Chapter 8: Skyfall

Edition 2.0

 Anderson jumped out of the truck. Exhausted, he’d been playing cat and mouse with the reapers all day. Starting at dawn he crash landed in London, immediately he was on the run from the bastards. His friend, General Whitaker died in the escape and now lieutenant Mathews was being carted off into the surgeon’s tent for treatment. And for what? A mystic artifact. One of dozens of mysteries of the known galaxy. Anderson watched a glory eyed Major Carter lift the sparkling device out of the Mako and carry it off into another nearby building full of Alliance engineers and technicians eager to get their hands on the machine. Anderson hobbled his aching feet into the command tent. It’d been years since he’d seen this much combat in one day. The last time he fought this hard was back in the First Contact War. He punched the keys on the command console bringing up contact with Admiral Hackett. It was time to debrief the man on the finer details of the mission.

“Admiral Hackett, this is Anderson. We returned to base camp,” He spoke on the vidcomm.

“Were you successful in extracting the artifact,” Hackett asked immediately.

“Do I look dead to you?”

“Don’t get me wrong, you look like hell. But did you get it?” He asked again.

“Is that all you care about?” Anderson felt insulted. “Some ancient machine that turns good men into synthetic zombies?!”

The words struck Hackett, as if they meant something deeper. Something he knew but was hiding. “What do you mean?”

“I mean when we got down there, every man on that train had been turned into some kind of hostile robot. They chased us out of the tunnel and right into a reaper ambush. It was as if they were working directly with the reapers or were being controlled by the same master.”

“Good god!” Hackett exclaimed. But the reasons for his shock were different from that of Anderson’s.

“We barely made it out alive,” Anderson added. “Except for one. A cadet, name’s Mathews. His spine was injured in the escape. He needs medical attention. Better than what we have on hand.”

Hackett thought for a moment and responded, “We’ll arrange for his transfer to the SSV Houston.” It’s the closest to your position with a full medical compliment.”

Most of the hospitals on the ground were either destroyed or evacuated. At the moment the fleet above Earth took over all medical responsibilities.

“We’ll get him on a shuttle immediately,” Anderson said, “I’m also putting in for his promotion. He took down a dozon hostiles, after he sustained his injuries.”

 “Did you actually happen to see the soldiers turn into these synthetic monsters?” Hacket asked.

“No, what does it matter?” Asked Anderson.

“We need confirmation of the process. Anything you could tell us would game changing.”

“We didn’t see anything,” Anderson said.

“Did you recover any bodies of the hostiles for study?” Hackett asked.

“No.”

“Why not?” Hackett asked.

“It wasn’t a priority,” Anderson said sternly. He looked put off by this line of questioning.

“Ok David. I was just asking.”

Anderson thought of all that he had sacrificed that day, “I swear to god Steven, I hope, I hope it was worth it.”

“I assure you it was. Keep me updated on what you find out about the device,” Hackett said, “I have another communication on call, I’ll have to let you go now. Jesus David, I meant what I said, you look like hell. Do us both a favor and get cleaned up. In fact, that’ll be all for tonight, go get some rest. I gotta go, I gotta take this call, Hackett out.” The comm went blank.

Anderson let out a sigh of relief. It was a close shave, but they got the job done. He marched out of the command tent and over to the surgeon’s ward. The single tent made up the camp’s hospital and barely qualified for the description. He was stopped at the door by an attendant. He spoke a few words before being turned away. The attendant already got the transfer request for Mathews. He assured Anderson that as soon as Mathews was stable enough to be moved, he would be.

So instead Anderson made his way to the temporary barracks. The large row of 3 trailers contained 12 units of bunk beds on each side. Housing 144 sleeping men and women in rotating 6 hour shifts. When Anderson laid down on top of the cot, he believed he could sleep for 10.

***

“Drop the cargo with the ship before returning to the planet,” Hackett said over the open channel.

The two shuttles were leaving the atmosphere en-route to the Paulo Alto. If they had windows they could see the debris from half the moon’s surface breaking up in the atmosphere and striking craters all over the surface of the planet. The temperatures on Ontarom were steadily rising.

“We have to go back now. Jack is down there!” Rodriguez protested.

“She’s right,” Chesterton added, “Can’t we at least split up the team and send one shuttle down to Firebase Hydra?” He too made the connection that the reservoir was Jack’s only escape.

