Buffy had seen some strange things in her time, but the sight of an APC flying through the air after being ejected from a mini-Mass Relay sculpture? That was high on the list.
She ran up to the wrecked APC and watched as four people came spilling out of it. An Asari, a Krogan, and two familiar-looking humans.
“Shepard?!?” she sputtered. “What the Hell?!?”
“Summers?!?” Shepard groaned. “Great, just what I needed.”
“Excuse me?!?” Buffy snapped, offended.
“Sorry, that came out wrong,” Shepard groaned, holding up a hand to ward off her annoyance and impending migraine. “It’s just that the last thing that I want to explain to Xander, assuming that any of us survives today, is how his sister ended up in the middle of a war zone.”
“Sister-in-law,” Buffy corrected, scoffing. “…and trust me, if anyone will understand the weird coincidence of me being here in the middle of a Geth invasion? It’s Xander. Now what the Hell are you doing here?”
Shepard was about to answer when Anderson joined them, and she noticed that Lieutenant Durand was accompanying her former Captain.
Saluting her mentor, Shepard formally reported, “Sir, I’m sorry to report that I couldn’t reach Saren before he could launch his assault.”
Anderson held up a hand. “Shepard, the fact that you’re still on his trail even now tells me everything I need to know.”
“Not what I need to know,” Buffy butted in. “Where’s Xander?”
“Back on the Normandy, which should be in the Andura Sector,” Shepard shrugged. “By now, he should be at a rendezvous point with Admiral Hackett and his reinforcements, the Fifth Fleet. The plan is for me to open the Relays so that the cavalry can come to our rescue.”
Buffy just shook her head. “Lady, I know from plans, and they always change. Especially when Xander’s involved.”
“Sit-rep, Commander.” Anderson ordered.
Shepard came to attention. “The Citadel’s a giant Mass Relay, sir; one that’s normally kept inactive by the Keepers. Saren’s about to activate it, however, and if he does that... well, the Reapers invade, and it’s ‘game over’. We’ve gotta get up to the Council Chambers; there’s some kind of master control up there.”
Anderson nodded. “The elevators have been locked down, so the only way that you’re getting up there is through the service corridors.”
“Those corridors will be crawling with Geth and Krogan, Commander.” Durand reminded, adding, “...and there’s NO atmo in any of them.”
“Which means sealed hardsuits and soaking up enemy fire, for most of the trip.” Shepard grunted.
“You need backup?” Buffy asked.
“I’d love some, but that outfit you’re sporting doesn’t look like it can be pressurized.” Shepard sighed.
“Damn!” Buffy snapped her fingers in hindsight. “I KNEW that I should’ve accessorized better.”
“I could still use your help down here, if you don’t mind, Miss Summers.” Anderson added, and Buffy nodded.
“As soon as I get the Relays opened, I’ll unlock the elevators. I’m not sure if I’ll need help at that point, but if you’ve got cavalry to spare... then you might want to bring ‘em running.”
“…and you’re sure that Xander’s safe?” Buffy asked skeptically.
Shepard looked at Buffy for a while before replying, “Xander’s as safe, as anyone in war ever is.” The ageless Slayer recognized that grim look in Shepard’s eyes all too well; she’d worn it a time or two for herself.
“If all goes according to plan,” Durand muttered. “...he’ll be riding in with reinforcements.”
“Then it’s our job to make sure that there’s something left for him to save.” Buffy added, looking at Shepard. Then she puffed a brief, bitter laugh. “it’s funny. Normally, I’m the one rushing off to fight the Big Bad while Xander’s on the sidelines.”
“In a fight like this, there’s no such thing as sidelines.” Shepard said grimly.
“You’d better get moving, Commander,” Anderson said quietly. “We’ll hold the fort down here.”
Shepard saluted the older man again. “On the way, sir.”
“Kinda busy here, Xander,” the Normandy’s pilot sounded harried.
“The next time I get the brilliant idea for us to fly INTO a warzone? Could you remind me to shut the Hell up?”
“Xander, if you ever have an idea this insane again...” Joker snapped, “I am personally invoking the right to shoot you.”
Then the ship shuddered, as Joker banked hard to avoid another Geth Dropship.
The comm buzzed. “This is Executor Goran, Vigilance-actual. What in the spirits are you doing back here, Shepard?”
“Vigilance-actual, this is Sergeant Harris,” Xander said into the com. “Shepard’s aboard the Citadel, trying to stop Saren.”
“Saren is doubtlessly aboard that Geth dreadnought,” Goran snapped. “As long as we keep him-”
Then Xander interrupted him, furious. “Goran, Saren’s on the Citadel right now! That dreadnought is a spirits-be-damned Reaper! And if you don’t stop screwing around, then you and everyone else out here’s gonna die!”
“Xander, Sovereign’s moving,” Joker reported.
“I’ve got no time for you,” Goran said dismissively. “Normandy, pull back and consider yourselves under arrest after this is all over.”
Xander gave up and cut the channel in favor of another one. “Madrid-actual, come back!” he barked. “Hobbs, please respond!”
