Chapter 9: Apparatus Deus

“Private Haley this is the turian dreadnought Indomitable responding to your distress, over.” The turian captain Kathonn spoke from the bridge over the open channel.

“Approach the planet with caution. Something or someone destroyed the SSV Paulo Alto.” Haley warned them.

“Acknowledged, please transfer your coordinates. We’ll have shuttles on the ground for pickup in 10 minutes.” The Newton system was devoid of any hostile ships, the captain was not concerned about any present danger.

“Marcus, get your team ready to go planet-side.” The captain ordered his first mate, commander Marcus Aurelius to the scene of the battle. “We’ve got a cold drop in the hot-zone. Get in and get out as quickly as possible.”

“Yes sir.” Commander Marcus said and he entered the elevator leaving the bridge.

Captain Kathonn turned around to look at the galaxy map, zoomed in on the Newton system. He gazed in awe of the broken moon. Half the shell of Thonal broke apart and fell into the atmosphere of Ontarom. The whole moon appeared to be shifting rapidly increasing in apogee. He watched it move, farther and farther away from the planet. Farther, and farther, and farther.

“Navigator Rigen, come look at this!” He said.

 Rigen took a good look at star-chart. “The moon’s breaking orbit… Zoom in closer.”

Rigen wanted to see the moon closer on the holographic representation. The ship Indomitable had high resolution sensors at multiple capture points. Its computers processed all data within the Newton system and relayed it to the bridge in real time.

The further the moon broke away from the planet the more of it’s shell broke off. Underneath, they could see the sphere glowing blue like a massive mass effect drive core.

“That’s incredible!” Rigen exclaimed. “What is it?”

The amused captain replied, “The hell if I know.”

The sphere had large rings that circled the outside, like the rings of the mass relays that moved counter to each other in opposite sweeping directions. In the center were two large holes in the sphere as large as the mass relays themselves. Kathonn and Rigen recorded every detail into a file marked Phenomenon 60-35. and cross referenced it with all spacial anomalies and objects on record. The reports all came back from the computer with the terms ‘Mass Relay’ and ‘Citadel’. The sphere began to move more rapidly. Faster than anything that size should move. The Indomitable tracked it moving towards the mass relay at the edge of the system. The Captain and Navigator stood by the projection of the sphere in awe. Suddenly it slowed, in front of the mass relay. The outer rings came to a stop. The relay turned around to face the two holes in the center of the sphere’s mass. Slowly the sphere began to dock with the mass relay. The relay fit like a key in a lock. Tongue and groove with the sphere. Only the relay’s large power source with the moving rings protruded from the device. Then the sphere’s rings began to turn again. They swept across and over the end of the mass relay encompassing both inside. The relay turned in direction facing another part of the galaxy. It moved like it would if a ship had plot a destination through the relay. This time instead of a ship, it launched the sphere across the length of the galaxy.

“It’s gone!” Rigen exclaimed.

“Is the relay still there?” The concerned captain asked.

“It’s there.” Rigen confirmed.

“When it launched, I half expected it to take the relay with it.”

 “But what is it?”

After a moment of breathlessness, the amused captain replied, “The hell if I know.”

Two decks below Commander Marcus and his team suit up for battle. He grabs his trusty Phaeston rifle and boards the shuttle bound for Firebase Hydra. Marcus was the son in law of the recently deceased Alliance General Whitaker, married to his daughter Emily. While on duty the news came to him that morning. It rattled his cage, nearly made him lose focus. But he had to keep his composure. He had to keep himself alive in these hours to come home to wife and two sons, Lorik and Adrien. He didn’t want to imagine them growing up without their father. But ever since he got the news of Witaker’s death, the smiley old man with the white beard, tough as nails. Gone! He thought. Every bullet, every hit he took to his shields he felt it was a hit that could have killed him. How was he supposed to lead his team like this. Out of focus and shaken. Maybe it would have been better not to know. Why Whitaker? Why did his death hit him so hard? He saw thousands of turian soldiers die in defense of Palaven with his own eyes. Truth is, it’s because of who Whitaker was.

