Atlas Station



            "Good morning Mr. Fletcher," rang the gentle voice of Mike Fletcher's VI program.  Mike winced as the lights in his bunk turned on and he raised his arm to shield his eyes from the bright lights emanating from the ceiling of his bunk.  "Welcome to your 892nd day on the Atlas Station," the VI continued  The time is 0700.  Breakfast will be served at 0730 in the mess hall.  You have a meeting scheduled for 1030 at Conference Room 2A to discuss the proposed budget for next quarter.  Additionally, the profit and loss statements from the Coleman Project are due at 1500 this afternoon."

            "Good morning to you too," Mike grumbled as he pulled off the covers of his bed and threw them on the floor.  He could feel the start of a hangover pushing out from the front of his head.  "Remind me not to go drinking on nights before I work," he grumbled to the VI.  He grabbed a few aspirin from inside his nightstand and crushed them in his mouth then walked over to his closet to pull out his uniform for the day.  It was a plain gray jumpsuit with his name and position of accountant stitched above the upper right breast pocket.  He then grabbed his briefcase from under his bed and walked out the door.

            "Have a pleasant day Mr. Fletcher," chimed the VI as he walked out.  "And don't forget to not drink tonight since tomorrow is another workday."

            Mike made his way to the mess hall where the selection was some goop they called oatmeal and some other goop that a sign claimed was scrambled eggs.  After careful consideration Mike decided to take his chances with the oatmeal gloop.  He found a seat next to his friend from the military wing Greg Cass. 

            "Hey Mikey!  Glad to see you survived last night in one piece," his friend greeted him. 

            "No thanks to you.  I can't remember anything that happened after you bought me that third round," Mike replied.

            "So you don't remember asking Amy Steele out to dinner then?"

            "Yeah.  Right." Mike replied sarcastically as he shoved a forkful of oatmeal gloop into his mouth.  When he saw that the expression on his friend's face was still serious he dropped his spoon and covered his face with his palm.  "Oh crap.  Please tell me I didn't"

            "You did and that's not all.  She must have been even more drunk than you. Believe it or not she actually said yes."

            "Fantastic.  Now I have a date planned with a woman who I've never met before and know nothing about.  What would we talk about?  What would I wear?  Where would I even take her?"

            "Oh don't worry about that," Greg replied with a wicked grin on his face. " You managed to puke on her shoes after she said yes so I doubt she's still interested in that date."

            "Figures," mumbled Mike as he picked up his spoon to resume eating.  I would find a way to ruin a date before it even started."  Mike gloomily resumed eating. He decided he should probably try to change the subject of the conversation away from where it was going.  "So how are things in the military wing going?"

            Greg laughed in reply.  "I guess you've heard about that new human Spectre?" 

            "Who, Shepherd?  He's been all over the news recently.  Of course I've heard of him.  Why?"

            Greg leaned in closer to avoid neighboring tables from listening to their conversation.  "Don't spread this around but word from the Illusive Man is that he's someone we should be watching out for.  Apparently, he's got some kind of beef with Cerberus.  He's been targeting some of our more high profile bases and slaughtering everyone aboard.  They're ramping up security forces here on the base in case he decides to make a stop here."

            "That's a little hard to believe.  You can't tell me that he can just enter a base without authorization and start murdering people just because he feels like it."

            "He's a Specter Mikey, he can do whatever the hell he wants and no one is going to say no to him.  Those guys have virtually limitless authority.  He's got the authorization from the council and from Earth to basically run around and do whatever he thinks he needs to in order to protect the galaxy"

            "Well then why would he go after Cerberus?  Aren't there more important things that a Specter would need to be taking care of? 

            "Beats me.  All I know is what the rumors say and apparently this guy is an unstoppable machine.  No one has even come close to taking him down.  Some reports describe him as paragon of justice and others as a heartless renegade but either way he's proving to be a thorn in the Illusive Man's side."

            "I wouldn't mind him showing up today.  I've got a budget proposal meeting in about two hours and my day only gets worse from there."

            Greg laughed in response.  "If he does show up we'll keep your ass safe to sit in as many budget meetings as it can handle."

            Mike spent the rest of the day trying to concentrate on his meetings and paperwork but his mind kept drifting to Amy Steele.  Life on a Cerberus base left little time for romance and Mike hadn't been on a real date in 2 years.  He had only gone drinking on Greg's insistence that he try to take a break from his work by taking a shuttle to the nearby colony of Delta IV.  It had felt good to let loose, especially considering how regimented life on Cerberus could be and it hadn't taken Mike long to overdue it. 