“Hobbs here!” a harried-sounding Coleman Hobbs answered.
“Listen to me!” Xander shouted. “We’re telling you the truth! If you don’t pull back, then you and the rest of the fleet will die! Hobbs, listen to me!”
Hobbs stared at the screen, at the dreadnought that was coming at them hard. Every strategy that he knew all said that the dreadnought should be slowing down, that the Turian’s established defensive net would keep it hemmed in.
Well, that’s what the text books said, but Coleman Hobbs also had his little brother Reggie’s letters home. If nothing else, Reggie had been clear about one thing; his mission aboard the Normandy was going to rewrite a ton of the textbooks.
He spun around to his helmsman. “You heard the man!” he roared. “Pull us back! Get us out of here!”
The SSV Madrid swerved at the last minute and was thus spared the force of Sovereign bulldozing though the defensive grid. At his station, however, Xander still saw six ships being slapped aside like they were toys, a number of which promptly exploded. The few that survived Sovereign’s inexorable march were promptly cut to shreds by Geth ships, swarming like angry insects.
“Vigilance, pull back!” Xander bellowed. “Goddamnit, Goran, turn your ship! Use your armor plating, we can-” But he was interrupted by Geth ships surrounding the Vigilance, pounding it relentlessly.
The Turian cruiser’s kinetic barriers began shimmering in protest. There was only so much damage that a properly-aligned kinetic barrier was equipped to handle; so once it failed, hot plasma would begin eating away at the Vigilance’s hull. The deadly equation of internal systems damage plus hull breaches summed up to the eventual doom to the two hundred-plus souls serving aboard her right now; two hundred Turians who didn’t deserve to die because their commanding officer had been lured into the hubris of underestimating Saren’s viciousness by the Council’s arrogant complacency.
“Joker, you gotta get us over there!” Xander barked.
Beside him, Joker’s hands danced across his holographic op-panels, like a pianist at the keyboard of a Steinway. “I’m on it,” Joker snapped, promptly banking the Normandy hard. The look of intense concentration on his face reminded Xander of another member of his adopted family. Hell, Oz and Joker even looked exactly alike as they played their chosen instrument.
Garrus’ voice issued over the com system, using an external channel to the Vigilance. “Goran, come around to three-two-two, that should allow the Normandy to-” but he was interrupted by a Geth ship firing an explosive slug that caused a glancing blow to the Vigilance. The comline was cut off, and lightning danced down the side of the Turian cruiser’s armor.
Joker made the Normandy slide effortlessly around the attacking Geth ship before seeming to stop and turn on a dime, swinging the whole ship. Then the prototype stealth frigate came screaming back around, coming in from behind the Geth ships that were raining blue plasma down upon the hull of the Vigilance.
“Garrus, buddy, I’m giving you fire control,” Joker said. “Bring the hurt.”
“Consider it brought,” Garrus snarled as he pressed several keys on the interface board. The Normandy shuddered as its mass accelerator spit out a charged bolt that slammed into the Geth ship, shearing it in half. Two more Geth ships died, ripping themselves apart as the Vigilance launched disruptor torpedoes that tore into their armored flesh and balls of fire to blossom as internal explosions consumed their vaguely-insectoid shapes.
“Another one on our ass!” Xander reported out loud.
“Can you take it, Xander?” Garrus shouted, the tactical system still resetting after his brutal assault on it.
“Bringing GARDIAN arrays online!” Xander answered. “I love big guns, and I cannot lie! You other brothers might deny…” he sang happily, and off-tune, as laser fire burned across the hull of the pursuing Dropship. Joker winced as his immortal, and apparently tone-deaf, co-pilot happily mauled the lyrics of a classic song to death. Cousin Daniel would be spinning in his grave.
The Geth ship’s hull exploded as the laser bursts danced into it. But even as it died, the ship launched several metallic disruptor torpedoes, each of them capable of punching a hole right though the stealth vehicle’s hull.
But the Geth were up against Sunnydale High’s King of Missile Command. Xander’s gamer pride would not allow him to lose to the Geth, especially now that he was essentially playing the game in real life. The GARDIAN lasers skidded over each torpedo, igniting them long before any of them could reach the Normandy’s skin.
“Vigilance, you’re clear,” Garrus barked into the external com. “I say again, you’re clear!” When he received no answer, the former detective shouted, “Damn it all, Goran, come on! Talk to me!”
Another, somewhat lighter, voice came over the line. “Vakarian? Spirits be praised, it is you!”
Now that was a voice that he could never forget. “Arianna?” Garrus sputtered. “What are you doing aboard the Vigilance?”
“Same thing I’m always trying to do; prove to everyone that I’m better then the great Garrus Vakarian,” she said scornfully. “I thought that I had the advantage when you decided to be a cop. Then you went and joined the most famous human in the galaxy! You always were an attention-seeking-” an explosion cut her off.
“Ari, is Goran-”
“...dead. A plasma conduit blew the command podium,” Arianna replied. “So I’m in charge now. Whatever you and those humans are trying to do, you’ve got my support.”
