Mass Effect: On the Edge

Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

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

Default setting. Includes the entirety of the Milky Way galaxy, locations that are labelled as "unknown", or any other places not specifically indexed for this role play.

The Ghost Writer holds sovereignty over Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware, giving them the ability to make limited changes.
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For referencing, please use Engorn's "Mass Effect Galaxy Map" on Deviant Art. It is one of the most accurate custom maps created that includes all known locations in the main titles, including the home worlds of major races. It can also serve as a routing guide for mass relay travel.

http://browse.deviantart.com/?q=mass+ef ... 8#/d3k1djr
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Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware

Default setting. Includes the entirety of the Milky Way galaxy, locations that are labelled as "unknown", or any other places not specifically indexed for this role play.

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Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware is a part of Mass Effect: On the Edge.

5 Places in Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware:

38 Characters Here

Commander Jonathan Titus [26] Commander of the Oracle cruiser, the Marathon.
Vala Buchan [19] Commander of the Deliverance
Braden Reynolds [18] Marathon crew member, and Adept biotic.
Private Roger Pollard [17] Fire Team 3 Marksmen in Training
Corporal Edward Stevenson [17] Fire Team 3 Leader
Specialist Maya Salazar [15] Fire Team 3 Medic
Operative Kelly Invaru [13] 2iC to Commander Horn aboard the Call of Victory
Private First Class Logan Fischer [13] Fire Team 3 Combat Engineer
Commander Jensen Ross [13] The Commander of The Novum Initium
Marine LT Menar [12] A Korgan with a napoleon complex.

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Characters Present

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

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“Commander Horn, should we dis-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bingo.” Alexis chimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right on the money, Commander.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can do.”

“And Charlie?”

“Yes, Commander?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Booo…”

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

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

“So, yes then.”

“It’ll work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Say what now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Copy.”

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

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

“The ambient temperature is currentl-”

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

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

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

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

“Uh…”

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

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

“I’m much better crispy!”

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

“Jo, how long we got?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“10 minutes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“G-go to hell.”

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

“Commander.”

“Gravette, what’s up?”

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

“Would the codes make them stop?”

“Definitely.”

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

“Affirmative.”

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

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

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

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

“You have 2.”

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

“Does Sorin have a bad temper?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just a moment…”

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

“It’s locked in!”

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

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

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

“You’ve confirmed it?”

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

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

“…thanks?”

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jonathan Titus Character Portrait: Commander Benjamin Slatton Character Portrait: Petr Orlav

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It had taken considerable time and effort to secure the room Prophet had deemed the “quietest” and a final favour from the captain to convince its tenant to trade. Panting quietly on sweat soaked sheets, Benjamin found himself questioning it’s actual worth. The silence was better for him, arguably, but when the difference was a few minutes, one had to wonder. An idle glance told him he’d managed a few hours so perhaps the value was there. Shedding his soaked shirt, the Oracle commander rose from bed and stepped into the modest ‘living’ room that doubled as his work space.

With a casual flick of his eyes, he waved gently to the sole other occupant of the chamber. Perched demurely on the small sofa along the far wall, Pacheo glanced to him between black bangs illuminated in the gentle glow of her E-reader. Neither seemed phased by the other’s presence as he pulled a wrinkled white shirt from a small mound of laundry beside his desk. Giving it a quick glance to ensure it was ‘clean’, he tugged it over his head as he turned his attention fully to his colleague. “Was I loud?” He asked innocently, smiling lightly at the subtle shake of her head. “Any embarrassing confessions?”

“You called for her.” The softness of her voice was hard to catch, but Ben had experience on his side. His smile softened into a melancholic upturn, hazel eyes drifting to the small viewport beside the seat. “Thinking about her?”

“A little, yeah.” Sinking into his seat, the commander lifted his legs onto his desk and leaned back with a light groan. “Can‘t help it some days, you know?” Rubbing a finger under his nose, Ben’s eyes shifted back to her. “How’s the book? That author put out the new book yet?” She frowned tightly, eyes instantly half-lidded in annoyance as he chuckled. “That’s a no. I thought a salarian would write faster.”

“A good novel can’t be rushed.”

“Of course. What’re you reading now, then?”

She looked back down to the E-reader. “Mystery.”

“Sounds promising.” They fell into silence, although it was neither strained nor awkward. Pacheo was a woman of few words, and she enjoyed the quiet as much as her superior did so neither felt the need to interrupt it with needless banter. Although there was one who did, and Ben perked up slightly when he noted the man’s absence. “Do I want to know what Camarda is up to..?”

Her eyes didn’t even leave the book, continuing to read as she replied, “I believed he was going to take a shower then track down the pilot who flew us over from the Nariph fuel depot…Bishop, I believe.” He sighed through an amused smile.

“He’s relentless, isn’t he?”

“Mhm.”

Standing up from his seat, Ben grabbed one of his hoodies from his cloths pile as he started towards the door. “I better stop him…” Pacheo flicked a finger across the screen, moving onto another page as she wondered aloud.

“Temporary at best.”

“Long enough to tell Titus what I’ve let loose in his ship.”

“Easier to ask for forgiveness.”

“I’m fond of the hard way.” He rebutted, flicking the hood up with a grin at the woman. She simply shook her head, and the commander left her to the book, stepping into the dimly lit hallway with an idle glance in both directions. Rather than wandering aimlessly, he opted to make use of the ‘eyes’ he knew were watching him. “Prophet, you there?”

“Of course, sir.” The AI replied instantly in his ear piece, facilitating a much easier and more private conversation. “It is good to speak with you again. How might I be of assistance?”

“I’m pretty sure I told you to call me Ben…” He commented idly, rubbing under his nose with a light grin. “Nice to hear from you too. I’m looking for one Lieutenant Commander Camarda. Got anything for me?” Prophet took only a moment to process the request.

“Your associate is currently departing the flight deck. He has been conversing with Lieutenant Bishop.” The AI paused, before continuing. “Apologies for the intrusion, but Detective Orlav is requesting your presence in the Conference room for a routine security interview.”

There was a thick pause, Ben’s eyes darkening slightly for a moment. “Access level?”

“All relevant classified information has remained classified, as per your arrangement with the Operator.” His features lightened instantly, and the commander grinned lopsidedly at nothing in particular.

“Alright then, might as well humour the detective for a bit. Tell Camarda to keep it in his pants for me, would you?” He turned on his heel and started down the hallway, chewing idly on his lip beneath the protective shadow of his hoodie. Job or not, it never sat right when people started to dig into his past, even without the clearance level necessary. He’d met far too many hackers in his career to trust simple encryption.

It seems he’d have to get rid of this Orlav’s curiosity right at the source.

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

Quietly walking the hall towards the conference room, Ben glided soundlessly past the various personnel using the hallway, ignoring the few lingering gazes his curious appearance garnered. His clothing was far more casual than most would likely wear aboard a warship, and the hood likely made him seem more suspicious than necessary. “Aren’t I supposed to be good at blending..?”

The corridor was decorated with paintings that he assumed were supposed to be rather impressive. Pausing in front of one such piece, he stared at the ‘art’ for a few moments before shaking his head with a chuckle. The ‘finer’ things in life weren’t really his thing, and the artistic merit of contemporary pieces was just as confusing as the galactic stock market.

Trudging the final few steps to the glass ‘oval’, he pulled the door open to where he saw the waiting figure of who he assumed was this Detective Orlav. Slatton waved lightly before burying his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, crossing the room with a lazy gait. How exactly did one get the ‘rank’ of Detective anyway? Wasn’t exactly a military designation, and Ben wondered idly if he was about to be grilled by a civilian.

Dropping into a chair opposite the greying man, Ben’s tired eyes locked momentarily with his, before flashing a toothy grin that didn’t belong on someone with the title ‘Commander’. “You rang, Detective Orlav? Worried I’m up to something nasty?” He leaned back in the chair, propping his bare feet up on the sleek table without delay. “Or is this just a courtesy call?”

The detective looked at Ben, eyes neutral as he stared at the commander. “I must say Ben,” He began, his Russian accent thick as he spoke, “You are very interesting. Tell me, how did you end up here?”

Ben blinked passively, pulling a hand from his pocket to fiddle with the strings of his hoodie. “I took a shuttle. Shouldn’t that be pretty obvious? Was a bit of a cramped flight, but you can’t always go first class.” Petr nodded as he interlaced his fingers and placed his hands on the desk

“I assume it was a first class shuttle, Consultant Pothier.”

“Hardly. Alliance can’t afford to be flying nobodies around in top of the line ships. Gotta save that for the big dogs.” He stretched with a tired yawn, lacing his hands behind his head as he fixed the man with a bored expression. “Is this really why you want to talk to me? My travel accommodations? Could have just asked Prophet for that, not like I’m going to get offended.”

“Yes, the Alliance has a nasty habit of that, do they not?” The detective pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, placing one in his mouth before flicking one out and offering it to Ben. “Do you smoke?”

“Nah.”

Orlav nodded, sticking the cigarette back into the pack before retrieving the lighter from his pants pocket. “Admirable, I must stop this probably.” The detective remarked as he lit the cigarette and took a long drag. “They will kill me, especially at my age.” He blew a long stream of smoke into the air as he slowly brought the cigarette down, pointing it casually at the commander. “But you wouldn't have to worry about that...would you?”

“I‘m not some immortal, Detective. I bleed like anyone else.” Ben grinned, rubbing under his nose with a light chuckle. “But I get the feeling we’re on the track you want to be on, so maybe it’s time you came out with it, yeah?”

“Fair enough Mister Slatton. We both know that is your real name, and that this consultant of yours is nothing more than a disguise.” Orlav lifted the cigarette back up to his mouth and put it between his lips. He then reached into his on of his many anterior coat pockets “That alone causes little for me to worry about.” After a moment, he pulled out a data-pad and slid across the table to Ben “What disturbs me is that you are a walking corpse on my ship.”

“I’m stubborn what can I say.” He yawned sleepily, blinking a few times to dispel the urge to rest. “It’s not like I’m trying to hide my name or anything. What’s the point? Its jut a name.” Pulling his feet down, the commander cracked his shoulder sluggishly before continuing. “So, what about a dead man disturbs you so much, Detective?”

“I have had my experiences in the field that I am sure you are in.” Was the reply as he blew more smoke into the air. “I don't trust anyone in our business, especially those who are affiliated with Cerberus. Now, I don't expect that you will tell me anything Benjamin, but know this.” Orlav leaned into the table “I will be watching you, and if you pull on any of the strings that are used to control you, I will deal with it personally.” He leaned back and put the cigarette out on the table before continuing “This is not a threat, just fair warning.”

There was silence only for a moment, Ben’s expression dull as his eyes regarded the man. “Let me clarify your thought process, Detective.” His voice had lost its humour, and in whole his entire demeanour shifted into something more serious as he blankly addressed the man. “There are no strings. No cords. No arrangements. I work with this organization and by extension this ship, of my own accord.” The hood cast shadows over his face; the slightest upturn on his lips the only expression visible. “What you see of me is what I deem appropriate for you to see of me. While I appreciate the ‘warning’, it is ultimately pointless.”

His eyes flicked to the mark on the table left by the cigarette. “Your efforts will be better spent elsewhere. If you claim experience in my ‘field’ then you should be no doubt aware that we likely have traitors in our midst already. They should be your focus, unless you subscribe to the belief that Oracle stands at par with the veterans of the galaxy’s shadows. In which case, I recommend a new line of work.”

He let his words hang for a moment, before his eyes coldly found Orlav’s again. “And might I remind you, Detective, that it is Commander Slatton, regardless of your perceived position aboard this ship.”

“I hold no official rank Benjamin. I could call you Хуесос, and all they could do is kick me out. That would matter little to me.” The man met his eyes evenly. “And there are no traitors on this ship... because I am on it.”

“Then you are far too naïve for a man your age, Orlav.” Slatton straightened in his seat, fingers laced before his face with cold intensity. “An oracle who opposes hell’s great hound, it does not take a prophet to foresee the jaws around its throat.” He tapped a finger on the conference table, the sound firm and echoing within the glass oval. “Consider this your ‘fair’ warning. If you attempt to dig into my past again, there will be repercussions. I will instruct Prophet to inform me of any such attempts. I trust I have made myself perfectly clear?”

"I enjoy your optimism in Prophet's ability to control me. Perhaps you are the naive one." Orlav stood from his seat and straightened his attire for a moment. “Men are told words, loyalty, unity and brotherhood, Words said to keep the faith of the fearful, But in the end these words do no good, for in the end, fear makes traitors of the faithful.” Petr recited the poem of his own devise without so much as a pause as he walked towards the door “We will talk again soon, Commander.”

Slatton’s eyes drifted to the man’s back for a moment. “Detective.” The commander paused for a moment, leaning back in his chair with a solemn frown. “The next time you speak to me, ensure all of your affairs are in order.”

Orlav stopped as he opened the door, not looking over as he responded. “Next time I speak to you, it will be when I am investigating you for the murders of all those innocent people on that ship.” And with that, the Russian exited the conference room, as Slatton rose slowly from his seat.

“Prophet.”

“You called, sir?”

“I want to know if Orlav tries digging again. If he can think faster than an artificial intelligence, then perhaps he’ll slip it by you. I doubt it.” Slatton rubbed his lip, eyes blank as he continued. “And if he insists on pushing this subject…”

“Please refrain from taking matters into your own hands, Commander Slatton.”

His eyes flicked casually to the ceiling, as if the AI was staring down at him. “Then I highly recommend you inform the Operator of this meeting and take this ‘detective’ off my case. Or she’ll find herself short one snoop.” He paused with a heavy sigh. “Don’t even bother; I know she’s already listening. Fix this, or I will, Carson.” After a moment, the tension left his body and he offered a light smirk. “And for the last time Prophet, it’s Ben.”

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

Having retreated to his quarters shortly after the meeting with the ship’s ‘Internal Affairs Officer’, Ben sat idle behind his desk as he lazily bounced a grey ball between his hands on the polished surface. He hadn’t done much else for the better part of the day, and Pacheo had left to go get them both some food from the Mess Hall with Camarda.

His eyes drooped periodically, but there was little chance that he was lucky enough to fall asleep from boredom. He’d given up on that possibility years ago. Catching the ball firmly, he leaned back in his seat while spinning it idly in his palm. “There is just nothing to do here, is there..?”

A small holographic image of Prophet appeared on the small display integrated into his desk, and the AI gave the same polite smile in greeting it always had since they’d first met back on Bekenstein. “Benjamin, I have informed the Operator of your request as instructed. She has no reply at this time.”

“Well, hopefully she takes it seriously. I’m really not trying to make waves here by slitting some over-zealous Russian’s throat, but-”

“If I may, is it really wise to resort to such matters so early into the situation?”

“Sometimes things need to be addressed immediately, Prophet. For example, what if one of the crew thought it wise to expose the Alliance using an AI, even though you are very much illegal? We’d contain it immediately, right?”

The AI seemed to pause for thought, more of a conversational quirk he suspected since it had likely processed his statement the moment it left his mouth. “In the theoretical situation, yes.” Ben nodded, spinning the ball in his palm.

“Now, while I can’t say my past is exactly top-level national secrets…” His eyes fell to the floor, and the ball dropped from his hand suddenly as Ben’s figure shrunk the slightest degree. Pressing a hand to his face, the commander dug the nails roughly into his temples for a moment before continuing. “…the last thing I, and by extension we, need is someone digging that up in plain view.”

“I see, Benjamin.”

“Don’t mistake this for eager. I just want the past to finally stay in the past…and things will run smoother if it does.” Flicking his gaze down to the fallen ball, Ben grunted as he bent over to retrieve it. “Hyper-intelligence or not, don’t worry about it, Prophet. I’m confident my favourite robot can keep an old man from digging around too much.” Tossing the ball up once, there was a light laugh from the man. “And congrats on the name. Only took you three months.”

“Thank you.” The AI retorted, with almost the slightest hint of humour in his voice.

“So, anything worth mentioning going on? Dangerous intrigues? Dastardly conspiracies? Some decent sparring partners, maybe?”

“While we may lack the intensity of plots, sparring partners you will find in no short supply. I will happily compile a list of suitable opponents that are capable of standing more on your skill level.” The AI went silent for a moment as it combed the ship records and the like, before a small list of names appeared on the display. “I trust these will be to standard.”

Ben glanced at the list, raising an eyebrow curiously. “The Captain’s on here, but you’ve got him greyed out.”

“The Captain is currently preparing a meeting with the command staff ove-” Before Prophet could finish, Ben was up and around his desk in the blink of an eye. “Benjamin, you are not technically a member of the ship’s commander staff.”

“I am an intelligence consultant, aren’t I?” He fired back, punching open the door with a grin. “And that sounds infinitely more like the intrigue I asked you about. Don’t hold out on me, P!”

“I do not believe your alias constitutes as sufficient reason to be included.”

“I’m going, that’s final. Tell Pacheo and Camarda I stepped out, would you?” There was no reply from the AI, a sign which he took as acceptance as he moved down the hall towards the lift. A fancy meeting with the command staff didn’t sound like it’d need a conference room, no more like something akin to a war room.

