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Mass Effect: A Hero Rises

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To call the situation on Feros, and in particular Zhu’s Hope, a clusterfuck would be a vast underestimation of the situation on the ground. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Actually, I do. Right after we’d stepped off the Normandy

We might not have established communication with the ground but they knew we’d arrived, someone running towards us after we’d disembarked. Weapons were readied though I signalled to lower them as the human came to a stop. He introduced himself and told us their leader, Fai Dan, wanted to speak with us. Before we could even ask a single question, the geth shot him. I caught his body as my colleagues opened fire, moving him into cover before I joined in the fight. No idea how many geth there were, but we killed them all quite quickly.

By the time we were done, our greeter was dead, and that just put us all in a bad mood. But the geth now knew we were there and they sent numbers of them in our direction. The ancient ruins were falling apart, amazed anyone had managed to establish a colony, and the constant gunfire exchanged between our group and the geth probably didn’t help matters. The geth had stronger units on Feros than on Therum, with geth that had rocket launchers at their disposal, and there were also these geth that seemed to leap really fast, and could hang from walls and ceilings. My biotic colleagues helped with them.

Just getting to the colony was a pain in the arse. By the time we walked into the middle of it, I think all seven of us was left wondering what the point of it really was and why they hadn’t simply abandoned it. There was the wreckage of a freighter that acted as housing, plenty of tarpaulins and tents to provide shelter. There appeared to be little vegetation and I did wonder about a water source. A colony without water was doomed to fail.

By the time we reached Fai Dan, we’d barely exchanged greetings when the geth attacked in force again. I told the colonists to get to safety as the seven of us spread out and opened fire. Tali was raining tech attacks down on them, Alenko and even Garrus assisting her. Liara and Alenko were mixing up their biotic attacks, and I learned they could cause explosions at the same time. As for Ashley, Wrex and I, it was a shooting gallery. No idea how many of the bastards we left on the ground, but we took great joy in riddling them with many, many bullets.

We eventually moved into the tower, wiping out any geth resistance there, before moving our way through the ruins, the geth presence reminding me of cockroaches. They were absolutely everywhere and refused to die easily. I have no idea where we ended up, simply turning left and right until we were pretty much lost, but as long as we fought geth, we knew we were doing the job. As the geth fell and we cleared each section, we also sent any colonists we found back the way we’d come, assuring them the path was now clear.

Ending up in a dead end full of geth, I was left thinking this was their last stand, at least for now. There were all sorts of geth waiting for us, including an enormous fucker that Tali called a Juggernaut. Ashley and I sent grenades at it while Wrex thought charging it head on was a good idea. There were explosions around us as rocket drones flew overhead, Tali and Alenko taking care of them. Liara was in the thick of the action with her biotics, amazed at her skill, not as a biotic, but by the fact she was getting stuck in with the rest of us.

When the last geth fell, a dropship that had been resting above us immediately took off, making me wish I had some sort of missile launcher to take the ship down. However, that signalled the worst of it over, so I suggested we head back to the colony and ascertain the situation. I was thinking of an immediate evacuation, though assumed the colonists would want to stay and fight.

It was immediately clear that Fai Dan was a good man and cared for the colony and its people. But no-one could really explain why the geth were attacking. However, the geth had established a presence on Feros, using ExoGeni headquarters as their base.

“ExoGeni?” I asked. Never heard of them, glancing to see everyone else shrug their shoulders.

“It’s the company most of us worked for before the attacks. They fund this colony,” Arcelia replied, who seemed to be Fai Dan’s number two, “The Skyway leads directly to ExoGeni HQ. You can’t miss it.”

“Of course, there’s an army of geth between here and there,” Fai Dan added.

“No problem. Every geth we killed brings us one step closer to finding Saren.”

“Then maybe I can get this colony operational again.”

“Having problems?”

He looked across my team. “I wouldn’t know where to start. There are the mundane issues, like food, power and water. But then there are the geth in the tunnels. We believe they have a transmitter as their attacks always seem to be co-ordinated.”

Turning to my squad, I suggested we could help the colony out first before moving on. I had Tali and Alenko assist with the power and water issues, and Wrex was happy enough to help regarding the food once he learned he could kill some varren. That left Ashley, Liara, Garrus and I to deal with the geth in the tunnels. It was another shooting gallery, and the bastards were guarding a transmitter. Liara offered to switch it off. Ashley and I simply threw a few grenades and blew the thing up.

