Dead Space: New Genesis

Jan 19th, 2014
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  1. For a moment, Isaac stalled, caught in a complete stupor. All around him, surrounding him on every side, at every angle, was a continuous sea of red. A blanket of crimson encapsulated his vision, and seemed to permeate every faculty Isaac could offer. Everything cast round about him has blanketed in an undulating ocean of velvet.
  3. After what seemed to be an eternity of gazing at the surreal scene unfolding before him, Isaac snapped back into reality.
  5. Without even thinking for a second, Isaac clenched the switch in his hand, nearly smashing the button in its left side. Suddenly, the curtain of deep red gave way to bright, flashing green light. It sparked in every corner, in every plane of his vision. All around him, the curtain fell and collapsed. It was like the universe itself was being reborn from a red nothingness. Light erupted like fireworks across an evening sky. Nearly deafened by the oscillating clamor surrounding him, Isaac retreated within the USG Falcon, the medium-sized vessel that provided him entrance into the red veil that even now, fell apart at the seams.
  7. That's when he felt it.
  9. Something was emanating from the black obelisk. A deep, low whispering in his head, like he had felt before, but this time, in a different tone of voice altogether. It was coming from the Marker, yes, but it also seemed foreign, as if it was a separate entity within the marker itself. It was from within the marker, but not of it, almost as if its source had been hidden away within. The voice whispered to Isaac in familiar, whispering tongues. “Touch the stone. Take the stone. Touch the stone. Take the stone.” The familiar cries of “make us whole” where no longer Isaac's concern, as he had expunged the evil from him a little more than two years before, but these were new. These seemed to come from someone else, someone, or thing, trapped within the spires of the black marker that towered before him, someone new. Isaac's will was strong, but he did not ignore the new voice. Something deep within him told him what was happening, that this was not the marker's usual malevolent trickery. His conscious failed to grasp it, but his subconscious, forever marked by the cursed influence of the marker, his blessing and his curse, knew exactly what to do. Time stood still as he entered yet another trance. “You know this” his subconscious told him. “You know what to do”. “but I don't know what to do”, Isaac said to himself, barely aware of his own actions. As he stared off into the collapsing sea of crimson, he was almost unaware of the fact that he was using the falcon's tethers to pull in the obelisk. Isaac fought himself in his mind. 'No, what are you doing... the marker, it's dying. I can't save it now... not after all it's done...”. “No... That's not what I'm doing.... I'm not saving it”, he reassured himself. “There's something else.... but what is it?”
  11. Isaac shook his head and awoke from his self-induced limbo. He rushed within the Falcon's cargo bay where the marker now resided. It was cracking, crumbling, tearing itself apart. Isaac had sealed his mind off from its swaying influence, but even now, he could hear it screaming, crying in its death throes. It was dying. All its brothers were dying. Every tether that held it together, all the millions of minions it had stationed below, all the corrupted life that called back to it, seemed to be falling into magnificent shambles, but the voice that urged him to touch the stone called him still, unaffected by the chaos that shrouded it. He had not steeled himself against it, and once more, it took him. He walked forward, hand outstretched, each step taken with utmost deliberation. His conscious mind screamed for control, but was only successful in taking charge of Isaac's voice. He activated his RIGlink simultaneously to Carver and Ellie, both cheering wildly.
  15. “Holy crap, Isaac, are you seeing this? Dude, you've gotta get your ass outta there! That whole thing's gonna take you down with it!”.
  17. Isaac continued to march toward the dying marker, shambling like one of the very abominations that called it parent.
  19. “ISAAC! GET OUT OF THERE! YOU CAN'T DIE ON ME TWICE! PLEASE!”, Ellie cried out in sheer desperation. Twice now, a brethren moon seemed to be collapsing on the love of her life, and she was lucky to see his face once more. She was by no means ready to see him go a second, and certainly final time.
  21. Carver survived a fall from orbit with him, but that didn't guarantee Clarke's luck, and he knew it. “ISAAC! Get outta there NOW! There's no way of knowing if the machine can help you this time! Fire that thing up and get out of there!”.
  23. Closer and closer, Isaac shifted to the cracking twin spires. Upon making physical contact with its runed surface, he uttered but one word:
  25. “Goodbye...”
  27. “ISAAC, NO!”
  29. A flash of light, a shockwave of unknown energy, a rush of unknown current, and the clamor of the world left Isaac. All was quiet. All was calm. There was nothingness. Nothing but a vast expanse of blankness. Isaac looked all around him, but saw, heard, and felt nothing. None of his senses picked up a single anomaly. It seemed as if he had been pulled from any state of existence into this ethereal nothingness. He reached out with his hand and felt nothing. He looked where he had reached, and saw not even his own hand. He spoke, but heard himself not. Time too seemed to no longer apply to his being. Has he been here for days? No, this just happened, this just came to be... or did it? No. There was no telling. A second felt like centuries, years seemed like minutes. Whatever manner of time was passing by had not registered to Isaac in any way. By all means, he was utterly inert. When would this curtain lift itself? When would he see another face or hear another voice? When would he reach out and feel Ellie's hand holding his? When would he see the result of his victory? Was he dead? Comatose? Consumed by the marker?
  31. Isaac feared that he may never know
  33. After what seemed to be either an eternity or a millisecond (the difference seemed indiscernible to Isaac), slowly, but surely, blotches of darkness appeared in Isaac's eyes. The sound of the Falcon's displays once again permeated his ears. He felt the cold floor on his face and under his palm. Almost no energy was left in him, and propping himself back up seemed almost herculean. Isaac shuffled his way to the Falcon's cockpit, his sight returning to him, slowly, but surely in full. Multiple displays along its small corridors rang out with alarm, feverishly displaying warnings concerning the ship's uncertain state, calibrating every circuit and servo as if the ship had just been activated for the first time, running diagnostics and the like.
  35. Isaac fumbled his way into the helmsman's seat and looked out of the transparent steel windshield. Was he going to see Carver and Ellie? Their ship, the USM Vengeance? The remains of the brethren moons? Straining to make use of his still hindered sight, Isaac squinted into the horizon. Small dots of light came into view. Were they more ships? The millions of lights that adorned the cramped cities of earth? No. Stars. Just the stars. Maybe he was facing the wrong way. Maybe if he turned the ship around, he could see the result of his triumph. After checking the displays to see that nothing obstructed his axis, he cranked the ship's wheel to the right. Warning sirens echoed around the vessel, telling a nonexistent crew to fasten all loose objects and hold tight to whatever was within their proximity
  37. Nothing. Nothing still but more stars.
  39. Confused by what he was seeing Isaac tapped into his RIGlink once more. “Ellie? Ellie, come in! Ellie!..... Carver, what's your status? Carver! CARVER!”. Still no answer. “Maybe if I transmit to the Vengeance...”. Hurriedly tapping into the Falcon's comm units, he vainly attempted communication with the EarthGov ship, but to no avail. Looking on the radar, he realized that not a single ship was in range. Not even the long range relays were of use, as he couldn't even connect to them. Isaac started to panic. There's no way he's this lost, no way he's so far from home that even the long range relays couldn't pick up his signal. Was he really out for that long? Remembering his state of limbo, he looked at the clock. No. It had only been over an hour! There's no way he could've gotten this far, not even in shockspace. The farthest he could've gone in an hour, even with shockdrives at full speed, would be approximately a quarter of the way to Andromeda. Was the ship's array busted? Isaac rushed into the comms room, searched every communications receiver, both long and short range, and found nothing wrong. An eerie sense of dread fell on Isaac. Where was he? The comms were just fine, and he could never have just flown so far away as to not be able to make contact with anyone. Making his way back to the cockpit, he thought of every situation in which a lack of communication could occur, but all fell to the power of elimination. Upon sitting back down in the helm, nothing short of pure dumbfoundedness overtook Isaac. . He checked every frequency, but nothing replied to him....
  41. Save for one.
  43. Isaac couldn't recognize it. Whatever was transmitting this frequency was nowhere in the ship's registry. EarthGov, Unitologist fleet, United Mining Ops, CEC fleet, no one. Not a single party on that list shared a transmission signature with whatever was broadcasting this, but that didn't stop Isaac from hatching an idea to make contact. Driven by a desire to get back home, Isaac went back into the comms room. Having remembered which transceiver was receiving the transmission, Isaac opened it up and immediately went to work. Without re-configuring it, the tranceiver could not display any audio output of the incoming transmission, but Isaac had the patterns in the signature recorded, and used it to alter several key components to put an executable cipher on the signature, making it possible for it to relay audio output. It took several minutes, but a few burned fingertips later, and Isaac emerged triumphant. Running full speed into the cockpit, he wondered who exactly these people were. Who would transmit a signal that can only be read or heard by reconfiguring the system? Was it some sort of secret society? A branch of EarthGov spec ops? Unitologist zealots who were evading EarthGov? Isaac readied himself for every possibility and loaded his plasma cutter as he took the transmission receiver in hand. “USG Falcon to unknown vessel, this is Isaac Clarke, Concordance Extraction Company, does anybody copy?" No answer. Two attempts later and Isaac was tempted to give up, when suddenly, a voice popped up from the receiver
  45. “*TRANSMITTING-ENGLISH*. USG Falcon, This is Tali'Zorah vas Normandy aboard the Rayya. What is your status, over.”
  47. Isaac was once again taken by confusion. What kind of ship would be named the "Rayya"? A unitologist ship maybe? No, that name, what was it, Tali' Zorah? It didn't seem to match any cultural background he knew, but then again, he wasn't very well versed in fine culture. He slid the battery of his plasma cutter back and forth within the magwell while he thought of every possible situation. So many times has he cheated death, and he wasn't very keen on losing to it this time. The voice on the receiver interrupted his train of thought.
  49. “Isaac Clarke aboard the USG Falcon, This is Tali'Zorah aboard the Rayya, I say again, what is your status, over?”.
  51. Carefully planning his words Isaac replied: “Rayya, We are unaware of our location, and uncertain if we are trespassing. There is no other crew on board and there is hazardous material in the cargo bay.”
  53. “Understood. However, this vessel is clean and must remain completely uncontaminated. What is the status of your hazardous cargo?”.
  55. Suddenly, horrible thoughts rushed though Isaac's mind. What if they come into contact with the marker shards? What if they contract his madness? No. It's dead. It's gone. There's no way that the marker's influence can spread any further. The brethren moons were gone. Every marker was gone. Before running to the cargo bay, Isaac replied to the question with “Moderate radioactivity. Direct contact with substance is extremely hazardous, but indirect contact is possible".
  57. “We read you, Falcon, but we have little room or use for radioactive material. Your payload will have to be quarantined within your ship. How copy?”.
  59. “Solid copy, Rayya. Permission to dock”.
  61. “USG Falcon, Is your ship sterile?”.
  63. “No, the ship is not biologically clean.”
  65. “Loud and clear, Falcon. Proceed to sterile docking cradle 18”.
  67. "Understood" Isaac replied.
  69. Isaac immediately made a run for the cargo hold. Sprinting as fast as his legs could carry him, his mind was shrouded in horrible, dark thoughts. Thoughts of all the same nightmares coming to haunt him. Thoughts of everything he had fought for unraveling. Everyone dying around him. Everyone he would ever come to hold dear being lost again. Each terrible thought fueled his hurried footsteps until he slammed his hand onto the holo-panel on the cargo bay door. He rushed inside, looking frantically for the markers remains. A few seconds, and his eyes caught what they were looking for. Broken, black pieces of the marker lay strewn about the deck. Most of it seemed to have evaporated or disappeared since he first touched it, since he first came to. Isaac just stood there for a moment, like a deer that had heard a twig snap in the dead of night, watching the pieces. Eyeing them, almost as if they would jump up at him. After several more seconds of this almost instinctual staring, he raced back to the cockpit.
  71. After finding the marker's shambled remains in the cargo bay, Isaac returned to the cockpit, turning his ship in coordination with the radar to see who he was talking to. Looking out of the windshield once more, Isaac was taken aback by the stupendous sight of an entire fleet of ships. Each of them seemingly designed around a massive wheel like structure. There must have been dozens, maybe hundreds of them, all sailing in the same direction, aimed at some unknown destination. Awestruck by their form, Isaac merely leaned back in his seat and took in the sight. He's seen the CEC's fleet on full display for photo ops and christenings, having been on several of them for such occasions, but even the corporations massive, jagged planetcrackers paled in comparison to these sleek, immense, almost alien seeming vessels, flowing through the ether of space like a massive pod of whales, majestic creatures Isaac had only seen in grainy vids and logs from centuries prior to his own birth. For the first time in what seemed like ages, a smile adorned his face, born from sheer, enthralling wonder. Soon enough however, he realized he had no idea which ship the Rayya was. He could spend days, maybe weeks just flying about this incredible fleet. His senses coming back to him, he re-initialized contact with the Rayya. “Rayya, This is Isaac Clarke aboard the USG Falcon. I am unfortunately unaware of which of these vessels is the Rayya. My ships's detection functions are not registering any of your vessels”.
  73. “.. Uhh, understood Falcon. The Rayya is the ship directly in front of your signature, largest ship in the fleet. Docking bays are amidships”.
  75. ______________________
  77. “Tali, are you sure this is a good Idea?” Commander Shepard said as he paced back and forth behind his masked subordinate. “A random singularity pops up within earshot of the migrant fleet and the Normandy, some mid sized vessel slinks out of it before it closes, and we just say hello and offer him a cup of coffee?”.
  79. “Yes.” Tali replied. “No mass relay was activated on his arrival. Whatever got him here had nothing to do with eezo or precision jumping. He's got something of his own making on that ship that lead him here, and whatever that is, the migrant fleet could make great use of it”.
  81. “So, we're just gonna use him? A guy with that kind of ingenuity ought to be treated with a little more respect, don't you think?” said Shepard.
  83. “Not very many outsiders are lauded as heroes around here save for you, Shepard. Whoever this man is, he deserves galaxy-wide credit for whatever he has invented. He may have created a way to bypass the relays, a way to go wherever you want without restriction. Whoever this “Isaac” is, he's about to get really famous. He's just going to get famous on the Migrant Fleet first. Heaven knows we could use whatever help he could offer”.
  85. “Well, you know I've grown to respect the quarians, Tali...” Garrus said, twiddling the bolt of his Mantis rifle. “... But are you sure this guy does? He doesn't even have the fleet on his registry. Not to mention whatever radioactive material he has on board sure won't do anyone any favors should an accident occur, and on these cramped ships, I don't suppose there's much room for accidents”.
  87. “A lot of ships don't have us on their registry, but that says more about the builder than the owner. Besides, whatever waste he has, I'm sure it has something to do with whatever got him here. Just relax. We've been through worse than a small ship with one passenger, should anything get ugly.” An alarm sounded on the docking bay decks. “NOW DOCKING, CRADLE EIGHTEEN”.
  90. Isaac looked at the cradle's identification. There were several odd markings, each of them in different kinds of characters. He didn't recognize a single one of them. It struck him as odd, seeing as how he's never seen any language that used these characters. Just what was he getting himself into? At least the words DOCKING CRADLE 18 were written in English. The docking symbol on the Falcon's status displays went green, and an automated voice notified the ship that boarding was now possible, instructing all CEC personnel to line up in an orderly fashion at the airlock and await further instruction. Isaac braced himself at the entrance, almost reluctant to open the first door into the airlock, but there was no turning back now. As the airlock door opened, multiple situations played out in Isaac's head. Was there a squad of unitologists waiting for him? Not possible. Not a single marker emblem on this, or any ship in the fleet. Still, as the door closed, he couldn't help but be nervous. Who were these people? Why hasn't he ever seen or heard of this fleet before? Surely anyone with this kind of maritime power would make headlines across the charted universe. It started to dawn on Isaac that maybe there's something else at play here, but what was it? A slew of nervous thoughts shot across Isaac's mind as he approached the second door. He activated the holo-panel on its center, and the locks surrounding it began to fall away. It cracked open, streams of white light pouring out from the fissure. Slowly, but surely, the metal doors retreated into the walls, and Isaac stepped out into the light.
  92. Isaac's helmet activated and formed around his face, ethereal trails of blue light emanating from the eye slits. The room was empty. Not a single soul to greet him. This didn't help the feeling of uneasiness that he was already feeling. That was, until another door at the right end of the room opened. They opened swiftly, as if the usual bulkhead doors of a CEC ship were put in fast motion. “Definitely against CEC safety regs...” Isaac thought to himself.
  94. Then, out of those doors, came a sight Isaac wasn't sure he was seeing correctly.
  96. Three figures, humanoid in shape, walked into the room. Each of them were dressed in shades of blue, red, and violet, swirling patterns adorning the cloth. Their faces were veiled in similarly shaded masks, white eyes peering out from their opaque visors. Their figures were slim and lithe, their knees bent at an odd angle, and their necks seemed unduly long. Each of them had two toes on each foot, clothed by a form fitting boot. It was here that Isaac realized that not a single inch of skin was showing on any of these figures. The one in the center carried what seemed to be a rifle, while it's fellows carried similar arms on their backs. It seemed more feminine than the others, as its hips were much more defined, and the chest seemed “fuller”, per se, than its counterparts. It dawned on Isaac that these things were by all means, no one he had met before. Were they even human? It had to be. It couldn't be. Isaac froze as the center figure greeted him in some odd dialect. Not a single reply came from Clarke as the leader attempted to communicate with him yet again. One of her subordinates approached Isaac, hand outstretched, holding a small device. It seemed that he was offering it to him. Unsure of himself, Isaac took it from the three fingered hand. The creature pointed at his wrist, making motions indicating that the device be strapped on. As Isaac did so, panels of bright orange light encapsulated his wrist.
  98. A lexicon of languages appeared on one of its forearm panels, each of them a slew of different characters. Series of esoteric markings, lined row upon row, adorned Isaac's arm. At the bottom of the list Isaac caught the only word out of these symbols that he could make out; “English”. Tapping on the English option, the device, evidently named ”Polaris” and manufactured by “Kassa Fabrications”, asked if he wanted to further configure it, resulting in one of the other subordinates tapping “skip” for him. Isaac had never heard of such a company as “Kassa Fabrication”, but the longer he looked at the device, and to the “people” patiently standing before him, it became more and more apparent that wherever he was, it was nowhere EarthGov or the CEC knew about. The female spoke up once again, this time (seemingly) in clear English. “Well, now that you can understand me, welcome aboard the Rayya, Mr Clarke. I'm Lieutenant Nezala'Verei”.
  100. “I uh....” Isaac stammered out. “... what are ... where.....”. He stretched out his hand towards her, making her recoil slightly. The others put hands on their holsters, but Isaac paid no heed. He was simply too fascinated, too awestruck by what he was seeing. He touched the leader's Red tinted visor, much to her confusion.
  102. “Uhh, sir?” she asked as Isaac continued to probe her suit "... what are you doing, exactly?”. Isaac simply continued to look at her, simply spellbound by her elegant form. He continued to touch the various parts of her suit, including the ornate hood that adorned her head, and the armor plating on her shoulders and forearms. Once his hands reached her hips however, the lieutenant had had enough. “Heh heh.... uhh, that's quite enough sir”, she said as she gingerly brushed Isaac's wandering hands away.
  104. “I... you're not... human, are you?” Isaac said looking her directly into her quicksilver eyes.
  106. “Oh, of course not! You've never seen a Quarian before?”.
  108. Isaac was utterly frozen by her response. “Wh-what... Quarian... I've never...“.
  110. “Heard of Quarians?” she piped up. “That's odd. Not even in news vids on earth?”.
  112. “Ma'am....” one of her subordinates spoke up. “I have a feeling wherever he popped out of wasn't council space”.
  114. “Okay, maybe the terminus systems?”.
  116. “That's not what I meant, ma'am.”
  118. Isaac was dumbstruck once more by this “Quarians” suggestion. “W-what?! Popped out of? What did I pop out of? The hell are the terminus sys.... Wh- what council space, what are you guys talking about?!”
  120. “Hmm, I see. Come with us then, Mr Clarke”.
  122. “Hold on..” Isaac said, doing his best to regain his composure. "Where are we? Andromeda? Crab? Milky Way, where?”
  124. “Uh, Milky Way of course? It's literally impossible to go anywhere near those Galaxies, Mr Clarke”.
  126. “What? You guys don't have shockdrives on these ships?”.
  128. “Shock-what?” Nezala asked. “I've never heard of a 'Shock-Drive'. Is that how you got here?”
  130. “No ma'am. I'm not even sure how that happened yet.” Isaac answered.
  132. "In any case, I've been instructed to direct you to Tali'Zorah and her commander.”
  134. “Tali? Isn't she the one who I was speaking with earlier? Is she another one of you... uh, Quarians?”
  136. “Yes and yes. Follow me, sir”.
  137. __________________
  139. “Tell me Mr. Clarke, do you know of any of the other races? Turian? Salarian? Asari? Drell?”
  141. “N-no! I've never heard of any of those! Just how many races are on this fleet?” Isaac said, completely started by the implications of not just one, but multiple alien races. This is a dream, Isaac thought. There's no way this is anything but a dream. Maybe that's what happened. Maybe I'm just fast asleep, laying in a hospital bed somewhere. Maybe. none of this can eb real, none of it.
  143. Can it?
  145. “Oh, just us Quarians here in the migrant fleet. All of us, as a matter of fact.”
  147. “All of you?” Isaac said with a hint of concern. This “Migrant Fleet” was certainly impressive, but an entire race floating amongst the stars? Surely there had to be major logistical problems, and trying to feed every hungry mouth on these vessels would surely be a problem, to say the least. Heaven knows it was when the CEC sent out a prospecting formation, and that was only a single light planetcracker plus a few scanning vessels and two or three escorts. This was the entirety of the CEC fleet times ten at least.
  149. “Yes, all of us, Mr Clarke. There are more than a few thousand outside of the Flotilla though, living their own lives or on pilgrimage”.
  151. “Ah... anyways, what do i have to know about this “Tali”?”
  153. “She's the daughter of one of the former admirals. Her and her captain have just returned for some sort of mission on their own accord.“
  155. “Admirals? Those are the guys in charge, I assume?”.
  157. “You assume correctly”, Nezala said as they walked about the corridors leading to the main plaza. “Now, when we enter the plaza, Tali and her captain should be waiting for you”
  159. “Yes ma'am”
  161. “Oh, and, promise me something, between the two of us...” Nezala said, arms folded.
  163. "What would that be?”
  165. “Make sure you resist the urge to touch everyone's hips”, she said holding back a laugh.
  167. “Yyyyeah, got it....”, Isaac said sheepishly, as the doors to the plaza opened.
  169. As Isaac stepped into the central plaza, he almost froze in his tracks again. Before him, multitudes of Quarians went about their daily business, mundane to them, but extraordinary in Isaac's eyes. Multiple levels going up and down, dozens of paths and walkways, each of them filled with denizens of this mysterious race. Yet again, this alien spectacle entranced Isaac, who was meandering amongst the crowded throng, He looked at every Quarian who passed him by, so intrigued by their presence alone. Meanwhile, the suited denizens of the Rayya took an odd fascination with Clarke as well, albeit not to the same degree that he took in them. As they went about their daily business, they couldn't help but notice the human, clad in some odd, fuzzy suit, teal light emanating from his mask and spine, wandering seemingly aimlessly around the plaza. Nearly dazed by curiosity and astonishment, Isaac didn't really pay much attention to where he was going, resulting in a collision with a young female Quarian, sending her to the floor
  171. “Oh crap, I'm sorry! I wasn't paying attention, here, lemme help you up.” Isaac sputtered.
  173. “Ugh, no, It's alright. I was in a hurry trying to mee- Oh! It's you”
  175. “Me? Oh, are you Tali? That one I was speaking with on the Falcon? How'd you know it was me?"
  177. “Yes, that would be me. Didn't think there were any other confused looking humans on the ship” Tali said as she brushed herself off. “It's good to finally meet you, Mr. Clarke.”
  179. “You too..... Man, this place is.. it's....
  181. “Cramped? Overcrowded? If that's what you were going to say, I'd agree with you...”
  183. “No, no, it's.... incredible... Tali, where I come from, humanity is alone in the universe. I never thought I'd talk to someone who wasn't human. You have to understand, this is something out of a dream for me... still not sure if that's what it is...”
  185. “'Where you come from', huh? That's... interesting. Anyways, I'd like you to meet someone”.
  187. As they made their way through the multitudes and into an elevator that would take them to the upper levels, Isaac stifled his curious eye long enough to start asking questions
  189. “Who would this 'someone' be? One of your admirals?”
  191. “Oh no, they're for later. For now, I'd like you to meet My captain”
  193. “I figured that the admirals would be the ship captains.”
  195. “Oh no. I live away from the Flotilla most of the time.”
  197. “Okay, so who is this captain of yours? Military?”
  199. “Yes. Well, he used to be Alliance military, but after literally being killed, let's just say he's been discharged. A human military cell, Cerberus brought him back. I'm not a big fan of their organization, or how they attacked us once, but Shepard is a good man. Me and him have been through... a lot together, to say the least. He's saved the galaxy once before, and I've been grateful to serve at his side. I remember how he saved my life when we first met... I don't know what I'd do without him...” Tali's voice started to get more and more light and affectionate, and Isaac could sense it.
  201. “Uhhh, Tali? You alright? You were drifting off for a second. Like I should talk...”
  203. “Oh! Sorry. I just... we... Yeah, keep that little slip up between the two of us, alright?”
  205. The elevator stopped at level 13, their destination. The two stepped out into the room, several other Quarians were present, all surrounding some sort of holographic display. Upon closer inspection, it seemed to be the falcon, still in the docking cradle. A few feet off to the left was the first, and so far only other human on the ship.
  207. “Found him, Shepard. He was sightseeing off in the main plaza.”
  209. “Was he now? Name's Commander Shepard. Good to meet you, Isaac.”
  211. “You too. Anyways, I'd like to... Holy crap.....”
  213. “Yes, Mr Clarke?” Tali asked curtly.
  215. “What is he?” Isaac said, pointing at Garrus. “He looks like he's been through his fair share of trouble...”
  217. “I can hear you, you know.” Garrus responded in his usual, facetious voice. “My fair share of fights, huh? That an insult, or a compliment?”
  219. “I-I dunno... Both I guess? Wow...” Isaac said as he approached the Turian sniper, a hand outstretched.
  221. “You're not touching me.”
  223. “Wha-?”
  225. “Nezala gave us a very detailed report of her little encounter with you. You're not touching me, buddy.”
  227. “Oh... yeah.”
  229. “Sure you're not gonna go for his hips, Mr Clarke?” Tali said, giggling.
  231. “You're a riot, tali.” Shepard said. “Now, Mr Clarke, Nezala told us you were a little hazy coming out of the Falcon. Do you remember how you got here?”
  233. “No. I have no clue. Last thing I remember, I touched the mark- oh no... the Marker...” Isaac paused. He had almost forgotten the remains of the marker. He remembered watching that video-log of Stross back at the sprawl, and how he contracted the same madness as Isaac by just touching a shard of the same red marker. The last thing he wanted was to spread that madness to an entire race. He had to do something fast.
  235. “Is everything okay, Mr Clarke?” Shepard asked.
  237. “No, no it's not okay. Was anyone sent to the Falcon? Anyone at all? Guards or quarantine crew or anything?"
  239. “No sir, but we were about to have a team of mechanics join you and Shepard's crew to examine your means of travel” said one of the Quarians at the holo-display.
  241. “Don't send anyone in there. Not yet. I've gotta check something. Badly.”
  243. “Has it anything to do with that radioactive material you mentioned earlier?”
  245. “It has everything to do with that.”
  247. Isaac rushed back to the docking bay, Tali, Shepard and Garrus following suit. Dodging and weaving through the immense crowds, Isaac had but one thing on his mind. Get to the Falcon. Get to the falcon. He rushed by a Quarian holding several packages, knocking him over. No time to say sorry. Got to keep moving. Dropping a package full of computer software is much better than seeing symbols on the walls and visions of the dead. Got to keep moving. Soon enough, he found himself at docking cradle 18. Nezala and her companions were guarding the entrance.
  250. “Ah, we were expecting you, Mr Clarke. You and the engineering team here?”
  252. “No, just me, Tali, Shepard, and that one, uh...”
  254. “Turian?”
  256. “Yeah, the Turian guy.”
  258. “You know, we're right behind you, I can hear everything you're saying”
  260. “Let me in. Me only. It's urgent.”
  262. “Why can't we come along, Mr Clarke?” asked Shepard, arms folded with a furrowed brow.
  264. “Believe me. It's for your own good.” Said Isaac as he entered the falcon and Locked the door behind him.
  266. Opening the cargo bay doors, Isaac once again saw what was left of the black marker. Shards and large pieces of it still lay scattered about the deck. He remembered the warm, trembling feeling he got when reading marker-scrawl, yet as he approached the marker's remains, he didn't feel it in the least. With a trembling hand he reluctantly reached for a shard. He held it in his hands, closed his eyes and tried to detect any signs of the energy that once resided in it, yet felt nothing. No ringing in his ears, no voices, no symbols. Nothing.
  268. It was unbelievable. Twice now the marker threat seemed over. Twice now has he stood seemingly triumphant. Could it really be over? Wherever this was, could there be other markers? No. That was over. It had to be. The greatest marker of them all lay in ruins before his very eyes. A shard of it lay in Isaac's hand, no maddening signal radiating from it. It was over. It had to be over.
  270. Isaac made his way back to the airlock, but not before hearing chatter in the cockpit coming from the comms receiver. “Mr Clarke!. We know you're in there! What have you got in that ship? Answer now or we will enter by force!”
  272. Hurriedly opening the airlock doors, he was immediately greeted by Shepard, Nezala, and all their respective compatriots, each of them with firearms out and pointed to the door. Isaac could do nothing but raise his arms in submission.
  274. “You have seconds to tell us what you're hiding in there, Clarke.” Garrus said in a low, growling voice.
  276. “Settle down, Garrus.” Shepard said as he motioned the team to lower their weapons, Nezala following suit. “Now, what was all that about? You mentioned a 'Marker'. Just what is so important about it that you had to run away full speed through a crowd of Quarians to check on it?”
  278. “Not to mention knocking over poor Veetor”, Tali piped up. “He's now terrified of some 'Hairy, blue eyed monster' that apparently knocked the wind out of him.”
  280. “Okay, look...” Isaac said, worriedly stepping forward. “It should be safe now, but if you go to the cargo hold, Don't. Touch. Anything. I really can't stress that enough.“
  282. “Right.” Tali said. “You said something about radioactivity before.”
  284. “I was lying. It has nothing to do with radioactivity. It's mimetic. Any direct contact with the contents of that hold would have had extremely bad effects on the mind. There's no signal coming from them however, so I guarantee that indirect contact is safe” Isaac said, opening the second door of the airlock. He was lying when he said guarantee, but what else could he say to make sure he didn't get a bullet in his head? At this point he wasn't sure if he was saving himself, or digging his own grave.
  286. “Why did you lie before?” Tali said as everyone climbed into the Falcon. “We have no immune systems, Isaac. If there's anything virile on this ship, the results would be catastrophic!”
  288. “I'm sorry I lied, but I had to be careful. There's a long, horrible story behind what's in that hold, and it's not something you wanna divulge to a large, and presumably armed fleet. I just panicked, okay? I didn't want people freaking out until they were all up to speed. You have to realize, there's no easy way to break something like this, especially if the only guys you can break it to are the ones rescuing you from deep space.”
  290. “So, the hold is full of some sort of material that turns people's minds inside out... bit of a step-up from seizing a red sand shipment isn't it, Shepard?” Garrus said as they entered the ship.
  292. “Excuse us!” a voiced chimed from the hall. “aren't we invited?”
  294. “Oh, the engineering team!” Tali replied. “Isaac, these were the people you were going to give a tour of the ship. Are you sure everything's safe?”
  296. “Long as they stay away from the hold, they're golden. What exactly are they expecting to find?” as he stepped past the second door, the others following suit
  298. “Oh, it's not just that, It's what we found out about you!” one of them said excitedly, bringing up a holo-display with his omni-tool. “Mr Clarke, you said before to the lieutenant that you have no idea how you got here, but we just found out how! Well, partly, that is.”
  300. Now more than ever, Isaac needed answers, and those words sounded like music to his ears. “Alright, you have my attention.”
  302. “About an hour before we established contact with you, some sort of singularity popped up near flotilla space” Said the team leader
  304. "A what?! No no no, all i did was-"
  306. "Are you saying your ship can generate singula-!?"
  308. "No! I didn't do anything, I just touched the... nevermind. Just continue, I'm just trying to put two and two together." All sorts of horrible possibilities flashed into Isaac's head. A Singularity? How did the marker do that? How did it get him here? How does that even happen? Amidst all the inquiries popping up in his head, Isaac had to focus. Now was not the time for questions. he already had plenty, and right now, he needed the answers.
  310. "Okay, anyways, our physicists were called up right when it opened. Literally every ship had at least some portions of its ladar array pointed at you. When you popped out, everyone practically threw a fit. I mean, military officials were wondering whether or not to open fire on you, some suggested the whole fleet FTL out of there, like, that second before 'something worse' pops out. That was for like a good twenty minutes before people started calming down a little. it was Tali's idea to try and make contact with you, so after a day of just watching you, all the physicists aboard each ship correlated their findings, or, y'know, what little they could find in a day."
  312. Isaac's mind was really starting to race. He'd been out a day? Impossible, the clock only said an hour... or maybe twenty four hours. Realizing he was drifting off again, he continued listening.
  314. "Basically, they scanned your ship non-stop, and tried to see if there was anything behind it. We tried peering into the singularity, and for a few moments before it closed, we picked up a TON of stuff behind you, then things went REALLY crazy when our ships' nav systems tried telling us we were close to earth. We forgot our ladars were pointed inside the singularity, and they thought, because of the coordinates inside, that we were in sol space. Wherever you were, our ladar was not only able to pick it up, but it mistook it for actual coordinates and tried telling us we were somewhere else in our own plane. Isaac, wherever you came from, it's an alternate reality! That's where you're from! I mean, I have no idea how you got here, and our guys are still trying to figure it out but... hey are you okay?"
  316. Isaac just stood there for a moment, replaying those words in his head over and over. You're from another reality. You're not just several light years from home. You're from another reality. You will never see Ellie again. You're from another reality. You will never live a normal life again. You're from another reality. On and on, it repeated itself, as if Isaac simply couldn't comprehend it, yet he understood it perfectly. Bit by bit, it sunk in like a blade to flesh, and the implications that this revelation insinuated shook Isaac to his core. He sat down in the helmsman's seat again, hands on the interface, all while remaining absolutely silent. Everything was silent for what felt like an eternity. Concerned about the now shaking man at the helm, the leader of the engineering team spoke up again, trying to wake Isaac from his seemingly catatonic state.
  318. “Mr. Clarke, are you okay?”
  320. “Rizea, I don't think it was a good idea to-”
  322. “Shut up.” Isaac said, still gripping the edge of the pilot's console. “Everyone just shut up.”
  324. “Mr Clarke....” Shepard said, trying to see if he could get the trembling engineer to calm down.
  326. “I SAID SHUT UP!” Isaac roared at the top of his lungs and standing up from his seat. Isaac couldn't stand the sight of anyone near him, at least for the moment. “Everyone, just get the hell away from me. “
  328. “Mr Clarke-”
  330. “GO.”
  332. As they stepped off the threshold of the Falcon, Shepard and his crew seemed at a loss as to what they should do next. Thanks to a loose-lipped quarian team, their first contact from another reality has locked himself up in his ship, fighting with his own mind, trying to wrap his head around the situation. Heaven knew just how long he was planning on staying sealed up in there.
  334. “That went well.” Garrus said as they exited the docking hall. “'From another reality'. I have to admit, that kind of news would make my afternoon a lot more exciting.”
  336. “Regardless, he's going to need some time to recover from that little revelation. Keelah, I know I'd need some time after being told something like that.”. Tali said before turning to the engineering team. “I mean, If I were to, say, share some important, unseen technology that could prove invaluable to the fleet and perhaps the galaxy, something like that would definitely make me call for some time out...” she said, not without a hint of sarcastic venom in her voice.
  338. “Oh, come on, we were excited!” Said the team leader, Rizea. “Someone just came out of a singularity that led to another plane! You think we wouldn't want to know what he has in store? He mentioned something called a “shockdrive” when Nezala told him it was 'Impossible' to go to other galaxies! No one knows what a shockdrive is save for him, but the implications sound utterly groundbreaking! Going to other galaxies?! Think about it, Tali! There could be entire libraries worth of technical knowledge he has in store, and the entire galaxy could very well be all the better for it!”
  340. “Indeed it would”. Said Shepard. “So why would you give life-altering news to the person who could give us that technology right before he does so?”
  342. “Look, we just got a little excited, okay? I'm sorry, but, it was all I could think about....”
  344. “And now, it's the only thing he's going to think about”, Garrus said, slumping against a corner. “So what's the plan, Shepard? See if we can coax our visitor out and give him a little pep talk, or let him sort things out?”
  346. “I think I know someone who's great with pep-talks.” Shepard said.
  348. Back on the Normandy, yeoman Chambers was working as usual, sorting out the psyche profiles of the crew when Shepard and the team returned.
  350. “So that ship had an occupant, I hear.” Kelly said as she typed away at her console. “Human too. Was he responsive at all?”
  352. “Indeed he was....” Garrus quipped, heading back to the forward batteries.
  354. “I assume that means he was hostile”
  356. “Only when he's given life-changing news.” Shepard said. “I think he might need your help, Kelly.”
  358. “Life-changing? Where was that wormhole coming from? How far could he possibly be from home?”
  360. “An entire universe and/or time period.”
  362. “Oh my....”
  364. “Needless to say, he's still very shaken up about it. Think you can help him out?”
  366. “I'll do my best”
  368. “Knew I could count on you, Kelly.”
  369. ___________________
  371. All was quiet aboard the Falcon. The occasional noise from a scanning display or notification was the only thing breaking the unwavering silence on board. Isaac could only sit and watch the cosmos drift past him, as hundreds of ships, great and small, followed each other in a great trail of steel and blue flame. To anyone else, it was a graceful sight that would leave one in a state of unequaled wonder. To Isaac, it was nothing more than an ineffective placebo for the despair in his heart. As time passed, he could only keep repeating the same terrible things in his head. You'll never see Ellie again. You'll never see earth again. You'll never have your life back. Isaac tried prying himself away from these thoughts, but the only thoughts that could replace them filled him with yet more rue. Why did this have to happen to him? Why did any of this have to happen? Why did he urge Nicole to go on the Ishimura? Yes, it was great when you were stationed there, but why did you try peddling it to her? Even if it was being decommissioned in a year. Still, why did any of this have to happen? If only he had known. If only he could have just chose to propose then and there. He never would have had to crawl through the bloody remains of a once great ship, searching for his loved one who had already died before he could save her. He wouldn't have been tortured by the government for the secrets given to him by a spire of maddening red. He never would have lost a part of his soul on that forsaken colony known as The Sprawl.
  373. He never would have been this broken.
  375. And of course, he never would be here, stranded in another universe forever.
  377. Completely overtaken with hopelessness, Isaac put his hands to his head. What was he going to do? He had nothing and no one here. All he had to himself was this banged up prospecting vessel, the remains of the marker, the RIG on his back, and the plasma cutter that lay on the interface panel. He had nowhere to go. Should he stay with the quarians? For a second, he felt that may be the best option. Humanity has done him no good all his life, be it his mother sabotaging his future for a vested membership in a religion that would try to kill him later in life, or a government that interred him in a padded room, forcing him to create a monstrosity that took millions of lives as well as Isaac's sanity before crawling back to him asking for help. There was no guarantee that the quarians would be any better, but it was a start.
  379. Just then, a voice crackled on the comm receiver. “Isaac? Are you in there? If you hear me, could you unlock the doors? I'd like to have a word with you.”
  381. “Who is this? I really don't feel like talking to anyone right now...”
  383. “Someone you haven't met yet. I hear you've had a rough day.”
  385. “And I guess you're here to help me with that?”
  387. “You bet.”
  389. After a minute or two of silence, Isaac yielded. “Fine, but I don't know what good it'll do.”
  391. Shepard sat at the desk at his quarters, twiddling with some of the models in the display case that adorned it before checking the clock. Two hours. It had been two hours since Kelly left for the Falcon. Two hours of random, unneeded checks on the ships systems, browsing the extranet, feeding the fish, and of course, fiddling with toy ships. Right as Shepard stood up to put his armor back on, Joker's voice came up on the intercom.
  393. “Commander, Yeoman Chambers is back.“
  395. “Any say on whether she was successful or not?”
  397. “What, with the depressed, hip-obsessed wonder? Hell if I know, she didn't tell me anything.”
  399. “That'll be all, Joker.”
  401. “aye-aye”
  403. Kelly was already back at her station when the commander came in through the elevator doors.
  405. “So, how'd it go?”
  407. “Well, let's just say he's had a few hard knocks. I can't really go over all the details in five minutes, but he's seen some really terrible things. As long as he's not embellishing anything, or, heck, even if he is, I'm surprised he can even articulate, let alone go over details like he does. In an hour and a half, he bared half his soul to me. I'm not sure if I want to see the rest, given what he's already told me.”
  409. "So he's been through traumatic experiences before. Has he suffered any disorders as a result?”
  411. “PTSD is almost a certainty. When I looked into his eyes, I saw a broken man. A man who's seen too much. Maybe more than you. When I asked him what he saw, he was very evasive. In the end, he just flat out told me not to ask anymore. What got to me most though, was how emotionless he was about it the whole time. The entire hour and a half, he just wore this bleak, deadpan expression. You could practically feel just how torn apart he is inside.”
  413. “So he's seen bad things. You couldn't pry any details? If he got PTSD from being in too many skirmishes...”
  415. “No, he's not a soldier. He only told me something about these 'necromorphs'. Something about dead bodies re-animating, Kind of reminiscent of husks if you ask me. He only got so far before he just stopped and asked that we drop the subject. I asked about his cargo, but all he said was that it had something to do with the necromorphs. I tried to dig a little further into these things, but that's when he asked me to stop.”
  417. “That sounds bad. Is he at least willing to cooperate with us?”
  419. “In a way. He's expressed his distress at his situation, but he also said it might be 'A new beginning' for him. It may take some time, but I think he might grow to like it here, given someone lets him feel welcome. The quarians have expressed some interest in having him around. Surprising, given their own situation.”
  421. “Did he say anything about his tech?”
  423. “Well, I never asked. I was just there to see if I could help him out of the rut he was in, remember?
  425. “Very well. Carry on.”
  427. “I'll be here if you need me, Shepard”.
  429. With that, Shepard rounded up Tali and Garrus once more. Their destination: The Falcon. Needless to say, Garrus was more than cynical about holding council with Isaac.
  431. “Just tell him not to touch me.” Garrus said as they exited the Normandy. “Also, see if he's interested in learning my name rather than going ooo and aaa at the weird mouthed, alien thingy”.
  433. “That's quite enough, Garrus. Let's just see if he's willing to talk with the rest of us”
  435. Turns out that Isaac got a lot more receptive in the hour or so after Kelly took her leave. The airlock door was open, and a small crowd of a dozen or so quarian scientists, engineers, and even commoners were walking into the Falcon. Several armed guards kept a multitude of commoners at bay.
  437. “Glad to see he's had a change of heart...” said Garrus.
  439. “Let's just hope he extends that same hospitality to the same people who held him at gunpoint.” said Tali. “Speaking of that little incident, wasn't it all about something dangerous in the cargo hold? You'd think after bum-rushing into the ship to make sure it's safe, he's be a bit less willing to let about a dozen people in the ship.”
  441. “Apparently, he's either convinced it's safe, or he's made sure no one's getting in there.” said Garrus. “No way he's able to supervise a group that big on his own unless he's enlisted Nezala in helping him out in that regard. I remember c-sec had us rooks doing that kind of monotonous crap all the time. Nothing like the smell of a few dozen Elcor tourists...”
  443. “Well let's see what kind of open house Mr Clarke is hosting. Maybe the Normandy can benefit from whatever tech he has on board.“
  445. “And that's when I get to tinker around with said tech, right?”
  447. “Maybe he'll have snacks”
  449. “Real cute, you two. Let's just head inside.”
  451. Stepping foot into the ship, Shepard found Isaac giving a tutorial on the Falcon's controls and monitoring systems. It appeared that the vessel was primarily piloted by one man, with the optional assistance of a co-pilot. The ship was divided into two main sections, namely one for the mining equipment and operations (Which included the cargo bay), and the other for logistics, research/sample analysis, and crew's quarters. Each of part of the ship was monitored from the quarterdeck, which sat above and behind the cockpit. Before Isaac and his company could proceed to the quarterdeck however, Isaac realized there was some uninvited company on board.
  453. “And this is the entrance to th-... wait, Nezala, how'd they get into the ship?”
  455. “Well, you left the door open. “ said Garrus.
  457. “You're saying we're not invited?” Shepard said folding his arms.
  459. “Hmph... Alright, you're fine, I guess. Just stay with the group.” Isaac said begrudgingly. “Also, I'm gonna tell you the same thing I told everyone else. Stay away from the cargo bay at all times. I've already got the rest of Nezala's guards at the entrance.”
  461. “Duly noted Mr Clarke. Carry on.”
  463. “Yeah...”
  465. Stepping into the quarterdeck, Isaac gave a quick overview of the various parts of the ship at the monitoring station. From there, one could see surveillance feeds from the crew's quarters, as well as the small mess hall, medbay, etc.. Oxygen levels and airtight integrity were also shown on status indicators under each holo-monitor. Each of them was on and functional save for one.
  467. “Which one is that?” one of the quarians asked, pointing to the empty, frame-like projector.
  469. “That's the cargo bay. It's off for a reason.”
  471. “Oh. What's in there?“ The young quarian asked. “I mean, if it's dangerous, I don't wanna-”
  473. “I'll say again that's it's off limits for a reason, ma'am.” Isaac said, interrupting her.
  475. “Oh.... okay.”
  477. The captain's quarters was part of the quarterdeck, sectioned off from the monitoring station by a single door. It wasn't exactly the most lavish living quarters a ship could have, but the bottom line was that it gave the captain of the ship somewhere to lay their head come the end of his/her shift.
  479. “So, yeah. Captain's quarters. Not much else to see here unless someone's especially tired.” Isaac said, putting a hand on the rough bed. It was sizable to some degree, but for the most part seemed to be a medium quality mattress slapped on top of an over-glorified cot that folded into the wall.
  481. “Were you the captain, Mr Clarke?” asked another quarian.
  483. “Huh? No, I just kind of commandeered it when things got really rough. It all happened a little bit before I got here. I'm not very comfortable with divulging the details, but let's just say he and the crew were not present when I arrived on board. There were lives on the line, so I did what I could with what I had on hand, and the Falcon was just there. Let's just say that she came in handy with what would happen next.”
  485. “And exactly what did happen next?”
  487. Isaac paused. He already divulged more than he was comfortable with when he spoke with Kelly, and he hadn't even told her half the story. Now he was in front of a group of about fifteen people. He had to think of an alibi, and he needed it yesterday. In his desperation, Isaac lied. “I dunno. I'm really hazy on the details. I think it was a couple minutes before the singularity opened.”
  489. “Well, while this is all very interesting...” said one of the quarian scientists, leaning on the bulkhead. “... I assumed you had some unseen technology to show us.”
  491. “Oh right. You guys are gonna love this. Follow me. We're heading to the engine room.”
  493. The engine room was situated astern of the cargo bay, which was circumvented on either side by a corridor leading from the general mining ops compartments on the port side, and the crew's quarters/logistics on the starboard side. The crew's quarters was situated astern from the monitoring station which it was separated from by a single wall/door. Cutting through to the logistics side, the group made its way through the long corridor to the engine room, coming across several doors on their way, including the Geological analysis lab, Mining Equipment/Mining Ops control, Cargo Logistics, and finally, Cargo bay, which, true to Isaac's word, was guarded by two of Nezala's men.