With that in mind, Ben called up the location of said room in his head from his brief review of the ship’s layout shortly after his arrival. Command deck. It’d likely be encrypted to keep the rank and file out and away from sensitive information. Would he have the clearance? Not likely. As if that would keep a good commando out.

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

The low light of Alliance vessels suited Ben well, giving countless places to ‘hide’ even when they were in plain sight. Propped up against a terminal, obscured by the dark lighting, Ben felt perfectly at home in the darkness watching the meeting begin before him. When Prophet had mentioned the command staff, he hadn’t been kidding. Everyone present, save for the skittish looking younger man, were part of the brief who’s who he’d been given when he’d come aboard.

They all were grimly focused on the display in front of them, the Daedalus system by the look of the read outs. His eyes snapped to the first one to speak; Lieutenant Dike if he remembered correctly, as she began their little pow-wow. “This is the latest intel we have on Daedalus,” She announced, and he leaned forward with only slightly increased interest. “We know there are least two Cerberus signatures in the system. Only one, however, a cruiser-class, is showing up on scans.”

“We know this for sure?” The flight commander asked, and Ben cracked a one-sided grin at his doubt. Smart to want solid answers before heading into the fray.

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

Ben’s eyes flicked to Taylor’s head as it rose at the mention of the stealth frigate, giving the Captain a serious look that he met with an assenting nod. The two had suspicions already? Curious. “The Vindicator.”

Dike asked the question no doubt on everyone’s mind. “Pardon, sir?”

Titus wasted no time explaining. “The Cerberus frigate I commanded before defecting to Oracle. When I spoke with the Illusive Man, he said Commander Buchan.” The next words from his mouth were soundless to Ben, his whole body tensing at the mention of Buchan. Buchan. Vala Buchan. Commander Buchan.

His mind snapped to alertness he wasn’t accustomed to, racing as the continuing meeting echoed dimly in the background whilst his brain tried to sort this information. It was just a suspicion, but the words had been spoken by the Illusive Man himself. Commander, oh god, he’d made her a commander?! A ship, was she ready to handle that? How much had changed in the year? The Vala he’d known, the one he knew he saw on Hephaestus…she couldn’t be leading a ship, could she?

His eyes snapped back to Titus, watching the man with cold intensity. How much did he know? Could he fill in the missing information? The meeting shifted to talk of data and Reapers, but nothing that was said was penetrating. The information could be regained; he rationalized, but an entire system?

A system that she was in. Could they catch her? Would they get there in time to make that possible? He didn’t know, and the lack of knowledge made his head throb painfully. Benjamin sucked in a heavy breath, soothing his hammering mind for a blissful moment as the meeting fell into silence.

He’d risk it. “If you ask me,” He began, alerting the entire room to his presence immediately as he meet the inquisitive stares head on. “You’ll want to go for the system.”

“How long have you been there?”

He smirked slightly, forcing himself to exude the calm confidence that this meeting required despite the churning tempest in his stomach. Pushing off the terminal, he ignored the question as he placed himself firmly between Rhodie and Thomas - a move far bolder than the simplicity of it seemed to suggest. They formed the ‘power base’ of the vessel, and he had placed himself amongst them. Quiet, but effective psychology.

“It’s an easier decision than you might think, Titus,” He said. “You can’t sacrifice a whole system simply to save data that can be rediscovered with time.” Cold arithmetic, he’d once heard it called. The brutal rationality that war demanded, where one must sacrifice to gain. The information, he knew, was more valuable in the long term. The Reapers; a far greater threat than a simple Cerberus purge. But Cerberus opposed the Reapers. The information would be used against them, he reasoned. It was safe to sacrifice.

Nothing was thought of the lives stationed at the location, at least not now. To think of them would cripple the resolve to remain firm. To influence this decision. To make it fall the way he wished. After a minute of silence, Titus spoke with a firmness that told them all a decision had been made.

Somewhere in the pit of his mind, he apologized soundlessly. “Commander Rhodie,” Titus said, staring intently at the display over the war table.

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

“Ready your pilots.”

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

“Major Thomas.”

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

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

“Aye-aye, sir!”

“Darcy!”

“Daedalus, sir?”

“Do it.”

Internally, Ben released a breath as the slightest tension of his body rolled out and left him standing far looser than he had been moments before. Tucking his hands silently back into his hoodie pockets, his eyes focused on the Captain who didn’t seem finished quite yet with their little briefing.

“Listen up,” Titus spoke aloud to the others remaining around the table. “I don’t like it when my enemy forces me to make a decision like this. When we enter that system, we will give them no quarter. Dismissed.”

The commando was motionless; watching stoically as the others immediately turned and went to their various duties. He lingered, as did Titus for a brief moment, watching the man calmly straighten up from the display. Their eyes met for the briefest of moments, and Ben ducked his head down slowly. “You made the right call, Jonathan.”

The lie passed through his teeth like it was natural, and Ben was silent as the captain left the room without another word. Titus could have reached the decision on his own, he rationalized. They’d not known each other long enough; there wasn’t the camaraderie to solidify his opinion to the man. Simple white lies, he knew. Little white lies and "good" intentions.

Tugging his hood down over his face, Benjamin cracked a sad smile. “Commander Buchan, huh?” The guilt would have to wait.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Marine LT Menar Character Portrait: Noah Korol

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Leaving the Commander with the Doctor, Noah strode along the hallway toward her room. She had a great deal to think about after her encounter with the Psychologist. The woman’s overt racism and almost aggressive condescension was a puzzle. Was it possible the woman was truly that transparent? Somehow Noah did not believe that to be the case. The problem was that Noah didn’t have nearly enough information to form a working hypothesis. A puzzle.

Remembering the meeting that the Commander had mentioned, Noah paused, “Phyllis, can you please direct me to Menar?”

“Affirmative, Noah Korol. Marine Lt. Menar is in the training area.” The A.I. intoned.

Noah smiled, “Thank you.” Pivoting on the ball of her foot, Noah headed toward the elevator. Once inside the car, she shook her head. She could not get accustomed to a military rank being applied to Menar. He was the antithesis of military discipline. Emerging on the deck for crew quarters and the Marine’s training area, Noah wondered what new terrors the Krogan was inflicting on the Marines today. The door to the Spartan training area hissed open to reveal Menar standing behind a Marine, holding him by the chin. The man’s toes barely touched the ground as Menar snarled terse instructions to the gathering of approximately 30 Marines arranged in a half circle in front of him.

“If I can creep up behind you apes, you deserve your damned heads twisted right off your shoulders!” The Krogan spat out at them. “Be aware of everything around you and you might just stay alive long enough to…”

A slender, disembodied hand reached around the enormous shoulder of Menar and gripped his mid-forearm. Noah’s finger’s dug deeply into the tendons and Menar’s hand reflexively jerked open dropping the hapless Marine in Menar’s grip to his knees. With a snarl, Menar jerked his arm forward dragging Noah from behind his back, but before he could make a grab for her, she cart-wheeled out of his reach easily.

He rubbed his forearm with an irritated scowl. “Damn it, Noah, I might have killed you.”

Noah smiled gently, “Forgive the intrusion, Menar.” She did not make the obvious poke at him in reminding him to ‘be aware of everything around you’. She would never show such disrespect in front of others.

The Marines looked back and forth between the pair in obvious curiosity.

"If you wished it, I would be honored to show such techniques to your squads, Menar.” Noah offered softly.

Menar looked back to the Marines still gathered around. Most quickly looked away from his dark gaze. “Last thing I need is these idiots trying to incapacitate each other and doing permanent damage.” He scowled, “Pair up. Take downs.” The Krogan ordered before turning toward Noah. He jerked his chin for her to follow and headed to the door out.

Noah followed Menar out to the hallway after a small bow to the quizzical Marines. A few quick steps brought her even with the Krogan. He looked down at her scowling. As he walked, he rubbed the forearm she’d dug her fingers into. “Got a reason for coming down here? I got to get those jarheads into some semblance of shape”

“Why are they called jarhe-?” Noah began to ask

“Tradition.” Menar snapped impatiently. “Talk.”

Unfazed, Noah nodded, “Commander Ross Jensen has received our next mission and wishes you and I to attend the brief.” She paused while they waited for the elevator to arrive. The pair entered the elevator. Once the door closed, Noah continued. “Commander Ross Jensen said he would notify us when he needed us.”

Menar grunted. One floor up, the pair exited the elevator and turned left almost in lock step toward Noah’s quarters. “So? How’d your visit go with the shrink?”

“Why are they called-?”

Menar stopped mid-stride to fix Noah with an exasperated glare. “Don’t you ever get tired of asking questions?”

The Drell shook her head, “Oh no. Never. I find that curiosity is…”

Menar dragged his hand down his face with a groan. “Are you trying to make my head explode?” He asked rhetorically.

Noah looked perplexed, “No, of course not. Why should I wish such a…?”

Menar just thrust his chin out at the Drell. “The Doctor? Think we can move on here?”

Noah blinked slowly, “Are you upset?”

“Don’t make me strangle you.” The Krogan growled.

“Yes. Well.” Noah turned toward her room once more. “Dr. Andrea Chell is the very model of what may be considered the stereotypical Cerebrus recruit or supporter.”

Menar snorted as he strode into the Drell’s quarters. “She’s a bitch?”

“That is not entirely the whole of it, Menar.” Noah followed behind and waited for the door to close.”Dr. Andrea Chell is superior, a racist, cold and surprisingly well-educated.”

The big Krogan eased into a metal chair brought into Noah’s quarters that would handle his bulk. “Yeah? So what do you really think?”

Noah began to pace as she turned things over in her mind. “It seems she is too much like what I was supposed to see.” She paused in her pacing to face him. “But, I do not know why.”

“Gonna keep digging?” Menar held up a hand. “Never mind. Of course you are.” The Krogan leaned back in the chair and laced his fingers behind his massive head.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sonya Marie Jackson Character Portrait: Petr Orlav

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“He is hiding something.” Petr murmured to himself as soon as he office door clicked shut. Petr would have to be careful from now on, no doubt there was a reason Ben didn’t want him digging into his past. No more searching through records on the ship, not as long as Prophet could see him do, as he was sure the AI would be Ben’s lapdog now. He couldn’t speak a word of it to anyone else either; he wasn’t sure who would end up getting close with the newbie. For Petr, this was just like old times, not that it brought back many good memories.

The Russian sauntered over to his desk and flopped down in his chair and laid back, thinking of how he could find out more about his new investigatory interest. Something rubbed him wrong about the man; he didn’t trust that his reasons for being here were of good nature. He could be wrong; then again he could be right and if he was that was something he would rather figure out sooner rather than later. Petr stuck a hand under and it glided underneath it until his hand came to a small pad attacked to the metallic underbelly. Without looking, he typed in a security code, when the code was finished he was greeted by a click as a hidden compartment unlocked. Petr rolled his chair backward slightly so he could see the large compartment under the desk that had graciously revealed itself for its owner. Inside, there were multiple items from a time before Petr had joined oracle. He shuffled through the objects until a small round item feel to the floor and bounced across the metallic surface.

His eyes studied the object on the floor, his mind pulling a memory that was buried deep in his psyche. Eventually, he forced himself to wrap his fingers around the object and lean back, bringing it up in front of his face. The object that he was now twirling in his fingers was a challenge coin. One side depicted a Russian eagle; the other was a symbol of the Alliance that had been scorched by a flame long ago. The man’s gaze softened as his mind took him back to a time, long before he worked for Oracle.


****

“Detective, you have a visitor.” A feminine voice sang in Russian through a small speaker on the Petr’s desk. Petr screwed up his face, as he looked out the window in his office. The picture of Moscow outside was obscured by the frosty winter darkness of the night. Who would be visiting him at this late at night, and in this weather?

Petr pressed the button on the speaker and spoke politely to the secretary on the other line “Who is it?”

“He says his name is Boris Torev.” The woman replied back, she was obviously trying to hide how tired she was.

“Oh, yes just direct him to my office.” Petr leaned back in his chair. Boris was only six hours late, so maybe Petr shouldn’t be so angry, since he is usually late by days.

The detective went back to the work that was lying across his desk, he had mountains of paperwork today, and it was beginning to drive him nuts. He hadn’t gotten three more sentences down before his friend opened the door “Hope I’m not disturbing your work.” The sarcasm is Boris’s voice was undeniable.

“I fucking hate this job already, without you coming up here.” Petr said with a smile on his face

“I can’t believe they are still making you work here.” Boris replied as he closed the door behind him and strode over to Petr’s desk.

“Well.” Petr began with a thick amusement “I can’t believe they are still making you go by Boris. Makes you sound like an old man.” In reality, Boris was an old man who had very old and dangerous ideas. He was already pushing seventy, but he was still as fit as a twenty year old. But that was no uncommon for people in their line of work.

“I am an old man.” Boris reputed as he stroked a hand across his bald head. Without so much as mentioning it, Boris took a black box from his pocket and activated it. Once the machine was on his smile faded; his eyes got stern as his expression serious “We have little time to continue this small talk.”

“Why? Is there something wrong?” Petr asked, concern mixed into his lively voice.

“Yes.” Boris growled “A traitor has infiltrated us. I believe he may be relaying information to the enemy.”

“Do you think he exposed our plan?” Petr asked worriedly

“No, I don’t suspect that he knows of the plan.”

“How can you be sure of that? Do you know who it is?”

Boris nodded, biting his lower lip. Petr rarely saw his friend like this, he seemed to be nervous and that was something of a feat to accomplish “I have an idea. I think that it may be Aziz.”

“The Arab?” Petr questioned his friend with the question which had an obvious answer.

“Yes.”

“But why would he betray us? The Arbiters hate them more than we do.”

“I’m not sure, but if Aziz has fallen into the laps of those hypocrites in the West, than he has to be dealt with.”

“You are sure he hasn’t said anything to the DEAA?” Petr asked as he leaned into his desk

“No, if the Department of Euro-Asian Affairs knew anything, we would be dead or arrested by now. They wouldn’t waste time investigating the allegations; they are already under threat of being shut down now that Russia is incorporating itself further into the Alliance.”

“What about the plan for next week?” If Aziz had become a mole, a wide variety of things might need to change
“As I said before, I doubt anything about our plans has been exposed. Everything will continue on schedule. I already contacted a small mercenary group in Africa; they will be replacing the Arab’s for the attack.” Boris reassured

“Are you sure they can be trusted?” Petr asked

Boris nodded as he slicked a smoke from his pocket and offered it to Petr “Yes, cigarette?”

“No thank you, I don’t smoke.” Petr refused politely

“You should start; they will calm those nerves of yours.”

Petr smiled “Why, so I can end up bald and unhealthy like you?”

“With all the shit they have today, I’m sure they could stop that. However, I refuse to use that pig dog technology.”

“Not all of it is bad, some of it we have been using.” Petr rebutted

“Out of necessity.” Boris reminded his colleague as he lit up his cigarette and blue a blob of smoke into Petr’s face.


****

Petr was thrown back into the present as someone knocked at his door. He stuck the coin into his pocket and stood up; giving one final glance at the floor to make sure everything had been picked up. He crossed the room and hit the holographic panel in the middle, sending the door sliding open to reveal his visitor.

“Well hey there ruskie.” Sonya said with a smile. She was geared up in combat armor and had her sniper flung over one shoulder.

“What is the occasion?” Petr’s question was as bland and rough as sandpaper

“We are going into a system where there might be Cerberus; LT said he wants me down in the hanger. My teams already there, I wanted to see if you wanted to come down and hang out. I doubt that the fight will get inside the ship so don’t worry about getting in a tussle.” The smile across the sniper’s face was as cocky as ever.

Cerberus huh? Petr thought for a second. Perhaps he could find a way to amplify the signal from his hacking pad and get into Cerberus systems. Who knows what kind of good information he could get from there on the organization in general and about his new friend Ben. “No, I will go to the bridge. Perhaps I will come to the hanger after the fighting has started.” Petr replied coldly to which Sonya just shrugged

“Suit yourself; I’ll be down their waiting for your sorry ass.”

“I am sure.” Petr said as he brushed past his fellow security team member and the door to his office slid shut behind him. Without saying so much as bye Petr began his stride towards the bridge, and Sonya just rolled her eyes and went her separate way.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jensen Ross Character Portrait: Yeoman Andrea Chel Character Portrait: Op Chief Susan Vasquez Character Portrait: Marine LT Menar Character Portrait: Noah Korol

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Ross was a big man but he was sneaky when he wanted to be. ‘Stupidly quiet for a man your size.’ as the Ops Chief had once put it. And he needed that in order to get to the communications room without catching the attention of any crew members. It had been a few minutes since Joe had informed him that the Illusive Man wished to speak with him. Despite the dangers a new mission would bring Ross could not hope but to be given one. The last couple of months had come and gone without much action to speak of besides relieving the universe of a few pirates. The lack of action had him unnerved, perhaps bored. Which he knew made him less than hospitable to the crew.

