Dossier: Engineer (2)
AN-- much thanks to Reikson and Drakependragon for their invaluable assistance and support
“Well, Mister Harris, what do YOU think?”
Xander could hear the implied challenge in Miranda Lawson’s haughty voice. Times like these, she reminded him way too much of Cordelia Chase; both as Sunnydale’s Queen Bitch and as his first-ever girlfriend.
“…that we’re screwed with a capital S?” he replied urbanely.
“Shepard’s field reports during your hunt for Saren suggest you have quite the eye for tactics and logistical thinking.”
Miranda Lawson was smart, almost supernaturally smart. Xander doubted Harper would’ve given her Cerberus’ credit card and carte-blanche to save the damn galaxy if she wasn’t carting some serious brains and skills around underneath the fitted catsuits that she favored over any other type of clothing.
And yet, despite the genetically-engineered woman’s genius or maybe BECAUSE
of it, the ongoing mystery of Xander Harris clearly annoyed her.
“The boss and I spilled a lot of blood in the same mud,” he said neutrally. “She likes that I can think on my feet.”
He could tell Miranda wasn’t buying his evasiveness.
Lawson was reading him, or trying to, at any rate. “The Illusive Man thinks highly of your abilities as well,” she said. “He doesn’t talk about anyone else the way he does about you.”
“…and you want to know why, don’t you?” he sighed.
“Did you know that there’s virtually no record of your activities prior to Akuze?” the genetically-engineered woman challenged. “There’s a cursory notation of you being reactivated. There’s no mention of your training, or the officers who taught you.”
Xander smirked slightly. “I spent some time on a construction crew run by General Williams after he left the military.”
“Yes, his glowing recommendation is one of the few concrete things in your file. There’s a mention of your birthplace…”
“I grew up near Lake Sunnydale.”
“I’ve seen photographs of a small off-the-grid community near there. The fact that they don’t keep records that can be accessed via the extranet is rather convenient.”
“…and, they don’t trust outsiders,” Xander added.
“Your educational test scores are exceptional, but I can’t find a single teacher who even remembers having you in their class.”
“I studied from home, just like Shepard did,” he shrugged. “Took all my tests and filed assignments over the extranet.”
“I know. All of the documentation’s online. Nice, neat, polished; the kind of exacting detail that I insist on when Cerberus is creating an identity for me.”
“So you think I’m more then I seem to be?” Xander’s tone was deliberately neutral.
“I KNOW that there’s much more to you than meets the eye, Mister Harris. You and Shepard are… hiding something. Whatever it is, the Illusive Man knows about it as well.”
“Well, if TIMMY knows about it, then why worry?” he shrugged.
“Because this mission’s success, or failure, rides on me,” she snapped, getting in his face. “I won’t allow anything or anyone to distract Shepard from her task.”
Xander had talked enough with Shepard and Jacob that he’d heard the story of their escape from Lazarus Base. More importantly, he’d heard about how Miranda had dealt with a traitor, one Doctor Wilson, after the Project Lazarus security mechs killed almost everyone there. He had no illusions that if she’d do something similar if she ever got it into her head that HE was some kind of threat.
Their mission was too important for its tactical specialist to get sidetracked by trying to solve the problem of how to kill someone who couldn’t die, especially since he had every reason to think she just might find a way to accomplish that goal.
So the immortal Scooby tried to ignore her searching and analytical stare while focusing on the Geth troops ahead.
“Let’s see, we’ve got Primes with those little flying drone-things, a bunch of troopers with a couple of new models that I’ve never seen before, though it looks like they carry a really cool shotgun.”
Turning back to her, he deadpanned, “Why, what do you see?”
Lawson smirked triumphantly as she tapped the side of her yellow-colored headset.
Xander knew for a fact that, while her headgear looked like simple sunglasses, her eyewear was an augmented-reality rig that cost a small fortune and came with vision-enhancement features that allowed its wearer a wide range of advanced heads-up display options.
