldiers at one time, even during training exercises. He was a lieutenant, sure, but he had always been a small squad commander. This experience threatened to overwhelm him, but he kept his resolve as he looked into the visor of each of them and continued. "You have all been summoned to perform a simple but risky mission. Our task is to liquidate a rogue Cerberus Cell, and take out there leader." He waited for that to sink in for a moment, waiting for some of the murmurs to die down. He pressed a few controls on his omni-tool and a display popped up in front of him. "Open your omni-tools, I will then proceed with the briefing." There was a minute as every marine accessed their individual omni-tools, and once O'Ryan was happy that everyone had a screen in front of them that mimicked his own, he continued.

"I'm not even going to bother beating around the bush for you marines. This will not be an easy mission. This is a full scale assault the likes that most of you haven't seen before. Here's the rundown." Leonard took a moment to compose himself, then started. "The target is a Dr. Harvey Mueller. He's an intelligent man with a knack for creating experimental weapons. The problem? He's a sadist, and believes in testing these weapons on civilians and captured soldiers. The problem? Well if you can't see the moral dilemma here, let me spell it out for you. Cerberus has a bad enough rep without pricks like this broadcasting our name to the galaxy covered in the blood of innocents. He has been asked to politely cease his operations, we...are the impolite request." The display changed for all the marines as O'Ryan continued.

"Dr. Mueller is holed up in a research facility on Ontarom, but don't mistake that as an easy assault target. If you look at the specs listed to you on the display, you'll notice that this place is meant to take an assault. Weapon emplacements are located in several key regions to keep any assault suppressed, and the base itself is built deep enough to withstand an orbital salvo. There are several other obstacles up the slope to the facility, most notably trenches and scattered mines. There is no way around them, and the trenches should provide at least partial cover from the onslaught of their guns. The mines are Cerberus issue, but do not attempt to disarm them or switch their FoF signature readings, Dr. Mueller will have already switched the codes making those options suicide."

"GUARDIAN towers prevent us from landing too close to the facility, so an airborne assault is out of the question. A satellite dish meant to upload data from their findings will have, in our most likely scenario, been transformed into a jamming device. So once we are inside the cone of it's coverage, we will no longer have any contact with the Call of Victory until it's taken out. We should still be able to use short range radios to communicate with squads, but if not, then we will have to rely simply on our own voices."

"Sir." A marine in the back spoke up. "Are we to understand that there is no other option than a full on frontal assault?"

"Possible assault scenarios have been thought up, and effectively washed out. Every option relies too much on Dr. Mueller not thinking of a possible contingency, and we are not willing to risk an entire mission on a 'what if'." O'Ryan stated, and the marines said nothing, most staring at their omni-tools in silence. Leonard looked over at them, knowing what was going on in their minds. They would be rushing a heavily fortified encampment with no support, and only bodies to climb upon. Some were going to die, but if they did their job well, most would get out alive. "We have attempted to skew the odds in our favour, and as you've all noticed, each squad has been issued with either a M-77 Missile Launcher. These will be used to your full advantage against the entrenched guns. Don't bother trying to conserve ammo, the harder we hit them the faster we get inside."

"Ummm...Sir?" A marine in front looked up slightly. O'Ryan gave him a nod. "Well sir, if we're on the ground...and the satellite dish cuts off our communication to the Call of Victory...How will Operative Invaru be directing the mission?" A few murmurs went around the bay, many of the marines knowing that during operations like this, Kelly liked to personally oversee the mission and direct it's progress.

"From the ground, just like you private." A voice spoke up, and everyone including O'Ryan turned to look at the voice.

At the entrance to the Shuttle Bay stood Kelly Invaru.

Instead of her usual immaculate Cerberus Officer uniform was an entire set of standard Cerberus armour with a few modifications. First of all, the armour had been slimmed down to provide quicker movement at the cost of protection, and the shoulders and leggings had also been rigged to amplify biotic power. Aside from that, she looked just like any other grunt in the hangar. She stood there for a moment, her red hair tied in a loose ponytail rather than her usual bun and helmet under the crutch of her arm. She strode forward, wearing the armour as if she had donned it hundreds of times and the soldiers parted before her as most were too shocked at seeing an obvious intelligence officer in full military gear. O'Ryan remained silent as Kelly strode forward, but his eyes never left the woman even as she came to stand beside him.

"I won't be able to communicate, let alone command from the CIC aboard the Call of Victory, so I will be joining you in the assault on the Ontarom facility." There were a few murmurs among the marines, and Leonard touched Kelly's arm to get her attention. He leaned in and whispered in her ear.

"Ma'am, a word?" Kelly looked to the rest of the soldiers, before turning towards the Lieutenant and waiting for him to speak. "Permission to speak freely ma'am?"

"Granted." Kelly answered, and O'Ryan gave a small sigh.

"Is this really wise? We both know fighting isn't your style...this is a full blown assault and completely out of your comfort zone." Leonard said in hushed whispers so that even the closest of the marines couldn't hear them.

"I understand your concern, but I have participated in battles similar to this one in scope before. Besides that fact, we are down one Commander and one Lieutenant. I will no longer put someone in my place when it should fall to me to lead by example." Kelly retorted, keeping her voice low and level.

"Look ma'am, I can see that you are taking having both Horn and Harrens gone hard, but going down there and getting yourself killed isn't the answer. No one will think any less of you if you stay up here."

"Stay up here and do what Lieutenant?" Kelly asked, her head cocked to the side slightly. "We both know I'm blind until the marines manage to take out that dish, and even then, I won't be able to direct anything once they are inside the facility. No, this requires the attention of the Commander...or the individual in his stead personally."

"Ma'am, think this through...We can't afford to lose another Comm-"

"You won't, now let's continue with the briefing." Kelly cut the Lieutenant off and turned to face the marines. O'Ryan bit his lip for a moment before giving a slight nod and turning to face the marines with Kelly.

"Alright marines, Operative Invaru will now go over the finer details of the mission." Kelly brought up the omni-tool display that matched the images the marines were looking at, and spoke loudly enough for all of them to hear.

"Due to the large number of you going down, we will not be able to provide oversight on much of the battlefield. As such, Master Sergeants Bill Jacobson and Tyler Carson have been promoted to the rank of Company Commanders. Gentlemen, please step forward." A man from each company stepped through the ranks and formed up on either side of O'Ryan and Invaru. "Have you selected your platoon leaders?" Kelly asked them.

"Yes ma'am!" They answered in unison. Kelly simply gave a nod.

"Good." Kelly pressed a few buttons and brought up a list of objectives detailed with diagrams and moving images to simulate movement. "Due to the unpredictable nature of Dr. Mueller, and what he possibly has planned for us, the plan has been based off of the only assumption we can make. That assumption is us making it into the research facility." The diagram showed two arrows moving in on either side of the compound. "Titan Company will land on the north side of the compound and Victory on the south. Each company will have one Mako heavy combat vehicle to assist you, but do not mistake this as a cure-all. They will have heavy weapon emplacements, and your Mako will need to be protected from anti-vehicle fire. The Makos are there to help with any of the lighter emplacements that you may come across, as well as provide portable cover."

"The north side of the complex is notably more heavily enforced, as such that is the reason Titan Company will be taking that side of the complex and has been issued with heavier armour during this operation." Kelly switched views to show the arrows actually proceeding into the base, which showed long tubes descending straight into the ground for quite a distance before coming across the first floor. "Assuming that we reach the inside of the complex, there are four points of interest. The base itself goes down several levels, but the first objective is the Satellite dish controls, located on the fourth floor. Destroying these will allow us to regain contact with the Call of Victory."

"Ma'am, why wouldn't we just shoot the dish?" A marine asked, and Kelly simply looked up with a neutral expression.

"The dish itself almost the same size as the complex. In order to take it down we would need precision demolitions or heavier ordinance then what we have. Besides that fact, bringing down just the satellite doesn't guarantee that the jamming will cease. Destroying the controls is the only sure fire way of eliminating the signal." Kelly pressed a button on her omni-tool, and the display went deeper.

"On the 9th level is where the GUARDIAN emplacements are controlled. A quick demolition here will render the weapons inoperable, allowing for air support to come by and pick up the wounded topside." Once more the display went further down. "On the 12th floor is the main weapons testing lab. Here should be most of the experimental tech that Dr. Mueller managed to conceive while he was still under the employ of Cerberus. Take what you can carry, and destroy the rest. We don't want the Alliance to stumble upon any technology that may or may not aid them in their...subtle war against us." The display stopped on what appeared to be the last floor. "The 15th floor houses Dr. Mueller's office, along with the top scientists to the research facility. There is to be no hostages. All members of the science team that have effectively revolted are to be shot on sight, no exceptions..." Kelly looked around at the marines to make sure they understood what they were supposed to do, and saw a silent acceptance in all of them.

"Now, while these are the key objectives in seizing the research facility, each and every level must be cleared. Keep your eyes open and reflexes sharp for automated defenses, be prepared to deal with sealed blast doors, and there will no doubt still be some hostile marines ready to defend the facility with their lives." Kelly shut down the omni-tool and looked to the others. "Everything else in this assault is reactionary. There is no telling what Dr. Mueller may have in store for us, so adaptability is key to our survival and a mission success." Kelly looked to O'Ryan, who gave a nod.

"Alright marines!" Leonard started. "Check your gear, prep your minds, and get ready to kick some ass. Titan company is first drop, it will take another fifteen minutes for Victory company to sync up. I will be dropping with Titan Company, and once all marines are on the ground, we will be starting the assault. Do you understand me marines?!" O'Ryan yelled to them.

"Sir yes sir!" The chorused back.

"I'm sorry...did I train a bunch of weak asthmatic kids? I asked if you understood me?!"

"Sir yes sir!" They answered in louder volume and with more enthusiasm. O'Ryan simply gave a nod and motioned towards the Kodiaks.

"Alright then. Titans! Let's move!" Leonard stopped next to Kelly as the rest of the marines jogged past him to board the Kodiaks. "I still think this is a bad idea ma'am." He stated bluntly.

"That may be so Lieutenant, but it's not your choice to make, it's mine." Kelly looked him in the eyes, and the fire behind them managed to make the Lieutenant look away. "I'll see you on the ground Lieutenant." Kelly stated as she placed the helmet on her head and initiated the reflective visor to hide her face. She walked off with a different air around her. As O'Ryan watched her walk, it seemed as if having the armour on her seemed to change her personality ever so slightly. Gone was the usual elegance and poise that everyone was used to seeing her with. In it's place was a purposeful stride that may or may not have been called confidence. It spoke about the woman even more than what she could say about herself. Leonard stopped looking after the woman and placed his own helmet on his head as he followed after the Titan marines.

"Alright, c'mon! Move your asses!"

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Kodiak shook as Kelly stood with her hand on the railing like many of the marines around her. Many simply stared ahead, lost in their own thoughts, but a few were still talking to each other as the bump of atmospheric re-entry started to fade. She caught a few of them staring at her, and when she looked at them from behind her reflective face plate, they quickly averted their eyes. There was no doubt in her mind why they were looking at her. They all knew her as an information officer, one who strategized, planned and ran just about everything to do with the Call of Victory save for the actual battles themselves. To be completely honest with herself, she hadn't been in any sizable battles since the Citadel, which she was barely able to talk about with others outside of the operation due to all the black tape. She had managed to keep up a loose firearms training schedule, but her talent with a weapon was basic at best. No, in order for her to do any good on the battlefield, she would be relying heavily on her biotics.

This is what scared her the most. Once again, she hadn't really utilized her biotics since the Citadel. She was a stronger than average biotic, according to the charts, but there was still the inkling of doubt as to how much she would be able to force our of her body before her own system started revolting against her. She could remember times prior to her meeting with Horn where she had blacked out a couple of times due to exertion, and to have that happen now would be a death sentence.

She dropped these thoughts as suddenly as they popped into her mind. She focused her eyes on the door, and forced herself not to think about the doubt that was starting to seep through her mental barriers. She needed to be level headed, quick, resourceful, and smart if she wanted to not only survive, but insure that the mission as accomplished. She gave a quick look around at the marines, realizing that some of them wouldn't be coming back from this operation, and found herself feeling oddly cold about that fact. Years of seeing faceless men and women dieing at her command had hardened her to the fact of writing about their deaths to the Illusive man, but being here now, among them...it felt incredibly wrong.

She was about to start questioning her own humanity when the ship lurched slightly, and the door opened to reveal a lush green planet with a bright sky. A light wind blew the grass beneath their feet, and the sun cascaded beams of light that glinted off of the marine's armour, making them appear to be made of glitter. Kelly stepped off the shuttle with the marines, her Avenger rifle in hand, and looked back to see the other dropships landing with more marines eagerly dropping to the ground and rushing into a loose formation. Sergeant Carson came jogging up to the woman, being recognized only by his IFF tags in the sea of Cerberus assault armour. "Ma'am, most of us are down. Are we ready to move out?"

Kelly looked off in the distance, the research facility a few clicks to the north so as to avoid any AA fire during their landing. Kelly turned back towards the man and nodded. "Have your men form up under their respective platoon leaders and head to the stand by location." The man gave a nod before broadcasting to the marines as ordered. Kelly returned to staring off towards the base. As the marines started heading out at a light jog, Kelly kept pace with the head of the pack.

Whatever happened today, it was going to be anything but easy.

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Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Ontarom was beautiful. Or at the very least, it was a beautiful day on the planet. Kelly kept a light jog going as the entire company made for their stand by location, and couldn't help but feel her mind drifting towards any thought aside from the actual fight ahead. She thought about what she would do once she was aboard the Call of Victory again, what she was going to eat tomorrow for lunch, what she did three years prior when she was simply a floating information field agent within Cerberus's ranks. Every time her mind drifted, she had to snap herself back to the present, and was thankful her body seemed to be on autopilot for the time being. She doubted seeing their commanding officer day dreaming while she should be preparing for what was most likely an incredibly dangerous and risky operation would not do well for morale. She gave the slightest of glances backwards, but heard no sound and noticed any odd movement. Of course, she didn't think she would, they would all be using private channels by this point. A part of her wished for someone to talk to right before heading into the proverbial shit, but she knew there was no one here who really knew her. She was, at least metaphorically, alone. It wasn't long before they all started climbing a small hill, and once they were all stationed on top of the incline, she saw what their objective was.

Sitting in a valley that was unnecessarily large for the deceptive visible portion of the complex sat a single building. It wasn't large by any means, two stories tall and looking like a corporate office rather than a weapons testing platform. The only thing that deemed to give it away was the incredibly large antennae that linked their communications to the rest of the galaxy. It dwarfed the building in size five times over, and could have easily held an entire company of marines in it's dish. Kelly surveyed the field, noting that not much of the landscape had changed from the blueprints. Tank traps and trenches still littered a wide area 360 degrees around the complex. No movement could be seen, heard, or scanned from where they were standing, and Kelly doubted it would have been that easy. She knew there was also mines in the valley, but they were not visible to the naked eye. Being Cerberus issue, she hoped that their suits systems would at least detect them from a safe enough distance, but she still had her doubts. Overall, the scene was much like she expected. It was meant to lower their guard, to make it seem all too easy. The expected became reality, but what worried Kelly was the fact that there was nothing unexpected at all. Everything matched the blueprints almost to the letter, as if there hadn't been any preparation whatsoever. She paused, surveying the scene with an inquisitive eye. As she was doing so, Sergeant Carson came up to her. "Ma'am, are we green?" She held up a finger, not giving a verbal response. Carson simply gave a nod and took a couple steps back.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan, are you in position?" Kelly asked over the comm. channel.

"Yes ma'am, the radio is filled with minor static though." Leonard's voice came through, and as he stated, there was some slight white noise mixed in with his voice. They were right, the satellite dish had been converted to a large scale jammer but close range transmissions within it's area of influence were able to punch through to each other.

"What are you feeling?" Kelly asked, and there was a slight pause as O'Ryan most likely paused at what she was asking before understanding what she meant.

"If you mean everything looks too much like the blueprints, based on what this guy's IQ is supposed to be, I don't like it. Something doesn't add up."

"I have the same inclination. The problem is we don't have the time to sit and think as to what he could have done..." Kelly stated as she let her avenger fall to her side.

"We proceed as planned?"

"We proceed as planned. Initiate assault Lieutenant. Good luck."

"Same goes for you ma'am." Leonard cut the connection and Kelly looked to Carson, giving a single nod. He returned it, and looked to his marines.

"Alright marines, arm up and get your running boots on! Keep an eye on your squad, keep them safe, and stay alive. Let's go!" Carson took off running down the hill as the rest of the company followed. Kelly easily kept up to the front of the pack, refusing to get lost in the middle rather than show the others that she was there, in front, leading them through example. While her form lacked nothing in terms of looking like a foot soldier, her mentality was different. Her mind was racing with possibilities, inconsistencies, and thoughts of failure as she reached the bottom of the hill. She lacked the mental ability to think like a soldier, see one goal, and pursue it with an almost fanatical determination. She was a thinker, and she was afraid that her hesitation based on her thoughts of 'what ifs' were going to get her killed.

As they reached the edge of the complex's kill zone area, there was a slight pop as they crossed the threshold. Suddenly, a single blue ball launched from the two story building, and it had every soldier looking up at it as it continued it's ascent into the sky, before exploding into a beautiful fireworks display. Kelly stared at it for a moment, before her thoughts turned to something different and looked down too see MG emplacements rising from the ground on retractable gun platforms. At the head of each one was a Cerberus traitor. "Heavy weapons! Down!" She shouted as she slid into place behind one of the tank traps and heard the sound of death as the MG's opened fire.

It was like a symphony, one she had heard before many times, but refused to believe in it's beauty. The company scattered, spreading out to avoid taking too many causalities, but causalities were inevitable as the amount of bullets shredded some of the marines where they stood as the others managed to get to tank traps or trenches. Kelly looked around the tank trap long enough to see a man three feet away have his leg blown off from one of the Cerberus mines placed there. She took a deep breath, and rounded her makeshift cover, firing a couple rounds as she went but they were obviously wide as bullets blazed by her. Adrenaline was flowing through her body, but despite the whole rumour of time slowing down, it didn't. Had her amps been switched with that of Horn's, she knew it would have. In reality, everything simply speeds up and your body matches the pace. She was unused to this feeling, the pure energy inducing fluid running through her veins. She half stumbled, half jumped into one of the trenches, only to find the bloodied remains of the unfortunate marines who had jumped in there first. She looked around, and saw shards of metal jammed into the earth. "Marines!" She broadcast on an open channel to the entirety of the assault force. "The trenches are mined! I repeat, the trenches are mined!"

There was an explosion as one of the MG nests went up in flames from a tank shell fired from the Mako coming up slowly behind them. There was a slight cheer as one of possibly dozens of MG nests was taken out. Kelly prepared to lift herself out of the trench to continue, only to hear a high whistle above the cacophony of gunfire. She looked up once more, only to hear more than a few marines yell; "INCOMING!"

Mortar shells detonated among the marines, sending a few flying and a few more completely obliterated as they were hit dead on. A shell hit dangerously close to her trench as she ducked under the hail of dirt and rocks that threatened to bury her alive in her tiny little hole in the ground. She wiped the grime from her face mask, and crawled her way out of the trench. She shimmied along the ground, managing to see there was still a good 200 yards before they would be able to even breach the defensive line. For the moment, all that counted was making it there to begin with. A bit more crawling, and she rolled into another trench with a couple other marines who were taking the time to fire their assault rifles at the MG nests stationed at the defensive line. Rockets and tank shells were also flying towards it, but at this range, only the Mako could make accurate shots. Already another 3 MG nests were out of commission, but it still wasn't enough. The fire was simply too thick for the company to make any real progress, and every inch was paid for in quarts of blood.

