Until the quarians declassified the details in 2196, one of the best-kept secrets of the Defense of Palaven was the fact that the geth had, in fact, been involved in the campaign beyond the Bosh’tet Express. This was a fact that had been kept secret even from Primarch Victus, and known only to Admirals Daro’Xen vas Moreh and Zaal’Koris vas Qwib-Qwib, who believed geth assistance to be invaluable and essential, but feared negative turian reaction to synthetics participating in the defense of their homeworld. It was also a decision made unilaterally without the input of the rest of the Admiralty Board, and entrusted to the group of Migrant Fleet Marines left by the Bosh’tet Express over Palaven.
While writing this book, I had assumed anything I could mention about the Defense of Communications Relay 227 would simply be from the official statements released from the turian and quarian governments. After the quarians declassified the details, however, I dared to try to contact the geth who had been involved in the defense, the ones that had survived. I fully expected to receive a polite rejection for any number of reasons. I did not expect a geth survivor, Trinity, to offer time for an interview. Due to their ability to share data, any geth could’ve answered my request, but Trinity insisted on meeting personally, giving me a personal, detailed eyewitness account of what happened at the Defense of Communications Relay 227.
It was thanks to the geth that the quarians were able to learn of the situation with the relay in the first place. As soon as the quarians received operational approval from the turians, Reegar had six of their landing craft descend into Palaven’s atmosphere, with two remaining with the turian fleet to bounce communications and – secretly – to allow the geth to transfer themselves to safety when their defensive positions would inevitably be overrun. Having recently been upgraded with Reaper code, the geth were able to fool Reaper sensors with friendly signatures for half the trip. By the time the enemy was able to confirm that the incoming signatures were actually quarians, the shuttles had already managed a low angle of approach, making it difficult for them to be hit by anti-aircraft guns. Local anti-air weaponry were still able to focus fire on only six quarian shuttles, but it was thanks to the geth that few of them were direct hits.
This sentiment, however, was of little comfort to the quarians inside the shuttles as Reaper anti-air weapons swiftly shot down their landing craft, and even prodigious quarian flying couldn’t cause them to avoid what could generously be called a crash landing. The survivors of the crashes picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and made for the rendezvous point half a kilometer from Communications Relay 227. Only half of the Marines made it to the designated rendezvous site: Staff Lieutenant Kal’Reegar; First Lieutenant Jun’Malon vas Qwib-Qwib; Second Lieutenant Oro’Xen vas Moreh; Operations Chiefs Erin’Domo vas Idenna and Kor’Veera vas Rayya; Service Chiefs Kee’Mora vas Ferris, Xin’Mora vas Ferris, and Koric’Uldinn vas Penin; and Corporals Keel’Numa vas Lorenz, Nal’Reema vas Solphya, Les’Uzgar vas Uryyn, and Quil’Verma vas Noric.
The area around the relay was deserted and devoid of Reaper forces, but Reegar doubted it would remain this way for long, as the enemy was certain to deploy hunt-and-kill teams to look for stray quarians on the turian homeworld. With their Khronus resistance contacts still supposedly enroute, Reegar demanded that defensive positions be set up. In the meantime, Lieutenant Malon and Operations Chief Veera were to assess the damage to relay and determine what repairs were required. Service Chiefs Kee’Mora and Xin’Mora, a brother-sister duo of snipers, were perched atop a high-rise as lookouts, where they would watch for their resistance contacts as well as enemy forces.
The immediate issue with defending the communications relay was that the area was strategically indefensible, which was why turian ground forces had abandoned it in the first place. A handful of high-rises across six city blocks flanked the relay, but the relay otherwise sat in the middle of a plaza full of open ground that offered little cover for large groups. More importantly, it allowed a numerically-superior enemy to basically swarm a group of twelve defenders, if not take potshots at the relay. Reegar decided to remedy this by having the Marines scout out the remains of the high-rises before setting shaped charges at key structural points. The idea was to create an improvised fort by turning the buildings into fortress walls, giving Reaper forces a handful of avenues of attack where the quarians could bottleneck them (too few openings, the defenders reasoned, would make the trap too obvious and encourage Reaper forces to avoid the bottleneck entirely with the vast resources they had). It was the kind of maneuver that required precise mathematics, intimate familiarity with architecture and construction, and precisely controlled demolitions, a job the quarians were suited for. That didn’t stop Lieutenant Xen from wryly remarking, “What kind of ‘controlled demolition’ involves high-rises across six city blocks?”
