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Mass Effect 4 : New Masters, Chapter 3

 (changed font color for the hell of it – what do you think? Let me know – still trying to figure out how to increase font size…)
Chapter 3
     Javik stared at the stiff pieces of paper in his hands.  “This is absurd,” he thought to himself, but staring across at the turian Garrus, the human James, and the quarian Tali, he sensed a great deal of seriousness.  “Why does this feel like . . . a battle?” he wondered.  The long pauses of consideration, the looks of intense concentration, anger, malice, and fear.  There was brooding silence disrupted by explosive and explicative laced outbursts.  “And that is just from the quaria- from Tali,” Javik mused, forcing himself, once again to practice thinking of these younger races as equals.
     He looked across the table, past the paper in his hands, and said,”I’ll take two,” and placed two inferior ranking cards, face down, on the table and slid them across, into a small pile of discarded poker cards.
     From his spot in the dealer’s chair in Normandy’s neglected game room section of the port observation deck’s lounge, Vega nodded and dealt the Prothean two more pieces of paper that he found himself hoping were better suited to bringing him victory on this battlefield.  He found the other three primitives’ humorously limited eyes on him, watching for a crack in his defenses, analyzing his reactions to the new resources he had acquired.  “This game of chance, this gambling, is not what I imagined.  It is a test of wills between warring factions, each seeking conquest.  Victory comes to he who best reads his enemy’s intentions and sees through the wall built around suspect weapons of deception,” he reasoned to himself.
     “Come on, Javik, blink an eye or something.  Hell, you have twice as many as we do to choose from,” Garrus said.
     “Or break a sweat,” Tali added.
     “Are Protheans even able to sweat?” Vega asked.
     “Perhaps,” Javik answered, setting his hands down, his cards hidden under them.  “I am beginning to understand the fascination of this… Poker Cards,” the final member of the ancient civilization that last fell to the Reapers said.  “You call it gambling, playing, fun.  I see through your lies, primitives.  This is no less than psychological warfare.  If not in training, then in actual practice.”
     “What he’s actually saying is: he likes it,” Tali said with a laugh.
     “You might be on to something, Sparks,” Vega agreed.
     Garrus ignored the banter, as did Javik, the two locked in a staring contest ever since the turian had mentioned blinking.
     “It is pointless, Vakarian, my people held staring contests-”
     “All the time in your cycle, yeah yeah, we know,” Garrus said.  “How about raising the ante instead of your ego, master race?” he asked deadpanned.
     Javik was about to respond when the doors to the room hissed open and Shepard walked in.  Vega, Garrus, and Tali all looked up expectantly.  Javik continued to stare at his current turian enemy, waiting.
     Garrus was halfway to standing, asking the newly promoted Shepard,”So off to Mars, huh?  Any sightseeing tips for a first timer? I’ve heard-”
     That’s when Garrus noticed the Prothean, his position and line of sight unchanged.  The turian dropped his head back, as much as his ever present armor would allow and let out a defeated,”Damnit, Shepard!”  Javik finally looked up and laughed scornfully at his defeated opponent.
     Shepard raised his hands in front of him.  “What?”
     Javik stood and made a slight bow in Shepard’s direction.  “My thanks, Captain.  Our strategy worked to perfection.”  Garrus looked from Javik to Shepard and back again, his mouth dropping open.
     “Your strategy? What did you-? How did you? I mean you couldn’t have-” Garrus stammered, confused.
     Shepard looked from Javik to Garrus and then to the cards on the table and just shook his head with a laugh.  The laugh was joined by another laugh coming from behind three and half empty bottles on the opposite side of the room, at the Normandy’s bar.  Jack leaned back, propped up with one arm on the back counter and pointing at Garrus past another liquor bottle in her other hand.
     “You’re such a gullible fuck sometimes, Vakarian, you know that?” she asked, continuing to chuckle to herself.
     Garrus glanced over Javik’s shoulder to stare at the talented biotic, unable to determine if she was drunk or not.  He saw the empty bottles, but he really wasn’t hearing anything he didn’t already expect from Jack.
