Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mako in the Mountains

"This is a beautiful planet, Commander," Tali said softly. "The trees, the snow... it reminds me of the photos I have seen of my homeworld, from before the geth rebellion drove us into exile."

"Ha, ha," Wrex snorted derisively. "Bet you wouldn't like to be tossed into it!"

Tali turned her head to look at Wrex; her expression was unreadable beneath the breathing-mask she always wore. Wrex just laughed at her.

"Cut the chatter," Commander Shepard ordered. "We're on a mission, as you seem to have trouble remembering."

The three were together in the Mako, more formally known as the M35 Mako Infantry Fighting Vehicle: a self-sufficient, six-wheeled tank, equipped with quad jump-jets, coaxial machinegun, and 155mm mass-accelerator cannon. A state-of-the-art vehicle, it could move up to 45 mph and was light enough to be airdropped from several meters up without damage; a system of shields and armour plating protected it from anything short of heavy weapons platforms, which would be hard-pressed to hit it due to the aforementioned speed. Upon its side was the name NORMANDY, the ship that housed and serviced it: but in the Normandy this Mako did not rest. Instead, it rolled over the slopes of an alien world, en route to a distant destination.

"What... is our objective for this mission, Commander?" Tali asked politely. "You were rather unclear on the matter when you suggested that we form the away team."

"The Normandy's sensors, when scanning this planet from orbit, discovered a cluster of alloys and radiation-leakage closely resembling the wreckage of a crashed probe," Shepard replied.
"We're going there to recover whatever we can; with reports of geth activity in this sector, there's a good chance that the probe will have useful data on them. And with things as they are, we need all the data we can get."

"So I'm here to deal with the recovery of the probe's electronics," Tali said. "What's Wrex coming along for? He's not exactly a technical expert."

"I'm here to do the shooting," Wrex growled, cradling a shotgun against his huge, armoured frame. The shotgun was nearly engulfed by his bulk.

Both Tali and Shepard responded at once. Shepard barked sharply: "Put that thing away, I don't want it deployed that close to me in a confined space." Tali, speaking over her commander, asked Wrex "What, exactly, are you expecting to shoot out here?"

The Mako crested a small hill, snow spraying from beneath its wheels. The crashed probe was visible less than a quarter-mile away - and significantly closer than that, three hulking figures erupted from beneath the snow, firing flurries of pulse-rounds at the Mako as larger weapons warmed up.

"Ambush!" Shepard cried, throwing the Mako backwards as Tali struggled to ready and aim the main cannon. "Geth Armatures!" Armatures - weapons of war, standing over fifteen feet tall on their four legs, more than a match for most tanks. The Mako was better than most tanks - but, even in hands as skilled as Shepard's, it was taking a beating from the armatures' weapons, as well as those of the geth infantry that had emerged from the surrounding snowbanks. Three sizzling energy-orbs emerged from the armatures' heads, one impacting on the Mako's shields and casting a electric aurora about the vehicle; Shepard returned fire with cannon and machine-gun, and saw one of the armatures fall to the ground, shields broken and chromed limbs mangled. The two remaining armatures fired again; Shepard employed the jump-jets to evade their primary attacks only to collide with a rocket fired by one of the geth foot-soldiers. "Shields at half strength!" Tali reported tensely, trying to monitor vital systems and operate the machinegun at the same time. Wrex watched, tossing his shotgun up and down.

Shepard continued the fight, trying to pull back so as to better exploit the Mako's manueverability; the geth worked to prevent any such move, boxing in the Mako with rockets and energy blasts while constantly worrying it with pulse-rifle rounds. Tali watched the shield indicator creep downwards with no little concern. But to count the Mako out so soon would be a dreadful mistake: the cannon belched relativistic mass once, twice, three times, and sent another armature flying in a hundred directions as its shields failed and its metal body disintegrated. Shepard focused fire on the remaining armature, now closing on it to get a clearer shot; and another unseen rocket caught the Mako from the side, sending it crashing over the ridge and onto its back.

"It flipped?" Shepard asked incredulously, strapped upside-down into the driver's seat, still staring at the display screen. "I didn't think a Mako could flip!"

Wrex slapped the release button on Shepard's restraints, letting her collapse onto the Mako's ceiling. "They'll be here any minute!" he said, gesturing. "If we stay here, we're sitting ducks. Time to move!"

Tali, Wrex, and Shepard spilled out of the overturned Mako, falling into feet-deep snow. The latter two produced weapons - Tali drew a blue pistol from her hip, while Shepard unpacked an silvery assault rifle. Wrex's shotgun, characteristically, had never left his hands. All three looked around, seeing snow, trees, boulders, more snow - and the Geth, coming over the ridge.

