Fight for the Lost

Project Overlord: Vulcan Station

Location: The Phoenix Massing Nebula / Typhon System / Aite / Project Overlord's Hermes Station

"You have my thanks, Captain Shepard, Director Lawson, Operative Taylor, and to all of you as well," Archer said to them in turn. "You've bought us some time, though probably not much. This isn't over yet."

"I'm sure it isn't," Jacob said. He crossed his arms. "Which is kind of sad. Hell, we only just got here and we already destroyed a good chunk of this place."

"You have a point," Kasumi mused. "But… we still have more things to blow up, right? Leaving a job only partially finished is unprofessional."

"I like her," Grunt said while Jacob chuckled.

"Very funny. Now stop it," Shepard ordered.

He and his team were inside Archer's office now.

Dawn was in attendance too, though she looked like she's had a rough time of it. Her Cerberus Assault Armor was pockmarked with bullet holes with gaping sections on the leg greaves and arm guards that had completely broken off; she was missing a pauldron, and had a long jagged crack down the chestplate. She also had cuts and bruises on every part of her exposed skin, and a trickle of blood that came from a gash just on the side of her head. Her blonde hair was disheveled, but her blue eyes were still wide open and alert.

Shepard looked out the window at the line of bodies and body bags just outside Archer's office. Whatever remained of Dawn's crew was respectfully trying to relocate the corpses of those that were killed in the attack.

"You owe us that explanation now," Shepard said with a pointed look. "Doctor… Archer, was it?"

"Yes. Dr. Gavin Archer, chief scientist at this facility… and probably the only left. This is Project Overlord. An attempt to gain influence over the geth by interfacing a human mind with a VI," he revealed before turning his gaze away from the bodies outside. "The results have been… less than satisfactory."

"I'll say," Kasumi said.

"I'd hate to see what you'd call a disaster then," Garrus commented.

"You can't dismiss the entire project. We did succeed—" Archer protested.

Garrus overtly pointed at the bodies lined up outside.

"—at least partially," he finished with a sigh.

Garrus snorted. "With something this serious, partially doesn't quite cut it."

"You said you used a human mind?" Miranda asked, moving the explanation forward. "So every time we saw that VI and every time it was screaming…"

"My… my brother David volunteered to serve as a test subject, but his mind couldn't handle the VI connection," Archer confessed. "He's like a virus now, infecting our networks and seizing control of any technology he finds."

"Instead of the geth like you originally planned," Shepard said.

"Yes. It's why you had to destroy the dish. Imagine if his program got off-world," Archer said.

"Alright, hit me. What's the worst-case scenario?" Shepard asked.

"A technological apocalypse. Every machine, every weapon, every computer could be turned against us," Archer gravely answered. "If he hit the extranet, who knows where it would end."

"You Cerberus fucker," Jack snarled. "I knew you bastards were idiots with all this shit you pull. What? Getting buttfucked by your own experiments isn't enough anymore? You wanna cause Armageddon now?"

"Jack," Shepard said warningly.

She snorted and kicked a chair over, but said nothing more.

"How does he take control of everything?" Shepard asked.

"This is a hybrid intelligence the likes of which I've never seen," Archer admitted with a hint of awe and fear. "I don't know where the man ends and the machine begins."

"And you didn't consider that before you did all this?" Shepard asked harshly.

"We couldn't be expected to account for every outcome!" Archer said defensively, as if the idea was ludicrous. "Certainly not the abomination David has become."

"The abomination you made," Jack corrected with a growl.

"Where is David now?" Miranda asked quickly.

"Davi… the VI has fortified itself in the main laboratory at Atlas Station," Archer said.

Shepard glanced at Dawn. "I assume there's a problem or you'd be trying to stop him."

"It's in lockdown," Dawn answered bitterly. "And getting the keys to the kingdom is proving to be a bitch."

"To enter Atlas station, you need to manually override security from our facilities in the Prometheus and Vulcan stations," Archer explained.

"A multi-key fail-safe," Shepard said.

"Yes, in the event of an emergency. Normally, all three project leads have to agree to cancel the lockdown," Archer said. He walked up to a large screen. The words 'lockdown' was prominently displayed at the top with sequential numbers one through three displayed in rows on the right. He gripped a handle to a metallic cylinder at the base of the screen, twisted, and pulled it up.

Row one changed from red to green.

"I'm the only one left now," Archer said quietly. "I just gave my authorization."

"We tried to hit the other two," Dawn said. "The teams I sent haven't called. We're assuming the worst."

"It's up to you now, Captain. You need to manually reset the other two before you can access Atlas."

"And what do you expect us to do to the test subject?" Jack asked, spitting out the last two words with no small about of hatred.

"Do?" Archer asked in confusion.

"The worst-case scenario, Archer," Shepard translated.

He sighed and slumped down into his chair. He reached over his table and picked up a picture frame that displayed him and who Shepard assumed was David.

"Let's just hope it doesn't come to that," Archer whispered.

"Yeah, because the galaxy just runs on hopes and dreams," Jack sarcastically said. She spat on the floor and kicked another chair over.

"And what happened to you?" Miranda asked Dawn.

"It's too sad to explain," Dawn answered in frustration. "Believe me, you guys had it much better than us. At the very least, whatever firewalls you have on your ship are better than ours."

"Your distress signal said you had multiple systems failure," Miranda said.

Dawn ran her hand through her short blond hair in anger. "That's about it in a nutshell. We received orders not long after our stint in the Pamyat System from the Illusive Man. Not unusual. He needs recon ships like ours to be his eyes and ears on specific missions or cells for some reason or other. I think they're four others like me, at least. Or at most."

