Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

Project Overlord: Investigation

Location: The Phoenix Massing / Typhon System / Normandy SR-2 / En Route to Aite / Cerberus Facility's 'Project Overlord'

"This is Captain Elena Dawn, commanding officer of the Gravitas! We're facing a total systems failure brought on by an attack from a rogue VI! Casualties sustained! We've lost propulsion, weapons, and communications. We're expecting to lose life support soon. We're abandoning ship and preparing the scuttle the Gravitas. Project Overlord needs to be sanitized! I repeat: all resources, data, and information regarding Project Overlord must be sanitized immediately!"

"This is Project Overlord with an emergency message to Cerberus Command! We have experienced a catastrophic security failure and are requesting assistance! We—"

After the messages played out, there was silence around the table.

Jack slouched in her chair and propped her feet up on the tabletop before speaking first. "Figures."

No one refuted her though Miranda's gaze became a touch frostier.

"If Captain Dawn lost communications, how were they able to send out a message?" Samara asked.

"According to EDI, Dawn sent out that message via remote drone. It came from the Typhon System, which is pretty much right next to our last AO," Shepard briefed.

"Rogue VI… now that sounds familiar," Tali muttered.

Shepard scoffed. "Yeah."

"At least you're not piloting the Mako."

He mock glared at her. "Hey…"

"I almost hate to ask, but what's Project Overlord?" Garrus questioned.

EDI's orb popped up in the middle of the table. "I have no information regarding Project Overlord. It is another cell separate from ours, thus we are not privy to the details."

"Division of knowledge? Specific cells? Prevent one group from destroying organization as a whole? Would explain why Illusive Man has successfully evaded STG thus far," Mordin said thoughtfully.

"Is there anything you can tell us at all?" Jacob asked.

"The encryption was highly sophisticated and up-to-date, indicating a high-budget, high-level program. It is likely that this particular cell was involved in experiments that are highly compartmentalized, even within Cerberus, much like the Lazarus Project was. Given the seriousness of the distress message, I would also say that the nature of the project is highly volatile as well," EDI said.

"Sounds par for the course," Shepard commented.

"I am also detecting the remains of the Gravitas in orbit. Debris from the wreckage will most likely be scattered on the surface of the planet as well."

"Are we actually going to help these assholes?" Jack asked in disgust.

Shepard nodded. "The last time their experiments ran out of control, people died. Crazed rachni killed off Alliance soldiers at two different outposts and a supply depot. Thorian Creepers killed off a small Cerberus research facility. We were lucky that they didn't get shipped accidently to a civilian populated area."

"Accidental my ass," Jack muttered to herself, though she said it loud enough for everyone to hear.

"All that was two years ago. I want to preempt the worst by dealing with this now."

"I can't believe this shit…" she said, but didn't argue any further.

"Besides, we owe Dawn for her help back at the Reaper," Shepard reminded. "Cerberus or not, I want to help her if I can."

"What do we know about the planet itself?" Thane asked.

"Aite is a garden world very comparable to Earth," EDI informed. "However, it is not fully colonized for two reasons. First is its largest moon, Litae. Litae has an unstable orbit and current projections predict an extinction level impact with Aite within the next two centuries. The second is the lack of government. Without rule of law, the few city-states that make Aite their home are often engaged in minor wars, creating an incredibly dangerous civilian environment."

"Has there been any answer to our communications?" Miranda asked tersely.

"Crewman Matthews' attempts at communication have not been answered thus far, but he will keep trying," EDI answered after a moment.

"So how're we doing this?" Jacob asked.

"Unfortunately, we have no idea why their call for help was cut off," Miranda said. "To avoid erring on the side of caution, I recommend we break up into two teams and land at separate areas of the base. I'll lead one fire team, and Shepard will—"

"Not so fast, cheerleader," Jack sneered. She pulled her feet off the table and glared. "Nobody wants to take orders from you."

"This isn't a popularity contest. Lives are at stake," Miranda said coolly.

"And who the hell wants to put their lives in your hands?" Jack shot back. She jabbed an accusing finger at her. "Cerberus base, Cerberus experiments, all led by someone who wants to protect Cerberus interests. You know what? Why don't you have a large order of shut the fuck up on me, huh?"

Before Miranda could retort, Shepard spoke up. "Enough, both of you."

"Shepard…!" Miranda tried to protest.

"I'm siding with Jack on this," he said with finality. "Regardless of what you're thinking, I believe we need someone else."

Her eyes narrowed dangerously and it was obvious that she was putting a lot of effort into maintaining her silence.

"Garrus? Think you're up to leading a squad again?" Shepard asked.

Garrus looked between him and Miranda before nodding.

"Well, at least you picked someone who knows what he's doing," Miranda said with a hint of steel.

Shepard had to admire her cleverness to insult him and endorse his choice all in one sentence. "Jack? Any objections?"

She glanced at the turian before shaking her head.

"Hawthorne and Goldstein are injured," Jacob reminded, clearly confused and uncomfortable with the sudden tension between XO and CO. "Our shuttle pilots are definitely out."

"I'm sure some, if not most of us are certified shuttle pilots," Shepard said, before turning toward Miranda, "but you're the only one that can pilot the Hammerhead."

Miranda raised an eyebrow. "I thought you were going through the simulations?" Though she sounded disinterested, he thought he could detect a condescending tone in her voice, though it could have been his imagination.

"Going through, not completed," he corrected shortly. Turning to the others, he started dividing the squad and pointing at everyone in turn. "Okay. Garrus, you'll take Miranda, Samara, Thane, and Kasumi down with you in the Hammerhead. I'll take the rest in the Kodiak. We'll land at different areas and rendezvous inside this main compound."

"Where are we landing?" Garrus asked.

"EDI, topographic maps, if you will," Shepard requested.

"Of course, Captain."

