Lieutenant Commander Arnout van Mameren, N5: aka "Angel" (squad use) or "Dragon" (Public use)
Class: Soldier with Concussive Shot, Adrenalin Rush, Incendiary rounds
Weapons: Phaeston, M-90 Indra, N-7 Crusader, M-6 Carnifex
Armour: Recon Hood, Hahne-Kedar Chest plate, Kassa Fabrication Shoulders, Kassa Fabrication Gauntlets, Armax Arsenal Greaves
Origin: Arnout is a relatively big guy, 27 years of age. His dark blond hair, West-European looks, broad shoulders and muscular statue make him look like a special agent of the 21st century. Not really one for extensive planning, improvising is his strong suit. Joining the Marines on his 18th birthday, a family tradition, he has seen some of the worst the galaxy has to offer. Until the Reapers came to town, that is. Arnout uses two call signs. Dragon has been his call sign since basic because of his tattoo, but Angel has stuck since his near death experience. Arnout was gravely wounded, and would surely have died without Rashid's medical skills. The result is a massive scar on his torso, in a straight line all the way down from his collarbone past his navel. Nearly an inch wide, it rests just a few millimetres from his left nipple. It dwarfs his other scars, even though they are numerous. Nobody knows where "Angel" came from, and the team refuses to share. Several tattoos adorn his body: A western style dragon in black and gold over his hart, which is his families' heraldry. He carries the tattoo he shares with the others in his squad, an Alliance logo and unit designation on his left shoulder, which has a red "Cancel" cross placed over it, and another thing shared with his squad, a skull tattooed on the head. In Arnout's case, it appears to be dramatization of a horned cow skull as seen in old western movies. It is done very well, and is only really visible if viewed from the top, with a shaved head.
Captain Rashid Boularouzh, N6: aka "Rash"
Class: Adept with Singularity, Throw, Pull
Weapons: M-9 Tempest, Disciple, M-77 Paladin
Armour: Archon Visor, Rosenkov Materials Chest plate, Rosenkov Materials Shoulders, Serrice Council Gauntlets, Ariake Technologies Greaves
Origin: Rashid is the slimmest, and by far the most handsome and intelligent, member of the team, about as tall as Gerard and Mikey. "Rash" is the nickname that was given to him by a fellow marine in basic, who didn't like Rashid and his good looks, and refused to use his full name. He now wears the call sign as a badge of honour. 25 years of age, he only joined the Alliance 5 years ago; he is the least experienced member of the team. His powerful biotic abilities took time to develop, training he received at the Ascension project. Born into high social circles, and with his significant intellect and biotic skills, he is the only member of the team who didn't have to work his way up. His upbringing included classes on how to socialise, and to the team's annoyance, he lets no opportunity pass by to demonstrate his way with females, Alien or Human. Unlike Arnout he is a meticulous planner, and usually defines the strategy for the team, until Arnout feels the need to "improvise." This is the one thing they argue about as they are nearly inseparable since Rashid saved Arnout from certain death once. Rashid holds a both medical and military degree, specializing in military strategy. Rashid has the same tattoos as the rest of the team, although his skull is a lot smaller, and nearly always covered by his hair. Its design is a Mexican sugar skull.
Gunnery Chief Lars Folstag N3: aka "Big Man"
Class: Soldier with Concussive Shot, Marksmanship, Incendiary rounds
Weapons: N-7 Typhoon, AT-12 Raider, M-6 Carnifex
Armour: Kestrel Helmet, Hahne-Kedar Chest plate, Hahne-Kedar Shoulders, Ariake Technologies Gauntlets, Ariake Technologies Greaves
Origin: Lars has been with Arnout since Basic. His call sign, Big Man, is well deserved. Lars is significantly larger and stronger than the rest of the team. Big and with light blond hair, Lars looks like a Viking of old. During basic, his training officers quickly realised he wasn't real officer material, so they put him through special weapons training. In his big arms, even the heaviest weapons become deadly accurate. Like Arnout 27 years of age, he joined the Marines the day he turned 18, to escape the gangs, drugs and pointless violence of the slums of Oslo. Having been with Arnout through thick and thin, Lars generally knows what to expect and do when Arnout "feels the need" to improvise. This, and the firepower Lars carries, has saved the team more than once. Like the rest of the squad, Lars has his share of scars and tattoos. Due to his large physique, standard practice is to have Lars and Rashid stay close to each other and have Lars act as a bodyguard. Even Arnout, who is usually the first to take fire doesn't have as many scars as Lars. Lars' gang tattoos that used to cover his chest, arms and back, are now hardly visible. When the squad got the Alliance tattoo, Lars had to have an old tattoo on his arm removed, to make room. Lars is the only member of the team whose skull tattoo isn't on the top of his head; instead he has a colour tattoo of the Norse god Thor on the back of his head, whose beard matches the colour of Lars's hair, so the tattoo is only slightly visible.
Second Lieutenant Gerard Glock N4: aka "Mecha"
Class: Infiltrator with Disruptor Ammunition, Tactical Cloak, Sticky Grenade, Sabotage
Weapons: N-7 Valiant, M-11 Wraith, M-6 Carnifex
Armour: Kuwashii Visor, Hahne-Kedar Chest plate, Armax Arsenal Shoulders, Hahne-Kedar Gauntlets, Kassa Fabrication Greaves
Origin: Average in height and build and 26 years old, Gerard doesn't really look like a Marine, but more like the mechanic he is at heart. Gerard loves nothing more than to work on anything with legs, arms, engines or bodywork. After joining the Navy, his instructors discovered his mechanical talents included firing a rifle, and convinced him to sign up for the Marines, but not before letting him finish the Mech walker course. Gerard didn't just ace the final test; his display was so remarkable that one of his instructors said: "Some ‘an make ‘em walk, some ‘an make ‘em run, ‘e ‘an make ‘em dance." The same instructor "accused" Gerard of actually being a Mech wearing human skin, and gave him his nickname. After joining the Marine Corps, Gerard met Mikey, and stuck with him. They have a standing competition who is the better marksman. The lead currently rests with Mikey, but general consensus is that while Mikey is a better shot, Gerard is a better shooter. In a combat situation, Gerard is better in making kills then Mikey, who regularly wants to do it too perfect. Gerard has quite a collection of tattoos; the Alliance mark, a classic western European skull on his head, usually covered in blond hear, and several tattoo's depicting what Gerard believes to be mechanical classics. Most notably, he has a 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby vertically tattooed across his back.
Second Lieutenant Michael (Mikey) Whitney, N4: aka "Wizard"
Class: Infiltrator with Cryo Ammunition, Tactical Cloak, Incinerate, Sabotage
Weapons: N-7 Valiant, M-11 Wraith, M-6 Carnifex
Armour: Delumcore Overlay, Hahne-Kedar Chest plate, Armax Arsenal Shoulders, Hahne-Kedar Gauntlets, Kassa Fabrication Greaves
Origin: Michael is genetically nearly pure Afro American, although his stature is a little small for someone of that race. His story is nearly identical to Gerard, with two exceptions; he didn't ace his final test, but got busted down from R&D tech to Marine, due to his belief and the rituals that accompany it. The Marine Corp is more tolerant, but Mikey never the less decided to give up the rituals, although his belief remains strong. His supervisor at R&D gave him a last parting gift; he dubbed Mickey "Wizard" as a mockery towards Mikey's faith. The nickname "Wizard", however, is not really accurate; something like the term "Witchdoctor" would have been a better fit. After a few situations where Mikey's instincts saved the day (he calls it a gift, believing his deities bestowed it upon him), the name resurfaced and stuck. His current team respects his beliefs, and is grateful, as his instincts have saved them several times. His Marine Corp training officers discovered his skills with a sniper rifle, and as they say, the rest is history. Mikey is a classic sniper, calm and quiet. Give him a good rifle and a few minutes and whatever you want dead, will lose its head. Michael's tattoos are the same as the rest; the style in which his skull tattoo is done is one generally associated with voodoo.
