Once upon a time, there were krogan farmers.
There must have been, logically: Wrex knows that. For a very long time, before the salarian uplift, krogans couldn’t import food from other worlds. And while krogans prefer meat when they can get it, primitive krogans were more likely to be dinner than to dine on the vicious, spiky, and/or poisonous creatures of their homeworld—and it takes a lot of food to keep a krogan’s greedy metabolism satisfied. At some point in the past they must have been farmers, even in some small and subsistence capacity, just so they had enough to eat.
The fact that Bakara wants to make them farmers again, though. That is implausible to the point of possibly being outright insane.
When Wrex tells her that, Bakara gives him a look, like he’s just said something stupid. (There aren’t many people in the galaxy who can get away with that with him. She’s one of them.)
“It’s not an opinion, Wrex,” she says. “It’s just sense. We’ve gotten used to importing food and paying for it with the money we make as mercenaries. If we don’t grow anything ourselves, that’s all we can do.”
He eyeballs her. “It’s worked so far.”
“Yes. Before the Reapers depopulated or outright blew up all the colony worlds that were exporting the food cheaply enough for us to buy it. Right now what food there is is expensive, but we have the resources to grow our own. Most of the soil on Tuchanka has been left fallow for so long that it could support hardy plants, if tended properly. And kakliosaur were once raised for food, not just as mounts—and were raised by us, not by salarian scientists.” She leans forwards, hands resting on her thighs, and fixes him with one of the rare looks that can quell a clan leader: a shaman’s gaze, the crystalline red of a true garnet, brighter than blood, fixed and certain. (A clan leader is chosen because he is willing, every day, to face down death on behalf of his clan. A shaman is chosen because he—or she—has already passed through death and out to the other side. Urdnot Bakara of the women’s clan is both, and Wrex isn’t quite sure how to deal with that.)
“It’s going to be hard to convince the warriors to trade tanks for tractors,” he says.
“Easy enough.” Bakara leans back, the status-rings on her hood swaying with the movement. “Tell them they can’t breed until they make enough food.”
He shifts uncomfortably. “Now that the genophage is over, they won’t—”
“If they won’t stand for it, the women will. Wrex, we’ve seen too many children die before birth. We won’t now give birth to them just to see them starve to death in their first year. And if we have a billion children when we can only feed a tenth that number, that’s what will happen.” She tips her head, the honor-rings on her hood swinging. “We—the women, I mean—have always raised the children, so we know how much they eat.” She lifts her head, looking not at him, but at the sunlight through Tuchanka’s hazy atmosphere. The light limns her form, dramatic and imposing as all krogan should be, despite her long illness. Through the slit in her hood, he can see the sheen of her eyes, the way light gleams off her amber skin. “Besides. Krogan have always been fighters, but we haven’t always left our world to do it. Call them back and tell them to fight for Tuchanka.”
He knows it won’t be an easy thing to do. The genophage’s effect on the krogan mindset is undeniable: fight whatever there is to fight, fuck whenever you get a chance, don’t think about tomorrow. A farmer must choose his battles and always, always think about tomorrow. Modern krogans mostly disdain farmers for that very reason. But she’s right: once in the distant past, krogan did till the soil, in small ways and large. And once there were krogan artists and krogan alchemists, krogan architects, krogan doctors, krogan weavers, krogan leatherworkers, krogan blacksmiths and krogan kakliosaur-herders, krogan philosophers.
Once they had many roles. Once, they believed themselves to have more worth than being the bully-boys and cannon fodder of the galaxy, making credits by nothing but combat and spending those credits on other worlds, pissing away their value. It’s not that he doesn’t know that. It’s just that when you’ve always been so good at combat, it’s easy to forget.
Urdnot Bakara’s eyes are the red of dawn, and they remember.
“All right,” he says, letting his tone turn grumpy mostly in humor—and he knows by the way she settles in place that Bakara knows she’s won. But she doesn’t gloat; she doesn’t need to gloat.
(She’s going to be famous for as long as there are krogan living. Give it ten thousand years and probably people will remember her as some kind of goddess, the one who brought fertility and plenty back to Tuchanka in more ways than one. She doesn’t need to gloat, in the same way that Shepard will never need to gloat ever again.)
“We’ll need experts,” she says. “We haven’t farmed anywhere for millennia, so we’ll need experts. Turians and humans and asari are going to be too busy rebuilding their own worlds, so—”
“—we won’t tolerate being taught by salarians,” he warns.
“I know that, Wrex. I was thinking of quarians.”
“Quarians!” He drops his chin and squints at her. “They don’t—”
“They get sick if you look at them funny. Yes. Most quarians wouldn’t last ten minutes on Tuchanka without a guard. But they grew almost all their own food for centuries, without so much as a planet to do it on, so I imagine they have some idea how to grow food under unpromising conditions. They eat dextro, but I imagine most of the techniques will translate well enough. And they suffered far fewer losses than most other species and their homeworld is pristine, so they aren’t quite as focused on rebuilding.” She smiles, the expression just barely visible beneath her hood. “And one of their admirals is rather fond of you, I understand. They’ll help, if we ask correctly.”
“Not a bad idea,” Wrex says, slowly. “So, this moratorium on breeding until we’re growing food….”
Her mouth twitches. “The desire to not compound huge war damages with massive famine, you mean?”
“Whatever you want to call it. Does it affect… us?”
She laughs, the sound low and powerful in a way that puts him in mind of Kalross. “I happen to know for a fact that there are a lot of girls who want to breed with you, Urdnot Wrex, whatever I may decree.”
He looks at her, sitting there on the edge of the balcony, with the whole ruined vista of the old city behind her—the ruined vista of the old city, dotted as it is with the last of Tuchanka’s free-growing plant life. There was a time when krogan didn’t eat food imported from asari and human and salarian and batarian colonies. There was a time when they ate things grown from Tuchanka’s own soil, plants now extinct and plants that exist only on colony worlds and a few plants that still cling to life in the edges of Tuchanka’s ruined ecosystem—and animals, herd animals only newly reborn from fossil remains. There was a time when they relied on themselves, made their own tools, grew their own food, lived and thrived without shame on a world where nothing was easy. There was a time when they were their own people, not someone else’s tools, not someone else’s varren-on-a-leash. There was a time when they prided themselves on something other than their kill count on behalf of someone else’s mercenary squad, or how many of their own had died in someone else’s war, or how many fertile females they were able to lie with.
There was a time.
He had all but forgotten that such a time ever existed. He knows most of the younger krogan—and now almost all krogan are younger than him—know even less of the pre-uplift history of the krogan. But in Bakara’s eyes he can see that world, clear, clear as anything, clear and strong for all that her body is still weak from what has been done to her. She is a shaman and a clan leader and a woman, and unlike him she did not leave her homeworld for centuries but stayed always, and she sees.
And it’s through her that he sees, too.
“Yes,” he says slowly. “But you might say that they aren’t my first priority.”
And she doesn’t answer him, but she chuckles, low and slow, and puts her scarred hand in his.
Once upon a time.