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Mass Effect: Paragon Paths

By Jennifer N. Bogle

Fantasy / Scifi

Chapter 1

Captain David Anderson stood at the modest desk in Ambassador Udina's office, waiting for the men in front of him to make up their minds. Spread out before them was a series of data pads, each one displaying a different soldiers service record. In the back of the room a turian specter paced back and forth waiting also.

Anderson watched as Admiral Hackett picked up another data pad to review. Finally his candidate, the only one he was allowed to put forward, was on the top of the pile. He waited, watching her image on the screen.

Udina reached down and picked it up. His eyes took in the picture of her and he moved to cast this pad aside too. He stopped suddenly and pulled it in front of him again.

Anderson turned to the turian, Nihlus, and nodded.

They had both recommended this particular solider.

"Well, what about Shepard?" Udina asked, "Earth-born . . . but no record of her family."

"Doesn't have one," Anderson replied. "She was raised on the streets. Learned to look out for herself."

Admiral Hackett took the data pad from Udina and nodded, he remembered her. "She proved herself during the blitz. Held off enemy forces on the ground until reinforcements could arrive."

"She's the only reason Elysium is still standing," Anderson added.

"We can't question her courage," Udina remarked with a nod.

Anderson stepped forward ready to make his case. "Humanity needs a hero. And Shepard's the best we've got."

Hackett looked to Nihlus who nodded and finally back to Udina.

"I'll make the call."

Commander Jennifer Shepard let out a long slow breath. She felt her biotic current flow around her. She threw her arms open and released her energy out, toppling all of the targets in the field. With a smile she stood and wiped the sweat from her brow.

Grabbing a water bottle from the table nearby, she took a long drink and brought up the clock on her omni-tool.

Just after noon.

She'd been practicing for over an hour now.

She thought about stopping, maybe heading back home. She didn't have a lot of pass days and she wasn't sure she wanted to spend all day practicing.

Her omni-tool beeped.

She had an incoming call.

Shepard brought the tool back up and opened up the video call interface.

"Hello?"

Captain Anderson's face appeared on the slightly orange screen.

"Shepard, its Captain Anderson."

"Afternoon sir."

"Afternoon Commander. I've got some good news for you."

"Oh?"

"You're being transferred under my command. As 0800 hours tomorrow you are officially the XO of the newest ship in the Alliance fleet. The Normandy."

She was shocked.

"Uh sir . . . I don't know what to say." She hadn't been counting on being assigned to a ship. In fact she wasn't sure serving on a ship was something she wanted anymore.

Not after Elysium.

Not after the Blitz.

"I know this isn't what you signed on for," Anderson explained. "But I need the best damn crew I can assemble. And that means you."

"Thank you sir." She responded before she could think about it.

"No need to thank me Shepard. Just get your gear packed and be ready to move out by 1500 hours. I've made arrangements for you to get to the Luna station. I'll have a shuttle pick you up there tomorrow morning."

"Sir, if I can be frank?"

"Speak freely Shepard," He assured her.

"Why pick me? I've heard about the Normandy and what she can do. A ship like that, you must have people chopping at the bit."

Anderson laughed for a moment and then said, "Tell me what this is really about Jenn. I know you too well to be fooled by a question like that."

She sighed. Anderson was the one who had found her on the streets that day, all those years ago. She'd been running from the Reds, a gang she had done some work with when she was younger. She had never much cared for gangs or the way they ran fast and loose with the rules. But as an orphan, and a biotic, she didn't have a lot of options.

One night, when she was seventeen, she got wind of the gang's plans to attack an older woman as she left the bank she visited every Wednesday night. Shepard had seen her coming and going on several occasions. She was kind and would often pass her a few credits here and there for food.

Somehow one of the Reds had found out that she was quite wealthy and often pulled large summons of credits from the bank to donate at various shelters around the city.

She was a good woman. Kind and generous to everyone.

They were planning to kill her for her money.

So she stopped them.

She went to the bank and warned the woman. Told her their plans. The older woman was so grateful she gave Shepard a thousand credits and was sure to never walk home from the bank alone again.

When her old gang found her, they were less than grateful. She used every biotic trick she could think of, not that she knew many. But when she tired they started in on her. She threw punches and ran for as long as she could. As she came around a corner she ran into an ally, hoping to hide and rest, they trapped her.

They beat her with fists at first.

And she kept fighting.

Then they started picking up pipes and bricks to beat her with next.

She pulled the last of her energy in and pushed them back.

Then she collapsed to her knees, completely spent.

Just before they could close in and finish her off, the sound of a pistol rang through the street. The Reds scattered like roaches when the lights came on. A man came and scooped her up off the floor and carried her to a nearby hospital.

When she woke up Anderson, not a captain yet, was waiting by her bedside. He told her he had seen the last of the fight, asked what had happened and then commended her for her bravery. He told her that he seen war hardened generals who didn't have half her spirit. He then went on to say that the Alliance could use people like her, and it would be a good way to get away from the gangs and violence in the cities.

A few days later she was released from the hospital and went straight to the enlistment office. Anderson had left word that she would come and when she did, her wanted her application fast tracked. She was through the tests and on her way to boot in a week.

He had saved her life and checked on her frequently.

In many ways he was like the father she'd never known.

He knew her well enough to know when she wasn't being straight with him.

"I'm a solider sir, a good one. I don't mind being assigned to the Normandy, it sounds like a hell of a ship. I just want to know that this assignment is because I'm a good solider and not because of the blitz." She explained it as best she could.

"Shepard this assignment is because you're the best the N7 program has to offer. I want the best on my ship. Now get your ass in gear marine, that transport won't wait forever."

"Yes, sir!"

Shepard stood waiting for the transport shuttle that would take her to the Normandy. She'd been flying all night and had barely made it to the shuttle bay before 0800. Not that it mattered since it appeared her pilot was late.

"Commander?" A solider in Alliance blue armor approached her and saluted.

She returned the gesture and waited.

"Ma'am I have your shuttle pulling in now," he motioned to what looked like a brand new alliance shuttle pulling in. She nodded her thanks and headed toward the opening door. She ducked under the lifting door and looked around. The few seats that in main area of the shuttle were empty, the only other person on board appeared to be the pilot. She dumped her bag on one of chairs and headed into the control area.

"Commander, it's nice to meet you," the pilot greeted her. He was an attractive man in his early thirties maybe. With thick dark hair and amber eyes that sparkled when he took in the sight of her. He was very attractive.

"Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko, ma'am. Captain Anderson sent me to pick you up. Sorry I was late, piloting isn't my strong suite."

"Maybe I should wait for the next shuttle then," she joke good naturedly.

He laughed as she sat down in the seat next to him. "That might be a long wait."

"Well I guess it's a good thing I've been practicing my shield." She fastened her seatbelt and smiled as the LT laughed too.

"So you are a biotic," he commented as the shuttle pulled out and into space.

"You say that like you knew already."

"Well there are rumors," he started to head toward a ship in the distance, it looked small but they were still a ways out. "Especially after the blitz."