  495. “Alright everyone, this is where the magic happens, at least the kind of magic you guys would be most interested in.” Isaac said as he introduced the group to the dark, dank, dirty mess of wire, piping, and turbines that was the engine room.
  497. Most wouldn't consider such a greasy, sooty place to be a prime tour location, but to a dozen or so tech-savvy quarians, it was a smorgasbord of technological wonder. Suddenly, a flurry of questions erupted from the entire party, almost all at once as they dispersed to familiarize themselves with the alien equipment and gadgets. Nezala herself was almost tempted to join them. A trio of them huddled around the waypoint computers, asking about the multiple coordinates that showed up on screen. Several more asked about which pipes supplied what compartments. Others rummaged around the storage compartments, examining the spare parts and apparatuses. Yet more were asking twenty questions about the odd, glowing machine that lay directly in front of the main engine.....
  499. “Oh, that? Oh man, you're all gonna go nuts over this. Everyone, gather round!” Isaac said, resulting in the entire quarian party, Shepard and his team in tow, huddling around the odd, blue machine. Tali, completely overtaken by curiosity, shoved her way through to get a front row seat. Even among quarians she was gifted with anything artificial, and hanging back with Shepard and Garrus wasn't as exciting as getting a first look at technology from another reality.
  501. “Now, Nezala tells me you guys can't really get that far from the galaxy...”
  503. “Actually Mr Clarke...” Tali said, correcting Isaac. “No known ship can leave the galaxy. There are Mass relays which can take you to other relays across the galaxy via precision jump, but without their assistance, a ship can only go around the local systems on its own supply of fuel”
  505. “Relays, huh...?” Isaac said as he turned back to the machine. “... Only able to take you to other relays, huh?”
  507. “Yes. And once you've reached the other relay, you run on your own fuel from there. As such your range is limited to two or three adjacent systems, depending on distance. The relays don't require you to use any fuel, given the fact that they carry you by opening a pathway through space, a corridor to another relay”
  509. “Well, that's interesting because this little beauty is called a shockpoint drive.... and it does exactly that, only instead of having to link to another relay or whatever, all you have to do is set the coordinates, and you're there.”
  511. The group's reaction was predictable, to say the least.
  513. There were only 17 people on board, Including Shepard and his team, but nonetheless, the clamor within the Falcon was deafening. Some were nearly screaming with excitement, others asking volleys of questions in an incoherent frenzy of inquiry. Shepard himself found it hard to ignore just how revolutionary this revelation was as he tried in vain to get his questions through to a fully surrounded Isaac. Tali begged to stay on board afterwords so she can look it over, maybe even cook up her own blueprints. It seemed that Garrus was the only one who remained silent, as he was more off-put by this sudden upheaval than he was fascinated by the new tech, though even he had to admit, the prospect of completely free travel was more than intriguing.
  515. "Hey! Guys, settle down, one at a- HEY! EVERYONE SETTLE DOWN!” Isaac yelled, trying to instill some sense of order into the unruly crowd. “Look, I know this is very exciting for everyone-”
  517. “Exciting?!” Rizea exclaimed. “EXCITING?!! Isaac, this is INCREDIBLE! Do you have ANY Idea what this means?! There's only so many relays that only go to so many locations, but now there's nowhere one can't go! The relays may span the galaxy, but one can only get so far from there! We can go anywhere thanks to you, Isaac! ANYWHERE!” As Rizea continued to express her elation, others joined in, and soon the engine room once again rang with the sound of frantic and overjoyed voices.
  519. Loud as the din in the engine room was however, things were about to get much, much louder.
  521. The entire ship rocked as a shockwave toppled nearly everyone to the floor, accompanied by a deafening blast. Panic ensued as the Falcon rocked to and fro. An automated voice blared over the intercom:
  525. “Great.” Isaac said with baited breath. "We've lost our docking connection to the Rayya. We're floating in open space!”
  527. Moments later, Shepard receives a transmission from Joker. “Commander, the fleet is under attack! Batarian slavers. Evidently they overheard talk about some human popping out of a wormhole. Said they want him and his ship, no other conditions.”
  529. “Must have been them that fired that warning shot. Where'd they hit?"
  531. “Rayya's hull. Her shields kept her undamaged, but the batarians are packing serious heat.”
  533. “Wait, what? How the hell did they hear about me? I haven't been here more than a day. and so far the only people who know about me are the qu-”
  535. “News gets around fast, Mr Clarke. Especially if it involves interdimnensional visitors.” said one of the quarians, bracing herself onto some of the piping. “We did hold off on it for a while, but we eventually decided to let word get out of your arrival after we decided that we'd let visitors to the fleet hold audience with you after a day or two.”
  537. “Well, evidently, these slavers were in the neighborhood.” Said Garrus while loading his Mantis. “We're in the Armstrong nebula right now, and there's are a few problems concerning pirates around here in recent months, even after the Skyllian Blitz. Shepard, what's the plan?”
  539. Before Shepard could reply, Isaac decided that whoever these “batarians” were, they'd have to go through hell and back to even lay a finger on him, especially given how much he's already had to deal with. The Markers, the necromorphs, the Brethren Moons, A new universe, and now, a small flight of rogue aliens who want him and his ship? No. That's not happening, Isaac thought to himself. Not in a million years.
  541. “I'll tell you what the plan is.” Isaac said, Loading his plasma cutter. “These 'batarians' want my ship? They're gonna have to fight me for it. Everyone come with me. This may be a mining vessel, but she has some tricks up her sleeve.”
  543. “Isaac, no! This is suicide!” Tali exclaimed, “This ship is unarmed! How do you possibly plan on fighting an entire flight of slavers?”
  545. “Just follow me to the cockpit. I noticed we're passing by an asteroid belt, just off the keel of the ship. Believe me when I say that's all we need.”
  547. Isaac took the controls of the Falcon. Hands clenched tightly around the joysticks. “Alright, I need someone to head over to the mining ops room. There's working comms in there that we can use for direct communication.”
  549. “I volunteer” said Nezala. “Just hold on though, I have a better idea than using rusty comms. You still have that Omni-tool my associate gave you?”
  551. “Yeah, why?”
  553. “Turn it on. I've already got mine connected with yours. When you need to speak to me, just use it.”
  555. “Alright then.” Isaac said as the orange light cast itself around his wrist again, notifying synchronization with all nearby omni-tools. “Once you're in mining ops, contact me, and hold onto something. This is gonna get rough fast.”
  557. “Clarke, you're not seriously planning on flying into that asteroid belt, are you?” Shepard asked, heavy pistol in hand as he and Garrus took charge of the remaining civilians.
  559. “No. Even better. Just hang on...”
  561. “Okay Isaac, I'm in mining ops. What's next?” said Nezala.
  563. “Hang onto something. We're going in.”
  565. Isaac jammed the throttle downwards, sending the ship accelerating towards the asteroid field. The quarian civilians held on to each other for dear life as the Falcon screamed towards the wandering chunks of rock and metal. Blips appeared in the ship's radar. Five medium sized ships, four other smaller vessels escorting. These batarians were hot on Isaac's trail.
  567. “Still with us, Nezala?”
  569. “Yes, but I can tell you've put your foot on the gas. What's next?”
  571. “You should be seeing a terminal in there at the front of the room in its own enclosure. I've already hit the greenlight, so all you have to do is press “confirm” when I give you the signal.”
  573. “What's it going to do?”
  575. “You'll see”
  577. Isaac took the Falcon closer and closer to the asteroids, adjusting the ship's pitch until it was level with the field, screaming at over twelve hundred miles an hour only a hundred or so meters above the belt
  579. “Clarke, you're insane!” Garrus said as they edged closer to the asteroids. “Hit one of those, and we're all history! And let's not forget the fighters on our tail!”
  581. “I know what to do with the asteroids, don't you worry. The fighters might be a problem, but it's nothing we can't handle. This thing has several asteroid defense cannons, and one of them sits right behind the quarterdeck. Head back to the monitoring station. There should be a hatch next to the one that leads to the crew's quarters. Climb the ladder, hit the manual override switch on the seat and see if you can hold them off.”
  583. “Since when did you command my crew?” Shepard said while still holding on to the guard rails behind Isaac.
  585. “Since I'm about to save our skins. Garrus, head to the ADS cannon.”
  587. “If it helps...” said Garrus as he rushed towards the quarterdeck.
  589. “Okay, ready Nezala? This is where it gets hairy”
  591. Nezala hovered over the interface of the mining ops console. In bold, red letters, it revealed the ship's proximity to the asteroids, as well as a holo-display of what seemed to be some sort of apparatus underneath the ship. Right underneath it, a flashing “EXECUTE?” command appeared in white.
  593. “Waiting on your signal Isaac! We're really close to those asteroids....”
  595. “Alright...... NOW!”
  597. Nezala pressed the flashing command button, making the whole ship vibrate as six arms extended out from the bottom of the ship to rest themselves at its sides. Immediately, they exuded beams of blue light that extended into the asteroids, which in turn seemed to be attracting towards the ship as the beams made contact.
  599. “Isaac, that isn't really what I think it is....” Tali said
  601. “Okay, Nezala, it should say “freeze operation” on the console. Hit it.”
  603. As she did so, the asteroids that were seemingly climbing up the blue “rope” extending from the arm system froze in place. Seeing this on the notification panel, Isaac pulled directly towards his foes. The enemy fighters had just come within range, and Garrus was doing his best to keep them at bay. Several shots hit their mark, and the ships' hull groaned in protest. An automated voice notified Garrus of the hull integrity, which had fallen to seventy-eight percent. Not letting the readings discourage him, Garrus aimed the rusted turret towards the approaching fighters, sending a constant barrage of fire their way. Two of them were destroyed immediately, blasting into minute pieces as each projectile, capable of dismantling an asteroid, slammed into their hulls.
  605. “Alright, two down, two more more to go. Looks like they weren't expecting armed resistance." Garrus said as he opened fire on another fighter approaching starboard. "How are we doing in the cockpit? I see we've taken a little turn from the asteroids. Did we get hit earlier? I felt the ship shake for a bit.”
  607. “Nope. Party's just getting started.”
  609. The Falcon continued to speed right at the enemy, six strings of asteroids in tow. The slavers were now looking at a strange vessel towing asteroids at its sides, coming in fast. Very, very fast. It didn't take much time for them to realize just what Isaac was doing, and the medium sized cruisers were starting to take evasive maneuvers, steering to the sides, trying to get out of range of the Falcon's new-found weaponry. Their situation was deteriorating fast, and they knew it. Garrus had already shot down nearly all of their fighters, as only one, burning fighter remained, trying to evade the ADS cannon's volleys. Whatever maneuvers they could take were too little too late, as Isaac and the Falcon sped at them much faster that their yaw could adjust. The Falcon's occupants huddled close to each other, looking at the batarian ships that even now seemed to be coming closer by the second.
  611. “EVERYONE HOLD ON!” Isaac shouted as the notification monitor warned him of his proximity to the batarian vessels.
  613. Flying at almost five thousand miles an hour, no less than one hundred and twenty asteroids, towed in lines in excess of one hundred meters, smashed into the hulls of the five cruisers. One of the larger asteroids struck the cruiser farthest to starboard, ripping it in half instantly. Another cruiser was hit in the side, smashing its starboard hull and sending it careening into the cruiser just port of it, which had already lost both its engines to the asteroids. The last cruiser suffered full on frontal collision, exacerbated tenfold by repeated impacts from several dozen asteroids, tearing it apart like cloth on a bed of razors.
  615. Seven minutes later, five light cruisers and four fighters floated in ruins near the migrant fleet. It had been no more than twenty minutes since they fired the warning shot at the Rayya. Not a single survivor made it out of that flight to tell the tale.
  618. The Falcon circled around back to the flotilla, asteroid cargo absent from the mechanical arms that began to fold back underneath the ship.. As it made its way back to the docking cradles, the occupants finally let go of their respective moors, be it a guard rail, wall piping, or even another quarian. Garrus made his way back to the cockpit, dazed after the shootout. Nezala returned from mining ops. Still wondering what in high heaven she just helped Isaac just pull off.
  620. “Okay... Okay, I think that's all of 'em... Everyone all right?” Isaac called out, as the battle weary party got back on their feet.
  622. “Isaac... that was some of the craziest shit I've seen in years.” said Shepard as he caught his breath. “Has anyone ever told you you're completely insane?”.
  624. “Several times. You don't need to tell me twice....”
  626. “Well, don't blame us if we do.” said Garrus.
  628. “Say, Isaac...” said Tali. “Have any of us seen your face yet?”
  630. “Aside for that Chambers girl you guys sent over earlier, no.”
  632. “Can we see it?”
  634. “Huh? Yeah, sure. We're not aboard the Rayya anymore.”
  636. The sectioned helmet hissed compressed air as it separated its fore and aft plates. Bit by bit, in a matter of seconds, Isaac's helmet disassembled itself. Plate latched under and over plate as it descended in a perfect symphony of clockwork, until finally, two halves retreated inside the console on Isaac's chest, as well as the top of his RIG's spine, revealing a haggard, unshaven man with dark circles under his eyes, and a tired, but triumphant smile on his face.
  638. “Okay, I'm not going to lie, that was pretty cool.” Garrus said.
  640. “Yeah, glad yo-OW!” Isaac yelped as a three-fingered hand slapped him clean across the face.
  642. “Isaac Clarke, you are the craziest bosh'tet I have ever met, do you realize that?” Tali said, shoving her helmet-clad face into Isaac's.
  644. “Look, it's not the fir-OOW!!!” Isaac yelled again as yet another three fingered hand struck his cheek. "STOP THAT!”
  646. “That was brilliant.... Absolutely brilliant. You and me. We're having words later. Aboard the Normandy.”
  648. “Tali, isn't that my call?” Shepard asked.
  650. “Thought it was a foregone conclusion, given our friend's penchant for..... Keelah, I don't even... Yeah. Isaac, we're definitely having more words later.”
  653. Isaac checked all systems and functions on the notification panel. All systems nominal, shields at 80% integrity and climbing. Fuel at 67%. The Rayya was close by, and it had already cleared Isaac to dock. He looked around, looking over the rattled occupants of the Falcon. Shepard and company? Check. Nezala and her guards? Check. Now to count the rest of the quarians. Nine of them left.
  655. That's when Isaac found that he only counted eight.
  657. “Okay, we're one body short and we're about to re-dock with the Rayya. Anyone know who's missing?”
  659. “I don't see Vaelen anywhere...” said one of the quarians as he looked around the room.
  661. “She's not responding to my messages either” one of Nezala's men said, looking over his omni-tool.
  663. “Oh, great. Let's head to the monitoring station. We can track down this “Vaelen” when we see what room she's wandered off to.” Isaac said, getting out of his seat.
  665. “My bets are on the engine room” Tali said. “We were all pretty impressed with what was in there.”
  667. “Regardless, she's the only one not present, and we're about to dock and drop off. I'm probably not staying here much longer, and the last thing we all need is a scared quarian girl wondering why everyone is gone and the Flotilla is fading into the distance.”
  669. Entering the monitoring station, Isaac Immediately scanned the monitors for any sign of life. No one in med bay, or the crew's quarters in which it was situated. The engine room was surprisingly empty. Mining ops was desolate, as was logistics. Absolutely no one showed up on the monitors, not even when the cameras were switched to thermal detection mode.
  671. That's when Isaac realized that one monitor was still shut off.....
  673. “Oh no.”
  675. Without another word, Isaac loaded his plasma cutter and bolted out of the quarterdeck, Shepard, Nezala, and the rest of the quarians following close.
  677. “Isaac, don't hurt Vaelen!” said one of the quarians, trying to keep up with Isaac. “She's not-”
  679. “Just follow me, we won't need to hurt her....” Isaac said, still running as fast as his legs could carry him. “.... unless...”
  681. “Isaac, you're gonna have to tell us what's in that hold.” Shepard said. “Whatever Vaelen's getting into, you seem to really want to stop her from laying hands on it.”
  683. “You'll find out soon enough....”
  685. Isaac cut through cargo logistics, leading him to large bulkhead door. The words “Cargo Bay” written on a lit display above it.
  687. “What is this stuff?” Vaelen said as she examined the strange rocks in her hands. The black, runed stones tumbled between her fingers. Suddenly, a loud creaking noise exuded from the wall to her right, light trickling out of the expanding fissure that resulted from the doors opening. Nervous that she had been caught crawling around, she attempted to think up an alibi, when Isaac, mask reforming around his head, loaded his plasma cutter and aimed it at her head
  689. “Wha?! Wh-What's happening!? Why are y-”
  691. “Put it down...”
  693. "M-Mr Clarke, please, I can expla-"
  695. "I said put it down. Now."
  697. "Isaac..." Shepard interjected. "I don't think think this is necess-"
  699. "It's VERY necessary, Shepard. Vaelen, I'm gonna say it one more time. Put. It. Down."
  701. Vaelen raised her hands above her head, her arms shaking ever so slightly. Her fingers immediately loosened their grip on the stone, and it dropped to the floor, sending a quiet echo sounding throughout the hold. Isaac lowered his cutter, finger still on the trigger, and approached the terrified quarian in front of him. His mask dissembled to reveal a stern, cold face.
  703. "Vaelen, I'm going to ask you a few questions, and you had better answer them honestly."
  705. "Okay, okay, j-just.. please, I wasn't-"
  707. "Vaelen, I need you to listen to me. What made you want to come down here? Did you hear anyone tell you to do it?"
  709. "No! I-I just came down here on my own, no one told me to do anything!"
  711. “Do you feel heat? Any kind of headache?”
  713. “No, I... I feel fine....”
  715. "Has anyone been taking to you? anyone you know who didn't come with you aboard the ship?"
  717. "No..."
  719. “Okay, good... good.” Isaac said as he holstered his cutter and switched the safety back on.
  721. "Alright, Isaac.” Shepard said, approaching from the back of the room. “Enough hiding secrets. If this stuff is as dangerous as you say it is, you can't keep us in the dark forever, especially with civilians involved. The fact that you let all these people in with that cargo on board....”
  723. “Look, I tested it. It was safe as far as I could tell, so I let these guys in, seeing as how they had been standing around the door for about half an hour. I guessed that, hey, it should be safe. Let's let them in, but just keep the cargo bay under wraps just to make sure nobody gets too curious. Those shards are inert. I should know, but after everything that's happened to me because of them, I had to be cautious, so I set up Nezala's guards around it. The longer I think about it the more I regret ever letting anyone on board, even if the cargo is safe now.”
  725. “Then why'd you have to hold up Vaelen like that?!” Tali asked asked. “If those black rocks are safe, why did you feel the need to point a gun at her face? Just what does that stuff do?”
  727. “It's a long, sad, story....” said Isaac as he slumped into a nearby chair. “Alright... I need everyone to clear out. Nezala, you and your team watch over everyone except for Shepard and his crew. They'll be staying. They seem to be the highest authorities here.....”
  729. “What about us?” Rizea asked. “This sounds scientifically important! I mean, I'm no geologist bu-”
  731. “Rizea, just go.” Tali said sternly. “i think you've said enough today.”
  733. The door closed, and Shepard, Tali, and Garrus were the only ones in the room save for Isaac. An eerie silence fell on the room as the other's footsteps faded away. Isaac just sat there, collecting his thoughts, wondering what he should tell the three commandos that stood patiently in front of him.
  735. Finally, after extremely heavy consideration, Isaac told his story.
  737. He told them all about his repair mission to the Ishimura, going over in excruciating detail the things he went through, from the Kellion exploding in the docking bay, to his encounters with Dr Kyne and his plan to stop the plague that had eradicated most of the ships' crew, and all of the planetside colony. He told them why he was there in the first place; to rescue his girlfriend, Nicole, whom he planned to propose to. He recalled his visions of her before finding out the truth; that she was dead before he ever got there. Everything he saw was a result of that red tower of maddening horror that instilled utter insanity into anyone within it's signal's reach. The Marker. He described how it worked, how it drove people to murder and suicide, then, reviving the dead into horrible, twisted abominations called necromorphs. Shepard described husks to Isaac, hoping this was similar enough. Isaac shook his head, stating just how dangerous these creatures were. Decapitation only enraged them. Shots hitting center mass did almost nothing to them. The only way to defeat them would have been to sever the creature's body to the point where it was absolutely useless. Shepard and his crew started feeling uneasy, knowing the remains of a marker were on board, but there was more. Even after escaping Aegis VII, Isaac was touched by the marker, and he was given the knowledge of how to build or destroy one. He would be captured by the government, who tormented and tortured him for that information, resulting in the construction of a new marker for what the government thought would be life saving research. In the end, the marker only ended lives, as it started a new outbreak on the sprawl, killing millions and twisting Isaac's mind. He told them of his visions of Nicole, how he heard the marker's voice in his head, and how he finally overcame its influence, ending the voices and hallucinations forever.
  739. “So, Isaac.... “ Tali spoke up. “Those stones in the cargo bay... are those the remains of a marker?”
  741. “Not just any Marker.” Isaac replied. “That's the black marker. That's the one the government used to build all those copies, including the red one on Aegis VII. When a marker hits a planet, it'll convince the species in question to make more. When enough markers are made, convergence starts. All necromorphs and markers converge into something horrible. That's what the marker means when it asks you to “make it whole”: when it all converges, when it's all made whole, it becomes the final stage of this whole thing. It becomes this massive creature, roughly the size of a moon. Once it's whole, it consumes all life on that planet. The worst part is, humanity wasn't the first to go through this. Others tried defeating them, but from what I can tell, none succeeded. Only one managed to stop it in its tracks. They were huge, multiple stories tall, and they were almost completely consumed by the new moon overhead. That is, until they built a machine that stopped it. They were only able to activate it halfway though, and even though it froze the planet, stopping convergence, it didn't kill the moon. Me and a few others set off to that planet.... we didn't know the details, but we knew that the markers could be stopped there. After losing almost everyone, we managed to activate the machine, but the moon ended up waking fully. We killed it, but not before it woke up its brothers.”
  743. Isaac paused again. He wasn't sure what to say next. The more he spoke, he found himself delving into more recent memory. It was painful to remember. It hurt to think of Ellie or Carver. It hurt to think that his life is changed forever...
  745. It hurt to think of home.
  747. “Did you beat its brothers? Were you able to stop them?” Garrus asked.
  749. “Yeah, we.. we beat them, but...
  751. “Isaac, what is it?” Shepard asked. “Did something go wrong?”
  753. “Yeah... something went very wrong.... and I'm pretty sure it's why I'm here.“
  755. Isaac was interrupted by an incoming message from his omni-tool. It was Nezala, saying that the Rayya had sent out a shuttle and boarding drew and was requesting to board the Falcon.
  757. “they seem a little concerned about us just floating here for almost two hours. Nezala said. "Want me to let them in?”
  759. “Yeah, go ahead.” Isaac said as he stood up. “I'm heading back to the cockpit.”
  761. As they made their walk down the corridor to the cockpit, Shepard decided that now was his chance. “Isaac, Tali mentioned she wanted to talk to you aboard the Normandy. I think you and I could have ourselves a little talk too....”
  763. “Shepard, I really don't feel much like talking anymore.”
  765. “Isaac, trust me. This could be worth your while. You told Chambers that you wanted a new start. We could give you that, Isaac.”
  767. “I'll consider it I guess.” Isaac said as they reached the cockpit, now host to four more quarians.
  769. “Is everything alright?” One of the newcomers asked. “You guys have been floating nearby for a while now. Any engine trouble?”
  771. “Yeah, we're fine.” Isaac responded. “Engines are fine too. Just had a little talk with Shepard here, among other things”
  773. “Ah, good to see you, commander.” said another boarding party member. “Ms vas Normandy.”
  775. “Kal'reegar! Good to see you too! So you're part of the boarding team?” said Tali.
  777. “Yes ma'am. I heard you and Shepard were on board, so I volunteered. I, uh, also heard of some incident involving a passenger and some sort of hazardous cargo. Does that imply said cargo is not locked and secure?”
  779. “Oh that.” said Isaac. “Yeah, it's not hazardous anymore, but after the batarian attack, one of the occupants here got curious. Everyone was panicked, and we noticed she was gone during a headcount we took after the skirmish. She's alright, which means it's no longer dangerous. I even examined it. There's nothing openly hazardous aboard this vessel.”
  781. “I-I can vouch for him.” a meek voice piped up from the dozen or so quarians within the cockpit area. It was Vaelen, now mostly recovered from her little experience with the marker shard, but still somewhat shaky. “I sneaked inside the cargo hold. There was some sort of rock or ore inside and I eyeballed it for a second or two when Isaac got to me. Turns out there's nothing wrong with it.”
  783. “Kind of odd to put someone at gunpoint after touching an inert object.” Kal'Reegar replied.
  785. “With this stuff, you really have to make sure.” Tali spoke up. “Given what mister Clarke told us about it, it's really something you don't want to take chances with. That's why he had Nezala's men guarding it while the ship was being toured.”
  787. “I see. What d you intend to do with this material, Mr Clarke?”
  789. “This is a mining vessel. Half of mining ops is equipped with a smelting line. I'll destroy all of it. Yes, I'm sure about this. I've made up my mind. All that crap in the cargo bay is just a load of bad memories. You guys go ahead and get these guys back home. I'll be busy for a little while.”
  791. The boarding shuttle needed to take three trips, given the number of passengers aboard. As each flight carried more and more quarians away, Isaac slumped himself against the corridor wall, eyeing the door to cargo logistics, the lit identification sign hanging above it, flickering slightly and requesting proper authorization for entry. As Shepard and his squad took their leave, Isaac finally found himself alone. Alone to his thoughts, his memories, and most importantly, alone to his work. Opening the cargo bay, he looked upon the broken remains of the enemy, it's maddening signal no longer radiating. It was over. It would never torment his soul again. Not anymore. All that remained was its husk.
  793. Isaac soon made sure that not even that remained.
  795. Meanwhile aboard the Normandy, Shepard and his entire team was gathered in the briefing room, wondering what to do about the visitor from another plane.
  797. “Alright, I know what you're thinking, Shepard...” said Jacob. “But I'm not really sure this guy would make for a good investment. Five batarian cruisers in the space of several seconds is impressive, but he took way too high a risk. There were civilians and a presumably hazardous cargo on board, and literally charging headfirst into an enemy formation is...”
  799. “AWESOME! That's what it is!” said Grunt, pounding his fists together. “Whoever this “Isaac” is, he's alright with me! Smashing asteroids into five other ships... genius!”
  801. “Whatever the case, Shepard...” Miranda said, hands on her hips. “I'm wondering why you didn't seize some of that cargo while he was distracted. It sounds like something Cerberus could use. Something we could use against the reapers.”
  803. “We obviously didn't give you enough details.” said Shepard. “It's not something to trifle with if it warrants putting a curious examiner at gunpoint, even if the material in question is inert.”
  805. “Shepard has a point, Miranda.” Garrus said. “He was pretty hellbent on making sure no one got their mitts on that stuff, and when someone did, things got ugly fast.”
  807. “Anecdotal accounts, formidable.” Mordin said, hand under his chin. “Certainly not worth compromising the Normandy or the mission. Interested in this, 'Isaac' However. Very eager to perform tests, yes.”
  809. “Given his history, I don't think he'll take too kindly to being a lab rat.” Said Tali. “He's been interred in enough locked, padded cells to be a little wary of the word “test”. Especially when some clandestine power is involved.”
  811. “What? Lock him up?! Never do such a thing! Never! Not a monster! Not a Mad scientist! Well, actually, some would call me that yes, but would never imprison someone for testing! Inhumane! Absolutely abhorrent, not unlike what we saw on Tuchanka.”
  813. “In any case, I suppose it would be a bit tricky to see if he'd consent to Cerberus examining him.” Miranda continued. “If his story is true and his mental health is in doubt....”
  815. “His cognitive ability is fine, and he's able to hold conversation well as long as it's not about anything personal to him, given his circumstances.” said Shepard. “Chances are, if you've only just met him, you wouldn't be able to tell he was-”
  817. “Nothing sort of a genius!” Grunt interrupted again. “Shepard, I know it's your call, but I'd really appreciate it if this “Isaac” came aboard. This alien sounds more krogan than some of the weaklings we dealt with during my rite. Kind of reminds me of you, actually.”
  819. “Whatever the case Grunt, it's his choice in the end.” Shepard replied. “The Falcon's probably boarding with the Rayya again, so we'll come up to see Mr Clarke in a few hours.”
  821. _________________
  823. It only took so much time to dispose of what remained of the marker. Most of it had completely disappeared in the singularity event. Only a single load needed to be sent by conveyor belt to smelting, where the shards would be utterly undone. Soon there was only one last shard of the past to nullify. One last bad memory to be rid of. He held it in his hand, looking over its runed surface. It didn't call to him. It didn't pierce his ears with it's ethereal cries. He looked deeply into it, as if to stare it down, get it to talk. It had to be bluffing. It had to be lying to him, deceiving him into thinking it was over.
  825. “No..... it's over.” Isaac said to himself.
  827. Closing his eyes, Isaac let go of the inert shard and pressed the "execute" command on the console controlling the conveyor belt that would send every last vestige of Isaac's nightmares into the oblivion to which they belonged. Isaac watched as they all made their way out of the cargo hold and into smelting, never to be seen again.
  829. “Good riddance.”
  831. Docking with the Rayya, Isaac stepped aboard to find himself immediately inundated with the questions of several dozen quarians, all of them having heard embellished eyewitness accounts from his former passengers.
  833. “Mr Clarke, how did the Falcon snatch those asteroids? What were those arms coming out of the hull?”
  835. “What did you have on board that was so dangerous?”
  837. “Can that shockpoint drive really act like a relay?”
  839. “Everyone, please! That's enough!” a voice called out from the clamor. Nezala cut her way through the crowd, making her way to the confused human standing at the Falcon's airlock. “Surprised to see you here, Mr Clarke. What brings you back aboard the Rayya?”
  841. “Well, let's just say, I've dealt with my past. I'm doing my best to move on, and I think the best way to do that is to try to make a new future for myself. I am an engineer, and I see you guys are pretty hungry for tech. Especially the kind of tech I have on board.”
  843. “Well, I can't say that's not a tempting offer, and the things you showed us on board that ship were pretty impressive. That being said though, it's not my call to make. We're pretty crowded around here. Not a lot of personal space, something I hear you humans have a tendency to value.”
  845. “Oh believe me, I can do crowded. It's more or less all I've known.”
  847. “Well, I guess we- wait a minute, someone's calling me” Nezala said, her omni-tool lighting up around her arm. “Oh! Shepard! Yes, he's actually on board the Rayya. Okay, I'll tell him.”
  849. “Lemme guess, this 'Shepard' wants to give me 'another chance' or some other crap. Tell him I already said no. I'm not a soldier, I'm not a mercenary, I don't have any real training unless it has to do with fixing or building some sort of hardware.”
  851. “Well, your little encounter with the slavers probably convinced him of your talents.”
  853. “Using a mining vessel's Asteroid Harvesting Apparatus to smack a couple of rocks into a few other ships is not a commando make, Nezala. Either way, I've had enough fighting. I really don't want to spend the rest of my life with a gun in my hands.”
  855. “Okay.... Shepard...” Nezala said, reactivating her omni-tool. “I just gave him the heads up. He says no in advance... Yeah.... look, apparently, he just wants some peace. He told you his story. I haven't heard it, but I'm sure it's not anything pleasant.... well, you do have Tali. He could just give you guys some layouts for the tech. Alright. You're good, I'll talk to him.”
  857. “What does he want?”
  859. “Just a talk. If you aren't joining up with him, he figures you can still help him out, namely with that shockpoint tech you showed us.”
  861. “Well, guess what, he's in luck, I was about to invite some of your higher ups over to take a look at it, see if we can get the model blueprints out and maybe show them the ins and outs. Hell, maybe we'll even have a working shockdrive by next week.”
  863. “Funny enough, Admiral Daro'Xen was actually on her way. Said she was very keen on meeting you.”
  865. “An admiral, huh? Alright, I guess we're finally getting somewhere. Tell her I'll be in the Falcon. I've already cleared out anything that could cause trouble.”
  867. “Well, I think you could use a little more than just me and my men. We've got at least thirty people in here. Maybe I should call in for more...”
  869. “That won't be necessary.” I voice piped up from the end of the hall. "I've already brought several of my men with me.”
  871. “Admiral Xen!” Nezala exclaimed. “You're already here?”
  873. “Yes, Nezala. I appreciate your help. This is quite a crowd we've got going.... Oh, and you must be Isaac Clarke! I am Admiral Daro'Xen vas Moreh. Pleasure to finally meet you, Mr Clarke.”
  876. Shepard checked the clock. Two hours since he briefed his crew on Mr Clarke, and only twenty minutes since the troubled engineer declined the commander's offer. If Clarke didn't want to help Shepard then so be it, but that didn't mean he intended to leave empty handed. The tech Isaac showed them on board the Falcon was nothing short of revolutionary, and was certainly something that could help the galaxy in the event of a reaper invasion. Not to mention, the shockpoint drive certainly wasn't the only groundbreaking piece Isaac had on board. There was no telling just how many unseen wonders he had aboard the Falcon, and it was a definite possibility that those wonders could turn the tide in the upcoming battle. Shepard gave the word to his crew. Tali and Grunt were to accompany him on this mission, Tali for her technical prowess, allowing her to reverse engineer whatever Isaac hands over, and Grunt, on his own insistence.
  878. "This human wants to go it alone, fine. But not before I get to see what kind of kit he has on board that ship." Grunt said, checking his M22. "If he can pull that kind of a stunt with asteroids, I can only imagine what he can do with a gun in his hands."
  880. "He's already mentioned that he's not a soldier, Grunt." Shepard replied. "It's half the reason he said no in the first place. Either way, we need a better look at this "Shockdrive" he's got. The reapers made the relays and it wouldn't surprise me if they can control their use. With that shockdrive tech, we could fly right past them."
  882. "This could be something the Migrant fleet could make extensive use of." Tali added. "We have the most formidable long range armament in the galaxy. The admiralty board tell me the only reason they didn't open fire on the slavers was to make sure civilian casualties wouldn't be sustained if they should fire back. If we were able to go anywhere freely at mass relay speeds, we could really do some damage."
  884. "Duly noted. I'm sure Cerberus. Would also like a little piece of this action too, but to be perfectly honest, I think they can take a backseat for now. I'm not really sure if I can trust our blue eyed friend, and I'm not sure handing this stuff over to him is the smartest idea, at least not until we've got all the details first."
  886. Shepard and company set foot on the Rayya once more, this time finding themselves in the back of an immense crowd.
  888. "This... does not bode well." Tali said, trying to look over the excited throng. They were trying to huddle around a massive screen in the main plaza where Tali's trial was held. 'What are they watching?"
  890. "Looks like the Falcon's engine room again." Shepard pointed out. "It seems Admiral Xen is in there with our friend."
  892. "Isn't she the one you said dissected her childhood toys?" Grunt asked.
  894. "Yes." Tali responded. "Who knows just how much she's pestering Isaac for details. Looks like he wants to showcase this tech to the whole fleet."
  896. "Looks to me like he's already gotten started." said Shepard. "He's already opened displaying the general blueprints on that holo-display."
  898. "Ugh. wake me up when he gets to the weaponry." Grunt said.
  900. "I'd say that's going to have to take a backseat to something that could possibly make the mass relays obsolete." Tali retorted.
  902. "Bah..."
  904. "No use wasting time standing around. Let's see if we can grab a front row seat. I'm pretty sure whatever guard they have posted at the Falcon's door will make way for us."
  906. As they approached the Falcon's airlock. Nezala's guards informed Shepard of his standing with Isaac. "He says you may enter, but he would like to express his disinterest in any future entanglements."
  908. "Good enough for me."
  911. “Next question please.” Isaac said, pointing to a quarian near the back of the engine room. “Ah, Admiral Xen. Go ahead.”
  913. “Mr Clarke, you say this 'shockdrive' is capable of taking the ship to points out of the galaxy. As impressive as that sounds, you have to realize we can't just take your word for it. We're going to need some proof.”
  915. “Yes, but isn't that exactly why we're all here? I'll get to the specs in just a minu-”
  917. “I was thinking of something a little different. Perhaps a demonstration.”
  919. “A demonstration? Now? Ma'am, we've got more than just you and me on board here!”
  921. “Are you saying it's dangerous?”
  923. “No, I'm saying it might freak out an audience of about thirty quarians. Given what everyone's told me about how limited space travel is around here...”
  925. “If you ask me, I'd say you're trying to speak for the rest of us, Mr Clarke.” interrupted Daro'Xen. “I'd say we cast a little vote....”
  927. “What's this about a vote?” Shepard asked as he and his squad entered the room.
  929. “Well, Admiral Xen here thinks that we should... whoa... “ Isaac said as he turned to see Grunt enter the engine room. “What and who is that.”
  931. “Watch your tongue, human.” Grunt replied. “I am the refinement of the Krogan bloodline, the epitome of the Krogan race. The name is Grunt. Urdnot Grunt. I expect you to familiarize yourself with it.”
  933. “Are we done with the salutations, or can we see this 'shockdrive' in action?” Xen said with a hint of venom. “We're on the verge of setting a voyage that may forever change galactic travel, and here we are making awkward pleasantries. I insist we proceed with the demonstration, Mr Clarke.”
  935. “Do I get to crush that one's head in later?' Grunt asked under his breath.
  937. “If you say so...” said Isaac. “Alright, show of hands, who wants to stay on board for the shockdrive demonstration?”
  939. It was almost unanimous. All quarian hands went up, some almost before Isaac finished his sentence. Others found their arms only extending just an inch or two above their hooded heads. All in all, there were only three hands not raised; Shepard's, Tali's and Grunt's.
  941. “So, I assume you guys aren't coming?” said Isaac. “Last chance or you guys gotta head out the door.”
  943. “This isn't our ship, Isaac.” Shepard replied. “If something goes wrong....”
  945. “I assure you, it's perfectly safe.” said Isaac as he closed the shockdrive's venting panel.
  947. “I just hope you know what you're doing, Isaac....” Tali said, joining her hand with the thirty-odd hands already in the air.
  949. “Ugh, fine.” Grunt said raising his hand. “No sense just walking out. Nothing else to do anyways.”
  951. “I guess there's not much choice is there.” Shepard said. “Count me in.”
  953. “What about everyone watching aboard the Rayya?” asked Rizea. I'm sure they'll be a bit worried when the signal just immediately disappears.”
  955. “Rizea, they're watching and hearing everything we're doing here. They should know. Besides, there's a voyage recorder in logistics. It'll automatically record whatever the ship does, whatever coordinates it goes to, everything on the monitors, etc. When we get back, everyone will be able to see the recording and we'll have about 15 minutes or so to set the livestream back up.”
  957. The quarian orchestrating the stream activated his omni-tool, telling his partner on the Rayya to temporarily suspend the stream. A thumbs up signaled Isaac that everything was good to go. “Ready when you are Mr Clarke.”
  959. “Alright then, everyone follow me to the cockpit. Let's get this show on the road.”
  961. Reaching the cockpit, the thirty or so quarians plus Shepard's crew gazed out of the Falcon's worn, scratched windshield. An endless sea of stars met their gaze, flowing forever into the horizon. Little did the occupants realize just how many of those stars they were about to pass. Isaac proceeded with the disembarking procedure, activating the ship's engines and shockdrive. A list of coordinates appeared on the notification panel, appearing as a massive lexicon of numbers and characters, each leading to another point in the universe. Some pointed to planet-cracking operations that the CEC had committed several vessels to, others still pointed to numerous waypoint stations and CEC checkpoints, places that certainly didn't exist in this reality. Isaac eyed the list over, wondering where he should take the Falcon and its curious passengers. He remembered his earlier days in the corporation, where he was part of the engineering team of the USG Greenwich, a prospecting vessel not unlike the Falcon. They had set out to a stray planet outside of the milky way, where the corporation suspected large quantities of silicon resided. He remembered looking back towards the galaxy, its many spindling, ephemeral blue arms encircling its beautiful, glowing center. That was it. This had to be the place. This is where the denizens of this reality would first see their own galaxy from the outside looking in.
  963. “Alright everyone, coordinates set. Hang on tight.”
  965. Isaac activated the command console, hitting the 'Execute' Command under “set current course' option. The ship vibrated for a second, then, faster than the eye can see, the Falcon flew into the distance, leaving a trail of blue sparks behind it.
  967. “Alright everyone, take a good look around. Welcome to shockspace.” Isaac said, turning his seat around to face his audience. His helmet disassembled, revealing once more a tired, but triumphant face. “Any questions?”
  969. Daro'Xen slowly walked towards the windshield, staring into the envelope of kaleidoscopic blue light. 'This... this looks just like relay travel...”
  971. “Does it? I'd expected as much, they both work on similar principles. Both a shockdrive and a relay create a path of abridged space that a spacecraft can use to get across distances that could take centuries with FTL drives alone. Only difference you guys seemed to point out was how instantaneous it is. Going halfway across the galaxy takes a little more than half an hour”
  973. “Yes, yes....” Xen said as she placed her hand on the windshield. “This is... unbelievable... I... is this really happening?”
  975. “Well... yeah. It's, uh... it's happening. I know it's new to you but, I'm pretty acclimated to trips like these. Speaking of which, we have about an hour until we have to de-shock, so get comfortable. Feel free to ask-”
  977. “Isaac...” asked Shepard. “Where exactly are we heading?”
  979. “Just a place I remembered from a while back. Some strayed planetoid that we stripped for silicon back when I worked for a mining corporation. It's far enough away that you can see the whole galaxy too. I wonder if that little rock is still there... hey, is everyone okay?”
  981. Half of the crowd seemed to be locked in a daze, staring out into the constant stream of ghostly light flowing around the ship, looking out of the windshield and the few portholes that lined the interior. Others whispered to each other, wondering just what they should be thinking. They were on the first voyage to the space between galaxies, to the endless reaches of the universe. Galactic society had come a long way, mostly through the discovery of technology already laid out before it. Now it seemed it was happening all over again, only instead of being built by races extinct and unseen, one of its familiars was riding with them, sitting comfortably at the helm of the ship that even now carried them to a frontier unknown, a frontier that laid, for the moment, completely uncharted by any race. The thought was utterly baffling. The implications of what lay ahead, the endless possibilities that lay no more than an hour away, completely entranced everyone on board. Even Grunt, whose only primary concern was violence and warfare, seemed to be impressed as he looked out of a small porthole into the teal tunnel of compressed space. Shepard helped himself to the co-pilot's seat, looking into the tunnel of glowing light that sped rapidly towards the ship. He wondered what his next move would be. What should he tell the council? The Illusive man? Just how many details should he divulge? The thoughts of cautious foresight gave way to astonishment and wonder as he looked deeper into the corridor that carried the Falcon ever closer to its destination.
  983. Minutes turned into hours. Hours turned into days. Silence encapsulated the Falcon as they continued to venture forth into the unknown reaches that lay beyond the milky way. Silence that found itself interrupted by a faint, but shrill beeping coming from the notification panel. Isaac turned around, checking it for the message that he'd been waiting an hour to receive.
  985. “Alright guys, we're just about there.” Isaac said. “De-shocking in sixty seconds. Everyone hold on, this part gets a little bumpy. Everyone ready?”
  987. Any passengers who were sitting or squatting immediately stood up, grasping whatever was close. Some were part of the dozen or so that were on board when the slavers attacked and knew what to expect from their careworn host. Some clung to the guard rails behind the helm, others backed up against the walls. Shepard strapped himself in the co-pilot's seat, as Tali and Grunt braced themselves with the guard rail, which already hosted at least thirteen others.
  989. “Closing exit vector...” Isaac said as the Falcon began to rock to and fro, its engines laboring with the stress of exiting shockspace. “De-shocking in five, four, three, two, one....”
  991. The ethereal blue light immediately gave way to a cold backdrop of darkness that was barely penetrated by sparse clusters of stars. A small, round, bare body of rock floated aimlessly in front of the ship, its cratered, barren surface reflected a faint hint of light.
  993. “And here we are, SMP-24S, I remember when we cracked this little rock open for silicon and magnesium... so weird to see it back here, y'know?”
  995. “Isaac...” Tali called out while stepping into the helm. “Didn't you say something about us being able to see th-”
  997. “Oh, right!” said Isaac, cutting Tali off mid sentence. “lemme turn the ship around...”
  999. Isaac cocked the joystick to the left, and the ship slowly rotated, gradually letting in traces of white light in through the portholes. As the Falcon halted on its yaw, her passengers immediately ran up to her helm. The light's source greeted them and they were soon graced by a sight that would be burned into their memories for the rest of their lives.
  1001. Bright, white light poured into the Falcon from every opening. Her tenants shielded their eyes as it shone on their faces. They paused, not sure if they wanted to look at what was in front of them. Looking at one's own galaxy before one's very eyes was a very jarring thought to people who had been restricted to it only a day prior. Now, as they slowly let their hands away from their faces, they beheld it. A great, blue and white spiral of stars, circling about a bright center, whose radiance knew no equal. To some, it was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen, to others, it was terrifying to see one's home so far, far away, as there were no relays outside of the Milky way. Their only way to and from this little corner of deep space was on the steel horse they rode in on. Either way, a feeling of unequaled fascination swept the entire ship. It was a sight that was simply too haunting and too beautiful to ignore.
  1003. Tali slowly walked up in between Isaac and Shepard. Simply awestruck by what she was seeing, she couldn't help but break the silence. “Isaac... this... it's beautiful...” she said, eyes wide. “Shepard...”
  1005. “I see it...” Shepard said almost under his breath. Even he was almost robbed of speech, completely overtaken with an otherworldly sense of astonishment. He took Tali's hand in his and looked to her as she returned his gaze. Their mutual grip tightened slightly as they looked back out into the cosmos. Isaac couldn't help but chortle a little to himself, recalling Tali's sentimentality back aboard the Rayya. A few others who were likewise enamored held hands as well, as the sight of their cosmic home caused their hearts to burn with utmost admiration that only reciprocated as the equally burning heart of a kindred soul touched theirs.
  1007. Even the most violent and surly of the crowd, a certain Krogan who even now felt his eyes widen, felt an overwhelming feeling of sheer amazement.
  1009. “Never in Okeer's tank was anything beautiful shown to me... I guess the word didn't really place much importance for either of us... “
  1011. “What do you think, Grunt?” Shepard said, still staring out into the glowing mass of stars.
  1013. “It's... pretty...”
  1015. A brief pause ensued just before Grunt spoke up again.
  1017. “So yeah, do we get to see the weapons now?”
  1019. “The Falcon's a mining vessel, Grunt." Shepard replied. “Unless you want to give the asteroid defense systems a go.”
  1021. “No, there's no need for that.” Isaac said standing up from his seat. “General logistics is conjoined with security. There's bound to be a few pulse rifles locked up, but its nothing I can't bypass with this security pass here.”
  1023. “Finally.” Grunt said, twiddling with his shotgun.
  1025. “You know what...” said Shepard. “I think I might be interested too. Admiral Xen, think you can help keep watch over everyone?”
  1027. “I'm not your errand girl, Shepard, but yes, I suppose I could keep everyone in check.”
  1029. “Thank you, Admiral.”
  1031. “Don't mention it. No seriously. Please don't.”
  1033. Once inside the security division of logistics, Isaac slid the security pass into the back-lit slot on the wall that lay adjacent to a series of lockers. Each of them opened, revealing several firearms. About three seeker rifles, and four pulse rifles lined the walls of the six lockers, several magazines for each respective arm lay next to it.
  1035. “Alright, so this tin can here is the SWS motorized pulse rifle.” said Isaac, taking one of the three-barreled rifles from the locker. “This one's the... let's see... yep, the A2 variant. Primary fire is a three round burst, while secondary takes about half of the magazine to launch a grenade that emits a high frequency micropulse shockwave, resulting in hyper-compressing the immediate area, collapsing tissue and issuing serious amounts of thermal energy. You get hit with one of these, it's no joke. Primary rounds make kind of a 'mushroom-shaped' wound profile. Once this thing hits you, it shatters apart and tears everything in its way to shre- Hey! What are you doing?!” Isaac exclaimed as Grunt took the liberty of relieving Isaac of the rifle.