“Not bad, Mister Harris,” she nodded. “…but the new models, that you couldn’t identify, are outfitted with cloaking tech. Very cutting edge; we’ll have to be alert for any kind of flanking maneuvers from them.”
Miranda paused and Xander could sense she was waiting for him to say something.
Explosions could be heard off in the distance.
Xander watched as a Geth Dropship soared overhead heading toward where Shepard’s team was cutting a swath of destruction through the Geth’s lines.
Apparently, the Geth were taking the tempting bait being offered and were responding in force.
The Geth units ahead of them even reacted, moving towards the battle apparently in progress and leaving what seemed to be only a token force behind.
“It would appear that Shepard’s team has drawn the Geth’s attention,” Thane observed.
“Boss does like to make an impression wherever she goes,” Xander grinned.
“Then it’s up to us to take advantage of the situation,” Miranda nodded. “Now how do we take those Geth down?”
He already had an idea on how to deal with the units, but reminded once again of his acid-tongued ex-girlfriend and how insanely competitive she could be; Xander decided a favorite Cordy tactic might prove useful.
Deferring to Lawson might go a long way towards reassuring her that she was still the smartest person in the room.
“Well, I’m up for any plan that’s a good one,” he shrugged. “How do we play this, Lawson?”
Miranda smiled, obviously pleased that he was letting her take the lead.
“We have experts in tech and biotics. Between us, we should be able to make short work of those units ahead of us?”
“Still too many for a simple sabotage or overload charge, but if Kasumi and I cut their shields, then you, Jack and Thane can lay some biotic beatdown,” he mused, turning to Kasumi. “Hey, Kasumi, you got any of those cool flashbangs?”
“Not enough for all those troops. What about that heavy weapon you used on Omega?” Kasumi whispered.
“The Arc Projector?” he grimaced. “I gave that to Shepard.”
Miranda frowned. “Someday, I trust that you’ll tell me how you managed to get your hands on a prototype Cerberus weapon.”
“Well, you know how it is, Lawson,” Xander smiled slightly. “Sometimes… you’re just wandering around and you stumble across the oddest of things.”
“Mm-hmm,” Kasumi nodded. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just stumbled into a secured and closed Cerberus facility. The things those guys just leave lying around. Data logs, cutting-edge technology… credits.”
“I’ve had… similar experiences,” Thane smiled wryly. “I find it oddly cheering to be amongst those who understand the strange paths that life can take.”
“All right, enough!” Miranda sighed. “I guess I’m probably lucky; most of this team wouldn’t even be ON Cerberus’ radar for this mission if it weren’t for your… many actions against us.”
Jack snorted, crossing her arms and pouting.
“Well, Jack’s getting bored,” Xander popped his neck. “Up and at ‘em, Kasumi. The badass biotic’s ready to rock and roll.”
Kasumi and Xander directed their omni-tools toward the Geth squadron below them, each of them firing off a massive electrical charge that made the platforms below convulse.
The Geth reacted to their kinetic barriers dropping by opening fire at them, even before the whole charge finally grounded itself.
Miranda opened fire with her Tempest, its loud rattle almost deafening.
Kasumi also let loose with her much-quieter Locust.
Between the two of them, they managed to turn a single platform into a chunk of scrap.
A Geth with a large tank its back opened fire with its own weapon. A thick stream of flame vomited forth and seared the air scattering the squad as the Geth Destroyer sought to roast them alive.
“Take cover!” Miranda yelled, diving for shelter as the Destroyer spun to unleash a blast of flame in her direction. Xander heard her kinetic barriers crackle and spark, defenses withering under the Destroyer’s attack.
The unit began advancing quickly as its weapon continued belching fire.
“A flamethrower?!?” Xander yelled, from where he was crouched behind a wall. “Whose bright idea was it to start giving the Geth some goddamn flamethrowers?!?”