“Negative. We have no idea what kind of attention you’ll draw from the Reapers when you invade that base. I’ll approve your rescue mission but I won’t have you split up the teams,” Hackett said.

Chesterton let out a disappointed acknowledgement, “Understood,” before the communication was cut.

Chester didn’t like leaving Jack behind. But when a flaming meteor took out the Alliance base, he didn’t have a choice. Now that they were in space, flying past the remnants of the planet’s moon. It would be at least 2 hours waiting for the shuttles to refuel and pass all flight checks before they were cleared for reentry; time he worried, Jack may not have.

In the man-made tunnels below the planet’s surface, Jack made her way past the 3rd kilometer. Limping steadily, she jogged forward. There was very blood but it seeped out of her left hip slowly. The bleeding was suppressed  by the administration of her only medigel. At least she wasn’t being pursued, she thought. There was no way in the world the destroyed enemies could pick themselves up now. On the long journey her mind wandered, she thought of her team. Hoping they made it out of the base alive. And lieutenant Chesterton, God! Rodriguez was right. He was hot and sticky. Kind of like the blood coming from her hip, she felt the wounds with her hand. She was holding up well for now on the medigel application. But she worried how long it would last until the pain returned. Better not to think about it. Better to think of Chesterton, and what she might do to him if they both made it back. He was younger than her, about 29 but he was older than most students at the academy and he wasn’t a student anymore. Making the rank of lieutenant long before he entered the N7 program Gerald K. Chesterton was a decorated officer, he fought alongside Shepard on Elysium during the Skyllian Blitz. Jack barely remembered the mention of his name on the report she dug up a year ago while she traveled galavanting around the galaxy with Shepard on the Normandy. But she remembered, and anyone who kicked as much ass and had as much ass as Chesterton earned her attention.

BANG, the cave shook around her. The impacts from above made her nervous. She had no idea what was happening on the surface. Maybe a ground bombardment from a ship, maybe an earthquake. But it was all just more motivation to move faster.

The two shuttles entered the docking bay of the Paulo Alto in space. Chesterton exited the craft and dropped his weapon off at the gunnery chief’s station. He removed his helmet and flicked sweat onto the floor running his fingers through his messy hair.  He had 2 hours before the shuttles were ready to go again. 2 hours he’d spend cleaning and refitting his armor. And he could use a quick shower, he thought.  Meanwhile a team of engineers retrieved the artifact from the shuttle and took it to main engineering. The chief engineer, Vasquez looked over the device in wonder. To her, she could clearly see it manipulated mass effect fields, but to what degree she was unsure.

“Hook it up,” she told the assistants.

“Yes ma’am,” they responded.

Both the ExoGeni and Alliance researchers on the top secret project theorized the device was meant to be used in conjunction with a starship’s Mass Effect drive core. Possibly enabling the ship to make jumps across the galaxy without using a Mass Relay; possibly more, but it was all wild speculation. Even Vasquez was skeptical but she was under orders from Admiral Hackett to put the device to the test.

While her team spent the next hour refueling and preparing for the recovery mission, Jack made her way deeper and deeper into the mines. While the mine lay dormant of any recent excavations, the concentrations of element zero increased the farther Jack moved in. Pretty soon Jack’s ambient barrier field grew in strength until it lit the path around her. For a while she felt stronger, she moved faster almost at the half-way point; energized by the eezo around her. Element zero had a supercharging affect on all who carried the biotic gift; and to Jack it was like plugging an electric train into an atomic power source.

Jack was still cut off from all communication, it occurred to her that the team might not even be on the other side to rescue her. For all she knew the Paulo Alto could have left orbit and booked it out of the system. No, she thought, Prangley would never allow it. He’d probably dig through miles of rock just to find her body. Behind her Jack heard a rustling noise. Meteor strikes from the destroyed moon continued to hit the planet. Jack thought nothing of it. She continued down the shaft of the mine going downhill the whole way, she was almost at the bottom of the deepest part of the mine. She started to worry about the climb back up to the other side. If she was lucky she’d an elevator on the other side. If she was unlucky she’d find stairs. But stairs were impractical, they’d never build stairs. Jack heard the rustling again. This time it spooked her. She looked back, she could have sworn she heard footsteps. Ok, maybe its just an echo of my own feet, she thought. Then she heard the unmistakable howls of the synthetic jackals. That’s not an echo! She broke out into a run. She thought she had killed them all, but how many Cerberus really made it to the mines? Half a dozen? A hundred? God I hope it’s not a hundred! In any case no matter how many there were, she’d try to outrun them while she still had her strength.