Returning to the colony, Tali and Alenko had got the power on at least, noticing lights were now on in the freighter, and there were a few lights dotted around otherwise. I could see nearly all the colonists were exhausted, so offered to have my team keep watch for the evening so everyone could get some rest. Over a fire, I spoke with Fai Dan about Zhu’s Hope and what life was once like before the attack. It seemed like many had been killed, and those left were the last hope it would survive. I offered to evacuate and, while thankful, he refused, stating the colony was his home and he would not go without a fight, willing to die for it if necessary. I couldn’t help but respect the man.

I did ask about ExoGeni as well, but apart from the fact they bankrolled the colony, and were interested in various artefacts, no-one was sure why they were on the planet when they hadn’t managed to find anything yet. I think there was more to it but I doubted Fai Dan or any of the other colonists would know, probably kept in the dark for a reason.

I took one of the later patrols with Alenko and Tali. The former kept to himself, which wasn’t unusual, so I found myself chatting with Tali. She was still as excitable as her first day on the Normandy, and I could only compliment her for her bravery every time we fought the geth.

“There’s a lot of hatred of the geth from my people, considering what they did to us.”

“What did they do?”

“You don’t know?”

“Quarian history isn’t something we’ve been taught a lot about.”

She nodded in understanding. “Fair enough. The easiest way to explain it is that the quarians made the geth, they were our servants but we also cared for them, then one day, they chose to turn on us, killed most of our people, and caused us to flee into exile. They now infest our homeworld while our people drift amongst the stars.”

Sounded simple. Probably wasn’t. But I wasn’t in the position to argue. “Could you ever take your homeworld back?”

That made her laugh. “Shepard, we have fifty-thousand or so ships but most of them are either transporters or habitation ships. We have a heavy fleet, but it’s not large enough to take on the geth. We would need the help of the Council to take our homeworld back, something they have never shown any interest in doing. They believe it is our fault, stripping us of our embassy and forcing on us a treaty forbidding us to attack them.”

“Doesn’t really seem fair.”

“It isn’t but it also prevents us from doing something completely suicidal. So now we just drift aimlessly. No quarian has set foot on our homeworld for three hundred years. No-one alive even knows what it really looks like. Everything was lost when we fled. Culture and history, gone in an instant. The only thing we’ve really kept alive is our language.”

“Language is what binds many people on Earth together.”

“You have more than one?”

“We use English as a global standard and is the language we use throughout the galaxy. But back on Earth, there are many local and regional languages.”

Tali sighed. “If we had something like that, the rest disappeared a long time ago now. All we have left is Khelish, which I think was a major language anyway but… As I said, we lost nearly everything during our exodus.”

“Guess I can’t sit here and complain about anything now.”

She gave me a look before starting to giggle. “It’s not all bad, Shepard. Our hardships have brought us closer together as people. Everyone works for the benefit of the Fleet. We make do with what we have.”

“Guess the Normandy is an upgrade then?”

“Shepard, it’s so advanced, I still can’t believe I’m on your ship most of the time.”

“Adams speaks highly of you so I made the right choice.”

“Can I ask a personal question?”

“Sure. About what?”

“Well, I’m sure you’re thinking something about your past, or Elysium but… When Wrex asked you about that lady reporter…” I couldn’t help but look at her in surprise. She seemed to notice and shrugged. “I’m a quarian, Shepard. Relations of that kind are practically impossible unless they take place in the right conditions.”

“Do you really want to know?”

“I’m intrigued as I have a feeling Ashley was jealous, while Liara I think was… disappointed.”

“And you?”

She just gave me a gentle push. “Behave, Shepard. So, did you have… you know, sex with her?”

“Why are you interested?”

“Because I’m not blind. You’re a good looking man in addition to being undoubtedly brave and an all-round good man. So I assume there will be more than one woman who will want your company.”

“Not to sound too arrogant but I think your last point might be right.”

“Would you want to be with Ashley or Liara?”

“I’ll be honest and admit that, apart from a little light flirting with Ash, I haven’t really thought about it. Being involved with someone on the same ship is usually a no-no due to fraternisation rules, and I can just see it being awkward otherwise. Not saying no, but I’d rather keep my work and private life separate.”

Thankfully she dropped the subject after that, and we were eventually relieved by Garrus and Wrex. Waking the next morning, the last thing to complete was getting the water running. Everyone pitched in to make sure all the pipes were connected with no leaks, and once we could turn on the taps and water was flowing freely, and more importantly was clean, we could focus on the next task at hand.

ExoGeni Headquarters was a fair distance away across the Skyway. Fai Dan nor anyone else could tell us if anyone had survived over there, and the only way to find out would be for us to head across and investigate. I gave the colonists our details so we could maintain contact as we headed up towards the Skyway. I was thinking it was going to a gruelling march across to the next tower, but I was pleased when we found an abandoned Mako. After carrying out a quick check to make sure it was still functional, the team clambered aboard and we headed off.

