Fight for the Lost

Suicide Mission

Location: Galactic Core / Collector Base

Shepard led his team though the massive tunnel quickly, but cautiously. Though Jacob and the rest of the squad would do everything they could to hold back the bulk of the Collector forces from advancing on his team's position, each moment brought with it decreased odds of survival.

He wasn't going to lie to himself. It would take a miracle for everyone to get out alive, but he'd be damned if he wouldn't try.

The pipes above them continued to churn. It sickened him, knowing that inside were the remnants of the people they couldn't save and worse, that they were being used for whatever despicable reasons the Collectors and Reapers had. The possible scenarios conjured by his mind chilled his blood.

Keeping the pace at a light jog, with weapons up and ready, he and his team traversed the tunnel, following the enormous pipes overhead to wherever it would lead them. However, it readily became apparent that saving the crew of the Normandy was nothing more than fortuitous circumstance. The tunnel they were traveling through connected with several others, only to connect with even more. In the end, the tubes they had been following were nothing more than branches of a tree, and they've yet to find the trunk.

"All these pipes… there must be more rooms like the ones we found the crew in,"Garrus said, giving voice to Shepard's suspicions.

"Keelah… how many more do you think there are?" Tali asked, a horrified realization dawning on her.

"More than we'll ever know," Miranda hissed. Unlike the others, she almost seethed at the thought of how many humans had been sacrificed for whatever reason the Collectors needed them for. "It was nothing but dumb luck that we found the right room with the crew in it."

"Shepard, you are not far now. With the Normandy in a closer position, I am able to get deeper scans of the interior of the Collector base," EDI informed. "Continue along that path. You are about to reach the main pipeline."

"Pipeline for what? Can you tell us what it leads to? Or what the hell they're doing with all this?" he asked.

"The tubes are feeding into some kind of super-structure. It is emitting both organic and non-organic energy signatures," she answered. "Given these readings, it must be massive."

As EDI had said, they found one enormous tube in an equally enormous tunnel. Following it to the end, the passageway led into a gigantic chamber.

"Shepard… if my calculations are correct, the super-structure… is a Reaper."

Upon leaving the tunnel, they entered the room to finally bear witness what the Collectors –the Reapers– had in mind for the fate of humanity.

"My God… not just any Reaper… a human Reaper," Shepard whispered. He was barely able to utter the words in horrified understanding.

The Reaper itself was clearly modeled after the physical likeliness of humanity, but it looked… wrong. Twisted. Perverted in some vile way. A mockery of the human species.

Its very existence almost seemed to spit in the face of everything Shepard had ever fought for and against.

The Reaper was obviously incomplete, but even unfinished, it was colossal in size. Thus far, it possessed two arms, complete with hands and ten fingers. The limbs connected into an unfinished torso. Parts of the chest were being covered in a shell, but for the most part, it was only a rib cage attached to a dangling spine. Within the chest cavity, a red orb, possibly the equivalent of a heart, was dimly lit in a crimson color.

The head was there, though it looked more like a grotesque skull. Without skin, all of the teeth were shown, presenting a sick grin as it stared down at the tiny organics that invaded its space with its two red-tinted eyes embedded in the right socket, while the left held a third and an unfinished fourth.

The bottom half of the Reaper was completely missing.

The tunnel they entered from was one of four, where the massive tubes hung from the ceiling and ended at the shoulders and arms of the Reaper. It was clear that the contents of the pipes were being fed into the disgusting construct as it dangled from the roof.

Distantly, Shepard recalled Vigil's words two years ago, when he asked the Prothean VI why the Reapers conducted their pattern of galactic genocide.

"In the end, what does it matter? Your survival depends on stopping them, not in understanding them."

I think that's where you're wrong, Vigil.

"Precisely," EDI concurred and interrupting Shepard's thoughts. "It appears the Collectors have processed tens of thousands of humans. Significantly more will be required to complete the Reaper."

"How many more?" Miranda morbidly asked.

"Millions. Perhaps more. At this point, it is impossible to know for certain," EDI said. "This Reaper appears to be in a very early stage of development. An embryo in human terms."

"This is…" Miranda murmured in shock.

"Is that thing alive? Does it know we're here?" Shepard asked.

"Or that we're here to kill it?" Garrus grimly added.

"It is unclear how much it has developed. I cannot, for example, tell you if it has awareness," EDI answered.

"I don't understand. What do the Reapers gain by turning humans into this… this monstrosity?" Miranda asked.

"Perhaps this is the Reaper equivalent of reproduction. Or it may serve another purpose altogether. I do not have sufficient information to formulate a hypothesis and I am still mining the Collector databanks."

"Do you think there's going to be something there that tells you about this?" Shepard asked.

"The Collectors are merely pawns, slaves to the Reaper's will. The technology and ability needed to create this Reaper is clearly not their own. They are only doing as instructed. It may be likely that no information will be found."

"Is there anything about why they're making it 'look' like a human then?"

"It is likely that a Reapers shape is based upon the species that is used to create it," she simply answered.

"I don't get it. Reapers are machines. Why the hell are they using organics for materials?" Shepard snarled.

"Uh…"

Shepard turned to the source of the voice. "Garrus?"

His turian friend tried to speak, but stopped to clear his throat uncomfortably under Shepard's expectant stare, even hidden as it was beneath his Kestrel Helmet. "Remember when I said, about the Turian Office of Tech Recon? How they salvaged the main gun of Sovereign?"

"Yeah."

"They, ah, found other disturbing parts along with it… I imagine the Alliance and all the other Council races found and probably have similar reports after investigating the remains…"

"What?" Shepard prompted impatiently when Garrus trailed off.

"There were significant traces of alien material within the shell; actual organic tissue. It contained DNA we can't identify and have no known match to any sapient spacefaring species," Miranda answered when it was clear the turian was still too embarrassed to say any more. This was critical information they should've shared with Shepard long ago. "Though perhaps traces isn't the right word. The genetic material we analyzed seemed… woven in; merged seamlessly with the artificial components. Cerberus retrieved all pertinent information from both the Alliance and the turians thus far. I imagine we're trying to retrieve data from the asari and salarians as well, in addition to conducting our own studies. It was like nothing we've ever seen before. I led a team for that prior to the Lazarus Project, and the things we learned there inspired some new radical ideas for the implants you're using now. Now, as far as the Council races are concerned, it's the geth attempting to find out about organic weakness or utilizing us for more than mere husks."

Shepard's eyes widened at the revelation. He had assumed the tech that was used to rebuild him was custom or experimental. The idea that Reaper tech was the inspiration behind the Lazarus Project was something he would've never conceived at all.

Great. Rebuilt with Reaper technology just so I can kill a Reaper.

"Correct. As far as Cerberus intelligence has been able to determine, Reapers are sapient constructs. A hybrid of organic and inorganic material," EDI said. "The exact construction methods seem unclear but it seems probable that the Reapers absorb the essence of a species; utilizing it in their own reproduction process."

"Does this mean there's a Prothean Reaper?" Garrus asked.

"Perhaps. Or they attempted to create a Prothean Reaper. And failed," EDI replied. "Without knowing how many individuals are needed to construct a Reaper, it is only speculation if the Collectors are either remnant resources or the entirety of their species the Reapers changed over time and adapt to suit their needs; changed them, turned them into workers and become tools to create more Reapers in the next cycle of extinction. It is likely that different species provide the materials to construct each Reaper and the Collectors provide the labor."

"But why are they doing this now, though?" Shepard asked. "Why take this kind of risk? I can get it if the Reapers were doing this during some mass invasion, but that's not the case here. They had to know that attacks of this magnitude would draw attention eventually. To make something like this, no species would ignore the disappearances of hundreds of thousands of people, let alone millions, during peace time."

"Maybe the Reapers are looking to make another Sovereign. Having a new Reaper in our space to try to unlock the Citadel and call in the rest of the Reapers way out in dark space," Miranda speculated.

"Remember what you said when we first saw the Thorian back on Ferros?" Garrus muttered.

"'We're going to need bigger guns'," Shepard answered. Even with the presence of the Cain at his back, it felt like it wasn't nearly adequate for something of this magnitude.

"Yeah, I don't that that's going to be enough this time," Garrus replied and confirming Shepard's thoughts.

"Let's hope blowing up this base is enough then," he muttered back. "Tali? Find what we're looking for?"

Tali absently nodded. Her gaze was still transfixed on what they found.

"Tali?" he repeated a little more forcefully to get her attention.

She snapped out of her daze. "What? Oh, yes. Down here. I think we can cause massive power surges at this main conduit. The effect should cascade exponentially and uncontrollably which will overload the mass effect core and destroy the entire base."

"How long will we have to get out?"

"I can set the overload to begin in 10 minutes. We'll have another 10 minutes to get out… give or take."

"Give or take?" Garrus repeated skeptically.

"You're asking me to try to set the mass effect core of this place to explode without actually being there," Tali retorted hotly. "This won't be a precise operation. It's finding the weak point and poking it with a sharp stick. I'm doing the best I—"

"It'll have to do," Miranda interjected harshly to end the debate. "Just do what you can. We can't linger here."

Shepard knelt down next to Tali and helped her pry open a section of the floor to reveal a complicated set of wires and tubes. "Shepard to rear guard. Status report."

There was a momentary crackle of static before he got a reply. "It's Thane. We are holding, but they keep coming."

"Where's Jacob?"

"I'm busy!" Jacob managed to grind out. Several sounds of gunfire and explosions accompanied his shout. "Grunt, reinforce our right flank!"

"A quick exit would be preferable," Thane calmly said over the cacophony of combat.

"We're pulling out. The core is rigged to blow in 10 minutes. That means you have 5 to get to the Normandy. Haul ass," Shepard commanded.

"Understood."