     Jack ignored him, instead leaning over to her silent companion, uncomfortably rigid in a half sitting, half squatting position, saying,”See, that Prothean has a sense of humor, EDI has a sense of humor.  I know you can do it, Tinman.  You just gotta believe.”
     The geth prime turned his smooth red painted head down to look at Jack, his singular optical sensor slightly rotating to focus.
     “Jack-human, I do not see the benefit of ridiculing one’s allies… one’s friends.  It seems counter-productive to continuing such relationships,” the large synthetic replied in a voice echoing with electronic and digital tones.
     “Yes, Jack is drunk,” Garrus confirmed to himself.  “Talking to a geth about humor is the surest sign,” he added as he accepted his defeat at Javik’s hands with a nod to the Prothean before turning once more to face his old friend.  “So, Shepard, who’s ass needs to be kicked now?”
     Shepard shook his head. “No one, at the moment, Garrus. We’re heading to Mars to dig in to the archives there.”
     “Damnit, not again,” Vega said, swatting a hand in Shepard’s direction in exaggerated despair.
     “Actually, I came down here for Javik,” Shepard said, ignoring Jame’s whining.
     “Makes sense,” Garrus answered.
     “In what way does that make sense?  I am no scholar to study old records of the humans,” Javik stated.
     “They’re not human archives.  They’re Prothean,” Shepard answered.
     Javik’s eyes focused instantly.   “How large an archive is it?  When are the last records dated?  Do they end before my time in stasis or after?  Why have you not told me of this before now, human?  How long until we reach this Mars?”  The questions poured forth in a gush the crew had never seen from the sole survivor of the nearly extinct alien race.
     Shepard patted Javik on the shoulder.  “Easy, Javik.  We’ll be there in a little while.  As far as all the other questions, talk to Liara.  She’s the last one I know to study them.  That’s who and how we found your people’s plans for the Crucible.”
     “I will go to her at once,” the Prothean said, nearly knocking down Tali in his haste to exit the room and find the asari archeologist turned information broker.
     Garrus laughed, watching Javik jog down the hall, ducking his head in each door as he went, calling out,”Asari!  Where are you hiding, asari?”  The turian came back to face Shepard again.  “So I heard true: congratulations are in order . . . Captain,” he said, extending his hand.
     Shepard shook Garrus’ hand with a simple,”Thanks.”  The other members of the crew each took turns offering their own congratulations to their trusted friend and leader.  The geth prime, now having been solidified with the name Tinman after a forced vote among the crew by Jack, merely looked on, observing his new organic allies.
     “So what’s the plan, Shepard?” Jack asked.
     “We go to Mars, we dig in the archives and hope the Protheans learned more about mass relays than we have.  We need to find a way to make them functional again so that no one is stranded on Earth and so that every other home world isn’t left defenseless with so much of their military here.”
     Jack shook her head, obviously disappointed. “Shit, that sounds boring.  Think I’ll just booze it up with Meathead here or something, she said, eyeing Vega in a peculiar way that made the intimidatingly built soldier look around nervously and almost blush.
     Shepard shrugged.  “Suit yourself, Jack.  Anyone who wants a few more days of sitting on their ass after all we’ve been through does not need to ask permission, right now.  Clearly, Javik will be going, thankfully.  I’m sure Liara won’t turn down the chance to get at those records some more, and I’ll be going, so that should cover us just fine for this milk run.”
     Tinman tried to stand up, found that he could only come up from his crouching position slightly due to his enormous size, and shuffled forward as best he could.  He stopped, facing Shepard.
     “Shepard-Captain, I request permission to accompany your team to the Prothean Archives.  Geth have limited information of previous cycle races and we seek to increase our knowledge on all subjects we find to be insufficient in our databases.”
     Shepard looked up at the hulking mass of artificial consciousness and answered,“Granted, Tinman.  Welcome to the team.”  Shepard studied the geth for a moment and then added,”I can’t help but notice you’re a lot bigger than Legion was.  Have you found somewhere on the Normandy that you can rest, recharge, whatever it is geth do when not . . . doing things, for the time being?”
