Kaidan fought systematically against his bonds, mentally sending his biotic energy to every corner of his body, searching for weaknesses. The whole damn thing was seamless, just one great coating of power.
But he could not give up, not now.
They were everywhere.
They had been circling closer and closer for almost fifteen minutes, the red squares coming closer to the blue dot at the center of his radar – the blue dot that was labeled, simply, “Kaidan.” And all around him, the green squares that were the colonists were disappearing, one less, then one less, then another and another. Kaidan struggled and struggled, pushing and pulling his biotic energy, trying to move it like a wedge to get himself free.
He had just begun to feel something give when he saw a movement. At the end of the street, they were gathering. More of the great creatures came towards him, walking slowly, two by two. They carried strange things between them, things that looked like great rotting pea pods – or organic coffins. Kaidan watched in stupefied horror as the monsters dragged a colonist to one of the pods: Sten, it looked like. They lifted the massive farmer as easily as a sack of grain and dropped him in to the pod.
Rage and terror, fear and fury hit Kaidan all at once.
Sten was alive, just as conscious as he, and yet the creatures had taken him, tossed him, still alive, into that dark coffin.
Biotic fire rose from his eyes as Kaidan struggled once more against his bonds.
Shepard walked slowly into the dimly lit garage. They had left a massacre of Collector corpses back in the street, but she was willing to bet that the gauntlet was far from over. She came to a stop beside a thresher just as a soft, clinking sound echoed behind her. Shepard whirled around, aiming her pistol at the shadows.
“Company,” she said, sharply. Behind her, she felt Miranda ready a biotic pulse. Garrus’ gun made a clicking sound as he readied a shot.
“Get out here,” she told the unseen intruder. “Now.”
There was a pause, then Shepard lowered her gun as a skinny, trembling man in a dirty baseball cap came out into the open with his hands up.
“You,” he murmured, letting his arms drop, “You’re human .”
His wonder turned to angry fear almost immediately. “What are you doing?” he frowned at her. “You’ll lead them right here.”
“You had to hear them trying to get in,” Shepard replied, not terribly impressed by the man’s greeting. “Seems like it’s hard to hide from the Collectors.”
“Those things are Collectors?” the guy said, looking amazed. “You mean they’re real? I thought they were just made up. You know, propaganda, to keep us in Alliance space. Naw,” he looked at her, his face falling. “They got Lilith. I saw her go down. Sten, too. Damn near everybody.” He shook his head, looking utterly dazed.
“I need to know what I’m up against,” Shepard told him, immediately switching into her talking-with-an-unhelpful civillian mode. “Tell me everything you remember about this attack.”
“We lost our comm systems a few hours ago,” the man replied, frowning. “I came down to check on the main grid. That Alliance commander was supposed to come help, but he never showed up.”
Shepard stiffened. Alliance commander? Surely that meant…
“Then I heard screaming,” the man went on. “Looked outside and saw swarms of bugs . Everyone they touched just froze. I sealed the doors…”
“Wait,” Shepard said. “Who was this Alliance commander? Was it…” She trailed off, not daring to hope that the man had good news for her.
“Commander Alenko,” the man said with a sneer. “Heard he was some kind of hero or something.”
Shepard felt her heart beating faster, both from fear and hope. He had been here. Kaidan had been here . That meant he was near. But that also meant… that he had been here when the attack hit. And if they hadn’t passed him already in that crowd of frozen colonists…
Shepard shook her head. She couldn’t get distracted by speculations right now. She needed facts.
“Heroes don’t mean nothin’ to me, though,” the man was saying, shaking his head in disgust. “Would rather he had stayed back in Alliance space. He was supposed to help us get the defense towers up and running, but I got the feeling he was here for somethin’ else. He got really jumpy when I talked with him about Cerberus this one time…”
“Cerberus?” Shepard blinked. “Why would Ka…?” She glanced back at Miranda. The brunette stiffened and looked away, her face unreadable.
“I think he was spyin’ on us, maybe,” the man added. “He gave us these defense towers – a “gift” from the Alliance.” He made a disgusted noise. “High powered GARDIAN lasers – supposed to keep ships from landing near the colony. Only he couldn’t get the targeting systems online. So the Alliance gave us a giant gun that couldn’t shoot straight. Stupid sons of bitches.”
Shepard felt her temper flare. “Why are you blaming the Alliance?” she asked, irritably. “Sounds like they sent you a war hero and big guns to protect your sorry asses.”