The demolition, however, was a last-measure resort. The Reapers were likely actively looking for the quarians, but given the distance from where their shuttles had been shot down across the area, the Marines figured there was still time before the enemy found their precise location. Removing several high-rises from the horizon wasn’t going to help conceal their positions. Therefore, the first order of business was deploying an inner defense with a prototype system codenamed Rosethorn. The product of a cooperative technological venture between Migrant Fleet Special Projects and the geth, Rosethorn was effectively a GARDIAN package shrunk down for ground operations, a vast network of redesigned quarian and geth turrets connected to multiple processing units inhabited by geth runtimes, among them including Trinity. The network could be stretched across vast distances, each turret coordinating with its neighbors to produce optimal defensive firing patterns. The geth were uplinked in real-time to quarian combat interfaces in their enviro-suits, meaning Rosethorn could also coordinate the turrets in conjunction with the individual movements of each Marine. More importantly, it possessed the capability to shoot down approaching Ravager ordinance, providing a shield against long-range attacks by Reaper forces. Combined with a portable kinetic barrier generator encompassing the relay, and the Marines had a formidable defense to complement a squad of twelve in protecting what was otherwise a vulnerable target sitting in the middle of nothing.
Malon and Veera returned to report that four quarians would be needed to repair the relay; more than four wouldn’t significantly expedite the process, projected to take less than three hours. Reegar gave them Service Chief Uldinn and Corporal Noric, tasking everyone else to either finish deploying Rosethorn or set the explosives that would topple the surrounding high-rises and turn the area into an acceptable defensive position. Other explosives and landmines were set around the area to thin out approaching Reaper forces when the need arose.
Forty-seven minutes into the operation, the Mora siblings reported spotting their resistance contacts on approach. Reema and Uzgar were sent to confirm their identities and escort them into the area of operations, where a team of four turian resistance fighters briefed the quarian defenders on local Reaper activity, dropped off surplus ammunition and ordinance, and handed over the intelligence packet that was causing so much trouble in the first place. The packet was massive, containing detailed data on weekly Reaper activity that resistance cells had collected all across Carratine District, covering just under three hundred thousand square kilometers of ground on Palaven. Mission planners needed that information to best coordinate SLENDER SCALPEL. Without it, the turian-krogan forces dropping into Carratine would be fighting blind. Quarian and geth communications devices linking back to the fleet could expedite the transfer of the intelligence package, but the absolute bulk of it required nothing less than a relay.
The members of the Khronus resistance offered to fight alongside the Migrant Fleet Marines. Reegar thanked them for the offer but declined, as he wanted to maintain the image that they were a small nuisance to the Reapers, an impression that was best sold if there were only quarians amongst their numbers. Defending the relay was more important and the Marines were vastly outnumbered by the enemy anyways, so the best defense would be stealth and deception, for as long as they could maintain it. Reegar did accept the offer for the extra turians to help with setting up explosive traps, however, which allowed for the bulk of their defensive preparations to be completed seventy-two minutes into the operation. The turians were finally convinced that leaving the defense to the quarians was the best option at T-plus seventy-five minutes. ETA on repairs on the relay was still at one hour and a half.
The Mora siblings had been calling out positions of Reaper hunt-and-kill teams since they were put onto a lookout position, but it was eighty-seven minutes into the operation when the first Reaper forces, a squad of Marauders, finally breached the perimeter of the quarian area of operations. Multiple patrols were converging on their position as part of an efficiently systematic sweep of the area, and it was difficult to conceal the engineers making repairs unless progress was halted, which was not an option. Taking out the Marauders quietly with omni-blades was also pointless, as enemy forces were networked to the Reapers, who would instantly know that contact with individual ground troops were lost at a specific location. With little recourse, Reegar gave his Marines on the ground permission to open fire. Three seconds later, coordinated gunfire from Marines and turrets had cut down half a dozen approach Marauders. It also alerted the other patrols in the area, now aware of a more concise location of the quarian defenders.
Within ten minutes, an extended firefight between Marine and Reaper forces was slowly escalating. Repeated incursions allowed the Reapers to confirm that the quarians were attempting to defend a communications relay, and therefore would not displace. It also indicated at a broader strategy, not just of desperate quarians trying to run and hide. This cause the Reapers to deploy reinforcements much faster than Reegar would’ve liked; instead of a gradual buildup of enemy traffic as he had hoped, entire combat groups were now being redirected towards the quarians.
