Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

Base Infiltration and the Long Walk

Note: This is a rough draft. My beta is currently on vacation, but I wanted to give you all something for the 4th. Enjoy your holiday!

Location: Galactic Core / Collector Base / Normandy SR-2 Crash Site

"Here you go, Shepard," Jacob said and handed off a heavy bag filled to the brim with weapons and ammo.

Taking the pack and grunting with the effort of keeping so many armaments on his person -even with the assistance of his heavy muscle weave implants- Shepard shouldered his load and trekked to the airlock at the bow of the ship. Once there, he deposited it amidst all the others that were filling up the cockpit, just behind Joker's chair.

"Hey, you mind if I hang on to one?" Joker asked as he watched Shepard toss his heavy bag into the pile.

"One what?" Shepard asked distractedly. He pulled out his HMWA for one last cursory check.

"A gun. Weapon. Firearm, boomstick—whatever lingo you call it," Joker elaborated. "No offense, but the last time you guys left me alone, well… it wouldn't hurt to have some protection, y'know? Especially since you're emptying the ship with anything that fires a bullet in a place that's filled with bad guys wanting to kill us. Or worse."

Shepard raised an eyebrow and silently mulled over the request before nodding. "Alright, what do you want?"

Joker opened the bag Shepard had deposited and peered in. He chose the M-8 Avenger. "I'll take this."

"You still remember how to handle a rifle, right? It's been a long time since academy or even basic training. And I don't even know how well you did then," Shepard said while tactfully avoiding the issue of Joker's condition.

Joker shrugged. "Eh, I didn't do that bad, but I'm definitely no marksman. I'm sure I'll get it, though. If not, then I'm probably going to die anyway if I needed to use it," he said before grinning, which only served to enhance Shepard's worry. "Of course, if I die, chances are likely all of you are going to die too. Trial by fire, right?"

Shepard shook his head wearily and quickly gave him a crash course in rifle handling 101 while the others walked up to them, fully kitted out and ready.

With EDI's assurances that there were no hostiles in their immediate vicinity, he opened the airlock doors and leapt out of the ship. Landing nimbly on his feet, he quickly scurried out of the way for the others as he looked around. As EDI had said, everything was surprisingly quiet. No Collectors at all, though he was sure that would change soon. He tightened his grip on his HMWA and took comfort in its familiar weight and presence.

It didn't hurt that he had his warp ammo converter activated as well.

Grunt jumped next. His heavy landing was accompanied by a small tuft of dust he kicked up as well a small rumble that caused small bits of nearby debris to rattle. His eyes were darting around, searching out any threats as he gripped his Claymore in anticipation and barely contained excitement.

"Friendly atmosphere. You can tell they made everything homey just for visitors," Kasumi sardonically observed as she walked right up to stand with them. She held her Locust tightly and surveyed their environs with a wary stance, as if a battalion of Collectors would descend on them at that very moment.

Shepard glanced at the thief and privately wondered why he was still surprised at her nigh-imperceptible presence. Grunt had jerked around with his shotgun up at Kasumi's voice and tilted his head at her in wonder as to how she jumped from the ship and sauntered up behind them with nary a sound, even though they were already alert for any kind of threat.

Samara jumped, landed, and joined them without a word. If Shepard had to guess, her expression –hidden behind her helmet– would be of serene confidence and acceptance of whatever was coming. As always, she was hard to gauge, especially when she was donned in her blood red Inferno Armor.

Mordin's clumsy leap was a stark contrast to everyone else's exit, but he managed to avoid falling flat on his face as he staggered away from the landing area to join the others.

Soon after, Miranda and part of her team jumped out of the airlock one by one until they assembled outside with the rest of the squad. Garrus and Jacob were still aboard and proceeded to toss out the bags one at a time to the awaiting group below.

Once again, Shepard grunted and shifted the bag around until he was sure it was secure, but wouldn't hinder his movements too much or disrupt his ability to fight. Most of the weapons were only handguns, though if the crew or any colonists could manage it, a few rifles and shotguns as well. A full stock of thermal clips and grenades topped off the hefty weight he had to endure now.

Leading his team away from the Normandy, he stopped and waited at the designated entrance of the path they were going to take and watched the opening guardedly.

When Miranda and her team had their secured their own cargo, they emulated Shepard's example and moved off to their planned route as well. Jacob and Garrus tossed out their own bags before leaping down, reclaimed them, and quickly jogged to regroup with the squad.

The last to come out was Legion. It came out of the door and landed before walking to the vent shaft in almost one motion. What made the landing appear awkward was that it didn't even bend its knees or make any similar motions that organics would do to mitigate the forces acting on the body. It took a step out of the airlock, landed squarely on its feet, and kept on walking. Unlike the rest of the team, Shepard decided that their tech specialist wouldn't carry anything except the specialized shaped demo charge it needed to escape once it got into position in addition to its usual geth armaments.

"Comms check," Shepard ordered. "Everyone report in."

"Miranda here. You're coming in loud and clear."

"Jacob here. You're five-by-five."

"Garrus, reporting in. I hear you, Shepard."

"Mordin here. Coming in fine. Ready to go."

"I'm ready to face our enemies, Battlemaster! For the glory of our clan!"

"This is Jack. Let's do this."

"Tali, reporting in. I'm reading you clearly."

"This is Thane. Amonkira bless us all in this endeavor."

"Samara. I am ready. May the Goddess watch over us as we prepare to bring justice in this lawless region of the galaxy."

"Kasumi Goto here. I'm ready."

"Diagnostic complete. Communications array functioning. We are prepared and awaiting orders to execute assigned task."

"Joker? EDI?" Shepard called.

"We are reading you and your squad clearly, Shepard. I am also tracking your beacons and do not detect any loss in signal strength," EDI answered.

"You're five-by-five. Normandy still isn't ready yet, but I think we'll be able to fly soon… or soonish. I'll keep you updated," Joker added. "Good luck."

"Alright everyone, you know what to do," Shepard said.

"See you on the other side," Garrus said.

"Or hell," Jack grimly replied.

"Move out," Shepard commanded.

~o~O~o~

Location: Galactic Core / Collector Base

Taking his team in, he observed his surroundings carefully and noted that for all intents and purposes, the base was eerily similar to the ship they had just obliterated.

Mordin was right. They have no imagination, no independent thought. They're just mindless slaves now.

"We have entered the structure. Exterior temperature slightly elevated, but within tolerance levels. No obstructions detected," Legion reported after a few silent and tense minutes.

"Got it, Legion," Shepard replied. "Archangel Team – status?"

"We're entering the tunnel. No hostiles sighted – wait…" Miranda answered before trailing off. Moments later, the familiar sound of gunshots could be heard. "Correction, hostiles encountered! We're taking heavy fire, but we're moving forward!"

"Shep! Ahead of us!" Kasumi warned before firing her SMG at a trio of Drones flying toward them.

"Hostiles sighted. Looks like we got a scouting party," Shepard informed to Archangel Team. He sighted down the barrel and took one down at the far back, before taking aim at the others. "Miranda, we're pressing forward. Over."

"Roger!"

