Chapter 14:  Aeon

The monster Carter had become snuck around the base camp in the dead of night. On his back he carried the artifact. It felt strange to him, he could now understand the machine in ways he had never imagined. He could understand all machines that way. With new precision he could see inside the workings of the vehicles in and around the base, no matter his proximity to them or where he hid, he could always see them. He dashed from cover to cover, out of sight of the constant patrols, the guards saw no more than a shadow. He was headed to the barracks. As if the idea were planted into his head he felt compelled towards the sleeping men and women. Unable to move on his own. Slowly he opened the door to the full trailer. Quietly he walked inside. Each footfall of his metal foot clanged softly against the metal floor. He pulled the artifact box, held magnetically, off his back and set it down in the center of the room. Then, activated it.

“Anderson!” Mathews shouted scrambling out of the command center. “Admiral Anderson!” He shouted again.

Anderson was busy talking to a field mechanic, holding a report on the status of various vehicle repairs.

“Excuse me,” Anderson said to the mechanic, “What is it lieutenant?” He shouted back across the way to Mathews who practically ran on crutches.

“It’s the communications.” Mathews rushed breathlessly to blurt out the news, “The communications were faked. Admiral Hackett, it wasn’t Admiral Hackett.”

“What?” Anderson was stunned. “Slow down son, take your time and explain it to me.”

“I sifted through all the records. Sir, there’s a three nanosecond delay at the start and end of half the communications.”

“What does that mean?” Anderson asked.

“It’s about the time it takes for a supercomputer to redirect a fake Alliance encryption over official channels. Other than that there are no other indicators of tampering. Its a perfect counterfeit.” Mathews explained, he was almost impressed by the complexity of the deception, “they managed to fake the call source and verification code. If it weren’t for the 3 nanosecond delay there would be no indication of any tampering whatsoever.”

All the alarms in Anderson’s head went off.

“But it’s there. I found it, and because it’s there, I know they’re faked.” Mathews continued, “The calls from the real Admiral Hackett wouldn’t have that. Sir, we must assume that because of this, everything the Admiral has said to you since you arrived on this base has come from someone else. And there’s more, the records have been tampered with by one other person to cover up the trails.”

“Who?” Anderson asked.

“Colonel Carter.”

Anderson couldn’t believe the implications of what Mathews just said. The fact that he was manipulated, or the fact that Colonel Carter was in collusion with whomever impersonated the identity of Admiral Hackett.

Only one thing came to his mind,”Show me.” Anderson said.

Mathews led him back to the command center to witness the proof for himself. It still seemed inconclusive until Mathews showed Anderson exactly what Carter had done. He installed a bug chip inside the box that redirected the signal to an extranet buoy. The Alliance didn’t use the extranet to relay their communications, the extranet wasn’t secure, they used their own buoy’s instead.

“Can you get me Admiral Hackett? I need to speak to him immediately.” Anderson said. “The real Admiral Hackett.”

Mathews yanked the encryption box from the line. The next communication wouldn’t be secure but they didn’t need it to be. They needed it to work. Before they knew it they received a hail from the real Admiral Hackett.

“Anderson, what’s going on? I’ve been trying to contact you for days.” Hackett said.

“That’s a surprise, considering I spoke to you yesterday.” Anderson said.

Hackett remembered no such conversation. His face flushed with astonishment, “What are you talking about?”

“We’ve been had Admiral.” Mathews said.

Hackett looked at the injured lieutenant, he recognized him from Whitaker’s glowing recommendation. Hackett strongly considered him for duty under his own command, “What happened to you cadet?”

“So that wasn’t you on the SSV Houston.” Mathews remembered. His mind was in a haze coming off of the anesthetic. If someone impersonated Hackett in person, he wouldn’t have noticed.

“What are you talking about? There’s no such thing as the SSV Houston. Both of you, come clean this instant. This has to be the most confusing conversation I’ve ever had.” Hackett said.

“That goes for both of us.” Anderson said. “Someone’s been impersonating you. Talking like you and giving out orders like you.”

