Thanks to Reikson who endured my recent vacation in Arkham City ... 52% and counting baby
Kaidan Alenko's first impression of the surface of Virmire was its resemblance to the Vancouver beach front property that his father had retired to, except for the strange spider-like creatures that walked about on thin delicate looking legs.
Waves of water crashed ceaselessly against the shore while the alien creatures barely reacted to the Mako as Xander piloted the machine past them at near suicidal speeds and down a riverbed, bracketed on one side by a steep cliff face jutting into the air and on the other side by rocky reefs. A deep, deep, impenetrable ocean lay just beyond those rocks. The Mako's sensors refused to say what lurked in those cold dark waters and Alenko tugged nervously at the safety restraints holding him in place.
The Normandy arrived on Virmire and found the remote planet under siege. Antiaircraft guns formed the backbone of a static defense grid the likes of which none of the crew had ever seen before.
Shepard was impressed; the Seige of Torfan might have ended very differently if those degenerate pirate bastards had protection like this.
"Scanners picking up multiple dropships, Commander." Tali reported, "...and a large structure, massive power output."
"The kind of power output that could take out an Alliance Frigate?" Shepard asked.
Tali nodded. "Easily..." she muttered aloud. "I don't see any dropships ahead, but that doesn't mean anything."
"Maybe we got lucky." Kaidan pondered. "Maybe their force is stretched too thin?"
Xander snorted. "If you're going to take bets like that, Alenko, then remind me not to let you go gambling at Flux."
It was Tali who answered him. "Geth can power themselves down to conceal themselves, Lieutenant Alenko. Their modular nature means that you could easily fit dozens of Geth into a space the size of this tank's interior. That was how Lady Benezia managed to slip hundreds of those things past the weapons screening on Noveria."
Kaidan looked at the scanner images in front of him. "So there aren't just a few dozen Geth up ahead, there might actually be a...."
"A few hundred," Tali replied. "And as soon as we fight any of them, from the smallest drone right up to a colossus... well, their networked intelligence will know we are here."
"...And right after that, Saren." Shepard snarled.
"And just to keep that warm and fuzzy feeling going," Xander reminded her, "...we're picking up Krogan. Lots and lots of Krogan."
"Keelah." Tali whispered as she watched the scenery whipping by her in a blur.
"Nervous?" Kaidan asked her.
"I know that Saren has to be stopped." The young Quarian mechanic shook her head. "But to command the loyalty of so many Geth... it galls me to think of this crazy Turian... the Geth belong to the Quarians and someday they will again."
"Tali, I don't think that the Geth belong to anyone at this point." Xander sighed. "They've clearly chosen to follow Saren."
"That is because of his vessel. No, when this is over, we have to find a way to bring the Geth back under Quarian control. That is the only way to prevent another attack like Eden Prime from happening again."
"You think we can prevent another Eden Prime by enslaving the Geth ... again?" Xander asked her wryly.
"Their sentience is a mistake, Xander. An error of programming. If your omnitool malfunctioned, you wouldn't just let it keep malfunctioning, would you? Especially if your life depended on it. No, you would fix it."
Xander looked at Tali like she had grown a second head. "Tali, there are about six different arguments that I could make right now. But they'd all sound a little hypocritical since I'm planning on killing a ton of Geth today, so lets just go with the whole agree to disagree thing, okay?"
Shepard decided to head off Tali's inevitable explosion whenever the topic of the Geth came up.
"Tali, you've done more for your people in the last few weeks by helping me stop Saren then anything that any Quarian has done in three hundred years."
"I want to thank you again for giving me that Geth system data, Commander."
Shepard smiled. "You manage to decrypt it yet?"
"I'm a long way from a solution," Tali looked at Xander. "...it would go faster if someone would let me borrow their omni-tool's decryption programs." The Quarian grumbled, her meaning clear.
"I'm sure the Tech Sergeant would be more then happy to help." Shepard replied.
"I wanted to ask last night, but Xander was... busy." Tali muttered. "I believe he and Chief Williams were engaged in... routine maintenance."
IShepard snickered, "If your maintence is -- only routine -- then I hope the Gunnery Chief wasn't too disappointed."
Xander shot her a dark look before braking to avoid sailing the Mako past the rocky shoals.
"Geez, Harris, you in a hurry to meet your maker?" Kaidan hissed, antsy at having avoided death by drowning with only inches to spare.
Xander ignored him as the Mako rounded the natural curve of the riverbed to reveal a pair of Geth Armatures. The two machines started blasting away at them with plasma fire.
Xander gunned the engine and swerved around a rocky outcropping, letting the weathered stone take the blast that would've shattered the Mako's shields.
"Boss, if you could grab the turret, please?" Xander snarled. "I'd try and outrun them, but Mister Backseat over there hates my reckless driving."
Shepard snickered as she slid into the gunnery position. "Now, now, kids, be nice or I'll turn us around right now."
Harris had been on edge ever since they had entered the system. The situation with Toombs had clearly left a mark on him somehow, and Kaidan was sure that SOMETHING had happened on Noveria. But Shepard wasn't saying anything and the rest of the Noveria ground team were equally closemouthed. But Liara had an odd look in her eyes whenever she looked at Xander.