"Watch out! Reinforcements coming in!" Kasumi shouted, and forcing the team to revise its earlier strategy. She aimed her Locust at one of the four flying Drones and managed to clip its wing. It fell from the air and landed with a solid crunch.

"About time!" Grunt called out challengingly. He blew one out of the air like he was skeet shooting, forcing the remaining two to land quickly and into Shepard and Mordin's sights.

"Take'em down quick before Harbinger takes over any of them!" Shepard ordered.

The team sprinted into the fray, quickly dispatching the relatively weak enemies. The Drones fell against their rapid movements as both sides clambered over the scattered strange organic consoles to get to a more advantageous position.

Despite the numbers, Shepard's team proved better and within minutes, the immediate area was quiet, but there was no doubt in anyone's minds that more would be coming soon.

A quick sweep revealed one Collector was barely still alive, though it was still helplessly crawling toward its rifle. Grunt stepped onto the struggling Drone's back before blowing its head off with his Claymore.

"Did that one give you a nasty look?" Kasumi rhetorically asked.

"Just making sure it's dead," he answered before stomping down on its torso with a solid crunch. "Now he's extra dead."

"We've suppressed all hostiles. We're moving on," Miranda announced.

"Roger that, Archangel. Spectre Team, move out," Shepard said to his team when the coast was clear. He sprinted toward the far tunnel and peered in, trying to see if there were any nasty surprises waiting within the gloom. "Legion, report."

"Error: There is a pathing failure. We have encountered an obstruction in the tunnel. Unable to proceed."

Shepard growled softly to himself. "What?"

"Damn it," Miranda cursed. "It must be some sort of filter."

"What do we do?" Tali asked. "We can't leave Legion in there."

"There should be a terminal nearby to remove the filter," Kasumi suddenly said. "Either on our side, or Archangel's side. Maybe both."

Shepard turned to her, and tilted his head questioningly.

"Filters need to be taken out and cleaned every so often," Kasumi explained. "I worked a heist like this once. I broke in using a vent shaft and there were a bunch of filters I had to get through. Keiji had to remotely hack several separate servers in each section to clear my way. Might be the same here: one terminal controls one filter."

"Sounds like a pain in the ass," Jacob grumbled.

"It's also an additional security measure. Y'know, to prevent people like me from breaking in. Or it could be a redundant system to make sure the pipes stay clean. Whatever the case, we need to look for similar nearby terminals ourselves in each section and do the same for Legion."

"It would be nice if there was just one master terminal to open them," Garrus said.

"There probably is, but I doubt we have the time to find and hack it," Kasumi said before perking up. "Hey, can't EDI…?"

"She's already mining data from the mainframe, but she can't work on repairing the Normandy's systems and take control of their networks at the same time; not without giving the Normandy's position away," Shepard answered. "I'm going to assume: no."

"I see the terminal," Samara pointed out.

"Enemy contact ahead!" Mordin warned.

Shepard ran up to where she indicated and used his omni-tool to remotely access it, while angrily muttering, "No plan ever survives contact with the enemy…"

"Obstruction removed. Proceeding," Legion said.

"Alright, let's—"

"DIRECT INTERVENTION IS NECESSARY."

Shepard felt his blood chill and without hesitation, turned, sighted down his rifle, and fired at the source of the guttural command in one rapid motion.

A trio of Collectors was running down the tunnel. Samara, Mordin, and Grunt had already engaged them, but the one in the middle exploded in a blinding flash of golden, fiery light. Needless to say, everyone ignored the other two to focus on the greater threat now.

"Archangel, we've encountered Harbinger! We're going to be slowed down!" Shepard said. He rolled to the side, just barely dodging Harbinger's biotic attack.

"Understood! Be careful!"

"Another obstacle impeding progress. I am unable to continue without assistance," Legion said.

"We have a terminal here too!" Miranda shouted over the sounds of gunfire.

"We're going to have to work in concert to get Legion to the end!" Shepard ordered. He popped out and fired his assault rifle. He took heart when he saw that the warp ammo was already causing Harbinger's barrier to falter and redoubled his efforts.

Thank you, Tali.

Sensing that Shepard was now the greater threat, Harbinger chose to ignore the others and refocused its efforts to kill him.

"Got it!" Garrus announced.

"We're making good progress. Meet you at the rendezvous," Miranda said.

"Still dealing with Harbinger! We'll try to keep up!" Kasumi replied when it was apparent Shepard was far too busy to answer. She ducked down, before somersaulting away when Harbinger tried to backhand her. Harbinger's fist buried itself into the wall. Without pausing, it tore free, making the hole even larger than before. "Kuso! What is this thing? !"

Backpedaling quickly, Shepard retreated back down the tunnel. Occasionally, he shot back when given the chance, but Harbinger proved relentless. The dangerous game of cat and mouse continued for a few minutes. In that time, Samara and Mordin had easily dispatched the two Drones.

Grunt was pursing Harbinger, firing his Claymore until his thermal clip ran empty. He was forced to take cover and reload leaving Shepard to contend with the Reaper proxy alone.

"THESE ATTACKS ARE POINTLESS. WE WILL END YOU."

"Little help here!" Shepard growled as he barely ducked under another one of Harbinger's attacks. The strange biotic orb destroyed the nearby wall, causing bits of organic and inorganic debris to rain around him. Another burst from his HMWA coupled with his own biotic warp finally tore down its barrier.

"Nice work, Shep! Don't worry, I got him!" Kasumi said.

As expected, she wasn't visible anywhere. However, her work was clearly seen when the grenades that were attached directly onto Harbinger's back exploded.

The Collector's body fell bonelessly to the ground.

Shepard peered out from his cover and exhaled noisily. "Thanks, Kasumi."

"I really hate this bastard," Grunt snarled. He kicked the corpse a little as the last wisps of yellow energies began to fade.

"RELEASING THIS FORM."

Grunt leapt back and fired off a few shots, immediately followed by Shepard and Kasumi until the body was completely mangled.

"Another obstacle impeding progress. We are unable to continue," Legion informed.

"I don't see any terminals. It must be on your side," Miranda said.

"Over there! I can see the doors! Way in the distance!" Jack said. "Almost there!"

"I see a couple of terminals too. Legion, we're opening the vents ahead for you," Garrus said.

"Shepard, we're almost in position," Miranda reported.

"Double-time it people! We're falling behind!" Shepard ordered to his team. The three of them dashed back through the tunnel and through the open chamber, which was now devoid of hostiles. "Samara, Mordin: where are you? Report!"

"We've forged on ahead. We've encountered a number of Collectors, but no sign of Harbinger yet," Samara answered. "We'll search for the terminal."

"Ah-ha! Found terminal! Activating!" Mordin said.

"Path is clear. Moving on," Legion informed.

Sprinting through the passageways and rooms, bypassing the bodies of various Collectors and keeping a watchful eye for reinforcements, Shepard, Grunt and Kasumi finally caught up with Samara and Mordin only to find that they were being pinned down by a team of Collector Assassin's. Their constant long-ranged beam weapons kept them from effectively counterattacking. Several drones were moving to flank them.