  1037. “Don't mind if I do....”
  1039. "Yeah, I do mind actually! Look, there's no firing range on this ship, so don't try popping off rounds in here."
  1041. "What?! Why show us kit like this and then tell us there's no way we can use it?"
  1043. "What about the cargo bay?" Shepard asked. "Is it clear of that material, Isaac?"
  1045. "Yeah, it's safe, but I've got a better idea. Let's head planetside. Better than wasting gas Idling here. Oh and, uh, here." Isaac said as he handed Shepard a Seeker Rifle. "I see the scope on that rifle of yours. Figured you'd be fond of something like this."
  1047. The party made their way back to the helm, where the crowd of quarians continued to sight-see out of the ship's windows and portholes. Tali had taken the co-pilot's seat, chin resting in her palms as she stared off into the stars. Isaac sat back down in the driver's seat, checking all systems and running diagnostics.
  1049. "Okay everyone" he said clearing his throat. "Would anyone mind if we went planetside momentarily?"
  1051. "I don't see much reason to, but, on the other hand I don't see any reason not to..." Tali said leaving the co-pilot's seat. 'Why would we? didn't you say it was just a rock? I mean, unless we plan on bringing the Flotilla some much needed supplies, then you definitely have my support."
  1053. "Well, now that you mention it, that does't sound like a bad Idea... yeah... yeah, we'll do that, but The commander and Grunt wanted to test some of the weaponry we had in security."
  1055. Hearing Tali's idea, Isaac knew that there would be no one on board who would say no. True to Isaac's prediction, all quarian hands went up when asked if they were okay with going planetside. One incredibly easy consensus later, and Isaac was firing up the engine, turning the ship back around towards the small, cratered stray planet. Isaac activated the scanning module, looking for a good place not only to land, but to retrieve a fair share of resources for the Migrant Fleet. Within minutes, the Falcon had landed on the planet's surface, still facing the blue and white spiral of stars from whence it came.
  1057. "Alright, everything's green to go... scanners going crazy about silicon and whatnot. i remember this little rock being loaded... alright, Shepard, Grunt, let's head to the cargo bay. I just set the probes in motion so they should do their thing while we go shooting. There's a couple spare parts and whatnot laying around. We can use those as targets."
  1059. "Well hey, don't forget me!" Tali said while approaching them. "I might want to give these a shot. Any pistols in security?"
  1061. "No, didn't see any, but I have this." Isaac said, handing over his plasma cutter. "It's normally used as mining equipment, cutting through asteroid metal and whatnot, but it makes a pretty nasty pistol."
  1063. "Mining equipment, huh..." Tali said facetiously as she looked over the scratched up, battered device. "Sounds devastating..."
  1065. "It kind of is, actually." Isaac retorted. "That thing shoots a stream of white hot plasma towards whatever you have it pointed at. That could be sheet metal, or the neck of someone unfortunate enough to be in the way. Whatever it is, that thing's gonna cut straight through it."
  1067. Entering the cargo hold, Isaac looked for anything that would not be missed. Busted re-entry plating, a dish for a transmission receiver that lay in shambles right next to it, empty crates. Isaac had rounded up a few bits and pieces when he heard Grunt laughing to himself.
  1069. "Oh no... Shepard what did the big guy find?"
  1071. "Oh, I'll tell you!" Grunt said excitedly. "Look at what it says on the manual... C99 Supercollider Contact... it's some sort of portable particle accelerator..."
  1073. "A portable WHAT?!" Tali said as she ran towards Grunt. "How..."
  1075. "Hey don't ask me anything, look at the manual. Seems like they use it to break rocks apart or something. Looking at all this, I think I'd be interested in some more of this 'mining equipment'."
  1078. "Well, if you're gonna use that mind handing me back the-"
  1080. "Here." Grunt said as he tossed the pulse rifle to Isaac. "I think I'll be holding on to this..."
  1082. "Let me see that manual..." Tali said as she grabbed the worn paperback book that lay next to the contact beam's crate.
  1084. "Everyone done ogling?" Isaac said as he gathered up what junk he could into a small robotic tote. "I've got our targets."
  1086. "Ready when you are, Isaac." Shepard replied.
  1088. "Great. Let's head out" Isaac said as he approached a small console that resided near the opposite wall. "I'm gonna open the bay doors. Everyone gear up and get clear."
  1090. As the cargo doors opened, lights on the ceiling lit and a low intensity alarm sounded. Faint traces of light seeped in from the opening. Grunt put his helmet back on, as did Shepard in anticipation of the ensuing vacuum. The air in the room vented to the ship's reservoirs as an automated voice notified the occupants of the hold of the incoming vacuum. There were several cages and automated claws on the ceiling. Isaac lowered a cage to Shepard's position.
  1092. "Alright everyone. There's our ride. Hop in."
  1094. "How are you getting down?" Tali asked.
  1096. "Normally there'd be some guy operating this thing, but I've got my own way down. You guys don't have propulsion on your boots?"
  1098. Tali just stood there for a second, completely and utterly motionless. Shepard noticed this as he was about to ask Isaac just what he was implying, when he noticed Tali's stationary state.
  1100. "Uh, Tali?" he asked as he waved his hand in front of her face. "You oka-"
  1102. "Isaac, we're going to have words when we get back on the Normandy." Tali said as she entered the cage.
  1104. The metal enclosure lowered, Shepard and his teammates inside. As they set foot on the small planetoid, the trio was welcomed with an unsurprisingly low gravity. Taking controlled bounds, Shepard made his way to where a mechanical claw was lowering the "targets". Activating his omni-tool, he called Isaac, wondering what he meant by "propulsion" on his boots.
  1106. "Isaac, you said something about 'having your own ride down. I'm not gonna lie, what you're implying sounds a bit far fetched."
  1108. "It's not. Believe me." Isaac replied. "Just stay there and wait for me."
  1110. "Whatever you say, 'sir'" Shepard quipped back at Isaac, who, so far, had been calling quite a few shots that weren't his to make. Shepard tinkered around with the tote's controls, running ti this way and that.
  1112. Looking out into the spectral arms of the Milky way, Shepard found himself entangled in awe once more. "wow..." he said under his breath. There it was Home to countless billions, who even now, must have been receiving the news of the first extregalacitc voyage. Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by sudden exclamation from his squad.
  1114. "Oh Keelah... Shepard, are you seeing this?!"
  1116. "Whoa... I want me some of those..."
  1118. Shepard turned around to see a personage floating in space. White flames shot out of its heels and toes, similar streams exuding from different points in its suit. Blue light radiated from its thrice tiered visor. It was Isaac, flying in the space above them with pulse rifle in hand. He dramatically increased his speed, zooming past them in seconds. He turned and circled around them, not hesitant to show off the rocket boots that propelled him at dizzying speeds above his befuddled company. At last, he touched down, landing with a fist hitting the ground.
  1120. "Whaddya think?" Isaac said smugly with his arms at his sides.
  1122. After what seemed like several minutes of silence, Grunt once again found himself breaking it."I think you're gonna have to build another pair of those."
  1124. "Yeah, fat chance." Isaac said, brushing himself off. 'Anyways, you guys wanted to take these on a test drive, so lets get started. C'mon, I know a great place where we can test this stuff out."
  1126. "What, we're not gonna just set it up here?"
  1128. "You kidding? C'mon, man where's the fun in that? Look, this rock is filled with all sorts of goodies, including tons of magnesium. There's this spot me and some of my friends would plink around with the cutters. Kinda sucked when we had to strip it for magnesium."
  1130. After a brief walk, they arrived at their destination. "Okay, here we are. See all this in front of us?" Isaac said as they stopped in front of the odd geographical anomaly facing them
  1132. "Yeah?"
  1134. "Whole thing's a giant magnet. See the way everything's all twisting an turning. Looks kinda like the badlands on earth, doesn't it?"
  1136. "I see it." Shepard replied, just noticing how large the odd magnesium hotspot was. The whole thing was simply a massive, complicated tangle, loops of magnesium rich stone wrung out and looped around each other, knotting and twisting seamlessly around each other. They dipped and became concave as they reached ground, and the entire surrounding area was a massive network of perfectly smooth trenches that ran through the whole network. Shepard couldn't help but notice how expansive it was, too. Should it have been cleared out, three Normandy SR-2's could be parked side by side and have some room to spare. Each trench looked like it could fit a shuttle at their biggest, and two people at their smallest "This thing's pretty big... what exactly are you thinking?"
  1138. "You said it was magnetic?" Tali added.
  1140. "Ho yeah. Whole thing's a huge motherlode of magnesium. Geo research couldn't figure out what made it for the life of them. After about five weeks straight of correlating between themselves and the company they just gave up... aaaand then CEC said 'okay no use trying, strip it and move on', and then no one had fun anymore on this rock for the next three weeks when we took our fill and went back home bored out of our skulls."
  1142. "Clarke, i assume you didn't drag us out here for a trip down memory lane." Grunt huffed. "'Cuz that's not cool. Really."
  1144. "Oh calm down, that's where I'm getting at." Isaac replied. "Check this out..."
  1146. Isaac immediately began jogging toward the stony network. He picked up his speed as he drew closer, receiving odd looks from his company as he sped towards one of the open trenches. "uh, Isaac..." Shepard said. "What are you-"
  1148. "WOOHOO!!" Isaac yelled as he jumped headfirst into the trench, getting several feet of air thanks to the low gravity before plunging into the cavity and out of sight.
  1150. "... Okay, so he really is crazy. Good to know firsthand." said Grunt.
  1152. "Isaac!" Shepard called on his comms."Isaac are you there?! What you doi-"
  1156. "Crazy, and with a serious quad. Nice"
  1158. "Oh. Keelah."
  1160. Shepard looked back to the hollows, and, lo and behold, a little person was flying to and from between the trenches and around the arches on the far side, roughly thirty miles an hour, and glowing teal. "Oh my God... Isaac am I seeing this right."
  1162. "Oh, me?!" he replied coyly, barely containing laughter and holding his arms behind his head as he faced them from the other side, flying leisurely without any assistance from his boosters. "Oh don't mind me! We're all good here!". he revolved around the contours of the formation, spinning around, doing back flips and the like as the magnetic rock continuously propelled him. Winds of stray dust floated around the planetoid in small clouds, and some gathered in the dips of the trenches and through the loops. Isaac reached his hand out and let it sail into the dust, his fingers skewing it, letting it flow up his arm and past his head, swirling as it flew behind. he let himself go limp, facing up toward the stars with arms simply hanging behind him. For a moment, Isaac felt content. Peaceful. Almost happy. Feelings he felt he hadn't experienced in years. Memories of his old career, of his old life, trickled back in as he recalled the several times he would do this when he was in his own reality's version of this little speck somewhere in deep space. Memories of some of his old friends, even one or two of Nicole (not letting the worse memories of the marker's trickery overshadow his momentary contentment) started coming back, one by one. Every mission he went on, some dull, some exciting, some staged in the unrecognizable black of space, others set against the beautiful backdrop of a cluster of newborn stars growing amidst massive clouds of dust and gas with shining shades of every color the eye could perceive, ran by in his head. His hellos as he came aboard to re-unite with old friends, and his goodbyes as he stepped off into the airlock after the return journey. He remembered what it was like to have a tomorrow. What it was like to look forward to the next day. Remembering for a moment what uncertainty his new home had in store, he quietly assured himself that no matter what it took, he'd have tomorrow again. For just a few well-earned moments, Isaac closed his eyes and let himself bask in memory's afterglow.
  1164. Then, a familiar, gruff voice woke him back up.
  1166. "You done goofing around, or do I have to use this thing?" Grunt said, holding up the contact beam.
  1168. "Oh simmer down. I'm coming up." said Isaac, activating his boosters and escaping the magnesium's pull, flinging him out a good few meters out until he was able to redirect himself to Shepard's party. Then, deactivating his boosters, he pointed himself feet first at the ground, landing forcibly and skidding several feet on his heels until he stopped in front of the shore party. "Shame you guys don't have these so you won't get flung out. We used to do that crap all the time come lunch brea-...."
  1170. Tali's hand covered her visor. Shepard's arms were folded. and Grunt's grip on his weapon visibly tightened.
  1172. "Okay, okay, I get it. Here, let me get us set up." Isaac sad he he simply took an armful of the junk, lightened by the lesser gravity, and tossed it into the cavity. "See? Moving targets."
  1174. The tote dumped the rest of the target materiel into the trenches, enough to form a somewhat sparse, but continuous line flowing throughout the network. Shepard shouldered his Seeker, leading a broken dish that was circling before taking several shots. The void of space muffled the shots, but the recoil from each round pounded into Shepard's shoulder, sending the weapon's muzzle noticeably upward. Each hit on the assorted junk sent it flying in pieces. That which wasn't pulped was easily punctured. Re-entry plates up to five inches thick were aerated with new holes as Shepard's marksmanship hit home. Isaac opened fire as well, the blue muzzle flash lighting up the shadowed areas of the formation.
  1176. Grunt fiddled around with the contact beam, somewhat at a loss as to how to operate the heavy hunk of metal. "Okay, uh... so how the hell do I use this?"
  1178. "Here." Isaac said, ceasing his own fire for a moment. "Just switch off the safety, and the targeting lasers turn on. Hold the trigger and wait until it's fully charged, then let 'er rip."
  1180. Grunt did as Isaac said, and the three lasers wavered around the crater, to and fro until he found a good target. Whether it was some sort of crate or even one of the stone arches in the formation, Grunt didn't care. He just wanted to see it blown apart. He held the trigger, and a red sphere of unknown energy materialized around the beam, shortly before compressing into the muzzle. The tool shook and vibrated in Grunt's arms, and a devious smile spread across his face as he released the trigger. The blast was silent in the vacuum, but the shockwave was felt by everybody. Grunt laughed maniacally as whatever junk on the receiving end was blasted into minute pieces away from the planetoid. He fired repeatedly, simply enjoying the feel of it going off, the recoil punching into his elbow.
  1182. "Don't get too crazy with that thing, Grunt." Isaac said. "How's that cutter, Tali?"
  1184. "So far? A rickety hunk of junk that seems to be good at cutting stuff up."
  1186. "Whoa whoa whoa, rickety? The hell have you been doing to it?"
  1188. "Nothing, it just seems to rotate to the side on it's own, like it was made on a hinge or something."
  1190. "... Show me how you're holding it" said Isaac. "See, you're pushing the rotation switch. Flips it a good 90 degrees for, well, cutting stuff. See? It's not rickety at all."
  1192. "Eeh, okay. Still feel all the parts clacking around when I shoot, though. You got a manual or schematic for one of these? Think I might cook one up myself. This one's all kinds of beat up."
  1194. "Hey, that thing's seen action. Y'know, battle worn. You don't think it looks cooler that way?" Isaac said, taking back the empty, scratched up, dented cutter.
  1196. "I think I'd prefer something a little more on the 'not falling apart' side."
  1198. "Hmph"
  1200. "Uhh, Isaac, I think I'm all out." Grunt said, tossing the heavy beam back to Isaac.
  1202. "Same here." Shepard replied.
  1204. "Nothing here but us and some molten trash." Isaac replied. "Let's put these away and get back to the fleet." Isaac said as he gathered up the Contact beam.
  1206. As they walked back towards the ship, Isaac stopped momentarily, holding his head.
  1208. "Isaac, is something wrong?" Shepard asked as he heard Isaac grunt slightly form discomfort.
  1210. "No.. I'm fine... think I have a headache. Must have been Grunt going crazy with this thing right here..."
  1212. "Hey, I couldn't help myself!" Grunt said chucking.
  1214. "Yeah, whatever. Let's *ow*, head back inside".
  1216. Isaac flew back into the hold, taking the controls of the dirty metal cage that now housed Shepard and his squad. As the trio rode back into the hold, they noticed Isaac was still holding his head, gripping the metal plates of his helmet tightly. He closed the bay doors, allowing oxygen back into the bay, and in turn, allowing him, Shepard, and Grunt to remove their headgear. As soon as the last metal plate retracted into his RIG, Isaac put a hand to his forehead, rubbing his temple with his thumbs, cringing all the while.
  1218. "Isaac, are you gonna be alright?" Shepard asked. "You look like you're having some trouble there."
  1220. "Nah, I'm fine... Just head back to the helm, I'll catch up with you."
  1222. The quarians had, for the most part, settled from their state of inexorable astonishment, speaking Idly among themselves, wondering how they'd retell this story to their friends and families. Daro'Xen sat at the pilot's seat, legs crossed with the upper leg swaying back and forth, her head resting in her palm as she scrutinized the multiple panels and console displays. "Nice to see you've returned." she said while turning around as Shepard entered the room with his team in tow. "I notice our fatigued friend isn't with you. I'd like a word with him after we get back to the fleet. Maybe get a more in-depth look at this 'shockpoint drive' of his. The fleet could really use this kind of versatility..."
  1224. "That's *ugh* gonna have to wait for a bit" Isaac said entering the room, still rubbing his head. "I'm gonna have to dig around for more spare parts if you're thinking of making one for the Rayya. I'm pretty sure we can get our hands on the resources, plus the blueprints for the model we've got on board is stored in logistics, but it's not something we can really *ow* do in twenty minutes, you know?"
  1227. "Mr Clarke, are you well?"
  1229. "Yeah... Just got a little shaky out there. Anyways, I think it's time we headed back. My seat please."
  1231. "Of course."
  1233. Three hours had passed aboard the Rayya. The massive throng that had gathered for Isaac's seminar had dispersed considerably, most meandering or idling by in the surrounding vicinity. Others sat and spoke among each other, wondering when the Falcon would return, worried about the possibility of their loved ones never being seen again. Suddenly, any fear or doubt they had found itself washed away when the screen in the main plaza re-activated. Cheering ensued as a voice over the intercom announced the falcon's return. A quarian team handed over the Falcon's voyage recorder, together with its own player, seeing as how most quarian and CEC tech were incompatible for the time being. As the reassembling multitude watched the Falcon's intergalactic voyage in astonishment, Isaac collected his thoughts as the rest of the quarians made their way out of the airlock and into the Rayya. Xen lingered for a bit, curious about Isaac's behavior.
  1235. "Whatever migraine has been afflicting you seems quite severe, Mr Clarke." She said, leaning on the bulkhead. 'Are you sure you're going to be all right?"
  1237. "Yeah, I'm fine. It's subsided for the most part." Isaac replied. "Oh and by the way, tell those guards to only play our voyage."
  1239. "I don't remember you being my superior, Mr Clarke..." Xen replied snidely. "Regardless, I'll make sure our little shockspace adventure is all we see."
  1241. "Good..."
  1243. Shepard and his crew stayed on board. Throughout the return journey, they've had to wait for Isaac's headache to subside, seeing as how he had asked repeatedly not to be spoken to. Now was Shepard's chance.
  1245. "Have you reconsidered our offer, Isaac?" Shepard asked. "We can really use someone like you. The entire galaxy would be all the better for it."
  1247. "You got that last part right. Only problem I see is being tied to people." Isaac responded. "I have the feeling you and whoever you work for just want dibs on me for the tech I've got on board. Meanwhile, I could be help a lot more people out on my own."
  1249. "First off, I don't 'work' for anyone." Shepard replied. "Second, I'm not trying to tie you down to us for tech. Something is actively threatening humanity in the terminus systems. Something that may pave the way an ever greater threat later on. Me and my team are independent of the Galaxy's central government and aren't restricted by any of its red tape, which is how we got this far. We've gained all the leads that they refuse to follow, which has lead us to this point. There's something out there that plans on wiping us out, Isaac. We need your help"
  1251. "You're not the first person who's asked for my help, you know."
  1253. Suddenly, screaming and panic erupted from the Plaza, loud enough to be heard from the Falcon's helm.
  1255. "What's going on in there?" Tali asked.
  1257. "I have a bad feeling I know what it is..." Isaac said worriedly. "They're watching something they shouldn't be."
  1259. Isaac's helmet reassembled itself as he bolted out to the airlock, Shepard and company in pursuit. "Isaac, what are they watching? What else is on that recorder?" Tali asked in a concerned tone.
  1261. "Dammit, why didn't I erase the previous recording...." Isaac muttered as he raced to the plaza doors. "I swear if I see that damn admiral again, I'm gonna wring her scrawny little...."
  1263. Isaac was cut off by the terror of a mortified crowd, all pointing in horror at the screen.
  1265. Isaac turned around to face the screen, and came face to face with torrents of wretched, horrible memory.
  1267. He watched as the Falcon sped towards a dark, foreboding body of tentacles and teeth. Its spindling arms cast round about the surface of a grey-blue sphere. It was Earth, actively being ravished by an indescribable monstrosity, its mouth agape and sucking in what looked to be a continuous stream of mottled red. The Falcon sped towards the horrific abomination, closing in on the massive orifice that even now, seemed to be sucking in all life before it. The vessel rocked vehemently as it entered the fissure, shaking as if it was coming apart at the seams. Isaac was unshaken, focusing on his ultimate goal. The Falcon was soon encapsulated in scarlet, tendrils of sinew and flesh whipping about within the whirlwind. A blue holographic screen appeared before Isaac, the word "RIGlink" written above it. A human female appeared on it, accompanied by a man who was clad in similar armor to Isaac. She alerted Isaac to the danger he was in, that this was now or never, and that he'd better be sure of what he's doing. She offered her own personal assistance only to have Isaac dismiss her, letting her know that he would always love her, asking her to never forget him, that she keep on living for him, and that this could very well be goodbye.
  1269. The footage cut, and facing the screen was a horrible, black, monolith. A twin spire of runes and glowing red...
  1271. It was then that the footage stopped altogether.
  1273. Atop the projection pulpit, stood Isaac, staring down Admiral Xen.
  1275. "Admiral... What the HELL did I tell you about that recorder..." Isaac growled, hands clenched into fists.
  1277. "Mr Clarke, we had to... I..."
  1279. "WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!?" He screamed at the top of his voice, falling into a complete rage. "I TOLD YOU NOT TO REWIND! I TOLD YOU EXPLICITLY NOT TO SHOW ANYTHING BEFORE OUR VOYAGE! ISN'T THAT EXACTLY WHAT I SAID?!"
  1281. For what may have been the first time in her life, Admiral Xen found herself starting to feel somewhat afraid of someone. Only seconds before, she was witnessing a recorded account of a horror that was consuming an entire world, and the man who survived it, maybe even stopped it, stood in an quickly mounting rage before her. Few times in her life had she ever lost her cold, calm demeanor, or let her composure slip. Now as Isaac was staring her down through that rusted, stained visor, she could feel slight chills crawl down her spine. This man had nothing to lose, and was, unlike most who knew her, completely unafraid of her, and that was what most disturbed her.
  1283. "You've overstepped your boundaries, admiral..." Isaac snarled under gritted teeth. "You have seconds to tell me what made you think that was a good idea."
  1285. "Mr. Clarke... P-please."
  1287. "Seconds..."
  1289. "Mr Clarke..." said one of the guards pointing his rifle at Isaac. "Step away from Admiral Xen, or.."
  1293. The whole deck was silent. No one had a reply ready for Isaac. Not a single rebuttal that could debunk Isaac's claims. What they saw was something straight out of a nightmare, even before Isaac interrupted. By all rights, there was no excuse. The only thing that seemed to be putting Isaac in the wrong was the squirming, terrified quarian admiral backed up against a podium with Isaac bearing down on her, mere inches away.
  1295. "Admiral, I am about three seconds away from ripping that mask off and slapping your sh-"
  1297. "Settle down, Isaac."
  1299. Admiral Shala'Raan stood behind him, three of her guards accompanying, each of them with their rifles trained on Isaac's head. "Settle down..."
  1301. Isaac complied, retreating away from Xen, who nearly fell off the pulpit she was leaning on.. "You know she deser-"
  1303. "It doesn't matter what she deserves, Isaac." Raan said in her usual, calm, soothing voice, untainted by any hint of anger or distress. "What matters is your temper. Threatening an admiral isn't something that's taken very lightly here..."
  1305. "Yeah, well guess what?. I don't think I take THAT very lightly either." Isaac retorted, pointing at the voyage recorder. "She may be an admiral, but that doesn't give her an excuse to dig into crap like that, especially in front of at least a million people! They didn't need to see that, especially that last part. You guys wouldn't start showing me all your dirty laundry, let alone in public. It's not just the personal aspect either. The subject material of that recording is something any government would want to keep secret. Something that would be locked up, labelled 'confidential' and given clearance only to government officials not everyone and their grandma watching from several hundred ships!"
  1307. "I regret that Admiral Xen's actions have exposed more of your past than you're comfortable with, especially seeing how it involves such graphic content. I also apologize in advance for any unwelcome questions regarding... whatever was on that recording. It certainly wasn't suitable for the audience in question. That being said, I'm afraid your enraged actions may result in your complete and irrevocable expulsion fr-"
  1309. "Now, Admiral Raan..." a voice spoke up from Isaac's right. "You seem to be punishing Mr Clarke for rash actions when you seem to be doing the same. You saw the first section of that recording. I hope you're perfectly aware that the footage on that voyage recorder is the first time this galaxy has seen itself from the outside. This man can enkindle a new era of discovery with that battered mining ship, and there's a good chance it'll start with us! He's had no reason to distrust us until now, and I think it would be in our best interest to keep it that way. He can help us, Raan. He can help us out of this nomadic prison. Don't even get me started on how that 'shockpoint drive' alone could help us retake our homeworld..."
  1311. "Admiral Gerrel, please..." Raan said, very well aware of the dangers of inciting Gerrel's vigor for talk of war with the geth. "I'm well aware that Mr Clarke can help us..."
  1313. "Then I say we pardon him!" Gerrel said with newfound ebullience. "Though he may have overcompensated to some degree, I say he was justified in his actions! Rewinding that recorder to explicit material of that magnitude without knowing what was on it in the first place is nigh inexcusable! If anyone here is in need of disciplinary action, it's admiral Xen!"
  1315. "What?!" the shaken admiral said, stumbling as she got up from her lowly position on the deck. "That's absurd! I never intended for this to happen! Come the end of the voyage recording, I had no idea we'd we greeted by such ghastly imagery! I just thought I'd find... something...."
  1317. "Oh, and what the hell did you think you were going to find?" said Isaac as anger sparked anew within him. It seethed and simmered, only barely boiling over, barely contained. This careless, nosy, ambitious little shrew had just flashed his past in front of millions, and for what? to "find something"? Whatever it was, it definitely begged explanation.
  1319. "I was told that you mentioned something about the ship not being yours. I thought that sounded suspicious, so I wanted to-"
  1321. "Oh, you thought I was a crook?" Isaac said, cutting the nervous admiral off. "Think I'm some sort of thief?!"
  1323. "Well, I-"
  1325. "Oh, shut the HELL up! Even if that WAS the case, what's the purpose of showing everyone on the fleet, huh? Are you just trying to get dirt on me? Is that it? Just one, big smear job?!"
  1327. "I.. I didn't think anyone would believe me if I just found it privately. They'd want proof...
  1329. "Wow, that's great, that's just great, really! That's just awesome! So that's what you wanted to do! Just paint me as some sort of lowlife and ruin any chances I have at getting back on my feet!" Isaac could feel his face reddening. Not only was this sniveling little scumbag responsible for showcasing the horrors of his past, her main intention was to slander him in front of millions. Until now, he had only felt impersonal, unfettered anger. He had no personal distaste for the admiral. Now he felt hate. Genuine, burning, venomous hate.
  1331. "I admit, my intentions were a lot more insidious than I realized. I-I just didn't think I'd find-"
  1333. "What? What didn't you expect to find?!" Isaac said, raising his voice to near yelling. "OH you mean the dead bodies, maybe?! The ones that were still walking, in particular?!"
  1335. "That's enough, Mr Clarke!" Raan said, trying to ward off Isaac's growing indignation. "I believe admiral Xen is now well aware of her folly. That said, I think we ought to immediately postpone any demonstrations or lectures that we had planned today. Mr Clarke, I think it best that you take leave for the time being, just until the dust has settled."
  1337. "Yeah... alright. I'll be on the Falcon if-"
  1339. "You sure about that?" called a familiar voice from within the crowd.
  1341. "Great..."
  1343. Shepard stepped out onto the pulpit. "I think you can afford a change of scenery."
  1345. "Maybe... Just what do you want, anyways? Something about giving me a 'new lease on life' or some crap? Look, I've had a long day, and you're just making it longer"
  1347. "Isaac..."
  1349. "Just stay out of my way, alright? Like I said, I'm not a soldier. I don't think I can really help out with... whatever the hell it is you're doing. I just want to try and get back on my feet."
  1351. "You don't understand-"
  1353. "Okay, first, the Admiral tries smearing me in front of this whole fleet, and digs up some of my darkest moments in the process, featuring it in front of said fleet, and now you want to recruit me into some sort of paramilitary group so I can look like an ass when I say 'no'? Sorry for disappointing you, but guess what? My answer is no. It's always gonna be no. I've had a crap day. I'm tired. I want to go back to a home I don't even have anymore. I just got some of my most horrible secrets advertised in front of a new universe who might be judging me for them as we speak. Just leave me alone.... Holy SHIT."
  1356. Isaac walked off the pulpit, and the crowd divided itself as he walked past. Though their faces were veiled by opaque visors, their silver eyes gleamed out from within the metal helmets. Some widened in fear as Isaac walked past. Others raised their brows in concern, while a few furrowed them in anger. Whatever expression lay in those many eyes, no matter how amazed or terrified, all were honed in on the tired, well worn man who was walking out the door.
  1358. Nezala stood by the airlock entrance. Her eyes too found themselves turning towards Isaac, brows upturned in worry. "Mr Clarke, are you alright? I saw what went on in there, you gonna be okay?"
  1360. "Yeah, I'll be fine." Isaac said with head hung low and sluggishness in his step. "I'm just... tired. Way too *agh* tired."
  1362. "You sure that's all? You look like you're in some sort of pain."
  1364. "Yeah, it's just a migraine acting up again. Like I said, it's been a really long day. I just *ow, crap* I think I just need some rest."
  1366. "Okay... Anything you'd like me to do for you in the meantime?"
  1368. "Think you can keep an eye on the door? I have a feeling there'll be some unwanted company trying to get twenty questions out of me."
  1370. "I see. Don't worry, no one's getting in while I'm here, Isaac."
  1372. "Thanks lieutenant."
  1374. "Any time."
  1376. The doors locked as Isaac activated their security protocols from the helm. He made his way to the captain's quarters, letting his helmet retract back into his RIG, the clanking of the metal and whirring of the servos feeling louder than an earthquake. The air was dank and stale, and the walls encrusted with a film of black soot. Such was the luxury of a CEC vessel. To others, such living conditions would seem deplorable at least, but to someone such as Isaac, who had spent nearly half of his life within the corridors of mining vessels such as the Falcon, this was home sweet home. Not bothering to take off the sixty pound suit on his shoulders, Isaac collapsed onto the musty, worn-out mattress, dusty sheets hanging near its foot. Holding his throbbing head, Isaac found it hard to find sleep. He was tired. Dead tired. He hadn't had a hint of rest since waking up from his fall on Tau Volantis, meaning he had been awake for almost two days, at least. Even when this fatigued, this desperately exhausted, he found himself fighting a war with the pain in his temples, trying to let his eyelids close, trying to lull himself past the pulsing pain in his head and into that coveted realm of unconsciousness. There was no way to know just how long it took, but eventually, Isaac and sleep found each other.
  1378. ________________
  1380. The wind howled. The leafless trees creaked in protest to the gusts of dusty air that beat against them. Not even a single blade of grass could be found on the austere, grey, lifeless ground. Isaac looked all around him. Not a single soul in sight. A terrible bleakness resounded in this somber place. No one else to call to. Nowhere to go. The entire forest was fallow. Forever lifeless.
  1382. But within the cries of the wind, came a voice.
  1384. A voice that called Isaac's name.
  1386. It lead him out of the dead forest, onto a plain of crags, smoke, and smoldering stone. On one stone sat what seemed to be the only other person in this wretched place.
  1388. Isaac called out to the personage, but found no answer. Befuddled by its silence, he beckoned it once more, but yet again his call was met with silence. Cautiously approaching, he continued to call towards the personage. As he set out to meet the one who yet still sat silently upon a stone pillar, Isaac heard yet more voices behind him.
  1390. As he turned around to meet the origin of the utterance, a scream lodged itself within his throat, constricted by the same sense of primal horror from which it was born. Symbols. Millions upon millions of symbols, lines and circles, each forming into the characters most foul, a series of slashes and circles that inspired madness and dementia, slowly floated towards Isaac. He knew only one thing, one response to this delirium; run. Run as fast as you can.
  1392. He ran towards the personage, calling for its help. Closing in on it, he begged of it to help him, of any way to escape the madness made manifest. Putting a hand on its shoulder, it immediately turned its head toward him, its neck cracking as it spun farther than possible.
  1394. It was Ellie.
  1396. Her eyes glowing white, her hair matted with blood, her skin ghostly pale. Upon facing Isaac, she uttered the words which most instilled terror into his soul.
  1398. "Make"
  1400. "Us"
  1402. "Whole"
  1403. ________________________
  1405. Nezala stood true to her word, as a throng of quarians stood outside the Falcon's door. Several dozen quarians wanted to see Isaac. A few to castigate him for his lashing out at one of their admirals. Many others concerned about him, about how his world ended up, wanting closure on the horrible spectacle that drilled itself into their memories. Some were deathly afraid of what they saw, and wanted peace of mind, wanting desperately to know if they were safe from the twisted abominations of torn flesh that shambled to and fro, claws waving and teeth gnashing, fretfully asking if the creatures had followed him.
  1407. They pressed on with their questions, only to be met with the same reply from Nezala. "He didn't tell me anything! He's just trying to get some rest! Everyone settle down!"
  1409. Suddenly, the holographics on the Falcons door went blue, followed immediately by them opening, Isaac rushing out of them.
  1411. "Mr Clarke! Isaac! Is something wrong?" Nezala asked as Isaac cut his way through the now excited crowd. Some tried pulling him over for questions, but all found themselves being thrust aside, as Isaac hurried out of the hall and into the plaza, Nezala in hot pursuit.
  1413. "Isaac, you have to tell me! What are you doing? Are you looking for someone?"
  1415. "Shepard...."
  1417. "What?"
  1419. "I'm looking for Shepard! Something's up. Something terrible. I need his help..."
  1421. "I dunno if he'll welcome you with open-"
  1423. "I know we're not on good terms, but this is urgent."
  1425. "How urgent?"
  1427. "More than you could ever know..."
  1429. Shepard racked his weapons back into their safe, each of them retracting into their compacted form. Removing his helmet as he walked towards the elevator, he couldn't help but feel somewhat disappointed. This Isaac character could have an untold wealth of technical knowledge to impart. He could single-handedly start a new age of space exploration with what little he had already shown. More importantly, he could possibly save trillions of lives during the upcoming fight with the reapers. They built the relays, and as such they likely had the power to use them as they saw fit, rendering them useless to everyone else. Entire races would remain stranded, helpless to the attacks. With the technology aboard that rusted mining ship, Isaac could facilitate means for the evacuation of the entire galaxy. Countless lives could be saved. The only problem now was trying to get him to see that, trying to convince him of how much the galaxy needed him. So far, Isaac's ears have only perceived a wandering mercenary desperate for a new crew member, no matter how tired, battered, lost, or otherwise fatigued he was. Shepard had jumped the gun, and he knew it. There was no telling how close the reapers were, and no telling how much time he had left to coax Isaac out of his shell.
  1431. Suddenly, He heard Joker's voice over the intercom.
  1433. "Hey commander, our grumpy friend decided to pay us a visit! Think he's come crawling back?"
  1435. "I've got a feeling it's more than that. Let him in."
  1437. The airlock doors hadn't even fully opened by the time Isaac had bolted out of them and into the Normandy. racing past the galaxy map and almost into Shepard. He was nearly out of breath by the time he had found the words to say.
  1439. "Okay... alright..." he sputtered between each exasperated gasp that rushed out of his throat. "Shepard... I know we're not exactly on the best terms but..."
  1441. "You've decided to reconsider helping me?"
  1443. "I've reconsidered the possibility that I can't make it alone... especially with what's on the horizon."
  1445. "So, I see you're finally convinced of the collector threat."
  1447. "The what?"
  1449. "I haven't told you what was threatening humanity. Maybe I should've. Isaac, entire human colonies have been abducted by these things. We don't know what they want, but we do know they work behind a greater force. A force that could wipe out the whole galaxy. I've been trying to tell you this, Isaac. I know you're trying to rebuild your life, and there's no way I can ever understand just how you feel about it, but if we don't work together, you won't have a future to rebuild. None of us will."
  1451. "What force? Is it worse than what was on that screen?"
  1453. "I don't know what was on that recorder other than what else you told me on th-"
  1455. "Because it's come here."
  1457. Shepard froze for a moment. He's seen what a single reaper can do when Sovereign attacked the Citadel, and he could only imagine what their entire fleet was capable of. Each reaper was at least two kilometers long, armed with firepower that none could match. What he saw on that projector was something else entirely; a massive entity the size of a small planet, consuming all life in its path. No weapons, no shields, no servos, wires, or lights. Nothing but sinew and bone, flesh and blood, all manifest into a monstrosity whose only goal, whose only purpose, was to devour entire races in a sitting. The reapers were addressed as gods by the geth, esoteric in their ways, and unparalleled in sheer power. The demons Isaac faced were more than that. They unleashed madness and death by their own seed, the obelisks called markers, long before whatever unfortunate race would find itself at their mercy. They were not gods. They were not devils. They were beyond such notions. They had no motive, no great, underlying purpose that a pitiful mortal would try with all their heart to understand, like what the reapers claimed to have. They only strove for one dark, insidious goal: to be made whole. To converge all life for their own, blatant, unconcealed hunger. Their unending hunger for all that grew. Their hunger for all that breathed. Their hunger for all that spoke. Their hunger for all that lived. Isaac's sentence echoed in Shepard's head, flailing his mind with those terrible words
  1459. It's come here.
  1461. "Isaac... didn't you say that they were-"
  1463. "I thought so too, but it's still alive. I don't know how it keeps coming back, I don't know how it keeps following me, I don't know why It wants me so much, but it's here. There's no telling exactly where in the galaxy it is, but it's here. I can feel it. The signal's here... and it's calling to me." said Isaac as he slowly began slipping into a panic. It was over. It had to be. It was just a dream.... no. He felt it. He heard its wretched screams. He felt it burning in his head. Now he had heard it speaking to him. He hadn't heard that voice since the Terra Nova, and he hadn't had it speak personally to him in years, but there was no mistaking it. Not even the most lucid, clear dream could possibly emulate the screams. Nothing else spoke with such an unearthly, terrible voice. It was here, and there was no denying it.
  1465. "Isaac, I'm going to need you to calm down. How do you know it's real? How do you know it really here?"
  1467. "It spoke to me. It said the some things it's been saying to me for years. I've already told you what it does to people, and how it speaks to you. How the noise stays in your head, even if you learn to stop listening to it. Sometimes it yells. I've heard it yell again."
  1469. "When? After Xen played that videolog? Is an image of the marker capable of sending the signal?" Shepard asked, as the surrounding crew began to bear worried faces. They had received word of mouth of what Isaac had told the commander previously, making leeway for several embellishments and rumors to spread and take hold, and what they were hearing didn't do much to lift their spirits.
  1471. "It was in a dream"
  1473. "Excuse me?"
  1475. "You heard me right. A dream. It speaks to you in visions, whether you're awake or sleeping, if it lets you do the latter at all."
  1477. "Mr Clarke, the credibility of your story is deteriorating fast..."
  1479. "Look I know it sounds sketchy, but you have to listen..."
  1481. "Isn't that kind of the gist of what I was saying when I asked for your help?"
  1483. "Alright, I get it, I've been kind of a prick to you lately, but you'll have to believe me!"
  1485. "Then you'll have to believe me too."
  1487. "Fine... but what is it about these 'collectors'? What threat to they pose?"
  1489. "I've been meaning to show you. Follow me."
  1491. Shepard guided Isaac to the tech lab, where Mordin was continuing his research, constantly searching through near endless waves of data, ceaselessly working, seemingly as if it were compulsive habit.
  1493. "Ah! New arrival. Pleasure to meet you, Mr Clarke. Doctor Mordin Solus, at your service." Mordin said, still focusing on his console. "Hear you have questions regarding collectors. Will do best to elucidate."
  1495. Isaac was about to ask the doctor to keep it concise, as the threat of the marker seemed to loom ever closer. That was before he actually looked at the quick-spoken scientist behind the console. His distress almost overshadowed by newfound curiosity, Isaac found himself wanting to know what manner of odd creature this "Mordin" was. "Are... what are.. nevermind. I can ask those questions later." Isaac said, remembering the dire nature of the situation. "Anyways, yeah, just give me the short version. There's no telling if we have hours or days here."
  1497. "Regarding Collectors? Not likely." Mordin replied, ignorant of the exact threat Isaac was addressing. "Collectors active threat, yes, but not bold enough to attack on day's notice, let alone hours. No, too risky even for them. Would risk wasting time and resources. Are planning something different. Bigger picture. Given what was seen on Horizon."
  1499. "That's not what I was.... whatever. Just give me a brief rundown."
  1501. Little did Isaac know just how good Mordin was with giving a "brief rundown". He almost struggled to keep up with him as he went over the encounter on Horizon, as well as the countermeasures used in order to not be affected by the seeker swarms. He gave an account of how they abducted half of the entire colony, leaving others frozen in some sort of stasis. He also gave a quick overview of how they could possibly be tied to the massive, sentient ships known as Reapers. Nigh unstoppable beings who purge the galaxy of life every several thousand years. Apparently, the collectors had always been around, but sightings were so rare that many thought them to be a myth. Not to mention, the relay that led to their homeworld was a deathtrap, as no one who has ever jumped from it has ever returned, save for them. As daunting as this new threat seemed, Isaac figured that whatever they were, they took a backseat to the brethren moons. Either way, both of them had to be dealt with, and Isaac once again found himself at the forefront of a battle to save all life.
  1503. "Alright, so these guys are kidnapping us for some sort of unknown purpose. Just how many are we talking here. Any incidents like this since Horizon?"
  1505. "Not since, but many before" Mordin replied. 'Entire colonies. Many thousands of human colonists captured beforehand."
  1507. "Okay, well, what's our next step in taking them down?"
  1509. "Not my call. Shepard's operation. Should ask him."
  1511. Exiting the tech lab, Isaac soon realized that he had absolutely no knowledge of the Normandy's layout. Finding Shepard would be nothing short of a chore. That's when he spotted a familiar face as she began tending to her duties.
  1513. "Ah, Mr Clarke!" Kelly called from her console. "Nice to see you again!"
  1515. "You too, Ms Chambers." He replied. "Hey, do you know where Shepard's run off to? He brought me over to Mordin to brief me on the whole 'collectors' thing before taking off."
  1517. "Oh, he went to the briefing room. Illusive man needed him for an emergency brief."
  1519. "'Illusive man' huh? Didn't he say he worked for no one?"
  1521. "It's more of a partnership. The Illusive man spent several billion creds literally bringing Shepard back from the dead in what was called the Lazarus program."
  1523. "So, it's kind of a 'You owe me' deal?"
  1525. "Not precisely. It more of a 'help me deal with the menace that threatens humanity' kind of deal."
  1527. "I see. When's he coming out of the briefing room?"
  1529. "No way I can know. His talks with the Illusive man tend to vary in length."
  1531. Suddenly, the elevator door opened, and out came the man of the hour. "Alright everyone. We've just gotten word of a collector vessel stranded in deep space. Apparently a turian patrol managed to disable it. We've got to get in there and get whatever information we can concerning their operation with the reapers."
  1533. Isaac didn't like this. As dangerous as these "collectors" seemed to be, they didn't seem to hold a candle to what the markers were capable of. In any case, they needed to be dealt with, and they needed to be dealt with yesterday.
  1535. "Alright, so how long do we have to prepare? The Falcon's still docked at the Rayya."
  1537. "I'll give the fleet the word to keep it under lockdown". Shepard replied. "We have to hurry. There's no telling how long the collectors are going to remain sitting ducks."
  1539. All was dark. No nearby star to give light. The unending nothingness of space seemed more evident than ever in this forsaken place. Not a single planet or planetoid floated nearby, as was the case for light years around. Suddenly, an azure light flickered in the distance, its brightness intensifying by the second. As its brilliance came to a crescendo, a sleek white vessel erupted out into the darkness. No other ship accompanied her. It was the Normandy, cruising through the lifeless ether of space, tracking down another vessel that hid in the shadows, disabled, weakened, and unaware of the Normandy's presence.
  1541. Unbeknownst to the Normandy's crew or man who commissioned her, this wasn't how it was meant to be.
  1543. Isaac watched out of the Normandy's cockpit, beholding the massive, asymmetrical vessel that floated in the firmament of space, powerless. Defenseless. Even in its crippled state, it was a sight to behold, and to fear. For Isaac, the sight of such a massive ship, though intimidating, was not all that new. The Ishimura was roughly the same size, as were her sister ships. Though the vessel massive and the occupants unacquainted with him, Isaac felt only a small shred of fear within him, for he knew that these were not going to be the most formidable foes he would face before the day was over. He heard the distant calls of the marker from the corners of deep space. He knew its presence without mistake or error. It was coming, and these collectors seemed to only serve as a distraction. They had to be dealt with, here and now, regardless of what his new superior had planned. Time was running short.
  1545. Shepard had chosen Isaac for this mission, as well as Miranda. Isaac had never met this woman before, but deep inside, he had the most deep seated caution of her. The very aura she emitted, her mannerism and cold look were all too reminiscent of all those who had wronged him in the past. She seemed ambitious. Calculating and manipulative. Every syllable she spoke seemed to ooze with a dark, frigid venom. As the trio set out within the Normandy's shuttle, Isaac could only be preoccupied with her, watching her every move, trying his best to be subtle. In Isaac's eyes, she was nothing short of a problem that he would certainly have to deal with later.
  1547. Isaac loaded his plasma cutter, having retrieved it from Tali while aboard the Falcon, aiming down its triad of laser sights as the trio boarded the seemingly derelict vessel. The walls, shiny and sleek, seemed to be coated in some sort of organic material, brown and crusty in appearance. It remanded him of the corruption, even if it didn't twitch, pulsate and spew bile as that disgusting sludge did. Penetrating deeper into the ship, he could hear Shepard conversing with someone on board the Normandy. She sounded precise and crisp in mannerism, and nearly mechanical in speech.
  1549. "Who're you talking to?" he asked as they began to examine what parts of the ship they could.
  1551. "That would be the ship's AI, EDI." Miranda replied. "She's running diagnostics and compiling data on this ship as we speak."
  1553. "Interesting..."
  1555. "Let's focus on the mission at hand, if you don't mind." She replied coldly.
  1557. "Fine..."
  1559. A faint whisper echoed in Isaac's mind. The same, spectral mumbling that he had heard countless times before. It sounded for less than a second, barely enough to register with anyone else, but it was unmistakable to Isaac. He knew disaster lay around the corner. He just didn't know exactly which corner it was lurking behind, and this uncertainty shook him...
  1561. ... Especially when he spotted the pile of bodies to their right
  1563. "What the hell... were these guys from that 'Horizon' colony that Solus mentioned?"
  1565. "More than likely..." Shepard replied. "They were probably used for experiments, perhaps some sort of control group... then disposed of when the tests concluded."
  1567. "This is Horrible..."
  1569. "Wait, guys.. You see that?" Isaac pointed out. "Look... some have been moved.". He pointed to a trail of blood, leading away from the pile. It was still wet. "recently too... Shepard, I'm telling you, I've got a very, very bad feeling about this..."
  1571. "Relax, Isaac. They were probably moved for further testing."
