AN- Thanks to Reikson for the help, support and assisstance keeping me on track . I've been PM'ed about this enough I'll answer it here for now and eventually in-story -- Shepard looks like the lovely Gina Torres -- think Zoe Washburne with her hair pulled back
Illyria retrieved Rana and they escaped.
Xander thanked the Powers-that-Be that he was the only one who saw Illyria stepping through some kind of tear in subspace that she'd opened, dragging the still whining Rana along after her. Explaining Illyria's powers of temporal manipulation was bad enough without adding the need to explain teleportation as well.
Shepard's face was a study in grim determination. As Xander watched her, he found himself thinking back to those last few battles in Sunnydale. Back when it seemed like beating Caleb and the First wasn't just a matter of protection or survival, but seemed like Buffy's entire reason for even breathing.
He remembered all too well how often Buffy had felt like the weight of responsibility for everyone's life or death was all on her. Xander made a vow to himself; this time, it'd be different. He wouldn't lose anyone like he'd lost Anya, Renee and so many others. This time, he promised himself, everyone would make it home.
They blew the AA gun and made it to the reservoir; a big, open area bordered by large fuel cells and the Krogan Breeding Tanks. They faced just enough resistance to lull them into a sense of security. If anyone thought things were proceeding a little too easily they ignored their misgivings, just like they were supposed to.
Off in the distance, Xander could hear the sound of another big AA gun blowing itself apart. Ashley's team had made it to the second AA tower.
Joker rejoiced and Xander relaxed as he saw the Normandy coasting in low, landing in the reservoir. They were halfway home. Maybe his bad feeling was wrong. Maybe, just this once, the Powers-that-Be weren't going to screw with the good guys.
Tali'Zorah came down the gangway, gingerly hauling the jury-rigged nuke with Requisition Officer Hobbs before putting it down gently.
"Bomb's in position." Kaidan reported.
"I just need a few more minutes for some last calibrations, then we should be good to go." Tali reported.
"Tech Sarge," Xander glanced at Hobbs.
The Req Officer was staring at an old suborbital cargo pod. "This cargo pod, sir. You want anything done with it?" The young man asked. Xander took a look at the pod for himself. It was beaten and had a few streaks of corrosion on it, but...
"Leave it there, Hobbs." Xander finally said. "Help Tali with the bomb while I check out this bad boy. It might come in handy, even if it's just for spare parts, right?"
Hobbs nodded, walking toward the Quarian. Then the Requisitions Officer saw a glint of metal where there shouldn't have been, and darted forward, shoving Tali out of the way even as a bolt tore through his kinetic barrier. He fell, crying out in pain.
Then there was an explosion, and several more shots had them all ducking for cover.
"Damn it all! I thought this area was secure!" Shepard swore.
Several figures had fanned out across a catwalk overlooking the bombsite and were now raining down fire upon them.
Xander found himself huddled with Garrus, next to the nuke.
"I'm not sure this thing should be soaking as much enemy fire as it's doing!" Xander shouted, keeping his head down. "Who are these guys?!?"
"I recognize their uniforms!" Garrus yelled back, spraying assault rifle fire at their attackers. "They're a slaver group that usually runs out of the Artemus Tau cluster!"
"Could you guys please stop shooting at the thermonuclear device?!?" Xander bellowed, ducking to avoid another barrage of bullets before popping out and scoring a headshot that sent a slaver's corpse falling into the rushing waters below.
Shepard's cold voice came over the comlink. "Garrus! -- the fuel tank three meters down from the snipers on the catwalk; can you hit it?"
The former C-Sec officer looked down. He saw that Shepard had noticed a fuel tank that was all but impossible to hit from where she was crouched. But his sniper rifle was perfect for such a shot.
He focused his aim and pulled the trigger. A mighty roar and a blossom of fire and heat hurled the slaver troops, on the catwalk, high up into the air and tossing them like chaff in a fiery whirlwind.
The group's Asari leader screamed in rage, her biotics flaring around her body, as she fired at Garrus. Meanwhile, Xander had dived behind the nuke for cover. As she stalked towards them, keeping up a steady stream of fire, she suddenly found herself being thrown to the side.
Requisitions Officer Hobbs had somehow found a second wind and hurled himself at the slaver, his attack making her shot go wild and bouncing off the bomb casing, only narrowly avoiding Xander.
A blast from Wrex's shotgun spun the Asari through the air, making her land on the ground hard.
Shepard walked over to Hobbs, the boy already coughing up blood.
