eponymous_rose: (ME | Victus)
[personal profile] eponymous_rose
Title: Paradigm Shift (2/2)
Word Count: 7,500 total
Characters: Ashley Williams, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T'Soni
Rating: T (violence, language)
Notes: Many thanks to [personal profile] rivendellrose for the excellent beta!
Spoilers: Set early in the first game.

Summary: Today's forecast: Thunderstorms, with a chance of giant killer space worms. Tomorrow: Partly cloudy.

Part 1

"Move!" Ashley yelled, and shrugged her assault rifle out of its holster, though just at the moment it seemed about as useful as going up to the thresher maw and asking it to please reconsider murdering them horribly. A too-loud bang told her Garrus had already armed his sniper with concussive rounds. Those, at least, sounded threatening. A flicker at the periphery of her vision caught her attention; T'Soni was charging up her biotics, trying to get to her feet. "No, hell no, we do not fight a thresher maw on foot." She spun wildly, wishing for the HUD her helmet would've given her – but no, it was still back in the Mako. "Okay, rocky terrain on our six. It shouldn't follow us up there."

"It looks like we put a pretty significant dent in its defenses, before. Wouldn't take much to finish it off," Vakarian said, a bit wistfully, and was he seriously considering going after this thing with a sniper rifle alone?

She grabbed him by the collar, pulled him down to eye-level. "Don't waste time shooting, fucking run!"

He growled and pulled away. "I've got the best range," he said, and began firing off shots more-or-less at random, to illustrate. The thresher maw broke the surface again, and he staggered as the ground shook. "You take point, help Liara. I'll cover our six, try to warn you if it's spitting acid right at us."

No time to argue. He was right. Ashley ducked down, dragged T'Soni to her feet and started running, feet pounding, trying to ignore the jolt of pain in her head with each step. A crackling hiss, and she heard Vakarian yelp, but when she glanced back, he was already rolling to his feet, having apparently dodged a jet of acid just in time. Another followed almost immediately, biting into the rock a few meters to their left.

"We're not going to make it," T'Soni yelled over the rumbling of a new earthquake. "It's toying with us!"

"I don't suppose you could put the whole thing in stasis for a few minutes while we make a leisurely getaway?" Ashley said, then gasped and flung herself to the side, taking T'Soni down with her in a jumble of limbs. Someone gave a harsh yell of pain, and it took Ashley a moment to realize that it was her voice, that it was her shoulder burning with the acid eating through her hardsuit. The medigel kicked in a moment later, stopping the acid from spreading, but even the built-in analgesic couldn't dull the excruciating knife-twist of pain. She moaned, trying to curl in on herself, and another jet of acid passed far too close for comfort.

After a moment – an eternity – the pain faded further, and she uncoiled to see Vakarian crouching over her, using his omnitool to deliver another boost of medigel. He was panting, and his hands were shaking, and she noted with vague, clinical detachment that there was blood dripping again from the wound in his side. T'Soni, beside him, was silent and still, her face drawn with pain. Another jet of acid sizzled through rock, and they all flinched, but it passed to their right. "Still getting our range," Ashley said, or tried to say; her voice wasn't coming out as clearly as she'd like. Range.

She paused, thought for a moment, then leapt to her feet so suddenly that Vakarian drew back with a yell. She wobbled, steadied herself, stared back at the Mako. Range. Oh, God, it could work.

"The Mako!" she blurted, and was rewarded with twin looks of bafflement. Well, you've achieved cross-species confusion. Good start, there, soldier. "If we could get it flipped over, it'd still roll, right?"

"If you're suggesting we try to get the turret operational again," Vakarian said, "I think you may be a little late. We just picked part of it out of my hide, remember?"

"Yeah," Ashley said, and her aches and pains were fading in a way she knew would catch up with her later on, but for now, she felt amazing. "We don't need the turret. We have a much more effective projectile."

The light caught in T'Soni's eyes first, as they all ducked another jet of acid. "By the Goddess," she breathed.

"Would you be up for it?"

"For that? I can hardly refuse, can I?"

"Good. We'll definitely need your biotics."