Chapter 1: Guns blazing!
Arnout gazed through his binoculars, and marked the cannibals looming around the target building, to make Gerard's job easier. "Angel." The radio came to life. "We've got Harvesters incoming. Make it snappy." Arnout gave Gerard his binoculars back. "Copy. Maintain radio silence as much as possible." He signalled with his hands to Gerard, who took up position by a window, while Arnout took up position by the exit downstairs. "Three, two, one, go!"
The team didn't bother with standard Alliance kit, and Arnout was no different. "Quality rules" Arnout thought to himself, and nothing said quality more than Turian made weapons. Arnout pulled out an assault rifle dubbed the Phaeston. "What is good enough for the Turian rank-and-file will certainly be good enough for me." Arnout permitted himself a second thought about something else than his objective.
Gerard banged of three headshots with his N7 Valiant sniper rifle. Arnout was standing at the ready with his rifle in his gloved hands, with its high calibre barrel and enlarged thermal clip. Before the corpses had even hit the ground, Arnout stormed through the door of the building they were hiding in, across the street, into the building they had been observing, mere milliseconds before the front of their hideout disintegrated from hostile fire.
From the other team came another radio message: "Angel, thirty seconds before six worm-necks are on us, and we've only got one of those new multi-purpose Hydra Missile Launchers left. Make it happen!" Arnout ignored the message, and ran into the hallway of his target building, where he spotted several Husks coming down the stairs, the same stairs he had to go up. Without even bothering to aim, Arnout pointed his Phaeston at the Husks, and pulled the trigger. With a five second burst, Arnout's explosive rounds made short work of the Husks.
Skipping over the smouldering remains of the Husks and running up the stairs, Arnout ejected and replaced his thermal clip. With his adrenaline painfully high, he burst into the room where the resistance HQ had been.
Two Cannibals where waiting for him, but Arnout didn't stop to take aim. Racing past the first Cannibal, Arnout's rifle spit bullets, slicing the Cannibal in half. Feeling rounds hit his shields; Arnout slightly adjusted his course, now heading straight for the second Cannibal.
It apparently realised what was coming as it tried to dodge, but Arnout let go of his rifle with his right hand, and raised that hand. On his command, a red-hot ceramic blade formed from his omnitool, and Arnout smashed the blade through the creature's head, killing it instantly.
Catching his breath, Arnout calmly looked around the room, and walked over to his objective; a resistance data cache. Next to the cache where the unarmoured and unshielded bodies of three farmers. The only equipment they had where some cheap Volus knockoffs of "real" weapons.
Arnout saluted the killed resistance fighters, his face grim behind his visor, and took their heatsinks to replenish his supplies.
After his omnitool finished downloading the data, Arnout picked up his rifle again, and exited the room. Taking a peek down the stairs, Arnout saw a couple of Cannibals standing by the door.
Carefully taking aim, Arnout fired his concussive shot, knocking the Cannibals to the ground, and then sprayed them with bullets.
"Angel, we took out two of the Harvesters before they could land, but now we've got a Banshee on our ass. We need to get to the damn shuttle!" Arnout could hear the wail of the Banshee in the background. "Acknowledged. Mecha, cover their retreat, I'll take up position near the extraction point. The shuttle should be en route, E.T.A. ten minutes. RUN!"
As Arnout stepped out the door, a few rounds hit his shields. He quickly found cover behind a burned out car. "Shit." Arnout thought to himself. "I'll just have to run for it."
Getting up, Arnout began sprinting down the street, keeping an eye on his shields, finding cover when they were low, killing Husk and Cannibals left and right as he ran by.
Arnout ran down the street, took a right and ran down another street, until he reached the town's main square, which was big enough for a shuttle to land.
He was headed for a building with a good vantage point, which had been cleared just after they had landed. Heading up to the roof, Arnout pulled out his M-90 Indra, the only full automatic military sniper rifle in the galaxy.
The team had left a weapons cache on the roof, so Arnout had more than enough firepower at his disposal to cover the retreat of this team. "Angel at RV. Shuttle should be three minutes out." "That's good. We are getting closer!" Gerard answered. Arnout's helmet display told him that the gunfire was indeed drawing closer.
Gerard was the first to round the corner to the square, with just one and a half minute to spare. He was holding his M-11 Wraith shotgun, and found cover behind a garbage bin just as half a dozen Cannibals appeared in the street. Arnout emptied his Indra at them, killing four. "Two left. Make them shots count." Gerard cloaked, got up from behind the garbage bins and emptied his shotgun before his cloak deactivated.
Arnout radioed Gerard. "Nice way to break in some shiny, new, very pricy equipment, is it not?"
"O, zip it. I got shot by a Marauder that managed to get through my shields, and now I've got a flesh wound in the arm. Even after the medigel, it hurts like hell every time I shoot."
"Get up here. The others will need support very soon."
Barely thirty seconds later, Arnout had exchanged his Phaeston for a Krogan made Striker Assault Rifle, a fully automatic grenade launcher, made by, and for, the biggest and physically strongest race in the known galaxy. Gerard had taken up position on the roof's edge, carefully laying down his N7 Valiant, ready to provide cover fire. Arnout had just joined him, not even bothering to carefully position his grenade launcher, when Mikey came running onto the square. "They are on our heels. Get ready."
Behind him, Rashid and Lars were trying to slow the tide of Reaper forces pouring onto the square. Rashid signalled Lars to buy him time to build up biotic power. Lars, in response, spun round, shouldered his N-7 Typhoon light machinegun, produced a deafening roar, and emptied his rifle into the oncoming tide of enemies. Husks, Cannibals, Marauders and a Brute where ripped apart by Lars's explosive rounds.
You could see the mass effect fields shimmering around Rashid as he gathered dark energy. Calmly walking out of Lars's shadow, Rashid raised his hand, the palm outward to the reaper forces. As he closed his hand, a huge singularity appeared, effectively blocking access to the square.
Rashid collapsed from fatigue. Lars was prepared, and caught Rashid as he ran by, heading towards the rendezvous building. Surprisingly long lasting, the singularity sucked in several Husks and Cannibals, and allowed Rashid and Lars to safely get to cover.
When they got to the roof, Arnout was franticly trying to contact the shuttle. "Max! Max! Come in! Come in, goddammit! You're late, and we need extraction now!" Nothing but static came back to Arnout. "Shit. Rashid, find a way off this roof. We'll hold position."
Rashid, lying on his back, panting for breath, trying to regain some strength, shook his head. "Dude, I just laid down the biggest singularity of my life, the third of today. I am not some damn Asari. Give me a break, would you?" Arnout flipped Rashid the finger, picked up his Striker and joined the rest of his team.
Gerard looked up from his firing position. Arnout gave him a thumps up, so Gerard got up too secure their fall-back route. "Err, guys? I think we got lucky." Gerard pointed to a small dot high in the sky. "Yep. It's an Alliance Shuttle!" He said, looking through the scope of his weapon. At that moment, their radios came to life. "Alliance N7 Special Ops team Gamma Three Six, ETA one more minute. Hang in there!"