A map, generated from the Normandy's long-range sensors appeared in the middle of the table. The area they were landing at was sitting in the middle of a valley. What dominated their attention however was the large satellite dish and nearby buildings. Shepard studied the details silently for a moment before highlighting two locations.

"Garrus, you're at OP-Beta. My team will be at OP-Alpha. We'll meet up inside this main structure. Chances are likely that this is the communications center of this base. Survivors would come here to try to get a signal off-world. Garrus, your team designation is Archangel, mine is still Spectre, got it?"

He looked at the location and nodded. "Got it. We'll be there."

"Alright, as far as my record goes with Cerberus facilities, I doubt anything down there will be pleasant," Shepard said with a pointed glance at Tali, Garrus, and Jack. He studiously avoided Miranda's cold stare. "But we got a job to do and we're going to treat this like any other mission. Follow my orders, exercise your best judgment, and try to judge the situation impartially," he briefed, this time staring directly at Jack.

She just scoffed and crossed her arms, but didn't argue.

"The transmission was from somebody which means there might be people down there. Because we're going into this blind, they'll have information. We need to talk to them," Shepard ordered.

"Yeah, yeah, I got it Boss Man. Don't kill any of the Cerberus fuckers until we get what we want."

"I was going for: Don't kill them at all unless they engage us," Shepard countered. "None of us knows what down there, so let's try to keep the surprises, and causalities, to a minimum."

"It's Cerberus," Tali scoffed. "We'll either find some horrific experiment, or some sort of weapon that they lost control of and now it's threatening to blow them all up."

Garrus chuckled appreciatively while Miranda and Jacob frowned.

"What's the status on the IFF?" Shepard asked, tactfully overlooking Tali's comment. Tensions in the room were rising quickly and he needed to disarm it or end the briefing.

"EDI's running the final checks on the IFF. She should be done by the time we get back," Tali reported.

"EDI? Anything I should know about?"

"The device is powered, but it is causing some unusual instability in other systems," she answered.

"So the CBT?" Tali asked intently.

"Yes, Chief Zorah, though I do not know why yet. I recommend a more thorough analysis before we attempt to use it."

"Alright, whatever it takes. Everyone: get your gear and get to the hangar," Shepard commanded. "We'll be at Aite in one hour."

Miranda stood up and left first without a word. Once again, she and Shepard's attitudes caused odd looks and interest in some of the others. Still, they filed out and prepared themselves for the upcoming mission.

Garrus hung back until everyone left. Tali lingered at the doorway until he shooed her off. "Hey, Shepard. Can I have a word?"

Shepard sighed and sat on the edge of the table. "Let me guess: relationship advice?"

"Just worried about you. Both Tali and me," Garrus said. He glanced at the door before turning back to face him. "Something going on between the both of you now?"

"Yeah," Shepard grumbled. "She's Cerberus and I'm not."

"Fight?"

"Our first."

"Big?"

"Big enough."

Garrus walked over and sat down next to him. "So how long have you two been…?"

"Probably started at Illium. There was… something there; something happened, but we put it on pause for a while," Shepard confessed. "We didn't know if it was a good idea or not for a lot of the usual reasons: the mission, our allegiances, possible compromised decisions; that whole deal. Things got a little awkward and we didn't really do anything until after we helped Jacob and his father. After that, we played it by ear, but we still avoided the fact that she's Cerberus and I'm a Council Spectre and former Alliance commander promoted captain."

"You just can't help but make things complicated for yourself, can you?" Garrus observed jokingly.

"You're really bad at this advice thing," Shepard shot back. An involuntary smile broke out on his face though.

"At least I got you to smile," Garrus retorted. "You had to know the issue would've come up sooner or later."

Shepard sighed. "Yeah. I know."

"About me and this team leader thing…" Garrus probed.

"It's a sound judgment call."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Miranda would either follow my orders, or the Illusive Man's. He'll want her to preserve the experiment somehow, keep whatever he had planned at this facility. I'm here because there's a chance we need to stop it and save lives. Conflicts like that would get people on the squad killed," Shepard listed off. "I'm not accusing her of anything, but putting you in charge removes the chance that I'd ever have to question her, or myself, to begin with."

Garrus sighed and nodded. "I understand. Seriously though, Shepard… You okay?"

"It's a fight, Garrus. It happens. Didn't we have a few of those? We're okay now, right?"

He looked unconvinced. "Yeah, but I'm not sleeping with you. No matter how many times you ask."

Now Shepard couldn't help but laugh. "What makes you think Miranda and I are sleeping together?"

"Because there's no way she'd be that cold and pissed unless you two were close," Garrus pointed out. "I've been there myself a couple of times."

"You'll have to tell me about it someday," Shepard said.

"I don't want to advertise my failures," Garrus mumbled. "You sure you know what you're doing? With the mission, I mean."

"Look, I need someone who has experience with this kind of thing and will follow my lead," Shepard added. "You're watching my back, so what do I have to worry about?"

"And what makes you think I listen to you?" Garrus asked with a turian grin.

"Because I saved your ass back on Omega and dealt with the three merc leaders that wanted you dead in a big way," Shepard reminded dryly.

"Good point."

~o~O~o~

Location: The Phoenix Massing / Typhon System / Aite / Cerberus Facility's 'Project Overlord'

Their atmospheric entry was relatively smooth and in no time at all they started skimming through the skies of Aite.

"Course is still good," Jacob reported from his seat as the temp co-pilot.

"Alright. We'll be there in 2 minutes," Shepard said. "Archangel Team, status?"

"The Normandy just broke through the atmosphere. We're on course to OP-Beta. ETA: 7 minutes."

"Roger."

Shepard put the shuttle into a dive, pushing past the clouds as quickly as possible to get eyes on their area of operations.

"So you and Miranda, huh?" Jacob asked conversationally. He doubled-checked to ensure they were still on course before looking at him.

Shepard frowned but didn't turn his gaze from either the controls or window in front of him. "Kasumi?"

