Shepard's Thoughts ...
Surprisingly enough, Xander was rather calm about being left out of the Ilos mission, all based on a ghostly portent of doom. In hindsight, that should've been my first clue that he was either up to something, or soon would be.
At the time, I was concentrated on finding Saren. Xander's willingness to put the mission before personal glory was just one less thing to worry about. If I'd thought about it more carefully, I would've remembered that Xander's a wonderful person but has two glaring character flaws.
He's a little too clever for his own good... and has terrible impulse control.
Ilos turned out to be a tropical jungle planet dotted with ancient ruins. I immediately regretted taking T'soni along. As sweet as she is, she DOES have a fixation on the past that made her occasionally obsess about some aspect of Prothean lore or architecture... So it had to be killing her; the validation of her life's work, and we were having a firefight in the middle of it.
"The archaeological find of a lifetime, a lifetime!" Liara complained loudly as she fired her pistol from behind the wall that she was using for cover. "Between that damn Turian and his Geth, I can't even-!"
"Liara, could we get a little backup over here?!?" Shepard shouted.
Suddenly a Geth Armature rose up, firing heavy plasma shots that hemmed the Normandy away-team into cover. What was more annoying was that one of the shots destroyed the wall of stone etchings from which Liara had just been trying to make a rubbing.
The Asari archaeologist's eyes went black as she shrieked something in Thessian; a string of words that were either so obscure that the translator couldn't decipher their meaning, or was so vile that trying to accurately expound the phrase's definition was impossible.
Reaching out with her hands, the young Asari archaeologist used a Pull-Throw combo to literally hurl the Armature into the air before smashing the walking tank against a nearby stone wall with a surprising amount of brutality. Flexing her fingers into claws, still keeping the Armature in her biotic grasp, she then pulled her hands apart and tore the quadrupedal weapon in half. Then she stomped away, snarling curses at the universe in general.
"It's kind of cute when she does that." Ashley commented.
"Don't I know it." Shepard sighed happily before becoming all-business again. "Okay, Chief, what do you have for me?"
"Skipper, that door ain't opening without a Hell of a lot more firepower than what we've got," Ashley reported apologetically. "Even the Mako's main gun ain't gonna be much good."
Shepard nodded. "Then we're doing this the old-fashioned way."
Climbing into the Mako's cockpit, she powered up the local scanners. A few minutes later, she reported aloud, "Looks like we've got another structure several clicks from here; and it's lousy with Geth."
Wrex laughed bitterly. "Not even Saren would be stupid enough to leave the backdoor unguarded."
Ashley nodded. "Whatever these synthetics are sitting on, it's gotta be important."
"Then we make best speed. Ashley, hold this position and keep our transportation safe. Any Geth so much a glance at this tank, they die. Am I clear?
"Crystal, Skipper." Ashley saluted.
"And see if you can get Liara locked down, as well." Turning to Wrex, she barked, "Wrex, you're with me! Come on!"
Wrex and Shepard headed for the security station, fighting off Geth every step of the way. Finally, they arrived at the security junction.
"Well, this is helpful," Wrex sneered. "You think that the Protheans would label their technology. How much effort would it have been, to stick up a sign saying 'Touch this thing if you want to open the big-ass door' or something?"
Shepard glanced at the console for all of a minute. "There it is," she snapped, tripped the circuits locking out the huge door.
They watched on an ancient monitor as the door rose. Ashley powered up the Mako, gunning the engine impatiently.
"Eager little thing, ain't she?" Wrex rumbled aloud, chuckling. "I saw the boy, Xander, this morning? He looked like he'd spent the night in a pit full of hungry varren."
"Damn it all, Wrex, that's so much more information than I needed!" she yelled at him, stomping out of the console room. Then she stopped at a wall etching, trailing her fingers across its design. "To sleep is to dream, to wake is to feed, and to live is to fight," she muttered distractedly.
"What's that mean?" Wrex wondered.
"No idea, and if I ask Liara, it'll just make her more upset." Shepard sighed.
Wrex and Shepard walked back to the Mako in silence until Shepard said clearly, "By the way, that's not an invitation for YOU to ask her just so you can rile her up. The mood she's in, she'll launch your ass into orbit."
"You've got no sense of fun, Shepard." Wrex complained.