The com signal cut out as the Vigilance swerved away.
Xander leaned back in his seat. “So, Ari… ex-girlfriend of yours, Garrus?” he asked.
“That would imply that we dated.” Garrus deadpanned over the internal com. “We kinda skipped the dating part of the dating, and went straight to the fun stuff. “
“Really? How’d you manage to pull that one off?” Xander was intrigued in spite
“Nine rounds of full-contact sparring.” The rogue Turian sounded immensely proud of himself.
“Nine rounds?” Joker snorted. “You’re kidding.”
“I had reach, but she had flexibility.” Garrus explained.
“So, how exactly did you go from fighting her to... well, not fighting her?” Xander asked delicately.
“That would be because of Round Ten,” Garrus explained. “Held in her quarters afterwards. Again, I had reach, but she had flexibility.”
Xander shook his head. “It’s ALWAYS the quiet ones. Always.”
“She’s not THAT quiet,” Garrus replied, sounding confused.
“I wasn’t talking about HER, Garrus.” Xander deadpanned.
They were interrupted by the sight of the Citadel Wards closing in around the giant dreadnought Sovereign.
“The Wards are closing in!” Joker reported through the internal coms.
“What the Hell just happened, Garrus?” Xander asked.
“Emergency protocol; if the station is ever attacked, it can seal itself in for ease of defense,” the former C-Sec agent explained. “Of course, the attacker isn’t supposed to be INSIDE the arms when they close.”
“Saren...” Xander breathed. “Boss-lady hasn’t reached him yet, then.”
“We’ve got an assload of Geth out here, Xander,” Joker lamented. “...and there’s gonna be even more inside!”
“Maybe we can get a message to C-Sec, and tell ‘em to be on the lookout.” Xander mused.
“Naw, C-Sec will have its hands full just keeping the civilian population alive,” Garrus instantly debunked Xander’s nascent idea. “Shepard wont’ get any help from Pallin or Chellick, assuming that any of them are still alive. “
“Goddamn Geth,” Joker cursed. “...you’d think that the Quarians would’ve thought to install a freakin’ off-switch or something.”
Xander’s eyes widened as he realized something. “An off switch... Joker, you’re a genius!” Then he unstrapped himself from the chair of his console and ran towards the elevator.
“Where the Hell are you going, Xander?” Joker yelled, having heard the distinct clicking sound of an unbuckling seat belt.
“I’m gonna find you that off-switch! Keep an open comm channel. Tell Tali that I’m on my way down to Engineering and get my workstation all heated up and ready!”
Garrus watched him run toward the back of the CIC and the elevators below. Turning back to Joker, he wondered aloud, “Do you think that he can pull it off?”
“If we get out of this alive, remind me to let you read some old family journals,” Joker replied. “According to an ancestral cousin of mine, these are the moments when Xander’s at his best.”
The Ground Team fought through a wave after wave of Geth. As one fell, two more would rise up, and as they were put down, a Krogan would appear to seal the breach in the wall of cannon fodder that Saren had set up in order to keep them distracted long enough for him to finish his Hellish task.
“This is getting us nowhere fast! We have to get to Saren!” Shepard shouted as she blasted several more Geth apart.
“No, YOU need to get to Saren!” Wrex snarled. “WE can hold them here!”
“Wrex is right, ma’am!” Ashley added, shouting above the gunfire. “This is a natural choke point! You flank them while we draw their fire, and you should be able to reach Saren!”
Shepard grimaced. She hated the idea of leaving them behind, but stopping Saren had to be their highest priority; stopping the renegade Turian by any means necessary.
Shepard looked at Liara, who gazed back at her with worry in her blue eyes. “Come back to me,” the young Asari whispered. “THAT is a direct order.”
“Ah-ffirmitive,” Shepard whispered, giving her girlfriend’s hand a squeeze before heading off to the right.
With her departure, the rest of the Ground Team redoubled their fire. They did anything and everything that they could try and distract the Geth. Meanwhile, Shepard was now using the many chamber pillars of the Council Chambers as both cover and shield.
Finally reaching the main staircase leading up to the Master Control Unit, Shepard steeled herself for the final confrontation. But, of all the scenarios that Shepard had planned for confronting Saren for the last time... the one that took up the least room in her head was the whole ‘he’s ignoring me because he’s talking to himself’ shtick.
Running up the stairs of the Council Chambers, only to find him staring at the Master Control Unit, was something that left her stunned and uncertain. The instrument in question was a wide holographic display that sat near the dais from which the Council presided over galactic affairs.
The placement was obvious; the means to usher in the galaxy’s doom was sitting near the seat of galactic power.
The Turian was looking at what he was doing... no, he was staring fixedly at his hand and whispering to himself. Had he been there, Xander would’ve told her that Saren was speaking in a dialect that was native to the Turian homeworld of Palaven.
“You can’t shut him out anymore, can you?” she said from behind him.
Saren glanced up at her and then laughed uncharacteristically before looking away. “Shut it out?” he drawled inquisitively. “Shepard, shutting it out stopped being an option a long time ago.”
