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Operative Kelly Invaru

2iC to Commander Horn aboard the Call of Victory

0 · 1,026 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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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.

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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.

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3

2

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens

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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."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar

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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."

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"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

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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: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens

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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.”

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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: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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.

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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.

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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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: The Illusive Man

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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.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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."

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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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar

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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.

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"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."

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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: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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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: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar

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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: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita T'Lar Character Portrait: Carly Laren Character Portrait: Cecil Adams

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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."

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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: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens Character Portrait: Nerita  T'Lar Character Portrait: Carly Laren

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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.

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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.

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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.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: The Illusive Man

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"You seriously did an individual report on each and every soldier on the ship?" Horn asked, his jaw partially open while his eyes scanned the datapad in front of him.

"Yes sir." O'Ryan answered, standing at an 'at ease' posture in Horn's private quarters. Horn read through it a bit more, before setting the datapad down and looking at the man.

"Tell me Lieutenant...When do you sleep?"

"During the night cycle sir." O'Ryan answered without hesitation. Horn stared at the man for a second, raising a finger to say something, then clasping his mouth shut.

"Well Lieutenant, thank you for giving me reading material for a month. I'll be sure to go over it, when I'm not out kicking ass, taking names, and taking numbers if you get what I mean..."

"Understood sir." O'Ryan answered, no humour in his voice evident. Horn just narrowed his eyes at the man.

"Dismissed Lieutenant." Jason stated, and Leonard briskly turned on his heel and left. Once the elevator door closed, Jason shook his head and shoved the datapad onto a pile of other paperwork and associated documents. "God damn stiff-ass manufactured marine. I've seen hulls bend farther than that man does when he stands at attention." Jason stated as he dipped into some other reports that he had been neglecting. He had only gotten five minutes into it when there was the ding of the elevator, soon followed by rapping on the door.

"Enter my abode!" Horn shouted, deepening his voice for effect. When the door opened, Daniel quietly walked inside. Horn looked up, almost immediately throwing the report in his hand off to the side before giving a broad smile. "Danny boy!" Horn clasped his hands together and Daniel took a seat in the chair opposite of Horn's desk. "What can I do for you? Requisition? Lunch? Hooker? Back Massage?" Daniel gave a small smile before waving it off.

"No sir. Although, requisition is one way of putting it." Horn leaned back, forming his pointer fingers into a gun and putting them up to his lips.

"I'm listening."

Daniel took a moment to compose himself, before leaning forward. "Well sir, when I was 'temporary leave', I had a lot of time to think." Horn nodded, not saying a word. "Well, I got to thinking about our squad sir. How there was only three of us, now two. Had I not made it out of that base, you would be the only certified 'Demon' on the ship."

"But you did make it out of the Daniel." Horn interrupted. Daniel waved his hand and shook his head.

"Not the point sir. The point is, there are too few of us to really make a difference."

"But the Demons are my squad...it's just a nickname for my personal entourage." Jason countered, trying to see right where Daniel was going with this.

"Sir, I'm trying to say, there should be more of us." Horn leaned in.

"How much more Lieutenant?"

"A company's worth sir." Daniel stated, and both sat in silence for a second. Horn sat back slowly putting his hand up for a second.

"So wait...let me see if I understand what you're asking of me." Horn looked to the side for a moment, laying his hand out flat in front of him. "In between catching up on mission reports, doing more missions which add to that report pile there, commandeering an armed Cerberus cruiser, and keeping myself in peak physical form..." Horn paused for one more moment. "You want me to somehow, someway gather near a 100 marines, train them in the art of being a shock trooper, and teach them how to use jetpacks safely and efficiently?" Horn shook his head. "I'm sorry Lieutenant, I simply don't have the time or resources to do so."

Daniel nodded his head, but didn't back down. "I wasn't thinking that you would be training them sir, aside from the odd time you could get away from..." Daniel pointed to the pile of reports. "Busy schedule. I could do it sir, I have the skills and expertise to provide adequate training." Horn put a hand up to his mouth, sliding it down. He shook his head again.

"A company is still too much. 100 marines, if we put it into statistics, that's almost a guaranteed 3 deaths per mission due to mechanical failure or human error during drop alone. We can't do it."

"A platoon then sir. 5 fire teams, each independent and capable of working on their own." Daniel said, trying to grasp at straws.

"Who would lead them in the field Lieutenant?" Horn leaned forward. "You? As much as I have faith in your abilities to command and inspire respect from your soldiers, I need you for my squad." Jason stated, and Daniel put his hands forward in a pleading motion.

"Then I simply train them. We assign the best out of the group, give them a promotion and field command of the platoon when out on assignment." Horn sat in silence. "25 to 30 troops max, 5 fire teams and more shock troopers to kick some ass sir." Daniel stared at the man for a moment. "We can't continue to do this alone sir."

"I'll give it some thought Lieutenant." Horn stated, leaning over his desk again and grabbing one of the reports. "For now, that's all. Dismissed." Daniel opened his mouth to say something else, but slowly shut it and stood up from his chair slowly. He walked partially to the door, before turning and looking at Jason.

"I never thought you would turn down a bigger boot to kick some ass sir." Jason looked up for a moment.

"I never said no, Lieutenant. Now, if you don't mind...I have reports that need to be finished." Daniel quickly turned and left at that point. Horn was left there, sitting at his desk staring at the mountains of datapads in front of him. He gave a sigh and paused.

"Fuck...where was I...Oh hell no."

______________________________________________________________________________________________________


Horn stepped out of the elevator later, his fingers squeezing the bridge of his nose in a death grip. He started walking off to his right, and Invaru instinctively fell in step right beside him.

"Anything I should know going into the meeting with the Illusive Man? His mood? Is it his time of month? Does he know about the cafeteria incident? Cause I'm about One hundred percent sure that wasn't me."

"No sir, aside from the fact that he has another mission for us, he was his usual stoic self." Kelly answered, humour aside whenever she talked about their mutual boss. Horn gave a sigh as the door parted and he started walking down the hallway to the conference room.

"Oh goody...another few reports to add to the every growing piece of shit datapad mountain I got going on my desk."

"I did warn you that it would catch up with you sir." Kelly stated, and Horn looked over at her.

"If you say 'I told you so' one more damn time Invaru...I will enforce the bikini uniform for all attractive shipmates and say you sanctioned it." Kelly cocked her head slightly.

"And who do you think would believe that sir?" Horn slumped.

"Nobody, but a man can dream can't he?" The door to the conference room opened, and the table instinctively sunk into the floor. Kelly stood by the door, her hands softly clasped behind her back as Horn stepped onto the pad and the orange grid surrounded him. The Illusive Man's office started to form around Horn electronically, and silently placing his hands behind his back, the briefing started.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

No one would ever say that Horn was a patient man, or that he never said what was on his mind, but the one exception to that rule would be the Illusive Man. As TIM stepped through the briefing, anger being recognized if not shown by Horn's employer. There were targets, both soft and hard, and all of them were to be eliminated. Horn loved missions like these, save for the assassination bit. He had had his little stint in Black Ops, and he rather preferred the straight and narrow path of a marine to being a behind the scenes manipulating cutthroat. As TIM continued through the briefing, detailing and emphasizing that none of these targets were to be left standing, Horn barely moved an inch.

Horn could understand the use of his ship and crew for the hard targets, after all, what better way to assault multiple buildings than with a cruiser and 200 marines at your side. However, the softer targets, the assassinations would be tricky for a small army to eliminate. They were small targets, easily concealed and would easily see marines dropping down in Kodiaks to search for them. There would be too much warning, and they didn't have the manpower or a fleet to blockade the system. It was requiring too much from a ship and crew that were used to open ground fighting. Horn kept this thought in mind as TIM continued his briefing.

Nearing the end, Horn could swear he could hear venom dripping from TIM's words. He made sure to point out the fact that this was only the start, that Oracle picked the wrong fight and now they were going to feel the full weight of a Cerberus. What Horn didn't expect was the plural use of his rank when TIM suddenly sat down. "Sorry sir...'Commanders'?"

TIM hit a switch, and out of all the people that could have been standing beside him, it had to be the one that had nearly shot. Vala stood there, giving the same look that he was probably giving her. The next few words out of TIM's mouth were static to Horn as inside he fumed. He held it back for the sole reason they were in the Illusive Man's presence, but by the time he regained focus of what was at hand, TIM was already staring at them.

"Commander Horn, it's been a long time." Vala stated, her face neutral and stoic, no doubt feeling roughly the same thing Horn was but with less intensity. Horn gave her a look.

"Yeah." Was all he stated as he looked to TIM. "Sir, with all due respect, Operative Buchan and I do-"

"It's Commander now, Commander." TIM stated, taking a drag of his cigarette. Horn took a breath, regaining his focus.

"Commander Buchan and I do not get along at the best of times. I fear putting us both in a high stress, risk, and gain operation would hamper the both of us." TIM took another drag, before standing up and releasing the smoke into the air.

"Tell me, Commander. Is your ship prepared for assassinations?" Horn went to speak, but was immediately shut down when TIM continued. "No, it isn't. Your ship is geared towards assaults, overwhelming firepower, manpower, and killing power. You have 200 marines Commander, that's it. Marines, not special operations troopers, nor black operation operatives. Where as Commander Buchan is your complete opposite." TIM took a drag out of his cigarette once more, allowing time for the smoke to exit out of his nose.

"She has a stealth frigate, a small ship able to manoeuvre unseen. She has special operation troopers bred for infiltration, assassination, espionage, and sabotage. While it is true, she could take out the buildings with her troopers, there is a less likely chance that she will be able to complete it. Your troops will have the advantage in numbers and firepower, ensuring those buildings destruction." TIM turned around, returning to his chair.

"Regardless of your opinion on the matter, Commander Horn. You compliment each other, filling the gaps that the other leaves behind. Whatever your personal feelings are on the matter, I expect them to be replaced by a professional attitude." Horn straightened slightly.

"Yes sir, understood sir." TIM gave a small nod.

"Are we expecting Aurora interference?" Vala added, bypassing the whole explanation as to why she and Horn were being paired up.

"Aurora does have a presence in the sector. As far as we can confirm, there are at least 2 frigates in the area, and an unknown number of Aurora troops on the planets themselves." TIM took yet another moment to compose himself. "There should be a sizeable Aurora land force in the sector, waiting to aid Oracle assets in case of emergency. These Aurora soldiers and ships aren't necessarily targets, but they are still attached to Oracle. If you are given the opportunity to eliminate them, you will do so."

"Sir." Horn spoke up. "My concern is with the soft targets. What's to stop them from rabbiting the moment our ships enter the sector?"

"Simply put Commander, you need to be faster at eliminating them then they are at running away. They aren't expecting an attack, they don't believe they are compromised, and therefore should have their guard down. Commander Buchan's ship will assist greatly in this matter with the Tantalus drive core and it's stealth capabilities." TIM took another drag on his smoke before snubbing it on the ash tray sitting on the arm of his chair. "This is not meant to be a siege Commander, this is meant to be a blitz. Strike hard, strike fast, and leave nothing standing."

"What's the RoE on collateral damage sir?" Vala stated, and TIM locked his fingers together.

"This is an alliance system, but that being said, they are also humans. If it's unavoidable and deemed necessary to complete the objective, then you have permission." Vala nodded. TIM gave a moment for any other questions to pop up, and when none did, he stood up once more.

"I expect this mission to be done quickly and efficiently Commanders. I will not tolerate failure." TIM's finger hovered over the end call button on his interface, but he looked up at them for one last moment. "Good luck." The connection cut, but the interface didn't shut down. Instead, Horn and Vala were stuck on the same pad from two different ships. The Illusive Man must have rigged it so that they could talk strategy if they wished. Right now, Horn simply wanted out and to think about what needed to be done.

"Commander Horn, should we dis-"

"I'll contact you when I have a rough plan etched out." Horn stated before abruptly ending the call and watching as the conference room filled his vision once more. He rolled his shoulders slightly, before turning and seeing Kelly still standing next to the door.

"Issues with the mission layout Commander?" Kelly asked as Horn stormed back towards the door muttering something about 'luck' and 'favourite operative.'. The door opened and he looked to Operative Invaru.

"I need you in the CIC, we have a strategy we need to at least get an outline of before I start talking to Commander Buchan." Kelly cocked her head slightly. Horn gave a sigh. "Yeah, the bitch got herself a ship, remind me to send a card. Now, we have work to do."

"If you don't mind sir, the Illusive Man requested my presence after the meeting for a short time." Kelly stated, Horn looked at her.

"He didn't mention anything when he cut the call." Jason stated, and Kelly gave a small smile.

"With all due respect Commander, my information level is higher than yours when it comes to subjects outside of the Cell. I was an information agent before I was your 2iC." Horn gave this a moments thought, then waved his hand as he walked off.

"Alright, just try to hurry up. If we keep Vala waiting any longer than she needs to, I have a feeling this meeting will turn ugly in a heartbeat." Kelly gave a nod to the man's back, and as the doors closed, turned towards the conference table.

"Nikki, please connect me to the Illusive Man. Lockdown the room as well." Kelly stated as the table retracted into the floor once more.

"Acknowledged Operative." Kelly stepped within the perimeter of the QED and watched as the orange grid surrounded her. Before long, she was in the Illusive Man's office. He was in the middle of pouring himself some scotch near his chair when he looked up.

"Operative Invaru. Your report isn't due for another 24 hours." Kelly gave a small smile, standing straighter than usual.

"Sir, if you didn't mind, I had some questions I would like answers to." TIM looked at her for a moment, pausing in his pouring before giving a nod and continuing. Kelly took a moment to formulate her questions in her mind, and by the time she was finished, the Illusive Man was taking a seat in his favourite chair.

"As you are aware, we have retrieved Lieutenant Harrens from an Oracle outpost." TIM sat there, taking a small sip from his drink, waiting for Invaru to continue. "I took some time, and looked back towards Cecil's contacts. A drug ring run out of Afterlife on Omega. A group of thugs who, for better or for worse, are fairly reliable in their information gathering." Kelly stated. "My question is this. How is it that a man with limited connections using a sources that are mediocre at best manage to find an Oracle outpost before you?" TIM paused for a split second, lowering his drink to the holder on the arm of his chair.

"Operative Invaru, if I didn't know better, I would assume that you are insinuating that I intentionally withheld information regarding another Cerberus soldier in enemy hands." TIM stated, his voice as neutral as Kelly's.

"No sir, I am simply asking a question." Kelly stated, her voice never wavering past professional neutrality, and her form never slipping past perfectly rigid. TIM weaved his fingers together, glancing at Invaru over top of them.

"Are you asking out of curiosity, or suspicion Operative?" Kelly stood still, not entirely sure herself. TIM stood up, walking closer to her. "The fact that you have called upon me, unannounced and accusing me of withholding information regarding the safe keeping of Lieutenant Harrens is not only insulting, Operative Invaru, but embarrassing on your part." TIM's voice was calm, but there was always an undertone in the words chosen, not how they were said.

"Either way sir, I would like to know. This ship, it's crew, and it's mission need to be at one hundred percent. We can't do that if we are not playing with all of our pieces. Pieces, which could have been rectified by you at any point." TIM paced in front of Kelly.

"Let me put this into perspective for you, Operative." TIM stated, talking a moment to think about his words. "Everyone has a role to play. Every piece has its place, its mission, and its end run. In chess, it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice a rook for a bishop, a pawn for a knight..." TIM looked Kelly in the eyes. "A queen, for a king." TIM stopped pacing, placing himself a few feet in front of Kelly.

"The truth of the matter Operative, is that I was not actively searching for Lieutenant Harrens. I wasn't listening, I wasn't looking, I wasn't even peripherally keeping an eye out." TIM stated, his bionic eyes staring into Kelly's. "Lieutenant Harrens is, and always will be, a soldier. His record is exceptional, his scores almost immaculate. Personality wise, he is a good man with good intentions. But at the end of the day, soldiers have two things that are required of them. One being fight when they are told to..."

"And die when you need them to." Kelly finished. TIM gave the briefest of smirks before it disappeared again.

"If you can finish the quote, you know who wrote it." TIM stated. Kelly paused for a moment, taking time to think before answering.

"Captain Grayson Horn sir." TIM nodded before turning and sitting back down in his chair.

"Commander Jason Horn may be different than his father, but that is only in regards to his friends. Had Daniel not been his friend and only surviving squad mate, do you think he would have searched that hard for some marine so far down that chain he or she was holding the anchor?"

"No sir." Kelly stated, knowing already that she had lost all footing in this meeting. TIM gave a nod.

"That is correct. So to answer your question Operative." TIM gingerly grabbed his glass, taking a sip before continuing. "No, I did not know where Lieutenant Harrens was." Kelly gave a nod, but didn't say anything. TIM motioned with his glass. "Was there something else you wished to discuss Operative?" Kelly took a moment, not wanting any sign of any emotion to come out of her. Instead, she answered in her cool and calm manner as always.

"No sir, no further questions." TIM nodded, bringing up the display on his chair. He gave her one last look.

"Remember your place Operative. Eve disobeyed the rule of God, ate of the forbidden fruit, and was cast from the kingdom of heaven...do not befall the same fate." TIM cut the connection, leaving Kelly standing there, a rare feeling of anger present in her body as she mentally calmed herself down. The Illusive Man had told her a bold face lie. He had known about the base, about Daniel, about the Commander stationed there, and he had simply put it to the side.

Kelly turned from the QED and made for the door.

For the moment, one war was good enough.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff Character Portrait: Charlie Welles

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“Commander Horn, should we dis-”

“I'll contact you when I have a rough plan etched out.” Before she could even respond, he ended the call, leaving Vala standing in the conference room with something akin to a scowl on her face. It was wonderful to know Horn was still the exact same as he’d been before her two month ‘vacation’. Reigning in the irritation welling up in her gut, the Commander took a slow breath.

She’d use the time he was strategizing to meet with her own staff and make her own strategies for the various targets as well. It would be time well spent, she mentally assured herself, and they’d have something of a civil strategy meeting after they had both prepared. Civil wasn’t a word she’d ever consider between herself and the jetpack-obsessed adrenaline junkie, but the Illusive Man expected it.

She would simply have to provide. “He really knows to get under your skin, huh?” Snapping her eyes to the door, Vala frowned half-heartedly at Scorpion as she casually approached the rising table and took a seat atop the surface with a happy sigh. “Commander Horn, right? I didn’t really get much info on him, but I’ve heard you’re not fond of each other.”

“No.” Vala sharply replied, rounding the table towards the ‘head’ on the far side of the conference room. “But, whatever he may feel aside, I am willing and able to put my personal feelings aside for the duration of this operation. It’s as simple as that.” Alexis nodded to herself as Wyatt stepped quickly into the room and took up a place opposite Alexis at the table. “Keagan gathered you both, I take it? Any word if he was going to get Welles?”

On cue, the door hissed open and Charlie jogged into the room with a quick wave. “Hope I didn’t keep you, was in the middle of a workout.” He took a spot beside Alexis, leaning partially on the table as he gulped for air. “What’s the work today, Commander?”

Vala tapped a few keys on the interface before her, and the image of the Daedalus system appeared. “The operation is straight-forward, but will likely be difficult. We’ve been tasked with the removal of several known Oracle assets within the Daedalus system, a mixture of both soft and hard targets. For that reason…” She tapped a few more keys, and a small image of the Call of Victory appeared. “This will be a joint operation between the Deliverance and the Call of Victory. It’s Commander, Jason Horn, and I will be going over strategy for the upcoming operation shortly, but we need to have some basis of a plan to begin with.”

The display shifted to the lists of targets, and the command staff gave them a quick once over. Alexis was the first to speak, rubbing her chin idly. “The hard targets are likely better suited for the Call; given that it’s a cruiser and will likely pack more ordinance than us…” Charlie nodded in agreement, motioning towards the names.

“The Hounds can likely hit most of the marks without any help from the Call’s marines as well. This information is up to date, yeah?”

Alexis nodded sharply. “I’d bank on it, given the reliability of the Illusive Man’s contacts. This seems fairly straight forward, but…”

“It would only be straight forward if we can rely on the targets remaining in place.” Sinoff gruffly continued; arms crossed across his chest as his eyes coldly examined the information on display. “The first sign of trouble, they’ll head aground.”

“Bingo.” Alexis chimed.

The 2IC pressed a finger to his lips. “Even ignoring that, we should be expecting Aurora resistance, correct? Any word on numbers?” Vala shook her head slightly, glancing at the man in her peripheries.

“Nothing exact, aside from a pair of scout frigates patrolling the area.”

Sinoff nodded, focusing his attention on the overview of the system. “Then they are logically our first hurdle. If either of the frigates can signal our presence, we’ll be lucky to get half of these targets. And no matter how good the excuse, a cruiser dropping in will ring warning bells.” Alexis nodded, and Vala drummed a finger on the table.

“Then we’ll hit them with the Thanix cannon. It’ll shred those frigates to pieces.”

“I don’t think that’ll work, Commander.” Charlie murmured, running a hand through his beard. “No matter how strong this cannon you’re talking about is, it’s not going to kill a frigate in one shot unless we’re somehow packing a dreadnaught MAC. Chances are; first sign of trouble, a VI will fire off a warning to the other.”

She frowned, but found herself nodding in agreement. It was a logical failsafe. “Then how do you suggest we take care of the frigates quietly, Lieutenant Commander?” The commando rubbed his chin for a few moments, before the faintest spark lit up behind his eyes. “You’ve got something?”

“Jo, can you bring up a standard blueprint for an Alliance frigate?” The AI complied wordlessly, the display snapping to the layout within seconds of his request. The others watched Charlie curiously examine the layout for a few moments, before his face split into a pleased grin. “I’ve got just the ticket. We’ll board it.”

Alexis’s face lit up, and Vala could tell there was something about the ballsy-ness of such an action that excited the old operative. “Now that’s a curious thought. We’re not an assault team here, what exactly do you plan to do on board the frigate?”

“It’s relatively straight forward. If we can get me and two pairs of my Hounds on that ship, we can kill both frigates in one giant clusterfuck of explosions.” He looked to Vala, and the confidence of his smile spoke wonders to her. Tapping a slender finger on the table a few times, she shot Sinoff a look in curiosity. The man took the opportunity to speak.

“And if they detect your presence? It’ll simply cause the exact thing we’re trying to avoid.”

“Jo can help with that, actually.” Alexis offered, bringing their attention to her. “Let’s say we send the Hounds over, but before Charlie gets stuck in with the crew, we attach a simple short-wave jammer to the hull? The GARDIAN systems won’t be online outside of combat, and it’ll take a while for the scans to notice something as small as a jammer attached to the ship. If Jo manages the jammer, we can make sure whatever messages they send…don’t get out.”

After a moment, the stoic 2IC nodded in confirmation, and Vala gave a slightly reluctant sigh. “If you’re all on board, then I only have one real question, I suppose.” Inquisitive eyes flicked to Charlie, who met them with all the confidence in the world. “What exactly are you planning on doing over there, Welles?”

Rubbing his palms together with a childish glee, he wasted no time bringing their attention back to the display. “Now that, you see, is going to be the fun part…”

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“That’ll be all, you’re dismissed.” Vala sighed heavily as Welles and Sinoff saluted and headed off to prepare for the operation ahead. If only she could be doing the same, instead of waiting for a call from Horn of all people. The young commander leaned partially on the conference table, staring through the still glowing display of Daedalus at Alexis’s back. The scarred woman leaned back on the table, watching her right back with a curious gaze. “I can’t believe I’m going ahead with this.”

Scorpion suppressed a laugh, twirling her cane idly in her free hand. “I have to say, it’s a pretty ballsy idea for only your second operation. You’ve got yourself one mad bastard in that one.” The younger woman deadpanned at her friend, turning the display off silently and dropping the room into a more ambient lighting. They sat in a companionable silence for a few moments, before the operative sighed. “You holding up alright?”

