Chapter 4: Smoke and Shadows

Edition: 2.o

“Anderson! Are you alright?” Whitaker said waking up from a brief moment of delirium. The old man had a cut on his right eyebrow from a side impact airbag. With the pilot dead, it didn’t take long for the craft to hit the ground. It skid across the unlit street and up onto an embankment.

“Yeah I’m alright. I barely got my harness on in time.” Anderson said pulling the buckle apart. His back ached and he had a little tenderness in his neck from whiplash.

Relieved that they both survived Whitaker said, “It’s a good thing we crashed low.”

“It’s never a good thing to crash,” said Anderson.

“No, I don’t reckon it is,” Whitaker extended his hand to help Anderson out of his seat. The shuttle came to a stop on an incline that put Anderson at a disadvantage to gravity.

“Thanks for the help.”

“We’re in this together,” Whitaker punched the keys that opened the storage locker, grabbed an assault rifle and handed it to Anderson before he grabbed one himself. He paused and looked at the nav-compass on his left wrist. He didn’t wear an omni-tool.

“Dammit, we’ve crashed in the middle of Reaper infested territory. We’ll have to fight our way through to the base camp.” Whitaker said.

“How far?”

“A good 10 kilometers.”

It didn’t seem very far, but in a war zone the distances were multiplied by ten.

“Well at least we’re close,” Anderson said checking and rechecking his rifle for readiness, “you suppose there’ll be heavy resistance?”

“I guess we’ll find out. Any farther and I’d ring for an extraction,” for a moment Whitaker assessed the conditions. It didn’t make sense to request unnecessary resources from an already thin army. If they called for a rescue they’d attract unnecessary attention.

“Or,” he said, “if I had a phone.”

He continued to stare out the small window through the shuttle door.

“Everything’s broken.”

“But not us.”

Whitaker turned around to face Anderson, “It’ll take a hell of a lot more to take us down,” he said.

At that moment, with the small ray of light that entered through the window with his face positioned just so, Anderson noticed the trail of blood that ran down the right side of Whitaker’s face.

“Your bleeding,” said Anderson.

“What, where?”

Anderson reached his hand up to his own face to demonstrate.

Whitaker put his right palm on his face, then the pain hit. His jaw throbbed and the skin above his right temple split when shuttle hit the ground and his airbag failed to deploy,

“What this?” he said, “It’s just a cut. The airbag hit me too hard.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Let’s get moving. Shall we?”

“One second,” Anderson paused, “let me grab some medigel first.” Anderson reached under his seat and pulled out the first aid box, inside he grabbed 3 medigel packets and stuffed them into his utility belt.

“You’re not going to waste it on a small cut like this?” Whitaker asked.

“No, of course not,” Anderson said, “in fact, let’s hope we don’t have to waste it at all.”

“Agreed,” Whitaker said as he gripped the red handle of shuttle’s emergency door release, “on three. One, two-“

Whitaker pulled the emergency access lever, with a loud bang the door popped off the hinges six meters from the craft.

Anderson stepped out of the craft first, into the dark twilight, long before dawn. With keen eyes, he surveyed the area sweeping back and forth moving about ten meters and walking over the broken shuttle door that settled into the city rubble that laid the ground.

“Clear,” he spoke to Whitaker, not shouting, so as not to draw attention.

Whitaker stepped out into the blackness, his intuition tingled as he walked up beside Anderson, seeing the same scene and checking every corner of every building.

“How loud do you suppose that blast was when the door popped off?” Whitaker asked.

“I don’t know,” Anderson said, also bothered.

“And what about the noise of the crash?”

“We should get to cover,” said Anderson.

They trekked through the street, between the ruined buildings and the rubble that fenced them in on both sides, heading vaguely in the right direction. To them and their trained eyes, it looked like a series of repeated battles took place there. The blast marks on the buildings from exploded shells, showed the aftermath of Mako and Hammerhead tanks that fired. And the enemy that prevailed, leaving nothing discernible,  no identifiable parts of the Alliance vehicles that lay there only in wreckage, left dried up pools of acid on the ground. The Reaper artillery units known as Ravagers died in the hundreds on that street and the smell they left, was putrid. If it weren’t for the breeze, Anderson thought, they wouldn’t have been able to breathe.

“That smell,” Anderson said, “it’s old.”

“No,it’s recent.”