The geth knew we were coming, that same bloody dropship that had taken off earlier, returning to drop more troops and a couple of Armatures. Wrex suggested the same thing again, stopping as Garrus fired, Wrex, Ashley, Liara and Alenko popping out to provide ground support, using the Mako as cover.

I found the geth armed with rockets more of a concern, particularly those that had rockets that seemed to have some sort of guidance. I decided to show the geth, and my team, a trick or two with the thrusters. If a driver timed it right, it was possible to make the Mako ‘leap’ off the ground. I tried that a couple of times before one rocket impacted, causing our shields to drop significantly.

“Sorry,” I muttered, glancing at Tali.

“Lesson learned, Shepard.”

“Aye, stop showing off and just get the job done.”

We ran into a few more Armatures, Garrus dealing with those, as those on the ground handled the troopers. I figured Alenko would be using his tech attacks, while through the small windscreen, I could see Liara using her biotics, watching geth be lifted into the air and practically float away, while one or two were lifted up then slammed into the ground. Knowing Wrex had some biotic talents, I figured he’d be doing that for a giggle.

I’m not sure how far we were across, but the radio had been silent except for our communication until we seemed to reach a building ahead. If others were trying to get in contact with us, that could only mean survivors. I stopped to let the others back on before we entered what looked like some sort of garage, heading down a couple of levels before I brought the Mako to a stop. Piling out, I suggested we stay tight but unarmed, not wanting to alarm the survivors.

Finding ourselves in a large room, there was a large gaggle of humans around. I noticed a couple of security guards, watching us warily. The rest simply looked exhausted and fed-up. A lone man, well-dressed and with a pistol in hand, approached us. I gestured for one or two people behind me to take out their weapons but stay loose.

“Who are you?”

I simply folded my arms and glared. “I could ask you the same question, considering you approach unarmed people armed with a weapon of your own.”

“Could have been geth for all we knew.”

I laughed, glancing left and right. “Weird looking geth.”

One or two chuckled as an older woman approached us, practically barging the other man out of the way. “Don’t mind him, he only cares about the company.” Offering her hand, she added, “I’m Juliana Baynham. You are?”

Accepting her hand, I let her know who I was. “Commander Shepard. Alliance Navy, though also a Council Spectre. Don’t think the news would have made it here.” I followed up by introducing everyone else in my squad. “What’s the situation here? Those remaining in Zhu’s Hope had no idea if anyone survived.”

“There are some still alive?” She made an obvious gesture at the other gentleman. “Jeong told us they were all dead.”

I looked at him. “Didn’t you care to check if that was correct? They could have used your assistance.”

“What the hell could we have done? We’re barely surviving here ourselves.”

He made a good point so I let it go. “Okay, Juliana. Looks like you people need some help too. So what we’re going to do is head to ExoGeni Headquarters and…”

“That is private property. You have no right…”

He was already pissing me off, so I clocked him across the jaw, putting him on the ground. “Council Spectre, in case you didn’t hear me the first time. I go where I please.” Looking back at Juliana, I continued. “As I was saying, we’ll take a look around the tower and see what the geth are up to.”

“While you’re doing that, can you see if you can find my daughter, Lizbeth?”

“I told you she’s probably…” He shut up as I sensed a couple of weapons were aimed at him.

“Just give me a reason, arsehole,” Ashley stated, “Suits like you are the reason colonists in Zhu’s Hope are left to suffer.”

“There’s always hope, Juliana. We’ll keep an eye out for any more survivors. If we can find her, we’ll bring her back.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

“Once we return, we’ll escort you to Zhu’s Hope and see what we can do next.”

“Thank you again, Commander.”

I moved the team away from the survivors, thinking I should keep a couple of people back. “Ashley, Alenko, stay here with them. Speak with the survivors, provide medical aid where required, and basically just keep their spirits up. You’re in Alliance uniform so at least they won’t be feeling abandoned now.”

“Aye, sir,” Alenko replied, both of them saluting and making their way towards Juliana.

I gestured for the rest to follow me and, once out of sight and definitely hearing, I brought them to a halt, dropping my voice. “Don’t know what you’re thinking but I think ExoGeni has been up to some shit here. Anyone disagree?”

“I suggest we look around, Shepard,” Liara stated.

“I think I can hack into some workstations and terminals while we move,” Tali added.

“Good. Garrus, Wrex, we’ll just kill geth.”

They liked the sound of that, so after a check of weapons, we moved on. Entering the building itself, we ran into a few geth, surprised to see them chasing after a woman. She slid into cover as we opened fire immediately, the geth turning towards us, though they wilted and died under our firepower. The woman looked up out of cover, saw us, and fired her pistol. At times like that, I’m glad we now have shield. She cried out in surprise, stepping out, realising we were human, and immediately apologising.