But the quarian defense was highly efficient. Between the excellent marksmanship of the Marines and the geth-run Rosethorn system, the small waves of enemy attackers had yet to breach the defensive perimeter. This also deceived Reaper forces into a misstep; judging by limited data from their own ground troops that were being swiftly eliminated, the Reapers overestimated the number of quarians on the ground. The Rosethorn turrets misled the Reapers into believing that the Marines numbered in the dozens, and the enemy sent platoon-sized units in an attempt to pacify the area of operations. The saturation of Reaper ground troops in the area, however, only served to maximize the effectiveness of the traps the defenders had left around the perimeter, and entire Reaper squads were being lost at once. This likely would not have happened had the Reapers realized the quarians numbered only twelve.
Unfortunately for the Marines, the Reapers had cannon fodder to spare, and by T-plus 122 minutes, the quarians had exhausted their outer perimeter defenses, allowing swarms of Reaper forces to begin rushing into the area of operations en masse from all directions without worrying about explosive traps. Enemy fire became intense, coming in from everywhere. As the Mora siblings covered their tactical retreat by providing sniper support, the Marines were forced to fall back to secondary defensive positions, within the confines of where the explosives-rigged high-rises were projected to collapse.
Operations Chief Domo noticed that Corporal Uzgar was still leaning over cover at their primary defensive positions with her rifle shouldered to fire at approaching enemy forces, even as Reegar was ordering a retreat to secondary defensive positions. Domo called for Uzgar to retreat; the corporal didn’t move. The operations chief slid over to tap her subordinate just in case Uzgar had not heard, only to watch the corporal slump over upon physical contact, dead; she had already been shot in the head, a round having cracked a clean hole into her forehead, marking the Marines’ first casualty.
Becoming encircled in an indefensible position with no cover, the quarians remote-detonated the explosives hidden within the surrounding high-rises two hours and six minutes into the defense. The effect was immediate: Quarian Marines cheered excitedly as the buildings came down in their projected vectors, toppling onto at least a hundred advancing Reaper footsoldiers and crushing them under tons of steel. It interrupted the enemy advance and forced them to regroup. More importantly, with the communications relay now surrounded by makeshift walls with only three “entrances”, a static defense was much more feasible now, giving the quarians a chance to focus fire.
Reegar, however, was far from ecstatic. As far as he was concerned, the Reapers had forced their hand. Had things gone the way the staff lieutenant had hoped, the enemy would’ve continued to assume that they were up against only a small number of quarian holdouts. He wanted to remain an inconvenience to be dealt with offhand, not a threat that must be crushed immediately. Of equal importance was the fact that his strategy might have provided them with a better chance to displace from their current location and go into hiding once the quarians no longer had to defend the relay. With a successful mass ambush, however, Reegar now had to worry about the Reapers focusing on his Marines and deploying an entire army to decimate them. It made escape impossible, leaving a static defense as the only option. More pointedly, he worried about a nearby Reaper ship deciding to end the entire charade by blasting the area with a magnetohydrodynamic weapon.
Reaper ship-based bombardment did not come, however, as the Marines were still alive by T-plus 136 minutes. They did not realize this at the time, but Admiral Coronati had deployed a naval task force to harass Reaper ships over Carratine District in an attempt to draw as many of the ships away from the quarians as possible. The allied forces did not realize this at the time, but the Reapers had also decided against simply destroying the communications relay with a magnetohydrodynamic shot. Having engaged in conventional combat with the turians for weeks, the Reapers were concerned by the involvement of the krogan and the quarians, and redirected focus on gathering intelligence of their current operations. They pursued what must’ve seemed like a win-win strategy for them at the time: Even if ground forces failed to eliminate the quarians and collect their data in time, then Reaper ships still stood a good chance of intercepting whatever data was being transmitted through the relay anyways. It was a reasonable strategy that ultimately gave the Reapers no strategic advantage (and, in fact, passed the advantage directly into the hands of the allied forces), but this is an analysis made in hindsight, and no one – not the turian fleet, the quarian Marines, the geth runtimes, or Reapers – had the full picture of what was happening at the time.