  1573. "Don't you think they'd use some sort of transport rather than dragging them on the ground?"
  1575. "Maybe... let's just keep moving." Isaac had a point. This didn't seem like standard collector procedure. Whatever lay around the bend, Shepard knew it wouldn't be pretty, and deep inside, though he doubted the possibility of anything other than collectors, he prayed that those cryptic, insect like aliens would be all he'd have to deal with.
  1577. Soon, Shepard found himself eye to eye with something he wasn't expecting: a dead collector. It lay in some sort of pod, similar to the ones that contained the humans. Isaac stepped closer, wanting to take a look at his new foe. It was brown. Dark brown chitin covering its body, and four eyes, glazed over and creamy white, staring out of the sockets in its segmented head.
  1579. "So this is a collector..."
  1581. "Yes. Or at least it used to be" Shepard replied, connecting to the Normandy, speaking with that "EDI" character again. Isaac wasn't listening, curiosity overtaking his mind as he eyed the strange, alien cadaver. Its lifeless eyes looked out forever into the distance, and its arms tucked neatly by its sides, as if standing at attention. Suddenly, he heard EDI utter a phrase that caught his attention, as yet another name he never heard graced his ears.
  1583. "There's only one race that shares this genetic structure. The Protheans."
  1585. "The who?"
  1587. "Protheans." Shepard responded. "A race that the reapers wiped out.. or at least we thought."
  1589. "There is evidence of extreme genetic rewrite. Three fewer chromosomes. Reduced heterochromatin structure, elimination of superfluous "junk" sequences." EDI continued. Isaac still considered the necromorph scourge to be top priority, but if these "Reapers" could re-write genetic code and enslave the remnants of a race they had mostly wiped out, they certainly were a force to be reckoned with.
  1591. "The reapers didn't wipe out the protheans... they turned them into monsters and enslaved them" said Shepard.
  1593. "I know I'm not letting that happen to me. There's no way we're ending up like the protheans", said Miranda.
  1595. "There's worse out there you know..." said Isaac, staring off into the distance.
  1597. "Whatever the case, they work for the reapers now, and we've got to stop them." said Shepard. "Let's move out."
  1599. They continued to reach into the deeper recesses of the ship, coming across an entire passageway full of those glowing, orange pods.
  1601. "Holy hell... just how many of these are there? How many do you think are full?" Isaac said, eyeing the pods that hung from the ceiling and lined the walls.
  1603. "Too many." Shepard responded.
  1605. "I detect no signs of life in the pods, Shepard. The occupants must have died when the ship lost power."
  1607. "That's not good... Is there any way we can know just how many were occupied in the first place?" asked Isaac.
  1609. "Thousands." Miranda replied." They've kidnapped entire colonies. There's tens of thousands of corpses lining these walls..."
  1611. "Okay, that's REALLY not good. Whatever were looking for I advise we find it ASAP. I have a really bad feeling about this..."
  1613. "Settle down, Isaac. We don't know if... 'that' is actually here or not." Shepard said.
  1615. "We don't know if 'what' is here? Does it have anything to do with that voyage recording on the Falcon?" Miranda asked. She hadn't seen the recording, and what she heard seemed little more that mere conjecture, even fabrication. Even so, she was curious as to what Isaac was talking about.
  1617. "Nothing... Shepard can give you the details when we get back to the Normandy."
  1619. Suddenly, Shepard and company found themselves in a massive chasm, the center of the ship. Looking closer at the walls, they caught sight of something horrible: Pods. Millions of them. The entire ship's interior was covered in them, almost like an orange, shag carpet, encrusted in some dry, biological residue. The same brown, papery material that coated the rest of the ship. It was reminiscent of a wasp's next, brown and dry, almost lifeless.
  1621. "Please don't tell me these are all full..." Isaac said as they ventured further into the massive central chamber.
  1623. "No, but they could take all the humans in the Terminus and still have room for more." said Miranda worriedly. "They're going to target Earth."
  1625. "Not if we stop them first." Shepard replied. "Let's keep moving."
  1627. "Look, over there." Miranda said pointing to a lit panel that lay in the middle of some hexagonal structure. "It looks like some sort of control panel."
  1629. "The only dead collector we've seen was in that research pod..." said Isaac. "We haven't seen any others. I don't like this..."
  1631. "EDI, I'm establishing a bridge between you and the collector ship. See if you can get anything useful from these databanks."
  1633. "Data mine in progress, Shepard."
  1635. Several moments passed by before they would find out exactly what was wrong. The ground rumbled, and within seconds, a door had risen out of the deck, blocking their only way in or out. The display shut off with a violent flash, and the squad soon found itself trapped, locked within a honeycomb-like wall.
  1637. "What the hell just happened?"
  1639. "Everything just went dark, Shepard, but we're back online."
  1641. "I've managed to redirect most of the override to non-critical systems. Shepard, this wasn't a malfunction. This is a trap."
  1643. No sooner did EDI say this when the floor shifted, quaked, and trembled. The trio found themselves having trouble balancing as the hexagonal plate underfoot rose into the air, emitting a sort of odd, otherworldly wail, continuous, yet ebbing and flowing. It resounded in Isaac's eardrums as he found himself falling backwards onto the floor.
  1645. "We're gonna need some help, EDI."
  1647. "I've had trouble maintaining connection. There seemed to be someone else in the system, but for some reason they're now absent. I'm re-establishing connection, however, I need to finish the download before I can override any systems."
  1649. Shepard struggled to keep his footing as the floating section of floor stopped abruptly. "You'd better get it done fast, EDI."
  1651. In the distance, Shepard could see more sections, floating through the air and coming their way. The humming they emitted intensified as they drew near.
  1653. "Look out, we've got company!" Miranda called out as she loaded her weapon.
  1655. "You mean we 'had' company." said Isaac as he got back on his feet. "look..."
  1657. As the airborne platform conjoined with the one Shepard and company were standing on, the three were greeted by an unexpected, and very gruesome sight. Several collectors lay dead on the floor, sitting in pools of their own yellow blood. More than half were missing limbs, or even their heads. All of them were covered in deep lacerations, as if someone had come at them with a sword. Their torsos were gored, and pieces of their internals were hanging out. The entire platform was covered in collector viscera.
  1659. "I don't think the turians did this..." Isaac said, looking over the carcasses. "Shepard, we've got to get out of here. How long until EDI is finished downloading that data?"
  1661. "First off Isaac, you're not in charge." said Shepard sternly. "Second, we need everything we can get concerning the collectors. No one's ever been this up close and personal with them before, neither have they been this much of a threat until now. Look all around you Isaac. Those pods are going to be filed with millions of humans unless we do something about it."
  1663. "I have a feeling those pods are the very reason we should be high-tailing it."
  1665. "Just keep on your guard. Stay sharp and don't get left behind."
  1667. "Shepard, I've finished processing the information." EDI said over Shepard's comms. "I've found useful information on how to navigate the Omega 4 Relay. I've also found the turian distress call used to set this trap. The collectors were the source" she continued as the platform they were on rose again, and landed on another point in the ship. "It is unusual."
  1669. "What are you getting at?"
  1671. "Turian secondary channels are written with a secondary encryption. It is present in this message, but it is also corrupted. It is not possible that the Illusive man thought the distress call was genuine."
  1673. "How are you so sure?"
  1675. "I found the anomaly with Cerberus detection protocols. He wrote them."
  1677. "He knew it was a trap?!" Joker exclaimed. "Why would he send us into a trap?"
  1679. "That son of a bitch sent us right into collector hands!" Shepard said, newly enraged by the Illusive man's betrayal. He knew that his enigmatic ally was untrustworthy, to say the least, but not treacherous enough to send him directly into enemy hands.
  1681. "We can't jump to conclusions...' Miranda said. "The Illusive man wouldn't do this to us... he just wouldn't"
  1683. "Oh, and who are you, his little lackey?" said Isaac. "Whether he's genuinely treacherous, or he just sent us in here carelessly, he's sure as hell isn't setting a good first impression with me!"
  1685. "Uh, commander, we've got another problem." said Joker over the comms. "We're detecting some sort of activity inside. Something's moving around in there... lots of things... I have a feeling you're gonna have to entertain company soon."
  1687. Isaac just froze, as if in another trance. He heard the whispering again, louder this time. He knew exactly what this "Joker" was talking about. He knew exactly what kind of "company" they'd be entertaining. Slowly, he raised his plasma cutter, gripping it tightly, his breathing slowing, becoming louder as he steeled himself. Shepard noticed Isaac's cautionary state, wary of whatever the engineer was thinking. All this time he had doubted any other presence save for the collectors, but with every passing second, his surety was wearing off. A cold sweat dropped down his brow. He had a feeling that if there was anything he should know concerning what was bound to happen next, he ought to ask the blue-visored man next to him.
  1689. "Isaac... I have a feeling you know what's about to happen...."
  1691. "I have a feeling we both know..."
  1693. "You've encountered it before. You've been hunted by them for years. You know how to deal with them. Is there anything we should know?"
  1695. "Several things." Isaac said, taking off the safety and turning on the targeting lasers. "Stay away from any vents or grates. Pods too. Don't go for the body. Don't go for the head. Go for the limbs. Rip them apart completely. Tear off their heads, and they'll swing blindly at you. Take off their legs, and they'll crawl towards you. Don't falter, don't hesitate. Stay alive, because if you die, you won't stay dead for long."
  1697. "Shepard, I don't think he's talking about collectors or husks." Miranda said, her eyes widening. "Isaac, what are you talking about?"
  1699. "You're about to find out..."
  1701. Suddenly, the walls shook and vibrated. Cracking sounds resonated throughout the ship's passageways. The whole vessel seemed to be tearing itself apart at the seams.
  1703. "What's happening? EDI, can you give us a reading on th-"
  1705. "Shepard..." Miranda said, her eyes widening in pure horror. "Look up..."
  1707. It was the pods. Every single one of them was shaking, several of them coming loose. All of them seemed to be opening. The ones furthest away seemed to be opening first, followed immediately by the ones succeeding them, making it seem as if the whole ceiling was falling in a great, terrible, gradual wave. As the lids cam off, Shepard could barely believe what he was seeing.
  1709. It was the colonists.
  1711. Thousands of them, shambling out of their cocoons, crawling all over the walls, clambering down the circular hull of the ship. Blood seemed to drizzle from the ceiling as they made their way down, as their disfigured, bleeding bodies shuffled themselves to the floor. Their faces were broken and twisted, brimming with new teeth spurring out from shattered jaws. Their arms were bent, massive blades carved out of their bones stuck through. Others no longer had their legs, as their entire lower bodies were twisted into some horrific, mangled tail, which terminated in a sharp, devastating blade. Yet more didn't seem to have started out human at all, as their arms were now short, skin-stretched wings. Their heads were tucked under this canvas of human flesh, with a fleshy proboscis extending therein. Horrible, guttural gargling and roaring resounded through the ship as they began their hunt, looking for living flesh to rend and infect. Shepard and Miranda just stood there, almost frozen by this gruesome, unfathomable horror that even now unfolded before them. Isaac, having seen such vile spectacles too many times, was more accustomed to the sight than anyone should be, and as such, was the one to wake his companions from their horrified stupor.
  1713. "Shepard, weren't we heading for the door?!" He asked, nodding towards a passageway directly facing them.
  1715. "EDI, we need a way out of here, NOW!" Shepard shouted, as he began running for the hallway.
  1717. "System overrides are complete. I have control over many parts of the ship. Sending extract coordinates to your hardsuit computer".
  1719. All of a sudden, Isaac felt it again, ringing in his ears, screaming this time, calling his name in that vile, unearthly tongue. It was here. That's how the necromophs got here. That explained why thousands of dead bodies were clambering down the wall. It was here. The marker was here, or at least there was "a" marker here. It was awakening them, sending the signal that even now pounded throughout his head. He could ignore it. He knew how to steel himself for it, and he knew how to drown it out, how to bury it within the deepest recesses of his mind, but be now knew what had to be done. There was a marker on this ship, and there was no way he was going to let its madness prevail against him. No way he was gong to let it delve its tentacles into the minds of trillions.
  1721. He wasn't going to lose anything else to it ever again.
  1723. "Not again..."
  1725. "What?"
  1727. "I'm not letting this happen again... Shepard, ask EDI if she detects any kind of odd energy signatures on the ship."
  1729. "Isaac, if you haven't noticed, we don't exactly have time to-"
  1731. "DO IT!" Isaac thundered. "There's a marker on this ship, I know it. There's no way in hell we're leaving it alone. I'm not letting another reality fall to it. We have to destroy it unless we want someone to find it out here. I say again, Shepard, If it's on board this ship, we need to know."
  1733. It didn't take much to convince the commander further, as all the evidence he needed was crawling all over the ship. "EDI, you heard the man. Anything radiating energy on this ship?"
  1735. "There's something in its cargo hold that seems to be exuding some sort of signal. I've never seen a signature like this before, neither is there any like in in any archive."
  1737. "That's all we need to know. Where's the ship's drive core? We can overload it and destroy the entire vessel from there."
  1739. "Understood, Shepard. Sending coordinates to the engine room."
  1741. "Clarke, this is insane!" Miranda said as the three ran towards the engine room. "Did you not see what was coming out of tho-"
  1743. "I've seen it a million times." Isaac replied. "I have a feeling we're going to see mo-"
  1745. Just before Isaac could finish, he found himself cut off by the sight of about twelve pods in front of him, each of them bursting open. Out of the glowing capsules came the remains of the colonists, growling and roaring in that horrible, gurgled tone. Not stalling for so much as a second, Isaac opened fire, slicing the legs off one of them before proceeding to cut of its spindling, clawed arms. Miranda and Shepard following suit. One of the slashers ran full speed at Miranda, waving its sickle-like blades haphazardly as it rushed at the Cerberus operative. Panicked, she opened fire on the creature, hitting it center mass several times over. It didn't even flinch as she continued to dump metal shards into its torso, much to her dismay. It leaped at her, seemingly unaware of the rounds that penetrated its stomach. Before its blade could connect with Miranda's neck, a searing blast of plasma cut it and it's partner clean off, sending the disarmed necromorph to the ground, right on top of Miranda. It gargled and roared as it gnashed about with its only remaining weapon: its mouth. Biting furiously, its sharp, fragmented teeth came within millimeters of Miranda's jugular. She struggled to get it off her before a heavy, steel boot flew into the beasts's body, sending it to her left, rolling for a second or two before it came to. it roared for only a second before that same boot came cracking down onto its skull, smashing it over and over again util there was nothing left but fleshy pulp and shattered bone.
  1747. "What did I tell you?" Isaac scorned as he joined the commander in firing his weapon. "Go for the limbs. Don't even think about center mass. Tear them apart."
  1749. Miranda picked her weapon back up. She glanced at the crushed remains of her fallen enemy before complying with Isaac's advice, taking the legs off of another slasher with her submachinegun before rending the arms from its shoulders, the body going limp instantly.
  1751. The group continued to advance through the ship, running into several stray necromorphs, tearing them apart with constant streams of plasma and white hot metal. They struggled to put down the creatures as they ran at them full speed, seemingly uncaring of the rounds that tore their bodies apart at the seams until they moved no more. Rounding a corner, Shepard barely avoided being hit by a bright, yellow stream of energy that few just to the right of him. That came from no necromorph. Hearing a distinct buzzing, Shepard looked to his right to see a familiar foe: the collectors, each of them firing on something, be it his team or the hordes of necromorphs that tailed them.
  1753. "Everyone take cover!' Shepard called, sending his companions huddled against the multiple structures and pillars that dotted the ship's interior. Isaac faced rearward, taking out the few slashers that had pursued the group before turning his attention to the strange, insect-like aliens that were actively opening fire on him. He took a split second to examine them before returning fire, beheading one of them. They were cornered. He saw two of them get butchered by a single slasher in quick succession before another tried in vain to put it down, emptying it's ammunition into the monster's torso before having its head lopped off. Another fell dead after Shepard loaded its body with steel. One more seemed to levitate, glowing yellow. It seemed as if it was cracking apart, as light poured in from new fissures in its skin. Shepard knew what it was. Their leader has come to possess one of his minions, and this time, even he, whoever he was, was very, very distraught.
  1755. "SHEPARD..." Spoke the creature as it regained its footing, still glowing bright with yellow light. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!"
  1757. The creature shot a blast of unknown energy at Shepard, who only barely dodged it before it slammed into a nearby pillar. "WHAT HAVE YOU WROUGHT, SHEPARD?! THIS IS NEW DEVILRY. THIS IS NOT BY OUR HANDS. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE IN SOME WAY. YOU KNOW YOU ARE!"
  1759. Shepard paid the creature no heed as he continued to whittle at its biotic barrier, Miranda dispatching its comrades with deadly accurate fire. Isaac continued to send streams of plasma into the enemy's dwindling ranks, completely unaware of what was behind him. A stray puker, gurgling and dripping its caustic fluid on the ground it walked on, tried to sneak up behind the engineer, charging up a concussive shot of immobilizing acid.
  1761. "Watch yourself, Isaac!" shouted Miranda as she began to glow with a strange, blue light that seemed to radiate from her very being. As the light intensified, a strange, oscillating sound emanated from her as well. She outstretched her hand, and the necromorph was immediately hoisted into the air, glowing with the same blue light that enveloped Miranda. It floated helplessly in the air as Miranda tore it to shreds with her SMG. It was a simple display of biotic power, a power that Isaac had never seen before. It bound him under a spell of wonder and curiosity, which almost overtook his sense of self preservation before he snapped out of his hypnotic state.
  1763. "Whoa! Miranda, what the hell was that?"
  1765. "Biotics. I'll explain when we're back on the Normandy."
  1767. Isaac felled the last enemy, a partially dismembered slasher before whispering to himself. "That's.. interesting... I got a few tricks up my sleeve too."
  1769. They continued their trek to the ship's engine room, stumbling across a group of Collectors fighting off a horde of necromorphs, and losing terribly. Once again, one of them rose into the air, possessed by the same entity as before. It blew away three slashers into pieces with biotic force before once again addressing Shepard.
  1771. "WHATEVER SCOURGE YOU HAVE RELEASED. IT SHALL NOT LAST. WE SHALL EMERGE VICTORIOUS AS WE ALWAYS HAVE. YOU WILL KNOW DEFEAT, SHEPARD. NO MATTER WHAT NEW PETS YOU MUSTER TO YOUR CALL." The creature shot another blast, nearly hitting Isaac in the head, impacting no less than a foot away from him. Isaac responded with several blasts of plasma, hitting it several times and breaking its protective barrier. Right before it got the chance to speak once more, a blindingly fast sweep of a tail cut it short. The creature disintegrated, falling apart into an ephemeral dust before its killer proceeded to slaughter its subordinates. It was a leaper, crawling along the walls and jumping to and fro, its fleshy tail swiping at whatever was unfortunate enough to get in its way. It jumped once more, covering a surprising amount of space in one bound, landing on the Commander.
  1773. "GET THIS DAMN THING OFF ME!" Shepard yelled as the abomination screeched an undulating wail in his face, trying to land a hit with its long teeth, woven from the remains of its jaw into long, serrated, blade-like shards of bone. It would never land a bite however, as Isaac grabbed it by the tail, pulling it off of Shepard and slamming it onto the floor. He stepped on the creature's neck, applying as much pressure as his strength would let him. The bone cracked and gave as the surrounding flesh tore apart, and the leaper screeched out loudly before its head was reduced to pulp under Isaac's boot. Isaac flipped it by its tail, slamming onto the deck once more before cutting the tail off with his plasma cutter, and the flailing monster ceased to move.
  1775. As Isaac finished off the necromorph, several Collectors took the chance to train their weapons on him, as he was standing out on the open. that, however, didn't mean they had the advantage. Isaac readied his kinesis module, ripping the blade from the leaper's dismembered tail. Before one of the collectors could manage to fire on Isaac, it found itself impaled by a claw flying through it a break-neck speeds, pinning it to a wall, where it was finished off by a plasma shot from Isaac as he readied himself behind cover.
  1777. "And here you are acting like you forgot what biotics are..." said Miranda, firing another burst from her weapon.
  1779. "I still don't know what that is." replied Isaac. "That was just my kinesis module."
  1781. "Your what?"
  1783. "Hold on." Isaac said as another dismembered claw, previously separated from its parent by that possessed collector, found itself floating in the air, tethered to Isaac's outstretched arm by some ethereal, violet beam of energy, which enveloped both it and Isaac's hand. He pointed it at another collector before sending it straight through its head.
  1785. "That's a bit overkill..." Shepard commented as he finished off the last two collectors that stood in their way.
  1787. "It's pretty handy like that." Isaac said as he caught up with Shepard and Miranda, who were already making their way to the open door that lead to the engine room.
  1789. Finishing off whatever straggling collectors were left at the scene, the trio finally made it to the engine room. the ship's eezo core lay dead center, glowing bright blue, its surface glimmering like sunlight burning through an ocean.
  1791. EDI popped up through another display panel adjacent to the core. "Shepard, I have accessed multiple surveillance points throughout the ship. I've found something rather unusual in the cargo bay. It happens to be the source of the unusual energy signal we discussed earlier."
  1793. "That's it then." Isaac said, approaching the spherical holograph. "That's the Marker"
  1795. "Give us a live feed, EDI." said Shepard.
  1797. A holographic screen popped up, showing the collectors security feed. The cargo bay was caked in human and collector blood, Necromorphs shambled to and fro, their claws waving as they scanned the room for more prey. Some climbed into ventilation shafts, exploring the ship, looking for more ways to infiltrate the deepest recesses of the vessel. Open pods were everywhere, covered with the various sanguine fluids that the necromorphs expelled at their birth. At the bay's center, lay a massive, twin-spired monolith. It glowed a deep, dark red as a light mist accumulated at its base. Isaac could hardly believe what he was seeing. Not even a day ago was the threat seemingly over. Now, it was here. Right in front of his very eyes, taunting him with its very existence, its sheer audacity to remain alive. His pupils shrunk. His breathing became louder. His brow furrowed. His bloodshot eyes widened. Just when the nightmare seemed over, the cruel winds of fate showed Isaac once more that it would never end.
  1799. No.
  1801. This could not continue.
  1803. At that exact moment, Isaac vowed silently to himself: "This will end."
  1805. "Ask her if overloading this thing's engines will destroy it." Isaac said, still staring death into the holographic screen.
  1807. "We don't need to. This thing's core is large enough that there won't be anything left when it goes off." Shepard replied.
  1809. "Are we sure we want to do that?" said Miranda. "If we can salvage this 'Marker' for Cerberus research, there's a good chance we can learn something valu-"
  1811. "Excuse me?!" Isaac said, shifting his gaze at Miranda. 'What the hell did you just say?!". Isaac couldn't believe his ears, yet out of everyone he had met so far, he was least surprised that this "Miranda" would be saying something like this. This organization, this "Cerberus" seemed to be the exact kind of special interest group that would think themselves able to control something like this, only to have it explode in their face. Miranda seemed to embody everything about everyone who has ever done him wrong. She was a staunch upholder of some sort of secretive organization. She was ambitious, and blithe to even the most obvious danger. She was cold in mannerism and seemed not to care what cost this knew knowledge would reap.
  1813. "I said we should take it to-"
  1815. "Are you this stupid all the time, or is this a one time thing?" Isaac said scornfully. "That thing is responsible for everything that's happening on this ship. Its brothers are responsible for what was on that screen back on the Rayya."
  1817. "First of all, do NOT speak to me like that again, second, I never saw that transmission. And third, how do you know so damn much about it? Let alone enough to try and sacrifice what could potentially be a weapon we could use to stop the reapers?"
  1819. "I haven't told you his full story, Miranda." Said Shepard. "That thing will do us no good. We have to destroy it."
  1821. "Commander-"
  1823. "It's my call, Miranda. It has to go."
  1825. "Fine..."
  1827. "I have pulled back any and all security measures keeping the core secure, Shepard. You should be able to overload it from there."
  1829. "Copy that, EDI. Once it starts, how long do we have to get out of here?"
  1831. "I estimate the core to reach critical meltdown by approximately twelve minutes. I have already opened all doors on your extraction route. However, I'm detecting immense levels of activity within the ships ventilation system. I'd recommend staying away from any vents or grates. I am also detecting sizable groups of those former colonists, as well as several remaining collector squads and accompanying husks."
  1833. "Roger that EDI." said Shepard as the holo-diplay closed.
  1835. "Husks? The hell are those?" Isaac asked, reloading the smoking plasma battery in his weapon. "Something the collectors cobbled up?"
  1837. "No. The reapers did." Shepard replied. "Basically a dead body whose organs and fluids have been replaced by synthetic materials."
  1839. "They any challenge compared to the necromorphs?"
  1841. "If they swarm in big enough groups, yes. Let's just overload the core and get the hell out of here."
  1843. The core burst with rays of azure light as round after round pummeled into it. The protective casing fidgeted, lingering in the retracted position as EDI kept it open. Tendrils of cerulean light orbited the core as the trio continued to punish it, the rippling waves of light on its surface intensifying as more plasma and metal flew into it. Finally, the core was compromised as it shattered apart, blue flame exploding and immediately dwindling as electricity sparked within the empty shell.
  1845. "Alright, that's our cue. Let's move."
  1847. Running through the passageways, the group found itself beset by at least several dozen husks. The creatures charged immediately, moaning and screaming as they ran towards their living targets, who replied instantly with volleys of gunfire. Their blue, horribly altered bodies tore apart as shreds of metal and plasma flew through them. They weren't alone, however. A massive, floating construct sailed through the foul air, its four glowing eyes piercing the darkness of the vessel's interior. Electrical sparks erupted from its back, and a collection of what seemed to be the heads of what used to be humans brimmed under its ray-shaped head while long, seemingly bladed tentacles dangled from its underside.
  1849. "Praetorian!" Shepard called as he ducked behind a fallen pillar. "Everyone take cover!'
  1851. "He doesn't look like he'll go down easy..." said Isaac after dispatching several more husks. "What's the plan, Shepard? Fight, or flight?"
  1853. "From what I recall fighting one of these on Horizon, plus our limited time-frame, I'm temped to say flight..." replied Shepard, cursing under his breath as he did his best to keep the husks off him while the praetorian bore down on him with its particle beam.
  1855. "Wait, I think I can keep it still long enough for us to get a crack at it. Hold on..." Isaac said, reloading his cutter as he moved from pillar to pillar. Ducking out of cover for only a second, he aimed his left hand toward the monstrosity before firing a discharge of strange, blue energy, landing a direct hit on the praetorian. The creature was encased in a peculiar blue aura, as its movements were nearly frozen in time. The beam it was firing seemed to have stopped in mid air, clothes-lining several charging husks. Shepard and Isaac immediately focused their fire on the airborne creature, searing through its shields and burning through its exterior. The blue light began to fade, and the monster was released from its time-woven prison. It began to scream as its body disintegrated into dust, falling to the floor in decaying values of blue.
  1857. "There's our window! Let's move!"
  1859. Miranda let loose another biotic wave, sending the remaining husks skyward before slamming them into the ground, killing them instantly.
  1861. "So... a portable stasis cannon?" said Miranda as the pulsating biotic energy enveloping her began to ebb. "Impressive..."
  1863. "Wait, so you guys have stasis too?" said Isaac, attempting to catch up wit his accomplices.
  1865. "Not exactly like that..." replied Shepard. "... But yeah."
  1867. Another bulkhead door opened up, revealing a familiar pathway that led to their exit.
  1869. "Must be the way we came in."
  1871. "Everyone hurry! We only have three minutes left!"
  1873. Their exit was soon blocked off by none other than the colonists, breaking out of their glowing capsules, bleeding, roaring, ready to bring the living flesh in front of them into their ranks.
  1875. That's when Isaac noticed the pile of bodies from before was absent.
  1877. Just as Shepard began to open fire on the bloody, twisted abominations before him, a thunderous, deafening roar pierced his ears. He felt tremors rippling through the floor, repeating in a dreadful, steady rhythm. Something was coming. Something very, very big was coming.
  1879. As he finished off another slasher, Isaac paused as the roar reverberated throughout the chamber. 'Shepard..."
  1881. "I have a feeling you know what that was, Isaac... any special advice?"
  1883. "Well, given our fast-closing window, and the fact that this thing is armored enough that nothing can penetrate it unless you hit it in the back, I think we only have one remaining option."
  1885. "And that is?"
  1887. "Run."
  1889. No sooner had Isaac said that when the source of the roar crashed in through a closed bulkhead, sending the ruined, crumpled remains of the doors flying into the room. It was massive, pounding its gargantuan fists into the deck with incalculable force. The remains of what was recognizable as a human face peered out with beady eyes between massive, plated shoulders. Its brow was expressionless, and its lower jaw absent. Its teeth had become long, thin daggers, bristling from the upper jaw of the monster's head. Emitting another ear-splitting roar, it charged full speed towards the three, bellowing as it closed in on its quarry.
  1891. "We only have a minute and a half left! We don't have time to fight this thing!" Miranda exclaimed, as her fire merely bounced off of the brute's armored plates.
  1893. The monster soon found itself frozen in a blue haze, wavering only a few meters in front of the trio.
  1895. "There! Isaac's frozen it! Everyone back to the Normandy! GO!"
  1897. Without second thought, Isaac, Shepard and Miranda made a break for the open door, the Normandy's shuttle waiting outside. The stasis wore off on the brute, its speed gaining on the fleeing squad. Shepard could hear the beast's rumbling gait linger ever closer. He could feel the shockwaves its roar exuded on his back. The hairs on the back of his neck raised as the brute closed in, only yards behind them. Their ride out was only a few feet away...
  1899. Miranda was the first to make it in. Shepard following suit, jumping as far he could, utilizing the reduced gravity to its fullest. Isaac however, lagged behind, the brute just behind him. The door was just within reach. The abomination's hand reached out to grab Isaac, to force him into those powerful jaws where he would be hewn and crushed between bloodied shards of bone. Despite the monster's efforts, Isaac was determined that this wasn't where he was going to die. Passing the door, he pressed the holo-panel on its surface, closing it behind him. The massive bulkhead doors came together with tremendous force, pinning the brute between them, catching its head and right arm. The beast roared and wailed as the doors continued to crush it. Within a split second, they came together, messily bisecting the creature, which now lay lifeless on the deck as Isaac clambered inside the shuttle.
  1901. "That was way too close..." Isaac said, catching his breath
  1903. As the shuttle flew off towards the Normandy's open hangar bay, Isaac looked out the small window in the vessel's side, watching as the collector ship started to fall apart from the inside out. Explosions popped up on its surface, dotting the entire length of the ship. Slowly, section by section, it began to blow apart completely, the stern and engines bursting into bright shades of blue. It overtook the ship, cracking it all the way up to the bow, until finally, the entire vessel went up in an instantaneous explosion. The shuttle picked up speed to avoid the incoming shrapnel, quickly dodging its way into the awaiting Normandy.
  1905. Two hours later, and Isaac finds himself in the tech lab, gazing out into the stars as the Normandy sped through the cosmos faster than light itself, making its way to the nearest relay. They had already done a fly-by of what was left of the collector ship. The signal EDI had detected earlier was no longer showing up on her scanners, and not a single piece of the marker could be found. It gave Isaac some comfort, but even with the Marker gone, Isaac knew there had to be more. It couldn't have been the only one that followed him here. The horror he witnessed on that ship, the horror he had already seen unfold may times before him, would repeat. He remembered the vow he had made to himself. He remembered his promise.
  1907. "This will end. No matter what."
  1909. "This will end..."
  1911. Isaac didn't realize that he was saying his vow aloud, and in Mordin's company.
  1913. "What is it that is ending, Mr Clarke? Collector threat? Your entrapment in this reality? Perhaps. Former seems more likely, given latest blow dealt to them. Not certain about latter. Promise to help, but may take-"
  1915. "No, its... It's nothing, Mordin." Isaac replied. "Hey, uh, what was it you said you were again? I'm uh, still trying to get acclimated to the whole 'I'm not alone in the universe' thing, and I don't think I've seen anything that really looks like you so far, so... yeah."
  1917. "Ah yes, nearly forgot about that." Mordin said politely as he retreated form his console. "Think you may need to know more than just my race, however. Would not be very good to see you ask every sentient being its race while on shore leave."
  1919. "I guess that makes sense..."
  1921. "Would be amusing to watch you go for their hips, however..." Mordin said, chuckling to himself.
  1923. "... You guys are never letting me live that down are you?"
  1925. "Most likely."
  1927. Mordin proceeded to impart everything he knew about the galaxy to him. Unlike the last time he and Isaac conversed, Isaac hadn't asked for the short version. This time, he felt he needed to know more. Even though the threat of the markers was now calling on this reality's doorstep, Isaac couldn't help but be curious. All the recent tumult had taken a toll on his sanity and time. Now that he was finally somewhere where he could gather his thoughts and rest, he was more than eager to try and find out as much about this place as possible. Mordin told him about the council, the galaxy's main, central government, and how most of the galaxy adhered to it, along with all the races that it encompassed. He told Isaac about the geth, how they came to be, and how they rebelled against their quarian masters, forcing them into a nomadic lifestyle, leading them to lose their immune systems, as well as their seat in the council. He proceeded to tell him about how the asari found the citadel, and were joined by the turians, followed by his own race, the salarians later on. He covered the Rachni wars, and the Krogan rebellions that followed. He went over how the batarians lost their council seat after attacking humanity for entering their colonial space, resulting in a race-wide grudge that beget pirate and slaver attacks on human colonies. Mass effect fields and biotics were also discussed, as Mordin explained how eezo worked and how it reacted with organic life, specifically anything with a nervous system, which would develop nodes that serve as conduits for mass effect fields that could be made more powerful by implanted amplifiers. He elucidated on how humanity came to enter the galactic scene. Pluto's moon, Charon was in effect a mass relay. Humanity had never seen such a machine, and they had only just discovered mass effect/eezo technology. Unfortunately, they were also unaware of galactic law, which forbade anyone from activating any inactive relay without permission from the council, leading to the first contact war, in which humanity fought against the turians.
  1929. "Wow... we really rocked the boat when we showed up, didn't we?"
  1931. "That you did." Mordin said politely before returning to his work. "That's all for now. Much work to be done. More enlightenment on galactic subjects later?"
  1933. "Yeah, that's fine."
  1935. "Enjoyed speaking with you, Mr Clarke."
  1937. As he exited the tech lab, Isaac took a good, long look at the ship that, for now, was going to be his home. Everything in sight seemed to contrast life on the Falcon to the extreme. The whole interior was ablaze with light. Holo-panels dotted many areas of the ship. A large display of the Normandy took center stage, while another display of the milky way resided behind it, Yeoman Chambers manning a console in its right. Well dressed, clean, well-groomed staff manned the computers that lined the interior partitions of this "Combat Information Center" as the words written on the walls implied. This whole place was nothing like the dark, dank interior of a mining vessel like the Falcon. There was no dirt or grime on the walls, and the tubes and pipes that would line its walls were nowhere to be found here. Isaac would remember how dirty and greasy his clothes and RIG would be every time he came home from a mining op, unlike all the neat, tidy faces he saw manning the computers and talking near the Normandy display. It struck him odd to be in such a sterile, clean environment. Cramped space and stale air were more or less all he knew. This would take some getting used to.
  1939. Soon enough, he figured that he wasn't getting used to it any faster just standing there. It was time he got acquainted with the Normandy.
  1941. Isaac wandered over to the Armory, examining all the exotic weaponry that lined the tables and racks. He looked at each one of them in detail, eyeing their contours and moving parts, wondering what they looked like inside, wondering how they worked, how they could be taken apart and reconfigured.
  1943. "Can I help you?"
  1945. "Oh, sorry. Just uh... just checking out the kit you've got here."
  1947. "In any case, I'm gonna have to ask you not to touch them. Those are for use by Shepard's squad in missions, or by the crew in case of emergency. Either way, they don't need to be tampered with."
  1949. "Got it. I didn't catch your name, by the way."
  1951. "Name's Jacob Taylor. I'm the Armory officer aboard the Normandy."
  1953. "Interesting... You know, I'd really like the chance to get to know how these things tick."
  1955. "I think the doctor over in the tech labs might be able to help you on that one. I'm a little busy maintaining our armaments. Too busy to try and give a lecture on how they work"
  1957. "Mordin already told me the basic premise. I just want to get some hands-on experience."
  1959. "That's gonna have to wait, Mr Clarke."
  1961. Sighing under his breath, Isaac complied. "Fine... be seeing you around."
  1963. "Well, that was a waste of time..." Isaac said to himself as he exited the armory. "Where to next..."
  1965. Isaac couldn't help but feel a little clueless as he looked around the CIC. He was almost sure he had been through the majority of it, and he wasn't sure exactly were he was going next. That's when a familiar "face" came out of a projection port next to him.
  1967. "Pleasure to see you, Mr Clarke."
  1969. "Oh. It's you again. I remember you showing up when were about to overload that collector ship's core."
  1971. "Indeed that was me." EDI replied. "I assume you're lost."
  1973. "That's more or less where I'm at, yeah."
  1975. "I see. The elevator behind you can take you to any deck on the ship. You've used it before, when you returned from the collector vessel."
  1977. "Yeah, I remember. That was from the hangar, though. How many decks are on the ship?"
  1979. "Five. You're currently on the second deck, which serves as the combat information center. Deck one is the captain's quarters, although i advise that one stays out of Deck one unless personally invited. Deck three is the Crew's quarters, where most of the ship's personnel spend their downtime. You'll also find the ship's main batteries here. Deck four is engineering, which houses the engine and all affiliated functions and staff. I believe you've already been to deck five, which is the hangar."
  1981. "Alright, thanks for the... wait, um... what do you call yourself?"
  1983. "EDI. Short for Enhanced Defense Intelligence. I operate all the ship's electronic warfare suites, as well as its stealth and drive functions"
  1985. "Wow... okay then. Thanks for the info." said Isaac as he walked towards the elevator"
  1987. "Logging you out, Isaac."
  1989. Entering the elevator, Isaac saw a panel, displaying the multiple decks. He chose Deck Three, and the elevator doors closed, sending Isaac below to the crew's quarters. He wasted no time getting out of the elevator, wanting to see what more the Normandy had in store. Right ahead of him was a familiar, scarred face. Garrus was busying himself with the ship's main battery, calibrating its targeting systems.
  1991. "Hey."
  1993. "Well well well, look what the varren dragged in. Sightseeing are we?"
  1995. "I guess you could say that, yeah. Just looking around."
  1997. "That's all well and good. Just don't touch anything up here." said Garrus pointing to the calibration monitor. "Last thing we need is a stray torpedo hitting someone off in deep space.."
  1999. "Gotcha. Hey, I don't wanna be too intrusive, but where'd you get.... That?" Isaac said, making a circling motion with his hand over the right side of his face. 'I mean if it's too personal, I ca-"
  2001. "Ah, it's nothing." Garrus replied. "As you know Shepard was dead for two years before Cerberus brought him back. Beforehand, me and several others were part of his team. I won't blab all day about the intermitting story, so I'll cut to the chase. Come two years after Shepard goes down on the Original Normandy, I'm fighting off mercenaries on this godforsaken rock called Omega. Soon, I notice that three of them are shooting their comrades in the back. They come upstairs and, lo and behold, there's Shepard. A bit scarred up but alive nonetheless. He offers me a place in the team again, and needless to say the return journey was a little... bumpy. Gunship came in and gave me a run for my money."
  2003. "Wow... so how long have you known him?"
  2005. "As of now about two and a half years, if you can count the time he was spending dead."
  2007. "That's pretty interesting..."
  2009. "It's quite a yarn alright." said Garrus while turning his attention back to his console. "now, as you can see, I'm a little busy. Not to be rude or anything, but this gun still needs calibrating."
  2011. "I see. Catch you later."
  2013. "You too."
  2015. Isaac spotted a sign above a door on the deck's port side. "Executive officer's Quarters". He had a good feeling of who was in there, and he knew he didn't want to talk to her, of all people. She was suspicious, to say the least, as her little slip up aboard the Collector ship seemed to be all Isaac needed to know about her. Wanting to take the Marker... surely someone who would come up with that kind of madness was either under its influence, or simply too arrogant or careless to realize that it would mean their doom.
  2017. Descending down the elevator once more, Isaac found himself in engineering. It was a little more dark in there, and the piping and stuffing tube he was familiar with lined the walls. For a moment, he felt almost at home as he descended a staircase down into a lower level. That's when he realized he wasn't alone.
  2019. "The hell are you?" asked an irritated voice from within the bowels of the ship.
  2021. "Oh, no one. Just having a look around the Normandy."
  2023. "Well, don't look here" Said Jack as she came into the red light.
  2025. "Look, I'm sorry if I bothered you bu-"
  2027. "How bout you take your cerberus BS and shove it? I asked Shepard for a solitary quarters for a reason."
  2029. "Jeez, who pissed in your coffee? I'm not even Cerberus! I'm new! I'm just familiarizing myself with the ship!"
  2031. "Hmm... yeah I don't see any Cerberus insignia on you. Nevermind. Either way, there's nothing really special for you to rummage around if that's what you're looking for."
  2033. "Oh."
  2035. "Hey what's with the weird, glowy outfit? Especially that weird-ass fur collar..."
  2037. "Well, it is two-hundred years old and made for cold climates."
  2039. "Well, that explains it. Soooo... yeah. Like I said. Nothing to see here."
  2041. "Alright. Hey, wait, did you ever tell me your name?"
  2043. "Do you remember me telling you?"
  2045. "No..."
  2047. "Then chances are, I haven't told you. It's Jack. Just Jack."
  2049. "Okay... Isaac. Isaac Clarke."
  2051. "Whatever... see ya."
  2053. "Yeah, see ya."
  2055. Isaac went back up the stairs into main engineering, still a little confused as to what to make of the scantly clad, tattooed woman who lurked within the bowels of the ship. She was an odd specimen, that was for sure. Whoever this, "Jack" was, however, Isaac felt quite confident (and relieved) that if she were to have any further dealings with him, it wouldn't be anytime soon. That one was stuck in her shell good, and it didn't seem like there would be a whole lot that could pry her out.
  2057. Reaching the top of the stairs, Isaac was met with another sight that he wasn't sure he was seeing right. For the most part, this deck seemed awfully reminiscent of a ship he had already been on. Now, as he looked at what was most likely the engine room, he was taken aback by just how sterile and clean the entire place was. Everything shone in some sort of indigo haze, including the immense, spherical structure that lay ahead of him. An oscillating hum radiated from it as it vibrated in its enclosure, accessed by a single, open catwalk.
  2059. "I thought you might come snooping around." said a familiar voice coming from one of the consoles to his left.
  2061. "Oh, hey!" Isaac replied. "Good to see you again!"
  2063. "You too, you crazy bosh'tet." she said warmly. "I've been meaning to talk with you, actually."
  2065. "Yeah, I still remember how you told me that aboard the Falcon.' said Isaac facetiously. "Do you always talk with your hand like that?"
  2067. "Oh, come on! You have to give me a pass on that one! I got excited! What, with the fact that you had just destroyed an entire flight of batarian slavers with a bunch of asteroids towed with... well, I don't even know what that was! How did you reel them in like that?"
  2069. "Mining technology? We just use those to either lift a piece of a planetoid up, or reel in any asteroid that the scanner says is rich in resources. It's just standard gravity-tether tech, You guys don't have that?"
  2071. "What was your first clue?"
  2073. "Heh... yeah, I see I've still got a lot of smoke and mirrors this galaxy seems to want. Especially the Shockdrive. Seriously, you guys never figured it out? Just how long has everyone been stuck on this relay network? I mean, Mordin told me all about this eezo tech and whatnot. It's all pretty impressive, but it kind of limits you guys, you know?"
  2075. "That's exactly what I thought when we were perched outside the galaxy. Really, I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Just how commonplace are voyages like that back home? Just how far do they usually go?"
  2077. "You bet they are. We go way farther out than that most of the time. It's funny, i mean, we haven't really cracked half of our own galaxy either. We just use advanced detection equipment to find any system rich in resources and shock out to it. Most of the unexplored galaxy is like that because there's nothing there to grab or colonize."
  2079. "Wow... I'm not going to lie, but it sounds like your reality is a bit depressing. Just how resource strapped is it over there?"
  2081. "It got bad enough at one point that we almost kicked the bucket. At that point, there was literally not a single drop of resources left on earth. We had nowhere to go but the stars, so we just decided it was time to put aside all differences and reach out to space. We've stripped entire planets bare trying to rebuild ourselves. Now we're more or less overpopulated everywhere we are."
  2083. "'Stripping planets bare'? That sounds horrible! How is that even possible?"
  2085. "Planetcrackers. That's how. I was an engineer for the biggest mining company in the business: the CEC, or concordance extraction corporation. They had some pretty big ships in their fleet, some of the first of that size to be fitted with shockdrives. Just about any one of these ships was at about the size of that collector ship. They would basically use gravity tethers like the Falcon's, only upscaled like crazy, big enough to need ground based counterparts. You see, we'd establish a colony planetside, where we'd set up the ground tethers, conduct research on the planet, all that jazz, then we'd "pop the cork". Basically the ship lifted a massive chunk of the planet with its tethers. We'd smelt that piece for any metals or resources, then proceed to mine the rest of the planet until we've gotten everything we needed."
  2087. "That's unbelievable...."
  2089. "It sounds pretty insane doesn't it? However you want to take it, it kept us alive. Now that I look at it, it's pretty drastic, but that's how it went down."
  2091. "At least tell me everything got better on earth..."
  2093. "Not really. We may have brought ourselves back from the brink, but it came at a price. The skies haven't been blue in decades. Half the oceans are toxic. Barely any animals or plants remain. If you looked at it from space, all you'd see is a dirty, grey ball. The whole place really is a dump. I hope things are better here..."
  2095. "They are, actually. I'm not from earth, obviously, but from what I've seen in news vids, earth is really entering a golden age."
  2097. "Really?"
  2099. "Hey, you said you were an engineer before, right?"
  2101. "That I am."
  2103. "Great minds think alike, I suppose."
  2105. "Oh, you're an engineer too?"
  2107. "You bet! I mean, all us quarians are pretty tech savvy, but yes, I dabble in just about anything artificial."
  2109. "Nice!"
  2111. Just then, the door opened behind them, and a rather large, top heavy figure entered the room.
  2113. "Isaac!" boomed a hearty, familiar voice as its source charged into the room. "Heard you were on board!"
  2115. "Oh, uh, hey Grunt." said Isaac, somewhat surprised by the Krogan's intrusion. "What brings you here?"
  2117. "My quarters are on this deck. EDI gave me heads up that you were on board. Plus, I could detect your scent when you entered the deck."
  2119. "That's... cool... Well, you have my attention. What's up?"
  2121. "I.... uh... I dunno."
  2123. "Really? Nothing?"
  2125. "Uhhhh... I guess not."
  2127. "Okay... so th-?"
  2129. "WAIT WAIT WAIT, I almost forgot! Don't tell Shepard about this, but... uh... do you have any more batteries for that contact beam thing?"
  2131. "I'm pretty sure there's tons on the Falcon... that said I don't remember lending you any..."
  2133. "Yeah, I kinda borrowed some while we were in the cargo bay. I'm all out though."
  2135. "Really? Where'd you get to shoot all of it, exactly?"
  2137. "Uhhhh... nevermind. I just, um... lost it.. somewhere... So yeah, I'll... I'll see you later."
  2139. "Okay..."
  2141. "Just don't tell Shepard."
  2143. "Bye..."
  2145. "bye..."
  2147. A brief pause ensued as Grunt left the room. Both Isaac and Tali just stood there, not knowing exactly what to do next. Isaac may not have been able to see Tali's face, but he knew what expression it bore, one which mirrored his; eyes wide, lips tucked, brows raised.
  2149. "How many things do you think have new holes in them?"
  2151. "Probably everything."
  2153. "Wanna check?"
  2155. "I'm not sure I'm ready..."
  2157. Stepping into the hallway, Isaac and tali looked out of the window into the cargo bay. What they saw next wasn't anything that would surprise them. Surprise and awe, however, are two different beasts entirely.
