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Mass Effect - Future Imperfect

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Torin - Turian male the age of majority. (15)

Buratrum - In turian mythology, the realm of the spirits of dishonourable association.

The wind roared past the open ramp, only the kinetic barrier keeping the giant's fingers at bay as it swiped at the little frigate, eager to grab anyone careless enough to get too close. Commander Jane Shepard lifted her chin and took a deep breath to calm the troop of elcor gymnasts performing cartwheels in her belly.

Not today, fee fi fo fum. Not today.

"Nihlus, you're coming with us?" The voice of the eager corporal to Shepard's right dragged her attention back where it belonged. Shepard shook her head, a combination of amusement and dread meeting the kid's enthusiasm. The fresh face beaming through the faceplate of his helmet screamed greener than grass, and when she'd spoken to him before suiting up, every other word out of his mouth had been about finding adventure and being a hero.

She couldn't remember ever being that eager. Of course, her CO, Captain David Anderson, probably recalled her first few years out of the academy a little differently. No doubt, she'd made the kid look positively reserved. Amazing how much a little time and experience kicked the crap out of that lust for adventure. She glanced over at the captain in time to intercept the eyebrow-raised glare of warning he sent her way. Or maybe not. Anderson knew her too well.

A smile goaded one corner of her mouth as she nodded in reply. "Behave yourself, Shepard," she said under her breath, imitating his gruff rumble. "Yes, sir. Warning received. Roger that, sir."

Anderson scowled without any heat and shook his head. Yep, he knew her far too well.

Beside her, Jenkins bounced on the balls of his feet, his hero-worshipping gaze riveted to the turian Spectre standing a few metres away. Shepard pressed her lips together in a thin smile and gave her head a firm shake that felt far too similar to Anderson's.

Council Spectre Nihlus Kryik. She glanced at the turian. To Jenkins, having the Spectre along on their mission meant adventure, the romance of the lone space warrior righting great wrongs and accomplishing great deeds. To her … well, she had a slightly different view of the torin. A couple of years before Elysium, she'd seen him on the news, and developed an … interest. She'd met him once, but he probably didn't even remember. He'd spoken a single word to her, then returned to the party.

When she heard that he'd be coming along on the Normandy's shakedown cruise, she'd looked forward to getting to know him. However, since he'd boarded, despite being everywhere she was, watching … always watching—her favourite had been waking up in the night to see him standing over her, staring at her like she was some mystery he needed to solve—he hadn't spoken to her until the mission briefing a half hour before.

You really do pick the worst candidates to develop cru—

Shepard stomped on the end of that thought. The last thing she needed to do was start glowing like some neon strawberry. She took a deep breath or four and forced the taiko drummers in her chest to take a break before she looked up at the torin again. At least knowing that he'd put her name forward to join the Spectres lent context to his stalking.

Staring while you slept was still damned creepy.

The next day, she'd talked Anderson into letting her clean out a supply closet to use as a private cabin. It was tight, but at just a hair under five feet tall, she didn't need much space.

"Nihlus?" the kid asked again, raising his voice.

"I move faster on my own," Nihlus said, arching his neck a little as he replied to Jenkin's query. He cut a glance across at Shepard before jogging down the ramp toward the barrier.

What was that? Shepard shook off her distraction, her gut tying itself in a knot. Had Kryik said he was going in without backup? She leaped forward, racing after him. "Hold on a second." She caught his arm. "This isn't just a coffee and cake run any more. As much as I appreciate the whole army of one mystique, going in separately risks both the mission and our colony."

She squared her shoulders and met his wall of confident condescension without flinching. Yes, he was a Spectre. And yes, the Alliance needed her to pony up, to carry the banner and become their token first Spectre, but two young men and the folks on Eden Prime didn't need a kiss-ass, they needed Commander Shepard, freakin' hero of Elysium.

Nihlus tugged at her grip, but Shepard just stared back. "I'm going in against a hell of a lot of unknown enemies with a three person squad, one of whom acts like he graduated the academy three days ago." She glanced back at Jenkins. "Sorry kid." She saw Alenko grip the kid's shoulder, but focused back on the Spectre. "I'd like to bring them both back, and I'd like the kid to still have a family when we're done. Your experience—and your gun—could be the difference."