She took a moment to assess herself, a shell had nearly hit her dead on but she had survived. When she took that second of a breather, she found herself hyper ventilating. The read outs on the HUD of her armour indicated that her heart rate was elevated a great deal more than what even this situation should entail. In all rights and respects, she was on the verge of shock and the worst part about it was the fact that she recognized it. She took a few moments to calm herself, to slow her breathing, the constant marine chatter on the public channel making it hard for her to slow her heart rate down to a non-life threatening state. However, as she looked up, she saw something that was enough to bring her heart beat right back to the near shock state.

Eclipse gunships, about 4 of them came flying in formation over the hills, blasting apart the killzone with missiles and machine gun fire. Missiles were fired from the marines as they passed by, and the sheer number of them going after the gunships was too much for even the pilots to avoid. 3 of the 4 gunships were taken out almost immediately after they did their strafing run, but the fourth turned back towards the battle and launched more missiles. These ones were directed at the Mako which, despite it's manoeuvrability, was unable to move in time to avoid the brunt of the impact. Missile after missile hit the broadside of it's hull, and once the smoke had cleared, the Mako was nothing more than a smoking ruin. Kelly could do nothing but stare at what had been their best chance to punch a hole with the least amount of causalities sitting there and burning. There wasn't supposed to be any air support, but then again, those were Eclipse gunships. That meant they were dealing with more than a possible fifty marines inside the complex. They could be dealing with just a large a number as they were throwing at them. It made her want to scream, to break something. Instead, she sat back down in the trench as the MG's lit up the area even more around her. She was starting to break down ever so slightly as she felt her hands tighten around her weapon to point of wanting to snap it in half. However, she looked over to her right, and noticed the three other marines in the small trench with her, staring at her. Her mirrored visor made it impossible for them to gauge her face, and her theirs. They sat there, staring at each other for a moment before Kelly managed to regain enough of herself long enough to crawl out of the trench and take to a crouching stance.

She ran, her elbows nearly touching the ground as fire flew around her and pinged off her shields a few times. She brought up the numbers about the companies, and was surprised to see that despite the attacks, ambush, and loss of the Mako, the companies were still faring much better than expected. The only problem was the fact that they weren't moving. The machine gun fire was pinning them in place, allowing for baby steps forward that would not be feasible with the mortar fire pounding on them every step of the way. She looked around, and found a single squad crouching behind a couple of tank traps. "You! With me!" Kelly ordered over the comm. and the squad simply obeyed. As they fell in behind her, She stood up and holstered her Avenger. She held out her hands, palms up and felt the biotic energy flow around her as her amps on her armour flowed in tune with the power being generated from within. A blue shimmer appeared in front of her about the size of a small car, and bullets seemed to simply bounce off it's surface. She walked slowly, more marines picking up the hint as they fell in behind her. However, as they started to crowd behind her, the guns started focusing on her to the point where the sheer force pounding on her shield forced her to stop. The marines quickly broke away from Kelly and searched for cover as the shield eventually broke and Kelly watched as the bullets came flying at her.

A few managed to get through, sparking her shields and causing them to fail before another blue orb surrounded them. She was on one knee and leaning to her side using her hand as a prop. Nerita came into her vision, her umbra visor glowing a deep blue as she took a hold of Kelly and dragged her behind the nearest tank trap. "That was risky Operative." Nerita said, her tone completely neutral despite everything that was happening around them.

"It was necessary, how much ground did we gain from that?" Kelly asked, sidestepping the statement slightly.

"Only a few yards." Nerita answered as she ducked from a few MG rounds that peppered their position. Kelly took deep breaths, but couldn't believe it. The exertion she felt, it must have been a couple dozen yards. As she looked back though, she saw she was only about ten yards from where she had started, nothing that would be ending this fight any sooner, and she didn't have the strength to continue to do that. She took out her Avenger rifle and rested her back against the tank traps, only to hear Nerita say something else.

"Shit." Her neutral tone betraying her this one time as actual anger and fear seeped into her words. Kelly bent over and looked around her cover to see LOKI mechs rising from the dirt a few yards ahead of the closest marine. Each one had no insignia, but as they rose, yellow armour could be seen from where the defensive line was that was without a doubt of Eclipse origin. "Eclipse mercenaries. They must have hired them while we were en route." Nerita stated, her voice back to her surprising tone of uncaring.

"Wait..." Kelly stated as she looked over at the woman. "If that's Eclipse, and they weren't already here before the base was here..." Kelly stopped talking, and looked upwards towards the sky.

"Shit." Nerita stated once more.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Do we have any idea how they're doing down there?"

"Once again Helmsman Bretton, I am unable to break through the jamming signal generated by the land based satellite dish that was converted for just such a purpose, that being we wouldn't be able to know 'how they were doing'."

"Yeah...still don't like it...and stop talking down to me." Harold Bretton stated in frustration as his hands moved across the display in front of them. He wasn't moving lazily in any way or form, but lacked any real direction. For all intents and purposes, he was simply sitting here, waiting for either Operative Invaru to contact him, or for enough time to pass to indicate that they were no longer among the living. Either way, he was of no use up here and was simply trying to make himself busy so he didn't think about the people fighting and dying down there while he got sit in a cozy chair talking to something that could at least be classified as a female in the loosest sense.

"Your heart rate is elevated Mr. Bretton. Is there something wrong? Should I contact Dr. Grass?" Nikki interrupted his thoughts.

"What? No!" Harold stated a little loud, earning a few stares from the closest techs which he ignored. "I'm just...feeling a little useless right now and it's making me edgy." Harold looked back at the CiC, and noticed an Operative simply pacing around the Overlay of the planet. "She makes me edgy."

"Operative Buchan? She has done nothing to incite any feelings of anxiety or stress."

"I know...it's the fact that they don't necessarily have ranks. That, and she's backed by the Illusive Man himself. She's an assassin, I hate assassins." Harold stated as he glared at her for a moment.

"That seems to be a personal issue Mr. Bretton." Nikki retorted.

"I guess. Assassins just rub me the wrong way, their job is solely to kill people."

"Soldiers kill people Mr. Bretton." Nikki stated.

"No, soldiers fight. Their job isn't always to kill people, it's to sometimes save people, items, etc. Their objectives vary, and while there are the bad soldiers who simply don't care, most of them don't go out of their way to kill people." Harold pointed at Vala for a second. "Assassins on the other hand, that's all they know. They kill, they kill, and they only kill. Hell, met a few of them before, half of them were crazy and the others were sadistic." Harold shook his head. "They're nothing but trouble."

"We have trouble." Nikki stated.

"I know, I just said that." Harold replied.

"Lieutenant Bretton, I meant I have detected energy signatures on the edge of Ontarom." Harold went wide eyed and whirled around. His hands immediately went flying across the display, several forms popping up and giving him more and more information. "They appear to be Frigate class Eclipse war ships. They are firing." The ship rattled from the impact of weapons fire from the Eclipse ships, but Harold ignored it.

"Nikki, get me a firing solution. Apply power to our shields until we get a lock, move us on an intercept course and keeps us out of knife fighting range. Leave a display showing the delay between their shots, anticipate for the switching of weapons." Harold fired off as his hands did half the work before he finished speaking.

"Done, course locked and timer activated. They are firing again and moving." The ship rattled as Nikki updated Harold and the techs could be heard talking to each other in forced calm voices. Harold was halfway through calibrating the mass accelerator cannon to fire on the first target when Nikki spoke up once more. "I have managed to predict their flight path Lieutenant Bretton. They are moving on a course that stations them directly on top of the bunker complex Operative Invaru and the marines are currently assaulting."

Harold weighed his options in the fraction of a second that he had. He couldn't move into the position displayed in front of him to intercept the frigates, the Cruiser would inevitable fall into the atmosphere of the planet and crash into the surface below. They couldn't pull away and force them into open space because if they were smart they wouldn't follow them and would then be free to fire on the ground forces. They were already entering medium range, and from The Call of Victory's position, by the time they were in position they would be a few hundred kilometres shy of knife fighting range.

"So we fire at them before they get a chance to get into position!" Harold stated as he was already moving the ship into position to fire.

"At their current speed, you will only get one shot before they are in position."

"Well then we take it! How are the GUARDIANS dealing with their torpedoes?"

"So far the fire is manageable, but they are more focused on getting into position rather than assaulting. Once they are able to focus their fire, there will simply be too much ordnance for the GUARDIAN system to counteract, along with having to deal with their mass accelerator cannons."

"A fine would have done just as well Nikki. Firing!" Harold let loose the first barrage of fire from the Victory, a mixture of their Mass Accelerator cannon and torpedoes. Harold didn't bother watching, knowing it was anything but a killing blow. The Victory outclassed the frigates independently, but together they managed to output more damage than the Victory could hope to manage. The only thing currently going for them was the fact that they were already in position, had an AI on board, and were more heavily armoured.

"Target one has taken moderate damage, their shields are down to 34%, hull damage minimal." Nikki recounted the data for Harold as he was moving through the controls.

"Kind of figured." Harold stated as Nikki started a countdown.

"Targets in position in 5...4...3...2...1...targets are locked in position, preparing for concentrated fire."

"Nikki, get me a god damn firing solution that has the least possible ratio to hit the planet!" Harold yelled as he tried to figure it out himself.

"Lieutenant Bretton, not only is it against the Citadel Conventions to fire large kinetic weapons intentionally towards a habitable planet, besides that the risk of hitting the marines on the ground is exactly 73-"

"Nikki, do not fucking argue with me! I need a firing solution, or so help me god I will ram those sons of bitches and fire that gun at point blank range if need be!" Harold yelled at the computer, not liking the fact that his own ship was arguing with his tactics. He didn't have time to sit here and think through all his options, limited as they were.

"Calculating...done. There is an 89.564% chance it will connect with the enemy ship."

"Good enough. Firing." Harold looked up for this one, watching as the Victory came alive with missiles and cannon fire pouring on the Frigates. Some of the missiles missed their target, soaring into the planet below them, but would burn up and explode long before they hit the ground. Luckily the cannon found it's mark and pummelled the Frigates' shields.

"Moderate damage. Target one is currently without shields and target two is down to 64% shields." Nikki stated. Harold was already on the comm.

"Lieutenant McKrain! I need those guns reloaded as quick as you possibly can! We're sitting ducks here if we intend to stay!" There was a slight pause before the response came.

"We're getting it done, stop talking!" The comm. channel was cut as Harold ignored her statement aside from the confirmation they were moving as fast as they could. Instead, he looked up in time to see a mass of hurt coming his way.

"Enemy ships have locked firing solution. GUARDIAN systems can't stop all of the incoming fire." She then went onto the ship wide comm. "All hands, brace for impact." Harold took the brief moment to make sure he was secure in his chair before returning his hands to the displays and continuing with the firing solutions and defensive positioning when the entire ship shook like it was hit with an earthquake. Some of the techs were thrown to the ground from the impact, and red warning lights started blaring through the halls. "Ship damage, shield is holding, hull integrity intact." Harold was straightening himself on the chair when Nikki hit him with the worse news. "Warning, ships are switching to alternate firing...I estimate 7 salvos before this ship is rendered inert."

"Well I guess we'll just have to do it in 2." Harold stated as he started moving the ship off and preparing for more deft evasive manoeuvres.

"Our estimated chances of survival are less then 35% Lieutenant Bretton."

"Nikki, if you haven't heard of the word 'Morale' I highly suggest you look it up and keep that shit to yourself." Harold replied through gritted teeth as he sent another salvo towards the frigates. Unfortunately, they too were attempting slight evasive manoeuvres, and Harold was having to deal with the firing solutions being exact for little chance for error. He grimaced as he watched the mass accelerator round fly by the ship, and missiles impact on the hull of the ship. Had that shell connected, it would have done major damage to the mercenary ship, luckily Harold had already been moving the Victory off to the side. If he was right, the shell would impact miles away from the fighting on the ground and do no harm to the marines.

He hoped.

"I will attempt to hold back my logistics Lieutenant Bretton." Nikki stated in a robotic tone. Harold didn't bother to respond as another salvo managed to rock the ship. "Shields are still holding, hull integrity still intact." Harold let loose several curses as his hands moved as quickly as someone could think.

"I am picking up a third signature, frigate class, Eclipse verification bearing in opposite direction targets 1 and 2 came from." Nikki stated, and Harold's jaw tightened to the point it looked like it would crack. Another volley of fire peppered the Victory, and Harold took a brief moment to look up at the screens before switching to navigations controls. "Warning, shield strength failing...hull breach on the fourth floor. Section sealed." Harold was about to respond when Jessie broke over the ship wide intercom.

"Medical teams report to the batteries! TJ! I need your strength down here now!" Harold hadn't known the armourer long, but he doubted she would like being ordered around like that.

"I'm on my way." The woman replied over the intercom, much to Harold's surprise. At least it seemed she was able to push past her anger long enough to get through the mission when it was happening. Dr. Grass was most likely on his way to the batteries as well, but Harold didn't have time to monitor the situation.

"We're doing a hard burn around the planet, we need to buy ourselves time..." Harold looked towards the fire controls once more, before bringing them over and quickly entering a firing solution. "But first...let's do a one timer." Harold fired the main cannon only, able to get a solution in quicker without having to worry about the missiles. Much to his pleasure, he was rewarded with a hit on the weakened frigate as the round took a chunk out of the bottom portion of the frigate. It wasn't a crippling blow, but it sent large pieces of the ship burning into the atmosphere as Harold turned the ship back around and made for the dark side of the planet.

"Are we running Lieutenant Bretton?" Nikki asked and Harold simply shook his head.

"The batteries have been breached, Lieutenant McKrain will need time to reload the guns and worry about the wounded. Our shields also need time to recharge, and I only managed to wound one ship out of three. Normally a frigate against a cruiser wouldn't be a problem...but now there's three out there..." Harold set the course on automatic, making sure the frigates weren't following him, and placed his face in his hands. "He's been planning this for a long time. This amount of Eclipse forces...he must have promised them some amazing amount of tech."

"We were warned he was a brilliant man Lieutenant." Nikki replied.

"Yeah, but we underestimated just how many forces he was willing to commit to this...apparently we have our answer."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bullets flew by the very rim of Kelly's visor as she flinched with every audible ping of a round hitting the concrete tank trap she was hiding behind. She would step up to take a few shots at the LOKI mechs that were scattered on the battlefield. The soldiers up at the defensive line must not have cared how many mechs they destroyed, seeing as they would easily mow through a few of them to get to a couple of soldiers. However, the mechs were slowly but surely stopping their progress as they were forced to deal with such an intense frontal force. Kelly ducked back down, her breathing heavy but even although her eyes were erratic as they shifted from one thing to another. Even now, through all the chaos, her mind was running through plans and scenarios. Possible situations after this one, and after that one, and so on. She simply couldn't stop it long enough to really focus on what was happening right in front of her.

"Operative Kelly?! Lieutenant O'Ryan here!" Leonard came through on the comm. and Kelly placed a hand to her ear.

"I'm listening Lieutenant." Her voice was strained to remain neutral, and lost a lot of it's punch with the adrenaline coursing through her body.

"Ma'am, Titan Company is getting beaten back here. Causalities are still relatively low, but the amount of fire on us is preventing us from getting a good foothold. We will attempt to correct, but I fear we may lose the north section, do you read?!" Kelly sat with her back against the tank trap. If the north was forced out of the fight then all the enemy forces stationed there would come to the south, making an assault impossible from down below. Kelly took a gulp as she nodded to herself.

"Acknowledged Lieutenant! Keep me appraised!" She cut the comm. and fired a few more rounds, downing a couple more LOKI mechs. She went back down, and looked back to see sergeant Carson quickly making his way towards her. When he got to her, she simply looked at him, waiting for whatever it was that he was about to tell her.

"Ma'am, I hate to be the pessimist here, but if we don't make a move soon, we are going to lose our ground. We need to make a push!"

"A push is more likely to kill us then it is them..." Kelly sat there for a moment, her hand coming up to pinch the bridge of her nose before realizing she had a helmet on and let her hand drop. A mortar impacted a few feet from them, making their shields flicker and covering them in dirt. "Sergeant, take a few squads and start circling around to the east. We will push as hard as we can here, focus them on us. Once you hit the east, do one of two things. You run until you breach the defensive line, or get close enough for your missile launchers to be effective and start taking out those MG's!"

"And what if it gets too hot ma'am?!" Carson asked.

"Would you prefer to remain here and see just how hot it's going to get sergeant?!" Kelly asked, the adrenaline breaking through her neutrality for just a moment. "One way or another sergeant, we are all going to be under heavy fire until we breach that defensive line. Get it done!" The sergeant simply nodded, but right before he could move, a massive explosion miles away caught their attention. They both stared at what appeared to be a nuclear weapon going off, but Kelly knew what it was instantly.

"It looks like the Call of Victory has run into some trouble up in orbit." Kelly stated, her face twisted into a grimace but hidden behind her reflective visor. Carson simply looked at her for a moment before running off to grab some soldiers. Kelly took another peek around the tank trap, flinching back as several rounds flew past her head. She took a deep breath, and pushed herself around the cover.

She half ran, half crouched to the next trench as the fire around her threatened to overwhelm her psyche and force her to panic. A few feet from the trench, she felt a round hit her hard in the shoulder, and she spun to the ground with her shields blaring red to tell her she was without protection. She was laying on her back, and quickly flipped herself over and crawled into the next trench. She took that moment to listen to the comms of the marines. For the most part, it was surprisingly calm for people who were yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs. There was military lingo being tossed around, but the pattern she was receiving was that everyone was getting stopped in their place from the LOKI's pressing down on their position to the MG's to the Eclipse mercs adding their fire to the already suppressing amount.

She then heard of references to the sky. A few people were seeing some things in the sky, and Kelly took the time to look upwards to see fireballs falling from orbit. They were moving too slowly to be ordance, and too varied in size to be a dropship raid. She ran through the possibilities in her mind right up until one of them impacted the ground on the north side. Then another way out beyond the hills, and the another a few more miles away. They were parts of a ship, which ship she couldn't tell, but they were definitely chunks of a space faring vessel. She was watching another piece when one dropped right into their killzone, creating a large gouge in the earth and burying itself partially into the ground. Luckily, it was further up and was completely beneficial to the marines as they were pressing up. It was as tall as Kelly was, but only a couple feet wide. Already, a few marines were taking advantage of the situation to press up behind the odd piece of salvation, and Kelly followed suite although she was forced behind yet another tank trap as the cover there was already too crowded. She fired a few more rounds forward, downing a few more LOKI mechs and using her biotics to amplify her shields, but even just that amount of action from behind her cover was enough to warrant a full assault on her position. She ducked down as the tank trap chipped and started to give way under the sheer amount of MG rounds. She gave a diving roll off to her side, ending up in a sprint which she then slid feet first into another trench.

She landed, and the previous rule about time speeding up was cancelled as she looked down to see a mine a couple feet from her. It started beeping rapidly, and Kelly pushed her hand out, creating a mini shield around the device in the split second she had. The explosion rocked the trench, and she blacked out for a moment. When she came too, she was covered in dirt and her suit was giving off warnings of shield failure. A few moments later, and her shields came back online. She sat there for a moment, simply looking into the sky and watching as round after round followed by the occasional mortar passed over head. After a few seconds, she assessed herself, finding that she had managed to avoid most of the damage. There was possibilities of fractured bones and internal bleeding, but the suit wasn't equipped to deal with those possibilities. She forced herself to think of something else for the moment, and with a fair amount of pain, managed to right herself in the trench.

She brought her head over the lip of the trench, and looked up to see that the soldiers had actually managed to make some ground in the amount of time she had been out. She looked at the time, and noticed that she had been out for only a few seconds, but it definitely felt longer. The falling debris from the ship was being partially beneficial, as some of it was creating cover, while others were actually falling on some of the less observant Victory marines. Inch by inch, they were approaching the defensive line and for the most part, the LOKI mechs had been taken care of. Just when it seemed like they would be at assaulting distance to the defensive line, Kelly watched with a cold neutrality as Eclipse marines poured over the lip and rushed out to meet the Victory marines to prevent them from actually getting within the base. Judging from the sheer amount of them climbing over the trench, Kelly had a feeling they were going to be pushed back, which would mean taking more causalities, which meant not completing the mission. It had been ages, but finally something snapped slightly within her as she looked at the situation.