He waited a few moments as the computer confirmed his presence and the image of his employer materialized in front of him. He gave a salute. “Sir.”

The Illusive Man sat in his usual chair, in his usual manner, with his usual cigarette. Just... the usual. When he spun around to face him, he was finishing up a drag and then slowly exhaled a stream of smoke before saying, "Commander Ross, how would you like to take a swing at Oracle? I'm sure you've been caught up by now on the reports we have of their activities."

Ross came out of his salute and nodded his head. "A pleasure to, Sir. Got to say, it’s tough to believe they had something running the Alliance that was so big and I never heard a word about it. Then again....I suppose if a clandestine agency was known then they weren’t doing a very good job. What kind of pain are we bringing them?“

The Man smiled, clearly pleased by Ross' sudden interest in the proposal. "Oracle has a hidden research outpost on Luna. They’ve collected multiple Dragon's Teeth that had been left on the Citadel during Sovereign's attack and have begun amassing large amounts of data on Reaper indoctrination processes. Cerberus would greatly benefit from their research."

[Ross was taken aback for a moment at the mention of the Dragons Teeth. "Dragon Teeth sir? You mean those huge spikes that turn people into...er tech zombies? Can't imagine they'd be looking for some way to reverse it. Dead is dead, then there is worse than dead. Those teeth...absolutely in the latter. You had mentioned this to be a swing, Sir, I take it you don't want us to go through the back door?"

"They aren't looking for a way to reverse indoctrination, Commander," The Man corrected. "They're looking for a way to prevent, suppress, or control it. I'm more interested in the control aspect of it."

Ross rubbed his chin and looked down as he thought about the Illusive Man’s bold plan. "Control it. Use the enemies forces against them...could be THE moment of this war. I'll get you that information, Sir. On my life." He said with a nod as he looked up.

The Illusive Man took another drag before dabbing the end of the spent cigarette in the small ashtray on his chair. "I'll be sending Kai Leng along with you. He's my best operative. Our intelligence suggests that Oracle will have an infiltrator of equal skill, that's why I'm mandating that he assist you on this mission."

Ross paused a moment. "I appreciate the assistance, Sir. But I'd like it on record that I believe my crew could handle this on their own. Where will we be picking up Mr. Leng? Also are we on the clock here Sir? Or do we take our time and perhaps let them do a bit more work for us in the research?"

"I'll note your confidence in your team, Ross; but just know that only someone of Leng's caliber will be able to face this particular opponent. Leng will meet you on Luna when you arrive, and yes, you'll need to make haste to the Sol System. I need this mission completed as soon as possible. Your EDI will have more information available on the exact data I need you to collect. Anymore questions, Commander?"

Ross swallowed his pride.

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Ross returned the slight bow Noah gave as she exited the Chel’s office. He turned to the doctor as the doors sealed, an amused grin on his face. “Philosophy and the romantic Dr? Are you making a new frien-?”

“Don’t you dare finish that word, Ross.” Interrupted the doctor. “I will never be bloody friends with a…frog.”

Ross raised his hands, “Alright, can’t make you be friends, but she is a shipmate so should and will be treated with that respect.”

“Oh please Ross, I may not have the same military experience as you and everyone else on this ship. But I do know how important it is to keep personal feelings out of the mission.” She sat back and crossed her arms. She had expected Ross to take his seat but when he had not after a few moments she looked up to see that same amused grin on his face. “Oh sit down.” She huffed.

“Yes ma’ am.” Replied Ross with a smile as he settled into the chair. “Not really here for a session though. Don’t have the time.”

Drea’s frustration bled away as she noticed the change in the Commander body language. “New mission?”

Ross nodded his elbows resting on his knees as his hands held his chin, folded as if praying though the Commander was never really a particularly religious man, “Big and loud one, hitting Oracle hard it seems. Should be messy.” After a moment he added, “I’m not under any belief that everyone will be coming home this time.”

Chel frowned a bit, “And you were last time?”

“More so than now, we had a good plan. Good odds. Had tons of advantages that negated their home court one. This time though. Longer odds, the only real advantage we have is surprise and when that wears off we can’t pack up and go till the mission is done. We’re going to have to be stubborn.” A smile broke through the Commanders lips. “Though with this group, I don‘t think stubborn will be a problem.”

Drea put a hand to her chin, “Well you’ve already accepted that but from when you entered the room I could tell you’re still feeling like a cocky prick. A hell of a lot better than you were when you first came to see me Mister Doom and Gloom.”

“I’ve had a good doctor.” Ross smiled.

Drea tried to use the hand on her chin to cover her smile. It wasn’t entirely successful. “Well I’d say in a few more years with this progress you won’t need a doctor anymore. Well you know besides one to stitch you up when you’re being particularly stupid. Wait so if you’re not here for a session and you’re handling the thought of the mission this well. Why did you come by?”

Ross couldn’t help but get a little embarrassed look on his face. “Well I don’t know it’s how I was before too. Before a big mission I made sure to go through every part of the ship. Talk to everyone, see how the mood is.” He shrugged. “Maybe it’s to make sure that if I don’t come back everyone will be saying good shit about me at the wake.” He looked up thoughtfully. “Wonder how many ex-lovers would show up.”

Drea let out an audible moan. “Oh please with your record, not many.”

Ross made a mimic of being shot in the heart. “Doctor please, wounded psyche here.” He stood up from the chair, “Talk to you after Drea.”

“Jen, sorry but, how sure are you of this mission?”

“The intel is good Drea. Very good, right from the inside.”

Drea face turned to concern. “Agent or asset.”

“Does it matter?”

“Well generally, an agent is a person who is a believer. He’s been with the cause from the start. He’s devoted and generally trusted. Well as trusted as you can be in a intelligence agency. An asset meanwhile is generally ‘turned’. They were picked from within the enemies ranks because they knew how to get to him, bribery usually. Can you really trust someone who would turn on their own people once for something like credits?”

Ross smiled a little, though a spark of concern did flicker in his mind. “The intel is good Drea.”

She nodded slowly the concern still slightly on her face but she managed a smile which the commander returned as he walked out, ordering members of the strike team to the briefing room from his Omni-tool.

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Sue’s mind was completely at ease as she worked on her precious mantis. The new scope glinted from the top and the Op’s Chief made a note to muss it up a bit. A shiny scope is just a target she would tell herself, but she couldn’t help but admire the new addition to her toy. It took a few moments before she noticed herself being called by the Commander on her Omni-tool. “Sorry sir.”

“I see the upgrades we got from Illum are being well taken care of.” Came an amused voice from her arm.

“Shaddap or I won’t lock down yours and not tell you. See how funny it is with a black eye at target practice.”

“We’ll have plenty of target practice coming up soon Ops Chief. But better make sure to leave that prank in the memory banks less you want someone here to get killed.”

“Mission sir?”

“Getting everyone to the briefing room now.”

“Well I could have done that sir.”

“Oh sure 15 minutes later after you’re done drooling over the new toy.”

“I wasn’t drooling….” She made a quick movement to the corners of her lips just to make sure.

“Uh huh. We’re on the clock here soldier.” Sue was about to cut the call before she heard. “Hey Sue.” She stopped and waited for the Commander to finish. It sounded like he was trying to figure out a way to put his question. “Do you trust intelligence assets?”

“Sir you know I trust every spook we meet about as far as I can throw them. And well look at the size of me. It ain’t far.” She heard a chuckle on the other side of the line.

“See you soon Ops Chief.”

What the hell was that about? She wondered.


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Ross was leaning back comfortably on the wall as the last of the group arrived.

“Afternoon everyone, we got ourselves a new primary mission from the big man himself.” He said as he pushed himself off the wall. “I know we’ve all been a little stir crazy here. Only so many pirates to bust before we need a little more. Well we’re going to get it. Oracle is a top secret intelligence agency. You should be getting everything we know about them with your mission briefs. Think of them like us, but without our style.” He smirked as a few chuckles came from all around.

Ross pushed a button on the controls for the table.An image of the Earth’s moon came up. “They have an outpost on Luna, though as you can see, it may as well be a base. Now we need some data. However we’ll be joined on this little venture by a Mr. Leng, some infiltration expert." A murmur of discontent came up over some of the men and others, though not vocal, surely had faces of malcontent. Ross held up his hands to quiet the room. He knew they were a restless as he. "However, the Illusive Man is not looking for some black ops whisper. Leng is in charge of getting the data. We are there for the bang."

"How much of a bang are we talking about here Ross?" Menar grinned.

"The kind that features a Krogan." Ross said, as he saw a grin spread across the Krogan’s face and grinned in return.

"We'll be sure to give Mr. Leng one hell of a distraction." Ross looked over the various faces of his men. "Any questions?"

Seated beside Menar, Noah glanced at the towering Krogan next to her when he grinned at Ross’ answer. “Is it wise to have only one front in this operation, Commander Ross Jensen?” She ignored Menar’s eye roll. “It might be prudent to allow a smaller unit time on ground to provide another door and back up.”

Ross couldn't help but chuckle as did a few of the other men. "Oh don't worry, I'm not in the habit of putting all my eggs in one basket, Ms. Korol. This is just a standard briefing, we'll be coming up with a more precise plan when the The Illusive Man gives us intel on our opposition. However we will be in charge of giving the enemy’s eyes on us, so most likely we'll have two teams. One to cover our exit and another to raise a little hell."

Menar bristled slightly at the few chuckles at Noah's expense. A dark glare silenced most of them. "Stow it you apes." He growled.

Noah spared a glance at Menar before smiling at his protectiveness. Turning her attention back to the Commander, she dipped her chin in acknowledgment. "I see. That is the most intelligent approach." She patted Menar's massive forearm, "I am sure we can fulfill our jobs with superlative fervor."

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Ross sighed as his eyes pulled away from the Omni-tool scene and new order. He had to worry about reaching the target first and not getting someone killed in the process. "ETA 7 minutes guys, bad time to call an audible but we've got new orders. We're to find a particular target and give him a very bad day. However we must still keep up the boom to give Leng a way in. We go in like before, the Ops Chief will be in charge of the shuttle party. I trust you all will keep our ride scratch free. Once the front line finds a good place to make their stand Menar will be left in charge. I trust the LT knows how to keep up the fireworks. Mr Leng will need them as will myself and you Noah. I need your stealth to reach our target."

Noah’s large, liquid dark eyes blinked slowly at the new instructions. Her normally polite, curious demeanor had vanished. As Ross and Menar already knew, the will of her ‘soul’ had taken a back seat to the training of her body. The complete change was unnerving to Mensch, however. He’d never seen Noah as focused as she’d become on this mission.

Menar lifted his assault rifle, checking the action calmly and nodded. “They’ll know I’m there. Don’t worry about that, Ross.” His face split into a savage grin. At Ross’ call to have Noah accompany him, Menar’s eyes flicked to Noah’s calm countenance. “And you.” He growled. “Don’t get dead.”

Noah turned her head slowly to meet Menar’s gaze. “I will not rush to meet death, Menar.” She assured him quietly.

Menar snarled and muttered under his breath, "I hate it when you say shit like that."

Noah ignored the rest of the Marines with them and looked to Ross. “Do you have the ID of the person we are to remove?” She asked with a voice completely devoid of feeling.

Ross nodded his head as he moved over to the Drell, while the Ops Cheif began more jawing with the others to keep them loose. "The unlucky winner is a Captain by the name of Jared Knockly. Not sure if he's an Oracle agent, just that he's to be taken down. On our first big boom, the Cerberus asset…. undercover will trigger a tracker so we won't be stumbling around a highly secure Alliance facility playing Where's Waldo."

Ordinarily, the cultural references Ross was so fond of would have prompted a curious look from the Drell. But, not while on mission. Noah nodded at the information and opened a hatch in the Kodiak to extract small breather masks. She stuffed them into her pack. Glancing up, she added handheld lights as well. “It would be best to assume we will be unable to see or breathe if Menar is as effective as normal.” She explained quietly. “I will be taking the advance position?” She said it more as a statement than an actual question.

"Well considering we'll first have to punch our way into the base I'd say the masks are a good idea. Wouldn't expect anyone here to be stupid enough to think they'll be going without their helmets or any period while on the ground." Ross looked up at the door way where a timer was counting down before landing. "The strike from our baby should hit the base 10 seconds before we land." He announced loud enough to break through the chatter. "If Joe is as good as he thinks he is anyways." He muttered to himself before he answered Noah. "Stick with us when we first hit the base. Do your little ghosty trick in the middle of the chaos. Don't be stupid if you come up against something you can't handle alone. I won't be far behind. And if you do cut me a way to the objective do not engage the target yourself. I'll take care of it."

Noah shifted the bag held on her lap that contained her demolitions kit. She kept her eyes shifting between Ross’ face and the floor. Anyone watching her would have equated it to ‘putting on your game face’. In actuality, Noah was silently praying for the safety of her companions. Most especially her friend, Menar.

She listened to Ross’ instructions regarding their portion of the mission. She nodded at each of his points to let him know she understood. She almost smiled when the Commander told her to wait for him as back up if she couldn’t handle something. The Commander was reminding her more of Menar every day. They both took the safety of their men very, very personally.

Ross’ last order to leave the target to him made Noah lift her eyes to the Commander’s face. “That may not be the most efficient manner of completing the mission, Commander Ross Jensen.”

Ross looked at countdown over the door and then looked back at Noah a little surprised by her questioning orders. “20 seconds Noah. We’re on the clock. Get it done.”

Noah blinked. “But.”

Menar interjected "You can debate tactics when you get your own ship, Noah. Now stow it."

The ship rocked harshly as the shuttle pilot cursed. “Fucking Butcher! That was way too close.”

Ops Chief Vasquez was the first to balance herself . “Well you did say for him to cut us a path sir.”

Ross couldn’t help but grin, in truth it was just what he need to get his mind focused. “Helmets on!.” He ordered as he felt the shuttle land. “Get the job done and get everyone home.” He told himself as the door opened and he looked out to utter devastation that he had wrought and this was just the beginning.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jensen Ross Character Portrait: Op Chief Susan Vasquez Character Portrait: Marine LT Menar Character Portrait: Noah Korol

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The moon was a place that never lost it’s effect on Commander Ross. There was no other place like it in the galaxy in his mind. Stepping out the shuttle and “home” was right there, Almost every inch within a single look. And he was attacking Alliance within sight of it. It was something he’d never imagine to have been doing. But it needed to be done. A good quarter of the outpost was simply leveled by the Novum’s main gun. He had noticed to his relief that it had the South East quarter as planned.

“Where the hell is Lang.” Said the Ops Chief as squad began to spread out and secure the landing area.

“Already here. “ Came a disembodied voice, which was revealed to be coming through their communications. The voice was full of confidence though some may call it arrogance. “Hope you don’t mind, figured the giant ship destroying part of the base was my cue. Also hope you don’t mind, patched myself into you’re squads channel.”

“Well if you’re already inside I suppose I should pack up my guys and leave.” Replied the Commander.

“You still have another job to do. Seems the Illusive Man has faith in you’re ability to take a life, though I doubt it’s as much as my own.”

“I’d see that as a compliment sir.” Said the Ops Chief.

Ross smirked, “Good luck Lang, we’ll get started here. I already got the targets location locked.”

“Don’t freeze up.” Was the only reply.

Ross could see his Vasquez tense up, “Let it go Chief.” He said and turned to the team. “You know you’re assignments people. Intel says the next patrol will not pass for another 10 minutes. Phillis has already shut down communication with this base so we have till then before the whole of Alliance space knows we’re here. We do not leave till we get the clear from Lang and I take out the designated target. Back line, keep the car from getting scratched, and our flanks from being over run. The other team will only be able to handle so much coming around the side. Plus we need that shuttle in case the Novum is playing with Alliance birds. Be stubborn, keep to cover and stay alive. Ops Chief is in charge.”

Ross turned to Menar, “We go with Attack team till we find a good place to get lost. Then Menar is in charge. Make your presence known ladies and gentlemen. I know we only have one krogan on the team but I want the base to think there is an army. Be vicious, but not stupid. Don’t get dead. Does every one get me?”

A round of “Oorah” was the reply though Menar own war grunt was clear as well. Ross nodded his head and lead the attack team into the crumbled wall of the outpost, still unopposed until the 2nd wall where the first gun fire came in from the still mostly intact main building.

“Cover!“ Shouted Ross as and an all cover was used by the squad. The last of which was Menar who took a few more hits than some would say is necessary but picked off 2 more attackers before he found his own cover. Ross’ smirk was hidden in his helmet and though the krogans his body gave the impression of a man in put enjoyment.

“Move up in pairs. One provides covering fire the other moves up.” He ordered through his communicator. And pair with Noah as he began to fire. His eyes however caught site of a door exposed by a torn open part of the base. “Noah. See that door on the left.” He brought up the bases map on his Omni-tool. “We can use that to get into the base by moving along the left flank. Time to go all sneaky on us.”