Over the course of their last minute on the ground, Arnout and his comrades depleted their entire stack of heatsinks, killing dozens of Reaper troops. The shuttle pilot was obviously experienced, as he didn't try to land on the roof, but hovered at the back of the building, with just centimetres between the shuttle and the edge of the roof.
Lars helped Rashid up, while the others covered the retreat. Mikey had picked up Arnout's Phaeston, so Arnout could still use the Striker. Arnout fired his last Striker grenades off the edge of the roof, and started running towards the shuttle. He leaped over the hole in the roof where the stairs were and dropped his last pineapple grenades down the stairs. Before Arnout reached the shuttle, a plume of dust and the howling of Husks was his reward.
With his team completely worn out, lying in the shuttles seats, Arnout realised the shuttle's pilot wasn't Max. With one big step, Arnout reached the pilot and his matt black Carnifex appeared in his hand. Arnout pressed the extended barrel of his Carnifex into the back of the pilots head. "Who the fuck are you, and where the fuck is my pilot?"
"If you don't mind, I'll just fly the shuttle, and not raise my hands, okay?" By now, the rest of the team had also drawn their weapons, more as an instinctive reaction, than to actually combat a threat. "Head to the Alliance ship in orbit. And don't try anything funny." Arnout pressed his gun into the pilots skin some more, to make his point.
"Take it easy Arnout; I don't think he is Cerberus." Rashid, still being supported by Lars, placed his hand on Arnout's arm.
"I'm Alliance Flight Lieutenant Dominic Zhang, and I used to be the Alliance contact for the Resistance here. Your pilot tried to save me and some resistance fighters. A Marauder got to him and the resistance guys before I could get the Marauder. I was the only one with shields and armour. I'm sorry."
Dominic bent forward in his seat, revealing bullet holes in his armour, and blood on the seat. Arnout snapped his Carnifex back into its holster, on his hip. "I believe you. For now." Reaching past his new pilot, Arnout activated the hailing systems. "Alliance Frigate SSV Gettysburg, this is Alliance N7 Special Ops team Gamma Three Six."
"SSV Gettysburg here, come in."
"Open the hatch, we are bringin' her in. We've got a pilot that doesn't know the ship."
"Alrighty, I'll have the dock crew guide you in."
The docking bay doors closed, and atmosphere was restored in the docking bay, just as the shuttle powered down. Arnout grabbed Dominic by the rim of his armour, to which the helmet would normally be attached, and lifted him off his seat. "You're with me. We've got a date with the captain and the XO."
Gerard opened the hatch, and revealed a full security detail outside the shuttle, with readied weapons. Arnout, Dominic and the rest of the team stepped out of the shuttle. The sergeant in charge of the detail ordered the detail to lower their weapons, as she stepped forward. "You wanna-be N7's are always gettin' into trouble, aren't ya?" she said.
The sergeant was big, almost as big as Lars, and even through her size and shaven head, you could see she was kind of, well, cute, if you like that kind of cute, Arnout thought to himself. He had to bite his tongue to avoid making a sharp reply, but behind him, Rashid, now walking without support, burst into laughter, and Lars had to catch him again. "Hey, it's not my fault. My plans are good; he just always messes them up, and then calls it improvising." Rashid managed to utter, while pointing at Arnout.
Arnout's face turned to a sour look, as he nodded his thanks to the sergeant. "Lars, get Rashid to the doc. He needs a banana bag. Gerard, you too. Mikey, armour. Help Lars with the weapons after you're done. Gerard, help out where you can after the doc patches you up. Rashid, you do the report. Debrief is in two hours. Try to get a shower before then." The team nodded, and took off.
Rashid pushed Lars away, rejecting his support, but nearly fell over in the process. Gerard turned on his heels, and as he walked backwards, saluted mockingly, while he shouted at Arnout. "We'll try to look our best for your girlfriend, Sir."
Arnout looked at the sergeant. "Sergeant, if you and your men would be so kind to escort us to the captain? I believe I'm a bit late for our meeting, though."
The sergeant smiled. "Sure, LT. But isn't Captain Boularouzh in charge? Why are you giving the orders?"
"Don't ask questions you do not want to know the answer too, a wise man once said. It's complicated." Arnout marched off, shoving Dominic out ahead of him.
Arnout knocked. After a good fifteen seconds the door swoofed open. "Don't try anything funny." Arnout whispered to Dominic, and placed a hand on his Carnifex, as they stepped inside the captain's cabin. Inside where the captain of the Gettysburg, Roderic Von Buijs, and his XO, Martin Ust. The captain, with all due respect, looked like a pirate of the sixteenth or seventeenth century with his ragged beard, which covered the lower half of his face, and his eye patch.
Arnout knew the beard was to hide burn scars on the captain's neck, throat, and face, wounds suffered when Von Buijs was still a marine, serving in the First Contact War against the Turian Hierarchy. But he didn't know where - or how – Von Buijs had come to need an eye patch. It was clear to Arnout that the crew knew, but didn't want to share.
"Lieutenant, relax. This man is not Cerberus. And he has nothing to do with your pilot's death." Von Buijs started off. Arnout saluted stiffly and formally, but kept his left hand on his Carnifex. The XO positioned himself between Arnout and the captain. "Son, we know you've hit a rough patch, been through hell and back, but that boy is not Cerberus. His sister was a lab-tech at Listening Post Theta."
"I know. But he got Max killed." A tear rolled down Arnout's cheek. "I promised that boy that he could fly me to Earth, climb in a Trident, and make the bitches pay. He didn't need to die!"
Ust gently shoved Dominic, who was looking bleary eyed too, to the side, and placed his hand on Arnout's left hand. "Son, you want him to pay for the death of your protégé, Alliance Flight Lieutenant Maxim Hartman, that's completely normal. But it wasn't his fault."
Arnout ignored the XO, and looked at Dominic. "He wasn't just my, our, protégé. He was like a pup, always looking up to us big, bad, marines with those..." Arnout shook his head. "Those, big, brown, puppy eyes. He was like our guardian angel, always there to get us out, when the shit got to deep."
Dominic collapsed onto the captain's cot. "I'm sorry. Okay? I wish it was different." Words flooded out of his mouth. "I swear that to every religion out there. But he came to rescue us, me and three of the resistance's best fighters. I provided cover, while they made for the shuttle. I was ready to die, when that Marauder appeared, right there, next to the shuttle. It cut them down, and nearly got me too!" Dominic's last words where nearly impossible to make out, his voice heavy with tears and regret.
"Arnout." Von Buys was leaning on his desk. "Max did the right thing. The thing you would have wanted him to do, the thing you ordered him to do on multiple occasions, even though it is extremely dangerous, trying a pick-up at a unsecured site, without an extraction team. And, unfortunately, Max paid the ultimate price. The price so many of us have paid, since the arrival of the Reapers. But you can't let this get to you, because the Alliance needs you."
Arnout finally let go of his sidearm, and for a moment looked like he was going to throw a punch at Von Buys. Instead, he turned around and banged his head, with helmet still on, against the door with such force the door dented. A bitter, hate filled roar of frustration and anger came out. After a few moments Arnout managed to restrain his rage, grief, hate and frustration, took off his helmet, and looked at the crack in the visor. "I need a fucking drink."