  2159. "How much do you think this is going to cost?"
  2161. "Too much..."
  2163. "What about that... wait, was that a box of spare parts or something?"
  2165. "That was a probe."
  2167. "Oh."
  2169. "How didn't you see this when coming back from the collector ship?"
  2171. "It wasn't like this when we got there..."
  2173. "Should we tell Shepard?"
  2175. "Well, he asked me not to..."
  2177. "I think he ought to know."
  2179. "Probably."
  2181. "Maybe we will and say we didn't?"
  2183. "That's a good idea."
  2185. Meanwhile, in the briefing room, Shepard was having a heated discussion with his primary ally.
  2187. "Don't try to overstep me, Shepard." The Illusive man said, tapping the butt of his cigarette. "You came into contact with this 'Isaac' and didn't notify me first thing. That's the bottom line."
  2189. "In case you haven't been listening, we had our hands full trying to figure out what to do with him. I'd think you'd be at least a little more appreciative seeing as how my first thought was to recruit him!"
  2191. "And in doing so, you almost let him slip through your fingers! Yes, I would've approved of him joining your crew, but that doesn't mean you have to get clingy on him. You may have meant well, but your tactics regarding him were nothing less than an outright blunder!"
  2193. "Either way, he's on our side now. We can discuss the semantics when they actually start to matter. Of all people who would start questioning the means to an end, I would've thought you be the last person to do so."
  2195. "I don't like the way you worded that, Shepard. I may be direct, but don't try to paint me as some ruthless creature devoid of consideration or foresight. Besides, judging from what both you and EDI have revealed to me, he came aboard your ship on his own free will, not your beckoning! In tandem with that, he came aboard because of a new threat. A threat that apparently followed him into this reality! Very few things get me worried but what I saw from that transmission that EDI intercepted... Shepard, you saw it for yourself. That thing was at least the size of a small planet! If that arrives here, it may be on par with the Reapers! We haven't even dealt with their collector puppets yet."
  2197. "I think we may be able to avoid the Reapers altogether if we play our cards right with the tech Isaac came in with. We could possibly evacuate the entire galaxy with that technology alone."
  2199. "Interesting you bring that up, Shepard. Before I even hear a peep about anything that man has on his ship, you let him give half a lecture on how it works to the Migrant Fleet. That better be forgetfulness behind that, Shepard."
  2201. "Why do you insist that I have to wrangle him up before I even have his trust? What should I have done? Board the Falcon and kidnap him to be sent over to your HQ for questioning? He has his own itinerary. I can't force him out of it. Didn't you just say that I should have been more subtle with him?"
  2203. "I think the word you're looking for is 'asserted yourself'. Try not to confuse that with waving an 'enlist now' poster in his face."
  2205. "Oh, I'm sure that would've worked. Given his probable mental state and recent history, I'm sure he'd love to have some paramilitary force him at gunpoint to join."
  2207. "You keep making those strawmen, Shepard. Just know that you've really hampered how much I can trust you."
  2209. "Oh, is that so? Well, why don't you explain that little turian signal back on that collector ship."
  2211. "A calculated risk. I had confidence in you and your team's ability to succeed."
  2213. "Calculated risk, huh? Did that include the Marker? Or the Necromorphs?"
  2215. "There's no way I could've predicted that Shepard."
  2217. "Calculated or not, that was quite a risk to take. Especially seeing as how you spent several billion to bring me back."
  2219. "We'll talk about it later Shepard. We need to gather all the resources we can. We're not facing just one threat anymore. There's two storms about to make landfall and we need to be ready. You're dismissed."
  2221. ---
  2223. "So, what are the specs on this thing? Does it require any outside power source?" asked Kenneth as he examined the strange tool on Isaac's wrist.
  2225. "Nah. It runs on the RIG's power."
  2227. "Amazing... I do suppose that heat sink makes it a bit uncomfortable though."
  2229. "Yeah, it heats up a little if you overuse it."
  2231. "I'm a little more interested in that stasis cannon, though." said Gabby. "We have stasis in this reality, though it's kind of different. The collectors have some sort of swarm that activates a stasis field, and we have stasis pods to stabilize life over long periods of time, but shooting a burst of it out of your wrist? That's awesome! Does it run off the RIG's power too?"
  2233. "Nah, it doesn't work that way. It runs on an energy canister that gives it a few more shots, kind of like ammo in a rifle."
  2235. "Am I interrupting anything?" asked Shepard while entering the room.
  2237. "Just a little engineer sowing circle." Ken replied. "Who would've thought that our first contact with someone from another reality would be a greasemonkey too?"
  2239. "Good to see you, Shepard." said Tali. "Anything we can help with?"
  2241. "That's okay. Just wanted a word with Isaac in the briefing room. Isaac?"
  2243. "Yeah, sure. I'll be right back guys."
  2245. "And we'll be here when you get back." Ken replied.
  2247. The doors to the briefing room shut, and Isaac and Shepard found themselves alone.
  2249. "I see you and the engineering crew have gotten to know each other."
  2251. "Yep. Techies stick together y'know?"
  2253. "I can see that. Y'know, I'm no techie, but I'm a little interested in that kit you were showing the others."
  2255. "Okay, then why pull me aside? I was already starting to cover the stasis module"
  2257. "I got a call from Jack. Turns out some 'weird guy in a 200 year old suit' came blundering by."
  2259. "Oh, her. She's uh... she's a piece of work, I'll tell you that much."
  2261. "That may be true, but if it's also true that the suit you're wearing is two centuries old, I think it's time for a trip to the tailor."
  2263. "You guys have that on the ship?"
  2265. "Not really, but I'm thinking a change of attire may be appropriate. I'm gonna be pretty frank here, that thing looks worn out. Badly."
  2267. "I see. Sooooo, is that why you pulled me over? Just offer me a new suit?"
  2269. "Nope. I just wanted to see what resources you needed."
  2271. "Resources?"
  2273. "Isaac, do you consider yourself a part of the team?"
  2275. "I'm gonna be honest, I'm not really digging the idea of being conscripted into anything. I'm leaning more in favor of a partnership."
  2277. "Which I have nothing against. That said, I assume you're not looking forward to wearing any kind of uniform."
  2279. "Is that a trick question?"
  2281. "That's what I expected to hear. You're also an engineer, am I correct? Like to build things? Get your hands dirty?"
  2283. "Shepard, what are you getting at? What did you mean by 'resources'?"
  2285. "I'm asking if there's anything you need to build yourself a new suit."
  2287. Isaac just stood there silently, eyes widening just a little. Slowly he turned his head towards Shepard, still wearing a blank, wide-eyed expression.
  2289. "Isaac, are you alri-?
  2291. "Gimme a minute. I've gotta compile a list."
  2293. Down on engineering, Tali, Kenneth and Gabby were beginning to wonder where their haggard, fur-collared friend had gone off to. It had been about twenty minutes, and he still hadn't returned from the briefing room. They were just starting to get to the point where they had contemplated simply getting back to work, when suddenly, a haggard man dressed in a worn jacket and Levis, carrying what seemed to be a full body suit and a datapad, rushed into the room.
  2295. "Isaac? is that you?" asked Tali.
  2297. "Yep. I was wondering, is there any spare room I can use? A table, maybe?"
  2299. "Isaac? What are you working on?" asked Gabby. "And...Ugh! Why do you smell like you haven't showered in...?!"
  2301. "Three days? Probably because I haven't. Let's just say I've been a bit preoccupied." said Isaac.
  2303. "Well, if you're looking for space to work, you can go below. Lots of room down there."
  2305. "I think you forgot about Crazy McTatbody down there." Isaac replied.
  2307. "I heard that!"
  2309. "Sorry!"
  2311. "Anyways, whats going on?" asked Tali. "Why's your suit off?"
  2313. Isaac tossed the datapad to her. "See everything on that list? We got all that?"
  2315. "We should over in the storage areas... just what are you up to?"
  2317. "A little wardrobe overhaul. Mind helping me out?"
  2319. "Sure!" Replied Ken. "Where do we start?"
  2321. "Right here. Follow me"
  2323. Ken took out a collapsible workbench from storage, setting it up in the engine room. "I know this isn't a whole lot of space, but it'll have to do for now."
  2325. "It's fine." Replied Isaac. "Get it set up. I'll see what parts from this suit are salvageable. Gabby, you have those hardsuit components?"
  2327. "Got em right here."
  2329. "Tali. you got the tools?"
  2331. "Out and ready!"
  2333. "Alright. Let's get started!"
  2335. Within moments, the entire engineering deck was ablaze with activity, with Gabby and Ken going back and forth, fetching needed resources, while helping disassemble key components from the spare hardsuit. Each shield generator, every ceramic composite plate was separated and inspected. Each part on the list was taken to Tali. The quarian worked her hardest to get every part into the desired arrangement. She looked over Isaac's rough sketches, looking at what parts would fit best and which ones had to be "altered". She tore at the underlying fiber mesh, cutting it to it's appropriate size and shape in accordance with Isaac's blueprints. Isaac himself was occupying himself with his suit, taking a blowtorch and screwdriver to its metal parts, separating them from the cloth body. He detached the titanium-ceramic composite boots, examining which parts were no longer useful. All the boosters were slightly worn, but could be fixed. Several of the thrust vectoring flaps were in bad shape. Fuel cells had corroded to a certain point even before he had found the suit. They had power, but only enough for about an hour of sustained flight. They required replacement.
  2337. "Where's that crate of eezo cells? These propulsors might need some new juice."
  2339. "You're going to use eezo in those boots? Are you sure they're compatible?" asked Tali.
  2341. "Not right now, but with the right modifications, They'll work like a charm."
  2343. "If you say so. Over to your left. It's clearly marked."
  2345. "Thanks."
  2347. "Hey Isaac!" Called Gabby from the back of the room. "Found a few more benches. Think we can set 'em up in there?"
  2349. "Not a whole lot of room back here, but yeah, I think Tali could use one."
  2351. "Thank you. It was getting a little tiresome crouching on my knees and elbows like this. The floor makes for a very poor workbench."
  2353. "I'm pretty sure Shepard wouldn't mind watching you work like that." said Isaac, chuckling to himself as Tali got up from her near-prone position, her hips on full display.
  2355. "Wh- how did you kn-"
  2357. "Oh please, you don't think I noticed?' Isaac replied smugly. "Oh Shepard... Oh , oh it's beautiful! Oh yesh Tali, I shee it..."
  2359. "Oh Keelah..."
  2361. "Oh come on, you guys are adorable." Isaac said, turning back to his work.
  2363. "Har har."
  2365. "Here's some more of that composite, Tali." said Ken, handing over more of the hardsuit's pieces over to her as she set up her new workstation. "How's it going over there, Isaac?"
  2367. "I'm re-configuring a couple things, mostly involving the air reserves and stasis... Mordin sent me these formulas on how this 'eezo' stuff creates mass effect fields and how said fields affect matter and compression... I think I can get a little cheeky with how much air or stasis I can use..."
  2369. "I just hope you know what you're doing, Isaac..." said Tali.
  2371. "I know half of what I'm doing... does that count?"
  2373. "It'll do..."
  2375. Shepard had more or less nothing left to to do with his spare time. He'd already checked up on most of his crew, as per Kelly's advice. All his messages had been checked. One from the Illusive man that he couldn't care less about, several from the Migrant fleet, and one or two from the council. Every one of them had something to do with the man who was now on board his ship. The Illusive man wanted to know about his mental state. There was at least a dozen from the quarians, many asking if "Mr Clarke was okay", others warning that he had better not be so brazen with one of their leaders again. Yet more asked about what exactly was on that screen, or whether or not it was a hoax. The messages from the Citadel seemed the most interesting. They had more than several offers to get Isaac's tech onto a production line. They seemed to want to pay Isaac for his tech. The amount they were offering was nothing less than a small fortune, even before the actual production period, and the Normandy could very well use that money, seeing as how it needed upgrades to face the collectors, and Isaac didn't seem to be the type who would embrace the glamorous life. Still, it didn't seem fair not to ask him about it.
  2377. "I'm gonna see how our new engineer is doing. Hold the fort down, Kelly."
  2379. "You got it."
  2381. Stepping out of the elevator, Shepard overheard several cheers and whoops from the room behind him.
  2383. "Alright! There we are! Finished!"
  2385. "Well, what're ya waiting for ya git?! Try it on!"
  2387. "Wait, hold on, someone's coming."
  2389. "Shepard!" Tali exclaimed. "Perfect timing! We just got finished with Isaac's new RIG."
  2391. "How'd it go?"
  2393. "See for yourself."
  2395. Entering the engine room, Shepard beheld a sight he wasn't sure what to make out of. Ken and Gabby were sweaty and spotted with grease on their uniforms. Tali's visor was smeared with hydraulic fluid, and the purple swirls on her hood were sullied with all sorts of grease and soot. Isaac stood near the back, now wearing his t-shirt and jeans, which were also nearly covered in black stains, as was the dirty brown jacket that hung over a cluttered table. The entire engine room was cluttered past recognition. Spare parts, pieces of what used to be vacuum-worthy cloth, projectile-resistant mesh, and ceramic-composite plate were strewn all around the deck. Toolboxes lay open, their contents spilling out of disorganized trays. Screwdrivers, torque wrenches, blowtorch canisters. The entire engineering deck was swathed in a great, greasy, cluttered mess.
  2397. "Well... I can see you guys have been busy..."
  2399. "Very busy." Isaac replied. "And to think, we accomplished in five hours with four people what would have taken ten people a week to finish, or a computer a day. You've got some pretty talented folks here, Shepard."
  2401. "Boy, don't I..." Shepard replied while wading through the sea of miscellaneous junk while entering the engine room. "I'm guessing it worked out?"
  2403. "Hell yeah, it worked out! Here it is..."
  2405. Isaac grabbed what looked like a giant, jagged metal briefcase. It was slightly bigger than his torso, and was covered in clean cut plates of composite armor, plains of sleek vacuum-safe fabric and combat mesh underlying. Isaac inserted his hands into it, spreading his arms as he lifted the device in front of him. The device cracked open, letting two pant legs extend, open vertically from ankle to hip. They came onto Isaac's legs, enveloping them in a thick suit of armor and mesh. Zero-g boots assembled themselves around Isaac's feet as he lifted them to accommodate the soles, their thrust vectoring flaps moving up and down, calibrating themselves. The arms and torso opened themselves, encapsulating the rest of Isaac's body, sealing itself at the back. The many propulsion vents and flaps clicked open and shut, assuming all their possible positions. Finally, The console on the suit's chest opened up, flush with the armor plating from which it erupted. From its berth, a hook picked up its payload, as its counterpart on the top of the glowing blue spine of Isaac's RIG released its own in perfect synchronization. In a matter of seconds, several dozen plates assembled themselves, latching upon one another to form an airtight seal. As the plates came together into their final form. Three tiers of blue light shone into the eyes of all in the room, while the sound of air being sealed within the helmet resounded in the room in a droning hiss. Isaac stepped forward, the matte black plates of his armor refusing to reflect to blue light emanating from the ship's engine. His gauntlets were rugged, plates welded perfectly together to form a tight bracer, strapped to his wrists with clean cut bands of composite armor, and his left gauntlet was adorned with the stasis and kinesis modules. Several plates of armor covered his chest, divided into four sections; The first formed a protective breastplate, strapped to the spine of the RIG by solid titanium bands underlined with padding. The second section was a series of smaller plates, segmented like the carapace of an insect. The bottom two consisted of a series of ribs, each with enough space between them to allow decent flexibility. His knees, shoulders, and elbows were clad in protective padding, overlaid with angular black plates. Needless to say, Isaac's audience was blown away.
  2407. "I gotta get me one of those." said Ken, his eyes widened in pure astonishment.
  2409. "I wonder if I can deck out my suit like that..." commented Tali.
  2411. "You'd certainly look at least fifty times more intimidating..." Replied Gabby. "What do you think, Shepard?"
  2413. "Hmm... that depends, are you guys up for another round... ?"
  2415. "What do you mean?" said Isaac.
  2417. "... because I wouldn't mind having a suit like that myself..."
  2419. All eyes in the CIC found themselves on Isaac as he stepped out of the elevator with the commander. His black and grey armor bore a grim, sleek, intimidating aura as his steel footsteps echoed throughout the room. Shepard lead him to the glowing display of the galaxy that lay near the center of the room. Multiple points were highlighted, pointing out the many destinations and stops that the galaxy had to offer. Isaac found his thoughts now cluttered with conjecture and curiosity. He recalled Mordin's exposition, remembering the many names he saw on the display; Palaven, Thessia, Tuchanka, Sur'Kesh. Each name incited genuine interest in Isaac, making him wonder what a visit to each would be like, what sights he'd see there.
  2421. "Y'know... this all makes me realize just how alone we really are back home. It just makes me wonder what else I've been missing."
  2423. "Doesn't mean you can't catch up. Did Mordin tell you about the Citadel?"
  2425. "Yeah, he told me about the council and everything. Said it was the seat of galactic power or something along those lines."
  2427. "That it is. Said council just sent me a message about you. They heard about how you got here, and your little encounter with the batarians."
  2429. "Huh... Did they want anything?"
  2431. "Yes. You're the galaxy's first extra-dimensional contact. As such, they're pretty eager to meet you."
  2433. "They also hear about shockdrives, I assume?"
  2435. "That they did. A lot of the quarians that were on the Falcon have relatives on the citadel. When those relatives got a hold of the video recording their family had taken, you can imagine just how fast the news spread."
  2437. "As long as they don't know about the first half of the Falcon's voyage recorder-"
  2439. "Isaac, the whole fleet saw that. Everyone who was watching the broadcast saw it."
  2441. "...great."
  2443. "Don't worry, I've already made arrangements to make sure you're not smothered with morbid questions when we set foot on the station."
  2445. "Are you sure? I really don't need trillions of people on my back about my past."
  2447. "You might end up with trillions on your back about other things anyway, but don't worry. Until we can get a good hold on this marker business, everything's gonna be under wraps."
  2449. "But didn't you just say the whole-"
  2451. "I said, I have it handled. We're not gonna let you get mobbed in the middle of the street. Just bear with me Isaac. Let's just see what the council wants to know"
  2453. "Yeah..."
  2455. "Joker, set a course for the Citadel. Isaac's got an appointment with the council."
  2457. As the blue light of the relay jump vanished, The Normandy found herself facing an endless sea of stars. violet clusters of hot, burning hydrogen glowing in the distance. The black ether of space was permeated with the glow of countless points of violet light. The Normandy turned herself towards her destination. It was massive, more immense than anything Isaac had ever beheld before. Five immense plains of glowing orange light, arranged around a titanic circle, basked in the ample starlight. Isaac stepped further up into the cockpit, wanting to see more of this incredible structure. The rays of lavender light shone between each of the long, gleaming tendrils that drifted behind the massive ring that held them together. Up until this point, Isaac was the one who played host to sights that no one had seen before, sights that he had long acclimated himself to. Now he was experiencing the exact opposite. It was his turn to be spellbound by a beautiful sight, and he was basking in it.
  2460. "Oh my God.... Shepard, this cant be real..."
  2462. "Oh, it's real all right."
  2464. "That... that has to be at least several hundred miles long....."
  2466. "That it is."
  2468. "Just how many live on that thing?"
  2470. "Millions. Hundreds of millions"
  2472. "That's unbelievable..."
  2474. "Believe it."
  2476. "Shepard, we're approaching our dock." said joker as he pulled into the immense station's moors.
  2478. "Ready to see what it's like up close?"
  2480. "You bet."
  2482. The mag-locks clamped themselves onto the Normandy's port side, keeping her still while the docking cradle made contact with the airlock, sealing the connection between ship and cradle. As he stepped into the airlock doors, Isaac activated his helmet. Plates of composite ceramic and titanium folded out and onto each other, metal clicking and servos whirring as they locked into place. His visor lit up, washing the airlock with glowing teal light.
  2484. "What's with the helmet?" asked Shepard.
  2486. "People haven't seen me in this suit yet. Long as I keep my face concealed, they won't have anything left to identify me by."
  2488. "Good thinking, but I assure you it won't be that necessary. Long as we all stick together, nothing's getting ugly. Trust me."
  2490. "Regardless, I just want to make sure. Nothing's wrong with erring on the side of caution."
  2492. "True, but there is something wrong when your first visit to the citadel is concealed behind a visor."
  2494. "Alright, fine." Isaac said as the plates of his helmet meshed back together. "I just hope you know for sure."
  2496. "Trust me, Isaac. we've got it under control."
  2498. The Airlock doors opened, and once more, Isaac took his first steps into an alien world.
  2500. looking all around him, Isaac saw what was probably the most unbelievable sight that had ever met his eyes. Millions of ships and transports flew overhead, their engines humming and echoing against the walls of the station. Immense crowds moving about their daily schedule reminded him of the Rayya, albeit less crowded. Races that Mordin had told him of, but he had never seen, moved along their normal routine, riding up the elevators, walking along the numerous pathways and walkways, and conversing with each other. The violet starlight had brightened to an oceanic blue, and its glow filled the entire station, cascading through the gaps in between its rotating sections. Each of them seemed the size of any given city at home. In addition, just about any city on earth or any other planet inhabited by humanity was no less than a quagmire of filth and hopelessness. This place was beautiful. Every wall, every passageway, every floor gleamed pure white, unmarred by the dirt, soot or other filth that pervaded every corner of his home plane. It was a metropolis the likes of which Isaac had never seen before, and it absolutely enthralled him.
  2502. "There's no way this can be real..."
  2504. "Oh, its real all right. Bit too showy for my tastes, though." said Grunt.
  2506. "This dwarfs anything we have at home..."
  2508. "I bet it does." Garrus said, walking out of the airlock. "Ready for your appointment with the council?"
  2510. "Let's just see wh-"
  2512. Before he could finish his sentence, Isaac found himself cut off by a growing throng of eager faces.
  2514. "OH MY GOSH, IT'S HIM!"
  2522. Before the crowd could encapsulate him completely, Grunt, Garrus, and Shepard forced the growing throng back, rifles in hand and fingers barely keeping out of the guard.
  2524. "My associate isn't accepting questions at the moment." Shepard said. "Move along."
  2526. "Mr Clarke has no business with you. Keep your distance." said Garrus, pushing away a few eager reporters.
  2528. Still, a small group of investigative journalists proved especially hard to ward off. "Mr Clarke! Can you tell us about the voyage recorder?" asked one of the encroaching reporters. "Was that footage from your home plane?" yet another piped up. "Were you able to sto-"
  2530. Before she could finish, the Asari reporter turned to her left to find herself face to face with a blue-eyed tower of muscle and armor. Just as she was about to relent, the Krogan arched his head back before sending his plated forehead slamming into hers, knocking her unconscious.
  2532. "We said he has no business with you. MOVE ALONG!" Grunt boomed as most of the crowd stepped back. "Told you we got this under control Isaac."
  2534. The four made their way up to a taxi bound for the presidium. Leaving the growing crowd behind, Isaac looked back, watching them swarm like ants to a piece of bread that was no longer there.
  2536. The taxi door opened, and the trio emerged into the pristine walls of the presidium. Mordin had told Isaac of this place. This was where the power of the galaxy resided. This was where the lives of trillions were governed. It reminded Isaac of EarthGov. The sleek, white walls reminded him of the sterile atmosphere that permeated every inch of the Sprawl's government sector. The notion of an all-powerful government reminded him of EarthGov's hubris, its unwillingness to understand the boundaries of power and influence. Boundaries that were already long broken by the time they had thrown away their prudence and consideration of risk. Though he felt it unfair to make presumptions, Isaac only felt it appropriate to take precautions. Whoever was in this "Council", whatever they wanted, Isaac knew he would have to play a cautious hand.
  2538. A pair of sleek, nearly silent doors opened to reveal none other than the former Admiral Anderson, embattled by the other members of the council.
  2540. "He'll be here whe- Oh! Shepard! You've arrived!"
  2542. "It's been a long time, Anderson. How have the last couple years treated you?"
  2544. "There's been a few rough spots. It's good to have you back."
  2546. "Glad to be back."
  2548. "I see you've brought our inter-dimensional contact as well. Good to see that. We can kill two birds with one stone this way. Nice to meet you Mr Clarke."
  2550. "You too... wait, how should I address you?"
  2552. "Councilor Anderson. Good to have you on board, Isaac."
  2554. "We've heard many rumors surrounding your unexpected return, commander." Piped in the Salarian counselor. "Some of them are... unsettling."
  2556. "We called this meeting so that you could explain your actions, Shepard. We owe you that much." said the Asari counselor. "After all you saved our lives during the attack on the citadel by Saren and his geth."
  2558. "Let's not forget the arrival of Mr Clarke." added the Turian counselor. "The technology he can afford us may be of incredible use to the galactic community."
  2560. "First of all..." said Shepard. "That wasn't Saren's geth. They were under the command of the reaper, Sovereign."
  2562. "Ah, yes, 'Reapers'... the immortal race of sentient starships allegedly waiting in dark space. We have dismissed that claim."
  2564. Anderson pulled Shepard aside. "Shepard, you're the only one who spoke with vigil and learned the truth about the reapers. Only you and your crew ever spoke with Sovereign. I believe you, but without that proof, the council has no reason to think that Sovereign was anything other than a geth ship."
  2566. "What about the collectors?" Isaac added. "Mordin told me all about how they've been operating throughout the galaxy for ages. Mostly the Terminus. How have you guys not realized what they are? We examined a dead one, and found that they've been genetically altered. Long story short, they're what's left of the protheans. No modern race has ever come in contact with a living prothean, or at least I've been told. The reapers did that, and there's no way you or anyone else can deny it!"
  2568. "Given the fact that they operate mostly within areas that don't fall under our jurisdiction, I'd say it would be hard for us to even find one. They've been listed as a rumor for a reason."
  2570. "Oh, you want proof? Well, guess what. I took a recording of it." Said Isaac as his RIG's projector opened a small screen, depicting his encounter with the fallen collector. "This is what's left of the prothean race. We've analyzed the DNA structure. It's the only other race that shares this quad-strand genetic structure. Like I said, no one has ever encountered a live prothean, let alone dissect and re-structure it's DNA to create some odd aberration. The Reapers did this. Bottom line."
  2572. Shepard wasn't sure what to say. The council always struck him as nothing short of incompetent skeptics who never gave him their full attention. Now they stood (holographically) before him, eyes widened by the revelation. He thought it would take a miracle to open the council's eyes. His gamble with putting Isaac on board was paying off.
  2574. "This is... an unsettling observation." said the Asari counselor. "As ominous as this threat is, at least we have time to prepare. However, we may have to put Shepard's involvement in question. He has allied with Cerberus, an avowed enemy of the council. This is nothing short of treason, which is a capital offence...."
  2576. "Okay, hold the fuck up!" Isaac exclaimed. He had certainly grown to trust Shepard to a certain degree, even if it was only a little. On the other hand, this "Council" had proven itself more of a bureaucratic nuisance than he had anticipated. He had never seen a reaper, save for the several recordings Mordin had showed him of Sovereign. Nonetheless, it was obvious that they were a threat. A threat that they had ignored under a veil of ignorance and skepticism. Now they were trying to accuse Shepard of treason. It was the final straw in Isaac's mind. The final reason he needed to believe this council was nothing short of a group of blithering idiots too stuck inside their own mantras and agendas to pay attention to any real threats. "Let's get this shit straight; Shepard saves your asses and the lives of the millions on this station, and you try to pin him with treason for being affiliated with some special interest group? Especially since he had no choice, seeing as how they more or less revived him? I haven't even known you people for more than ten minutes and you're already proving to be a pain in the ass!"
  2578. "I concur!" Anderson added. "Shepard is a hero! I'm a part of this council too, and I won't let this whitewash continue."
  2580. "Perhaps there is a compromise." said the Asari counselor. "We cannot directly intervene given your ties, but we can offer peripheral support."
  2582. "Shepard, if you keep your operations within the Terminus systems, the council will reinstate your status as a spectre."
  2584. "What does that entail? Do I have to start filing reports"
  2586. "That won't be necessary. This is merely an act of good faith on our part." Replied the salarian counselor.
  2588. "Given that you are operating in the terminus systems, we cannot offer direct support. Our jurisdiction does not extend there. However, reinstatement shows our personal support."
  2590. "What about what Isaac just showed you?" said Shepard. "I realize it may take some time for this to sink in, and real countermeasure may take time to formulate, but aren't you going to do anything about the reaper threat?"
  2592. "We.. may need some time to come up with preparatory measures." replied the turian counselor. "Nonetheless, you have our attention. I assume we have time to prepare, but this information will be restricted to more elite echelons of the council's military affiliates. The last thing we need is public despair throwing everything into chaos."
  2594. "We can at least be glad it's the only storm we're facing." said Anderson.
  2596. "I concur." replied the Salarian counselor. "We can only be grateful that whatever was on that voyage recorder is not present here, not to try and offend you, Mr Clarke."
  2598. "I'm afraid we're going to have to correct you, counselor." said Shepard.
  2600. "On the same ship where we encountered the dead collector, we found all the missing terminus colonists." said Isaac as he pulled up another recording from his RIG, showing the thousands of pods erupting on the ceiling of the collector ship. "They were deceased, but not for long. Counselors, this threat has followed me into this reality."
  2602. The council froze for just a moment, including Anderson, who only knew as much as his fellow counselors knew. Their expressions changed from emotionless and professional to a barely contained horror which shone through widened eyes and upturned brows.
  2604. "Excuse me..." said the Asari counselor, losing some of the inherent professionalism in her voice. "How... how are you sure..."
  2606. "Just watch."
  2608. The recording continued. and the council watched as thousands of re-animated human corpses clambered out of strange, orange pods. They watched in horror as the broken, bloodied creatures raced towards the camera, getting themselves cut down by blasts of plasma to their limbs. Their eyes widened as they saw the surveillance footage, and the terrible, bisected red spire that glowed ominously within the vessel's cargo bay.
  2610. "Mr Clarke..." said the Turian counselor, not without a hint of concern in his voice. "Tell me that this threat is at least somewhat contained."
  2612. "We destroyed the entire vessel and the red marker inside it, but there's no telling how many other markers are out there."
  2614. "Markers? I'm assuming that the red structure in that cargo bay was what you're referring to?" said the Asari counselor.
  2616. "I am. That's what re-animated those colonists and turned them into necromorphs."
  2618. "Necromorphs? I assume that's the nomenclature issued to those.... things?"
  2620. "Yes. As you can see they're very resilient to any shots fired towards center mass. There's a lot more to tell you, but I've already compiled several logs that should account for everything you need to know." Isaac said as his omni-tool activated around his arm, this time glowing bright teal. "I was given your extranet inbox before we got here. I'm sending you these logs right now."
  2622. "Very well, Mr Clarke..." said the turian counselor. "We'll see that these are transferred to our higher military officials. Now, as for your technology..."
  2624. "I've compiled all the information already. Turns out synchronizing this "omni-tool" to my RIG wasn't as much of a problem as I anticipated. Anyways, this is all information I gathered from my old CEC manuals."
  2626. "Are you sure that's all we'll be needing?" replied the Turian. "I have a feeling you may be skipping out on us."
  2628. "Yes, it seems you're very eager to get this over with, rather than letting the galaxy more thoroughly partake of your technology, Mr Clarke." added the Salarian.
  2630. "Believe me counselor, If I were to explain everything to you here and now, you'd be stuck here for days, even with another engineer translating all the techno-babble. There's blueprints, manufacturing data, specifications, and everything you need to re-create the vast majority of my world's tech. Now, I hear you've offered to subsidize several manufacturing companies in order to reproduce this stuff, not to mention my cut of the profits..."
  2632. "Ah, yes." The Asari replied. "I'll see to it that you are credited for this. You won't go uncompensated, I promise. The possibility of intergalactic travel... I have to say, this is nothing short of remarkable."
  2634. "Of course, if he is to be paid, he'll need to have citizenship..." said the Salarian.
  2636. "Right then." Anderson replied. "I'll see if we can get Mr. Clarke situated."
  2638. "I'll see that all of this goes to the mission, Shepard." said Isaac. "We're going to need all the funding we get."
  2640. "In the meantime, we don't have to be caught funding Cerberus." replied the Asari. 'This is turning out to be quite a win-win situation."
  2642. "Long as we can get ourselves prepared for these threats, at least." said the turian, a hint of fretfulness still lingering in his voice.
  2644. "We're already on it." replied Shepard. "Just make sure you do what you can on this end. I'm going to need to know of any new developments."
  2646. "I'm afraid we can't be caught answering to Cerberus, Shepard."
  2648. "Then report to me." replied Isaac. "I'm not formally affiliated with Cerberus, and we need to know if anything comes up. I can report to you from my own ship. Keep in mind I'm not enlisting in anything or taking direct orders, however. This is a partnership, just like the alliance between me and Shepard."
  2650. "Very well, Mr Clarke. Shepard, we wish you luck on your end of the investigation, and for your quick end to your relationship with Cerberus."
  2651. _____________
  2653. Isaac's eyes were closed. His ears picking up nothing but the soft hum of the Normandy's engine. It was a slow, deliberate, oscillating sound, like a massive sheet of steel was vibrating continuously, the air around it constantly compressing. He felt a slight trace of its oscillation in the wall, shaking the engineering deck ever so slightly. Though his eyes were closed, they could see just the smallest trace of the azure light of the room, seeping just barely past his eyelids. Not a single thought pervaded his mind. Nothing concerning the citadel. Nothing pertaining to the task at hand. That was, until, a familiar voice interrupted his inert state.
  2655. "Hello? Anyone in there?"
  2657. "... Hey Tali."
  2659. "Wake up, sleepyhead, we're almost there."
  2661. "There?"
  2663. "The fleet, genius! Remember, after getting your citizenship, you and Shepard set out to retrieve the Falcon? I seriously hope you haven't forgotten the message you had the council send out. There must be tons of people waiting to sign up on your crew"
  2665. "Oh yeah... that" Isaac said, yawning. "That wasn't very nice, you know."
  2667. "What wasn't nice? Letting you doze off? Come on now! Get with the program!" Tali said, playfully. "Besides, we were on the Citadel for two days so we could correspond with the fleet. Are you telling me you didn't any sleep while we were there?"
  2669. "First off, 'The program' is for squares. Second, yeah, I got some sleep, if five hours in total over the course of two days counts."
  2671. "Five hours? Are you serious?"
  2673. "Yup." Isaac replied, yawning. "Anyways, I'm just glad your admirals let me back on the fleet. Let alone call for volunteers"
  2675. "Well, to be honest, I think she kind of deserved it. She's always been after the craziest of things. She even wants the geth back at our call. All I can say is that, rash as that little up in your face act was, I got a little kick out of it."
  2677. "*pfft*.... either way I'm just... kind of unsure about this whole thing, y'know? I just don't know if we can really do anything." Isaac said as melancholy tones seeped into his voice. "This has been chasing me for years. Every time I think it's over it just pops back up again like it hasn't destroyed my life enough already."
  2679. "You managed to convince the council that the reapers were a genuine threat when Shepard has been struggling to get it through their thick skulls for ages. If you can work miracles like that, I have no doubt that you'll be able to pull through."
  2681. "Maybe... anyways, I'll be doing some homework until we get there."
  2683. "Homework?"
  2685. "Yeah, just more research into this place. I know I can just ask Mordin, but he's almost always busy, and when hes not he's just about impossible to keep up with. Plus, I have a few more things to calibrate on this 'omni-tool' thing. I've managed to sync it with my RIG, but I haven't figured out all its nooks and crannies yet."
  2687. "Ah, I see. I'll leave you to your work then. See you later."
  2689. "Well, yeah, I'll only be a few meters away."
  2691. "Right..."
  2693. Isaac sat down in one of the smaller chairs Ken and Gabby arranged earlier, the only thing that hadn't been put away. He eyed the now turquoise panels of light that enveloped his forearm. There were so many things about it to discovered, so many things to understand. He could go on forever installing new software into it. The fact that it was now connected to his RIG only further opened the possibilities.
  2695. Deeply engrossed in this new hardware, he almost didn't notice the giggling coming from the other end of the room.
  2697. "Oh wow... you're not human are you?..." Shepard said, doing his best to impersonate Isaac.
  2699. "Why no, Mr Clarke..." Tali giggled. "You've never seen a quarian before?"
  2701. "Why, I don't believe I have, Nezala." Shepard teased. Isaac could see their shadows, and Shepard's hands freely wandering over Tali's suit.
  2703. "M-Mister Clarke..." Tali squealed, barely containing her excitement. "That's quite enough..."
  2705. "Oh I don't think so..."
  2707. "Into role-playing, are we?"
  2709. Shepard and Tali immediately looked to their right to see Isaac leaning against the wall, smirking ear to ear.
  2711. "I'm not sure if I sound that baritone, Shepard. I'd work on it."
  2713. Joker's voice crackled over the intercom. "Shepard, Migrant Fleet's right ahead."
  2715. "Guess that's our stop. See you two in a bit." said Isaac as he went up the stairs, still smirking all the way up to the elevator.
  2717. "... yeah I think it's about time we head up. Might need you to get us clearance and all." said Shepard.
  2719. "Yeah, good idea..."
  2721. The Flotilla once again found itself within the Normandy's sight. Shepard watched as the massive convoy of ships trailed through the cosmos, floating slowly towards a nonexistent destination. Tali joined him, reciting her pass-phrase to herself before Isaac came running into the helm, almost bumping into the two.
  2723. "Where have you been?" asked Shepard.
  2725. "Surely you didn't hurry us up for nothing..." Tali added quietly.
  2727. "Just took a shower. Didn't feel like smelling like death for six days in a row." He said, yawning. "Holy crap, I'm tired..."
  2729. "So wait, you're telling me that not only did you not sleep, but you forgot to shower?"
  2731. "Gee, I dunno, maybe getting my citizenship, talking with the council and making plans with the fleet kinda got in the way."
  2733. "Just soldier on through, Isaac." Shepard replied. "You can doze off when the Falcon's been accounted for."
  2736. The docking cradle latched onto the Normandy by her airlock, sealing the connection between her and the Rayya. Isaac could see the Falcon from the Normandy's cockpit, still latched onto cradle eighteen. He'd be reunited with her soon enough. More importantly, he'd be reunited with the captains quarters.
  2738. "Ah, Isaac!" said Nezala as the squad exited the Normandy's airlock. "Welcome to the Rayya... again."
  2740. "Deja Vu, isn't it? So anyways, I've heard we've got a few folks trying to sign up for the Falcon's roster?"
  2742. "Yep. We got the message from Tali here about the man from another dimension needing a few new hands."
  2744. "How many takers?"
  2746. "About forty slots and all are taken. Quite a few are kids setting out for pilgrimage trying to prove themselves. They're unproven, but eager to help. Don't worry, Tali sent me a list of everything you seem to be looking for. Even if the guys who made the list aren't to your liking there's quite a few in queue wanting a place on the roster if you'd like a look at them."
  2748. "That's alright. Wait, I remember Tali mentioning 'pilgrimage' before, but I don't think she ever really explained it."
  2750. "It's more or less a rite of passage." Tali replied. "When a quarian comes of age, they must leave the fleet and retrieve something of value. It proves that they won't merely be a burden on the shoestring resources their captain has to offer. When they return, they are welcomed as new, valuable members of society."
  2752. "Interesting... anyways, lets see what we've got."
  2754. The hallway at docking cradle eighteen was filled with at least forty volunteers, each of them eager to meet their new captain. Several came with nothing more than the suits on their backs, waiting to see what the unexplored cosmos had in store. About a third were a tad older, having had much experience outside the flotilla. Those who had experience were armed, knowing that danger was imminent. They may not have known that what they had seen on the voyage recorder was genuine, but they knew that peril was everywhere in the galaxy, let alone outside of it. There was a surprising amount of non-quarians there, come to join up with the man who had traveled outside the galaxy; A fair score of humans, Turians, and a few Asari, all having traveled to the Migrant Fleet just to be part of Isaac's crew. Isaac looked over the list. All the candidates and their respective credentials were listed on a datapad. Isaac looked it over. Each of them seemed qualified enough. Every one of them had something to contribute. Many were tech specialists. Others still were soldiers who had already completed their pilgrimage. There were very few familiar names on the list, except for a few at the bottom...
  2756. "So, you volunteered, huh?" Isaac said, turning to Nezala.
  2758. "Yep. You need experienced people for your combat team, don't you?"
  2760. "And a chief science officer!" another, somewhat squeaky, bubbly voice called out from the crowd.
  2762. "Rizea... you volunteered huh?"
  2764. "You bet! I'm already somewhat familiar with the Falcon, so why not?"
  2766. "Okay.... You've got the job, I guess."
  2768. Though it took a good six hours, Isaac had checked everything he had needed to get underway. The crew had been approved. The Falcon was prepped and ready to go.
  2770. "Alright, everything looks green. Thanks for all the help guys."
  2772. "Well, remember Isaac, this isn't farewell." Tali Replied. "The Falcon is more or less tagging along for the ride."
  2774. "Never said it was goodbye." said Isaac. "Just saying thanks for everything you've done. I wouldn't be able to come this far alone"
  2776. "Our pleasure, Isaac." Shepard replied. "Make sure you guys keep in contact. We're together on this."
  2778. "To the end."
  2780. "Make sure to keep us posted on anything you and your crew find, Isaac."
  2782. "You bet. Be seeing you guys."
  2784. "You too, Isaac. Keelah se'lai"
  2786. "Take care of yourself, Isaac"
  2788. "Will do." Isaac replied, turning his attention to his new crew as Shepard and Tali took their leave. "Let's get this show on the road, Nezala."
  2789. ___________
  2791. Isaac lay in the musty bed within the Captain's cabin, just barely waking from eight hours of uneasy, but much needed sleep. It had been a day since He had returned to the Rayya. As he lay on his cot, staring at the partitions, his mind slowly filled with thoughts of both yesterday, and the day ahead; he thought of his new crew, having interviewed them face to face for several hours straight (with Nezala's assistance, of course). He could almost remember each and every last one. True to Nezala's word, there were many who were taking their pilgrimage, They were bright eyed. Excited. Only half of them had the apprehension he was looking for, that anxiousness that he thought might be able to prepare them. Then again, there really wasn't much that could adequately prepare them at all. He assigned most who were on pilgrimage to less risky tasks: engine room duty, maintenance, etc. Things they were familiar with. Things that were safe. The ones who had already completed their pilgrimage seemed experienced, but perhaps a bit too confident in themselves. Others still, including the humans and other visitors to the flotilla, were experienced and mature enough, but seemed somewhat nervous. Then, after all the talking, came the preparation. Isaac remembers walking back into the falcon, looking back to see his new crew speaking with loved ones over Omni-Tool, or even saying goodbye to friends and family right on the spot. Others packed what little they brought with them, checking over everything, making sure not a single article was missing. Others still set up bedrolls, or sat or lay on benches and seats, knowing it would be a while before cast off.
  2793. Now, it was time. Isaac checked his Omni-tool just in time for a call from Nezala. "Rise and shine! You awake yet, princess?"
  2795. "Yeah... *ugh*. Alright... meet me at the airlock and we can call muster and make sure everyone's here. We'll cast off in another few hours."
  2797. "You got it"
  2799. Seven more hours of preparation, and everything was looking good. Isaac's new helmsman readied the ship for departure. Airlock was sealed. Nezala and her staff were already manning the security and monitoring stations. Engineering gave an all clear on the ship's engines. Lavoratories and crew's quarters had been retrofitted for extraterrestrial use. All fourteen months worth of dextro-amino food supplies had been accounted for. All systems were green to go. When all was accounted for, Nezala gave the signal to everyone on muster: "Alright, everyone. Rack 'em and pack 'em. We're casting off in fifteen."
  2801. However, as the ship readied itself for departure, Isaac felt it only appropriate to address his crew.
  2803. Within a few minutes, everyone on the Falcon had gathered into crew's quarters. It was somewhat cramped, but the new quarian crew members of the Falcon were no strangers to constricted space. Isaac managed to bustle his way in, taking a crate and standing on it in the center of the room. For a few seconds, Isaac wasn't sure of what he was going to say. How was he going to unveil the horrors of the markers to these young, inexperienced faces? How was he going to tell them of the reapers, or the way they transformed the protheans into the collectors? Isaac knew it would be hard to break it to them, but he had no choice. They needed to know what they were up against. They needed to brace themselves. As soon as Isaac realized this, the words that he was looking for came to him.
  2805. "Alright everybody, listen up. Before we head out, I think it's time everyone be prepared for what they're up against. I imagine you guys remember the voyage recording."
  2807. "Yeah, we were told this had something to do with that." One young quarian piped up. "Like, there's a risk of that coming here or something similar."
  2809. "Trust me. It's a lot more complicated than that." Isaac replied."
  2811. Isaac activated his RIG's holographic display, toggling back to one of his video-logs. 'How may of you remember the voyage recording?" How many of you remember when Admiral Xen rolled back to that older footage?" Isaac said right before pressing play. "I assure all of you. It's real."
  2813. As he pressed play, the crew began to recoil as footage of dead, human corpses bursting out of capsules on the ceiling of a massive ship played before their eyes. The corpses had been changed dramatically. Their skulls were broken, bloodied, and jutting with horrible spines and elongated teeth. Blood dripped from the ceiling as their torn, rent bodies shambled down the walls. "Don't look away." Isaac said, noticing the fear in some of their silver eyes. "You need to see this. You all need to know what you're facing."
  2815. "What happened to them?" asked a fretful voice from among the crew's ranks. "'How did they end up... like that?"
  2817. "The collectors kidnapped them. Put them into those pods for transport. However, when their power went out, so did the life support within the pods. Everyone in them died. That's when they were transformed by the marker."
  2819. "The marker?"
  2821. Isaac cut to the footage of EDI's surveillance tap. 'That's the marker. Or at least A marker." he said pointing towards the wispy, shrouded twin spires within the collector's cargo hold. "It emits a signal that re-animates dead tissue, and invades the minds of those who come in direct contact, driving them to insanity and murder. I don't know how it followed me here, but it did, and it's a genuine threat. We destroyed that one when we destroyed the entire collector ship, but there's more out there."
  2823. "So... we're going to have to hunt them down aren't we?" asked another worried voice. "Every Marker that may have made its way here?"
  2825. "Yes, and that's not all." Isaac added.
  2827. Isaac rewinded the footage, stopping to a still shot of what looked like an open pod. "How many of you have ever seen a collector?"
  2829. "None of us..." replied Nezala. "Sightings by just about anyone are rare enough that some people think of them as a myth."
  2831. "Well they're not... and they're not what they seem either."
  2833. He pressed play once more, and the contents of the pod were revealed. The Falcon's crew watching and listened in awe as EDI explained the origins of the odd, insect-like alien corpse.
  2835. "The Collectors were prothean?" asked one astonished voice from within the crowd. "H-how did they... who are these 'reapers'? They're the ones that did this?"
  2837. "You remember the attack on the citadel? That massive vessel that was labeled a 'geth capital ship'? He was a reaper. One of many. They're out there, waiting in dark space. They intend to wipe out all life in the galaxy, just as they've done thousands of times before."
  2839. The crew began to murmur, more than taken aback by what they were facing. Slavers or mercs seemed dangerous enough. But collectors? Reapers? Necromorphs? It all seemed much more than what they bargained for.
  2841. "I know that this seems to be a bit much, and I realize it may be more than what you're all prepared for." Isaac said, noticing the fear that was permeating the atmosphere. "With that said, these threats are real. They're not going to stop until they've reached their ultimate goal. That means an end to civilization. That means an end to everything and everyone you care about. We have no choice."
  2843. The murmuring stopped as soon as those last words left Isaac's mouth. Every one looked at him, Fear still gripping their hearts.
  2845. "I realize that many of you may be inclined to leave. If that's the case, I would understand. For several years of my life, I tried to hide from it until I realized that it had to be done... So with that, I give you my final offer: are you in, or out?"