"We'll try to draw some of these guys away from you, Shepard! Hopefully, you'll have an easier time reaching the Normandy than us," Jacob said.

"Don't take any unnecessary risks. We're almost out of here."

"Don't worry, Shep. If there's one thing I know how to do, its leading people on a merry chase!" Kasumi joked.

"Battlemaster! You're missing it! It's goddamn glorious! I'll climb out on their bodies!" Grunt shouted exuberantly before Shepard cut the line.

"I hope they're going to be okay," Tali fretted. Despite her worry, she diligently continued to work on the conduit.

"Jacob's a fine soldier. He'll get'em out," Garrus assured.

Shepard changed frequencies. "Joker, this is Shepard. Status of Mordin's team?"

Joker chimed in. "Just got here. They're boarding now."

"Prep the engines and prepare to receive Jacob's team and mine. This place is about to be blown to hell and back."

"Roger that, but uh… Captain? Incoming call… it's the Illusive Man. EDI's patching it through."

"I knew it," Garrus growled. "What the hell is he going to do to us this time?"

"Forwarding transmission," EDI dutifully informed.

Miranda activated her omni-tool to accept the incoming call and projected the Illusive Man's image before them.

"Shepard. You've done the impossible," he stated without preamble.

The Spectre didn't even look up. He and Tali continued to work on the main conduit. "What do you want? If you hadn't noticed, we're busy."

"Wait. I have a better option."

Garrus scoffed.

Here it comes.

"I'm looking at the schematics EDI uploaded," the Illusive Man said. "A timed radiation pulse would kill the remaining Collectors, but leave the machinery and technology intact."

I knew it.

"This is our chance, Shepard. They were building a Reaper. That knowledge –that framework– could save us," he said.

"Or it could destroy us," Shepard retorted. Letting Tali work, he stood up and finally faced the projection. "I learned long ago: we don't mess around with Reaper tech if we can help it. We have to destroy this base."

"Don't be shortsighted," the Illusive Man snapped. "Our best chance against the Reapers is to turn their own resources against them."

"I'm not so sure. After seeing firsthand what happened to Dr. Chandana's science team on just a derelict Reaper, sending our people to this station might cause unforeseen problems. Perhaps even accelerate the Reaper's invasion," Miranda said. She appeared conflicted about the issue. "We're still not sure about the indoctrination process or how much influence Harbinger has over this facility, even if the Collectors were removed. Plus, the things that happened to the people here… It wouldn't seem right to—"

"Enough, Miranda," the Illusive Man snapped. The projection gave her a sharp glance before turning back to Shepard. "We can't afford to ignore this opportunity."

He missed Miranda's cold stare at the back of his head.

"The Collectors are working on direct orders from the Reapers. Who knows what information is buried here?" he continued. "This base is a gift. We can't destroy it."

"You're completely ruthless," Shepard growled. "For all I know, you're probably planning to grow your own damn Reaper."

"My goal is to save humanity from the Reapers. At any cost," the Illusive Man unrepentantly said. "I've never hidden that from you."

"And that's why I never trusted you. You draw a deep and ugly line when you use 'any cost'," Shepard countered.

"You're failing to see the big picture, Shepard," the Illusive Man argued. "Imagine how many lives could be saved if we keep this base intact and use its knowledge to thwart the Reapers."

"And anything else that stands in your way," Garrus blithely added.

"Imagine the lives that will be lost if we don't," the Illusive Man finished, ignoring Garrus' statement, and his presence, entirely.

"I'm imagining those same lives I might have saved, all lost because of what you'll do with this place," Shepard coolly replied.

"And what about your life? You died fighting for what you believed," the Illusive Man pointedly reminded. "I brought you back so you could keep fighting. Some would say what we did to you was going too far. But look at what you've accomplished! I didn't discard you, because I knew your value. Don't be so quick to discard this facility. Think of the potential."

"Discard," Shepard repeated in a cold voice. "You knew, didn't you? You knew what the Collectors, the Reapers, were doing with all the people they've taken."

The Illusive Man's stare was uncaring, unrepentant, and emotionless.

He also completely missed Miranda's equally displeased glare behind him.

"So I'm a just a tool for you? And the millions that were taken? Just 'acceptable losses' then? That's your problem. That's all you see: people to be used until there's nothing left or nothing more to offer. You don't care or respect them, and I'm sure you won't respect whatever information this place has," Shepard said. "I'm sick of cleaning up after your shit. We'll fight the Reapers, and we'll win. Without this base and without your 'help'. I'm not about to let fear compromise who I am."

He turned his back to the projection to help Tali. He tensed up and paused when he heard The Illusive Man say, "Miranda – do not let Shepard destroy the base!"

Turning his head slightly, he saw Garrus finger his sidearm out of the corner of his eye. Catching his friend's gaze, Shepard shook his head with the barest of movements.

Garrus moved his hand away from his weapon.

"Or what? You'll 'discard' me next?" Miranda retorted with a deep frown. Her eyes were even colder than her voice.

In contrast, the Illusive Man's narrowed gaze was the only indication of how livid he was. "I gave you an order, Miranda!"

"I noticed. Consider this my resignation," she said with surprising vindictiveness.

"Shepard!" The Illusive Man shouted. It was the first time the Spectre heard anything else besides cold and calculating, or charismatic control from the leader of Cerberus. "Think about what's at stake! About everything Cerberus has done for you! You—!"

A flick of her fingers, and the call was terminated, cutting off his last desperate plea. Miranda raised an eyebrow and turned off her omni-tool. "That's enough out of him, I think."

"Now that's one way to tell your boss to go to hell," Garrus said. He sounded approving.

"Almost done," Tali said. She appeared relieved at the sudden loss of tension.

"Finish quickly, Tali. I'm sure we're gonna have company soon," Shepard said. He turned to Miranda gave her a nod. At that moment, he never felt more confident in their relationship as he did now.

She gave him a smile in return.

"Okay, it's about ready. Now I have to…" Tali trailed off and looked around. "Did anyone feel that?"

Shepard glanced at his surroundings before putting his hand on the ground to see what bothered her. "I don't feel anything."

"I did," Garrus tensely said.

"What was—" Shepard's question was cut off when the Human Reaper let out something akin to a groan.

"Oh my god," Miranda whispered. She drew her Pulse Rifle. "It's activating!"

Shepard did the same with his HMWA and uttered a curse. "Is it me, or is it just a too little coincidental that this is happening right after we tell the Illusive Man to go to hell?"

"I'm beginning to think he knew more about this place than he let on…" she concurred.

The sounds of snapping cables prompted Shepard to look up at the suspended arms. The fingers curled into fists before it tore its right hand free from its restraints. Human organic matter sprayed everywhere.

Both the eyes and the central core inside the chest lit up with a fearsome red glow. It raised its arm and tried to smash the team, but they were already moving.

"Holy shit," Shepard breathed out after they scrambled out of the way. He lost his footing from the heavy impact and struggled to his feet.

"Oh, crap," Garrus echoed. He was staring at the enormous limb that was now gripping the platform they were standing on.

The Reaper uttered something between a groan and a growl as it used its arm to support itself.

"Did you finish, Tali? !" Miranda cried out.

"Yes! 10 minutes and counting! We have to get out of here!" she answered frantically.

Before the team could retreat, the Reaper tore its other arm free and slammed it into the far wall. Rubble fell and buried the passageway they'd entered from, preventing them from going through their primary escape plan.

Using both arms, it propped itself up and loomed over them, staring at each individual. Vague, indefinable sounds emanated from it, as though it were attempting to talk.

Or threaten them.

"I don't think that thing is going to let us!" Garrus shouted. He leveled his Reverent and fired frantically at the Reaper. It was already clear that their armaments were inadequate, making his resistance fruitless.

Goddamn it.

~o~O~o~

"Haul ass people! Move it!" Jacob barked. "Grunt, give'em a taste of the Cain, dead center! Samara, need a singularity at our left flank after! Draw any survivors away so we can push the right and blow through! Jack, shockwave on any holdouts in our way!"

The door had long since been blown wide open, creating an enormous passageway that made it impossible to funnel the Collectors into a single kill zone. With the only way out thick with opposition, the plan was simple: Use the heavy artillery to thin the ranks, and then run like hell during the confusion. Simple, brutal, but without a lot of options at the moment, it was all Jacob could think of that that even had a remote chance of working.

"Fire in the hole!" Grunt gleefully warned. His Cain lobbed its deadly projectile right into the midst of the Collector positions.

"Everyone down!" Jacob shouted. He ducked and braced for the shockwave.

A deafening roar reverberated through the entire room, followed quickly by a blast of displaced air from the explosion. The entire squad hunkered down until the environment around them finally stilled.

"GO!"

At Jacob's command, Samara leapt out and created a singularity, drawing the surviving Collectors away from their path.

Jack followed up with shockwave before leading the charge out. Anything that remotely twitched was blasted by her shotgun as she ran past.

With the ranks broken, the team ran through the tunnels toward the extraction coordinates EDI sent them.

"Oh shit!" Jack cursed before stopping in her tracks and diving to the side.

Without even questioning her, Jacob gave the order for everyone to take cover while doing the same. Just after he dove behind some archway, bullets and laser fire struck all around him.

"A second wave," Thane reported. "And the area is too confined for Grunt's weapon."

Shit!

Jacob ripped out his last grenade from his belt and peeked out briefly, before jerking his head back.

"Hostile acquired. Stand-by Taylor-Jacob."

Legion's sniper rifle boomed once. Taking another chance, Jacob peered out before tossing his grenade at the thickest concentration of Collectors.

The moment his grenade exploded, the team pressed the advantage over their disoriented enemy. When the numbers were thin enough, Jack led the way with a biotic charge followed up with several shotgun blasts.