"What exactly happened to the Gravitas? Any information could be vital," Miranda pressed.

Dawn sighed. "It seemed routine. The Illusive Man called us to inspect a cell that had gone dark. It was deep in geth space, so I thought that the geth had probably found them and jammed communications. I couldn't have been more wrong…"

~o~O~o~

Location: The Phoenix Massing Nebula / Typhon System / Cerberus Frigate Gravitas / In Orbit Above Aite

"What the hell is going on? !" Captain Elena Dawn demanded.

"No idea, ma'am! We're suddenly facing catastrophic ship-wide systems failure!"

"Propulsion is offline. Weapons offline, sensors… we're losing everything!"

"Archer, tell me what the hell is happening to my ship!" Dawn demanded.

"The VI is uploading itself into your vessel!" Archer cried out. "We can't let it get off world! Shut everything down! We can't let it get into the galactic communications network! Shut it do—!"

"Ma'am! We've lost surface communications!"

"Ground team just reported taking heavy causalities before coms dropped out," the XO reported. He held his calm amongst the steadily panicking crew. "They managed to inform us that there was a strong geth presence inside the facility."

Dawn gritted her teeth. "Abandon ship. I'm enacting self-destruction protocols. We can't let this thing get out. And tell the crew to secure hard suits. We might lose life-support in a moment when this thing seizes control of the ship's mainframe."

The XO nodded and turned on the intercom. "All hands, this is the bridge. Abandon ship. All hands: abandon ship. Suit up and make for the escape pods. I repeat: All hands are to suit up and make for the escape pods. Life support system failure imminent."

"Ensign, rig a drone to play an automated message! Make sure it's not connected to the wireless network yet and make damn sure it doesn't activate until it's well out of range!"

"Aye, aye, Ma'am!"

"Evac underway!" the XO reported.

"Power to the ship is fluctuating. We might be losing life support soon!"

"Drone ready!"

"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!"

"Evac is almost completed," her XO reported.

"Upload Archer's message and launch the drone!"

"Message uploaded. Drone launched!"

She turned to her console next and typed in a serious of commands before speaking. "Elena Dawn, commanding officer. Authorization: Delta-7-1-Zulu-3-9-Kilo-5. Engage self-destruct protocol."

She waited until the Gravitas' VI acknowledged her orders. Instead, a green pixilated 'face', for lack of a better description, appeared on all the monitors. It unleashed a deafening howl of pain and rage.

"Good God," one of the bridge officers whispered.

"Shit…" Dawn cursed. "Get some explosives ready! We'll scuttle the Gravitas! Grenades, disruptor missiles, jury rig a goddamned nuke to the drive core you have to, but I am not letting this thing take her!"

~o~O~o~

Location: The Phoenix Massing Nebula / Typhon System / Aite / Project Overlord's Hermes Station

"We succeeded in destroying the Gravitas and escaped. Obviously, you got our message, because no one travels here unless they got a reason. After our pods landed on this hellhole, my remaining crew and I have been fighting for our lives ever since," Dawn said angrily. "Geth, mechs, and whatever else that thing tossed at us. We regrouped here at Hermes Station, but we lost a lot of people. Archer told us the grim news and I assigned some of my people to try to end this nightmare. They're probably dead now. Truthfully, it looked like we were about to make a last stand when you showed up."

"Can David upload himself into the Normandy?" Tali asked in alarm.

Archer shook his head. "It doesn't appear so. The firewalls on your ship must be quite sophisticated. Also, with the dish destroyed, there's an upper limit on how much and how quickly he will be able to transfer." He sighed despairingly. "For the time being, we're safe. For how long, I can't say."

Shepard turned to Jacob. "Have you been able to raise the Normandy?"

He shook his head. "Negative, Shepard. We're still being jammed."

"How long will it be before Mr. Moreau realizes something is wrong?" Thane asked.

"A while," Shepard admitted. "We're victims of our own successes. He'll worry a little bit, but he won't call for help because he trusts us to get the job done. I'd bet on three days."

"What about Cerberus? EDI passed on the distress calls," Garrus pointed out.

"No clue. We don't have a strong presence in geth, I mean, heretic space," Jacob said. "They'll need some time to either gather some troops to retake this place or enough ships to bomb the hell out of it."

"Either way, we can't afford to wait," Samara said.

"No. Waiting unacceptable. VI may find way offworld if we do not act quickly. Must handle this ourselves," Mordin agreed.

Dawn smiled grimly. "I hope all those stories about you are true, Shepard, 'cause you're going to need to screw your balls on tight for this."

"He'll do it," Grunt said confidently. "We'll make sure of it."

Shepard turned back to Archer. "Miranda here told me that you formulated a theory on the geth. Something about religious impulses."

"That's correct. When I presented the idea to the Illusive Man, he gave me leave to pursue this idea. We wanted to turn the geth's religious impulse into a weapon. When we saw them following Saren, we realized they could be swayed," Archer said. "And if a proper figurehead was created – a virus with a face, if you will – the geth might be controlled."

Jack rolled her eyes and pretended to think about what he said. "Controlled, huh? So how's that working? 'Cause I think you have some major problems."

"It was to be the perfect weapon – victory without casualties!" Archer argued. "We could avoid war with the geth altogether. That was the plan anyway."

"Bullshit," Jack said immediately. "Sounds to me that you're making the geth a goddamn weapon for your own fucking plans. Or if not you, then your buddy the Illusive Man."

Archer glared at her, but Shepard physically stood between them. "Watch yourself, Archer. She was a… 'guest', of one of Cerberus' experimental facilities. Take a wild guess how hospitable they were."