The Spectre's mandibles flared a little as a harsh laugh rumbled out of both larynxes. "I don't think so, Shepard. I'm a Spectre, and I don't answer to you." He yanked on his arm, but she held fast, forced to follow closer to the edge of the ramp. He stopped and stared down at her, looming with very real threat in his piercing green eyes. "Let go before I put you on your ass, Shepard."

Piercing green eyes? Really, Janey? Would you like me to get you a piece of paper so you can write him a note? I can pass it to him while the teacher isn't looking. You're an N7. Act like it.

Sometimes, she really wished she could slap her inner voice. Refocusing, she clenched her teeth and met the anger and arrogance in his stare with a resolute challenge, her heart thumping double time against her ribs. "You can try." She raised her eyebrows and met him head on, challenge to challenge.

No one got where Kryik had in life without a spine of pure steel, but neither had she. Presumably that was why he'd recommended her to the council.

"Approaching drop point two," the pilot called over the comm, his voice almost lost to the wind.

Shepard took a deep breath, her back straightening, her whole body vibrating with exhilaration as the kinetic barrier dropped and the giant snatched at her. "Make your move, Nihlus. It's a good day for a throw down." Taking a deep breath, she tilted her head a little, her eyes wide but not challenging him any longer.

Captain Anderson, her CO, stepped up beside them. "Shepard, stow the pissing contest! We all know you're the big dog. You don't have to prove it every two minutes," he shouted over the roar. He buttressed a hand into her shoulder. "Let this one go."

Shepard tossed him a crisp nod. "Glad to, sir, as soon as our guest comprehends that I don't need a loose cannon messing up my theatre." She winced a little at talking back to Anderson. She'd put him through a lot over the years, but never talked back. Surely, he'd understand. If she let the seven-foot tall, armour-wrapped pile of attitude and condescension get away with anything unchallenged, he'd walk all over her. That was not acceptable. Not if her people were backing him up, and certainly not if partnership loomed in their future.

"Kryik," Anderson said, hollering over the wind, his face twisted into the 'trust me, I've dealt with this crap for over a decade' grimace, "she's not going to back down. Not when her squad is at risk."

The Normandy cut off the rest of the Captain's advice, the frigate dropping a couple of metres. At that moment, the Spectre stepped back and yanked hard on his arm, sending them both crashing to the deck. For one, seemingly endless second, Shepard thought for sure that she could save herself, but then ... gut freezing, limbs flailing, her grip slipped and she tumbled helplessly down the ramp and dropped off the edge. Twisting, she tried to contort her body around to roll through the landing, but gravity and her own gracelessness conspired to splat her against the earth like a ball of dropped clay.

Flopping on her back, she heaved, sucking vacuum for thirty seconds before she managed to drag what felt like a length of razor wire down her windpipe. Black spots and white sparks danced across her vision, but she bullied herself through the pile of invisible varren gnawing on her body parts and rolled over onto all fours. Looking over at the Spectre, she saw him staring back.

"You okay?" she asked, wincing when her voice came out reminiscent of a munchkin with an elephant sitting on its chest.

A grunt and pointed glare accompanied his nod. "You're a pain in the ass, Shepard." He sat up, legs loosely crossed, his eyes searching the ground around them.

"Yeah, it's sort of my thing." She spotted what he was looking for a couple metres off to her right and crawled over, picking his shotgun out of the weeds. Returning to his side, she passed it to him. "You're no bucket of charm yourself, by the way."

He chuffed and stretched backward, his spine cracking like someone walking on dry twigs. "I don't have to be. Army of one, remember?"

Squinting against the brightness, she sat back on her heels and looked over the area. "How could I forget?" Wincing a little, she stretched her neck then looked up. The Normandy had continued on to the second drop point and then headed back into orbit. No sign of the rest of her team, either. Damn. Well … it gave her a few moments to settle a couple of things with the Spectre.

