UNC: Missing Marines
AN - Thanks to Reikson for the help and advice
The Mako fell through the skies of Edolus, a mere hundred meters above the ground the tank's jump jets flared bright as the vehicle hit the ground with a soft bounce.
"I gotta say Harris you do one hell of a MAKO drop. This tech I trained with at Fort Charles, I'd swear he did more damage to anyone unlucky enough to be doing a suborbital drop with him then he ever did in combat." Williams commented.
"It's all in the timing Chief," Xander replied, "you go full burn just before you hit ground and the MEF Generator lets you soft-land this sucker."
"Triangulating that Alliance signal," Shepard said as she looked at the on board scanner map.
"Where we going Boss?" Xander asked
"Big open area, should be about two kliks from the drop site." Shepard pointed at the screen.
"Then away we go." Xander opened the throttle and let the Mako leap ahead. The vehicle bounced over rock and hills with Xander giving the occasional rebel yell as the tank cleared a rise, catching air before landing on the soft sand of a big open patch of land.
"That's our target," Shepard pointed at the still smoldering hulk of a M29 Grizzly. Xander slowed the Mako to a stop next to the Mako's squat all-terrain vehicle bastard cousin. As the squad climbed from the Mako, Xander saw bodies laying around They were dressed in the drab colors of the Systems Alliance.
"I recognize this unit patch." Ashley said quietly, "These were Kahoku's men."
"What the hell were they doing way out here?" Xander asked as he ran his hands over the beacon sitting unattended.
"There's the beacon," Shepard wondered."...but what happened to them?"
Xander wandered over to the Grizzly. His fingers trailed over the pitted and scarred hull. Suddenly it came to him, he bent to look closer. The scarring on the Grizzly's armor, it sparked a memory, screams in the dark, men and women running for their lives and the monstrous shapes dragging men to their deaths underground or watching them scream, as powerful acid ate it's way past kinetic barriers and the armor underneath.
Harris bent to look at the bodies, their hardsuits were riddled with holes, the kind of damage Xander remembered all too well. Xander dropped to the ground. his fingers brushed earth at his feet. he felt the pulsing, that oh so familiar pulsing, Xander's blood ran cold.
"We have to leave , we have to leave right now." Xander snapped
"We haven't finished investigating." Shepard replied.
"We don't need to investigate, I know what happened - they landed near the beacon, just like we did. They got out to investigate it, just like we did. ... and just like before, THEY were waiting."
"Who was waiting," Shepard asked him. "What are you talking about Harris?"
Suddenly a mind-numbing roar shook them to the bone. The ground several meters away churned and exploded as a huge worm tore itself free of the earth.
"Thresher Maw!" Xander yelled.
"Get to the Mako!" Shepard shouted. They fled for the safety of the M35. Xander gunned the engine into life, spinning the thing around and heading for a rocky out cropping that formed a kind of perimeter for the plain.
The Thresher Maw retreated underground. So rapid and complete was it's disappearance that no trace seemed left of the grotesque hulk.
It's gone," Ashley sighed
"That's what it likes you to think." Xander growled. He floored it, driving the tank across the plain so fast the vehicle would catch air from even the smallest deviations in the terrain. Xander suddenly felt a sicking vibration swelling under his feet. He cranked the stick over hard, weaving the tank away from his course only a split-second before the Thresher Maw tore its way out of the ground in their path.
So close was the creature to them that the Thresher struck out with its huge talons. The reinforced hull clanged loudly as the single claw struck the tank a glancing blow. The tank bounced as it was thrown through the air, rolling and bouncing across the plain several times before landing on its top, wheels spinning.
Xander could see the creature drop into the ground and reappear close by, its huge bulk reared back as it claws came swinging down toward the helpless vehicle. Xander gunned the jump-jets hard and the Mako slid across the sand until its gyro-stabilizer system kicked in and the vehicle flipped over to land on its wheels.