            He barely remembered meeting Amy at the third bar they had stopped at.  She was a scientist working in one of the many genetics labs on the base.  Mike knew very little about what kind of work was done in those labs but he knew from looking at their balance sheets that they had a hard time turning a profit. He had been curious what sort of research they were doing for some time, especially considering the sort of resources the Illusive Man seemed comfortable pumping into them.  He imagined that he had started to talk to Amy for that reason and that somehow it had ended with him getting rejected and Amy getting puke on her shoes.

            But Greg hadn't actually said that she had turned down the date, had he?  It was possible that she would be expecting him later tonight, that she might even be looking forward to meeting him.  If that was the case he had no way of knowing where or when he should meet her.  It was foolish of him to get his hopes up that this might turn into anything more than a drunken conversation at a bar. 

            He tried to lose his thoughts in his work but it seemed like the harder he tried to concentrate on what he needed to do the more his mind wanted to wander.  He tried to think of ways to send a message to her but his mind kept drawing a blank.  He tried desperately to remember any of their conversation from the previous night but he couldn't even remember talking to her. 

            "I bet Greg was just making the whole thing up," he muttered under his breath.  "I'm such an idiot."

            "Yes you are." a woman's voice called from behind him.  He spun around and gasped at the sight of a petite woman with short brown hair who had snuck up behind him.  "Sorry to surprise you," she continued with a smile.  "I just had to come visit the world famous accountant, Mike Fletcher.  At least that's what you were calling yourself yesterday.  Your cubicle doesn't look very world-famousy to me."

            "A-A-Amy?" he stuttered while blushing at the same time.  "How did you find where I work?"

            "You mentioned it about 500 times right before you ruined my best pair of shoes.    Lucky for me I remembered where it was so I can make you buy me a new pair. "

            He looked sheepishly at the ground and somehow managed to blush an even redder shade.  "I-I-I'm sorry, Amy.  I'm not usually like that."

            "Oh you're not usually a raving drunk lunatic?" she asked.  "That's good to know I'll make a mental note of that if I ever run into you again."

            Mike felt himself starting to blush and turned away from Amy.  He had never felt so embarrassed in his life.  He struggled to come up with something to say in response to her.  This wasn't at all how he imagined meeting her would be like.

            "You're probably wondering why I bothered coming out here," she continued on ignoring his ever-reddening face.  "And to be honest with you I almost didn't.  The truth is..."

            Before she could finish her sentence alarms began to blare around them.  The lights in the ceiling began flashing and a deafening blare could be heard over the intercom.  A loud voice began a looping monotonous announcement overtop of the alarm.

            "Attention Cerberus personnel!  Begin evacuation protocol 32C!   This is not a drill!   All personnel must proceed to the nearest emergency exit!  Leave your personal belongings and move quickly to the nearest exit!" 

            Mike and Amy simply stared at each other, neither able to fully process the situation around them.  The sound of his fellow coworkers running around him snapped Mike to attention and brought him out of his chair. 

            "Come on," he instructed Amy grabbing her lightly by the wrist.  "I know the way to the exit.  We better move fast."

            "What's going on?  Why are they wanting us to evacuate?" She asked as he lead her out of his cubicle and into the main hallway of his office complex. 

            "I don't know but whatever it is, it must be bad, and I don't think we want to stick around to find out what it is."  He thought back to his conversation with Greg at breakfast.  He wondered if the illustrious Commander Sheppard had decided to pay a visit to their base.

            He lead her out of the office and into the main hallway on which the accounting department was located.  The hallway was full of screaming people and the smell of smoke and death was in the air.  At the fair end of the hallway stood an imposing Turian in full body armor, wielding an automatic rifle.  He saw the bodies of several security officers lying on the ground, who had clearly been peppered with bullets.  He heard Amy scream and felt her start to collapse in his arms. 

            "Get up!  We have to move!" he yelled at her above the roar of screaming people.  He watched in horror as the Turian raised its rifle, prepared to open fire on the group.  He saw the visor above its left eye light up above its light blue skin.  He felt sure at that moment that he was going to die in this bizarre situation, gunned down by an imposing alien invador.

            Suddenly, Mike heard a thud behind him and the hallway began to fill up with smoke.  He heard the sound of heavy footsteps from behind him and a voice screamed at everyone to get on the floor.  Mike complied and pushed Amy down on her stomach.  The smoke stung at his eyes and he accidentally inhaled some forcing him into a coughing fit.  It was a small price to pay for protection and the knowledge that the Turian wouldn't be able to see them in the smoke. 