     “Yes, Shepard-Captain.  Your EDI platform suggested your hangar area.  It has adequate space and I will adapt a power source that I can utilize which also will not compromise the Normandy’s operation.”
     “Sounds good.  If you need anything else, let me know.”
     “I am grateful, Shepard-Captain, though I do not believe I will require anything more in the near future.”
     “Acknowledged,” Shepard said. “Now if anyone needs me, I’ll be in my quarters. Gotta a couple escort pilots just pulling up with us and I’m gonna study up on our new recruits.”
     Garrus and Tali both answered,”Yes, sir,” with no particular formality while James found himself being cornered by Jack at the bar, half fear and half excitement fighting for dominance in his eyes. Shepard took a long look at the crew in front of him and thought about the many others elsewhere on the ship and felt pride, not for the first time, in the group he had assembled and relied on so many times. He had a feeling, going forward, that he would need them sooner rather than later as much as he had at any point in the past.  
     As he walked out of the observation deck and the alarms sounded, the captain of the Normandy swore unintelligibly, finishing the string of curses with,”. . . didn’t mean so damn soon,” his walk becoming a run to the painfully slow elevator. 
* * * * 
     Lieutenant Ericson shoved his flight stick forward and to the left. His ship, a captured Cerberus advanced prototype he had dubbed Ol’ Nancy, after a particularly evil substitute teacher in his early school days, barrled forward, zipping under the Normandy. The ship that combined elements of both interceptor and fighter class designs reacted without hesitation, saving its passenger from a stream of deadly energy blasted through his recently vacated position.   The pilot looked back over his shoulder, only catching the faintest glimpse of a red flash and feeling a slight increase in temperature from that direction.   He quickly tapped into his comm while he whipped the fighter around to face the enemy.
     “Lieutenant Ericson to Normandy.  What the hell am I looking at?”
     “Uh, Ericson. Joker.  I have no fucking clue.  But let’s take’em out!”
     “I like the way you think, Joker.  Murphy, you catch that?”
     “Sure did, buddy.  Let’s try to take out engines on one.  I’d like to know who they are, too.”
     “Roger that, but no promises.”
     “Hey, key word was try,” Murphy shot back.
     The momentum of Ericson’s fighter sent it sliding sideways as the nose finally managed to track down a target.  Ericson stared down the length of his ship at an enemy craft he had never fought, never seen, never read about, and never even heard rumors of before.  Asymmetrical was being too kind to the design and saying it had a few guns was understating it to a high degree.  It was three or four times the size of his ship which seemed to suggest it could hold a handful or more of troops for deployment, making it more comparative to the Kodiak than his fighter.  But there it was, being used like an interceptor and not a heavily armed transport.  
     “An ugly transport,” he thought.  One corner was boxy, another sharp as a razor, the cockpit was smoothly round, and and the nose curved out in a crescent, giving it the look of a saucer-shaped craft that had backed up into a scrap pile at high speed.  Guns were mounted on every surface and all appeared able to swivel to track their targets.  The alien fighters were clearly designed and built in space, for space.  In atmosphere, they would have dropped like the bag of rocks they resembled without a major eezo field generator built into it somewhere.  Minus that, Ericson’s perfectly balanced fighter would dance around the death trap vehicle in even the remotest semblance of atmosphere, could he lure it there.  
     “Otherwise, I have a feeling this is going to be a nasty fight,” the lieutenant tacked on to his thoughts.  He looked out his port window and saw Mars dominating his view.  He checked his displays and saw Mars only a few minutes away.  “Just maybe . . .”
     He fired a spread of lasers in the enemy’s direction, scoring hits with about two-thirds of the attack.  It registered as more damage than he had expected and realized that the ship must have been trading off shield energy for weapon power.  “Smart, if the pilots were any good.  Which they’re not,” Ericson thought.  “Of course, when they out number you three to one, does it really matter?” he wondered, seeing the multiple red enemy signatures showing up on radar.  They were quickly surrounding the three little green dots representing the Normandy, his wingman Murphy, and himself.  Just as he pulled his eyes back to targeting his enemy, a fourth green dot appeared.