"Ah," she replied quietly. She turned away from the LT and glanced out the small windows on the sides.

"I'm sorry commander," Alenko said in a rush. "I didn't mean to bring up anything . . ."

"It's fine. Is that the Normandy?" She pointed to the ship they were approaching.

"Yea," he replied, dropping the topic. "The SR1. State of the art and top of the line."

"Alenko," Anderson's voice cut through the cockpit. "Do you have the Commander?"

"Yes sir," he replied, looking sheepish. "I was just explaining the ship to the Commander and must have forgotten to check in."

"It's my fault Captain," she jumped in after she realized he was in trouble. "I've been questioning him nonstop about the ship. He hasn't had a chance to check in."

"Well stop distracting my lieutenant and get over here," he laughed.

"ETA two minutes Captain," Alenko assured him.

The comm clicked off and they were alone in the cockpit again.

"Thanks for that," he said, smiling at her.

"Not a problem," she smiled at him too. "Besides, I have been asking about the ship."

"Yeah, I suppose that's true."

A few moments later they pulled the shuttle into the docking bay and Alenko set it down in a way that suggested he really shouldn't have been flying.

They both unstrapped and stood to leave. She hit the solid mass of his chest and bounced back into the seat.

"Commander!" He shouted.

She laughed. "I'm fine." Standing carefully so as to avoid running into him again she got up. "Are you okay?"

He laughed. "Honestly Commander, I didn't even feel anything."

"Oh good," she grumbled. "Thank makes me feel better." She stepped into the main part of the shuttle and picked up her bag.

"Hey Commander, can I ask you something?" Alenko paused next to the release for shuttle door.

"Sure."

"Have you ever seen a jump through a relay from the cockpit of a highly advanced prototype ship?"

She laughed. "No, I suppose I haven't."

"Well when we make the jump you should head up to the CIC and check it out. Joker's an amazing pilot. Just don't tell him I said that."

"Okay," she smiled. "If I get a chance I'll head up."

He smiled and looked away. Then he punched the release for the door and motioned for her to step out. They were in a large hanger bay with lockers along one side and a Mako on the other. Ahead of them there was what looked like an elevator and two doors that led down to the next level and she guessed engineering.

Alenko jumped down after her and started leading her toward the elevator.

"The crew quarters are on the second level along with the Captain’s cabin, the med bay and the main battery. Engineering is through the doors over there. The CIC is on the top level and the command room is there too. Forward of the galaxy map is the cock pit. I'll see you up there for the jump, if you can make it."

"I'll certainly try." She smiled as they got onto the elevator and pushed the button. The door slid closed and the lift started to move.

Very slowly it made the climb to the second level.

"Wow," she muttered. "Cutting edge technology, billions of credits, all the resources the alliance has to offer and they still can't afford an elevator that moves faster than a crawl."

Alenko stifled a laugh as the door slid open.

"Commander." He saluted her. She returned the gesture and watched him head up a set of stairs to the left. She walked around the elevator and looked for the crew quarters. After some searching she found the room and went inside. There were several bunk beds along each wall and lockers at the end of each. Not sure where to put her things she tossed her bag on the floor.

A few minutes later she was changed into her N7 armor and was checking her pistol.

It was an older model standard alliance issue heavy pistol. She knew better ones existed, and being a commander now she could have a new one without issue. But this pistol had gotten her through the blitz. If she believed in things like good luck charms, this gun was hers.

Checking that the mags on her suite were working she strapped the pistol to her left side and the fixed her shotgun to her back and then a sniper and assault rifle for good measure. Not that she was trained in those guns, it still made her feel better to have them.

"Commander?" And unknown voice called through the ships comm.

"Go ahead."

"We're getting ready to make the jump. LT seemed to think you might wanna see that."

"I'm on my way."

Shepard strode from the room and headed for the stairs. She stopped short as a turian appeared around the corner. He was tall like most of his kind. His skin was a dark brown and his paint was white and his eyes a bright green. He was in black and red armor that looked suited to both heavy combat and recon He stopped and stared the same as her.

"Sorry," she said, moving to pass him.

"Commander Shepard, right?"

"Yes," she replied suspiciously. "And you are?"

"Nihlus, Nihlus Kryik," he responded by extending a gloved three fingered hand. She shook it without hesitation.

"Nice to meet you Nihlus."

"And you Commander." He stepped to the side and she nodded her thanks and kept going. She took the stairs a few at a time trying to make up for being stopped. She was through the door and passed a soldier who saluted her.

"The Arturus Prime relay is in rang," the voice of the pilot rang through the ship. "Initiating transmission sequence."

She bumped into a young soldier who saluted her as he passed and said, "Commander."

"We are connected, calculating, mass relay is hot," she moved past the galaxy map and started up the long walk way past the other control units. "Acquiring approach vector. All stations secure for transport. The board is green. Approach run has begun."

She stepped up behind the pilot to see a mass relay leering toward them. She came up right behind LT's chair and put a hand on it. If the jump was anything like she had experienced in the past, it could be a bumpy ride.

Alenko glanced at the commander out of the corner of her eye and smiled to himself.

"Hitting the relay in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1!" A beam of light shot out form the spinning rings of the relay and grabbed the ship. It pulled them forward and launched them into space so fast the stars became streaks of light flying past faster than she could count them. It was amazing to see firsthand.

A second later they slowed and then passed another relay.

"Thrusters check, nav check, internal emissions sink engaged. All systems online. Drift . . . just under 1500 k."

"1500 k is good. Your captain will be pleased," Nihlus commented from behind her. She hadn't even heard him walk up. He nodded to her again and started walking back toward the galaxy map.

"I hate that guy," the pilot muttered.

"Come on Joker," Alenko laughed. "Nihlus gave you a compliment so you hate him?"

"You remember to zip up your jumpsuit on the way out of the bathroom? That's good. I just jumped us half way around the galaxy and hit a target the size of a pin head, so that's incredible," Joker countered. "Besides specters are trouble. I don't like having them on board. Call me paranoid."

"You're paranoid," Alenko told him. "The council helped fund this project. They have the right to send someone to keep an eye on their investment."

She suppressed a laugh as she listened to their banter.

"Yea that is the 'official story'," Joker muttered. "But only an idiot believes the official story. What do you think commander?" He turned around and stopped when he looked at her.

She ignored this look, she knew it all too well.

"They don't send specters on shakedown runs," she admitted after a moment's hesitation.

Joker turned back around and nodded. "So there's more going on here than the captain is letting on."

"Joker!" Anderson's voice rang out through the cockpit. All three people standing there jumped. "Status report!"

"Just cleared the mass relay, Captain. Stealth systems are engaged. Everything looks solid."

"Good. Find a comm buoy and link us into the network. I want mission reports relayed back to Alliance brass before we reach Eden Prime."

"Aye, aye, Captain. Better brace yourself, sir. I think Nihlus is headed your way," Joker added.

"He's already here, lieutenant," Anderson replied sounding more than a little displeased.