Much as she would do with Menar, Noah moved in virtual lock-step with the Commander just behind and to his left to protect his flank. Though she only wore light armor at Menar’s insistence, it felt uncharacteristically heavy compared to what she was used to. A specially-fitted breathing mask kept the worst of the dust in the air from her lungs and her third set of clear eyelids did the same for her dark eyes. She spared Menar only a brief glance when he took a few glancing hits before raising her Carnifex with a single hand and keeping a biotic at bay by pouring round after round into her shields. Noah popped her heat sink and inserted another with deadly efficiency prepared to fire again when Ross drew her attention to a ruined section of wall with a door exposed in it.

A quick check of her own Omni-tool confirmed his suspicions and she stuck the Carnifex to the magnetic clip at the small of her back with a nod of her head. She waited for Ross to raise up to lay down covering fire before she moved smoothly from the cover they had been sharing. Despite her height, she managed to remain remarkably close to the ground and hidden among the larger pieces of blasted concrete from the Novum’s initial bombardment. Gaining the door, Noah tilted her head and examined it carefully. While the door was steel-reinforced, it didn’t appear to be secured with anything more than a simple keypad code. A few minutes in the shadow of the doorway gained her access to the interior. She glanced back toward Menar who shouted orders before keying a single tone into her mic for Ross to follow. That done, Noah slipped inside the darkened hallway.

Ross spoke into the coms again. "You go on ahead Noah, I'm going to need Menar to set up a bit of a bigger distraction if I'm going to disappear."

Ross pushed his finger to his helmet, making sure he heard the tone. "Go on ahead Noah, I'm going to need our friend Menar to give me a bigger distraction." He turned his head to the krogan. "Got anything Menar?" Though he could not see his face he did notice a perk in Menar’s stance and small chuckle over the communicator. Reaching behind his back he pulled out a rocket launcher.

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The hallway Noah found herself in was almost a long passage meant for vehicles to travel down, rather than a true hallway. Floor, walls and ceiling were all concrete with flashing amber lights every 15 feet set into the walls. The lights appeared to be flashing to indicate an alarm, most likely from the attack by the Novum. She acknowledged Ross’ command to keep moving and kept to the deeper shadows between the pools of orange-gold cast by the trouble lights. After 100 feet, she came upon a steel door. A quick check of her omni-tool showed it lead deeper into the base, but away from where she needed to be. She marked its location all the same just in case. Looking down the passage Noah noted that it made a right angle turn to the west and knew that was where she needed to go. A short sprint brought her to the corner where she froze in place upon hearing a pair of voices approaching her. Slowly, Noah drew her knife from its sheath at her waist and waited. The pair of guards in Alliance uniforms were on alert with their HMW shotguns up and ready. Noah remained perfectly still as they rounded the corner past her before stepping out. Moving close to the man nearest to her, Noah matched his steps perfectly and thrust it deep into his kidney. A single gurgling sound escaped the man’s throat and he immediately began to sag into Noah’s arms. The sound of his partner dying made the second man spin to meet the threat he hadn’t seen coming. Noah used the man’s momentum to step inside the swing of his shotgun and grasped his helmet firmly. A sharp twist sent him to the ground with him getting off a round.

Noah quickly dragged the bodies into a darker portion of the passage, then keyed her mic twice more to advise Ross that two guards had been bypassed before moving again.

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The big krogan turned out of cover and began to fire into the oncoming fire coming from above and in every space in-between. Dust and rubble began to cover the entire area. "That'll work." Ross said. As he made for the same door he heard another comm line come to life with a voice from the grave.

"CO. You really planning on leaving the guys with Menar? He can't resist a good fight. People get killed doing more than they need to."

"Chris?" Ross said out loud.

"Sir?" The Ops Chief voice came now.

"Didn't say anything Ops Chief." He replied quickly and turned his voice off the channel for now.

"Much as I hate to admit it, college boy has a point sir. This is wrong. The whole thing. Like last time."

"McKee?" Ross looked around despite himself. "This is wrong...." The two beeps seemed to stop the familiar voices. He shook his head for a moment and continued on.

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A few hundred yards further brought Noah to an area of the base that evidently contained shipping docks and warehousing. She knew from the map on her Omni pad that beyond that were offices and then barracks and common areas for the Alliance troops while the opposite side housed the civilians that worked at the base. The marker on the map showed her, or rather, the Commander’s target to be 200 yards to the north from the warehousing area on the opposite side of the wall from her. With the attack, the loading doors had been locked down with blast doors meant to withstand a heavy bombardment. Noah’s eyes moved across the door to the concrete wall it was set into. The door she couldn’t get through. But she could get through the wall that held the door. Noah looked back over her shoulder to ensure she was still alone and crouched next to the wall. Unslinging her pack of explosives, she moved 2 meters to the east of the heavy door and carefully rigged her explosives to blast a 5 foot hole into the reinforced concrete. She pressed a small receiver into the explosive gel and retreated to the corner at the far end of the corridor. Sparing one last look back the way Ross might appear from, she hit the button on her small transmitter and an enormous roar erupted from the corridor beyond. A massive fireball along with chunks of concrete and dust were thrown out in all directions. Noah remained crouched where she was eyes completely closed to protect them until most of the dust settled. When no further sounds other than a few falling bits of rubble and the alarms of the area beyond could be heard, she keyed her mic once more to advise Ross that she had breached the wall and then ran forward to gain the access hole before any soldiers could be sent to investigate what had happened.

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Ross heard the tone and looked at his omni tool to see what had been the effect. He slowed his movements as he came up to the same wall. As he thought Alliance was already there to investigate. 3 men looking around at the rubble. When two of the men walked into the other side of the wall to investigate he took his chance and quickly up to the one who stayed behind and drove his head into the wall. He waited a moment as he heard running feet come back to him and timed the moment her could rush out to meet them head on.

He quickly ran at the two men, each bringing up their arms up with a seconds hesitation from the brash attack. He quickly pushed then guns aside and gripped her their faces and brought them crashing down to the ground. Their dazed state was turned completely off as Ross lifted their heads again and slammed them down once again.

He stopped for a moment and looked down at both men and continued on.

A lively voice came over the com. One which could only come from some one just out of their teens. "God I remember when you first pulled that move on me. Commander. Think it was an intelligence asset who gave us info on our last mission chief." Ross shook his head even hard but continued on.

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Once through the opening, Noah took off at a gliding run toward the target just north of her position. This area was more regularly lit and the claxons of alarms was deafening. Noah didn’t realize she had been spotted until a round burned along the top of her shoulder, sending her spinning to the ground. Not stopping her momentum, Noah rolled forward and around the corner of a pair of offices. She didn’t look at her shoulder, the fact that she could move her arm made its inspection irrelevant. She opened her pack as more rounds peppered the walls above her head trying to flush her out. Using the last of her explosive gel, she inserted a receiver and rolled out into the hallway suddenly. Shots scored the concrete just behind her, but Noah managed to stay just ahead of the 3 soldiers firing at her. Before she managed to get across the hallway, she threw the explosive toward the knot of soldiers in a high arc. Just as it was above their heads, she detonated it. The massive downward blast pulverized one soldier entirely. Another had her arm blown off and was thrown several feet back and the last was severely burned, but still alive. Noah stepped from her cover and approached the soldiers quickly. She drew her Carnifex and put a round in the last two soldiers without a second’s thought.

Noah paused for a moment only to check her Omni tool and the target’s location before taking off at a run once more. The target was moving and she needed to secure it before he got away from them.

100 yards….east 50 yards…northeast 40 yards…30 yards…east 10 yards. “Stop!”

Noah aimed her Carnifex at the man who had nearly run right into her. He was breathing heavily and blinked in shock at the sight of a Drell pointing a gun at him.

“Who…?” He started to ask.

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Ross kept moving as slightly as his big frame would allow himself to, he looked down at the omni tool to see Noah's dot right on top of the target. "Hold fire" he spoke into the line to Noah.

Ross could still hear the others on the other end. "Keep up the fire!" "Their pushing on the right flank!" "You two head to the right to brick wall that advance." "You with me!" They were getting pushed farther now, the order slowly dissolving into chaos. 2 minutes till the patrol comes, things will be desperate then.

The voice was low, one that sounded perhaps a little tired from all the fighting. "Wonder if they were paid better I'd still be around. "

Ross burst around the corner at a full sprint, he had no idea he was running now. Perhaps to get away from the voices. He looked around a moment. "Davis." He said to himself before looking over to the drell and the man she held at gun point. He came forward and pulled his own weapon. "Captain?"

The man in front of him did not answer, out of defiance. Ross felt a pang of guilt that he had not felt with the last mission. "I'd do the same sir. I'll make this quick." He fired a round and the man's body went limp.

Another voice. This one a private so new to the squad that at the time he didn't know his name. "Every wish sometimes it was quick for me sir?" He'd been the last to go, torn to so many piece even the medi gel would not stop it all. Ross shook his head again.

"Well looks like I'm promoted." Came a voice which came around the corner, "They Said you’d be quick but had no idea a group like Cerberus employed Drell." The asset looked back at Ross, his gun now pointed at him. "N...now wait a minute! I'm Lieutenant Jay. I'm you're contact in here!"

"Do it Commander, he turned once. He'll get your people killed like we were." Chris spoke from beyond the grave.

The mans face was a look of terror and he knees grew so weak he fell back on his ass. Dragging himself away with one hand and the other desprately covering his face for what futile protection it would provide "I gave you people a way in, we had to stop what we were doing in here."

"Wonder if anyone here killed thought he was a friend." Said McKee.

Ross shook his head violently his breathing intensifying. Then it all stopped.

Noah looked from the Lieutenant to Ross and frowned. “Commander? Are you well? She had not taken her eyes off of the new man, but she could see Ross quite clearly was struggling with something from her peripherals.

A female voice came on the line, one he knew all to well. "Jen please...don't let him hurt our guys." Said the voice of Ops Chief Vasquez. Ross’ finger tensed on the trigger then relaxed. “N..no” he whispered to himself and began to lower the gun.

A rush of voices on the comms. "Man down! Man down!"

Ross raised his gun with a furious growl. And fired.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Vala Buchan Character Portrait: Wyatt Sinoff Character Portrait: Charlie Welles Character Portrait: Dusk Trafford

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With the opening salvo to Horn's ego delivered, Commander Buchan had wasted little time boarding the lift to head for the hangar bay where the forces selected for the operation had been told to muster. During her descent, Ronas quickly passed along the incoming transmission from the Call of Victory to her, a small display hovering off the device to display the caller. To her disappointment, it wasn't Horn but Invaru on the other end. Without pause, she greeted the woman. "Operative Invaru."

"Commander Buchan." The redheaded woman betrayed no thought, as she was rapidly growing to expect from the professionally minded 2IC. "We are en route to our first objective, good job on clearing out the frigates." She nodded, trying to keep the small grin she felt growing off her face.

Curiosity got the better of her for a moment, and she quickly inquired, "I take it you received the feed then?" Before Invaru could properly respond, Vala heard the unmistakable crash in the background. There was a brief moment of silence before Horn's voice echoed from who knows where.

"Fucking cunt of a whore! It's on!" The words shattered her attempts at restraint, the grin she'd been suppressing in full display on her face as Kelly looked back to her neutrally.

"He congratulates you on a job well done. I will contact you should the need arise Commander. Victory out." The line went dead, and Vala lowered her Omni tool as the lift reached the hangar bay. The various crewmen on the deck were either finishing last minute preparations or simply killing time until the operation was ready to begin. Flicking her eyes over those gathered, she noted that more of the Hell Hounds were present than Sinoff's marines. Judging by the numbers, there were no more than two fire teams that would be participating in the action today.

Vala had yet to actually see any of the marines in combat, or even in armour for that matter, so she took a moment to examine them as she quietly crossed the bay towards the collected group. Each was fully armoured from head to toe in some of the thickest armour she had ever laid her eyes on, save for two who she assumed were the respective leaders of the teams, conversing quietly with their helmets tucked into the crux of their arm. Clearly these marines were meant to take massive amounts of fire, judging solely by the sheer bulk of their equipment, and she wondered briefly how difficult it was for them to move in the slabs of ceramic plate.

Each seemed to be carrying a Vindicator battle rifle attached to the magnetic clip over their right shoulder, and a shotgun tucked just below the small of their back. She wasn't overly familiar with the designs of shotguns herself, but she was pretty certain that it was an M-22 Eviscerator; a design considered technically illegal for military use. Several compartments along their waistline no doubt stuffed to the rim with thermal clips and grenades.

One of the marines noticed her approach as she drew closer, giving her a better view of the helmet as the soldier turned sharply and barked out "Officer on Deck!" The bay quieted for the most part, as most present turned and gave her the salute she was due. The feeling of it still made her shiver slightly with excitement, and she gave a light "As you were." before continuing her examination of her marines.

The helmet didn't match completely with more 'modern' designs' she noted curiously. Most helmets favoured a sleeker exterior all the way around, where as the helmets upon the soldiers had a much older feel to it. It covered the majority of their face, with only a narrow 'Y' shaped visor in the center of the helmet allowing you to see the soldier within, and most of them had it tinted to obscure them completely. For the most part, their armour was pure white, with only the slightest detailing in soft orange-gold as 'trim' in certain places.

One of the team leads, an older-looking man with greying brown hair and sharp eyes, turned to her as he finished his conversation with the other and nodded politely. "Commander Buchan, it's a pleasure to finally meet you." He offered his hand, which she took politely. His handshake was like a vice-grip, and she knew that if wasn't for her armour, it would probably hurt with the pressure he applied. The man certainly seemed the type who would do well under someone like Sinoff. "Major Tarrick; I lead fire team Ophanim and also assist Commander Sinoff with the day to day work involved with marines."

"A pleasure." She looked to the marines for a moment. "We have a platoon's worth, correct?" There was a brief pause before she looked back at him with a confused expression. "Wait...Ophanim?" The major nodded quietly.

"That was pretty much my reaction. All of the fire teams have call-signs based on one of the ranks of Jewish angels, and the platoon as a whole is called Sephirot." She stared blankly for another moment, and he just gave the slightest shrug of his shoulders. "The idea was Commander Sinoff's, Ma'am. He chose it after you decided on the Deliverance for the ship herself."

"I never expected him to be one for symbology." Heavy footfalls sounded behind her, and it didn't take much to decipher the source. She half-turned to the titanic figure of Sinoff, who was sharply saluted immediately by all the marines. He seemingly paid them no mind, leaving them as they were while he regarded her. "Perfect timing. I was just introducing myself to the marines."

He nodded, looking to those present. "They'll be tasked with handling extractions for all the teams in the field. One team per transport, regardless of what the mercenary girl says." The former mercenary looked sharply over Vala's head towards the woman in question, but she didn't really want to inquire after what had happened between the two to cause their displeasure with each other. "Ophanim will be assigned to the Kodiak, Seraphim to the Mantis."

"They'll provide cover for the Hounds to get aboard, I assume?"

"Yes, and if you find yourself needing a stable extraction point, they will provide it without hesitation." He turned partially to her, cold eyes flicking down to meet her gaze. "They are more than capable of handling whatever grunts these targets intend to throw at us." She nodded, gesturing away from the marines and the two fell into step. Wyatt's massive gait easily kept pace with her quicker steps, and they quickly took their place at the head of the assembled group.

Those present took the subtle cue; marines forming into a pair of ranks while the Hounds took a more casual and loose standing arrangement scattered before the ship's leaders. Vala took a moment to look over them all, before nodding to Wyatt. The 2IC cleared his throat, before the thick bass of his voice thundered through the bay. "This operation is now officially underway. The Call of Victory is mobilizing, and it is time we begin our actual objective in this system." His eyes shifted to the gathered hounds, voice never wavering in volume or clarity. "Each 'pair' has been given a specific target that they will be tasked with eliminating. Three are solo operations, while the other three shall be working in joint operations with the marines forces of the Call of Victory."

Vala had never heard Wyatt give orders properly before, but she could immediately tell the man had the talent for it. His voice demanded attention, not to mention the sheer sense of overwhelming authority he seemed to project over everyone gathered. The officer was already large, but the way he spoke, the way he carried himself just seemed to swallow as much space as possible and make you take heed. It made it rather clear why he was considered a commander in his own right. "Operative Tachi and Operative Arcsberg; Agent Letsinger and Agent Alto; Agent Wilshire and Agent Larick. You six are on the joint ops, as you know. I cannot vouch for the ability or talent of the Victory's marines; as such none of you should rely on them beyond their designated function."

"Focus on eliminating the target above all else, and let the marines handle the heavy lifting. Once the target is down and the kill confirmed, head to the designated LZ and signal for pick up. Assist them only as absolutely necessary, but refrain from risking yourself." His features were cold, betraying that these instructions were not made out of compassion. The logic was rather plain to see, if one had the mind for it. It was infinitely more difficult to replace a skilled commando than it was to replace a marine.

The commandos mentioned nodded lightly in understanding as the 2IC shifted his gaze through the remaining pairs. Each had a target that they would be handling independently of every other operation on the field, leaving them with more ground to cover in a shorter time. "As for the rest of you...speed is of the essence. There is only minimal, but do not rely on her. Extractions are her priority, and the more damage she does, the more countermeasures we can expect to be deployed against her.”