"She's also wanted for… well, actually, I'm trying to think what she isn't wanted for. Multiple counts of murder, theft, piracy, destruction of public property, destruction of a prison ship… oh, wait. We had a hand in that too…" Garrus listed off.

Grunt chortled appreciatively while Jack smirked.

"It'll be in the best interests of your continued health not to antagonize her. Medigel doesn't really work when you're turned inside-out," Shepard cautioned. "Don't push her buttons. It'd be shame for you to survive all this only to die now."

Archer gulped and shrunk in on himself while Dawn slowly and subtly backed away.

"So David is providing the face for this virus," Shepard stated, steering the conversation back on track. "That face we've been seeing all over the place? That was him?"

"He was supposed to interface with the VI to give it genuine consciousness," Archer said.

"You mean like an AI?" Tali asked.

"Close. It's better to say that he was using his mind to give the VI very specific directions to manipulate the geth," he corrected. "Theoretically it should have been safe, but…"

"This was a bad idea all around, Archer," Shepard said. "Our knowledge of the geth was faulty. You should have never attempted this experiment."

"And what if you had never attempted to find the Reapers, Captain Shepard? Where would the galaxy be then?" Archer rhetorically asked. "Sometimes you have to ignore the risks."

"Don't compare us," Shepard snapped. "I don't ignore risks, especially when lives are on the line. I acknowledge the risks, I'm cautious about them, and more importantly, I respect them. But I never ignore them."

Tali shook her head in exasperation. "I think you might have the right idea of trying to vie for peace with the geth, Shepard."

Archer looked surprised at her declaration. "You actually want peace with the geth? A quarian?"

"My people had recently tried to accomplish something… similar, Dr. Archer. We've failed spectacularly and people were… were killed," Tali said with only the barest hitch in her voice. "It was a hard lesson to learn."

Garrus patted Tali on the arm consolingly, but she straightened up and steeled herself.

"I see…" Archer said. His eyes drifted toward Legion. "Speaking of which, let me ask you a question: is your friend here going to be a problem?"

"Like I said, Archer: our previous intel on the geth was wrong. There are two factions of synthetics now," Shepard said.

"What?"

"Legion here is a terminal for the true geth that wanted to find me. Other than this one, they never left the Perseus Veil. They've kept to themselves and watched organics, but they've never done anything past that."

"We do not share the heretic's viewpoints. We reject their conclusions," Legion said. "We sought out Shepard-Commander to learn how to preserve our future from the Old Machines."

"The heretics? Old Machines?" Dawn repeated.

"That's the other faction of synthetics. They're the ones with the religious impulses. They're the ones that want to follow the Reapers, the 'Old Machines'," Miranda supplied. "They're also responsible for every attack blamed on the geth."

"Believe me, Legion won't be brainwashed by any of this. It'll be fine," Shepard assured. "Don't worry."

"I suppose I have no choice but to take your words for it," Archer said in resignation.

"Alright, everyone listen up. In the interest of time, we'll need to hit both stations simultaneously and then regroup at the entrance to Atlas Station," Shepard said to his squad. "The Normandy is holding her own, but I don't want to risk my ship or the VI finding another way to get itself offworld. We need to be quick."

Everyone nodded or gave verbal confirmations to his assessment.

"Archer, tell us about the Vulcan and Prometheus Stations," Shepard said.

"Vulcan Station is our geothermal plant. It generates power for the four outposts," Archer replied.

"According to the last set of transmissions by the team I sent over there, it's crawling with security mechs, but no geth," Dawn said before looking at Legion. "Or heretics. Or whatever. Anyway, it's not going to be a milk run. The bridges that were constructed to navigate past the rivers of lava were destroyed. You'll need the Hammerhead to traverse the terrain now. It still won't be easy though."

"Prometheus Station is a crashed geth, or heretic, ship full of dormant machines. We use them in our experiments," Archer said before realizing his slip. He turned to Legion, but it didn't even react to the news.

"Why do I get the feeling they're not dormant anymore?" Garrus asked out loud.

"I'd say experience," Kasumi said tiredly. "But then again, this is definitely a case of 'everything that can go wrong will go wrong'."

"Anything you can tell us about that station?" Jacob asked Dawn.

"Not much," Dawn admitted with a shrug. "The ship erected a kinetic barrier that's preventing access. The team reported that even Hammerhead's missiles were useless against it, so I have no I idea what you guys can do."

"And this station?" Mordin asked.

"This is Hermes Station, our communications uplink with the wider galaxy," Archer said. "If you hadn't destroyed the dish in time, the outcome… well, all of you are aware of the dangers now."

"And Atlas Station?" Shepard pressed.

"Atlas Station is the main laboratory where all of our VI experiments take place. It's where you'll need to go once you've overridden the lock down. I don't know what you'll encounter one you get there." Archer said before swallowing the lump in his throat. "It's also where my bother… became something else."

"We'll need maps to all three stations."

Dawn used her omni-tool to transmit the maps to him.

"Damn," Shepard muttered. "Looks like Atlas Station is underground."

"So much for orbital bombardment," Garrus said.

"Orbital—? No! Captain, please," Archer pleaded. "Please, don't do that. Do what you can to save David."

Shepard sighed. "No promises, but I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you," Archer said.

"Alright, change in the lineup," Shepard stated. "Garrus, Tali, Legion, and I are the only ones with any experience with the heretics. Grunt and Jack, you'll come with me as muscle."

"So we're going to Prometheus?" Garrus asked.

"Yeah," Shepard confirmed. He turned to Archer and Dawn. "Can we fly our shuttle there?"