To Arnout, the situation in the captain's cabin seemed to have lasted hours, while it was only a few minutes. After downing his first straight bourbon, (it was all the Von Buijs could offer, on such short notice) Arnout offered his hand to Dominic. "I'm sorry. But you have to understand, I loved Max like a little brother. And the same goes for my team. They might not have shown it, yet, but they loved him like I did."
"I accept your apology, Lieutenant."
"Call me Arnout. And I am glad Max didn't just die for nothing. You seem to be made out of the right stuff." Arnout held out his glass to the captain. "Hit me again, sir, if you don't mind." Von Buijs didn't.
Dominic nearly had to run to keep up with Arnout, as he headed to the room the team had been using as bunk, briefing and debriefing room and armoury. "We have a debrief in 30 minutes, and we need you to fill in your part of the story, so Max's family gets to hear what they need, or, rather, what they want."
"That he died a hero, trying to save me."
"Yes. You will also probably be reassigned as our pilot, and quartermaster."
"What? Cleaning the dirt off your guns and the blood of your armour?" Dominic looked like he didn't quite like the idea.
"No. I don't trust you further than I can throw you, a good 5 metres or so, and that's not nearly enough to let you that close to my guns and armour. You will be responsible for getting us whatever we need for a mission. That kind of a quartermaster. We are quite demanding."
Dominic looked at Arnout's customized Carnifex. "I can see that. Nice hardware. That, sure as sure, isn't standard issue."
Arnout stopped abruptly, and Dominic nearly bumped into him. "You are absolutely right, mister. But you know what? We got all kinds of customised, rare, expensive weapons. But all our armour is standard Alliance issue. And you are going to change that."
Arnout, with Dominic still in tow, reached the storeroom and quickly tapped in the code needed to unlock the door, which swoofed open. "The code is 1337. I don't know why that is so special, but one of my more shady alien friends once told me that this particular combination of numbers held a special meaning on the pre-First Contact war extranet." Dominic looked at Arnout. "Shady alien friends? Do I want to know?"
"Mpf. You'd better get used to it. You can't get what you want through regular channels anymore these days. Max had some very good connections. Some probably won't want to deal with you, but most know our money is good, so they'll stick." Arnout stepped inside. Mikey just looked up from the Valiant he was putting back together, but Lars aimed his Carnifex at Dominic. "What took you so long, and why is he still here?"
"Put it down, Lars. He's one of us now. We need a pilot, and a quartermaster. He won't be Max, but that isn't his fault." Lars mumbled something under his breath. "Rashid will tell you the same thing, Lars. There is nothing that can be done about it." Tears rolled down Lars's face. "That doesn't make it any less fucked up."
Mikey joined in: "Lars, accept it. It will suck even more if one of us bites it."
"No, it won't. We live the life. We chose to do shit so crazy, you couldn't make it up. Max didn't."
Arnout looked like he was going to say something, but Dominic beat him to it. "Max died doing a courageous thing. He was a hero. I heard I wasn't the only unsecure extraction he'd done."
"A hero you say?" Lars shook his head, closed his eyes, whipped them with an oil stained hand and sighed deeply. "Yeah. He was a fucking hero." Lars got up, and carefully placed the Striker he'd been cleaning in a huge black bag. "I need to get wasted. That'll help. I'll go and hit on the security sergeant. I know she has a secret stash of something hidden somewhere." With these words, he walked out.
"Don't be late for ..." Arnout tried reminding Lars about their debriefing, but realised it was futile. He tossed his helmet to Mikey. "I cracked the visor." Mikey didn't ask, but just raised his eyebrow, creating a look that said: "Why are you always breaking stuff, mate? It's getting annoying." And said: "I'll fix it. Get a shower." He shot Dominic a look. "You too. Welcome to the team."
The team had assembled. Rashid had some colour on his face again, Gerard had his arm bandaged. Lars still had oil stains on his hands and face, but didn't seem to care. He also smelled of drink. Rashid had looked angry, but hadn't said anything about it.
Mickey and Arnout had set up a portable quantum communicator. It fizzled into life and a female in an Alliance uniform with Lieutenant Stripes became visible. Arnout said one word. "Out." The team exited the storeroom without comment; Dominic was dragged out by Mikey and Lars, a curious look on his face.
"Arnout..." The portable communicator didn't allow for a very high resolution, but you could see the pain on her face.
"I'm sending you the report. Max bought it today." Arnout shook his head. "I miss you. At times like this, more than ever."
"I'm sorry. I know what he meant to you. To all of you."
"Thanks. He left a message for what remains of his family and friends. I'm sending it along with the report."
"I'll make sure they get it. Listen, we don't have long left. There is something big coming; they are sending Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams to brief you."
"Well, it can't be worse or more dangerous than the crap we did today..."
"Don't say that, I hate it when you talk like that."
"Now I'm sorry. Karen, I love you, and I will do whatever it takes to come back to you, I promise you that."
"Get your squad back in. She's coming." Alliance Lieutenant Karen McFarlane raised her hand as to touch Arnout's face, but made it into a salute.
Arnout banged on the door, and let the rest of the team in. Arnout saluted, and rest followed hesitantly. Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams appeared. The attitudes and body language of everyone in the room changed suddenly. They were in the presence of a real hero. One who could kick their asses lying down, with two hands behind her back. "At ease." Ashley smiled at the group. Lars suddenly looked sober.
Rashid stepped forward. "Lieutenant Commander, it's a real honour to speak with you."
"Likewise, Captain. But I know how your team operates. Lieutenant Commander van Mameren?"
"Yes ma'am?" Arnout saluted again as he presented himself next to Rashid.
"Cut that out, we don't have time for that. I have an assignment for you. It is on a volunteer basis, but we really have nobody that can do it otherwise, and nobody we can really trust."
"We are not Alliance Marines anymore, as you are probably aware. Are you sure there is not a crack team of loyal Alliance Marines out there that can do it better?" Rashid inquired.
"A team of Alliance Marines would have to do it by the book. This is an undercover operation that requires a certain skill set. Most of our marines are just good at fighting. You, on the other hand, are a murdering, cheating band of liars. That makes you far better suited for this than any team of marines." Behind Arnout, Dominic produced a chuckle. That was quickly followed by an elbow to the ribs.
"Thank you for the compliment, Commander, but why?" Rashid wasn't about to volunteer for something he didn't know nothing about.
"Because, Captain Boularouzh, you absolutely hate Cerberus. Because you can operate without official Alliance support due to your, ahem, shady connections. Because you are good, Captain." Ashley looked at the whole team in turn. "Because you are experienced in going undercover, and doing what needs to be done."
"If you are looking for a set of killers, I can recommend a few." Rashid wasn't about to give up.
"That wasn't what I meant, and you know that. I am giving you the chance to hurt Cerberus in a way they could never imagine, and redeem yourselves. After this, you might be allowed back in the Alliance."
Rashid looked mad and was about to say something, when Gerard placed his hand on his shoulder, and whispered into his ear. "Rash, I know you don't really like it, but we would appreciate going back to the Alliance. Freelance is fine, but we would like to fight for a cause again."
Rashid shook his head, lost in thought. Arnout opened his mouth. "Ma'am, it would be our honour to do what you need us to do, after you spoke so highly about us." He winked. "Send the details."
"Captain Von Buys has them, even though he isn't allowed to read them. Memorize and destroy them." As Commander Williams saluted, Rashid seemed to wake up. "One thing. We pick our own team."