"Hurry up!" she shouted. "I don't wanna be here with this place blows!"

"I hear ya. Let's move people," Jacob ordered. He sprinted onwards, keeping his eyes open for any more ambushes. "Joker, this is Taylor. We're making our way to the LZ, but we're up against some resistance."

"Gotcha. Mordin and others you saved are aboard. We'll hold our position till you get here," Joker replied.

"Roger that. Taylor out."

~o~O~o~

Skidding to a stop, Shepard ducked his head down and was forced to grit his teeth as the Reaper fired its main weapon yet again. The intense heat was uncomfortable, even with his armor protecting him. The beam itself was more than a few dozen meters away, signifying that a direct hit would be decisively fatal.

Miraculously, he and his team were able to avoid the attacks thus far. The Reaper continued its attempts to speak, but only guttural growls could be heard.

Looking back up, Shepard deduced that either the Reaper had difficulty aiming since it was still trying to stay on the observation deck using only its arms, or the programs within weren't fully developed as well, causing it to miss constantly.

Probably why it can't talk yet either.

"Is it me, or is that thing a really bad shot? !" Garrus rhetorically asked as he ran from yet another blast from the Reaper. He ended up ducking inside a trench the construct had created from an earlier sustained shot.

"It might be trying to get its bearings! Or the programs that govern its weapons systems might not be calibrated yet!" Tali responded.

"Yeah? Well, sooner or later, it'll get lucky! I say we get outta here before that happens!"

"No good over here! All the passageways are completely blocked!" Miranda reported from amidst the rubble the Reaper had created when it woke up.

"Ah, don't tell me we gotta fight this thing? !" Garrus complained.

"I need 10 seconds!" Shepard called out. He drew the Cain and aimed at the head.

"Just 10? !" Garrus frantically yelled. He had ceased fire long ago, since it was obvious that his weapon did little to harm the Reaper.

"Do whatever it takes!" Shepard ordered before using his tactical cloak to buy time to ready himself.

As the Cain cycled through its startup sequence, Garrus, Tali, and Miranda all ran to different areas of the deck. Each was firing their weapons wildly at the Reaper, whether it was conventional guns, specialized tech, or biotics. None of it did any good, but it served the purpose of diverting the Reaper's attention away from Shepard.

The Cain beeped once, signaling its readiness. "Clear the area! Fire in the hole!" Shepard warned.

Aiming at the head, he pulled the trigger and watch as the deadly round arced toward the destination he hoped for.

Forced to duck down from the resulting explosion, Shepard held his ground before looking back up again; then cursed under his breath at what he saw.

The Reaper's head was rocked back by the force, but beyond that, there appeared to be very little damage. Even its main weapon inside its mouth appeared functional.

"Goddamn it…"

"It's still kicking! I think we need to hit this thing again!" Garrus shouted.

"I only have 2 shots left!"

"Aim for the chest! That might be where it's mass effect core was being constructed!" Miranda suggested before running away when the Reaper recovered. It had turned to her and fired its weapon again, no worse for wear after taking a direct hit to the head.

Without any better ideas or options, Shepard took steady charged up the Cain once more. The HUD in his helmet showed that his camouflage system was cooling down. Muttering a few more curses and promising himself to ask Kasumi about her special brand of optical camouflage technology, he sprinted to the nearest cover he could find and waited out the 10 second charge.

Acutely aware of the thunderous sounds of the Reaper's movements, the shouts of his teammates in the radio, and the blistering heat of laser fire, Shepard watched with bated breath as the timer finally reached zero, and the trefoil stamped on the side began glowing.

Popping out of cover, he quickly, but carefully aimed at the chest of the Reaper and prepared to fire when Tali shouted out her warning.

"Shepard! It's looking at you! RUN!"

Snapping out of the tunnel vision he had inadvertently put himself in, he looked up to see the Reaper's gaping mouth.

In a rush, he pulled the trigger before pushing synthetic adrenaline and running.

He moved in the nick of time. The shot was high and wide, but so was his. In his haste to evade the laser blast, he inadvertently pulled the Cain up, causing the shot to strike the Reaper's shoulder.

The shockwave blasted him off his feet and he fell heavily on his side, before skidding to a halt. Luckily, he managed to keep a grip on the Cain as he clambered back to his feet.

"Shot was wide!" Garrus informed.

"Barely even slowed it down," Miranda added.

Cursing a storm under his breath, Shepard quickly checked the condition of the Cain and prepared his next shot.

"Last round left. Make it count," Garrus reminded with a grim countenance.

Forgoing subtly, Shepard charged up the Cain one last time and stood out in the open, giving the Reaper a clear shot at him.

It took the bait. Glaring at the human with its three functioning eyes, it gave out an electronically sounding growl.

However, its gaping chest cavity was also exposed and clearly presented.

The Cain beeped.

The energy inside the mouth coalesced as the Reaper opened its maw to fire its deadly weapon.

Shepard fired first.

Elation rushed through him as he watched the Reaper thrashed and writhed. Further explosions and fire spewed from its chest as it finally threw its head back in a pained roar. The laser fired high and wide, missing the team entirely.

"It's coming down!" Garrus crowed triumphantly. His cheer was cut short when he, like the others, saw where the Reaper was coming down.

Right on top of them.

"Run!" Shepard bellowed. He and Miranda sprinted full-bore to the right while Garrus and Tali took flight to the left.

The full weight of the Reaper crashed down on the observation platform. Shepard's dash was cut short as the ground beneath him quaked and trembled with incredible force. He fell, but merely let his armor take the brunt of the impact. Looking up, he saw Miranda had also lost her balance and was forced to wait for shaking to subside.

But it didn't. The sheer mass of the Reaper caused the platform the team was on to groan in protest. Without proper purchase, the hulking corpse began sliding off. All four of them took care to maintain as much distance as they could while the Reaper slid towards the bottom of the massive chamber it had been created in. The construct groaned as it continued its journey downward.

Shepard cautiously stood up, avoiding the limp arms, and glaring into its dimming eyes just before the head fell out of his line of sight.

Just as soon as he thought they'd won, just as the Reaper had fallen, its left hand gripped the edge of the observation deck.

The sheer mass of the Reaper overcame the already damaged deck and the front half bent downward.

Shepard found himself fortunate to be on the midline of the bend and leapt back to avoid falling. A scream told him that he was the only one that was lucky. "Miranda!"

She was too far to make the distance and fell. She rolled several times, before managing to right herself and slide on her stomach. Her hands and feet were trying to find any handholds to arrest her fall.

Shepard didn't think twice or hesitate; he leapt onto the downward slope and slid after her, arm outstretched, willing himself to go faster.

For a brief moment, Miranda looked shocked that he would do something so insane but surprise gave way to gratitude and determination as Shepard attempted to speed up while she did was she could to slow down.

Almost there!

Inches away, he thought he could brush against her fingertips. Mere seconds later, he grasped her hand.

But before they could get a firm grip with one another, her left boot hit a bump, cause her to suddenly spin to the right and lose her lifeline.

Shit!

He didn't even think about slowing down, even with the end of the line fast approaching. He was still inches away and getting closer.

Miranda's eyes held a wild look of fear when she finally flew over the edge and into the open void. Time slowed to a crawl. Her arm was still reaching out to him. Gritting his teeth, Shepard lunged for her hand, clasped it tightly, and slammed down hard with is other arm to cease his forward motion. Even with his hardened bones, he felt a painful jolt run through his limb, but refused to give into the pain as he tightened his hold on her while staying on terra firma.

"Gotcha!"

Looking back up at him, her shock was palpable, but her relief was even more so. A deafening boom from below drew their attention. The Reaper was letting loose gouts of flames now, as more explosions echoed from below.

Shepard hurriedly pulled her up just moments before the Reaper let out a roar and one final explosion that proceeded to climb the chasm at an alarming pace.

Struggling herself, and with Shepard's aid, Miranda managed to find purchase after pulling her left leg on top of the edge and rolled onto the platform.

And it wasn't a moment too soon. The shockwave reached the deck and pushed it up. With the sudden change in the incline, the both of them were rolling to the increasingly damaged section where the platform was bent at in a lopsided V shape.

Shepard grunted when his back finally met the midway point and grunted again when Miranda landed on top of him.

"Shepard? Lawson!" Garrus called out.

"We're here…" Miranda answered back. "We're fine."

"Okay, I say we get the hell out of here, ASA… Oh crap! Look out!"

Miranda and Shepard weren't in any position to see what the warning was about, but they felt and heard it. The entire structure underneath them lurched and heaved when several more explosions from below threatened to consume the entire chamber. Miranda and Shepard clutched each other when they went airborne, only to fall back down on the sloping deck. Once again, the platform was bent in a tent shape, but they were lucky enough to be sliding toward Garrus and Tali on more solid ground now.

Their respite was short lived though. All four of them got up on unsteady legs and staggered toward, what they hope to be, more solid and safer ground. Rocks, other mobile platforms, and misc. debris rained around them.

Shepard felt something heavy strike his pauldron, causing him to look up. He didn't even have time to shout out a warning before the platform that was spinning out of control came crashing down on them and all was dark.

~o~O~o~

Jacob continued to fire his Eviserator, downing Collector after Collector while leading everyone to the Normandy coordinates.

Shooting down a Collector in flight, Jacob watched as the body fell on top of one of its allies. What really got his attention were the reinforcements pouring from the door they were intending to take. Quickly looking around revealed that any other door toward the Normandy were covered by the Collector's now.

"Joker, we're pinned down!" Jacob shouted into the radio. He was acutely aware of the bullets flying just inches above his head as the Collectors returned fire. "We can't make it to the rendezvous! I repeat: we can't make it to the LZ!"

"We're tracking you, Jacob! Hold on, lemme try to find another place," Joker answered. "Okay, try that tunnel northwest! We're coming to you!"

