Fight for the Lost

Project Overlord: Atlas Station

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

"Commander, you and your team have done it! The lockdown has been canceled. You and your team can now breach Atlas Station and end this nightmare," Archer said once they left the confines of the canyon and reestablished contact with Hermes Station. "You'll need to find the main server room there to shut down the VI experiment."

"Status of Archangel Team?" Shepard inquired. He checked his maps and saw that Atlas Station was only 45.7 km away.

"Director Lawson wanted me to inform you that her team would be waiting for you at the rendezvous," Archer replied. "Good luck."

"How's your arm, Jack?" Shepard asked. He pushed the throttle a bit, but took care not to stress the Hammerhead. With all the abuse it had taken, he didn't want to take the chance of it falling apart around his ears. Besides, the station itself was close enough that the extra burst of speed wouldn't change anything anyway.

"Medi-gel is doing its job. Sore as hell and it still hurts a bit, but I can use it now," she answered.

"Turn right here," Garrus informed. "Looks like Atlas Station is right past this waterfall."

Following his friend's directions, Shepard banked the hovertank and made an easy right turn. When the water splashed over the tank, he double-checked his instruments to make sure that the exposed components weren't affected.

Gliding up the ramp, he finally spotted the other Hammerhead.

"Any trouble?" Shepard called out. He pulled the tank to a stop next to hers.

"No. Just waiting on you. What took you so long anyway? I thought you would've been faster than this," Miranda chided.

"Don't start," Shepard mumbled.

"And what happened to your tank?"

"We got shot at by a heavy cannon and nearly buried under a ton of boulders." He noticed the undercarriage of their Hammerhead was scorched black. "You?"

"Death-defying jumps over rivers of lava."

"We all got our little problems, then. Care to lead the way?"

"Only if you can keep up. It wouldn't do for you to slow us down again," she said, though she sounded semi-serious.

Shepard bit back his riposte. He was sorely tempted to call her childish for trying to make it a competition, but knew it wouldn't go down well. Besides, if he had beaten her to the goal, he would've said the same thing. "I'll try to not to disappoint," he replied dryly.

"Archer, we need you to open the door," Miranda said.

Shepard carefully pulled the Hammerhead behind her and waited. The massive steel door going down to Atlas Station opened after a few minutes. She flipped on the floodlights and slowly descended the shaft that led to their destination. He delayed a little bit because he had no idea where the button was to turn on the lights. A couple of random presses later and he was in business. He made his drop downward a bit quicker to keep up.

"Try not to crash into me," Miranda warned.

"No promises," Shepard said.

"Why the hell is it so dark in here?" Jack asked.

"A tunnel like this would usually be lit, but now that David is in charge…" Garrus replied.

Miranda took the tank over a landing platform and put it down in one easy motion. Shepard's attempt was a little shaky. The Hammerhead swayed side to side as he tried to keep it level and put down next to her, not on top.

A few red warning lights made themselves known, accompanied by an incessant beeping that filled the cockpit.

"What is that?" Tali asked nervously.

"Something. Don't worry about it," Shepard replied glibly. He tapped the lights before banging on the console a bit in an effort to shut it up.

"You know, after all we've been through, it'd be a terrible shame if we died now," Garrus said.

"No one's going to die," Shepard growled. "Stop distracting me."

"Are you trying to kill us, Shepard? Stop swinging!" Miranda scolded. "Just land!"

"I got it."

"No! More to the right!"

"I said: I got it!"

"Watch the right thruster! It's almost on top of us!"

"I am!"

"You're going to hit us!"

"You wanna come up here and do this?" Shepard snapped.

"If I have to, yes!"

"This is bad idea all around…" Jack muttered.

Despite everyone's misgivings, Shepard managed to put the Hammerhead on the landing pad with surprising, if not stress-filled, grace. He touched down with a barely noticeable lurch.

"Alright, let's go everyone," Shepard said. He disembarked and looked around. A few corpses here and there were on the walkway leading to the door on the far end.

"Captain Shepard? Director Lawson?" Archer called. "Ah, it looks like you're in. Good. I've been getting some troubling readings here. The VI has been constantly trying to upload its program directly from your location."

"Upload to where?" Shepard asked.

"I don't know…"

"Shepard? Dawn here. We've been tracking those readings and timing them. Every time the VI tried to upload itself, your ship has been in comm range directly overhead. It's still trying to hitch a ride."

"What's the status of the Normandy?" Shepard demanded.

"Her orbit hasn't changed and we still can't communicate with her. I think she's safe for now, but for how long, I don't know. You need to pull the plug, ASAP," she urged. "Latest estimates clock your ship coming back into range in an hour and staying in range for another four hours after, more or less."

"Get to server room and shut down the core," Archer instructed. "That s-s-s-s-h-hould…"

"David's blocked us again," Garrus muttered. "Probably still listening in on our comms."

"Tali, get that door open," Shepard ordered.

"On it," she said. Jogging up to the panel, she turned on her omni-tool and did a double-take at the reading. "This can't be right…"

"What is it?"

"I'm reading over 100 nodes to bypass. Even top-of-the-line military locks rarely go past 20. Otherwise, the lock becomes too complicated to unlock, even through normal means," she answered in confusion. She reached out and tapped the hologram and stumbled back in surprise when the door opened to her touch, despite the fact that it said it was locked not moments ago.

"I'm really not liking this," Kasumi said nervously.

"Who does?" Jack asked rhetorically.

Shepard and Miranda slowly entered the darkened room first and searched the area. It looked to be a reception room of some sort. A desk with a broken terminal, chairs, a scuttlebutt, and a tupari vending machine completed the image. There was even a receptionist, except he was dead – the gaping hole in his head and brain matter splattered on the walls aidingthat observation.

Mordin tapped the switch on the wall next to the desk to turn on the lights. Nothing happened.

"There's another locked door here," Thane said. He reached out and touched the red panel. The door didn't open, but the lights turned on and the nearby vending machine lit up.

"C-Commander Shepard drinks Tupari! Don't you want to be like Commander S-S-S-Shepard?" it said.

The man himself turned to it in surprise. "What did that thing say?"

The voice changed. Instead of an advertisement, Archer's verbal notes started to play – from a tupari vending machine of all things. "Archer's log 155.2: For years, my brother's condition has been a handicap. That changed today. His autistic mind is the breakthrough I've been looking for – he can communicate with the geth! Such a tremendous grasp of mathematics! It's seems serendipity is alive and well in the 22nd century."

"Autism…" Miranda murmured. "That's odd. He said that David volunteered…"

"Do you think David even knew what he was volunteering for?" Shepard asked.

"I… I don't know. I suppose it depends on how severe his condition is," she hesitantly answered.

"What's autism?" Tali asked.

"Neurodevelopmental disorder;a disturbance in psychological development in humans where the use of language, reaction to stimuli, interpretation of the world, and the formation of relationships are not fully established and difficulty following the usual patterns of social conventions," Mordin explained.

"Oh," she said before turning to anyone else for clarification.

"Basically, people with autism don't interact with the outside world very well. This can either be difficultly in speech, aversion to physical contact, lack of eye contact, or just generally coming off as a jerk. In reality, they just don't know how to follow social cues everyone else takes for granted," Shepard explained.

"In extremely rare cases, neurological advantages are gifted and conferred, but at expense of cognitive ability. The informal term is savant syndrome or savantism," Mordin added. "Very fascinating."

"And David's advantage is to communicate with the geth?" Kasumi asked.

"Mathematics," Legion corrected. "We are software. We utilize mathematics as the bases of communication. Your analog aural communication is inefficient."

"Interesting," Mordin muttered. "Some forms of autism are difficulty with communication. Perhaps explains experiment's loss of control?"

"Archer called his condition a handicap,"Jacob reminded. "Does that mean David's autism is that bad?"

Shepard shrugged. "No clue. Maybe we'll find records somewhere."

"The door is open," Thane pointed out.

"When did it open?" Tali asked. "Did anyone see it open?"

"Why did I ever think that this was going to be the easy part?" Garrus asked out loud. "Go in, flick a switch, and call it day. Of course the homicidal VI wants to mess with us more. Why not?"

