Mass Effect: On the Edge

The Call of Victory

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

Aboard the Call of Victory...

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Setting

Kelly managed a brief wander through a couple of the decks aboard the Call of Victory, and after ensuring that Grass had had no issues with transporting Horn, continued her inspection of the ship. From first glance, it was very much like the Titan save for some miniscule differences. The first floor of the ship was very much the same. Engineering, Cargo space, and the Shuttle Bays were all located on the bottom. The second floor had been switched with the third floor from the Titan, now housing the Main and Secondary Batteries for the entire ship. While lacking in some of the heavier armaments from the Titan, most notably the Thannix Cannon, it had more than enough extra ports of more standard weaponry to make up for this fact. The third floor was now the Crew Quarters, Medical Bay, Armoury, and the Mess Hall. The armoury on the Victory was slightly different from that of the Titans for the sole fact that it had a shooting range further in the back enabling four marines to practice their aim at a time. It would definitely come in handy during long down periods. The fourth floor was your CIC, including the Bridge, Helm, Life Support, Observatory, and Comm. Center/Briefing room. The fifth floor, of course, was the Commander's Personal Quarters.

The layout was pretty standard, with a few things different that didn't make it difficult to find one's way around. Kelly knew that switching the Armoury to the third floor instead of the fourth. On that note...she wondered just how many times Jesse McKrain would go to the third floor instead of the second expecting weapons of all shapes to found covering the space, and swearing as she got back into the lift. Aside from the interior, the Victory was also heavier armoured than its predecessor. While not necessarily as powerful in the weapons department, the weapons that this ship was currently outfitted were tested and proven through trials of fire to perform, rather than an experimental cannon that was iffy as to whether or not it was going to work.

As for the rest, everything was pretty self explanatory. It would take some getting use to considering the stations and positions were slightly switched around, but it was all pretty familiar despite being a new ship.

-Excerpt from the original publications
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The Call of Victory

Aboard the Call of Victory...

Minimap

The Call of Victory is a part of Mass Effect Universe created by Bioware.

5 Characters Here

Commander Jason Horn [4] Commander if the Call of Victory, Cruiser Class Warship
Lieutenant Daniel Harrens [4] Spec Ops Combat Engineer, "Demon" Squad.
Carly Laren [2] Recruited marine under Commander Horn's command.
Nerita T'Lar [2] A powerful Asari Biotic
The Illusive Man [2] The enigmatic leader of Cerberus.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Specialist Maya Salazar Character Portrait: Private First Class Logan Fischer Character Portrait: Private Roger Pollard

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“Check.” Logan blinked, looking at the holographic board in confusion for a moment, before a frown settled over his features. “Also mate.” The dark skinned private shook his head, a lopsided grin stretched across his face. His opponent flashed a grin of her own, grey eyes twinkling as she pressed the board to reset.

“You’re beating me faster and faster, Maya.” The woman in question laughed, drumming pale fingers against the table which held their game. “You might actually be able to beat Ed here soon.” Logan said of their auburn haired Corporal, catching the man's hazel gaze for a brief moment as the mention of his name.

“Not likely.” She snorted, sparing a glance over to the man in question, who sat with his back turned as his eyes flicked over an e-reader. “Corporal Sun Tzu royally trounces my ass every time he so much as looks at the board.”

Logan fixed her with a look, pushing one of his pawns forward to start the game. “Ed isn’t that good. He’s got some chops, but Sam always served his ass to him.” Maya raised an eyebrow, mirroring Logan’s opening move. “What was the final score again?”

“Something along the lines of 12-13, her favour.”

“Actually, it was 13-13.” The corporal glanced over his shoulder, his comrades fixing him with a suspicious look. “We had a private final match.” Logan shook his head, as Maya grinned widely at Ed. “What?”

“Private? Never pegged you as the type for those kinds of games, Ed.” She winked, sparing a glance to the board as Logan stroked his goatee for a moment before he knocked another pawn forward. Once again, she mirrored the move, earning a disgruntled grunt from her opponent. “C’mon, Logan, I don’t have all day to trounce your ass.”

“Me and Sam had a purely professional relationship, regardless of your baseless accusations.” There was a moment’s pause, before the corporal spun his chair around to face the board proper. “It’s just nice to play a game every now and again without the peanut gallery.” Sparing a glance down at the board, he moved Logan’s queen. “Checkmate, by the way.”

Logan blinked once, as Maya floundered to see a way out. Edward grinned, tucking his e-reader into his pocket. “You can’t do that, Ed! He never would have thought of that!”

“It’s my job to guide you, even if sometimes it means I have to put you in your place.” Rising from his seat, he rubbed his knuckle on Logan’s head, who simply grunted in annoyance, resetting the board. “I suspect our newest member has gotten himself into some kind of shit by now, since it shouldn’t take an hour to fetch some coffee.”

“It’s a big ship, he probably just got lost.” Logan replied, as Maya sighed and rose from her seat. “Aren’t we playing another?”

“Nope, Ed’s got me going to find Roger.” She ran her hands through her short black hair for a moment, as Ed fixed her with a look.

“I never said to.” She jabbed an accusatory finger into his chest, earning a grin. Despite her apparent sourness, she smiled good naturedly.

“I can read your face like a damn book, Ed. ‘Oh, Maya, be a dear and fetch the poor boy for me?’ It’s written all over your sorry mug.” She threw her hands up in mock surrender. “I’m just too nice for my own damn good!” Ed snatched her empty seat, watching her punch the door access panel. “And for the record, those low cut shirts were not purely professional, Ed.” The corporal rolled his eyes as the door hissed shut.

Logan shook his head in amusement, moving one of his pawns forward. “I wasn‘t aware your face spoke like some old British man.” A few moves passed in companionable silence, before Logan spoke again. “A private match though? Does that even really count?” Edward was silent for a moment, before a wry smile stretched across his face. There was silence between the two as slow realization dawned on the private’s face. “You didn’t.”

“It was one hell of a private match.”

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Roger Pollard sat lazily on one of the spare fuel units in the shuttle bay, sipping at his lukewarm coffee as the technicians went about their regular maintenance on the Kodiak’s. Rubbing a hand against the short brown stubble that wrapped around his chin, his jade eyes watched with feigned interest, even if his mind was on other things. Predominantly the boredom. So far, the Call of Victory had been about as dull as boot camp. It didn’t help that he’d been told nothing but rumours of how bloody badass the Commander was, constantly heading into the fray. Disappointing didn’t even really sum up his feelings about the giant floating tub. Even footsteps to his right drew his gaze, and the private grimaced at the sight of Maya Salazar. “I was hoping you wouldn’t come after me for at least another ten minutes. Circle back around and then I’ll come along willin-ow!”

Hoisting him up via a vice grip on his ear, Maya smiled, although it wasn’t exactly the most comforting thing he’d ever seen. “How about we go now, mmkay?” She released him, grinning all the wider as he muttered a few swears under his breath.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Save it for the officers, Roger.” She snorted. “Hell, you probably don’t even need it for them.”

“What about dear old Leo?” The man’s reputation had preceded him enough that even the relatively fresh private even knew he was and what he was like.

That gave her pause, and she scratched at her neck awkwardly. “Good point…why don’t we wait a bit before making enemies of the command staff? Much better suited to a Monday.” The marines started back the way Maya had come, travelling silently before Roger decided to break the ice.

“We’ll need to hit the mess for more coffee.”

“Procrastinating already? Oh, Ed is going to love you to pieces.” They rounded the corner and started down the hall towards the lift. “Have you heard the rumour kicking around?” Roger shook his head, stuffing his hands in the pockets as they boarded the lift. “Apparently we’ve got some high ranking brass on board.”

“Great, more people with a stick up their ass.”

“Captain Horn.”

Roger blinked once. “Wait…ain’t the Commander Horn?” Maya nodded with a knowing smile. “So then who the hell is…oh!”

“That’s the thought.”

Roger sighed, leaning on the railing as the lift rumbled to life. “Well, that’s just charming. Daddy comes to see his baby and we all get our heads torn off in the process.” Maya laughed, thumping the private on the arm.

“Daddykins is just worried. You’d be the same way if you had kids.” The lift opened, and the marines disembarked. “Assuming the rumour is true. Gossip isn’t exactly reliable.”

“Like the shit I’ve heard about our armourer? A half-breed krogan with territory issues and arms the size of me.”

“That TJ chick?”

Roger blinked in surprise. “Chick? It’s a woman?” His mind immediately began conjuring an image of what such a thing would look like, and he mock-gagged. “I’m avoiding the armoury.” They entered the mess moments later, noting the bitter moods of the few crew kicking around the area. A few muttered words about a Captain were heard, but other than that, no real clues materialized. “Maybe we should hurry back…”

“I’m inclined to agree.” They wasted no time filling up the cups of coffee for Logan and Edward, before grabbing their own and heading down the corridor towards the crew quarters. “With a little bit of luck, we’ll be able to slip into the room without running into this Captain.”

“Fortunately for you, I’m a lucky guy.” Roger winked as they rounded a corner, only to come face to face with a slab of a man decorated in more medals than either had fingers. There was a brief moment of silence as the marines craned their heads to look up at the rough face, before both visibly swallowed at the disapproving glare on the man’s face.

“What was that about being lucky?” Maya hissed under her breath, quickly shoving both her mugs into the private’s arms and snapping a salute. “Sir!” Roger swore, setting the mugs down carefully before mirroring the action.

The Captain returned the salute. “At ease.” They obeyed quickly, watching as he gave them both a slow once over, eyes narrowing when he finished the impromptu inspection. “Judging by your posture and your physique private, I would suggest more time in the gym, and less time in the mess hall.” Roger didn’t dare break the man’s gaze.

Operative Invaru, appearing from behind the massive Captain, spoke quickly. “Sir, these are Private Pollard and Spec-”

“I don’t care about names, only performance. I’m not liking what I’m seeing.”

