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Star Wars: The Reaper War

Chapter Text

7 BBY – 12 years since Battle of Mustafar – Operation: HELL MARCH.

The Galaxy as everyone knew it before the Clone Wars was gone for good. 12 years had since passed ever since Order 66 was declared, which lead to the end of the war. Before that, the entire Galaxy (save for the vast majority of the Unknown Regions) was engulfed in the pan-galactic conflict between the Galactic Republic and the Confederation of Independent Systems, or more commonly known as the Separatists. This conflict was to last for three years and would evolve to become the most devastating and destructive war ever fought in the Galaxy in a thousand years.

However, what the vast majority of the Galaxy didn’t know was that this all part of a massive plot with the culmination of a 1000 years of planning by the Sith, the ancient nemesis of the Jedi Order – all for revenge to what happen to their order since the Ruusan Campaign at the end of the Jedi-Sith War. The Sith Lord who would push to make it finally happen is known as Darth Sidious, better known as Sheev Palpatine – or Emperor Palpatine since the end of the War. What many people did not know was that he had engineered both the Naboo Blockade and the Separatist Crisis in order to help advance his plans to become the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic Senate. Since he became Chancellor, he had engineered and manipulate various events or people to consolidate his position and his power base – and nearly everyone in the Republic was none the wiser

Well… not everyone.

10 years before the start of the Clone Wars – during the start of the Blockade of Naboo in fact – Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas had a Force Vision that foresaw a great conflict that would scatter the Jedi Knights far and wide in the Galaxy and that the Republic would need an army, but this army would then betray the Jedi. Once he could understand it, he then went to Grand Master Yoda to explain it, where much to his surprise, Yoda also had the exact same vision hundreds of years in advance and had worked hard to prepare the Jedi Order for this. To that end, Yoda would send Sifo-Dyas on a secret mission to the ocean planet of Kamino in order to commission them for the creation of a clone army for the Jedi Order, with the order to find a Mandalorian warrior to serve as the genetic template for the clones. The result of that would be Sifo-Dyas would recruit Jango Fett, widely considered the best bounty hunter at the time. However, this would lead to an unintended result of Sifo-Dyas and Jango Fett able to form a truce between the True Mandalorians and New Mandalorians which allowed them to form a new type of government. In addition, one of Jango’s demands to allow him to serve as the template for the clone army was that the Jedi would organise a supply line from their Temple on Coruscant to Mandalore which, in doing so, would start to redeem the Jedi Order in the eyes of many Mandalorians due to their experiences in the Mandalorian-Jedi War. This would serve to heal old wounds between both the Jedi and Mandalore and finally bring an end to the intense, long-lingering rivalry between the two groups.

One of the other things that Yoda had worked on in the years leading up to the Clone Wars was to have the planet Ossus, a location that was once an ancient stronghold for the Jedi Order (in a similar manner to what the Sith had with both Korriban and Malachor, along with a rumoured planet known as Exegol – if the legends were true…) before the devastation of the planet over 4000 years ago which left it as a wasteland, purged from every single Galactic map. Once accomplished, Yoda then had initiated reconstruction work around the ancient city of Knossa and its Spaceport, along with terraforming operations to help make the planet habitable again. All this would help secure a safe haven for the Jedi Order if they were forced to ‘disappear’.

That time came in 19 BBY, during the final year of the Clone Wars. With the Outer Rim Sieges playing out, Palpatine decided it was time to initiate the endgame of the Sith’s – or more accurately by now, his – thousand-year plan. With that, Palpatine had ordered the Supreme Commander of the Droid Army for the Separatists (and secretly, his Sith Stalker) General Grievous to lead the Confederate Navy to instigate the Battle of Coruscant. There were two reasons for this: One was due to Palpatine’s attempts to try and turn Jedi Knight and General of the 501st Legion, Anakin Skywalker (one of the two Chosen Ones) against the order and have him become a Sith Lord under Palpatine’s command, while the other – and more pressing – reason why was due to the fact that the Jedi were close to figuring out who he really was, and that the ‘kidnapping’, along with the Battle overhead was to ensure his escape before he was compromised.

Unfortunately, this would come to naught as the Republic Navy, with elements of the Open Circle Armada lead by Anakin and Obi-wan Kenobi, were able to drive the Separatist Navy away from Coruscant and rescue the Supreme Chancellor from Grievous’ warship Invisible Hand. Despite this plan failing, he pushed to have Anakin give in to the Dark Side and become a Sith, and so on one meeting between the two (in which Anakin brought the Chancellor intel that Grievous was located on Utapau), Palpatine made his move by revealing his true identity to Anakin and tried to push Anakin to commit to the Dark Side. However, this would all come to naught as not only did Anakin outright refused to bow to Sidious, but he also vowed he would never betray both the Order and his friends/companions, before retreating back to the Temple to warn the Jedi Council who Darth Sidious was – with the unintended side-effect of inadvertently informing Palpatine that the Senator from Naboo, Padmé Amidala was in fact a secret Jedi Knight in her own right (the second of the Chosen Ones – and Anakin’s wife).

Realising that he was now exposed, he activated the final piece of the great plan and sent a message to every single clone trooper in the galaxy; ‘Execute Order 66.’ The intended result was to have the vast majority of the Jedi Order exterminated before they could react to the recent discovery. However, even this didn’t work out due to the fact that the Jedi were the ones who put in the order for the Clone Army in the first place before Palpatine found out about this. The end result was that many Clone Officers and Troopers, along with a sizable number of Naval Officers in the Republic Navy would refuse to obey the order and would move to defend the Jedi who were either nearby or served under their command. The result of the troopers and naval officers who would stay loyal to the Jedi Order would later amount to around 34% of both the Grand Army of the Republic and the Republic Navy.

Despite the odds staked against the Jedi and their Loyalist Forces, they were all able to successful avoid severe casualties due to Yoda’s Contingency Plan. Realising this would come, he had a female Meltrandi Jedi Knight known as Miria Farina, a race of female humans who had achieved a unique rendition of immortality via cloning, initiate a secret cloning project with her people comprising of female clone troopers (whose genetic template was, oddly enough, Sifo-Dyas' wife, Shara Fett). This ‘secret army’ was deployed once the Jedi learned that Order 66 was initiated, and so battalion’s worth of female clone troopers were deployed across The Galaxy in order to try and rescue what Jedi they could find, along with the Loyalist Clones who were doing what they could to save their commanders and/or those who were still loyal to the Jedi Order.

Despite not succeeding in his original plan, with the new information that Padmé was a Jedi Knight, Palpatine formed another plot to ensnare Anakin as a Sith Lord, and so had the Imperialist Clone Troopers of the Coruscant Guard kidnap Padmé before she could escape from Coruscant to link up with what Loyalist Forces that were up in orbit and had her sent to Mustafar in order to draw Anakin there, and break his will. As the Separatist Council was located on Mustafar at the time, Palpatine had Grievous murder every single member there and shut down the droid armies, ending the Clone Wars, before he sent reinforcements comprising of Clone Shock Troopers – those loyal to the Sith Lord – to be ready for Padmé’s arrival – and Anakin’s.

Even this plan didn’t work out as Anakin, his old Master Qui-Gon Jinn, his brother-in-arms Obi-Wan, his Padawan Ahsoka Tano, and also his XO, Captain CT-7567 ‘Rex’ could all see, or sense, that this was a trap, and so Anakin, along with Rex and a detachment of the Loyalist members of the 501st Legion – Domino Squad, Inferno Squad, Onyx Squad, 115th Rangers Squad and Task Forces 57 and 141 – went to Mustafar to rescue Padmé. This nearly ended in disaster until reinforcements comprising of female clone troopers in 501st Markings arrived to provide extra support and evac. Despite the extra help which lead to the mission a success, it still led to casualties, with 4 members of Inferno Squad (Prep, Scrap, Ro and Sentinel) and two ARC Troopers from Task Force 57 (Carolina and Tex) stayed behind to cover their escape at the cost of their lives. Once the strike teams had returned to the few Venator-class Star Destroyers they had at their disposal, all surviving Jedi and their Loyalist Forces rendezvoused above Dagobah before the reunited Jedi Order retreated to Ossus in order to build up their forces and also start a covert war against the Sith and the Empire.

Despite all this, Palpatine had finally succeeded with the ‘destruction’ of the Jedi Order, and brought about the Sith’s vengeance, along with their rule on The Galaxy restored, and from this, proceeded to tear down the last vestiges of the Galactic Republic and transform it into the Galactic Empire with his small cadre of Sith Lords, chief among which would be Asajj Ventress, who would earn the name Darth Fury, Darth Maul, and General Grievous – who was named the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Military, along with a group of fallen Jedi that would go on to form the core of the Inquisitorius.

Since then, the Jedi had not been in idle. In the twelve years since the desperate days of Order 66, their Loyalist Clone Forces, now comprising a balanced mix of male and female clone troopers – both Clone War veterans and also new troopers via their controlled breeding program – along with upgraded vehicles and equipment, were undergoing various training regimes in order to have their forces ready to redeploy when the time came, along with the training of a new generation of Jedi Knights on Ossus, while their special forces, spies and informers would either record, or strike at strategic targets that were vital to the Empire.

That’s what Rex, now the Senior Clone Commander of the 501st Legion, was thinking at the time, remembering the war, and remembering the troopers that he had served alongside throughout the conflict who didn’t survive the war. He was on the bridge on one of the new Venator II-class Star Destroyers – the Resolute II – looking at the central holo table for information on the planet Eotis. It was an Ocean Planet that was deep in the Outer Rim, bordering the Galactic Edge, around 35 light-years away from Ossus, far from the limits of the Galactic Empire’s borders after their Reconquest of the Rim campaigns 10 years ago and uninhabited – perfect for training exercise and war games for the Jedi Order’s Starfleet, and away from prying eyes. Before he could continue to read the general information on the planet, his attention was interrupted by his commander Anakin, who was now a Jedi Master, with his own son and Padawan Learner Luke Skywalker, along with his old padawan, now Jedi Knight and commander of the 332nd Battalion (which remains a part of the 501st), Ahsoka and also fellow Clone War veteran, Clone Major CC-9385-190 ‘Bow’, all arriving on the bridge.

“Something on your mind Rex?” Ahsoka asked. It was enough to draw Rex’s attention back to the here and now.

“Uh… just, remembering how we got to this position, and also the war kid.” he replied, with a sombre tone in his voice.

“Yeah, I know how you feel Rex.” Ahsoka replied, her voice also using the same tone, as she was brought back to the events of the Siege of Mandalore in the closing days of the war. Given the fact that have known each other since the First Battle of Christophsis back in the early days of the war, it was little wonder they got on so well.

While Ahsoka was chatting to Rex at the holo-table. Anakin and Luke went to the bridge itself to talk to the commanding officer of the Resolute II – Wulff Yularen, a veteran of the Clone Wars, and one of the Jedi’s Order’s new Grand Admirals of their Naval fleet. Having served alongside Anakin from the get-go in the Clone Wars, he had developed a strong sense of respect and admiration for the Jedi, especially Anakin due to his ‘unique’ way of achieving success in battle during the war. This would be vital when Order 66 was declared, and Yularen would refuse to follow the order. Standing next to Yularen was also another Clone Wars veteran and another officer of the 501st, but in an incredibly unique uniform combination, with his helmet in his left arm – Navy Captain CC-27/05-1941, better known as ‘Bismarck’, one of the 501st’s combat instructors for new recruits and also the commander of the 501st’s 359th Kriegs Marine Battalion.

“Grand Admiral, Bismarck. Are we ready for our war games with Master Plo’s fleet?” Anakin addressed both officer, which got their attention.

“We’re almost in position in orbit of Eotis. However, Grand Admiral Coburn has said that they have been delayed. One of their support cruisers has developed problems with their hyperdrive, forcing them to return to sub-light speed while their engineers initiate repairs. Despite this, Coburn says they’ll be here in system in around 50 minutes.” Bismarck stated, before allowing Yularen to speak.

“I believe it would be prudent sir to take advantage of this development and use it to be in a better position for our ‘attack’.” he said, already thinking ahead.

As Anakin, Yularen and Bismarck started discussing ideal staging points between the three of them, Luke went back to where Ahsoka, Rex and Bow were in the Combat Information Centre behind the bridge. While Luke was conversing with the various Clone Naval Officers, something caught Bow’s attention on the tactical displays.

“That can’t be right…” Bow said, with some confusion in his voice. While he said it quietly enough, mostly because he was asking this to himself, it was loud enough to get Ashoka’s attention.

“What is it, Bow?” she asked the Major.

“I don’t know if it’s just me General, but for some reason, we’re picking up a reading… from the planet?” Bow replied.

Out of interest, Ahsoka looked at the Tactical Board, and sure enough, there was a very faint signal coming from Eotis’ surface.

“Strange, how come we’ve not noticed this before…? Stay here, I’ll get Artooie.” she said before heading off through the blast doors at the back of the CIC.

“What’s up, Bow?” Rex then called out once he saw Ahsoka run off.

“We seem to be picking up a faint signal from the surface of Eotis, Rex. General Tano went to find Artoo.” Bow reported.

Sure enough, Ahsoka returned with both R2-D2 and C-3PO in tow before Artoo plugged himself into the terminal to try and clean the signal up they were receiving. Sure enough, Artoo cleaned it up enough to reveal that the signal was, in fact, a transmission – and one they had never heard of before.

“General, Grand Admiral.” Rex called out to Anakin, Yularen and Bismarck, which got their attention, along with Luke’s.

“We’ve picked up a transmission on Eotis’ surface.” Once Anakin, Luke, Yularen and Bismarck had gathered, Artoo played back the recording they had. Everyone present knew the transmission was encrypted, but the way it sounded was unique.

“Master Anakin, out of all six million forms of communication I know, this signal is not one of either Imperial, Republic or Jedi origin.” Threepio stated once he heard enough of the message to work with.

“Artoo, you think you could be able to decipher it?” Luke asked the astromech, who replied with a series of warbles and whistles before focusing on the task.

“We could be dealing with new encryptions from the Hutts.” Bow said, thinking of a theory, before Rex shot that down. “Not a chance Bow. Since the Imperial campaigns in the Outer Rim, the Hutts don’t want to incur the wrath of either the Empire or the Sith, so they wouldn’t be that stupid. Besides, we aren’t far from Mon Cala, and that’s not a smart move either given their affinity for ship building.”

“Could be a new outpost by Black Sun or Crimson Dawn.” Anakin though off.

“No, Crimson Dawn usually operates from the shadows, so having a base out in the open goes against their style, and Black Sun wouldn’t try to risk it out here for the same reasons as the Hutts.” Ahsoka replied to her old master before continuing. “Though given their reputation as slavers and contract killers could offset that negative issue of setting up next to a major shipyard.”

“Is it possible that we could be dealing with a group of refugees trying to hide from Imperial rule or a smuggling operation?” Yularen said, throwing in his own theory to the mix.

“It’s a possible idea Grand Admiral, but from what Artoo has shown so far, this encryption is far too advanced for anyone to achieve without any form of military training.” Threepio replied. “Not to mention that as I said before, this is one signal that we have never encountered before.”

“So… we’re dealing with a complete unknown here.” Luke said, which set off some concerned looks from everyone present.

After a few more minutes, Artoo finally replied in droidspeak in an excited manner. “Artoo says he’s finally cracked the encryption.” Threepio stated to everyone who couldn’t understand what Artoo was getting excited over – save for Anakin, Ahsoka and Luke.

“Let’s see it.” Rex replied to the two droids. When the hologram faded into view, it was something no one was expecting to see.

“What the…?” was what Bow could say to what he was seeing. The hologram was showing a humanoid being, but what he was wearing was completely surprising. The armour was bulky, looking as if it was purpose built for combat, coupled with some cylindrical canisters and/or equipment attached to the person’s chest, an antenna sticking out of the right side of the back, and a very weird helmet, with no visible vents that both Clone Trooper armour and Stormtrooper armour had. The colour scheme was similar to the old design for Clone Commanders, with the difference being a white and gold scheme, instead of a white and yellow one.

“That is some serious armour there.” Ahsoka said, with a fair bit of awe in her voice.

“Indeed. No way the Empire would spend that much for their Stormtroopers.” Rex also spoke up, wondering who had the resources to make something like this. Before anyone could speak up, the transmission started to play.

“Admiral, our progress on the establishment of our base is proceeding on schedule, however, our satellites have been monitoring multiple ships appear in orbit of the planet, all of them appear to be designed for warfare. We don’t know how long we can remain hidden before they discover us.” the image of the heavily armoured figure said, clear that he was speaking Basic (English), but with clear evidence that the helmet had vocal distortion equipment inside it.

“Understood, my fleet will arrive in system and eliminate the threat. ETA is 10 minutes.” another voice said, clearly indication that this person was in contact with this ‘admiral’.

Upon hearing the time, Bismarck suddenly went stiff. “Threepio, how long did it take for Artoo to crack the encryption?” he asked, with a hint of worry in his voice.

“Around 10 minutes, Captain… why?” Threepio replied.

Before anyone could ask, Bismarck the made straight for the bridge, with such haste that it was enough to startle the Clone Navy Officers operating on the walkways and the crew pits, with Anakin, Luke, Rex, Bow, Ahsoka and Yularen following a few seconds behind. Before anyone could say anything, a female naval officer spoke up from her position in the port-side crew pit.

“Grand Admiral, we have ships coming out of Hyperspace in Sector 4.” She called out.

Sure enough, there were around 30 ships that had arrived, but the way they came into real-space was different – instead of just appearing, there was a feint blue disruption visible before the ships showed up. What was also surprising was that these were nothing like what anyone had ever seen. From what everyone on the bridge could see, these ships had a much sleeker profile that what a Star Destroyer had, and from the front, it looked like the hull on these ships was a rectangle design in the middle of the ship with what looked like two ‘wings’ sticking out and angled downwards (in fact, from the front, it looked like a flying triplicate of sorts), and they were in various sizes, indicating different design patterns most likely showing frigates, corvettes, all the way up to cruisers, battlecruisers and one ship that looked like a capital ship judging by its size. On all of them, they all shared the same colour scheme as the armoured being they saw in the message earlier. Before anyone could ask what the next step was, the capital ship then fired what appeared to be its main weapon out of the central hull before the rest of the ships opened fire.

The impact from the capital ship was completely unexpected. It wasn’t turbo laser fire or anything energy related, which meant the rounds not only smashed themselves hard on the Resolute II’s shields, but it also caused a fair amount of damage against the hull of the Star Destroyer – indication these weapons were similar to Mass Driver cannons.

Once recovered from the blow from the now-confirmed hostile ships, Yularen sprang into action “Alert all ships, we are under attack from unknown hostiles, this is no drill!”

Chapter Text

Once Yularen gave the command, the ‘Battle Stations’ alarm was wailing throughout the Resolute II and everyone was scrambling to their posts. Up on the bridge, Yularen was already working with the naval officers in the wells on targeting solutions and coordinating with the other ships that made up Skywalker’s Fleet. Already, some of the Victory II-class Star Destroyers were already engaging the smaller hostile vessels that were already closing in, while the larger vessels were already moving into a line for battle. With little time, Anakin took charge of the situation here.

“Admiral, stay here and coordinate the fleet to engage the enemy. Ahsoka, I need you out there leading the fighters against what they have. Rex, Bow, go with Bismarck and get the 501st ready for combat. Chances are we could be boarded during this fight, and take Luke with you.” He said to everyone present.

Once Anakin finished speaking, everyone made their way to the turbolifts behind the CIC, with the exception for Luke.

“What about you father?” he asked, either looking for reassurance from his father, or for understanding.

“I need to send a message to both Plo and the Council to get reinforcements and inform them of what’s happened. I’ll join you once I’m done.” Anakin replied to his son.

Once Luke left with Rex, Bow, Bismarck and Ahsoka, Anakin made his way to the holotable, with Yularen moving behind him. “General, Master Plo Koon is still around 15 minutes away from arriving here. His fleet as well as ours could be enough to counter this threat.” Yularen said.

“It’s possible Admiral, however, Master Plo has no idea that we’ve under attack, not to mention that we don’t know what their capabilities are.” Anakin replied, before something realised in his mind. “Ugh. Obi-wan’s not going to live this one down.”

All Yularen could do was roll his eyes to that statement, but with a smirk, remembering the usual bickering both Anakin and Obi-wan had during the Clone Wars.

On the Redemption, Plo Koon’s Flagship.

Still within the blue swirling vortex of hyperspace, the Redemption, along with the fleet, was still en route to Eotis. Standing in the bridge was Plo Koon, the venerable Kel Dor Jedi Master, and commander of the 104th Wolfpack Battalion. At the moment, he was deep in thought, a trait that many Jedi performed while on jumps in hyperspace. Behind him in the Redemption’s CIC were both Grand Admiral Barton Coburn, Clone Battalion Commander CC-3636 ‘Wolffe’ and his XO, Major FC-7474 ‘Lupa’. All three of them were around the holo table when one of the consoles started flashing away like mad – one that was reserved for emergencies.

“That can’t be good.” Lupa said, once she saw the console going off. Upon hearing that, Wolffe made straight for the bridge.

“General, we’re receiving an emergency transmission. It’s from General Skywalker.” Wolffe said, with a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

“You seem tense Commander, is there something I should know?” Plo replied with his usual calm tone in his voice. Given how long Wolffe had known Plo Koon, he should have remembered how Koon could put someone at ease.

“No doubt, you know how skilled Skywalker is when it comes to unpredictable tactics to gain the advantage in battle sir.” Wolffe said, as both he and Plo walked back to the CIC. “However, this has come through on our emergency channel, so I’m not sure if this is a ruse or not sir.”

“Then there is one way to find out. Admiral, put Skywalker through.” Plo said, still in his calm voice.

Once Coburn pressed the button, the holographic image of Anakin shimmered into view, showing him with Yularen also looking on.

“Master Plo, are you there?” Anakin asked, with some concern in his voice – a rarity that very few ever saw – before both were forced to grab hold of the holo table on their end, clearly indicating that they were in combat.

“We read you Skywalker. What’s happening over at Eotis?” Plo replied, surprised as what he saw happen, along with Coburn, Wolffe and Lupa.

“We’ve been engaged by an unknown hostile force. We we’re preparing for your arrival when we intercepted a transmission coming from the planet’s surface. Once we had it decoded, we listened to the transmission before a fleet of at least 30 ship came out of hyperspace and engaged us.” Anakin said, a calmly as he could, given his current situation, before everyone heard a naval officer yell out “Shields are down to 65%!”

Upon hearing that, if there any more doubt about whether Anakin was being serious or setting up an ambush, it was gone when everyone heard that.

“We need to warn the Council of this, and we need reinforcements.” Yularen said, once another round of vibrations and shaking had finished on the Resolute II.

“Focus on keeping you fleet together. I’ll send the message to the Council.” Plo replied.

“Understood Master.” Anakin stated before his image faded out.

Not long after, the message that the Resolute II intercepted was forwarded to the Redemption. Once Plo, Coburn, Wolffe and Lupa saw the message, Plo then took command.

“Coburn, bring all ships to combat alert so we are ready to engage once we exit out of hyperspace. Also, you will have command of the fleet for the duration. Lupa, tell Warthog to have his squadron ready to scramble and tell him to get my fighter ready to deploy. Wolffe, once we have sent the request for reinforcements, I need you to have the 104th ready to repel any of these ships moving in to board us.”

Back to the Resolute II.

While Anakin was informing Plo of the situation they were in, everyone was scrambling to battle stations once the alert was given. Among those moving fast were Rex, Bow, Bismarck, Ahsoka and Luke. Once they made their way to the hangers/flight deck, Ahsoka broke away to get to her customised Eta-2 Actis-class Interceptor, with her astromech droid R7-A7 getting placed into the astromech port. Despite the Jedi Order having access to more modern fighters, such as the RZ-1 A-Wing and the T-65B X-Wing, she held a strong preference to the old Jedi Interceptor. Also, Bismarck had broken away from the group to get his Clone Marines in the 359th ready for any hostile boarding operations. This left Rex, Bow and Luke to link up with the core officers of the 501st Legion – the ‘Inner Circle’ as it was known. This comprised of Rex’s XO for the whole 501st Legion, Regimental Commander FC-1973 ‘Dagger’, Battalion Commander CC-07/11-2019 ‘Shepard’ with his XO, Major CT-74/13-1746 'Six', leaders of the N7 Battalion, Battalion Commander CC-8500/6739 ‘Sterling’, leader of Ahsoka’s 332nd Battalion (Sterling would assume the role after the death of Captain Vaughn during the Siege of Mandalore and the restructuring of the unit), Battalion Commander CC-02/06-1944 ‘Winters’ and his XO, Major CT-24/03-1945 ‘Nixon’, both leaders of the 506th Airborne Battalion, Clone Commando Captain RC-16/84-9181 ‘Yeager’, commander of Onyx Squad, ARC Captains ARC-905-1210 'Price' and ARC-207-3521 'Soap', commanders of Task Force 141, ARC Commander CC-48-5124 ‘Checkmate’ and newly promoted female ARC Captain FARC-17/99-0209 ‘Gridlock’, leaders of Inferno Squad, and also long-time friend to Rex, ARC Lieutenant ARC-5597 ‘Jesse’.

“Alright guys. No doubt you know that we are under attack, what we don’t know is who they are and what their capabilities are. So, along with the 359th Marines, we need to have the 501st on alert for any boarding attempts. For this, I want our mainline units stationed near all possible entry points, while our special forces units, Inferno, Onyx and the 141 to operate as a mobile reserve for any potential hotspots. And tell your troopers to coordinate with the Marines of the 359th, as this is their area of expertise, not ours.” Rex stated, before continuing. “For this, Sterling, you will have to lead the 332nd as Ahsoka will be leading our fighters and bombers out in space against their forces. As for Anakin and Luke, they’ll be with us to repel boarders. Let’s go!”

Upon hearing this, Bow, Shepard, Price, Soap, Winters, Nixon, Sterling, Checkmate, Gridlock and Yeager left to link up with their respective units. At this point Anakin, having finished warning Plo of what was happening, linked up with Luke, Rex and Dagger.

“What’s the plan Rex?” he asked, given the fact that he was busy on the bridge.

“I’m having our regular units link up and integrate with the Marines of the 359th, as they know how to defend our ships, while our special force units act as a mobile reserve so they can move from one hotspot to another.” Rex explained before realising something “Speaking of which… Jesse, go find Hardcase, Kix, Dogma and Domino Squad, tell them to report here now!”

The three troopers that Rex was after were Heavy weapons expert and hyper-active trooper ARC-91-5629 ‘Hardcase’, Combat Medic ARC-6116 ‘Kix’ and former inflexible, turned experienced tactical advisor ARC Sergeant ARC-6922 ‘Dogma’. All three were experienced veterans of the Clone Wars (with Dogma finally developing his own sense of tactical flexibility and laxing of certain regs after the now-infamous Battle of Umbara), and all of them were promoted to ARC Troopers after the Fight to Ossus. They were heading down a hallway where they ran into two female troopers to such an extent, Dogma ended up inadvertently crash-tackling one of them to the deck. Judging by how clean their gear and armour was, they were clearly rookies, newly inducted into the 501st.

“Ow, damn it!” One of the female troopers said. “Couldn’t you see where you were going you…” her voice trailed off when she saw she was mouthing off to an ARC Trooper.

“Uh, sorry sir!” she then said in a hurry, obviously to avoid a reprimand for talking back to an officer – or in this case, a Non-commissioned officer.

“Ugh. Not your fault rookie. I wasn’t looking properly.” Dogma said as he was getting back up before he turned to see the trooper he crashed into.

“You ok, Dogma?” Kix spoke up, making sure his brother was good to fight.

“I’m good Kix.” Dogma replied, before turning to the female trooper he knocked over. “You’re good, rookie?”

“Uh… yes sir.” the female trooper replied, with some embarrassment, before Kix helped her up.

“What are your name’s rookies?” Hardcase spoke up. Here, both then stood at full attention with a salute to match.

“I’m FT-9901-842, my sister next to me is FT-09-3234. We… don’t have nicknames yet.” 842 said.

“You guys don’t have nicknames?” Kix asked, in some surprise.

“… yes sir.” the female trooper – 3234 – that Dogma crashed into replied.

“Ok. Shiny armour, clean blasters… How long have you two been assigned to the 501st?” Hardcase had to ask, given what he was seeing and hearing.

“This is our first deployment. In fact, we were just assigned to the 501st before we left Ossus.” 3234 said, with both embarrassment and nervousness in her voice.

“And what, you’re lost your squad or overlooked?” Dogma asked, also confused with this.

“Yes, sir.” 3234 said, with a fair amount of shame in her voice. At the same time, both female troopers lowered their heads.

Before anyone could do anything more, Jesse came running down the corridor and saw the group.

“Kix, Hardcase, Dogma. You’re nee… who are the rookies?” Jesse asked, once he saw the female troopers.

“We inadvertently ran into them while we were going to link up with Torrent Company. Turns out they were separated from their original squad and were forgotten about.” Dogma replied to the Lieutenant.

“Ok, until we’re out of this mess, they’ll stay with you three.” Jesse said, before he continued. “With that, General Skywalker has asked for you guys. Head to the flight deck!” he finished, before he started to move on, but instead stopped. “That reminds, you guys seen Domino Squad?” Jesse asked out.

“Last I know, they were in the simulation room again.” Kix called back.

“Thanks!” Jesse replied before running off.

Once Jesse disappeared, Kix, along with Hardcase and Dogma turned to look at the two female troopers.

“Looks like you two are staying with us.” Kix said. This perked them up a bit, before all five started to move out towards to the hangers.

If anyone asked the question ‘Which unit of the 501st do you know the best?’ to anyone in the Loyalist Clone Forces, there was an extremely high chance that many of them would say ‘Domino Squad.’ By this point in time, every single clone trooper, both Clone War veterans and rookies born and trained on Ossus, had heard of what happened to Domino Squad during its final test during the Citadel course back on Kamino, in which they failed (due to the fact that everyone, save for two decided to leave one of their own behind – breaking Rule 1), but not only did they get the green light for another crack at the test, but they did so in such a unique fashion, and also break the course record to pass and become full-fledge troopers. Since then, there were involved in nearly every battle once Domino Squad was inducted into the ranks of the 501st Legion after the Battle of Rishi and involved in major events with both the Legion and the Jedi Order (Second Battle of Geonosis, Saleucami, Third Battle of Kamino, Lola Sayu, Umbara, Siege of Mandalore and even the Mission to Mortis to name a few) that would eventually build up to Domino Squad obtaining legendary status both within the 501st and the entire Loyalist Clone Forces. If fact, their reputation reached such a level that following the Flight to Ossus, ARC General ARC-77 ‘Fordo’, who now served as the Commander of the Special Operations Branch, actually offered everyone in Domino Squad a transfer to the Spec Ops Branch and recognition as Special Forces – to which they turned it down because (in their own words) they ‘were happy where they were.’

The troopers who made up this unit were also unique in so many ways. Originally, ARC-782 ‘Hevy’ served as their ‘impromptu’ squad leader during the second attempt on the Citadel test, and after they were alone when Commando Droids stormed the Rishi Outpost early in the War, until after the Battle of Saleucami where Rex assigned newly promoted ARC Trooper, Combat Engineer and the inventor of the DC-15G Blaster Shotgun, ARC-95-2185 ‘Ratchet’ to take command of Domino Squad (given the fact that Rex was following his own rules – experience outranks everything, and Ratchet outranked all of Domino Squad due to his new status as an ARC Trooper and also being a veteran of the First Battle of Geonosis). This worked out well as both were able to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses when leading either Domino Squad or extra clone troopers during the War. For this, Ratchet would be promoted to ARC Lieutenant and Hevy to ARC Sergeant.

For ARC-21-0408 ‘Echo’ and ARC-27-5555 ‘Fives’, these two were almost an inseparable part of Domino Squad. Originally, Echo and Fives had their own problems within the unit back on Kamino, predominantly Echo couldn’t think outside of the regulation books and Fives’s arrogance and complacency in his own skills didn’t help during their training on Kamino. However, over time, both would eventually develop their own creativity and independent thought, as well as thinking outside of the box and adapting to the situation on the fly with Echo eventually becoming the Squad’s slicer and tech expert. In Fives’ case, he has since developed a strong independent mind to such an extent that there’s a prevailing joke among the Loyalist Clones – if CC-6569 ‘Faie’ is the closest thing the Kaminoans were aiming for the Clone Army, Fives would have to be the exact opposite of their wishes. Regardless, it was for this that they were made ARC Troopers after the Third Battle of Kamino with Hevy and two others.

For ARC Troopers ARC-4040 ‘Cutup’ and ARC-00-2010 ‘Droidbait’, they also had their unique problems back when they were cadets. While Droidbait didn’t have the same issues as his brothers in Domino, though to him, he believed he was nothing more than ‘droid bait’ due to how he kept getting hit first during training matches. This, however, would work to his advantage as it would act as a teaching tool, and help Droidbait develop his skills as a recon specialist, spotter and point man for Domino Squad. As for Cutup, the biggest issue was his poor timing on his jokes and smartass remarks – especially in a firefight. However, with help from two others in the Squad – and a smack on the back of the head with a DC-15LE occasionally – he would evolve to a skilled soldier. While both Droidbait and Cutup were overlooked for ARC Trooper status after the Third Battle of Kamino, they would finally earn it after the Flight to Ossus.

The last two members of Domino Squad were, in fact, one of the key reasons that they became an effective unit, and also one of two reason why Domino was able to finally come together as a unit (the other should be fairly obvious to you Clone War fans). This would be human-born turned battle-hardened survivors Emma Martin and Jennifer Adams – better known to their comrades as ARC-5612 ‘Arcee’ and ARC-9034 ‘Viper’. Both women were born on Earth (or Terra as some galactic map records showed), a planet that had no knowledge of the galaxy as a whole or held any significant interest to nearly anyone else in the galaxy. Seven years before the start of the Clone Wars (29 BBY – 4/5/2020 by their calendar), the Commerce Guild, with limited support from the Trade Federation and the Techno Union, invaded Earth as a form of ‘battlefield testing’ for their new droids. In the form of their ‘testing’, it was a minor failure given the fact that the various militaries on Earth didn’t have anything like the Trade Federation, Commerce Guild or the Techno Union had and couldn’t put up much of a fight for accurate results. However, if their actual objective was the complete and total purging of a planet’s native population, then the mission was a complete success – for Emma and Jennifer were the only two survivors of that day.

How they survived was thanks to none other than Jango Fett, along with his own squad of ARC Trooper Cadets (Chaos, Menace, Frost and Turbo) that would later be known as the 8th Special Operations Squad – ‘Headhunters’. They were on Earth at the time – believing it to be uninhabited, for a survival exercise, before they found out that Earth was habited, and they saw the Commerce Guild’s invasion. Due to their small numbers on their side, and the fact the Jedi’s Clone Army was secret, they couldn’t participate in fighting the Battle Droids, so the best they could do was to rescue Emma and Jennifer from Earth. Once they return both girls to Kamino, they spent 7 years of intensive training – at their request for vengeance – going through the same courses that every Clone Trooper went through, to become troopers in their own right. At first, many of the 501st – including Rex no less – held major distrust due to who they were and how they got in the Army. Over time, this would turn to one of respect for their tenacity in combat, and also due to their unique past before the Devastation of Earth, both women would be indirectly responsible for the formation, and naming, of a small handful of troopers and units (Bismarck, ARC Sergeant ARC-08/04-2008 ‘Talvisota’, ARC Trooper ARC-12-1999 ‘Joakim’, ARC Commander ARC-06/06-1915 ‘Vladimir’, Task Force 57, 7th Mechanised ‘Ghost’ Division, 2552th ARC ‘Spartan’ Company, the leading officers in the Special Commando Assault Regiment – SCAR Squadron and the 21st Nova Corps’ 1st Marine Division to name some).

At this point in time, Domino were just coming out of the simulation room after another round of target practice and defensive work, when they all heard the alarms going off. At first, it was Cutup – in his usual way – made to remark of ‘General Skywalker must be slipping for this to happen.’ before they all heard Yularen’s voice warning everyone that they were engaged by unknown hostiles. Upon hearing this, all of Domino was moving fast.

“I hate to ask the obvious here, but who or what knows we’re out here?” Arcee asked out to everyone while they were running through the corridors.

“Damned if I know Arcee,” Hevy called out “But, if they think they can take the Resolute II, clearly they don’t know what we’re capable of.” This earned a unified agreement with the whole Squad.

Before they could move on, all 8 ARC Troopers ran into Jesse. “There you guys are.” The lieutenant called out.

“What’s up Jesse?” Ratchet asked.

“Apart from the fact that we’re under attack, Rex wants you guys now, along with Kix, Dogma and Hardcase. Follow me!” Jesse stated before starting to back track the way he came.

“That’s not good. Let’s go Domino!” Ratchet stated to the squad before they all started running again, now double-timing it.

By the time Jesse and Domino arrived in the hangers/flight deck, Kix, Dogma, Hardcase, 3234 and 842 had already gathered near Anakin, Luke, Rex, Dagger and also another 501st ARC Trooper – ARC-12-1999 ‘Joakim’. “Glad you could make it, Domino.” Rex called out once he saw the squad before he let Anakin take over.

“Ok guys. No doubt by now, you all know the situation we’re in. Due to this, everyone present will be fight alongside Luke and myself. In the event of boarding, we’ll be acting as a mobile reserve alongside our special forces. Understood?” Everyone present responded – especially Hardcase – with a resounding “Sir, yes sir!”.

Before anyone else could say anything new, Anakin’s wrist-mounted comlink went off – and from Ahsoka’s channel.

“Anakin, we’re doing ok against their fighters, but R7 noticed several shuttles leaving three of their cruisers and their capital ship – heading straight for the Resolute II.” She called out, with some difficulty as she was in a dogfight with two of their fighters on her tail. “Looks like their heading straight for the Ventral Hanger Bays.”

“Thanks Snips.” Anakin replied before killing the commlink. “Ahsoka said we’ve got boarding teams inbound, heading for the Ventral Hangers. Let’s go.” He said, before everyone start to run in that direction.

While making their way towards their destination, Luke powered up his wrist commlink. “Bismarck, we’ve got boarding teams inbound to the Resolute II, heading for the Ventral Hanger Bay.” Luke said to the commander of the 359th.

“Understood, I’m on my way Commander.” Bismarck replied.

Whilst making their way down the underside hanger bays, Arcee noticed the two rookie female troopers.

“Hey Dogma, who’re the shinies?” Arcee asked.

“New troopers. In fact, both of them were just assigned to the 501st before we left Ossus.” Dogma replied.

“Just assigned? How new we’re talking here?”

“Their armour’s that shiny, they don’t even have nicknames yet.” Hardcase called out. This was more than enough to get Viper’s attention.

“What?! Where’s the rest of your squad?” she called out to the female troopers.

“We got separated from our squad ma’am. Our squad was still learning their way around when the alarms sounded.” 3234 stated, which drew some annoyance not only from the rest of Domino Squad, but also Rex and Dagger.

“And your squad’s name?” Dagger ask to her sister troopers.

“Charger Squad, ma’am.” 842 replied back.

“Remind me to have a word with the rest of their squad once we’re out of this mess Dagger.” Rex stated once he heard their story before continuing “So why were you two following Kix, Dogma and Hardcase?”

“Because Lieutenant Jesse told us to sir.” 3234 replied, which got a response from Jesse. “Given the situation we’re in Rex, it made sense for them to stay with those three – at least until were out of this mess.” he replied back to Rex.

“Fair enough. However, given the fact that all of us will be with both General Skywalker and his son for the time being, you two rookies stick with Arcee and Viper. They’ll show you the ropes. Understood?”

“Sir, yes Sir!” both female troopers replied back.

Once Anakin’s group arrived in the Ventral Hanger Bay, they could ready see that the Clone Marines of the 359th had set up defensive position where they could, along with members of Shepard’s N7 Battalion, as they were an easy give away due to their Onyx Grey Phase II Armour, with the unique blue and white stripes on their arms, along with the regular 501st markings and blue visors. However, the first thing that they saw was that the blast doors were already damaged and buckled from the enemy mass accelerator cannons, which lead to the atmospheric barriers being deployed to prevent decompression of the bay, but it also provided an entry point for their shuttles. This would be proven around 3 minutes after Anakin’s group had arrived.

As soon as everyone was ready, the first hostile shuttles arrived in the ventral hanger bays. The design was completely foreign to everyone present, as it had no wings, no weapons, four engines with two at the front and two at the back (which not only confused the clones, but the way they were mounted on, and moving, many though they could also walk when landed, or served as it’s landing gear) and also two massive windows on either side, which appeared to be the shuttle’s doors. The paint work was predominantly white, with some black markings and also a small amount of gold thrown on it. However, Anakin, Luke, Rex and Bismarck saw something they didn’t see before on the hostile armoured figure in the message – a unique logo in black and gold that represented either an elongated chevron or a unique looking spearhead, depending on your point of view. To also add further confusion, these shuttles didn’t land, but rather they opened their doors upwards, and their cargo – hostile troops – instead, jumped out. To compound this further, these soldiers also were equipped with rockets to slow their descent, but instead of being attached to their backs as Jet Packs, these were instead built into their boots. In a unique way for both Rex and Anakin, it reminded them of the infamous Duros bounty hunter Cad Bane with his Jet Boots.

As soon as the first hostile soldier landed on the deck, Bismarck gave the command. “Engage, engage!” he yelled out, and soon the entire bay erupted into a full-fledged firefight.

“Engaging Hostiles!” was what one of these unknown troopers were saying. Like the armoured figure in the message, these troopers – appearing to be rank-and-file – were also equipped in unique armour that was bulky, but also appearing to be purpose built for combat and also these troopers also had voice distortion gear in their helmets. What also surprised everyone – especially Anakin and Luke – was that their weapons weren’t blasters at all, but more akin to slugthrowers. Now, being Jedi, both Anakin and Luke were aware that a lightsaber wouldn’t deflect the round like a blaster bolt would, but instead melt the round. However, they had to be extra careful as the remaining melted lumps of metal would still injure the wielder. The odd thing here is that they were not seeing any remnants of the slugs after they hit the lightsaber. That said, everybody knew that slugthrowers didn’t cauterize wounds like blaster bolts – which meant the medics would be working overtime in this battle.

This would come true within the first few seconds when the hostile troopers weapons started to find their mark, soon the medics were busy keeping the wounded alive – Kix included. Despite this, the clones were doing well with holding the hostile troopers in the middle of the docking port and had already killed a few troopers. Yet, more of their shuttles were pouring in the breach. While Anakin and Luke were busy with blocking the shots from their unique weapons with their lightsabers, both Hevy and Viper – along with any clone trooper and clone marine lugging a Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannon – were suppressing the hostile troopers, and also killing a few of them who were stupid enough to try and stand up against the sheer amount of blaster bolts. Turns out their squad leaders – wearing the same armour that was in the intercepted transmission – had anticipated this and, with their unique and bulky single-shot rifles, fired off a special round that then started generating smoke.

“Crap, they’ve making smoke!” Fives called out, given the fact that now his vision was obscured. For Arcee and Viper, due to their unique visors they wore, this was no problem, for they had the option to switch over to either night-vision or thermal. Once set, they could see where the hostile troopers were, and continued to fire at them. This became painfully obvious to the squad leaders who made the call to the shuttles that were still on approach. “Once Guardians arrive here, have them take point and serve as mobile cover.”

The next shuttle that came in carried even more unique, yet bulky armour, combat troopers – in fact, their armour was bulkier than what the troopers and squad commanders wore. However, the big difference with these ones was that they carried a massive shield with them and, once having landed on the deck, started to wield these in front of them. Once the smokescreens started to dissipate, this became the view of what everyone could see. To any member of the 501st who were veterans of the Ringo Vinda Campaign during the war, they could tell what was happening.

The shields these ‘Guardians’ carried, were almost the same size and dimension as what the clones used during Ringo Vinda, but the shape was a different design, including a small cutaway on the right side of the shield, which allowed them to wield their unique weapons – a bulky pistol-shaped weapon, but the fire pattern of the slugs acted like a scattergun – and also, their shields were also blaster-proof. Long story short, this allowed even more troopers to arrive and put up a fight against the clones. However, Viper was able to see around this problem.

“General. Tell the troopers if they are carrying thermal detonators to cook them and toss them so they land behind their shields, but they don’t get the time to toss them back at us! Also, their visor slots have no protection, which means accurate headshots can also bring them down!” Viper called out to Anakin, who was busy helping Luke ‘absorb’ the rounds that the troopers were firing.

“Good call Viper. Rex, Bow, spread the word!” Anakin called out to the two clone officers.

Once Viper finished speaking, she ditched her Z-6, and grabbed her unique weapon that was attached to her backpack – which happened to be one of the few items both Arcee and Viper managed to bring with them when they were rescued from Earth; a Milkor M32A1 Multiple Grenade Launcher but retooled to fire short-delay grenades found in the MPL-57 Grenade Launcher. Once ready, Viper took aim and fired off 3 round from it, with the small grenades bouncing towards the hostile troopers, with one landing behind the Guardians, before they detonated. Two of the grenades detonated in front of the shields, which made the Guardians flinch and recoil from the explosion (tuns out that blaster shots on their shields would do that too), while the one that roll past the shield wall, took out two of the regular troopers, or as close as they could be given how unknown they were to the clones.

Despite their best efforts, the hostile shuttles were still coming in, dropping off reinforcements for the enemy, and their weapons were starting to take a toll on the clones, with a decent number of marines and N7 troopers wounded, with a smaller number of dead. Even Bismarck and Anakin were wounded, although theirs were more grazing shots than actual injuries. However, everyone knew that they had to hold the line, for if these troopers did seize control of the Resolute II, they would be able to find where Ossus is, and the last thing anyone wanted was a major battle over Ossus for it would draw attention to the Empire and the Sith – and then no one would be coming out of that alive.

Switch to the Resolute II’s Bridge

Up in the bridge, Yularen was also busy as well. So far, Anakin’s fleet was holding up against the unique ships, but not without cost. So far, the hostile fleet had destroyed 4 of their Charger C70 retrofitted Consular-class frigates, 3 Arquitens-class light cruisers and even a Victory II-class Star Destroyer. That said, they had taken down a few of their smaller escorts and at least 5 of what was assumed to be destroyers, yet it wasn’t enough. As another round of missiles hit the Resolute II, Yularen had to brace when the ship started to shudder again. Despite his experiences in the Republic Navy and also the many years as a naval officer, Yularen never got used to that. Once the shudder ceased, he recomposed himself and made for the holotable in the centre of the CIC, where he met a female clone naval officer who had the rank plaque of a Commander.

“What’s the enemy’s current situation?” Yularen asked the female commander, known as FC-1832/4921 ‘Gunner’. “We’re capable of dealing with their smaller ships ok, albeit with some difficulty due to their design, but we’ve yet to do anything against what appear to be their cruisers and that capital ship. However due to their unique weaponry, we are struggling to keep our defences up against the firepower with all of our ships that are still operational registering anything from 65% shield strength to as little as 20% Grand Admiral.”

Before either officer could continue, another naval officer called out to them. “Grand Admiral, General Plo’s fleet’s coming out of hyperspace in sector 5.”

After hearing this, both Yularen and Gunner made their way to the bridge, where they could see the Redemption – Plo Koon’s Venator II-class Star Destroyer – emerge from hyperspace, before the rest of his fleet arrived a few seconds later.

“What is the situation Grand Admiral?” came through Plo’s voice.

“General, our fleet’s been taking significant damage from the hostile fleet, including the loss of a few frigates and cruisers. We’ve been able to hold our own against their escorts, but not against their capital ship and cruisers.” Yularen stated.

“I’ll have Coburn coordinate my fleet so we can flank their ships and start engaging their cruisers, while I lead our fighters and bombers against their ships and fighter support.” Plo replied to Yularen, before Yularen spoke up. “Understood General. Be advised that General Tano is busy out there engaging their fighters and also their shuttles that are boarding us as we speak.”

“I’d take it that Anakin is busy with the boarding teams?” Plo asked, however given his experiences with Anakin, Plo almost knew with certainty that he would be in the thick of it – it was for this reason that Anakin was respected as a skilled leader and what made the 501st Legion a respected formation.

“Indeed, General Plo. He, along with Commander Skywalker and also Commanders Rex, Dagger and Captain Bismarck are repelling boarding parties in our ventral hanger bay.” Yularen replied, just before he had to brace himself and hold onto the holotable as another round of shuddering came through the Resolute II thanks to their capital ship’s mass accelerator cannon once again.

“Understood. We’re engaging the hostile forces now.” Plo finished up before ending the transmission. Once Plo’s image faded out, Yularen then turned to look at Gunner. “Send a tactical overview of the current battlefield to Admiral Coburn showing him where their cruisers and their capital ship is, along with ideal firing positions.”

Once Plo’s fleet had manoeuvred into position that Yularen suggested, their ships started to engage the enemy fleet. Meanwhile, Anakin, Luke, Rex, Dagger, Bismarck, Kix, Joakim, Dogma, Hardcase, 3234, 842 and Domino Squad, along with elements of the N7 Battalion and the 359th Kriegs Marine Battalion, were able to finally repel the enemy boarding teams from the ventral hanger bays, but before they could even take a breath, Anakin’s comm flared up – from Yeager.

“General, we’ve got boarding teams pouring into the hangers on the flight deck – and they’re deploying walkers!” he called out through the comms, with the sounds of blaster fire and also the hostile forces’ unique weapons firing in the background.

“On our way Yeager.” Anakin replied over comms before he issued out his next orders. “Rex, Dagger. We’ve got boarding teams making their way to the hangers on the flight deck. Get Domino Squad, Joakim, Hardcase, Kix, Dogma, 3234 and 842 and we’ll head there!”

Once Rex replied that he understood, Bismarck yelled out “General, my XO Eugen is in that area. He’ll meet you there!”

“Understood Bismarck. Lockdown this area here before linking up with us!” Anakin called back, before moving out with Luke, Rex, Dagger, Joakim, Dogma, Kix, Hardcase, 3234, 842 and Domino Squad, all heading towards the flight deck.

On the way Luke spoke up. “Even with the help of Master Plo, will we survive this fight Father?” he asked Anakin.

“I hope so Luke. But, as Qui-Gon has said in the past ‘Keep your mind in the here and now’. Just focus on protecting the men and also staying in one piece.” Anakin replied. While he did his best to train his son as well as he could, Anakin couldn’t help but ponder on his son’s words.

This would become more obvious nearly 40 minutes later. With Plo’s fleet arriving to help, they were starting to engage the hostile cruisers that were with their capital ship, and both fleets had finally been able to destroy at least 3 of them. That said, even with Plo’s fleet helping, the enemy was still able to stand it’s ground against the Jedi’s warships. This was becoming more apparent to both Yularen and Gunner while they were observing the whole situation either on the bridge or in the CIC. Before long, a naval officer in one of the crew pits recognised something appear on his monitor.

“Grand Admiral, we have another ship is dropping out of hyperspace behind us!” he called out.

Sure enough, the holotable showed the ship arriving out of light speed. “A transport? What else are we to run out here?” Gunner said, with some disdain in her voice.

However, Yularen realised there was something about this transport, as the crew members in the CIC were having issues identifying the ship.

“I hope that’s who I think it is…” he said, before he gave new orders to the crews on the bridge. “Intensify forward shields and order the gunnery crews to start engaging their capital ship!”

Once they replied that they understood, he turned to his communications officer. “Get me in contact with that freighter.”

Switch to the unidentified freighter.

The freighter in question was a Corellian YT-1300p Light Freighter. On the outside, it had a light grey paint job with ice blue trim and sporting a few scorch marks and carbon scarring due to its age. On the inside, that was a whole different story.

The pilots of the vessel weren’t civilians, or smugglers. Rather, it was two ARC Troopers, both sporting blue stripes on their arms, signifying they were a part of the 501st Legion, but they were also sporting different colours on their Experimental Phase II ARC Trooper Armour. The pilot was sporting orange markings, while his co-pilot was wearing brown on his. This freighter was the Light Marauder, the personal transport for one of the 501st Legion’s Special Forces units – Task Force 57, a.k.a. The Reds and Blues.

“Wash, we’ve got a transmission coming through.” the pilot – ARC Lieutenant ARC-77/02-0203 ‘Grif’ – called out to his commanding officer – ARC Commander ARC-8351/0291 ‘Washington’, or Wash. Since his original commander’s death – ARC-24/56-1620 ‘Carolina’ – on Mustafar during Operation: HELL MARCH 12 years ago, Wash was the unit’s XO, thus making him their new commander.

“Put it through guys.” Wash said, with his helmet in his right arm. After a few seconds, Wash spoke up. “Grand Admiral, this is the Light Marauder.”

“I had a feeling that was you Washington.” Due to the nature of their cockpit, Wash had no hologram to work with while talking to Yularen, but even he could tell that the Grand Admiral was relieved to know who he was talking to. “I’d take it that you received word of what happened here?” Yularen asked the veteran ARC troopers.

“Yes. We were on our way back from our mission on Malastare when we received a transmission from General Yoda about the situation that you’re in.” Wash replied back to Yularen. “Where’s General Skywalker?”

“Busy dealing with boarding teams. I’ll patch him in.” After a few seconds of waiting, Wash heard Anakin’s voice. “Wash, is that you guys?”

“You bet it is General. I take it that the planned war games between the 501st and the 104th has been scrapped?” Wash joked, given the fact that he was already informed of the situation from Yoda beforehand, before returning to taking a serious approach. “What’s the situation on the Resolute II sir?”

“We’ve got enemy boarding teams swarming us on the flight deck at the moment, and more are coming in from their ships. Even with Master Plo’s fleet, we’re still taking a beating from the enemy.” Anakin replied, while during the whole time, he was busy dodging and ‘blocking’ enemy rounds from their weapons. After he finished speaking to Wash, something dawned on him. “Wait a minute… are you the only ones who were sent by the Council to help?” Upon hearing this, and with a smirk, Wash took the opportunity to use one of Anakin’s quotes back from the War.

“Who said we were alone?”

Whether it was by chance or design, within 5 seconds of Wash finishing his statement, another 55 ships came out of hyperspace, chief among which were the Negotiator II, Liberator, Allegiance and the Havoc Marauder. The first three were the flagships for Jedi Master, and Anakin’s best friend, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi and Chiss Grand Admiral Mitth'raw'nuruodo – better known as Thrawn, whereas the Havoc Marauder was the personal ship for the elite special forces unit Clone Force 99 – ‘The Bad Batch’.

“General, we have reinforcements coming out of hyperspace!” Yularen called out to Anakin over the comms.

“I’d take it this was part of the plan Wash?” Anakin asked, once he recovered from dodging a rocket from the unique walkers.

“Not exactly, but it kind of worked out.” Wash said with a slight smirk, before getting back into a serious role. “We also brought The Bad Batch with us from their op on Serenno. Where do you need us General?” It was a little while before Wash would hear from anyone, no doubt due to how busy they were.

“With the reinforcements that Obi-Wan, Ki-Adi and Thrawn have brought with them, I don’t think there is much you can do up here.” Anakin stated, before he continued “However, we intercepted a transmission coming from the surface before this fleet arrived here, I’ll have Admiral Yularen send it to you. We think there is a base on the surface. Take the Bad Batch and head down to the surface, see what’s there and secure the base for us. There’s a good chance there’ll be some serious intel we can use to identify these guys.”

“Understood General.” Wash finished off the transmission before the link went dead.

“Grif, Lopez. Start us down towards Eotis, and make sure our jammers are online.” Once both ARC Troopers understood this, Wash left the cockpit and went to the main Passenger Lounge, which served as Task Force 57’s main briefing room, where the rest of the ARC Troopers that made up the Reds and Blues were located. In addition to them, there were also 3 Mandalorian Warriors aboard with them – 2 female, 1 male – sporting the traditional style of Mandalorian Armour, but in a different colour scheme to what most Mandalorians had – Blue body stocking with Beskar armour plates in white, completed with Blue Markings of the 501st Legion, and all of them sporting a JT-12 Jetpack instead of the Z-6 model. These three warriors were Enna Wren, Jysell Wren and Bartam Wren, all of whom were from Clan Wren. When their clan, thanks to Ursa Wren, sided with Death Watch years before the War, all three refused to join Death Watch, then fled and tried to make a living as bounty hunters until they were found by Jango, where once he heard of their story, he offered them a place as part of his training group of Mandalorian Warriors stationed on Kamino to train the clone troopers for the Jedi’s Clone Army. Once the War broke out, instead of returning to Mandalore like Jango and around half of the group, they all wanted to work alongside the troopers they trained, and thus were assigned to work with the 501st. Due to their time with the 501st, they also learned a lot from Anakin and Ahsoka about the Jedi Order, which in turn generate a great deal of mutual respect between all 5 of them – which lead to the Mandalorians, instead of retreating to Mandalorian Space when Order 66 came down, flee with the Jedi and Loyalist Clones to Ossus, where they still work alongside the 501st and also help train cadets on Ossus.

“Mate. Can you patch in Sergeant Hunter?” Wash asked one of the two R2 astromechs (R2-M8, who earned the nickname of ‘Mate’ from TF 57) that they had assigned to the Light Marauder. After a series of beeps and warbles, a holographic image of the Clone Commando known as ‘Hunter’ appeared.

Once everyone was ready, Wash started. “Alright guys. The reason we’ve been reassigned here is due to this. Nearly 2 hours ago, General Skywalker took his fleet towards Eotis where he and General Plo’s fleet were to take part in a mock battle between each other for training purposes, where they received a transmission from the Surface. Simmons, can you play that transmission that Grand Admiral Yularen sent over?” The trooper he was asking was ARC Lieutenant ARC-1582/3692 ‘Simmons’, one of their Heavy Weapons experts, but also serving as the Reds and Blues Slicer (Tech Hacker) and, due to his enhanced intellect thanks to a genetic abnormality, he also served as their Intelligence Officer.

“Coming up right now, Wash.” Simmons replied while tapping away on a datapad. Soon enough, everyone was seeing the same transmission as what Rex, Anakin, Ahsoka and Yularen saw themselves. Once they all saw the transmission, it would be ARC Captain ARC-90/87-5627 ‘Epsilon’, their Designated Marksman and Communications expert in TF 57, spoke up.

“Well, there something you don’t see in this galaxy. Do we know who these guys are?”

“At the moment, we still don’t know, outside of the fact that they appear to be humanoid and are openly hostile. That said, from what I’ve gathered from the ‘Inner Circle’ while waiting for everyone to arrive, their gear and weapons are completely unknown to what we know of weapons technology, but they have said their weapons are operating in a manner akin to that of slugthrowers, so we’ll have to be careful on that front.” Simmons replied to everyone present.

“So with all that taken into account, what’s the plan here; simple recon or are we to storm the base?” replied ARC Captain ARC-17-3427 ‘Tucker’. Since the loss of Carolina on Mustafar 12 years ago, and with Wash now serving as the Commander Officer of TF 57, the ARC Trooper Swordsman now served as Wash’s XO.

“Our orders are to storm the base in order to acquire solid intel on who these troopers are” Wash replied back before continuing. “However, given the sever lack of knowledge of what their full capabilities are, plus their base layout, it means we’ll need to get some recon on their area and layout of their base.” During this time, Simmons had brought up a holoimage of Eotis, with a focus on where the area on where the transmission came from.

At this point, Enna spoke up. “Washington, from what I’m seeing, I’m guessing their base is on an island, and it’s close to the shoreline. Do we have a topography map of the area Simmons?”

“I… think I do, hang on.” Simmons replied before starting to tap away on his datapad. After a few seconds, he had a projection of the same area of Eotis and had them layered on top of one another. This revealed the immediate area around the source of the transmission.

“There’s a clear area about 3 klicks that looks like both Marauders can land at.” Enna spoke as she pointed out the area.

“That’s one hell of a hike to the base isn’t it Enna?” ARC Captain ARC-09/16-7129 ‘Sarge’ asked.

“We may have no choice Sarge. Given the fact that we don’t know what their base’s defences are like, if we land any closer, we would be compromised before we even get on the ground” Hunter spoke up. The entire time, he was quite but was observing everything and was working out some ideas of his own. Due to their unique upbringing, The Bad Batch had a distaste of working alongside with the vast majority of the Loyalist Army, to which they called everyone else ‘regs’ – regular clones – and this tag was applied to nearly everyone, including clone commandos like Delta Squad. The only exceptions to this were Rex, Marshal Commander CC-2224 ‘Cody’, Domino Squad and Task Force 57. For Cody, he had worked with The Bad Batch on occasion during the Clone Wars, whereas for Rex during one Op, he would come to respect them since seeing them in action. The same would apply to Domino Squad as they fought side by side in the same op, but it was the Reds and Blues that The Bad Batch came to respect the most given the fact each trooper in TF 57 had a unique personality and talent that in doing so, it meant that The Bad Batch could relate to them.

“However, from what we do know, they use technology that no-one in this galaxy knows of. But, if their communications tech does emit electromagnetic signals like ours, I should be able to guide us there no problem.” Hunter finished.

“Ah yeah, I forgot that you could do that.” Epsilon replied back.

At this point, Wash spoke up. “Then it seems we have our plan. Simmons, get the coordinates of our LZ to Grif and Lopez for landing. Hunter, tell Tech to follow us down. Everyone else, get you gear ready to go. Let’s get to it.” Once Wash finished speaking, Hunter’s image faded away, and Simmons made a line for the cockpit, while everyone on the Light Marauder started to get their gear ready for the upcoming battle.

“We’re struggling up in orbit with these hostiles.” Wash thought to himself. “Let’s see if we can change the tide on the surface.”

Chapter Text

All over Eotis, there were a multitude of mass accelerator rounds, missiles and torpedoes of various designs, ion rounds, laser and turbolaser fire of various sizes flying between the Jedi’s fleets and the unknown hostile warships. In addition to this were the various fighters, bombers and shuttles/gunships either in their own dogfights or moving to find an entry point on various ships for boarding actions.

This was what Ahsoka was seeing inside the cockpit of her customised red and white Eta-2 Actis-class Interceptor. She was busy doing what she could to fend off the hostile fighters and shuttles that were heading for Anakin’s fleet, now being backed up with the ships that Obi-Wan, Ki-Adi and Thrawn brought with them. Until then, she was starting to believe that this was a bit of a lost cause but Ahsoka did know what was at stake. After flying around the stern of the Resolute II, she then started to tail a hostile fighter.

Like the rest of their ships Ahsoka had seen in this battle, their fighters had a very unique design. A decent-sized fuselage, with two engines attached to each side, with the front of the engines elongated outwards to house their weapon systems, and coming out of each engine were the wings, in a very unique design, all finished up in a black, white and yellow paint scheme. Because of the design of the fighter, there was no doubt that many of the clone pilots were having their hands full with dealing with the fighters, no doubt to the design, but also their size as these were smaller than what most clones had ever seen or fought against, with the exception of the new RZ-1 A-Wing that the various rebel groups were using when they were starting to form. To add to this, these fighters were quick, agile and surprisingly, could pack a sever amount of firepower and had decent shields despite their size. For the Clone Pilots who were born after the Flight to Ossus, this was turning into a major struggle as they hadn’t encountered anything like this before. However, to Clone Pilots who were Clone War Veterans, this was easier for them due to their experience in engaging the very small 5.4 meter Droid Tri-Fighter – and many of these veterans still had fears of the lethal menace that they carried; Pistoeka Sabotage Droids, or Buzz Droids.

After taking out another hostile fighter, Ahsoka circled around and make her way back to the thick of it. Whilst doing this, she could see Plo busy in a dogfight with two hostile fighters, alongside a T-65B X-Wing fighter, in Jedi Loyalist markings/paint scheme (itself derived from the Clone Wars). If Ahsoka knew anything about the 104th, there was a very good chance that would be CT-99-0019 ‘Warthog’ piloting that X-Wing. Unfortunately, this momentary lapse in judgement meant she wasn’t focusing – which meant she wasn’t paying attention until one of these hostile fighters started to take a charge at her, with weapons blazing. Only when R7-A7 started squawking like mad, did Ahsoka realise the danger and started to evade the hostile fighter. For the next few minutes, Ahsoka was trying everything she could, but the fighter stayed on her tail, but the enemy wasn’t taking no for an answer. She had already called out for help, but the vast majority of her squadron was either too far away, or otherwise engaged on their own accord. As her personal dogfight was wearing on, it was starting to dawn on Ahsoka that she wasn’t going to last for too much longer if this kept going – that was until her comms sparked up.

“General, Bank Right!” was all that came through, but she knew what it meant.

With that, she did bank right, just before blaster bolts came flying past her. After levelling off, Ahsoka could see that she was no longer being shot at. Before she could ask out who took out the hostile fighter, an ARC-170 Multi-Role Fighter came into view on her starboard side. Though having been phased out of service by the Empire in favour of the much cheaper TIE series, the Loyalist Clone Army refused to retire this fighter due to its firepower and durability in combat. Looking out to her starboard, she saw the ARC-170 fighter pull up, where she could see its crew. However, instead of seeing the standard Phase II Heavy Clone Pilot helmet, Ahsoka instead could see the helmet of an Experimental Phase II ARC Helmet, with breathing tubes coming out at the front of the helmet, and most of the helmet was black with some small red markings on it. Also the rest of this pilot’s crew were also wearing ARC Helmets, and all of them in different colours and schemes. Ahsoka’s rescuer was none other than Battalion Commander SCAR-29/11-2010, better known as ‘Starscream’ – the Second in Command of the elite Special Commando Assault Regiment, or SCAR Squadron.

“Cutting it a little close, aren’t we General?” Starscream called out over the comms.

“Don’t get too cocky Starscream, but thanks for the save though.” Ahsoka replied back. Back in the Clone Wars, she and Anakin, along with the 501st Legion, had to work alongside the SCAR Squadron and their support unit – the 1991st Wreckers Marine Battalion – during the orbital Battle of Katarr, so she knew what Starscream was like at certain times.

“If you're here, I’d take it that the Trinity is here as well?” she asked the veteran SCAR Trooper.

“Sure is General, and I should point out that the Wreckers are eager for a fight.”

“Roger that Starscream.” Ahsoka replied back before she took her time to observe the battlefield.

At this point in time, the reinforcements that Obi-wan, Ki-Adi and Thrawn had brought into the fight, along with what both Anakin and Plo Koon had in first place, had now been able to inflict serious losses for the hostile forces – to such an extent that all their smaller vessels, frigates and destroyers Ahsoka thought, were all but destroyed, along with a decent number of cruisers now joining the floating scrap heap in orbit. Annoyingly, while their capital ship was starting to now take some damage, it was still putting up a decent fight, not to mention it was still sending out boarding parties to the Resolute II. Seeing this and remembering what Starscream said about the 1991st were eager for a fight, Ahsoka came up with a plan.

“Starscream, can you patch me through to the Trinity?” she asked her new wingman.

“Sure thing, General.” Starscream replied back.

On the Trinity’s Bridge.

Standing in front of the windows, Regimental Commander SCAR-00-1452 ‘Skylynx’ and the Trinity’s Commanding Officer, Rear Admiral Sabrina Makesa, were observing the battle in front of them. They could see that things were starting to swing their way, but they also could see that the Resolute II wasn’t out of the woods yet. Whilst observing the whole situation, a naval officer came up behind the two.

“Rear Admiral, Commander. We’ve got a transmission coming in from General Tano.” He said, before signalling one of the crewmembers in the command pit to put it through.

“Commander Skylynx, Are you out there?” Ahsoka’s voice came through the bridge’s speakers.

“Right here, General and I also have Admiral Makesa standing next to me. Something wrong?” Skylynx replied back.

“Yes, that capital ship of theirs.” Ahsoka said, before continuing. “It’s still sending out boarding teams. However, the crew on it now seems determined to take the Resolute II, as every other ship in our fleet have driven off their boarding teams.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that too. You have something in mind General?” Skylynx asked.

“I do. Recall two SCAR Battalions and have them prepped and ready to board their capital ship with the Wreckers. You’ll also need to co-ordinate this with Captain Bismarck and his Kriegsmarines for this one.”

“Two Marine Battalions and also two SCAR Battalions? Don’t you think that’s excessive General?” Sabrina spoke up, as she did see some concerns with this.

“It might, but Bismarck and his marines, along with the 501st possibly have some experience on how to deal with their troops by now, as we have seen nothing like them before, and as you know Commander Rex’s saying…” Ahsoka continued, before Skylynx spoke up.

“‘In my book, experience outranks everything.’ I see what you’re driving at. Ok, I’ll recall Starscream, along with Dreadwing and Skyquake and their SCAR Battalions, and have them prepped for boarding actions, while Skywarp and Ramjet will stay out there with their battalions.” Skylynx continued.

“Actually, tell Skywarp and Ramjet that I’ll need them for an assault run on their capital ship, specifically it’s engines.” Ahsoka spoke up.

At this point Sabrina understood where Ahsoka was getting at. “To ensure that they can’t escape. What about their hyperdrive?”

“That’ll be targeted too. However, I’d recommend that the Allegiance, Resolute II, Negotiator II, Redemption and Liberation to take care of what they use for a hyperdrive, while the rest of our fleet handle the rest of their cruisers.”

Once Ahsoka finished explaining her plan, both Sabrina and Skylynx were seeing where she was going, but there was one thing that Sabrina still wasn’t sure on.

“General Tano. Is there a reason why you want to board their capital ship?”

“Yes, Intel.” Was Ahsoka’s reply.

Before either Sabrina or Skylynx replied back, she explained. “Before everyone else arrived, we intercepted a transmission coming from the surface, which leads us to think there’s a base on Eotis. Anakin’s already sent both Task Force 57 and The Bad Batch down to the surface to see if they can secure it for intel on who they are. I want to do the same for their capital ship.”

“So we have a greater chance for figuring out who they are – and more importantly, where they came from.” Skylynx said, figuring out what Ahsoka had in mind.

“Dead on Commander. I’ll pass on the info to Anakin, let him know what we’ve got in mind.” Ahsoka said.

“Roger that General. I’ll get the troops ready for boarding actions.” Skylynx said, before moving out towards the CIC.

“I’ll inform Grand Admiral Thrawn and ask him to spread the word to the ship commanders and the other Jedi. Be careful out there General.” Sabrina also stated, before she turned towards the crew pits.

“Order the batteries to start targeting their capital ship and engage at will. Primary focus is their weapons. Only enough to destroy their weapons and shields, but not enough to destroy it.” Sabrina called out, before she heard the familiar tones from all crew members acknowledging the order.

On the Resolute II – Flight Deck.

It would be ok to describe the flight deck on the Resolute II as nothing but absolute chaos. In all the hangers, there were either destroyed or heavily damaged LAAT/is, ARC-170s, X-Wings, Y-Wings and A-Wing fighters, along with scattered tools, repair equipment, PLNK-series power droids and scattered fuel drums all over the place, along with dropped weapons from both clone troopers who were either injured and/or dead and from the hostile troopers that were still hell-bent on capturing the Resolute II – despite the losses they were taking. In addition to this, there were a few crashed shuttles from the enemy forces. To compound problems, the enemy forces were able to secure a foothold in some of the hangers, which allowed them to continue drop off reinforcements – including walkers of a very unique nature and a fourth style of combat soldier they hadn’t seen yet.

The walker was a massive design, with two legs and – oddly enough to the clones – two arms. One of which was equipped with a clawed appendage at the end, the other served as the primary weapon which served as a hybrid mass accelerator cannon/missile launcher system. To cap it all, the cockpit was in fact not protected by armour plating, but rather a see-through canopy, orange in colour, which allowed the clones to see the pilot. Naturally, one would think it would be easy to bust into, but surprising enough the clones were having issues trying to break the canopy due to its properties, not to mention that the walkers were heavily shielded in addition to heavy armour, something they had never seen on any vehicle short of a starship, and all completed with the white, black and gold paint scheme that was quickly becoming obvious it was their trademark colours.

As for the new trooper, these were wearing a different uniform set with a lot less armour than the others they had already seen. In fact, the only armour they had on was a couple of pieces covering their chest, a couple of pieces on their head, with a yellow visor, and armour plating around the lower legs down the boots. Everything else was nothing more than a modified suit, clearly to allow for greater mobility. They weren’t also impressive with the firepower like their counterparts, a pistol, but that changed when the clones saw one of them deploy a bulky object from his back which, with help from a holographic interface that appeared on his wrist, transformed into a rapid-firing turret – which had led to the loss of a few clones when it opened fire. Thanks to this, and after seeing this trooper repair his turret when it took enough damage indicated they were Combat Engineers.

And with all this going on, to compound problems for the 501st, both Anakin and Luke were also now among the wounded. For Anakin, a trooper with one of the 3-burst slugthrower weapons got a few lucky shots in, which lead to him receiving two rounds in his left arm, one of which was a grazing shot. Luke, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. He received one in his right leg and also two in his right shoulder from one of the bulkier single-shot rifles, putting him out of action. While Luke was taken to the Med Bay, Anakin knew he couldn’t leave the battlefield, despite knowing that Rex and Dagger could continue commanding the 501st in his place. So despite the injuries – and a potential scalding from Obi-wan later, Anakin stayed on the front lines, but this time to direct the troopers where to engage and also using the Force where possible.

Despite all this, the troopers of the 501st that were in the hangers were fighting well, with the new recruits born on Ossus proving their worth as the next generation of clone troopers, and the battle-hardened veterans from the Clone Wars showing that time and age weren’t slowing them down. Still, many of them were starting to falter and were showing signs of fatigue having been involved in a prolonged 3 hour engagement now – and it would be one trooper who felt that enough was enough.

Despite being abandoned by their original squad, the female clone troopers 3234 and 842 were doing well under the leadership and guidance of the veteran ARC Troopers Arcee and Viper. For 842, she was putting enemy troops down with ease but then somehow a hostile squad leader manage to get two shots on 842, with one shot straight to the helmet, and another shooting her DC-15S Carbine out of her hands. It was the headshot that, thanks to the force of the round, pushed her to the deck, with her helmet flung off her head. Once seeing what happed, it was Arcee who moved to assist the fallen trooper.

“842! You OK?!” she called out to her fellow trooper.

Once she recovered, Arcee took the chance to look at her without her helmet. Despite being a Shara Fett clone, she had green eyes (a very rare trait for any clone trooper to have) and short dirty-blonde hair.

“I’m fine Arcee.” 842 looked around, regaining her bearings, before her eyes fell on some fuel canisters, and then one of the bulky rifles.

“Ask General Skywalker if he can throw those fuel canisters towards the enemy!” 842 yelled out. “For it’s time to start fighting fire with fire…”

At this point, Arcee figured out what 842 was going on about, and made her way over to Anakin, while 842 moved to grab one of the new bulky rifles.

The design was completely new to what she felt, as she had a solid stock, a scope and the pistol grip was actually in the middle of the weapon, not closer to the stock. It was also heavy, and alien in all concepts. Hell, how it was operated was all unknown. Thankfully, it was taking Arcee a while to get to Anakin, so 842 used the opportunity on how to operate the weapon by seeing the enemy troops use them – especially the reloading of the weapon. After a few minutes, Arcee returned to her side.

“General Skywalker’s ready to help. Tell me when you’re ready for the shot.” She said to the rookie.

“I’m ready now Ma’am!” 842 replied back. Once Arcee radioed Anakin, he used his good arm to hurl a fully-ladened fuel canister directly at the enemy troops. Once they saw it coming, quite a few were moving to dodge it, anticipating that this was the intention – until the canister erupted into a fireball.

After two shots from her ‘requisitioned’ rifle, 842 detonated the fuel canister that was thrown there via the Force thanks to Anakin. The end result was a few troopers killed from the explosion, with many more now covered in burning fuel. This cause the few troopers that were standing, to start screaming out due to the burns they were starting to take from this. It would have kept going until Rex yelled out. “Put them out of their misery!”

Upon hearing this, a few troopers and marines shot the burning soldiers. Meanwhile, 842 was ready to keep going and had Anakin throw another canister. Eventually, after another 20 minutes using this technique, and also with help from a few rocket launchers to bring down the walkers along with the main hanger doors on the hull of the Star Destroyer now closed, there were only a few soldiers left and one squad commander. Surrounded by the clones of the 501st, it was obvious they had no way out of this one. At this point Rex walked up to the hostile soldiers, with both his DC-17 Blaster Pistols drawn, and also sporting quite a few new scratches on his armour, with Dagger and Bismarck on either side of him.

“We’ve got you outnumbered. Stand down.” Rex called out when he was close enough to the hostile troopers. All around the soldiers, he could see that everyone was ready to put them down but were exercising perfect discipline on the weapons, but despite this, the hostile soldiers were still holding their weapons up, ready to engage. At this point, Anakin made his way over to stand next to Rex, Lightsaber ignited. Seeing this was a stand-off, he spoke up.

“Who are you people, and are you with the Empire, or the Sith?” Instead of getting an answer, this is all Anakin and the 501st got.

“Humanity will ascend above all species.” Said the squad commander, before all the survivors inexplicably then collapsed onto the deck, lifeless. Once that happened, the clones that were closest moved to get their weapons away from the troopers in case they were faking it. It would be Kix that would figure it out.

“They’re dead, sir.” Was all he said, before he moved to remove the squad commander’s helmet, but all they got was the faceplate off. What it revealed startled a lot of the clones.

“What the…?” was what Anakin said when they saw the face of the commander. His face was human, but it was drastically altered. The commander’s skin was grey, with the area around his eyes turned black, making it appear necrotic. His eyes were also nothing but blue orbs. To add to the bizarre spectacle, his face showed scars, but these were also blue – which just didn’t add up. Also, there was some white liquid coming out of his mouth. Kix was about to try and get a closer look when Viper stopped him

“Nobody touch that liquid.” she ordered to everyone.

“Why?” Kix replied back.

“It’s cyanide. Back on Earth, government agents that were captured in hostile territory would use them to prevent revealing secret information in interrogation. Fast and lethal, kills a person in 60 seconds with no cure.” Viper explained.

“Is it contagious?” Fives asked, suddenly concerned.

“It’s a chemical compound, not a virus. It’s lethal only if it gets into your body.” She finished explaining to her husband.

At this point, Anakin picked up his commlink in order to talk to Yularen. “Admiral, we’ve finally driven off the boarders. Have HAZMAT crews take the bodies of the enemy forces down to cold-storage and get engineers to the flight deck and hangers to clean up the mess in preparation for our fighters and bombers out there to come in and land.”

While this was happening, Arcee, Dogma and Echo went to 842. “Nice plan kid. Looks like you do belong with the 501st.” Echo said to 842.

“You fought well in there. Looks like we can’t call you a shiny any more.” Dogma said with some humour in his voice before he continued. “So what do we call you?”

It would be Arcee who would come up with the name.

“How about ‘Ember’?” she asked 842, which got a surprised look from her. “I’d mean, it was your idea to set the enemy on fire, but I can’t call you ‘Inferno’ due to Inferno Squad and I can’t use ‘Pyro’ given the fact you’re not a Flame Trooper.” Arcee explained.

This got a small laugh out of everyone present. Once that died down, 842 looked at the burning wreckage of the enemy shuttles and walkers, before nodding her head.

“Ember… I like it.” She replied back after a short time. Upon hearing this, It would be Echo who would speak up. “Welcome to the 501st, Ember.” He said with pride in his voice.

At this point the whine of a starfighter’s engine system could be heard, which was revealed to be Ahsoka returning back to the Resolute II. Once she got out of the cockpit, she made her way straight to Anakin and the Inner Circle.

“Anakin, Are you OK? And where’s Luke” she asked once she saw the condition Anakin was in.

“I’m fine Snips. Luke’s in the Med Bay.” He replied back to his old Padawan and friend. “Why are you back here?”

“The SCARs and I have a plan involving their capital ship, and we’ll need Bismarck and his marines.” Ahsoka said, with grim determination in her voice.

On the Unidentified capital ship – Praetor-class Assault Carrier Osiris.

It was safe to say that things had taken a turn for the worst. Ever since seeing these wedged-shaped ships when they arrived over the planet that had their outpost one it, Admiral Turner Parke felt that he had a fight on his hands with his Long-Range Expedition Group. At first, Turner’s confidence was high due to how he felt his fleet was more advanced compared to the enemy ships. That was until more ships started to show up to support the enemy fleet they encountered. From then on, it went downhill. Parke’s fleet of 37 ships – 5 Boston-class Heavy Frigates, 5 Zenith-class Flak Frigates, 5 Gaza-class Destroyers, 10 Elbrus-class Heavy Cruisers, 5 Arcadia-class Heavy Cruisers, 3 Minerva-class Picket Cruisers, 3 Ark Royal-class Light Carriers and the Osiris, his dreadnought, was now whittled down to just the Osiris, 1 Ark Royal carrier, 1 Arcadia cruiser and 3 Elbrus cruisers – and under the intensive barrage they were all taking, they wouldn’t last long.

To compound the problem, Turner had also sent off the vast majority of his boarding teams, along with support from his other ships, to try and capture one of these ships, but it eventually turned into a battle of attrition, one which the enemy won. It was at this time Turner wished that he had support from General Oleg Petrovsky, however, there was no way The Illusive Man would have his best tactician assigned to a mission in another galaxy. Besides, he had his own mission to handle.

Before he could continue his line of thought, multiple shakes and shudders were felt throughout the ship.

“Admiral, enemy fighters have disabled our engines! We’re dead in the water!” a crew member yelled out from his seat.

“Can we get them repaired?” Turner asked.

“Negative Admiral. The Thruster Housings are heavily damaged. We need to do EVA work to get them back online.” A Ship Engineer replied back to the Admiral’s question.

“Damnit.” Turner replied back. Before he could move onto the next problem, a junior officer called out to Turner. “Admiral, we’re receiving a transmission from Ascension Base. It’s urgent.”

“Put it through.” He replied back, before turning to face the central holographic display in the middle of the bridge.

At the moment, it was a tactical display of the battlefield above the planet, but then shrank into an image of a Centurion squad leader, evidently in the middle of combat with the way he was holding his M-96 Mattock Battle Rifle.

“This is Admiral Parke, report.” Turner spoke up.

“We’re under attack from hostile forces! Chances are they’re from the fleet you’re engaging in orbit sir!” the Centurion replied back before flinching due to a near-by explosion.

“Can the units down there hold them off?” Turner replied to the Centurion.

“They’re tearing through our units like their nothing! Not to mention that their tactics and gear are completely unorthodox, they must be Special Forces! We need reinforcements!” The Centurion responded, before taking a quick look around the room he was in.

“We’re under heavy fire ourselves and otherwise engaged. Start purging all sensitive information and move to evacuate what troops and resources you can salvage before evacuating the base.” Turner continued before both he and the Centurion hear another voice yell out “They’re outside the doors!” before there was a loud explosion rip through the image.

What Turner saw next was the Centurion open fire with his rifle before being killed by multiple bolts of what looked like plasma fire. Two seconds later, a soldier in white armour, save for the blue stripes on his arms and red markings on his armour, T-shaped visor and what appeared to be either a skirt or kilt and two over-sized shoulder pads, holding a rifle that was almost as long as a M-98 Widow Anti-Material Sniper Rifle, along with what looked like a Red Omni-Blade coming out of the weapon, obviously acting as a bayonet, appeared in front of Turner. After killing the Centurion, this soldier then looked towards where the squad leader was talking to – and thus started looking directly at Turner. The first thing this soldier said once came into the projection was “How ‘ya doing dirtbag?”, before this soldier blasted away at the communications gear, severing the transmission.

Once the projection turned back to the tactical overview of the battlefield, Turner then turned to face the bridge crew, but before he could say anything, someone else spoke up.

“Admiral, we’re reading that multiple transports are inbound to our ships, with two of their dreadnoughts moving in to engage us broadside!” a female naval officer stated.

Sure enough, Turner could see what she could see. “Attention all personnel. Ascension Base has fallen, and we have boarding teams inbound. Have what remaining troops we have onboard move to the hangers to either repel the boarders or delay them for as long as we can while we start purging all sensitive material and prepare the FTL Core to self-destruct. Order our remaining fighters and interceptors to try and stall their transports as long as they can for the same reasons.” He stopped for a moment before he continued. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are far from home, and are losing forces quite quickly. If this is to be our last stand, then let’s see if we can make them bleed for their victory. All for Humanity’s ascension... and for Cerberus.”

Switch to the Osiris’ Starboard Hangers.

All across the deck, Cerberus troops were getting ready for the hell to come. Assault Troopers were hunkering down behind portable shield barriers, with many of them wielding M-25 Hornet SMGs, though a few were also wielding M-96 Mattocks Rifles as well, with some also carrying M-22 Eviscerator Shotguns. Some Combat Engineers were also holding Mattocks and Eviserators as well, in addition to some using their M-5 Phalanx Heavy Pistols. Out of all of them, there was one Centurion who wasn’t wielding the Mattock, but rather the newer Cerberus Harrier, revealing that he was the senior officer present.

“Troopers, we hold the line here and either drive the enemy off or make them bleed for it.” He called out to his men before getting behind a barrier himself and readied his rifle for the incoming firestorm.

Within a few minutes, that firestorm came in the form of LAAT/i Gunships. The design was absolutely foreign to the Cerberus Troopers who were used to the ‘flying cockroach’ that was the UT-47 Kodiak Shuttle – which meant they were completely unprepared for the firepower that came their way. Blaster cannon fire from the chin-mounted turrets on the front, along with the 4 composite-beam laser turrets on the gunships ripped apart the organised defence Cerberus had set up. Before the breach, en route to the Osiris, the clones of the 359th, with some select units from the 501st itself, were briefing the SCAR Troopers and the 1991st Wreckers on how their weapons and equipment operated thanks to their brief combat experience with them, so Ahsoka, Rex, Dagger, Bismarck, Eugen, Ratchet, Jesse, Starscream, Dreadwing, Skyquake and the 1991st’s commanding officer, Battalion Commander CC-98/18-0092 ‘Roadbuster’, all agreed that the first LAAT/is that enter the hangers, should stay in the air in order to use their weapons and allow their troopers on board to rappel down to the deck, while the rest would land as usual. And if the Troopers were stunned by what kind of damage a LAAT/i could do, they there was a very good chance they were shocked when they saw Ahsoka engage them in CQB with her lightsabers and using The Force -  The end result was the defensive line broken in around 15 minutes after the SCARs and Marines poured out of the LAAT/is to strike at the enemy, before the surviving troopers ordered a withdrawal to set up new defensive lines inside the ship.

“Ok. Given the size of the ship, we’ve gotta two strike forces to ensure we can capture the ship intact. Starscream, take Dreadwing and his battalion, along with a mix force of the 359th and 1991st, and make your way to their Engineering deck to ensure they can’t make their reactors go critical for self-destruction.” Ahsoka said to Starscream, before she turned to the others.

“Skyquake, take your battalion alongside Roadbuster and his Wreckers, and head for where they would have their Gunnery Control and get their weapons shut down. Rex, Bismarck, Eugen and Dagger, we’ll take the rest of the Kriegsmarines, along with Domino Squad and the others, and make for the bridge.”

“Understood General. Dreadwing, get your guys ready to fight!” Starscream called out to his brother before making his way to the connecting hallways to the rest of the ship.

“Roger that. Ok my guys, let’s go!” Dreadwing yelled out before following Starscream’s path.

“Ready to kick ass Roadbuster?” Skyquake asked the 1991st commander.

“With pleasure.” Roadbuster replied back before facing the Wreckers and 2nd SCAR Battalion. “Let’s get some!” he yelled out, before they took off.

Once the SCARs had their directions, Ahsoka turned to those who were still present. “Ok. Rex, Eugen, Dagger, Bismarck. We’re heading for the bridge. We need to move quickly in order to prevent them purging any data they have on board.” She said to the four present senior officers.

Before she could move, her wrist-mounted comlink suddenly flared up.

“Ahsoka, are you there?” That voice was none other than Obi-wan.

“I’m here Master.” Ahsoka replied back.

“Ahsoka, I’ve just heard from Anakin what your intentions are with this boarding action. Are you certain this is an idea you need to push?” Obi-wan asked. Given his experience as both a member of the Jedi Council, and his own experience with how Anakin and Ahsoka operated in the Clone Wars, he couldn’t help but ask to ensure this was the way to get things done.

“Given the fact that there is so much we don’t know about these soldiers, vehicles, ships or weapons, we need to secure this ship in order to access their databanks for any intel on board” Ahsoka replied back.

On-board the Negotiator II.

Whilst in this conversation with Ahsoka, Obi-wan was standing at the holotable in the CIC of the Negotiator II, his flagship. Despite his age starting to show, predominantly with his hair now a mix of brown and grey, he was still at the top of his game, and standing alongside him was he close friend, and his 2iC for both the 7th Sky Corps and the 212th Attack Battalion, Marshal Commander CC-2224 ‘Cody’, alongside his counter-part Senior Clone Commander FC-02-2509 'Nine'. While Cody and Nine were overlooking the tactical overview, which by now showed the Resolute II and Trinity on the port and starboard sides of the capital ship, with the rest of the enemy fleet now nothing more than a floating scrap heap. In amongst that though, Obi-wan knew that there would be escape pods and/or any other space worthy vehicle that would need rescuing. Before Obi-wan could continue, a transmission came through over the comms.

“This is Commander Washington, Clone Force 99 and Task Force 57 have secured the enemy base. Annoyingly, the enemy has commenced a full purge of all their data drives. We’re moving as quickly as we can to secure as many files as we can get. Also, we’ve netted ourselves a few prisoners, so we’ll need some gunships to come down and pick them up.” Wash stated, revealing that their mission was a success.

“Great job down there Wash. I’ll dispatch Captain Flynt and his Ghost Company to pick them up.” Cody spoke up when he heard Wash’s transmission.

“With their base captured, we should be able to garner some intel from there.” Obi-wan took over once Cody was finished talking to Wash.

“While it’s true that we will secure some intel from their base, Master Tano is right with the capture of their warship, for it would allow us to procure more information, or at least corroborate what we can learn from their base.” Someone else spoke up.

At that point, Obi-wan, Cody and Nine all turned to look at the holoimage of Thrawn, before the Chiss Grand Admiral continued on. “And while I do share your concerns Master Kenobi about capturing a vessel with unknown capabilities or characteristics, in order to defeat an enemy, you must know them. Not simply their battle tactics, but their history, philosophy… art.”

At this point, Cody spoke up once more. “The Grand Admiral’s right General, we don’t know anything and the more info we get the better. And as both Arcee and Viper said when after we first met them after Rishi all those years ago ‘It’s better to fight a researched enemy rather than a foreign one.’”

“Quite true Commander Cody.” Thrawn replied back to the veteran commander with a thin smile on his lips.

Upon hearing this, Obi-wan had made his mind, even though he still didn’t like it. “Ahsoka, which way are you heading on that ship?”

“We’ve got three forces heading in different directions. Commander Starscream and Major Dreadwing are leading 1st SCAR Battalion and a joint force of marines from the 1991st and 359th to secure their engineering deck to ensure these hostiles cannot rig their reactor to self-destruct. Commander Roadbuster, his XO Hurricane and Skyquake are taking the rest of the Wreckers and 2nd SCAR Battalion to secure the main battery and gunnery control to shut down their weapons. I’m leading the rest of the 359th and select elements of the 501st to secure the bridge.” Ahsoka replied back whilst making her way down the hallways of the capital ship.

“Master Tano, would it be possible to have our crews commandeer their vessel in order to return it to Ossus for study?” Thrawn asked, clearly interested in what these hostiles had to offer due to their alien design in ships, weapons and armour.

“I don’t think that’ll be possible Grand Admiral. Given what we have seen with their design of what we assume to be terminals and interfaces, I don’t think we can pilot this ship without extensive training or knowledge in order to master this.” Ahsoka replied, before she had to stop. Over the comms, they could hear gunfire, indicating they ran into another line of hostile troopers.

“See if you can capture some of the crew alive. We might be able to have them pilot the ship back for us.” Thrawn ask out to Ahsoka.

“We’ll see what we can do, but so far Grand Admiral, all we’ve seen so far are troopers who’ve engaged us every chance they get, and if cornered, they’ll take their own lives.” Came through the voice of Rex.

“Given the areas where you’re heading to, it would make sense to find someone on that ship who would be a naval crew member instead of a soldier Rex.” Obi-wan said, finally accepting this was the right move.

“Understood General, I’ll spread the word to the other commanders.” Before anyone else could say anything, Obi-wan had one more question. “Ahsoka, how quickly can you get to the bridge?”

“As long as their troops don’t hold us up long, we should be there soon.” she replied back.

“… Alright. I’ll come aboard as well, and I’ll have Cody and Nine bring some extra troops for back up.”

“Understood. I’ll see you soon.” Ahsoka replied before finishing the transmission. At this point, Thrawn also spoke up.

“Master Kenobi. I would also like to come along in seeing the interior of this warship, and also question any of the crew who surrender to our forces.”

“OK. Bring what gear you’ll need over there. I’ll see you in their hanger bays.” Obi-wan replied before the holoimage of Thrawn faded out. Once this happened, Obi-wan, Cody and Nine started to make their way to the turbolifts for the hangers.

On the Osiris’ bridge.

Turner was getting more concerned, once he heard from the Centurions that hostile troopers had boarded his dreadnought and were routing their security forces with little trouble. Nor did it help that there were reports of 3 separate forces heading for different areas of the Osiris – each of them comprising of at least 3 companies. “How long before they capture Gunnery Control?” he asked a nearby crewmember. “Reports indicate the enemy’s about to breach the doors!”

Switch to Osiris’ Gunnery Control

Inside Gunnery Control, a mix of Cerberus Troopers and Crewmembers armed themselves with either weapons they were carrying or retrieved out of the arms lockers that were in the room. What crewmembers that didn’t have weapon continued to operate the various Mass Accelerator cannons on the ship in order to inflict what damage they could against the Star Destroyers. Within minutes, sparks were flying off the edges of the doors. With some notable exceptions, everyone tightened their grip on their weapons. Within 30 seconds, the doors were blasted off and inwards to the room. Then all hell broke loose.

Cerberus Troopers went weapons free in an attempt to kill the boarders, but a few were put down with multiple blaster bolt coming out in a cone formation, eliminating a few Assault Troopers in the assault. Within moments, the Wreckers and SCARs came charging in, a few with smoking DC-15G Blaster Shotguns, weapons drawn. Many troopers opened fire on the clones, injuring a few, but their blasters were able to force the troopers to find cover while the bolts were flying. Despite this, the troopers and crewmembers discipline was holding up quite well, but there’s only so much one can do when dealing with blasters. Within a few minutes, Most of the Cerberus Troopers were dead, along with quite a few crewmembers who refused to surrender. Those that did surrender were then forced the have the weapons systems shut down. “This is Commander Roadbuster to the boarding teams; Gunnery Control’s been secured, and weapons are shut down. Commander Starscream, how are things going for the engineering deck?”

Switch to Osiris’ Engineering Deck

“A little tied up at the moment!” Starscream yelled out over comms.

While he was happy that Roadbuster and Skyquake’s part of the mission was successful, at the current moment he couldn’t really care less due to the fact he was pinned down with a few of his SCARs due to a couple of their turrets – and the fact that he was reloading his DC-17m Interchangeable Weapons System at that point in time. While the 1st SCAR Battalion and the joint 359th/1991st group were able to get to engineering, they still had to fight to the reactor controls, and the hostile troopers were still pouring on the fire, desperate to by time for the ship engineers to prepare engineering the reactor to go critical for self-destruction. Next to Starscream was Dreadwing, who had to hit the deck when a turret started up again, after he fired off 3 bursts from his DC-17m.

“What’s all that about sir?” Dreadwing called out.

“Skyquake and Roadbuster’s strike force have secured the Gunnery Control and have shut down all weapons, including that bloody cannon. But that’s not going to mean much if these guys manage to initiate a destabilisation of the reactor.” Starscream replied when a round struck near their cover.

Ahead of them, the enemy troopers and some crewmembers were holding off the SCARs and marines with turrets and extra heavy weapons that looked like a grenade launcher. Behind this was the door and bulkhead that lead straight to the reactor room. A Marine Lieutenant managed to sprint and slid to be next to Starscream and Dreadwing.

“These bastards know how to hold the line! What’s the play sir?” the Lieutenant, CT-0766/3534 ‘Blowtorch’, called out to the SCAR officers.

“Aw, the Hell with it. Blowtorch, tell you’re guys who are lucky to be carrying Droid poppers to arm them and toss them at the turrets. I’m betting they would be vulnerable to E.M.Ps. Once the turrets are down, have the marines who are lugging the chainguns to open up and pin them down until we’re right on top of them, then Dreadwing, myself and a few SCARs will storm the reactor room in order to secure the area.” Starscream called out.

“Sir, yes sir!” Blowtorch replied back before he yelled out to a few marines who then armed and tossed the droid poppers towards the enemy lines. The end result was the turrets promptly shutting down when the E.M.P. grenades went off with a large electric field dissipating quickly upon detonation. Once the turrets were shut down, a few Wreckers that were lugging Z-6 Rotary Blaster Cannons opened fire, in order to keep the enemy forces pinned down.

Once achieved, Starscream called out. “Dreadwing, you’ll take command of the forces here save for Nuke, Ripper, Val, Zeke and Fury. I’ll take them and storm the reactor.”

