Fight for the Lost

The Engineer

Location: Unknown

"I am not in the habit of being ignored, Shepard," the Illusive Man cautioned.

Shepard crossed his arms in contempt and glared. "Given our relationship, are you surprised? At what point was I supposed to give a damn?"

The Illusive Man tapped his cigarette in his ash tray a little harder than necessary, but otherwise showed no other outward indication that Shepard's words affected him. "I think I've been more than fair to you thus far, Shepard."

"I think you should go to hell," Shepard retorted. He stared down at the man sitting casually in front of him. "I'm willing to bet that you had something do with that attack and the loss of life of everyone on Horizon. And I don't make bets lightly."

Far from being angry, the Illusive Man smiled thinly. "Very perceptive of you, Shepard. Yes, I released a few carefully disguised rumors that you might be alive and working for Cerberus," he freely admitted.

Shepard clenched his jaw at the enigmatic man sitting in front of him.

"Remember, it was only a suspicion that the Collectors or the Reapers were looking for you or people connected to you. Now we know for certain," he said. "It was a risk, but I couldn't just wait for them to take another random colony. I simply provided bait that was too good to ignore. You understand."

"So what's the next move?" Shepard said slowly, reigning in his temper.

The Illusive Man raised his cigarette and took a smoke. Exhaling a small cloud, he looked directly into Shepard's eyes with his own unnatural ones unwaveringly. "I'm devoting all resources to finding a way through the Omega 4 relay. We have to hit them where they live." Shifting a bit in his chair, he casually added, "Your team will need be strong… As will their resolve. There's no looking back." He nodded his head at him. "The same goes for you. Can I assume you've put your past relationships behind you?"

Despite how innocent he tried to make it sound, Shepard found his anger rising quickly again at the Illusive Man. "That's none of your damn business."

"If it affects the mission, better you leave it behind," he advised while tapping his cigarette into his ash tray again.

"Thanks for the pearl of wisdom," Shepard sardonically replied. "But if I want to talk to someone about my relationships, I can do a lot better than you."

"Shepard. Once we find a way through the Omega 4 relay to the Collector homeworld… There's no guarantee you'll return," the Illusive Man warned. "To have any hope of surviving, you – and your entire team – must be fully committed to this."

"They're my responsibility. You just do your job and find us a way to the Collector homeworld," Shepard said.

The Illusive Man nodded. "I just want to be up front about your odds. You'll need everyone at their best. I've forwarded three more dossiers. Keep building your team while I find a way through the relay. Also, my best lab technicians and biologists are currently studying the Collector remains as well as those new husks Miranda reported seeing on Horizon. I'll forward their results to you once they have something. And be careful, Shepard. The Collectors will be watching you."

Location: Shadow Sea Nebula, Iera System, in Orbit around Prospect, Normandy SR-2

"I guess we're really gonna do it. Hit the Omega 4 relay, take the fight to the Collectors in person," Jacob commented when Shepard left the cylindrical scanner and found himself back on the Normandy.

"Only way to stop them," Shepard said.

"Looking forward to the action," Jacob stated. He sighed and rolled his head. "After seeing what those bastards did on Horizon, though… makes you think."

"Something on your mind?" Shepard asked.

"No, just… There's a good chance we're not coming back, even if we get it done," he replied. "Gonna go take care of a little unfinished business. I imagine everyone else is, too – getting some closure, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," Shepard said.

"I'm going down to apologize to Jack. I don't want there to be too many hard feelings between us," Jacob said.

Shepard nodded. "Alright. Let me see these dossiers and get a destination before we head down."

"Sounds good, Commander. I got to get her stuff anyway."

Shepard followed Jacob into the Armory. While he was busy packing Jack's armor into its case, Shepard engaged his omni-tool and started checking his newest potential recruits. "EDI, get Joker to the helm. We're leaving," he called as he checked the dossiers.

Given how hard Harbinger and those new husks were, we could use the help.

"Calling Mr. Moreau to the helm, Commander. Logging you out."

His eyes settled on a familiar picture and name, causing him to smile. He almost felt guilty for snapping at the Illusive Man now after seeing his quarian friend added to the roster. Almost.

Jacob finished collecting Jack's armor and boots and walked up to Shepard. "Ready," he said, as if he were a condemned man heading for his execution.

Shepard grinned at him and walked into the CIC and walked up the short ramp to the galaxy map. He inputted their newest destination and waited for Joker get to the helm to confirm their course.

Joker entered the CIC moments later and yawned. "Morning," he mumbled as he walked past Shepard and Jacob toward his station.

They waited until he was settled and prepped. Minutes later, Joker called in from the intercom. "Dholen System. Coordinates locked, course plotted. We're on our way. Looks like a straight shot from here to the Far Rim Cluster and Dholen, but we still have to avoid Alliance ships from here to the mass relay. ETA: 6 hours."

Turning to Jacob, Shepard nodded. "Let's go."

Jacob nodded back and followed Shepard to the elevator and down to Deck 4. All too soon for Jacob, they reached Jack's little niche in the Normandy.

Jack was already awake and eating breakfast out of two trays while perusing the Cerberus data Shepard got for her some time ago. Looking up at the sounds of their boot steps, she saw Shepard and was about to greet him when her gaze landed on Jacob. "He – What the fuck are you doing down here?" she said, standing up and facing him. Her biotics manifested into an aura surrounding her.

"Here," Jacob said, unperturbed by her hostile show of dark energy. He walked forward and placed the armor case and boots next to her and stepped back.

Jack glanced down to see what he gave her before snapping her gaze back up and continued to glare.

"I want to apologize for what I said yesterday," Jacob started. "I meant to get a rise out of you, but I crossed a line that I shouldn't have. That was my mistake and I should've known better. I'm sorry." He nodded his head at his 'presents'. "I'm pretty sure I did your stuff right. If the armor's still off, come back and I'll fix it up. I even upgraded your shotgun a bit, in case you're curious."

Jack let her biotics dim as she stared at Jacob, as if she was trying to judge his sincerity. She looked at Shepard. "You put him up this?"

"Hey, I'm down here trying to make peace," Jacob protested. "The Commander's got nothing to do with me being here. He just wants to make sure I leave in one piece."

She turned back to stare at Jacob a bit more before snorting. "Fine. Whatever." She sat back down and picked up her new boots. "About fucking time you got me some new shoes," she said, inspecting her new foot wear. "What the hell took you so long?"

Maybe it was Shepard's imagination, but her tone seemed to lack any real hostility behind it or maybe it was just less than usual.

Jacob shrugged. "Modifying your armor seemed a bit more important, that's all. We good?"

Jack glanced at him out of the corner of her eye before ignoring him and trying on her new boots.

Jacob glanced at Shepard, who nodded back. Accepting the fact that he was allowed to walk away unharmed as an acceptance of his apology, Jacob turned around and left without further incident.

"Huh. They actually fit. He's got a good eye," Jack said appraisingly once he was gone. She stood up and walked around a bit, testing her new boots out. "I don't think I even told him my size."

"What are you up to, right now?" Shepard asked.

"Just going over that stuff you got me," Jack replied. She slid the armor case under her cot and picked up her second tray and continued eating.

"I was wondering if you're up to teaching me Charge," Shepard said.

Jack looked up. "How did you learn Shockwave so fast? You try learning it before?" she asked with her mouth full.

It took Shepard a moment to decipher what she was saying. "I studied up on biotics for a bit," he said evasively. "Maybe you're a good teacher?"

Jack barked out a sarcastic laugh. "Bullshit."

Shepard shrugged, but offered nothing more.

Jack ate quickly, polishing off her second tray in no time. "I'm done. Let's go."

Shepard nodded and led the way to the hangar. Inside, there was no one around. Most of the crewmen were probably recovering from their antics last night, though the other shift woke up and were manning their posts as scheduled.

They stopped in the middle of the hangar. "Charge is hard to learn. Most can't do it, so I'm not getting my hopes up," Jack said. "The point of Charge is to use your biotics to create mass effect fields that make you faster and stronger," she lectured before smirking at him. "Of course, you can also use it to get the hell out of danger fast.

Shepard rolled his eyes. "I managed to get away in time, didn't I? And I wasn't covered in guts when that husk blew."

Jack shrugged. "Well, there's your way and sure, it worked. My way? I did it style. Right, watch carefully."

Shepard studied her profile, stance, and movements as she prepared to demonstrate. Her biotic aura manifested around her as she put one leg back and bent slightly at the waist. Her arms were spread and elbows bent. It looked as if she was preparing to tackle an unseen opponent. Just like before, well beyond his trained eye could perceive, Jack was gone from her starting position and appeared only several feet away. The only evidence that she had stood next to Shepard was the crack of displaced air, not unlike a gunshot.

"A few things you should know. The more powerful you are, the farther you go," she explained as she walked back up to him. "Biotic Charge also means you're travelling fast enough to set off kinetic shields, so only the air pressure you generate will knock someone off their feet, but their shields will protect them against any real damage. I wouldn't try using this on things like heavy mechs. You're better off shoving Warp right inside their armor and into something more breakable."

Shepard thought back to her fight back on Horizon. "I saw you go through the wall during our fight with Harbinger. You appeared right next to me."

"Yeah. Advanced users can actually 'phase' through stuff," Jack shrugged. "Some things, but not everything. Something to do with how thick an object is or how dense. You have to be careful about that part of Charge or you'll either run head first into a wall or you charge halfway into a solid object and kill yourself." She shrugged again. "Guess it depends on either how powerful you are. Or how stupid."

"Nice," Shepard muttered, frowning at the mental pictures. "Can you show me again?"

"Not this time. I wanna see what you can do," Jack said. She walked over to a crate, sat down and crossed her arms.

Shepard mock-glared at her and settled into a similar stance she demonstrated moments ago. He tried focusing on his biotics to achieve the same result she did, but all that happened was his own biotic aura flickering to life around him and little else. Shepard stood there comically for several minutes trying to will himself across the hangar. He looked like a cross between a runner ready to sprint and a football player about to tackle someone. He could hear Jack snickering at him from her seat.

"Having trouble?" Jack sing-songed mockingly.

"Maybe more than a little," Shepard obligingly said. He figured Jack was testing how much of her antics he was willing to put up with.

"Like I said, this one is harder than most," Jack said.

Shepard stayed in his stance a little longer, dark energy still surrounding him before giving up. Standing straighter, he turned to Jack. "Can you show me again, please?" he asked as neutrally as he could.

Jack smirked at him again and hopped off her crate. "Well, so long as you said, 'please'." She stood next to him, settled into her stance and vanished with another crack. She covered far more distance than before. Shepard looked across the hangar to see her give him a jaunty salute before using Charge again to appear right next to him.

"That good enough for you?" she asked haughtily.

Shepard nodded and settled into the same stance she did. He closed his eyes and tried to visualize every nuance of her form just before she disappeared and reappeared. Even after he focused his biotics though, he still found himself unable to achieve any real results. He simply stood there, his aura flickering and not much more.