***

On Earth at the London base camp, at night while Anderson slept, a scientist walked through the busy crowd of soldiers and into a tent. Lit by one light, the tent had a single table and chair. On the table was the Skyfall artifact recovered that day, and in that chair was Colonel Carter smoking a cigarette.

“Is this it?” The scientist asked.

“Yes it is,” Carter leaned forward blowing smoke, he pushed the buttons on the base of the device. Activating it, it glowed. Carter let go of his cigarette and the device began to levitate the cigarette into the air.

“It’s incredible,” said the scientist.

“Yes. It is.”

“We need to act immediately.”

“I’ll see to it that you have every resource we can spare,” Carter said frankly.

“That may not be enough.”

“That’s all we have.”

“What about the resources you can’t spare?” The scientist asked.

“Those are keeping the Reapers from killing you,” Carter grabbed his cigarette out of the air and began puffing it again.

“I guess that’s kind of hard to argue with.”

Just then a young private burst into the tent, “Sir we have an incoming communication from Admiral Hackett. He says he has an urgent mission.”

“Tell him I’ll be right there,” Carter answered.

“Should I wake Admiral Anderson?” The private asked.

“No, I’ll handle it,” Carter said waving the soldier off to leave.

“Yes sir,” The private said and exited the tent.

“Again from Admiral Hackett? He’s a busy fellow these days,” the scientist said, “What mission could this be?”

Carter got up from his chair and puffed on his cigarette for the last time before stomping it out on the ground.

“I don’t know,” said Carter, “But I’ll do my job and you do yours Dr. Leave the missions to me.”

Carter left the tent and headed for the command center. In front of him, he saw Mathews laying on a stretcher being carted off towards the landing strip where a shuttle would evac him. As far as Carter was concerned the Cadet was an idiot. Running head first into a brute; he deserved what he got. Carter walked past the sight and into the command tent. Admiral Hackett was already waiting for him on the screen.

“Colonel, I have an urgent mission for you,” Hacket spoke.

“What is it this time?” Carter asked.

“The tracking signal used to locate the artifact has yielded unexpected fruit. We found another signal on Earth and it happens to be in London.”

“Another artifact?” Carter asked.

“No. The signal is coming from another piece of the same technology. We believe it is now a part of a Reaper Dreadnought.”

“And this concerns me how?”

“We both know that the species that created the artifact has long since died out. However as far as we know, any species preserved by the Reapers is advanced enough technologically to be of some worth to the reaper hierarchy. That is, assuming we know anything at all about the creatures. In any event, this technology is highly valuable and we want you to retrieve it.”

Carter took a breath, “Excuse me sir. But how does one retrieve a Reaper Dreadnought?”

“By blowing it up and towing it back in pieces.”

“You want me to destroy it sir?”

“With missiles,” Hackett added.

“Yeah, no I get that. But wouldn’t it also destroy the technology you want us to recover?”

“Our experts believe that even as wreckage the technology could prove useful,” Hackett said. A diagram of the Reaper Dreadnought appeared on screen, “We’ve programmed the missiles to strike in a focused grouping away from the signal we’re receiving. The device it seems is in one of the appendages. So long as the appendage remains in one piece we’ll be able to recover it in-tact.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Carter asked.

“We can try to rebuild it from the wreckage. Either way, I want it done.”

Carter pulled another cigarette out of his breast pocket and lit it, “Ok. When do the missiles arrive?”

***

Refueled and re-outfitted, lieutenant Chesterton briefed the teams in the shuttles heading for the drop zone at Firebase Hydra. The maintenance complex of buildings sat in front of the powerplant and the massive generator. The generator was a large cylindrical turbine and the adjacent operations building housed the control console that operated it. Behind the generator was an enormous dam and in front of the Firebase the water fed through the dam, to the generator and out to sea.

“Preliminary reports confirmed that the Reapers invaded this complex approximately an hour ago,” Chesterton said, “When we touch down I want you,” he pointed at Haley the team’s combat engineer, “to access the communications station in the maintenance building on the northwest side.”

Haley nodded.

Chesterton continued, “We’ll all move together, holding off any hostiles, the main goal of this mission is to get in contact with Jack and get her out as soon as possible.”