     “Lieutenants Ericson and Murphy, this is Commander- sorry, Captain Shepard. I’m taking the shuttle and my team down to Mars.  Can you keep these guys off our backs?”
     “Affirmative, Captain.  You handle the mission you’re here for and leave this to us.”
     “Thanks, Ericson.  Shepard out.”
     Ericson watched the Kodiak dive for the Martian surface, two enemy ships turning to follow it.
     “Oh no you don’t.  Murphy, you see it?”
     “Sure do.  On it.”
     “Copy that.  Normandy, see if you can keep the rest cut off, we’ll take out Shepard’s pursuers,” Ericson said.
     “Can do. Joker out,” came the skilled frigate pilot’s response.
     Ericson took a few shots at his closest target before hitting his afterburners and blasting past it to catch up with the ships closing in on the shuttle team.  He saw it leaking something as he shot by it, but decided he would worry about the crippled enemy later.  He closed in on the bigger threats to the mission and tapped the weapons choice display.  He pulled up the disruptor torpedoes and toggled them to “armed.” He tapped another, lighting up the “linked” option.
     “Arming the Callies, Ericson,” Murphy informed his partner.
     “Good call, Wayne, same here,” Ericson said, before tapping a control to radio the Kodiak.  “Ericson to Kodiak shuttle, come in.”
     “Ericson, this is Cortez, piloting the Kodiak, go head.”
     “Just letting you know your ride might get a little bumpy.  Switching to torpedoes to take those guys off your ass.”
     “Understood.  Ready for evasive maneuvers.”
     Ericson switched off the radio, found a target, and locked on.
    “I’ll take the left one,” Murphy’s voice apprised.
     Ericson looked at his target and cursed with a laugh.  It never failed.  Whenever he flew missions with Wayne, they picked the same target nine times out of ten.  “Copy that, changing target,” the lieutenant said.
     “Seriously, dude?” came the reply coupled with Wayne’s laughter.
     Ericson flipped his comm back on for Cortez’s benfit. “You know how we do, man.  Here we go . . . firing!”
     “Copy that,” Cortez responded.
     Ericson smashed the button on the top of his yoke and four missiles released.  He yanked back on his controls, pulling the ship away from the mass-field generating weapons.  A fraction of a second later, the rockets of the projectiles ignited, flinging the deadly objects on a crash course with an enemy too focused on its own target.  Out of the corner of his eye, the human pilot saw his wingman’s own swarm of missiles streaking towards the other alien craft.
     “Come on, come on,” Ericson whispered between the heartbeats of time between launch and impact.  The missiles closed in.  “Do it.”
     The enemy’s guns came alive, suddenly aware of their plight.  Dozens of rounds of the red laser energy cut through space, attempting to reduce the incoming ordinance to scrap. Ericson saw one missile explode.  Then another.  
     “Fuck fuck fuck.”
     A third target was destroyed by the right most alien vessel.  
     “Son of a bitch . . .” came his helpless cry as he concentrated on the final torpedo, rocketing in on the enemy.  The anti-missile barrage intensified with only meters to go.  Ericson held his breath.  He saw the Kodiak bank hard right.
     Impact.  Detonation.  A rippling field of energy ripped through the target.
     “Ha ha!” he cried out.  
     The alien’s ship exploded into wreckage, vented atmosphere burning in a short lived fireball.  Ericson saw a similar sight emerge to the left followed by Wayne’s own,”Ya goddamn right!”
     “That was close, Wayne.”
     “Don’t I know it.”
     “Cortez, let Shepard know you all are clear to proceed.  We’ll take care of the rest of these mofos,” the pilot communicated.
     Shepard’s voice came over the channel,”Good job, Ericson.  That’s a hell of a first impression.  You clear the skies and we’ll radio when we’re through down there.”
