"I feel like there's something about this place," Shepard said, leaning carefully against the park bench, hoping that the paint looked fresh not because it WAS fresh, but because it simply was brightly lit by the noon sun, "Something that's hidden, something that I'm staring at, straight in the face, but constantly overlooking, you know?"
"And it's not the ubiquitous logo?" Kaidan ventured warily, turning away from the sun, which he had been enjoying prior to Shepard's question, and towards the scarred man which he, apparently, finally conceded to accepting as a friend. It wasn't an easy courtship - as Vakarian insisted on calling it - mainly because L2 Biotic Migraine Kaidan was a lot friendlier than Concussed Head Migraine Kaidan, and a lot less paranoid. Although, once you've got him to open up a bit - which may or may not have involved some awkward almost-flirting - he was pretty much the same Kaidan, except maybe a little less in control of his temper.
"No. It's the building. Even discounting the odd shape," Shepard replied, pausing as the realization hit him. "It's the Citadel. The gorram thing is shaped like the Citadel. Why didn't I see it before?"
"The... building? This building?" Kaidan asked amusedly, turning on the bench to stare at the hospital entrance. The entrance didn't stare back, probably because it knew that it was rude to stare.
"Yes. Look at it. I mean, look at it like a military man," Shepard pressed on, also turning, and using his index finger to articulate his point, "See the windows? The entrance? The lawns? Nothing bothering you about them?"
"Other than the bizarre doors and lack of wheelchair access, nothi--" Kaidan paused, his eyes widening with realization, "Wait a second. This is a killzone. This entire courtyard is a killzone," he slowly said, speeding up as his train of thoughts accelerated, spurred into action by the associative memory kicking in, "Normal hospital courtyards are a breeze to have a firefight in because you have lots of cover - benches, fountains, signposts, even trash containers. Here, everything is either at a right angle to the potential firing positions for the defenders or up against a building's wall..."
"And the firing positions? Heavy entrance doors to provide cover for the defenders and complicate forced entry, the first floor windows are all far off the ground with next to no windowsills - makes for difficult entry and a good elevated firing position," Shepard prompted, "So unless explosives come into the mix, this is an easily defendable fortress that can't really be blindsided because there are windows everywhere facing outwards, and the bare lawns separate the trees from the buildings from all sides."
"Shepard. Alenko. What're you up to?" boomed a familiar - although decidedly weird now that it didn't have that reptilian edge to it - voice from a scarred face.
"Rex. Come here, we're playing wargames," Shepard said to the bulky man, realizing for the first time that he looked familiar as a human not because of the scars, but because of the musculature - Vega looked sort of the same. Vega pretty much was a human Krogan.
"Wargames? I don't see no toy soldiers," Burton chuckled, taking up what little space the bench had to offer.
"Not that kind, Rex. The mental kind. Wanna play Red Team Leader for us?" Kaidan offered, before explaining, "Say, you have a team of ten, yourself included. Full tac gear, but what you carry is what you have, so no rocket launchers or riot gear unless you feel like carrying them in on your own humps. You are coming from the gate," he gestured in the general direction of over there, indicating a far-off break in the trees that surrounded this place that may or may not have been the main gate.
"You have to take the main hospital building. Inside, for interests of fairness, are also ten individuals," Shepard caught on, chastising himself for using the future-PC version of "people" or "men" to denote not-necessarily-military sentients, "They are expendable for your purposes, and therefore will oppose you. They are forewarned you are coming, but have nothing to entrench with other than what is at their disposal in the hospital, and their entire arsenal is what they could liberate from the firing range."
"Hmm. So we have armor and radios, which they don't,--" Rex began thoughtfully.
"--but they have the building, which you don't," Kaidan finished for him.
"Hmm. Gotta think a bit on this," Rex replied, getting back up and walking down the pathway towards the main gate, taking occasional glances to the left and right, apparently considering angles of approach, as every time he took a look, he made some sort of angular chopping motion with his hand. Watching the large figure talk to himself like that was... unusual. Rex apparently either kept to himself or was entertaining a crowd with one tale or another from his past - usually involving some new outlandish version of where he got his impressive facial slashes.
"This should be interesting," Shepard said, "He doesn't look like someone who plans with a strategic view, plotting out from the end result out towards the beginning, does he?"
"No, he does not. More like the always-ready sergeant, trying to keep his troops alive while doing the most damage to the enemy possible."
"Hah, knew a guy like that once," Shepard began before realizing just what he said, but the cat was out of the bag, "Though his preferred tactic was to charge at the enemy. With his size, you'd think he'd be a bullet sponge, but no, it actually scared the OpFor bad enough that they stood, slack-jawed, staring at the inbound muscle train, eating shotgun slugs and kicks to the head."
"Knew a guy?" Kaidan asked pointedly with a bemused expression of Caught you red-handed, you scoundrel!
"Hmm. Associative memory, interesting," Shepard replied as innocently as he could. Getting carried away was careless, this was not his Kaidan, however much he might be like him. Not the one he could trust with his life... Oh, alright, he probably could trust this one as well, but for the interest of short-term survival, he had to keep up the pretense of being amnesiac for as long as possible, as it kept him from being asked too many questions that may have lead him to being uncovered as not being that Shepard. The one who arrived with an electrocuted brain. Or, what's worse, they'll decide that he is that Shepard and his mind simply broke from the damage, and ship him off to some psychiatric facility - that would certainly put a stop to his pipe dream about ever returning to the Normandy.