Donovan spoke up with questions, “What if she’s not on her way to the exit, and we can’t get in contact?”

Chesterton didn’t like the possibility but Donovan could be right. They didn’t even know if Jack was alive. Debris from the shattered moon continued to hit the planet’s surface. The temperature on Ontarom began to spike. If Jack didn’t show up and the heat from the meteor strikes, or the Reapers compromised their position, they would be forced to leave, without her. As it was, the shuttle pilots were having a tough enough time avoiding the debris in the air.

“Then we’ll hold out as long as we can to give her time. For now we’re just going to have to hope she’s on her way,” Chesterton said.

“Approaching the drop zone,” the pilot spoke up.

“Alright saddle up,” he opened the shuttle door, “here we go again!”

This time the air that filled the cabin was hot. It hit Chesterton and everyone inside like a wave from the sea itself. The heat permeated everything even into the mines underneath the planet’s surface. In the eezo mines Jack began to fight her way through a thick wave of Jackals. They jumped one after the other out from the complete darkness around her. Jack began to sweat heavily in the heat. Coupled with her injury, she started to feel dehydrated and her body’s supply of adrenaline was beginning to run out. If it weren’t for the boost of strength the surrounding element zero gave her, she worried she might not be able to make it. As it was, Jack figured out a way to run and send shockwaves behind her, boosted by the eezo, she cast the shockwaves wide and far. Any Jackal that gained on her was immediately knocked back into the darkness. Jack wondered why there were so many of these geth knockoffs. Jack saw the Cerberus markings on the three jackals she fought in the lab. She thought all of them were Cerberus experiments. It never occurred to her that the artifact turned the entire Alliance research team into the horde behind her.

“Geth! What are Geth doing here?” Donovan shouted gunning down a rocket trooper. The Geth dropships landed moments ago. Threatened by their Quarian creators with a war they could not win the Geth accepted an alliance with the Reapers. Now the teams of N7 specialists and biotic commandos were fighting a combination of Reaper ground units and Geth.

“Our preliminary reports were shit; we had no indication that Geth were in the system!” Haley said. She didn’t know it, but the upgrades the Reapers gave the Geth allowed their ships to go undetected on Alliance scanners.

“It makes no difference,” Chesterton shouted, “the mission continues as planned. We need to get to the comm terminal!”

The terminal was their only hope of getting in contact with Jack. The terminal amplified all frequencies into the mines and the one at Firebase Dagger had been destroyed. Which is why they couldn’t contact her after the artifact destroyed the satellite relay… and the moon.

In space the SSV Paulo Alto was undergoing some extraordinary retrofitting. Chief engineer Vasquez made the final adjustments to the drive core. Unbelievably, the artifact increased drive output by ten-fold. All the theories and hypotheses seemed to be right.

“I can’t believe it. FTL efficiency has nearly tripled. And waste output has been cut in half,” Chief Vasquez said.

“The device makes one hell of a cyclonic modulator,” the female assistant-engineer added.

Beep-beep-beep. The console alerted her, “Uh, ma’am!” the assistant drew the Chief’s attention, “drive output is continuing to spike.”

The core began to hum and vibrate increasing in magnitude.

“350 percent efficiency. 400, 450,” the assistant continued reading off the console.

“Shut it down, if it reaches 600 the core could overload,” Vasquez gave the order to cut the power to the artifact.

When the assistants pulled the cables from the device the artifact let out pulse of energy. Activating the device to 3 times its output, it latched onto the drive core with its own stream of energy. The stream glowed with bright purple and blue plasma coursing through the air.

“The engines are at 500 of 600 percent capacity!” The assistant panicked.

“Throw it out the airlock!” Chief Vasquez ordered.

Two engineers in protective gear attempted to grab the device. They were both incapacitated the moment they touched it. The glowing light the artifact cast into the room, grew to blinding proportions.

“550 percent,” the assistant shouted.

Planetside, Chesterton looked into the sky and saw the Paulo Alto distorting the space around it. The Paulo Alto’s apparent size was 200 times that of what was visible to anyone viewing it from the surface of Ontarom. Chesterton saw it clearly. The dreadnought had a growing Mass Effect field surrounding it that warped its appearance like a heat wave of atmospheric turbulence. In a moment’s notice, the ship collapsed into a singularity that shown like a supergiant star in the day sky. Then, by Chesterton’s perspective, the star exploded. A shockwave sent out from it in all directions. It hit the atmosphere of the planet like a thunderstorm and shook Chesterton and the team like a sonic boom. The explosion cracked his visor; Chesterton had to remove his helmet. He looked back up and it was gone. The Paulo Alto disappeared from Chesterton’s sight and the sensors on his omni-tool.