"Look, Kryik," she said, a wheeze still laced through her words, "I know you're used to being that 'who gives a shit about the rest' sole operator. And I respect that, but as long as my people are on the ground backing you up, getting them out alive has to be my priority." She used her rifle to help lever herself to her feet and stumbled back a step before offering him a hand up. "And that means no wild cards running their own plays. I'm asking you to stay with the squad. Have our backs, and we'll have yours."

"I'm a Spectre for a reason, Shepard," he replied, a lot of growl mixed into his subvocals. Still, he took her hand, accepting her help up onto his feet. Once on his feet, he cracked his neck and shrugged his armour up his shoulders.

"Yeah, and I'm an N7 for a reason, but I'm here, leading this squad." A faint sigh tumbled between her lips, belying the grin that kept trying to creep across her face. Stubborn as hell. She could work with that.

Gunfire, and not too far off, diverted her attention from arguing with the Spectre.

She turned back to stare into his eyes, eyebrows raised. "Do you have the slightest idea what that thing was on the feed? Whoever is attacking here, they tore through a platoon of Marines like they were fruit flies." She reached out, pressing her fingers against his gauntlet. "If you know anything about what's going on, you'd better spill it, right here, right now."

"I don't have to share anything. It's called Spectre authority." He stared down at her hand for a second before he stepped away. "And while I might be here to observe you in the field, on missions, you're my backup."

"Good luck with that." Shepard clenched her fists and looked out over the colony, keeping half an eye on the Spectre. Something about his reactions to her registered on an even stranger level than her reaction to him. She couldn't tell if he was just thrown off by her naturally abrasive charm, or … what … ?

Leaving worrying about Kryik's weirdness until they were far away from the colony crawling with unknown enemies, she turned a slow circle, trying to orient herself. They had a job to do … and the faster the better, before Eden Prime became a former human colony.

He turned toward the road and cracked his neck again. "Where in the name of buratrum are we? You landed us in the middle of nowhere."

A whole lot of nothing lay before her, stretching for klicks in all directions … well, nothing but trees, swamp, and floating things that looked like brains. She raised her hand to her ear, but before she could call for her squad, they jogged around a bend in the road. She waved to beckon them over, wincing as pain lanced down through her shoulder. Gripping it, she rolled it in the socket, trying to work out the kinks.

"Thank god, you're okay," Alenko sighed, stopping an arm length away. He reached out, patting her shoulder, an absent sort of caretaking gesture, as he checked her over. "Are you all right? We didn't …."

Shepard stepped back, answering his query with a curt nod. "Yeah, five by five. I stuck the landing like a pro." Shepard ignored Kryik's snort and jerked her head toward the colony, limping a few tentative steps. Her body felt as though everything had been shaken loose and reassembled just off plumb. Oh well, the kinks would work out once she started moving.

"Come on, let's save the day, gentlemen." Lifting into a jarring jog, she ran past the Spectre. "You coming?"

"I wouldn't push it, Commander," Alenko whispered, casting a dubious glance over his shoulder. "He looks about ready to plug you."

Shepard nodded, cutting the thread of regret that spooled through her guts at that. "Yeah well, he wouldn't be the first. And at least, now he knows what to expect."

Alenko tilted his head a little, one eyebrow cocking at a decidedly smartass angle. "You do have a very … "

A crooked grin pulled up one corner of Shepard's mouth as the lieutenant searched for a diplomatic word.

"... colourful reputation, ma'am." His eyes roamed the right side of the road, his gait easy, gun held at low ready.

She could only imagine the scuttlebutt that circulated about her. A few percent of it might be true. The rest … well … . She looked back at the Spectre, a grim smile slicing across her face. She was a Spectre candidate, so who gave a fuck what anyone thought?

Think it a few more times. You'll believe it one of these days.

Slapping duct tape over her inner voice, Shepard slowed a little to cast weary eyes at the buildings rising out of the landscape like strange megaliths, completely out of place, almost obscene in such an idyllic landscape. She'd seen ten colonies just like it on planets that ranged from nearly as beautiful and suitable as Eden Prime to frozen wastelands in the middle of being terraformed. Each one could only be described as an abomination. At least this planet made for a pretty backdrop to civilization's grotesquely inappropriate architecture.