"Did... I... get... her... ma'am?" he asked weakly, panting with each word.
"You did fine, Hobbs. She's down." Shepard said, holding his hand as he breathed his last.
Shepard rose from where his body had fallen, her eyes darkening with rage. Then she stalked over to Dahlia lying nearby, slamming a boot down onto the slaver's chest, shoving her back into ankle-deep water that flowed over her face. The slaver gurgled and spat, trying to not to drown as she fought against the weight of Shepard's foot keeping her head underwater.
"Where's Saren?" Shepard hissed.
"He's waiting for you on the AA tower."
"You mean the AA tower that just went up in flames, sweetheart? Try again." Shepard drawled coldly, forcing the Asari back underwater before letting her up to grab a quick breath.
"I'm telling you the truth!" the Asari slaver sputtered. "Please let me go! I... I have money! I can give you creds!"
"You think I want a flesh-peddler's money?" Shepard growled. She shoved the Asari's head back under the water. The Slaver's thrashing struggles began to weaken.
"If you want, I can take her to the brig." Kaidan offered quietly.
"The brig?" Shepard sneered.
"We can drop her off with the military. I can arrange for a couple of the guys to watch her." Kaiden insisted. "She's a criminal, we caught her... she should be handed over to the authorities so she can serve her time."
Shepard turned her cold gaze on the Asari. Finally, she said, "I think our resources might be better spent elsewhere, Lieutenant." Just before she shot her captive in the head.
"If you could arrange for Hobbs to be taken care of, for the trip home, I'm sure he and his NEXT OF KIN would appreciate that." She snapped coldly.
Shepard checked the Asari's body. She was some kind of slaver, all right. And she had money; the datapad on her corpse showed that she'd recently got a huge infusion of credits, some kind of blackmail scheme.
"Garrus, does the name Nassana Dantius mean anything to you?" she asked.
"She's a big-time Citadel Diplomat," Garrus explained.
Liara piped up. "She also sits on the Serrice University Executive Board and their Appropriations Committee."
"I heard Harkin say that her family had a few skeletons in their closets." Garrus continued, "I should've pressed for details, but... well... this is Harkin we're talking about, here."
Shepard nodded, agreeing to the Turian's unspoken sentiment. "The man's a repulsive bastard."
Shepard had her own run-in with the drunken disgrace of a C-Sec cop while searching for evidence to nail Saren. If this Nassana was connected to the dead slaver, then it was something that she was definitely going to follow up on.
Heading back to the bomb, she scowled upon finding that its controls were a ruined mess. The bomb had taken enemy fire and had not emerged unscathed.
"Shit," she cursed. "Please tell me the bomb still works."
"You want the bad news or the worse news?" Xander sighed. "Bad news is, the detonator's shot to hell."
"I can fix it, Commander." Tali explained. "But that will take me at least half an hour."
"And Sovereign and the rest of the Geth will be on us by then..." Shepard groaned.
"...at which point, we might as well be dead." Xander finished. "Believe me, boss, I'm not unaware of just how screwed we are."
"All right, what's the worse news?" She groaned.
"We can fix it in less than ten minutes if we cannibalize the timing mechanism. But most of the security would no longer work and the Geth would be able to hack it."
Tali shook her head. "Xander, that's just not practical. Someone would have to stay here and manually set the bomb off and protect it almost until detonation. That would be suicide."
Then Shepard realized why Xander might even want to consider such an action.
"Tech Sergeant, with me." Shepard took him aside. "Tell me you thought this through." she ordered him quietly.
"I'm not that good a liar, Boss." he murmured softly to her.
"There's no guarantee that you'd even survive the explosion." she snapped, her voice a harsh whisper.
"No reason I shouldn't, especially if I stack the deck in my favor. That cargo pod Hobbs found? It's damage-rated for reentry, so I figure it can survive riding a nuclear explosion."
"When they're working, Xander." Shepard hissed. "The key word being 'working' as the most important. That one looks like it's barely ready to survive a stiff breeze, let alone weathering a thermonuclear detonation."
"I'm not trying to jump Mass Relays with it, Boss. It just has to stay in one piece and THAT is something the pod can do. If I'm inside it when the bomb goes off, then my body should stay intact."
"We retrieve the pod, pull you out..."
"...and just hope that the last two hundred years wasn't the universe setting me up for the galaxy's biggest gotcha."
Shepard opened the comm. "Joker, what's Sovereign's ETA?"