Anderson was perplexed, “How do you know?”

“It’s why they shot us down,” Whitaker explained what he was thinking the whole time, “the battle here was being fought as we approached. From their perspective, the Reapers thought we were reinforcements.”

“So we shouldn’t have had an escort?”

“Perhaps,” Whitaker said. But there was no indication that the Reapers would have ignored them. In fact there was very little that either of them knew about their enemy. Yet neither of them were at any disadvantage to the Reapers when waging this war. Both were veterans of the First Contact War with the Turians. Their experience led them to question each detail they observed, no matter how insignificant, and each intuition, no matter how subtle. It was the subtleties, it seemed, that mattered most; for they were the deciding factors between life and death.

They both felt danger approaching, the hair on their necks stood on end. With each step the knot in their stomach’s grew tighter. Yet without sound they approached, like a pack of wolves on the hunt stalking their prey, and when close appeared only too late for the cornered and helpless victims. When the moment was all but fleeting, Whitaker spotted the horde of husks approaching,

“We’re about to have a field day,” Whitaker drew Anderson’s attention, “look, 11 o’clock.”

“I see them.”

Anderson and Whitaker opened fire simultaneously. Both instinctively agreed that it was better to take what momentary advantage of surprise they had, before their enemy did.  The high velocity pellets ripped through the synthetic bodies. A spray of shrapnel coursed through the torso’s and left out the backs of the humanoid husks.

A group of Cannibals popped out next from around the corner behind them. Anderson heard them by their screams,

“On our six!” He said.

Anderson ran a clip through his assault rifle and killed two of the ambushing Cannibals, but four more followed on their flank.

“We need to find cover!” Whitaker continued fighting, searching between targets for a corner of cover, anything that would do. But much of the walls, the concrete was already blown apart from the many battles that took place already that day. It was long without combat armor, much too long fighting out in the open. Their only salvation was their skill in gunning down their enemy before their enemies could fire; a shot, maybe two grazed the air beside their skin. Whitaker kept searching and found the corner in the street that led to an ally ahead on their left. On sight he stopped firing and ran, as fast as he could muster, faster even was Anderson following behind him.

“Are we going the right way?” Anderson asked turning to keep their flank covered.

Whitaker checked the nav-compass on his wrist, “Roughly straight ahead of us.”

Anderson spotted a husk over his shoulder and shot it down as it entered the ally. Waning in interest, the Cannibals gathered around the dead bodies of their own and ate. Anderson took a deep breath, relieved he turned around and caught up to Whitaker,

“I don’t think they’re following,” he said.

“We’ll run into more ahead.”

When their breath caught up with them, they ran once more down the long alleyway. They were between a large brick building on their right and a five meter high retaining wall on their left, when the two of them were broken in their stride. In front of them a fireball fell out of the sky on their left, a scorpion fighter collided full speed into the brick building. The impact shook the ground beneath them and scattered rubble from the building, whole bricks and pieces scattered onto the ground, Anderson tripped, tucked and rolled back onto his feet.

“That’s sure to draw more attention,” Whitaker said before moving through the smoke ahead. Anderson began to cough when the smoke leached its way into his lungs.

“Do you think we should try to locate-” Anderson paused to caugh, “survivors?”

“Not when the building’s on fire,” Whitaker said peering inside, “we’ll just have to hope the pilot ejected in time.” He checked his nav-compass again, “Come on, we’ve still got nine and a half more kilometers to go.”

Somehow, they were slipping through. After the first attack, when the ambush failed, when they escaped the odds flipped. They became the hunters, creeping through the streets, migrating towards the larger pack still far ahead. In a small clear drag, as an ally opened into a wide street, the two of them took to jogging speed. They ran into several small groups of three enemies, cannibals and husks, that they exterminated quickly along the way. Scouting parties that they made sure never escaped or alerted larger groups. When they could they kept to the shadows, avoiding open spaces that gave away their position. When they did come, it was easier to gun down husks in a bottleneck. And in spite of the resistance, they made good time travelling on foot.