"Take out the Drones! I got the Assassins!" Shepard ordered. He knelt down and drew his HMWSR. Taking a bead on the nearest target, he squeezed the trigger and took it down in one shot.

Seeing that the pressure was being taken off of them, Samara and Mordin shuffled to another location to assist in taking down the others.

Shepard's sniper rifle bucked in his arms again as he brought down another Assassin. He could help but snarl when he saw the last Assassin begin seizing. Activating the warp ammo convertor, he started firing quickly as the semi-automatic rifle allowed. He only managed to blow off an arm before the Collector finished its transformation.

"ASSUMING CONTROL OF THIS FORM."

Despite the grievous injury, Harbinger appeared completely unbothered as it began its relentless approach towards him. It was completely ignoring his team, even as they threw everything they had at it.

"THESE ATTACKS ARE POINTLESS. YOU ONLY DAMAGE THE VESSEL. YOU CANNOT HURT ME."

"Oh, fuck me."

~o~O~o~

"We're almost there!" Miranda rallied. She gunned down another Collector, but as expected, the numbers their enemies had to throw at them seemed limitless.

"Damn thermal clips," Garrus growled. He was crouched behind some organic protrusion as he threw his empty clip away and was in the midst of loading a fresh one. "I'm really wishing for those good old-fashioned heat sinks right about now."

"Shepard-Commander. The path is blocked again. Temperature is increasing."

"We're working on it, Legion! Stand by! Kasumi, see if you get to the terminal! I'll draw Harbinger away!"

"Kami, what is that? ! Is that biotics? ! That thing just tore down that wall!"

"Kasumi!"

"But what about you? ! Can you handle that thing by yourself? !"

"Go!"

"I—Oh, Kami… Fine! Hang on, Legion!"

Miranda pushed aside the tinge of worry that bloomed in her chest and focused on clearing a path forward for her team.

He'll be alright. He has to be.

"Get out of our motherfucking way you shitfaced assholes!"

Privately, she had to confess that Jack's incredible, and savage, biotic powers had helped tremendously in their charge. It was such that it allowed Jacob to preserve the power cells in his ML-77 Missile Launcher for any later threats. For now, both women were leading the push forward. Their combined tactics had so far been divided with either an acute awareness of the battlefield to allow for superior or strategic positions, or simply just brutally plowing through anything in their way.

At the very least, Miranda was simply glad that Jack deigned to follow her orders thus far.

Regardless of how well their efforts were though, the Collectors were still digging in their heels and pushing back. No matter where the team were, there was always three more Collectors firing at them; if not on terra firma, then from the air, where they were able to rain destruction from all sides.

Still, while her team had to contend with sheer, nearly overwhelming numbers, Shepard and his team had to contend with Harbinger and whatever Collectors were in the other tunnel. No matter how difficult her path was, she knew that Harbinger by itself was worth 20 Collectors.

Or more.

Jacob looked at the steam that was beginning to seep out of the vents overhead and cursed under his breath. "Is that scrap heap going to make it? !"

"It will! Stay focused!" Miranda tersely asserted. She fired off one last burst that killed a Collector Guardian and used her biotic slam technique to shatter the spine of an Assassin. Finally, an opening was created through the blockade. "We have a way forward! Pick up the pace, people!"

"There's one more terminal!" Tali reported once she dashed through the Collector ranks. Her drone was faithfully circling around her, firing at any Collectors that tried to close the distance.

"Get to it! We'll cover!"

"Legion's still stuck back there!" Garrus shouted.

"Shepard will get to his terminals. We need to focus on ours," Miranda responded through heavy pants.

"More Collectors are pursuing," Thane calmly broke in.

"Thane, take that vantage point over there! Garrus, bunker down here! Hold them back!"

"I got it! It's done!" Tali reported.

"I'm at the terminal! Releasing the lock!" Kasumi announced.

"Obstruction cleared. Continuing. Estimated distance indicates we are nearing target area."

"The rest of you, keep going! Get to those terminals!" Shepard said. "Harbinger is still—Shit!"

"What does it take to stop this thing? !" Kasumi shouted. "Kuso! Shep! Get down!"

Shepard's scream almost caused Miranda to hesitate, but with her team counting on her, she redoubled her efforts to get to the door.

"Let's move, people!" Miranda harshly commanded. "They'll make it! We need to go, now!"

Letting Jacob take point alongside Jack, Miranda took up the rear guard with Thane and Garrus. Both snipers were valiantly holding back the bulk of the Collector forces, but she saw that it was only a matter of time before they were overrun.

"Enough! You two, regroup!"

Both men abandoned their perches and quickly sprinted to join with her as they made their way to the rest of the team.

"Oh, shit… that goddamned hurt…"

"Hold on to your guts, Battlemaster, while I go rip out theirs!"

"We're here, Cheerleader, but the damn doors are still closed!" Jack called out.

"Understood. We'll hold our ground here. Find cover and maintain a defensive posture!" Miranda replied when she, Garrus and Thane reached them. She looked back to see the Collectors charging at them. "Spectre team, we're in position!"

~o~O~o~

"We're waiting for the doors to open! We'll hold our ground for as long as we can, but we need to get in soon!"

Goddamned, motherfucking, cheap-ass, son-of-a-bitch!

Shepard's litany of mental curses continued as he ducked behind anything suitable to withstand Harbinger's latest onslaught. He had already learned from first-hand experience that he never wanted to be struck by any of its biotic attacks.

Unfortunately, he rarely had a choice in the matter whenever it actually did happen.

At this point, I should probably be lucky that I'm still alive.

The last two terminals they needed to activate were tantalizingly close. However, either the Collectors were aware of Legion's presence in the shaft, or they were simply trying their damnest to protect their base, Shepard and his team were facing furious resistance.

Or maybe they just really hate me…

"Warning: Temperature increasing to estimated maximum tolerance levels," Legion stated. "At current projections, we calculate total systems failure in 5 minutes and 55 seconds."

"We're pinned down here!" Miranda shouted.

"We're on the way!" Shepard replied quickly.

The avatar for Harbinger continued to rain fire down on Shepard's location, preventing him from getting to the next valve release switch. After hearing the reports, he knew they were running out of time. "Suppressing fire!" he yelled before jumping his barricade and using biotic charge to cover the distance in an instant.

Three Collectors were standing near the console. Shepard's appearance resulted in an explosion of dark energy the scattered them like leaves in the wind. Slamming his omni-tool on the console, he turned and sprinted as fast as he could toward the last distant valve, pushing adrenaline and activating his tactical cloak to vanish from sight.

"LEAVE THE DEAD WHERE THEY FALL. FOCUS YOUR ATTACK ON SHEPARD."

"Obstruction removed. Note: We have calculated current distance traveled and estimate we are nearing the end. One final valve remains."

Samara's singularity drew the attention of most of the regular Collectors. Unfortunately, but not unexpected, Harbinger was unbothered. Instead, it continued to seek Shepard out using an area wide attack. It was literally bombarding the surrounding places Shepard was trying to run through with its unique brand of biotics.

"YOU ARE ARROGENT, SHEPARD. YOU DO NOT YET COMPREHEND YOUR PLACE, BUT YOU WILL LEARN."