"It's coming in hard, Commander!" Joker reported. "I'd say we've got less then fifteen minutes before that dreadnought's on our ass. And do I even need to mention that Geth reinforcements will be on us even faster?"
"Don't you love the hand of fate?" Xander grumbled. "It really sticks it in and breaks it off."
Shepard nodded grimly. "All right. Tali, change of plans. Gut the timing mechanism. Harris, go over that pod with a fine-tooth comb. I want to make sure that it can do what we need it to do."
"Commander, are you sure about this?" Tali asked.
"Do it, Tali. Xander and I have a plan. Just trust me."
"I trust you with my life, Commander," the little Quarian said, loyalty in her voice.
"Thanks, Tali. Hopefully, that won't be necessary. Well, assuming that the next few minutes play out like they should..." Shepard nodded.
Shepard radioed to Ashley. There was no point to secrecy now. "Williams, we're five by five! Get to the rendezvous, on the double!"
"I'm sorry, Shepard," a cold voice came over the line. "Chief Williams' team is unable to respond. She's still alive, but how long she remains that way is completely up to you."
"Saren." she ground out.
"I feel as if we should've spoken before this. You being the junior member of our order and all. Perhaps you can come up to the AA tower. I'm sure that Chief Williams would be very, very happy to see you."
"I'm going to end you." Shepard hissed.
"Don't take too long, Shepard. I doubt Chief Williams could survive my disappointment."
She looked at Xander. "You know it's a trap, right?" the young-looking immortal drawled. "He wants us to waste time fighting him until Sovereign's upon us."
She nodded. "Tell Alenko to get everyone back aboard the Normandy. Get into the air and meet me on the AA tower." Shepard grabbed Xander's shoulder. "Don't let me down Xander, I'm enjoying your track record of pulling off the impossible. I'm counting on you to keep it up."
"Boss, with all due respect... it's me." Xander replied lightly. But she noticed that the cockiness of his words and smile didn't quite reach his eyes. He was just as worried about making it through, as she was.
"That's why I'm worried, Xander." She teased. "See you on the other side."
"Yes, ma'am," he saluted her mockingly. "Understood, ma'am."
She slugged him in the shoulder, chuckling.
Kaidan, and the men he'd assigned to transport The Requisition Officer's body, arrived back at the bombsite. While they went about their grim task, the biotic mused about what he'd seen of his commanding officer while on the trip.
He didn't much care about slavers and certainly didn't shed any tears that one was dead.
But there were rules, procedures.
Just because Shepard's extraterritorial authority let her do something, it didn't necessarily follow that she needed to do it.
Kaidan had seen Garrus and Wrex preparing to depart with Shepard.
They were supposed to save Ashley, but he had a sneaking suspicion that if the opportunity to kill Saren showed itself, she'd risk anything to accomplish that goal. The scary thing was that her attitude was spreading to the rest of the team.
Garrus had told everyone about his most troubling cold case; a renegade Salarian geneticist named Doctor Saleon. Shepard had gone after him without hesitation and, while Kaidan would agree that the Salarian's actions were monstrous, he was disturbed by how Shepard had practically goaded the Turian into executing the Doctor.
He recalled that chilling moment with icy clarity; Garrus standing over the dead doctor.
"How's it feel to finally put him down?" Shepard had asked.
"It felt... good." The Turian had muttered.
"Remember that feeling, Garrus." Shepard had said. "When scum like him get what's coming to them... it should always feel like that."
The smile on her face when she'd said it... God help him, but Kaidan had been terrified of her.
He'd shared his own past with Shepard, trying to make her see how he'd felt about bullies like Vyrnnus. Instead, Shepard seemed shocked that he hadn't enjoyed killing the cruel, old Turian.
The truth was that Shepard hated bullies. She despised them with a passion. At some point, she'd begun using her duties as a soldier and Spectre to work out that frustration.
Kaidan looked over and saw Shepard talking with Xander in hushed voices.
He seemed calm.
Devil-may-care, really, and Shepard seemed as focused as ever. Her target was Saren, everything else be damned. And Xander trusted her so completely that he couldn't see that all she cared about was Saren, and that nothing else mattered.
If the chance to kill the rogue Spectre meant tossing all their lives away, even Doctor T'soni, then Shepard would do it in a heartbeat. Of that, he had no doubt.
Shepard, Wrex, and Garrus all departed for the AA tower. Behind her, the group got busy. Xander checked the pod to make sure that it would survive the explosion, while Tali raided the timer for parts needed to repair the detonator.