The two of them made it back to the Mako, only to find Liara clutching another rubbing and looking very excited.
"I figured it out, Shepard!" she beamed. "I know why the Protheans came here!"
"You know where the Conduit is?"
"Oh, that? No, not yet," Liara shook her head. "No, I think I know why the Protheans built the Conduit here on Ilos. It's a sacred place for a Prothean Deity of some kind. There's a mention of a resting place for beings..." she showed the tracing to Shepard.
For her part, Shepard only had to glance at the rubbing before saying, "Angels. It's talking about angels... Well, the Prothean equivalent, anyway."
Liara gaped at her. "You can understand the words?"
"What's to understand?" Shepard shrugged. "They're in English; all the signs, messages, and what not? They're all in English."
"Ahh... no, they're not, skipper." Ashley reported, somewhat hesitant.
Frowning, Liara decided to try an experiment. "Shepard, what do those markings above the door say?"
Shepard looked up at the inscription for a moment. To her, the symbols squirmed like snakes before resolving themselves in plain English. "The writing above the door says 'Archives,' while the stuff by the side makes more mention of... a resting place, with a lot of stuff about warnings and portents
of doom. Why?"
"The words are practically indecipherable," Liara explained. "I mean, I knew that they had a meaning, but..."
"Wait," Shepard faltered. "You mean, you can't read any of this stuff? Not the writings, not the messages... you can't understand any of this stuff at all?"
"What's fascinating is that YOU can," Liara refuted. "Between the Cipher and the Beacons, you've gained an understanding of the Prothean language."
"What's this about angels, skipper?" Ashley wanted to know.
"The Protheans believed that their Gods live in some far-off realm, while their emissaries watched over and occasionally guided the faithful," Shepard explained. "They had a ton of names for these emissaries, but we could just as well call them Angels and that would be pretty damn accurate."
Ashley shuddered. "Sounds weird," she muttered. "Almost like worshiping Gabriel or Lucifer instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
"Actually, that's a pretty good summation of their belief system." Shepard grunted.
"Well..." Liara ventured. "...Angels, demons, or whatever else, the answers are down in that bunker somewhere."
Shepard now looked determined. "Then let's go find those answers."
The Normandy was running silent. Although the vacuum of space wouldn't transmit whatever noise that the Normandy's crew would've made, the ship's crew were being as quiet as possible. Perhaps hoping their silence would be like some ancient talisman against ill-fortune.
Xander looked out at the main viewscreen when he saw the Mass Relay light up like a Christmas tree. Geth Dropships slipped out of hyper-velocity speeds and took up cruising positions in the system.
"Joker, how many ships do YOU see out there?" Xander rasped urgently.
"TOO many, and they just keep coming!" the redheaded pilot hissed, shocked by what he was seeing. "Saren's been planning this attack for a long time, Xander!"
"The Citadel fleet's gonna be outnumbered ten-to-one." Garrus whispered.
"Actually junior that's being conservative." Navigator Pressly replied.
"This is worse then that, Pressly," Xander replied. "...the numbers I'm seeing out there means that we're seriously outgunned, even with the Alliance Forces in the Andura Sector backing up the Citadel's fleets."
He then opened up an internal comm channel. "Tali, you getting anything off of the sensor data that Joker's piping down to you?"
"Off the ships, yes," she replied, distracted. "I'm not sure, but I may have isolated the carrier-wave frequency that their neural network uses."
Suddenly the comm crackled. "Ground Team to Normandy! Ground Team to Normandy! This is Shepard, come in!"
"Reading you just barely, Commander." Joker reported.
"So have we bagged and tagged us an ex-Spectre, boss?" Xander asked.
"He's going through the Conduit even as we speak!" Shepard shouted back. "We made contact with a Prothean VI down here! It's called Vigil, and it says that the Conduit is a backdoor into the Citadel! It connects to that Mass Relay sculpture on the Presidium!"
"Why'd they need to build something like that, Shepard?" Garrus asked
"Funny story; apparently, the Citadel is an inactive Mass Relay. It connects to dark space, where the rest of the Reapers are located." Shepard replied.
"How many Reapers are we talking about, boss?" Xander asked, worried.
"That whole 'darken the sky of every world' jazz that Sovereign was pushing?" Shepard answered, "Well, according to Vigil, he's NOT kidding around."