"I think we can safely say that nothing computer-based will function like it's supposed to," Miranda stated.

"Form up and stay close," Shepard muttered. "And stay on your toes. Who knows what David can and will do now."

He slowly went through the door first, sub-consciously creating a biotic barrier to protect himself. He half-expected the doors to slam shut, with his body in the threshold.

Thankfully, he got through without squad, one-by-one, darted in after him. Legion was the last. When the geth platform entered, the doors closed, sealing everyone in.

"I really, really, hate this," Kasumi said. She was habitually twirling one of her kunai to stave off her fears.

Taking point, Shepard walked down the short hallway. There was a blood trail leading to the far doorway on right. The glass window that lined the wall was cracked from bullet strikes. Inside, he spotted a break room – kitchen, fridge, tables, stove, etc. The trail of bloody streaks lead right in inside, past the open door, but the other door leading to the next area was shut with a red panel indicating it was locked.

Upon approaching either doorway, the break room door closed, though the panel that appeared was green.

Having no interest in the break room, Shepard scanned the supposedly locked door with his omni-tool and saw that the bypass node count was fluctuating rapidly. That usually meant the locking mechanisms were damaged in some way, but he seriously doubted that was the case here.

He glanced at the nearby panel on the break room door and tapped it.

The locked door opened.

"This is feeling less like a laboratory and more like a haunted house," Jacob grumbled.

Ahead was a T-intersection. On the right was a of a trio of dead Cerberus officers that had armed themselves with rilfes behind a makeshift barricade from whatever they could assemble. Heat sinks were everywhere. Shepard sidled up to the corner take a peek at the left corridor. Just as he did, the lights flickered on, showing other participants in that fight.

"Four dead synthetics," Shepard observed before glancing at the Cerberus officers. "Looks like these guys went down fighting."

"Good," Grunt said approvingly.

Moving on, Shepard kept his eyes and ears open for anything amiss – particularly anything hooked up to the networks and, as Miranda pointed out, computer-based. The only thing he could hear were the sounds of broken machinery and crackles of the occasional fires here and there.

"Anyone think it strange we haven't heard David scream at us yet?" Jack asked quietly.

"Now that you mention it, lack of presence is baffling. Was everywhere at Vulcan Station," Mordin concurred.

"It was the same at Prometheus," Tali said.

"I'm wondering where the rest of the mechs or synthetics are," Shepard said. "We got bodies everywhere. David knows why we're here. He probably knows what we're trying to do. So why haven't we been attacked yet?"

The hallway turned a corner. Peering around, Shepard saw an even longer hallway. He groaned when he also spotted multiple doors as well. "I hate this."

"There's your answer," Garrus said. "He's going to make sure we never get there because he's in complete control of the station."

"Which begs the question: how are we to navigate this labyrinth if he dictates our course?" Samara asked.

Having no immediate answers, Shepard wearily shook his head and took careful measured steps toward the doors. Their pace was slow going, but there was nothing for believed that exercising caution would be their best chance to end this without bloodshed, particularly theirs.

He had only taken four steps when the security shutters slammed down, cascading one after another until it stopped right in front of the squad.

They spread out, weapons up, and tensed themselves.

The holographic panels appeared on three separate doors. They began changing colors over and over again, creating a rapid chime reminiscent of a carnival game. The lights and sounds played off each panel like a twisted game of roulette on a game show until it settled on the left door. The door panel changed to green before opening while the other two remained red.

That wasn't creepy at all…

With little choice in the matter, the squad entered the door they were given, alert for anything. It was constant test on their nerves, constant vigilance versus baseless paranoia.

At first glance, there appeared nothing significant or noteworthy about the room they were in – Just some terminals and equipment, though everything was off, including the and weapons were everywhere, but no sign of the hostile forces that killed everyone.

Once again, Shepard carefully went through the doorway with another biotic barrier up to protect him. His fear was rewarded when the door tried to crush him. The opposing halves slammed into him, holding him in place at the middle. Shouting in surprise he dropped his gun and concentrated on reinforcing his barrier to keep him from being bifurcated. He could hear the hydraulics strain and his barrier flicker. Futilely, he pushed against either half of the door with his arms and back. "Grunt, Legion! Get me out!"

Grunt and Legion ran up to opposite sides and pulled hard. The doors strained against their efforts.

Tali whipped out her omni-tool and ran a scan before cursing. "I'm being blocked. I can't get to the emergency lock-out!"

"Help them!" Miranda ordered. She took up position under Legion, gripped her half of the door and pulled.

Finally, after a few minutes – and with liberal use of biotics from Jack and Samara with the additional physical force from Grunt and Legion – one of the doors was bent inward, allowing Shepard to stagger out and collapse on his hands and knees, panting barrier winked out of sight the moment he was freed.

"It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you," he gasped out between breaths. He reached over and picked up his HMWA nearby and accepted Miranda's hand to pull himself up.

"And everything here is out to get us. At this point, I'm expecting a toaster to be lethal," she said. "You okay?"

"Yeah."

A nearby terminal activated itself and began playing another one of Archer's dictations."Archer's log 157.8: Unless he sees results, the Illusive Man is shutting us down next week. I have no choice."

"Oh, boy," Garrus muttered. "That's never a good sign."

"I'm going to tap David directly into the geth neural network and see if he can influence them. The danger should be negligible. David might even enjoy it."

"That bastard," Jack snarled.

Mordin sniffed in disapproval. "Attempting to rush results. Sloppy."

"Status report: Please inform the Illusive Man we've made great strides in our research," Archer said. "His doubts about the lack of progress are unwarranted. A demonstration is forthcoming."

"Not anymore," Shepard said.

"Memo to all project personnel: Congratulations on your hard work. Tomorrow, we make the next leap forward."

"I can't help but wonder: Is there any chance we can reason with David?" Thane asked.

"Depending on the type of autism and severity, it might not be likely. He's been listening and watching this entire time. I'm not sure we can at this point," Miranda said quietly.

"There's an elevator in the back of the room," Jacob observed.

Shepard turned to his omni-tool and checked the layout of the station. "According to the plans, what we're looking for is on the… surprise, surprise, the bottom level. Main Lab Level. And we're seven floors above it."

"And what are the chances that the elevator is working?" Garrus muttered.

"Slim to none, but let's try it anyway. Take defensive positions, just in case. There aren't any synthetic bodies here, so the elevator might carry a surprise," Shepard said. He walked over and tapped the button before seeking a solid firing position.

"Arriving at Level Two," the panel chimed.

The lights and terminals all turned on at once. Everything gave out a soft whirring sound as the various machines around them booted up.

Everyone waited behind desks or the railing on the upper landing, but the number refused to change from two.

Frowning, Shepard got up from his cover to tap the elevator button again.

"Arriving at Level Four."

Growling in irritation, he slammed the button again. He backed up, weapon raised at the doors.

"Arriving at Level Six."

Stalking forward, he slammed the button impatiently one last time and ducked back to his defilade.

"System malfunction." The numbers counted back down to 'M'.

"Goddamn it," he snarled. He hit the button again.

"Arriving at Level Two."

"Um… Shep? You might want to see this," Kasumi said.

He turned around and saw Kasumi pointing at a terminal on the desk she was kneeling behind. The number two was prominently displayed, exactly like the number on the elevator control panel.

"This thing says it's the 3D Diagnostic Console," she said.

"Over here as well," Thane said. He was pointing at a large screen on the upper area. "As far as I am able to determine, it is called 'M-ONE'."

"Here too," Tali said. Another terminal on the upper area. "It looks like secure data is stored here."

"I don't think any of those things are what they are now," Jacob said.

Kasumi brazenly pushed a button on her terminal.

"Resetting elevator." The indicator went back to M.

"This is pissing me off," Jack said through gritted teeth.

Shepard hit the call button again.

"Arriving at Level Two."

"Thane, hit yours," he requested.

"Arriving at Level One."

"Tali?"

"Arriving at Level Four."

"You've gotta be kidding me," Garrus muttered. "This guy is playing games with us."