“Sir, Private Pollard is a fresh recruit. He’s only been in active service for as long as the Call of Victory and a large portion of his training was dedicated to Kodiak piloting. Lt. O’Ryan will have him up to speed ASAP.” Maya spoke quickly, but in a respectful tone he’d never really heard the usually rough woman use.

The Captain’s gaze shifted to her. “Are you trying to make up excuses for the Private here, Specialist? If he needs you to stand up for him, then you are only solidifying the fact that he needs to train harder. Operative Kelly, continue with the tour. We're done here." He moved past them, the marines parting to let him past. Operative Invaru followed behind silently, and Roger bit his lip long enough for the two to get out of ear shot.

Once they felt safe enough, the private growled. “When his ship crashes because his pilot is too much of a roid monkey, I’m going to piss on his grave.” Maya patted his shoulder.

“I don’t think the Commander will appreciate that.”

“If the Commander is anything like his father…”

“Stuff it. Last thing I need is one of the vets hearing you trash talking and putting you in the Med-bay. Grab the coffee and let’s get moving.”

“Yes, yes, poor little Roger can’t fight the big bad marines.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” She grinned as the private retrieved the mugs. “Can’t have someone breaking your precious little face before I do.”

“You’re all heart, Maya.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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

"You have a question Operative Invaru?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Isn't it obvious?" Grayson returned.

They spent the rest of the drop in silence.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Captain Azuric Villayn

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Humans...

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Horn version?" He asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tia sighed with frustration, "Fine. Who?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Tia St. Jean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Now, where were we?"

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Corporal Edward Stevenson Character Portrait: Lieutenant Daniel Harrens

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Walking at a casual pace, Edward took his time navigating the familiar sights of the third deck of the Victory. The off duty marines and techs mingled and chatted as they moved about, and he’d pause every now and again for a quick conversation with one of the faces he’d recognize. As much as he usually didn’t care for the rumour mill, it was impossible to miss the latest one flying from everyone’s lips. An official brawl had been held in the Observatory, and the resulting beat down had taken the bored marines by storm. He couldn’t blame them. They hadn’t really seen any action, and when you were built to fight, you started to crave a little violence after awhile.

Apparently, Nerita had unleashed eight levels of hell on an unfortunate private and was about to unleash the ninth when Daniel had called it off. The asari had always struck him as the type to control her emotions, so the fact that she’d nearly killed someone was a bit of a shock. Part of him worried that it wouldn’t help the inherit hate lurking inside the majority of the marines for an alien, but the threat of being killed would at least keep them from trying anything. It was something the brass would need to worry about, not him, but Ed couldn’t help glancing back towards the mess, where he’d left the rest of his team to eat.

Logan wouldn’t really care; the man was mostly indifferent towards this sort of thing. He’d maybe comment on the foolishness of letting your soldier’s kill each other off duty, but he’d say it only to Maya, who’d spout it to every marine within ear shot. Nothing to worry about there. The combat medic wouldn’t appreciate the injuries to a fellow marine, and would no doubt be down in the med bay trying to help the doctor with whatever she could do for the poor bastard.

He cracked a smile, slipping his hands in his pockets as he started forward again. The only possible issue could be Roger, and he doubted the private would really go picking fights with Nerita. While he’d shown a passing…curiosity, was it? It was difficult to place where exactly he ranked aliens, but that was to be expected with a kid his age. Ed doubted Roger even really knew where he stood. As the corporal approached the crew quarters, he turned sharply away from his usual route to his quarters, instead heading towards the officer’s offices. He’d visited the Lieutenant’s quarters once before, retracing his steps to the bulkhead and lifting his hand to knock when the feint echo of voices reached his ear.

He strained slightly to make out the muffled voices, but one immediately identified itself as O’Ryan, unmistakeable from the harsh gravely tone that he was known for. The other was more difficult, requiring Ed to practically place his ear to the cold metal to pick up, but he soon realized it to be Lieutenant Harrens. Should he come back later? If the two were meeting behind closed doors, it was obviously important. Scratching his chin in a moment of thought, he quickly raised his knuckles to the door, and gave it a quick rap. The voices inside quieted, before the door hissed open to reveal Daniel’s curious face.

Ed saluted quickly, which the Lt responded to with his own lazy version. Ed wasted no time turning on his heel slightly to face O’Ryan as best he could, and snapped another, who snapped a sharp one back, before muttering an at ease. “What do you need, Corporal?”

Ed fell into the ‘at ease’, eyes level on the two men. “Forgive the intrusion, sirs. I was just coming to speak with Lieutenant O’Ryan about some specialized training for a member of my fire team. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Daniel raised an eyebrow at him.

“You sound familiar…” Ed looked to the man, whose eyes were examining him curiously, as if trying to place where exactly they had met before. “Where have we met?”

“I was on the other fire team on Lucr’n, sir. That’s likely where you remember me from.” Daniel snapped his fingers, a grin spreading across his face.

“That’s right! So you’re a fire team leader?” He half turned to O’Ryan, nodding his head towards Ed. “What about him? They did some good work down there, didn’t they?” O’Ryan half-frowned, but stepped closer to the two men, examining the corporal with a critical eye.

"If I were to put it into marine speak...'He doesn't fuck up often.'" Ed felt as if he’d been praised and slapped at the exact same time, but refrained from commenting on O’Ryan’s appraisal. After all, he’d heard far worse from the Lt, so this was likely the closest to a compliment he’d ever get. Daniel simply nodded, seeming more and more enthusiastic as the conversation went on.

“Not a fuck upper, eh? Sounds like just the man I need. What’s your name again, Corporal?”

To his credit, despite having no idea what the two men were talking about, Ed didn’t miss a beat. “Stevenson, sir. Edward Stevenson.”

“Alright, Stevenson, I’ve got a mission to run, and I need a fourth. You’re the lucky winner.” Of all the things he’d been expecting, that was not it. For once, Ed lost his composure for a split second, indulging in a stare of slight disbelief which Harrens responded to with a light laugh. “Relax; we’re not mounting up today, Corporal. We’re due in tomorrow, so you’ve got some prep time. Briefing will be at 0700 tomorrow, up in the briefing room.”

Nodding once, Ed asked quickly, “Armour on, sir?”

“No, we won’t need armour where we’re going. Bring your best civvies, Stevenson.”

“Understood, sir. I’ll be in the briefing room at 0700 sharp.” Daniel nodded and gave a two finger salute to the men before leaving the room to attend to his own business. After a moment or two of silence, O’Ryan turned to the corporal, eyes half narrowed and questioning. Ed didn’t need anymore invitations to speak from the man. “As for my original reason to being here, sir…”

“Specialized training, right?” O’Ryan moved to his desk, sitting down in front of the terminal and bringing up a screen. “Victory Company, Third Platoon, Fire Team 3.” The fact that the man could remember that off the top of his head was impressive and simply reinforced why he held his command position. “Who have you got?”

“Specialist Maya Salazar, Private First Class Logan Fischer, and Private Roger Pollard.”

O’Ryan tapped a few keys, bringing up the dossiers on the three, as well as Ed’s own. He spent a few moments reading over it, before looking over at the corporal. “You’ve got a fairly diverse team as if, Stevenson. A medic, a combat engineer and a grunt that can drive a Kodiak in a pinch. I’ve got three greenhorns with Ramirez that could probably use the training more than your boys.”

“I understand that, sir, and I have no intention of trying to draw your attention away from the more critical training we no doubt need.” Ed paused, considering his words. “It has, however, been brought to my attention by Specialist Salazar that Private Pollard has shown potential in the field of marksmanship.”

O’Ryan’s deadpan spoke wonders of what he thought of that idea. "I'm going to need more than the recommendation of your squad medic in order to give him special training Stevenson. I need scores. I need proof of how far he's shot with what weapon and how many times he's hit the target."

“Of course, sir. Which is why after her recommendation, I used my clearance to get access to his previous scores.” Reaching around his back, he pulled the small data pad out of his back pocket, and handed it over to the Lt. “These are his most recent scores with both the M-8 Avenger and M-97 Viper.”

O’Ryan spent a few moments looking over the scores, dismissing the M-8 with a neutral face, before focusing more intently on the M-97. Ed caught him leaning forward slightly, the surest sign he at least somewhat approved. It wasn’t surprising that the Viper was the selling point, really. Plenty of marines could be accurate with the Avenger, but the workings of a proper sniper rifle were an entirely different beast than most of them were use to. It was amusing to see that the wild greenhorn was the one who had the spark for the weapon that required the most patience.

"His scores are above average, that much is certain." The Lt sat back, fixing Ed with an even stare that spoke little of his thoughts. "He needs work, on his aim and his attitude if I were to ever give him an actual recon designation." He tossed the data pad across the table, and Ed quickly picked it up and tucked it under his arm. "I can give him the basic training that he needs, and can call in another marine to help with the finer points." He leaned forward without warning, eyes sharpening into daggers in the corners. "However, that attitude of his is against everything that makes a sharpshooter a professional killer. You keep his ass in line, Corporal. I will be grading both his performance and his personality before I finish with him. Failure in either department will result in the termination of his special training, are we understood?"

Ed swallowed hard. That was a particularly tall order, especially considering who they were talking about. Most marines seemed to quiet down after their first mission, but Pollard was still rather gung-ho, even after that fiasco with the director on Lucr’n. “I understand, sir. I think the training will be beneficial on all accounts. Thank you.”

O’Ryan nodded stiffly. “You’ve got a mission tomorrow, Stevenson. Prep and be ready. Bring your A game.” With that, the Lt turned back to his terminal, and the corporal quickly showed himself out. He walked stiffly down the hall for a few moments, before coming to a stop and simply staring ahead.

He’d taken a risk signing Roger up for this training without really talking to him first. Even if he had the potential, it didn’t mean he’d want to learn to use it. But that was his call to make, no one else’s. Nodding silently to himself, Ed cracked a slight smile. All he had done was provide the private with the possibility to learn. It was up to him if he wanted to utilize it. Confident in his decision, the corporal started back down the hall, planning to drop in on the armoury to check on his equipment before tracking down the no doubt scattered members of his squad.

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes sir.” Stevenson replied.