“You know exactly what’s happening to you.” Shepard said calmly. “Xander told me about Desolas. I gotta say…” she mused aloud, shrugging noncommittally. “…if I’d been in your place, I would’ve done the exact same thing.”
Huddled over and shuddering, Saren now reminded Shepard of Fai-Dan. But the tiny swell of pity that filled her was instantly drowned out by the knowledge that this whole spectacle was his doing.
Fai-Dan had been an innocent victim.
Saren had parted ways with innocence a long time ago.
He was looking at her. “You think it’s so easy, don’t you?” the rogue Turian sneered. “You can’t imagine what it’s like, Shepard. Every fear, every hatred, every love... and the voice seeps in and twists it all.”
She frowned at the implications as he kept on talking. “I thought that Desolas was weak, but weakness or strength is irrelevant.” The bitterness of that realization made Shepard try something different, for the first time in years.
“Saren, listen to me,” she tried to reason with him. “It’s not too late. Let me open the Relays, we can still beat him.”
Saren brought up a Geth pulse rifle, pointing it at her. “NO, WE CAN’T!” he roared. “He won’t let US do anything! I thought that I could block it out, to find a way to control it!” Then he brought up his other hand, locking it around his gun hand and dragging it away from her.
Could this broken puppet, barely in control of his own body, really be the same person whose taunts and viciousness had lead her down the road to this moment? From the way he was acting, Saren hadn’t been in full control of his own flesh. Not for a long time, apparently…
“How in Hell did you let it get this far?” she demanded.
Saren struggled visibly, his voice straining with effort. “I... let... implant.” Thus, all of the blocks suddenly fell into place.
“You let Sovereign implant you,” she deadpanned in disbelief. “I’d ask if you were insane, but I’d say THAT’S painfully obvious. Don’t you see that he’s controlling you through the implants? Indoctrinating you wasn’t enough, he had to make you a damn puppet!”
“Submission... or extinction...” the Turian panted, now openly wrestling with his gun hand. “Only... choice...”
“You don’t get to lie to yourself anymore,” she snarled. “You could’ve fought, you could’ve resisted! You could’ve nuked the goddamn thing the second you found it!”
“P-p... power... promised... power...” Saren grunted, slamming his rogue hand against the floor in an attempt to get it to relinquish his weapon.
“You saw what that artifact did to your brother AND to those other people!” she snarled. “You can’t sit there and tell me that you really believed that you’d be stronger, can you?!?”
But looking at Saren, she realized that he had made that exact assumption; he’d thought that his brother was weak to have fallen to the Reaper artifact’s machinations, and that tiny thread of arrogance was what Sovereign had pulled on in order to unravel him into this broken-down... thing.
He struggled to his feet and lurched towards the Master Control Unit. He seemed surprised that he could still move.
So Shepard was shocked when Saren jammed his gun against his own kneecap and pulled the trigger. The bark of the pistol filled the air and he collapsed beneath the Master Control Unit with a howl of pain.
“I...! AM...! Stronger!” he roared, almost incoherent in his agony.
“Then prove it,” Shepard sneered. “We both know that Sovereign can still work you like a puppet, as long as that crap is inside you.”
With those words, Saren dragged the barrel of the gun to his own head.
“No, Shepard...” he rasped, wheezing from the pain of his shot kneecap. “I’ll be... his puppet... long after... I’m dead... but... it’ll be... the p-puppet... that you’ll kill.”
The bark of the pistol shattered the chamber’s deathly silence, as Saren blew his own brains out. His body fell from the dais, through a glass enclosure into a garden below, and experienced a fresh postmortem impalement on a large piece of glass.
Shepard walked up to the edge of the platform from where Saren had fallen. Looking down, she saw the rogue Turian’s body sprawled on a grassy hill, impaled on a giant shard of glass.
Liara ran up to her, followed by Ashley, who had Wrex still leaning on her. The old Krogan looked pretty beat-up, having absorbed a lot of gunfire, but he still managed a sneer. “Took you long enough, Shepard,” he rumbled.
“Ashley, if the great battlemaster can do without you for a few minutes, I don’t suppose you could run down there and make sure that’s bastard dead?”
“With pleasure, ma’am.” Ashley said, running off. Liara followed her, wanting her own sense of closure.
Dropping down to the garden, with Liara following close behind her, she looked around briefly before noticing its new decoration. Above her, Shepard called down to her, asking out loud, “Chief, how’s it feel to be the winner?”
Ashley looked up at her CO before walking over to the Saren’s body, firing two shots into his skull. “For Kaidan... for Hobbs...” she whispered.
She turned back to Shepard. “Winning feels good, ma’am,” she called back. “I think that I’m starting to like winning.”
“I like winning too, Williams,” Shepard saluted the Gunnery Chief irreverently. “I like winning a lot.”
Wrex joined her at the Master Control Unit. “You got control of the station yet, Battlemaster?”
“I got full control,” Shepard nodded. “I’m opening the arms of the station and the com relays.”