Bored of waiting, Jack was looking around the vessel appreciatively. "This is a nice ship. Wouldn't mind putting her through her paces when you're not around."

"I doubt Joker would appreciate that. At least while we're working," Shepard replied with his eyes closed.

"Relax. Joy-riding doesn't have the thrill it used to. Besides, if I wanted it, I'd take it," she said matter-of-factly.

"Is that a fact?" Shepard said, still concentrating.

"I've been around," Jack replied. "Ran with gangs, wiped out some gangs, joined a cult," she listed off. "Kept the haircut," she added as an afterthought. "I learned to survive and not be a victim."

Shepard opened his eyes, but continued trying to focus himself to execute Charge. Hearing that she once joined a cult piqued his curiosity. "It's hard to imagine you in a cult," he commented. "That usually involves a lot of rules."

"I was looking for answers. Drugs and sex and going to a better place," she answered. "A better place… right," she scoffed. She turned to face Shepard, who was still in his original stance, trying to learn Charge. "It was all about money. They wanted to take a colony, shake the suckers down to fund their spread. And guess who was their ace in the hole?" she asked rhetorically. She scowled. "They were just like the rest. Didn't give one shit about me."

The question left Shepard's lips before he could think. "What did you do when you found out?" he asked, even though he knew the answer.

Jack knew he knew the answer. "What do you think?" she retorted.

"You must have met some good people," Shepard said, closing his eyes again and concentrating.

She scoffed again. "Everybody wants something. And because of that, everything is fair game."

It was a point Shepard couldn't argue with, considering the reason she was on this mission was in exchange for her freedom. He continued his attempt, though his focus wavered when he kept his attention on Jack.

"Murder, assault, kidnapping, drugs, stealing, arson. Done it all. And that's the boring shit," she bragged, ticking everything off on her fingers.

Shepard found himself slightly impressed by her litany of crimes and wondered how he had never heard of her before.

"Piracy, theft of military craft, destruction of a space station, and vandalism," she continued. She looked up and smiled at her last point. "Ha! That was a good one."

Shepard opened his eyes again and turned his head slightly to face her. He was still crouched and dark energy was rolling off of him in waves as he tried to learn his newest biotic technique. "A space station?" he asked skeptically. "You're pushing what I can believe."

She crossed her arms defensively. "Ain't saying it was easy. Not everything is spur of the moment. Sometimes, you got to work to give people what they deserve."

"And what exactly did they do to deserve 'destruction of a space station'?"

"Had some people I hung with for a while," Jack shrugged uncaringly. "Outlaw colony. Felt like they were like me. Guess that made us a nice target." She frowned. "Turians think they know something about a scorched earth response. Fuck'em."

Shepard turned away from her and closed his eyes again. "And a ship? Military's a hard target. Bet that made you some friends."

"Shouldn't have left the thing unlocked. Besides, parades are boring. I helped," she grinned.

"You mentioned pirate to me before," Shepard prompted.

Jack shrugged, though Shepard didn't see the gesture with his eyes closed. "Ties in with the kidnapping. If you hijack a passenger ship and don't kill everyone, anyway. Good lesson. Simpler to just kill them all."

Shepard sighed at his failed attempts and stood straight again. He turned to face Jack fully. "With your impressive resume, I'm surprised you'd even mention vandalism."

Jack laughed. "That's what the hanar call it when you crash that space station I mentioned into one of the moons and make a new crater. They really liked that moon."

Given what he knew about the hanar, vandalism is probably the closest they'd ever come to cursing. Shepard crossed his arms and regarded the young woman in front of him. "You ever wonder if you could have done things differently?" he asked, interested in knowing if she ever felt remorse for her actions.

"No," she simply said.

"Shouldn't you?"

"There's no reason I should be alive, but I am," she said. "You know why? Instinct. It's work for me so far and I'm not going to change."

"I wasn't asking if you should change. I was asking if you should adapt."

"Adapt? What the hell does that mean?"

Shepard shrugged. "Big difference between surviving and living. You already know how to survive. I'm not even going to question that. Ever consider trying to live?"

"What the hell do you know?" she scoffed.

"I ran with some gangs when I was younger. No parents, no home. I learned to survive, not like you per se, but I made it far enough that I wanted more. That's probably why I joined the Alliance. Got off-world, food, shelter, shoot things, and I didn't have to look over my shoulder all the time anymore."

Jack studied him for minute. She looked like she wanted to say something before changing her mind. "You know, no one's ever asked about any of this shit. It's strange to talk about." She brushed past him and made her way to the stairs. "So fuck you and thanks for asking," she said in her usual brusque manner.

Shepard sighed and tried to learn Charge again when Jack called back to him from the bottom of the stairs. "Charge requires all of the eezo modules in your body to work. The reason why most people can't do it is because they don't have enough eezo in them to begin with. It's not like flicking an arm or a leg like you're used to. It's using your entire body as a weapon. You can't do it is because you're using only some of the modules, not all of them. Sync them up and then try again."

Location: Far Rim Cluster, Dholen System, Haestrom

"We need to hurry. It's almost noon. There won't be any shade left," Tali'Zorah vas Neema said to some of the marines around her.

The various marines acknowledged her orders as they continued to search for more of their monitoring devices the sun hadn't destroyed yet while keeping a steady eye on their shields.

"This is a waste of time," one of them grumbled when he saw that the sensor he was holding was shorted out by the Dholen star.

"You have your orders, marine. Now do your job!" Kal'Reegar barked.

Tali smiled underneath her mask. She always liked Kal'Reegar. Honest, straightforward, and to the point, he's the kind of marine that held himself professionally, but can still be a steadfast friend. Even her father praised his attitude and commitment to his missions. It was a shame he wasn't with her on Freedom's Progress. Not only would that mission have gone better, but she would've liked to introduced Shepard to him as well. She had a feeling the two would get along just fine.

"Ma'am?" Kal said, getting her attention. "I think we've found all we managed to find today. We'll hit the observatory later this evening and place more sensors around there."

"Yes, of course," Tali agreed. "Just be careful of the geth," she reminded.

Due to the abundant radiation on Haestrom produced by its dying sun, the best time to move about was at night. Unfortunately, the geth took advantage of this fact as well and as such, deployed their heaviest concentration of patrols during the evening. This prompted the quarians to do most of their work during the day, since the threat from the sun is only slightly less than a firefight with the geth this deep in their space.

She paused when she saw something glint off the side of Kal's visor. She turned her head and cursed. "Geth Dropship! Get down!"

All the marines ducked into what little shade they've been using to hide from the radiation of the sun. Hopefully, it would also be enough to hide from the geth patrol ship circling the area.

The geth ship, modeled after their so-called "God" Sovereign, circled the area lazily. It continued to scan for any disturbances for several tense minutes before leaving the area.

"Did it see us?" Tali asked after a minute or so.

"I don't think so," Kal said. "We're almost out of shade. We should get back to camp, double-time."

I hope this data is worth it… Tali thought worriedly. "Okay. Let's go back to base camp. I'm due to make another log anyway."

Location: Normandy SR-2; En Route to Far Rim Cluster, Dholen System, Haestrom,

Despite Jack's final instructions, syncing all of his eezo modules was something he'd never done before. After spending his entire morning trying and failing to emulate Jack's performance, Shepard called it quits and vowed to learn to utilize his entire biotic suite first before trying Charge.

She was right. This is harder than anything I've learned before.

Slightly frustrated by his lack of success, he comforted himself by remembering that he wasn't a biotic a little under a month ago.

Too damn arrogant. I've been picking up the other stuff so fast that I should've expected failure at some point.

He dedicated the next couple of hours to practicing the other biotic techniques he learned to be on par with other biotics he'd ever known. Kaidan, Liara, Miranda, and Jacob, even Wrex; Shepard recalled all the times they utilized their biotic powers and emulated their successes. Come lunch, he felt slightly better that his technique was greatly improving in other areas. Feeling ravenous, he hurried to Deck 3 and ambled over to the common area. Crewmen filled the various tables and were talking animatedly, leftover elation from their first mission against the Collectors.

"Damn. I haven't had a meal or drinks like that in a long time," Goldstein commented.

"I didn't think Rupert had it in him," Hawthorne chuckled. "Man knows how to throw a party."

"Afternoon, Commander!" Rupert greeted. "Hungry?"

"Famished," Shepard replied. "Damn, that smells good."

"Yep! Some of my best work. Enjoy," he said, passing a couple of trays to him.

Shepard thanked him and walked over to Miranda. Taking a seat across from her, he started eating as quickly as manners allowed, aware of how hungry he was.

Miranda simply took it in stride. "What's our next mission?"

Shepard swallowed before answering. "I was just given three more dossiers. We're off to pick up Tali."

"We're getting Tali?" Garrus asked, sitting down next the Shepard with a tray of his own.

"Yep," Shepard said.

"It'll be nice seeing her again," Garrus said thoughtfully.

"Where is she?" Miranda asked.

"Dholen system. Unfortunately for us, that's deep in geth space. I'm hoping this will be easy, but I doubt it," Shepard answered.

"What's Tali doing there?" Garrus asked.

Shepard shrugged. "I don't know. We saw her on Freedom's Progress, another human colony that was attacked by the Collectors. I asked her to join me, but she mentioned about a dangerous mission that she couldn't let anyone else do."

"Deep space espionage, perhaps?" Miranda suggested. "Study geth patrols or weaknesses?"

"No idea. We'll ask when we see her," Shepard stated. He turned to Garrus. "How's your food been?"

Garrus chewed thoughtfully before swallowing. "He got better. It tasted like those MREs I was surviving on in the beginning, but it's not actually that bad now." He looked at Shepard shrewdly. "I'm sure Tali will like it."

Shepard grinned and took another bite, saying nothing.

Miranda shook her head in amusement. "Men. Is it always about food with you?" She took a drink before turning to Shepard. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better."

"Nothing like being surrounded by friends to take your mind off your problems," Shepard said easily. "Besides, I already died once. I'm not going dwell on depression. It's not how I operate." Shepard smirked. "If you're asking if I'm hung-over, the answer is no. Gotta love these implants."

Miranda smiled before eating again.

"Hey, Goldstein," Rupert said while collecting her tray. "Didn't you mention once that you were stationed on Horizon?"

"Oh yeah," Goldstein said. "If I hadn't joined Cerberus, I'd probably be abducted by the Collectors by now."

"Yeah, she really dodged a bullet," Hawthorne said.

"Those Collectors creep the hell out of me," Goldstein added with a shudder.

Hawthorne shook his head. "Well, you're alright now. I got to report for my shift at the helm. Bye."

Hawthorne made his way to the lift, greeting Ken and Gabby as they passed by him.

"Hey, Rupert," Gabby said. She and Ken took their trays and sat down nearby. "These meals are getting better and better," she said to Ken at their table.

