Chapter 3: A Knife in The Dark

Edition 2.0

The detection of gunfire in the station triggered the automated alarms and the lighting switched from night to day. Cerberus engineers quickly sped down the hallway to a control panel. They pried the outer cover off the wall and began hacking in to the systems. They seemed to have knowledge of the station’s integral systems. It would have been easy for the Illusive Man to get a hold of this information, as well as a manifest of all the students sleeping in their dorms in the student wing. The Cerberus Engineers managed to disable the automated distress. From any passersby it appeared that the station was being evacuated by a Turian frigate. While inside the station, Cerberus Centurions managed to abduct a small handful of students from their rooms before the alarms sent the station into a panic. Students crammed out into the hallways, some of the N7 soldiers in training stood and fought hand to hand defending their captured peers. Gerald Chesterton, an Alliance lieutenant popped out of his bunk kicking a Cerberus trooper beside him in the back and came down on his head with two clenched fists, he knocked the trooper unconscious. Quickly he picked up the assault rifle laying on the ground and shot the trooper twice in the chest at point blank range. Looking up, he checked on the student who was struggling with the Cerberus trooper moments before from her bunk. Chesterton felt no pulse, he hadn’t reacted quick enough to the alarm. He began to refocus, exiting his dorm room he joined his fellow squad, Bill, Hayley, Donovan and Jess who all managed to pry guns off the incapacitated Cerberus Troopers. He was relieved to see that their training was paying off.  They rushed down the hallway in the opposite direction of traffic, their fellow students running past them along the escape route. Chesterton and his squad cared little to escape, their primary concern was for their friends and peers, for whom they would die to protect. They heroically took a stand under-prepared and vulnerable, none of them were wearing any form of body armor.  But they all fought as if they didn’t know the difference.

Jack was woken up in the middle of the night to the sounds of klaxons blaring.  “Everyone to your stations, we are under attack, repeat we are under attack.” Jack heard Kahlee Sanders over the loudspeaker before the transmission was cut off by the sound of a Cerberus agent, “Attention students of the Academy, lay down your weapons and Surrender now and no harm will come to you,” The voice said. But Jack knew that was bullshit. She was a Cerberus experiment. To her Cerberus caused only harm, they used cruelty as a tool and promised mercy as bait to trap their victims. It would be a cold day in hell before she let them take her or her students prisoner. She bolted out the door, checked her surroundings and then sprinted at full speed down the hallway. She ran as fast as she could towards the student wing, towards the fighting. When she ran into Prangley,

“What the hell are you doing out here Prangley?” Jack shouted over the alarms.

“Coming to get you ma’am.” He said. Then he turned around following Jack who continued to run towards the student wing.

“Why aren’t you with your squad?” She asked.

“They sent me to get you. They’re busy fighting and providing barrier support for lieutenant Chesterton and his team.”

Turning the corner to their right, it led them into a full hallway of students rushing at them and up the stairs to their left.

“How many Cerberus are there?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know but they keep coming at us.”

Chester and his team managed to push Cerberus back to the end of the hallway with the aid of Jack’s squad of biotic commandos. They began to sweep each room, one on the left and one on the right while four of them stood in the hall holding the line against the Cerberus troops.

“Glad you could make it ma’am,” Rodriguez spoke holding a barrier out in front of her and the team.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world Rodriguez.” Jack sarcastically said and sprinted to the front. She popped a shockwave across the ground blowing five Cerberus troopers off their feet.

“You enjoy killing Cerberus that much?” Rodriguez asked.

“Not really. Yeah, I enjoy killing them,” she shouted while crushing the skull of a Cerberus trooper with her biotics, “but really I’d rather never see Cerberus again in my life.”

“So why are you really here ma’am?” Rodriguez asked as if Jack needed a reason.

“Prangley told me that you held up a barrier for more than 30 seconds,” Jack teased. “When I heard that, I had to come running.”

“Screw you ma’am!”

“Now if you only concentrate on your stasis fields like that, you’d be in business.”

“This isn’t the time for a lesson,” Rodriguez protested.