With options limited and with nowhere else to go, Jacob led the charge into the only remaining passageway. Before he could get more than a few meters in, Jack grunted and cursed.

"Motherfucker!" she shouted from the ground. She was clutching her leg, shotgun left forgotten nearby.

"Get her up!" Jacob barked.

Samara knelt down and provided support as she pulled Jack to her feet. To her credit, she merely snarled and put her weight on her good leg. They marched deeper into the tunnel, with Thane taking point now.

"Warning! Primary kinetic barriers down!" Legion reported. It still held its position as the rear guard for the others, methodically aiming and shooting at the Collectors that threatened to overtake them. "Attempting to overclock redundancy barriers."

"Legion!" Kasumi cried out.

Jacob turned to see several bullet strikes finally take Legion down. It had fallen to one knee with white hydraulic fluid spraying everywhere. One of its arms was dangling uselessly at its side, but it still held its ground and shot at any Collectors that were still a threat with its shotgun.

Shit!

"Barriers overwhelmed! Damage threshold exceeded!" Legion stated. Several more hits ricocheted off its synthetic body. Despite the damage, it continued to fight back single-handedly while feeding them its vocal reports. "Auto-saving. Archival upload commencing. Error! No carrier. No carrier. No carrier. No—"

A Scion's biotic shockwave struck it dead in the chest. Legion's crumpled body briefly flew into the air before landing in a twisted heap.

"Legion!" Kasumi cried out again.

"Keep going! Get the new rendezvous point and secure our LZ!" Jacob ordered to the others. "Grunt, on me!"

The krogan immediately turned around and roared in challenge. His Claymore boomed in concert as he charged the Collectors head-on. He took several hits in return, but it did little to slow him down.

For a moment, Jacob was worried that Grunt had given into the infamous krogan battle/blood rage and was about to make a suicide run, but was relieved when Grunt stopped next to prone body of Legion and protected it.

Jacob drew is ML-77 Missile Launcher and fired off a few rounds in quick succession to buy time. "Pick up that bucket of bolts! No one gets left behind!" he shouted over the explosions.

Grunt knelt down, heaved Legion over his shoulder and stood up in one quick motion before resuming his suppression fire.

"Let's go!" Jacob said, taking Legion's place as the rear guard.

"Jacob! We got a problem!" Kasumi frantically reported.

"Aw shit! Grandma's down!" Jack cursed. "They pushed us into a trap! They're everywhere!"

"I see them," Thane responded. Several shots could be heard.

"Going dark! I'll try to flank them!" Kasumi said. "Get back into the tunnel!"

"Let's move, Grunt!" Jacob shouted before sprinting down the tunnel. Despite his bulk, Grunt matched pace easily, even while carrying the hefty weight Legion must've been.

The narrow tunnel funneled the Collectors into their sights, allowing Jacob and Grunt to eliminate their pursuers in droves, but both men knew that the numbers behind each dead were too much for them to hold back by themselves. Grunt used the last of his grenades to quell the charge before they both turned around and took off to regroup with the rest of the team. Emerging from the tunnel, all Jacob could see was a large open area with absolutely no cover that ended with a deep canyon of some sort.

There were several dead Collectors that served as the trap. Nearby, Samara was clutching a wound in her abdomen, though there was another in her shoulder as well. Kasumi was administering first aid to both her and Jack.

Cut off!

He could hear the Collectors coming in from the tunnel behind them. "Concentrate fire on the tunnel! Don't give them an inch!"

The team complied immediately. Even Jack took a prone position on the ground, with her Predator up and ready while Samara did the same in a sitting position after assuring Kasumi she could still fight.

"Here they come!" Grunt growled out in barely contained anticipation. He had placed Legion's body on the ground and was ready with his Claymore.

"Let'em have it!"

Biotics, bullets, grenades and everything else the team could bring to bear was used. Nothing held back or spared.

"Joker, we need that pick up and we need it now!" Jacob yelled into his radio. A beeping sound caught his attention. His eyes darted around his HUD and saw his shields were all but drained. Before he could put up a biotic barrier, he felt a round slam into the side of his ass. He toppled over. Twisting around, he brought his shotgun up and traded fire from the ground. "Where the hell are you?!"

Suddenly, the Normandy flew up from the canyon they were fighting next to. The main hanger opened and several crewmen and colonists rushed down the ramp. Some of them were armed with various weapons and began firing at the Collectors, drawing attention away from the besieged squad.

"You called?" Joker cheekily replied.

~o~O~o~

"Come on!" Jack shouted when she saw the Normandy. She pulled at Samara's arm dragged the asari to her feet. "We're almost there!"

Samara gasped and applied more pressure on her wound. Leaning onto Jack for support with her good arm, she staggered onward. Her breaths came out as a cross between gasping and wheezing as the younger woman trudged them toward safe haven.

"Almost…" Jack whispered. She drew on her flagging reserves of strength and determinedly marched on. She gritted her teeth and for once, bit back several curse words each time she was forced to put weight on her injured leg. Her breathing was already ragged with the effort of moving that it felt like talking would be too much for her to bear.

"Over here!"

"I see them!"

"Hurry!"

Jack looked up to see more Cerberus crewmen and colonists quickly run down the ramp. Some of them were armed and traded fire with the Collectors. Others simply ran right into the fray assist them, with no armor, no kinetic shields, and no weapons to help bring them aboard.

A couple of colonists approached the both of them and eased Samara off of Jack and hurriedly brought the justicar inside.

"Let's go!" a woman yelled over the sounds of gunfire and explosions. Jack didn't recognize her, but didn't protest when she took an arm and provided some much needed support.

~o~O~o~

Jacob fired his shotgun at the Collectors while pushing back on his good leg toward the Normandy. Deep down, he knew wasn't going to make it without help, but with the enemies bearing down on him, he didn't want to be the one to put the ship, the crew, and the civilians at risk.

He growled in equal parts pain and anger when he heard his Eviserator beeping, signaling that the current heat sink was overheated. He pumped the weapon to eject the spent round and tried to fire again, but the beeping continued with the additional sound of a click, indicating dry fire. His thermal clip was spent.

Tossing the useless weapon aside, he drew his Carnifex and kept up his futile assault. "Come on! You want some more? ! Huh? ! I got more, you fuckers! If you want me, you're gonna have to work for it!"

Suddenly, he was forced to shut his eyes when a bright flash threatened to blind him. He was fortunate to be on the ground already though when the shockwave that followed pushed him back several feet.

His head hit something hard, causing his slide to be cut short.

A hand wrapped around his arm and pulled him to his feet.

"Get up Taylor! Either die on your feet or get on the ship!"

Gritting his teeth against the pain that nearly caused him to black out, he blinked away the spots in his eyes to see Grunt stow his Cain and pulled out his own Carnifex.

"Grunt!"

"No one gets left behind," Grunt recited before picking Jacob up and carelessly tossing him over his shoulder. All the while, he fired down on the Collectors before turning around and dashing for the open hangar door.

From his position on Grunt's back, Jacob raised his head to see the surviving Collectors chasing them. Aiming his Hand Cannon, he continued to fire on their pursuers as his savior carried him into the Normandy and into safety. "Legion?"

"Already inside. You're the last."

When Grunt ran up the ramp and into the ship's hanger, Jacob, still firing at the Collectors, exuberantly shouted, "You missed me, you sons-of-bitches! ! ! I'm still here! ! ! !"

~o~O~o~

"All team members, crewmen, and civilians accounted for, Jeff."

After hearing EDI's report, Joker quickly pulled the Normandy away. The Collectors were probably still shooting, but their weapons would be useless against the kinetic shielding and armor of a warship.

"And we're outta here! All that's left is Shepard's team!" Joker said.

"Jeff, I am having difficulty raising them. No one is answering," EDI worriedly said.

"Joker to Shepard. Just picked up Jacob's team and we're making our way to you." Nothing. No answers, no sounds, not even static. "Captain? Shepard? Garrus? Is anyone there? Shepard? !"

~o~O~o~

"—pard? ! Do you copy? ! Are you there? ! Come on, guys, don't leave me hanging! Someone answer me!"

Shepard growled under his breath as consciousness slowly flooded back to his senses. A pattern that was becoming all too repetitive, it was the pain that roused him back to wakefulness first. Gingerly flexing his limbs and taking a few deep breaths to restore his focus, he concluded that nothing was broken. He opened his eyes to see that he was buried underneath a pile of loose flotsam. Pushing against whatever was on top of him, he grunted with the effort, but was relieved to see that everything was shifting. After a few minutes, he pushed enough off to be able to crawl out and away to get a read on his situation.

"Do you copy? !"

"I'm here, Joker," Shepard finally managed to answer. He looked around when he realized that he was the only one standing so far.

"Oh man, that's a relief."

"Yeah, Joker, but it's just me. I don't see anyone else. Stand-by," Shepard said tensely. "Miranda? Garrus? Tali? Anyone? ! Can you guys hear me? !"

"Yeah, I can hear you."

Shepard looked around more intently. "Garrus! Where are you? !"

"Under a bunch of crap. No idea where you are. Just follow my voice," Garrus' muffled reply floated back.

Instantly zooming onto the source, Shepard dashed over to a nearby pile of rubble and started digging in. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I don't think anything's broken, but I'm in a bad position. Hard to get leverage here."

"Am I getting close?"

"Yeah ," Garrus answered. "It's getting easier to move now. One sec."

The rock and metal underneath Shepard's position started shifting. He helped his friend out by moving away the heaviest objects he could find. In no time, Garrus forcefully moved the last piece of metal, before slowly crawling on all fours out of the hole they'd made.

"Thanks," Garrus said. He held out the Cain. "This was with me under there. Better take it before I keep it. Finders keepers and all that."