"Tali, one more time," Shepard said. He backed away from the doors.

"Arriving at Level S-s-s-se—"

The VI's voice was replaced by David's angry howl. Just as anticipated, the door opened to reveal a Prime, which dominated the squad's attention over the two Troopers behind it.

"Open fire!" Shepard ordered.

Samara's Reave caused its arm to be blown clean off. The other arm was still holding its weapon, but its aim was erratic. It tried to compensate, but the hailstorm of tech and bullets tore it down in the matter of seconds.

Destroying the Troopers was almost an afterthought.

The whole exercise was nothing more than a bid for time and an annoyance.

"So what the hell was all that for? Messing with the elevator so we'd get caught off guard by that Prime or what?" Grunt asked.

"Hmm… curious… I wonder… Was move planned?" Mordin muttered out loud to himself.

"Would you mind elaborating?" Shepard asked.

"Oh, Archer said David can't handle VI connection. Wonder if impaired cognitive abilities further compromised," Mordin explained. "No tactics in attacks, merely lashing out;killed everyone regardless. Unable to seal doors and prevent our advance. Random locks, random actions, random directions. No foresight, no pattern, no strategy."

"So you're suggesting that David might be trying to stop us, but he doesn't know how?" Kasumi translated.

Mordin shrugged. "Only a theory."

Garrus was standing next to the elevator, but didn't enter it. "Does going in there seem like a smart move to anyone?"

Shepard snorted. "Hopping into an elevator in a facility controlled by an out-of-control hybrid intelligence… What could possibly go wrong?"

"Any chance we can take the stairs?"

"If you can find them. And get past all those doors. And if they're not destroyed."

Garrus sighed. "Ah, damn it."

Shepard put one leg inside and experimentally put some of his weight down. The lift didn't move. "How should we do this…?"

"Separate teams?" Garrus suggested.

"Unless the elevator breaks. We'd be separated."

"I think we should go in two teams. Even if we become separated, we could—" Miranda tried to say.

"—meet up later," Shepard finished with a frown. "Or not at all. Fuck it. Inside everyone. Let's go."

The squad entered the elevator with no small amount of trepidation. To their mild surprise, nothing happened.

"Jack, Samara, get ready to catch us," Shepard muttered. He took a quick breath and allowed his biotics to manifest briefly. "Just in case."

Everyone shuffled in place a bit.

"Are we going to be alright in here?" Tali asked.

Shepard wordlessly pressed the button and set their destination for the Main Lab.

As they descended – slowly – the announcer chimed to them, "Arriving at Level Six."

All of a sudden, the elevator froze. David's digital voice growled out to them. He sounded different now; guttural, rasping, and hoarse.

"This can't be good," Kasumi said.

"Very bad idea…" Garrus muttered.

Everyone shouted when the elevator dropped a floor before stopping.

"Please contact facility support," the announcer said.

"I think he's pretty pissed!" Jacob shouted.

"That's because he knows we're here to kill him," Grunt growled.

It dropped down another two more floors before freezing in place, causingthe occupants to lose their balance and fall to the floor. Thick black smoke started filling the box and obscuring visibility.

"Jack, Samara!" Shepard barked. He tried to stand up and focused his biotics.

"The elevator is not in service. Please choose another."

The elevator rapidly ascended back to the seventh floor.

"Do something!" Jacob shouted.

All three glowed and reached out just before the elevator started to free fall straight down to the bottom. They managed to arrest their momentum into a relatively safer speed, rather than terminal velocity.

"Oh, shit," Jack muttered. She was breathing heavily and kept her hands pointed at the floor of the elevator.

"Yeah…" Shepard agreed.

"We must work together," Samara instructed. "Slowly relax and let gravity do the rest. We will simply control the speed at which we fall."

"And if David decides to send us up to keep us from going down?" Shepard asked. He followed the justicar's directions and allowed the elevator to fall at a controlled pace.

"Hold on. I'll see if I can access the emergency systems. They should be on a separate network for redundancy purposes," Tali said. She tapped into her omni-tool and began her hack. "If I can isolate it, I can take control of the—Ah!"

David screamed at them and forced the elevator to ascend, but Shepard, Samara, and Jack exerted their influence and brought it to a crawl. The sounds of metal screeching could be heard as the mechanisms protested against the biotic resistance.

"Tali… faster is better," Shepard grunted out.

She typed furiously into her omni-tool. "I'm almost… damn it! David is putting up firewalls everywhere! He's trying to block me!"

"We will assist," Legion offered. Its optic began glowing brighter. "Executing intrusion routines… Locating foreign signals… creating a fault in base firewall 1239…"

"I see it," Tali said. "Okay… got it!"

"Can you tell this thing to go down?" Kasumi asked.

"No, but I can lock David out," Tali said. She turned to Shepard. "Beyond that, I have control of the emergency brakes. I can take them off, but it'll up to you three to take us down again."

"Great," Jack said through gritted teeth.

"Okay, emergency systems engaged and isolated. David can't control the elevator anymore," Tali informed. Loud thumps were heard. "And that's the emergency brakes. I'll release them."

Once again, they were descending. It felt a little fast, but not life-threatening.

They reached the bottom floor with a bump causing them to stagger, but at least no bones were broken from the force.

Shepard and Jack were doubled over with their hands on their knees and were taking deep breaths to recover from their efforts. To their annoyance, Samara looked completely fine and was standing tall without the slightest hint of fatigue.

Jacob and Grunt were working on the door and managed to wrench it open.

Just past the door, there were three platforms connected to a hub similar to the ones at the heretic station. They weren't moving or even acknowledged their presence.

Miranda and Thane raised their weapons at the synthetic platforms, but didn't fire. Looking around, there were more attached to the right wall in a row. None of them were armed. No doubt this was where they experimented with David's ability to establish communications with either geth or heretics.

"Open fire," Miranda ordered.

She, Thane, Jacob and Grunt swept the room, putting a bullet into each before David could call upon them.

Shepard took the others and left the elevator to stand watch at the other door in case reinforcements showed up.

Another terminal began reciting Archer's notes nearby when they had entered. "Archer's log 168.4: I'd be lying if I said no harm could come to David. His autistic mind is as alien to me as an actual alien. Anything could happen when we plug him in. But I have to try, don't I?"

"Were all the Cerberus assholes this stupid when you took out their bases, or was it just the ones I know about?" Jack asked acidly.

"They did try to kill Shepard," Tali pointed out. "Does that count?"

Jack gave Shepard a side-long glance. "Yeah… I think that counts."

"Too kind," Shepard muttered. He glanced down at his map. "We're almost there. Next room over."

"About time. This has to be setting a record or something for the most amount of trouble you've gotten us into," Garrus said.

Once everyone was ready, Shepard and Garrus took point and peeked through the doorway before moving on. There were two more doors: one to the left in the middle of the hallway and one at the very end. The latter was unlocked, but strange green holographic wisps ominously floated around the panel; they were disconcertingly similar to David's projections.

The worse news was the locked door – that was the room they needed to get into. Shepard hit the red panel, but it didn't open. "Can't risk explosives…"

"What about this other one? It might do it," Garrus suggested.

Shepard eyed the panel distrustfully. He almost thought he could see David's face in it and prayed it was just his imagination. "Or it might do something else. Something unpleasant."

"Won't know until we try," Garrus said. "You wanna hit it?"

"I'd rather piss glass. You do it," Shepard said.

"You're the leader."

"And I'm giving you a direct order to sacrifice your hand for the good of the mission," Shepard retorted. "I was the one who walked into a cloud of Minagen back on Illium. Your turn."

Garrus grumbled but complied all the same. The rest of the team hung back, some in the lab, others in the hall.

Deciding to get it over with quickly, Garrus darted out, tapped the panel with the barest of touches and shuffled back a few steps with his Reverent up and ready.

Instead of opening a door immediately, the hologram moved away from the door and slid horizontally along the wall until settled on top of the other door. It was pleasantly beeping and chirping the entire way.

"Huh. That's new," Shepard said.

"I think I saw this in a movie vid once," Jacob said. "It didn't end well for anyone."