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

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

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

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

She was going to get some god damn answers.

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Crystal sir.” Kelly replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can we expect defensively?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was my job.” Kelly retorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Operative Kelly Invaru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fuck off."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the entrance to the Shuttle Bay stood Kelly Invaru.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sir yes sir!" The chorused back.

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

Characters Present

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

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The drop down the elevator shaft was shorter than Horn was expecting, and had to boost his jump jets harder than what he would have liked to avoid breaking his legs. Both he and Kelly came down with a crash on top of the elevator that was parked on the last floor, and he casually dropped her. She stood for a moment, looking around at the interior of the elevator shaft before looking to the Commander. "Was that really necessary?" She asked, a bit of humour in her voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He's a good stress reliever." Kelly stated, realizing the dirty joke that could have been used by Horn a little too late, but Nerita simply nodded, knowing she meant command wise. As they neared the corner though, Horn was diving to the ground, and rolled towards them. He pushed himself off the floor and slammed his shoulder against the wall. Kelly and Nerita simply stared at him for a moment. He looked back at them and gave a large smile.

"Lots of bad guys. Apparently this guy is a huge narcissistic asshole who believes everyone should die for him." Horn paused for a moment. "Any similarities between this guy and yours truly is purely coincidental." He took a breath and looked back down the hallway. "About five traitor marines, bunkered down at the end of the hallway with a sufficient amount of cover to make anyone coming at them piss their pants. None of us have snipers, nor do we have a sufficient amount of explosive ordnance." Horn looked down for a moment, before looking at Kelly and Nerita and smiling.

A moment later, Nerita and Kelly rounded the corner, their biotic barriers overlapping each other and taking the strain off of each other while Horn walked in between them firing his vindicator with an almost psychotic glee. The traitors opened fire on the group, but the rounds met nothing but biotic energy as the two barriers put together were more than enough for the small hallway. Horn started picking off the marines as his rounds eventually found their way through their shields and into their fleshy bits. By the time they reached the end of the hallway, the traitors were either dead or dying, and their barrier was nothing more than a shredded piece of metal from the amount of vindicator rounds pouring into it. Nerita and Kelly let the barrier drop as they walked up to stand next to Horn. Together they came up to the final door. "His office should be on the other side." Kelly stated as Horn looked at her.

"Aw...so soon? I was hoping for at least...ten...maybe fifteen more kills before the day ended." Horn hit the switch and the door opened to reveal a large room filled with containers, ammo boxes, weapon racks, and about six prison cell-size glass containers on each side of the room, each holding a civilian dead or alive. Oh, and there was about twenty marines securing equipment in the room. When the door opened, everyone froze and looked at them. Horn, Kelly, and Nerita all stood there. Both sides were staring at each other, the marines most likely never having expected anyone to get through the hallways so quick, and Horn's group not expecting another research lab this far down. Horn simply smiled, and flared his jets slightly.

"Wicked."

One of the traitor marines finally got his wits about him, and made to move when Horn let loose with his assault rifle and dropped the man before he could grab his weapon. The other marines reacted quickly after that point, dropping whatever it was they were carrying and moving to cover while readying their weapons. Horn and his team moved inside the room and took up cover behind some ammo crates. Rounds peppered all around them, and Horn looked to Kelly. "What was that about this being his office? Weirdest fucking office I've ever seen!"

"This room isn't on the blue prints!" Kelly yelled as rounds flew by her face, leaving tracer marks as they did so. "Either Dr. Mueller manipulated the schematics before it was sent to the Illusive Man, or this room was built so recently as to have not been added to the archive material!" Kelly replied as she flinched from another bullet barrage. Horn just shrugged.

"I was just wondering. Hell, I got my wish, aside from having you trounce around the battlefield in a skimpy bikini." Horn looked to Nerita, who was simply staring at him. "What?! You would be there too! Equally skimpy."

"Is this really the time?" Nerita stated as she stood and took a couple shots before ducking down again. Horn smiled.

"It's always the time. Anyways..." Jason double checked his rifle before giving it a slap and smiling at the women. "Who's up for a little bit of kickass, Horn style?" Jason looked around his cover for a split second, and the moment he did, his shields flared as several rounds found his helmet. He ducked back, and slowly touched his face shield. "Huh...accurate fucks aren't they." Jason made sure his vindicator was loaded, and looked to the other two. "Well, it looks like the room is about forty feet long, we have about thirty feet in width. More than enough room to manoeuvre, less then enough room for a flanking position. Roof means no flying for me. You two are too tired to keep up the barrier trick for much longer, which leaves me with my favourite option of doing things."

"With great stupidity?" Nerita stated as she took a couple shots. Jason simply looked at her.

"Well duh." He stated as he rounded the corner and bolted it towards the next piece of cover. Immediately his shields flared as several rounds found their mark on his armour. He fired his assault rifle on the move, his rounds going wide but managing to make the traitors flinched. He slid feet first towards the next group of boxes, and by the time he had reached the cover, his shields were completely gone. He gave a sigh of relief and let out a smile. "Gets the blood pumping!" He yelled back at the other two as he primed his last grenade. He peeked around the corner once more, checking to see which group of marines were grouped together the most, and found three that were using one piece of cover together. It was a large crate metallic crate, more than sturdy enough to withstand standard gunfire. The rest were too spread out for the grenade to do any real damage, so Horn lobbed the grenade. "Suppressing fire!' Horn yelled.

Immediately Kelly and Nerita stood up from their cover, their weapons spewing molten death at the marines, effectively pinning them in place until the grenade landed at their feet. They were left with an impossible option as all three of them ran to get out of the killzone. Almost immediately they were mowed with a merciless barrage. When the grenade went off though, another surprise was waiting for them.

The crate was sturdy enough to resist gunfire, sure, but apparently not a frag grenade. A hole in the side of the crate burst open, and from the wreckage crawled two vorcha who let out a howl and launched themselves at the closest traitor marine. Suddenly the battle had become a three-way without Horn even making a sexual innuendo. The marine's fire was split between the oncoming Cerberus commandos and the vorcha prisoners. Horn, Kelly, and Nerita stood their ground. None of them were wanting to close the ranks while the vorcha were still standing, knowing that they would easily mistake them for their captors and attack them as well.

Normally the traitors were cool, calm, collected, and highly trained. However, Horn could see the sense of panic that was slowly overcoming them as they were forced to split their attention. Apparently none of these traitor marines were in a command position, sent down here to simply secure cargo and prep for transport was the most likely option. With no authoritative presence, these men were slowly but surely losing their nerve. By the time that the marines had managed to secure themselves, only five of them remained. Between Horn's commandos and the vorcha, the fight was over quickly.

Horn and the others stood slowly, their weapons down but ready to be drawn at a moment's notice. The vorcha turned, their eyes viciously set on them but not yet closing to attack. Their wounds, while some were consistent of the battle they had just waged, others were more reminiscent of torture. Most likely weapons testing due to the vorcha's ability to regenerate. They hissed and Horn walked closer, but he didn't stop until he was a foot away from them. There was a slight stare down, before Horn stepped aside. "You better run." Jason said to the two of them, who gave him one last stare before bolting it past them towards the elevators. Jason quickly tapped his comm. "Attention marines, couple of vorcha coming up the shaft. Do not fire unless provoked. Let them pass."

There was a slew of confirmations as Horn finally looked at the containers alongside the walls. The civilians that were still alive, ranging from asari to elcor to hanar stared at him with such a pain he couldn't help but feel it. Kelly walked up and touched the glass of one of the containers, holding a hanar hostage. It returned the gesture, placing a tentacle up to the glass as well. Her brows furrowed in confusion as she looked at the creature. Horn walked up beside her. "I know what that look is. What's the problem, aside from the obvious?"

"We were told that Dr. Mueller had only recently gone traitorous, due to his nature of using live test subjects." Kelly's eyes glossed over the Hanar, as if feeling some sort of deep connection with him. "However, we were led to believe that the moment he started this, he was told to stop." Kelly pointed to some of the scars on the hanar. "Those wounds are the result of weapons fire sir...and they've been there long enough to become barely noticeable scars." Horn looked at the Hanar, and sure enough he had several scars along his body, all the apparent result of weapons fire. "The implications are...unpleasant sir." Kelly stated as she looked to him. His face was hidden behind the reflective face plate of his helmet, but he didn't say a word.

"Nerita, get these people free and topside. Make sure they get the medical attention they deserve, but make no mistake, if they attack you, you put them down. Chances are if they can't recognize help when they see it, they're too far gone to help anyways." Nerita gave a nod and made her way towards the closest container with a live hostage inside. Jason motioned to Kelly. "C'mon, we have a mad doctor to kill." Kelly gave a slight nod and took two steps towards the next door before pausing and touching her ear. Horn looked back, but didn't say a word.

"Operative Invaru? This is Kodiak Lead. As you can tell, the satellite has been taken out of service, but we are still reading the GUARDIAN systems as operational. We have reports from marines on the ground that the system will be down within five minutes. Can you confirm?" Kelly stood there a moment, trying to remember the marines that were sent after the GUARDIAN system.

"Hold Kodiak Lead." Kelly remembered who was the lead on that assignment, and patched into their comms. "Sergeant Oberacker. What's the status on those GUARDIAN systems?" Kelly listened for a minute before a man came over the line.

"Ma'am, Corporal Stevenson here. Sergeant Oberacker is currently engaged. We will have the guns down in five minutes ma'am."

"Are you positive corporal? Would you bet the lives of every singly Kodiak pilot on it?" There was a pause as he seemed to think about this.

"I would bet my life on it ma'am." Kelly seemed to take that at face value, and nodded to herself.

"You have five minutes Corporal." Kelly cut the channel and switched back to Kodiak Lead. "You have a go Kodiak Lead. Good luck."

"Copy command. We are en route. Kodiak Lead out." The comm. went dead, and Kelly looked ahead at Horn who was returning from the door.

"You done? Can we continue with the ass kicking then?" Jason asked as he turned to start towards the door once more.

"Yes sir." Kelly replied as she caught up to him as he stood in front of the door. He gave the door a tap with his boot.