"Thanks," Shepard replied. He didn't even remember dropping it. After securing the heavy weapon, he did a cursory check to see if Garrus was alright. Satisfied that the turian wasn't injured, he rescanned the area. While he was relieved his friend was alive and well, there were still two more unaccounted for. "Miranda! Tali! If you can hear me, answer!"

"Tali! Lawson!" Garrus shouted. He stood up and moved to different section of the platform. "Tali? ! Lawson ? !"

Shepard was about to call out again when he heard a low painful, keening cry coming to his left. "Oh, shit. Tali? !"

"Where? !" Garrus asked and sprinted over.

"I think I heard her. Over there," Shepard pointed before moving closer to the sound. "Tali? ! Say something! Anything!"

"K-k-keelah… i-it… h-h-h-hurts…"

"Tali!" Garrus cried out. He pulled at large metal plate. Shepard hurried to help. "We're coming Tali!"

The only response was another gasp, followed by a tiny wail.

Both men frantically pulled apart anything that could be moved, guided only by her muted cries.

After Garrus moved some debris, he called out, "Here! I found her! I- Ah shit!"

Moving over, Shepard saw it too and repeated Garrus' curse. Tali's leg was exposed, but what drew his attention was the long metal pipe that was firmly embedded into her thigh. "We have to get her out. Tali! We're almost there!"

"H-h-hurry…"

"Garrus, put medi-gel and pressure on that wound," Shepard ordered. He started digging and cleared away more debris for the young engineer.

"Tali, brace yourself. This is gonna hurt," Garrus warned. Without waiting, he applied a liberal dose of medi-gel to sterilize and slow the bleeding of the wound. Next, he placed his hands on the site and pressed hard. He did his best to ignore her sudden scream. "Okay, I got her! Looks like this thing went right through her leg."

"Almost there…" Shepard grunted out before tossing aside the last piece of metal and finally freeing her. He critically observed her from head to toe. Besides the obvious wound in her thigh, she appeared to suffer no other significant injuries, something he was grateful for. The faceplate in her helmet was cracked though, which caused some measure of alarm. "Tali?"

"Get it out! Get it out!" she shouted.

"Can't do that, Tali," Garrus said calmly, no doubt for her benefit. "We can't afford the risk of more bleeding or causing more damage to your leg."

Shepard gripped her flailing hand. "Tali, focus. Your faceplate is cracked. Are you okay?"

Tali hyperventilated briefly after his question, whether it was from the pain or the information, or both. After a few moments though, she shook her head. "M-my helmet's integrity h-hasn't b-been compromised. I-I'm okay…"

Sighing in relief, Shepard squeezed Tali's hand once more before standing up. "Stay with her, Garrus. I gotta find Miranda."

"I'm on it," he assured.

"Miranda!" Quickly poking around where he regained consciousness, Shepard frantically looked around for her. Images of her suffering from similar injuries or worse floated through his mind's eye, before he viciously put a cap on his treacherous imagination. That didn't stop him from digging more vigorously though and just when he was about to start shout out her name again, he felt something grip his ankle, causing him to jerk back in surprise.

"Under here," her muffled voice responded. Only her arm was sticking out underneath a pile of junk.

Moving aside the heaviest items, he shifted enough for her to get out on her own, though she did so slowly.

"Are you okay?" he asked, keeping the worry out of his voice.

"One moment," she said. Her hand reached up to her head, bereft of the protection of a helmet, and came back with a thin sheen of blood. She winced when she made contact with the injury. "Not too much blood, so the cut must not be deep. I'm still lucid and I can remember, vividly, the platform that crashed on top of us. No retrograde amnesia most likely means no concussion…"

She moved to stand, and accepted Shepard's silent offer of assistance as he helped her up.

"Slight dizziness, but that's expected," she muttered, when she needed to lean on some the nearest hard surface after standing tall. Whether she was speaking to herself or to Shepard, the Spectre had no idea. "Yes, I think I'm fine. Enough to get out of here at least. From what I could hear, Tali wasn't so lucky."

"Can you help her?" he asked. She nodded and without help, moved over to Garrus.

"Let me see," she instructed. She shooed the turian away and examined the wound closely with her omni-tool. "Alright, it looks like a clean through and through. No vital arteries or veins were hit. It missed the bone entirely and the muscles appear largely intact."

"So she'll be okay?" Garrus asked intently.

"For the time being, but need to get her to the Normandy right now," Miranda said. "Break out your med kits. We'll need to wrap the leg quickly after we staunch the bleeding with gauze."

Both men complied with her orders.

"Garrus, I need painkillers from your kit since the meds in there will be compatible to her physiology. Tali, I need to administer some mild sedatives to prevent you from going into shock while we're moving. Do you understand? Just nod."

Tali nodded.

"Where do I inject?" Miranda asked.

Raising one of arms weakly, she pointed at a section of her suit.

Miranda pried apart a layer to reveal an injection port.

"F-for direct i-injection o-of antib-biotics," she weakly explained. She tried to inject a bit of humor or strength into her voice. Or she was trying to say something else.

"I suspect we may have to give you a heavy dose you with that as well," Miranda murmured, having figured why Tali would mention it. She took a syringe from Garrus and slotted it into the port before injecting the contents. Next, she searched Tali's pouches and found several more syringes labeled as antibiotics. After administering a heady dose, she started working on her leg.

Leaving Tali to Miranda's capable hands, Shepard tapped into his radio. "Joker? Shepard here. We're all okay, but Tali needs medical attention. Inform Mordin ASAP. Has Jacob's team arrived yet?"

"Roger that! Jacob's team is aboard, but you have to hurry! Your ten minutes are already up! The core's overloading!"

As if to punctuate his statement, everything around them started rumbling ominously.

Miranda tightened the bandage on Tali's leg, taking care not to disturb the protrusion. "This is as good as it's going to get."

"Let's hope it's the full 10 minutes plus a couple extra then," Garrus said.

Shepard drew his assault rifle. Miranda made to emulate his actions, but frowned when her hand grasped nothing but air. Looking over her shoulder, she saw her Pulse Rifle was missing. "Oh, damn it."

"Here, you can use this," Garrus said and passed along Tali's M-27 Scimitar. "You don't mind, do you Tali?"

"B-better in h-her hands than i-in mine right now," she joked.

He bent over to cradle the quarian in his arms.

"Incoming!" Shepard shouted. He pointed at the sudden arrival of Seeker Swarms. "Run!"

"Sorry, Tali! No time to be gentle!" Garrus apologetically said in a hurry. He bodily picked her up and carried her over his shoulder, taking care not to bump her leg injury and the foreign object in it.

Tali gasped and held back her cry.

"Go, go, go!" Shepard ordered.

As one, the team hightailed it out of the chamber. Miranda took point with her borrowed shotgun up and ready while Shepard trailed behind as rear guard after scattering the seeker swarm with a pulse of biotics. By some stroke of miraculous luck, the tunnel leading back was now relatively clear of debris. Whether it was from the multitude of explosions, quakes, a stray shot from the Reaper's main weapon, or something else entirely, none of them questioned or objected their fortuitous change in circumstance.

Rushing in, Miranda navigated the tunnels for the team. She stopped at a 3-way intersection to glance at her omni-tool to confirm the directions EDI had fed her. "Left."

"Straight ahead, look out!" Shepard shouted. He pushed Miranda into the tunnel she directed and dove to the right. Garrus had already seen the threat and ran left long before on a lucky guess.

Several Collectors were firing down on them moments later. Ahead of them was a small cadre of husks. The red abominations were at the forefront and as soon as they reached the intersection, exploded into a gory mess.

The comprised passageway finally collapsed under the strain. Shepard scrambled to his feet and ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He could barely stay ahead of the falling ceiling before everything settled down, though the station continued to shake.

"Shep… you… ay?" Garrus radioed. His voice was coming in broken and the parts Shepard could hear was filled with static.

"I'm fine! I'll try to find another way to the Normandy!"

"Wha… that? Can't… ake… Repeat…" Miranda said.

"EDI, I need a new way to the Normandy," Shepard requested. He frowned when there was no answer. "EDI? Joker? Can anyone read me?"

There wasn't even static this time. He was on his own.

Goddamn it.

~o~O~o~

"Shepard? Repeat your last. We can't hear you!" Miranda said. She impatiently brushed back a stray lock of hair from her face and to remove any excess dust from blinding her eyes, taking care not to aggravate her injury any further.

"No good. There must be too much crap between us and him," Garrus said worriedly.

"No… m-most likely, it's the result of t-the mass effect c-core," Tali explained. She sounded a bit stronger, no doubt from the pain meds that were making her injury more tolerable, rather than excruciating. "I-it's getting m-more unstable. The random energy output must b-be messing with our c-comms."

"She's probably right. I can't raise the Normandy either," Miranda said in frustration.

"No more talking, Tali," Garrus said. "Time to get you some help."

"B-but… what about S-Shepard?"

"He'll make it. He always does. We didn't get this far to die here," Miranda resolutely said. She raised her borrowed shotgun and walked down the passageway. "We need to go. Right now."

~o~O~o~

Ducking behind a metal protrusion, Shepard ejected his spent thermal clip, but in the middle of his reload, a husk popped up and took a swipe at him. Leaning back to avoid the clumsy attack, he drew his knife and rammed it into the husk's throat, twisted, and viciously ripped it out; all of which nearly decapitated the head.

Letting the body fall, he finished his reload before trading fire with the Assassin's that were hoping to pin him down. A quick count revealed three, but there was little doubt that more would be on the way. Not to mention the slim chances of escape if Harbinger appeared.