A long time ago, Xander had assembled a fairly comprehensive list of unpleasant ways to die. Death by fire, regardless of the particulars, sat pretty damn near the top of that list.
“I’m starting to think that I need to ask for a damn raise!” Kasumi shouted as she crouched behind a nearby crane.
“The tank on its back!” Thane shouted, drawing the Destroyer’s fire with several pot-shots from his M-29 Incisor.
The Geth turned quickly, blasting away at the Drell assassin as he dived for cover.
The mobile platform relentlessly closed the distance, flames licking at and around the small wall that Thane was using for shelter.
Xander popped out from behind his cover, aiming for the tank as his pulse rifle continued to chew away at the Destroyer’s shields. But it seemed to realize its greatest weakness, and quickly turned on the immortal Scooby, firing streams of flame at HIM
while letting its heavy chassis soak up the phasic slugs that were exploding against its armored form.
Harris winced as the heat of the flames made his hardsuit’s kinetic barriers spark violently.
Just as his shields went completely, a flare of electric-blue energy saw Jack suddenly standing between him and the Destroyer. A biotic barrier was shimmering in place around her body, but Xander could see that the field was failing quickly. Grimacing, he reached out and managed to grab her by the back of her jacket, yanking her out of the fiery stream.
He’d pulled a little too hard however, and the two of them ended up rolling off the platform upon which he’d taken cover, away from the destroyer. The massive drone advanced on them, issuing an electronic gurgle that might have been laughter, as its weapon continued belching fire.
As Xander beat out the few flames that had caught on Jack’s clothing, they tumbled to a stop beneath a small balcony. Wincing, the immortal Scooby hid his blistering hands from the bald biotic anarchist who was busy cursing out the Geth, and everything else in general, for ruining her brand-new jacket.
Apparently, Jack was significantly less concerned about death-by-immolation then Xander.
Kasumi popped out from behind cover, firing a lengthy burst from her Locust at the distracted Destroyer. Shots from her weapon skidded off the Destroyer’s tank, causing it to spark ominously.
Thane reached out, the flare of his biotic field picked up the heavy Geth platform and sent it skyward, where it exploded.
The Geth were advancing as a group now. Xander could see Lawson dealing with the Geth attacking her with deadly efficiency. Suddenly Miranda seemed distracted, looking at something that only she could see.
“Harris, right flank!” Lawson yelled.
He followed her gaze and saw an odd shimmering in the air, like a desert mirage. A desert mirage shaped like a Geth trooper.
Cursing as he realized what he was looking at, Xander brought up his omni-tool, firing a pulse charge at the seemingly-empty space and saw the shimmering effect recede as the Geth Infiltrator was forcibly revealed.
The immortal Scooby brought up the pulse rifle, hammering the trooper with phasic rounds that ripped through its chassis.
“Kasumi!” he yelled, “Cloaked Geth trying to flank us!”
“On it!” the cyborg ninja-thief shouted back.
Xander saw her hand make a throwing gesture and the confined space lit up with a nova of light as her flashbang overloaded another Geth Infiltrator’s cloak.
As the field collapsed, the Geth appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The petite thief kicked out at the Geth’s body, sending it stumbling back as she followed up with a vicious punch, her omnitool suddenly active. The attacking Infiltrator took the full discharge from her attack, convulsing as it fell to the ground as she followed up her attack with several shots from her Locust that killed it.
Thane apparently needed no goggles or mechanical enhancements. In fact, he actually seemed to be closing his eyes before turning and firing, seemingly at random. But his shots actually hit several cloaked troopers dead center, shattering their cloaking fields.
Kasumi backed up his attack with another pulse charge that made the few remaining cloaked Geth explode.
Several standard Geth Troopers tried to close in on them, but Jack was quick to confront them. Dropping her Barrier, she channeled her biotics into firing a massive Shockwave that scattered most of them at considerable velocities.
