In Normandy's cockpit, Joker flung the docking controls away. Whatever had hold of the Normandy, it wasn't a standard docking clamp. "We're hung up! We've got to use the mains!"
EDI's voice was annoyingly calm. "Use of the primary thrusters in close proximity will result in considerable damage to the station, Jeff."
"Then blow the damn thing off! We've got to get moving!" A shadow crossed overhead. Through the window, Joker saw the rectangular belly of a shuttle hurtling straight down on top of him. He had just enough time to see a black-and-yellow striped ring stretching across its bottom side before he instinctively nosed the ship down and away from the station. The docking clamps groaned, but Normandy shifted enough so the shuttle's flat side smacked against the port window and deflected away as control jets stabilized it and pushed it a safe distance away. Fortunately, because of their low relative speeds, the damage to both ships was minor.
From the size and shape, Joker thought it might be the Normandy's Kodiak, but the dark gray color was all wrong. It was just another ship, trying to get away. He could see the pilot's panicked face through the shuttle's window. He felt bad for anybody caught in the crossfire, but now was not the time to get in his way. "Watch where you're going, asshole!"
But the salarian pilot did not return Joker's glare. Instead, his attention remained focused on the hull above the cockpit as the small ship reoriented itself, hurtling once more belly down toward Normandy's topside. The black-and-yellow ring was a docking collar, Joker realized, and the collision had been no accident. The sonofabitch had missed! "EDI, take him out!"
"I have no reading," EDI said. "Stealth systems active. GARDIAN unable to acquire lock..."
"Going to manual!" With a swipe of his hand, Joker brought up a boresight camera from the Normandy's dorsal point defense lasers. He lined up on the shuttle, which faced the forward turret at a range less than ten meters away, and held the trigger down for continuous fire. He couldn't see the pulsed infrared beam, but its effects were immediate. The shuttle's nose flared like the head of a match as its thin armor boiled away and an explosion ripped it in two. From the fireball, debris, equipment and bodies tumbled away, some bouncing off the windows above him.
Joker's hands swooped over his displays as if he were swatting flies and he brought up external cameras on all his available displays. Another assault shuttle maneuvered towards the main hangar bay door. He switched through each of the ventral turrets, hoping to find one that could angle close enough to keep Normandy from acquiring another parasite.
"Come on, hustle up!" Jacob knelt over the armory's aft access shaft. Patel's dark eyes looked up at him as she climbed, her eyes full of fear. Jacob grabbed hold of her forearm and stood, lifting the small woman easily out of the shaft and prodding her forward. He pointed toward the open weapon lockers on the port wall. "Grab a weapon and report to CIC!"
Before Jacob even finished the sentence, he reached down the shaft to help speed the next crew member's ascent. This time it was Mess Sergeant Gardner, and he repeated his order to the ship's cook. When he looked down the shaft again, it was empty.
He stood and joined a half-dozen of the Normandy's crew hurriedly preparing for battle. Patel and Gardner joined the likes of Kelly Chambers and Dr. Chakwas in haphazardly slapping body armor over their regulation uniforms, charging weapons and silently preparing themselves for combat. He stopped just long enough to help Chakwas tighten the straps on her armored vest.
"How many?" Jacob shouted through the forward hatch.
Miranda called back to him over her shoulder as she monitored the intruder's progress on the security display. "ten, correction twelve, in vac armor!"
"The inner door has been breached," EDI announced. "Atmospheric pressure zero on deck one. They are now planting charges on the elevator."
The main lift had been frozen at deck two for just that reason. Any assault from the top would have to penetrate at least two additional armored bulkheads: the ceiling, walls and floors of the elevator itself, then the door leading to each deck. If they were lucky, the crew on whichever deck was penetrated first would have an extra minute before they were exposed to vacuum.