"Door's locked with some sort of advanced mathematical algorithm. Way above my knowledge to hack this baby open." Kelly looked around for a moment, feeling the walls for any sort of bump or sign that there was a panel underneath. Sure enough, she found something, and with a little help from Horn, pried the panel loose. Underneath was an array of electronic wiring mixed with several dozen secondary systems that neither one of them could begin to comprehend. Jason pushed Kelly back several paces, unholstered his pistol, and fired several rounds into the panel. They waited a few seconds, but were disappointed to see that the door remained closed. "That always works in the vids." Jason stated as his smile disappeared. Kelly simply stared at the panel for a second longer. Then, with a sudden hit of clarity, reached far into the panel and grabbed a massive coupling near the very rear of the wall. With a bit of a yank, the coupling came loose, and the door's lights went off.

"There, power's cut. Magnetic locks should also be offline. All we have to do is force the doors open ourselves." Kelly stated as she started towards the door. Horn gave a slight frown, but proceeded to the door.

"Yeah, but we'll be completely exposed to enemy fire because we'll have to be gripping the sides. If anyone is waiting on the other side, we get shot up." Jason stated as he gripped one side of the door.

"It was either this, or request an engineer from one of the other strike teams which could take minutes off our operational clock sir." Kelly stated as she started pulling on the door.

"Oh I know, don't get me wrong. Strike of genius from the beautiful 2iC, but still there could b-" As soon as the door opened a crack, a hail of fire peppered door. Kelly and Horn ducked off to the side out of harm's way, and just as they did the fire stopped. Horn and Kelly looked back to Nerita and the Civilians, who seemed either oblivious to the fire or were actively ignoring it. They returned their attention to the door.

"Cerberus commandos? Hah! You're fighting for the wrong side there marines!" A voice came from inside the room. "The so called Illusive man is pulling your strings puppets! COME ON!" Another hail of fire exited out the inch wide gap in the door. Horn looked to Kelly.

"I need to open this door. Pour some fire through, pin him down." Jason stated, barely giving any time before he gripped the door and started pulling. Kelly poked her avenger rifle through and started spraying hoping for the best. Once Horn had the door open a few inches, she was able to see inside. Dr. Mueller had a spacious office with a desk large enough to offer sizeable cover. Off to the side was a single large aquarium with the flawlessly white walls offered excellent luminosity to the entire room. The roof was an odd circular shape, metallic as opposed to the rest of the office. Aside from the aquarium and desk, the entire room was surprisingly sparse. The man himself looked almost exactly like his photo, except for the fact that he was carrying some sort of modified two handed minigun-esque weapon.

The rounds from Kelly's avenger dug into the desk and ricocheted off the wall behind the doctor, forcing his head down for a moment as Horn doubled his efforts to get the door open. Before long though, Dr. Mueller was once again pouring fire through the crack, and Horn was forced to stop and duck as one of the rounds nicked his hands. "Fuckin ass!" Jason swore as he gripped the door once more. Kelly fired once again, and after a short burst, was rewarded with the man swinging to his side and going down.

"I nicked him." Kelly stated as she put down her gun and helped her commander open the door wide enough for them to slip through. Once they were able to slip inside, they both immediately found their target laying on the floor covered in his own sticky blood. The minigun weapon that he had been using lay a few feet away, tossed from his hands when he went down. Once they got a better look, it appeared that Kelly's round had hit a lot closer to home than first imagined. The round had pierced just above his heart, closer to his neck than his shoulder. Despite the obvious pain that he must have been feeling, he still gave a wicked smile and laugh. Horn looked to Kelly.

"You started the fight, only proper you finish it. Make it quick, we need to head topside." Horn stepped off to the side, eyeing the office and making quick notes about it's interior. Kelly grabbed her pistol, but was surprised when the Doctor's hand shot out to meet hers.

"I'm not the man you were told to believe I was." Mueller looked over at Horn quickly, noticing his attention was elsewhere. "They told you I was the one performing the experiments? That part is true...but only to a degree." Kelly was torn between her orders from Horn to simply kill the man, and her natural curiosity that came from being an information specialist. She held her tongue, but also her gun hand, which allowed him to continue. "The Illusive Man sent you here to kill me because I wanted to stop the mass murder these people were committing. We rebelled because they were bringing in dozens of people of all races for weapons testing. None of them ever left this place, and while I'm not claiming to be a saint, I couldn't stand for the amount of death these people were inflicting all for the cause of advancing our own race." He coughed for a moment, blood spouting up.

"He played you...He played all of us...like a chess board...You're just a pup-"

A round shot out, and suddenly Mueller's brains were splattered all over the floor while Kelly jumped back in shock. She looked over to Horn, who's carnifex hand cannon was still smoking from the cylinder as he put it back into his holster. Kelly looked between the man and Horn, blood across her features as well from the well placed round.

"Sir! Why did you do that? He was telling us why he-" Kelly wasn't able to finish that sentence as Horn closed the distance between them with a quick few steps.

"My job isn't to ask why Operative! My job is to give an answer at muzzle velocity!" Horn stared at her for a moment. "Besides, while you were sitting there taken in by his crazed eyes and blood stained figure, his hand slowly pushed a button on the desk behind you!" Horn walked over, flipping the desk as he did so. Underneath was a simple red button, that was now flashing. "I knew it was too easy." Kelly simply stared at the desk, suddenly the seemingly light resistance making sense now. Dr. Mueller understood that if they got this far, he wasn't leaving. So, he might as well take as many as he could with him. However, going by his words it meant that they still had time to escape. If he was telling the truth to her, there would be time left for the civilians to get out of the base and free from the blast. If not, they would be dead and it wouldn't matter either way.

"Sir, I believe we still have time. We need everyone out now!" Horn looked to her.

"Well make the order Kelly! Don't tell me about it!" Jason grabbed her arm and started making their way back towards the elevator. Kelly put a finger up to her ear.

"All teams, this is Operative Kelly. Fall back from the base! I repeat, fall back from the base! A self destruct has been initiated!" While she was doing that, Horn was also talking within his helmet.

"Nerita, how are the civies holding up?"

"Fine. Some of the engineers got the elevators working again, we're walking out of the base as we speak." Nerita's calm voice came through clear as ever. Horn nodded to himself.

"Alright, get them on the first Kodiak out of here, catch a ride yourself. This place is going out with a bang." Horn and Kelly made their way out into the hallway and started sprinting for the exit. The entire time, Kelly's mind was elsewhere and she had to forcibly pull herself into the current situation. Horn said something, but Kelly didn't quite get it. It wasn't until he yanked on her arm that she realized they were in the elevator shaft.

"Kelly! Wake up! We're leaving!" Pulling the same move from before, Horn swept up Kelly before she could say another word and used the last reserves of his fuel to bolt himself out of the elevator box and back to the top floor. Jason's jets gave a sputter as they landed on the top floor, but they still made it. With a slightly anti-climatic sprint out of the building, Horn looked to see about half of the assaulting force still trying to get everyone off planet. A man came running towards Horn, immediately he saluted and Horn gave a grunt and made to move past the man.

"Ma'am, sir...We're trying to extract from the area but the simple thing is that it still takes time for the Kodiaks to get to the Victory and back." Kelly gave a nod towards him.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan...good to see you still standing as well." The man quickly recovered.

"You as well ma'am. Commander Horn? A pleasure to finally meet you." Jason simply stared at the man for a second.

"I will bother to learn your name, rank, and placement on my apparent new ship once we are out of immediate danger. If we can't fly, then get people to start running Lieutenant!" O'Ryan gave a nod, and turned around.

"Alright marines! Form up and get on! The rest of you, double time back to the b-" Before he could finish that sentence, there was rumble underneath the ground. Horn looked back at the entrance to the facility, and before anything else could happen, pushed Kelly off to one side and dived off to another as a plume of fire came shooting out of the entrance. The ground rose a few inches then fell, and then everything was still once more. Everyone was still looking around, trying to discern what exactly had just happened. Jason stood, looking around at everyone.

"Well...I was really kind of hoping for a bigger bang, but whatever works I guess. Was everyone out by the time it went off?" Horn asked.

"Yes sir." O'Ryan stated bluntly as he went off to oversee the rest of the extraction. Jason walked over to Kelly, and gave her a hand up. As she stood, Horn retracted his visor and looked at her.

"You're going to need to learn something when you start commanding your own vessel." Jason stated as she stared back at him. "Learning the how's and why's are all fine and dandy...but in the end. You have orders, you carry them out, and when you're on a time limit, you do it quickly." Jason stated as he stared long and hard at her before releasing his grip of her wrist. "I do not expect to have to say this again." Jason stated as he turned and started walking towards Kodiaks that were still on the ground. Kelly simply stared after him, then looked back towards the base. The man had been telling the truth, there was enough time for people to get out, and it was an explosion that insured only those left inside would die. Which meant that, in this case, the Call of Victory and her marines were essentially the bad guys. They had just murdered those who were trying to free slaves from captivity and certain death, and she couldn't get that thought out of her head. Prevalent over all of those was the fact that the Illusive Man had deliberately lied to her and her crew. As she dropped her gaze and made her way to the Kodiaks, there was one thing that she knew she could never do to the marines who had fought and died for this mission.

She could never tell them.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The moment that Horn touched down on the Call of Victory, he had called a meeting for all of his officers. Despite the protests of Dr. Grass, and even Kelly herself, he had shoved them off and made his way directly to the conference room, well, once he had figured out the layout to the conference room anyways. Once all the officers were seated around the table, and Horn at the head in full combat armour aside from his helmet which was placed off to the side, Kelly could only hope that he didn't take out his pistol and immediately start shooting the closest body.

"Thank you all for joining me today." Jason started as everyone stared at him. "Now, in order to get me back up to speed the quickest...what the fuck happened?" Everyone kind of looked around at everyone as their glances went to everyone else in the room. Horn pinched the bridge of his nose before letting out an exasperated sigh. "I'm going to say this now...No one is going to be walking out of this meeting happy. Why? Because I'm not going to be walking out of this meeting happy. So...Kelly." Horn turned to his 2iC. "I remember being pulled off the Collector ship and being tossed through space, which was cool, but shortly after exiting the craft, I blacked out. Start from there." Kelly clasped her hands together, obviously not wanting the job of telling him what happened, but recognizing her duty.