It was still dark when they made their way 5 kilometers closer to the camp in the south side of the city. The sun was beginning to rise but they couldn’t see it, clouds of smoke from a thousand fires burned and blocked out the sunlight in the lower atmosphere. They had to pass through a few larger buildings, from the inside, to stay off the streets and away from the enemies. Anderson kept hoping he’d see a building that wasn’t broken or torn to pieces. He wanted hope that there were some corners of the city that the hands of reapers couldn’t touch, but his possibilities for hope kept dwindling by him evermore fleeting as his eyes took in the destruction. Windows blown out, floors covered in blood, while bullet holes decorated the walls. He thought he’d recognize more, he thought it would affect him more, about none of it looked anything like the city he had remembered.  It was all ordinary devastation. It was the way the Reapers destroyed civilization, they killed it from the inside out. This time they started the war on Earth and were in the process, spread across the galaxy. There was nothing special about their targeting London. It was a city, a hub of civilization, a feild of humanity who’s soil they pulled, ripe for the harvest.

Whitaker led the way down another of many alleys. He stopped suddenly short at the end, before the street.

“Hold it,” he whispered holding up his arm and dropping to his knee. “Do you see that?” He asked Anderson.

Anderson had a hard time making out the large figure in the darkness, apart from the rubble around it. A four story building was blown apart by a large bomb, the rubble of which landed in the street before them, creating a large mound. But the mound seemed to move. If it hadn’t been shimmering light, he’d have never seen it. The feint glow of the monster’s synthetics gave it away. Anderson saw the harvester Whitaker pointed out. Harvesters are Reaper mutated Klixen Queens, giant flighted monsters of great size, strength and speed. This one, had several artillery cannons mounted to its head and had heavy armor across its body that made it nearly invulnerable, short of heavy weapons fire.

“A harvester,”  Anderson whispered back.

“It’s picking up human bodies,” Whitaker directed Anderson’s attention to the Marauders, stepping in and out of the nearby buildings carrying human corpses. Marauders were the Reaper converted synthetic Turians. By now the Reaper war with the Turian home-world of Palaven sent Turian casualties back to Earth. The Reapers worked with a frightening speed.

“What for?” Anderson wondered.

“I don’t know, but we can’t leave them to defile our dead. Whatever their purpose.”

“We don’t have the firepower to take it out,” Anderson said.

“Every one of those humans bodies becomes another husk. We’ll look around, there has to be a way.”

Whitaker stood up and entered the back door of the building to their right. Anderson carefully followed him inside and left the door open so as not to alert the enemy upon closing it. Through a crack in the wall Anderson caught a glimpse at two Marauders in the building. There was a short flight of concrete stairs to the second level. Whitaker went up to get a view of the street.  Carefully, he stepped forward across the small loft to the front view window. Whitaker pulled a small pair of binoculars from his breast pocket. It had a weak but effective night-vision setting that allowed him to survey the battlefield.

“Psst. Anderson!” He called back.

Anderson moved from the stairwell to Whitaker’s side.

“Do you see that downed gunship,” Whitaker said and pointed to his left.  The Alliance gunship with: twin propellers, triple cannons and four missile batteries, went head to head against the Reaper harvester in the battle that destroyed this section of the city earlier that day. In the heated dogfight between, many missed targets sent errant ordnance that showered the city below. The harvester broke off and flew low, the gunship followed. The pilot locked onto his target’s wings and before the harvester pulled a tight turn, fired. He missed, the harvester didn’t. As soon as he round the corner the beast was waiting for him. By now it was a stockpile of weapons, waiting to be salvaged.

“We never would have seen that if we hadn’t come up here,” Whitaker zoomed in through his binocular’s, he was able to make out a crate with C5 explosives. He handed the binoculars to Anderson.

“The hard part is going to be getting to it,” Whitaker said. He counted eight Marauders in the street, plus the two downstairs, totaled ten.

“I’ll go,” Anderson said. He handed the binoculars back, “I can move through the back around the next building. When I have the explosives you can distract the enemies long enough for me to get close and throw the charges.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Whitaker said, “don’t let them onto your presence until it’s absolutely too late.”

Anderson nodded, he stood up and headed towards the stairs.