Xander thought he’d even heard the sound of scattered bowling pins, but nearly found himself face-to-face with a single Geth Prime unit that roared at them and charged, firing a charged energy blast that he only barely managed to dodge.
Miranda hurled a Warp charge at the armored figure, but didn’t even slow it down.
Jack scowled, roaring in defiance as dark energy swirled and flared around her. Xander gaped as the woman seemed to blur in place. Suddenly, she was several yards away and driving a biotic-enhanced fist THROUGH
the Prime’s chest.
The massive Geth unit screeched electronically, even as Jack rammed the barrel of her shotgun against the Prime’s “head” and fired a point-blank shot. The bald biotic howled in triumph as the head exploded and the Prime’s body dropped to the irradiated ground.
A few remaining Geth rose from where Jack’s assault had left them broken on the ground, but Miranda and Kasumi hit them with directed Overload charges and caused them to spasm in place before exploding.
Xander and Thane spun around, pumping weapons fire at more damaged Geth. Now effectively eviscerated, the synthetics were now little more than smoking ruins.
“I think that’s all of them for now,” Kasumi huffed.
“Okay, that was… intense,” Xander huffed. “Hey, Kasumi, thanks for stepping in when you did. Deep-fried Xander is not on today’s menu.”
“Good catch on the cloaked Geth,” Goto replied. “You’d think that I’d be ready for cloak tech when it gets used on me.”
“Don’t look at me, Lawson’s the one that saw them,” he shrugged.
“Well, that’s… impressive,” Kasumi nodded, looking at Miranda as if she was seeing her anew.
“Yeah, who’s the bitch now?” Jack shouted at the dead Geth at her feet.
“That girl’s power is… impressive. Well beyond some Asari Matriarchs,” Thane paused to watch Jack firing another two rounds from her Eviscerator into the destroyed Prime. “Her self-control, however… that’s another matter entirely.”
“Yeah, Jackie-boy does have a tiny impulse control problem,” Xander deadpanned, watching the bald biotic repeatedly kicking at the Geth’s destroyed chassis.
“As long as she stays solid under fire, it doesn’t matter,” Miranda snapped. “Let’s move.” With that curt observation made, Lawson headed up a flight of stairs.
Jack was still amusing herself with her fallen foe. Xander shouted over to her, “Hey, Jack! If you’re done curbstomping that damn thing, we’ve got ground to cover!”
The bald biotic rolled her eyes before acquiescing, giving one last kick as a parting gift.
As she joined them, she grumbled something barely audible.
“What was that?” Xander asked innocently.
“I said… thanks for… you know, the whole saving my ass thing.”
“Yeah, well,” he shrugged. “Your ass looks a lot better when it isn’t charbroiled.”
Jack smirked at him and Xander grimaced as the full weight of his words suddenly dawned on him.
“Not that I’m staring at your ass or anything,” he muttered weakly.
Jack was still looking at him.
“Okay, maybe I’ve looked,” he groaned. “But, you know… in more of an art appreciation kind of way then like some sleazy mouth-breather.”
Jack continued to smirk at him.
Xander finally sighed and threw up his hands. Two hundred years and he still occasionally had trouble speaking the mysterious language of the female.
“I’m going to stop talking now,” he muttered.
“Jack and Xander, sittin’ in a tree…” Kasumi sang happily.
“Don’t you start!” Xander hissed.
Seven years spent fighting some of the most dangerous and deadly threats that came in search of the Hellmouth’s power had taught Xander to be alert to trouble in its many and varied forms.
Thus, when Thane tensed up, his every sense obviously detecting trouble ahead, Xander was the first to respond in kind.
He readied his pulse rifle and looked to the assassin, who only nodded. They were about to try a more cautious approach but heard shouting up ahead. Whoever was being shot at was Quarian and they were in trouble.