So, in enough detail to satisfy the Commander but not warrant an emotional outburst, she described what happened from the point the Commander left to where they were now. She listed off the names of the deceased from memory, including the technicians and marines who were, in command terms, barely noticeable. Of course, she knew which names he would react to the most. Brandon Nicola, Lara Teesar, Jack Nathan, and Linda Goram. Horn sat there, his expression hard to read not because there was no facial markers of emotions running through his face, but because there was so many. Anger? Sorrow? Regret? Guilt? They all showed up on his face at one point or another.

Kelly detailed the destruction of the SIC Titan, along with the missions that happened immediately after. She hesitated when she started to describe the botched mission on Elysium. She carefully worded her statements as Horn's eyes dug into hers over the details of Daniel's capture. This time, he was easy to read. There was so much vengeance in his eyes, she didn't doubt that some people thought he might actually assault the closest Alliance post, and keep going until he found his brother in arms. Instead, he remained quiet. Kelly finished up with the mission there on Ontarom against Dr. Mueller, but left out the details of what he said to her. Horn didn't ask, and she didn't want to tell. When she was done, she simply fell silent. In fact, the entire room did. Not a single soul dared to say a word as Horn sat there, his hands clasped in front of his face and his fingers touching at the tips on his lips. After a couple minutes of no one speaking, Horn took a breath.

"So...what you're really saying...is that I failed?" His voice was strong, but most likely due to the fact that he took the time to compose himself. The others might not be able to see it, but Kelly could tell he was just about at his breaking point when it came to bad news.

"No sir. Had you not gone over there and disabled their weapons systems, Commander Titus would have appeared on the scene to see nothing but wreckage. The survivors of the Titan are only alive because of you, Daniel, and Linda sir." Kelly replied, trying to defuse a possibly volatile situation. Horn placed his hands on the table in a forced calm, he kept his palms glued to the table for fear of his officers seeing them shaking.

"Survivors? You just told me a little less than a quarter of the people stationed on the Titan got out alive...less than a quarter Operative!" Jason's voice started to rise. "I lost a damn good soldier and friend on that fucking ship! I nearly died myself! Daniel is now a prisoner of war, possibly dead as well. A number of those people I would have shared a beer with happily and they are now gone forever. I wasn't even around to give them a proper send off as a Commander should...and you want me to celebrate what I did accomplish?!" Horn was standing by now, his anger getting worse by the second. "What I accomplished, Operative, was nothing more than a stupid idea that bought no more than possibly a hundred people a few more days!"

"Sir...that was more than what others could have done sir." Kelly's voice was completely neutral as always, but in this exact instance, she feared it was simply making the matter worse as he slapped a palm on the table and glared at her.

"Don't you dare try that fucking calm and collected routine with me Operative! I am not in the fucking mood!" Horn pinched the bridge of his nose again, forcing himself back into a more reasonable position. He sat back down and covered his face with his hands once more. Giving his features a good rub, and placed his hands back down on the table. He was forcibly more calm, but everyone could tell it wouldn't take much to set him off again. "I wanted more..." There was a moment of silence before he started looking around the table. The first person he laid eyes on was the new pilot. "Pilot!" He barked as Harold started and stared at him.

"Sir yes sir! Present sir! I'm here sir! I'm...Present...accounted...present?" Harold stuttered as his face went red with embarrassment from his social awkwardness. Horn was not in a laughing mood, and instead stared at him with daggers in his eyes. Horn took a moment to read the data pad that Kelly slid in front of him to get a good read on the man. After a split second of reading, Horn looked back up at the man.

"Let me make one thing...absolutely...crystal...and without doubt...clear." Jason stated, enunciating every word. Harold simply gulped in response. "When I give an order...I do not like being second guessed. I do not like being told that I'm wrong...I do not like it when my pilot turns into a cowering pussy just because it seems that he's outgunned!" Jason yelled the last part, causing most of the people to jump at the table, Harold especially. Jason calmed down slightly and looked at the man. "I'm not going to go ahead and say what you were doing was wrong, taking the ship into a close orbit was risky as well and time consuming, which is what you were going for and possibly saved the ship. But in my command...in my orders...we do not sit back on our heels and wait for our enemies to fuck up. We make them fuck up! We pressure them so hard until their tiny little heads explode into grey matter!" Jason let that thought sink in for a moment. "So, when I give you an order Lieutenant...what's going to be your response?"

"Ye...ye...yes sir." Harold stammered, obviously not accustomed to these sort of discussions. Horn gave a sharp nod.

"This is your one, and only warning Lieutenant. Next time I transfer you, or shoot you out the airlock, whichever seems to be easier at the time." Horn stated so flatly that no one could even begin to guess if he was serious. He followed the table to the next officer, reading up on him as he got to him. "Lieutenant Leonard O'Ryan." Horn stated.

"Sir." O'Ryan returned flatly. Horn started reading through his file, but judging by the way his finger was scrolling, it was quite intensive. Jason eventually tossed it down and stared at the man.

"I hope you know you're following a great soldier and leader O'Ryan." Jason stated, to which the Lieutenant's face remained solid as stone.

"I am quite aware sir. I am also aware that Lieutenant Nicola and I have differing command styles, and have managed to assimilate my ways of running things throughout the ship while you were out of commission. Drills are run by the clock, scores have been slightly im-"

"Enough Lieutenant." Horn stated wearily as he waved a hand slowly in front of him. "I don't need the entire spiel from you, I'm going to be reading it in what is to be a very dry report later on this week. I have nothing else to say to you." Horn picked up the datapad once more, but seemed to remember something and looked back up at the man. "Aside from no more saluting...ever." As he looked over at the next person on the table, if you were looking closely, you could see Kelly's hands flinch.

Horn paused on the name for a moment, looking between the woman and the datapad. He scrolled through it incredibly quick, before tossing it to the middle of the table. "Is this some sort of sick joke?" He stated quite flatly. Linda stared at him, curiosity etched on her features. Already, this was enough to warrant a response from Horn. "You better stop psycho analyzing me right fucking now." There was no threat to come after that, and that was the key point in telling whether or not Horn was planning immediate violence. Linda averted her eyes, but she was not one to back down easily.

"This is my job and my name Commander. I can't change one, and the other comes naturally as part of my occupation. If you would prefer that I simply never look at you, I co-"

"You fucking bitch." Horn stated as he stood from the table before Kelly's hand came onto his shoulder. He looked over at her, and she was simply staring at him. There was an entire conversation with their eyes alone, and Horn slowly sat back down. He clasped his hands together, and through clenched teeth stated "I've got nothing else to say to you." As his eyes seemed glued to the door, Kelly thought the worst was over. He would start issuing orders, and hopefully retire to the gym to let out some excess frustration. Instead, she heard the words that she was dreading.

"What the fuck is she doing here?" Kelly looked over, and matched his gaze to that of Vala Buchan. Kelly made to respond, but Vala beat her to the punch.

"The Illusive Man place me here." She stated, her tone short and curt. She obviously didn't want to say any more than she wanted to. Horn just gave a mock nod, clapping his hands together.

"Well there you have it...the boss placed you here...Like he did last time? Like...how about disobeying my orders on my op, possibly endangering civvies because of...what was it? Oh right, a hardware upgrade." Horn stood up, leaning on the table towards her. "So let me rephrase my question then...Why are you still on my ship?"

"Because I listen to orders that matter Commander." Kelly's hands were clasped together so tightly now her knuckles were white, despite her face showing none of the anxiety. Vala stared directly into Horn's eyes, and he returned the favour. He slowly stood, his eyes never leaving the woman.

"Operative Invaru." His voice so cold his words would have frozen in the air if not for the climate control built in the ship. "Would you please inform the infirmary that they will have a patient very soon, and regardless of her state when we get to our next stop, that is when she will be getting off."

"Sir. Enough. The Illusive Man ordered her on the ship, there was nothing there to say that I couldn't take her on. I have orders, you have orders, we need to follow them sir."

Horn lost it.

"Orders?! Orders are what got me into this fucking predicament in the first place! Orders are what cost me my crew, my friends, my ship, nearly my life, and now apparently my authority! Don't you dare...Don't you fucking dare tell me to follow orders!" Just when Kelly thought it couldn't get much worse, it did when Vala decided to get yet another jab in.

"The irony...Follow your orders, but not the Illusive Man's." Horn immediately reached for his weapon, but Kelly was up and moving before he could clear it from his holster. She kept his hand down and stood between him and Vala.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan." Kelly stated, doing her best to keep her voice level despite having to hold back the Commander from legitimately killing the Operative on the spot. "Would you please have Vala removed from the this floor entirely. Escort her to her quarters, and she is to stay there until otherwise notified."

"Ma'am." O'Ryan stated as he got up from the table and grabbed Vala's arm and started hoisting her up from chair. He made no further comments as he did so.

"Cute, what a wonderful show of competence to your new command staff. So incapable of handling his basic emotion, and yet he's the one that will be calling the shots from now on. Truly inspiring 'Commander'." She gave a quick look to O'Ryan. "Don't bother." She stated, shrugging off his grasp and standing of her own accord. "I don't need to watch this anymore, it's making me sick." Vala made her way out the door and O'Ryan simply watched her leave. It took a couple of seconds for Horn to even realize she was gone, and calmed down slowly after that. Kelly looked at him, her hand still on his gun and forced him to give it up. After he had relinquished the weapon, she looked to the entire command staff who was staring wide eyed at the man who would be leading them.