I waved away her concerns. “It’s fine. I’m just wondering who you are.”

“I’m Lizbeth Baynham. Who are you?”

“Commander Shepard. And your mother is worried sick about you.”

“She’s alive?” I nodded. “Thank god. I thought everyone was dead once the geth attacked. It happened so fast, I thought I would have had time to back up the data before they trapped me.”

“Are there any other survivors inside?” She shook her head. “Okay, what are the geth after?”

She looked away, immediately uncomfortable with the question. “I don’t know.”

I heard Garrus scoff. Wrex muttered ‘Well, that’s bullshit’. “Out with it, Lizbeth. You’re not only speaking to a Commander of the Alliance Navy, but also a Spectre.” The eyes widened immediately and I think I even scared her. “I’m not going to do anything if you just tell me what ExoGeni are up to.”

She sighed. “They’re probably here for the Thorian, Commander.”

I shared a glance with my colleagues. “Thorian? What the hell is a Thorian?” I wondered.

“You don’t know?” I think we all shook our heads. “It’s an indigenous lifeform native to this planet. ExoGeni has been studying it.”

“Studying it? To what end?”

“To be honest, Commander, most of what you need is on the data I was backing up. I don’t have it with me now. You’ll have to clear out the geth and disable that barrier to get what you need.”

“Right, the best thing you can do is try and make your way to the garage where the other survivors are. We’ll clear out the tower, get what we need, and meet you there.”

“Okay, Commander.”

The geth had infested the tower. They were absolutely everywhere, and the five of us took great delight in wiping them out. We also came across a couple of krogan within, leaving those for Wrex to deal with. He seemed to take pleasure in gutting any krogan who dared face him in battle. Considering how ferocious he was, I already knew I would probably never be dumb enough to do that. He reminded me of a cat with a mouse, toying with it before making the killing blow.

As we made our way through the tower, we did stop at the occasional terminal, as the VI system within the tower was still working. Asking it questions, we discovered that ExoGeni had observation sensors monitoring Zhu’s Hope. I wasn’t the only one to question why ExoGeni would be monitoring a simple colony. That’s when the revelation was made and those ExoGeni employees we had found would definitely be answering questions upon our return.

“VI, what does the Thorian have to do with Zhu’s Hope?” I asked.

“Species 37, the Thorian, is located in the depths below the colony.”

I felt the ice flow through my veins, my colleagues shuffling uncomfortably behind me. I knew some organisations could push the boundaries of ethics, but this was something else entirely. “This might explain their somewhat unusual behaviour,” Liara stated quietly.

“VI, tell me everything you can about the Thorian,” I demanded.

“The Thorian appears to be a simple plant life-form that displays surprising sentient behaviour. Through dispersion and inhalation of its spores, the Thorian is able to infect and control any local organisms, including humans. Eighty-five percent of Zhu's Hope colonists have displayed signs of infection before sensors went offline.”

“Those fuckers are going to pay,” I growled.

“I don’t believe it,” Garrus muttered.

“VI, they are purposely infecting the colonists of Zhu’s Hope?” I asked for absolute clarification.

“It was deemed necessary to assess the potential of the Thorian,” the VI stated.

I didn’t need to hear any more, ordering the group to move out. There is no doubt we were completely pissed off, though as the lone human, I definitely, well, I let the rage flow as we mowed down room after room of geth. As there were plenty of them around, Tali made note that they definitely seemed smarter, the more networked together, the more intelligent they seemed to be. They certainly tried to entice us into more than one trap, thankfully recognising it before we stupidly walked into it.

To be honest, I was amazed we got through it all without any major injuries. Shields failed at times. Armour was marked. We did get some scratches, but no major wounds were taken. Even Tali, who I knew could be killed from any minor wound that could turn into an infection, did not hesitate for a second, though I think the fact we were fighting geth helped her overcome any fear she might have felt. As for Liara, I think after Therum, she certainly felt righteous in taking some revenge. Wrex just wanted to kill things, while Garrus was just happy to be off the Citadel.

Whenever we had a quiet moment, Tali would do some hacking, and that’s when she found something interesting. She found a log mentioning an organisation called Cerberus. I'd heard of them before, though only in passing. I did know they were classified by the Alliance as a terrorist organisation, but apart from that, I didn’t know much about them.

“What does it say, Tali?”

“It says that ExoGeni has sent samples to a research facility based on Nodacrux. It’s in the Maroon Sea Cluster.”