Jacob smacked his lips, as if he was debating whether not to out her despite the fact that Shepard already knew who it had to be. There were only a few people that did right now and only one that was gossipy enough.

"Yeah."

"Drop it. That's an order," Shepard said in a hard voice. He still hadn't looked up at him.

"Yes, sir," Jacob said automatically and snapped his head to his station again.

Soon, the Cerberus facility came into view. Shepard dropped the shuttle lower to use the terrain to mask their approach.

"No fires, no smoke, no explosions… Looks quiet," Jacob observed.

"Either the distress call was faked or everyone's already dead," Shepard grimly replied. He hit the intercom. "We're landing in one minute. Get ready."

The Kodiak descended into an open concrete courtyard. The doors opened the moment they touched down, allowing Tali and Mordin to exit first and sweep the area.

"Clear!" – "No hostiles sighted!"

Shutting down the engines, Shepard left the cockpit and exited the shuttle. Looking around, it was hard to see what caused such a ruckus. It was peaceful and quiet, with nothing suggesting that there was any deception behind the tranquility around them.

"Archangel Team, we have boots on the ground. No sign of hostiles," Shepard said. He drew his HMWP and held tactically at his side. "Okay, we're entering the structure. See you inside."

"Roger. We're almost to OP-Beta," Garrus replied. "2 minutes."

"Roger that."

"Let's go, people," Shepard ordered. He walked toward a set of doors. "Jacob, you mind calling out and see if anyone's home?"

"This is Operative Jacob Taylor, Lazarus Cell, calling on a general transmission. Is anyone receiving?"

"No answer," Tali said grimly.

The team entered the door cautiously and looked around.

"I take back what I said," Jacob muttered.

"See bodies. Several. Blood stains, scorch marks, bullet impacts. Fires. All signs of heavy conflict," Mordin observed.

"Good," Grunt said in anticipation.

"Call out again," Shepard ordered to Jacob. He led everyone deeper in, slowly scanning the room for what caused the all damage. He swapped out his pistol for his assault rifle.

"This is Cerberus Operative Jacob Taylor broadcasting on a general frequency. We're responding to your distress signal. If anyone is here, please answer," Jacob stressed.

Suddenly, a crackle of static could be heard before a man's voice replied. It was the same voice from the original distress call. "Thank god you came! My name is Dr. Gavin Archer. The situation is urgent – we're facing a catastrophic VI breakout!"

Archer… He's the one Miranda talked about. The heretic's religious beliefs…

Shepard got the nasty feeling the heretics were involved now. He didn't know why, especially after the virus was supposed to rewrite them, but he knew they were involved.

"I'll explain the details later, but you must retract that transmission dish!" Archer said desperately. "The controls aren't far from your position. You have to h-h...ur..!"

"Archangel, did you get that?" Shepard asked when the transmission was suddenly cut off.

"Loud and clear," Garrus said grimly. "We're on the ground. Entering the structure now."

"We got signs of combat. Some of the Cerberus personnel at the entrance are KIA. We're pushing on," Shepard said. "Miranda, you said Archer was involved with a geth study?"

There was a pause before she answered with a concise, "Yes."

"I thought we just took care of the shit," Jack muttered.

"We don't know if it's the heretics yet," Tali reminded.

"Be advised, this is a secure facility. All weapons must be declared upon entry and checked with security personnel on duty," a VI announcer automatically declared.

"Let's go people. We'll do what Archer said for now," Shepard said.

"Don't forget to check your weapons with security," Jack said mockingly.

Grunt chortled and brandished his Claymore.

"Hey, guys. Check it out," Jacob said. He was pointing at a monitor. It was showing nothing but static.

"What's up, Jacob?" Shepard asked.

"I thought I saw a face—there it is."

A middle-aged man was on the screen now. He wasn't looking in the right direction though. He was doing something off camera and arguing with someone. Above the monitor was a security camera. It was pointing at them, more or less, but it kept jerking and moving around at random times and directions.

A familiar female voice called for his attention. "Archer! It's working!"

"It is?" Archer turned to his camera and sighed in relief. "Oh, thank goodness. Please, listen. A few others and I are inside a sealed computer room on the far side of the base. There are geth on the loose."

"Keelah," Tali muttered.

"How many?" Shepard asked.

"A rogue VI program has seized control and… I've lost a lot of friends today," Archer said uncomfortably before looking at something or someone off camera. "We all have. I'd hate to see you join them."

"Dr. Archer?" Shepard called out.

"Please watch yourself," Archer said.

"He can't hear us. He's just transmitting, but not receiving," Tali said.

Shepard glanced at Legion. "You okay?"

"We detect no abnormalities in our runtimes, Shepard-Commander," Legion answered. It wasn't using its radio anymore.

"Whoa, whoa, fuck that," Jack said. She had her shotgun up and ready. "We got a geth problem here brought on by Cerberus. You're not going to go apeshit on us are you?"

"To ensure data integrity, we will isolate ourselves and cease any incoming or outgoing transmissions until we gather more information regarding this attack," Legion informed.

"I don't understand it. Why is there an attack? I thought the virus was supposed to handle that," Tali said.

"No data available," Legion answered. "We will observe and record as the mission progresses and formulate consensus."

"Just let us know if something's about to go wrong, if you can," Shepard said. "Archangel, we may be dealing with a heretic problem here. Be ready."

"Got it," Garrus replied.

"Oh, man," Jacob muttered as they quickly crossed the room. Dead bodies were littered everywhere. "What the hell were they doing here?"

"Something that got them all fucking killed," Jack said without any remorse. "The hell do you think?"

Jacob rounded on her, but Shepard stopped them before they could do anything.

"Not the time people. Move it!"

They stopped at the door. He and Jacob stacked up on either side. Shepard gave a quick three-count before Tali opened the door and allowed both men to sweep the room. A quick look around revealed that this was the main communications room. A large set of windows dominated one side, allowing the group to see the comm relay just outside as well as a spectacular view of the surrounding mountain range.