"Lieutenant O'Ryan. Operative Buchan is not to leave her quarters unless otherwise specified. Set up a rotating guard to ensure so, and also inform her that failure to abide by these rules will have her classified as an intruder among this ship and be dealt with in such a fashion." She quickly turned to the others in order. "Lieutenants McKrain and Jaconis, Commander Horn expects up to date reports on the functioning of this ships engines and weapons by the end of this standard day. Same goes for you Lieutenant Bretton and Lieutenant Keller. Dr. Grass, Commander Horn will report to the infirmary once some of this business has been discussed and put behind us. Lieutenant Franks, I will talk with you when I get the chance." Kelly put her hands behind her back. "You're all dismissed."

There was a slight bit of hesitancy from all save Lieutenant O'Ryan who left immediately to perform his orders. Soon however, they were all gone, and the only ones left in the room were Kelly and Horn. Horn paced in the back, rubbing his head as he did so. Kelly let out a small sigh before turning to face him. It was obvious he was still angry, and that he needed some form of release. However, turning him loose now would only end up in a med bay full of broken bones and internal bleeding. "I...just...there..." He started and stopped sentences, as if he couldn't seem to form one to save his life. Kelly had only seen him like this once before, when the Shadow Broker agent had managed to infiltrate so far into the SIC Titan's inner workings.

"Sir, you need to retire to your quarters for the rest of the day." Kelly stated. Jason looked over, ready to argue, but Kelly simply stood there and locked eyes with them. "As of now, I'm deeming you unfit for command. Once you are able to calm down and get your senses back, I will see to it that command is returned to you. Until then, you are restricted to your quarters sir." Jason simply stared at her, his jaw hanging in disbelief that Kelly would actually take command away from him. Before he could argue, Nikki came over the speakers.

"As per Cerberus regulations regarding the psychological state of the Commander. It is deemed the second in command's duty to determine when a ship or base Commander has been so emotionally, mentally, or physically assaulted as to be declared unfit for service." Jason looked up at the speakers, back down to Kelly, and repeated a couple of times before he finally closed his mouth and sullenly walked past Kelly. She turned and watched him walk outside the door, and waited for it to close behind him.

"Nikki, keep an eye on him at all times. If he shows any threatening behaviour to crew, or more likely himself, notify me immediately." Kelly started walking and exited the room.

"Yes Operative."

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It had only been a few hours since the conference room incident, or so it was already being called by the marine rumour mill. It was a well known fact that marines gossiped more than old women, and unfortunately this time it was true. Kelly's job over the past few hours had been dealing with the collateral damage and fallout from the meeting. Jessie, Kevin and TJ weren't complaining too much, having been around almost as long as Kelly herself had been. Grass was complaining about medical concerns, which was going to happen regardless, but the new additions had yet to really weigh in, and this concerned Kelly.

After finishing the paperwork, she was about to head out of her office when there was a light tap on her door. "Enter." She stated lightly, her voice back to her flawless neutrality. The door slid open to reveal Lieutenant O'Ryan. He took one step in and looked at her.

"Ma'am." He stated.

"Lieutenant." She returned, waving to a seat in front of her desk. The Lieutenant walked in, but did not take a seat. Instead, he slid a datapad over to her, which she quickly took a read over. As if to solidify what she had just read, O'Ryan stated it as well.

"I'm putting in for a transfer ma'am." Kelly looked confused, and stared up at the man. That was enough for him to explain himself. "With all due respect to you ma'am, I refuse to serve under a man who is so emotionally unstable that he is incapable of controlling his own anger against a fellow Cerberus Operative. You holding his leash and keeping him back does nothing to ease my mind when, in the end, he will be the one issuing the orders." Kelly stared at the datapad, and slowly put it down before looking up at the man.

"That's a fair reason Lieutenant. I take it you have gone over his combat record?"

"All the material that wasn't covered in black tape ma'am." O'Ryan stated, and Kelly nodded before going to her terminal and typing a few words. Before long, she had transferred some information to a highly coded and protected datapad, and slid it over to the Lieutenant.

"Judging by the fact that you're coming to me before filing your transfer means your looking for a reason to stay. My guess is you saw his combat record, and are confused by the man you saw. You must be wondering 'how does this man fit the words on his file?'" Kelly pointed to the datapad. "I want you to look long and hard at that before you decide whether or not to transfer. Be warned that that information is highly classified, your eyes only." O'Ryan looked at it, before looking up to the woman.

"Permission to speak freely ma'am?" Kelly simply gave a nod. "It is true, I was confused. Everything in this man's records, the battles he's been in and his standard combat scores are in the peaks. So imagine my confusion when I saw what appeared to be a ten year old child throwing a tantrum in the conference room. There, I saw what happens when a man gets too much power too fast." Kelly took in the words, nodding as he said them. "I'm not sure I could follow a man like that. To lead with emotion is one thing, to let it completely override logic is a death wish."

"That's true, Commander Horn is a very emotional leader. He cares about those under his command, but only after he's gotten to know and like them. He forms bonds over months, sometimes years of working together. Even then the people he works with, barely know him." Kelly looked at the man. "He came out of a coma, and instead of staying on the ship where he should have been, he immediately grabbed an untested experimental suit of armour and dropped to the planet from orbit. From there, he helped breach the line on Victory's side, and personally lead the assault on Dr. Mueller himself. All within a couple hours of getting out of his coma." Kelly looked at the man, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Now mix that trauma with the fact that after coming out of a coma, he learns that nearly his entire crew was killed. Among the dead were some of his closest friends."

"We've all lost friends ma'am, it's part of the job." O'Ryan countered.

"Yes, it is. However, you usually have time to cope, if not at the time, at least in the future. Horn didn't get any time, he didn't get a chance to say goodbye a true friend would. He simply pushed too many things on himself at once, and unfortunately that was the result."

"Yes ma'am, but with all due respect I don't believe that's an excuse to attempt to shoot a fellow Cerberus Operative." Kelly looked at her terminal a moment, before returning her gaze to him.

"I'm not even going to pretend to justify his actions on that particular occasion Lieutenant. I've already stated as to why and how he got to that emotional state in the first place." Kelly pointed to the datapad. "If you're looking for a reason to stay, you'll find it in there. If you don't, then you've made up your mind and I expect your transfer papers on my desk by morning." O'Ryan stared at Kelly for a moment, before dropping his gaze to the datapad in his hands. "Is that all Lieutenant?" Kelly asked.

"Yes ma'am." O'Ryan stated as he stood and saluted. Kelly didn't bother returning it, simply nodding towards the door. She returned her eyes to the screen when she heard O'Ryan speak once more. "Lieutenant." Kelly looked up to see Franks step inside the door, come in, and sit down in the chair across from her. Kelly clasped her hands in front of her, and gave her undivided attention. Linda gave a sigh, and leaned in on the desk as well.

"So, do you ever have to tell that the Commander has PTSD, or do most of the psychoanalysts figure it out and you tell them to keep it to themselves?" Linda started, and Kelly simply gave a small smile. She had been betting this was what she had come to see her about.

"It's not something I'm proud of hiding, if that's your question." Kelly stated, leaning back slightly. Linda simply gave a frown.

"I'm not joking this time Operative. This is serious. He's not the standard case of PTSD, I will give him that, but he's displaying a lot of symptoms." Before Kelly could interject, Linda held up her hand. "I know you're going to tell me that the situation and the information was a lot to take in, but c'mon Operative. He unholstered his pistol with the intention of shooting it at Vala."

"I realize that, I was the one who stepped in between." Kelly replied calmly. Linda simply sat back.

"Well then give me something chief. I can't sit here and morally keep this to myself simply on your word. This is something that, if not treated carefully, could get us all killed."

"I think it would save us more than kill us." Kelly stated as Linda gave her a confused expression. "You already know more than most simply through your occupation Lieutenant Franks. In fact, you know more than Commander Horn himself knows." Linda stared at her, still confused for a moment before going wide eyed and leaning in closer.

"You're kidding...He doesn't know?" Kelly gave a short nod. Linda sat back, taking it in. "That's...rare. Not unheard of in regular grunts, but someone in a command position...is that even safe?"

"His form of PTSD is the emotional type rather than mental stunting, hence the outburst in the conference room." Kelly stated. "Basically, as I understand it, his PTSD has locked out his ability to feel fear, while enhancing the sensations of every other emotion. Imagine a close friend dies for you, and amplify that feeling by at least two fold. And that's just for one person..." Linda gave a nod.

"Amplify that by all the news...all the deaths...all the 'apparent' failures...My god. I'm surprised he didn't completely break down. All those unbidden emotions pounding at your inner mental wall." Linda stared back at Kelly. "Which comes back to my original question. Is it safe?"

"He's saved my life and that of the crew due to his inability to feel fear more times than I can count. I've always been around to advise him when his rational thought is sometimes sidetracked by the lack of fear in death. He doesn't know about it, and in fact, he finds the whole concept of fear 'interesting'." Kelly replied, and Linda shook her head.

"But he's got to remember times when he was scared previously in his life. He has to know what it feels like." Kelly shook her head.

"According to him, he can remember the fact that he was scared, but he can't remember the sensation or the rush that came with it. It's like looking at picture, seeing someone with a frightened look on their face but feeling none of the fear that they are supposedly feeling." Linda nodded her head.

"Well that's...that's...I'm not sure if words accurately describe it right now." Kelly nodded, and they both sat there in silence for a moment. "So...this whole thing with psychiatrists..."

"It was always there, just became more prevalent after he was diagnosed and they made him go from one shrink to another, each one telling him he was 'fine'." Linda nodded once more. Before slapping her knees and standing up.

"Well then, that answers just about everything I wanted to ask."

"Keep in mind Lieutenant. This is confidential information, blacked out by the Illusive Man himself. You are not to tell anyone else about this, and the only reason I told you is because you already figured it out." Linda stared at her for a moment.

"I don't agree with it...I feel he has a right to know..." Kelly stared at her for a moment, but she continued. "But I'll follow orders. I won't tell him or anyone else unless directed by the Illusive Man or yourself." Kelly gave a nod, and motioned towards the door.

"If that's all Lieutenant, I have some work that desperately needs to get done." Linda clapped her hands together and walked to the door. Before opening it, she looked back at Kelly.