“…well enough, I suppose.” She admitted; resting her cheek on her knuckles as her brow furrowed in thought. “Still hasn’t really sunk in yet, you know? Almost feels like they’re running the ship, and I’m just riding along with them.” She was still only for a moment longer, sighing again and straightening out with a groan. “Remind me to get a chair for in here…I can’t take all this standing if I’ve got to be at every damn meeting.”

“We’ll get you a nice throne, Ivory.” Alexis called teasingly, resting her cane across her shoulders as she smiled across the table. “It’s what they’re here for. Hell, it’s sorta what I’m here for. I don’t think anyone is really expecting you to run a warship perfectly right away, especially not at your age.” Her eyes drifted to the view port behind Vala, and they glossed over as if she was remembering something far away. “…he wasn’t much better.”

“What was that?” Vala perked up, only to be promptly shot down by a dismissive wave of the hand. “You know I hate secrets…”

“You hate secrets that are dangling in front of you. Such a woman you are.” The playful jeer got a chuckle, and Alexis tapped her cane once on her shoulder before placing it properly on the ground. “Don’t sweat it; it’s not important right now.” Straightening out, she took a long look at the viewport. “Although, be careful how much you rely on these guys, yeah?”

Before she could inquire as to what exactly Alexis meant by those words, Jo’s voice sounded. “Commander Buchan, we are receiving an incoming QE transmission from the Call of Victory.” The room didn’t shift, as Vala paused for the briefest of moments to consider making Horn wait as payback for his earlier rudeness. At the lack of response, Jo continued, microscopically more insistent than before. “It likely pertains to the upcoming operation, Commander.”

Sighing heavily, Vala rounded the table. “I know, Jo. Let it through.” With a soft ‘Affirmative’, the room darkened once more, shutters sliding over the ‘dome’ as the table sunk into the floor like it had never been there before. The pad hummed beneath her feet, and she idly noted the Alexis hadn’t left the room, instead leaning just outside the projection area.

Moments later, and she was standing in a seemingly ‘empty’ place with only darkness and the twin figures of Horn and Invaru appeared across from her. Vala nodded ever so slightly, crossing her arms as she regarded them both. “Ready now?” She questioned dryly, focusing her attention on Horn. He simply nodded, and she inclined her head partially. “Alright then, let’s get on with it.”

Operative Invaru tapped a key, bringing up the display of the system, although by this point it was almost a formality. She’d been staring at the damn thing for most of the day already; it was practically ingrained in her mind. “Did you want to start, Commander Buchan?” The slight enunciation of the title made it painfully clear what he thought of it, but for the sake of the operation, she gave no reaction.

“Certainly.” Clearing her throat, Vala tapped a few keys on her omni-tool, bringing up a smaller display of a typical Alliance frigate. “Due to the nature of our operation, we can’t afford detection before the majority of our pieces are in play. The scout frigates pose the first and most immediate threat to detection, given the fact that your cruiser has no stealth technology. Therefore, I’m prepared to use the Deliverance to secure the system before you arrive.”

Horn seemed skeptical. “Against two frigates? How do you plan to take out both before one of them sends off a distress signal to the soft targets?” Vala straightened ever so slightly, motioning to the frigate calmly.

“They won’t be able to send for help. They’ll be silenced for the duration of our operation, and if all goes according to plan, it will create enough of a disturbance that even your ship will be able to enter the system without being noticed straight away.” Lacing her hands behind her back, Vala gave the slightest smirk. “There’s really nothing else that can be done. Anything else just runs the risk of detection, while this plan reduces it to practically nothing.”

“Part of me wants to know how you plan to do that, and the other part doesn't care so long as it gets done.” He motioned to Kelly, who quickly brought up a display of the various buildings and facilities that needed to be destroyed. “The Call of Victory will be dealing with the hard targets, sending a small contingent of marines armed with enough explosives to destroy half a city.” A red X crossed out each of the hard targets, leaving the faces of the soft targets. “This is more your area of expertise, but the targets are well dispersed. How do you want to divide the targets up?”

Rubbing her chin, Vala examined the faces in thought for a moment. “We should likely focus on the difficulty of access for each target…those harder to reach should be handled by my operatives, while the others can be hit with your marines.” She flicked her eyes over the targets. “It’s really a matter of picking who though, and ensuring we can get forces on station before anyone knows we’re there…display target information.” She instructed, and the images of the targets expanded to reveal more about each individual.

Vala gave each a preliminary sweep. “We’ll want to avoid as much collateral damage as we can. My operatives can hit the marks in the population centers, since they’ll be far more precise than your marines. Those will be…” She tapped several images, which vanished as soon as her finger moved on. Moving to tap a fifth, she paused as it didn’t vanish like the others.

An EDI, she wasn’t sure if it was her’s or Horn’s, spoke. “Commander Buchan, the provided information for that target indicates that it will not be removed easily.” She tilted her head, re-examining the info again.

“High-rise office building, large civilian presence…but he’s in a corner office. A sniper should have no trouble picking him off.” She paused, scrolling further down the information before a frown crossed her features. “Office is bullet-proofed…perfect.”

“The office is bullet proof, but the man himself isn't. Display the blueprints for the building." A moment later, and the building itself was highlighted. “I can send a small marine detachment to the ground floor, and work their way up. It won't be quiet, and this man will know they're there long before they got to him." Horn stretched his hands out, and widened the image. “Set up a sniper team across from the building, his most logical escape route is to run for the roof and get a ride. When he does, that's when your snipers will have a shot.”

Rubbing her chin, Vala nodded sharply. “The private security won’t likely provide opposition for your marines, but they’ll still need to carve a few floors worth to properly spook him.” Seemingly pleased with the plan of attack, she flicked the image to the side, examining the remaining targets. “The remaining marks are isolated, or even on actual military facilities…most of them should be right up your alley.”

Horn reached up, tapping the image of a military commander. "While I would love to say that marines can handle anything and everything, this one would be a problem. Nikki, bring up the base specifics.” A spreadsheet popped up beside the man’s head, roughly listing resources, manpower and vehicles. It wasn’t exactly a small number. "I'd have to commit a sizable portion of my manpower to take out this one man, which I simply can't spare. We need to thin his numbers...or at least create a distraction."

“A distraction…” Vala muttered, only for the slow steady steps behind her to draw her attention to Alexis as she stepped into the projection pad. Horn’s gaze shifted to the woman, and Kelly gave a wordless greeting in the way of a polite nod. “Got something?”

“Distractions seem something a boisterous man like yourself are more fond of than us shadowed types.” She joked lightly, tapping the screen for a few moments. “Marines by their nature are rowdy, so why not put it to use? Do a strike raid, and while the base is scrambling to get on it’s toes…the general loses his head.”

"I doubt the general would lose his head to a small assault. If he did, he wouldn't be in the position he currently holds." Horn placed a hand up to his mouth. "While the smoke screen could work, my marines wouldn't be able to take on a full compliment of Aurora marines for long. 2 minutes, max before I tell them to get their asses out of there. That's how long your operatives would have to find the general, and put a bullet into his head."

Scorpion chuckled lightly, tapping her cheek once before speaking. “Jo, display Operatives Letsinger and Alto.” The two commandos profiles appeared on the screen, small and filled mostly with text save for the small image of a crown that Vala didn’t bother to ask about. “Infiltration specialists. I’d be willing to bet my good leg they can handle a little ‘speed run’, provided your troops can keep the base properly occupied.”

"My marines will handle it, just don't fuck up." Horn stated, obviously ready to move onto the next topic at hand. The woman just grinned and nodded, glancing briefly to Vala who met her eyes silently and motioned for her to continue.

"Of course, Commander. They won’t disappoint." With an idle swipe of her fingers, she brought up another image seemingly at random. “She’ll be tricky as well. Jo, schematics.” Dismissing the majority of the other displays, they were promptly replaced by a large layout of a facility. “Let’s see…choke points, remotely controlled blast doors, security mechs…it’s like a miniature fortress.” Kelly and Horn stared at the display in silence for a minute, before she pointed out one of the rooms.

“That looks like a central security hub, if we could get a team in there, we could have access to the entire buildings defense systems.”

Horn wasted no time in continuing the thought. “There would need to be two teams, they can't get to the security hub and their target at the same time. That and the fact that they should have some sort of VI with all this tech, which means any attempt to leave the security room would end up with all the security measures coming back online.” Nodding in approval, Alexis motioned to one of the entrances to the base.

“Then, let’s take a lesson from a scorpion and use a pincer.” Circling a small area on the display, she quickly mapped out a route through the facility, pausing every so often to think before tracing along again. “If the strike team can gain access to the facility, following this route will lead them past most of the chokepoints, while…” Thumbing through the floors, she came to the roof and highlighted the entrance.

“One of the tech specialist pairs can be dropped covertly on the roof and move on the security control room. The strike team should hold up…” Flicking back through, she jabbed one of the rooms seemingly at random. “…here as a ‘diversion’ from the control team’s infiltration. Once the security systems are under control…”

Before Scorpion could continue her ramble, Vala tapped her shoulder with a chuckle. “The strike team can easily progress through the facility while the defences are used to slow the defenders, right?” It had been awhile since she’d seen the operative in the mission mindset, but it seemed her enthusiasm for it had not diminished much in her ‘retirement’.

“Right on the money, Commander.”

"That could work, but is also incredibly risky for my marines. Any failure to capture and hold that security booth leaves them trapped in a small room with a lot of guns pointed in their direction." Horn‘s eyes went to Vala, and she met his gaze with hidden unease. “Are your people up to it?”

Well, there was a question she didn’t have an immediate answer to. There was no real way to answer the question, at least, not in a way that inspired confidence. The only members she’d seen in anything relating to action were Jones and El, and there wasn’t really much to be said there. The mission had to take priority though. She straightened, meeting Horn’s gaze properly. “I can’t ask your men to do something I wouldn’t. If need be, I’ll lead the strike team myself.”

There was a thick silence for a moment, before Horn gave a light ‘Huh.’ She barely raised her brow at his reaction, and the Commander didn’t bother addressing it. “No, you shouldn't be needed for this one. You're going to be needed elsewhere for the other assassinations.”

“Then you’ll send marines, or do you want my own to do this?”

“We'll send both. The marines will forge their way through the facility while your operatives clear a path through the defences for them via their security hub.” She wasn’t sure if he trusted her, or rather looking for a place to blame her, but Vala nodded in agreement to his plan. They had little other options.

“Then I’ll trust the remaining targets to you, Commander.” With those words, the display vanished, leaving the four of them standing in the darkness. “I doubt neither of us wishes to waste each other’s time with the exact details of our plans. We’ll be mobilizing for Daedalus immediately, and will signal you when it’s clear to come through.”

Horn gave a slight nod, faintest hint of a grin on his face. “Hopefully, you can keep your emotions in check this time around Commander?” She tensed for just a moment, before staring darkly at the man with a face blank of emotion.

“Of course. I just ask you watch your trigger finger around my men.” Pressing her hand into the shape of a gun, she aimed it casually at the man before making a soft ‘bang’. Jo, blessedly intelligent as the machine was, seemed to catch the subtle cue and shut the call down without hesitation; silencing any possible retort. Alexis glanced at Vala, who turned sharply on her heel and stalked towards the door with a look of bloody murder on her features.

“Someone knows how to push your buttons.” She idly commented, but was ignored as Vala stalked from the room and into her personal quarters. The Commander wasted no time stepping up to the armour locker built into the wall, and pressing a key that opened the storage unit.

Gripping the helmet with one hand, she tapped a finger to her comm piece. “Chekan, get us on course to the Daedalus system.” There was a curt “Ma’am” and she tapped the comm again. “Welles, I want your team geared and ready before we’re there.”

“Can do.”

“And Charlie?”

“Yes, Commander?”

“It better be damn impressive.” She cut the line before he could reply, looking at her helmet for a moment before focusing on the rest of her armour.

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

Sitting silently on the lip of the Kodiak shuttle, Charlie was almost perfectly still save for the subtle rise and fall of his chest with every breath. The flight crew were finishing their final checks on the shuttle, and he could already see most of them beginning to shift their attention to the Gunship across the bay where the mercenary girl was barking instructions on handling and components.

Inside the cabin behind him, his chosen team occupied themselves as they waited for the final all-clear for their operation. Five in total, including himself, the decision on who exactly to bring was an easy one. Since the target was a warship, Operatives Gravette and Marczak were an automatic shoe in for their expertise in tech and demolitions. The two sat quietly beside each other one, calmly reviewing blueprints and schematics on their omni-tools in what he was certain was complete techno-gibberish.

On the other side, he had the privilege of watching El and Jonesy having a rather lively game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, although it was immediately and constantly ruined by the rising absurdity of their chosen ‘objects’. He’d tuned them out the moment El had tried to make a krogan with her hands and Jonesy was attempting to symbolize the genophage. He’d almost taken McNeary and Cottam for their close quarter talents, but with a delicate operation like this, the last thing they needed was a ‘points’ war between those two.

Perking his head up slightly, Charlie watched as the lift opened and Commander Buchan emerged in full battle rattle with her helmet tucked neatly under her arm. The cold intensity of her eyes made him chuckle, and suddenly more of the dossier he’d been presented was beginning to make itself known. She certainly looked like a different woman as she strode powerfully across the hangar towards the Kodiak. Hopping from his perch, the Lieutenant Commander saluted sharply, and she returned it without a missed beat. “Commander Buchan, I was expecting you to be on the bridge.”

She shook her head, glancing at his selected team for a moment before looking back at his faceplate. “This is a real assignment in comparison to the Citadel operation, and I don’t think I should be absent on the largest risk.” Charlie glanced back at the team, tapping his helmet around the ears for a moment in a wordless sign to ignore them. Vala seemed familiar with the lingo, fixing him immediately with a suspicious look. “Is there an issue?”

“I’m not going to, nor can I actually, tell you not to come, but it’s not exactly in our best interest for you to be accompanying us on this, Commander.” The tightness of her lips said all of what she thought of that notion, and Charlie moved to explain himself. “It’s not a matter of capability; it’s more a matter of compatibility. I’ve read your dossier, but aside from what little I saw on the Citadel from the helmet feeds, I’ve never seen you in action personally. Nor have you really seen me or my teams.”

“Then it’s best to accompany one another on a mission so we can become properly accustomed with each other.”

“Which we can do anytime, you say the word…but this is a high risk operation. Anything goes wrong over there, and we’re in so deep that it’s more likely we aren’t coming out. We can‘t have that uncertainty on the back of our minds, me or you.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, lowering his voice slightly. “And frankly, it’s a lot worse for morale to lose the actual Commander than the dude with the awesome beard.”

Her eyes flicked down to the hangar floor as she considered his words, and after a moment, she nodded. “What you’re saying makes sense. Alright, I’ll leave this to you then.” It wasn’t hard to guess she didn’t like sitting it out, but Charlie was thankful she was open to his advice. The ability to do so was more valuable than he cared to admit. “But don’t go making any mistakes, Welles. I’m not eager to have casualties. If you can’t do it, simply go to plan B and exfil ASAP.”

“I don’t make a habit of getting myself killed, so no need to worry. I’ll have the ship primed before you can ready the champagne for the fireworks.” She chuckled lightly, nodding a sight affirmative before Ronas came over the intercom.

“We’ve reached our target destination, Commander. Jo’s eager to get started, so just say the word.”

“Have we confirmation from the Victory that it’s in position outside the relay?”

Govern answered her question quickly, speaking slightly faster than necessary in a likely attempt to get off the intercom as fast as possible. “Y-yes, Commander, they’re in position and awaiting our signal.”

“Excellent. All hands clear the deck!” Vala barked the order, and the staff quickly filtered through the door to the other compartments on the level. Charlie idly noticed that the mercenary didn’t leave her cockpit, most likely having sealed it so she could continue her preparations. Vala extended a hand to the commando, and he took it lightly. “Best of luck over there, Welles. Impress me.”

Laughing, Charlie gave her hand a firm shake. “I‘ll see what trouble I can stir up for you, Buchan.” Hoisting himself up into the cabin, the Hounds Commander ducked into the dim lighting without a backwards glance; the pilot sealing the door behind him as the hangar began to open. Through the view port, he could see Vala calmly place the helmet on her head, sealing it seconds before the atmosphere vented violently out into space. She didn’t move an inch, powerful magnets in her boots no doubt locking her in place as the Kodiak drifted out into the void.

“Stealth systems active. En route to drop point.” The pilot calmly announced, and Charlie turned his attention to the team now watching him expectantly from their seats. It was next to impossible to see any difference between the five Hounds, at least, to those unfamiliar with the unit. As its lead, Charlie could tell who each figure was without the helpful markers in his HUD, the distinct markings on each pair’s marking telling him all he needed to know.

“Alright, I’ve already gone over the hard stuff, so just a few refreshers. First,” He held up his hand, revealing a small device clamped round his wrist that extended over the palm slight with what looked like a small hole. “Micro-thrusters. Been awhile since we’ve used em, so time for a basic refresher. These are for manoeuvring, not propulsion, so don’t try and be a speedster. The fuel is pretty limited, so keep in mind that we’ve got a return trip to make.”

Pulling his fingers back away from his palm, a small burst hissed from the port, before vanishing as the hand relaxed. “Just got to lock your hand like that to activate. Got it?” Gravette and Marczak nodded lightly, while the other pair fired off a pair of unintelligible noises that he took as confirmation. “Alright, now, I shouldn’t have to remind you that this is an Aurora frigate, not your standard Alliance fare. They aren’t going to be Special Forces or anything, but don’t make things easy on them. We’ve got to impress the boss so I want only your A-game.”

Gravette raised a finger, and Charlie motioned for her to go ahead. “Commander, have we determined our entry point yet?”

“Good question. We’re playing it by ear at this point. Once we’re in-position and have placed the jammer, Jo is going to find us an entrance. I’m hoping we can hit the airlock since it’s a straight shot from there, but we’ll just have to adapt to what’s available.”

El laughed in delight. “How bout the main gun? That thing is always open! Can crawl right up the shaft!” She and her partner exchanged excited glances at the prospect of climbing a mass accelerator cannon, but Charlie shook his head.

“Already thought of that, but the blue prints are saying that the hole won’t be big enough for those hips of yours, El. We’ll have to take a boring route.”

“Booo…”

Charlie just smiled knowingly at the woman. “Next time we raid a ship, I’ll make extra sure it’s got a big enough gun just for you, fair?” He turned his attention to Marczak, who was attentively typing away at his omni-tool with little concern for the briefing. “You’re good for the FTL plotter?”

The man didn’t even lift his head, studiously examining the blueprint on the small display before him. “Typically FTL plotters are used on private vessels, which lack the level of encryption that an actual warship has. The firewalls will be the most difficult part, but once the plotter is attached and the systems scrubbed of counter-measures…”

“So, yes then.”

“It’ll work.”

“Then just say so next time.” Charlie glanced back over his shoulder towards the pilot, who was watching them quietly out of the corner of his eye. “How we looking?”

“We’re just about at the drop point. No signs from the target that they’re aware of our presence. Still, best to make the drop as quickly as possible.” Tapping his helmet once, the pilot’s visor sealed and hissed as it pressurized. Moments later, his external speaker crackled. “Get ready.”

Charlie motioned to his team, who were already getting up from their seats. The tech pair wasted little time fishing a pair of devices out from underneath them, one no larger than a stone while the other looked like a slightly over-sized Frisbee with several small lights alone it’s surface. Securing them to a small magnetic strip on their back, they flashed a thumbs-up as they joined the others by the hatch. “We’re good to go.”

“Opening hatch in 3...2...1...” There was a brief hiss as the door began to open, before the atmosphere inside quickly vented and the Hounds disengaged the magnetic clamps in their boots to be taken along with the surge of air. They were barely out of the Kodiak before the shuttle was closing and on its way back to the Deliverance. “Good luck in there.”

“Thanks.” Charlie drifted for only a few moments, before clearing his throat and gesturing towards the frigate that sat idle before them. They’d taken the liberty of rigging a fake S.O.S. in the area, to at least ensure the frigate would come by. It wasn’t unheard of for the odd old transmission to be picked up by a ship’s comms, but most ships would at least check to ensure there wasn’t actually someone stranded.

Almost made him feel bad to take advantage of the kindness of their enemy, but there was little time for such considerations. “Hades, this is Pack Lead, we are commencing the operation, how copy?” There was only a brief pause before the response came, Agent Govern’s voice firm but light.

“This is Hades, Pack Lead; I read you loud and clear.” It was like an entirely different woman was speaking to him, and it had always been a subject of amusement for the Hounds commander. Celeste was a natural at her job, despite her utter fragility in typical conversation. “Please proceed with the operation and keep us updated. Good luck, Pack Lead.”

“Solid copy, Hades.” Focusing his attention on the target before him, Charlie gave a small burst from his micro-thrusters to begin his approach, tailing after the others who had decided to advance without his go ahead. “Last I checked I’m the one with the fancy stripes!” He teased over the comms, watching in amusement as Jones rolled over mid-‘flight’ to shrug carelessly before firing another boost from his thrusters and cementing his lead. El wasn’t far behind her partner, with Gravette and Marczak dutifully following along.

As they all drifted closer and closer to the target, the hull became more and more visible as well as a small nav beacon placed on their HUD to mark their desired landing zone. What made the AI choose that particular spot was unknown, but he wasn’t really in a position to be questioning its judgement.

The five operatives adjusted their course expertly and in a few seconds they made touch down on the hull, magnetic clamps instantly fixing them to the surface. “And here we can see the majestic Aurora scout frigate, known for its skittish nature and tendency to explode in a brilliant display of fire.” Jones narrated as the more tech inclined pair gave their surroundings a brief once over, eyes lingering on the scattered GARDIANs along the hull.

“How long until they give up on the SOS?” Gravette asked as Marczak knelt down beside her and retrieved the jammer from its clamp on his back. “I’d rather not be stuck on the outside of a ship in FTL.” Charlie walked along the ‘spine’ of the ship for a few moments, carefully watching for any hidden windows beneath his feet.

“No way of knowing for sure. Sooner they’re jammed and we’re inside, the better. Marczak, get that thing online ASAP. I’m going to go see if I can’t nab us a little Intel.” As he spoke, the optical camouflage shimmered over his frame and he continued down the ship’s hull towards the helm. It took very little time to traverse the exterior, save for carefully weaving wide of any of the GARDIANs to avoid accidentally triggering them by pressure or any such nonsense that might have been installed, and it wasn’t long until he was sliding slowly down the small window that looked into the bridge.

Peering through, Charlie noted the preoccupied pilot quietly before his eyes flicked to the area behind him. Unlike their own ship, where the helm was an extended distance away from the CIC, Alliance vessels preferred a more…tightly packed central hub. In the event of equipment failure, it reduced the reliance on comm systems, enabling the captain to promptly and immediately relay his orders to the various stations that managed the ship. The only downside was that this made the bridge a much easier target, and it was very easy to scope out by anyone who happened to be looking in the window.

Arguably, he could understand why the latter wasn’t a priority on most vessels. What he found in the CIC, however, wasn’t to his liking. The SOS, or perhaps the lack of a seeming source for the signal, had drawn the frigate’s leader to an impromptu pow-wow with some of his staff. Did he smell a rat, or was he just looking for opinions? Regardless, the numbers were a little thick for his liking, automatically ruling out the airlock as their access point.

Climbing back up the ship, he rubbed his chin in habit, trying pointlessly to stroke his beard through the helmet. If they had taken the SOS seriously, as it seemed they were, there was little doubt they’d have prepped a shuttle in the hangar in case they needed it. It’d be thick with flight staff and possibly a few combat personnel for the ‘rescue’. The hangar opening would immediately alert the entire ship, and that would kill the whole operation right then and there.