Joker shook his head as though the Captains words were painful. Alenko and Shepard stifled laughs. A thought struck her then, as she stood on the cockpit, maybe being on this ship would be a good thing. Hell it might be the best thing that's ever happened to her.

"Tell Commander Shepard to meet me in the command room for a debriefing."

The comm clicked off and the room was silent.

"You get that Commander?" Joker asked.

"He sounds angry," she noted. "Something must have gone wrong with the mission."

"Pff. Captain always sounds like that when he's talking to me," Joker muttered.

"Can't imagine why," Alenko muttered.

Shepard chuckled and tapped the back of the LT's chair. He looked up at her and smiled. She nodded and headed out toward the map again. She wasn't even half way there when a very loud conversation drifted over the sound of the ship toward her. She couldn't understand everything they were saying but it sounded bad. She was sure she caught the word Nihlus and possibly turian.

"And we're getting dragged right along with him," Navigator Pressley complained to someone as he walked back around the map. He caught sight of her and smiled.

"Congratulations Commander!" His voice boomed happily. "Looks like we had a smooth run. You heading down to see the captain?"

She ignored his question. "Sounds like you don't trust our turian guest."

He looked around sheepishly. "Sorry Commander. Just having a chat with Adams down in engineering. Didn't mean to cause any trouble." He hesitated for a moment and looked around, making sure no one was listening. "But you have to admit, somethings odd about this mission. The whole crew feels it."

"You think the Alliance brass is holding out on us?" She asked, thinking more and more that there was something big going on.

"If all we're supposed to do is test out the stealth system, then why is Captain Anderson in charge? And then there's Nihlus! Specters are elite operatives. Top covert agents. Why send a specter, a turian specter, on a shakedown run? It doesn't add up."

She thought over his words for a moment before she said, "I'll see if I can get some answers when I see him."

"Good luck, Commander," Pressley said with a salute.

She returned the gesture and kept moving toward the command room. Before she even cleared the map she came upon the solider she'd bumped into earlier and a gray haired woman who, judging by her clothes, was the ships doctor.

"I grew up on Eden Prime, doc," the young corporal was saying. "It's not the kind of place spectres visit. There's something Nihlus isn't telling us about this mission."

"That's crazy," the doctor replied. "The Captain's in charge here. He wouldn't take orders from a Spectre."

She stopped when the corporal's eyes landed on her. "What do you think Commander? We won't be staying on Eden Prime too long will we? I'm itching for some real action."

Before she could answer, the doctor replied.

"I sincerely hope you're joking corporal. You're 'real action' usually ends with me patching up crew members in the infirmary," she explained.

Shepard agreed.

"You need to calm down corporal. A good solider stays cool, even under fire." She didn't want to put the young man down. She appreciated his enthusiasm. It would serve him well in the years to come. But he did need to reign it in a notch.

"Sorry Commander," he replied somewhat let down. "But this waiting is killing me. I've never been a on a mission like this before. Not one with a spectre on board."

"Just treat this like every other assignment you've had and everything will work out," she assured him.

"Easy for you to say," he commented as he rolled his eyes. "You proved yourself already in the blitz. Everybody knows what you can do. This is my big chance! I gotta show the brass what I can do!"

She took a deep breath at the mention of the blitz. So tired of people bringing it up. "You're young corporal, and you're got a long career ahead of you. Don't do something stupid to mess it up." She wanted to be kind but also firm with him. Too many young men get ahead of themselves and ended up getting killed.

"Don't worry ma'am. I'm not going to screw this up," he assured her smiling.

"Captains waiting for me," she sighed. With a nod she stepped past the two and headed into the command room. The door scanned her face and slid open with a whoosh.

Down a short walkway the room opened up into a giant round conference space. It was lined on either side with eight chairs that all faced the middle. Along the back wall was a large screen surrounded by a communications access board.

On the screen now was an image of some kind of tower with Nihlus standing just before the comm board. He was starting at the screen, analyzing it. When she stepped down the walk way and into the open area he turned.

"Commander Shepard. I was hoping you'd get here first. It will give us a chance to talk."

She stopped next to him. "What about?"

"I'm interested in the world we're going to, Eden Prime. I hear it's quite beautiful." He turned back to the screen.

"They say it's a paradise," she offered, recalling one of the recruitment posters she'd seen around.

"Yes . . . a paradise," he contemplated. "Serene. Tranquil. Safe. Eden Prime has become something of a symbol to your people hasn't it?" He turned back to face her. "Proof that humanity can not only establish colonies across the galaxy, but also protect them.

"But how safe is it, really?"

It sounded like a question, but she could feel an unspoken edge on the spectres voice. "Do you know something?" She asked too many questions forming in her mind.

"Your people are still newcomers, Shepard. The galaxy can be a very dangerous place. Is the alliance truly ready for this?"

Before she could ask what he meant by that the door opened behind them and Captain Anderson walked in.

"I think it's about time we told the Commander what's really going on."

Part of her wanted to shout that she knew something was up, but she was well trained and resisted the urge. Instead she waited for someone to explain.

Nihlus stepped up so the three of them formed a triangle. "This mission is far more than a simple shakedown run."

"I figured there was something you weren't telling us," she said to Anderson.

"We're making a covert pickup on Eden Prime. That's why we needed the stealth systems operational," Anderson explained.

"There must be a reason you didn't tell me about this sir?" She asked him again.

"This comes down from the top, Commander. Information on a strictly need to know basis," he continued explaining. "A research team on Eden Prime unearthed some kind of beacon during an excavation. It was Prothean."

Her head went spinning. "I thought the Protheans vanished 50,000 years ago?"

"Their legacy still remains," Nihlus told her. "The mass relays, the Citadel, our ship drives, it's all based on Prothean technology."

"This is big Shepard. The last time humanity made a discovery like this it jumped our technology forward 200 years," Anderson explained. "But Eden Prime doesn't have the facilities to handle something like this. We need to bring the beacon back to the Citadel for proper study."

"Obviously," Nihlus cut in, "this goes beyond mere human interests, Commander. This discovery could affect every species in council space."

She nodded. Glad to know that if they were going to handling something this advanced they would have help. "Well it never hurts to have a few extra hands on board," she commented.

Nihlus smiled, the mandibles on his face moving slightly as he did. "The beacons not the only reason I'm here Shepard."

"Nihlus wants to see you in action, Commander," Anderson explained when she looked at him confused. "He's here to evaluate you."

"I guess that explains why I bump into him every time I turn around," she muttered, suddenly understanding why she had run into him twice in the twenty some odd minutes she'd been on board.

"The Alliance has been pushing for this for a long time. Humanity wants a larger role in shaping interstellar policy," Anderson went on. "We want more say with the Citadel council.

"The spectres represent the council's power and authority. If they accept a human into their ranks it shows how far the Alliance has come."

"You held off an enemy assault during the blitz single handed. You showed not only courage but incredible skill. That's why I put your name forward as a candidate for the specters."

