Kaidan wiped the rain from his eyes as he entered the grange hall. The large, pre-fab building looked much like the rest except that it was twice as long, twice as tall, and had a stage on one end and basketball hoops on either side of the long, poly-metal floor. The lights were off inside and Kaidan’s eyes had not even fully adjusted to the darkness of the room before he heard voices saying:
“It’s the Commander!”
“Where’s Lilith?” Mark came running over to him, grabbed him by the front of his armor. “Did you see Lilith? Delan said…” His voice broke and he couldn’t finish.
Kaidan felt his heart catch in his throat. He didn’t want to be the one to tell him this – not when he’d just lost the woman he loved as well.
“She’s…gone,” he managed at last.
The man’s face seemed to melt away from the bone. He stumbled back, collapsed on the ground, his hands over his head. Kaidan couldn’t watch his grief. He had to look away.
“What the hell happened out there?” someone demanded. Kaidan turned to the new voice and quickly sized up the group. They were all adults, mostly older adults. He suddenly wondered what had happened to the children. School had been out, so they had been everywhere in the colony that morning.
“You saw it yourselves,” Kaidan said, his voice coming out low, raspy, and yet controlled. “They took half the colony. The only reason they didn’t get all of us was because…”
*Because of Shepard. * Even as angry as he was with her, he couldn’t deny it.
“Because of Cerberus,” a voice said for him. Delan stood in the corner of the room, his arms folded over his chest. “I told you that Shepard was with Cerberus.”
Kaidan glared at him, his biotics ripping through his fingers, but before he could say anything, someone else said: “Shepard? You mean…that war hero who was dead?”
“She wasn’t dead,” a portly man spoke up. “She ran off to Illium with her asari lover.”
“Naw, she’s with Cerberus,” Delan told them. “Cerberus sent help.”
“Cerberus did not …” Kaidan snapped, then caught himself as several faces turned to him. “Shepard came…here.” He finished lamely. “She brought a rescue team.”
He didn’t know why he felt the need to hide Shepard’s involvement with Cerberus from these people, but he found just didn’t want them to know. It was because he didn’t want them to think of Cerberus as the heroes here, he told himself. That was it.
“Where did she go?” someone asked Kaidan. “Is she still here?”
“She…left,” he said. “She went after the Collectors.”
“Collectors?” Mark said, looking up from his place on the floor, his face now ashen. “But they… No one ever finds…”
“I know,” Kaidan said, meeting his gaze. “I’m sorry.”
“You have to contact her,” a woman cried to Kaidan, her voice rising in hysteria. “You have to tell her to find them – to find our…” She fisted her hands, the knuckles turning white. “My husband…and my son… They went out to the fields right after lunch and…”
“Robin, hush,” an older man said, putting his arm around her. The woman broke off on a sob.
“Can we contact her?” the woman said, lifting a tear-stained face again. “Can *you * contact her? Can you tell her to help us?”
“I…think so,” Kaidan said. He hadn’t thought about it before, but he did have Shepard’s old Alliance address. If she was with Cerberus, he doubted she’d be checking it. He wasn’t even sure if that account would still be active. The Alliance tended to leave those things alone for records, but you never knew. He certainly didn’t want to send Shepard any emails right about now, but if this lady did, she was welcome to.
“Give me the address,” the woman said, desperately. “I need to tell her… I need…” She broke off now, sobbing into the older man’s shoulder.
Kaidan watched her, felt his heart breaking for her – for all of them – and most of all Mark and for Lilith.
“How come you lived?” another man asked, suspiciously. “You were right in the thick of the ones that got taken.”
Kaidan hesitated. His biotics had made these people uncomfortable before, but he felt they deserved the truth. So he said simply, “My biotics burned through the statis field. How did the rest of you get free?” He turned the question to them.
“I just could move again,” the man said, “It was like it…wore off.”
Kaidan nodded. He wondered if that had been time, or the effect of the Collector ship leaving.
“There are still people out there,” the hysterical woman, Robin, said. “There are…”
“There are,” Kaidan told her. “And we need to help them.” They’d spent enough time worrying, Kaidan thought. The best thing was to organize these people into action.
“We need to send out search parties for the survivors, gather them back here at the grange. We’ll all stay here tonight.” Everyone nodded at that. They seemed grateful for the idea of sticking together, as well as letting Kaidan taking charge.
“I don’t want anyone going out alone. We stay in teams and we all need to stay in contact via the short-range omnitool comm links. The previous colonies that got hit were raided afterwards, probably by pirates, so we’re vulnerable now. We have the defense towers online…”
“We do?” Robin brightened.
“Yeah,” muttered Delan. “How convenient that they come up now…”
“But we don’t want to take unnecessary chances,” Kaidan finished. “Let’s collect food, water, clothes, blankets – whatever we need to camp out here for the next few days, and meet back here before nightfall. That gives us,” he glanced at the window. “About three hours. We need to find everyone else out there before dark. Then we stay together and we stay near the comm link…Why are the lights off?” he asked suddenly, looking up.
“Didn’t want them to know we were in here,” someone told him.
“Okay, turn them on,” he said. “I need to contact the Alliance.”
“The Alliance?” Delan scoffed. “The Alliance? Mark echoed.
“What they hell are they going to do?” Delan said. “Show up and scratch their asses?”
“They are going to secure this colony,” Kaidan told him. “Help us rebuild.”
“Rebuild?” Delan snapped. “We didn’t loose buildings, we lost goddamn people . You Alliance assholes…”
“Do you want to help look for survivors or food?” Kaidan interrupted him.