Jacob could be in his armor and sealed up in fifteen seconds flat thanks to years of practice. Mordin began suiting up the instant the order to repel boarders had been issued. But the rest of the crew? They'd have to rely on emergency closets scattered about the ship or asphyxiate. When the collectors boarded the Normandy a little over a week ago, they intended to capture the crew alive. If the current attackers were willing to vent the ship, taking prisoners wasn't their goal. He pounded open his locker. His battle armor, as always, was hung at the ready. He backed into the rack and slid his legs in the suit, at the same time shouting through the forward hatch. "Miranda, clear the CIC! Take everybody down starboard to the hangar deck and get suited up."
"We don't have time! They'll be here any second!"
Jacob didn't bother to explain. When it came to shipboard security, absent Shepard, he was in tactical command. But Miranda was right. Getting the crew down to the hangar deck where most of the EVA equipment was stowed would leave the CIC undefended. Only Mordin and Jacob were equipped to fight in a vacuum.
Suddenly, Jacob saw himself on Eden Prime, looking up into the blood-red, smoke-filled sky. Polished metal poles seem to sprout from the ground everywhere he looked. Near the top of each, a corpse of a marine was impaled, obscene decorations atop a forest of spears jutting into the sky, all victims to an enemy they could neither recognize nor understand. The sense of helplessness he felt then, of seeing his comrades massacred like that, always seemed to come back when things were at their worst. He never told anybody though, showed it, or let it slow him down. Because when things were at their worst, people needed him the most.
And the memories always ended the same way. He couldn't stop it. Beyond the dragon's teeth, columns of mechanical soldiers advanced and destroyed everything in their path, their glowing cyclops eyes sweeping through the polluted air. Massed together like that, acting as a single entity instead of individual soldiers, precious little could stop them... "EDI," Jacob said, almost in a daze. "Tell the geth to report up here. All of them. Have them take the portside access."
"You can't be serious." Miranda realized the ridiculousness of Jacob's order at the same time of the gravity of the situation when a low thump reverberated through the hull.
"The elevator shaft has been been breached," EDI reported.
"Hangar deck," Miranda shouted to the half dozen crew around her. "Move!" She cast a last look forward toward the cockpit. There was no time to evacuate Joker, and if the pilot's history was any indication, he would only waste time arguing. He would be protected from vacuum by an emergency barrier, but it would do nothing to save him from weapon fire if the invaders reached that far. Taking the cockpit would be futile for their attackers since EDI could assume or redirect control at any time, but they didn't know that, and the diversion might give the rest of the crew enough time to counterattack. But what would become of the helmsman, unarmed, crippled and alone at the nose of the ship?
Crewman Hadley was the last to go through the starboard hatch to the lab. He held it open for Miranda. "Ma'am?"
"Get everyone down to the hanger and get them prepped," she told him. "Then await orders from Operative Taylor."
"Aye," Hadley said and the hatch sealed behind him.
Miranda picked up a satchel from Kelly's communication console which held the last remnants of antipersonnel mines from the armory. Half a dozen were already in place around the CIC, armed to detonate if approached by anyone without a Normandy ident. She retreated up the Normandy's neck to the cockpit and set the last four on the deck as she went. They probably wouldn't penetrate the intruder's vacuum armor, but it might slow them down. After that, she'd have to depend on biotics, an M-12 locust and luck to keep her pilot alive.
Back in the armory, Mordin stepped aside as the newly armed crew cut through the short corridor leading back to the lab. He punched commands into his omnitool as he spoke. "Arming geth. Intriguing concept."
Jacob tried to drive the image of the impaled marines from his mind as he loaded himself down with extra weaponry and heat sinks. Visions of Eden Prime still haunted him almost nightly in spite of the fact the geth on board had been nothing but helpful, saving the entire ship with their timely arrival and near miraculous repair capability. And Legion... it had been rough going at the start, but time after time the mobile platform had proven its loyalty and trustworthiness. He wasn't ashamed to admit it anymore. He he liked the damned thing. It was one of them now.