But as soon the com relays opened, the sounds of battle could be heard from outside, mostly as explosions.
“Is anyone out there?!?” a female voice shouted desperately. “This is the Destiny Ascension! We’re under heavy fire and requesting immediate assistance! Main drives are offline! Kinetic barriers, down to forty percent! Suffering multiple hull breaches on all decks! The Council is aboard, I repeat, the Council is on board!”
Then she heard something that simultaneously chilled her and thrilled her; Joker replying, “Destiny Ascension, this is SSV Normandy! Standby, we’re on our way!”
“What the Hell!?!”
“What the Hell’s taking Shepard so long?” Garrus groaned as the Normandy shuddered around him.
“I’m starting to wonder about that myself.” Joker snapped as he dodged another
“Could she still be alive?” Pressly wondered, from his command post in near the Galaxy Map.
“She’s alive,” Xander said, over the com from where he was currently down in Engineering. “I’d bet against God before I’d bet against that woman; she’s alive.” The confidence in his voice was infectious.
Garrus nodded as he focused fire on another Geth dropship.
Then a call came in. “Is anyone out there?!?” a female voice shouted desperately. “This is the Destiny Ascension! We’re under heavy fire and requesting immediate assistance! Main drives are offline! Kinetic barriers, down to forty percent! Suffering multiple hull breaches on all decks! The Council is aboard, I repeat, the Council is on board!”
Those last words chilled his fringe. Torn between his loyalty to his new friends and his cultural loyalty to the Citadel, Garrus asked, “What do we do?”
“What we get paid to do, Garrus,” Joker said grimly. “Kill the bad guys and save the day.”
He leaned over and opened a channel. “Destiny Ascension, this is SSV Normandy!
Standby, we’re on our way!”
Suddenly the comlink buzzed and Shepard’s voice… Shepard’s very, very angry-sounding voice, came out over the comm. Joker was suddenly grateful that he had a few hundred miles of airless void between himself and his commander. That thought was quickly followed by the realization that Shepard was eventually going to come back aboard and that he couldn’t move very fast.
“Normandy, this is Ground Team!” Shepard shouted, shock and disbelief and not a bit of anger in her voice. “What the Hell are you guys doing out there?!?”
“Shepard! Thank God!” Joker sounded very stressed. “Commander, it’s been absolute Hell out here!”
“Joker, you’re supposed to be in the Andura Sector with the rest of the Arcturus fleet!” Shepard was almost shrieking at this point.
“Hi, boss,” Xander cut in, and it all suddenly fell into place. “How you doin’ down there?” The nonchalance in his voice didn’t conceal the stress that he had to be feeling, but it only managed to piss her off even further.
“Xander, what the Hell is MY ship doing in a middle of a Geth invasion with no backup from the Fifth Fleet?!?” she roared.
“We had some transportation issues from Ilos!” he snapped back, instantly sobering her.
On her side of their conversation, Shepard was forced to acknowledge Xander’s irritation. If Sovereign could lock out the Relay at the Citadel, then he’d probably done so at the Pangaea Expanse as well.
His next words, however, perked her right back up. “But we still managed to send a signal off to Admiral Hackett, so if you could unlock the Relays, then the Fifth Fleet should show up with no problem!”
“I’m opening the Relays now!” Shepard barked decisively. “Make sure that the Destiny Ascension’s secure, before dealing with Sovereign!”
“We’re on that, boss, but what about Saren?”
“He’s having a bit of a lie-down right now, but we should have no further problems from him.”
Xander winced, he remembered all too well that tone of confidence after a big-bad went down. That was just before they got back up to come at you again, twice as hard. Still, there were some things that even the great Commander Shepard had to learn on her own.
The connection to Shepard abruptly cut off and Joker tried fruitlessly to restore it.
Then another channel came in. “Normandy, this is SSV Madrid!” Coleman Hobbs
shouted. “We’ve got your back!”
“Understood, Madrid!” Joker yelled back. “Run close-combat attack patterns! We’re gonna have to get eyeball-to-eyeball with these bastards!”
“Are you nuts, Normandy?!?” Hobbs squawked. “We won’t last long at that range!”
“You’ll last longer than our Turian friends did against Sovereign!” the brittle-boned pilot snapped. “They won’t fire on each other! So if you turn your armor-plated side to the vessels, you’ll have more of a fighting chance!”
All they had to do now was hold the line and wait.
The crew watched as the Citadel opened wide, revealing Sovereign clinging to the Citadel Tower like an obscene insect.
“Xander, whatever you’re going to do, I’d do it right the Hell now!” Joker shouted. “The Destiny Acension’s taking damage and Hackett’s forces will be flying into this furball in just a few seconds!”
Down in Engineering, Tali feverishly pored through the Geth system data with Xander next to her. Flicking through command strings, decades and even centuries old, searching for that one line that he seemed to be looking for.
“Xander, Geth can’t be hacked, not permanently,” Tali said, for what had to be the umpteenth time. “They restore themselves from archival copies within a few minutes.”