“Are you ready son?” George Whitaker asked Marcus in the private room at the back of the chapel. Marcus wore a rented tuxedo, it was his wedding day.

“You made it!” Marcus turned around from the mirror and gave the old man a hug.

“I wouldn’t have another man give my daughter’s hand away.” Whitaker said.

“Where’s Martha? Is she here?”

“I’m sorry she… stayed at home.”

“She’s still upset.” Marcus said. “I understand.”

“Don’t take offense she’s gotten over the fact that you’re marrying our daughter. She just couldn’t bring herself to witness it.”

Marcus felt nervous, “I don’t know, I never expected. I mean I never wanted to drive a wedge between the family.”

Whitaker shook his head and put his hands on Marcus’ shoulders, “No, you don’t have to explain. What’s done is done. And you’re in love. You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with. Love is its own entity. It doesn’t matter where you find it or who you are. It doesn’t discriminate.”

“I guess you’re right.” Marcus said. Then he added, “That’s an understatement. Truer words have never been spoken.”

“Bah! It’s nothin. You love my daughter and that’s what matters.” Whitaker pulled a small velvet box out of his pocket. “Here, I got you something. It’s Martha’s and mine wedding rings. She wants you have these, show there’s no hard feelings.” Whitaker cocked his head to the side and looked Marcus in the eye, “she really means well.”

Marcus took a step back, “I don’t know. I really appreciate it, but I don’t know if I can take this.”

“Go ahead and take it. It’s our family rings, goes back generations. I won’t have you say no. I already bought Martha and I a new pair.”

Marcus bit his lip, “I’d be honored.”

***

“Geth Prime!” Commander Marcus shouted, hitting the ground out of the hovering turian shuttle-craft. He switched on Marksman from his visor through his assault rifle. While in Marksman mode the accuracy and fire rate of his Phaeston increased. He shot each round at the head of the goliath Geth Prime, taking its shields down half way. Through the combined fire of his team, Marcus and the group of 4 soldiers ripped the Prime to shreds. A few meters away a Geth dropship unloads a platoon of  pyro’s and hunters. Marcus and his team immediately shot the fuel tanks on the backs of the armored pyros. A few seconds later the geth exploded almost as soon as they hit the ground. But the invisible enemy hunters continued marching down the yard and up the ramps. Hunters carry plasma shotguns and while in hunter mode they sneak up on their targets and blast their shields with plasma. That is if their targets are lucky to have any shields. Marcus kept a good eye on them, watching the flicker affect of the hunters’ cloaks. He followed them into the building housing the command center. Donovan, Prangley, Haley, Rodriguez, Bill and the rest were gathered there waiting. After a flash, a bang and few seconds of weapons fire the geth hunters drop on the floor dead.

“I would have had those.” Marcus said to the group, impressed.

“If they’d gotten any closer they would have had us.” Haley said.

“You sent out the distress call. Are you private Haley?” Marcus asked.

“In the flesh.”

“Alright, let’s get you out of here.” Marcus turned around towards the shuttles.

Haley stopped him, “Not so fast we’re waiting on two other party members.”

“Who?”

“This is a rescue operation. Our squad leader lieutenant Chesterton went down into the mines to pull Jack, the psychotic biotic squad leader out of the mines.” Haley explained.

“What were they doing down there.” Marcus asked.

“That’s classified.” Donovan answered, who up to this point stood silent in the corner.

“I guess I don’t really need to know.” Marcus backed down. “Do you know how long it’ll be till they get here?”

“No idea.” Haley answered.

Whether he knew it or not, at the moment Marcus was the senior ranking officer in the field. He counted the men and women in the room, “Alright there are 14 of us, including my men. That gives us the advantage. Lets spread out and hold the path between this building and the shuttles. Everybody, keep to cover and work as a team. On the way down I saw a large wave of reapers approaching from the east. Now they’ll be on top of us at any moment. It should be no problem for us to hold the west face if we gun them down from a distance. Does everybody understand the plan?”

Many of them nodded. Donovan said, “It’s way better than what we’ve had all day.”

Marcus remembered the words of his drill sergeant the day he entered the service, “Welcome to the turian military.”