Xander reversed but everyone was jolted hard when the Mako hit an obstacle - the stationary Grizzly. He gunned the engine, in theory the tank should have been able to easily scale the junked vehicle behind but the facts were cripplingly clear. the Grizzly wasn't going anywhere, the Mako could get no purchase in the soft and shifting sand, and if he didn't do something in seconds they'd be dead.
"All wheel drive my bony ASS." Xander cursed, as he opened the throttle, the Mako jolted forward toward the Thresher Maw. the creature roared in joy as they drew closer and reared back. Its head snapped forward and Xander saw the thick gooey mass of greenish liquid sail through the air toward them but Xander veered away and the tank slid out of the path of the viscous goo the creature spit at them. Harris spun the vehicle around then stopped.
"What are you doing?" Williams snapped
"It can track us and pop up underneath us anywhere we go in the area." He gunned the jump jets to avoid another splashing by the acidic goo the Thresher maw used. "... but It won't go underground as long as we stay here."
"Great so if we're sitting ducks it will be happy." Ashley snapped as she grabbed the gunnery position firing the mounted chaingun right down the Thresher Maw's huge mouth until the weapon would overheat, then she'd switch to firing blasts from the mass accelerator cannon, hardened slugs exploded with great force across the thick hide of the monster.
Shepard however knew and understood what was in Xander's mind "You sure about this Sailor, absolutely sure?" She asked quietly.
Xander answered her by scrambling away from the controls. "Grab those jump jet controls Boss, see that big sack near its mouth, when you see it contract its about toe spit hit the jets and we should be fine. Can I borrow that sniper rifle?"
Shepard nodded and handed him her Volkov. "Williams keep firing, aim for the head." Shepard ordered.
Xander kicked open the entry door hopping out the side.
Williams screamed, "Now where the hell do you think you're going?"
Xander didn't answer, just walked a short distance from the Mako.
Ashley shouted at Shepard who shook her head "It's fine Williams, just think of it as confrontation therapy." The commander said and pointed.
Xander lined up the sniper rifle, through the scope he could look right into the things face, "From Hell's heart I stab at thee." he whispered and squeezed the trigger. The shot exploded in the maw's face and the creature let out a final wail before crashing to the ground.
Ashley stopped her assault but Xander just approached the thing closer while wrenching the slide on the weapon, a blast of steam bathing his face as he flushed the heat sink.
He stared at the creature for a long time. Memories of his old squad ran through his head. That night on Akuze. The long days afterward surviving, waiting for rescue and wondering if this was the universes big joke, that he'd survived vampires, demons and Hell Gods just to rot here on this lonely patch of ground surrounded by the accusing eyes of the dead. "Why did it have to be you," they screamed, "Why not Faith or Buffy, Buffy would have saved us."
He aimed again, "For hate's sake, " Xander whispered, "I spit my last breath at thee. " The explosive shell boomed and the carcass of the maw shuddered but stayed where it was, its huge talons anchoring its dead weight above ground.
Xander wrenched the slide again obviously bent on firing at the carcass again and again. As if by obliteration of the body he could purge the memories it conjured. Suddenly Shepard's hand was there, the gentle weight of her hand riding the sniper rifle away from his face.
"... He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it." She whispered gently as she took the Sniper rifle in her stronger grip. Xander released the weapon. "How long you been carrying that around inside you?" She asked.
"I wasn't even supposed to be there you know," Xander explained, "One of the other guys in the unit, his wife went into labour so I subbed in for him. Traded away my leave so he could watch his wife squeeze out another unit. I figured, what could go wrong, its just their communication systems down, we get down there and it will be fine - what could take out an entire colony so fast no one has a chance to signal or call for help? - Guess I forgot, I'm Xander Harris - Universal Butt Monkey."
"You OK?" Shepard asked
"Yeah, feel good, better then, actually." Xander said quietly. He moved forward pulling his service knife from his belt and cutting into the flesh securing the blotted acid sac to the body of the thing.