“Roger that sir!” Dreadwing called back, before slamming in another magazine for his DC-17m. Within 30 seconds, the clones charged towards the hostile troopers, and were able to force the crewmembers and some of the soldiers to surrender, but not many soldiers did. While Dreadwing was doing this, Starscream, Nuke, Ripper, Val, Zeke and Fury charged past and made straight for the Reactor Room.

Inside said room, a few hostile troopers were on high alert for anyone to come through the doors, with a few crewmembers doing what they could to rig the drive-core to self-destruct. However, this would come to naught as the SCARs came charging in full tilt, weapons firing. Within in a few seconds, the hostile troopers were dead, and the crewmembers were forced into an area where Starscream and his small squad would keep an eye on them. For many, they did surrender without an issue, but there were a few die-hards who were determined to trigger the self-destruct, so for them, they were stunned and tied up with ascension cables. Once that was done, the crewmembers who had surrendered without an issue were then ordered to stabilise the reactor – at blaster point. Once the core was stabilised, they were then taken to where the rest of the hostile forces that Dreadwing was guarding with the rest of the SCARs and the marines that they had.

“We’re good sir?” Dreadwing asked Starscream.

“We’re good. The reactor, or FTL Core that these guys are calling it, has been stabilised.” Starscream replied back, before continuing. “OK. Get these guys on their feet and haul them to our infill point.”

“Roger that.” Once Dreadwing then turned to the prisoners and order them to stand up and get moving, Starscream put his right hand to his helmet. “All callsigns, the Engineering Deck is secured.”

Back to Osiris’ Bridge.

Turner was now starting to panic. Not only were the weapons shut down when Gunnery Control was secured by the hostile forces, recent reports were calling out that Engineering had also fallen. While the bridge crew had initiated a complete purge of all sensitive information, like some of Cerberus’s more sensitive missions and/or projects and – most importantly – the location of several of their clandestine bases back home. However, some of the more mundane things like the location of Earth, Arcturus Station, Omega Station, The Citadel and the Mass Relay Network, still had to be purged. Compound that with the fact that these hostile troops have weapons that doesn’t even come close to what anyone back in the Milky Way had. And then, there was this humanoid being wielding what look like swords leading a unit of white armoured soldiers with blue markings that looked human, but for all he knew, they couldn’t be human at all. It was seeing this image on the security cameras that reminded him why Cerberus existed – humanity is to rule over all other species.

Suddenly, he was brought out of his train of thought when an Assault Trooper that was stationed on the bridge called out. “Admiral, hostiles are about to breach the doors!” the soldier called out.

Before the bridge staff could scramble into a proper defensive position, a blue blade was then shoved through the closed doorway to the bridge, and then started to go in a circle at a slow, yet steady pace, cutting through the door like a cutting torch. Once the blade had done a full circle, the cut segments were forced inwards towards the bridge before two steel cylinder shaped devices were thrown into the room. The design was enough for everyone to realise what these devices were.

“GRENADE!!!” Turner was able to call out, however, some of the crew were able to get down before they detonated. Instead of an explosion however, all it did was release a blinding light – and those who find cover fast enough were suddenly blinded.

Once the Flash Grenades had gone off, The 501st started to charge in. Due to the size of the ship, by this point in time, the only members left to storm the bridge were Ahsoka, Rex, Dagger, Bismarck and a squad of 359th Marines, Domino Squad, Joakim, Hardcase, Dogma, Kix, Ember, 3234 and Onyx Squad. For this, Onyx went in first to suppress crew members who weren’t blinded and/or putting up a fight with their DC-17ms set for stun and using their repulsors to blast back crewmembers and Assault Troopers who were willing to fight back. Pouring in immediately behind them were Domino Squad and Ahsoka, weapons drawn and ready to engage as well. Behind them were Dogma, Hardcase, Kix, Ember, Joakim, 3234 and the 501st’s Officers that were present, but by this time, the crewmembers – including Turner – had surrendered, or were knocked out by stun rounds and were starting to wake up from the effects.

“This is Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano to all channels, the enemy capital ship’s in our hands, cease fire and start search and rescue for survivors in escape pods.” Ahsoka called out into her comlink to everyone in the Jedi’s Starfleet that was present, before she turned to Rex, Dagger, Bismarck and Yeager.

“Let’s see what intel we can get from their drives” she said to the officers before Yeager spoke up.

“That’s going to be a problem, given the fact that their devices have a unique interface we’ve never seen before.” He said to the group.

“Not to mention that the screens are flashing red.” Onyx’s slicer and tech expert RC-82/91-7901 ‘Hesh’ called out.

“What? I though Starscream had the Engineering Deck secured.” Dagger said, with some confusion. During this time, Echo was looking over the screens before he was able to determine what was going on.

“It’s not a self-destruct, it’s a data purge.” He called out.

“So how do we stop it?” Rex stated out loud.

“I believe this is the reason why we were to capture the crew alive.” a voice came out behind them.

Hearing it, everyone turned to see where the voice came from and found that standing behind them was Thrawn, Obi-Wan, Cody and Nine, along with a small handful of 212th Clone Troopers. Due to time constraints, Obi-wan arrived in his usual Jedi robes, but with his lower arms covered in Phase II armour, as it was back mid-way through the Clone Wars whereas for Thrawn, he arrived with his Imperial Officer Battle Armour over his white Grand Admiral’s uniform (this was taken with him when he defected from the Empire). Like his uniform, it was white, with gold shoulder straps on the chest armour, and complete with his Imperial Grand Admiral rank insignia plaque. Completing the look was a holster strapped to his waist, for a right-handed draw, carrying a DC-17S Commando Pistol.

Upon seeing who it was who spoke, every trooper in 501st marked armour turned and saluted the newly-arrived officers and Jedi.

“As you were men.” Obi-wan said to the gather group before turning his attention to Ahsoka briefly.

“Are you Ok Ahsoka?” He asked.

“I’m fine Obi-wan.” Ahsoka replied back, sounding like she was knackered.

While this was happening, Thrawn was looking at the captured crewmembers and officers and gave them the once over before he spoke out. “My name is Mitth'raw'nuruodo, however you may know me by my core name as Thrawn. I am a Grand Admiral of the Jedi Order’s Loyalist Navy, and as of now, you may be considered as prisoners of war. I do have a question at the moment, which is how does one cancel the data purge on this ship?”

Whilst Thrawn was talking, he was taking the time to observe the crew for their actions and also observing the uniforms. The crewmember’s uniforms was a unique design, as it was predominantly a simple shirt with short sleeves, with pants that looked that held two leg pockets on both legs, with boots coming up to just ending before their knees, completed with a unique epaulette make that also had a collar incorporated into the design, and completed with a unique belt system to hold it in place, finished off in the trademark white and black design that he had seen when he came on board, complete with the unique looking spear design that Thrawn assumed would have to be their emblem.

Uniforms that their officers wore was different in design. These bore some design styles similar to that of what the Imperial Navy wore, but there were major differences between the Empire and these hostiles. First, these officers didn’t wear knee-high boots, and the dress legs didn’t flair out from the waist down. The tunics were following a design similar to how the Imperial Navy’s was, but that’s where that ended. Whereas the Imperial Navy had a left-over-right closure when clipped together, these were in the opposite direction, not to mention that the closure went vertical above the right breast before curving back up towards the neck and also had the clips that held it in place showing, along with a small chain linking between the top clip on the tunic and to one of the clips holding the left epaulette. In addition, there was another layer that wrapped around the torso, also clipped in place. On the edges of the fabric was gold lacing.

Unlike the crewmember’s uniforms, there was a difference in the colour layout. Most of the officers there, their uniforms were predominantly black, with a grey stripe running down the tunic, following the closure line, a thin white strip running down the side of the legs, white epaulettes with gold markings on the edges and a set number of bars on them in black or gold, and white cuffs, with both cuffs sporting the spear-like emblem, along with one on the right breast, but there was one officer who stood out. His tunic, with the exception of the fabric around the waist, was white, with grey following the closure line and also down both his arms, also topped with gold markings on his upper arms and his epaulettes were black with three gold bars on each, and underneath the spear on his right breast was a gold plaque, which had the officer’s name, rank and service number engraved. It was clear that this was the commander of this ship and the leader of this fleet.

Once seeing this, Thrawn turned to face the officer in question. “I believe you are the admiral of this fleet, are you not?”

Once hearing this, Turner looked towards Thrawn, and could barely hold his anguish at what he was seeing – a blue-skinned alien with foreboding red eyes, in command of military personal, and an admiral at that. It was galling. It was at this point, he decided to meet this admiral face to face.

“Indeed I am, Grand Admiral. I am Admiral Turner Parke, a First Contact War veteran and a highly respected officer in Cerberus’s Naval Fleet.” Turner said to Thrawn, with a fair bit of venom in his voice.

“We may be officers Grand Admiral, but you are no better than that of the races we have back home in our galaxy. They believe that Humanity are upstarts and dangerous, yet we are capable of achieving things the Citadel Council cannot, such as the advent of carriers in naval fleets and colonisation in the Attican Traverse or on the edge of the Terminus Systems.”

While Turner was in his human supremacy rant, he was stepping backwards slowly, something that the clones, Obi-wan and Ahsoka noticed, which lead to everyone present raising their weapons up at Turner, with Cody moving closer to Thrawn given the fact that he still had his weapon holstered, despite the fact that the Chiss was devastating in hand-to-hand combat. The only one present who didn’t react to this was Thrawn himself as he was observing everything that this ‘Cerberus’ Admiral was displaying.

Before he could repeat his question, Turner then spoke up. “Cerberus is Humanity.” Before anyone could say anything, a small explosion erupted from Turner’s head, which had everyone flinching in reaction. Once initial reaction subsided, everyone present saw that Turner was dead, with his body on the deck and his entire face gone – indicating he had some sort of implant embedded into his skull in anticipation of something like this. A quick look around revealed a handful of Cerberus crewmembers, soldiers and officers were also lying down on the deck, with white liquid coming out of their mouths.

“Ok. I wasn’t expecting that!” Rex called out, whilst recovering from the unexpected explosion.

“Everyone OK?” Obi-wan asked out to the clones that were present. Once he received a chorus of affirmatives, Obi-wan looked towards Thrawn, indicating him to continue.

“I’ll ask again, how does one cancel the data purge on your terminals?” he asked again, this time with a hint of anger in his voice in order to get his point across.

Out of the group that was left, there was only one officer, and she was clearly rocked by what just happened in front of her. Seeing no other alternative – and the fact that she was now the highest-ranking officer on the ship, she swallowed her pride and fear, and spoke up “… I do, sir.”

Upon hearing this, Thrawn turned to look at the female officer before continuing. “Then, please show us how it’s done.”

With a mix of shame and defeat on her face, the officer moved to the console, with some of the surviving crewmembers looking at the officer with angry looks on their faces, predominantly because their surviving leader has just betrayed them according to not only Thrawn, but also Obi-wan and Ahsoka also saw this. While the officer was working on the terminal, the clones that were present had their weapons trained on the captured crewmembers to ensure they didn’t interfere.

After a few seconds, the officer turned back to face Thrawn. “Data purge has been cancelled, sir.” She said with a defeated tone in her voice.

Once she said this, Ahsoka took the lead. “Echo, Hesh. See what you can do to start transferring the intel to datacards and/or datapads so we can learn more about this Cerberus.”

While the two mentioned clones started to work on the unique terminals, Obi-wan turned to the clone officers. “Rex, Nine and Joakim. Take the crewmembers that are still showing hostility to us and the female officer and have them moved towards the hanger decks so we can have them taken back to the brigs on our ships. Cody, Yeager, Dagger and Bismarck will stay here for the time being.”

“Yes Sir.” Everyone mentioned replied back.

With that, the clones and Obi-wan started to sort out the crewmembers who were still openly hostile and who was willing to accept the reality of the situation at hand, before starting to haul the aggressive crewmembers to the hangers for transport. While this was happening, Thrawn and Ahsoka started to talk to the female officer.

“What’s you name ma’am?” Thrawn asked the officer in question.

“I’m Staff Lieutenant Scarlet Wildes. I serve as the chief navigational officer here on the Osiris.” Scarlet said. It was then that Ahsoka asked the next question, one that was concerning her at the moment.

“There is one thing I need to know and that is what was the device that Admiral Parke used just now?” referring to the now-deceased Cerberus admiral.

“That was what we call an Ocular-nerve flashbang. In the event of capture, all Cerberus personnel are ordered to either fight until killed in battle or commit suicide if surrounded to avoid capture.” Scarlet replied back, which left Thrawn with a questionable look in his eyes.

However, it turned out that Scarlet knew that look well, for she continued on. “Before you ask Grand Admiral ‘why didn’t I?’, it’s because there are some of us who are not a fanatic in Cerberus, even though we do believe in what Cerberus stands for.” She finished, while still sounding defeated, there was a small amount of aggression in her voice.

“I see.” Thrawn replied back, with a small degree of surprise in his voice, but mostly with interest, given the fact that this was a new ‘culture’, if one could call it that, and that they were clearly from another galaxy.

While this was going on, Kix, Dogma, Hardcase and everyone in Domino Squad looked to the two female rookies, Ember and 3234. “You fought very well 3234.” Fives said to 3234.

During the whole saga on both the Resolute II and the enemy warship now known as the Osiris, 3234 fought with an extreme tenacity in combat. At first, she was doing solid work with her DC-15S Carbine until, like Ember, a lucky round from a Cerberus soldier shot the blaster out of her hand. However, unlike Ember, she went instead for a discarded DC-15A Blaster Rifle and took the aggression to a new level. In fact, by the time the tide had turned, 3234 was starting to mimic Hardcase when it came to taunting the enemy in battle and also started to use the rifle in close quarter melees, with all of this starting to get noticed by Hardcase, Hevy and Viper, as they all had a high tendency to be highly aggressive in certain combat scenarios in their own right, with Hardcase being the most infamous of this.

“Damn well she was Fives. Hell, I wasn’t sure if she were trying to mimic Hardcase or not.” Arcee said in a bemused tone in her voice. This earned a few laughs out of the group save for Viper, who was deep in thought, and it was enough to get the attention of Ratchet.

“What is it?” the veteran ARC Lieutenant asked his fellow squad member and ARC Trooper.

“Thinking of a name for 3234, and I think I’ve got one in mind.” Viper replied back, which got everyone’s attention, especially from 3234. “How does ‘Nikita’ sound?”

This drew an odd look from Arcee. “Hang on, where are you going with this one Jennifer. Have you forgotten that she is a female trooper?” Arcee asked her long-time friend.

“Yes, but Nikita was also used for women in Russia.” This drew a very confused look from Arcee.

“Now you have lost me.” she said.

“Remember, I use to study history back in the day. In this case, her birth number is ’09-3234’. ‘3234’ reminds me of the Battle for Hill 3234.” Viper said, letting that sink into Arcee’s head.

“Battle of… As in what, the Soviet-Afghan War back on our Homeworld in the eighties?” she replied back, finally figuring out where Viper’s logic was going.

“Yes. And I’m using ‘09’ in reference to the Soviet’s 9th Airborne Company who fought in said battle. So, logic would indicate to use a Russian name, and one that symbolises what 3234 was fighting for – victor or winner.” Viper finished. After hearing this piece of information, 3234 was starting to speak out loud.

“Nikita… Nikita… sorry, I’m with Arcee, it doesn’t work”. 3234 said.

Not giving up, Viper had a quick brainstorm before getting an idea. “How about ‘Larissa’? Also of Russian origin and does mean ‘fortress’ or ‘citadel’. Also, if that doesn’t work, you can shorten it to ‘Lara’ if you want.”

“Larissa… Lara… I think Lara is a better option. It works.” 3234 replied.

“Good to meet you Lara.” Viper replied back, along with a handshake to the newly christened trooper.

“Am I hearing a new trooper being greeted?” a voice came from behind. Everyone turned to see that the voice belonged to none other than Rex, having come back from hauling his prisoners to the hangers.

“You sure did Rex.” Droidbait spoke up to their veteran leader. “May we introduce Ember and Lara.” Both rookies saluted their commander.

“So the rookies finally got their nicknames?” Rex said with much amusement in his voice before he returned their salute. “That means you’re no longer shinies, so congratulations you two. Welcome to the ranks of the 501st Legion.”

“Yes Sir!” Ember and Lara replied back with much enthusiasm in their voices.

Chapter Text

Artemis Station, Ossus.
Jedi Order’s Stronghold – 6 months since Battle of Eotis.

In the days before the Clone Wars, Yoda knew that if Ossus was to become a world that was home to the Jedi, along with what forces that sided with them when the Sith made their move, they would need a major space station in orbit which operated as a defence platform, as well as a shipyard, drydock, resupply and command centre for the Jedi’s Starfleet. The end result was Artemis Station. This was a massive construction that was 20 kilometres in length and almost 3 kilometre high. Inside it were 2 construction bays that helped with the construction of new warships for the Loyalist Navy (the vast majority of their shipyards were on the surface), along with multiple docking bays to allow for resupply of the various ships for their respective fleets. In addition to its shipyards and its impressive defences were also quite a few training facilities for either new recruits or for veterans to keep their skills sharp. A few of these were situated for ground troops, but there were some designed to operate as simulators for vehicular warfare, starfighter combat, and even for command bridges and gunnery crews for the fleet. In addition to everything needed to defend Ossus, it was also large enough to serve as an orbital city of sorts, and there was enough room on it to serve as a home to the members of the Loyalist Navy, including their high-ranking officers, and also for clone troopers who wished to live there on the station. At the present time, it was now the temporary home for the captured Cerberus dreadnought Osiris following the Battle of Eotis.

In relation to said battle, while the Jedi’s Forces came out on top, it wasn’t without cost. While both Task Force 57 and Clone Force 99 suffered no casualties on the ground, the same couldn’t be said for up in orbit. The Loyalist Navy had lost 15 Charger C70 retrofitted Consular-class frigates, 9 Arquitens-class light cruisers, 7 Victory-class Star Destroyers and 3 Victory II-class Star Destroyers. On top of that, quite a few ships suffered moderate damage due to the unique weapons, with the Resolute II suffered the worst to such an extent that she was put out of action for 3 months. In addition, the 501st alone had taken major casualties with 327 troopers KIA, another 471 wounded, and also Luke was stuck in the medbay for 3 weeks with the injuries he received on the Resolute II. All in all, the Jedi had lost just shy of 2,319 clones troopers and naval crews KIA and another 2,000 wounded from the battle. As for the Cerberus forces, their losses were almost total, with only the Osiris as the sole surviving warship from the fleet, and only 95 soldiers along with 257 crewmembers alive due to how many of them were willing to either die fighting or taking their lives – both on the surface and in orbit.

Once the battle was finished over Eotis, it was decided to keep a garrison deployed on the surface of the planet while recovery of enemy data and investigations of the Cerberus Base, which they called ‘Ascension Base’, was being conducted – 21st Nova Corps’ 1st Marine Division was assigned this task. In addition to this, with encouragement from Thrawn, Scarlet and the crewmembers that did accept the fact that they were beaten, were to have the Osiris moved to Ossus for the same thing, once repair crews were able to find a way to get the ship to move due to the fact that it’s engines were destroyed thanks to SCAR Squadron. Once it did arrive, it was then locked down and then swarmed over by the Jedi and the Grand Admirals, along with Clone Engineers, to understand the technology on the surviving Cerberus warship. In addition to this, the databanks on the Osiris, despite the data purge, was useful in figuring out where they had come from, along with the data that was pulled from Ascension Base. For the commandos of Task Force 57 and Bad Batch, along with the 3 Mandalorians deployed to the surface 6 months ago, it would have been tricky for them to secure the data down there if they didn’t have Tech with them to help figure it out.

Since Tech was the only clone to figure out how to use the unique computers and terminals that Cerberus had, he had a major role in data retrieval from both Ascension Base and the Osiris in order to learn more about this group and where they came from. While Tech was responsible in that regards, Thrawn was busy with interrogations of the surviving Cerberus personnel in order to corroborate the intel that the Jedi had recovered. In addition to learning the technology and confirming the intel, the bodies of the dead Cerberus troops were also brough back for study as no one had ever seen a being looking like them. It was during autopsies in automated facilities that they were confirmed to be base-line human physiology, but what caused the bizarre changes to their physical appearance was because of devices that was surgically inserted into their bodies, no doubt back in their own galaxy, with the device – implants that Cerberus called them – being made out of a material that was absolutely alien.

Now, after 6 months, the Jedi were able to build up a picture of who this group was – a murky one due to what intel they had to go on, but a picture none-the-less. They learned that Cerberus is an organisation that favoured the ‘advancement of humanity’, though from what Thrawn gathered in his questioning of Turner and the surviving Cerberus personnel, it was more human-supremacist like the Galactic Empire that Emperor Palpatine was pushing these days since the Clone Wars ended. Not only that, but they were also willing to do anything to achieve this, though they believe that history would vindicate them. It was this attitude that had them labelled as a terrorist organisation by two entities known as the ‘Citadel Council’ and ‘Systems Alliance’. Annoyingly for the Jedi Order, Cerberus crews were able to successfully purge all data regarding their activities, projects, strength, and all organisation structure, save for its leader known as ‘The Illusive Man’ (which was found out through their interrogations). However, the Jedi were able to learn Cerberus originated in another galaxy, one called the ‘Milky Way’, roughly 2.1 million light years away from their own galaxy. By learning of this, they had finally proven what the failed Outbound Flight Project tried to prove 20 years ago; there was life beyond their own galaxy.

From that, they learned that the Systems Alliance was the representative face of humanity in the Milky Way, what the Citadel Council was and, perhaps more importantly, that their technology was based on, and revolved around, somethings known as ‘Mass Effect fields’, ‘Mass Relays’ and ‘Element Zero’. Apparently, this technology was important in their galaxy for transportation across the Milky Way in an almost instantaneous moment, because apparently their FTL drives would still take them a few centuries to travel from one side of their galaxy to the other, something that many Jedi and Naval Officers believed was highly inefficient compared to the use of hyperdrives, in which Task Force 57 said at one point, they were able to travel from one side of the galaxy to the other in around an hour and a half. The one piece of intel that the Cerberus crews failed to purge, upon which caught Thrawn’s attention was one that had the Jedi troubled; reports relating to a species named ‘Reapers’.

According to what the intel says, these were a race of sapient machines that were responsible for a galactic-wide genocide every few thousand years, and according to the reports, the vast majority of the galaxy believed that they were nothing more than a myth. That said, some of the intel gathered said that there were some people that did realise the truth and were determined to stop them. Also, for some oddball reason, in some of the captured files, there was indicated files that apparently had Cerberus holding some interest in the Reapers, but what they were about, that was successfully purged. Still it was some troubling information for the Jedi and their forces to learn about.

Staring out of one of the viewports in one of the multiple lounges on Artemis Station were two ARC Troopers, one from the 501st, with the other from the 212th. These two ARCs were ARC-56-8235 ‘Ryder’ and ARC-76/55-9437 'Argus', part of the unique Special Operations Squad known as Retribution Squad. Formed after the Flight to Ossus, it was unique for the fact that it actually comprised of 3 ARC Troopers from the 501st Legion and another 3 from the 212th Attack Battalion, making the unit a 6 man unit. Because of the unique structuring of this squad, it allows either the 501st or the 212th to have Retribution attached to their respective units for the duration of a campaign. Both of them were sitting there reflecting on the recent events and revelations.

“I’d tell you Argus, that fight over Eotis was a tough fight.” Ryder said, looking at his friend, who was sitting in one of the chairs there.

“Yeah. Even though we we’re with General Kenobi, those Cerberus Troopers did put up one hell of a fight. Your 501st took one hell of a beating from what I’ve heard from Domino Squad.” Argus replied back, before he continued. “However, the way their faces looked once their helmets were removed was just… fucked up.”

“True. So weird that they spout “advancement of humanity” and they pull that crap off on their own men.” Ryder replied, with a mix of disgust and anger in his voice, before looking out the view port showing the captured Osiris. “Still, they do make some very unique looking warships though.”

“And they can really pack a punch.” Argus replied back, before his train of though was interrupted by the sound of doors opening behind them.

Entering the room was the rest of Retribution Squad – Weapons Specialist and Combat Medic ARC-23/78-6782 ‘Ironhide’ (501st), Designated Marksman FARC-73-2757 ‘Vetra’ (212th), Combat Engineer and Slicer FARC-69/27-7501 ‘Sister’ (501st) and their Intelligence/Infiltration Expert FARC-03-7478 ‘Kaze’ (212th).

“So this is where you two went following our training session.” Vetra said to Ryder and Argus once she laid eyes on them.

“Yeah. Well, I came here looking for Ryder before we started discussing what we’ve learned about Cerberus.” Argus replied back, before Ryder decided to speak up.

“Yeah, sorry guys, I just came up here to wonder why haven’t moved to engage Cerberus yet.” He said, before continuing on. “I mean, it’s ok to keep blasting away at target droids and training droids when they are programmed to look like Stormtroopers given our war against the Empire but given the capabilities of what we saw what Cerberus is capable of over Eotis, we should be fighting back at the organisation now.” Ryder finished, with a little bit of anger in his voice, giving the fact that some of the troopers in the 501st that were killed in action that day were in fact some of his friends.

Once hearing this, Kaze moved to sit next to Ryder. “Ryder, believe me, you’re not the only one who feels this way. Quite a few of us also feel this too, but it takes time to learn what the other side is capable of, especially if it’s a force we’ve never seen or heard of before. Even more so when they purge their own data to cover their tracks.” She said, with a mix of calmness in her voice, despite the fact that she knew exactly where Ryder was coming from as she felt the same way as well.

“Besides mate, the Jedi Council’s only just started to debate about whether we will go to fight Cerberus or not, given the fact it’s taken six months to learn what we can.” Ironhide said once Kaze finished speaking.

“Yeah, I know Ironhide. I just feel useless waiting for what the result is for something like this, you know?” Ryder replied back to the seasoned veteran medic.

“On that one boss, I think we’re all in agreement there.” Vetra said, while she was looking downwards towards Ossus.

Jedi High Council Chamber, Ossus Jedi Temple.

In relation to said ‘debate’ that Ironhide was referring to, the Jedi High Council was in the High Council Chamber going over what they had learned over the past 6 months, and the 12 Council members were working to decided what would be the best course of action. While the entire Council agreed that Cerberus was a dangerous risk to The Galaxy, especially if they managed to make contact with the Empire before the Battle of Eotis, there were some who were questioning as to how to deal with this.

Out of the members present, Anakin, Obi-wan, Ki-Adi and Plo Koon were the ones who were pushing for deployment to engage Cerberus in their galaxy, as they were the ones who were engaged Cerberus firsthand and knew what they were capable of. Others, such as Shaak Ti, Kit Fisto, Aayla Secura, Qui-Gon Jinn and Mace Windu were not 100% certain that deploying forces was a smart move as it could be seen as a hostile invasion, potential repeating what Cerberus had done themselves here. In addition, there were a few naval officers and clone commanders who were aware that this deployment could a logistical nightmare as their ships would need to be refuelled whilst making the long trip between galaxies, though some engineers were already working on something to counter this. One thing that had concerned the seasoned commanding officers in the Loyalist Forces was that the more forces deployed to the Milky Way meant there would be lesser troops on hand to fight the Empire and the Sith. In the end though, the ultimate decision on whether to go was up to Yoda, and the venerable Grand Master wasn’t one to make a rash decision.

“In relation to everything that we have learned about Cerberus, or what we could learn, we know that they are a threat to this ‘Citadel Council’ and to the other beings in the Milky Way. We should deploy to help them to either eliminate Cerberus, or at least, deal enough damage to ensure they can’t threaten anyone.” Anakin said to the Council members present.

“And if we deploy, what happens if it turns into a dragged out-conflict like the Clone Wars, not to mention that from what we have learned, the operate as a covert organisation, which would lead to us dragging out deployment operations for a long time, Skywalker. We need to consider another approach to this.” Mace sternly replied back to Anakin, knowing his tendencies to dive-in headfirst into any situation. Though time spent on Ossus over the 12 years has helped to temper his recklessness and also allowed him to control his emotions better than what he could before the Clone Wars, it did occasionally flare up in situations like this.

“And we also have the threat of these ‘Reapers’ to contend with, should they do make an appearance.” Ki-Adi said, having looked over what Thrawn and Tech could recover on this particular subject. “If this race could take out multiple species with seemingly no casualties on their side, and also has the ability to ‘influence’ members of the other races to do the Reapers’ bidding, what could that do to our troopers?”

“As in what the Sith did when they found ways to have half of our forces comply with Order 66?” Obi-wan replied back, with a mild amount of surprise in his voice as he hadn’t learned about this when he read over the reports.

“I’ll admit it is troubling, but from what we do know, it appears that they have no interest in anywhere else other than the Milky Way, but should we deploy there, we have to be careful.” Ki-Adi finished his line of though.

While the various Council Members were putting forward their reasons behind either for or against deployment to the Milky Way, Yoda was deep in thought about this. While he knew that the future was always in motion, Yoda was able to sense something through a Force Vision. What he could ‘see’ was distorted, but it did concern him if the Jedi didn’t intervene to help with dealing with Cerberus and also should these ‘Reapers’ succeed in their galactic purge...

Once his had come out of his vision, Yoda held up one of his hands to gain the attention of everyone present. “A crossroads, we find ourselves on. That said, Through Cerberus’ actions. Now intertwined, two galaxies’ fates are, yes” The Grand Master said, though his unique dialogue that helped him stand out.

“However, With Cerberus learning our location in the universe, Developed, a dangerous situation has. It, should the ‘Reapers’ learn, Even more dangerous.” After pausing for a few seconds to believe if he was taking the right path, Yoda then spoke up with both clarity and determination.

“Intervening in affairs in another galaxy, great risk it does carry. But not intervening, a greater risk it carries for both galaxies… Deploy to help the Milky Way with Cerberus, we will.”

“And should the Cerberus data about the ‘Reapers’ turn out to be true Master?” Aayla asked, given the obvious risks involved.

“Should the ‘Reapers’ arrived while we are there in the Milky Way. Help the Milky Way races, we shall.” Yoda replied. Before Yoda could ask for who would lead the operation, Obi-wan was the first to stand.

“I’ll go.” He said, before Anakin followed his friend’s lead.

“So will I.” he replied.

“As will I.” Plo Koon said, also standing to join them.

Venator II-class Star Destroyer Negotiator II
High Eotis Orbit – 2 months later

Staring out of the viewports on the Negotiator II’s bridge, Cody was looking over the same planet where they had first encountered Cerberus eight months ago, observing what had changed in that time. The Cerberus warships that were destroyed over the planet were nowhere to be seen, given the fact that the Jedi had taken the step to have the wreckage forced towards Eotis, hoping that the wreckage would burn up in the atmosphere in order to ensure that no one in The Galaxy would gain access to the technology on board the ships, however damaged it was, and to ensure neither the Empire nor the Sith would learn of another Galaxy and move to subjugate it. Now, Eotis was being used as the staging ground for the Loyalist Forces gathering for their deployment to the Milky Way, in which the ships gathering would been known as the Milky Way Expedition Fleet.

“And to think the planet where we first encountered Cerberus is also being used by us as a launch pad for taking the fight to them. Gotta love the irony.” Cody said to his XO, Nine.

“Yeah. At least now we’re getting the chance to return the favour to Cerberus.” Nine replied back, before they were interrupted by Obi-wan and Grand Admiral Cora Terrend.

“I trust things are OK here Cody?” Obi-wan asked the two commanders.

“Nothing to worry about General. We’re talking about the irony we find ourselves in back here over Eotis.” Nine replied back to Obi-wan.

“Yes. Now that you mention it, it does seem… unique that we are back where this all started.” Obi-wan said, also thinking back to what happened 8 months ago.

“And yet General Kenobi, isn’t life full of uncomfortable ironies like this?” Cora stated to the three leaders of the 212th Attack Battalion.

“Quite True Cora.” Obi-wan replied with a small amount of humour in his voice.

“Grand Admiral, what’s the status of the Expedition Fleet?” Cody asked Cora, taking the chance to talk about anything else other than the Battle of Eotis.

“The last of the support ships have arrived from Ossus Cody. All we need to wait on is Clone Force 99 and Task Force 57 to arrive from Mandalore with the last of Bo-Katan’s Strike Team.” Cora answered the veteran Marshal Commander.

Because of the fact that Anakin, Obi-wan and Plo Koon stepped forward to deploy to the Milky Way, it meant that all of the 501st Legion, 212th Attack Battalion and the 104th Wolfpack Battalion would also be joining them. Despite the fact that there was around 10,400 clone troopers in the three units, it wasn’t considered enough by the three Jedi Masters – not in regard to numbers, but in versatility and skillsets, so a ‘Coalition Battle Group’ was created in order to help fill this void. Many Units were willing to go to a new galaxy, but the Jedi and their senior commanders had to be careful not to send to many units over otherwise it could weaken the home front, so units from squads up to full-fledged battalions were considered. In the end, the Coalition Battle Group had in its ranks nearly 35,000 extra troopers, ranging from standard frontline units, such as 1st Marine Battalion, 412th Siege Battalion and K Company, to also cover specialist units such as 41st Scout Battalion, 21st Flametrooper Battalion and 2nd Airborne Company to name some of the units. Also in the mix was two battalion’s worth of Special Forces, which included The Bad Batch, Delta Squad, the Headhunters, Retribution Squad and 1st SCAR Battalion.

Also, because of the fact that they were heading to a new galaxy with its own unique species, to insure that the Jedi could make any diplomatic negotiation so as to avoid creating any issues, a detachment from the Ossus Guard’s Diplomatic Escort Group, being led by veteran commanders Regiment Commander CC-5869 ‘Stone’ and Battalion Commander CC-4477 ‘Thire’, would also be tagging along for both escort duties and, should the situation arise, serve as extra boots for any police force they may encounter. In addition to this, the Jedi also reached out to Mandalore to see if they could spare any forces in their own fight against the Empire and help bolster their Special Forces for the duration of the deployment. The end result was a Strike Team of 50 Mandalorian Warriors who were willing to go with the Jedi and their Expedition Fleet to the Milky Way, many of whom who were eager to help as a way of repaying the Jedi and their troops when they helped with the Siege of Mandalore in the final days of the Clone Wars – chief among them was none other than Bo-Katan Kryze and Zarina Fett, both of whom would serve as the leaders of this unit. To lead the Coalition Battle Group overall, command would fall to Jedi Master Kiera Terra, a master swordswoman, skilled tactician and a talented negotiator in her own right, along with her adjutant Clone Marshal Commander CC-3985/7521 ‘Raptor’, both of whom commanded the 32nd Armoured Assault Corps.

Nearly from the get-go, Senior naval officers and clone commanders knew that a possible trip between two galaxies was going to be tough due to the vast amount of dark space between galaxies – and the obvious lack of fuelling stations in said gap. Fortunately, some clone engineers were able to come up with a plan to counter this which was the creation of a new support ship for this occasion, at first developed in secret. The end result was the Marathon-class Support Destroyer. Essentially it was a Venator II-class Star Destroyer hull that had 4 globe-like spheres placed on the hull that gave off the appearance of them being Gravity Well Projectors like those found on the Immobilizer 418 Cruiser or the Interdictor-class Star Destroyer that the Empire had in the Imperial Navy. However, the different was that instead of being equipped to carry gravity well projectors, the spheres were nothing more than massive tanks to carry fuel for the Expedition Fleet. The two forward tanks were designed to carry normal fuel payloads – in this case, Clouzon-36 due to how powerful the fuel was, thus lessening the need to refuel the Expedition Fleet on a regular basis, and thankfully there was a planetoid in a nearby asteroid belt near Ossus that had Clouzon-36 in its original gas form, which allowed the Jedi Order to set up a refinery for the stuff, while the two rear tanks were purpose built to help produce hypermatter for the hyperdrives on the fleet, especially during the trip through dark space. Designing these Support Destroyers started within a few weeks following the Battle of Eotis, with construction commencing 2 months after the battle. At the time of deployment, 3 of these new Marathon-class Support Destroyers – Pathfinder, Horizon and Unity – were assigned to the Expedition Fleet, which was the reason why it took two more months since the Jedi made the call to go to the Milky Way and fight Cerberus to be ready for deployment.

“General Kenobi, the Havoc Marauder and Light Marauder have come out of hyperspace in Sector 4.” A female clone naval officer called out from one of the crew pits.

Sure enough, within a few minutes of the scanners picking them up, Obi-wan, Cody, Nine and Cora saw the two battle-worn ships, the light grey and ice blue YT-1300p Light Freighter and the gunmetal coloured, battle-scarred Omicron-class attack shuttle, fly past the Negotiator II’s command bridge before they made their way towards the Resolute II.

“We better inform Master Yoda that all of our units are present and ready for the off.” Cora advised Obi-wan.

“Before we do that, we might want to go and inform our prisoners of what’s going on.” Obi-wan replied back before continuing on. “I’ll take Nine with me down to the brig. Cody, stay here with Cora and ensure that everything is working and ready.”

“Roger that, General.” Cody replied back before Obi-wan and Nine left the bridge.

In relation to said prisoners, because of the fact that the Cerberus Personnel that were captured during the Battle of Eotis had come from another galaxy, the Jedi felt that they should face justice in their own galaxy, so all surviving 352 Cerberus personnel were to be taken along with the Expedition Fleet, along with all the intel that the Jedi were able to secure and/or gained since Eotis. The plan is that should they be able to encounter the ‘Systems Alliance’ and were able to forge an alliance with them for the duration of their time in the Milky Way, all intel and the prisoners would be turned over to their care.

Switch to the Resolute II’s Flight Deck.

While walking out to the flight deck, Anakin, Ahsoka and Jysell Wren were observing what the clones were doing, predominantly either moving cargo around, maintenance on the various vehicles in the hanger bays, or running various drills such as either exercises, inducting new recruits into the ranks of the 501st or running hand-to-hand drills. Within a few minutes, both of them saw the two Marauders make their final approach to the Resolute II, before slowing down to ensure that both ships could manoeuvre safely into two separate hanger bays (due to their sizes) and land. Once the two ships had landed and powered down, their boarding ramps were lowered to allow their crews to walk out and make their way to Anakin, Ahsoka and Kanta. From the Light Marauder came the members that made up Task Force 57 – Commander Washington, Captains Tucker, Sarge & Epsilon and ARC Lieutenants Simmons, Grif, ARC-5412/7096 ‘Lopez’, ARC-62-0194 ‘Caboose’, ARC-55/74-2015 ‘Donut’, ARC-19/80-4180 ‘Doc’, FARC-2523 ‘Lina’ and FARC-90-0315 ‘Tex’ – along with around 10 Mandalorian warriors, most of them were human, but with some exceptions such as two female Zabrak Mandalorians and also a male Pantoran amongst the group. Out of the Havoc Marauder came the members that made up Clone Force 99 – Hunter, Tech, Wrecker, RC-9904 ‘Crosshair’ and the cyborg ARC Trooper ARC-23/08-2023 ‘Prophet’ – along with another 7 Mandalorian warriors, with this group being led by Bo-Katan herself, with Zarina close behind, helmets in their hands.

While the vast majority of the clones in The Bad Batch and the Reds and Blues moved on past Anakin, Ahsoka and Jysell to their barracks, saluting them as they went. Hunter, Wash, Tucker and the 17 Mandalorians made their way to the meet the leaders.

“A pleasure to see you again Bo-Katan.” Anakin said to the veteran warrior, with a bow.

“Likewise Master Skywalker.” Bo-Katan replied back, before turning to face Ahsoka and offering out her hand.

“Good to see you again, Ahoska.” Bo-Katan said to her. “Likewise Bo.” Ahsoka replied back, grabbing Bo-Katan’s hand to shake it.

“Also good to see you again Zarina.” She said to the younger female warrior, who was also the wife to Obi-wan’s son, Rhydon Kenobi.

“Same here, Ahsoka.” She replied back with a courteous nod.

“Any trouble getting Bo-Katan’s strike team off Mandalore?” Anakin asked, directing this question to Hunter, Wash and Tucker.

“First run wasn’t an issue, as the Imperial garrison didn’t really register two battered transports as a threat, but for the second run, that’s when they realised something was up.” Hunter replied back, before Tucker took over. “On our last run, the fly in wasn’t a problem, but the departure was… interesting as the idiots did try to stop us by deploying a Raider-class Corvette.”

“And you came straight here, or did you decide to have a crack at them?” Ahsoka asked the three clones.

“A couple of proton torpedos and concussion missiles paired up with a ton of blaster fire can really fuck up any ship.” Tucker replied back, with a mix of admiration and exaggeration.

At this point, Wash decided to speak up in order to put the debriefing back on track. “Though crudely put, Tucker is correct. We did damage the Raider to such an extent that they were forced to abandon ship. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to destroy it’s communications relay quickly enough as we forced to bug out thanks to a Naval Patrol consisting of five Tartan-class patrol cruisers, two Gozanti-class cruisers and a Quasar Fire-class cruiser-carrier. Followed standard evasion protocols when we retreated.”

“Well then, we better get the rest of your strike force settled.” Anakin said, before turning to look at Jysell. “Jysell, can you show the rest of Bo-Katan’s group where to go?”

“Of course Anakin.” Jysell said before she looked towards the gathered Mandalorians. “All fellow warriors, please follow me and I’ll show you where were staying for the trip.”

Once finished, the Mandalorians walked off towards their barracks, while Anakin, Ahsoka, Bo-Katan, Zarina, Wash, Tucker and Hunter made their way towards the turbolifts.

“So who exactly we are dealing with to necessitate a trip to a whole new galaxy?” Bo-Katan asked out to the two Jedi and three clone leaders.

“A hostile faction that calls itself Cerberus. They launched an unprovoked pre-emptive strike against two of our fleets commanded by Generals Skywalker and Plo Koon while we were hosting a training exercise out here.” Hunter replied back to Bo-Katan.

“Long story short, we’ve spent eight months learning what we could about this organisation, and the threat it poses to both galaxies, before the Jedi Council made the call to deploy and neutralise Cerberus.” Wash spoke up, taking over from Hunter before Ahsoka decided to wrap this talk up.

“Once we get underway, I’ll have either Rex, Dagger or Bow head down to where your groups are staying and pass over what we have learned on Cerberus so you can get a better picture.”

“Understood.” Bo-Katan replied back. With that the group made their way into the turbolift for the bridge.

Switch to the Resolute II’s bridge

Gathered around the central holotable in the CIC, Yularen, Gunner, Rex, Dagger, Bow and Bismarck were checking over some last-minute details with the holographic forms of Plo Koon, Coburn, Wolffe, Lupa, Obi-Wan, Cora, Cody, Nine, Kiera and Raptor also standing around the holotable. Projected in the middle of said holotable were the forms of Yoda and Commander General CC-2377 ‘Cole’, General of the Loyalist Army.

“All crews and stations have reported in and all systems are green.” Yularen reported to everyone present.

At that point, the blast doors opened behind the gathered group to reveal Anakin, Ahsoka, Hunter, Wash, Tucker, Bo-Katan and Zarina. “Task Force 57 and Clone Force 99 have finished brining over Bo-Katan’s strike force from Mandalore, which means we are ready to depart.” Anakin said to the Expedition Fleet’s leaders.

“Before departing, A few words he wishes for the Fleet to hear, General Cole has.” Yoda said to the gathered group.

“Then let’s hear it Cole.” Rex replied to his old squad leader, back when they were cadets on Kamino.

“Thanks, Rex.” Cole replied back.

Before Cole started, Yularen had selected a switch on the console to ensure that Cole’s words would be broadcasted throughout the whole Expedition Fleet.

“Men and Women, Brothers and Sisters of the Milky Way Expedition Fleet. You are about to embark on possibly the greatest expedition this galaxy has ever seen. Eight months ago, we were attacked by a new faction from a new galaxy. Now, after learning as much as we about them and preparing for this day, we are ready to launch our counter-offensive. Our enemy may know we are coming, but know that where you are heading, there will be other races there, who may also be launching their own attacks against our enemy. Show them that you are not there to harm them but to help them in their cause. And show the enemy that we will not buckle or retreat until they are they are beaten. Above all, remember that you are now representing our galaxy in a new location, so remember to fight for your fellow brothers and sisters, or your fellow comrades. Fight to help remove a dangerous threat from two galaxies, and above all, fight for victory. Good Luck and May the Force be with you all.”

As soon as Cole finished speaking, every single clone started cheering out loud with high levels of enthusiasm, which no doubt was reverberating through every single warship of the Fleet.

“All right, all right. To your stations everyone.” Anakin called out over to both everyone present and over the comms, also with a good deal of amusement in his voice.

“Well said Cole. Not sure about everyone else, but I think that was needed to set the mood here.” Obi-wan said to the veteran officer.

“That’s what I was gunning for Master Kenobi.” Cole replied back.

Anakin nodded, with a bit of a sombre look on his face given the fact that 4 hours earlier, he had to say goodbye to his wife Padmé and their children Luke and Leia. Even though both Anakin and Padmé were used to this due to their different roles in the Clone Wars, it didn’t make it any easier. Despite the fact that Luke had recovered from his injuries from the Battle of Eotis and the fact that Luke was Anakin’s Padawan Learner, Anakin had to make the call to leave him behind for this mission. It wasn’t due to lack of experience on Luke’s part, but the last thing needed was to have Luke injured in a way that he couldn’t become a Jedi Knight – and given the technology that Cerberus had at it’s disposal, that was a very real possibility. So while Luke didn’t like the idea of missing out on seeing a new galaxy, he could see – and feel – where his father was coming from. As Padmé was busy with Leia’s training herself, Luke’s training for the time being would be taken over by Chiss Jedi Knight Gard'etek'haighiro, better known as ‘Detekha’, commander of the 7th Mechanized Division, better known as ‘Ghost Division’. She and Anakin had both trained and later fought alongside one another during the Clone Wars, so Detekha knew how Anakin operates and teaches, therefore Luke’s training wouldn’t suffer much without his father for the duration of the deployment.

“May the Force be with you.” Yoda said, before the transmission finished and their forms faded away.

With that, the images of the others faded away, as they all now knew there were no words needed for the moment, for it was time to depart.

“Have our course plotted out and have the hyperdrive primed and ready.” Yularen said to the clones present, which had everyone present move to get things ready.

While these naval officers and crewmembers were moving with purpose, Anakin, Ahsoka, Yularen, Gunner, Bo-Katan, Zarina, Rex, Dagger, Bow, Bismarck, Hunter, Wash and Tucker made their way to the bridge to look out through the windows.

“Grand Admiral, hyperdrive is primed and ready. Also, all ships have reported that coordinates and the course is programmed.” A female crewmember spoke out from the crew pits.

“Thank you.” Yularen replied back, before speaking up to all ships via comms. “All ships, this is Grand Admiral Yularen. Prepare to jump to Light Speed.”

Within a minute, the starfield in front of the group gather started to streak outwards. In that moment, the gathered fleet of 8 Venator II-class Star Destroyers (various configurations), 10 Victory-class Star Destroyers, 18 Victory II-class Star Destroyers, 3 Marathon-class Support Destroyers, 10 Acclamator-class Assault Ships, 10 Acclamator II-class Assault Ships and 20 Arquitens-class Light Cruisers soon disappeared in a streak of light.

This was the start of what the Loyalist Forces called ‘Operation: FAR STORM.’

6 weeks later

Training/Simulation Room, Resolute II.
Location: Sol System Outskirts, Local Cluster, Earth Systems Alliance Space.
Year: 7 BBY – 2186 (local calendar).

Dodging another round of blaster fire, Ember slid into cover next to Dogma. He was busy priming a smoke grenade.

“Dogma, toss it on my mark.” Joakim called out. He was pinned down next to Hardcase and Lara, with the latter taking the chance when she could to take a few pot shots at the ‘enemy’. Kix was also pinned down in some cover that was starting to look questionable due to hostile fire. The ‘enemy’ in question was a squad of Mandalorian warriors, being led by Bo-Katan.

“NOW!” Joakim called out. On the mark, Dogma tossed the smoke grenade, while at the same time, Joakim lobbed a flash grenade. The end result was a decent distraction that was able to startle and confuse the Mandalorians, upon which it allowed the clones to maneuverer into a better firing position, with Hardcase once again entering his element by firing his Z-6.

Up in the Observation Platform observing the training exercise was Rex, Jesse, Price, Ratchet, Hevy, Fives, Echo, Droidbait, Cutup, Arcee and Viper.

“Looks like the extra work you’ve put into Ember’s paying off.” Rex spoke out at the group of ARC Troopers present, before looking at Viper. “Nice work.”

“Thanks Rex. Two ARC Troopers wielding Z-6 chainguns firing at you is a hell of a teaching tool on when it’s smart to move out of cover and when not to.” Viper replied back. “It also looks that Lara’s skills as a marksman is improving too.” Price said, once he saw Lara take down a Mandalorian warrior with a headshot.

“Not to mention that Joakim’s leading the squad well. Good call on making him the leader of Vanguard Squad.” Jesse also pointed out.

“You should be thanking Domino Squad for helping to shape the squad up to where it is.” Rex replied back, before looking down and seeing Vanguard Squad succeed in taking down another warrior and surround Bo-Katan, forcing her to surrender, ending the training match.

Once the Battle of Eotis was over, Rex, Dagger, Arcee and Viper worked to find their original unit, Charger Squad, and have a few words with them. Unfortunate, the remaining members of Charger Squad were among the 327 troopers of the 501st that were KIA in the engagement. Without their original squad, Ember and Lara were left at a loss on who to be assigned to. That was when Dogma, Kix and Hardcase suggested that they would take Ember and Lara under their wing in order to form a new squad. At the time when running this idea, Joakim was nearby, so when it was time to determine who would lead this squad, Rex suggested Joakim, much to his surprise, given the fact that he had already lead an impromptu squad back during the Second Battle of Felucia which lead to Joakim being recognised for ARC Trooper Status. Given his seniority over everyone else, it made sense for him to be the leader of this squad. With that in mind, Joakim was promoted to ARC Lieutenant and made the leader of Vanguard Squad, which comprised of Joakim, Dogma, Kix, Hardcase, Ember and Lara. Since its formation, Domino Squad had been working with them in the time between the Battle of Eotis and the start of Operation: FAR STORM to help form Vanguard up to operate as an effective squad.

While Rex and the rest of the ARCs were watching over Vanguard Squad and the Mandalorians discus tactics and ideas below, a female sergeant appeared behind them.

“Commander Rex, Lieutenant Jesse. You’re both required on the bridge.” She said to the gather group.

“Understood, thanks sergeant.” Once she had left, Price looked to Rex.

“If you two are needed on the bridge, then something’s up.” He said to the veteran ARCs.

“Let’s just hope that we’re not under assault from the local forces.” Arcee replied back to Price.

“Well, I’m hoping it’s good. I’m sick of being stuck in this tin can for weeks now.” Cutup replied back.

“Cutup, put a lid on it. Were all in the same situation due to the fact we have had to travel across Dark Space. So of course there won’t be much to do.” Fives reprimanded Cutup.

“Thanks Fives. Price, Ratchet. You two have things under control here?” Rex asked Price.

“Yeah, we’ve got this Rex. You better get up there.” Price replied back. With that, Rex and Jesse soon left the Observation Platform.

Switch to the Resolute II’s bridge.

Once more, Anakin, Ahsoka and Yularen were gathered around the holotable in the centre of the CIC, with the holoforms of the rest of the leader of the Expedition Fleet present as well. Currently, they were looking over the holographic display of the local system. After 6 weeks of travel between Dark Space, with the need to come out of hyperspace to refuel their ships numerous times, the Expedition Fleet arrived in the Milky Way Galaxy – specifically in the southern part of the galaxy, which somehow was completely devoid of life. After holding there for another few hours for the fleet to take on fuel, the Fleet then made a jump to the location known as the ‘Local Cluster’, according to the Cerberus data the Jedi had on hand. In this cluster were three key systems marked, with one being known as ‘Sol’. This was marked as important as it was the location of Earth, Humanity’s homeworld in this galaxy. The other systems were ‘Alpha Centauri’ and ’61 Ursae Majoris’. However, given the importance of Earth, it was decided to make for Sol. However, once the Fleet had arrived on the outskirts… that’s when it started to turn bad.

Once Rex and Jesse arrived, the gathered leaders were observing the Sol System.

“General, Jesse and I were requested?” Rex said, once he was close enough to Anakin.

“Yes, we were observing the Sol system, when we’ve started seeing flashes observing on the surface of Earth.” Anakin replied back to Rex, upon which Rex and Jesse started to see.

Though faint, they could just make them out. Before anyone could ask, a naval lieutenant called out from his console. “Grand Admiral, we’re picking up a transmission from the planet.” He said.

“Have we been spotted?” Obi-wan asked.

“Unknown, but judging from this encryption, it’s not related to us. Nor is it any known Cerberus encryption. I’ve already sent for Tech sir.” The lieutenant replied back.

Hearing this, Anakin brought up his wrist-mounted comlink. “Artoo, we need you on the bridge buddy.” Anakin spoke out into the comlink, which was rewarded with a series of warbles and chirps.

15 minutes later, both Artoo and Tech arrived on the bridge.

“You requested our presence sirs?” Tech asked the gathered leadership.

“We’ve intercepted a transmission, but it’s encrypted. Think you and Artoo can decrypt it.” Jesse asked the pair.

Before Tech could reply, Artoo was already moving to interface with the terminal.

“I think we can crack it.” Tech replied, before placing his helmet on in order to access the unique visor on his helmet and pulled out his signature miniature datapad.

Within two minutes, Artoo was starting to carry on once again. “Sounds like Artoo’s had some success. Let’s hear it.” Anakin spoke up after figuring out what Artoo was on about, once the astromech calmed down.

After a few seconds, the image on the holotable changed. It had no image of anyone, but it did show as an audio file. Problem was, the message was not received very well, with a lot of static.

“… Fleet Admiral Steven Hackett… dition ‘SABER ONE’. Earth is … attack. Re… under Reaper Attack. All… to designated staging areas. Further… Channel ‘Crimson Tatict’. … Independent Action is auth…” Was all the Expedition Fleet commanders could learn.

“It would seem that this transmission confirms that the ‘Reapers’ are in fact true.” Obi-wan said, with a mix of annoyance and worry.

“We all knew that when we made the call to come here, there was a possibility of us potentially running into the Reapers while we were here to fight Cerberus.” Plo Koon replied back to Obi-wan.

At this point, Tech spoke up. “Speaking of Cerberus. I wasn’t able to help clean up the message, or warning as it’s turned out, any better than what Artoo could, but I did pick up another transmission from the fourth planet in this system, know as Mars.”

As he was doing this. Tech was using one of the control panels on the holotable to bring up Mars.

“While I wasn’t able to determine what was said, the encryption in the comm chatter matches what we first encountered over Eotis eight months ago. This is a Cerberus transmission, and it’s originating from here.” Tech finished speaking, while manipulating the holo image of Mars to zoom in to the Southern Hemisphere on the Martian Surface – specifically, the Deseado Crater. There, the image showed a structure on the surface.

“Is that a Cerberus outpost?” Ahsoka asked the enhanced clone commando.

“Actually General Tano, according to what data we did obtain from the Osiris, this is a research outpost for something called the ‘Prothean Archives.’” Tech replied back to Ahsoka.

“Cerberus is launching an assault? Then we have to help.” Anakin replied back, at first surprised, but turned to determination.

“And if we do go down there, would the local forces engage us on sight?” Obi-wan replied back to Anakin, knowing that he was eager to get involved.

“From what I can tell, the local forces are possibly involved with fighting the Reapers on Earth, or they have been forced to retreat, given the fact that we don’t know what the Reapers are capable of. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that we are the only forces in the area that can render any assistance General Kenobi.” Tech replied back to Obi-wan.

“Tech’s right General. We do have a vested interest in launching a counter-offensive against Cerberus. And if they are willing to engage our fleets without warning, what are they going to do against civilian researchers?” Rex argued. It was this that eventually convinced the gathered leaders to deploy.

“A fair point Rex. Ok. How do we do this?” Obi-wan asked the group.

“I can have a few squads ready for deployment in no time with me leading the force on the ground.” Anakin said, thinking of an idea to work with.

“You want to tag along Snips?” he asked Ahsoka.

“With pleasure Anakin.” Ahsoka replied back.

“I’ll come along on this deployment as well.” Obi-wan stated.

“Is this so you can keep a close eye on me?” Anakin replied back, with a smirk on his face.

“You know me all too well, my friend.” Obi-wan replied back to the cheap shot, before continuing. “No, I’m hoping that I can help show that we are there to help the local forces, not attack them.”

“Living up to your title of ‘The Negotiator’, I see.” Before any more ideas could be passed, Jesse spoke up. “Actually, we may have issues on deploying. According to the Cerberus data we have, Mars’ atmosphere is comprised primarily of carbon dioxide.”

“Obi-wan, I’ll send Hawk over to pick you up on a LAAT/i. While that’s going on, Rex. Have Domino, Onyx and Vanguard Squads informed that they’ll be heading to the surface. Let them know that they’ll need to prep for a low-atmosphere deployment. Once Obi-wan’s on board, the Resolute II will detach from the Expedition Fleet so it can be in Mars’ orbit in case we need to exfil or provide emergency air support.” Anakin replied back.

“Understood. I’ll see you soon Anakin.” Obi-wan said, before his image faded out.

“Masters Plo and Kiera, while the Resolute II heads to Mars, take the rest of the fleet and stay on the outskirts of the Sol System so that you are ready to either deploy for support, or to jump to hyperspace if the situation warrants it. Other than that, maintain a low profile to avoid detection.” Anakin finished explaining his plan.

“Understood Skywalker. May the Force be with you.” Plo Koon replied back. With that, the images of the gathered leaders faded out.

Once it was done, Anakin turned to Rex. “Rex, I’ll want you, Jesse and also Sergeant Coric with me and Ahsoka for the deployment to Mars.”

“Yes General. I’ll tell the guys to get their gear prepped, and also set some breath masks up as well.” Rex replied back.

“On that basis, we better get ready Rex.” Jesse told Rex before he, Rex and Tech turned to leave the bridge to prepare for their mission.

Meanwhile, 335.6 million kilometres away from Mars…

Shuttle Bay/Armoury, Normandy-class Stealth Frigate SSV Normandy SR2, Low Earth Orbit.

The day that Commander Krystina Shepard had been dreading for three years finally came. The Reapers had arrived. Despite everything she had said and/or done, no one was absolutely prepared for the onslaught that was to come. Six months after she went on an unsanctioned mission from Admiral Hackett to rescue a deep-cover agent, Dr. Amanda Kenson, deep inside the Batarian Hegemony, in which the mission devolved to the point that she was left with no alternative but to destroy the Viper Nebular’s Mass Relay, known as the ‘Alpha Relay’, in order to prevent the Reapers from using it as a staging ground for the invasion of the Milky Way, but at the cost of 304,942 Batarians living in the Bahak System – all of whom were on Aratoht, and the entire system.

When Shepard finally returned to Earth and surrendered the Normandy SR-2, she was arrested for this incident, and for her alleged ‘employment’ for Cerberus, despite the fact that she had no intentions of hanging around once her suicide mission was completed. The only thing that kept her from being left to rot in prison was due to her knowledge on the Reapers – and the fact that she was one of the best snipers in the System Alliance Navy.

Originally, Shepard had though that it would be another boring meeting with the Defence Committee in relation to her activities during her time with Cerberus until she realised that the committee needer her knowledge on the best strategy on stopping the Reapers. This would come for naught as she would see them descending from the skies over Vancouver, Canada. So, until the Normandy arrived to provide support for both her and her mentor, Admiral David Anderson, she had to fight her way over skyscrapers and wreckage before holding the line in Vancouver Bay. Once the stealth frigate arrived, she managed to make in onto the loading ramp, where fellow marines Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams and Lieutenant James Vega were able to get Shepard on board. Despite her pleading, Anderson chose to stay behind in order to lead a resistance force on Earth, while Shepard escaped on the Normandy to bring reinforcements from the Citadel Council.

Now, she was making her way to the armoury near where the Normandy’s new Kodiak shuttle was hanging in storage. “Hanger sealed, decompressing. Welcome aboard Commander.” A voice rang out over the speakers. Despite the fact that Shepard was prepping a M-3 Predator Pistol, she knew immediately who’s voice it was.

“Hey EDI. It’s good to hear your voice. You’re flying us?” Shepard asked the AI program. Instead of EDI’s voice, she got someone else.

“Seriously? That hurt’s Shepard.” A male voice rang out, with a fair bit of playful hurt in his voice. Of course it could only be Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau, better known as ‘Joker’.

“Hey Joker. It’s good to hear your voice too.” Shepard replied back to the veteran Helmsman in somewhat of a playful banter.

With that said, Joker returned the conversation to the matter at hand. “No time for chitchat. We’ve got inbound, and we’re seriously outnumbered.” Joker replied back to Shepard.

“Understood, but we’re not staying.” She spoke out, while tapping away on a holographic interface nearby. That sentence was enough to earn a remark from James.

“What the Hell?” he asked in disbelief to what he just heard.

“What’s going on?” Ashley asked, having just heard what set James off.

“Anderson’s ordered us to go to the Citadel, to get help for the fight.” Shepard replied back to Ashley, before continuing to tap away on the console.

“Bullshit! He wouldn’t order us to leave.” James spoke out, now with a hint of anger in his voice.

“We don’t have a choice.” Shepard replied back to James, keeping her voice calm and collected. “Without help, this war is over.”

“Forget it. Drop me off someplace…” James started up, now with more aggression in his voice. Seeing that he wasn’t going to back down at this pace, Shepard decided to match his tone.

“ENOUGH! Don’t you think I’d rather stay and fight?” Shepard called out, matching James’ anger in her own voice. This was enough to shut the marine up.

Seeing that it worked, she continued. “We’re going to the Citadel. If you want out, you can catch a ride back from there.” Realising that he’s wish wasn’t going to be carried out, James started to walk over to the other side of the armoury in annoyance.

At this point, EDI spoke up again. “Commander. I’m receiving a priority message from Admiral Hackett. He is requesting Admiral Anderson.” The AI stated which was enough to get everyone’s attention.

Seeing that Anderson was not here, Shepard would have to take it. “Patch it through.” She replied back to EDI.

Soon, the screen on the console was filled with static. “Admiral, it’s Commander Shepard. Anderson is on…” Shepard started to speak before Hackett’s voice came through. Annoyingly, the message was garbled and loaded with static, no doubt Hackett was busy fighting the Reapers.

“Shepard… sustained heavy losses. … force was overwhelming… There’s no way we can defeat the conventionally…”

“Anderson’s already ordered me to the Citadel, to talk to the Council.” Shepard replied back. However, it turned out that Hackett had other ideas.

“First, I need you… iance outpost on Mars… ore we lose control of the system.”

“Yes sir.” Shepard replied back, realising that they would be staying around in the Sol System for a little while longer.

“… been researching the ‘Prothean Archives’ wit… Dr. T’Soni. … found a way to stop the Reapers… only way to stop them…” Hackett responded, with more garbled audio. “… in contact soon. Hackett out.” He finished, before terminating the transmission on his end.

Once the message ended, Shepard hit a few switches on the interface nearby, which ended with the Kodiak being moved down to the deck in order to get it ready for deployment. “Joker. Set a course for the Mars Archives.” Shepard called out to the helmsman, whilst all this was happening.

“Mars?... Roger that.” Joker replied back, with a fair amount of surprise in his voice.

While this was going on, James and Ashley were standing there taking in what they just heard.

“This is loco!” was all James could say about the situation. Ashley, however, was more concerned with the new mission they just got.

“Why Mars? What does he think we’ll find there?” Ashley asked Shepard.

At this time, the Commander was standing near an armour locker. “I don’t know – yet. But if it’ll help us win this war…” Shepard replied back to Ash, also wondering what could Hackett be on about. Before she continued pondering, Krystina shook her head, in order to get her mind back on focus, before starting to retrieve her armour pieces.

“Grab your gear.” Shepard called out to Ashley and James.

Chapter Text

After 15 minutes since leaving Earth, the Normandy exited FTL and cruised to Mars in order to deploy Shepard, Ashley and Vega on the Kodiak in order to get to the Prothean Archives. Once in position in Mid Mars Orbit, the Normandy’s cargo bay ramp was lowered in order to allow the Kodiak to leave and make its way to the surface. Earlier on the trip to the Archives, Shepard was going on her gear and weapons in her mind, and if she was honest, she was not impressed. She hated to admit it, but the Ajax Armour that Cerberus supplied her with during her mission against the Collectors was actually the best thing she had ever worn in battle. No doubt the Alliance removed the armour from the Normandy in order to study it, given the fact that they were scrambling to see if they could replicate the armour for Alliance forces in order to offset the advantage Cerberus had with this.

Clearly, Alliance R&D had succeeded, due to the fact that Ashley was wearing her own set of Ajax Armour, but this version had its armour painted blue and had the Alliance Navy emblem on it, instead of the armour being white with the infamous Cerberus logo on it. This could also be said for the weapons that Cerberus supplied her, and her squad was also better than what she had used during her hunt for Saren back in 2183, as she had taken a liking to the M-96 Mattock Battle Rifle due to its sheer stopping power. Annoyingly, the entire armoury was emptied out, and restocked with the standard issue Alliance weapons. So for this mission, she was wearing her N7 Defender Heavy Armour, along with the ever-reliable M-8 Avenger Assault Rifle, along with a N7 Valiant Sniper Rifle and a N7 Eagle Heavy Pistol. While it’s not what she would prefer to carry, it would suffice for now.

At present, Shepard was on the comms to Joker and EDI in relation to announcing their arrival to the scientists in the research outpost, standing next to James who was in the pilot’s seat, with his helmet on and already sealed.

“I’ve been trying to reach Mars on secure channels. No one’s answering.” Joker called out over the comms. This got Shepard’s interest.

“Any sign of Reaper activity?” she asked the duo back on the frigate.

“Negative.” Joker replied back, but he wasn’t finished yet. “However, I’m picking up a strange vehicle on the scanners, no IFF registering, but it doesn’t appear to be openly hostile.” Now this was a bigger concern.

“EDI?” Shepard called out, seeing if the AI could offer some help.

“The base appears to be online. It’s possible the inhabitants were evacuated, with the unknown vehicle maybe helping in that regards.” EDI replied back.

“Well, we’ll know soon enough. Be ready though Joker, just in case.” Shepard replied back, whilst turning back to the passenger bay to see Ashley, helmet on, sealed and ready for deployment.

“Roger that, Normandy out.” Joker wrapped up the transmission.

“We’re almost there.” James called out to the two officers, whilst Shepard prepared her own helmet.

About 10 minutes later, the UT-47A Kodiak Shuttle that was carrying Shepard, Ashley and James landed on the outskirts of the outpost, with all systems then shut down.

“Still no contact from the base, but we’ve got a massive storm heading our way.” James called out once he was standing up out of the pilot’s chair and made his way to the passenger bay.

“How long until it hits?” Shepard asked, realising that now they had to contend with that on their mission.

“Half an hour tops. After that, we’re going to have difficulty keeping comms with the Normandy.” James replied, whilst brining his N7 Typhoon Machine Gun to bare. At the same time, Ashley was also prepping her own M-8 Avenger rifle for combat.

“Alright, Let’s move.” Shepard said to both marines, before she hit the switch to open the shuttle’s door to walk out onto the Martian surface. After about a minute of walking, interrupted with James bitching about how big the storm was, when it was fairly average for Mars, the team arrived on to a ledge and jumped down, where they encountered dead Alliance marines.

“Alliance, Sergeant Reeves. Doesn’t look like he put up much of a fight.” Ashley said when she examined the body of one of the marines.

“Something’s not right here.” James said, surveying the situation.

“Keep a low profile until we know what’s going on.” Krystina replied back, while she swapped out her M-8 Avenger for the N7 Valiant.

“Roger that.” James replied back. After Ashley was done, the group continued towards the base, where Shepard then started hearing gunfire, which increased worry for the group, but it would be what they saw next that startled the three marines.

Around the corner, and near a cAvro/Ute PackRack mining vehicle and a white-coloured M-080 APC, was one Alliance marine, alive, with a bunch of, what could be assumed, soldiers standing around in a group. The marine on the ground had clearly surrendered, while the white armoured people were standing around him. Suddenly, one of them pulled out a M-25 Hornet SMG and pulled the trigger.

“Holly shit. They’re executing them!” James called out, surprised by what he just saw, whereas for Shepard, she wasn’t wasting time. While the white-armoured soldiers were foreign to her, the logo on the APC wasn’t. This was a Cerberus assault, and she wasn’t going to take this lying down. After coordinating Ashley and James into suitable hardpoints for cover, and telling them what to use on her signal, Shepard lined up her rifle for a clean headshot. Despite James telling her to ‘Take the Shot.’ – in other words, hurry up and kill him, Shepard wasn’t going to rush it. Sniping was an art, and she had learned long ago that you can’t rush something like it, you take your time to ensure you have lined up your target perfectly for that one shot. It was for this reason why Shepard was regarded as one of the best snipers in the Alliance Military, coupled with some extra skills she had learned from a noted turian sniper who was, in fact, a certain turian sniper that she was missing for six months now…

Once she was certain of her kill, Shepard squeezed iron and was awarded a clean headshot on one of the Cerberus troopers. The downside of this was the group was now alerted to their presence, and immediately went weapons free.

“They know we’re here now!” James called out while he tossed a Frag Grenade at one of the Assault Troopers, while Ashley did the same with her Inferno Grenades. Immediately as soon as the rounds started flying, one of the Cerberus Troopers was yelling out “Call for Backup!” to one of his colleagues. “These guys don’t fight like scientists.” Another called out, realising that they could be facing a well-trained squad. This was proven a few minutes later when the whole squad was eliminated thanks to firepower and skill that Shepard and her squad displayed. During the whole engagement, none of the knew that they had another set of eyes watching over them on the roofs of the buildings.

“Those guys were Cerberus, weren’t they?” James called out to Shepard and Ashley.

“Sure looked like it.” Shepard replied back once the fighting had died down.

“What’s Cerberus doing here on Mars?” Ashley asked out loud, with that question being aimed at Shepard.

“Good question…” Shepard replied back. However, it apparent wasn’t the answers Ashley was expecting.

“You don’t know?” Ashley replied back.

Now Shepard could see where this was going. “I’m not with them anymore Ash, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It wasn’t… but you have to admit, it’s a bit convenient.” Ashley replied back to Shepard.

This was enough to earn an annoyed glare from Shepard, though Ashley didn’t see it, as she had her turned away at the time. With that done, the squad moved on to another three Cerberus APCs, where apparently another unit was waiting for them.

“Look Out!” James called out, alerting Shepard and Ashley to get to cover, and engage in another firefight. However, one of the Assault Troopers called out “I thought we delt with security!”, alerting the three marines that there was a good chance everyone was possibly dead. Despite this, Shepard, Ashley and James kept up the pressure on the Cerberus, which lead to one trooper question whether they were engaging Alliance regulars or something else.

Once the squad was dealt with and the battlefield was quiet – apart from the noise of the incoming storm, Shepard and her two comrades took the chance to survey the immediate area.

“Doesn’t look like they came here in force.” James said, observing the alarming lack of Cerberus vehicles, to which Shepard agreed with. “Yeah, just a few vehicles.”

“Kinda suggests they had help, from the inside.” Ashley stated, however, this time the statement almost sounded like an accusation.

While Shepard could see where Ashley was prying, she brushed it off. “Seems likely.” Was all Shepard said on the subject.

“You’d need a lot more men and firepower to take this place otherwise.” Ashley continued on.

While surveying the area, James’s mind was thinking of something. “Commander, I though you told Cerberus to screw off after you destroyed that Collector Base they were after?”

“That’s exactly what I did.” Shepard replied back to the marine.

“Well, one thing’s for sure; They’re no friend of the Alliance.” James continued on.

“Agreed.” Shepard replied back.

At that point, Ashley could see some dust clouds. Because of the fact that the squad already knew of the storm on approach, it wouldn’t be an issue. However, these dust clouds were coming from the opposite direction to the storm and were growing bigger. Out of instinct, Ashley swapped out her M-8 Avenger for the M-90 Indra Automatic Sniper Rifle she had found back on the Normandy and brought up the scope on the rifle to see what was the cause of the dust clouds. What she saw was not a good sign.

“Shepard, we’ve got another 5 APCs inbound. All sporting Cerberus markings!” Ashley called out to both Shepard and James, which prompted both marines to link up with Ashley.

As Shepard had already switched out her sniper rifle back to her M-8 Avenger, she had to borrow Ash’s M-90 Indra to see what was going on. Sure enough, Shepard could also see the APCs that were inbound.

“Either reinforcements, or a roving patrol. In any case, were exposed.” She stated to both Ashley and James, before thinking of a plan, given the fact that the Cerberus APC’s were almost on top of them when Ashley spotted them. “Get behind the APCs here and we’ll see what they do.” Was all Shepard could think, but it at least allow her squad to spring an ambush if they could pull it off.

In 5 minutes, the APCs had rolled up to where the cliff was that Shepard, Ashley and James were all standing earlier. Due to this, the APCs couldn’t get up there, but that didn’t stop the Cerberus troops who used their jet-boots to get up to the ledge.

“Spread out and find that squad!” was what the Centurion had called out. While there was a few Cerberus troopers there, Shepard had no doubt that there would be more down where the APCs were. For Shepard, she was hiding behind one of the APC’s wheels, crouched down and observing the whole situation. Ashley was close by, lying prone on the ground with most of her body hidden behind another one of the APC’s wheels, with her M-90 Indra drawn and ready to engage. James was concealed behind a stack of crates that were nearby and had swapped out his N7 Typhoon for his N7 Crusader Shotgun. He was peeking around the corner, observing the Cerberus Troopers when something caught his eye, glinting away in the sky.

“Uh… Commander, did Cerberus call in air support?” James whispered to Shepard via their helmet comms.

Once James finished, Shepard took another look from her cover and saw what James was on about.

“Aw. Son of a bitch…” was all Krystina could say about the current situation. What happened next… was completely unexpected.

The cause of the glint that James saw was in fact a unique design of – what she could assume – a gunship she had never seen before, with a unique body design, massive wings, a cockpit system reminiscent of the old Russian Mil Mi-24 Hind Helicopter Gunship from the 20/21st Century and  two engine pods on top of the design, until she saw missiles come flying out of them. At first, Shepard had thought they were targeting for where she, Ashley and James were, until she saw the missiles actually strike the Cerberus APCs below them. The explosion was powerful enough to flip one of the APCs over and actually have it land on the same level that they were. Before this gunship came flying overhead, something that looked like a phasic round from a Geth Pulse Rifle, but bigger in terms of the projectile, and more bluer in colour, hit one of the Cerberus Assault Troopers square in the head.

“Sniper! Find Cover!” one of the Assault Troopers called out, before he was also taken by the said sniper.

Tracing where the shots had come from, Shepard, Ashley and James could now see that there was 12 soldiers now on top of the vehicle bay air lock, firing down on the Cerberus Troopers.

“Who the hell are they?” Ashley called out, but neither James nor Shepard had no idea.

All 12 of them were wearing very unique looking armour, and between this group, there were two unique sets. One set look like it was a modified set of what appeared to be baseline armour, but supported a unique shoulder pad extension, extra armour plating on the chest, lower arms and shins from what Shepard could tell. In addition, nearly all of them supported what looked like an antenna on the right side of their helmets, with them sporting a visor that looked like a ‘T’, along with all of them sporting a unique looking kilt-like gear hanging of their belts, which had extra gear and holsters. All of the soldiers wearing it had their armour colour white, but all of them sported blue markings in various designs and, with the exception of two female soldiers as they had breath masks on from the looks of it, all of them had tubes coming out of their helmets, with the tubes leading to a backpack, apparently for operations in low-oxygen environments. The other armour set had a different design pattern and looked more bulkier compared to the other set, indicating that this armour was design for either heavy assault troops or special forces. It sported a unique camouflage pattern that looked situated for urban combat, but also sported a blue marking system that appeared to be universal, indicated it was a squad.

Who Commander Shepard saw was the members of Domino and Onyx Squads from the 501st Legion engaging the Cerberus Troops.

Up on the roof, once the LAAT/i’s airstrike had eliminated at least 3 Cerberus APCs, Domino Squad was already moving to rope down to the ground and take the fight to the Assault Troopers, whilst at the same time, Yeager was on the comms with CT-5263-87 ‘Hawk’ in the gunship. “Good job Hawk. At least three troop carriers were hit in that strike!”

“Solid copy Captain. I’ll swing around for another pass.” Hawk stated.

Once hearing this, Yeager spoke up. “Negative on that pass, we’ve got local forces right near those Cerberus forces. Swing around and manoeuvre to deploy the Generals and Vanguard Squad to help with clean up.”

“Understood, I’m on my way.” Hawk replied back, before terminating the comm.

From this, Yeager then started issuing orders to his unit. “Hesh, you’re with me. We’ll repel down and help out Domino Squad with the Cerberus troops. Thermite, head to cliff face and see what vehicles remain intact. If there are any, scrap them! Dante, you’ll stay up here and provide cover.”

“Roger that, Yeager.” Hesh replied back, after which he swapped out his empty magazine for his DC-17m for a fresh one.

“Copy that. Commencing demolitions manoeuvre!” Onyx’s Demolitions Specialist RC-40/68-2349 ‘Thermite’ called out, switching out the blaster rifle components on his DC-17m for the Anti-armour grenade launcher attachments.

“Roger that Yeager. They’re not going anywhere.” Onyx’s Designated Marksman and Scout RC-36/69-5173 ‘Dante’ called back, whilst looking down the scope on his customised IQA-11 Blaster Rifle. Once done, Yeager moved to the edge of the roof in order to repel down and fight alongside Domino Squad.

While Onyx Squad was sorting itself out, Domino was already on the ground, and tearing the Cerberus troops apart. Due to the close-quarter nature of this battle, Hevy and Viper had to ditch their Z-6s for the time being in order to avoid injuring their own comrades and resorted to their two DC-17 pistols. Soon, Ratchet, Hevy, Echo, Droidbait, Cutup, Arcee, Viper, Yeager and Hesh were in the thick of it with the surviving Cerberus troops, especially Ratchet, Yeager and Hesh. For Yeager and Hesh, this was due to their built-in vibro-blades in their left hand plates, along with built-in repulsors and Ratchet thanks to his DC-15G shotgun, as he was either firing off multiple rounds into a small group or running his custom-built plasma blade through the Assault Troopers. The exception to all this was Fives given the fact that he was using a DC-15A Rifle, and while he was good in CQC, he wasn’t that talented like how Echo had become over the years, so he decided to hang back and provide some covering fire. Seeing all this occurring, it was enough to have Shepard make a decision.

“James, Ash. Let’s give these soldiers a hand!” she called out to her two comrades.

“Do we even know who they are?” Ashley called out, given the obvious concerns with dealing with unknown forces.

“They hate Cerberus, that’s good enough for me.” Shepard replied back, before leaving cover to assist their new ‘allies’.

Seeing with no other alternative, Ashley and James also moved out to engage the Cerberus Troops. While Ashley and James stuck to cover and engaged, being careful not to hit the new troopers. Shepard on the other hand, was more active in engaging Cerberus up close a personal. To that end, she switched out to her N7 Eagle and utilised both it, Sabotage, Incineration, and utilising a forked omni-blade, complete with an electric charge on the blades, signature to anyone in the Alliance trained as an Infiltrator.

During the firefight, James was so focused on taking down the Cerberus troops, mostly because he didn’t want to hit any one of the white and blue soldiers with his N7 Crusader, despite the fact that it was the only shotgun that could technically be used as a ‘marksman’ weapon due to it using slugs instead of buckshot – figuratively speaking, he failed to keep an eye on any Cerberus soldiers flanking him and/or Ashley. That mistake was rewarded with a few round from a M-25 Hornet striking against his kinetic barriers, which left both marines scrambling. Problem was, the Assault Trooper had the cover of an APC to work with, and where he was engaging Ashley and James, they suddenly had no cover to work with. However, before either James or Ashley lost their shields, the Assault Trooper was struck a couple of time in the exposed arm and leg before receiving a headshot thanks to Fives, who happened to see the whole situation unfold in front of him and moved to take care of the problem. Once their flank was secured, Fives moved next to James.

“You two OK?” Fives called out to the two marines.

“Yeah, thanks for the save compadre. The name’s Lieutenant James Vega, Systems Alliance Marines.” James said to the veteran ARC Trooper, before pointing a finger towards Ashley. “She’s Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams.” Once finished, James extended a hand to the newcomer.

“The name’s Fives.” Fives replied back, grabbing James’ hand for a quick shake.

“That’s you’re nickname?” James asked out to Fives, before flinching due to a few rounds striking quite close.

“Something like that.” Fives replied back, before leaning out and firing off a burst from his DC-15A. “Talk to me about that later.”

“Roger that.” James replied before he leaned out of cover to hit an Assault Trooper right in the head with his shotgun.

“Nice Shot James!” Fives called out once he saw the shot that the marine had just pulled off.

“Thanks.” James replied back, before reloading his N7 Crusader.

While this was going on, Thermite had made his way to the cliff face, and looked over the edge. The strike that Hawk performed had destroyed three Cerberus APCs, including the one that flipped up onto the ledge, with a fourth one damaged. What no one realised was that there were still Cerberus troops down there, so when Thermite arrived, he was met with a hailstorm of fire from the surviving Assault Troopers.

“Haar’chaak!” was all Thermite could say about that situation as he backtracked a couple of steps. Once recovering from that surprise, he then went back to the edge, and fired off an armour-piercing grenade from his grenade launcher at the APC that was damaged. The end result was said APC exploding into nothing more than a charred wreck, with also caught a few Cerberus soldiers in the process, but even with this, there were still to many hostiles to deal with. With that, Thermite moved his right hand to his helmet.

“Hawk, we’ve still got a few Cerberus troopers down here, plus an APC. Need a gun run, same location as when you used your missiles. Chin and Ball turrets only, we have friendlies mixed in with hostile forces.” Thermite called out over the comms.

“Roger that, I’m inbound.” Hawk replied over comms.

In 5 minutes, Hawk’s LAAT/i arrived, and started strafing the area where Thermite indicated, with a mix of blaster fire and laser beam from the larty’s arsenal. While this was going on, Thermite pitched in with two more grenades from his launcher. Once the mop up was completed, Hawk manoeuvred his gunship, so it was hovering near the cliff face, upon which it’s port-side cargo bay door swung open to reveal Vanguard Squad, along with Anakin, Obi-wan, Ahsoka, Jesse and Rex, ready to deploy.

By now, there weren’t that many Assault Troopers left, but that didn’t stop Vanguard Squad from engaging with their own blasters on who was left standing before they also jumped out and onto the ground, upon which, Hawk took up an overwatch position above the battlefield. In the meantime, Shepard was dealing with one Assault Trooper that was actually giving her a run for her money. What began as a hide-and-seek fight turned into a close-quartered fight – and one that somehow Shepard was losing. Sure, Shepard was decent in hand-to-hand, but against this particular Assault Trooper, she was actually struggling to keep up. Soon enough, the Assault Trooper landed a knee into Shepard’s torso, forcing her downwards, before taking a knee to the helmet. This had Krystina on the ground, Upon which the Assault Trooper went to retrieve a M-25 Hornet, no doubt to execute Shepard. Thinking quickly, she prepped her omni-tool and deployed a Sabotage attack. The end result was as soon as the Assault Trooper pulled the trigger, leading to the weapon backfiring, and he was electrocuted. Before anything else happened, a blaster bolt hit the Cerberus solider square in the back of the head, with the force of the bolt pushing the body down near Shepard. Despite still recovering from that beating, she took the chance to look at who shot the Assault Trooper and happened to see that it was none other than Commander Rex who performed the kill shot, with a smoking DC-17 Blaster Pistol in his right hand.

Once the small battle had died down, James had moved over to where Shepard was still on the ground, along with Echo, who helped to get her back on her feet. At the same time, Dante repelled down off his vantage point on the roof, and the three Jedi Generals were also making their way over to where Shepard, Ashley, James and Domino Squad was standing. However, Vanguard Squad was a little tense with their weapons and had them drawn, due to the fact that they hadn’t seen Shepard and her squad deal with the Cerberus unit, however, once Fives saw this, he had left hand out and signalling them to stand down.

“While I appreciate the help, who are you and – perhaps more importantly, where are you from?” Shepard asked the three Jedi.

“I am Obi-wan Kenobi, a member of the Jedi Order.” Obi-wan said, offering out his hand, to which Shepard took. Once done with the handshake, she then turned to the other two Jedi.

“You can call me Anakin Skywalker. I’m also a Jedi Master.” Anakin said, following Obi-wan’s lead.

“My name is Ahsoka Tano. I’m a Jedi Knight.” Ahsoka also spoke up and shook Shepard’s hand. Quickly realising that these people were definitely not from this galaxy, given their clothing and weapons, Shepard decided to go with a formal greeting.

“I’m Commander Krystina Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy and Council Spectre.” Shepard said to the newcomers, before turning to Ashley and James, with Ashley being first.

“This is Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams, an old friend of mine… of sorts.” Shepard said, introducing the female marine to the group, whilst she gave a courteous nod of her head.

“My other squad member is Lieutenant James Vega, Alliance Marines.” Shepard continued on. Unlike Ashley, James went with a salute to the Jedi and clones present, to which some of the troopers responded in kind.

“Uh, who was it that shot the Assault Trooper giving me grief?” Shepard asked the newcomers.

“That would be me.” Rex step forward, before he moved to shake Shepard’s hand. “The name’s Rex, Clone Commander of the 501st Legion.” Rex said, similar to that of when he met Domino Squad back on the Rishi Moon in the Clone Wars.

With that in mind, Rex then introduced Jesse, Clone Sergeant/Combat Medic CS-82-0291 ‘Coric’ and all the troopers that made up Domino, Vanguard and Onyx Squads. With that all done, It would be Ashley that reminded everyone that they still had to deal with Cerberus forces in the outpost. With that, Rex then fell back to his usual ways.

“Jesse, take Vanguard Squad with you and get Hawk to pick you guys up. You’ll act as a mobile reserve in case things take a turn for the worst. I’ll take Coric with me and go with the Generals, Domino and Onyx Squads go with Shepard’s team.”

“Roger that Rex.” Jesse replied back before calling over Joakim, Dogma, Hardcase, Kix, Ember and Lara to follow him to a suitable LZ for Hawk to pick them up. Whilst that was going on, Shepard lead her squad, the Jedi and their clones towards the vehicle bay airlock. Once inside, she made her way to the console to seal the doors and repressurise the airlock. Whilst Shepard was working on this, Ashley made her way over to the Commander, clearly needing to ask something.

“I need a straight answer, Shepard.” Ashley asked Shepard.

“About what?” Shepard replied back. Whilst she wasn’t 100% sure on what Ashley was asking, Shepard did have a rough idea what it would be about.

“Do you know anything about this. What is Cerberus doing here?” Ashley continued on, trying to figure out where her former Commander’s loyalties now lie. In asking this question, it attracted the attention of the clones and the Jedi, with some of the troopers starting to fidget with their weapons before both Rex and Ahsoka raised their hands to the side to get them to take it easy.

“What makes you think I know what they’re up to?” Shepard replied back, feeling hurt at this remark.

“You worked for them. How am I supposed to believe that you’ve cut all ties?” Ashley continued on, whilst making her way over the railing near the console, where Shepard followed her.

“We joined forces to take down the Collectors. That’s it.” Shepard countered, but at the moment, it wasn’t enough.

“They rebuilt you from scratch. They gave you a ship, resources…” Ashley continued on, but had to stop due to Shepard. “Let me be clear; I’ve had no communications with Cerberus since I destroyed the Collector Base. And I have no idea why they are here or what they want.”

Here, James decided to throw in his two cents worth. “Commander Shepard’s been under constant surveillance since coming back to Earth. No way they’ve communicated since.”

At this point, it was Droidbait who spoke up. “You used to work for Cerberus Commander?” he asked, asking the question that was running through everyone else’s minds.

“More like worked with uh… Droidbait.” Shepard started, momentarily struggling to remember the ARC Trooper’s name before continuing on. “And it’s not something I’m particularly proud of.” Shepard finished, with a hint of shame in her voice.

“Sorry Shepard, I just…” Ashley started to speak before the vents above them opened up, indicating the air lock was now pressurised. As James and Shepard started to make their way back to the middle of the lift, Anakin, Obi-wan, Ahsoka, Arcee and Viper took the chance to remove their breath masks they were wearing, while the rest of the clones left their tubes connected to their helmets. At this point, Shepard turned to face Ashley.

“I shouldn’t have to explain myself to you Ash.” Shepard stated to the female marine, with a bit of force in the statement.

At this point, the lift started to ascend upwards, where the doorway above them opened up to reveal the vehicle maintenance bay.

“Please… Trust me.” Shepard asked Ashley, before everyone present walked off the platform.

“I do. It’s just that…” Ashley started to speak before everyone heard noises up above them.

“That’s gunfire. Sounds like it’s in the ducts.” Yeager pointed out.

“Get to cover everyone!” Anakin ordered, with the whole group moving to take cover behind another Cerberus APC that was there. Because of how they had grouped up, Shepard was the closest to where the air ducts ended, so she peaked around the APC, with her N7 Eagle in hand ready. Behind her, Arcee was ready with her DC-15LE aimed up at the duct as well. Behind the APC, Anakin, Obi-wan and Ahsoka had their lightsabers in their hands and activated, ready to move in and assist.

In two minutes, the grate covering the duct was pushed off, and jumping out of the duct was none other than Liara T’Soni, followed up with two Assault Troopers struggling after her. Once Liara was out, she made her way down from the second level before dropping down to the ground floor. At this point one of the Assault Troopers was out of the ducts and getting ready to take another shot at killing Liara, with the second not that far behind, but she had other ideas. After a few running steps, Liara suddenly did an about turn, and in doing so, unleashed a Singularity in the area where it captured both Assault Troopers and left them helpless. Once ensnared, Liara then pulled out her M-3 Predator and fired two shots off at the Cerberus troops. It wasn’t enough to kill them, but more than enough to wound them. After the second shot, the Singularity collapsed, dropping both Troopers on the floor. Once they were down and struggling due to either their injuries and/or the weight of their armour, or both, Liara walked up towards them, where she delivered two rounds to each trooper, killing them.

Once Liara had dealt with the two Troopers, Shepard was the first to move out of cover, holstering her pistol, with both James and Cutup leveling their respective weapons at Liara.

“Easy there guys, she with us.” Shepard said, with her hands on both their weapons to have them lowered. Upon hearing this, Liara turned around to face the noise.

“Shepard! Thank the goddess you’re alive!” she stated once she saw her old friend.

“Liara” Shepard replied back once she got close enough to the former Asari archaeologist turned Shadow Broker.

“I was worried when the reports came in. They hit Earth hard?” Liara asked Shepard while Ashley walked up to the two.

“Yeah. It was… difficult to leave.”  Ashley spoke out, clearly struggling with what had just happened on Earth.

“Ashley. I’m Sorry.” Liara replied back, before turning her attention to the newcomers. “However, I wasn’t aware you had brought reinforcements Shepard.”

At this point, Anakin decided to introduce themselves to Liara. “We’re actually from another galaxy. My name’s Anakin Skywalker, a member of the Jedi Order.” He then turned to introduce everyone that was present.

“This is Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano, also members of the Jedi Order. These are my men. Rex, Coric, Ratchet, Hevy, Echo, Fives, Droidbait, Cutup, Arcee, Viper, Yeager, Thermite, Hesh and Dante.” While Anakin was introducing the clones to Liara, each one either gave a quick salute, a quick nod of the head, or a small hand wave. Cutup, on the other hand, decided to show off by pulling out his DC-17 pistols, and then bang the pistol grips together before spinning both in his hands, ending with a nod of his head. This would earn him a roll of the eyes from both Arcee and Viper, but with both having a smirk at the same time.

“While it’s a pleasure to meet you… why did you all come here?” Liara continued on, directing the question at both groups.

“In our case, We were on the outskirts of this system when we intercepted Cerberus transmissions. Given what we heard relating to Earth, we felt that there we could provide assistance to Alliance forces here in this facility.” Rex stated to Liara, before turning to face Shepard. “As for Shepard’s reason…” he trailed off, indicated for Shepard to take the lead.

“Hackett ordered us to come. Said you knew what was going on.” Shepard finished up. At this point, Liara started to turn towards a viewport.

“I do.” She stated, before making her way to the viewport.

“Hallelujah. Some answers, finally.” James stated out loud, whilst he, Ashley and Shepard started following Liara. Ahsoka and Echo decided to tag along, in order to learn what was going on so they could relay this back to their group.

“Maybe. I’ve discovered plans for a Prothean device – One that could wipe out the Reapers.” Liara said, turning back to face Shepard.

“Here? On Mars?” she replied back, with a mix of surprise and hope in her voice.

“In the Prothean Archives, yes.” Liara said, looking towards said Archives.

While this was happening, Rex asked Anakin and Obi-wan to one side.

“Are we sure we can trust the Commander?” Rex asked the two Jedi Masters. “I mean, I wouldn’t have an issue if she or Commander Williams hadn’t stated that she worked either with or for Cerberus.”

“I understand you’re worries Rex.” Anakin stated, clearly seeing that Rex was remembering what had happened to the 501st when they were under Pong Krell’s command during the Battle of Umbara. In fact, there was no doubt that every single trooper here was remembering those infamous events.

“However, I do sense that Krystina is telling the truth relating to how she doesn’t like the fact she had to work with Cerberus.” Anakin finished.

“Yes, I sensed that too with her. However, I also sensed that she feels regret with working with the organisation.” Obi-wan spoke up, also remembering the same events. “I believe that we can trust the Commander on this.”

“If you say so sirs.” Rex finished. Knowing that trust must be earnt in the field, Rex knew that if Shepard was active with Cerberus before, there was reason for concern. However, given the fact that he had fought alongside both Obi-wan and Anakin for years on end now, he knew that they would be correct in their assessments, so with that in mind, he would trust them in this.

Speaking of which, Liara had finished going over how she was assigned here thanks to Hackett and what she was after. During the whole time, both Ahsoka and Echo were standing there listening to the whole conversation. While the background information was a bit tricky to follow for obvious reasons, they both got the general idea of what was happening.

“The Protheans came close to defeating the Reapers. They had plans to destroy them but ran out of time to do it.” Liara said to the small group around her.

“And anything powerful enough to beat the Reapers…” Ashley started off before Shepard took over. “Just might be something Cerberus would be interested in.”

“So it’s a race to the Archives.” James indicated, before the echo of an explosion ripped through the room, startling everyone present.

“And from the looks of it, it looks like Cerberus will be cheating to get there first.” Echo stated out loud, before Hevy called out. “We’ve got hostiles cutting through the door over here!”.

This was enough to draw everyone over to where the doors were being cut open, where their cover was two cAvro/Ute PackRack vehicles.

“We’ve got company.” Shepard said to everyone, who were readying their respective weapons.

“Bring it on.” James stated, clearly eager for another round with Cerberus.

Shepard, however, had other ideas. “Not this time, James.” She said to the marine. “What?!” was all he could say to the Commander.

“Get back to the shuttle. If Cerberus does beat us to the Archives, I need you covering the exits.” Shepard said, whilst running back to the vehicle lift, with James in tow.

Hearing this, Rex had an idea. “Commander. You want some of my men out there as well?” he called out to Krystina.

“If you can spare them, do it.” Shepard replied back.

Once hearing this, Rex turned to Yeager. “Yeager, take Onyx Squad and go with Lieutenant Vega and head back outside. Call Hawk and get him to pick you guys up so you can reinsert back on top of the building’s roofs, so you guys can cover any potential LZ and cut off Cerberus’s escape. Tell Jesse to do the same thing with Vanguard Squad.” He called out to the Commando Squad Leader before Yeager called back. “Yes sir. Thermite, Hesh, Dante – on me. We’re relocating!” Once hearing this, Onyx Squad made their way to vehicle lift with James, who was trying to convince Shepard that he should stay, with no luck. Realising that he wasn’t going to succeed, he then made his way to the lift where Onyx Squad was waiting before the lift started taking all 5 soldiers back down towards the airlock.

Just as this was going on, Cerberus Assault Troopers had finally cut through the doors and made their way to the railing.

“Contact!” Fives called out to everyone else who was present before the vehicle bay erupted into a firefight. While Anakin, Obi-wan and Ahsoka were ‘blocking’ the fire thanks to their lightsabers, Shepard, Ashley, Liara and the clones were opening fire on the Assault Troopers. The problem was that Cerberus had the high ground, and the only one who could penetrate their cover was Shepard with her Armour-Piercing Ammo she had running on her M-8 Avenger. Even the clones were having troubles as their blasters, known for shattering glass back in their galaxy, were not having the same results here, so the best they could do was keep the Cerberus troopers pinned down.

“Liara, send a Singularity up there.” Shepard called out to Liara, which she promptly sent towards the railing where the Troopers were taking cover. The end result was a ‘black hole’, if you will, with a unique blue and white visual effect, was able to pick up the troopers off the deck and lift them around the place – exposing them to blaster and gunfire.