Xander broke into a fast jog. Miranda was about to tell him to slow down, but then Thane darted ahead with his own Locust at the ready. Rounding a corner, they nearly ran into two Quarians who were falling back and firing outdated Avenger models at their pursuers.
Miranda was readying her weapon when Jack snarled, “Jesus, cheerleader, d’you want to bring every damn synth down on our heads?”
“They already know we’re here, Jack,” the genetically-engineered woman scoffed.
Xander winced. “I do think that it pays sometimes to speak softly and carry an even-quieter weapon.”
The Geth caught sight of them and opened fire; or, at least, they tried. Their weapons fell silent, a result of the EMP tech-bomb that Xander had deployed seconds before they could bring their weapons to bear.
Tali had been a very good teacher when it came to fighting Geth.
“Guess who brought overheated weapons to a gunfight,” Xander cackled unnecessarily.
Miranda and Kasumi fired similar EM charges, watching with some satisfaction as each Geth’s defenses shimmered and died.
Thane hurled a Throw at the Geth squad, canceling their personal gravity and causing them to float free of the ground.
Jack reached out with her biotics, snatching the floating Geth troopers out of the sky before clenching her fists. Xander watched with some astonishment as the synthetics were literally crushed before she slammed them against a wall… repeatedly.
Miranda approached the two Quarians, their exhausted gasps betraying the fact that they’d been on their last legs before they’d arrived.
“Are you two with the Migrant Fleet Marines?” Lawson demanded curtly.
“We got separated from our unit,” one of them reported, nodding. “We saw a shuttle landing, was that you?”
“Yes, we’re here to try and get to Tali’Zorah vas Neema, can you help us?”
The other Quarian now sneered, “Why would we help Cerberus?”
“Shut up, Prazza,” his companion snapped. “I’m Tolus’Xan,” he said, turning back to the squad. “Don’t pay any attention to this bosh’tet, we’ll take all the help we can get.”
That other name sounded familiar, and Miranda quickly remembered where she’d seen that other Quarian before. Through Shepard’s helmet-cam, the only time she’d been willing to wear one.
“Prazza?” Miranda mused aloud. “Weren’t you at Freedom’s Progress?”
“I don’t remember you,” Prazza sneered archly.
“Not surprising,” she sneered back. “Last time I saw you, you were unconscious after getting half your squadmates killed.”
“That wasn’t my fault,” Prazza snapped. “Veetor messed with those mechs, they were much more dangerous than they should have been.”
“Funny,” Miranda sneered. “Commander Shepard didn’t seem to have a problem with them; as I recall, she destroyed one of them with a shovel.”
“Prazza, you said Tali’Zorah was lying about that,” Tolus snarled. “You mean that story was true? A human really had to rescue a squad of Quarian Marines from simple mechs?”
“I’d say it’s what he deserves for trying to betray Commander Shepard after she voluntarily offered to work with you to save Veetor.”
“I was just worried for Veetor,” Prazza huffed. “You Cerberus bastards might’ve hurt him or taken him away somewhere.”
Xander saw a flash of discomfort on Lawson’s face, but it vanished as quickly as it’d appeared.
Miranda shrugged. “I’m with Commander Shepard. She’s here trying to rescue Tali.”
“That bosh’tet Shepard is here?” Prazza groaned. “Ancestors, that’s all we needed.”
” Xander snarled, “…might be your only hope of getting off this planet alive.”
“Quarians know more about the Geth than any other species alive,” Prazza boasted.
“Oh, yeah, your ‘expertise’ was really shining through when you were running for your life like your ass was on fire,” Xander sneered.
“Xander, it doesn’t matter,” Miranda snapped, turning back to Prazza’s companion. “The Commander’s looking for Tali’Zorah. Do you know where she is?”
“The Admiral’s daughter is on the other side of the colony,” Tolus shrugged. “Reegar’s team was trying to get her into the Observatory before we lost contact.”
Prazza’s communicator went off, and a harsh voice came out of the link.