But these new geth, they weren't Legion. It surprised him how different he felt towards them now. How would they react to a battle between organics? Would they take arms? Do nothing? Did they have a sense of self-preservation at all?
The salarian donned his helmet, obscuring a thoughtful, wistful expression. "Wondering if the geth will help?"
"Desperate times, desperate measures. Given the alternatives, agree with your call."
"Besides, curious to see if geth drones exhibit initiative and intelligence without the guidance of Platform Two."
Another loud thump sent a vibration through the hull. "The elevator has been compromised," EDI said.
Jacob tied in his helmet's HUD to the ship's security system. He paced back and forth as he watched the feed. Armored figures dropped through a perfectly round hole in the lift's ceiling and started working on the forward door. "Dammit," he whispered as he saw Miranda heading towards the cockpit. It was too late to go after her or even argue. "EDI, lock out all systems in CIC. Begin depressurization of this deck as soon as all personnel are clear."
"Hadley," Miranda called over the comm. "What's your ETA?"
"We just got down here, ma'am. Suiting up now. We need two, maybe three minutes."
Jacob performed a quick function check on his Mattock and winced at the thought of what its armor-piercing load was going to do to the CIC. He could tell from the security feed that nothing less was going to penetrate the enemy armor. Defenders traditionally had the advantage, but until reinforcements arrived, they were looking at four-to-one odds in the enemy's favor. It would likely be a very short engagement. Hopefully, they could hold long enough for the others to counterattack. He charged his rifle and looked across the aisle to Mordin. "Ready?"
A buzz from what sounded like an electronic cicada made both Jacob and Mordin look aft. They found themselves staring into a dozen glowing circles of light from the geth platforms standing in a gaggle near the aft access hatch, hands at their sides, their camera apertures independently scanning the two organics. They shifted silently forward to make room as the last remaining geth climbed from below.
Jacob stepped away from the wide open weapon locker and gestured inside. With surprisingly little noise, the geth lined up single file behind the front-most platform and marched to the open weapon locker.
Silas Wun lived to make things go boom. As a fifteen-year old he was suspended finally and irrevocably from school for overloading the building's power core and blowing out an entire wall three stories tall. At that point, he knew what he wanted to do with his life... make things explode for money.
Standing in Normandy's elevator, he was making the most money he'd earned in his life prepping the final charge that would allow his team to access the most hated ship in the galaxy. But it worried him that instead of dropping through the floor as originally planned, team leader T'Rarul redirected him to the doors to CIC. That was just the latest of the wild pitches that had been thrown during this whole screwed-up mission. He wasn't in the loop by any means, but he'd been on enough ops to know something had gone drastically wrong.
Over forty troopers in full gear, plus a squad of LOKI mechs, had been crammed into three "Lamprey" assault shuttles for hours with no food, no entertainment, and no room to do anything except stare at one another. Then the Normandy was late in arriving. Then Shepard left the ship unexpectedly, which caused a last-minute shifting of squads on the station to deal with him (though Silus was secretly thrilled not to have to face Shepard in close quarters on his own ship.) Then the order to go got countermanded at the last minute because of some further hold-up on the docks... With all the delays and confusion, and all the bickering amongst the rival groups, the inevitable happened. Someone from the Normandy crew made the ambush and warned the ship. The entire operation was caught in mid-step, and the higher-ups gave the order to go, in spite of the fact that the carefully orchestrated ambush on the station and of the Normandy was no longer a surprise.
Three assault shuttles raced to forcibly dock with the Normandy. Silas' team, assigned to assault from the top deck down, attached the shuttle's breaching lock on the hull of the Cerberus ship and blew through the hull just as planned, but the other two shuttles never made contact. Shuttle Two with another squad and mech team was supposed to attach on the bottom of Normandy and assault engineering and life support. The third was supposed to enter above the cockpit. Caught unaware, the Normandy crew in the command center and cockpit would have asphyxiated. After that, Team Two would take control of the ship while the others shut down life support and clear the ship of resistance.