“That’s ‘cause when we hack ‘em, we’re introducing new data; junk data that the system auto-scrubs,” Xander quickly lectured. “What we’re looking for here? That’s archival commands; something the system won’t scrub because it’s buried so deeply in the system that it’ll be seen as a local command. The real trick will be to broadcast the signal so that every ship gets it, at the same time.”
Tali looked thoughtful. Then an idea hit her, and she perked up. “We could reflect it off the nebula’s cloud cover.”
“Sorry?” Xander asked.
“Xander, have you ever seen a sun in the Serpent Nebula yet? It’s always lit up, bright as day, around the Citadel,” Tali lectured, smiling at the opportunity to teach Xander something. “That’s because there’s subatomic particles, within in the nebula’s cloud cover that reflect the light of the Citadel back upon it. If we use the Normandy’s heat sinks to broadcast the signal, then the resulting wave will hit every Geth ship in the nebula all at once. None of them will have time to react to the shutdown command.”
“Tali, you’re a genius!” Xander declared as he began tapping away at his console. “I’ll start reprogramming the sink system, and you keep trying to find the archival command!” After getting to work, it only took a few minutes for Xander to do some quick and dirty jury-rigging with his omnitool and get the cobbled-together system finally working.
“You do realize that we’re going to burn out the entire IES stealth system by doing this, right?” Tali asked, rechecking her programming a final time.
“Well, if we burn it out, then maybe they’ll finally fix the heatsink system,” Xander said dismissively. “It’s like a Goddamn sauna in here every time we use it.”
Then Xander radioed up to the bridge, “Joker, tell everyone to batten down the hatches, ‘cuz we’re about to do something hideously stupid!”
“Go for it!” Joker insisted. “Admiral Hackett just showed up with the Fifth Fleet, and the Geth are already giving him a beating! We’ve already lost three... no, four ships!”
Xander nodded. “All right, here goes nothing! Tali, hit it!”
“Broadcasting signal!” Tali cried.
“Rerouting though the IES!” Xander reported.
Anyone watching the SSV Normandy would’ve seen an amazing sight; a shell of faintly-luminous energy blowing outwards from the stealth frigate’s hull. The signal spread out and out, impacting on the nebulous cloud cover reflecting back and forth among the clouds.
Suddenly, every single Geth ship stopped, dead in space. But it wasn’t just every Geth ship in the Serpent Nebula; no, all of the Geth troops on the Citadel suddenly stopped in their tracks, with the headlights on their heads darkening.
The drop in the sound of battle was dramatic.
“You guys did it!” Joker yelled. “You hacked the whole damn Geth Fleet!”
Xander and the Quarian whooped in glee as they hugged each other. Looking down at her, at where her eyes appeared to be, Xander shrugged before leaning in and kissing her faceplate. Then he flushed and said, “How’s about, we don’t mention I did that to Ash? I’d like to not be shot.”
“I think that I’d be in just as much trouble with the Chief, as you would be,” the feisty little Quarian quipped.
“I seriously doubt that, Tali,” Xander chuckled before pulling himself away, heading for CIC and leaving Tali behind in engineering.
Inexplicably, she reached up and touched the part of her face-mask that Xander had kissed. She could still see the impression that his lips had left on the mask’s visor, and felt a odd tingle run through her whole body. That tingle made her wonder if she’d accidentally downloaded that sense-stim application and had forgotten about it.
Aboard the Citadel, Durand and Anderson were standing back-to-back and fighting back wave after wave of Geth. Suddenly, a wave of energy swept their position and every one of the synthetics suddenly stopped dead in their tracks.
Buffy, surrounded by the remains of what looked like hundreds of destroyed Geth, reached out and pushed at the Juggernaut that she’d been dismembering. Its armless body fell over, without even a whine.
“Shepard did it.” Anderson whispered.
“We won?” Buffy asked. When Anderson nodded, she deadpanned, “Yay for us, then.” Sighing, her voice thick with exhaustion. It had been a long day for the ageless Slayer. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going up there. Little Miss Spectre might still need our help.”
One of Durand’s people offered up her helmet so that Buffy could seal and pressurize her own combat suit. The elevators were still locked down and, while the Geth were motionless, Saren’s indoctrinated Krogan were still a threat.
“We should be careful,” Durand muttered. “…and, Miss Summers, your speed and strength might make mêlée combat a viable option with the Geth. But the rulebook is clear; never try close-combat with a Krogan, because it’s suicide.”
A roar distracted them all. A single Krogan rose up from the debris that had knocked it unconscious. The mindless warrior charged the group, with Anderson and Durand pouring gunfire at its thick hide. Buffy whipped off her long coat, wrapping the heavy weighted garment around the charging Krogan’s head before she used her superior positioning to swing the Krogan around and slamming it headfirst into a wall. Bouncing clear as the indoctrinated beast staggered, Buffy balled up a dainty-looking fist and sent one of her stronger punches rocketing into the Krogan’s armored brow. The Krogan stared at her in confusion before its eyes rolled back and it fell to the ground, deadweight.