“Right, we are going straight there after we deal with all the shit going on here. Download whatever you can find on the server. These fuckers are going to burn.”

As we moved up the tower, killing ever more geth, we noticed things on the wall, Tali finally recognised them as clamps that a geth dropship was using to connect itself to the side of the building. Following cables, we finally arrived at a workstation, and were immediately confronted by a fuckload of geth. As Tali got to work, the four of us opened fire. That’s when we did take wounds. Nothing life-threatening, but it definitely took medi-gel to get Garrus and myself up and fighting again. My wound was bloody stupid, looking out of cover at just the wrong time, the bullet going straight into my shoulder. In and out, immediately using medi-gel to clear and clean it.

“You okay, Shepard?” Tali asked, hearing concern.

“Oh, hurts like fuck and I’ll need to see Chakwas later, but it’s fine. Medi-gel is wonderful.”

The geth kept coming until I heard a loud noise, glancing back to see something slam shut before there was an enormous groan and then… a series of loud crunches above and below us, Tali reporting that the dropship was now detaching itself. We never heard it crash to the ground below, but if geth felt fear, they would now. “Kill the fuckers!” I cried. Tali joined in as we slaughtered the bastards.

"Commander! Are you there? Commander!"

Taking cover, I put a finger to my ear. "Joker? What is it?"

"Commander? Finally! Sir, the colonists have gone crazy. We're all holed up in the Normandy right now. We don't know what's going on, but whatever you've done there, something has them riled up."

"Okay, Joker. Just stay put. And, whatever you do, leave the colonists be. There are things going on here that you need to be aware of, but as I say, just keep to the ship and you'll be fine."

"If you say so, Commander. Also, keep in mind, there are plenty of geth still around. They appear to be heading your way."

"Thanks, Joker. Keep in contact. We're heading back now."

"Aye, sir."

Once the last geth hit the ground, we moved quickly, finding a stairwell and practically running downstairs, though ensuring we still checked corners, but I was confident the building was now clear. Exiting out into garage where we’d originally entered the tower and found Lizbeth, I was surprised we found her still there. She was relieved to see us, but she almost cowered as I strode towards her.

“You lied,” I growled. I noticed her gulp, immediately nodding, her eyes moving from me to my colleagues, back to me. She was definitely afraid. I’ll admit, I felt a little guilty, but after everything we’d discovered, I was beyond pissed off. “You’d better level with me here, Lizbeth. There’s a lot more going on that you told me before and I think you do know.”

She looked across us again before sighing. “May I speak to you in private?” I gestured for my colleagues to move away. Once we had privacy, she continued in a soft voice. “You don't understand, Commander. I never wanted the tests. They were innocent people. I tried to get them to stop but… They threatened me. Threatened my mother. Threatened that we'd end up just like them if we continued to interfere.”

“I assume ExoGeni threatened you?”

She nodded. “Yes. That's why I had stayed behind. It was about the data, but I was trying to send it to Colonial Affairs. Someone must be made aware of what they are doing here! But, the geth arrived and cut the power before I could complete the message. I'm… I'm sorry.”

I took a moment before stating, “I believe you, Lizbeth. But I think we need to have words with one of your colleagues.”

She grimaced but nodded without a word, the six of us climbing into the Mako for the short drive back. The geth were putting up what I would call a last stand, figuring they were now isolated having destroyed one of their ships. Feeling rather incensed, I may have resorted to ramming Armatures over the side of the Skyway, Tali yelling at me occasionally when she needed to re-route power to the shields. I just floored it, Garrus firing the machine gun incessantly, barely able to keep up with how many he killed.

As I drove, we discussed what we had discovered. Liara put two and two together quickly. The Thorian had mind-control abilities. The geth wouldn’t be interested in that, but Saren sure would be. I felt nothing but sympathy for the colonists. Here they were, trying to make a life for themselves, and instead they were guinea pigs in the interests of a corporation, doing god only knows what to them.

Slamming on the brakes once we arrived, I slid out of the Mako with pistol in hand. Jeong saw me coming, Lizbeth brushing past me, though coming to a halt when Jeong grabbed Juliana. Thankfully, she managed to put an elbow into his gut, running to her daughter. He stupidly raised his pistol towards me. I heard a shot come from behind, the bullet going into his shoulder, watching the gun fall from his hand. I stepped forward and put a fist into his gut, before sweeping his legs, his back now on the ground, stepping onto the wound for good measure as he cried out.

“I know everything, Jeong. And I mean everything.”

“What do you mean, Commander?” Juliana asked.