"Got more bodies, but no hostiles," Jacob muttered.

"Clear here," Shepard said. "Tali?"

Tali rushed in and started typing into the nearest terminal. "There is some security here. I need a moment…"

"Legion, help her," Shepard ordered.

"Acknowledged," Legion said before moving next to her and interfacing with the console.

"I found something Shepard," Tali reported. "Part of the original distress signal."

"Play it. Hopefully we'll learn something more," Shepard said.

"This is Project Overlord with an emergency message to Cerberus Command! We have experienced a catastrophic security failure and are requesting assistance! We— what do you mean our outgoing comms are jammed? How can he do that? !"

"The VI is taking control of the base," Jacob stated.

"Archangel Team, we've made contact with Archer again. He's requested that we retract the satellite dish. We're about to proceed. Standby," Shepard called.

"Got it. We have Cerberus KIA all over the place here, but no other signs of hostiles," Garrus muttered. "There are a lot of dead people here, Shepard. If there's this many workers…"

"Big budget project and a big budget problem. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing."

"It looks like it was a massacre in here," Kasumi whispered.

"Shepard, we got it," Tali reported.

"Retracting satellite dish now," Legion said.

Past the enormous window, the entire structure began sinking into the ground. Just before it entered it's housing, it emitted a horrible screeching sounds as it was forcibly stopped from retracting fully.

"Tali? Legion?" Shepard asked expectantly.

"I don't know. Something's wrong with the terminal. Everything's not respond—Aaahhh!" Tali shrieked in fear and fell on her back. She scrambled on her hands and feet away from the console.

The terminal, screens, monitors, just about everything in the control room went haywire. All of a sudden a pair of digital green eyes appeared and was screaming at them incomprehensibly.

"What the fuck is that? !" Jack shouted.

The entire team, sans Legion, backed up to the wall, weapons pointed at the mass of eyes staring down at them from varying screens. Legion was still at the terminal, though it had drawn its shotgun and pointed it at the biggest projection.

"Should we shoot it? !" Grunt asked.

The disembodied voice screamed at them again, its words still garbled and unintelligible. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished, leaving behind a host of error messages.

"Shepard-Commander, the terminal no longer functions. The satellite relay will not retract," Legion reported. Lacking emotions, it was obviously not affected by the earlier display.

Shepard willed his heart under control and steadied his breathing. "You know, Legion, I might actually be envious of you now…"

One monitor crackled with static before Archer's face appeared again. "Is it working? Are we transmitting?"

"We're through! It's working! Hurry!" the female voice urged.

"Everyone, the VI's overridden the controls. We have to stop him – he's trying to upload his program off-planet!" Archer warned desperately. "Do whatever you have to do, but don't let i-i-i-it—"

"Orders?" Jacob asked.

"Satellite dishes connect to satellites. Satellites connect to FTL comm buoys," Shepard said before he held up a hand, silently asking for silence. "Normandy? Normandy, do you copy?"

There was no reply.

"Joker, I need you to take out a satellite in orbit. Joker? EDI?"

"Goddamn it. We're being jammed," Jacob groused.

"Then we do this the hard way," Shepard said. He looked out the window and pointed to a set of rails. "That looks like a tram system. We ride it to the dish and blow it to hell."

"Ha!" Grunt cheered.

"Interesting…" Mordin muttered.

"What?" Shepard asked warily.

"Archer… called VI 'he'. Curious that he would use pronoun to describe VI. Not using noun 'it'? Why? Knows something. Something sinister? Something personal? Something regarding project? Questions, questions. Need answers. And soon," Mordin muttered.

"Shit," Jack grumbled.

"What?" Shepard asked.

Jack just pointed at something to left of the room.

The glowing eyes were back, appearing on several screens that lined the walls leading up to the other door in the room, but now green pixilated squares were framing it, giving it a digital mockery of a face.

It was eerie.

"Cameras too," Tali observed.

The cameras were now completely fixated on them. The motion sensor above the lens was glowing green as well.

"I fucking hate Cerberus," Jack complained.

"Archangel Team, we got a change of plans," Shepard said.

"Go ahead, Spectre Team," Garrus said. "We're liste—what the hell is that that thing? !"

Shepard could hear the VI screaming over the radio.

"I've never seen anything like that before," Samara said. Even she sounded like she'd been affected by the sudden appearance of the VI.

"I, uh, I think i-it's some sort of avatar," Miranda said uncertainly. "But… there's something about it. I've never heard a VI… scream before."

"I think I like EDI's avatar more," Garrus said. "Is this what you're about to tell me, Shepard?"

"Sort of. The VI hacked the mainframe and locked us out. We can't retract the dish and it's trying upload itself offworld. Normandy isn't answering our calls. We need to take the tram and destroy the antennae."

"Alright," Garrus said. "We'll make our way to the tram station, and… Contact left!"

"Garrus!" Shepard shouted.

"Enemy contact! They're everywhere! Everyone, fall back! Fall back!"

"We got to move, people!" Shepard said. "If the other team found the heretics, we will too. Go!"

"What about Garrus?" Tali asked worriedly.

"I wouldn't have picked him if I didn't think he could handle it," Shepard said confidently. "He'll be fine. Stay focused."

They followed him through the door and down a hall that led to some stairs. Just as they were making their way down, the face appeared on the screen above them, screaming again.

Jack raised her shotgun and blew it apart involuntarily. "Oh, shit…" she whispered. She exhaled noisily and tried to calm down. "Asshole."

"Easy," Shepard said. "Try not to react to that… whatever it is. I don't want to give our position away to any real enemies."

"Sorry," Jack whispered. "I just… y'know?"

"I know the feeling," Grunt rumbled. "Those cameras are still watching us. Makes me want to shoot them too."

"Resist the urge," Shepard ordered. He led the way again in the general direction of the tram station. He had no idea of the layout of the base, but it was apparent that no expense had been spared in its construction. They came upon a lounge with rows of comfortable looking seats and an excellent view. Several large monitors ringed the area. Currently, they were blank.