     “Roger, Captain.  Ericson out.”
     The prototype ship swung around to track more targets. 
     “Alright, Ericson.  Murphy.  Let’s finish these assholes,” Joker broadcast to the escort fighters.
     “Good times, Joker,” Ericson said, switching back to his regular guns.
* * * *
     Shepard stood over Steve Cortez’s shoulder aboard the Kodiak, looking at the display showing him the dogfight taking place above Mars.  “Good job, Ericson.  That’s a hell of a first impression.  You clear the skies and we’ll radio when we’re through down there.”
     “Roger, Captain.  Ericson out,” came the new crew member’s reply.
     Shepard nodded to Cortez who then cut off the comm and began taking the shuttle into the thin atmosphere of Mars.  The Captain pulled up a readout of the enemy ships that the Normandy and the two pilots were currently pursuing.  They may have physically out-gunned the Alliance ships, but the attackers had learned quickly that the superior power was not on their side and were now retreating in a direct path for the edge of the system.  Shepard wanted to smirk at the ill-advised ambush, but something gnawed at the back of his mind.  Something more than just an unknown ship design or motive was bothering him.
     “Where did those things come from?” he wondered aloud.
     “I was wondering the same thing, Shepard,” said Liara from a seat nearby.
     “Yes.  If the mass relays are inoperative, then these new enemies have been watching you from your own system for an unknown period of time.  That is not a good sign,” Javik added.
     “Agreed,” Shepard said. “But why attack now?  If they’ve been watching, if they’ve been hiding right under out noses, you’d think they’d have learned more about our capabilities and known better than to attack with such an out matched force.”
     “And who were they?” Liara asked.  “Cerberus in some bizarre new ship?  Some of Aria’s mercs?”
     “They do not match any ships in geth records,” Tinman offered.  Shepard nodded to him and then turned to Liara.
     “You’re the Shadow Broker, you’re telling me you don’t know anything about them?” Shepard said, folding his arms across his chest in mock anger at his asari friend.
     She recoiled slightly and shrugged.  “I’ve never heard any reports on ships of that design.”  She lifted her arm, activating her omni-tool, and started tapping away.  “But I will see what is in the archives.  My access is limited to what records I have on hand.”
     “Yeah, I guess you haven’t recruited a Rachni yet for network outages, huh?” Shepard asked.
     Liara laughed as Cortez homed in on the closest landing pad to the Archives.  “No, but don’t think I haven’t considered it.  A network system that relies on the mass relays is clearly not the best idea when the relays can be destroyed.”
     “Did you come up with this theory before or after the Captain destroyed the Alpha Relay,” Javik asked.
     “That just never goes away, does it?” Shepard asked, eying Javik for a moment.
     “It was the correct decision, Captain.  Our scientists discussed it on many occasions, but when things finally became desperate enough to warrant that action, we no longer had the resources to implement the plans.”
     Shepard’s face showed no emotion, saying only,”Uh huh,” as the shuttle landed on Mars, rocking gently with the touchdown.  The door slid open and the team of three organics and one synthetic hopped out, guns drawn.  “Be ready for anything,” Shepard ordered.  “We’ve had no reports from here since the Reapers arrived.  We don’t know what we’re going to find.”
     “Hopefully we won’t run into Cerberus this time,” Liara said.
     “If I never see a white and yellow uniform again, it will be too soon,” Shepard commented.
     The four took a short walkway to what looked like a large warehouse door, covered by a large overhanging roof designed to attempt to help protect against the raging dust storms of Mars.  Liara made her way through the rubble on the ground, no doubt a result of whatever Reaper activity had occurred there, to find the access panel to the door.  She held her omni-tool up to it, the override program automatically launching after detecting the locked door.  There was a groan from the gears of the single, lowering wall that was the door and after a moment it began to descend.  Halfway open, however, the groaning became a metal on metal screeching and the door shuddered to a stop with an echoing thud.