“ExoGeni are using Zhu’s Hope as an experiment. The colonists are unwitting test subjects to the mind control abilities of the Thorian. And Jeong here knows all about it. His name is everywhere. Now, Mr. Jeong, give me one good reason why I don’t put a bullet in your head right now. Because, trust me on this, I’m not the only one itching to do it.”

“You kill me, the colony disappears. ExoGeni want this place purged, Commander,” he grunted through the pain.

I pressed into his wound, earning another cry out of pain. “And why would they want that?”

“Why do you think, Commander? We’ll just get a bunch of new test subjects.”

I could only sigh as, though he was an arse, considering he’d been left behind, he wasn’t that important. An arse, but not worth executing. Didn’t need his worthless arse on my conscience. So I removed my foot and let him sit up. “You should get that wound seen to,” I suggested as I turned to my team, “Right, Joker reported in earlier that shit was going down in Zhu’s Hope. Juliana, my team will head back there first, deal with any remaining geth, before investigating whatever’s going on there. Give us around an hour’s head start before following us.”

“Yes, Commander.”

“As far as I’m concerned, the rest of you are innocent in all this, or that’s what I think so far. Don’t do anything to change my mind, but I will expect your co-operation going forward.”

“Commander, I think I speak for everyone when I admit to disgust at what you discovered.” I looked around and noticed the nodding heads. “I think we were left here due to our disagreements.”

Before we left, Lizbeth pulled me to the side and gave me some canisters, claiming it was an anti-Thorian gas she and a few others had been working on. “Working on it in secret,” she whispered, “In case we had the chance to help them.”

“Thanks. We’ll put it to good use.”

“Good luck.”

No doubt the seven of us were pissed off in the Mako as it was unusually silent. There were only a few geth we had to deal with before arriving where we had left what felt like hours ago. It had already been a long day and, while I would have liked rest back at the colony, I had a feeling we would need to deal with the Thorian before any of us would rest easy.

Once I’d parked up the Mako and we’d gathered nearby, I gave only one order. Not a single colonist was to be harmed. I handed over a couple of canisters each, with an order to only use pistols on any non-colonist, and any colonist under the influence of the Thorian was to be taken down with non-lethal force.

Opening the garage door, we were immediately greeted by… things. I’m not sure what they were, but as we’d never seen them before, and as I was sure the Thorian knew we were coming, it was definitely something from it. Whatever these creatures were, they were tough, and our pistols barely seemed to damage them. I ordered a switch to shotguns, and that worked immediately, blasting the green things to smithereens.

“Fucking creepy fuckers,” Ashley muttered.

“Any colonists we meet who fire at us, use a canister. Do NOT fire your shotgun in their direction,” I ordered, hearing immediate affirmatives.

We moved carefully, letting the green creatures coming towards us before blasting them away. Any colonists we came across that did fire in our direction, we threw a canister and it knocked them out. We had to be methodical in our work, ensuring we were never swarmed by the green creatures. Exiting out into the colony itself, we threw a few canisters, green smoke filling the entire area, hearing plenty of coughing. Once the smoke cleared, we spread out, checking the colonists were still breathing while killing the few green creatures that were still alive, the smoke having killed plenty of them.

Then Fai Dan appeared, a pistol in hand. His face was creased in pain, his left hand holding his right wrist. His movements were otherwise jerky, as if he was being controlled… by the Thorian itself.

I didn’t approach him but immediately stored my shotgun, taking out my pistol. I felt the presence of others to either side of me, gesturing for them to holster weapons. “Dan?”

“I tried to fight it, but it gets in your head. You can't imagine the pain… I'm supposed to be their leader. These people trust me.”

“You’re a good man, Dan. Don’t let it beat you.”

“It wants me to stop you.”

“I know, Dan. But you can fight it now. Don’t do what I think…”

He lifted the weapon but not towards me. Before I could even lift my weapon, not seeming to comprehend what he was doing, he put the pistol to his head and… That’s when I lifted and fired. My bullet hit his hand, ensuring his pistol was aimed over his head by the time his finger pulled the trigger. Before he realised what was going on, I ran forward and tackled him as gently as possible, ensuring the pistol was knocked free before I apologised to him and knocked him out. Putting a finger to my ear, I requested medical support from Chakwas, hearing her reply that she would join us immediately.

Standing up, I turned to my team. “Fast work, Shepard,” Alenko stated, nodding his appreciation.

“Just what the hell is this Thorian?” Garrus wondered, “How powerful is it?”

“No idea, but these people have probably been exposed since it was found,” Liara replied, “They’re probably all indoctrinated. No wonder Saren was interested in it.”

I strode back and forth a couple of times before turning to my team. “Okay, I was going to suggest we break for the evening, but I’m not sleeping with that Thorian still alive. So we’re heading down now. Anyone not up to it?” No-one replied. “Good. If we run into those creepy green things, do not hesitate. Once we find the Thorian, hopefully we can question it, then we kill it. Anyone disagree with that?”