“Sir, the jammer is online.” Marczak’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and he gave a half-committed grunt as he approached the group again. “Problem?” The operative looked at him expectantly, the golden eyes on the visor staring at the commander blankly.

“We’re lacking an entry point.” El’s voice sounded for the briefest second, but Charlie’s hand snapped up immediately. “Already said the gun is too small. That’s a no go.” She deflated, Jones patting her sympathetically on the back as the others exchanged looks. “Bridge is too occupied and the hangar is just one giant alarm.”

“Commander Welles, if I may offer a suggestion?” Jo’s synthetic voice cut over their comm channel, and he waited expectantly for the machine’s advice. “Utilizing the jammer, I should be able to hack into and isolate systems for the enemy frigate. It is possible that I will be able to activate an emergency engine shut-down for ‘maintenance’.”

“And this helps us how?” Gravette commented dryly, the hacker clearly amused at the prospect of a bundle of code advising her. “The engines aren’t exactly a doorway.”

Celeste’s voice came over the comms, far less interrupting than her AI counterpart. “This is Hades. Pack Lead, according to the schematics Jo has provided me; there is actually a possible route through the engines.”

“Say what now?”

Celeste continued. “While corvettes and fighters are easily maintained externally, warships like frigates have engines that are too large for such basic maintenance. Most have small ‘access routes’ that enable engineers to enter the internal workings of the engine and do the necessary repairs. There are both internal and external access points.”

There was a pause for a moment, before Charlie stated with incredulity, “Did you just say I should crawl through the engine of a hostile warship, Hades?” There was a suppressed, dual squeal of excitement from Jones and El that he pushed out of his mind. “We’re already high risk enough, don’t you think?”

“Commander Welles, there are few other viable possibilities that do not result in detection, and upon detection, the odds of mission failure and total pack elimination jump by-”

“Okay, engine crawling it is.” He interrupted with a defeated sigh, a light smirk on his face despite himself. “I said I’d make it impressive, didn’t I? Hades, please advise Commander Buchan of our ‘plan’. Jo, if you would be so kind as to remove the fire from those engines…”

“Of course, Commander Welles. Marking the location of the access hatch on your HUD now.” The icon appeared instantly, and Charlie jerked his head in the direction of it as he moved silently towards the engines. “Please refrain from opening the hatch until the engine has fully ceased activity. The temperature within is enough to fuse your armour to your skin.”

“You sure love freaking people out, don’t you?”

“I was not aware that this information would unsettle you, Commander. The biometrics in your suits is suggesting excitement.”

“Jones and El are throwing off your readings.” Approaching the hatch as he moved along the ‘wing’ of the ship, Charlie knelt beside it and smoothed his hand along the surface. This would certainly be a first in his career, and there wasn’t much he could say that for these days. His team circled around the hatch, and he glanced at all of them. “Jones, El, you’re first in. Marczak and Gravette, you’re in next. I’ll bring up the rear.”

“Copy.”

“Deactivating engine…now.” The hull beneath their feet vibrated forcefully for a few moments, before the vibrations dulled and eventually disappeared. There was a thick pause, before Jo spoke again. “The engine has full ceased function. You are clear to enter.” Charlie tapped a few keys on the access panel, and it hissed open without delay. The pack wasted no time; dropping into the cramped ‘tunnel’ and beginning the slow crawl up the shaft.

The shaft was blazing hot, even with the machines around them dormant, and he could feel thick beads of sweat beginning to form on his neck and back through his armour. “Fucking A, it’s hotter than the bloody sun in here!”

“The ambient temperature is currentl-”

“Shut up! Just because you know it, doesn’t mean I want to hear it!” Gravette snapped at the AI, which quieted at the woman’s outburst. The comms were silent for only a moment longer, before a new voice came over the system.

“Am I hearing Govern correctly, Welles?” The slight tint of disbelief in Vala’s voice made the man sigh quietly to himself. Crawling through a small furnace on his very first operation for her, oh yes, he was painting a wonderfully sane picture of himself. “You’re going to go through the engine?”

“Correction, Commander…I am currently going through the engine. And it’s absolutely lovely in here, let me tell you.” Panting slightly, he glanced at his HUD before flicking his attention back to the task at hand. Or at least, he would have, had he not noticed the small thermometer display tucked into the corner slowly starting to rise. “…it’s getting hotter?”

Vala didn’t even miss a beat. “What.” He could hear muffled barked shouts in the background, likely her demanding something from whoever was in her immediate vicinity. The thermometer continued its slow climb, but the pace was beginning to accelerate.

“Uh…”

“Commander Welles, it appears the crew has deemed the emergency shutdown as a system glitch and are reactivating the engine. It is currently powering up, and is likely the source of the temperature spike.”

“You hear that Jonesy? We’ve been invited to a barbeque!” El called cheerfully in the space up ahead, although he could see the both of them already moving at a much faster pace than before. “You think I can get you medium rare?”

“I’m much better crispy!”

“Not the time!” Marczak shouted, moving as fast as he could after the nimbler leaders with Gravette practically climbing over him in a frantic attempt to get out of the engine as fast as physically possible. Charlie wasn’t far behind, but the spike was already growing faster and faster.

“Jo, how long we got?!”

“I have delayed it as best I can but it can be estimated to fully activate in 26 and a half seconds.” The timer popped up immediately in his HUD, before Jo offered more of her sage-like wisdom with the same terrible timing. “Please be advised, by the ten second mark, your armour will begin to melt.”

“Thank you for that.” He hissed, pulling himself along the rungs as fast as he could make himself go. The tightness of the shaft clearly wasn’t meant for speedy escapes, and the compact nature made his armour grind and chafe against the edges.

His eyes flicked to the timer, swallowing as it dropped below the 20 second point. The others had a good lead on him, if the small ‘map’ provided by the suit was any indication, and they’d likely reach the end before he did. “Found the door!” Jones shouted over the comm, no doubt already fumbling through it as he spoke.

As the others vanished from the shaft one by one, Charlie climbed quicker and quicker, but the timer dropped lower and lower. With one last frantic glance at the countdown, Charlie gave an inward groan before pulling on one of the rungs as hard as he could before locking both his hands out.

The thrusters kicked in instantly, hissing full blast in tandem with enough force to propel the commando. Sparks arced off his armour as he ricocheted around the shaft, but there was no point to swearing or complaining about the rough treatment before they launched him full tilt out the small shaft and into the proper gravity of the ship’s engineering deck.

Landing in a heap a few feet from the hatch, Charlie picked himself up slowly, cloak flickering over his body as he glanced about wearily for anyone who might have seen his…graceless exit. “Next time…we’re going through the airlock.” Muttering under his breath, the commando glanced to his team, who all had hunkered down around the access hatch.

The map quickly displayed their location, and each gave it a cursory glance before turning their attention to their leader. “Hades, this is Pack Lead…we have gained access to the frigate and are moving to the second objective. Please also make a note that engine access is not a viable access route except in the most desperate of times.”

The light giggle before she spoke soothed his nerves somewhat. At least someone was enjoying this. “Solid copy, Pack Lead. Please be advised, Commander Buchan has assigned a secondary objective for you.” She waited for a beat before continuing. “If possible, we need you to access the frigate captain’s personal terminal and access his files pertaining to Oracle. It may prove useful in the upcoming operations. How copy?”

“Solid copy. I’ll take care of it personally. Jo, paint his quarters for me.” He jabbed a finger at the others. “You four take care of the bridge and get that FTL plotter rigged up. Once you’re in there…I’m not worried about alarms.” He dragged a finger across his neck, and the operatives nodded in understanding. “Alright, make me proud, and show off a little for the Commander. Got to be damn impressive.”

They filtered off quickly, soundlessly moving along the grated floor like a wraith before vanishing from sight in the various shadows of the deck. Alliance ships liked to be low light, which just made their job all the easier. Eying his map for a moment, the commando considered his route for a minute. The CIC was on the second deck, while the crew quarters, along with the Captain’s, were on the third, one up from him.

“Do we have a location on the boss of this tub?” He asked as he stalked through the darkness towards one of the access ladders. “I get the feeling he’ll have made some special encryptions on that data, and I’m not really the best hacker around.”

“The Captain appears to be taking a shower on the crew deck. To access his private files, I recommend acquiring his Omni-tool.”

The commando smirked, eyes flicking down the hall as he disappeared soundlessly through one of the doors. “Jo, you read my mind.”

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The CIC was quiet, despite the ‘excitement’ of the day. The technicians moved between their stations in an efficient but leisurely fashion, no doubt familiar with the dullness of their patrol route by now. Terminus or not, the system didn’t have much in the way of value, even for slavers and pirates, which made it a relatively easy post.

A few guards milled about the deck, but even to professional eyes, the Hounds were in their element in the dark. The four crept along the corners with perfect precision, each pair of eyes watching a different avenue as they worked towards their objective. Marczak and Gravette split off wordlessly as they approached the helm; him readying the plotter while she slowly drew the predator from her hip and brought it level with the man’s temple.

Behind them, El and Jones were already sizing up their first mark. The lone patrolling guard was left to Jones, quietly memorizing the man’s ‘route’ as he wandered through the technicians. El, pressed flush to a wall, had her gaze settled comfortably on the men guarding the lift, hands coiled around her Tempest SMG. Without any cue between them, the Hounds struck.

The Predator fired first, silenced round neatly punching a hole clean through the pilot’s skull and splattering the panel beside him with grey matter. Gravette spun on her heel as Marczak pulled the body from the seat, pumping a pair of rounds into the ensign in the co-pilot’s chair, shattering his jaw with the first round that muffled the panicked yell.

The patrolling guard turned, finding only a pair combat blades driving up through the mesh of his neck and puncturing both jugulars. With a violent jerk, the knives ripped out the sides in a shower of crimson, splattering the cloaked arms with gore as the blades retracted swiftly into the gauntlets.

El’s Tempest unloaded with unrelenting speed, dozens of rounds pumping into the first guard’s shield to overload the system, and as they collapsed under the hail her aim sharpened into a perfect burst through the man’s helmet that slicked the wall behind him. The second guard turned in a panic to address the threat, promptly hammered under the hail of bullets before Gravette’s Predator delivered a coup de grace from across the CIC.

Before the bodies had even fully collapsed, Jones and El’s attention immediately shifted to the stunned technicians. Jones pulled his Tempest up to the ready, and they fired in tandem across the various stations. Neither flinched as their rounds carved the unprotected personnel apart, shattering the various terminals as they methodically sprayed every inch of their respective sides with the Tempest’s vicious fire rate. El’s heat sink hissed a warning, but her hand snapped up to catch the heat sink Jones tossed over his shoulder to her and popped it in instantly.

As the last station went dark, the pair paused in their firing before a blaring alert sounded over the deck and echoed throughout the ship. They blinked in unison, before turning to the choking cough coming from one of the half destroyed stations. The woman in the seat stared coldly at them, several bullet wounds on her chest bleeding heavily as her hand slumped down from the interface. Jones tilted his head for a second before firing a round through her forehead. “That‘s one hell of an alarm clock…wonder what she wanted to wake up?”

“Clearly she wanted the janitorial technician. This CIC is a disaster zone! Are all Alliance ships so messy?”

Marczak turned about in the pilot’s seat, seemingly unbothered by the blood splattered along his new chair. “Talk later. You two secure the access ladders, Delois; get the elevator offline for now.” The operative’s chair swivelled back into position, and he called in annoyance over his shoulder. “And be quiet. I need to concentrate.”

His partner nodded in understanding, already crossing towards the lift with her Omni tool at the ready. Jones and El gave off centered mock salutes before heading for the ladders themselves. Connecting the FTL plotter to the systems, Marczak watched as the system immediately began to try and reject the hardware. His fingers flew across the interface, rapidly countering every defence the ship’s VI threw at his device with methodical precision.

It was an interesting challenge after so long, the high-end VI of an Alliance program compared to the typical security networks of private companies and mercenaries. The corner of his mouth turned up slightly, the thought of making a copy of the program for some tests back on the ship flashing across his mind. It was pointless when they had their very own AI to practice on though, and with that thought, he rapidly uploaded several dozen pre-made ‘worm’ viruses. The rapid replication of the virus would bog down the VI, making it difficult for the machine to properly counter his hacking.

“Archie.” Gravette’s voice sounded in his comm piece, and he grunted in slightly annoyance at being interrupted. “They have back up VI fighting for the elevator controls.”

“Tch.” Of the two, Gravette was the superior hacker, but if she was taking the time to mention it, then they were likely blitzkrieg her with dozens of inferior VI to overwhelm human reflexes. So the Alliance was getting somewhat crafty. “How long?”

“10 minutes.”

“Tch.”
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Sitting calmly in the shadows, Charlie watched as the various marines aboard the ship scrambled out of their bunks or away from their meals to race for their weapons. They’d had no idea that there was even a threat aboard the ship, and now his team already had access to the heart of their vessel. In their shoes, he’d have simple boarded an escape pod at this point.

The mind of a marine and a commando were different things though. His eyes flicked silently down the hall way towards the Captain’s quarters, noting the soldiers standing guard out front of the bulkhead. Intelligent. A threat suddenly appears; guard the ‘head’ of the snake while the rest kill the attackers. As the majority of the marines disappeared in the echoing stampede for the lift across the ship, he moved silently forward.

Nothing obscured him, save for the faintest shimmer of the cloak over his frame. Rolling his shoulders, Charlie retrieved the twin Predators at his hips and took the briefest second the enable the ‘disrupter’ setting on each of them. The slight charge provided for each round made them shred easily through shields, making the heavy pistol all the more dangerous.

One of the guards squinted, raising his Avenger and aiming towards the shimmer of his cloak. “Huh. Guess you’re better trained than your average Alliance grunt.” He commented, aiming the guns at both men simultaneously. “Lucky me.”

The cloak vanished as he opened fire, ducking to the side to avoid the burst of fire from the assault rifles ahead of him. His fingers never left the triggers, rolling swiftly across the floor as the pistols firing in tandem at the guards. Neither had anything much for cover, giving him the advantage with his mobility while the disruptor rounds quickly brought down the men’s shields. Holstering one predator, the last rounds of his heat sink punched a trio of clean holes into the man’s breast plate.

Several rounds from the rifle clipped his shields, but the hissing warnings of a weapon overheat echoed in the tight space. Before the marine could even try to pop a fresh heat sink, Charlie closed the distance and struck the pistol across the man’s face. The man staggered, but threw his arm up to block the weapon on its return swing. They struggled for a brief moment, before the commando hit the release for the heat sink and it ejected the burning hot material across the man’s arm.

Crying out in pain, he jerked back, clutching the wicked burns along his arm for a moment before the Predator took the thought from his mind along with most of his spinal cord. Holding the smoking gun casually, Charlie flicked his gaze to the dead men for only a minute before pressing his Omni tool up to the encrypted bulk-head and engaged the bypass. As the device did its work, he stepped to the side of the doorway.

The moment the encryption finished, the bulkhead hissed open and the thunderous bang that echoed out of the room made him pause. “…a Carnifex? Really? I want these guys budget…” Thumbing a grenade of his hip, he primed it with a quick tap before tossing it round the corner. There was a muffled ‘Oh shi-’ before the room filled with a flash of light.

Flicking his wrist, the knife hidden inside his gauntlet ejected into his palm as he stepped through the doorway with knife and pistol at the ready. The captain was ducked behind his desk, clearly fighting the effects of the flash bang as the commando crept closer. His steps were soundless, but the man was clearly on high alert. With a quick tap of the trigger, Charlie fired a round through the coffee mug atop the desk before stepping forward and aside rapidly as the Captain rose to return fire. The Carnifex punched a neat hole through the space he’d once occupied, but before the Captain could retreat back into cover, the combat knife flew blade deep into his fingers.

Screaming in pain, he dropped the weapon, only for Charlie to slam the hand down onto the table and rip the blade free, ignoring the mangled fingers on his hand as he drove the knife through the back of the palm to pin the limb to the surface. The captain howled in pain, pulling on the hand pointlessly as the commando circled round the desk and crouched down in front of him. “Nicely played, Captain.” There was no response beyond pained noises, and his external speakers crackled with humourless laughter. “Now that I have your attention, though, I’m going to need your codes.”

“G-go to hell.”

“I’d love to, but I can’t until I’ve got your codes. Now, there’s two ways we can do this, and you’re not going to like the second one…” The golden eyes on his helmet seemed to shine in the low light of the room, and the officer diverted his gaze. “Difficult. You Alliance types, always so damn proud.”

“Commander.”

“Gravette, what’s up?”

“We aren’t going to be in control of the elevator much longer. We need to finish up here, and quick.” He tapped his chin, still watching the defiant soldier before him. “Archie is almost done, but the VI is starting to try and kick him out as well.”

“Would the codes make them stop?”

“Definitely.”

“I’ll bring them to you. Others watching the ladders?”

“Affirmative.”

“Tell them I’ll be there momentarily.” Cutting the call, he glanced to the Omni tool on the officer’s unpinned hand. “You’re in luck, I’m needed elsewhere. I’ll just be taking this and be on my way.” Tugging the small device off the man’s arm, it unexpectedly powered down the moment it was off. There was a moment of silence as the two men looked at the device. “It reads your biometrics. Clever.”

Reattaching it to the arm, it quickly powered back up as if it had never turned off. Sighing heavily, the commando brought up his own Omni tool, tapping a few commands on the interface before the energy along it hummed into a thick and broad blade more akin to a machete. “I said you wouldn’t like this…”

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“2 minutes.” Gravette announced coldly, rapidly typing on her omni tool to fire dozens of counter measures to the brute force attacks the VI were throwing at her constantly. Her hands were beginning to get tired, constantly trying to compete with the instantaneous reaction speed of the programs. The challenge of it had lost its appeal shortly, especially when she considered the fact that there was a lift full of armed marines waiting for the inevitable outcome of this ‘fight’.

“I need 3.” Marczak replied, still not looking up from his work across the CIC.

“You have 2.”

“We’ll do it in 1.” Emerging from one of the side doors, Charlie casually waved with his free hand as El hurried over to the door opposite her’s to retrieve Jones. “Think you can keep them occupied for a little longer, Gravette?”

“Does Sorin have a bad temper?”

“Heh.” Striding across the CIC, the commando nodded in greeting as Archie turned partially in his seat to look at him. “Need a hand?” He asked casually, tossing the mangled limb still partially covered in Alliance dress blues to his operative.

The tech specialist caught it without hesitation, barely giving a glance to the small trickles of red still running down his superior’s gauntlet. “Biometrics?”

“Yup. Pretty fancy for Alliance Tech. Bastard even had a Carnifex.” Nodding idly, Archie turned back to his station and placing the omni tool on the small interface awkwardly. Confident the man could handle it from here, Charlie turned towards the others. “Jones, El!” The two looked to him in unison, and he motioned towards the airlock. “We‘re leaving.”

“We’re not going back out the engine way?”

“No. No, we are not.” The two groaned as they trotted towards into the waiting airlock. “Gravette. One last salvo, then let’s get moving.” The woman nodded, giving a few taps on the display before hurrying across the CIC to join the rest of the team. “Archie?”

“Just a moment…”

Charlie glanced at the elevator, the interface lighting up as it kicked in once more. “Now would be nice…” Thumbing another grenade from his belt, the commando primed it in his hand as Archie finished the final keystroke.

“It’s locked in!”

“Then we’re leaving.” Tossing the grenade across the CIC, it bounced once before rolling to a stop at the elevator, which dinged and opened seconds before the weapon went off. The bridge filled with the brilliant white flash, and the Hounds stepped back into the airlock as it hissed shut. Seconds later, the exterior door opened and the five commandos were vented out the side. “Thrusters on! Get clear before it hits FTL!”

The thrusters ignited in unison, full burn to push them out of the frigate’s mass effect field as its engines roared to full power. In another second, it blinked from sight, and the Hounds used the last remnants of their fuel to kill their forward momentum.

Floating casually, Charlie tapped his helmet. “Hades, this is Pack Lead. Operation is a success. We’re signalling our location for pick up.” There was a brief pause before Vala’s voice came over.

“You’ve confirmed it?”

“Archie likely spliced into one of the hull cameras, yeah?” He nodded an affirmative, holding up his omni-tool and tapping a few keys. “He’ll forward it to you, Commander.” There was silence for a moment, before a frigid laugh sent chills rolling down his spine. “Uh…Buchan?”

“Damn impressive, Welles. Sending your pick up. Good work.”

“…thanks?”

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Back on the Deliverance, Vala watched the camera feed on the main display of the CIC. It was seemingly innocent enough at first, nothing save the ‘warping’ light from FTL travel. It was only in the last moments as the camera feed was slowed by almost impossible amounts by Jo’s careful filter that one could see a near identical frigate appear just before the camera seconds before the entire bow crumpled into the stern of the other ship. The last thing on the camera was little more than a fiery plume of destruction that spoke beautifully of both ship’s ultimate fates.

The entire CIC was silent as she watched it over and over again. It was only at Sinoff’s quiet cough that Vala spoke, first to the AI. “Jo, send this file along with our all clear to Commander Horn.” She then straightened, back rigid and shoulders broad with her head high as she called over the deck. “Once we’ve retrieved our team, we’ll be commencing with the true objectives of this operation! I’m expecting the best from all of you! Begin final preparations!”

Nothing more to say, she turned on her heel and stepped down from the main display, flicking her eyes to Alexis as she passed. “Almost like an actual commander, Ivory.” The scarred woman watched her curiously, calling after her. “Why send the feed, by the way?” Vala paused, turning back to face her friend partially.

“Because it’s going to piss him right the hell off.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jason Horn Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Nerita  T'Lar Character Portrait: Carly Laren

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With the call cut, Horn stood there for a moment, facing the direction that Commander Buchan and her assistant had been simple moments before. Kelly was already typing information into her omni-tool, most likely directing the information side of the entire conversation to the most relevant members of the Call of Victory staff. After a couple of seconds, she noticed that Horn had not moved, and pried her eyes away from her tool to look at him. "Something the matter sir?" She asked, her tone inquisitive and nothing more. Horn gave a smirk as this seemed to break him out of his reverie. He turned around and started walking back to the hallway.

"Nothing's the problem Operative." Horn paused for a second, and looked back at her smiling. "It's been far too long since I've had a good competition." Horn gave a laugh to a joke that only he seemed to understand. Kelly's brow furrowed as she tried to understand exactly what he meant, and as he made his way through the door she clicked almost immediately as she took after him.

She caught up to him in the hallway, still typing away on her omni-tool as they walked. "So you assume that Commander Buchan meant to goad you into a one-upmanship?" Kelly asked as they rounded the corner into the CIC.

"What else would you see it as Operative Invaru? I hate her, she hates me. The only reason we were even talking is because the Illusive Man ordered it. There is only one natural evolution to this path." Horn rubbed his hands together. "A good ol' 'I'm better than you' competition." Horn looked over the map. "Lieutenant Bretton! Take us to the Mass Effect Relay linking to the Daedalus system and hold position."

"Affirmative sir." Came the Lieutenant's response and he started preparing the necessary calculations and preparations of the ship.

"Nikki, give me ship wide." There was a slight beep as the AI did as she was told. Horn had a permanent smile on his face as he started pacing around the CIC. "Attention beautiful and handsome crew of the Call of Victory, this is your ever present and badass Commander speaking. We are about to embark on our most daring, our most dangerous, and our most pivotal mission to date. Some of you might be hearing this, and getting scared. Others, excited. Even more, horny. Kinky, I know, but it happens." Horn stopped pacing for a moment.

"However! Now is not the time for feelings, good or otherwise! Because, ladies and gentlemen! We are needed..." Horn placed his hands on the CIC console. "To show Commander Vala Buchan just how a ship and her crew should operate! We are needed to explain to her, and her crew just how much marines kick ass! We are needed to show that this ship, her crew, and her illustrious Commander get shit done!" Horn paced around the CIC once more. "So marines! Prep yourselves! Battery officers! Load the weapons! Techies! Write me some god damn miracle code! Ladies! Hand me your numbers!" Horn reached the head of the CIC, stepping up to the command balcony.