Popping out of cover, he swept his arm out and released a shockwave. The biotic detonations of dark energy crippled the Assassin's and any husks that were hoping to rush him. Dashing with his HMWA drawn, he quickly fired upon his downed foes before they could recover. Once he was sure the immediate area was pacified, he started jogging through the corridors, hoping that each bend or junction would reunite him with his team; or led him back to the Normandy; or get him into any familiar ground devoid of hostiles.

Here's hoping my luck holds out.

So far, all was quiet save for the rumbling of the environment around him as the base continued to die; a constant reminder that he was on a very tight schedule. The buzzing sounds of seeker swarms, the ghastly moans of husks, or the footfalls of a battalion of Collectors were absent to his ears. Futilely, he tried his radio again to raise anyone, but got nothing but silence.

Frustrated at the sudden loss of contact, he nearly let himself get distracted until he saw something out of the corner of his eye. Trusting his honed instincts, he ducked down to avoid the glowing projectile before diving away in the opposite direction to avoid the worst of the subsequent explosion.

The biotic attack ripped through the nearby wall with incredible ease. Even Jack and Samara, two of the strongest biotics Shepard had ever known, wouldn't have produced similar results without considerable effort on their part.

If golden orb of destruction wasn't enough of a hint, the deep, guttural, ancient voice to his left confirmed the identity of his attacker.

SHEPARD. YOU'VE CHANGED NOTHING.

"Oh, hell," the human muttered to himself. He slowly got back to his feet, gripping his rifle as he did so and made sure his warp ammo converter was activated.

YOUR SPECIES HAS THE ATTENTION OF THOSE INFINITELY YOUR GREATER.

Leveling his weapon at the approaching Collector-Reaper, he noted that there were no other Collectors or husks in the small room they were in.

It was just Shepard and Harbinger.

Alone.

And just like that, he knew his luck had finally run out.

Fuck me.

~o~O~o~

"There she is!" Miranda shouted and pointed at the Normandy hovering nearby.

"Almost there, Tali!" Garrus said to the engineer he carried over his shoulder.

"Ahhhh! BOSH'TET! The sooner the better!" she screamed back. "Behind you! Go right! Your right!"

Garrus scrambled to his right to just as a few bullets whizzed by and ricocheted off the incline he was running up towards the frigate.

The portside airlock opened, revealing Joker and Thane. The helmsman was armed with an M-8 Avenger and was firing full-auto from the hip. Despite his spray-and-pray style of shooting, he managed to gun down two Collectors and discourage several more from chasing the trio with suppressing fire. In stark contrast, Thane was methodical about his shooting, using precise motions and calmly acquiring his target before claiming kill after kill with his M-92 Mantis.

Matthews and Hadley were just behind Joker and Thane. When Garrus ran up to the airlock, both men took Tali out of his arms gently.

"Don't worry! We'll get her to Med Bay ASAP!" Matthews assured.

Hadley eased Tali on a stretcher and pushed it down the bridge. "Make a lane!"

"Has Shepard contacted you?" Miranda asked from outside the door. She was assisting in holding back the Collectors from attempting to run up the slope and reach the Normandy.

"We have not received any communiqué from the Captain," EDI answered. "Approximately seven minutes until core overload."

"This place is going up!" Joker said as he continued his cowboy style shooting. "Orders? !"

Miranda said nothing for a moment, finding herself in the same internal conflict as she did with her sister. She found herself torn between doing her duty…

Or following her heart.

Joker's shout took the decision out of her hands. "Garrus! What are you doing? ! We gotta get out of here! ! !"

Garrus ignored him and hunkered down behind a rock. He had pulled out his M-29 Incisor and aimed it downrange before picking off the Collectors one-by-one with the same level precision as Thane was doing.

"Garrus!" Joker yelled.

"We wait for Shepard!" Garrus stubbornly asserted.

With the choice made, Miranda plucked the Avenger away from Joker and ran from the airlock to take up a position of her own.

Thane leapt out next, followed by Grunt a few moments later. Joker clenched his teeth and looked around. The station was shaking dangerously now. Larger and larger chunks of debris were falling. "Everything's coming down on us! We're running out of time!"

"We'll give him as much as we can offer!" Miranda ordered. "Get to the cockpit! We'll pull out when we need to and not a second sooner!"

~o~O~o~

Despite his warp ammo, the barrier around Harbinger remained as strong as ever and it was clear the Reaper had learned from their past encounters. Tactical cloak failed immediately when Shepard tried to vanish from sight and high-tail it out of there before the fight began in earnest. Harbinger merely radiated a pulse of biotics that rippled through the small room, rocking the human off his feet and slamming him into wall.

A quick look at his HUD showed that several emitters laced through his armor for the optic camo were damaged from the impact. At best, he could make his head and right arm invisible, while the rest would remain exposed. Any large rocks he tried to use to knock the Reaper off-balance were caught well before it hit its intended target and used against him. One errant projectile would have taken Shepard's head clean off if he were a hair slower. Out of grenades and running out of tricks, he had to rely on good old fashioned firepower… except Harbinger's barrier appeared to resist the warp ammo now, making its shield evermore nigh impregnable.

He emptied heat sink after heat sink before Harbinger threw out a biotic attack that Shepard narrowly avoided. Before he could get his sights back on the Reaper, it crossed the distance and reared back to strike him. Shepard could only raise his HMWA to block.

His desperate defense only mildly worked. Harbinger's backhand broke the weapon in half, and sent the human flying backward, but at least he avoided taking the full brunt of attack. Pushing back to his feet, Shepard tossed the useless pieces aside and he drew his HMWSR, since his sniper rifle proved to be more effective against Harbinger in the past. However, it appeared the Reaper proxy was expecting it. Shepard only managed to fire once from the hip before it gripped the barrel of the rifle, and ripped it from his grasp. This time, its follow-up strike hit true. Shepard flew back once again and landed painfully on his back.

Gasping, he clutched his bruised torso and marveled over the fact that he didn't break any ribs. Either the Kestrel armor was better than he thought, or it was his new hardened bones from the Lazarus Project, or even both, but he was able to slowly crawl back to his feet. Idly, he made a mental note to thank Miranda for fashioning the armor for him and for his new skeletal system as he balefully glared at Harbinger.

If I survive this.

THAT WHICH YOU KNOW AS REAPERS ARE YOUR SALVATION THROUGH DESTRUCTION.

Like it was a twig, Harbinger broke his sniper rifle in two with effortless ease.

YOU CANNOT STOP US. WE ARE THE HARBINGER OF YOUR PERFECTION.

"Why? !" Shepard shouted back. "All those people! Killed! And for what? ! To make that… that abomination? !"

YOUR SPECIES WILL BE RAISED TO A NEW EXISTANCE.

"As one of you?" Shepard spat out.

WE WILL BRING YOUR SPECIES INTO HARMONY WITH OUR OWN.

"Sounds like a special brand of Hell to me."

WE WILL BE THE BEGINNING. YOU ARE THE END. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE YOUR DESTINY, SHEPARD. YOU WILL SURRENDER YOUR POTENTIAL AGAINST THE GROWING VOID.

In lieu of words, Shepard thrust out his arms and generated a singularity. Harbinger's riposte was to ignore it entirely, though its barrier was becoming distorted and stretched. Next, He tried warp to try to break though, but Harbinger didn't flinch or break stride as it stalked towards him.

Before he could mount another attack or formulate a defense, Harbinger darted forward in a blur of motion before reaching out and gripped his helmet with only one arm. Lifting him off the ground, the Reaper proxy firmly held the struggling Spectre in its grasp.

AND NOW YOU STAND ALONE, SHEPARD. YOUR INTERFERENCE HAS ENDED.

With that said, it began crushing its captive with constant, merciless intent.

From kicking the Collector-Reaper wildly in the head or torso, to ramming his fists into the elbow joint at the inside bend and the outside to hyperextend the limb, Shepard fought with tooth and nail to get free. His eyes darted around the HUD as warning lights flashed everywhere. The micro-cameras that provided a full unobstructed view through his helmet were going dark, one by one. He could actually feel part of his helmet crush into his skull; almost imagined the fingers breaching and…

Soon everything was dark, the damage too much for his Kestrel Helmet to function. The pressure steadily building, the claustrophobic feeling was almost all-encompassing.

Closing his eyes and clenching his teeth, he pushed back the initial surge of panic and redoubled his struggles to break free, adding biotics to his blind attacks.

PITIFUL. THESE ATTACKS ARE POINTLESS. YOU ARE NO LONGER RELEVANT. YOU ESCAPED US BEFORE, SHEPARD, BUT NOT AGAIN. FACE YOUR ANNILIATION.

His only reply was to fight even harder.

~o~O~o~

As expected, even in the face of their destruction, the Collectors were single-minded in their attack. Droves of them emerged from the tunnels to engage Miranda and her team. So far, they were able to hold out with the advantage of cover, higher ground, and added numbers. Several civilians and crewmen had joined the fight and had taken positions of their own to add to the torrent of firepower that held the Collector's at bay.

It was inevitable that the status quo would change though.

And there's the game changer.

"Aw, damn it!" Garrus muttered when he spotted what Miranda had seen.

"Praetorian! Grunt! How many shots do you have left in the Cain?" she shouted to the krogan over the orchestra of combat. She knew shooting at the husk-like tank would be fruitless, so she maintained her effort on the shock troops instead.

"1 shot at low power!"

"Ready it and take it out!" she ordered. She turned to the others. "Everyone, concentrate fire on the ground troops! You there! The one with the missile launcher! Focus your fire on the big one!"

"What about Shepard? !" Garrus shouted. "What if he's nearby? !"

"We need to risk it!"

"Charging!" Grunt reported. "And… Ready!"

"Shepard, if you can hear me: take cover! We're firing the Cain!" She heard nothing. "Damn it… Grunt, fire when ready!"

"Fire in the hole!"

~o~O~o~

It was hopeless. Shepard knew it. Harbinger was confident of it.