Vakarian cut them off with a frustrated growl. "Would someone tell me-"

"Back to the Mako," Ashley said, and matched word to action, dragging T'Soni to her feet for what seemed the hundredth time. "Vakarian, prepare a concussive round to fire on my mark."

"Understood," Vakarian said, protests dying away, and in that moment Ashley had a new appreciation for turian military discipline. She was only his acting CO, he probably didn't even like her that much, and on her orders he was running toward a thresher maw on foot with scarcely any hesitation. That's either incredible discipline or incredible insanity. Possibly both.

The thresher spat acid and death at them again, but their bobbing and weaving maneuverability was acting in their favor as long as they could keep up the pace, and the acid and death trailed harmlessly off to their left. The Mako was back in sight now, between them and the thresher maw - God, is there enough of an incline? - and Ashley skidded to a halt, lining things up as best she could. "We have to do this now, before it has a chance to go underground."

"Right," T'Soni said, and she was already glowing with a biotic energy so strong it raised the hairs on Ashley's neck. "On your orders."

"Ready to take the shot," Vakarian said, raising his rifle, then paused. "What am I shooting at?"

"The Mako," Ashley said, and added, "On my mark, not a moment earlier!"

"Oh," said Vakarian, and then his eyes widened, and his mandibles flared out in a grin. "Oh."

Another flash of acid, close enough that Ashley could swear she felt it burn her hair on the way by. "Now, T'Soni!"

T'Soni's biotics flared, and she executed what looked to Ashley's untrained eye as a fiendishly difficult combination of a lift and a throw, first slamming the Mako back onto its wheels, then punching it down the incline toward the thresher maw. It picked up speed, rumbling on half-melted axels and torn and tattered tires, but- yes, forward, forward- "Vakarian, now!"

He fired just as the Mako reached the thresher maw, which had belatedly begun shooting jets of acid at this new interruption. His shot penetrated the compromised hull, the crushed remains of the turret, the still-smoking embers of the electrical fire – and deeper within, to the vehicle's high-pressure hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell. Ordinarily, there were electronic failsafes in place to prevent the hydrogen from building to dangerous levels, but they – along with every other part of the Mako's electrical systems – had been taken offline by the earlier damage.

The explosion wasn't nearly as spectacular as Ashley had hoped, but it was at point-blank range to the battered and damaged thresher maw. When the brightness faded and the sound finished echoing off the distant mountains, the worm writhed and fell and died. Anticlimax.

Silence fell. The clouds cleared entirely. The stars came out.

Behind her, Ashley heard Vakarian slump to his knees, and she turned just in time to see him collapse altogether. Liara, swiping away a nosebleed, fell more than sat down beside him, rolling him onto his side, and she was saying something that Ashley couldn't quite make out over the roaring of her own heartbeat in her ears, but she seemed to be applying medigel, so that was probably all right.

With the dazed notion of inspecting her handiwork, Ashley shuffled forward a few steps toward the burning, charred remains of the Mako.

The smoke was rising, a beacon, a warning, and crackling fire was spreading across the plain, burning away the soft grasses. "Look what we did," she said, and then there was a new light in the sky, one brighter than the rest, and she held up a hand to block it out but still it came, and with it a voice crackling over her squad radio, soft and relieved and faintly amused.

"Williams, what the hell did you do to my Mako?"

She didn't remember much about boarding the Normandy, apart from a lot of urgent shouting of a medical nature, most of it centered around transfusions and blood types. T'Soni shrugged off helping hands and hobbled onto the ship under her own power. Vakarian, still unconscious, boarded on a stretcher. Ashley followed them at a more relaxed pace, feeling strange and detached. There was an attempt at an immediate and informal debrief, which ended rather spectacularly when she collapsed in the middle of the corridor and had to be rushed to medbay. Chakwas assured her she'd be all right, and before Ashley could ask about the others - not another squad, I won't lose another squad - she'd been injected with what she could only assume were the really good drugs, and she drifted away for a while.