Shepard was shocked. As far as she knew most turians still weren't happy with humanity after the first contact war. It hadn't even been thirty years. It surprised her to know that he would suggest her for such an auspicious position. She was more than humbled.

"I assume this is good with the Alliance," she said.

"Earth needs this Shepard. We're counting on you," Anderson assured her with a smile.

"I need to see your skills myself, Commander," Nihlus explained. "Eden Prime with be the first of several missions together."

Several missions with a turian specter.

That was going to get interesting.

"You'll be in charge of the ground team," Anderson assured her, misreading her face. "Secure the beacon and get it onto the ship ASAP. Nihlus will accompany you to observe the mission."

She wanted to ask more questions, there were other things she wanted to know. Not just about Nihlus or the specters, but about Eden Prime and this beacon as well. She wanted to know so much. Instead of asking she nodded to Nihlus and then to Anderson.

"Just give the word Captain.'

He nodded, pleased at how well she was taking everything. He had wanted to tell her from the start the real reason she was here. But it wouldn't have been fair to put all that on her via the omni-tool. She deserved to be told in person. He was proud of everything she had accomplished in her life. Proud of the woman she had become.

He didn't have any children of his own, the Alliance had never given him the time to properly settle down. In some ways he viewed Shepard as the child he never had. He certainly would have hoped that his children would be so bold and brave.

"We should be getting close to Eden . . ."Anderson was cut off by the comm suddenly coming on.

"Captain we've got a problem," Joker's voice rang through the room.

"What's wrong Joker?" Anderson asked.

"Transmission from Eden Prime, sir. You better see this!"

"Bring it up on screen," Anderson commanded.

Suddenly the room was filled with sounds of gun fire as the screen lit up with scenes of soldiers running and firing on enemies they couldn't see. A female soldier in white and pink armor filled the screen. She ran toward the camera and shouted, "GET DOWN!"

More gunfire rang out as the camera seemed to roll around on the ground. The images started to scramble and waver. A bad connection or a damaged camera, she couldn't tell. Suddenly a soldier picked it up and started shouting.

"We're under attack! Taking heavy casualties. I repeat, heavy casualties! We can't . . . argh!" He shouted as he was suddenly knocked to the ground. ". . . Need evac! They came out of nowhere. We need . . ." The words fell away as the man fell, gunned down or otherwise they couldn't be sure.

Shouting and gun fire slowed to a crawl around the camera as the image panned up toward the sky. A ship like nothing Shepard had ever seen descended on the small area before the camera. The camera rolled again and the images turned to static.

"Everything cuts out after that. No comm traffic at all. Just goes dead. There's nothing," Jokers voice sounded as bad as she felt. People were dying down there. They need to get down there and help before it was too late.

"Reverse and hold at 38.5," Anderson ordered, keeping his eyes on the screen.

The images rushed past backwards and froze on the image of the ship. It was huge and black or maybe purple, it was hard to tell. It had appendages on the front like arms that were opening up as it descended on the people below.

The Captain, the Commander, and the spectre, stared at the screen.

"Status report!" Anderson shouted.

"Seventeen minutes out, Captain. No other Alliance ships in the area."

"Take us in Joker. Fast and quite. This mission just got a whole lot more complicated."

"A small strike team can move quickly without drawing attention," Nihlus offered. "It's our best chance to secure the beacon."

Anderson nodded to him. "Grab your gear and meat us in the cargo hold." He turned to Shepard. "Tell Alenko and Jenkins to suit up, Commander. You're going in."

She nodded and took off from the room like a shot.

Up the small walkway and through the door. She stopped around the corner and put a hand on Jenkins. "Suit up and get to the cargo hold, now!"

He opened his mouth to say something but she was running again. Around the galaxy map and Pressley who looked at her like she was insane. She kept running through the small hallway and into the cockpit.

"Commander?" Alenko started, jumping to his feet. "What's going on?"

"Suit up," she told him, sucking in a deep breath. "We're headed to the surface."

He nodded and together they took off running toward the stairs. She stumbled once and almost went down. Alenko caught her by the elbow and kept her form going down.

"Thanks," she said as they ran into the elevator with Jenkins.

"What's going on Commander?" The corporal asked as the door closed.

"There's a problem in the colony," she explained as she pulled her pistol from her side and checked the slide. "The Captain can explain everything."

"Right," Alenko nodded.

Five minutes later they were standing before Captain Anderson geared up and ready to go.

"Engaging stealth systems," Joker's voice rang out in the large docking bay. "Somebody was doing some serious digging down here Captain."

"You're teams the muscle in this operation, Commander," Anderson explained to them. "Go in heavy and head straight for the dig site."

"What about survivors, Captain?" Alenko asked.

He shook his head, "Helping survivors is a secondary objective. The beacon's your top priority."

"Approaching drop point one."

Nihlus walked up as the cargo bay door opened to their right. He nodded to the Captain and kept walking.

"Nihlus? You're coming with us?" Jenkins asked.

"I move faster on my own," He replied as he headed to the door and jumped out.

"Nihlus will scout out ahead," Anderson explained. "He'll fed you status reports throughout the mission. Otherwise I want radio silence."

"Ready and able sir," she assured him.

"The mission is yours now Shepard. Good luck," He called to her as the team of three approached the doors.

"We are approaching drop point two."

Together the three jumped from the ship and onto the planet's surface. She, and to her surprise, Alenko, used their biotics to slow their decent. When they hit she felt the pressure from it the fall shudder up her armor and out.

Guns came up as they scanned the area around them.

"Ship perimeter clear, Commander," Alenko assured her as they holstered their weapons.

"This place got hit hard, Commander," Nihlus said over the comm. "Hostiles everywhere. Keep your guard up."

She checked to make sure Jenkins and Alenko had heard.

Turning to follow what looked like the obvious path, she stopped.

"What the hell are those?" Alenko shouted.

Wondering through the river just a way head were strange puffy creatures on stick thin legs. No heads or eyes that she could see. It was the most bizarre thing she'd ever seen.

"Gas bags," Jenkins explained. "Don't worry their harmless."

"If you say so," she mumbled as she pulled her gun back out.

In the distance she could see a tower of some kind that she assumed was where they need to head. Pulling up her omni-tool she double checked her nav point. She was right. They were headed to the tower.

"Let's move."

Together they started forward moving as a fluid, organized unit.

Shepard was at the head, with Alenko at her right and Jenkins at her left. As they reached the top of the small hill before them, a smell of death and smoke wafted over them. A few feet from the top of the hill they saw their first body of the day.

"Oh god. What happened here?" Jenkins asked miserably.

She turned and put a hand on his shoulder. He met her eyes and nodded, he was okay. They pressed on.

As they came down the hill and around the next bend she stopped.

Something didn't feel right.

She signaled for the men to stop.

There was something close by, something not right. Shepard signaled for the men to advance. Alenko started forward and stopped up against the side of small cliff next to them. Jenkins rushed forward toward some large rocks along the main path. Before she moved forward the corporal was starting forward again.