“Not a problem for someone with Biotics.” Liara called out once the Singularity had hit it’s mark. Seeing this play out not only surprised the clones, but it also surprised the Jedi as they had no knowledge of a power that could potentially match The Force. Still, with the Assault Troopers now exposed, everyone could now hit them as they were struggling with the biotic field, but the problem was that the field was small, so only a few were caught in it, but many more troopers were still engaging the group on ground floor, so to help with this, Liara sent up a Warp at one of the troopers caught in the Singularity field, with the end result of the combined biotic powers detonating, creating a decent sized explosion that took out a few extra troopers. Seeing this, and the fact that there were a few troopers left, Viper decided to ditch her Z-6 and go for her Mark 32 Grenade Launcher strapped to her back.

“Covering Fire!” she called out, which lead to Fives, Hevy, Droidbait, Echo, Ashley and Shepard laying down covering fire, keeping the Assault Troopers pinned down, while Viper fired off all six grenades in the launcher and sending them towards the remaining troopers, with the end result seeing the remaining troopers killed by the explosions.

“That’s the last of them.” Liara called out, lowering her N7 Hurricane SMG she was wielding.

“Let’s start looking for a way up.” Shepard stated to everyone, with Shepard making her way to the lift. After hitting the holographic switch, it started up, but stopped and then came back down.

“Argh. They’ve sabotaged the elevator.” Shepard stated, with some annoyance.

“Too bad Tech isn’t here; he might have been able to do something about it.” Hevy stated once he saw this happen.

“And you’re squad leader, Ratchet can’t do it, despite he’s a combat engineer I’m assuming?” Shepard asked the ARC Sergeant.

“Ratchet is an Engineer, but Tech is the only Clone Trooper we have who has some knowledge with your tech.” Hevy replied back before they were all interrupted by Ashley. “Guys, we’ve got a way up!” she called out, which drew their attention to where Ashley, Liara, Anakin, Obi-wan and Ahsoka were standing.

“We take the ramp up near these cargo containers, then climb up them, then across the mining vehicle and over the railing.” Ashley pointed out.

“Nice work guys.” Shepard stated to them once she lead the clones over.

“We’ll see you up there.” Anakin stated, with a fair bit of humour in his voice, before he, Obi-wan and Ahsoka then Force Jumped up to the second level. This left Shepard, Liara and Ashley both stunned and amazed at what they just saw, whereas the clones started to make their way up, given the fact that they were used to seeing things like this, but this didn’t stop them from smirking underneath their helmets.

“Show-offs.” Cutup said to all three Jedi, before he received a smack in the back of his helmet from Echo.

“Move it, trooper.” He said in a playful banter to his brother, while everyone else started to make their way up to where the Jedi were waiting for them.

“This is a secure station. How did Cerberus get in?” Ashley asked Liara, given the fact that she was here when it went down.

“Not sure. One minute, we were getting reports of the Reaper invasion. The next, there was chaos. Didn’t even realise it was Cerberus at first.” Liara stated while climbing on top of the cargo containers, with some help from Coric who was pulling her up before he did the same with Ashley then Viper.

“Could they be working with the Reapers?” Ashley asked out loud, upon which Shepard replied back.

“Doubtful, but I suppose anything is possible.” Once everyone linked up where the Jedi were waiting, they all made their towards another set of doors, where they all heard gunfire and saw an Alliance scientist drop to the deck, dead.

Everyone instinctively went to find cover and stay hidden. Shepard, on the other hand, engaged her Tactical Cloak, and moved into the maintenance room, where she saw another squad of Cerberus Assault Troopers. Due to the fact they didn’t know she was there, and the fact that she also remembered Cerberus comm channels, she decided to listen in on what they were saying.

“We’ve done a sweep through residence. Going to check on Able Squad, they’re not reporting in.” one Trooper said over his helmet’s radio.

“We’re on it. Bravo Team out.” Was what the voice said on the other end of the comms.

“We’re still on clean-up duty?” another Assault Trooper asked who was, no doubt their Squad Leader.

“Yeah. Some of the scientists are putting up a fight over in the vehicle bay.” The Squad Leader replied back.

“Let’s go get them.” The Assault Trooper stated. However, before any of them could make a move, Shepard decided to strike first, so she grabbed the Assault Trooper who was closest to the pipes she was hiding behind and pulled him over so once he was flat on the floor, she impaled him in the face with an omni-blade.

“Look out!” one Trooper called out, once he saw that their squad was under attack. However, while Shepard was performing her grab-kill, she hadn’t realised that another Assault Trooper had already flanked Shepard and was opening fire on her with his M-25 Hornet. Once she felt the round hit her kinetic barriers, Shepard was scrambling to get out of the way, but before she could do much more, Ahsoka had come around the corner at speed and did a quick wall jump before impaling the Assault Trooper in the chest with both of her lightsabers. At the same time, Ratchet, Rex and Coric came charging in, blasters firing at the Assault Troopers.

“Who the hell are these guys?!” one Assault Trooper called out, before he was hit by multiple blaster rounds from Ratchet’s DC-15G shotgun.

“I think the Alliance sent backups.” Another Trooper stated before Rex charged him, and pistol whipped him in his helmet. Because the Assault Trooper had said helmet on, it wouldn’t knock him out, but it was more than enough to stun him, and with the pistol whip coming from Rex’s right hand, he used the momentum to spin round so his left DC-17 pistol was squared up with the Assault Trooper, where he put three plasma rounds into the Trooper. Once Coric killed the last Assault Trooper, he scanned the room for more hostiles.

“Room’s clear.” He called out to everyone else who then started to make their way through.

“Thanks for the save back there Ahsoka.” Shepard said to the Togruta.

“No problem Krystina.” Ahsoka replied back, whilst making their way through to the connected transit station, which was a mess with paperwork scattered everywhere and dead Alliance marines and scientists. While Echo and Fives took up positions near the door so they could cover everyone else when they made their way in, Shepard was already leading the way towards the adjacent security kiosk.

“We’ll need access to the pedway. Controls should be nearby.” Liara called out, indicating where to go. Due to the size of the security kiosk, Shepard, Ashley, Liara, Anakin, Obi-wan, Ahsoka, Rex and Echo entered the kiosk, while the rest of Domino Squad stayed outside, observing the station for any unexpected encounters, or just looking around. During this, Droidbait found a datapad on one seat in the waiting area, and because it was open on a message and not locked, he took the chance to read it, which revealed a message from a Dr. Cameron Harrison to a Representative from ExoGeni Corporation about some offer of advanced technology. Also, Fives, Viper and Coric took the chance to look around inside the security kiosk from the other side, mostly to take the chance to see how different the technology and architecture was compared to what they had back home so they could familiarise themselves for the duration of their deployment.

In the security kiosk, there were more dead Alliance marines around the place, a lot of paper documents scattered all over the place, a weapons locked opened, along with a discarded M-4 Shuriken SMG and a Med Kit. Given his mindset in engineering, Anakin decided to pick up the M-4 Shuriken so he could take a closer look at the tech, which also drew Ahsoka’s interest. In the meantime, Shepard made her way over to access a security console while Liara made her way to one. Rex, Obi-wan and Ashley took up a more cautious approach and decided to stay on alert, while Echo went to stand by near Shepard so he, like Anakin and Ahsoka, could understand the tech and observed how Shepard was operating it.

“Shepard, see if you can gain access to the pedway.” Liara asked her friend as she made her way over to her own security console and started tapping away. At this point, Droidbait also made his way over with the datapad in hand to turn over to Shepard, along with Cutup, Arcee, Ratchet and Coric as they determined that the room was secure, and no hostiles were inbound.

“I can’t seem to unlock the live feeds, but…” Liara started, but was interrupted by Ashley.

“Hey, did you see that?” she said, looking towards one of the security monitors, showing a woman running towards another terminal. This was enough to draw everyone’s attention to the screen.

“Who’s that woman in the vid?” Ashley continued, with everyone seeing her type away on the terminal, before turning to look at the camera connected to said screen, then grabbing her weapon and running off.

“A scientist, or lab technician maybe…” Obi-wan said, also observing the screen.

“That’s Dr. Eva Coré. She got here about a week ago.” Liara stated once she stood up out of her chair and started to make her way over to Shepard and Echo. What she didn’t know was that Rex was observing the screen with a keen interest…

“Any luck?” Liara asked Shepard, still observing her console.

“Pedway’s been locked out.” Shepard replied back.

Knowing there wasn’t much they could do with that, Liara thought of an alternative.

“All right. Looks like there’s construction nearby, we can get out on the roof.” She suggested, while unlocking the doors leading the way to go.

“Sounds like you’ll need your breath masks on Generals.” Rex suggested to the Jedi, as he pulled his DC-17 pistols out of his holsters.

“Great. Let’s move everyone.” Shepard stated to everyone while she readied her M-8 Avenger. Once everyone was prepared, and after Shepard read the datapad Droidbait had, the group made their way to the doors that led them back outside onto the rooftops and back in view of the Martian landscape. Because there was only one ladder and 16 people, it was going to take time to clamber down as there was only one safe point to go to.

“Storms getting closer.” Ashley called out, whilst waiting for her turn down. During the process, Yeager called out over comms that Onyx Squad had eyes on them and stated that they would cover them if Cerberus tried anything, while Jesse said he and Vanguard Squad were on the rooftop next to the tramline connecting the Archives and the facility together. As the group was making their way down, something caught Arcee’s attention on the other side of the facility.

“Guys, I’ve got something.” She called out to the group.

“What the hell?” Ashley called out once she could see what Arcee was referring to. What caught their attention was two trams going across with gunfire erupting between them, indicating some Cerberus troops and Alliance marines were still duking it out.

“Looks like the Alliance is still putting up a fight.” Shepard said once she could see what was going on.

“That tram heads to the Archives. Once Cerberus is across, they’re at the final security checkpoint.” Liara pointed out. “Then that’s where we’re going as well.” Anakin stated to everyone.

Once everyone was down, Shepard lead the way across the scaffolding to another ladder that lead them back onto the station’s rooftop. During the way, Shepard received a message from James.

“Commander, you read me?” he asked over comms.

“Barely. Storm’s causing interference.” Krystina replied back.

“Yeah, Tell me about it. I’ve lost contact with the Normandy. What’s your position?” James called out, however, before he could finish his message, Shepard was receiving more static than James’ words.

“I didn’t read that, James. Repeat?” Shepard asked.

“I said what’s your position?” James repeated, but this time, there was so much static, she couldn’t understand it.

“Damn it!” Shepard cursed.

“That storm’s going to be in here very soon.” Liara called out, with the wind forcing her to yell out to ensure everyone could hear her.

“Yeah, I think it’s already here.” Shepard deadpanned.

“Good point.” was all Liara said. Once everyone arrived at the ladder, this time, there was a little bit of room to work with, so while once again the Jedi Force Jumped up, Fives and Arcee fired off a couple of ascension cables to ensure that climbing would be faster. During this, Anakin’s commlink flared up.

“General Skywalker, do you copy?” Hawk called out from his LAAT/i.

“I read you Hawk. What’s wrong.” Anakin asked the veteran pilot.

“Wind speeds are increasing, and I’m having issues keeping the gunship level at this altitude. What’s the ETA on reaching the objective?” Hawk asked, as he flew past where the group was gathering, where Anakin could see he was swaying a bit due to the winds.

“Unknown at this time. Stay on station for as long as you can.” Anakin order the pilot.

“Roger that, sir. We’ll do our best.” Hawk finished up before killing the transmission. Once everyone was up on the same level, the group than jump across to the next rooftop, where Liara spotted something off.

“This airlock shouldn’t be open.” She said, pointing to where she was looking at. At the wall on their left, there was indeed a door that was wide open. Ashley made her way towards the doors to look for any obvious signs that the doors were pried open.

“Doesn’t look like it was forced.” Ashley stated, once she finished her sweep.

“No, you’d have to override the security protocols.” Liara replied back. Knowing this wasn’t right, Shepard took point with Rex and Hevy close behind.

“Troopers, switch to night vision.” Rex called out to all the ARC Troopers, which prompted them to pull their rangefinders down to help see. As for Arcee and Viper, due to their headsets with the holographic interface, this automatically amplified so they could see in the dark. As Anakin, Obi-wan, Ahsoka and Coric didn’t have anything that could help with seeing in the dark, they each stuck with Shepard, Ashley or Liara as they had tactical lights built into their weapons, which were turned on.

As soon as the group made their way through the hallway, they found themselves in what was obviously a Cafeteria. What shouldn’t have been there were dead scientists. Upon seeing their first body, Coric’s training took over, where he examined the body.

“No injuries related to gunfire, blades or poisons, and no blood anywhere. Judging by what I’m seeing, I’d say they died a few hours ago, Commander.” Coric stated to Shepard, while everyone else was looking around. Here, Liara came to a grim realisation. “Someone vented the air in this room while they were still inside.”

“Looks like they died trying to claw their way out.” Ashley said, whilst looking around the rest of the room from where they stood.

“This is brutal – even by Cerberus’ standard.” Liara finished off, which drew a remark from Cutup.

“Wait, Cerberus has standards now? When did this happen?” he said, obviously trying to inject some humour in the situation, but failing miserably at the attempt.

“Not now, Cutup.” Droidbait said to his brother.

“Yeah, I agree. That was weak.” Cutup replied back.

“Guys, down this way.” Echo called out to everyone, indicating which way they were to go. During the way, Shepard found another datapad, which had a memo about one scientist complain to another about their files being messed up by someone else. Before they could continue onwards, Obi-wan held out his fist, indicating to hold fast.

“I sense movement on the other side of that wall.” He said in a cautious tone.

“I sense it too.” Anakin replied back. With that, Shepard took the lead.

“Kill any source of light. Use the darkness to our advantage.” She said, moving forward, whilst Ashley and Liara did the same. To help blend in, the Jedi extinguished their lightsabers, but kept them in hand, while Ratchet did the same with his plasma blade on his shotgun, forcing everyone to rely on the troopers who had NODs operational so they could move into position for an ambush.

Just as everyone found cover, parts of the ‘wall’ started to move, revealing that they were actually security panels. On the other side was yet another Cerberus Squad.

“We’re on it. Delta Team out.” Their Squad Leader stated over comms, no doubt with his superiors.

“What’s our order?” another Assault Trooper asked out.

“There’s an Alliance force in here somewhere. We need to keep them away from the core.” The Squad Leader replied back before continuing on. “Check the next room.”

“It’s dark in there. Want me to shoot out the windows?” one of the Assault Troopers asked, standing next to the window, M-25 Hornet at the ready.

“No! Not unless you want to decompress this room, too!” the Squad Leader replied back forcefully, revealing that their armour isn’t rated for EVA operations to the Jedi and clone troopers present.

“I don’t see anyone…” yet another Assault Trooper stated, clearly trying to peer into the Cafeteria, but failing to pick up a visual on anything moving.

“Come on. There’s no one alive in there. Let’s keep moving.” The Squad Leader stated.

At this point, Shepard decided to take advantage of this, and squeezed iron. The end result was thanks to Shepard’s rifle, the glass was shattered, enabling everyone to pour in the blaster bolts, killing the squad in seconds. Once all hostiles were dead, everyone started making their way forward out to another hallway, with another security kiosk, this one being smaller than the last one.

“Uh, Liara. Did you know anyone back in there, friends maybe?” Cutup asked the asari.

“I recognised a few, but I can’t say I knew them. As the only asari here, I think, perhaps, that I was viewed with a little suspicion.” Liara replied back to the Cutup, surprised by the fact that for once, he wasn’t trying to pull a sarcastic remark, but asking a genuine question. “I spent most of my time researching alone. Translating.”

“Did you find anything useful?” Ashley asked, hoping there was something that could help the galaxy against the Reapers, whilst Cutup offered Liara a hand over the wall.

“Bits and pieces, really. Clues. It took them centuries for them to conquer the Protheans. In that time, the few Prothean survivors searched desperately for a way to stop the Reapers. If my translations are correct, they found a way, but in the end, they didn’t have the resources to follow through with their plan.” Liara finished.

“Well, here’s hoping we can make that happen.” Hevy stated, before scanning the hallway with his Z-6.

Due to the size of this security kiosk, only Shepard, Ashley and Liara went in to access environmental controls, while everyone else stayed outside.

“We’ll need to pressurise the room first.” Liara said, whilst punching in commands on the controls.

Within seconds, everyone could hear noises coming from the small ducts all around the hallway, before hearing the tell-tail noise of an air lock sealing shut.

“There we go. We have access to the labs. They’ll take us right to the tram station.” Liara said, as the Jedi, Arcee and Viper decided to remove their breath masks.

Following this lead, Shepard decided for once to remove her helmet, revealing her face to the Jedi and clones for the first time. Before anyone else could say anything, Ashley spotted something.

“Hey, Looks like there’s a recording of what happened here.” She pointed out, which got everyone’s attention. As Shepard was closest to the terminal, she hit play on the holographic keyboard. Due to the fact this was important intel, Anakin, Obi-wan and Ahsoka also came into the kiosk, while the troopers all gathered around to listen in.

“Security station… come in? We’re seeing some odd activity down here.” An Alliance Marine was seen, taping away on the same console, with another Marine walking behind him to the weapons locker. With a few taps on the keyboard, Liara was able to send the recording onto the overhead monitors, so everyone could either see or catch a glimps.

“Our security protocols just kicked in. Everything’s locked down.” The Marine continued on. As the recording played on, everyone present in the kiosk then saw Eva Coré enter the scene.

“Doctor. I’ll get you a report as soon as…” the Marine said, but before he could continue, Eva then pointed a M-3 Predator at the Marine at the weapons locker and pulled the trigger, killing him, before repeating the procedure with the Marine working on the terminal before he could react, shocking Liara. This one scene revealed that she was not a scientist, but rather a Cerberus sleeper agent. With the marines dead, Eva then started tapping away on the environmental controls at a rapid pace, and even continuing whilst looking over her shoulder, which got Rex’s attention as he was looking around the corner, before showing everyone dying in the Cafeteria due to vacuum exposure.

“I guess we know how Cerberus got in.” Krystina stated with certainty given what they all just saw/heard. As the Jedi moved out to brief the ARCs on what they just saw, Liara made her way over to the other side of the kiosk.

“I should have realised when I met her.” Liara started, with disappointment in her voice. “I was just so focused on finding a way to stop the Reapers.”

“Stopping the Reapers is the only we should be focused on. It’s not your fault.” Shepard replied back, obviously trying to help calm her friend down.

“But what if we’re wrong? What if there is no way to stop them?” Liara continued on. “What if these are our last days and we spend them scurrying around trying to solve a problem that we can’t fix?”

“Come on, Liara.” Shepard stated, now trying to stop Liara from going down this line of thought.

"I know. I shouldn’t think that way.” She said, before turning to face Shepard. “I don’t know how you do it. You’ve always stayed focused, even in the worst situations.” Liara said.

“When there is so much at stake, I just think about what I’d lose if I fail.” Shepard replied back.

“That’s a terrible burden.” Liara stated, before Fives spoke up.

“Burden or not, it’s one that any soldier has to follow when they are either on the defensive or in any situation that just doesn’t add up. We clones in the 501st know this one all too well.” He stated with clarity. During this, he also didn’t have his helmet on, revealing his face to Shepard, Liara and Ashley for the first time.

“We may be from different galaxies, and despite the different reasons as to why we are here, we will work to stop both Cerberus and the Reapers – together.” Obi-wan spoke up, which in doing so, every trooper present either nodded their heads, or held up a fist, indicating that they were more than willing to see this through.

“Then let’s do this.” Ashley relied back. With that, Liara turned back to the consoles behind her.

“Ok. Door’s open. We can get to the labs and tram station through there.” Liara pointed out, with the door on the far side of the hallway now accessible.

“Good. Let’s move out.” Shepard stated, once she had her helmet placed back on, and everyone readied their respective weapons in order to continue onwards.

Chapter Text

Near the door, there was a dead Cerberus Assault Trooper, with a radio that was still functional. This radio was broadcasting out comms with other Cerberus units, in this case, Echo Squad, with orders for them to set up a tight security around the same tram station Shepard’s group was making its way towards. In the next room was a couple of makeshift defences, in addition to another datapad, with two scientists talking about maintaining ‘normal’ working hours, before it was cut off due to Eva’s actions – clearly indicating that no one even knew Eva was a traitor. Once Shepard made her way up the stairs, she opened the door leading to the labs. Inside were, of course, more Cerberus Troopers.

“Why we’re pulling back?” One Assault Trooper asked.

“Sounds like the Alliance has sent reinforcements. The doctor wants the Archives protected at all costs.” Another Trooper stated.

Before anyone could say anything, Shepard had decided to engage, and performed a clean headshot on one Assault Trooper with her N7 Valiant.

“Fall Back!” One Assault Trooper called out, but by this point, Ashley, Liara, the Jedi and Domino Squad were already charging forward, taking the fight to the troopers. While charging forward blasting away at the Cerberus Troopers with his DC-17 pistols, Rex made his way to the next door frame, with Anakin not that far behind, lightsaber ignited and doing what he could to ‘block’ the enemy fire. Whilst peering around the corner, Rex saw the familiar profile of bulky shields, bearing the Cerberus logo, coming their way.

“Heads up. We’ve got Guardians in play!” he called out to everyone present.

“Like those on the Resolute II back over Eotis?” Anakin asked out, dodging a few rounds from the M-358 Talon hybrid shotgun/pistols.

“Same ones General.” Rex replied, whilst blind firing one of his pistols into Cerberus, forcing the Assault Troopers to cover.

“Is that what you guys call them?” Ashley asked out, whilst she ejected a spent heat sink from her M-8 Avenger.

“It’s what they called themselves when they were trying to board our Star Destroyer back home.” Rex replied back, flinching when more rounds hit close to his cover.

“So how do we counter them?” Liara asked, forced to cover after firing off a burst from her N7 Hurricane SMG. The only people who weren’t in cover were Ahsoka, Viper and Hevy. Ahsoka was using her lightsabers to provide some protection ‘blocking’ the incoming gunfire, while Hevy and Viper lay down the firepower from their Z-6 chainguns. It was enough to force the Guardians to stop moving, and the amount of rounds striking their shields was enough to make them stagger, but it wasn’t enough to kill them.

Remembering that their vision slots had no protection, Rex holstered his right pistol in order to use his helmet radio.

“Commander. The Guardian shields have no protection around the vision slot. Aim through that to bring them down!” Rex called out over comms to Shepard.

“Thanks for the heads up!” Shepard replied back.

Once off the radio, Shepard activated her Tactical Cloak so she wouldn’t be seen, then lined up her rifle until the crosshairs on her scope were lined up perfectly, where she then pulled the trigger. The reward was a perfect headshot, killing the Guardian. Before her cloak failed due to her firing her weapon, and due to the N7 Valiant’s decent rate of fire, along with her Armour-Piercing rounds, she managed to repeat the shot on the second Guardian, just as she became visible again.

“Right between the eyes! Nice shooting Commander!” Droidbait called out, before he leaned out of cover to fire off a burst of fire from his DC-15S Carbine.

“Thanks Droidbait.” Shepard replied, having now swapped back to her M-8 Avenger, and moved out of cover to relocate closer to the enemy. Once relocated, Shepard left off a Incinerate tech attack on one Assault Trooper, covering him in burning plasma. Before he could start screaming out due to the burns he was suffering, Fives put him down quickly.

Meanwhile, due to the relentless hail of blaster bolts coming their way thanks to Hevy and Viper, the Cerberus Troopers were force to retreat through the laboratory and attached walkway towards a locker room, where everyone was forced to go left into the corridors. There, Cerberus was waiting for them, and while everyone moved to find cover and return fire, only Anakin, Obi-wan and Ahsoka were still out in the open, lightsabers alight to ‘block’ the incoming fire. During this, more Assault Troopers and Guardians were either hiding behind valid hard points for cover, firing from cover, or in the case of Guardians, standing in the open, with their shields providing the cover they need. Seeing that the Guardians were also operating as mobile cover in a way, Anakin decided to perform an ‘experiment’ of sorts and channelled The Force through his left hand to see if he could rip a Guardian’s shield off him. The end result was the Guardian he targeted lost his shield and staggered forward, before being hit by 5 rounds from Ashley’s M-90 Indra sniper rifle.

“Well, I’m glad to see that works.” Obi-wan stated, before he Force Pushed a few Assault Troopers out of the way, in order to secure more cover and room for everyone else to fight.

“They’re still coming!” an Assault Trooper called out to his fellow troopers before another one said keep moving. By this point, Hevy and Viper had to back off on the fire or risk running out of both power for their weapons and melting the barrels, so once there was enough cover, they both went to them, ditched their Z-6s for the time, and switched to their DC-17 pistols to stay in the fight. However doing this, meant that Ahsoka lost her fire support, which one Assault Trooper capitalised on by firing on the Togruta, almost catching her off guard. While Ahsoka reacted to this action, it was enough to draw her attention away from another trooper – wearing the exact same gear that the Jedi and Clones saw nearly 10 months ago now back in their galaxy – took a few shots at Ahsoka with his M-96 Mattock. Once she heard the distinct firing sound, Ahsoka tried to react, but given the fact that she was distracted by an Assault Trooper taking a few pot shots at her, she couldn’t react fast enough, and ended up receiving two rounds to her right arm, one of which was a grazing shot, the other in her shoulder, which made Ahsoka loose her grip on her primary lightsaber and forcing her to the floor, no doubt due to the pain from the wounds she just got.

“AHSOKA!” Anakin called out, seeing his former Padawan and friend fall down to the floor.

While he knew it wasn’t the first time Ahsoka was injured in battle, it still pained him to see this happen. Same could also be said for the clones of the 501st that were present, as they all considered her one of their own since she was always fighting alongside them. Once Coric saw this, both his training and instincts took over.

“COVER ME!” he yelled out to everyone present, which lead to everyone coming out of cover to lay down the firepower – both blaster bolt and bullet – in order to allow Coric to grab Ahsoka and get her somewhere safe so he could do his job. When Coric was close to Ahsoka, he could see she was still conscious, but no doubt in pain from the rounds she took, so with that in mind, he holstered his DC-15S Carbine to his backpack via magnets, so he could use both hands to help get Ahsoka somewhere safe in order to treat her wounds.

“You OK sir?” Coric asked out to Ahsoka, who was struggling with the pain in her right arm.

“I’ll live…” Ahsoka replied back through gritted teeth. Before they could continue, more rounds were striking near where they were, before both Coric and Ahsoka saw Shepard actually standing nearby, with her M-8 Avenger firing away.

“Coric, Let’s get her somewhere safe.” Shepard called out, before ejecting a spent heat sink from her rifle.

“Right, give me a hand Commander.” Coric replied to Krystina, upon which both of them decided to pick Ahsoka up and carried her out of the firefight down a level, which put them closer to the labs, but it at least meant they had some cover to work with whilst Coric tended to Ahsoka’s injuries. To help provide some security, Echo also tagged along, but not before grabbing Ahsoka’s lightsaber and holstering it to the back of his belt.

Once out of the line of fire, both Shepard and Coric placed Ahsoka on the floor in order for Coric to start work. Normally, Coric would be lugging a standard backpack loaded with medical supplies for issues like this. However, due to the fact that he had his breathmask survival gear (as did every clone trooper currently on Mars, save for Onyx Squad) on instead, which had a portable oxygen pack strapped to his back, this wasn’t possible, so for this mission, Coric was carrying a side bag instead, which meant he could do his job, but he had to be cautious with the use of his supplies. To him, it was an annoyance, but it was one he could tolerate, which he knew was something his fellow medic and ARC Trooper Kix couldn’t do as he took his job as a medic very seriously (which was why both Kix and Coric ordered the strike team to fight smartly back on the Resolute II before the start of the mission). Thinking back to the task at hand, Coric pulled out his handheld medical scanner and did a quick sweep over Ahsoka’s injuries.

“You’re arm injury’s just a scratch. You’re shoulder wound is the serious one of the two. Fortunately, it appears the round’s gone through.” Coric stated before he pulled out a syringe loaded with bacta and injected the ‘miracle fluid’ into Ahsoka’s shoulder to help numb the pain and also start work on the injuries. During this, Shepard was watching the whole thing.

“What was in the syringe?” she asked, obviously due to the fact that it was not what she was familiar with.

“A substance known as bacta. It’s what we use for nearly any situation back in our galaxy.” Ahsoka replied, still feeling some pain due to her injuries.

“Bacta’s helpful as it helps to promote rapid tissue regeneration around the wound and is capable of being used across multiple species back home.” Coric continued on, before everyone was startled by Echo.

“Head’s Up!” he called out, as an Assault Trooper and Guardian came down to where they were.

Once they saw what was coming, Coric immediately rolled on top of Ahsoka to protect her from the flying rounds, as his armour could take some of the damage, while Shepard and Echo went to work on the two Cerberus troopers. The Assault Trooper was dropped in little time, but once again, the Guardian was giving some trouble due to that shield. Thinking quickly, Shepard pulled out a Sticky Grenade and lobbed it at the Guardian. The grenade stuck on his shield, where once it exploded, it forced the Guardian to both recoil backwards from the explosion, and also lower his shield, which was all the opening Echo needed to put him down with two shots from his DC-15S Carbine.

Once that threat was dealt with, Coric got off Ahsoka and went back to his job, but Shepard had a better idea to help speed the process up, and with that primed her omni-tool and applied some Medi-gel on Ahsoka’s arm wound. The result was almost instantaneous, as her arm wound was almost sealed up and the numbing pain was also gone. This had Coric surprised.

“Now it’s my turn to ask the question; what’s was that?” he asked, clearly intrigued by what he saw.

“A salve we call Medi-gel.” Shepard replied back, but before she could continue, Anakin appeared.

“How is she?” he asked, directing this to both Shepard and Coric.

“General Tano’s injuries are superficial. She’ll be fine sir.” Coric replied back.

“Good to hear. Krystina, Echo. We need you both as we have Cerberus falling back. Need to keep the pressure on them.” Anakin continued on.

“Ok. We’ll be there shortly.” Shepard replied back, before Anakin then took off, heading up to the where the action was.

“How’s the arm now?” Shepard asked Ahsoka, who was now sporting a bacta patch on her shoulder.

“Better now. Guess we call it even?” she replied back, with a smirk that was characteristic of her.

“Heh. Deal. Can you still fight?” Shepard continued on.

“Not as well, but I’ll be fine.” Ahsoka replied back, moving her arm to get used to the feeling in it.

“We better get moving then.” Shepard stated, before she moved out. Echo was about to as well, before he remembered he still had Ahsoka’s lightsaber.

“Oh, General?” Echo started, whilst he was unclipping the lightsaber off his belt and held it out for Ahsoka “I think you’ll want this back.”

“Thanks Echo.” Ahsoka replied back, taking the lightsaber, before she, Echo and Coric moved out to link up with the rest of the group.

Up at the end of the corridor, Ashley, Liara, Obi-wan, Rex and the rest of Domino Squad were pouring the fire on the Cerberus troops, who had decided to fall back.

“Keep up the pressure men!” Obi-wan called out, after ripping another Guardian’s shield from said soldier before he was nailed by a few blaster rounds, before being forced to cover by gunfire from the Cerberus field officers, which they now knew them as Centurions. By this time, Anakin had linked back up with the group.

“How’s Ahsoka?” Obi-wan asked his old friend.

“A little banged up, but she’s fine.” Anakin replied back, before ‘blocking’ more Cerberus fire. At this point, Shepard came charging at them in full sprint, firing her M-8 Avenger on the move at the remaining Cerberus troops that were there. Seeing this, Rex also decided to follow her lead, and also started running after them, DC-17s blasting away. However, the last few Cerberus troopers had backed out of the corridor, with one of them yelling out “Seal the Door!” In this case, they took it quite literally, and had welded the door shut behind them, stopping Shepard’s group in their tracks.

“Damn it.” Rex called out, whilst waiting for everyone else to regroup. “Ratchet. Can you get through it?” he asked the Lieutenant.

“Yeah, but it’s going to take me at least 10 minutes with the cutting torch. A lightsaber maybe slightly faster, but time’s not on our side here Rex. We need an alternative route.” Ratchet replied back.

At this point in time, Ashley was able to pick up on something. “What’s that smell?” she asked, clearly with disgust in her voice.

It was Liara who would recognise what Ashley was referring to. “They just activated the decontamination protocols.” She stated, pointing to the lab they were all standing next to, clearly indicating it was acting as a clean room.

“With the scientists still inside?” Fives asked out looking at two bodies inside the room, somewhat surprised by this, but given what he had seen earlier at the cafeteria, he shouldn’t have been.

After waiting for the sterilisation beams to be in a way to access the door at the back of the room to be accessible, Shepard halted the protocols, which allowed them to enter the clean room. Inside were various laboratory and archaeological gear, along with what appeared to be Prothean objects still covered, and of course two smoking corpses that were obviously the scientists Fives spotted.

“Kriffing hell.” Droidbait said, once he saw one of the bodies as the group made their way into the room.

“This is where they studied the various relics unearthed here.” Liara stated, whilst she watched the door, in case another Cerberus squad showed up behind them.

“What did they find?” Shepard asked out, while Ashely moved over to scan over various objects with her omni-tool, and the Jedi and clones were looking around, taking in the sights of what was there, particularly the Prothean relics that they could look at.

“More than I could describe in as short conversation, and they’d only scratched the surface.” Liara continued on. “There are vaults here filled with Prothean data troves that have never been studied.” One thing that caught Obi-wan’s eyes was a datapad that was describing the prospect of the Protheans apparently charting humanity’s early history in this galaxy.

Once done, everyone made their way out of the clean room back into the same corridor they were in earlier before Cerberus sealed the doors.

“That’s the tram line. Takes us right to the Archives.” Liara pointed out to the structures that everyone was seeing through the window. “No doubt Cerberus has it locked down. Hopefully, we can override it at the security station. It’s just through here.”

With that, Liara took point, and lead everyone through the corridors to another door, with yet another dead Assault Trooper, and a discarded M-23 Katana shotgun. Once the door was opened however, everyone got one hell of a surprise. At the end of this corridor, everyone could see the Security Station in question – along with a massive four-barrelled turret mounted on the roof, which then swivelled to face the group, indicating Cerberus was controlling this turret.

“Look Out!” Ashley called out, just as it opened fire, forcing everyone to cover.

“No kidding!” Shepard replied back.

“Liara, is that the only way in?” Echo asked the asari scientist.

“It’s the only way I know of.” She replied back.

“Aw nuts.” Arcee deadpanned.

“We’ll skirt around it. Stay out of its sights.” Shepard stated.

“I’ll move up first.” Ashley stated, before she moved as fast as she could to ensure she wasn’t hit by the turret, before finding cover behind a support column.

“Don’t let it target you!” Ashley called out, before she continued onwards herself. At this point, Shepard moved out, doing the exact same thing as Ashley, sprinting between pillars diagonally, and waiting for the turret to stop firing before moving again. Seeing this, Rex hatched a plan.

“Ratchet, Arcee. You’re with me. We’ll go and support Shepard’s squad.” He called out to the two veteran ARCs.

“Hang on. Why me?” Ratchet called out, confused by this.

“That station looks like it’s close-quarters, and you’re the only one with a shotgun.” Rex replied back.

“Fair enough.” Ratchet replied. Hearing this, Anakin decided to stack the odds in their favour, and Force pulled the M-23 Katana to him before handing it over to Arcee.

“Here Emma. Make it a little more interesting.” He said to Arcee.

“Uh, I’m not experienced with their weapons sir.” Arcee stated before Rex spoke up. “Emma. If a rookie could figure out how to use one of Cerberus’s weapons back on the Resolute II briefly, I’m pretty sure you can too kid. Besides, we need someone else with a close-quarters weapon.” With that said, Arcee gave her DC-15LE rifle to Echo to mind for the time, then took the M-23 Katana from Anakin and took the chance to get acquainted with the foreign weapon.

“Rex. The rest of us will stay here and guard your six, while you get up there.” Anakin stated.

“Roger that, sir.” Rex replied before looking at Arcee and Ratchet. “Alright guys, let’s go!”

During this time, Shepard, Ashley and Liara were able to make their way out of the corridor and into the cargo storage area which was where the turret was set up. As they slowly made their towards the left side of the Security Station, as it was the only way to enter said station, they were still being hunted down by Cerberus troopers using said turret. Due to the fact that the troopers were focusing on Shepard’s squad, they didn’t see Rex, Arcee and Ratchet move up to meet with Liara, as she was the furthest away from the Squad. Figuring out quickly that they came up to help capture the Station, she didn’t question it, but told them to keep their heads down and continue using cover. It took a little more time, before everyone was able to get to a position where there was a stack of cargo crates in the way of the turret’s field of fire.

“The turret can’t fire on us from here.” Liara stated, which lead to Shepard and Ratchet stacking up on the doors to the station.

“You sure you can use that?” Shepard asked Arcee once she saw the ARC Trooper with the shotgun.

“If it’s just to help clear out the security station, it should be enough.” Arcee replied back. While Shepard wasn’t liking this for, as far as she could tell, none of the troopers present had any experience with their weapons, but she couldn’t fault the ARC Trooper’s determination.

“Ok then, get ready to breach.” She then stated to everyone present. On the other side, they could hear the Cerberus squad were getting prepped themselves.

“Head’s up, people!” the Centurion in their squad called out, before they then heard him call out “Just get ready!”

Within a few seconds, the doors were opened, and Shepard ran in first, firing her M-8 Avenger before finding some cover at a terminal console. Rex was next in, also firing his two DC-17 pistols at the Cerberus troopers, and killing one with a headshot, before taking cover next to Shepard at the support column. Ratchet stayed out in the open and peppered the room with his DC-15G shotgun, forcing the Cerberus forces to find cover. This gave him time to get behind the wall that was the hallway to the door they just came through. At the same time, Arcee came in and lined up the M-23 Katana at another Assault Trooper who was moving up to try and flank Rex and Shepard. When she pulled the trigger, the M-23 fired, with the recoil startling Arcee, as she hadn’t experienced anything like this in her military life. However, it was enough the kill the Assault Trooper as most of the blast hit him in the right side of his body, with the force also strong enough to fly backwards before the body hit the deck. Seeing this, she fired off another blast before taking cover herself. As Liara entered the room with Ashley, she could see the vast majority of Assault Troopers were taking cover behind the terminal consoles and table in the middle of the Station, so with that, she unleashed a Singularity onto the bunched up group, picking most of them up off the floor and exposing them to gunfire. As everyone poured on the fire, Ashley saw the Centurion was moving in to close in on the group, where she saw the flicker of his personal shields. As she was the only one equipped with Disruptor Ammo, she opened fire on the Centurion, shredding his shields, but this didn’t stop him until he was almost on top of her, where he then threw his left arm downwards, allowing a shock baton to be ejected out of its hidden compartment in his armour, and then swung at Ashley with it. With only seconds to react to it, Ashley blocked the strike with her M-8 Avenger and held him at bay for a few seconds before he was struck in the back of the head by the stock on Ratchet’s shotgun. Reacting to this new threat, the Centurion shoved Ashley out of the way, and faced Ratchet, before the clone bulldozed him back towards the centre of the station, where he then slashed at the Centurion’s left arm with the plasma blade, cutting through the armour plating on the Cerberus soldier’s arm, forcing him to drop the shock baton, before Ratchet realigned the shotgun and lunged forward, stabbing the Centurion through the chest with the plasma blade, finishing him off with a blast from the shotgun right in the chest, leaving a massive gaping hole in the body.

It would be Arcee who would finish off the last Assault Trooper with the last round from her looted M-23 Katana, completely obliterating his head in a bloody mess. With the fighting now finished, Shepard, Rex, and Ashley did a quick sweep around the station before confirming that the station was cleared of Cerberus Troopers.

“Clear.” Shepard called out before turning to face Arcee, still holding her looted M-23 Katana.

“I bet you weren’t expecting the recoil from that Emma.” Shepard told Arcee. “Did okay though.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Commander.” Arcee replied back, whilst discarding the shotgun as it had spent it’s heat sink and, obviously, Arcee didn’t have anymore. “But I’d rather stick with what I know.” She continued when she saw Echo arrive, along with Anakin, Obi-wan, Ahsoka, Hevy, Fives, Droidbait, Cutup, Viper and Coric arrived in the Security station.

As Echo handed back Arcee’s DC-15LE, Shepard made her way over to the central consoles to access the security cameras, with Liara, Rex and the Jedi in tow, while everyone else did one last sweep, until Shepard got access to the cameras in the Archives that was live footage, which got everyone’s attention. This showed Eva Coré talking with a Centurion while other Cerberus troopers were scrambling past them.

“Set up a perimeter. No one else comes across.” Eva said to the Centurion.

“We still have teams on the other side…” the Centurion said, but Eva continued.

“No One! And shut down those cameras!” before she fired off a round from her M-3 Predator, destroying the security cameras.

“Looks like they made it to the Archives.” Liara said, pretty much pointing out what everyone was thinking.

“And from the looks of it, they are not going to send us a tram anytime soon.” Cutup said, with a fair amount of annoyance in his voice.

“Can you override it?” Shepard asked Liara, which lead to her tapping away on the console, before receiving an error alert.

“The Archives are on a separate network. We’re completely locked out.” Liara replied back. At this point, an idea popped into Ashley’s head. “Not completely.” She started to say.

“I’m hoping you’ve got an idea in mind, Commander.” Rex asked out, given the fact that no one else had anything else up their sleeves, figuratively speaking.

“What if we could find a short-ranged transmitter. Helmet-to-helmet.” Ashely continued on, whilst making her way to the other entry to the station.

“And?” Shepard asked, not sure where Ashley was going with this.

“And then we convince them we’re with them, and the Alliance forces have been taken care of.” Ashley finished, revealing that it was possible. Realising that there was no alternative, Shepard agreed. “Good idea. See what you can find.”

“You mind if I tag along?” Droidbait asked Ashley.

“Knock yourself out.” Ashley said, before they both left.

At this point, Shepard noticed that Liara was watching. “What?”

“The Lieutenant Commander has become very capable.” Liara stated, given the fact that she had worked alongside Ashley, when she was a Gunnery Chief, back in 2183 hunting down Saren and flushing out Geth bases and holdouts in that time.

“Agreed.” Was all Shepard said on the subject before they all heard Ashley call out that she and Droidbait had found something. While Shepard left, with Fives and Viper tagging along, Liara continued tapping away on the console she was at, with Echo observing. The remaining clones once again took the chance to look around and observe the architecture and tech, again to get familiar with it, while Coric took the chance to check on Ahsoka’s wounds, with Anakin and Obi-wan looking on. That was until Anakin’s wrist-comm flared up again.

“General Skywalker, Commander Rex, do either of you copy?” Hawk called out once again.

“We’re here Hawk. What’s wrong?” Anakin asked the pilot, with Rex also listening.

“The Storm activity’s starting to worsen out here, making flying more interesting. That said, I’m close to bingo fuel. I need to return to the Resolute II to refuel and re-arm. Over.” Hawk called out.

“And with no direct contact with the Resolute II or the ship that Shepard arrived on, the last thing we need is no way off the planet.” Rex stated, realising the dangers this left the strike force in.

“Agreed Rex.” Anakin stated, before focusing back on Hawk. “Hawk, disengage and head back to the ship.”

“Roger that sir, we’ll be back on station ASAP. Sit tight.” Hawk finished, before terminating comms.

“Let’s hope he doesn’t take too long.” Obi-wan said, also concerned about being stuck on Mars, especially if Reaper forces were nearby.

Whilst this was going on, Shepard, Fives and Viper made their way out to where Ashley and Droidbait were, with a dead Centurion.

“What have you guys got?” Shepard asked the duo.

“He’s got a transmitter in his helmet.” Ashley said, looking back at Shepard. “If we can…” she continued on, before Droidbait hit the switches on the side of the helmet to pull the faceplate off.

With the hissing noise drawing Ashley’s attention, she then recoiled back in both shock and disgust, for she was now seeing what the troopers saw back on the Resolute II 10 months ago.

“Oh god. He looks like a husk.” Ashley said, clearly in shock from what she had just seen.

“Not quite, but he’s definitely been… engineered somehow.” Shepard replied, taking a look for herself. While neither Droidbait, Fives or Viper were surprised at what they saw, they didn’t know what Ashley and Shepard meant by ‘husk’.

“And I though we got the short end of the stick looking at that.” Viper said, which drew Shepard’s attention.

“Wait, you’ve seen this before?” Krystina asked, completely stunned by that statement.

“Yeah. Back in our galaxy, when Cerberus was boarding our Star Destroyer, the Resolute II, we were able to surround what remained of their forces on the flight deck, when they then suddenly dropped to the ground. We then pried their helmets and faceplates off and saw… this.” Droidbait said, ending the sentence by pointing to the Centurion’s head, whilst he was prying out the helmet-mounted transmitter.

“Once we destroyed their fleet, we took the bodies of their troopers back to Artemis Station and conducted autopsies on the dead soldiers. It wasn’t until we found unique devices, or ‘implants’ as you would call them, in their bodies that we believed was the cause of this result.” Fives continued on for Droidbait. However, once Fives finished, this actually had Ashley turn from shock to anger.

“Engineered? By Cerberus? They claim to stand for Humanity, and they do this to their own people?” Ashley said, with venom in her voice, just as Droidbait finished prying the transmitter out of the helmet and handed it to Shepard. Once again, Ashley looked at Shepard.

“That could have been you Shepard. For all I knew, that’s what Cerberus had done to you.” Ashley finished, once again, bringing Shepard’s past with the organisation up. This time however, the clones were looking at Ashley, with annoyed looks in their eyes given what they’ve seen Shepard do so far and they could tell Shepard was no friend of Cerberus.

“How can you compare me to that thing?” Shepard asked, with the accusations now starting to piss her off.

“I don’t know what you are. Not since they got their hands on you.” Ashley stated, turning away from the group before continuing on. “Is it really you? Would you know if they were controlling you somehow?”

“That’s not fair, Ash.” Krystina replied back, sounding hurt from that remark.

Realising that she was pushing it, Ashley turned to face the group. “I’m just talking out loud. I don’t need you to answer… I doubt there’s anything that you could say to convince me.” She continued on, but seeing that this wasn’t working, she decided to lay things out. “I guess I just need some time to get to know you again.” Ashley finished.

“I’m the same person I always was. Time won’t change that, but if that’s what you need, I understand.” Shepard spoke up, clearly seeing that Ashley was deeply conflicted with Shepard relating to their past missions in 2183 and when Ashley first saw Krystina last year on Horizon after the Collector attack, cladded in Cerberus marked gear and with Cerberus agents. Hearing this, it showed Ashley that there was a chance to move past it. Not an ideal one by anyone else’s standards, but it was enough.

“Thanks… for understanding.” Ashley said, once again looking at Shepard.

“You bet.” Shepard replied back, before moving to the railing, focusing back on the mission at hand.

“Let’s see if we can get that tram sent over here.” Shepard stated, and started to tinker with the transmitter. While this was happening, Fives had disappeared to alert everyone else that they were moving out again.

“Hello. This is… Delta Team. Anybody there?” Shepard called out through the transmitter. At first, Droidbait and Viper weren’t certain if the momentary stall to think of a unit name, nor the fact that there was a female’s voice on comms was enough to sell it. However, it turns out it was enough.

“Where the hell have you been?” a voice came through, indicating that so far, their plan was working. “Never mind. What’s your status?” the voice continued.

“We’re at the tram station, waiting for extraction. All hostiles terminated.” Shepard replied back, seeing what would happen.

“Roger that. Echo team will ride over and secure the station.” The voice replied back. As far as anyone knew, Cerberus had swallowed the bait, but there was still room for doubt.

“You think they bought it?” Ashley asked as everyone else started to come out of the Security Station.

“If they didn’t, they’ll be in one hell of a surprise.” Anakin stated, once he arrived behind Shepard.

“Roger that, sir.” Fives replied back, with a fair bit of enthusiasm in his voice, whilst Shepard was ditching the transmitter as it was now useless to them.

“We should get in position. Flank them when they get off the tram.” Ashley stated, pointing out an ideal position for this.

“Good think LC.” Shepard replied back, whilst she was pulling out her N7 Valiant.

To prepare for their ambush, Shepard and Arcee would stay with the Centurion’s body, as it gave them a perfect elevated position to operate as snipers. Ashley, Liara, Fives and Echo were in the suggested place that Ashley pointed out – a row of cargo crates next to the tram airlock. Droidbait, Coric and Cutup were back on the same walkway that they were on in order to enter the Security Station, while Anakin, Obi-wan and Ahsoka were hiding behind a stacked set of cargo containers in the middle of the cargo bay, and Viper and Hevy hung around the stair way which lead to said cargo floor, as this gave them the best cover to work with and a perfect killing zone with their Z-6 chainguns.

This worked out perfectly as within seconds of the tram’s airlock doors opened up, all hell broke loose. Despite their best efforts, Cerberus’ Echo Team was neutralised in about 2 minutes. Once the chaos had died down again, everyone regrouped on the tram, with Arcee, Viper, Anakin, Obi-wan and Ahsoka once again donning their breath masks in order to operate on the Martian surface.

“Yeager. Do you copy?” Rex called out to commando.

“We’re here, sir. I take it you guys were directly below us?” Yeager asked.

“How can you tell?” quizzed Rex.

“Because of the gunfire.” Yeager deadpanned.

With a small laugh, Rex then focused on the task at hand. “Where’s Vanguard Squad?”

“On top of the Archive’s roof. You guys are heading over?” Yeager asked Rex.

“Indeed. We’ve cleared out the rest of the facility. Make your way over to where Vanguard is now. If I remember right, there’s a facility to their left. Have Jesse take them over to there while you and your commandos stay on the Archives. Judging by how we’ve fought through this facility, that’s the only logical place Cerberus has to work with for a quick extraction by transport off-world. This way, we can cut off their only avenue for escape.” Rex stated, issuing out his orders to the clones still outside.

“Roger that. By the way sir, I saw the gunship bug out a few minutes ago, what’s going on?” Yeager asked.

“Hawk was running on fumes, so he was ordered back to the Resolute II to refuel.” Rex replied back.

“Understood. Onyx Squad is moving out. See you on the other side. Out.” Yeager finished up before Rex killed the comms.

Once everyone was prepped, Shepard hit the switch on the tram’s interface to send it to the other side. Once it started moving, the air lock opened up, hitting everyone with a strong gust of wind thanks to the storm.

“Woah. Hawk wasn’t kidding.” Rex called out once he felt the strength of the wind, despite the fact there was some protection from said storm due to how the tram line was constructed.

“Yeah. Storm’s getting bad alright. We better wrap this up quickly.” Shepard agreed with the clone commander.

“Liara. I take it the Archives are on the other side?” Obi-wan asked out loud.

“Indeed they are, Obi-wan.” Liara replied back.

“Yeah. That, and a squad of pissed off Cerberus troops.” Ashley called out, before the tram car was rocked by an explosion, followed with it stopping dead.

“Everyone ok?” Anakin called out, to which everyone chorused back they were all good.

“What the hell was that?!” Fives called out.

“Looks like an explosive charge. Not enough to destroy the tram car, but more than enough to kill the power to it.” Ashley replied back, observing the black scorch marks on the rails, near the back of the car.

“CONTACT!” Cutup suddenly screamed out, as another tram car started roll out of the Archives’ air lock, carrying a squad of Assault Troopers.

“Take out that tram!” an Assault Trooper called out, which prompted Domino Squad to engage immediately. While everyone present were trying to kill one another, Cerberus’ tram continued to roll up until it was parallel with the tram car that Shepard’s group. It would take another few minutes, but the group was able to eliminate the Cerberus squad, as this particular unit was able to really dig in and fight well, something that Ashley pointed out. While Liara believed that it was due to the value of data stored in the Archives was the reason why they fought well, Anakin and Rex believed that it was something else…

Regardless, once the group was on the other tram car, Shepard once again worked on the console to activate the car and continue on to the Archives. Once pass the air lock, yet another squad was waiting to greet them. This time, however, the group wasn’t mucking around, as Hevy and Viper moved out first, firing their Z-6s on the move, keeping Cerberus pinned down, allowing everyone else to move into the station, save for Shepard, Arcee and Fives, as they decided to work in a marksman roll, despite the fact there wasn’t a great amount of room to play with given the amount of cargo crates stacked everywhere. Despite this, Shepard’s squad, the Jedi and Domino Squad were able to deplete the current Cerberus squad to such an extent that a Centurion, who was in the kiosk at the end of the station, was forced to call in his last reinforcements and it was at this point that he was able to recognise one of the Alliance marines they were fighting.

“Holy shit, that’s Shepard!” he called out in surprise once he saw the signature N7 markings on Shepard’s armour.

“Oh what, NOW you idiots recognise who she is?!” Cutup called out, directing this one at the remaining Cerberus troops in the station, blasting away at a recently arrived Guardian, once again the shield taking the beating, before Obi-wan Force Pulled it away, allowing Cutup to kill the Guardian.

“You really think Cerberus is going to care what you think?” Ashely called out, after ejecting another heat sink from her M-8 Avenger, before opening fire again.

“Doesn’t mean I won’t call out their stupidity, Commander.” Retorted Cutup, which drew a remark from Echo. “Too right vod.”

This drew a laugh from Ashley. “Fair enough, Cutup.” She replied back. While neither Cutup nor Echo could tell, she was actually smiling under her helmet.

After the last Cerberus soldier was killed, everyone gathered up near the blast doors at the end of the station, where in one of the armour lockers was a stowed M-15 Vindicator Battle Rifle, which lead to the Archives itself. Once everyone has stacked up around the door frame, Shepard gave the nod to breach, everyone moved through to the room. Once in, everyone took the chance to observe what was in front of them. Surrounded by artificial walkways, computer terminals and encased behind what appeared to be thick glass, stood the Prothean Archives. At first, Anakin, Obi-wan, Ahsoka, Rex, Coric and Domino Squad initially though that the Archives were nothing more than a storage warehouse, not a massive statue in the middle of the room, which had a pulsating light, indicating it was a massive data bank – a Prothean Beacon as it was known in the Milky Way. Nearly everyone looked at in some awe, even Shepard, as no one here save for Liara, had ever seen them in person, only knew about them. This moment however was brief, as they were still on a mission.

“Ash.” Shepard called out, indicating for her to make a sweep around the area in case Eva was nearby as they still hadn’t seen her yet. With that, Rex order both Fives and Echo to go with Ashley for the same reason, while everyone else followed Shepard and Liara towards a group of terminals in order to find the data that Liara stated back when they first met her. Because everyone was focused on either data retrieval, or observing the Prothean artefacts before them, no one hear a shimmering noise coming from the Quantum Entanglement Communicator (QEC) that was just behind them, until they heard a voice say “Shepard.”

Upon hearing this, nearly everyone reacting in record time, having their respective weapons drawn and ready to engage. The only one who didn’t was Krystina as she knew that voice all too well. Standing in holographic form on the QEC was a man in, at best guess, his mid-50s, in a very unique-looking suit, no doubt of high quality, giving off the appearance of a very well-groomed man, with the striking feature of his eyes that were steely-blue, and somehow looking like they were cybernetic.

For the Jedi and the clones, this was their very first look at the man who was once named Jack Harper, better known to everyone in the Milky Way galaxy by now as The Illusive Man – the founder and leader of Cerberus.

“Illusive Man.” Liara stated, moving to holster her M-3 Predator, while the Jedi extinguished their lightsabers, and the clones lowered their blasters, but kept them primed.

“Fascinating race, the Protheans. They left all this for us to discover, but we’ve squandered it.” The Illusive Man stated, completely ignoring Liara, the Jedi and Domino Squad, focusing solely on Shepard. “The Alliance has known about the Archives for more than 30 years, and what have they done with it?”

“What do you want?” Shepard asked, with a small amount of anger in her voice, given what she knew about his intentions for Humanity.

All The Illusive Man did was looked left and right, observing Anakin, Obi-wan, Ahsoka, and the clones, no doubt noting their weapons, armour and gear in his mind, before looking upwards towards the Prothean Beacon, with a smirk on his lips. “What I’ve always wanted.” He stated, in a factual manner, before continuing on. “The data in these artefacts holds the key to solving the Reaper threat.”

At this point, Rex interrupted. “And we’ve all seen your ‘solution’ – you’ve turned your own men into abominations.” He called out, clearly angry. If the Illusive Man felt offended or annoyed, he clearly didn’t show it.

“Hardly. They’re being improved.” He counted the veteran commander.

Improved?” Shepard stated, totally surprised by what she had just heard.

“That’s what separates us Shepard: where you see a means to destroy, I see a way to control – to dominate and harness the Reapers power.” The Illusive Man stated, clearly showing this is what he has in mind. “Imagine how strong Humanity would be if we controlled them.” Hearing this, both Shepard and the Jedi were stunned by what they had just heard, especially given the timing of this idea.

“Earth is under siege, and you’re hatching a scheme to control the Reapers?!” Shepard called out, now with the anger starting to rise up.

“You’ve always been short-sighted. Hasty. Your destruction of the Collector Base proved that.” The Illusive Man continued on, whilst programming an image of the Collector Base in question to obviously remind Shepard. The image of the Collector Base, having a part insect hive, part space station feel, were giving the Jedi and the clones of the 501st flashbacks of Geonosis, especially to Anakin, Obi-wan and Ratchet as they all fought on that blasted desert planet twice.

“That base was an abomination. Hundreds of thousands of humans were murdered there.” Shepard countered, now well and truly angered due to the mental images of seeing a colonist being melted down in front of her and of that Human-Reaper still fresh in her mind. Seeing the image of that place once more were bringing those memories back up – memories that she did not want to remember.

Once the image of the Illusive Man came back, he continued onwards. “This isn’t your fight any longer, Shepard. You can’t defeat the Reapers, even with the Prothean data… or with whomever you decide to bring to the fight.” He said, finally acknowledging the presence of the Jedi and the clones, which the latter replied by raising their weapons up at the image, but not aiming down their iron sights.

“Then work with me. Give me control of your resources, and I’ll stop them.” Shepard offered. However, this was like offering a Geth Trooper a bottle of water.

“You’d do better than most, but the odd aren’t in your favour.” The Illusive Man replied to this appeal. “More importantly. I don’t want the Reapers destroyed.” He continued on.

Deep inside Shepard’s mind, this was screaming out that something was not right, as he said he was always committed to stopping the Reapers during her time building up her squad for the Suicide Mission.

“We can dominate them, use their power, harness their very essence to bring Humanity to the apex of evolution.” The Illusive Man finished. It was becoming abundantly clear that he was deluding himself believing this.

“You’ve gone too far. The Reapers will kill us all if we don’t stop fighting each other!” Shepard pleaded with the reclusive tycoon.

“I don’t expect you to understand, Shepard. And I’m certainly not looking for your approval.” The Illusive Man dismissed, before continuing on. “You were a tool, an agent with a singular purpose. And despite our differences, you were relatively successful.” He said, both dismissing and complementing Shepard’s skills in one sentence, before taking a pause to look to his left side, either at a message or to acknowledge someone’s presence, no one could tell from the image. “But like the rest of the relics in this place, your time is over.” He finished.

At this point, Shepard finally had enough. “Enough talk. Liara.” She called out to her friend, clearing indicating for her to sever the transmission, which Liara complied.

“Don’t interfere with my plans, Shepard. I won’t warn you, or your new allies again.” The Illusive Man stated which drew Anakin’s ire.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have sent one of your fleets to our galaxy, where they fired on my fleet without any warning.” Anakin countered, before Shepard finished it off with “Duly noted.”

“Shepard!” Liara called out, drawing everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand.

“What?” Shepard inquired, wondering what was going on now.

“The data. It’s not here.” Liara stated, which drew everyone’s attention. “It’s being erased.”

What no one noticed was that the Illusive Man had a smirk upon hearing this, just as his image faded away on the QEC.

“Damn it. How’s he doing it?” Shepard questioned.

“It’s local – someone’s uploading the information.” Liara replied back, once she saw what the terminal was saying. This made Obi-wan look towards Ashley, Fives and Echo.

On the farther walkways, Ashley and Fives were still sweeping the area, trying to find Eva. Echo, on the other hand, wasn’t and that was due to the fact that once he heard voices, he stopped to see that his brothers, the generals, and their new allies were talking to a man via holographic communications. Judging from when he heard Liara call him Illusive Man, he stopped to record the situation from afar via his rangefinder, in order to hand this intel back to the rest of the leaders on the Expedition Fleet, as they now had more information on Cerberus to work with.

At this point, Ashely and Fives came up to a workstation that was fully lit, indicating that someone was there. Moving quicky, with weapons drawn, they both saw Eva, typing away on the terminal set up, and with unique information displayed.

“Hey!” Ashley called out to the scientist. “Step away from the console.”

While the traitor was clearly listening as she had stopped typing, she was also ignoring the marine.

“Now!” Fives called out, before Ashley decided to move closer, as Fives was covering her. However, Eva then decided to go on the offensive, by taking a swing at Ashley’s head, which didn’t do much due to her helmet, before doing a reverse kick upwards at her chest. This worked, as it knocked Ashley to the ground with a grunt. Eva then plunged her omni-tool straight into the console she was working, which off lined the Archives, before spinning around to kick Fives in his side, which he blocked with his DC-15A rifle, but she then jumped up and shoved Fives down to the deck, with a loud clunk. At this point, Echo had just shown up, due to the noise, and drew his DC-15S carbine level.

“HALT!” he yelled out, but Eva responded with an Incineration attack, forcing the ARC Trooper to roll out of the way, which she use to leg it. Once he finished his roll, Echo let off a burst of fire from his carbine, missing the Cerberus agent.

“That bitch’s got the data!” Echo called out over comms, not that it matter because the blaster fire and Echo yelling out was enough to draw everyone else’s attention to their direction.

Once Hevy saw Eva, he let rip his Z-6 at her, but none of his rounds even came close to hitting her.

“How the hell did that miss?” he exclaimed, as he had never seen anyone outrun the fire of a Z-6 short of a Jedi or Sith.

“She’s faster than she looks.” Liara pointed out, just as Shepard took off after her.

“Stay close! We can’t lose her!” she called out over the radio, which by this point, everyone was starting to run after her. Rex, whilst in pursuit, went loud over the comms.

“Onyx, Vanguard. Eva has the data and she’s running! Get ready up there!” was all he said, as the group followed Eva back to the tram station, where she then went into the kiosk and sealed the door.

Fortunately, as she didn’t weld them up, Shepard opened up the doors, and were rewarded with another Incineration attack. This forced everyone to dodge out of the way, while Eva leaped up into the vents above her. Once Shepard worked on the console to lower the windows in front of her, Eva dropped down and took off again, full sprint. How the hell was this woman outrunning them?

Once Eva had finished climbing the ladder to take her outside, where the storm had finally appeared to be changing course and heading away from the facility, Onyx Squad was already on her, firing their DC-17m rifles at her, but once again she legged it. This was enough to draw Vanguard’s attention.

“Head’s up. Traitor coming our way!” Jesse called out, before firing his DC-15S carbine. Once she got closer, Kix noticed something.

“How’s come she doesn’t have a breath mask on?!” the veteran ARC Medic called out.

“Who care’s right now? Just Shoot Her!” Hardcase called out, blazing away with his own Z-6 chaingun, also noting how she was evading all the rounds.

By this point in time, Shepard Squad and the Jedi had also made it outside, with the last of Domino Squad coming up the ladder. At this point, a Cerberus Kodiak had arrived, no doubt to extract Eva.

“Heads up! Shuttle in play!” Ratchet called out.

“Thermite, take that thing out!” Yeager ordered his brother.

“I’ve got no grenades left!” Thermite replied back.

Before long, the Kodiak had opened its portside door, revealing two Assault Troopers on board, firing on everyone present.

“Shepard, stay on her! We’ll watch your back!” Anakin called out, moving to take cover from the fire. At this point, Eva was making her way down the side of the facility to an exposed platform had cover. Once down there, Eva fired off a few rounds at Shepard with her M-4 Shuriken. At this point, she knew that there wasn’t much time left.

“James? You read me?” Shepard called out to the marine over comms but got nothing but garbled static. With no alternative, she had to reach him.

“Cerberus has the data!” she continued on, dodging yet another Incineration attack.

Again, more garbled responses. “Radio the Normandy. Get them down here now!” This time, there was no reply as Shepard severed the comms. All she could do was prey that James heard her.

By now, Eva was making her way up a ladder and onto the roof. Just as Shepard climbed up herself, Eva fired off another burst from her SMG, before turning and legging it once more, when everyone saw the same Cerberus shuttle coming. Not bothering to land, it opened its starboard-side door, just in time to allow Eva to leap aboard, then start manoeuvring for immediate departure, just as Shepard caught up.

“Damn it! James? Normandy? ANYBODY?!” Shepard screamed out over the comms, hoping someone would hear her.

While Hevy, Viper and Hardcase were firing away at the Kodiak with their Z-6s in desperation, the shuttle’s shields were absorbing the fire. At this point, just as the shuttle was lined up to depart, everyone could see a glint in the sky – closing in fast.

“I’ve got this one!” James call out over the comms, for it was Shepard’s shuttle that they could see coming in fast – with what becoming rapidly clear that he was planning to ram the Cerberus shuttle.

Sure enough, James had hit the shuttle hard enough that it was extensively damaged from the hit and was coming down in flames – right at the group. Seeing this, everyone either ran or dove out of the way, just as the shuttle hit the facility hard. It wasn’t enough to completely obliterate the shuttle, but definitely more than enough to destroy the shuttle and set it ablaze. Once the wreckage finally settled down, Shepard, the Jedi and a vast majority of the clones were already getting back on their feet, just as they saw the Alliance Kodiak fly overhead, clearly slower now and struggling to stay in the air, indicating that it took some significant damage itself from the ramming. Once Ashley was on her feet, she went to help Liara up, as she and Rex were more closer to the wrecked Cerberus Kodiak. Whilst this was happening, the Alliance shuttle had finally landed near where the group was, quite roughly, before the passenger bay door opened up to reveal James jumping out of it.

Normandy’s en route. They’ll be here soon.” James stated to Shepard whilst he brushed his armour, indicating that James did hear Shepard despite the problems with the storm.

“James, you’re landing is atrocious.” Anakin called out, walking up to the marine, with a smile underneath his breath mask. “But your timing was beautiful!” he finished, upon which, he shook James hand, which pleased the marine. Ratchet and Thermite were already looking at the damage on the Kodiak, and they could tell they would have to abandon the shuttle here.

Meanwhile, near the Cerberus wreck, Ashley and Rex were helping Liara back to the group.

“We need the data.” She said, before all of them were hearing banging coming from the burning wreck. This was enough to get their attention have them turn around just as one of the wrecked doors was forced off and slid past them. The sight they saw was one neither Ashley nor Liara were remotely expecting, but it was one that Rex had a hunch on. Standing in amongst the flames was not the Cerberus agent, but rather a blackened and scorched metallic body now stood, with a blue holographic visor reminiscing of the visors that Arcee and Viper wear. Coupled with some of the strange actions that Rex saw earlier on the security footage he saw throughout the facility, it was now obvious his hunch was right – Eva Coré was not a person, but an Infiltration Mech.

Once both Ashley and Rex saw this, they both instantly reacted. Ashley grabbed Liara’s M-3 Predator that was holstered on her and shoved Liara out of harm’s way, while Rex drew his DC-17s and both fired on the Synthetic just as ‘she’ once again came running at them. While Ashley was able to land a few round on the mech, the metallic plating meant the rounds were useless, and Rex was able to land two on the arms, but again it did nothing. Before Ashley could react, ‘Eva’ forced Ashley’s arm sidewards towards Rex, who was on her left, just as she pulled the trigger. The end result was Rex receiving friendly fire, with the round striking him in his right shoulder, between his chest plate and right shoulder pad, where there was exposed under suit. As Rex fell to the deck in pain from the shot, ‘Eva’ now reefed the weapon out of Ashley’s hands and crushed it in its own, before the mech then picked Ashley off the floor by her helmet. As both his arms were now useless – one bleeding from the wound, the other was keeping pressure on said wound, Rex did the one thing he could do, but one that his brothers and sisters would understand and yelled out “CLANKER!!!” as loud as he could.

While it wasn’t entirely necessary, as the gunfire was loud enough to be heard over the howl of the wind, it did warn everyone what they were now facing, as he saw his men, along with Shepard and the Jedi, reading their respective weapons against the mech, with Ashley struggling in the air.

“Let her go!” Shepard ordered the mech. Instead, the synthetic raised her left hand to her internal comms and requested ‘her’ orders. While no one was sure who gave the order, it became abundantly clear that the order was to eliminate Ashley, for ‘Eva’ then spun around with the marine still in her grip and smashed her head against the wrecked shuttle twice – enough to do some serious injuries, much to Shepard’s horror. Once she was deemed finished, the mech turned and charged towards Shepard, who had already opened fire with her N7 Eagle. Unfortunately, she only fired two shots out of it, as she didn’t have a full heat sink in it. Thankfully, Jesse then fired two shots from his carbine, with both smacking squarely in the mech’s chest, off lining it. Once the mech was down on the floor, Shepard was already moving to get to Ashley, while Kix and Coric were also doing the same thing to Rex.

“Grab that thing. Bring it with us.” Shepard ordered, as James and Hesh moved to pick up the mech. At this point, everyone heard over comms from Joker that Reaper forces were detected in orbit. Hearing this, everyone looked into the sky and sure enough, they all could start to see Reaper Destroyers making their decent down to the surface.

“Aw scrap.” Was all Arcee could say on the situation. Realising that this was now a very serious threat, and with Rex down, Jesse was on comms to Hawk.

“Hawk, it’s Jesse. Where the hell are you?” he called out but got nothing but static. Jesse tried again, but still got static.

“General, I can’t raise Hawk!” he then called out to Anakin.

Just as the Normandy was making her final approach, Anakin fired up his wrist comm in order to see if he could get lucky with contacting Yularen, but even he couldn’t do this thanks to the storm. Seeing that they could get no way off of Mars and having spotted Reaper Destroyers finally landing in the distance, Shepard made up her mind.

“Given the current situation, you and your men better come with us Anakin.” She offered to the jedi and the troopers, as there was no way they were going to survive once the Reapers found them here, despite their weapons and talent.

“The Commander’s got a point. Besides, we’ve got wounded that need medical attention – fast.” Kix called out.

Realising that there really wasn’t any other option open to them, Anakin looked to Obi-wan and Ahsoka before they all nodded to one another.

“Ok. We’ll come aboard. Once we can re-establish comms with the Fleet, we’ll let them know where to go.” Obi-wan said before all of them could finally see the Normandy come into view for everyone to see, with the frigate manoeuvring into position to have everyone get aboard through the cargo deck/shuttle bay. Most of the clones walked up on their own accord, as did Anakin and Obi-wan with James, who was carrying the deactivated synthetic’s body over his shoulder. Dogma helped Liara up the cargo bay door/ramp, as she was still recovering from the Kodiak’s crash, with Rex getting help from Kix and Fives, and Shepard carried Ashley over her shoulders. Once everyone was aboard, the cargo bay’s ramp/door started to close up, with Shepard and Onyx Squad taking one last look outside, before the bay was sealed shut.

Once complete, the Normandy then began ascending to a safe height, before the frigate then accelerated away from Mars and out into space, with the intention of retreating as the Sol System was now, for lack of a better term, Reaper territory.

Once inside the cargo bay, Anakin was able to finally get in contact with Yularen to inform him that they had completed their mission and left on an allied ship, before informing him to return to the Expedition Fleet and inform Plo Koon, Kiera and the other admirals and commanders to withdraw from the Local Cluster and standby for a location for rendezvous. And due to the present situation, Vanguard and Onyx Squads would wait in the cargo bay, while the Jedi, Domino Squad, along with Kix, Coric, Jesse and Rex made their way to the Normandy’s Med bay with Shepard’s squad, given the injuries that both Ashley and Rex received from the Cerberus mech.

As Shepard carried Ashley over to one of the medical beds, Rex was helped to another one, while James dumped the mech body on a third, and Ahsoka made her way to stand near Rex at Coric’s request to check on her injuries. It was at this point that the clones decided to remove their helmets, once the pipes to their breathmask survival gear were removed, revealing their faces to Shepard’s squad for the first time (save for Fives), much to James’ surprise.

“Damn, you guys weren’t kidding about being clones.” He said, looking at each one, taking in this fact.

“Heh. And you though Rex was kidding when he announced himself as ‘Clone Commander’ back on Mars.” Cutup retorted back, which drew a small laugh from most present.

The only ones who weren’t were Shepard, Liara, Coric and Kix, as they were focusing on either their patients, or were concerned for their friends. Liara was watching Shepard, who was still taking in what had happened on Mars. Seeing that this was going nowhere, Liara decided to speak up.

“Ashley needs medical attention. So does Commander Rex.” she stated, with concern in her voice. Seeing that Shepard wasn’t budging, she took a more authoritative tone.

“We have to leave the Sol System.” Liara stated.

“I know!... I know.” Shepard replied back, clearly trying to think of an alternative, but she couldn’t come up with one.

“The Citadel’s our best chance. We can find help there for both of them.” Liara stated to her friend. With no other choice, Krystina made the call.

“Get us to the Citadel, Joker.” She said.

“Roger that.” The pilot replied back over the intercom.

“I’ll get in contact with the Expedition Fleet, tell them to meet us there.” Anakin stated, before he stepped out of the Med bay, which drew an odd look from both Shepard and James.

“Uh… how do you guys know where the Citadel is?” James asked out loud.

“Thanks to a database we were able to build when we captured a Cerberus capital ship, the Osiris, in our galaxy. Files that were on the capital ship, a dreadnought as you would call it, contained coordinates to various locations in your galaxy, including Earth and the Citadel.” Echo explained. Shepard nodded her head at the ARC Trooper, before offering some words of encouragement to Ashley, still out cold from the head strike.

“See what you and EDI can learn from that… thing.” Shepard asked Liara, with the asari moving over to where James dumped the mech. At this point, given the fact that both Ahsoka’s injuries and his were not sever compared to Ashley, Rex order both Coric and Kix to try and see if they could get the marine at least stabilised so the doctors had the best chance to save her. As the two veteran medics started to get to work, the intercom flared up again.

“Commander. I’m receiving a signal over the secondary QEC. I believe it’s Admiral Hackett.” EDI called out, which got Shepard’s attention.

“Patch it through.” She replied as she was starting to run out of the Med Bay.

“I’ll forward it to the comm room.” The AI replied back. Hearing this, Obi-wan looked to Jesse.

“Jesse, we’ll head up with Krystina and explain our presence in this galaxy to this Hackett.” Obi-wan looked to the to lieutenant. Once they left, Fives and Cutup moved over to see if they could offer any assistance to Coric and Kix, while Droidbait moved over to Rex and Ahsoka to see what he could do for them, and Echo went over to Liara to help with data retrieval.

After making their way to the Second Deck, and past the new design chances to the aft section of the Deck, Shepard, Obi-wan and Jesse made their way to the communication’s room, which housed the Normandy’s QEC. On it, a holographic image was flaring in and out, indicating something was disrupting the transmission – and the voice of Admiral Steven Hackett.

“Shepard, are you receiving me? Commander?” Hackett was calling out; however the voice was coming in all off and distorted.

“EDI, can you clear this up?” Shepard asked the AI out loud.

“I’ll do my best.” EDI replied back, whilst Shepard tapped away on the holographic interface to do what she could on her end.

“Admiral. It’s Shepard. Before we start, I’d like to introduce some new allies we ran into on Mars.” she stated, before allowing Obi-wan to take the lead.

“My name is Obi-wan Kenobi, a member of the Jedi Order and a key leader of a battle fleet from another galaxy.” Obi-wan introduced himself to the commanding officer of the Alliance’s 5th Fleet. Here, Jesse also took the chance to introduce himself as well

“I’m ARC Lieutenant ARC-5597, better known as ‘Jesse’, Admiral. A member and key officer of the 501st Clone Legion.” He introduced himself, complete with a salute, which drew a surprised look from Shepard, as she had believed that Jesse was his real name, not a nickname.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance gentlemen.” Hackett responded, with a courteous nod to both men.

“While I do feel we need to have a more formal introduction given our unique situation, we are pressed for time at this point, Admiral.” Obi-wan stated, given the obvious reasons.

“I agree, Obi-wan.” Hackett replied back, before turning his attention back to Shepard. “Shepard. Did you get to the Archives?” he asked the Spectre.

“I was there, and it’s where we met our new allies – but so was the Illusive Man.” Shepard replied back, which drew an annoyed look on Hackett’s face.

“I was worried Cerberus might try something. Did you get the data?” Hackett continued on.

“Most of it. He was able to download some of it before we stopped him. Liara and EDI are analysing it right now.” Shepard answered, just as Liara came up to the QEC.

“What have you learned? Was it worth the effort?” Hackett asked Liara, clearly hoping that there was something they could use against the Reapers.

“Preliminary evidence suggests the data is a blueprint for a Prothean device.” Liara replied back, with certainty in her voice.

“Device?” Hackett asked, now uncertain by what he had just heard.

With a few taps on her omni-tool, Liara brought up the data – a blueprint as she said, of a unique looking device – on the smaller QEC projector, so everyone present could see it.

“A weapon, massive in size and scope, that’s capable of unquantifiable levels of destruction.” Liara stated to everyone who was looking at the blueprint of this unknown weapon. From what Jesse could see in Shepard’s, Obi-wan’s and even Hackett’s eyes, no one had ever seen something like this before. To him, this was a good thing – everyone was on a level playing field and would be learning about this device together as time went on.

After a few moments of observing, Hackett finally spoke up. “Send me the data. We’ll do our own analysis.” He said to Liara, before turning his attention back to Krystina. “If Liara’s instincts are right, this might be the key to stopping the Reapers.”

“I hope so, sir.” Shepard started, before she delivered her bad news. “However, we ended up with three wounded on our mission on Mars: Lieutenant Commander Williams, another Jedi known as Ahsoka Tano and Jesse’s commanding officer, Commander Rex, with Ashley being critical injured. We’re taking them all to the Citadel.”

“Sorry to hear that, Shepard. But we both know that this is just the beginning.” Hackett responded to this news, before issuing Shepard her new orders. “Talk to the Council. Show them what you’ve found. With luck, they’ll give you all the support you’ll need.”

“And if they don’t?” Shepard asked, with an annoyed tone in her voice. This wasn’t in relation to Hackett’s orders, but rather given her past experiences with the Citadel Council over the past 3 years since she was made a Spectre, and how they were… very reluctant to listen to what Shepard had to say regarding the threat of the Reapers (to put it politely). Hackett also knew this too, as he had roughly the same problem with the Alliance brass, in order to get the Alliance Military ready for the inevitable.

“Do whatever it takes to get them on board.” Was Hackett’s response to Shepard’s question. Once she had saluted the admiral, acknowledging this order, Obi-wan decided to speak up. “Admiral, once things have stabilised on both our ends, we would like to meet in person as we have a fleet out here in your galaxy ready to offer assistance to stopping both the Reapers and Cerberus.” He said to Hackett.

“Very well. With the loss of Earth, we plan to set up a Logistics Hub near the Citadel, and I’ll assign a battlegroup from the 5th Fleet to guard. I’ll meet you and your fleet officers there Kenobi.” Hackett responded, before saluting everyone present.

“I’ll be in touch soon. Hackett out.” Hackett finished, before his image faded out on the QEC.

Once the Transmission was terminated, Shepard leaned forward on the console, with either fatigue or annoyance now taking over, with Obi-wan and Jesse now turning and started to head out of the comm room before they both noticed Krystina was still there.

“Shepard.” Liara asked, but it wasn’t enough to earn Shepard’s attention.

“EDI and Echo are extracting data from the Cerberus machine. We’ll have details to present to the Council by the time we reach the Citadel.” Liara stated, hoping this improved Shepard’s mood.

“And Ashley?” was all Shepard asked, still concerned for her comrade and friend.

“Along with the medics Coric and Kix, we’ve done all we can for her, but we need to get her to a medical facility soon. Ahsoka’s injuries have almost healed, along with Commander Rex’s, though they would need to be checked out to be safe.” Liara replied back.

At this point, Shepard turned and started to make her way out of the comm room herself, but Liara wasn’t finished. “The Admiral’s right. It’s going to get worse, isn’t it?”

“Unless we stop the Reapers… yeah.” Shepard replied back, before she continued onwards, with the others now in tow.

“Liara, Are you certain that this device could halt the Reapers?” Obi-wan asked, hoping to reinvigorate this conversation.

“I’ve been looking at the data, Master Kenobi. This weapon could in fact be our answer… if we can build it.” Liara asked the Jedi Master’s question, but she couldn’t help but notice that Shepard wasn’t paying that much attention. “However, I’m getting the sense that you don’t quite believe it though, Shepard.” She asked.

“Neither of you saw what they did to Earth. How is one weapon supposed to stop them?” Shepard replied back, with it now becoming clearly obvious that Shepard was struggling with what has been happening over the past few hours.

“What are our options? You know we can’t win this conventionally.” Liara countered, as she knew how powerful the Reapers were given everything she had experienced since meeting the Commander in 2183, and everything she had learned since then. What Liara didn’t realise that behind her, both Obi-wan and Jesse gave each other concerned looks, as all they knew about the Reapers was what they gathered from the Osiris’s databanks, and that they had never seen what a single Sovereign-class Reaper could do to an entire fleet.

As Shepard was deep in thought, Liara asked her again. “Isn’t it worth trying, at least?” as she saw the weary look in Shepard’s blue eyes.

“I’m going to go check on our friends downstairs.” Shepard finally said, before turning to leave the War Room, but stopping mid-way. “Make sure we’re ready to present our findings to the Council.” She asked Liara.

“I’m sure the Council will see the need to help.” Liara replied back, with a little bit of optimism in her voice.

Krystina, however, wasn’t that confident in the statement. “It’ll be a hell of a short war if they don’t.”

Chapter Text

Location: Widow System, Serpent Nebular, Outer Council Space.

After about an hour of travel, the Normandy finally arrived in the Widow System, which is home to the Citadel, a colossal deep space station concealed in a thick nebular that actually served as one of the defensive features of the station, along with a massive defensive fleet and that fact that the station was capable of sealing itself up in times of the station under attack. Home to around 13.2 million people in its five arms – the Wards, along with serving as the home to the Citadel Council and also served as the economic hub of Council Space, there was a reason why this was recognised as one of the most important locations in the Milky Way Galaxy.

When the Normandy arrived, the Expedition Fleet came out of hyperspace a few seconds later. Given the fact that all 79 ships in the fleet were geared for proper combat, not to mention the fact that their designs were completely foreign to anyone in this galaxy, all the commanders of said Fleet decided that it would be best if the Strike Team that went to Mars went to meet the Council and explain their intentions in this galaxy.

Within a few minutes, the Normandy would dock on the Presidium Ring on the massive station and allowed medical staff to board to take Ashley for medical attention, along with Ahsoka and Rex, due to their injuries and also Coric and Kix, as they were the first responders to the situation. Once out of the airlock to the Normandy, the medical staff increased their pace.

“Barely getting a pulse here!” a human medic stated regarding Ashley's condition as they moved out.

“Move ‘em out!” a turian medic responded, just as Shepard was coming up behind them.

“Where are you taking them?” she asked the medic staff.

“Huerta Memorial. Best care on the Citadel.” The turian medic replied back as the group sped off, leaving Shepard standing near the airlock doors.

Coming up behind her was Liara, James, Anakin, Obi-wan, Jesse and the troopers that made up Domino, Onyx and Vanguard Squads, observing the whole situation. Because of what Shepard had told everyone about the recent rule changes to carrying weapons on the Citadel, everyone decided to leave their weapons back on the ship, and all the clones, save for the commandos, took the chance to lose their breathmask survival gear as the Citadel’s atmosphere was geared to cater for all walks of life, so it was useless to continue wearing them. Oddly enough, all of them decided to leave their helmets behind as well, as they didn’t need to carry them around everywhere they went, so it made sense – in addition to the fact that they all remembered a misconception that plagued them back in the Clone Wars, and that was most of the public in the Republic believed that the clones were nothing more than Battle Droids that they fought in the Wars. Leaving their helmets behind would help prove otherwise in the Milky Way, hopefully quickly.

While Shepard was standing there in her Class-A Uniform – her ‘Dress Blues’, seeing the wounded disappear, James stood next to her, in his casual fatigues.

“We’re not going with?” he asked, not sure what was going on.

“We need to see the Council.” Liara state to James.

“Right.” Was all James said on the subject, as Shepard moved to the railing next to the expansive windows showing the Normandy at its dock. Behind her, the clones started to look around and observe the interior of the station, and also outside, until Cutup spotted something.

“Uh, guys. I think this Council may be coming to see us instead.” He said, pointing to a group of what could be assumed to be military officers coming towards the group, drawing their attention.

What Cutup saw was 9 members of the Citadel Security Services – C-Sec – coming towards them. Out of the group were 4 turians, 2 salarians, 2 asari and 1 human. The eight non-humans were all cladded in armour and wielding M-55 Argus Battle Rifles, revealing that they were from the Special Response Division. The one human, leading the group, was wearing fatigues similar in design to what Cerberus and Alliance crews wore, with the difference was that his uniform was predominantly black, with blue highlights, while the armour on his men was onyx grey with blue markings. The human was roughly around mid-40s, blonde hair in a military-style cut and blue eyes. For Shepard, she immediately recognised who it was – Captain Armando-Owen Bailey.

“Commander Shepard. Got word you were arriving.” Bailey called out to Shepard, drawing everyone else’s attention.

“Captain Bailey. Good to see you again.” Shepard replied, shaking his hand.

“You too… though it’s ‘Commander’ now.” he stated, revealing that he was promoted recently.

“Ah. Well… congratulations.” Shepard replied to this news.

“Yeah… thanks.” He answered, with his tone clearly indicating that he wasn’t happy about it before he continued. “Now half my job is dealing with political bullshit and escorting dignitaries around… no offense.”

“None taken.” Shepard replied, before Obi-wan spoke up. “Commander. Does escort duties here usually involve a heavily armed guard?” he stated, looking at the 8 C-Sec officers behind Bailey. However, with the way Obi-wan said that no one could tell if the comment was serious or intended to be a light-hearted remark.

“Yeah. No offense intended, but you and your friends do stick out uh…” Bailey stated, before he realised, he didn’t know the stranger’s name.

“My apologies. I am Obi-wan Kenobi.” Obi-wan said, introducing himself.

“As I was saying, Obi-wan. You and your friends do stick out quite a bit, given the fact that everyone here in the lounge is looking at you guys with a mix of suspicion and worry, which was enough to draw the attention of the officers over at the checkpoint to alert me – thus, the extra firepower.” Bailey explained to the Jedi Master, which ended with him pointing to said security checkpoint, where Shepard’s group could see that there were more C-Sec officers on duty there, observing the situation in front of them. Just below that, in the Passenger Lounge, the local population, comprising a decent mix of humans, asari, turians and salarians, along with some volus and at least one elcor, were all staring at the Jedi and the troopers. Out of instinct, Arcee and Viper, due to their past, each waved out to the civilians, along with some of the other clones nodded their heads to the populace, with the attempt to help show that the Jedi’s Loyalist Forces weren’t there to harm them.

“Fair enough.” Anakin replied back, before he introduced himself and the troopers to Bailey.

“And with the introductions done, I take it you’re here to bring us to the Council?” Shepard asked, before he turned to walk back the way he came from, indicating for Shepard to follow.

“I’m here to tell you the Council is expecting you, but they are dealing with their own… problems. With the war and everything.” Bailey explained, whilst leading Shepard, Liara, James, Anakin and Obi-wan, along with Jesse and Yeager, as they were the senior officers present with the group, followed the C-Sec Commander towards the mentioned security checkpoint, before Bailey stopped just before the scanner.

“They apologise for the inconvenience, and blah, blah, blah.” He continued on, clearly showing that he knew the routine when it came to the Council’s politics, before firing up his omni-tool. “Meet them here, at Udina’s office. They’ll be ready soon enough.”

“All right.” Shepard said on the subject, before Bailey decided to drop an option for her. “Actually, you might have time to go by the medical centre, if you want to check on progress over there.” He said.

Hearing this, Krystina immediately jumped at that news. “Thanks, I’ll definitely be doing that.” She replied back, hoping to use this to continued mending ties with Ashley.

“You go on ahead Krystina. Anakin and I will want to go and see your Council so we can explain our intentions in your galaxy.” Obi-wan stated.

“I’ll also go with both Anakin and Obi-wan, Shepard, and start presenting our findings to the Council.” Liara also replied to this. In both their cases, they were obvious reasons why. Once Anakin asked Jesse if he was carrying a holoprojector – in order to all the rest of the commanding officers that lead the Expedition Fleet to meet the Council, to which the ARC Lieutenant said yes, it was then decided that the group of 4 would head out.

“A couple of my men can show you guys the way.” Bailey said, with two of the turian officers that accompanied the Commander leading the way. Once they were gone, Bailey turned to Yeager.

“I’ll stay here Commander and keep the troopers in line.” The Captain said, correctly guessing that Bailey was going to ask what were their intentions.

“Fair enough. You?” he replied back, before looking at James.

“I’m just a tourist today. I’ll try not to get in any trouble.” James replied back, before he turned and started heading back to the Viewing Deck, near the Normandy’s dock. Before Bailey could continue onwards, he received a message through his earpiece.

“Commander, we’ve got a situation in the embassy quarters. We could use your help.” A voice, no doubt a C-Sec Officer under Bailey’s command, called out. With an annoyed look in his eyes, Bailey replied that he was on the way before looking at Shepard.

“The other half of my job.” He said, clearly annoyed by it, before stating that he would see Shepard around, to which she agreed.

Once Bailey was gone. The clones dispersed to either look out over the Wards and the nebular, along with getting a look at some of the ships that made up the Citadel Fleet, or stood in the Passenger Lounge, in order to learn what they could from the current Alliance News Network reports on the Reaper’s advances and current battle zones. Shepard knew that it would only be a matter of time before someone was brave enough to ask who exactly the clone troopers were. Until then, they were more content taking in the sights and getting used to seeing new aliens they hadn’t seen before, and she had a few things to do while here. However, before she could get moving, she could hear the voice of one of her crew members, Ensign Copeland, the Normandy’s new Yeoman, talking to a woman with black hair, and a stylish outfit. While she couldn’t tell who it was, Shepard could definitely see a hover camera, revealing that the woman was a reporter – much to Shepard’s annoyance.

“Ma’am, I can’t say when we’re deploying, or where, or why.” Copeland stated, following standard Alliance security protocols. Turns out the reporter was determined to find info.

“But you’re on the Normandy. I saw it dock. It was last seen on Earth… did Commander Shepard escape?” she asked. When Copeland didn’t reply, she took that as her answer.

“She did, didn’t she? So why would she be here, unless she’s seeing the Council?” the female reporter continued. Before Copeland could even reply, she continued on with the questions. “Also, I’ve noticed some very unique looking soldiers around. Has Shepard formed her own private army of sorts?”

“Ma’am, I can’t talk about that!” Copeland countered, clearly getting annoyed by the reporter’s questions.

“You don’t have to. Commander Shepard!” the reporter stated, finally seeing that if she was going to get anything, she would need Krystina. Realising that she was not backing down, and the fact that it was also drawing the attention from a few of the troopers, chiefly Yeager, Joakim and Ratchet, Shepard went to the reporter.

“What’s going on here?” she asked, just as the three Clone Offices arrived behind Shepard, which drew the reporter’s attention.

“Commander, just who I was looking for. Diana Allers, Alliance News Network. I think we can help each other.” Diana said, revealing her name.

“And I suppose you want an interview?” Shepard asked, remaining indifferent to Diana’s introduction.

“Even better.” She countered, before Diana clarified. “I’m a military reporter with a show called ‘Battlespace’. We’re carried on just about all Council planets.” This was enough to get Fives, Viper and Dogma’s attention, bringing them to the railing behind the reporter.

“My producers want me embedded on a human ship, and I want that ship to be the Normandy.” Diana finished, revealing her wishes.

“Why would I want that?” Shepard asked, not 100% confident in the idea.

“Wars can be won or lost in the editing room, and this war needs to be won.” Diana replied back who, unbeknownst to her, had just managed to piss off every single clone trooper that was either watching, or within earshot, of the conversation with that statement.

Regardless, she continued on. “I’ve got Alliance security clearance and operate without a crew. You get veto power over the segments I file. Can you handle an arrangement like that, or do I keep looking?” Diana finished, laying out the deal for this.

This put Shepard at a crossroads. On the one hand, it meant that if she said yes, she had to deal with someone who was a non-combatant, with virtually no combat skills to speak off, which could be dangerous if the Normandy were to be attacked again, like when the Collectors boarded the frigate just before she and her squad went through the Omega-4 Relay. On the other hand, if the Council wasn’t convinced on helping the Alliance in liberating Earth, having Diana on board could help bring awareness about the situation on Earth to the rest of the galaxy. It was the latter option that won out.

“Tell your producers ‘yes’ for now. We’ll see how it works out.” Shepard stated, giving her approval. “Report to the ship as soon as possible. Any questions?”

“How much gear can I bring?” the reporter asked.

“One footlocker.” Was all Shepard stated on that. Once Diana left, Fives spoke up.

“‘Wars can be won or lost in the editing room?’ Is she serious?!” he asked, clearly feeling insulted by that statement.

“I take it you guys aren’t fans of reporters either?” Shepard asked the gathered troopers that were present.

“Actually, we’ve never had to deal with reporters back in our galaxy during the Clone Wars, so we got lucky in that regards.” Viper replied back, also showing she was annoyed by Diana’s statement, before she continued on. “That said, for a reporter to claim that wars are won in an editing room, and not on the frontlines, especially in front of people who were born and raised to fight…”

“Especially in front of soldiers who are battle-hardened veterans, I don’t know whether to say she’s either insensitive, or deluded to think that.” Dogma spoke up, doing his best to keep a calm head. “She’s lucky the Commander wasn’t here to see that.”

“Agreed, or Rex would have given her a few choice words, probably in Mando’a too.” Fives responded, which got a laugh from everyone present.

“Speaking of which, Fives, Viper. Go and find Echo and Arcee. I want you 4 to go with Shepard when she heads to the medical centre and see how both Rex and General Tano are.” Yeager order the two ARC Troopers, who then left find their squad members, before looking at Krystina. “I take it you’ll be ok with them, Commander?”

“Unless someone here on the station does something to annoy them, they should be ok.” Shepard replied to Yeager’s question.

“Probably a good thing then that I didn’t send Hardcase with you then, for that would happen.” Yeager replied with that smartass remark, which gave both him and Shepard a small laugh.

“What was that about me?” Hardcase asked, given the fact that he was nearby, observing the news reports with Thermite and Ember.

“Nothing.” Was all Yeager said on the subject. Once Fives, Viper, Arcee and Echo met up with Shepard, the group left to head for the lift past the security checkpoint and made their way to the Presidium Ring.

5 minutes later.

Huerta Memorial Hospital, Presidium Ring.

Once the lift arrived at their destination, Shepard, Fives, Echo, Arcee and Viper stepped out into the Patient Lounge at Huerta Memorial. For the clones, seeing a hospital that had expansive windows, showing the impressive views of the Presidium, quickly put any other hospital that they had to spend time in either on Kamino or Coruscant during the Clone Wars to shame. In the Patient Lounge, Shepard saw both Dr. Chloe Michel and Dr. Karin Chakwas, clearly in a discussion relating to Ashley, Ahsoka and Rex. After inquiring about what had happen to Chakwas over the past 6 months, Shepard offered her the option to return to the Normandy, to which she took advantage of almost immediately. Once that was done, Krystina took the chance to catch up with Dr. Michel as she hadn’t seen her since 2183, and also to see if she could learn anything about Ashley’s condition.

Whilst Shepard was doing this, Fives, Echo, Arcee and Viper continued on past the Lab Services and towards the Inpatient Wing, where they saw a couple of doctors leave one of the patient rooms – along with Coric, Kix, Ahsoka and Rex.

“Glad to see you’re ok Rex.” Fives called out, once he saw the veteran Commander, before he came close to Rex to grab his arm. Whilst doing this, he looked towards Coric and Kix. “How are the injuries to both you and the General?”

“Both the doctors here and us were able to tell that the injuries both the Commander and the General have healed perfectly, so they are both cleared for active duty once more.” Coric stated, before letting Ahsoka take over.

“Why are you guys here?” she asked the four ARC Troopers.

“We came here with Commander Shepard, as she wanted to check up on Lieutenant Commander Williams before we made our way up to the Council.” Arcee stated, just as the group saw Shepard come through the bio scanners that ran between the labs on either side of the corridor and made a beeline for the clones and Ahsoka.

“Speak of the devil…” Viper commented before Shepard arrived.

“What’s the news Kix?” Shepard asked the ARC Medic.

“Well, the good news is that Commander Rex’s and General Tano’s injuries have either healed or are almost healed, with no signs of infection or any complications, so they are good to return to the field. As for Commander Williams…” Kix stated but had to stop to find a way to explain it to Krystina. “The head trauma and injuries are significant. Despite our lack of knowledge on how your medical supplies work in your galaxy, we were able to help the doctors with stabilising the Lieutenant Commander’s condition.”