When she came back, she was staring up at Vakarian's face. This time, instead of jolting away, she squinted more carefully at it. Under her intense scrutiny, his faceplates shifted subtly toward bafflement, and she grinned, pleased with herself for having identified the expression. "Your face makes sense," she said, then replayed that sentence in her mind. Right. Make that the really, really good drugs.

"That's... always good to hear," Vakarian said, and leaned back. "How are you feeling? Chakwas said she thought you were coming to, so I figured I owed you a visit."

It took Ashley's fogged brain a moment to wrap around the words. "Owed? For what?"

"I'm not sure you remember what with all the blows to the head, but you did come up with an insane plan that prevented the Normandy from arriving just in time to rescue our burned-up corpses."

"Oh, right. That." She snorted, then wished she hadn't, as her brain seemed to slosh around in her head at the motion. She closed her eyes for a moment, waiting for the feeling to subside. "Yeah, you owe me big for that one."

"Do you, uh, need me to call Chakwas? She said you might experience some dizziness."

"Definitely got the dizziness, yeah." She waved a hand as he started to turn, presumably to call for the doctor. "I'm fine. How's T'Soni?"

"She'll be all right. Completely burned herself out on that last biotic display, though. I think she's still sleeping it off in the back room."

Ashley smiled. "Good. Everything turned out okay, then."

"I'm fine, too," Vakarian added, with an air of wounded dignity. "Thanks for asking. Made a stunning recovery."

She smirked. "Well, hey, you're standing right there. I kinda figured. Besides, seems like you always heal up fast."

His mandibles drew in for a scowl. "For all you know, I could be drawing on vast reserves of inner strength right now, having fought my way down here through a flurry of medical tape. I could be on the verge of death. It's all very heroic."

"Two problems with that theory, Vakarian. First, if you really were dying, you'd be spending your last remaining hours with your sniper rifle and not me. Second, Dr. Chakwas is standing right behind you and she doesn't seem particularly concerned for your health."

He spun to face the doctor, then snorted. "Traitor."

"You wound me, Garrus," Chakwas said, deadpan, and turned to Ashley. "How are you feeling?"

"Not bad, doc."

"Good. You've managed a few hours of sleep, but I'd like to keep you here for at least twenty-four more – don't get that belligerent look, I've already whittled that down from what I'd originally planned. From what I understand, though, the commander wants to spring you for an unofficial debrief in a few hours, if you're feeling well enough."

"Oh," Ashley said. She wasn't looking forward to facing Shepard, truth be told – for all that they'd come out of this with their lives, and for all that there was really nothing she could have done to prevent the attack in the first place, she was reasonably sure there was something in the whole mess that could be used as a black mark against her. There always was. But then, Shepard hadn't known about her family history, had seemed surprised to hear about the reason for all those crap assignments when she'd confessed a few days ago.

She glanced back to Garrus, thoughtfully. So maybe she'd get another black mark in a dossier full of black marks. But hell, maybe this time would be different. Everything else was.

Chakwas checked her vitals, then moved on to see to Liara, with a parting reminder to Vakarian that he was not to spend too long bothering her patient, on pain of mandatory bed rest. He grimaced, but waved an acknowledging half-salute at her back. The door closed behind her, leaving them alone again. A brief silence fell. It wasn't entirely uncomfortable.

"I'll let you rest," Vakarian said, after a time. "From what I've heard, we're going to be coming up on a new mission in the next couple of days, after a stop-off to pick up a new Mako. Planet called Virmire."

"Hm," said Ashley, settling back sleepily against her pillow. Another world, another chance, another possibility. But her mind kept dragging back to the sight of the destroyed Mako, to the column of smoke, to the grass burning away, revealing the scorched and torn earth underneath, and she shivered. "Vakarian?"

He paused in the doorway.

"I know I'm pretty hopped up on pain meds right now, so this may or may not mean anything, but I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?"

She thought about it for a long moment, then sighed out a laugh. "I'm not sure I even know anymore. Nothing. Everything."

His mandibles twitched briefly in confusion. "I'll, uh, keep that in mind."

And then he was gone, and she was staring at the ceiling, drifting again, murmuring half-remembered words against the encroaching dark.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, --
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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