"Layout seems simple enough. It's not nearly as bad as the other places we've been to," Shepard said optimistically. "I doubt we'll get lost here. This way."

The VI announcer echoed through the base intercom systems. "This is an automated security update. Geth activity has been detected."

"No shit?" Jack asked sarcastically.

"Please remain at your workstations until the all-clear is given."

"Which is probably never," Jacob said as he stepped around a pool of blood from a body that beaten so severely that even Mordin had difficulty determining its sex.

Again, the digitized face appeared on all the monitors, howling at them. The squad twitched slightly and instinctively raised their weapons at differing screens, but didn't fire this time.

"That is really starting to get on my nerves," Jack said.

"You and me both," Tali agreed.

"Does anyone understand what its saying?" Grunt asked.

Mordin shook his head. "Translator garbled. Couldn't pick it up."

"This way…" Shepard said. He walked past the lounge and down a set of steps. Suddenly, the emerald face appeared on his right before flowing down the wall and stopping at the end of the hall where it could stare at them.

"Are you sure you want to go down that way?" Jack asked.

"Not so much now, no," Shepard admitted quietly. "But we're going anyway."

"I was afraid you'd say that," Tali muttered.

"Hey, Boss Man, you said you took out Cerberus bases before, right?" Jack asked.

Shepard approached the door near the face and nodded absently.

"Any of them ever like this?"

He shook his head and waited for Jacob to get into position.

"This does seem a bit worse than others," Tali supplied.

"Goddamn it," Jack cursed.

Mordin remotely opened the door. Shepard and Jacob quickly darted in, and took a quick look around.

"Welcome," the female-sounding announcer said the moment the doors opened. "Today's lunch special i-i-i-i-is…. fillet with a s-s-side of… egg s-s-salad."

Movement caught Shepard's eye on the far end of the cafeteria they just entered. "Contact! Far side of the room! Cover! Cover!"

The team bolted for any available defilade as heretic platforms popped out from behind counters or columns. Missiles from two different troopers struck the doorway the team had just occupied.

Shepard whipped out his sniper rifle. "Jacob! You take the Rocket Trooper on the left! I got the right!"

"On it!"

"After they're down, take the team and engage the ones on the ground floor. Tali! You and me upstairs!"

"I'll be right behind you!" Tali shouted.

"Let's take them out!"

Shepard lined up his shot, and squeezed the trigger when the Rocket Trooper was in his crosshair.

Its kinetic shields were far too weak to block the powerful rifle. The glowing optic exploded in a shower of sparks.

Green?

Just moments before he pulled the trigger, he saw that its optic was green, not the usual blue-white. The same shade of green he'd seen on the VI's image.

Is it controlling the heretics?

Shelving that thought for later, he stowed his sniper rifle and took up his assault rifle again. He dashed to the stairs on the right, Tali hot on his heels after dropping her combat drone on the ground floor to assist the others.

Jacob succeeded in taking down his target as well, and was leading the others toward the mess of tables and benches. His biotic barrier was up and helping him take the brunt of the attacks to allow the others to fight back unhindered or find suitable cover to shoot from.

Reaching the top, he gestured to Tali to take the small room on the right while he put pressure on the synthetics firing from the upper levels.

"Got them!" Tali cheered.

"I'll kill you!" Jack shouted just moments before a Destroyer was ripped to pieces.

"Reinforcements inbound!" Jacob warned. "Far back corner of the room!"

Shepard downed another Trooper and ran across the upper area of the cafeteria to suppress the wave of heretics that were pouring through the door. Grunt plowed his way closer and hunkered down behind the stairs to assist.

All of a sudden, the nearby door opened and a grenade landed right in the middle of the group Shepard and Grunt were shooting at.

The explosion heralded the arrival of Garrus and his team. They rushed in, firing upon the antagonists and providing some relief for Shepard's team.

"About time you got here!" Shepard shouted. "Tali thought you died!"

"I did not!" A Trooper fell to its knees from her energy drain which she followed up with a shotgun blast to the 'face'.

"No faith!" Garrus retorted over the sounds of gunfire. He steadied his Incisor and downed a Trooper. "What's a guy got to do to earn some respect?"

He yelped in surprise and ducked behind a railing when a Destroyer used its flamethrower on him.

It was suddenly launched into the air, floating helplessly, before Miranda used warp to detonate Shepard's pull. The fragments peppered the other synthetics.

Jack's shockwave blew the heretics out of cover and into the line of fire for squad to tear down and finish off. "This is how you earn street cred!" she crowed.

"Gift for you!" Kasumi taunted. She threw two kunai right into the optics of the last two Troopers and ended of the fight.

Shepard looked around and spotted the VI's avatar staring down at them from above. "Did you guys have a lot of trouble?"

"Not too much," Garrus said. He followed Shepard's gaze. "I have to admit though, that's new to me."

"And creepy as all hell. It's like this place is haunted by a computer ghost or something," Kasumi commented.

"That's not funny," Tali said worriedly.

"Here's how you solve it," Grunt growled. He aimed his pistol at the monitor and blew a hole in it.

The avatar just appeared on another screen moments later.

"Save your ammo," Shepard said sternly.

"Sorry, Battlemaster," Grunt said contritely. He holstered his pistol and waited for his orders.

"How is Legion?" Miranda asked. She was watching the geth platform closely. "No problems, I trust?"

"It says it's isolated its programs. It's not even using its radio," Jacob answered.

"So what's the plan?" Garrus asked.

"We go to the dish itself, rig some charges, get to a safe distance, blow it up," Shepard listed off.

"Here's to hoping that works," Jacob muttered.

"Yeah," Shepard agreed. He walked down past the door the heretics had come from and cautiously looked around, with Garrus right behind. "Clear."

"Clear," Garrus echoed.

