Novel Excerpt

Chapter One

Terminus Systems


Abandoned mining outpost

Distress beacon detected, SSV Normandy responding

The stuffy air in the aged shuttle bay stank of dust and decay, and it was not at all improved by the sick-sweet addition of sweat, or the bitter tang of scorched metal and incendiaries.

“If these guys don’t quit throwing themselves at us soon,” Garrus observed mildly, “I’m going to run out of heat sinks.” He leaned out of the shelter of a battered crate, sighted, fired. An armored figure fell bonelessly to the stained, pockmarked floor, blood pooling where a large portion of its head used to be.

Kaidan was in the cockpit of one of two battered shuttles, hunkered down over instrumentation, fingers flying as he moved between his omnitool interface and the shuttle’s security protocols. It demanded part of his concentration, but not so much that he couldn’t snark over his shoulder. “Sorry, Garrus. Next time the commander orders us in to respond to a distress beacon in a remote region of space, I’ll try to remember to check the Terminus social calendar. Nobody told us Klendagon was the site for this year’s slaver convention.”

“I’ll forgive you this time, Alenko, but don’t let it happen again.” Another cracking report, louder than the opposing fire. “Another one scoped and dropped.”

“How many is that?”

“Spirits, how should I know? I can’t imagine Team Two’s found anything to shoot. They’re all out here.” The turian ducked as gunfire took a large chunk out of the crate he was hiding behind. “And they don’t really like us.”

“Well, as long as they’re shooting at you, they’re not shooting at the hostages.”

“Yes, thank you for that, Garrus.” An expression of concentration on her smooth face, Liara T’soni maintained a large barrier around the ragged group of humans and asari they’d rescued. They looked shellshocked and half-drugged, but they were all huddling obediently by the shuttle Kaidan was attempting to steal, and they weren’t milling around in a panic and making the Normandy crew’s job more difficult.

“Hey, I’m a team player.” The smile faded from Garrus’ face. “Shit. Kaidan, there’s something going on back there.” The turian’s attention was focused on the back of the bay, where a pair of open blast doors led deeper into the base.

“Reinforcements?” Kaidan slid out of the shuttle and kneewalked into cover beside Garrus. A delicate gesture, and three of the spare heat sinks that littered the battlefield levitated over to the turian in a small halo of biotic energy. “Ours or theirs?”

“Unclear, and thanks for the resupply.”

“I live to serve.” Kaidan reignited his omnitool, the orange holography casting an almost bloody glow against his Colossus armor, and started a fast search for pings. “I’ve got multiple signals, but the signal’s scrambling. Garrus, what have you got eyes on?”

“Seeing movement. Two of them. They’re rushing – .” Suddenly Garrus swore, something so ripe that Kaidan’s translator didn’t decode it. “Incoming!”

Both men ducked as a pair of missiles streaked overhead and impacted against Liara’s barrier. Kaidan could hear the asari grunt with the effort of maintaining her field. Against his senses, her energy felt less like her usual crystalline/water/prickly feel and more like glass, sharp and potentially edgy and more than potentially fragile.

“We need to get these people out of here. Switch to Plan B.” Kaidan popped out of cover, performed a fast gesture, and lifted the heavily armed slaver into the air. A single shot rang out, and the Batarian’s head erupted. Drops of blood and chunks of brain matter and bone orbited the corpse until the pale blue glow of Kaidan’s biotic field faded.

Kaidan glanced over at the turian and raised one dark eyebrow.

“What?” Garrus was all innocently-fluttering mandibles. “Plan B didn’t involve headshots? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Kaidan found himself grinning as he keyed his comm line open. “Team Two! This is Team One! Hostages extracted and under fire in the shuttle bay. Repeat, hostages under fire in the shuttle bay. Request permission to evac and proceed to rendezvous point with the Normandy.”

Shepard’s voice flowed into his comm implant, rich and reassuringly strong. “Granted. We’re coming your way.”