She wanted to call out to him but a strange sound stopped her.

Drones of some kind appeared from beyond her line of sight. Three of them focused in on Jenkins and opened fire. He grunted and went down.

"Jenkins!" She called rushing forward. She threw a warp field at the drone and loosed her pistol at them. At the same time Alenko threw a gravity field at them and started shooting too. In a matter of second the drones were dispatched.

Alenko rushed forward and checked on Jenkins. His fingers pressed the side of his neck for a moment. Then he shook his head and closed the young man's eyes. He stood and looked into Shepard's eyes, his own clearly in pain.

"Ripped right threw his shields. Never stood a chance."

She wanted to comfort him on the loss of his friend, but they were on a mission and that had to take priority. Still, she didn't want to be cold.

"We'll see that he receives a proper service after the mission is complete. But I need you to stay focused," she put a hand on his shoulder and tried to convey her sympathy as best she could right then.

"Aye, aye, ma'am," he replied nodding.

She raised her gun again and together the two of them started forward again. At the top of the next hill three more drone appeared out of the trees. Taking shelter behind some nearby rocks, they took the drones out with a combination of biotics and bullets.

"Got some burned out buildings here, Shepard," Nihlus's voice whispered though the comm. "A lot of bodies. I'm gonna check it out. I'll try to catch up to you at the dig site."

"Should we tell him about Jenkins?" Alenko asked.

"Not right now," she replied. "Let's keep comms open."

As they moved forward into the nearby trees three more drones came flying at them. After a few more shots these were also put down. They advanced through the rest of the trees and stopped. Somewhere a head of them she could hear gun shots. Someone was still fighting here.

Just before they started down the next hill a person came rushing around the bend toward them. She stumbled as two drones flew after her shooting. She fell and rolled opening fire on the drones blasting them to pieces before they could close the distance between them.

As she stood she stared off around the corner.

Shepard and Alenko both started forward.

Just around bend what looked like two geth had a hold of an injured man. From where Shepard was standing she couldn't get a good look at what was happening. A second later a huge spike sprang out of the odd device the man was on and impaled him.

She was rushing forward before she knew what was going on. Shepard opened fire on the geth and didn't stop until they both were down.

Once she was sure they were getting back up, she holstered her gun and moved to the solider she'd seen in the vid.

"Thanks for your help Commander," the woman said as she caught her breath. "I didn't think I was going to make it." She took a deep breath and saluted Shepard. "Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the 212. You the one in charge here ma'am?"

Shepard ignored her question for a moment. "Are you injured, Williams?"

"A few scrapes and burns. Nothing serious. The others . . . weren't so lucky," she replied rolling her arms and checking herself for injuries. "Oh man . . . we were patrolling the perimeter when the attack hit. We tried to get off a distress call but the cut off our communications. I've been fighting for my life ever since."

Shepard looked around, she saw Alenko, gun up and scanning the area around them. As she looked she didn't see anyone else. Fearing the worst she asked, "Where's the rest of your squad?"

Williams baulked. "We tried to double back to the beacon. But we walked into an ambush. I don't think any of the others . . . I think I'm the only one left."

She could see the guilt and blame on her face. It was a feeling she knew all too well. The survivor's guilt that came from being the only one of your squad to come out of situation alive. It was the kind of thing that ate you up inside and kept you up at night.

"This isn't your fault, Williams. You couldn't have done anything to save them."

"Yes ma'am," she replied not sounding convinced at all. "We held our positions as long as we could, until the geth overwhelmed us."

"The geth haven't been seen outside the veil in nearly 200 years. Why are they hear now?" Alenko asked.

"They must have come for the beacon," Williams replied. "The dig site is close. Just over that rise. It might still be there."

She thought for a moment. "We could use your help Williams."

"Aye, aye, ma'am. It's time for some payback."

"Then let's move out." Together the three raised their guns and started moving again. As they came around the far bend they could see the giant spike the geth had used to kill the colonist was not the only such device. They seemed to be scattered all over the place.

"The beacons at the far end of this trench," Williams told her as they moved.

Down at the bottom of the hill the area opened up to what must have been the dig site. Huge rocks and metal frames were scattered about. As Shepard stepped forward her omni-tool pinged.

Enemies ahead.

She glanced to Williams and Alenko. They nodded. They raised their guns and rushed to the large rocks for cover. A second later they were being fired on. She popped off a few shots over the rock and glanced to Alenko. Somehow he'd ended up behind the same rock as her.

"Give me some cover!" She shouted to him over the constant gunfire.

"You got it!" He pointed his gun over the rock and opened fire. Williams got the idea and copied his move. When she heard the enemy fire stop she popped her head over the rock and took a quick count.

"Four geth, troopers not drones," she called when the enemy returned fire. "Pick your targets and light 'em up!"

"Roger that!" Williams shouted as brought her gun up again.

In a matter of moments three of the four were dispatched. Shepard was up and over her rock and after the fourth geth. It popped its strange flashlight head out to fire and she threw a warp at it and it buckled to the ground, dead.

Or as dead as a synthetic could be.

"That's the last of them," Alenko assured her as he checked his omni-tool.

"This is the dig site," Williams explained as they hit the bottom of the hill. "The beacon was right here. I must have been moved." She scanned the large hill next to them supported by metal sheeting. Somehow Shepard doubted the beacon was small enough to keep hidden somewhere around here.

"By who?" Alenko asked. "Our side? Or the geth?"

Shepard scanned the ground around them. She could see footprints from more than a few geth, and a set she thought had to belong to Nihlus. He'd been through here already. She walked back over the dig site.

"Hard to say," Williams was saying. "Maybe we'll know more after we check out the research camp?"

"You think anyone got out of here alive?" Shepard asked, feeling doubtful.

She sighed. "If they were lucky. Maybe hiding up in the camp. It's just on the top of this ridge. Up the ramps."

"Let's head there and check it out," Shepard decided. "Move out."

Guns up, they pressed forward.

At the base of the large dirt ramp her comm clicked to life again.

"Change of plans, Shepard." Nihlus said, "There's a small spaceport up ahead. I want to check it out. I'll wait for you there."

With a quick gesture they were moving up the ramp. A dark cloud of black smoke rose up from somewhere near the top of the hill. A building came into view, directly to the right. It looked burned beyond repair.

"Looks like they hit the camp hard," Williams commented solemnly.

Slowly they cleared the top of the hill. Another two buildings sat near to the one burning, but close enough that they didn't seem to be in any danger of catching fire themselves. Off to the left were three more of those spikes, each with its own victim.

"It's a good place for an ambush," Alenko noted, seeing all dark places to hide.

Shepard nodded and scanned the area. It was getting harder to see thanks to the smoke blowing in her eyes. Another step forward and she froze.

"Did you hear that?" She asked.

A second later the huge spikes came down dropping the people off of them. Or what was left of the people. Something about them was wrong. They looked burned and there was strange tech running up and down their bodies. They barely looked human anymore.

Then they got up.

