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Tia St. Jean

Infiltration Engineer, aboard Call of Victory

0 · 284 views · located in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

Description

Born 2112
Age: real age 71, looks 26
Sex: Female
Height: 5 feet 7 inches
Weight: 130 pounds
Build: leanly muscled
Eye Color: light brown
Hair Color: dark brown
Hair Style: long and straight, usually tightly braided

Personality

From the office of Dr. Malcolm Dennison, research branch of Morpheus Technologies Synthetic Replacement Labs. The subject: Commander Tia St. Jean is a most unusual case. She is quite possibly the longest surviving human recovered from a cryo container. At 32 years, 4 months and 18 days, she suffered minor cryo illness and was unable to see for a total of 13 days. Her limbs had severely atrophied, but rigorous rehabilitation for the past year has restored her body to pre-cryo condition.

The most obvious issue Ms. St. Jean has had to cope with is the loss of her entire left arm from the shoulder. She has had a synthetic arm replacement within the last two weeks. A year ago, nanite installers were injected to reinforce muscle tissue in her chest and back in order to support the weight of her implant and it is functioning superbly. The weight is still bothering the subject somewhat. A side effect of the nanite installers is the continual support and repair of nearly all of her body's tissues which has provided a side effect of greatly extending her normal lifespan. At this time tissue samples are being studied to understand just how long this side effect will last.

Psychologically, Ms. St. Jean is dealing with her longevity. She no longer has any living family or friends. She has become quite isolated and with no military contact, there is not even the solace of work or a routine to assist her cope. The subject puts on a brave front and pretends that she is excited by the new adventure. However, I believe it is all a ruse and that sooner or later it will catch up with her. I cannot predict where or when that might be. Given something to focus on, especially a 'good cause' she will likely perform her job extremely well.

Ms. St. Jean has a remarkable ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Often to the detriment of her own safety. Old archives of a former commander's records mentioned her taking some stone chips across the face from a bullet hitting close to her head when she was working on the security systems of a site her team had been sent to infiltrate. She trusted to her team members so completely that she never skipped a beat and kept on working. I believe this level of trust can be supremely detrimental.

At this time, her rehabilitation has gone exceedingly well. She is eager to return to active duty. I recommend against this as she is mostly unaware of the political situations and increasing hostilities as they stand now. To continue the ruse of returning her to duty, she has been retrained on all the technical data of modern electronics and security systems along with her rehab for her arm. This however has been labeled as Top Secret and her official status has been listed as M.I.A from the Shanxi Occupation.

Equipment

Kel-Tec PF-9, 9mm - emergency sidearm-passed down in her late husband's family.
M-3 Predator for side arm
M-8 Avenger rifle
HMW Shotgun
Light armor (tweaked to provide additional protection)
Specialist Omni Tool (high-end)

Implants: Synthetic left arm and hand from the shoulder down.

History

Tia had been born into a military family from America on Earth. As such, she also followed tradition and joined the Marines. She did well, showed above average skills in the realm of technical surveillance, electronics and hacking. So much so, that she was tapped for a mission to join a insertion team. She spent 5 years on dangerous covert missions, fighting side by side her crew, though her job was always the fine details and theirs usually involved keeping her alive. On a mission, (she lost her arm in the occupation of Shanxi in 2157) she and 8 others sneaked into a facility to take out a Turian power grid. They were discovered. She keeps working. Her squad fights for their lives around her. They start getting picked off She keeps working. Down to 3 of them, but she keeps working while they scream at her to break it off. Just as she manages to hack the security and take it down, the building collapses around them, effectively, crushing the arm. Her last 2 squad mates haul her out...barely.

During her initial enlistment, she grew more and more dissatisfied with the concessions made to Alien races over Humans in decision after decision after decision She began to wonder if Cerebrus might not have the right of it, after all.

After the disastrous battle at Shanxi and her subsequent injury and recuperation, she is recruited into Cerebrus.

After a single day, Tia demanded an accelerated rehab schedule and training. She wanted, or needed, to get back to work. She had to have something to do. She wanted to go back to regular duty status. She didn't know she'd been listed as killed in action along with her entire crew all those years ago before.

So begins...

Tia St. Jean's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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People came and went from the mess while Tia sat nursing a cup of coffee. Rumors of encounters continued to flow about their surprise visitor, some seemed hugely exaggerated and some probably were true. Either way, she figured that she'd buy Invaru a stiff drink when the man was gone. As she sat there, she thought about everything that had happened since being re-assigned. They were out maneuvered and outmatched in this hunt for the Collectors. What was their agenda? Tia wracked her brain and knew it was an exercise in futility. No one could understand such an alien race. She had to wonder if The Illusive Man truly knew what he was doing. Did he really believe they could take the Collectors on?

The battles that she'd been involved in had been dramatically different from what she had been in before she'd been put in cryo. So far, Tia hadn't been assigned to a team that she could build a strong bond with, a trust. They'd been simply reacting to whatever the Collectors had done. They weren't able to plan anything and that bothered her intensely. She hated being behind the game.

While she ruminated, Nerita entered the mess with a straight-backed challenge. In many ways, the Asari reminded her of Vala. A chip on her shoulder, a distance, so brittle that she might snap if anyone questioned her. Nerita worked her way through the line building a plate of food, then turned to find a place to sit. Tia saw her heading for an empty table as expected, but called out to her. "Join me, Nerita."

The Asari hesitated, but finally moved toward Tia's table. Seating herself, Nerita turned her pale blue countenance toward Tia. "You have a question?"

Tia smiled and shook her head. "No, Nerita. I just thought that since we're going to be working and rooming together that it might be nice to get to know one another." She sipped at her coffee. "I haven't had much contact with any Asari before now."

Nerita just shrugged at Tia. "And you're curious?"

Tia shook her head. "No. I just want to let you know that I don't want to offend you by accident." Tia leaned her elbows on the table between them, allowing Nerita to eat in silence for a time. "Nerita, why did you join the crew? You don't seem particularly happy to be here. I mean, I'm here because I was assigned here. You didn't have to come along. So why?" Her tone showed nothing but simple curiosity.

Nerita set her fork aside and looked up at Tia, "For the excitement." She answered flatly.

The answer caught Tia flat-footed. "The...what?" She asked.

"I was with Dr. Liara T'soni before this. But, being a driver and gathering information left much to be desired." The Asari added.

Tia blinked, thinking about the answer. Well, you'd be right up Horn's alley, I'm guessing. Anyone on his team needs to be ready for anything at any time. And it doesn't ever seem to be dull, as you probably have already figured out." She sipped at her coffee again, considering what she'd learned from Nerita's comment.

The Asari simply looked at her as if expecting more. Tia just chuckled softly. "You don't make it easy to make small talk, Nerita."

Nerita shrugged again. "It is not easy being here. Alone." She acknowledged. With that, Nerita stood from the table, her lunch and the conversation obviously over.

Tia watched her room-mate walk away with a sigh. Since her own lunch had set well, Tia decided to head back to the tender mercies of Lt. O'Ryan.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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Tia had just finished stripping and cleaning her replacement HMW shotgun when the call came to gear up and meet in the shuttle bay as part of a fire team. She donned her own light armor supplementing it with some heavier chest and back pieces before adding her M-3 Predator, the M-8 Avenger rifle and her favorite, the shotgun. Taking up her helmet, Tia was on her way out of her room in less than 15 minutes, checking the settings on her specialized Omni tool and the enhanced shield settings on her armor. She'd learned a long time ago that you had to be as prepared as possible for those inevitable nasty surprises.

She still felt feverish and wan, but shunted that aside. There was no time to feel sick. Joining the others in the shuttle bay, Tia found herself assigned to Daniel, one of Horn's Demons. One of the last ones, Tia realized. Even Horn was out of the picture for the time being. She'd only spoken to the man once before, so she didn't know him well. She'd just have to hope he knew what he was doing. Hoping and praying seemed to be all she was doing lately. It felt bad. Really bad. She couldn't keep dodging the proverbial bullet forever.