"Brace yourselves Men and Women of the Call of Victory! We're going to war." Horn made a slashing motion across his neck, and Nikki cut the connection. Horn looked over to Kelly, his smile beaming. Kelly simply stared at him for a moment.

"Sir, you do realize you made it sound like we are going to attack the Deliverance..." Horn paused for a second.

"Nikki!" Without needing to be told, Nikki activated the ship wide comm. again. "Right, to clarify, we're not actually going after Commander Buchan, it's a joint operation and we're going to show them up...That is all." Horn cut the call again, and looked to Operative Invaru who had a slight smirk on her face.

"You are such a buzz kill Kelly."

________

It wasn't long before the Call of Victory was just outside the Daedalus system, awaiting the go ahead from the Deliverance. Horn stood on the bridge in full combat gear. His visor was retracted as he paced around the CIC. Nerita leaned against a wall, also in full combat gear. Carly was standing at an 'at ease' posture near the head of the display table. The entire bridge was tense, no one really saying anything and no sounds being made aside from the occasional clicking from the CIC techs, and sounds being made from Kelly's omni-tool as she managed the flood of information between the officers of the Victory.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan and both companies are ready for departure sir, awaiting your go ahead." Kelly stated. "Lieutenant McKrain has confirmed that all weapons are loaded, greased, and, according to her report, 'prettied up for the coming ball'. Nikki has our cyber-warfare suites working at full capacity. Sergeant Jaconis reports that the engines are 'good to go' and, if necessary, can be pushed operational limits for more than 20 minutes should we have the need." Horn already knew this of course, having read the report simply ten minutes ago. Kelly was simply filling the gap of space that was full with the utter impatience of her Commander to get started.

"Yeah..." Jason stated, his teeth grating slightly. "Now if Mrs. BlackieOps could figure out how to command her troops, and finish up whatever the hell she wanted to do with the frigates, we could do our fucking jobs." Jason stated, Nerita and Carly looking to each other but not saying a word.

"Imagine how I feel." Daniel replied, leaning against the wall next to the elevator, going largely unnoticed by the crew. Horn pointed a finger at him.

"Don't start with me. You're barely standing, so I don't need you going gung ho and asking me to put you into this op."

"Sir, with all due respect, pot calling the kettle black." Daniel retorted, his voice slightly sarcastic.

"That may be, but I have one thing you don't." Horn stated, giving him a smirk. "Command over this vessel and her crew, so there." Daniel simply shook his head as Jason gave a beaming smile at everyone as Harold yelled back from the bridge.

"Uhhhh...sir, incoming call from the Deliverance." Horn slapped his hands on the CIC.

"Finally! So did they fuck up? Are we needed to clean up the shit storm?!" Jason yelled. Harold hesitated.

"Um, not entirely sir. She's sent a video message, linking it to the CIC display now." Horn cocked his head slightly, before watching as the display lit up in front of him. At first, it was nothing more than a ship's outer hull camera. It wasn't long before they figured out it was from the Aurora frigate.

"What is this shit?" Horn asked quietly, watching as the space distorted around the camera to show FTL speeds. Within less than a second, the other Aurora frigate came into view. Another second and both ships collided, leaving the screen with nothing but static. Horn stood there, blankly staring at the display. Kelly's eyes shifted to the Commander, as did everyone else's. From the bridge came the only voice courageous, or stupid enough to speak.

"Holy shit, that was badass!" Harold stated as he looked back at the display. Horn's head snapped to the side, his eyes screaming murder at the man who shrunk to half his size under the gaze. "I mean....uhhhh, bad...bad Commander Buchan...who does that...right?"

"Daedalus! NOW!" Horn yelled and Harold nearly squeaked in his seat as the ship lurched for the Mass Effect Relay. Horn put his hands on the display console, taking deep breaths as he silently cursed underneath his breath. Kelly looked at him for a moment before Kelly wandered up to the bridge.

"Brace for Relay jump." Harold stated, his voice still slightly shake. There was a moment before the ship was enveloped in blue static, and instantly the Call of Victory was in the Daedalus system. Kelly looked through the windows, not being able to physically see the remains of the frigate, but able to know where they were due to the radar system aboard the Call of Victory.

"Get me a secure line to the Deliverance." Kelly instructed. Harold complied without a word, and soon Vala's face appeared on the screen.

"Operative Invaru." Vala stated. Kelly gave a light smile.

"Commander Buchan." Kelly stated, all business. "We are en route to our first objective, good job on clearing out the frigates." Vala gave a nod.

"I take it you received the feed then?" Vala inquired, and before Kelly could respond, there was a crash in the background. Kelly looked back to see Horn prying his fist out of one of the technician consoles.

"Fucking cunt of a whore! It's on!" Horn stormed out of the CIC, Nerita and Carly following him into the elevator. Kelly looked back at Vala.

"He congratulates you on a job well done. I will contact you should the need arise Commander. Victory out." Kelly cut the connection. Harold looked up at her, then back at the elevator.

"Ma'am, permission to speak, or I guess permission to ask permission to do something...is that a thing?" Kelly looked down at him.

"What is it you need Lieutenant?"

"A change of shorts! Commander Horn scares the shit out of me...ma'am."

__

Lieutenant O'Ryan stood in the hold, once again standing in front of nearly the entire compliment of the Victory's manpower. Marines stood in an at ease posture in front of him, everyone formed into their individual fireteams behind their company commander. Leonard said nothing, for he didn't feel the need. His helmet rest on the crate directly behind him, his eyes glued to his omni-tool as he read and re-read every single mission objective. It was straight forward, there was nothing disputing the fact, but after Ontarom, he wanted to be as prepared as he physically could.

He would spare a glance at his marines every so often, noticing the slight twitches from a few marines, the nervous ones that despite having fought one hell of a battle a few days ago, were still not sure of their own combat abilities. There was nothing O'Ryan could do to shake that feeling, he knew that from experience. The only thing he could hope for is that they would bring themselves out of the dark cloud of self doubt in time before they caught a round to the chest or a shell to the brain.

Despite not a word being said, O'Ryan knew that marines were using private channels to talk back and forth, every single one of them having their helmets donned. That was good, being able to talk was a sign of either confidence, or an attempt to gain some. Leonard gave an inwards sigh as his eyes returned to his omni-tool, only to be interrupted by Commander Horn's voice over his comm.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan?" Leonard put a hand up to his ear.

"Yes sir." He stated.

"We're moving into position, are the joint ops teams ready?" Leonard looked to the Kodiaks in the shuttle bay, already filled with fireteams ready to mobilize at a moment's notice.

"That's affirmative sir, ready to launch when you give the word."

"Alright, one minute 'till launch." With that, the channel was cut, and O'Ryan was left staring at the Kodiaks. He had hand picked the teams for these specific missions based on several aspects due to their working together with black ops soldiers. One of the main things he had to keep in mind, would be their ability to survive should the black ops soldiers leave them high and dry with no backup and no way out. Which left out a lot of rookies.

In the end, he picked Victory 2nd Platoon to take over the Joint Ops. Two fireteams per each joint op, leaving another 2 to be temporarily assigned to another platoon. Fireteams Cockatoo and Lory were going after the base general, teams Aracari and Eagle were to flush out the corporate paranoia man, and Rosella and Dove were to push their way through the Oracle gauntlet. Leaving Vulture and Osprey as the floaters. Despite them not voice it, he could feel their resentment of not being sent with the majority of their platoon. The problem being is that he knew how black op soldiers operated. Give them a few troops to help, but any more hinders them.

O'Ryan stopped looking at through the window long enough to grab his helmet and attach it. In the upper corner of his HUD, a timer revealed 20 seconds remaining. He quickly connected a channel to the joint op fireteams. "Alright marines. You each have your duties, so I'm not going to bother restating them. What I will say though, is watch your backs out there. These are joint ops, but don't expect the Deliverance's special forces to bail you out should you get into trouble. Keep your head, do what you're needed to do, and assist wherever necessary. Understood?"

"Yes sir, we got this one." Sergeant Lowavich said. A solid man with a light sense of humor in the best of times. He was a people person, making O'Ryan sometimes question exactly how he got into the marines in the first place. The Kodiak doors closed, and when the timer reached zero, the doors opened, and the Kodiaks dropped out into the reaches of space. Mere seconds after that, the elevator door opened to reveal Commander Horn and his entourage of Nerita and Carly, each one suited up for combat and ready to go. Leonard noticed that Horn's face shield was down, revealing his now iconic red devil smile. That was never a good sign.

"First teams are away sir, they will let us know when they make landfall." Horn took up a spot beside the Lieutenant.

"Yep, good, yep..." Horn stated, clearly agitated about something. O'Ryan refrained from asking about it. Asking him what was wrong would only spike his anger, poking a tiger with a stick and seeing if it will talk to you about it's life's problems only leads to you getting mauled, eaten, and shit out in a matter of minutes. It was a good few minutes before the first teams reported back.

"Overwatch, This is Cockatoo and Lory, we've touched down and are making for the rendevous. Will update on an as needed basis."

"Roger that Cockatoo and Lory, good luck out there." Kelly replied over the comm. to the teams. The other two weren't far behind.

"Overwatch, Aracari and Eagle on the ground and moving to kick some ass!"

"Overwatch, Rosella and Dove here. En route to rendezvous." Each one was responded in the same manner as the first from Operative Invaru, and shortly after the Kodiaks were back in the hangar and the ship was moving again.

"Titan first platoon! Load up!" O'Ryan shouted as the marines moved to comply wordlessly.

"Two minutes until arrival." Kelly stated over the hangar speakers. O'Ryan waited for the entire platoon to embark before speaking.

"Alright marines! Your objectives are a set of listening posts that Oracle has set inside the city of New Grankshaw. It's not a metropolis, but expect some civilian interference. Each listening post is designed, and functioning as a commercial building. As follows; A clothing store, a sports paraphernalia outlet, a restaurant, and a drinking establishment. Aurora presence in the city is predicted to be minimal, but hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The biggest obstacle will be the collateral damage that is, without a doubt, bound to happen. I will leave the ROE on that matter up to you Sergeant Lewana."

"Understood sir." Lewana stated, not saying anything more than she had to. O'Ryan gave a nod through the window.

"You each have enough explosives on you level each buildings yourselves, but don't get trigger happy with them. A bigger explosion means more notice. More notice, means more alliance grunts coming to stop you."

"Twenty seconds." Kelly stated, O'Ryan looked up for a second before addressing the marines once more.

"Alright, close the hatches! Get down there! Get the job done! And come back alive! Understood marines!?"

"Sir yes sir!" They stated with a practiced measure. The Kodiak's doors closed, and soon the ships were plummeting to the planet beneath them. There was an awkward few minutes with no one saying anything, and nothing really being heard except for the Commander's now pacing steps. He was getting antsy, and wanted to move.

"This is Titan first platoon. We're on the ground and en route to our first objective. How copy?" Lewana suddenly came over the comm.

"Good copy, good luck down there. Overwatch out." Kelly returned, and shortly afterwards the Kodiaks returned. This pattern repeated itself 3 more times, each time another platoon being selected and given targets.

Victory first platoon had been given the target of a series of Aurora outposts within city limits. Moderate resistance, but they wouldn't know they were coming. Besides the fact that their size limited the number of marines on station, they deemed it manageable. Titan third platoon was issued a manufacturing plant that was under the ruse it was creating commercial grade building equipment, when in reality, it was crafting military grade armors and weapons for Oracle special forces troops. Located in the industrial district of a smaller town on a separate planet, civilian resistance was projected to be relatively low. Lastly, Victory third platoon was issued one of the tougher ones. An Oracle operations center, set up in the middle of a metropolis to look like a corporate headquarters of a law firm, was set for demolitions. The problem being was that it was filled with civvies and oracle agents alike, and was three stories tall. O'Ryan didn't like the target, felt it was more like a terrorist attack than a legitimate military target, but he had his orders and so did Oberacker. She was to have that building leveled, regardless of collateral damage.

And so that left O'Ryan with Titan second platoon plus two teams from Titan first platoon. They were the assassins of the bunch. Assigned to take out oracle agents in easy to reach, but heavily defended zones. O'Ryan stood with his men, awaiting the Kodiaks to come back from deploying Victory third platoon. Horn was practically bouncing by this point, but wasn't deigning to say anything. By the posture of Nerita and Carly, they were glad he wasn't voicing his anticipation and/or frustration.

"Alright Titans." O'Ryan started. "We have our targets, we have our ROE, and we have the means to accomplish our mission." Leonard looked up at them through the visor of his helmet. "I understand you didn't sign up to be assassins, you didn't sign up to carve your way through humans to get at another human. We're Cerberus, we're pro-human, and in the end, you signed up to advance humanity." Leonard looked at his gun once more.

"Our original objective in this cell, was to stall and/or stop the collectors from taking our people. These agents, this Oracle Alliance agency and their attack dogs, Aurora, are stopping us from doing just that. Unprovoked attacks on our people, our ships, and our facilities have proven that we can't simply ignore these people. They won't go away of their own free will." O'Ryan slid his gun onto his back. "So it's our job to make them."

He brought up his omni-tool. "We have several targets, split up throughout the system and with no doubt a large compliment of Aurora marines at least on station. We need to be fast and efficient if we want to get this done before the Alliance sends their fleets to investigate the area." O'Ryan turned at the sound of the Kodiaks coming back into the bay, and already Horn and his team were moving to one of the Kodiaks. Leonard looked back at his marines.

"We have our orders, our means, and our transportation." O'Ryan started walking towards the Kodiaks. "Let's get this done so we can get back to work." The platoon followed in his footsteps, walking into the hangar as Horn's team hopped into one of the Kodiaks. O'Ryan's team stepped into the same Kodiak as Horn's team, and immediately took a seat. The door closed, and within moments, everyone could feel the gut churning feeling of the Kodiak dropping out of the Victory's shuttle bay.

Horn was the only one left standing, his one hand on the bar above him, and the other flexing in front of him. "How's the hand sir?" Carly asked, a slight amount of humor in her voice.

"A little sore." Horn stated, looking down at it slightly. "But not enough to not smack some sense into smartass corporals...corporal." Carly looked down slightly.

"Understood sir." Carly stated, and the Kodiak became absolutely silent. O'Ryan looked between the Titan soldiers, to Horn's group, to the ground. He had nothing to say, nothing to offer, and wasn't one to really talk when he didn't have to. It wasn't long before the tremble of atmospheric re-entry was felt throughout the hold of the Kodiak, and minutes later the door opened up.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan." The pilot stated. "Your stop. Good luck." O'Ryan nodded, standing up and stepping out the door. The Titan fireteams followed his lead. Once all of the Titans were out, he looked up at Horn, who simply gave a thumbs up.

"Don't get dead Lieutenant." Horn stated.

"You too sir." O'Ryan returned as the door to the Kodiak shut, and soon the dropship was flying back into open space. Leonard simply checked his weapon once more before turning towards his objective marker.

"Alright Titans, let's move."

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Horn's team didn't have long to go after they dropped off O'Ryan and his Titans. Their target, a corporate executive by the name of Nicolai Breshnov, was stationed out of a mining outpost large enough to be a small town hovering over the single gas giant in the system. According to the man's profile, he was supposed to be a nice enough guy, but was still known for being a ruthless business man when it came down to it. It was also noted that Helium-3 deposits mined from the gas giant were also used to fund the Oracle war effort against Cerberus, which was enough to get this man, Nicolai Breshnov, on the list.

It was meant to be simple. Aside from a lightly armed security force, the mining station was to be unguarded from such assaults. Horn's hand never left the railing as the sight of the station appeared in the distance. "Do we have a plan?" Nerita asked, opening her mouth for the first time since Horn had picked her to accompany him on the mission.

"Oh you know, generally we kill anything that gets in our way and take out the target in a very timely fashion."

"Won't the station go into lockdown the moment we step on board?" Carly asked, Horn gave a smile.

"Well, timely fashion really just means moving really fast. I have Nikki running interference on their command line input things that close the station up, so that should buy us some time. Otherwise, we really have to hope we're faster at fucking up their dudes then they are at pushing buttons." Horn couldn't see Carly's eyes through the visor of her helmet, but he knew she was rolling them right now. "And don't roll your eyes at me corporal, I make my best plans up on the spot." Carly paused.

"So wait...you made this up just when Nerita asked sir?"

"Of course not, I ain't some kind of rookie." Horn stated, watching as the Kodiak came closer to the airlock, and finally clamped on. "If I was, I wouldn't be so damned confident! Not to mention good looking and generally a badass." Carly shook her head, while Nerita simply said nothing to that statement. A moment later and the Kodiak shook with the feeling of clamping down on an airlock.

"We're latched sir. Patching Nikki into the system now." The pilot stated, a few moments later, and the door to the Kodiak opened to reveal an opened airlock seal.

"Commander. I am inside the system and running interference on their lockdown systems. This is a temporary measure, I will not be able to stop them from initiating quarantine for longer than ten minutes." Horn gave a nod, making sure his gear was all in place before stepping off.

"Goody, that means nine minutes of fucking around. C'mon ladies! Let's kill us some assholes." Nerita and Carly stepped off the Kodiak behind him as they jogged to the airlock.

The inside of the station was slightly more luxurious than Horn would have pegged it to be, seeing as it was supposed to be a mining oversight station. Artificial plants littered the lobby that the airlock was attached too. An almost blinding white was used in every facet of the building's color scheme, along with some ornate artwork and sculptures. Benches, chairs, and even a small eating area with full blown tables and what looked like waiting staff was farther in the lobby.

Oh yeah, there was also a dozen or so security guards bunkered down behind any cover they could grab, every weapon currently trained on the Cerberus team. Horn stopped, his two teammates came to a stop as well.

"Drop your weapons and surrender!" One of the closest guards yelled, his eyes peering through his helmet and over the sights of his avenger. Horn gave a smirk.

"Nerita, do what the man said...Oh wait, let me change that a bit...Make them drop." Nerita flashed blue for a single moment before a pulse was sent out, catching the nearest guards and lifting them into the air. Carly was already moving before the pulse was sent, sending a quick rebuttal to the guards in the form of concentrated avenger fire. Horn launched himself forward with a small burst from his jets, catching the first guard lifted into the air. With a roundhouse kick, he sent the man flying into another one of his compatriots and saw the two men fall head over heels.

The guards returned in kind, their rifles barking death to the Cerberus team as they were all forced to find some cover. Nerita had her Karpovs barking as she was forced to duck after only a few shots. Horn looked over to her. "Nerita, give me a barrier!" She nodded, holstering her pistols and shoving out her hands to create a bubble around them. She flinched with every impact from one of the guard's weapons, so they didn't have long. "Corporal! Let's kill these degenerate fucks!"

"Aye sir!" She stated as they both popped up from behind their cover and started firing from the relative safety of the biotic bubble. Several guards dropped as the rounds shorted out their shields and pierced their armor. By the time that Nerita couldn't hold the barrier up any more, there were only six guards left.

"Alright, rest up a bit Nerita. Carly, give me suppressing fire on the left flank. Do not let them shoot me." Horn stated as he holstered his rifle.

"Shoot you sir?" Before she could get an answer, Horn was already jumping over his cover and sprinting to the guards on the right. Naturally, they stood up to fire at him, but Horn raised his carnifex. The first few rounds killed one of the three soldiers that he was charging at as another boost of his rockets sent him flying over the other two. He landed in a roll facing them, and before the two guards could turn to shoot at him, he fired his thrusters again, tackling one of the men back over the cover. A quick flick of his knife into the man's throat ensured that he was out of the action. A few rounds peppered his shields as he looked back at the last man who was desperately trying to put Horn down. Horn dived for cover, waited a split second, before rolling over the cover and planting a vicious left hook across the man's jaw which sent him stumbling back slightly.

Horn flipped his knife so he was holding the blade, and threw it with enough force it solidly planted itself in the man's shoulder. The guard gave a well of pain, but was quickly silenced as Horn punched him three times in the stomach, causing him to double over. A quick jerk on the knife, spinning it so the blade was down, a quick twirl for dramatic effect, and he had buried the knife up to the hilt in the man's neck, right below the base of the skull, severing the spinal and nerve columns to the rest of his body. The guard dropped without a sound.

Horn looked at the rest of the guards, who were now trying to force a retreat through the suppressing fire. They were panicking, and it was without doubt that the original guard that had tried to get them to lower their weapons was, at the very least, their on-duty security chief. There was no order to this retreat, they simply broke and tried to run. Horn switched to his rifle, and with the help of Nerita and Carly, quickly wiped up the rest of the guard detail. Horn rolled his shoulders as his two squad mates came to join him. "Well that was invigorating. Nothing like a good fight to get the blood pumping, am I right?"

"If you say so sir." Carly answered while Nerita paced slightly. She would never admit it, but Nerita loved a good fight almost as much as Horn did. Jason gave a smile behind his helmet, before turning a map overlay of the station on in the corner of his HUD. It displayed where his target was located to be, and a path to get there.

"Alright, I doubt that's the only security they have on board, despite the station being smaller on the inside than I had imagined. C'mon, we only have about seven and a half minutes before this place locks down." Horn stated as he took off down the corridors. Nerita and Carly followed suit.

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A couple of isolated guard fights and a short jog later, the team found themselves in an administrative area. Desks littered the main floor, complimented with fake fauna and computer screens. A pair of staircases twisted to meet on an upper level, where a single door lead to the head administrator, or CEO in this case. Computer screens, emulating a tropical environment were showcasing a jungle as if it was just outside, and benches littered the entire area. This place was meant to be busy all the time.

And of course, it was.

This time, however, it wasn't guardsmen. Civilians huddled in fear with their family or coworkers as Horn, Nerita, and Carly walked in slowly to the lobby. Everyone saw them, and immediately went quiet.

"Guard!" Carly yelled, their weapons coming to bear, but the man immediately put up his hands. He wasn't wearing his helmet, showcasing his baby smooth skin and youthful eyes. The man couldn't have been more than nineteen years old.

"Woah! Woah!" He yelled. "No man...no! I...I don't want to die alright." Horn stared at him down the sights of his vindicator for a moment, before nodding to Carly. She holstered her weapon, wandering over and securing him of his weapons, of which there was none. He must have dumped them and just given up. Part of Horn was disgusted at this guardsman, so easily giving up on his duty. Another part was simply glad he didn't have to waste a bullet on the man. Yeah, he was only nineteen possibly, but by nineteen Horn had already been fighting Cerberus's enemies on the frontlines. Carly looked over to Horn, who tapped his temple. Carly gave a nod, delivering an elbow to the man's head. There was a few gasps and screams as the man dropped, unconscious. It could have possibly killed him, but there was no time to perform a less effective method.

"Nerita, Carly. Stay here and make sure no one tries to play hero." Jason stated as he started jogging up the stairs. They had two minutes to spare before Nikki estimated she would lose control of the station, so Horn was rushing when he came to the final door. When he pressed the button however, the door simply gave a rude beep in response. Jason tried the button a couple of other times, and was met with the same thing.

"Nikki, why is this door locked. I thought you were still in the system." Jason asked, walking to the balcony to overlook the administrative area.

"The door, and the cameras surrounding that office are on a closed circuit. I have no access to their workings." The AI stated. Horn gave a silent curse.

"Alright, he doesn't have a way out of there, does he?"

"Negative."

"Is there a way for me to blast through this door?"

"Negative, the door is reinforced and would take too long for conventional arms and explosives to expedite an entrance." Jason gripped the bridge of his nose, squinting his eyes as he could feel a migraine coming up.

"I suppose the system that controls the doors and cameras is also inside the office."