"Wouldn't recommend it. This base has anti-aircraft guns installed at all four stations. Some of the escape pods were shot down coming in," Dawn answered angrily. "The only reason you managed to get here in one piece was because we destroyed the guns around Hermes Station to give my people a chance to land here."

He looked out the window. "Fine. Is that Hammerhead out there yours?"

"Yeah," Dawn replied.

"How many can it seat?"

"It's been modified to hold up to five, just like yours. That krogan of yours might be a bit too big for one seat though," Dawn cautioned.

"We'll have to squeeze in then," Shepard said. "Sorry, Legion, but I need you sitting on top of the tank or something. I know those platforms can curl up pretty tight though. Will you be alright like that? Do we need to tie you in…?"

"We will be fine, Shepard-Commander. We configure this platform to be able to fit within the vehicle."

"I don't know. I was thinking that we could make it our hood ornament," Jack quipped.

"Laugh it up, Jack, but you and Tali are the smallest, so the two of you will need to sit on each other's laps for this as well," Shepard said.

"Hey!"

"Deal with it," Shepard ordered. "Miranda, you're in charge of the other team… but we're one over capacity it looks like."

"We'll be fine," Kasumi assured with a wicked smile directed at Jacob. He chuckled and shook his head wearily.

"Good," Shepard replied. "Stock up. Thermal clips, grenades, and power cells. If you don't have'em, now's a good time to get'em. Meet up outside."

The squad broke up and started scavenging for any needed supplies.

Shepard took the opportunity to grab Miranda by the upper arm and pull her out of earshot of the others before she could protest.

"Look, we have our differences, but I'm putting their lives in your hands. I need to know right now, whose orders are you following, mine or his?" Shepard whispered harshly.

"I told you before: I can put aside my personal feelings—"

"Don't feed me that. You and I both know that's not true now," Shepard said more softly. "I just want a straight answer. Right now. Can I trust you with their lives? Can you follow my orders?"

"I…" She gamely met gaze, though he saw it was a challenge for her to maintain eye contact.

"Miranda?" he pressed expectantly.

She sighed and looked at the bodies of the Cerberus personnel outside. They were being packed into the bags now. There was really no telling the number of casualties sustained so far though, especially since there were three other stations involved with this cell.

"I take the others and override the lock at Vulcan Station, and then we'll rendezvous with your team at Atlas Station and follow your lead," she quietly said.

He sighed and leaned against the wall. "I do want to talk about what happened before, but…"

"We can do that later," she said impatiently. She took a deliberate step back and crossed her arms standoffishly. "Right now, we have a job to do. We can talk and waste time or we can do the job. I'm of the opinion that we shouldn't waste time."

Shepard nodded. "Agreed."

She curtly nodded back before leaving to gather her equipment and prep her team.

I hope I know what I'm doing.

"Shepard?"

He looked up. "Yeah?"

"If it's alright with you, I think I'll stick with 'Archangel' as our designation. If Garrus doesn't mind, of course," she said. She offered him a small confident smile and left.

Now he was almost certain she was playing with his mind. Shaking his head in exasperation, he put aside his attempts to understand the fairer sex and refocused on the current crisis at hand.

Women.

~o~O~o~

Location: The Phoenix Massing Nebula / Typhon System / Aite / En Route to Vulcan Station

Archangel Team

"According the maps, we are approximately 122.5 kilometers away from Vulcan Station," Thane said.

"Should be there in no time," Jacob said. He gripped Kasumi's waist. "Stop squirming!"

"Just trying not to hit my head on anything," she complained.

Miranda waited until Shepard piloted his tank ahead of hers and toward Prometheus Station. He seemed to be doing well enough that she idly wondered why the program failed him.

After Spectre Team cleared the rocky archway that served as the entrance, she accelerated her own Hammerhead to cruising speed at brisk clip of 100 km. They quickly left Hermes Station far behind and were roving over a grassy field. She lightly banked the tank to the left in the opposite direction of Shepard's team.

"This is a nice planet. Too bad it's gone in a couple of centuries,"Jacob commented.

"I know. Sad, isn't it?" Kasumi said.

"Local biota has been harvested. Still collecting though. Cataloguing, recording, testing to see if there is any practical applications," Mordin added.

Looking out the window, Miranda privately agreed with Jacob. It was very picturesque. They were flying through a field dotted with trees of all shapes and sizes. There even indigenous creatures that bore some resemblance to the animals on Earth grazing about, though they scattered at the sight of the Hammerhead whipping by. Occasionally, an alien bird of some sort would fly by before diving down at something far below the cliffs. There was a beautiful mountain range with a breathtaking sunset highlighting the natural wonder of the valley. The light played off the clouds just right, giving them a unique contrast to the darkening blue sky and enhancing the two moons floating overhead, making them seem impossibly large.

Wish we could've conducted the Lazarus Project in a place like this. Better two years here than on that cramped station.

The Hammerhead swiftly glided over the peaceful terrain, over a stream and across a natural stone bridge that overlooked a waterfall.

Kasumi couldn't stop gushing over how lovely everything looked and was saying something about making a haiku about it.

"There," Samara pointed out.

Miranda looked to where the justicar was pointed at and pushed the Hammerhead a little faster.

It was another manmade structure, definitely out of place with the natural environment around it. It was probably a warehouse and a power substation of some sort. The warehouse would be used by the workers at Vulcan Station to receive or offload goods from Hermes Station. Power was probably monitored there as well to ensure the safe steady flow of electricity. Nearby were a set of enormous pipes that led into a tunnel big enough for the tank to fly in.

Here we go.