"No, you do not. But we have anticipated some of your wishes. It is taken care of." Everything that was kind about Commander Williams a moment ago, had just turned to steel. She looked at Arnout. "The Lieutenant has just left the room in a state that should be described as in tears. I assume that has to do with you? Have you taken the appropriate steps? The coming mission is dangerous."
Arnout turned as white as a sheet of paper. "Mam, I, euh…" Lars slapped him on the back of his head. "Mam, I assure you, it will be arranged." "Then, gentlemen, I salute you." The connection was terminated.
"Fuck, what just happened?" Dominic asked himself out loud. Mikey patted him on the shoulder. "Get used to it. It's gonna get a lot more strange before this is over, I feel it." Dominic looked at Mikey with a huge question mark on his face. The whole team answered his unspoken question in one voice. "He's got a gift. Don't ask."
Chapter 2: Sunny, sexy.... Dangerous.
Dominic parked the shuttle carefully. It was the same shuttle they had used earlier that week, but it was now carefully painted to look like an old piece of shit, only suited for the scrapheap. But looks can be deceiving, and the Kodiak U-47 drop shuttle had had an upgrade to the new A model. It now sported two ground support weapons and a sensor jamming system.
Two small, hooded figures were waiting for the team, as they got out of the shuttle and set foot on Illium, in one of the more shady neighbourhoods of Nos Astra, the planets capital. The figures approached the shuttle, and seemed to be checking their Omni tools. Lars was the first to recognize the figures. "Polo and Aden'Guy nar Rayya!" Lars closed the distance, and took the small Quarians in a bear-like hug. "It's vas..." Polo started a sentence. "Alarei now." Aden finished the sentence. Lars laughed. "So they accepted your gift! Congratulations!"
Mikey and Gerard where just behind Lars, patting the Quarian twins on the shoulder with great fervour. "What's up with the hardware, boys?" Gerard was curious.
"Well, your Alliance said we needed to be ready for anything, so they gave us a few new toys." Polo answered.
"We've got the Arc Pistol, Reegar Carbine, and Adas Anti-Synthetic Rifle." Aden added.
"Boys, that's no rifle. It doesn't even have a proper barrel!" Lars jokingly objected. "And how about you give that to us, before you harm yourselves, or worse, us?"
"Hey! They're ours, you big brute!" The twins answered in one voice.
Arnout had crept up to the group and put his arms around the twins, pulled them close, and whispered into their ears. "Did you pay for them? Don't think so. Did you supply the gunsmiths with materials? Don't think so. You borrowed them, in good faith. And when you are with us, good faith means handing them over for safekeeping." He let them go. "You'll get them back in case of emergencies; we'll make sure of that. We know you can shoot, we taught you ourselves. But if there is shooting to be done, best leave it to us. We don't go hacking anything when you are around, do we?"
Polo sighed. "I guess you're right. Keep them safe and clean, would you?"
His brother interrupted, looking at his omnitool. "You guys are wearing armour under your clothes, right?"
Mikey answered. "Yeah, why are you asking? In this kind neighbourhood, of course we are!"
"Well, speaking of hacking, we will need to update your armour. Cause it only took us this long to do this." Aden gave his omnitool a command, and all the joints in the crews armour locked up.
"Hey! Stop that!" The team couldn't move except for Rashid, who was still outside the shuttle next to Dominic, apparently out of range. Dominic dryly commented. "Yep. A lot more strange, that's for sure."
Rashid grinned, looked at Dominic and agreed. "Yep. Prepare for the unexpected, Dom, cause if you don't..." He made a throat cutting gesture. Rashid turned to the cluster of his friends, who were still trying furiously to get their armour to cooperate and the two Quarian hackers. "Polo, Aden, I am clearly out of range for a hack. But you are not out of range for me. Release them, or I will toss you over." He pointed to the edge of the landing platform, some ten metres away.
Polo waved his hand at Rashid. "Hang on, we are applying an update!" And to the four humans: "You should be immune to tricks like this from now on. Only active hacking should now be a threat."
Aden added: "And we will be there to monitor and counter that, so it'll be fine."
Arnout flexed his shoulders. "Thanks. Don't ever do that again, or Big Man will break you in half." Lars nodded with approval at these words.
Suddenly, Dominic looks up at the sky in with an alarmed look on his face. Elbowing Rashid, he pointed at two dots in the sky that are steadily become bigger. "Are we expecting visitors? Cause those are fighters. And that thing." Dominic pointed at the shuttle. "Is no good in a dogfight. That's just besides the fact that I am not a fighter jock."
"I have no idea." Rashid admitted. "We don't know who will be a part of the crew. It was a complete surprise to see the twins here. A pleasant one, but a surprise none the less." He shouted: "Arnout! Look to the skies!"
Arnout looked up, and saw Dominic pointing. He roared: "GAME FACES! Incoming unidentified aircraft. Assume hostile intend! Spread out, engage shields, and get the damn kids to cover!" Suddenly, faces went grim. Lars grabbed the Quarians and threw them over his shoulders, like sacks of potatoes. "Oi! Big Man!" Polo, once again, started a sentence. "Go easy on us!" Aden, once again, finished the sentence. Together they managed: "We can walk, you know?"
While Lars crossed the platform, heading towards the shuttle, Rashid pushed Dominic into his cockpit. "Get ready, we might have to leave in a hurry!" Stepping outside, Rashid pulls out his M-77 Paladin handgun, painfully aware how little he could contribute in a fight against aircraft.
With zero cover on the platform, Gerard, Mikey and Arnout had spread as far from each other as they could, in an irregular pattern. "Weapon systems." Gerard called it. "Propulsion." Mikey echoed. "Cockpit." Arnout took what was left. "Garden hose duty." Lars contributed.
"Do not fire unless fired upon, boys!" Rashid walked up to the rest of his team.
"Rash, get out of the open!" Gerard didn't even bother to look up from behind his sniper's scope. "We got this."
Dominic fired up the shuttle, but kept it on the ground. Analysing the sensor readout, he radioed: "I think they are Asari fighter jets! One of them is a two-seater!"
"Thanks." Arnout radioed back. "We'll give those blue aliens hell. Take out the single-seater first, if it comes to it!"
It wouldn't. The fighters did not perform any aggressive manoeuvres, and kept a tight trajectory that eliminated any chance of a strafing run and allowed them to perform a smooth landing on the platform. As soon as the engines powered down, the cockpits opened, and the pilots where revealed. The two-seater was crewed by an elderly Asari and a young Human female, both dressed in business suits. The single-seater was piloted by young Asari dressed in the uniform of the Asari navy. All three pilots where beautiful, and as they got out, displayed an amazing amount of grace, like ballerinas.
Gerard, Mikey, Lars and Arnout didn't lower their weapons, but Rashid came running up to them holstering his weapon. "Lower your weapons, idiots, and bow! He came skidding to a halt before the three pilots, went down on one knee and pulled out his Disciple shotgun, a beautifully hand crafted weapon of Asari origin. "Matriarch Co'sima, it is my honour to present you your weapon." Rashid declared, as he presented the shotgun with both hands raised above his bowed head. "If I had had some fore warning, I would have arranged for a more appropriate welcome."
"It's fine, Prince Boularouzh. I have had worse welcomes. We expected a few shots for the bow, to be honest. And you can keep the weapon. It was a gift. Besides, I have several."
Dominic whispered over the radio. "A prince? It really just keeps getting weirder."
Lars whispered back. "Shut it, and get over here!"