The room they were in resembled a transit lounge, signifying that they were on the right track. The assumption was strengthened by the unfashionable, grating music playing from a speaker overhead.

Jack used her pistol on the speaker to silence it.

Shepard would've lectured her about ammo as well, except he had to admit that her biotics made it less of an issue. Plus, he was tempted to do the same anyway.

"Here's the tram," Thane said when he opened the next door.

"Let's hope it still works," Jacob said.

Once everyone filed in, Shepard tapped the button. The car jerked forward, before gliding on the rails and toward the mountain structure that housed the gigantic satellite dish.

"Did anyone notice those heretics had green eyes?" Shepard asked. "Just like those projections."

"I saw it," Tali said. "I'm beginning to think that controlling the heretics, or the geth, is the goal of this 'Project Overlord'."

"Then they succeeded and failed all at the same time," Garrus said.

"Considering that just about every Cerberus asshole here is dead, I'm not real broke up about it," Jack said with a snort. "As far as I'm concerned, they just failed. Period."

"It would explain why the virus didn't work on these synthetics," Shepard mused.

"Are you okay, Legion?" Tali asked.

"We are fine, Creator Tali'Zorah. Thank you for inquiring," Legion replied.

"Are these even heretics anymore?" Shepard wondered. "I didn't notice it earlier, but now that I think about it, fighting them felt… different."

"Those platforms were not utilizing standard stratagems the heretics often employ when they achieve advanced processing power," Legion said.

"What do you mean?" Jacob asked.

"During combat, as the numbers of platforms dwindle, there are less and less heretics working in concert with each other. The network diminishes. Advanced combat tactics are no longer considered. Having only a few platforms will result in erratic attacks," Legion explained. "To use more common vernacular, the less platforms there are, the more simple they become."

Shepard nodded. "But these things didn't change. It didn't matter how many or how few there were. They just kept pushing at us, but they didn't get smarter or simpler. That's what felt different."

"Correct. Their tactics remained more or less stable throughout the engagement. These platforms are not connected via networking. They are most likely connected to the Cerberus VI," Legion said before its plates shifted, giving it a troubled look. "The platforms we have fought… they are… empty."

"Empty?" Tali repeated.

"We do not know why we would describe them as such. It is an observation we have noted, but have never encountered before. We will need to build consensus on this to further understand this condition."

"I think I know what you mean. I tried to hack them, but it didn't work," Tali revealed. "My omni-tool didn't pick up anything. It was like there was nothing to hack."

"Like what? They have no soul?" Kasumi asked.

"That's not something I think anyone can answer."

The tram was quiet for a moment as everyone digested what Legion revealed.

"Why does this base need a dish that fucking big?" Jack asked to break the silence.

"This planet was never meant for long-term colonization," Shepard answered. "We're deep in heretic controlled space, Terminus slavers, mercs, a giant moon that's going to destroy it; The nearest FTL comm buoy is two systems away. Cerberus would need that dish to communicate with a satellite that's connected with the rest of the galaxy. Or just to the Illusive Man."

"Shepard-Commander. Communications relay is aligning itself," Legion said. It was pointing at the target area. Alarms began wailing following its observation. The squad watched as the dish began moving.

"You had to say it, didn't you?" Garrus scolded to Shepard with an exaggerated shake of his head. "Why not give the unstable, dangerous, geth-controlling VI a workable plan?"

The tram soon entered its berth and slowed down. "Arriving at dish access. Attention: Satellite broadcast window is opening soon."

"We need to hurry people! Let's go!" Shepard ordered. Taking point, he set the pace as a rapid jog, eyes open for any heretics, or rather, synthetic platforms, that were going to slow them down. He navigated the structure until he led everyone outside onto the catwalks. He could see the bridge that led into the base of the relay.

"All upload data must be approved by your department supervisor."

~o~O~o~

"Ah!" Tali screamed and ducked down away from the door panel she was trying to bypass. The bullet ricocheted away after impacting the door frame, too close to her head for comfort.

"Cover Tali!" Shepard ordered. He readied his HMWSR, but stayed in cover from the sniper fire until his Tactical Cloak was ready.

"Throwing up a barrier!" Jacob shouted. He stood in the path of bullets to shield Tali as she feverishly worked the lock on the door.

Shepard vanished a moment later and took the chance to pop his head out to find the shooters. Five Synthetic Infiltrators that were harassing them from the next bridge over "I see five! Legion, Thane, Garrus! Snipe'em!"

All four of them took beads and dropped them one after another.

The last synthetic screamed similarly to the VI and shot at Legion. The geth ducked down behind the railing while the other three snipers finished the job.

"I'm in, I'm in! Hurry!" Tali urged.

Grunt and Jacob went in first and then ran back out. "Damn it! We got more of these things all over the place!" Jacob shouted.

"Jack, on me!" Shepard said. "We'll charge to the other end of the room and draw fire!"

Jack scrambled behind him and waited until he went first. With a crack of displaced air, he was behind the synthetics and firing at the nearest ones. He didn't know where Jack was, but he heard the booms of her shotgun easily enough to know she was close.

"Attention: Satellite broadcast window is opening soon."

"Disabling them with tech overload!" Miranda shouted. "Everyone inside, hurry!"

The two Troopers that were trying to suppress the others fell in a heap from her tech attack.

"Go, go!" Garrus ordered.

"Shit! Shepard, watch out!" Jack warned.

Without questioning her, he ran behind the nearest solid block of metal he could hide behind. Bullets and a missile started peppering his cover a moment later. "What the hell is it? !"

"It's a fucking Prime!" Jack replied.

Ah, hell.

He stayed down and concentrated his biotics. When there was a pause in gunfire, he rounded the corner and flung out his arm in an arc.

The Prime only staggered from his feeble attempt at Reave and continued its attack, forcing him to duck down again. He lobbed a grenade instead to buy time and relocate.

The Prime staggered again before an explosion of dark energy blew out from the small of its back. It fell to the ground in a heap.

