Mass Effect: Crux – 3: Prayer of the Refugee
So open your eyes, child, let’s be on our way
broken windows and ashes are guiding the way
Keep quiet no longer, we’ll sing through the day
of the lives that we’ve lost, and the lives we’ve reclaimed.
- “Prayer of the Refugee”, Rise Against
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph the hanar from Zakera.”
Commander Bailey felt the blood drain out of his face as he took in information from the terminal, watching as the different blocks that signified each sector of the Citadel on the screen went dark or red, a blinking exclamation point. He fought to keep his expression neutral, feeling the heavy gaze of the three dozen C-Sec officers which had managed to report back to headquarters bearing down on him, but it was damned hard not to show his dismay. Where are they all coming from? Every ward? They’ve breached every ward?
His omni-tool beeped, and he pressed the comlink button. The holographed face of Epson, one of his top lieutenants, popped up like a flickering ghost. Last time he checked the duty roster, it showed Epson as off-duty for the next two days. As such, Bailey had not been surprised that he was not one of the ones that showed up after the first wave of attacks, as Reapers poured in through every weak link in the Citadel’s chain of defense. He was surprised now.
“Epson, thank the Maker. What’s your status?” Bailey said.
The human C-Sec officer whispered into his comlink, as if he was hiding somewhere. His voice was almost hidden behind heavy static and the sound of someone screaming in the background. “Sir, we’re holed up in the storage warehouse in the backrooms of Purgatory with Aria T’loak. We’ve got a bunch of people from the club here with us, maybe fifty, maybe a hundred, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell. We’ve lost power. They already broke through our barricade at the front.”
“Casualties?” Bailey asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“It was a massacre, sir. We don’t have nearly enough firepower left to make it through, and it’s too dangerous to try and get this many people out anyway, they’re terrified. So we’re staying put for now. T’loak has been holding them off, and we have a few not-so-legally armed people in the crowd, but even Aria’s getting tired. I think…we’re running out of time. I know we’re running out of bullets. And they just keep coming. We’re locked up for now, but I hear them at the door.”
….damn. “Have you heard from anyone else?”
“All right. Hang tight son, we’ll get someone down there to back you up. Keep me updated if you can. Help is on the way.”
Bailey stood up and steeled himself, running a hand through his hair before scowling at the Citadel Defense Force. Or what was left of it. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, in case you haven’t noticed, the shit has officially hit the fan. So here’s the plan. Split up into teams of four and hit the Presidium, Purgatory, the docks, Huerta, and the embassy. Two teams per floor. Every else is divided between the wards. I want everyone to take a bag of backup clips and an alternate gun, too. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be down to beating these things with a club.”
He turned to a tall turian with red facial markings at the front of the group, who kept looking anxiously at the desk terminal, his eyes reflecting the blinking red lights of the interface. “Tacori, I want you and King to secure the embassy and the Council.”
The turian raised his serious gaze to Bailey’s face, then shook his head. “Sir, let me lead a team to the refugee camp at the docks. It looks like most of the Reaper forces are coming in through there, and the civilians down there are defenseless. There’s this girl…she’s all alone down there. I promised that I would protect her.”
They promised they’d come get me, no matter what they had to do. But it’s been so long…
“Negative,” Bailey replied, scowling, pointing at the turian’s broad chest. “We don’t have time for this personal shit, Tacori. There are going to be a lot of dead little girls before everything is over if we don’t keep organized about this. You and Riath are the only ex-Blackwatch I got right now, and the best guns. I need you to secure the Council first and the Presidium second. We have to watch out for our own people. I hate to get grim, but it’s probably too late for most of ‘em down at the docks. Even if it’s not, I can’t throw away my best men on a suicide run. I’m sorry.”
“With all due respect, screw the Council, sir,” Tacori barked back, advancing on the C-Sec commander standing in front of him, mandibles working furiously. The turian towered over him by a foot and a half. “Those people down there have nothing left. I’m not going to let them die like animals just because the Council was too stupid to listen to Shepard. If they had, we wouldn’t even be in this mess to begin with. So let them protect themselves for a change.”
You picked a hell of a time, kid. “Goddamnit, we have to maintain order on this station. That means preserving the chain of command, no matter how we feel about the politicians. If this government falls, everything will be chaos whether we manage to save the Citadel or not, and right now that’s in considerable question. I gave you an order. I expect you to follow it. ”
The turian shook his head again. “I’m sorry sir, I can’t comply with that order. When this is all over, if I make it out, you can have my badge,” he replied, turning his back on the commander as he took his assault rifle down from his shoulder. “But I intend to keep my promise.”
He walked out of the C-Sec office. One of the other officers took his shoulder, meaning to stop him, but he shrugged it off roughly, the door sliding closed behind him.
“Do you want me to go get him?” King asked.
Bailey sighed, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “No, let ‘em go.” He looked up. “Zhush, Ico, Osmi, Riath, and Kiat…follow that fool. Make sure he doesn’t get his dumb ass killed, I might need him again before all of this is over. You guys get down there doubletime and see how bad the docks are. Kill all of those bastards that you can, and report back in by omni at 2145. If you run into more mess than you can handle down there, don’t be too stubborn to fall back. Save who you can, and leave the rest. King, take your team to the embassy apartments and get the Council to safety. Shouldn’t take more than a small team, they’re all bunched together. Whatever safety you can find. Bring them back here to the Spectre office and lock down there if you have to. Xaleb, Gaelan, Fisato, Olitax, Tuza and Shiddef, you’re with me. We’re going down to get those people in Purgatory.”