“Hell no, Shepard. I’m creeped out with it just being below my feet,” Ashley replied.

“While I can understand the scientific aspects, it is clearly a dangerous creature,” Liara added.

“Can we burn it?” Wrex asked.

I couldn’t help laugh, feeling a bit of the tension disappear. “We’ll see, Wrex. I just want the bloody thing dead in the end.”

The Thorian knew we were coming, and we quickly figured out that it was enormous. I mean beyond imagination. I don’t think any of comprehended how such a thing existed, and little wonder that, even if only a plant based creature, it contained such power. We did receive a surprise, though. Instead of running into more of those creepy green creatures, we noticed a series of pods, and from out of one of those was dropped a green skinned asari. She looked across us before her eyes fell on me. I guess the Thorian was reading all of us somehow.

“Invaders! You every step is a transgression. I speak for the Old Growth, as I did for Saren. You are within and before the Thorian. It commands you be in awe!”

“You were an ally of Saren? Peachy.”

“Saren sought knowledge of those who are gone. The Old Growth listened. Trades were made. Then cold ones began killing flesh. The Old Growth will no longer listen!”

“Geth. Fantastic,” Tali muttered.

“Trust geth to fuck it up for us,” I added.

“The Thorian is a piece of this world. You can kill it no more than cut the sky. Your blood will feed the ground and the new growth!”

She shimmered blue, and I was ready to fire, before a warp smashed into her chest and she disappeared over the side. “She talked too much,” Liara stated to the laughter of at least a couple of us.

The next few minutes were insane. We must have descended a half dozen levels, full of those creepy green creatures, and on each level was a green asari clone. We generally dealt with her first, though the times we didn’t, we certainly paid the price, as she was incredibly strong. The creepers were slow moving but strong, eventually all of us switching to shotguns to simply control the battlefield. They spat a toxin whenever they came too close, more than one of us having our shields fail and armour scarred.

As we descended, we recognised the best way to kill the Thorian. It was attached to the ruins by tentacles, so on each level, we blasted away at each node. Whenever we shot it, fluid leaked from the wound and the Thorian made noise, suggesting it was hurting.

It seemed to last forever. I could feel my forehead covered in sweat, dripping down my chest and back. Despite my own fitness, I was feeling the strain. Liara was struggling due to her biotic use. Alenko no doubt had a headache by now. Even Ashley looked worn out and she was nearly as fit as I was. I fired at what I think was the sixth tentacle attachment. When that detached, I heard what sounded like ropes snapping, stepping to the edge in time to see the Thorian simply plummet however many hundred metres below us.

Our attention was then grabbed by a squelching sound, turning with weapons raised as an asari dropped from a pod nearby. She wasn’t green, so while I kept my weapon raised, I gestured for everyone else to lower theirs. “I’m free!” she exclaimed, before her eyes fell on my weapon, then my six colleagues. Any excitement was replaced by concern.

I lowered my weapon slightly before asking, “Who are you?”

“My name is Shiala. I was an acolyte for Matriarch Benezia…”

Wrong answer, or so some of my colleagues figured, as I heard weapons being readied. Shiala took a step back and I knew fear when I saw it. “Weapons down,” I ordered, glancing to see everyone responded immediately.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Commander Shepard. Doubt you’ve heard of me. Alliance Navy and Council Spectre. Now, Matriarch Benezia… Why join Saren?”

“She joined with him to stop him from continuing along his destructive path. But… Saren, and his arguments, are compelling. Benezia could not withstand his influence. We underestimated the strength of Saren's control. We all became believers.”

“How did Benezia fall under his control, almost at will?" asked Liara, "How was it so easy? Benezia is a powerful matriarch. It doesn't make any sense.”

“It's Saren's warship. The one he calls Sovereign. It dominates the mind of his followers. Eventually, all are indoctrinated. It is subtle. Slowly, but surely, everyone must bend to its will.”

“How did you end up in there, Shiala?” I asked, pointing to the sack she'd fallen out of.

Shiala lowered her head. “Saren needed a willing slave to communicate with the Thorian. I was then a chosen sacrifice for the alliance between the Thorian and Saren.”

“What about the geth?”

Shiala tried to stifle a chuckle. “Once Saren had what he needed, he no longer needed the Thorian. He attacked because he knows you need the Cipher. He is aware of your pursuit.”

“I need to know what the Cipher is. Do you know what it is, Shiala?”