Shepard popped his head out to see the telltale signs of biotics fade away from Samara as she ran off to engage other hostiles.

Guess I got a long way to go.

"There's no way we can rig any charges with all these synthetics shooting at us!" Garrus shouted.

"We gotta get to the top!" Shepard ordered.

Rallying the squad, Shepard darted toward the stairs. Taking of advantage of the high ground, he started firing down on the synthetic platforms bellow, allowing the others to run up the stairs, or create opportunities for the long range marksmen to take a pot shot or two.

"We're at the top!" Jacob informed. "How are we taking this thing out?"

"Blow it up?" Grunt asked.

"We can't do that here, you idiot! What about us? ! We're on top of the fucking thing!" Jack argued. "And put that away! Don't you dare fire that nuke here!"

"These dishes need precision to send or receive signals. If we can damage the support struts, we might take the focal point out of alignment and render the dish useless," Miranda suggested.

"Better than being buried under tons of metal!" Shepard said. He took up position as the rear guard, slowing down the synthetics from their charge up the stairs. "Everyone, you heard her! Do whatever you can to take out those struts!"

"Jacob! Get that launcher up!" Garrus ordered.

Shepard sniped out a Rocket Trooper and used his biotics to pull its weapon toward him. "Got another launcher here!"

Grunt took it from him and got to work helping Jacob shoot at the enormous metal beams.

Shepard was almost single-handedly holding back the synthetics now. "Pick up the pace!" he said. Shockwave sent a few back down to ground level the hard way.

"We almost… Yeah! One down!" Jacob cheered.

The base of the strut broke away from the dish and swung forward until it collided with the center column.

The VI let loose an angry howl at their success. Swarms of synthetics were attacking now. Some were even bypassing the stairs completely and were trying to climb their way to the top.

"We need to destroy the one opposite to it! It should cause the whole thing to bend out of place!" Miranda said. She ran up next to Shepard and helped him hold back the waves of synthetics that were still trying to claw their way up the stairs. "Hurry! We can't hold them off!"

"Warning: Structural integrity of dish has been compromised."

"Shit! Out of ammo!" Jacob said.

"Useless piece of crap!" Grunt roared. An empty launcher flew overhead.

"Everyone! Pass up your grenades!" Garrus ordered. "Come on!"

Thane took up a perch nearby with his rifle and assisted Shepard and Miranda now.

Legion ran up to Shepard and Miranda and held out its hands expectantly. They quickly foisted their grenades off to it while Thane picked off a Juggernaut.

"Almost done…" Garrus muttered.

"Now is preferable," Shepard said. He was forced to duck down when the synthetics were in a better position to shoot back. The bullets were striking his shields a little more often than he'd like now.

"Put those over there, Tali. Mordin, little lower. Jacob, put those a bit higher," Garrus instructed quickly. "Okay! Let's hope this is good enough. Back away everyone. Fire in the hole!"

The moment the squad, except Thane, Miranda, and Shepard, got some distance, Garrus used his sniper rifle to detonate the grenades.

The explosion was impressive, but while the strut had seen better days, it was still holding up the antennae.

"Well shit. I'm out of ideas," Garrus grumbled.

The sounds of groaning metal echoed and the antennae swayed.

"That might be enough," Shepard said. "Everyone, get over here and hold them back. Samara, Jack, follow me!"

Three of them dashed to the damaged strut. "We just need to damage it a bit more," Shepard said. He reached out with his biotics and pushed at it as hard as he could.

Samara and Jack followed up with their own considerable efforts. The metal creaked and protested against abuse. The antennae began swaying tantalizingly.

"Keep going," Shepard grunted out. "We just need this thing to bend far enough!"

"They're still coming! We can't hold this position!" Jacob warned.

The metal was screeching now. More and more folds, dents, and bends rippled around the damaged area they were focusing at.

"One more push!" Shepard said.

"Go down you son-of-bitch!" Jack screamed.

Samara was breathing heavier now, but her focus didn't waver in the slightest.

Finally, the strut buckled completely. The entire column of the antenna array began falling off to one side. The remaining two struts began groaning in protest as they bent at the base. The array was now at least 40 degrees off center from the dish itself.

"Got it!" Jack shouted triumphantly.

Her cheer was short lived when the antennae's column broke in half.

Pieces of the array started to rain down onto the dish after that, with the main body held up by two compromised struts there were threatening to buckle under the weight.

"You've got to be kidding…" Shepard growled in disbelief. "Move! MOVE! The whole thing's giving away!"

No one needed to be told twice. It was a mad scramble to the lip of the satellite dish. Their only chance was the tram entrance and the catwalks they traversed to get to the body of the dish.

The main body of the antennae fell, along with its support struts.

Kasumi and Thane were the quickest and reached the end first. Both thief and assassin gracefully leapt over the precipice and flipped until they landed quietly in a crouch on the catwalks below. They quickly darted to the sides to allow room for the others to land.

Legion easily cleared the distance and landed with a loud metallic clang. It was still standing upright even after the impact that had it been an organic, it would've have broken its legs. It too, moved away, leaving tiny indentations in the metal of the walkway.

Jack and Miranda reached the edge next. Jack just used Charge to vanish from the top of the dish down to catwalk although she had to use her arms to brace herself when the momentum forced her to slam up to the wall with a grunt. Miranda had to make due with jumping. She managed to land on her feet, but pitched forward from the force of the motion and rolled until she hit the wall.

Shepard and Samara made it after. Samara jumped first and used her biotics to gracefully float to the catwalk, just as she did back on Illium. Shepard didn't even hesitate and followed her example, though he was far less graceful in his execution. He managed to land well enough to avoid falling on his face.

Garrus and Jacob's landing was much like Miranda's. The people still on their feet had to move rapidly to give them ample room.