She and the others listened to the briefing from Invaru and then from Daniel. The very idea of trying to grab a husk started a low murmur of disbelief from the 2 fire teams. Lt. O'Ryan squashed those immediately. Listening to Kelly, Tia tried to remember what she could about Husks. She'd never been in a combat with them. But, in her year of surgery and rehab, she'd been briefed and read up on everything known that Cerebrus might possibly run across. Husks were no more than shells where organic material is replaced with cybernetic devices. These shells are controlled in some way, but Tia couldn't locate by who. She knew they always came in packs and staying out of range is usually the best strategy. Taking out their legs, she remembered also worked remarkably well, her grip tightened on her shotgun.

Tia glanced at the display Kelly pulled up of Lucr'n next and the details there made Tia very uncomfortable. The electro-magnetic fields would play havoc with their shields, so they would be useless in no time. Her own arm might well be affected, though it did have some substantial internal shielding that was supposed to be more than adequate to most such fields. It had never been tested, that she knew of, anyway. The earthquakes could be another issue. Their footing would be sketchy at best and if they were in the midst of being attacked, then it could seriously hamper their movements. She'd have to keep that at the back of her mind.

The overall plan was laid out, including the search area and news that the Vindicator would also be backing them up. That made Tia's brow's raise in surprise. Just what was so important about grabbing a single husk that warranted risking 2 of Cerebrus' precious few resources. She sighed in frustration because she knew that she'd never know the answer to these questions. She had to admit a small sense of relief having some back up on this one.

Soon after, the two teams were seated in the drop ship when Daniel, who was seated across from her got her attention. He laid out his idea of using her synthetic arm to her advantage in order to grab a husk. Tia's brow raised at the very idea. "You understand I'm an Engineer, right, Lieutenant?" She suddenly grinned at him, "Can't get your own dates?" He returned her grin and before they could shake on the deal, she was already working out how to pull this whole thing off. The door opened onto a ruined landscape that had been ravaged by radiation, earthquakes and war, even so, Tia was still considering her little snatch and grab. The claws were supposed to be dangerous....cuff them. Was a husk stronger than a human? Maybe...definitely err on the side of crushing it, if it came down to it. She stepped out behind Daniel, HMW in her hands immediately upon her feet hitting the ground.

Tia's brain was still working. Grab the thing from behind, break it's arms or immobilize them, then, left arm under the left armpit and across the chest. Needed to be a short one...something she could lift completely off the ground if needs be. She wouldn't be able to use her jump pack until she had the thing. She had the feeling it would prove to be a crucial point in getting her bundle of joy back to the ship.

Tia was so engrossed in working out her strategy, that she had nearly walked right into Nerita who was moving out front with Daniel. "Oh! I'm sorry, Nerita." She whispered. Nerita glanced down at her then stepped aside, "I will watch your back, Saint." The Asari said quietly. It surprised Tia, but she nodded her thanks and moved up beside Daniel. "Ready when you are, Lieutenant."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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The group of 4, Tia, Daniel, Nerita and Carly, split off from Lt. Ryan's team and Tia absently considered what it would do to the bunking situation on the Call, if she and the other two women went down here on Lucr'n. Her thoughts always seemed to go off onto bizarre tangents in situations like this one. They'd moved as a tight group with little chatter when they all heard gunfire coming from the West. That wasn't good. But it might give them a chance to grab..."Lieutenant!" Carly's voice interrupted her thoughts.

Looking up, a lone husk stood, much like a sentinel, staring at them. A wide-mouthed scream from the creature signaled hundreds of it's friends and family to come crawling from the wood work. Under Daniel's direction, they pushed themselves back to back and laid waste to anything that cam close. Her own shotgun proved extremely devastating when she took out a husk's legs, but the husk had to get uncomfortably close to get a decent shot off with it. They were about to be over run. As if reading her mind, Daniel shouted for Carly to take the lead and plow a path through the creatures to get them in the clear. With her heavier armor, the young Marine was better able to withstand the glancing scrapes and blows than the rest of them.

Tia followed behind Carly and Nerita, using her synthetic arm to bash anything that thought about getting close and her right was handling her shot gun as best she could on the opposite side. It was taking a lot of effort, but at the moment, she was highly motivated. They small group outpaced the majority of the husks but just as they appeared to be clear, one of the Lucr'n famous earthquakes wrenched the already unstable ground beneath their feet. A gaping hole opened before Carly, but she never slowed down. A huge leap, took the Marine across the widening span and Tia was right behind her. Tia landed a little awkwardly, her right foot slipping, but her momentum carried her forward onto safer ground. Daniel and Nerita followed very quickly afterward, but it was only because of Carly's quick action that Nerita didn't end up falling back into the abyss beneath them.

Tia looked from the huge canyon at their feet to Daniel and snorted, "You know how to show a girl a hell of a good time, Lt." She commented dryly. Nerita, also looking over the edge dispassionately added, "There's not enough bodies." The Asari looked up, "Some of them must have broken off and entered the buildings."

Just as they were catching their breath, a call came in from Invaru to Daniel. After a small conversation, Daniel came back to tell them that they were now detailed with providing cover and support to Commander Titus and his team, who appeared to have gotten themselves up shit creek. Tia, Carly and Nerita all nodded to Daniel's new plan and headed out to Titus' last known location. The sustained gunfire was easy to find from there. The large structure seemed to be crawling with husks all trying to reach the Commander and his team. "Where in the hell did they all come from?" Tia asked rhetorically as she put away the HMW and took up the M-8. She wasn't spectacularly quick with the rifle, but she did wait to make every single round count. The problem was that the husks were like the proverbial heads of the ancient Hydra. You cut off one and two more grew in its place.

Even from their vantage point, they were getting over run. Tia found herself taking raking hits between her shots and massive punches of her synthetic arm. "Lieutenant!" She shouted. "We no longer have the advantage!" Daniel was already ahead of her, though when he ordered them to use their precious booster packs to leap to the top of the building so they could hold off the horde. Tia immediately began tinkering with her Omni Tool, adjusting something in her arm. "I hope to christ this works." She muttered to herself. She barely heard Nerita and Daniel speculate about what might happen should they be unable to hold off the husks. And it was probably as well. After a precious few moments, Tia's arm began to glow a faint green. Right....let's see if this works on husks.

In all the fighting and running, Tia had forgotten about her feeling of malaise and sluggishness. But as the husks began climbing the building in greater and greater waves, she came to the realization that something was horribly wrong. Beneath her helmet, she could feel blood trickling from her nose and the glow of the electro-magnetic field about her arm dimmed and winked out like a guttering candle in the wind. "Oh shit..." She murmured.

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: Tia St. Jean

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Not long after the interrupter field around her arm winked out, Tia went down to one knee fighting an overpowering need to toss the meals she'd had for at least the last year. She panted trying to get enough air in the restricting helmet and armor. When Lt. Harren's yelled at her and she was dragged into the midst of the three of them, she shook her head, "I...don't know." She hadn't been sick since being awakened from cryo. What if something was going wrong. Her mind flashed on the new Nanites she'd been injected with when they'd been on leave on Earth. What if they were killing her? She lifted her HMW and blasted the legs out from under one husk because that's all the higher she could raise her weapon.

One by one each of them counted down as they ran out of ammo. She was the last having used less than the others, but soon enough, she was out as well. And still the waves of husks came. Suddenly, a miracle happened. Daniel got a call from one of the Vindicator's Kodiaks. Nerita and Carly managed the leap into the open hatchway and covered them. Tia looked at the distance and knew she'd never make it. She cursed and suddenly found herself flung across Daniel's shoulders as he began a sprint for the edge of the building. This is most likely going to hurt or kill us."

Tia found herself hurled from Daniel's arms as he made the jump for the Kodiak. She hit the deck and rolled heavily until she crashed into the bulkhead. Her head was left spinning and her ribs felt heavily bruised from the impact. She grit her teeth so strongly so she wouldn't throw up that her teeth almost cracked with the effort. She felt Daniel also hit the edge of the Kodiak, but he fell slightly short forcing Carly and Nerita to grab and drag him aboard.

Next stop was to pick up Captain Villayn and his Turian crew. Tia huddled in a corner, lacking the strength to even get up into a seat. Carly knelt over her, lifted her helmet away. The cycled air inside the Kodiak was like pure heaven. Carly looked her over, but found nothing. She reported as such to Lt. Harrens with a frown.

Nerita offered that she'd been sick for a while followed by Villayn and Harrens speculating about her nanites and indoctrination.