“What about?” Hackett asked.

“Most of it revolves around Colonel Carter and the project Skyfall.” Anderson explained.

Hackett was both dumbfounded and angry, “There’s no such thing as a project Skyfall.”

“Really now. Because the artifact we found says otherwise.” Anderson said.

Hackett began to put two and two together, “Are you talking about a box, about this big, with hundreds of moving parts?”

“It glows blue too, and makes a creepy sound. Yeah that would be it.”

Hackett put it all together, “We did have a project like that. On Ontarom, months ago. We signed a contract with ExoGeni to do the research. But we buried the project. Under 3 miles of rock. Every researcher ended up dead.”

“Well whoever’s been using us has managed to reboot the project.” Anderson explained, “With similar deadly results.”

“What do you mean deadly?”

“The impostor ordered a full frontal attack on a reaper dreadnought. Resulting in the deaths of 63 men and women. I assume you didn’t give that order.”

Hackett was shocked, “No, I would never do such a thing…” He paused in awe of the casualties, “Do you have any knowledge as to who’s behind this deception?”

“Colonel Carter might know.” Mathews said. “I’d start there.”

“Who’s Colonel Carter?”

Carter was the reason Whitaker was dead, “I don’t know Hackett, but I’m gonna find out. And if he is our traitor, I’m gonna make the son-of-a-bitch pay.” Anderson said.

“I take it you have a history with him?” Hackett assumed.

 “Oh yeah,” Anderson said. He looked livid, “Big Time.”

Hackett took a moment to sort everything in his head, “Ok, this is what we’re going to do. You continue your investigation of the possible traitor in your camp. I’m going to get my crew to do a sweep of the Alliance records for any more recent activity regarding the ExoGeni artifact. In the mean time, I’ve got about a dozen fires to put out across the galaxy.”

“I’ll let you get to it.” Anderson said, “Oh, and Hackett. It’s good to have you back.”

“Same to you Anderson.”

Anderson turned around and left the tent. Mathews followed after him. They went directly to the research tent where they expected to find Dr. Gillette and the Colonel. They found the Dr. dead on the floor. Looking much less like himself than usual. Anderson looked over at Mathews with a cold face.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Anderson asked.

It was pretty clear the unsanctioned experiments took place with devastating consequences. Gillette was dead and the Colonel was missing.

“The artifact.” Mathews said. “It’s gone.”

***

Chesterton walked alone in the streets of the Citadel. Jack had finally had enough of spending time with him. She left after breakfast. Said she needed space, she had a lot of thinking to do. That of course meant that she would be deciding whether to keep seeing him or not. Chesterton had doubts of his own. Was it really right to pursue a serious relationship? At first he was messing around. He wanted to have fun and he was leading her on only to draw what little they had out. But now he was confused. Chesterton hailed a taxi.

“Take me to the docks, the holding area.” He told the driver.

He had a Cerberus contact he had to meet. He’d just spoken to the Illusive Man from the terminal at the apartment. It appeared that the Alliance was searching for him. How they were tipped off wasn’t the concern. Chestert had to disappear. But he was more concerned with leaving Jack. He wondered if what he felt was something more. It was sappy but the way Jack laughed captivated him. The way she smiled made him crazy. The way the sunlight hit her face in the morning while she slept in his bed melted his heart. Chesterton found himself beside himself, reflecting on his life’s choices up to this point. Joining Cerberus seemed to be mistake. Since Cerberus stepped out of the shadows and into the limelight he went from being a blip on somebody’s radar to an instant traitor. Oh, if things had only been different. If he had stayed with the Alliance he’d have a promising career and it wouldn’t matter who he loved. But Jack, she’d kill him if she ever found out. There was only one thing he could do. Chesterton stepped out of the taxi. He walked through the security checkpoint with his concealed weapon. A small Striker pistol, of old design without the new thermal clips. It overheated like crazy but it still fired off a couple rounds. It was all he needed and it didn’t tip the sensors off. He made his way past the refugee camp located in the holding area. People from all over the galaxy flocked to the Citadel for refuge after their home-worlds fell under attack by the reapers. The Citadel didn’t have room for everybody, so the docks like the holding areas became impromptu camps housing the civilians until they either left on another ship, which happened more often than not, or they paid their way into the Citadel’s limited housing.