Now, they were going into CIC. Based on observations on Dashta, only four of Shepard's vaunted squad would be aboard: the two senior Cerberus operatives, the salarian scientist, and drell assassin. After that, the human crew numbered less than ten. Everyone else was on the station. So the assault team still had more professional warriors even if the initiative had been lost.
Silas stepped back and gave the circular frame one last visual inspection. Tamped perfectly, the dual-phase charge would first burn through the elevator's doors, then propel the hatch into the CIC with the loudest bang imaginable. The concussion should stun anyone close by, followed immediately by rapid decompression. Hopefully, the none of the crew had a chance to suit up...
"Clear!" he shouted, stepped against the wall, and keyed the detonator. There was no sound in the airless compartment. Only a searing flash, followed by moisture condensing briefly in the now opened hatch which quickly dissipated as the atmosphere flowed through the hole in the ceiling. But there was no rush of air, no explosive decompression. The CIC had already been vented. Before the smoke cleared, Eclipse troopers jumped down and rushed through in pairs, weapons at the ready.
"Negative contact," the lead trooper, a human, said as he stepped to the port side around the control consoles in front of him. An instant later, his calm demeanor faded and he jumped back as a blossom of fire erupted on the deck in front of him. He sounded more annoyed than hurt. "Shit! They got charges on the deck. No penetration, but watch out."
T'Rarul, the asari squad leader, stepped carefully to the starboard as she swept the silent room. Her tactical visor highlighted the hastily-placed booby traps. The consoles were all deserted and dark. There was no weapon fire, no signs of resistance, and no bodies. The crew had cleared out. Other than the antipersonnel devices, they had a clear shot to the cockpit. "Move in. Watch the aft hatches."
Silas detached his Roskenkov-Kovalyov rifle from its harness and fell in line behind T'Rarul. He activated his omnitool and knelt over each AP mine as they moved forward, deactivating them as he passed. Whoever had planted them was either not very skilled or in a big hurry.
The entire squad now occupied the CIC, split evenly by the console island in the middle of the compartment. As Silas knelt to disarm yet another explosive, a shout over the comm system made him jump. "Contact aft!"
He looked up sharply to see the port hatch on the aft wall open with two of the eclipse mercs tumbling helplessly toward the ceiling, biotic energy flaring over their bodies. In the silence of vacuum there was no sound of gunfire, but dozens of rounds streaked through the darkened room. The other four mercenaries dropped to firing position and their kinetic barriers sparked with seemingly endless impacts as they returned fire. One by one they fell to the deck.
From the open hatch, armed figures burst into the CIC single file, maintaining a constant stream of fire with pinpoint precision, riddling the bodies on the ground with bullets. Their white armor may have been unfamiliar, but the long sloping heads capped with a brilliant blue-white light was instantly recognizable by any organic in the galaxy.
"GETH!" Someone shouted as four, then six, then eight of the mechanical soldiers pressed in, turning their weapons to the port side.
"FIRE!" shouted T'Rarul, unleashing a barrage on full auto across the projector table in the middle. The rest of the troopers followed suit.
Bright orange fire erupted to Silas' left. He turned to see the last merc in his column, another asari, scream as her chest plate and helmet seared into slag. He caught a glimpse of an armored salarian as he ducked behind the starboard hatch, omnitool in hand. Then a wave of geth poured out, weapons at the ready. The troopers behind him barely had time to raise their own weapons as they were cut down in a hail of fire.
"Cockpit!" T'Rarul shouted and pointed up the forward stairs. "GO!"
Silas ducked and followed the asari around the apex of the center console to the cockpit. Behind him, another asari screeched in agony as she was torn to shreds by the machines. T'Rarul charged with Silas on her heels, fleeing the carnage in CIC. AP mines detonated beneath their feet as they sprinted forward, but without the air to transmit the blast the impact from the shrapnel against their armor only knocked them off stride.