Tia grimaced, "Can we not talk over my head? I'm right here." Despite the pain she was in, she couldn't help a wry grin. "I'm special.." she gasped and continued to Harrens. Tia eyed Vilayn and the other Turians, but frankly she hurt too bad to do more than lay against the bulkhead.

Once the Kodiak had docked with the Call of Victory, the tram was meant by a medical team and 2IC Invaru. Despite her protests, Tia wasn't permitted to walk to the med bay and she took the ride in a chair with sour disapproval.

Once they arrived in the med bay, Niki explained the potential of an infection of Tia's nanites, having been advised by Lt. Harrens.. The Doctor's brows rose. This was beyond anything he'd ever heard of before. While Tia was moved from the chair to a medical bed. She mutters, "It's getting crowded in here." The Doctor ignored her. "I'll look into it." He promised.

Dr. Grass took several blood samples to run tests and they confirmed that the nanites were indeed, being converted and attacking her organs. It was a very slow process, but they couldn't waste any time. Grass sat as Tia's bedside, handed her a damp cloth so she could sooth a growing fever. "Operative St. Jean, your nanites are being indoctrinated. Your organs will be next" He paused to let that sink in.


Tia corrected him automatically, "Saint." Her voice was soft. "Am I going to become one of them?"

"No. I think I have a solution. The problem lies in the nanites. If we kill them, we stop the indoctrination. But, I don't know what will happen to your body when we do that. Any residual damage from your extended time in cryo may resurface. We just don't know."

Tia took a deep breath. "So. We cure one problem and wait to see if another one shows up and cure that one next, huh?"

The Doctor nodded. "That's basically right. As soon as we can, we'll get back to Earth and see about replacing the nanites."

Tia nodded. "Alright. I'm too good looking to end up one of those husk things." She smiled softly. "Better get as many samples beforehand as you can. I'm sure TIM would want them."

Dr. Grass nodded to the suggestion and prepped the shielding needed to protect Tia's flesh from the explosively pumped flux compression generator. It had never been used in this capacity, but in theory it should work as a highly contained EMP blast. An hour long surgery was all that was required to removed her synthetic arm to prevent permanent damage to it. With the help of Niki who suggested tweaks and ways to protect the rest of the ship from the untested procedure.

"I am compelled to tell you that this is a dangerous and untested procedure, Dr. Grass. It will likely be extremely painful, Operative St. Jean." The A.I. intoned calmly.

Dr. Grass and Tia shared a look. "Wow. That's very reassuring, Niki. Thanks." Tia said

No one heard the screams Tia tried to squelch as the EMP blast hit her and the billions of nanites in her body were destroyed along with the infection the Collectors tried to implant within her. Though the EMP blast had lasted only seconds. The pain continued long after the single pulse had ended.

Tia woke after several hours to find her arm back in place with a lovely new line of stitches circling her shoulder and Nerita seated across the room from her. She frowned heavily. "What happened?

Nerita's flat eyes regarded Tia. "Absolutely nothing, Operative." She rose, "I was only concerned."

Hearing Tia's voice, Dr. Grass entered the room and paused to look between the pair of them in curiosity. "Should I come back...?"

Nerita, shook her head, "No. I'll leave you to your patient, Dr."

Dr. Grass approached Tia. "How do you feel?"

Tia grunted, "Like 10 miles of bad road?" She looked to the Dr. "Did it work?"

Grass nodded, "Yes. You'll be fine after a few days of rest. The weight of your arm will be a problem until we can get some new nanites into you though."
Tia made a face. "Anyway we can get that expedited? This thing already hurts like a mother."

"Maybe. We'll see, But rest for now. You're going to need it."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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Tia slept the remainder of that day, still in pain despite the drugs given to her by Dr. Grass. The dead nanites being flushed from her system and no longer supporting her natural organs or muscles caused a great deal of systemic damage throughout her body. None of it was massive, but because it was through her entire body, the pain was immense and Dr. Grass feared giving her too much medication for fear of not knowing what effect it would have.

While Tia slept, the doctor processed and labeled the extensive samples he'd drawn from Tia prior to the EMP pulse. They were packaged up and would be sent to the Illusive Man to send off to whatever research lab he saw fit to work with. Dr. Grass hoped the samples could be used to save others from being turned into Husks. But at the bottom of his heart, he feared the samples wouldn't be used for anything so altruistic at all.

Tia woke the following morning feeling much like she had after her sparring match with Horn. Every single muscle and nerve screamed. But, it had dulled down considerably since the day before. Lifting her head, she spied a nurse and croaked out, trying to get her attention. A second try, actually produced words. "Coffee." She asked.

The nurse turned to stand by Tia's bedside. A quick scan with her Omni Tool and a gentle hand on Tia's forehead drew a smile. "Good to see you awake, finally, Operative. I can check on the coffee, but water would be a better idea, along with a very light breakfast."

Tia wrinkled her nose, "Food doesn't sound terribly appetizing, but thanks." She sat up very gently, though the nurse gave her a disapproving gaze. "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere. I doubt I'd make the next bed." She grinned suddenly, "Unless you don't get me some coffee. Then I will walk out of here to get my own."

The nurse rolled her eyes and was about to argue the point when the main door to the Med bay hissed open admitting Nerita. The pale blue Asari tilted her head and looked between the nurse and Tia. "Are all humans so stubborn?" She asked rhetorically.

The nurse suddenly laughed softly. "Yes." The woman looked back to Tia, "I'll check with Dr. Grass about the coffee." With that promise, she left the Med Bay.

Nerita's eyes followed the nurse out of the bay. "Coffee?" She asked curiously.

Tia lay back against her pillows, "Nectar of the gods, Nerita." She intoned with a grin. "Everyone make it back?"

The Asari turned back toward Tia, "I can inform Lt. Harrens you are awake if you insist on a debrief?"

Tia sighed with frustration, "Fine. Who?"

Nerita considered the question for a time before answering, "Eric Keown was his name. Did you know him?"

Tia just shook her head, "No. I don't think I met him." She looked down at her hands, chewing the inside of her cheek briefly in thought. It still disturbed her that she seemed so dispassionate about other's deaths. After a few minutes, she glanced up to see Nerita studying her. " I should thank you three. You saved my ass out there." She smiled, "Kept your promise."

Nerita actually smiled somewhat. "It's what I do." She began to turn to leave Tia to rest, "I will tell Lt. Daniels you are awake. I'm sure he or Operative Invaru will wish to brief you." The tall Asari paused at the open door to the hallway, "I'll tell them to bring coffee. Black and 1 sugar?"

Tia blinked, "Yeah...how did you...."

Nerita laughed, "I observe."She said as she left the Med Bay.

A few minutes later, Dr. Grass returned to check on Tia. He'd obviously been wakened, given the state of his clothes and the dark circles under his eyes. He smiled wanly, "You still have a fever." He stated unnecessarily. "It might be a few days for your body to adjust." He eyed her suspiciously, "You're not going to be a problem, are you? I get enough of that from my other patients aboard this ship."

Tia held up her hands in mock-surrender. "I promise, I'm just going to go to the Mess Hall. I need coffee and...maybe some food."

Before the doctor could answer, the Med Bay door slid open again and Lt. Harrens came in with a porcelain coffee mug in his hand. He looked between Dr. Grass and Tia with a quirked brow. "And I'll see to it, Doctor. I promise." He glanced back at Tia. "She going to be alright?"

The doctor pursed his lips, but nodded. "So long as she just rests for a few days, yes."

Tia interrupted for the doctor. "What he's asking, Dr. Grass is am I free of any possible indoctrination." She then reached for the coffee mug held in Daniel's hands. "If that's for me, I'll kiss you with tongue, Lt."

Daniel didn't crack a smile at Tia's tease. He merely waited for the doctor's assessment.

Doctor Grass looked between Daniel and Tia with surprise. "Yes. Oh...yes. She's fine. The nanites hadn't had a chance to be fully infected because they resisted the indoctrination. With the EMP pulse, they were all killed. She's quite clear of any influence from the Reapers."

Daniel visibly relaxed, letting out a held breath. "OK. Just had to be sure." He finally looked back to Tia with a small smile before handing over the mug of coffee. "Nerita said you were jonesing for this."