Kaidan was enough of a tech expert that he could follow what Tali was doing to the bomb. "Tali, are you sure the timer will still work?" he asked her. When the Quarian turned her helmeted gaze on him, he backpedaled. "I mean, the way you have it set now..."
"It's essentially a dead man's switch now, Lieutenant," Tali explained. "Switch it on and wait five minutes... well, it explodes."
"What lunatic volunteered for that job?" Kaidan chuckled.
Tali pointed over to Xander toiling away at the cargo pod. Kaidan gaped, before marching over to Harris.
"Xander, what's this about you staying behind to set-off the bomb?" the biotic demanded. "Are you nuts?!? You can't just throw your life away like that!"
"Trust me when I say it's not a problem, Kaidan." Xander replied calmly.
"You don't need to do this!" the biotic yelled at him.
A high-pitched whine interrupted the two of them, and they looked up to see a Geth Dropship approaching their position.
"Kaidan, we now have zero time to debate this." Xander snapped. "When this is over, you're going have another shot at Ashley."
Then he patted the biotic man's shoulder. "You take care of her, okay? It was fun while it lasted, but you can make her a lot happier than anything that I could've done. I should've realized that from the beginning and not gotten myself involved."
He ran back to the bomb, grabbing an assault rifle and a pistol as he left.
"Go grab Shepard and Ash and get the hell out of here!" Xander yelled back as he ran to defend the bomb. "I'll be fine! Trust me on this one! Shepard has a plan and it'll work!"
Kaiden stood on the gangway as the Normandy took off. He could already see a sea of Geth pouring from the Dropship, swarming towards Xander and the bomb like locusts.
Shepard, Garrus, and Wrex arrived to find Saren waiting for them. Ashley knelt at his feet, a pistol jammed into the back of her head.
"This has been an impressive diversion, Shepard." Saren drawled. "My Geth were utterly convinced that the Salarians were the real threat. But I can't let you disrupt what I've accomplished here. You can't possibly understand what's really at stake."
"The Reapers are returning, and you decided they'd be your ticket to whatever power or glory that you think the Reapers will let the Turians take!" she sneered as she took cover. "Instead of finding a way to stop them, like any sane person would, you're just trying to save yourself."
"I'm not doing this for myself!" he snapped. "Don't you see? The Reapers can't be stopped! Not by you, not by anyone! My way is the only way that any of us will survive!"
"...as a slave?!?" she snarled. "Are you insane?!? I'd rather die then live under those things!"
"Then you will die!" he snapped. "Everyone you know and love, everyone that you've ever met... they will all perish! Just like the Protheans! Trillions dead; an entire empire erased virtually overnight!"
Then he became inquisitive, and Shepard found herself confused. "But what if they had surrendered? Might they still exist? Is submission not preferable to extinction? Especially if those that prove useful become the dominant force in the galaxy?"
But those last words cemented her resolve. "The Reapers have been beaten before!" she insisted. "You saw the same visions that I did! The Old Ones did it, we can do it too!"
Saren snorted, sneering at her. "This is what you'd hang the hopes of the entire galaxy? Myth and legends? Now who's the insane one, Shepard?"
"You were a Spectre! You swore an oath-"
"To preserve galactic stability at all costs." Saren sneered. "And look what that's accomplished! The Council; ineffective politicians too interested in their own power, and their fear of losing it, to see beyond their own narrow little minds!"
She could hear him grinning. "How do you think I managed to sway them against Anderson? Why do you think your race is so distrusted especially by the council? They're afraid of you. And what people fear-"
"People come to hate." She realized.
"The Reapers can change all that. The Krogan are a dying people; the genophage has seen to that. But the Krogan here on Virmire are free of the genophage. Their offspring would be free of it, as well. The Rachni need not be an extinct race, if they could be made to serve the Reapers as well."
Saren made a clever argument. If it hadn't been for just one thing...
"You mean, as mindless slaves?" Shepard sneered. "I saw what your so-called cure did. The indoctrination will drain the will of every man, woman, and child in Citadel space! Just like you."
"I'm not indoctrinated!" he snarled.
"Keep telling yourself that." Shepard sneered. "Sovereign's controlling you and you don't even know it."
"Indoctrination lowers intelligence. It's subtle. The more control that Sovereign exerts, the less capable the subject becomes. As long as Sovereign needs me to find the Conduit, my mind is still my own."
"Live in servitude or die? That's my choice?" Shepard snorted.