"Fuck."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Kelly watched as the marines managed to rally behind one another as debris rained from the sky, creating new cover from the machine gun emplacements the traitors and mercenaries had set up. The marines, renewed through this lucky chance and motivated by a marine who's name Kelly was unable to look at while having rounds whirl past her head, were attacking with a renewed vigour that made her almost proud to watch and embarrassed at the same time. She should have been the one giving that speech, been up here leading by example. Instead she was in the midst, easily mistaken for another marine. She had to get up, she had to do something. She had to remind not the marines, but herself as to why she had a command position in the first place. With the grip on her avenger tightening ever so slightly, she rounded the corner with the next batch of marines to move forward. As she rushed into the engagement, one simple fundamental fact started poking out in her mind.

She was horrible in hand to hand combat.

Biotics. Those would have to do. If she sat back while the rest of the group went in and fought, she would lose so much respect that she doubted she could gain it back. As the group of marines finally crashed into the fray, Kelly's mind simply went into automatic as a blue glow started to cover the entirety of her body. The first mercenary she ran into, the man looked her dead in the eyes before starting to raise his pistol. Kelly sent her hand forward, releasing a wave of pure biotic energy that caught a couple more eclipse mercs off guard and sent them all flying as a result. She put her hands on her rifle, and turned towards the next nearest one and fired her avenger into the man's back. Another flip around, and she emptied the rest of her clip into another. She quickly made to reload when a knife swiped up in front of her face, knocking the heat sink from her hand and nearly forcing her to the ground. She looked over to see an asari summoning up her own biotic skills to use in the field, and doubt clouded Kelly's mind as she made to react in the same moment. They both released at the same time, creating a double effect as the two 'pushes' caused one massive outward explosion of biotic energy, sending them and a few others flying. Kelly rolled a few more feet before finally coming to a stop, her shields were down to half strength, but they would be back up to normal in no time. Kelly did a quick check of herself to make sure nothing was broken or fractured, and she was up again, this time managing to get a heat sink into her avenger to reload it.

She and the other marines were doing well, for the most part. They weren't really making any ground, but nor were they really giving any. The two sides were almost at a complete stalemate as a group of eclipse mercenaries would manage to make a hole in the Cerberus marines only to be slaughtered further in and vice versa. Kelly mainly kept just out of arms reach of the mercenaries, firing avenger rounds and assisting with biotics when she could. It was hard, the mass of bodies preventing her from unleashing her own full biotic potential without hurting her own marines. She restricted herself to biotic pushes and lifts, which were slowly but surely draining her of stamina. After a few minutes of fighting, her breaths were coming in gasps as she forced herself to regain some stamina. She hadn't used her biotics this heavily since the Citadel battle, well over a year ago.

A few marines in front of Kelly had managed to breach a hole in the defensive line, and were just about to jump into a trench when the very luck that had allowed them to get this far backfired on them. Pieces of debris landed in front, behind, and on top of them as a fresh batch of space junk littered the battlefield. Kelly spared a glance upwards, seeing the GUARDIAN system firing down the more dangerous pieces but noticing the sheer amount of debris coming from the sky. With the numbers she was seeing, she doubted it could be any less than a whole ship that had just been critically wounded. She seriously hoped it was not their ship. She looked around, noticing that the falling ship pieces were more condensed, impacting closer and closer to the marines. Some were even managing to fall on mercenary and marine alike.

Kelly broke from her trance like state, and made to move forward once more. Debris impacted beside her, throwing her off balance as a stray shot ploughed into her back, sending her to the ground. She lost her grip on her avenger rifle as it flew out of her hands a few feet away from where she was now laying. She quickly wiped the grime from her visor, and made to crawl towards her weapon when a pulse came over her, picking her up and throwing her several yards back from the defensive line. She rolled, once more, to a stop on the ground and stayed there for a moment. The impact had winded her, but she had enough sense left to get a look at what had hit her. The asari, the one that she had deadlocked with her biotics before, was marching towards her with a purpose. Maybe the asari knew who she was, or maybe she simply didn't like people trying to beat her at what she did best. Either way, she was glowing with biotic energy as she stretched our her hand and Kelly felt herself lifted into the air. She struggled and reached for her pistol only to be prevented from doing so by being slammed into the ground. In the split second that she wasn't at the whim of the asari biotic, she stretched out her own hand and gave a push.

Unfortunately, the asari had been expecting that, and managed to sidestep and draw her own pistol. Kelly looked up, and tried to roll out of the way but was only marginally successful as the round pierced her shields and crashed through her visor sideways. It broke the shielding around her face, the broken visor glass creating gashes on her features and revealing the true light and nature on Ontarom as she was no longer hindered by a HUD. Blood clouded her vision as red drops poured into her eyes. She attempted to wipe it away, but the jagged remains of her visor prevented her from doing so effectively. She looked up in time to see the asari stepping up to her, and in a move she wasn't even sure would work, put her hands underneath her and twitched, creating a powerful biotic push. The result pushed her off the ground, much to the surprise of the asari, and while Kelly was flailing, managed to give another push that sent the asari flying backwards towards the defensive line. Kelly had gone up about five feet, and dropped with a crash that threatened to wind her once more. However, with the adrenaline now going full tilt in her body, she didn't feel the need to spend any more time on the ground. She looked for her assault rifle, but amidst the chaos was unable to lay eyes on it. She quickly took out her pistol, and looked for her new target.

Without her HUD aiding her, the scene almost became a blur. There were no more IFF tags, no warning indications, no shield status, there was nothing. If felt weird, knowing she had the protection of the armour without knowing the actual condition of it. As she peered around the battlefield, she finally caught sight of the asari as she came out of the crowd once more, giving another push that Kelly braced for with a biotic barrier. Once it dissipated Kelly looked up only to find a blue fist coming at her already exposed face. With a blow that felt a lot harder than it should have been, Kelly stumbled back a few feet but managed to get her pistol up to fire a few rounds. The asari charged through them, her shields taking the brunt as she grabbed Kelly's wrist and forced the weapon aside. Kelly let loose with her left arm, surrounding it with biotic energy and crushing it against the merc's face with a satisfying crunch. She brought up her knee quickly, but the asari moved to the side at the last second and grabbed her leg. With an almost supernatural movement, she had picked up the 2iC and tossed her another few good feet from the fight. Kelly once again found herself on the ground, wondering what she was doing trying to fight in an area that was obviously unsuited for her skill set. She rolled to aim her pistol, but was lifted another several feet on the ground before being repeatedly smashed to the ground.

She held her grip on the weapon, afraid that to lose it meant that she would be dead. She looked to the other marines for aid, but saw that they were all too busy with their own life or death situations to worry about hers. For the moment, she was on her own. When the asari finally finished pounding her to the ground, Kelly raised her weapon shakily to meet the threat, but was defeated when the asari ran up and kicked it out of her hand. Kelly raised her other hand to release another biotic push when her body was locked in place by a field generated by the asari. The alien gave a small grin on her bloodied and muddy face, and raised her pistol to Kelly's head.

When the sound of something burning caught their ear's attention, and the asari looked away for a split second, the field surrounding the Operative weakening as a result of the asari's attention being shifted. Kelly utilized it, giving the woman a quick kick before pushing her several feet into the air. As she reached the apex of her ascent, a fireball of debris came flying out the air, taking it and the mercenary hard into the ground a few feet from Kelly. For the time being, as she watched the smoke rise from the small crater that was now the asari's grave, Kelly could do nothing but lie there and breathe. She was absolutely exhausted, and nothing short of someone else pointing a gun in her face was going to get her to move. She looked up at the sky, watching as more pieces of debris came raining down from the sky, and almost missed the figure stepping into her line of sight. Instinct took over as she raised her arms to prepare her biotics, only to have them kicked away at the last possible moment.

"Jesus Operative, you could hurt someone with that you know."

Kelly simply blinked, trying to wipe the blood and grime from her face as the figure knelt next to her, clad in bright white armour that looked like it had been singed from some kind of fire. The man retracted his visor, giving an all too familiar grin.

"Save someone's life, and I get pushed away as thanks. I was expecting at least a boob flash."

Yep...it was Horn.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

30 minutes earlier.

"God damn it Nikki, I can't make this boat move any fucking faster, so unless you have some super AI powers that I was made unaware of, stick to doing what you do best and stop telling me how to NOT fight a battle!" Harold swore at the AI 'sitting' next to him in his piloting chair as the Call of Victory was being harassed by the enemy frigates. He had currently tried to put them on a close orbit of the planet, hoping the natural gravity of Ontarom would allow for some of their shots to be pulled off target. Apparently it wasn't working very well.

"I was merely making a combat suggestion Mr. Bretton." Nikki responded.

"Yeah, and if I push the engines any more, I risk the problem of a catastrophic overload which is just as deadly, if not more so, then one of their mass accelerator rounds puncturing our hull. You leave the piloting to me, and I'll leave that weird math computer shit to you."

"As you wish Mr. Bretton...incoming salvo." The ship rocked again as the ship was once again bombarded by the Eclipse ships. Harold swore to himself some more as he brought the Call of Victory as close to the planet as was physically safe and started pushing around the planet on a hard burn. As they finally got around the bend of the planet, they were bought a moments respite from the unforgiving barrage. Bretton quickly got on the comm.

"All stations, give me an update!"

"The update is that I have these weapons primed and we've done nothing but wait and get shot Lieutenant!" Jessie's voice came over the comm. obviously a little more than pissed at the fact that their first move in their new ship was to run away.

"Do you have any damage down there?" Harold asked, ignoring the weapon's officer attitude.

"No, we're good to go when you get some balls and learn to fi-"

"Noted Lieutenant." Harold quickly switched channels. "Engineering, 411."

"We're becoming dangerously close to overtaxed. I may be able to pump out enough energy here for another flyby if necessary, but if you keep going like this I estimate ten minutes before we face a total emergency shutdown and vent of the core." Jaconis came on, his ever calm voice in the face of battle or death a welcome change of pace from the weapon's officer's threats.

"Alright, Bretton out." Harold did a quick check to make sure there wasn't any hull breaches on the non-essential sections of the ship when it came to battle, and was happy to see that so far, his ship was intact. "Good...good."

"Attention Lieutenant Bretton. The third Eclipse ship is coming into range." Nikki notified Harold.

Shit, I was hoping for more time. Harold thought to himself as he prepped his weapons to fire on the ship, only to get more reverberations around the hull from weapon's fire by the other two Eclipse ships that were following him. "We appear to be flanked." Nikki stated calmly and Harold simply gritted his teeth. Not bothering with any words, threats, or prayers, he fired a barrage of ordnance at the ship in front of him, hovering directly over top of the research facility. He was rewarded with their shields flickering and dying, and with several explosions on their hull, but was disappointed when the ship simply turned to re-engage him.

"Fuck." He swore as he took a ship on another hard burn around the planet. He knew the Call of Victory couldn't take sustained fire from three frigates for more than a few minutes, and was simply trying to by them time.

"Lieutenant Bretton...taking the ship around the planet once more will only tax the engine more than we are capable of. Doing so runs the high risk of burning out the engine and leaving us in the open." Nikki stated.

"My options are pretty limited here Nikki, if you have a better battle plan, I would love to hear it."

"Yeah, we fight those pansy ass mercs who think they can wreck my ship." Harold looked back to see Commander Horn standing on the CIC. His body looked pretty much healed, save for a few new scars as he stared down the pilot. Everyone took the split second to stop and stare at their commanding officer, supposedly back from the dead as he wandered around the CIC. "Now, someone tell me what the hell is happening to my ship, and what the hell happened to my pilot!"

"Uhh, sir?" Harold asked, confusion setting in.

"Where the hell is Jack Nathan!?" Harold looked over at Nikki for a moment, his mouth hanging open to answer when another barrage forced him to look back at the controls. He immediately turned from the Commander and set a course for another hard burn around the planet.

"Lieutenant Bretton. We can't sustain another hard burn orbit, our engines will be overtaxed." Nikki reminded Harold once again.

"I am keenly aware of that, but we only need to get to cover so that we're facing two ships, instead of three. Once there, we should have better odds than this."

"Warning, second eclipse frigate is committing a hard burn. Third eclipse ship is following. We are being blocked. Third eclipse ship has taken spot in front of the damaged freighter." Nikki stated as Harold swore.

"Damn it, if they get their shields back on, then we're screwed even harder...maybe if I-"

"Maybe if you listened to your god damn Commander Lieutenant you would have an idea as to what to do." Horn yelled as he made his way to the cockpit.

"With all due respect sir, do you even know what's going on right now?!" Harold yelled back, and was met with a quick and firm slap from Jason.

"When you say 'with all due respect' I expect it to mean that and not 'shut the fuck up sir'." Jason said with a dangerous undertone before stepping back. "We are being fired on by three eclipse ships, one of which is heavily damaged and hovering over the ex-Cerberus base that my marines have been sent to take. That about sum it up?" Harold simply looked at him.

"Well...uhh...actually yeah..."

"Good. First order of business." Jason wandered back to the CIC. "Set a collision course for the ship acting as a barrier to his wounded brother."

"Sir?" Harold asked, and Jason shot him another glare which got the pilot to immediately turn around and start entering the coordinates. "Sir, we don't have the shield strength nor the hull integrity to survive a full on hit."

"Well duh Lieutenant, but neither do they." Horn replied as he watched the battle on the map that was now displaying from the CIC.

"Sir, taking them out in a last blaze of glory isn't going to do the marines any good down there. I know your record says your damn near suicidal in your feats but I have to st-"

"Never judge a man by his record until you have a face to face with him. As of now, I am ranking officer of this ship and if you so much as open your mouth again Lieutenant, I will rip out your tongue and make you lick your own asshole, are we clear?!" Harold simply looked at the man, who then took a step towards him before bowing his head and returning his attention to the display in front of him.

The elevator doors opened and Dr. Grass came running onto the bridge. "Has anyone se-" He immediately saw Horn, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Commander. You are in no shape to be ordering anyone around. You just came out of a coma, there are side effects to such a thing, you need to be monitored."

"As if such a thing will matter if we are all blown to pieces doctor. Sit back and enjoy the show until that happens or we win." Horn stated.

"Thirty seconds to collision." Nikki stated over the intercom.

"Oh, we're going suicidal again?" Lincoln stated as he crossed his arms.

"Twenty seconds to collision." Nikki stated once more as the entire room got silent watching as their ship got ever closer to the enemy frigates and the planet's gravity well. The enemy ship was either too stupid or to confident that the Call of Victory would not collide with their ship, and as such made no attempt to move, instead peppering the Victory's shields and hull with sporadic gunfire as it's sister ship farther out did the same thing. Warning lights blared in the CIC as booms could be heard throughout the room as shells and missiles impacted with the Victory.

"Ten seconds to collision."

"Lieutenant! Hard reverse, all the power you can muster." Harold hit the button quickly, and everyone felt the lurch as the ship started fighting the momentum and the gravity of the planet as every possible thruster and engine was used to stop them from crushing into the ships. "Battery, ready all weapons!"

"Already done!" McKrain answered as Jason watched the Call of Victory get ever so closer to the frigate. He looked towards the cockpit, the viewing hatch was open and they were so close you could make out the GUARDIAN defences on their hull.

"Sir, we are practically touching them! Imminent collision!" Harold stated as he struggled to find extra power for the ship to shift to the engines.

"All batteries, open fire!" Jason yelled as the ship, which was millimetres away from the enemy frigate in space terms, opened up at point blank. They were so close the shields protecting the frigate were immediately ripped to shreds as the mass accelerator cannon tore through them, and into the wounded ship behind them. Secondary explosions rippled along the hull, and then the missiles hit, sealing the fate of their first victim. The second ship, being already weakened from the Victory's first salvo, was also immediately destroyed as the Victory's main cannon ripped through several hulls and set off a lethal amount of secondary explosions, causing the ship to literally break apart and fall to the surface.

"We're caught in the gravity of the planet! Hold on!" Harold stated as his hands moved like lightning to compensate for the force of nature that had a hold on their ship.

"This is Jaconis!" Kevin stated over the bridge comm. "I've managed to squeeze as much juice as we're going to get out of here. We're going to lose power to the weapons for a couple of minutes, but I didn't see a choice. You'll feel it any second." Horn didn't have the time to reply as a gigantic burst of energy was fired from their reverse thrusters, managing to push them just outside the grip of the planet. Harold's hands were still flying, working on getting the ship to a firing position on the last Eclipse frigate, but stopped for a moment.

"The last frigate is breaking off...heading for FTL." Bretton stated as Horn looked at the screen in the CIC, and sure enough, within a few seconds the blip indicating their ship had vanished. The intercom suddenly burst to life again.

"This is Jaconis. A primary conduit to the engines burst from the power being pumped through it. I can patch it, but it's going to take a couple of minutes. Until then, we're not going anywhere unless you want a sudden and albeit hot death."

"No worries about that Kevin." Jason answered, staring at the display. "I think we're out of the woods for the moment." There was a pause.

"Am I safe to assume that I'm talking to Commander Horn?" Kevin asked. Jason simply smiled, and hit the ship wide intercom.

"Attention crew of the SIC Titan!"

"Uhh...Call of Victory sir." Harold interrupted. Jason simply looked over at the pilot.

"The what now?"

"Sir, long story short, you're on the Cerberus cruiser called the Call of Victory." Jason just gave him a curious look, before clearing his throat and continuing.

"Attention crew of the Call of Victory. This is Commander Horn. As some of you may know, I have apparently been in a medically induced coma for the past few weeks. Well, I'm here to say I kicked it's ass. That's right, the coma came at me like raging krogan and I kicked it so hard in the quads it turned into a salarian. Coma's can't keep me down, Collectors can't keep me down, and I sure as hell ain't going to let...whoever...is down there on the planet keep me down. As of now, I am re-assuming...or assuming since it's a new ship...command of this ship. Now, no more questions as to if this is really me, cause that's going to get real old real fast." Jason cut the comm. and looked over at the pilot.

"Situation."

"Well sir. Operative Invaru and both companies of marines went down to the planet to eliminate a rogue Cerberus scientist. We lost contact due to their satellite uplink being turned into a jamming device. We have no idea what is happening down there, but we do know their location." Harold stated for him. Horn simply stared at him for a moment, his face in absolute stupor.

"Operative Invaru...is down on the surface...fighting?"

"Yes sir."

"With guns?"

"Uhhh...yes...sir."

"And shooting at people?" Harold simply stared at him for a moment.

"Yes sir." Horn simply looked at the map overlay of the planet, his jaw hanging before he finally regained himself.

"Huh...alright." Jason stated. "Well, in that case, I'm going to take a Kodiak down there and shove it down their throats." Jason made to move off the bridge when both the pilot and Lincoln stopped him.

"Sir, the GUARDIAN system around the base prevents us from getting close. Until we know whether or not they've taken it out, you'd have to land a good ten minutes away." Harold talked after him.

"That and the fact that you just came out of a coma Commander. You're not exactly going to be ready to go right off the bat." Dr. Grass stated. Jason stopped for a moment, thinking as he rubbed his chin.

"So we know where they are, but can't get close due to some damn defences..." Jason's eyes lit up. "Is all my stuff here...including the stuff I brought in from Hephaestus station?" Harold and Lincoln looked at each other.

"As far as we know sir." Harold stated. Jason simply gave a wicked look.

"Awesome. Doc, get me some battle stims and come with me. You're not going to like this plan."

"Oh, and that's assuming I like any plan that has you smiling like a preteen who just got asked to the prom?" Lincoln retorted as they both made for the elevator, but as they turned to leave, Horn looked off to the side and noticed a familiar figure which he had managed to miss amidst the chaos of the battle. Vala Buchan stood there, her stoic face analyzing him even as he fixed her a deep glare.

"Commander Horn." She stated, her voice level. Horn pointed a finger at her, his face red with a barely suppressed anger at her being on his ship at all. His mouth fumbled with several words before he simply stopped and pointed solidly at her.