"Well, we're looking at enough Geth ships here for the Citadel Fleet to kiss its collective ass goodbye!"
"I was afraid of that," Shepard sighed. "Okay, people, we're officially in over our heads! I'm taking the Mako through the Conduit. If all goes well, I have a program that will let me take control of the Citadel and the the Mass Relays around it! So you guys make best speed for the Andura Sector, and rendezvous with Admiral Hackett and the Fifth Fleet there! When I have control of the Relays, I'll open them and you can come riding in to save the day!"
Xander nodded, adding, "Good luck, boss!" before cutting off the call.
They waited as Geth Dropships slipped through the Pangaea Relay in a procession that ended with the departure of the giant dreadnought Sovereign, The crew let out a collective sigh of relief when the giant space vessel vanished through the Relay, right up until the lights on the massive construct suddenly flickered and died.
For years afterwards, David Anderson would remember that the most annoying thing about being right, about a worst-case-scenario, was that when innocent people often paid the price if the scenario occurred.
So, when the first explosions of Saren's attack began, he was darkly delighted that his gut feelings about his protege had been proven right on some level. But he was much more concerned that, now that the galaxy knew that Shepard was right, it might not survive long enough to tell her so.
Still, he was surprised when an older man came into the detention area and opened his cell, tossing him a pistol.
"What the Hell's going on?" Anderson asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm Armando Bailey, C-Sec. You're her Captain, right? Shepard, I mean?"
"Considering that I helped her commit treason and mutiny, I'd say that my military career might be in question." Anderson replied carelessly.
"All Hell just broke loose, Anderson," Bailey reported. "Saren just showed up out of thin air, with enough Geth to fill the damn Concert Hall."
"Out of thin air?" Anderson sputtered.
"Yeah, that was my reaction as well," Bailey nodded. "Turns out that the Relay Monument in the middle of the Presidium? It ain't just a replica, it's a working model."
"Come on," Anderson offered, exposing his pistol's heat sink in order to inspect it. "If I know Shepard, she'll be right behind him. Gather your people and we'll make a stand."
"Make a stand?" Bailey ventured skeptically.
"This is a secure facility, isn't it? That makes it a good place to bring civilains and coordinate some kind of response." Anderson explained patiently.
The two men ran through C-Sec HQ, running into a Detective Chellick along the way.
"What's he doing out of his cell?" Chellick asked, looking at Anderson.
"I figured that we might need the extra hands if those synthetic bastards hit us any harder," Bailey explained, adding, "Besides, he's Shepards commanding officer."
"I don't know how helpful that might be, but let's concentrate on the here and now." Anderson growled. "What resources do we have?"
"A marine unit was on station when Saren first hit us," Chellick replied. "They've taken up a post at a service tunnel. The elevators are locked down, you see, so the service shafts are the only way to get around."
"Then we secure as many of the service shafts as we can, between here and the Lower Wards," Anderson said decisively. "Make sure that we have clear lines of movement, so that people can move easily if we have to run or if we have to fight. That way, our lines of transportation are cleared."
"On it." Bailey replied, saluting.
"What the f-" Joker hissed
Xander swiftly ran a scan. "Okay, that's new," the immortal groaned. "That is new, right? Tell me that isn't supposed to happen."
"It's probably just resetting itself from the transit of so many ships." Garrus insisted.
But Joker shook his head. "Relays around the Citadel see that much traffic every damn day, and they never close. This thing is dead."
"Aw, great," Pressly groaned. "So how are we supposed to hook up with Hackett's Fifth Fleet if we can't even get to them? We can't even send a comm message with it dead like it is."
Joker's fingers danced rapidly across his command console. "Calculating best speed to the next closest system with a Mass Relay and... we're looking at a few days of travel, and that's running at FTL full-blast the whole damn way."
"A few days?!?" Xander sputtered. "Joker, we've got maybe a few hours before Sovereign unleashes thirty-three flavors of Hell on the Citadel!"
"Normandy to Ground Team!" Joker yelled into the com-systems, to silence. "Normandy to Ground Team! Commander, come in! We've got an emergency up here!"
"Joker, wait a minute," Xander barked. Taking over the com-channel, he barked, "Vigil! Vigil, this is Normandy broadcasting on all channels! Please respond!"