~o~O~o~

Location: The Phoenix Massing Nebula / Typhon System / Aite / Project Overlord's Vulcan Station

The exterior temperature gauge rose steadily as the M-44 Hammerhead cruised at 70 km through the long winding tunnel, deeper and deeper into the subterranean levels of Aite. The rock walls were glowing red, reflecting the light and heat generated by the lava below.

"Enemy contact," Thane reported calmly from his seat. He was manning the cannon.

"I see them. Don't fire. The explosions might cause a cave-in," Miranda warned.

"Understood."

A few LOKI mechs were patrolling the tunnel ahead. Miranda goosed the throttle and just ran them over carelessly. They fired a few rounds, but the standard issue pistols they had were no match against the kinetic barrier of a tank.

The walls began widening, signifying that they were reaching the end. She slowed down until the team was finally at the opening, where she stopped the tank at the lip and took a look around.

"So this is what Hell looks like, huh?" Jacob commented.

"I thought you'd be used it, being part of an organization called 'Cerberus' and all," Kasumi teased.

"Different kind of hell."

"Have heard the human expression: war is hell. Perhaps more applicable to you?" Mordin asked.

Jacob laughed.

The environment was as different as it could be from the grassy plains they left behind. Instead of being brown, smooth, and inviting, the rocks were black, jagged, and hostile. Instead of clear steams of water, there were rivers of molten lava that were glowing an angry crimson. There were no trees, no animals. No life. Just a prime example of one of nature's harshest natural environments.

Ahead was a power substation situated at the base of a lavafall. The bridge Cerberus had constructed had collapsed. A closer look revealed two turrets near the structure as the most likely culprits.

"Krios, those turrets at the substation," Miranda pointed out.

"I see them," he replied. He aimed the cannon.

"Fire."

The moment Thane shot at the one of the turrets, they turned toward the tank and returned fire with a hail of bullets and missiles.

"Hang on, everyone! Executing evasive maneuvers!" Miranda shouted.

The tank rapidly accelerated forward and sideways. The aggressive flight pattern forced everyone inside to hang on tightly to anything available that wasn't important as Thane tried to keep up the attack.

Thankfully, whatever talent he had for a rifle translated well enough to manning the cannon. After less than a minute of stomach churning turns, stops, and boosts of sudden speed, he finally reported that both turrets were down.

"Here's a crazy idea: let's not do that again…" Kasumi suggested. One hand was on her stomach, the other was covering her mouth after she needed to take off her mask to attempt to take some very deep breaths. Her pale face was looking decidedly green.

Jacob was staring at her warily. Either he was concerned about her or himself since she was seated on his lap.

"We should almost be there," Miranda said. She piloted the tank back on course. "Just hold on."

"I am… you have no idea how much I am…Oh… gods…" she moaned before her cheeks puffed out comically.

"I'm not sure if I should say to go faster or slower," Jacob said, trying to back away as much as his seat could allow.

Mordin wordlessly held out a syringe.

"What is that?" Jacob asked, taking it from him and looking at it.

"Mild sedative. Won't last long. Similar to motion sickness medication. Shouldn't affect combat performance."

"Are you sure?"

Kasumi gripped his arm tightly. "Give. Me. Drugs."

Jacob jammed the needle into her exposed neck.

She sighed and leaned back, purposefully oozing all over him as the sedative calmed her rebellious stomach.

"Hmm. This may present a problem," Thane suddenly said.

"What is it?" Samara asked.

"Another river of lava," Miranda said tensely as she slowed the tank down. "A very large river of lava. And the bridge here is gone too."

"Well, how big are we talking?" Jacob asked.

"Too big. We'll never make it one jump," Miranda said. She saw that there were several rocks jutting out in the middle though. The tops were flat enough that the tank could land on it. If they were solid enough, the tank could launch itself from them as well.

"How do we get to station then?" Mordin asked. "Can't tank fly over lava?"

"The heat would cook us alive," Jacob answered. "Ambient air temp over that stuff would overwhelm the coolant system. We'd literally be breathing in fire. Not to mention the intakes would overheat and the thrusters would fail. We'd fall right into the lava."

"So what do we do?" Mordin reiterated.

"Something insane," Miranda answered. She put the Hammerhead in reverse and created some distance.

"Insane?" Jacob repeated fearfully. "How insane?"

Miranda smiled grimly. "Like the kind of insane Shepard would approve of."

"Uh… now's not the time to be channeling him, Miranda. I'm all for you two being in a relationship and all, but he's obviously a bad influence on you. Maybe we could do this your way. Y'know, stop and think about the situation. Come up with a plan that doesn't involve ritual sacrifice!" Jacob shouted.

Kasumi just sighed and snuggled in her 'seat'.

"I already thought about it," Miranda said. She turned in her seat to stare at him. "And we'll be talking about what you said about him and me."

"What I said…? Oh! No! I don't know anything!"

Accelerating forward, she drove the tank toward the river at its top speed of 120 km.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Okay, Miranda, I see you have your mind set on doing some crazy shit! Just let me out first!" Jacob shouted.

Mordin was almost struck speechless. He was clutching his harness and muttering prayers under his breath.

Ignoring Jacob's panicked cries and Mordin's pleas for celestial assistance, Miranda aimed for the first platform and used the hovertank's ability to jump over the deadly molten rock. Landing safely, she hit the throttle and jumped again, aiming for the next one quickly just in case the rocky outcropping proved to be 'thin ice'.

She landed roughly on the next platform. Everyone could hear one of the hover disks on the side of the tank screech against the ground as it tried to keep the tank in the air.

Finally, the next jump put them on the other side.

Mordin and Jacob breathed a sigh of utter relief. Thane and Samara were disciplined enough remain calm throughout the ordeal. Kasumi was still under the influence of the sedative and didn't react at all.