"Affirmative." Jason paused in thought for a moment, looking over the civilians and then looking back at the door. On the side, there was a keypad and retinal scanner, one that looked like Daniel would even have trouble with it if he were here. Just thinking of that reminded how much the man would have come in handy right at this moment. Another idea sparked in Jason's mind.

"Nikki, aside from Nicolai, bring me up a list of the administrative staff. Specifically, I want his second in command." There was a slight pause, before a name popped up along with a picture of woman in her late sixties showed up on his visor. Jason switched to his speakers.

"Brenda Killson!" Jason yelled, jumping over the banister and giving a short boost of his jets to land safely. Utter silence permeated the lobby. Jason continued his slow walk towards the civilians. "Brenda Killson!" He stated again, looking at the eyes of every one. Jason looked to his team. "Find her." They gave a nod and started wading through the civilians. The team took a few moments to search the faces, but after a quick search, they turned up nothing. They reconvened in the middle of the lobby.

"She might have fled already." Carly stated over a private channel to them.

"Nah, if she did, Overwatch would have let us know an escape pod had jettisoned from the station. I don't remember killing an old hag, so she's somewhere on this station." Jason rubbed his jaw for a second, an idea forming in his head however nasty. "Alright ladies, I need you to follow my lead. This is going to get messy, but you need to trust me, alright?" They both gave a quick nod, and Horn switched to his external speakers.

"Ladies and gentlemen of this fine establishment! How's everyone doing? Good? That's good." Horn looked around to the civilians, all still huddling in fear. "Now, I need to ask you a question, a very serious question, in which case a very serious answer will be needed. If anyone answers with some stupid ass remark like 'your mom' or the like, I will boot you in the face so hard your head will implant itself in your ass." Jason looked to everyone again, before taking a breath.

"Where is...Brenda Killson?" Jason looked around, everyone was quiet and nobody was pointing anywhere. "Anyone?" Jason asked again. "I really don't want this to get nasty." Jason stated one last time, before giving a sigh as he was met with the same response. He switched to a private channel once more.

"It's going to get dark in here, just play the part." Jason looked through the crowd, and saw someone who looked to be higher up in the food chain. He walked briskly over to the man, and yanked him out of the crowd by his collar. A few people around him tried to cling to him, but another firm yank quickly made them lose their grip. Horn's carnifex was in his hand now as he held the man down on his knees.

"Seeing as we have no volunteers, I would like to present to you forced entry number one." Horn stated to the rest of the civilians. Jason looked down at the man. He was younger than him, no more than his mid-twenties. His jet black hair was swept back, and his suit was immaculately pressed, save for Horn's rough grip around the collar. The man's eyes, a mixture of fear and pain were darting around the room, looking for salvation where there was none. "Now, I'm going to ask you a very simple question." Horn stated.

"I don't know anything man! I don't! I'm just an accountant! A financial advisor! I do-" Horn belted him across the face with his gun, creating a gash on the side of the man's face and shutting him up.

"I haven't asked a question yet, so do my bleeding ears a favor and shut the fuck up until I do." Horn looked up to the civilians to see if anyone looked like they were going to try anything. After a moment of ensuring they weren't, he looked back at the man. "Where is Brenda Killson?"

"Look! I-I-I don't know! I've never met the woman! Everything from her was done through a sub-manager! Honestly! All I do is shuffle money! I swear!" Horn made a 'tsk' sound.

"Really? You sure you don't see her in the crowd? Your life kind of depends on your answer." Horn stated, his gun creeping up to the man's head.

"I DON'T SEE HER MAN!" The man yelled, clearly in tears now as the barrel of the gun rested against the financial advisor's temple. Horn shook his head.

"Well then, I see how this could go." Horn stated, looking to the other civilians. "See, I'm going to bring each and every one of you up here, and I'm going to ask the same question. If I get what I want, you live. If I don't..." Horn looked down at the man, his eyes shut tight and tears streaming down his face. "You'll end up like this guy." Horn halfway pulled the trigger when a voice in the crowd pierced the room.

"That won't be necessary." Horn looked up, his finger relaxing as Brenda Killson appeared from whatever hiding spot she had been cowering in. Jason looked her over once. She wore a grey business jacket and matching skirt. Horn had seen people hide their age well, but on this woman it showed. Wrinkles littered her face and was matched with snow white hair, which was pulled tightly into a professional looking bun.

Professional women and their buns. Jason thought, looking at the man once more before roughly shoving him back into the group of people. Horn nodded to her, which brought Nerita and Carly grabbing her by each arm and dragging her before Horn. "Ms. Killson." Jason stated, letting his visor's paint job do most of the work for him. "You're going to unlock the door upstairs for us."

"And if I don't?" She stated, rather matter-of-factly. Horn cocked his head, and faster than anyone could react, he raised his arm and fired a single round. Everyone screamed, and looked to where the round had went. The man was paralyzed in fear as a smoking hole was permeating heat inches above his head.

"The next one makes a hole in his face rather than the wall, along with everyone else in this room." Jason stated, being as matter-of-fact about it as Brenda was. She glared at him for a moment, before walking of her own accord up the stairs. Horn switched to a private channel. "Ladies, make sure no one becomes a hero while I'm gone." They both gave a nod, and broke off to watch the rest of the civilians while Jason climbed the stairs with Ms. Killson.

They reached the top of the plateau, and made their way to the keypad and scanner. She paused for a moment, looking over her shoulder at him. "Who are you? Mercenary? Assassins?"

"I'm the guy with the gun who makes the rules. Rule number one: shut the fuck up and open the door." Jason stated, pushing the gun against the back of her head. She complied without stating another word, and with a couple of beeping sounds, the door's holographic interface flashed green. Jason grabbed the woman by the shoulder, forcing her to walk in front of him.

"A human shield. How noble of you." She stated, Jason simply looked at her.

"I never claimed to be a good person." Jason stated as the door opened and they walked through. Nicolai peered over his desk, his aging frame seeming youthful enough for his job. He gave a small smile, and stood up.

"Well, it appears my work has cau-" Without hesitation, Jason shoved the lady aside, and pumped three rounds into the man's chest. Without a word, he dropped, making a soppy squish sound as the remnants of his body crashed to the ground. Brenda's eyes went wide, tears instantly forming in her eyes as she desperately tried to grasp what had just happened while Horn made his way around the table to confirm the kill. The man's body was a mess, the carnifex's rounds on an unarmored targeted decimating it to look more like a bad cafeteria meatloaf than human remains. Just to be sure, Jason pumped another round into the man's head, completely destroying the skull and leaving nothing but blood splatter where the cranium was supposed to be.

Jason took a moment to stare at the man, then walked around the desk past the crying Brenda Killson without a word. As Jason exited, Brenda whipped around and screamed at him. "I HOPE YOU BURN YOU SADISTIC SON OF A BITCH!" Jason looked back at her, contemplating killing her as a potential Oracle asset, but decided against it.

"Lady, I burn on a regular basis, so Hell can get in line." Jason stated as he calmly walked back down the stairs to the mass of civilians who were either crying or shielding their loved ones from any retribution. Nerita and Carly looked to Horn, who simply nodded towards the exit. Without a word, the three of them made their way back through the hallways to the waiting Kodiak.

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Once aboard the Kodiak, everyone was still silent. Jason had taken to sitting this time around, his helmet sitting in his lap as he stared up at the ceiling. Carly's helmet remain on, as did Nerita's goggles. Carly seemed to stare at Jason for the longest time after they left, and finally Horn gave a sigh. "If you have something to say Carly, say it." It took a few moments, but finally she blurted something out.

"Sir, that was some dark shit." She stated quite bluntly. Horn gave a slow nod.

"Yep." Was all he said in return. There was an awkward silence between them as Carly expected more, but Jason said nothing else.

"Does it not bother you at all? Scaring those people half to death? Threatening their families? Their lives?" Carly stated, looking for something that Horn wasn't willing to divulge.

"Carly, do you know how many people I've made either so scared they literally shit their pants, or so sad they cry themselves to sleep every night?" Jason stated, looking at the woman, who replied with a stare. Jason sat forward, clasping his hands together. "Being a soldier doesn't necessarily mean being the good guys. Hell, we have the dirties jobs known in the universe. We kill people for a living Carly, and justify it as 'orders'. How many times have you thought 'that mercenary might have a family' or 'that soldier is a good father or mother'?" Carly looked down for a moment, providing the only answer that Jason needed as he sat back once more.

"I'm not proud of what I did in there Carly, if that's what you're implying." Jason stated. "I had a job with a time constraint, so I didn't want to waste any finding a woman when there was a faster way."

"Would you have actually killed that man sir?" She asked, Horn stared at her blankly.

"I'm trying not to take that as an insult. Despite the man being a banker, and I hate bankers, my carnifex had it's safety on." Horn stated, staring at her. "You are thinking too hard Corporal. Thinking's dangerous for the enlisted, they start questioning things...like orders, missions, and morality when the truth of the matter is this. When you are told to shoot, you shoot. When you are told to rest, you rest, and when you are told to kill a man through whatever means necessary, you take that to heart." Jason looked to the both of them now. "I'll tell you what I told Brenda Killson right before I pulled the trigger on Nicolai Breshnov...I never claimed to be a good person." Horn sat up now, his hand reaching for his ear piece, deigning the conversation finished.

"Overwatch, give me our next target

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

0.00 INK

13:23
Planet: Tricara, Brendin Clinic Park
Corporal Avis Badot, leader of Fireteam Aracari, 2nd Platoon, Victory Company.

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Corporal Avis Badot peered over the edge of the hill he and his fellow soldiers had managed to place themselves on. Avis's eyes never left the corporate building. Twenty floors of an absolute clusterfuck should they get pinned down anywhere. His eyes scanned every window, every door, and every civilian that entered the building. Great, collateral damage is going to be a huge issue. Avis thought to himself as Corporal Karol Shynk came crawling up beside him. "You having second thoughts Badot? You know, I could always take the lead from ya if you need it." Avis looked over at the smiling woman. Karol was not curvy, marine training conforming her figure to look more like a man's than anyone would like to admit. Her face had a few scars on it, most were from the recent fighting on Ontarom, but they would be hidden once she activated the reflective visor of her helmet.

"I got this Shynk, why don't you go back to doing whatever it was you were doing." Avis stated, his tone light but not humorous. Avis was not known for his joking nature, at times, referred to as a 'mini-O'Ryan'. He didn't like the nickname, not because he hated the man or didn't respect him, but because he wanted to make his own. He didn't need to be put underneath a label aside from 'Avis Badot'. Karol just shrugged, and crawled backwards to the rest of the waiting marines while Avis continued to monitor the doors. He was getting slightly impatient with the special ops team, they were supposed to be in position a couple of minutes ago.

"Victory teams, are you in position?" A simple voice came over their frequency. Avis didn't bother asking who it was, or where they were. From what they were told in the briefing, they were hooked up with a sniper pair. Chances are he couldn't even see them from here, but if he had to take a guess, they were on one of the nearby buildings that were slightly higher than their corporate target.

"That's affirmative. Aracari and Eagle awaiting your go." Avis stated, looking back to the others and making a circle with one finger. The marines quickly climbed to join him near the lip of the hill.

"You have a go." The voice stated, cutting the comm. channel afterwards. Karol gave a slight laugh.

"Chatty bunch, but what can you expect from a sniper pair."

"I don't care if they can't talk, they better be able to shoot." Another marine stated as they started climbing over.

"They'll do their jobs, just like we'll do ours. C'mon, form up on the door and await breach and clear." Badot stated as they quickly climbed over the top of the hill and out of the artificial park, sprinting for the main doors. Civilians gasped and screamed as eight soldiers came bolting towards them in full armor and gear. Each fire team sat on either side of the door, waiting for the order. Avis patched through to the sniper team once more. "Sending you our live feed now to ma-"

"Not necessary, we are already linked to your helmet cams. Commence with the operation." One of the spec ops soldiers replied. Avis paused for a moment, wondering if that was necessarily a good thing before shrugging it off. Avis holstered his Avenger rifle, grasping a flashbang from his chest. Shynk did the same thing, and with a small nod, they both opened the doors and tossed the flashbangs inside.

A few moments later, the flashbangs performed their duty, releasing a loud 'bang' and blinding anyone in the lobby. Screams were heard as people dropped to the ground crying, and private security did their best to reorient themselves. Badot and Shynk entered the lobby, the men immediately behind them tossing smoke grenades to cover their advance. A grey mist filled the lobby, reducing visibility to near zero. Avis and the rest of the marines switched to heat vision, managing to pick out private security due to their armor masking parts of their internal temperature. Shots rang out from the Cerberus fireteams as the first casualty, a private security soldier trying desperately to warn the other floors, fell from several rounds to the chest.

Seconds later, several more security officers had fallen. The advantage of surprise was over as the security attachment finally managed to get its feet underneath it and return fire. Avis motioned for Karol to find cover on the other side of the lobby, allowing for more room between the two squads. Overall, the lobby wasn't well suited for assaults. Pillars and benches littered the main area, along with a central desk and metal detectors lined up in front of the elevators. The last of the security on the first floor, about four more men, were behind the desk and metal detectors while the Cerberus assault team was behind pillars, benches, and a couple were prone due to the lack of cover in the middle of the lobby. Suppressive fire from the majority of the marines kept them from exploiting their cover weakness.

"Shynk! Top and down!" Karol nodded, looking back to her marines and waving forward with two fingers. "Aracari! Suppressive fire!" Avis ordered as the marines in his fireteam broke cover to lay down a ridiculous amount of fire on the security detail. Eagle broke cover and ran straight for the security officers, through the metal detectors and firing as they did so. The private security soldiers were caught in a no win situation as one of them attempted to move and was immediately gunned down while the rest were quickly beaten into submission through the use of Marine CQB.

There was a brief moment as all the marines tensed, waiting for a counterattack that never came while the civilians in the lobby cowered in fear. Avis didn't waste any more time once it was certain they were in the clear. "Rikkard! Get on that computer! Lock the elevators down save one! Lennon! Hishee! Secure the main entrance! Eagle! Sweep and clear! Get these civvies out and make sure we didn't miss anything."

There was a chorus of confirmations as all the marines quickly went about their individual duties as dictated by the field commander. Badot patched himself into the secure command line. "Overwatch, this is Aracari reporting."

"Affirmative Aracari, what is your status?" Operative Invaru answered from the other line.

"We've secured the main lobby. The Deliverance's snipers have positioned themselves on an adjacent building, will be commencing sweep and clear operations shortly." Badot stated.

"Confirmed Aracari, be aware that we are monitoring local comm. traffic from Tricara. Reports or gunshots and explosions are being circulated throughout the local law enforcement and military. Expect enemy reinforcements shortly."

"Acknowledged Overwatch, what is the ROE on the local LEO's?" Avis asked, watching as Karol looked back to him and gave him a thumbs up, indicating the main lobby was completely cleared.

"They're neutral targets with a rising hostility rate Aracari, if fired upon, return the action. Update us when the mission is completed. Overwatch out." Badot gave a nod, not relishing the opportunity of possibly shooting cops, but if they were lucky, they wouldn't be given the option. Badot jogged over to the main desk, where Rikkard sat hitting keys on the keyboard and his omni-tool almost at the same time.

"Rikkard, status?" Avis said as he stopped just behind the man.

"The elevators are shut down, and one is on the ground floor awaiting for us to get on and kick some ass sir." Rikkard stated, but Avis said nothing. If he was done, he wouldn't still be going hard on the computer. "I've managed to pull the latest blueprints of the building, including corporate blackout plans detailing failsafe maneuvers in case of a hostile corporate takeover and terrorist attack. Along with this, I've managed to hack into cameras that are on the same floor as our target. He's still in his room, but getting edgy."

"We need him to bolt to the helipad on the roof, is that listed in the blackout plans?" Rikkard gave a nod.

"Almost like they wanted their people to be shot sir. Problem being is that it's going to be Aurora. They'll be prepared for an assault, and will no doubt cover the man as he exits. This will undoubtedly make the sniper's job harder."

"You shouldn't feel the need to worry about our skill private. We will get the job done." The voice of one of the special ops snipers came on the channel. Avis flinched visibly as he realized the duo had been listening in on them the entire time, but instead of getting angry or upset, he simply turned and started walking towards the elevator.

"Your lack of faith in ours is noted. Stay off the line." Badot stated, and cut the comm. as the rest of his fireteam followed him to the elevator. "Shynk, you have stair duty! clear the floors and make some noise." Karol looked over, and Avis could feel her smile through her visor as she loaded concussive shots into her assault rifle.

"You know I like it loud Badot! Eagle! Lets hit the stairmaster! Work them thighs!" Karol stated as she jogged over to the door, quickly opening it and disappearing into the stairwell. Her team quickly followed as Avis opened the doors to the elevator. Normally, sending Shynk up through the lower floors would have been a wasted effort, seeing as they could have a direct line to the target, however there was a plan in place. They didn't want their target thinking he had a chance heading down, leaving him in a pincer movement between the marines, or the snipers.

"I'm still monitoring the target." Rikkard stated as he brought up a feed from one of the cameras. By now, the man was running back and forth, attempting to gather his things. He knew they were after him, and he was attempting to bolt. He had a briefcase, most likely filled with crucial files on Oracle operations, was in the process of grabbing his jacket when he stopped. He made his way towards his desk, staring at the screen for a moment before looking up at the camera. "We've been made." Rikkard stated as warning bells started going off on his Omni-tool. The man gave a wicked smile, one that was neither friendly nor hostile. In simple terms, his smile told them one thing.

He was going to live.

"Aracari, this is Operative Arcsberg. We've been made by Aurora forces. We are attempting to relocate." Avis held his head down for a moment, looking up to see the elevator closing to the target floor.

"Acknowledged. Be warned, the target is en route to the roof." Avis returned.

"Confirmed." Was all Arcsberg stated before cutting the line. Avis mentally swore to himself. It wasn't so much the fact that he cared for their safety so much as that now this plan had gotten a little bit complicated with them being seen by a passing Aurora force.

"Eagle? This is Badot. Our nest has been breached, proceed to the top floor." Avis stated as the door to the elevator opened.

"Eagle here. Noted, and making our way to the top." Avis stepped outside the door, and was met with nearly instantaneous suppressing fire.

"We have security on the right!" Lennon stated as he blind fired his avenger around the corner.

"No shit Lennon! You think?!" Hishee stated as he barrel rolled out of the elevator and landed in a crouched state behind a small plant box sturdy enough to hold a tree but currently housing a fancy looking fern. Ceramic shards were chipped away as rounds found their mark on Hishee's cover. He managed to get a small glance around the cover before peeling back. "We have four guards braced around the corners in a crouch/stand position!" Hishee stated as he popped up to fire a couple of rounds. Avis looked around the corner to confirm, and sure enough they nearly shot his head off.

"Rikkard! Hand me two of your proxy mines!" Rikkard complied without hesitation, watching as Avis primed one. Avis looked back to the man. "Keep tabs on the target, without our fail safe it's up to us to take him out." Avis pointed to the proxy mine in his hand as well. "And be prepared." was all he said. Rikkard gave a nod, bringing his omni-tool back up as he crouched in a corner.

"Hishee! Suppress!" Avis shouted as Hishee poked over cover to go full auto with his Avenger. "Lennon! On my ass!" Avis shouted as he broke around the corner, the proxy mine leaving his hand and traveling towards the security detail as if it were a grenade. They flinched, seeing what it was a second before it planted itself on the wall too far away from the guards to detonate. With the mine situation seemingly disarmed, the guards continued to fire down the hall as Lennon's and Badot's shields flared violently. "RIKKARD!" Avis shouted.

Rikkard tapped on his Omni-tool a moment, and a second later the proxy mine was turned into a remote controlled explosive. The resounding explosion knocked out the wall it was planted too, creating a massive exit from the unrelenting barrage the guards were unleashing. Avis and Lennon both dived through the hall, the smoke from the debris covering their movements as their shields flickered and died. They had only about two seconds before the guards clued in, so Avis grabbed the second proxy mine and slammed it on the wall adjacent to the guards. Both he and Lennon started running from the bomb. "Rikkard! Mark two!" Not even a second later, the second proxy mine detonated, instantly killing the two guards on the other side as Lennon and Badot were thrown clear.

The resulting explosion threw the other two guards off long enough for Hishee to start methodically marching forward. His avenger barking orders in the form of a death squad submitting an execution. Rounds flashed off of their shields as they struggled to right themselves and get back behind cover to no avail. Soon enough, Hishee had pumped enough rounds into the last guards to make a piece of Swiss cheese seem like a good sealant. Avis slowly picked himself off the floor, bits of plaster, metal, and ceramic plating falling off his body as he did so. "Rolecall!" he shouted, coughing slightly as the explosion left him slightly winded.

"Hishee, tall and proud." Hishee stated as he walked through the hole in the wall, helping Lennon to his feet.

"Lennon, going to be feeling the ache of that shit for a week."

"Rikkard. We have a problem. Target is rabbiting!" Rikkard stated as he didn't wait for his team to get up. He was off down the hall, his Omni-tool shut off and his rifle in his hands as he sprinted through the hallways. Hishee pulled Lennon to his feet roughly before letting go and taking after Rikkard. Soon, the entire team was sprinting through hallways with Rikkard slightly in the lead. Rikkard turned the corner to see the target sprinting through the hallways, past a series of offices. "He's heading for the stairs!' Rikkard stated as he took a couple of pot shots at the man. The target ducked, fumbling and catching himself as he turned the corner.

"Eagle! Are you in position on the stairs!" Badot stated as they made their way after the target.

"Negative!" There was a slight pause. "We have engaged multiple security forces on the stairwell! We are unable to get to the top floor!" Shynk stated. Avis knew through the pauses that she was currently in a firefight. The stairwell was a bad place for both sides to be caught, neither one having any amount of cover aside from their shields and slim handholds on the sides.

"Fucking damn it!" Avis shouted as Rikkard turned the corner. Almost instantly, there was the sound of thunder as Rikkard came flying back around the corner doing a pirouette, blood gushing from his chest.

"Rikkard's hit!" Hishee and Lennon stated nearly simultaneously before Rikkard even hit the ground with a crash. Lennon immediately turned towards the wounded marine, a round puncturing through his shields and armor just above where his heart should have been.

"He's hit bad Badot! I need to stabilize him!" Lennon stated as Avis continued running after the man, who was now carrying what looked like a modified carnifex or hand cannon with extended barrel and sights.

"Do it! Hishee!" Avis shouted as Hishee fell in behind him. Avis switched channels as the target reached the stairwell. "Operatives! Status!" There was a pause, long enough for Badot and Hishee to reach the stairwell.

"Aurora is proving difficult to shake, we are having trouble setting up a firing position." Operative Arcsberg stated.

"Well you better get your shit together! I'm two men down and the target is bolting for the roof with transports on the way! GET A FUCKING FIRING POSITION!" Avis shouted as he and Hishee climbed the stairs a couple levels below their target.

"Don't worry about us Corporal, the job will be done." Operative Arcsberg stated before cutting the line. Avis stated some finely choice words about black op soldiers before reaching the last door. What they saw was not what they wanted to see after chasing the man all the way to the roof.

The final door leading to the roof opened to reveal a sunny day. The landing pad, easily forty feet across was currently housing a running transport just waiting for the Oracle agent to get on board. It's doors were down, and two Aurora soldiers were in the door way. The shuttle hovered about a foot off the pad, ready to go the moment the man was on the bird. The man was already half way there.

Looking over to the building where the Operatives were supposed to be stationed, he could see they weren't kidding. Two Aurora transports were hovering over the building while soldiers fired out of the sides. He couldn't see the Operatives, but he could tell they were having one hell of a time. Avis looked back at the target, less than ten feet away. The angle for the sniper was already completely out of the picture, the transport blocking the path of the bullet. Avis raised his weapon, rounds exiting his weapon almost as fast as the expletives exiting his mouth as his target got closer and closer. The target gave one last look back, that same smile on his face from before.