Tracers fired back and forth, showing that the Alliance Marines stationed on the planet remained in the fight. Shepard felt a disconnected sort of pride in her fellow soldiers, having fought in their boots. Enemies advancing, civilians panicking . . . nothing she ever wanted to live through again. She sped back up. The best thing she could do for her brothers and sisters in uniform was find out what was going on and then put an end to it.

A blur of black and red in her peripherals, the turian Spectre ran past her. Shepard nodded to herself as he settled into a quick jog. Kryik certainly didn't lack for spirit—not that she expected any less from a Spectre—their partnership might prove entertaining. Or they'd end up killing one another. Either way … good times.

Shepard waved to the Marines. "Come on, gentlemen, let's step it up before he leaves us behind." She dug in, working out the last of the aches from the fall. "Alenko at my seven, Jenkins at five. Five metre spread and keep your eyes open."

They found the first bodies fifty metres along. Burned to unrecognizable husks, civilians and soldiers alike sprawled along the road like litter. Shepard winced, her gut twisting into a knot as she spotted a child half-covered by her mother. She wrenched her eyes away, concentrating on the pounding of her feet against the ground.

One … two … three … four. Breathe through it. It's nothing you haven't seen before. Just keep moving and do your job for these young men and for the colonists.

"God, what is going on here?" Alenko asked. The lieutenant moved up a little on her right flank, his gaze and assault rifle sweeping the forest on that side of the road. Jenkins just made a sorrowful sort of strangled moan.

Shepard knew far too much about how the young corporal felt and glanced his way. "Hold it together, Jenkins," she said, keeping her voice firm but empathetic. "You won't be any good to anyone if you lose it."

"Yes, ma'am." The corporal squared his shoulders and rolled his neck.

Shepard gave him a tight-lipped smile. "Good man, now let's speed up before Nihlus hogs all the bad guys." She didn't have far to go before she saw Nihlus take cover further up the road.

A half breath later his voice came through on her radio. "Drones up ahead, Shepard."

Finally, some damned answers. Maybe.

"Roger that." She gestured for Alenko and Jenkins to move up and take cover, then crouched low and ran forward. She pressed her back against a boulder then peered out. It took a moment, but then she spotted them. Three small, blue metal drones.

"Recon," she whispered into her radio. She switched her assault rifle for her sniper rifle and eased it open to its full length. Resting the weapon on the rock, she sighted down the first drone. A gentle squeeze on the trigger, and it exploded. She let the recoil settle, then sighted the second. Her shields let out staccato complaints as the remaining drones opened fire on her, but she fired and then only one remained. Nihlus finished it off before she could line up the shot.

She gave the Spectre a cocky half-smile as she switched to the assault rifle again. Glancing over her shoulder at the Marines, she called, "Come on, let's get moving, gentlemen. We're hell and gone from the beacon yet. Try to keep up, Nihlus." She grinned at the closed-dialect curse he spat her way.

"Not sure smacking the seven foot hornet's nest with a stick is the best plan," Alenko whispered from behind her. He moved up to her four o'clock and cut a sharp glance across at her that screamed, 'I'm just looking out for your ass, ma'am'.

"Neither is letting one get himself or my squad killed," Shepard countered. "Come on, let's keep moving before whoever is attacking does any more damage."

"Yes, ma'am," Jenkins said, his voice tight with grief and anger. "We can't let them get away with this." He appeared at her eight, his entire body trembling.

"Keep cool, Jenkins," Shepard warned. "We do this by the numbers." Watching him through narrowed eyes, she searched for the small signs and signals that he'd flipped his shit, but he settled.

"Yes, ma'am." His tone smoothed out some of her scowl.

She let out a breath and set out. Their mission couldn't stand many more delays.

"I'll scout ahead," the Spectre called, taking off. He held his shotgun confidently at low-ready and loped across the uneven ground with an ease that made her hate him a little. He had to be hurting, but it sure didn't show.

