Chapter 4 of The Suicide Mission
Garrus led the way into the dark, cavernous tunnel. One last glance at the other team. She was turned towards him and even though she had her helmet on, he was sure she was looking right at him. He lifted an arm in salute and she mirrored the gesture. See you on the other side, Shepard.
Shepard, Jack and Legion were the Alpha team, with Miranda, Thane and Grunt as Beta. Garrus, Samara and Mordin were Gamma, and Zaeed, Jakob and Kasumi, Delta. At first, Garrus resented getting the stronger team, but then he remembered: Shepard’s team had Shepard. He grinned.
Just as he thought that turning on night-vision was in order, he glimpsed lights in front and signaled Delta to find cover along the east wall while his team watched over. Then his earpiece crackled and Tali’s voice came through some static.
“I’m inside the ventilation shaft, Shepard. It’s hot in here, but it’s clear, as far as I can tell.”
“Second team, are you in position?” said Shepard.
“In position,” Garrus replied. “Meet you on the other side of those doors.”
At that, Zaeed signaled him to move forward, and the three of them ran along the west wall, finally crouching behind what appeared to be a huge exhaust pipe, protruding from the slippery tiled floor. The tactical map on the visor of his helmet told him the doors were straight forward, but he couldn’t see them. It looked like they were inside a waste processing unit: man-sized pipes of dull grays and browns ran in bundles and met at junctions that would serve as good cover. Sounds of running liquids (water, Vakarian, it’s just water; don’t be morbid), dripping, boiling and bubbling came from all directions and although his suit was vacuum-sealed, he thought he could smell some gruesome stench. There were ladders up front leading to a grid of access platforms; a wealth of nice sniping positions, but it was a long climb and…
Sounds of shots came through his earpiece from Shepard’s side, and not a moment after, rounds started flying around them as well.
“Wondered what took them so long,” Mordin said, and then his pistol sang. The Collectors were descending on their annoying insect wings and, sure enough, taking positions on the elevated platforms.
“Samara, can you take those platforms down?”
“I will try.”
“We’ll cover you.”
He peeked over the top of his cover, inhaled deeply to center himself, then got up and took aim. Bam! One down, clean shot right through the forehead, bless the new prototype auto targeting system he’d purchased on Illium and built into his rifle just before… Before.
Bullets were everywhere, some theirs, some the enemies’ and it was hard to tell the difference with all the ricocheting off the tubes, probably monocarbon, though they looked like metal, and what the hell did it matter? Another deep breath, another venture into the open, he took a shot but the shields held and he kept his balance. Bam! Scratch one. Then Samara lit up like a nova and threw her arms in the general direction of the ladder and the thin supporting beams under the front section of the access grid. For a second, the lights and sounds of the gunfight were drowned by the biotic explosion. The ladder gave as if hit by a mining drone, and the beams started breaking pair after pair in a wave of creaking and screeching, topped by cheering by their comrades.
Cheering that must have sounded like screaming, because Shepard called in to check on them. “Report!”
“Garrus here,” he said. As if she wouldn’t know his voice. How silly. But he was too busy aiming at the Collectors, most of whom saved their skin thanks to the wings. Wings! Why couldn’t he have a pair? “We’re taking heavy fire, but we’re moving forward.”
Which was a lie, but only at the moment. He glanced at Zaeed, Delta had better cover, and Zaeed read his intention, signaling him to go, go, go! There was a momentary opening in gunfire, and he rolled out of cover, running for the closest junction. There were enemies to his sides, but Delta took one out, and Mordin took the other two with a well-aimed incendiary. Garrus slammed against the pipes and eeew! They were warm and wet with some sticky fluid. Water! Sticky water! He turned, aimed, shot. Right between the eyes…! I think. Samara laid fire from her assault rifle, and Delta bounded forward one by one. Jacob took some rounds, his barriers flickering in the shadows, and only then did Garrus realize he couldn’t see Kasumi.
“Goto, where are you?”
“Up here,” said the quiet voice, and although it was an extremely useless thing to say, he got his answer as a Collector who took a good position on the knee of a pipe and behind another just above their heads, screamed and fell forward, a ghostly form scurrying back into the shadows behind his back.
“Garrus, go!” Zaeed shouted, and Garrus sprang forward, sprinting for the next junction. Finally he rolled for it as his suit started streaming increasingly desperate warnings into his earpiece, taking shot after shot. Somewhere behind him, Samara did her thing again, lighting the chamber in eezo blues, the shadows of pipes dancing on irregular, moist walls. Why did everything have to be wet and slimy?
But now as a veritable carpet of fire formed over the chamber between their advancing positions and the Collectors ahead, Tali’s voice came through again, barely discernible over static. “I’m stuck,” she said in a tone chillingly reminiscent of panic, and Garrus could relate, Spirits, could he relate! “Something’s blocking the pipe. Looks like some kind of a gate!”