Ken scoffed. "Yeah, right. That scunner couldn't serve a good haggis if his life depended on it."

Both Shepard and Miranda choked simultaneously at Ken's declaration. Garrus looked up, confused at what their problem was.

Gabby looked a little green. "All haggis tastes like ass anyway, so does it matter?"

Ken smiled. "Aye, but in the right hands, it can taste like mighty fine ass," he stated wistfully.

"What ass tastes fine?" Joker asked as he passed by their table.

"Haggis, of course!" Ken said.

"Oh man. Could you not make me sick right before lunch?" Joker groaned.

"What? What's wrong with haggis?" Ken asked defensively.

"Uh… everything?" Joker stated. He hobbled up to Rupert, ignoring Ken's sputtering and took a tray. "This isn't haggis, is it?" he asked.

"Haggis? Why the hell would I cook that?" Rupert asked confused.

"Oi!" Ken shouted indignantly. Gabby laughed in his face.

Joker grinned before sitting at Shepard's table next to Miranda. "You gotta do something about that thing, Commander," Joker pleaded, all traces of his earlier humor gone.

"What thing?" Shepard asked confused.

"That thing that keeps sitting next to me," Joker whispered between his teeth.

Shepard was still confused. He thought about what was in the cockpit before shaking his head. "You mean EDI," he said in a normal tone.

Joker's eyes widened and he started making shushing noises. They might've paid more attention to his antics if his mouth was full at the time. Miranda looked fairly disgusted and moved her plate farther away from him.

Joker looked around. "I can tell when it's listening."

EDI's avatar popped up next to their table. "I am always listening, Mr. Moreau."

"I know!" he groaned.

"What's the problem now, Joker?" Shepard asked wearily.

"That thing," he accused, pointing at the avatar. "Wants to fire me over a joke!"

"That's it?" Shepard asked with a raised eyebrow.

"And maybe a prank or two," Joker muttered under his breath.

"Would this prank have something to do with 'personalization of workspace', Mr. Moreau?" Miranda asked, aware of EDI's report to her.

Joker hunched down and shoved more food into his mouth to avoid answering.

"What happened?" Garrus asked, curious.

"Cerberus regulations are clear, Mr. Moreau. 'Personalization' does not include grease on my bridge cameras," EDI answered.

Shepard and Garrus snickered while Miranda muttered something about Joker being 'juvenile'.

Taking heart from Garrus' and Shepard's response, he swallowed and looked up. "It's just mad that all its footage of me looks like a dream sequence."

"So you're being fired over that?" Shepard asked, smiling.

"I might've said something about flashing the AI core, but I was kidding!" he defended. "And we'd only lose a few systems. Nosey ones," he said while glaring at the avatar.

"To clarify, human resources adjustments are not actually under my authority," EDI said.

"Then why? Why are you always picking on me? Why not Jacob or Garrus or you know, anyone else, but me!" Joker complained.

"My replies were intended to provoke, though not to cause distress. Your reactions are atypical of most humans," EDI responded before pausing. "You are interesting," she added.

Garrus and Shepard burst out laughing at him. "She pushed your buttons and got a rise out of you," Shepard said.

"About time he was on the receiving end," Garrus chortled.

"Great," Joker muttered again. "I just got worked over by the intercom."

His mutterings caused Shepard and Garrus to laugh more. Even Miranda had couldn't suppress her smile of amusement.

"It was not my intent to breed hostility, Mr. Moreau," EDI explained. "But you did instigate our interaction."

"Fine. Think of it this way – shut up," he muttered, glaring at her and ignoring both Shepard and Garrus' laughter.

Location: Far Rim Cluster, Dholen System, Haestrom

"What happened?" Tali asked as several marines gathered around her.

"We've been discovered! We think the geth found one of our probes and backtracked it to our location. We need to get you to safety!" one of the marines answered.

"Where's Reegar?" Tali asked as she was being herded away from their camp. She looked over the various marines, but couldn't see the tell-tale red Kal'Reegar favored.

"He's heading up the counterattack at OP-1, ma'am!" the marine answered. He turned to the others. "Squad 3! Chokepoint here at base camp! Don't let the geth through!"

"How many are there?" Tali asked. They stepped outside and ran for the nearest shady spot they could find.

"Unknown. We don't think they called for reinforcements, but there are enough patrols here to leave us at a disadvantage!"

"We need to get off-world!" Tali shouted.

"They've cut us off! We're on our own!"

Tali cursed under her breath and readied her shotgun. "Where are we going?" she asked as the team started moving as quickly as they could.

"OP-2. It's the most heavily fortified structure we can think…"

One of the marines screamed and fell down. The group turned to see a gaping hole in his stomach as a Geth Prime stomped its way toward them.

Oh Keelah…

Location: Normandy SR-2; En Route to Far Rim Cluster, Dholen System, Haestrom

The Normandy cleared the relay sometime after lunch and was making good time to Haestrom. Shepard took advantage of the fact that they were still two more hours away to practice his biotics a little bit more. He was back in the hangar, except it was much busier this time around with various crewmen mulling about.

Jacob was taking advantage of a little down time to pump some iron in the gym at the corner of the hangar. He nodded in greeting to Shepard who offered a silent nod of his own.

Picking a relatively empty area and giving a general warning to the crewmen to stay away, Shepard stood still and focused on his eezo modules. This particular exercise was similar to what he did just before using Lift for the first time, but instead of focusing primarily on his arms, he remembered Jack's advice and focused on his entire body.

Sync up all my modules. Gotta sync up all of them…

A familiar tingling sensation ran up and down his spine as he touched on several eezo modules at once. First the familiar ones, the ones in his arms he used often for Throw or Warp. Then, he remembered Kaidan saying that he once did a full biotic kick to his old instructor at BAaT. That was the scandal that shut Conatix and BAaT down. Consciously pushing electric current down legs for the first time, the eezo modules reacted, causing an uncomfortable itch. He resisted the urge to twitch or scratch the affected areas and slowly pushed the feeling aside. Pushing more electricity into his modules, he was finally awarded a pleasant tingling in all four limbs. Unbeknownst to him, his biotic energies manifested even greater than before. Dark energy rolled off of him in thick waves.

The crew found themselves mesmerized by the sight, but still had the presence of mind to keep their distance.

Jacob got off the bench and wiped his face with a towel. He stood nearby, impressed with the progress Shepard was making with biotics and curious what he was attempting next.

Shepard kept his breathing slow and even, a lesson he learned as an Infiltrator. He moved on to his torso, seeking the eezo modules hidden there. Again, the modules mildly protested, but one by one, Shepard touched each one for the first time until he found the last of eezo nodes in his body. Next was the hard part. He started to use all of the modules simultaneously, to work in conjunction and manipulate them to do what he needed to do.

The entire hangar was silent as they were watching the impressive biotic display Shepard was inadvertently providing. The sudden silence was enough to draw Jack out of her 'room' and investigate what was going on. As she approached the door leading to the hangar, she saw the familiar light and color of dark energy. Her curiosity increasing, she poked her head around the door and her eyes widened in shock. "What the hell?" she breathed out.

Shepard could practically feel his eezo modules singing their readiness back to him. Slowly, he shifted his body into the same stance he had been practicing all morning and visualized his destination only five feet in front of him. Keeping his breathing steady and his focus sharp, he consciously pushed the proper electrical commands throughout his entire body. The effect was nothing like he'd ever felt and certainly nothing he could've prepared himself for.

An instant almost felt like an eternity as he felt himself move forward. It felt like he was being catapulted or shot toward his target in slow motion. Then time returned to normal with a jarring snap. Shepard found himself five feet farther from his starting point, but the sudden acceleration and deceleration wasn't something he was ready for. The moment his feet touched the ground, he fell forward and started bouncing head over heels before landing on his side and tumbling several more feet. Every time he hit the ground he grunted in pain before crashing into the base of a crane.

"Shepard!" Jacob shouted. He broke out his stupor and ran toward the commander with several other crewmen following closely.

Shepard moaned in pain as he tried to get his bearings. He rolled over until he was flat on his back and stared at the ceiling above him. Stars danced in and out of his vision as he tried to quell the feeling of nausea that threatened to regurgitate his breakfast. He blinked in confusion when a dark shape entered his line of sight.

"Sh… o… ight?" the voice yelled out, exacerbating the sudden headache he felt.

Shepard only offered another groan.

"Al… Dr… was… lift… m… up!"

"Stop. Shouting," Shepard ordered as clearly as he could.

Just like that, the yelling stopped.

Shepard took a deep breath and called on a small bit of adrenaline to fight back against the pain and dizziness. Already, he could feel some of his mental faculties return with the sudden rush of energy. "That really hurt," he slowly said out loud.

"You alright, Shepard?" Jacob asked.

"Probably. But I think I need help standing here," Shepard said.

"Alright, I got you," Jacob said. He bent down and slung an arm over his shoulders and picked him up off the deck. "Not your best moment, huh?"

"No. But I think I had worse. I just can't remember them right now," Shepard said, trying to lighten the mood.

"You need to see Dr. Chakwas, Commander. The way you rag-dolled, other people would've broken bones."

"I'm fine," Shepard bit out. He stepped away from Jacob and stood on his own, albeit a little unsteadily. "See?"

Jacob crossed his arms. "I can see that, Commander. What you don't see are the abrasions all over your back," he pointed out.

Shepard reached behind him and felt one of the cuts. His hand came back with a thin film of blood. "Aw, shit."

"Damn, that had to have hurt," came a female voice.

Shepard turned his head and nodded. "I think you left something out when you were teaching me this, Jack."

"You said I was a good teacher. I said, 'bullshit'," Jack retorted. "How did you learn that so damn fast?"

"I really wish I knew," Shepard replied through gritted teeth. "Yeah, okay. I'm going to Chakwas now."

"Commander," EDI chimed in.

"Yes, EDI?" Shepard said as he stepped around Jack and limped his way up the stairs. Jacob followed closely in case he needed help.

"We're approximately one hour away from Haestrom," she dutifully reported.

"Okay. Take us out of FTL and engage stealth systems. Inform the crew that we're going to general quarters. And keep a lookout for any signs of geth," Shepard ordered.

"Understood, Commander. Engaging IES Stealth Systems and alerting all crew to battle stations. I am also taking the liberty to inform Dr. Chakwas of your injuries. She will be expecting you. Logging you out."

"Thanks, EDI," Shepard mumbled. He turned to face Jack, who was glaring at him. "We're about to go groundside. Get your armor and weapons and meet me in the Comm. Room."

Jack scoffed and shook her head at him. "You're unbelievable, you know that? Fine, keep your damn secrets," she huffed out before stomping back to her cot.

"You sure you're up for this?" Jacob asked.

"I really am feeling better, Jacob," Shepard said honestly. The pain and nausea had already faded away and he could feel his headache change from a dull pounding to light throbbing. He gave a shaky grin. "Gotta love these implants."