"If you want to save as many as can be saved, then... Yes, THAT is the choice. Now call your man at the bomb site. Tell him to deactivate that bomb or your Chief Williams will not live to see her sisters again."
"Don't listen to him, ma'am! Take him out!" Ashley screamed.
"Oh, please," Saren sneered. "It's like I told you before, Shepard. Humans aren't ready for the sacrifices necessary to become Spectres and I shall prove it."
Looking up, Saren called out to Xander. "Harris, I know you've been listening! Deactivate the bomb, let my Geth capture it and you, and I'll let Chief Williams go! She'll live to see you again! To see her dear sisters again!"
"Ah, Commander, I'm getting a lot of bullshit on this line!" Xander's voice crackled through the radio. "I could've sworn that you told me to activate the bomb right now."
"That's exactly what I said, Harris." Shepard said flatly. "I'd hoped to take out that ship of his, but this is fine too. Activate the nuke and blow this place back to Hell!"
"Kick his ass, boss lady!" he caroled.
Then, a siren began whining. It was the nuke's final warning.
Shepard smiled. "Oooh, so sorry, Saren. The bomb's already set. It can't be stopped. Not by me, not by you, and certainly not by Xander."
"Harris?" Saren snorted. "Alexander Harris? I'd wondered how you were staying so close to my trail, Shepard. But if Harris was with you all this time, then it all makes sense. My brother underestimated him and he paid the price. Now I see that I've made the same mistake. My Geth should be overwhelming his position right about now. They will capture him for me, and then I'll have both of your secrets."
Shepard looked at Ashley, still locked in Saren's grip. They exchanged a look, and Ashley disconnected the power cell to her suit's kinetic barrier.
Saren didn't even notice because he was so busy sneering at Shepard. "A Spectre, a real Spectre, acts without hesitation. You're no Spectre, Shepard. You don't have what it takes."
"That may have been true once, but I learned from the best." Shepard drawled as she looked at Ashley. "Williams? Do you remember what Gunny Ellison says about pain?"
"Pain's just weakness leaving the body. Do it, ma'am."
Shepard yanked up her gun and fired once. The bullet tore through Ashley's shoulder and hit Saren behind her. He was too close for his kinetic barrier to be of any help, so the shot ripped right through him. Howling in pain, he shoved Ashley at Shepard and hobbled away, shooting back at them. Shepard dived and danced through a hailstorm of gunfire.
Wrex fired shotgun blasts at the Spectre, who hit the Battlemaster with a powerful concussion shot from his weapon. Wrex's shield shimmered and died as Saren lashed out with a biotic push that shoved the old Krogan back.
Saren then fired another biotic attack that sent Wrex into the air. The Battlemaster managed to grab hold of a damaged strut, and held on for dear life as he waited for his personal gravity to pull him back to the rooftop.
"Garrus! Grab Williams now!" Shepard snarled as she ran after Saren, who had slumped onto a rocket sled. But just as it began to rise into the air, Shepard slammed into Saren and began punching him where he'd just been shot.
Yelling in pain, Saren grabbed her head and slammed his forehead into her face. Shepard reeled, seeing stars for a second before lashing out at the bullet wound in Saren's side with another successful punch.
The two of them struggled with each other aboard the rocket sled, lost in a frenzy of hate. Finally, Saren threw Shepard from the rocket sled and she crashed onto a rooftop hard, just hard enough to leave her winded and bruised.
Saren dived after her, grabbing her by the throat and pulling her over to the sheer drop off the roof.
"You would undo my work!" he snarled. "You would rather doom our entire galaxy to extinction? For that... you must die." And his three fingers began to crush Shepard's throat.
She promptly clapped her hands around Saren's head before punching him in the face. The Turian reeled back, dropping her as she was left sprawled to the rooftop and scrambling for her weapon. But Saren had jumped over her to land on his rocket sled, and it quickly carried him away.
Shepard watched him leave, seething, before she turned and raced for the Normandy hovering nearby. Diving through the air, she landed in the cargo hold. Her body rolled across the hard floor of the cargo bay in an attempt to arrest its impact.
When she finally uncurled herself, she ran to an intercom and shouted, "Get us out of here now, Joker!" even as she felt the weight of the ship shift. They were heading skyward.
Wincing at her injuries, she ran through the ship and up to the CIC, heading straight to the pilot's seat. "Joker, tell me that we're going to miss getting fried by that dreadnought."
At his nod, she bent down and hit the shipwide comm. "Alenko! Get everyone to the medbay! Williams is not to budge from that bed 'til Chakwas gives her the all-clear!"