Tali, Mordin, and Grunt were the last. All three jumped just as the dish finally gave away and collapsed from the all the damage it took. Unfortunately, both Tali and Mordin lacked the physical prowess of the other squad members, and Grunt's massive size became a disadvantage to him this time.

They all collided against the railing and nearly fell, but managed to hang on. But only just.

They held on for dear life as the dish collapsed and crumpled in on itself. Debris was flying in from every direction. Clouds of dust and smoke smothered them and restricted visibility. The worst part was the shaking. It felt like it would never stop as everyone endured the quakes generated by the tons of metal falling into the ground.

"Get the others! Get them!" Shepard ordered as he struggled to stay on his feet. He manifested a barrier just barely large enough to protect himself, Miranda and Garrus from the high speed shrapnel.

Legion darted forward immediately, easily managing to keep its balance despite the chaos of destruction around them. "Creator in danger! Rendering assistance!" He reached down and grabbed Tali by the arms and hauled her up in one smooth motion. Surprisingly, it then used its own body to shield her from harm.

Samara reacted quickly and used her biotics to pluck Mordin up and away from the edge and deposited him safely with the others. Her own barrier was up and shielding her from harm.

Jack flared with dark energy as she picked up Grunt before he could fall. "I gotcha, big guy!"

Grunt flew up and over the rail and then fell with an undignified plop.

Eventually, the shaking finally subsided, though the sounds of twisted and falling steel still filled the air. Dust still lingered all around, but it was already being blown away by the high speed winds.

"Damn. You gotta lose some pounds off that fat ass," Jack said to Grunt jokingly.

Grunt scoffed and stood up. He pulled a long, thin, jagged 12 inch sliver of steel that had penetrated his armor and through his arm without any apparent discomfort. "I was fine."

"You were holding on by two fingers. And all of that was supporting that hunchback of yours… buddy, you were far from fine."

"Everyone alright?" Shepard asked loudly to silence their argument. He walked over to Miranda and held out a hand.

"I'm not sure there's any insurance that covers any 'acts of Shepard'," Miranda bit out. Surprisingly, she accepted his help and pulled herself up.

"No insurance company in the galaxy will ever endorse that," Garrus joked as he accepted Thane's hand and pulled himself to his feet. Samara assisted Mordin while Kasumi helped Jacob nearby. "They'd file for bankruptcy in no time."

"Only because he's the first organic alive to be considered a natural disaster," Tali said with a groan. She glanced at Legion out of the corner of her eye. "Thanks," she muttered.

"The standard organic response to gratitude is: You are welcome," Legion replied. It turned to Shepard. "Is that the correct response in this situation, Shepard-Commander?"

Tali shook her head wearily and answered for him. "Yes, it is, Legion."

"You okay, Krios?" Garrus asked. "You're bleeding."

"The injury is minor. Nothing like that shrapnel Grunt is currently removing," Thane assured.

"Allow me," Mordin said. Before he helped Thane though, he quickly bowed his head to Samara. "Thank you for the help."

"You're quite welcome," she cordially replied.

"Anyone else hurt? Speak up so we can treat you!" Shepard called out.

Turned to Legion and sighed. "Keelah. I'm going to need my tools for this."

Legion looked down at the bits of foreign metal jutting out from its back. "Platform is functioning within normal parameters. Repairs are not necessary at this time."

"If it can walk, talk, and fight with a giant hole in its chest, I'm sure it's fine," Jacob said. He accepted Kasumi's hand and pulled himself up. His biotic barrier was fading away.

"Thanks for the shield," Kasumi said gratefully.

"No problem."

"Over here!"

Everyone turned to see a man wearing a scientist's coat bearing the Cerberus insignia run up to them. It was the same man that called for help and warned them on arrival. Elena Dawn and a few Cerberus crewmen were behind him.

"Is everyone alright?"

"You're Dr. Gavin Archer, I presume?" Shepard rhetorically asked. Still, Archer nodded in response. Shepard turned to Dawn. "Captain Dawn. You alright?"

"Could be better, could be dead," she answered. "Damned glad to see you, Shepard. Believe me, we can use the help—Shit! There's a geth behind you!"

Dawn and her crew raised their weapons, but Shepard and his squad squared off against them, protecting Legion.

"Stand down!" Shepard barked. "This one is with us! It's under my command!"

"You're shitting me," Dawn said in disbelief. "Do you have any idea how many of those things are there around here? How many of my crew died because of them?"

"We did not harm any organics. Current information suggests that a rogue VI developed by Doctor Gavin Archer seized control of synthetic platforms and ordered an attack on any organics here," Legion stated.

"And it… it talks?" Dawn asked. Her eyebrow arched when she noticed another detail. "Is that thing wearing Alliance N7 Armor?"

"Long story. Stand down, Captain," Shepard repeated forcefully. "You look like you've had a bad day. Don't make it worse."

Dawn glared at Legion suspiciously. Still, since it wasn't even holding or drawing any of its weapons or making any hostile motions, she and her people backed off. "You got a geth to obey your commands?"

"Acknowledge my commands. It's part of my crew now," Shepard corrected.

"Just when I thought I'd seen everything…" she said.

"It's a complicated story and one that I'm not in the mood to explain. Especially since I get the feeling I'm in for a horror story of my own," he said before turning his attention back to Archer. "Alright. What the hell is going on around here?"

Archer looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Man's reach exceeding his grasp," he answered with an ironic undertone.

Shepard looked out at the destruction he and his team caused just to stop a disembodied voice from uploading off-world. "Yeah… Cerberus is really good at that."

He almost felt Miranda glare at the back of his head.

"Come on," Archer said. He turned around and quickly walked down a set of stairs. "I'll explain."

"I can't wait," Shepard muttered. He and his team packed up and followed, leaving the destruction of a communications array in their wake.

~o~O~o~

Author's Note:

Four chapters in a month? Wow!

I'm sure everyone is seeing where I'm going with this. If you don't, then wait patiently for the next chapter!

But for those that do see it, how about leaving a review?

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