Seconds later he made his way around the neighboring building without drawing attention. Anderson stopped at the corner of the street; he was about twenty-five meters away from the harvester that faced the other direction. There was no light between him and the crashed gunship, so carefully he stooped low and hustled his way behind it. Peering through the in-tact open hull of the wreck. He set his standard assault rifle down in favor of a newer model, with a full cartridge of modified ammunition. Anderson checked the readout, the gun had armor piercing rounds. Anderson felt lucky; he then went for the crate. Carefully he opened the side locks, trying not to make noise. He picked up three charges and primed them with detonators. He flipped the switch to the mark, “Explode on impact.” All he had to do was pull the pins. Anderson collapsed his assault rifle to his hip. He looped three fingers of his right hand through the key-chain looped pins, holding the charges with both hands.  Now his heart beat faster. Anderson calculated how much room he’d need between him and the explosion while he carried the high explosives slowly step by step towards the Reapers on the other side of the mound of rubble. They muttered as he walked, indistinguishably in an alien language. Still unaware of his presence.  He figured he could lob the pack a good ten meters and have two seconds to jump behind some form of cover. But what that cover was, he hadn’t figured yet. In his haste, he neglected to think of how he’d survive the blast. But as luck would have it, in the darkness as he approached the top of the mound, he saw the wing of the wrecked gunship sticking up from the ground in front of him.

Anderson paused behind the wing taking a breath. Whitaker watched his approach through binoculars. The stage was set; Whitaker put the binoculars back in his breast pocket, clasped the stock of his rifle against his shoulder and opened fire on the targets.  For a few split seconds, every Reaper focused on Whitaker in the loft allowing Anderson to blow them to kingdom come. Anderson pulled the pins in one swift motion; with his right hand he lobbed the group with all his might and ducked back behind cover. Like a cluster bomb the charges exploded one, two, three on the back of the harvester; the explosion melted the marauders in the street with it. With its last breath, the harvester let out a loud scream that bellowed over the sound of the echoing shockwave. Anderson popped out his assault rifle and with the armor piercing rounds he quickly shredded the two final marauders that ran out into the street. A small host of husks crawled out and he shot them too. On both sides of the street the buildings had caught fire from the fiery explosion. Whitaker stumbled out of the two level storefront, hacking and coughing up a storm.

“Are you alright?” Anderson called to him.

Whitaker heard a rustling, turned his head to his right and gunned down a lone marauder who’s torso and head were crawling separate from its body.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Anderson said.

Whitaker surveyed the destruction in the light of the fires. His face covered in charcoal, he mustered up a smokey voice, “When we get to the base, they can treat us both for smoke inhalation.”

“We killed it,” said Anderson.

Whitaker disagreed, “We downright, kicked its ass.”

“How far do we have to go?” Anderson asked.

“To victory, I don’t know,” said Whitaker.

“I meant to the base.”

“To there?” Whitaker looked at his nav-compass, “Three kilometers to go.”

Their brief conversation was interrupted by a loud sound approaching from the distance; they heard the shrieking of two Banshees. Neither Anderson nor Whitaker had ever seen a Banshee before but the Reaper’s war with the race of Asari had already begun.

“What do you suppose was that?” Anderson asked.

Whitaker looked on in wonder. “I’ve heard reports of a biotic monster. It lets outs a scream that could break a man’s skull,” he said.

Whitaker gripped his rifle tightly, “We’d better run.”

“Agreed.”

***

“Alright, up the stairs. Let’s move people!” Jack yelled out her orders to the team. Shepard made a spectacular entrance, broke into Orion Hall and cleared out the remaining Cerberus. Jack was a little pissed off Shepard stole her remaining kills but all the same felt glad to be reunited. Now they were fighting their way to the exit. She led her team onto the upper balcony in the atrium, while Shepard engaged Cerberus below.

“Keep Cerberus from flanking Shepard. Show them what you can do!” Said Jack, then she lobbed a biotic artillery strike onto the head of a Cerberus engineer. The engineer’s turret exploded in his hands and knocked his dead body back onto the ground.

“Prangley, pop out a singularity on that group of troopers,” Jack pointed down at five soldiers grouped together. No sooner had she issued the order than did Prangley follow through. The singularity lifted the enemies, each flailed their limbs in the air as they were pulled by its gravity. Jack sent a warp field, that coursed through the air, down on them and triggered  a biotic detonation of the singularity. The blast killed four of the five enemies at once.

“I like that combination. We do that well,” Jack said smiling.

“I’ll try to keep it up,” Prangley positioned another singularity over the lone assault trooper that survived.

Jack turned her attention to her other students, “Alright, Rodriguez, you’re up. Show me your stasis field.”

Rodriguez was throwing artillery strikes when she muttered under her breath, “Why me?”

“Because I picked you. Come on, anytime you’re ready,” Jack taunted her.