     “Fifty-thousand years go by since my cycle and you find my people’s cities and technology and it still works.  That, after three hundred years at war with the Reapers.  Your human constructions fail after a few months of war having been in place for no more than 200 years.  The accomplishments of you primitives are quite conflicting.  Defeat the Reapers in less than a year, not a problem.  Create a serviceable door . . . we will get back to you on that,” Javik said with what amounted to a Prothean smirk.
     “Ha ha,” Shepard faked a laugh.
     “Shepard-Captain, I believe I may be of assistance,” Tinman said.
     “By all means,” Shepard said, motioning to the door.
     The geth prime moved to the door and reached to his full height to grip the top edge of the stuck mechanism.  He pulled downwards.  The door protested at first and then began sliding down, inch by inch.  It stopped again only a few more feet down.  It was still too high for any of the other three to reach without assistance.
     Looking around he saw a few nearby crates.  “Those will do,” he said, pointing at the metal boxes.  He looked at Tinman and considered having the geth lift them instead, but thought better of it.
     “Tinman, can you get through there?” he asked, pointing at the gap at the top of the doorway.
     “I can.”
     “Go ahead and do it and scout the area.  We’ll be through in a minute.”
     “Acknowledged,” the giant geth replied, pulling himself up and over the lip of the door.
     Shepard jogged over to them and began to drag the hefty containers over when he heard Liara laughing.  “What?” he asked.
     She motioned for him to step away from the boxes and come over next to her.  She pointed for him to stand to her right and Javik, taking the cue, came to stand on her left.  “Tinman, are we clear to come through?” she asked through her communicator.
     “The area is secure, T’soni-Asari,” came the confirmation.
     The three on the outside of the door were enveloped in blue energy, Liara deciding not to waste any time by lifting them through the manageable opening of the door with her biotic abilities.
     “Of course,” Shepard said, putting the palm of his hand to his forehead in a forced act of shame.
     Once on the other side, Shepard led the team through the corridors of the human built facility in an attempt to make their way to the Prothean sections it was built around.  Javik kept his eyes on the windows, able to see some of the ruins of his people’s construction in the distance.  “I remember hearing of you humans, Shepard.  The cave dwellers, some of us called you.  I am glad we chose you as one of the races to help.”
     “Help?  You mean you didn’t just watch us?”
     “Like Liara learned on her Thessia home world, we never intended to merely watch you younger races.  I am not sure how we helped the humans, I am no scientist, but I know we would not have let even one race capable of evolving into a fighting force take their own path and time to do so.  Whatever they did, the scientists seem to have gotten it right with your species.  Last to create a . . . civilized society, last into space, few biotics and shorter lifespans- every disadvantage I could imagine, and yet you quickly dominate all other race’s thoughts once able to travel the mass relay corridors.  A fast moving and adaptable race must be the key.  That is something we lacked.  It is something the other races do not seem to posses in such high levels as well.”
     “This information is interesting, Javik-Prothean,” Tinman said.  “Would the Protheans have found the geth to be worth your attentions had we been around to study in your cycle.”
     “No.  We would have treated you as we treated the Reapers, machine.”
     Javik said nothing else to the geth and kept moving.  Liara and Shepard exchanged a questioning glance between each other, both looking back at the geth for a reaction and saw nothing.  They all kept moving.
     A few minutes later, they came to a man-made blockade of the hallway.  Hundreds of crates, like those outside the warehouse door, were stacked, welded, and sometimes smashed together, forming a durable barrier that was littered with scorch marks from weapons fire. A large concentration of burned metal centered around a small opening that was roughly a meter across and maybe two high.
     “Just the right size for a person, but not many reaper forces.  Husks, the turian marauders maybe, not much else, though,” Shepard thought.  “But who was left to create and defend this?” he wondered. “Didn’t Cerberus wipe everyone out even before the Reapers followed us here?”
     He was answered shortly when a woman sporting cobbled together Alliance and Cerberus armor came out from the opening with half a dozen armed followers.  They aimed their guns at the small squad.  Shepard and his team raised their weapons in response.