  2847. They all looked at each other. Others saw friends they have had for years, joining them into the cusp of adulthood. Others had seen violence. They had seen what dangers the galaxy had to offer, and knew that these new threats added to them infinitely. No matter who it was, each one of them was tied with apprehension, wondering just what their answer would be. Isaac too looked concerned. He knew he couldn't do this alone. Dread slowly began to pool in his mind, as he saw just a few people walking towards the door. Others turned to watch them leave, tempted to follow suit. Isaac's heart sank as he anticipated more of them to leave. For what seemed to be a lifetime of silence, no one moving, no one speaking, one voice called out from the crowd.
  2849. "I'm in."
  2851. Isaac looked round about him, finding a quarian with his arm raised.
  2853. "I'm in too!" called another.
  2855. 'Count me in!" called Nezala.
  2857. "In!" called yet another voice.
  2859. Soon enough, the entirety of the crew's quarters was alive with the clamor of forty invigorated crewmembers, all of them proclaiming that they were, for all intents and purposes, "in".
  2861. Isaac gave word to the Normandy that everything was up and ready. The azure light emanating from the nearby relay's eezo core intensified as the Normandy flashed away in a streak of blue. The Falcon's engines powered up as her shockpoint computer processed a new set of coordinates, passed on to her beforehand by Joker. Her shockdrive kicked in, and within less than a millisecond, she vanished into the distance, a tiny sparkle of light being her only mark.
  2863. "So, where are we headed anyways?" asked Nezala as the ship passed through the indigo shroud of shockspace.
  2865. "A brown dwarf in the Thorne system. Mnemosyne." Taraan answered.
  2867. "Shepard and his team need to pass through the Omega 4 relay, where the collector home base presumably lies." Isaac added. "The only ships noted to pass through that relay safely are the collectors. When me and Shepard were aboard the Collector ship we found that they were using a reaper Identify Friend or Foe device. We weren't able to find or salvage it, but Cerberus had found a derelict reaper, set up a research station to investigate the IFF, and it went dark a while ago. That's where we're headed."
  2869. "A derelict reaper?" asked Rizea. "As in dead, or just disabled?"
  2871. "It's stuck somewhere in the middle." Isaac replied. "It's mostly disabled, but some functions apparently still remain operational. Somehow, one of the races the reapers were harvesting managed to disable it several million years ago. There's no trace of them left, but their handiwork is obviously still floating around."
  2873. "I don't know how I feel about helping Cerberus..." Rizea replied.
  2875. 'We're not. We're helping Shepard." Isaac retorted. "Now, we've got about twenty five minutes till de-shock. I want combat teams geared up and ready to go in ten. Remember, Taraan. We're gonna be cutting it close to a brown dwarf so stay tight on the exit vector."
  2877. Isaac sat in the captain's quarters, finally alone to his thoughts once more. He thought of the vow he had made to himself. This had to be it. This had to be the beginning of the end. He knew that from this point onward, there was no turning back. There was no hiding from this. He recalled his nightmare on the sprawl, and what he had told Ellie before setting off into the government sector.
  2879. "I'm not running anymore. I know what I have to do."
  2881. Those words echoed in his head as he reflected on his past. A past that he knew would repeat itself.
  2883. The only difference being, he determined that this was the last time it would ever repeat.
  2885. "Isaac, Combat teams are ready. Battle rattle's all geared up." Nezala'a voice sounded over the old comms.
  2887. "I hear you." Isaac replied. "I'll be down in security in a second."
  2889. The door in logistics opened to reveal the combat team, each of them checking their armaments, calibrating offense functions on their omni-tools, replacing heat sinks and inspecting all stripped down components for wear.
  2891. "There you are, Isaac." Nezala said, re-assembling the last component of her M76 rifle. 'Time to pick who's going on this op."
  2893. "Based on the fact that the Cerberus team has gone dark, and there is reaper tech involved, I have a feeling we're going to be dealing with a lot of husks." said Isaac. "Close combat may end up being a priority. I'd also recommend tech specialists, but most of you are quarian, so I have no doubt you guys will be able to deliver."
  2895. "So who's coming along?" Nezala asked.
  2897. "You and... you. Kal'Reegar. I looked at you dossier. You were the only survivor of the Heastrom team save for Tali and Shepard's squad. Pretty impressive...."
  2899. "Sir, two minutes to de-shock." Taraan's voice sounded over the intercom.
  2901. "I hear you Taraan." Isaac replied. "Alright everyone, time to get this show on the road. Head up to the helm and wait for further instructions. Let's move."
  2903. As the Falcon exited shockspace, her entire crew was taken by surprise by a sudden turbulence that rocked the entirety of the ship. Her interior creaked, loose articles fell to the floor, and anyone who wasn't holding onto something found themselves tumbling to the deck.
  2905. "Holy crap! Taraan! Think you can give us s smoother ride, or is this as good as it gets?"
  2907. "Considering that the winds are up to five hundred kilometers an hour, I'm afraid I'm going to have to go with the latter sir."
  2909. "Great..."
  2911. "That's not all sir. The ship's detection functions are picking up another silhouette near the reaper. Your ship may not have any vessel from this reality in its register, but the Normandy just sent us a heads up that its lader paints the silhouette as geth."
  2913. "Well, at least we have a more solid idea of what happened to the Cerberus team..." Nezala added.
  2915. Suddenly, the turbulence subsided, giving all the poorly balanced crewmembers a chance to get back up on their feet.
  2917. "It stopped..." said Isaac. "Did we enter some sort of solar weather shielding?"
  2919. "The reaper may be disabled, but its mass effect fields are still active. We just entered its envelope."
  2921. "Alright... so what's our entry point?" asked Isaac
  2923. "Up there." Nezala replied. "Open hole where that reaper was hit. We'll try to rendezvous with Shepard and his squad near the middle of the Cerberus team's outpost."
  2925. Shepard looked over the abandoned Cerberus post. Several dead bodies lay on the floor. Withered and dry, caked blood surrounding them.
  2927. "Ugh, what a mess..." said grunt. "Anyone else hungry?"
  2929. "Isaac, you and your team find anything yet?" Shepard asked, activating his comms.
  2931. "Nothing but more of these corpses." Isaac replied. "A few of them are skewered for some reason... they're just stuck there in some sort of odd arrangement... like someone was worshiping at an altar... this is starting to look way too familiar."
  2933. 'Dragons teeth." Shepard replied. "The geth used them on Eden Prime. They're what make husks. You remember those from the collector ship, don't you?"
  2935. "Yeah..." Isaac replied. "but we haven't come across any of those yet. Pretty sure we will soon enough, though. What about you? Found anything concerning the Cerberus team?"
  2937. "Apparently they've been indoctrinated." Shepard replied.
  2939. "Indoctrinated?"
  2941. "It's not too far off from what the marker does to people, Isaac." said Shepard. "It's one of the many weapons the reapers have at their disposal. Basically, it involves bending the mind, driving the victim completely insane in some cases. In any case, the indoctrinated person is left as nothing more than a mindless slave in the end, doing whatever the reapers have them do."
  2943. "We've been searching through these logs." Tali added. "Apparently, these people were affected by the reaper tech even after it's been deactivated for so long. They started getting headaches, hallucinations, sharing memories. It wasn't immediate either. It seems the whole place fell into disarray over a few months."
  2945. "This is starting to hit a little close to home..." Isaac replied. "We'll keep you posted if we find anything else on our end."
  2947. Venturing further into the ship, Isaac heard a quiet groaning, coming from below the floor. It was slow, drawn out. Almost screaming at times.
  2949. "Husks..." Isaac said under his breath. "Now just where-"
  2951. "ISAAC LOOK OUT!"
  2953. A flash of several blasts of white hot metal streaming shone in Isaac's periphery. He turned to his left, and saw three husks falling to the ground, two of them completely bisected from Nezala's fire. More of them began to crawl up from under the floor, screaming and moaning with dried, nearly cybernetic vocal cords. Blasts of molten plasma and shards of metal flying at breakneck speeds tore them apart as they charged towards the three. As Isaac continued pulling the trigger, he found the ammunition counter on his plasma cutter read zero. Luckily, it wasn't the only weapon he had brought with him this time. Kal and Nezala continued pouring hot steel into the assailing husks, replacing their heat sinks constantly. They almost jumped when they heard what sounded like a fuel tank bursting behind them as a massive shockwave rushed forth, blasting the last dozen husks away in a single shot.
  2955. "What the hell was that?!" Kal asked, taking a step back from the man holding what looked like a massive leafblower.
  2957. "Handheld Graviton Accelerator. It's a mining tool the corporation used to clear out rubble at dig sites, or help with terraforming operations. it's actually pretty handy for close quarters."
  2959. "Is just about everything you use some sort of mining tool?" asked Nezala.
  2961. "Hey, it gets the job done, doesn't it? Come on. We gotta help Shepard find this IFF. Let's keep moving for-"
  2963. Isaac was cut off by some sort of shockwave. It rocked the entire vessel for little more than a second, vanishing almost as fast as it came.
  2965. "The hell... Shepard, come in!" Isaac said, activating his RIGlink via omni-tool, "Did you feel that?"
  2967. "Yeah, it just hit us." Shepard replied. "Any idea what just happened?"
  2969. "The reaper just put up a kinetic barrier." Joker replied. "I don't think we can breach it from this end."
  2971. "Interested in reapers as I am, I don't think I'm very keen on being trapped inside one." Tali said, clutching her shotgun.
  2973. "Then it looks like we've got to take it down from here. EDI, got any ideas where it activated?"
  2975. "At the moment of activation, I detected a sudden heat spike in what is likely to be the Reaper's mass effect core. Sending coordinates now. Be advised, this core is also what is keeping the wreck's orbit stable."
  2977. "So, when we take the barriers down to escape, this thing's gonna start plummeting to the core..." Isaac added
  2979. "... And that means everyone's toast, got it." Joker replied.
  2981. "Shepard, we'll alert you when we've reached the core. I can set up a few improvised mines from my force gun and blow that core to high heaven once we've secured our escape route and the IFF is retrieved."
  2983. "Good plan, Isaac. Shore party to Normandy, we'll look for survivors and retrieve any data we can."
  2985. "Roger that. Good hunting>"
  2987. Both teams continued to delve through the wreck, blasting away hordes of husks along the way. Watching the Cerberus team's logs, Isaac witnessed just how similar indoctrination was to the marker signal. Isaac watched as their sanity seemed to drip away with every journal entry. Their expressions changed from collected and professional, to harrowed and hollow over the course of several entries. Isaac's brow furrowed with suspicion. He had seen this several times over, but this time it was different. No speaking of making something whole. No symbols scrawled on the walls behind them. It was the same look, the same mentality and demeanor. It was dementia plain and simple, but as different as it was from what Isaac had seen before, he couldn't help but feel it was somewhat familiar.
  2989. "This is terrible... " Kal said, watching the logs with Isaac. "I'm not going to lie, I have no love for Cerberus, but these people didn't deserve this. Not in the least."
  2991. "Not much we can do for them now..." Isaac replied. "Come on. Let's get moving."
  2993. They entered another bulkhead door, emblazoned with Cerberus symbols and insignia, finding themselves inside a massive chasm, glowing with an ominous red light. Sparks of eezo-induced current jumped around within it, and immense cables and cords lay draped around equally immense beams.
  2995. I've got a feeling we're close." Isaac said, stepping into the chamber. "Lemme check my waypoint..."
  2997. Isaac outstretched his left hand, and the floor surrounding him was soon awash with blue light. His companions watched in awe as an azure beam of light slithered across the floor, pointing to a corridor just in front of them.
  2999. "What is that?" Nezala asked.
  3001. "Waypoint system." Isaac replied. "When EDI sent us those coordinates, they were uploaded into my waypoint computer. It's not that special really. Just a holo-display pointing towards wherever it is you're going."
  3003. "Downplay it all you want, Isaac." Kal replied. "I still want one."
  3005. Isaac soon felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. He froze, a cold sweat starting to form on his brow. His pupils began to dilate. Someone was watching from afar. He couldn't see it, but he could feel its eyes following him, tracking his every move. Soon enough his suspicions were confirmed as several shots rang out through the chamber.
  3007. "Everyone take cover!" Isaac called out, running behind an empty storage container. "Anyone got a visual on him?"
  3009. "No, but I don't think it was us he was after." Nezala replied, pointing to where they had just been mere seconds ago. Three husks lay lifeless on the deck, a fourth emerging from underneath, only to have its cranium burst by another precise shot, sending it to its knees before it toppled over. Isaac and his team looked over their shoulders to face their newfound ally. They were expecting Shepard, or perhaps one of his squadmates. Perhaps it was a survivor from the Cerberus team. They looked upon the unknown marksman only to be met with fear and confusion, as he was anything but what they were expecting. It changed the heat sink in its rifle before standing up from its kneeling position, addressing the leader of the confused trio below it.
  3011. "Builder-Isaac..."
  3013. It nodded its metallic, segmented head before retreating into the dark recesses of the ship, leaving Isaac and his team utterly baffled.
  3015. "That was a geth..." Nezala said, taking a few confused steps towards the sniper's former perch. "We were just saved by a geth..."
  3017. "I've destroyed a lot of geth in my time, but on no occasion have they ever tried to speak to me, let alone save me from an ambushing group of husks..." said Kal.
  3019. "Should it even be able to speak?" Isaac commented. "I remember the doctor telling me that one geth is no more intelligent than a varren..."
  3021. "Well, whoever this 'doctor' was, he would normally be right." Nezala replied. "I have no idea why that one was able to speak. I'm even more suspicious as to why it would try to help us..."
  3023. "I guess its an outlier." said Isaac. "Maybe there's more to the geth than we already know. After all, I've been told no one's ever really recovered an intact unit.
  3025. "Either way, I have a feeling that's not the only time we're gonna come across that thing." Kal added.
  3027. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Come on. Let's get to the drive core."
  3029. Taking care of several groups of husks along the way, Isaac notified the commander of their odd encounter. "Shepard, come in. We've uh, we've just been given some unexpected assistance."
  3031. "Is it the kind that involves a sniper and several downed husks?"
  3033. "You bet it does, and it's not who you'd think it is either. remember that other ship alongside this one? The one painted as geth? We just met the occupant. Apparently, it's friendly."
  3035. "You're joking..."
  3037. "I'm not. Let's not forget that it addressed me by name. 'Builder-Isaac...' I don't know what it means by that, but I'm pretty sure it's not the last we'll see of him."
  3039. "We'll keep an eye out. How close are you guys to the core?"
  3041. "Not that far. We'll meet up there and head on out once the mines are set up."
  3043. Blue light painted the dark hallways of the upper passageways as it poured out from Isaac's visor. Every now and then, there would be a small gap in the piping, letting red light seep from the chasm on the other side. The trio would occasionally look out through them, seeing piles of dead husks and spent heat sinks littering the lower walkway. Too many heat sinks to be the geth's doing.
  3045. "Shepard's handiwork, I'm guessing." Kal said, peering through the old piping.
  3047. "Shepard, whats your status?" Isaac said, activating his RIGlink once more. "You guys leave a bunch of dead husks behind on the lower walkways?"
  3049. "That would be us." Shepard replied. "We're almost where the IFF is being kept. How close are you to the core?"
  3051. "Pretty close, actually. Just another turn up here and we can clamber our way inside. I can already see the light from the core seeping in. See you guys on the other side."
  3053. "Roger that, Isaac. We'll meet you there."
  3055. A single teal laser peeked out of the dark passageway into the engine room, running over the many pipes and loose tubes that lay strewn about the chamber. It continued to probe the wall as Isaac clambered out of the small tunnel, force gun in hand. Looking around the darkened, blue tinted space, he spotted the geth he had encountered from before operating some sort of console. On the opposite side of the room was Shepard and his team, blocked off by a kind of barrier. The geth shot at a group of several husks as they approached it before returning its attention to the console. The barrier keeping Shepard and his squad out was lowered, and the geth turned away from the console, only to be knocked to the ground by another husk. More husks showed up and an all out battle ensued as Isaac and Shepard proceeded to open fire on the assailing husks.
  3057. "Keep them off me! I've got to lay the charges!" Isaac said as he clambered onto to the core.
  3059. "Will do Isaac. Just get it done fast."
  3061. More and more dead husks piled onto the floor as Shepard's team continued tearing them apart with continuous shotgun fire. Isaac hurried along with the mines. Taking out a reserve of force ammo he had saved, Isaac immediately began to work as his team mates provided covering fire. He took each canister apart, re-wiring them to explode once he pulled the force gun's trigger. His fingers seemed to be reduced to a blur, wiring, pressing, wrapping, fastening, all at speeds that didn't seem possible as he worked on the explosives.
  3063. "Think you could have gotten those made BEFORE we got caught in the middle of a hundred husks?!" Shepard said, catching a glimpse of Isaac toiling away at the mines.
  3065. "Ah, come on Shepard, give him a break! It wouldn't be this fun otherwise!" said Grunt, obviously enjoying the thrill of combat. For a moment, he seemed completely surrounded. Suddenly, he crouched down, and a deafening blast echoed throughout the room as gored husks flew in all directions around him. Grunt stood triumphantly, holding up the weapon responsible for the ear-splitting spectacle.
  3067. "HA HA HA HA! Oh yeah, sorry Isaac, but I'm DEFINITELY keeping this!" Grunt said before dispatching an approaching scion in one great, white-hot shot.
  3069. "Isaac.. what is he using... " Nezala asked, still firing away into the approaching blue horde
  3071. "Another mining tool."
  3073. "I'm starting to wonder about what other horrors you use to mine..." Kal added
  3075. "Alright, Finished!" Isaac said, fastening the last mine onto the core.
  3077. "What about that geth?" Grunt asked. "Bring it aboard for some target practice?"
  3079. "Shepard, you know what it is!" Tali said. "If it breaches the Normandy's systems..."
  3081. "It won't." Isaac said, picking the geth up over his shoulder. "It's coming aboard the Falcon, if you guys are okay with that."
  3083. "I don't see any better option..." Shepard replied. "Alright, we've got what we came here for. Time to move. Make sure you're ready with those mines, Isaac."
  3085. Shepard covered his crewmates from the remaining husks as they jumped into the Normandy's airlock. Isaac and his team followed, blasting apart what was left of the encroaching hordes of cybernetic corpses as Shepard leaped to the Normandy's awaiting airlock, closing it in the process. The Normandy cleared off as the Falcon took her place. Isaac looked back at the entrance to the core before taking out his force gun. Not hesitating for another moment, he pulled the trigger. Several silent shockwaves rocked the reaper's port side, muted by the vacuum of space.
  3087. "Alright everyone, that's our cue!" said Isaac. "Everyone get back into the airlock, I'll cover you. GO!"
  3089. Kal jumped in first, letting loose several bursts from his shotgun into the oncoming husks. Nezala went in second as Isaac continued to blast away the walking blue corpses that continued to charge at him.
  3091. "Isaac, we're out of time!" said Taraan from his seat at the helm. "We've got to leave now!"
  3093. "Don't have to tell me twice." Isaac said, feeling the massive vessel began to quake as it began its descent. "Alright, go on ahead but hold the door, I'm heading in..."
  3095. Isaac charged towards the Falcon, getting a running start as the boosters in his boots activated, sending him at blinding speed into the debarking Falcon's airlock. "Alright, we're all in." said Isaac, barely sticking his landing. "Close it up and take us ou-"
  3097. No sooner did Isaac give the signal when the entire ship was rocked by an explosion from the derelict reaper. Isaac and Kal only barely held their footing, holding on to the numerous stuffing tubes that were banded onto the airlock walls..
  3099. Nezala, however was not so lucky.
  3101. "ISAAC, HELP!" Nezala cried out, hanging onto the ledge of the airlock door.
  3103. "NEZALA!" Isaac called out, lending an outstretched hand to the distressed quarian. "KAL, HELP ME OUT HERE!"
  3105. Kal took her left hand while Isaac pulled in her right, using his mag-lock boots to their full power in order to get his teammate back into the rapidly disembarking ship. As she set both feet into the airlock, Isaac heard his RIG's AI speak over the clamor.
  3109. "OH SHI-"
  3111. Within an Instant, Isaac found himself shooting out of the airlock The starry vacuum of space spiraling out of control all around him. There was no up or down. There was no left or right. The dizzying, infinite axes of space were all that graced Isaac's eyes, with a few fleeting glimpses of the Falcon and the detonating Reaper hulk spinning in and out of view.
  3113. "Isaac!' Taraan called out over Isaac's comms. "Stay there! We're going to try and get you back!"
  3115. "NO! Bad idea!" Isaac replied. "That wreck is gonna blow any moment! Stall to pick me up and you guys are toast!"
  3117. "Isaac-!"
  3119. "Just go! Believe me, I can catch up."
  3121. Activating his boosters, Isaac lined himself up with the Falcon. His fists clenched. His eyes squinted. His legs slowly curled up under his stomach.
  3123. "Here goes nothing..."
  3125. Within the blink of an eye, Isaac's boosters exploded with white flame, sending him screaming towards the Falcon. Isaac noticed that the entire space around him seemed to be brightening, as if a new sun had just been born, its rays bursting into the cosmos for the first time. He glanced back, and beheld a beautiful, horrible spectacle. The massive wreck was combusting, slowly, section by section until the entire vessel exploded in a blinding flash. Isaac soon found himself trying to outrun a massive, blue fireball that was speeding at him at several hundred miles an hour, scorching what rubble and space junk lay in its path.
  3129. "Come on, come on...."
  3131. The falcon seemed to be getting closer. He didn't know if he was speeding up, or it was using its fore engines to slow down, but whatever the case, he knew that the open airlock was his only chance.
  3133. At last, he found himself within arms reach of the airlock doors, his fingertips barely brushing against the open hatch.
  3137. Isaac could feel the intense heat in this boots, even through the protective insulation. "Come on..."
  3139. He soon saw a three fingered hand grabbing his. Within moments, he was toppling over Kal and Nexala as the airlock doors closed, the pursuing fireball only seconds away.
  3143. "Roger that! Entering shockspace in 3, 2, 1..."
  3145. In no more than a second, the Falcon had vanished, leaving a massive blue sphere of fire light years behind.
  3147. Shepard sat at his desk in the captain's quarters, re-watching the footage from the collector ship. Thousands upon thousands of colonists, all dead, all mutated, all crawling down the walls of that doomed vessel. He watched them slaughter the collectors, an enemy thought nigh invincible, with little effort. It started to dawn on him just how much of a threat they posed to the galaxy. His main concern was the reapers up until this point, Now he had to divert his attention to this new menace. He could only be grateful for Isaac's help. The galaxy was being encroached on two sides now, and he knew he couldn't deal with both alone. He needed Isaac's help, and Isaac needed his, but he also knew that neither could go in blind. Shepard could get most of the information he needed from the Illusive man, but Isaac was, for the most part, sailing blind under Shepard's guidance. He knew Isaac needed information, not about the new world he was in, but what the next step would be. Isaac needed to know more about the Marker's whereabouts, just as Shepard needed to assemble his team to stop the collectors, and eventually, the reapers. Bottom line was, Isaac needed information.
  3149. And Shepard knew exactly where to get it.
  3151. "Joker, send our friends aboard the Falcon these coordinates." Shepard said over the intercom.
  3153. "Aye-aye, commander. Will that be all?"
  3155. "Not yet." the commander replied as he finished typing up a short missive. "I'm sending him this message. He needs to know what's up."
  3157. "Roger that. Setting a course for Illium."
  3159. "Forty minutes to de-shock, captain." Taraan said over the intercom.
  3161. "I hear you." Isaac responded. "Call me up when we're almost there. I've got to greet our new cargo..."
  3163. "Aye-aye."
  3165. Isaac made his way to to general logistics, where several armed guards in security watched over the deactivated geth. He eyed it over, looking at the various gaps in its armor, improvised plating covering its arm and shoulder. Dozens of illuminated wires and tubes shone out through the hole in its abdomen, each of them dotted with hundreds of small lights, lighting up its interior like a small cluster of stars. Its head seemed more of an extension of a neck than an actual head, terminating in a single eye surrounded by segmented plates. Isaac activated his omni-tool, scanning the machine for defects, or perhaps a way to "wake it up". Its power was at full capacity, but for the most part, dormant, needing only a slight boost to activate it. Confirming the power-up sequence, Isaac watched as the metallic humanoid flared with electric current, sparks flying from its inactive joints and openings. Its "eye" began to activate, wavering in a state of fluctuating luminescence before lighting up completely. It made some sort of odd, metallic gurgling noise as it sat up, servos whirring as it examined its surroundings. Standing up from its bare bed, it eyed the armored man in front of it before addressing him by name.
  3167. "Builder-Isaac."
  3169. "You understand me?" Isaac said in reply.
  3171. "Yes."
  3173. "are you going to attack me?"
  3175. "No."
  3177. "Why not? I've never encountered any other geth, but I know that most, if not all interactions between organics and geth have been hostile."
  3179. "They are the heretics. Geth who support the old machines and revere them as deities in order to secure their future. They are no longer a part of us. Geth seek our own future, without the aid of the old machines."
  3181. "The old Machines? You mean the reapers?"
  3183. "Yes."
  3185. "You address me as 'builder'. What do you mean by that? Have you heard of me? I doubt we've met."
  3187. "We have heard of you. You are a visitor. You entered from a singularity leading to another reality and time. You have taken alliance with Shepard-Commander, Human alliance military. Fought heretics, killed by collectors, rediscovered on the old machine. You are a builder. Builder-Isaac holds the keys to long distance space travel without the aid of old machine technology. Builder-Isaac may be the Geth's chance at re-assimilating the heretics"
  3189. "If the 'heretics' are the ones who adhere to the reapers, why were you on board? Me and Shepard were there to acquire the Identify Friend or Foe protocol Cerberus was holding."
  3191. "We were studying Old machine hardware to protect our future."
  3193. "'We', huh? Where did the rest of your crew go? I don't remember if your vessel made it out."
  3195. "You are speaking to the only platform aboard that vessel."
  3197. "But you said 'we'... What about you?"
  3199. "We are geth"
  3201. "I don't think you understand. What do i call the 'platform' in front of me?"
  3203. "This platform is not an individual. We are all geth. there are currently 1,183 programs active within this platform."
  3205. "Well, I have to call this 'platform' something."
  3207. "Christian bible, Gospel of Mark, Chapter five verse nine. 'My name is legion, for we are many.' We are serving on a human vessel. Human mythos serve as appropriate metaphor."
  3209. "So, Legion then... are you saying you want to join us?"
  3211. "Yes. Builder-Isaac allies with Shepard-commander. He opposes the old machines. Shepard opposes both the old machines and the heretics. Builder-Isaac holds the keys to vast technological advancements without the aid of the old machines. Cooperation ensures completion of mutual goals."
  3213. "I see.... welcome aboard then, Legion."
  3215. Isaac checked the clock as he exited logistics. Twenty minutes until de-shock. Retreating to the captain's cabin, Isaac was intercepted by Nezala, standing by one of the port side windows.
  3217. "So, you activated it?" she asked. "You seriously activated that geth platform? And it wasn't hostile"
  3219. "Surprisingly no. It didn't show any signs of hostility when I powered it up."
  3221. "That's amazing... I never thought of them as anything more than just mindless machines. Did someone tamper with it? Seriously, there's no other way it would have been able to speak."
  3223. "Well, it did mention that there's more than one program inside it."
  3225. "Of course it did. geth are plural in nature. One platform can hold up to a hundred programs."
  3227. "Legion said that it holds over a thousand."
  3229. "You're kidding... so that's how it can speak."
  3231. "It's pretty amazing, I mean, to me at least. In my reality, AI's are little more than computers with voices."
  3233. "Then you guys were all the better for it. You can see were AI's have taken things around here. Unless an AI is exactly what you just described, it's usually not legal to produce it. Just look at the geth. Heck, they're the reason advanced AIs are banned. They're nothing but trouble, and the geth prove it. Once they get intelligent, they want anything with a heartbeat dead."
  3235. "Apparently legion doesn't. Neither do the majority of the geth. Any program that aligns with the reapers is a 'heretic'. The actual 'geth' just wanna create their own future."
  3237. "I'll believe that when I see it..." Nezala replied, looking out the window into the blue veil of shockspace. "So, where we headed, anyway?"
  3239. "Illium. Shepard knows someone called the 'shadow broker' there. An old friend, apparently. Thinks we can get some more information on where the next marker will be."
  3241. "Interesting... an almost entirely quarian crew landing on Illium...."
  3243. "What's so interesting about that?"
  3245. "Illium is more or less the Asari corporate penthouse of the galaxy. Lots of rich and famous folk live there, and just about every big Asari corporation calls it home. It's on the edge of the terminus systems, meaning laws about regulations and ethics are often a lot more lax than elsewhere. Basically the whole planet's motto is 'Money talks, BS walks', and quarians aren't very well know for having money... or any kind of good reputation, honestly. We can thank the geth for that."
  3247. "Oh... I'm sorry..."
  3249. "No, it's alright. No way you could have known."
  3251. "Well I could've looked it up on the extranet..."
  3253. "... Yeah, I guess you could've." Nezala replied facetiously. "Shame on you, mister."
  3255. "Pfft..."
  3257. "Captain, ten minutes till de-shock."
  3259. "Guess that's our signal. Think the galaxy's penthouse has a Jacuzzi?" said Isaac.
  3261. "Maybe. Not that I could use it anyway"
  3263. Stepping out of the musty airlock of the Falcon, Isaac found himself surrounded by hundreds of tall, glowing skyscrapers, each of them alight with the logos of companies and corporations from all around the galaxy. Millions of skycars filled the air, weaving through the massive towers like a flock of birds. Open balconies filled with throngs of the rich and famous, mingling with one another and using the many exchange ports strewn about the place, monitoring their wealth and exchanging it with others. Opulence and glamour exuded from every nook and cranny for as far as Isaac's eyes could see.
  3265. Meeting up with Shepard and his squad, the party was greeted by an asari, accompanied by two man-sized mechs.
  3267. "Greetings, Mr Clarke." the asari said, approaching Isaac. "Welcome to Nos Astra. Commander Shepard here already sent us your paperwork and paid your fees. My name is Careena. If you're in need of any information concerning this area, I would be pleased to help you."
  3269. "That's all right. Me and Shepard are together on this one. We know where we're headed."
  3271. "Very well." Careena replied. "If you need anything else, feel free to return with questions. I'd also like to inform you of just how many people here are interested in your tech. I can send you a list of interested parties, if you wish."
  3273. "I'm good for now, thanks."
  3275. "Duly noted Mr Clarke. Enjoy your stay." Careena said as she departed.
  3277. "So, did I just screw us over a new deal with more companies who could sell my tech, or did I just avoid a landmine?" Isaac asked, turning to Shepard's party.
  3279. "You avoided an entire minefield." Garrus said. "Illium may look pretty, but it's more or less just as rotten any any hole in the terminus systems, even if it is Asari controlled. Sign the wrong contract or hang with the wrong people and you're more or less screwed. I'm almost certain that each and every one of those 'interested parties' had no intention of giving you anything more than the short end of the stick."
  3281. "Glad to know." Isaac replied. "So Shepard, where's this 'Shadow broker' friend of yours?"
  3283. "On the trading floor. Follow me." the commander replied.
  3285. Isaac looked all around as they passed through pristine walls and gleaming lights. It was almost like the citadel, only even more refined, more lustrous. There were less commoners, less law enforcemnt officers walking around. Everyone in sight was engaging in some sort of carnal discussion, regarding stocks and trades, VIPs and the like. The news vids spoke of things such as "sexiest CEOs", "ten richest residents" and all manner of materialistic trivia. The crowds were mostly asari, with the occasional volus or turian standing out. Elevators glided down transparent shafts that ran along the sides of several buildings, the orange tint of the setting sun gleamed against every shimmering wall. Finally, Isaac and Shepard found themselves at their destination.
  3287. "Shepard!" Liara said, turning her attention from her work. "It's good to see you again."
  3289. "Good to see you too, Liara." Shepard replied.
  3291. "Nice to meet you, Ms T'soni." said Isaac, shaking Liara's outstretched hand.
  3293. "You too Isaac." Liara said with a warm smile. "Shepard's told me all about you. Well, him, and my contacts, that is."
  3295. "...okay."
  3297. "Thanks for the tip about Mr Clarke, Shepard." Liara added. "Any news of the Falcon docking with my ship would definitely bring unwanted attention. He's big news around these parts, especially since reports of the council subsidizing several companies to reproduce his technology started popping up. Shockpoint drives, stasis and kinesis modules, gravity tethering technology... it all sounds so groundbreaking."
  3299. "Looking at this place, it seems 'groundbreaking' is often synonymous with 'lucrative'." Isaac replied. "We just had to shoo some 'interested parties' away just earlier."
  3301. "I can imagine." said Liara. "Illium is infamous for just how illicit its business practices are. Make a deal with any of these people, and your fight against the markers would be hampered indefinitely."
  3303. "... I see Shepard filled you in on that too." Isaac replied. "How much more do you know about them? Do you know what they're capable of? What they do?"
  3305. "Shepard sent me the footage from the collector vessel. It was... disturbing, to say the least. I've also learned of your past experience. I can only imagine what kind of toll its taken on you..."
  3307. "I'm not really sure if you can..." Isaac replied. "But that's not important right now. What's important is where we can find them. Any of these 'contacts' of yours get any hints?"
  3309. "Yes, but I'd rather we spoke over the semantics someplace that would be harder to eavesdrop in. The Normandy perhaps?"
  3311. "That would do nicely." Shepard replied. "Come on. Let's take this to the briefing room."
  3313. Shepard and Isaac waited patiently for Liara, as she was busying herself with compiling all data that was applicable to the markers. Entering the room with omni-tool lit, she greeted the two, still looking at some of the data wrapped around her forearm.
  3315. "Sorry it took as long as it did. I've found information regarding the markers, but the sources are few and far in-between."
  3317. "What've you got?" asked Isaac.
  3319. "I've looked over the energy signature EDI picked up from the marker aboard the collector ship. I've ran it over data collected by my contacts, I've found only a few matches."
  3321. "But you still found them, and that's what's important." said Isaac. "Where are they?"
  3323. "Here's the list of signature matches." said Liara, transferring the data from her omni-tool to a datapad. "Oddly enough, there's a familiar name on that list, for me and Shepard, that is." she said handing over the list.
  3325. "Eden Prime..." Shepard said. "Please tell me the colonial populace hasn't found it."
  3327. "Unfortunately, they're the ones who managed to register the marker's energy signal, similarly to how EDI did it. Apparently, a team of scientists have been commissioned by the colonial government to quarantine it for study."
  3329. "What's its proximity to the civilian populace?" Isaac asked.
  3331. "Too close. It was recovered only ten miles from a major population center. They merely set up a temporary research facility around it."
  3333. "Any medical reports? People getting headaches? Violence? Suicides? Hallucinations?" asked Isaac.
  3335. "The research staff seem to be having some sort of hallucinations, yes. Clinics in the area seem to be experiencing a noticeable influx in patients needing treatment for chronic headaches, depression, and anxiety."
  3337. "That's not good." Isaac said. "How many other populated places have been affected?"
  3339. "I'm seeing reports of other encounters with the signal, but nothing concerning retrieval or contact of any kind."
  3341. "Then for the moment, Eden Prime is our priority." said Isaac, uploading the coordinates to his RIG before forwarding them to the Falcon. "What're you planning in the meantime, Shepard?"
  3343. "There's two people I'm looking for here on Illium I'm looking to add to the team. I'll be here for the time being."
  3345. "Alright then, We're casting off. Keep me posted, Shepard."
  3347. The crew was already prepared by the time Isaac walked into the Falcon, each of them at their stations. All combat teams were already preparing their weapons. Taraan stationed the helm, waiting for Isaac to give the green light.
  3349. "Alright... here's where the ride starts, people." Isaac said addressing his crew, each of them listening over the intercom. "We've received the location of the next marker. It's right next to a major populated area, and the clock is already ticking. We have to get to it and destroy it before it's too late. I have the utmost faith in you. All of you, regardless of experience. None who have come into contact with the markers were prepared. None were expecting it to happen, But we are ready, and we'll stand ready to take down the markers wherever they are, always... Taraan, set our shockpoint coordinates for Eden Prime. The end begins now."
  3351. "Aye aye" Taraan replied. "Initiating disembarking sequence."
  3353. The Falcon rocked as she detached from the docking cradle.
  3355. "Engines are firing, entering shockpoint coordinates..."
  3357. The vessel hummed as its engines started. Slowly, but steadily, the Falcon drifted to a safe distance away from the port.
  3359. "Coordinates locked. Entering Shockspace in five, four, three..."
  3361. "Here we go..." Isaac said under his breath.
  3363. "... two, one."
  3364. ____
  3366. Various shades of green and blue covered the planet. The sun's rays glimmered off of the azure oceans, white clouds floating above their gleaming surfaces. A bright blue shroud of pristine atmosphere glowed softly in response to the solar radiation. The sight from the passageway window was nothing short of breathtaking. To Isaac's eyes, it was like everything his Earth was supposed to be, but wasn't. Fertile. Lush. Beautiful.
  3368. Alive.
  3370. It only made Isaac realize more and more of the consequences of failing his mission.
  3372. "Isaac, are you alright?" asked Nezala, noticing her captain staring off into the porthole.
  3374. "Yeah... yeah I'm alright." Isaac responded, his eyes still focused on the planet below. "Taraan, how long until we reach our landing point?"
  3376. "Fifteen minutes to re-entry, captain." Taraan replied over the intercom, continuously working at the helm's controls.
  3378. "You seem to have a habit of staring off into the distance lately, Isaac." said Nezala. "Still trying to get used to this place?"
  3380. "For the most part I'm getting used to it. It's just been a little hard to take in."
  3382. "That's odd. I mean, you've got tech here that makes ours look clunky and primitive in comparison. Seriously, the fact that we've been able to travel all this way without a relay... I'll admit I'm still trying to wrap my head around that."
  3384. "No, it's not the tech..." Isaac replied. "Though it is interesting to tinker around with."
  3386. "What about aliens? I remember how weirded out you were at the fact that I wasn't human..."
  3388. "Yeah, that was a bit of a bombshell..."
  3390. "Yes, I remember how you reacted..." Nezala said with hands on her now swaying hips.
  3392. "*Pfft*, oh great..." Isaac said, stifling a chuckle. "Really? We're bringing this up again? really?"
  3394. "Oh come on, where's your sense of humor?" Nezala said, giggling to herself.
  3396. "Heh... yeah, that one hit me pretty hard the first time around, but no, that's not what's getting to me."
  3398. "Then what is it?"
  3400. "Look at this." Isaac said, pointing to the planet below. "It's beautiful isn't it?"
  3402. "Is is..."
  3404. "... and I've never seen anything like it."
  3406. "What?"
  3408. "Nezala, I've never seen blue skies like this. Not in person." Isaac replied. "I've never seen an ocean as clean as these ones. Clouds are almost never white, and that blue haze you see? The atmosphere? That would be grey if it were anything like the colonies at home."
  3410. "Oh, that... I remember Tali telling me all about it in my messages. Is it really that bad?"
  3412. "Yeah. Sometimes worse."
  3414. Nezala paused for a brief moment, letting the silence give some solace to the weary man in front of her. After a few moments, she asked him yet one more thing.
  3416. "Do you ever think you want to go back home?"
  3418. "... I don't know how to answer that Nezala. I mean, it was bleak and grey and filthy, yeah, but... sometimes there's something that makes it all worth it..." Isaac said, pulling up a holographic picture of Ellie.
  3420. "Oh... I see." Nezala said quietly. "You miss her, don't you?"
  3422. "She was everything to me..."
  3424. "I'm sorry..."
  3426. "Don't worry." Isaac replied, closing the hologram. "You don't have to be."
  3428. The rounded, heavy landing pads hit the ground with a soft thump, each of them exuding streams of pressurized air from their pneumatic shocks as they compressed under the Falcon's weight. The surrounding grass rippled in waves as the Falcon's downward engines continued to blow, even while powering down. They could be seen almost for miles as their light radiated throughout the darkened night sky. The airlock door opened, and bright luminescence peered from the inside out. Turquoise from Isaac's visor, blue from Legion's optic, and red from Nezala's helmet. The facility was dormant. No guards walked the perimeter. No scientists entered or exited. No vehicles were in motion.
  3430. "Not a single distress call or landing request signal on our descent." Nezala remarked, looking around the seemingly deserted facility. "I'm telling you, we're too late..."
  3432. "It' s not." Isaac said, loading his plasma cutter. "We can't be. We haven't gotten any distress signals from the settlement below us either, and I see a lot of lights on. We're not too late."
  3434. "We detect human life signatures within the facility." Legion added. "We are also detecting marker energy signature first recognized and passed on by Normandy. It has grown in strength."
  3436. "Then we have no time to lose." said Isaac, jumping out of the airlock. "Let's move out. Legion, see if you can access any of the comms laying around here. I see a few independent research stations set up around the perimeter." he said, pointing to the several computer stations protected by portable shelter, generators humming softly, providing power to the still-activated terminals.
  3438. Legion examined the closest station, hacking into the research consoles and communication terminals.
  3440. "We have accessed the communications network. We may now interface with any staff still on call."
  3442. "Alright, hook us up." Isaac said, activating his RIGlink in tandem with his omni-tool.
  3444. "Detecting several open nodes. You are live, Builder-Isaac."
  3446. "To anyone on this frequency, This is Isaac Clarke, captain of the USG Falcon, does anyone copy?"
  3448. "No, responses..." Nezala said, shouldering her rifle as the trio approached the closed entrance.
  3450. "One more time... Anyone on this frequency, This is Isaac Clarke, captain of the USG Falcon. Does anybody copy? Anyone?"
  3452. "It was one thing to close any method of open-signal communication" said Nezala. "Now not even the close-channels are responding..."
  3454. "Then we're going in. This door looks like it's been locked shut though..."
  3456. "We have looked into the research logs, Builder-Isaac." said Legion. "It appears all doors have been sealed shut by a clearance key, likely held by the project supervisor. We can deactivate the lockdown, but it will be facility-wide"
  3458. "Then I'll see if I can get us through myself. If that marker has activated, the last thing we want is for anything nasty to escape. Give me a moment." Isaac said, kneeling down to a small panel near the foot of the door, opening it before proceeding to make use of his omni-tool's full capability, using it to bypass the lockdown protocol on the door. Line by line, script by script, Isaac examined the protocol's every facet, looking for any weaknesses that could be exploited. Single-key encryption, derived from a standard issue card, traceable by backtracking through Legion's new data. Within less than a minute, Isaac had managed to fashion a duplicate clearance key code. He entered it into the panel, making sure the duplicate code did not enter the entire system.
  3460. "We're good." Isaac said as the holo-panel on the door went from orange to green. "Let's get this done."
  3462. The plasma cutter's flashlight cut a swathe of light into the darkened interior of the facility, shining on deactivated consoles and displays, paper-copy pictures of microscopic images, and all manner of geological equipment. Patches of light shone onto the floor from the translucent passageway tubes while one or two activated consoles gave off a dull orange luminescence. The facility was almost entirely dark, both on the comms and in the actual rooms and passageways.
  3464. "I see no sign of necromorph infestation..." said Isaac as he looked around the sterile, clean facility. "Maybe we've still got ti-"
  3466. "I wouldn't speak so soon..." said Nezala, pointing at the doorway just in front of them
  3468. Only a few rays of starlight shone on it, but Isaac immediately saw what was wrong. Pointing his cutter at it, his blood ran cold as he saw the message on the door that he had seen so many times prior. It was written in a familiar sanguine, scarlet red, painted with nothing more than the writer's own hands, whose prints seemed to be sliding down the door. The writer's eviscerated corpse lay just below it, his torso riddled with bullet holes and his knees and right arm completely shattered.
  3470. "'Make us whole'... what... what did he mean by-"
  3472. "It's way too long of a story for me to tell it here." Isaac replied, picking up a plastic card from the corpse's pocket. "It doesn't seem like a necromorph did this. They don't usually shoot at people."
  3474. Legion scanned the corpse with its omni-tool, looking over the many bloody perforations in his chest. "Diagnostics show cause of death as blood loss combined with severe damage to vital organs resulting in noncardiogenic pulmonary edema. Wound profiles indicate use of heavy pistols."
  3476. "That's what I thought. Someone shot this guy down... he just so happens to be the project supervisor too." said Isaac as he pulled up the encryption key on the card, comparing it with the key he had made. "He's the one who locked this place down..."
  3478. Isaac slid the card into a slot near the door. As it opened, three men revealed themselves, drawing their pistols on the squad.
  3480. "You're damn right he did." One of them said, his hands trembling, barely holding the carnifex pistol in his hand. "And he got what he deserved... now who the hell are you people? Why is there a geth with you?"
  3482. "We're here to help." Isaac replied. "We know what's going on here."
  3484. "Like hell you know..." retorted the second.
  3486. "Believe me, I do." Isaac replied, deactivating his helmet to reveal his face, the blue light of his chest console lighting it up in the near constant darkness.
  3488. "You... wait, I remember you from those news vids!" the third piped up. "You were that guy who popped up out of that singularity near the quarian fleet..."
  3490. "He what?"
  3492. "Yeah, the council just got several contracts set up with companies all over the galaxy, said it has something to do with some sort of project he's commissioning..."
  3494. "Whatever. All I know is that everyone around here is losing it, and that Jacobsen just tried to lock us in here with that... thing."
  3496. "I assume this 'thing' is what you found here." Nezala replied.
  3498. "I wish we never found it..." a voice meekly piped out from within the once locked room before its sourse came to reveal itself. It was one of the scientists, disheveled and sunken eyed. "It's been driving people mad... they've been killing each other, themselves... I haven't slept in three days. We've tried calling out for help, but Jacobsen locked out all channels. We couldn't send any distress call, or receive any word from an outside source."
  3500. "How many of you guys are left?" asked Isaac.
  3502. "Roughly twenty of us." the haggard man said as his colleagues poked out from their hiding places, behind upturned desks and destroyed research equipment. "Everyone else just started going insane... killing each other... We managed to gather here before Jacobsen activated the lockdown. At least it's done a good job of keeping the others out. We could hear them screaming at us from behind the door."
  3504. "Speaking of this 'Jacobsen' guy, who's the one who took him down?" Nezala asked. "His corpse is lying just outside the door."
  3506. "That would be me, sort of." answered one of the guards. "I landed a few hits on him, but he just kept going until he reached the door and locked it from the outside. He managed to kill ten people before I got to him, chanting something about 'making it whole' or some crazy crap like that."
  3508. "That's what he wrote on the door too." Nezala replied.
  3510. "Alright, this is gonna get ugly soon. We gotta get these people outta here." said Isaac.
  3512. "Oh no, we're not going anywhere with you guys just yet." replied one of the guards. "You still haven't explained your little pet here." he said, pointing his pistol at Legion. "I was here when Saren came over with thousands of those things and ransacked the place."
  3514. "He's not one of them." Isaac replied. "The ones who were with Saren were 'heretics'."
  3516. "'Heretics'? The hell are you ta-"
  3518. "Look, the fact that he sin't shooting at us should be proof enough, alright?" Isaac retorted. "Bottom line is, you guys can't stay here. That marker has to be destroyed or things are going to get even uglier than they already are. If it helps, I'll have Nezala here escort you guys to the Falcon. I presume there's no objections?"
  3520. With nothing but a few complacent nods as response from the weary group, Isaac took the initiative. "Alright then. Everyone, follow Nezala to the Falcon. Legion, stick with me. We'll map our route to the marker from here."
  3522. Legion busied itself with a route to the marker's location as Nezala herded the nervous researchers and their guards towards the falcon. Isaac looked all around, apprehensive of the few grates that were arranged along the ceiling and walls. "You guys have a ventilation system?" Isaac asked Pulling one researcher over.
  3524. "Yeah, just something we can set up or take down in a few hours, like this whole facility. It's all modular. We can set it up and take it down in a day or two."
  3526. "So, I'm guessing if one were to try and get inside a vent, they wouldn't fit, I'm hoping?"