"I'll deal with you later." Jason stated as both he and Lincoln got into the elevator.

"You have such a way with words sir." Dr. Grass stated.

"Lincoln? Shut your nerd face before I shove a holodisk of anime asari down your throat and you shit a fan service."



_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Commander...this has got to be the stupidest idea I've heard from you...and I've been your medical officer for a year."

Lincoln stated this as TJ outfitted Horn in his prototype Apocalypse armour. Horn flexed his hand slightly, getting a feel for the extra weight of the armour once more as Lincoln continued. "You're in no condition to fight, and the stims I have you on aren't going to keep you going forever. There is going to be significant physical and mental trauma down there that might send your body into a total relapse once you're down on the surface, assuming you even make it that far." The doctor simply stared at him as TJ finished suiting him up.

"Thank you Keller." Jason stated as she gave a grunt and went back to working on something else. "And besides Doc, if I do make it to the surface, I'm sure I'd already be in a coma from planetary re-entry."

"On that note...this isn't going to work." Grass stated as they started walking towards the elevator.

"Come now, that's quitter talk. You sound like most of my love life." Grass simply rubbed his face as they both got into the lift.

"I'm serious. You're taking untested armour down to the planet from space! Skydiving is one thing, but even if you get through the atmosphere...there is no way you're going to slow down enough to survive the landing."

"That's why this thing has super jetpacks!" Horn stated, pointing to the oversized canisters on his back. "Besides, you worry too much. This sort of shit is the reason I'm with Cerberus...it's fucking awesome." Dr. Grass was about to say something else when the ship rocked once more.

"The eclipse ship has come back on our flank! We're under fire!" Harold came over the intercom just as Jason and Lincoln stepped out onto the CIC.

"Situation?" Horn asked as he made his way to the bridge.

"Engines are still down, and from what I can tell, we sucked a lot of juice breaking free from the planet's gravitational pull." Harold moved his hands quicker than Jason thought possible. "I can possibly reroute non-essential power to the guns, but it isn't going to be much. Essentially all we can do is wait and hope to hell Lieutenant Jaconis gets the engines back up so I can move." Jason looked at the man.

"Tell you what...you get those weapons going and you turn that mercenary piece of shit into an actual piece of shit, you understand?"

"Uhhh...well in order to fire on it...I have to be able to turn...cause it's behind us sir." Jason paused.

"Oh...right. Well, do that." Jason walked back into the CIC as Lincoln and Harold both watched him.

"Uh...sir, what are you doing?" Harold asked after him.

"I'm going down there...marines need my help. I'm a calming influence." Jason stated as he secured his helmet and stepped into the airlock. Harold was simply left staring after him as Grass placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Get used to it boy, for now worry about that other ship."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

((http://soundcloud.com/user7837224/dragon-rises))

Jason stood in the airlock for a second, wondering just how much opening the door while the room was still pressurized was going to hurt. He took a couple of breaths to prep himself to be ready to move, and pulled the emergency release hatch. The doors flew open and Horn was pulled into space like releasing a cord on a parachute. He started spinning through space at first uncontrolled until timed bursts from the boosters in his hands and feet made him stable. Before him was the entire planet of Ontarom, looming in green and blue. Jason was smiling as if he was a kid being given the choice of a toy at the local store. His HUD, previously blank, blinked to life as it gave him the standard display of shields, weapons, health, and comm. status. Among this there was also a single beam that dictated the path he should take to land where he wanted.

Unfortunately, directly in front of him was the wreckage of the two eclipse ships, debris floating freely and slowly being pulled to the planet. Horn looked was drawn to just how amazing the ships looked in space, completely destroyed and looming like dark leviathans in space. His vision was suddenly blocked when a huge piece of debris floated from up underneath him. He swore to himself as he used his boosters to flip himself around and under. Whether he liked it or not, the gauntlet had begun.

"Should have remembered blowing up the ships...I blow up so much stuff I forget...heh...I like blowing stuff up." Horn talked himself as he used his hands to hurl himself over another piece of debris in the endless silence of space. The next few minutes were spent with him having to use small amounts of fuel in order to propel himself through the debris field generated by the destruction of the Eclipse ships, but finally, after a few minutes of mind numbing navigation, Horn was through. Now he could clearly see the planet and the adrenaline in his body was at an all time high. The stimulants given to him by Dr. Grass were in full swing, and his heart was pumping faster than an over-clocked engine on an Omega pleasure barge trying to outrun the Alliance patrols. As he got closer and closer to the planet, his grin got wider and wider until the outlines of atmospheric re-entry started to burn around the shields of his armour.

His shield monitor appeared on his HUD and he watched as the gradual build up started to shrink them away. However, thanks to the large canisters on his back which provided both energy for the shield and fuel, the amount being drained was minimal. So, with nothing apparently wrong for the moment, he followed the predetermined path that was laid out for him by the computer built into the suit. The planet, however, was slowly disappearing behind the veil of fire covering his entire suit, and soon, all he could see was a raging inferno as he entered full atmospheric re-entry. "Huh, ok this is different....still cool." Jason spoke to himself as his suit rattled so hard it felt like it was going to fall apart.

Soon, a warning sign came onto his HUD. "Engage primary retro-rockets. Prepare for hard burn." Jason simply looked at the thing for a moment.

"Alrighty then." He spoke as he flipped himself so that the boosters were facing downwards, and fired them. The amount of force, he was sure, would have killed him if the shield didn't initially act as a inertial dampener with the extra juice being provided to it. The rockets still managed to create a sizable jolt to him as he felt himself being almost thrown around like a rag doll.

"Adjust course 3 degrees west." The computer stated.

"Yeah...trying you mechanical bitch." Jason stated as he did his best to try and control it. He used the manoeuvring thrusters in his hands and feet to make sure he was still on course when one in his hand suddenly burst, sending him into an uncontrolled spin as the other thrusters in his feet and hand spun him around. "Fucking...experimental...STOP GOD DAMN SPINNING!" Jason yelled as he shut off the thrusters and tried to manually correct himself using his experience from his time in the Demons. Within a few moments, he had stopped himself from spinning, and the fires from re-entry had died down, allowing him to see the ground below him.

He was still about 15,000 feet above the ground, but he used his magnification to look down on the absolute chaos that was happening with the marines and the Eclipse mercenaries. He was so busy looking at the battle, he was almost taken out of the sky by a large piece of metal flying in behind him. He burst over to the side, watching as the debris came flying down to the ground. Soon after that one, several others started appearing from behind him. "I really wish you were soldiers...but if I had to make an entrance...this is definitely on my top ten list." Jason said to the debris as they roared past him, their mass allowing them a faster decent then himself.

"Adjusting IFF tags, enhancing views...Combat mode engaged." The screen lit up with all the command statistics, along with IFF tags and troop locations as Horn got closer and closer to the surface. He started searching through the marines, noticing that they were surprisingly low casualty rate for the assault they were performing. So far, from what he could tell, thirty percent of the troops were incapacitated, either killed or too wounded to continue. As his eyes surveyed the scene, they finally fell on one tag that happened to be having a rough time.

Operative Kelly Invaru.

Horn watched through a series of magnifications as an asari mercenary started trashing Kelly, throwing her several feet away from the main melee fighting. "Oh fuck no, go find your own hot redhead!" Jason stated as he shifted his position and started diving down to the ground. Warnings came on in his HUD, but he disregarded them. He knew Kelly wasn't strong in battle, and melee fighting even more so. The feet left to the ground started counting down, until all he could hear was the constant blaring from the warning in his helmet. Moments before he hit the ground, he pulled up lateral to the ground and was rewarded with Kelly's impeccable timing pushing the asari directly into his flight path. "Not planned." Horn stated to himself as he collided with the asari nearly full force, the pure impact causing him to crash unexpectedly to the ground and creating a huge gouge in the earth.

Horn lay there for a moment, his helmet blaring warnings to him as he slowly got up. He quickly felt everything, but was surprised to find that nothing was broken. "How...?" Horn asked as he stared at the asari. The impact had broken her back and neck, killing her instantly. He checked his systems, and was surprised that a backup fail safe had been built into the system. When the collision with the asari was detected, power was shunted towards the shields and inertial dampeners, which shut off his jetpacks and caused him to slam to the ground. Either way, it most likely saved his life. His HUD flared with a couple of warnings, one of which was to 'Disengage Battery Packs'. He did so, and the huge canisters on his back shifted and fell off his person to the ground with a thud. He still had his rockets on his back, but he no longer had the shield power nor the fuel to sustain flight such as he did when he dropped to the planet. Horn then quickly remembered the thrashing this particular mercenary was giving his 2iC, and quickly climbed out of the mini crater he had created for himself.

A few feet away, a fair distance from the main fighting, he found Kelly laying there and her visor blown open. His mind went to worst case, but he gritted his teeth, forcing the anger from his mind as he came up beside her. Despite the damage, she was still showing stable life signs and he gave a smile behind his visor. As he stepped up to her side, she raised her arms as they glowed with biotic power. He quickly kicked them away, resorting to the quickest way to disarm her rather than the gentlest.

"Jesus Operative, you could hurt someone with that you know." Jason stated as he knelt next to her. She blinked, obviously in absolute confusion. He retracted his visor, and gave her a grin. "Save someone's life, and I get pushed away as thanks. I was expecting at least a boob flash." She gave a small smile.

"Sorry sir, I'll keep that in mind next time." She replied as Horn helped her sit up.

"Alright, we don't have time for much though. Where are we at?" Horn stated as she picked some broken pieces of her visor out of her helmet.

"Dr. Mueller, bottom floor...through the defensive line." Kelly managed to gasp out as she tried to catch her breath.

"Alright, do the marines have their own assignments?" Horn asked.

"Yes sir." Jason gave a nod as his visor snapped back into place.

"Good, stay here, rest up. Don't want you dying and losing my eye candy for when we get back to the apparently new ship." She looked at him for a moment, expecting more but when she got nothing, she shook her head.

"No, I have to get up, the rest are looking to m-"

"Yeah, and I'm here. My job is to kick ass, your job is to be beautiful and smart, let's not wreck the first one alright?" Horn patted her on the cheek of her helmet for a moment before breaking off and running straight towards the fighting. He grabbed his vindicator from his back, pouring round after round into any and all Eclipse mercenaries that got within his vision, and just as he reached the edge of the fighting, he lit up his jetpack and soared into the sky. For a moment, there was absolute silence for him as he looked on the battle. A split second was all he took as he launched himself at one of the mercenaries, landing on him in a spectacular fashion and driving him to the ground. Before the man knew what was going on, Horn had holstered his rifle and taken out his carnifex and combat blade. He pointed the pistol at the man's head, and quickly double tapped at point blank range, leaving little to the imagination or to the man's head as it simply exploded.

Another mercenary attempted to come up behind him, but as he swiped, Horn spun and caught his arm in the crux of his armpit. With a quick jerk, he heard the man's arm break and his scream cut through the battle, which Horn quickly silenced by slicing the man's throat. Horn looked over to see a couple of marines being pushed back by a group of four mercenaries making a push through their lines, and with a quick burst from his jetpack he managed to get to them so fast they had no idea what has going on. With a quick punch to throw the first one off, Horn threw his knife at the leader who was foolish enough to not wear a helmet. The blade buried itself in his skull nearly up to the hilt and he dropped. Horn looked to the first one, firing a couple of rounds into his chest, before being forced to duck from an incoming fist from one of the other two mercenaries. The two other marines jumped in quickly though, taking their attention off of him as he finished off the grounded mercenary with a final shot to the head. Horn looked towards the defensive line, noticing there were some ex-Cerberus marines were there, trying to shoot into the crowd.

He was about twenty feet from them, with a horde of Eclipse mercenaries attempting to block the way. He looked back towards the two marines he had just helped, and pointed at them. "You two, on my flank...Let's kick some ass!" They gave a quick 'yes sir' each and stepped in line behind him as he full out sprinted for the soldiers that were stationed in the trench.

The mercenaries noticed this of course, as they had with the several other attempts, and moved to stop his progress. Horn moved quick, mainly due to the battle stims seeing as he had been out of the game for a little while. His adrenaline amp was in full swing, everything moving at a pace much more manageable as he dodged the first two swings of combat blades. His gun moved up underneath one of the mercenary's chins as he ducked, and pulled the trigger, watching as blood sprayed out of the top of the mans skull as the Carnifex round punched clear through his shields and armour. Another mercenary turned to fire at Horn, and with a quick twist, Jason moved out of the shot, watching as it quite literally skimmed his shields making the surrounding area of his armour shimmer with shields as it passed him. Horn was upon the guy within a second, jumping into the air to punch the mercenary in the face. The gun for hire put up his hands in defence, but it was shattered the moment that Jason's fist connected with them. It prevented Jason from punching the guy in the face, but it still sent the mercenary staggering backwards, which lead to a series of punches to the chest and face that left the man bleeding and broken on the ground crying in pain.

As Jason forced his way through more and more mercenaries, more and more marines came in behind him and followed in the wake that he was tearing through these mercenaries. The Ex-Cerberus soldiers in the trenches were now almost solely focused on Horn's group, and were effectively stopping them from pushing any further. Jason looked at them, about to hit his jets once more to fly above them and land in their midst when suddenly the men in the trench were fired upon from their flank. A few went down immediately, and Horn turned to see another group of marines pouring into the trench from the relatively unguarded backside. "Sergeant Carson here, sorry for the late rendezvous, still here all the same." A marine came on the line as the Ex-Cerberus soldiers were quickly in a manner of disarray since their focus was now split. Horn didn't waste any time, igniting his jets and sending him right into the middle of the traitors.

With Horn now engaged in melee with them, and fire being poured into them, there was no doubt in their mind that they were dead men. So, the ex-Cerberus soldiers fought like dead men, throwing themselves at Horn and the other marines just so their comrades could get in a decent shot. Horn found himself on the receiving end of a bullet once or twice since one of them would literally tackle him with no regard to their own safety. Luckily for him, his shields held every time, and before long, the ex-Cerberus soldiers were either dead or dying on the ground. Horn looked to the commanding soldier of the flanking marines. "Secure the MG's! Start mowing down these eclipse fuckers from behind!" The man stood there for a second, before his HUD registered who was giving the orders and he gave a nod.

"Right away sir! Bersten! Get on that MG! Lyle! Gunther! With me!" Carson handed out orders as the one named Bersten hopped on the closest one and fired whenever he felt it safe enough to do so. Horn looked back into the melee and smiled. He reached down to one of the dead traitors, and plucked the combat blade out of his hand. This was going to get good.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

With their defensive line breached and fire pouring on them from both sides, the Eclipse mercenaries quickly lost any form of discipline they once held. They quickly broke into groups, if they didn't break ranks entirely, and were quickly and efficiently put down by the Cerberus marines. With them dead, the remaining marines took a moment to police the dead, treat their wounded, and grieve for their dead. Horn stood near the entrance to the facility, looking over the marines as they quickly tended to their duties. He had nothing to say to them, not now at least. He came down here to quickly to understand the full scale of the situation, and going off half cocked, despite that being his forte, was going to simply get them killed. He had managed to pull up information on the marine companies, including officers, company names, and current status, but was interrupted from delving any further when he noticed Kelly walking up to him.

She had removed her helmet, tossed it somewhere or to someone since it was practically useless now with the visor now smashed into tiny bits of glass. Horn had underestimated just how badly the glass had cut up her face. It still had that beauty to it that made her unmistakeably an officer and not a soldier, but a gash the crossed from the bottom of her left eye to the top of her mouth was clearly visible. Along with another gash that cross the bridge of her nose and ended on the ridge of her right eye. Without a reconstructive procedure, those would leave clearly visible scars. There were also more smaller ones that left blood trails of their own, but Horn could tell this was the last thing on his 2iC's mind. "Commander." She stated as she finally reached him. He retracted his visor to meet her gaze.

"What's going on beautiful? How we doin so far?" She gave a small smile and brought up her Omni-tool.

"We still have Titan company on the northern ridge. I managed to get in touch with O'Ryan briefly just a moment ago. He and his men are holding so far, but haven't been able to gain any decent ground since the debris came in and unfortunately took out a group of our marines. Their Mako was hit like ours, the cannon still operational but without any kind of hydraulic system to turn it, it's just as useless. Needless to say sir, they need some help over there." Horn looked at her, with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"So make the call Operative, what are we going to do?" Kelly looked at him for a moment.

"Well sir, I thought you would like to know all of the information in order to make a decis-"

"Nah, you make the decision. Far as I can tell, I'm on a new ship with a new crew and new marines. They don't know me, and right now, I only have the most basic of understanding of this mission. Battle stims are the only thing keeping me upright right now, and I'm in no condition to be giving orders when I'm as hyped up as I am now. So, Operative Kelly Invaru, what is your decision to help out the Titans." Kelly stared at him for a moment, putting on a neutral face but Horn saw right through it. She didn't like thinking she had some of the pressure taken off of her only for it to be placed right on her shoulders again. Jason knew that this was a mean way to do it, but she came down to the field of battle of her own choosing, and she needed to be able to make hard decisions without him saying 'yeah, let's do that' all the time. She looked away at the marines for a moment, taking the time to think as she always did. Before long, she had called over Sergeant Carson once more. He jogged up to them, giving them both a salute as he came to a stop.

"Sergeant Carson." Kelly started. "I want you to grab a group of about ten marines, and head to the north side of the facility. Assess the situation, and assist where you can. Chances are you will need to do something similar to what you did here and flank the defensive line. If all else fails, simply help Titans hold the line until we get finished within the facility. Am I understood?"

"Clearly ma'am. I'll get it done." Carson gave another salute and wandered off to grab his marines. Horn gave a smile.

"He respects you, you know." Kelly simply looked back at Jason, then back at the marines.

"It's most likely the scars." Kelly stated, her hand running across her face absent-minded.

"Hey, scars are sexy, just ask any lady I know." Kelly gave another small smile, before turning to the entrance to the facility.

"Our target is on the last floor. Orders are to kill him on sight."

"Goody." Horn stated as his visor slid on once more. "I love it when it's simple." Kelly made to move past him towards the door. She opened it to reveal a short hallway that lead to an elevator shaft. The elevator itself had been cut, as expected, and the shaft was empty. She made to move further in when Horn stopped her. "uhh...Operative...aren't you forgetting something?" Kelly looked up at him as he nodded towards the marines. Though she didn't show it, she was groaning on the inside. Horn gave a smile. "Do they know what they need to do?"

"Their individual targets should be on their squad leader's Omni-tools. They all know what needs to be done." Kelly stated as Horn gave a nod and turned towards the marines.

"Marines!" Horn shouted through the speakers in his helmet to every marine's radio. "Form up!" Marines who weren't tending to the wounded quickly formed up into their separate ranks and squads, each ready to wreak more carnage. "Guess who I am marines!" Horn shouted, and there was a moment of confusion from the marines.

"I am the baddest mother fucker you will ever meet!" Horn started pacing in front of the marines. "I am a shock trooper by trade, a ladies man by choice, and a fucking destroyer of my enemy's morale by destiny! Do you know what that makes you marines?!" Horn was shouting to his men and women. "That makes you fucking monsters! You are my hands, straightening into a bitch slap for anyone who decides they should try to fuck with us! Well guess what, we just finished with the first bitch slap, now we're going for the second one!" Horn pointed towards the base.

"Inside that tin can of a fortress is a man who is responsible for dragging us out here. Responsible for making us waste good men and women's lives to respond to some lunatic who thinks he's better than us! Well guess what! Look around you! Look at his army that you; Cerberus marines and commandos; completely and utterly ass raped! He thinks he's better than you while he hides down at the bottom of his shaft! Well, we're going to go in there. We're going to trash his home, kill his men, and blow his brains out at the point blank range of our guns! When we're done that! We're going to come back, we're going to look at the men and women who were injured or gave their lives so that we could get this far, and we're going to say 'Thank you for being a badass soldier!'" Horn took a moment to look at his marines before dropping his arms and raising his visor. "Because we are marines! We are soldiers! WE ARE MONSTERS!"