            He heard the sounds of gunfire in the air above him and he thought he heard the Turian retreating.  Slowly, the thick smoke began to dissipate and Mike realized that they were surrounded by several Cerberus agents in heavy armor.  "Hallway secure but we lost Vakarian," he heard one of the agents radio to someone.  Another agent reached down to offer him and Amy a hand up.  Once they were up the agent opened his visor to reveal the face of his friend Greg.

            "Well, well, well, look who got a date after all," laughed Greg nervously.  Mike couldn't help but see the stress and worry on his friends face even though he was clearly trying hard not to show it. 

            "What the hell is going on?" he asked.  "Is it Shepherd?"

            "Yeah.  He hit us hard too.  We lost all of the first platoon within the first few minutes of the attack.  Our orders are to stop him from reaching the research labs at all cost but we're also trying to direct as many people to the escape pods as we can."

            "Where did the Turian come from then?" Amy asked.  Mike was relieved to see that she appeared to be regaining some of her composure although the shock of the events occurring around them was still very much visible in her eyes. 

            "Apparently Shepherd isn't hitting these bases alone.  He's assembled a crew of some of the most deadly aliens the galaxy has ever seen.  The Turian is a known associate of his, a former C-Sec officer on the citadel named Garrus Vakarian."

            "Awesome," said Amy.  "Please tell me he doesn't have a Krogen with him too."

            The look on Greg's face wasn't an encouraging answer.  "What's important is we need to get the group of you to the escape pods," he replied in a matter-of-fact tone.  Let me talk to my group leader and see what I can do."  He walked over to another fearsome looking soldier and then waved the group of civilians over to him.  Mike took a second to take an inventory of the people around him.  Most were either crying or shivering or both.  If Commander Shepherd and his crew were as deadly as they sounded it was unlikely that many of them would make it off this station alive.

            "Ok, everyone listen up," Greg yelled at the group while shifting his helmet to his other hand.  "Our station has been breached by a hostile force.  We are moving to stop this hostile force from destroying us but as a precaution we will need to evacuate you.  Gomez and I are going to lead everyone here to the escape pods.  I realize this is a difficult situation for everyone but we will make it through this as long as everyone stays calm.  We will be moving quickly but we need to stay together and above all else avoid panicking."

            Greg's proclamation seemed to wake everyone up and as a group they begin to file behind the two soldiers who began to take off down the hallway in the opposite direction from where the Turian had ran off.  Mike and Amy found themselves joining the group and started navigating their way down a series of tight hallways.  The group was remarkably silent, the idea of having a goal seemed to have given everyone something to focus on beyond the tragedy that was occurring around them.  Mike and Amy pushed near to the front of the crowd.

            "How could this happen?"  Mike asked Greg as they turned down another hallway.  "I thought you said that we were prepared for this kind of an attack."

            Greg responded with a disappointed look.  "Turns out, there's no preparing for this Commander Shepherd.  His ship must have stealth drives like we've never seen before.  We never picked him up on our scanners until he was practically boarding us."

            'He's just one guy with a couple of ugly aliens tagging along right?  How could he take down a whole army of Cerberus soldiers?"

            "He's not going to, Mikey.  There's still plenty of us around to take care of him, and I guarantee you we will.  Commander Shepherd isn't getting off this station alive."

            "And what about us?"  thought Mike.  "How many of us will make it off alive?  

            The hallway they were in emptied into the mess hall where Mike and Greg had eaten breakfast earlier that day.  Mike was struck with how desolate and empty the room looked with no one in it.  Trays were scattered around the room and bits of food remained abandoned by those who had rushed out at the sound of the alarm.  He heard a clattering noise on the catwalk above him and tilted his head upwards to catch sight of a blue-skinned Asari running across it.  She caught sight of the group below her and turned to them raising her fist in the air.

            "Get down!" screamed Greg as a strange form of blue energy seemed to emanate from her hand.  Mike instinctively grabbed Amy and pushed her to the floor as the blue energy traveled in a straight path towards them.  Suddenly it seemed to stop in mid-air and then it dissipated in a puff of smoke.  For a second Mike thought that everything would be okay. 

            Then a strange vortex appeared where the energy had dissipated.  The vortex hung in the air silently pulling everything in the room towards it.  Bodies around him began to fly in the air, spinning uncontrollably towards the vortex.  Mike listened in horror to the sounds of gunfire penetrating the bodies of the people around him.  He couldn't help but hear the countless screams of those around him as their lives ended.  Most of all, he felt Amy in his arms.  She had managed to remain composed to this point but now she was shrieking uncontrollably, tears streaming down her face. 