He recited a dirty soldier’s prayer to thank the Spirits for putting him on the frontline instead of that awful umbilical cord. He then shot a Collector, which made him feel a bit better.
“Think I found the control switch,” Shepard shouted over the barrage of gunfire coming from her end. But then she let out an unmistakable grunt of pain and Garrus felt like it was him, taking a round right into his gut.
“I’m fine,” she groaned. “Tali, report!”
“The gate is open! Moving forward.”
Which they were supposed to be doing too. He waved at Zaeed, then popped out of cover and took down another enemy. How many were there? As soon as he’d think they’d made a dent in their numbers, more would drop in from somewhere in front… and now, as he ran behind Mordin to their next stop, he finally saw it: the doors.
“Garrus here,” he said into the comm. Again. Silly. “Making progress.” But just as he finished, he saw the entire Delta team look up as one man and when he followed their stares, he froze. There was a gaping opening in the ceiling, or rather, the chamber they were in was intersecting another, running vertically upwards into dense darkness filled with ominous twinkling. “Look out! Seeker swarms!”
“Swift action strongly advised,” Mordin said, helpfully.
“We’ll have to make a run for it,” Garrus muttered to himself, but of course, everybody heard. “Kasumi, tactical cloak. Go and open that door.”
The Collectors were coming from the vertical shaft, and in seemingly increasing numbers. And now the buzzing little insectoid drones were swarming around them. Delta moved into a new position, but no amount of gunfire could deflect the army of enemies coming their way now. Garrus realized that what they’d fought through so far was but a skirmish, probably with an advanced patrol. Spirits! There must have been thousands of them in the base.
“We’re in position,” Shepard yelled through the comm, but didn’t sound happy. She didn’t sound happy at all. “We need this door opened, now!”
Their doors slid open that very moment, Kasumi blinking into existence, taking a few rounds that rebounded off her shield in a cascade of sparks, then disappearing again. “Go, go, go!” Garrus barked, and everybody leaped into motion, not exactly what he’d call an orderly retreat, but Shepard was out there in need of his help and there was no time for flourishing his tactical genius. Bullets hit his shoulder, his back, his right thigh, and then his shields were gone but he couldn’t pass the door before everyone else was in. Jacob was the last, going backwards and shooting, and then a couple of rounds grazed Garrus’s shoulder and almost toppled him, but the armor held and then finally the doors swished closed, Kasumi stepping away from a console that had caught a small fire.
“Something’s wrong, the door’s stuck!” It was Tali, and Garrus only realized that she was in the same room when he heard her voice doubled. He took a quick survey of the situation. They were crowded in a round control post at the intersection of three large tunnels, and Shepard was behind the door to his left. Noises of battle were coming from the other side and his heart clawed into his throat. It was strange, to fear. He never feared. Not for himself. But now he signaled his team to take positions to the sides, and was about to urge Tali to hurry up, her delicate little hands dancing in the interface of the gate switch faster than his eyes could follow, when she made a victorious stab at it. “Got it!”
As soon as the doors started separating, Shepard and her team poured in, followed by a barrage of bullets. Garrus had only a quick glance at the chamber behind, well lit and blinking in yellow and green lights, and populated with a swarm of Collectors the likes of which they had left behind as well.
“Here they come,” Shepard said. “Fall back!”
“Suppressing fire!” Garrus ordered. It was strange, to give orders in her presence. “Don’t let anyone through that door!”
Was the door acting up again, or were they pressed so hard now that time started dragging, like in those awful, half-conscious hours of ultimate loneliness on Omega? Someone screamed, someone else grunted, and then he saw a missile, a fucking missile aimed straight at the opening which was reducing at a tantalizing pace. Shepard was standing next to him and a quick trajectory calculation told him all he needed to know. He’d take another missile in the face any day if it meant saving her. He rammed into her side, she was shorter than him by a head and had at most half his mass but it wasn’t easy to dislodge her and for a split second he thought he wouldn’t be able to but then he kicked her leg out and fell on top of her, the missile whistling an inch above his fringe. It went off, hitting the far wall, and then there was silence, for the door was closed and they were safe, at least for the moment.
He let out a deep sigh of relief, relaxing on top of her. He knew she could take his weight, even without the kinetic exoskeleton. The visors of their helmets rang as he rested his head on hers, and no, he couldn’t be bothered to give even a passing thought to what the rest of the crew would say.
“You can get off me now,” she said, a smile shaping her words in that special way that he’d recognize through any number of air filters.
I don’t want to, he thought, but then he remembered that she’d been shot, and that maybe he’d been shot as well, and that there was a job to do, even if it did seem like there were other, much more pressing things at hand.