Tia took a deep draft from the mug and sighed in deep contentment. "God...that tastes so good." When the doctor stepped away to check on his other patients, Tia shook her head, "Thanks. You, Carly and Nerita saved my ass."

Daniel looked at her. "Shouldn't have had to, Saint. I should have should have seen that you were not mission capable." His voice was low, but intense. He clasped his hands behind his back while he spoke. "I've read your file. I know what your capable of. But there's a difference between sucking it up and plain stupidity."

Tia's coffee no longer tasted as good as it had a few minutes ago. She studied the contents of her mug. But he was wrong. Every single word. She had risked their lives. It was still hard to swallow. She nodded as he spoke. "Yeah...I guess I didn't realize how bad it was."

Daniel nodded, "I'm glad you're alright. And I still owe you a beer." He filled her in on the outcome of the mission, including Keown's final sacrifice. This time, she did react. Dead was one thing. Being turned and then experimented on was something entirely different. It made the bile rise in her throat, but she nodded. "Thanks for the update."

Daniel nodded. "Get some rest. You're off the duty roster for a few days." He then turned before she could argue to head back to his duties.
_________________________________________________________________________

Later that day found Tia heading to the armory with her left arm in a sling to help with its weight. She hadn't seen TJ since they'd left Earth in a hurry, but she needed the armorer's help now. Entering the armory, Tia found TJ standing at a work bench stripping down several HMW's and ensuring they were properly maintained. The big woman glanced at her balefully, but didn't acknowledge her presence.

Sighing, Tia pinched the bridge of her nose with the fingers of her right hand. "TJ, I need your help." She pulled her arm from the sling and moved it about awkwardly. "Without the nanites to help repair and enhance the muscles of my back, chest and shoulder, this thing is damned near useless."

"Sucks to be you, then, doesn't it?" TJ retorted without lifting her eyes from the shotgun she was currently stripping and cleaning.

Tia clenched her jaw. "Do you work extra hard to be a complete bitch or were you born with this amazing ability?" She took a calming breath, "This..." She indicated her left arm. "Is a weapon. You are an armorer. Help me fix it!"

TJ slowly put the shot gun down and turn her bulk to face Tia belligerently. "Fix it yourself."

Tia could feel the color rise in her cheeks and she fought to keep her anger under control. She took a few calming breaths and finally breathed out. "I can't." She admitted. "I need your help." Her brown eyes looked up to meet TJ's. "Please."

TJ blinked in surprise. After several moments in thought, she finally grunted, "Fine. What do you want me to do?"

"I need a harness. Something to take the weight and distribute it across to my right shoulder."

TJ considered it. "Like a shoulder holster. Yeah." The big woman nodded, "I can do that. Gimme an hour."
__________________________________________________________________________

With the new harness in place, Tia learned that the Call was headed back to Earth, not only to deliver the nanite samples, but to get upgraded nanites to replace them in her body. She was surprised they'd been rerouted so quickly and she wondered how long the new nanites would have her sick...or for that matter if they would even make her sick at all. She had to admit that she didn't entirely trust TIM to not try to pull something shady that might just get her killed. She headed back to the Med Bay to see what Dr. Grass had to say.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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Tia was rather shocked, but admittedly relieved, that the Call of Victory had gone back to Earth so soon and that she’d been able to have an entirely safe group of nanites injected into her blood stream. They’d need about 3 or 4 days to replicate themselves and get fully integrated into her systems before she saw any true benefit, but, she was relieved.

The Call of Victory headed out almost immediately again, a new mission to Invictus obviously on task for them. As she walked through the corridors, Tia felt her core temperature rise in reaction of the nanites attaching themselves to her vital systems and reproducing. It wasn’t an entirely pleasant feeling or thought having mechanical bugs roaming about and setting up home within your body.

Tia wandered into the mess hall, got a cup of coffee and decided to head down to the firing range to have something to do. She wasn’t the best shot, as she’d been told many times, and the practice would do her a lot of good. First, she headed to the room she shared with Ilana, Carly and Nerita. She would need to change and get her weapon before seeing TJ for some ammo to use. Nerita should be on duty, but Carly and Ilana were off. Hopefully, they would be around.

The door hissed open and Tia saw Carly leaning back in a chair at the room’s only desk with a datapad in hand. Her eyes lifted when Tia entered the room and she smiled. “Hey. Good to see you upright. Lt. Harrens came to check on you, I suppose.” Carly’s smile became more serious. “You scared him when you went down, you know.”

Tia nodded uncomfortably. “Yeah, he came to the Med Bay when I was in there. He wanted to be sure I hadn’t been infected. He thinks it was his fault I screwed up. I’ll have to disabuse him of that idea.” She opened her locker and began to pull on a clean uniform, then pulled out the sidearm she intended to practice with. She still regretted losing Grant’s father’s pistol. It had been the only thing she still had from her late husband.

“Oh,” Carly said. “That’ll have to wait. Invaru sent him and Nerita planet-side to grab an informant from a Blue Suns outpost. I guess it’s one hell of a fortress.” Carly poked at a couple buttons on her haptic keypad before speaking again. “I wasn’t invited. Too much boom and not enough sneak.” She shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m surprised you weren’t tagged for it though. It’s kinda your gig, isn’t it?”

Tia stood very still for a time mulling over what Carly had just told her. She’d been passed over. They needed an infiltration engineer and Invaru had passed on sending her down. Despite her flaring anger, Tia nodded to Carly and put her sidearm on her hip calmly, then exited the room. Daniel and Nerita were trying to break into a Blue Sun’s facility without her. She owed them. They needed her down there with them. Target practice completely forgotten, Tia decides a word with Invaru is required.

“Niki, where is 2IC Invaru?” Tia asked the ship’s AI.

“Operative Invaru is in the CIC, Operative St. Jean.”

“Thank you.” Tia offered automatically. Her booted feet thumped willfully along the corridor as Tia headed toward the CIC. In the elevator ride to the next floor, Tia reflected. She had her temper firmly in control, she knew she wouldn’t blow a gasket, but she had to express her displeasure at being left behind. She had a job to do…they needed to let her do it!
Taking a step forward caused the door to the CIC to hiss open and Tia saw Kelly standing looking at the displays before her. “Operative Invaru…might I have a word, Ma’am?” Tia’s tone was formal, a clue that she wasn’t pleased about something.

Kelly glanced up briefly, taking in Tia’s serious countenance. “We’re in the middle of a mission, Operative. Can’t it wait?”

Tia’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Not really, Ma’am.” She stepped forward so she was standing nearer Kelly and able to keep her voice down. “Was it your idea or Daniel’s to leave me behind on this mission?”

Kelly glanced up, annoyed. “It was mine, Operative. While I recognize that you are especially suited to this sort of mission, you just came out of Med Bay and haven’t fully recovered. I’m not about to have a repeat of what happened on Lucr’n.”

Tia balled up her fists, her face burning with restrained anger. “That was a one-time incident. I’m fine. Daniel and Nerita need me down there.”

Kelly turned toward her very slightly and spoke very succinctly, “The first time is always a one time, that's why the second time is called a repeat.” The red-head turned her head back to the displays before continuing, “I understand and respect that you want to get back to duty, but, I am not prepared to send you back on a mission so soon in case you have a relapse. But, if Daniel decides to use you, I will back his decision to call you in on the next mission.” When Tia hadn’t moved for several seconds, Kelly looked at her again, “If there’s nothing else, Operative?”

The entire CIC had fallen silent, wondering if Tia would lash out at Kelly the way she had with Vala. But, everyone except perhaps Kelly, was surprised when Tia merely nodded and spun on the ball of her foot to head back to the hallway without another word. Once in the hallway, Tia simply stood there fuming. Damn Kelly for being right. Damn her to hell.

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

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As all the marines aboard the Victory, Fire Team 3 had it’s duties around the ship. Some days, it consisted of cleaning a certain section, be it the firing range, or the latrines, but most days, it was the relentless training and ass-kicking courtesy of O’Ryan. Then there was the rare day where they got to do something mildly important, and stand guard. As important as standing guard on a ship full of fully trained soldiers was, really. Still, it was better than cleaning up vomit from whoever had snuck a bad batch of booze aboard.

Today in particular, they had hit the proverbial jackpot. Tasked with guarding the bridge, and on a mission day as well. Maya and Logan took the far side, guarding the approach to the bridge, whilst Ed and Roger had the fun of watching the lift. Being his first real time on guard duty, the private twitched every time the doors hissed open, half turning to check it before Ed would still him with a subtle shake of the head.