“How bad?” Shepard asked.

This time, Coric replied. “At the moment, her injuries are serious, but she’s stable Commander. However, due to the extent of her injuries thanks to that Cerberus clanker, I’m afraid that the LC won’t be back for active duty for a while. I’m… sorry.” While it hurt that Ashley wasn’t going to be out for some time, Shepard was grateful that she was still alive.

“I’m sure you guys did what you could. Thank you.” Shepard responded to Coric, impressed by their skills.

“At the moment, she out for now due to the medication they’ve given her. If you want to see her, you better make it fast Commander as she’s about to go in for surgery.” Kix stated, seeing the doctors that were tending to Ashley had disappeared for now. With that, Shepard made her way to see Ashley.

What Shepard saw was gut wrenching. Ashley’s face was a mass of bruises, and as Kix stated, she was out cold for the time being. With both Kix and Rex looking on from the doorway, Shepard moved closer to Ashley.

“You got pretty banged up there, Williams. Had me worried.” She said, in a concerned tone. Sure, Ashley’s questions back on Mars were getting to the point that Shepard wanted to tell her off, but she was still Krystina’s friend, ever since she saved Ashley’s life back on Eden Prime in 2183.

“I just wanted to check in on you, see how you were doing.” Shepard continued on. “Despite all this, it’s good seeing you again, Ash.”

At this point, Kix spotted one of the doctors coming back, which prompted him to tap Shepard’s arm, letting her know that time was up. While Shepard understood this, she wasn’t leaving Ashley just yet.

“Get some rest, ok? I’ll come by when you’re feeling better. We’ll talk.” Krystina said, before she turned to look at the doctor that arrived.

“You need anything, doc. Let me know.” She said to him, who nodded his head in response.

“Ok, Ash. You take care.” Shepard said, before more medical staff started to arrive. As Shepard was leaving, she turned to look at Ashley one last time.

“I’ll see you soon.” Krystina said, just as the doors slid closed.

“It’s not easy, seeing the soldiers – your friends – under your command, injured like this and there’s nothing you can do about it to help them.” Rex said, offering what words he could to help Shepard’s concern for her friend.

“I have a feeling that it’ll be worse for you as you are looking at your brothers and sisters in a way, Rex.” Shepard replied, knowing that Rex was right.

“We clones are bred to deal with stress in situations like this, but you are right. It’s hard seeing my brothers and sisters who serve under my command in the 501st in a situation like this, but worse if I know them well.” Rex finished.

“Speaking of brothers and sisters… who sent you guys over here with Shepard?” Ahsoka asked.

“Yeager ordered us to tag along with the Commander.” Fives replied to Ahsoka’s question, with the answer catching Rex’s attention.

“Hang on, Yeager? Where’s Jesse?” he asked, wondering what was going on.

“Jesse went with Generals Kenobi and Skywalker, at their request, along with Liara to see the Council. Yeager’s got command of the rest of our strike team that went down to Mars until they get back.” Viper replied, answering Rex’s question.

“With that, you guys better come with us.” Shepard stated, finishing this discussion, before the group left the hospital.

10 minutes later.

Council Chambers, Citadel Tower.

Once Liara’s group, comprising of her, Anakin, Obi-wan and Jesse, had made their way to the Council Chambers, they met the 4 members that made up the Citadel Council – Councillor Tevos, representing the Asari Republics, Councillor Valern, representing the Salarian Union, Councillor Sparatus, representing the Turian Hierarchy and finally, Councillor Donnel Udina (who replaced Anderson once he resigned from the roll earlier in the year), representing Humanity and the Systems Alliance. Due to the unique situation at the moment, Anakin and Obi-wan took the lead and introduced themselves to the Councillors and then, with help from Jesse who had his holoprojector, introduced the rest of the command staff of the Expedition Fleet, sans Ahsoka and Rex. Naturally, the Councillors were interested in why they came from another galaxy and what their intentions were, to which the Jedi Masters explained what happened in their galaxy with Cerberus and explained that they had originally came here to dismantle the organisation, along with offering their support to countering the Reapers. However, it turned out that once the Jedi mentioned the word ‘Reapers’, the Councillors turned their attention to the current situation of the Reaper Invasion.

“We’ve got our own problems, Councillor. Earth is not in this alone.” Sparatus stated to Udina.

“But Earth was the first Council world hit. By all reports, it faces the brunt of the attack.” Udina replied back, trying to sway the Council to see his point of view.

“By your reports…” Valern countered, clearly showing that either the other Councillors wanted more intel before committing or, more likely, more interested in defending their own territory.

Seeing all this was enough to make Liara shake her head in annoyance as the Councillors bickered and argued – something that Obi-wan noticed. Naturally, all Jedi and clones weren’t that trustful of politicians, save for a few, but if even Liara was getting annoyed over this, then he could understand Shepard’s frustrations regarding her own dealing with the Council back on the Normandy – something that he didn’t envy.

Speaking of which, coming up behind Anakin, Liara and himself was Shepard, along with Ahsoka and Rex, while Fives, Echo, Viper, Arcee, Coric and Kix stayed a bit to ensure the platform wasn’t crowded. That said, Rex fired up his wrist-mounted comlink, so the others could still listen in.

“The reports are accurate. Earth was attacked – by the Reapers.” Shepard stated, finally drawing the Council’s attention towards the platform. “And it’s just the beginning.” She continued onwards. “We need your help. Everything you can spare.”

“Each of use faces a similar situation. Even now, the Reapers are pressing on our borders.” Tevos stated, revealing to the Jedi and clones present that the Reapers were advancing faster than they had anticipated.

“If we lend you our strength to help Earth, our own worlds will fall.” The asari Councillor stated, revealing that they were more than content to let Earth face the brunt of the Reapers – something that wasn’t sitting well with Anakin. Before he could even say anything, Obi-wan already gave him a harsh look, which was telling him not to do or say anything stupid as they were ‘guests’ in this galaxy.

Apparently, this wasn’t sitting well with Udina either. “We must fight this enemy together!” he called out once he realised where they were going.

“And so we should just follow you to Earth?” Valern replied back, also showing he was not liking this idea. Before they could continue on, Sparatus raised a hand to stop the arguing.

“Even if we were to unite our fleets, along with the Jedi’s fleet, do you really believe we could defeat the Reapers?” he asked Shepard, bringing the conversation back to the matter at hand.

“I don’t expect you to follow me without a plan.” Shepard replied back, before allowing Liara to take the lead.

“Councillors… We have that plan. A blueprint. Created by the Protheans during their war with the Reapers.” she stated to the Council.

“A blueprint for what?” Sparatus asked, either out of genuine interest, or to question, Shepard couldn’t tell.

“We’re still piecing it together…” Liara answered, firing up her omni-tool to bring up the holographic images of the blueprints in question. “But it appears to be a weapon of some sort.”

“Capable of destroying the Reapers?” Valern asked, clearly showing genuine interest.

“So it would seem.” Liara answered.

“The scale is… it would be a colossal undertaking.” Valern continued on, clearly showing that he was already thinking what would be needed to get this thing built.

“No. I’ve forwarded the plans to Admiral Hackett. The majority of humanity’s fleets are already gathering resources to begin construction.” Shepard countered, before Liara continued on. “Our initial calculations suggests it’s very feasible to build.”

“If we work together.” Krystina finished.

At this point, Tevos had a question. “Have you considered that the Reapers destroyed the Protheans? What good did this weapon do?” she asked.

“It was incomplete. There was a missing component. Here. Something referred to only as the ‘Catalyst’. But they ran out of time before they could finish building it.” Liara answered, revealing why this didn’t work 50,000 years ago.

As Liara deactivate the projections, Sparatus had a question for Shepard. “Do you really believe this can stop the Reapers?”

“Liara believes it can work, and so do I.” Shepard replied back, before continuing on. “And while I haven’t always agreed with Udina, he’s right about this… we need to stand together. Now more than ever.”

Taking the chance to look the Councillors in the eye, Shepard tried one last pitch. “The Reapers won’t stop at Earth. They’ll destroy every organic being in the galaxy if we don’t find a way to stop them!” she pleaded with them, which in doing so, gave an idea to the Jedi and clones present what kind of enemy they were now up against.

However, it turned out this was all for naught, for with the shake of Valern’s head, the rest of the Councillors had already made up their minds.

“The cruel and unfortunate truth is that while the Reapers focus on Earth, we can prepare and regroup.” Tevos said, which earned a disheartened shake of Udina’s head at the decision.

“We are convening a summit amongst our species. If we can manage to secure our borders, we may once again consider aiding you.” Valern stated, which in doing so, confirming to Shepard, Liara, Rex and the Jedi what they were already suspecting regarding the Council’s intentions.

It was possibly a safe assumption that by the time that came, they wouldn’t be anything of Humanity left – something that Anakin, Rex, and even Ahsoka were not impressed with. But they all knew that they were ‘guests’ or ‘visitors’ to the Milky Way, so they had no real weight to counter the Council’s decision, even with Obi-wan and Kiera’s negotiation and diplomatic skills, respectfully.

“I’m sorry, Commander. That is the best we can do.” Tevos said, before she, Valern and Sparatus moved to leave their stage, indicating the meeting was finished. Udina on the other hand, lingered around for a few seconds longer.

“Shepard. Meet me in my office.” He asked the Spectre.

15 minutes later.

Councillor Udina’s Office, Citadel Embassies, Presidium Ring.

Shepard was leaning on Udina’s desk, waiting for the Councillor to return, no doubt wondering how the hell would she get reinforcements to help liberate Earth, when Udina came in.

“They’re a bunch of self-concerned jackasses, Shepard!” Udina stated out loud, finally venting his anger at the Council’s decision. “We may have a spot on the Council, but Humanity will always be considered second-rate.”

“How can they be so blind?” Shepard asked out, given the fact that the Council was always skeptical about Shepard’s warning about the Reapers, but this was startling even to the Commander.

“They’re scared, and their looking out for themselves.” Udina responded to this, before they heard the doors to Udina’s office open up.

“Our people are scared, and we’re looking out for them the best we know how.” Sparatus stated, as he walked up to Shepard and Udina.

“Councillor.” Udina responded, greeting the Turian Councillor, with Sparatus courteously nodding his head in response, before turning to Shepard.

“Commander. I can’t give you what you need, but I can tell you how to get it.” Sparatus stated. Seeing that there was an opportunity, Shepard was determined to take it. “I’m listening.”

“Primarch Fedorian called the war summit, but… we lost contact with him when the Reapers hit Palaven.” Sparatus stated, revealing that Reaper Forces had already blasted their way into Turian Space, clearly wasting no time between the Invasion of Earth and now.

“Those meeting won’t procced without him.” The Turian Councillor continued on, before turning to face Shepard once again.

“The Normandy is one of the few ships that can extract Primarch Fedorian undetected.” He said, revealing that once again, Shepard was to help the Council in their needs, something that she was quick to point out. “So far, you’ve only explained how I can help you.”

“It might seem that way.” Sparatus replied to Shepard’s remark but continued on.

“But the leaders of this summit will be deciding our future. The fate of our fleets, where they fight, and with whom.” He stated, with a strong emphasis on ‘whom’ referring to the Jedi Order’s Expedition Fleet that was still within sight of the Citadel.

“A grateful Primarch would be a tremendous ally in your bid to unite us.” Sparatus finished. However, this last statement was met with some anger from Shepard.

“Were at war, and you want me to play politician?” Krystina replied back, with venom in her voice as she knew very well that soldiers generally had grievances when their jobs start getting political, or if politicians got their noses involved in their work. If Sparatus was either offended or threatened by the remark, he clearly didn’t show it.

“If it gets you what you need, what does it matter?” he responded to this, before moving towards a set of monitors on the wall behind him. Shepard knew that she was no politician, but if what the Turian Councillor said was true, she was left with little choice.

“Our latest intelligence suggests that the Primarch was moved to a base on Palaven’s largest moon.” Sparatus said, revealing that she would have to go to Menae, one of Palaven’s two moons, which was highly classified for some reason.

“I’ve done all I can to help. The rest is up to you.” Sparatus finished up, before turning and made his way to the door before he remembered something. “There is one other thing…” he called out, getting Shepard’s and Udina’s attention.

“The Council wanted me to tell you… we’ve chosen to uphold your Spectre status.” Sparatus continued on, firing up his omni-tool, in order to send over the various Spectre codes and commands that the Commander could use, which Shepard received over her omni-tool.

“And various resources would be made available to you. Good day.” Sparatus finished, making his way out.

“Well. That went well.” Shepard remarked, annoyed at the situation she was forced into.

“It’s a start. I’ll talk to the others in the meantime, see if we can support this summit. Move things along.” Udina stated, not liking the idea either, but at least he was being somewhat supportive about it.

Before leaving, Shepard stuck around to see what Udina had up his sleeve to get support for the Alliance. Of course he was annoyed that despite Shepard saving both the Council and the asari dreadnought, the Destiny Ascension, back in the Battle of the Citadel in 2183, it meant squat right now. However, hid did stated that he had a plan to see what funding and materials he could gather, along with plans to institute a draft in all of Humanity’s colonies along with having all civilian ships armed for combat. During the conversation between Udina and Shepard, Udina revealed that there was plenty of news coming in from Earth, and none of it was good, not to mention that the Reapers were destroying all communication satellites in Earth’s orbit, along with the old nuclear missile silos harking back to the days of the Cold War, along with his own insight into the other Councillors.

The one bit of news that came as a surprise was that the fact that Arcturus Space Station, the main nerve centre for the Systems Alliance armada, and the home of the Systems Alliance Parliament was already destroyed by the Reapers. With the loss of Parliament, and the death of Prime Minister Amul Shastri, this meant that Udina was the de facto political leader for Humanity. It also meant that, as Hackett was already a Fleet Admiral, he would have to use the Emergency War Powers Act in order to assume the role of Supreme Commander of the Alliance Military to compensate for the loss of Alliance Command.

Once this was done, Shepard took the chance to explore the Spectre Office, where she accessed the intel terminal to see what was available, which contained a welcome message, intel on what was happening on the troubled turian world Taetrus and the status of the various home worlds, along with intel indicating that the Quarian Migrant Fleet was gearing up for action but wasn’t specified whether it was for Reapers or Geth, along with the option to request for more intel on this and also a gift from a fellow Spectre by the name of Avitius Rix – which was a model of a ship known as an Ark, named Natanus. Once done, Krystina made her way to Bailey’s office, which happened to be nearby and see what his thoughts were relating to the war. However, of all the people she had hoped not to see was none other than Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani, a reporter from Westerlund News, with a reputation of being one of the most obnoxious reporters in the field, judging by the video footage kept in the Shadow Broker’s Archives she had seen last year. Given the fact that she had two cracks at Shepard to paint the Commander as a pawn of the Citadel Council – and failed on both accounts, Khalisah was lucky that Shepard hadn’t decided to throw a punch at her, which was saying a lot as at least two other interviewees, a volus and a krogan, did.

Here, she was pushing to see the Council in an interview on the belief that there was an anti-human conspiracy circulating. Bailey however wasn’t budging, she had stated that she would camp out until she was granted an audience, which ended with Bailey delivering the smart-ass remark of hoping ‘she had brought a sleeping bag.’

Once she had left, with Khalisah stating that Humanity had questions for Shepard, before both Krystina and Bailey had a small talk, mostly about Bailey’s promotion and the current situation about Earth and the Invasion, before going their separate ways. Heading back towards the lift, Shepard was hoping to avoid Khalisah, but she had no luck.

“Commander Shepard! Commander, the people of the Alliance have questions!” the reported called out. With no other choice, the Commander faced Khalisah for the third time in her life.

“Commander Shepard. Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani. Isn’t it true that you were on Earth when the Reapers attacked?” Khalisah stated, but before Shepard could even answer the question, the reporter was already continuing on. “How do you justify running away while millions of people on Earth die? Is that the best we can expect from the Alliance?”

Back in the past, Khalisah would start off with decent questions, before turning them more hostile as the interview went on, or would go with loaded questions, again building up as time went on. It was clear from Shepard’s first interaction that she was pushing the popular human opinion of the Council at the time and continued to ramp it up over the years. This time however, she had come out swinging from the get-go.

“I came get help for Earth. For everyone.” Shepard countered the questions, however Khalisah was not backing down.

“What about all the people suffering while you play politics with the Council? What about them?” she continued on with the questions, with both the anger and hostility rising. “How can you stand here while our families die? What you going to do?!” Seeing that this was going to end very poorly for someone, Shepard took the chance to defuse the situation.

“Khalisah, We’re doing everything we can.” She finally stated, hoping to calm the reporter down. It was becoming abundantly clear that a force like the Reapers would cause a reaction like this, so it was ideal to keep a cool head.

“Before they cut the feeds… there were so many dead.” Khalisah responded to this, finally calming down and backing off with the hostile questions.

“I’m going to stop the Reapers or die trying, but I need your help.” Shepard continued onwards. “Keep asking the hard questions. Don’t let the Council forget about Earth.”

“I will. Thank you Commander.” Khalisah wrapped up her ‘ambush’ interview and started to make her way but stopped to look at Shepard once again.

“We haven’t always seen eye to eye… but I’m glad you’re on our side.” She stated, finally acknowledging Shepard’s skills and diplomatic approach. Just as Shepard was about to leave, she spotted James looking out over the Presidium nearby.

“Hey Commander.” James said, once he saw Shepard. “Liara and some of the clones told me the Council’s not interested in helping us.”

“Something like that…” was all Shepard said on that.

“Why would they? Look at this place. There’s no war here.” James continued on with his thoughts. “People are whispering about it. Talking about it. But they don’t really believe it.”

“I take it this is your first time here… with the elite of the galaxy?” Shepard asked James, seeing that he had the same though Shepard had when she first saw the Presidium three years ago herself.

“I’ve been to the Citadel, but never up here on the Presidium.” James replied back. “It’s… not right. It looks pretty. Calm and peaceful. But it’s not right. It’s all just an illusion.”

“It was peaceful… once.” Shepard replied, surprised at this line of though James had. However, he wasn’t finished yet.

“But was it? Really? I mean, when push comes to shove, they’re just gonna turtle up – hope it don’t hit them too. Right?” The marine then looked out towards the Presidium. “They’d rather believe in this than face the truth.”

At this point, Shepard realised what James was on about. “I can hardly believe it myself. Like everything back on Earth was some kind of nightmare.”

“Yeah. That’s what I hate most. It’s like this place wants you to forget that.” James replied, which reminded Shepard what happened back on the Normandy nearly 5 hours ago now.

“So, you still want to go back to Earth?” Krystina asked James.

“Hell yeah. But…” James started to speak.

“But?” Shepard asked.

“But you were right. So was Anderson. We can’t stop them alone. Besides, looks like you gonna have your hand’s full convincing these pendejo politicians to help us.” James continued on, with the remark about the politicians putting a smirk on Shepard’s lips – something she could use right about now. “And I’m up for it. Whatever it takes.”

“Glad to hear it.” Shepard replied back, happy that her earlier talk with James before the mission on Mars had finally sunk into his head.

“I’m gonna head down to some of the lower levels. Where they keep it real. You got some spare time; you should come and find me.” James finished up.

“Maybe I’ll do that.” Shepard replied, before James left. Once he was gone, Shepard finally decided to leave herself, as she had to get the Jedi and the clones back to their fleet.

5 hours later.

Venator II-class Star Destroyer Negotiator II, Fifth Fleet Logistical Hub, Serpent Nebular.

Roughly 5 lightyears away from the Citadel, a purpose-built logistical hub for the Systems Alliance was set up in deep space, in order to help not have major congestion on the shipping lanes around the Citadel with multiple warships waiting for supplies. As of now, it was considered highly important with the loss of both Earth and Arcturus Station, for this hub is what’s keeping the Systems Alliance in the war. In addition to the various Alliance Warships either waiting for supplies to be loaded on board, a battlegroup from the Alliance’s 5th Fleet stood guard here – and at the moment, they were keeping an eye on the Jedi’s Expedition Fleet that was also there.

Thanks to both Obi-wan and Hackett on the Normandy and also the Jedi’s introductions on the Citadel, it was decided to meet here in this pocket of the Serpent Nebular as it was away from any major populations, making it perfect neutral ground for the Alliance, the Citadel Council and the Jedi Order to meet face to face.

Currently waiting on the Negotiator II’s flight deck was all of the Command Staff for the Expedition Fleet waiting for the arrival of Admiral Hackett and his command staff as well as the Citadel Council and their bodyguards. Standing among them was Shepard in her Class-A Uniform, this time with her wearing a beret as well, as she was the one who made first contact with the Jedi Order and fought alongside them, so she was on hand to help with the introductions and serve as a ‘middle ground’ of sorts for the three groups. Once Shepard arrived in the Normandy, to say that she and her entire crew was surprised at the design and size of the various warships in the Expedition Fleet – many of which were Star Destroyers of varying size and design – is actually an understatement.

Within a few minutes, three Kodiak shuttles, all sporting Alliance markings, were making their final approach, passing through the atmospheric barriers that were employed where the flight deck doors would be when closed, before the shuttles touched down on the deck. As soon as they did that, Clone Shock Troopers from the Ossus Guard moved forward to stand at attention, with their DC-15A rifles at slope arms (or shoulder arms, depending on which military you look at it). Once the doors to the Kodiaks opened up, the members of the Citadel Council, along with their assigned bodyguards, and Admiral Hackett, along with a marine escort and some other officers of the Systems Alliance Navy came forward towards the Jedi and their officers. During the walk up, Udina, Hackett and the rest of the humans present took a few glances at everything in the hanger bays, from troopers to vehicles and noting how different their gear was to what the Alliance had. The Councillors and their bodyguards were also doing this too but were paying particular attention to certain aspects in retrospect to their own militaries.

For Tevos and the asari commandos, they were all aware that the asari military could not fight a conventional war like the turians, krogan, or humanity could, but seeing the clone troopers and their gear started to make the commandos think that even their way of combat – guerrilla style hit-and-run raids or commando missions – wasn’t going to work against a force like this, especially seeing that some of the clones had what look like scanners or thermal optics added to their helmets. Tevos was aware of this as well, however she was thankful that the Jedi Order and their Loyalist Forces stated they were here to help against the Reapers and Cerberus, not conquer the galaxy.

No doubt like his bodyguards, Valern’s mind was already thinking on what weakness could the clones and their vehicles, equipment and armour have – and already, they may have some possible avenues that the Special Tasks Group could exploit, due to how the salarians like their wars won before they start (something that was not going to happen against the Reapers), but as they were still human, there was no doubt they would be adaptable to any situation, perhaps even more so when they saw some of the ARC Troopers and the commando unit Foxtrot Group that were from the 212th Attack Battalion. There was no doubt to the salarians that this was a powerful force, but if there was a weakness, they would find it for future use.

To the turians, the vehicles, weapons and gear, while impressive to see, were fundamentally similar at the very basic level, regardless of the different aspects of technology – a turian Phaseton Assault Rifle and a Clone’s Blaster Rifle were both designed to kill enemy troops, regardless of if they used projectiles or plasma as their source of ammunition. What the turians were observing, especially Sparatus, was the level of discipline they were seeing. In the Milky Way, the turian military was well known for its discipline, even if a unit was forced to fall back in combat, which has led to a popular saying; ‘You will only see a turian's back once he's dead.’ Here, they were seeing clone troopers either in training, working on their gear and/or vehicles, or standing at attention for inspection, all of which was highly disciplined and coordinated. Even the Shock Troopers they were seeing as they walk past were all demonstrating high levels of discipline, something that Sparatus was actually impressed with – not that he’d ever admit in public, of course.

“Commander.” Hackett called out to Shepard once he saw her.

“Admiral.” Shepard responded with a firm salute. Despite the fact that she was almost a legend amongst the Alliance, regardless of the issues she was involved with in 2185, she still had to salute Hackett as he outranked her by at least 5 pay grades.

“I take it we are all present and accounted for, therefor now’s the time for formal introductions.” Hackett stated to Shepard, once both parties were within a short distance of each other.

“Yes, sir.” Shepard stated before she turned to face the leaders of the Jedi’s Expedition Fleet in order to introduce the various officers and politicians to them before any dialogue could commence between the two parties.

34 hours later.

75 kilometres from SSV Isaac Newton, Sagan-class Assault Carrier, Alliance 5th Fleet.

The meeting between the Systems Alliance, Citadel Council and the Jedi Order went better than what was anticipated, but it wasn’t with open arms. While the Council was impressed with what the Expedition Fleet had and was willing to accept their help with dealing with the Reapers and Cerberus, the Councillors, save for Udina, were still adamant that they could not help the Systems Alliance without weakening their own defences, as they told Shepard earlier, despite both Obi-wan and Kiera’s requests. In addition, both Tevos and Valern wouldn’t allow the warships from the Expedition Fleet or clone troopers into their respective spaces, for in Tevos’ case, doing so would counter their operational style of hit-and-run tactics with their navy, not to mention that they had a fairly powerful navy in their own right behind the turians. Valern’s case on the other hand was due to the political unrest that was starting to surface back on Sur’kesh between the dalatrasses over deployment of the Salarian Navy to defend non-salarian space and the last thing he wanted to do was to ignite a civil-war in the Salarian Union. The exception to this was Sparatus as he needed support on Palaven, and he was in no position to ignore any help that was offered.

That said, they gave the green light for the Jedi to allow some of their forces onto the Citadel. With that, the Fleet’s leaders decided to send Kiera and Raptor to have them posted on the Citadel, along with Stone and Thire and the Detachment from the Ossus Guard they commanded out here. The idea was that Raptor and Kiera, along with Stone and Thire, would be allowed to set up a command post of sorts so the Jedi Order could be able to help the other races, along with using it to coordinate deployment of their forces that made up the Coalition Battle Group across the Milky Way where appropriate.

The Alliance, on the other hand, were more than willing to accept both the clones on the ground and also some of their naval assets to work alongside the Alliance Fleets, given the losses that the Alliance First, Third and Fifth Fleets had taken while fighting the Reapers around Arcturus and Sol System – in addition to the total loss of both the Second and Fourth Fleets in said engagements. So to that end, a small portion of the Expedition Fleet was assigned to help bolster the First Fleet. In addition, Alliance Observers and Advisors were to be imbedded onto every single warship the Jedi had available in the Milky Way, not for training or engaging the Reapers, as no one in both galaxies had enough experience – if any – in that department, and also due to the fact the clones train extensively on a regular basis, but rather advice on how to coordinate with Alliance or Allied fleets and how things worked in the Milky Way. To also help with this, a copy of the Galactic Codex was made available to the Expedition Fleet, which was made mandatory reading material to all personnel in the Fleet so everyone could get a feel of how things either worked or how technology actually did work in this galaxy. Also, as it was hoped, The Alliance were willing to accept the captured Cerberus personnel the Jedi had brought with them, along with their data that was recovered from the Osiris and their interrogations. The POWs would be interrogated by operatives from AIS, whereas the data, while not providing much hard data on Cerberus operations, would still come in handy down the road, so it was turned over to the recently formed Anti-Cerberus unit known as Task Force Hercules.

In addition to this, the Alliance had also asked if the leaders of the Fleet were willing to send over some special forces that they had over to what was classified as the N-Special Operations Brigade, which comprised the majority of the Alliance’s N-level Special Force marines, all stationed on the SSV Isaac Newton. Seeing as it was a sound move to help bolster their forces, given the fact that most of the marines part of this Brigade were either N5 or N6 ranked marines, with a very tiny handful of N7 marines present, given the fact that quite a few N7 marines were on pre-existing deployments across the galaxy, and there were more still trapped on Earth. The Expedition Fleet leaders agreed and had assigned some of their own special forces – mostly Clone Commandos and ARC Troopers for now – to work alongside the Alliance Special Forces. Chief amongst this group consisted of the elite Delta Squad, the Headhunters, the unorthodox Bad Batch, 2552nd ARC Company and even Task Force 57. While the Bad Batch and the Reds and Blues would arrive in their own transports, the rest were shipped over in LAAT/is from an Acclamator-class Assault Ship, the Stalwart.

Standing in the passenger bay on a LAAT/i gunship, the clone commandos known as Delta Squad were either going over their gear in their minds or were busy reading up a copy of the Galactic Codex to get an understanding of what was what in the Milky Way.

“Tell you guys one thing. I’m looking forward to seeing what these Alliance marines can do. Be nice to compare our skill against what they know.” RC-1207 ‘Sev’ said, whilst looking over the Systems Alliance Vocational Code system on his datapad.

“What, so you can figure out new ways to kill Stormtroopers back home Sev?” his brother, and demolitions expert RC-1262 ‘Scorch’ responded, in his usual smartass way that he was well known for.

“This coming from the di'kut who has an ongoing love-affair with explosives?” Sev countered, as he had done hundreds of the times back in the Clone Wars, which then had both commandos starting to laugh at the notion they both described.

“Stow the talk you two.” The tech expert and slicer, in addition to being their 2iC, RC-1140 ‘Fixer’ called out to Sev and Scorch.

“Relax Fixer, you know how we operate.” Sev replied.

“Besides, we’re not in a combat zone, so what’s the worry about friendly banter?” Scorch asked, despite the fact that he knew that Fixer was a stickler for regs, much like some others in the 501st they knew of. Whilst annoyed that once again he was ignored over communication discipline, there was one thing that was bugging Fixer, and that was their deployment orders – something that their squad leader RC-1138 ‘Boss’ picked up on whilst he was reading up on what the Codex had on the Reapers on his datapad – specifically on Sovereign, due to the major lack of info on them given the former belief of them being a myth related to doomsday conspiracy theories, and Sovereign was the only Reaper that had any useful information.

“What’s on your mind Fixer?” Boss asked, once he could see his brother was getting frustrated.

“I don’t get it sir. We came out to this galaxy intending to fight Cerberus, yet we’re now going to be engaging a hostile force even the Alliance doesn’t know that well. Why the deviation of our original intention?” Fixer stated, revealing his concerns. While it was true that the only person in the Alliance who had any knowledge on this was Shepard, but that didn’t rule out they could encounter Cerberus ops for their deployment.

“I get where you’re driving at vod. However, given the reports that Commander Rex and the 501st Troopers stated when they went down to Mars on their op, they encountered Cerberus forces firing on both military and civilian targets in that research facility. So while we may be fighting alongside Alliance Spec Ops against Reapers, there’s a strong chance we could still be sent on ops against Cerberus. All we have to do is see what this commanding officer does.” Boss replied back to Fixer, hoping this would allay any concerns he had.

“Head up Deltas, we’re making our landing approach now.” The gunship’s pilot called out over the intercom, which meant that they would be landing in a few moments.

With that, all four Deltas then readied up for arrival. Once they felt the gunship land, the troop bay doors opened up to reveal that they had landed in one of the hanger bays on the Isaac Newton, where they saw a multitude of F-61 Trident Fighters and UT-47A Kodiak Shuttles, along with various Alliance Naval personnel either running maintenance on the vehicles or Alliance Marines on guard duty, along with other marines wearing unique armour in various colour schemes and different designs different to the marines on guard detail. In addition to this, Delta Squad could see the other LAAT/is that were brining over the other commandos and ARC Troopers that were recently assigned to this Alliance warship, which clearly served as a carrier, along with also seeing the Havoc Marauder and Light Marauder – the personal transports for Clone Force 99 and TF 57 respectively.

As the special force troopers made their way from their transports, they could see an Alliance Officer, who was in his late 40s, was waiting for them in the middle of the hanger, from what Boss could tell from his epaulets and cuffs – four gold bars on the epaulets with no extra colour markings, three on the cuffs, this officer was a General for the Alliance Military. Who Boss saw was in fact General Jason von Grath, serving as the commander of the N-Special Operations Brigade. Once the troopers saw this, they all made their way to the General in order to receive a briefing as to their deployment to the carrier.

“Alright troopers. Welcome aboard the SSV Isaac Newton. I am General Jason von Grath, serving as the commander of the N-Special Operations Brigade.” Jason addressed all the clones present, before continuing on. “The objective of our unit here is to be involved in deep insertion behind enemy lines for either securing either artefacts, classified intelligence and/or lost resources, along with evacuating either civilians or soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. From what I’ve received from both Admiral Hackett and also your Jedi Generals, you are some of the best special forces units that your Fleet has to offer, so I’m looking forward to how you troopers operate.”

At this one of the troopers, a female ARC Trooper from the Spartan Company had a question that was possibly lurking in everyone’s minds. “General. With these deployments, will our missions be targeted against Cerberus, or will it be against Reapers only?” she asked.

“I am aware of the reason why you had travelled to the Milky Way, and what Cerberus has done against your fleets back in your galaxy. However, at the moment, our primary threat is the Reapers as they are engaging both the Alliance and our allies across the galaxy at the moment. However, according to the reports both your 501st Legion and Commander Shepard have submitted earlier are true, then there is a good chance that Cerberus could strike out again and – hopefully – start fighting us out in the open, in which case, then we will be committing strikes against either Cerberus forces, facilities or fleets if they show themselves, or if Task Force Hercules can dig up something.” Jason answered. “It should also be noted that we could also end up facing our own soldiers in combat if we fight Reapers in occupied territory, due to something known as ‘Indoctrination’.” The General continued on.

At this point, surprising no one, Tech spoke up. “It would be safe to assume that what you refer to as ‘indoctrination’ is the covert brainwashing of organic beings by these Reapers to have their victims fall under their sway and follow Reaper orders as either engage us in open or operate as sleeper agents and conduct acts of sabotage or confusion against our forces or betray us to the Reapers themselves, General?” he stated.

It was bleedingly obvious that Tech had been reading up on the Codex before coming out here, however in stating this, it was bringing back unpleasant memories for the troopers who were Clone War Veterans due to Order 66 and how they found out how it was enacted – and the end results to those troopers.

Clearly impressed that a clone commando had learned that relatively quicky, Jason could tell that these troopers would be effective on the battlefield.

“What’s your name trooper?” he asked.

“My name is Tech, sir.” Tech replied back.

“Very impressive Tech. Yes, the Reapers themselves do emit some unique field which is capable of ‘brainwashing’ victims to fall under their sway and serve their bidding. That said, because of how our operations will be conducted, we hope to deploy as far away from the actual Reapers themselves and instead fight their own ground troops. I should warn you, what their ground forces look like is… a bit disconcerting.” Jason continued on.

Before continuing on, ARC Commander ARC-1220 ‘Walker’, currently the highest-ranked clone trooper present, had a question. “General, is there a reason why all of us – my brothers and sisters and your special forces – are assigned onto a carrier that’s just over the length and height of an Imperial-class Star Destroyer?” he asked, curious as to what would happen.

“The reason we’ve all been assigned the only Sagan-class Assault Carrier is that no doubt down the road, we will also be including either special forces from other races or freelance mercenaries from across the galaxy that show they can hold their own in a galactic war, which means, we could end up serving as a coalition special forces unit.” Jason answered before continuing on. “In addition, the Isaac Newton will serve as our mobile base and command centre for our Battle Group. Any other questions?”

“When do we get to blow something up?!” Wrecker called out, in his usual enthusiastic voice, which got a few laughs from some of the clones, Jason, and the marines listening, and a groan out of Crosshair.

“Grow up, Wrecker.” Was all he said.

“Heh. Well, on that basis. I’ll have a few marines show you around the Newton, so you know where your quarters are and where the various training rooms, medbays, briefing rooms and weapon ranges are, then we’ll start deploying squads out to the frontlines. Given where the Reapers are striking at the moment, there’s a good chance a few units will be deployed to Palaven to help the turians on their Homeworld. Present company; Dismissed.”

With that, Jason saluted everyone present, with the clones returning the salute, before the marines that were standing near the General called out for the special force troopers to follow them for a tour of the carrier.

What no one realised – clone or marine – realised was that they would be the founders of the ‘N7 Special Ops’.

Chapter Text

Location: Xanadu, Utopia System, Exodus Cluster – Earth Systems Alliance Space.

Once the meeting with the Systems Alliance, Citadel Council and the Jedi Order was finished, Shepard then ordered the Normandy to head out to the heart of the Batarian Hegemony – Khar’shan, in order to see what was left in the system, as recent reports from both the Alliance Intelligence Service and the Spectre Terminal stated that the Reapers invaded the Milky Way through the Vular System in the Kite’s Nest Cluster, before moving through Hegemony Space, destroying the Batarian Hegemony in the process, forcing surviving Batarians to flee to the Citadel, or the Terminus Systems, before using the Relay there to advance on Arcturus and Earth.

In addition to this, with agreement with the Jedi Council, Shepard was given the green light to take on a small clone trooper detachment onboard the Normandy. Because she knew them due to their fight on Mars, Shepard elected to have Domino and Vanguard Squads come aboard. However, with discussions with some of the troopers, Krystina was made aware of the fact that while their Phase II Armour was capable of operating in a number of environments, it wasn’t capable of performing in all of them. And with Shepard recognising the value of Onyx Squad as a special forces unit, she instead decided to select a unit known as the 115th Ranger Squad. This unit from the 501st was comprised solely of Clone EVO Troopers, whose armour was purpose built to handle a greater range of environments, including desert, toxic environments, limited radiation and even arctic environments, though briefly as Clone Marine Armour was still preferred for extensive deployment to arctic conditions. With this, the Rangers would come in handy on planets like Tuchanka or Tarith, due to their… unique biospheres. This unit was led by Sergeant CT-91-0650 ‘Dempsey’. In addition to the 115th Squad, the clones would also bring aboard 2 AT-RT Scout Walkers with the intention of provide some limited fire support instead of their intended role as recon units. Also, after some wrangling with both Starscream and Dreadwing, a SCAR Trooper from 1st SCAR Battalion, Sergeant Major SCAR-7724-183 ‘Slag’, was also assigned to this group to act as a support pilot alongside the Normandy’s designated shuttle pilot. To lead what was now designated as ‘Normandy Battle Group’, that role would fall to none other than Jesse, and to show this, Anakin, Ahsoka and Rex had him promoted to ARC Captain.

Once the Battle Group was aboard and Shepard set out their orders, she decided to take the chance to catch up on some sleep and went to the Captain’s Cabin. That was 7 hours ago.

After suffering a very livid dream that showed Krystina her past missions during her hunt for Saren and stopping Sovereign back in 2183, she woke up within seconds of it ending. While she had got some sleep, it wasn’t enough because of that dream, and soon she was clutching her head, still tired. Before she could do anything else, there was a knock on her door.

After a few minutes getting her naval fatigues on, she made her way to the door, where she saw both Liara, now sporting a black and magenta version of her ‘Broker’ outfit, complete with an asari version of a tiara, and Jesse, still wearing his ARC Armour, sans survival pack and helmet.

“Liara, Jesse. Can I help you?” Shepard ask, still waking up from her sleep.

“I’ve been forwarding the Turian Councillor information on the Prothean device. It can’t be built without Council support, but he’s not budging until their primarch is safe.” Liara replied to Shepard’s question.

“Just came up to report in that the troopers on-board are settling in ok, ma’am.” Jesse spoke up, once Liara finished, but both of them noticed that Shepard had stopped listening to them and made her way over to the other side of the walkway.

“Are you ok, Commander?” Jesse asked, once he saw Shepard’s attention fail.

“I didn’t get what you would call… a good night’s rest. Oh, and Jesse. Despite the fact that I may be you commanding officer, you can call me Shepard.” Shepard replied.

“Understood… Shepard.” The veteran Captain replied back, getting use to this, but both Jesse and Liara could tell that Krystina was clearly distracted by something else apart from a crap night’s sleep.

“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there. What’s really bothering you?” Liara asked.

“… when the Reapers hit… I could hear people screaming in the streets below me.” Shepard answered, with the sights of what she saw in Vancouver when the Reapers made planet-fall almost 2 days ago now, still fresh in her mind – and painful to remember. “We left a lot of them behind.”

“There’s no way for you to save them all.” Liara replied to this. Despite the fact that she was originally an archaeologist, turned Shadow Broker, and a civilian with no formal military training, she was well aware of how powerful the Reapers were.

“But I know, so do the clones, that you’re doing everything you can, and you’ll get back in time to help.” She finished, hoping that it would boost Krystina’s spirits.

“Also, you’ve seen how Domino and Vanguard fight. Along with the 115th Rangers and myself, we’ve got your back Shepard. 100%.” Jesse also stated, hoping to do the same thing.

“I hope you’re right. Both of you.” Shepard replied, now sounding better and focused once more.

“Don’t blame yourself, Commander.” Liara said. However before she could continue on, the sound of the elevator doors opening got their attention.

Stepping out of the elevator was a female Alliance crew member, dark skinned and black hair, carrying a datapad in her hands.

“Commander Shepard? I’m Specialist… oh.” She started to speak, before noticing that Shepard had company. “… I beg your pardon. I thought you were alone.” The Specialist continued, in a British accent very similar to what Viper had.

“We were just leaving.” Liara said, with Jesse following her, with both of them making their way to the elevator.

Once they were gone, the Specialist restarted her introductions. “Commander Shepard? I’m Comm Specialist Samantha Traynor, with Alliance R&D.” Samantha stated, which included a salute to Shepard, before continuing on.

“I was part of the team retrofitting the Normandy after you turned it over to the Alliance. There weren’t many of us on board when the Reapers hit…” Samantha continued to state, but with the way she was saying things, it sounded like she was either relatively new to the job, or was struggling to come to terms that she was in the presence of a very famous Alliance Officer, so with that, Shepard had to settle her down.

“Slow down, Specialist Traynor. You’re doing fine.” Krystina said in a calm, if somewhat laid-back tone in her voice. That worked.

“Thank you. I worked in a lab. I never thought I’d be serving on a ship.” Samantha replied, having now calmed down to an extent.

“Why don’t you tell me about the retrofits?” Shepard asked, inviting Samantha into her cabin to discuss this.

From that, Samantha informed Shepard about how the Normandy was now in compliance with Alliance Naval Regs along with the ship was now outfitted with new top-of-the-line QEC communicators, along with various changes to the ship such as the addition of a new War Room, the Armoury was moved from Deck 2 down to the Cargo/Shuttle Bay, Deck 5, revealing that Liara had somehow added a ton of hardware, servers and terminal monitors into Miranda’s old XO office on Deck 3, with Samantha stating that Liara had ‘claimed that room.’ One thing that Samantha did drop was that the Normandy was actually intended to fall under Anderson’s command, serving as his Mobile Command Centre, but with him now leading the Alliance Resistance Forces on Earth, that wasn’t happening. During the conversation, EDI actually stated that Samantha’s skills were actually effective during the overhaul and installation of various systems, and put the request forward that Samantha should stay as a permanent crew member, to which Krystina agreed. This however, got Samantha thinking, regarding to when did a VI ask for requests like that, to which Shepard stated that EDI was in fact an AI, much to Sam’s annoyance as Joker told her about the ‘VI story’ in order to protect EDI. However, she did let slip a unique… interest she had in EDI. Once Shepard was brought up to speed on the changes to the Normandy, Samantha informed her that Hackett was awaiting both her and Jesse in the comm room that was in the War Room.

2 minutes later

Quantum Entanglement Communications room, War Room, Deck 2.

After a minute or so wait for Shepard and Jesse, Hackett’s holographic image once again faded into view on the main QEC.

“Before we start. First thing’s first, congratulations on your recent promotion Jesse.” Hackett said, revealing that he was aware of this happening.

“I appreciate it, Admiral Hackett.” Jesse replied back, welcoming this acknowledgement, complete with a salute.

“Now onto the business in hand. Commander, Udina finally updated me on your meeting with the Council earlier. Sounds like their running scared.” Hackett stated, regarding what had happened earlier.

“We did present them with a lot of unknowns, including the Jedi and their troopers. That aside, they’re feeling threatened and want immediate solutions, not theories.” Shepard replied back. While it was close to the truth, she still didn’t like the fact that the Council wasn’t planning to help the Alliance immediately, despite showing what they were capable of in the past.

“Theories are all we’ve got right now. What’s your plan?” Hackett asked.

“We’re trying to get the turian primarch for a summit meeting with the asari and salarians.” Shepard stated, before allowing Jesse to take over.

“Our plan is we’ll bypass the Council and appeal directly to their leadership. Once we’ve made a sweep through the Harsa System in the Kite’s Nest, we’ll make a beeline for Palaven to get the turian primarch.” He stated, outlining what their plan was.

“That’s good. I like it. This is where we start laying the groundwork for our counter-attack.” Hackett replied, seeing that this was a sound plan.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot to back it up right now.” Shepard countered.

“Then build alliances. Gather everything and everybody you can for the cause.” Hackett said, stating what they need to do to even have a hope at launching a counter-offensive at Earth.

“And what about this Prothean device we found?” Jesse asked.

“Find me people who can help build it. And if you can’t, I’ll take soldiers, ships, supplies… whatever you can get.” Hackett ordered, before he continued on. “We need to keep hitting the Reapers across every theatre of war they open, buy us time to figure out the device.” In Jesse mind, while the Reapers were a whole different ballgame, the idea wasn’t all that different to how the Clone Wars went; keep engaging the Separatists wherever they struck so as they wouldn’t make inroads to vital locations like Coruscant, Kamino, Kuat, Corellia, Lianna, and Rothana to name a few, in order to allow the Republic to continue functioning and to ensure war material was still being manufactured for the Grand Army of the Republic.

“And when it’s finished?” Shepard asked, curious to see what the intended end result was.

“Assuming it ever is, we pool all our resources.” Hackett replied, before he went to describe it in laymen’s terms. “Think of it as a giant armada for delivering the device when the Reapers are most vulnerable. The stronger you can make that armada, the better its chances of punching through.”

“What about Earth, sir?” Krystina asked, still worried for what was happening as the Reapers hit hard when the Alliance was still mobilising for deployment earlier.

“We’ll just have to hope that Anderson – and what’s left of the Alliance Forces on Earth – can hold out until we’ve dealt with the enemy.” Hackett replied, revealing that given the situation everyone was in, this was the way forward.

“I understand.” Shepard replied.

“Good. Then make it happen Commander. I’ll be expecting regular updates on your progress from both you and the Normandy Battle Group. Hackett Out.” Hackett stated, before singing off.

Normandy Out.” Jesse replied, just as Hackett’s image faded out. With that, Jesse and Shepard made their separate ways, with Shepard heading to the War Room to see what War Assets were available, while Jesse made his way down to the Armoury/Shuttle Bay.

Once done in the War Room, Shepard made her way to the Combat Information Centre – CIC – where she took the chance to see how Samantha was coping with the adjustment to work on the Normandy and learn more about her background, like growing up on a Colony deep in the Attican Traverse, how she joined the Alliance, her past work in a lab and her reaction to the war.

From there, once looking over her Private Terminal, and reviewing the ton of emails relating to an alert from Alliance Command to all Alliance personnel on the Reaper Invasion and how everyone was to gather at their designated staging grounds for operations (which was what the Jedi Order intercepted earlier when they arrived in the Sol System), a few emails from Hackett relating to formal reinstatement back into the Alliance Navy, and also showing the Alliance’s new Order of Battle since the war started. Another one was from Alliance Intelligence Service stating that she was granted access to the AIS Database with ‘COBALT-9’ level security clearance for intel bulletins or mission reports, one from a Lieutenant Cortez stating that a crate was delivered to the Normandy loaded to the brim with high-end weapons. Turns out that Shepard’s Squad from her Suicide Mission was able to pull them from the Armoury before she turned the Normandy over to the Alliance 6 months ago, and now they were sent back to her. No doubt, this was extremely helpful, as it would save time and funds on having to rebuild the entire armoury from scratch. Additionally, she had received an email from a Captain Fob, who was commander of the Alliance cruiser SSV Nürnberg, offering his thanks for Shepard’s efforts on Horizon when the Collectors landed on the planet last year and offered any support he had to her. Once done there, she made her way to the Bridge to talk to Joker.

“Hey Commander. You know, I had my doubts about the Council.” Joker started, as he swung his pilot’s chair around to face Shepard. “But after years of ignoring your warnings, they’re finally willing to step up and tell you that they just can’t help.” Despite the fact that he was, more or less, right on the money with his statement, Joker was in his usual humorous mood, something that Shepard needed thanks to said meeting.

“They’re doing everything they can.” Was all Shepard said on the subject.

“Did they at least validate our parking?” Joker continued on. With a shake of her head, Joker got his answer.

“Well, let me know if you want to get them on the channel and then hang up on them. You know, for old time’s sake.” He finished off.

Switch to Deck 3 – Crew Deck.

Sitting on one of the lounges in the Portside Observation Deck was Arcee, Dogma and Droidbait. At the moment, they were taking the chance to read up on the Codex so they could get a better grasp of how things worked in the Milky Way. For Dogma and Droidbait, to say that of all the things they could even think of seeing on a ship in the Milky Way, neither of them were expecting to see a bar and a poker table on board. It was something that was still offsetting Dogma, and something that Arcee noticed.

“You OK, Dogma?” she asked her brother-in-arms.

“Just… struggling to understand why we have a bar of all things installed on a warship. It’s just doesn’t sit right with what we know.” Dogma stated.

“Remember Dogma, we’re working with a completely different culture here. Besides, according to Joker and Dr. Chakwas, this ship was built by Cerberus before it was surrendered to the Alliance.” Droidbait replied back. “They’re the reason why they added the bar in the first place. Due to that, Cerberus stated that this was a private vessel, not an Alliance warship, thus why they added the things like a bar and a proper kitchen that you would see in a civilian’s home.”

“Yeah, I know all that, Droidbait… it just goes against everything we’ve seen on the various warship we have back home.” Dogma stated.

“I take it our brother who was unable to see what was happening on Umbara due to his sucking up to the bastard Krell, is struggling with the ship's layout?” A voice called out, which got everyone’s attention.

That voice was none other than Echo, having just entered the observation deck. The remark got a laugh out of Arcee and Droidbait, but it drew an annoyed look from Dogma, reminding him of that time. However, two could play at that game.

“This coming from the ARC Trooper who, when he was a cadet back on Kamino, couldn’t think beyond the reg manuals until a certain female trooper here nailed some sense into him?” Dogma countered whilst pointing to Arcee, which got everyone to laugh, and drew a smirk from Echo.

“Ok, ok. All smartarse remarks aside, Dogma does have a point regarding both the table and the bar, but judging from the fact that the Alliance left the bar and had the table installed, that tells me that they do acknowledge that their crews need some down time between missions.” Arcee stated to her brothers-in-arms. “Besides, from what I’ve seen with some the Normandy’s crew, they do see you guys as actual beings and are willing to ask you guys about stuff, which is saying a lot compared to many senators – and a few Jedi Masters – back during the War. So, give it some time Dogma. With time, you’ll probably won’t mind what’s on the ship.” Arcee finished.

“While it’s still early days… you may be right. I’ll keep it in mind Arcee.” Dogma replied, seeing that there was wisdom in what Arcee was saying, which made sense give her – and Viper’s – past.

“At least he’s willing to listen in this day and age, unlike when we first met him just before Umbara, when he was a stubborn di'kut.” Echo started up again, which lead to Dogma throwing his datapad at Echo, igniting a new round of laughter, before Droidbait chime in.

“At least he was willing to change, unlike some like Appo and Vill.” He stated, which got an agreement from everyone present.

Switch to Deck 5 – Cargo/Shuttle Bay.

During the same time Droidbait, Arcee, Dogma and Echo were talking in the Port Observation Deck, Shepard took the chance to check up with what had happened to Liara once she had become the Shadow Broker, with Shepard’s help, last year, and took the chance to look over new upgrade options for her gear from the Intel Terminal and also extra correspondence that was on the Broker Terminal (which Liara gave Krystina access), along with ‘meeting’ her helper she had inherited from the old Broker, a custom VI drone named ‘Glyph’. From there, she took the chance to see how things were in Medbay, now that Chakwas was back there, and also learned that Kix would spend his time in here, given his skills as a Medic, giving Chakwas an extra pair of hands.

Once done there, Shepard made her way down to Deck 4, which was Engineering, where to her surprise, Lieutenant Gregory Adams was stationed, once again serving as Chief Engineer of a Normandy. After a quick chat with Adams in order to catch up with what had happened in his life since last seeing him in 2183, and also made a quick stop over at Diana’s new quarters (which use to be the Port Cargo Hold and Garbage Disposal before the Normandy underwent it’s overhaul), where Shepard put her plan into action – report on what was happening on Earth in order to increase support, either in the form of volunteers or donations for supplies.

Now, she was standing in Deck 5. Here, Shepard could see that a few clones were working on maintaining their weapons, with some taking the chance to talk to some of the crew members on board. On the other side of the support beam holding the Weapon’s Bench, was the create that contained all of weapons from the Suicide Mission. In the middle of the deck, Cutup and Viper were going at each other in hand-to-hand drills, with Fives acting as the referee so neither did either one an injury that would earn a reprimand from Kix, with a few clones watching. On the starboard side, James was doing his own exercises, currently a behind-the-neck pull-up, with Sergeant Dempsey close by, working out on the boxing bag. Close by was Ratchet, giving the AT-RTs some maintenance, with Jesse providing some help. On the other end of the deck, at a console near the Kodiak shuttle, was another Alliance crew member, talking with a trooper wearing Phase II ARC Armour, with the difference being a life support control box on the front chest plate, revealing him to be SCAR Sergeant Major Slag – which meant, the crew member was also Shepard’s shuttle pilot.

“Lieutenant Steve Cortez. Shuttle Pilot. I’ve got news about our supply chains, Commander.” Cortez stated, introducing himself when he saw Krystina.

“Nice to meet you Lieutenant. What’s going on?” Shepard replied, shaking his hand in the process.

“Sorry to just jump in, Commander. There’s so much to be done, I get caught up with the tasks at hand.” Cortez stated, before James chipped in.

“He’s always like that. You need to chill out, Esteban.” He called out, from his impromptu ‘gym’.

“So you do care, Mr. Vega, or is that the Cerveza talking again?” Cortez countered, showing that they knew each other well. With that, Shepard steered the conversation back to the topic at hand. “So what’s actually happening with our supply chains, Lieutenant?”

“With the exception to the Logistical Hub near the Citadel, Alliance procurement chains are in chaos, but the Citadel’s economy is still running. I can network to Citadel retailers. With that, you can view inventory and make purchases from this console.” Cortez stated, pointing to the console on his right, with Shepard saying that once she found a store, she would inform him, though Cortez did state it would be better to make purchases on the Citadel due to the increase in cost in coordinating delivery to the Normandy.

“So, you’re my shuttle pilot, but you’re setting up procurement chains?” Shepard asked, not sure why this was the case.

“I wasn’t assigned as the Normandy’s pilot – not much need for one on a dry-docked ship.” Cortez answered, before continuing on. “I was overseeing the retrofits of the cargo hold. I’m quite familiar with the operations and maintenance of the UT-47 Kodiak and M44 Hammerhead. With my experience, it made sense for me to take over as shuttle pilot when we left Earth – especially given Mr. Vega’s love of mid-air collisions”

“To save the day, pendejo!” James yelled out, which got a laugh out of both Cortez and a few of the troopers.

“I’m also responsible for logistics, making sure the armoury and shuttle are properly stocked and maintained. Though I wasn’t expecting to also be acting as a teacher.” Cortez continued, before turning to look at Slag.

“And I was expecting to be fighting alongside the rest of my brothers and sisters in 1st SCAR Battalion. Still, I think you’ll do well.” Slag replied.

“Before I do formally approve this. Slag, what are you rated to fly; fighter, bomber…?” Shepard asked, making sure this would work out.

“Gunships actually. No doubt you’ve seen our larties and what they can do, either in air support, or deploying troops on the ground. That said, I know what my responsibilities are when it comes to transporting troopers from ship to ship in boarding actions, and I know the dangers. The SCARs know that I won’t do anything stupid with their lives, and now this extends to you, your squad and the Normandy Battle Group. Once I master the holographic interface on the Kodiak, I think Cortez and I should make a good team, ma'am.” Slag answered, sounding both proud and knowing what he was responsible for. This allayed any fears Shepard had.

“Judging by your confidence, I think you’ll right. Look forward to see you two in action.” She stated, which got a thanks from both Cortez and Slag. Shepard would spend a few minutes talking to Cortez, learning about his history, his skills, what changes was made on Deck 5 during the refit, any family he had, and what had happened to the M44 Hammerhead Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which Cortez stated it was sent to the tech labs for an overhaul due to its design, with the mention that the labs and it were now scrapped, though the Alliance were able to work out the plans and start manufacturing their own version of the IFV.

Once done with Cortez, Shepard made her way over to James, still in his workout session.

“Hey, Shepard. How did it actually go with the Council?” James asked, clearly wanting to get the full story of this.

“Same as usual – non-committal, unhelpful.” Krystina answered, still annoyed with their decision.

“Bet they still wanted you to help them out, no?” James continued, knowing that Shepard was forced in this role over the years.

“Yep. We’re going to rescue a turian primarch from Palaven.” Shepard replied, revealing what their next mission was.

“Sounds like fun. Never been to the Turian Homeworld.” James answered, still doing his behind-the-neck pull-ups, but then had a question. “You come down here for something, or you just looking?”

“I did just come to chat… but I might stay for the show.” Shepard countered, in a playful tone.

“Have to work harder than that if you want me to blush.” James retorted, but still kept going. “Not sure what there is to talk about. You already know my service record.”

“… I don’t actually. I didn’t have access to personnel records when we met.” Shepard replied after a few seconds, whilst watching Viper put Cutup down onto the deck.

“Right… forgot about that. Well…” James replied, before finally dropping down from the bar, and started to crack his knuckles. “Think you can dance and talk at the same time?”

This sounded like a challenge, and Shepard was more than ready for this sparing match.

“Oh I can dance…” she responded, with confidence in her voice, before Krystina made her way to the deck. Once Fives saw this, he got Viper and Cutup to move out of the way, but he stayed nearby in case things got a little… heated. However, once Shepard was in position, it also drew the other clones attention, though this didn’t deter Shepard or James.

“Ok, Lola… let’s do this.” James stated, getting into a sparing position, to which Shepard did so herself.

“Don’t let my good looks fool you, Vega. I’ve got my share of scars.” Shepard stated, before she started to throw some light punches at James, which he was able to block easily. Given the fact that they were heading to a war zone, neither of them weren’t going to pull some serious hard-hitting stuff that would leave at least one of them in the Medbay – even less so with Fives walking around them to ensure this didn’t happen.

“Ha. You remind me of my old CO.” James countered, before he threw his own punches at Shepard, also light stuff so she could block them herself. However, this piqued Shepard’s interest.

“Oh yeah, and who was that?” she asked, returning another set of swings.

“Captain Toni. He was a hard-assed son of a bitch, but a good leader.” James answered, before returning the same swings at Shepard, again easily blocked.

“Was?” Shepard asked, wondering what happened.

“Died – with most of my squad – protecting a civilian colony from a Collector Attack.” James stated, whilst they started to move to each other’s spots, jostling for an attack point.

“And the colony?” Shepard continued, before striking again.

“It was either of them… or the intel we had on the Collectors – intel we’ve could have used to destroy them.” James replied, between his own strikes.

“I chose the intel.” James stated, before he went for a major strike, which Shepard backed up, ensuring she dodged it.

“Sorry. That’s a tough call.” She stated, knowing full well how tough those calls were, and also briefly remembering Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko, one of her squad members, and friend, she lost on Virmire in 2183, defending an improvised nuclear device to ensure the thing went off.

However, James wasn’t done. “The best part was we didn’t need the intel in the end…” he said, once again with both combatants jostling for position and returning to where they started.

“Because you were out saving the galaxy by taking down the entire Collector Homeworld.” James continued on, once again launching a few easy strikes at Shepard, which she again blocked. During this, the clones were all listening intently, even Ratchet, Jesse and Slag were also paying attention, learning about something from James.

“You didn’t know. You can’t blame yourself, Vega.” Krystian said, during her blocks against James swings.

“Who says I’m blaming myself?” James asked, now with some venom in his voice before he launched another round of swings at Shepard.

“Just a guess.” Was all Shepard said on the situation, again blocking the blows.

“You’re a shrink, too?” James asked, starting to wonder where Shepard was going with this. At this time, she launched her own strike, but now with a little more force, still nothing complex that James couldn’t block.

“No… but that stunt back on Mars was reckless. You’re lucky to be alive.” Shepard countered, now with venom in her own voice, either from the sparing or relating to what she said.

“So?” James asked, with the anger now starting to rise, before blocking more strikes.

“So… maybe you don’t care if you live or die.” Krystina stated, with the venomous tone in her voice, but not enough to indicate she was angry. James, however, was now reaching that level.

“Or maybe…” he started, before launching another few strikes. “I’m just willing to do whatever the fuck it takes to end this goddamn war!”

At this point, Shepard had decided enough was enough, grabbed James left arm, and hurl him over to hit the deck. At this point, Fives stepped in to ensure nothing else happened.

“Maybe you are… but if you’re half as good as I think you are, we need you alive.” Shepard finished, whilst James picked himself up off the deck.

“Alright everyone, shows off. Back to your jobs.” Jesse called out, once he saw things were more or less finished, which lead to the clones dispersing from where they were and going back to their original tasks.

“Thanks for the pep talk.” James called out to Shepard, just as he was making his way to the weapons bench he was at.

“Anytime.” Krystina replied, slightly out of breath from the sparing session.

“Hey. Thanks for the dance, Lola.” James continued. Now this had Shepard’s interest.

“Lola, huh?” she asked.

“You kind of look like a Lola.” James reasoned. While not a great reason why, Krystina was willing to let it slide.

“You’re cute… so I’ll let you get away with it. For now.” she said, once again in a playful tone.

“That’s it… now you made me blush.” James said, before continuing on, whilst Shepard made her way back to the elevator.

However, Fives was following James close behind. “Hey James, I don’t mean to pry… but what actually did happen on your mission you were talking about?” he asked, clearly intrigued by what he had heard.

“Sorry Fives, but it’s something I’d rather not talk about.” James replied, showing that it was something that it was quite recent. “If want to get the rest out of me, you’ve gonna have to get me really drunk to have that happen.”

“Yeah… I’d rather not do that. Besides, nearly all of us clone troopers have one of those stories.” Fives continued on. At this point, James remembered something from earlier.

“Back on Mars, when we first me, you said your name’s a nickname. What’s you’re actually name?” he asked.

“Do you really want to know?” Fives asked, making sure James wanted to hear this, to which James nodded his head, indicating he wanted to.

“My birth number is ARC-27-5555. Should be obvious where the nickname stems from.” Fives explained, which got a bit of a surprise from James.

“So your actual name’s a serial number? Are all you guys like this?” James asked, so he can get the full picture.

“Yeah, every single clone trooper is born with birth numbers. During the Clone Wars back home, we started to come up with our own nicknames, to which our Jedi Generals encouraged us to develop our individuality and make us all stand out in our own way. In my case, because I had four fives in my birth number, it was obvious what my nickname would be.” Fives stated.

“So how did the others get theirs?” James continued, now intrigued by this.

They would spend the next few minutes explain this, with some input from some of the other troopers that were there.

2 Hours later.

Location: Verush, Harsa System, Kite’s Nest Cluster – Batarian Hegemony Space.

After making her way back to her cabin and taking a quick shower, given her sparing session with James, Shepard was sitting at her desk, once again in her Dress Blues, taking the chance to catch up on what reports were there on the AIS Database, which covered the Reaper Invasion at the moment, and also promoted Joker to Executive Office and James to Marine Officer, with Joker sending a couple of dossiers in order to have a chef added to the Normandy (something that he said he would do if he was made captain of a ship, and being XO was possibly the best he could manage, so he said he was taking advantage of this), and with James serving as Marine Officer would allow a marine detachment to be station on the ship, which would be a smart move given what happened last year.

After looking over the database and on her personal computer, Shepard took the chance to look over her small collection of model ships, which she collected during 2185, and looked at her hamster, before she remember there was a new addition to the collection.

Making her way over to where her bed was, was the new model of Ark Natanus, sitting on the bulkhead. Taking the chance to observe the model, which was of a ship Krystina had never seen before, before noticing on the model was a flashing light. Following on instinct, she fired up her omni-tool, to which the model reacted and projected a holographic image of the Spectre Emblem. It turned that embedded in the model was a small data storage device, packing reports from fellow Spectre Avitus Rix – all of them related to his covert infiltration and investigation of something known as the Andromeda Initiative. Seeing as the Harsa system was swarming with Reapers, there wasn’t much Shepard could do in the system without giving away their position, so Krystina took the chance to read all these reports that Rix left behind. With this, Shepard was able to learn of what the Andromeda Initiative was formed for, and it’s intended role of a massive exploration and colonisation effort targeting the Andromeda Galaxy, and the people involved, and what Rix had learned, with some of the reports troubling relating to what he found. There was one thing that caught Shepard eye, and that was about the shipping of a small collection of newly designed miniaturised QEC devices, along with extra items relating to the Initiative, from Earth to the Citadel aboard a Kowloon-class freighter known as the MSV Intrepid, under Udina’s order so that they would be stored in the Citadel Archives. However, no one had reported that this freighter had arrived at it’s intended destination, with the ship now registered as 'overdue'.

Realising something was amiss, Shepard took the chance to head down to the War Room on Deck 2, and wanted to see if she could find where the freighter went. After a few minutes of searching on one of the terminals in the War Room, a match was found, relating to the sighting of debris at quadrant 37-9-258f. These coordinates put the report within a few lightyears of the Pax system in the Horsehead Nebular.

While this was important, it would have to wait as the Normandy had to get to Palaven to rescue the primarch.

And also, secretly, Krystina was also hoping to reunite with one turian she knew well…

Chapter Text

Location: Palaven, Trebia System, Apien Crest Cluster, Turian Space – Inner Council Space.

The Homeworld of the Turians was burning.

Once the Reapers were content with their successful assaults on Earth, Arcturus and Taetrus, they then pushed for the heart of the Turian Hierarchy and were busy engaging turian military forces not only on Palaven, but also across the cluster. At the moment, the turians and their support troops in the Vol Auxiliary, have had more success either holding the Reapers at bay, like on Pheiros – the only planetoid in the Gemmae System, which happened to serve as one of the major fuelling facilities for the Turian Navy, or actually managed to repel Reaper Forces, like on Digeris in the Castellus System.

The same couldn’t be said for Palaven, given the fact that the Reapers were aware of the reputation of turian martial prowess, so they had concentrated a powerful force to enforce the submission of the turians. With this overwhelming force, it showed that the Reapers weren’t afraid to commence bombardment on any cities on the planet that were willing to resist them – and this being the turians, all of them resisted. With the way things were going at the moment, it looked like it was turning into a very bloody stalemate for the time being – but the Reapers have patience on their hands.

What they hadn’t counted on was new arrivals from another galaxy providing support.

Currently fighting near the Capital City of Cipritine, the 104th Wolfpack Battalion was engaged in brutal street fighting with Reaper ground forces – or more accurately, the bodies of deceased civilians and troops that came from worlds already captured by the Reapers, like Earth, Khar’shan, Taetrus, Camala, and many others. These synthetic-organic troops, with the human-based Husks earning the ‘zombie’ terminology (incorrectly), were what allowed the Reapers to engaged in clearing out hostile fortifications and structures for new victims to either gain more manpower – turned into husks themselves and used for ground offensives, processed for the DNA, or – if proven useful enough – to be Indoctrinated for ‘infiltration’ ops to create more confusion for the Reapers far away from the battlefields.

When the clone troopers first saw the Reaper ground troops, naturally they were startled and disturbed by what they saw (to say the least), but as they had all read the reports on these ‘troops’, provided by the Alliance, they all knew that the husks they would engage in the field was a victim themselves and were already considered dead due to the conversion process, so once the initial shock wore off, they treated them like Battle Droids back in the Clone Wars – no quarter, mercy or remorse.

Stationed with the turian defences also near Cipritine, the 891st Armoured Battalion were digging in and holding the line with turian ground troops. Currently, both clone and turian soldiers were up to their necks in Reaper troops, and while the projectile-based weapons were capable of putting down husks in decent numbers, high numbers would ensure that turian troops could run out of heat sinks before they ran out of bodies. Thankfully, clone blasters were more than capable of picking up the slack, coupled with the firepower from their main battleline AT-TE walkers and the massive HAVw A6 Juggernaut tanks – both of which were massive compared to what anyone in the Milky Way had, including the Geth. All this combined, and it led to one ugly battlefield. Whilst the firepower was brutal – and impressive to the turians who were stuck on the front lines since the Invasion began, they all knew that somehow, the Reapers were always capable of bringing massive reinforcements to their lines, locking them in a brutal stalemate.

Busy in one of the other cities on Palaven, the Hawkbat Battalion were also neck-deep in Reaper troops. In their case, they were helping hold the line in the city whilst an evacuation was in play. For Hawkbat, they were making Reaper troops pay for every street they took, knowing that every second they held the enemy at bay, dozens of more civilians would be evacuated. That said, they also knew this was not going to be an easy fight, given the size of the Reapers themselves.

Up in orbit, the Star Destroyer Redemption, along with two Victory-class Star Destroyers, Challenger and Scimitar, and five Arquitens-class Light Cruisers, were busy helping the turian fleets engaging Reapers up in orbit of Palaven. Surprisingly to Coburn and the command staff on the Redemption, only a small Reaper presence of 6 Sovereign-class Reapers were capable of holding off at least 3 fleets worth of turian warships and inflict damage to said fleets, whilst absorbing tremendous damaged from the Mass Accelerator Cannons on the turian ships. Even the Turbolaser turrets from his Star Destroyers and the multiple Concussion Missile Tubes from his Victory-class Star Destroyers couldn’t break their tough shields. This effectively proved that the fight above Palaven was a stalemate for the time being, unless reinforcements were brought in, for either side…

The downside for all the troopers deployed on Palaven was due to its weak magnetic field, due to the fact the planet had a poor-metal core, meant that the planet was susceptible to greater solar radiation than most other planets, forcing all troopers to wear Clone EVO Armour, and with Plo Koon forced to wear a purpose-built enviro-suit due to his species unique biology. Save for one squad, who were en route to Palaven’s largest moon, Menae – at the request of Captain Jesse.

Out in open space, between Palaven and Menae and far from the battles over Palaven’s orbit, the Normandy came out of FTL and made its way towards the moon – which had its own share of battles on the surface.

From what Krystina knew of Menae, it was a highly classified moon, with the only thing known about it at all is the orbital period – that is, how long it took to do one orbit around Palaven, which was 33 Earth Days. The reason this was the case was that once turian spacecraft laned on Menae’s surface, it was immediately placed in the hands of the Turian Military – halting all civilian research and exploration, effectively turning the moon into a major base of operations. As to the lack of data regarding Menae’s characteristics, that was done in response to the fear of the krogan potentially using both Menae and its sister moon, Nanus, as massive kinetic weapons to force them onto Palaven’s surface (an alternative version of an ‘Asteroid Drop’, outlawed by the Citadel Conventions) during the waning days of the Krogan Rebellions over a thousand years ago.

Switch to the Normandy’s UT-47A Kodiak Shuttle.

Sitting in the crew bay of the Kodiak on the way to Moon Base Firax, Shepard was deep in thought, mentally preparing herself for deployment, and now wearing her own Alliance Ajax Armour, complete with a Kuwashii Visor and a MOLLE Backpack – what she had picked up from the Alliance Logistics Hub back in the Serpent Nebular earlier. Completing her preferred loadout was her trusted M-96 Mattock, a M-5 Phalanx Heavy Pistol and a M-97 Viper Sniper Rifle. Given the… distinct lack of choices, James and Liara made up Shepard’s team for this op, with Vanguard Squad assigned to assist Shepard’s team, at Jesse’s request, given the fact that Domino Squad was in the thick of it on Mars, so he felt that Vanguard should have their share of fighting alongside Shepard’s squad. For James and Liara, they were also sporting some differences as well – mostly in armour. James was now wearing the same bulky armour that Cerberus Assault Troopers wore, but this was sporting an Alliance blue paint scheme. That said, his weaponry choice remained the same. Liara, on the other hand, was now cladded up in her own armour, similar to that of Alliance Engineers and Infiltrators – and what Shepard originally had back in 2185 – but in a white and blue paint scheme, with the asari now carrying a M-9 Tempest SMG and a M-6 Carnifex Heavy Pistol.

Whilst Shepard and Liara were sitting in their seats, James and most of Vanguard were standing, either making small talk, or in Hardcase and Kix’s case, prepping their weapons or checking on their medical supplies, respectively, until one of the screens on the door fired up, showing an image of Palaven on fire, which got Liara’s attention.

“Oh no… no… Palaven.” Liara cried out, once she saw the images coming in. This was enough to get everyone else’s attention to the situation at hand.

“We have an old friend there…” Shepard stated, rather sombre, once she took a quick look at the live images.

“Holy hell… they’re getting decimated.” James called out, surprised by what he was seeing. Even the clones was startled by this, due to the level of destruction they were seeing, as no battle they were involved in back home came even close to what they were seeing right now.

“Strongest military in the galaxy and the Reapers are obliterating it.” Shepard continued on, with a hint of anger in her voice.

“Damn… I hope Wolffe and his guys are doing ok down there.” Dogma stated, before he placed his helmet on his head.

“Yeah. You and me both, vod.” Kix added once he slung his backpack on.

“Was it like this on Earth?” Liara asked, either out of curiosity or sympathy.

“Yes…” was all Krystina said on the subject, doing her best to keep her head in the game.

“Shepard… I’m so sorry.” Liara replied, offering her condolences. Before anyone else said something, Cortez spoke up from the pilot’s seat. “Commander! The LZ getting swarmed!” he yelled out, finally bringing Shepard’s thoughts back to the here and now.

“James. Open the hatch.” Shepard stated, whilst she brought out her M-96 Mattock, and primed it for combat. At the same time, Joakim was getting his DC-15LE ready to go as well.

Once the hatch was opened, Shepard and Joakim could see husks were scaling the cliff face next to a pair of turian buildings. Deciding to give some support, both the Spectre and the Lieutenant opened fire, bringing down a few husks with ease.

“Nice shot Tex. Hell of a wakeup call!” James called out once he saw Shepard and Joakim kill their targets. Whilst they were engaging targets, everyone else was prepping their weapons and getting ready to move out, with some of them a little too eager.

20 seconds later, the Kodiak landed, allowing everyone to file out and move to engage the husks that were present.

“All right – get in, get out. Let’s move!” Shepard called out to everyone, which everyone replied back in the affirmative.

“Clear me a path!” Hardcase called out, which to Vanguard, they knew that he was once again in his element and knew better than to stand close. Once he had an unobstructed view, he let rip with his beloved Z-6 chaingun and started mowing down husks. James was also busy engaging husks with his N7 Typhoon, now equipped with Incendiary Rounds, alongside Lara and Kix. Liara was engaging with her M-9 Tempest, in addition to unleashing Warp and Singularity attacks on the husks in large enough groups, with support from Shepard, Ember and Dogma. Joakim decided to stay close to Hardcase, while he was in his zone – aggressive combat and letting rip with the taunts at the enemy. Despite the extra firepower, there were husks still climbing over the cliff face and surging their way towards the turians and Shepard’s team.

However, before the number of husks became a problem, suddenly there were two powerful explosions and multiple blaster rounds striking an area where the husks were swarming and taking out a decent handful, before everyone hear the distinct whine of the engines that came from a LAAT/i gunship, which flew overhead a few seconds later. Whilst it flew overhead, husks were still swarming towards the turians and Shepard’s group, though thanks to the gunship, their numbers were significantly down now. It would be about another 2 minutes before the LAAT/i came back in their view, sporting a unique white and grey paint scheme, coupled with a unique nose-art design (unique to Shepard, but very familiar to Vanguard Squad), now with its troop bay doors open, revealing five clone troopers – 3 ARCs, One regular but with Medic emblems, one in Heavy Gunner Armour and another in modified Phase II Scout Armour – all decked out with a different colour scheme and design – grey with unique markings and emblems resembling wolves.

This was Shepard’s first view of members from the 104th Wolfpack Battalion, with the squad being Fenris Squad.

Inside the troop bay, Fenris’ leader, ARC Sergeant ARC-08/04-2008 ‘Talvisota’ engaged what husks remained with his Z-6 chaingun, which was followed up by the other ARCs onboard – ARC-08/07-2014 ‘Lauri’ and ARC-8547/001 ‘Howl’ – with their own weapons. This combined firepower was too much, and soon the horde of husks was eliminated. Whist the LAAT/i positioned itself to offload Fenris, Shepard made her way to the defenders.

“Soldier. Which way to your commanding officer?” she asked the closest turian soldier, who was reloading his Phaeston Assault Rifle.

“Straight ahead and around the corner - past the first barricade.” The soldier replied back.

Whilst this was happening, Joakim and Vanguard were meeting up with Fenris.

“I knew Jesse was calling in extra boots for us, but I wasn’t expecting to see you guys here.” Joakim called out to Talvisota, whilst shaking the Sergeant’s hand. “Though it also explains why Domino wasn’t assigned to this one.”

“Well, you should know the age-old saying; ‘always prepare for the unexpected’.” Talvisota replied, before ordering the LAAT/i pilot to return to the Redemption.

“Commander Shepard, this is Sergeant Talvisota of the 104th Wolfpack’s Fenris Squad.” Joakim stated, while both Shepard and Talvisota exchanged salutes.

“No offence to you guys, but I take it there’s a reason why we’ve got a squad from another clone battalion instead of bringing down either the Rangers or Domino?” Shepard asked. Whilst she was appreciative of the unit in coming to help, she wasn’t sure why this was the case.

“Captain Jesse put the request forward to have a squad from the 104th help you on your mission as we have a lot of experience when it comes to performing difficult extractions or rescues whilst under fire, thus why we were sent in.” Talvisota explained, before he introduced his squad. “Also, this is the rest of my Squad. Howl, my XO. Lauri, my infiltration and guerrilla warfare specialist. Logan is Fenris’ demolitions expert. My combat medic is Trysk, and Sepp serves as the unit’s sniper.” Each member either nodded their head or saluted Shepard and her team.

With the meet and greet done, the reinforced group made its way towards where the base’s commander was. “Hold your fire! Friendlies inbound!” a female turian soldier called out from her place at the barricade, with the door lowering as she said this, allowing the group to enter the base.

Once inside, everyone took stock of the situation in the base. True to their nature, various turian troops were either standing on guard duty at the barricades, with others working in the various structures either attempting to make contact, or maintain contact, with either troops in outlying areas or other bases on Menae, working on issuing orders for repairs and maintenance on either vehicles or base defences, or doing what they could tending to the wounded in the field hospital that was there. Overhead, turian Verrix fighters and Lehran interceptors were flying past at low altitude every 40 seconds. Inside the middle of the base, whilst Shepard took the chance to look around the place, a few of the clones were also doing this. Ember, however, was the first to take in the sight of the Reapers themselves. Currently where they were on Menae, there were 2 Sovereign-class Reaper capital ships busy engaging turian ground forces and defences far into the distance, with their equivalent of klaxons sounding every few minutes.

“That’s a Reaper?” she asked, both in surprise and awe of the size of the monstrous mechanism.

“Yeah. According to Alliance Intel, those Sovereign-class Reapers are 2 kilometres tall.” Lauri stated, once he was close to Ember. However, what he said, got some attention from the others – specifically from the 501st members there.

“Hang on. That thing’s 2 kilometres tall? In other words, if tipped sidewards, is bigger than our Venator II-class Star Destroyers?!” Hardcase called out, startled by what he just heard.

“Pretty much. Hell, in relation to what you just said Hardcase, they’re bigger than the Galactic Empire’s Imperial-class Star Destroyers back home.” Sepp replied, continuing on from Lauri.

“Saw bigger ones on Earth. A whole lot of ‘em.” James stated out to the group, either out of worry for the people back on Earth, or just adding something to the conversation.

“Goddess.” Was all Liara said, revealing that she was also observing the whole thing with the troopers, before she left to follow Shepard, Joakim and Talvisota, as they were making their way to the command centre.

Standing at a projector table with a tactical overlay of the battlefield currently projected, General Corinthus was busy dealing with new issues that were coming through in a constant stream of data and alerts, with two turian soldiers standing near him.

“Tobestik, get your men on that north barricade.” Corinthus order one of the turians.

“Yes, sir!” Tobestik replied, before leaving. The general then focused on the other turian. “Sergeant Bartus, find a way to get that comm tower operational.”

“Sir!” Bartus responded, with a salute, before legging it towards it’s direction. At this point, Shepard decided to make her presence known.

“General?” she said, making her way up the ramp, with Liara standing to her left, alongside Talvisota, who had removed his helmet, showing his beard and ice blue eyes, the latter being a rare trait for any clone trooper to have. Joakim was standing on Shepard’s right.

“Commander Shepard. Heard you were coming, but I didn’t believe it. General Corinthus.” Corinthus stated, introducing himself to the female Spectre, before glancing at the two clone leaders.

“Lieutenant Joakim. Vanguard Squad, 501st Legion.” Joakim stated.

“Sergeant Talvisota. Fenris Squad, 104th Battalion. We’ve come to get Primarch Fedorian, sir.” Talvisota stated, before revealing their intentions. However, this was possibly not a smart move, for as soon as the Primarch’s name was mentioned, Corinthus stopped typing on the interface and looked downwards with a solemn look in his eyes.

“Primarch Fedorian is dead. His shuttle was shot down an hour ago as it tried to leave the moon.” He finally announced, much to the surprise of everyone present.

“Damn it… that’s going to complicate things.” Shepard cursed, realising that had they not gone to Hegemony Space first, they might have actually been able to save him.

“How bad is it General?” she then asked, seeing if she could get a sense of the situation at that time.

“We just lost about 400 men in half an hour.” Corinthus stated, before continuing on, whist continuing on working on the tactical display. “We set up camps on this moon as an advanced position to flank the enemy. A sound strategy. Just…”

“Irrelevant.” Shepard spoke up, given her years of experience in fighting both Reapers and their ground forces in remote locations in the galaxy.

“Exactly. The sheer force of the Reapers seems to make them immune to that sort of tactic. The Primarch and his men found that out the hard way.” Corinthus finished.

“I’m sorry. I hear he was a good man.” Shepard said, offering her condolences, despite never meeting Fedorian. Given the situation, it was all she could say.

“And a friend. He would have been an outstanding diplomat.” Corinthus stated, before getting back to the task at hand.

“Ok… so what happens now?” Joakim asked, inquiring whether they still had a mission or not.

“The Turian Hierarchy provide very clear lines of succession, Joakim.” Liara replied to the Lieutenant’s question. This gave them something to work with.

“Right. General Corinthus?” Krystina asked, also thinking the same thing.

“With such heavy casualties, it’s hard for me to know who the next Primarch is. Palaven Command will know.” Corinthus stated, whist bringing up his omni-tool and had it interface with the tactical display, showing Shepard, Liara, Talvisota and Joakim current enemy positions, and also revealing that there was a communications problem, showing the tower was still offline.

“However, at the moment, contacting them is impossible. The comm tower is out and husks are swarming that area – we can’t get close enough to repair it.” The General finished.

“Don’t worry General. We’ll get that tower operational.” Shepard stated, getting her M-96 Mattock ready to use, signalling that they were moving out, which prompted Talvisota to get his helmet back on.

“Thank you, Commander. I’ll take care of things on this end.” Corinthus responded, before Shepard, Liara and the clone squad leaders left the command centre.

“Troopers. Form up!” Joakim called out, prompting both Fenris and Vanguard to gather around near a stack of crates, which had a M-97 Viper Sniper Rifle sitting on top, in order to explain what was the plan. “Ok guys. From what we’ve learned just now, our original target, Primarch Fedorian, is KIA – killed before we even got here. That said, we may have a secondary target. However, General Corinthus doesn’t know who’s the next turian primarch, so he needs to get in touch with Palaven Command. Problem is, the comm tower here is out, and husks are swarming the A.O. Our current objective: eliminate the husks between us and the tower, secure it, and get it back online. Let’s move out!” Joakim explained to the all the troopers, which ended with a series of affirmatives, before everyone started moving towards the tower, once Liara pointed out where it was.

Once outside of the compound, and after bounding over a small ledge, the group saw Sergeant Bartus, along with two turians, one wounded, nearby. One turian soldier was tending to his wounded comrade, whilst Bartus was firing off rounds from his Phaeston into the dead bodies with Incendiary rounds.

“Husks at the tower overwhelmed us.” Bartus stated once Shepard squad and the troopers were nearby, with Kix and Trysk performing a quick sweep for where the injuries were on the wounded turian, though there wasn’t much they could do as both were still learning about the biology of the different species out here in the Milky Way.

“It’s like they came out of nowhere!” the other turian said.

“Lara, Dogma. Help Bartus and his men back to the compound, while the rest of us make a push for the tower, then regroup with us ASAP!” Joakim ordered the two troopers.

“Sir, Yes Sir!” Dogma and Lara replied back, before Lara moved to help the other turian pick up his comrade.

“Good Luck!” Bartus called out, whilst Shepard lead everyone else towards the tower.

“Joakim, Talvisota. Take Liara and James with you guys and make your way to the husks. I’ll stay back with Sepp, and we’ll provide sniper cover.” Shepard ordered the clones.

“Roger that, Commander.” Joakim stated, before Krystina and Sepp moved to get behind some cover. Once there, Shepard swapped out her M-96 Mattock for her M-97 Viper and primed her Armour-Piercing rounds, whilst Sepp lined up his DC-15x Sniper Rifle on a target.

“Weapons Free!” Joakim called out, which was met with rounds of projectiles and blaster bolts. This was enough to get the husks attentions, and soon they were swarming their way towards the group.

“You want a piece of this?!” Hardcase called out, once again living up to his aggressive style of combat with his Z-6 chaingun, this time supported by Talvisota who was also firing off a stream of blaster fire from his own Z-6, which was also backed up with blaster fire from the rest of the troopers. Combined with Shepard and Sepp’s marksmanship, James’s Carnage rounds and Liara biotics, and the end result was the horde was eliminated around the tower, even with another group was climbing up the ledges on the left coming in the swarm the group.

Once everyone regrouped at the tower, including Dogma and Lara once they got Bartus’ group back to base, Shepard started to work on the control interface at the base of the tower, only for it to flare up with an error.

“Damn it. We can’t repair it from this panel.” Krystina called out to everyone, before she turned to face everyone. Already, Shepard knew that she had to send someone up to the control panel up at the top of the tower, and mentally worked out who to send up. Immediately, none of the clones would fit the bill as they weren’t that fluent with using the haptic adaptive interface systems that most computers or terminals used in the Milky Way, not to mention that none of them present were combat engineers. Shepard also ruled herself out, despite the fact she had engineering skills, due to the fact she was leading the group, and given James’s style of combat, it was abundantly clear that he was no engineer. That left…

“Liara, see if you can repair it.” Shepard called out. Although Liara started out as an archaeologist earlier in her life, there was no doubt she would have learned how to repair systems like this since becoming the Shadow Broker.

“I’ll go up and have a look.” Liara stated, whilst holstering her M-9 Tempest and started making her way to the ladder. “If you could keep husks from climbing up behind me, I’d appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve got you’re six.” Howl called out as he was prepping his DC-15S Carbine for the inevitable assault.

Within seconds, the new horde were advancing on the group, either by coming over the ledges, or from a unique airborne drop from some sort of pod that exploded once it hit solid ground, which unleashed the husk.

“Here they come.” James called out once this started.  

“You ready James?” Shepard asked the marine.

“Hell yeah! Let’s take ‘em!” James replied, before opening fire with his N7 Typhoon.

“Troopers! Hold the line, fire at will!” Joakim called out to his brothers and sisters, before opening fire himself. For the next couple of minutes, whilst Liara was busy on the panel, Shepard, James, Vanguard and Fenris Squads were busy laying down the firepower they had.

After blasting a husk that was charging towards him, Trysk took the chance to look around briefly, and happened to see Dogma was preoccupied with another husk, but what he didn’t know was that another one was rapidly closing the gap between itself and the ARC Sergeant.

“DOGMA. BEHIND YOU!” Trysk yelled out. Dogma heard this just in time to have the husk jump on him, though that said, he was able to grab the husk’s arms, ensuring that they were deadlocked. For Dogma, looking at the cybernetic optics that replaced the victim’s eyes were unnerving to say the least, but starting at them wasn’t going to get him out of this predicament, so with that, he headbutted the husk, stunning it, before grabbing the husk by its neck and threw it down onto the ground. Before the husk could recover, Dogma planted his boot onto its chest, before pulling out one of his DC-17 pistols out of its holster and pumped multiple rounds of plasma into its head, killing it. Before he could relax, another husk was already charging towards him, but before Dogma could react to this, the husk was peppered with both blaster and projectile rounds, with the rounds originating from Shepard’s M-96 Mattock and Trysk’s DC-15S Carbine, as they both moved over to where Dogma was, allowing him to recover and retrieve his own carbine, getting back into the fight.

“You OK, Sarge?” Trysk called out to the veteran ARC Sergeant.

“Yeah, I’m good. Thanks for the head’s up.” Dogma replied back, before both troopers focused back on engaging incoming husks again.

A minute later, Shepard’s comm would come to life with a message from Liara.

“Shepard, I’ve repaired the tower’s main satellite connection. On my way down.” She stated over comms. With the tower back online, this meant communications were back online between Palaven and Menae.

“General, do you read? The comm tower is now operational.” Shepard called out over comms to General Corinthus, just as husk numbers were low, giving her this chance.

“Much appreciated, Commander. I’ll contact Palaven Command.” Corinthus replied back, just as a turian Verrix fighter was making an approach to land at an elevated area above the group’s position.

“Let us know when you’ve got something. Until then, we’ll help your men as best we can.” Shepard called out, whist ejecting a spent heat sink from her M-96 Mattock.

“Understood.” Corinthus called back.

“Shepard out.” Krystina replied, before terminating the transmission. At this point, another wave was inbound, this time in larger numbers.

“So what’s the play Commander?” Joakim asked out, whilst he was venting his DC-15LE.

“We dig in and help the turians in this sector until we hear from the General.” Shepard replied to Joakim’s question.

“10-4. Troopers, we hold the line here.” Joakim responded, before issuing out the new orders to the troopers present.

“They’re coming back in larger numbers this time!” Kix called out, before firing away with his DC-15S Carbine.

“MAKE ‘EM EAT HEAT!” Hardcase replied to this – or more accurately, yelling out his signature war cry, whilst already blasting away with his Z-6 chaingun.

“Head’s up, they’re coming in from the right flank this time.” Logan called out, after putting down two husks already. Hearing this, Talvisota turned to his sniper.

“Sepp, get up to where Liara was earlier repairing that tower, start engaging targets with your sniper rifle.” He ordered to Sepp.

“Yes, sir. Moving now.” Sepp responded before making his own way over to the tower and climbed up the ladder. Once on the platform, he grabbed his DC-15x Sniper Rifle that was attached to his back, dialled in the scope, and started to engage husks that were away, hoping to thin their numbers before they got close to the rest of the group.

While this wave was larger than before, it wasn’t that bad to deal with thanks to the fact that Liara was now in the fight, allowing her to ensnare husks with both Singularity and Statis biotic attacks, making it easier for everyone to kill them in quick succession, especially Sepp as he was putting down targets much faster than ever before thanks to this, and even had some extra support from turian troops up where the fighter landed, with one of them lugging a Krysae Anti-Material Sniper Rifle, which provided some extra explosive firepower, which actually impressed Sepp. Eventually, this wave was completely annihilated, with dead husks everywhere.

“Everyone OK?” Joakim called out to everyone present, which was met with a string of responses in the affirmative.

“Damn. With the way those husks were going down, in think we’ll be topping our kill counts from the Clone Wars at this rate.” Hardcase called out in a very bemused tone.

“Yeah, figures you worry about that, given your past.” Ember respond, with a smirk on her lips. Just as this was going on, Shepard’s comm’s flared up.

“Commander Shepard, come in.” Corinthus called out.

“Go ahead.” Shepard replied, upon which Corinthus continued on. “I have information from Palaven Command. Please return ASAP.”

“Roger. On our way.” Shepard finished, before indicating for everyone to make their way back to the base. Once they were back. Shepard’s Squad, along with Joakim and Talvisota made their way to where Corinthus still was.

“What have you got for us?” Shepard asked, whilst she was holstering her M-96 Mattock on her back.

“As your partner said, succession is usually simple. But right now, the Hierarchy’s in chaos – so many dead or MIA.” Corinthus stated, still looking over the tactical display.

“Listen, I need someone – I don’t care who, as long as they can get us the turian resources we need.” Shepard replied. Before anyone else could say a thing, a voice called out to them.

“I’m on it, Shepard. We’ll find you the Primarch.” A turian soldier said whilst making his way up the opposite ramp and past two turian soldiers standing nearby.

To the clones, it sounded just like any other turian they’ve just seen. Same could be said to James for that matter.

To Krystina, the voice sounded unique, and one she’d grown accustomed to over the years. Once the soldier came into view, he was sporting a unique version of turian armour, in a blue and silver paint scheme, also wearing a turian version of a Kuwashii Visor and carrying a M-92 Mantis Sniper Rifle. However to Krystina, what made this turian soldier stand out was his unique blue tattoo markings across his face, with heavy scaring on the right side of his face, with the scars making him unique – and very special to her.

The turian soldier coming up was none other than Garrus Vakarian.

“Garrus!” Shepard called out once she saw him arrive. Oddly enough, it also drew Corinthus’ attention.

“Vakarian, sir – I didn’t see you arrive…” Corinthus stated, drawing Garrus’ attention.

“At ease, General.” Garrus responded, before turning back to face Shepard’s group. As Garrus was holstering his M-92 Mantis, Shepard approached him.

“You’re alive…” she stated, which sounded like it was almost in relief.

“I’m hard to kill – You should know that.” Garrus replied, in both a smug and hushed tone, whilst holding Shepard’s hand. All this was more than enough to draw the attention of the clones that were present.

“… It’s good to see you again. Hell, I thought you’d be on Palaven.” Shepard continued on, putting her feelings aside for now as they still had a job to do, and she was in the company of strangers, so to say.

“If we lose this moon, we lose Palaven. I’m the closest damn thing we have to an expert on Reaper forces, so I’m… advising.” Garrus replied back. Once hearing this, she turned to face James and the clones.

“James, Joakim, Talvisota. This is Garrus Vakarian. He’s helped me stop both Saren and the Collectors. He’s one hell of a soldier.” Shepard said, introducing the four soldiers to one another, with James shaking Garrus’ hand, along with Joakim’s and Talvisota’s.

“Lieutenants, Sergeant.” Garrus addressed the marine and ARC Troopers before he saw someone familiar. “Good to see you too, Liara.”

“Good to see you in one piece, Garrus.” Liara replied to her old friend, happy to know he was still around. Once this was all done, it was time to return to the business at hand.

“General Corinthus filled me in. We know who we’re after.” Garrus stated, before Corinthus spoke up to the group.

“Palaven Command tells me that the next Primarch is General Adrien Victus.” Oddly enough, this actually got Liara’s attention.

“Victus? His name’s crossed my desk.” She stated, whilst starting to remember what she had read up.

“Know him, Garrus?” Shepard asked the veteran sniper.

“I was fighting alongside him this morning.” Garrus replied, before he continued on.

“Lifelong military. Gets results, popular with his troops. Not so popular with military command – has a reputation for playing loose with accepted strategy.” This was enough to get Krystina’s attention.

“And what do you mean by that?” Krystina asked. This time, Liara would speak up. “On Taetrus, during the Uprising, his squad discovered a salarian spy ring about the same time as the turian separatists did. Rather than neutralise the ring, he fell back. He even gave up valuable fortifications, which the rebels took.”

“Then the rebels attacked the salarians. And when both groups had worn each other down, Victus moved back in. Didn’t lose a man.” Garrus continued on from Liara.

“Huh. Sounds like something General Skywalker would come up with himself.” Joakim stated, comparing it to some of the more unorthodox tactics Anakin came up with back in the Clone Wars that worked well.

“A bold strategy, but wild behaviour doesn’t get you advanced up the meritocracy.” Corinthus stated in relation to the mission that was described.

“Primarch Victus. That should be something to see.” Garrus stated, curious to see how this would play out.

“You think he can get the job done?” Shepard asked, hoping Victus was up to the task.

“We both know conventional strategy won’t beat the Reapers. Right now he could be our best shot, and I trust him.” Garrus replied, giving Shepard the answer she need to hear.

“Ok, let’s get him on the shuttle and get out of here.” Shepard stated to everyone, revealing their new objective. At this point, fate decided to intervene.

“Commander! Shepard, come in!” Joker called out over comms.

“Can’t this wait Joker? We’re in the middle of a war zone.” Shepard inquired, wondering why Joker was calling over comms, as she made her way out to the middle of the base, with everyone in tow.

“We’ve got a situation on the Normandy, Commander. It’s like she’s possessed – shutting down systems, powering up weapons. I can’t find the source.” Joker replied. This was a significant problem, for if that was happening to the Normandy, there was a good chance it could draw the Reapers’ attention.

“I need the Normandy standing by, we may have to bug out.” Shepard ordered, before terminating the transmission.

“Should I go back and take a look?” Liara asked. While she wasn’t versed in all of the Normandy’s systems – same could be said for Ratchet and Echo – having extra hands on board might help speed things up.