“I do. Your contact with the beacon on Eden Prime has given you your vision. No doubt the visions are unclear. To understand these visions, you must think like a Prothean. Understand their existence. The Thorian has been here far longer than before the Protheans even built this city.”

“So what exactly is the Cipher?”

“It's the very essence of being Prothean. You must understand a viewpoint of civilisation rising over generations. The Cipher is that knowledge. It is memory. I sensed this when I merged with the Thorian, our minds intertwining. It cannot be taught.”

I knew what she was going to suggest. Without any other option, after she suggested we meld, I let her do it immediately. Liara and a couple of others raised immediate objections, but while I understood, I needed to understand the vision in my head, assuring Liara we could go through it together back on the Normandy. She apologised afterwards if it was uncomfortable, and told me it might take a little time for my mind to sort everything out.

Then it came to what I should do with her. Though she was an acolyte of Matriarch Benezia, she was clearly an unwilling servant to Saren’s desires. “I feel awful about everything that happened here, Commander. And I’m also a little pissed off that I was used as a sacrifice. So I propose two things.”

“And those are?”

“One, I wish to assist you against Saren and his allies, including Matriarch Benezia. She left me here to… well, quite frankly die. Therefore, any bond we may have shared has been severed. I will now serve you until Saren is dead.”

“And Benezia?”

“While I would not wish her death, I do believe it is likely as she is indoctrinated and her surrender is unlikely.”

“And once we stop Saren?”

“I would like to return to this colony and assist them rebuild. I feel responsible for what has happened here, and if they will accept me, I will happily return and remain here to live.”

We headed back upstairs to the colony. It was now dark, not doubt late evening, even early morning. The seven of us were now exhausted, while Shiala seemed to be in a daze. I didn’t really blame here, to be honest. The colonists, plus those we had rescued near ExoGeni Headquarters, were waiting for us. Fai Dan was up and about, his hand now bandaged, thanking me profusely for saving his life, the rest of the colonists thanking my team at the same time.

Introducing Shiala, none of them knew who she actually was, and while we briefly explained the situation, they accepted what happened and would be happy for her to return once we had taken care of Saren. “I’ll be honest, Commander. We need all the help we can get,” Juliana stated, “I’m not sure if ExoGeni will continue funding this place or not with the Thorian now dead, though I’m glad it is.”

“What will you do about ExoGeni?” Lizbeth asked.

“I’m not sure yet. We’ve taken plenty of data. We’ll continue to go through it and figure out what else they are up to. As far as Feros is concerned, you should hopefully be safe going forward. I will leave you my details, and I will also pass information onto the Alliance. Hopefully, if ExoGeni pulls out, the Alliance might be able to provide some assistance.”

With more thanks ringing in our ears, I suggested we head back to the Normandy for a meal and some sleep before we headed off onto the next mission. I introduced Shiala to the crew before we headed down to the mess, where I think we all piled out trays high with food, and bottles of water and electrolyte drinks were consumed fast.

Once we’d stuff ourselves, we sat back together in silence before I said, “Fucking fantastic work, team.” They all looked at me and grinned. Well, I think Garrus did. I could only assume Tali did. “We all survived. Barely any wounds. Saved the colony. Killed the Thorian. Gained a new ally. More information than we really know what to do with. If that’s not a success, I don’t know what is.”

“What do we do next?” Garrus wondered.

“We continue our research into ExoGeni. I want to know what sort of samples they were sending out. And I want to know who or what this Cerberus is. But, for now, take some time for yourself, get some shut eye, and we’ll leave Feros in the afternoon tomorrow.” Glancing at my watch, I added, “Well, later this afternoon, considering it’s now 0200.”

The gang slowly but surely started to break up until I was left alone with Shiala. “Where should I sleep?” she wondered.

“Do you want a pod or a bunk?”

She gave me a look which, I’ll admit, surprised me. Mine probably expressed surprised. “You saved my life, Commander…”

“Shepard.”

“I’m just thinking…”

“Hold that thought, Shiala. If that were to happen, let it happen naturally. I don’t expect payment in that way. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest you were pretty much an innocent victim in all this.”

She looked away. “Thank you, Shepard. For believing me.”

“So… Pod or bunk?”

“I’d rather sleep on a bed. If I sleep in a pod…” She trailed off and shuddered. So I led her to the bunk room, where Ashley and Alenko were already fast asleep. No surprise and didn’t blame them. “Thank you again, Shepard,” Shiala said softly before she leaned up to kiss my cheek.

“No problem.” She returned a small smile before turning, walking into the room to find a free bunk. I grabbed another bottle of water before returning to my quarters, avoiding bed for now, continuing to read over the data we’d retrieved. I was left with a feeling that I wouldn’t only be going to war against Saren and the geth.