With no sign that the Reapers were simply going to melt them from the air, the Marines were looking at a new ETA of thirty minutes before the relay would be repaired. It was reason to be optimistic, except for the army of Cannibals, Marauders, and Ravagers that was swiftly gathering beyond the walls of the quarians’ defensive positions, ready to charge in and overwhelm the defenders.
The turian fleet wasn’t sitting idly as the quarians defended the relay. Coronati, Cerivix, and Resvirix monitored the situation in real-time feverishly from their ships as the mission timer counted inexorably towards the three hour marker. Coronati had sent a fifteen-ship task force to harass Reaper vessels in orbit over Carratine District, slowly drawing the enemy away from the quarians as reinforcing Reaper ships took off from the ground to aid their allies. Fleet CIC kept track of the task force’s progress even as it maintained surveillance of the situation on the ground. When the quarians had been shot down, Coronati thought it was all over; when the Reapers discovered their positions at Communications Relay 227, he was certain of it. Yet the mission timer was showing T-plus 148 minutes, repairs were nearly complete, and the Marines had lost only Corporal Uzgar.
With cameras on ships and orbital facilities directed towards Relay 227, the turians had an excellent overhead view of the area of operations. They were ineffective as CIC due to Reaper jamming signals, but passed along bird’s-eye intelligence groundside whenever they could. It wasn’t pretty: Hundreds of Reaper forces were gathering outside the “walls”, testing the quarian defenses. The Reaper had numbers, but they didn’t waste troops even though they had manpower to spare. Knowing the Marines were dug-in but isolated and without any reinforcements nearby, the Reapers knew they had the time to be cautious, to conserve manpower and wait for rallying reinforcements from Roshea.
It didn’t mean Reaper forces sat there passively. An increasing number of Ravagers were being put on high-rises half a kilometer away to bombard the area of operations with rockets. The Rosethorn system intercepted them efficiently, but that meant much of the turrets were occupied shooting down enemy ordinance instead of focusing on the infantry push on the ground. This, in turn, allowed for Reaper forces to target individual turrets instead in the face of diminished return fire. The Rosethorn system lasted for much longer than suspected, their small size making each individual turrets difficult targets to hit, but the infinite patience of the enemy swiftly began an inexorable and systematic chain of destruction, with each downed turret diminishing the quarian’s ability to focus fire and repel invaders from the area. Angry lines crisscrossed across the plaza as the Migrant Fleet Marines played a deadly game of king of the hill.
Turian bridge officers winced as they watched Domo suddenly collapse violently onto the ground while dodging a grenade too close for Rosethorn to safely intercept. Xen and Corporal Numa quickly began to pull her back towards the relay, and the turians breathed a sigh of relief as they saw Domo still moving; her suit was breached by multiple shots and she was bleeding, but the operations chief was still alive and conscious. Xen propped Domo up against some crates so she could still provide covering fire for the engineers. Her enviro-suit was compensating for the breach with medi-gel, but it needed repairs fast, repairs that were not available right at the moment.
At T-plus 163 minutes, the turian communications officer on board the Defender shouted that a direct link with Communications Relay 227 was established, that the quarians had completed repairs on the relay. The intelligence packet was swiftly being uploaded to the turian planners, who were segregated from the excitement of the moment as to put the final finishing touches on SLENDER SCALPEL. In the meantime, Cerivix began sending outdated general strategies for FORWARD FLAME down to Relay 227 using encryption codes likely to have been cracked by the Reapers a week ago. It was a counterintelligence ruse meant to achieve two objectives. The first was to pique Reaper interest in the relay, enough for them to try and intercept the communications instead of simply destroying the relay and its quarian defenders. (It was ultimately not necessary, as the Reapers had already independently decided against destroying the relay in hopes of – ironically – intercepting communications.) The second and more important objective, however, was for the Reapers to be aware of FORWARD FLAME and the impending conventional offensive. Certain details of the operations on the intercepted plans were deliberately engineered to inaccurate in order to give FORWARD FLAME an actual chance, but the point was to have the Reapers be aware of the impending offensive, in hopes that such a focus would draw attention away from the real objective, SLENDER SCALPEL.