“No mêlée for a Krogan. That’s the rule, huh?” Buffy asked, ignoring the dumbfounded stares from both Anderson and Lieutenant Durand. “I’m not really a rules kind of girl, just so you know.” With that, she wandered toward the Citadel Tower.
Durand watched her leave, aghast. “I honestly don’t know if I wish that we had a few more like her running around, or if I’m grateful that she’s the only one.”
Andeson nodded. “Come on. I have every faith that Shepard’s still alive and kicking, and I intend to make sure that she stays that way.”
“I wonder what happened to Saren.” Durand mused.
“He’s having a bit of a lie-down right now, but we should have no further problems from him.”
It was as if the universe was listening, as a glow of crimson blossomed from beneath her. Shepard didn’t have time to notice how the com system cut out. She was too busy staring at the arcs of crimson lightning dancing across Saren’s body, as it began to convulse and spasm before hauling itself off of the ground.
Much of the flesh from Saren’s corpse had been flayed away by the crimson lightning, leaving behind a skeletal mechanical monstrosity that stumbled across the grass with its first steps. Ashley fired round after round at the grotesque cybernetic revenant as it lurched forward, claws springing from his hands and feet, and red lightning firing from the hollow spaces where its eyes should have been.
“I am… Sovereign!” the creature roared. “…and this station…is mine!” just before lashing out and hitting Ashley hard enough to send her flying into a nearby wall.
The station shuddered under some kind of impact, causing the platform above her to suddenly collapse and send both Wrex and Shepard falling into the garden below.
The Sovereign-Revenant picked up Liara and hurled her away, energy crackling around its fist as a powerful discharge blasted the four of them.
“Scatter! Don’t give him a single target!” Shepard snarled, rolling free and firing her assault rifle in order to try and keep the thing focused on her.
She was desperately trying to get Sovereign on her and forget about poor Liara, who was struggling to pull herself off the ground from where she’d been thrown.
Wrex roared as he charged the Sovereign-Revenant, but the cybernetic monstrosity picked him up in mid stride and hurled him into a pillar that collapsed under the force of the impact and his weight.
“Your extinction is inevitable.” Sovereign rumbled coolly. “Submit, and your species may yet prove itself… useful.” Shepard responded by shooting at him.
So Sovereign lurched over to her, dragging her from off the ground where she’d fallen and instead pinning her up against the wall.
“Death is the end.” Sovereign sneered as it leaned Saren’s skull into her personal space. “The cycle cannot be broken. Die now, or die another day, it matters not. Because you still die.”
“You... first,” she gurgled, jamming the barrel of her assault rifle against its body and pulling the trigger until the heat sink popped.
Screaming in frustration and rage, Shepard battered at the cybernetic revenant with the butt of her rifle. Inconceivably, the creature seemed affected by the blows, stumbling back.
As Sovereign dropped her and lurched away, Shepard suddenly realized something about its disorientation.
“It’s dividing attention between us and the Alliance fleet!” she shouted. “Hit it hard, and keep hitting it for as long as you can!”
Xander slid back into his seat next to Joker. “Any word from the Boss?” he asked.
“Other than the Relays opening, nothing.” Joker grunted. “It’s a bitch-and-a-half just trying to stay alive out here.”
“Garrus, give me the GARDIAN lasers again,” Xander said decisively. “You take the torpedoes and the main gun. Let’s see if we can’t take this bastard down.”
Without the Geth to run interference, Sovereign had the full might of the remaining Citadel fleets to face. But that prospect didn’t seem to distress the hulking monstrosity in the slightest. The huge dreadnought began extending its tentacles out to the side. A mighty spear of superheated metal, accelerated to a significant fraction of lightspeed, stabbed out and punched though the one of the attacking Alliance cruisers.
"My God " Pressley whispered, "That was the Jakarta ...after a single hit.“
"We gotta wear it down!” Xander swore, frustrated at the one-hit kill.
“Hit it all at once!” Garrus suggested. “Maybe we can short out its kinetic barriers!”
Hobbs came on the line. “I'm firing disruptor torpedoes. following that up with a combined attack might make a dent in this thing.”
The Madrid came about and fired a massive salvo at Sovereign. The disruptor torpedoes hit Sovereign’s kinetic barriers hard enough to make them seethe and pulse. Xander fired a salvo from the Normandy’s GARDIAN array, raking Sovereign’s hull where the Madrid’s attacks had landed. Sparks and tiny explosions across the vast expanse of its armor gave way to a sudden bout of hope. “We’re punching though it!” He yelled.
Suddenly he saw the Madrid surge forward. Alarmed, he shouted over the com, “Hobbs, pull back! You’re too-”
But his warning came too late. Sovereign lashed out and fired another of its hellish weapons, and the Madrid was skewered from stem to stern, with its bridge exploding in a bright flash of superheated gas.
“Hobbs!” Xander shouted futilely. “HOBBS!”
“Spirits guide them safely to your side.” Garrus whispered.
Joker dodged another blast from Soverign even the near-miss shorted out a bank of conduits and Joker cursed to see the GARDIAN lasers offline.