"Hit the button, Jacob," Shepard ordered.

"Me?"

"You watched that vid. I'm sure you'll know what's coming."

Kasumi giggled at him.

"Me and my big…" Jacob muttered under his breath. Like Garrus, he touched the panel as lightly as possible before backing away with his weapon up.

The door opened innocently.

Inside, large blocky machines filled the room. It was literally a field of servers going down as far as the eye could see. There was also the greatest concentration of bodies here as well. Bullet holes were everywhere; some of the servers were sparking and coughing out plumes of black smoke. There was little doubt in Shepard's mind that the people had been trying to shut David down the way he and his team were about to do.

What caught Shepard's attention the most was the elaborate, complicated-looking console right in front of him.

"I should probably mention that in the vid, hitting the big red button didn't exactly work the way they wanted to either," Jacob said.

Shepard scoffed. "Thanks. Miranda, Tali: get up here and turn this off."

Both women ran up to the console and started typing at separate stations.

"Well?" Shepard asked when it became apparent that they weren't making any progress.

"Black hell," Miranda cursed.

"This is complicated. Really complicated. I don't know if this was Cerberus or David or a combination of both," Tali answered. She leaned closer to the screens, trying to divine the lines of codes and information flowing by. "This won't be easy to shut down. It's not like there's a big sign saying: 'In case of emergencies, hit this button'."

"Probably should recommend that in our reports," Jacob said to Miranda.

"Can we contact Archer for help?" Shepard asked.

Miranda shook her head. "Comms are still down. David is still jamming us."

"We can assist," Legion offered.

"Don't," Shepard said. "The less you interact with David, the better. I don't want to take any unnecessary chances now."

"How long will you need?" Thane asked.

"No clue," Miranda answered. "Tali's right, this might take a while."

"Alright, keep working," Shepard said. "Everyone else, defensive positions. Garrus, take a few and go down this aisle and make sure there's nothing back there hiding behind those servers. Jacob, you take the rest and go back to the lab. Make sure nothing can come down that elevator shaft."

Garrus nodded and picked Thane, Legion, Jack, and Mordin. Jacob took Grunt, Samara, and Kasumi.

"And get ready for anything. I wouldn't be surprised if this console summoned a Reaper," Shepard said.

~o~O~o~

After an hour of working, Tali slammed the console in front of her in disgust with Miranda looking ready to do the same.

"Bad news?" Shepard said from his position at the door. Trusting Garrus and Jacob to keep vigil, he turned to both ladies and waited expectantly.

"Yes," Tali admitted in frustration. "I'll be honest, Shepard, I have no idea what to do."

Garrus jerked his head at her in surprise.

Okay. I hope Jacob will keep a steady eye out.

Miranda turned around and frowned. "Nor do I. This might be out my depth."

Now Jacob was staring in shock.

We're going to die.

"We need something; technical specs, a baseline, research notes… Hell, something written on a napkin would help! Anything that can give us a direction to go in," she said. "One team should head back out and get in touch with Archer, maybe even bring him down here to resolve this."

"Or we go to plan B," Shepard said.

Jack looked up from her seat on the floor nearby. Unbelievingly, she had brought a pack of cards and was playing a private game with herself to stave off her boredom. "Plan B?"

"We rig all our grenades and explosives onto some those servers there and destroy them. We'll have to get creative with the rest, but it looked like the Cerberus personnel assigned here was attempting to do it. We might as try our luck."

Grunt stood up immediately. "Let's do it!"

Shepard turned to Miranda. "Will it work?"

She frowned and looked down at the field of servers. "Normally, I wouldn't go for the brute force method, but given the circumstances… if enough there aren't enough resources for the VI to draw on, then it should shut down, yes. In theory anyway."

"There are a lot of servers," Kasumi said with a grimace. "Hundreds, maybe more."

"That's what bullets are for. If we have enough thermals clips 'd better get started," Shepard said. He glanced at Grunt's eager expression and rolled his eyes. Thankfully, his helmet hid his expression. Removing his grenade pouch, he passed it off to him. "Get to work. And make sure none of those explosions are too close."

"Why don't you two use the Cain?" Jacob asked.

"Out of power. Trust me, you don't want us to use it here anyway," Shepard answered absently. He looked down at the heavy weapon he left on the ground nearby and poked it with his boot. Standing at guard duty was tiring enough without the burden of dead weight on his back. "I'll hold position at the door. Go on."

With the limited number of grenades they had, Garrus and Jacob instructed the others on where to place them for maximum damage. Miranda and Tali continued trying to crack whatever it was that was stopping them.

Shepard eyed the doors distrustfully. Jacob had found a metal rod to jam into the doorway to prevent David from locking them in the AI Server Control Room. It was horizontally placed and wedged around chest height. While it was unlikely that David would close the door and lock them into a room that contained the machinery that could shut him down, Shepard's last experience with a door left him thankful for Jacob's foresight and was more than eager to finish this mission.

Killed by a door… That's just embarrassing.

Crouching underneath the steel bar, he glanced at the security shutters before turning to the lab. Thane and Samara were still there, watching the elevator shaft. The emergency brakes held it in place, preventing David from using it, but it wouldn't stop any synthetics from just jumping down the shaft, tearing their way into the lift, and attacking them while they worked.

Satisfied that all was quiet for now, he ducked back into the server room and approached Miranda and Tali. "Any progress?"

"No," Miranda answered tersely. She closed her eyes and sighed. "I'm sorry… I meant we made a little headway, but…"

"It's all right," he assured. "It was naïve to think it'd be over with a press of a button."

Tali looked at both of them intently before shaking her head and went back to work.

"Did any of you learn something?" Shepard asked.

"I found a bit of data on David," Tali said distractedly. "It said he's a 34.47 on something called cars."

"CARS: Childhood Autism Rating Scale," Miranda supplied. "That means David is moderately autistic, but only just. 36 is the value assigned for severe cases."

"So that means it's likely he didn't know what he was volunteering for," Shepard said darkly.

Miranda didn't turn around, but he could see her jaw clench slightly. "No. Most likely not."

Shepard studied the lines and lines of codes and information displayed, but couldn't make heads or tails out of anything. He reached out and idly brushed the surface of the console.

What happened next was something no one had seen or would have foreseen.

He gasped and opened his mouth, but only a silent scream escaped his lips. The feeling was indescribable. He felt hot and cold; experienced pain and pleasure; saw light and darkness and all the colors in-between; heard the shouts and cries of his team and the voices of hundreds of thousands of electronic whispers; perceived life and death.

All at the same time.

Finally, he was able to scream. And when he did, it was in concert with David's primal scream of pain, outrage.

Betrayal.

In the eyes of the others, they literally saw what could only be described as David's very essence flow from the console. His green pixilated face appeared in a bright blinding flash. Shepard's omni-tool was activated and was swirling with emerald energies.

Shepard staggered away from the terminal. The physical world vanished. Walls and floors were replaced by panels of orange light. His squad was no longer standing before him – images of scientists, researchers, and security officers, all resembling ghosts and apparitions were there instead.

He tore off his Kestrel Helmet, hoping that his sight would be restored. It didn't help.

Everyone took a step back when they saw Shepard's eyes. It resembled David's now: the same glowing shade of emerald.

"John!" Miranda cried out.

"Hey, Shepard!" Garrus shouted. He took a step forward with his hand outstretched.

Breathing heavily from the surreal experience and the feelings welling up in his chest, all Shepard saw was one of the scientists taking a step toward him. He took a step back.

The others approached him. Surrounded him.

He turned away and ran for the exit. A thin white light was in his way. He pushed through it.

The metal bar was dislodged. The moment Shepard crossed the threshold, the doors slammed shut trapping the others and separating them.

~o~O~o~

"What the fuck was that? !" Jack asked.

Miranda looked at the multitude of red holographic panels that appeared on the door. "I don't know!"

"What is going on?" Thane asked. "We're trapped in the lab."

"We're trapped too," Garrus responded. "David did something to Shepard. We're locked inside the server room, but Shepard's still out there."

Miranda thought furiously on the events that just transpired before a feeling of dread ran down her spine. "No…"

"What?" Tali asked. "Do you know what happened?"