"Well, keep it up then, you might remember more stuff," Kaidan replied after a modest pause, shrugging dismissively and gesturing at the inbound figure, "Looks like Rex made his mind up."
"Can I use mortars?" was the first thing he asked once he got close enough to talk comfortably.
"So long as you'd be willing to haul them all the way from your LZ," Shepard replied with a grin, "Or sight them in from there, of course, that's also an option."
"Alright. One mortar, underslung grenade launchers for the rest of the team," Rex started, obviously thinking aloud, "Move in single file, trying to keep as low a profile against the hospital windows as possible," he gestured at the lawn, "Split here, and then here, making three three-man teams - one's left behind manning the mortar," he went on, as if reading a lecture to an audience, "Make like the langouste, use the splitstream."
"Sorry, what?" Kaidan asked with a pained expression, "Like the what?"
"Langouste. Rock lobster. Whatever. Big carapaced thing that lives in the seas," Rex tried to explain with a chuckle, "Walks on the ocean floor, keeping against the currents by utilizing the slipstream - first guy acts as wavebreaker, so he's the only one actually being pushed at by the incoming current, everyone walking behind him is in his slipstream, safe and not being washed away," he went on, trying to use gestures to make his point, but coming off as if he was trying to demonstrate the merits of beheading a chicken before plucking it, "And once he's tired, they're switch places. Cyclists also do that, you know, and birds fly in formation for the same reason. Same thing applies to soldiers, except the stream you're slicing is gunfire - the first guy normally would have a riot shield, or something to replace it, but since you said no heavy stuff, well, he'd have to tough it out."
"Okay, he totally sounds like that guy you described just now," Kaidan said slowly, blinking almost as loudly as he was thinking, trying to process the datadump.
"Alright, Rex, and then what?" Shepard asked, deflecting the issue. It was bad he had one person already capable suspecting he was faking amnesia.
"Guide the mortar to the front entrance, shell the heck out of those barriers," Rex bit the bait, indicating the building as he explained, "Use rifle fire to tear down the windows if the defenders hadn't started taking potshots at us yet, then drop grenades into them as soon as possible and hope it gives us enough cover and chaos to make a run for the entrance," he paused, mulling things over. "No, scratch that, one three-man team knocks down that power line to kick down the fence with it, and uses it as cover at least partway to the building. Divides the attention of the attackers and deprives the building of electricity."
"Good idea, Rex, but most hospitals have backup generators," Shepard countered.
"Not of this magnitude. Look at the number of lines running into the premises - you could feed a whole city block with that much juice. Kicking it down will hurt the hospital."
"Solid plan there, Burton," a new voice said, joining the discussion. "Are we playing "let's blow the hospital up" again?"
"Not quite, Vakarian, we're playing "Defend the fortress"," Shepard explained, turning to the newcomer, "Kaidan and I are plotting for the Blue Team - defending the hospital - and Rex here is trying his best to do Red Team proud. He's winning so far," he added morosely.
"Is he now? Did he notice you posted sharpshooters on the roof?" Garry asked, indicating upwards with a jut of his chin, and, after everyone looked at the roof of the building, went on, "See those decorative things on the front?"
"Hah, kinda like the Kremlin wall there, I think," Rex remarked thoughtfully, "See those teeth-like things? Very familiar, very unsettling."
"Yeah, they also would make excellent cover for a shooter whose targets are below him," Shepard nodded, "See? He has a comfortable base to rest his rifle against, and they're not very likely to hit him if they shoot back with anything of insufficiently large caliber. Or a rocket lau--"
"A-ha, so, amendment to plan: grenades onto the roof balcony," Rex interrupted, getting into gear again, "THEN proceed inside and--"
In the huddle of the crowd, nobody noticed a black SUV approach the hospital from the direction of the main gate until it already stopped at the entrance, disgorging two people out of its Cerberus-emblazoned doors. A man and a woman. The man, wearing a black suit and Cerberus-orange tie, was dark-skinned, with closely-cropped hair and a walk that indicated military history. The woman, in her black and white dress (with what seemed like a Cerberus-logo stamped brooch pinned to her chest) with her rather pale skin and black hair, looked like a monochrome photo and walked like someone who just stepped out of a porn vid. Needless to say, the eyes of all the men that have been plotting warfare moments earlier, were glued to her almost instantly the moment she stepped out.
"Who're those?" Shepard asked, "Hospital administration?" he ventured, already dreading the fact that he had a pretty good guess who they were, if not what they were doing here. As the others considered their answers, the mysterious arrivals walked into the building, paying no attention whatsoever to the conspirators watching them.
"No idea, but that's not the first time they came in, Shepard," Garry asnswered, "And judging by the fact that the last two times, they checked in on you, I'm thinking that that's your short skirt right there."
Dark Space (Chapter Seven)
Blog entry posted by Noelemahc, Jul 7, 2012.
About the Author
A Russian Econ major with a minor in graphomania. Used to write for a Russian gaming magazine a while back, apparently wasn't very good or they wouldn't've cancelled his column to replace it with one devoted to listing erotic fanservice moments in videogames and anime series. Has a penchant for long-winded distracted rants and a bizarre affection for very old videogames.