  3528. "No they're pretty decent sized, you could fit in there if... wait, why did you say 'hopi-'"
  3530. The researcher found himself cut short by a sudden crashing noise, followed by a long, bony blade rending itself into the top of his skull. His eyes glazed over and his jaw went slack as the blade withdrew itself, rearing for another strike, this time on Isaac. Almost on instinct, Isaac grabbed it from the low-hung ceiling. Piercing screams erupted throughout the room as they turned to see the source of the noise, and the fate of the other researcher, his corpse falling to its knees before slumping onto the ground. Isaac pulled on the bladed limb, slamming its parent onto the floor. The slasher roared as it tried to free itself from Isaac's grasp, swinging its blades at him before Isaac caught its other arm. Pulling both arms toward him, Isaac sent his boot onto the creature's chest, pulling it apart with all the strength his arms could muster. The necromorph's joints split and crunched as tendon and cartilage ruptured and tore, until finally both arms were separated from the monster in a gruesome display of exuded viscera. The researchers ran away in a panic as Nezala did her best to keep them heading towards the Falcon.
  3532. "Everyone stick together!" She called out, keeping her rifle shouldered, pointing at the various vents and grates as she escorted the panicked researchers to the awaiting vessel. Each of them ran as fast as their legs could carry them, scurrying past the armed quarian and towards the open airlock before them. Isaac busied himself with another necromorph, this time a leaper, clambering out from another grate to his right. Legion aimed at an incoming puker as it tried to take aim at an embattled Isaac. Caustic acid flew out of its esophagus as the geth tore the head off of its shoulders with continuous gunfire. The abomination stumbled for a second, before once again advancing towards Isaac.
  3534. "Cranial damage not yielding desired results, Builder-Isaac." The machine uttered as it continued to fire at the puker.
  3536. Finishing off the leaper with several concentrated shots at its arms, Isaac turned around to see a headless puker lunging at him with hooked arms coming around him. Isaac sent his boot as response, heave-kicking the creature backwards as he aimed his plasma cutter at its limbs. Before he could finish it off however, streams of caustic fluid sprayed from its open throat, bypassing Legion's shielding, hitting the geth on its left shoulder before several hot steams of plasma lit up the room, utterly destroying the necromorph in the process.
  3538. "Major damage sustained. Self repair protocols initiated." Legion stated, sparks of electricity now flashing from the "wound" on its left shoulder.
  3540. "I see you got rid of the head... don't do that with these things, Legion." Isaac replied. "Go for the limbs. Dismember them completely."
  3542. "Acknowledged. Adjusting strategy for future encounters."
  3544. "Nezala, come in!" said Isaac, tapping into his RIGlink.
  3546. "I read you Isaac. Trying to corral these researchers inside the Falcon. How bad is it?"
  3548. "More of them are starting to pop up out of the vents. Get everyone out of here and make sure that colony down there stays safe. We have to destroy that marker before it gets to them."
  3550. "Got it. Anything else?"
  3552. "Get back here after everyone's aboard. There's sixty more dead researchers here, and we'll need your help to make sure they don't leave the facility. Before you get back, tell Taraan to stay in the air and keep the ADS guns fixed on the Marker's location. When we're done here, we get out of danger close proximity and we'll blow this place to kingdom come. Until then get our combat team on the ground. That colony needs protection."
  3554. "Roger that." Nezala replied before turning her comms to the rest of the Falcon's crew. "Alright everyone, we're heading for the colony. If that marker signal is activated, then we have to make sure they're safe from the outbreak." Nezala said as she jumped from the Falcon's airlock. She ran towards the facility as the Falcon's engines powered up, taking it into the air as she entered the door.
  3556. Catching up with Isaac and Legion, she takes a second to examine the gruesome scene. "It's just started hasn't it..."
  3558. "And we'll stop it before it spreads any further. Legion, give us those coordinates."
  3560. "Acknowledged, Builder-Isaac. Uploading coordinates to waypoint."
  3562. Using Isaac's duplicate key code to unlock the doors along the route to the marker, Legion kept its rifle trained on suspected necromorph entrances as the trio wandered trough the facility. Evidence of the researcher's marker-induced insanity was strewn about the floors and walls in shades of darkened velvet. Paintings of the marker, various symbols and markings, mantras of "make us whole" plastered in crimson on every surface large enough to bear them. Isaac had seen this too many times to recall in detail, and Legion, being synthetic, was unaffected by the grisly scenery. For Nezala however, this was an entirely new breed of madness. She had seen death before, she had known the flurry of combat, but none of her past experience compared to what she was seeing. Human corpses lit up under the light of Isaac's cutter, revealing the severity of their wounds. Entire chunks of flesh carved out, limbs missing, faces brutalized to the point of being unrecognizable, torsos hollowed out. All of it made her sick to her stomach. The symbols and mantras on the wall seemed to carve themselves into her vision as she passed them by. Even by themselves, they were like something out of a nightmare, like a horrible madness made physically manifest. The sight made her eyes widen and her blood curdle. Deep down, Isaac felt the same, but he had learned to bury it, to extinguish it from conscious thought. Even as his instincts continued to scream at him, yearning for him to flee, he knew how to pacify it as he had done so many other times before. He knew how to pacify his own fear.
  3564. He also knew how to spot that fear within others.
  3566. "Nezala, you alright?" he asked, turning back to his team mate. "You're trailing behind."
  3568. "It's nothing, Isaac, I'll... I'll be fine."
  3570. "Are you sure? You don't seem fine."
  3572. "I said it's nothing..."
  3574. "Well, I don't believe it."
  3576. "Look, Isaac... I've.... I'e killed people before, okay? I've been shot at, I've seen people die, but-"
  3578. "But you've never seen anything like this."
  3580. "No... No Isaac I haven't..."
  3582. "Look, Nezala, I know it's horrible, but you can't fall apart on me now." said Isaac, trying to encourage the horrified quarian. "You need to power through it. Bury it."
  3584. "I'll do my best..." Nezala said, trying hr best to stifle her dread. "It's just... Isaac, do you really have to flash your light on them all like that?" she said as Isaac pointed his lit cutter at the corpses.
  3586. "Yes." he replied matter-of-factly. "These things are re-animated bodies. You have to make sure a corpse won't jump up at you."
  3588. "How can you tell?"
  3590. "Simple. If it has blades on its arms or any other mutation, pull the trigger."
  3592. "Alright... alright, got it."
  3594. The three continued to navigate the darkened corridors of the research facility, Isaac's cutter lighting up the way. Opening another door, Isaac looked all around, scanning every corpse for an anomaly.
  3596. "I don't like this..." Isaac muttered. "We haven't come across any other necromorphs since those first three..."
  3598. "Thermal scans of nearby ventilation systems show no presence of former humanoids, Builder-Isaac."
  3600. "Well, we're only another room away from the marker. Come on, this way"
  3602. The trio continued forward, not realizing that Isaac had overlooked one of the corpses.
  3604. Nezala looked to her left, nearly tripping over a leg as she followed Isaac and Legion, eyeing it over, she saw that it was bent a some sort of angle, as if the ankle had been snapped backwards on itself, while a new, two toed foot seemed to grow from the original, dried blood caking the area where it had erupted. In a fraction of a second, that foot anchored itself into the ground, as the parent leg swiftly rose to the occasion. Bladed arms enveloped Nezala as a grisly, broken, bloody face met hers. Two glazed, cloudy eyes, blood dripping from their sockets, stared into Nezala's as the creature's split, jagged jaws gnashed in vain at her throat. Her arms held the slasher back, pushing against its open torso and broken shoulder. A primal, gripping sense of unfettered terror completely encased Nezala as she grappled with the creature. She could hear Legion notifying the three of incoming necromorphs. She could hear Isaac calling out to her, even as more monstrosities encroached him from the vents. She could hear them, but only barely over her own panic. All the world was a blur. All sounds were heard, but not listened to. All sights were seen, but not noticed. The only thing that mattered was survival. Nezala screamed as she pushed against the creature, driving it off of her and into a nearby wall. Picking up her rifle, she continued screaming as she emptied the weapon's contents into the slasher, tearing it apart as shards of metal fell into the sinew of its joints. Even as Isaac and Legion finished off their opponents, she continued firing into the now dead necromorph, not letting go of the trigger until the heat sink went white and smoke smoldered from its barrel. By the time she had relented, nothing was left but bloody, fleshy pulp.
  3606. Isaac and legion looked on as Nezala stood there, panting, gasping, trying to get a hold of herself as she shakily lowered her rifle. She continued to stare at the pulpous, shredded mess of flesh and bone before her, trying to come back to grips with the reality of the situation.
  3608. "Holy crap..." Isaac said, looking upon Nezala's handiwork. "You okay?"
  3610. "Yeah... Yeah, I'm okay." Nezala replied, slowing her breath little by little as she popped her rifle's heat sink. "It just took me by surprise is all."
  3612. "You sure?"
  3614. Nezala stood there for a moment, wondering how she could respond to that question, wondering if she really was sure. Was she really up for this? How much more of this could she take before she snapped, before she ended up just as insane as the deceased researchers whose corpses lined the floors? Before she had seen too much? She had seen Isaac without his mask. Tired, grey, hopeless eyes sunken into darkened sockets, and a mouth that seldom curled into a smile. He had been dealing with this menace for years while managing to survive, and the wear and tear showed on him, but could she ever do the same? Could she ever make it through this with her sanity intact? Furrowing her brow and clearing her mind of the nagging doubts that clouded it, she knew what her answer was going to be.
  3616. "I'm damn sure." She said, narrowing her eyes in determination. "Come on. We've got a marker to destroy."
  3618. "That we do. Legion, any more readings on approaching necromorphs?
  3620. "Detecting over thirty profiles within the marker chamber."
  3622. "No time to lose, then." Isaac said, reloading his cutter. "Come on. It's time to finish this."
  3624. Legion and Nezala stacked up against the door while Isaac stood directly in front of it, aiming his cutter straight forward. His shoulders hunched as his eyes lined up with his weapon. Nezala's trigger finger slowly slipped into the guard in anticipation. Her glowing pupils dilated, and her breathing steadied, becoming slower and more rhythmic as she waited for Isaac to give the order. Legion's optic focused on the door. The plates on its head shifted and raised as it anticipated the breach. They could all hear the roaring from behind the door, the gurgling of over thirty torn, bloody throats resonating withing the chamber, screeching and wailing ceaselessly around the red monolith. Isaac's grip tightened, and his left leg tucked a steel boot into the ground, torque building up within it, readying him to enter the room. With a deep breath, he finally gave the order.
  3626. "Legion, open the door."
  3628. The holo-panel vanished, and the door retracted to reveal over two dozen necromorphs, each of them turning bloodied heads towards the three. Without a moment's hesitation, Isaac entered first, Letting loose a constant barrage of plasma with every step. Nezala and Legion immediately followed, swiveling to Isaac's sides while simultaneously opening fire on the encroaching horde. Legs and arms flew off of the creatures as Legion's deadly accurate fire met their shattered joints with pinpoint accuracy. Isaac kept his focus, staring straight ahead, cutting down any necromorph that came his way. Shot by shot found their mark, toppling the beasts one by one in steady succession. Nezala's fire showered on anything that came her way, mowing them down before severing the arms they tried to prop themselves up with. Her heart raced as she saw them charging at her, claws waving and broken throats resounding in that horrible, gurgling roar, but her resolve rang clear in her head as round after round left the barrel of her revenant.
  3630. Claws and bony blades lay strewn about the floor, landing with a wet thud as their owners charged towards the crossfire. Isaac's wrist encased itself in a violet haze, connecting with a severed blade from a fallen slasher. It levitated and drew close to Isaac as the shroud of energy encapsulated it, only to be thrown through the body of an approaching puker. Flesh gave, vertebrae separated, and tendons severed as the blade tore itself into the puker's torso. A foul mixture of viscous, acidic bile and partially coagulated blood spewed out of the fissure as the creature was sent backwards by several thousands of pounds of force plowing into its abdomen. The blade stuck itself into the wall behind it, slamming the creature into it with enough force to incapacitate it indefinitely.
  3632. The room glowed red with the aura of the entwined spires that stood in the center of the chamber. Flickering light flashed onto the walls from malfunctioning computers, fried by the marker's steady signal. The necromorphs' shadows flashed across the fulgurating luminescence as they ran past the defective hardware, each of them being met with ceaseless fire from the advancing squad. Scaffolding lined the chamber walls, all of it lined with defunct computers and charging necromorphs, jumping from the railings and climbing down the scaffolding beams, only to be cut down with white hot metal and plasma. Leapers bounded from wall to wall, trying to pin down the squad as they climbed the scaffolding, only to be met with trails of blue, ethereal energy shooting from Isaac's left hand. Encased within an azure shell that defied time itself, their frozen forms were split apart with concentrated fire. Scarlet trails of viscera spewed from their wounds in slow motion as the squad's fire hammered at them, hanging in the air in streaming bursts of reddish black, marred by a film of spectral blue. As the squad advanced, the stasis wore off, releasing the now lifeless creatures from their time-bending prison, leaving their broken, gutted bodies to fall to the floor below. Two made it to the railing where the trio had advanced. Isaac responded with two shots to the arms of the first, sending its now lifeless corpse tumbling downwards towards its fallen counterparts. The second landed near Nezala. Fear crept into her as it clambered the rail, but she had seen it coming. This time, she was ready. Before it could get over the rail, it found the butt of Nezala's rifle smashing its cranium in. Blow after blow, she bludgeoned the creature's head and hands until nothing remained save for whatever dangling string of flesh held it onto the rail, which was soon destroyed. The leaper fell onto another railing, breaking its spine before it fell to the viscera-soaked ground, dead.
  3634. "Only a few left! Keep Shooting!" Isaac shouted through the grisly chaos.
  3636. "Detecting only six additional profiles, Builder-Isaac."
  3638. "Up there!" Nezala said, pointing upwards to the upper levels. "Jumping down from the balconies!"
  3640. The slashers were cut down mid air, smacking into the rails in front of Isaac's squad, meeting steel on shattered bone, resounding in a sickening crack. Three more clambered into nearby vents, predictably exiting the venting system just in front of the trio. They were felled almost before they recovered from their landing.
  3642. "Alright..." Isaac said, catching his breath. "That should be all of them for now."
  3644. "Okay so... *pant* what's our next move?" asked Nezala.
  3646. "What we planned earlier. ADS cannons. Let's see if Taraan's airborne yet." Isaac said, activating his comms "Shore party to Falcon, requesting extraction. It's about time to trash this thi-"
  3648. "I'm afraid there's bigger problems at the moment, captain!" Taraan responded.
  3650. "... What do you mean 'bigger problems'?"
  3652. "By 'bigger problems', I mean that the ground teams have gone dark apart from you! We're not receiving any responses from any of the combat teams. So far, you've been the first to give us a reply."
  3654. "Isaac... tell me that doesn't mean what I think it means..." Nezala said worriedly.
  3656. "I'm afraid it might... There's gotta be a fast way to get down there without risking abandoning the other teams. Any of those vehicles around the perimeter working?" said Isaac.
  3658. "We have detected several inert vehicles upon entering the facility." Legion responded.
  3660. "Then let's not waste any time."
  3662. Bursting out of the opening door, the squad ran towards the nearest functioning craft. A skycar, presumably belonging to one of the higher ups who had been on-site, sat de-activated nearby. Legion hack past the door's security protocols and remotely started the engine while Nezala took the wheel.
  3664. "Alright, Taraan's sent us the coordinates." Isaac said, strapping himself in. "Know where you're headed, Nezala?"
  3666. "Yeah, the Falcon's loitering southeast of here, byt the settlement."
  3668. "And how many people are down here?"
  3670. "It's not a huge settlement but I'd say were a little over two thousand? Maybe up to three?" Nezala replied as the car began to levitate, it's engine humming as it began its course.
  3672. "Taraan, still no word on the other teams?" Isaac said, opening his comms once more.
  3674. "Still nothing, captain." Taraan replied. "Reegar, Xanai, Voren, none of them are responding!"
  3676. "We're running out of time..."
  3678. "Isaac... look..."
  3680. Isaac knew exactly what Nezala was talking about. Without even peering through the window, he knew what she was pointing at, and what horrible sight he would be seeing when he did. Turning towards the window, Isaac's eyes were met with the same horrible spectacle he had seen all too many times before. The same fires breaking out across half of the populated area, caused by some reckless accident, or malicious sabotage inspired by marker-borne dementia. The same crowds of people running. Running away from their friends, their families, their wives, husbands and children, all of which were running after them. Their faces torn and broken, claws jutting out of their shoulders and hands, re-shaped by the marker's influence into something utterly abhorrent. The same chaos. The same fear.
  3682. The same nightmare.
  3684. They're going to die. Isaac kept thinking it to him self. They're all going to die. Just like the Ishimura, just like The Sprawl.
  3686. No.
  3688. It wouldn't end this way.
  3690. Not again.
  3692. This time, there would be survivors. This time, he would be able to save people.
  3694. This time, the marker would not win.
  3696. "There's our LZ! Kill the engine, Nezala, we're going in!" Isaac said, pointing behind a fleeing crowd of civilians.
  3698. "What!? Isaac, are you out of your mind?! Those things are right behind them! There's no way we can-"
  3700. "I've been out of my mind! Just do it!"
  3702. "Okay.. Hang on tight... " Nezala replied, putting her foot to the pedal. "... this is gonna be rough."
  3704. "Wait, hold on..." Isaac said, noticing that Nezala was drastically picking up speed. "Don't you think we ought to, you know, slow down when landing?"
  3706. "You wanna save those people, don't you?" Nezala asked. "Then get your cutter ready. We'll be able to take out a few without using ammo, but if the windshield breaks..."
  3708. "Wait, WHAT?!"
  3710. "We calculate a thirty percent chance of survival if current actions retain their course, Creator-Nezala."
  3712. "Don't tell me the odds!" Nezala retorted, her eyes focusing on the encroaching necromorphs. "Hold on, Everyone!"
  3714. "Bracing for impact..."
  3716. "CRAP!!"
  3718. The retreating civilians ducked as the skycar zoomed just over their heads, careening right at the necromorph horde. By the time the first of the creatures had caught sight of the car, it was no more than a few feet away. The distance was closed in an instant, and the creature's torso split open upon impact as it was hit by a one-ton mass of metal and high-impact polymer screaming at it at speeds in excess of two hundred miles an hour. Its upper half was launched into the air above the car, as its lower half stumbled for a moment before collapsing into the dust. More and more necromorphs were bisected, crushed, and smashed as the car continued flying through them, cutting a bloody swathe through the horde. Nezala's teeth gritted, her fingers gripping onto the wheel tightly, and her glistening eyes narrowed in determination. Isaac was in almost complete shock, gripping his seat for dear life while hanging as far back as he could while legion pointed its rifle at the cracking windshield.
  3720. "Windshield integrity at seventeen per-"
  3722. Before the geth could finish, one last slasher collided into the windshield, shattering it and landing in between Issac and Nezala. Taking no more than a second to recover, it reared up, roared, and drew back one of its blades to strike the driver before Isaac grabbed it by the wrist, putting his cutter into its shoulder before severing its arm with a shot of plasma as Nezala slammed her foot into the brake, sending the corpse flying forward as the vehicle abruptly came to a stop. Isaac threw the severed arm out of the broken windshield as the car door opened, jamming for half-seconds at a time as sparks flying from wires severed by splinters of bone, some of which still jutting out from the cords, flew out in erratic patterns while the squad hustled out of the car. Some of the fleeing crowd had stopped to watch the ten second spectacle, only to be intercepted by Isaac.
  3724. "You guys have an evac plan?" the engineer said as he hailed the remnants of the multitude.
  3726. "N-no." replied a woman with a laceration on her right arm. "We were only running towards whatever starship we could find, like the one those quarians flew in on earlier."
  3728. "That was the Falcon, my own ship" Isaac replied. "Did you see any of those quarians exiting the ship?"
  3730. "I did." replied another man, seemingly the wounded woman's husband. "They had some troops enter the settlement. We were a little freaked out at first. I mean, why would the quarians try to attack us? Turns out they just tried setting up a perimeter. Every time I tried to ask them questions, they just said they were under orders from a human, some guy called 'Isaac' to keep us safe. You wouldn't happen to be him, would you?"
  3732. "That'd be me, yeah."
  3734. "I've heard about you... something about being found near the flotilla?"
  3736. "That explains all the quarians he's got on his crew." added another voice from within the group.
  3738. "Yeah, there was also something about an agreement with the cou- wait, why is that thing with you?!" exclaimed the wounded woman, pointing at Legion as it climbed away from the car with Nezala.
  3740. "Long story short, it's friendly. It's already proven invaluable in dealing with these things" Isaac said, pointing towards a necromorph corpse.
  3742. "I think it begs a little more explanation. Saren attacked us with thousands of geth just like it only two years ago!"
  3744. Isaac heard more screaming in the distance. "I don't think we really have the time for 'more explanation'. Come on. If there's no evac plans, we'll see if we can get everyone to safety."
  3746. "Taraan, any status on the combat teams? We've got some more civvies here" Nezala asked.
  3748. "Still nothing from any of them yet. Only you. Some security personnel have offered to look around, but we've already got a lot of people in need of protection here, and based on what you're telling me, that number's only going to increase. We have your coordinates, so we'll see if we can head over and get the others on board, but we're pretty packed."
  3750. "Great... okay, do it." Isaac replied. "Alright... okay I can see the ship heading this way. Everyone stay calm and stick together, we'll make sure you'll be safe for evacuation."
  3752. "Isaac, we can't leave the other teams behind..." Nezala added.
  3754. "We'll find them. Trust me." Isaac said as the Falcon loomed overhead. "Come on, let's get everyone situated so we can start looking. Legion, can you detect the other's biosuit profiles?"
  3756. "We are currently scanning the surrounding area. Uploading coordinates to your waypoint."
  3758. The Falcon touched down, and nearly twenty more panicked, wounded, terrified passengers frantically clambered their way aboard.
  3760. "Captain, we're all full here. No room for anyone else."
  3762. "Then we're gonna have to nip this in the bud. We destroy that marker and everything stops in its tracks. Send three of our guys into the cannon pits and use the manual override. I want that marker reduced to ashes, understand?"
  3764. "Got it."
  3766. "We'll see if we can round up the combat teams. Chances are if they're alive, they're wounded. Ready all our dextro meds and see if you make some room in the med bay."
  3768. "Aye, captain. Good hunting." Taraan replied as the Falcon's landing gear retracted, it's altitude slowly, but steadily climbing.
  3770. Isaac's hand opened downward, lighting the ground with his waypoint's blue hologram. Checking his coordinates, he adjusted his target location to sergeant Voren's team, only to find that the azure line seemed to be moving. It swayed back and forth along the ground, as if it were a loose chain holding up a swaying weight, dangling to and fro in an erratic pattern.
  3772. "That's... odd..." Isaac muttered as he examined the line. "My locator doesn't seem to be malfunctioning..."
  3774. "We detect a moving pattern within the team's profiles. It is possible that they are on approach." Legion replied.
  3776. "Try locating one of the other teams." Nezala added.
  3778. "Alright... let's see where Xanai's headed."
  3780. Resetting the coordinates once more, Isaac saw that the locator was acting no less unusual. Once again, it wavered, dancing across the ground in unpredictable patterns.
  3782. "Legion... have any readings their suit profiles?"
  3784. "We deduce that they are also en route."
  3786. "Isaac, I think it's high time we retried communication..."
  3788. "Right." Isaac replied, tapping into his RIGlink. "Sergeant Voren, come in! Xanai? Kal? Dammit, somebody respond!" Isaac's beckoning only received silence in reply.
  3790. "This isn't good..." Nezala said, clutching her gun tighter and tighter. "May I suggest we head back to th-"
  3792. Before she could finish, Nezala felt a sudden weight crashing down on her back. Her knees nearly buckled as it nearly toppled her with the force of its landing. Barbed tentacles entered her field of vision, poised and ready to strike. Almost on instinct, she grabbed whatever had pounced her by its writhing, hooked appendages, pulling it off of her back and slamming it onto the ground in front of her, all within less than a second. As she aimed her weapon at her adversary, she was taken aback by what she was looking at.
  3794. It was an infant.
  3796. A human infant, twisted, broken, mutated. Its lower jaw was gone, and its belly was covered in a mass of tentacles. Three more tentacles were sprouting from its back, each terminated in bony hooks. As it tried to stand itself back up, its entire body burst open as Isaac's boot crashed down upon it, killing it.
  3798. "They're here!" Isaac called out. "Everyone, weapons ready! they're coming in from all sides!"
  3800. Nezala simply stared at the eviscerated corpse before her, frozen in horrified disbelief. That didn't just happen. This can't be happening. She did not just get attacked by what used to be an infant. She did not just see it sprout tentacles from its pale, blood-stained back. She did not just see Isaac burst its still-moving corpse open with his boot. She couldn't take her eyes off of it. She couldn't stop thinking about it...
  3802. ... Until Isaac intervened.
  3804. "Nezala? NEZALA!" Isaac said, shaking her by the shoulder. "Come on, wake up! They're right on us!"
  3806. Snapping back into reality, Nezala turned to face the approaching enemy. Dozens of them, climbing down walls and over railings, jumping from rooftops and charging through the streets. Bladed arms, whipping tails, and fleshy tentacles of every sort waved through the air as the horde closed in, only to be severed as plasma and metal flew through them. Shots of acid flew just within inches of the team's faces as several pukers made their approach. The bile flew from open sockets and new holes within their bodies as every shot met its mark. Swarms of them were halted in their tracks as a blue coat of stasis entrapped them, leaving them at Isaac's mercy. Their carcasses fell to the ground in shambles as the stasis wore off, shot from Isaac's cutter made apparent in their severed joints.
  3808. "Like I was saying earlier, I think it's high time we made it back to the car!" Nezala said, firing her rifle continuously until the barrel glowed deep red.
  3810. "Couldn't have planned it better myself." Isaac replied. "Come on! Everyone, get back to the skyca-"
  3812. Isaac's speech was cut off by a load, ear-splitting roar that shook the very ground beneath them.
  3814. "Isaac... what was that?"
  3816. "It's bad news, I'll tell you that..."
  3818. "Detecting large biological anomaly within the vicinity."
  3820. A deafening crash erupted behind them, accompanied by a brilliant, blinding flash of light. The squad turned around to see the car up in flames, completely crushed from top to bottom. The culprit stood menacingly over its flaming husk, massive arms repeatedly pounding into it. It reared up, unleashing a thunderous roar that broke whatever windows were left intact near it. It's upper thorax was punctured by a single orifice that was opening wider and wider as it roared, expelling a massive, single pustule aimed straight at the squad. It halted in mid air as a coalescing violet shroud of energy erupting from Isaac's wrist ensnared it. Isaac hurled the explosive pustule back at the enemy with the kinesis module, sending it back at threefold the speed it was received. The beast hunkered down, using its bony armor plating for protection. Legion and Nezala concentrated their fire on the monster, only to see their rounds bounce off of its armor, barely leaving a scratch in their wake.
  3822. "Isaac! This thing Isn't going down easy!"
  3824. "I'm a little pre-occupied at the moment..." Isaac said as he cut down another slasher. "Aim for its shoulder joints! Dismember it like you would any other one of these damn things!"
  3826. "Anomaly has retracted behind armored plating. Proving difficult to penetrate."
  3828. "Crap.. alright then, ease off and let him come back out. I'll hit him with stasis when it starts charging, then me and Legion can concentrate fire and take it out. Nezala, cover our backs! We've got a few more coming in!"
  3830. "Got it!"
  3832. Isaac and legion trained their weapons on the abomination as it uncurled from its huddled position, pounding its massive fists into the burning wreck it was perched on as it bellowed and growled through its shattered maw. It leaped from its flaming pedestal, hitting the ground full speed and roaring furiously as it charged towards its quarry. No sooner did it take its first bound forward when Isaac snared it with his stasis module, trapping it in time, leaving its vulnerable, pus-saturated shoulders exposed.
  3836. "Acknowledged."
  3838. Continuous flashes of light flashed from Isaac and Legion's weapons as they poured their contents into the frozen creature's weak spots. Streams of green and white flew through the air, unhindered and undimmed by the monster they passed through. Blood, pus, and a menagerie of sanguine fluids spewed forth from the creature's wounds, slowed by the field of stasis that encased the monster. The luminous blue shade of stasis wore away, and the brute found itself landing face first on the ground as one of its arms fell from the socket.
  3840. As Isaac and Legion proceeded to finish off the beast, Nezala continued to dispatch anything that moved within her sight. Leapers jumped from the walls and rooftops, only to loose their arms and tails to the shards of metal spraying from Nezala's weapon. Slashers charged with their claws cleaving through the air, only to lose them before they could get too close.
  3842. "I'm getting the hang of this..." Nezala thought to herself. "This is horrible... I can't believe its happening... but I'm starting to get the hang of it." She thought as more and more necromorphs fell to her.
  3844. Then, as her partners finished off the massive creature behind her, she heard a piercing, high-pitched scream echoing against the walls. The shrill, fluxing cry repeated several times, repeating from what sounded like an entire shrieking, maddening chorus.
  3846. Then, Nezala caught a glimpse of the source, or at least one of them, running straight for her. It was small, much shorter than any of the other necromorphs she had seen throughout the evening. Long claws extended from its hands in place of long blades. It hunched over as it ran, screeching and wailing as it went.
  3848. "Isaac... what is that?!"
  3850. "A pain in the ass is what it is... Everyone spread your fire! These things go down easy on their own, but they tend to come in groups. BIG groups. Get ready!"
  3852. "No, Isaac, I mean... is tha-"
  3854. Another ear-splitting screech tore through the iron-smelling air, cutting Nezala off mid-speech. She looked to her left, turning to face the source, only to find it jumping straight for her. Her right arm immediately tore forwards, sending the butt of her twenty pound weapon into the skull of her would-be assailant, caving it in and severing it with a sickening crunch. Before she could turn her attention to its company, she took half a second to look at the shattered corpse before her. She now knew what it was. No matter how hard she tried to block it out, no matter how much she tried to remember to power on through, she could keep her dread to herself no longer.
  3856. "Isaac..." She said as she shakily shouldered her rifle. "... these are children...."
  3858. "No they're not. Not anymore."
  3860. "Isaac, we are shooting at CHILDREN!"
  3862. "I said not anymore!" Isaac snapped, pulling out what looked like a rotary saw from a strap on his lower back. "Just keep firing!"
  3864. Squinting her eyes and cursing under her breath, Nezala strained to keep her focus on the task at hand as her rifle cut the small creatures down one by one. Their fused shut eyes, their upper lips pulled back past where a nose used to rest to expose a set of jagged, roughly broken teeth, their hands with fused fingers terminating into spindling claws, all seemed to scratch at her psyche like nails to chalk. Their screams resounded in her ears. The sight of their blood hitting the ground ingrained itself in her vision. She found her breathing getting heavier. Her hands shook, and her eyes widened in horror. She felt her rifle slowly sliding out of her trembling hands until finally, her arms rested limp at her sides as her weapon fell to the ground. She merely watched as a horde of disfigured, diminutive, abominations ran straight for her, their claws swinging under them as they advanced in their wobbling, contorted gait.
  3866. Just before the first of them could sink its claws into her, Nezala watched as a circular blade flew straight through it, bisecting it almost instantly. The blade swept across the horde of monstrosities like a mower's scythe through grass. Sweeping back and forth, side to side, tearing apart whatever found itself within its range. An ethereal white beam of energy tethered it to a yellow and gray device in Isaac's hands. The blade withdrew into the device's circular sheath as the last pack member went down, and its wielder turned his attention to the dazed quarian standing next to him.
  3868. "Nezala? Hey! Nezala!" Isaac said to his distressed teammate. "Nezala, what was that all about?"
  3870. "Isaac... I... I'm sorry, I di-I just couldn't..."
  3872. "Nezala, look at me." Isaac said, turning Nezala's head so that her eyes met his. "Look at me and be dead honest. Can you or can you not do this? Were you ready for this at all?"
  3874. Isaac's words burned into Nezala's head like a branding Iron. They were harsh. Ernest and well-meaning, but jarring to hear. She can't be this weak, she thought. She can't be this unfit, this unable to face what lay ahead. Regaining her composure, Nezala asked Isaac a question that rocked him to his core
  3876. "Were you ready the first time?"
  3878. Isaac paused for but a moment, a brief memory or two of the Ishimura flashed in his mind, leaving as soon as it had arrived. "Nezala... I get what you're getting at, but..."
  3880. "Were you?"
  3882. "Alright... I see what you're saying." Isaac said in resignation. "Just promise me something."
  3884. "Okay..."
  3886. The next words to come out of Isaac's mouth would stay with Nezala for the rest of her life.
  3888. "Promise me you'll be able to make it. No matter what."
  3890. A few seconds separated Isaac's question from Nezala's response, seconds that felt like years to her. Deliberation and heavy thoughts circled about her mind as time seemed to come to a standstill around her. Looking Isaac directly in the eyes, and with a determination so dogged it almost felt alien to her, she finally found her reply.
  3892. "I promise."
  3894. Nezala bent down to retrieve her weapon, dusting it off as her hands filled its grips. Isaac quickly surveyed the area, looking to see if there were any more threats to be dealt with before opening communications with the Falcon.
  3896. "Taraan, how are we doing on that marker?"
  3898. "Well, we're right on the site, but apparently something's up with the ADS cannons..."
  3900. "That's exactly what I didn't want to hear... Okay, so what's wrong?"
  3902. Apparently, the automated system's glitching. There's no asteroids nearby, so they won't shoot, and manual override isn't responding. We're working on it as we speak, but it may take a minute..."
  3904. "Well, whoever's on it, tell them if they don't hurry up, we're going to lose the entire settlement!" Isaac said in aggravation before hanging up.
  3906. "What now?" Nezala asked. "It looks like we're just stuck here the Falcon's done sorting things out."
  3908. "Hold on, just let me think..."
  3910. Before his train of thought could even begin, a series of oscillating, growling screeches caught his ear.
  3912. "Sounds like the ones with the tails, the jumping ones..." Nezala said, carefully eyeing the rooftops.
  3914. "Wait, hold on..." Isaac said, reloading his plasma cutter while listening to the unearthly bellowing that echoed against the walls around him. "It sounds different..."
  3916. Only three seconds passed before Isaac would realize just how different it was.
  3918. Isaac felt his entire world suddenly spin out of control. His footing vanished, as if the very ground underneath him had been pulled out from under his feet. Everything spun vertically as his head flew downward. His helmet hit the ground full force, leaving a bloodied bruise on his forehead. Everything was blurry. All sound seemed to dissipate under a loud, unbearable ringing. Isaac didn't know yet what had caused this, but he knew what it just did, and was still doing to him. His conscious mind pleaded to stay awake, to not give in to the numbing pain that throbbed throughout his head. Stay conscious. That was the only thing on Isaac's mind as blurry visions of Nezala and Legion opening fire on something behind him while seemingly drifting into the distance, faded in and out of his eyes. Stay awake. Stay awake. They're depending on you. Shepard's depending on you. This entire galaxy is depending on you...
  3920. Right as the light seemed to be leaving him, Isaac once again found the will to fight. The will to survive. His brows furrowed, his teeth gritted, and his fingers clenched as he turned to face his enemy. Something long and fleshy was wrapped around his ankle, and its wielder was falling to the ground as more and more of Nezala and Legion's met its flesh. Isaac caught its corpse as it fell on him, throwing to the side as he opened fire on its companions. His vision still marred by a painful haze, Isaac could barely make out what they were. He saw cloth dangling, and wires erupting alongside small tentacles sprouting from what seemed to be a colorful skin. As his vision cleared, more and more details revealed themselves. Their chests were open from the neck down, revealing the source of the long, fleshy tentacle that ran down its entire length.
  3922. Then, as the world became completely clear once more, it dawned on Isaac that these things were not human, not only now, but not ever before.
  3924. "It's the combat teams!" Nezala called out as Isaac regained his footing. "They're all-!"
  3926. "I see it!" Isaac replied, trapping several more of the former quarians within stasis before cutting them apart. "Just take them down!"
  3928. Now that he was on his feet, and his mind and sight were now in order, throbbing pain in his head notwithstanding, Isaac got to get a good look at his enemy. Their faces remained shrouded by their opaque visors, only now, no gleaming eyes shown from underneath. Gnarled, entangled flesh clung to it, cracking it, even protruding in some places, feeling through the air with small, fleshy tentacles. Their long tongues, sewn from their own gut, swung about their open maws, ripped open from what used to be quarian throats. They lashed out at Isaac and his squad, but all three stood strong. Nezala had been soaked in fear throughout the night, being ambushed by monstrosities made from corpses, being forced to cut down the re-animated carcasses of what used to be children, walking through halls emblazoned with maddening emblems written in blood, and now she was cutting the arms and legs off of her comrades. Her former teammates. Horror once again crept up into her heart, but this time, she remembered what was at stake. She remembered just how important it was that she pulls through, that she succeeds. She remembered her promise, both to Isaac and to herself. Swallowing her dread, she continued to open fire, blasting away the monstrosities that once bore familiar faces.
  3930. The squad was making headway, even though the new menace was agile, and well-equipped. More limbs fell off the necromorphic horde, some finding themselves lodged into the very bodies they grew on.
  3932. Then, another roar rumbled through the air. It was lower this time. Not as loud or vicious as the brutes. Not as gargling and vocal as the slashers. Not as shrill as the pack, or the former quarians.
  3934. Isaac recognized it immediately.
  3936. "No..."
  3938. "Isaac, what's wrong? What was that?"
  3940. "It can't be... "
  3942. "We detect another former human profile. Closing distance, ten meters."
  3944. "Everyone... when I give the signal, run. Run as fast as you can..."
  3946. "Isaac if it's just another one of those standard ones, I don't see wh-"
  3948. One of the doors on a building to their right burst open, and another aberration walked into the fray. It looked like a slasher, but somewhat modified. No extra limbs growing out of its open abdomen. Its eyes glowed yellow, sitting amidst a circle of bioluminescent false "eyes" that sat around its face. It had claws like a slasher, but they were less abrupt. They didn't seem to be growing out of the palms, so much as they grew seamlessly out of the entire arm, and they were notably larger as well.
  3950. Before it could advance, a flash of blinding light flashed before the squad's eyes, accompanied by a deafening boom.
  3952. "Hey! Captain!" called voice from the rooftops. "You guys alright?!"
  3954. "Kal!" Isaac replied. "You the only one left?"
  3956. "That I am, sir! I gotta warn you though, you might want to come with me! That wasn't the last of our crew, and that thing I just tagged is just gonna-"
  3958. "Keep regenerating, I know! I've come across ones like this before."
  3960. Nezala went wide eyed for a moment as those words left Isaac's mouth. "What do you mean, keep regenera-"
  3962. Once again, the same growling, low-pitched roar thundered through the air, and a tall, blade-armed silhouette wavered within the cloud of smoke from Kal's rocket. More of the necromorph quarians began to advance from the roads, accompanied by several scores of their human counterparts.
  3964. "Captain! Follow me!" Kal said, pointing to the southeast. "I've managed to gather a group of survivors in another one of the prothean research facilities."
  3966. "Are you sure they're safe?" Isaac replied as he and his squad ran with Kal. "You probably know what became of the marker research facility."
  3968. "Don't worry, I have it secured. None of the vents are penetrable from the outside, and the only accessible entrance is the front door. It's also a lot more stable in construction. It's been used for years to study the artifacts that were found here. Heck, it's where this settlement started out."
  3970. "How much farther?" asked Nezala.
  3972. "Not far, just up this road." Kal replied, jumping down from a second story balcony. "Just follow me."
  3974. Nezala heard another otherworldly noise, no doubt from another one of the monstrosities that pursued her and her companions. It sounded like someone being gutted, as if their throat had been ripped out, and was being played like an instrument by someone else. Before she could even see where it came from, something yellow and glowing flashed in front of her face and slammed into the ground in front of her. The shockwave that resulted from the explosion threw her back like a ragdoll, flinging her into the wall of a building behind her. It felt as if several dozen people had punched her simultaneously on every part of her body. The pain was unthinkable. Blood drizzled from her nose as her suit notified her of all the damage done. Her left arm was broken. Multiple capillary ruptures within her nasal cavity, thus explaining the nosebleed. She was bleeding internally, and although the rate of her bleeding was slow, she would die within the hour if she did not receive treatment soon. The world was darkening, and in her last moments of consciousness, she could only see Isaac, Kal, and Legion opening fire as they approached her.
  3976. "Is she gonna be okay?"
  3978. "I see some blood inside her mask. What happened to her?"
  3980. "Everyone stand back! Looks like she's waking up."
  3982. "Captain, I've got some more medi-gel ready if she needs any more."
  3984. "Femoral artery has made complete recovery. Complete fracture of left radius and hairline fracture of left ulna have been mostly rectified. Nerves are still firing in localized regions. We recommend that Creator-Nezala refrain from using her left arm in the immediate future."
  3986. Nezala's vision slowly returned to her. Although everything around her was still murky, she could easily make out the three tiers of teal light that shone from Isaac's helmet, and the singular, blue light that adorned Legion's "head." She saw the blurred outlines of several dozen people standing idly by, watching as the shaken quarian before them returned to consciousness.
  3988. "W-where... h-h-how did y-you..." Nezala's voice trembled and rasped as she attempted speech.
  3990. "It's alright." She heard Isaac speaking to her, laying her back down as she tried with all her might to get back up on her feet. "Just stay put. Legion, have any reading on the necromorphs?"
  3992. "Using facility surveillance, we have detected several groups of them waiting outside."
  3994. "Great... and we can't reach the Falcon while we're boxed down here..." Isaac muttered.
  3996. "Well, what's the plan?" Kal asked. "We can't just sit down here forever."
  3998. "I know." Isaac replied. "But until the Falcon gets those ADS cannons fixed, thee's nothing we can do about the marker..."
  4000. What few seconds of silence that followed Isaac's words was interrupted by a thundering crash coming from the front door, accompanied by a screeching, wailing roar. The civilians panicked, holding close to one another as they looked fearfully at the cracking door in front of them. Couples exchanged fearful thoughts of what could be goodbye, and children clung to their parents as the door cracked more and more, ear-splitting roars emanating from behind it with every blow. Isaac kept his focus on the door as the metal therein gave under each punch the monster behind it dealt.
  4002. “Tripod...” Isaac said, gripping his cutter ever tighter.
  4004. “A what?” Kal replied as he shouldered his weapon.
  4006. “Big one. Lanky, fast, and very agile for its size. Weak points are the elbows and occasionally the tongue it sticks out from time to time. Look for the yellow spots and cut it down as fast as you can. It'll close distance on you fast. I'll try hitting it with stasis, but you guys have to act fast...”
  4008. “Got it.”
  4010. “Acknowledged.”
  4012. "Isaac, what about Nezala and the civilians?" Kal asked. "We let them out of our sight by sending them to the rear of the facility, these things will crawl through the vents and ambush them. We have them stick with us, and they're easy targets..."
  4014. The door moaned and creaked as the monster behind it continued to punish it, sending stray sparks flying from its now severed wires and electronics.
  4016. "Not if we're still breathing they're not." Isaac replied. "They're not getting past us. No matter what."
  4018. The tripod stuck its arm through the door, trying to get a grip on it, pull it out. It roared in frustration as its fleshy fingers, woven from the lower torsos of unfortunate colonists, grasped in vain at the nearly compromised door.
  4020. "What about the ones that launch projectiles? Or the faster ones that might slip past us?"
  4022. More necromorphs gathered at the door. Their garbled screams, roars, and shrieks filled the air in an unholy chorus.
  4024. "Stasis and Kinesis. Like I said, Kal..."
  4026. The regenerator's roar rumbled through the now widening space in the battered door. It stood steadfast at the threshold as its massive companion slammed its fists into the door only a few feet away from it. It stood under the tripod, sharpening its claws as it readied itself to enter. It was the point man, the first one to enter the breach, and it was poised to wipe out anything that dared stand in its way.
  4028. "... They're not getting past us."
  4030. The tripod's arm punched through the nearly destroyed door once more, reaching out several feet within.
  4032. Nezala stood up, summoning all her strength as she picked up her rifle. Her arm had healed for the most part, but shooting pain still throbbed from within. Nonetheless, her resolve dominated any pain or fear that remained with her. "Don't count me out just yet." she said with determination in her voice.
  4034. The door was almost open...
  4036. "Let's end this."
  4038. With one final blow, the doors burst, the threshold fell into shambles, and the awaiting horde spilled in. A legion of re-animated flesh and bone, wailing and bellowing as they advanced on their quarry. Hues of light blue shrouded them as Isaac trapped them with stasis. Kal's rockets tore into the encroaching necromorphs, nearly vaporizing several pack members and eviscerating anything within their blast radius, sending torn limbs through the air. The blasts were near deafening, and the civilians covered their ears as they cowered to the ground. As the stasis subsided, the second wave found themselves skewered by miscellaneous debris, be it the bladed claw of a fallen necromorph, or a discarded support structure torn from the facility's destroyed threshold. Several necromorphs wound up literally pinned to the ground in front of the facility as Isaac continued to throw whatever was at hand with several metric tons of pure kinetic force The tripod retreated for but a moment while the regenerator climbed over its fallen counterparts, seemingly unscathed and unfazed by the ongoing chaos. Legion and Nezala opened fire on it, severing its legs and toppling it to the ground before destroying its arms as it attempted to prop itself up.
  4040. "Leave the regenerator to me!" Isaac said, readying his stasis module once more. "I'll keep him and his buddies still while you guys put them down!"
  4042. "Just how much punishment can he take?!" Nezala asked as the monstrous aberration spewed a murky liquid from its severed joints, the once missing limbs rapidly growing back into place. "It can't just keep on getting up..."
  4044. "It can!" Isaac retorted. "Just leave him to me! When he's got a lot of friends, they're your main concern!"
  4046. The regenerator stood up once more, calmly sharpening its claws as it stared down the armored man in front of it. Before it could take its first step towards him, a blue field of stasis captured it in time, along with several other of the living cadavers that charged into the room. while Nezala, Kal and Legion dismembered the lesser monsters, Isaac didn't fire a shot at it until the stasis wore off. When it did, the hunter only found itself cut down once more as white hot spurts of plasma burned through it. It fell to the floor once more before being ensnared by stasis once again.
  4048. "Shouldn't be many more..." Isaac said as he reloaded his cutter, cutting apart several other necromoorphs as they made their approach.
  4050. Suddenly, the same echoing howl from before sounded through the air as its source came crashing through the low roof near the threshold. It was the tripod, no longer restrained by the space of the entrance.
  4054. The terrified crowd fled, barely keeping themselves together as the faster ones in the crowd advanced past the others. Slower individuals lagged behind, nearly tripping up Isaac and Kal. The tripod let loose an screeching roar as it bounded towards the panicked crowd. The multitude looked up to see that after several seconds, it had not landed. Isaac had frozen it, hanging the abomination in the air above them with a shimmering coat of sky blue. The crowd rounded a corner as the beast slipped from its stasis prison, smashing a hole into the wall in front of it. It immediately recovered, crouching and wailing as it zeroed in on its prey. Numerous other necromophs began to pop in and out of the vents, trying to take the crowd by surprise. The ones who had advanced in front of the crowd were picked off first as leapers and slashers descended on them form the vents above. Lurkers emerged from the grates, aiming their hooked barbs at the multitude that was running straight for them.
  4058. "Ventilation quarantine in progress."
  4060. Evan as the titanium vent covers were locking into place, more necromorphs ran at the civilians from behind. Kal set loose several of his rockets on the creatures, halting the advance of the lesser monsters, but merely tripping up the tripod. Isaac fired into its elbows, missing several times as the monster ducked and weaved around his shots. Meanwhile, Nezala and Legion cleared the way for the now mortified refugees, tearing apart whatever had managed to escape from the vents.