"Well," Miranda said as she continued driving as if nothing happened. "Onward."

~o~O~o~

"This is might pose a problem."

Miranda sighed in annoyance at the metal door that closed off the path to Vulcan Station. It was obvious that David was behind this particular obstacle if the unmoving, green-tinted lensed camera was indication. He was watching them closely.

"The controls have to be in that building," Kasumi said. "Guess we're getting off."

"I needed to stretch my legs a bit anyway," Jacob said. She swatted him on the arm.

Miranda parked the Hammerhead near the door and opened the hatch. Mordin and Samara exited first. They did a quick sweep before relaying to the others that the coast was clear.

Kasumi and Jacob were next. The thief exhaled a deep breath to dispel the last of the fogginess from the sedative before donning her mask and readying her Locust. Jacob kicked out his legs a bit and held his shotgun loosely in his hands.

Miranda led the group into the building while Thane remained in the tank. Just in case any surprises cropped up anywhere outside. The structure was small, nothing more than a glorified guard shack and power substation. There were a couple of LOKIs inside – hardly a threat to them. A few bullets easily removed them.

Past the LOKIs was the unsettling, and yet expected bodies of the Cerberus personnel that were assigned here.

"Is it bad that we're not horrified by this anymore?" Kasumi muttered.

"Necessary mental defensive measure. Adapt to environment. Horrible, but learning to filter out. Must keep focus. Otherwise, we die," Mordin replied pragmatically.

"Your train of thought scares me sometimes," she said.

Miranda looked around with a critical and dispassionate eye. What happened here was eerily reminiscent to what happened during the Lazarus Project. When Wilson had taken control of the mechs and tried to purge the facility of all its personnel. She pushed aside whatever feelings she had for the situation as terrible as it was. There was a time to grieve and take an accounting of losses, but this wasn't it.

This is a time to take action and try to stop or salvage what we can out of the situation.

There were still people alive and she needed to stop this if she intended to keep them alive.

"There is a log here," Samara said. She was standing in front of a terminal.

"Play it," Miranda ordered.

"Engineer's log: We've registered a huge spike in energy consumption. My technicians traced it to the experiment underway at Atlas Station. We're trying to raise them now."

"Got another console here," Kasumi said. "I think it's for the gate."

"Hack it and get it open. And be sure to disconnect it from the network. Isolate it so David doesn't close it after you open it," Miranda ordered.

"I can do that," Kasumi chirped. She set to work immediately. "Cheap security. Only three nodes to bypass… isolating system… and done."

"The doors are opening," Thane reported.

"Let's get back to the Hammerhead then," Miranda said.

When everyone turned to the door, David's 'face' appeared on the engineer's console, screaming at them.

As one they whirled around and raised their weapons in surprise, but only Mordin fired, destroying it.

"Ah… sorry," he said. He was panting lightly. "Caught off guard. Surprised. Won't happen again."

"Let's just go," Kasumi suggested.

As they made their way out, Miranda gave Jacob a side-long glance. "About what you said in the tank…"

"Ah, hell," Jacob said. "Look, it's none of my business and I'm sorry I—"

"Who said that to you?"

"Who…? Um…" Jacob hedged.

Miranda turned her head now and glared at him. Her transparent faceplate allowed him to see her eyes, which demanded an answer.

Jacob's eyes involuntarily jerked toward Kasumi.

Too easy. Probably why he didn't qualify for N7.

"Kasumi?" Miranda asked.

"It was an accident! I was laid up in the Med Bay!" she said defensively. "Legion was the one the outed you!"

"Legion," Miranda repeated blandly.

"Yeah. You said something about finding Shep intelligent and attractive, not that I disagree or anything, and it heard and recorded it. It played back your voice and everything when it wondered what flirting was," Kasumi rambled. "Garrus, Tali, Chakwas, and Shepard were there too."

Racking her memories, she tried to recall when she used the word attractive anywhere in Legion's presence before exhaling noisily and shaking her head. "Oh, damn it."

Of all the… I can't believe I was that careless. That-that-that… thing.

"So, Miranda, you and—"

She turned and glared at Jacob again. "Not another word on the subject, Mr. Taylor. That's an order."

"Yes, ma'am," Jacob answered automatically.

~o~O~o~

"I can't believe we made here alive…" Kasumi said. She sighed in relief. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I'd rather deal with mechs more than the travel."

There was a general murmur of agreement as everyone filed out of the tank and stood at the entrance to Vulcan Station.

It took two more death-defying jumps over another large river and a pseudo lakebed of molten magma, but they finally made it.

Privately, Miranda had to admit that her piloting had become slightly more aggressive upon hearing that her personal life was exposed and talked about like gossip. She was also a little angry at Shepard for not telling her that he knew that the others knew. She eventually calmed down and thought it through rationally. They fought and they weren't talking. There was little chance for him to say it. And during their temporary truce, he was obviously trying to keep his mind in the mission, as was she.

Pushing aside her feelings as she always done with practiced ease, she made it a point to talk to him about it later once this mess was sorted out. Having regained her mental footing, she carefully looked around. "Be careful. David knows we're here and he'll do what he can to stop us."

"Great. More howls from the great digital ghost," Kasumi said nervously.

Inside, they were greeted by a blast of hot air. Thankfully, their suits were able to mitigate the blistering temperatures. There were a series of catwalks that led upward.

"This way," Miranda said. The path ahead was blocked by debris. Luckily, there was a way around it to the right.

She walked up the nearby console and extended a bridge that overlooked a pool of lava below. Samara took point and carefully walked across the bridge first when David's electronic scream echoed in the machine-filled room.

The nearby furnace exploded, destroying the bridge.