There was no answer. So she went to the comlink.
"Alenko!" she bellowed. "Where are you?!? I need you up here!"
"Just running a retrieval op, ma'am!" his voice called back.
"What the Hell?!? Where the Hell are you?!?" she shrieked into the comlink. Still in the pilot seat, Joker winced.
"I'm down on Virmire, ma'am! I'm getting Xander! I should have enough time to get to him before Sovereign's in range!"
"Are you crazy, Alenko?!? Sovereign's too close! I can't risk bringing the Normandy back to get you! Especially with that bomb about to go off!"
"Well, if you're right, then I guess I'll see you in Hell, ma'am." Kaidan said flatly as he cut off the transmission.
Shepard looked at Joker, who just shook his head. "We'd be chewed into Geth chowder, and that's BEFORE Sovereign got a piece of us."
"Then get us out of here, Joker. Park us in high orbit over the bomb site and hold the Normandy there."
Kaidan Alenko dropped out of the Normandy's cargo bay, his body sheathed in a biotic field as he soft-landed on the ground. He had maybe a few minutes, if that, to get to Xander.
He ran, legs pumping and blood racing through his amped-up system. He had to get to Xander, he just had to.
Kaidan lifted himself over a retaining wall to land in the wide open space of the reservoir. In front of him, Xander was battling Geth troopers by the score, an assault rifle in one hand and a pistol in the other as he took shots at anything that moved. Behind him, the bomb site was surrounded by the junked remains of a dozen Geth.
Kaidan reeled back and summoning a ball of force that rolled along the ground, one of Vyrnnus' little tricks that Kaidan hadn't seen a use for when he was still at Brain Camp back at Jump Zero.
Still, it was pretty effective. What he might've called "Bowling Ball" skidded across the ground and collided with the incoming Geth, unfolding into a wave of energy that sent God-knows-how-many Newtons of gravitational force into the incoming waves of Geth Troopers and knocked them to the ground rather effectively.
This was enough for Xander to look up and see Kaidan. "What the Hell?!? Alenko, what are you doing here?!? The bomb's about to go off! Get out of here!"
"Not happening, Harris. You don't get to die today. Now come on, let's get you out of here." The veteran biotic insisted, grabbing Xander's arm and trying to pull him away from the jury-rigged drive core.
Xander yanked his arm away, shoving Kaidan back. "I'm not standing here for my health, Alenko!" he roared, gesturing at the impromptu nuke. "If we leave this thing alone, the Geth will find a way to access its controls and defuse it! The only way to prevent that is to either set it off early or ride out the explosion!"
"...then you're getting out of here." Kaidan determined, grabbing him again.
This time, Xander slugged him, hard enough to knock the biotic back. "You don't get it! Shepard and I have a plan!"
At this point, Kaidan lost his temper and shouted, "You blowing yourself up is not a plan!"
"No, YOU don't understand! I can handle it! Please, just get out of here! I'll try and hold them off as long as I can!"
Kaidan nodded "Okay, I'll go, but first..." He channeled the strongest biotic punch that he could muster into his fist and then slammed it full force into Xander. Reeling from the force of the blow, the other man shook his head as he tried to fight off the instant concussion.
But Kaidan didn't mind. He knew for a fact that Xander could take a lot of punishment. You had to be tough in order to survive a Thresher Maw attack, so he didn't hesitate in hitting the boy again, just as hard. Just to make sure he was unconscious.
Kaidan picked up Xander's body and tossed it into the cargo pod. One of the Geth targeted them both, firing a pulse rifle blast that skidded off Kaidan's biotic-assisted shields and hit the surface of the pod. Kaidan flexed his hand and threw another "Bowling Ball" at the synthetic, tossing it backward.
Kaidan locked the controls of the pod, sealing its contents away from the outside world. The pod then began powering up and Kaidan turned back to scoop up the discarded pistol, firing rounds at the advancing Geth and firing off Pulls that sent them high into the air, or Throws that sent them flying back into their comrades.
Then he heard it; Xander pounding on the pod's glass window. His radio crackled.
"Alenko! Alenko, what the Hell are you doing?!? You idiot! You don't get it! I can't die, don't you understand?!? I'm..." the rest of it was little more than static as the cargo-pod engines flared to life and began pushing its burden skyward.
Kaidan chuckled grimly as he watched the pod climb. Xander was tough, but the idea that he could be immortal was just ridiculous. Besides, he had Ashley to think about as well, not just himself.