     “I’ll ask you to stop right there, pal,” the lady said, eyeing the geth in particular with a flash of fear.  To her credit, Shepard noticed it as just that: a flash.  She checked it quickly, maintaining a calm exterior, more for her followers than as any show of confidence for outsiders.
     Shepard weighed his options.  He’d been in worse situations, more opponents, better equipped, but something told him fighting his way out of this was not his only option.  He reasoned that these people were afraid, had been fighting for their lives against who knows what, and probably had not even heard that the war was over.  He decided to try and use the diplomacy Hackett had mentioned developing more and more in him.  He motioned for Liara, Tinman, and Javik to lower their weapons.  Liara and Tinman complied.  Javik did not.
     “Javik, we can do this without the violence.”
     “Believe what you will, Shepard.  I have no reason to trust these primitives and they stand between us and our mission.”
     The lady in charge perked up.  “Shepard?  As in Commander Shepard of the Normandy?”  Her tone was less threatening.  Shepard stared at Javik who sensed the change in demeanor of the human female.  He hesitated, but then lowered his particle gun.  Shepard turned back to face the leader of the group.
     “Captain now, but yes, I’m Shepard.”
     “Captain?  Really?  They’ve got time for promotions in between losing worlds to the Reapers?”
     “The Reapers are dead.  We defeated them with the Crucible two days ago.”
     “Defeated?  What the hell is a Crucible?”
     Shepard saw no doubt in her eyes, only questions.  “How long have you been without communication?” he asked.
     “Three months, give or take a week.  Been trying to scrounge up parts to repair a satellite on the roof, but the pockets of husks roaming around here have made it too dangerous.”
     “Husks?” Shepard asked, Liara and Javik looking around the area with him, Tinman maintaining his optic sensor on the group of humans.  “When was the last time you saw any?”
     “Well . . . probably two days ago?  But how did you-?”
     “The Crucible.  It killed the Reapers and anything created by them.  Do you have a name?”
     “Amanda.  Amanda Cullers.”
     “Look, Amanda, is there somewhere we can sit down and talk.  There’s a lot to explain.  The important part is that we can help you out.  You all are safe, now.”
     “Look, Captain, if you are the same Shepard as the Commander Shepard I’ve heard so much about, then I need some sort of proof. Anybody can buy a cheap set of look-alike N7 armor and go running around.”
     “Don’t I know it,” Shepard said, thinking of one gung-ho individual by the name of Conrad.  “Tragic the way he went,” he thought, absently.
     “Then, as an act of good faith, I’m asking that you restore our communications.  That shouldn’t prove too hard for a true war hero,” Amanda said.
     “No, it shouldn’t,” Shepard agreed.
     “Fair warning, though, it won’t be a cake walk.”
     “How do you mean?”
     “The Reapers may be gone, but there are . . . other groups here.  We all sort of fall into two categories: either we were on Earth and tried to escape or we were on our way to Earth when the Reapers attacked.  Which side we fell on didn’t really matter in the end.  What mattered is that our ships took damage and we crashed, or if we were lucky landed roughly, on Mars.  No one was happy about it and not everyone has tried to stick together when the Reapers were here.  Now that they’re gone, I doubt that will get any better.”
     “It’s never simple and straight forward, is it Shepard?” Liara asked.
     “Not on our missions, Liara,” he answered.  To himself he wished, just once, a mission he was assigned to would go as planned without out a dozen little other things pulling them in different directions. He looked to Amanda again, saying,”But, if it will prove our good intentions to Amanda and her people, we’ll do it.  I’d rather be gaining allies than making enemies right now.”  
     She nodded to him and then activated her omni-tool.  “I’m sending you the location of the least damaged satellite, Shepard.  It needs a power source and a few minor repairs that your own omni-tool should be able to handle if its fabrication function is still working, unlike mine.”
     “Good to know.  And what sort of resistance our we likely to run into?”
     “The others I’ve mentioned don’t all stay in one place like we have.  And not everyone is going to cause trouble, but there are some mercenaries running around with a few of the small mech units, and I swear I saw a krogan in one group and a couple batarians with a vorcha in another.”