He couldn’t believe what just happened.

“Haley! Any progress on that terminal?” He shouted.

“I’m sending a distress signal,” Haley answered. Other than the two shuttles their only means of transportation was gone.

‘Focus on establishing contact with Jack,” Chesterton responded.

“If we don’t get in contact with another ship, We won’t have anyway out of the system and with the Geth in pursuit, we might as well be dead!”

Chesterton was frustrated, they didn’t have the time to contact the Alliance and Jack. He felt he had to act fast, “Alright, continue broadcasting the distress signal,” He said.

Chesterton moved to the door and pulled the hatch leading into the mine.

“Where are you going?” Haley asked.

“I’m going in after Jack. If I’m not back in 30 minutes, leave without me.”

“Like hell I will.”

“That’s an order private. Don’t ignore it.” He closed the hatch behind him.

The concrete tunnel was lit by a row of lights that had power from the nearby generator. He ran down the long stretch towards two large service elevators. The car he jumped into was a large metal box that could carry up to 10 people at a time. It was clear to Chesterton that on this end, the mine was in active operation. As he hit the button to descend he thought that possibly hundreds of workers went up and down through the shafts every day. And if he met any of them at the bottom he hoped they were friendly.

Below, Jack exited the long tunnel that stretched the length of the mine. She finally made it 16 kilometers through the length of the mine and out into the large lit cavern at the end. She’d crushed her pursuers in the caves behind. At the far side of the cavern in front of her, she could see the wires coming down from the ceiling that powered the warm yellow lights in the room and the elevator shafts that would carry her to safety. Except for the 30 pairs of synthetic blue eyes that stared back at her from the front of the room.

She paused in her stride, “Shit!” she said.

ZIP-ZIP-ZIP-ZIP, came a hail of weapon’s fire her way. Her strong barrier deflected the first volley, she dashed aside to a concrete pillar that she used for cover. She got out a few hits with biotic artillery strikes before the horde of jackals swarmed on her from all sides. She dodged, one after the other in hand-to-hand combat. Her biotic kicks and punches defeated the blows they tried to inflict on her with their claws. When they piled on her too quick, she detonated her barrier, crippling them with the area of effect strike.

ZIP-ZIP-ZIP-ZIP, the jackals in the distance shot at her, they were waiting for her defenses to drop.  She rolled to one side out of the way but another group of rounds hit her in her injured leg.

“FUCK!” She screamed and curled into a ball on the floor. Holding her leg, it bled out profusely in her hands.

“Shit” she said.

A group of about a dozen jackals swarmed on her, relentless in their attacks. They pounced. Jack threw up a barrier with her arms, they slammed against the shield repeatedly. It took all Jack’s strength to maintain it. Weapons fire and physical attacks from the beasts drained on Jack’s limited reserves. They were about to break through when from behind a barrage of bullets pelted the enemies. Concussive strikes knocked them off their feet and out of the way. With the light of their eyes failing, the last of the jackals fell dead. Jack dropped the barrier, weak and disoriented she looked up from the ground and saw a dashing lieutenant Chesterton march towards her.

“Need some help Jack?” He asked her.

Jack gritted her teeth, “My leg,” she said, “the fuckers destroyed my leg.”

“Hold on, let me give you some medigel,” Chesterton folded up his assault rifle and locked it onto his back. He dropped to the ground beside Jack and pulled out the medigel hypo. He injected it into her hip. This time the medigel didn’t seem to do anything for the pain.

“You look bad Jack,” he said, “here, I’ll carry you.” He extended around her and lifted her into his arms.

Jack put her arms around Chesterton’s shoulders. He carried her into the elevator car and pushed the button starting the ascent to the surface. Jack noticed Chester wasn’t wearing his helmet. This was the first time she saw his face up close.  He was really quite handsome in appearance. He had that knight-in-shining-armor quality and an Alliance service record to match. Since the start of his career he was always saving somebody, and today, Jack thought, he was saving me.

Chapter 9: Apparatus Deus

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 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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