“Alright! Alright!” She said. Then hit the corresponding key on her biotic amp.

“You know, trained biotics don’t have to hit keys,” Jack smiled and continued her longstanding criticism of Rodriguez. Jack knew that the only person who doubted Rodriguez’ ability was Rodriguez. She was a more than capable student, yet she clung to old training that outlived its usefulness.

“So what if I need a little help?” Said Rodriguez.

A group of Cerberus soldiers gathered on their flanks; their hurried steps, were heard bouncing from the acoustic walls of the stairwell that led to the balcony. Both Jack and Rodriguez heard what was coming; and Jack wanted Rodriguez to deal with it.

Jack folded her arms and spoke, “Still waiting for that stasis field.”

Rodriguez spotted the first Centurion approaching through the doorway about twenty five meters behind them. She assembled her biotic energy and sent out the strongest biotic bubble she had ever formed. It was so large that it caught inside it, the two other troopers that followed behind.

“Geez, Rodriguez I’m almost impressed. That was worth the wait,” Jack said. Albeit too early, as she watched the over-sized bubble collapse after a meager five seconds.

“Almost,” Jack said, as she sent a series of biotic shockwaves that tossed the three soldiers over the balcony’s edge.

“I’m still working it out,” Rodriguez defended herself.

For a moment, Jack was truly impressed and saw fit to encourage her effort, “Well you’re doing remarkably better,” she said.

“Thanks ma’am.”

“I see real improvement,” Jack said.

“Thank you ma’am.”

Jack didn’t stop, “You’re doing so much better than before.”

“Are you trying to insult me?” Rodriguez became a little perturbed.

“No, I wasn’t trying,” Jack said, “I was. There’s a difference.”

Rodriguez didn’t know what to make of what Jack said. One minute she’d be telling her that Rodriguez was her most gifted student, the next, that she was the most underachieved. She wanted to quit at times but Jack was always there to keep her going. It was the one good thing she liked about the relationship; that Jack wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Alright, all of you,” Jack shouted and gathered the attention of the squad, “you see that Atlas mech down there? On three lets all blast the hell out of it. One, two, three-” they all fired a succession of biotic strikes, but Commander Shepard had already destroyed the Atlas from the ground by the count of two.

Jack watched the mech explode, “Dammit Shepard, why do you have to be so, good?”

Jack used her key-card on the door at the far end of the balcony. To her luck it still worked.

“Ok, everybody. Into the next room. On the double, shuttle’s waiting,” Jack waved her students through the door then followed after them. She was on alert every time they moved as a group and she preferred to have them all in sight.

Rodriguez sprinted up to the front of the group, as far away from Jack as she could go.  She struck up a conversation with Prangley, Jack’s second in command that day. It was clear to everyone that he was bound to lead the group once Jack passed the torch.

“What do you think about Jack? Rodriguez asked.

“What do you mean?” Prangley replied.

“You know, the way she’s always picking on me.”

He had an opinion, but he didn’t want to share it, “This is really isn’t the time to be bringing this up,” he said.

“But I’ve almost had it with her,” Rodriguez insisted. “Don’t get me wrong, I need the support. But I wish she were more-” she searched for an appropriate word, “supportive.”

“If it’s support you’re looking for, you might be barking up the wrong tree,” said Prangley. Then definitively he said, “Jack isn’t supportive.”

Rodriguez took offense, “Well neither are you!”

“Look, she’s a little hard on you. Tougher than she is on the rest of the class but you have to look in the mirror. You’re the strongest of all of us,” he said.

Prangley dropped a bombshell in her lap. Rodriguez hadn’t expected that assessment from anyone, much less from Prangley. If anything, she thought she was weak.

“Jack’s hard on you because she knows what you can become. You’re as powerful as she is,”  he said.

“You really think so?” Rodriguez was a bit perplexed.

“Why do you think the rest of us laugh at you? We’re jealous, and if I had the power that you have, I wouldn’t be fighting with Jack so much.”

Rodriguez knew she was missing something, but only now it began to make sense. She was singled out from day one by everyone; not from disrespect but perhaps from awe.