Out of nowhere, a round streaked past the side of Avis's helmet so closely that the warning sirens blared in his helmet as if he had been shot. One second the target had been smiling back at them, so sure of winning. The next, a round had entered one of his eyes, blood, brain matter, and gore spattering onto the Aurora soldiers who flinched as the man died, quite literally a couple of feet from the transport.

The man had been in full sprint when he died, and his hand's muscles tightened at the sudden death, locking the briefcase and hand cannon in a death grip as the body crumpled and slid underneath the waiting transport. "Hishee! Left!" Avis stated, pouring his fire on the right Aurora soldier as the sudden death of everyone's target left the other soldiers stunned for a moment. The Aurora soldier's shields flared before the door to the transport closed and the ship lifted off. Avis looked over at the sniper nest to see the Aurora ships hovering, but no longer firing. They must have lost the sniping duo.

Hishee ran up ahead, prying the suitcase from the man's hand before returning to Badot. "Bonus points." Hishee stated as Avis looked up at the sniper nest, to the body, to behind him. The shot had come from behind him somehow, and he quickly jogged back to the door to the roof. Sure enough, a small dent was now visible in the structure of the door, the perfect size for a sniper round. As Avis traced the round from the building across from them, to the door, to the body, a voice came through his helmet.

"Angles, precision, wind, height, speed, and current velocity. These are only some of the things we took into account when we took that shot Corporal. Mission accomplished." Avis looked back at the building, in a stupor before he remembered that the Operatives had been watching through their helmets as well. That's how they had known the exact location of the target for the shot, which regardless of that knowledge, was still an incredible shot. Suddenly the door burst open, and Shynk's team almost ran full on into Badot.

"Seriously?!" Shynk stated, her normally white armor caked in the color of death. "It's over?" Avis didn't answer as he switched channels.

"Lennon. Rikkard?" Avis asked quietly.

"I've tried to stabilize him corporal...I really tried." Avis hung his head, his hand absent-mindedly coming to his visor.

"I see...Understood." Avis stated as he placed his hands on his hips and stared up at the sky. Shynk walked over to him, having heard the entire thing due to the co-op temporary command link for the mission.

"I'm sorry Avis." Shynk stated, simply lowering her face shield and showing her face to him. Avis didn't bother, his golden visor remaining up as he turned and headed back towards the stairway. He took a deep breath, before switching channels.

"Overwatch? This is Aracari. Mission Accomplished."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru Character Portrait: Sparrow Oberacker Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff

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Drumming a finger impatiently on the polished, ultra-basic stainless steel of her work station, Sparrow stared dully at the duty roster on the display of her work terminal. She hated making duty rosters with a passion; hell, she hated eighty percent of the desk work her position entailed. Whoever got cleaning the heads would complain. Whoever got stuck guarding the armoury, near the furious slab of flesh that threatened to tear their limbs off if they twitched, would complain. The only thing they could all agree on was complaining in general about how ruthless O’Ryan’s training was.

Resting her forehead against the desk, the sergeant gave a low groan as she dug her fingers into her scalp. Couldn’t she just lead the little bastards, and make someone else get them to do the rest of their jobs? Wasn’t she supposed to have an assistant? There was an automated hiss from the door, signalling someone had entered the office but she didn’t look up as whoever they were moved into the room. Judging by the footsteps, there were two, confirmed by one of the chairs across from her sliding out while a hand came to rest on her shoulder.

“You’re actually working for once, Sparrow?” She lifted her head slightly, loose red hair obscuring her vision of the source until she brushed it aside lazily and fixed him with a less than amused expression. “Or attempting to, at least.” Sergeant First Class Nathan Percy chuckled lightly, his wrinkled face smiling down at her. His light brown hair was already beginning to grey in some places, and his face had the beginnings of a salt and pepper beard forming. It was difficult to believe the man was only three years her senior, but after something like Titan, it wasn’t surprising to see a man gain a few years.

“Stow it, Nathan.” She muttered, leaning on her cheek on her arm with a faux frown on her lips. “I’ve got duty rosters crawling out my ass and then some disciplinary actions to issue to some unfortunate idiots.” Her fellow sergeant laughed, removing his hand as he dropped into one of the work stations to her right.

The room was a joint office that had been set up for the NCOs to use for their work regarding their companies and platoons respectively. The platoon leads had a trio of work terminals lining opposite ends of a large rectangular ‘desk’ while the Master Sergeants enjoyed their own private work stations in the two back corners. Aside from the work areas, it was mostly unfurnished, save for a small couch that hugged the right hand corner when you entered the room, with a small coffee table and, more importantly, coffee machine sitting atop it.

There was an airy, mocking chuckle from the station in front of her, and Sparrow shot the source a look. “You wouldn’t have so much work to do at once if you actually did it when you got it, Oberacker.” One of her fellow Victory leads sat across from her, Jessica Mareen, who led the First platoon. The brown-skinned woman flashed a knowing grin at her colleague’s deepening frown, powering up her terminal with a tap as she brushed a few locks of raven black hair from her eyes. “Don’t act so testy, it’s your own fault. Always off picking fights with your troops, or lazing around the observation bay…”

“It’s called hands-on-training, Mareen. It’s good for morale!”

“Who’s? Yours or theirs? I’m quite sure you get enough jollies from beating on those poor privates all the time!” Nathan snickered as Sparrow slumped back into her seat, knowing a losing battle when she saw one. “Actually, I think there’s been a noted drop in injuries from your platoon…why is that?”

“Beats me.”

Nathan, who hadn’t even attempted to power up his work station, was quick to refute her. “The word going around the ship, I hear it’s more because you’ve focused your abuse onto one particular marine. One of the privates…Ronald, was it?”

“It’s Roger.” She corrected, although she immediately bit her tongue at his smug grin. “Don’t set me up like that, Nathan, I still want to believe you’ve got my back…” He held his hands up in mock defence, looking like she’d actually hurt him, at least until she jabbed a threatening finger in his direction and the Titan relented.

Mareen rolled her eyes as her fingers typed away on her haptic interface, sorting through her workload with a practiced ease that made Sparrow slightly envious of the older woman’s experience with leadership. Nathan finally fired up his own, still nudging her slightly in the ribs with his elbow to assure her that the teasing would resume when they didn’t have work to do.

As much as she could do without them prodding her about beating up one of her privates, the sergeant almost wished they’d continue so she had an excuse not to try and finish this damn roster. Or hell, that she could go and train that damn private, because that’s what it was, training, no matter how much Nathan poked her in the side with his overly pointy elbow. Pressing her head on the desk again, Sparrow exhaled sharply, suddenly wishing she had had the foresight to bring her cigarette. “Some days, I wonder if O’Ryan promoted you as a punishment…” Mareen muttered through an amused smirk.

“That would be cruel and unorthodox…” There was a long pause before she tilted her head back to face the woman with a grimace. “Which makes me think that he might have.” Summoning up the will to at least attempt the roster, her fingers lifted to the haptic interface as she regarded the information one more time.

The door hissed open as she moved for her first keystroke, and the three sergeants turned their heads in unison to see the newcomer, surprised to find Tyler Carson, the Master Sergeant in charge of Victory Company. Whatever the man had been intending to say was immediately cut short as the intercom came to life with the always boisterous and demanding Commander Horn on the other end.

“Attention beautiful and handsome crew of the Call of Victory, this is your ever present and badass Commander speaking. We are about to embark on our most daring, our most dangerous, and our most pivotal mission to date. Some of you might be hearing this, and getting scared. Others, excited. Even more, horny. Kinky, I know, but it happens.” Sparrow chuckled lightly at the man’s antics, leaning her head on the flat of her palm.

“However! Now is not the time for feelings, good or otherwise! Because, ladies and gentlemen! We are needed…” There was a beat of silence, for what she assumed was dramatic effect. “To show Commander Vala Buchan just how a ship and her crew should operate! We are needed to explain to her, and her crew just how much marines kick ass! We are needed to show that this ship, her crew, and her illustrious Commander get shit done! So marines! Prep yourselves! Battery officers! Load the weapons! Techies! Write me some god damn miracle code! Ladies! Hand me your numbers! Brace yourselves Men and Women of the Call of Victory! We're going to war.”

The sergeants shared a few curious glances amongst each other, before the intercom crackled again. “Right, to clarify, we're not actually going after Commander Buchan, it's a joint operation and we're going to show them up...That is all.” The intercom went dead, for good this time, and Carson rubbed his temple for a moment before chuckling humourlessly.

“Well, you all heard the man. Get everyone prepping.” Whatever his original purpose for visiting the office had been cast aside, Carson turning back out the door and heading off down the hall with an even stride. Sparrow was still for only a moment longer, before rolling her head to look back at her untouched duty roster.

“Well, looks like this will have to wait.” She snapped her fingers. “I was really looking forward to it too!”

Nathan rolled his eyes, flicking his terminal off as Mareen rose from her seat and bee-lined out the door to go muster her platoon. “Sure you were, Sparrow. Sure you were.” He replied casually, patting the woman on the shoulder as he stood and headed for the door. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you were waiting for some sort of excuse.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Waving her hand over her shoulder, Sparrow straightened from her seat with a groan, having sat idle in it far too long for her liking. How someone could handle a desk job all day was beyond her. With a happy grin, she flicked off her terminal and spun on her heel for the door, lazily shaking the sleep out of her leg as she moved. “Kicking ass is so much better than paperwork!”

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This was not better than paperwork.

She’d been briefed, quickly, of the target her platoon was expected to take care of. An operations center, hidden in a corporate building stuffed to the gills with civilians. Her jaw was tight, worrying the inside of her lip as she flipped through the details again and again. The building needed to go; collateral damage was a non-issue. ROE was up to her. Almost complete operational freedom.

That made it difficult. Blowing up civilians didn’t sit right in her gut. It wasn’t right. She’d been halfway through a half assed battle plan when she heard footsteps approach from her right, glancing up from her omni-tool to regard Lieutenant O’Ryan and Operative St. Jean. Both had already donned their full battle rattle, and she bit her lip anxiously at the fact she was still sluggishly pulling her’s on even though most everyone else was already prepped. “What’s up, Lieutenant?” She asked quickly as she secured her greaves to the squish-skin suit.

“I’m making an addition to your roster, Sergeant.” O’Ryan replied evenly; if he noted her lack of gear he wasn’t saying anything about it. She was silently thankful for that. Her nerves didn’t need more to worry about. He motioned lightly to the operative behind him, and Sparrow nodded in both greeting and acknowledgement to the woman. “St. Jean is well versed in demolitions, and given the inexperience of your platoon, she’ll do more good with you than the others.”

Saint nodded back, offering a light smile that didn’t quite reach her entire face. “Got your back.” The sergeant watched the woman for a second, before looking back down at her omni-tool.

“Right, I’ll put her to good use, sir.” She murmured, already trying to rattle up a new plan to incorporate the veteran’s skill set. There was a palpable pause, and she found herself glancing back up to look at O’Ryan’s face. It was a mask, as always, but she couldn’t help feeling that there was something more lurking behind his stony visage. “Sir..?”

Before she could continue, he turned and spoke to Saint. “Operative St. Jean, you’ll be taking orders directly for Sergeant Oberacker. I’m sure it needs no mention, but for the duration of the operation, treat her word as my own.” The operative glanced to the sergeant briefly, and then looked back to the Lieutenant.

“Understood.”

Seemingly satisfied, O’Ryan’s eyes flicked back to the platoon lead. “Finish your preparations, Sergeant. Your platoon is already mustering.” Without waiting for a response, the Lieutenant turned and left the women to their devices, his broad back firm and immediately dissuading any further attempts to speak with him.

“You got it…” Sparrow muttered, securing the last harness for her greaves before digging into the equipment locker for her chest plate. Her eyes dully flicked over the ceramic plates, smoothing her fingers against the material before looking at the operative in her peripheries. It was almost unsettling how quiet and still the operative was, breaking it momentarily to check over her gear before her honey brown eyes glanced over to lock with Sparrow’s forest green.

“Just how inexperienced is this team going to be?” There was a detached sort of tone in her voice, but the sergeant ignored it as she tugged on her chest plate and began to engage its clamps. Whatever the source of the question, curiosity or annoyance at being paired with rookies, Sparrow didn’t have the inclination to decipher, nearly mumbling her reply.

“Victory 3rd is basically a training platoon, Saint. We don’t see as much action as the rest because I’ve got to teach the Greenknees how to be soldiers. They’re not useless, but they aren’t as good as the crews you’re use to working with.” As the last clamp fastened, she turned partially to the woman, watching her with dull eyes. “I’ll pair you with one of the more experienced teams, though. I’m sure you’re not interested in deadweight slowing you down.”

The operative shrugged a single shoulder. “I’ll go where you think it’s best to complete the mission and get back home,” There was a brief pause, before she added as an afterthought, “ma’am.” Tugging on her gauntlets with a grunt, Sparrow tucked her helmet under her arm as her weapons clung to the magnetic holsters on her armour.

“Let’s not bother with ma’ams, Saint. Outside of today, I don’t even know if your rank deserves salute or a friendly grunt. I’d prefer we just keep things simple.” The operative gave a smile, surprisingly genuine from what little she’d seen of the woman.

“So would I.”

Perfect. One less thing for her to worry about. The quagmire of ethics and morality she was going to be wading into neck-deep was bad enough with her platoon’s lives on the line. She seriously didn’t need fancy titles making the situation more complicated. Kicking her locker shut with a flick of her foot, Sparrow sighed heavily, tapping her forehead with her free hand as she started towards the door. “Let’s go see who your team is gonna be.”

If there was a response, the redhead didn’t hear it, the thick footfalls of her boots echoing as she trudged out of the armoury prep room with her new ‘ace’ in tow. Who would be best served by the addition of Saint to their squad? The fire teams rolled up on a list inside her head, and she immediately crossed out Robin. Birkingham would have enough on his hands dealing with his three little idiots, and the operative would only further unnerve the corporal.

Working up the list, she found herself discarding Pebbler as well, if only due to Detts inexperience with his command position. He’d been promoted after Ontarom, but hadn’t seen much action since. Saint would likely end up hijacking his command, and he needed to get the experience.

Kakariki and Eclectus wouldn’t be half bad choices; both Thielst and DeGeorge were familiar with their teams and had proven reliable under pressure. Both already had an engineer-in-training though, and again the need for experience was weighing in favour of leaving them be.

Boarding the lift, Sparrow leaned back onto the small railing with a muted sigh, staring at nothing in particular as she rummaged around in her mind. Her own fire team would be focused on the fighting aspect, being the most experienced, followed closely by Swan and Owl in that regard. Her mind derailed for a brief moment at the thought of Owl and the thick, purpling bruise she’d seen on Roger. They’d had a rough mission, and extremely recently. She’d have to give them a lighter duty on this mission, maybe an over-watch, or-

Biting her lip, the sergeant shook her head. Now wasn’t the time for playing worried mother, not when she needed her best boots available. They’d perform fine, she assured herself, and refocused on the task at hand. This, really, was practically decided.

Amazon. The squad that had formerly belonged to Ramirez. She pushed the younger corporal from her mind, instead focusing on the present. Unlike Pebbler, Amazon hadn’t had one of the rookie members promoted to fill Ramirez’s shoes, instead having a corporal of some experience transferred from a guard roster within another cell. Corporal Jane Galt, or as Sparrow sometimes referred to her as, ‘Lady Ed’.

The two were very similar, preferring to lead by example and taking the largest risks themselves to preserve the safety of their squad. It made them ideal for the ‘training’ nature of the platoon, and in some cases, Galt’s cautious nature made her a better fit than Ed’s ‘Can-do’ attitude. Her team was still rather fresh, only two of the original four having survived Ontarom with a fresh Greenknee filling out the final slot. All of them were basic riflemen to boot.

“Amazon.” She announced aloud as the elevator slowed to a stop. Saint looked at her slightly curious as they disembarked in unison. “I’m going to assign you to Fire Team Amazon. Corporal Galt can put you to the most use.” She figured, anyway. She didn’t mention that part though. Didn’t exactly instil confidence.

The hangar bay was crowded, as it typically was whenever someone deemed it necessary to stuff all the fully armoured marines into a single area, but Sparrow brushed through the masses with only the slightest exertion and a few slight shoves with her plated shoulders. Most of the marines were waiting for their big briefing, and she found her platoon milling about much as they always did. They always had trouble standing still without someone of authority shooting them death glares.

Approaching Amazon, she splayed her hand above her head in greeting, and the Greenknees shared suspicious glances behind their helmets. They clearly didn’t find the idea of the Sergeant seeking them out very appealing. Galt tilted her head back slightly, peering at the approaching women through hazel bangs and gesturing softly with her hand in greeting. The corporal didn’t speak much, her pale lips set in a thin line as Sparrow slowed to a stop in front of her. “Sergeant.” Her eyes flicked to Saint. “Operative.”

“Hey, Galt.” Sparrow offered lightly, stooping down to be at eye level with the seated marine. Setting her helmet on the ground in front of her, the redhead watched Galt fiddle with the predator gripped loosely in her hand before motioning at the gun. “Having some issues with it?”

“Trigger’s a little stiff, Sergeant. Nothing important, just want it back the way it was.” The corporal’s even reply got a nod from her superior, as the soldier attached the gun back to it’s magnetic clamp at her hip. The look in her dull brown eyes prompted Sparrow to speak, and she cleared her throat.

“Right, well, we’ve been given the operative here,” She thumped the back of her palm against Saint’s leg armour, “for the day, and I’ve decided to assign her to your team. She’s got some skills in what we’ll be dealing with today, and your team is…lacking in that department.” It wasn’t exactly praise, and she offered an apologetic smile as the private’s shoulders slumped ever so slightly in their armour.

“Of course, Sergeant.” Galt was unphased, straightening to her feet and Sparrow mirrored the action. “Something with tech on the agenda today?” The redhead glanced back at the operative, raising a brow at her before flicking back to Galt. “She looks like a techie.”

“You’re a sharp one, huh? O’Ryan will flesh out the details.” The sergeant stepped back from the team, leaving Saint with a nod of her head as she filtered through the ranks as O’Ryan’s voice boomed through the hangar for attention. Any who weren’t already in position quickly scrambled to comply and she found her fire team in their proper location a few moments later. They nodded in greeting as she took her place at the front, and all eyes in the hangar zeroed in on O’Ryan.

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There wasn’t much to consider strategy wise, realistically. Their target was in the downtown core of a major city and it needed to get blown the fuck up. There was no tactical way to manoeuvre 32 fully armoured marines into a position without every goddamn head within a city block seeing them. Quiet was out of the question, which meant they were about to get very, very noisy. They’d been the second last to deploy, and she saw that was for a good reason now.

“Here’s the plan.” She began, eyes flicking over the team present in her Kodiak even as her voice carried through the comm unit to the others. “There’s no easy, pretty access point to this building. It’s public, it’s in the open, and it’s just after lunch. Our objective, as you know, is the entire building. The Oracle bastards inside it aren’t the only ones. There are civilians inside as well.” She bit her lip, squeezing her eyes shut behind the visor as she continued without any trace of the concern in her voice.

“And I didn’t sign up to turn you all into a bunch of cutthroats. We’re going to do this the hard way. Swan, Owl and Amazon, you’ll be dropping on the roof. Sparrow will be taking the front door, along with Eclectus, Kakariki, Pebbler and Robin.” She found herself pacing, a habit she didn’t like that was beginning to rear its head whenever she was on the spot.

“Amazon and Kakariki, you’re to prioritize the placement of the demo charges. Use the designated locations that the AI is providing for minimal collateral damage. I want this building falling straight down, not into the streets.” Glancing at the timer in her HUD, she sucked in a breath before continuing. “Eclectus, you and Pebbler are going to be my guard dogs. Anyone tries to come in the front door, chase them off.”

“As for Owl and Swan, you’ll be helping Sparrow and Robin clears the building. I’ve got one general rule, and each and everyone one of you will be holding it near and dear to your heart. Don’t shoot anyone who doesn’t deserve to get shot. Don’t go making orphans without a damn good cause.” Her voice hitched ever so slightly at the word orphan, but she barrelled through, slamming her foot down to end her pacing. “If they won’t leave, make them. And if you can’t…”

The timer expired, and the hatch to her left began to hiss open. “Well…do what you gotta do. Let’s get this done.” Without another word, the sergeant turned to the open hatch and dropped the small distance to the ground. Landing with a grunt, Sparrow un-holstered her Mattock as she stared up the street towards the target. Her HUD was already painting the dozens of civilians lining the streets in neutral colours, as the remaining fire teams poured out of their Kodiaks behind her.

Above the building, she could see the others dropping onto the roof, and the sergeant began her grim march straight up towards the building. 19 sets of boots echoed loudly behind her, and the street was beginning to swell with a collective feeling of dread as the armoured figures marched forward. They weren’t Alliance. There was none of the familiar blues. People didn’t want to believe that though. Nothing bad would happen to you.

Smashing that illusion was what upset her the most. Sparrow fired a trio of rounds, shattering the glass doors leading into the building and the street was no longer quiet. Shouts and screams tore at her ears as the reality descended upon awestruck colonists. Thundering feet and racing sky cars carried the crowds away, and the sergeant was thankful for that. She didn’t need any extra blood today.

Stomping up the stairs two at a time, she was soon striding through the ruined entrance with her rifle squarely trained on the pair of men manning the small security booth. Neither looked like they‘d ever actually dealt with more than a vandal, let alone considered the possibility of combating an entire platoon worth of marines.

Thankful no one attempted to reach for their pistol, as Sparrow motioned with her gun for them to back the fuck away before mounting the small counter and taking over their position. “You’re off early today. Get the fuck out.” She hissed over her external speakers, and both men needed no further prompting to get their asses clear of the building. Turning to the system behind her, she tapped a few keys, bringing up VI listing the building schematics and current population totals.

“Eclectus, Pebbler, get cosy.” She barked; the fire teams in question quickly dragging all the various furniture in the lobby to rig up some proper cover. She hated corporate buildings for that reason. They were never designed to make firefights convenient. So much open space and fancy ceilings and holographic displays of fancy company logos or stocks.

Before she could continue her tangential thought process, the elevator behind her dinged. There as a split second delay as she turned to face the occupants, before the striking blue glow shot out of the parting doors and smashed itself into her chest. The air immediately left her lungs, as the sheer power of the energy slammed her backwards into, and over, the counter behind her and dumping her flat on her back on the ground with a pained cough.

It was only a few seconds later that the lobby erupted into a firefight that she couldn’t see as her vision danced from the sudden impact. “Sonuvabitch…” She whispered, clutching her throbbing stomach for a moment as she pushed off the floor with her other hand. Gripping the counter, she hauled herself up as the brief surge in gunfire died down, whatever had been standing in the elevator having been reduced to little more than chunks. “Tasty.”

“You alright, Ma’am?” She heard Lares ask worriedly, looking at the man to her right with a slight grimace. “Got your Mattock.” He held out the weapon and she took it with a light nod of appreciation. Patting her sore stomach, Sparrow started around the counter with the rest of her fire team falling in behind.

“Looks like there’s going to be more than just civvies in here…” She mused as she stepped over the bullet pocked corpse, ignoring the dull squish of her boots in the gore staining the small elevator. Tapping her comm piece, Sparrow spoke quickly. “Roof teams, just a heads up but some of these spooks have some experience. One just tried to make me a stain on the lobby floor.”

“Always making friends.” Feldmann replied quickly. “We’ll keep an eye out; see if we can avoid any nasty surprises from our hosts. See you in a few.” Grunting in acknowledgement, she cut the line, levelling her Mattock on the controls for the elevator and pumping a few rounds into the circuitry. Satisfied no one would be riding it to sneak up on her again; she looked to the fire teams fortifying the entranceway.

“How we looking?”

