Chapter 5 of The Suicide Mission

Pods. He knew there would be pods, he fucking knew it. Like on the Collector ship, the giant chamber that ran the length of the base was packed with thousands upon thousands of pods and Spirits, oh Spirits, they seemed occupied, they all seemed occupied!

Garrus took a deep breath, pushing down the irrational fear that made his heart tick like a timer on a tactical charge. The chamber was so large and so devoid of anything other than faded fog and huge tubes running in complicated patterns, that they instinctively formed a tight group, walking closer and closer to each other and glancing about like a pack of pyjacks in the middle of klixen hunting grounds.

And the pods, oh Spirits, the pods were lining the walls like mutated cancer cells covering a diseased organ of some immense dying creature, shining their malignant lights, innumerable and sickening on some deep, basic level of pure, fundamental disgust. His stomach threatened to lurch and his spit turned to acid.

“Shepard, you need to see this,” Miranda said. She was the first to separate from the others and venture towards the wall. Others followed. “Looks like one of the missing colonists.”

“There’s more over here,” Mordin said. The group dissolved as everyone went to inspect the pods and Garrus felt exposed and ashamed, lagging behind. When he stepped close enough to see the humans trapped inside, panic started creeping on him. Suddenly his armor became horribly heavy, restricting and alien, and the helmet impossibly small. His eyes caught movement in one of the pods, and he approached it like hypnotized, each breath deeper and more labored. The others followed.

“My God,” Shepard breathed. “She’s still alive!”

Everyone gathered around the pod with a female human, dark-haired and dark-eyed, trapped within and seemingly sleeping. But then as they stared, she awoke to some unspeakable terror and started screaming. Only faint echoes were getting through to them from behind the glass but her white face became contorted in what seemed to be terrible pain.

She was burning. Gruesome chemical burns were spreading over her exposed skin at an unbelievable speed, leaving sizzling holes in raw, red meat, and before anybody could react, whole chunks of skin and muscle started dropping from her.

She was burning! As if somebody suddenly slapped him, Garrus jerked forward and attacked the pod like a desperate, mindless beast, clawing at the glass, kicking it, drumming with his fists but very soon it became clear that it was too late. The human was… consumed in a matter of seconds.

“Get them out of there!” Shepard yelled. “Hurry!”

Everyone moved to obey, but Garrus remained staring at the pod that was now dark and empty save for a sordid, shapeless splutter of blood and bile on the glass. The human had been liquefied and sucked down some invisible drain, the stuff of nightmares of every claustrophobic and finally the urge to breathe freely won over his better judgment. His hands were fumbled with the seals until he managed to divest himself of the helmet and for a second, he just stood breathing in the alien air, smells of chlorine and burned rubber flavored with a faint, sugary scent of decay reminding him of where they were and what they were supposed to do.

Somewhat relieved now that he could sense a breeze on his face, even if it was warm and rancid, he joined the others. Unsurprisingly, Miranda was the first to discover that the glass gave when pushed upwards and now they all worked frantically, the exoskeleton upgrades in their suits buzzing under pressure. One by one, the trapped humans were dropping out, heavy and limp from who knows what kind of sedation. His faculties slowly returning, Garrus recognized several members of the Cerberus crew, and realized that in his frenzy, he had released at least four of them himself. He latched onto the next pod, but it was empty. The next as well. He jogged along the wall, then stared forward. No more pods seemed to be occupied on that side. He turned to find Tali right behind him, scanning upwards with her omni. Why didn’t he think of that?

“That’s all of them,” she said, her voice shaky. She looked at him, or so it seemed, but didn’t comment on his disheveled state. “Let’s go back.”

They had rescued the entire crew and a dozen or so colonists. The others had been processed. That was the word dr Chakwas used. Processed. The notion of being inside the bowels of some horrid monster asserted itself over and over again and Garrus was reminded of it wherever he turned.

Of all the specialists, only Mordin and Grunt seemed unaffected by what they had witnessed. Even Zaeed kept his head down, assembling and disassembling his rifle in a fit of restlessness, and Shepard stood with her elbows squared and took in deliberate, overly even breaths, as if forcing herself to count them out. In rage or disgust? Garrus would have given his right hand to see her face now, alien as its fluid expressions often seemed to him even after years of friendship. Most of which she spent in… absence, but still. He was holding his helmet in hand, not quite ready yet to trust himself and put it back on, and when she turned in his direction, he shrugged to signal that no, he had no idea what the fuck had just happened either.

She shook her head at him, then put a hand up on her earpiece. “Joker?” Her voice was thick with suppressed emotion. “Can you get a fix on our position?”

“Roger that Commander,” Joker replied through the open comm. “All those tubes lead into the control room right above you. The route is blocked by a security door, but there’s another chamber that runs parallel to the one you’re in.”

“Too dangerous,” Mordin said, flashing his omnitool. “Thermal scan suggests seeker swarms. Countermeasure ineffective for so many,” and he indicated the specialists, rather obviously segregated from the rescued crew and colonists. Only Kasumi, Tali and Miranda stood among the helpless humans. Not only were they in no shape to fight, most seemed barely able to stand. They were a liability and Garrus wondered what Shepard would do about it. Returning to the ship with them was out of the question.

But now Samara stepped forward. “Shepard. I might be able to generate a biotic field to keep the swarms at bay. I won’t be able to protect all of us, but I could get a small team through, if they stay close.”

“I could do it too,” said Jack. The usual belligerence was strangely lacking from her tone. “Any biotic could.”

Shepard nodded. “Then the teams stay as they are. We’ll go through the swarms.” She turned to Garrus again. “You’ll provide a diversion by going through the main passage. We’ll open the security door from the other side and meet you there.”

 “Understood, Shepard,” he said, and hearing her name in his own voice sounded strange, dreamy, far removed from the urgency of the situation. Commander. He was supposed to say, Commander. But he couldn’t. He wondered if he’d ever be able to, after… After.

“What about me and the rest of the crew, Shepard?” said Chakwas. “We’re in no shape to fight.”

“Commander?” Joker said through the comm. “We have enough systems back online to do a pick-up, but we need to land back from your position.”

“We can’t afford to go back,” Shepard said, lifting an armored hand to scratch the top of her helmet. Garrus snorted. Of all the useless human gestures he’d been exposed to over the years, this one was the most ridiculous. And yet somehow endearing. He remembered his own helmet, swallowed hard, and put it on. Nothing happened. That was good.

“Kasumi,” Shepard said at last. “You’ll escort the crew back to the Normandy. Joker can use you there.”

Good choice, Garrus nodded. Kasumi took a round in her thigh in the final firefight; high on stims and patched with medigel, she could walk and perhaps even fight, but certainly not at the peak of her ability, and Joker could certainly use her onboard the Normandy.

“Sure,” Kasumi said and moved to rally the crew. They were good men, Garrus decided. Too good to be… processed, even if they were Cerberus people. Nobody deserved the fate of those poor colonists. He shook off the memory of the screams, it was too real, too fresh, like earth overturned for a burial. Come on, Shepard. Let’s get out of here already.

“Tali,” Shepard said, as if she heard his plea. “You’ll go with Garrus in Kasumi’s place. We’ve all got our assignments. Let’s move out.”

As the team left the pod-chamber behind and his armor started feeling comfortably warm again, Garrus huffed for himself. He’d never thought he’d be relieved to march into battle.

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