Jack's head appeared at the door frame. "Next time you wanna stop, create some mass effect fields when you reach your target. That's what protects you from the impact when you hit something."

Shepard sighed in annoyance. She just had to rub it in…

Location: Far Rim Cluster, Dholen System, Haestrom

"Fall back!" Kal'Reeger shouted. "Sun's burning out our shields!"

The Migrant Fleet Marines acknowledged the order and proceeded to cover each other as they retreated against their relentless and fearless enemy. They finally reached the safety of an old corridor. Taking advantage of the temporary breather, the quarian marines conducted weapons checks on their equipment to ensure they were still functioning against the hostile environment of Haestrom. Most of the weapons they possessed were old and second-hand, but well-maintained and functional.

"Sir! I'm getting reports that the geth are attacking OP-2!" a radioman reported.

"Damn it! That's where Tali is!" Kal said.

"Geth must've flanked us. We don't have the numbers to engage them, Kal," a marine said.

"Squad 2, you hold them back here at OP-1! The rest of you, on me! We're going to OP-2!"

Before Kal could even lead his charge, the radioman screamed from a gunshot to his leg. Kal cursed and grabbed him by his arm and bodily hauled him to his feet. "Covering fire! Move it, marine!"

Kal only managed to drag him a few feet when a stray shot hit the back of the radioman's skull. "Bosh'tet!" Kal cursed at the geth. Dropping the body, he tried the secure the radio when several shots ricocheted around him, forcing him to abandon his efforts.

"Kal! We need to go!" one of his men said. He grabbed him and started pulling him down the corridor.

"We need that radio! It's the only one powerful enough to communicate with!" Kal argued.

"Hunter!" a marine shouted.

Kal's protests died when the distorted image of a geth moved from shadow to shadow in the dimly lit corridor, with two more Geth Troopers right behind it. "Get the rocket launcher! Take them out!"

Location: Far Rim Cluster, Dholen System, En Route to Haestrom, Normandy SR-2

"Well. What manner of idiocy brought you back to my Medical Bay, Shepard?" Dr. Chakwas said neutrally. However, her smile and twinkling eyes took most of the sting away from her words.

It still didn't make Shepard feel any better, physically or metaphysically. He cleared his throat to hide his embarrassment. "I fell," he said, purposefully understating his poor imitation of a tuck and roll in the hangar.

"Fell," Chakwas skeptically repeated. She led him to one of the beds and forced him to sit down while she examined his injuries. "And how many times did you fall?" she asked indulgently.

"We're less than an hour away, Doc. Can you do something or not?" Shepard asked, trying to deflect the question.

"If Executive Lawson's notes about the Lazarus Project are accurate, Shepard, then these injuries should be no problem for you," she stated. She poked and prodded some of the deeper scratches on his back. "Of course, if her notes are accurate, then getting these abrasions should have been quite difficult. Had it been anyone else, I'd probably be looking at lacerations. Possibly considering skin grafts. Which begs the question: What happened?"

Shepard inwardly cursed at her tenacity. "I was practicing Biotic Charge. Let's just say, going from 100 to 0 mph in no time at all means wearing armor next time I practice and creating the right mass fields to stop properly or else I get another nasty 'fall'."

Chakwas raised an eyebrow. "Or several falls in your particular case, I'm certain. Well, the only thing I can do is disinfect the wounds and let your body take care of the rest. The bleeding has already stopped while we were chatting about how clumsy you are. I suspect the wounds should be fully healed in two or three hours."

Shepard sighed and gave her a mock-frown. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

Chakwas put her hand to her chest and leaned back dramatically. "Why, Commander! I would never take pleasure in my patient's pain and suffering!"

Shepard rolled his eyes at her act before smiling. Yep. She's enjoying this.

Chakwas smiled too, probably to avoid laughing, as she picked up a cotton swab with a pair of tongs, dipped it in some disinfectant, and started dabbing his wounds.

Shepard bore her ministrations stoically.

"All done," she announced after a few minutes.

"Thanks, Doc," Shepard mumbled and left.

He hurried to his cabin to change into his armor and then rushed to the Comm. Room where the rest of the team was waiting for him, ready for their mission.

Garrus was about to open his mouth when Shepard pinned him with a glare.

"Not a word."

Garrus closed his mouth, but his mandibles were opening and closing in obvious amusement.

Shepard turned his glare to Jacob and Jack. Jacob just shrugged unrepentantly and grinned, while Jack was content with snickering at him outright.

Suppressing the urge to sigh, he stepped up to the head of the table with as much dignity as he could. "Alright, EDI. Tell us what you know of Haestrom and where Tali is."

"According to my records, Haestrom formerly contained a quarian colony dedicated to the study of Dholen, the system's parent star, 289 years ago. Dholen appears to be unstable, with the probability of erupting into a red giant prematurely. Since then, the geth have occupied this region of space and have constructed several space stations nearby, leaving the colony abandoned. Due to Dholen's magnetic eruptions and solar output, expect loss of communications via standard radios. I advise that you carry a portable transmitter with you when you reach groundside. Otherwise, surface to orbit communications will be impossible."

"And Tali?" Garrus asked.

"I am unable to determine Tali'Zorah's location at this time, due to Dholen's magnetic interference."

"What conditions can we expect on Haestrom?" Jacob asked.

"The sun has overwhelmed the planet's magnetosphere and is currently bombarding Haestrom's surface with lethal levels of radiation," EDI answered.

"Are we going to be okay?" Shepard asked worriedly.

"Your kinetic shields should be sufficient to protect you for a few minutes in direct exposure to the radiation. To put simply, exposure to sunlight will drain your shields. The prevalent radiation on the planet's surface is within tolerance range for your shields, though the time to regenerate will be increased."

"So in other words, we need to stay in the shade to keep our shields up," Miranda translated.

"Correct, Executive Lawson. Should your shields fail, your hardsuits will not provide sufficient protection against the radiation for very long," EDI said.

Grunt growled. "Then we'll fight in the shade… but no hiding!"

"How long will our shields last down there," Garrus asked.

"Approximately three minutes or less," EDI answered.

"Wonderful," Garrus sarcastically said. He turned to Shepard. "Why is Tali down there again?"

"I don't know, but it'd better be a good reason," Shepard replied. "How about the dark side of the planet? Can we operate there?"

"Scanners show far less radiation levels in the evening, Commander. I would recommend your mission be carried out then, unless Tali'Zorah is operating during the day. In which case, I would recommend waiting," EDI advised.

"Before we do anything, we need to find her first. Is there…" Shepard started before the intercom beeped.

"Commander! This is Crewmen Matthews, sir. I just picked up a distress call from Haestrom. It was brief and faint, but I swear it was there a moment ago."

"Did you get a location?" Shepard called back.

"No, sir. It lasted only a moment," Matthews' reported.

"What did it say?" Miranda asked.

"It's a bit garbled. I can say for certain that it's quarian, but not much more… I can try to clean it up a bit," Matthews said.

"EDI, help him," Shepard ordered.

"Understood, Commander. Stand by," EDI acknowledged.

"Joker, what's our position?" Shepard asked while they were waiting.

"We're almost in orbit and we're still running silent. So far, no worries yet, Commander," Joker reported.

"Hawthorne, Goldstein. Is the shuttle prepped?"

"Half hour ago, Commander. We're just waiting on you," Goldstein reported.

"Commander, the message was too degraded. Crewmen Matthews and I were only able to retrieve this much of the distress call," EDI said before playing the message.

"…eth… ttacking… elp! Tali… Keelah se…"

"Geth," Jacob interpreted.

"They found Tali first," Shepard growled. "Are there geth reinforcements en route?"

"Our scanners do not detect any geth ships approaching Haestrom, Commander," EDI answered.

"Is there any way to find Tali? Any distress beacons?" Garrus demanded.

"Due to Dholen's interference, I cannot say for certain if she is trying to communicate from the surface, Mr. Vakarian."

Shepard narrowed his eyes as his mind raced to find a way to locate Tali before the geth… His head snapped up in realization. "Is there any way to track geth movements on the surface from here?"

EDI was silent as processed Shepard's request. "I have successfully located a large concentration of geth near one of the quarian ruins," she finally said.

"Can't be certain of quarian location. Supposition, educated guess, but if incorrect," Mordin warned.

"Then we'll end up fighting a bunch of mechs and find nothing," Jack finished.

"Launch some probes down on that location, EDI. We'll use those to boost any signals in the area and try to locate Tali that way," Shepard ordered.

"Launching probes," EDI reported.

"Let's hope we get lucky," Garrus said.

Location: Far Rim Cluster, Dholen System, Haestrom

"No good, Kal. They're all dead," a marine said.

Kal cursed under his breath. He looked around the base camp at the bodies of his marines and geth. "At least they managed to take some of them down."

"Is anyone there? This is Tali. I'm under attack by geth forces at OP-2. I repeat: I'm under attack by geth forces at OP-2. Can anyone respond?" Tali called over a general signal.

Kal's head snapped up. "Ma'am, we hear you. Are you alright?"

"Reegar! Where are you?" Tali asked, her voice thick with relief.

"What happened to your escort?" Reegar asked.

"They're outside, but they'll be overwhelmed soon. You have to help them!"

"We're approaching your position! Stand by!" Kal said before turning to his team. "You heard her. Let's go!" He led his marines down the other door, but stopped and looked back. "Better shut this one and disable it. Make it hard for them for them to follow."

"Reegar, I can hear geth trying to bypass the door. I'll do everything I can to slow them down, but I'm safe for the moment. It'll take them time to break in. Please hurry, but don't do anything foolish," Tali pleaded.

"Orders are orders, ma'am," Kal responded evenly. Again, he didn't bother mentioning to her that his orders came from Admiral Rael'Zorah himself. Orders he'd follow to the letter.

Keep my daughter safe.

Dossier: Tali'Zorah vas Neema nar Rayya

-Expert in combat tech, systems hacking

-Strong engineering background, familiar with the Normandy

Formerly listed as Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, the quarian engineer earned her adult name after helping Shepard defeat Saren two years ago. Tali is currently on a classified assignment for the Migrant Fleet Admiralty Board on Haestrom, deep in geth-controlled space.

Shepard gripped his assault rifle and mentally prepared himself for the mission at hand. He was confident of his abilities and experiences to fight the geth, but the environmental hazards added a complication he didn't appreciate. "Grunt, you have the transmitter?"

Grunt nodded and shifted the bundle on his back.

"One minute!" Goldstein reported.

"Remember, stay in the shade as much as possible to preserve your shields. If we engage the geth, we'll need every advantage we can get," Shepard reminded his squad as the Kodiak prepared to drop them off at the designated landing zone.

"After Horizon, this should be child's play," Garrus confidently said before turning to face Shepard. "When it comes to fighting geth, we're old pros in this."

Shepard smirked. "Geth really don't seem that bad now, do they?"

"30 seconds!"