The advanced Prothean VI responded. "I am online." Its voice was toneless, flat.
"Vigil, can you contact Commander Shepard? The organic who just passed by you, I mean." Xander asked.
"She has already left through the Conduit," the ancient VI explained.
"Ahh, shit, we're screwed!" Joker moaned.
"Vigil, please tell me that there's a way to reboot a Mass Relay!" Xander barked. "Sovereign powered down the one that the Geth fleet just used!"
"This is one of many anticipated outcomes." Vigil said flatly. "It is possible to send a powerful burst-communication though my main communications array. The burst would power up the Mass Relay long enough for you to access it, but it would only last a short time."
"Wait a minute," Joker leapt on a nascent idea. "We could send a burst transmission to the Fifth Fleet!"
"This operation will not affect the telemetry of the Relay," the ancient Prothean VI warned. "The destination would remain fixed on the point of egress that is currently programmed."
Silence reigned in the CIC. "Is he saying what I think he's saying?" Garrus asked.
"We power up the Relay and try to use it," Joker decided. "It'll take us to Citadel space."
" ...and a damn warzone." Xander reminded him.
"That's suicide!" Pressly barked.
Joker just shrugged. "On the upside; once we're through the relay, I could send the transmission burst. That way, Hackett and the Fifth Fleet would be ready and waiting for the Relays around the citadel to open."
Xander nodded. "It comes down to this, you guys. We stay here and rot, or we go through the Relay and maybe save Shepard's ass."
"...by risking ours," Pressley reminded him.
"...or we sit here and find out the hard way who won." The Navigator looked uncertain and Xander pressed his argument. "Pressly, we're already beating the odds, just by surviving this long. Why not see how far we can push it?"
The old Navigator sighed. "Fine, let's do this. I never planned on dying in bed, anyway." Activating the shipwide com-system, he barked, "All hands, all hands, stand by for a message from the XO! Battle stations! I repeat, battle stations!"
The crew scrambled for their assigned posts, landing in chairs and tapping away at their respective haptic holographic consoles.
Garrus was about to get out of the way moving toward rear of the CIC when Joker yelled, "Garrus, I'll need you up here when we come out on the other side! We'll be flying through the Citadel fleet and I'd kind of like to NOT be shot! Either as a traitor, or because someone didn't recognize our IFF!"
Garrus looked at Xander, who was already at the space once used by Kaiden Alenko. He nodded, and the Turian ran forward taking the tactical station.
Pressly was standing at the galaxy map, overlooking the whole scene with a grim expression on his face. Finally, he bellowed up to the cockpit, "Joker! You feeling lucky?!?"
"Screw luck! It's all about skill!" Joker called back.
Xander snickered, "Don't break an arm patting yourself on the back there, Moreau!" he said.
Joker glanced over at him with a reckless grin, "Pay attention Harris, you're about to see some real magic being done!"
Xander laughed while tapping a few keys, he took over the external com-system. "Vigil, this is Normandy!" he radioed to the Prothean VI. "Start your power transfer!"
A beam of light speared upward from the planet below, striking the Mass Relay and making the whole device spark. Lights activated all across its surface and the blue lightning, of eezo being fed electrical current, arced and danced across the massive machine. Vaguely reminded of a tuning fork in design, Joker could almost swear that the Relay was vibrating.
"Hold on to your shorts, people, this is gonna be a bumpy ride!" Joker yelled as the Normandy jumped ahead, sailing through the Mass Relay as their collective vision blurred and then resolved again.
The Normandy had dropped right into Hell, just about to fight the Devil itself.
Rebekah and Michael Petrovsky ran through the Citadel. Clutching a wailing baby in her arms, she ducked reflexively as shots were fired around. A huge Geth Juggernaut rose up in front of them, leveling a weapon. Rebekah whimpered and sank to the ground, while Michael moved to try and shield both of them. He knew that it was a fruitless gesture, because the Geth could easily kill them both with a single blast.
Suddenly, a blade exploded out of the Geth's chest. The synthetic drone looked down at the intruding piece of metal. If it had a face, then it would've affected an expression of disbelief. The blade withdrew and and then the Juggernaut's head was cleaved cleanly from its shoulders. The huge Geth collapsed, revealing a young-looking human woman.