"When he finds out...you should either have a good excuse or a better hiding place. Cause I can guarantee he's going to come to you first...asking why." With that, Linda opened the door and left, leaving Kelly staring at the wall.

Yeah...I know.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It had been a full day from the Conference Incident, or what some marines were now calling the 'Berserker Ballroom'. The story had been convoluted. Apparently Horn had actually entered a fist fight with one of the Officers and did what he always did, kicked some ass. She had stopped those rumours immediately through a useful showing by Lieutenant O'Ryan who started laying on harsh punishments to those he found spreading rumours about the Command staff. It didn't help matters that Horn did what he always did when he wanted to blow off steam, and went to the gym to go up against any and all marines stupid or brave enough to challenge him. Luckily, the rumour mill that Kelly and Leonard shut down quickly managed to warn the marines enough to give him a wide berth. So instead, he did the next best thing.

Kelly had been staring at several requisition forms for new gym equipment that Horn had beaten, broken, or otherwise dismantled beyond all form of repair. She had already managed to get through them, and have them shipped, but that still didn't answer the problem of Horn. It had already been a day since she had to take Command from him, this time with him being conscious. It was not something she did lightly, nor was it something she very much enjoyed. Before she did it out of necessity, now it was the same thing but a very different feeling.

Now she was heading up to his quarters, to check on his status. She expected to find him still very much raging and trying to get all of that anger out of his system. So, needless to say, when the doors opened and she heard absolutely nothing, she was curious. "Commander?" She called.

"Over here." Horn replied, quite calmly. Kelly wandered in a few steps, and found Horn staring at his computer with a bottle of some form of alcohol sitting beside him. That was a bad combination in itself, and nearly made Kelly freeze when she noticed that the bottle was almost empty and Horn had yet to punch a hole in a wall. She walked forward, and took a seat in one of the chairs facing Horn's desk.

"How are you feeling sir?" She asked, getting straight to the point. Horn didn't bother looking at her.

"Feeling? That's an apt choice of wording." Horn was silent for a few minutes. "I guess guilt is a good one. Regret? Anger? The better question would be what am I not feeling." Horn stated as his eyes never left the screen. Kelly gave a nod and sat there, not saying a word. "What do I say Operative?" Jason finally broke his gaze from his screen, shoving it so Kelly could see what was on it.

'Dear Mr. and Ms. Nathan.' Was all that was typed onto the screen.

"I've been trying to write a letter to them for the past six hours. Six, Operative." Horn stated as he downed another shot of whatever drink he was consuming and poured himself another. "I've been thinking about things to tell them. How Jack was an awesome guy, how he's saved our asses multiple times, how he was someone I could very easily start a conversation with. Hell, sometimes I think of him as my best friend." Horn gave a small scoff, then a laugh. "Ain't that funny? I thought that someone I worked with, and barely knew outside of that was my best friend."

"There's no reason he couldn't have been your best friend sir." Kelly stated, not exactly sure as to what to say in the conversation. She was no psychiatrist, yet out of the crew she probably knew the Commander the best. Yet, she had never seen him quite like this, the opposite side of the spectrum so to speak. Horn gave another laugh that somehow ended up being sad.

"My life is this job Kelly. I've known nothing else. Schooling? Done through Cerberus boot camp...family outings? If I could actually see my mom or dad for five minutes, it was to tell me that I was doing great in boot camp and then they were off on another assignment. Friends? In a business like this, those...things are temporary at best." Horn cupped his mouth in his hands before placing them on the desk. "I haven't even gotten to Teesar, or Nicola...or Goram. All great people, save for one of them being a shrink, but none of them needed to die."

"Sir, you did all that you could. More than anyone could have done." Kelly stated, feeling like she might be saying this quite a few times in the next few days. She was starting to wonder if she preferred the depressed version of Horn, or the angry version.

"Yeah...yeah I did." Horn stated, which caught Kelly off guard. "I mean, I went on a suicide mission with two team members, one of which didn't come back and the other now a POW. Almost died myself, got put in a coma, came back to immediately fight a battle and lose my shit like a pathetic child." Jason looked at Kelly for a moment. "It's not the fact that I don't think I did all I could Operative, it's the fact that I did all I could and it still wasn't enough." Jason dropped silent, and so did Kelly.

After a couple minutes of silence, Kelly stood from the chair and looked over at the Commander. "Do you need another day Commander?" Jason looked up at her, giving her a small smile.

"According to Grass, I need two weeks. So yeah, I'll be good to go by tomorrow..." Horn looked at his screen, taking a deep breath. "I'll be good." Kelly gave a nod, and walked back towards the door, but stopped just short of leaving.

"You know, the marines are spreading rumours that you fought with an officer in the conference room." Kelly stated, Horn looked up at her.

"Tell them it was TJ. Everyone will understand and should the need arise, I'll actually kick her ass later to prove it to everyone." Kelly gave a soft smile, and Horn continued. "I'll be giving a formal apology to the various officers who were present at the meeting. They shouldn't have to see me when I...when that happens." Jason stated, and Kelly turned towards him.

"Does this apology extend to Vala Buchan as well?" Horn twitched visibly, and Kelly was worried that she had hit a nerve.

"Let me put it this way. The less we see each other, the longer this ship will last...am I clear?"

"Crystal sir." Kelly gave a nod, and with nothing else to say, calmly strode out of the room.

She understood full well...that Horn wasn't joking.

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Once the go ahead had been given to the Call, Tia and her two guardian angels headed to her secondary assignment; any other security systems that needed to be shut down or controlled. She made another call to the Call of Victory, “EDI, are you able to access the system to wade through any other nasty surprises?

“I am already accessing the sub-routines, Operative St. Jean.” EDI acknowledged.

“Goody. Map it all for me, will you? I want to study it when we get out of here.”

“Very well.” The A.I. replied.

While the two Marines kept an eye out and changed their heat sinks, Tia spent several minutes searching the systems from their location looking for back door access to the gun emplacements. To her chagrin, the turrets pounding them from the exterior of the base were completely isolated from the control room for the jamming dish.

Cursing, Tia searched for a location where she could access the turrets but could find none. Looking toward the two Marines, she shook her head. “No dice. The turrets are isolated. They have to be taken out the hard way. I either have to get inside each…” Suddenly the wall behind them exploded, showering them in huge chunks of reinforced concrete. Tia and Grainger, who was closest to her, were thrown from their feet. More rounds panged off the control center and ricocheted viciously around the inside of the room.

Tilokson swore and fired back sparing the briefest of glances toward Tia and Grainger to ensure they were still up for the fight. Grainger was up first, his armor of sterner stuff than Tia’s. Scrambling to the rattled engineer, he dragged Tia back behind the console, he checked her over, but found no new holes in her armor. “You still with me?” He shouted at her above the sound of gunfire.

Tia nodded, “Yeah.” She panted slightly. “I’m OK.” She glanced back toward the upper catwalk where reinforcements had suddenly appeared. “What the hell…don’t they know they’re just pissing us off?” She asked rhetorically.

Tilokson chuckled darkly, “I guess they’re just slow learners, Saint.” He kept firing, efficiently picking of any defender that showed even so much as a foot from behind cover.

Yet another rocket was fired into the enclosed room, forcing all three of them to scramble for the open door of the elevator shaft. The roar of the explosion and resulting fireball that would certainly have consumed them if they hadn’t dived into the open shaft to cling to the rappel lines they’d used to access the control room initially.

Hanging onto her rope with her left hand, Tia grabbed her ML-77 with its single missile left. She’s not the most accurate shot, but with the ML-77 and a small space, she didn’t need to be. Grainger and Tilokson grinned and bracing themselves, each reached out to push Tia toward the open door. She grabbed a quick look to check where to fire and then threw herself into the room, firing the missile up into the open doorway that led to the catwalk. She missed the opening, but the missile impacted and exploded on the frame, send gouts of fire and shreds of metal and concrete into the room beyond. Harsh screams could be heard from inside from the injured and dying.

Just seconds later, all three heard the warning from Invaru that the base had been rigged to self-destruct. Tia tossed her ML-77 aside and ran for the elevator shaft again. “I guess we’ve over-stayed our welcome, guys.” The three climbed back up the shaft with single-minded purpose. Once ground-side, they rushed away from the entrance, joining other Marines in their retreat. Grainger and Tilokson helped get some of the injured Marines out away from the base as quickly as they could. There was a low, ominous rumble like distant thunder and the ground beneath their feet lifted and snapped back like someone flipping a rug. It finally settled almost 12 inches lower than the original ground level had been. The base had suddenly become a tomb.

Grainger helped Tilokson and the injured Marine the two had been half-carrying to their feet and stared back toward the entranced. “Damn.” He whispered, appalled at the callous, senseless destruction. “The man was completely insane.” He muttered unnecessarily.
___________________________________________________________________________________
The return to the Titan had been remarkably orderly once the base had imploded. Tia had waited her turn as one of the non-injured to get onto one of the last Kodiaks to leave planet-side. Medical teams had mostly gone with the injured of earlier flights and only a few orderlies remained in the shuttle bays to take care of any small injuries as Marines came back aboard. Tia had waved off one sharp-eyed orderly that had spotted the holes in her armor with a terse, “I’m fine.”

Several hours later found Tia showered, in a clean uniform and sipping a drink in her room. At the moment, she had it to herself and she was enjoying the solitude. Her mind, which ordinarily would have run over the battle repeatedly looking for things she could have done better or faster was simply empty and at peace. She wasn’t about to question feeling like that.

Tia took another light sip of her bourbon and rose lazily from her chair, glass in hand. Opening the door without asking who it might be, she was surprised to see Sargent Oberacker standing at the door. She had assumed the woman would be face down in a bed after all they'd been through.

"Uh...hello Sargent." Tia paused and then turned to invite her in, "Come on in. Get you a drink?"

The hard-nosed Sargent’s eyes were slightly sunken from exhaustion, but she smiled slightly as she followed Tia inside. “Nah, I'm good, thanks." She paused and looked Tia over. "How you doing, Saint?"