The mood in the fleet was electric. Live video feeds of the quarians’ defense were being patched to screens in common areas. At first, the turians wondered what insanity had possessed their new allies for the Migrant Fleet Marines to descend to enemy-occupied Palaven. But as the hours began to pass, rumors of their actual objective flowed through the crowds, and confirmation that the quarians were still holding their own came in, and the turians began watching with all the excitement and anxiety of a pivotal sports game. “Those were some really intense hours,” Optimi recalled. “We were all gathered around the screens, cheering as the turrets intercepted another salvo of missiles, called out when enemy Marauders got too close for comfort as if the quarians could hear us in orbit, collectively breathed a sigh of relief when one of the snipers took care of it. You don’t see that kind of tension amongst turians watching a fight, except maybe at the Army-Navy game.” Ground troops on the Example repeatedly asked with mounting frustration for some of their number to evacuate the Marines, or at least reinforce quarian positions.
General Resvirix was among those who wanted to aid the quarians. No extraction plan had been formulated when the quarians went groundside because everyone expected it to be a suicide mission. However, as three hours clicked down on the clock, as the quarians managed to send the vital intelligence packet, as the kill count on both sides looked like two hundred-to-one, it didn’t seem to be that much of a suicide mission after all. The quarians looked like they still had a chance. But even if Resvirix had the shuttles necessary to make the trip down to Palaven, the chances they and their turian passengers would be shot down were far too high, and the Hierarchy still needed those assets for SLENDER SCALPEL. The safest way to reach the quarians was for ground forces already on Palaven to push towards their position, hopefully creating a corridor through which the quarians could be evacuated. Cerivix was not keen on the plan; the closest allied unit, a krogan battalion led by Jorgal Kurdu, was fifteen hours away according to VI projections, and there was almost certainly no chance the quarians could hold on for that long. Furthermore, the vice admiral considered it to be a needless advance that would draw unwanted Reaper attention, which could put a dent in the numbers necessary to carry out SLENDER SCALPEL. And the Khronus resistance cell could not be contacted, having returned to communications silence since confirming their impending rendezvous with the quarians on Palaven now. But Resvirix refused to abandon the Marines without a fight, and so the krogan battalion was given the order to march.
On the ground, Jorgal wasn’t given an explanation as to why the position at Communications Relay 227 was important, not that he needed it when he was told the quarians’ situation. “Any lone squad of suit-rats holding off a fucking army for three hours and still going strong is worth saving, if only so they can have a second shot,” he declared. He had his battalion roll out in the direction of the communications relay.
With the Relay 227 repaired and the intelligence packet uploaded to the fleet, the quarian engineers – Malon, Veera, Uldinn, and Verma – could redirect their attention to repelling invaders. Their help was sorely needed, with the Reapers still pressing against the quarians, looking for a lapse in their security before they overcame their defenses and overwhelmed their positions.
From a doctrinal level, the quarians had no business holding onto their position for as long as they had. Migrant Fleet Marines were trained to handle threats from as far away as possible, a logical consideration made due to the general unwillingness to engage at a range where their enviro-suits were in imminent danger of being punctured. In theory, all Marines were also trained in close-quarters combat to deal with a boarding situation on the Migrant Fleet, but rarely was this ever put into practice, as the average quarian Marine saw more shootouts over mining rights on a planetoid than boarding actions on the security-obsessed Migrant Fleet. To the average Marine, any shootout that was happening at a distance closer than long-range was very, very wrong. Also theoretical was the quarian doctrine of using sophisticated technologies to confound their enemies, with heavy reliance on VI cyber-warfare suites, attack drones, and turrets. In reality, quarian logistics had always been hampered by their limited resources and frugal use, meaning the average Marine was rarely encouraged to use anything more than the rifle in their hands unless things were going very, very wrong.
Things were going very, very wrong right now. They were deep in enemy-controlled territory with no hope of backup, and vastly outnumbered with nothing in terms of support or evacuation. It was the kind of situation that required nothing less than the acceptance that all of the Marines were dead men walking to overcome an overpowering sense of despair. They were almost certainly not going to be evacuated in time, they were almost certainly going to die, so the only thing they could do was to take as many of the enemy down with them.
A grenade landed close to where Veera was prone in a crack on the ground. It was too close for the geth to detonate it prematurely with a turret, and Veera was under too much fire to make it safely to the closest available cover, a wrecked aircar seven meters away. Instead, he tried rolling over to the grenade in an attempt to throw it back, only for the explosive to detonate just as he had picked it up, killing him. Verma, who had moved up from the communications relay to better keep enemy forces down with his shotgun, was also pinned down by enemy fire behind some crates and couldn’t make it closer to the relay even as the squad was slowly forced to give ground. He was attacked by two Marauders that engaged the engineer in a hand-to-hand fight. The corporal managed to somehow keep both of them at bay until he disappeared under a wave of advancing Marauders. Still, Reegar thought he saw two last flashes from shotgun muzzles flares come from Verma’s last known location.