Prangley and the squad of biotics held the northwest catwalks around the control center and the mine entrance. Donovan and the N7 team took the southwest approach guarding the shuttles. Marcus split his group up along the stretch to support each team and fill the gaps. He watched the reaper hoard on the radar screen steadily make their way closer and closer to the base. On the console beside him he spotted the elevator control showing what he assumed were the two people they were waiting on.  He left the building, pulled out his Phaeston and took cover on the corner of the catwalk. The first wave of reaper husks and cannibals dropped over the east wall. The reapers had come. As soon as they appeared over the wall, the enemies found their blood soaking into the ground. Soon the reapers were dropping ravagers into the mud. The ravagers barely got of a single round before the coordinated team of 14 gunned them down. The mud became an acid-wash underneath the east wall, eating away at the barricade. The reapers dropped more cannibals and marauders. A wave of 3 large brutes made it half way across the yard before they fell face first into the mud. The only enemies that made it across to the facility were the banshees that snuck around the complex, charging biotically teleporting everywhere. Donovan and N7 team took out 2 banshees over the wall from the southwest approach. Marcus, Prangley and the biotic squad had their hands full with 4 banshees invading the command center.

“Stay clear!” Marcus shouted to Prangley who let the banshee get too close.

Marcus shot a proximity mine at the head of the monster. Detonating a high impact yield the banshee sprayed into ashes. Prangley and Rodriguez turned around to see another banshee coming up the northeast catwalk. Behind Marcus the other two banshees charge in from the west balcony. Marcus ducks behind the cover of the operations console. Zip-Thump, Zip-Thump. The banshees charge in beside him. He tries to run out of cover but they each grab him at the same time lifting him up into the air. In a flash in his mind, his life passed before his eyes.

When out of the door pops Chesterton holding Jack in his arms. In Jack’s arms is Chester’s single round M-560 Hydra missile launcher.

She charged the gun and shouted “Die bitches!”

Jack aimed for the ground between the two banshees. As the round went off Marcus shields took the blast of the missile strike, knocking him across the room against the wall.  The two banshee’s flashed into ashes. Marcus coughed on the floor gasping for air.

“Who are you?” Chesterton asked.

Marcus sprang to his feet, “Commander Marcus  Aurelius, Turian Fleet. We’re here responding to your distress call.”

“What distress call?” Jack asked.

Chesterton explained, “When we first arrived at the base, the Paulo Alto was destroyed.”

“Destroyed?!” Jack yelled. She couldn’t believe what she heard.

Marcus spotted Jack’s wounded leg and interrupted her, “We have to get you out of here ma’am. You need medical attention.”

“You can call me Jack. Only my students call me ma’am.” Jack said. “And my leg’s not that bad.”

“Regardless we need to leave. Immediately.” Chesterton said.

Marcus agreed and led them down the west face towards the shuttles.

“We’re bugging out of here!” Marcus shouted to Prangley and Rodriguez who were finished with the banshee and fighting off a small group of husks. One by one, everyone filed into line and into the two large transport shuttles. Chesterton carried Jack onto the shuttle after Marcus. He had a few questions to ask along the way. The shuttle doors closed and the pilots broke off from Firebase Hydra.

“Do you know what happened to the Paulo Alto?” Chesterton sat Jack down into a seat before he took one himself.

“No, but you can ask our navigator Rigen. If our sensors found anything, he’ll be the first to know.”

Jack felt awkwardly out of the loop, “I’m sorry, I’m missing something. What happened?”

“We dropped the artifact off at the ship and came back for you.” Chesterton said.

The mention of the artifact grabbed Marcus’ attention.

“And the ship’s gone. Am I right about that?” Jack asked.

“It’s completely off our records.” Chesterton said.

Jack hit her head against the back of her seat, “So we don’t even have what we came here for!”

Chesterton swallowed, “That’s correct.”

“You gotta be kidding me.” Jack said.

***

“Is he alright?” Hackett asked the nurse aboard the SSV Houston outside the medical bay. He was there to see lieutenant Mathews.

“It’s too early to tell if his spinal cord will take the graft tissue. But his odds of full recovery are good.” The nurse said.

“Is he in any pain?”

“None at all.”