"I think… I think David just uploaded himself into him…" Miranda whispered.

"Uploaded?" Jacob repeated. "Wait… the cybernetics?"

"You're not saying that Shepard's being controlled, are you?" Garrus demanded.

Miranda shook her head frantically. "I don't know! His mind is still his own, with only a few implants to restore brain function and memories. They should be inactive now. The rest of him, everything is being supplemented and enhanced. His eyes, his ears, organs, nervous system… if any of that is actually susceptible to David's influence, he'll… he'll perceive everything differently. Nothing will function the way they're supposed to."

"What about his mind? Are you sure David can't do anything to him?" Tali asked harshly.

"I don't know! This is something I've never seen before!" Miranda snapped.

"We have to get out of here," Kasumi said.

"The grenades," Miranda suggested. "We can blow open the door."

"Shit," Garrus said. He was looking down at the rows of servers. "They're all back there. We were almost finished."

"Get them. We have to stop Shepard," Miranda ordered. "We have to do what we can to save him."

~o~O~o~

Shepard collapsed face down on the ground, gasping. It felt like his lungs were seizing. He felt weak and feverish. Nothing in his body was willing to cooperate with his mind. It was like every organ was threatening to rebel against him and cease functioning.

What the hell is happening to me…?

It felt like he was dying again. The difficulty breathing, the muscle spasms, the darkness lingering on at the edge of his vision…

Ah, hell. Miranda's going to be pissed. I wonder if she's willing to put me back together again?

Despite the irreverence of his thoughts, he followed that string and remembered listening to Miranda's notes on the Lazarus Project, all the way back at the station he was revived in months ago.

"Progress is slow, but subject shows signs of recovery. Major organs are again functional, and there are signs rudimentary neurological activities. In an effort to accelerate the process, we've moved from simple organic reconstruction of the subject to bio-synthetic fusion. Initial results show promise."

Bio-synthetic fusion… shit… my implants…

Gritting his teeth, he pulled himself together. He had no idea what David was doing his implants and he wasn't about to find out.

Hell, I don't know what I'm doing.

He didn't know if this would work. What he did know that was that he wasn't about to lie down and die, figuratively and literally.

He willed himself to get up. He willed his body to respond to his commands. Most of all, he willed himself not to give up and give in.

His ability to breathe came back first. He took deep, greedy, gulps of air and felt the weakness leave his muscles. The tremors inside his body ebbed and faded. He felt his heart change from a slow, fading beat to a painful staccato before returning to a pace that was much more manageable.

Slowly, he crawled to his hands and knees. He still felt feverish. His eyes and ears continued to work against him. The world still looked like something out of a bad virtual reality simulator.

Bile involuntarily rose in the back of his throat, causing him to gag. He didn't have the energy to fight off the urge. He retched and spewed out the contents of his stomach and anything else that wanted forced its way out, barely keeping up the strength to hold himself up on his shuddering arms. More than once, he nearly pitched forward and planted his face in his own sick. He forced himself to endure until the feeling passed.

Spitting out the last of his vomit – whichhe distantly noted was blue to his deceiving eyes – he sat up and wiped his mouth with the back of his gauntlet. He ignored the burning, caustic sensations in his throat and took stock of his situation.

The world remained disjointed and fragmented. Instead of steel, gray-colored walls, ceiling, and floors, they were replaced with orange or green glasslike surfaces instead.

He dropped his assault rifle back at the server room and had left the Cain, but still had his other armaments. Standing on shaky legs, he debated whether or not it was worth calling on a bit of adrenaline to assist him before deciding against it. He combated David's influence on his implants somehow, but tempting fate by touching on the synthetic adrenal implants would probably be a bad idea. He'd have to make do without.

He looked around and saw that the door to the lab was probably closed. He wasn't exactly sure since it looked like one solid orange plate right now. Behind him, the door the server room was the same. He reached out to be sure and felt the smooth solid surface.

Everything sounded muted and dull now. Taking a chance, he used his radio and called out to the others but heard nothing.

Suddenly, everything changed to a green hue. Looking around, he saw Archer. Sort of.

He was walking down the hall with two others he didn't recognize. Like the others he saw earlier, they appeared to be ghosts; hazy and transparent. They passed right through him and to the open shutter doors where they vanished from sight.

The world changed to its orange hue again, except now it resembled a circuit board. Glowing lines were flowing from some point to another in curving lines. Everything was rippling and moving in some form or fashion.

I wonder if this is how David sees the world now…

Without any better alternatives, Shepard drew his HMWSG and followed the in the footsteps the image of Archer had taken.

The doors opened freely and normally now. The hallway led into what was an observation deck that overlooked something below. Through the window, Shepard saw David's avatar. The face turned to face him as well and looked him dead in the eye. His pleas were no longer unintelligible. Shepard understood every word clearly.

"PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!"

Peering through the window, Shepard couldn't see any sign of David himself. There was only a black, swirling sphere below the digital face. If he squinted, he could almost see an outline of a person within the dark depths.

Bullets striking against his shields forced him to turn away and dart behind cover.

Three Geth Troopers were marching down the hallway. Instead of just having a green optic though, their entire bodies pulsed with the same peered out a bit only to duck back as the bullets started ricocheting off his cover.

Definitely not ghosts.

He waited for a break in their gunfire before retaliating with his shotgun. All three were downed in short order.

As the platforms crumpled, the green aura that surrounded them almost exploded in a flash of jade particles, leaving only orange bodies behind.

Pressing on, Shepard followed the hallway into another lab. There weren't any threats, but he did find more bodies everywhere. With his compromised vision though, all he could make out were dark orange sexless, almost formless, corpses.

There were three concentrated balls of yellow-green light around the lab. Wary of touching them, especially since it was an action like that which got him in this predicament in the first place, he took care to stay back.

It didn't matter. When he was close enough to one, orange gave way to green and the world around changed once again.

Archer, a synthetic platform shackled to a table, and one of the men Shepard saw in the hallway were there now. The stranger sitting on the ground was muttering out loud to himself while Archer was dividing his attention between a holopad and the platform.

"Square root of 906.01 is 30.1… square root of 912.04 is 30.2…" the younger man mumbled.

"Time on this project is running out. There are no options left," Archer muttered in despair. He tossed the holopad to the ground and rubbed his face. "How to get the geth's attention?"

The heretic made some random chatter.

The man on the ground perked up at the sound and stood up. To Archer and Shepard's shock, he started mimicking the same kind of chatter.

The heretic actually turned its head and chattered back to him.

"The robot says hello," the young man -David- translated innocently.

Archer's face broke out into joy. "Eureka. David, you're a miracle worker."

The image faded and the orange 'reality' returned. David uttered a guttural sound that Shepard that couldn't understand.

So orange is the present and green are his memories

This was, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating experiences Shepard had undergone. It ranked right up to the Prothean beacon and cipher.

Walking up to the next odd disturbance, the colors around him changed from orange to green once again. As he expected, another memory played out.

"Square root of 906.01 is 30.1… square root of 912.04 is 30.2…" David mumbled again.

Archer was typing at a terminal before turning to his bother. "David, can you repeat my notes from Thursday's experiment?"

"Square root of 918.09 is 30.3," David continued, seemingly unaware of Archer's request.

"David! Please pay attention!" Archer snapped impatiently.

David cringed and shied away. "Loud! It's getting loud in here."

Archer softened immediately. He almost made to touch him, but pulled back at the last second. "I'm sorry, you didn't deserve that," he said quietly. "Would you mind repeating my notes from Thursday's experiment?"

David only blinked once before speaking. "'Log 137.3. The experiment yielded no discernible patterns of geth obedience. End of dictation now, David. Hell, the Illusive Man will have my head for this.'"

Archer smiled. "Thank you. And how are you feeling today?"

"Square root of 924.16 is 30.4… earplugs would be good," David answered.

Shepard returned to the present and approached the last glowing sphere.

Archer, David and two others were there. The unknown men had a heretic attached to some harness and hoisted off the ground.

"David, I want you to order the geth to take a step forward," Archer instructed.