Corporal DeGeorge looked back at her, shaking her head slightly. “Local police is already beginning to show, Ma’am.” The woman called, and Sparrow frowned beneath her visor. It must have shown in her body language, cause DeGeorge quickly added, “Not many yet, and they aren’t making any attempts to come in. Probably planning to barricade us in until the real heavy lifters can come.”

“Perfect.” She snarled, tapping her comm for platoon wide as she motioned her team towards one of the doors leading to the staircase. “Get to work everyone. I want these civvies out in five minutes, and this building falling in ten.” Kakariki was already rigging the first of their demo charges to one of the designated positions before Sparrow looked slightly to the corporal in charge of Robin. “Birkingham, take your boys and these two,” She gestured to two of her own team. “And start sweeping the second floor. Me and Devera will take care of whatever’s down here.”

The man nodded, starting up the stairs with the marines in tow as Sparrow called after them. “And make sure they take the stairs!” Leaning back into the lobby, she shouted at no one in particular. “Someone shut the lift off, ASAP.” Devera chuckled lightly at her, and the sergeant squeezed a light sigh out of tight lips. “I hate this job.”

“Didn‘t you just break the lift?” He asked curiously, as Sparrow stopped by the double doors leading into the minimal security offices that co-ordinated all of the security personnel for the facility.

“I’ve learnt never to under-estimate a determined hostile with technical skills. Breaking it and shutting it off will at least make life much harder.”

“And we get to take the stairs.” He joked, standing opposite to her with his hand on the door handle. “They don’t make buildings like this very often anymore. Real doors? Pretty classy.”

“Shame we’re going to level it, right?” She fired back, leaning out of the way of the door and tugging it open quickly. There was a brief silence, before she peeked around the corner and caught a glimpse of the half dozen weapons levelled on the doorway. The security office wasn’t big, by any stretch, nor particularly designed to resist prolonged attack she could tell, but they obviously had a weapon’s locker inside since the weapons pointing her way were assault rifles instead of the predator’s their lobby counterparts had been using.

Ducking back behind the door frame to avoid getting her face blown off in the salvo of fire that erupted from the guards. “Well, they’re not going anywhere easily.” Devera commented, pulling a grenade from his hip and holding it up for her to see. “Could clear them right out.”

For a brief second, the sergeant considered it, but she knew well enough that the security teams weren’t actually Oracle. No doubt hired to guard what they thought was just any old building in the downtown core, blissfully unaware of the fact that it was actually a front operation for a shady organization. Having a conscience was more trouble than it was worth. Shaking her head no, she switched her speakers to external.

“Hey! Guys!” There was only silence from the room beyond, save for the shuffling of a few feet and muffled whispers she couldn’t make out. “I know you can hear me in there, so hear me out, alright? You’ve got yourselves a pretty solid bottleneck here, and judging by those guns I saw you could probably make sure nothing gets through this doorway for an hour or two. That’s a pretty good plan.” She motioned with her fingers at Devera, and he sceptically tossed her the grenade. “Only problem is, we’ve got this.” She caught the small sphere and held it out in the doorway for a moment. “If you’re not military, I’ll fill you in. Standard issue fragmentation grenade, typical Alliance fare, with a wounding radius of around 20 meters. If I toss this in there, what do you think it’s going to do?”

She half expected one of them to take a pot shot at her hand, but the threat of the weapon she held seemed to be making them cautious. Devera seemed utterly perplexed by this approach, but didn’t voice his thoughts aside from the quizzical tilt of his head. “So now that we have your attention, let’s make a deal. You boys probably don’t work for Oracle, yeah? You’re just honest people doing honest work for an honest day’s pay. I can respect that and I don’t want to punish you for that. So, if you put down the guns…and let us come inside, we’ll let you go. Simple as that. Just like everyone else in the lobby. Nobody needs to get hurt. Does that sound good?”

Someone found their voice, an older man by the sound of it. “How can we trust you? If we’re unarmed, what’s to stop you?” She was still, shutting her eyes for a moment before retracting the hand that held the grenade and attaching it to her belt. After a heavy breath, she tossed her Mattock around the corner into the room beyond, earning a startled yell. “The hell are yo-”

She upholstered her predator next, throwing it inside as well before looking to Devera who was shaking his head furiously at her for the sheer stupidity of this plan. “I’m stepping out. Those are my guns.” She pushed off the wall and stepped into full view of the doorway, letting her visor’s tint vanish so the security forces could see her face, however little it showed. “See? No guns, just my grenades.” Her hands out at her sides, she pointed briefly to the weapons attached to her hips. “Now my friend outside still has his, and the rest of my platoon is spread throughout the building, so I don’t think it’s in your best interest to squeeze those triggers. I’m out on a limb here for you guys, so how about we put those weapons down and nobody has to lose their head?”

The fuck was she thinking? The fuck was she doing right now? Her adrenaline implants were dialling up without any need for prompting, the prospect of staring down six automatic weapons alone causing her heart to hammer in her chest. If they fired, she’d have a chance, however small. She could duck back into cover at a moment’s notice, even if they’d land a few hits before she could. Devera could toss a grenade and that’d be that. It’d trash her mattock and predator, but with luck there would something in the weapon’s locker she could borrow.

She scanned their faces, all men of varying ages, but some were young. One looked like he wasn’t even legally allowed to drink yet and she found herself focusing on him out of them all. This was just a job; she wanted to say, not worth getting yourself shot over. This is just a pay check. Put the gun down. She didn’t want to kill a kid. She didn’t want to see this whenever she tried to look at one of the privates. For a split second, she pictured Roger, stuck in a helmet slightly too big for his head and staring down the most intimidating thing he‘d likely ever seen in his young life. Her face softened.

“C’mon. This ain’t worth it.”

As the kid dropped the gun, she smiled. It took only a few nervous glances between the remaining guards before they cautiously began to lower their weapons to the ground, with the older man being the last to relinquish his weapon with a stoic nod. “And you’ll keep your word?”

“Of course. Devera, escort these gentlemen to the lobby and get them on their way. Make sure the police don’t mistake them for us.” Devera stepped cautiously around the corner, his weapon still in hand but lowered in compliance. Sparrow motioned with her head for them to get moving, and the guards filtered out in front of the marine as her squad mate spared a long look at his superior. “Yes?”

“You have some serious screws loose, Oberacker.”

“That’s why they promoted me.” They said nothing more, as he moved to escort his charges out of the building, calling loudly so they wouldn’t surprise the teams waiting in the lobby. As soon as he was out of her immediate vicinity, Sparrow released a long shaky breath as she stooped down to the ground to retrieve her weapons. “Hooookay, Sparrow, you’re going to see Grass and get on some meds after this, you crazy bitch.” She stammered to herself jokingly as she attached the weapons back to their appropriate places and took stock of the room.

There wasn’t anything overly special about it, just a fairly standard security office that was perhaps slightly shinier than most she’d seen? Not really something to tip one off to the secret funding and shadowy sorts that had created the structure, or at least repurposed it. Scanning the work stations, nothing leapt to her as inherently out of place.

Stepping backwards out of the room, she spoke across the platoon channel. “Status. How we doing people?”

“Swan. In good shape, clearing the last few rooms on the top floor with Owl.” She nodded, meeting Devera at the foot of the stairs and starting up towards the second floor.

“Amazon. Third floor is almost rigged completely. Placing the last few charges.”

“Eclectus. No attempted entries so far and civilians are being received safely. Police encirclement is tightening though, and we’ve got a few Kodiaks dropping off boys in blue with body armour a little thick to be LEOs.”

Sparrow stopped on the stairs at a group of civilians descending with their hands raised partially above their heads, standing aside so they might pass. Every single one kept their eyes locked on her as they shuffled by, the fear almost palpable as they quickened their strides to carry them to safety. “Robin. We’ve a…slight issue, ma’am.” The sergeant grimaced.

“Talk to me.”

“Most of the second floor has been cleared…”

“But?”

“…but we’ve run into some resistance. Not a hostile, I don’t think, but one of the civilians isn’t complying. He’s staying in his office, and I can’t get him to come out.” Pulling the door open as she reached the floor, she ushered an approaching civilian into the door with a sharp jerk of the head, before focusing on her HUD to locate the corporal.

“Why not drag him out?”

There was a long pause, before the man sighed. “I’m worried, Ma’am. Anytime I’ve stepped into the room, he’s got his hands beneath his desk, in the drawers or something. If he’s got something in there, at close range…”

“Our shields won’t count for much. I get ya.” Following the readout on her HUD, she waved Devera off to assist the others in clearing the floor before rounding the corner to find Corporal Birkingham shuffling nervously in front of the door to one of the corner offices. He noticed her approach and hurried over to meet her halfway. The man was always a bundle of nerves. “I’ll take it from here. Go keep your boys from throwing each other out a window or something.”

“They probably would…” He bemoaned, nodding in compliance and hurrying to check on his fire team. She watched his retreating back for a moment before continuing down the hall and pausing outside the sleek glass wall that separated the room from the more typical workspaces scattered throughout the level. The man sat behind his desk, fingers laced in front of his bowed head and she could see the sweat beads dripping down his forehead and staining the collar of his suit.

Readying her predator, she pulled the door open quietly and stepped into the room with her eyes locked on the man, who flicked his head up to meet her gaze, looking like a cornered animal staring down the hungry predator. “Yo.” The pistol remained at her side, but the man was painfully aware of it’s presence by the way his widening eyes kept darting to it. “I hear you’re not going to leave. Why’s that?”

“There’s no reason to.” There was a conviction to his voice, but it shook under her faceless gaze. “You don’t want to hurt us? Then why should I leave?”

“Decent idea. Minus the fact that I’m going to blow this place up.” He stiffened in his seat. “Yeah. You probably shouldn’t be here for that. C’mon, let’s get you out.” The sergeant took a step forward, and the man’s hands darted beneath the desk quickly. She froze, pistol raising slightly at her side but stopping after a few inches when he made no further movements. “Take it easy.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Can’t say. Now why don’t you stand up and take your hands out from under the desk, alright?”

“You can’t just come in here and make demands! Waving your guns around and shooting innocent people!” His voice was rising in pitch, and Sparrow swallowed the lump forming in her throat as his eyes burned accusingly on her visor. “What gives you the right?!”

“Relax! No one innocent has died today! No one innocent WILL die today! The building is all we’re after! Now back away from the desk!” Her voice rose, despite her attempt to keep it even to calm the man, and he seemed even more spurred by the escalation.

“Why the hell should I listen to some piece of shit terrorist?!” He roared, slamming one hand the desk as he rose sharply from his seat. She could see the muscle tension through his shoulders and arms, her breath hitching as the obscured arm began to emerge with tightened knuckles around…something. Rationality lost its place. A lifetime of close calls and near-death experiences overwhelmed thought and her arms straightened the pistol into a ready position. The world had the speed suddenly sucked from it, as implants roared to life at the perceived threat.

There was no time for protest, finger tightening on the trigger and the round punching clean through the soft tissue of the breast.

The second round tore over the shoulder, shattering the glass off the corner office and tossing the man off balance.

The third ripped through the soft tissue of the throat, which sent the figure toppling backwards through the still fragmenting window.

Her footsteps thundered to the edge as the air filled with panicked gasps and screams, stepping to the lip long enough to see the body crumple into the concrete, splattering blood and grey matter across the street and nearby police vehicles. Sparrow stared silently out the window, feeling the heads turn upwards towards her with accusing horror. Her body didn’t feel anything, hands still tight on the gun by her side.

The implants deactivated, colour returning to the world as she became aware of her own ragged breathing. Idly, her brain recognized the danger of exposure with the sheer number of LEOs below but she was sluggish. Stumbling backwards from the shattered window, her hip hit the desk, and she let herself lean against it as her eyes flicked down to the smooth title of the office floor. She trailed the small splatters of blood, before catching the glint of something metal.

The sergeant stooped down, brushing armoured fingers over the reddened surface of the broad faced, platinum watch; feeling the soft cracks in the casing from its sudden fall. Picking it up with an almost reverent care, it ticked dully in her ears as the old-style device sat plainly upon her palm.

There were footsteps by the door, but she didn’t look until she heard a voice calling to her. Forest green eyes flicked over to see Pinnick watching cautiously from the doorway, unquestioning but it was obvious she had an idea of what had transpired. “What is it?”

“We’ve got something you’re going to want to see, Ma’am.” She nodded dully, lowering her hand and tucking the watch away soundlessly. “Ma’am?”

“Yeah. Show me.”

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Pinnick lead the way, guiding her past the last few civilians exiting from the top floor and into the executive offices that made up the bulk of the top floors space. The offices were all deserted now, and save for the few still bodies of what she assumed were Oracle agents; there was little sign of any struggle. Pinnick motioned her into one of the rooms, and she entered to find it occupied by Amazon and Private Fischer from Fire Team Owl. He was working quietly on his omni-tool, a small blue haptic interface illuminating the wall behind him curiously.

Saint was tapping away on the soft blue of its keyboard just behind the large figure, clearly focused on whatever it was the two were working on. Sparrow glanced to her right, spotting a bloodied man kneeling in the corner with one of the privates standing watch over him. His face was bowed, but it wasn’t hard to sense to sheer anger radiating from his hunched form. “I’m assuming he’s not a civilian?” She asked, tone lacking its usual joviality but no one seemed to notice.

“Oracle agent, or so we have to assume. We caught him in the middle of wiping a data-mine, so we got Saint and Fischer to take a stab at digging out whatever’s on there.” Corporal Galt replied evenly, seemingly at ease with the current situation. “All the charges up here have been set as well.”

“Good work.” The sergeant looked to the engineer duo. “I’m assuming there’s a reason we have him alive then?”

Galt nodded in the corner of her vision. “Mhm. Saint said there was a chance it could be encrypted to Oracle agents by a retinal scanner or the like.” Saint glanced up with a nod at the mention of her name.

“Or perhaps other code encryption. That’s why he’s not dead and missing body parts.” That might have been a joke from a majority of the marines she knew, but the deadpan Saint wore as she spoke made the sergeant glance back at the man just to make sure he still had everything attached.

“Right. Have either of you had any trouble then? Encryptions or otherwise?”

“A couple bio feedback killers, but we quashed those. I'm sure there's another layer, but we haven't come across it yet." Saint didn’t bother looking up from her work this time, and Sparrow turned her attention more to the captured man. Not like she actually understood most of the techno-gibberish that engineers were so fond of.

“Anything of value?”

“Junk data, largely.” Logan answered, lowering his omni-tool slightly as he watched the sergeant for a moment. He seemed aware that something was unsettling her, but if he was, the engineer didn’t mention it. “He managed to scrub most of the information about their work here. So far, everything else has been observation notes about a few local figures of importance and agents within the building.” Saint gave another nod, still intently focused on her work.

Sparrow occupied herself by examining the silent captive for a few moments, before there was a light yip of satisfaction from behind her and she met with Tia’s gaze. “Well now. Look at that. A bolt hole.” There was a brief pause before she clarified. “It looks like there’s an escape route.”

“Can these guys get anymore cliché?” The sergeant muttered, watching contently as the data was uploaded to Saint’s omni-tool, and then quickly linked to her own. Glancing at the schematics for a few brief moments, she frowned. “The security office? I knew there was something off about it…” Dismissing the display with a sigh, she looked back to the engineers. “Fischer, get back to your team, I think this mine is tapped.” He nodded and stepped out the door quickly. “We’re pretty much done…once Kakariki has the last charges set, we’re leaving. Which leaves us with you…”

The room’s attention came to focus fully on the Oracle agent, who still made no attempt to look at the surrounding marines. Before she could think properly on the man’s fate, her comm line barked sharply in her ear. “Ma’am! Ma’am! We gotta go! We gotta go!” The normally calm DeGeorge was practically yelling straight in her ear, and as she opened her mouth to ask what had gotten the corporal so riled up, the answer came in the form of the thunderous M35 155 mm shell. The building practically shook from the impact, and the marines immediately looked between each other frantically. “They’re deploying a fucking tank to cover the infantry‘s movement! The Alliance is not fucking happy with us!”

“I got that, Corporal. Keep the doors secure as long as you can, we’ve got a new escape plan.” Galt looked to her curiously, but the sergeant was already switching to the platoon wide. “Victory 3rd! Times up! Everyone get your asses to the ground floor! We’re going to make use of an Oracle escape route to get out of this shit-hole. Move!”

There was no chorus of affirmatives, just the silence of understanding that spoke of the gravity of their situation. “Sergeant?” Galt asked questioningly, earning a sharp look from her superior.

“I want your team into that hole first. Get as far down it as fast as possible and tell me what the hell is waiting on the other side.” She stepped out the room, pointing a finger at her own team. “Once we’re on the ground floor, we’re taking over for Pebbler and Eclectus. We’re the last ones out. Any objections, feel free to climb into the hole with the others.” There were no complaints, and she spared a glance back at the room, seeing the Oracle agent’s feet just beyond the door frame. “We don’t have time for him now.”

The teams began to move, Sparrow watching for a few moments before a subtle crack of a pistol broke over the battle beginning below their feet. Turning sharply, the forest green of her eyes narrowed sharply as the Oracle agent slumped over as Saint exited the room calmly with her sidearm drawn. Before the engineer could move past, the sergeant gripped her arm sharply, glaring coldly down at the shorter woman. “The fuck is wrong with you?!”

She was in the process of holstering the weapon when Sparrow caught the limb by the bicep, digging into it harshly and making her flinch. Saint’s eyes watched her visor curiously, as if she was the one behaving oddly. “You said we didn’t have time for him. He’s the enemy.”

“We don’t just execute people! We’re not some terrorist fuckshow that offs everything in its way! You…you…” She gripped her head, an echoing ring of shattering glass pounding in her head with every heavy beat of her heart. “God-dammit, go! Get the fuck moving, now!” She practically threw the limb forward, not even looking at the operative as she sucked in air angrily to calm her nerves.

“Sergeant?” Devera stepped up cautiously, placing a hand on her shoulder and nearly taking a fist to the stomach as she whipped around sharply to stare into his visor. “You alright?”

“I don’t frankly know. Let’s move.”

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The lobby was in chaos as she descended; thick clouds of dust and shattering ceramic filling the air and choking her filters. The HUD painted the friendly units in the lobby, and she immediately raised her Mattock to pour fire on the encroaching Alliance troops. The marines turned to put fire on her, but she wasted little time sprinting across the gap between the exit of the stairs and the security desk, sliding over the counter and dropping into cover from the counter attack. “Status! NOW!”

“Amazon. We’re in the tunnel, moving as fast as we can. It’s cramped as hell, can only move single file.”

“Fucking perfect! Eclectus, Pebbler! Fall back to the security office!”

“Ma’am!” The corporals chorused, immediately rising from the battered barricades they’d crafted to lay suppressing fire with the sergeant’s fire team as the privates rose and sprinted to the ‘safety’ of their chosen escape route.

“Robin is inside, Owl is entering now.” Corporal Stevenson spoke calmly, but she wasted no breath on a reply as another 155mm shell sailed through the lobby and blasted a hole in the back wall; showering her position with chunks of crumbling ceramic and concrete. Ignoring the thick coating of dust, she rose to fire on the fresh wave of marines storming through the battered entrance.

Lares slid over the counter beside her, but popped back up immediately to trade shots with his avenger. “Eclectus’s boys are in. DeGeorge, fall back!” He shouted to the lone corporal, who nodded in compliance and started a slow steady retreat while laying covering fire.

“Pebbler! You’re up next! Go, go, go!” Sparrow demanded, watching two of the figures fall back quickly while the third hovered by the fourth. “The fuck are you doing! Move, Detts!”

“Copy that, Ma’am. Give them hell, Mar.” The Corporal fell away, leaving the one last silhouette on the barricade, propped up against it with a rifle in hand. The sergeant rose to climb over, but the swirling dust cleared for a moment and she caught sight of the bloodied stump where the private’s leg should have been. The soldier, the display told her it was Brooke Mar, flashed a vigorous thumbs up, and Sparrow could only stare before forcing herself to throw one back to the young girl.

The Alliance marines seemed aware of the abandoned cover, quickly moving through the swirls of dust to utilize it for themselves, only to quickly find themselves staring down an avenger in a very open area. The private fired widely into the group, accuracy understandably shit with her injuries, but when the enemy was bunched, it wasn’t necessary. Sparrow suppressed on the opposite flank, motioning sharply with her finger for Devera to take Eclectus’s abandoned cover as another tank round blew another sizeable hole in the building. “They’re gonna bring it down on us at this rate!”

“Should have saved the bombs!” Mar replied groggily, tossing her avenger aside and drawing her predator up to pump a few rounds at the marines trying to clip the barely visible soldier. “They’ll bring it down for us!” The team shared a look, hearing the fear that was lurking underneath her voice, but no one made mention.

“That’s awfully kind of them, isn’t it?” Pinnick replied, still positioned within the stairwell as she pumped a few rounds from her Mattock.

“Very kind. I might…” The private trailed off, sliding down into the mangled barricade as the pistol clattered to the ground. “…just have to pay them back.” The words were laboured, as she tugged at her belt and pulled it closer to her head. “One good turn…”

Mar’s voice hitched, sounding more like a pained sob than any attempt to speak. Sparrow straightened out of cover, firing with a furious roar at the marines rushing towards the private. “You’ve done enough, Brooke.” Her heat-sink hissed in overheat, and the Alliance team swarmed the battered barricade. The helmet turned towards her, before the belt came alive. There was only a split second as the first marine peered over the ledge to see the belt tight against their cover. The sergeant raised a hand in salute.

Brooke’s smile carried in her words. “Thanks.” The lobby shook as the grenades detonated in unison, blowing the barricade to chunks and shredding the marines in a hail of shrapnel. Lares pulled Sparrow down to avoid the brunt of the blast, and she sat quietly beneath the counter for several moments.

“Status?” She spoke softly, and Feldmann replied just as lightly.

“We’re all in. Come on.” Pulling up her omni-tool, she looked down at the master control she’d been granted for the explosives. Her hand lingered above the switch, before swallowing sharply. Pressing the switch, a countdown quickly appeared in her HUD, and her team likely saw it too.

“Let’s get going.” Hopping the counter, she fired a few staccato bursts as Lares and Pinnick moved into the hallway leading to the security office. Devera fell back slowly, laying down suppressing with his avenger. There was a furious rev of the engine, and Sparrow looked sharply to the doorway as the Mako barrelled up the steps, apparently done with patiently shelling them and intending to bring itself to the forefront. “Move!”

Lares dropped into the hatch first, sliding down the ladder as fast as the bulk of his armour would allow. Pinnick was practically stomping on him as she began to climb inside, trying to make space for Devera and Sparrow as the Mako rolled to a stop at the end of the hallway. The cannon swivelled as the pair rushed through the doorway, Devera swinging around to slam it shut just as the echoing boom of the cannon crashed against their ears.

The door splintered apart, and the next thing she knew, Sparrow was sprawled on the ground beside the escape hatch with her head ringing furiously in her ears and Pinnick yelling up the chute at her. “Sparrow! Get inside!”

She rolled over, pushing herself forward for a second before feeling the soft wet squish beneath her gloves and her eyes noticed the faint mist of red dancing in the air in front of her eyes. The countdown timer blinked in warning, but she glanced about the room slowly. The red was everywhere. She could feel bits of moisture escaping her dust clogged filters, but as she took one final stock, Pinnick screamed up at her. “Get inside and shut the fucking hatch!”

The sergeant nodded to nothing, fumbling down into the hatch and pulling the top shut. She descended a few rungs before the world began to shake and the sound of collapsing steel and rending metal filled the air. The intensity, so close by shook her violently and she lost her grip on the ladder, skidding down several rungs before catching one around her elbow. Staring dully down the shaft of barely lit darkness, she saw Pinnick’s visor staring up though black with the lights on opposite sides of her head.