The sound of massive pounding feet echoed into the shuttle bay from the corridor opposite them. The tooth-rattling report of a shotgun blast exploded through the air, followed almost immediately by the violent introduction of a corpse flying into the room, fat gobbets of blood and tissue trailing behind it. The body landed with a ragdoll sprawl of limbs and a wet splunching sound that indicated how many bones the krogan had shattered with his charge.

On a roar of “Krogan coming through!”, Wrex burst into the room like a juggernaut, plowing through a knot of mercenaries like bowling pins. A huge, heat-irridescent shotgun was clutched in one hand; the limp form of Tali’zorah nar Rayya was cradled in the opposite arm. There was no sign of Shepard.

“Well, there’s one helluva entrance,” Garrus remarked calmly, lifting his rifle again to pick off the suddenly-disoriented slavers.

Quickly, Kaidan gestured a mnemnonic for barrier/other and pulled up a shield to surround the battlemaster. Wrex’s own biotics tingled and snapped against his; the sense of stone and concrete, accompanied by a not-quite-leashed simmering of bright-red bloodrage, filled the energy-sensitive synapses in Kaidan’s brain. He swallowed awkwardly against the imagined taste of dust in his mouth, and was almost glad to feel Liara’s watery energy signature brush against his senses.

“Liara, get those people loaded up while the slavers are distracted!” Kaidan pulled back the barrier he’d placed around Wrex, reshaped the dark energy and swept it out in an arcing punch that bowled over the two slavers still on the krogan’s flank. He dropped the biotic field as soon as Wrex thundered up to the comandeered shuttle and dropped into cover next to him, then synched his omnitool to Tali’s envirosuit as quickly as he could, hacking into her medical subroutines.

“Kid caught a stray bullet on our way back.” the krogan rumbled. “She gonna make it?”

Kaidan scanned fast. One suit puncture, bullet wound to the torso, medical protocols engaged, bullet already passed through. Painkillers are revved too high; potential cause of loss of conciousness. Suit’s scrubbing the bacterial infection… Nothing more I can do on the field. This one’s on Chakwas.

Kaidan ducked lower as a fresh spray of bullets tore chunks out of the rusting crates. “She should make it, but we need to get her and these people out of here. Where’s the commander?”

“Last I saw her, she was pinned down. Second level’s swarming with slavers; surprised you guys found any to shoot. I thought we’d had them all. Anyway, once Tali was hit, she ordered me out.” Wrex shouldered his way into the shuttle, still carrying Tali as carefully as he could. Stray bullets pinged off his armor. He ignored them.

Dammit, Shepard. Kaidan tabbed his comm, keeping his voice level with an effort. “Commander, Wrex and Tali are go for evac.”

“Understood.” Her comm frequency crackled with static and gunfire. “This facility’s been compromised. Get the civilians out of here, Alenko.”

“With all due respect, Commander – “

“That’s an order, lieutenant. I’ll keep them off you as long as I can.”

Kaidan felt the crackle of eezo under his skin, saw the traces leak from his hands in an ozone-scented corona, and knew he was about as far from leaving a way out as it was possible to be. He knew. He just didn’t care. “Garrus! I need you to pilot that shuttle out of here!”

Garrus just stared at him, staying tucked low against a crate that was getting more pockmarked by the moment. “Spirits, Kaidan, are you insane? Without Shepard?”

“Orders,” he said tersely, and watched the change come over Garrus. Few things motivated a turian more than orders. “You get those people clear, and Tali back to the Normandy.”

Garrus was already moving for the shuttle, low and fast. “What about you?” he called over his shoulder.

Eezo was a burn in his blood, a fire along his nerves, hazing his vision with blue. “I’m going back for Shepard.”

Chapter Two

The shuttle’s engines powered up with a satisfying roar, and most of the mercs left in the room instinctively shifted their attention to their fleeing investment.