"Stay in sight." She let out a semi-exasperated sigh and stepped up to a ground-eating run. She hadn't really expected a Spectre with as many awards and citations as Kryik to bend to her, but she'd wanted to know how far she could push before he pushed back. He hadn't let her down. Heaven knew she loved a challenge.

They took out another small squad of drones as they rounded a shallow bend in the road through the open forest, but must have covered a kilometre of ground before sound of a real gun battle tore through the air. Finally, some enemies to sink her teeth into. Shepard stepped around a huddle of burned bodies on the road, making a beeline up the grassy slope. She held up a fist to halt the two marines then waved them into cover on her flanks. Once they took their positions, she moved forward, keeping her profile low and sticking to the shadows under the massive trees.

Gunfire meant survivors, and survivors meant answers.

Peering around a conifer analog, Shepard spotted a soldier in pink and white armour race around a boulder. Her breath caught as two strides out, rounds peppered the Marine's back, knocking her flat. Letting off curses that made Shepard's ears burn, the soldier rolled over, firing at enemies the commander couldn't see. Unwilling to take any chances losing her one witness, Shepard ran out, ignoring Alenko's shouts of protest, and grabbed the Marine's arm.

"Come on, soldier!" the commander hollered, "give me a hand here." With Shepard hauling and the other woman scrambling between shooting off rounds, they made it behind the nearest cover.

"You okay?" Shepard barked without looking down. Rifle-first, she peered out around the rock. Three … machines … with flashlights for heads walked up the path, guns, the like of which Shepard had never seen before, at the ready. "Shit, what the hell are these things?" Lifting her hand to her ear, she opened a channel. "Kryik, where in fuck's name are you? Could those be geth?"

"Your eleven o'clock, thirty metres."

Shepard looked out. When the machines opened fire, she returned bursts of three rounds, taking out one. The other two fell a half-second later as Nihlus and her boys opened fire. After ensuring that the field was clear, she glanced back. "Name, Marine? Are you okay? Do you know what the hell these things are?"

The soldier scrambled to her feet and snapped a quick salute. "Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams, ma'am, and I'm fine, just singed. And yes, I think they're geth," the Marine said. A heavy flush burned her cheeks a blotchy red, and her chest heaved as she struggled to catch her breath, but the chief's hands remained steady on her rifle as she moved to cover Shepard's six.

"Geth. Shit." Shepard shook off the gelid, superstitious fingers that crawled down her spine. It didn't matter. Incredulity could wait. If Eden Prime was being attacked by fluffy pink bunnies, they could stop to ponder it once the furry bastards were dead.

She rolled her shoulders and nodded to Alenko and Jenkins. "I'll take point with the chief, gentlemen. Watch our flanks." She leaned out, taking fire against her shields as one of the machines appeared around a cluster of rocks. All four of them opened fire. It went down, letting out a short burst of squealing and chattering like a bad extranet connection.

"I'm moving out ahead again," Nihlus called, sprinting across the grassland toward a series of walls.

"Damn it, Kryik. Hold up for five bloody seconds!" Shepard let out the foulest curse she could think of and took off, waving to the chief. "Come on, Williams. We'll give you the 411 after I shoot that turian in the ass. Double time people, we've got a runaway Spectre on our hands." She set off, moving quickly, her rifle up and in constant motion as they crossed a cleared area, dotted with crates.

Partway down the slope, she stopped and looked up at a huge, metal spike. Near the top, a person dangled, the spike rammed straight through his gut. "What in the name of sweet baby Jesus is that?" A clammy salamander of that superstitious fear wrapped itself around her heart. After fighting on countless worlds for more than a decade, she knew only one thing for sure: Sapient beings possessed an infinite imagination when it came to new and horrific ways to kill each other.

Impalement is actually a really old way to kill people, Janey.

Williams shuddered and glanced up, but quickly away. Her throat worked for a long time before she spat out, "The geth have been impaling any prisoners they take on these things. I don't know why."

Shepard watched the chief out of the corner of her eye even as she forced herself to look at the details of the spike just in case it became important. As an engineer, she might be able to sabotage them . . . something . . . anything to give the colonists a better shot.

"Psychological warfare, maybe?" Alenko offered, his face twisting behind his helmet's half visor. "Would geth care about that?" He moved to cover the road ahead, Jenkins following him.