Samara gasped when she lost her footing. The metal beneath her feet gave away and she fell.

Miranda slid to the edge and just barely caught her hand before Samara could plummet.

Thane and Jacob rushed over and helped her pull the justicar to safety.

"I thank you," Samara said gratefully once she was on more stable ground.

"Uh oh," Mordin said. "Hostile sighted!"

"Assault Drones!" Kasumi warned.

"I think I can clear that debris," Samara said. "I will need a moment."

"Cover her!" Miranda ordered. She readied her omni-tool and brought one drone down with overload.

Attack drones were all about kinetic barriers and firepower and little else. Direct attacks by biotics were completely useless against them, but explosions were fair game. Considering how many things around were volatile, it was a matter of precision shooting to ensure none of the explosions were directed at them.

Thankfully, Thane and his unorthodox dual-wielding pistol style fit the bill just fine. Fires and high-pressure gas blowouts cleared the immediate air of the drones, allowing Samara to push the debris off the catwalk and into the lava pits below.

The team quickly climbed higher, before David could arrange any more 'accidents'. More drones flew around, harassing them and impeding their efforts, but the forest of pipes made their flight patterns predicable and their speed slow to avoid collisions. More than once, Miranda had to rely on her tech attacks, while Samara levitated loose objects and tossed them at their attackers.

The others simply relied on the tried and true method of firing as many bullets as they could downrange to drain the drone's shields and destroy their relatively fragile bodies.

"We have LOKIs now!" Kasumi said. She had forgone her cloak and was using her tech armor to provide additional protection against the unending storm of bullets they were force to contend with.

The LOKIs were screaming at them, in the same manner as David did. Instead of the usual single red eye, it was glowing a pale green.

"Stairs have been destroyed!" Mordin shouted. "Must find alternative paths!"

Ducking down, Miranda quickly searched around and saw some collapsed pipes that might serve as an adequate ramp. "The pipes in the back corner! We can climb up there!"

Kasumi darted out first. One LOKI that stood her way was brought down in a blur of hands and feet. She shot it twice in the head when it was on the ground before blind-firing her SMG at the other mechs as she sprinted up the pipes and onto higher ground. Once there, she proved cover for Thane as he used his own unique agility to reach her in no time at all.

Samara held her ground, taking aim with her Avenger and destroying another LOKI. "Go! I can hold them!"

Jacob manifested a barrier and clambered up the pipes clumsily. More than a few times, he was hit, but he managed to make it to the top without injury. "There's a room up here! We can take cover in there! Hurry!"

Miranda glanced at Samara.

The justicar was holding her own and getting support from above. She briefly nodded her head and renewed her assault.

Miranda sprinted up the pipes. It was steep and was a little slippery, but she made it without stumbling.

"Ready a grenade! We'll take a section of the catwalk apart!" she ordered. "Mordin, cryo blast!

He aimed his omni-tool and froze a section just in front of the LOKIs.

Samara deftly fired once more before climbing up the pipes.

Kasumi tossed a grenade down on the icy area. The catwalk blew apart, creating a gap too big for the mechs to try to cross over.

"Through this room! Come on!" Jacob said. He led the way in, firing at the drones above until they had overhead cover.

Once everyone was inside, he shut the door and locked it. The drones fired their guns, but failed to penetrate the hardened windows.

"Looks like we shook those things off for now," Kasumi said.

"Let's not linger," Miranda said. "Over there. Let's try the other door."

"Hold on," Jacob said. "Got another log here."

"… received an SOS from Atlas Station. Archer has declared a project emergency! We're trying to shut down the power generators to starve the VI, but it's already hacked our automated systems! I'm ordering my people to sabotage the plant any way they can!"

The moment the engineer's log ended, David appeared with a vengeful howl.

"Gods," Kasumi gasped. "I hate it when he does that!"

"Did anyone hear that?" Thane suddenly asked.

Miranda cocked her head to the side to try to catch whatever got his attention. "I think so…"

"I don't hear anything," Jacob admitted.

Miranda knelt down and put her hand to the ground. "There. I feel it. Vibrations."

"There is only one mech large enough to create vibrations that can be felt this far," Samara said.

"YMIR," Jacob muttered. "Great."

"I can handle it on my own," Samara said. "But if there are other mechs, I will need assistance. Draw their fire so I can focus on the greater threat."

"You heard her," Miranda said. "Let's do it."

The door led to an open hallway. On the left side was a window that showed a larger room. It was just as unremarkable as the rest of the facility: Vents spewing out steam, pipes everywhere, and oppressive heat. The heavy stomps of the YMIR could be heard clearly now, but Miranda couldn't see where it was beyond the countless tubes.

"I can see some LOKIs, more drones, and more blasted plumbing…" Miranda informed the others. "Who designed this place?"

"The YMIR?" Samara asked.

"I can hear it, but there are too many things in my way to see it."

"I'll take a look," Kasumi volunteered.

"Go."

In a crackling of electrical arcs, Kasumi vanished from sight. The team quietly moved into position at the door, taking care not to be spotted through the window.

"In the back of the room. Bunch of drones perched on the upper pipes and a few more LOKIs too," Kasumi said.

"Rig some grenades. Let us know when you're ready," Miranda said. "But be careful of the machinery! We don't want to cause a runaway explosion here."

"I got it, I got it," Kasumi said. After a few minutes, she called back. "This should take care of some of the LOKIs, but not the drones."

"That will be fine," Samara said.

"Ready," Kasumi chirped.

"Go!" Miranda waited until grenades went off before sticking to the right of the room, keeping the mess of pipes between her and YMIR. She targeted the farthest drone with overload, before using her Pulse Rifle on the others.