Across the hangar there was a sharp laugh, and everyone glanced towards the source for a moment. Dusk, comfortably seated inside her gunship, grinned confidently back at them all. "Anything they've got, I can handle it. I've flown through more shit storms than any one of their jockeys can dream about." Wyatt stared impassively, while Vala chuckled lightly at the mercenary's confidence.

"Regardless of her perceived skill, handle your assignments as discreetly as possible." His omni-tool chirped once, and he raised it to his ear. After a moment, he nodded sharply and lowered the device. "The Kodiak has returned; all non-essential personnel clear the flight deck.” He barked, turning partially to Vala. "Good hunting, Commander."

"Thanks." She replied as he followed the few remaining flight staff out of the immediate bay. She took a moment to fasten her helmet, and ensure everyone remaining had their own on before the bay hissed open and the atmosphere vented in seconds. The Kodiak hovered into the bay; floating inches off the floor as the hatch opened and Welles's team emerged from the cabin. She gave a quick thumb up to the man, which he returned as Major Tarrick’s team embarked with the other Hounds following close behind. A few of them traded gestures with their commander as they climbed aboard, although the man looked rather exhausted even in his full combat gear.

Pulling her eyes from the commando, she trudged over to the gunship as Seraphim finished their boarding. In the corner of her eyes she could see the slight scowl on Dusk's face at their presence, but she decided to leave it alone for the time being. Provided the merc was willing to work with the marines, she wasn't going to make any waves before a major operation. Vala climbed into the rather cramped transport cabin, which was already mostly dominated by the marines’ massive armour.

Along the wall that separated the cockpit and the cabin, a small screen flickered to life displaying Dusk's slightly irritated face from the side. She glanced at the small camera for a moment before looking back to the controls. "This is why I didn't want the jarheads." She gestured at the screen. "Mantis gunships are meant to carry small teams. Key word: Small. 12 people is really stretching Deadra's capacity limits."

One of the marines looked to the screen, face obscured by the helmet. "I thought you were supposed to be something of a hotshot pilot." The surprisingly feminine voice teased. "Can't handle a little extra weight in the back?"

"Please! You could stuff a pair of rutting krogan in there and I'd still be able to fly this better than any Alliance jockey could ever dream." Vala raised an eyebrow as Dusk continued. "Not to brag or anything, but I'm not really going to see much of a challenge against some hotshot military boy."

"Easy on the Alliance pilots." The commander started, turning her helmet to look fully at the mercenary. She looked ready to continue when Vala held up a cautionary finger. "My father happens to be a pilot in the 2nd Fleet, Dusk." Several of the marines sucked in a breath, one even giving off an 'Oooooo' as Dusk flicked her eyes away from the camera awkwardly.

"Ah. Well...shit. Insert foot into mouth."

"Make sure it's properly stowed, pilot." One of the marines called, earning a few laughs from the group as Dusk flipped them the bird and tugged on her helmet and sealed the G-suit completely. With that conversation seemingly done, Vala looked out the small hatch as the Hounds began to board. Her HUD quickly displayed their names. The first pair to embark was Operatives McNeary and Cottam, neither of which said much of anything as they climbed into the ship and took seats opposite each other. The commander gave the odd 'splatter' like markings along their armour a curious look, but decided against asking. Neither of them looked overly chatty.

Following right behind were Agents Mutz and Buday, who seemed to be talking on private comms judging by the slight motion of their head. Mutz hopped into the gunship before her partner and turned to offer him a hand up, which he took after a moment's pause. Their armour seemed to have...veins running along their body in the same golden colour as the helmet markings. Maybe it was another tradition in the unit, she thought.

The last pair to board moved slowly, although each seemed to have their own reason for doing so judging by their strides. The leading one, Agent Alto, had a rather arrogant stride, and seemed perfectly content with making them all wait while his partner, Agent Letsinger, moved with a much more skittish step and kept herself firmly behind the broad shoulders of her partner. Vala noted with dry interest the marking atop their helmet that resembled a crown. “Someone has a high opinion of themselves…” She thought to herself with a soft scoff. With all the pairs present, she gave wall a solid thump and the hatches on the gunship hissed shut and sealed them in the darkness.

A moment later, dim lights flickered on inside the compartment, and they felt the ship begin to stir beneath their feet as Dusk woke Deadra from her slumber. "Systems are green across the board, and we are cleared for departure. Permission to take us out, boss?" Dusk asked excitedly over the internal PA over the gunship.

Vala nodded once. "Permission granted. Let's go hit Oracle where it hurts."

"I like that plan!" The ship lurched for a moment before the inertial dampeners kicked in and the ship lifted out of the Deliverance's hangar bay. It was odd, she noted, to not have any immediate view to the outside like they did in the shuttles. It robbed her of anything to occupy herself with for the duration of their descent.

Tapping her foot once, Vala’s eyes drifted over the occupants of the crowded cabin, wondering briefly what sort of pre-mission rituals each might have as the gunship rattled roughly through the atmosphere towards their first target. They were all rather still, she noted, the marines largely resting back against the wall while the Hounds seemed to speak quietly amongst themselves judging by the slightest movements of their heads.

The cabin stayed in silence for the first few minutes as they approached their destination, only to be broken by the odd mumbles and half-audible talking of their pilot over the small screen. As the ship came to a slow halt, she glanced over to the camera. “First drop-point reached. Letsinger, Alto, you’re up.” The panel beside Vala hissed open and revealed the small skyline of the small city below. From the panel, a pair of rappels descended and neither of the Hounds wasted anytime hooking it to the systems built into their belts.

“Good hunting.” Vala offered, earning only a momentary glance from Alto before he dropped down the rappel and out of sight. Letsinger gave a timid nod before following after her partner. The commander peered over the edge after the odd pair, watching them unfasten the rappels and start across the small rooftop that was their drop point. Alto spared a glance upwards, and she swore their eyes met for a split second before the man shook his head and disappeared into his tactical cloak. “Pleasant one, isn’t he?”

The rappels retracted as the panel clicked shut and the gunship hummed off again. The cabin remained as silent as it had been before, and she doubted anyone was really going to liven it up anytime soon. Maybe this is why a pair like Jones and El were appreciated, she mused. They certainly had no trouble dispelling any sense of quiet, be it good or bad. Before she could think any further on the topic, the gunship came to a stop once more. “Mutz and Buday, you’re up.” Dusk called, the panel once more opening and deploying its rappels.

Buday took only a moment to secure his rappel, glancing idly at his partner as she fiddled with it repeatedly before finally getting it to co-operate and click in. His gaze shifted to Vala, and she could hear the smile on his voice. “Don’t let Vern stop you from wishing us well, Commander. I’d actually appreciate it.” She blinked as Mutz elbowed her partner in the ribs.

“Don’t sound too desperate now…” The woman growled softly, as Buday just shook his head with a light sigh. “Oh, but best of luck, Ma’am.”

“Same to you.”

The pair pushed off the lip and dropped down to the ground below, something more reminiscent of a parking lot than a traditional office complex or building serving as their drop point. They lingered only a few seconds longer than their predecessors, as Mutz once more fought with her uncooperative rappel before Buday simply undid it with a swift flick of the wrist. After a brief stare down, the pair trotted off towards their objective with their cloaks soon obscuring them from view.

As they set off towards their final destination, Vala looked to the remaining occupants quietly, surprised to find both the Hounds rapidly tapping their feet and drumming their hands on their forearms in impatience. Before she could say anything, McNeary’s neck straightened as she looked to her partner. “Better watch your 3 better today, Cottam. I can’t afford to cover for your shit on a real job.” It was surprising the intensity with which she hissed the remark at him, although Cottam wasted no time making an irritated sound as he looked off at nothing in particular.

“My 3 would be fine if I didn’t have to keep cleaning up after your sloppy ass footwork and making sure everything is actually dead.”

“I wouldn’t have to rush if you could actually learn to predict how a two-bit grunt is going to ai-”

“Oi, Lovebirds, we’re here.” The two stopped, looking in tandem to the monitor where Dusk’s helmet stared impassively back. “So get the fuck out.” Something like a guttural growl sounded in perfect unison from the pair, both practically leaping from their seats and throwing themselves out the freshly opened panel without delay. It almost looked like they were racing.

Neither had bothered fastening their rappels, simply grabbing the cord as they dropped and sliding down its length with a practiced ease that spoke highly of their ability. No sooner had their feet hit the ground then they both broke into a dead sprint. Their cloaks rippled and flickered for several seconds trying to process the speed before they ripped around a corner and disappeared from sight.

One of the marines, the female from earlier, laughed lightly to herself. “Christ, the Major wasn’t kidding when he said these guys were eccentric.” Vala glanced towards the woman, who titled her head in some sort of greeting. “I don’t think I’ve properly introduced myself, Commander. Service Chief DePaul, I’ll be your back up today.”

The commander took the handshake and gave it a light shake, noticing DePaul’s lacked the force of the Major’s. “Pleasure to meet you, DePaul. You lead Seraphim, I take it?”

“That I do, Ma’am. Hopefully you won’t need us much, but don’t hold back for our sakes.” She leaned back slightly, helmet glancing towards the various marines. “The boys want to show off for you, after all.” A majority of the other marines immediately looked to their leader and shook their hands in rapid denial. “And suddenly they’re bashful.” DePaul laughed heartily, the last marine who hadn’t reacted joining her quietly. Vala even suppressed a chuckle at the marines.

“Well, I can think of better ways to impress a woman than getting shot at…” She paused for a moment, looking away from the fire team while tapping a finger to her visor. “But if that’s all you’ve got then I suppose I should let you hold onto it, hm?”

“Ouch, Ma’am. Ouch.” One of the men commented, as Vala shook her head in amusement before looking to Dusk’s screen. The mercenary glanced over through the displays on her visor, which was obscured partially by the light reflecting off the darkened canopy behind her.

“We’re getting close, boss.” The pilot looked back to the control’s, hands moving across the panels rapidly for a few moments before she gripped the flight stick again and banked the gunship to the right. “I can put you down as close as you want.”

The commander nodded. “Keep some distance. I’d rather not tip them off.” Dusk grunted an affirmative, and it was only a few moments longer before the panel hissed open beside her. Vala stepped to the lip, coiling the rappel around her hand and pushing off the ship as the cord dropped lower to the ground. “After this, best keep out of sight.”

“Can do. Have fun.” Dusk commented with an almost bored drawl. Perhaps the mercenary wasn’t the best choice for playing ferry, if her confidence was anything to go by. “Make sure to smash some heads together for me.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Buchan out.” Dropping from the rope, Vala landed in a low crouch as the gunship wasted no time peeling away from her location. Her cloak wasted no time materializing over her body as the commander straightened to her full height. The area around her was rather quiet, filled with little but countless industrial warehouses.

After a moment surveying her immediate surroundings, she looked to the small clock displayed within her HUD. 13:17. It wouldn’t be long till the operation was properly underway. She thumbed the pistol at her hip as she crossed the deserted lot, eyes methodically scanning for any signs of movement. The only sound she could hear, save for the occasional flash of noise that accompanied a passing sky car, was the subtle scuff of her own feet upon the ground.

The silence gave her a moment to review her own objective, recalling the quick briefing she’d gone through with Alexis as she’d geared up. The target was a man by the name of Obadiah Vandenbroek, the project director at a new Oracle facility that had been constructed within the industrial district. Far from just a simple warehouse skeleton with a lab inside, they’d apparently bankrolled an extensive remodelling to the foundation to enable the facility to stretch underground.

Info on his work was sketchy at best, other than a focus on developing equipment in-house for Oracle Special Forces as well as something known as Project Durus. While the exact details were something of a mystery, information suggested that Obadiah was in the process of retrofitting a Triton ADS into something more akin to a combat walker. She wasn’t overly familiar with the design herself, but Triton’s were apparently an older military design that was more commonly used for deep sea exploration these days.

Suffice to say, letting the man finish his work wasn’t exactly high on Cerberus’s priorities, given Oracle’s stance against the organization. Her eyes drifted to the clock. 13:20. The agreed upon time for the operations to commence. Setting her lips in a grim line, Vala crossed the final few meters to the designated warehouse.

The basic encryption on the warehouse wasn’t difficult, and after a few moments of peeling back the various security measures, she slide the door open just enough for her body to squeeze through the crack before pushing it shut softly. The warehouse was rather dark, despite the time of day, and after a few moments her visor switched into a low-lit setting that made the area clear.

The facility was filled with dozens of storage units, each one labelled and organized into ceiling high stacks that made the supposedly ‘vast’ warehouse tight and claustrophobic. Moving quietly amidst the crates, Vala combed the area for any guards or even security features, but there wasn’t anything really in sight aside from a few basic, low end security cameras that she’d overwritten along with the warehouse security.

The entrance would likely be hidden, she concluded, tapping a few keys on her omni-tool. A second later, her visor flickered for a moment as she looked down to the ground beneath her feet. Sure enough, various cables, now highlighted in vibrant colours, ran in perpendicular patterns beneath the flooring. Following the wires, tedious as it was, would likely be her best bet for finding the access into the facility below.

A few tedious minutes of dead-ends and backtracking later, and Vala found the slightly larger than average ‘clearing’ amongst the crates, and the wires suddenly ducking down and running deeper underground until the readings couldn’t filter back through the concrete. “There we are…” She murmured, crouching down to trace her fingers along the faintest seam that obscured the access point from view.

A few inches to the right, a small access flipped open and a tiny screen blinked open. Tapping a few keys, it wasted no time prompting her for the password, and she quickly brought up her omni-tool. The connection took only a few seconds, and with a few keystrokes she activated the decryption program that Jo had provided to bypass the security.

As the machine did its work, she opened a channel back to the Deliverance. “Hades, this is Nyx. I’ve reached my access point.”

“Copy that, Nyx. Please be advised, we’ve been apprised of additional objectives. Updating your HUD now.” A soft tone sounded from the HUD, before Govern continued. “High Command has expressed interest in the recovery of information pertaining to Project Durus, as well as ensuring its destruction. If at all possible, the Oracle facility is to be destroyed as well.”

The commander’s eyes flicked over the information methodically, before focusing back on the program. “Copy that.” The task list growing didn’t help with the speed the mission required, but she refrained from vocalizing the complaint. Her omni-tool chirped, and the panel flashed green as the floor began to part with a hiss. “I’m in. Commencing radio silence.”

“Copy that, Nyx. Good luck.” The line went dead and the suit’s comm lines went dead, leaving the commander alone with her mission. A small lift rose up to greet her, and she embarked with a tentative test of the machine. She pressed the controls for the lift, examining the presented floors. Ignoring the floor she was presently on, the facility on had four others. The laboratories, personnel quarters, armoury and testing facility.

After a moment of thought, she thumbed the key for the laboratories. As the lift whirred to lift and began it’s descent into the bowels of the warehouse, she glanced up to watch the floor above hiss and seal shut overtop of her head again, plunging the shaft into darkness.

A simple but crude plan began to form in those quiet moments waiting for the lift to reach its destination. The laboratories would likely hold all the relevant information that the Illusive Man was after, and it wouldn’t take much for the programs stored on her omni-tool to handle the retrieval and deletion. Flicking her eyes down into the darkness below, she frowned slightly. After she’d located Obadiah, a quick trip to the armoury would hopefully yield enough demolitions to level or severely damage the structure.

If she’d known about the demolition aspect, she’d have insisted on bringing some proper high-yield explosives along, but it appeared her improvised plan would have to suffice. The lift came to a stop, and she ran a finger along the interface to open the door into the laboratories. The soft din of movement and conversation echoed from within the dimly lit halls, no doubt the scientists working on their pet projects.

With a flick of the wrist, Vala pulled her pistol from its magnetic holster, grip loose and relaxed on the weapon. Eggheads. Nothing too difficult. There was no immediate direction present on the walls or floors, and she moved slowly deeper into the facilities ‘heart’. It wasn’t long before long plexiglass windows began to dot the corridors, revealing countless researchers and technicians working away in their respective laboratories.

She paused by one of the windows, peering in at the work being done on what appeared to be something of a giant arm, save for the hand being converted into some sort gun, judging by the barrel. Stepping tighter to the glass with a squint, she looked at the barrel of the weapon for several long moments. It was far longer than most conventional infantry weapons, which undoubtedly translated into more power behind the weapon’s slugs.

Echoing steps made her freeze, eyes flicking to the corner of her visor as a twin patrol of Aurora guards stepped out of the small lab to her immediate right and started towards her. They chatted cheerfully, talking about the most recent game of biotiball and the office pool. Vala was as still as death, watching the men draw closer and closer with every passing second. She sucked in a low breath as the gaze of one of the men lingered on her back, footsteps coming to a stop.

Her hand tensed on the phalanx, every muscle tensing in preparation. Distract and disorient the closer guard with a low kick to the stomach, bringing him over the limb and likely out of view to the scientists within the lab. Eliminate the second guard with the phalanx, aim low to prevent upward splatter onto the windows to alert the scientists. The plan snapped through her head in seconds, and her body began to turn sharply to put it into action.