"Now, let's go in there...and teach them the fucking definition of Victory!" Horn closed his visor, and walked to Kelly, speaking in a hush tone. "You coming?" She simply gave a small smile.

"Came this far sir." Horn gave a wicked smile and Kelly's eyes widened for a moment. "Uh, I don't thi-" Horn scooped her up in his arms, and ran the distance of the hallway within a couple of seconds, and without so much as a backwards glance, dropped out of sight into the shaft, leaving the marines standing there for a moment before one private spoke out above the rest.

"Did that really just happen?"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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The drop down the elevator shaft was shorter than Horn was expecting, and had to boost his jump jets harder than what he would have liked to avoid breaking his legs. Both he and Kelly came down with a crash on top of the elevator that was parked on the last floor, and he casually dropped her. She stood for a moment, looking around at the interior of the elevator shaft before looking to the Commander. "Was that really necessary?" She asked, a bit of humour in her voice.

"Hey, I have to solidify my absolute bat crazy-ness to the marines early on, or they'll just think I'm a crazy old man." Horn opened the top hatch of the elevator and swept his gun through the empty metal box. "Speaking of which...why do we have a new ship?" Kelly looked at him, but didn't say anything. Horn kept his eyes down in the elevator. "Because, you know, I would be pretty damn pissed to hear that I almost died to save a ship that didn't make it anyways. So chances are I'm going to need expendable marines within arms reach when I get back to the Victory, am I right?"

"I can explain everything once we are back on the Call of Victory sir." Horn stopped, and looked up at the woman for a second.

"Oh, I know you will. I expect it to be good Operative." Without a further word, Horn dropped into the elevator. Kelly took a small breather before joining him in the cramped space. When she dropped, Horn was already working on the doors, trying to force them open by hand. Kelly walked over, and tried the button first, expecting nothing to happen. Instead, the doors slid open and revealed a lone and empty hallway. "Huh." Horn stated as he prepped his rifle and slowly stalked forward. Kelly did the same, just a couple steps behind him and off to his right. After a few feet, they both stopped almost exactly in step with each other. Horn looked back at Kelly. "You feel it too huh?"

"Yeah...get some cover?" She asked, and Horn nodded and looked forward, only to see a couple of automated turrets lower from the ceiling. Without hesitation, they opened fire on the completely exposed duo as they pressed themselves to the side as tightly as they could.

"Fuck! Kelly! Barrier!" Kelly dodged a couple of shots and threw out her hands, encasing them both in a small bubble. The bullets ricocheted off of the biotic energy, but already she was feeling the strain of such a large amount of fire. She was already on one knee, breathing heavily and shaking quite visibly. Jason didn't waste any time, firing his vindicator assault rifle at the turrets through the barrier. He was disappointed to see his rounds bounce off the shields of the turrets. "Of course, he would leave the best stuff for himself." He looked back to Kelly, he looked like she was on the verge of exhaustion, and gave a sigh. So much for taking things easy.

He gave a look as to how far the guns were from them, estimated just how much thrust would be needed to get going and to stop, and how much would be needed to propel him just the right height into the air. In order for this to work, he would need to be completely on his toes. So, with one last look back to Kelly to see if she would even last that long, and a quick priming of a couple of grenades, he ran outside the barrier. Immediately, the guns swivelled to acquire their new target. Before the rounds could even start exiting the chamber, Jason switched on his jets. The force blew him forward far faster than he had anticipated, not taking into account that he was working with what could be classified as five sets of rockets instead of the usual one that was attached to his back. He quickly adjusted, slamming on the brakes and landing himself right underneath the pair of turrets. Once again, the turrets turned to greet him, but he pumped out enough juice from his suit to suspend him against the ceiling next to the turrets. He planted a grenade on the turret, and moved swiftly to the next where he repeated the process. In the second or so that it had taken him to do this, the turrets had completed their turn, and were attempting to fill him with so much lead he would have become a 20th century human pencil. He dropped to the ground, landing in a roll and feeling more than hearing the bullets impacting so close to the ground behind him his shields flickered. However, once he finished his roll, the grenades went off, well within the confines of the turret's shields. In a bright flash, both of the automated defences were nothing but scrap.

"Ha! That's why you never let a machine do what a true soldier could do better!" Horn looked back down the hallway to see if Kelly was there, and was surprised to see Nerita helping her stand. He jogged over, looking over Kelly's vitals as he did so. He almost let out a sigh of relief at seeing that she wasn't injured, just exhausted. "Nerita! My favourite purple lady! How's it hanging?" He then got a good look at all the armour she was wearing. "Well that's different...what happened to the whole trench coat bitch look?"

"It wasn't bullet proof." She stated flatly as Kelly finally got her own feet underneath her. Horn looked at her, cocking his head slightly to the side.

"You good to go, or do I need to send you topside to wait for the medivacs?" He asked.

"No sir, I'm good to go." She stated as she gripped her gun with renewed purpose. Nerita looked to her, then back to Horn. Jason simply shrugged.

"Alright then. Nerita, I take it your a free operative if your down here then?" Horn asked Nerita, who simply gave a nod in response deeming it satisfactory. "Goody then. I get to play pimp with an assault rifle. Let's go." Horn immediately took off down the hall, reaching the end and rounding the turn before the ladies could even get half way. Nerita looked to Kelly as they were both running to catch up.

"Good to have him back?" Nerita asked as Kelly gave a small smile.

"He's a good stress reliever." Kelly stated, realizing the dirty joke that could have been used by Horn a little too late, but Nerita simply nodded, knowing she meant command wise. As they neared the corner though, Horn was diving to the ground, and rolled towards them. He pushed himself off the floor and slammed his shoulder against the wall. Kelly and Nerita simply stared at him for a moment. He looked back at them and gave a large smile.

"Lots of bad guys. Apparently this guy is a huge narcissistic asshole who believes everyone should die for him." Horn paused for a moment. "Any similarities between this guy and yours truly is purely coincidental." He took a breath and looked back down the hallway. "About five traitor marines, bunkered down at the end of the hallway with a sufficient amount of cover to make anyone coming at them piss their pants. None of us have snipers, nor do we have a sufficient amount of explosive ordnance." Horn looked down for a moment, before looking at Kelly and Nerita and smiling.

A moment later, Nerita and Kelly rounded the corner, their biotic barriers overlapping each other and taking the strain off of each other while Horn walked in between them firing his vindicator with an almost psychotic glee. The traitors opened fire on the group, but the rounds met nothing but biotic energy as the two barriers put together were more than enough for the small hallway. Horn started picking off the marines as his rounds eventually found their way through their shields and into their fleshy bits. By the time they reached the end of the hallway, the traitors were either dead or dying, and their barrier was nothing more than a shredded piece of metal from the amount of vindicator rounds pouring into it. Nerita and Kelly let the barrier drop as they walked up to stand next to Horn. Together they came up to the final door. "His office should be on the other side." Kelly stated as Horn looked at her.

"Aw...so soon? I was hoping for at least...ten...maybe fifteen more kills before the day ended." Horn hit the switch and the door opened to reveal a large room filled with containers, ammo boxes, weapon racks, and about six prison cell-size glass containers on each side of the room, each holding a civilian dead or alive. Oh, and there was about twenty marines securing equipment in the room. When the door opened, everyone froze and looked at them. Horn, Kelly, and Nerita all stood there. Both sides were staring at each other, the marines most likely never having expected anyone to get through the hallways so quick, and Horn's group not expecting another research lab this far down. Horn simply smiled, and flared his jets slightly.

"Wicked."

One of the traitor marines finally got his wits about him, and made to move when Horn let loose with his assault rifle and dropped the man before he could grab his weapon. The other marines reacted quickly after that point, dropping whatever it was they were carrying and moving to cover while readying their weapons. Horn and his team moved inside the room and took up cover behind some ammo crates. Rounds peppered all around them, and Horn looked to Kelly. "What was that about this being his office? Weirdest fucking office I've ever seen!"

"This room isn't on the blue prints!" Kelly yelled as rounds flew by her face, leaving tracer marks as they did so. "Either Dr. Mueller manipulated the schematics before it was sent to the Illusive Man, or this room was built so recently as to have not been added to the archive material!" Kelly replied as she flinched from another bullet barrage. Horn just shrugged.

"I was just wondering. Hell, I got my wish, aside from having you trounce around the battlefield in a skimpy bikini." Horn looked to Nerita, who was simply staring at him. "What?! You would be there too! Equally skimpy."

"Is this really the time?" Nerita stated as she stood and took a couple shots before ducking down again. Horn smiled.

"It's always the time. Anyways..." Jason double checked his rifle before giving it a slap and smiling at the women. "Who's up for a little bit of kickass, Horn style?" Jason looked around his cover for a split second, and the moment he did, his shields flared as several rounds found his helmet. He ducked back, and slowly touched his face shield. "Huh...accurate fucks aren't they." Jason made sure his vindicator was loaded, and looked to the other two. "Well, it looks like the room is about forty feet long, we have about thirty feet in width. More than enough room to manoeuvre, less then enough room for a flanking position. Roof means no flying for me. You two are too tired to keep up the barrier trick for much longer, which leaves me with my favourite option of doing things."

"With great stupidity?" Nerita stated as she took a couple shots. Jason simply looked at her.

"Well duh." He stated as he rounded the corner and bolted it towards the next piece of cover. Immediately his shields flared as several rounds found their mark on his armour. He fired his assault rifle on the move, his rounds going wide but managing to make the traitors flinched. He slid feet first towards the next group of boxes, and by the time he had reached the cover, his shields were completely gone. He gave a sigh of relief and let out a smile. "Gets the blood pumping!" He yelled back at the other two as he primed his last grenade. He peeked around the corner once more, checking to see which group of marines were grouped together the most, and found three that were using one piece of cover together. It was a large crate metallic crate, more than sturdy enough to withstand standard gunfire. The rest were too spread out for the grenade to do any real damage, so Horn lobbed the grenade. "Suppressing fire!' Horn yelled.

Immediately Kelly and Nerita stood up from their cover, their weapons spewing molten death at the marines, effectively pinning them in place until the grenade landed at their feet. They were left with an impossible option as all three of them ran to get out of the killzone. Almost immediately they were mowed with a merciless barrage. When the grenade went off though, another surprise was waiting for them.

The crate was sturdy enough to resist gunfire, sure, but apparently not a frag grenade. A hole in the side of the crate burst open, and from the wreckage crawled two vorcha who let out a howl and launched themselves at the closest traitor marine. Suddenly the battle had become a three-way without Horn even making a sexual innuendo. The marine's fire was split between the oncoming Cerberus commandos and the vorcha prisoners. Horn, Kelly, and Nerita stood their ground. None of them were wanting to close the ranks while the vorcha were still standing, knowing that they would easily mistake them for their captors and attack them as well.

Normally the traitors were cool, calm, collected, and highly trained. However, Horn could see the sense of panic that was slowly overcoming them as they were forced to split their attention. Apparently none of these traitor marines were in a command position, sent down here to simply secure cargo and prep for transport was the most likely option. With no authoritative presence, these men were slowly but surely losing their nerve. By the time that the marines had managed to secure themselves, only five of them remained. Between Horn's commandos and the vorcha, the fight was over quickly.

Horn and the others stood slowly, their weapons down but ready to be drawn at a moment's notice. The vorcha turned, their eyes viciously set on them but not yet closing to attack. Their wounds, while some were consistent of the battle they had just waged, others were more reminiscent of torture. Most likely weapons testing due to the vorcha's ability to regenerate. They hissed and Horn walked closer, but he didn't stop until he was a foot away from them. There was a slight stare down, before Horn stepped aside. "You better run." Jason said to the two of them, who gave him one last stare before bolting it past them towards the elevators. Jason quickly tapped his comm. "Attention marines, couple of vorcha coming up the shaft. Do not fire unless provoked. Let them pass."

There was a slew of confirmations as Horn finally looked at the containers alongside the walls. The civilians that were still alive, ranging from asari to elcor to hanar stared at him with such a pain he couldn't help but feel it. Kelly walked up and touched the glass of one of the containers, holding a hanar hostage. It returned the gesture, placing a tentacle up to the glass as well. Her brows furrowed in confusion as she looked at the creature. Horn walked up beside her. "I know what that look is. What's the problem, aside from the obvious?"

"We were told that Dr. Mueller had only recently gone traitorous, due to his nature of using live test subjects." Kelly's eyes glossed over the Hanar, as if feeling some sort of deep connection with him. "However, we were led to believe that the moment he started this, he was told to stop." Kelly pointed to some of the scars on the hanar. "Those wounds are the result of weapons fire sir...and they've been there long enough to become barely noticeable scars." Horn looked at the Hanar, and sure enough he had several scars along his body, all the apparent result of weapons fire. "The implications are...unpleasant sir." Kelly stated as she looked to him. His face was hidden behind the reflective face plate of his helmet, but he didn't say a word.

"Nerita, get these people free and topside. Make sure they get the medical attention they deserve, but make no mistake, if they attack you, you put them down. Chances are if they can't recognize help when they see it, they're too far gone to help anyways." Nerita gave a nod and made her way towards the closest container with a live hostage inside. Jason motioned to Kelly. "C'mon, we have a mad doctor to kill." Kelly gave a slight nod and took two steps towards the next door before pausing and touching her ear. Horn looked back, but didn't say a word.

"Operative Invaru? This is Kodiak Lead. As you can tell, the satellite has been taken out of service, but we are still reading the GUARDIAN systems as operational. We have reports from marines on the ground that the system will be down within five minutes. Can you confirm?" Kelly stood there a moment, trying to remember the marines that were sent after the GUARDIAN system.

"Hold Kodiak Lead." Kelly remembered who was the lead on that assignment, and patched into their comms. "Sergeant Oberacker. What's the status on those GUARDIAN systems?" Kelly listened for a minute before a man came over the line.

"Ma'am, Corporal Stevenson here. Sergeant Oberacker is currently engaged. We will have the guns down in five minutes ma'am."

"Are you positive corporal? Would you bet the lives of every singly Kodiak pilot on it?" There was a pause as he seemed to think about this.

"I would bet my life on it ma'am." Kelly seemed to take that at face value, and nodded to herself.

"You have five minutes Corporal." Kelly cut the channel and switched back to Kodiak Lead. "You have a go Kodiak Lead. Good luck."

"Copy command. We are en route. Kodiak Lead out." The comm. went dead, and Kelly looked ahead at Horn who was returning from the door.

"You done? Can we continue with the ass kicking then?" Jason asked as he turned to start towards the door once more.

"Yes sir." Kelly replied as she caught up to him as he stood in front of the door. He gave the door a tap with his boot.

"Door's locked with some sort of advanced mathematical algorithm. Way above my knowledge to hack this baby open." Kelly looked around for a moment, feeling the walls for any sort of bump or sign that there was a panel underneath. Sure enough, she found something, and with a little help from Horn, pried the panel loose. Underneath was an array of electronic wiring mixed with several dozen secondary systems that neither one of them could begin to comprehend. Jason pushed Kelly back several paces, unholstered his pistol, and fired several rounds into the panel. They waited a few seconds, but were disappointed to see that the door remained closed. "That always works in the vids." Jason stated as his smile disappeared. Kelly simply stared at the panel for a second longer. Then, with a sudden hit of clarity, reached far into the panel and grabbed a massive coupling near the very rear of the wall. With a bit of a yank, the coupling came loose, and the door's lights went off.

"There, power's cut. Magnetic locks should also be offline. All we have to do is force the doors open ourselves." Kelly stated as she started towards the door. Horn gave a slight frown, but proceeded to the door.

"Yeah, but we'll be completely exposed to enemy fire because we'll have to be gripping the sides. If anyone is waiting on the other side, we get shot up." Jason stated as he gripped one side of the door.

"It was either this, or request an engineer from one of the other strike teams which could take minutes off our operational clock sir." Kelly stated as she started pulling on the door.

"Oh I know, don't get me wrong. Strike of genius from the beautiful 2iC, but still there could b-" As soon as the door opened a crack, a hail of fire peppered door. Kelly and Horn ducked off to the side out of harm's way, and just as they did the fire stopped. Horn and Kelly looked back to Nerita and the Civilians, who seemed either oblivious to the fire or were actively ignoring it. They returned their attention to the door.

"Cerberus commandos? Hah! You're fighting for the wrong side there marines!" A voice came from inside the room. "The so called Illusive man is pulling your strings puppets! COME ON!" Another hail of fire exited out the inch wide gap in the door. Horn looked to Kelly.

"I need to open this door. Pour some fire through, pin him down." Jason stated, barely giving any time before he gripped the door and started pulling. Kelly poked her avenger rifle through and started spraying hoping for the best. Once Horn had the door open a few inches, she was able to see inside. Dr. Mueller had a spacious office with a desk large enough to offer sizeable cover. Off to the side was a single large aquarium with the flawlessly white walls offered excellent luminosity to the entire room. The roof was an odd circular shape, metallic as opposed to the rest of the office. Aside from the aquarium and desk, the entire room was surprisingly sparse. The man himself looked almost exactly like his photo, except for the fact that he was carrying some sort of modified two handed minigun-esque weapon.

The rounds from Kelly's avenger dug into the desk and ricocheted off the wall behind the doctor, forcing his head down for a moment as Horn doubled his efforts to get the door open. Before long though, Dr. Mueller was once again pouring fire through the crack, and Horn was forced to stop and duck as one of the rounds nicked his hands. "Fuckin ass!" Jason swore as he gripped the door once more. Kelly fired once again, and after a short burst, was rewarded with the man swinging to his side and going down.

"I nicked him." Kelly stated as she put down her gun and helped her commander open the door wide enough for them to slip through. Once they were able to slip inside, they both immediately found their target laying on the floor covered in his own sticky blood. The minigun weapon that he had been using lay a few feet away, tossed from his hands when he went down. Once they got a better look, it appeared that Kelly's round had hit a lot closer to home than first imagined. The round had pierced just above his heart, closer to his neck than his shoulder. Despite the obvious pain that he must have been feeling, he still gave a wicked smile and laugh. Horn looked to Kelly.

"You started the fight, only proper you finish it. Make it quick, we need to head topside." Horn stepped off to the side, eyeing the office and making quick notes about it's interior. Kelly grabbed her pistol, but was surprised when the Doctor's hand shot out to meet hers.

"I'm not the man you were told to believe I was." Mueller looked over at Horn quickly, noticing his attention was elsewhere. "They told you I was the one performing the experiments? That part is true...but only to a degree." Kelly was torn between her orders from Horn to simply kill the man, and her natural curiosity that came from being an information specialist. She held her tongue, but also her gun hand, which allowed him to continue. "The Illusive Man sent you here to kill me because I wanted to stop the mass murder these people were committing. We rebelled because they were bringing in dozens of people of all races for weapons testing. None of them ever left this place, and while I'm not claiming to be a saint, I couldn't stand for the amount of death these people were inflicting all for the cause of advancing our own race." He coughed for a moment, blood spouting up.

"He played you...He played all of us...like a chess board...You're just a pup-"

A round shot out, and suddenly Mueller's brains were splattered all over the floor while Kelly jumped back in shock. She looked over to Horn, who's carnifex hand cannon was still smoking from the cylinder as he put it back into his holster. Kelly looked between the man and Horn, blood across her features as well from the well placed round.

"Sir! Why did you do that? He was telling us why he-" Kelly wasn't able to finish that sentence as Horn closed the distance between them with a quick few steps.

"My job isn't to ask why Operative! My job is to give an answer at muzzle velocity!" Horn stared at her for a moment. "Besides, while you were sitting there taken in by his crazed eyes and blood stained figure, his hand slowly pushed a button on the desk behind you!" Horn walked over, flipping the desk as he did so. Underneath was a simple red button, that was now flashing. "I knew it was too easy." Kelly simply stared at the desk, suddenly the seemingly light resistance making sense now. Dr. Mueller understood that if they got this far, he wasn't leaving. So, he might as well take as many as he could with him. However, going by his words it meant that they still had time to escape. If he was telling the truth to her, there would be time left for the civilians to get out of the base and free from the blast. If not, they would be dead and it wouldn't matter either way.