Shepard barely managed to avoid its indiscriminate attack, but he was running out of tricks.

An explosion right behind him sent him flying. His optic camouflage failed and he reappeared in a shower of sparks. The moment he landed he rolled into cover and hunkered down. A cursory check revealed that he managed to escape relatively unscathed for once. To add to his good luck, he looked up to see he was right at the terminal. Sliding his omni-tool across the surface, he got up and began fighting in earnest.

"We got the terminal! Legion, get in there and open the doors! Spectre Team! Focus fire! Target Harbinger! Bring that bastard down!" he growled.

~o~O~o~

Destination reached.

Executing primary task.

Explosive device placed. 10 second timer active. –Warning: Recommend backtracking to safe distance.

Relocating to minimum safe zone.

Detonation detected.

Observation: Rupture created. Size is significant. Exit is possible.

Caution: Sound may have attracted hostile attention.

Scanning environment.

Scan complete. No signs of hostile forces.

Accessing communication recordings.

"Spectre team, we're in position! We're waiting for the doors to open! We'll hold our ground for as long as we can, but we need to get in soon!" –recording ends.

"We're on the way!" –recording ends.

Consensus achieved. Archangel team given priority.

Executing primary task. Engaging intrusion routines.

~o~O~o~

"The door is opening," Thane calmly reported, even as he fired off another shot from his sniper rifle.

"Go, go, go!" Miranda ordered. She popped out of cover and fired several bursts in succession, before shuffling back, taking up the rear guard for her team. Garrus stood nearby, doing the same with his Reverent. "Oh, hell! Look out!"

"We're in, Miranda!" Jacob called. He fired off a couple of missiles and broke the next Collector wave of attacks. "Come on!"

"Get your ass in here, cheerleader! Move it!" Jack shouted.

"Seeker swarms! Incoming!" Miranda shouted before darting in.

"We're in position! We need this door open now! We have no cover! I repeat: we're out in the open here!" Shepard called out.

Garrus turned and slipped past the door. Miranda fired off one last burst from her pulse rifle before doing the same. "Legion, shut the door! Tali, get that other door open for Shepard's team! Now!" she ordered. "The rest of you, hold them back! Suppressing fire!"

"Understood. Executing."

"On it!" Tali said before darting to the other door.

~o~O~o~

"Ack! Need assistance! Help!" Mordin shouted.

"Coming Mordin!" Kasumi answered from somewhere.

"Samara! Now!" Shepard ordered.

As he hoped, Harbinger's almost single-minded attack on Shepard rendered it blind to the giant chunk of debris Samara had biotically thrown at its back. It crashed into the Reaper proxy with bone crushing force. Amazingly, it was still alive and trying to pull itself out.

Grunt ran on top of the pile, adding his weight to try to prevent Harbinger from escaping before leveling his Claymore down at the exposed upper half and firing indiscriminately. "DIE!"

"I WILL FIND YOU AGAIN."

Glad to be rid of Harbinger for the time being, Shepard fruitlessly banged the door before facing the incoming attack. There was no suitable cover anywhere nearby and it was only a matter of time before another Collector was used by the Reapers.

"We need this door open!" he yelled as Collector's descended on their position. Without cover, only their personal shields were the only thing keeping them alive and they were draining rapidly. "Tali!"

"I'm trying! The console's damaged!"

~o~O~o~

"Come on!" Tali screamed in frustration as the interface flickered again. Engaging her omni-tool, she tried to remotely access the damaged console. Typing furiously, her commands seemed to crawl across the display. Hearing Shepard's voice and the sounds of gunfire just beyond the door drove her harder. "Come on, you bosh'tet! Open damn you!"

"Tali, I don't want to sound critical…" Shepard urged through gritted teeth.

Several new command trees appeared. "Almost there!"

"We can't hold out! Hurry!" Kasumi shouted. "My tech armor is almost spent!"

"Glory or death!" Grunt roared.

"My shield is down. Emergency backup has activated," Samara's cool, but tense voice reported. "Erecting a barrier."

"Shields down! Ah, damn it! Right flank! Mordin, get down!"

"Ah, Shepard!" Mordin's panicked voice cried out. "Shepard hit!"

Oh, Keelah… please… please… please… please… please… please… please…

A final set of commands appeared. She quickly sought the ones she was looking for and soon heard the doors begin to open.

"I got it!" she cried out triumphantly. "Door's opening!"

Kasumi's lithe frame squeezed through first and she moved to the side to catch her breath. Ejecting a heat sink from her SMG, she waited until Mordin cleared the door next before assisting with suppression fire, shooting only when she was sure she had a clear line of sight. The gates seemed to open at an agonizingly slow pace.

Mordin finally scrambled inside, firing off his neural shock as he did so at the nearest Collector through the widening gap.

Samara darted in next, keeping her head down until she moved to the side and propped up against the opening doors. She rounded the corner and provided support fire as well.

"Doorway is closed and sealed," Legion announced.

"To the other doors! Move! Cover Spectre Team!" Miranda ordered. Her team ran toward the door Shepard and his team was entering from. "We need hold this door! Suppressing fire!"

Tali worked feverishly on the remotely accessing the broken console as everyone lined up and fired through the door, determined not to give the enemy an inch.

Shepard and Grunt both shuffled backwards and cleared the door together once it was wide enough.

"Here they come!" Shepard growled. The entire squad banded together now and were firing and covering for each other. "Stop them here!"

"I got it! It's closing!" Tali said.

Seeing the doors move, the Collectors abandoned their previous tactics and ran right at them, firing wildly and hoping to get them in a suicidal charge.

"Hold them back!" Shepard commanded.

"Frag out!" Jacob warned and tossed a grenade just past the threshold.

The explosion stopped the Collector charge cold. Jack wound her arm back and released a biotic shockwave, bowling over anything in its path. "Denied, jackasses!" she crowed just before the doors slid shut.

~o~O~o~

Shepard panted lightly as he checked his pauldron.

"Shepard! Are you alright? !" Tali asked worriedly.

"I'm fine," he assured. He nodded at his left shoulder pad. "Armor took the round. Didn't even penetrate."

She sighed in relief.

Patting her on the shoulder, he said, "Nice work, Tali. You too, Legion. I knew neither of you would let us down."

"Shepard? I think you need to see this."

Turning toward Miranda, he was about to ask about the status of her team when his eyes were drawn to what she was pointing at.

Pods. Hundreds, but more likely to be thousands of them. Maybe more. And unlike the Collector ship, this time they were filled with people. Humans. Men, women, the elderly, children…

"Are they still alive? Are we too late?" Shepard asked, though it almost came out a whisper. It was almost like seeing the massive cargo bay at the Collector ship all over again, but far worse. The idea that they might be too late to save anyone felt like he was punched in the gut.

Mordin ran up to the nearest pod. Inside was a woman dressed in the tough and functional clothing colonists preferred out in the Attican Traverse. She appeared to be unconscious. Running his omni-tool over her, he glanced down at the readouts and nodded quickly. "Yes! Still alive! Vitals remain strong!"

"I found Dr. Chakwas!" Garrus shouted. "She's awake over here!"