Chesterton waited in the back, behind a storage container. A man walked out from the shadows, it was his Cerberus contact.

“What do you need?” The man asked.

“I need to disappear.” Chesterton said.

“Where to?”

“Anywhere.”

“Do you need records? Papers?” The shady man asked.

“No I need my records gone.” Chesterton said.

The man sighed, breathing through his nose. “I’ll see what I can do.”

At that time, Jack was walking back to Chesterton’s apartment. She’d made up her mind that she was through. Not with him but with herself. Her memories of old wounds were tired and sore. She was fed up with it all, she was fed up with Cerberus ruining her life and it was time she moved on. Or so she thought. She burst through the door.

“Chester. Hey Chester!” Jack shouted, “I’m back. I want to talk.”

She checked the bedroom, it was empty. She went back into the kitchen. It was empty too. Then she saw the door to the second room, past the tv. She hadn’t been in there.

“Chester, are you in there?” She knocked. No answer came. She tried the handle it wasn’t locked but the door was stuck. She leaned her weight against it. She pushed it open into the dark room. On the floor was a holo-pad, she accidentally stepped onto it. The holographic communication room transported her virtually across the galaxy and into the office of the Illusive Man at the unknown location of the Cerberus space station.

“Subject Zero?” The Illusive man said smoking a cigarette in his chair. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Jack was more than a little bit surprised at what she stumbled into, nevertheless she reacted to seeing the Cerberus figurehead in front of her on the holo-emitter, “Don’t ever fucking call me that! My name is JACK!” She shouted.

“Actually, your given name is Jennifer. But that is besides the point. What are you doing here?”

“I should be asking you the same question. Where’s lieutenant Chesterton?” She demanded, as if he had something to do with his disappearance.

“Agent Chesterton, is in the Citadel docks. Just passed the holding area.” The Illusive Man watched the conversation between Chesterton and his contact. “If you move now you’ll be able to catch him.”

“What the fuck do you mean Agent?!” Jack asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry. You didn’t know.” The Illusive Man mocked her, “Chesterton is a Cerberus sleeper agent. I thought you knew, since you slept with him so often.”

Jack reacted without realizing what the Illusive Man said, “That’s none of your fucking business.”

“Is it now? You see I wasn’t sure. It’s been a long time since our last encounter.” The Illusive Man broke into a monologue about her past. “Come to think of it, I remember when we accidentally exposed your mother to element zero. And when you accidentally died after birth. And when we accidentally paid your parents to keep quiet about the other two accidents.”

“How about I accidentally cave your fucking face in with my fist!”

The Illusive Man continued, “That’s no way to treat your father. After all I raised you. Cerberus raised you. We made you what you are.”

Cerberus kept her in laboratory at the Teltin facility on the planet Pragia. For her entire childhood life she was their twisted test subject. Along with hundreds of other children they brutally experimented on their bodies to turn them into more powerful biotics. The Teltin facility was more like a prison than a laboratory of science. The Illusive Man always upheld that the brutality of the experiments went beyond the limits of Cerberus regulations. But there’s no conclusive proof that the Illusive Man didn’t simply turn a blind eye as long as the researchers delivered results.

“You stole my fucking childhood!” Jack shouted. “Don’t act like you gave me anything. Because you didn’t.”

“I gave you Chesterton.” The Illusive Man pressed hard to push her buttons. Chesterton’s involvement with Jack was only coincidental.

“You… fucking… bastard!” She screamed. “You lie!”

“Really now, Subject Zero, you need to calm down. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.” The Illusive Man played the audio between Chesterton and his contact. Jack watched in horror.

 “So where do you want to go?” 

“Put me on a ship to Omega.” Chesterton said. 