“Do it.” Shepard stated, before Liara sprinted off to head back to where the Kodiak was parked. Once Liara left, Krystina turned her attention back to Garrus.

“Garrus, you said you were with Victus this morning?” she asked.

“Yeah, but we got separated. He went to bolster a flank that was breaking. Could be anywhere out there by now.” Garrus replied, stating that this wasn’t going to be a quick snatch-and-grab.

“We’re trying to raise him, Commander.” Corinthus stated, but before anyone else could do or say anything more, James spotted something coming in.

“Incoming Harvester, headed for the airfield!” he called out, whilst priming his N7 Typhoon. Within a few seconds, everyone in the base – human, clone and turian – went weapons free on the creature, which looked like a rotten carcases, but given the blue lighting coming of the various cybernetics that were clearly visible, the worm-neck was clearly converted by the Reapers. Despite the firepower, the Harvester was clearly unphased and flew onwards to the turian airfield that was west of their location. As it flew off, a few of the clones continued to pour blaster bolts into it, along with Corinthus who was firing away at it with a M-12 Locust SMG one-handed.

“General, tell Primarch Victus we’ll rendezvous here.” Shepard said to Corinthus, before turning to face her squad and the clones. “In the meantime, let’s go take care of whatever that thing dropped off.” She stated, revealing what their next move was, before looking towards Garrus.

“Coming Garrus?” Krystina asked, in a playful tone. With a quick tinker with his M-92 Mantis, Garrus gave his answer. “Are you kidding? I’m right behind you!”

Due to the threat of the latest Reaper incursion, everyone was moving in a hurried pace in order to nullify it before they breached the base. Shepard’s squad, now composed of her, James and Garrus, Vanguard and Fenris Squads would hold the line at ground level, while turian troops would work from the ledges that gave them elevated positions to fight from. Whilst moving there, Shepard could hear some laboured breathing from James.

“James, is that you breathing so hard?” she asked the marine.

“Atmosphere’s a little thinner than I’m used to, is all.” James replied, working to catch up on his breath. “Adrenaline’s better than oxygen any day.”

“Don’t get too cocky on that front Lieutenant.” Kix chipped in but was stonewalled by Hardcase.

“I disagreed on that front Kix, because here they come!” he pointed out, alerting everyone that Reaper forces were inbound. Amongst the husks, this time around there were also Cannibals – converted Batarians with a human corpse fused to the body to serve as it’s hybrid arm cannon/grenade launcher – charging up to the defensive lines, firing on the move. While Fenris Squad has already gained some experience engaging Cannibals, this was Vanguard’s first time, and to say they were surprised at the sight of them would be an understatement. Once the shock wore off, they were returning fire, but this time, they were forced to stay in cover given the fact they were now under fire for once.

While most of the clones, along with Shepard and James, were behind barricades placed by the turians, Garrus and Sepp were staying behind near some elevated cover, so they could engage with their sniper rifles – and already, they were both making a unique sniper team. While Garrus had the combined advantages of being a Combat Engineer and a gifted Marksman in his own right, his M-92 Mantis was letting him down. While it was one of the powerful sniper rifles in the galaxy, amplified by his Armour-Piercing Ammo primed on the weapon, the downside was it was a true ‘one shot’ weapon, as the rifle needed to have the heat sink ejected after one shot, severely limiting the rate of fire. That’s where Sepp came into his own with his own skills as a sniper, and also his DC-15x was capable of firing six shots before venting, not to mention that the ionizing bolts could shred shields in no time, so for the duration of the mission, they would tag-team a high value target – Sepp would strip away defences, where Garrus would deliver the kill shot, and they would rotate on who would get the kill shot.

After a few moments into the firefight, James was the first to notice something different with some of the Reaper troops.

“Just me, or do those Reapers look like turians?” he called out, getting everyone to see what James was on about.

“You’re right… They do.” Shepard replied, once she got a good look at a converted turian, before Garrus hit it with an Overload tech attack, depleting it’s shields, allowing someone to kill it in rapid succession.

“Turian troops have been calling their corrupted brethren ‘Marauders’.” Talvisota called out once he was behind cover after firing of another barrage of blaster fire from his Z-6 chaingun. “According to what we’ve seen on Palaven, they operate as the Reaper equivalent of a squad leader, and have this ability to generate this energy field that, once it makes contact with both Husks and Cannibals, it forms a scabby shell of armour for them, making them harder to kill.”

“Understood Talvisota.” Shepard replied, before she left off an Incineration attack on a Cannibal that had this new armour plating, revealing that burning plasma could still burn the Reaper soldier despite the extra protection. This firefight would continue for a few minutes more until the last husks were killed.

“I think we’re done here.” James would state once the battlefield was quiet.

“Take this chance to check your ammo count everyone. We don’t know where we’re fighting next.” Shepard ordered everyone, before the group started to move back into the base. Hoping to take a quick breather before they went back into the thick of it, fate had other ideas.

“Shepard. Come in.” Corinthus called out over comms.

“Go ahead.” Krystina replied back as they were just about to walk back into the base.

“Still trying to raise the Primarch – but we’ve got trouble back here at the main barricade. If the Reapers breach it, we’re done.” Corinthus stated, revealing that they were heading for a new hot spot at the base.

“On our way.” Shepard replied. Just as the group was making their way back to the centre of the base, they could see what the General was on about – the main barricade, which had a mounted anti-personnel turret installed, was under intensive attack, before a series of explosions ripped across the barricade, killing the turian troops stationed there. Seeing this, Shepard sprang into action.

“Trysk, Kix. Check for any wounded at the barricade and get them out to safety. Everyone one else, with me, Let’s go!” she called out before legging it to the defensive line.

Whilst Trysk and Kix checked for any survivors with turian troops who came over to help in that regards. Shepard, Garrus, James and the rest of the clones made their way to the top of the barricade, where they got into ideal firing positions while Shepard manned the mounted turret.

“Here we go again…” Howl stated, once he saw another swarm of Husks making a charge for the barricade before he opened fire with his DC-15S Carbine. Within a few seconds, everyone was firing on the new horde of Husks making their way towards the barricade. As usual, Hardcase was enjoying this a little too much. However, because of the fact they had high ground to work with, high numbers on their side and with the immense firepower from the mounted turret which had the capacity to completely obliterate a Husk into a bloody mess, his attitude was spreading to everyone.

“Just picking ‘em off. Maybe I can do three at a time. Wahoo!” James called out, firing away with his N7 Typhoon – or more accurately, following the mantra of ‘pull the trigger ‘till they don’t get up’.

“Ok, come on! Who’s next?!” Garrus called out after loading a fresh heat sink into his Phaeston, before opening fire again.

“And that makes kill number 56.” Ember called out after putting down another Husk herself before she looked towards Lara. “How many have you got sis?”

“Just racked up number 68.” Lara replied, sounding fairly smug with herself while taking cover to vent her DC-15A.

“Crap! I’m falling behind.” Ember continued on, before blasting another Husk, bringing her total to 57.

“You two rookies have got a long way to go before you can match what we racked up during the Clone Wars!” Dogma stated with a laugh, before he leaned out of cover to open fire again.

Of course, there was the danger of the Husks climbing up the walls on either side of the barricade, where they could then rush forward and get onto the flanks of the group, but due to the firepower, they never came close.

“Yeah! Like fish in a barrel!” James called out, finally ejecting a heat sink for his machine gun, after the wave was eliminated.

“What?” Garrus asked, confused by this statement.

“Old human saying! Like fish. In. A barrel!” James clarified, hoping the turian sharpshooter would pick up on it. However, Garrus spotted something else.

“Heads Up! Here comes another wave!” he called out, and once again the group opened fire, this time backed up with Kix and Trysk. This battle would keep up for another few more minutes – and a lot more dead Husks, before the Reapers decided to send in a game-changer.

Dropping in from another ‘orbital insertion’, a new kind of Reaper husk appeared. This one was a massive body, with some of the design bearing some similarities of a krogan as Shepard could tell, carrying a massive cybernetic claw that replaced it’s right hand. One thing that stood out was that this thing had a turian head fused to the body, which didn’t seem possible at all due to the different biology that the two species had – due to their different protein types. Completing the hideous design was a massive amount of cybernetics that was signature to Reaper troops.

“Holy hell! What is that thing?!” James called out.

“Who gives a flying fuck. SHOOT IT!” Hardcase yelled out, once again spooling up his Z-6, before everyone else joined in.

Just as the rounds were starting to strike the massive Reaper troop, it reared itself up before charging towards the barricade at an alarming speed, with its clawed arm high in the air – clearly intending to smash its way through the barricade.

“Brace yourselves!” Shepard called out, just as the monstrosity slammed it’s clawed arm into the barricade. The sudden strike shook the whole barricade, and it was more than enough to force the turret around – throwing Shepard off the barricade, and putting her within striking distance of the new Reaper soldier. Once she hit the ground with a thud, it took her a few moments to recover from the drop before she moved to get out of range of the monstrosity, which let off a massive roar at her.

With Krystina on the ground, Garrus was the first to move to protect her, firing his Phaeston at the beast, with everyone else following not that far behind. While everyone was jumping down to link up with Shepard, Sepp, Lara and Logan stayed up on the ledge to provide some marksman support on the massive Reaper creation. Problem was that yet another wave of Husks were swarming in, and this time they didn’t have the firepower from the mounted turret to help.

“Goddamn it, don’t they run out of these things?!” Kix called out, once he saw the new horde charging in.

“Everyone else focus on taking out the husks. James, Garrus, Talvisota and Hardcase, well take care of that monstrosity.” Shepard called out, hoping that the firepower that all five of them had would be enough to take down the new Reaper.

Giving the fact that James was having Incendiary Rounds on his weapons, and both Garrus and her had Armour-Piercing Rounds on theirs, coupled with the insane rate of fire from two Z-6 chainguns, she thought it could do the job, and quickly for once the new target was down, they would refocus their firepower on the new horde. Once Shepard was prepared, and with Talvisota and Hardcase already firing away with their Z-6s, she engaged with her M-96 Mattock, as it did more damage than her sniper rifle or pistol. For James, while his N7 Typhoon was capable of dishing out decent damage, it wasn’t going to be enough in this case, so once he called out he was swapping weapons, alerting everyone to the situation and to cover him for the next few seconds, he swapped out to his N7 Crusader. This particular shotgun was considered one of the best in the galaxy given the fact it has unmatched accuracy compared to any other shotgun – it’s more on par with various sniper rifles due to its range – and it also has the capacity to inflict very serious damage due to it’s slug, with only the krogan M-300 Claymore outclassing it in this case.

Coupled with the Incendiary Rounds and also a Carnage projectile, James was capable of helping inflicting some decent damage, but it wasn’t enough to kill the monstrosity. It was at this point; Shepard came up with an idea.

“James. I’ll hit it with Incineration. Once it’s hit, nail it with a Carnage round!” she called out.

“Affirmative!” James yelled out, after firing off another slug from his shotgun – aimed at the Husks giving the clones a hard time. After taking another swing at Talvisota, which he barely managed to dodge, Shepard primed her omni-tool and fired off another Incineration attack, coating the creature in burning plasma.

“NOW!” Shepard called out to James, who lined up his N7 Crusader, and fired off a Carnage round. The end result was the combination set off a massive explosion, severely crippling the monstrosity, but it still wasn’t enough to kill it.

“Hey, Ugly!” a female voice called out, drawing the creature’s attention – upon the last thing it saw was a blue blaster bolt.

The shot hit the creature square in the head, killing it – but not before it tried one last charge in its death throes, which failed. As soon as the creature was down on the ground, both Talvisota and Hardcase turned their Z-6s onto the horde, which was slowly starting to overwhelm their brothers. As for Shepard, James and Garrus, they took the chance to see who got the kill shot in, and saw it was Lara, with the barrel of her DC-15A smoking. Seeing this, all three gave them a quick nod of their heads, before they turned to help the clones fight off the husks.

“You know Lara, that still only counts as one!” Ember yelled out, which drew an annoyed groan from her sister.

“Will you two knock it off and kill something.” Sepp countered in a smartarse way, before he lined his DC-15x up and claimed a headshot on a Husk baring down on Joakim. It would be another couple of minutes before this horde was dealt with.

“Shepard. Corinthus here.” The General called out over comms about 30 seconds after the last Husk was killed.

“What’s the word on the Primarch?” Shepard asked, hoping there was some good news.

"Still can’t get a stable comm link.” Corinthus stated, indicating that either he was neck deep in a firefight, or the Reapers were starting to jam transmissions. Either way, this wasn’t good to hear, and it was something Talvisota realised.

“Commander. The longer we stay here waiting to hear from Victus, the greater the chances are we’ll lose this Primarch too. We've got to go and find him.” The ARC Sergeant stated, to which Shepard agreed.

“Change of plans General. We’ll go out on foot and find him ourselves.” Krystina radioed to the General.

“Understood Shepard. Thanks for assisting our forces here.” Corinthus replied back.

“10-4 General. Shepard out.” Shepard replied before killing the transmission. Once done, she looked towards Garrus, who was doing quick adjustments to his Phaeston. “Garrus. Take us to the last place you saw Victus.”

With that, with Garrus on point, everyone moved out. “How far do we need to go, Garrus?” Joakim asked.

“Should be pretty quick, unless we run into trouble.” Garrus replied back. After a few meters, the group took the chance to look out at a nearby ledge, providing a view of a Reaper engaging a battle far off into the distance. However, it was James who spotted a Verrikan-class frigate that was crashed onto the surface that was – at best guess – 20 kilometres away.

“Oh my god. Would ya’ look at that…” James same once he saw the view before him, which got everyone else’s attention.

“Took out a frigate – man, how many people?” he asked, but no one really answered. Logan on the other hand, was observing the Reaper, swarming with turian fighters and ground fire from turian defences trying to take it down.

“Bloody hell. Those turian fighters are struggling out there.” He said, seeing how the Reaper’s hull plating wasn’t even dented yet.

“Come on guys. We’re not gonna get far if we keep watching distant battlefields. Let’s go.” Shepard said in a solemn tone, which got everyone to continue moving on.

After sliding down a 50 degree slope in order to keep moving, the group kept walking across Menae’s surface, when Garrus looked up towards Palaven.

“Damn it. Look at Palaven.” He called out, getting everyone’s attention. “That blaze of orange – the big one – that’s where I was born.”

“Crap…” Hardcase responded, startled by what he saw.

“Bloody hell. And that’s where the Wolfpack’s, along with Hawkbat and 891st Armoured are fighting at the moment?” Kix asked the Fenris Squad members.

“Yeah. 104th’s currently fighting in and around Cipritine – the Planetary Capital – at the moment. Same with 891st Armoured Battalion. Last I’d heard, Hawkbat Battalion’s in another city helping with its evacuation before we were called back for deployment out here.” Talvisota answered.

“I hope you’re guys are doing ok down there.” Dogma told Talvisota, to which he nodded his in response to this.

“That’s rough. Still have family there?” James asked Garrus.

“My dad and my sister, Solana Vakarian.” Garrus replied.

“How bad is it?” James continued on, as Shepard indicated for the group to keep moving.

“Three million lost the first day, five the second.” Garrus continued on, as Shepard took the chance to grab a datapad that was lying on the ground next to a dead turian patrol.

“And how’s the military holding up?” she asked.

“Look around. That should give you some idea.” Garrus replied, now with a hint of anger in his voice.

“If you ask me, looks like they’re putting up a good fight.” Trysk stated, as he was so far impressed by how the turians have been able to fight in this war.

“For now… Trysk. But how long’s it take before the fight’s kicked out of you.” Garrus replied, momentarily forgetting Trysk’s name, given the fact he only just met the Clone Medic. “If they’d only listened to your warnings about the Reapers, Shepard… we might’ve been ready.”

“Maybe. Hard to figure how to prepare for something like this.” James responded to this, as he pointed to another turian airbase under siege from Reaper troops in the distance. Behind them, another Verrikan-class frigate was now engaging one of the Reapers in the distance.

The group continued onwards for a few more minutes in silence, before they made their way to yet another ledge, which had a blind corner in the layout. Without warning, the familiar sound of Husks came out of nowhere, with the Husks in question were soon spotted, clawing their way to the top the ledge at speed.

“Ambush!” Joakim yelled out, before blasting one in the head. Soon the ledge erupted into another firefight as more Husks climbed up to charge the group, but this time it was on a ledge top, with very little room to manoeuvre, and due to this, it forced Hardcase and Talvisota to ditch their Z-6s for the time being due to the length and how close-quarters the fighting was. Despite this, the group was fighting well. However, that changed really quick.

“Got more back here!” James called out, as more Husks were now coming up behind the group, making the fight even more precarious. Despite the difficulty in this fight due to the particular location, and having quiet a few close calls with Husks jumping onto a few members of the group, the swarm was annihilated in a few minutes.

“Shit! I hate those things!” James exclaimed once the group got moving again. “And New York is crawling with the creepy bastards?! Argh… I never should have left Earth.”

“It’s gonna be bad all over.” Garrus replied to the marine as the group made it’s way to the end of their current path. There was another pathway for them to take, but they have to jump it which would take a couple of minutes for the whole group to cross.

“Leaving the fight just pisses me off.” James stated once he was standing next to Garrus, waiting for their turn.

“But you’re here asking Victus to do the same thing.” Garrus responded, noting the irony in James’s statement. “Leave the fight to make nice in some boardroom.”

“This summit is the only chance we’ve got, Garrus.” Shepard replied to Garrus, just as he was making his jump across. “None of us is beating the Reapers alone.”

“From what I’ve seen Commander… you’re right about that.” Talvisota stated, agreeing with what Shepard had said.

Once the group had made their way across, they followed the new path around another bend which brought the group to a big open area. Here, they could see a group of turian soldiers. One was down on the ground, with a medic tending his wounds, with a third standing on guard for any Reaper forces that could show up, with them next to the wreckage of the transport that was no doubt carrying them. On a cliff to their left, they could see another two soldiers firing down the cliff face, obvious at Reaper forces. As the group made their way towards this squad, a Harvester flew overhead and disappeared, with a turian Lehran interceptor chasing after it in a dogfight.

“Soldier! You ok?” Shepard asked the one soldier that was on guard.

“Yes, ma’am. We’ll make it.” The turian soldier replied.

“Have you seen General Victus?” Garrus asked, looking to see if this squad had any useful intel.

“Half hour ago. Headed south.” The soldier replied back. “OK, Good luck.” Garrus finished up, with everyone now knowing which way they were going.

“Yes, sir!” the turian soldier thanked Garrus, before moving to check on his wounded comrade.

Before the group could move out, they could see the Reaper use one of it’s particle beam cannons on the Verrikan-class frigate that was still firing on it. The weapon tore through its hull plating, completely ignoring it shields and destroyed it’s drive core, allowing the frigate to descend down towards the moon’s surface, where it crashed in a massive explosion.

“Holy crap…” Ember stated, startled at what she just saw.

“Commander, how many troops in that crash? 50? 75?” James asked.

“Not sure, James.” Krystina replied, as she hadn’t been on any turian warship in her life. Garrus on the other hand…

“Sounds right…” was all he said on the subject.

“Hard to see a beautiful ship like that go down.” James continued on, with the tone in his voice very sombre.

“Not to mention all the men and women serving on her.” Kix pointed out, which had everyone reflecting on that.

“Yeah…” James said, so did Garrus.

“Come on guys. We’ve still got to find the Primarch.” Joakim stated, which got everyone back in focus.

“Agreed Joakim. The squad here said he was headed south.” Shepard responded. Given the fact that now had an idea of which way to go, Shepard took point.

As the squad moved on, a few hundred meters onwards, they could hear the engine whine of a Verrix fighter, and just as when the group saw it, a Harvester came up out of nowhere and sideswiped the fighter, ramming it off course and straight into the ground directly in front of the group – giving the pilot no time to react to it.

“Woah! LOOK OUT!” James yelled out, just as the fighter crashed, with the group reeling backwards, or falling down, from the shock wave of the explosion.

“That was a little closer than I’d like!” Garrus called out, whist he was recovering from the shock wave.

“I’ll say.” James said, agreeing with the turian sniper. Whilst the group was recovering, Shepard charged ahead to the newly-formed wreckage to see if there were any survivors, and didn’t like what she found.

“No survivors… damn it.” She cursed.

“Crash like that, it’s not surprising.” Garrus replied. As there was nothing they could do, the group continued onwards.

After traversing over more ledges heading downwards and passing a bend, there was a question that James had to ask.

“So Lola… you really think that this summit will work?” he started to speak.

“From what I've been seeing here, it’s gotta work. Why are you asking Lieutenant?” Logan stated.

“Because I don’t think it’ll work out. I mean asari? Salarians?” James continued on.

“Ok… from what I’ve read up on the Codex, their soldiers aren’t exactly slouches. Where are you going with this?” Joakim asked.

For Joakim, he had read up that Asari Commandos were well celebrated for their skills with their biotics and expertise in guerrilla warfare, not to mentioned that they were considered the finest individual warriors in the Milky Way (and he secretly was looking forward to see what one could do against a Mandalorian warrior from Bo-Katan’s Strike Force), and salarian operatives within the Special Tasks Group were well skilled in the arts of espionage, infiltration, covert missions, with their military, despite being small, was considerably powerful. However, it apparently wasn’t meeting James’ style of combat.

“What I’m getting at is where are the krogan and batarians? Where’s the muscle?” James replied to Joakim’s question, revealing what he was driving at.

“With galactic politics and the current situation, it’s never that simple.” Shepard replied to James’ question.

“The batarians took the first hit when the Reapers arrived. Not much left of them… and the krogan have never forgiven us for the genophage.” Garrus explained, giving the quick version of events.

“Right… Turians sterilised them.” James continued on, remembering that time period in Citadel history.

“Salarians came up with it.” Garrus stated.

“And the krogan hate them both for it.” Shepard stated, adding in what she knew about this.

“So they won’t be joining us.” Garrus finished off.

“Too bad. I’ve fought with a krogan. They’re tough sons of bitches.” James finished, which drew an odd look from both Garrus and Krystina, given the fact that they were actually friends with two krogan they both knew.

The group continued traversing over rough terrain for the next few minutes, passing more dead Husks and turian patrols, but not encountering more ambushes. As they kept moving, everyone was taking a few glimpse in the surrounding battles that they could see (not including the Reapers as they could be seen anywhere). As the group closed in on the next base, multiple explosions and gunfire could be heard in the distance, alerting them to the situation they were walking into.

“That sounds bad!” James yelled out. With that, Shepard took charge.

“Ok. Double-time! No Reaper’s taking this primarch from me!” she yelled out, before moving into a full-fledged sprint towards the breached defensive wall.

“Right behind you!” James called out.

“Roger that, we’re Oscar Mike!” Joakim also called out, with everyone now running to where Shepard was going.

In a few seconds, Shepard was taking cover behind some rock piles, already under fire from more Cannibals. As she took the chance to let off a few rounds from her M-96 Mattock, she was able to kill one Cannibal, before blaster fire from Dogma’s DC-15S Carbine helped kill another one. During this engagement, she saw that once a Reaper soldier was killed, Cannibals would start running to the fallen body in order to consume it, allowing it to gain access to the armour plating they would receive from a Marauder – finally understanding why they were called Cannibals.

“WEAPONS FREE!” Joakim yelled out to both Vanguard and Fenris Squads as they made their way into the compound, all firing their respective weapons. During their firefight, they could overhear turian voices yell out.

“Focus fire on the Brutes!” one turian soldier yelled out.

“Doing what we can, sir!” a female turian yelled out in response to this request.

“I take it the turians are calling that monstrous Reaper we engaged back at Corinthus’ compound are ‘Brutes’.” Sepp called out, once he could figure out what they meant by.

“Makes sense, given what we had to do to kill it.” Kix responded to this new news.

“Meh, they ain’t so tough, once you know what you’re doing!” Hardcase yelled out, firing away with his Z-6 chaingun.

“Hardcase, you think nothing is tougher than you!” Dogma yelled out, whilst he was venting his carbine, mostly in playful banter with his brother.

Once the immediate group of Reaper troops was delt with, Shepard ordered everyone to push forward, and start providing support for the turians inside the compound.

“Head’s up, we’ve got a Brute closing in on us!” Trysk called out. Originally, Shepard was planning to have everyone focus their fire on the Brute, but Logan had other ideas.

“Commander, see if you can keep that thing distracted.” He called out to Shepard.

“What have you got in mind, Logan?” Shepard called out, after firing of a few rounds from her battle rifle at a Marauder.

“I’m planning to stick a Detonite Charge on that thing!” Logan responded, revealing what his intentions were.

“Roger, get your charge ready!” Shepard responded. Once hearing this, he holstered his carbine to his back, whilst taking his backpack off and pulled out a Detonite Charge, and primed it for delayed detonation. By his calculations to run to the back of the Brute, somehow clamber onto the massive beast, plant the charge and get off before it went off, Logan set the timer for 1 minute.

“Commander, Charge is primed!” Logan yelled out to Shepard, which she responded with a thumbs up.

“Everyone, COVERING FIRE!” Krystina yelled out, which everyone responded with weapons’ fire.

Once the Brute was occupied and facing away from Logan, he started running in order to get on the Brute before it realised what was going on. It was until Logan started climbing that the Brute realised what was going on, and started flaying about madly in an attempt to shake the clone trooper off. Despite its best efforts, Logan stayed on, and was able to plant the Detonite Charge on the Brute’s back. However, due to the Brute's actions in trying to get rid of Logan, it meant that the charge had 15 seconds left on the timer, and with that, Logan dropped off the Brute’s back and did his best to roll away from the impending detonation – but it wasn’t far enough in his mind. Just as the Brute finally saw Logan and decided to focus on killing him, the charge exploded, completely obliterating the top half of the Brute and the gruesome remains of the lower half collapsed to the ground.

“LOGAN!” Talvisota yelled out as he ran to his squad member, who was still lying on the ground, as he was doing what he could to ensure he wasn’t in the debris field form the charge. Joining him was both Shepard and Kix. Once all three got to Logan, Kix and Shepard dragged him to a relative safe spot, whilst everyone continued to engage the Reaper troops that were still present.

“Logan. You all right?” Talvisota asked, while Kix started performing a preliminary sweep for injuries.

“Logan?” Shepard also asked. Much to everyone’s relief, he started to move his head.

“You Ok?” Talvisota asked again.

“Yeah…” Logan finally replied with a groan. “… I can hear bells ringing.”

This prompted Shepard and Talvisota to start laughing at this – not at the fact that Logan was alive (in a bad way), but rather his insane plan actually worked – and he was alive to tell about it!.

“Goddamn it. And I though Hardcase was crazy!” Shepard stated, still laughing at what had just happened.

“Hardcase has done some crazy things in his life, but even he has his limits. Logan’s just topped all that.” Kix stated, still struggling with what he just saw, but he couldn’t deny he was impressed by this – even though it was reckless.

“Kix, stay here and check Logan out to ensure he’s got a clean bill of health.” Shepard ordered the veteran ARC Medic.

“Will do, Commander.” Kix replied back.

Thanks to Logan’s insane ‘tactic’, this actually proved to be a much needed morale booster for the turian troops that were still fighting the Reapers that were present.

“Looks grim – been a brutal fight for these guys!” James called out, once Shepard linked back up with the rest of the group.

“But the tide’s turning!” Garrus stated, seeing how fast another Brute was taken down with the amount of firepower that was now present.

“Then turn up the heat!” Shepard yelled out, once again opening fire with her M-96 Mattock.

It would take another 10 minutes before every Reaper soldier in the camp was finally vanquished. After doing a quick sweep, Garrus finally pointed out who General Victus was – a turian wearing black and red armour, and sporting a white tattoo marking that cover the majority of his face. He was spotted walking out of a building carrying a Phaeston rifle. While the clones took the chance to finally catch a few minutes to recover and to enquire how Logan was doing after his insane stunt, Shepard, James, Garrus, Joakim and Talvisota walked up to where the General was.

“General Victus?” Shepard asked, as she walked up to him.

“Yes.” Victus replied, confirming his identity.

“I’m Commander Shepard of the Normandy.” Shepard continued on.

“Ah, Commander, I know who you are. I can’t wait to find out what brings you and two squads of clone troopers out here.” Victus stated, whilst holstering his Phaeston, before turning his head to look at Garrus.

“Vakarian – where did you go?” the General asked.

“Heavy Reaper unit on the right flank. I believe you’re exact words were, ‘Get that thing the hell off my men!’.” Garrus responded.

“Appreciate it.” Victus replied, with some humour in his voice. At this point, Joakim stepped forward, removing his helmet in the process, revealing his unique beard and mohawk hair style.

“General. I’m ARC Lieutenant Joakim with the 501st Legion. You are needed off-planet General, and Commander Shepard and my squad have come to get you.” Joakim explained to the veteran turian General what was happening. However, he wasn’t moved by this.

“It will take something beyond important for me to leave my men, or my turian brothers and sisters, in their fight.” Victus stated, whilst looking over the camp and the turian troops that were still standing. Here, Garrus decided to deliver the kicker.

“Fedorian was killed. You’re the new Primarch.” He stated with certainty in his voice.

“You’re needed immediately to chair a summit and represent your people in the fight against the Reapers.” Shepard continued on from Garrus’ statement.

Completely startled by what he had just heard, Victus instead just walked past Shepard, Joakim and Talvisota and made his way to a clearing, whilst looking at Palaven.

“I am primarch of Palaven? Negotiating for the Turian Hierarchy?” Victus remarked, slowly taking in what he had just learned.

“Yes, sir.” Talvisota answered, which prompted Victus to turn back to Shepard.

“I’ve spent my whole life in the military. I’m no diplomat… I hate diplomats.” Victus stated to the group.

“What makes you think you’re not qualified?” Shepard asked, seeing where his thoughts were.

“I’m not really a ‘by the book’ kind of guy… and I piss people off.” Victus replied. “My family’s been military since the Unification War. War is my life. It’s in my bones. But that kind of passion is… deceptive. Can make you seem reckless when you’re anything but.”

“War is your resume and at a time like this, we need leaders who have been through that hell.” Shepard stated, hoping that this would help motivate Victus. This did the trick.

“I like that. You’re right.” Victus responded, with renewed enthusiasm in his voice.

“And honestly, uniting these races may take as much strength as facing the Reapers.” Shepard continued on, before walking towards where the downed Verrikan-class frigate back at Moon Base Firax. “See this devastation, General? Double that for Earth. I need an alliance. I need the turian fleets.”

After a few seconds of pondering in his mind, Victus walked towards Shepard.

“Give me a moment to say goodbye to my men.” He stated, revealing that he was accepting the fact he was now the primarch.

“Of course, sir.” Shepard said, agreeing to this request.

Whilst Victus went to his men, Garrus walked up to Shepard, with Joakim and Talvisota.

“Without him down here, there’s a good chance we lose this moon.” Garrus stated, with some concerns he was worried about with the recent developments.

“And without him up there, there’s a good chance we lose everything.” Shepard counted. Whilst she knew that it would hurt the turian efforts here on Menae, she also knew that without any allied support for anyone, they were effectively as good as dead. With that, Garrus turned to look at one of the Sovereign-class Reapers that was still engaging turian defences.

“Look at that! And they want my opinion on how to stop it? Failed C-Sec officer, vigilante… and I’m their expert advisor?” Garrus exclaimed, noting how despite his past, he was recognised as their expert in this situation. “Think you can win this thing, Shepard?”

“Yeah… I don’t know, Garrus… but I am going to give it my best shot.” Shepard responded. This got a chuckle from Garrus.

“And that’s the reason why I fell in love with you last year. For whatever it’s worth Krystina, I’m with you – and your new friends. All the way.” He stated, with both determination and resolve in his voice.

“Welcome back, Garrus.” Shepard replied, whilst shaking his hand. Once this was done, she turned to look at Victus.

“Are you ready, Primarch Victus?” she asked the new primarch. Once he had finished his farewells, he walked back to Shepard.

“One thing… Commander, I appreciate your need for our fleets, but I can’t spare them. Not while my world is burning.” Victus stated, but he didn’t stop there. “But if the pressure could be taken off Palaven…”

“That’s a pretty tall order…” Shepard started to speak, but she was cut off by Joakim. “What is it you’re after, Primarch?” he asked.

“We need the krogan, Lieutenant. I can’t see us winning this thing without them. Get them to help us, and then we can help you.” Victus stated. This was a bombshell request – and one that was coming from possibly the last person to ask this.

“The krogan…” Shepard replied, pondering on what she had just heard.

“Looks like your summit just got a lot more interesting.” Garrus stated, rather humorously given the situation this could cause.

As Shepard, Victus, Garrus, James and Talvisota started walking back to the centre of the compound, Joakim had he helmet back on and was already radioing Jesse.

“Captain Jesse. Do you copy?” he asked.

“Loud and clear, Joakim. What’s your status?” Jesse replied back.

“Mission successful. Turian primarch is secured. We’re ready for exfil.” Joakim said, declaring their mission was accomplished.

“Roger that. I’ll alert Lieutenant Cortez and Slag for them to get the shuttle ready. ETA will be about 15 minutes.” Jesse continued.

“Roger that, sir. See you soon.” Joakim finished up, before killing the transmission. Once he reported this to Shepard, Joakim turned to Talvisota.

“Does Fenris need a ride out of here?” he asked the veteran ARC Sergeant.

“No need. Sepp was able to get in touch with the Redemption and they’ve already sent a gunship for our extraction. It’ll be here in about 25 minutes for us.” Talvisota explained.

“And you guys will deploy back to Palaven?” Joakim asked.

“Yeah. The Wolfpack’s stuck in some brutal street fighting, so they need all hands on deck.” Talvisota answered.

“Damn… Well, better stay safe out there.” Joakim continued on.

“Same to you, sir.” Talvisota said, but remembered something. “Oh… and give my regards to Domino Squad.”

“Will do.”

35 minutes later

Quantum Entanglement Communications room, War Room, Deck 2.

Once the Kodiak arrived, everyone mounted up, save for Fenris Squad, and were taken back to the Normandy. Once back aboard, Vanguard Squad took the chance to finally calm down, as all of the squad was running on adrenalin for the past hour and a half during their rescue of the primarch – or more accurately, once they were stood down, they practically collapsed onto the deck. At the moment, they were currently sleeping either on some crates or collapsible beds that had been set up for them, with Domino and the 115th Rangers watching over them. James also stood nearby them, as his workstation was in the general direction. Garrus, on the other hand, once more moved back into the Main Battery, and immediately got back to work on the Normandy’s Thanix Cannons.

As for Shepard, once she had a chance to grab a drink, she was busy explaining to Jesse how the operation went down on Menae, mostly so he could keep track on things, especially when it involved his troopers, and he wasn’t with them. Mid-way through the conversation, Samantha reported in saying that the asari Councillor Tevos was requesting a meeting with them. Now they were both standing in the QEC room, with Tevos delivering them some unwanted news.

“The asari have been down this road before, Commander Shepard.” Tevos stated over QEC.

“But Madame Councillor, let me…” Shepard started to speak, but was interrupted by Tevos, who apparently was having none of it. “I tried to smooth things over with the salarian dalatrass. To say she’s upset would be a monumental understatement.”

“From what I’ve gathered on your galactic history ma’am, some of these issues are hundreds of years old. It’s time to let go of them.” Jesse countered, doing what he could to help Krystina turn Tevos’ opinion, but he wasn’t that lucky.

“Sad to say, but any effort to ally these disparate groups seems doomed to failure. And I’m sure you understand that we cannot afford to waste time with the Reapers knocking at our door.” Tevos continued on, before delivering the news neither Shepard nor Jesse wanted to hear. “This must be my final word. I’m sorry… but the asari will not be at your summit.” This slightly ticked off Jesse, as it was the Council who organised this summit in the first place, Not Shepard. In his eyes, he saw it as the asari were trying to evade their responsibilities to help everyone in the Milky Way.

“Our alliance will be stronger with the krogan. You need them – we all do.” Shepard pleaded, trying one last pitch. But it seemed that the asari Councillor had already made up her mind well in advance.

“I wish you both luck, Commander and Captain. Goodbye.” Tevos finished, before terminating the transmission on her end.

“Goddamn it…” Shepard said, with a sigh of frustration at what just went down, with Jesse shaking his head at the current situation.

“And this is the reason why clone troopers loath politicking.” He said, also annoyed at what had just happened.

Chapter Text

Before either one could say or think of something, Samantha was already on the intercom. “Commander, Captain. Admiral Hackett’s available on vidcom.” She stated.

Hearing this, Shepard moved to key in the incoming transmission, and within a few seconds, Hackett’s image faded into view.

“Commander, Captain. Have you retrieved the primarch for the war summit?” the Admiral asked Shepard and Jesse.

“Yes, sir. However, the asari will be staying on the sidelines.” Shepard stated, still annoyed over Tevos’ decision.

“They’ll regret that. The time for unity is now.” Hackett responded in regards to this development.

“That being said Admiral, the salarians will be there though.” Jesse replied, continuing on from Shepard, but given what he had learned, he wasn't all that confident in the statement. Neither was Krystina – and it was something Hackett noticed.

“Neither of you look very optimistic about this.” He said, seeing their looks.

“We expect the krogan to be joining us, too.” Shepard said, revealing why.

“I see… Well, then you’ve both got your hands full, Commander.” Hackett stated, processing this new development in his mind. “Was there something else either of you needed to discuss?”

“Have you pieced together how the Reapers attacked Earth?” Shepard asked, given the fact she was in a defence committee meeting at the time of the Invasion.

“It wasn’t all that complicated, really. They surged through the relays and hit Arcturus Station before anybody realised what was happening. From there, it was a short jump to the Sol System. Earth didn’t stand a chance.” Hackett explained.

“Then it sounds like sending us to the Mars Archives was a good call. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to meet the Jedi Order’s Expedition Fleet.” Shepard remarked, looking back on how it was just by pure luck they were able to meet their new allies there and then.

“Still doesn’t make up for the fact that the Reapers nailed us to the wall.” Hackett countered. “I sacrificed the entire Second Fleet to provide cover for the Third and the Fifth to retreat. Hell. I’ve presided over the most devastating military defeat in human history.”

“How do you see us winning this war Admiral?” Jesse asked, as he was curious how this was going to go down in the long run.

“By making the Normandy the tip of the spear.” Hackett replied, which got a confused look from the ARC Captain.

“While us clones are pretty much an army of one man and one woman, with some exceptions, we aren’t exactly miracle workers, not to mention that the Normandy is only one ship, Admiral.” Jesse explained.

“And a fast one, Jesse. You guys can move quickly, hit a target, and leave before the enemy has time to react.” The veteran Fleet Admiral clarified, but even Shepard had doubts about this.

“Well it is an advantage, but can it win a war?” she asked.

“It’s the larger principle that matters. We’ll never defeat the Reapers in a full frontal assault, Shepard.” Hackett replied back but continued on. “The battle against Sovereign three years ago took everything we had – and that was just one Reaper.”

“I haven’t forgotten.” Shepard deadpanned, remember her battle against Saren when the Reaper took full control of his body.

“So I’ll find their soft spots, avoid them where they’re strong, and hit them where they’re not.” Hackett continued on. “And when I find gaps in the armour, I’ll hammer them with every soldier, ship and bullet we’ve got.”

“How long can we keep that up?” Shepard asked, not sure if this would pan out in the long run.

“As long as it takes. The reality is, Shepard, everything I’m doing is a delaying action for you.” Hackett emphasised. “I’m buying us time, keeping us in the game, while you gather what we need for this Prothean Device. So keep at it.”

“Speaking of which, has your analysis of the Prothean Device turned up anything?” Shepard inquired, given the fact that Hackett mentioned it.

“Liara appears to be right. It’s a weapon of some sort – a big one. Beyond that, we really can’t say – other than it going to be a hell of a thing to try and build.” Hackett replied. However, both Shepard and Jesse had their doubts.

“Do you think it’s risky, building something like this when we don’t even know what it does?” Krystina asked.

“To be honest, the thing scares the hell out of me, but the Reapers have forced our hand.” Hackett responded, before he thought of a similar event in human history. “Two centuries ago, scientists faced the same problem in the Second World War. They weren’t sure what the atomic bomb might do. Some though it could even ignite Earth’s atmosphere, but they did it anyway.” While these questions were somewhat helpful in painting out what lay ahead, there was one question Jesse needed answered.

“Admiral, what the latest intel with Cerberus, given the fact that’s why the Jedi Order came to the Milky Way in the first place.” He asked. Even Shepard agreed with this.

“At the moment Captain, they’re still the wildcard here. Hitting the archives on Mars suggests they’re after the same thing we are: A way to defeat the Reapers.” Hackett replied, knowing full well why there were here.

“From the way he sounded on Mars, it didn’t seem as if the Illusive Man was suggesting we appease them - not like Saren did.” Shepard stated, remembering Saren’s argument, when she knew full well, he was Indoctrinated – possibly when he first found Sovereign. “You’d think we’d be on the same side now more than ever.”

“Cerberus has never played by the rules as we all know them. I don’t know what their agenda is, but it has nothing to do with Humanity’s best interests.” Hackett responded, with some anger in his voice given how they’ve been a thorn in the Alliance’s side for years on end.

“The Illusive Man talked about controlling the Reapers. According to him, that’s what he thinks we’ll win this.” Jesse stated, still struggling to see how this could work, and Hackett agreed on that front. “He’s wrong. Dead Reapers are how we win this.”

“Doesn’t mean he won’t try.” Krystina replied.

“I saw your report on that Cerberus soldier you found on Mars, and the autopsy reports the Jedi Order provided us when we first met. If the Illusive Man is good at one thing, it’s finding new ways to subvert science. It’s never worked for him before, and it won’t now.” Hackett stated on this subject.

“Nothing more to report, sir.” Shepard said, feeling that both she and Jesse had covered all they could think about at the time.

“Keep me posted. Hackett out.” Hackett replied, before his image faded out.

Once they were done there, both Shepard and Jesse took the chance to talk to Primarch Victus, mostly in regard to what the situation on Palaven was at the time, predominantly the staggering number of casualties, and how Victus was coping with the adjustment of being the primarch of Palaven. Once this was done, and after a quick look over the War Assets terminal, regarding what assets were available for the push to Earth (which at the moment, covered the Prothean Device, Systems Alliance, Economic Support, N7 Special Ops, and the Jedi Order), before both officers made their way out of the War Room. However, just as Shepard and Jesse passed two turian soldiers who were acting as Victus’ bodyguards, the lights all of a suddenly dimmed out and coming back online in a few seconds, coupled with the noticeable sound of something powering down, then coming back online.

“Commander! EDI just went offline!” Joker called out over the intercom, adding to the new development.

“What do you mean ‘offline?’” Shepard asked, trying to understand what’s going on.

“I don’t know! She’s not responding, and I can’t check the AI core diagnostics. You better get down to Deck 3.” Joker replied.

With that, both Krystina and Jesse moved at a hurried back. Before they both went to Deck 3, Shepard checked in with Samantha, while Jesse did the same with Joker. Both of them agreed that something was affecting all their systems on board was originating from the AI Core. With that, the two officers made their way down to the Core.

Switch to Medical Bay, Deck 3

With everything that was going on with the Normandy, everyone was running checks on their systems to ensure that whatever was happening, it was not spreading. Garrus and Ratchet ran checks on the systems the Main Battery, and stated they were green, as did Liara and Glyph with their equipment and servers – more so in their case given their own hardware and the notoriety of how the Shadow Broker was able to gain intel from anywhere, so the last thing they needed was their systems affecting the Normandy in anyway. As one system after another was check off, it confirmed that this was originating – and isolated – to the AI Core.

At the present moment, Dr. Chakwas was at her desk with a M-3 Predator nearby, along with Kix nearby, prepping his DC-15S Carbine. In front of the doors to the AI Core, Adams, Copeland and Echo were standing there, with Adams carrying a fire extinguisher in hand and both he and Copeland were wearing Rebreath masks, with Echo wearing his helmet. At this point, both Shepard and Jesse arrived in the Medbay.

“Is everything Ok?” Chakwas asked Shepard once she was close enough.

“That’s what we’re going to find out.” Shepard replied, before moving forward to ask Adams what’s was going on in the next room. “Automated systems have the fires contained. It should be safe to enter.” The Lieutenant stated.

With that, Jesse gave the nod to breach. Before they could do this, everyone could hear noises coming from the other side of the door.

“Joker, what’s that sound?” Shepard asked over the intercom.

“Fire extinguishers, Commander. Could be an electrical fire… or something.” Joker responded.

Once the noises died down, Copeland made a quick sweep of the door with his active omni-tool and looked over the readings, before looking to Shepard, indicating it was safe to enter.

“I’m going in.” Krystina stated.

With that, Copeland hit the interface to open the door.

Inside the AI Core, there was evidence of some fire, and a lot of white clouds, no doubt caused by the fire suppression systems. With Echo covering him, Adams went first and sprayed out chemical powder from the fire extinguisher, adding to what was already in the room. After a nod from Echo’s head, both Shepard and Jesse moved into the room at a cautious pace.

“EDI? Talk to me.” Shepard called out, seeing if the AI was still operational.

At that point, all the AI Processors started to light back up, along with the distinct power up noise echoing again, which got everyone’s attention. After a few seconds, taking in this development, it wasn’t long before everyone noticed something orange glowing in the small ‘fog’ at the back of the room – and it was moving forward. In a few seconds, everyone could see the same Cerberus Mech body walking forwards slowly towards them with the body now cleaned up of any carbon scoring, and also now sporting an Alliance Emblem, putting the clones on high alert. What happened next, no one was expecting it.

“Is there a particular topic you wish to discuss, Shepard?” EDI’s voice came from the synthetic. With that, it became obvious – EDI had taken control of the mech.

However, given what happened to Rex and Ashley back on Mars thanks to said mech, no one was taking any chances given the fact that Echo had both his DC-17 pistols drawn, along with Jesse, who only had one DC-17 drawn, Copeland also had a M-3 Predator drawn as well, with Kix moving up to the doorframe and leaned around the corner with his DC-15S – and all of them pointing at EDI. Before anyone of them pulled the trigger, Shepard held her hand out to her side, indicating them not to do anything rash.

“EDI?” Shepard asked, staggered by what she was seeing.

“Yes.” EDI replied, whilst observing the mech’s arms.

“You’re in Dr. Eva’s body…” Shepard stated, slowly piecing together what had happened.

“Not all of me, but I have control of it.” EDI responded to this. “It was not a seamless transition.”

This startled Shepard. “A Transition? You blacked out on us for a while there.” She stated in response to EDI’s definition of a ‘transition’, whilst Adams made his way to the diagnostic panel to Shepard’s right. During this, Echo, Jesse and Kix lowered their weapons, but keeping them ready for anything to happen.

“Correct. When we brought this unit onboard, I began a background to search for its information on the Prothean Device.” EDI explained, giving a rundown on what happened. “This eventually triggered a trap – a backup power source and CPU activated, and the unit attempted physical confrontation. Fortunately, I was able to gain root access and repurpose it as I saw fit. During this process it… struggled. Thus the fire.”

While it was now clear what had happened, Krystina was still not impressed. “EDI, you need to alert us about incidents like this. You shouldn’t have done this alone. Hell, you’re lucky Echo, Jesse and Kix didn’t open fire as they’ve spent at least 3 years of their lives putting down synthetics in their galaxy.” Shepard responded in relation to this, whilst annoyed at the fact that EDI decided to pull this off while they were busy on Menae.

“Bringing the crew up to speed would have been counterproductive. All attempts to help would have been limited by reaction time.” EDI replied.

As Adams and Copeland worked on deactivating the fire suppression system, Echo and Kix left to return to their duties, but before Jesse left, he had something he needed to ask. “So… if you’re in there, are you still installed on the ship?”

“I exist primarily within the ship, Jesse. For optimal control, this unit should remain within Normandy’s broadcast, or tightbeam range.” EDI replied. However, her sentence drew a confused look from both Shepard and Jesse.

“Are you planning to take that body somewhere?” Shepard question, now starting to worry what would happen if the Alliance or the Council learn of this.

Normandy’s weaponry is not suited to every combat situation. This platform could provide limited-fire ground support.” EDI stated, which made Shepard realise something.

“You mean… you could come with us?” Krystina asked, making sure both she and Jesse heard correctly.

“Correct. This body could accompany you to areas the Normandy cannot reach.” EDI confirmed. While this was a good thing, as Shepard’s squad was now up to four members, it was a Cerberus Mech before EDI commandeered it.

Before we do that, I need you to guarantee us that this mech doesn’t have any more surprises in it.” Shepard stated, not willing to take another chance with it. “Run whatever tests you can, then we can talk about using it in combat situations.”

“One moment – I am running trials.” EDI then stated, standing ramrod straight. No doubt, she was running the diagnostics through her processors – both on the Normandy and inside the mech body. What wasn’t expected, at least for Jesse, was that this took all of two seconds, showing the power of Quantum Computing.

“However, my first step should be restoring functionality to the Normandy to reassure the crew that all is normal.” EDI stated, once her diagnostic was done, and offering to send a full report to Shepard, which was turned down.

“Just… don’t be surprised if the crew is a little wary of your new body, especially my men. It was shooting at them a little while ago.” Jesse stated, giving her the heads up on how they could react.

“An excellent suggestion. I will take it to the bridge. Joker will also want to see it.” EDI remarked, before she made her way out of the AI Core, leaving both Jesse and Shepard in the room.

“On that, we can agree.” Was all Shepard said in regard to what was said.

Once the situation was resolved, Jesse made his way back to the lift, so he could check up on how Vanguard were recovering down in the cargo hold, whereas Shepard made her way towards the Main Battery.

She was overdue for a proper reunion.

Switch to Main Battery, Deck 3.

Making her way into the Main Battery, she couldn’t see Garrus immediately, but she could see where Ratchet was, which was enough to indicate that the turian was working away on one of the Thanix Cannons – the starboard one to be specific. That said, whilst Garrus was busy working on the cannon, he was also explaining the various tools, their functions and how the cannon worked to Ratchet, so that way the ARC Lieutenant could get a thorough understanding of some aspects of the technology over here in the Milky Way. Given Ratchet’s skills as an engineer, he believed that he would catch on fairly quickly. At the present moment, Garrus was also in a discussion with Victus via the intercom.

“Two of our dreadnoughts have been lost in a matter of hours.” Victus stated, still not liking how the Reapers were continuing to devastate the Turian Navy and Palaven.

“I know, Primarch. I’m seeing the same numbers myself. They don’t look good.” Garrus replied, whist he was tinkering away on the cannon, with Ratchet watching on and handing out the tools whenever Garrus asked for them.

“We have to turn this around – and fast.” Victus continued on.

“Well you can trust Shepard, sir. If anybody can get the krogan to cooperate, it’s her. She’s an old friend of Urdnot Wrex.” Garrus replied back.

“Let’s just hope that friendship still counts for something in this war.” Victus responded, before Garrus wrapped up the conversation. Once that was done, Shepard made her presence known.

“Garrus. Didn’t waste any time getting to work, I see.” Krystina teased, which got the duo’s attention.

“After what I’ve been through lately, calibrating a giant gun and teaching a clone ARC Engineer on how our tech works is a vacation. Gives me something to focus on.” Garrus replied back, stepping back from the cannon, whist Ratchet went to the tool wall to grab a datapad and started to prep a diagnostic sweep on the gun.

While everyone else was busy with the past mission, and the events that came with it, Ratchet felt that he would be working not just on his own gear and that of the Normandy Battle Group, but also the ship itself. So while Shepard and Vanguard were busy on Menae’s surface, he went through the cybernetic surgery in the Med Bay to have the motion accelerometers implanted into his fingertips, granting him the ability to access to the holographic computers, interfaces and terminals.

“We’re going to need you for more than your aim.” Shepard replied back, reminding him what they were up against.

“Oh, I’m ready for it, but we’ll still need giant guns – and lots of them.” Garrus remarked.

“Heh. I can’t argue with that.” Shepard replied, but at this point, Garrus took over.

“Yeah, so… is this the part where we… shake hands? Wasn’t sure about the protocol on reunions, of if you even felt the same way about me.” Garrus stated, which drew a look from Ratchet. “The scars are starting to fade. I remember they drove you wild…”

This got a small laugh from Shepard, and a shake of the head from Ratchet as he walked away, with a smirk on his face, giving the two lovers some room.

“… but I can go out and get all new ones if it’ll help.” Garrus finished.

“I haven’t forgotten our time together.” Shepard replied, showing she was still willing to continue their relationship.

“Well, I’ve been doing some more research on human customs. I didn’t want to… presume anything…” Garrus started to say, before Krystina moved in close to kiss Garrus’ right side of his face, where all the scars were.

“That’s the protocol on reunions.” Shepard said in a quiet voice.

“The vids mentioned it might go something like that.” Garrus replied back regarding this. “I had hoped it would. I didn’t know…”

Before he could continue his train of thought, Krystina grabbed both of Garrus’ hands in her own and held them up, close to each other.

“I can’t promise how things will work out – not with this war – but I missed you Garrus. I thought about you a lot.” She said in a hushed tone.

“Glad to know my romantic uh… skills made an impression.” Garrus remarked before continuing on. “Because it’s going to take more than Reapers to come between this cross-species liaison.”

“Speaking of which, you said you’re the ‘expert advisor’ on Reapers now?” Shepard asked, bring things back to a more serious tone.

“It’s not as impressive as it sounds. I ruffled some feathers, so they gave me a token title, along with a token task force so I’d shut up.” Garrus replied back, whilst he placed a tool back on the wall to his left.

“How did you manage that?” Shepard asked.

“Just followed your example, Shepard. Yell loud enough, and someone will eventually come over to see what all the fuss is about. Not that they’ll actually do anything about it.” Garrus explained, with a hint of annoyance at the last part.

“Until hell shows up at their door. Then they put you in charge.” Shepard replied, given the fact that both of them had been down this road before. This got a small laugh from Garrus as he was remembering the same thing, whilst indicating for Shepard to follow him.

“Not like the old days, is it? Rouge Spectre and C-Sec agents running and gunning outside the lines, making it up as we went along.” Garrus continued on with his nostalgia trip as he made his way to the central console which housed the controls for the cannons. Before he went to it though, he stopped at the weapons bench that was behind him. “We’re actually respectable now.”

“Yeah, but I have a feeling that respect comes with a lot of sleepless nights.” Shepard countered. “I can’t even count how many lives are depending on us, Garrus.”

“Well, when things a looking grim – and I’m pretty sure they will – just remember…” Garrus started to say before he moved close enough to speak to Shepard in a quiet tone. “We’re in this together. And if it ends with both of us dying in a giant explosion taking out a Reaper – remember that I took the kill shot.”

“For crying out loud, will you two get a room?” Ratchet stated in a humorous tone instead of an annoyed one, which drew both Shepard and Garrus’ attention, and a small laugh from the Commander.

“Ha. I’ll apologise now if I made you feel uncomfortable Ratchet…” Shepard started to say but was waved off by the ARC Lieutenant.

“No need to apologise, Commander. I’m already familiar with these shows of affection thanks to Arcee and Echo along with Viper and Fives.” Ratchet stated, whilst showing the diagnostic he was running to Garrus. “The reason I walked away earlier was so I could give you guys some privacy.”

“Ah.” Krystina said but thought of something. “Er… if they are in separate relationships, wouldn’t that make things… interesting with the rest of Domino Squad or the 501st Legion?”

“Yeah… back in the Clone Wars, it did make some… interesting moments during campaigns.” Ratchet continued on, trying his best to not remember some… unique moments. “However, they make sure their relationships don’t interfere with their duties, and if it does, that’s when I step in. Outside of that, what they do in their off-duty hours is none of my business.”

Once the ARC Lieutenant was finished, Shepard continued speaking to Garrus, mostly in relation to what happened once he left the Normandy not long after the ‘Alpha Relay Incident’, how he was able to form his Reaper Task Force, and what he did with it, whether he had heard from his dad, Castis, and sister, Solana, to which Garrus asked how was Krystina’s mum, Hannah, was doing and, oddly enough, Shepard asking how far down the line of succession Garrus was today due to the fact Generals were saluting him, despite his history, with the suggestion that Garrus could be the next Primarch of Palaven – something that Garrus felt he couldn’t do for he believed it should be ‘someone who knows how to hold a hammer’.

Once the reunion was wrapped up, Shepard took the chance to look up on the latest that the AIS database had available, which now had a battle report covering the Loss of Hades Gamma Cluster and the devastation of the Eighth Fleet, a follow-up report regarding War Minister Septimax on Taetrus on the Spectre Terminal and also various emails that had come in, with one of them from Hackett covering the fact that the Interplanetary Combatives Academy in Rio de Janeiro – ‘N-School’ or ‘The Villa’, take your pick – was still standing with a decent number of N7 Operatives holding the line there and were requesting extraction.

The other was about the discovery of a Cerberus facility – and a strike team from the Jedi’s Expedition Fleet was assigned to it…

Meanwhile, on the other side of the galaxy…

Location: Sanctum, Decoris System, Sigurd’s Cradle – Terminus Systems.

Deep in the Terminus Systems, Sanctum was designated as a Garden World, but only in name due to the freezing temperatures nearly anywhere on the planet standing at around -50 oC (-58 oF), with the equator barely striking 4 oC (39.2 oF). Because of this fact, and due to the fact that the planet was effectively a massive ice ball, only the most hardened miners or mercenaries have come to call the planet ‘home’ – and this also includes Cerberus.

Due to the fact that Sanctum barely has any population to speak of, and of course the Terminus being the lawlessness region of the galaxy, this allowed the organisation to set up a small number of outposts on the planet without anyone noticing or reporting this to the authorities. Combined with recent intel from both AIS and Task Force Hercules revealing that Sanctum’s corporate factions have learned that Cerberus is heavily involved in the planet’s finances and all that added up meant that Sanctum was now placed onto the list of Alliance’s targets for strikes against Cerberus.

Switch to a UT-47A Kodiak Shuttle

Flying in an Alliance shuttle, Bo-Katan and a small group of Mandalorian warriors were inbound to launch a raid on the facility. Due to the fact that most of the Alliance’s special forces were tied up either on pre-existing deployments, still regrouping in response to the Reaper Invasion, scattered or declared MIA, and the Jedi and their clones were either tied down preparing their own deployments or were already busy in their own engagements, this left Bo-Katan’s Strike Force as the only unit available at the present time – and many were eager to show why they were considered the best warriors from their own galaxy. To that end, Hackett had General Grath send a Kodiak shuttle to the Resolute II to pick up Bo-Katan and her chosen squad, then fly them to Sanctum for a raid on one of the outposts, with the raid being dubbed ‘Operation: DOOR KICKER’.

Due to the cramped nature of the Kodiak’s cargo bay – and because every Mandalorian warrior sported either a Z-6 or a JT-12 jetpack, it meant that Bo-Katan could only take 7 warriors with her. Currently, some of them were either checking out their weapon systems in their vambraces, their blasters and their jetpacks on either themselves or one of their comrades, with a few of them singing Vode An and other Mandalorian war chants in a quiet tone – not out of nerves but rather to not interrupt what everyone else was doing.

Whilst this was going on, Bo-Katan made her way to the small cockpit, helmet in hand.

“Ma’am, I have Admiral Hackett online.” The Alliance pilot called out once Bo-Katan was standing behind him.

“Patch him through, pilot.” Bo-Katan replied. Within a few seconds, Hackett appeared on a holographic image.

“Bo-Katan, thanks to recent intel we’ve acquired, we’ve uncovered a secret Cerberus laboratory. It’s function and purpose is currently unknown.” Hackett stated to the veteran warrior as part of his briefing to her. “Earlier, we sent in a recon team to investigate, but they were forced to pull out before they got very far.”

“And do we have any other intel on what we could expect to find in this lab, Admiral?” Bo-Katan asked, as the last thing she needed was to go in with no knowledge on what to expect.

“According to AIS, we believe that they are using the facility to warehouse and study Reaper tech.” Hackett replied, with a small holographic projection of a Reaper artefact, showing what they looked like and what to look for. “We’ve been wondering how Cerberus is connected to the Reapers, and we believe that this might give us some answers. Your objective is to find out what Cerberus is up to and secure any Reaper tech samples, along with whatever intel your squad can recover.”

Upon hearing the last of this, the pilot had a worried look in his eyes – and so did Bo-Katan.

“Admiral, we’re already pushing out eezo reserves as it is due to where the Isaac Newton is currently positioned. If we’re to stay on station, we won’t be able to make it back.” The pilot stated, revealing the problem that just sprang up.

“And if the shuttle is called away, how do we get these samples to you, Admiral?” Bo-Katan inquired. Although she knew they could hold their ground for a while, there was no guarantee of her squad being able to keep fighting after an extended period of time – even more so given the style of weapons that were available in this galaxy.

“I am aware of this. To that end, I’ve also assigned Commander Shepard and the Normandy to provide support for your squad Bo-Katan. They will provide your exfil out of the area once the raid is finished.” Hackett explained, showing that he was already aware of the situation. While it did alleviate some concerns, there was one private concern Bo-Katan had – and that was with Shepard.

Regardless of her own concerns, with the other, more immediate concerns alleviated, Bo-Katan was once more confident in her mission.

“Understood. We’ll get it done, Admiral.” She stated whilst placing her signature Nite Owl helmet on.

“Good luck down there. Hackett out.” Hackett said, before the transmission was terminated. Once the screen was gone, Bo-Katan looked towards the pilot.

“Ok. Take us down.” She said as she made her way to the rest of her squad.

“Yes ma’am.” The pilot replied, before he started to make the descent towards the surface.

40 minutes later

Covert Cerberus Laboratory, Sanctum’s Northern Hemisphere.

Thanks to the stealth systems on the Kodiak, the shuttle was able to get past Cerberus’ early warning sensors and were making their final approach to the lab. Because of the fact that there was no doubt Cerberus Troops would be in the facility, and according to the intel, there were also a small flight of Sudan-class fighters stored nearby, it was decided that the Mandalorians would perform something similar to a HALO jump, with the difference being instead of utilising parachutes, they would fire up their jetpacks at the last possible second to avoid alerting the personnel in the base and land on the balcony Once the shuttle was close to their drop zone, the doors to the cargo bay were opened. As the rest of the Mandalorians started to jump out, the Alliance pilot turned to face Bo-Katan.

“Good luck down there.” He said to the veteran warrior, who nodded her head in response, before she leaped out of the shuttle to make her decent to the labs.

Once everyone was out of the shuttle and descending towards the surface, the Kodiak closed its door and then departed, making its way back to the Isaac Newton. The Mandalorians made their rapid free-fall decent downwards to the labs. Despite the fact that Bo-Katan was the last one out of the shuttle, she was able to reduce her profile to ensure she picked up more speed – allowing her to catch up with her squad and take the lead. It would take about 6 minutes of free-fall before Bo-Katan angled her body in order to fall feet first – allowing her to fire up her JT-12 Jetpack, slowing the warrior’s decent down greatly. Everyone else followed her lead and did the same with their jetpacks. With a couple of long burns, their speed had dropped considerably, but they all killed their jetpacks to ensure the noise wouldn’t draw any attention. Once they were about 61 meters (200 ft) from the deck, all eight Mandalorians fired their jetpacks one last time to ensure a safer landing on the balcony, where they all gathered behind the ventilation systems to ensure no Cerberus personnel would spot the squad prematurely from the lab above them.

Once everyone regrouped, Bo-Katan took the chance to get a quick look at the lab in front of them, then looked back at her squad.

“Looks like they don’t know we’re here – yet.” Bo-Katan said, with some confidence in her voice.

“From the looks of the layout, we’ve got two infiltration points – one on the left, which leads direct to the science labs, with the other leading on our right, which could also take us up to the science labs also.” A male Mandalorian warrior with steel blue markings pointed out.

While Bo-Katan’s squad for this mission were predominantly human, with two Zabraks being the exception in this case – and each one was sporting different colour schemes to reflect their clans, this warrior who spoke up was unique for he had the voice – and appearance - of a Fett clone. This was Mereel Skirata, formerly ‘Null-7’, a Null-Class ARC Lieutenant who was both trained and served under Kal Skirata during the Clone Wars, before becoming a Mandalorian in his own right as part of Clan Skirata. Hearing this, Bo-Katan took another look past the ventilation system and saw what Mereel was talking about. Once seeing what the veteran clone was talking about, and with her HUD showing where their first objective was, Bo-Katan had a plan of action ready.

“Good eyes, Mereel.” She said to the former lieutenant before focusing back on her squad. “Ok. First objective is inside the lab, and we’ve got two ways into the lab. Mereel, you take Rik, Varlo (both male) and Sabe (female) and head for the door on the left. I’ll take Stagei (female Zabrak), Tugrus (male Zabrak) and Rona (male) and we’ll take that passage on the right. Once we’re in place, we’ll clear out the labs.”

Once everyone replied in the affirmative, Bo-Katan pulled one of her WESTAR-35 blaster pistols out of its holster and looked back at her warriors.

“Ib'tuur jatne tuur ash'ad kyr'amur!” (Today is a good day for someone else to die!) Bo-Katan stated, with everyone else replying with “Oya!” (Hoorah!) before they split up and moved to get in position.

Once everyone was set, Bo-Katan took the chance to look into the science lab itself. Inside the room were a couple of Assault Troopers, with at least one Centurion either interfacing with the controls or patrolling the room, with some Cerberus personnel also in the lab, some with science uniforms on, others with the standard issue fatigues, revealing them to be technicians. Once she was satisfied with what she saw, Bo-Katan moved her hand to her helmet.

“I’ve got eyes on numerous Cerberus troopers and a few scientists in the room.” She said over the comms to everyone.

“Rules of engagement, ma’am?” Mereel asked, given the fact that now they had to deal with non-combatants.

In another life, had Bo-Katan had stayed with Death Watch long before the Clone Wars started, she would have said to kill them all, but this would not be the case here.

“We’re here for intel and samples. If the scientists run, let them. If they surrender, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But if they grab a weapon and fire on you, take them out. Everyone else present are legitimate targets.” She replied back to the veteran clone.

“Understood.” Mereel replied back.

Once that was done, Bo-Katan moved towards the consoles immediately in front of her and moved to where an Assault Trooper was working away on a terminal, crouched down so the Trooper couldn’t see her. After a few seconds of waiting to ensure no one spotted her, Bo-Katan performed a grab-kill – similar to that of what Alliance Marines could do, with the difference being she ejected her wrist-knife on her right vambrace and stabbed the Trooper through the throat, which drew Cerberus’ attention.

“We’ve been infiltrated!” a technician yelled out once she saw the Assault Trooper get dragged over the console he was working on.

“Move to engage hostiles!” the Centurion yelled out, just as the Mandalorians started to pour in.

Immediately, the Cerberus troops were already firing on the warriors and while most of the scientists and technicians fled the lab, a few did make a stand and grabbed firearms that were stowed nearby – making them legitimate targets. With the firefight now kicking into high-gear – and no doubt alerting the labs of their presence, the Mandalorians pushed their way into the science lab, utilising their full range of weapons at their disposal, with many of them wielding WESTAR-35 blaster pistols, with both Mereel, Sabe and Tugrus using GALAAR-15 blaster carbines in their stead. Coupled with the various weapons and tools added to their vambraces, and it was clear which side would come out on top – something that Cerberus was learning very quickly.

Around 5 minutes into the fight since the Mandalorians arrived, Cerberus was scrambling response teams into the science labs to crush the infiltration group, but due to the skills and weapons Bo-Katan and her squad had, it was not working out well. It was here that one Centurion decided to perform the same maneuverer that Cerberus used when they tried to storm the Resolute II over 10 months ago.

“Guardians are to take point and form a shield wall, then move forward as mobile cover.” A Centurion called out, and upon his command, around 5 Guardians moved up to take point. As it was on the Resolute II, the blaster fire from the Mandalorian weapons didn’t penetrate the shields, allowing Cerberus forces to move up slowly. Now, thanks to the reports from 501st members that first encountered Guardians on the Resolute II and again on Mars, Bo-Katan and her squad were aware of the vision slot being a key weakness to exploit, however due to firepower that the Cerberus troops were putting out, they couldn’t get any shots in, and it didn’t help that more troopers were arriving. The one advantage the Mandalorians had was that despite the differences in technology, their personal combat shields – or those who had them – were capable of stopping the projectiles, giving them some room to work with for protection, but the relentless assault forced the Mandalorians to regroup and into a workstation, effectively ensuring they were surrounded, but it at least ensured they had cover to work with. Seeing this, Stagei holster the WESTAR-35 in her left holster and brought her left arm up in order to prime her Whistling Bird launcher. Within a few seconds, multiple whistling bird projectiles were fired out towards the Cerberus troopers. While a few of the projectiles did hit some of the Cerberus Assault Troops behind the Guardians, killing them, unfortunately those that went to the Guardians only hit their shields. Still the multiple miniature missiles that were flying around was enough to force the Cerberus Troopers to stop their slow advance.

“Hate to say this, but things are getting a little dicey!” Varlo called out, before popping up to fire off a few rounds from his wrist-mounted blasters.

“Any word on our support arriving boss?” Rona asked Bo-Katan.

“No word yet.” She replied back, before leaned out of her cover and fired of a few rounds from her WESTAR-35s. With Cerberus troopers now starting to come in from all sides, she had to come up with something to buy some time.

“Use your flamethrowers!” She yelled out.

While Bo-Katan wasn’t equipped with one, Mereel, Rik, Stagei and Rona were, and soon all four warriors were unleashing torrents of fire at the Guardians. This time, because of the psychological nature of the flamethrower in both galaxies, it was more than enough to force the Cerberus troopers to take a few steps back, but that would chance when the Guardians opened fire with their M-358 Talons, forcing the Mandalorians back to cover. While it was useful, they all knew that it was only a matter of time before they were overwhelmed and all the Mandalorians knew that their flamethrowers would run out of fuel in a short time.

However, at that point, things had changed – for the better. Just as the Guardians started to make another push, three rapid shots rang out along with a louder one from an unseen source. These shots were able to bring down a couple of Assault Troopers with both perfect marksmanship – and armour-piercing rounds, which ripped through the Guardians shields. Above all, it drew their attention from the Mandalorians, something that also got Bo-Katan’s attention. Taking a chance, she once again looked around the corner of the terminal she was using for cover and saw that their back up had finally arrived. Now, while she hadn’t read up a lot on the Galactic Codex that was supplied to them, she had read enough to recognise what she was seeing. What Bo-Katan saw was a turian soldier, sporting a unique visor and a unique custom set of armour, a very unique looking droid that was almost humanoid in appearance – much more than any model she had ever heard of back home. To complete the unique scene, somehow Krystina appearing out of nowhere – revealing that she had her own personal cloaking device. While cloaking devices were common on starships back home, for an individual being to have one is almost unheard of. Joining the group was a Clone ARC Trooper, sporting a very distinct blue paint job that signified the trooper was part of the 501st.

It was abundantly clear that the shots came from Garrus and Shepard, once her Tactical Cloak faded, along with EDI, sporting a new mech body that looked like it was purpose-built for combat instead of the Cerberus Infiltration model, carrying a M-12 Locust SMG and a M-6 Carnifex Heavy Pistol. Garrus was also sporting a new look, in this case, he was wearing a set of turian armour that was unique to the respected and feared 26th Armiger Legion, minus the jump-jets, and now carrying a M-98 Widow Sniper Rifle, with him also carrying an M-96 Mattock. Completing the group was none other than Jesse. It made sense in a way for the ARC Captain to be with Shepard’s Squad on this op given the fact he fought alongside Bo-Katan during the Siege of Mandalore, so he knew how they operated, therefor allowing him to advise Shepard on how Mandalorian warriors fought.

Seeing that their back-up had arrived, Bo-Katan looked back to her squad. “Reinforcements are here. Clear out the rest of these hostiles!” she ordered her squad. With the command given, all eight Mandalorians renewed their aggression. Given the fact that the Cerberus response team were now caught between two teams themselves, it allowed the veteran warriors to resume their fighting styles they were used to – predominantly close-quarters with either their blaster pistols or the weapons and equipment they had on their vambraces, along with hand-to-hand combat. While the rest of her squad engaged the remnants of the response team they were facing, Bo-Katan decided to take on a Centurion on her own. Bringing up her personal combat shield on her left vambrace, she charged the Cerberus soldier.

Surprised by this move, the Centurion took aim at Bo-Katan, but the rounds struck her shield. Within a few seconds, she had closed the gap between the two and moved to take a swing at the Centurion’s head. Surprisingly enough, the squad leader was able to dodge the swing by sidestepping the veteran warrior, then ejected his stun baton at took a swing at Bo-Katan. Once she saw this coming, she jumped back a small distance, allowing the Centurion to follow through with his swing, but he would hit noting, before she primed her repulsor and aimed it at the soldier. The blast was powerful enough to blast him backwards, sending him flying into another work console and over it. Before she could move to her next target, or react for that matter, an Assault Trooper carrying a M-96 Mattock fired on Bo-Katan – taking her completely by surprise. Two rounds struck her in her breast plate and one hit square in the middle of her helmet. Thanks to the fact that Beskar was highly tolerant to extreme forms of damage, making it one of the very few metals back in The Galaxy capable of withstanding a lightsaber, the rounds didn’t penetrate Bo-Katan’s armour. However, the impact of a projectile weapon still carries enough kinetic force, and so the two shots in the chest were enough to force Bo-Katan back a bit, but the round to her head was able to make her fall down onto the floor from the impact. Before this Assault Trooper could follow through with the kill, he was killed in turn by a burst of fire from EDI.

Thanks to that round, and with the ringing in her ears from the shot, Bo-Katan was forced to ditch her helmet for the time being, until she recovered from the shot. Shaking her head in an attempt to rid herself of said ringing, she was completely unprepared for the Centurion she blasted with her repulsor wanted another crack at her – and it was this that Rik saw.

“LOOK OUT!” he yelled out to his squad leader.

Once Bo-Katan heard this, she had just enough time to see the Centurion was bearing down on her, so with that, she kicked at the back of one of the Centurion’s knees, forcing him to the deck, before he was killed with a headshot from one of her WESTAR-35s. Before she could recover, yet another Assault Trooper was firing away at her with his M-25 Hornet. Given how exposed she was, all Bo-Katan could do was power up her personal combat shield again and do what she could with it to protect herself against the barrage of fire. Before things got too dangerous however, the Assault Trooper was struck in the back by the rifle butt of Shepard’s Mattock, making the trooper react to the new threat. With the Assault Trooper now facing Shepard, he ejected his Shock Baton and took a swing at the Spectre. The swing would have struck Shepard had she not blocked the baton with her M-96 Mattock. Once he was forced back, she slashed at the Assault Trooper with her electrified forked omni-blade, eliminating the Trooper. Before she could do anything else, another Assault Trooper was able to take a swing of his own at Shepard, successfully knocking her rifle out of her hands with a back-hand swing. Not wasting time, Shepard shoved the Assault Trooper back with a boot to the chest before she drew her M-5 Phalanx and put 6 rounds into the Trooper, before putting herself between the Cerberus troopers and Bo-Katan, who was stunned by what she was seeing.

The reason why she hadn’t moved by now was due to the fact she was reflecting on her previous concerns with Shepard. Because of how Mandalorians believed that an individual was defined by their actions and deeds, when Bo-Katan first saw Shepard on the Resolute II back in the Serpent Nebula, and while she had a brief introduction about Shepard thanks to Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, Rex and Jesse, along with extra information regarding to her accomplishments from Hackett, but anyone could say anything to make themselves look impressive. Also, because Shepard was wearing her Dress Blues when Bo-Katan first met her, she thought she was a naval officer on par with those of the Expedition Fleet, making her wonder how did a naval officer succeed in achieving what Shepard had done?

Now, seeing Shepard standing in front of her, engaging Cerberus forces and shielding herself while the Commander’s kinetic barriers were taking a beating from the rounds, Bo-Katan saw that she was a skilled warrior which meant that there was some truth to some of the things that Hackett and, to some extent, the Citadel Council had said about Shepard. As this was happening, yet another Assault Trooper was charging towards Shepard. Unfortunately for her, by the time Krystina realised the threat, he was able to close the gap to an extent that he was able to land a back-handed blow to Shepard’s face, which had the Commander reeling from the hit. Seeing this, Bo-Katan took the chance to shoot the Assault Trooper in the leg, forcing him to his knee thanks to the pain. With some time on her side, she got back up on her feet in quick succession, holster her pistol and, once again, ejected her wrist-knife out. Once set, she grabbed the Assault Trooper by the right shoulder to lift him back to his feet and stabbed him twice – once in the stomach, with the second in the neck, killing him. Once his body hit the deck, Bo-Katan drew her two WESTAR-35s and re-engaged the remaining Cerberus troopers that were in the labs – but not before checking to see if Shepard was ok and fighting once more.

Once the response team was dealt with after a few minutes, everyone regrouped on the two leaders.

“Are you Ok, my lady?” Sabe asked Bo-Katan.

“Yeah… I’m good.” She replied back, catching her breath from the recent fighting and the latest close brush with death, before looking back at Shepard. “Thanks for the save, Commander.”

“No problem, Bo-Katan.” Shepard replied, whilst ejecting a spent heat sink from her M-96 Mattock. Before anyone else could say anything, Jesse spoke up.

“While I’m aware that introductions haven’t been made yet, they’ll have to wait given the fact that alarms are sounding, which means we’ll be dealing with more Cerberus troops and time is not on our side.” The ARC Captain said to everyone present, which got a nod of the head from Bo-Katan.

“Jesse’s right, we need to move. Warriors, start sweeping for any intel and/or useful objects before we secure the first Reaper artefact.” She said, which got a chorus of affirmatives from everyone present before they all went their separate ways.

However, before leaving, Garrus had picked up Bo-Katan’s helmet and handed it out to her.

“I think this belongs to you.” he said, which got her attention.

“Thanks….?” Bo-Katan said but stopped due to a lack of a name.

“The name’s Garrus.” Garrus said, as she took the helmet out of his hand.

“Thanks, Garrus.” Bo-Katan replied back, before placing her helmet back on her head. With that, they both followed Shepard.

After a few minutes of sweeping the science lab for useful intel, which resulted a decent haul of credits, a cheerful and enthusiastic message from a person named ‘C. Talavi’ about being ‘integrated’ into the Cerberus ranks, and some scattered weapon mods, Bo-Katan called out for everyone to link up where their first objective was which, in this case, next to the doorway where she entered in earlier.

“The first artefact is here, but it’s in a containment field and we don’t know how to shut it down.” Mereel stated to the group.

“Let EDI take a crack at it.” Shepard suggested, to which the veteran Null-ARC agreed to.

After a few seconds of tapping away on the console and on her omni-tool, EDI was able shut down the containment field, but in doing so, revealed a hologram of the remnants of the Human-Reaper Shepard destroyed on the Collector Base. While it was odd to see an image of that here, figuring out why would have to wait.

“The signature is definitely Reaper technology.” EDI pointed out, confirming their first objective was legit.

With that, Shepard stowed the artefact in her MOLLE Backpack, as she had modified it before coming to Sanctum to ensure no one would start feeling the effects of Indoctrination.

“Cortez, first sample is secured.” Shepard radioed her pilots.

“Roger that. We’ll meet you at the landing pad.” Cortez replied back.

Before the group made their way back to where Cortez and Slag were waiting in their Kodiak, Shepard looked into another adjacent lab next to the stairs leading to the upper basement. In it, there was a smooth, silver ball sitting next to a console, and another console showing a projection of a hanar. With the projection, it was showing an experiment regarding to improving medi-gel, but for some reason it was shelved. As Shepard downloaded the formula, a message came up.

“Huh. ‘Would only lead to advances in medi-gel for hanar.’ Only Cerberus would call that a failure.” She said, seeing why it was shelved.

“Krystina…” Garrus called out behind her, in a troubled tone.

“What’s up?” Shepard asked, before Garrus pointed to a terminal.

On the terminal was a report. The report was about the Normandy’s former Mess Sergeant Rupert Gardner, which shed some more light on his background, and also revealed that the silver ball was the inert Prothean Sphere Krystina and her squad recovered from Kopis at the end of Project Firewalker. Apparently, Gardner took it with him when he left the Normandy and delivered it to Cerberus when he followed the recall alert for the Normandy’s crew and that he still firmly believed in Cerberus’ mission and didn’t agree with the decisions both Shepard and Miranda Lawson made regarding the Collector Base. The final note in the report said that Gardner was ‘integrated’ into Cerberus’ forces, revealing that by now, he would be one of their troopers. Despite the fact that she never got to know him that well, Shepard didn’t take this lightly.

“Damn it…” Shepard cursed.

“Cerberus…” Garrus said, also in anger over what he saw.

“It’s just one more thing Cerberus will answer for.” Krystina stated, now with some anger in her own voice. At Jesse’s suggestion, they took the Prothean Sphere, to ensure Cerberus couldn’t use it themselves if anything.

Once the first artefact was dropped off to Cortez and Slag, the group was sent to the second artefact they had to pick up. Once again, another Cerberus Response Team was ready for them, this time with more Troopers and also some Combat Engineers to try and eliminate the infiltration teams. However, thanks to the firepower Shepard and Garrus had, along with combat finesse Bo-Katan and her warriors had, combined with the combat experience everyone had, and the response team was eliminated in short order. Again, another sweep was called for, this time in the lower basement of the facility. While not much intel was brought up this time, a complete set of Cerberus Assault Armour was recovered and also another letter from ‘C. Talavi’, but this one had a very different tone in the letter, almost sounding robotic-like, showing a dramatic shift in personality. Once done, Shepard made her way to the second Reaper artefact and after a few taps on the omni-tool, it’s containment shield was lowered.

“Must be Reaper tech – my brain hurts just by looking at it.” Garrus commented on seeing the artefact.

“CONTACT!” Jesse suddenly yelled out, drawing everyone’s attention.

What Jesse saw was a new type of Cerberus soldier, clad in armour that was more advanced and wearing a helmet that looked like it was designed for EVA mission. What surprised everyone was that once the new soldier landed on the deck, the soldier immediately generated two yellow whips out of the gauntlets on his armour, with the yellow aura coming of the whips and the soldier’s arms pulsing in such a way it was the tell-tail sign this was a biotic. As Jesse was directly in front of this new hostile, the soldier suddenly leaped after Jesse with the whips, with the clear intent of driving them into the floor. Seeing this, Jesse immediately dove out of the way, ensuring the whips missed him, but it meant that he had little time to get back on his feet, so with that, the ARC Captain rolled onto his back and started firing away at the new threat. However, the new soldier’s armour plating was surprising resistant to blaster fire.

“Crap, this guy’s got some tough armour plating!” Jesse called out, before being forced to roll out of the way of another strike by the biotic whips. Given the fact that behind the new threat, Assault Troopers dropped in behind him from the level up, forcing everyone else to engage them first, which meant that for the time being, Jesse was on his own.

After rolling out of the way of another strike from the whips, Jesse fired at the threat once again, this time square in the centre of the helmet, forcing the soldier to recoil from the shot. Seeing this, Jesse took the chance to get back on his feet, but before he could do anything more, the soldier had recovered and took a swing at Jesse again, knocking his DC-15S Carbine out of his hands. With that, the ARC Captain took the chance to try and kick the hostile’s leg. It didn’t do much, but it did force the soldier to recoil from the kick. With that, Jesse followed this up an elbow to the chest on the soldier before following it up with a back-handed hit from his right fist, making sure he used the hand plate to hit the soldier’s helmet. The end result was the soldier staggering backwards from the strike and giving Jesse some room to breathe.

With that, he drew his two DC-17 pistols and started firing on the soldier again, but again most of the rounds hit the armour but didn’t do much damage, so it wasn’t long before the hostile decided to hit Jesse with a biotic Throw, launching the ARC Captain into the consoles behind him, knocking his helmet off in the process. As Jesse recovered, he could see the soldier move in on him, but before he could do anything else, a fibercord whip was wrapped around the soldier’s left wrist, with the cable coming from Bo-Katan’s whipcord launcher on her right vambrace. Before the hostile could do anything else, another fibercord whip was then wrapped around his right wrist, this one coming from Mereel’s own whipcord launcher. With his arms now restrained, the soldier started pulling as hard as he could against the two Mandalorians, who were equally determined to buy time for Jesse to recover and were pulling back with all their combined strength. Seeing this, Jesse grabbed one of his DC-17s and started firing blaster bolts into the hostile, this time into the helmet. It was this that finally killed the soldier, with his body falling to the ground.

As Jesse recovered and moved to holster his two pistols, both Mereel and Bo-Katan moved up to check on the ARC Captain.

“You OK, Trooper?” Mereel asked.

“Yeah, I’m good… Mereel?” Jesse said, before figuring out he was talking to a Null-ARC, who responded with a nod to his head, confirming his identity.

“Huh. Didn’t know you guys were out here, vod – let alone, talking to me.” Jesse continued on.

“You’d be surprised who one would run into these days. Besides, you’re no Alpha-ARC, which is the reason why we’re talking.” Mereel said, reflecting the ongoing rivalry between the Null-class and Alpha-class ARCs, and also pointing out he was aware that Jesse was neither of these. “Anyhow, we’ve still got a job to do.”

“Yeah. Thanks for the save vod.” Jesse replied, which once again earned a nod from Mereel.

As Jesse moved to reclaim his carbine, Bo-Katan had his helmet in her hands, with the intent to return it.

“You do know that, technically, this is the second time I’ve had to rescue you.” she said in an amusing tone, remembering how she, Ahsoka, Rex and Domino Squad found Jesse, after he was kidnapped by Maul and his Super Commandos, in the Grand Salon back in the Sundari Royal Palace during the waning hours of the Siege of Mandalore, which drew a look from the ARC Captain.

“What, you’ve been keeping count this entire time?” Jesse replied back in his humorous tone as he accepted his helmet from Bo-Katan. What he didn’t know, due to her helmet, was that Bo-Katan had a smirk on her lips.

Whilst all this was going on, Shepard’s squad and the rest of the Mandalorians were able to put down the rest of the Assault Troopers with no problem. Once they were dealt with, Shepard moved to secure the second Reaper artefact for transport. Whilst doing this, she caught the glimpse of another projection, this one showing a unique looking Reaper design, which she assumed it was either a Reaper Transport or Processing Unit.

“Cortez - second sample is secured. Heading back to you now.” Krystina said to Cortez over the comm. However, fate had other ideas.

“Negative, Commander. Pad got hot. Had to bug out.” Cortez replied back, with alerts blaring away in the background. “Got three birds on our six, taking fire!”

“Scratch that. Make it four!” Slag called out.

“Will rendezvous when we can. Out.” Cortez finished off, before the channel went dead.

“Crap…” Shepard said, just as Bo-Katan, Jesse and Mereel linked back up with the rest of the group.

“What’s wrong, Commander?” Mereel asked.

“Cortez and Slag have got enemy fighters on their tail.” Shepard explained to everyone whilst making her way up the stairs back into the science lab. “We just need to hold out until they can pick us up.”

“Nothing like being stranded behind enemy lines, Krystina.” Garrus responded to this development in a somewhat annoyed fashion.

“Never said it would be easy, Garrus.” Shepard replied back whilst firing off three rounds from her M-96 Mattock at another Assault Trooper, killing him.

“Everyone, make your way to the balcony. At least there, once Cortez and Slag can get to us, we can exfil quickly.” Jesse said to everyone, seeing what Shepard had in mind. While it didn’t provide much cover for everyone, at least there was some room to work for ranged combat and it also allowed Garrus to engage targets with his M-98 Widow, especially against Guardians and any new troopers that could arrive.

Because of the fact that Cortez and Slag were found out and had Cerberus fighters on their tail, it meant that the base was now on high alert and scrambling all assets to crush the infiltration group. This meant that now everyone had to fight through increasing numbers of Cerberus troops. Thankfully, everyone was more than prepared for this fight, either due to their combat skills or the years of experience at their disposal, and with that, the group was able to push through the labs to the balcony. Once there, everyone found their position, with some suggestions from Shepard, and dug in for a drawn out fight.

“Stay focused – this isn’t over yet.” Krystina called out to everyone.

“I am fully functional.” EDI replied back, before she used an Overload on a Centurion’s shields before he was killed by Varlo’s wrist-blasters.

It would continue like this for another few more minutes, with the base sending more and more of their soldiers out to eliminate Shepard’s squad and the Mandalorians. Now things were starting to swing towards Cerberus’ favour, for the longer the group stayed on the base, the greater their chances of any one of the group could either be wounded or killed, not to mention running out of either ammo or power for their weapons – and it was something that was dawning on Shepard.

“Cortez, Slag, do either of you copy? What’s your status?” she called out over comms; due to the situation they were starting to find themselves in. Just as she was doing this, she could hear the roar of thrusters approaching – something that Tugrus could also hear.

“Engaging multiple targets.” Cortez replied back, just as the Kodiak flew past with at least 4 Sudan-class fighters on his tail, firing their weapons at the shuttle.

“Time for something a bit risky. Wish us luck.” The pilot continued on, but the tail end of his message turned into static.

“Lieutenant!” Shepard called out, before seeing Tugrus move in front of her, with his rangefinder down and leaning forwards, with the intent on using his missile on his Z-6 Jetpack against one of the Cerberus fighters. Once he had his target locked, the missile was launched and flew off after the fighter. Before the Kodiak flew out of visual range, both Tugrus and Shepard saw the missile explode, hitting its target and destroying the fighter.

“Hopefully, that will buy your pilots some breathing room.” The Mandalorian Zabrak said to Shepard. “Also, the name’s Tugrus.”

“Quick thinking, Tugrus.” Shepard said, praising his thinking, before a round struck nearby, forcing both back to cover.

“While that might help, I’m not sure both of them will survive that firepower, Shepard.” Garrus remarked, before firing off a round from his rifle, obliterating an Assault Trooper’s head.

“Then we’ll find another way. Until we either hear from them, or not, keep fighting.” Shepard ordered.

“Heads up. New Trooper in play!” Jesse called out, once he saw the same type of biotic soldier who tried to have a crack at him earlier, charging towards the group whilst firing his Cerberus Harrier. Seeing this, and how difficult it was to kill him, Garrus took the initiative and leaned out of cover, aiming directly at the hostile’s head with his M-98 Widow. Once the crosshairs were lined up, Garrus squeezed iron. The end result was the hostile’s head being obliterated, with the sheer force of the round propelling the body back. While at least now everyone knew that a headshot was capable of taking down the soldier, it didn’t help the fact that they were still surrounded, and more Cerberus Troopers were closing in.

“Cortez, Slag. Do either of you copy?” Shepard called out over comms again, now starting to get desperate as she had run out of ammo for her M-96 Mattock and had no clear path to heat sinks, forcing her to switch to her M-5 Phalanx once again. Not to mention that Cerberus troops were now coming up on the balcony from the lower levels thanks to their jet boots.

“Commander, had to go dark side to shake them. We’re coming in hot. Be ready.” Cortez responded, finally getting back in contact with the group.

“Roger that. We’re all at the extraction point. Make it Quick!” Shepard said before terminating the call, then looked to everyone else.

“Extraction’s almost here. Hold on just a little longer!” She yelled out to everyone.

“Understood, Commander.” Bo-Katan responded, dropping a Combat Engineer with some help from EDI. Despite the number of troopers lost, Cerberus still kept sending troopers out to engage the group.

In the end, the group once again heard the distinctive whine of the engines from the Kodiak, as it finally manoeuvred into position for extraction. Once it was close enough, it’s port side door opened up, revealing Slag standing there with his DC-17m in his hands. Once close enough, he started firing on the Cerberus troopers, providing covering fire for the group.

“Get in!” he yelled out to everyone, whilst firing his blaster.

With this, Shepard charged forward and ran past the Kodiak, in order to get to the ammo crates nearby, so she could get some extra thermal clips for her M-96 Mattock. With that done, she slammed a new thermal clip in her rifle and started firing away once more, whilst backing up to where the Kodiak was with the intention of providing covering fire whilst everyone got on board first. Once again, Bo-Katan was watching the scene unfold in front of her and couldn’t help but how Shepard was conducting herself and reflected back on the whole mission. Having seen Krystina’s skills in a firefight, not to mention she worked hard to ensure that if someone was pinned down, she made sure they were alright. Hell, not many Mandalorians – especially those in Death Watch if it was still active – would openly stand in the way of a downed ally and allow their armour absorb a lot of fire in order to allow said ally time to recover – which is what Shepard did for her.

All in all, the Commander may not be a Mandalorian, but she fought like one.

Bringing her mind back to what was present, Bo-Katan saw that Shepard was now attracting a lot of fire from Cerberus. Realising that this could end bad, she decided to follow the Commander’s lead, and started firing away with her WESTAR-35s.

“Everyone, get on board. NOW!” Bo-Katan yelled out to everyone.

As everyone made their way to the Kodiak, Shepard and Bo-Katan continued to provide covering fire for everyone, while Mereel and Garrus covered the group’s six with some support from Slag, as more Cerberus troopers started to come out from the science labs, before they mounted up. Once they were onboard, Shepard and Bo-Katan slowly back up towards the Kodiak themselves, still firing their weapons. Once everyone else was in the Kodiak, Bo-Katan then boarded, but not before she lobbed a Thermal Detonator at a Combat Engineer who was setting up his turret. As soon as she was aboard, Krystina then boarded herself.

“We’re all aboard. Go!” Bo-Katan yelled out to Cortez.

With that, the Kodiak’s door was closed and after some manoeuvring by the pilots, the shuttle then promptly took off, leaving the facility and started making its way back to the Normandy.

30 minutes later.

Quantum Entanglement Communications room, War Room, Deck 2.

Once back aboard the frigate, everyone piled out of the Kodiak. Once out, both Cortez and Slag, with some help from Ratchet, performed a diagnostic and visual sweep on the shuttle to ensure there was no serious damage, while Jesse and the Mandalorians got a quick check up by Kix, at his insistence, to ensure there were no serious injuries. Once they were cleared, Rik and Sabe stayed in the Cargo Bay to chat with some of the clones that were there and also watch some of them train, while Mereel, Varlo, Stagei, Tugrus and Rona decided to make their way to the Crew Deck in order to grab something to eat and drink and take the chance to settle down from the mission. Naturally, the Alliance crewmembers, along with some the marines that were now stationed abord the Normandy, were full of questions and interest about who they were, their skills and their history, so with that in mind, they were more than glad to talk about Mandalore’s long history, their weapons and armour and also how they came to be Mandalorians, especially in Mereel’s unique case. However, apart from his personal history, he was a little more reserved in the discussions – and the fact that he was enjoying what sweets that were in the Normandy’s kitchen had a hand in this as well.

The exception to this was Bo-Katan as she, along with Shepard and Jesse, had to report in on the success on DOOR KICKER to Hackett – which was precisely what they were doing now.

“Bo-Katan, Shepard and Jesse. We’ve got our best engineers looking at the Reaper tech you all secured from the lab.” Hackett said, once the connection between the Normandy and the Orizaba was established.

“And what was Cerberus attempting to achieve with that tech?” Bo-Katan asked, curious as to what their endgame was.

“We don’t know yet at the moment, but whatever Cerberus is up to, it can’t be good.” Hackett responded, before continuing on. “Even if we cannot determine its purpose, at the very least we’ve disrupted their experiments.”

“And given how big the facility was, I doubt they’ll just close up shop after this raid.” Shepard said, knowing Cerberus’ history of ensuring success in either the field or the lab on their objectives, regardless of the cost, with Jesse nodding his head in agreement due to what he saw himself back on the Resolute II.

“Agreed. To that end, we’ll keep sending strikes against the facility.” Hackett stated, revealing the Alliance’s intentions against what was now being dubbed ‘Firebase Glacier.’ Before terminating the transmission, Hackett brought up a key piece of news.

“Also, in regard to the new soldier type you encountered there, AIS and Task Force Hercules have been able to identify the soldier as ‘Dragoons’. Heavily armoured biotic assault specialists equipped with biotic lashes which are apparently the end result of something known as Project Phoenix.” He said, revealing what almost killed Jesse down on Sanctum.

“Well, at least now we know what to call them.” Jesse replied to this news, still remembering how tough the Dragoon was to kill.

“And dangerous to anyone who doesn’t know what they are capable of.” Bo-Katan said, also remembering their strength in the battle.

“With that in mind, I’ll send your reports on to General von Grath and also our allies so they know how to deal with them should they be encountered on the field. Regardless, good work. All of you.” Hackett responded, congratulating the three field commanders before terminating the transmission.

Once the admiral’s image had faded out, all three started to make their way out to the War Room. As they made their way through said room and towards the conference room, Shepard noticed that Bo-Katan was looking uneasy for some reason.

“You OK?” she asked the veteran warrior. Taking a breath, Bo-Katan looked at Shepard.

“I… actually have a confession to make to you.” she started to say. “When I first saw you back on the Resolute II, I did have some brief info from Rex and Jesse about you from their deployment on Mars, but not your recent history. When I heard about what you have done, I thought it was nothing more than to make you look impressive and, given my recent experiences in fighting Imperial Officers back home on Mandalore, I immediately took this view with you.” This drew a curious look from Krystina.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but what made you think this?” she asked. At this point, Jesse intervened.