“No this is active combat,” Jack suddenly got serious, “and I suggest that you learn fast. Because our lives may depend on it.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Rodriguez was a tough student to teach, gifted but severely unfocused and lacking in self confidence. Yet the more she was pushed, the better she performed. Jack trivialized her complaints and always maintained that she was a capable biotic. It wasn’t the best of teaching circumstances that day but Jack felt she had to do her best in what short time they had left, to bring Rodriguez up to combat ready status.  Her poor recommendation of Rodriguez’ performance yesterday made Jack feel extra responsible and already Rodriguez was outperforming Jack’s expectations in live combat. Her contemplation’s were cut short when a faint thumping could be heard from around the corner.

“What’s that?” Rodriguez asks.

“Sounds like a mech,” Jack said. Jack heard the faint sounds of hydraulics and the engine running the Cerberus Atlas.

“How are the evacuations coming?” Jack yelled back to Chesterton and his team.

“The dorms seem clear,” The lieutenant shouted back.

“Alright let’s move.” Jack turned around but Rodriguez is still on her knee holding up the barrier. Jack grabbed Rodriguez by the arm and lifted her to her feet, “I said LET’S move!”

She led the two squads back down the hallway. The Atlas was behind them but it was slow, it would never catch up so long as they kept moving. They hit the stairwell where they were met by an Alliance Commander Thomas Hastings, the commanding officer of lieutenant Chesterton and his team.

“Lieutenant! Good work finding those weapons let’s get you restocked and outfitted. Assemble your squad and follow me to the armory. We need to defend the rest of the station while the civilians are being evacuated,” The Commander said.

“As for you Jack, follow the evac rout to Orion Hall. We’ll provide cover fire,” Jack knew Hastings on a professional basis. She respected his authority but it pissed her off that he didn’t ask for her help.  He wanted to go off and defend the station when she and her squad were capable of doing the same.

“With all due respect sir,” Jack protested, “we’re more than able to aid you in your objective.”

“True and I agree with you,” Hastings made direct eye contact with Jack. “However, it’s come down from Alliance brass that they believe you and your team are the primary targets of this assault by Cerberus. I agree with them first. Request denied, proceed to Orion Hall.”

It struck a nerve with Jack to be hunted by Cerberus yet again. She blamed herself for getting too comfortable in her new life and for not seeing this coming. But it didn’t matter because the Alliance didn’t either. Regardless, Jack was satisfied with his answer.

“Understood,” she said. She acknowledged the order and took her team up the stairs. Orion Hall was two corridors down in a straight line, the only place they could run into trouble would be if they got cut off in the hallway by the library to their right. A Cerberus trooper could have hidden behind every bookcase. Yet Jack and her team made it to Orion Hall and paused for breath. Then the doors locked. Jack looked up and spun around the room keeping a keen eye out for trouble. Smoke gas covered the entrances and Cerberus entered the room in full force.

“Everybody on me!”  Jack shouted her team into a circular formation.

“I hope you remember yesterday’s lesson. Because anyone who can put out a stasis bubble do it now! Rodriguez you’ve got our barriers. Prangley hit them with your strongest biotic strikes!”

The Cerberus troopers dropped from the ceiling and hit the floor. Almost as soon as they dropped down, they dropped dead from the biotic attacks. Prangley deployed a singularity on a group of Troopers and Jack hit them with a Warp field causing an unstable biotic detonation like the explosion of a powerful grenade. A  group of Centurions came in next spraying the team with bullets that bounced off Rodriguez’ barrier field. Jack returned the attack with a heavy throw that knocked three Centurions back off the ground and slammed them into the wall. The concrete cracked and they were either knocked cold or killed from the impact. Jack began to feel more confident about her team; they were holding their ground and fighting together against foes far greater in numbers. It was a hard fight, well above the expectations of their training, but it was a fight that they were winning.

***

“Hell of a ride.” Anderson said feeling the gravity return to the shuttle carrying him and General Whitaker as it dropped in from low orbit over Great Britain.

“You know I grew up in London,” Anderson told Whitaker.

“No I didn’t,” said Whitaker. “How long has it been since your last visit?”

“I can’t remember,” Anderson sighed. “I miss London, but it’s a long shuttle ride from Alliance HQ.”

“I haven’t been on a long flight like this in years.” Whitaker said agreeing.

“You don’t get out much do you?”

“Not since I took my last posting. No,” Whitaker stroked his beard when he spoke, as if it helped him remember.