Again, David made the same chattering sound the heretics made. The platform responded and took one step forward despite being held in midair.

"How does he do it?" one of the techs asked.

"David is a mathematical savant," Archer explained proudly. "His autistic mind can interpret the geth language at its most basic form and mimic their phonetics."

Shepard studied David's image. He was, by no means, a medical expert, but he had experience reading people. From what he could tell, David's autism had definitely impaired him greatly. He had no idea of Archer's plans for him at all.

"With his photographic memory, cross-referencing the meaning is a snap," Archer continued during Shepard's scrutiny. "He's literally a human computer."

Shepard looked up at the ceiling at the word 'computer'. If he was seeing David's memories, then by all accounts, he should be seeing it through David's perceptions; through his eyes and ears. Yet, he was watching everything play out a like full dimensional vid.

"And you think he can interface with the geth's neural network?" the tech asked.

Shepard spotted several cameras in the ceiling. What he was seeing was less about memories now and more about recordings.

Or maybe it's both now.

"I do," Archer replied.

The engineer working on the platform looked concerned. "Is that even safe, Doctor?"

"I see no harm in finding out."

"How about now, Archer?" Shepard muttered.

~o~O~o~

"MAKE IT STOP!"

Shepard tried to tune out David's pained cries in favor of the Hunter he was forced to contend with. Knowing that his attempts at Reave have been shaky at best, he only called on his biotics to create a barrier for additional protection. Dealing with a heavy heretic platform wouldn't have been too much trouble, even if it did have a regular Trooper assisting it, but the Rocket Trooper made things complicated.

He tried to reach into his satchel for a grenade, but his hand only brushed against his belt. He growled in frustration when he remembered he passed off his grenades to Grunt. Mentally cursing to himself on his recent string of bad luck, he used his tactical cloak and pulled out his HMWSR.

The Trooper and Rocket Trooper were staying back, content on trying to suppress him while the Hunter used its optic camouflage to close in for the kill. He quickly ducked to the side and moved as quickly as he could to circling around to its rear; he brought his sniper rifle at close range to the back of its head and took it down.

He used his biotics to lift the Hunter before it could even hit the ground and slam the body into the Rocket Trooper. While the Trooper struggled underneath the bulk, Shepard took aim with his sniper rifle and easily downed its compatriot. Shepard took the time to draw his shotgun and put a round at point blank at the last.

With the obstacle removed, he slowly descended down the stairway into the main room where David's avatar looked down at him. Below the emerald pixelated face was the black sphere he saw up in the observation room earlier.

Now Shepard was sure that within the inky dark depths, there was a man inside.

"David?" Shepard called out.

"QUIET!"

The reality he was forced to perceive exploded in a flash of light. He instinctively ducked down and shielded his face.

David's fearful murmurings reached his ears. Lowering his hand, Shepard looked up to see yet another recording/memory.

"Square root of 906.01 is 30.1… square root of 912.04 is 30.2…" David said rapidly. Four giant cables were attached to that dark orb and connected to the four metal columns in the circular theater.

The ghostly images of Archer and an assistant were working nearby.

"We're ready," Archer said, seemingly uncaring of David's ragged breaths and mathematical mutterings. "Open a connection to the geth network."

The assistant typed in a few commands on a terminal nearby.

David's avatar reappeared over them, looking down and screaming, "QUIET!"

The synthetic platforms heeded his call. They physically charged the security team and overpowered them before seizing their weapons and brandishing them.

"David, no!" Archer shouted. "Tell the geth to stand down!"

"QUIET PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!"

Green faded back to orange as the memory ended.

The VI announcer then said something that made Shepard's blood run cold.

"Node acquired: Normandy SR-2 firewalls have been breached. Establishing upload link. Beginning upload."

"No!" Shepard shouted. He raised his shotgun at the figure within the sphere and prepared to fire. "Stand down, David! Don't make me do this!"

David's response was an angry howl.

Shepard tried to pull the trigger, but hesitated. "David, don't make me kill you!"

"Upload progress at 10%."

Remembering that David had an aversion to noise, Shepard raised his shotgun to the air and fired off a warning shot. The boom echoed in the room.

"QUIET!" David screamed. Reality became distorted as present and past mingled.

"Pull the plug! Tell Vulcan Station to cut all power!" Archer ordered.

"It's too late! We've lost control!"

Pull the plug?

Shepard looked at the cables that connected David to the network. They were about a meter thick. He raised his weapon and fired with abandon at the nearest one.

"Upload progress at 20%."

"David, you have to stop this!" Archer pleaded.

"DAVID DOESN'T WANT TO BE HERE!"

Shepard finally shot down one cable.

"Warning, transfer rate reduced by 25%. Upload progress at 30%."

David screamed in rage. Shepard ran to the next cable and fired only once when a Trooper came from out of nowhere and tackled him.

Shepard fell with a shout and lost his shotgun. He twisted around and launched a full biotic punch on the Trooper, almost tearing its head clean off.

"Upload progress at 40%."

Looking around, he couldn't see his shotgun anywhere. Drawing his sniper rifle, he tried to continue his assault on the cables, but more Troopers poured into the room, forcing him to contend with the new threat.

"David, calm down! I can make this all go away if you'll let me!" Archer shouted.

"QUIET PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!"

"Upload progress at 50%."

Circling behind one of the columns, Shepard alternated between destroying the David's connections and the synthetics. Finally, he took down another cable and used his cloak to move on to the next.

"Warning, transfer rate reduced by 50%."

Ducking behind another column, he started shooting at another cable when his rifle beeped, signaling that he was out of heat sinks. He quickly ejected the thermal clip and tried to insert a new one when a Hunter decloaked right in front of him, picked him up, and hurled him across the room.

Hitting the ground with a grunt, he quickly rolled to his feet and created a singularity to draw off the waves of relentless synthetics. The Hunter and Troopers all got helplessly drawn in.

"Upload progress at 60%."

Without any stronger weapons, Shepard turned to the nearest cable and reached out. He inhaled sharply and started calling on warp to tear it apart. The sounds of snapping wires could be heard as the unstable dark energies started ripping its way through the diameter of the hoped that the synthetics were distracted enough by his singularity to interfere and inhaled one more time before sharply pulling his arms down.

The third cable was finally ripped out with snap.

"Warning, transfer rate reduced by 75%. Upload progress at 65%."

Panting from the exertion, he turned to his singularity and the Hunter and one Trooper still floating around it. He used warp to detonate it and took them both out.

He turned to the last wire and blanched; a Juggernaut, Destroyer, and Prime had joined the party.

If my luck keeps going downhill like this, the damn Collectors will barge in next!

The Juggernaut started taking aim with its missile launcher, prompting him to run around David and inadvertently use him as a human shield against his own synthetic army. Shepard was reluctant to kill him, but kept his pistol close. If it came down to the Normandy and her crew or David, an unwilling victim in a Cerberus experiment, he knew what he had to do. At this point, it seems more and more likely that he would have to kill him given his current odds.

The three heavy synthetic platforms separated and were coming around to box him in. The Destroyer was the close range combatant;it charged at him, flamethrower ready. Shepard used his biotic charge to close the distance and strike first. The explosion of dark energy brought it and him to the ground.

"Upload progress at 70%."

Seeing his shotgun nearby, he scrambled to it when a hand clamped down on his leg. His fingertips just brushed the weapon before he was pulled away. He looked back to see the Destroyer grabbing his leg and yanking him closer.

In response, he called on his lessons with Samara and mixed physical attacks with biotics. Charging his fist in dark energy he slammed down on the head of his attacker, partially crushing the head before slipping out of its slack grip to retrieve his shotgun. He kicked the Destroyer back before blowing its head away at point blank.

"Upload progress at 75%."

Scrambling to his feet, he used his tactical cloak and ran, just as another missile struck the ground he had been on, blowing apart the Destroyer's body.

Shepard hid behind one of the columns and tried to figure out how to take down two heavy synthetic units all by himself, and David's last connection all while under a very, very pressing time limit.

Sprinting to where he dropped his sniper rifle, he danced around David to separate the Juggernaut and Prime.