“Hell of a gun, ain’t it, Douglas?” She froze in place, turning her head ever so slightly to see the men. “Can’t wait to see when it’s all rigged up to the machine.” The guard who hadn‘t spoke, Douglas, was the one looking, although he was seemingly staring at her…or rather, through her at the laboratory she’d been observing herself.

“Yeah, yeah it’s going to be something else.” He murmured slightly, the slightly glazed look in his eyes as if something was making him hesitant but his mind couldn’t exactly place what. After another moment, he rubbed his eyes and she took the split second distraction to instantly duck low to the floor. Douglas blinked once or twice, before shaking his head to himself and hurrying a few extra steps to catch up with his colleague.

Her body remained still until the pair finally disappeared into another one of the labs, exhaling heavily as Vala straightened up to her feet. The guards were observant, and she’d allowed herself to get distracted in such tight quarters. Muttering a few scolding words under her breath, the commander moved briskly to the door and hesitated over the access panel. Peering back ever so slightly, her hand tensed above the panel as she waited for the scientists to arrange themselves in such a way that didn’t let them have an obvious view of the doorway.

It didn’t take long, surprisingly. They hovered about the room in a buzz, constantly shifting between dozens of stations and it took only one moment for her to hit the key and slide through the entrance before any of them even processed that the door had opened. One spared a glance at the seemingly empty doorway, raised his brow before shrugging and resuming his work. The room was large, but heavily crowded by machinery and the research team who continued their work blissfully unaware of the predator suddenly in their midst.

It was with some satisfaction that she moved amongst them, knowing from basic observation that they were no doubt identical to the researcher she had aboard the Deliverance. The moment their work began, the rest of the world didn’t matter until they were satisfied. Sinuous movements carried her through them like a ripple in a storm; the feather light moment-long contacts were dismissed from the focused mind without a second thought.

One of the terminals, solitary along the rear wall and obscured by various contraptions she didn’t bother trying to name, suited her purpose in the lab and her finger brushed the interface lightly to wake the machine from it’s slumber. Eyes flicking over access screen, she began to tedious work of breaking through the encryption. While her training had included all the necessary skills an assassin and commando would need, hacking was one Vala rarely practiced; often preferring to find alternate routes around heavy encryption instead of tackling the problem head on.

The code flashed along as her fingers calmly navigated through the mess to find the necessary information. A few tentative strokes brought her minor success, peeling back the basic login and revealing several more firewalls already in place. Frowning at the task ahead of her, Vala selected the immediately pertinent information, the weapon being constructed right behind her.

It took another few minutes to bring down the primary and secondary encryptions on the data, nearly trigging several alarms in the process due to poor timing or selection. Mentally reminding herself to brush up on her hacking back on the ship, she made the connection to her Omni-tool and began uploading the information. Her eyes flicked lightly over the information on display, reading about the development process with only partial interest.

As the download finished, there was a soft tone from the machine and her eyes widened partially at her blunder. Snapping her head to the side, two of the scientists were already looking her way at the terminally seemingly using itself…and beginning to delete the records of their precious research. One of the men started forward immediately, but staggered to a stop as he seemingly spotted the shimmering ripple of her cloak.

There wasn’t time for a plan, so Vala didn’t make one. She ripped a single grenade from her belt, tossing it in the same motion sideways towards another of the work stations handling the weapon’s more…explosive payloads. Her training put her reaction time leagues ahead of the simple civilians, diving down to the ground whilst she conjured a biotic shield around herself. There was a muffled shout, but she didn’t hear it, as the detonation engulfed the small laboratory. The glass shattered and blew out from the concussive force, throwing shards of metal, glass and bloodied bits about the hallway.

The force slammed her painfully into the wall while the flames licked hungrily at her barriers, but Vala remained huddled despite it. Fire suppression systems kicked in seconds later and several emergency warnings began blaring through the base. A VI began to rattle off its warning of the detonation as she pulled herself up with a pained groan.

The room was filled with the billowing black smoke, obscuring her far better than her cloak could hope to in the small downpour caused by the sprinklers deploying from the ceiling. The terminal, damaged as it might be, was miraculously still functional, likely protected by its odd positioning within the room. There wasn’t the time to waste decrypting it, but she hadn’t come this far to just leave the data behind.

Gripping one of the lifeless forms, she pulled up its omni-tool and synced the information to her own. The download took seconds, and the moment it was done she turned to the terminal, promptly barraging the console with every password recovered from the device with little concern for subtly. The system would be focused on the explosion, she hoped, ignoring the rather brute force method she was resorting to. Heavy, rushing footfalls sounded, panicked shouts sounding from the first responders. One of the passwords clicked, and she didn’t hesitate in commencing the download of all remaining files while simultaneously uploading the virus to destroy the info.

Bodies began to become apparent through the smoke, and she crouched lower to avoid detection for a few precious extra seconds. ‘Faster, faster!’ She hissed mentally, watching the download move closer and closer to completion as the figure began to step through the smoke to her. Her HUD blinked a quick download complete, and Vala needed no extra prompting to immediately move.

Re-engaging her cloak, she kept low while crawling sharply around the workstations. The moment a clear path presented itself, she took it. Breaking into a dead sprint, Vala cleared the mangled work table before vaulting through the ruined window. She landed in a dead sprint, already racing down the way she’d come. “The bomb’s next,” She muttered to herself. “Hopefully Obadiah doesn’t rabbit before I can track him down.”

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Something wasn’t right.

As she crept through the armoury, Vala painfully noted the total absence of any and all guards on the level. The base may have been a secret, but to leave an entire stockpile of weapons and ordinance unattended didn’t fit with the Alliance.

Flicking her eyes to the shadows, the commander strained her ears for any sign of the personnel, but was rewarded with only her own breathing. ‘This isn’t good…’ Swallowing the forming knot, she approached one of the storage units, quickly picking through its security and tugging it open to reveal the payload. Military grade, lock on tracking missiles. Examining the horde, she reached for one of the missiles when the PA system crackled to life in the armoury’s vaulted ceiling. There was static silence for a few moments, before an austere, yet somehow ‘jovial’ voice called down from above.

“Two frigates going dark in the exact same moment, an unidentified cruiser appearing in system, and nearly a dozen simultaneous strikes across an entire system…and you really thought wearing a fancy cloak was going to keep you hidden, Assassin?” There was a humourless snort from the voice, almost mocking. “After you blew up one of MY research teams and started feeding viruses into our mainframe? You didn’t think I’d check the feeds? That I wouldn’t notice the lift moving by itself? Do you think I’ve been living in a CAVE for my entire life?!”

‘I’d hoped, honestly.’ She thought to herself, tripping one of the grenades off her belt into the storage unit. The commander stepped back, already hearing the tell tale thundering of boots from every possible direction. Setting her jaw, her pistol reattached to her magnetic holster as the guards finished their encirclement.

“I’d expect better from a Cerberus assassin, honestly…this whole approach lacks…finesse.” The voice, which she was rapidly coming to suspect was Obadiah, murmured dryly. “Regardless, I think you’ve caused me enough headaches for one day. Wrap this up.” The speakers went dead, and the guard’s took aim at her shimmering figure.

“Gladly.” Her speakers crackled, hands thrusting out from her side as solid biotic energy pulsed out from her body. Every rifle opened fire in tandem, throwing a metal rain at the assassin ‘caught’ in their crossfire. The bubble rippled and pulsed with every impact, but the ‘shield’ held as her arms drew in tighter to her chest, dark energy violently rippling across her frame as her eyes pulsed with dark blue light. As the first of the guns hissed it’s overheat warning, her hands flared and swept backwards sharply; it was only a moment later that the bubble erupted outwards like a tsunami, greedily devouring the bullets fired into it’s approaching tide before hammering the nearest guards off their feet.


The brief reprieve wasn’t wasted, biotic whips materializing out from her wrists and slicing in glowing arcs through the air to grip one of the recovering men by the torso. The dark energy tore painfully at his skin, before a violent jerk of Vala’s wrist ripped her towards him at blinding speed. Her knee crashed into his stomach, buckling him over the limb as the assassin weaved past his body with a dancer’s grace. Twisting like a serpent, her hand gripped under his chin and with a volatile pulse of biotic energy, ripped the skull upwards until it cracked.

Biotics wreathing her frame in dark light, she launched off the crumpling body with feline speed, closing the distance to her next opponent in seconds. Slamming the barrel of his rifle downwards, she gripped his arm at the wrist before ramming the elbow joint upwards till it buckled with her free hand. Another moved to shoot, but the mangled arm gave her unprecedented control of her victim, dragging him through the rounds meant for her before discarding him like a spent thermal clip.

With a swipe of her hand, she drew her knife and flung it at the startled man, burying the weapon nearly hilt deep in his arm. She spun to face the fourth, rounds slicing along her shields as her hand straightened and sliced past the barrel of the rifle into the soft meat of the man’s trachea. The force buckled it inwards, his eyes bulging as his breath became a choked gasp. Her hand recoiled, striking the butt of his rifle to jerk it from his weakened grasp and slamming the barrel up under his chin.

She jerked the trigger roughly as she shifted her attention back to the wounded man, paying no mind to the gore splattered along her visor as the injured guard fired sharply from his predator. The first pair of rounds were stunted by her shields, but the proximity made the weapon much more dangerous as the third found its way through and punched a hole through her shoulder.

Medigel instantly deployed, flooding her system with adrenaline and painkillers to mute whatever pain the wound brought. Palming the pistol aside, Vala’s hand coiled around the knife still lodged in his other arm, weaving past his retaliation to drive the blade into the base of his skull with rehearsed precision. With a sharp jerk and a trail of crimson, the weapon was free and her attention shifted to the other guards who, despite the display of superiority, managed to hold their ranks and opened fire with their rifles.

Thrusting one palm forward, she crafted a biotic barrier, the hexagonal shape resisting the barrage as she drew deeply upon the energy in her body into her other hand. She’d never really used the singularity outside of training drills, but there wasn’t time for doubts.

Thrusting the hand forward, the air near the guards rippled before the singularity ‘solidified’ into place. Within seconds, the energy was gripping and tearing at the man, dragging them out of cover. Recognizing easy prey when she was it, Vala allowed the barrier to fade, drawing her phalanx and carefully sighting the 4 exposed men. Punching two rounds through the first’s BDUs, she snapped the gun to the second and repeated the process before she felt the singularity begin to destabilize. Drawing a small sphere into her hand, she launched it into the heart of the miniature black hole, which responded by promptly and violently detonating; smashing both it’s remaining victims like rag dolls across the armoury.

If they survived, neither was going to be a threat any longer, and Vala quickly retrieved a pair of grenades from the fallen guards near her as another fire team rounded on her position to deal avenge their butchered allies. Smirking under her mask, she raised her omni-tool and thumbed the detonator. A spilt second later, the crate of missiles she’d investigated earlier went up in a plume of fire, shredding those unfortunate enough to be close to it in a hail of metal shrapnel.

She was far enough away to avoid the thick of it, but several shards of metal sliced along her armour, leaving gouges in the ceramic plate and one lucky piece burrowed painfully up her forearm. Gritting her teeth as the fire from the missiles began to spread; Vala gripped the metal shard and ripped it clear from her skin. Biting her lip, she shook the limb tenderly as medigel worked quickly to seal and disinfect the wound. Another detonation drew her attention, several damaged crates of munitions falling victim to the spreading blaze. Thumbing her looted grenades, the commander darted past a few other storage units and primed the grenades as she sprinted for the lift.

“It’s just one assassin! Bring her down, dammit! Disable all lifts! Lock her down!” The intercom boomed, as one of the guards took a knee to fire. Gritting her teeth, Vala pushed her legs to go faster, as she snapped the phalanx forward and squeezed off her meagre suppressing fire. The man winced as a round clipped his shoulder, but fired back with the avenger, pelting her shields and armour with its furious fire.

Summoning more biotic energy to strengthen her shields, Vala thrust her fist forward, pushing a biotic throw towards her assailant. He rolled sharply to the side to avoid the energy, but she aimed for the end of his roll and fired as he righted himself. The next two rounds punched clean through his chest, and he collapsed backwards as Vala let the barrier fade.

Another guard rounded to intercept, but unlike the one prior, didn’t have the distance to get into a good firing position. Not bothering to slow her pace, her shin pulsed with energy before she slammed it painfully into the woman’s jaw. She could feel the bone shatter from the impact through the armour, driving the woman off her feet inches from the powered down lift.

No time to waste, Vala ignored the lift entirely as she draw the rappel gun from her hip and fired it into the ground as she jumped from the edge and into the shaft. The line tightened momentarily into her fall before settling into a fast descent towards the bottom. A tremor shook the compound as flames licked the shaft by the armoury floor. ‘Shit. That’s a new time limit.’ She thought darkly, panting slightly as she approached the final floor where she hoped Obadiah would be.

Landing in a half crouch, Vala stalked into the surprisingly barren chamber cautiously, eyes scanning for any sign of her target. After a moment, she spotted the silhouette of a man, and she popped the heat sink for her phalanx before inching closer. Surely it wouldn’t be this easy..?

“It seems Cerberus doesn’t fail to disappoint. One assassin against almost 15 of my men, and she dispatches them all? I can’t say I’m impressed with their results.” The figure half turned to her and Vala swore loudly as his outline shimmered faintly. “You didn’t actually think I’d just be waiting for you like this, did you? Never trust an assassin; I’ve learnt that lesson many times.”

Obadiah Vandenbroek wasn’t a particularly old man, his features only slightly wrinkled in a way that did nothing to dilute the solid intensity of his brown eyes. A thick grey beard boxed his chin, whilst his head was completely clean shaven to an almost polished shine. The holographic image flickered as the man flicked away the cigarette he’d been smoking, rolling his shoulder slightly in his dark blue armour.

That gave her pause, sweeping the area around her cautiously for any sign of the man. Why would a researcher be wearing combat gear? And more importantly, why did it seem like the man wasn’t moving or making any attempts to get away? If it wasn’t a pre-recording then it would have to be showing a real-time image.

“You’ve damaged tens of thousands of credits worth of Oracle personnel, equipment and infrastructure. Particularly, MY personnel, equipment and infrastructure. That’s just simply unacceptable. I’ll have to deal with you myself.” Straightening, his hologram looked as if it was walking for a brief moment before it sat down. “Computer, engage VR simulation. Randomize.” There was a sadistic grin on his face before the hologram vanished; several dozen small pillars rose from the floor moments later, but Vala paid them no mind as the wall across from her parted open with an echoing hiss.

“Oh…oh shit.” She breathed, as the towering figure of a Triton ADS lumbered through the doorway. The machines had looked intimidating enough in their old model, but this ‘Durus’ version lumbering into the arena made the older walkers look like slabs of scrap. The gun mounted on its right side was familiar, likely the one she’d seen being worked on earlier in the lab. The other looked far more foreboding, a trinity of barrels gleaming with a massive looking drum attached to the bottom as what she could only assume was its ‘magazine’. The fact that such a large one needed to be attached made her dread the weapon’s fire rate.

Behind the light blue canopy, she saw Obadiah’s face grinning darkly from the heart of his creation, and the assassin steeled her resolve. Things were suddenly looking a lot harder. As the mech slowed to a stop, its creator’s voice boomed arrogantly over the speakers. “An outdated piece of weaponry, but we’ve improved the design in every way! You’ll have the honour of being its first live opponent!”

As he spoke, the VR environment kicked in, the blank room shimmering for only a moment before it was replaced by a burning cityscape. Half toppled buildings ‘towered’ above her in the optical reality, and countless bits of ‘debris’ lay strewn about the area as makeshift cover. There was a momentary whirring that filled the air, and she dove behind the nearest piece of cover on instinct as the ‘Gatling’ opened fire.

The rounds screamed through the air, slicing past her meagre mound of protection in the very definition of a bullet storm. Pressing her stomach as far as she could into the dirt, Vala clutched her head tightly as the weapon continued its assault. The Durus was online. This was the worst possible outcome this entire mission could have had!

How long had this base been operating to get a working prototype up this quickly? Heavy footfalls lumbers closer and Vala hauled herself up with a grunt of exertion to move for another bit of cover. The simulation system was state of the art as well, with adjustable ‘cover’ that was like being projected onto retractable surfaces from within the floor.

The machine fired relentlessly after her, and she felt a stab of pain as one of the rounds punched clean through her leg as she weaved in behind a ruined wall. “Shit! SHIT!” She hissed painfully, touching the wound as her lungs panted for air. Her suit’s medigel systems did their work, but she couldn’t afford to take hits from a weapon that size. Her squish skin could only repair so much.

“Where’s that bravado, assassin? You charged my men without a second thought! Don’t tell me you’re afraid of only one measly man?” He baited, and she felt the anger well in her stomach at his insults. Leaning out from her cover, she fired at the massive target several times with her phalanx, but its kinetic barriers absorbed the shots with little difficulty. The machine lumbered forward, its weapon hissing steam as cooling systems vented the excess heat.