"Lieutenant, their shields please!" Shepard shouted, snapping him out of his thoughts as she blazed away with the Mako's chaingun. "Tali, shut down their weapons."
"On it, ma'am!" Alenko shouted as he and the Quarian popped out of the tank and aiming their omnitools at the pair of heavy Geth weapons platforms.
Their kinetic barriers shimmered and sparked as they were overloaded and their weapons died. Shepard's hail of fire promptly tore into the metal-polymer shell of their armor, dropping the both of them.
Suddenly, a huge Geth rose to replace the smaller weapons platforms; a quadrupedal design known as a Colossus.
"Join the Marines, see the galaxy, meet interesting people..." Xander griped at the top of his lungs as he drove the Mako straight toward the synthetic.
"...and blow them up!" Kaidan and Shepard chorused. Shepard turned the Mako's main rail-cannon upon the giant Geth. The explosive discharge from the heavy slug slammed into the Colossus and blasted its heavy bulk. It dropped into the swiftly flowing water, giving a high loud whine, and started struggling back to its feet.
"When I say the word, bail out." Xander growled as he drove the Mako at the Colossus while Shepard poured chaingun fire into the beast.
"Bail out?" Tali shouted, "Are you serious?"
"...As a heart attack, Tali." Xander snapped.
Kaidan would've argued, but Shepard was already cranking the hatchway open.
"Now!" Xander screamed.
He slowed the Mako enough and Tali, Kaidan, and Shepard, all bailed out of the still-moving Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
When they were clear, Xander gunned the engine and crashed into the walking tank again, bowling it over as he parked the tank right on top of the Colossus. The synthetic beast roared in its strange machine language, its legs thrashing about in a futile attempt at regaining its footing. If it followed protocol it would not use its weapons now until it managed to free itself from the Mako's weight.
"It's down! Hit it hard!" Shepard shouted, unleashing deadly fire from the Spectre prototype rifle that she'd been using lately.
"Understood!" Tali cried aloud as she reached behind her and pulled out an assault rifle that Kaidan had never seen before.
"What the hell is that?!?" Kaidan asked.
"I picked it up while we were in the Armstrong cluster!" Tali chirped cheerfully. "Xander helped me rebuild a Geth Assault Rifle!"
She raised the weapon to her shoulder and blazed away at the still-writhing Colossus. Kaidan could see the weapon's phasic rounds ripping right through the Geth's shielding; searing holes into the Colossus' dark armored skin.
Briefly wondering if Xander could get him one, he pulled out his own pistol, and the whole team hit the huge Geth with everything they had. It gave a final wailing cry before slumping to the ground, the light of its single eye fading as the synthetic beast died.
Xander backed the Mako away from the wreckage and then hopped out of it, dusting his hands off. "We came, we saw, we kicked Geth ass." He announced, looking smug.
Shepard snorted. "We took out ONE Geth, Harris. There's a whole army on this planet and Saren's in the middle of them. How's about we take out those AA guns, and find ourselves a rouge Spectre before we crack the champagne bottles?" she said, smirking at him.
"Way to harsh my buzz, Captain Downer." Xander grumbled.
"What was that, Sergeant? I'm not sure I heard you." The implied menace in her voice was unmistakable.
"I signaled my readiness to continue the mission, ma'am!" Xander shouted, reflexively standing at attention.
"That's what I thought, Sergeant." Shepard sneered. Strangely, nobody missed the hint of a smile on her face.
Xander would sass Gods and Demons, but even he knew not to cross the line with Shepard. Walk it, yes. Dance along it, occasionally. Cross it... never.
Tali insisted on probing the fallen Geth for any system data that might have survived the frying of their memory cores. Kaidan stood at her side, nervously scanning a distant structure with an AA gun perched on its roof.
Shepard pulled Xander back inside the Mako. "What's with you, Harris? Is there a problem I should know about?"
"I don't want to say." the Sergeant replied.
"I sent Williams down to see you last night. Did something happen?"
Xander scowled. "I've got a bad feeling about this one, Boss," he sighed, gritting his teeth as he gunned the engine.
Shepard reminded herself that Xander had seen a lot in his time, and his nervousness was probably a deeply-ingrained survival instinct. That having been said, though, Saren had to be their top priority.
"Maintain the objective, Harris." Shepard reminded him. "Maintain your focus, that's the real reason you've survived all these years."
"C'mon, Boss. You have to be wondering yourself; what's really going on? Why is he still here? It's not like I want to see the galaxy burn, but if you were Saren... Why would you still be sitting around on this rock, waiting to be discovered?"
Shepard paused."It would have to be important, something that I'd be willing to risk being captured over. When we find him, we can ask him; assuming I let him live that long."
"Experience says we aren't going to like the answers. Assuming we get any."
Shepard decided to follow her own advice. "Mount up, people!" she cried out.
Tali and Kaidan climbed back inside the Mako and sealed the hatch.
"Okay, people! We take down the static defenses and then rendezvous with the Salarians! Whatever Saren is up to on this planet, it stops today! Am I clear?!?"Moments Later ....