"Helmets on!" Shepard ordered. After fastening his own helmet on and checking the seal, he looked around the cabin. "Coms check!"

Everyone secured their helmets and reported their status, one by one in their own manner.

"Touching down!"

"Secure the LZ!"Shepard ordered.

Jacob, Garrus, and Grunt leapt out of the hatch the moment it opened. After a cursory sweep, Jacob reported all clear.

The rest of the team disembarked and ran from the shuttle to give it room to take off. "We're groundside,"Shepard said.

"We're off then. Happy hunting!" Hawthorne acknowledged.

"Whoa…" Jack commented with a whistle.

Shepard turned to see the largest space cockroach he'd ever seen. Comically, it ran away from the squad, only to cross into a narrow beam of sunlight where it burst into flames.

"Wow. That's…" Jacob started, before falling silent.

"That's like barbeque," Grunt chortled. "Let's finish this up quick. I'm getting hungry."

Shepard turned his gaze away from the burnt bug and down the slope toward the gate at the end. Double checking his shields, he addressed his squad. "Keep an eye on your shields at all times or end up like that cockroach. We got a large stretch of sun down there, so no lagging. Move!"

Everyone sprinted down the slope, crossing through sunlight and shadows created by the broken columns of the decrepit colony.

"Damn, this sucks!" Jack griped as they reached the bottom. "How much longer till sundown?"

"Four hours," Mordin supplied. "Mission shouldn't take longer than that. Unless something happens."

"Damn it."

"Quiet. I hear something," Miranda said. She pointed her rifle at the security office building to their right.

Shepard took point and slowly moved forward. The surface of his left boot suddenly felt different, prompting him to take a quick glance down with one eye. "There's blood here. Trail goes right to the door," he said, via radio.

The team tensed up as they approached the building. The sound Miranda heard was a voice, playing from an audio log.

"Emergency log entry: The geth are here. I've stayed to buy the others time."

Shepard stacked up against door while Miranda took the other side. Jacob stood by with his omni-tool and prepared to open the door remotely. A silent count began before Jacob opened the door and Shepard darted in, checking the corners to the door on his side, while Miranda mirrored his actions on her side.

"Anyone who gets this, find Tali'Zorah. She and the data are all that matters. Keelah se'lai.

Inside, there was a dead quarian, male, slumped against the wall next to a portable terminal. Amazingly, there was an inactive Geth Destroyer opposite to his body.

Guy must've put up one hell of a fight.

"Shepard, there's a console here that will open the gate," Garrus said.

Shepard looked out the window and saw the dilapidated gate. "Stand by Garrus. Everyone, stack up and get ready. Something tells me that ancient thing is going to make a lot of noise."

Everyone filed out of the building and flanked the gate while Garrus stood next to the button.

"Do it."

The moment Garrus hit the button, the gate retracted into the ground with a horrible screeching noise. Shepard grit his teeth against the sound, but kept his attention to whatever might be waiting for them.

"Above us!" Grunt shouted. "Dropship!"

Shepard looked up to see the ship Grunt pointed out. Still modeled after Sovereign, the dropship flew in front of them and released several geth directly in their path.

"Light'em up!"Shepard ordered.

Rushing through the gate and taking cover as quickly as possible behind objects in shady areas, the squad exchanged fire with the synthetics. The Dropship was forced to place its payload into open areas, allowing Shepard's squad to drop a few geth within the first few seconds before they could even counterattack.

Shepard popped out cover and fired at a pair of Geth Troopers. He missed one, but managed to score a tight grouping on the other. What gave him pause was the Trooper he shot fell immediately. Its kinetic barrier didn't appear to block his shot or protect it.

The other Trooper engaged its omni-tool and tapped a few buttons. Its kinetic barrier manifested into a cyan light surrounding it, but the shield flickered strangely.

Shepard shifted his rifle slightly and managed to hit the other geth this time. Another tight grouping impacted against its shield before it suddenly faded away, leaving the Trooper open for a follow-up burst.

"No more hostiles in sight!" Mordin called out.

"Roger, that," Shepard acknowledged. He looked around the entrance of the ruins to double check if they missed anything before turning his attention back at the two geth he downed.

"I know I said this would be easy," Garrus said as he walked up to Shepard. "But even that felt a little too easy."

"They were standing in the sun the whole time," Shepard observed, pointing at the two geth in front of him with his rifle. "Their programming involves fighting organics in teams, but they probably don't take environmental hazards into consideration."

"Why wouldn't they?" Miranda asked, slightly perplexed.

"Artificial bodies. Even without shields, geth can survive on Haestrom. Lack frailties of organics. Also, may lack self-preservation. Probably will continue to utilize similar tactics regardless of conditions," Mordin theorized.

"So they don't care about the sun and because of that, their shields keep frying,"Jacob simplified. "Whatever makes this easy, I guess."

"Too easy. This is a waste of time," Grunt grumbled.

"Right until you run into a Geth Prime. Then we might some problems," Garrus reminded.

"Armor doesn't stand up to biotics. We'll unleash Jack on any Primes we see," Shepard responded.

"Ha! Whatever you say, boss man," Jack said. Despite the nonchalance of her tone, there was a hint of a swagger in her following steps.

"Alright, let's go," Shepard ordered. Taking point, he led the squad deeper into the quarian ruins.

Abandoning subtly and stealth for speed, they sprinted from one shady area to the next. While they were able to cover a lot of ground, their ability to perceive danger was slightly dimmed due to the frantic pace they were travelling at.

More than once, Shepard found his focus wavering. Between finding suitable places to run to, managing his fluctuating shield levels, keeping an eye out for possible geth ambushes, and the few bodies of quarians he came across, this mission was turning into a lesson on mental discipline. The one thing that was going his way was the fact the sun was setting, creating large shadows for them to safely run through.

Can't imagine how tough this would be at midday…

"Incoming geth!" Garrus warned.

Cursing his inattention, Shepard looked to where Garrus was firing at. A door on the far side of the ancient construction site they were running through was open. Some Geth Troopers were pouring through, but what really drew his attention was the geth painted in red. "Rocket Troopers!"

"I got'em!" Garrus said. He pulled out his sniper rifle and took aim at the red synthetics.

Shepard quickly looked around. The ground between their current position and the geth was bathed in sunlight. The geth remained at their end, crouching behind large boulders and rocks.

"Looks like they're creating a chokepoint at the door," Garrus observed, just before he shot one Rocket Trooper. "Ha! Scratch one!"

"We need to find an alternate path!" Jacob advised.

"I think there might be a way on the right!"Miranda reported.

Shepard ducked down when the first volley of missiles started exploding around them. "Miranda, lead everyone else through that path! Garrus and I will thin their ranks a bit!"

"Roger!"

Shepard found himself another shady perch and readied his own sniper rifle. Crouching and placing his rifle on a square cut piece of masonry, he peered through the scope at the defending geth.

"Rocket Trooper 105 meters, on your right,"Garrus said to Shepard. "Bet you 100 creds you can't hit it."

Shepard found himself grinning, despite his resolve to remain serious in the face of their situation. "You're on."

One shot, one decapitated geth, and 100 credits richer, Shepard couldn't help but think: This really is too easy.

Kal grunted in pain and fell down behind his cover. He looked to see the puncture in his leg and checked to make sure his combat seals clamped down around the affected area. "Damn persistent bastards…"

Another explosion shook the ground underneath him as the Colossus tried to get a better shot. Gritting his teeth, he crawled away from geth tank and back toward the entrance. A Geth Trooper rounded the corner in front of him, but Kal managed to draw his pistol first and shoot its lightbulb head.

"Reegar? Are you there?" Tali asked worriedly.

Kal grunted in pain again as he finally reached the entrance of the valley, but unfortunately for him, it was on the other side of where he needed to be. "I hear you, ma'am," he called back. He grabbed the first aid kit one of his marines dropped when he died and applied a liberal amount of medi-gel to his wound.

"What's your status?"

"I'm on the other side of the valley. Geth got me pinned down. My team is dead. I'll try to get the others here ASAP. Just hold tight," Kal said. He decided to leave out the part where he was wounded. No sense in worrying her.

"Alright. Are you okay?"

"I can still shoot," Kal assured. He reached over and picked up a rocket launcher and checked how much ammo there was left. Satisfied that it was still in working condition, he popped up and aimed at the Colossus.

"Just hang in there, Reegar. I'm sure help will come soon," Tali stated confidently.

Shepard scanned the construction site one last time before nodding to Garrus. Both of them stood up and collapsed their respective sniper rifles before picking up their assault rifles.

"Miranda, status?" Shepard asked.

"We cleared a path and have made it across the site. You should see us coming now," Miranda said.

Shepard looked up and saw the rest of his team running down a ramp and huddling in the shadow of a large column. "Alright. Secure the area, Garrus and I are coming to regroup."

After darting from one shady area to another, they met up with the rest of the squad and pressed forward. The group gave a collective sigh of relief when they stepped into a darkened corridor. Ambushes from the geth, they could handle. The same couldn't be said for Haestrom's sun.

"Hear something. Sounds like voices," Mordin said.

Shepard cocked his head and listened carefully.

"Break-break-break. OP-1, this is Squad Leader Kal'Reegar, do you copy?"

"One of the quarians is still alive," Jacob said.

The group swiftly made their way through the corridor. Shepard stopped at a corner and peered around. He spotted two Troopers standing over a radio. Seeing their shields flickering, probably recovering from a jaunt in the sun, he decided to take a chance. Pulling back his arm and thrusting it out, he used Throw to send both Troopers flying down the hall to slam against the nearest wall. Both geth impacted the stone wall hard enough to make an indentation, white fluids spraying all over when they hit. As Shepard suspected, their shields were too weak to protect them from his biotics.

"The geth sent a dropship towards OP-2. Tali'Zorah's secure, but we need backup."

Shepard moved forward carefully when something flickered at his peripheral vision. He turned to his flank, rifle up, and saw a Geth Hunter slumped against the wall next to him. Its optic camouflage was the only thing still working, causing it to flicker in and out of sight.

"We're bunkered up here. Can you send support?"

Stepping up the radio, Shepard picked it off the dead quarian and studied it, trying to find the send button.

"OP-1, this is Squad Leader Kal'Reeger, come in, over!"

Finally figuring it out, he pressed the button and held it up to his mouth. "This is Commander Shepard of the Normandy. Can we provide assistance?"

"Who…? Wait, Shepard? The Spectre Tali worked with? Don't know why you're here, but right now, any organic is a welcome sight. Did you see any of my marines?"

"I'm sorry. You're the first survivor we've found," Shepard responded apologetically.

"Damn. Alright Shepard, patch your radio into Channel 617 Theta."

Engaging his omni-tool, Shepard tapped into the correct frequency for himself and his squad. Glancing around, he saw everyone placing their hands on their ears to check if they were receiving.

"We were on a stealth mission. High risk. We found what we were after, but the geth found us."