“We’re just a small colony,” the man said, nervously taking a step back from her and tugging at his sleeve. “Nobody bothered us before we started building those damn defense towers and started drawing attention to ourselves. I left Council space to get away from the Alliance. Nothin’ good ever comes from getting mixed up with them.”
Shepard’s temper boiled over into a biotic flare that shimmered down her arms and snaked through her fingers.
“The Collectors are targeting remote colonies,” she snapped. “The Alliance is trying to help .”
“We don’t need their help,” he snapped right back. “Too many strings attached. That Alenko said he was here to get the towers online. But there’s more to it, mark my words.”
Shepard frowned at him. Either the guy was braver than most to face off with an angry biotic, or he was just too dumb and stubborn to know when to back down. Either way, she realized that thanks to her curiousity and her temper, she had just wasted a good five minutes in here and still didn’t know anything useful about the defense towers other than that they didn’t work. Immediately, she let her energy dim.
“If you have defense towers, we can use them to blast the hell out of that Collector ship,” she said. “Where are they?”
“You’d need to calibrate the targeting systems first,” the man told her. “Even the commander never got them to work right.”
Shepard opened her mouth to speak, but it was Miranda who confidently said:
“We can figure it out. Just tell us where to find it.”
“Head for the main transmitter on the other side of the colony. It’s in the plaza. Pretty hard to miss.”
“It’s probably better if you just stay here, out of the way,” Shepard told him. “Until the coast is clear.”
“That’s what I was thinkin’, too,” the man said. “I’m letting you out, but I’m lockin’ the door behind you. I’m not taking any chances.”
He fired up his omnitool and waved it at the door behind him.
“Good luck,” he added as the trio slipped back outside under the bright light of the afternoon sky. “I think you’re gonna need it.”
Kaidan looked about wildly, his eyes burning. On his holographic display, he could see red squares approaching from behind him. Kaidan saw them surround the green square labeled “Lilith.” Then the two red squares began to move away, and Lilith’s green square went with them.
Not Lilith , Kaidan thought. Not Lilith . She was his friend – his only friend on this whole damn planet aside from Mark.
I can’t face Mark if I loose her.
Kaidan struggled once more, pulsing his biotic energy against the paralysis within him and the walls about him. He could feel the bonds straining, feel the dark energy weakening, feel his own powers like a fire all along his skin.
They were carrying Lilith away, and Kaidan had to stop them.
Then he saw two of the creatures walking towards him. Between them, they carried a pod. Smoke seemed to be rising from within it. Inside, he saw sharp ridges, like shark’s teeth, row upon row of glowing gold.
His vision filled with a flare of biotic blue once again, but this time it was even stronger, fueled by adrenaline and the sheer desperation that comes from a place beyond fear. Kaidan’s eyes seemed to be on fire for a moment, then, as if pulling free of quicksand, he felt the stasis field budge.
Kaidan fought harder and harder against his bonds. He could feel them loosening, though whether they had been weakened over all this time struggling or if he had finally found the weak spot in the chains, he couldn’t tell. At this point, he really didn’t care. He felt his fingers bending, curling…
Kaidan cursed to see that he’d dropped his rifle. That had not been his intention, but the thing had suddenly fallen from his numb hands. At the sound, one of the creatures cocked its head. Together, they set down the pod.
And then, together, they both reached for him.
“It’s odd that we haven’t run into any more frozen colonists,” Garrus noted.
“They’ve already loaded them onto their ship,” Miranda observed.
Shepard tried to push back the rising fear in her chest. They hadn’t seen Kaidan. They *still * hadn’t seen Kaidan, and they were getting closer to the ship. That meant, most likely…
She wouldn’t think about it. She couldn’t think about that.
Sending up a wordless, begging prayer, Shepard grabbed a thermal clip from where it lay on the ground, shoved it into her pistol, and hurried to the entrance to the plaza.
“Come on,” she said, surprised her voice held steady. “We have to get those towers online. There’s the targeting matrix, right there. Now we just need…”
The doors to the plaza slid shut behind them. Shepard didn’t know who had just locked them into this wide, open space, but she realized at once that it was a trap.
Husks poured in from one corner of the plaza while Collector drones buzzed in from above. And from the far corner of the open field came two grotesque… things . They were like husks filled with puss until they had bubbled over and were ready to break open. One flailed a pathetic arm and a shockwave of biotic energy snapped along the ground before it like a line of firecrakers.
“Find cover!” Shepard shouted, running along the wall to her left.
“There is no cover!” Miranda shouted back.
“Then just find a crate and get down,” Shepard yelled, ducking behind an abandoned grain truck.
“And get ready for the fight of your life,” she added under her breath.