“What?” Delan blinked. “I’m not going anywhere out there.”
“You’re going with Mark,” Kaidan told him. “Mark, survivors or food?”
Mark looked up, still dazed.
“It’s better to work,” Kaidan told the man, his voice quiet. “Believe me, I know.”
Mark stood as if dazed and swallowed. “Food,” he said. “Because I know I won’t find her.”
“Right,” Kaidan said, feeling all the pain of the man’s words. He pushed that aside and divided the people into teams. The older ones stayed to help turn the grange into a refugee shelter, the younger ones went back out into the rain to search for survivors.
Once he was certain everyone had a task to keep them busy, to keep them sane, Kaidan went over to the comm link to get it working. To his surprise, the old comm link was fine. There was nothing wrong with the connection at all – other than that it would be extremely slow to send a message to Alliance Command. And he did need to get a message to Alliance command. He figured that his new extranet link would be better, so he decided to test it. Perhaps with the defense towers online, he would be able to get the new comm link online, too.
Kaidan got onto the public terminal, searched for area networks and found his new comm link.
The link was up.
He blinked at the screen, then shook his head. It was up, thank God. Kaidan quickly tapped at the keyboard, logging in so that he could adjust the settings. He brought up the extranet protocol log, scanned down the lines, then his forehead furrowed in confusion. He shook his head as if to clear it, then read again:
Ping from AVI-lab6-bank4-cpu497 .
Calibrating defense towers.
Defense towers online.
All systems online.
Kaidan stared at the screen, dumbfounded, then read the log again.
His towers hadn’t worked before because they’d been missing a software patch?
What the hell ? Why in God’s name hadn’t the Alliance told him that they had a new patch required for the targeting software? Why had they changed it and failed to tell him? Kaidan wanted to scream at the computer. He had asked the stupid installation team if there was anything he needed to know about. He had even spent an afternoon on the old comm link looking for patches when the initial software wouldn’t work. The stupid system had said it didn’t need a patch, but apparently, it did.
Kaidan suddenly felt sick. The towers had failed to shoot straight because of an error in his tech. And now all those people were gone - gone because this colony had no defenses.
But then again, Kaidan thought, looking at the screen more closely, that patch had installed itself – or rather, this…AVI-lab6-bank4-cpu497 - Alliance Virtual Intelligence - program had installed it. This update program was clearly too late. Talk about a government oversight. The Alliance probably had assumed the updates would get to him sooner. It must be the fault of the old comm link – though it was strange the patch had downloaded so quickly.
Kaidan shook his head. He couldn’t have anticipated that kind of a glitch – just like he couldn’t have anticipated the attack. Still, he felt like he should have.
Kaidan fired up the link and tapped in his authorization code for emergency connection to the Citadel, highest priority clearance. He’d never used the code before, and quite frankly, had hoped he’d never have need to. It was a full minute before the bleary-eyed face of Councilor Anderson flickered to life on the holographic display before him.
“Alenko?” Anderson murmured.
“Sorry to wake you, sir,” Kaidan said quickly, “But Horizon has been hit.”
“Hit?” Anderson blinked. “You mean…?”
“Half the colony was taken,” Kaidan said. He paused. “It was the Collectors, sir.”
Anderson didn’t say anything. He cocked his head, then rubbed his eyes. “Collectors?” he repeated.
“Yes, sir,” Kaidan said. “They’ve been freezing victims in stasis – some kind of biotic toxin, perhaps? Then taking them in pods onto a ship exactly like the one that attacked the Normandy.”
The old Normandy, that is , he silently amended. The new one just left town…
“I…” Anderson shook his head “That’s…incredible.”
“Yes, sir,” Kaidan agreed. “They use miniature probe drones – they look like insects. The Collectors are like insects, too. They’re…powerful, sir, the only reason anyone is left is because…” He paused, not wanting to share this part, but knowing he must.
“Shepard was here, sir.”
“Shepard?” Anderson looked up. His holographic image was blurry, but Kaidan could still see that Anderson’s eyes widened. He sounded…surprised, but he didn’t…look very surprised. “Commander Shepard?”
“She stopped them,” Kaidan nodded. “She’s…with Cerberus, sir.”
Anderson just nodded. Now he didn’t look surprised either. Kaidan guessed the reason why at once.
“You knew,” Kaidan said, his tone accusing. “You knew she was alive and you knew she was working for Cerberus.”
“I did,” Anderson said, flatly.
Kaidan ground his teeth together. The still-rational part of his brain warned him not to say too much, but the anger inside of him wanted to demand an answer of the councilor, to yell at the man for keeping him in the dark.
“How did you…?” Kaidan began, then pulled himself back from the brink. “She… *left * with them.”
“Of course,” Anderson said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “I want you back on the Citadel ASAP. We need to talk.”
“Yeah,” Kaidan gritted out. “We do.” He just hoped he could keep his cool when that meeting happened.
“I’ll contact Hackett right away,” Anderson was saying. “And I want you to talk to no one else about this attack – especially about Shepard being alive – until we can discuss this… Alenko? Alenko, are you there?”
Kaidan barely heard him. Instead, he slowly stood, gazing at the figures that stood in the doorway of the grange. The foremost figure saw Kaidan and froze. He firmly stated his name, rank, and platoon number, then shouted an order to the others. The Marines all turned to Kaidan and snapped off identical salutes. Kaidan stared at them, dumbfounded.
“Alenko?” the voice of Anderson crackled from the holograph. “Alenko? Are you there? Did we loose the connection?”
“No,” Kaidan said, wonder in his voice. “I’m here. And so are the reinforcements.”