Shaking her head, Shepard finished her scans of the spike. Without commenting, she closed her omntiool and started back up the road, not wanting Nihlus to get too much of a lead on them. Suddenly, she very much wanted his unflappable, stubborn, arrogant ass at her twelve. "Lovely planet you've got here, Williams."

"Yes, ma'am, until this morning, it sure was." Williams said, her face contorted with an expression of combined nausea and rage.

Shepard only made it a few more metres before stopping in a semi-sheltered area that looked as though it had seen some heavy excavation. Brisk hand signals sent Alenko and Jenkins to watch the road ahead and behind. "This the dig site?" she asked, tossing the question over her shoulder. Squinting thoughtfully, she crouched to examine the ground. Lots of heavy, two-toed tracks everywhere.

Williams stepped up beside the commander, her gun sweeping around her in ceaseless arcs. "They must have moved the beacon to the spaceport. It was right there last I heard, but the other squads … they were taken out right away. The rest of my squad … ." She swallowed hard, her words dragging to a halt when Shepard looked up at her. Williams gestured to an open spot in the walls. "The spaceport is up those ramps, ma'am."

Shepard stood and laid a heavy hand on the chief's shoulder for a moment. When Williams nodded that she had her shit together, Shepard mirrored it, then headed out, jogging past Alenko through the gap. Beacon moved, only a few drones and a small number of clean up troops in the way ... she didn't have much time before she was stuck explaining to the entire galaxy how her team let the geth steal the beacon and destroy Eden Prime. "Let's keep moving." She raised her fingers to her ear and opened a channel even as she hoofed it up the ramps. "Kryik, where the hell are you?" She looked to Alenko. "I swear if I have to ask that question one more time, I'm going to plug him myself."

"Closing in on the spaceport now, Shepard. There are a lot of spikes down here, bodies hanging from them. Not many geth. I'm moving forward."

"Wait for us. We're two minutes behind you." She slowed as they reached the top of the ramps, the area opening up into a camp made from prefab trailers. She crouched low, moving at a quick walk. As much as she didn't want Nihlus to get too much of a head start on her, she wasn't about to charge in like an ass, either.

"No wonder Spectres have such short life expectancies," Alenko muttered, his voice a little breathy from the climb. He settled into a slightly crouched walk, a vigilant, professional presence on her flank.

Shepard nodded and motioned for him and Jenkins to check out the trailers ahead. "Williams, stay on my six. Keep your eyes peeled. We'll move up to have eyes on that space port, gentlemen. Join us when you've cleared the trailers."

"Yes, ma'am." The two men jogged toward the first trailer.

Shepard and Williams worked their way forward, sticking to the cover provided by the rocky shelf on the left-hand side of the road. Up ahead, Shepard heard a terrible screeching sound, metal sliding over metal, and looked out. The spikes lowered, folding into themselves. The bodies stuck at the point began to move.

"They're still alive!" Williams called out, jumping forward to help.

Shepard grabbed Williams and dragged her back. "They're not people anymore. Look at them. The geth have turned them into some sort of machines." She brought her assault rifle up, firing on the dessicated-looking machine creatures as they detached from the spikes and lurched toward her position.

Robot zombies, Janey? There's a good chance you cracked your head on a rock falling out of the ship. What's next? Vampires?

Shepard groaned and hit one of the ex-humans with an overload. Her first adventure as a Spectre candidate was supposed to have been all coffee and cake. She peppered them with three round bursts from her Mattock. Coffee and cake run? Bullshit! 'Yes, sir, I'll pick up your beacon for you. No problem.' Throw in a side order of geth and robot zombies. Why not? Fuck.

"I so didn't need this today," she grumbled.

Williams leaned out, firing. "Don't think you've got much choice, ma'am."