Saren marched through the monitoring station, noticing that the Geth manning its consoles seemed agitated. He could understand when they were upset. And now, something clearly had them concerned.
"Show me," he snapped at one of the Geth, who pointed at the defense grid layout display.
One of the AA guns read as being offline. Saren interfaced with the controls bringing the vidmonitors online, he saw the Normandy sailing past the nonfunctional AA Guns unchallenged. As the rogue Spectre watched the display, scanners tracked the ship slipping in through the tiny hole in the defense grid's coverage.
Saren was no fool. "Shepard..." he hissed. "Remote command those guns! Get them back online and someone get me telemetry on where the rest of those damn Salarians are held up!"
He headed toward his inner sanctum, the Geth making way for him. He was the prophet bringing about the return of the Old Machines, after all.
"I thought I had more time," he muttered to himself. "But it would seem that our departure will be ahead of schedule."
The Geth in the room chattered around him. "Begin moving all essential equipment to Sovereign. All the supplies. " The ex-Spectre ordered, "I want all necessities loaded so we can depart for the Mu Relay. I will seek wiser counsel as to our next move."
He left them and took an elevator up to his private lab. The human scientist... what was her name? Ah yes, Burkle, Winifred Burkle... sat at her desk, her gaze fixed on a computer on her desk and ignoring him as she often did everything except her partner.
The Asari scientist, Rana Thanoptis, gasped upon seeing him and cringed. Obviously, she was hoping he'd ignore her. For that reason alone, he decided to give her some orders.
"Doctor Thanoptis, see to it that the Salarian test subjects are released from containment. Make sure that they're armed as well."
"Excuse me?!? You want to arm those... idiots?!? They'd be more likely to kill us then anyone who might be in the base!" She shrilled.
"Rana," Burkle snapped, "Do as the Turian commands. His mindless drones will not harm us."
"Yes, Mistress." Rana gulped and nodded at Saren, "I'll see to it myself, sir." she simpered.
"Once you're finished with that, come back here. I might have more duties for you." Saren hissed.
"I was thinking..."
Saren cut her off. "Don't make me send the Geth to find you, Doctor Thanoptis. Their experience with the Quarians has left them with a tendency to be rough with organics."
Thanoptis gulped. After looking fearfully at her partner, she scuttled out of the room.
Saren turned to the other scientist. "Doctor Burkle," he snapped, "I want to see the results data that you've gathered from the test subjects."
"Shall I put it into layman's terms for you, Turian? If you are not under the sway of that vessel yet, then you soon will be. At which point, you are screwed; scientifically speaking." Fred gave him a baleful look, her deep blue eyes shimmering. She snatched up a datapad and thrust it into his hands, sneering, "Right now, the plant on my desk has more independent thoughts then you do. The process will only get worse as time passes."
She turned back to the desk plant sitting next to her computer, muttering under her breath. If Saren didn't know better, he could've sworn the woman was ... talking to the plant.
Still, her work was staggeringly brilliant. More so then Thanoptis, The Asari also seemed to be the only one able to keep Burkle on task, he wondered if Thanoptis had taken the human as a bondmate, it was not unheard of and would explain Burkle's occasionally highhanded treatment of the Asari. He had even heard Burkle refer to Rana as "pet"
Still Saren had more immediate concerns so he dismissed his worries about his eccentric staff. focusing instead on his more immediate problem; indoctrination. He thought that he'd have more time. More time to prepare, to make sure that he was protected.
Then, IT spoke. "You should not have delayed. Your organic foolishness has left you vulnerable to the humans." IT was the voice, the same one that he'd been hearing for twenty years. "The humans have tracked you here. Perhaps it is they who should be offered the opportunity to serve. Perhaps it is they who can best be trusted to see our plans to completion."
"Have faith. Shepard and her people will not breach this facility until long after we have escaped. Your plans can not be stopped."
"Organics require faith, Saren." Sovereign boomed flatly. 'You need to believe in that which you cannot see, because you see just how small and pathetic you truly are. You seek meaning and purpose, surrounding your continued existence with illusions of meaning so that you can blind yourselves to the truth; that your only purpose is to serve those greater then you and ultimately to die in that service."
"Then allow me to serve. Let me prove my worth as I have done so in the past. Surely I've already shown that the Turians could be useful tools, that we should be given the chance to survive and to serve you."
"I have scanned those infiltrating this world, Saren. There are already signs that I have allowed you to waste too much time. The imperfection that you organics carry has manifested itself. It must be purged."
"And it will be purged." Saren snapped. "The human race will be wiped clean from the galaxy, along with all others who would oppose you. Then the Turians can take their rightful place as your new and true servants."
"It is true that some amongst the Protheans eventually proved useful to us. They were allowed some autonomy after we improved them." Sovereign rumbled.
"Continue to further our goals, Saren," the ancient starship added. "Prove yourself, and your people will be allowed to serve and survive."
But just as hope rose in his chest, Sovereign added a dark caveat. "Fail me, and the Turians will be as forgotten as have all other races that came before the Protheans." He could feel his fringes twitching as a strange chill ran down his back.