No matter how much he fought, struggled, or resisted, he wouldn't get away this time. Within the darkened confines of his helmet and amidst the sounds of creaking metal and cracking of ceramic, Shepard knew he was trapped with no way out.

I SENSE YOUR WEAKNESS. YOU COULD HAVE BEEN USEFUL, BUT YOU ARE NO LONGER RELEVANT. WE WILL END YOU. YOUR DEATH IS ASSURED. SUBMIT NOW.

Even with is mind telling him it was futile, he kept up his struggle. Kicks landed at the chest or head, punches aimed at the elbow joint, but it wasn't nearly enough. Judging from increasing magnitude of sounds his helmet was making from being crushed, to the feeling of intensifying pressure; it would be all over in a matter of seconds.

Until his ears picked up a different sound, akin to a massive explosion; his body felt a different pressure, closer to vertigo now, until he collapsed on the ground. Then it was nothing but constant quakes. Most importantly in his mind though, his head no longer felt like it was about to be crushed in a garbage compactor.

All of that was perceived in an instant as the world continued shaking in the dark confines of his helmet. Harbinger had lost its grip on him and now he had a stay of execution.

It was a reprieve he wasn't about to let slip by.

Placing his hands on the sides, he grunted with the effort of trying to tear off his damaged and warped helmet. He could feel it get stuck on the sides of his head from where Harbinger did the most damage, but desperation brought strength and he tore it free to finally see again.

Harbinger was close by –too close– and was slowly getting up off the ground.

Shepard rolled away and stood up quickly, taking care not to lose his balance from the tremors that massive explosion had caused.

He'd somehow managed to recover first. Or maybe Harbinger was in no rush since victory was literally in its hands just moments ago. Snarling to himself, Shepard went on the hard offensive this time. Warp and singularity proved useless, so he called on his latest technique as he charged Harbinger head on.

To his surprise, it worked more than he'd imagined. Reave ripped though it's biotic barrier and even tore out a solid portion of its left arm. Harbinger staggered back from the attack.

Emboldened by his success, Shepard put his hands up and readied his biotics. Dark energy coalesced around his fists in response to his focus. He stared at the damaged he caused. The sight was like blood in the water; physical proof that Harbinger wasn't the Almighty, or some all-powerful, omnipotent deity. He and his team fought and pushed it back time and time again. It was a matter of adapting and using what was on hand, but the result had always been the same: Harbinger's incarnation could be beat.

And he if had to do it by himself, then he would.

YOU HAVE NO ONE LEFT SHEPARD. YOUR RESISTANCE IS USELESS.

His biotics manifested into an aura around him now as he prepared to meet Harbinger head-on. "Enough talk. Let's get this over with; I got shit to do."

This time, it said nothing in response. The damage to its arm didn't appear to impede its ability to move. It stood tall, staring –studying– him before charging with its unnatural speed.

This time, the human was prepared. In the brief pause, Shepard pushed as much adrenaline as he dared from his synthetic implants. Already, he could feel his heart hammer away in his chest, but his increased perception allowed him to track and react to Harbinger's speed now.

Twisting to the side, Harbinger passed just scant inches away from Shepard's right flank. Throwing out a left hook, reave ripped through the barrier again and the wound in Harbinger's shoulder grew wider.

Harbinger took no notice of it. Halting its forward charge, it turned around and launched a haymaker. With his enhanced perception, he was able to duck under the punch and countered with a body blow.

This time, its barrier broke and its armored carapace on its torso ruptured. Honing on the on the weakness, he rammed reave into the injury again before rolling away from Harbinger's attempt to backhand him.

Recovering quickly, he attempted to press his momentary advantage when Harbinger fought back with its own brand of biotics. Shouting in surprise, Shepard was lifted off the ground and flew right into Harbinger's fist. It was only through self-preservation that he erected a barrier around himself in just in the nick of time to take the brunt of the blow, though it shattered on impact. He thought he could hear is chest plate crack from the hit, or maybe it was his ribs; he couldn't tell. All he could notice was the fact that he was hurled back before rag-dolling across the ground.

YOU ONLY DAMAGE THE VESSEL. YOU CANNOT HURT ME AND YOU CANNOT SUSTAIN YOUR ATTACK.

The ringing in his ears made it hard to hear it taunts, and the burning in his chest made it difficult to breathe as he struggled back to his feet. Pushing more adrenaline into his veins, he fought back the pain to regain his focus and staunchly ignored whatever damage he received.

He knew it was dangerous, using as much adrenaline as he did so far, synthetic, natural, or otherwise. Soldiers that were grafted with adrenal implants had to undergo extensive psychiatric evaluations to even be considered a candidate. Anyone with experience with drugs, even recreational ones, was automatically banned. Mental evaluations that diagnosed individuals that were categorized as thrill seekers, adrenaline junkies, or anyone with the remote chance to abuse their implants for their own personal gratification were similarly disbarred as well. All for good reason: Adrenaline was a drug, providing its own highs and addictions.

And its own potential for lethal overdoses.

Shepard could never allow himself to forget the grueling lectures about the dangers of his implants; the physical risks, the psychological dependencies, the side-effects, and in his current situation, over-usages.

At the rate he was going, it would only be a matter of time before his heart would give out, yet he made the conscious decision to keep pushing more. Either he was going to kill Harbinger, or die in his attempt. Little things like cardiac arrest, strokes, or whatever medical complications that might arise were pushed to the back of his mind.

It was kill or be killed; all or nothing now.

Launching himself forward, he used biotic charge as his opening gambit. He took heart when Harbinger was rocked off its feet and slammed into the wall behind it. Before it could recover, Shepard followed up with a pulse of biotic of his own, firmly embedding Harbinger into the wall. Focusing on the injured left arm, he used reave and felt a grim pleasure as it was sheared off completely.

Tearing itself free, it thrust out its remaining arm to cast another golden orb of destruction that Shepard dodged.

Harbinger looked down at its missing limb before turning its glowing yellow eyes to Shepard.

THIS BODY DOES NOT MATTER. YOU ONLY DELAY THE INEVITABLE. WE WILL RETURN AND YOU WILL RISE.

Shepard didn't rise to its taunts. The advantage was his now, he could feel it. Pressing forward, he used reave again to tear apart the weakened carapace. The Reaper tried to counter with a straight punch with its remaining arm, probably looking to take the Spectre's head clean off.

Quickly ducking under the jab, he aimed for the knee and punched at the joint, enhancing his blow with biotics, just as Samara had taught him. The joint cracked and this time, Harbinger was the one that stumbled. Not giving it a chance, the moment it pitched forward Shepard launched a haymaker of his own that snapped the Reaper's head back before following up with a downward punch to send it flat on the ground.

Breathing heavy, from the pain, exhaustion, and constant use of his biotics, Shepard glared down at his beaten enemy.

IMPRESSIVE, SHEPARD, BUT THIS DELAY IS POINTLESS. OUR POWER IS UNMATCHED. WE WILL FIND ANOTHER WAY. WE WILL IMPOSE ORDER ON CHAOS.

"Then I guess I'm bringing chaos to your order," Shepard growled out. Raising his leg, he stomped down with as much force as he could muster. Harbinger's head cracked between his boot and the ground. He didn't relent though. He continued until he felt the armored carapace yield and shatter. Ichor splattered everywhere.

Staggering from the headless corpse, Shepard took several steps before falling flat on his face. He felt cold and feverish now. His limbs were spasming uncontrollably as he took gasped for air.

Fatigue seeped into his very core now. He felt like he went well past his limits concerning his biotics, adrenal implants and hell, even his physical endurance. At this very moment, it was more than tempting to simply lie there and close his eyes…

The ground beneath him shook ominously.

You're not gonna die here. Not after going through hell. You're really gonna fall near the end? Get your ass up and MOVE.

Shepard snapped his eyes open. His breaths came more rapidly now. He didn't even know he had closed his eyes. Gritting his teeth, he debated whether it was worth the risk to use more adrenaline or apply some stims, but ultimately decided against it. He'd already pushed his luck enough with regards to his physical constitution.

Gritting his teeth, he placed his hands flat on the ground and pushed himself up. His right leg moved next, until his knee lifted his lower body into a crawling position. His arms were shaking now, and he nearly fell. Determination and stubbornness kept him up now. He pushed once more until he was vertical again. Spots danced in and out of his vision and he started to feel light-headed. Several, slower breaths helped clear his head though. Moving his left leg, he put himself into a kneeling position before finally standing upright. He stumbled and leaned against a nearby wall. No more synthetic adrenaline from his implants; no more biotics; no more outside help. This time, he fought on through sheer force of will.

And it was that same spirit brought him the strength he needed to draw his pistol and slowly hobble on, deeper into the passageway.

~o~O~o~

Miranda found her resolve tested, but in the end, she knew she had to make a choice this time.

"So don't die! You promise me, damn it!"

"You and I both know it doesn't work that way. I've already died once. I don't have any illusions about my mortality. We could be dead on this next mission, or the one after that. If you don't think it's worth it…"

"No… For you, it is."

"Enough! Everyone, back to the Normandy! We can't stay!" she commanded.

Garrus' head snapped at her. "But…!"

"Let's go!" she ordered before swallowing the lump in her throat. "We can't risk everyone's lives! Back to the ship!"

Grunt and Thane appeared reluctant. However, Thane fired off one more round from his Mantis before turning around and sprinting for the airlock.

Grunt growled before firing off his Avenger at the Collectors before doing the same.

"We can't leave him!" Garrus argued.

Despite being shot at, Miranda stood up, marched over to the turian and seized him by the collar of his armor. "We have to!"

"You'd really leave him? !"

"Garrus!" she shouted. She paused only for a heartbeat to stare him directly in the eyes. "What would he do if your positions were reversed? What would you do? What do think he would want you to do?"