"I never do." Shepard took one of the husks down a couple of metres away, then staggered back as it let out a blast of energy. The jolt tore down her shields and sizzled along her skin like someone had dumped a bucket of angry wasps into her armour. 'Ouch! Fuck that. Okay, important note. Don't let them do that." Keeping low, she ran forward, taking cover behind a trash can. She took down another robot zombie and dashed forward again when the way was clear. "Why don't I ever get the cushy pick ups? Shepard, the asari councillor left her poodle on Illium. Swing by and pick it—"

Shepard stopped mid-rant as a screeching roar, like a thousand metal banshees being ripped apart by dreadnoughts, tore through her head. She reached up to turn down the ambient on her aural implants, but it didn't help nearly as much as she hoped. The horrible, mechanical cacophony burrowed straight through her like a case of auditory insanity.

"Sweet baby Jesus, what the fuck?" She pushed forward, her limbs moving with all the ease of rusted iron.

"Holy shit!" Williams squawked, her rifle dropping to her side as her jaw hung slack, her eyes looking up and up.

Shepard looked up, understanding the Marine's reaction as a massive ship blasted off the surface, taking her stomach and all the strength in her knees with it. It stood at least two kilometres tall and looked like a cross between a cuttlefish, a cockroach, and something that would have made her wake up from the nightmare covered in sweat. "What the fuck?" she whispered slowly. Horror stole all the air from her lungs and replaced it with ice. "Kryik, you seeing this?"

"I see it, Shepard. I'm just about at the spaceport. There are a few geth between my position and the platform."

Shepard frowned, tearing her stare away from the massive dreadnought, if that was what it was, seeing the Spectre moving toward the wreckage of a loading dock. He flattened a geth with a blast from his shotgun, seeming very cavalier about the largest, most terrifying ship ever seen. "Do you know what that thing is?"

"No. Stop gawking at it, and get your ass down here." She saw him cast a glance over his shoulder toward her position.

"No need to be a jackass. I've got your six." Grabbing Williams's arm, Shepard gathered all the frayed ends that the space-bound nightmare had unravelled, and moved forward. "Come on, let's keep going."

Alenko and Jenkins appeared at the top of the rise, both stopping, their jaws dropping in unison as their gazes followed the monstrous ship back to space. Shepard caught their attention with a quick jerk of her hand, motioning for them to cover Nihlus's right flank.

Shepard traded back to her sniper rifle. "Okay, my lovely, let's clear the dock for the good Spectre." She scoped the closest geth. The first shot tore down its shields, the second laid it out. She moved forward until the next geth appeared in scope and dropped it as well, clearing the way for Nihlus to move onto the platform. He advanced cautiously, shotgun sweeping the area.

Shepard began to lower her gun, ready to head down and join up with the Spectre. Movement between a couple of tall crates snapped the rifle right back to her eye. Through the scope, she identified the movement as a second turian The second one wore weird looking silver armour and moved with the same loose-jointed confidence as Nihlus.

Nihlus talked to him. They seemed friendly. Raising her finger to her ear to ask for a situation update, Shepard saw Nihlus turn his back on the other turian to look over the devastation. She relaxed and released the breath she'd been holding.

Nihlus knows him. It's cool. We're all friends.

She began to lower her gun, aiming to get up and join them, but stopped as the second turian moved. The alarm at the base of her skull went off, sending sharp spines of warning burrowing into her brain.

Watch him, Janey. He's off.

Slick as shit, the other turian raised a pistol, pointing it at the back of Kryik's head. "Shit!" Shepard's hand snapped to the trigger, but in her haste, the shot went wide, just nicking the second turian's shields. Still, it alerted Nihlus, who spun around and saw the gun. The pair went down in a tangle of limbs, completely destroying Shepard's chance of getting off a deadly shot. Switching out her guns, she leaped up and raced for the dock.

A single shot tore through the air, and the turian in silver scrambled up, running across the platform. Shepard's heart stopped as her eyes locked on Nihlus. The Spectre lay sprawled on his back, unmoving. She bolted to the end of the walkway and leaped down, her ankles and knees letting out yelps on impact.

"Don't you dare die on me, Spectre," she growled under her breath as she sprinted across the grass. "I'm not explaining that to the damned council." The air burned her throat as she forced her legs to move faster, leaping over the wreckage in her way.

"Move in, people," she called, between breaths. "Nihlus is down!"