Ripped from her contemplation, seemingly out of nowhere, a bullet hit her right arm. The shot came from a Cerberus trooper that dropped down from the ceiling in a corridor to their right. Rodriguez’ barriers were low but it deflected the shot just enough for it to burn her skin lightly, nothing more. She felt the sting of it first, then she reacted in the direction of its source. She turned towards the trooper and blasted him with a biotic lift that sent him hurtling up towards the ceiling. He slammed against the roof and this time, without a harness, he fell all the way back down and hit his head first on the floor.

“Rodriguez,” Jack screamed. “What did I tell you about watching your barrier?” She said as she ran to the front. She saw the Cerberus trooper crawl across the floor and gasp for air; his armor was covered in his own blood. With her biotics, Jack lifted him up once more and slammed him into the ground. Mercilessly, she put him out of his misery.

“I know, I know,” Rodriguez began. “Sometimes when I get distracted, I let it go.”

“You can’t,” Jack screamed, “what were you doing letting your barrier drop?”

“I was talking to Prangley,” Rodriguez answered. She gripped at her elbow. With her left hand she contorted her right shoulder so she could look at the wound.

“Let me look at your arm,” Jack said. She grabbed Rodriguez by the wrist.

Rodriguez pulled away, “It’s fine.”

“Don’t tell me it’s fine!” Jack lost it. Her emotions bled through in her voice, “It’s not fine. How the fuck is it fine? He could have killed you.”

“He didn’t,” Rodriguez said.

Jack stumbled backwards, she wanted to yell at the top of her lungs but the words escaped her. She was furious, but her mouth trembled and she couldn’t form the words even if they came. Slowly, tears formed in her eyes. She was dizzy, her eyes shifted quickly from one student to another.

 “Are you ok ma’am?” Rodriguez was the first to ask. But Jack wasn’t, she barely slept the night before. She was already fatigued and past empty of adrenaline that supplied her body.

“I’m ok,” Jack stammered as she spoke. “I, I just, need a moment,” Jack put her hands to her eyes and covered them.

Rodriguez spoke to the lingering group, “Could you guys give us some privacy?”

Prangley understood, nodded to Rodriguez and led the students away.

“Do you need to sit down?” Rodriguez asked Jack, once they were alone.

“No,” she said, “I need this day to be over.”

Rodriguez agreed,  “We all do.”

“I’m sorry I yelled,” Jack said, “but I need you to do better.” Then Jack looked her in the eyes, “I need you to.”

For the first time: without a complaint, without fear of disappointing her teacher or herself, Rodriguez said, “I will.”

A moment passed before she spoke again.

“I know why you struggle to teach me ma’am,” Rodriguez began, “I’m sorry it took so long for me to learn.”

“It doesn’t help that I can’t communicate for shit,” Jack said. She felt horrible about how she treated Rodriguez at the worst of times.

“It’s not your fault ma’am. It’s not easy for you. It’s not easy for anyone.”

 Prangley interrupted; he came back to check on them, “Excuse me, but we still got to get off the station,” he said.

Jack gave one last look at Rodriguez, “We’re ready,” she said. She took a deep breath of air into her lungs, let it out, and soon she was refocused on the task at hand. This time, Jack led the team from the front. Rodriguez went with her, while Prangley covered their six. Without further resistance, they finally reached the end of the hall and entered the shuttle bay.

At that time, the voice of Commander Shepard spoke over the radio, “We’ve been locked down into a detour but I found an abandoned Atlas. Should help help us get through.”

“Why do you get to have all the fun?” Jack responded.

“It’s because I’m Commander Shepard,” said Shepard.

Jack rolled her eyes and rounded a corner. She spotted a handful of Cerberus in the upper level of the bay jump down to the level below. Also she heard the distinct weapons fire of an Atlas that targeted the increasing swarms of Cerberus troops. She suspected it was Shepard,

“Shepard is that you?” Jack asked. She moved and stopped before the edge of the upper level overlooking the arena where Shepard and two others were in the middle of an intense battle against Cerberus.

Shepard rotated the mech, “Yeah Jack, I see you.”

“Alright, we’ll provide support from up here,” said Jack. Then she directed her squad into position, except for two.

“Rodriguez, Prangley, find a way into the hangar and meet up with Kahlee Sanders and make sure the way is clear,” she said.

“On it,” said Rodriguez.

The two, filed away from the fighting. At the door, Prangley struggled with the locked controls, while Rodriguez, a little more impatient, charged a biotic throw that blasted the door open. Prangley was shocked, the difference between timid Rodriguez and confident Rodriguez was like night and day. He’d never seen a transformation like that occur almost instantly. It scared him, what she could do when she wasn’t cluttered by worry.