“Can I see him?”

“Go right ahead.”

Hackett walked through the automatic doors in towards the bed where Mathews lay.

“Lieutenant Mathews, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Mathews snapped a quick salute to the Admiral, “Acting lieutenant, Mathews sir! And the pleasure is all mine.”

“Actually it’s lieutenant. I approved your promotion.”

“Thank you sir!”

“You deserve it. General Whitaker boasted highly of you. He recommended your transfer to Grissom Academy right out of training camp. you also managed to impress Admiral Anderson. You know he’s a good friend of mine.”

Mathews didn’t like where this was going, “I don’t want to skip ranks just because I impressed a few people.”

“Nonsense, your performance in the field more than backs up his recommendation for promotion.”

“I don’t know if I deserve it. Is this because of my injury? Cause I saw a lot of my friends die out there and they deserved better.”

“It has nothing to do with that.” Hackett assured him. “How’d the surgery go?”

“Extremely well. I can’t move them, but I can swear I feel my toes.”

“I’m sorry to say it, but that’s called residual sensation. Happens to most people that recently lost a limb.”

“No it’s more than that. It has to be.” Mathews said. “Just watch, in another day or two I’ll be starting rehab. Before you know it, I’ll be doing research from a wheelchair.”

“And I hope to see that.” Hackett said. “Really I do. But I’m not here just to tell you about your promotion.”

“What are you here for?”

“I have a few questions to ask you about your last mission. Starting with the enemies. What did they look like?”

***

“Ow, careful.” Jack said. “Watch the leg!”

Chesterton set her down on the table in the Indomitable’s medical ward. The turian doctor grabbed a syringe and some sterilization pads. Jack sat on the table with a towel over her thigh. She needed Chesterton to pull her pants off while she kept herself covered. The doctor sat on a stool beside the table, and lifted the towel partially to look at the wound.

“So how bad is it?” Jack asked the doctor.

“Not bad at all actually. A little cleaning, some stitches and a bandage should take care of the wound. Take a few anti-biotics,” The doctor looked a little flustered, “no I don’t mean anti-biotics, cause obviously you’re a biotic. I mean to say anti-bacterial agents. And you should be fine.” The joke failed to impress Jack or Chesterton.

“Well anyway I suppose this should take care of things.” He started to clean the area on the surface of the wounds.

‘Ow, Motherfucker!” She said.

“Easy there, did that hurt?”

“What do you think?” Jack said.

“It’ll be over in a minute.” The doctor injected the needle into the cavities of the wounds.

“You son-of-a-bitch!” She screamed. The antiseptic stung magnificently. Turian medicine is even younger than turian civilization. Although effective, their medical practices do little to placate pain in their subjects.

The doctor turned to Chesterton who was standing by Jack holding her hand, which was steadily crushing his.

“She’s a feisty one, isn’t she?” The doctor asked him.

“You should see her in action.” Chesterton said.

Jack kept slamming her left arm on the table with her clenched fist. The doctor continued to thoroughly clean the wounds.

Jack looked up from the table at Chesterton, “You like this don’t you?”

Chesterton looked back a little puzzled, “I don’t know what you mean.”

Jack spoke in a sultry voice, “You like seeing girls in pain. Just as much as you like seeing them inflict it. It gets you off.”

It occurred to Chesterton that this might be how she was trying to deal with the pain. Chesterton gripped her hand tighter, “Don’t pin this on me, you’re enjoying this too.”

“You dirty fucker!” Jack said.

The doctor pulled a needle and some sub-dermal thread off the cart to his left and began stitching.

Jack grit her teeth and began to moan in some erotic fashion. All the while staring into Chesterton’s eyes.

“You’re a sick bitch you know that?” Chesterton said.

“Keep talking… you sick fuck.”

As the doctor continued to pull the thread through, sewing her flesh together without anesthetic. Jack couldn’t keep her leg still.

“Whoah there,” the doctor said. “Help me out, let’s tie the leg down.” He asked Chesterton to grab the straps from the other side of the table clasping Jack’s left leg down.

“This is what you’ve been getting at all along haven’t you?” Jack said to Chesterton. “Well guess what, I’m not going to play into your bondage fantasy.”