“Where Lady Kryze does have a point about the Imperial Officers and how very few of them are actually competent leaders, most of this actually stems from Mandalorian culture Shepard.” He explained. “Due to the sheer number of species that are a part of Mandalorian society, they all believe that an individual should be judged not by their status or their circumstances of their birth, but rather by their deeds and their actions. Also, there’s a common Mandalorian saying that they have for this situation; ‘You can't truly know a person until you have seen them in battle’.” With a clearer understanding of why Bo-Katan thought what she thought, Shepard looked back at her.

“Having now fought side-by-side, now what are your opinions on me?” she asked, genuinely curious.

“Now, I do see that what Admiral Hackett has said about you is true, not to mention that the fact that you were willing to protect my squad members as if they were your own, including myself, and your combat prowess… it’s all shows that you are indeed an honourable warrior.” Bo-Katan stated. However, before she could say an apology, Shepard held a hand up.

“Before you say anything, you don’t have to apologise.” She said, hoping this would ease Bo-Katan’s mind. “If I was in your position, there’s a very good chance that I’d probably do the same thing you did. You’re in a new galaxy and surrounded by new cultures, so it’s a lot to take in. From where I’m standing, I think you’re coping pretty well.”

This earned a smile from Bo-Katan. “I appreciate the vote of confidence… Krystina.” The veteran warrior stated, using Shepard’s first name for the first time. “Also, I owe you one for saving my neck.”

“It’s what squad members do.” Shepard replied. “Besides, from what I’ve gathered from this mission and from Domino Squad, you are one formidable fighter and a talented leader in your own right.”

However, this statement inadvertently drew a sombre expression from Bo-Katan.

“I wasn’t always a leader… nor was I an honourable warrior in my early years.” She said, remembering her early years in Death Watch before she defected to the True Mandalorians 5 years before the Clones Wars.

“Even more so on the latter as I was part of a terrorist group, where I’ve killed innocents.” Bo-Katan continued on, walking away slightly towards the security screen. Oddly enough, this drew a unique remark from Krystina.

“Regarding you’re early years, the troopers here have given me the quick version relating to that. As for innocents dying on your watch, if it’s any consolation, I also fall in this category too.” She replied, remembering the ‘Alpha Relay Incident’ and remembering how she couldn’t save over 300,000 Batarians from the Relay’s explosion.

Hearing this, Bo-Katan turned back to face Shepard and Jesse. “You want to talk about it?” she asked Shepard.

“Only if you want to talk about yours.” Shepard replied back in a friendly tone. Besides, it was going to take at least 15 minutes to link back up with the rest of the Mandalorians on the Resolute II anyway, so they had time to burn. With another smile, Bo-Katan nodded her head.

“Lead the way, Shepard.” She said, agreeing to this.

However, as Shepard led the way to somewhere they could talk, Bo-Katan had a thought. “Actually, Commander. I have a favour I’d like to ask…”

Chapter Text

Location: Citadel, Willow System, Serpent Nebular – Citadel Space.

Since the start of what was now called the ‘Reaper War’, the Citadel started to see a massive increase in activity, most of which was refugees fleeing from their homes when the Reapers started arriving and making their way to one of a few places that could serve as a safe haven. While there was another place that was listed as a safe haven known as ‘Sanctuary’, which started circulating the rumour mill not long after the Invasion of Earth, the Citadel was considered the best option out there.

Of course, this had an unintended side effect. Because of the massive influx of refugees, and the rate they were arriving was climbing at a steady pace, combined with the rapid rise of war profiteering, con artists and scammers taking advantage of the current situation to make some quick credits, along with a major hike in suspicious activity reports, and all this added up to the point that C-Sec was being stretched to its absolute limits.

Due to this, and the fact that C-Sec was still trying to get back up to full strength ever since the Battle of the Citadel 3 years earlier, this meant that they had to resort to desperate measures. One option was to take advantage of a damaged Hahne-Kedar production factory on Capek in the Titan Nebula that was repaired and brought back online (thanks to the Normandy’s crew) in order to produced hundreds of LOKI, YMIR and FENRIS Mechs to augment their strength, but mechs could only go so far – especially in a firefight. So in desperation, C-Sec’s current Executive Decian Chellick turned to the Expedition Fleet for extra manpower. Being that the Jedi were anticipating this, they agreed to have Stone, Thire and the Ossus Guard’s Diplomatic Escort Group transferred to the Citadel to reinforce C-Sec. Once the Clone Shock Troopers that made up the Diplomatic Escort Group were given a quick overview on the laws that were there, they were sworn in as new officers, providing some much needed numbers to help police the Citadel. Most of the Shock Troopers were assigned to the Enforcement Division and were placed on patrol duty throughout most of the Citadel, primarily around the C-Sec Outposts and Offices that were scattered across the Presidium Ring and the Wards. However, a few of the Shock Troopers were skilled in heavy weapons and/or specialist tactics, so they were assigned to the Special Response Division.

However, despite the news reports that were coming from Palaven regarding the few successes that the 104th Wolfpack, 891st Armoured and Hawkbat Battalions were having alongside the turians, despite the overwhelming odds against them, and news of Primarch Victus’ successful rescue thanks to the combined efforts of the Normandy crew, Vanguard and Fenris Squads, many citizens were still wary of the clone troopers – save for a few brave souls who were either in desperate need of help from law enforcement or from those who were curious about them.

Still, it was early days.

Switch to the Courtyard, Presidium Commons.

Standing near the railing that was overlooking Apollo’s Café, two of the Shock Troopers were observing the sights that the Presidium Ring, both of whom were Clone War Veterans.

“I’ll tell you one thing, brother. Despite all the different places we went to during the War pulling escort duty, I think I can say that this view has become my favourite place.” CT-9353/029 ‘Board’ stated to his squad mate and friend, CT-30-3107 ‘Fennk’.

“Yeah… I’ll agree with you on that Board, but the problem here is that it’s boring as hell. According to what some of the veteran C-Sec officers have said here, there’s not much to do here other than deal with small misdemeanour issues like someone protesting about something outside of the ‘free speech zones’.” Fennk responded to this, who had his helmet off at the moment. “Personally, I’d rather have something interesting to happen.”

“Vod, we’re some of the more seasoned veterans in the Escort Group, so we’ve already seen some action in our lives.” Board countered. “So I’d say take the opportunity to enjoy something like this. Besides, you know what the induction officer said to us, new recruits who join C-Sec are first assigned to the Presidium in order to learn protocols and also get some operational experience before being assigned to the Wards.” As he continued on, he looked back towards Fennk. “Besides, Commander Bailey did say that the Wards see a lot more action that this anyway with drugs, organised crime and murder. According to him, ‘policing a Ward is like policing New York City’.”

“Good thing that Stone and Thire have a system in place so that everyone in the Escort Group will get to spend some time here on duty.” Fennk replied back.

“So with that, enjoy the time we’re stationed here. Besides, if I know you – and I do for that matter – you’ll be complaining about being overworked when we’re assigned to the Wards.” Board stated, which got a small laugh out of both Shock Troopers.

Before either one could continue with their conversation, two muffled noises broke out somewhere above them.

“Hey, did you hear that?” Board asked.

“Yeah, that sounded like two gun shots.” Fennk replied whilst putting his helmet back on.

“And you said things were boring here.” Board replied back, before both Shock Troopers moved out in a brisk fashion, past various advertisements that were in the walkway before making their way up to the apartments.

What they didn’t notice during their walk up to the source of the noise was that they past a krogan in full armour wearing Blood Pack markings, a batarian in worker garb… and Shepard.

Once they made it to the source of the noise – Apartment 86 – they had to call in a C-Sec Officer, as they couldn’t operate the door controls. Once the turian officer arrived and he was brought up to speed on what was going on, the officer readied his M-55 Argus, along with the Shock Troopers and their blasters, and hit the door switch in order to breach. What they saw were two dead krogan, also belonging to the Blood Pack – with one wearing unique armour signifying him as a warlord. After a quick sweep of the apartment, the Shock Troopers move to pull guard duty, while the officer called in backup for the crime scene.

Switch to Commander Bailey’s Office, Citadel Embassies.

Once they were given the green light from Bailey and the Citadel Council. Kiera, Raptor, Stone and Thire had decided to set up their Command Post in the annex in Bailey’s office. In a way, it made sense as from what they learnt from the Alliance and the Council back near the Fifth Fleet Logistical Hub a few days earlier, should a species wanted to gain an embassy here on the Citadel, the process would usually take decades or centuries to accomplish. The only exception to this rule was of course humanity, as they achieved this in a mere 8 years. Because time was not on their side, and while the Jedi would be able to comply with the Citadel Conventions – classifying and regulating the usage of WMDs, with their use absolutely forbidden on Garden Worlds, like Earth – there was no way the Jedi would be able to comply with the Treaty of Farixen, given the fact that they had 8 warships that were way larger than any dreadnought anyone had in the Milky Way. Hell, their Victory-class Star Destroyers alone were almost the same length as a dreadnought.

Thus, their Command Post arrangement was the compromise. In doing so, while it didn’t mean that they were an associated member of the Citadel Council, it did allow the Expedition Fleet to utilise the Serpent Nebula as a staging ground for their deployments, as well as allow their clone troopers and naval officers shore leave when it was scheduled. To also reinforce this, the 3 Marathon-class Support Destroyers Pathfinder, Horizon and Unity were also assigned to be stationed near the Citadel itself so the rest of the fleet could arrive for refuelling, whilst remaining under the watchful gaze of the Citadel Fleet and C-Sec’s Patrol Division.

“From the recent reports we’ve got so far from Palaven, the turians, along with Plo Koon and the Wolfpack, 891st and Hawkbat Battalions are fighting well, but the battle is still in the Reaper’s favour due to their immense number of reinforcements.” Kiera said to a small holographic projection of Anakin. “From the way things are looking, they’ll need reinforcements soon.”

“Rex, Ahsoka, Dagger and I have been reviewing the reports that Jesse sent us from the Normandy about their deployment on Menae, and while our weaponry, combine with the weaponry that this galaxy has, are more than capable of putting down Reaper Ground Troops in decent numbers, their sheer numbers nullifies the advantage we have. Not to mention that the Reapers themselves are capable of taking massive damage before showing signs of trouble.” Anakin replied back, reflecting on what had recently learnt – primarily the recent military history related to the ‘Eden Prime War’ back in 2183.

“Would it be possible for the 501st to be deployed to Palaven, General? Or at least one battalion?” Raptor asked.

“At the moment, that’s a negative as we’ve been requested to help storm a recently discovered Cerberus facility on the planet Trident, so the whole 501st is being called up for this one.” Anakin responded. “Nor can Obi-wan and the 212th as for some reason, we can’t raise them over comms?”

“Jamming equipment?” Kiera asked, wonder what could interfere with their communication tech as it was fundamentally different compared to the Comm-buoys or QECs.

“Either that, or his detachment’s engaged in a naval battle.” Anakin continued on. “What forces could we send to Palaven from the Coalition Battle Group?”

“Most of our forces are adjusting to the new cultures and how their forces work here, but we can deploy the 10th ODST and 41st Scout Battalions, as they are eager to go.” Raptor stated before he continued on. “As the Spirit of Fire is still here, we can have both battalions deployed via orbital insertion at Palaven. From there, General Plo can determine where they’re deployed.”

“Makes sense with the orbital insertion given the fact that the Reapers have the Trebia System in a tight strangle hold. OK. Once we’re done here, try to get in touch with either Plo Koon, or Grand Admiral Coburn and let them know they’re getting some reinforcements.” Anakin stated, with an alert coming from somewhere in the background indicating that they were getting close to the Hoplos System, so they would be deploying in a few hours.

“Understood Anakin.” Kiera replied back. “And May the Force be with you.”

“Likewise.” Anakin stated, before his image faded out.

Whilst Kiera and Raptor were coordinating troop deployments with Anakin, Stone and Thire were going over the deployment areas of the Shock Troopers they had to work with Bailey, and despite the fact that while the C-Sec Commander was mostly a cop in the simplistic sense, whereas Stone and Thire were seasoned combat troops, they were getting along ok. In fact, the only ‘fly in the ointment’ at the moment was that Bailey’s terminal was going berserk with messages from a C-Sec officer in relation about a prisoner who was able to secure a release from the Council, but given what he knew, he was doing all he could to stall this. However, once he just sent off the message, stating that the forms were still being processed, when the door to the office opened. Walking through said door was none other than Krystina. It was Bailey who would recognise her first.

“Shepard, to what do I own the pleasure?” Bailey said, getting everyone else’s attention while Shepard made her way to his desk, providing a courteous nod to Stone, Thire, and especially to Kiera and Raptor as they were busy.

“Here to talk to you about releasing Jona Sederis.” Shepard stated, not wasting time with anything fancy. This however made Bailey drop his head in some annoyance, as the messages were about the very problem he was dealing with on his terminal.

“Damn, you too?” Bailey stated. “Someone managed to get the Council to order her release. I’m delaying as best I can. What’s your stake in this?”

“It’s classified.” Shepard said on the matter, knowing that it wouldn’t look pleasant if Bailey found out that it was Aira T’Loak who assigned Shepard to bust her out of the slammer.

“That’s a fancy way of saying ‘mind your own business’.” Bailey responded to this.

“Uh… I don’t mean to interrupt here, but who is this ‘Jona Sederis’?” Stone asked, trying to figure out why did this person worry Bailey so much.

“From what I’ve gather on her records, Jona Sederis is a former asari commando who founded the Eclipse mercenary outfit which she still leads, Commander.” Thire responded, tapping away on a datapad. “According to C-Sec records, she has a pretty high body count, in addition to numerous weapon violations and trafficking offenses to her name. Not to mention that’s from the report here, she’s considered… somewhat unstable.”

“And it’s for that reason alone, Thire, why I’m not letting that psychopath out. The woman’s unstable and a clear public threat.” Bailey stated with certainty in his voice.

“What makes you think she’s crazy?” Shepard asked, being as she had never met the leader of the Eclipse but had quite a few run-ins with the organisation in the Terminus and also on Bekenstein last year.

“She was a ruthless sadist back before she got caught, but now it looks like imprisonment has cracked the shell of the nut.” Bailey explained, giving his own view on this situation.

“Maybe freedom will improve her?” Shepard asked, looking to see if there was an angle she could use.

“She rages day and night, Shepard, calling for the deaths of all Eclipse enemies!” the C-Sec Commander responded in an almost exasperated tone. “No. Freedom will only give her the chance to kill.”

With that, it looked like this one wasn’t going to be a simple one, but being as the payoff was access to one of the three major Terminus merc organisations committed to the war effort, it was too much to ignore.

“I’d like access to her to judge for myself.” Shepard asked, partly to see if Bailey’s opinions were legit (not that she would think he was a liar), but also to see if there could be a solution.

“Sure thing and I’m sure you’ll agree. Then maybe the Council will listen to you and rescind the order.” Bailey stated, granting Krystina’s request.

It was at this point, Thire had an idea in his head. “Actually, Commander. Would you mind if I tagged along with you?” he asked. When asked why, Thire stated that since coming to the Citadel, he and Stone were busy organising thing and coordinating deployment with C-Sec higher-ups, so this was a chance to see how they were coping.

“I’ve got no issues, unless Stone says otherwise.” Shepard responded to this request.

“Things are quiet for now, so I’ve got no hassle.” Stone responded. With that, Thire went to retrieve his helmet and DC-15A rifle.

“So with that, where do I go to see Sederis?” Shepard asked Bailey.

“Go to the C-Sec outpost near the Presidium Commons. My assistant will connect you two to Sederis’s cell from there. Then call me back.” Bailey replied. With that, Shepard and Thire made their way out of the office.

However, they didn’t get very far.

Standing between both Bailey’s office and the Spectre Office was a salarian, decked out in German Grey and Yellow stripped armour. The fact that this salarian was wearing armour here was slightly odd, but not unheard of due to the few salarian officers who worked for C-Sec were around. However, when he spoke, the salarian revealed who he was.

“Commander Shepard?” the salarian asked once he saw both her and Thire.

“Yes?” Krystina responded, confirming her identity.

“Jondum Bau. Special Tactics and Recon.” The salarian started to say before he noticed Thire. “And you are…?”

“Commander Thire. Ossus Guard’s Diplomatic Escort Group.” Thire stated, introducing himself to the Spectre with a handshake.

“While it’s a pleasure to meet a clone trooper, I’m afraid that I must speak with Shepard alone as this is a Spectre matter.” Bau stated to Thire, getting straight to business.

“Is this a personal matter or is it top secret?” Thire asked, curious as to what’s going on.

“What I need to speak to Shepard about regards classified intelligence, for Spectres only. I apologise Commander.” Bau replied back.

“While I may not be a Spectre agent and I haven’t delt with classified intel before, I have been deployed on classified missions before back home, so I do know the routine Spectre Bau.” Thire replied back with certainty, briefly remembering the Ambush on Rugosa and what he had learnt from Master Yoda during that day.

“I can vouch for Thire.” Shepard stated, throwing her support behind the veteran Shock Trooper.

“… If you say so Shepard.” Bau replied, accepting Shepard’s word. “Getting back to the topic at hand, I’ve got intel suggesting that high-level hanar officials may be indoctrinated.” As Bau said this, he fired up his omni-tool to show both Shepard and Thire the intel in question.

“That’s a damning accusation.” Shepard stated. “What have you got?”

“Evidence of an Alliance black ops team raiding a batarian research station.” Bau said before continuing on. “In it, the batarians were studying Reaper technology.”

“Hang on… the batarians had access to Reaper tech?” Krystina asked, making sure she heard right.

“Indeed. However, the Alliance raid descended into a massacre, and the humans ended up with nothing. You’re people faked a power failure to hide the incident.” Bau continued on, before shutting down his omni-tool. However, hearing of this somehow manage to make Shepard remember something buried deep in her mind, but she wasn’t sure yet.

Thire, on the other hand, had a question on his mind regarding this. “If the Batarian Hegemony learnt of this, their entire population would have cried for war… but how exactly does this implicate the hanar?” he asked.

“They maintain discreet grey-market trade relationships with the batarians, Commander Thire – and they led the Alliance to the station.” Bau explained, giving a clearer picture to both Thire and Shepard, as she didn’t know about this one either. “We suspect those hanar operatives escaped with batarian tech. If your reports on the Reapers are accurate Shepard, they could already be indoctrinated.”

“So let me see if I understood all this right – and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.” Thire spoke up, ensuring that he heard everything right. “The hanar maintain secret trade deals with the batarians, despite the fact that they are – in effective terms – a rogue state, yet the hanar inform the Alliance of a research facility is and lead them to it. Then while the Alliance and the batarians battle each other, the hanar get their tentacles on the Reaper tech and vanish without anyone noticing? Huh. Crimson Dawn would be impressed.”

“Looks like you got the gist of it, Thire.” Shepard stated, impressed that he was able to figure it out on his own. However there was one thing that was starting to bug her. “What’s your source on all this?”

“It was an anonymous ‘gift’, but I believe that it came from a thief named Kasumi Goto. I’ve been after her for years.” Bau replied. With that one sentence, it all clicked inside Shepard’s head; this Alliance black ops raid must have been the information that Kasumi’s deceased partner (and former AIS operative) Keiji Okuda must have discovered and wanted kept secret in order to prevent interstellar war, which involved a heist against weapons dealer Donovan Hock to retrieve Keiji’s greybox implant. However, it turns out there was more at play here.

“Kasumi? You’re hunting a thief?” Shepard asked, doing her best to show genuine interest due to the fact she personally knew the infiltration expert and considered her a friend.

“A master thief. Her intelligence and skills are almost salarian.” Bau stated, with a strong sense of admiration from him, something that Krystina was quick to point out. “I only need her data. I actually admire her personally. And since she sent me this, I assume the feeling is mutual.” Bau continued on with his opinions on Kasumi.

“What do you need us to do?” Krystina asked, bringing the conversation back to what was going on.

“The hanar operative is now a diplomat here on the Citadel.” Bau stated. “I don’t have a face name, and the hanar will go to ground if I make a formal inquire.”

“So with that, it pretty much means we’re hunting.” Thire stated. With that, Bau fired up his omni-tool again, showing some progress he had already made.

“I’m tracking suspicious transactions to the hanar homeworld. I could use your help.” The Spectre stated to Shepard and Thire.

“Let me see what I can dig up at the Spectre Office.” Shepard said.

“Thanks Shepard.” Bau replied as he deactivated his omni-tool again. “And for the record – not everyone doubted your concerns about the Reapers. I just hope we’re not too late.”

With that, Bau walked off to continue following his leads, leaving Shepard and Thire standing in the hall.

“I know I vouched for your skills just now Thire, but the Spectre Office does have biometric scanners at the door – I’m afraid you’ll have to wait outside while I dig up what intel I can.” Krystina said to the veteran Commander.

“I understand Shepard. I’ll do a sweep up ahead and check on things while you find what we need.” Thire said back but thought of a loophole. “Could you patch me in over your comms, so I can listen in still?”

“Done deal.” Shepard said, firing up her omni-tool to enable Thire still had a hand in the investigation. With that, Shepard made her way into the Spectre Office, while Thire made his way down the corridor.

No sooner than when Shepard walked past the door entering the Office and when the door closed, a voice called out. “So… remember when you helped me get Keiji’s greybox from Donovan Hock? The one with information that could start a war?”

Looking back behind her, Shepard could see a cloaked figure fade out to reveal that Kasumi, standing in her signature infiltration gear, was waiting behind her, and possibly listening in on the conversation.

“Information like an Alliance black ops raid on a batarian research lab?” Shepard countered, having now learnt what the information in question was about.

“I figured it wouldn’t hurt to leak it now. Especially if there really is an indoctrinated jellyfish out there… crazier than usual.” Kasumi said before continuing on. “If both you and that Clone Commander don’t mind me tagging along cloaked, maybe I can help you dig up some dirt on the hanar.”

“I’d appreciate it.” Shepard said, which lead to Kasumi being cloaked once again.

“I’d take it that was Kasumi you ran into in the office?” Thire asked over comms, revealing that he was listening in over the comms.

“Yeah. Kinda surprised that you didn’t ask how she managed to get in here.” Shepard replied as she made her way over to the three terminals in the office which managed transactions, intel and also one for vid calls.

“Give what Bau said about her being a master thief, it would make sense that she would know how to fool security systems.” Thire stated.

“True enough.” Shepard replied back, understanding Thire’s thoughts perfectly as she had seen Kasumi’s skills in person during the heist on Bekenstein and again in the Collector Base.

Once Krystina had finished looking up a new Spectre report regarding active cults in the galaxy and how much of a threat they were (more so given the Reapers’ arrival), she activated tracking for transmissions from the hanar embassy.

With that, Bau was on comms immediately with new information. “Shepard. Thire, I’m checking security reports. Can you two track the transfers coming from the hanar embassy?” he asked.

“We’re on it.” Shepard replied.

“Any idea what you’re hoping to find Bau?” Thire asked, seeing if the salarian Spectre had something to work with.

“Suspicious transfers, data usage outside the normal range for ambassadorial staff…” Bau stated, but it was Krystina who noted something.

“So… we have no idea.” She said, revealing that it was going to take some digging.

“Hopefully, we’ll know it when we see it, Commanders.” Bau replied back. Once he was finished on the comms, Kasumi chipped in with her two cents worth. “Bau’s got a good plan. Hanar are predictable. Anything suspicious in their terminal use should narrow down our list of suspects.”

“So you approve of Bau?” Shepard asked.

“Absolutely. Like you, he’s a good Spectre. The galaxy needs more people like you two.” Kasumi responded.

“Despite the fact that Bau’s the one who’s trying to arrest you?” Thire replied back over comms.

“Well…nobody’s perfect.” Kasumi replied back.

“With you saying that, and for the record, I have a name – it’s Thire.” He stated to her, given how he heard how Kasumi knew him as ‘that Clone Commander.’

“Play nice, you two.” Was all Shepard said on the subject before the channel went dead.

Once Shepard came out of the office and linked back up with Thire, they both made their way towards the Office Suite next to the Embassy Offices. Before they made their way to the terminal that Bau marked for the both of them, Shepard overheard a diplomat who was desperately trying to find info on a relative. It turned out that she had run into Humanity’s ambassador, Dominic Osoba, who was after information about his son, Bilal, who was declared MIA and his squad wouldn’t give him information (on account of the fact that they were drinking heavily at Purgatory). With the promise of providing information to him if she could come across any, Krystina linked back up with Thire at the marked terminal and, with a quick swipe with her omni-tool, provided some intel to work with.

“Bau, we have some possible hits. Got some strange money transfers on Bolohn, and Oloon’s sending a lot of data.” Shepard stated over comms to the fellow Spectre.

“Bolohn’s clean. His money transfers are to support his mistress. Not sure about Oloon. I’ll pull his bio.” Bau replied back.

“Roger that. We’ll check Oloon’s personal records and pull his recent messages.” Thire added but thought of something. “And… Bolohn has a mistress?”

“An asari poet, Thire.” Bau stated, showing that he was already aware of this. “To be honest, I think he was pressured into it to improve relations with Thessia.” This drew a very confused looked between Thire and Shepard – well she assumed Thire would have a confused look due to the fact he had his helmet on.

“His government approves of him having an affair with an asari poet?” Shepard asked.

“No. They’d fire him if it became public. They’re a paradoxical culture.” Bau responded.

“Tell me about it.” Shepard replied before Kasumi came through again over the comms.

“Can I just note how odd it is for a hanar to have a mistress?” she said, also confused by what she’d just heard.

“You know, if Bau catches up with you, I can grant you immunity.” Krystina said. However, the master thief wasn’t all that confident in the offer.

“What, if I join up? Last time I did that, you roped me into a suicide mission.” Kasumi stated, with some annoyance in her voice over it.

“I didn’t say you had to join up.” Shepard countered.

“You were working you way around to it.” The thief replied back before terminating the comms.

Once things were done, the two made their way to the lift, but before they got far, Thire had to ask Shepard a question. “Commander, regarding to me tagging along with you on this, while I did state that it was to check on the troopers under my command, I actually do have an ulterior reason why.” He spoke.

“What’s the reason?” Shepard asked.

“While you were doing your best to hid it, it’s kinda obvious that you aren’t doing this out of good will – you’re gunning after Eclipse, aren’t you?” Thire stated, revealing that despite her words, he was quick to catch on what was going on. Impressed by this, Shepard decided to come clean.

“You’re right. I was sent on this by warlord Aria T’Loak, for she’s ask me to unite the three major mercenary organisations under her rule: Blood Pack, Blue Suns and Eclipse. Once done, she’ll commit them to the war effort against the Reapers. The business with Sederis is part of getting Eclipse to the join the fight.” She explained. “The reason why I told Bailey ‘It’s classified’ was if he saw what I was planning, he wouldn’t have allowed me to visit her.”

“And it meant that Eclipse would sit on the sidelines.” Thire said.

“Pretty much.” Shepard continued on. “I’m actually surprised that you’ve got no issues with what I’m doing.”

“In warfare, hiring of mercenaries is a common practice, as you are no doubt aware. In our galaxy, same thing applies.” Thire explained. “That said… I don’t like the fact that you still want to see Sederis despite what Bailey said about her sanity.”

“I’ve known Bailey for a little while, so I have no doubt that what he said is true.” Krystina continued on. “What I’m hoping for is there’s an alternative to releasing Sederis.”

“And if there’s not?” Thire asked.

“… I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.” Shepard said with a sigh.

With that, both Thire and Shepard continued on their way to the lift, with the intention of dealing with Sederis first, then tracking down their indoctrinated hanar.

10 minutes later

Switch to C-Sec Outpost, Presidium Commons.

Once the lift took the two to the Presidium Commons, Shepard and Thire made their way down towards the C-Sec Outpost, which overlooked the two stores that were on the far side of the Meridian Place Market – Aegohr Munitions and Cipritine Armory. En route, the duo past a few Clone Shock Troopers, with many of them posted near the apartments – no doubt because of what happened earlier with Shepard and the Blood Pack.

Once they made their way inside the Outpost, the turian C-Sec officer was clearly waiting for their arrival, for once they entered the room, he was ready to go.

“I’ve connected with Jona Sederis in her cell, Commanders. You can both speak with her via that console.” The officer explained.

“Thanks. We’re going to need some privacy.” Shepard said.

“Of course. When you’re done, you can also contact Commander Bailey from that terminal.” The officer explained as he was standing up from his desk.

“Understood. We’ll let you know when we’re finished.” Thire said as the officer left the two alone, whilst removing he helmet. With that, both Krystina and Thire made their way to the vid screen and, with a few taps on Shepard’s omni-tool, Sederis’ image came into view on the screen.

“Who’s that spying on me know?” Sederis said whilst making her way towards the camera, before realising who was there. “Ah, I see – good. Aria’s indentured servant has finally come to deliver me to freedom… and it seems that Aria’s also got a new pet. Interesting.”

Immediately recognising that she was speaking about him, Thire clenched his fist in anger at the remark. Shepard however, remained indifferent about the slave remark. It seems that time spent in the Terminus Systems in 2185 had tempered her views on how people in the Terminus behaved and lived – regardless of her own personal views.

“I want to talk to you before we secure your release.” Shepard stated. However Sederis wasn’t mucking around.

“Bullshit. You have no choice.” She said, sounding fairly confident regarding this. “And when I get out, heads will roll.” Sederis followed up, with a small laugh to herself.

From this, she dialled up the aggression. “You’ve killed a lot of my people!” Sederis continued, directing this at Shepard. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten that!”

“You have to move on.” Was all Shepard said regarding this, as she didn’t want to get dragged into a pissing match.

“And I will, once all my enemies are dead.” Sederis replied to this, revealing that Bailey’s statements about her wanting her enemies dead was true to the letter.

“I love holding all the cards!” Sederis continued on, now wanting to brag about herself. “Even in here, you must deal with me – I have all the power!”

“Is that right?” Krystina asked, remaining indifferent about the remark.

“So where do you store this power that you have in that cell of yours?” Thire chipped in, showing that two could play at the same game. Strangely enough, the remark flew right past Sederis.

“Yes. Sayn, my second-in-command, is a weak-willed toady.” She continued to brag. “If had the balls, he’d leave me to rot and take control himself. But he won’t defy me. He knows better.” At this point, she moved directly towards the camera. “Now, get me out of here Shepard! Tell Bailey to release me!” With that, it was more than enough to confirm that Bailey was right; Sederis was now mentally unhinged, and a true threat to practically anyone.

Once she had finished ranting, Shepard killed the connection, before brining Bailey up on screen. “Bailey, we’ve seen Sederis.” Shepard said to the C-Sec Commander.

“So she’s crazy, right? It would be ridiculous to let her out.” Bailey replied back.

“You’re right on the assessment Commander. She’s now a dangerous being.” Thire responded, throwing in his own two cents into the conversation.

“Thire’s right. She’s a menace. Let us try to make this problem go away.” Shepard stated. This was what Bailey was hoping for.

“Sounds good. I’ll hold the line until I hear from the both of you.” Bailey said before terminating the call.

Once the screen was dead, Thire placed his helmet back on and followed Shepard out of the Outpost, but not before alerting the officer that they were done.

On the way back to the Courtyard, Shepard noticed that Thire had a smirk on his lips. “I take it that you’ve got something up your sleeve?” she asked the veteran Shock Trooper.

“Sederis may think she’s in control, but in reality, she’s an idiot as she did let slip about her XO.” Thire replied. This drew a small laugh from Krystina.

“And I was wondering if I was the only one who picked up on that.” She said to Thire. “Given the way she described Sayn, it’s obvious that he’s a salarian – makes sense given the fact that all of Eclipse’s members are either asari, salarian or human.”

“So with that, I’m guessing he’s our alternative to releasing Sederis, right?” Thire asked.

“Pretty much.” Shepard said, before firing up her omni-tool. “According to records, Sayn’s in the refugee camp… and from the looks of things, the next terminal that Bau wants us to access is also there.”

“Well, that’s convenient.” Thire remarked at this info. “Let’s not waste time then.”

Once again, the duo made their way to the lift.

10 Minutes Later

Switch to Docking Bay E24 – Refugee Camp.

With the arrival of the Reapers, there was no doubt that the Citadel was to become a magnet for refugees fleeing from their homes and making their way to the station due to its formidable defences and the indestructible nature of the Citadel’s outer hull plating. Because of this, Udina put forward a motion to convert Docking Bays E24, E26 and E28, usually used for storage of deliveries to humanity’s embassy, into a temporary housing facility to the Council – which was met with unanimous approval (an absolute rarity). Since then, many refugees had arrived, and many more continued to pour in. Out of all the species that had arrived at the present time, the most dominant species present were the batarians due to the destruction of the Batarian Hegemony, with humanity and the turians a close second.

Due to this, and because there were still 23 years of lingering tensions between humanity and the batarians, a few C-Sec officers and Clone Shock Troopers were deployed here to keep the peace and quell any arguments before they led to all-out brawls and riots. In addition to this, a few doctors and nurses were sent down from the hospitals to provide any medical aid that was needed. In addition to all this, a memorial wall was established by the refugees for those who were either killed or missing, presumed dead, by the Reapers. There was no doubt that the wall was going to be covered in images and/or notes by the end of the war.

Making their way out of the lift, Shepard and Thire made their way to the Terminal that was marked out for them. After a few taps with the omni-tool, Thire called up Bau.

“Bau, we’ve got some new intel. It looks like Oloon’s been doing some heavy lobbying for the hanar to support the war effort.” He said to the Spectre.

“So he’s clearly not indoctrinated. Who’s opposing him?” Bau replied back over comms.

“An unnamed hanar recently posted from Kahje.” Shepard responded. “We’ll check transit records for incoming hanar.”

“Good idea. There shouldn’t be many new arrivals. They’re a mildly xenophobic species.” Bau said. However, this drew a confused look from Shepard.

“Xenophobic?” she asked, making sure she heard that one right.

“I could use a more polite term if you prefer. Private? Reclusive?” Bau continued on.

“It’s… just a bit more blunt than I expected.” Krystina replied, taking in what she had just learnt.

“I did say ‘mildly’.” Bau countered before the transmission ended.

“Yeah. That makes it so much better…” Thire said, given that he was also struggling with the fact, despite what he had read in the Codex and from first-hand accounts from his men, that the hanar, known for their excessive politeness, were xenophobic to an extent.

“It all comes down to the war… and you trying to pull everyone into it.” Kasumi called out over comms once again, drawing Thire’s and Shepard’s attention back to the here and now.

“Would you rather the Reapers win?” Thire countered over the comms.

“I’d rather spend whatever time I have left with Keiji, Thire.” Kasumi said.

“Given what I remember when you access the greybox back on the shuttle once we left Bekenstein.” Shepard countered. “Keiji wouldn’t want you to spend all your time plugged into that thing.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have died then.” Kasumi finished up, before terminating the call.

After spending a few minutes of looking around, it was Thire who spotted Sayn, currently sitting down in what was recognised as the turian side of the refugee camp and, oddly enough, was close to where Garrus was standing who was obviously doing what he could coordinating what aid and relief he could get for the turian refugees. Whilst Shepard and Thire were making their way towards the shelters, Sayn saw them coming.

“Men, get ready for trouble.” He said, drawing the attention of both another salarian and a human, no doubt Sayn’s personal guard, whilst he stood up.

“Relax, Sayn. Shepard and I aren’t here for that. Rather, we want to talk to you about Jona Sederis’ release.” Thire said, hoping that the Eclipse mercs would back off. With a hand raised up to his guards, telling them that it was all ok, they went back to their business.

“Oh, you’re the one coordinating that, right?” Sayn asked, to which Shepard nodded her head.

“My idea, you know. Aria came to me looking to gain Eclipse support.” Sayn continued on. “I’m leveraging it to bust the boss out.” With that, it was time to see if her plan would work.

“Sayn. You should run Eclipse.” Shepard stated, which drew a startled response from Sayn.

“You can do it. Leave Sederis locked up and make the deal with Aria yourself.” Krystina continued on.

“Hmm… Aria would be a step up… and you think she’d let me run things?” Sayn asked, processing the idea in his mind.

“I don’t see why not.” Shepard replied.

“Right… right. Then that’s the plan. Keep Sederis in jail – I’ll call Aria right away.” Sayn stated, seeing the benefit in this plan.

“Good man.” Thire spoke up. Up until that point, Thire stayed quiet as he had no experience in dealing with criminal groups other than putting them down on Coruscant, so for this, he let Shepard handle it. Once the discussion was done, Sayn was already brining up his own onmi-tool, no doubt to talk to Aria himself. At the same time this was happening, Shepard and Thire back up a bit so they could talk to themselves.

“Do you think this plan worked?” Thire asked.

“Only way we’ll know is if we hear from either Bailey or Stone.” Shepard replied.

“Yeah. True enough.” Thire said, but before he could continue on, Shepard spoke up. “Listen, Thire. There’s someone here I want to meet. Could you give me a few minutes?”

“Yeah, no problem.” Thire replied. “Just don’t take too long about it.”

With that, Thire went back to where some of his Shock Troopers were, while Shepard went back to talk with Garrus.

After having a discussion about the lack of medical support for some of their critically wounded with another Turian, Garrus looked to see Shepard standing in front of him.

“Shepard.” He said, sounding worn out from the earlier discussion.

“What’s happening?” Krystina asked, taking the chance to do a proper look around her surroundings for once.

“We convinced the Council to accept our wounded. Nowhere else to go.” Garrus replied back.

“How bad is it?” Shepard asked, fully aware that it wasn’t going to be pretty, but she didn’t know the full extent.

“More dead then wounded. 85% killed in action.” Garrus replied, not bothering to sugar-coat it. “We’ll need a morgue soon. Not a lot of flesh wounds when you’re fighting Reapers.”

“Casualties are that high?” Shepard asked, given the fact that the only Reapers she had encountered in her life were Sovereign and Harbinger – and even then, it was only to talk to them.

“Our frontline units are being wiped out whole platoons at a time.” Garrus remarked. “Even with the Jedi and Clones helping, a single Reaper can destroy nine or ten of them in one attack.” This fact was enough to shock Shepard.

“That’s not war – it’s slaughter.” She said, with some venom in her voice.

“They’re called ‘Reapers’ for a reason, and these guys found out why.” Garrus replied back, sounding more worn out if anything.

“Do what you can for them.” Shepard suggested.

“A few of them might get back on their feet, but the rest…” Garrus replied. “Sympathy is about all we can offer.”

“Any sign of your family?” Shepard asked, remembering that they were still MIA.

“Not yet, but I keep hoping.” Garrus answered before asking a question of his own. “What about you? I’m starting to see some wear and tear.”

“I won’t lie – it’s been rough.” Krystina said, admitting that things had started to tire her out.

“Well, don’t forget to come up for air.” Garrus stated. “And not just because all these people need you – because I need you.”

With that, Shepard took her cue to leave, being as she still have a mission to complete.

Once linking back up with Thire, the two Commanders made their way over to the next terminal, which had the transit records they needed.

“We’ve got a list of new hanar arrivals, Bau. Shepard’s forwarding it to you now.” Thire called out over comms to the salarian Spectre.

“Damn. These are all face names.” Bau stated. “The hanar name from the Alliance raid are soul names. And hanar soul names are private. There’s no public record. Can you two get back to their personal communications?”

“On it. Maybe we’ll find names there.” Shepard replied.

“We can hope. If a hanar group is opposing war with the Reapers, my suspicions were correct.” Bau said, before the comm went silent, with both Shepard and Thire making their way back to the lift. However, it wasn’t long before it flared up again once more, and again it was from Kasumi.

“So how’s the rest of the gang? Met up with anyone else?” she asked, for once taking the conversation away from both the hanar and the war.

“Garrus is helping out on the Normandy.” Shepard replied.

“Of course he is.” Kasumi replied in an unsurprised tone, given the fact that she – along with Kelly Chambers – could tell that the two had feelings for each other long before anyone else did last year. “What about Jacob?”

“Haven’t heard from him.” Shepard replied. This annoyed Kasumi.

“See. Jacob could have gotten me back onto the Normandy” she replied back.

“I thought you were happy with your memories of Keiji.” Shepard countered in a playful way.

“Hey. I’m nostalgic, not dead.” Kasumi replied back before terminating the comm.

“Shepard if you don’t mind me asking, who’s Jacob?” Thire asked, out of curiosity.

“Jacob Taylor was one of my squad members back last year, when I was busy against the Collectors.” Shepard explained. “He’s an ex-Alliance marine and a former Corsair. When I met him, he was a Cerberus Operative. However, unlike most members of Cerberus I’ve either met or ran into, he was one who was very conscious and worried about the organisation’s past.”

“And what did you mean by ‘haven’t heard from him’?” Thire continued on.

“I assume you’re aware of the ‘Alpha Relay Incident’?” Shepard asked Thire, to which he said he had a brief understanding of it. “Well, I the reason for that event.” Shepard stated, before she went on to give the Clone Commander a quick version of the Incident.

“After I was debriefed in person by Admiral Hackett, my crew and I completed a few more missions out in the Terminus before we made our way to Illium. Once we arrived, I told the crew that I was going to turn both myself and the Normandy to the Alliance on Earth.” Shepard stated. “With that I told the crew that if they wanted to stay on board, they could, or if they didn’t want to face an Alliance court-martial, then they could leave the ship. All of the squad, and most of the crew save for Joker, Chakwas and engineers Gabby and Ken and a few others, left the Normandy there and went their separate ways. Once I arrived on Earth, I was immediately placed under house arrest and had no way to contact anyone of my squad.”

“And ever since the Reapers invaded Earth, you have pretty much hit the ground running, leaving you no time to check on their progress?” Thire asked to which Shepard said yes.

Once the duo made their way back to the C-Sec checkpoint at the entry to the docks, their comms flared up. This time, it was Bailey.

“Shepard, Thire. The Council withdrew the release order for Sederis. Aria T’Loak, of all people, got ‘em to do it. Crazy.” He said, sounding both relieved and tired.

“You can say that again.” Shepard replied, relieved herself that with this mess dealt, the Eclipse was now a part of the war effort.

“Thanks for your help, guys.” Bailey finished up, before terminating the comm.

“I don’t know about you, Thire, but I don’t want to be hanging around Sederis when she finds out she’s not getting her freedom.” Shepard remarked.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got our own solutions regarding how to deal with… problematic criminals.” Thire replied, whilst pulling one of his own DC-17 pistols out of its holster.

“By killing them?” Krystina asked, confused by this gesture.

“By stunning them. Many blasters come with two distinct firing methods as standard.” Thire responded.

“Ah, just like Star Trek.” Shepard said.

“Star what, now?” Thire asked, confused by what he just heard. This drew a small laugh from Shepard. “… never mind.”

Once the conversation was over, Shepard was back on the omni-tool, gathering more intel from the terminal that was near the lift once again.

“Bau, we’ve got the list of correspondence. Do we have any mention of soul names?” Thire stated over comms.

“I’ve got it. A recent arrival. Zymandis. Soul name: Regards the Works of the Enkindlers in Despair.” Bau said, revealing who they were after. “He was with the Alliance team that massacred the batarians. He’s been on ‘special research assignment’ ever since.”

“So he got his tentacles on some Reaper tech.” Shepard replied, now understanding everything.

“Looks that way. I’m sending the NavPoint for his office. I’ll meet you both there.” Bau stated before the comm went dead. With their suspect in their sights, Shepard and Thire made for the lift.

5 minutes later.

Switch to Office Suite, Citadel Embassies

Once the lift arrived back at the Embassies, Shepard and Thire made straight for the Office Suite, with Thire carrying his DC-15A in his hands for the first time, where Bau was waiting for them. Once he saw them, all three (including a cloaked Kasumi) made their way into the office to confront the hanar. Once in the office, Bau noted that there were two drell standing near the doorway, watching the group. While it’s generally well noted that with every high-ranking hanar had a devoted drell helper, as per the Compact, for a hanar to have two was very unusual – and the way they were looking at the group with blank expressions was troubling…

“Zamandis?” Shepard called out, with Bau continuing on. “Or should we say, Regards the Works of the Enkindlers in Dispair?”

“It seems this one has been apprehended, but confinement is irrelevant. The work of the Enkindlers cannot be stopped.” Zamandis replied back, no caring about the fact that he was, for lack of a better word, surrounded.

“Why are you trying to help the Reapers?” Shepard asked, seeing if there was some logic in the sleeper agent.

“We obtained information regarding the Enkindlers from classified sources” Zamandis stated, which drew a response from Shepard.

“The Enkindlers… you mean the Protheans?” she asked. While the Commander was well aware what Zamandis meant by ‘Enkindlers’, she wanted to see how far the diplomat had fallen under the thrall of the Reapers.

“Yes. As you are no doubt aware, Commander Shepard, the Protheans eventually became the Collectors.” Zamandis continued on. “And the Collectors serve the Reapers.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Krystina stated, with some disgust in her voice due to what she had learnt about the fate of the Protheans last year – and how this hanar believed like it was their choice.

“Therefore, as a faithful servant of the Enkindlers, we too must serve the Reapers.” Zamanids stated. This was too much for Shepard to take.

“You big… stupid… jellyfish.” She spat out, barely able to keep her anger in check.

“Easy, Shepard…” Thire warned, tightening his grip on his rifle.

“You know, I support religious freedom for all species… but that’s just crazy.” Kasumi whispered to Shepard, to ensure she didn’t blow her cover to Bau.

“Your scepticism does not matter. When the Enkindlers uplift us as their chosen sapients, the galaxy will bear witness.” The hanar continued on. At this point, Shepard decided enough was enough once she got her anger under control.

“You’re insane, and we can’t allow you to endanger your planet. We’re taking you into custody.” She stated, with both her and Thire moving closer to the diplomat.

“Your belief in your victory is mistaken.” Zamanids stated, revealing that he wasn’t finished yet. “Our planetary defence network is largely automated. It can be disabled with a single virus… which I have just uploaded.” This startled all three soldiers.

“Damn it!” Bau stated but realised something. “Wait… a virus would be detected unless sent on low-priority channels, which have a time-lag. I may be able to block the upload…” As he was saying this, he primed his omni-tool.

However, before he could continue, one of the drell made a move for Bau, with the intention of strangling him.

“You may be delayed.” Zamandis said, in a sinister tone.

“Bau!” Thire called out, but before he could do anything, the other drell was on him, putting him in a headlock, which made the Commander drop his rifle.

“Help them! I’ll handle this!” Kasumi called out, deactivating her Cloak and already rushing to a nearby terminal to block the upload Zamandis had programmed.

At this point, Thire delivered an elbow to the drell’s stomach, forcing him to lose his grip on the veteran Shock Trooper. Seeing that Thire had his assailant under control, Shepard moved to help Bau with his. Once Thire gave the indoctrinated drell a backhanded punch to the face, he pulled his two DC-17 pistols and fired one straight into the drell’s head, killing him. Once Shepard had pulled the other drell off Bau, she moved out of the way before Thire fired again, killing the second assassin, before helping Bau with killing Zamandis with both of them firing one shot from their respective weapons.

“Got it!” Kasumi called out, telling the group that the upload was disabled. Before anyone else could react, she heard a beeping coming from the terminal. “… wait. He’s got some kind of failsafe. GET DOWN!”

As soon as Kasumi said that, the terminal detonated with the force of it throwing her back into the wall near the doorway, with her activating her Cloak again. Once everyone recovered from the shock from the blast, Shepard, Thire and Bau were looking at where the terminal had been.

“She was here the entire time.” Bau said in surprise to what had just happened.

“She was an old friend…” Shepard said, doing her best to make it sound like she was in mourning for the loss of yet another friend, when she knew full well that Kasumi was more than capable of surviving something like this.

“I intended to arrest her.” Bau continued on, while Thire moved forward to sweep the room with his electrobinoculars pulled down over his visor.

“She helped me take down the Collectors, and now she just gave her life to save the hanar homeworld.” Shepard stated, hoping that Bau bought this. When he turned to face Shepard, he was agreeing with where Shepard was going.

“Point taken. It was an honour to work with both you Shepard and Thire.” Bau stated, moving to shake hands with the two Commanders.

“And when the time comes Shepard, I’ll be there to return the favour… with a few friends.” Bau said as he made his way out of the office.

While the intention was to save Kahje, and no doubt now hanar and drell forces would be committed to helping with the war front, what Bau had told Shepard was that she now had access to a Spectre Unit for deployment. An unexpected development, but a very welcomed one.

Once Bau was out of both sight and earshot, Thire pointed towards the middle of the room for Shepard to look towards. Seeing this, it was obvious what he was doing. “

You can come out now.” Shepard called out in a playful tone. This was clearly directed at Kasumi, who was standing in front of them.

“How did you know?” she asked, with a mix of both playful banter and genuine interest as she deactivated her Cloak.

“Thermal optics… and a lucky guess.” Thire stated, pointing to his electrobinouclars on his helmet. Before either he or Shepard could continue, Kasumi was already on them.

“There’s no way you’re recruiting me to fight in a galactic war.” She stated with certainty in her voice.

“The work on the Prothean Device needs technical experts.” Shepard started to speak, but was cut off by Kasumi.

“I’m not a scientist!” the thief countered.

“That’s true. However, you are the best thief in the galaxy, and you can hack unfamiliar technology better than anyone.” Shepard continued on. “They could use your help in acquiring the tech needed for construction.”

It was here that Krystina decided to sweeten the deal, given the fact that she knew Kasumi is a bit of a Kleptomaniac – especially thanks to the dossier the former Shadow Broker had on her. “Besides, think about it; all that expensive tech just lying around… it’s not like they’re going to check your pockets at the end of the project.” That did the trick.

“You say the nicest things.” Kasumi replied after a few seconds of thinking it. “All right – I’m in.” However, before she left, she said this to the two Commanders. “A pleasure working with you Thire. And Shep… Nice working with you again.”

Once they both left the Office Suite, Shepard and Thire made their way towards the lift. However, this was where they would part ways.

“I gotta say, both Bailey and the Executor were right; you do make things more lively around here.” Thire said, after he pulled his helmet off as their missions were now completed. “Yeah. Mind you though, I kinda wished it didn’t happen a lot.” Shepard admitted, remembering the amount of firefights she ended up in around Chora’s Den – three times, and also dealt with a Blue Suns detachment protecting corrupt C-Sec Officer Harkin last year.

“Kind of sounds like you get shot at a lot, Shepard.” Thire replied, with a small laugh. Although she was more pointing out an annoyance in her life, Krystina did see the humorous side to it.

“With that, I’m sure you’ve got some impressive war stories under your belt, Shepard.” Thire said, which got a smirk from the Commander.

“Don’t I know it.” Shepard replied back.

“Well in any case, I’ve gotta get back and report back in to Stone.” Thire continued on. “So with that, Commander, it was a pleasure working alongside you.” Thire stated to Shepard with a handshake.

“Likewise, Commander Thire.” Shepard replied, before they both went their separate ways – Thire heading back to Bailey’s Office and the Jedi’s Command Post, while Shepard made her way to the lift again, as she now had to deal with getting the Blue Suns to fall under Aria’s leadership.

48 hours later.

Location: Quadrant 37-9-258f  - Empty Space, 4.2 ly from Pax System, Horsehead Nebula – Earth Systems Alliance Space.

Two days later after dealing with getting the Blue Suns to commit to Aria’s leadership, which lead to Shepard heading back to the Kite’s Nest system again, along with a request from an old Shadow Broker contact’s request, Barla Von (via Liara of course), to retrieve the Shadow Broker’s Wet Squad from Reaper Occupied Territory (in this case, the Hades Gamma Cluster) in order to have them join the war effort (and also returning them to the Citadel, for Liara actually had assigned three of their members on an assassination mission there), in addition to finding former Normandy engineers Kenneth Donnelly and Gabriella "Gabby" Daniels in the night club Purgatory and allowing them to serve on the ship once more and dealing with delivering missing artefacts from various locations in the galaxy and dealing with some issues on the Citadel such as a con man who was able to stall for time with C-Sec, Shepard decided that with the lack of orders or dire emergencies at the current moment, the Normandy was sent to the coordinates that Shepard discovered in regards to the notes Avitus left for her in the Ark model.

According to the reports that she received whilst searching for the Kowloon-class freighter MSV Intrepid, the ship was heading to the Citadel carrying unique QECs, weapons and armour that was designed for the Andromeda Initiative, with the intention that the items in question were to be stored in the Citadel Archives for safety. For some reason, the Intrepid never arrived and was declared overdue. This was what Shepard wanted to find out.

Switch to the Bridge, Deck 2.

For the moment, Joker was in his usual chair piloting the Normandy while to his right, EDI was working with the scanners and sensors to find the Intrepid. Standing behind them was Jesse, reading up on Avitus’ notes that Shepard provided.

“EDI, have we got anything yet on the sensors?” he asked the AI.

“So far, I’m not picking up anything resembling the Intrepid Captain.” EDI replied back.

“I don’t get it. Why has this freighter got the Commander’s attention?” Joker asked, struggling with why they were anywhere near Noveria again. “I know we’ve dealt with derelict freighters back in 2183, but that was either in or around the boarders of both Alliance Space and the Traverse, not this deep in Alliance Space.”

“From what Shepard told me before I got access to the notes, she received this information from a turian Spectre named Avitus Rix.” Jesse explained. “In the notes, it was about his infiltration and investigation about the Andromeda Initiative… Do either of you know what it’s about?”

“I heard rumours about it last year and seen some advertisements about it, but there wasn’t any way either myself or Shepard could learn what it was about as we didn’t exactly have an unfiltered connection to the extranet as the Normandy was a Cerberus ship back then.” Joker answered. However, with EDI being an AI, she had the answer in a few seconds.

“According to extranet sources, the Andromeda Initiative is a private civilian multi-species project aimed at traveling to the M31 Andromeda Galaxy for exploration, scientific discoveries and eventual colonisation of Andromeda.” She said to Jesse. “The Initiative was founded in 2176 by billionaire Jien Garson, with the initial wave departing last year carrying 100,000 colonists.”

“Hmm. Looks like we weren’t the first to jump across galaxies then.” Jesse replied with some  humour in his voice before he thought of something. “Hang on, because of the fact that the cultures in the Milky Way rely extensively on the Mass Relays for galactic travel, as your FTL drives are way slower than our hypedrives, how long would it take to travel from here to Andromeda?”

“According to my calculations, even with the new technological FTL drives the Initiative developed for their Arks as they said they have done for this, the trip would still take around 600-650 years – and even that’s only one-way.” EDI stated once she ran the numbers in her mind.

“How long did the Jedi’s Expedition Force take to get out here from your galaxy?” Joker asked, not taking his eyes off the control panel.

“Six weeks – including having to come out of hyperspace for refuelling from our Marathons.” Jesse replied back.

This got a startled look from Joker, stunned by the fact that, even though he had heard about it from some of troopers on board, that the Jedi’s warship were capable of deploying to various locations across the galaxy in little time and without having to rely on the Mass Relays.

After a few minutes of quiet, one of the holographic images in front of EDI started flashing away along with an alert sound.

“Jeff, I’m picking up something on our sensors to our 10 O’Clock, about 15 kilometres away from our position.” EDI stated once she brough the sensor image up.

“I better get Shepard.” Jesse said, but before he moved, the doors to the CIC opened behind him, revealing Shepard who made her way to the bridge.

“Get me for what?” she asked, both in humour and in relation to the developing situation.

“EDI’s just picked something up on the scanners, we’re moving to investigate it.” Jesse explained to Shepard.

“Is it the Intrepid?” Krystina asked.

“Unknown at this time, but preliminary scans show that there it’s something big.” EDI explained. “However, I’m also picking up smaller readings around the main reading itself.”

“Sounds like a destroyed ship.” Joker stated whist he was working away on the control consoles.

“Take us in.” Shepard ordered.

Within 5 minutes, an obliterated Kowloon-class freighter came into view against the black void. Surrounding the wreck was tons of debris and scattered cargo. The freighter itself was completely demolished, for only the bow of the freighter was intact, the stern was gone.

“Jesus. That’s one wrecked ship.” Joker stated in surprise at what he was seeing.

“Is this our ship?” Jesse asked, as he was no stranger to this thanks to years of warfare against the Separatists and later the Galactic Empire.

“Scanning now.” EDI said, before she responded a few minutes later. “The freighter is registering as the MSV Intrepid. Also, I’m not detecting any signs of life onboard at the moment.”

“Looks like we found our ship then.” Shepard said with certainty.

“Who the hell did this kind of damage to a ship… and why?” Jesse asked, taking in the sight of what saw and also the readings from EDI console.

“Well, we’re not going to find out from staring at the wreck.” Shepard stated with certainty in her voice. “Jesse, I want you to pick out a small team from your troopers, and we’ll board the wreck.”

“And the reason why we’re boarding it?” the ARC Captain asked.

“According to Avitus’ notes, the Intrepid was carrying unique quantum entanglement communicators that were connected to the Initiative, along with the possibility that they could also be carrying other tech that was developed for the organisation.” Shepard explained. “We need to see if they are still there. Also, we need to find out who was responsible for this, and why.”

“Understood, give me a few minutes.” Jesse said, before he left the bridge.

“Joker, EDI. Keep the stealth systems running, hold position here and monitor for anyone coming close to the Normandy in case whoever attack the Intrepid want to come back to finish the job.” Krystina then stated to the duo.

“Will do, Shepard.” Joker replied before the Commander left the bridge in order to kit up.

20 minutes later

Destroyed corridor, MSV Intrepid.

The team that Jesse picked out to go with Shepard consisted of Fives, Echo, Ratchet, Kix and himself. Because of the fact that the Intrepid was absolutely gutted and with no atmosphere, all 5 ARC Troopers were once again wearing their breathmask survival gear in lieu of their regular ARC Survival packs or regular backpacks. As for Shepard, she opted to wear her N7 Breather Helmet. Once the six soldiers were ready, they had Cortez and Slag fly them to the wreck via the Kodiak.

Once there, due to the lack of artificial gravity, all of them had to utilise their magboots to ensure they could still walk normally.

“Cortez, Slag. You two stay on station. We won’t be long.” Shepard said to the two pilots over comms.

“Roger that.” Cortez replied.

“EDI, what the status of the wreck?” Jesse asked.

“I’ve run another scan on the wreckage, Captain. I can confirm now that there are no survivors.” EDI replied via their comms. “However, the could still be valuable information or technology left behind.”

“Damn it.” Kix replied at the news of no survivors. “Orders, Commander?”

“We sweep the ship for any and all intel and gear that’s here, then we bug out.” Shepard responded to Kix’s request for orders. With that, the group made their way forward, towards the bridge.

As the group walked forwards towards a section containing life pods and appearing to be heavily damaged due to the amount of liquids/gases venting out of certain areas and also with quite a few electronics sparking away, with the ARC troopers having their DC-17s drawn, Liara was on the comms.

“Judging from the damage, this section must have been running on emergency batteries.” She said, revealing that she was also monitoring the situation on the Normandy.

“How much do you know of this mission, Liara?” Shepard asked. It made sense for being the Shadow Broker, no doubt the Broker’s database would contain at least some information about the Andromeda Initiative.

“We corresponded year ago. We spoke years ago about a plan to settle Andromeda.” Liara replied, somehow being vague about who she was talking about.

“They knew about the Reapers?” Garrus asked, also monitoring the situation as well.

“I don’t know.” Liara said in regards to this.

“Seems likely.” Shepard replied before the comms went silent.

Whilst she was doing this, the ARC troopers were already sweeping the immediate area.

“Given the fact that I see three escape pods still here, the attack on this freighter was very rapid.” Echo pointed out. Inside one of the pods, Ratchet could see a body floating and partially covered in ice. The hardsuit that the victim was wearing was unique as it contained very few armour plates, with the helmet being more designed for EVA ops. The one thing that did catch Ratchet’s eye was the weapon floating in front of the body.

“Commander, I’ve found a unique weapon here.” He called out to the group as he clambered into the pod to retrieve the rifle. Once he got it, he turned it over to Shepard.

“Looks like a heavily modified M-8 Avenger.” Fives pointed out.

“Looks that way.” Krystina said. “However, my armour’s scanner is picking it up as a ‘X-5 Ghost’.”

“Custom built by the Initiative?” Ratchet asked.

“So it would seem.” Shepard replied while she had the weapon fold up to be stowed in her MOLLE Backpack.

At the same time, Echo and Kix were sweeping the other pods and they found an intact hardsuit that was designated ‘N7 Pathfinder’. Jesse however found a datapad that was floating. Once he accessed it, it was addressed from Alec Ryder – the same person who was also an N7 Marine like Shepard, before being labelled as ‘disgraced’ for unknown reasons – to a Captain Sarah K. Oates, who was the captain of the Intrepid. According to the datapad, the Captain was an applicant to the Initiative, but failed to make the list due to a medical condition. That said, apparently Ryder asked the Captain to continue helping his research in the development of a new implant that could help with endocrine and metabolic functions, allowing the recipient to have a greater lifespan.

Once the room was swept of anything useful, the group moved on to the bridge, with Shepard letting everyone else know over comms. In the bridge, the group was met with the sight of more dead bodies floating and covered in ice – a mix of what was assumed to be Initiative Security personnel and Cerberus Troopers.

“Aw, shit. Well, at least we now know who attacked the Intrepid.” Fives pointed out.

“Start sweeping the bridge, including the bodies.” Shepard ordered. “They may have useful intel.”

With that everyone got busy. First thing that Ratchet found floating nearby was a datapad containing the Intrepid’s manifest. For Shepard, she activated the omni-tool on the dead Centurion. On it revealed the orders the Troopers were to carry out.

“Jesus. Cerberus really wasn't fucking around.” Shepard said to herself when she read the order.

Kix went to the starboard side of the bridge and was able to recover another hardsuit known as ‘Initiative Pathfinder’ and also another rifle that was nearby which bore the resemblance of Shepard’s M-96 Mattock, but was black in colour, had the Initiative’s logo on it and was registering as a ‘L-89 Halberd’. Fives and Echo were able to recover two more hardsuits, one dubbed as ‘Initiative’ and the other called ‘Initiative Spearpoint’. In addition to this, Echo recovered a datapad that contained the Initiative’s First Contact Protocol.

With some help from Ratchet and Jesse, Shepard recovered some additional intel from another deceased Initiative member, mostly a final onmi-tool message, and from the Captain’s body, which was a message relating to what had happened on the freighter.

“Why the hell would Cerberus do this?” Kix asked once everyone regrouped on Shepard’s location.

“Kix is right, it doesn’t make sense.” Ratchet stated.

“It could be possible that the orders I pulled from the Centurion were mostly a decoy for their men.” Shepard suggested.

“For what?” Echo asked.

“To recover the communicators and either store them in their own facilities or reverse-engineer them.” Shepard continued on.

“And then destroy the rest of the cargo to ensure no one else could gain access to it.” Ratchet replied, figuring out where Shepard was going with her line of though. Before anyone else could say anything, the comm flared up again.

“Shepard, I’ve just looked through the ship’s layout. Near the main central display table is a back-up power system.” Liara pointed out via the comms. “If you can power it up, you may be able to reactivate the main display table.”

“Thanks Liara.” Shepard replied before the group made their way over to the indicated terminal.

With a few taps on the terminal, some power was restored to the ship, including the main display table. Once everyone had gathered around it, Shepard keyed the display into the database that was on the Ship. Once done, a voice came out from an installed VI

“Staff notice. A security situation is being resolved. Remain calm.” The Initiative VI stated, before it revealed that there were various options to select.

The options that were initially brought up was all about the Andromeda Initiative, specifically set out for new human applicants and what their objective was and what to expect before deployment, along with brief information packages about ‘Golden Worlds’ (the classification of ideal worlds for colonisation in the Heleus Cluster), ‘Pathfinders’ (a person that was a blend of elite soldier, scientist and explorer for each species that was responsible for finding new homes in the Cluster and initiate First Contact with new species), about Jien Garson herself and why she founded the Initiative, the ‘Arks’ (massive ships capable of transporting 20,000 people in cryostasis for the 600 year trip), the ‘Nexus’ (a massive space station that would serve as the main hub for the Initiative in Andromeda) and an orientation video that was more directed to all the species involved in the program. While the briefings and video clips did provide some new information, none of it was helpful in determining whether the QEC devices were either here on the wreck, still intact or destroyed.

However, once the last option was played, the database was still revealing that there was one option left.

“Strange, it’s asking for an input code.” Echo said once Shepard brought the option up.

“Yeah, but what’s it for? Also, anyone happen to somehow know the passcode for this?” Fives pointed out. While the ARC troopers were looking at this, Shepard was deep in though.

“I think I might know…” she said, before she leaned towards the console to speak. “Input code: ‘Fulcrum’.” What happened next was unexpected.

“Access Granted.” A voice came out, distorted to an extent thanks to the damage Cerberus caused.

“Uh… what just happened?” Kix asked, confused by what was going on.

“EDI, I’m uploading the data from this terminal.” Shepard called out whilst tapping away on her omni-tool. “See if you can figure out what they were up to.”

“I am having trouble maintaining connection.” EDI called out over the comms. “There is someone else in the system.” Whilst she was saying this, a section of the display system from the room descended down towards the table, which got the ARC troopers on alert.

“Shepard!” Jesse called out.

What was lowered down was a containment field carrying a holographic projection.

“I can here this conversation. I recommend extreme caution on all fronts.” The projection said. This gave away what it was.

“Is this some kind of artificial intelligence program?” Shepard asked, intending this to EDI, however the program intervened.

“I’m not sure.” The AI stated, the speech very distorted.

“I believe it is.” EDI replied back. “Unfortunately, it is heavily damaged and on reserve power.”

“That’s not good.” Echo stated once he heard this.

“This AI remains dangerously unstable.” The AI stated, no doubt referring to itself.

“I hate to lose this thing. We need all the information we can get.” Shepard stated with certainty in her voice.

“Information not accessible.” The AI said, before anyone else could say anything.

“Is there a way we could move it to the Normandy?” Jesse asked.

“Not a chance. I was in a conversation with Lieutenant Adams and Ken down in Engineering earlier, primarily talking about EDI and how she was either a passenger on the Normandy, or is the Normandy.” Ratchet interjected. “One of the things that came up was the moving of processors and hardware relating to EDI to another ship, and how it was feasibly impossible due to the vast amount of hardware to move. I think this is the same thing, sir.”

“Damn it.” The ARC Captain replied back.

“According to Avitus’ notes, Alec Ryder was discharged from the Alliance because of his research into AI.” Kix pointed out. “Could we get in contact with him by any chance?”

“Forget it, Kix. According to what we just saw, the Initiative left for Andromeda last year, same time as I was on operations in the Terminus.” Shepard countered. “By now, he’s got to be out of range of the FTL comm buoys.”

With that, everyone was quiet, as they couldn’t think of another method.

“What do you think EDI?” Shepard asked, hoping there was any alternative no one thought of.

“It seems beyond repair, given the tools that are immediately available.” EDI replied back.

“I hate to say it, but time is not on our side here.” Ratchet stated. With that, Krystina made her mind up and walked up to the terminal.

“I won’t fry your brain…” the AI said, before the power to it was cut, shutting down the AI.

“Power’s offline.” Shepard stated. “Is there anything else we can use that’s still here?”

“Doubt it, Commander.” Fives said. “If there is, there’s a high chance it’s been turned into scrap metal by Cerberus.”

“What I would love to know is how the hell did Cerberus get out her so quick.” Kix asked. “The last that either I or the Alliance know is that Cerberus doesn’t have a base this deep in Alliance Space.”

“Add that to the million other questions we need answered about Cerberus, vod.” Echo replied before he looked at Shepard. “Commander. What do we do about the QECs, as we haven’t found anything here saying they were destroyed or captured?”

“Until we find evidence believing otherwise, we have to assume the QECs, save for the one on Thessia, were destroyed by Cerberus during their attack. It’s all we can do.” Shepard said to Echo. With that, their mission had come to a close.

“Cortez, Slag. Mission’s complete. We’re coming out.” She said to the two pilots over the comms.

“Roger that Commander. Shuttle’s waiting.” Cortez replied.

With that, the group made their way out to the Kodiak and left the remains of the Intrepid behind.

Once back on the Normandy, Krystina filed a report to Spectre Command about her investigation on the Intrepid and what she and the ARC Troopers found on the wreck, along with her recommendations on the situation.

After that was done, Krystina needed some rest for the Normandy was heading out to the Alliance colony on Trident in a few hours. The reason was because Task Force Hercules was able to discover another Cerberus base on the planet, connect to something called ‘Project Phoenix’… and alongside N7 Brigades, the 501st Legion was on point for the assault.

Chapter Text

“Field Report, Senior Clone Commander CC-7567 ‘Rex’, 501st Legion.

Our first deployment since Mars is to a planet known as Trident. An Ocean Planet not that different to Eotis back home, it is registered as a human colony. However, intel provided to us from Liara T’Soni reveals that this was originally a salarian colony before Cerberus muscled their way into the narcotics trade via assassinations and also infiltration of the Global Maritime Justice organisation on the planet. All this ensured a major influx of humans onto the planet, especially it’s political scene which ensured the renaming of the Capital City to New Cousteau. With the planet largely lawless, it’s allowed the planet to become a home to various corporations conducting unethical research, along with various criminals, mercenaries and slavers.

According to extra files again provided by Liara, this isn’t the first time Cerberus popped up here on Trident – the first time was early in 2185 when federal authorities raided a Cerberus lab responsible for human experimentation, which also spawned a man-hunt when the sole survivor of the raid was able to escape and led authorities to another Cerberus compound.

Despite this, recent intel provided by the Alliance’s Task Force Hercules, a raid on another Cerberus facility by the turian’s special forces unit Blackwatch, and also intel gathered from Lady Bo-Katan Kryze and Commander Krystina Shepard in Operation: DOOR KICKER has revealed that there is yet another Cerberus facility on Trident connected to something known as ‘Project Phoenix.’

Cerberus wants to continue using this planet as a major base of operations, so the 501st will ensure that this won’t happen any further.”

Location: Trident, Hoplos System, Hades Nexus Cluster – Attican Traverse.

Thanks to the various sources of intel that the Alliance and the Expedition Fleet had acquired, they were already aware of where the base was located – a small cluster of archipelago islands which had a manufactured structure close to the biggest island of the cluster. Initial recon sweeps shows that it looked like a small base with various landing pads, however a scan revealed that the base was much bigger as it was built underwater. For this op, it was decided that this would be the first official joint Alliance/Jedi mission.

The plan was to deploy the 501st Legion, Marines from the 24th Marine Battalion and a decent number of N7 Special Ops teams that the Alliance had ready to go, where all forces were to storm the facility and secure it in order to deny Cerberus anything of use to their efforts, liberate any prisoners they had (not that this was confirmed, but it couldn’t hurt to be prepared) and see if there was any useful intel that could lead the Alliance to any more facilities either still on Trident or anywhere else in the Milky Way.

However, the one real problem with the deployment was the fact that Trident was in the middle of its hurricane season, and there was major storm activity on top of Phoenix Base, possibly ruling out deployment from either their shuttles due to the tricky conditions or an airborne deployment from the 506th Airborne Battalion. That said, it came as no surprise to the clones of the 501st that Anakin would come up with a unique plan to use the storm activity to their advantage…

The finalised plan was that once they were confident that the storm was passing over the base and no other sever storm activity wouldn’t hinder their mission, the 501st would deploy via their gunships from the Star Destroyers Resolute II and Kriegsmarine and the 3 Acclamator-class Assault Ships, Hammer, Whistler and Requiem, with the Alliance deploying their marines and N7 Special Ops teams from the Einstein-class Fleet Carrier SSV Fleming, which came out here with the Alliance’s Third Fleet’s Foxtrot Battlegroup, staying low below the cloud cover and just above the water. To any Alliance pilot, they would have believed that it was not worth the risk, but to the pilots of the 501st, many of whom were Clone War Veterans and were used to flying in conditions like this due to their upbringing and training on Kamino and constant sessions in the simulators, they were used to this. To provide extra cover, 1st SCAR Battalion, which was assigned to the Kriegsmarine due to the lack of their usual ship, Trinity, as it was back home in The Galaxy, would also deploy to provide air support and air superiority against any Cerberus Sudan fighters and Morocco interceptors stationed at the base.

Because of the fact that the base was in a small island cluster, there was no doubt that the smaller islands had outposts on them which served as advanced warning posts. So to take advantage of this and also by using the weakening storm as cover, the 501st and 1st SCAR would fly to the western outpost, as it appeared as the least defended, where the SCARs would fire off proton torpedos, destroying the base and providing a window for the 501st to exploit in order to advance on the main base.

Switch to a LAAT/i gunship – Spearbreaker.

Holding on to one of the overhead bars, Rex was running through the mission plan in his mind. For Rex, this mission was going to feel off for it was the first time he wouldn’t be fighting alongside Jesse as well as Domino, Vanguard and the 115th Squads since the end of the Clone Wars. Whilst he was aware of the Rangers under Dempsey’s command and he was friends with the veteran EVO Sergeant, they were usually on their own in a mission, so it wasn’t a major issue regarding them. As for Jesse, Domino and the seasoned members that made up Vanguard, he had known them throughout the vast majority of the Clone Wars. While he had fought in both campaigns and missions without the aforementioned units/troopers, it was something he still didn’t like.

However, he couldn’t dwell on this for long due to the swaying that the LAAT/i was going through due to the winds as the bulk of the 501st, save for the 359th Kriegs Marine Battalion, were flying through the tail end of the storm. Hell, everyone was struggling to stay upright due to the winds.

“How much more of this do we have to take, sir?” Rex yelled out to Anakin to ensure the General heard him.

“Shouldn’t be much further Rex.” Anakin replied back, before his wrist comms flared up with the transmission coming from Hawk.

“General, we’re about 3 minutes out from the base.” He called out over the comms.

“Roger that, open up the side doors.” Anakin replied back.

Within a few seconds, the side doors on the LAAT/i opened up to show a multitude of gunships, also opening their doors, intermixed with multiple UT-47A Kodiaks, along with the raging storm overhead and the seas 30 meters beneath them raging. If the seas were a bit calmer, the whole 501st would be flying down low about 2 meters off the sea, but it wouldn’t be in this case. Flying above the gunships was a multitude of BTL-B Y-wing fighter-bombers, T-65B X-wing fighters, RZ-1 A-wing interceptors, Alpha-3 V-wing starfighters and ARC-170 fighters, with the pilots being both from the 501st and the 1st SCAR Battalion, with Commander Starscream leading the flight.

Within the next 2 minutes, the dark cloud cover gave way to a much lighter grey colour. While the rain was still coming down, it meant that their cloud cover for the approach was now gone.

“This is Commander Rex to all personnel; we’re one minute out. Get ready!” Rex called out to every single trooper in the 501st and the various Alliance Marines and N7 Special Forces. At this point behind him, the troopers that were on board started to prime their blasters, with the comms starting to flare up.

“This is Commander Starscream to all fighters that can, lock your S-foils in attack position.” The veteran SCAR Squadron 2iC called out, pretty much indicating that now there was no turning back.

A couple of meters below the LAAT/is, five ARC-170s flew below them, and moving at slightly faster speeds than the rest of the invasion force.

“Commander Starscream, this is Rett. My flight’s moving in to engage the outpost.” The leader of the five fighters below, Rett, called out over comms.

“10-4 Rett. Light that outpost up!” Starscream replied back. With that, Rett’s flight manoeuvred into position in order to use their proton torpedos to bomb the outpost, creating the window needed for the 501st to use and assault the base.

In a few seconds, Rett announced they had a target lock on the outpost and all five ARC-170s fired off two proton torpedoes each. The end result was the outpost was obliterated, as it was presumed that they hit a munitions dump.

“Nice kill Rett. Ok, All fighters and interceptors save for the 170s, move to attack speed and start to secure air superiority over the base. No doubt that Cerberus would have seen that. All 170s, stay in formation and escort the Y-Wings in for their bombing run.” Starscream ordered the 501st and SCAR pilots.

With this, all of the A-wings, X-wings and V-wings accelerated to attack speed and flew off in the direction of the base. Starscream did the same thing with the ARC-170s and the Y-Wings, but not as fast, as they commenced their bombing run in order to ensure the invasion force wouldn’t get hit by friendly fire. At the same time, the LAAT/is carrying the Invasion force were flying over the island that was now smoking due to the opening attack.

“Lock and load, Troopers!” Dagger called out to every single member of the 501st – both in their LAAT/i and over comms, which was met with everyone preparing their respective weapons for the upcoming fight. Once the gunships flew over the island, everyone could start hearing deep thudding noises, indicating that the Y-Wings were unleashing their proton bombs onto the Cerberus base. However, within a few minutes, mid-air explosions were going off around the gunships, revealing that some of Cerberus’ air defences were still active.

“Head’s up, we’ve got incoming AA fire!” Hawk called out over comms, with everyone increasing their grip on the overhanging handles in the troop bay.

“Starscream, we’ve got some AA fire coming at us. See if you guys can do something about it.” Anakin called out over comms to the veteran SCAR XO.

“Roger. We’ll give those guns something to chase after. Buy the 501st some room to work with.” Starscream replied back before he continued on. “Be advised; the Y-Wings have completed their bombing run and are heading back to the Star Destroyers for rearming. That said, we can provide some air support if needed.”

“Roger that, Starscream.” Anakin replied back. With that, once the LAAT/is were close to the base, Anakin stated that every pilot was authorised to engage, which lead to multiple rockets and blaster bolts/beams starting to erupt from the multitude of gunships. The end result was that more of the Cerberus base was heavily damaged, if not outright destroyed. That said, some of the AA defences were able to inflict some heavy damage on a few of the gunships, including managing to destroy one with no survivors, but thanks to the SCARs and the 501st pilots, the damage was done – the 501st Legion was about to land.

Once the LAAT/is landed, the lead elements of 501st Clone Troopers along with the N7 Special Ops teams that were with them, jumped out and immediately moved to engage any Cerberus troopers that were in the immediate area. By now the main storm front had moved on but the rain was still coming down at a decent rate. Not long after the first clone trooper and N7 Squads were on the deck, Anakin, Rex, Dagger and the squad that was with them also jumped down to the landing pad and also started to engage the Cerberus troopers that were there. Despite the rainfall, the lead elements of the 501st were fighting well, no doubt due to the fact that many were born on Kamino either before or during the Clone Wars and were familiar to the planet’s torrential rainfall. However, moving closer to the entrances to the base, Cerberus troopers blew out the windows that was above the doors to either the entrance to the facility or above the hangers for their fighters and interceptors, allowing them to open fire on the 501st and the N7 Forces with both higher ground and decent cover to work with. This forced the troopers to what cover that was available, such as debris created from the earlier bombing run or from the destroyed Cerberus fighters and interceptors that were not able to be deployed before they were hit in the bombing run. While the clones and marines could still engage from their cover, it wasn’t an easy affair – which was compounded when Cerberus Engineers started to deploy their turrets. Once these started engaging, a few clone troopers, along with some N7 Marines and also at least two turian spec op commandos were killed due to the turrets’ insane rate of fire. It was due to this that the 501st clone troopers, being as they were the first to engage them back home on the Osiris, started to call them ‘TIM’s Box Shredder’.

“Those turrets are going to be a problem, General.” Rex called out to Anakin once he took a few pot-shots at a Centurion who was firing on them, whom the veteran Commander managed to kill before being forced back to cover from the turrets.

“Agreed.” Anakin responded before he fired up his wrist comm. “Hawk, we’re pinned down. we need a gunship to clear out a Cerberus position. Can you help?”

“Negative on that General. My flight’s already on the way back to the Resolute II to pick up the 506th Airborne and get them deployed to the island outposts.” Hawk replied back over the comms. However, before the commlink when dead, another voice came through on the same channel.

“Anakin, I’m inbound with my battalion and also Shepard’s N7 Battalion. We’ll provide the fire support.” Ahsoka called out, revealing that they were close by.

“Understood Snips. See you soon.” Anakin replied back before terminating the channel. “Rex, see if you can mark out the target for Ahsoka’s gunship!” he then called out to his XO.

“Roger General!” Rex replied back before he started to yell out to everyone to provide covering fire once the turrets ceases fire in order to cool down before they opened up again. Once that moment happened, all the clone troopers and N7 spec ops opened fire on the Cerberus positions, allowing Rex to get up close a toss in a signal flare for Ahsoka’s gunship to engage at. Once he was close enough, Rex ignited the flare and threw it up to where the Cerberus forces were positioned, upon which, he then legged it back to a suitable position before the turrets opened up again. He barely made it before the unrelenting fire started up again.

“A little too close for comfort there, sir!” a female trooper said to Rex, who happened to be behind the same cover he bolted to. Despite the green smoke that was coming off the flare, Cerberus was not letting up – that was until distinct whine of multiple engines was heard.

It wasn’t long before the clones and N7 forces on the ground saw more LAAT/is flying in. While many were landing to deploy the troopers they had on board, one manoeuvred to hover above the troopers that were on the landing pad before it started opening fire on where the flare was, strafing the marked target with blaster fire and beam turrets. At the same time, the troopers that were on board began to repel down to the landing pad. The troopers in question were kitted up in the standard 501st paint scheme save for the helmet and shoulder pads. The helmets were pained in orange, but with unique markings similar to that of Ahsoka’s facial patterns, with the shoulder pads similar, but more refined and detailed. These were the members of Ahsoka’s 332nd Battalion, with Ahsoka herself jumping down from the gunship. Once she landed on the deck, she made her way over to where Anakin, Rex and Dagger were, but not before she linked up with her own XO, Sterling. Not far behind them was the commanders of the N7 Battalion, Commander Shepard and Major Six. Meeting up with the group was the current leader of the N7 Special Ops for this mission, Staff Commander Henrich Lipson, along with the commanding officer for the Alliance Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Sabrina Burham.

“A very risky plan you created to get us to land here General.” Henrich stated once he was close enough for Anakin to hear him. “But I can’t argue with the results.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Commander.” Anakin replied back before he looked towards Ahsoka. “Thanks for the air support, Ahsoka.”

“No worries, Anakin.” Ahsoka replied back. However before they could continue, Anakin noticed that Rex had walked away, with a hand to his comms in his helmet.

“What’s up, Rex?” he called out to the veteran Commander.

“Hang on.” Rex replied back, not realising he was talking to Anakin. “What… Are you certain?... Ok, roger that.” With that, he then made his way over to the group.

“What was that about?” Dagger asked.

“Admiral Yularen had just received some fresh intel from AIS. General, do you have an image of the base?” Rex stated to the gather group of leaders. With that, Anakin fired up his wrist-mounted comms in order to bring up a hologram of the base’s design.

“Ok. According to AIS. Below where we are is the main Command Centre for the whole base.” Rex explained to the gathered group of leaders. “Obviously, where we are at the moment is the main hangers for their defences and also the main entrance to the rest of the facility. From the Command Centre, it splits off into three sectors. At the top is apparently the Main Armoury and Vehicle Bay, so we could see some Atlas Mechs there. To the left of the Command Centre is the Laboratories for this base, with what AIS told the Grand Admiral are the Holding Cells in the opposite direction.”

Once Rex had finished his discussion, Anakin took charge of the situation. “From the sounds of it, we can all storm the Command Centre no problem.” He said to all gathered leaders present, to which they all agreed with. “Once the Command Centre is secured, that’s when we split up our forces to secure the rest of the base. Rex, you and I will take Execute Battalion and assault the Main Armoury, cut off any access to any weapons that are stored there.”

“Yes, General.” Rex responded.

“Shepard, you and Six take your N7 Battalion and move on the labs and find out what’s going on in there.”

“Roger that, Sir.” Shepard replied back. This however drew a very confused look from Sabrina and Henrich for obvious reasons why.

“Ahsoka, you and Sterling take the 332nd and move to secure the Holding Cells. If there are any prisoners, secure them fast for I sense that Cerberus won’t let them live if we arrive there.”

“Understood Anakin.” Ahsoka responded.

“Henrich and Sabrina, split up your forces so that all three fronts have both Alliance Marines and N7 Spec Ops integrated with the 501st units that will make the push.” Anakin said to the Alliance commanders, to which they agreed with. However before anyone could make a move, Rex’s comms started to go off, with the message from Bismarck on the Kriegsmarine.

“Bismarck, what’s wrong?” he asked the veteran officer.

“Have you guys taken control of the landing pads?” Bismarck asked, with some worry in his voice.

“Yeah. About to make our way inside the base now. Why?” Rex asked.

“Because apparently Cerberus forces there were able to send out a distress call.” Bismarck replied. “Admiral Yularen’s picking up a Cerberus Battlegroup coming out of hyperspace.” This got everyone’s attention.

“From the looks of it, we’re picking up a Minerva-class Picket Cruiser, two Ark Royal-class Carriers, at least 8 Elbrus-class Cruisers and 6 Gaza-class Destroyers making their way down towards us.” Bismarck continued to state.

“Something tells me that Cerberus must have a communications uplink that we missed.” Sabrina stated, with some annoyance in her voice.

“We already noticed that Colonel. With that, we were able to identify that there is something that looks like a communications dish on the northern outpost.” Bismarck replied over comms.

“Get in contact with Commander Winters and tell him to take the 506th Airborne there first before securing the other outposts.” Anakin ordered to the veteran Captain.

“Will do, sir.” Bismarck replied before the comms went dead. Once the comms were silent, Anakin looked to the gathered group.

“Ok. 506th Airborne will secure the communications outpost. As for us, we’ve all got our jobs, so let’s get to it.” He said, which was met with a chorus of agreements from the gathered leaders. With that, they all linked up with their respective units and started to storm their way into Phoenix Base.

Switch to Northern Communications Outpost

Not long after the message got through from Rex, Yularen gave the order for the 506th Airborne Battalion to move out an either capture the Communications Outpost or destroy it. While the men and women who made up the 506th thrived on airborne deployments and even though the storm was relenting, conditions were still not favourable for an airborne drop with Jetpacks. Thus, they resorted to an Air Assault. However, due to the fact that both the 506th and the Execute Battalions were both assigned to capturing the remaining island outposts (including the comms outpost), this meant that only a few platoons of 506th Paratroopers were available to assault the Communications Outpost. That said, a few extra Alliance Marine squads were on hand to help the few clone platoons that were heading to the Comms Outpost, with the assault being led by the leader of the 506th – Battalion Commander Winters.

Having landed to some light resistance due to the earlier air strikes and from the firepower from both the Kodiaks and LAAT/is, the 506th Clone Paratroopers and Alliance Marines were making steady progress from the landing pads into the Outpost.

“Captain Bismarck, what’s the status of the Cerberus Battlegroup?” Winters asked in order to get an idea on how the 506th would procced to their objective.

“So far, nothing new has arrived out of hyperspace.” Bismarck replied. “However, we’re still picking up transmissions coming from that communications dish. How soon can you guys secure the outpost?”

Hearing this, Winters looked towards his second-in-command, Major Nixon and the highest ranked marine that was present, Staff Lieutenant Arthur Cappell. “Guys, what do we know on the remaining defences here?” the Airborne Commander ask.

“From what we know, Cerberus could still have anything between 20 to 85 troopers between us and the objective.” Arthur stated. “But that doesn’t include the possibility of staff members and/or technicians also engaging us.”

“I’m assuming that’s also not taking into account specialist types like Dragoons and anything new that we don’t know of?” Nixon responded as well.

“No, it’s not Major.” Arthur replied back. With the information in hand, Winters made his call.

“We’ll work our way to the main Communication Centre and eliminate all hostile forces in the way.” Winters stated to the two other leaders. “Until we run into heavy resistance, we focus on capturing the Communication Centre. If resistance is severe, then we’ll resort to destroying the dish.”

“Yes, sir.” Nixon stated.

“Understood, Commander.” Arthur answered. With that, the combined Clone Paratroopers and Alliance Marines started to work their way inside the building, engaging any Cerberus forces in their way.

Switch to the Kriegsmarine’s Bridge.

Following the last news from the 506th Paratroopers, one of the frigates from the Third Fleet’s Foxtrot Battlegroup, SSV Alamo, reported the Cerberus Battlegroup were already in the upper atmosphere and making their way down towards the Alliance Battlegroup and the Jedi’s 501st Task Force, who had decided to rise up out of the cloud cover to engage the enemy. It was a few minutes later that Cerberus forces were in sight and the fighting now took on a new role in the form of a naval engagement. Because of this, it meant that a fair chunk of the air support used for helping neutralise Cerberus air defences were recalled back to protect the fleets and were getting prepared for strikes against the Cerberus ships. That was almost 50 minutes ago now.

Looking out of the bridge’s windows on his Star Destroyer, Bismarck was watching over the erupting battle unfolding in front of him and the Kriegsmarine’s First Officer, Commander FC-92/77-2701 ‘Dust’.

“What’s the status of the enemy task force?” Bismarck called out to the clones in the crew pits.

“At least half of their Gaza-class Destroyers have taken significant damage, with two now confirmed destroyed. That said, one of our Arquitens-class Cruisers, the Huntress, is reporting moderate damage to her internal systems and also some of her weapons have been rendered inoperable, sir.” One of the clone naval crews replied back. Not long after that, the XO of the 359th, Lieutenant CL-01/08-1940 ‘Eugen’, along with an Alliance Lieutenant, Hayes Laurance, that was serving as one of the Attached Observers, walked up towards Bismarck and Dust.

“Captain. The commander of Foxtrot Battlegroup is reporting that one of their Geneva-class has taken moderate damage from the Cerberus cruisers.” Eugen stated to his commander and long-time friend.

“We’ve got a few fighter squadrons in the air and ready to strike their ships.” Hayes also responded. With that, Bismarck already had a plan in mind.

“Get me in contact with Starscream.” He called out to the clones in the crew pits before he turned to face Dust. “Dust, you have the conn. Get us into range of that Minerva Cruiser for broadside.”

“Understood Captain.” Dust replied before she looked out the windows. “Increase speed and shield strength. Bring us towards the Command ship so it’s on our portside and alert portside turrets for targeting solutions for broadside assault.”

“What’s your plan, Captain?” Hayes asked as he, Eugen and Bismarck made their way to the CIC.

“We combine the Alliance’s fighters with both what the 501st has in bombers and also 1st SCAR Battalion.” Bismarck stated as he arrived at the central holographic display table. “With them in the air, all of us focus on the Minerva Cruiser and the Ark Royal carriers to destroy them. In other words…”

“A decapitation strike; cut the head off the enemy, the rest will fall.” Hayes replied, realising where Bismarck was going with this idea.

“Eugen, make contact with the Grand Admiral, I’ll coordinate with Starscream.” Bismarck stated.

Within a few minutes, the plan was sent to all ship commanders of the strike force and were focusing all firepower on the Cerberus ships, with the Alliance to focus on the Elbrus-class Cruisers and what remained of the Gaza-class Destroyers. By now, it was noted by both AIS and the Shadow Broker that Cerberus warship had greater firepower and stronger shields and armour plating that the Alliance Navy, putting them on par with warships like that of both the Asari and Turian navies, and also explaining why the Jedi had problems dealing with the Cerberus Expedition Fleet back in the Battle of Eotis. However, the Foxtrot Battlegroup was one of the very lucky few groups that had access to the new London-class Heavy Cruisers – a warship based on the new base-line Geneva-class Cruiser but equipped with a Spinal Mass Accelerator Cannon that was on par with a dreadnought. Thanks to the fact that they had two of the so-called ‘pocket-dreadnoughts’ as part of the group, they were capable of bringing down the shields on the Cerberus vessels in little time. While the Alliance was doing this, the Kriegsmarine, Resolute II and their escorts of Arquitens-class Cruisers would focus on the Elbrus-class Cruiser, now identified as the Artemis, serving as the command ship of the Cerberus Battlegroup, and the Ark Royal-class Carriers.

However, the Star Destroyers engaging would serve as a distraction in order to allow Alliance Fighters and Clone Fighters and Bombers to launch their own strike that would help either severely cripple, if not outright destroy, the command ship and their carriers.

Switch to 1st SCAR Battalion

Flying out from their own ships, Starscream lead the combined squadrons towards the Cerberus Battlegroup after flying away from their ships in order to not draw their attention.

“Starscream, we’re closing in on the enemy.” His electronic specialist/engineer SCAR-8394/6612 ‘Lugnut’ called out from his seat above the Battalion Commander.

“Copy that, Lugnut.” Starscream replied before opening a comms link to the all the pilots under his direct command. “All pilots, listen up. We’ve got eyes on the enemy fleet, and we know what our targets are. Lock onto their drive cores and see if we can take out their command and support in one go.” With that, he received a plethora of acknowledgements to the orders.

“All clone fighters that can, lock S-foils in attack position. Once done, everyone increase speed to attack speed and make your runs.” Starscream ordered everyone.

With that, the combined squadrons started to race towards their targets. As Starscream was leading the 1st SCAR Battalion towards one of the Ark Royal-class Carriers, his tail gunner, SCAR-9114-981 ‘Tornado’ was suddenly on the comms.

“Commander, Alliance fighters coming right at us!” he yelled out.

This was enough for Starscream to look to his left and saw what Tornado was on about. Within seconds, Starscream was dodging a few Alliance F-61 Tridents flying past him, with the veteran pilot/commando dodging a few within centimetres of hitting one another.

“The hell…?” Lugnut called out, with some anger in his voice. “Weren’t they supposed to engage the Artemis?!” With this, it meant that the Artemis now had no one engaging it as everyone was now focusing on the Cerberus carriers.

Seeing this, Starscream had to act fast. “Any SCARs that can, follow my lead!” he called out before he pulled up from his run.

While quite a few continued on their run to the Ark Royal-class carrier, a few of the X-Wings, Y-Wings and ARC-170s did break off their attack, with the 1st SCAR Battalion’s commander, Major Dreadwing, among them.

Despite this mistake, the 501st pilots, Alliance Tridents and what SCARs that couldn’t break off their runs continued to fly towards the carriers. For some odd reason, the Cerberus Battlegroup didn’t have any Zenith-class Flak Frigates but despite this issue, all of the ships were equipped with Armax Arsenal Ship Defence System (proprietary tech that was used throughout the turian navy), which meant that they had to deal with flak to get in close range of their targets. Thankfully, nearly all of the Carrier’s compliment of Morocco-class interceptors were either engaged working with the Sudan-class fighters assault the Alliance and Jedi warships, back in the hangers for repair and resupply or already shot down. During their runs, a few of the Tridents and also some of the clone fighters and bombers were shot down, but many more managed to get within optimal range for firing off either their disruptor torpedos or proton torpedos. However, whereas the clone pilot could release their payloads at a somewhat relatively safer distance from most of SDS turrets, the Alliance Tridents on the other hand had to get much closer to ensure their torpedos would get through the carrier’s defences, ensuring that many of the Tridents would end up either damaged or destroyed. Despite all this, the two strike forces were ultimately successful in their runs, with the combined 501st and Alliance pilots successfully destroying their target thanks to multiple hits on the hull plating (its kinetic barriers were already down thanks to the Resolute II already firing off multiple proton torpedos and ion rounds), which then found the drive core, destroying it and all form of power to the carrier. If the drive core didn’t overload before it hit the ocean, it would end up at the bottom of the ocean. Either way, it was destined to be destroyed.

The second carrier on the other hand took a beating due to the fact that it’s kinetic barriers were not as worn down as the other one, but the strike was more than enough to neutralise them enough for one of the London-class Cruisers and a couple of the Geneva-class cruisers to finish it off.

Switch to the Artemis’ bridge.

Seeing all this play out, the commander of the Cerberus Battlegroup, Captain Yashiro Tadasu, was appalled that the Alliance and their new allies were able to not only stand their ground against his warships, but they were able to take out his two Ark Royal carriers – crippling their fighter and interceptor support.

“Captain!” a 2nd Lieutenant called out from his starboard post on the bridge, drawing the attention of everyone present. “We’ve just lost the last of our Gaza Destroyers!”

“Calm down. You’re still an officer.” Yashiro stated to the junior officer in a calm, yet firm tone as he made his way over to the starboard side of the bridge to see what was going on. Sure enough, the last two Gaza-class Destroyers were now destroyed – one exploding due to its drive core overloading, the second was just starting to descend down towards the ocean below due to its power finally shutting down due to the extensive damage it took from the Alliance cruisers. This meant that all that was left of his Battlegroup was his 8 Elbrus-class Cruisers, although were now taking some damage, and his Minerva-class Cruiser, the Artemis, still engaging the enemy fleet, which had finally managed to severely damage a few of the Alliance’s Hastings-class Frigates, including destroying one and finally inflicting significant damage to an Arquitens-class Light Cruiser, the Huntress.

With this, Yashiro made his way back to the centre of the bridge.

“At the rate things are going, we’ll have to disengage.” His XO, Lieutenant Commander Dover Bevil, stated to him.

“Negative. If we can hold off the enemy forces long enough for the Communications Outpost to send out an update on our progress, we can get reinforcements from Cerberus Command.” Yashiro said to Dover. However just as this was said, the Communications Specialist stood up at her station.

“Captain, we’ve just received a message from the outpost!” she yelled out. “It says that they are struggling against hostile forces before it went dead.” Before either Yashiro or Dover could say or do anything relating to this development, one of the crewmembers called out from his post.

“Sir! Hostile dreadnought coming towards us!” the crewmember yelled out in alarm.