Kaidan moved out of cover and away from the shuttle’s thrusters, moving fast and as low to the ground as he could. Bullets pinged around him and off him, and his HUD flashed a warning about dwindling shield integrity. There was still another bunch of mercs left, and he’d deliberately headed into in the middle of the hanger to draw as much attention as possible from the shuttle. Cover wasn’t even an option.

The scarred corner of his mouth lifted in a snarl. No holding back.

Eezo surrounded his fist in a halo of blue lightning before he thrust it out in a punching motion. The closest merc went flying as gravity betrayed her, slamming backward into the wall with an audible crunch.

Bullets pinging off what was left of his shields, Kaidan sidearmed a pair of grenades at the remaining group, the one closer to the bay doors. Eezo roared through him as he signed the mnemnonic for bubble and slammed a dome of dark energy down right on top of the startled mercs. The detonation rattled his teeth, but all the explosive force was contained inside the dome. When he pulled the energy back, channelling it into a personal barrier, Kaidan almost gagged at the smell of burned flesh and incendiaries. The bodies were little more than charred husks.

“Commander!” He keyed his radio at the same time as he snapped open his ‘tool and scanned for any remaining hostiles.

For ten agonizing seconds, there was nothing but static on the comm. Then….

“Alenko, what the hell are you still doing here?”

He didn’t think he’d ever been so glad to hear her voice. “I’m not leaving you without backup, Shepard.”

The comm line hissed and popped; he didn’t think it was just distortion. “Shepard!”

“We will be talking about this later, lieutenant.” More gunfire rattled over the channel. “Are you still in the bay?”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Is there a shuttle available?”

Kaidan shot a glance around the room. “There’s one that might be operational, but – “

“You have exactly ninety-six seconds to make it work, Alenko. I’m coming to you.”

The comm line went dead, but he was already moving, purpose crystallizing in his mind with icy clarity. Ninety-six seconds was far too short a time for a safe flight check for a prepped bird, much less a battered second-hand slaver shuttle, but he would give his best.

Within thirty seconds, he was through the slavers’ command lockout. By the minute mark, he was crooning curses in Chinese, Russian and French at the disturbingly red-lit consoles, fingers flying as he rerouted auxiliary systems and coaxed the eezo core to light. At eighty-one seconds, the engines hummed to life. He just hoped they’d hold.

Kaidan tabbed his comm with cramping fingers. “Commander! Shuttle is prepped for evac!”

“Good!” Harsh panting had replaced the close gunfire; he wasn’t sure if that was better or worse. “My primary evac route is blocked. Rerouting to the second level.”

Second level? Kaidan shot out the shuttle door and looked around. There was only one upper story, a secondary level that had probably been used to store cargo boxes, but it was at least sixteen feet up and the only access was provided by rust-mangled scaffoldings that wouldn’t hold a pyjak. “Shepard, there isn’t a way down from there!”

“Too late!” She burst through the doors, running flat out. Behind her, he could hear gunfire and screaming. “Catch!” She vaulted off the edge of the platform and dove for the floor.

Kaidan bolted toward Shepard’s falling form. Some small part of his mind was calculating speed and mass and trajectory and coming up with screaming redline warnings. She was moving too fast, she was too far up, if she landed wrong she’d break her neck, if she landed at all she’d break both legs, even with armor on and power assists going, there were still mercs behind her and dear God please, please –




Eezo burned through him in a roiling blue tide and he flung it out, pouring every erg of energy he could into a stasis field just before the midpoint of Shepard’s arc. Her falling mass slammed into his field, staggering it.

He went to one knee, pain blooming behind one eye but he held the stasis long enough to negate the kinetic energy of her freefall. Just as a pair of bloodied mercs appeared at the top of the platform, firing wildly in their direction, he switched to a pull and yanked Shepard to him. She collided with him in a tangle of armored limbs and the accompanying screech of ceramic plates. They went down hard, rolling to disperse impact, and then Shepard was on her feet, hauling him after her and running hell for leather for the idling shuttle.