The rest of the officers saluted Bailey, and he felt his heart sink, knowing from their expectant faces that they wanted more from him. Some heroic speech. But he wasn’t Shepard. Until Cerberus arrived on the station, he considered any day where he didn’t have to fish a krogan out of the Presidium fountains or stop a fistfight between visiting dignitaries to be a good day. Nothing had been the same since.
He felt a dozen cliched sentences come to his lips and fall away. He knew that they would ring false.
“I don’t know what to say, people. This is the big one. Be careful out there. God help us. Dismissed.”
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
Kelly Chambers held her pistol at the closed door of the dock warehouse in E29, feeling her hands shake as she listened to the Reapers bellow and scrabble and shriek behind it. Behind her, a group of refugees – human, turian, and batarian – pressed themselves as far back against the far wall as they could manage, huddled masses staring in horror at the only thing that stood between them and a grisly death. Kelly could hear one of the batarians leading a prayer in a language that she couldn’t understand, his coarse voice barely registering over the terrified sobs of the people around him.
At either side of her, a few of the refugees who had guns were standing at the door as well. Waiting. It was already dented inward in a few places, reminding Kelly of the way a soda can looked when you crushed it in your hand.
What could do that? What could possibly be strong enough to do that? And how can we ever fight it?
A teenage girl was pressed behind her, hiding her face between Kelly’s shoulderblades. She could feel every cry vibrating against her, the girl’s hysterical sobs echoing in the small room. “Please…please don’t let them get us…please…please…”
Kelly heard her voice as if from a distance, preternaturally calm. “Don’t worry. We won’t let them through. I’m not going to let them get you.” Part of her was standing there in the heat and the dim shadows, sweat pouring down her face, the red laser point on her pistol one of the only sources of light, but part of her was back on the Normandy, listening to Hadley scream, watching her crewmates dragged away. Looking into the thing’s face, its glowing yellow eyes…that voice…its claws on her, dragging her away too, its grip pitiless.
Do not be afraid. This is your genetic destiny.
“Fuck that,” Kelly said under her breath, barely seeing the batarian standing next to her turn at the sound of her voice in the darkness.
Shepard. Think of Shepard. Shepard wouldn’t be afraid, and neither am I.
The girl clutched at her, shaking. “Please….please…I don’t want to die.”
It’s not the dying I’m worried about, it’s the getting dragged away, Kelly thought, and tightened her grip on the butt of the pistol.
Suddenly, there was a barrage of gunfire on the other side of the door, and shouting. The refugees trapped in E29 grew quiet and listened, but all noise was muffled, distorted by the sound of the warning sirens and the ringing aftermath of shots.
Something was scrabbling at the door again.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!” Kelly screamed, realizing the absurdity of it. As if a Reaper would care, or answer.
“Citadel Defense Force! The mechanism is jammed, we’re going to blow the door, please step back and turn your faces away!”
Kelly turned away from the door and moved back as far as she could, pressing the girl’s face to her chest and blocking the girl with her body as she felt the shockwave from the blast. She turned to see the orange glow of omni-tools as the C-Sec officers on the other side worked the door. It finally jerked back with a low groan, sliding halfway open.
The blonde girl clinging to her looked over Kelly’s shoulder with terrified apprehension, and then – remarkably – Kelly watched the girl’s face light up with delighted surprise as the officers began to press forward, shoving the doors even further open.
Kelly turned and watched as the girl threw herself against one of the turian C-Sec officers with a force that looked like it should have tumbled him over, but it didn’t. The refugee girl threw her arms around his neck, pressing fervent kisses all over his face. He let out a rumbling, flanging laugh and hugged her tight with one arm, holding his rifle in the crook of the other. He was slathered with black blood and other unidentifiable fluids, but neither of them seemed to care.
The two of them moved to the side as the C-Sec officers ushered the rest of the refugees out, one of the officers in the back watching to make sure the group wasn’t flanked by another assault. Dead Reapers littered the ground at their feet, their faces twisted into a rictus of hate.
“I thought you were dead! There were so many of them, and we saw dead C-Sec everywhere, I thought…” The girl started crying again, hugging him like she would never let him go.
“Hey, hey…don’t do that.” Tacori looked down into her face, his hand pressed soothingly against her back as she held him. “I said I was going to come check in on you. I promised, didn’t I?”
“Thank you,” she whispered, burying her face against his chest.
Tacori looked over at Kelly Chambers when he noticed her watching them. “You okay?” he asked her, then glanced down and saw the pistol in her hand. He smiled, his head tilting with amusement. “You’re the one that yelled out at us. What was that? ‘Stop or I’ll shoot’?”
Kelly let out a shaky breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Guess if you were a Reaper, it wouldn’t have mattered much, huh?”
“Yeah, well, still…that was pretty gutsy.”
“I learned from the best.”