The Human female, slim where the Asari where curvy, with long flowing black hear, checked her tablet and approached the Matriarch and whispered in her ear. The Matriarch smiled. "Why don't you introduce your hacking friends, Rashid? They have taken over control of our." The Matriarch seemed to be looking for the right word, as she had been speaking a Human language. "Transportation."
Max, who had come running at Lars's call, turned on his heels, headed back to the shuttle and pulled the Quarians out of cover. "Get out. And behave, or someone will kick our asses. You have asses, don't you?" He smiled, unsure.
Aden answered. "Our biology is very similar to yours, except for our DNA." Polo finished. "So, yeah, we have asses."
The trio hurried to the fighters, where Dominic made a bow to show his respect, and the Quarians mimicked him. "Matriarch, it is my honour to introduce to you, Polo and Aden'Guy vas Alerei."
Rashid gave him an angry look, and finished the introduction. "Our pilot, Alliance Flight Lieutenant Dominic Zhang." He looked at the Asari dressed in uniform. "I am Captain Rashid Boularouzh, my second in command is Lieutenant Commander Arnout van Mameren." He gestured at Arnout, Lars, Gerard and Mickey one by one.
"My staff sergeant, Gunnery Chief Lars Folstag." Lars saluted, holding his Typhoon ligt machinegun by its barrel in his left hand, resting its stock on the ground.
"Our snipers, en resident tech experts, Second Lieutenants Gerard Glock and Michael Whitney." Gerard en Mikey saluted in unison.
Matriarch Co'sima nodded, and turned to her companions. "I am, as you might have guessed, Lovisse Co'sima, and I thank you for your welcome. May I introduce my daughter, Lira Sto'ut, and my assistant, Angelique Fontaine."
Arnout stepped forward, and spoke up. "Sir, Ma'am, if I may?"
Both Rashid as the Matriarch signalled him to speak up. "I suggest we get off this dock, before more unexpected visitors turn up and surprise us like you did."
Lira Sto'ut spoke for the first time, and her voice was like that of an angel. "We won't be surprised, but there are more visitors are coming. They might be a bit late, though. They don't have military clearance like we do."
After the fighter jets and shuttle had been parked out of sight, and the hiding place was deemed secure by the Quarians, the group relocated themselves to a large house a few minutes away which, of course, was hired through several intermediaries. Arnout took operational command, and was giving orders. "Rash, take this." Arnout handed his M-11 Indra and Phaeston to Rashid. "Hit them where it hurts if they see you standing here. Ladies, you know how to handle a rifle?" Arnout carefully inquired as he gestured Gerard and Mikey to hand over their rifles. "We will clear the house. Fall back inside if required." Angelique and Lira had taken the sniper rifles.
Arnout switched to sign language to give out orders, so they couldn't be overheard. "I've got point. Lars, guard my six. Gerard, left, Mikey, right. Kids, sweep for bugs and traps. Shotgun time!" He counted down from three, while Aden unlocked the door, and Polo kicked it open. Arnout stormed past Aden, with his Crusader raised and ready to deal death to anybody stupid enough to stand up and resist. He came out into a hallway with 3 doors, and chose the middle one, bursting into a large room with a massive dining table, kitchen and lounge area. Behind him, Lars stomped through the door, looked around the room, radioed "Clear!" and turned on his heels to support the others.
Meanwhile, Gerard had kicked open the left door, which lead to another hallway. Without stopping to think, he swept through the left most door and ended up in a room with several bunks and lockers. Nobody was in the room, so he stepped out, and stormed through the other door, his shotgun ready. This door lead into another room filled with bunks and lockers, but far larger. Sitting round a table where a Krogan, Turian, Batarian and Salarian playing cards. "Hands UP! Motherfuckers!" The card players didn't even look up. The Salarian calmly folded, the Krogan took a sip of his drink, the Batarian puffed out a smoke ring and the Turian fiddled with his chips.
Mikey radioed: "My side is clear. Bunkroom, bathrooms and storage area." Polo added: "No bugs, no traps."
Gerard's snidely comment came momentarily: "I got 4 hostiles, refusing to put their hands up." Within moments, the whole team was pointing their guns at the card players. The whole situation seemed absurd to Gerard. The card players had a lot of firepower pointed at them, but didn't move a finger.
Finally, the Turian looks up from his cards. "Guys, really? Don't you recognise him, or me?" The Turian's clawed finger pointed at the Krogan.
"Shit. Put 'em down, boys." Mikey recognized the Krogan. He radioed outside. "Clear. Come in, the other members of the team seemed to have arrived before us." He shook his head. Urdnot Umbral, you scumbag. I thought you were dead?"
The Krogan roared a laugh. "I am hard to kill. Even your Shepard realises that. But it hurt, alright."
Rashid arrived, escorting the ladies, and another round of introducing kicked off.
After the introductions, the Batarian tilted his head to the right, a sign of disrespect, and spoke up. "So, to sum it up, we've got a former Turian Blackwatch operative, now a C-sec officer on administrative duty due to use of excessive force." Valluvian Oraka nodded, sadly.
"An Asari Matriarch on political exile, and her good-for-nothing Human assistant." Angelique blushed, but Matriarch Co'sima didn't flinch.
"A disgraced Asari fighter pilot, who got her wingman killed." Lira gave the Batarian an angry look.
"A duo of exiled Quarians, only accepted after their forcibly prolonged Pilgrimage due to the massive gift to their current ship, powered by our Human friends there." The Polo and Aden shuffled their feet a bit, uneasy. Arnout and his group just stood there, unfazed.
"A Blood Pack warmonger and an Eclipse drugs runner." Umbral smiled, which just made him look more dangerous. Inoste Vorleon just blinked a couple of times, but no more than normal, just holding his poker face.
"And but not least: a team of Humans thrown out of their Alliance, due to accusations of affiliations with Cerberus." Rashid looked like he was going to fling the Batarian through a wall. Arnout and Lars closed ranks, to make sure he didn't.
"But let's not forget myself; Ferdi Dif'tar, a Blue Sons member, known for his ability to make his victims talk. Just as much an asshole as any of you." He tilted his head from right to left, a sign of respect. "I have never seen such a fine group of ragtag retards looking for salvation."
"I expected an analysis like this to come from him." Lovisse nodded in Inoste's direction, as she surveyed the ragtag group. "But I'm glad that I'm not the only one who realised were we all stand. It's good to know one another's motives. That way, one gets surprised."
Arnout elbowed Rashid in the ribs, to stop him looking up the Matriarch in a quite obvious manner. He looked at Lira. "I thought you said they would be later, because they lacked military clearance?"
"I still have police and military clearance." Valluvian explained.
"But wouldn't that have meant you would have arrived at the same time as we did?" Rashid interjected.
"Yeah. We also had an Eclipse drugs runner."
"All fine and dandy but can anyone…" Arnout looked around the room. "Tell me what the fuck is going on? ‘Cause I'm lost."
"I can." It sounded really soft, and everyone turned round to look at Angelique. She blushed again. "But I won't. Briefing is tomorrow, at nine local time. For now, relax and get a good night sleep."
Arnout sighed. "Fine. Have it your way. Time to arrange billets then. Lars?"
"I suggest we let the ladies sleep in the other part of the house, and have their own bathroom. You want a sentry outside your door?" Lars looked at the Matriarch, who shook her head. "We can take care of ourselves."