“You know Cerberus controls the station?” 

“Yeah, I figure it would be safe there.” 

“Ok, your ship leaves in an hour.”

“What more proof do you need.” The Illusive Man said.

“That means nothing… That proves nothing.” She insisted.

“Look where you are. You’re standing in a Cerberus safe house. Do you really think I would allow you to be here. Talking to me. If it wasn’t for the fact that Chesterton allowed it.” He stood up from his chair and walked toward the holographic representation of Jack in the middle of the room. “Think about it. First we raise you, then we make you what you are, now you fell in love with one of our agents. And you still refuse to believe.” The Illusive Man took a puff of his cigarette and blew smoke in her face. “We own you.”

All the blood in her body curdled underneath her skin. It boiled up till it filled her head with rage. Her biotics flared as the hairs on her back stood on end, the generated static electricity sparked from end to end over her body, she took a deep breath and then screamed, “FUCK OFF!” A huge biotic shockwave detonated in the room like a bomb. The holo-pad she stood on was utterly destroyed and she… she felt like her whole world came crashing down around her.

She fell to her knees. Fuck, it’s not true. She began to cry. It’s not true, it can’t be. He’s a fucking, “LIAR!” She screamed while sobbing. But part of her had to know. No, she didn’t have any proof. She had to talk to him. She had to find out from Chesterton, what really was going on.

***

What remained of Colonel Carter’s self began to fade as he was controlled more and more by the device he carried on his back. It whispered thoughts into his head. Powerful thoughts. Carter ran through the burning streets of London. He didn’t know where he was going but he was going there fast. The walls of the wrecked buildings that blocked his path were no obstacles as he leaped over them with ease in a single bound. The upgrades the transformation brought him made him feel invincible. He almost couldn’t tell that more and more of his free will was slipping away through his grasp. And what he gave the other soldiers back at the camp, was more power than they could realize. At least that’s what he thought. A half an hour he ran, scrambling through the city. Until he reached the edge, he jumped into the clearing. A field in front of him stretched out as far as his eyes could see. But in the distance was a tall smoky figure. As big as a skyscraper. He ran through the open meadow leaving his heavy metal footprints in the dirt. Once a clone of the Illusive Man, now transformed Carter didn’t care that he lost his humanity. What he gained was so much more. He came beneath the behemoth, a leviathan of size and scope. It spoke to him.

“You are the shadow of my former servant.” The voice spoke inside his head.

“What are you.” Carter called out back to the old machine in the touchings of mere thought alone.

“I am Aeon, I am supreme of your limited existence. You are the shadow of my former servant.” The voice answered.

“You are a reaper!” The realization sent Carter into a panic. But the device on his back still compelled him forward below the light of the sovereign class reaper.

“Rejoin me and I will offer you a place in the next cycle.” 

“What do you even need me for?” Carter asked.

“When the time comes for this cycle to pass, and the next to begin. You will awaken me from my sleep and the war will begin again.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because it is your function. Because I demand it.” The reaper had a simple answer as only a small pawn like Carter could understand.

“I won’t be your tool.” Carter tried to resist but the artifact and the reaper controlled him. His indoctrination was almost complete. The reaper enveloped him. He was brought inside the monster to be a part of the monster and nothing more.

Aeon spoke the truth that would be his fate, “You do not have a choice.”

Chapter 15: Endgames

Navigation: Chapter 1: Resistance Earth, Chapter 2: Grissom AcademyChapter 3: A Knife in The DarkChapter 4: Smoke and ShadowsChapter 5: Cold Revelation, Chapter 6: London Crypt, Chapter 7: Ghosts From Shadows Past, Chapter 8: Skyfall, Chapter 9: Apparatus Deus, Chapter 10: The Devil Within, Chapter 11: Hades’ Dogs, Chapter 12: TranshumanChapter 13: Phenomenon,  Chapter 14: Aeon, Chapter 15: EndgamesChapter 16: FracturedChapter 17: ClosingEpilogue.

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