Vala had no chance to capitalize on the mechanical failure, as the second arm raising its weapon and she noticed light welling up inside the barrel. “What in the world..?” She murmured, before it erupted in a surge of light that nearly blinded her even through the reactive visor. It was a second later that the impact struck her cover, and the sheer force of the projectile flung her forward as it tore the terrain asunder. “Fuck!”

Scrambling up to her feet, adrenaline pounding her senses as her heart beat a million miles a minute, Vala ignored every groan and ache in her body as she thundered towards the nearest piece of cover. Halfway to her target, the cityscape burning around her snapped out of existence, replaced immediately by a surge of blinding white.

It took only a few moments before she adjusted, and she barely suppressed a grin. The area had been changed into a full on blizzard of howling white winds, making visibility almost nothing and filling the air with whistling winds echoing off the enclosed walls just out of view. It would have been a rather brutal environment for the standard marine to adapt to. Unfortunately for Obadiah, Vala wasn’t a marine, she was a Phoenix Operative. And the brutal blizzards of Mavigon had honed her for exactly this kind of combat.

Pivoting on her foot towards the silhouetted Durus, Vala’s cloak rippled over her frame, vanishing into the blizzard like a wraith. The machine fired a burst at the location she had been, but the rounds found nothing but air and the machine thumped cautiously through the storm in search of its prey.

It had barely lumbered three steps when the first lash materialized out of the winds and slashed against its barriers. Staggering slightly to the side, the mech pivoted quickly and fired its machine gun but she’d already moved again. Another lash appeared; striking against the machine’s now exposed back before vanishing into the winds again. The pilot slowed it down, looking cautiously through the blizzard for his opponent. No other strike came, but then the machine lurched slightly. There was a pause, before the canopy above his head shook, rattling the entire cockpit.

Perched atop the mech like a cat, Vala grinned darkly behind her visor, biotic energy encasing her arms as she began to hammer against the canopy with thunderous blows. Whatever material they’d used was highly resistant, but just as her hands ached with every strike, she felt it give slightly more and more as her assault continued.

The Durus lurched backwards, pivoting it’s upper body about furiously to try and dislodge the phoenix operative, but every time it threatened to dismount her, Vala would tighten her hold and right herself to continue the attack on the mech. As her hand began to numb from the hits, hairline fractures spread from the impact point and her eyes lit up with renewed vigour.

The machine rumbled beneath her; a deafening roar rising above the howling blizzard as the immediate area was bathed in a red-orange glow. It was at the last second it dawned on her, as the Durus’s massive frame successfully began to hover off the ground. Not willing to be pancaked against the ceiling, she leapt from her perch and landed in a roll; spinning back around to her feet to see her targets plan.

The mech dropped down like a stone, its massive legs threatening to crush her beneath the ton of electronics and weaponry. “Shit!” Diving swiftly to the side, she avoided the impact zone by the skin of her teeth, the floor groaning under the machine’s titanic weight as it shook from the force of impact.

Ending her dive with a fluid handspring back to her feet, Vala didn’t have a moment to catch her breath as the machine charged through the snow like a bull; shoulder lowered into a battering ram. It wasn’t in her interest to take a hit like that, but dodging meant she’d likely just run into the same problem again. Stepping back, she felt her heel touch something, and she flicked her eyes over her shoulder for only a second before smirking.

Shrouding herself in the glow of her biotics, Vala surged forward towards the machine. She could see Obadiah’s near maniac grin glinting through his cracking canopy, although there was little doubt she’d be wiping it from the smug man’s face shortly. The gun slammed down like a clothesline intended for her head, but the operative was one step ahead of him. Dropping swiftly to her knees, she arched her back as momentum and the light field over her body pushed her through the titan’s massive legs.

Her hands tapped swiftly on the ‘belly’ of the machine in the split second they passed each other, before finishing her slide out of it’s path and spinning herself about with the momentum into a standing position. The Durus skidded to a stop, trying to turn to face the assassin who simply waggled her finger and keyed the detonator on her omni-tool.

Twin explosions staggered the machine backwards, toppling onto one of the VR towers which were promptly half-crushed by the proto-types sheer weight. External systems crackled on the Durus, slowly ripping itself off the mangled machine which was already beginning to falter in its blizzard projection; snapping between countless different biomes in the blink of an eye. “You think those little cherry bombs will damage something like the Durus?!” Obadiah roared as his machine straightened.

“They’ll kill you well enough.” She spat, biotic whips coalescing out of her wrists as she charged the mech once again. It swept with its arm roughly, dodged swiftly by Vala ducking under the limb and slamming her whips sideways into its flank. The Durus brought its other arm down like a hammer, and she leapt deftly to the side before striking the machine with both tendrils from opposite directions. The machine gun spun up and barked its volley as it swept back towards the target, forcing Vala into a dead sprint to stay ahead of its targeting systems.

Whips trailing and pulsing behind her, Vala barely noticed the slightly blow glow growing in the Durus’s secondary armament. The moment she saw, it was too late. The weapon had been tailing as well, and fired its payload directly in her path. She skidded to a stop, pushing for traction but the barely avoided taking the blow dead on. The blast flung her from her feet, flying backwards as her shields failed and she smashed like a rag doll across the facility floor.

Groaning, the commander’s hands tightened into fists and she began to push herself from the floor. With most of her body sprawled out, she noticed something the intensity of her fight had blinded her to. Everything was shaking. There was a thunderous boom, and her eyes dashed to the entrance of the lift, watching a small plume of fire lick the immediate area before vanishing back inside the shaft.

“The armoury…” She hissed, eyes flicking to the Durus which was still; likely having noticed the same thing she had. The VR systems around them were beginning to react to the damage of the facility, flickering and shifting without rhyme or reason. The failures were likely the only reason a follow up shot hadn’t been sent to finish her off. As the machine turned towards the shaft, she staggered up to her feet; briefly clutching her side with a wince at the heavy bruising she felt swelling up.

With a slow intake of breath, she started forward, feeling the detonations echoing through the structure’s framework. The VR masked her slow pursuit of the Durus, which was steadily heading for the only real escape from the inferno this base was about to become. “Hades, this is Nyx, breaking radio silence!” There was only silence, and she swore into the comms. “Hades, this is Nyx, the target is heading for the surface! The Durus is operational! I need close air support!”

There came no reply, and Vala wanted nothing more than to scream a litany of curses at whatever was holding their tongues or interfering with the signal. Breaking into a sprint, Vala drew on her dwindling reserves of energy to form a whip once more and brought it to bear on the machine. Unlike before, her intent wasn’t to damage, instead forcing the energy to take hold of the metal as the Durus’s thruster began to fire. Gripping the whip sprouting from her wrist with both hands, she drew on more energy into a barrier around herself before the whip went rigid and dragged her after the suddenly airborne machine.

Obadiah and his passenger shot up through the shaft like a rocket, flames licking their shields as more of the volatile equipment was brought into the inferno. Inside her armour, Vala felt herself practically cooking alive, her barriers only just keeping the flames from engulfing her armour. Sweat dripped down her brow, but the concentration required maintaining her biotics was the perfect distraction from the blaze.

Their flight was short, but didn’t end as she expected. Instead of landing inside the warehouse that had hidden his facility, Obadiah continued the Durus’s climb as its cannon trained on the roof and punched a hole clean through the concrete. The mech flew through the gap and landed with a deafening thud on the roof, almost slamming her into the surface with its abrupt stop.

Wobbling on her feet, Vala watched as it turned towards her. The white portions of its armour almost glowed with the heat of its escape, and smoke hissed from its exhaust. The cracks along its canopy had widened and grown into a spider web of thin lines, but the man instead remained confident. He had every right to be, she admitted grimly. The roof was completely exposed and she was already reaching a point of exhaustion from using her biotics so heavily.

“You’ve put my prototype through its paces, assassin. Even if it cost me the facility, I can’t be more grateful for the work you’ve done today. An excellent stress test for the Durus, don’t you agree?” He taunted, raising the guns in unison. “Take pride in that, even if you’re about to die. You’re helping create one of the greatest weapons to have ever existed.”

Sinking into a crouch, Vala shrouded herself in biotics once more, lips set in a grim line. Was this how she was going to go down? Fighting an over-sized tin can just a few days after she’d gotten her own damn ship? “Boss! I’d get the hell off the roof!” The thoughts were interrupted by Dusk’s eager yell, and Vala looked sharply in the direction of the gunship that appeared on her HUD. The Deadra swept in low out of the clouds, and two of its four missile pods opened to deploy their payload. It wasn’t a matter of thinking; she leapt backwards on instinct as the Durus began to fire. The movement bought her only a second, but before the systems could realign to find their target, the missiles impacted.

Dusk hadn’t used basic rocket pods, as was much more common with mercenary groups. The missiles deployed quickly from their pod, but within seconds of launch fragmented into a half-dozen smaller warheads each. The guidance systems rapidly adjusted to minimize allied damage, the barrage swerving to impact more directly on the mech. The roof was engulfed in the fire from the warheads, and the damaged concrete beneath her feet groaned before crumbling. Fumbling for a ledge of a surface to grip, Vala found little as she dropped into the rafters of the warehouse.

The first impact was by far the most jarring, one of the metal bars clipping the side of her helmet and making her head rattle painfully before crashing into another on her stomach. The raining concrete made it a poor idea to remain on the little outcropping, and with a pained grunt she pushed off the metal and dropped the remainder of the way to the floor.

Her biotics slowed her fall, but she landed with none of her usually grace, instead partially crumpling over as she gripped her head groggily. Dozens of cracks marred her vision like a broken mirror, and she lamely tapped the key to retract the damaged visor. Ignoring what felt like a trickle of blood on her forehead, she surveyed the damage as she hobbled slowly into the center of the collapse. Half buried in rubble, the Durus lay in a heap, and its canopy shattered open and slightly smeared with blood.

“Boss? Boss, you alive in there? Please tell me I didn’t just blow you up.” The pilot called worriedly over the comm, which sounded much too loud in Vala’s ear as she grunted a reply.

“Confirming kill.”

“Whew…had me worried there for a second, Boss.” She didn’t bother with a reply, climbing up the rubble and peering into the cockpit with a displeased frown. Obadiah stared back, somehow still arrogant with a piece of rebar lodged through his stomach and one of his arms mangled beyond repair.

“I suppose you can take pride in this, Obadiah.” She muttered, eyes lazily watching him as she pulled her phalanx from her hip. “It’s one hell of a design, and I’m sure we’re going to get a lot of use out of it.” Despite his condition, the Oracle agent lashed out with his good arm, almost striking her across the chin before she jerked back to avoid it. “Pain in the ass till the bitter end.”

“You haven’t won anything. All you’ve done is eliminate a cog in the machine.” He grinned through bloodied teeth. “When you’re done here, go back to your Illusive Man and learn nothing has changed, you stupid bitch.”

“There’ll be one less of you, and that’s good enough for me.” The phalanx ended their conversation with an echoing shot, and Vala rose onto the wreck to gaze up through the collapsed roof. “Dusk…pick up.” She muttered, watching as the rappel descended from the hovering gunship.

“No offence, but you sound like shit, Boss.”

“I feel like shit, thank you very much.” Attaching the rappel to her belt, she gave it a tug before the system began to lift her out of the ruined warehouse. In the distance, she could hear the echoing sirens and was thankful they would be leaving the area before any civilians arrived. Tapping her helmet, she opened a channel to the Deliverance. “Hades, this is Nyx, target eliminated. Break radio silence.”

“Welcome back, Nyx. Your signal was weak earlier; we could only receive your audio barely.”

“I got what I needed.” Gripping her side with a groan as one of the marines pulled her into the waiting cabin, Vala continued with a half-hearted mutter. “Give me an update. What’s happening out there?”

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Character Portrait: Op Chief Susan Vasquez Character Portrait: Marine LT Menar

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Ops Chief Vasquez had a love/hate relationship with being the rear guard. She hated not being closer to the more intense action that the front would usually provide. Not that she was an action junkie mind you, she simply wanted to be able to provide the kind of cover her skills provided. Plus she was able to nip on the butt any hair brained plans the others can come up with in the heat of the moment. Not that she was free from making some question calls herself. It was the nature of the chaos of war. However, the more brains you have in the adrenalin filled pack of devil dogs the more likely it is you’ll have that one voice who says, “Guys maybe we’d like to live past today and rethink that.”

Now the love part of being rare guard comes from the fact that she was making sure the only danger coming to her boys in the front is coming from the front. Since the beginning of time the most devastating action one can inflict on the other side was taking the flank. And she would trust no one else with making sure that doesn’t happen to them besides herself. Ok sure, perhaps the Commander as well. Another love was that it put her sniper rifle at it’s maximum use.

A soldier firing from one of the higher floors of the compound was proof of that as a round from the Ops Chief rifle ended his part in the engagement. Susan popped the heat sink and began to search for a new target before news of her work had reached her.

“Target is down. Thanks for cover Chief.” Came a relieved voice.

She didn’t reply, she had her mind set looking for more in the windows. The immediate area from her last target was quickly seemingly abandoned, surviving enemies taking the hint that popping out of the windows in the area was a very bad idea. Susan quickly got up from the rubble she had been lying on for cove and moved another spot she had kept in mind to look into another part of the compound. A tap on her leg drew her attention to her comms.

“Think I saw some movement on what’s left of the North East tower. Could be they got their own snipers out now looking for us.”

“Call out the targets. Corporal.” Susan replied to Corporal Singh. Fairly useful with a sniper himself, he was chosen by Sue to be her spotter since she was farther away from the majority of the action.

“Yes Ma’am” Came the reply as she let loose her round and watched as it found it’s mark. Once she received a confirmation from the Corporal she continued to look for new targets who might threaten her or her team below. The radio was bursting with info, she had little trouble keeping up and even giving the occasional order to her back line. She was able to keep her concentration though down the scope.

Until she heard her Commanders voice say a name she had imprinted in her own memory. Her eyes left the scope for a moment as he pressed the communicator on her helmet. “Sir?”

"Didn't say anything Ops Chief." Came a very quick and short reply, then his channel went eerily silent. He had turned off his communicator. Susan felt an empty feeling in her gut. That was something Ross just didn’t do.

“Chief, between far North East and Central towers. On the rooftops. Their scopes moving awfully close to our position!” Said Singh in a hurried tone.

Susan shook the feeling in her gut away as she quickly looked down the scope again, she quickly found one tower and looked for the target between the other. This one left little else but their head and rifle for view. And that view seemed to be inches from them. She fired quickly, perhaps a bit too quickly. A shot meant to suppress more than kill. But sometimes luck is just as important as the skill. The head in her scope snapped back.

“We’re changing locations. Stupid of us to stay here long as we did.” Said the Ops Chief as she let out a sigh of relief.

“Well I wasn’t about to say anything ma’am. More scared of you than the snipers.” Chuckled the Corporal as he followed her.

“Right now you should be.” She growled before new chatter on the radio caused her to find the nearest cover and listen.

“Chief! This is Grey on the right side flank we’ve got a whole wave of them coming down on us. We need extra guns before we’re rolled over!”

“Copy. More guns coming you’re way.” She said as she looked over the cover to see what she could do . “Not enough of the wall is down for me to fire down on the right side. Not without leaving me in the open. Corporal. Head down to the right side, I’ll be find here on my own.” She could see a bit of hesitation from the Singh. Her body language became all the more threatening.

“Yes Ma’am.” He said as he left cover.

Susan touched her communicator again as she left her cover and moved to the next spot she had designated as proper positions in the shuttle. “Left flank I need one of you to move to the right they are getting a lot more action there.” As she reached her position she could see a lone runner moving from the left to right.

A sudden renew bursts of fire down on her team from the windows easily caught her attention. She quickly let off a round, popped the heat sink and sent another down the barrel. While well aimed shots, she would had been just as happy to make the enemy duck back under cover. Still it was a strange sight. They knew she was out there, yet were willing to take that chance to shoot at something. It had been unsuccessfully whatever it was as no word of a man down came over the comms.

A voice however was calling for her. It was quiet almost as if whispering to keep others near by from hearing. “Chief it’s Cendas. The korgan went for the building. Talked to the AI about something, ordered Mensch with him and they went in.”

‘That would explain the sudden burst of energy from those guys in the windows.’ She thought. ‘What the hell is he doing we’re hear to be a distraction. Make it seem like we want in but not actually go in. God damn Korgan.’

She spoke into her comms again. “Everyone keep up you’re fire. But do not, I repeat, do not enter the building. The Commander should almost be at his target and back with us.” She could seem through some of the windows plenty of fire being exchanged inside the building now. He’d be lucky not to have the entire base after them now. She fired through the windows at those who seemed more concerned at a Korgan in the building than the sniper out the window.

Taking her eyes off the scope for a moment she tapped into her Omni tool a private line between her and Menar. She looked back to her scope and hit her helmet communicator to switch from her full feed to the private. “Menar the hell are you doing in there! The Commander said-”

“The Commander said to raise hell, make a big distraction and that’s what I’m doing.” Came the boisterous reply from Menar. “I thought it was a shame we only took down half of the East wing. Figured the rest should go with it. Mensch! Are those charges ready yet?….Mensch! Oh right.” The voice on the other end disappeared.