Sniper cover was becoming increasingly difficult to provide. The Mora siblings, who had previously been leading the kill count by a wide margin due to their elevation advantage of their sniper’s perch, were being bogged down by continuous harassing fire now that an increasing number of Ravagers were amassing half a kilometer away to the south. With every shot they took, they needed to displace to elsewhere in the high-rise; three seconds later, salvos of rockets numbering in the dozens slammed into the general area where they had been. The geth did what they could to intercept the rockets with the Rosethorn system, but there were too many rockets, much of the ordinance was beyond the range of the turrets, and the geth also needed to reinforce groundside positions.
Another group of Ravagers took up position another half a kilometer to the east, flanking the high-rise the Mora siblings were in. These rockets were completely beyond the range of the Rosethorn system, and slammed into their targets with full fury, causing the entire building to shudder and list. There was half a minute of silence on the radio. “Kee’s dead,” Xin’Mora finally announced over the radio with more calm than one might expect of someone who’s brother had just been killed. Moments later, the structural supports of the high-rise gave away, and the building came crashing down in a cloud of dust and steel, crushing Xin’Mora under the debris.
The quarians were now without sniper support or overwatch. They had the turian fleet trying to maintain an observational position in orbit, but updates from them were impaired by Reaper jamming and were sporadic. With much of the Rosethorn network down, the Marines were no longer quite so shy about using explosives, not having to worry about blasting their own equipment in collateral damage, and quite desperate to stem the tide and create some distance between themselves and the enemy main line of resistance. Quarian return fire came in the form of rockets, launched with the kind of enthusiasm that came with a desperate desire to burn through that supply as quickly and efficiently as possible, giving the marksmen more chances to pick off enemies at range. But utilizing heavy weaponry also made them more vulnerable to incoming enemy fire, and although fire-and-forget systems on the rockets allowed the Marines to expose themselves only briefly, many of the shots penetrated remarkably strong quarian shields, puncturing their enviro-suits. More than half the survivors were wounded and leaking blood. To make matters worse, cover was becoming an increasingly important concern and an increasingly lacking commodity. The further the quarians fell back to the communications relay, the more vectors they gave up for Reaper forces to attack from, and the area had been pretty open to begin with. The Marines needed a better tactical position to defend, now that they were virtually pressed together in a tight circle around the relay. “Jun!” he shouted to his highest-ranking engineer. “Give us some cover!”
Malon, who had been attached to the team personally by Admiral Koris, understood Reegar perfectly. She and Uldinn swiftly shaped their charges and attached the explosives onto Communications Relay 227, which had completed its purpose of transmitting the intelligence packet to the fleet and was therefore of no further use to the quarians. The two engineers were no further than five meters away from the charges when they were remote-detonated, and the rest of the squad wasn’t much further either, but so well-directed were the explosions that no one was hurt, and the relay tilted and toppled precisely in the direction the quarians needed it to: In the direction of Corporal Numa. Of course, the pylons didn’t hit the team’s FNG, although Numa was none too pleased about it (“You fucking bosh’tets! You almost fucking killed me!”). Now the quarians had better cover from which to fire back at the enemy, ducking in between the relay’s pylons.
Reegar dashed over to grab Domo and haul her over to the toppled relay, but discovered that she was dead. The squad couldn’t spare anyone to treat her wounds, which were too extensive for medigel to compensate for. Her finger was still on the trigger when Reegar found her. Unwilling to leave her body to the Reapers, the staff lieutenant shoved a proximity mine under her corpse and jumped back into the relay; half a minute afterward, it detonated, taking out several Marauders that got too close. It was T-plus 194 minutes, and half the Marine squad was neutralized.