One by one, everyone nodded when they heard the quarian's voice. Shepard turned off the radio and tucked it in a pouch.

"They've got us pinned down. Can't get to our ship, can't transmit data through the solar radiation."

"What's the status of your team? How many of you are left?" Shepard asked. He silently gestured for his squad to secure the corridor to prevent any geth from ambushing them.

"We were a small squad. Twenty marines, plus the science team. Don't know how many are left now, but we made the synthetic bastards pay for it every step of the way."

"What brought you this deep into geth-controlled space?"

"You're asking the wrong person, Shepard. I just point and shoot. Something about the sun. It's going bad faster than it should. Some kind of energy problem."

"This is a research mission?" Miranda asked quietly.

Shepard shrugged at her. "And the geth?"

"One of their patrols found our monitoring equipment. Backtracked it to our location. Dropships started raining geth down on our heads before we could get off-world. System's under geth control. We knew they made planetary sweeps periodically. We'd hoped going low-emission would hide us."

"We didn't detect any reinforcement on our way in," Shepard informed.

"First thing that's gone right all day," Kal grumbled. "Their patrol ship hasn't lifted off again and you probably noticed that the radiation blocks all offworld communication."

"How are holding up? We can be there in a few minutes."

"I'm fine Shepard. Just take it slow and careful. You should already know that that direct sunlight fries your shields all to hell. It's probably the only reason we've managed to hold back the geth this much. Dumb bastards keep running into the sunlight."

"What's your location? And Tali? Is she alright?"

"Bunkered down at base camp across the valley. Tali's at a secure shelter. Getting her out is our top priority. If you can extract her, we'll keep them off you."

Shepard furrowed his brow in worry. "You've got confirmation that the geth haven't reached Tali yet?"

"I'm making sure of it personally, Shepard. Every marine on this rock is sworn to protect her. Long as one of us is still drawing air, she'll be safe."

Shepard found his respect for Kal'Reegar go up a few notches.

"I hear gunfire," Grunt reported from his position at the end of the tunnel.

"Stand by, Reegar. I think we found more of your marines. Hold your position while we try to his their back ranks."

"Dropship is back!" Jacob yelled.

"Move!" Shepard ordered.

Everyone dashed to the end of the tunnel to meet up with Jacob and Grunt. They were overlooking three quarians huddled behind a barricade, exchanging fire with geth forces occupying a building across from them.

Shepard looked to see where Jacob was pointing at and saw the Dropship moving toward the defending quarians. "Jacob, distract that thing. Take it down if you can. Miranda, assault the geth positions in the building over there. Jack, on me!"

The squad broke apart and executed their assigned orders. Miranda leapt off the precipice and led the squad, sans Shepard, Jacob and Jack toward the geth ground forces. Jacob pulled out his ML-77 and started firing at the Dropship, gaining its attention as the more dangerous threat over the quarians.

"Whatever you're going to do, Commander, do it quick. I got their attention and it looks pissed!" Jacob shouted.

Shepard and Jack leapt down as well. Seeing a large boulder, Shepard pointed at it. "Help me lift this thing!"

Jack looked at the rock and then at the Dropship. Comprehension dawned on her and she nodded. As the Dropship closed in on Jacob, Shepard and Jack used their combined biotics to lift the boulder into the air. When it hovered mere inches above their heads, they moved it so it was between them and the approaching ship.

"Steady… steady…" Shepard quietly said, keeping his focus on the hovering rock and the geth ship. "NOW!"

Both them used Throw at the same time, tossing the rock at the portside of the Dropship just before it fired it guns at Jacob, who was still firing missiles at it. The rock slammed in the ship and lodged itself inside. The ship lurched upward from the impact, its aim completely off the mark; the shot sailed upward into the sky. Explosions appeared up and down its hull as the ship started flying erratically, trying to compensate for the damage and the sudden mass it took on.

"Oh shit," Shepard said when the ship started flying toward the quarians. "RUN!"he bellowed.

The quarians didn't need to be told twice. All three got up and abandoned their positions just as the ship impacted against the building above them. It flew along the structure, creating a horrible screeching sound before crashing.

The impact the ship made when it met the building dislodged some of the weaker portions of the wall. Parts of the building came down on the quarians. Two were quick enough, but one was too slow and was caught in the raining debris.

"No!" One of the quarians shouted.

Shepard was about to help them when Miranda's voice came on the radio. "We need some back up! Their shields are at full strength and they have a Prime and Hunter backing them up!"

"We're on our way! Jacob, get down from there! Let's go!" Shepard yelled out. Seeing the surviving quarians were all right for the time being, Shepard, Jack and Jacob sprinted toward the geth occupied building.

Inside, Miranda's team was faring well against the geth. They were evenly numbered and the warehouse was large enough that it created a large shadow to protect everyone from the radiation. "They're coming from the ramp! Grunt, Garrus, Concussion Shot! Suppress them!"

"On your ass!" Grunt taunted when his concussion round scattered them.

"Hunter! Here!" Mordin yelled, pointed at the distortion coming right at them. "Enjoy!" he said before using his Cryo Blast.

Icy particles swept around the camouflaged geth, rendering its invisibility useless. Miranda used the opportunity to target it with Overload. "Night, night!"

The electrical discharge combined with the icy particles overwhelmed its shields and shut the geth down.

Shepard ran into the building and slid into the nearest available cover. Taking stock of the situation quickly, he started issuing his orders.

"Jacob, support Grunt and take out the geth at the ramp. Garrus! Overload the Prime!" Shepard ordered, before using Warp to try to disable its shields and armor.

Garrus tapped his omni-tool and sent his tech attack at the charging Geth Prime.

Their tandem attack worked, disabling its both shields and weapons. Mordin and Miranda followed up with Incinerate and Warp respectively, causing the Prime to stagger back from the onslaught. Jack saw her moment and got up from her cover to use Charge.

Shepard found himself studying her technique carefully. He watched when she vanished and reappeared in front of the Geth Prime, her mass effect fields exploding at point blank range, much like Warp. The Prime sailed across the warehouse and impacted heavily against the wall. It struggled to get to its feet when Jack ran up and jabbed her shotgun against is head and blew it clean off.

Shepard stood up slowly with his rifle up, checking to see if they'd cleared the warehouse out. "Report!"

"Clear here!" Miranda shouted.

"Clear!" Garrus shouted.

"This thing is toast," Jack said, poking the Prime with her shotgun.

"Clear up here!" Jacob reported.

After one last glance around the room, Shepard turned back to the two surviving quarians that were approaching him.

"Thanks for saving us," one of them gratefully said.

"Yeah. We could use the help," the other, female, added.

"No problem," Shepard nodded back at them. He turned to look at the blocked doorway. "I'm sorry about your colleague."

"He knew the stakes," the male quarian said neutrally, maintaining his professionalism. "We'll mourn our losses later. We need to get to Kal and Tali. Can you help us?"

"That's what we're here for," Shepard said.

"Keelah se'lai," the female quarian praised in relief. "I'm Syrin'Dana vas Tesleya," she said before introducing her fellow quarian. "This is Raz'Sela vas Tonbay, Migrant Fleet Marines."

"Shepard," the Spectre introduced himself before introducing the rest of his squad. One finished, looked over the two quarians. "Are you both okay?"

"We're fine," Raz assured. "We got split up from the rest of our squad when geth took us by surprise. We've been fighting for our lives ever since, trying to regroup with base camp. We almost made it too, except… well," he trailed off and gestured at the surrounding bodies of the geth.

Shepard nodded in understanding and left the warehouse to inspect the rubble that blocked their path. "Is this the only way?"

"There might be others," Raz said. "But this is the quickest way."

"We need something to clear the rubble. Didn't Tali use demolition charges?" Syrin asked her compatriot.

Raz nodded. "If we find more, we could blow our way though." He turned to Shepard. "There's one demo charge in the warehouse, but it won't be enough. We stored the rest across valley. We were planning on setting some equipment there tomorrow."

"Running around getting these charges will draw more attention from the geth," Miranda warned.

"Not to mention going through the sun again," Jack groaned when she looked across the lit valley.

"No need," Shepard said as he stood up from his inspection of the debris. "Everyone stand back. Jacob, Jack, help me out here," Shepard directed. He took several steps and started biotically glowing.

Jack immediately took the hint and started glowing herself. "Why the fuck didn't I think of that?"

Jacob stood on Shepard's other side and tapped into his biotics as well. "Ready, Commander."

"On three. One. Two. Three!" Shepard counted off before using Lift to try to move the biggest piece of rubble out of the way. Jack and Jacob added their efforts and the three of them started to shift the rocks out of the way. "Move it back…" Shepard grunted out from the strain.

They took a few steps back, bringing the blockage with them. Miranda stepped around and looked past the debris. "Okay, it's big enough to get through. Even for Grunt. You can put it down, now."

The three biotics relaxed, dropping the rocks with a resounding thud.

"Excellent work!" Mordin praised.

Shepard nodded. "Arm up and let's move out." He moved forward, respectfully moving around the body of the unfortunate quarian marine.

Syrin and Raz bowed their heads at the sight. "Keelah se'lai," they intoned mournfully before hefting their rifles up and following.

Inside the building, Shepard deduced that this was the quarian base camp. The multitude of supplies, equipment, bed rolls, and weapons was a dead giveaway. Sweeping the room, he identified both quarian bodies and geth remains. One geth was still active, but heavily damaged. Stalking up to the crawling geth, Shepard planted his boot firmly on its back, halting its progress. He lowered his assault rifle and put two shots in the back of its head. "Secure the room. Mordin, check for survivors," he ordered immediately.

"Yes. Of course. Understood," Mordin nodded before checking on the various quarians around them.

Shepard glanced at the door on the side of the room. "Jacob, can you do something about the door?"

"I don't know," Jacob confessed. "I'll try to bypass it, but it looks damaged and old. Very old," he pointed out.

"They probably were trying to stop reinforcements from following," Grunt guessed.

"Do what you can," Shepard said to Jacob.

"Aye, aye, Commander."

Everyone else checked to ensure the geth were inactive. Troopers, Rocket Troopers, Hunters, even a Prime and a Destroyer littered the room.

"Huh. They put up a hell of a fight," Grunt said approvingly.

"Yeah…" Shepard agreed. He spotted an active terminal and started checking through it.

Tali's logs…

Tapping a command, Tali's face appeared on the screen.

"We need a core sample to get a timeline on the rate of radiation increase, but our equipment keeps dying on us. Shepard once used a mining laser to clear some rubble back on Therum so we could rescue Liara. Maybe I can do something similar with demolition charges."

Shepard smiled at the memory. Tapping another command, he listened to the next log.

"It's next to impossible to get accurate solar measurements. The radiation keeps burning out our equipment. This sun shouldn't be like this. It was stable a few hundred years ago. Stars don't die that quickly."

Frowning at the possible implications, Shepard moved on to the next entry.