“Prazza, Tolus, where the hell are you two?” a male voice bellowed.
“We’re here, Commander, we’re still alive,” Tolus answered.
“Thank the Ancestors,” the voice grunted.
“Who’s that?” Xander asked.
The com-link picked up his voice and the Commander responded. “Squad Leader Kal’Reegar, Migrant Fleet Marines. Who is this?”
“I’m Xander Harris, one of Tali’s friends,” Xander shrugged, absently using his omnitool to patch the rest of the team into the radio channel. “You okay out there, Reegar? We’re trying to reach you AND Tali.”
“Harris? The same Harris who took the credit for helping Tali’Zorah stop the Geth fleet attacking the Citadel?” Reegar asked.
Xander snorted. “Been talking to Tali’s Aunt Rann, haven’t you?”
“I thought Admiral Raan might be exaggerating, but Tali’Zorah’s told me all about the Normandy. To hear her talk, Shepard’s the deadliest soldier in the galaxy.”
Xander snorted. “Don’t believe it, huh?”
“Look, I’ve been a marine too long to not know battlefield tall tales when I hear them, but right now my people are scattered.” He sounded harried, to say the least. “My squad leader’s trapped in that damn observatory, and this place is crawling with Geth that want to kill us all. If your Shepard can get Tali’Zorah out of here alive, then I’ll go to my grave saying that she was sent by the Ancestors themselves.”
“If we do our jobs, you won’t go to your grave at all,” Xander replied. “Have you heard from Shepard’s team?”
“Not a peep, but a dropship bugged out of here not too long ago like it was on a mission,” Reegar reported. “After that, I heard some big explosions, like someone was fighting the damn Geth Uprising all over again! Whatever your Shepard’s doing, it’s got those zaelos running scared!”
“That’ll be Shepard, she must be hip deep in Geth,” Miranda mused.
Xander snorted. “It’ll take more than an army of Geth to take Shepard out,” he said dismissively. “Trust me on this. She’ll be fine,”
Miranda stared at him for a moment. “Commander Reegar, Shepard’s orders were clear; our job is to reach Tali’Zorah,” she said curtly.
“Observatory’s a few clicks from your current location,” Reegar shrugged.
“What about the Geth army?”
“They’re still trying to reach Tali’Zorah…” here, the unique sound of an ML-77 being fired could be heard, followed by Avenger fire, before he came back on the radio. “I’m cut off from her, but I’m doing what I can to keep ‘em distracted.”
“Speed is our ally now,” Thane murmured, checking his weapons. “We’d best hurry if we’re to reach your Quarian friend in time.”
“We’re on our way,” Lawson snapped, shutting off the communicator. “We’re wasting time; let’s get over there.”
Prazza laughed bitterly. “Are you joking? We barely escaped that plaza with our lives! I’m not going back there on the beck-and-call of Tali’Zorah’s human terrorist friends.”
Miranda just shrugged. “Tolus, what about you?”
“I’ll come with you,” he nodded. “Tali’Zorah’s done right by me. I won’t leave her to these damn synthetics.”
“Fine,” the genetically-engineered woman nodded. “Prazza, you can hide here if you hate Cerberus so much.”
“Sounds like a plan. Less chance of him accidentally doing something useful,” Xander snorted, tossing another hastily-modified Geth pulse rifle into Tolus’ arms.
Tolus chuckled, an odd sound given the mechanically-assisted sibilance that all Quarians shared nowadays.
With the Quarian Marine in tow, Miranda’s squad continued further into the ruins.
As Xander took point, he noticed several downed Geth. Each of them had been killed with perfectly centered shots.
No one else had noticed it yet, but Xander was sure of it now. Someone was clearing a path for them; whoever was responsible was also a very good sniper.
“Ah, jeez, Legion…” Xander sighed. “Be careful, will ya? You, Tali, an assload of hostile Geth, this could all go tits-up in a hurry.”