            He realized suddenly that he had been fortunate to be far enough away from the singularity to avoid being pulled towards it.  Still guiding Amy he pulled her underneath one of the nearby cafeteria tables.  He put a hand over Amy's mouth in the hopes that the Asari above them wouldn't hear her alternating screams and sobs.  They sat together for what felt like hours underneath the table, huddled together listening to the sounds of dozens of people dying around them.  Finally, the gunfire stopped and he heard the sound of footsteps on the catwalk again, this time walking away from the cafeteria.  The danger had passed.

            It took several minutes before either one of them had the courage to crawl out from under the table and survey the damage.  Amy was the first to move and Mike followed her out hoping beyond hope that they wouldn't be the only ones who had survived the massacre.  He was greeted by the smell of blood and gunfire and the sight of the dead corpses of everyone he had just traveled with.  He raised a hand to his mouth as he realized that two of the bodies were wearing body armor. 

            "He's dead," Mike stated in a weary, shocked tone.  "They're all dead."

            Suddenly Amy turned around, reared her arm back and slapped him hard on the face.  He hardly felt the blow.  He hardly felt anything at all.  It took him a few seconds to register the pain on his cheek and he simply responded by giving her a quizzical look.

            "This is all your fault!" she screamed at him through tears.  "If I had never met you last night, I never would have come over here to see you!"

            "You're right," he replied in the same monotone.  "You're right and I'm sorry Amy.  I'm sorry for what's happening right now.  I'm sorry that everyone's dying around us and the stations is falling apart."

            "You're sorry?!" she screamed incredulously.  "I'm going to die on this stupid station and all you can say is that you're sorry?  Well point me to the nearest escape pod because I intend to get as far away from this place and from you before I get shot to pieces like everyone else!"

            Her words raised a glimmer of hope in the back of Mike's brain.  The escape pods!  He had forgotten where they were headed in all the confusion. 

            "They're right down the corridor on the other side of the mess hall.  We were almost there before that Asari attacked.  Here, follow me."

            He took off for the far door and she marched dutifully behind him.

            "I didn't ask for any of this you know," he said to her.

            "I know.  I'm sorry for hitting you.  You didn't deserve that."

            Mike caught a glimpse of the row of escape pods ahead and began to jog towards them.

            "I guess you finally got your revenge from me puking on your shoes," he quipped.  She laughed in response.  Mike was reminded of what a cute laugh she had.

            "I wasn't that upset about you puking on me.  In fact to be honest I thought you were kind of interesting when I met you."

            "Just interesting?" he asked as they reached the door of an unopened escape pod.

            "Well to be honest I didn't come down her just to tease you about last night.  I wanted to see if..."

            Before she could finish her sentence Mike turned to her and noticed a red dot appear on the side of her head.  Before he could say or do anything he heard the "thomp" of a bullet ejecting from a gun, probably a sniper rifle, and watched Amy's head explode in a pile of red goo.  Her body slumped on the ground in a tangle as blood flew everywhere, covering Mike from head to toe.

            He looked up in horror and saw a human male dressed in black armor. A red N7 logo graced the arm of the soldier's outfir.  The man was holding a large sniper rifle and appeared to be reloading it for another round.  Before the man could finish loading Mike quickly grabbed for the handle of the pod, but his hand was thick with sweat and slipped on it.  He reached for it again and turned the handle just enough to sneak inside.  He quickly closed the door behind him and he heard the sound of a second bullet ricochet off the door.    Moving on instinct alone he reached for the long handle located on the side wall of the pod and pulled it down releasing the pod from the ship.

            As he began to freefall away he collapsed on the ground in a heap, tears streaming down his face. 

            "Damn you Shepherd!"  he screamed, pounding his fist against the wall of the pod.  "It wasn't enough to kill my co-workers and my best friend, you had to take her too, didn't you?!" he screamed aloud to no one.

            His thoughts began to race as he plummeted away through space.  He thought about the man in the dark N7 armor who he had seen for just a few seconds.  He thought about his best friend lying dead in the same mess hall where they had eaten together earlier that day.  He thought about the girl he had barely known at the start of the day who now lay dead in front of the escape pods because of him. 

            Most of all he cried.  He buried his face in his hands and cried uncontrollably for what felt like hours.  Eventually he cried himself to sleep where he dreamed of himself killing Commander Shepherd in retribution.  It was a good dream.