"I found Gabby," Jacob reported. He turned to the pod nearby when Gabby started banging on the window hysterically and shouting something. "Hold on, girl! We'll get you out!"

"Where? ! Where is she? !" Tali shouted before hurrying over.

"What? I can't hear you!" Garrus said to Chakwas as he studied the lid of the pod and tried to find a way to open it. Chakwas was as frantic as Gabby, if not more so.

Shepard looked around for a terminal or something similar. "Right. Let's find a way to get these pods open. Find the controls and get these people—"

"Shepard! Observe!" Mordin cried out frantically.

The woman he had examined woke up screaming. She was banging on the transparent window and flailing wildly. And it was apparent why. Her flesh began to dissolve, followed by her eyes, her hair… Blood was everywhere and splattered all over insides of the pod as she flailed in agony.

Mordin was desperately trying to pry the pod open with his bare hands, but it was far too late. She was being melted alive.

Shepard watched helplessly as the woman's wild screams tapered off when she fell out of sight. Further adding to his horror was the sounds of vacuums. Even as she was dying, her liquefied remains were being sucked out via tubes attached on top of the pods.

"Get these pods open, now! Any way you can!" Shepard barked.

The squad quickly scrambled to any pod within reach and used whatever means they had to open them.

Miranda, Mordin, Garrus, Tali, and Jacob pounded at the windows with the butt of the weapons, breaking them open and dragging people out. Kasumi drew her blades, drove it into the side and used them as a lever to pry open the pods. Grunt utilized brute force, relying on his genetically enhanced krogan strength to rip the lids off. Similarly, Legion was doing the same, its synthetic body easily capable of matching Grunt strength easily, as it tore the lids off one by one.

By far, the most effective were Shepard, Jack, and Samara though. Pods were being opened one after another as they pulled the lids open with their biotics before moving on to the next.

"Move it! Hurry!" Shepard ordered. He sprinted to the next pod, reached out and ripped it open. A man fell out and tumbled to the ground. Before Shepard could move on, a wet, hacking gasp forced him to pause.

"Help… me…" the man rasped out. Pain was etched in every word as he skin dissolved right before Shepard's eyes. The colonist began vomiting unnatural amounts of blood, even as he screamed.

Knowing he only had one choice left, Shepard leveled his HMWP at the unfortunate soul and pulled the trigger.

Turning away from the still disintegrating corpse, he looked to see that the other people still trapped in their pods were sharing the same fate as the remains of the man at his feet. Each of them were melting and screaming in abject pain and horror.

Left without any further choices, Shepard steeled himself and immediately began firing on the pods. If he wasn't able to save the trapped prisoners, he would at least grant the mercy of death, rather than the last few minutes of the agony of life.

Grunt saw what Shepard was doing and immediately emulated his example. Garrus, Thane, Jack, and Samara followed soon after.

Shepard had no idea what they were thinking or feeling when they started shooting. He wasn't sure if he ever wanted to know either.

The screams of the tortured and dying echoed in concert with the sounds of gunfire.

After what seemed like an eternity, though in reality, it was only a few minutes, the only sounds he could hear were their own weapons.

"Hold fire! Hold fire!" Shepard shouted.

At his orders, all five ceased fire. As everyone put their weapons down, the last echo of gunfire reverberated from the massive chamber. The silence following their actions seemed to hurt more than the screams mere moments ago. Worse still were the sounds of the machinery from above, as the tubes continued pumping the remains of those they failed to save. The sinister and sickening noises reverberated along the tubes down a large, foreboding tunnel.

Jacob kicked the nearest pod in anger. "Those goddamned bastards! What the hell were they doing to these people? !"

Shepard shook his head and tried to put aside the fact that he and his team just mercy killed dozens of people that were being melted down and fed through some tubes as if they were processed cattle.

He didn't even want to contemplate the fate of those that had to actually suffer through the entire ordeal.

Spotting Chakwas as one of the people he and his team rescued, he ran over and checked to see if she was all right. "Doc? Dr. Chakwas? Karin? Are you okay?"

Chakwas looked up at him as if he were a cruel figment of her imagination. "S-Shepard?"

"It's me, Doc. We're all here," Shepard said. "You're safe now."

"Y-you came. You actually came for us," she whispered in utter relief.

"No one gets left behind," Shepard recited. His elation at her safety was followed by the guilt at how he was able to save his long-time friend, but not so many other people, strangers they may have been. He pushed feeling aside and refocused at the task at hand.

Nearby, Miranda helped Kelly to her feet. The yeoman had her arms wrapped around herself and was shivering uncontrollably. Some of the others they rescued fared little better.

"Thank God you got here in time," Kelly murmured between sobs. "A few more seconds and… I-I-I don't even want to think about it."

There was a general noise of agreement among the survivors.

"Bugger… am I glad to see you again, Boss," Ken said as Tali helped him and Gabby to their feet.

"We both are," Gabby added.

"I'm glad to see you two as well," Tali said happily. "Are you both okay?"

"We're fine," Gabby said, though she sounded shaky. "If you're here, does that mean the Normandy—?"

"She's here and in mostly one piece. Trust me, we have our jobs cut out for us when we get back," Tali answered, obviously trying to keep upbeat for their benefit. "Nothing a bit of duct tape and… uh… WD-40, can't fix. And she might need a new coat of paint too."

"After this, I don't care. Whatever you want, Boss. Hell, I'll even build a new Normandy if you want," Ken said before coughing. He fell to his knees, clutching his stomach. "Ah, shite."

"Ken? !" Gabby cried worriedly and knelt down to steady him.

"Professor Solus!" Tali called.

"Yes, yes, yes! Coming, coming!" the salarian replied. He injected something into a colonist before hurrying over.

"The things we saw… what happened to the others before we got moved…" Matthews said to Shepard. He seemed to realize something and turned to Hadley. "I mean…"

"They did same thing to my brother. I know it," Hadley seethed. "Those bastards… Those motherfucking…"

"We saw it. All of us. Whole groups of people. It must've been hundreds at a time. Perhaps thousands… they were all… processed," Chakwas explained. She swallowed thickly and took a deep breath to gather her wits. "Those swarms of little robots… they—they melted their bodies, just as you saw with the others. Some sort of gray liquid, before pumping it through those tubes above us."

Shepard looked up and observed, almost glared, at the tubes that were connected to the pods. They all gathered into even larger tubes that led down a massive passageway he knew he and his team would have to follow. They were still pumping whatever they got from the colonists.

"They shuffled our pods. Pulled away the empty ones and put in ones with such frightened people. We were helpless. We saw hundreds of people… the screams… the worst came from the children… oh god…" Chakwas said before trailing off. Like Kelly, she wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the phantom chills. "We were next… it was so close…"

"You're safe now," Shepard assured before grimacing when he remembered their precarious situation. "Or you soon will be."

"What the hell were they doing to these people?" Jacob repeated. "I mean, who knows how many they've done this shit to."

Chakwas swallowed and shook her head. "I don't know. I'm just glad you got here before it happened to us."

"So are we. But we still have a job to do," Miranda said. "We've done well so far. We just need to go little further. Orders?"

Shepard nodded in agreement. "Right. Joker, status?"