With a growl of frustration the Ops Chief continued to fire, she had begun to think about opening a new line to the Korgan when she noticed the Commander location was now on top of the target. She’d let him deal with the neutered lizard when he came back into comms.

A few minutes later she could not help but begin to wonder where her Commander was. The vitals on the target had dropped to zero moments ago, but the Commander had yet to turn his comms back on. But another flash of activity came over the main channel.

“Menar and Mensch are coming out!”

Susan’s scope moved back to the building, as it passed over the roof tops something seemed off in one of the towers. A star seemed cut in two and slightly disjointed. A cloak aiming down at her men. She aimed as her best possible guess as to where the target stood. Both rifles fired at the same time.

“Man down, man down!”

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5 minutes ago……

Menar was having more fun than he has since joining the Commanders ship. Sure violence and battle were mostly a way for him to make money (which he also very much liked) but he was still krogan and the chaos of the battlefield was pure joy to him. What was not a joy however was the restriction he was put under, particularly because it was put on them so some fancy pants infiltration bastard has his fun inside the highly secure building.

That being said he was still enjoying the hell out of it all, he took cover closer the wall of gun fire coming from the building than any of his other crew. He knew the reason, their squishy bodies unable to take as much as himself. Still he was frustrated, like leading a bunch of pyjaks. Still they were tough enough for him to respect, particularly when the one call Mensch came up to the same cover as him. Maybe a bit of the drell had rubbed off on the private.

Whatever the reason the rocks and gunfire seemed to come down even harder on their position, though much it died a vapor trail from a sniper crashed into the 2nd floor windows. The Commander’s pet, no doubt. He’d seen the cannon she carried for such a small individual, he thought only korgan females were that deceptively strong. With the guns in the second floor and roof much more sporadic than before it was easier to move even closer to the main doors.

He reached a large piece of metal which he was sure had once belong to the outer wall and looked over for a moment. He was so close, he was sure he could make it in there. “We hold hear you pyjaks. I want everything and everyone in front of us full of hole or blown to bits!” During the time the two sides exchanged gunfire Menar began to grow bored again and looked over his Omni tool at what remained of the facility. A room with dozen of pipes entering it caught his attention.

“Hey Philly.” The korgan spoke into his comm.

“My name is Phillis Lieutenant Menar.” Spoke the female voice of the Novum.

“Nuance.” Replied Menar in no mood to be corrected by an AI. “What is this room about?” He asked as he sent what he had on his Omni tool to her.

“Judging by the equipment and power levels coming from the room I would say it is most likely the room which house the eastern side of the compounds life support systems. Oxygen recyclers, fuse boxes and several servers seem to be housed there.”

“So you’re telling me if we make a big boom in there, then we’ll create some real chaos?”

“Yes Menar.”

“Mensch!”

“Sir! Over here!” Shouted Mensch as he waved over to the krogan.

“Well get over here brainless.”

Mensch looked over the cover at the gunfire being exchanged, some of it right in his path to Menar. He gave a sigh of exasperation and ran. He couldn’t be sure just how many shots he did take but it was enough to drop his shield before diving for cover.

“Graceful.”

Mensch stayed on the ground catching his breath and letting the shield recharge.

“Welp when you’re done, we’re going in.”

“Going in? I thought the commander wanted us to stay out here.”

“He also wanted us to be a distraction and I got a hell of one planned. And don’t question orders again. Just because you’re a scared little pyjak doesn’t mean I need to hear you whine about it.”

“I’m not useless.” He voice was strong, and it even took Menar aback to hear the Marine talk like that to him. He could not help but smile at the quad this kid had.

“Well then prove it. If you want you could even stay directly behind me. I’ll take most of the fire.”

Mensch looked at him for a moment, perhaps deciding if to go along or not. Then he nodded and got up.

“Well then lets go!” Shouted the Krogan as he ran from cover. He got about half way to the entrance before the second floor came alive with fire again. The thought of a Korgan indoors no doubt over riding their fear of the Ops Chief cannon.

Menar took several hits, easy enough to shrug off before throwing his huge frame through the door. There stood a line of Alliance who hesitated at the site. Their mistake. Menar let out a cry as he ran toward the line his shotgun tearing through shield, armor, and flesh in the smaller, closer space.

It was short and bloody work with Menar keeping all eyes on him and Mensch using a little what he learned from Noah to keep from getting attention and picking others off. They moved quickly to the room and Mensch quickly get out to work with charges. Menar stayed just inside the door to pick off the growing number of men trying to make it into the room.

After his little chat with the Ops Chief Menar looked back at the young sapper this time hitting the right channel on his helmet. “Mensch! How much long you going to be, you’re green battle master would have been done by now. What has she been teaching you.”

“She’s been teaching me how not to blow us up too with god damn bullet flying over my head.”

“Hmmm fair enough. Though what’s this with us squishy.” Menar chuckled as he looked back at the door, and then his shotgun. “Need a time though, I’m running low on sinks.”

Mensch looked back at his work, “Couple seconds actually.”
“Good, I’ll start clearing us a path.” Menar walked back to the door and fired a couple rounds down the hall.

“All set.“ Mensch said as he came behind the Krogan.

“Ok maybe she was teaching you something after all.” Menar grumbled in an unsatisfied father sort of way. “Stay behind me.”

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As Menar and Mensch make it out the door there a single shooter in the tower. A device called the tactical cloak was one of many things being devised in the compound which was on on fire. It rendered the user almost invisible, still new tech there is a slight glimmer effect if a scope passes over them quickly. But only a trained eye would notice the effect. The shooter took aim, secure in the fact they felt invisible but still hurried for the targets were moving fast and would be in cover soon.

They decided if one was a krogan, it would be prudent to go for the sure kill. Their rifle fired and it would be their last action before darkness took two lives in less than a second.

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Menar stopped dead as he heard the voices on the comm, “Man down.” He turned to see Mensch down, face first, and unmoving. Bits of his hair could be seen from the parts of the helmet blown away. He stopped in his tracks and began to turn around. The defenders however seemed embolden by their first kill of the day. Menar felt an overwhelming barrage of bullets hit his hard krogan armor and there was a crack and he suddenly felt very mortal and made for cover.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was going to live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lennon. Rikkard?" Avis asked quietly.

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

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

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

"Overwatch? This is Aracari. Mission Accomplished."

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Beats me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This was not better than paperwork.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Understood.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So would I.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How we looking?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“C’mon. This ain’t worth it.”

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

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

“You have some serious screws loose, Oberacker.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Talk to me.”

“Most of the second floor has been cleared…”

“But?”

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

“Why not drag him out?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why are you doing this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Show me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything of value?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t frankly know. Let’s move.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cause that’s what we need.”

“What we need is an extraction point.”

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

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

“This is Overwatch, update.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you hold?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then fuck, we’ll go back around!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Good copy, standby.”

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

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

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

“What do you need, Ma’am?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sparrow?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Commander Jensen Ross Character Portrait: Op Chief Susan Vasquez Character Portrait: Helmsman Joseph Butcher Character Portrait: Marine LT Menar Character Portrait: Noah Korol

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Noah’s body stiffened when she heard a voice call out over the comm that someone was down. She didn’t know who, because no name was given. But as soon as that thought flashed through her head she saw Ross raise his arm at the Lieutenant and fire before she could do anything to stop him. The lieutenant was dead before his body hit the floor. “Commander!” She stepped in front of Ross and gripped his wrist harshly. Noah forcibly jerked his hand with his gun down and away from her to make him meet her eyes. “His death was not our mission.” She stared into his face. “You have compromised what we were to accomplish here.”

She waited for some sort of response from the large man. “Do you understand me?”

The action of Noah grabbing his arm was the only thing keeping Ross from staring in shock at what he'd just done. He looked down at the man, and heard the comms on the other end. "We couldn't get to him. We've lost Mensch." His eyes steeled as he looked back at the Drell. "I made him part of our mission. My ship, my call. Now let go." When the Drell’s hand did not release right away, Ross stepped closer and spoke through gritted teeth. "That is an order."

Noah searched Ross’ face to see if his eyes were clear, unwilling to relinquish her grip on him until she was certain. Hearing the announcement that it had been Mensch that had been killed was not acknowledged, though she could call him a friend. The mission came first.

The order made Noah dip her chin in acknowledgement and she let go of Ross’ forearm. “And now?” She asked quietly.

Ross' eyes fell on the two bloody figures on the floor, then steeled as he looked at the door in front of him and heard the mass of voices on the channel. "Now we get off this rock before I lose any more of my guys."

Noah took Ross at his word and began to lead the way back toward the main tunnels they had come through. She was quieter than Ross and for now, she had to trust him to cover their backs. Nearing the hole she’d blasted into the wall, the soldiers Ross had knocked unconscious on his way in were just getting to their feet while trying to get their bearings. As one lifted his hand to his comm, Noah shot them both at close range and simply kept moving, stepping over their collapsed bodies. She did not glance back to Ross, she could hear that he was keeping up with her as she moved.

As Ross followed Noah he turned his communication back on with his team. "This is Ross. Attack team retreat, the patrol will be arriving at any moment now. We bunker in at the shuttle and make our stand. No one else dies today." He kept moving past the makeshift entrance the Drell had made earlier. "We're going to need some cover fire as we come out Menar."

"Actually out of action here Ross." Came the reply with a surprising amount of sincerity and pain. "A couple got through the armor. Need time to regenerate."

"I got it Commander." Came the voice of the Ops Chief.

Noah kept moving, leading the way out. For all the reaction she gave, she didn’t even hear Menar’s comment to Ross. At the turn toward the main hallway out, she paused with her back to the concrete wall and peeked around the corner. Her eyes found Ross’ briefly before she acknowledged, “Clear.” She then headed out at a jog toward the door to the outside. The sounds of gunfire became an almost constant drone as the pair approached the door.

Ross hesitated before talking to the Vasquez. "Ops Chief, we're here. Sounds like we've got maybe 2-3 guns on the second floor close to us. Not to mention the rest of the bees in the nest." Put down the ones closest to us first."

The sound of the Commander’s voice had shaken the Ops Chief out of her numb, shocked state from the loss of Mensch. Now she was ready to really send some hurt, and she did so at his command. Firing more for suppression than to kill, the rifle rounds pierced the second story windows at a steady pace. The new found bravery of the troops in the windows shot back down as another of their number had dropped.

"Left and right flanks, support fire on the first floor. Front team move and shoot in pairs."


*****

As Ross led her and his Marines toward the exfil location, he and Menar laid covering fire and moved in precise leap frog formations. Noah ran alongside the Krogan, ensuring that his injured flank was covered. Passing the building that the Chief Ops had set herself up in, Noah saw Vasquez begin to run towards them and she paused. The 2IC kept to cover and worked her way toward the rest of the tram quickly. As she got close, Noah stood up fluidly from behind her cover and lifted her Predator, aiming for the Chief Ops. The woman skidded to a halt, peering into the Drell’s dark, fathomless eyes and Noah fired.

The round passed so close to the Chief Ops that her shields flared briefly and she threw herself to the ground instinctively. Just behind her, Susan heard and felt a body crumple. Looking over her shoulder she saw an Alliance Marine laying just 5 yards from her.

Noah attached her gun to the magnetic clip at the back of her waist and reached out a hand toward Susan, “Come along, Chief Ops, we fall behind.”

****
Ross started as he fired rounds behind the Ops Chief and Drell as they made the final run to the cover around the shuttle. He hit two more targets but there seemed to be 2 more just as quickly to replace them. With all the rounds it was just a matter of time before some found their target and finally one did as Vasquez let out a scream of pain and grabbed her leg on the ground. Noah however was quick to get her the rest of the way to cover.

“Shit. Novum this is Ross, we’re getting out now.” Ross called out into the coms. “Everyone on board!” He rose once again to fire for cover as one by one they got on. Only once Vasquez was helped on did Ross follow. “Get us out of here.” He shouted up front to the pilot.

“Commander! Phillis reads ground turrets coming online!”

“What? Those were not in the briefing.”

“They were shut down and not part of the same system as the base.” Said Phillis through the comms.

“Drop lower! Pick up speed now!” Ross shouted up front, not a moment afterward the great force caused the shuttle to jerk downward knocking most off their feet. “Joe we can’t reach atmo with those guns on us, we’ll have to meet you at new coordinates.” Ross felt his feet lift off the floor of the shuttle as a new force jerked the shuttle violently.
“Must go faster. Must go faster Commander.” Said Joe in an almost bemused tone.

“Helmsman if we get out of this, you’re dead.” Ross growled as the ship once again gave a more violent jerk than the others. This time however screens inside the main compartment went black. Some screens busted. “And if you decide to run, you’re dead slow and painful.”

“Er….aye aye sir. Meet you once you break atmo.” Came a very quick reply, as the shuttle continued to jolt. Finally it began to taper off and everyone got to their feet, exchanging relieved looks.

****
Ross watched as the crew left the docking bay. A bit more chatter coming from some than what was the dead silence while everyone gathered themselves. He knew there would be a time to talk to everyone about what happened, but right now they would be able to take care of each other. Ross looked back in the shuttle as Menar slowly got up, while regenerating he was still hurting and slow off his seat.

He put his hand up to stop him and noticed Sue and Noah do the same. While he would never have let the others hear the next conversation he didn't think he had much of a choice with those two. "Ok Menar, what happened?"

Menar growled a little. However, it was not directed at the Commander. He looked over at the Drell before answering. "You told me to raise hell. That is what I did. Brought Mensch with me because you had to take her." He said motioning over to Noah.

Noah supported the Chief Ops as Ross confronted Menar after the remaining Marines had left the shuttle. At the mention of the death of Mensch, Noah murmured, “I will pray for his soul.” She held Sue more carefully, easily holding the Marine’s weight. “It was most efficient for the mission, Menar.” She warned gently. Her eyes then lifted to take in Ross’ face to see if he would explain his own failure in killing the insider in the base on Luna.

Sue growled as she pushed away from the drell holding herself using the wall. She looked toward her and nodded her head in silent thanks. "We were holding fine. More than enough chaos from the view in my scope." She looked over at the krogan. What little respect in her eyes she held from the drell replaced with loathing as she regarded Menar. "More to the point you never cleared it with me. You got that kid killed for nohting more than your own bloodlust."

Menar returned the glare and growl. "Well maybe I saw things different at the front with my men than through some scope."

Ross stepped between the two who had murder in their eyes, "Enough!" First he turned to the Susan. "Menar is right Ops Chief. As per my orders on the shuttle he was in charge of those men in the front." Ross' head snapped to Menar as the Krogan let out a 'Ha!'. "And you...these are my men. Not some merc you bought for 20 credits on Omega. Treat them as such."

Noah knew better than to try to restrain the Chief Ops when she pushed herself away from her. She merely returned Sue’s gaze when the Marine turned and nodded her thanks. She knew this was going to end up in another confrontation. It appeared to be the only response the Chief Ops knew how to give to a situation that didn’t go as planned.

She remained where she was as Menar and Sue squared off and shouted at one another. Finally, Ross cut off Menar’s almost childish crow of triumph. She knew Ross would take the loss of any of his crew very personally. She interjected softly, “Commander Ross Jensen, Menar does not wasted lives. He cares for those that follow him as strongly as you. It was Mensch’s time. None could have changed that.”

“I don’t believe in peoples ‘times’ Noah.” Ross said his body still tense from breaking up the spat between Susan and Menar. He looked at her for a moment then relaxed. “But I do believe you are correct and Menar did not mean to make waste of a good man. However,” He said turning back to Menar. “I still believe the entire incident was unnecessary and as the Commander of this ship that word is final. However it was nothing more than an regrettable outcome from a poor choice and not one of incompetence or malice.”

Menar raised a brow, his body was tense as he had been expect some kind of punishment but now looked equally curious as to what Jensen would do next.

“The men will be on edge after this. They’ll be looking for someone to blame and lash out against. That’ll be you both. More so you Menar. Because of that any training will be high strung and though I don’t want you to lay off them and let them get sloppy. We must be aware of potential outbursts. So with that in mind Chief you will shadow Noah for all training till I deem it safe otherwise. I will do the same for Menar.”

Sue only got a word of displeasure before Ross lifted his hand like a giant brick wall to her objections. “I don’t want to hear it Sue. You have orders.”

Sue snapped her jaw shut and the muscles in her jaw worked. “Yes. Sir.” She uttered sharply. Turning suddenly to leave the hangar bay, the Chief Ops winced and stumbled slightly.

Noah turned with her hand out as if to catch the Marine if she fell. “May I assist you to the sick bay, Chief Ops Susan Vasquez?

Sue glared at the Drell. “No.” She gritted out through her clenched teeth.

Before the Commander could say anything, Noah stepped up to the Chief Ops, took her arm over her shoulder and encircled the Marine’s waist. Using her hidden strength, she physically lifted and began walking the Chief Ops out, whether she objected or not. “You are as stubborn as a Krogan, Chief Ops Susan Vazquez.” Noah reprimanded the woman.

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