Fighter-based mass accelerator rounds suddenly rained down from the sky, causing explosions close to the Marine positions, but effectively tearing up several lines of Reaper forces. In space, the Eternal just had its drone complement restocked, and although the carrier couldn’t approach low orbit to give the quarians fire support, the hole in the Reaper defenses created by the fifteen-ship naval task force distracting the Reaper ships allowed the Eternal to sneak in two squadrons of drones into Palaven’s atmosphere. Half were shot down before reaching their programmed destination, but the other half managed to thin out Reaper ranks before being shot down themselves. (The limited effectiveness of the air strike, in Resvirix’s opinion, fortunate; Reapers considered their ground forces disposable but in no way wasted them, particularly since Palaven was proving harder to conquer than any other homeworld. Having an intact army of Marauders around the quarians was probably why the Reapers didn’t just blast the position, especially with allied relay-to-fleet transmissions already intercepted.)
The air support gave the quarians some room to breathe. Trinity assessed that there would not be a better chance for the Marines to evacuate, leaving the geth-controlled Rosethorn turrets behind to both cover their escape and act as decoys. “Creator Reegar, we advise your extraction as soon as possible,” she said. “Vessels in orbit are ready to receive transfer of geth runtimes in the event of destruction of Rosethorn platforms. No such hardware exists to accommodate equivalent transfer for creators.” (It’s difficult to tell with geth, but Trinity seemed to regard Reegar fondly. When I suggested this in our interview, she replied, “Data not available.”)
Reegar disagreed. Even if the squad wasn’t surrounded by an army, he had too many wounded to move at any speed that would outpace pursuing Reaper forces. He might have been able to boost their chances by leaving the wounded behind to cover their retreat, but even the improved chances for either escaping or remaining undetected didn’t look good enough to justify that course of action. “You people get out when you have to,” Reegar replied. “We’ll hold fast.”
The last Rosethorn turret fell silent at T-plus 210 minutes, forcing the geth to transfer themselves back to the orbiting quarian shuttles and leaving the Marines without fire support of any kind. But the Reapers still were not charging in to wipe out the last six Marines. In hindsight, Trinity speculated that the Reaper forces had yet to confirm the destruction of the Rosethorn system or the successful neutralization of half the squad. For whatever reason, though, the Reapers began to regroup outside the walls once more. This, however, was not necessarily advantageous to the quarians. With the exception of Reema, the quarians had severe breaches in their enviro-suits. This was made worse by the Ravagers firing massive amounts of salvos at the area, which weren’t direct hits but nevertheless sent shrapnel flying everywhere. The Marines were feeling increasingly nauseous, but struggled to remain lucid as they deployed the last of their normal turrets as a last-ditch defense.
The turians finally managed to piggyback communications, connecting the quarians with Jorgal, leading the incoming but distant krogan battalion. The krogan informed the Marines that his battalion was incoming to help evacuate them (and, in a show of tact not generally associated with krogan, did not add that he was still fourteen hours away). Reegar told him not to bother, explaining that damage to their enviro-suits meant they were exposed, infected, and doomed to die anyways, uttering the now-famous last words: “We’re all dead anyways. Just make them pay for it.”
Time took their toll on the weakened immune systems of the quarians. When the Reapers mounted another assault on the Marine position at T-plus 228 minutes, the defenders initially reacted sluggishly. They likely could not have held off the attacks at long range anyways, but by the time the quarians managed to bring the brunt of their firepower to bear on the next assault, the enemy was already moving into close-range. Two Ravager shots delivered a one-two punch at Malon, the first taking out her already-weakened shields and the second blasting a hole in her chest. She was too close to Xen, who got caught in the two explosions and had his arm torn off his shoulder by the blasts; he flat-lined before the minute was out.
The quarians still had one last secret weapon. Being forced to engage at near point-blank range, the Marines exchanged their rifles and shotguns for another new weapon out of Special Projects, the Reegar carbine. Despite being classified as a shotgun, it was better described as an electric flamethrower; the weapon swiftly ionized the local area in front of the weapon, creating an arc by which a powerful electric shock could then be applied, ionizing and melting anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in the blast. It was particularly effective against the Marauders, who found their shields particularly vulnerable to these weapons. Holed in, the four remaining Marines systematically took turns in firing and reloading their Reegar carbines, creating a localized ion storm that stopped Reapers from overwhelming them. They had no shortage of thermal clips to burn through, and melted the enemy at close range liberally.