What he saw was the Kriegsmarine charging towards them with the 4 Octuple Heavy Turbolaser Turrets on its portside already aimed at the Artemis and firing away, alongside multiple other turbolaser batteries and ion cannons engaging as well.

“Have our Broadside Mass Accelerator Cannons on the portside engage that dreadnought!” Yashiro called out to his staff, which everyone scrambled to do so. However, he also turned to look at his Communications Specialist. “Do whatever you can to get back in contact with the Communications Outpost.” Yashiro stated before he looked to Dover. “Alert our troops to prepare to repel any boarding action.”

Switch to the Kriegsmarine’s Bridge.

As his Star Destroyer moved closer to engage the Minerva-class Cruiser, Bismarck and Dust were both again looking out the windows on the bridge, seeing the portside turrets and gunners engage the Artemis, with the ship’s kinetic barriers withstanding the barrage of turbolaser fire and ion shots. This was raising some questions in Bismarck’s mind.

“How come the shields on that ship are still holding up?” he asked his First Officer.

“According to Lugnut, the run never happened.” Dust explained, with some annoyance in her voice regarding this. “For some reason, the Alliance pilots went for the Ark Royal carrier instead.”

“Given the fact that those pilots may have either friends or family members that are trapped on either Earth, their colonies or are dead and thus are eager for revenge, can you blame them?” Bismarck stated. While he wasn’t impressed with the news, he could at least understand their plight.

“However, Starscream was able to draw some of the 1st SCAR Battalion away from his original run in order to strike the Artemis.” Dust continued on. With that, Bismarck knew what to do.

“Order our gunners to focus fire on the Artemis in order to either weaken, if not destroy, their shields and start giving them some grief.” He called out to the men and women in the crew pits before looking towards the Minerva-class Cruiser. “Besides, if Starscream is planning to make a run at that cruiser, we need to buy him time.”

Switch to Starscream’s group.

Because of the fact that Starscream and what few SCAR pilots he had with him aborted their run earlier, they all climbed to ensure they couldn’t be seen by any Cerberus interceptors that were active. Now, the small group of 5 ARC-170 fighters, 7 X-Wing Fighters and 4 Y-Wing Bombers were around 12,000 ft from sea level – 8,000 ft above the battle (which itself was about 4,000 ft from sea level) that was ensuring below them. What they could see was that the Kriegsmarine was engaging the Artemis in a broadside assault. It wasn’t long before the SCAR pilots could see that the cruiser’s kinetic barriers were down for they were observing quite a few scorch marks on the hull plating, along with some fires now starting to burn.

“Looks like the Kriegsmarine’s finally brought those shields down.” Starscream stated to the group that was with him. “Time to make our run.” Before that happen, the comms flared up.

“Hey, Commander. Do you want my opinion on something?” Dreadwing called out from his X-Wing.

“Yeah, what’s that Dreadwing?” Starscream asked the Major.

“Wish we could’ve brought more of the boys and girls to this party.” Dreadwing stated with humour in his voice. This earnt a laugh from Starscream. “Well, you’re the one whose always said you wanted to be a hero Major, so here’s your chance to shine vod.” Once this was said, he took a more serious tone.

“Ok boys, because of how high we are, we’re going to dive bomb that cruiser.” Starscream stated to everyone present over comms. “Put all power into your forward shields and arm your torpedoes. Then wait for my signal.”

Once that was said, Lugnut called out to Starscream from his seat. “Boss, I’m picking up a powerful energy signal from the Artemis. It must be its drive core.”

“Roger, forward it to my targeting computer. I want you to call out the altitude to the target as I want to launch our torpedoes at the last possible moment.” Starscream stated to his electronic specialist.

“Yes, sir.” Lugnut replied. Within a few seconds, flak was starting to spring up around the group, indicating the Artemis’ SDS was starting to target them. It was now or never.

“All pilots, increase to attack speed and follow me in. Wait for my command to release your payloads!” Starscream called out, before he pushed his ARC-170 to start diving down towards the cruiser, with everyone following his lead.

Once everyone was now diving towards the target, Starscream switch to his internal comms. “Ok boys, we put that bitch of a cruiser out of commission, even if we have to ram through its hull plating to do it!” he called out to Lugnut and Tornado.

“Roger That!” Tornado called out from his Gunner’s seat.

“Let’s do it!” Lugnut replied.

It wasn’t long before Lugnut called out “7,000!” to Starscream, all the while he was he was focusing on the dive towards the Artemis, with the amount of flak starting to increase as they were now in range of the Elbrus-class cruisers SDS turrets, but due to the speed the SCARs were diving at, it wasn’t accurate to hit them. Still, it was enough to give them some concern.

“This flak is thick, Starscream!” A female SCAR pilot called out, who was to Starscream’s left.

“Stay the course.” He responded to the pilot.

“6,000!” Lugnut then called out from his seat.

“Copy.” Starscream replied, before he pulled down his rangefinder to help with both the targeting and – more importantly – the timing of releasing their proton torpedos, especially to ensure the Artemis couldn’t either avoid them or SDS turrets could destroy them before they got close.

Despite everything that the Cerberus warships were throwing at the SCARs, the group still kept screaming down towards the Minerva-class Cruiser with no losses on their own as they now passed the 3,000 ft mark. Despite the increasing fire coming their way, Starscream was still having the group continue downwards. It was now at this point that Lugnut was starting to worry. Was Starscream determined to actually ram the cruiser? If not, it was getting very dicey, and it was not just him as even Dreadwing was starting to question it himself.

“Boss..” Lugnut asked in a very concerned tone.

“Almost there…” Starscream stated before he keyed in his engineer. “Lugnut, once we past 2,000 ft to target, call out the altitude at every 100 ft.”

“… Yes sir.” Lugnut replied, with his concern now mounting. Once the 2,000 ft mark had passed, he was calling them at every hundred ft. “1,900… 1,800…!” before Lugnut yelled out ‘1,500!’

That was Starscream’s mark.

“Torpedoes Away!” he called out to the other SCARs as he was firing off 4 of his own proton torpedoes.

With the order given, everyone in either X-Wings or ARC-170s fired off either two or four torpedoes each, whereas the Y-Wings fired off their entire payload, to ensure maximum success. As the SCARs started to pull out of their dives, the torpedoes continued onwards to the Artemis’s hull plating. While some of them were destroyed thanks to the SDSs, it wasn’t enough and pretty soon, multiple explosions were starting to ripple across the hull plating, no doubt the force of the explosions were really shaking the ship and its crew around, before a massive explosion erupted from the insides of the Artemis indicating that the SCAR pilots successfully hit the ship’s drive core, with the force of the explosion so powerful, it literally ripped the ship in two – effectively destroying the Minerva-class Cruiser and eliminating the Command Ship of the Cerberus Battlegroup.

As soon as the explosion was seen and saw the wreck starting to descend down towards Trident’s oceans, the SCAR pilots were already going crazy over the comms with their successful run.

“Beautiful work, Starscream!” Dreadwing called out over the comms.

“That was a bloody ripper, sir!” Tornado stated. “Tore the ship in two!”

Again, this earnt a laugh out of Starscream, pleased with the success that he and the men and women under his command had just achieved out here in this different galaxy.

“Alright guys, let’s get back to the Kriegsmarine to resupply.” He stated to the entire group. As the SCARs flew away, the Minerva-class Cruiser was seen to be falling into the cloud cover and towards the ocean below in two massive parts as a result of the extensive damage done to it.

With the loss of their Command Ship, the Cerberus Battlegroup was now in serious trouble.

Switch to the  N7 Battalion, Phoenix Base.

While the naval battle was raging on above them, the 501st Clone Troopers, with the Alliance Marines and N7 Special Ops teams were making steady progress into the base. In regards to progress, it took about 15 minutes for the Command Centre to be secured before they all went their separate directions. At this point in time, Battalion Commander Shepard and his XO, Major CT-74/13-1746 'Six', were leading their N7 Battalion, along with elements of the Alliance’s 103rd Marine Division, the 24th Battalion, and some N7 Special Ops teams. At first there was some friction with the Clone Troopers and the Alliance Marines because of the Clone Troopers were wearing the coveted ‘N7’ markings on their armour despite the fact that none of them had even gone through the Interplanetary Combatives Academy let alone hearing about it, especially to the N7 Marines that were with them, but it would eventually subside when they would see what the members of the N7 Battalion were capable of in a combat scenario. The only other issue, although a small issue at the moment, was that the Alliance Marines and what turian commandos they had with them believed they were fighting alongside ‘Commander Shepard’, despite the fact that Krystina was nowhere near Trident at the moment. While it was somewhat odd for both Shepard and Six, neither of them could deny the effect that name had with the Alliance’s morale and how well they were fighting, so for now, they kept quiet regarding this. It was during this time that Winters called out stating that the 506th Airborne and the Alliance Marines they had with them had secured the island outposts, including the all-important Communications Outpost.

As of right now, the Battalion were about 20 meters away from the Research Labs, pinned down by what appeared to be the last defensive line before the labs themselves by more Cerberus Assault Troopers with some Combat Engineers, two of which had placed down their Turrets that were now firing on the group. “Hold the line! Don’t give them an inch!” the Centurion called out to the group of Cerberus soldiers he was leading at the present moment, which were doing that well at the present moment.

For the N7 Battalion, they were doing what they could due to the turrets that were set up, but it wasn’t easy thanks to the weaponry the Cerberus troopers had.

“DAMN!” Shepard yelled out when a round struck near his head, forcing him to get behind the cover he, Six, a Turian Spec Ops commando, a N7 Marine and a couple of N7 Battalion troopers.

“What I wouldn’t give to have Viper and her grenade launcher right about now.” Shepard said in an annoyed tone whilst shaking his head briefly to ensure there was no ringing in his ears.

“Same could be said for Donut, sir.” Six responded in turn. Once the turrets ceased fire, some of the clones were leaning out of cover and started firing on the troopers again before Cerberus started to return fire. However, that lasted a few seconds before the turrets started up, forcing everyone back to cover. It was at this point that the N7 Marine, an N7 Demolisher Engineer to be exact known as Staff Lieutenant Kyleigh Cottrell, had decided enough was enough and looked towards her assigned squad of turian commandos – with one in particular.

“Mabius, prep your grenade launcher.” Kyleigh called out to one of the turians, Sergeant Mabius Gorrian. “Engage after my Arc Grenade’s gone off.”

“Copy Lieutenant.” Mabius replied. With that, Kyleigh pulled a grenade from her belt and primed it. Once the turrets had stopped firing again, she then lobbed it at the Cerberus defences. Unlike most grenades, the Arc Grenade detonated as soon as it hit something – in this case, the ground between the turrets. The end result was an electrical pulse that flared up over a distance of about 7.8 meters (25.6 ft), which stripped away the shields on the turrets, Centurions and Combat Engineers. No sooner later, Mabius emerged from cover, lugging a M-100 Grenade Launcher, and fired off at least 6 grenades, however as soon as the second grenade was fired, everyone leaned out of cover and open fire themselves. The end result was the defensive line was crushed. As soon as the firefight died down, everyone was moving forward to the Lab entrance. While most of the clones and the turians moved forwards at a decent yet cautious pace, Shepard, Six and Kyleigh held back a bit.

“Lieutenant, when the hell were you going to let us know you were carrying those grenades?!” Shepard asked, both startled and somewhat annoyed for if they found out about this earlier, it could have saved them a fair bit of time.

“First, Arc Grenades are standard issue for N7 Demolishers, like yours truly.” The lieutenant explained. “And Second, along with Mabius and his Grenade Launcher… you never asked, sir.” While this earned an annoyed shake of the head, if somewhat light-hearted, from Shepard, Six held back a chuckle.

“Fair enough. Just next time to let us know so we can plan ahead.” He said.

“Yes Major.” Kyleigh stated before the three of them linked back up with the group.

As soon as the leaders linked back up, one of the turian commandos, a tech and infiltration expert, was busy hacking the door controls to the lab. After 20 seconds of dealing with Cerberus’ electronic security and hacking the door controls, the entrance to the lab was opened. With perfect precision and years of experience from everyone, the group made their way into the labs themselves.

What they all saw was nothing short of horrific.

Inside the labs, they could see into the individual rooms and saw various humans in many of them, all of them lying down on the surgical tables in various stages of surgery, clearly showing that they were receiving implants which, from the looks of it, very unknown. To Kyleigh and the turian commandos under her command, the implants that were placed nearby ready to be used looked very odd and… alien in all concepts, but to the clone troopers that were part of the N7 Battalion, they were somewhat aware of what the implants looked like thanks to the autopsy reports they read up back home on Ossus before the start of Operation: FAR STORM, but even having some knowledge of this didn’t make it less sickening. What made it worse was that some of the patients, though everyone was sure that Cerberus would call them ‘test subjects’, were actually dead so they were used for nothing more than human experimentation. To the clones, this sight rocked them to the core for, as far as they knew, not even the Galactic Empire did anything like this. To the turian commandos on the other hand, their shock turned to sheer anger due to their stigma of treating any deceased beings, allied or enemy, with honour and that the use of deceased beings for experimentation is a massive taboo in their society.

Looking through everyone room wasn’t exactly the best thing the group did due to the fact that each room held something twisted and horrific, but it had to be done in order to ensure that the labs were secured, and no Cerberus forces were waiting for them to stage an ambush. After the Research Labs were fully swept, which lead to a decent haul of POWs – mostly scientists, lab technicians and service crews with some Troopers, Shepard was on comms with Anakin.

“General Skywalker, the Research Labs are secured.” He stated with a mix of both relief and concern.

“Copy that, Shepard. We’ve also secured the Main Armoury. A bit problematic due to Cerberus getting a couple of their mechs online, but were taken care of.” Anakin replied back, but he then could sense that there was something worrying coming from the veteran Commander. “There’s something wrong with where you are, am I right?”

“Define ‘Something wrong’, sir?” Shepard said in a sarcastic tone before focus back on a serious tone. “What we’ve seen in the Research Labs… it’s disturbing sir. It… be better you came to see this in person for it’ll be a bit tricky to explain it over comms, General.”

“Roger, Rex and I are on our way.” Anakin stated. “Also, I’ve received a report from Bismarck; the Cerberus Battlegroup has been eliminated, with only one cruiser escaping.”

“At least we don’t have to worry about Cerberus reinforcements now.” Shepard replied back, with some relief on that front. “That said, he did say he was picking up another ship coming towards the planet, but it was registering as an Alliance ship.” Anakin continued on, now adding some extra confusion to the mission. “Also, have you had any word from Ahsoka’s Battalion?”

“Nothing so far General.” Shepard replied to the Jedi Master.

Switch to the 332nd Battalion.

The reason why no one had heard from either Ahsoka, or Sterling was down to the fact that either by a trick of the Force, or just rotten luck, the 332nd Battalion, along with their attached Alliance Marines and N7 Teams, was actually forced to fight through the Barracks and multiple Storage Bays in order to get to the Holding Cells. Therefore, they had to fight through a bigger Cerberus presence than either Anakin’s group or the N7 Battalion.

“And to think that Skyguy managed to get lucky and dodge all this.” Ahsoka complained while ‘blocking’ incoming fire not only from the Cerberus Troopers, but also from their stored compliment of LOKI Mechs. While the sight of these were a bit of a surprise as the Jedi had no knowledge of Cerberus having access to something similar to Battle Droids, the Clones, particularly Clone War veterans, were more than happy to gun them down as it was what they were very familiar with.

“If you want my personally opinion, General. It couldn’t hurt to see if we can get some extra support.” Commander Sterling said, who was now wearing armour similar to his old leader, Captain CT-0292 ‘Vaughn’, with the difference being the colour in the shoulder pads along with Ahsoka’s emblem on them and a kama was added.

“No argument from me, Ma’am.” Sterling’s XO, Major FC-1839-933 ‘Nighthawk’, also called out whilst she was venting her DC-15S Carbine. Seeing that there was some consensus with her commanders, Ahsoka ‘blocked’ a few more shots before ducking behind cover, allowing some of her troopers to engage the Cerberus forces they were facing.

Once out of the line of fire, she then fired up her wrist-mounted commlink.

“Anakin, Rex, Shepard. Does anyone copy?” Ahsoka called out, just before a marine yelled out “Oh fuck, GRENADE!”, which detonated a few seconds later, forcing everyone to flinch when it went off. However, it caught a few troopers with flying shrapnel, killing one.

“I hear you kid. What’s wrong?” Rex called out over comms.

“We’re pinned down by Cerberus forces, along with their own version of clankers.” Ahsoka replied back, with more rounds striking the cover she and her commanders were behind. “We need extra support.”

“Roger, I’ll get Dagger to take Torrent Company and head over to your location.” Rex stated. Another few rounds struck nearby before Ahsoka could reply back.

“Better make it fast!” she said before killed the comms. At that point, a female marine stopped firing her weapon for she felt something that no one else had detected yet, mostly in the form of heavy footsteps before she could see what she was both expecting – and dreading.

“Oh shit… YMIR MECH!” she called out to everyone present. The YMIR Mech was much bigger than what the LOKI Mechs were, with a bulkier body. What made it dreaded was its weapons systems, which was a combination of twin-linked Mass Accelerator machine guns in the right arm and a potent Missile Launcher in the left arm. As soon as it was in sight of the 332nd Battalion, it let rip with a torrent of fire from its weapons, forcing most of the Battalion to find cover, including Ahsoka as while she had become a very proficient swordswoman in her own right, even she was not going to be able to ‘block’ all of those shots. However, not everyone was able to get out of the way fast enough as a few clone troopers and marines were caught in its path, killing a few and injuring the rest. A few of the clones and marines leaned out to put a few rounds into the YMIR Mech, but due to its shields, it did nothing to the Mech and it kept moving forward at a slow, but menacing pace due to it still firing its weapons. This allowed the LOKI Mechs and Cerberus Troopers to move up behind it due to the fact that the YMIR Mech was now drawing fire from them, and also forcing the enemy to cover.

During its march forward, the YMIR Mech stopped briefly, only for it to open up its left arm in order to fire off a missile at the Battalion. Thankfully, everyone was in cover now, so the missile didn’t hit anyone.

“Damn it!” Ahsoka cursed as the missile exploded nearby. While some of her troopers were lugging Smart Missile Launchers, they couldn’t fire them due to them being indoors, thus the fear of backblast is a real danger. While they could lob EMP Grenades at the Mechs, which was capable of bringing down a couple of LOKI Mechs, the shields on the YMIR Mech were tough and was capable of taking them with ease. Seeing that Cerberus now had the initiative, Sterling was now on comms.

“Commander Dagger, where the hell are you?!” he yelled out, starting to worry due to the immense firepower they were now facing.

“Just made it to the Command Centre.” Dagger replied back over the comm, before she dropped some unique info. “Be advised, we saw a squad of Alliance marines and what looked like some ARC Troopers headed your way.”

“ARC Troopers?” Sterling said, now confused from this new info. “… which unit of ARC Troopers, ma’am?” he asked, looking at Ahsoka, who had a slightly confused look of her own.

Before an answer came through, Another round of heavy weapons fire struck near their cover, forcing everyone to either flinch or scramble to get out of the way. While a few clones and marines continued to fire on the Cerberus forces, especially when the YMIR mech had to stop firing its weapons to either switch to one or another or to set them in cooldown mode, but it wouldn’t last for long.

“Not to sound like a coward General, but if we can’t destroy that YMIR clanker, we may have to turn tail and retreat.” Nighthawk stated rather grimly.

“I’d rather not.” Sterling countered. “If we pull back, it might give Cerberus time to fortify their defences before we make another push.”

At that point, before Ahsoka could say anything, two electric pulses suddenly hit the YMIR Mech, stripping it of it shields in seconds. Not long after that, a blazing projectile flew straight past them, hitting the bulking mech before a blue pulse of energy hit the mech which, when combined, created a powerful explosion before it was followed up with a very loud rifle shot, obliterating the head of the YMIR Mech. However doing this started a unique beeping noise, with the mech starting to glow red. Within a few seconds, Ahsoka realised that it was a countdown and given how close the now inactive mech was to their lines, she moved out into the open and Force pushed the wreck towards the Cerberus forces. The end result was the YMIR Mech exploded in such a powerful explosion that it actually obliterated three-quarters of the Cerberus Troopers and LOKI Mechs that were there, before they heard someone yelled out “SCOPED AND DROPPED!”. With the numbers now on their side, the 332nd clone troopers and Alliance Marines that were still able to now poured on the fire, breaking the rest of the opposing forces they were against.

As this was going down, Ahsoka, Sterling and Nighthawk looked behind them, along with some of the troopers and marines. Who they saw coming up behind them was none other than Krystina Shepard, Garrus, Liara, EDI, James, along with what marines they had from the Normandy and Domino Squad. This had an immediate effect for everyone. For the members of the 332nd Battalion, to see one of the legendary units of the 501st Legion was inspiring to them, as it was for the Alliance Marines for seeing the famed Commander Shepard fight alongside them, which was more than enough to boost their morale. For Cerberus, this was the opposite effect, coupled with the fact that the 332nd Battalion now had extra troops to add to their numbers.

“All units, fall back to the next defensive line.” One of the Centurions stated to the surviving troopers that were left, with some providing covering fire, leaving behind the LOKI Mechs to face the wrath of the 332nd Battalion. As the clones and marines pushed on, the leaders of the 332nd looked to see Shepard’s group now standing with them, with Garrus having finally got the time to slam in a new heatsink for his M-98 Widow.

“That’s the second time you’ve saved my life.” Ahsoka said in a humorous tone. “Keep that up and I’ll end up owing you a life debt.”

“Forget it. It’s on the house.” Shepard replied back with a laugh before she looked towards Garrus to introduce him to Ahsoka, as he hadn’t seen her before. “Ahsoka, this Garrus Vakarian. Garrus, this is Ahsoka Tano.”

After the two nodded to each other, Ahsoka looked to everyone present, but before she could say anything, they all spotted Commander Dagger and Torrent Company coming up the same way Shepard’s group came. “Came as fast as we could General… though it looks like you have things taken care here.” Dagger stated, before she saw Shepard’s Squad and Domino Squad, to whom she gave a quick nod.

“Because of the casualties your troopers have suffered, Ahsoka, you and Dagger leave a few medics here to tend to the wounded, while we continue onwards to the Holding Cells.” Krystina suggested to Ahsoka and the gather group of Clone Officers.

“Of course, Commander.” Dagger stated, before ordering two of Torrent Company’s Medics to stay with some of the 332nd Battalion Medics. Once that was done, the group moved forward again, with Ahsoka and Shepard taking point.

Due to where the Holding Cells were, and what was between them and the 332nd Battalion, it took the group around 10 minutes to get to the cells. Once the doors were breached, the Battalion was lead into a massive room, with what looked like multiple containers scattered everywhere, complete with an open, drab steel floor that apparently served as either a gathering area, or a processing area. In Shepard’s eyes, the design of the Holding Cells bore a very strong resemblance to the cargo bays from the Blue Suns prison ship Purgatory before it was destroyed. While quite a few of the troopers and marines moved to secure the room, where they saw what looked like a control room. Thinking fast, Dagger took a platoon of troopers with her in order to secure it before anyone could do anything. Once the control room was secured and the containers were opened.

“Oh, God…” Shepard said in shock from what she saw. What was inside the containers were in fact, prisoners – revealing that the containers were in fact prison cells. Inside most of them were primarily non-human beings, many of which were asari alongside turians and decent number of krogan, but what was more surprising was there we also humans in the cells too. Many of them were wearing thread bear clothing and also were sporting a lot of bruisers, tattoos in what looked like strategic areas and that, combined with what looked like surgical scars, indicating that they were experimented on by their Cerberus captors.

“Son of a bitch…” Sterling muttered under his breath at the sight of what they were seeing. Even Ahsoka, while not entirely surprised by this due to the covert war between the Jedi and the Galactic Empire, was startled by this as well. Eventually, Shepard snapped back to the current situation.

“Guys, get the prisoners out of the cells here and do what you can to help them.” She ordered the gather group of Clone Troopers and Alliance Marines, who started to help the various prisoners out of the cells that were open and on ground level. “Commander Dagger, what’s the status in the control room?”

“Control Room is secure, Shepard.” Dagger replied over comms. “Be advised, we secured some more technicians and scientists.” With that, Krystina took over of taking care of the prisoners, while Ahsoka activated her wrist comms.

“Anakin, we’ve finally taken the Holding Cells.” She said to her friend.

“Copy that Ahsoka and also, it’s good to hear you’re still ok.” Anakin replied back before he said this to all active channels. “All stations, Phoenix Base is secured. Start sweeping for intel and any hiding Cerberus personnel.”

30 minutes later.

Switch to the Phoenix Base’s Landing Pads.

During the course of the entire 4 hour engagement, the storm activity had eased up to the point that the strong winds had died down and the rainfall was now what one would expect in a normal overcast day. Because of this, the low-level cloud cover that the LAAT/is and Kodiaks had to work with at the beginning of the battle had now gone, with the cloud cover now around 7,000 ft high, the sight of the 501st Task Force and Battlegroup Foxtrot above Phoenix Base was somewhat reassuring and also a clear sign of their victory here.

On the Landing Pads, multiple Clone Troopers and Alliance Marines were either treating wounded, helping the prisoners that were liberated, gathering their dead or covering what few Cerberus personnel ranging from support staff to troopers, including the Artemis’ captain Yashiro who was one of the few people to survive the destruction of his cruiser, who were now POWs. In regards to casualties for the 501st and the Alliance, the 24th Marine Battalion had lost 58 marines in the battle, with about 105 marines wounded. The 501st on the other hand, as they were the primary force for this battle, had lost around 132 Clone Troopers, with around 184 wounded, with about half of the casualties coming from the 332nd Battalion. As for the naval elements, Battlegroup Foxtrot had lost two Hastings-class Heavy Frigates, with the rest taking varying levels of damage, with some of the Geneva-class Cruisers taking some light damage, and about half of the SSV Fleming’s compliment of F-61 Trident Fighters lost. As for the 501st Naval Task Force, the Resolute II and Kriegsmarine had taken some damage, with the Kriegsmarine worse off, but it was not serious enough to warrant it being forced off active duty for repairs. The same could not be said to the Arquitens-class Light Cruiser Huntress, for she had taken significant damage. It was still capable of moving, but with a few hull breaches, along with only one working twin Light Turbolaser turret, and extensive damage to its systems, it wasn’t capable of action until it was sent to drydock for repairs. Because of the fact that the Expedition Fleet was now involved in The Reaper War, it would mean a repair ship would have to be sent from home for this, and any future naval engagements would have to be either avoided or planned very carefully to avoid exhausting their forces before the repair ship arrived, and to ensure that the Fleet wouldn’t drain resources from the Home Front against the Empire. While the Huntress was rendered combat ineffective for the time being, the other Arquitens-class Light Cruisers had taken some damage as well, but was light, allowing them to continue fighting for the time being. The SCARs as well took a few casualties, but thankfully, was light.

“A tough fight, but at least the operation was a success Anakin.” Ahsoka stated to her friend as she walked alongside Anakin, along with Rex, Dagger, Shepard and Six.

“While I agree on that, I’d just wish we’d known about the fact that Cerberus had access to those clankers, or ‘Security Mechs’ as they are called here.” Rex responded.

“Given what we saw back home on the Osiris, there was no way for us to know.” Dagger said in response to Rex’s statement. “It was just rotten luck that General Tano, and her battalion ended up facing those clankers.”

“True enough.” Anakin said, agreeing with the Regimental Commander before looking at Snips once again. “At least you and most of the 332nd were able to avoid some serious casualties.”

“Well, you can thank Shepard for that.” Ahsoka stated. However, this statement drew a very confused look from the N7 Battalion Commander.

“Er… I was over in the Research Labs, General.” Shepard asked as both he and Six were confused by her statement. “How did we help you on your front?”

“That’s because Ahsoka’s actually referring to me.” A voice called out. Hearing this, everyone turned to see that Krystina was walking up to them, M-96 Mattock in her right hand.

“Good to see you again, Master Skywalker.” Krystina said to Anakin with a nod of her head to him. “Also good to see you again Rex.”

“Likewise, Commander Shepard.” Rex replied. All this however was getting too much to Shepard.

“Hang on… your name is ‘Shepard’?” Shepard asked the veteran Alliance Officer and Spectre Agent.

“Yes… why do you ask, trooper?” she replied, unaware that she was talking to a fellow Commander.

“… because my name is Shepard.” He replied whilst he removed his helmet, revealing his face to Krystina, revealing his well shaved head and sporting a five o’clock shadow.

At this point, Rex intervened. “Ah, that’s right. You haven’t met the rest of the 501st.” He stated before continuing on. “Commander Krystina Shepard, this is Battalion Commander Shepard and his 2iC, Major Six, leaders of the 501st’s N7 Battalion.” With that quick introduction, it finally explained to Shepard and Six why the Marines and N7 Teams that were with them were fighting quite fierce – and all of it was indeed due to the same name.

With this revelation, it drew a small laugh from Krystina. “Didn’t realised I had that much of an influence with your Clone Troopers.” She stated.

“Actually, Shepard’s had that nickname for years since being a member of the 501st Legion.” Dagger replied back to Krystina.

“Before we continue on with our introductions, Krystina, what brought you out here to Trident?” Anakin asked.

“I would like to say, ‘I was in the neighbourhood and thought I could lend a hand’, but in reality, I was ordered to come out here.” Krystina stated.

At that point, a lone UT-47A Kodiak was seen making its way towards one of the landing pads that was close to the group. Once it touched down, it starboard side door opened up to reveal two Alliance Marines, along with Diana, Jesse and the 115th Rangers.

“Is there a reason as to why you brought a news reporter out here?” Rex asked, as he had heard of how Krystina first met Diana from Domino Squad when they were first on the Citadel.

“Diana’s actually the reason why I’m out here with the Normandy.” She replied before going on to explain. “After wrapping up a search in the Horsehead Nebula Cluster, I received an email from Major Gaskin, ordering me out here to Trident and also to bring Diana here. The reason why is for her to create a publicity campaign to the galaxy, showing what Cerberus’ intentions are. The idea is that hopefully, it can cause serious damage to Cerberus’ recruitment efforts and, with some luck, create some dissension within Cerberus’ ranks for defections.” This drew some understanding in the eyes for the gathered leaders, but Rex felt otherwise.

“While it’s a sound strategy, I’m not confident that it’ll encourage their soldiers to defect from Cerberus.” He said, speaking his mind. “Especially given what we’ve seen what Cerberus does to them.”

This drew a nod from Krystina. “On that front, I agree with you Rex.” She said. “However, it may draw more success with their scientists, technicians, agents and their field commanders – as long as they haven’t been indoctrinated.”

“One can hope.” Ahsoka said before they all saw Jesse make their way over to them from the Kodiak.

“Glad to see you’re keeping yourself busy, Captain.” Rex said to his long-time friend.

“Yeah. And one of my new jobs, apart from leading the 501st Normandy Battle Group is to ensure Krystina here and Lady Kryze don’t get themselves killed.” Jesse replied back with the cheap shot, which was met with a decent laugh out of everyone present.

“I’m glad to see you got your sense of humour back since Umbara, vod.” Rex said to Jesse. Once things had calmed down, Jesse went back to a serious tone.

“Diana Allers wants to know where she needs to go for filming her publicity piece.” He asked in order to know which way to go.

“Six and I can lead you guys to the Labs and Holding Cells.” Ahsoka replied back, which got a nod from Six confirming this.

“By your lead, sirs.” Jesse said before he led Ahsoka and Six over to Diana and the 115th Rangers. Not long after they left, Anakin looked to Krystina.

“In addition to shutting down Project Phoenix, we also liberated quite a few prisoners and secured a lot of weapons and armour, all made by Cerberus by the looks of it.” He explained to the Spectre.

“That’s good to hear, given the fact that any weapon or armour that’s made by Cerberus is of very high quality and, say, if someone in the Alliance got their hands on an intact M-25 Hornet for example, it would be highly prized.” Krystina explained. “I’ll talk to Alliance Command and see if we can have the contents covertly shipped to Reaper-Control territories for the various resistances, like on Earth or Khar’shan. Give them some extra firepower and support.”

“That makes a lot more sense than just leaving all that firepower here to rust.” Dagger replied, agreeing with Shepard’s call. With that, Krystina looked to Shepard.

“Now… you and me, sir.” She said. “We need to talk.”

So while Anakin and Dagger went off to coordinate on clean up and accounting on the aftermath of this Operation, Krystina and Shepard talked to one another, with Krystina mostly asking the questions due to the fact they shared the same name. Hardly anyone was paying attention to this conversation as they were focusing on their jobs, but what was certain was that before the two Commanders went off to continue with their assigned jobs, they both saluted one another in respect to who the veteran Alliance Officer and the veteran 501st Battalion Commander were and how they came to be regarding their roles as leaders.

Chapter Text

Location: Earth, Sol System, Local Cluster – Earth Systems Alliance Space.

While the Alliance were aware of something that was coming towards Earth in the days before the start of the Reaper War, they were completely unprepared for the speed and ferocity the Reapers showed in order to storm Earth, resulting in a very slow response to the Invasion. But there were some areas that were able to respond just as fast.

Perhaps coming as no surprise, one of those areas that responded quickly was the famed Interplanetary Combatives Academy near Rio de Janeiro, also known as ‘The Villa’ or ‘N-School’, was holding up well against the increasing numbers of Reaper husks due to number of soldiers that were here, ranging from N1 Operatives to the coveted N7 Operatives and everything in between. However, there were quite a few N7 Operatives that were here who wanted to get off world in order to provide support elsewhere in the Milky Way, so a transmission was sent to Hackett, hoping someone would return to extract them. That was almost 3 days ago.

Currently in an impromptu Forward Operating Base out in the courtyard of the Academy, the current Director of the Interplanetary Combatives Academy, General Marinus Maddock, was coordinating the various special forces teams operating in the city helping with both Alliance and local forces that were there with either resistance operations or helping with the evacuation of civilians from the city, in addition to ensure the line held at the Academy in order to ensure it could evacuate and link up with the Alliance Resistance elsewhere on the planet.

“What’s the status on the Eastern Perimeter?” Marinus called out to any of his officers.

“Reaper ground forces have broken off for now, but it won’t be long before they make another push.” A Gunnery Sergeant called out from his post.

“General. Evacuation Centre 9 is reporting evacuation is complete, troops there are pulling back now.” another officer called out to Marinus.

“Tell them to head to Evac Centre 14 as they are facing heavy resistance there.” He replied.

“Yes, sir.” The officer replied back. Before Marinus could do anything else, another NCO called out from her terminal. “General, Southern Front is facing increasing numbers of husks!”

“Send three more N7 Squads to reinforce!” Marinus yelled out, just before multiple explosions erupted in that area. It wasn’t long before he heard the whine of engines in the sky, which made Marinus think that there was some air support. He was partially right on that count.

Within a few seconds, the source of the noise was shown to be the Normandy flying low. Seeing the stealth frigate fly past, it meant that Marinus’ message to Hackett had gotten through.

“Lieutenant. Get on the radio to the N7 Operatives that wanted to get off-world.” He stated to the junior officer. “Tell them their ride out of town is here.”

2 days later

Location: Alchera, Amada System, Omega Nebular – Terminus Systems.

After the evacuation of the remains of the Deimos Defence Flotilla, which would go to help reinforce the battered Alliance First Fleet, and a decent size of N7 Operatives from Earth, which included N7 Fury Adept and Slayer Vanguard biotic specialists, N7 Destroyer Soldiers, N7 Demolisher Engineers, N7 Paladin Sentinels and N7 Shadow Infiltrators, along with crates of N7 grade weapons were taken to where the SSV Isaac Newton was stationed for now, along with purchasing some extra supplied from the Fifth Fleet Logistics Hub, which included the Alliance’s own version of the M44 Hammerhead IFV, Shepard ordered the Normandy to start sweeping for either resources or forces out in the Terminus, especially as Aria asked Krystina to gather as many Mercenary outfits, gangs and Irregular Forces in order to unite them under Aria’s command for her plan to reclaim Omega from Cerberus.

During the sweep, Liara came up with the idea to return to the crash site of the original Normandy SR-1, for she was hoping that the Prothean Data Discs that Shepard and her original team recovered during their hunt for Saren in 2183 were still there and intact. If they were, they could be sent to the research team that was hoping to understand more of the Prothean Device that was found on Mars. With Shepard leading a team of Marines, along with Garrus and Liara (as they were part of Shepard’s Original Squad), they were able to find the reinforced exposure-proof safes that contained all 10 Prothean Data Discs intact. During the time down there, Shepard, Liara and Garrus stopped to pay their respects to the 20 crewmembers, including XO Navigator Charles Pressly, who perished on the original Normandy during the Collector ambush three years ago.

Now, having returned from the Ice World, Krystina was standing at the Galaxy Map, her mind deep in thought regarding that day. In fact, she was that deep in thought that she didn’t hear Jesse walk up behind her.

“Are you ok, Shepard?” he asked.

“Huh… uh, yeah. I’m fine Jesse.” Krystina replied, her mind snapping back to the here and now. “Sorry, I was just deep in thought because it was over this planet, Alchera, that I…”

“That you died before Cerberus resurrected you last year.” Jesse finished, which led to Shepard looking at him in some disbelief. “I read both your dossier and the Alliance incident reports regarding this.”

Understanding this, she looked back at the holographic projection. “Yeah. Just looking back at, it just feels… surreal.” Shepard said, before she looked at Jesse again. “Though I’d imagine it would be worse for you because when you see fellow troopers die, it would be literally looking at you dying.”

“True. Even worse when you have to put down your brothers because of an inhibitor chip in your head that makes you follow orders, even when you fight against it.” Jesse stated, reflecting back when Order 66 was declared and he was on the Tribunal when it happened, and also remembering what happened to fellow 501st Trooper CT-5385 ‘Tup’, when his malfunctioned during the Battle of Ringo Vinda, which led to the subsequent discovery of the chips, and his unfortunate death back on Kamino.

Before either of them could continue their lines of thought, Samantha spoke up from her terminal to their right. “Excuse me Commander, but I’ve just picked up something while scanning Alliance channels.” She said to the two officers.

“What is it, Specialist?” Jesse asked as Krystina walked off the platform overlooking the Galaxy Map.

“Grissom Academy is requesting help. The invasion front will hit Elysium soon.” Sam said, which drew a confused look from Shepard.

“That’s odd. I thought the invasion would close most schools.” She replied back, with Jesse nodding his head in agreement.

“Grissom Academy is more specialised than a normal school.” Sam explained. “It’s home to some of the smartest students humanity has to offer. Their Ascension Project is the best training facility in the galaxy for human biotics.”

“Yes, I sent a young man named David Archer there after the fallout from Overlord.” Shepard stated, drawing a look from Jesse, but she didn’t notice it. “I’m just surprised that they are still open.”

“Well, some of their work does have Alliance funding. That might be why they stayed open.” Sam said to Krystina. However Jesse had a question.

“Shepard, when you mentioned ‘Overlord’, are you referring to Project Overlord?” he asked.

“Yeah, back when I was working with Cerberus, the Illusive Man sent me to see why they went offline.” Krystina confirmed to the ARC Captain. “In the end, I actually ended up shutting down the Project, or at least I think I did.”

“Yeah, I’ve read your mission reports on that. Just wanted to make sure I had the right thing in my head.” Jesse replied, hoping he wrapped up the trip down memory lane for the Commander.

“Anyhow, in regards to the current situation. What can we do?” Shepard asked Sam.

“A turian evac transport has responded to their distress call, so normally I’d say we don’t need to do anything.” Sam replied, but she continued on as she turned back to her terminal. “But something felt… off in the turian signal. I had EDI perform an analysis of it; it’s fake.” During this, Jesse leaned closer from the railing on the platform while Shepard moved to stand to Traynor’s right. “EDI thinks it’s Cerberus. She said the fake turian signal was similar to one that lured you to a Collector ship…?”

“Long story…” Krystina said on the subject, not wanting to remember that, indicating for Sam to continue on.

“Well, in any event, whoever faked the signal wants us all to believe that Grissom Academy is being evacuated – but I believe that they are in danger.” She finished up as she looked to both Shepard and Jesse.

“Well. It definitely does look like you do know your stuff, Samantha.” Jesse said with a smile, as did Shepard.

“Indeed. A good catch there.” Shepard also said. “Maybe you do belong here, after all.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Sam said, before Krystina looked towards Jesse. “Out of your squads that are here, what’s the best one for speed and close-quarters?”

“That would be the 115th Rangers, Shepard.” Jesse answered, “I’ll get Dempsey up here.”

“Alright, Jesse.” Shepard replied before she stood back on the platform overlooking the Galaxy Map. “Joker, set course for Grissom Academy.”

4 Hours later.

Location: Jon Grissom Academy, High Elysium Orbit, Vetus System, Petra Nebula – Earth Systems Alliance Space.

The cross-like design of Grissom Academy was a unique sight, yet one that was signature to the planet Elysium, a planet that was a magnet for both tourism and immigration. Because of the Reaper War, the planet’s population started ordered evacuations, with the Alliance Seventh Fleet assigned to the system. So if the system had higher than normal traffic, how was it possible for Cerberus to slip through with a ship?

Inside the cockpit of the Normandy, Joker and EDI sat at their seats working at the controls with Jesse and Dempsey, the latter with his EVO helmet in hand, standing behind them observing the whole thing.

“And there’s the folks who answered the distress call.” Joker stated once he had visual on the Academy. “Cerberus cruiser, with at least a dozen fighters on blockade duty.”

“Looks like a Minerva-class Cruiser out there.” Jesse said once he could see the visual screen. “Makes sense for Cerberus to send one of them out here due to their electronic suites.”

“In order for the bastards to fake that turian transmission.” Dempsey replied, agreeing with Jesse just as Shepard arrived in full combat gear.

“Either way guys, there’s too many for us in a straight-up fight.” Joker continued on. “They must want this place bad.”

“Agreed, but why?” Jesse wondered. Before anyone could say anything, EDI’s console started beeping away.

“Receiving incoming transmission.” She called out.

“Let’s hear it.” Krystina stated. Within a few seconds, Joker had the transmission coming through from his displays.

“SSV Normandy, this is Kahlee Sanders, Director of Grissom Academy. We need immediate assistance.” The transmission stated, making the true situation all too clear. “Cerberus is attacking the facility. They’re after my students.”

“This is Commander Shepard. We’re blocked on a direct approach.” Krystina replied back to Kahlee.

“I know – they’ve taken control of our docking bays.” The Director stated, revealing even more problems.

“This is ARC Captain Jesse, 501st Legion. Do we have alternatives to work with?” Jesse asked, already thinking ahead.

“There’s an auxiliary cargo port I can open up.” Kahlee responded.

“Not an ideal alternative, Commander.” Dempsey stated. “But we better step on it before Cerberus finds it.”

“Agreed.” Shepard said before she looked back to the console. “Alright. We’ll come in by shuttle and get your students out of there.” With that, they had a game plan. “Dempsey, you’re Rangers ready to go?” she asked the veteran Sergeant, who had put his helmet on.

“More than ready, ma’am.” Dempsey replied with an eagerness in his voice. With a smile, Krystina nodded to the Ranger leader before looking to Joker.

“Joker, can you give us a diversion?” she asked with a light pat on his shoulder.

“Boy, can I!” Joker replied in an equally eager tone that Dempsey had. This put a smile on Shepard’s lips.

“Alright. You have the conn, Joker. Make it a good one.” She said before she left with Dempsey to the Shuttle Bay.

Within a few minutes after Shepard, EDI, Garrus and the 115th Rangers were on the Kodiak, Joker piloted the Normandy right past a small flight of Sudan-class fighters and the Minerva-class cruiser at full speed. This succeeded in drawing the fighters and the cruiser away in pursuit, allowing the Kodiak to slip past without notice. Inside the Kodiak, the Rangers, EDI and Garrus were prepping their gear. While EDI was carrying the same gear, Garrus had swapped out his gear. Thanks to working on a deal with an arms dealer Liara knew of, both he and Shepard were now carrying the Alliance-made Black Widow Sniper Rifles (similar to the original M-98 Widow, but allowing for three shots instead of one), along with Garrus now using the L-98 Halberd they recovered from the MSV Intrepid, which was more powerful than the original M-96 Mattock, but having a slower rate of fire – something that Garrus found ideal for use as a Designated Marksman Rifle. Shepard however made her way to the cockpit.

“Keep the shuttle in position guys! We’ll be back!” she called out to Cortez and Slag.

“Right. We’ll let you know if things change!” Slag replied back. Once done, she made her way back to the cargo bay.

“Alright guys. Let’s get ready to go.” She said to the group.

Within 10 minutes, Shepard, EDI, Garrus and the 115th Rangers were in the station, weapons up and ready.

“Commander, I’m locked in a Security room around the corner.” Kahlee stated to the group over comms. “Cerberus Troops are trying to get in.”

“Roger, we’re close. Stand by.” Shepard said as they advanced forward. Once they were close to the door, they could hear chatter through said door.

“Get ready! I’ve almost got the door.” A trooper called out. Once everyone stacked up behind the door, Dempsey’s Pointman, CT-00/52-6385 'Ryen', hit the switch to open the door. Once the door was opened, Cerberus Troopers spotted the group, however some of them, including a Combat Engineer, were killed by gunfire coming from the security room they were heading to. At the same time, Shepard’s group opened fire. Due to the firepower that Shepard’s Squad and the 115th Rangers had, they were dispatched in a few seconds. With that, Krystina and Dempsey made their way to Security Room’s door.

“Director Sanders, it’s Sergeant Dempsey. Hallway’s clear.” he called out into the room.

As soon as the doors were pried open, Shepard, EDI, Garrus and Dempsey slowly made their way into the Server Room where they then saw a female officer aiming a M-27 Scimitar shotgun at them before she realised who they were.

“Commander, Sergeant, thank you.” Kahlee said to the group. “Admiral Anderson always said that you were the best, Shepard. And with Cerberus coming for my students, I need the best.”

“How many people are we talking about here, Director?” Dempsey asked Kahlee.

“Fewer than twenty.” Kalhee replied as she made her way over to a desk with an active terminal. “Most were sent home when word of the Reaper invasion spread.”

As she was saying this, Shepard nodded with her head to Garrus and EDI to secure the hallway. Dempsey did something similar.

“Start sweeping the bodies for anything useful guys.” He said to his Rangers.

“Roger that, Sarge.” His Comms Specialist and Tech Expert, CT-12-5242 'Cycle', said before leading the Rangers out of the room.

“But a few volunteered to stay. Some are testing out prototype tech for the Alliance.” Kahlee continued to explain as Shepard walked up to her, with Dempsey not that far behind. “Others are biotics. They’ve been training for military operations, working together as biotic artillery.” While Shepard was listening to the whole thing, she did have a question.

“You said something about Admiral Anderson…” she asked Kahlee.

“Yes. We met – god, what’s it been? – 20 years ago, back when he was a Spectre candidate.” the Director replied. “I was there when Saren betrayed him. David saved my life that day. He’s a good man.”

“No argument there. We were on Earth when the Reapers hit.” Shepard explained. “He stayed behind while I got off-world.”

“I hadn’t heard… we’ve been cut off from most news. He’s alive?” Kahlee asked.

“At the moment, ma’am, alive and fighting.” Dempsey stated. “He’s currently leading Alliance Resistance forces on Earth.”

“That’s good to hear.” Kahlee replied, sounding relieved by Dempsey’s statement. “If we get out of here… well, just tell him to stay alive, Commander.”

While it was nice actually providing some news, it wasn’t doing anything to relieve this situation, so Shepard turned the conversation back to the issue. “A few months knocking over practice dummies can’t prepare your students for war.” She stated, knowing how long it takes for anyone to become a marine once they finished school – even longer for a biotic.

“That I agree, Commander.” Kahlee said to the Spectre agent. “But the Alliance needs every resource they can get, and our students are unique… resources.” She then looked towards her monitor before continuing on. “Besides, they wanted to help. How could we say ‘no’ with the entire galaxy falling apart?”

Before anyone could say anything more, a beeping was coming from the terminal in front of Kahlee.

“Hang on. I’ve been trying to get communications working.” She said as she started to tap away on the holographic keyboard, with Shepard and Dempsey coming up behind. Within a few seconds, a transmission came through.

“This is Froeberg! There are students trapped in Orion Hall! Cerberus has us boxed in. They’re closing fast!” the message said. This angered Kahlee.

“Damn it!” she cursed as she slammed her hand on the desk.

“Orion Hall?” Shepard asked, wanting to know which way to go.

“Back out the door and down the hallway.” Kahlee stated as Shepard and Dempsey started to make their way out. “I can get the door from here.”

“Do you want me to leave one of my Rangers here for support?” Dempsey asked, as he did have one in mind already.

“I appreciate the offer Sergeant, but you might need all the firepower your squad has.” Kahlee replied, turning down the offer. “Besides, It may draw unwanted attention on me.”

“Right. Then we’ll bring the students back here and we’ll all make a run for the shuttle.” Shepard stated with a rough plan now to work with.

“I’ll stay put here. With any luck, I can regain control of our systems.” Kahlee said. With that, Dempsey was first back into the hallway.

“Rangers, we’re Oscar Mike!” he called out, alerting everyone they were moving out.

Once past the doorway, leading into Orion Hall, the group could see two Assault Troopers and a Combat Engineer ‘escorting’ – dragging the poor kid by one of his legs – a student out towards the normal docking ports. Seeing as they couldn’t do anything, they moved on to their right.

“Attention all students.” An announcement came out over the PA. “Cerberus troops have taken control of this station. We have no desire to hurt you. Surrender, and you won’t be harmed. Resist, and we can’t guarantee your safety”

“That’s the last thing we need; Cerberus propaganda.” Cycle said in annoyance.

“Can you jam it?” Dempsey asked.

“Not without knowing where it’s coming from, Sarge.” Cycle replied.

“We’ll deal with it if we can. For now, press on.” Shepard ordered everyone. After stopping to grab an Assault Rifle Dampening Mod, the group continued into a junction. Due to the debris and rubbish stacked in two walkways, there was one way to go, which was next to a classroom. In said walkway, there was a biotic student, holding up a Biotic Sphere in order to hold off two Centurions.

“Reiley Bellarmine. Drop the barrier, now!” one Centurion called out to the student, Reiley.

“Nobody’s going to hurt you.” The other Centurion said, hoping to placate the student.

“The file says we need you alive.” This revealed that there was a reason why Cerberus was gunning for the students, but for what, it wasn’t specified – yet.

“But your sister?” the first Centurion said, apparently deciding to play a ‘carrot-and-stick’ effort to get Reiley to cooperate. “She’s optional. You give us trouble, we’ll find her.”

During this entire time, the group got into position before Shepard told Garrus to fire off an Overload on the Centurions, stripping their shields. Within a few seconds, they were both dropped by Shepard and the Ranger’s Designated Marksman, CT-8729/019 'Jarbed'.

“Room’s clear.” Jarbed called out. With that, they approached the student, whom they could hear that he was scared.

“Reiley. It’s ok, we’re here to rescue you.” EDI said, hoping that her voice would help the student calm down. Both this, and Shepard’s presence was enough to do this.

“There may be more nearby.” Shepard told Reiley. “Play dead until it’s safe, then get to Kahlee Sanders at Security.”

“Okay, but my sister, Seanne, is out here somewhere, too.” Reiley replied, now starting to calm down.

“Don’t worry kid. We’ll find her.” Dempsey replied as everyone else jumped through the busted window to get into the classroom.

“The Alliance has failed you. Earth has fallen.” The Cerberus propaganda continued to play over the PA.

“That’s going to get real fucking annoying really quick.” Dempsey cursed once the propaganda started up again.

“We can’t worry about that now, Sergeant. We have to focus on finding survivors.” EDI said, with Dempsey nodding his head in reluctance. During the sweep in the classroom, Shepard came up to the Instructor’s desk and saw an active datapad. What drew her attention was that no instructor would both swear in their logs, and say how the students in their class were their kids in an almost threatening tone. Still, it was enough to make her wonder…

Once the room was cleared, and another weapon mod was recovered, the group bounded into the next classroom. Just as they were making their way in, which had two of Cerberus’ portable shield covers and one of their generators hooked up, they saw a female student running on the opposite end of the room, before they saw gunfire hit the student, killing her. This was enough to force everyone to either hide behind the desks or behind the support pillars.

“Watch the headshots! Orders are to take them alive!” an unseen Cerberus trooper called out to his colleague who killed the student.

“Check the file. Who was it?” the other trooper asked.

“Honaker. Some kind of math genius. Low priority.” The first trooper replied, practically not caring who they killed.

“Good. No loss. Next time, remember to check the file.” The Assault Trooper stated to his colleague as they both walked into the room – right before Garrus dropped them with his L-89 Halberd.

However, this drew extra attention in the form of another Cerberus Squad, comprising of a mix of Assault Troopers and Centurions.

“Bring it on, you bastards!” Dempsey called out, letting his aggression rise up, whilst he fired away with his DC-15S. Cycle hung back with Garrus, engaging with his DC-15LE, as was Jarbed who was picking off Assault Troopers with his Valken-38x Sniper Rifle. EDI was with Shepard and the Rangers’ Demolitions Specialist, CT-2381/7765 'Brass', opening fire on the Cerberus forces that were making their way into the classroom. While some were going down with ease, others – primarily the Centurions – were able to get behind the portable shield covers, giving them some protections.

“Crap. Anyone see a way to shut down their cover?!” Ryen called out to the group when Brass spotted the generator.

“I do, give me some cover!” he called out to everyone as he ceased firing his DC-15A so he could get into his backpack. After a few seconds of searching, he pulled out a customised demolition charge, coated in a magnetic seal, allowing it to operate as an impromptu ‘sticky bomb’, and lobbed it at the generator. After it made contact with the Generator, it detonated 4 seconds later, taking out the generator, and a couple of Cerberus troopers in the process.

“Ha-Ha! Beautiful throw, Brass!” Dempsey called out once he saw the explosion.

“Thanks, Sarge.” Brass replied back, once again firing away with his DC-15A. With the lack of cover, the remaining Cerberus troopers in the room were dealt with in no time.

With that dealt with, the group moved out into a small atrium, with Ryen taking point. Here, the group started to split up, with Shepard, EDI, Garrus, Dempsey and Cycle moving towards the other end of the atrium. To their left, next to some lockers and a sealed door, was another female student, holding onto her stomach, indicating she was wounded.

“Stay back. I’ll… I’ll…” she tried to say, but from the sounds of it, she was struggling to stay conscious.

“Aw shit, we’ve got wounded.” Dempsey called out, making his way to the injured student with Shepard not that far behind. As they got to her, Dempsey held onto her to keep the kid from collapsing, while Shepard applied some medi-gel. During this, she saw the student’s name tag; ‘Seanne Bellarmine’.

“Seanne, can you hear me?” Krystina asked.

“Yeah…” Seanne replied, still sounding weak, but at least she wasn’t going to bleed out. “How do you know my name?”

“We saved your brother.” Dempsey replied as he helped her up to her feet. “He’s currently with Kahlee Sanders at Security. Can you get to her?”

“Yeah.” Seanne said, finally on her feet. “Just need a minute to rest. Thank you.”

While this was going on, Jarbed was looking down the hallway. “Reiley Bellarmine, if you’re out there, we know your parents are on Earth.” The Cerberus propaganda was still rolling. “Come with us and show us how to use the prototype mechs you’ve been working on. We’re the only hope you have for retaking Earth… and saving your parents.”

“Haar’chaak, Dempsey’s right. This is starting to get on my nerves.” Jarbed stated to himself before he noticed something. Down the hallway at the door, there was another overhead monitor with the Cerberus emblem being displayed. What was odd was that there was a cable coming out of it going down to a generator, which had a computer hooked up to it.

“I wonder…” Jarbed said as he primed his Valken-38x. At this point, Brass noticed what was going on.

“What are you up to, Jarbed?” he asked the marksman.

“Trying an experiment…” Jarbed replied as he started looking down the optics before he fired off three shots into the generator. As soon as the generator was destroyed, the Cerberus Emblem was replaced with what was assumed to be the Grissom Academy logo and Kahlee’s voice started coming through over the PA.

“Is this thing working?” she asked before she could hear her voice echo in the Security Room, confirming this. “Huh, you guys are miracle workers.”

“You’re welcome.” Jarbed joked while replying to Kahlee over comms.

“I’m guessing you found a way to shut the propaganda crap up?” Dempsey asked.

“Sure did, Sarge.” Jarbed replied while pointing to the generator he shot up before they all heard this. “Students, if you can hear me, this is Kahlee Sanders. I am still alive, and help is coming.”

“Nice work, Jarbed.” Dempsey congratulated his marksman with a firm pat on his back.

“All right guys, let’s keep moving.” Krystina said, now leading the group towards the door where the destroyed generator was.

“Commander, Sergeant. I just got an emergency message from the students in Orion Hall.” Kahlee suddenly came through over the comms. “One of our instructors is with them, but they can’t hold out much longer.”

“Roger that, Kahlee. We’re moving.” Shepard replied back before the channel went dead.

Once the group made their way to another door, it opened to show Orion Hall. Inside, the group could see a squad of Assault Troopers close in on two students and who was apparently, their instructor. However, Krystina immediately recognised who it was. Despite the fact that the instructor was wearing a simple leather jacket, tank top and jeans with boots, along with sporting a very… unique haircut, it was the tattoos that gave away the identity.

The instructor was none other than Jack – better known to Cerberus as ‘Subject Zero’, something that she loathed to this day.

“Eat this!” she snarled at the Assault Trooper before she unleashed her potent biotics at them with a biotic Throw, hurling them both into a pillar with enough force to kill them.

“Jack?” Shepard called out to the rogue biotic as she was wiping some sweat off her forehead, before Jack looked to who called out her name, and, like Krystina, she couldn’t believe who she saw.

“Shepard?” Jack asked, just as startled, seeing the Commander, along Garrus, a unique looking mech and 5 soldiers with similar armour, blue markings and a very unique looking blue-and-grey camouflage pattern. However, before anyone could say anything else, they all could hear mechanical whining and heavy footsteps coming from another hallway.

“ATLAS MECH!” Cycle yelled out, seeing what was causing the noise. Upon hearing the Ranger yell that out, Jack could see it was ‘crouching’ down, looking through the door – and aiming at a third student. Seeing this, she legged it to the student, along with a tactical slide, in order to project a biotic barrier between the student and the Atlas Mech, just as it fired it’s Mass Accelerator Cannon. All the round did was hit the barrier and nothing else. Seeing this happen, the Assault Trooper piloting the Mech worked to squeeze the bulky frame through the door. Despite some scrapping, the pilot succeeded and brought the Atlas Mech back up to its full height, attempting to intimidate Jack, who had her biotics flaring. Before either one could do anything, multiple bullets and blaster bolts struct the right arm which housed the hybrid Mass Accelerator Cannon/Missile Launcher, with the pilot looking to see Shepard, EDI, Garrus and the 115th Rangers moving to engage.

“Rangers, shred that fucking bastard!” Dempsey yelled out as Shepard moved to a pillar in the middle of the hall.

“Everyone, get down! This thing’s outta your league!” Jack yelled out to the students as she started to fall back herself. “Shepard, keep it off us!”

“The students aren’t a trained military force. They need support!” EDI called out as she fired off an Overload attack on the Atlas Mech, helping to drain the shields on the Mech. While Shepard, EDI, Garrus, Dempsey, Brass and Ryen engaged the Mech, Jarbed and Cycle moved to engage the Assault Troopers that were making their way into the Hall.

“Brass, see if you can get a demo charge on that oversized clanker!” Dempsey yelled out.

“Roger that! Just keep that mech occupied!” Brass replied back, once again digging into his backpack to see what he had to work with. Within a few seconds, Brass had a Detonite Charge in his hand ready to go.

“COVERING FIRE!” Brass called out, which had Shepard, Garrus, EDI, Dempsey and Ryen pouring the fire on the Atlas Mech, drawing their attention onto them, but providing a window for Brass. With that, he ran for it to ensure he got behind the mech, allowing Brass to plant the charge next to exhaust port before scrambling to cover. Within seconds on the charge being planted, it exploded, crippling the mech before the last few rounds made sure the Mech exploded.

As this was going on, Jarbed and Cycle continued to engage more Cerberus troopers that were coming in from another hallway leading to Orion Hall. However, with the biotic students providing some support from their biotics and once the Atlas Mech was destroyed, everyone was able to focus fire on the reinforcements and purge them in a short time, though Jarbed had to switch out to his DC-15S that was strapped to his backpack due to how close-quarters the fighting became.

Once the last Assault Trooper was dead, Shepard made her way towards the overhead station where Jack and the biotic students were, with their barrier now down.

“Kahlee did say she was putting out an SOS.” Jack stated with a chuckle. “But I had no idea the Queen of the Girl Scouts would show up.”

Once she was done with her… unique way of saying hello to Shepard, she looked back to, effectively, her students. “All right, amp check!” she called out to everyone, before setting her sights on one. “Prangley, those fields were weak. Cerberus isn’t going to lie down out of pity like that girl you took to prom.” This earned a playful shove in the back from a female student, Rodriguez, who in turn gave her an annoyed look in his eyes.

“Grab juice and an energy bar. We move in five.” Jack ordered the students before she jumped down to the lower deck without hurting herself, thanks to her biotics, before walking up to Krystina where she decided to take a more closer look at the Clone EVO Troopers.

“I knew you always had a knack for finding the weird ones, Shepard.” Jack said whilst looking at their gear. “But these guys are definitely beyond my own scale for ‘weird’.”

“Well, it would appear that Jack’s personality remains unchanged.” EDI remarked.

“Hey, EDI. Nice body.” Jack said, once she recognised the voice. “Now, you look more like a sex-bot than a sex toy.”

“And as charming as ever…” Garrus also commented. However, with that remark, two could play at that game.

“Bite me, Garrus.” Jack replied, coming out swinging. “Better yet – bite her. Probably how she likes it.” This earnt a decent, but brief, blush from Krystina, a rather indifferent look from EDI, because she was a synthetic, and a decent laugh from Jarbed. “Hey, Dempsey. Sounds like Jack here’s got your personality down pat.”

“Shut up, Jarbed.” Dempsey replied, holding a smirk on his face.

“Enough guys.” Shepard stated to the group. “You can have fun trading barbs later.”

“Agreed, because right now, all I care about is getting my guys out of here.” Jack stated to everyone.

“Your guys?” Shepard asked. This earned a small chuckled from Jack.

“Yeah… I guess so.” She said in a caring way, not something that one would normally hear from a former criminal, especially with her very troubled upbringing thanks to Cerberus.

“Well, I can’t think of anybody who could care about them more.” Shepard said, seeing that despite her earlier years, Jack was slowly changing.

“Well, I had some free time while you were off playing hero. Alliance brass knew I helped you. They offered me this.” Jack said, giving a very quick rundown of what had happened to her when she left the Normandy before she looked up to her students. “And apparently, the students responded well to my teaching style.”

This drew some attention from the students. “The psychotic biotic!” Prangley called out from the overhead station with some humour in his voice.

“‘I will destroy you!’” Rodriguez said, mimicking Jack’s signature war cry. Again, two could play that game.

“Drink your juice, Rodriguez. You couldn’t destroy wet tissue paper.” Jack responded, which got a decent laugh out of the students and the Rangers. At this point, things decided to take a turn for the worst.

“Cortez to extraction team.” Cortez called out over comms, which drew Shepard and Dempsey’s attention. “The Cerberus cruiser is coming back.”

“Aw… fucking hell.” Was all Dempsey said regarding this news.

“How long have we got to work with?” Shepard asked.

“Two minutes, tops, Commander.” Cortez replied. “After that, there’s no way we’ll get past them.” This made Krystina curse quietly.

“Given the fact that’s a Minerva-class Cruiser out there, those Electronic Counter-Measure suites it has will render your shuttle’s stealth drive useless.” Dempsey said to the Commander.

“And given the fact the students need at least five minutes to be ready to move, time isn’t on our side.” Shepard replied as she looked at said students before she made her call. “Get yourself and Slag out of here and back to the Normandy. We’ll find another way off this station.” She said to Cortez.

“Roger that. Good luck ma’am.” Cortez replied before the channel went dead. Hearing all this, Cycle was already getting on comms with Kahlee.

“This is Cycle to Director Sanders.” He stated. “The students are safe for now, but our original exfil route is a no-go now.”

“Understood. I might know another way off the station, but I need station-wide camera access.” Kahlee replied back to the group before explaining part of her plan. “Can someone disable the Cerberus security override? It’s routed through Orion Hall, so it should be nearby.”

“I’ll take care of the problem.” EDI said to Shepard before she left with both Dempsey and Cycle tagging along. With this, it gave the Commander a chance, if rushed, to catch up with one of her former squad members.

As EDI and the two Rangers worked to find the Cerberus override, Dempsey was already on comms. “Director, it’s Sergeant Dempsey. How does camera access get us off this station?” he asked.

“We need to reach the Cerberus shuttles.” Kahlee explained. “Their cruiser won’t auto-target friendly ships, which gives us a fighting chance. Get me back the cameras, and I’ll find a path to the shuttles that’ll keep Cerberus from boxing you guys in.” With an understand of why this needed to be done, the two clone troopers and AI did a quick sweep of Orion Hall, before they found a portable terminal that was flashing away, revealing where the Cerberus Override was. As EDI got to work on shutting it down, something caught Cycle’s attention. Next to the terminal was a datapad which wasn’t locked. Once he picked it up, he briefly skimmed through what it was showing before there was a word that caught his eye.

“Hey, Sarge. Wasn’t there a student named ‘Prangley’?” Cycle asked his squad leader.

“Er, why?” Dempsey replied.

“Take a look at this, sir.” Cycle said whilst showing the datapad. Having a quick look, Dempsey realised what was on the datapad.

“Damn… I’ll show this to the Commander.” He said, taking the datapad with him, while Cycle stayed with EDI in order to coordinate with Kahlee.

Just as Shepard had finished asking Jack how valuable the students were in regards to their biotics, Dempsey walked up to the duo.

“Commander, Cycle’s just found some Cerberus intel, revealing they have a priority target.” He stated to both women, before he looked squarely at Jack. “Do you have a student named ‘Prangley’?”

“Of course.” Jack replied, sounding somewhat annoyed at the question. “Why?”

“He’s the priority target – or at least one of them.” Dempsey said before he held the datapad in front of him to read it. “High Priority Target. Student ID: 12-5D-Prangley. Status: Capture Priority ALPHA. Bring back alive at all costs. Vital retrieval subject due to high-level biotic abilities paired with high leadership scores. Considered prime candidate for indoctrination and high-level enhancements for subsequent long-term infiltration relocation.”

This resulted in Jack suddenly looking pissed. Thankfully, it wasn’t at Dempsey.

“At least now we have a slightly better idea of what does Cerberus hope to gain from this.” Shepard replied, hoping to get Jack to focus once more on getting off the station.

“And at least I now have another reason to tear into these Cerberus assholes.” Jack growled, doing her best to keep her anger in check but struggling. It was clear to both Shepard and Dempsey that she wanted to be turned loose on the Cerberus forces here. Before anyone could do a thing, Cycle and EDI returned from their small task.

“Sarge. Commander. We’ve got a way out of here.” Cycle stated to his commanders. “According to Director Sanders, our fastest way off the station is through the Atrium.”

“Good work guys.” Krystina said to the both of them before she looked back to Jack.

“Jack, get your students ready to move. We’re getting out of here.” As Jack left to link back up with her students, Dempsey was already looking towards his Rangers. “Ready up guys. We’ve got more bastards to kill.” He yelled out.

While Jack was rallying her students, EDI and Cycle led the group down to the door underneath where the students were holed up earlier. Seeing that the door was slightly open because they had disabled the magnetic locks earlier, but nowhere big enough to allow even EDI to squeeze through, Shepard, Dempsey and Brass grabbed hold of what door edges they could get before they pulled hard enough to allow the automated system to start up again. As this happened, Jack brought her students down to the group.

“Everyone, be ready.” Shepard called out to Jack class. “My team and the Rangers will go in first and draw their fire.”

“We’ll shadow you guys from the second level and hit those fu… those guys from above.” Jack called out, with her actually holding back on the swearing – something that caught both Shepard’s and Dempsey’s interest.

“A good strategy that protects the students from direct fire.” EDI commented on Jack’s intentions.

“Agreed.” Dempsey replied, throwing in his two cents as well. “The last thing we need is civilians getting killed in the crossfire.”

With this, Shepard looked back to Jack and her students. “Just time your shots, and stay safe.” She called out to the students.

“Alright, I didn’t bust my ass training you so you could die now.” Jack stated, showing some of her new-found skills as a leader of her own. “Keep low. Pick your targets.” However, before anyone could say or do anything, all of the students omni-tools started lighting up, as the Cerberus Commander was sending them a direct message.

“Students of Grissom Academy, the station is sealed.” He began to say to everyone in the room in a blatant attempt to demoralise them. “The Alliance soldiers and their allies cannot save you. All they can do is get you killed. Surrender peacefully, and you won’t be harmed.”

“Oh for… can we tell this jackass to go sit on a landmine?!” Dempsey called out in annoyance as he recognised the voice from the propaganda that was being spread out the station earlier.

“Yeah. He’s an asshole alright Sergeant.” Jack remarked with a smirk on her lips, agreeing with the veteran Ranger’s comments, to which he nodded his head in response.

“Damn it, they’re messaging everyone.” Kahlee stated over comms to the group. “Students, switch your omni-tools to privacy mode so they can’t track you.” As the students started doing this, Rodriguez was suddenly looking uneasy.

“What if… what if they’re not lying?” she asked her friends, which started to have them question the exact same thing.

“You’ve already held your own against Cerberus.” Krystina called out, hoping to buck up their morale. “You’ve been trained for this by one of the best.”

Seeing this, Jack followed Shepard’s lead. “Come on, Rodriguez. They’re only asking nicely since you scared ’em in that last fight.” She said to Rodriguez. “So take your balls out of your purse… and kick some ass.” This did the trick.

“Yes, ma’am.” Rodriguez replied, her confidence having now returned. With that, Shepard ordered the Rangers and her squad through the doorway while Jack led her students upstairs.

Quickly making their way through the hallway, Shepard’s group was in, they entered the Atrium, upon which they all saw that Cerberus had a decent presence here, back up with an Atlas Mech – which forced them to leg it in order to find solid cover that prevent them from getting targeted by the Atlas’ Mass Accelerator Cannon.

“Crap, another Atlas Mech in play, Commander!” Dempsey yelled out from his cover, just as a few Assault Troopers started to fire in their direction.

“Garrus, EDI and I can take out the Atlas, Dempsey. You and your Rangers focus on the Troopers for now.” Shepard ordered the Sergeant whilst she and Garrus switched out to their Black Widows.

“Copy That, Commander!” Dempsey yelled back before opening fire with his DC-15S.

With that, the Rangers started to engage the Cerberus Troopers from both cover and at range due to the Atlas Mech. While the Rangers had spread out a bit, Jarbed hung around with Shepard’s squad, partly so he had the distance to engage with his Valken-38x and also to provide some cover fire for Krystina while she, Garrus and EDI teamed up against the Mech, with EDI and Garrus stripping the shields of the piloted mech before he and Shepard moved to demolish it due to the combination of both the sheer penetrating power of the Black Widows and Armour-Piercing Rounds. During this, Jarbed noticed an odd pulse coming from a pylon that was on the top level surrounding an Assault Trooper that was part of a group engaging Dempsey, Brass and Ryen.

“Guys, I’m seeing some weird pulse surround an Assault Trooper. Anyone know what it is?” Jarbed called out to Shepard, Garrus and EDI, before all four were forced to flinch due to a missile hitting nearby. Within seconds, both Shepard and Garrus were again engaging the Atlas Mech, while EDI took the chance to see what Jarbed was talking about. Due to the fact that Cerberus were the ones who created EDI, she had her answer in seconds.

“They are a shield pylon.” EDI explained. “They are designed to provide extra shielding to any friendly units that are close enough to them.”

“Any way to shut them down?” Jarbed inquired.

“The pylons themselves are delicate.” EDI continued on. “Either destroying the pylon itself or it’s power generator will shut them off.”

“Got it.” Jarbed replied before taking a peak from his cover, and saw the top of the pylon itself. While he couldn’t see the power generator for it, it wasn’t an issue, so with that, he leaned out of cover, lined up the pylon in his rifle’s scope and fired off 4 shots in rapid succession before the pylon was destroyed in a small explosion.

“About time someone figured out how to take out those pylons.” Dempsey called out over comms. “Quick thinking, Jarbed.”

“You can thank EDI, Sarge.” Jarbed replied back while venting the heat out of his rifle. “All I did was point and shoot.”

Just as Jarbed finished speaking, the Atlas Mech finally exploded, making it easier for everyone to move out of cover and engage much easier.

Not long after the Mech was taken out, Jack and her students were in position above the group, giving them an overhead view of the entire Atrium.

“Shepard, up here!” she called out to the Commander.

“You ready for action?” Krystina called out as she was swapping out a heat sink for her M-96 Mattock.

“Hell, yes!” Jack replied before she told the students to engage. Within seconds, all of the students along with Jack were throwing out some potent biotic attacks – mostly Pull – which made targeting the Cerberus Troopers that much easier. Throughout the whole fight, Jack was not holding back on her taunts with the Cerberus forces, something that amused the Rangers.

“Come on, we can go through the side door.” Garrus pointed out to Krystina and the Rangers once the last Cerberus Trooper was killed. As Shepard led her group to the marked door, Jack led her students to the other side of the Atrium in preparation for a Cerberus counter-strike. Once in the door, the group slowly made their way through the hallway.

“Kahlee, we’re in the Atrium.” Shepard stated over comms, finally being able to let Kahlee know where they were due to the firefight.

“Copy. I’m taking a back route to the shuttles; I’ll meet you guys there!” Kahlee replied over the comm channel before it went dead. During this, Dempsey noticed another datapad lying on a bench. “

What have we here…” he said to himself before he realised what was on it.

“Jack. It’s Sergeant Dempsey. You out there?” he called out over the comms, drawing Shepard’s attention.

“What is it?” Jack replied over comms.

“Just found another datapad with a Cerberus mission brief.” Dempsey stated.

“Another High-Value target brief?” Shepard asked.

“More like a mission overview, Commander.” The veteran Sergeant stated before he started reading from the datapad. “Listen to this Jack. It’s saying the High-Priority Targets are Prangley and Rodriguez. Other Students are to be retrieved alive if possible. If unavoidable, bring back bodies for use as genetic-testing material. Long story short; Prangley and Rodriguez are needed alive, but don’t care whether the rest are brought back, dead or alive.”

“Does it say why they want Rodriguez too?” Jack replied, doing her best to stay calm in front of her students.

“Doesn’t say here, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t find another datapad with her HVT brief.” Dempsey replied, but he wasn’t finished yet. “Also, do you know anyone named ‘Subject Zero’?”

There was a few seconds of silence over the comms before a reply came through. “… That’s what those Cerberus assholes use to call me when they experimented on me back on Pragia when I was a kid.” Jack respond, with the anger rising even further. “Why?”

Addendum to Original Brief: Subject Zero is to be retrieved for further testing and possible conditioning. Current psyche profile indicates that holding students hostage likely to be most successful tactic.” Dempsey replied, reading off the rest of the message. “Sounds like they want you back.”

“And I’m going to make damned sure that won’t happen!” Jack replied, more pissed then ever.

“Easy Jack.” Shepard responded in a firm tone, doing what she could to help Jack keep her head straight. “Focus on staying alive and getting both yourself and the students out of here in once piece. Also, given Cerberus’ interest in you, Prangley and Rodriguez, you three better stay close to one another until were out.”

“Understood, Shepard.” Jack replied before the channel went dead. With that, Dempsey ditched the datapad as Shepard’s group continued onwards.

“Nice one, Prangley!” Jack called out to him for successfully killing another Combat Engineer, which was the first thing Shepard, Garrus, EDI and the Rangers heard when they came out of the hallway to the other end of the Atrium. This time round, due to the layout, there was less cover to work with, forcing the group to bunch up behind what cover they could get. To compound the problem, the Cerberus troopers were starting to target the students themselves, with their barriers starting to take a beating.

“This ain’t dodgeball, Rodriguez! Keep your damn barriers up!” Jack called out to the ensign. However, it wasn’t long before she took a round.

“Damn it, Rodriguez. I told you to watch your barriers!” Jack called out again, scolding the student. “Prangley, slap some medi-gel on her!”

“I’m Okay!” Rodriguez called out, revealing that the shot was non-lethal.

“Like hell you are! Stay down!” Jack countered. “If you die on me, I will kick your ass!”

During this, Shepard’s group was making ground with eliminating the Cerberus Troopers that were both in the Atrium and reinforcements that were dropping in. However it was compounded due to the number of Combat Engineers that were deploying their Turrets, forcing the group to stay in cover until they stopped firing for cooldown procedures.

“You come after my kids? You are dead, you hear me?!” Jack called out to the Cerberus Troopers that were still in the atrium.

“You heard her, Rangers. Put them down!” Dempsey yelled out before killing a Centurion that had his shields stripped thanks to EDI. It would take about 8 minutes to eliminate all Cerberus forces that were in the Atrium.

“Everyone ok up there?” Shepard called out to Jack.

“Rodriguez took one in the arm… because she didn’t watch her barrier!” Jack replied as she led her students onwards.

“Keep going, we’ll see you guys at the shuttles!” Dempsey called out as Shepard led Garrus, EDI and the Rangers to an open doorway.

“Commander. I’ve reached the Cerberus shuttles without being detected.” Kahlee called out over comms. “They know what we’re doing though. You need to hurry.”

“Understood. We’ll see you soon.” Shepard replied before the channel went dead.

Once through the door, the group continued onwards through another hallway.

“Damn it. All units, fall back to the shuttle bay!” The Cerberus Commander called out over the PA system again, confirming what Kahlee told them earlier. After passing through another door, the group made their way towards another walkway where they could hear the voice of another Cerberus trooper.

“That’s an impressive shield, Octavia. Our files say you’ve been working on shield technology.” The Trooper said. Once the group rounded the corner, they all could see that an Assault Trooper and a Combat Engineer were talking to three students – two male, one female – that were inside a domed energy shield, with the shield generator in the middle. It was clear that the shield could take anything Cerberus had, so they had resorted to trying to coaxing them to shut down the generator in order to grab them.

“It’s a handheld multicore solution based on cyclonic barrier technology, jackhole.” Octavia responded, clearly not buying what the Assault Trooper was dishing out. “And it’s pronounced ‘Oc-tah-via’.”

“Why don’t you come out peacefully?” The Assault Trooper asked.

“Why don’t you bite me?” Octavia responded in turn.

“Your cousin Joanna is already on the shuttle, Octavia. Don’t you want to make sure she’s safe?” The Assault Trooper countered, seeing if this tactic would work. After a few seconds, Octavia had her response. “Bring her here.”

“What?” The Assault Trooper replied, startled by this demand.

“Bring her here so I can see her, you damn liar!” Octavia continued. “You think I’m gonna take your word for it?” It was clear to Shepard that while the students were smart enough to know that Cerberus was lying, it was also clear that they were scared out of their wits – well two of them were.

During the whole exchange, Shepard directed the group to find cover and stay hidden in order to get the drop on the two Cerberus Troopers. As soon as the dialogue was finished, she gave the order for EDI to drop the shields on the Combat Engineer before she and Garrus dropped the two troopers with clean headshots. Seeing all this playout in front of them didn’t do much to allay the students fears.

“I don’t know who you are, but stay back!” Octavia called out. Once the group walked up to the shield, it became clear that the two male students were working on the shield generator to keep it working, with one working off his omni-tool, while Octavia had her omni-tool pointed towards the group, either providing power to the shields or primed for a tech attack.

“I’m Commander Shepard with the Alliance. We’re here to help you.” Shepard stated in a calm manner, with everyone having their weapons lowered to help prove they were there to help. This didn’t do anything.

“I didn’t buy it from the last guy, and I’ve got no reason to buy it now.” Octavia replied, still scared. At this point, the male student kneeling on the floor spoke up.

“The square root of 906.01 equals…” he asked. To everyone in the room, it meant nothing. But to Shepard, along with EDI and Garrus for that matter, they knew only one person who said that.

“30.1… David.” Krystina replied back in a calm tone.

With that, David Archer looked up towards the group.

“Hello, Commander Shepard.” David responded. This drew a surprised look from both Octavia and the other male student, Isaac. “David. You know her?” he asked in surprise.

“Yes. She rescued me from Cerberus. Sent me here. She made it quiet.” David replied back in a simplistic way.

With this, it was more than enough to convince both Isaac and Octavia that Shepard was indeed here to help, so with that, Isaac deactivated the shield generator.

“You’ve all did a great job keeping yourselves safe guys.” Dempsey said to the three students whilst removing his helmet, showing his somewhat scruffy hair and beard to Shepard. “The biotic students are one level up. Stay close to them and they will get you out safe.”

“And you are…?” Octavia asked, not out of hostility unlike earlier, but curiosity.

“Sergeant Dempsey, 115th Ranger Squad, 501st Clone Legion.” Dempsey replied. “

Ok. Uh… thanks.” Octavia replied, sounding relieved that this was almost over. However, while she and Isaac left, David stayed behind briefly, looking at Shepard’s squad.

“He looks much healthier.” EDI remarked.

“And better.” Garrus also said, given the fact how both of them saw how bad David looked like when they first met him – even more so for Garrus when he first saw David in the main research room (though both Garrus and Krystina believe otherwise) inside Atlas Station back on Aite after the rogue Human/VI Hybrid was stopped.

“I remember you. Both of you.” David stated, directing this at both EDI and Garrus. “The Normandy Computer, and Normandy crew.” He then looked downwards briefly before saying “Sorry.”

“It was never your fault.” Garrus stated.

“No apology is necessary.” EDI replied as well.

“Has Grissom Academy been alright?” Shepard asked calmly, wanting to ensure that nothing bad had happened to David since rescuing him from Cerberus.

“Yes.” David replied, again in a simplistic tone, catching Dempsey’s attention. “I’ve been counting.”

“Anything in particular?” Krystina asked, now in a more cheerful tone.

“The number of days you all lengthened my life.” David replied before looking towards the Security Room behind him. “The Security Office. I hacked the lock. Guns. Lots of guns. Goodbye.”

However, before he could leave with the rest of the students, Shepard stopped him.

“Wait.” She said, before she fished out something from a pouch on her belt before handing it to David. As soon as he saw what was given to him, he started smiling.

“Thank you.” David said in a more happier tone.

“Before you leave.” Shepard said, before she looked towards Dempsey. “I want to ask a favour from you Dempsey.”

“Name it.” Dempsey said without hesitation.

“I want one of your Rangers to go with David.” Shepard asked. “Stay with him to ensure that Cerberus doesn’t get close to David. Also, link up with Jack and her students in order to provide some fire support.”

“Given the fact that they are up one level, I know just who.” Dempsey said before looking at his Marksman. “Jarbed, you’re pulling escort duty.”

“On it Sarge.” Jarbed replied, retrieving his Valken-38x before priming it.

“Jarbed. Stay close to David here.” Shepard ordered the Ranger Marksman. “Make sure he gets out with the others.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jarbed said before he indicated for David to stay close, with both leaving through the doorway to their right.

“I don’t mean to pry, but what did you give David?” Dempsey asked as he moved to put his helmet back on.

“Earplugs.” Krystina replied, which drew a look from Dempsey.

“Er… why?” Dempsey inquired, not sure what was the reason why the Commander did this.

“David is both a mathematical savant and also autistic.” Shepard explained. “Anyone who is autistic struggle with loud noises, thus the earplugs.”

“That kinda makes sense.” Dempsey said, now understanding the gesture. “Even more so due to the fact we still have to fight our way off this station.” With that, the group made their way forward to the Security Office to see what David unlocked for them.

Once a quick sweep was done in the Security Office, which netted a Sniper Rifle Piercing Mod, a few extra M-96 Mattocks and also a couple of M-22 Eviscerator Shotguns, Shepard’s group now made it’s way onwards to the Docking Bay. During the walk up, there wasn’t anything of note, apart from some schematics for biotic amp interfaces that was recovered. While Shepard said it wasn’t as advanced as what was available right now, it could still prove useful later. Just before the stairway leading to the main foyer next to the Docking Bay, there was an empty Atlas Mech along with a Combat Engineer reading a datapad. At his suggestion, Dempsey had everyone hold back while he crept forward to silently take out the Engineer.

Well, at least, that was the plan.

As soon as he got close to the Engineer, he inadvertently trod on broken glass, drawing the Engineer’s attention. “They’re here!” the Engineer called out, trying to go for his M-5 Phalanx. While he succeeded in grabbing the pistol, Dempsey was on him in seconds, knocking it out of his hands. With no immediate weapons, the Engineer tried to take a swing at the veteran EVO Trooper, but this was shoved to the side as Dempsey used the Engineer’s weight in the punch to throw him off-balance. This succeeded in having the Engineer stumble forward a bit before Dempsey delivered a swift kick to the Engineer’s legs, making him fall to the deck. As soon as the Engineer was about half-way getting back on his feet, Dempsey had the trooper in a headlock before swiftly turning the Engineer’s head hard to the right, snapping his neck, thus killing him.

“I’ve gotta be honest here Sarge.” Brass said as the rest of the group made their way to Dempsey. “That was your worst.”

“Yeah, I though I’d missed the glass on the floor.” Dempsey replied back before he made his way over to the dropped datapad and took a quick read of it. Seeing what was on it, he was already on comms with Jack.

“Jack, it’s Dempsey. We’ve found why Rodriguez is an HVT.” He stated.

“What’s the reason?” Jack replied, sounding a little worn out.

High Priority Target. Student ID: 26-2B-Rodriguez. Status: Capture Priority ALPHA. Bring back alive at all costs. Vital retrieval subject due to very high aptitude scores. Despite limited biotic ability, considered prime candidate for indoctrination and enhancement under the Phantom initiate.” Dempsey said. “I’m hoping she still there?”

“Yeah. Both Prangley and Rodriguez are staying close to me.” Jack replied, just as soon as gunshots and bullet ricochets could be heard over the comms. “That being said, Cerberus is also here, so step on it!”

“We almost there, standby!” Dempsey replied before killing the comms and getting his DC-15S off his backpack.

“Hey, Commander. Can you drive this?” Cycle asked as he was taking the chance to take a close look at an Atlas Mech.

“Sure thing.” Krystina replied as she made her way over to the Mech. “Dempsey, I’ll pilot the Mech. You lead everyone else behind me.”

“Roger that, Commander.” Dempsey responded before Shepard climbed up to the cockpit, sat down and had the canopy close in front of her. Once all systems were online, she turned the Mech around and went forwards towards the Docking Bay.

Inside the main waiting area of the Docking Bay, everyone could see that there wasn’t much cover to speak of save for the main support pillars, a couple of benches and one decent sized statue in the middle of the waiting bay which was dedicated to the famed Systems Alliance hero Rear Admiral Jon Grissom, who was the namesake of the station they were on and who also recently passed away. Because of the amount of Cerberus soldiers in the waiting area, they were giving all kinds of grief to Jack, Prangley and Rodriguez, who were inside another biotic sphere that Jack was holding up. Even Jarbed was having troubles due to amount of rounds that were striking nearby. To compound the problem, at first, Jack and Jarbed saw another Atlas Mech coming their way, until they saw it firing on the Cerberus Troopers that were present, before they saw Shepard piloting it, revealing that they now had serious firepower on their end.

“There’s the shuttle! Head over two-by-two!” Jack order the students that had gathered nearby. “Prangley, Rodriguez. Stay close!”

With that, the students slowly made their way over, with Jarbed coordinated with the students on when to move out. Had Shepard not commandeered the Atlas, it would have been a lot tougher for everyone to hold the line with the amount of Cerberus Troopers that were coming after them.

“Someone take out those damned biotics!” the Cerberus Commander ordered his men, at this point believing that the amount of soldiers they were loosing wasn’t worth trying to bring Jack, Prangley and Rodriguez in alive.

The fighting would continue for another few more minutes and despite trying everything they could, Cerberus was struggling to get past the firepower that Jack, Prangley, Rodriguez, Garrus, EDI, the Rangers and Shepard were putting up, so in a last ditch option, they decided to try and even the odds.

“Commander, another Atlas Mech inbound!” Dempsey called out over comms, alerting Shepard to the situation.

“I’m on it.” Krystina replied before moving into position. Coming up the same stairway the group did earlier, the Second Atlas Mech appeared out of a smokescreen, this one piloted by an Assault Trooper. As soon as the Mech was in sight, Shepard fired off a missile at the hostile Atlas, which hit it’s mark – damaging it, but not destroying it.

“The Shuttles are almost ready!” Kahlee called out over comms.

“Can you step on it, Director? We’ve got serious fire incoming!” Dempsey responded to this as Shepard was now playing cat-and-mouse with the hostile Mech. Using the pillars for cover, both mechs were trying to outflank one another to get a shot in, be either Mass Accelerator Cannon or Missile Launcher. In an odd way, it was like proper tank warfare in a way.

“Come on, Shepard. Put that fucking asshole in the ground!” Dempsey called out after killing another Centurion once his shields were dropped.

It would take another two more minutes, but in the end, Shepard would emerge victorious with the hostile Atlas exploding due to it’s overloading core. At the same time, Jarbed dropped the last Guardian in the room. “Room’s clear!” he called out to everyone.

"Okay, were clear! Move your ass before backup arrives!” Jack called out to what students that hadn’t made their way to the Kodiak. Once everyone else had crossed over, Jack, Prangley and Rodriguez moved out in the same direction, with Kahlee following close behind. Bringing up the rear was David and Jarbed, with the Marksman making sure he was the last one across. While this was going on, Shepard was clambering out of her Atlas Mech. Due to the fact that there was no way they were going to be able to carry it on the Kodiak, she was going to have to abandon it here.

“Everyone ok?” she asked her group.

“A couple of scratches here and there.” Garrus replied back. “Nothing medi-gel can’t fix up.”

“Hurry, Commander!” Kahlee called out to the group over comms. “The Normandy has pulled the cruiser out of position. We need to leave now!”

“Copy. We’re on our way!” Krystina replied before directing her group to the way out.

Once all reunited, the group made their way to the Cerberus Kodiak. “Kahlee. How’s it coming?” Shepard asked whilst watching the hallway with some of the Rangers to ensure everyone made it.

“Shuttles are unlocked!” Kahlee replied whilst working on a terminal to get the shuttles primed and ready to go due to the fact that Cerberus’ Kodiaks used VIs instead of actual pilots. As soon as the cargo doors were opened, the students started to climb aboard, with some of the Rangers helping them in.

“Good.” Krystina responded, starting to sound relieved. “Take the controls, and let’s get everyone aboard!” However, just as Shepard and the remaining stragglers were making their way to the Kodiak, Jack spotted something amiss.

“Wait! Where the hell’s Rodriguez?!” she called out suddenly, whilst looking around franticly.

“I see her!” Ryen yelled out as he was pointing back to the waiting area. Somehow, Rodriguez got separated from the group and was now being chased down by three Assault Troopers, firing at her. As she made her way to the benches that provided her some, if very limited, cover, Shepard, Jack, Dempsey and Ryen ran towards the window in front of the student.

“She needs covering fire!” Shepard exclaimed as she started to bash the window with the butt of her M-96 Mattock, while Dempsey and Ryen blasted away with their DC-15Ss.

“She’s going to need more than that!” Jack called out as she was charging up her biotics. Realising what she had in mind, Shepard and the two Clone EVO Troopers quickly got out of the way as Jack let off a very power Throw attack, shattering the window and also knocking out the three Assault Troopers. With the way clear, Shepard and Ryen moved to get Rodriguez while Dempsey moved to put a few blaster bolts into the Assault Troopers. Once Rodriguez was on her feet again with Shepard and Ryen supporting her, everyone started to make their way to the Kodiak as more Cerberus troopers closed in. However, none of them were fast enough for everyone managed to get on board the Kodiak before it’s door closed up and the shuttle took off.

Inside the shuttle, it was a tight fit due to how many were on board. Because of the fact that the fighting was now over, all the Rangers removed their helmets, revealing to the students, Kahlee and Jack why they were known as ‘Clones’.

“Joker, we flew out on a commandeered Cerberus shuttle. Watch your fire.” Krystina stated to her helmsman over comms.

“Right, I’ve got you guys on sensors. Should just be a minute.” Joker replied over the shuttle’s comms.

“Joker, it’s Dempsey. Have Kix and the Doc on standby to give everyone a quick sweep for injuries.” The Sergeant also called out over the comms.

“Copy that, Dempsey. We’ll see you guys soon.” Joker said before killing the channel.

“Thank you Commander. We’d have never gotten off that station if you hadn’t come.” Kahlee said to Shepard, sounding a little fatigued.

“F… Forget that. We kicked some ass.” Jack countered, definitely sounding worn out for the fighting, before looking at her students. “Next place we dock, you’re all getting inked. My treat.” Taking a chance to catch her breath, Jack continued on. “What do you guys want? Ascension Project Logo? Glowing fist? Maybe a unicorn for Rodriguez…?” This earned a small laugh out of some of the students, Rodriguez included.

“Screw you, ma’am!” she countered.

“I’m not a fan of tats, but that does sound like something that would fit you kid.” Brass said, which earned another round of laughs from the group, Jack and Krystina included.

“I can’t believe we got them out alive.” Kahlee stated, bringing the conversation back to a serious note. “I was originally going to suggest that they stick to support roles. But perhaps they are ready after all.”

This had Shepard and Jack looking at one another, for during their brief catch up back in Orion Hall, Jack said to Shepard that while they were training for an offensive role, Jack felt that the students weren’t up to par for that without incurring serious losses, so she felt that her students were more fitted for a support role. And with the look in Jack’s eyes, Shepard could tell that she was reminding her of this talk. With that, Krystina made her call.

“They are definitely ready… but the Alliance needs them in a support role.” She stated. However this didn’t go down well with everyone.

“What? We trained for artillery strikes!” Prangley stated, not happy with what Shepard had just said.

“We don’t need another artillery unit.” Krystina responded. “What we need is stronger barriers for our front-line squads.”

“This is bullshit!” Rodriguez called out, also not liking the call.

“Hey, if that’s where they need us, that’s where we go.” Jack countered, putting an end to the discussion. “Besides, I’m sure we’ll get some shots in.” At this point, the shuttle’s comms flared up again.

“Commander, we’ve got a visual on you now. Preparing to dock.” Joker called out, before he turned his attention to Jack. “Hey, Jack, now that you’re military, you gonna wear a uniform? Or are you just getting the Officer’s bars tattooed on?”

“Screw you, f… Flight Lieutenant.” Jack started to reply but once again, she held back. This time, it didn’t go unnoticed.

“Uh… what the hell was that?” Joker asked, not sure he was hearing things right.

“Even I’ve noticed this. What’s the deal?” Dempsey asked, for he could tell that she had a habit of mouthing off to anyone, if her personality was anything to go by. Here, Kahlee decided to reveal what was what.

“Jack promised to watch her language in order to maintain the necessary professionalism we need from our teachers.” She explained with some humour in her voice.

“Serious?” Dempsey asked, also with some humour in his voice.. “Back on Kamino in our galaxy, our Mandalorian Instructors didn’t hold back on the language. That how many of us clone troopers picked up our insults.”

“What, does she have a swear jar or something?” Joker continued on. “Because I’m pretty sure if we emptied that, we could afford another cruiser.” At this point, enough was enough.

“Cover your ears, kids.” Jack told the students before she let rip with one sentence loaded with expletives – all aimed at Joker.

40 minutes later

Quantum Entanglement Communications room, War Room, Deck 2.

Once the shuttle had landed, Dr. Chakwas and Kix were waiting for the group down in the Cargo Bay. After the check-up was completed by the two medical experts, everyone went their separate ways. After taking the chance to grab something to eat and a chance to clean up, Shepard went down to the Communications room on Deck two along with Jesse and Dempsey. The reason being was that, for the first time since the Invasion of Earth, Anderson was available to talk. After keying in the incoming transmission, Anderson’s image faded in on the QEC. The last time Shepard saw the venerable Admiral back in Vancouver Bay, he was in his dress blues, dirtied and damaged due to the Reaper fire that came into the conference room back in Vancouver. Now, he was kitted up in fatigues similar to what Alliance crewmembers wore, with the difference being added knee pads, reinforced chest plate which had ammo pouches added, an ammo belt, reinforced epaulettes alongside a field cap showing his rank and also a comms piece in his right ear.

“Shepard. Damned if you aren’t a sight for sore eyes.” He stated once the transmission was secure and stable.

“Good to see you too, sir.” Krystina responded.

“‘Sir?’ I may have reinstated you, but that doesn’t give you permission to go all formal on me.” Anderson stated in a humorous way to his former XO. Fine, two could play at that game.

“Fine. Then I’m glad you managed to keep your ass alive, Anderson.” Shepard countered. It was clear to Dempsey and Jesse that there was no way that would happen if they hadn’t known each other for a long time.

“That’s more like it.” Anderson replied, sounding content with what Shepard said in response to his intent. “Looks like you didn’t waste time getting to work. Even more so due to what Hackett told me about some new unique allies helping us in the war.” It was clear that he was addressing the two Clone Troopers that were there.