"Okay, though I didn't really mean it that way, but sure. We'll sleep here. Umbral, can you share this room with us or you want to have the second one? I was hoping to give it to the twins. Makes it more easy with the whole hygiene thing, but I wouldn't want to force you to take tranquilizers."
"Heh, thanks for your consideration. It's spacious enough to share, though I don't want to share a bunk." The Krogan seemed relieved that he didn't have to bring up his genetically ingrained inability to share quarters himself.
"Got it." Lars turned to the twins. "It's all yours, boys. Set it up, though I think you'll find it pretty clean. When you're done, install perimeter security. Gerard, Mikey, Dom, go get our stuff from the shuttle. Ladies, you need anything from the fighters?"
"I'll help you boys." Lira said. "The Matriarchs send gifts."
"About gifts, one of my Blood Pack weapon smiths developed a last resort weapon not too long ago. It's a pistol that fires only one round per clip, but that round that can smash through anything." Umbral smiled. "It's my perfect weapon."
"Umbral, stop smiling. It does your looks no good." Inoste, a member of a race commonly known for the fact that they think fast and talk faster, and nearly continuously, finally said something. Umbral didn't even look mad. Inoste rose sharp on Arnout's most-dangerous-men-ever list. The Krogan was still way higher, but the Salarian had just passed the Turian. "I think we all brought something with us, don't we?" Inoste looked at his three fellow card players. "I have some STG favourites: Venom Shotguns and Scorpion pistols." Ferdi nodded. "Kishok Harpoon Guns, and AT-12 Raider Shotguns." Valluvian looked shamed. "I only brought whatever I could from the C-Sec impounded weapons lockers. I've got M-358 Talons and Harriers, all taken from dead Cerberus ground forces, not any real Turian quality weapons."
Polo popped his head around the corner. "We haven't brought a whole stack of weapons, but you're free to use ours. We'll be staying here anyway. If we need to shoot things, you guys are already dead, probably." Looking at Umbral, he continued. "You might want to try one of the Reegar Carbines. They're really shotguns, and very well suited to close quarters combat. Oh, and we'll be needing your armours as well, so they are updated and hack proof first thing tomorrow."
Lars looked at Arnout. "That covers it, right?"
"You forgot one thing."
"What did I forget then? No, don't tell me. Let's see. Billets, equipment, a place for the twins to sleep, security, an exchange of gifts. Unless you want a guard roster, I'm not sure what I'm missing.
"Supplies. Let's see if this place has got booze." Arnout looked at Umbral. "And not your ryncol, Krogan. I prefer to be able to use my head tomorrow." Umbral roared with laughter, and most people still in the room gave at least a chuckle.
"The pantry is well stocked, Arnout." Lovisse said. "With both food and drink, I made sure of that."
"Then allow me to make you one of my best drinks, Matriarch." Rashid had just gone from just eyeing the Matriarch, to a full blown charm offensive.
Arnout left the bunkroom accompanied by Angelique, and followed Rashid and Lovisse as they were heading towards the living room, when Lars caught up to him. "Hey, I want to join their poker game."
"Why are you asking? You know the answer to that question is no." Arnout replied firmly. "If you want, you can ask Rashid, but he's going to say the same."
"But that was about Humans!"
Arnout turned to face Lars. "Those guys are worse. Aside from raw player skill, the Salarian counts cards, the Batarian simply does not care about anything anymore, you can't out bluff a Krogan, and the Turian's an ex-infiltrator into a gamble syndicate. Poker was his cover. You'd just lose your entire pay check, and ours."
"Aww. Then what am I going to do?"
"There is a shooting range downstairs." Angelique offered.
"Downstairs? Where?! We haven't cleared that!" Arnout looked mad, and was already reaching for his shotgun.
"Calm down." Angelique blushed. "You didn't give me the time to say it when we were out front, but you didn't need to clear this place."
"We will decide that, luv." Arnout still looked mad, and pulled out his shotgun. "Lars. With me." He shouted, as he ran off.
"It's in the back of the living room!" Angelique shouted after him. After they disappeared through the door to the living room, she sighed, shook her head, and continued after them.
Arnout leaped down the last few steps, rolled forward and came up with his shotgun raised. "Wow." Lars was hot on his heels. "Holy shit." Both men stood up in amazement. Before them was a shooting range, with a fire lane long enough to allow for sniper practice, and high end blast surfaces, to allow for grenade training. One side wall was dedicated to weapons, with racks from top to bottom. The other side wall had several tables that allowed for maintenance and modification.
Rashid calmly walked down the stairs, holding a drink. "Arnout, overzealous as ever?" Lovisse was just behind him, holding a second drink. Angelique had pulled her datapad out, and was scribbling notes as she too came down the stairs. "Rather overzealous then surprised." Arnout returned snidely. "If you weren't thinking with the wrong part of your body, you'd realise that." Lars, Angelique and Lovisse laughed at Arnout's insinuation, but Rashid looked sour. "Yes Rashid, everybody knows. After your little show at the shuttle, it was all too clear. Now we finally know how you got a shotgun that rare." Arnout continued the barrage. Lars joined in. "Allow me to make you one of my best mixes, Matriarch." He mimicked Rashid's voice. "You're not really setting a good example for the twins, are you?" Arnout picked up on Lars's course of assault. "Nor are you setting a good example for teamwork. Shagging teammates always leads to trouble; you of all people should know that."
The Matriarch interrupted the gruesome assault on Rashid's ego. "Now, now, boys. No need to be so rude. I am partly to blame for this, although it's a long story."
"Yeah, but one out of a whole collection." Angelique blurted out. She looked shocked at what she had just said.
Lovisse just ignored her. "It won't happen, Rashid." She looked him in the eyes. "I'm sorry. You are 25, I am nearly a thousand years old. It wouldn't work."
Arnout and Lars were trying to contain their laughter, but failed miserably. "Holy hell, Rashid. She just did to you what you did to all the girls!" Arnout cried out. As an answer, Rashid stomped down the stairs, lifted an M-8 Avenger Assault Rifle of the rack, slapped a fresh heatsink in, and emptied it down range, obliterating the paper sheet he was aiming at.
Angelique looked surprised at Rashid's action, but Arnout indicated they should head upstairs. "Let him blow of some steam. Let's grab a beer."
Arnout peered into a fridge, checking the beer brands. Finally finding a brand that is to his liking, he looks up to the sound of a Striker firing on full auto. "Holy hell. He's hurt pretty bad."
Lars took the bottle offered to him. "Yeah, haven't seen him like this since, well, since that rock in the Terminus."
Arnout looked at Lovisse. "You are going to have tell us sooner or later, cause we will be stuck with him long after you're gone."
The Matriarch responded ice cold. "No, I do not." She hesitated, but continued, softly now. "But I do care about him. I know I'm going to regret this, but tell me about that rock in the Terminus."
Arnout looked intrigued, but managed to constrain himself. "Before I do, we have to tell you something, and honour a tradition. "Arnout send a message via his omnitool before continuing. He gestured at the fridge holding the beer. Lars appeared to understand what Arnout meant, as he went over. "I've been running a team like this for more than five years now. Lars has been with me from the start." Lars, with his head in the fridge shouted something, but nobody really understood it. "I've lost six members so far. Three where my fault, or my responsibility directly."
Lars smacked Arnout on the head, as he walked by, heading to the large dining table, carrying a case of beer with quick opening bottle caps. "Shit goes sideways sometimes, Arnout. You know that."
Lovisse looked puzzled. "Excrement that has lateral movement?"