“You going to panic every time that door opens, Roger?”

“What if there‘s a threat? My back is already partially to it, I’m not getting shot just because I didn’t take the time to look.” Despite their chatter, the two marines remained rigid in their posts, the intimidating figures of their assault armour looming over the CIC crew. The conversation was kept to private comm channels between the team, and helped keep the air of professionalism the job required.

They certainly didn’t need O’Ryan getting after them for chatting too much. “I’d like to think the average crew member isn’t going to be pulling a rifle on you.”

“They might pull a pistol.”

“Yes, but your armour will take the semi-auto rounds long enough for you to get your ass out of the line of fire. An Avenger on full auto would be an entirely different story.”

“You know…that doesn’t really assure me, Ed.” The corporal chuckled, shifting his gaze back to Operative Invaru’s hunched form as she oversaw the mission being conducted on the planet below. There was a moment of silence, before the chatty private spoke again. “So, what’s the job again?”

“Dear god, Pollard, shut the fuck up!” Maya’s voice barked over the comm, and the private visibly winced at the sudden yell. “Seriously! You’re worse than a woman!”

“You would know, right?” Logan’s deep rumble was a far cry from the ranting of his squad mates, and Ed could have sworn the man was trying to make a joke for a change.

“Logan, armour or no, I will hit you.”

“Alrighty, ladies, that’s enough.” The marines gave varying degrees of acknowledgement. “As for the mission, Pollard, I don’t exactly have the top level clearance to get the details.”

“Right…well, one of the Kodiak techs said only Lt Harrens and the blue bit-” There was a chorus of groans, and the private caught himself. “I mean…Nerita, got on the shuttle.”

“Two man team?” Ed glanced across the CIC, squinting pointlessly at the screens in an attempt to make something out. “If I had to make a guess, then it’d be a quiet operation. Can’t risk sending too many in, gotta be something valuable…”

The lift opened, and Roger once again half turned to check it, although this time, it might have actually been wise. Operative St Jean strode from the lift, and for all her composure, Ed could practically feel the bad juju radiating off the woman. He stiffened automatically, taking a cautious step forward while motioning for Roger to hang back.

“Operative Invaru…might I have a word, Ma’am?” St Jean’s tone was formal, but there was an edge to it, and Ed found himself hovering another step forward, noting in the corner of his eye that Maya and Logan were shifting slightly, gearing themselves for what might come.

Operative Invaru looked up, and Ed couldn‘t help but be impressed by the woman‘s seemingly unflappable calm. If he felt as uncomfortable as he did, there was no doubt she was aware of it. “We’re in the middle of a mission, Operative. Can’t it wait?”

“Not really, Ma’am.” St Jean moved closer, and Ed broke fully from his post, moving within reaching distance of the woman, visor locked on her back and Invaru‘s gaze. The slightest signal from her, and it‘d be go time. “Was it your idea or Daniel’s to leave me behind on this mission?”

“Be ready, people.” He murmured, and a chorus of affirmatives sounded across the comm, each marine watching the two with bated breath.

“It was mine, Operative. While I recognize that you are especially suited to this sort of mission, you just came out of Med Bay and haven’t fully recovered. I’m not about to have a repeat of what happened on Lucr’n.” The room was tense, and he found it a little stifling inside his armour. This was the issue with bridge duty, he mused. Something like this would never even get raised eyebrow in the marine quarters, but the second you add in a rank, everything gets escalated.

“That was a one-time incident. I’m fine. Daniel and Nerita need me down there.” It didn’t help that St Jean had a pistol at her hip. His eyes snapped to her hands as they tightened into fists, but they never made a move towards the gun.

“The first time is always a one time, that's why the second time is called a repeat. I understand and respect that you want to get back to duty, but, I am not prepared to send you back on a mission so soon in case you have a relapse. But, if Daniel decides to use you, I will back his decision to call you in on the next mission.” Whatever he had heard about Kelly was obviously true, he decided in that moment. The woman had a knack for speaking that made him feel like he’d done something wrong. And he hadn’t even done anything. “If there’s nothing else, Operative?”

Tia turned and left with bridge without another word, leaving the room to breath a collective sigh of relief. Staring after her for a moment, Ed half turned back to Kelly, who only gave him a split second glance out of the corner of her eye. It was all the dismissal he needed, and he promptly saluted and returned to Roger’s side. “Pollard.”

“Yeah?”

“Watch the lift for a minute.” The corporal walked away before the private could voice any protest, approaching the door that St Jean had left through. It slid open, and he entered slowly, visor watching the still form of St Jean just standing in the center. After a moment of silence, he flicked his external speakers on, and cleared his throat. “Everything alright, Ma’am?”

She turned to look at the marine with an angry expression, but it soon smoothed away. "I will be." She unclenched her fists with a visible effort, "I don't like being left behind. Not even a little bit. Those two saved my ass. I should be watching their backs." She turned to face the corporal and crossed her arms comfortably, "Right?"

Ed nodded once. “Nobody gets left behind, Ma’am.” He took an at ease stance, not eager to upset a superior officer, if she was one. Operative was a difficult title to truly piece into a command chain, so it was best to play it safe, rather than get an earful on insubordination. “If I may though, maybe this down time is their way of watching your back? I’d never take one of my team out if it meant risking their life on an injury, even if it meant I had a harder fight ahead of me.” He paused, before adding another ‘Ma’am.’

"Just Saint is fine. We aren't in the Alliance, anymore." It seems she had picked up on his attempt to be respectful. He let his body relax slightly, as much as his bulky armour would allow.
She nodded, "I know. I know. And Daniel would do just that. So would Operative Invaru and for that matter, maybe even Nerita." Her smile flashed momentarily. "Doesn't mean I have to like it." She jerked her chin toward the bridge, "Better get back. I'm fine. I'm not in the habit of attacking my crew mates in anger."

“I didn’t think you were the type, Saint, but it never hurts to be cautious.” He extended an armoured hand to her, smiling beneath his blackened visor. “Corporal Edward Stevenson, 3rd platoon, Victory Company. A pleasure to properly meet you, Saint, instead of going off the few rumours the Titan marines are willing to share.”

Tia took the offered hand easily. "Good to meet you, Stevenson." She smiled a little sadly, "There aren't many Titan Marines left to spread rumours, I'm afraid." She released his hand, "Heard good things about your crew."

He stepped back slightly, nodding once. “Sorry to bring it up. The Titan was a tragedy. The entire reason I’m wearing this armour instead of a lighter make is due to that, actually. Command deemed it best if we wore the best armour whenever we needed armour. Hopefully save a few extra lives.” He chuckled humourlessly. “As for what you’ve heard, I just hope we can live up to the billing. There’s quite a few greenhorns on this crew, and they’ve still got some growing to do.”

He turned towards the door. “Speaking of which, I best get back to my greenhorn and make sure he’s not having a heart attack every time someone visit’s the bridge.” He pressed to fingers against his helmet in a casual salute. “It’s been a pleasure, Saint. I’ll see you around.”

Tia chuckled. "Catch you later, then, Stevenson. And good luck." She turned and left, as Ed opened the door back to the bridge and took up his spot near Roger again, who spared him a glance as he returned.

“What were you doing exactly, Ed?”

Switching back to the private comm channel, Edward shook his head at the question. “Getting to know a veteran, Roger. A handy thing. Maybe you should look into it? They can keep you from getting your ass blown off with a few easy pointers.”

Roger snorted roughly. “Yeah, that’ll be the day. I don’t need old people giving me pointers.”

“I’ll pass that on to O’Ryan then.” If the private’s head had turned any faster, he’d have gotten whiplash.

“You wouldn’t fucking dare!”

“Try me.”

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.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“After that, we go climbing.”

Characters Present

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

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Daniel looked down at the others as he continued his climb up the elevator shaft. It was a long haul, and the entire time he was chastising himself for not bringing any of his regular gear. Even with the armour and not the jetpack, the enhanced strength from the boosters within his armour would have been put to great use. “Don’t bring armour I said, it would be too high profile I said.” Daniel whispered to himself.

“You say something Lieutenant?” Carly asked as they continued the climb. Daniel gave a smile and shook his head.