"Oh, god!" Alenko shouted, "They're still alive!"

"Somethings not right," Shepard whispered to herself.

The three . . . things got to their feet and charged.

"What did the geth do to them?" Williams cried as they came at them.

Unsure of what to do they hesitated.

The first of the creatures reached Shepard. It toppled her to the floor, she put her hands up and launched it back and away with a biotic push. Alenko wasted no time opening fire. In a moment the things that once were human were no more.

Shepard got her feet and dusted herself off.

"Are you ok?" Alenko asked. "Commander." He added as an afterthought.

"I'm fine," she assured him, certain she had seen something more than friendly concern in those amber eyes. "Let's find out what happened here and get that beacon.

"Agreed," Williams whispered. "We should check all these sheds. Someone might have gotten into one in time."

"Let's do it."

The first of the sheds they came up upon had the door ripped off and the safety shutter was up. There were clear signs of a struggle inside, but that was all. Aside from a functioning medi-gel dispenser, the first was a bust.

"That door is closed," Williams pointed out quietly. "The security locks engaged."

With a nod to her and Alenko, Shepard raised her gun and brought up her omni-tool. After a few seconds she managed to override the security lock and open the door. First she, then Alenko and finally Williams burst into the open doorway.

A woman who was dressed as a doctor with short red hair stood toward the back half shielding a hunched man with brown skin and short black hair. He looked off somehow. Something about the way his small black eyes darted around worried her.

"Humans!" The woman sighed in relief. "Thank the Creator!" Her face looked to ease but her hands continued to wring as she started at the open door.

"Hurry!" The man whispered as she skittered forward. "Close the door! Before they come back!"

Shepard nodded to Alenko who holstered his gun and shut the security door. Following suite she and Williams holstered their guns.

"Don't worry," Shepard assured the two. "We'll protect you."

"Thank you," the woman replied. "I think we'll be okay now. It looks like everyone's gone."

"You're Dr. Warren," Williams realized, "the one in charge of the excavation. Do you know what happened to the beacon?"

She nodded, "It was moved to the spaceport this morning. Manuel and I stayed behind to help pack up the camp. When the attack came the marines held them off long enough for us to hide. They gave their lives to save us." She hung her head and looked almost ashamed to be standing there.

"No one is saved," the man Shepard assumed was Manuel hissed, "The age of humanity is ended. Soon, only ruin and corpses will remain."

A look passed between the marines standing at the other end of the shed.

"What's wrong with your assistant?" Shepard asked as she watched the man fret.

"Manuel has a brilliant mind, but he's always been a bit . . . unstable. Genius and madness are two sides of the same coin," Dr. Warren explained as she watched the man with deep concern in her eyes.

Manuel laughed in a way that was almost frightening. "Is it madness to see the future? To see the destruction rushing towards us? To understand there is no escape? No hope? No, I am not mad. I'm the only sane one left!"

It dawned on Shepard then, what it was about him that looked so familiar.

He was acting like a feral animal that had been threatened.

"I gave him an extra dose of his meds after the attack," Dr. Warren said as she tried to explain away her partner's odd behavior.

"Can you tell me anything about the beacon?" Shepard asked, looking away from the clearly disturbed man.

"It's some type of data module from a galaxy wide communications network," the doctor explained. "Remarkably well preserved. It could be the greatest scientific discovery of our lifetime! Miraculous new technology. Groundbreaking medical advances. Who knows what secrets are locked inside?"

"We have unearthed the heart of evil. Awakened the beast. Unleashed the darkness!" Manuel started sound more and more agitated the longer they stood and talked.

"Manuel! Please! This isn't the time," Dr. Warren exclaimed exasperated.

"We have to get going," Shepard started, not sure about leaving her alone with a deranged man.

"I understand," she smiled at them, "We'll be fine now. Thank you."

Shepard nodded to the doctors and turned to the GC, "Williams, take us to that spaceport."

"You can't stop it," Manuel called after them. "Nobody can stop it. Night is falling. The darkness of eternity."

"Hush, Manuel. Go lie down. You'll feel better once the medication kicks in," they heard the doctor say as they headed back out.

"This way, Commander," Williams said as she started to lead them to the right and back onto the main path.

Just before they reached the top of the particularly steep hill they were climbing, a gunshot rang out clear and loud around them. Shepard froze and focused in on the sound as it bounced around them. She tried to clear the extra noise from her mind and determine where the shot came from.

"Did you hear that?" Alenko asked?

"It came from ahead of us," Shepard called, rushing forward, "Towards the spaceport!"

As she cleared the crest of the hill, Commander Jennifer Sheppard froze.

Hovering just over the far side of the spaceport was a ship, massive in scale and terrifying in its presence. It was long and black with several parts extending off the front of it like fingers or arms. Red lightning arced off the ship as it rose toward the sky. It was the ship from the vid.

"What is that? Off in the distance?" Alenko asked.

"It's a ship. Look at the size of it," Williams replied.

Billowing black smoke filled the air as it vanished into the sky.

"We've got geth down here, Commander," Alenko pointed out as scanned the spaceport down the hill from them.

As if he had called them by name, the geth focused in on their position and opened fire. They dove for cover as they loosed their own weapons. A second later they could hear the husks of what was once people rushing toward them.

Shepard popped up from behind her cover and shoot down one of the husks. Another was closing in on her fast. She fired off two shots before an alarm sounded, signaling her gun had overheated.

"Damn it!" She exclaimed as she reached for the shotgun behind her.

The husk was on her. Knowing her options were limited, she fired a shockwave at the creature. It went flying into the air. But she was too close. The force of blast knocked her back and into Alenko. Together they toppled to the floor.

"Commander!" Williams exclaimed. She crossed to their cover and in a couple of shots she'd put down the last of the geth and was helping Shepard up.

"Are you two okay?" She asked, a hint of a smile on her lips.

"Just fine," she assured the GC. "Let's just keep moving."

"There's a locked door over there, Commander," Alenko pointed across the way to another shed with a lock engaged.

"Let's check it out," Shepard ordered as they started moving again.

When they reached the door a simple bypass overrode the security lock and popped the door open.

"Everybody stay calm out there," a male voice called from inside. "We're coming out. We're not armed." Sheppard kept her gun up just the same.

Slowly three people emerged from within the dark shed. Two men and a woman. All looked terrified.

"Is it safe?" The woman asked, "Are they gone?"

"You're okay now. Nobody's going to hurt you," Shepard assured them.

"Those things were crawling all around the shed," the man who seemed to be in charge said. "They would have found us for sure. We owe you our lives."

"I . . . I still can't believe it. When we saw that ship I thought it was all over!" The woman exclaimed.

"It showed up right before the attack," the man explained to them. "I knew it was trouble the second I saw it. So we made a break for the sheds."

"What else can you tell me about the ship you saw?" Shepard asked. She couldn't place why she felt so, but she knew the ship had more to do with what was going on there then she had first assumed.

"I was too busy running to get a clear look at it. I think it landed over near the spaceport," the leader said.