The geth were defeated, subdued and forgotten after the Citadel, Silas always believed. The threat was over, they said. The war had been a success, they said. But then Shepard came back. And he had a geth with him. Shepard had made friends with them, some people they said, maybe even had control of them. Not just over the one he kept on his ship but millions of them waiting to do his bidding just on the other side of the Perseus Veil. But it was all just hearsay and rumor... until now.
Up ahead, lights in the cockpit still glowed bright with active sensors and displays, but all Silas could see was the airlock just to its left. Maybe, just maybe he could reach it and expel himself from the ship, then aim his trajectory in a leap back to the station. Because staying on the Normandy meant certain death.
T'Rarul had other plans. "I'm going to ram this bitch into the station," she growled. "Cover me!"
The asari took only two steps before they both hurtled to the ceiling as if the ship's artificial gravity had reversed. Then, just as quickly, they smashed back to the deck. T'Rarul rolled to her chest and screamed as she extended her arms. Blue fire shot forth towards the cockpit, and a split second later she became enveloped by an even stronger biotic blast coming the other way. She shrieked in pain as the fabric of space seemed to rend around her, knocking her toward the starboard wall behind Silas.
The young merc tried to become one with the deck as he crawled toward the airlock, his rifle forgotten on the deck. Maybe they wouldn't shoot if they saw he wasn't armed. Shepard's crew was supposed to be that way, the type to accept a surrender. All Silas knew was that he didn't want to die. He made it almost two meters before fire tore through his body all along his exposed back. He curled up in agony. Lying on his side he saw a forest of thin white metallic legs and split-toed feet surround him. He looked up into the barrel of an automatic rifle aimed right at his forehead. Behind that, a perfect circle of light, as cold and emotionless as the dark hole in front of his eyes.
On the ground two meters away, T'Rarul's body spasmed uncontrollably as geth rifle fire ripped through her. Silas considered himself lucky that his geth's burst went straight into his head as he felt nothing when death carried him away.
"Cease fire," Jacob shouted. "Cease fire!"
The geth in the narrow passage leading to the cockpit stopped at once and simultaneously assumed defensive postures, rifles and submachine guns ready as they scanned for targets. They stood aside to allow the human and salarian pass.
Jacob stepped carefully around the bodies of the two dead mercs, his own rifle at the ready. Blood bubbled from dozens of entry and exit wounds on their bodies. He glanced toward the cockpit.
Miranda rose from behind the consoles on the right, her unfired Locust at her side. "Nice work," she mouthed to him from the other side of the emergency barrier. She paused for a moment at the sight of two of her friends standing amidst a gang of armed geth. She should be relieved, but for some reason she was far from it. She touched her ear to activate her mic. "Get a barrier on that hull breach, ASAP," she said. "And get the crew back to stations!"
"Roger that," Jacob said and turned toward his mechanical platoon. "All right you heard the word, let's go!"
Miranda exhaled sharply and leaned against Joker's chair. Three clean holes in a rough triangle punched clean through the soft leather from the back. She followed their path to the ruined console directly in front of them.
EDI's avatar materialized above the port console. "Jeff? Are you injured? Jeff?"
Sitting on the deck with his back against the portside hull, Joker stared at the holes where he was sitting until Miranda yanked him out of his chair. He pulled his ballcap up and wiped his forehead with his hand. "I'm fine, EDI. Looks like I'm going to need a new seat cover, though."
Miranda leaned over and helped Joker to his feet. Standing face to face, Miranda's expression was grim. "To your station, Mister Moreau."
"Yes, ma'am," Joker said, and hobbled to his chair. With the push of several buttons, he shifted the most important information usually on the primary console to his secondary displays. "Uh... Thanks. For not leaving me."
"Your insubordination has been noted," Miranda took a step toward his chair and placed her weapon on safe. She gave him a wry smile. "And appreciated. Now break us free so we can go get our people."Joker snapped her a salute, surprised as she was that for once it was sincere. "Yes ma'am! EDI,Target the clamps with the dorsal lasers. Let's get out of here!"