"Our ancestors walked these halls with uncovered heads. The sun must have been normal back then." Tali's voice took on a tone of wonder. "So much space. Walls of stone… It's amazing. I wish my friends could see it." She paused in her recording, before whispering, "I wish Shepard were here."

"You know, she always did look up to you," Garrus commented from behind him.

Shepard turned around and faced Garrus. He was being serious, no trace of humor at all. Of course, considering they were surrounded by some of Tali's marines, there was little to joke about. "I have to confess, I'm bit flattered," Shepard admitted. He looked around the ruins he was in with a different attitude, out of respect for Tali's feelings. As he was observing the ruins, he saw Tali's face on another console. Furrowing his brow, he pointed at the other console. "Over there."

Garrus fell in step with him as they moved to the other console and examined it. "Wait a second… This is Tali!" Shepard shook his head. "I mean, this is Tali trying to communicate with us!"

Raz and Syrin perked up and ran over to them.

Garrus moved to the nearby console and started fiddling around with it. "Looks like it took a hit in the firefight. Rerouting… Okay, you should be able to hear her… Now."

"…rah to base camp. Come in, base camp. Tali'Zorah to base camp. Please! Is anyone there?"

"Tali!" Syrin called out.

"Can anyone hear me?" Tali continued.

"Damn. We can only see and hear her. Hang on, I'll try to establish communications," Garrus said.

"Miranda, help him," Shepard ordered.

Miranda nodded and walked up next to Garrus and started typing rapidly.

While they worked, Shepard glanced at Mordin.

Mordin silently shook his head and bowed.

Sighing, he turned to Jacob next.

"Sorry, Commander. We could try blowing it open," Jacob suggested.

"This structure is very old," Raz said. "If we used explosives, we might bury ourselves alive."

"Shepard! I got some magic happening here!" Garrus triumphantly said.

"Hello? Is anyone there?"

"Tali, its Shepard."

Tali jerked her head up in surprise. "Shepard? I'm not complaining, but you show up at the strangest times! What are you doing in geth space? No, wait. If you're at my camp, is there anyone else with you?"

"I have two marines with me," Shepard said, looking at the quarians in question. "Raz'Sela and Syrin'Dana."

"Raz, Syrin! I'm glad you two made it," Tali said in relief.

"Us too, ma'am," Raz nodded.

"Did anyone else make it?"

Both marines hesitated. Shepard spoke up for them. "I'm sorry, Tali. Any survivors must have fallen back."

Tali bowed her head. "We knew this mission was high-risk. Damn it." She looked back up. "So are you doing here, Shepard?"

"Both Garrus and I were worried about you. Thought we could come by and see how you were doing," Shepard replied.

"Garrus is here too?" Tali asked.

"Right here, Tali," Garrus said, stepping up next to Shepard. "It's good to see you again."

Tali nodded. "You too, Garrus." She looked at the both of them. "Thanks for coming. It means a lot to hear your voices," she said. Her relief was palpable.

Syrin spoke up. "Ma'am, you know them?

"Yes, I served with Commander Shepard two years ago," Tali confirmed.

"Wait. You mean the Spectre agent you worked with? I thought he was…" Syrin said before trailing off. Both marines looked at each other before turning to stare at Shepard with renewed respect.

"What's your situation?" Shepard asked, silently enduring the awestruck stares of the two quarians.

"I got the data I needed and I'm safe for now, but I've got a lot of geth outside."

"Is anyone else still with you? Kal'Reegar?" Shepard asked.

"The marines covering me are…" She trailed off. She swallowed and continued. "I know Reegar is still alive. He's been in contact with me. He's trying to slow the geth down. I can hear him firing at the geth outside," she said with a glance to the side.

"Ma'am, we need a way to OP-2, but the door is sealed and the console is damaged. Can you open it from your end?" Raz asked.

"Let me see… Yes, I can do it. Here. Should be unlocked now," Tali said.

Everyone looked at the door and saw the indicator turn green.

"Be careful, Shepard, Garrus. And please, do what you can to keep Reegar alive," Tali pleaded.

Shepard nodded. "You have my word. We'll do what we can. Sit tight, we're on our way."

"Thank you," Tali said gratefully.

Shepard turned to his team and two quarians. "Move out."

"Sounds like Kal is still giving the geth hell," Raz noted happily.

Explosions were echoing across the underground chamber they were in. Judging by the direction, the source of the explosions was coming from the direction they were heading toward.

"I always thought that bastard was too stubborn to die," Syrin commented thoughtfully.

Shepard sidled up to a corner and peered around. Seeing nothing immediately, he moved out only catch a distortion hovering in the air. "We've been spotted!" he warned. He thrust an arm out at the distortions, using Throw to scatter them. They were blown back and impacted against the columns lining the underground basement.

"Looks like the drones have an optical camouflage system," Miranda hissed.

"Eyes open! They know we're here now!" Jacob shouted. He aimed his shotgun at several more distortions and started shooting them out of the sky.

"Over here! Looks like we can go right and cut across without going through the sunlight!" Jack said pointing at the path.

"Go!" Shepard said as he pulled out his Blackstorm.

Everyone scrambled to go around the outside of the chamber. "Prime!" Mordin shouted. He was forced to duck behind a column as the rocket the Geth Prime launched at him exploded nearby.

"I got him!" Shepard said. "Cover me!"

Syrin lobbed a grenade at the Prime's feet as Shepard charged his Blackstorm.

"Coming from above! More drones!" Raz yelled.

"I got them!" Jack yelled, using her own biotics to scatter them.

"Firing!" Shepard warned. "Get back!"

The Blackstorm launched its miniature singularity down the length of the room. The drones lacked the power to resists it's pull and were drawn to it, either to be crushed by its awesome gravitational forces, or pulled along, away from the organic group. The Prime found itself being pulled by the traveling black orb as well and grabbed the edge of another column, anchoring itself from being dragged along.

Grunt aimed his shotgun and loaded a concussive round before firing. The Prime was rocked back by the blast and tumbled uncontrollably toward the black hole when it exploded.

"Hurry, let's go before more drones show up!" Garrus shouted.

"Keelah. What is that thing?" Raz said, staring at the menacing black heavy weapon Shepard was securing to his weapon's harness.

"Later," Shepard said curtly. He looked around the room for any more threats as Garrus took point and found the safest path through the room with the least amount of sunlight.

"We made it," Jacob said. He stacked up against a door opposite of Garrus and nodded.

Garrus nodded as well and prepared to enter the room. The explosions could be heard on the other side.

Mordin stood nearby with his omni-tool and remotely opened the door, allowing Garrus and Jacob to enter and secure the room.

"Clear!" they both reported simultaneously.

Shepard followed them in and swiftly made his way to the console. Locating the controls to open the locked door, he tapped the appropriate commands to allow them access. What he was unprepared for was the shutters opening as well, allowing everyone to see the valley separating them from the observatory. Unfortunately, the geth and worse yet, the Colossus was able to see them too.

"Oh, shit," was all Shepard could say as he stared wide-eyed at the hulking tank.

"Son of a…" Jack said, taking in her first look at the huge geth.

The Colossus reared back and charged its main cannon, mounted underneath its head.

"Down!" Shepard shouted, slamming his fist on the shutter button.

Everyone hit the deck as the armature launched its long-range siege pulse weapon at their room. Thankfully the shutters closed in time to deflect the bulk of the attack, though the room shook fiercely from the impact.

"Definitely like old times!" Garrus joked.

Grunt looked up at the turian. "You fought stuff like that before?"

"A few times!" Garrus replied.

Grunt grinned. "This is why I follow you, Shepard! Big things!"

"Presence of armature problematic! Not my area of expertise!" Mordin shouted over another explosion from the Colossus.

"Why the hell didn't that idiot Reegar tell us about that thing?" Jack shouted.

"Doors open! Go!" Miranda yelled.

Everyone scrambled out the door and down the ramp. "Contact!" Jacob said.

"Wait! That's Kal!" Syrin said, grabbing Jacob by the arm.

Kal turned his head at the sound of their voices, but relaxed when he saw it wasn't geth. "Over here! Get to cover!"

Everyone crawled out of the hallway and behind the barrier. The geth started firing at the new arrivals, forcing everyone to fire back.

"Squad Leader Kal'Reegar, Migrant Fleet Marines!" he introduced before popping out of cover to launch another missile. "Which one of you is Shepard?" he asked when he crouched back down.

"Right here!" Shepard shouted over the cacophony of explosions. He shifted until he was closer to the red-clad quarian.

"Still got no idea why you're here, but this ain't the time to be picky!" Kal said, looking over his reinforcements. "Tali's inside, over there! The geth killed the rest of my squad and they're trying to get to her! Best I've been able to do is draw their attention!"

Shepard nodded and poked his assault rifle out to blind fire at the Geth Troopers.

"The observatory door is reinforced! Even the geth will need time to get through it! And it's hard to hack a door when someone's firing rockets at you!" he chuckled.

"Numbers?" Shepard shouted.

"Got one!" Grunt roared.

"The geth are near platoon strength, but the Colossus is the worst part! It's got a repair protocol. Huddles up and fixes itself!" Kal cautioned. "I can't get a clear shot while it's down like that! I tried to move in closer, but one of the bastards punched a shot clean through my suit!"

"You okay, LT?" Syrin shouted over her blind fire.

"I'm fine!" Kal assured her. He turned to Shepard. "Combat seals clamped down to isolate contamination and I'm swimming in antibiotics!" He paused when the Colossus fired on their position again. "The geth might get me, but I'm not going to die from an infection in the middle of a battle! That's just insulting!"

"Hoo-rah!" Raz and Syrin chanted.

Shepard found himself liking Reegar more and more. Poking his head out to look at the valley, he was forced to duck back down when a Trooper started firing on his cover. "Damn it! What can you tell me about the battlefield?"

"The right side's got a catwalk with a sniper perch! You could wreak some havoc from there, but none of my men made it past the geth! Too much sun fried their shields! The middle's got cover, but the damn Colossus has a clear shot at you the whole time and you've got geth coming in from both sides!" He paused again when rocket sailed high and exploded on the wall behind them. "The left gives you some cover from the Colossus, but your ass is hanging out for the Troopers! That's how I got shot!"

Shepard nodded in head in understanding and starting thinking rapidly on how best to handle the situation. "How much ammo do you have?"

"Got one!" Miranda shouted.

"I got plenty more! I'm not moving so well, but I can still pull a trigger and I got a rocket launcher that the sun hasn't fried yet! How about you move in close? I'll keep the Colossus busy; maybe even drop its shields! With luck, you'll be able to finish it off!"

Shepard shook his head. "Stand down, Reegar! You've done enough!"

"Wasn't asking for your permission! My job is to keep Tali safe!" he defiantly stood up and aimed his launcher. "This is…!"

Shepard grabbed him and hauled him away, deeper into the short hallway. "I wasn't asking you, I was telling you! Stand down, marine! That's an order!" Shepard roared, glaring into Reegar's faceplate and into eyes. "We'll take over from here!"