An enemy grenade came in. There was no Rosethorn turret to intercept it, and although the quarians saw the Cannibal that threw it, the explosive was coincidentally thrown in such a way that it bounced wildly several times against the toppled relays, defying the attempts of the nauseous quarians to catch it and throw it back. By instinct or otherwise, Reema surmised at the bouncing around had ticked off the seconds on the grenade, and that it was just about to blow by the time it hit the ground. She used what little energy she had left to jump on the grenade, landing with it buried under her stomach. An instant after, the grenade detonated, ending messily. Reema was instantly killed, but she managed to use her body to muffle the subsequent explosion, shielding the last three quarians and buying them just a few more minutes.
Reegar was left with Service Chief Uldinn and Corporal Numa, the latter of whom was a walking casualty, fading in and out of consciousness as his immune system was basically going up in flames. All three had retreated as far into the relay as they could possibly go, focusing fire on as small a vector of approach as they could. It was tactical thinking coupled with necessity, as enemy fire had grown intense without staunch quarian opposition, and it was virtually impossible to stick one’s head out without being shot. It was insufficient to really provide insufficient cover, and the Marines knew they were just awaiting the inevitability in which they’d soon be overrun. A Cannibal managed to make it past Reegar’s covering fire as Uldinn was reloading his carbine. The service chief dropped his carbine and whipped out a handgun in time, but the Cannibal had devoured its allies’ biomass and converted it into battle plating that Uldinn’s handgun couldn’t adequately penetrate. At the last second, he managed to shove the barrel of his gun between the plating at exposed Cannibal flesh, firing just as the Cannibal fired back at point-blank range. The exchange killed both combatants.
With Uldinn dead, Reegar checked for Numa’s vitals, discovered that the corporal had flat-lined as well. At the same moment, the Reapers attempted to flush the defenders – in this case reduced to one – out of cover once again by tossing in grenades. His endurance sapped and knowing he was going to die one way or another within the next five seconds anyways, Reegar scooped up the grenades and climbed out from cover and into the open, where the subsequent explosions would do the most damage to the enemy forces that were positioned right outside.
The mission timer was at T-plus 236 minutes.
From orbit, the turians watched with quiet solemnness as the screen flashed once last time as Reegar’s grenades went off, and the weapons groundside went silent, with no more flashes of gunfire or explosions. Siritii recalled bowing his head along with quite a number of other turians in respect; some others even removed their helmets. “There was a lot of frustration that we were barred from helping,” he related to me. “A lot of rage about what we were going to do to the Reapers once we had ground beneath our boots again. But, above all, a lot of respect for what the quarians managed to do when we could not.”
Coronati opened a line of communications with the remaining quarians, confirming the deaths of the groundside Marines before thanking them for their bravery and sacrifice. He then asked if quarians had any wartime burial traditions. The ranking quarian officer, First Lieutenant Hama’Jin vas Ion, understood Coronati’s intent immediately, and allegedly replied, “Cremation is acceptable. I don’t think they would mind this time.”
It was the reply Coronati was hoping for. The Defender turned its broadside guns to the planet and provided a tremendous gun salute. Small ship-based mass accelerator rounds bombarded the area around Communications Relay 227, wiping out a significant portion of the Reaper forces still gathered there before the survivors dispersed and disappeared from orbital targeting systems. Watching the bombardment from the Example’s mess hall, Vadim thought, “It didn’t make up for us losing the quarians, but it was a good first step.”
News of the heroics of the Migrant Fleet Marines squad reached as far as Alliance space. In an official statement, a spokesman for Primarch Victus praised the quarians’ noble sacrifice. “Whatever our past politics, today the galaxy stands together against a single threat,” he said. “We are humbled by the sacrifice of our allies from Rannoch, and we promise to return the honor.” Cerivix was blunter in his assessment, writing in his memoirs, “By recovering mission-vital intelligence and inadvertently helping HDI sell the ruse of FORWARD FLAME, [the quarians] were directly responsible for saving countless turian lives at Carratine District who would’ve otherwise fought blind.”
Despite being told to wave off, Jorgal and his battalion still arrived at Communications Relay 227 anyways. They managed to shave two hours off the initial fifteen-hour projection, although still twelve hours too late save the quarians. Nevertheless, Jorgal had his men deploy across the remains of the area surrounding the bombarded relay to secure the position, scour for extra weapons and resources, and to find the remains of the quarian bodies if possible. In the meantime, he looked around and observed the carnage the Marines had left behind, finding himself surprisingly impressed at the results. “A dozen suit-rats hold a position for four hours and leave a fucking mountain of corpses behind. Damn.”