"Sir, I believe we still have time. We need everyone out now!" Horn looked to her.

"Well make the order Kelly! Don't tell me about it!" Jason grabbed her arm and started making their way back towards the elevator. Kelly put a finger up to her ear.

"All teams, this is Operative Kelly. Fall back from the base! I repeat, fall back from the base! A self destruct has been initiated!" While she was doing that, Horn was also talking within his helmet.

"Nerita, how are the civies holding up?"

"Fine. Some of the engineers got the elevators working again, we're walking out of the base as we speak." Nerita's calm voice came through clear as ever. Horn nodded to himself.

"Alright, get them on the first Kodiak out of here, catch a ride yourself. This place is going out with a bang." Horn and Kelly made their way out into the hallway and started sprinting for the exit. The entire time, Kelly's mind was elsewhere and she had to forcibly pull herself into the current situation. Horn said something, but Kelly didn't quite get it. It wasn't until he yanked on her arm that she realized they were in the elevator shaft.

"Kelly! Wake up! We're leaving!" Pulling the same move from before, Horn swept up Kelly before she could say another word and used the last reserves of his fuel to bolt himself out of the elevator box and back to the top floor. Jason's jets gave a sputter as they landed on the top floor, but they still made it. With a slightly anti-climatic sprint out of the building, Horn looked to see about half of the assaulting force still trying to get everyone off planet. A man came running towards Horn, immediately he saluted and Horn gave a grunt and made to move past the man.

"Ma'am, sir...We're trying to extract from the area but the simple thing is that it still takes time for the Kodiaks to get to the Victory and back." Kelly gave a nod towards him.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan...good to see you still standing as well." The man quickly recovered.

"You as well ma'am. Commander Horn? A pleasure to finally meet you." Jason simply stared at the man for a second.

"I will bother to learn your name, rank, and placement on my apparent new ship once we are out of immediate danger. If we can't fly, then get people to start running Lieutenant!" O'Ryan gave a nod, and turned around.

"Alright marines! Form up and get on! The rest of you, double time back to the b-" Before he could finish that sentence, there was rumble underneath the ground. Horn looked back at the entrance to the facility, and before anything else could happen, pushed Kelly off to one side and dived off to another as a plume of fire came shooting out of the entrance. The ground rose a few inches then fell, and then everything was still once more. Everyone was still looking around, trying to discern what exactly had just happened. Jason stood, looking around at everyone.

"Well...I was really kind of hoping for a bigger bang, but whatever works I guess. Was everyone out by the time it went off?" Horn asked.

"Yes sir." O'Ryan stated bluntly as he went off to oversee the rest of the extraction. Jason walked over to Kelly, and gave her a hand up. As she stood, Horn retracted his visor and looked at her.

"You're going to need to learn something when you start commanding your own vessel." Jason stated as she stared back at him. "Learning the how's and why's are all fine and dandy...but in the end. You have orders, you carry them out, and when you're on a time limit, you do it quickly." Jason stated as he stared long and hard at her before releasing his grip of her wrist. "I do not expect to have to say this again." Jason stated as he turned and started walking towards Kodiaks that were still on the ground. Kelly simply stared after him, then looked back towards the base. The man had been telling the truth, there was enough time for people to get out, and it was an explosion that insured only those left inside would die. Which meant that, in this case, the Call of Victory and her marines were essentially the bad guys. They had just murdered those who were trying to free slaves from captivity and certain death, and she couldn't get that thought out of her head. Prevalent over all of those was the fact that the Illusive Man had deliberately lied to her and her crew. As she dropped her gaze and made her way to the Kodiaks, there was one thing that she knew she could never do to the marines who had fought and died for this mission.

She could never tell them.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The moment that Horn touched down on the Call of Victory, he had called a meeting for all of his officers. Despite the protests of Dr. Grass, and even Kelly herself, he had shoved them off and made his way directly to the conference room, well, once he had figured out the layout to the conference room anyways. Once all the officers were seated around the table, and Horn at the head in full combat armour aside from his helmet which was placed off to the side, Kelly could only hope that he didn't take out his pistol and immediately start shooting the closest body.

"Thank you all for joining me today." Jason started as everyone stared at him. "Now, in order to get me back up to speed the quickest...what the fuck happened?" Everyone kind of looked around at everyone as their glances went to everyone else in the room. Horn pinched the bridge of his nose before letting out an exasperated sigh. "I'm going to say this now...No one is going to be walking out of this meeting happy. Why? Because I'm not going to be walking out of this meeting happy. So...Kelly." Horn turned to his 2iC. "I remember being pulled off the Collector ship and being tossed through space, which was cool, but shortly after exiting the craft, I blacked out. Start from there." Kelly clasped her hands together, obviously not wanting the job of telling him what happened, but recognizing her duty.

So, in enough detail to satisfy the Commander but not warrant an emotional outburst, she described what happened from the point the Commander left to where they were now. She listed off the names of the deceased from memory, including the technicians and marines who were, in command terms, barely noticeable. Of course, she knew which names he would react to the most. Brandon Nicola, Lara Teesar, Jack Nathan, and Linda Goram. Horn sat there, his expression hard to read not because there was no facial markers of emotions running through his face, but because there was so many. Anger? Sorrow? Regret? Guilt? They all showed up on his face at one point or another.

Kelly detailed the destruction of the SIC Titan, along with the missions that happened immediately after. She hesitated when she started to describe the botched mission on Elysium. She carefully worded her statements as Horn's eyes dug into hers over the details of Daniel's capture. This time, he was easy to read. There was so much vengeance in his eyes, she didn't doubt that some people thought he might actually assault the closest Alliance post, and keep going until he found his brother in arms. Instead, he remained quiet. Kelly finished up with the mission there on Ontarom against Dr. Mueller, but left out the details of what he said to her. Horn didn't ask, and she didn't want to tell. When she was done, she simply fell silent. In fact, the entire room did. Not a single soul dared to say a word as Horn sat there, his hands clasped in front of his face and his fingers touching at the tips on his lips. After a couple minutes of no one speaking, Horn took a breath.

"So...what you're really saying...is that I failed?" His voice was strong, but most likely due to the fact that he took the time to compose himself. The others might not be able to see it, but Kelly could tell he was just about at his breaking point when it came to bad news.

"No sir. Had you not gone over there and disabled their weapons systems, Commander Titus would have appeared on the scene to see nothing but wreckage. The survivors of the Titan are only alive because of you, Daniel, and Linda sir." Kelly replied, trying to defuse a possibly volatile situation. Horn placed his hands on the table in a forced calm, he kept his palms glued to the table for fear of his officers seeing them shaking.

"Survivors? You just told me a little less than a quarter of the people stationed on the Titan got out alive...less than a quarter Operative!" Jason's voice started to rise. "I lost a damn good soldier and friend on that fucking ship! I nearly died myself! Daniel is now a prisoner of war, possibly dead as well. A number of those people I would have shared a beer with happily and they are now gone forever. I wasn't even around to give them a proper send off as a Commander should...and you want me to celebrate what I did accomplish?!" Horn was standing by now, his anger getting worse by the second. "What I accomplished, Operative, was nothing more than a stupid idea that bought no more than possibly a hundred people a few more days!"

"Sir...that was more than what others could have done sir." Kelly's voice was completely neutral as always, but in this exact instance, she feared it was simply making the matter worse as he slapped a palm on the table and glared at her.

"Don't you dare try that fucking calm and collected routine with me Operative! I am not in the fucking mood!" Horn pinched the bridge of his nose again, forcing himself back into a more reasonable position. He sat back down and covered his face with his hands once more. Giving his features a good rub, and placed his hands back down on the table. He was forcibly more calm, but everyone could tell it wouldn't take much to set him off again. "I wanted more..." There was a moment of silence before he started looking around the table. The first person he laid eyes on was the new pilot. "Pilot!" He barked as Harold started and stared at him.

"Sir yes sir! Present sir! I'm here sir! I'm...Present...accounted...present?" Harold stuttered as his face went red with embarrassment from his social awkwardness. Horn was not in a laughing mood, and instead stared at him with daggers in his eyes. Horn took a moment to read the data pad that Kelly slid in front of him to get a good read on the man. After a split second of reading, Horn looked back up at the man.

"Let me make one thing...absolutely...crystal...and without doubt...clear." Jason stated, enunciating every word. Harold simply gulped in response. "When I give an order...I do not like being second guessed. I do not like being told that I'm wrong...I do not like it when my pilot turns into a cowering pussy just because it seems that he's outgunned!" Jason yelled the last part, causing most of the people to jump at the table, Harold especially. Jason calmed down slightly and looked at the man. "I'm not going to go ahead and say what you were doing was wrong, taking the ship into a close orbit was risky as well and time consuming, which is what you were going for and possibly saved the ship. But in my command...in my orders...we do not sit back on our heels and wait for our enemies to fuck up. We make them fuck up! We pressure them so hard until their tiny little heads explode into grey matter!" Jason let that thought sink in for a moment. "So, when I give you an order Lieutenant...what's going to be your response?"

"Ye...ye...yes sir." Harold stammered, obviously not accustomed to these sort of discussions. Horn gave a sharp nod.

"This is your one, and only warning Lieutenant. Next time I transfer you, or shoot you out the airlock, whichever seems to be easier at the time." Horn stated so flatly that no one could even begin to guess if he was serious. He followed the table to the next officer, reading up on him as he got to him. "Lieutenant Leonard O'Ryan." Horn stated.

"Sir." O'Ryan returned flatly. Horn started reading through his file, but judging by the way his finger was scrolling, it was quite intensive. Jason eventually tossed it down and stared at the man.

"I hope you know you're following a great soldier and leader O'Ryan." Jason stated, to which the Lieutenant's face remained solid as stone.

"I am quite aware sir. I am also aware that Lieutenant Nicola and I have differing command styles, and have managed to assimilate my ways of running things throughout the ship while you were out of commission. Drills are run by the clock, scores have been slightly im-"

"Enough Lieutenant." Horn stated wearily as he waved a hand slowly in front of him. "I don't need the entire spiel from you, I'm going to be reading it in what is to be a very dry report later on this week. I have nothing else to say to you." Horn picked up the datapad once more, but seemed to remember something and looked back up at the man. "Aside from no more saluting...ever." As he looked over at the next person on the table, if you were looking closely, you could see Kelly's hands flinch.

Horn paused on the name for a moment, looking between the woman and the datapad. He scrolled through it incredibly quick, before tossing it to the middle of the table. "Is this some sort of sick joke?" He stated quite flatly. Linda stared at him, curiosity etched on her features. Already, this was enough to warrant a response from Horn. "You better stop psycho analyzing me right fucking now." There was no threat to come after that, and that was the key point in telling whether or not Horn was planning immediate violence. Linda averted her eyes, but she was not one to back down easily.

"This is my job and my name Commander. I can't change one, and the other comes naturally as part of my occupation. If you would prefer that I simply never look at you, I co-"

"You fucking bitch." Horn stated as he stood from the table before Kelly's hand came onto his shoulder. He looked over at her, and she was simply staring at him. There was an entire conversation with their eyes alone, and Horn slowly sat back down. He clasped his hands together, and through clenched teeth stated "I've got nothing else to say to you." As his eyes seemed glued to the door, Kelly thought the worst was over. He would start issuing orders, and hopefully retire to the gym to let out some excess frustration. Instead, she heard the words that she was dreading.

"What the fuck is she doing here?" Kelly looked over, and matched his gaze to that of Vala Buchan. Kelly made to respond, but Vala beat her to the punch.

"The Illusive Man place me here." She stated, her tone short and curt. She obviously didn't want to say any more than she wanted to. Horn just gave a mock nod, clapping his hands together.

"Well there you have it...the boss placed you here...Like he did last time? Like...how about disobeying my orders on my op, possibly endangering civvies because of...what was it? Oh right, a hardware upgrade." Horn stood up, leaning on the table towards her. "So let me rephrase my question then...Why are you still on my ship?"

"Because I listen to orders that matter Commander." Kelly's hands were clasped together so tightly now her knuckles were white, despite her face showing none of the anxiety. Vala stared directly into Horn's eyes, and he returned the favour. He slowly stood, his eyes never leaving the woman.

"Operative Invaru." His voice so cold his words would have frozen in the air if not for the climate control built in the ship. "Would you please inform the infirmary that they will have a patient very soon, and regardless of her state when we get to our next stop, that is when she will be getting off."

"Sir. Enough. The Illusive Man ordered her on the ship, there was nothing there to say that I couldn't take her on. I have orders, you have orders, we need to follow them sir."

Horn lost it.

"Orders?! Orders are what got me into this fucking predicament in the first place! Orders are what cost me my crew, my friends, my ship, nearly my life, and now apparently my authority! Don't you dare...Don't you fucking dare tell me to follow orders!" Just when Kelly thought it couldn't get much worse, it did when Vala decided to get yet another jab in.

"The irony...Follow your orders, but not the Illusive Man's." Horn immediately reached for his weapon, but Kelly was up and moving before he could clear it from his holster. She kept his hand down and stood between him and Vala.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan." Kelly stated, doing her best to keep her voice level despite having to hold back the Commander from legitimately killing the Operative on the spot. "Would you please have Vala removed from the this floor entirely. Escort her to her quarters, and she is to stay there until otherwise notified."

"Ma'am." O'Ryan stated as he got up from the table and grabbed Vala's arm and started hoisting her up from chair. He made no further comments as he did so.

"Cute, what a wonderful show of competence to your new command staff. So incapable of handling his basic emotion, and yet he's the one that will be calling the shots from now on. Truly inspiring 'Commander'." She gave a quick look to O'Ryan. "Don't bother." She stated, shrugging off his grasp and standing of her own accord. "I don't need to watch this anymore, it's making me sick." Vala made her way out the door and O'Ryan simply watched her leave. It took a couple of seconds for Horn to even realize she was gone, and calmed down slowly after that. Kelly looked at him, her hand still on his gun and forced him to give it up. After he had relinquished the weapon, she looked to the entire command staff who was staring wide eyed at the man who would be leading them.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan. Operative Buchan is not to leave her quarters unless otherwise specified. Set up a rotating guard to ensure so, and also inform her that failure to abide by these rules will have her classified as an intruder among this ship and be dealt with in such a fashion." She quickly turned to the others in order. "Lieutenants McKrain and Jaconis, Commander Horn expects up to date reports on the functioning of this ships engines and weapons by the end of this standard day. Same goes for you Lieutenant Bretton and Lieutenant Keller. Dr. Grass, Commander Horn will report to the infirmary once some of this business has been discussed and put behind us. Lieutenant Franks, I will talk with you when I get the chance." Kelly put her hands behind her back. "You're all dismissed."

There was a slight bit of hesitancy from all save Lieutenant O'Ryan who left immediately to perform his orders. Soon however, they were all gone, and the only ones left in the room were Kelly and Horn. Horn paced in the back, rubbing his head as he did so. Kelly let out a small sigh before turning to face him. It was obvious he was still angry, and that he needed some form of release. However, turning him loose now would only end up in a med bay full of broken bones and internal bleeding. "I...just...there..." He started and stopped sentences, as if he couldn't seem to form one to save his life. Kelly had only seen him like this once before, when the Shadow Broker agent had managed to infiltrate so far into the SIC Titan's inner workings.

"Sir, you need to retire to your quarters for the rest of the day." Kelly stated. Jason looked over, ready to argue, but Kelly simply stood there and locked eyes with them. "As of now, I'm deeming you unfit for command. Once you are able to calm down and get your senses back, I will see to it that command is returned to you. Until then, you are restricted to your quarters sir." Jason simply stared at her, his jaw hanging in disbelief that Kelly would actually take command away from him. Before he could argue, Nikki came over the speakers.

"As per Cerberus regulations regarding the psychological state of the Commander. It is deemed the second in command's duty to determine when a ship or base Commander has been so emotionally, mentally, or physically assaulted as to be declared unfit for service." Jason looked up at the speakers, back down to Kelly, and repeated a couple of times before he finally closed his mouth and sullenly walked past Kelly. She turned and watched him walk outside the door, and waited for it to close behind him.

"Nikki, keep an eye on him at all times. If he shows any threatening behaviour to crew, or more likely himself, notify me immediately." Kelly started walking and exited the room.

"Yes Operative."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It had only been a few hours since the conference room incident, or so it was already being called by the marine rumour mill. It was a well known fact that marines gossiped more than old women, and unfortunately this time it was true. Kelly's job over the past few hours had been dealing with the collateral damage and fallout from the meeting. Jessie, Kevin and TJ weren't complaining too much, having been around almost as long as Kelly herself had been. Grass was complaining about medical concerns, which was going to happen regardless, but the new additions had yet to really weigh in, and this concerned Kelly.

After finishing the paperwork, she was about to head out of her office when there was a light tap on her door. "Enter." She stated lightly, her voice back to her flawless neutrality. The door slid open to reveal Lieutenant O'Ryan. He took one step in and looked at her.

"Ma'am." He stated.

"Lieutenant." She returned, waving to a seat in front of her desk. The Lieutenant walked in, but did not take a seat. Instead, he slid a datapad over to her, which she quickly took a read over. As if to solidify what she had just read, O'Ryan stated it as well.

"I'm putting in for a transfer ma'am." Kelly looked confused, and stared up at the man. That was enough for him to explain himself. "With all due respect to you ma'am, I refuse to serve under a man who is so emotionally unstable that he is incapable of controlling his own anger against a fellow Cerberus Operative. You holding his leash and keeping him back does nothing to ease my mind when, in the end, he will be the one issuing the orders." Kelly stared at the datapad, and slowly put it down before looking up at the man.

"That's a fair reason Lieutenant. I take it you have gone over his combat record?"

"All the material that wasn't covered in black tape ma'am." O'Ryan stated, and Kelly nodded before going to her terminal and typing a few words. Before long, she had transferred some information to a highly coded and protected datapad, and slid it over to the Lieutenant.

"Judging by the fact that you're coming to me before filing your transfer means your looking for a reason to stay. My guess is you saw his combat record, and are confused by the man you saw. You must be wondering 'how does this man fit the words on his file?'" Kelly pointed to the datapad. "I want you to look long and hard at that before you decide whether or not to transfer. Be warned that that information is highly classified, your eyes only." O'Ryan looked at it, before looking up to the woman.

"Permission to speak freely ma'am?" Kelly simply gave a nod. "It is true, I was confused. Everything in this man's records, the battles he's been in and his standard combat scores are in the peaks. So imagine my confusion when I saw what appeared to be a ten year old child throwing a tantrum in the conference room. There, I saw what happens when a man gets too much power too fast." Kelly took in the words, nodding as he said them. "I'm not sure I could follow a man like that. To lead with emotion is one thing, to let it completely override logic is a death wish."

"That's true, Commander Horn is a very emotional leader. He cares about those under his command, but only after he's gotten to know and like them. He forms bonds over months, sometimes years of working together. Even then the people he works with, barely know him." Kelly looked at the man. "He came out of a coma, and instead of staying on the ship where he should have been, he immediately grabbed an untested experimental suit of armour and dropped to the planet from orbit. From there, he helped breach the line on Victory's side, and personally lead the assault on Dr. Mueller himself. All within a couple hours of getting out of his coma." Kelly looked at the man, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Now mix that trauma with the fact that after coming out of a coma, he learns that nearly his entire crew was killed. Among the dead were some of his closest friends."

"We've all lost friends ma'am, it's part of the job." O'Ryan countered.

"Yes, it is. However, you usually have time to cope, if not at the time, at least in the future. Horn didn't get any time, he didn't get a chance to say goodbye a true friend would. He simply pushed too many things on himself at once, and unfortunately that was the result."

"Yes ma'am, but with all due respect I don't believe that's an excuse to attempt to shoot a fellow Cerberus Operative." Kelly looked at her terminal a moment, before returning her gaze to him.

