“Perimeter secure, commander,” Kaidan said, reaching up under the visor of his helmet to pinch his nose. Shepard looked at him, frowning.
“You gonna be okay, lieutenant?” she asked, doubtfully. “I can’t have you…”
“I’ll be fine,” he told her, letting his hand drop. He winced internally at her implied reprimand. He knew his abilities, his limitations. And he also knew that once he got moving, the biotic exercise almost always burned off the headaches. But of course, he realized, she didn’t know that. She knew nothing about him except that he was an L2, and that was hardly a recommendation of his competence to most people.
Kaidan eyed Shepard. She hadn’t exactly recommended her competence to him either, however. She was wearing nothing more than her light jumpsuit for a start. While he knew he could toss on a pretty impressive biotic barrier over his own light armor, he wasn’t sure if she could do the same. And then, when looking at the entire arsenal in the cargo bay, Shepard had pulled out a single pistol, checked the sights, and placed it at her hip.
“Aren’t you going to take something else, commander?” Jenkins had asked, himself strapping on a shotgun, assault rifle, pistol, and sniper rifle, just in case.
“Yeah,” she said, grabbing a handful of grenades one by one and notching them into place on her belt. “These.”
Kaidan himself preferred a pistol, but he always had a second gun handy – usually an assault rifle. While current gun tech made bullets endless, it struck him as madness to him to take just one gun into a battle.
And it looked like there would be a battle. As the commander led them across a rocky landscape, Kaidan could smell smoke and something like burning meat in the air. He knew what that meant, even before they rounded the corner and saw the charred bodies.
“Oh God,” Jenkins murmured. “What happened here?”
“Down,” Shepard said, her voice so forceful that it was almost like a hand. Kaidan and Jenkins both crouched without question. Shepard herself crept forward, low to the ground.
“What is it?” Kaidan whispered into the comm. He saw nothing on his suit’s holographic display. The radar was clean.
“Not sure,” Shepard whispered back. “But I can…” She broke off, peering around the corner.
“Something isn’t right here,” she said at last. “Go carefully – and go slow.”
“I’ll take point,” Jenkins said, a little too loudly to Kaidan’s ears.
“No,” Shepard told him. “I’ve got point. You get behind those rocks, and give me backup.” Jenkins nodded. “Stay low,” she said. “Move out.”
Jenkins began to walk forward, Shepard hissed at him to stay low. But then, suddenly, she started, then squinted at the horizon. Her head whipped back to Jenkins and she reached out a hand to him.
“Get down!” she cried. The young man turned to her, his eyes wide with surprise.
“Down!” she cried again. She threw a biotic pulse at him to knock him flat, but he had already started to charge the things that had come flying over the hill. The drones opened fire on the youth and he couldn’t get his assault rifle up fast enough to shoot back.
“No!” Kaidan cried, reaching for Jenkins.
“Get back!” Shepard shouted at him, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him against her. She practically slammed him into the rock she’d taken cover behind. Kaidan listened helplessly as Jenkins’ cries stopped suddenly. Shepard held his arm in a killer grip. Still holding him, she glared at him, saying coldly, “Drones.”
Kaidan looked at her, still dazed from where his helmet had hit the rock, jostling his skull. The commander was entirely alight with a biotic barrier, her fierce face half-hidden by a swirling veil of crackling blue energy. She turned suddenly, drawing her pistol up and shooting one of the drones cleanly in the middle. A shower of sparks rained over them, bringing Kaidan back to the present.
He checked his suit’s computers for targets, then pulled on a biotic barrier of his own. Swiftly, he stepped out of cover and fired his assault rifle right into the charging drones. Shepard fired two more shots and the last of the drones dropped. Kaidan turned to Shepard at the same time she turned to him. Both of their bodies were alight in biotic fire – both of them stared at each other for one long, stunned moment. Then Shepard’s barriers dimmed. Kaidan felt his energy falling as well. He swallowed, realizing that in the space of thirty seconds, absolutely everything about their mission had changed, and there was no going back. Kaidan snapped his gaze from Shepard’s and stumbled over to Jenkins’ corpse.
“Damn it,” Shepard whispered, coming to stand behind him. If she hadn’t been hooked up to his comm link, Kaidan wouldn’t have heard her. He took Jenkins’ pulse, closed his eyes, then pronounced him dead.
What a waste , Kaidan thought, his mind gone clinical and detached at the sight of such a young man cut down before his life could even really begin. It wasn’t right, but he couldn’t let himself feel right now. There was no way to undo what had happened to Jenkins. There was no going back, he told himself, just forward.
Shaking his head, Kaidan looked up at Shepard. Her eyes were fierce, angry, but Kaidan saw them fill with tears as well. She told him they needed to keep moving – the usual thing that a commander was expected to say. Her voice was cold, and Kaidan thought he heard both disgust and sorrow there. It completely mirrored his own feelings. Shepard looked down at Jenkins once more, then looked Kaidan in the eye.
“Don’t you dare get killed on me, lieutenant,” she told him. He blinked at her strange command, then nodded firmly.
“Aye, aye, ma’am,” he replied. “So long as you do the same.”