Prangley and Rodriguez entered the hangar while Jack shouted, “Shepard, watch your ass!”

A Cerberus Engineer set up a turret behind Shepard. Shepard piloted the Atlas around to face it, but Jack had already blown it to bits with a biotic strike. Jack felt it was her turn to steal a few kills from Shepard and Shepard was ok with that.

“That’s a little payback,” Jack said.

“Now I know what it feels like,” said Shepard, who casually proceeded to blast a group of three Cerberus troopers to bits with a missile.

Frustrated as she might be with Shepard, Jack was no less cocky or deadly. And with Shepard on her side, equipped with serious firepower, Jack’s squad jumped down from the second level and joined Shepard in tearing through the largest and final push by Cerberus personnel. Time was wearing thin though. Kahlee Sanders came in with the reminder over the radio,

“Hurry Commander the Normandy has lured the cruiser out of position,” she said, “We need to leave now.”

“That’s our Que, lets go!” Jack said, as she headed straight through the lower entrance to the second hanger. Seconds later, Shepard behind her. Up the stairs and through the door, they both met up with Kahlee Sanders.

“Kahlee, how’s it comin?” Shepard asked.

“Shuttles are unlocked,” Kahlee said.

“Take the controls and get the students aboard,” Shepard ordered.

Jack interrupted, “Wait, where the hell is Rodriguez?”

In the moments prior, Prangley and Rodriguez had just entered the adjacent hanger from the second floor. They saw a battalion of Cerberus and an Atlas mech approaching. Rodriguez and Prangley ducked for cover behind a scaffolding. From there, the two looked around. The room was large and allowed for internal docking of small vehicles. There were dozens of shuttle sized equipment but only one shuttle and it was in the next hangar, visible through the windows.

“We need to get to that door without them seeing us,” Prangley said.

“No, we have to fight them, or they’ll flank Jack,” said Rodriguez.

Prangley disagreed, “Jack can handle them.”

“So can we,” she said.

She was right, together they could take the twelve Cerberus and the mech, but Prangley didn’t know which Rodriguez would show up to the fight. Would she be confident and lethal or would she be timid and useless, he wondered. In the end he was too afraid that the change would reverse.

“No we can’t risk it,” he said, “I’m following orders, if you want to join me. Feel free to follow.”

“But she also told us to clear the way,” by now Rodriguez had raised her voice too loud. She’d heard enough, she could see the condescension in Prangley’s face. She’d been used to it, she hated it and for once she was insulted. The problem was, she alerted Cerberus to her position. And Prangley who was not only a pig in her mind, was also a deserter. Because he ran for the door to the next hanger, leaving her behind, hoping she’d do the same before he closed the door and left her pinned fighting Cerberus alone. At this point, Jack and Shepard caught up to them.

Shepard watched the scene through the window, “She needs covering fire!”

Jack powered up her biotic barrier, “She needs more than that!”

With all her strength she blasted the troopers through the window, shattered the glass that knocked the enemies out cold.  Jack ran towards Rodriguez and shielded her. With the enemies stunned or dead, Jack escorted Rodriguez to the shuttle. She was the last on board when the door closed. The cabin pressurized and Kahlee Sanders opened the shuttle bay airlock the shuttle was set to autopilot and they set to rendezvous with the Normandy.

Shepard hailed Joker on the radio, “Joker, we flew out on a Cerberus shuttle. Watch your fire.”

“Right, I’ve got you on sensors. Should just be a minute” said Joker.

Kahlee Sanders turned to Shepard speaking slightly out of breath, “Thank you commander, we would never gotten off that station if you hadn’t come.”

Jack interrupted, “Forget that, we kicked some ass. Next place we dock, you’re all getting inked. My treat.”

She cleared her throat, “What do you guys want? Ascension Project logo? Glowing fist? Maybe a unicorn for Rodriguez?”

Rodriguez returned, “Screw you ma’am!”

Kahlee Sanders continued, “I can’t believe we got them out alive.”

Chapter 5: Cold Revelation

Navigation: Chapter 1: Resistance Earth, Chapter 2: Grissom AcademyChapter 3: A Knife in The Dark, Chapter 4: Smoke and Shadows, Chapter 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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