Xander slammed his fist at the controls, trying to make them work. Kaidan had done quite a job on them. By the time he finished rewiring the controls, he'd be in orbit. As he looked down at the controls in front of him, he noticed an odd red light blinking away
"...Structural Integrity Alert. Hull compromised," he read aloud from the display.
Xander looked around and saw a hairline fracture in the wall of the pod. He knew, without checking, that the fracture carried through to the surface.
Oh, great, the pod was venting atmosphere. Assuming that he survived the explosion of the bomb and the ride into orbit, he could look froward to spending his last few minutes choking to death as the oxygen bled away.
"Aw, shit. Death by suffocation, death by vacuum exposure, or death by radiation poisoning... and it's not even my birthday." He sighed bitterly.
Kaidan Alenko winced as he cradled his side. A Geth bullet had punched through his armor and he could barely see straight from where it had hit his liver. But he defended the bomb site nonetheless, his two pistols picking off Geth with tungsten-modded rounds.
With survival not a possibility, he chuckled grimly as he carefully picked off Geth Troopers in twos and sometimes threes, trying not to let his guns overheat. As he continued shooting, his mind flashed back to Brain Camp for some reason.
Back to his old crush, Rahna.
God, how long had it been since he'd thought about that girl? She'd be a woman now. Probably happily married somewhere.
"Never thought I'd go out like this, Rahna. Right?" And as he heard the nuke's timer wind down, he let his arms and guns fall. Propping his head up against the nuke, he stared up at Virmire's blue skies and couldn't help but think of Earth.
As he closed his eyes, fire blossomed across his back for a split-second of absolute pain.
Then, he felt nothing.
Everything went black.
Xander looked back at the shrinking bomb site. He was still looking when the bomb went off. He didn't flinch as the bright flash blinded him. His eyesight would correct itself when he resurrected, but seeing a brave man die for him would happen only once.
Kaidan, that idealistic idiot, had gone and ruined a perfectly good plan.
She was going to let the bomb go off, and then come back and pull Xander's hopefully regenerating carcass out of the ruins of the bomb site.
So why in God's name had Kaidan violated her orders?
Of course the answer to that was all too obvious; like everyone else, he saw her as the Butcher of Torfan, that she was tossing Xander's life away thoughtlessly.
"Are we getting ANY signals from the surface?" She asked Joker.
"A cargo pod's trailing us, broadcasting an Alliance IFF. It's Harris' code."
"What about Alenko?" Ashley asked. Her hardsuit had been stripped from her upper body, her arm and shoulder in a sling until Chakwas could get some medigel onto the gunshot wound.
"Sorry, just the one... aw, shit." Joker cursed. "According to scanners, the pod's venting atmo." He gestured meaningfully at the console and Shepard saw the pod had no life signs. She wondered if Joker was in on Xander's secret. That would explain why he, of all people, was choosing now to be circumspect.
"Bring it aboard. Clear the deck and seal off the area. Have Chakwas meet us down in the cargo bay, and tell her I'm on my way down there now. "
Ashley followed her, along with the rest of the command crew. They crowded the elevator and pushed their way into the cargo bay.
"What's going on, Commander Shepard?" Kirrahe demanded, once he noticed her striding into the bay.
"Confidential Alliance business. I'm afraid that you and your men will have to clear out, for the time being."
As the small band of surviving Salarians headed up to the mess hall, Shepard then said, "VI, seal all doors to the cargo bay, authorization: Shepard, Joan L., command code seven-zee-el-two, priority Alpha-Black."
"Cargo bay locked down until further notice," the toneless voice of the VI noted aloud. "Commander Shepard is the only person on the Normandy who is authorized to lift this lockdown order."
"What's going on, Commander?" Ashley wanted to know.
Shepard turned to her. "What you're about to see is... well, you could say that it's classified at the highest levels. Truth is, even Alliance High Command doesn't know what you are about to see."
She then turned to Doctor Chakwas, who'd just shown up. " Helen, I need you to not freak out..."
But Chakwas surprised her by saying aloud, "VI, disable room monitoring equipment, authorization as given by ship's medical officer."
"Delete log, as per the Torchwood Protocol."
"Initiation of Torchwood Protocol accepted."
"What the Hell?" Shepard turned on Chakwas.
"Has he told you about the Watcher's Council yet?" Doctor Chakwas asked.
Shepard shook her head
"Probably hasn't even figured it out himself..." Chakwas sighed. "All right, everyone step back! His longest recorded... death, was ninety minutes, but these are some major injuries."