Kaidan blinked again, suddenly regretting that he could see so clearly.
The creatures reached for him with long fingers made rotting flesh and plates of bone. Kaidan smelled blood and meat on them and nearly gagged on the stench. He was frozen for a moment – frozen out of fear as much as the imposed paralysis.
And then he kicked loose with every ounce of power he had within him.
Biotic energy exploded around him. Kaidan pushed, fought, pressed outward, his hands clawing, his mind raging with an energy so powerful it seemed he would consume himself in a biotic inferno.
One of the creatures grabbed him by the arm.
Kaidan felt a crack in the chains.
The crack widened; the bonds snapped open.
He was loose.
Kaidan flicked his fingers as though shaking water from them. With the energy he had been welling up inside the stasis field, it was like loosing a dam. The two creatures flew back, hit the ground with sickening thuds. Kaidan straightened slowly, as though pulling himself free from concrete.
Amazingly, the creatures stood.
Biotic barriers, heavier and stronger than Kaidan had ever seen, flickered over their grotesque bodies. But Kaidan was beyond panic. He was beyond reason now, too, reacting on pure instinct. He threw a biotic barrier over himself as the swarm of bugs above descended upon him in a cloud. The roiling biotics kept them out, but they hovered over his body like flies above the Mark’s compost pile. Kaidan found he could move his legs, and so he ran, or hobbled rather, into the nearest prefab building. His barrier began to fade. He pushed another barrier over his body and looked about the room desperately.
He was in Sten’s house. He’d never been in here, but he guessed at once where Sten would keep his gun. And he was sure Sten had a gun. Rushing to the desk, he yanked the drawer open, tried to brush aside the swarm around him, to keep it out with his biotics. As he did so, he heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs.
Kaidan tossed the desk to the floor, as much with biotics as with his hands. He leaped behind it just as a round of bullets and a biotic pulse went careening into the metal, denting it. He waited for a pause in the gunfire, then popped up from cover.
Kaidan fired five shots from Sten’s pistol, taking down the barriers of one creature. Then he unleashed a biotic kick on it like he’d never had before. It flew across the room, it’s exoskeleton cracking from the impact of the biotics even before it hit the wall. It fell to the floor and didn’t get up.
The other creature advanced on Kaidan, lobbing a ball of dark biotic energy as it went. Kaidan ducked behind the desk again, searching for a heat sink in the mess of data pads and OSDs on the floor. Nothing. He had one shot.
Kaidan jumped up and fired the shot at the creature’s head. The shot connected, bring it’s barrier halfway down. Kaidan then did something he’d never done before: he ran at the creature, driving his shoulder right into its plated chest. The impact jarred his shoulder and for a moment he thought he’d broken something. But as the thing fell to the ground, he managed to roll on top of it and his arms both seemed to be working. Kaidan whipped its giant head with the empty pistol. It’s head snapped to one side, then slowly, chillingly, it turned its many eyes back to stare at him. A great, meaty hand suddenly shot out and tightened around his Kaidan’s throat, cutting off his windpipe.
Kaidan gasped, clutched at the thing’s arm. He tried to turn his head, but he could not. The stench of the creature nearly suffocated him. His eyes watered as his vision dimmed, and Kaidan began to fall into unconciousness.
“Targeting parameters at one hundred percent.”
EDI’s calm voice sounded over Shepard’s comm link infuriating her with it’s precision.
“Then get the damn towers firing!” she shouted.
She jumped out from cover to aim the confiscated Collector particle beam at the monstrosity before her. The thing was like a metal bug that had swallowed a mouthful of husk skulls. It would be almost comical-looking – it if hadn’t started flying about the plaza shooting laser beams from its eyes. Shepard had decided then and there that if she’d been saving her fancy new gun for a special occasion, this was it.
“It’s dead!” Miranda cried, dropping the thing with one last, well-placed biotic pulse. Normally, Shepard would have pointed out that as she had taken down that thing’s armor and barriers almost entirely by herself, the kill really should count as hers. But she was simply too weary to do keep score right about now. The non-stop biotic workout had taken its toll and she nearly blacked out as she reached for the crate before her and stumbled to her feet. She scarcely even registered when the flying husk-laser-creature exploded near the overturned grain truck, showering the plaza with puss and bits of metal.
“They’re pulling out!” Garrus cried, pointing at the ship above. “Shepard! The ship!”
Shepard’s head snapped up. In spite of her utter exhaustion, her every muscle tensed, ready for another fight.
Only, there was no one left to fight.
The ship was leaving, leaving with over half the colony on board as prisoners.
And they still hadn’t found Kaidan.