Neither said anything until the sergeant had disentangled herself from the ladder and finished her descent. At the bottom, Sparrow sat for a long moment, just breathing while Pinnick watched quietly. Lares stood alone further down the hall, the occasional nodding of his head indicating he was likely speaking with the platoon. “Sparrow?” Pinnick broke the silence as she knelt in front of the SO, placing a hand lightly on her shoulder. “I’m…I…”

“What are you on abou…where the hell is Dever-” Her eyes widened, immediately raising her arm up towards her visor and into the light from the helmet. The sickly red liquid clung to the back of her hand and arm, sharpening her breath into painful gasps. Her stomach churned in a fit of tumbling emotions, slamming the hand roughly against the wall as her heartbeat began to hammer in her ears. Hand coiling into a fist, she slammed it on the wall, forcing herself to release a long rolling breath as she forced the anger to the forefront of the emotional blur.

“Sparrow?” Pinnick asked cautiously, stepping back as the sergeant rose to her feet.

“Let’s get moving.” She intoned; voice even and firm, but beneath the control her blood burned, molten and scorching her veins. The marine stared back for a moment, eventually nodding and hurrying after Lares who waved them forward before moving further into the cramped passage way. Sparrow’s steps were heavy, never leaving their backs as her shoulders chafed on the constricting walls of their escape route. “Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker, do you copy?” She asked into the static filled communication channel, but there was no reply through the white noise. “Great…probably too deep.”

Glancing to the low ceiling above her head, she shook her head before quickening her pace to catch up to her remaining fire team. They travelled in silence for a few minutes, before reaching the slightly wider chamber housing the ladder up to the surface. “Inconspicuous, huh?” Lares muttered, slinging his rifle and starting up the ladder.

“Maybe it’ll come out in a phone booth.” Pinnick offered, gaze lingering on their silent leader for a second before following her comrade up the ladder. Sparrow reached up once she was a good ways up it, glancing back down the hallway.

“Feldmann, how are things up there?” There was less static as she began to climb, and eventually the Corporal’s voice became clear.

“We’re going to need to hit the ground running.” He replied, sounding slightly out of breath and more irritated by the second. “The streets are far too abandoned for this time of day, and I’ve seen Kodiaks ducking behind buildings nearby. They’re going to swarm us.”

“Cause that’s what we need.”

“What we need is an extraction point.”

“I’m working on it.” She shot back, hauling herself out of the hatch into a dimly lit room, unfurnished and looking like it hadn’t seen something alive in a few months. Light poured in from a small staircase to her right, and she took it two at a time to emerge into an alley of little description. The majority of the platoon was scattered throughout the space, watching cautiously for any approaching hostiles. It wouldn’t hide this many marines for long.

With that in mind, she tried again. “Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker, do you copy?” There was a beat of silence, and she was about to speak again when Invaru’s voice sounded in her ear, neutral and professional as always.

“This is Overwatch, update.”

Silently breathing thanks, Sparrow looked out the alleyway towards the streets beyond. “We’ve destroyed the target, but the Alliance had encircled the building. An Oracle escape route provided an out, but the primary extraction isn’t going to work. Requesting an updated extraction point.”

"One moment." The Operative’s voice was completely calm, almost to the point that it had the opposite effect on her own nerves. There was a light thrum beginning to fill the air, but she shook her head as Invaru continued. "There is a lot that has been cleared for construction a few blocks away, past an open market and more corporate buildings. Alley ways and the bazaar should provide limited cover from Alliance armour and air. Note, we are sending Kodiaks to await you but will remain a few clicks away from the evac point until you reach it so as to limit fire from Alliance forces. How copy?"

“Solid copy, Overwatch.” The new evac point blinked up on her HUD, syncing with the platoon’s displays and painting the point for them. She motioned in the direction as she readied her mattock. “Overwatch, I’m-” The thrum grew into the roar of an engine, and Sparrow’s eyes snapped wide at the familiarity of the sound. “Gunship! Move!”

An A-91 swept in low over the alleyway, turret on the underside of its nose spraying the narrow space indiscriminately. Several rounds glanced off her shields, but she instinctively shielded her face for a moment before forcing herself forward several steps. The gunship swept high through the buildings, likely to bank around for a proper strike. “Get going now! Fuck formation, just go! Stick to cover!”

No one needed additional prompting, and the platoon barrelled out of the alleyway in a stampede as the air began to fill with that heavy thrum once more. In her ear, she heard Invaru, still unflappably calm, “Ground team, status?” and she bit her lip as she thundered out of the alleyway after her soldiers.

“Alliance A-91, Overwatch!” She made sure to avoid yelling it to her superior, even if everything in her right now was saying yelling was the best possible thing, preferably accompanied by swears. Numerous Kodiak shuttles swept overhead, bay doors opening and the occupants peppering fire on the marines. “And now the marines are swooping in!”

“Can you hold?”

It only took her a brief second to consider a response; sliding roughly on a leg behind an idle sky car as the gunship loomed back out of the skyline with its sights firmly set on her pitiful little block of metal. “This isn’t even mine, dude!” The gunship cared little for whoever the unfortunate bastard who owned the car was; firing a salvo from its machine gun as it began to sweep along the street. They lacked any heavy munitions, and she wasn’t the type to try and bring down a gunship with only determination and an assault rifle. “Negative on that. We’re not even going to try. We’re moving to the evac point now.”

There was a rumbling down the road from whence they’d come, and it was only with dread that Sparrow turned her head from the gunship to find exactly what she feared looming further down the street. “Another goddamn Mako?! We already crushed one!”

There was a long pause on the comm, but there wasn’t time to question what had gotten a hold of the Operative’s tongue. “Alleyway! Keep moving!” The marines looked at her in surprise, what with the gunship still laying down suppressing fire on their meagre cover, but they listened, vaulting their cover and swerving into the first alleyway available to them.

It was a point of pride that they maintained proper tactics, fire teams leapfrogging in tandem while others diverted the attention of their attackers by trading a few shots with the Kodiaks and gunship. It wasn’t the quickest thing though, and the Mako wasn’t slowing down, so she stepped out from behind her thoroughly mangled cover. “Sup asshole?!” The Mattock barked a few shots, and the turret swivelled towards the sergeant with lethal intention. “Just swimming in good decisions today, huh, Sparrow?”

Diving to the side, the 155mm round raced past with a hissing wail; detonating a few feet behind her and tossing her several more feet ass over head and covering her armour in even more dust. Clawing forward, she scrambled for the alleyway as the coaxial LMG peppered the street around her. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-” Another shell raced past, deafening her ears with the proximity as she swerved sharply into the alleyway.

"Continue with the route provided, I will re-route resources towards you. Overwatch out." Invaru spoke softly, but that was likely just the fact that her ears were still ringing. The platoon was mostly at the other end, and her stride quickly ate the ground between them as the first team stepped into the street beyond. No sooner than the first one was exposed, the air filled with gunfire and thick plumes of shattering concrete erupted around their feet. One of the marines barely had time to react, dozens of rounds shredding their armour as the others in the team dived backwards to avoid the burst.

No sooner had the body hit the ground did the Gunship bank in low at the end of the alleyway, floodlights blinding the immediate marines as it’s gun readied another burst. Sparrow pressed herself behind a dumpster, as the teams scrambled for makeshift cover, but the roaring engine rising over the gunfire told her they’d soon be pincered between two vehicles they lacked the means to defeat. “Engineers! Burn it!”

There was a shared pause, before each of the engineers leaned out from their hiding places and fired off an incinerate blast. Positioned as it was, it couldn’t react quickly to the attack, and took the majority of the blasts straight on. Typically designed for anti-infantry, an incinerate blast wasn’t going to bring down a gunship, but as the canopy went up in a blaze, the pilot wasn’t going to be shooting straight.

The A-91 banked out of their way, in the nick of time as the Mako rolled to a stop at the opposite end and brought its cannon to bear. The first blast clipped one of the buildings, showering the marines in debris but obscuring the alleyway somewhat. There was no need to prompt them, all the teams already dashing out into the street beyond as the Mako carved the alley apart with its machine gun. Sparrow flicked her eyes to the HUD, noting the distance to the evac point and wondering where the hell those ‘resources’ were.

Sliding across the hood of another sky car, she traded shots with a circling pair of Kodiaks, winging the shields of the occupants but never managing to do more than that. One of the shuttles banked low, catching another team off guard and shattering the visor of one of the marines who crumpled backwards. One of the nearby marines flung a grenade into the open cabin, which detonated with a satisfying boom that sent the shuttle corkscrewing for a moment, before it righted itself and swept off into the sky, doors closing on the likely shredded occupants.

They swept through another alleyway to dodge the Mako as it weaved onto the street, and the market came into view just up the road. “Triple time it! Into the market!” She barked, turning the platoon’s attention forward. Some of the privates lagged slightly, the weight of their armour and frantic pace no doubt exhausting them but they didn’t fall completely behind. As the first teams burst into the abandoned market, Sparrow skidded to a stop at the entrance way and waved them forward. “Come on, come on!”

The A-91 swept in through the skyline, like a bird of prey as its missile pods opened and primed their payloads. The sergeant looked to the sky, gritting her teeth and urging the privates to run faster. After a moment, the missiles fired, and the street erupted into plumes of fire as the warheads detonated. She almost ran into the strike herself, but Lares caught her shoulder and pulled her back into the relative safety of the small, roofed hall leading into the market.

As soon as the blasts subsided, she pushed past the man off, darting out into the street and catching glimpse of what was left of those who hadn’t made it inside. She stared blankly for a long moment, unwilling to pull her eyes away from the mangled chunks that were supposed to have been her soldiers.

Before she could turn back, one of the bodies moved, and Sparrow quickly crossed the distance to find a lone private pinned underneath another, likely having shielded them from the worst of the blast. A jagged shard of metal jutted out of a large scar in the assault amour, but she knew better than to pull it out. It’d block the bleeding somewhat. “Lares! Give me a hand!”

The specialist complied instantly, moving to the injured man’s side and helping her haul him up to his feet whilst slinging his arm over his shoulder. “We’re going to have to carry him to the evac point, Sparrow.” He cautioned over a private channel, not opposing the idea, simply feeling it needed to be said.

“I’ll haul him myself if I need to.” They entered the market proper, and she frowned when she noticed the majority of the platoon hunkered down near the opposite entrance. “The hell are we waiting for?!”

Pinnick, positioned on one of the entering tunnels, looked to her sharply. “They dropped marines on the far side! The tunnels are a funnel, Ma’am!” As if to prove her point, a barrage of gunfire sliced the tunnel apart, as if a warning shot. “We’re not getting out this way without some heavy causalities!”

“Then fuck, we’ll go back around!”

“Down!” Lares shoved roughly on the private, dumping the soldier in Sparrow’s arms as he shoved the three of them clear of the tunnel they’d just entered. He spun around on his knee, dropping an Alliance marine that had scouted ahead, before bouncing a grenade expertly off the wall and further into the passage, which was met by shouts. It detonated a few seconds later, but it seemed it had done little more than clear the entryway. “They’re blocking this way too.” He muttered grimly, as Eclectus, Pebbler and Robin switched over from the opposite position to help lock it down.

Sparrow, still clutching the injured marine, looked quickly around the market, eyes searching for another way out but finding nothing. After a moment, she swallowed heavily. “Everyone…lock it down and dig in your heels. Salazar, get over here, I’ve got injured.” She hauled the man several feet to the small administrative building that sat in the center of the market, smashing the window with a quick shot and dragging him inside. The medic joined her moments later, and Sparrow relinquished the injured man before climbing up to the second floor.

It wasn’t a tall structure, only just rising above the enclosing “ring” of shops that had become the walls of their little fortress prison. The second floor was ideal for watching the market below, numerous bay windows that afforded an optimal view of all goings on while obscuring the occupant behind slightly tinted glass. It provided the vantage she needed to manage their perimeter properly.

First things first. “Amazon; break off and search the shops. Barricade any entrances you find, and radio back if you get hit with too heavy a breach. Kakariki, Robin; Rip down these stalls, throw up some makeshift barricades. Everyone, keep a close eye on your heat sinks. Manage them and make every shot count. I doubt we’re just going to find a box lying around.” Her initial instructions delivered, the sergeant switched the channel and took a calming breath before speaking.

“Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker. Secondary evac point is a no go; the Alliance has encircled us in the market. We have multiple wounded and we need extraction, how copy?”

“Good copy, standby.”

Standby? Standby. She wanted them to standby?! Sparrow resisted the urge to scream something, moving close to the windows to see below her when she heard the blaring hum of engines. A shower of rounds pelted the marines entrenching themselves in the market, and as it banked around, she saw the flame scarred canopy of that damn gunship once more. “You don’t know when to fucking quit, do you?!”

“Man down!” Feldmann barked, and she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. The bitter-sweet taste of iron filled her senses, and Sparrow slammed a fist against the window futility. There were too many avenues of attack here. Sure they had choke points, but they didn’t have the ammunition, or the manpower or the equipment to hold off everything the Alliance could bring to bear. How long until they brought in mortars? Or breached the buildings to allow armour to enter?

“Pollard!” She barked, hearing a slightly startled noise from the private in question. “Get up here; I have a job for your eyes.” She saw him pull away from his position, questioningly glancing up at the windows that hid her from view but obeying. The sergeant turned back towards the stairs, greeting him with a sharp wave even as the gunship did another strafe past, thankfully not claiming anymore of her marines.

“What do you need, Ma’am?”

She motioned to the gunship that was winding up for another pass. “I need you to keep your eyes on that gunship as much as possible, and whenever it’s about to make a pass, you warn everyone on the platoon wide. If we can keep our heads down, it shouldn’t do much more damage. Got it?”

He nodded sharply, stepping past her to keep tabs on the gunship as it readied its avenue of approach. She opened her mouth to speak, but Operative Invaru spoke, and the colour began to drain from her face. “Ground team this is Overwatch. We are attempting to send you reinforcements, but as of the moment you are on your own. If you can get to a secure location, the Kodiaks are still on standby just outside the city limits.”

Sparrow was still; body slackening as she blinked repeatedly; mouth working around half formed words before finally spitting incredulously. “On our own?! I’ve got an army worth of marines and hardware shooting at us, and we should try and get to a secure location?! This is as secure as it gets right now! I need something, anything, right the hell NOW!”

"Sergeant...The closest available unit I have is the Commander and his team, who are not outfitted with enough heavy ordnance to take on the Alliance Army. If they were to jump down, it would be the Commander at risk. Aside from that, all other marine teams are positioned around the system and assigned to their duties; the Kodiaks are already waiting for you. The only other option would be to use the MAC cannon from the Cruiser..."

There was a long pause, and Sparrow looked down quietly to the floor as her hand tightened around the grip of her gun. Outside the glass, the battle waged, marines trading fire as best they could as the Alliance continued to push and try to break the defensive line. She wanted to yell, swear, curse and rant. She wanted to sit down and just wait. Watching the private moving frantically in the corner of her eye, Sparrow found the clarity, however brief, to speak.

“…No, Ma’am. That isn’t an option. I apologize for my outburst.” She glanced to her rifle, dangling loose in her grip. “Thank you for trying, Ma’am. I’ll see what I can do. Sergeant Oberacker out.” The line went dead, and she stood still in the room as the combat raged. Nothing was coming. This was it.

“Coming for a pass, down!” Roger shouted as the Gunship swept past, hurrying across the room when he noticed the stillness possessing her. The private glanced about for a moment, before crossing a few steps towards her, calling softly. “…Sergeant?” She twitched at his voice, looking to him quickly. “Is…everything alright, ma’am?”

They simply stared at each other, as if the visors weren’t there, as if she was just looking right at his eyes. Weren’t they jade? A bright jade, always had a shine to them, even when he seemed upset. In the faint reflection of her helmet, she could see her own, and they looked dull. Accepting. “Yeah.” She breathed, lying through her teeth and forcing a fake smile that he couldn’t see but it assured him all the same. “Focus on that gunship, Roger.”

The young man tilted his head at the use of his name, but quickly fell back to his task as Sparrow looked out through the glass. Howling screams echoed in the sky, signalling mortars that soon smashed into the market; throwing fire and steel through the air. Shapes began to stir over the buildings, and she raised her rifle as the first drone began to rise above the rooftop. “Keep calm.” She spoke softly, but he heard her all the same, pausing mid-stride to look at her before she opened fire.

Adrenaline implants kicking into full gear, Sparrow could watch in perfectly clarity as her round sent cracks arcing and weaving from the impact into a chaotic spider’s web. As she fired the second, the window splintered, shards of glass refracting the light and shining as they fell. Her third would fire as the first found its mark in the rising machine, followed closely by its successors and making the poorly armoured drone drop back from whence it had come.

It was only one, though, and the rest of wing rose unphased by the destruction of the first. Her eyes swept the assorted barrels as she fired more rounds into the formation, and was both frustrated and relieved to find nothing but the standard assault build. As a second drone corkscrewed into the roof from it‘s damage, the wing split into smaller groups, sweeping out and down into the market as she stepped to the edge to continue firing. “Drones!” She boomed loudly, and several marines reacted to the invading presence.

The drones weaved through the remaining stalls with surprising grace, firing staccato bursts to hinder the marine’s shields but finding little in the way of physical damage to the actual armour of their prey. She looked up to the roofs again as more wings began to appear, knowing full well the danger of drones lay in their numbers, not their ability.

One of the wings set its sights squarely on her, exposed as she was in the broken window and fired a synchronized burst. Her shields flared and failed, but she barely reacted, trading shot for shot as the barrage shattered against her assault armour. Her shoulder jerked roughly as the ceramic plating guarding her left pectoral shattered, and she was in the process of righting her weapon to fire again when a hand roughly gripped her shoulder and pulled her back from the lip several steps.

Two of the surviving drones swept in to finish their work, but met their ends at the quick shots that pierced the ‘head’ of the machines. Roger released a breath as he holstered his Predator, letting go of her shoulder when she gave a sharp tug on the limb in question. The mangled plate immediately caught his gaze, but to his credit the private didn’t point it out. “Be more careful, Ma’am.” He spoke quietly, unsure of himself in ‘chastising’ a superior.

“Why-” The words died in her mouth as a deafening blast filled the marketplace, and their heads snapped in unison to the crumbling walls that marked the blast-site. She moved forward to ‘see’ the damage, but it was for little more than her own personal confirmation. The drones were keeping the marines occupied, and now a new, large doorway had been made straight into the heart of their defence. She couldn’t summon the will to curse.

Roger hovered behind her, clutching his Viper tightly as his eyes flicked to her still back. “What should we do, Ma’am?” She gave no response, watching as teams moved from the other points towards the new gap, firing into the hole without needing any further prompting. “Ma’am?”

She could see how this was going to go. It didn’t take a master of strategy. The Alliance would continue breaching, creating new entrances and spreading them thin while drones thinned out their ammo count. There was no hope of breaching the encirclement at this point, and there was no help coming. Eventually, a point would break. And then it would be over.

How do you keep fighting when it’s only to prolong the inevitable? God, she just wanted to sit down and wait for the bastards to rush in. Was that too much? Her muscles ached and she felt every beat of her heart crisp and painful in her chest. She loved to fight, but now…it felt so pointless. She couldn’t save the platoon. She didn’t have the resources. The knowledge. The drive.

“Sparrow?”

Opening her mouth to speak, Sparrow looked to Roger. She froze mid-turn; her heart leaping into her throat and choking any words that intended to come. The damning hum of the gunship filled the blackening sky, as it swept down into view with its barrel aimed at their exposed bodies. They had no cover. It would hit him first.

The drive wasn’t so hard to find, it seemed. She swept forward, discarding her mattock as her arms snapped up around the private’s body to lock around his torso. There was no time for delicacy, pitching the younger soldier sideways as she threw her body weight with him. They landed in a heap as the gunship opened fire, but the sergeant raised her arms to shield his helmet as the gun caught up to them.

Those few seconds passed so slowly, their shields bleeding together to deflect some of the damage but inevitably buckling under the onslaught. She made no attempt to move, or uncover the private to protect herself more. Shaking with every hit, she kept her visor pressed tight to his, so close that the tint did little to obscure their faces and she could see the panic filling his eyes. Was this the inevitable part? A living shield to a comrade, to a friend, to a...whatever the hell this private was supposed to mean to her that she was willingly putting herself between him and a machine gun?

Maybe it wasn’t such a bad way to go. Maybe it was a good way to go. She still didn’t want to go.

The gunfire stopped. Seconds later, a blast of heat washed over them followed by a thunderous crash of rent metal. For a moment, she waited, expecting the gunship to resume firing and finish what it started. When nothing came, she straightened from her protective coil and looked out the ravaged windows to see no sign of the A-91. “What..?”

Blinding beams of light surged down from the sky, and the air reeked of burning ozone as the lights swept in great arcs around the walls. She tried to rise to her feet, wincing as she felt the warm trickle of blood down her side. Sparrow clutched her injury tightly, slightly surprised when her free arm was tugged over Pollard’s shoulder and he hoisted her up to her feet. Helping the sergeant across the room, the pair reached the lip in time to hear an unfamiliar but commanding voice fill the platoon-wide channel.

“This is Lieutenant Commander Sinoff of the Deliverance. I am assuming control of this conflict. Commence your extraction immediately, Victory 3rd. This is out of your hands now.” She stared in stunned silence at the frigate now hovering over their position; its GARDIAN lasers carving swathes through the suddenly outgunned Alliance forces. She nodded slowly, pulling her limb from Roger’s shoulder and straightening out as best she could.

“This is Sergeant Oberacker of the Victory 3rd.” She paused, staring at the sleek black ship for a moment longer before looking down at the marines below. “…thank you, Deliverance. You really pulled our ass out of the fire.”

“Speak thanks to your superiors, Sergeant. I would not be assisting if not for them.” The line went dead, and she nodded dully, already in the process of switching channels. In the corner of her eye, she saw Roger hurry down the stairs, but paid little mind to his departure as the connection stabilized.

“Overwatch, this is Sergeant Oberacker…the Deliverance is holding position above our own and is holding the Alliance forces at bay. I am requesting extraction, how copy?” There was a beat of silence, likely the Operative checking for a proper confirmation before she replied.

"Acknowledged, ground team, Kodiaks are en route to your location. Overwatch out." If she didn’t know any better, she might have thought that Invaru had sounded relieved. The sergeant stepped towards the stairs, only to be met in a rush by Salazar with Roger a few steps behind. So that’s where he had been going. The medic shot her a look, something between incredulous and appreciative, but neither had the desire to go into that at the moment.

After a brief once over, Salazar ushered her downstairs and forced her into a seat before digging into her med-kit. Her squish skin must have rent rather badly for the medic to actually need to do some field work, but as she felt the disinfectant sting at gashes along her back she hadn’t been aware she had, Sparrow dully resigned herself to the treatment. A few other marines lay nearby, sporting long gashes and cracks to the ablative plating of their assault armour. Each looked like they’d been through hell. It wouldn’t be far off the mark for today.

There was a beep in her ear, and she tapped her comm unit quickly. “Sergeant Oberacker, go ahead.”

“Sergeant, this is Flight Lieutenant Stephen Medwin. We’re en-route to your location; do you have a preferred LZ?” She looked dryly up to the frigate still looming over their heads like a vigilant guardian.

“Park it near the big warship. You can‘t miss it.”

“Copy that, Sergeant. See you in a few. Medwin out.” Dropping her hand back to her side, Sparrow released a long side as Salazar finished the last touches on her injuries and excused herself to another room. The sergeant stared quietly at the ground, slowly beginning to look through the operation in her mind.

She felt none of her usual accomplishment, none of the post mission celebration. Raising a dust stained hand, her eyes picked the small flicks of red still clinging to the normally white polished plating. Maybe this wasn’t supposed to feel like an actual victory, not with the way it went, not with what it cost. She didn’t want to think about it, really, not right now. She was alive. They were alive, and that should be enough.