She saw Thane out of the corner of her eye. He was popping in and out of different areas, Predators blazing away at the remaining LOKIs. Occasionally, Kasumi reappeared with her own Locust, before vanishing again.

The drones took to landing on the pipes above now. Their angles allowed them to fire down on the team from anywhere.

Spotting a few gas vents, Miranda decided to take a chance. There were too many and they used the pipes as crude cover, making it too difficult to get them all. She took careful aim at a vent and fired. A horizontal column of flame gushed out, lighting up the area and destroying several drones overhead. Aiming again, she shot two more and hoped that nothing would explode.

Her gamble paid off. Fire was bursting out of the gas pipes like a flamethrower, lighting up the room and preventing the drones from flying down or acquiring a good shot.

David recklessly tried to charge the drones through the gouts of flames, only for them to be overwhelmed by the temperature and shut down, causing it to rain scrap metal.

Seeing that Thane and Kasumi had everything under control with the LOKIs, Miranda took Jacob and Mordin to assist Samara with the YMIR. They came around some crates only to see dozen thin metal shafts rammed into the heavy mech. Three were jammed into its left arm, making it impossible for it to raise its mass accelerator cannon. Four were in its other arm, ensuring that it couldn't fire any missiles. Others were in its legs and chest. The mech was still limping around, though hydraulic fluid sprayed all over the place.

Samara was nearby, levitating a few more metal cylinders. She threw her arms outward and launched them like spears. The deadly projectiles joined the others and pierced through the mech in its chest.

With the mech barely able to move now, she lifted a large crate and viciously slammed it into YMIR and topping it over.

David howled in outrage.

Samara calmly walked up to the remains of the mech and aimed her rifle at the head. A quarter of a clip later and she raised her head to nod to the others. "It is done."

"Wow. That was pretty… mean," Kasumi commented.

"Report," Miranda said.

"The LOKIs have been dealt with," Thane said.

"You cooked the drones," Jacob said as he stared at the fires above their heads.

"Alright. Jacob, get on that terminal and shut down the gas. The rest of you, it looks like that's the project director's office. We're here," Miranda said, pointing at an overhead sign.

While Jacob typed away at the nearby terminal, Miranda led everyone else up a set of stairs and to a locked door.

"I hear gunfire," Thane said. "Only one though. Pistol."

"Most likely a LOKI mech then," Mordin surmised.

"What is it shooting at? We're out here," Kasumi said in confusion.

"Open the door and we'll see," Miranda said. She stuck to the side of the wall and knelt down, allowing Samara a clean line of fire. Thane and Mordin copied their actions.

Kasumi bypassed the lock in seconds.

Just as they thought, one lone LOKI was shooting. It was aiming at the emergency lockdown console they were looking for. When its weapon overheated, it raised a leg and started kicking it.

Sighing in equal parts relief that they found what they were looking for and annoyance at the sad obstacle in their way, Miranda stood up and fearlessly walked into the room.

Eventually, the LOKI turned around at their presence.

Miranda looked at her team and tilted her head at the mech, giving a silent order.

Thane and Kasumi acknowledge her and fired single shots at the mech, eventually blowing off both arms.

With its pistol gone, the LOKI was rendered useless and David relinquished control. The eye returned to its normal crimson color. It started running around the room as its original programming tried to reassert itself.

Choosing to ignore the nuisance, Miranda walked up to the lockdown terminal. The screen showed that the first key at Hermes Station was still unlocked, but two and three were still indicated locked by the red bars.

Guess Shepard is still working his way there.

Gripping the handle, she twisted and pulled the cylinder out.

"Vulcan Station override of Atlas Station lockdown accepted," the terminal chimed. Row two changed from red to green.

David appeared on all the screens, surrounding them and screaming out in denial, but Miranda was too tired to care at this point.

The radio crackled to life. "—a-a-are you r-r-r-receiving this? Director Lawson? This is Dr. Archer. Please respond."

"I hear you, Archer," Miranda replied. She found herself slightly distracted when she remembered that they had to go back the way they came. Through the station, past whatever mechs that was still in their way, over pools and rivers of magma all topped with a long drive through a dark tunnel. She sighed.

"I'm reading that you've managed to hit the override at Vulcan Station," Archer said.

"Yes. What's the status on Spectre Team?" She saw that the indicator had yet to change.

"I don't know. I lost contact with them just like I lost contact with you," Archer said.

The LOKI mech was still running around, which was beginning to irritate to her to no end.

"Think they're alright?" Kasumi asked worriedly.

"They're fine. We had it a bit easier since we're dealing with mechs. Heretic platforms are better armed and better constructed," Miranda answered.

Suddenly, row three changed colors too.

"Speak of the devil," she said.

"They did it!" Archer said in amazement.

"When you establish contact with them, inform Captain Shepard we'll be waiting at the rendezvous point at the entrance to Atlas Station," Miranda said.

The LOKI finally stopped running and was standing next to her.

Clenching her fist, she called upon her own biotics and her personal creation, her biotic technique which Shepard continued to 'affectionately' call slam.

Naturally, he learned it quickly after watching her use it once or twice.

The mech shot up to ceiling. Its head crunched against the surface before rocketing down to the floor, crippling its legs and leaving it a heap on the ground.

"Archangel Team out."

~o~O~o~

Author's Note:

When I played this on insanity, I still found it ridiculously easy considered that only a few sparse mechs stood between me and the objective. Heavy weapons really made it easy. I think the main difficulty was the drive there.

Not much else to say. A quote was taken from: Bad Boys II

Edit: Thanks to reviewer Sithslayer69 for a bit of inspiration.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us:

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.