She lifted her chin, then nodded. “Done,” she said. Strangely, she held out her hand to him. Kaidan blinked at it, then shook it. This time, the residual biotic flares along her arms were warm reminders that he had one other person with him to get through this mess. He felt a sudden - hope, really, though he wasn’t quite sure what that hope was based in or why.
“Move out,” Shepard commanded. Kaidan fell into step behind her.
Less than a minute and everything has changed , he thought again. Together, barriers raised, the two soldiers carefully made their way up the rocky hill.
“Shepard!” Kaidan cried, reaching for the her.
“No! Don’t! It’s too dangerous!” Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the Eden Prime 212 grabbed him by the shoulder and held him back. Kaidan resisted the woman for a moment, fighting to reach for Shepard, then let his arm fall slack as he stared in horror and awe at his commanding officer.
She was suspended in the air before him, arms out, feet down, hanging there like a crucifix. The beacon before her glowed, it’s mass effect field distorting the air before them. Kaidan clutched his head at the sudden onslaught of energy around him. It was like someone was screaming, or some *thing * was screaming, for it didn’t sound at all human. He could feel the beacon’s pull, strong and dark, a vortex whirling straight down into the mouth of hell.
And Shepard was caught in that mouth.
Kaidan watched helplessly as she gasped for breath, as she fought to turn away. The screeching grew unbearable. And then, just he was sure it would break her, there was a flash. The beacon exploded. A shower of sparks rained down on them and Shepard went flying back, landing hard on the platform before him.
Kaidan scrambled to her side.
Oh, God. She wasn’t moving. * Oh, God.*
He still felt dizzy from that swirling energy, but he forced himself to concentrate. He fired up his omnitool and examined the bones in her neck. No fractures, no spinal trauma. He rolled her gently onto her back. She did not resist at all.
Kaidan’s heart twisted as he looked down at her quiet face. Just moments before, she had been shouting orders, the mere force of her will driving him and Williams to fight on and on. The drones they had seen, then the geth - a race of artificial intelligence synthetics - and finally zombie-like husks made from the fallen human dead - she had blasted a trail through them all.
Kaidan now understood why she had been named a Valkyrie - and why she’d taken only a pistol. The woman was a weapon in herself. He had never seen a human biotic spike so high, had never known any biotic who could use powers so continually without exhausting themselves. He had no idea how she had maintained the stamina to keep up a barrier all through the fight, while also pulling energy wells, firing pulses, tossing the enemy about. He hadn’t held back himself, but he had to rest at times. Shepard, however, had never stopped. She had simply taken the attack a fight at a time. When they reached the end, she turned to smile cheekily at Ashley Williams, the young woman they had just rescued.
“I feel like I’m in a zombie vid,” she’d said, looking down at a husk corpse. “Wish I had a cricket bat.”
They’d laughed at that, congratulated themselves on still being alive, shared that easy and sudden camaraderie that comes from facing death together and coming out the other side still in one piece.
Then Shepard had turned her eyes to a view of the burning colony. She had stood at the railing of the spaceport, staring at the red sky, while Kaidan, oblivious, had turned to the beacon they were supposed to secure. And then, his stupid curiosity for all things tech had put himself in danger. So Shepard, blast her, decided to put herself in danger instead.
Kaidan pushed those thoughts aside as he ran his omnitool over the commander, looking for any visible wounds. She had some bruises forming, but nothing was broken, no cuts or burns. Even as he did a routine check, he knew that he would find nothing. The damage had been done inside. He was sure of it. He had felt the beacon’s energy, the raw, dark power had pulled at him for a moment there. He felt certain that it had ensnared Shepard - he just didn’t know how or why. Shepard lay so still, the biotic hum from her amps so low, that Kaidan seriously feared she was going into a coma.
This was beyond him, he thought. He needed backup - and a certified doctor. He needed to get her back to the ship.
“Williams,” he said curtly. When there was no answer, he looked up to see the girl staring at the beacon a hand to her forehead.
“Williams!” he shouted. She looked down in a daze.
“The whole colony’s burning,” she said. She pointed beyond the beacon to where the fields were filled with glowing red lines over a carpet of black.
“We can’t stop those fires,” he snapped. “But we can help Shepard.”
“We need to get her back to the ship.” Williams looked at him like she didn’t understand. “Take her gear,” Kaidan began to strip Shepard’s gun pack from her back and her holster from her hip. “I’ll get Shepard.”
He pulled Shepard up into a seated position, then placed his shoulder to her stomach. Using biotics to aid his muscles, he carefully lifted her onto his shoulder.
“The guns, Williams!” he shouted. The girl finally woke as if from a daze. She blinked at Kaidan, then back at the beacon.
“There’s something wrong with that thing,” she said, pointed at the Prothean monolith that smoked before them.
“Tell me about it,” Kaidan said sarcastically. “Come on, Williams. Get the guns. “
“I think we lost the beacon,” Ashley said, still looking a bit shell-shocked as she picked up Shepard’s things.
Kaidan nodded his agreement, a lump forming in his throat. “Let’s hope we didn’t just lose our commanding officer, too.”