Moving into range of the Juggernaut first, he fired off a shot that was easily deflected by its powerful shields. It was still enough to get its attention though. He sidled as close as he dared to the black sphere and decided to push Adrenaline into his system, regardless of the probable dangers. If his biotics worked, his adrenal implants should too. "Come on! Show me what you got!"

The Juggernaut didn't disappoint. It aimed its missile launcher and fired off a rocket.

In his mind, the projectile flew at him in agonizingly slow speed. Shepard dove to the side at the last moment and let it detonate nearby.

The explosion was ringing in his un-helmeted ears. Whatever pain he felt though, David obviously had it worse in spades.

"TOO LOUD! IT'S TOO LOUD IN HERE! QUIET! MAKE IT STOP!"

"Transfer progress at 80%."

The Juggernaut and Prime ceased attacking and were clutching their heads. The dropped their weapons and fell to their knees in identical motions, reflecting whatever suffering David was undergoing.

Seizing his chance, he ran up to the Juggernaut and pressed the barrel of his sniper rifle at the optic at point blank to bypass the shields entirely. A quick squeeze of the trigger allowed him to put his focus on the last threat before contending with David again.

"Transfer progress at 80%."

He quickly looked around for the Prime when his shields became peppered with bullets. He ducked behind another column and scowled when he noticed that he was on the other side of the room from last cable he needed to destroy.

The Prime kept up its relentless assault as it closed in on him. Shepard rounded to the other side of the steel structure and unleashed shockwave to topple it when it started running at him.

Pressing his advantage, Shepard left his cover and started shooting unerringly on his prone opponent. One shot stuck the Prime's gun, rendering it nothing more than scrap. His next few shots were geared to powering his way through its shields and finishing it off as he closed the distance, confident of his victory.

"Upload progress at 85%."

He was caught completely off-guard when the Prime suddenly threw its weapon right at him.

Shepard threw his arms up instinctively and grunted when the gun struck him. The distraction was enough for the Prime to stand up and tackle him. The collision brought the both of them down in a tangle of limbs.

The moment he fell onto his back, Shepard knew he was in trouble as tried to scuttle away. He lost his rifle in the confusion and he couldn't draw his shotgun lying on the floor as he did.

The Prime was thrashing, almost feral now; nothing like the heretics at all. It clawed at him and tried to hold him down.

"Upload progress at 90%."

Desperately, he kicked at its head. It rocked back before looking down at him again. It raised its right arm and brought it down, seeking to crush his head. Shepard rolled to the side, just barely dodging it and wincing at the sound of the metal floor being dented. Pushing away the image of what it could do to his chest –regardless of armor– or his head –which had no protection whatsoever– he struggled tooth and nail against the machine.

With his disadvantageous position on the ground, he lacked the leverage to properly mount any real attack though. His straight jab, even enhanced with biotics, only snapped the Prime's head to the side before it tried to smash his rib cage in again. This time, Shepard rolled to the left and barely avoided getting killed. He sincerely doubted that his ribs were reinforced enough to withstand a direct hit.

David screamed at him. The Prime's left hand was pressed against his chest now, holding him in place. It raised its right arm and tried to bring it down, but Shepard lifted his left leg up and slammed his boot into the crux of its elbow, holding it in place and preventing it from coming down on him.

Shepard drew his pistol and activated his warp ammo converter in one rapid motion before firing away a point blank at its head. His gun lacked the power to do any damage, but its optic was being rocked back and forth.

"Upload progress at 95%."

Oh, god… I'm too late… I failed…

Just then, David howled in outrage and denial. The Prime froze for a moment.

Taking a chance, Shepard raised his other leg and gave it solid biotic kick in the chest, dislodging it and causing it to fly off of him. It fell on its back only a few feet away.

David was still screaming. He almost eclipsed what the VI was reporting.

"Alert: Normandy SR-2 is now out of range. Upload has been cancelled."

"MAKE IT STOP!"

Shepard felt a wave of relief, coupled with the feeling of failure. Whatever happened, he only got by because of luck, not because he stopped David.

The Prime stood up and ran at him again. Shepard rolled to the side to avoid it and drew his shotgun. He pumped round after round at it. Its shields broke, but the armor was still holding.

Snarling, Shepard focused on his biotics and called on everything Samara taught him. He struck out with his left hand, with only a faint aura of dark energy around him.

The Prime's chest exploded moments later.

Panting lightly from his exertion, he searched for any more threats before stomping toward the last cable.

Now recalling his success against the Prime and everything he did, Shepard thrust out his arm again.

Another explosion of dark energy blew the cable right out of its socket at the top of the column.

The instant Shepard used Reave to tear out the cable, David screamed one last time.

"QUIET! PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!"

The black sphere that had hidden David from Shepard's eyes shattered with crystalline energy, almost resembling broken glass.

The myriad of lights faded, leaving behind drab gray steel. Shepard took no notice of his vision returning or his perception of reality being brought back to normalcy.

He was too horrified by what he saw now; what had happened to David – what Archer had done to his own brother.

He was strung up like a macabre puppet. Gruesome pins were punctured right through his arms, torso and legs; shackling him. Imprisoning him.

The worse of if all was his head. Several wires were drilled into his skull at varying locations. A frame was attached to his neck and clavicle to prevent him from moving. Hooks inserted under his eyelids kept him from shutting his eyes. Hooks had also been inserted into his mouth, forcing it open for two thick cables to be rammed into his throat. He was shaven clean and stripped naked. He was hung in the air, completely motionless.

Except for his eyes.

They were staring down at Shepard. Untold pain was clear to see within.

All traces of his dignity were gone. Everything had been taken from him, leaving behind nothing more than a broken shell of a man.

His connection to the network may have been severed, but he was still connected to an intercom. His voice was no longer booming or laced with a digital twang. He was pleading with Shepard now, begging him with a whimpering cry.

"Quiet – please make it stop."

"Wait! Captain!"

Shepard turned around, shotgun up. He only marginally relaxed when he saw it was Archer, but lowered his weapon all the same.

The rest of his squad was trailing behind the Cerberus scientist, but had stopped after seeing what had been done to David.

"Oh, my god," Miranda whispered.

"What. The. Fuck?" Jack growled out.

"Holy shit…" Jacob said with wide eyes.

The remnants of Dawn's crew were also present and were muttering and pointing in disbelief.

Archer ran up to Shepard and held his arms of pleadingly. "I'm begging you. Don't do anything rash."

Holstering his weapon, Shepard narrowed his eyes and took a menacing step toward him. "Like what? Like this? !What the hell did you do to him?"

"I-I know how this must look—" Archer said.

"Somehow, I doubt that," Garrus growled. He was standing right behind Archer.

"—but I never intended any harm to come to him. You must believe me," Archer implored.

"I usually give people the benefit of the doubt, but I think you might be the exception," Kasumi said acidly, something out of character for the normally cheerful woman. She was holding her pistol in one hand and her wakizashi in the other.

"You lied to me!" Shepard said.

"To us," Dawn added. "I sent good men to their deaths to preserve this?"

"It was by necessity! If I'd told you the truth, you would have shut me down and not him!" Archer said defensively.

"I think we should shut you down anyway," Jack said.

Grunt snorted. "Just kill that guy up and be done with it. Give him some honor. Leaving him hung up there is disgusts me. We should kill this other one just because."

"It's not like I planned this. It was an accident," Archer said miserably.

"Bull-fucking-shit," Jack said threateningly. Her teeth were bared and her biotics manifested to reflect her feelings. "You don't string someone up like that and say you didn't fucking plan on it, you cocksucker."

"No, that's not what I meant!" Archer said. He took a few steps back. "I meant, seeing David communicate with the geth… it all seemed harmless."

"You were seeking to use him as a weapon," Thane said. Despite how calm he sounded, there was a tension in his posture that suggested otherwise. "A weapon of this magnitude could never be considered safe. Either you were naïve or foolish to believe so. If you don't believe your words, then you are lying to us again. All of those scenarios reflect poorly on you."