"I'm not going to stand here while you run into enemy fire! They killed my whole squad!" Kal argued.

"Then defend our rear!" Shepard yelled back. "Raz, trade up with Reegar!"

Raz crawled toward them and held out his assault rifle. Reegar looked like he wanted to argue more, but he reluctantly nodded instead. "Alright, Shepard. We'll do it your way." He handed Raz his launcher while taking the assault rifle. "Hit them for me!" he said to both of them. "Keelah se'lai!"

"Keelah se'lai!" Raz returned.

Shepard nodded. "Jacob! Raz! Both you hit the Colossus from back here!"

"On it, Commander!" Jacob acknowledged. He pulled out his ML-77 and waited for Raz to crawl back toward him.

"Garrus! Take up that perch on the right and cover us! Jack! You cover Garrus! Blow through everything in your way!"

"I got you covered, Shepard!" Garrus shouted.

"On it!" Jack yelled.

"Miranda, take everyone else! Draw their fire in the center and take out as many as you can!"

"Will do!" Miranda nodded.

"Roger! Will hold the line!" Mordin shouted back.

"I'm with you!" Syrin agreed.

"Grunt, you're with me on the left. We're charging the Colossus head on!"

Grunt let out a growl of approval. He gripped his shotgun and grinned.

Shepard pulled out his Blackstorm again. "After the explosion, you know what to do! Raz, Jacob, cover me!"

Both men nodded and stood up, launching several rockets at the Colossus. They staggered the geth tank and forced it to crouch down to repair.

"Garrus, Jack, go!" Shepard ordered. He pointed his heavy weapon at the center concentration of geth and charged up.

Garrus and Jack jumped up and started running. Jack unleashed her Shockwave at the geth in front of her, scattering them and clearing a path.

Miranda and her team held their positions and were firing on any geth targeting Shepard.

The Blackstorm whined as it finally completed its charge and launched its singularity down at the geth.

Taking cover, Shepard drew his assault rifle again and waited for the black hole to explode.

Several geth were caught in the accretion disk and were pulled into the gravity well. They were crushed to the size of a credit chit, while others flailed as they orbited the singularity. Eventually, it exploded, signaling the remaining organics to charge.

Miranda, Mordin and Syrin used everything they had at their disposal to reach the relative cover in the middle of the valley. Tech, biotics, grenades, nothing was spared for their charge. Garrus managed to reach a decent spot and was firing shot after shot at any geth that threatened the team in the middle while Jack utilized her biotics to keep the upper level clear of geth.

Shepard let Grunt take the lead, using the krogan as his roaring, charging, shotgun toting, shield.

"Watch out! The Colossus is getting back on its feet!"

"Cover!" Shepard shouted. He and Grunt ducked down behind an ancient crane as the Colossus turned and fired on their position.

"We got you, Commander! Hold tight!" Jacob said. Several more missiles started striking the Colossus, drawing its attention, but not damaging it enough to activate its repair program.

A Geth Trooper rounded the corner next to Shepard and raised its rifle. Shepard responded by drawing his knife and ramming it in its throat, severing several tubes and wires and spraying white fluid all over place. Letting his knife go and letting the Trooper fall, he peeked around the corner and started shooting at the approaching geth. "Go! Go! Go!" he shouted to Grunt.

Grunt charged out again, his shotgun firing at any geth foolish enough to stand in his way. Shepard followed his moving defender closely, alternating his fire on the geth in front of Grunt or the geth assaulting Miranda's position. Eventually, they both managed to cross the battlefield and took cover behind a large, thick column.

"So how do we blow that thing up?" Grunt asked.

Shepard held up a grenade. "Same way we killed that giant husk on Horizon. It worked then, didn't it?"

Grunt grinned again. He poked his head around the corner. "It's still standing…"

"Watch out. It has machine guns mounted on its legs for close quarters. We need it to crouch down again," Shepard said.

"There are some red and white machines out there too."

"Rocket Troopers and regular Troopers. Take care of them, while I work," Shepard said. "Give me your grenades."

Grunt took off his grenade pouch and handed it to Shepard wordlessly.

Another set of explosions washed over them as Jacob and Raz continued their bombardment.

"It's down!" Grunt said before roaring and charging at the geth.

Shepard used his Tactical Cloak and silently ran up the armature and clambered up to its back. Once he mounted it, he reached down into its open joint between body and neck and threw his entire stock of grenades inside. Dismounting quickly, he used his radio to silently communicate to everyone, especially Grunt. "Grenades planted and armed. 10 seconds! Go!"

Grunt picked up a Rocket Trooper and used it as his shield as he ran back behind the column. Once hidden, he viscously slammed the geth's head against the unforgiving stone. And then he slammed it a few more times to make sure it was deactivated.

The explosions shook the ground underneath them, causing both of them to stumble.

"Colossus is down! I repeat: Colossus is down!" Garrus crowed.

"And the remaining geth?" Shepard asked.

"We got them, Commander. Area secured," Miranda reported.

"Tali? Can you hear me?" Shepard called through his radio on a general frequency. "We've taken care of the geth."

A sigh of relief was heard. "Just a second. I'm unlocking the door now."

"Regroup," Shepard ordered. "Raz, stay with Reegar." He turned to face Grunt. "Set up that transmitter. If you need help, get Jacob. He'll know what to do. We need to get in touch with the Normandy and Kodiak ASAP." With his instructions finished, he walked up the short slope and to the door.

Tali opened it and stepped out. Spotting Shepard's N7 armor, she walked up and gave him a warm hug, which he returned. "Thank you, Shepard," she gratefully said.

"Hey, what about me? I helped too," Garrus protested good-naturedly as he walked up with Jack.

Tali giggled and gave Garrus a hug as well. "Thank you too, Garrus."

"Anytime," Garrus replied, patting Tali on the back.

Stepping back, she nodded at the both of them. "If not for both of you, I would have never made it out of this room." She sighed despondently. "This whole mission has been a disaster. I wished I'd joined you back on Freedom's Progress, but I couldn't let anyone take my place on something this risky."

"What kind of research was worth all this?" Garrus asked.

Tali engaged her omni-tool and projected the Dholen star. It was glowing yellow, but red was becoming more and more apparent. "Haestrom's sun is destabilizing. Back when this was a quarian colony, it was a normal star. It shouldn't change that quickly."

"Any idea what's destabilizing the sun?" Shepard asked.

Tali shrugged. "If I had to guess, I'd say it was dark energy affecting the interior of the star," she theorized. "The effect is similar to when stars blow off mass to enter a red giant phase, but Haestrom's sun is far too young for this to be natural." Tali looked over Shepard shoulder, prompting him to turn around.

Miranda and her team were walking up to them, no worse for wear.

Seeing Syrin, Shepard turned back to Tali. "A lot of quarians lost their lives here," he stated quietly. "Was it worth it?"

Tali looked away. "I don't know, Shepard. It wasn't my call." She looked back up and met his eyes. "The Admiralty board believed the information here was worth sacrificing all our lives for. I have to believe they know what's best."

"I didn't ask what some Admiral thought. I asked what you thought," Shepard said softly.

She glanced at Syrin again. "A lot of people died here. Some of them were my friends. All of them were good at their jobs. That damn data better be worth it. The price was too high."

"Keelah se'lai," Syrin whispered.

"I'm glad you're alright Tali. Once you deliver that data, I'd like for you to come with me," Shepard said. He glanced at Garrus. "Just like old times."

Tali nodded. "I promised to see this mission through. I did. I can leave with you and send the data to the Fleet." She scoffed. "And if the admirals have a problem with it, they can go to hell," she emphasized with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I just watched most of my team die."

"Most, but not all, ma'am," Kal grunted as Raz and Jacob helped him walk up to them.

"Reegar! You made it!" Tali exclaimed happily.

"Your old captain's as good you as said," Kal praised, nodding his head in respect at the Spectre. "Damn Colossus never stood a chance."

"If need be, the Normandy can get you out of here, Reegar," Shepard offered.

"The geth didn't find our ship. Long as we get out of here before reinforcements show up, we'll be fine," Raz assured.

"Actually, I won't be going with you. I'm joining Commander Shepard," Tali informed.

Kal nodded. He seemed to have expected it. "I'll pass the data to the Admiralty Board and let them know what happened." She's all yours now, Shepard. Keep her safe."

"I'll do what I can, but I learned that she could take care of herself, two years ago," Shepard replied before extending his hand to Reegar.

He shook it without hesitation. "You're all right, Shepard."

*ENCYRPTED*

Recruited Tali'Zorah for the team.

Though loyal to Shepard, Tali'Zorah's antagonism toward Cerberus necessitates observation.

Also sending recon units to examine geth activities in case activities on Haestrom provoke action.

Author's Notes:

I introduced two more OC's! *Gasp!* OC's aren't usually my thing, especially if an author turns them into something unbelievable. (Too emo, too perfect, etc.) However, I got a bit tired of the whole, 'the situation is so serious that everybody died, good luck!' type of storyline. So I tried to make it like the Migrant Fleet Marines didn't all suck, notable exceptions being Kal'Reegar and Tali when she moonlights as a marine. I couldn't help but think of Freedom's Progress, Tali's loyalty mission, and I cringe.

I also want to apologize for writing a bit much about Kal'Reegar. My plan is usually write from the POV of the most relevant character, but he's so cool! Plus, I'm a quiet Adam Baldwin fan, mainly because of Serenity/Firefly. I really hope he returns in ME 3, maybe even as a squad member.

*Ahem* This is something I haven't thought I'd do as well when I started writing but the source material so funny that the plot bunny turned rabid. So without further ado… an omake.

Omake:

Shepard waited for the right moment to charge the Colossus. "Get ready!" he shouted. Charging a tank on foot. We have to be crazy…

The Colossus prepared to fire its pulse cannon again when a 20 kilo ferrous slug fired from some idiot cowboy who had been trying to "eyeball it" completely ruined its fucking day.

The assembled group could only watch in shock as the Colossus was plowed into the ground by sudden appearance of a dreadnought round.

"Huh," Shepard said after a few minutes of silence. "Good old Sir Isaac Newton."

Jacob nodded in agreement. "Deadliest son of a bitch in space."

The omake was based off a joke thread created at GameFAQs/GameSpot by Ridleysbiggestfan:

I was trying to beat Tali's recruitment mission on hardcore, to get the Geth pulse rifle, right? Well I have got to say that geth primes on hardcore are the most ridiculous BS I have ever seen, the amount of headshots they can just take in stride makes me want to come back later when I have the widow or something. Regardless, I had what I considered to be a pretty epic struggle, spending several hours trying to fight my way over there and beat this mission and get that rifle, I was finally about to get there. After dozens of tries I had finally defeated the colossus and was on my way to collect my prize, when some idiot who had been trying to "eyeball it" completely ruined my ****ing day.

To which my response was:

Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in space!

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