"I'm not even going to pretend to justify his actions on that particular occasion Lieutenant. I've already stated as to why and how he got to that emotional state in the first place." Kelly pointed to the datapad. "If you're looking for a reason to stay, you'll find it in there. If you don't, then you've made up your mind and I expect your transfer papers on my desk by morning." O'Ryan stared at Kelly for a moment, before dropping his gaze to the datapad in his hands. "Is that all Lieutenant?" Kelly asked.

"Yes ma'am." O'Ryan stated as he stood and saluted. Kelly didn't bother returning it, simply nodding towards the door. She returned her eyes to the screen when she heard O'Ryan speak once more. "Lieutenant." Kelly looked up to see Franks step inside the door, come in, and sit down in the chair across from her. Kelly clasped her hands in front of her, and gave her undivided attention. Linda gave a sigh, and leaned in on the desk as well.

"So, do you ever have to tell that the Commander has PTSD, or do most of the psychoanalysts figure it out and you tell them to keep it to themselves?" Linda started, and Kelly simply gave a small smile. She had been betting this was what she had come to see her about.

"It's not something I'm proud of hiding, if that's your question." Kelly stated, leaning back slightly. Linda simply gave a frown.

"I'm not joking this time Operative. This is serious. He's not the standard case of PTSD, I will give him that, but he's displaying a lot of symptoms." Before Kelly could interject, Linda held up her hand. "I know you're going to tell me that the situation and the information was a lot to take in, but c'mon Operative. He unholstered his pistol with the intention of shooting it at Vala."

"I realize that, I was the one who stepped in between." Kelly replied calmly. Linda simply sat back.

"Well then give me something chief. I can't sit here and morally keep this to myself simply on your word. This is something that, if not treated carefully, could get us all killed."

"I think it would save us more than kill us." Kelly stated as Linda gave her a confused expression. "You already know more than most simply through your occupation Lieutenant Franks. In fact, you know more than Commander Horn himself knows." Linda stared at her, still confused for a moment before going wide eyed and leaning in closer.

"You're kidding...He doesn't know?" Kelly gave a short nod. Linda sat back, taking it in. "That's...rare. Not unheard of in regular grunts, but someone in a command position...is that even safe?"

"His form of PTSD is the emotional type rather than mental stunting, hence the outburst in the conference room." Kelly stated. "Basically, as I understand it, his PTSD has locked out his ability to feel fear, while enhancing the sensations of every other emotion. Imagine a close friend dies for you, and amplify that feeling by at least two fold. And that's just for one person..." Linda gave a nod.

"Amplify that by all the news...all the deaths...all the 'apparent' failures...My god. I'm surprised he didn't completely break down. All those unbidden emotions pounding at your inner mental wall." Linda stared back at Kelly. "Which comes back to my original question. Is it safe?"

"He's saved my life and that of the crew due to his inability to feel fear more times than I can count. I've always been around to advise him when his rational thought is sometimes sidetracked by the lack of fear in death. He doesn't know about it, and in fact, he finds the whole concept of fear 'interesting'." Kelly replied, and Linda shook her head.

"But he's got to remember times when he was scared previously in his life. He has to know what it feels like." Kelly shook her head.

"According to him, he can remember the fact that he was scared, but he can't remember the sensation or the rush that came with it. It's like looking at picture, seeing someone with a frightened look on their face but feeling none of the fear that they are supposedly feeling." Linda nodded her head.

"Well that's...that's...I'm not sure if words accurately describe it right now." Kelly nodded, and they both sat there in silence for a moment. "So...this whole thing with psychiatrists..."

"It was always there, just became more prevalent after he was diagnosed and they made him go from one shrink to another, each one telling him he was 'fine'." Linda nodded once more. Before slapping her knees and standing up.

"Well then, that answers just about everything I wanted to ask."

"Keep in mind Lieutenant. This is confidential information, blacked out by the Illusive Man himself. You are not to tell anyone else about this, and the only reason I told you is because you already figured it out." Linda stared at her for a moment.

"I don't agree with it...I feel he has a right to know..." Kelly stared at her for a moment, but she continued. "But I'll follow orders. I won't tell him or anyone else unless directed by the Illusive Man or yourself." Kelly gave a nod, and motioned towards the door.

"If that's all Lieutenant, I have some work that desperately needs to get done." Linda clapped her hands together and walked to the door. Before opening it, she looked back at Kelly.

"When he finds out...you should either have a good excuse or a better hiding place. Cause I can guarantee he's going to come to you first...asking why." With that, Linda opened the door and left, leaving Kelly staring at the wall.

Yeah...I know.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It had been a full day from the Conference Incident, or what some marines were now calling the 'Berserker Ballroom'. The story had been convoluted. Apparently Horn had actually entered a fist fight with one of the Officers and did what he always did, kicked some ass. She had stopped those rumours immediately through a useful showing by Lieutenant O'Ryan who started laying on harsh punishments to those he found spreading rumours about the Command staff. It didn't help matters that Horn did what he always did when he wanted to blow off steam, and went to the gym to go up against any and all marines stupid or brave enough to challenge him. Luckily, the rumour mill that Kelly and Leonard shut down quickly managed to warn the marines enough to give him a wide berth. So instead, he did the next best thing.

Kelly had been staring at several requisition forms for new gym equipment that Horn had beaten, broken, or otherwise dismantled beyond all form of repair. She had already managed to get through them, and have them shipped, but that still didn't answer the problem of Horn. It had already been a day since she had to take Command from him, this time with him being conscious. It was not something she did lightly, nor was it something she very much enjoyed. Before she did it out of necessity, now it was the same thing but a very different feeling.

Now she was heading up to his quarters, to check on his status. She expected to find him still very much raging and trying to get all of that anger out of his system. So, needless to say, when the doors opened and she heard absolutely nothing, she was curious. "Commander?" She called.

"Over here." Horn replied, quite calmly. Kelly wandered in a few steps, and found Horn staring at his computer with a bottle of some form of alcohol sitting beside him. That was a bad combination in itself, and nearly made Kelly freeze when she noticed that the bottle was almost empty and Horn had yet to punch a hole in a wall. She walked forward, and took a seat in one of the chairs facing Horn's desk.

"How are you feeling sir?" She asked, getting straight to the point. Horn didn't bother looking at her.

"Feeling? That's an apt choice of wording." Horn was silent for a few minutes. "I guess guilt is a good one. Regret? Anger? The better question would be what am I not feeling." Horn stated as his eyes never left the screen. Kelly gave a nod and sat there, not saying a word. "What do I say Operative?" Jason finally broke his gaze from his screen, shoving it so Kelly could see what was on it.

'Dear Mr. and Ms. Nathan.' Was all that was typed onto the screen.

"I've been trying to write a letter to them for the past six hours. Six, Operative." Horn stated as he downed another shot of whatever drink he was consuming and poured himself another. "I've been thinking about things to tell them. How Jack was an awesome guy, how he's saved our asses multiple times, how he was someone I could very easily start a conversation with. Hell, sometimes I think of him as my best friend." Horn gave a small scoff, then a laugh. "Ain't that funny? I thought that someone I worked with, and barely knew outside of that was my best friend."

"There's no reason he couldn't have been your best friend sir." Kelly stated, not exactly sure as to what to say in the conversation. She was no psychiatrist, yet out of the crew she probably knew the Commander the best. Yet, she had never seen him quite like this, the opposite side of the spectrum so to speak. Horn gave another laugh that somehow ended up being sad.

"My life is this job Kelly. I've known nothing else. Schooling? Done through Cerberus boot camp...family outings? If I could actually see my mom or dad for five minutes, it was to tell me that I was doing great in boot camp and then they were off on another assignment. Friends? In a business like this, those...things are temporary at best." Horn cupped his mouth in his hands before placing them on the desk. "I haven't even gotten to Teesar, or Nicola...or Goram. All great people, save for one of them being a shrink, but none of them needed to die."

"Sir, you did all that you could. More than anyone could have done." Kelly stated, feeling like she might be saying this quite a few times in the next few days. She was starting to wonder if she preferred the depressed version of Horn, or the angry version.

"Yeah...yeah I did." Horn stated, which caught Kelly off guard. "I mean, I went on a suicide mission with two team members, one of which didn't come back and the other now a POW. Almost died myself, got put in a coma, came back to immediately fight a battle and lose my shit like a pathetic child." Jason looked at Kelly for a moment. "It's not the fact that I don't think I did all I could Operative, it's the fact that I did all I could and it still wasn't enough." Jason dropped silent, and so did Kelly.

After a couple minutes of silence, Kelly stood from the chair and looked over at the Commander. "Do you need another day Commander?" Jason looked up at her, giving her a small smile.

"According to Grass, I need two weeks. So yeah, I'll be good to go by tomorrow..." Horn looked at his screen, taking a deep breath. "I'll be good." Kelly gave a nod, and walked back towards the door, but stopped just short of leaving.

"You know, the marines are spreading rumours that you fought with an officer in the conference room." Kelly stated, Horn looked up at her.

"Tell them it was TJ. Everyone will understand and should the need arise, I'll actually kick her ass later to prove it to everyone." Kelly gave a soft smile, and Horn continued. "I'll be giving a formal apology to the various officers who were present at the meeting. They shouldn't have to see me when I...when that happens." Jason stated, and Kelly turned towards him.

"Does this apology extend to Vala Buchan as well?" Horn twitched visibly, and Kelly was worried that she had hit a nerve.

"Let me put it this way. The less we see each other, the longer this ship will last...am I clear?"

"Crystal sir." Kelly gave a nod, and with nothing else to say, calmly strode out of the room.

She understood full well...that Horn wasn't joking.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar Character Portrait: Carly Laren Character Portrait: Cecil Adams Character Portrait:
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The Victory's gym was a blur of activity as multiple marines entered and left the area either done with their work out or just starting it. Nearly every machine was in use, from treadmills to punching bags to the sparring ring. In fact, inside the ring was something that was drawing the eyes of a few marines to watch, but most simply walked by. After all, Horn had been training Kelly in hand to hand combat techniques for a couple months at this point. Seeing them spar was something that was almost commonplace at this point.

Horn and Kelly stood at opposite corners of the ring, slowly the both started forward. Horn rolled his shoulders slightly, while Kelly simply brought her hands up in a standard Kuntao stance, an ancient Chinese martial style usually involving heavy use elbow and knee attacks mixed with deceiving the enemy with disorienting blows and cripple them through the use of nerve point strikes. This had been the style that Kelly had decided to go with, out of the entire library that was Horn's martial library. Horn himself stood in a loose kick boxer stance as they stared at each other. Both were in standard military work out gear, being black loose shorts and tight grey t-shirts. Training with Horn was one of the few times that Kelly also allowed herself a loose ponytail while technically on duty. While training with Horn hadn't changed her figure much, one thing differed from her standard look. Scars from her fight on Ontarom were still on her face. Simple deep line scratches on her otherwise immaculate face. One across her right cheek, and another across the bridge of her nose extending nearly all the way to her right ear. When she had been given the choice to get rid of them, she refused. They were her trophies, or her reminders, whichever one people wanted to believe.

They stared at each other for a bit longer, the other wanting the other to move forward first. Finally Horn grew impatient and took the first step forward. Instantly Kelly was moving forward, delivering a circling elbow to his temple, which he quickly and easily blocked with his forearm. He lashed out with his foot, which Kelly also blocked with her forearm. Almost immediately she was circling Horn while spinning in circles herself. An elbow lashed out at Horn, followed by a knee, a loose kick, another elbow, each of which Horn blocked out of practiced ease. In fact, from another perspective, it could have been taken that Horn was mocking her.

Finally, after about several unsuccessful attempts, Kelly backed up and stood several paces away from Horn. Already beads of sweat were starting to form on her face, and her breathing was slightly heavy. In the fifteen seconds that it had taken her to complete her attack, she had managed to deliver no less than 25 unsuccessful blows. Horn gave a wicked grin, and quickly shortened the distance between them with a quick jump. Instantly he delivered a triple kick at Kelly's side, which she was able to block with both her hands even as she flinched with each impact. When that attack was finished, Horn leapt into the air and performed a roundhouse kicked that forced Kelly to lean backwards to avoid the kick. Instead of simply landing on his feet, Horn dropped into a crouch upon falling from his roundhouse and swept at Kelly's feet. The blow connected, and Kelly was dropped to the floor almost instantly. Before she could regain her senses, Horn was on top of her, holding her forearms together with one hand. She struggled slightly before looking up at the smiling image of Jason.

"You know, someone could take this the wrong way." Jason started, staring off at some marines. "Here I am, sitting on top of my beautiful second in command, holding her arms together while she wears barely anything." Jason stopped for a moment. "Wait, is that similar to rape? Cause that would be wrong...incredibly wrong..." Horn paused a moment longer. "I...I am a bad man for the thought that just ran through my head. Cleanse!" Horn shook his head, and looked down at Kelly, who was only smirking slightly. Horn put on his best confused face, until he noticed the blue arcs of energy pulsing up his arm. Before he could do anything, Kelly released a biotic pulse that sent Horn flying to the other side of the mat. He managed to catch himself on the ropes, and was standing before anyone who wasn't looking realized what happened. Kelly herself stood, and dropped back into her Kuntao stance. "Biotics are illegal there babe!" Horn stated, Kelly shrugged.

"You told me nothing is illegal on the battlefield sir." Horn paused.

"Damn...I did. Well...fine then, if we're playing by those rules." Kelly's eyes went wide as he launched himself at her. Moving faster than Kelly was capable of reacting to, Horn's hand close around her arm, spinning and ending up behind her. He wrenched the arm upward, forcing Kelly off balance. From there he manoeuvred around her, switching to a wrestling style and picking up Kelly by the waist. In a mere moment, he had hoisted her onto his shoulder, and a moment later, crashed her hard onto the mat.

Horn gave a laugh as he stood over her and she rolled herself onto her back. She tried desperately to get her wind back as Horn knelt down next to her. "Don't quote my words like that Babe. Sure, battle, do whatever you want. Here, I'm here to train you to do without them. That way, when you need to use them, it's just one hell of a bonus."

"Yes...sir." She managed to squeak out as air finally started filling her lungs. Horn had barely broken a sweat at this point, but he was fairly sure he had damn near broken Invaru. So, with possibly inappropriate handling, he grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her up to the ropes so she could stand.

"Aw cmon...haven't you ever been suplexed?" Horn smiled. "Oh yeah, the sexual reference was planned."

"Can't say that I have sir." She stated, her neutral voice only flawed by the fact that she was still trying to breathe. Horn frowned.

"Now now Operative Invaru, lying is a sin and offence to your superior officer." Horn stated.

"I answered your one question sir." Horn was about to say something, but stopped as he realized what Kelly said. He looked at her to see her giving a slight smirk.

"You dirty Operative!" He stated as Nikki came over the comm.

"Commander Horn to the CIC. Commander Horn to the CIC." Horn sighed, rubbing his hands on his face.

"Damn, I was just getting started. Oh well, duty calls babe. Meet me up there when you manage to catch your breath." Horn stepped out of the mat, stopped, and turned back. "Sexual reference not intended, but still kind of funny." With that, he left the Operative leaning on the ropes in the sparring ring.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Over the past two months since Horn's revival, the Call of Victory had managed to be nothing but an asset to the Omni Cell name. They had managed to run no less than 30 operations that ranged from assaulting a fortified stronghold, ship blockades, protection details, and Collector hit and runs. While the Call of Victory now bore new scars, it also now bore some new armour, and a more impressive array of weaponry. During what little downtime they had, Jason had managed to requisition that the ship be outfitted with Silaris armour, something that wouldn't have been possible in the timeframe they were given had the Illusive Man not bypassed some protocols and managed to get them on the list much faster than expected. During the time, the Victory had been patched up and prepped for all out war. Every gun had been inspected twice, hull integrity was made to be perfect. Shields were boosted past their operating capacity due to a newly installed cooling system for the generator. Needless to say, once the Call of Victory rolled out of the garage, so to speak, it was bristling with arms, armour, and a will to deliver death to the enemies of Cerberus and mankind.

During this timeframe as well, Horn had managed to quite successfully re-establish himself as Commander of a vessel. Several times he had managed to pull off something that would have been deemed suicidal by others. Time and again he has earned the respect of his officers and soldiers, and even though some of them refer to him as 'Commander Crazy' behind his back, he knew it was not meant as an insult. After the events of the Conference room when he first regained consciousness after his coma, he had managed to temper his temper, and lead by example. Many people had put that rumour and situation behind them, but Horn knew it would always be there. For now, he was simply glad that everyone was once again willing to follow his lead implicitly.

The elevator doors opened, and Horn walked out onto the CIC in nothing but his gym clothes and a towel draped over his neck. He looked off to his right, and gave a grin as Carly was standing there without her helmet on. Instead, she was opting to wear a Kuwashii visor rather than her standard helmet, her cropped brown hair giving her a very tomboy-ish look. "Corporal Carly!" Horn yelled right beside her, which caused her head to turn.

"Sir." She stated. Horn gave a frown, and instead gave her a hug right on the CIC, actually physically lifting her in the air even with her armour on. Carly simply gave a sigh, and the rest of the CIC didn't even look when Horn did this. "Is there a reason you feel the need to do this every time sir?"

"Oh C'mon Carly, I hardly see you otherwise. I would think that someone I personally recruited would be pleased by me being so emotional upon seeing them." Horn retorted.

"I realize that sir...but it's every time you step onto the CIC."

"Making it more special!" Horn yelled as he turned a quick ninety degrees. "Alrighty nerdlings! Tell your mighty overlord, master, and general leader in this mass of chaos just what it is that I had to come up here and not pin Operative Invaru to the ground for a bit longer?" Everyone went quiet, everyone wondering whether or not he was actually serious, or what he was actually doing with Operative Invaru.

"Ah Commander, a pleasure to engage in conversation with you once more." Cecil stepped around the CIC's main display, tipping his hat as their eyes met. Horn gave a smile and walked forward.

"Cecil, my good man." Horn stated, putting on his best regal accent. "I do believe that this entire...situation...that has...ah screw it." Horn stated, throwing away the regal accent. "Just tell me the good shit." Cecil gave a practiced smile and a slight bow.

"Nikki, if you would." There was a brief flash from the display as a system popped up. A few seconds passed, and the display re-arranged to zoom in on a small moon orbiting a planet. Horn simply crossed his arms, looking at the display for a moment before looking back to Cecil.

"Yes, it's a very pretty moon. What about it?" Cecil just gave another miniature bow.

"Well, when a certain Demon was...forcefully taken from us, Kelly approached me, asking me to reach out through my vast array of contacts for anything pertaining to Daniel and his whereabouts." Cecil pointed to the moon for emphasis. "I have a reliable source claiming that your missing brother in arms is, in fact, on Asphodel, the moon of Zion." Horn's face turned to stone, his eyes darting back between the display and Cecil to see if this was some sort of sick twisted joke.

"You're sure this information can be trusted?" Horn asked, all humour lost from his figure.

"I swear on it Commander. After all, Daniel was a good man, and the fact that he has been locked up with them for over two months now is nothing more than sickening to me. I would not relay this information if I did not believe there was a chance of him being there." Cecil finished and looked to the Commander, who only placed a hand on his shoulder.

"If he's there Cecil, anything within my power to give is yours." Cecil shook his head.

"We're all in this together now Commander. There's no need for favours." Horn gave a nod, and marched with renewed purpose from the CIC towards the Conference room.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Horn had made his way from the CIC to the Conference room in record time without actually sprinting to the room, but was surprised to see Nerita leaning against the door to the room. Horn walked slowly up to the room, which grabbed Nerita's attention as she stood to face him. "Commander." She simply stated. Horn gave a nod in return.

"I assume there is a reason you're watching guard over an empty room?" Horn asked, his humour leaking through but still evident that he wasn't in much of a joking mood.