"EDI and I got some of the systems up and running. We can fly, so that means we can come in close and save you some time, but we still need to land back from your position."

"Got it. Do you know where do we go next?"

"According to these readouts, all those tubes lead into the main control room right above you. The route is blocked by a security door, but there's another chamber that runs parallel to the one you're in."

"I cannot recommend that. Thermal emissions suggest that the chamber is overrun with seeker swarms. Mordin's countermeasure cannot protect you against so many at once," EDI cautioned.

Turning to Samara, Shepard asked, "What about biotics? Can we create a biotic field to keep them from getting near us?"

"Yes… I think it may be possible. I wouldn't be able to protect everyone, but we might be able to get a small team through if they stayed close," she answered.

"I can too. In theory, any biotic can," Miranda added.

He nodded. "If we're going to put theory to practice, we're going to need our best, if only to increase our chances to get to the other side."

"That's Samara and Jack then," she said, pointing to both women in turn, before turning back to him. "Maybe even you as well."

"I'll take them both," he said. "Garrus, you're also with me since I'll need long and short range marksmen to protect whoever is making the biotic shield. Jack will handle the first half of the tunnel and Samara will take over the other half to avoid tiring out either one. I'll be the wild card, just in case. We'll open the security doors from the other side and meet the rest of the squad there."

"I'll take the others and head down the main tunnel to provide a distraction then," Miranda said.

"We'll get there as soon as possible, but it's likely we'll be slowed down," Shepard warned. "You'll have to hold out in the meantime."

"We'll make it. Just try not to enjoy the sights."

"Remember: That many seeker swarms will also mean that it's likely we'll be out of radio contact as well," he reminded.

"We'll keep an open channel. Hopefully, you might be able to receive," she replied.

"And what about me and rest of us, Shepard?" Chakwas asked worriedly. "We're in no shape to fight."

"We got it covered," he assured. "Mordin will escort everyone back once we leave. With the blast doors sealed, the Collectors will have to go around and cut us off which will mean the passages back will be clear shortly."

He wisely kept silent about where it was only a guess and he only hoped it was clear. The fact that most of the victims were still standing was a miracle after what they endured. He wasn't about to break their last tenuous thread of courage now.

"Okay, let's pass out the weapons for everyone," he said to his team before speaking to the group of liberated humans. "Anyone that can fight, pick up a weapon. Anyone that can run, help anyone that can't. Dr. Solus is in charge. Listen to him and he'll get you to safety."

"Quickly, quickly. Gather around. Must render immediate first aid. Have stims for those that have difficulty standing or moving," Mordin said before tapping into his radio. "Joker, request location of landing zone. Will meet you there."

Dropping their bags on the ground, Jacob, Garrus, and Shepard set about arming anyone with combat experience first. Even Thane offered one of his Predators to a crewman.

Once they were sure that the people they saved were given the best chance to make it to the Normandy, Shepard grimly stared down the dark passageway he and his team would take.

"We've all got our assignments. Let's move out," he commanded.

~o~O~o~

Jack looked up at the large door and rolled her head and shoulders to mentally prep herself to do her job.

Let's hope I don't have to do this shit for too long…

"This looks like the place," Garrus said.

"It would appear so," Samara said in agreement. She was tapping the side of her helmet before shaking her head. "My radio no longer functions."

Shepard walked up to the door and tilted his head towards it. "I can hear them. Seeker swarms. A lot of them, just like EDI said," he said before turning to Jack. "Okay, whenever you're ready."

"Right,"she said. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, she raised her arms and concentrated. She knew she could do it, but she always preferred to use her biotics to wreak havoc and destruction. It was less about control and more about unleashing her abilities to utmost to tear apart anything that stood in her way; far easier and much more fun. Still, she wasn't about to back down and look like a coward.

Slowly, a bluish-black bubble spread out and encompassed the group. She extended the barrier a little further to allow everyone room to maneuver if they needed to, but not so much that she'd stress herself.

"Okay, its up," she said in a confident tone. "I'm moving out. Stay close if you want to live!"

The moment the doors opened, everyone tensed up and waited. A flood of Seeker Swarms descended upon them immediately. Thankfully, as Samara had predicted, the field kept the swarms at bay. They bumped and impacted against Jack's construction, but didn't penetrate.

"Looks like it's working," Garrus whispered, as if he didn't want to call down any more trouble.

"Jack, you okay?" Shepard asked.

"I can do this all day," she boasted.

"Miran—in posit—prepare—moving—good lu—"

Shepard growled in annoyance at the loss of radio signal. "Okay, sounds like they're on the move so we got to hurry. Ready for the longest walk of our lives?"

Jack nodded. "Let's do this then."

"Ladies first."

Jack rolled her eyes, though the effect was lost since she was wearing her helmet. "Fuck you, 'Captain'."

Garrus and Shepard took point and moved together as one. They stood just a foot away from the edge of the field. Samara held the rear, forming a ring around Jack as they walked forward. Jack moved as quickly as she dared, but not so much that she might lose her concentration.

Fuck, he's right. This really could be a long walk.

They kept their pace steady, but remained on alert of anything amiss. So far, Jack didn't feel the stress of maintaining the barrier at all and the only sounds she could hear were the constant buzzing of the swarms around them. They aggressively struck the barrier, but not so much that their small group was in any danger. And while the numbers of Seeker Swarms was significant, it felt like only a large group was attempting to strike at them, rather than the entire population that resided in the tunnel.

Jack warily looked at the bugs that she was keeping out with her barrier. "How come they're not all swarming around us? I thought we'd be seeing big-ass cloud of these things."

"Maybe Mordin's countermeasure is keeping enough off of us, while some can see us and are trying to attack," Shepard guessed. "Or maybe it's because it's just you and me. If these things were programmed to hunt humans, they're going to ignore Garrus and Samara and send enough to take the both of us down, not the entire swarm."

"Either way, no Collectors so far. You think we're in the clear?" Garrus whispered after a few minutes of silent walking.

"No," Shepard answered shortly. His posture was tense and alert.

"Me too. Maybe they—"

"There! Ahead of us!" Samara warned. Her statement was accompanied by the familiar sounds of buzzing wings just as a team of Collectors flew into view.

"They've seen us! Take them down!" Shepard ordered. He was already firing at Collectors.

Once they realized they were under attack, most of the Collectors flew down and took cover wherever they could find it. A few were too slow and were brought down hard by Shepard, Garrus, and Samara's combined efforts.

Jack kept low, but didn't move from her spot nor did she allow her attention to waver. She noticed that all three had moved in front of her during the fight, physically shielding her from the attackers.

"Scratch one!" Garrus crowed. "They're falling back down that ramp! We need push forward and take advantage of the high ground!"

"Jack! Over there! Take cover behind that pillar!" Shepard ordered.

"Going!" Jack shouted over the sounds of gunfire. She kept her head down and lightly jogged before hunkering down behind a large column. She noted that it not only kept her out of the line of fire, but it afforded her barrier to reach places that allowed her team to strike down the Collectors.

"Shepa—we've engag—pushing—try to flank—look ou—take cover!"