"Tell them about the noise Cole." The woman whispered frantically. "That awful noise."

"It was emitting some kind of signal as it descended," Cole explained. "Sounded like the shriek of the demanded. Only it was coming from inside your own head."

Shepard thought it over for a moment. "It was probably trying to block communications."

"Whatever it was, felt like it was tearing right through my skull. Almost made it impossible to think," Cole mumbled.

"It's safe here now. Stay low and out of sight and you should be fine," Shepard instructed them. "I have to go."

"Hey, Cole," the other man stammered. "We're just a bunch of farmers. These guys are soldiers. Maybe we should give them the stuff."

"Geez, Blake," Cole grumbled. "You gotta learn when to shut up!"

Shepard crossed her arms and stared at the man before her. "You have something to tell me Cole?"

"Some guys at the spaceport were running a small smuggling ring," he explained begrudgingly. "Nothing major. In exchange for a cut of the profits, we let them store packages in our sheds."

"You're breaking the law, Cole." She stated.

"We're not hurting anybody!" He shouted. "Hell most of the time we don't even know what's in the packages. I just thought there might be something we could use. I found a pistol. Figured it would come in handy if those things came back. But you'll probably get more use out of it that we will." He handed her a small pistol, similar to the one she already carried. She handed it to Alenko to holster it on his left side.

She watched the man fret and shrink under her gaze. He was still hiding something. "We're risking our lives to save this colony. You sure there's nothing else in here that could help us out?"

He sighed, defeated. "Yeah, there's one more thing. I was gonna sell it after this was over. Buy you probably deserve it more than I do."

He handed over some kind of information disk. She would have to analyze it later.

"Who's your contact at the spaceport Cole?" Williams demanded. "What's his name?"

"He's not a bad guy," he insisted. "I don't want to get him in trouble. Besides, I'm not a snitch!"

"He might have something to do with this whole attack, Cole," Shepard pressed. "We need his name. It's important."

She could see him give in.

"Yeah, okay. You're right," he sighed. "His name's Powell. Works the docks at the spaceport. If he's still alive."

"We have to go," she repeated as they turned to leave.

"Good luck," Cole called after them.

Shepard moved away from the three people as they huddled back inside the shed again. It was a quick trip down the small sloping path to the base of the spaceport. Every few feet something was on fire. The grass, a crate, the side of a building, even part of the lower port was burning.

As they made their way up the first set of stairs, Alenko broke off and rushed forward. Being a fair amount taller that she was, he could see over the crates stacked at the top of the ramp.

"Commander," he called, "it's Nihlus."

Shepard rushed forward to see the turian dead on the floor.

"A turian?" Williams asked, sounding almost shocked. "You know him?"

She nodded.

"He's a Spectre," Alenko explained as Shepard examined the body for evidence. "He was with us on the Nor . . ." A sound to their left cut him off.

In perfect unison the three turned to the presumed threat, guns at the ready.

"Something's moving," Williams whispered, "Over behind those crates."

"Wait!" A voice called from behind the crates. A man, a dockworker Shepard presumed by his clothing, walked slowing out in front of them. "Don't . . . don't shoot! I'm one of you! I'm human."

Shepard lowered her gun slightly. "Sneaking up on us like that nearly got you killed!"

With a nod from the Commander, Williams and Alenko turned their guns to their surroundings, scanning the area to ensure no surprises.

"I . . . I'm sorry," the man stammered. "I was hiding. From those creatures. My name is Powel. I saw what happened to that turian. The other one shot him."

"Other turian?" Shepard whispered to herself. She shot a glance at Alenko who shook his head. He didn't know of any other turian on this mission. "I need to know how Nihlus died."

Powel nodded, glad to be of help. "The other one got here first." He explained. "He was waiting when your friend showed up. He called him Saren. I think they knew each other. Your friend seemed to relax. He let his guard down . . . and Saren killed him. Shot him right in the back. I'm just lucky he didn't see me behind the crates."

A look passed between the three marines. No one had said anything about another turian being here. And the fact that he killed Nihlus, a Spectre, it was bad. All bad in fact. Shepard needed answers before she reported back to Anderson and to the Council.

"Where did this Saren go after he killed Nihlus?"

"He jumped on the cargo train and headed over to the other platform." Powel explained. "Probably going after the beacon. I knew that beacon was trouble. Everything's gone to hell since we found it. First that damn mother ship showed up. Then that attack. They killed everyone. Everyone! If I hadn't been behind the crates I'd be dead too!"

An odd thought struck the Commander.

"How come you're the only one who survived?" She asked. "Why didn't anyone else try to hide behind the crates?"

Powel blanched at the subject. He shifted uncomfortably and glanced off toward the cargo train. When he looked back at the three marines staring him down, he sighed. "They never had a chance. I . . . I was already behind the crates when the attack started."

"Wait a minute. You were hiding behind the crates before the attack?" Alenko asked, instantly suspicious.

"I . . . sometimes," he stammered. "I need a nap to get through my shift. I sneak off behind the crates to grab forty winks where the supervisors can't find me."

"You survived because you're lazy?!" Williams asked, sounding outraged.

The look of guilt that passed over his face was one the Commander knew all too well. It was a look she herself had, more times than she could count.

Survivor's guilt.

"If you hadn't snuck off for that nap you'd probably be dead just like all the others." She told him, trying to be encouraging.

"Yeah." He whispered, sounding the smallest measure better. "Yeah, I guess. I don't really want to think about it."

"Wait," Shepard started as a thought occurred to her. "You're Conner's contact here on the docks. For the smuggling ring." It was a question she needed to ask and a way to change the subject.

"What?" He shouted in fake outrage. "No! I mean . . . what does it matter now? So I'm a smuggler? Who cares? My supervisor is dead. The entire crew is dead. It doesn't matter now."

While the Commander tended to agree, if there was a rogue turian around on top of geth and those husks, they were going to need all the help they could get. "Anything hidden nearby that we could use against the geth?"

Powell glanced at her guiltily. "A shipment of grenades came through last week," he explained meekly. "Nobody notices if a few small pieces go missing from the military orders."

"You greedy son of a bitch!" Williams shouted, fully enraged. "We're out here trying to protect your sorry ass and all you can think about is how you can rip us off?!"

The look of guilt on Powel's face increased tenfold. "I never thought you'd actually need those grenades! Who'd want to attack Eden Prime? We're just a bunch of farmers! How was I supposed to know?" He was desperately trying to make an excuse for his actions. But his guilt was tearing him apart inside.

Williams stepped forward, gun trained on the poor man.

Shepard reached out and put a hand on her gun. "Forget about him. He's not worth it." She assured her.

Williams hesitated for a moment before she finally lowered her gun. "You're lucky the Commander is here, Powel. Hand over those grenades."

"They're yours. Take them. My smuggling days are over. I swear." His guilt was replaced with an intense sincerity.

"A lot of marines died here, Powel." She needed him to understand and find a purpose to help him move past this day. "Those grenades could have come in handy. If I were you, I'd think of some way to make it up to them."