She was dressed in a heavy coat over a suit of tough-looking light combat armor that seemed to define her tight and powerful frame. She sheathed the sword in her hands, into a scabbard on her back, with a flourish.
Michael was sure that he towered over her by several inches, but the expression on her face radiated a power unlike anything that he could really describe. She reached out a hand to grab Rebekah and pull her to her feet.
"Gotta love those Turians. If nothing else, they know how to make a good sword." Buffy said, more to herself than to the shocked couple. "What's her name?" she pointed at the baby.
"His name's Jake," Rebekah mumbled. Then, as she continued to look at the ageless Slayer, she suddenly realized what had happened. So she grabbed the blonde girl's hand and shook it incessantly. "Thank you, thank you so much for rescuing us," she blubbered.
"I haven't done anything much yet," Buffy shrugged. "Let's get you guys to a safe area. Then we can celebrate."
The small family and the Slayer began moving though the chaos of the Citadel attack. Buffy raced ahead several times in order to deal with various advancing Geth and Krogan, taking them out with quick and deadly strikes from her weapon. They also picked up several more stragglers, people who had been too slow to reach shelter or too stubborn to realize that shelter was needed.
They reached an open area where Marie Durand's marine unit was quickly ushering people into a service shaft.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to say we're going to need you to use less fancy means of getting around the station until the elevators start working again." Some balding C-Sec officer rasped. Gesturing down the service shaft, he added, "There are people stationed in this shaft every few meters, and they'll guide you to a designated safe zone."
Buffy showed up with the Petrovsky family and the rest of her group.
"Thank you, Miss, but we've gotten a request for you," Durand said. "Well, that is, if you think that you're up to one more run."
"Oh, why not?" Buffy shrugged, sighing. "What else am I gonna do with a serrated, three-foot blade?"
"It seems that the Consort is trapped in her offices on the Presidium," a nearby Turian elaborated. "We've held off the Geth, but..."
"Say no more, I've got this one." Buffy snapped off a salute before she dashed off, with the Turian joining her.
As they ran across the Presidium, Buffy asked, "Where's this Consort?"
"She's just over the bridge..." the nameless Turian replied, and was shocked to see Buffy launching herself into the air with a quick, "Be right back," slipping past her lips. The Turian ran after her, but still almost managed to miss the sight of Buffy's attack.
The ageless Slayer had landed in the midst of the attacking Geth with enough force to send several of them flying off their feet, her blade sweeping out and cleaving several Geth units in two or hacking off limbs or heads. A Geth Prime unit fired a plasma blast at her, only to have her lash out with her blade and somehow managing to deflect the shot back at the unit, making it explode in short order.
Buffy raced inside the Consort's Chambers and found several of her attendants straining with a large piece of rubble that had fallen on an aging Turian, who had a sickly look about him.
"Out of the way!" Buffy snapped, blitzing past the attendants. Grabbing the piece of rubble, she hauled it into the air before throwing it away. Then the Consort rushed up to the old Turian.
"Septimus? Septimus!" she shouted, shaking the old Turian's body. "Don't die on me, you old fool!"
"Foolish, am I?" Septimus coughed. "Well... better a fool in love than a fool dishonored, I say." Then he went still, passing out.
Buffy checked him briefly before saying, "He's still alive, but we've gotta get him to a safe area. What happened?"
"He defended the Chambers from the Geth, singlehandedly," the Consort said, almost reverently.
"Tough bastard, ain't he?" Buffy muttered reverently. "All right, I'll get him to safety and you guys follow..." and here, she gestured vaguely at the Turian in medium C-Sec armor, "...what's-his-name back to the safe zone. Let's try and avoid any more bad guys."
"Thank you, Buffy," the Consort said, bowing deeply in respect. "I know that you still feel guilty, but you and Willow did the right thing. Xander will prove that to you again today, I'm sure of it."
Buffy turned to regard the Consort with a deep frown, and with quite a bit of alarm. "Do I know you, lady?"
"Not yet, perhaps, but trust me when I say you and Miss Rosenberg gave a very special gift to the boy and he'll put it to good use."
The group was making best speed for shelter when Buffy saw the mass relay monument light up bright as hell.
That's not a good light is it?" Buffy asked.
Durand shook her head, "The first time it light up like that Saren's army came out."