     “Typical of what I have seen in this cycle,” Javik interjected.
     “This cycle?” Amanda asked giving Javik an odd look.
     Shepard held up a hand.  “Long story.  I’ll tell you all about it once we’ve repaired your satellite so that you can start coordinating some sort of supply drop or personnel pickup, whichever you need.”
     Without another word, Shepard signaled to his team and they turned to follow the map Amanda had transferred to his omni-tool.  He read up on the schematics, already searching through his mind for a suitable replacement for the communications array’s power core.
     Javik came up beside him.  “Why put up with these petty requests, Captain?  They only delay us which only delays the solution to the mass relay problem.”
     “It only delays us if it was never part of the mission in the first place, Javik,” Shepard answered.  “Think about it.  If they’re telling us they’ve had no communication, how are we going to let anyone know of anything we find down here?  They’ve actually saved us time in letting us know this without having to find it out the hard way.”
     Javik was silent as they continued down their chosen hallway.  He thought about it and then said,”I see.  You were understanding this even as she was speaking.  You are a rare one, Shepard.  You have a warrior’s instincts, a general’s command, and a priest’s patience.  Those humans would be dead on the floor by now had I been charged with your task.”
     “Well then I’m glad I’m the one calling the shots, Javik,” Shepard laughed.  “No offense.”
     “None taken, Captain.”
     Liara just watched the exchange between the two while Tinman’s heavy steps echoed beside her.  “How many decades did I spend glorifying his race?” she wondered for the hundredth time since they had revived Javik on Eden Prime.
 * * * *
     Ericson flew through the flaming debris of his final victim.  Checking his sensors, he was mildly impressed.  Neither the Normandy nor Murphy’s ship showed anything remotely resembling damage.  Low shields that were currently regenerating, but nothing serious.  Another fact that drew his attention was that they had nearly left Neptune behind in their pursuit of their adversaries.  
     “They were in quite a hurry, weren’t they?” Joker radioed from the frigate.
     “Just a bit,” Murphy replied.  
     “Yeah, but to where?” Ericson asked.  He saw no deviation in the flight path the strange ships had taken.  If he hadn’t known that the mass relays had been damaged beyond use he would have sworn-  “Hey, you see where these guys were headed?” he suddenly found himself wondering out loud.
     “Sure, to the mass relay,” Joker said.  “Why wouldn’t they . . . ohhhhh.  Right.  Thanks EDI, for reminding me that I’m an idiot.  No, no.  I know it wasn’t your intent, baby, just- nevermind.”
     Ericson always found it funny to hear one side of a conversation and wonder what the other party was actually saying.  Normally what he came up with in his own mind left him having to hold in nearly uncontrollable laughter.  
     “So?” Ericson heard his buddy Wayne say.  “If they’ve been hiding out in our solar system, maybe they don’t even know it’s been taken out.  No big deal.”
     “Still . . . I say we go check it out.  Shepard and his team will be down on Mars for a while, I have a feeling, and we’ve got nothing but time on our hands.  If they get in a pinch and need us, we hop in the Normandy’s hangar and Joker FTLs us all back their in the blink of an eye.”
     “Hey, works for me,” Joker said.  
     “Then let’s go,” Ericson ordered.
     The three Alliance warships formed a loose triangular formation, the Normandy in the lead, and headed for the disabled mass relay of the Sol system.

About harbinger50

I'm a guy with a job that if I wasn't paid to do it . . . I sure as hell would not be doing it. I imagine that covers probably more people than does not. I have a son who is almost 12 who I see every other weekend. I find that most of my passions are creative, which we all know doesn't exactly pay without a single minded focus and near-exclusion of everything and everyone else. I've never been able to be that self-centered, as easy as you might think that should be... I enjoy writing, playing guitar, shooting films, lifting weights (HATE cardio, but do it anyway) and have various other interests and hobbies that I can never decide to do that focusing on. This site is my attempt at that...

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