Mass Effect: On the Edge

Lucr'n

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a part of Mass Effect: On the Edge, by The Ghost Writer.

A ruined planet in the Janissary Nebula.

RolePlayGateway holds sovereignty over Lucr'n, giving them the ability to make limited changes.
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Setting

Not much is known about Lucr'n as it lies within the recently mapped Janissary Nebula systems. The very system that owns it is still referred to as Cluster X760. What is known, however, is that it was the home of several Prothean cities, now (like the rest of the race's once-grand empire) lying in ruins. Judging by the mass destruction evident all around the planet, scientists have concluded that a massive extinction event must have occured some 50,000 years ago, when the tectonic plates of the planet began to rapidly shift in random patterns. Another, or perhaps the same, event also caused an abnormal build-up in the planet's greenhouse gases, quickly deteriorating the ozone layer.

At one point, Lucr'n was very much a garden planet like Earth or Eden Prime; but the shifting of the crust and destruction of the atmosphere destroyed all plant life and completely evaporated the oceans. Earthquakes reaching past a magnitude of 10.0 on the Richter scale still frequently occur in every region, and the lack of a protective atmosphere presents a dangerous radiation-afflicted climate. Kinetic barriers, as a result of massive electro-magnetic radiation are all but useless, but still have the potential to offer some protection against Lucr'n's sun. Rugged communication equipment and other essentials is all that can survive in the barren wastelands of this once glorious planet.
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Lucr'n

A ruined planet in the Janissary Nebula.

Minimap


Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

"Yes, ma'am."

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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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

"Copy that," Titus said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Go, sir."

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

“Go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Erik! Shut up!”

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

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

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

[Begin playing soundtrack, "Embolden"]

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

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

“Lance: Kodiak. Move!”

“Aye-Aye! I’ll see you aboard!”

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

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

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

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

“Bringing the pain, mother fuckers!”

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

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






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

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

“Mom?” his hopeful voice cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do I find him?”

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

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

“Thank you, sir.”

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


"What can I get for you, sir?"

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

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

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

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

"You got it, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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