Tia walked across the room, allowing Sparrow to follow her inside. She crossed to the bottle of bourbon and filled her glass again before answering. "I'm fine. Enjoying the quiet for a bit." Tia leaned against the desk and studied Sparrow's slightly haggard features, "How about you?"

"Been worse." Sparrow leaned against the wall, crossing her arms. "Just getting a head on the damage. Got a lot of reports to file, letters to write, idiots to reprimand." The woman shook her head and chuckled. "Being a platoon chief isn't as fun as they make it out to be."

Tia tilted her head in curiosity. "Letters? Shouldn't that be Invaru or Horn's job?"

Sparrow shook her head in a decisive negative. "Nah. Typically O'Ryan handles it, unless someone else asks to. My platoon, so it's my responsibility to handle it." Sparrow’s features grew more serious. "Which is why I'm here."

Tia listened to Sparrow explain just one more difference between a true military operation and Cerebrus. "I see." She commented drily. Taking another small sip from her drink, Tia glanced at Sparrow, "I was wondering why you came by. We don't ordinarily run across each other."

"I have my hands full babysitting my Greenknees. Kinda kills any attempt at a social life." Sparrow commented dryly. Tia watched the Sargent rub her temples for a moment. "So, the marines assigned to guard you...some of them were mine, and they're on my list of, ah, casualties." Sparrow’s eyes lifted to meet Tia’s. "What happened to my boys, Saint?"

Tia looked down into her glass, brows furrowed as if confused by the question, "It was their turn. Mortar got 'em." She stated bluntly. She glanced up to see if Sparrow had any other questions. To her, there really wasn't much more to say.

The Sargent fell silent for a minute. "Their turn?"

Tia shrugged. "Bad luck. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time." She took another sip from her drink, "Happens to everyone sooner or later."

Sparrow’s brow raised slightly."That's a little cold. They were practically kids."

Tia shrugged, "No, it's the simple truth. A lot of soldiers died today, Sparrow. What's important is that we did our job." Tia leaned away from her desk to pace slightly. "It's what we're supposed to do."

Sparrow straightened away from the wall she’d been leaning against. "We watch out for each other. Just because someone dies doesn't mean we should rationalize it away." The Sargent paused as if considering what to say next. "We forget them, and we might as well throw our lot in with the Collectors." Tia heard no anger in Sparrow’s words, only mild disbelief.

Tia's brow lifted at Sparrow's apparent rebuke. "I don't forget, Sargent. I just won't let it drag me down." Tia paused in her pacing, "I really can't tell you much more than that, I'm sorry. They were behind me when the rocket hit." She paused again, "they didn't die in vain."

"I'm not the one who needs an apology, Saint." Tia saw Sparrow glance toward to the drink she held in her hand. "No, no they didn't." The Sargent turned on her heel toward the door, but after a couple paces, she paused and glanced over her shoulder once more. "Stupid question...why do they call you Saint?"

Tia watched Sparrow walk toward the door. "Cause I sometimes work miracles and you know, my last name." Tia smiled slightly. She glanced down momentarily as if caught by a thought and murmured almost to herself, "I must be tired or something."

"Well, get some sleep. That'll be a miracle all by itself." Sparrow waved a negligent hand over her shoulder and headed out into the hallway leaving Tia frowning. Would it be hard to fall asleep? Somehow she didn’t think it would be. Should it be? She wondered idly.

Characters Present

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

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The trip back up to the Call of Victory couldn't have been longer if they had been trapped in a black hole. The entire time Horn's eyes kept shifting between the window back to Daniel as his face got paler and paler. Horn kept his eyes on his friend for a little longer before going back to the window. No one said anything, and he didn't want them to. Yes, they did what they wanted to do, yes they got who they had wanted to get. The problem being is that Horn knew what torture could do to a man. That a scarring event such as the one that Daniel went through, Horn knew that he wasn't going to be the same man that he ever was. Even when he first woke up, much of that friendliness, mirth, and general happy feeling was gone from the man. Replaced with a sole desire that overrode even the feeling of relief to see his friends.

Horn had already radioed ahead, asking for Dr. Grass to ready the medical room for their patient. As soon as the Kodiak docked with the Call, Horn walked over to Daniel and gave him a once over. He had passed out a few minutes ago, scars and fresh wounds covered his body, and what little was left of his clothes was nothing but a giant red rag. Without asking for consent, nodding to his fellow soldiers, or even acknowledging the fact that they were still there, he picked Daniel up in a fireman's carry. He walked over to the Kodiak door so fast, one might have thought he was going to barrel right through it. Instead, with a mighty pull, he opened the door so hard and fast that the Kodiak rocked before he took off sprinting across the shuttle bay.

Once he reached the elevator, he didn't wait up. The marines, for the most part were alright. At least, they weren't unconscious, possibly bleeding out. He hit the button to get to the med bay, and watched as the doors closed in front of him in slow motion.

For what was minutes but seemed like hours, Horn stood there with Daniel on his back. The man breathed in slow, quiet gasps. The sound of laboured, but controlled breathing. Horn fidgeted in the elevator, putting his weight on one leg then the next, constantly looking from the floor to the door in hopes that it would open sooner rather than later. When it finally opened, Horn was treated to a group of marines crowded around the elevator.

They started clapping, but Horn paid them no mind as he quite literally bull rushed his way through the crowd. Anyone that wasn't smart enough to get out of his way was bashed aside roughly. Some of the marines landed on the ground, but they didn't do anything aside from crawling away. Once they actually realized what was going on, the clapping stopped as the doors to the medical bay opened and Grass stood there looking at Horn. Jason braced for some sort of sarcastic remark before the operating began, but instead Lincoln simply motioned towards the prepared cot.

"Put him there Commander and get out of my bay." Horn complied without hesitation as he tried to gently lay Daniel on the cot, failing slightly as the bed bounced lightly as Daniel fell into it. Once that was done, Horn took a step back but remained looking at his friend laying on the table. He wasn't afraid that his friend might die, that was part of the job. He was more angry at the fact that he believed this to be his fault. Had he not been stupid and gotten himself in a coma, Daniel would have never been taken as a POW, none of this would have happened. Anger directed itself inwards before Horn noticed the hand on his chest pushing him out of the bay. "Commander. Out. You want him to live? Let me do my job in peace!" Grass stated as the Commander backed up step by step until finally he took his hand off of Jason's chest and the medical bay door closed. Marines on the floor kept their distance, but were still wandering around and paying attention to what was going on. After a couple seconds of standing there at the door, Horn turned and walked to the elevator. Knowing that the marine's eyes were on him, he took off his helmet and placed it under the crook of his arm as he reached the elevator and pushed the button. He turned around, and gave them each a look.

"You marines enjoy the show? Would you like it to become an interactive commentary on the very short lives of Cerberus marines?!" The marines got the hint as they all started going about their regular duties. "That's what I thought." Horn stated as he turned back around in time to see the elevator doors open. Private Fischer stormed out with Specialist Salazar on his back. She was yelling something almost incoherent at Fischer, but Horn simply decided to get out of their way as the rest of the fire team strode out. O'Ryan was the last one out of the box, his helmet in his hand at his side as he gave a nod to the Commander. They walked on by, Horn not bothering to say anything as he got onto the lift and pressed the button for the CIC.

A few moments later, Horn was stepping out onto the CIC. Unlike the marine 'campus' no one bothered to applaud him for his mission, which he was extremely grateful for. Kelly stood next to the display, turning slightly at the ding of the elevator. She gave a curt smile, looking past him into the elevator than back at him again. "Went straight to the medical bay sir?" She asked politely.

"Yep, boy's in rough shape." Horn answered flatly as he looked at a 3D image of the base they had just raided. "Was there any sign of those transports the Oracle assholes were using? Anything we could follow?"

"Negative sir." Kelly looped through the tape of the battle, showing that about two seconds after the Kodiaks left the hangar, their signs disappeared entirely. "Miniature stealth drives in each one. It looks like these guys are better financed than we thought." Horn put a hand up to his mouth, dragging it down off of his face.

"Yeah..." Horn stated, his eyes glued to the picture of the base. "But they're still Alliance. They're bound by a code of ethics and laws that they can't skirt around." Jason stated as he slowly paced around the image, Kelly following a few steps behind him with her hands clasped behind her back. "Which means that, while they may have the law on their side, and possibly the entire Alliance fleet...they don't have our leeway." Horn stated, finally stopping once he reached the other side of the display.

"Are you sure sir?" Kelly asked as Horn looked to her. "We just found Lieutenant Harrens, tortured to the near point of death inside that base. I thought Alliance had strict mandates about the treatment of POW's." Jason paused, looking at the image and then back to Kelly.

"So basically the Alliance created an organization that is us, just on the other side..." Horn stated rather than asked. "The Illusive man told us they were our equivalents on that side, I just didn't expect an exact match." Kelly said nothing, and there was complete silence on the deck aside from the noises coming from occupied consoles. "Is that base destroyed yet?" Jason asked.

"Yes sir, confirmed destruction by the time you reached the Victory." Kelly responded as Jason rolled his shoulders. Giving a slight sigh as he turned to leave. Kelly tilted her head slightly.

"Sir, if you don't mind me saying...I expected you be a bit more...angry." Jason stopped and looked back at her.

"And why's that Operative? Because the Oracle Commander got away?" Jason gave a smile. "Oh don't you worry, I will find and kill him. However, I'm happier knowing that we got Daniel back...don't try and switch my mood Operative." Jason answered as he turned and strode off.

"Yes sir. Helmsman, set course for patrol route Alpha." Kelly stated.

"Aye Ma'am, setting course for patrol route Alpha." Harold responded as Jason once more entered the elevator.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door closed as nearly everyone let out a laugh.

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm listening."

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

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

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

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

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

"How much more Lieutenant?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Commander Horn, should we dis-"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly turned from the QED and made for the door.

For the moment, one war was good enough.

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You are such a buzz kill Kelly."

________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is it you need Lieutenant?"

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

__

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

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

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

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

"Yes sir." He stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Alright Titans, let's move."

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

And of course, it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Negative."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Overwatch, give me our next target