"Take cover!" Shepard shouted, and matched words to actions, setting off to the nearest rock structure as swiftly as one can through six-foot-deep-snow. Tali followed, snapping off shots with her pistol at the Geth as their pulse-rifle bolts rained down around them, melting snow and crackling off their personal shields. Tali uttered a constant litany of curses as she slogged towards cover: "Filthy, unclean, vile, treacherous, murdering metal abominations..."

Wrex cast a cruel, recessed eye in the direction of the Geth, and decided not to follow his team-mates just yet. Pressing his back against the Mako, he leaned outwards and lined his shotgun up with a cluster of distant geth. Pulse-fire came his way, but the Mako's still-intact shields absorbed the bulk of it. Wrex took his time, and then slowly, almost tenderly, squeezed the shotgun's trigger.

Immediately, the weapon bucked backwards, emitting a hideous roar. Wrex winced; the geth at which he'd aimed vanished in a cherry-red fireball, their half-melted limbs and weapons cartwheeling away. The volume of fire coming from the geth slackened, given pause both by the demonstrated potency of Wrex's high-explosive rounds and the cloud of steam that they had spread (in the immediate wake of the explosion) across the upper ridge. Wrex snorted, holding his shotgun at arm's length - even in the freezing-cold climate, the air around it shimmered with heat - and hurled it towards the cluster of rocks where Shepard and Tali had found cover. (It landed in a thick snowbank, somewhat lessened by the heat generated by the weapon.) Then Wrex followed his shotgun, removing an assault rifle from his back and firing sporadically as he went. Tali and Shepard covered him with suppressing fire on his lolloping way.

"What now, Commander?" Wrex asked.

"I'm not too worried about these guys," Shepard told him. Pulse-rounds left shimmering lines in the air overhead. "Geth infantry aren't much of a threat, even in these numbers, even on foot. Their armor and shields are too frail. If we just keep whittling down their numbers, we should be fine. I'm just worried about-"

With an unearthly wail, the remaining geth Armature announced that it had finally made its way over the ridge. Blue energy gathered around its head.

"-that," Shepard finished. Pulling at Tali, who had taken the opportunity for a few last-pot shots at a red-armoured geth, Shepard shouted, "Down!"

The Armature fired, and the away team's cover vanished in a brilliant blue explosion. The shockwave tossed them backwards; ten thousand shards of stone flew in each direction, arcing with electric light. A renewed wave of small-arms fire followed.

"If that monstrosity fires again, we're dead," Tali told Shepard. "There's no cover nearly close enough - even assuming that one of the heavy-weapons infantrygeth doesn't get any clever ideas before then. Do you have a plan?"

Shepard grinned fiercely. "As it so happens, I do. Let's try something along the lines of-"

Tali, rising to a kneel from behind the broken rubble that now served the away team for cover, hurled an small, blinking projectile towards the Armature. It shot towards the war-machine as though magnetically attracted, and then vanished in a tiny explosion. Electromagnetic chaos followed; the nearest geth infantry were entirely disabled, and the others (along with the armature) were dazed, disoriented and half-blind.

"Now!" shouted Shepard, and Wrex and Tali together with Shepard each hurled an hand-sized, disc-shaped explosive from the waist. They hit the Armature (save for Wrex's, which fell to the snow nearby) and detonated moments later; the flame did little more than scorch the body of the machine, but annihilated its shields. A small crater was left in the ground where Wrex's ill-aimed grenade had fallen, but enough of its blast had impacted the Armature to do the job.

Even before the grenades had hit, Shepard had turned away. Now holding a sniper rifle, the Commander turned back - took aim, and fired. The first shot missed; the second did not. A relativistic pellet of iron blew a foot-thick hole in the Armature's neck, and slowly the immense machine toppled, paralyzed from the neck down by the shot to its main control cluster. It was finished.

The rest was just mopping up.

An hour and a half later, the Mako disgorged its passengers in front of the crashed probe that had been the object of the mission. "It's of even greater importance now," Shepard told Wrex and Tali. "The geth were here to lay an ambush - there must be something important in this probe for them to guard it with such force."

Tali knelt, examining the control panel on the exterior of the probe. Carefully, she manipulated the ancient electronics, repairing frayed wires and broken logic boards with supplies that she'd brought.

When she seemed to have finished, she paused. "Well?" Shepard asked. "Find out what's inside."

Tali opened the probe - and recoiled.

"What is it?" Shepard and Wrex asked, startled. "Another geth trap-?"

"No," Tali told them, attempting to reassure. "There's nothing dangerous in there - nor anything useful. Just a sea of omni-goo."

Shepard's shoulders slumped. Wrex put a hand on them, saying the only comforting words he could think of: "Well, there's no harm in having more omni-goo."

Wrex, as one might easily surmise, was not very good at comforting.

[Started all the way back in 2008 - this one's ancient!)

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