"Yes." Nerita stated bluntly, but seemed to be searching for the words. It took her a few seconds before she spoke again, a weird thing from someone who was stoic and always sure of her words. "I would like to be on the assault team that extracts Lieutenant Harrens." Horn raised an eyebrow, an odd request from someone who often sought to distance herself from just about everyone else.

"Is there a reason for this specific request?" Horn asked, knowing there was but wanting to hear it from her. She stared at him for a moment before answering his question.

"While you were in a coma, he managed to help Operative Invaru take charge of the Call of Victory in a purely battlefield operational way. I've talked to him a few times, I've worked with him more than that, and he's stood up for me when no one else has. I owe him this." She stated everything very flatly, almost with no emotion but Horn didn't take any insult from this. It was simply the fact that she was offering her services without being asked, the fact that she waited for Horn to show up, the fact that she had trouble getting her words out when he first asked her what was up that Horn knew she was genuinely wanting to get Daniel out of that hell hole. Horn gave a smile and smacked Nerita hard enough on her shoulder to make her teeter to one side.

"Hey, I can always use a biotic on my team. Sexy ones are even better. You still promised me a nurse outfit one day." Nerita simply gave a scoff and Horn let his smile drop a little. "In all honesty, I was probably going to ask you anyways. I appreciate you offering your services Nerita." The asari simply gave a nod, and walked past him back down the hallway. Horn watched her go for a moment, before breaching the doors to the Conference room.

"Nikki, get me the Illusive Man." Jason stated as the table started to retract into the floor. He stepped onto it, for the first time, wishing the quantum entanglement worked faster. He quickly solidified himself, placing his hands behind his back in an 'at east' posture. The moment the field solidified, he spotted the Illusive Man in his iconic office, sitting in his chair looking over what appeared to be reports. TIM didn't bother to acknowledge Horn until he was fully materialized, and even then it was only at a sidelong glance.

"Commander Horn." TIM started, the smoke trailing from his cigarette in between his fingers as he swiped the reports across his vision. "You're not due for another report for another few days. I assume this is about Daniel?" Horn paused for a moment, not knowing exactly how the Illusive Man knew what this was about, but reasoned it away with the fact of why else he would be calling him uninvited.

"Yes sir. We have reliable intel stating that Lieutenant Harrens is being held on the moon of Asphodel, in the Exodus Cluster." TIM simply took another drag on his cigarette, not bothering to say anything. "I'm...here talking to you sir to request permission to go after him." TIM allowed himself the smallest of smirks for the briefest of a second.

"No, Commander Horn." The Illusive Man stood up from his chair, closing the distance between them. "You came here to tell me you are going, whether I sanction it or not." Horn said nothing, but to be completely honest with himself, he would have gone even if the Illusive Man had said no. When Horn replied with nothing, TIM turned around, and took a few steps away from him before turning back to him. "I understand that the bond that forms between soldiers is strong Commander. A brotherhood shrouded in blood, glory, and death. These bonds can end up being as strong, or even stronger than family ties." TIM took another drag on his cigarette. "But I have to wonder the value of one man as opposed to the mission we are now embarked on."

"I have not forgotten my mission sir." Horn said, half defending himself, half wanting to end the conversation so he could get going.

"I realize that Commander, after all, after your recovery you and your crew have made good progress against the Collectors. Despite Omni Cell's setbacks, you are once again proving yourself an asset to Cerberus." TIM paused, and slowly made his way back to his chair. Once he was seated and snuffed out his cigarette, he locked his fingers together. "You have my permission to go after him, Commander Horn. Make note, however, that where he is being held is most likely an Oracle outpost of some sort. The men that attacked Lieutenant Harrens on Elysium were affiliated with Alliance. If that is the case, rescue your man, but make sure that outpost doesn't remain standing."

"Sir, you read my mind." Horn stated, a smile creeping onto his face like a kid who managed to get the candy bar from his father.

"Good. Get this matter done and out of the way Commander. We have bigger issues in the galaxy than the fate of one man." TIM cut the connection, and Horn was left standing in the conference room with a huge smile on his face.

"Nikki!" Horn yelled up at the ceiling. "Get the priests! We're going to get ourselves a Demon!"

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar
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Horn paced down in the hangar in his full combat gear. He had once again donned his Apocalypse armour, but it was no longer the shining white that it used to be. After his initial trial run, Horn called a couple of favours and managed to get the scientists who had worked on the armour stationed on the Victory for a couple of days. Within the time they were given, they were able to boost the shield strength enough that the paint was purely an accessory at this point. Along with new experimental self-propulsion devices, the giant pack on his back had been cut down to nearly half it's size. The only problem being that the jetpack on his back was now a very vulnerable section on his body. He had the option to jettison the pack if necessary, but it was still very much in his mind that it could turn into one very large grenade. If he had too, he had a cool idea to get rid of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Corporal Stevenson sir!"

"Specialist Salazar sir!"

"Private Fischer sir!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

"Hit me Lieutenant."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Acknowledged...entering firing solution."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let's kill us some bad guys."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That asswipe has my knife."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Carly Laren Character Portrait: Nerita  T'Lar
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The trip back up to the Call of Victory couldn't have been longer if they had been trapped in a black hole. The entire time Horn's eyes kept shifting between the window back to Daniel as his face got paler and paler. Horn kept his eyes on his friend for a little longer before going back to the window. No one said anything, and he didn't want them to. Yes, they did what they wanted to do, yes they got who they had wanted to get. The problem being is that Horn knew what torture could do to a man. That a scarring event such as the one that Daniel went through, Horn knew that he wasn't going to be the same man that he ever was. Even when he first woke up, much of that friendliness, mirth, and general happy feeling was gone from the man. Replaced with a sole desire that overrode even the feeling of relief to see his friends.

Horn had already radioed ahead, asking for Dr. Grass to ready the medical room for their patient. As soon as the Kodiak docked with the Call, Horn walked over to Daniel and gave him a once over. He had passed out a few minutes ago, scars and fresh wounds covered his body, and what little was left of his clothes was nothing but a giant red rag. Without asking for consent, nodding to his fellow soldiers, or even acknowledging the fact that they were still there, he picked Daniel up in a fireman's carry. He walked over to the Kodiak door so fast, one might have thought he was going to barrel right through it. Instead, with a mighty pull, he opened the door so hard and fast that the Kodiak rocked before he took off sprinting across the shuttle bay.

Once he reached the elevator, he didn't wait up. The marines, for the most part were alright. At least, they weren't unconscious, possibly bleeding out. He hit the button to get to the med bay, and watched as the doors closed in front of him in slow motion.

For what was minutes but seemed like hours, Horn stood there with Daniel on his back. The man breathed in slow, quiet gasps. The sound of laboured, but controlled breathing. Horn fidgeted in the elevator, putting his weight on one leg then the next, constantly looking from the floor to the door in hopes that it would open sooner rather than later. When it finally opened, Horn was treated to a group of marines crowded around the elevator.

They started clapping, but Horn paid them no mind as he quite literally bull rushed his way through the crowd. Anyone that wasn't smart enough to get out of his way was bashed aside roughly. Some of the marines landed on the ground, but they didn't do anything aside from crawling away. Once they actually realized what was going on, the clapping stopped as the doors to the medical bay opened and Grass stood there looking at Horn. Jason braced for some sort of sarcastic remark before the operating began, but instead Lincoln simply motioned towards the prepared cot.

"Put him there Commander and get out of my bay." Horn complied without hesitation as he tried to gently lay Daniel on the cot, failing slightly as the bed bounced lightly as Daniel fell into it. Once that was done, Horn took a step back but remained looking at his friend laying on the table. He wasn't afraid that his friend might die, that was part of the job. He was more angry at the fact that he believed this to be his fault. Had he not been stupid and gotten himself in a coma, Daniel would have never been taken as a POW, none of this would have happened. Anger directed itself inwards before Horn noticed the hand on his chest pushing him out of the bay. "Commander. Out. You want him to live? Let me do my job in peace!" Grass stated as the Commander backed up step by step until finally he took his hand off of Jason's chest and the medical bay door closed. Marines on the floor kept their distance, but were still wandering around and paying attention to what was going on. After a couple seconds of standing there at the door, Horn turned and walked to the elevator. Knowing that the marine's eyes were on him, he took off his helmet and placed it under the crook of his arm as he reached the elevator and pushed the button. He turned around, and gave them each a look.

"You marines enjoy the show? Would you like it to become an interactive commentary on the very short lives of Cerberus marines?!" The marines got the hint as they all started going about their regular duties. "That's what I thought." Horn stated as he turned back around in time to see the elevator doors open. Private Fischer stormed out with Specialist Salazar on his back. She was yelling something almost incoherent at Fischer, but Horn simply decided to get out of their way as the rest of the fire team strode out. O'Ryan was the last one out of the box, his helmet in his hand at his side as he gave a nod to the Commander. They walked on by, Horn not bothering to say anything as he got onto the lift and pressed the button for the CIC.

A few moments later, Horn was stepping out onto the CIC. Unlike the marine 'campus' no one bothered to applaud him for his mission, which he was extremely grateful for. Kelly stood next to the display, turning slightly at the ding of the elevator. She gave a curt smile, looking past him into the elevator than back at him again. "Went straight to the medical bay sir?" She asked politely.

"Yep, boy's in rough shape." Horn answered flatly as he looked at a 3D image of the base they had just raided. "Was there any sign of those transports the Oracle assholes were using? Anything we could follow?"

"Negative sir." Kelly looped through the tape of the battle, showing that about two seconds after the Kodiaks left the hangar, their signs disappeared entirely. "Miniature stealth drives in each one. It looks like these guys are better financed than we thought." Horn put a hand up to his mouth, dragging it down off of his face.

"Yeah..." Horn stated, his eyes glued to the picture of the base. "But they're still Alliance. They're bound by a code of ethics and laws that they can't skirt around." Jason stated as he slowly paced around the image, Kelly following a few steps behind him with her hands clasped behind her back. "Which means that, while they may have the law on their side, and possibly the entire Alliance fleet...they don't have our leeway." Horn stated, finally stopping once he reached the other side of the display.

"Are you sure sir?" Kelly asked as Horn looked to her. "We just found Lieutenant Harrens, tortured to the near point of death inside that base. I thought Alliance had strict mandates about the treatment of POW's." Jason paused, looking at the image and then back to Kelly.

"So basically the Alliance created an organization that is us, just on the other side..." Horn stated rather than asked. "The Illusive man told us they were our equivalents on that side, I just didn't expect an exact match." Kelly said nothing, and there was complete silence on the deck aside from the noises coming from occupied consoles. "Is that base destroyed yet?" Jason asked.

"Yes sir, confirmed destruction by the time you reached the Victory." Kelly responded as Jason rolled his shoulders. Giving a slight sigh as he turned to leave. Kelly tilted her head slightly.

"Sir, if you don't mind me saying...I expected you be a bit more...angry." Jason stopped and looked back at her.

"And why's that Operative? Because the Oracle Commander got away?" Jason gave a smile. "Oh don't you worry, I will find and kill him. However, I'm happier knowing that we got Daniel back...don't try and switch my mood Operative." Jason answered as he turned and strode off.

"Yes sir. Helmsman, set course for patrol route Alpha." Kelly stated.

"Aye Ma'am, setting course for patrol route Alpha." Harold responded as Jason once more entered the elevator.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A couple hours and a shower later, Horn was sitting in his quarters. Reports littered his desk, along with an empty bottle of alcohol and medals scattered every which direction. He was currently trying to finish his report to the Illusive man, almost done too, when the intercom blared into his quarters.

"Commander?" The voice asked, Horn recognized it as Grass.

"Yeah doc? How's the patient?" Jason could literally hear Grass scoff through the intercom.

"You mean patients? Specialist Salazar got her shoulder dislocated by someone who knew how to put the hurt on your marines. Tell me, have you ever thought of bone replacement? Might help with some of the issues you are having with the breaking and dislocat-"

"Doc, I am really not in the mood. So unless you want your bones replaced by a vacuum of space that used to be your spine, I suggest you get to the point." Jason stated, and there was a slight pause.

"Lieutenant Harrens is awake sir. Preliminary results indicate that, given a few weeks of recuperation, he'll be good to go." Horn got up, but before he went through the door, he stopped.

"Wait, ready to go? Just like that? No long term effects?" Horn asked.

"Well there is calcification of the bones at numerous joints, as well as evidence of medical procedures meant to repair, not inflict pain. If they wanted to kill him, there would have been no need. Without that medical care, he would be maimed beyond all hope of returning to active duty. It seems your little torture troops like to keep their subjects alive longer than needed, or Lieutenant Harrens simply lasted that long."

"No Doc, it just means that whoever was doing the interrogating loved the act of torture so much, they kept him alive as entertainment." Horn stated as he exited his quarters and made for the elevator.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A short ride later, and Horn was back on deck 3. When he entered the deck, most of the marines did their best to simply stay out of his way, remembering his words fro a few hours before. With this in mind, Jason made a beeline for the Medical Bay, and upon entering, was rewarded by seeing Daniel sitting on the table rather than lying on it. Grass was running some tests, and as he lifted Daniel's arms up and down, Horn had to take a guess and say they were joint stress related. He had had enough of those to recognize one when it was taking place. Daniel had been looking at the doctor the entire time, but when the door opened, his head perked up slowly and he got a good look at the Commander. Despite everything, his facial expression didn't change. It remained in a stoic, almost pained look that warranted further investigation.

"Dr. Grass. How is my favourite sky fall buddy doing?" Grass looked over, back to his notes, and then held the datapad at his side.

"About as well as any soldier who's been under torture for over two months Commander. Why he's practically shooting a rainbow out of his ass." Horn glared at the man, who simply rolled his eyes. "He's fine Commander. Although, and I'm going to be enforcing this one, he is not to perform any combat missions for the next few weeks or until I deem him fit for duty. There are no obvious signs of lasting damage aside from obvious corrosion of bone and skin tissue, but I need to make sure." Horn gave a nod.

"Alright fine. Clear out for a moment Doc." Jason stated, Grass made ready to say something, but stopped just short and walked out quietly. Jason looked at Daniel, who simply looked at him back. There was an awkward moment as neither of them could figure out what precisely to say, until Horn clapped his hands. "So...How you doin?"

"I've been better sir." Daniel stated, Horn already picking up on the lack of mirth that usually accompanied his words. Horn walked to the other table, and leaned on it, crossing his arms as he did so.

"Well that's an understatement. However, I'm not asking physically Lieutenant." Horn asked, and Daniel's head perked up. Horn continued. "I've been tortured as well Lieutenant, I know what that kind of damage can do to a man. Physically they may heal, but mentally that's a different question."

"How long were you tortured sir?" Daniel asked, skipping the when knowing he wouldn't get an answer out of the Commander.

"3..." Horn stated and Daniel stared at him, his eyes giving a very disbelieving look. "Days." Horn finished. "But, it was a very harrowing experience with buzz saws, pain-poison injections and the like."

"Well sir, I don't think 3 days can compare to 2 months, 4 days, 11 hours, 5 minutes and 32 seconds." Horn looked over at Daniel, who gave a shrug. "I didn't really have much else to do."

"Which is why I'm concerned Daniel." Jason stated, forgoing his usual gung-ho bravado and showing genuine sympathy. He moved across the distance, and sat down on the same table as Daniel. "I was tortured for 3 days, I still remember the time quite vividly. You were there for..." Horn paused, trying to remember what Daniel had said, but failed. "Quite longer." He ended up going with. He put a hand on the man's shoulder, but Daniel only looked forward. "I need to know that Lieutenant Harrens is still in there."

"He still here sir." Daniel stated. "He's just a little bit more angry now." Horn looked down to see him subconsciously clenching his fists. Horn gave a smile.

"Well, you still have emotion, that's good." Horn stated as he hopped off the table and stood in front of the man. He gripped both of Daniel's shoulders and gave the man one good shake, enough to get his eyes to meet up with Horn. "Listen to me Daniel. You are my friend and brother. First thing I did when I got up, aside from immediately jumping from the ship into the atmosphere and assisting in an assault on a heavily fortified traitor Cerberus scientist, was start a search for you." Horn looked down for a moment, before looking up. "When I woke up, I found myself on a new ship, with new marines, with dead friends, and a lot of anger. So much so, and I'm ashamed to say it, I nearly shot another Cerberus Operative."

"Mind if I ask who sir?" Daniel asked. Horn simply waved his hand.

"That's not important, but listen." Jason took a breath. "You were the one friend that was still out there. Not confirmed dead, and still had hope. Then we found you, and we brought you back." Daniel looked at himself for a second.

"Well as far as I can tell, I'm not dead." Horn shook the man lightly again.

"Your body isn't dead marine! But I look at you, and I start to see a different person. I understand, I sympathize, but I didn't go in there looking to rescue some angry man who forgot how to smile and in it's place put a blood lust that would never be sated." Horn paused. "I went in there to rescue a friend. A friend I'm having a hard time seeing when I look at you. Do you understand."

Daniel looked down from Horn. There was a few moments where nothing was said. Finally Daniel looked up again. "Yes sir, I understand." Horn gave a nod, finally releasing his shoulders.

"I don't expect you to go back to completely how you were before, nor do I expect an immediate improvement. Just do me one favour." Horn gave a smile, lightly slapping Daniel on the face. "Don't forget to smile you bitch!" Daniel gave a smirk, which was more than Horn was hoping for in this little session. There was a hiss at the door, and Horn was already speaking before he turned. "Damn it Doc, ten minutes from your duty ai-"

A blur rushed by him as Daniel was quite literally tackled from the table. Horn just gawked as he half-ran over to see Daniel cringing on the floor and Jessie giving him a bear hug. "You're back! You're alive! That's awesome! Did you know that's awesome! Commander tell him that's awesome!" Horn just stared incredulously at the pair as Daniel looked down at Jessie clutching him in a bear hug.

"Lieutenant McKrain...Do you mind tell me why you're trying to straddle Lieutenant Harrens...and why I didn't get a tackle sex hug when I woke up?" Jessie got up, helping Daniel back up as well.

"Well sir, he's more recent and you were...well you were in a really bad mood when you first got up." Jessie kind of shied away from the question, but Horn knew exactly the mood he was when he first got up. Horn opened his mouth to speak before glaring at Daniel.

"Barely back for a day and already he's stealing the ladies from me." The door hissed once more. "Doc, good timing! Get him to st-" Horn paused when he saw that Kelly was standing in the doorway in immaculate posture. She cocked her head slightly to one side.

"I'm sorry Commander...you were wanting Dr. Grass for something." Horn paused for a second, not moving a muscle.

"Nooooo...What did you need Operative?"

"Nothing sir. I came here to see Lieutenant Harrens. I only got news that he was awake." Kelly walked past Horn to stand next to Daniel, while Horn stared at them all opened mouth trying to form words but failing. Daniel looked at the Commander, giving a genuine smile and shrugging. Horn glared, pointing at the man with two fingers.

"You coy son of a bitch." Jessie gave a laugh and Kelly simply smiled. Horn shook his head, and made to leave. As the door opened, Tia, Nerita, and Carly were all standing there. Horn just stared. "Do you ladies just want to drop your panties now and join the fuck fest going on back there? Or should I assume you are here purely for the 'we love Daniel in a non-sexual way' club?"

"I'm...sorry sir?" Tia stated, which Carly just pushed inside.

"Hell yeah sir! There's a Daniel love party going on here?! Let's do this up!" Horn visibly twitched. Nerita stared at the Commander for a moment before pushing past him, Tia following her. Horn looked back to see the mini-harem that Daniel had now accumulated. They all stared back at him, Carly and Jessie teasing with Daniel's hair just to add effect as the veins were visible on Horn's neck.

"What do I have to do to get a fan club going for Horn?! I jump out of ships for fucks sake! SHIPS! Do I have to punch a collector in the throat? Lose a leg!? Kick a Krogan in the pancreas?! Do Krogans have pancreases...pancreasi?" Horn turned and walked out of the door. "Lincoln! Doc! Hey! Do Krogan have pancreases!?"

The door closed as nearly everyone let out a laugh.