"What are you doing, now you want a trophy?" Ashley asked
"It's for Wrex. Bringing down a Thresher Maw was considered a sign of great virility even before the genophage."
"Krogan would willingly try and fight these things?" Ashley didn't know whether that news scared or amazed her.
"Some people are a little easier to impress then you are Chief." Xander mocked gently, "anyway we should tell Kahoku we found his Marine unit."
"An Alliance beacon used as bait, to trap a marine unit in a thresher maw nest " Shepard muttered
"A marine unit scouting the system for clues about a possible Alliance black op." Xander reminded her.
"Come on," Shepard growled, "we should get back to the our ship Joker can get us back to The Citadel and we can get some answers about what's going on."
"Neat, " Xander replied, "Hey maybe creepy stalker guy will be there. Conrad whatshisname. "
Xander had aquired a new and much resented ability to imitate the star struck Conrad Verner, he would often slip into the mans voice, "No one will believe i met the beautiful Commander Shepard unless I have a picture." Xander mocked.
Shepard looked at Xander balefully, "Don't start Harris or I swear to God..."
Xander held up his hands to forestall her explosion, She shook her head and smiled. They headed back toward the Mako.
Shepard laid her hand on Harris shoulder. "You did good, Kahoku's men will rest easier now."
"They won't be the only ones." Xander answered.
"Is that the first time you've seen one since..." Shepard trailed off. her meaning clear.
Xander nodded, "Don't worry about me Commander, I know how Moby Dick ends ... I ain't ending up like Ahab it's just ..."
"I know," Shepard smiled "it's good knowing what kind of man I have watching my back in combat. and obsession can be healthy in low doses."
"Should I get you two a room" Williams muttered.
Shepard flipped Ashley off .
"Now Commander," Xander joked. "that is so not very lady-like."
"...and when exactly did I leave you with the impression that I was a lady." Shepard sneered.
Williams climbed back in the Mako and tried hard not to think about the flare of jealousy that had blossomed when Shepard and Xander were bantering. The Commander was spending way too much time with the Asari for it not to be obvious which team SHE played for, so Ashley figured she needn't be that worried about Shepard and Xander logging bunk-time ... still, just for a second, she'd been feeling almost ...territorial.
Hours later Shepard was prowling the CIC when she saw an environmental alert pinging. she tapped the tech who was at the console. he gulped under her stern look.
"Ma'am, Technical Sargent Harris said the internal systems were malfunctioning and that it might give false readings. He said he'd check any alerts out personally.
"Oh he did, did he?" Shepard growled.
Shepard headed down to the cargo hold and sure enough Xander and Wrex were sitting over a field burner the cargo hold was filled with a rancid stench whose only source could be the thresher meat cooking on the burner.
"Would one of you idiots like to tell me who gave you permission to start a fire on my ship." Shepard snapped.
"Shepard, You had a Thresher Hunt and didn't invite me? I'm hurt, figuratively speaking." Wrex replied, His voice had that thick quality that, along with the open bottle of ryncol, The Krogan liquor of choice , next to him meant he was drunk or pretty damn close to it.
"Don't look at me," Xander explained, "I just gave him the meat, then he said I had to stay while he cooked it up then I had to join him I hate thresher meat and I not a big drinker but I figured it would be rude to just leave and ... I'm going to be on extra duties aren't I?"
"I seem to recall someone putting in for extra manpower so Adams could recalibrate the engine conduits ...i think you can handle that on your own now. And it you disable internal security again I'll shove your ass in an airlock. .. Now open Williams locker I know she's hiding some booze and I am not drinking alone Harris so suck it up."
The three of them toasted the fallen on Edolus , then they drank a toast to Xander's unit on Akuze and then Wrex felt Xander and Shepard needed to hear about his most epic battle, the one that had ended with the death of Wrex's father after the old Krogan had tried to kill him. After that, Xander felt a another round needed drinking because ... if there was one thing he understood, it was the pain of your father letting you down.