Chesterton almost cracked up, “I think you do, you’re working so hard to plant these ideas into my head. I think you’re the one that wants to get laid.”

“Well go on.” Jack said. “Jump on me. I don’t care if we have an audience.” The doctor continued to stitch up the wounds. “Oh, fuck off.” Jack slammed the table with her right fist.

Chesterton grabbed her hand, “Easy there, you don’t want to break a bone… Or the table.”

“What about you?” Jack stared into his eyes, “Oh, I’ll break you.”

The doctor pushed the needle time and again into the skin. Jack screamed, she pulled Chesterton off his feet and down over her mouth. She kissed him.

After a few seconds he pulled away, surprised.

Jack said in the most sincere pain stricken tone, “Don’t, stop!”

Chesterton leaned back in to kiss her.

***

“How do you lose something that big?” Admiral Hackett was on the holographic comm with Captain Kathonn in his private quarters. It was a small room of spartan conditions with a single bunk a locker and a desk.

“Phenomenon 60-35 disappeared completely off our sensors. Without a response from a connected destination relay, we have no idea where it went.” Kathonn explained.

“I’ll take your word for it. I appreciate you sharing the report. It’s been incredibly helpful.”

“Glad we could be of service.”

“Speaking of which, I’d like you to take our guests to the Citadel. They’ll be able to rendezvous with Alliance command from there.”

“That was our next destination. The Indomitable needs some time to repair. It will be no problem.”

Hackett remembered some reports from the defense of Palaven, “I’d almost forgotten. You were instrumental in what’s being called ‘the miracle at palaven’. Your crew’s been running hard. Your crew could use a day or two for shore leave.”

“Our men are trained for extended battle. Still they’ll get a few hours to themselves.”

Hackett left the captain with a few words of advice, “You’re asking the very most of them. Away and cut off from their families. The least you could do is give them a night to themselves.”

“Then I won’t rush the repairs.” Kathonn said. “Thank you for the most enlightening chat, Admiral.”

“Thank you for pulling our team out alive. Hackett out.”

The communication cut. Through the door, Commander Marcus walks in.

“Sir.” The first mate addresses the captain.

“What is it Commander?” Kathonn asks.

“I’d like some time on the comm to talk to my wife. Her… father died this morning.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Kathonn said. “Where is she?”

“She’s on the Citadel.” Marcus answered.

“You might want to wait. We’re headed to the Citadel. You can have the night. I’m giving the crew shore leave.”

Marcus couldn’t believe it. This was better than what he asked for. He could see his two sons and wife again, right when he needed to most.

“Thank you sir. You have no idea what this means to me.”

“Your welcome. Now get back up to the bridge and plot a course.”

“Aye sir! Will do immediately.” Marcus snapped a salute, turned around and marched straight up to the bridge.

Kathonn took a deep sigh. He sat down in his chair by the desk and started reading his data-pad. He scrolled down a mountain of text, pausing on top of a diagram. It was one of the ancient artifacts in Alliance possession. Kathonn had purchased access to the Alliance files on the device through an information broker. Going completely behind the back of Admiral Hackett.

***

 “Are you sure you can walk on your own?” Chesterton carried Jack down the hall towards the ships showers room on the crew deck. Jack was moving on her own leaning only lightly against the lieutenant that wouldn’t let go.

“You don’t really want to hold me up in the shower do you?” Jack teased him.

Chesterton smiled and said, “I was thinking I could use one myself.”

“Wait, your not one of those prissy boys that take like a hundred showers a day do you? Cause I kind of like my guys with a little musk.”

“Reaper musk is disgusting, and I’ve got some stuck under my plates.”

Jack rolled her eyes, “Way to ruin the mood.”

“Just stating the facts. If washing off rotting dead flesh makes me a prissy boy. So be it.”

“Ok, lets get this straight. Reaper flesh is off the list of conversation topics.” Jack said.

“You started it.” He stopped at the door letting her go.

“Well why don’t you finish it?”

“Maybe I will.”

Jack opened the door, “Ok, then come on in.”

Chesterton stood there. He didn’t move or say anything.