"What are you talking about?" Ashley demanded, trying to suppress her grief. By that time, the cargo pod had opened up to reveal Xander's body.
Chakwas looked at Xander's corpse with her trained critical eye."Nothing unexpected; vacuum exposure, oxygen deprivation, and it looked like he took some radiation before the pod was thrown clear. You can see the burns."
Ashley looked into his normally handsome face rendered ugly by his death.
"He's gone..." she said, more to herself then anyone else.
"Not for long, little human. Watch and learn." Wrex rumbled.
Ashley watched as the wounds on Xander's body closed up, and color flowed back into his bluish face. Suddenly, his back arched upwards as he gasped loudly.
"Kaidan, you-!" he screamed before he started coughing violently.
"What the Hell happened down there?!?" Shepard demanded.
"Kaiden..." Xander coughed. "...Kaidan showed up, wanted to rescue me. Hit me with a biotic punch when I wouldn't leave the bomb site with him. I woke up in the pod when it was already taking off."
"Damn it!" Shepard cursed.
Ashley gaped, her mouth hanging open and shock written all over her face.
"You... you were dead, Xander!" she sputtered.
"That happens with me sometimes. Just ignore it." Xander replied, sounding exhausted.
"You knew?" Ashley turned to Shepard, pained at what she felt was a betrayal. "You knew and you still let Kaidan-"
"I didn't LET Kaidan do anything, Gunnery Chief!" Shepard exploded. "Kaidan violated my orders! If he'd just trusted me, then all of us would've made it back!"
"If he'd known..."
"I don't exactly advertise, Ash." Xander replied, "You saw Toombs and you heard about the Rachni on Noveria. What do you think would happen to me if the brass ever found out just how unique I really am?"
"The Alliance isn't like that." Ashley said, defensive.
"Keep telling yourself that. I mean, sure, the Systems Alliance scapegoated your grandfather and blackballed your dad." he snapped, sarcastic. "But, hey, High Command can totally be trusted not to exploit or take advantage of someone if they saw a benefit to it."
"That's just an excuse so you can get away with lying to everybody! The Commander! To Kaidan! To me..." her voice trailed off at the end.
"If Kaiden had trusted me and followed my orders, he'd still be alive, Chief." Shepard sighed.
"Jenkins followed your orders on Eden Prime and he died." The accusation went unspoken. "Those soldiers at Torfan followed your orders and they died. Maybe Kaiden was thinking that following YOUR orders wasn't the smartest thing that a person can do."
The room went silent, Xander knew Shepard's one hot button was the Torfan siege. Lord Darius had pressed it and paid the price.
Shepard's fist clenched, rage darkening her eyes. "I make no apologies for what I did on Torfan, Williams. The men who died followed my orders but so did the ones who lived, They followed orders too. MY orders." She hissed. "The colonists who survived Eden Prime did so because you and Kaidan followed orders. MY orders."
Her hand swept across the room. "You're serving on the Normandy because Kaidan and I both told Anderson you were a good soldier! A soldier who could put aside the fact that she'd just seen her entire unit cut to shreds and STILL follow orders! Again, MY orders! You and those Salarians are alive right now because the infiltration team followed MY orders!"
It took Shepard had not to slap some sense into Ashley, so she settled for poking her in the chest.
"Harris and his team were following MY orders when they did what they could to make sure you and the STG teams made it through that frontal assault. We put our asses on the line for you. Harris put his life on the line for you. You're still breathing right now because Xander followed MY orders!"
"VI, disable room lock! Open the cargo doors!" Shepard barked before turning back to Ashley. "Considering how bent out of shape you get over your grandfather's legacy... if I were you, Williams, I'd ask yourself what he would've said about your little outburst."
Ashley spun around and hurried away. Everyone pretended that they didn't hear the sobs as she opened the entrance and left the cargo hold.
"Well, that was fun. In a fucking terrible, sick, not-at-all fun way." Xander grumbled.
"Doctor Chakwas, I think the Technical Sergeant needs a full examination. Be very thorough, if you please."
"Ah, c'mon, boss. You know I don't need-"
"Extremely. Thorough." Shepard snapped before stalking off.
Chakwas carted Xander off toward the Medbay, leaving the rest of the specialist team alone.
"Keelah... what just happened?" Tali asked, shocked.
"You think that's weird? Wait until you hear about the Old God and the whole Reaper thing." Garrus sighed. "We're so out of our depth that it's not even funny."