"Aw, hell. More incoming!" Garrus shouted. He drew a bead with his sniper rifle and took a shot.

"I see them! Don't let them anywhere close to Jack!"

"WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE."

"Goddamn it…" Shepard growled before renewing his attack.

Jack crouched even lower. She was tempted to look, but from the way the others were suddenly fighting, she was sure that popping her head out to satisfy her curiosity was a supremely bad idea. "I can't fight back like this!"

"Just stay down and keep those swarms off of us!" Shepard barked. "Garrus, Samara: Focus your fire on Harbinger! Burn him fast!"

"YOU PROLONG THE INVITABLE. YOUR DEATH IS ASSURED. RELINQUISH YOUR FORM TO US."

~o~O~o~

"Shit," Patel cursed. "They're coming!"

Mordin turned around and muttered a few choice words under his breath. A small squad of Collectors and husks were charging right at them. The civilians all froze at the sight.

"Hold the line!" Mordin ordered. "Unarmed civilians! Continue to ship! Combat troops, hold the line! As long as possible!"

His words had the desired effect. Those that weren't armed, turned tail and ran as quickly as they could. Chakwas was in the lead now, spurring everyone on towards safety.

Mordin stood with his impromptu team, fighting back against the dozen or so aggressors. His neural shock proved more than useful against his foes and he was grateful for it. He knew that he was the only one armored and shielded over the others. Any advantage he had needed to be used to its fullest.

One colonist screamed. Mordin turned to see her taken by a group of seeker swarms and dragged away. Those that had weapons hesitated at the sight and could only watch numbly, unsure if they could risk the shot.

Unbidden, Mordin recalled one of his final lessons to Daniel before joining Shepard's squad.

"Lots of ways to help people. Sometimes heal patients. Sometimes execute dangerous people. Either way helps."

But there was no way to heal that colonist. And she certainly wasn't dangerous. It was another moral grey area.

Hearing her frantic cries though, Mordin made a choice and did the only thing he could do.

Raising his SMG, he fired a short burst at the unfortunate victim.

The Seeker Swarms continued to fly off with the body.

Some of his allied combatants looked at him with varying degrees of disbelief or horror.

"Hurry!" Mordin snapped. "Must get to ship before more arrive! Or we all die! Run! Now!"

Shaken, but pulled out of their stupor, everyone regrouped and continued their frantic pace to the Normandy.

~o~O~o~

"Harbinger is toast!" Garrus reported triumphantly. "Chalk up another kill to me!"

"Finally!" Shepard grunted out. He knelt back down behind his defilade and loaded a fresh thermal clip into his HMWSR. "Reloading!"

Jack instinctively turned her head away when a round ricocheted off her cover. "Goddamn it!"

"I see him," Samara assured calmly. She had her own sniper rifle out and took moment to line up her shot before firing. "One down."

Jack had to take a steadying breath. Harbinger had made an appearance twice now, forcing them to hold their ground and defend themselves, each encounter tougher than the last and wasting precious time. The other team had to be getting close to their objective now while they were bogged down in their utility tunnel. Thankfully, the area they were in seemed to be for the Seeker Swarms, rather than the Collectors. They only fought a couple of skirmish groups and some husks so far.

Naturally, the presence of Harbinger made things a pain in the ass.

"I think we got them all," Garrus finally reported.

"Jack? You okay?" Shepard asked. He was scanning the area ahead to make sure the coast was clear.

"Peachy. I'm having the time of my fucking life," Jack muttered under her breath.

"What?"

"I said: I'm fine," she amended loudly. "We almost there yet?"

"I think we're at the halfway point," he answered. "Samara, you're up. Extend a barrier."

"Maintain your construct, Jack," Samara instructed.

"Yeah, yeah," Jack said off-handedly. Privately, she was glad to be done. Keeping the barrier up as long as she did was beginning to take its toll, though she'd never admit it to anyone.

Samara created her own barrier. She enlarged it to cover the group, but stopped just short of Jack's own creation.

"Release," she said.

Dropping her arms and her barrier, Jack heaved a very quiet sigh of relief, but held her bravado. She drew her shotgun and checked it over. "Ready to go. About time I get to shoot something now."

"Barrier is up. Whenever you are ready, Shepard," Samara informed.

"Move out," he said.

Samara waited until Jack and Shepard took point while Garrus held the rear guard with his sniper rifle up and ready.

They were forced to pick up their pace now, breaking out into a light jog. Jack glanced back at the asari with the corner of her eye and saw that she had no trouble keeping up with their faster speed and maintaining the barrier.

The sounds of moans forced Jack to turn her attention away from the justicar. Again, husks were crawling out from every nook and cranny they could fit through before shambling toward them in a one-track minded charge.

Garrus and Shepard began shooting first, using their sniper and assault rifles respectively. Soon after, they were forced to refocus on the Scion that lumbered into view. Jack let loose a shockwave before readying her shotgun. The moment the surviving husks ran into range, she easily tore them apart with just a few shots.

"Ha! Just like those zombie vids!" she crowed.

"Firing concussive shot!" Garrus warned.

The scion staggered from the modified sniper round, before falling to Shepard's shockwave. The team advanced quickly, tearing through the mindless husks before finishing off the Scion as it lay helpless on the ground.

Pushing forward, Garrus kept the bulk of the husks at long-range, letting Shepard engage at mid-range, and Jack to finish them off at close range. Their combined efforts served to protect Samara well. Her barrier never faltered or wavered.

"There!" Shepard shouted over the sounds of gunfire. He pointed to an open door at the bottom of an incline. "Let's go people! We're almost there!"

"Let's pick up the pace then!" Garrus yelled back. He was looking through the scope of his rifle and fired off a shot. "We got Collectors chasing us now!"

"Move! We can't afford to face Harbinger again!" Shepard ordered. He thrust his arms out and a singularity burst into existence, stopping the Collectors cold and even drawing in the Seeker Swarms.

Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, everyone followed Samara as the Justicar set their new pace down the incline and to the doors.

Several husks were climbing along the walls and dropped down ahead of them. They shambled towards the group, hoping to impede their progress, but were cut down mercilessly as the team made their last push to the end.

"Hurry!"Samara called out.

Jack stood at Shepard's side as they fired uphill at the trailing Collectors. Thus far, Harbinger had yet to make another appearance and they intended to keep it that way.

Garrus reached the door first and started his bypass. "Almost… Got it!" he said before providing cover fire with his sniper rifle. The doors slid open behind him.

"Everyone inside!" Samara commanded.

At Samara's behest, Shepard turned and ran for the door, swapping out his assault rifle for his sniper rifle to join Garrus at long-range marksmanship.

As Jack sprinted past Samara, she noticed that the asari had turned around and was facing the incoming horde of Collectors. "What are you doing? ! Get the hell in here!"

"Go!" Samara grunted out. Her eyes were closed, but the dark energy coalesced around her hands was increasing in brightness and size.

Jack stared at her, wondering what she was doing before she recognized the smoldering pattern of energies gathered around the justicar. She'd certainly done it enough herself.

Gritting her teeth, Jack holstered her shotgun and ran up to join her, closing her eyes and focusing on the primal strength of her biotics as well.