"Cerberus was looking for a way to avoid war with the geth! Any war we fight with them will be bloody! I was asked to find a way to avoid that!" Archer argued.

"Bullshit!" Jack shouted. She jabbed an accusing finger at Archer. Sparks of dark energy crackled. "The Illusive Man just wanted his own private fucking synthetic army!"

Jacob gritted his teeth. "Were you asked? Or ordered?"

"Did the Illusive Man authorize this?" Miranda asked in cold rage.

Archer turned to her in surprise before narrowing his eyes. "I had no choice! The demands are incredible! The Illusive Man doesn't broker failure, you know that!"

"And what about the lives lost here? How many died for this project?" Shepard asked.

Archer swallowed thickly and looked away, unable to meet anyone's eyes. David's, most of all. "More souls than will ever forgive me. But I won't apologize for radical ideas."

"Radical," Shepard repeated derisively.

"If my work spares a million mothers mourning the loss of a million sons, my conscience will rest easy," Archer said.

"Over the loss of hundreds here for your ambition. Like you're God," Shepard said.

"People are too afraid to make difficult decisions themselves. You, of all people, know this," Archer pointed out heatedly. "When they pray for a miracle, they're really praying for men like me to make the tough choices."

"You sanctimonious bastard," Tali said.

"Unethical. Disgusting. To justify, argue, defend mistakes instead of acknowledging them. Or ignore because it's inconvenient," Mordin said in loathing. "Prone to continue making mistakes. Continue to decline ethically. Continue to ignore boundaries. Further deaths. Justify further tragedies."

Shepard turned to look at David.

He was still staring down at the both of them, but his eyes darted to brother more and more.

"He'll never be the same again," Shepard said, recalling the memories and recordings David showed him.

"The-the damage may not be permanent—" Archer said feebly.

"You mean you hope," Jacob muttered.

"He might recover some semblance of his mind."

"Fuck that and fuck you. I know Cerberus well enough that they'll never let him go. He'll be a goddamned lab rat for the rest of his life if he stays here," Jack said.

"But a well-cared for lab rat. At least he'd still be alive," Archer said.

Jack reared her arm back. For just a moment, it looked like she was going to redecorate the room with Archer's body parts, but to everyone's surprise, Grunt seized her arm and pulled her back.

Shepard's threadbare patience snapped. He grabbed Archer by his coat and forced him to look at David for the first time since coming in. "Look at him."

Archer struggled in vain before Shepard gripped the sides of his head and directed his gaze. "Is this what you calling living? Is that what you call 'well-cared for'? Huh?" he said before pushing him closer. "Look. At. Him."

Tears were streaming down David's face now. He still couldn't make eye contact with anyone except Shepard and Archer. "Square root of 906.1 equals… equals…"

"30.1," Archer answered quietly. He couldn't tear his eyes away now. "What I've done to David is unethical. If he dies, it's unforgivable."

"What you've done to the people here is already unforgivable," Samara said. Her voice had a slight edge to it instead of her usual serene, yet distinct lilt.

Archer nodded and turned to Shepard. "Let me take care of him. Please."

Shepard stared into Archer's eyes, attempting to judge his sincerity before turning to David.

As if to answer him, David made eye contact once again. From what little Shepard knew of autism, that gesture alone was a big deal. "Quiet – please make it stop…"

"No," Shepard said. "I think I've seen enough of your cruelty to know that he'll never be free from it here. I'm taking him away."

"No! Leave him! He's too valuable!" Archer said.

His treacherous words told Shepard that he made the right choice.

Incredibly, Archer drew a pistol and fired off two rounds, but Shepard's shields easily deflected them.

Garrus rammed the butt of his Reverent into the back of Archer's head and brought him down. He kicked the pistol away and held him at gunpoint.

The rest of the squad, sans Miranda, Jacob, and Grunt, lifted their weapons at Dawn and her entourage.

Dawn and her people didn't even react or move to help Archer though, nor did they lift their weapons or try to resist.

Grunt stalked up to the kneeling scientist and hauled him to his feet. The low growl he was producing suggested he wanted nothing more than to tear the human limb from limb right on the spot.

With Grunt holding Archer in place, Shepard calmly walked up, drew his pistol and backhanded Archer across the face.

He grunted in pain and clutched his bloody nose.

"You even think about coming after David, and there will no force of nature, no act of god, that will save you from me," Shepard snarled. "That's a promise."

Archer turned to Miranda and Jacob piteously.

All he got was an unsympathetic look from Jacob, and a frosty, almost piercing gaze from Miranda.

Turning his attention back to Shepard, Archer asked, "Where will you take him?"

"That's no longer your concern."

"But the Illusive Man… I can't…"

"I don't give damn about what the Illusive Man wants and he knows that. If he has a problem, he can tell me personally."

"And what of you, Captain?" Miranda asked Dawn.

"There are some shuttles back at Hermes Station. We couldn't risk using them, but if the situation is under control, we can leave now," Dawn said.

"You're not going to get in our way?" Kasumi asked.

Dawn shrugged. "My orders were to find out what happened. I found out. I never got any orders to preserve the experiment. Besides, if my people or I couldn't stop this and you guys could… then what chance do we have in a firefight now? I just want to get the survivors out of here. Fighting you doesn't seem like the smart play."

"Let him go, Grunt," Shepard said.

Grunt threw Archer to the ground roughly.

"Get out of here," Shepard ordered in a low voice. Archer remained on the ground. "Go. You don't want to be here when the Alliance shows up."

Archer looked like he wanted to argue, fight; do something, anything. In the end, he bit his tongue and walked slowly to the stairs.

Dawn looked at David one last time and sighed. "We should get going too."

"Good luck," Jacob muttered. He was obviously conflicted about all this.

"Thanks," she said before turning to Shepard. "And thanks to you too. I don't think any of us would've survived if it weren't for you. See you around. Or maybe not."

After they left, Jack rounded on Shepard and growled in disbelief. "Wait. You're letting him go?" she spat out.

"Interestingly, I am in agreement with her," Samara said. "That man has done a great injustice. He should have paid for his crimes."

"Exactly. What she said," Jack agreed. "Why the hell didn't you shoot him? Hell, I would've shot him."

Shepard stared at Jack with unreadable eyes. "I know. I would've too."

"Exactly and… wait, what?" Jack asked, completely off-balance.

Garrus turned to Shepard and took off his helmet. "If you wanted to shoot him, why didn't you?"

Shepard turned away from his squad and stared up at the tortured soul, suspended above them. David's eyes were tracking their every move, unable to close his eyes and escape the shackles he'd been placed in.

"Because I didn't want David to see his brother killed in front of him," Shepard whispered. He checked his chrono. "The Normandy should still be in comm range."

"That VI said she wasn't though," Garrus said.

"I heard. Alright, Tali, Mordin, you two do what you can for David. I'm not expecting miracles, but… whatever you can do to…"

"I'll, um, I'll see how David was placed up there," Tali offered. "Whatever we may think about Archer, he was still a scientist. He must have detailed notes."

"Will look up medical history. Apply sedative to combat pain. Make more comfortable. Much to do," Mordin said. The both of them turned around and headed up to the control room upstairs.

"Miranda, Garrus: you two reestablish contact with the Normandy."

"On it," Garrus said.

Miranda stared at David before tearing her eyes away and silently nodded before leaving.

"The rest of you, secure the facility."

As everyone left to their assigned tasks, Shepard, now alone, turned to David once again.

"Square root of 912.04 is 30.2… it all seemed so harmless… Square root of 918.09 is 30.3… it all seemed so harmless… Square root of 924.16 is… is…"

"30.4," Shepard answered quietly for him. He stood where he was. The only thing he could offer David now was his solitary presence and prayed it was enough.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Right! This isn't actually over, but I thought this was a good place to stop.

Quote from Harry Potter, Armageddon, Babylon 5and Pitch Black.

Definition of autism taken from Wikipedia.

Credit to SnowShip for a quote from a motivational poster I was allowed to use.

Credit to reviewer Jason Kreuger Myersand Amir-015for some great lines I had to use.

Credit to Metroid and Terminator: Salvation for a couple of scenes I used.

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