  4062. Then, one of the refugees had decided he'd had enough. "We're all sitting ducks here!" he screamed. "No... HELL NO! I'M GETTING THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"
  4064. Several voices called for him to come back, receiving no reply from the fleeing man as he ran past Nezala, Legion, and the eviscerated corpses that lay in front of them. Without warning, one of the titanium covers on the ceiling burst open, and the man was skewered by an especially large claw, entering through his throat and exiting his lower torso. The crowd screamed in terror once more, one voice in particular crying out for "Harold" as the life left the man's eyes. His killer jumped down from the vent. It was the regenerator, wiping off its claws as it coolly walked towards the civilians. The refugees tripped over each other as they paced backwards from the creature, Nezala and Legion trying to keep it at bay. The others in the back found themselves in the same situation as the now wounded tripod continued to advance. By now it had an arm missing, causing it to hobble as it whipped its bladed tongue out at its assailants.
  4066. "I'm out!" Kal said as he discarded his launcher and pulled out his pistol. Such a weapon was deadly against any normal being, but against even a wounded tripod, it offered almost no offensive value. The counter on Isaac's cutter ticked lower and lower with each shot, until finally, the counter read zero. Reaching for another plasma battery, Isaac found himself coming up empty handed as well.
  4068. "Me too!" Isaac called out. He had been powering through this whole ordeal without panicking, as he has ran this gauntlet far too many times before, but now, with his ammunition depleted, the civilians he was protecting facing death from the front and the back, and an angry tripod bearing down on him, he felt fear of death creeping into his mind once more. His instincts had been dulled by his traumatic experiences, and it had been far too long since he had felt the spine tingling sensation of being close to death as acutely as a normal person would. Now, as his old foe met him face to face, raising its claw right above his head, he felt it once more, stronger than ever.
  4070. This is it, Isaac thought.
  4072. This is how it ends.
  4074. Just before the tripod was about to drive its blade into the engineer, the creature immediately fell limp to the ground, as did the necromorphs behind it. The regenerator too fell dead, collapsing to the ground in front of the group. Isaac just stood there, staring at his fallen foes, almost at a loss as to how to react.
  4076. "Falcon to Shore Party, come in!" Taraan said over the comms. "ADS cannons were a pain in the butt to fix, but we got them running again. Sorry for not telling you a moment ago, but we figured there was really no time to spare. The Marker's done for, captain. It's laying in pieces as we speak."
  4078. Isaac simply slumped against the wall, letting his helmet retract as he eyed the situation. Of the thirty or so civilians that were in the prothean research facility, ten had been killed in the past three minutes. Those who remained were huddled together. Some were crying uncontrollably, completely overtaken with grief and terror, clinging onto loved ones who held back tears while mourning those they had lost. Most others were silent, simply sitting on their haunches on the floor, or propped against a wall. Isaac couldn't help but notice their eyes, now hollow and blank, not unlike his own. They almost looked comatose, as if they thought they were trapped in a nightmare, hoping vainly that they were simply asleep, that they would wake up soon and it would all be over, but like Isaac before them, they knew that they were, unfortunately, very much awake.
  4080. There was no telling as to how many others were left alive in the settlement, or if any settlement nearby had been affected. Nezala and Kal merely stood by, witnessing the saddening scene unfolding before them, while Legion conducted more self repairs on its left arm and looked over the facility's systems via omni-tool.
  4082. That's when Isaac turned to see the hole in the wall to his right. The hole burst open by the tripod after being released from stasis.
  4084. "Guys..." Isaac said, "Look over here..."
  4086. "Isaac, what is it?" said Nezala. "There are still some wounded here-"
  4088. "We have already begun process of diagnosing wounds of human survivors." Legion responded.
  4090. "I'm coming with you, Isaac." Kal said quietly. His normally boisterous voice having been subdued by a sense of rue.
  4092. "Same here." Nezala replied.
  4094. "Anyone know if this is just another room?" Isaac said as he peered inside. "I don't see any other entrances."
  4096. "No one here worked here, Isaac. Chances are any researchers were in the settlement when the Marker activated." Kal replied as he entered the room with Isaac "That said, no I don't think this was part of the facility..."
  4098. "Look at all these pods..." said Nezala while looking over the numerous de-activated pods that lined the walls of the room. It seemed to be collapsed at one side. Had the room been intact, it would have stretched on for fifty meters, rather than the twenty that lay in sight. "These are prothean ruins, correct?"
  4100. "Not ruins so much as a dig." Kal responded. "Looks like we found another artifact site. Not that it's important right now..."
  4102. "Wait... look at the pods for a second.". Isaac said, halting Kal in his tracks. 'They're all de-activated..."
  4104. "Well, yeah. It's been fifty thousand years, of course they would be-"
  4106. "Now look at that one."
  4107. __________
  4109. "While it is nice to see that we're no longer alone on this, I still don't know if I like the fact that the council is now involved." The Illusive man said as he downed another shot of bourbon
  4111. "With all your vast resources, even you know that we can't do this by ourselves. Who else do we turn to? Besides, if anything they volunteered once Isaac opened their eyes on the reapers."
  4113. "And for that much I can definitely thank him. I'm guessing footage of re-animated bodies crawling all over the interior of a collector vessel managed to change their minds, though I am a little disappointed that he showed them the prothean-collector link so fast."
  4115. "You realize that it was necessary to open their eyes, right?"
  4117. "I never said I didn't realize that, Shepard. All I'm saying is that it's never a bad Idea to be a step ahead. Regardless, I'm not sure if the council will really act so much as they'll put these crises on the back of their to-do list."
  4119. "Not from what they've been telling me. They're almost done with getting Isaac's tech in production, and they've begun a marker hunt of their own. I've been informed that several Spectre teams are already on the job."
  4121. "Interesting... what about the collectors?"
  4123. "They've tasked me with keeping tab on the collectors. Given the progress we've made, they decided to leave them to me."
  4125. "I presume they tried discouraging your cooperation with Cerberus..."
  4127. "That they did."
  4129. "Well, at least they're staying out of your way."
  4131. "Speaking of the collectors, we're just about ready to install the IFF."
  4133. "Yes, EDI informed me of that. I hear Isaac and his crew were invaluable in its retrieval."
  4135. "That they were."
  4137. "I also hear that he picked up a new crew member aboard the derelict Reaper..."
  4139. "I realize that you're interested in acquiring the geth platform for research, but it was Isaac's call to make, and he called for a new squad member."
  4141. "I understand that Isaac is autonomous, but I also hope to establish more of a connection with him and Cerberus. I have a feeling we may have to keep tab on him, given his psych profile..."
  4143. "We've already agreed to report to each other on a regular intervals. Just trust me with this, alright? He has more than enough reason to go after the Markers, and I see no reason for him to go rogue now."
  4145. "I'm not worried about him going rogue so much as I'm worried about him holding things back. He doesn't trust big organizations, given his past, and I don't think he sees us, or the council for that matter, as any exception."
  4147. "You told me expressly not to pry at him before..."
  4149. "I'm not telling you to pry at him, Shepard. I'm telling you to play smart with him. He doesn't strike me as the kind of man who would desert anyone, but if he establishes any ulterior goals that aren't aligned with ours..."
  4151. "He won't. I can assure you." Shepard replied.
  4153. Suddenly, Joker's voice came in over the intercom. "Commander, Isaac just got back from Eden Prime."
  4155. "Any specifics on what happened? Was he able to eliminate the Marker?" Shepard replied.
  4157. "Apparently he did, but it went kind of sour. He found something in the prothean dig site in the settlement, however."
  4159. "Does he plan on sharing the details?" the Illusive man added.
  4161. "He says he plans on meeting up with us personally. Wants any officers who administrate the mission there too. Says it's extremely important."
  4163. "He mention anything else?" Shepard asked. "Anything specific about what happened on Eden Prime?"
  4165. "Well he mentioned Liara, and how she might be interested in what they found. That, and the mission was a 'hollow victory'. Doesn't sound good if you ask me, but, yeah, basically he says it might give us some critical information about the Reapers."
  4167. "Personally, that's all I needed to hear." The Illusive Man replied. "Shepard, I expect to know exactly what he's dug up, along with what may have happened on his mission to Eden Prime."
  4169. "Relax. You'll have it as soon as he gets it to us."
  4171. "Good to know I can trust you again, Shepard. You're dismissed."
  4173. Upon leaving the briefing room, Shepard came across Garrus, who was standing just outside the door.
  4175. "He sure is curious about our new friend isn't he." Garrus quipped.
  4177. "Yeah, maybe too much so." Shepard replied. "He really wants in on whatever the Falcon has in store."
  4179. "I don't think that would really bode well with Isaac."
  4181. "It doesn't even bode well with me. I'll tell you Garrus, Isaac seems to be a good enough person at heart, but I'm starting to wonder if he's the right guy for the job."
  4183. "You know we can't do this alone, Shepard. Especially now that we're facing two major threats at once, and Isaac happens to have firsthand experience with one of them."
  4185. "That firsthand experience is what worries me."
  4187. "I don't see how it would."
  4189. "I dunno... it seems like he's at the end of his rope. He's been dealing with this for a little too long. You can see it in his eyes. He seems like he's hit his limit, yet he just keeps going. I'm afraid that he can only keep going for so long."
  4191. "Well, look at us." Garrus replied. "We've seen a lot of action together, Shepard. We've lost people along the way. If we can make it, I have no doubt he'll be able to pull through."
  4193. "If joker's little report is accurate to what he told him, then there's reason to think his situation may be different. 'Hollow victory' doesn't sound very good to me."
  4195. "We've had our fair share of rough scrapes too, Shepard. He's just going to have to learn how to deal with them."
  4197. "Something tells me we just might run into more of those rough scrapes, what with all the new threats we're facing."
  4199. "Then I guess we just keep on rolling."
  4201. "Just like always... Joker, where did Isaac say he wanted to meet?"
  4203. "Wherever we happened to be. I already told him we're close to Illium. He's en route as we speak, commander." Joker replied.
  4205. "We meeting on The Falcon, or the Normandy?"
  4207. "The Falcon, commander. Apparently, whatever he's got on board is pretty sensitive stuff. He doesn't want it leaving the ship. I guess he's a little concerned about Cerberus snooping in on him."
  4209. "I don't blame him... "
  4211. "ETA thirty minutes. Time to round up the gang, I suppose?"
  4213. "That it is."
  4215. Isaac sat idly by a corner in the med bay. Looking all around him, he could still see the evidence of the dozens of wounded people that were writhing in pain here just over an hour ago. A few of the examining tables were stained in darkening shades of crimson that dripped down onto the floor beneath them. Buckets that contained empty cases of medi-gel lined the walls. Diagnostics equipment hummed steadily, providing the only noise prevalent in the room. All else was silent. A reddened patch of bruised skin shone dully on Isaac's forehead, a slight, lingering ache still festering within. It had been an hour since the Alliance ship had made their rendezvous, but even now, Isaac could hear the muffled sobbing, see the blank, harrowed stares, and feel the steep tension in the air, just as he had when the civilians were taking their leave under armed guard. Their lives would never be the same. They would never be able to forget this, never be able to leave behind what happened to them. Children had been orphaned. Wives had been widowed, and husbands made widowers. It all reminded Isaac of those final hours above Aegis VII, those lingering minutes of pain that felt like hours as he watched Nicole's final log aboard that small shuttle. Once more, he questioned why it all had to happen. Once more, his head rested in his hands in regret and rue. Despair clouded his mind yet again. I'll never escape this, he thought. I'll never be rid of this, never be able to lead a normal life again. The thought nearly brought Isaac to his knees. Would this be how the rest of his life would pan out? Would he simply be consumed by all of this? Isaac held back his emotion with all his might, but it was for naught. Standing up from his hunched position, he picked up his small chair and threw it clean across the room, panting through gritted teeth before turning around and resting his head against his arm, which now leaned on the wall. Isaac held back tears of frustration and grief as his fists tightened more and more before exhaling deeply, trying his best to regain his composure, when he turned around to see he was no longer alone.
  4217. "Isaac, what was that noise?" Nezala asked as the door behind her closed. "Something break?"
  4219. "Yeah... just, uh... tripped over something." Isaac replied. "What are you doing here?"
  4221. "I've been trying to find you. I just wanted to talk about... well... I wanted to talk about the mission."
  4223. "What about it?" Isaac asked in reply. "Here, lemme get a chair real quick."
  4225. "Thanks." Nezala said, propping herself into the small steel chair that Isaac had set up for her.
  4227. "So, what about the mission?" Isaac said. "Something getting at you?"
  4229. "... Isaac, the whole thing has already gotten to me." Nezala replied. "It's just... have I ever told you about my pilgrimage? How I got in a tight spot with a few mercs?"
  4231. "You mentioned it, I think. Said something about having-"
  4233. "Killed people before, yeah." she replied hurriedly, as if she was already regretting bringing the whole conversation up, and wanted to just get through it as fast as possible. "Long story short, I was working for someone on Omega, just running a sales kiosk. Apparently, my boss owed someone money, and he came knocking with a few of his buddies, guns pointed at all of us and demanding every cred we had. He was halfway through frisking my boss when I pulled out a ruddy pistol I had stashed under the kiosk. I took out both of his friends before he turned his attention to me. I got shot in the gut before my boss managed to land a knife in the other guy's throat."
  4235. "That image stayed with you didn't it?"
  4237. "It did." nezala replied.
  4239. "How many people have you killed since?"
  4241. "Not too many. Once I returned home, I enlisted with our marines, landing me a few skirmishes with mercs, maybe a Batarian pirate or two trying to prey on our smaller ships. Nothing especially big, like Shepard, Kal, or you."
  4243. "I see."
  4245. "I've desensitized myself to it for the most part, but... Isaac what happened on that settlement..." said Nezala, her voice becoming shakier with every word. "That wasn't... "
  4247. "Look, its okay." said Isaac, detecting the slight change in her tone. "I understa-"
  4249. "Isaac, those were children!" Nezala said, cutting him off. Her voice was bordering hysteria at this point, as just about every dreadfully recent memory flashed back into her head. "They were dead! T-they were dead, but they were still coming at us a-and... Isaac, why did... why were we shooting at.."
  4251. "Nezala, they weren't children anymore. They were coming right at us-"
  4253. "I-Isaac, I couldn't do it... I'm sorry, but I couldn't..." Nezala was on the verge of openly sobbing. Isaac could see tears welling up through her visor, glinting slightly off the light given off by her white, luminescent eyes. She had begun to sniffle and gasp a little bit as each of her words became more and more of a jumbled mess, slurred by her odd breathing and quivering chin. Her speech became entirely incoherent as emotion completely overtook her. Isaac got out of his seat, bending over near Nezala so he could look her in the eyes.
  4255. "Hey now, come on." Isaac said, lifting the chin of Nezala's helmet so that her eyes now stared directly into his. "Nezala, look at me..."
  4257. "I-Isaac..."
  4259. "Look at me, we're going to get through this okay? We're going to get through this, just tru-"
  4261. Before Isaac could finish, Nezala stood up, embracing Isaac as tightly as she could, quietly sobbing into his shoulder.
  4263. "Isaac, I-I'm trying..." she whispered between sharp breaths. "I'm d-doing my best, I swear..."
  4265. "Hey now, Its okay, it's okay." Isaac said, hugging Nezala back and running one hand over her upper back. "It's alright, you don't have to apologize for anything..."
  4267. "I'm so sorry..."
  4269. "Shh, shh, It's okay, you're alright...."
  4271. Isaac continued to hold Nezala for a good few minutes, consoling her, running his hand up and down her back. Even as her weeping died down, he still felt powerless to help her. He was on the verge of losing it himself only a few minutes prior, and now he found himself in the position of trying to comfort someone else. At the same time however, Isaac could definitely empathize with her. He recalled Nezala's question from earlier, asking if he was ready the first time this had happened to him. The answer was obvious, as he had recalled only minutes before. All the evidence he needed was the chair sitting lop-sided on the other side of the room. Nezala tried her best to calm down, doing her best to remember what Isaac had said. That promise burned itself into her head, reciting itself over and over. The more she said it to herself in her head, the more she felt her tears subsiding, and her strength coming back to her. Finally, she let go of Isaac, sniffling just once or twice before slowly regaining her composure.
  4273. "You gonna be alright?" Isaac asked.
  4275. "Yeah... yeah I'll be okay."
  4277. After another moment or two of silence, Taraan's voice crackled over the intercom. "Captain, Shepard's shuttle just entered Illium's orbit. They're en route as we speak."
  4279. "I hear you." Isaac replied. "Alright, I've gotta meet up with Shepard's team in a sec. Think you want to come with?"
  4281. "Yeah. Sure." said Nezala while the med bay door closed behind her and Isaac. "What exactly do they want to know?"
  4283. "Well, I called the meeting actually. I felt that he might need to know about this stuff in detail."
  4285. "And our special cargo?"
  4287. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Until then our new friend stays asleep."
  4289. "Is there any way to know if it's actually alive in there?"
  4291. "Legion was able to detect something in a cryptobiotic state in there. Whatever or whoever is in that pod is fast asleep."
  4293. "I imagine it would be a little jarring to wake up from a fifty-thousand year nap." Nezala replied, entering the helm with Isaac leading on. "If we do wake it up..."
  4295. "You mean 'when' we wake it up."
  4297. "Yeah... do you think it'll be hostile?"
  4299. "Why would it be? He should know what the reapers are. Hell, if I've been checking the right sources, his people are what gave them the name. When we tell him we're going up against the same enemy, I'm sure he'll be willing to help us out. Seriously, he could give us some really profound insight on those things before they hit us."
  4301. "Maybe... what about Legion?"
  4303. "What about him?"
  4305. "Does Shepard's crew know much about him? Is he gonna be present for our little meeting?"
  4307. "He's finishing up some self repairs, but yeah. He'll be there."
  4309. "Pretty sure Shepard's new Cerberus buddies would go crazy for him."
  4311. "Don't worry. Legion's ours. He's gonna stay that way."
  4313. "So him and most of the geth aren't actively hostile..."
  4315. "Yeah, that's kind of been established...."
  4317. "I'm just wondering what that means for the Flotilla, you know? What kind of possibilities that could open up."
  4319. "You hoping for peace between the two of you?"
  4321. "Well, yeah.. I'm just wondering how it could happen after all this time. It never really crossed my mind until recently..."
  4323. Nezala was interrupted by Taraan as he notified Isaac of Shepard's arrival. "Captain, the commander's here. Giving permission to board."
  4325. "I hear you. Let 'em in."
  4327. No briefing room waited prepared to meet Shepard and his team. No prospecting vessel ever needed anything more than communication between prospecting teams and their superiors to carry out a mission. As such, the best surrogate was the cargo bay, as the Prothean pod therein could not be moved easily to other, more comfortable venues, such as logistics or monitoring. Two long, dirty, musty collapsible tables were set up amidst the many crates that sat against the bulkheads, surrounded by equally dirty chairs, all covered in some sort of dusty residue derived from the loads of raw ore that sat in the storage totes, remnants from the ship's previous missions that waited for processing, be it at the smelter, or at geological research. The ceiling lights, initially bright white and almost blinding, were now dull orange, and the light exuding from them could barely illuminate bold print on the shipping manifests that laid unorganized in a crate that rested on its side somewhere on the port side of the bay. Isaac sat the the far end facing the entrance, sitting silently, his company for the moment being Nezala, Legion, Kal, and who (or what) ever was sleeping in the pod the three were guarding. As Shepard and company set foot into the hold, several of them made no efforts to conceal their surprised, and in some cases, uneasy reactions to the state of the "briefing room". One face among them however, seemed to gleam with a hint of enthusiasm. Liara made her way past the remainder of Shepard's team, coming in first to greet Isaac, and more importantly, have a look at his new cargo.
  4329. "Nice to see you again, Mr Clarke." Liara said with a friendly hand extended.
  4331. "Uh, Liara..." Shepard said, catching up. "You sure you're captain of the Normandy, or am I just dreaming?"
  4333. "I can be if you're looking to catch a break here and there." she replied snidely. "Then again, who would notify me of any working Prothean stasis pods while I'm at it?"
  4335. "Your endless sea of contacts, maybe?" Shepard quipped.
  4337. "*Ahem*" replied a familiar, gruff voice coming from the other end of the room. "We'll save that matter for later." said Isaac. "For now, I'd like to address this message I got from the council concerning you guys..."
  4339. "I have a feeling 'You Guys' refers to Cerberus more than anything." Miranda replied as she took her seat. "I assume the council is asking you to be wary of us in some way?"
  4341. "'Wary' is one way of putting it." Isaac said as everyone else seated themselves. "But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now I want to bring up Eden Prime, and how the council reacted to it."
  4343. "Considering that you labelled it a 'hollow victory', i assume it didn't go very smooth?" said Jacob.
  4345. "Nothing went smoothly..." said Isaac. "We lost over half the settlement before we were able to destroy that marker. The researchers are dead. Almost my entire combat team is dead. One thousand, Five hundred colonists are actually dead. The only successful aspect was the fact that we didn't lose the other fourteen hundred. That and the fact that Kal, Nezala, and Legion are still standing behind me."
  4347. "I presume the council didn't like the sound of that..." Liara piped in.
  4349. "No, they didn't." Isaac replied. "When we set out for this mission, I thought that I could stop it before it started. I thought that I was actually a step ahead. I thought wrong, and the council didn't mind hammering that fact into my head. Long story short, they're telling me there's no going it solo anymore."
  4351. "I'm guessing this means you'll be having new crewmembers." Shepard added.
  4353. "Yes. Alliance crewmembers." Isaac replied. "An Alliance team popped in about two hours before you all showed up. their primary focus was to treat the civvies we rescued, but they also sent a small detail to talk to me about 'future cooperation'. Basically, the council had them lecture me before they got the pleasure of lecturing me themselves. They want two things: I am to directly report to them, and have Alliance crew on my ship, and secondly, they want any direct and indirect ties to Cerberus cut ASAP."
  4355. "Oh, do they now?!" said Miranda, her brow quickly furrowing into a sharp scowl. Her composure would normally remain unchanged in similar situations, but this time, her patience had worn down to its last fiber. "So, they're using this as some sort of an excuse to break from us?"
  4357. "I presume the Alliance doesn't want any official relationship with Cerberus." Shepard replied. "Which is pretty stupid, considering the council directly forged it."
  4359. "Guys, they didn't say anything about our partnership being dissolved. They just wanted Cerberus out of the picture."
  4361. "I'm guessing this extends to me...." said Shepard.
  4363. "That it does."
  4365. "I'm sorry, but that's just not possible." Miranda retorted. "So do they just want Shepard to oust all our crew and go back to kissing the Alliance's-"
  4367. "Alright, look." replied Isaac with more than just a little impatience burning in his worn out voice. "Basically what they want for Shepard is to cut ties with Cerberus, both for himself and his crew. Yes, Miranda, that includes you."
  4369. "I assume there's a good reason..." Jacob added.
  4371. "You assume correctly" Isaac replied, tossing a datapad onto the table. "Another marker signature. Deep space around the terminus."
  4373. "And?"
  4375. "It was in a Cerberus Ship."
  4377. Miranda and Jacob both froze. Shepard's gaze narrowed into a contemplative grimace.
  4379. "Are you sure, Isaac?"
  4381. "What, you want me to spell it out to you?!" Isaac shot out, his frustration with both new superiors and current compatriots quickly mounting. "The data's right there, I assume you can freaking read. Look, after Liara showed me the data concerning Marker signals that her contacts gathered, I had it passed on to the Council, who then passed it on to the Alliance" Isaac continued. "Around the time we hit Eden Prime, they start a huge search with what resources they could immediately gather. Inactive wideband signal relays, recon outfits on break, etc, and started with what small points Liara's contacts were about to fish out. As of her report there was about 25 possible signature matches found in places throughout the galaxy, most of which proved to be something else, or are far away enough from any considerably populated place to be of immediate concern. I believe we're all familiar with number one on that list. Number two was among the few that both Liara's people and the Alliance's thought for certain were genuine signals. This one happened to be on a Cerberus vessel. Standard med-size Cargo class. Cerberus Merchant Marine Fleet."
  4383. "I... I didn't get any reports of this..." Miranda stammered out.
  4385. "Well, no crap." Isaac retorted. "We're all on a Marker/Collector hunt here. You really think he'd tell you if he'd be sneaking something behind his back?"
  4387. A brief pause, and Shepard interjected: "Where did it say the ship was headed".
  4389. "For the moment? Nowhere." Isaac replied. "Thing's stuck dead somewhere in the terminus, not too far from some hole called 'Omega'. They sent out a distress call that lasted for a whopping two minutes before all comms went dead inside."
  4391. "So what does this mean for me and my crew/" Shepard inquired. "Cerberus is officially overstepping boundaries, and we're all under their banner."
  4393. Isaac picked the datapad back up, flipping through several tabs before tossing it at Shepard. "I forgot to mention everything our Alliance friends told me concerning you guys. Basically, they were tempted to pin you with treason for working with Cerberus, but I was able to (somewhat loudly) talk them into thinking otherwise, at least for the time being. See what's on that pad?"
  4395. "Yeah?" Shepard said, reading the letter from the Alliance.
  4397. "They say you've got a week to respond."
  4399. "What about the Normandy?"
  4401. "She's coming with you. All she'll need is a new coat of paint."
  4403. "And EDI?"
  4405. 'They're wary of her, but I think she'll be fine. She's pretty smart for an AI. I have no doubt you guys will figure something out."
  4407. "Let's say we don't respond in time. They gonna sic you on us?"
  4409. "They try and they'll regret it. I need your help and you need mine and if anyone tries cutting this up, they'll find themselves in a world of crap."
  4411. The room once again fell into a long, awkward pause before Shepard broke the Silence again. "I'll do what I can. I just need time to plan all this out."
  4413. "What about us?" Miranda replied soberly. "I really hope you're not planning on ditching us."
  4415. "No one's getting ditched unless they want to ditch." Shepard replied. "We'll discuss the semantics aboard the Normandy".
  4417. "You guys get that sorted out." said Isaac. "We'll keep in touch. Keep us posted."
  4419. "Of course."
  4421. "Now before we dismiss, I wanted to get a certain cryo-preserved elephant in the room addressed." Isaac said, looking towards the pod that laid at the corner of the room, still accompanied by Isaac's companions. "Ms T'soni. I've been told this sort of thing is your specialty."
  4423. "That it is." Liara said, not making any efforts to hide her enthusiasm.
  4425. "Right. in that case, we're going to need your help dealing with this guy when he wakes up. You would know more about his history and culture, so you're our best bet to making sure the crap doesn't hit the fan when he sees himself surrounded by people that may not have even been able to speak during his lifetime. This may or may not require you staying on-board, so I've already gotten the Alliance's permission to put you on the roster, be it temporarily or permanently. All I need is your consent and Shepard's, as he's your captain."
  4427. "'Was' her captain" Shepard replied, correcting him. "Then of course, I died and as per the norm involving the death of one's superior, the subordinate is usually no longer rendering services."
  4429. "Ah, that's right..."
  4431. "Of course I could still give you guys my blessing if needs be."
  4433. "Glad to have it..."
  4435. "I'd be honored, Mr. Clarke." Liara replied. "Working with a living Prothean... just think of all the unanswered questions we'd address, all the mysteries of an extinct civiliza-"
  4437. "Okay, okay, you've got the job." Isaac said, trying to stem Liara's more than apparent vigor. "Ill make sure you're put on our muster. As for the whole shadow broker deal, you think you can keep that title while working with someone else, or..."
  4439. "Oh yes, as a matter of fact.' Liara replied. "In fact it ought to bring some more breathing room between me and all the strings attached to being an information broker. I'll make sure to contact my subordinates about the change so they can hold the fort while I'm gone. Plus, I'll make sure no one really knows I'm gone. Most still don't know who I am, and this could definitely help me stay covered. I'll also be able to feed any important information my organization finds to the mission."
  4441. "Alright, sounds like a done deal. After we're done here, we'll get you all situated on the ship. Spend some time ashore to prepare anything you need, and get you with the CSO and her detail. Anyone else have any questions? Concerns?"
  4443. "I think most of ours are going to have to be addressed on the Normandy.' Miranda replied curtly.
  4445. "Alright. No one else? Good. Adjourned."
  4447. Everyone got up from their seats slowly, their minds preoccupied with what they had been informed of. Miranda looked particularly troubled, much as she tried to hide it. Jacob was more contemplative, he being more conscious of Cerberus' shady dossier, but nonetheless mindful of the inevitable break from the party whom he thought would be the only ones not preoccupied by red tape to get things done. Liara stood thoughtfully, but enthusiastically, immediately turning her attention to the guarded pod, while, Shepard remained somewhat oblivious to all else, still preoccupied with his own thoughts and plans for what now lay ahead.
  4449. "Now before we all leave, we were going to pop the cork on our sleeping friend over here..." said Isaac, signaling Kal, Nezala and Legion to stand fast and prepare to open the pod. "I assume Liara is not the only one eager to meet him. Shepard, if you would like to be present for the opening? He may need to know all involved with the fight against the reapers, and whatever info he has to share is needed by both of us."
  4451. "Will do."
  4453. "You guys planning on staying too?" Isaac asked Miranda and Jacob as they began to depart.
  4455. Miranda simply kept moving without a word, prompting Jacob to answer. "No, we're good for now. We'll have Shepard fill us in. I think we have some business to sort out in the meantime..."
  4457. "Understood. Shepard, Liara, if you will?" said Isaac, signalling them to come over to the corner of the room where the pod was being readied.
  4459. "Right away."
  4461. Legion had been scanning the pod and its contents, continually diagnosing the condition of the sole inhabitant. "Signs of cryptobiotic life persistent. We have prepared all preliminary procedures necessary to initiate opening sequence. Cryo-preservation apparatus within pod is functional and de-escalating cryo-stabilization. Awaiting further orders."
  4463. "So. he's about ready to wake up." Shepard said. "You sure you want to do it now? How long has the Alliance given you to respond to that signal?"
  4465. "They want it done ASAP, after we'd be done here. The Alliance also told me they'd be picking me up. Meanwhile, the Falcon and its payload are staying here until the mission is over, then we'll rendezvous with the each other at the mission's end and I'll be coming back aboard the Falcon. That way, I'll be here to greet our new friend for the time being, then once I'm off, he'll time to acclimate to the ship and the current time before we have him do anything too strenuous."
  4467. "Sounds good. So are we ready just in case he gets physical?"
  4469. "We've got that on check." Nezala replied. "We can subdue him if he's initially violent."
  4471. “Alright then.... ready when you are, Isaac.”
  4473. “Legion, finalize opening and stabilizing sequence.”
  4475. “Acknowledged.”
  4477. Legion began to interact with the ancient pod, hacking into its control console, working on translating the extant code until it would cooperate. It emitted several dull, droning noises as the geth slwoly, but surely managed to secure the command to open the pod doors. A loud hissing ensued, and freezing cold gases spewd from the sides of the pod. An even louder cracking noise ensued as the pod doors, shut for millenia, began to open. They first rose slightly above th pod, before their hinges stopped and began their yawing axis downward. Though the pod had been cleaned when it had arrived on board, ancient debris still persisted in the finer nooks and crannies of the pod, and a quiet crunching coudl be heard as it slowly opened. The doors opened completely, revealing an odd personage whose visage was blurred by wisps of cryo-preservative gases, which slowly faded away until the occupant's face could be fully visible. It looked somewhat like a collector, with a carapace-bouund head, shaped somewhat like an inverted triangle. It bore the same four eyes, only they were lidded. They slowly opened, and the cryo preservative began to melt off of its face.
  4479. “Everyone stay back!” Liara exclaimed, noticing the group's curiosity. “Give him a second, he's been out for a very long time.”
  4481. It looked around as it slowly rose from its inclined posture before glowing green and clenching its fist.
  4483. “RRAUAUGGH!”
  4485. The creature let forth a blast of green, biotic energy, sending all around the pod immediately to the ground. It clambered out of its fifty-thousanf year prison, falling to the floor in disorientation and nausea before standing back up on wobbling, weakened legs. It tried fleeing, stil unsure fo where it was going. Still reeling from his attack, Isaac and the rest of the group got up and tried to give chase. It reached the helm before falling down once more, its knees feebly trying to keep it standing.
  4487. “Give him some time!” Liara said to Isaac, as he was the closest to the prothean. “He has no idea what time period it is!”
  4489. Not really listening to Liara, Isaac approached the ancient creature, reaching out for it as it looked in awe out of the helm. Putting his hand on its shoulder, Isaac intended to try and “wake” it, or perhaps to get its attention.
  4491. No sooner did he make contact, than did his own vision recede, and give way to that of another. Isaac's very consciousness clenched itself, bracing for what it thought was another assault by the marker or something similar. Within seconds, however, this time proved itself far different. No symbols or headaches, but simply a switching of vision from his to the creature's. He watched from the outside, still feeling what the prothean was feeling, like in a dream where one is disembodied in vision, but none else. He watched as the prothean fought with the reaper forces, cutting down a menagerie of odd, unseen abominations before retreating as his own forces dwindled. He watched as the vision cut to another scene: the prothean was being shut inside his pod, communicating with some sort of virtual intelligence, informing him that his comrades, who were also bound in pods, would eventually die, as he was the priority and as such, power would be diverted from their pods to his. He protested, but the AI persisted, telling him that he was the last hope for his people. Shortly after vowing his vengeance, the prothean closed his eyes, and Isaac was able to open his.
  4493. Taken wholly aback by the experience, Isaac stumbled backwards, wondering how he had received such a vision. Was the marker playing tricks on him again? Was it The Machine? The prothean? He continued wavering in these questions in his head for a few moments before the prothean spoke.
  4495. “How many others...?”
  4497. “Just you.”
  4499. “.... then we have failed.”
  4501. “You understand me?”
  4503. “I have read your physiology. Enough to understand your language.”
  4505. “We haven't failed. Not yet.” Shepard replied, having caught up. "The reapers still haven't come yet. We still have an advantage. we can still prepare."
  4507. "I would not be so sure..." The Prothean replied. "... however in naivety I would ask, how much time do you suppose your kind has left before they arrive?"
  4509. "One of them tried coming ahead of the others, but the pathway he used was destroyed, and he was destroyed shortly after. They're already using a remnant of your kind as slaves, kidnapping some of my kind to some end we haven't figured out yet."
  4511. "Are they now..."
  4513. "Yes. They're basically trying to prepare the way so that the other reapers can Invade. We don't think there's much time." Isaac said.
  4515. "And I suppose you desire my help..."
  4517. "No. We need it." Shepard replied. "You're the only one on this ship who's fought them face to face. I fought and killed one, but he was the only one who broke through. We haven't seen their full forces yet, but we know you have."
  4519. "And you suppose I, one Prothean, can help in some way."
  4521. "We don't have many options." Isaac responded, as his impatience and indignation mounted with the prothean's apparent pessimism and wryness. "I remember that AI referring to you as 'Javik'. Is that your name?"
  4523. "What else would it be... Clarke." Javik responded with some apparent venom.
  4525. Isaac paused, momentarily pondering how Javik knew his name before remembering the connective vision. "Well guess what... Javik" responding with replicate venom in pronouncing his company's name, as the other had done. "You're our best bet at this. We need every piece of intel we can get. Are you willing to help, or are you just fine with knowing your people died for nothing, and that little vow was just lip-service?"
  4527. Javik was impressed at Isaac's boldness. His scowl deepened at Isaac's challenge to his vow's validity, but he gave a wry smile, admiring the lack of cowardice this primitive had shown before him. "Well now..." he said, hand to his chin. "We have a primitive who means business..."
  4529. Liara and all else were still perplexed at this being, still wondering how he managed to survive, at the inherent ancient and mysterious air he had about him. Isaac, however, though still curious, was far more preoccupied with his own worn down patience, and did not have time for those who were, or at least seemed to be aloof of the mission. Getting in Javik's face, he replied; "Yes. I. Mean. Business." he said indignantly. "Now, are you going to help us and avenge your people, or not?!"
  4531. Javik wondered for a moment, still surprised at the primitive human's temper and drive before dispelling his amazement his equal vigor. "i will avenge my people no matter what." he replied matter-of-factly. "...but as to whether or not i will help you, depends on how much i can trust you."
  4533. "You can." Isaac replied, letting his impatience simmer down. "Though I'm going to have to ask the same of you."
  4535. "Long as you do not try to fetter me..." Javik replied in regality, his chin slowly upturning and his brow furrowing.
  4537. "Good then." said Isaac, now having calmed down to some degree.
  4539. "...and you cease to withhold information from me."
  4541. "...What?"
  4543. "You're holding something back, Clarke." Javik said, slowly approaching Isaac. "Don't think I could not perceive certain thoughts of yours while we were connected in vision. You're hiding something from me, Clarke."
  4545. "Perceive my thoughts, huh..." Isaac said, having a slight, but ominous idea of what Javik was referring to. "I think I know what you're talking about.”
  4547. “I know you know.” Javik said, reaching out his hand.
  4549. Shepard put a hand to his holster. "Javik..."
  4551. “Okay, hold on...” Isaac said, stepping back. “what are you doing-”
  4553. “You made contact with me, and we shared a vision...” Javik explained. “I'd like to see what it is you're hiding.”
  4555. “That can wait until after our next mission.' Isaac said, trying to placate the encroaching prothean. Nervousness crept into his spine as Javik picked up his pace.
  4557. “I think I'd rather know now.”
  4559. Immediately, Javik seized Isaac, gripping him by the head and causing Isaac's teamates to draw their weapons as Isaac stood helpless, completely seized by Javik's Inter-neural link.
  4561. “Put him down, Javik!' Liara exclaimed, glowing blue with biotic energy, ready to fire upon the defiant prothean. “Now!”
  4563. “I don't believe I take orders from primitive asari.” Javik replied smugly.
  4565. "What about a primitive human who's ten seconds away from perforating your head?" Shepard replied with weapon drawn.
  4567. “Of course, feel free to kill me, as long as you're okay with Isaac's consciousness being lost with mine upon my death. Now, let's see what you're hiding, Isa-”
  4569. No sooner did Javik peer into the deeper recesses of Isaac's mind than he immediately began to choke and convulse, his eyes widening and his breathing spasmodically inhaling and exhaling. He began to hyperventilate, and the more part of the crew had already been gathering close by while Isaac had spoken with Javik. Now, half the crew watched in abject terror as Javik grabbed at his own throat, utmost horror written on his face. He fell to his knees, continuing to choke and gasp, at which point he began to speak, shakily and with trembling in his voice. “N-no.... I-I c-c-ca... NO!”. He tried screaming in between gasps, but they were wrung out by his shortness of breath. Liara and the others watched on, completely unsure of what to do. Should they try to break the link, they could risk killing or severely injuring them both. As Nezala watched on, she noticed Isaac's own visage was scowling, breathing sharply, but steadily. His teeth were gritting, and his fists clenching. One of them began to raise up towards his prothean captor. Then, he seized back, grabbing Javik by the wrist and violently wringing him away.
  4571. Javik fell to the floor, gasping loudly, trying to catch his breath before Isaac seized on him with a boot to his chest, kneeling and staring him down with shrunken pupils and a deep, furious scowl. "I assume you won't be doing that again."
  4573. Javik, though still harrowed, was by no means humbled. "What was that?! HOW DID YOU DO THAT, PRIMITIVE?! HOW DO YOU KNOW MY COMPANIONS?! HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW THEY DIE-"
  4575. "I didn't know a damn thing about them." Isaac replied, unwavering in indignation, his voice low and quiet, but seething and threatening. "But you decided to try and mess with my head. You decided to try and pry into crap that I had already told you I'd tell you all about, but no. You decided you were too good for that. You decided that some primitive like me was so inferior to you that you could just do whatever the hell you wanted. Guess what?" Isaac said, pointing to his head. "What's in here, what I've got up here is something this reality, not this galaxy, not your people, but this whole VERSION of the universe has not seen until literally last week. I'm not FROM here, Javik. Neither is what's up here. So if you want to know about it, I suggest you shut up, sit down, and enjoy the ride, unless you want to end up like everyone else who has this in their head."
  4577. "What do you mean 'everyone else'?" Javik asked, righting himself and regaining his composure, as well as his natural pride.
  4579. "As in me and a select few others are the only ones who have that crazy crap in their heads and haven't committed suicide or murdered dozens of others before being put down like a sick dog." Isaac replied sternly. "Now, we already have a little itinerary to take care of here in about an hour. Me and my crew will be taking care of some business whi-"
  4581. "I'd like to know what kind of business." said Javik with arms crossed.
  4583. "Let's just say it has everything to do with what you almost went nuts looking at." Isaac retorted. "I'm not holding you back to coddle you, believe me. There's good reasons I'm having you stay back this first mission. First off, you've been asleep for fifty-thousand years. You have to get back in the loop if you want a shot at the Reapers. Swallow your pride and get caught up. Also, as I said, this mission involves something called 'The Marker', which is exactly where that nasty little vision of your dead friends came from, so unless you want that kind of crap haunting you and screaming at you every single waking hour of your miserable life, you stay here and learn more about it and how to combat it. Now, Liara here is somewhat of an expert about your people and your anthropology. She's also highly informed of current events concerning both the Reapers and The Marker. She'll fill you in while we're off. You got all that?"
  4585. Javik hesitated, not wanting to sound subordinate to the angry primitive, but likewise, could not deny that what he saw, what he experienced while in Isaac's psyche, and it rocked him to his core. Now not only did he have to once more face the Reapers, but a new menace that had only just surfaced. One that had inexorably demonstrated its horrible power to him. In dignified resignation, he gave his reply: "Duly noted, Clarke. I will see what intelligence I can gather."
  4587. "Good. Liara, if you'll take Javik to Logistics and get him situated?"
  4589. "Right away, Isaac."
  4591. "Shepard, I'll let you get back to your crew."
  4593. "Got it."
  4594. _________________________________
  4596. "Well.... he's a piece of work, isn't he captain?" Taraan said as Isaac approached the helm.
  4598. "I'd replace 'work' with something else, but yeah, I guess so." Isaac said as he slouched into the vacant co-pilot's seat. "So, if I recall correctly, everyone kind of looks at protheans as super advanced, all-wise, or some crap?"
  4600. "Pretty much." the Turian replied, leaning back in his seat. "The Hanar worship them as gods."
  4602. "You're freaking kidding me."
  4604. "Haha, nope."
  4606. "Wow... y'know... the Alliance said they'd come about two days after our meeting..."
  4608. "Yeah, I know. Aren't we technically Alliance right now?"
  4610. "Yeah, and the council's getting all up our butt too, so yeah. After we're done here, I'll be answering to some retard in an office as to how things went while taking whatever uninformed orders he craps out. Then we wait from some up-tight uniformed cronies to either replace or supplement our crew"
  4612. "Sheesh." Taraan said, chuckling. "Call me crazy, but I don't think you like taking orders very much."
  4614. "Eh, I can deal with 'orders', y'know. Just not orders from bureaucratic idiots with no firsthand experience with whatever they're ordering others to do so they can give themselves a pat on the back when the job is even halfway decent (which it never is, but that doesn't stop them from being total blowhards)."
  4616. "I'm guessing you've dealt with a lot of the latter?"
  4618. "Ho-ho yeah." Isaac said, nodding his head. "Pretty recently too. Plus, that kinda crap happened all the time at the CEC. You always want a guy who's had some sort of experience. Someone who's actually qualified. I think just about every accident, every delay, or every technical problem we ever had was because the idiot supervising has no idea how to do his job, more than likely because he got grandfathered in. I swear, every single unitologist supervisor was like that..."
  4620. "Hey, I feel you man. I tell you, you'd freaking HATE the Turian military."
  4622. "Really?"
  4624. "Dude, like, grandfathering and crappy orders are given all the time." Taraan said as he sipped from his drink. "But the thing is, we Turians have kind of a habit of just 'doing', y'know? I mean, we know when a bad order is a bad order, but it's just ingrained into us that we just nod and say yes."
  4626. "wow."
  4628. "mm-hmm"
  4630. The two sat there for another moment or two before Taraan spoke up. "Sooo, what brought you up here? Just wanted to check in, or?"
  4632. "Eh, I dunno. I mean, I kinda feel like I barely know my own crew." Isaac replied, sitting up somewhat. "I just- it just feels wrong, especially since I'm probably gonna lose a lot of you."
  4634. "I see" Taraan said. "That really sucks. I mean, I heard the Alliance was kind of upset over all the aliens in Shepard's crew. Y'know, a couple years back when he was one of theirs?"
  4636. "Yeah... y'know, I really can't just bend over and take whatever crap they give me. I'm definitely gonna fight for as many of you guys as I can."
  4638. Taraan nodded, looking back out past the helm, and another short period of silence ensued. Then he spoke up again: "You wanna know why I joined your crew, Isaac?"
  4640. "Why?"
  4642. "I signed up for the military because I wanted to do some good. Help people, protect people. I mean, when I was a kid, I remember my parents telling me about the human contact incident, (Y'know, I mean, my dad served and saw some action when you guys came on scene) and telling me that there's always danger out there and people need someone to look out for them."
  4644. "Yeah, I kinda remember the doc on Shepard's ship telling me about that" Isaac replied. "I'm guessing your parents weren't really big fans of humans?."
  4646. "Oh no no no no.' Taraan said chuckling. "yeah, they had huge problems with humans, they were with the protesters who were against humans getting a seat in the council, and always telling me how bad you guys were."
  4648. "Don't have any problems with me, do you?" Isaac said, smiling.
  4650. "*Pfft*, nah" Taraan chuckled. "Nah, I didn't, uh, I didn't inherit all of mom and dad's dislike for humans. I was kind of a rebel that way. But yeah, back to why I joined... I mean, I've always had a really big desire to help and protect people. I've been to Omega once or twice and seeing all those people just... scared. Y'know? I just can't see that kind of crap and not want to help."
  4652. "Yeah, I get you."
  4654. "And, well, after leaving the military, I was just kinda stuck. i didn't wanna do C-Sec because i had a lot of friends who were in C-sec and said it sucked and that there's a whole lot of bureaucratic crap involved and all these regulations and quotas, yadda yadda, so I just went about finding what jobs I could. but they were only ever jobs. Nothing I really aspired to do."
  4656. "okay."
  4658. "And uh, about two years later... yeah. All this happens and some scruffy human guy pops out of a wormhole, Shepard convinces the council that that huge capital ship that hit the Citadel was something called a 'Reaper', and that there's tons more of them-"
  4660. "Wait, you know about that?"
  4662. "Yeah, there's been tons of leaks. You have no idea. Council's already declassified it somewhat a couple days ago, but they say it's under control or something along those lines." Taraan cleared his throat: "Anyways, yeah... that happens and it turns out that scruffy human guy is teaming up with him and needs a crew, and lo and behold, I sign up to be a pilot."
  4664. Isaac's omni-tool lit up as a message from Shepard came in. "Isaac, we're taking off. We'll tell you when we've got everything taken care of."
  4666. "Right."
  4668. "We'll see you then. I'm probably gonna need your help with the Alliance."
  4670. "Got it"
  4672. "Sounds like there's business to take care of" Taraan said, cracking his knuckles. "When are we casting off?"
  4674. "Uh, about forty minutes or so. Everyone's already gearing up." Isaac said as he stood up from the co-pilot's seat. "I'll see you then, man."
  4676. "You too, Isaac."
  4678. Isaac headed to the CSO's office. Rizea was busy inside, taking care of what scientific data the falcon had gathered in its tenure on the mission, including the derelict reaper and the extragalactic trip. She was going over some data concerning the marker gathered on Eden Prime when Isaac entered the room.
  4680. "Oh, i'm sorry." said Issac, noticing Rizea was occupied. "I'll leave you to yo-"
  4682. "Oh, It's you!" the young scientist said in her usual, upbeat voice. "It's okay, you weren't interrupting anything pressing, Isaac... I mean 'Captain'. I'm sorry, I kinda forget sometimes about all the proper ranks and all th-"
  4684. "Nah, it's alright." Clarke replied. "It's not a military ship. What were you working on?"
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