Like hell I'm going to let you have all the fun.

Jack could feel the heavy presence of dark energy they created around them now. Their combined efforts now almost made the biotic barrier a solid wall of crackling energy.

"Steady…" Samara whispered. "Almost there…"

It was nothing like Jack had ever done. She felt like her cells were about to scream in protest, yet at the same time, demand that she continue. Every inch of her skin tickled, itched, and tingled. She had always thought that Samara had always used her biotics conservatively; focused on control over power, unlike her. The fact that the asari had been holding back was humbling to say the least.

Still, it was rare that Jack ever said no to a challenge.

"NOW!"

At Samara's cry, Jack thrust out her arms in tandem with the Justicar. The biotic blast they'd created exploded outward, crashing against Seeker Swarms and Collectors alike. Their enemies were tossed back violently, unable to stand against the force of their combined power. They looked like they were caught between the cross of a force of a hurricane and a tidal wave. The small swarms were easily tossed back and scattered far from them while the Collectors were either blown over the side and into the chasm, or simply crushed by the awesome forces that were exerted by the two women. The path they had traversed cracked and crumbled from the onslaught of energies and fell apart, cutting off any chances for any husks to follow.

Panting lightly, Jack turned to see Samara appear unaffected by what they done.

Samara nodded her head respectfully before drawing her assault rifle and rejoining Shepard and Garrus inside.

Jack quickly followed, her smirk hidden beneath her helmet.

Not bad, grandma.

~o~O~o~

"—peat, Shepard, do you copy? !"

"Jack, close and seal this door!" Shepard barked. He moved deeper in the room and tried to raise Miranda again. "I copy. Sit-rep."

"We're at the door! They've got us pinned down!"

Shepard gritted his teeth and ran up to the side of the door. "We're coming! Just hold on! Garrus!"

"I'm on it!" Garrus shouted back. He was already working the console and had his omni-tool up and scanning.

"Get this door open!"

"Just a few more seconds… Okay! It's opening!"

Stacking up, his team waited as the doors slid open.

"Cover fire!" Shepard ordered.

"Get inside! Move, move!" Miranda ordered. She, Grunt, and Jacob held the rear as the rest of the besieged team scrambled inside. "Grunt, Jacob, let's go!"

"Moving!" – "Ha! They can't stop us!"

"Suppressing fire! Hold them back!" Shepard ordered as the Collector's rained down fire on their position. As soon as the last of Miranda's team crossed through the threshold of the door, he called out to Garrus, "Seal it!"

Continuing to fire at the Collectors, Shepard noted his shields were draining fast against the onslaught. He couldn't even begin to imagine what the condition of the other team was like. Miranda and her squad continued to fight them though, ensuring no Collectors could enter.

"Shields down!" Miranda reported.

Finally, the doors closed, but one last shot somehow snuck by and struck Miranda's helmet. She only grunted once at the moment of impact and fell. The sight of her falling caused Shepard's blood to freeze. Once the doors closed, he ran towards Miranda's prone form.

"Miranda!" he called out.

She suddenly moved as Shepard knelt down next to her. Sitting up on her own, she turned to Shepard, showing that her faceplate was cracked in a spider-web pattern, but not breached. She stood up without help and took off her helmet before giving him a reassuring smile and a snapped off a salute. "I'm ready for action, Captain."

Sighing in utter relief, Shepard cupped her face briefly before turning to the others. "Anyone else hurt?"

Various answers in the negative floated back to him.

"Solid work," Shepard praised to her quietly. "Joker? Can hear me?"

"Reading you, loud and clear. Finally," Joker said. He breathed a sigh of relief. "Mordin's team just showed up. I was trying to get in touch with you since then."

"They had difficulty en route to our position, Shepard. Some casualties to note, but the majority arrived in relatively good health. They're sequestered in the cargo bay," EDI informed.

Tossing her helmet aside, Miranda stepped up next to him. "Excellent. Now let's make it count. What's our next step?"

"There is a tunnel that will lead you directly to what should be the main control console. From there, you can overload the system and destroy the base."

"Ah shit," Joker cursed. "Shepard, you got a problem. Hostiles massing just outside the door. Won't be long until they bust through."

Shepard turned to console Garrus was at. Tali and Legion were there now and were doing something or other to it.

"We're jamming the door," Tali explained without looking up. "With the mess we're making in the programming, the only way they're getting in is by using heavy ordinance."

"Be advised: We calculate a 94.1235% chance that the Collector forces will breach the door using the method Creator Tali'Zorah suggested. Our attempt will only slow them down," Legion added.

"The other way is gone," Garrus reminded. "Jack and Samara took care of that."

"Just a little redecorating. Maybe a bit of radical reconstruction for good measure," Jack said with an unrepentant shrug.

"That means the Collectors will be funneled here," Shepard summed up to himself.

"Holding action?" Jacob asked.

"A rearguard could defend this position and keep the Collectors from following," Shepard replied in agreement. "That only leaves whatever is left ahead of us."

"Pick a team to go with you, Shepard. Everyone else can bunker down here and cover your back," Miranda said.

Looking at everyone in turn, he carefully weighed the strengths and weaknesses with what he might need in the final push ahead, as well as the best chance for the rearguard to survive.

"Miranda, Garrus, and Tali. Let's do this," he said, nodding to each one in turn.

His reasoning was simple. The team he needed to take had to be strong enough to handle Harbinger and whatever forces were left, but intelligent enough to take care of any complicated technical matter that may also lie ahead. Finally, he wanted to be as well rounded in their combat styles as possible; a balance of firepower, tech, and biotics.

All while making sure that the team holding the rear would still have enough to numbers and strength to keep the Collectors away.

The three he had chosen looked at each other before moving out of the group to stand beside him.

"Jacob, I'm putting you in charge of the rest of the squad."

"I got it, Captain," Jacob promised. "We'll hold them for as long as it takes."

"Anything to say before we do this?" Miranda asked quietly.

Shepard glanced at her before taking off his helmet to be able to look at his squad in earnest.

"This mission… this wasn't done by heroism or the pursuit of personal glory. In the end, we depended on each other to get here. We became a team that was built around our personal skills, talents, and strengths. It didn't matter how good we were individually, because it came down to one thing: how well we worked together. We didn't need a hero to succeed in this mission, we needed a team. And in the time we spent together, worked together and fought together, that's what we are now.

"Because of that, this was a suicide mission for one reason, and one reason only: we do whatever it takes to stop the Collectors. To succeed at any cost. Everyone, this is it. The final push. Don't let anything stop us.

"Remember why we're here, and what this mission is all about. The lives that the Collectors, and the Reapers, had taken and how many more they're going to take. They're a threat to everything – everyone. Those are the lives we're protecting. That's the scale. But for those that died… remember:

"We're here to fight for the lost."

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Line taken from The Three Musketeers (1993). Kiefer Sutherland is the man.

Line taken from Burn Notice.

Random quotes taken from Star Wars: Republic Commando. I was just playing it a long while ago and was wondering if I could use the lines when reviewer Skllhrt thoughtfully sent me some great lines. It was scary. Like my mind was being read or something.

Thanks all the same though.

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