Lars, Angelique and Arnout laughed. "It's an expression, Matriarch." Lars explained. "It means that bad things happen sometime." Lovisse nodded in understanding, but looked at the beer in wonder.
As they sat down, Arnout and Lars took one each and toasted. "To Eagle-Eye Thomas." Lars opened. "A sniper without equal." Arnout continued. "Who shot down a fighter, and caught it with his chest." Lars finished. The bottles made a "Cling" as the men crossed the necks of the beer bottles. "Never again!" Both men exclaimed, before downing their beer.
They reached for two more. "To Duct tape Dirk."
"An Engineer as good as I ever did see!"
"Who could do more damage with a wrench, than me with my machinegun!"
*Cling* Another two beers where drained.
"To Sherriff Pascal."
"One crazy gun-slingin' tank buster."
"Killing a Grizzly with his service sidearm!"
*Cling* "Never again!" Two more beers went down.
Rashid reached over Lars's shoulder, and took a beer. "To Shotgun Sandra."
"Lovely, lethal Sandra." Arnout continued.
"Who made it her hobby to jump into the biggest piles of shit she could find." Lars took over.
"Until she emptied her last magazine into a Batarian." Rashid finished. *Cling* "Never again!" The three men downed their beers.
"To Beautiful Fatima." Rashid said as a tear rolled down his cheek.
"Who always thought she was a coward."
Arnout rescued Rashid.
"But when it mattered most…."
"She was more courageous than any of us!"
*Cling* "Never again!" Down went three beers.
Mikey and Gerard walked into the room, followed by Lira and Dominic, all loaded down with luggage. "Did we make it?" Gerard looked anxious, as he and Mikey dropped their bags. They made for the table, as Lars raised his sixth beer in as many minutes. "To Flyboy Maxim."
"With his big brown puppy eyes." Arnout continued.
"Always flying to somebodies rescue." Rashid picked it up, seeing Arnout chocking up.
"Who saved us dozens of times." Lars added.
"And not always on the field of battle." Gerard jokingly said.
"The ultimate wingman." Mikey continued on Gerard's path.
Dominic realised what was happening, dropped his bags, raced over to the table, and was handed a beer. "To whom even strangers own an enormous debt of gratitude."
The six men raised their beers and roared. "Never again!"
A long silence followed. Arnout, Lars and Rashid where lost in memories of long lost comrades, and Mikey and Gerard respected that. Angelique looked like she was about to cry. Finally, the Matriarch sighed deeply, downed her drink, reached for a beer, and took a long sip. "I guess that was your ritual?"
Arnout shook his head, trying to replace the past with the present. "Yes. We do this once a year, but we haven't had the time this year. Too busy killing Reapers or Cerberus, I guess."
Polo stepped through the door. He looked at the ladies. "They did their remembrance routine, didn't they?"
"How'd you know?" Lovisse inquired.
"We are setting up security. They gave us a good baseline for gunfire." As the group laughed, he approached, and looked at the beer. "Any chance of some Turian beverages and food?" He looked hopeful. "I haven't had a drink in over a year. Or any meat."
Lars got up. "Arnout, tell the Matriarch what she needs to know. I'll help the kid look for something. I saw the Turian drinking, so there should be something here." He winked at Dominic as he got up. "You did good kid. You'll fit right in, with the rest of us jackasses."
Arnout looked pained. "I'll keep it short, ‘cause it was a three day ordeal. It started out like our last job, as an expendable merc team stationed on an Alliance frigate. I can't tell you the name of the colony nor the ship, unfortunately. The mess was so big, the Alliance slapped a big Top Secret label on the file. We were responding to a slaver raid on a small human colony in the Terminus Systems. Or so we thought." Arnout shook his head, and reached for another beer.
A rock in the Terminus
"Scans showed a ship down on the surface, but revealed no further communications. So, instead of landing the frigate, or dropping us with a shuttle, the captain decided we should try sneaking up on the slavers. This way, he could keep his precious Marines in reserve for a more conventional assault, in case we got snuffed." Arnout took a sip of beer.
Rashid smiled at the Matriarch. "I should probably note that in this team, everyone but Dominic holds at least a N3 rank. That means we're good. Really good. None of the marines even held a N rank."
Arnout interrupted. "I was telling this story, Rashid, not you. So, as I was saying, sneaking up. Sneaking, in this case, meant jumping out of the frigate at the edge of the atmosphere, and using grav-chutes and rocket suits to get to ground, fast." Arnout smiled. "Fortunately for us, all this is part of N2 training. We used our gear to descend as fast as possible, and in a matter of minutes, we hit the dirt, practically on top of the slaver ship.
Lars pulled his head out of the cupboard he was searching. "Yeah, tell ‘em how big that ship was, Arnout."
Arnout sighed. "It was a damn cruiser. The five of us, versus all the men that a cruiser can carry, and don't forget, it's crew. It took us an hour to sweep the cruiser. The slavers where gone, of course, but the crew remained. By the time we were done we had no grenades left, and depleted half our ammunition. That wasn't just bad enough. No, the gods of battle had some more up their sleeves."
Arnout and Rashid slammed their fists down on the table. Lira, Lovisse and Angelique looked up, startled. "That was the sound the Cerberus cruiser made when it made landfall. We had gotten a very short transmission from our frigate." Arnout mimics a bad radio connection. "Boys, Cerberus cruiser inbound. We have to leave. Will return when we can, with reinforcements. Hold out until then."
Rashid shook his head. "That was the biggest joke I ever heard."
Arnout looked at Rashid. "Are you going to let me tell it, or do you want the honours?"
"No, fine, continue. I'll just sit here and drink beer, Arnout."
"The Cerberus cruiser took hours to make landfall. During its first pass, of course, it destroyed the slaver cruiser. That was the best part of the mission. A nice, big display of fireworks. After that, everything went from bad to worse."
By the time Cerberus had set foot on the planet, we had been fighting the slavers for hours. Most of them where Batarians, but some Humans, Vorcha en even a couple of Krogans where present. That's where we lost Sandra, our little Vanguard. A veteran as much as we were, she finally miscounted, and ran out. No backup weapon, and we were out of reach. Fortunately, it was over in a second."
Arnout faltered. "Fuck, that sucked. Not being able to give her backup. We killed the fucker that got her, of course. When you're in the field, a little vengeance makes it feel better, but afterwards, it still sucks balls.
Toilet conversations == == Lock and load, baby!
Lira Sto'ut (Asari Adept), daughter to below, Asari Navy CAG,
Lovisse Co'sima (Asari Matriarch), father to Lira Sto'ut. Asari Matriarch,
Angelique Fontaine (Human Sentinel), assistant to above,
Dominic Zhang (Human Engineer) team pilot, quartermaster,
Polo'Guy vas Alerei (Quarian Machinist, aka "Ace") hacker, twin to below,
Aden'Guy vas Alerei (Quarian Machinist) hacker, twin to above,
Urdnot Umbral (Krogan Battlemaster), Blood Pack Sergeant-at-arms, black sheep for the Urdnot clan, unable to rise any further in Blood Pack hierarchy due to being Urdnot clan,
Ferdi Dif'tar (Batarian Sentinel) Blue Sons Captain, cool, relaxed, does not get along with the Hegemony,
Valluvian Oraka (Turian Agent, aka Reign.) C-Sec Special Response Captain, former member Blackwatch,
Inoste Vorleon (Salarian Engineer) Eclipse Captain