“Indeed we are, Admiral.” Jesse replied back. “I’m ARC Captain ARC-5597, or ‘Jesse’. I’m in command of the 501st Normandy Battle Group. To the Commander’s right is Sergeant CT-91-0650, or ‘Dempsey’. He’s the leader of the 115th Ranger Squad.” While Jesse was introducing him to Anderson, Dempsey saluted the flag officer.

“Me and my Rangers helped Shepard and her crew with the recent evacuation Grissom Academy.” Dempsey stated with certainty in his voice.

“And with that, I congratulate you all for the victory.” Anderson responded. “I can only imaging what would’ve happen to those kids if they’d fallen into Cerberus hands.”

“Well, they’re definitely eager to help.” Krystina said regarding how they reacted when they found out they were going into battle as a support unit.

“These students are some of the best humanity has to offer… and we’re throwing them into battle.” Anderson replied, annoyed at the present situation. “Goddamn it, I hate this war.” However, before continue on, he had a question he needed to ask. “Hackett didn’t mention in his report…” It was clear to Shepard what Anderson was going to ask.

“Kahlee Sanders is safe. She’s with the recruits.” She said. This brought some relief to the long-serving Admiral.

“Thanks, Shepard.” Anderson replied back. “When I heard about the attack… Well, I’ve already lost a lot of friends.”

“Also, she told me to tell you to… ‘stay alive.” Shepard continued on. This earnt a small chuckle from Anderson. “Did she now? Well…” he said with a smirk on his lips. “Thanks, Shepard. That might be the first bit of good news I’ve heard this week.”

“Good luck down there on Earth, Admiral.” Jesse stated to Anderson with a salute.

“Same to you out there, Captain. Anderson Out.” He said, before the image faded out, terminating the transmission.

From this, Dempsey and Jesse went their separate ways. Krystina however took a quick chance to catch up on new reports that had come in on the War Terminal. One of the big ones was that thanks to the efforts of the Alliance and the 501st Legion in Operation: STORMBREAKER and also Diana’s documentary from Phoenix Base, this actually resulted in a large contingent of first-generation Phoenix Operatives actually defecting from Cerberus and joining the Alliance. Although surprising, it was a welcomed one. Following this, the Commander made her way to her terminal next to the galaxy map, but not before offering Samantha congratulations on finding out about Grissom Academy in the first place. Sure enough, Major Gaskin had sent an email to Shepard explaining how effective Diana’s report was, event to non-human audiences. Regarding the Phoenix Operatives, he stated that every single one had been screened and evaluated, with those having been exposed to Reaper tech pulled from the contingent, with those who were clean, at Hackett’s suggestion, sent to the SSV Isaac Newton to join the ranks of the N7 Special Ops.

Once the emails were caught up, a couple of new entries were added to the Spectre Terminal, one was regarding assigning room to students who escaped Grissom Academy who were not old enough to go on the front-lines in order to train and prepare for this, to which Shepard green-lighted this. The other was from another Spectre agent who helped instigate an uprising on the infamous world of Logasiri, known to being home of one of the most brutal slavery operations in the Milky Way.

With everything caught up, she took the chance to get everyone’s thought’s on the mission, with Joker being the most vocal about it, with him still mulling over how Jack was now an instructor, along with him remarking on due to Jack’s hatred of Cerberus, them assaulting the station was like ‘Christmas for her.’ This drew a small laugh from Shepard.

Following this, Krystina made sure to check up on Liara’s Broker Terminal for new info from across the galaxy, to which there was. Amongst the new feeds, there was two correspondent messages from Kahlee. One was for Jack, talking about new amps that were ready for use, with the other destined for Anderson, revealing more regarding the Director’s message to Anderson, and his response just now. Another one was regarding a QEC datafile covering a troubling meeting with members of the Union of Incorporated Nations (UNIN) regarding their best course of action with the Reapers, and one from a conspiracy league talking about something known as Task Force: Aurora and it’s connection to the Alliance. As for the rest of the Normandy, it was almost business as usual with the various crewmembers, marines and clone troopers performing their tasks, or trading either stories, combat strategies or cultural information between each other as they were still learning about the difference between both galaxies.

The exception to this was in the Portside Observation Deck. Inside was all of Jack’s students, finally unwinding after the ordeal of the Cerberus attack by either talking amongst themselves, enjoying their drinks or just relaxing. One student was busy doing something on the simulator that was next to the bar. Jack was here as well, who was busy giving Rodriguez her tattoo. Even some of the Rangers and also some of the other Clone Troopers were in here as well, with many of the students asking them about their lives and the differences between their galaxy and the Milky Way every now and again. Over at the Poker Table, Hardcase, Fives, Viper and Ember were playing a poker match between them, with Echo and Arcee watching. However, for some reason, David wasn’t in here.

After a quick look around Deck 3, Krystina found her answer – David was in the AI Core playing a game of chess against EDI’s mobile platform, something that she couldn’t help but smile at.

Chapter Text

Location: Dregir, Yangtze System, Voyager Cluster – Earth Systems Alliance Space.

Out in the Voyager Cluster, which was on the edge of Alliance Space and the Attican Traverse, Obi-wan was busy leading the 212th Naval Task Force, comprising of his flagship, Negotiator II, along with another Venator II-class Star Destroyer, Repulse, the three Victory II-class Star Destroyers Oracle, Gauntlet and Genesis, two Victory-class Star Destroyers Sabre and Redeemer, three Acclamator II-class Assault Ships Thunderbolt, Pioneer and Bulwark and 8 Arquitens-class Light Cruisers, out into this region of the Milky Way. Acting on after-action reports sent by Shepard in 2183 and recent intel from AIS, Obi-wan led his task force out here to see if there was still a Cerberus presence in this cluster.

Due to reports indicating that because the Voyager Cluster was on the edge of the Milky Way, yet still considered a part of Alliance Space, the cluster was filled with planets that were more or less deserted. Because of this, it allowed Cerberus to build a decent presence here. Despite Shepard’s intervention in the sector three years ago against the military wing of the organisation, AIS believed that Cerberus still had a decent presence in the cluster – especially given the fact that Shepard told the Alliance that the Normandy SR-2 was built in this region after she turned herself in.

However, what was not known was that the cluster, particularly the Yangtze System, was now serving as a staging ground for the Cerberus Navy – and this is what Obi-wan was now finding out the hard way.

Currently, the task force was busy engaging a Cerberus Battlegroup that was near the small barren world of Dregir, with the hostile fleet composed of 9 Elbrus-class cruisers, 6 Arcadia-class cruisers, 4 Gaza-class destroyers and 12 Boston-class frigates currently being led by a Minerva-class cruiser.

Switch to the Negotiator II’s bridge.

After recovering from another round of mass accelerator fire, Obi-wan, Cody, Nine and Cora were both observing and coordinating targeting solutions with the crews of the various ships that made up the 212th Naval Task Force.

“Status report!” Cora yelled out to the officers in the crew pits.

“We’ve been able to destroy 5 of their frigates, but so far, the Cerberus battle group is holding it’s own.” A female clone naval officer called out.

“Shields are down to 55% strength.” Another clone naval officer called out.

“Reroute power from auxiliary to compensate.” Obi-wan ordered, to which the officer complied.

“General, reports from the Thunderbolt indicate that their missile cruisers are manoeuvring into position for a broadside assault.” Nine reported once she finished talking to a naval lieutenant.

“Alert all of our ships to brace for incoming missiles.” Obi-wan stated to the XO of the 7th Sky Corps. Before anyone else could say anything, an alarm started to ring out.

“General, we’ve got enemy reinforcements coming out of hyperspace in Sector 4!” a clone trooper called out from the CIC.

Sure enough, a decent number of Cerberus warships arrived out of FTL. While they weren’t close enough yet, it was more than enough to tip the scales of the battle into Cerberus’ favour. Seeing this, Obi-wan and Cora made their way to the CIC in to get a better idea of what they were up against.

“What’s the strength of the enemy reinforcements?” the Grand Admiral asked to the mix of clone naval officers and Alliance officers that were the attached observers.

“From the looks of things, we’re possibly facing up against a whole Cerberus fleet.” One of the clone naval officers, Lieutenant Commander CC-771/2114 ‘Drift’, stated whist reconfiguring the holo-display to show the new fleet. “Looks like 40+ warships.”

After a few seconds, the display showed the strength of the new Cerberus Fleet that had arrived. “Damn… at least 15 Elbrus-class cruisers, 6 Centurion-class fleet carriers. All of which is being led by a single Adriatic-class dreadnought…” Alliance Staff Lieutenant Viviana Tower started to say, recognised the designs of the Cerberus ships thanks to an Intel report from AIS before her voice tailed off in surprised. “… holy shit, I’m seeing at least 3 Praetor-class carriers and a Pompeii-class Siege Dreadnought.”

“Not to mention there’s a Trafalgar-class dreadnought in amongst that fleet.” Cora pointed out with grim realisation. It became abundantly clear that this was a very potent Cerberus Fleet – and with that, Obi-wan had to make the call.

“Tell all ships to disengage and retreat from the system.” He stated with certainty in his voice.

“Are you asking us to turn tail and run?” Drift called out in surprise at Obi-wan’s orders.

“General Kenobi’s right.” Cora countered. “General Skywalker had difficulty dealing with the multiple numbers of boarding parties from one Praetor-class carrier back home over Eotis, so dealing with three of them is not ideal.”

“Not to mention that we’re dealing with a dreadnought equipped with nuclear warheads.” Viviana stated.

“Besides, the big issue we have is the Expedition Fleet doesn’t have the numbers to maintain a sustained naval engagement, not to mention that Alliance reinforcements will not arrive in time.” Cora also explained before she turned to the naval crewmembers. “Order all ships to turn hard 180 degrees in order to break off engagement and recall our fighters and bombers. Once clear and everyone is aboard, make the jump to lightspeed.”

Soon enough, all ships of the 212th Naval Task Force was turning about so that their engines were facing the Cerberus Fleet. After a few minutes, they all jumped to hyperspace. While some of the clones aboard didn’t like the idea of retreating from Cerberus, they were aware that they didn’t have the numbers to take casualties – especially in terms of crewmembers and ships, and given what Anakin reported in regarding what had happened to his 501st Naval Task Force, they were all aware that even with equal numbers on both sides, Cerberus had the firepower to cause some hefty damage, thus they were aware that for Obi-wan to make the call to fall back was the right one.

Besides, this was going to be a war of attrition, not a lightning strike – and they were determined to see it out.

Meanwhile in a different location…

Location: Citadel, Willow System, Serpent Nebular – Citadel Space.

Returning from an extensive sweep throughout the Terminus, Attican Travers, Systems Alliance Space and Inner Council Space over past few days, which resulted in recruiting and/or rescuing a fair bit of resources such as a pack of Triton ADS Mechs from the hanar colony of Belan out in the Eagle Nebular, Terminus Systems, which was devastated by an extrasolar comet designated ‘CR1331 Kingu’ which, while it didn’t hit the planet, passed close enough to cause massive tsunamis thanks to it disrupting tidal forces last year, extraction of turian Guard Captain Vidinos and his Spec Ops Team, which had proven themselves during the Taetrus Uprising, from Pinnacle Station in Argos Rho Cluster (along with Shepard recovering a hefty haul of credits from her apartment on Intai'sei that she won in a bet with Alliance Admiral Tadius Ahern when he was serving as Pinnacle Station’s commander back in 2183), extra forces for Aria out in the Terminus, advanced prototype biotic amps from the Ismar Frontier, and also successfully recovering the Book of Plenix and Pillars of Strength from Irune and Khar’shan respectively, Shepard decided to bring the Normandy back to the Citadel for resupply and to allow the crew some shore-leave, albeit for a short time, as they had practically hit the ground running since escaping Earth and meeting the Expedition Fleet on Mars about 2 weeks ago now.

However, while that was one reason, she had an ulterior motive; Not long after the events of Operation: DOOR KICKER, Krystina had received an email from Ashley. According to the message, she was recovering ok but did state that she was starting to go crazy given the fact that there was nothing for her to do – and that she was being considered to becoming humanity’s second Spectre Agent. With this, Shepard decided to see how her old friend was doing, so before arriving in their usual area of Docking Bay D24, Shepard arranged for a cab to ensure she arrived at the hospital shortly after the Normandy docked.

15 minutes later

Huerta Memorial Hospital, Presidium Ring.

Once arriving at Huerta Memorial again, Krystina made her way into the reception/waiting area. Here, she was able to find a doctor who was in need of medi-gel with improved absorption rates for aquatic species like hanar, to which Shepard turned over the samples she had recovered from the Cerberus lab on Sanctum whilst fighting alongside Bo-Katan. Taking the chance to look around, she could see numerous doctors, medical staff and patients here, but looking out the left side of the room, there was a drell in black clothing in the signature style for drell, doing exercises. To anyone, the drell would pass as another patient. However, to the Commander, she knew who it was. Despite using the alias of ‘Tannor Nuara’ in an email that Shepard received, the drell was none other than veteran assassin Thane Krios.

After Thane finished his recent exercise pattern, he turned back in order to head to a chair to sit down for a while where he saw none other than Krystina.

“Commander Shepard.” Thane stated, both surprised and somewhat relieved to see the veteran Commander standing in front of him. “When I heard Earth was under attack, I tried to call. I never got through.”

“Thane. It’s good to see you staying in shape.” Shepard responded, moving to shake Thane’s hand, to which he reciprocated.

“If you remember, Shepard, my disease kills slowly.” Thane stated, referring to the disease known as Kepral’s Syndrome, a bacterial respiratory disease that’s found only in drell today since arriving on the hanar homeworld of Kahje, a humid, Ocean World, following the hurried evacuation from their original homeworld, Rakhana, in the 1980s, due to the fact that the drell originated from an arid, Desert Planet. Once a drell is infected with the disease, it becomes a very slow path to an inevitable death. “With enough care, and a healthy lifestyle, it can be delayed for a few years. Of course, my allotted time has come and gone. Now I exercise because it pleases me.” Once he finished explaining, Thane asked why Shepard was here.

“I’m here visiting an old friend who got hurt protecting me and a few of my friends during a mission on Mars, Ashley.” Krystina simply stated, covering both the long and short.

“The dark-haired woman in intensive care.” Thane replied, revealing he knew who the Commander was talking about. “She will be starting physical therapy with my class soon.”

“Yep. That’s her.” Shepard replied. Here, Thane made an offer.

“If she means something to you, then I will help how I can.” He said. “As long as she is here, consider her under my protection.”

“I appreciate it, Thane.” Krystina stated, thanking him for this offer.

“I am near the end of my life. It’s a good time to be generous.” Thane simply remarked before he looked downwards. “Kepral’s Syndrome has put most of my other plans on hold.”

With that, the two moved to the seats that were close where they conversed for a few minutes. Most of the conversation was about Thane’s illness, specifically regarding how bad it was at the moment, which Thane explained what was going on, saying that the human equivalent would be haemoglobin, with the end result being that his blood was low in oxygen, and how long he had left, to which Thane did say that he was given only three months to live, but that was nine months ago, though he did say that it was freeing to no longer deal with any requirements placed on him (which was reminding Krystina of a unique quote from a British SAS commando from the early 21st Century).

However, when Shepard offered a chance for Thane to return to the Normandy, he outright refused due to the fact that at this point in time he needed daily medical care, even when she said that they could find some light work like being a combat instructor for the troops that were stationed on the frigate, and that he was at peace with what he had done in his life. With that, they then parted ways, but not before Thane said that his son, Kolyat, was visiting quite regularly and that they would keep in contact via the extranet.

Once finished with her quick catch-up with Thane, Shepard made her way to go through to the Inpatient Wing of the hospital to see Ashley, but not before stopping to by a copy of ‘The Collected Alfred Tennyson’ book, remembering very well that Ashley loved either reading, or quoting, poetry – especially from Tennyson.

However, once Shepard arrived in the Inpatient Wing, it became very clear that she wasn’t the only one who wanted to see the Lieutenant Commander.

“I’d like an answer, Lieutenant Commander.” Udina inquired with Ashley, still in the hospital bed and with her face still showing extensive bruises that she copped back on Mars. “The galaxy has need of exceptional soldiers like you, now more than ever.”

“I still need time.” Ashley replied, revealing that she was finally conscious for the first time since Mars. “You’ll have my answer soon, I promise.”

“I look forward to it.” Udina stated, finishing up the discussion very quickly before he started to make his way out the door – upon which, he saw Krystina.

“Shepard.” Udina said to the veteran Spectre before continuing on his way.

“Udina.” Shepard replied back, looking back at Humanity’s Councillor before she walked into Ashley’s room.

“I got your email. Made your decision yet?” she asked the veteran marine.

“On becoming a Spectre?” Ashley remarked. “Not yet. It’s an honour and all…” she continued on as Krystina moved to sit on a stool that was close by. “But… I don’t know. I need to think about it some more.”

“It’s a big decision. Smart to give it some though.” Shepard said. “At least you’re getting a chance to think about it unlike me.”

This earnt a small laugh out of Ashley. “True enough.” She replied, remembering on how Shepard was nominated to become humanity’s first Spectre Agent by veteran turian Spectre Nihlus Krykil back in 2183 when the Normandy SR-1 was just commissioned for service and, rather than getting the chance to think about it, she was – for lack of a better term – thrusted into the position once she had helped expose Saren as a traitor to the Council.

“Here. I picked this up for you.” Shepard said, giving Ashley the book that she purchased just before coming in. “Figured you had some down-time.”

“Thanks, that’s sweet.” Ashley said as she took a quick look through the poetry book. “I’ve been climbing the walls.”

“So, how are you doing?” Shepard asked, to which Ashley said she was good, all things considered. “The nurse said that you and a couple of the clone troopers we met on Mars checked in on me earlier.” Ashley continued saying. “Still out cold, I guess.”

“Yeah. They came with me to check on their commanders, Ahsoka and Rex, as they came up here with you when we first arrived.” Shepard explained. “They were up here getting their wounds they received on Mars looked at, before being discharged a short time later.”

“Before I forget, I’ve been seeing a few soldiers that look like the clone troopers that we encountered on Mars, but with red markings instead of blue.” Ashley then inquired, given the fact that she was out when the Expedition Fleet explained what their intentions were here in the Milky Way.

“Yeah. They are more clone troopers.” Shepard explained. “Clone Shock Troopers to be exact from a unit known as the Ossus Guard.”

“Ok… care to give me a quick rundown?” Ashley asked.

“Not long after you were dropped off here and I met the Council to try and get support for Earth, which failed.” Shepard explained, deciding to give the quick version of events. “The Councillors wanted to meet the leaders of the Jedi’s Expedition Fleet, so this was done near the Fifth Fleet Logistics Hub, where they explained what Cerberus did to them in their own galaxy, and what their intentions were. When they received word about the Reaper Invasion, they offered to help us beat both the Reapers and Cerberus.”

“Damn, you have a way of recruiting allies.” Ashley stated.

“Yeah, a very unique quirk of mine.” Shepard replied, which resulted in both of them laughing over the statement.

“Because of both recent events and everything that went down on Mars, We didn’t really have the time to talk.” Shepard said, deciding to focus on why she came here in the first place. “I thought maybe if you were up for it…” “Yeah. To be honest, I wasn’t sure you wanted to.” Ashley said, sounding relieved that Shepard was still willing to talk to her after how she treated her Commander back on both Horizon and Mars. “Despite everything that happened on Mars, with meeting the Jedi, their troopers and all, you were pretty clear regarding where things stood.”

“What do you mean?” Krystina asked.

“That you’re no longer a part of Cerberus.” Ashley explained. “Case closed. Full stop.”

“It’s the truth.” Shepard simply said.

“And you cut all ties with them. I accept that.” Ashley continued on before she went to what was on her mind regarding this. “It’s just that if you’re the one giving orders, I need to be able to count on you.”

“You know that works both ways.” Shepard countered. “It’s a damn mess out there. All we’ve got is the people around us. So with that, we have to trust each other, or this doesn’t work. Deal?”

“Done deal.” Ashley replied, finally accepting that Shepard was indeed herself and was willing to look past what had happened to the both of them after the Commander died.

“Besides, when it comes to counting on the person giving orders.” Shepard said all of a sudden. “You might want to extend that to one of the ARC Troopers we met on Mars, named Jesse.”

“Wait… are you saying that I’ve got to take orders from a Clone Trooper, whom I don’t know much about?” Ashley asked, starting to wonder where Shepard was going with this.

“Well, he was recently promoted to ARC Captain in order to serve as the leader of the 501st Normandy Battle Group, so he does outrank you in a way.” Krystina remarked, with some humour in her voice. Hearing that tone, Ashley realised what was going on, so she decided to play along.

“And if I remember right, you are still a Lieutenant Commander yourself, so that also applies to you too.” She stated. “Have you handed this Captain Jesse command of the Normandy to him yet?” This resulted in a decent laugh out of the two women, showing that the recent rift between them was finally mending. Once the laughing died down, Shepard continued on.

“When you’re back on your feet. We’ll talk some more.” She said. However, Ashley had other ideas.

“Shepard… wait.” She said quickly. “There’s one more thing. I wasn’t sure if I should mention it.”

“What is it?” Krystina asked. “I’ve got family back on Earth.” Ashley explained. “I… I haven’t heard from them and it’s making me crazy. However, I know you’re busy Shepard. We can talk later.”

“I’ve got time to talk.” Shepard replied, showing she was willing to listen.

For the next few minutes, Shepard and Ashley talked about a few things, ranging from latest news coming from Earth, the lack of contact from Ashley once Shepard surrendered herself to the Alliance over 6 months ago, to which Ashley said that despite even Anderson requesting her, she could do it due to her deep mistrust of Cerberus. In addition, Shepard took the time to ask about who was stuck back on Earth with Ashley revealing that it was the rest of her family (her mum and three sisters, Abby, Lynn and Sarah) who was still on Earth, with her also revealing that her youngest sister, Sarah, had recently married a Second Lieutenant named Thomas with them both on their honeymoon on Demeter before he was recalled due to the Reaper Invasion. Because of how she was the oldest in the family, she always looked out for them, but with her stuck in hospital and her family trapped for the moment in Reaper-occupied space, it was driving her crazy.

A couple of other points the two veteran marines talked about was how Ashley was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, with Ashley remarking on how the ‘Williams Curse’ was starting to finally loosen its grip (given the fact that her grandfather, General Williams, was the commander of the Shanxi garrison who was forced to surrender the planet to the turians in the First Contact War – making him the only human commander to surrender to an alien force, disgracing the family name. In the 30 years since, the Williams family continued to serve in the Alliance Marines, but no one made it past either Enlisted, such as Ashley’s father, or Non-Commissioned Ranks like her, let alone served in the Navy and were sidelined to Garrison duties despite exemplary scores) since Eden Prime. The other was regarding the trust that they had to rebuild since what happened in their past, before Ashley wrapped the conversation up in typical Ashley style of saying that once she was back on the Normandy, the first order of business was the shove the Reapers’ metal tentacles up their arse… or at least she tried to before she said that she would fight with honour and courage.

Once their discussion was finished, Shepard bid farewell to her friend and made her way out of Ashley’s room. Once out the door, she made her way to the labs on the opposite end of the walkway in order to turn over the advanced prototype amps to the salarian scientist who was inquiring about them earlier before making her way out. However, before Krystina left the hospital, she saw an asari, either a doctor or scientist, apparently trying to put a call through to Grissom Academy in relation to some new biotic amps that could be useful to the asari. Hearing this, Shepard turned over the schematics for the amps in question, to which the asari was grateful for, remarking that with some alteration they could work with asari commandos. With this done, Shepard took her leave.

25 minutes later.

Docking Bay D24, Presidium Ring.

Having spent enough time in both the Presidium buying supplies, weapon mods, new star charts and some new outfits, along with spending time seeing some of the clone troopers from the 501st Normandy Battle Group, delivering the Book of Plenix to a volus businessman and offering relationship advice to EDI and Joker, along with stopping off down in the Refugee Camp in Docking Bay E24, returning the Pillars of Strength to a batarian preacher and, surprisingly enough, reuniting with the Normandy’s former Yeoman Kelly Chambers, which Shepard took the chance to catch up on where she got to before firmly warning Kelly to change her looks and ID due to the fact that Cerberus was not a big fan of defections and desertions, Krystina decided to make her way back to the Normandy for she still had a conference to take Primarch Victus to.

However, once she arrived on the level and past the C-Sec security screening in order to make it into the waiting bay, she saw a figure wearing a unique uniform that was predominantly a mix of white and black in terms of the colour scheme, with some gold detailing, with unique deltoid pads on her arms, but what was the give-away as to who was the person was the distinct impression that the person revolved around perfection. In Shepard’s mind, there was only one person who had that in their personality.

The person was none other than Miranda Lawson, the former, self-proclaimed, XO to Shepard back when she was part of her team last year, and also a former Cerberus Officer and Operative until she, rather spectacularly, announced her resignation from the organisation when The Illusive Man was – in effective terms – ordering both her and Krystina to preserve the Collector Base whilst Shepard was wiring the explosives and priming the Central Reactor to overload.

Through reasons unknown, Miranda knew someone was looking at her, so she turned to see who it was, upon which she saw it was her old squad leader.

“Commander Shepard.” Miranda stated, perfectly calm about the situation. “It’s been far too long.”

“No argument there.” Shepard said whilst moving to shake Miranda’s hand. “At least you’re still alive.”

“I cannot argue you on that front.” Miranda replied as she leaned back onto the railing behind her. “We live in some interesting times, you and I.”

“Even more interesting given our newest arrivals.” Shepard stated as she looked towards a couple of Clone Shock Troopers that were conducting a patrol around the Passenger Lounge, again still earning worrying looks from quite a few of the civilians in the vicinity, even humans, but this time around many more weren’t that concerned as opposed to when the Jedi’s Expedition Fleet first arrived.

“I had noticed that we had some new faces – so to say.” Miranda remarked, also looking at the Shock Troopers who were now making their way back through the scanners at the C-Sec checkpoint.

“I Couldn’t get anywhere near you when the Alliance had you locked up.” She then stated as she started to walk towards the Lounge, reflecting on what had happened once they went their separate ways over 6 months ago.

“Relieved of duty… it was complicated.” Krystina replied as she walked alongside Miranda.

“I’m sure it was. To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t court-marshal you.” Miranda continued on. “The Alliance isn’t known for its flexibility.”

“Well… it doesn’t matter now.” Shepard replied as she continued to walk onwards, whereas Miranda stopped.

“Shepard, about Earth…” she asked with a concerned tone. Here, the Commander had to stop.

“Countless people lost their lives within minutes of the Invasion.” She said, sounding both weary and annoyed at the situation. “The Reapers are everything we feared.” Here, Miranda had to shake her head relating to this.

“Both the Alliance and the Council should have listened to you a long time ago.” She said, with the statement making Shepard lower her head, reflecting on hardly anyone did listen to Shepard’s warnings. Realising that she had hit a sensitive spot, Miranda walked forward to provide some support to her friend. “I’m sorry, Shepard.”

“… What’s done is done. Can’t change it now.” Shepard replied. “Anyhow, what about you? What brings you here?”

“I need to talk to a few people – like you.” Miranda stated as she started walking again, this time towards the C-Sec checkpoint. “The Citadel is a good place to meet… for now…” As they continued forward, she looked towards Krystina. “What’s the Alliance’s next move?”

“We have a plan, but it’s a long shot.” Shepard replied, not revealing much given the fact that, as far as Shepard knew, analysis was still ongoing with the Prothean Device.

“Not surprising.” Miranda scoffed at the statement, but she had other things on her mind. “Shepard… there’s… something I wanted to mention.” This got Shepard’s attention.

“What is it?” She asked, before seeing that Miranda was starting to show signs of concern on her face.

“I haven’t heard from my sister, Oriana, for a while now.” she stated, revealing the source of the concern. “I’m getting worried.”

“You’re sister?” Krystina asked, making sure she heard right as they made their way into the Passenger Lounge.

“Yes. I don’t want to overreact, but… well, there’s a lot going on.” Miranda stated.

“I thought we made sure she was safe from your father.” Shepard inquired, wondering what changed since that firefight against an Eclipse mercenary company who was hired to kidnap Oriana back on Illium.

“And we did Shepard.” Miranda stated, also remembering the events in her mind. “It’s probably nothing but… I just know that my father is involved.”

“Give me the quick version of what happened.” Shepard asked. “I don’t know. Everything I had in place to make sure she was safe went dark.” Miranda explained, with the signs of concern now starting to sound like worry in her voice.

“What do you need from me?” Krystina offered, given what she, Miranda and Garrus went through to succeed last time, so there was no way in hell the Commander was going to stay out of this.

“I do appreciate the offer, Shepard – but you’ve got your hands full at the moment.” Miranda countered. “If I need a door or two kicked down, I just know who to call. But for now, I’m fine.”

“… I understand.” Shepard replied, not liking this but respecting her wishes.

With that, Shepard took the chance to inquire what had happened to Miranda once she left the Normandy after their suicide mission, in which Miranda revealed that she was now listed as a priority target by both Cerberus after a call from the Illusive Man and the Alliance, due to her past, along with inquiring why Miranda thought that her father had a hand in Oriana’s disappearance. Once there was nothing left to discuss, they parted ways with Krystina asking Miranda to be careful, with the former Cerberus Operative brushing it off rather coldly, proving that despite leaving Cerberus, Miranda still held her old demeanour of being a cold-hearted bitch when she wanted.

After spending a few minutes of catching up on the latest news reports – most of which was practically useless regarding the Reaper War (proving Joker’s point), Shepard made her way back onto the Normandy.

16 Hours later.

Location: Diplomatic Ships – 165.86 million km (103.01 million miles) from Sur’Kesh, Pranas System, Annos Basin Cluster, Salarian Space – Inner Council Space.

Once the Normandy left the Citadel, the stealth frigate conducted a few more search-and-rescue ops out in the Travers and Terminus Systems, successfully netting some much needed equipment and technology for the Prothean Device once construction would begin, Krystina finally gave the order for the Normandy to make its way to the Annos Basin, home system to the salarians where it was decided to host the War Summit between the Turian Hierarchy, Salarian Union, Systems Alliance and the Krogan.

Once entering the system, the frigate made its way to where the diplomatic ships from the three races were waiting, all of them outside of their respective weapon ranges. Upon entering communication range with the group, all the ships agreed on selecting the Normandy to serve as a neutral ground for the summit.

“Commander, the salarian dalatrass and krogan clan chief are ready to come aboard.” Samantha said to both Shepard and Jesse, both of whom were standing at the galaxy map again. “Have them brought to the Conference Room.” Shepard stated before she left the command platform for the elevator behind them.

“And pray that this doesn’t start another fucking war…” Krystina muttered under breath.

10 minutes later

Conference Room, Deck 2

Whilst Shepard was sending a message to Hackett saying that the War Summit was now underway, Jesse and the 501st Normandy Battle Group met the salarian and krogan delegates before bringing them up to the Conference Room. Once up on Deck 2, the turian, krogan and salarian bodyguards waited in the corridor along with some of the Alliance marines and clone troopers while the krogan clan chief, salarian dalatrass and Primarch Victus started negotiations. Being as they were the only members of the Expedition Fleet that were available for the proceedings, Jesse was also allowed in as an observer for the summit.

Given the history between all three representative’s species, particularly the salarians and the krogan, it wasn’t long before the arguments started up.

“The krogan is in no position to make demands!” Dalatrass Linron vehemently stated out loud. Like many salarians, she was not a fan of the krogan people due to the history of both the Rachni Wars and the Krogan Rebellions, so Linron was determined to ensure that the krogan representative couldn’t wrangle a deal that would put them on the path for retribution against both the Union and the Hierarchy.

Had she only had to deal with this, there may have been the slight chance she could have possibly seen to work a deal that benefited the Salarian Union, but given the fact that the Salarian Union was in deep political turmoil at the present moment due to another dalatrass, Dalatrass Narra (who refuses to even acknowledge Talat as Sur’Kesh’s planetary capital), was threatening open rebellion if any salarian ships were deployed to defend non-salarian space – and given the political power she currently wielded, that was a very strong possibility. Thus Linron’s political capabilities at the moment were being stretched significantly.

As this was going down, Shepard was making her way into the Conference Room herself just as the krogan clan chief started to speak.

“The ‘krogan’ has a name: Urdnot Wrex, and I’m not just some junkyard varren you unleash whenever you’re in trouble.” He retorted back in equal annoyance, but stopped to give Krystina a quick nod of his head to her given the fact that they were squad mates back in the day in 2183 and had been friends since those early days.

“Besides, I’ve got my own problems. Reaper scouts have arrived on Tuchanka.” With that, Wrex then looked towards Victus. “So why should I care if a few turians go extinct?” Victus, however, was desperate to get extra boots on the ground. Sure, the clone trooper battalions that had been sent to Palaven were helping, but it wasn’t enough.

“Trying to draw out negotiations will get you nowhere, Wrex.” Victus countered, not wanting to waste a lot of time on this. “I have no time for it. Just tell us what you want.”

“I’ll tell you what I need...” Wrex stated before pausing in order to ensure everyone was paying attention. “… a cure for the genophage.”

Hearing this, Linron was quick to rebuke this. “Absolutely not! The genophage is not negotiable!” she countered aggressively. With this, it would appear that her political skills were now going to be stretched to breaking point.

“Why are you so opposed to the idea, Dalatrass?” Shepard asked, despite the fact that she already had a rough idea what that reason was.

“Because my people uplifted the krogan. We know them best.” Linron replied to the Commanders question, being somewhat vague with the answer.

“You mean you used us! To fight a war you couldn’t win!” Wrex countered with anger in his voice. “It wasn’t the salarians or the asari, or even the turians that stopped the rachni! It was krogan blood that turned the tide!”

“And after that, you ceased to be useful!” Linron responded in a very similar tone to Wrex. “The genophage was the only way to keep your… ‘urges’ in check.”

Once that statement was said, all it resulted was a very pissed look forming on Wrex’s face. Even Jesse was not impressed with that remark. To him, you would hear that from a crime boss about a squad of mercenaries or bounty hunters, but to hear it from a head of government saying that about an entire species? It was almost unheard of… except maybe with the Galactic Empire or the Zygerrian Slave Empire.

“Dalatrass, you may not like him… but Wrex is right.” Victus stated, attempting to ease the tension that was building in the room. “Insulting him won’t change that.”

“I won’t apologise for speaking the truth!” Linron rebuked, clearly refusing to back down. “We uplifted the krogan to do one thing; wage war. It’s all they know because it’s all we wanted them to know.”

“Then, from the sounds of it, your people should have thought this through when you made First Contact with the krogan, Dalatrass.” Jesse remarked. Sure, he was there as an observer in order to report to the Expedition Fleet’s leadership, but even he could tell that it was a rushed processed, given what he had read regarding the Rachni Wars and the Krogan Rebellions from the Codex.

“It is also worth noting that I won’t be taking political suggestions from a walking laboratory experiment, regardless of how much you have learnt of our galaxy.” Linron stated, revealing that she was not interest in soldiers that were bred for combat and also looked like one another.

Hearing this, Jesse was now looking pissed off, with him immediately remembering the treasonous General Pong Krell, specifically about how he stated to Rex during the waning hours of the Battle of Umbara that he ‘would not be undermined by creatures bred in a laboratory’.

Thankfully, before the ARC Captain could say anything, Shepard spoke up. “Now, whether you like Captain Jesse or not, he is also correct.” She said, defending the veteran trooper. “Your people should have thought this through. Was it really a surprise that the krogan revolted?”

“That’s precisely my point, Commander. We made a rash decision and turned to the krogan in desperation.” Linron stated, completely ignoring Shepard defending Jesse. “It’s the same mistake you and the soldier are about to make today. No good can come from curing the genophage.” Given the fact that ever since learning about this from Wrex himself, Shepard had always been against the idea of it in the first place, so she was determined to push for this to succeed.

“The krogan have paid for their mistakes. The genophage has gone on for too long.” She stated, pushing the original argument back onto the table.

“One thousand, four hundred and seventy six years. If your keeping track.” Wrex stated, also determined to see this happen.

“It was a thousand years of peace, free from these… brutes!” Linron continued on, now more determined to ensure that it doesn’t happen. However, at the moment, all this conversation – argument really – was doing was going back and forth.

“Enough!” Victus stated with annoyance in his voice, as this was starting to go nowhere. “Whether or not they deserve a cure is academic. It would still take years to formulate one.” However, at this point, Wrex decided to take charge on this.

“My information say otherwise.” He said before moving up to where Victus was presently standing, but not before allowing the turian primarch to vacate the area, before Wrex started tapping away on a holographic interface that turned the glass wall behind them into a massive monitor.

“A salarian scientist, Maelon, grew a conscience. He was on my planet last year testing a cure on our females.” He said as the display was primed with a video file ready to play.

“I remember. His methods were barbaric.” Krystina stated, also remembering this.

“But what you didn’t know, Shepard, is that other females survived his experiments.” Wrex revealed before he pressed play on the interface. “So the dalatrass here sent in a team to clean up the whole mess – and to take them prisoner.” Whilst Wrex was saying this, the video file was showing the interior of what looked like a Special Tasks Group facility, showing that there indeed were female krogan being held there. However, from Shepard’s eyes, the footage looked like it came from an omni-tool, not from the security cameras in the facility.

Seeing this, Linron was now panicking. “Where did you get this?!” She demanded. “It… it could be a fabrication!”

Realising that she was now back into a corner, Wrex decided to push harder for an answer. “Don’t insult me! Those are my people!” he stated, determined to get an answer before she could worm her way out of the accusations. “They’re immune to the genophage, and you’re going to give them back!” At this point, Victus decided to up the pressure.

“Dalatrass, is this true?” he asked in a determined tone.

“How will curing the genophage benefit my people?” Linron rebuked, still doing everything to prevent this from happening.

“And how long do you think you will last against the Reapers on your own?” Jesse countered, taking advantage of the situation to get back at Linron for her earlier remarks about him. “You already turned down support from the Jedi’s Expedition Fleet – and we weren’t asking for anything from you, I might add – because of the high tension in the Salarian Union at the moment. That I can understand, but if you turn down allies everywhere you look, or don’t help us in this matter, this is exactly what will happen; you will be on your own against both the Reapers and possibly Cerberus.”

“And I’ll be the last friendly turian you will ever see.” Victus stated, with Wrex nodding his head in agreement.

“What’s it going to be, Dalatrass?” Shepard asked. Seeing that she was on her own and now with everyone’s attention on her, she bowed to pressure.

“The females are being kept at one of our STG bases on Sur’Kesh.” Linron said, sounding defeated for a moment before she came back hard. “But I warn you, Commander! The consequences of this will be felt for centuries to come!”

Before Krystina could say anything, Wrex intervened. “Let’s go get them.” He said with vigour and determination in his voice, to which both Shepard and Jesse nodded their heads in agreement. Once again, the Dalatrass wasn’t having it.

“You’re not setting foot on Sur’Kesh! This will take time to…” Linron tried to say, before she was cut off by Victus.

“It happens now. As a Council Spectre, Shepard can oversee the exchange.” He said, doing what he could to speed this up now that there was a game plan in place.

“We’re going.” Krystina said before she led everyone out of the room, save for the Dalatrass.

“I won’t forget this Commander! A bully has few friends when he needs them the most!” Linron yelled out as they walked away.

“Given how fast salarians age, that shouldn’t be too long.” Wrex said under his breath.

10 minutes later

Cargo/Shuttle Bay/Armoury, Deck 5

Once Linron left the Normandy, Wrex and Shepard were in the armoury getting ready for the trip down to Sur’Kesh. Joining them on this mission as well would be Garrus and Liara, given the fact that they had fought alongside Wrex back when they were part of Shepard’s original squad when they were hunting Saren down, so having them come along would hopefully put Wrex at ease. Because of the fact that he was part of the summit as well, Jesse would come as leading an ad-hoc unit comprising of himself, Fives, Echo, Arcee, Viper and Kix. At the moment, they were also prepping their respective gear for this one. While the team was doing this, Cortez and Slag were performing last minute checks on the Kodiak in preparation for the flight to the planet.

It would be another few minutes before Joker called out over the intercom that the Normandy was in orbit over Sur’Kesh. Once that was made, the group made their into the Kodiak for the trip down. After everyone was aboard, the two pilots fired up the engines and soon the Kodiak left the Cargo Bay for the planet’s surface.

Chapter Text

Location: Sur’Kesh, Pranas System, Annos Basin Cluster, Salarian Space – Inner Council Space.

Given the fact that the salarians were known as a warm-blooded amphibian species, it should come as no surprise that Sur’Kesh, a Tropical World, serves as their homeworld. The planet is covered in thick jungles, rainforests and oceans, with the jungles being similar to that of Earth’s, coupled with a humid climate and also with the planet being more wetter than that of Earth. Because of that, the population of 10.3 billion salarians living on the surface had designed their towns, cities and military/research facilities to help facility in the collection of fresh water when it rains.

One key advantage that Sur’Kesh holds over Earth, Palaven, Khar’shan and Taetrus for example was where in the galaxy their homeworld was. Because the Annos Basin is closer to the Galactic Core, far from Dark Space, it has spared Sur’Kesh from the War so far. However, because their military haven’t been able to follow their doctrine of striking the enemy first, many salarians believe that their forces were now at a server disadvantage.

Switch to the UT-47A Kodiak

Inside the shuttle, while Cortez and Slag piloted the ship with Shepard and Liara watching their progress, Jesse, Garrus, Wrex, Fives, Echo, Arcee, Viper and Kix were going over their gear and ensuring that it was all ready to go. While all that the current mission entailed was just retrieving female krogan, one couldn’t be too careful.

“Ok guys, listen up.” Krystina called out, getting everyone’s attention. “This is the salarian homeworld we’re heading to. They aren’t used to seeing either krogan or clones here, so let’s keep this one simple.” She continued to explain whilst watching Wrex prep his M-300 Claymore, with a M-76 Revenant machine gun magnetised to his back. “We land, get the females and leave before anyone changes their mind.”

“In and out like greased lightning. I like it.” Arcee stated whilst she tinkered with the rangefinder on her DC-15LE.

“Understood Commander.” Kix called out, slinging his backpack on before priming his DC-15S. Wrex on the other hand…

“I still don’t trust a word they say.” He said in an annoyed tone. Given the relationship between the salarians and krogan since the Krogan Rebellions, could anyone blame him?

“Let diplomacy play out, Wrex.” Shepard said, hoping to help ease his concerns. “You’ll get what you want.”

“I know Shepard, but these females are the best – and probably last – hope for my people.” Wrex replied, still concerned with what the salarians might do.

“Relax. We’ll help ensure that this exchange happens.” Fives stated with certainty in his voice as he placed his helmet.

“We’ve got your back.” Viper also said once she finished loading her Mark 32 Grenade Launcher before she had Echo place it on her backpack.

“We’ll bring them back Wrex. Don’t worry.” Liara stated whilst she made her way out of the cockpit.

“I appreciate that, Liara. Same to all you Troopers.” Wrex addressed everyone, thankful that his old friends and their new allies were willing to back him up. “I wouldn’t want anyone else along for the ride.” This statement earnt a cough from Garrus, reminding Wrex that he was there too.

“I suppose I can make room for you too, Garrus.” The former mercenary stated with a chuckle.

“Yeah, well I figured that you had gone soft sitting on your thrown.” Garrus countered with a humorous tone in his voice. “Probably forgot how to handle a shotgun.” This earnt some chuckles from the gather group.

“Commander, we’ve got the salarian base in question on sensors.” Slag called out to Shepard, bringing her attention back to the trip.

“Alright. Set her down.” She ordered the pilots.

5 minutes later.

Switch to Salarian STG Base – [CLASSIFIED].

Nestled in amongst a multitude of mountains and surrounded a few waterfalls, the STG base in question came into view for the Kodiak shuttle. From there, the shuttle flew towards an uncovered section of the base that was big enough to serve as a landing pad. However, instead of landing, the shuttle hovered over the base, where two salarian STG operatives were watching this, before one ran off to report the shuttle’s unscheduled arrival.

“Commander, salarian ground control is saying we don’t have clearance to land.” Cortez reported whilst Shepard and Jesse walked up behind the piloting duo.

“Have you told them that Dalatrass Linron authorised this herself?” Jesse asked, trying to sort this one out before all hell broke loose. However, neither he nor Krystina could do so fast enough.

“I knew they’d never keep their word!” Wrex angrily stated before he made his way to the portside door. “Well, let’s see them try to stop a krogan airdrop!”

Once he hit the controls, the door opened up. Just as she heard the noise, Shepard turned to try and get Wrex to stay put, but before she could say anything, he was already jumping out the door and landing on the floor hard enough to make it shake.

“We have an unauthorised… landing!” a salarian operative called out over his wrist comms to the rest of the base as two more STG operators ran forward to try and contain Wrex as he was getting back up to full height.

“And who authorised you to hold my race hostage?!” Wrex called out as the two salarians primed their omni-tools with tech attacks, clearly intending to incapacitate him. Before they could do anything, he hit them both with a biotic Throw attack, sending them flying into the pillars behind them. However, just as Wrex pulled out his M-300 Claymore, his suddenly had two laser sights pointing at his head, with him looking to see they were coming from salarian snipers, armed with M-29 Incisor Sniper Rifles, aiming at him. This was enough to stop Wrex in his tracks.

“Fucking hell…” Shepard cursed as she jumped out with Liara, Garrus, Jesse and Echo following her.

Staying in the shuttle, Fives, Arcee and Kix drew their blasters while Viper spooled up her chaingun. This was enough to prompt more STG operatives to confront the group, with some of them wielding the Venom Shotgun, one of two weapons signature to the Special Tasks Group, while the rest of them primed their omni-tools.

“Halt!” a salarian soldier called out. However that was as far as he got.

“Stand down! Hold your fire!” another salarian in German Grey armour called out as he ran up to the confrontation. Once he was in front of Krystina, he spoke to her.

“Commander Shepard, restrain your colleague.” He stated. “We only found out about this transfer a few moments ago.” This revealed why they weren’t allowing the Kodiak to land – they had no prior knowledge.

“And with that, I’d like to avoid a diplomatic incident.” Shepard stated as she walked up to who was clearly an officer – a Lieutenant at best.

“As would we.” The officer simply replied back.

“But you do have something valuable to Wrex.” Shepard continued on.

“Something worth dying for.” Wrex interjected.

“This matter can be resolved. However, I must insist that he remain under guard.” The salarian officer stated, which was something that didn’t sit well with the krogan leader.

“We can handle this Wrex.” Krystina stated to him, referring to her squad and Jesse’s troopers.

Seeing that the Commander was, effectively, asking him to trust her, Wrex relented. “Anything goes wrong, and all bets are off.” He stated begrudgingly as he holstered his shotgun.

With that, the stand off was ended. In a few seconds, the Kodiak was cleared to land, allowing Fives, Arcee and Kix to link up with the rest of the group. As Wrex was now surrounded by STG operators, with him pushing one around, Shepard and Jesse were starting to follow the salarian Lieutenant, with the rest of their group following close behind with all the troopers, save for Arcee and Viper, removing their helmets for the time being.

“I’m Padok Wiks, and I appreciate your understanding, Commander.” The Lieutenant introduced himself to Shepard and Jesse. “With war on everyone’s mind, our people are on edge.”

Just as he finished this, they all saw a large creature inside a containment pod being moved to a lift thanks to the transfer system on the ceiling. Judging from the aggression and the fact it was punching the containment shields, it was clear that the creature wasn’t happy with what was going on, however that changed briefly when the pod started descending, causing the creature to stumble briefly.

“Careful! Watch the containment shield!” a STG operative called out, clearing revealing that whatever it was, it was dangerous.

“Hello ugly. What exactly is that?” Echo asked, as he had no idea what he saw. However, to both Liara and Garrus, sadly for the both of them, they did.

“That’s a yahg.” The asari scientist/information broker stated with dread in her voice. “I’d hoped to never see one of those again.”

“Ditto for me as well.” Garrus solemnly replied for they, along with Shepard, saw their first yahg – the previous Shadow Broker, back on Hagalaz last year – and that was a brutal fight for them.

“As you can see, this base contains sensitive information.” Padok continued to explain to Krystina and Jesse.

“What exactly goes on here at this base?” Jesse asked the Lieutenant.

“Evolutionary trials. Morphological simulations. Exogenetic assessments.” Padok explained, with Jesse struggling to tell whether he was either dodging the question or providing the proper answer.

“Nothing is ever simple with salarians, is it?” Shepard countered, also facing the same problem as the ARC Captain.

“Science has always been our best defence.” Padok explained. “The research we do here has kept Sur’Kesh safe for millennia.”

“Does that include studying lost krogan?” Krystina countered, bordering on accusing.

“The females were in poor health when we found them on Tuchanka.” Padok continued to explain. “They were brought here to stabilise their condition.” At this point, Wrex walked past whilst escorted by the STG soldiers that surrounded him 30 seconds ago.

“This whole planet smells wrong.” He complained as he walked down the stairs to the next level with a Venom pointed at him.

“We’d like to see them.” Shepard told Padok.

“Of course. I’ll need to clear you for the lower levels.” Padok stated, agreeing to the Commander’s request. “Give me a few moments, and meet me near the elevator.” With that he walked off to the security console that was next to the elevator in question.

Once that happened, Jesse signalled the ARC Troopers to group up.

“Spread out and see what you can learn.” He said to them. Viper explained that she would stay with him given the fact she was lugging a chaingun, thus making her stick out, to which he understood. Everyone else though scattered and looked around the place, but also made sure that they were listening discreetly to ensure they could learn something.

While the ARC Troopers were doing this, Shepard caught up with Wrex, who was bitching about what made the salarians soft in his mind before he saw Krystina walk up.

“Shepard, I don’t like this. I should be the one going in.” Wrex explained, revealing that while he trusted the Commander, he still didn’t like this.

“How about you stay here, and we fight only one war at a time?” Krystina countered, referring back to Wrex’s earlier landing. This made the krogan chuckle a bit.

“That was just good old-fashioned krogan hot air. If it’d been real, they’d be dead.” He explained. This made Garrus and Liara shake their heads at this remark.

When Krystina tried to ask Wrex about who tipped him off regarding the females, he brushed it off due to the fact that the STG operatives guarding Wrex were probably listening before he made some smartarse remark about ‘preferring his salarian liver served raw.’ This resulted in one STG operative looking concerned, and his partner looking angry at Wrex. To add some insult to injury, Garrus decided to play along by saying that he heard ‘vorcha preferred it grilled.’, which then made both operatives now looking at the turian sniper rather angrily. However, he did state that he was surprised that the Shadow Broker wasn’t aware of this, though he did say that it was a shame that he didn’t know him – or her, as he was directing that at Liara, to which she said that the Broker was probably busy, doing her best to being not that interested about it.

“Wrex, back on the Normandy, you said that Reaper were spotted on your homeworld?” Jesse asked, clearly wanting more intel regarding this new development in the War.

“Clans Jorgal and Ravanor sighted a few landing parties, Captain.” Wrex explained, showing that despite their unique nature, he could at least trust Jesse given the fact the he backed him up earlier. “The Reapers are up to something.” Wrex then looked down briefly before continuing to speak. “Tuchanka may be a pile of radioactive rubble – but its our pile, and we’ll fight to the last krogan to keep it that way.” This resulted in Liara walking up to her old friend.

“That’s what I always liked about you, Wrex.” She stated in an admiring tone.

“My smouldering good looks?” Wrex joked, which earnt a small laugh out of Liara.

“Well, there is that. But you’ve never given up, and that determination’s about to pay off.” She replied, with Wrex agreeing with her statement.

“Yeah. Who would’ve though back on Virmire we’d be standing here doing this together? He said, reflecting back on what almost happened when Shepard’s team and a salarian infiltration regiment discovered that Saren had created a cure to the genophage back in 2183, to which Shepard and Wrex held each other at gunpoint, with the only thing preventing either one of them dying was what Shepard did for Wrex back then, in this case, retrieving his family’s battle armour at Wrex's request.

After questioning about the females in question that they came to rescue, Shepard had to ask the obvious question given the current situation. “Are the krogan ready to fight the Reapers?” she asked.

“Ever since Sovereign showed up, I figured this day would come.” Wrex replied. “My people have spent too much time selling themselves out as mercenaries.” This inadvertently gave Jesse and Viper an idea of just how bad it was for the krogan due to the genophage. “Now we can get back to doing what krogan do best – saving everyone else from giant monsters.” Wrex continued on with pride in his voice.

“You’re never going to let us forget about the Rachni Wars, are you?” Garrus asked with some humour in his voice.

“Last time I was at the Citadel, I didn’t see a turian statue in your honour.” Wrex countered with a laugh.

“Just wait until this war is over.” Garrus replied back. With that, Shepard had to continue on so gave Wrex her regards with catching up with him, though not before he left of another remark – this time about ‘having a few salarians for lunch’, again drawing an angry look from his guards.

Whilst making her way over to the lift, Krystina could see the ARC Troopers were looking around, either observing the STG operatives and scientists doing their jobs or looking a salarian architecture, before she saw a STG officer wearing dark brown armour working on some lab tech in the middle of the floor. What made him stand out was his skin texture – for she had seen it before. The salarian in question was Captain Kirrahe, an officer of the 3rd Infiltration Regiment who worked with Shepard back on Virmire three years ago. As soon as he saw Shepard, he stood up.

“Commander Shepard. It’s Major Kirrahe. I heard you were coming.” Kirrahe greeted Krystina with a handshake and revealing that he was promoted sometime ago.

“Good to see you again. Sounds like you’ve been promoted.” Shepard replied back in a friendly tone.

“Yes. Due in no small part to our mission on Virmire.” Kirrahe said proudly. “‘Hold the line.’ You and your crew saved my men that day.” In relation to said crew, Garrus walked up to the Major.

“Good to see a friendly face, Major.” He said, also offering his hand for a handshake.

“Garrus Vakarian, always a pleasure.” Kirrahe responded back in the same friendly tone, returning the handshake before seeing Liara standing nearby. “And same to you, Dr. T’Soni.”

“Major.” Liara replied back in a more simpler tone, but just as cordial.

“Well, it seems the Reapers have a way of bringing us together.” Kirrahe stated before he saw Jesse and Viper. “Though they also have an unorthodox way of bringing in unique allies from another galaxy.” Here, Jesse took the lead.

“I’m ARC Captain Jesse, commander of the 501st Normandy Battle Group.” The ARC Captain introduced himself to the veteran Major, also offering a handshake.

“A pleasure to meet a clone trooper for the first time.” Kirrahe stated whilst shaking Jesse’s hand, showing admiration for the veteran ARC officer, not as a cloned organism, but as both a soldier and a person.

“My name’s Jennifer Adams, but I go by the name of ‘Viper’. Viper said, also moving to shake Kirrahe’s hand.

“While I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, I must admit that I’m quite surprised by this.” The Major explained as he shook Viper’s hand.

“Oh?” she inquired, wondering where he was going with this.

“It’s only been about 2 and a half weeks since the Jedi’s Expedition Fleet came to our galaxy.” Kirrahe explained. “Upon which they have been recognised as allies to the Alliance, and already it appears that some members of the Alliance military have been inducted into clone trooper ranks? That’s actually quite impressive.” This earned a somewhat startled look from Viper.

“Uh… yeah. It’s a great honour.” She said, sounding somewhat confused by this statement, which Krystina did recognise. However, this wasn’t either the time or place to ask.

“In any case, good to make your acquaintance, Viper.” Kirrahe continued.

“Given the fact that you’re here and we’re talking about a genophage cure.” Shepard spoke up, changing the subject. “I guess we’re both still feeling the side effects of Virmire.” Hearing this, Kirrahe looked away for a second.

“Yes, quite ironic.” He started to say. “You and I destroyed Saren’s cure, yet this one is now the key to an alliance. Your standoff with Urdnot Wrex is legend within STG.”

“Now that, I wasn’t expecting to hear.” Shepard remarked before she continued on. “Speaking of which, I’m sure that you saw Wrex’s entrance.”

“Our colonies three systems away saw it.” Kirrahe stated with some humour in his voice. Liara, however, wasn’t seeing the funny side to it.

“Yes, and he’s rather angry about the security arrangements.” She stated in a defensive tone.

“And regarding that, I do apologise.” The Major replied back to Liara. “But it’s better that than a krogan with a shotgun wandering the base. Think of all the casualties – our medbay couldn’t handle it.”

“Speaking of security.” Jesse asked as he looked out towards where the Kodiak was parked. “Yours seems pretty high. Are you expecting trouble?”

“Our motto in STG is to always expect trouble.” Kirrahe explained. “And failing that, create trouble for someone else. Our enemies have the same idea, Captain.”

“One thing I’d like to ask is how did you get posted to this base, Major?” Krystina asked Kirrahe.

“I actually led the team on Tuchanka that found the females.” The Major explained, recounting the mission. “Nasty business. Maelon may have meant well, but his operation was crude. Test subjects were unaccounted for. The females easily escaped his lab.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, What do you think about brining the female krogan here?” Jesse asked, curious to see if all salarians were thinking like the Dalatrass. Chances were that would be the case, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.

“Our scientists say it's important to preserve the females.” Kirrahe stated to Jesse, before stopping to bring his hands up in order to perform the ‘quote/unquote’ gesture. “‘Evolutionary paradigms’. I say, when people know your hiding something valuable, they’ll try to steal it.” This revealed that while he understood why it was done, Kirrahe wasn’t a fan of this, though this was primarily from a soldier’s aspect. “Either way, I have my orders. They’ll be your problem soon enough.” The Major continued on whilst looking to Shepard as she was the leader of this group.

“Are the salarians prepared for war with the Reapers?” Krystina asked, given the fact that no Reaper forces were this deep into the Milky Way… yet.

“I’ve heard what they’re doing to your Earth and to Palaven. I don’t think any species can prepare for that.” Kirrahe stated, sounding rather solemn about it before he continued on. “Though… rumours suggest you’re building a superweapon of some kind?”

“This business with the females is actually part of that.” Shepard answered. “I need the turian’s support for freeing Earth and they need the krogan’s for liberating Palaven.”

“Which is why I never became a diplomat.” Kirrahe stated. “Too much hand holding. Leave it to the dalatrasses.” With all the questions that she could think off, Shepard decided it was time to move on.

“Well, it’s time we got going.” Shepard said, leaning off the equipment Kirrahe was working on earlier. “It was nice seeing you again, Major.”

“Likewise.” Kirrahe said, but he continued on. “And Commander…” he said before he moved closer to Shepard to talk to her in a much quieter tone. “Regardless of what the politicians decide… you can count on both the 3rd Infiltration Regiment and my support retaking Earth.” This surprised Shepard quite a bit.

“You would do that?” she asked, making sure she heard right.

“Consider it my way of returning a favour.” Kirrahe remarked whilst shaking Krystina’s hand. “It would be an honour to fight alongside you again.” With that, the two veteran officers gave their farewells to each other before returning to their duties.

Once Shepard, Garrus, Liara, Jesse and Viper made their way to a railing that had no one within listening distance, Jesse gave a hand signal for all ARC Troopers to regroup on his location. Whilst waiting for everyone to gather around, Shepard, Liara and Garrus were looking out at the scenery opposite their location, remarking about how peaceful it was compared to what they had been going through for the past fortnight since the start of the War, with Garrus saying that there was no way for the salarians to stay out of the war altogether, but in reference to the scenery, he couldn’t blame them for trying.

“Alright guys. Do we have anything to worry about?” Jesse asked the ARC Troopers.

“Yeah, we do.” Fives stated whilst he was fishing for something out of his gear. “But it’s not related to either us or the exchange.”

“Explain.” Jesse said.

“I was listening to two salarian soldiers just next to the elevator, where they were explaining about a transmission of sorts.” Fives explained before he pulled out a holorecorder.

“We don’t need imagery. Just play the audio.” Shepard advised, as the last thing they needed was to have a reason for the STG to deny access to the female krogan.

Within a few seconds, Fives had his holorecorder out, playing the audio of what he was listening to.

I don’t like what I’m hearing.” The first STG operative started saying.

What?” the second STG operative asked (for the sake of expediency guys, I’m designating them STG 1 and STG 2).

There was some outbound comm traffic twenty minutes ago from inside the base.” STG 1 stated.

And?” STG 2 asked, sounding like there was nothing wrong with that.

A burst transmission, fully encoded… with no identity signature.” STG 1 stated calmly.

This got STG 2’s attention. “No signature? That’s against protocol.” He replied, now seeing what was worrying his colleague.

I know. Someone’s passing a message.” STG 1 said, now sounding a little concerned. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” With that, Fives shut off the recording.

“Judging from this, I think they might be STG counterintelligence.” He said to the group. “And if they are worrying about that, we could be seeing something soon.”

“It also might be related to what I heard.” Echo remarked, also grabbing his holorecorder and preparing the audio.

“What did you get?” Jesse asked.

“Padok Wiks was receiving some news about something tripping incursion sensors from a technician.” Echo replied back before he hit play.

Another incursion?” Padok asked the technician.

Air defences report unidentified craft skirting our inbound approach vectors.” The technician stated.

It’s like someone’s testing our defences.” Padok said, thinking of a reason why this was happening.

Appears that way, sir.” The technician said, agreeing with the Lieutenant.

I don’t like it. Not with everything else going on.” Padok stated with certainty before Echo shut off the recording.

“You think we may be expecting company?” Kix asked aloud.

“It’s a possibility. Do we ready our weapons?” Arcee asked, wanting to see if they could be prepared for whatever was going on.

“While I like the though, the base here is at Threat Condition One, which is having their Readiness Teams maintain constant alert.” Shepard explained. “The last thing I want to do is set off alarm bells for no reason. Still, be prepared for that to change.”

“Understood, Shepard.” Jesse stated, with everyone else nodding their heads in agreement.

“Alright. Make your way to the elevator, I’ll go see Padok to see if  we’re good to go.” With that, everyone else walked over to the elevator while Krystina walked towards the Lieutenant.

Once he saw her approaching, Padok looked to Shepard just as the technician he was talking to earlier walked off. “You have clearance to see the females, Commander.” He stated whilst shutting down his datapad. “I hope we can resolve this matter without re-enacting the Krogan Rebellions.” As Padok said this, he looked towards where Wrex was, still under armed guard.

“What do you think about handing over the krogan?” Krystina asked, though to be brutally honest, she wasn’t expecting a different answer – which is exactly what she got.

“I differ from most of my colleagues.” Padok explained, sounding proud of his opinion on the matter. “Curing the genophage will bring closure to the issue.” This was not what Shepard was expecting, so she was pleased to see this. “In the future, the krogan may yet play some role we can’t even imagine.” The Lieutenant continued on. “We should let the evolutionary process decide who lives and dies, not galactic politics.”

“Thanks for your time.” Shepard said, who wanted to get moving.

“Of course. Proceed to the elevator when you are ready.” Padok stated.

Within a few seconds, Shepard stood in front of the elevator doors, where from the holographic control panel, a small laser beam started to scan the Commander, in order to verify who it was. Within a few seconds, the scanner had done its job when Padok appeared next to Arcee in order to talk to the group just as the doors opened.

“Now take this elevator down, and someone will…” the Lieutenant started to explain before an alarm started to sound out across the base, getting everyone’s attention.

“Alert! Threat Condition Two has been declared. Scramble Readiness Teams!” a voice declared over the PA system.

Within a few seconds, every salarian soldier was now moving fast to prepare for whatever was coming. Over the sounds of engines coming online, Wrex was suddenly looking back towards the Kodiak, apparently getting an idea in his head…

“Lieutenant. What’s happening?” Jesse ordered as Padok brought up his omni-tool to gather intel on what was happening. While this was happening, the salarian troops that were originally at their stations were starting to gather into their pre-organised teams near the Kodiak’s landing pad, with more troops coming up from stairways leading below. At the same time, the first salarian fighters, interceptors and A-61 Mantis gunships were taking off from their stations and getting into the air.

“Sensors have picked up activity on the perimeter.” Padok stated, giving some idea of what was going on. “Hurry everyone. Someone will meet you all below.” With that, the group filed into the elevator.

“All right guys. Sun bonnets on.” Jesse ordered the ARC Troopers, with everyone placing their helmets on, again save for Arcee and Viper. Once everyone was onboard, the last thing they all saw before the elevator doors closed was Padok walking away in order to meet up with his team, with another team saluting Kirrahe in preparation for deployment just as another STG-manned Mantis was taking off.

20 Seconds later

Switch to Underwater Laboratories, STG Base.

Once the elevator had stopped, the doors opened up in order to allow the team out. What they saw was that they were now underwater, giving them some decent protection from whatever was going on topside. As the group filed in, they saw the salarian operatives down here were also moving with a purpose regarding the alert that had just gone out.

“Base personnel must remain on-site until further notice.” The PA system stated, though everyone was focusing on their jobs. Directly in front of them, two salarian operatives were talking with another salarian, presumably their commanding officer.

“All specimens are accounted for, sir.” One said before he and his compatriot walked off to continue on whatever he was doing. However, by doing this, he allowed the group to see who he was talking to.

The third salarian was wearing a unique lab uniform, which had some armour plating on the wrists and chest, which had a unique looking metal half-circle surrounding the head, with the diameter of the design extending all the way out to his shoulders – an ‘iron halo’ if you will. As for the salarian in question, he was sporting a fair few wrinkles, indicating he was at an advanced age for a salarian, along with sporting a couple of scars on the left side of his head and was missing one cranial horn. To Shepard and Garrus, they both knew the salarian as none other than Mordin Solus.

“Shepard! Excellent timing. Good to have you here!” Mordin stated with excitement in his voice.

“Mordin?” Krystina asked, surprised by the fact that the former Normandy Science Officer was here, alive and well, whilst she shook his hand.

“Eyesight still sharp. Surprise understandable. Hadn’t expected to return to work.” Mordin stated in his usual way of speaking due to the fact that he was an auditory learner.

“Your back with the STG?” Garrus asked as they worked together throughout last year.

“Special consultant. Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.” Mordin stated. He then looked around to ensure no one else was listening before he started to talk quietly to Shepard. “Helped female krogan. Fed information to Clan Urdnot. Encouraged political pressure to free females.” With that statement, the video footage Shepard saw back on the Normandy now made sense.

“You must be Wrex’s inside source.” Krystina said in an understand way, but also quiet in order to prevent revealing Mordin as a mole.

“Yes. Can explain later. Security warning not normal. Need to get offworld for sake of krogan.” He said as he started to walk away, leading the group.

“Females had weakened immune systems. Side effect of Maelon’s cure.” Mordin explained to Shepard what was happening to the female krogan. However, upon looking at the holding cells where, to the group’s surprise, they were seeing not live korgan but bodybags. “These… didn’t survive.” Mordin said with a sigh, revealing what had happened. This was now a big issue.

“But what about Maelon’s research data? I though we saved it.” Krystina asked, wondering how the hell did this happen despite recovering the research data that Maelon had compiled when he was attempting to create a cure last year with Clan Weyrloc on Tuchanka.

“Indeed. Data useful, but not complete. Lacks crucial details to reconstruct cure, but still useful for synthesising from living tissue.” Mordin explained before he looked back towards the cells. “Couldn’t save them.”

“I’m sure you did everything you could, Mordin.” Shepard said, providing some encouragement to the salarian scientist.

“Arrived to late. Cannot delay now.” Mordin countered with annoyance in his voice in regards to the situation before he delivered a bombshell. “One survivor. Immune to genophage. Can synthesise cure from her tissue.”

“She still here?” Shepard asked, startled by this as Mordin led the way for the group.

“Yes. Last hope for krogan. If she dies, genophage cure… problematic.” Mordin said as they continued to walk onwards down a level towards where what looked like another cell when in reality it was the containment pod that was connected all the way to the top of the building where Shepard came in through.

Once everyone was in front of the pod, they all could see that inside the quaratine pod was the last surviving female krogan inside what looked like a mobile containment pod. The female in question was wearing what looked like a krogan version of a burka, or at least it did in Shepard’s mind. With this, Shepard walked forward slowly.

“Please be careful. Krogan slow to trust.” Mordin warned the Commander as she walked towards the female.

“I’m Commander Krystina Shepard. Alliance Navy.” Krystina said, introducing herself to the survivor.

Seeing this play out in front of him, Jesse followed suite. “I’m ARC Captain Jesse, 501st Legion.” He stated as well.

“Are you two here to kill me?” the female asked. Curious to see her condition, Liara primed her omni-tool to get a read of the female krogan’s vitals – and they weren’t good.

“Goddess, What she’s been through...” She said in shock due to the female’s condition.

“Damn.” Kix also said, as everyone was looking at the same readout.

“Urdnot Wrex, Jesse and I are here to take you home.” Shepard continued on.

“Why? What am I to you?” the krogan asked. This wasn’t right…

“Have the salarians been mistreating you?” Krystina asked, hoping to put the female’s mind at ease.

“Those were my sisters you saw back there. They died in a lot of pain.” She replied back.

“Did the best we could.” Mordin said, sounding disappointed with himself regarding their fate.

“And now I’m the only one left. That makes me dangerous to a lot of people.” She continued on, with a little aggression worked in give the fact she was aware of how vital she had become. “What about you Commander Shepard and Captain Jesse? Why are you two here?”

“You’re the future of the krogan race and we’re fighting for that.” Shepard responded to the question with determination in her voice before another alarm started going off, coupled with rotating beacons.

“Then I hope you brought an army.” The female simply said.

As soon as the new alarm went off, the salarians were now scrambling to their stations. “Alert! Unidentified vessels have breached the perimeter!” the PA sounded. Whatever was going on above their heads, it was getting very serious.

“Give me an update!” the chief scientist called out to two soldiers that were at their terminals.

“Outbound communications have been severed! We’re cut off!” one of the soldiers stated, showing that this unknown threat knew exactly what they were doing.

“Secure all data to offsite location!” the other soldier stated before the two started doing just that. Whist this was going on, a third salarian soldier made his way to the terminal that was in front of the pod.

“What’s happening?” Shepard called out to the soldier as the group gathered round the terminal.

“We have multiple ships inbound!” the soldier stated, pulling up a radar display showing just that – multiple vessels inbound to the base. Just then, an alert was coming off Shepard’s hand, indicating that she was receiving a transmission from her omni-tool. With that, she and Jesse walked away briefly to hear this message before it was revealed to be a vidcall from Wrex.

“Shepard. It’s Wrex! Cerberus troops are attacking the base!” the former mercenary called out, revealing who was attacking the facility. “Get the females out of there now!”

“Only one survived, Wrex. It might be safer down here for her.” Shepard advised. However, Wrex was having none of it.

“What? So the salarians can kill her like the others?!” he replied back, sounding pissed. “No deal! If you still want this alliance, get her out of there!”

With the fact that Wrex had practically forced their hand, Shepard shut her omni-tool off before she and Jesse went back to the soldier at the terminal.

“Release the female. We’re leaving!” Krystina ordered.

“I can’t. Protocol states during lockdown no specimen…” the soldier started to explain before he received an mild electrical shock thanks to an Overload attack from Mordin, who had his omni-tool up and primed for another one.

“Objection noted. Now, please release krogan.” He ordered the soldier, who this time complied with the order. After a few taps on the interface, the side compartment’s doors opened up. With this, Mordin made his way to the pod.

“Need to monitor pod as it clears quarantine procedures.” He stated as he entered the compartment.

“Hold on.” Jesse called out before he looked at Kix. “How much do you know of krogan anatomy?”

“I’ve done some research, but not enough to perform medical procedures on my own.” The ARC Medic replied as he, as the other troopers readied their weapons. “But if the professor knows his stuff, then I can help out.”

“Good. Your with Mordin.” Jesse ordered. “Help Mordin if the krogan’s health signs aren’t good or protect them if they come under attack.”

“Yes, sir.” Kix replied before he joined Mordin inside the compartment. Once they were inside, the compartment doors closed up behind them.

“Meet us at next checkpoint, Shepard. Likely Cerberus opposes genophage cure.” Mordin stated to the group.

“That wouldn’t surprise me.” Fives called out. Before Krystina primed her weapons, she decided to give the krogan some reassurance.

“You’ll see Tuchanka again. I promise.” She said as the pod started ascending upwards to the landing pad up top.

“Get to elevator, Shepard.” Mordin called out, pointing out that there was no more time, they had to move.

As the pod continued on upwards, another announcement was made over the PA system. “Threat Condition Three has been declared. Live fire is authorised!” it said.

“That’s serious.” Echo called out once the announcement was finished.

“It means we can’t waste time, let’s go.” Shepard order her group. While this was going on, a salarian soldier was going over the base’s lockdown procedures.

“Put all research subjects into immediate lockdown.” He ordered everyone in the base.

“Varren secure.” Another soldier called out from across the room.

“Vorcha secure.” The first soldier called out.

“Yahg subjects… we have a problem.” A third soldier called out.

“What sort of problem?” the first soldier inquired.

“Security overrides aren’t responding.” The third soldier called out.

“Fix it!” the first soldier ordered.

At the same time, another salarian was coordinating with some of his colleagues. “Who has eyes on the situation?” he called out.

“Enemy ships are attacking the landing zone.” Another soldier called out. “Appears to be an air assault.”

“I want everyone to remain on alert and be ready!” the first soldier called out.

While this was going on, Shepard led her unit to the elevator where three salarians had gathered around – two preparing for a breach, with the third working on the door controls.

“Something’s wrong with the elevator. It’s not responding.” The operative stated, revealing what was going on. However, within a few seconds, it was now fixed. As soon as Shepard hit the door controls to open the elevator doors, the group saw a small canister on the ground that started beeping.

“Oh, crap…” Garrus called out as everyone knew immediately it was a bomb.

“Get back!” Shepard yelled out to everyone just as it detonated. The blast had enough force the throw everyone back from the elevator, killing the salarian who fixing it in the first place, with the blast now rendering the elevator inoperable.

As Shepard, Garrus, Liara and the ARC troopers got back on their feet and made sure each one was alright, a salarian scientist came running over to the group.

“Commander Shepard, are you all right?” he called out as he charged up the stairs.

“We’re good.” Krystina replied, slowly catching her breath back. “Is there another way out of here?”

“Other side of the lab. An emergency exit.” The scientist replied as he hurried over to a terminal to unlock the doors.

“Shepard, Jesse. Cerberus forces trying to locate female.” Mordin called out over comms to the group. “Quarantine checkpoint under attack. Hurry!”

“Copy. We’re on our way.” Jesse replied as the group made their way to the emergency exit. As they were making their way through, an announcement came out over the PA. “Intruders detected in levels 1 through 3. Readiness teams respond.” The message stated. This showed how far Cerberus forces had advanced through the base.

After waiting for everyone to scale the ladder that took them to another doorway, Shepard led the group onwards.

“Shepard, it’s Wrex! I took the shuttle!” Wrex called out over comms. “Do whatever it takes to get the female up to the landing pad! I’ll try to make life miserable for Cerberus!”

“Great! So who did Wrex threw off the shuttle to fly it?” Fives called out.

“We’ll worry about that later. Just focus on pushing Cerberus back!” Shepard ordered as they continued on.

“Either way, this is looking worse that I thought.” Garrus called out as he was pulling rear security.

Once the group was through the door, they all could see how bad it was – multiple explosions were erupting from across the entire base, with a few fires now raging. Flying in the skies was now a mix of salarian fighters, interceptors and salarian-manned Mantis gunships which were engaged in multiple dogfights against Cerberus Sudan fighters, Morroco interceptors, Cerberus A-61x Mantis gunships, with Cerberus UT-47 Kodiaks making their way down to deploy their troopers. Effectively, what was a somewhat tranquil place due to the scenery was now a full-fledged warzone.

“Taking enemy fire from position Telsec-Four!” a salarian soldier called out as they were engaging Cerberus forces from across the river. “Direct reinforcements from to that location and confirm!”

However, before any of them realised, a Cerberus Kodiak came in, side door open, to strafe the salarian soldiers, killing all of them before the Cerberus troopers started jumping out at their newly claimed drop zone.

“Victor and Able Squads. Incursion successful. Securing grid 9-7-9. Awaiting for secondaries.” A Centurion called out as he jumped down to the walkway, with his squad following close behind, stating that their first objective was accomplished and were now waiting for new orders.

“Roger. The objective is to eliminate the krogan.” Another Centurion replied over comms.

“Acknowledged. Engaging enemy security.” The first Centurion responded just as the last of his troopers touched down.

“Weapons free, weapons free!” Krystina yelled out as she ran to a support pillar, firing her M-96 Mattock as fast as she could pull the trigger before getting behind cover.

Following close behind her was Echo and Jesse, also going weapons hot with their DC-15S Carbines. The rapid fire that caught the Cerberus troopers dropped a few Assault Troopers with ease. Lagging behind a bit was Liara, Garrus, Viper, Arcee and Fives. All of them went to what cover they could find and started to engage from their positions, while Viper was letting off a decent stream of blaster bolts from her Z-6 cannon. Liara did what she could with a decent mix of Stasis and Singularity biotic attacks, with the Singularity successfully ensnaring a few Assault Troopers. With that, she launched a Warp on the helpless Cerberus soldiers, which resulted in a powerful biotic explosion that killed them all.

After about a minute and a half, the two Cerberus Squads were eliminated.

“Clear!” Garrus called out once the last trooper was dead.

“I’m sure there will be more.” Liara stated whilst she ejected a spent heatsink from her M-9 Tempest before loading a new one in.

“Time’s not on our side. Let’s move.” Fives stated as he took point with everyone following close behind. However, this didn’t last long.

“More incoming!” Liara called out once she saw more Cerberus troopers coming their way, forcing everyone to scatter and find cover once again.

“All squads. Be advised, we’re encountering resistance from non-salarian hostiles.” A Centurion called out once he saw Shepard’s team, just as his soldiers started opening fire on them.

“Don’t let them take cover in the labs!” Shepard called out just as she dropped another Assault Trooper.

“Yes, ma’am!” Echo replied before flinching due to a round striking near his head. Once he leaned out again to open fire, he saw that most of the Cerberus force was stuck in an open area, doing what they could but were pinned down thanks to Viper. With that, he got an idea.

“Captain, let’s get some thermal detonators out there!” Echo called out to Jesse as he dropped his DC-15S for the time being in order to pull out two thermal detonators from his belt.

“Like your thinking, Echo.” Jesse replied back as he did the same thing.

With the rest of the group providing covering fire, Echo and Jesse lobbed their detonators at the gathered group of Cerberus soldiers. Like how it was with Battle Droids back home in the Clone Wars, the Cerberus troopers were confused by what the two ARC Troopers threw at them, until one exploded when they realised they were grenades – but by that time, it was well and truly too late. The resulting detonations eliminated a decent number of Cerberus troopers, with the rest dispatched in short time.

“The female isn’t going to last long against this sort of firepower.” Garrus called out once the last Centurion was killed.

“No argument there.” Arcee replied as she was venting the excess heat from her DC-15LE.

As Krystina made her way forward, she happened to step inside the lab, which showed more holding cells contain two yahg in two of the cells, with a third one empty due to a hole in it’s wall. The two that were still in their cells were snarling at Shepard, which made the Commander feel a chill down her spine because of past experiences with this aggressive species. In front of them was an active terminal with a log ready to play, so with that, she hit play.

“Species 732 – the yahg – has been authorised for covert uplift. They are ideal candidates for expanding salarian influence with full deniability. The risk is minimal.” The audio log said. This resulted in a very negative look from Shepard, Garrus and Liara.

“Obviously, they’ve never had to fight a yahg face-to-face.” Liara replied rather angrily at this plan the Salarian Union had cooked up.

“Not to mention that this sort of thing resulted in the creation of the genophage for the krogan.” Garrus also said, agreeing with Liara.

Shepard just kept her mouth shut, given the fact that given her experience in trying to kill a yahg before, not to mention what she had learnt of the species since Liara became the Shadow Broker, she was absolutely livid.

Because of the fact that yahg society focuses around on pack mentality, to them equality is viewed in both contempt and abhorrent to their society, not to mention that they are highly aggressive and strong like krogan along with being obsessed with control. It was these reasons why the yahg homeworld, Parnack, was declared off limits to anyone by the Council because the yahg massacred the Council’s First Contact teams and ambassadors in 2125 due to the fact that they presented themselves as equals instead of being subordinates. So to hear that the salarians were willing to try and upload this species to advance their own initiatives was in Krystina’s mind just outright stupid, if not completely dangerous to the Milky Way Galaxy if this backfired. However, Shepard’s thoughts on this was broken when her comms crackled into life.

“Shepard, Cerberus in the vicinity! Hurry!” Mordin called out. With her mind focusing back on the here and now, Shepard signalled for her group to move on.

“We’re on our way!” she called out as they all started moving onwards. Before they made their way through a door to enter the inside of the base again, the PA system was making another announcement.

“Warning: Yahg specimen has broken containment.” This wasn’t a good sign. As soon as the doors opened, they all saw two Assault Troopers before the group saw something smashing it’s way through the wall.

“What the hell?!” one of the Assault Troopers called out before both were pummelled to death by the yahg that had broken out of it’s cell. However, as it did this, it broke what was presumed to be a gas line, for the hole the yahg came out of was now spitting out fire. The yahg looked to the group and gave them one massive snarl before it turned and ran through the flames into the base.

“Careful. There goes the next Shadow Broker.” Krystina called out, taking a cheap pot shot at Liara, but also worried about whether they would run into the yahg down the road, whilst vaulting over a nearby wall in order to get around the flames.

“Could have sworn he was muttering ‘T’Soni’ the whole time.” Garrus also remarked in a more joking manner. Liara, however, wasn’t laughing.

“Not funny.” Was all she said on the subject.

“Come on. Let’s move out.” Jesse called out. As the group continued onwards, another alert came out over the PA system. “Warning: Quarantine fail safes have been compromised.” It said, pretty much pointing out the obvious

Having got passed the flames, the group made their way up the stairs up to another lab, which had the next quarantine checkpoint for the containment pod – and already Cerberus forces were swarming.

“Commander, We’ve got more Cerberus troopers here on the checkpoint! Taking heavy fire!” Kix called out over comms.

“Copy, Kix!” Shepard replied back before she got within melee range of an Assault Trooper and slashed him across the chest with her electrified forked omni-blade.

“Light ‘em up!” She yelled out to the team, as everyone practically got up and close with the Cerberus soldiers. However, for Viper – that was a problem with her Z-6 due to its size and how close quartered the area was, so she had to ditch it for the time being and drew her two DC-17 pistols to compensate for this.

“I see the checkpoint!” Garrus called out once he could get a good line of sight on said position. “They’re under fire!”

“Then let’s get in there!” Liara called out after she killed another Assault Trooper before she moved up into the lab itself alongside Arcee and Echo.

“Taking fire!” Mordin called out. Normally, anyone in Shepard’s team wouldn’t just sit around and yell out what was going on, they would engage – but given the fact that both Mordin and Kix were stuck inside a containment pod that had no firing ports for defence, it was pretty much all they could.

“Be advised. Krogan located at our position. Direct all fire on her container.” A Centurion called out, trying to get back up from any squads in the immediate vicinity in order to complete their orders, but no help would come fast enough.

Whilst dealing with the last few Cerberus troopers, Fives was able to sprint to a railing that provided perfect cover before sliding behind it. This position allowed him to flank a couple of Assault Troopers and ambush them. However, while Fives was taking them out, he didn’t see another Assault Trooper had come up behind them until Shepard called out to him. Upon hearing this, Fives managed to just see the Assault Trooper before he dodged a few rounds fired from the Trooper's M-25 Hornet. However, before Fives could bring his DC-15A to bear on the Assault Trooper, the trooper managed to knock the rifle out of his hands before Fives took a fist to the head, knocking him to the floor. However, before the Assault Trooper was able to take advantage of this, Fives had already pulled on of his DC-17 pistols out of its holster and fired off six blaster bolts into the Assault Trooper, killing him.

Seeing this play out, Viper made her way over to him. “Fives! You OK?” She called whilst approaching him.

“I’m good.” Fives replied as Viper helped him up. “Just didn’t see him coming.” Once Viper grabbed Five’s rifle and handed back to him, she made her way back to grab her Z-6 chaingun. By this point in time, the last Cerberus troopers were killed.

“Quickly, Shepard! Technician dead. Clear us through the checkpoint.” Mordin called out from the containment pod. Once making a quick sweep past the cells that were holding varren, the group made its way to the checkpoint.

“Are you guys OK in there?” Shepard asked as she started to tap away on the console, given the fact that the shields surrounding the female krogan were now starting to show signs of damage from the gunfire.

“We’re OK for now.” Kix called out as he was priming his DC-15S, whilst Mordin was tapping away on the console in front of him.

“Containment shield is holding. Will try to repair if necessary.” He said as he was looking over the diagnostics. “Can’t speak for krogan’s health, however.”

“I’m fine, Commander.” The female krogan stated, strangely enough sounding calm about the situation at hand.

“How did Cerberus learn of the krogan and – perhaps more importantly, how the hell did they manage to get past the Salarian Navy to launch a ground assault?” Echo asked, trying to wrap his head around this given that, from what he had read in the Codex, the salarians were considered experts in the art of espionage and counterespionage and their fleets, while small, were insanely powerful due to the high amount of expensive, bleeding-edge technology that was installed in all their ships, like stealth drives on their dreadnoughts which was originally considered impossible.

“Females kept secret. Possibly a mole in STG. Could be indoctrinated, trooper.” Mordin explained to Echo, not stating his name given the fact that he didn’t know it at the time. “If no krogan alliance with the turians, Reapers left unchallenged.”

“We’ll do more than challenge them.” Shepard replied with determination in her voice as she continued to tap away on the console to clear the pod onwards.

Within a few seconds, the pod was cleared to continue on its trip to the landing pad.

“Shepard. Meet us at next checkpoint. Cerberus likely to target…” Mordin started to explain before an explosion erupted behind him, destroying the wall – exposing both him and Kix to a Cerberus Kodiak with a door open, showing a squad of Assault Troopers already firing their weapons at both the pod and Shepard’s team.

“GET DOWN!” Jesse yelled out as they took cover from the gunfire. As for Kix, as soon as he could see the Shuttle, he shoved Mordin to the deck with the medic joining him, then he grabbed his carbine and rolled onto his left side in order to start firing off blaster bolts at the troopers in the exposed shuttle and successfully killed two troopers before the destroyed gap in the wall was passed.

“Hurry! Next checkpoint!” Mordin called out whilst catching his breath thanks to the shove he got from Kix, though on the inside, he was thankful that he had someone watching his six.

“Copy all squads: I have the krogan in sight.” The Centurion that was with the squad inside the shuttle called out over comms to the entire Cerberus assault force. “She’s in transit, heading for the next level. All squads converge.”

Deciding that they were pinned down long enough, Shepard’s group decided to drop the enemy contingent in the shuttle, so once the fire from the Cerberus troopers had died down enough, they all leaned out of cover to return fire, with Viper again firing off a decent stream of blaster bolts into the cabin. Last time Viper did this, alongside Hevy and Hardcase back on Mars, the Kodiak’s shields could take the punishment. This time around because the door was open, there was a weakness in the shuttle’s defence, allowing her to really cause some havoc and actually damage the interior of the Kodiak before it’s door closed up and it left the AO.

With the immediate threat dealt with, the group made their way through the hole in the wall, which led them to a small ledge that had plants in it. As soon as they made it there, they all could see Cortez's Kodiak flying towards them with a Cerberus A-61x Mantis chasing after it.

“Shepard, get cracking!” Wrex called out from inside the shuttle as it flew over their heads. “I’ll try to draw some of their fire!”

As this was going on, the Cerberus Mantis was firing away at it with its payload of both the twin-linked M350 anti-personnel Mass Accelerator autocannons and Inferno Precision Kill Missiles. While the autocannons would be striking the shields on the Kodiak, the missiles at the moment were not.

“Heads up, another squad incoming!” Arcee called out, alerting everyone that they were still exposed.

As the group charged towards the cover that was nearby, with Shepard and Garrus now switching out to their Black Widows for the first time, an alert came over the PA system stating that there was a malfunction with the quarantine pod – the same pod that the female krogan, Mordin and Kix were in.

“Shepard, last attack compromised security systems! Attempting to compensate!” Mordin called out over comms, revealing that they were nowhere near out of danger yet.

“Hang on! We’re trying to get to you guys!” Jesse replied over the comm channel as he was venting excessive heat out of his DC-15S at the time.

“I don’t mean to break protocols here Captain, but step on it!” Kix yelled out over the comms, given the fact that both he and Mordin had bugger all room to work with before the security systems were compromised.

“Working on it, vod!” Jesse stated before he leaned out to fire off a few more blaster bolts at more Cerberus troopers.

“Another Kodiak inbound!” Fives called out, seeing the ‘flying cockroach’ manoeuvrer into position to drop off more hostiles.

Seeing this play out, Viper got behind a plant bed in order to swap out from her Z-6 chaingun to her Mark 32 Grenade Launcher. By now she was well aware that while Cerberus’ Kodiaks could withstand a barrage of fire from at least three rotary blaster cannons, their kinetic barriers were not well suited for more powerful weapons – and her grenade launcher was now sporting some new experimental ammunition.

Once everyone was keeping the new arriving Cerberus forces occupied, she left her cover and aimed directly at the Kodiak before she fired off all six rounds directly at the portside engine pod. Unlike usual when her grenades would explode on either contact or after a few seconds delay but still roll around, these rounds actually stuck to the engine pod with no explosion – that was until Viper hit a detonator she had on her belt. The end result was once the sticky grenades exploded, all six of them was more than enough to actually rip part of the engine pod off completely, compromising the Kodiak’s flight systems to the point that the VI piloting it couldn’t control the shuttle any longer and it ended up circling downwards towards the river below them where it crashed.

“Aw, bloody beautiful Jennifer!” Fives called out to his lover. “Wish I could kiss you right now for that!”

“Fives, save that stuff for when we’re back on the Normandy.” Jesse called out, rather humorously, before he killed a Centurion once Garrus had stripped his shields away.

“You heard the Captain!” Echo also chipped in regarding the conversation, also in the same humorous tone.

“Will you comedians shut up and kill something?” Shepard called out to the ARC Troopers as she dropped another Assault Trooper before she had to swap out the heatsink in her Black Widow, even though she had a smirk on her lips regarding the banter she was hearing. Once the last trooper was killed, the group moved onwards, with Arcee now taking point.

Once they had passed through a doorway that led to another stairway going upwards, they stopped to catch their breath for a few seconds.

“Viper, what the hell was that you pulled off?” Krystina asked the female heavy weapons specialist, who had her backpack off in order to reload her grenade launcher.

“A new sticky grenade for the Mark 32.” Viper explained to the Commander. “While you were busy on the previous missions with the other squads, Ratchet and I were working on these prototypes.” As she was doing this, she tossed one over to Shepard for her to examine.

“They follow the same principle as your Sticky Grenades, with the remote detonation being similar to an explosive known as 'Semtex' that we had back where I came from.” Viper continued on. “This is the first time they’ve been used.”

“Well, I can’t argue with the results.” Shepard replied as she tossed the sticky projectile back to Viper.

“Regardless of the results of that explosion.” Garrus interjected, focusing on the current battle going on around them. “Cerberus isn’t fooling around here.”

“At the moment, you’re right. They’re capable of anything.” Krystina said, agreeing with her old friend and boyfriend, before looking towards Jesse. “Even more so given what they did to you guys to make you come out here.”

“And we’ll make sure to give it back to them in kind.” The veteran Captain replied back in both an aggressive and determined tone.

“Then we better step to it.” Liara said as well before the group continued onwards.

Chapter Text

Making their way up the stairs, Shepard and her squad managed to run into Kirrahe, who was busy engaged in hand-to-hand combat with another Assault Trooper. From the looks of things, it appeared that the Major already had the upper hand. What the group saw was that the Assault Trooper had already taken either a punch or knee to his stomach, with the Trooper leaning forward before Kirrahe pulled a combat knife from its sheath strapped to his lower back before shoving it into the Assault Trooper’s throat. After a few seconds, once he was seeing the life sap away from the Assault Trooper, Kirrahe withdrew his knife, sheathing it before drawing his Scorpion Heavy Pistol. At this point he saw Shepard’s squad move towards him.

“Commander, stay back!” Kirrahe called out as he edged his way closer to the wall, indicating for everyone to do the same thing. “Hostiles just down the hall.”

Getting in front of Kirrahe, Echo crouched down to use more cover in order to take a quick look down said hallway. Sure enough, he saw three Assault Troopers making their way down the next walkway.

“I’ve got eyes on three Assault Troopers. Looks like they’re looking for somewhere to dig in.” Echo stated to the group before he looked to Kirrahe. “You got a way to flush them out, Major?”

“You could say that trooper…” Kirrahe replied, sounding a bit smug whilst he primed his Scorpion with a fresh thermal clip, before he stepped out of cover. Once out in the open, Kirrahe fired off the entire clip of 4 shots at the Assault Troopers who started opening fire on the Major. However, they were in for a surprise…

Unlike most weapons, the Scorpion didn’t fire conventional slugs but rather low-velocity, squash-head explosive projectiles that were coated in a special adhesive that made them useful for dual purposes. If a projectile actually hit its target, it would stick to said target until it exploded but if a projectile was shot onto a wall, it would then turn into a proximity mine. Effectively, the purpose-built pistol for the Special Tasks Group was a mini-grenade launcher that packed one hell of an explosive punch – and that was what happened to the Assault Troopers.

3 of the rounds went onto the wall near the Troopers, with one sticking onto the chest plate on one of them. As they were struggling to figure out what the hell was going on, the third Trooper walked close to the 3 other projectiles that had now become proximity mines. The end result was this action set off a chain reaction, killing two of the troopers via severe trauma and also from the force of the blasts, with the first trooper who got a round stuck on him was obliterated into a bloody mess.

“How do I not have one of those?” Garrus stated in awe of the pistol, though it also did sound like he was complaining about not having it as well.

“Simple. You aren’t part of the Special Tasks Group, Garrus.” Arcee shot back, which got a small laugh out of Fives, Viper and Echo, with Echo stating that he would love to get his hands on one.

However at this point, Kirrahe was looking back to the group due to the fact that more Cerberus forces were on their way.

“Go, Commander! I’ll cover you!” he called out, just as a Combat Engineer was moving to set up his Turret. Whilst this was going on, a Centurion was busy issuing orders. “Orion Squad, your orders are to hold position and block access to the next checkpoint.” He said over the comms.

With that, the group charged out towards the Cerberus position, or at least tried to due to a few problems. One, the Turret was in the prime position to pin everyone down and Two, there was bugger all cover to work with – everyone would be forced out into the open, which was not ideal due to the Turret. Due to this, Krystina was able to get to the next support pillar for the floor above them along with Jesse and Fives. Echo was able to link up with Kirrahe, with both of them taking cover around some garden beds, with the Major one level above Echo. To compound the problem, more Cerberus troopers, including Combat Engineers, were still arriving, showing that Orion ‘Squad’ was more a full-fledged platoon. Because of this, Garrus, Liara, Viper and Arcee were still stuck where Kirrahe originally was.

“Commander, we can’t advance with that amount of firepower facing us!” Viper called out over comms to Shepard.

“Agreed, taking them head-on isn’t ideal for anyone!” Garrus also chipped in. “See if you can flank them, Shepard.”

“Working on it!” Shepard replied back over comms. Given the fact that she, Jesse and Fives had more cover to work with.

“We need to get rid of those turrets!” Jesse called out.

“Focus fire on one of them.” Shepard ordered. “But only enough to destroy it’s shields.”

Seeing what the Commander had in mind, Jesse and Fives leaned out of cover and peppered one with blaster fire. This was enough to purge the Turret’s shields in a few seconds. This was more than enough for Shepard to hit the unprotected Turret with a Sabotage tech attack. While useful for overloading a hostile’s weapon to deliver a decent electrocution, it’s true strength lied in being able to hack anything with a VI system, or geth platforms for that matter, and have said system turn ‘traitor’ for a few seconds – which is exactly what happened. Once the attack hit the Turret, it turned to face the gathered Cerberus troopers and opened fire on them, killing a decent number of them, giving Shepard’s group some room to breathe. With a distinct lack of lead coming their way, Liara and Arcee moved up to where Krystina was, while Garrus took the chance to drop a couple of Assault Troopers with his Black Widow.

Kirrahe was doing what he could to provide covering fire for Shepard and the ARC Troopers, but with a weapon that could fire off only 4 shots, despite being explosive rounds, before the heatsink needed to be swapped out, it wasn’t a decent rate of fire. Seeing this, Echo decided to help out on that front.

“Major, take my carbine.” He called out to Kirrahe, holding up his DC-15S for the salarian Major to take.

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Kirrahe asked as he looked at the weapon.

“I’m also carrying two pistols, so I’m good.” Echo replied back before he thought of something. “Also, I’m going to want it back once were done here.”

With that said, Kirrahe took the carbine out of Echo’s hands, who then promptly pulled his two DC-17 pistols out of their holsters and resumed engaging the Cerberus force. Taking a few seconds to study the weapon and observing how Jesse was holding his, Kirrahe decided to mimic this and looked down it’s iron sights before pulling the trigger, which he successfully killed an Assault Trooper with it. Sure, the design of the carbine was the