It was a hard series of questions, the very same ones that Miranda asked herself just prior to giving the order to pull out. In the end, she knew what she had to do. More importantly, she knew what Shepard would do too.

Virmire had proven that.

And deep down, no matter how much it hurt to admit, she knew she was right.

Garrus bowed his head and gave her the barest of nods.

She pulled at his collar roughly and dragged him to the ship. Thane and Grunt were at the door, firing down at the Collectors. They only paused to let them in before resuming.

"Close the door!" Miranda ordered. "Joker! Get us out of here!"

Joker grunted. "Yeah. I'm on it… What about Shepard? Is he…?"

"EDI? Do you have Shepard's beacon?" Miranda asked tensely. The deck lurched slightly as the frigate began pulling away and out of the tunnel they were in.

"I have received several intermittent pings off of Shepard's beacon, indicating that he is motion, but I do not have a solid fix on his…" EDI replied before trailing off.

"EDI?"

"Stand by."

Miranda held her breath. The others in the cockpit and bridge did the same.

"I have a fix on his location. He is directly ahead of us, approximately 118 meters, port side," she announced. She almost sounded relieved.

"Radio contact?" Miranda quickly pressed.

"There is too much interference. I am attempting to boost the signal."

The Normandy shook when a piece of debris struck her from above.

"This place is coming apart!" Joker said. He looked at his instrumentation. "We might have a minute before the core goes, and then we have to outrun the shockwave!"

"Fly as close as you can to those coordinates!" Miranda urged. She looked over her shoulder. "Garrus! Open the airlock door! We only have enough time for one pass and only one chance at this!"

"So what else is new? !" he glibly replied before complying with her orders.

Come on, John… please…

~o~O~o~

Shepard stared at the rock wall in front of him in a sort of stunned disbelief. After all he'd fought through; all he survived; all he had done…

He ran smack dab into a dead end.

Literally, if the explosions, Collectors and other hazardous sounds were anything to judge by.

Growling in denial, he punched the wall before falling to his knees. He sighed and bowed his head.

And for the first time in his life… he contemplated on giving up.

Shaking his head, he stubbornly got up and looked back at the tunnel he had just run through. He didn't know how much time he had, but if the Collectors had other ships, or a shuttle, or anything that flies…

Fuck it. Either that, or just lie down and die.

He prepared to head back into the fray when the most wonderful sound of static crackled in his ear.

"—pard? Are you receiving me?"

"EDI? ! Goddamn, I'm glad to hear you!"

"Likewise, Shepard. S-s-scans—icate—y-you—nex-t-t t-to us-s-s."

Shepard furrowed his brow when he finally deciphered what EDI said through the static. "I'm trapped in a tunnel with a dead end. How the hell could I be—?"

"The t-t-tunnel c-connects—passageway—Normandy—f-f-flying in. I—wall—thin enough—b-blast through—"

Shepard turned to wall and gritted his teeth. "Get ready to pick me up."

"We will—one c-c-chance. Approximately two minutes to core overload. We cannot fly back to try this again without risking—" EDI warned. Her message became significantly clearer.

"Whatever happens will happen. Either I do it or I'm dead. I'm blowing the wall."

"Pickup in 10 seconds."

Shepard counted down to five as he focused on his reserves of strength. Even if there was a risk that blowing his way out would cause a cave-in, he knew he was out of options.

Taking a deep breath, he called on his biotics once more. Instead of the comfortable tingling feeling he was accustomed to, a sharp shearing pain rippled across his arms. Ignoring the feeling, he pushed out with his right arm and unleashed reave.

Just as he hoped, the precision of reave blew open the wall, but without further comprising the tunnel he was in. Looking out, he saw his Deus Ex Machina.

Joker had flown the Normandy as close as he dared, but the port vector thrusters were the real limiting factor. It was physically impossible for the Normandy to fly in closer without shearing off the thrusters.

He'd have to jump the distance.

Shit…

Quickly, he discarded his Spectre weaponry and anything else that would weigh him down. The only thing he had left now the Cain that Wrex had lent him.

He knew if he tossed away the Cain, surviving his suicide mission might become the least of his worries.

After getting some distance, he sprinted and at the last possible moment, leapt from the precipice.

Time seemed to slow down.

He could see Miranda and Garrus. Both of them had their arms outstretched, ready to catch him.

He could see the Normandy flying at an agonizingly slow pace.

He could see countless rocks and debris rain all around them.

Most importantly, he saw that he was already falling. Whatever momentum he gained from his running start was already spent.

I'm not going to make it.

Garrus seemed to sense the same thing, because he nearly leaned his entire upper torso to reach out.

And it was enough.

Shepard grasped his friend's talons and held on, only to continue falling when Garrus pitched forward. Their descent was halted when Miranda gripped the back of Garrus' belt, while holding onto the side of the door.

"Ah! Damn it!" she cursed. She was leaning dangerously outside the door now.

"Don't let go!" Garrus shouted. Whether he said that to Shepard or Miranda was anyone's guess.

"Thank you for the sound advice! Any other obvious facts you'd like to say? !" Miranda snapped back. "Someone help!"

Shepard clutched on for dear life, but he knew they had to close the door soon before reaching open space. Time was still not on his side and there was the crew and civilians to consider. He gritted his teeth before shouting, "Can you get me in? !"

"Don't you dare think about it, John!" Miranda snarled back before grunting with the effort of holding both men up. She was glaring into his eyes, as if she was reading his mind and knowing exactly what he was thinking of doing. "I swear, not another word! Garrus, don't let him go or let him do something stupid!"

Before Shepard could argue, he found himself being pulled up rapidly. A quick glance revealed Grunt had answered the call and was pulling all three of them into the Normandy effortlessly.

Once they were firmly aboard, Grunt grinned enthusiastically. "For the glory of our clan!"

Shepard grinned back and scrambled away from the door as it closed. He barely got his bearings back only to be slapped by Miranda.

"Don't ever think about doing something so foolishly noble again," she angrily reprimanded before softening her features and embraced him. "You're such an idiot."

"You're lucky, Shepard. If she didn't hit you, I would've," Garrus joked. "And trust me, it wouldn't be a slap."

Stepping away from Miranda, he could only smile. Shepard quickly limped into the cockpit. "Set a course! Omega-4 Relay!"

"On it!" Miranda said. She slid into the Navigation terminal on the portside of the cockpit and hurriedly typed in the coordinates.

"Don't let anything slow us down!" Shepard barked. He slid down into the Gunnery seat on the starboard side of the cockpit and read the instrumentation.

Joker nodded and took off his hat. His fingers flew across the console and coaxed the Normandy out of the base and into open space. "We're outta here! Gimme all you got, Engineering!"

"You bet your ass, Joker!" Gabby replied. "Punch it!"

EDI finally said what they were all dreading. "Core overload confirmed."

The readings showed the base's destruction.

Mission accomplished.

But everyone was more acutely aware of the shockwave that trailed them.

"Current estimates project that we will be overtaken by the shockwave. Considering the current damage to our armor, it is not likely we will survive," EDI informed.

"Engineering, we're gonna need a lot more than this!" Joker said tensely.

"She's giving everything she's got!" Ken shouted back frantically. "I don't know if there's anything more!"

"Everything isn't good enough, Mr. Donnelly!" Shepard snapped back. "We didn't rescue you so you could die here! Find another way!"

"Aye, sir!"

"I'm taking the Thanix cannon and CBT completely offline! We'll suss out every last drop of power into propulsion!" Gabby said. "Ken, find me more! Turn off all the damn lights in the ship if you have to!"

"I'm already on it, Gabby!"

There seemed to be a ship-wide hum as power was diverted into their survival. Even the lights were taken off, showing how deadly serious Gabby and Ken were about her last ditch effort.

And it appeared to be working. "Propulsion has increased to 135% past maximum recommended value. The shockwave is still gaining, however, estimates are now too close to tell if we will able to make the jump or not."

"Route to the Omega-4 Relay plotted," Miranda reported. "Sensors aren't detecting any obstructions or hostiles."

"Confirming route to the Omega-4 Relay. Initiating transmission sequence," Joker tensely said. His hands were flying across his terminal, faster than Shepard had ever seen the helmsman work. "Reaper IFF online?"

"Connected," EDI informed. "Warning, impact in 12 seconds."

"Calculating transit mass and destination."

"We got a huge burst of electrical charge coming from the core!" Ken reported.

"Divert it into propulsion! I can use it!" Gabby said.

"We're in the corridor. Moving into approach vector…" Joker quietly said.

The ship began shuddering.

"Impact in 7 seconds," EDI said.

"Secure all stations for transit," Shepard ordered. He watched as the relay became tantalizingly close ahead of them, but on contrast with his hopes, there was an equal measure of dread on the shockwave that was gaining on them from behind.

"Beginning approach run… 6 seconds," Joker said. His hands and arms were a blur now; the screen in front of him was displaying a myriad of data that he manipulated, pushed aside or utilized, even as the rest of his body was tense and rigid.

"Impact in 5 seconds."

The shaking intensified. The ship felt like it was about to come apart. The crew and civilians collectively held their breath. The situation was now out of their hands.

"5… 4… 3… 2…"

"4… 3… 2… 1…"

Shepard closed his eyes as the ship lurched forward from a sudden burst of acceleration.

Except the feeling was nothing like mass relay travel.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Man, this took me forever. The Reaper fight scene (The big one) seemed simple enough. Go in, kill it, and run away. Very anti-climactic. So I had to write a scene that would befit a real finale. And thus, the huge delay.

Only the epilogue left now though.

Grunt quote inspired from fellow ME author OmegaCrusader.

Quotes and scenes taken or inspired from Star Trek and Star Trek: Voyager.

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