“What’s wrong, are you at a loss for words?” Jack asked.

“No it’s just that I don’t think that the words that are coming to mind are appropriate.”

“Chester, you’re talking to me. Sometimes the right words are inappropriate.”

“Like what?” Chesterton asked.

“Like, fuck. And shit.” Jack said moving towards him. “And cunt, and pussy.” She kissed him groping his ass.

Chesterton relaxed a bit. He kept himself too high strung and formal. “So you need a little help in the shower?” He asked.

“Yes, I do.” Jack said. Turning around and walking into the steam filled room obscuring her figure. She dropped her clothes on the floor,”You can keep me from slipping.” She said back to Chester in the doorway.

He took a moment. Thought for a bit. Then walked in after her.

***

Major Carter stepped out of the driver seat of a truck in the dead of night. He shut the door, puffing on a new cigarette. He stared into the distance. Took a hit, breathed it deeply through his nose and let out a long steady breath of smoke. Two trucks carrying two large surface to air missiles each pulled up behind him. Behind those trucks came a transport carrying about 20 soldiers. Behind them, rolled in two Mako tanks. Carter took another hit from his cigarette. Overhead flew a squadron of Scorpion fighters and Corvettes. Major Carter stared into the distance. He watched their target, the reaper dreadnought walk around in the city gathering bodies.

Carter pulled up his microphone on his omni-tool, “Red wing one, engage the hostile.”

The aerial squadron respond, “beginning attack.”

Carter waved the transport and the tanks through. The drivers continued on the ground towards the reaper. Carter stayed behind with the missiles. When the time came and the opportunity presented itself. He would personally fire the killing blow.

He was glad Hackett chose him for this mission. Whenever Hackett needed something done, Carter was the one to do it. He’d been a part of operation Skyfall from its inception. In his mind he was the default choice for this mission. Then again, maybe it a choice of availability. It didn’t matter. Carter doubted Anderson would have the gumption to make the sacrifices necessary.

Carter got back into the truck and waited. He drove a large and wide flatbed that he’d use to pull the targeted reaper scrap back to base.  All he needed was time. Carter looked at his radar.  The soldiers of the ground team reached the objective.

“Engaging hostiles.” The chatter came in over the truck’s radio. Carter turned it off. He didn’t need to hear it. He just sat there and puffed on his cigarette, blowing smoke. They didn’t know it but team on the ground were carrying C5 explosives. A tactic the turian military used in defense of Palaven. If any of the soldiers were captured and brought up into the reaper the charges would detonate. It wasn’t suicide bombing, it was a tactical sacrifice.

Carter watched the battle through his window like a drive in movie. The squadron in the air lured the reaper towards the missiles. Carter punched the keys on the removable console on the dash beside him. Activating the missile trucks hydraulic lifts, raising the missiles into firing position. Then a few flashes and explosions came from inside the reaper. The C5 charges had detonated. The battle was all going according to plan. The ground started to shake with each of the reaper’s steps. The fighter squadron drew it closer and closer to Carter and the trucks. The reaper re-opened its central cannon, it began firing on the Corvettes, the bombers dropped from the sky like flies. Dozens of men were on those ships. Acceptable losses. It was almost in position. Carter fired off 1 of the 4 missiles. It roared with thunder and shot into the air at the face of the reaper. The strike crashed against the dreadnought’s ablative armor. To it, it was only a sting. But to Carter it was a way to get the reaper’s attention. He drew it closer with a second hit, from the second missile. There, he thought, take the bait. The reaper turned and targeted Carter’s truck with its laser. When it all but charged its weapon Carter launched the remaining two missiles. They struck heavy on target. Right at the weak point, blasting the reaper into pieces. It fell to the ground.

Satisfied with the performance, Carter clapped his hands as the ground shook. The engine of the truck roared as Carter turned the key. He put the truck in drive and rolled out towards the wreckage.

Chapter 10: The Devil Within

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 WithinChapter 11: Hades’ DogsChapter 12: TranshumanChapter 13: Phenomenon,  Chapter 14: AeonChapter 15: EndgamesChapter 16: FracturedChapter 17: ClosingEpilogue.

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