“Oh you know, just bitching cause I’ve gotten soft without my armour. Save your breath for the climb.” Daniel replied and she simply nodded her head as they continued the climb. To be honest, it was excruciating and Daniel could only hope that there were no armed guards waiting on the other side of the elevator doors when they got up. The energy they would be exerting using this method would be enough to critical if they ended up in a firefight the moment that they reached the top. Daniel simply bit his lip, and kept his thoughts to himself as he continued the climb.

It took more than a few minutes, but they had finally reached the top level. Daniel reached up and opened the elevator doors to reveal a single empty hallway. That was good, too few doors between them and their objective to really worry about an ambush in the hallway, so he pulled himself up and grabbed the others as they reached the lip of the opening. After everyone was up and had a moment to catch their breath, Daniel brought out his pistol once more. “Alright everyone, let’s stick to the plan. Stay tight to me, watch your targets, and when the time comes, do not hesitate. These people have killed more of our brothers and sisters than I care to know, they are not civilians, they are enemy officers who have better living accommodations. Keep that in mind, and know that with each trigger pull, you’re saving lives.” Daniel gave one last looked to everyone before giving a nod. “Alright, let’s go.”

Daniel took off at a light jog down the hallway, his pistol lingering briefly on the four or so doors he passed before he got to the double door at the end of the hall. He lined up against one, and had Carly line up on the other side. Tia was behind him, and Stevenson had taken up a position behind Carly. Daniel paused for a moment and put his ear up to the door. He heard nothing, and something tickled at the back of his mind. “What’s the issue sir?” Carly asked.

“I don’t hear anything...movement, voices, nothing.” Daniel waited for a second.

“It’s a top secret meeting room sir; it’s bound to be soundproof.” Carly stated, and Daniel gave a nod although there was still that slight warning bell at the back of his mind.

“Yeah. Alright, on 3.” Daniel held up 3 fingers and counted down on them.

3

2

1

Daniel burst in the door and everything slowed to a standstill as his adrenaline kicked in followed by his shock. The first thing he saw as the door opened was the fact that most of the room was empty, save for an upturned table in the middle. Behind the table, 4 men were kneeling with weapons drawn on the door. Their armour configuration was unlike any he had seen before, and behind them was one more man, standing with his arms crossed as he watched the unlucky would-be assassins charge in through the door. Daniel glanced down quickly to see grenades planted on the side of the door, his door slightly more open than Carly’s side. As the adrenaline time distortion effect started to fade, Daniel grabbed Carly’s arm and threw her back into the hallway while literally turning around and kicking Tia back into the hallway in one deft and surprising move. Only a couple words escaped his mouth before time caught up with his perception.

“Get ba-“

Daniel’s quick reaction time managed to save the others from the worst of it, but the grenades caught him full blown as he fell backwards into the room. Had they been frag grenades, he would have been killed instantly. Instead, a bright flash and loud bang filled the room, cascading slightly into the hallway as Daniel landed hard on his back. Blinded, he waved his hand back where he thought the door was.

“Run! Cover now!” Before he could get any other words out, he felt a hand grab him by the throat and a hard fist smash his face in so hard that he could feel the hockey mask actually crack. It was probably the only thing that prevented the bones in his face from breaking.

“Get up Horn!” The voice yelled, and slammed his fist into Daniel’s face once more. He could hear gunfire behind him, and knew that the men he saw originally were now firing down the hallway. He could only hope his crew had managed to get into one of the adjoining rooms and lay down some cover fire. As for himself, he was blind but not unarmed. He could sense the man standing above him, and brought his gun to bear only to feel the man grab his wrist and yank so hard that he felt the bones shatter. Daniel yelled as his hand went limp and the pistol dropped to the ground. The man threw his arm to the side, and there was a moment of pause as he seemed to survey Daniel. “No...You’re not Horn. One of his Officers most likely...let’s see how he likes losing one of his own.”

“Go fuck yourself!” Daniel managed to get out as the man forcibly removed the mask from Daniel’s face. Daniel’s vision started to return slowly as a blurry shape was beginning to form in front of him. The man grabbed him by the collar, and yanked him up. Half dragging him, half carrying him behind the table towards the helipad. Before the man could get even half way, Daniel looked down, and kicked the man hard at the knee joint. There wasn’t as much give as he had hoped for as the man flinched but did not go down. Daniel stood and slammed his head into the man’s face plate, but again was rewarded with a less than favorable outcome. First off his head was now a pounding nightmare feeling like it was going to cave in, and the man barely flinched as his head snapped back ever so slightly. His grip never wavered however, and he delivered a kick to Daniel’s leg as well. Luckily he managed to twist at the last second, preventing a very painful break, but was quickly regretting it as an armoured face came around and once again smashed him in the face. Daniel went down, the entire world blackening as he looked up at the ceiling. The pain was the only thing keeping him from passing out as he brought his good hand up to it. He felt around, and knew that not only was his nose broken, but he was sure that some other bones were at the very least fractured as well. Soon enough, the man’s hand gripped his throat once more, and half dragged him the rest of the way around the table.

“Move out. We have what we came for.” Daniel’s vision was the only thing that seemed to be getting better since he entered that door, and he managed to see a small squad of commandoes slowly get up from their cover while maintaining fire down the hallway. He looked back to see the others still fighting back, but there would be no way for them to get to him. They exited through the back, where a Kodiak dropship was waiting, and Daniel was thrown roughly into the transport. He tried to move, but one of the Commandos quickly planted a foot on his chest and pushed down hard enough to make breathing difficult. Once the shuttle was properly secured and well on its way, the Commando released his foot and Daniel took a deep breath in. His vision had returned to him by this point, and he looked around at the soldiers who were milling around the Kodiak in assorted positions. The man in charge was standing in a corner, his head bobbing every so often indicating he was talking. Daniel’s adrenaline was running on an all time high at the moment, but mixed with the pain, the lingering effects from the flashbang, and the ultimate realization that they had been set up made his mind an utter mess as he started laughing.

“Who are you guys?!” Daniel asked, a smile lighting up his face like a man drugged up on Morphine. “You know what, it doesn’t matter! Fuck you all! You won’t be getting anything from me...and when we come back to stomp your asses, I’ll be there! I’ll fucking be there! I’ll wipe those arrogant attitudes of yours all over the FUCKING FLOOR! YOU HEAR ME! I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU!” Daniel’s rant continued for a bit more, his head getting slightly loopier by the second until finally the man in charge stopped for a moment. He pointed to another Commando.

“Shut him up.”

Daniel gave a large smile, but didn’t say anything even as the Commando came over and planted a boot on his face forcing the world into Darkness.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Carly had barely managed to escape the flashbangs that Daniel had tossed her back from. How he had managed to see them before they went through she could only guess, but it was only because of him that any of them were even alive right now. Carly and the group had gotten a reduced effect from the trap, but despite ringing in their ears and their vision putting up doubles of everything, they had managed to fall back and break down a few doors in order to gain cover, but were doing very poorly against the well armed, armoured, and set up Commandos. They had been expecting them, that much was obvious, but how was the question. Carly popped out every so often to fire a few shots, but with no armour and no shields against what was obviously modded ammunition, she could barely poke her head out without the soldiers destroying the wall and doorway. She could only watch as the Commander of the group proceeded to give Daniel the thrashing of a life time, and start to drag him towards the back. She looked to the others to see if they were in any position to assist, but already knew the answer. They were pinned, and any move forward or backwards would result in instant death.

Finally the Commandos started moving back towards the door. Carly tried to pop a few shots in the Commando’s while they were reloading, and while managing to land a lucky shot, it bounced harmlessly off of the soldier’s shield who promptly returned fire. As they exited the back of the building, Carly took off after them as soon as they were out of sight. She quickly hopped the upturned table, and ran to the end of the short hallway on the other side. The door was closed, and she threw her shoulder into it only to be stopped dead cold. She rubbed her shoulder slightly and looked down to see a keypad for the door. Tia came up behind her. “I can-“

“Fuck that!” Carly stated as she shot the pad several times and rammed her shoulder into the door a couple more times. The door held firm, but it was obviously straining. Carly shot the handle a few times, backed up, and gave the door a running charge.