Anderson stood up and looked out the cockpit window. He watched the coastline, fast approaching. The weight of those years between: leaving London, leaving Earth, and serving the cause of the Alliance, all those memories started to sink in.

“I wish I could have stayed in one place,” Anderson said, “If I had, it probably would have saved my marriage.”

“You were married?”

Anderson didn’t hesitate to answer, “Divorced early in my career, when I twenty-eight. Our lives led us apart. What about you?”

“Been married for 36 years. I’ve got grandchildren now.”

Anderson expected Whitaker to describe them but instead he sat there lost in memory.

“Must be hard not to worry about them,” Anderson asked.

“I rarely see them. But yes, it is,” he slowly replied. “My wife and my daughter had a falling out years ago. Since then my daughter’s family rarely comes to visit.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Anderson empathized. When he was married he rarely had the opportunity to see Cynthia. He still loved her when she served him the papers.

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.” Whitaker said, “I’m just glad they made it to the Citadel. It’s possibly the safest place in the galaxy right now.”

“But you still worry about them?”

“I wouldn’t have a heart if I didn’t. Like any man with a family, I want nothing more than to see them come home.”

“Then it’s our jobs to make sure they have a world to come home to.” Anderson said.

“If you want the truth I’m more worried about my wife. She ended up on the same ship with them. I’ll be lucky if they don’t burn down the house before I come back to it.”

Anderson laughed, “Win one war to start another.”

Whitaker smiled, “Exactly.”

Anderson continued looking out the cockpit window, he saw more and more of the countryside torn to pieces. The buildings scattered about were burning or surrounded by husks and other Reaper abominations.  Anderson’s trip down memory lane ended as his familiarity turned into an awestruck abhorrence.

“Approaching destination.” the shuttle pilot said.

“What destination?” Anderson muttered rhetorically under his breath.

“I know it’s not the same city you left it but we have a job to do,” Whitaker said.

“Let’s just hope there’s enough of it left to save.”

Beep beep beep, the shuttle’s console blurted out the alarm.

“What’s going on?” Anderson asked.

“We’ve got hostiles approaching from the south.” The pilot responded.

“How many?”

“Enough to be alarmed,” the pilot was busy preparing the shuttle’s defenses, flipping switches on several consoles.

Anderson directed his next question to Whitaker, “We’ve got an escort?”

“About a dozen scorpion fighters.”

“That still leaves us vulnerable,” Anderson was thrown left in the cabin by the artillery strike on the right of the shuttle coming from a harvester.

“You might want to put on your seatbelt,” Whitaker said.

Anderson gripped the railing, pulling himself back into his seat when the alarms in the cabin blared again.

“Maybe we should have tried sneaking in,” Anderson said.

“They’d have found us anyway,” Whitaker said breathing heavily in case the shuttle suddenly changed direction and the gee forces bled through the stabilizers. An oculus locked onto the shuttle from behind. Narrowly missing the oculus’ laser the pilot banked left and deployed the shuttle’s flares, its only countermeasure. The flaming magnesium pellets caught  the oculus off guard and managed to damage its tracking for a moment giving the shuttle enough time to break off from the battle and drop in altitude. The pilot was hoping to lose the oculus in the streets of the city but instead managed to attract the attention of two more.

“I thought the idea was to lose them” Anderson said.

“We will. I just have to-” But the pilot never got the chance to finish when an oculus jumped out in front of the shuttle and blasted a hole in the cockpit window with its laser. Anderson looked on the pilot in horror, his torso now decorated the cabin in red.

“Strap yourself in,” Whitaker said gripping the railing in his seat while the shuttle spun out of control. “We’re going down.”

Chapter 4: Smoke and Shadows.

Navigation: Chapter 1: Resistance Earth, Chapter 2: Grissom Academy, Chapter 3: A Knife in The Dark, Chapter 4: Smoke and ShadowsChapter 5: Cold RevelationChapter 6: London CryptChapter 7: Ghosts From Shadows PastChapter 8: SkyfallChapter 9: Apparatus DeusChapter 10: The Devil WithinChapter 11: Hades’ DogsChapter 12: TranshumanChapter 13: Phenomenon,  Chapter 14: AeonChapter 15: EndgamesChapter 16: FracturedChapter 17: ClosingEpilogue.

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