“Xander, we need the GARDIAN array back online!” Joker snapped.
The immortal Scooby just sat in the copilot seat, numb. That is, until Joker pressed a com button and caused an unholy squeal of feedback to echo. Snapping out of it, he looked over at the brittle-boned pilot, who snarled, “We’re still in it up to our asses, Xander! So if you don’t keep your head in the game, then we’re ALL gonna end up like Hobbs!”
Xander’s hands danced along his holodisplays. "Rerouting systems Xander replied, “...And we have GARDIAN’s back online,” He shouted triumphantly.
“Garrus, how we doing for loadout?” Joker asked.
“I think I’ve burned out a ton of conduits, but…” a quick scan of his display made the former C-Sec officer grin. “Yeah, I’ve still got full weapons.”
“Then let’s show this bastard how we do things in Citadel Space!” Joker growled.
Shepard stared up at the shattered ceiling. Weapons fire still roared around her as a shadowy figure moved into her view, its red eyes glowing with an ancient and terrible power.
“You have pretty eyes.” she whispered.
“Why do you struggle against the inevitable?” the revenant's voice echoed.
“That's who we are,” she muttered weakly. “That’s what we do.”
“The Turian fought,” Sovereign pointed out, sneering. “The Turian struggled, and what did it gain him in the end?”
Shepard snickered, and then started laughing maniacally. “We've already beaten you. We've already won.”
“I think not,” Sovereign said coldly. “Your civilizations will fall.”
Shepard decided to take a page out of Xander’s book and started taunting Sovereign. “You only got here because of Saren, an organic,” she hissed. “Your plans were beaten by the Prothean scientists who figured out your most guarded secrets and used them to fight you.”
The cybernetic revenant’s eyes seemed to… narrow, at her insinuations, but didn’t talk. “Right now an army, made up of four races that hate and distrust each other, have united in a common interest -- beating you.”
“We are beyond you. We are beyond everything. What can you do to challenge us?”
“You aren't beyond one thing…” Shepard said matter-of-fact, her lips curled back to reveal a death’s-head smile.
“Physics 101,” the Butcher of Torfan said flatly. “Did you know that everything in existence, including that body that you hijacked, has a freezing point?”
As Sovereign tried to ponder the apparent non-sequitur, Shepard shoved a cooked cryo-grenade inside the Ravenent-Saren's body before kicking away to roll across the grass.
The blast was small, but the effect was immediate. The revenants’ body was quickly coated in hoarfrost.
Liara screamed in defiance as she picked up a chunk of pillar with her biotics and then hurled it at the statue, even as the rest of the Ground Team began shooting the frozen effigy.
The revenant-statue exploded, and the surprisingly-intact head fell to the floor and rolled to a stop at Shepard's feet.
“The cycle… the cycle… ca- can- cannot b-be broken,” the ancient warship said haltingly. “We are coming.”
Shepard crushed Saren’s desiccated skull underfoot. “…and I'll be waiting.” she hissed.
Xander saw it first; the pulsing and seething of Sovereign's kinetic barrier dropping. He ran a quick scan to confirm.
“Holy Mother of God…” he managed. “…its barriers just went down! Bless you, boss!” Turning to the Normandy’s pilot, the immortal Scooby barked, “Joker, go!”
“Hard on my flank, people!” Joker shouted out loud.
Admiral Hackett’s rough voice snapped, “Hit Sovereign with everything we’ve got!” and the remainder of the Fifth Fleet began firing on the listing Reaper hulk. Meanwhile, Joker brought the Normandy around and made a dive for the dreadnought, hard and fast.
“Ahh, Joker? Aren’t we coming in a little hot?” Xander hissed.
“I thought you didn’t want to live forever,” Joker teased, a savage grin on his face. “Garrus, hit it hard, buddy!”
Garrus tapped several keys, and the Normandy emptied its ammunition reserves in short order. Every remaining disruptor torpedo and mass driver round were fired at Sovereign’s body as Joker pulled the ship out of a stomach-churning dive, actually outrunning Garrus’ shots as they impacted on the hull. Finally, the mass driver slug slammed straight through the listing warship. Xander couldn’t help but think that Sovereign had been staked, and he watched as follow-up hits, from the remainder of the Fifth Fleet and even the Vigilance, perforated the ancient ship’s hull and caused a huge explosion, with pieces arcing off in all directions.
As the crew of the Normandy began whooping and cheering in celebration, Xander simply keyed open a new com-channel. “Hey, boss, are you seeing this?” he laughed. “We just laid a HUGE beatdown on that prehistoric son-of-a-bitch.”
Xander blood then ran cold as he watched one of the huge chunks, from the destroyed Reaper, slam into the very top of the Citadel Tower and into the Council chambers.
“Shepard… come in, Shepard…” at this point, both Joker and Garrus had caught the urgency of his words and were now looking concerned. “C’mon, boss, quit screwing around.”
But there was no response.
Xander swore in ancient Sumerian before turning to Joker and saying, “Get us down there, Joker! Get us down there yesterday!”