She burst through the door, landing on the ground and managing to catch a glimpse of the dropship as it flew away into the upper atmosphere. The others ran out as well, seeing one last look at their Lieutenant as he was taken God knows where. She laid there for a moment, unsure as to what to do next, when an alarm went off that could be heard blocks away. She managed to get to her feet and get to the edge of the building. As she looked off in the distance, she could see Alliance Kodiaks mobilizing and getting ready for a full on assault of their location. Carly reached up and ripped her mask off, throwing it off the side of the building in frustration and anger, but also desperation. They were without their leader and she was at a loss as to what to do right now. Seeing no other commanding officer near her, she turned towards Ed. She didn’t know what to really classify Saint as, seeing as she was an Operative, but Stevenson was a recognizable rank that also led his own fireteam.

“What do we do Corporal?!” She asked her voice more desperate than anything. An underlying tone indicating she wanted to go after the Lieutenant.

“What do you mean ‘What do we do’? We go after Daniel! We can’t leave him here!” Tia stated, pointing after the long gone Kodiak. Ed turned from the two of them, a hand on his ear as he took a couple steps back from the edge of the building before turning back to the others.

“Prep for extraction. We’re leaving.” Ed stated as he walked towards the middle of the helipad. Carly didn’t argue and walked to catch up with Ed. Tia didn’t move. She stared down Ed as Carly moved to join him.

“We are not leaving! So long as Daniel is out there, we are not extracting!”

“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!” Ed stated as he walked forward slightly to challenge her.

“No damn it! I don’t have a plan! We don’t leave men behind! We can’t leave men behind!” Tia stated, stepping up into the Corporal’s face. Ed reached up and violently ripped his mask off and threw it to the ground.

"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!" Tia growled at Ed as they both seemed ready to rip each other’s throats apart, when an unmarked Kodiak came flying around the building and hovering just an inch above the helipad.

The doors opened to reveal an empty cabin, and Carly started walking towards it only to turn back and see that the two of them hadn’t moved. “Corporal! Operative! We don’t have time for this! The Alliance is going to be on top of us!” They didn’t seem to hear her, and she was forced to run to them and forcibly yank them towards the Kodiak. “We can fight later, right now, let’s get out of here!” She stated as they all got onto the Kodiak. The two followed her grudgingly, half from her pulling them and half from the imminent threat of the Alliance marines. They boarded the transport and before they could even brace, the doors closed and the drop ship bolted around the building before flying high up into the sky towards the Call of Victory to get out of the system before the planetary defence cannons could get locked onto them.

The mood within the Kodiak was what was to be expected. Sorrow, loss, anger, frustration, and regret were replacing the oxygen within the cabin as everyone refused to even meet the gaze of the others. Ed had his head against the door while Carly sat on one of the benches and Tia stared off into the distance gripping one of the overhead handles. Carly removed her toque, and ran a hand through her hair before staring down at the floor. Debrief was not going to be the standard deal it usually was, and they would have to explain why they returned without their commanding officer. If anything, it should have been her that had done what Daniel had done. He was a higher priority, and was worth more to the organization she was. He had simply been faster, and that had gotten him captured, possibly tortured, and possibly killed. Worse yet, she had failed. He was one of the three that had managed to save her ass back on Anhur, now one was dead, one was in a coma, and now the third was officially captured. She felt helpless for the first time since watching her friends get slaughtered by the collectors on Anhur, and it made her want to sit down and cry. Despite this, she choked back unseen tears, and stared down at the floor. She had to keep a level head, she had to hold in these emotions, and she had to keep it together. One thing was for certain. They would find the LT, they would get him out alive, and she would settle her debt with the man.

That much was certain.

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: Tia St. Jean

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After a good night’s sleep, Tia was awakened by a call to a blistering training schedule. Somehow, it was just what she needed to get her head back into her job. She knew what the heavy training meant, a bad, bad mission. Some of the younger Marines just thought that the Lieutenant was being his usual sadistic self. They’d learn otherwise very soon, she guessed.

The first day of training had left her sweaty, sore and feeling better than she had in a very long time. After a quick shower, Tia dressed in her BDUs and headed to the mess for the semi-regular meeting with the other combat engineers aboard the Victory. They traded stories, some lies and went of reports of the latest tech they might have to deal with on various missions. The most experienced of them, Jeremiah Moore usually went over the new specs they got from Cerebrus each week and then the remainder of them all discussed and argued about the best ways to bypass or use the security that Moore told them about. More often than not, Tia and Moore debated enthusiastically over the best strategies with the other only kibitzing once in a while.

After the informal meeting, Tia was on duty, but that was changed by orders of the 2IC and she found herself back in the training area, practicing her marksmanship and stripping down the guns she’d usually took on missions with her. Lieutenant O’Ryan was a slave driver, unrelenting and in their faces. Like always.

Tia’s guess had been right, the Marines were given the night off and told to get their gear ready for a brief in the morning. Given the night free, Tia took the time to go over her light armor and stealth cloak. She didn’t know if she’d need it, but in this game, you never knew what you might run across. She strapped on her HMW shotgun, an Avenger rifle and her M-3 Predator.On the way out of the room, Tia also grabbed her tool kit and glanced through it briefly to ensure she had everything she’d need. As usual, it was packed and ready to go. That done, Tia picked up her helmet and headed to the shuttle deck where they would be briefed on their mission. She was met at the door and issued a ML-77 missile launcher. Full assault, then. She reasoned.

Lt. O’Ryan called them to order fairly quickly and had them open their Omni tools to show them just what they were going up against. Dear Christ. We’re walking straight into a shit-storm. Tia thought to herself. She couldn’t stop herself from looking at the Marines near her and wonder just who wasn’t coming back. A few Marines asked a few questions, but the answers weren’t encouraging. Tia noted the satellite dish and assumed that would be her first target; followed by the controls for the Guardian towers. Just like Shanxi, it was going to be a room by room clearing. She peered at the plans they’d been given, knowing they were likely already obsolete, but at least the general lay out would be fairly accurate. It was something.

And then a Marine in the back asked a critical question; “How will Operative Invaru be directing the mission?" He got his answer, from the 2IC herself.

"From the ground, just like you private." Kelly entered the shuttle bay in her own armor. It was almost as light as Tia’s and the Marines were stunned into silence. Obviously Lt. O’Ryan was just as shocked because he asked for and was granted an aside with Invaru. The conversation lasted only a few minutes, but Tia could guess at the subject. Like her, O’Ryan thought Invaru should stay aboard the Victory. Obviously, the 2IC over-ruled him because she continued the briefing.

Invaru reiterated the need to take out the satellite dish and the controls for the Guardians. Tia looked around at the Marines from Victory team, trying to fathom who she could work with and trust to watch her back. She hadn’t worked with most of them. She’d have to simply deal with whatever came up.

Finally, they all loaded onto the shuttles and headed planet side. Only a few whispered conversations interrupted the almost universal silence aboard the shuttle. Tia was sure they were thinking of the mission, of how many of those on that shuttle wouldn’t be coming back. Would they be the ones to die? Some of the younger Marines probably fluctuated between bravado and the fear that they’d freeze at a critical moment. They all went through it.

The shuttle Tia was on finally settled bumpily onto the planet’s surface and the rear ramp door opened. The squad leader shouted at them to disembark and they all rushed forward so the shuttles could get off the ground again before they got pinned down. Tia was kept more or less in the midst of the pack of Marines since her armor was lighter than that of the Victory squad. Her role was critical in taking the satellite dish down. She was sure that the good Dr. Mueller wouldn’t have left the satellite dish controls unprotected. She doubted she would have an easy go of it.

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."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A couple hours and a shower later, Horn was sitting in his quarters. Reports littered his desk, along with an empty bottle of alcohol and medals scattered every which direction. He was currently trying to finish his report to the Illusive man, almost done too, when the intercom blared into his quarters.

"Commander?" The voice asked, Horn recognized it as Grass.

"Yeah doc? How's the patient?" Jason could literally hear Grass scoff through the intercom.

"You mean patients? Specialist Salazar got her shoulder dislocated by someone who knew how to put the hurt on your marines. Tell me, have you ever thought of bone replacement? Might help with some of the issues you are having with the breaking and dislocat-"

"Doc, I am really not in the mood. So unless you want your bones replaced by a vacuum of space that used to be your spine, I suggest you get to the point." Jason stated, and there was a slight pause.