"Yeah, Okay," he sighed as he thought for a moment. "There is something else I was saving. Could be worth a fortune. Experimental Tech. Top of the line. Take it. I don't need it. I don't want anyone to get hurt. Really. I'm sorry." His expression was genuine as he handed a small disk drive to the Commander.

Shepard nodded. "We need to find that beacon before it's too late."

"Take the cargo train," Powel explained. "That's where the other turian went. I . . . I can't stay here. I need to get away from all this." He waited for a moment until he was sure they didn't need him anymore. He quickly and quietly made his way as far from the spaceport as he could.

Shepard watched the man go, knowing she shouldn't pity a criminal, but feeling sorry for him all the same. As she turned to go, her omni-tool pinged again. Enemies were close by. Not needing to look, she felt Alenko and Williams at her side, guns raised.

Two geth sprang out from behind a few crates near the edge of the platform. They opened fire as the three dove to cover.

Williams opened fire first, staggering the closest geth back. Shepard used a biotic throw to topple the other one back down the ramp. Alenko moved in and used his throw to smash the first geth into the ground, disabling it.

The Commander rushed up with Williams and dispatched the other one with a round a bullets.

Before they could take another step forward, Williams Omni-tool pinged almost a dozen enemies just down the ramp and toward the train. With a nod they moved forward, down the ramp and onto the mail platform.

Geth lining the cargo train on all sides, opened fire on the three marines. They rushed for cover on the train. It was a long run but it was also the only viable cover around. By the time she had all managed to get down, Shepard's shields were depleted.

Knowing she couldn't risk taking a hit, she blind-fired over the top of her cover.

"Nice shot!" Williams called as she managed to take one of the geth down.

"Thanks!"

"What the hell is that?" Alenko asked.

Peeking over her cover the Commander saw a different kind of geth. Larger than the others and moving toward them at an alarming rate.

Even more troubling than all that, was the fact that it carried a large plasma pistol.

"Take it down!" Shepard shouted.

All three focused their attacks on the rapidly approaching enemy. With a throw from the biotics the large geth went down before it could reach them. The remaining enemies went down a few moments after.

"Let's hurry," Shepard stated as she rushed up to the train controls.

Thankfully the train was relatively easy to operate. A few seconds later they were moving briskly down the track.

"We need to try and take this other turian alive," the Commander instructed. "He's our best chance at figuring out what happened here."

"Not to mention I'm sure the council is going to want words with him," Alenko added.

"Don't we all," Williams muttered.

"Keep your guard up and your eyes peeled for that beacon," she continued. "Looks like we're almost there."

As the train slowed the three omni-tools began to ping like crazy. "Great," Shepard muttered. "I'm not sure this mission could get any more fun."

An odd noise from Alenko's tool drew her attention.

"Commander I'm picking up some strange readings," he started. "It looks like explosives up ahead."

"I had to open my big mouth," she muttered.

The train slowed to a stop and they were instantly fired upon. Together they rushed off the train and toward the first bit of cover they could find from the barrage of bullets raining down on them.

"Demolition charges," Alenko called as they approached a strange white device. "The geth must have planted them. I'm picking up at least three more, Commander."

"Hurry! We need to find them all and shut them down," Williams shouted as she took down the two closest geth.

"Cover me," Shepard called as she set into disabling the first device. One of the perks of being and N7 was they trained you for just about any situation.

Including disabling a bomb under heavy fire.

Using her omnitool, the first device was down in a matter of seconds. They moved up the ramp, taking down geth as they went.

"Across this walkway," Alenko called as the move forward.

"Shit!" Williams cursed. "More geth incoming!"

"Take them out!" Shepard called. "We don't have much time."

"Aye, aye, ma'am!" Williams shouted as she opened fire, ripping several geth apart. Alenko popped up and used his throw to toss a few more off the side of the walkway.

"I see the next device," the Commander called. "Moving to disable!"

"We've got you covered!" Alenko called.

Keeping low she moved across the bridge and to the next device. Alenko and Williams kept her covered as she worked to disable it.

"Done!" She called as the device powered down. "Two more."

"This way Commander," Williams called as she rushed forward. Following her lead, Shepard followed. A few more geth were quickly dispatched as the moved to the third device. A few seconds later it too was powering down.

"One left," Alenko informed her, "this way."

Another shot from Williams and the last geth on her omnitool went down.

"I think we're clear," she called, "for now."

"Good job," Shepard called as she set into the last bomb. She could tell by the countdown on the device that she was running out of time. It would be a race to the finish.

"Commander?" Alenko asked, eyeing the cycling numbers.

"Almost there," she assured him.

Ten seconds left.

"Commander Shepard," Alenko pressed more urgently.

"Got it," she sighed as it powered down.

"That was too close," he sighed.

"Have a little faith," she assured him with a smile. "I disable bombs better than you fly a shuttle."

He laughed. "That's not that comforting."

Before she could reply her tool pinged again.

"Looks like we've got more geth," she called as they rushed into forward and down to the other side of the spaceport. Before they could cross the ramp they were hit by several more geth and a dozen or so husks.

It took a few minutes, but they dispatched them all the same. Together the three moved down the ramp and caught their first sight of the beacon.

It was tall and thin, looking more like a small radio tower than a beacon. As they started she noticed how it was emitting a kind of strange green glow. It set the hair on the back of the Commander's neck on edge.

Carefully they approached, keeping their guns up and scanning every dark corner or potential hiding place. Once the port had been searched thoroughly, they holstered their guns and approached the beacon.

"Normandy," Shepard called over the comm, "the beacon is secure. Request immediate evac."

"This is amazing," Alenko exclaimed in awe. "Actual working Prothean technology. Unbelievable."

"It wasn't doing anything like that when they dug it up," Williams whispered turning back to see if Shepard had gotten a hold of the Normandy. And what exactly that would mean for her.

Alenko took another step toward the beacon, feeling drawn to it somehow. "Something must have activated it."

"We're on our way to you, Shepard," Captain Anderson assured her. "Good work."

"Roger Normandy. Standing by." She turned to ask Williams if she would join them on the ship when she caught sight of Alenko. He was being dragged across the spaceport toward the beacon. He fought and struggled but couldn't get away.

It was like her body responded before she could process everything in front of her.

"Kaiden!" She cried rushing forward. Pushing past Williams she ran to him. He was being lifted in the air. Shepard jumped and caught him around the middle; using all of the strength she had, she threw him behind her and away from the beacon.

Williams caught him as the rolled. Shepard tried to get away but she was too close.

The beacon had her.

It lifted her in the air with a kind of force she had never felt before.

Then the images started.

Faster than she could count or make sense of, they flashed in her mind.

Death.

Destruction.

Chaos.

Synthetics vs. organics.

Whole civilizations wiped off the map.

Then the pain.

A pain that felt like her mind being ripped apart.

Soon it was so intense she wished for death so it would cease.

Then, finally, and blissfully, the world around her went dark.


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