Thane Thursday: Losing, Chapter 18

“They’re alive!” I yelled as the others piled through the doors behind me. As I watched in horror, Chambers’s face became blotched and the skin began to peel away. The fluid in her pod turned a frothy, bloody pink and she beat at the port with hands from which the flesh had sloughed down to bone. “Get them out,” I screamed frantically.

We hammered and pried at the pods on the floor as the eight plugged into the network of tubes along the wall flushed obscenely behind us. I didn’t know who had been in the other seven pods, didn’t want to know. I may have scorned Yeoman Chambers’s attempts at manipulating my life but nothing she could ever have done could have merited the torture and dissolution that she’d suffered. I saw Garrus help Dr. Chakwas stand shakily and would have started crying if tears hadn’t already been streaming down my face since the moment I saw that at least some of my crew was still alive.

We opened the pods that we could reach, finding twelve more of my crew and seventeen colonists. Empty pods hung across the vast walls and across the ceiling. Hundreds of them filled each of the distant outcroppings that dotted the chamber. There was no way to tell if those were empty and no way to reach them directly, beyond the fact that the Normandy couldn’t carry all of them even if we could release the prisoners. My heart ached as I realized that anyone still alive in this chamber would have to be left behind. I wanted to smash each of those pods, preferably with the face of a Collector, and save every human on this station but we simply couldn’t. They were as doomed to die as if we’d never come.

I pulled myself together and considered our next step. The civilians and weakened crew needed to get to safety. I sent Mordin to take them back to the Normandy, distributing some weapons among those few who could use them. They would follow the path we’d cleared and should be able to break through any resistance that arose. I hated to send them so unprotected but I couldn’t spare any more of my team. Even the sullen Miranda contributed to our firepower, if only out of a sense of self-preservation, and we needed every advantage as we fought our way to the core If we failed no one would make it off of this hellish pile, in a pod or not.

We split up again. I kept Thane with me, not least because of his ability to help me pick off attackers before they could get too close. I could hear each scraping breath as fought our way toward yet another door. I’d also brought Samara on my team as a long-range expert. While all three of us could fight in close quarters it went faster to keep the enemy back as far as possible.

EDI notified me that the Collectors had another defense up their scaly sleeves: the next area had been flooded with seeker swarms. The protective measures Mordin had installed on our armor did not have enough power to repel so many. Samara pulsed a biotic barrier around us and we waded through the room, our upgrades hiding us from the few that did get through. The barrier distorted and colored our vision, making it difficult to keep the Collectors at a distance. As Samara couldn’t fight and maintain it at the same time, Thane and I had our hands full. All three of us were exhausted by the time we reached the other side of the room and met up again with the rest of the team.

Thankfully none of them had had such a difficult time of it on their ways. Grunt was keyed up on blood lust and Jack felt fully in her element, unleashing bolts of full power and mowing down enemies. Garrus’s scarred but familiar face showed his pleasure at getting even this small measure of payback. They carried no serious wounds and stood ready to finish this battle. We had finally reached the central chamber, the one that EDI showed ran the entire length of the base. Tali opened the door and we gazed at the small overhang and the enormous, half formed figure she’d revealed. “What the hell is that?” Kasumi asked.

“The Collectors appear to be using Reaper technology to extract DNA from the abducted human colonists to create a new form,” replied EDI over the comm system. Indeed, what hung before us resembled a human skeleton on a massive scale, metallic and strung like a puppet from the pipes that fed into it from dozens of levels above us. If the Collectors swarmed this chamber we’d be in serious trouble: there wasn’t room on the platform for more than three of us to have enough room to maneuver. I had a feeling I’d need some heavy weaponry with me if that baby Reaper decided to play rough. I asked Grunt and Jacob to venture out with me and directed the rest of my team to stay on the other side of the door.

I would have loved to have kept Thane at my side, as much to protect him as to take advantage of his skills. He stood rock solid but I didn’t think he was capable of dashing and ducking the way we’d likely need to do. I caught his eye and he nodded at me, showing that he understood my choice. I stepped back to let the door close between us, unsure if I would ever see him alive again.

A whirring behind me cut off my morbid train of thought. A floating platform descended and we dove for cover, shooting it out with the few Collectors on it. Luckily their platforms were no larger than their own and they came at us in threes and fours. I could hear a battle raging on the other side of the door as my team, my friends, guarded our backs. We held our own, knocking the creepy things off of section after section as they sank into view. Then the proto-Reaper stirred.

We finally enjoyed a bit of good luck, despite the overwhelming size of the thing. It had almost no working weapons, only a few weak beams with which to attack, and the supports kept it from reaching us directly. The Collectors kept descending and Grunt and Jacob concentrated their fire on them while I blasted away at the sustaining pipes that injected liquefied humans into the dangling creature. An atavistic horror churned in me as the severed ends gushed anonymous goo. It was the remains of people, families and farmers abducted without warning, my fellow crew members, people who deserved better than to be washed into this filthy station like so much sewage. I was screaming something as I fired again and again, shredding pipes and any Collectors who got in my way, but it wasn’t coherent enough to call cursing.

As the last of the tubing separated, the thing got one hand onto the complex of platforms that now surrounded us. It tried to climb over the edge. Every time it peeked over I launched a grenade into it. Grunt burned through clip after clip with his shotgun, helping me to put out the thing’s eyes while Jacob tried to distract it. It showed no concern for protecting its creators as it scrabbled for a hold, flicking Collectors from the edges in its panic. Its vast skull weighed it down and it had no legs to use for leverage. We slowly drove it back until clung, blinded, only fingertips keeping it from the abyss below it. I took great pleasure in destroying each of those fingers, stunning even Grunt with my fury. Finally we watched it drop, spinning its way hundreds of feet to the bottom of the station.

I pulled up some flooring on the platforms around us and began setting the charges that would destroy this atrocity. As I did, The Illusive Man’s voice sounded in my ear. “Don’t destroy it,” he began, “I have a better use for it.” As he droned on, attempting to convince me of the wisdom of letting him have this base, I walked across the room to the door. I could hear occasional shots but it sounded like the serious fighting was over for now. I opened it. “Garrus, shoot Miranda in the leg.”

I knew exactly why Garrus was my best friend when he turned without hesitation and did just what I asked. Miranda screamed in surprise and pain, precisely as I’d hoped she would. “If you keep talking I will have Garrus keep adding slugs,” I said. My reward was complete silence from the other end. TIM had yet again hung up on me.

“Thank you, Garrus,” I said with a ferocious leer. I had finally told Cerberus exactly where to stick their ambitions for human control of the galaxy and of me. “Now if you would apply some medi-gel and get her patched up enough to run with us I’ll finish preparing to blow this place to hell.” I glanced around, counting noses, and hid my relief at finding some nursing new wounds but no one on the floor. I met Thane’s eyes for only a moment, just long enough to see that he looked as comforted as I felt that we both still stood. Any longer and I’d have run across the room to him instead of completing my task.

I turned to find Jacob finishing the necessary connections. He sketched a nod in my direction, acknowledging that he was showing me the change in his allegiance. Tali had already connected EDI to a console and the AI was downloading every scrap of data. I gave a wolfish grin at the destruction I knew was coming. “Let’s get out of here,” I said, “and I hope there are plenty more of them to kill on the way back home.”

There were.

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