"Lieutenant Harrens is awake sir. Preliminary results indicate that, given a few weeks of recuperation, he'll be good to go." Horn got up, but before he went through the door, he stopped.

"Wait, ready to go? Just like that? No long term effects?" Horn asked.

"Well there is calcification of the bones at numerous joints, as well as evidence of medical procedures meant to repair, not inflict pain. If they wanted to kill him, there would have been no need. Without that medical care, he would be maimed beyond all hope of returning to active duty. It seems your little torture troops like to keep their subjects alive longer than needed, or Lieutenant Harrens simply lasted that long."

"No Doc, it just means that whoever was doing the interrogating loved the act of torture so much, they kept him alive as entertainment." Horn stated as he exited his quarters and made for the elevator.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A short ride later, and Horn was back on deck 3. When he entered the deck, most of the marines did their best to simply stay out of his way, remembering his words fro a few hours before. With this in mind, Jason made a beeline for the Medical Bay, and upon entering, was rewarded by seeing Daniel sitting on the table rather than lying on it. Grass was running some tests, and as he lifted Daniel's arms up and down, Horn had to take a guess and say they were joint stress related. He had had enough of those to recognize one when it was taking place. Daniel had been looking at the doctor the entire time, but when the door opened, his head perked up slowly and he got a good look at the Commander. Despite everything, his facial expression didn't change. It remained in a stoic, almost pained look that warranted further investigation.

"Dr. Grass. How is my favourite sky fall buddy doing?" Grass looked over, back to his notes, and then held the datapad at his side.

"About as well as any soldier who's been under torture for over two months Commander. Why he's practically shooting a rainbow out of his ass." Horn glared at the man, who simply rolled his eyes. "He's fine Commander. Although, and I'm going to be enforcing this one, he is not to perform any combat missions for the next few weeks or until I deem him fit for duty. There are no obvious signs of lasting damage aside from obvious corrosion of bone and skin tissue, but I need to make sure." Horn gave a nod.

"Alright fine. Clear out for a moment Doc." Jason stated, Grass made ready to say something, but stopped just short and walked out quietly. Jason looked at Daniel, who simply looked at him back. There was an awkward moment as neither of them could figure out what precisely to say, until Horn clapped his hands. "So...How you doin?"

"I've been better sir." Daniel stated, Horn already picking up on the lack of mirth that usually accompanied his words. Horn walked to the other table, and leaned on it, crossing his arms as he did so.

"Well that's an understatement. However, I'm not asking physically Lieutenant." Horn asked, and Daniel's head perked up. Horn continued. "I've been tortured as well Lieutenant, I know what that kind of damage can do to a man. Physically they may heal, but mentally that's a different question."

"How long were you tortured sir?" Daniel asked, skipping the when knowing he wouldn't get an answer out of the Commander.

"3..." Horn stated and Daniel stared at him, his eyes giving a very disbelieving look. "Days." Horn finished. "But, it was a very harrowing experience with buzz saws, pain-poison injections and the like."

"Well sir, I don't think 3 days can compare to 2 months, 4 days, 11 hours, 5 minutes and 32 seconds." Horn looked over at Daniel, who gave a shrug. "I didn't really have much else to do."

"Which is why I'm concerned Daniel." Jason stated, forgoing his usual gung-ho bravado and showing genuine sympathy. He moved across the distance, and sat down on the same table as Daniel. "I was tortured for 3 days, I still remember the time quite vividly. You were there for..." Horn paused, trying to remember what Daniel had said, but failed. "Quite longer." He ended up going with. He put a hand on the man's shoulder, but Daniel only looked forward. "I need to know that Lieutenant Harrens is still in there."

"He still here sir." Daniel stated. "He's just a little bit more angry now." Horn looked down to see him subconsciously clenching his fists. Horn gave a smile.

"Well, you still have emotion, that's good." Horn stated as he hopped off the table and stood in front of the man. He gripped both of Daniel's shoulders and gave the man one good shake, enough to get his eyes to meet up with Horn. "Listen to me Daniel. You are my friend and brother. First thing I did when I got up, aside from immediately jumping from the ship into the atmosphere and assisting in an assault on a heavily fortified traitor Cerberus scientist, was start a search for you." Horn looked down for a moment, before looking up. "When I woke up, I found myself on a new ship, with new marines, with dead friends, and a lot of anger. So much so, and I'm ashamed to say it, I nearly shot another Cerberus Operative."

"Mind if I ask who sir?" Daniel asked. Horn simply waved his hand.

"That's not important, but listen." Jason took a breath. "You were the one friend that was still out there. Not confirmed dead, and still had hope. Then we found you, and we brought you back." Daniel looked at himself for a second.

"Well as far as I can tell, I'm not dead." Horn shook the man lightly again.

"Your body isn't dead marine! But I look at you, and I start to see a different person. I understand, I sympathize, but I didn't go in there looking to rescue some angry man who forgot how to smile and in it's place put a blood lust that would never be sated." Horn paused. "I went in there to rescue a friend. A friend I'm having a hard time seeing when I look at you. Do you understand."

Daniel looked down from Horn. There was a few moments where nothing was said. Finally Daniel looked up again. "Yes sir, I understand." Horn gave a nod, finally releasing his shoulders.

"I don't expect you to go back to completely how you were before, nor do I expect an immediate improvement. Just do me one favour." Horn gave a smile, lightly slapping Daniel on the face. "Don't forget to smile you bitch!" Daniel gave a smirk, which was more than Horn was hoping for in this little session. There was a hiss at the door, and Horn was already speaking before he turned. "Damn it Doc, ten minutes from your duty ai-"

A blur rushed by him as Daniel was quite literally tackled from the table. Horn just gawked as he half-ran over to see Daniel cringing on the floor and Jessie giving him a bear hug. "You're back! You're alive! That's awesome! Did you know that's awesome! Commander tell him that's awesome!" Horn just stared incredulously at the pair as Daniel looked down at Jessie clutching him in a bear hug.

"Lieutenant McKrain...Do you mind tell me why you're trying to straddle Lieutenant Harrens...and why I didn't get a tackle sex hug when I woke up?" Jessie got up, helping Daniel back up as well.

"Well sir, he's more recent and you were...well you were in a really bad mood when you first got up." Jessie kind of shied away from the question, but Horn knew exactly the mood he was when he first got up. Horn opened his mouth to speak before glaring at Daniel.

"Barely back for a day and already he's stealing the ladies from me." The door hissed once more. "Doc, good timing! Get him to st-" Horn paused when he saw that Kelly was standing in the doorway in immaculate posture. She cocked her head slightly to one side.

"I'm sorry Commander...you were wanting Dr. Grass for something." Horn paused for a second, not moving a muscle.

"Nooooo...What did you need Operative?"

"Nothing sir. I came here to see Lieutenant Harrens. I only got news that he was awake." Kelly walked past Horn to stand next to Daniel, while Horn stared at them all opened mouth trying to form words but failing. Daniel looked at the Commander, giving a genuine smile and shrugging. Horn glared, pointing at the man with two fingers.

"You coy son of a bitch." Jessie gave a laugh and Kelly simply smiled. Horn shook his head, and made to leave. As the door opened, Tia, Nerita, and Carly were all standing there. Horn just stared. "Do you ladies just want to drop your panties now and join the fuck fest going on back there? Or should I assume you are here purely for the 'we love Daniel in a non-sexual way' club?"

"I'm...sorry sir?" Tia stated, which Carly just pushed inside.

"Hell yeah sir! There's a Daniel love party going on here?! Let's do this up!" Horn visibly twitched. Nerita stared at the Commander for a moment before pushing past him, Tia following her. Horn looked back to see the mini-harem that Daniel had now accumulated. They all stared back at him, Carly and Jessie teasing with Daniel's hair just to add effect as the veins were visible on Horn's neck.

"What do I have to do to get a fan club going for Horn?! I jump out of ships for fucks sake! SHIPS! Do I have to punch a collector in the throat? Lose a leg!? Kick a Krogan in the pancreas?! Do Krogans have pancreases...pancreasi?" Horn turned and walked out of the door. "Lincoln! Doc! Hey! Do Krogan have pancreases!?"

The door closed as nearly everyone let out a laugh.

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.