Chapter 1: Maiden Voyage
The rocky planet slowly orbited its small orange sun. From space it had a slight red-brown colour, with occasional patches of blue and green. Shallow seas and oases with hardy, but verdant vegetation. The planets thick atmosphere shimmered with a slight tale tint, and here and there a small group of clouds drifted through it. Carriers of rain, rare and valuable event in such an arid planet. Yet despite it relatively harsh nature, the surface was bustling with life. The areas around the seas and lakes, lit up with millions of lights visible even from space, when they crossed the day-night barrier as the globe slowly rotated around its axis.
In orbit, a small armada of ships stood in guard around a space station. Most of them belonged to the now venerable Ha'tak class, all-purpose warships of the once mighty Goa'uld empire. As the might of its creators crumbled, the Ha'tak’s fearsome reputation also faded. Nowadays the original Ha'tak design was considered to be woefully out of date. Just like most of the Goa'uld created technology, they were meant to be weapons of terror primarily, and being an actual combat capable warship was their secondary function. Still, with major refits and upgrades, it remained mainstay in the fleets of ne less than three power in the galaxy. Two of them resorted their use because they didn’t have the necessary capabilities or technology to create new ones, and one of them, the Free Jaffa nation, because they were in the long process of slowly phasing them out, and designing a new class of ships to take their place. Standing guard closer to the planet, two distinctly different vessels guarded the space around it. They were bigger and, almost twice the size of an average Ha'tak and their exterior was noticeably more modern, and freshly constructed. The Bra'tac class battleships, named after the famous war hero, was designed by Jaffa engineers to be far superior to its predecessor. It had a less pronounced pyramid in the middle, with blunt edges instead of pointed ones. Its outer superstructure was entirely redesigned. It now had a ring shaped outer hull, with three sections fusing into the sides of the tetrahedron inner structure, covering them almost perfectly. The ring housed the upgraded staff cannons, providing the point defence and small-scale ship to ship combat functions, while pyramid section acted as the main deck. In the blunt tip of the hull, laid the ship most powerful weapon. The “Giant Bugzapper”, as lieutenant general O’Neill put it on the celebration held by the Jaffa High Council, was designed after the superweapon of the long dead Anubis. It had the capability of completely overwhelm the shield and destroy an original Goa'uld designed Ha’Tak, and severely deplete the shields of a number of other ones, If they are close enough to the first target. This weapon could only be fired in 15 minute intervals, but combining it with the upgraded staff weapons, led to the Lucian Allience losing most of their fleet, and fracturing into warring factions ruling over their personal thiefdoms. Currently the Free Jaffa nation had 5 Bra'tac class ships, with another three being under construction with the dismantling of old Ha’Taks providing important resources to the shipyards. Some Ha’Taks of course would still be in use, refurbished and upgraded as an escort vessel to its larger predecessor.
All in all, the fleet around the planet was formidable, even compared to the ones assembled by the mightiest System Lords in the peak of their glory. Of course, it was inevitable. The planet was called Kel'mah, the new capital of the Free Jaffa nation, and main industrial central of their empire. The system had significant naquadah deposits the Goa'uld was unable to properly exploit, and since most of these deposits laid in the desolate rocky areas of the planet, and in the outer Oort cloud, the mining operations hardly affected the biosphere. In fact this and its position was the two factors why it remained largely underutilised by the Goa'uld during their reign. The false gods relied on slave labour, something which is largely inefficient in a sun scorched desert, since even the hardiest Jaffa needs water and food to work, and the cheaper human slaves died faster and produced less. In the end, the endeavour would have costed more to the Goa'uld than the value of the mined ore. The planets position was also a factor, it laid relatively close to the border of two minor Goa'uld, infamous for their rivalry. If one of them tried to conduct some kind of major mining operation on the planet, the other would surely struck at it, seeing the chance to spite its nemesis. But the times have changed, what was once unattainable to the Goa'uld and its slaves, was proved to be a great source of wealth and power to the Free Jaffa nation after their fall. The Jaffa had allies, one of them is the Tau'ri who had much more experience with mining in dangerous environments, and machines designed to be up to the task. Of course, they wouldn’t give it for free, the deal was, that for a percentage of the mined ore, the Tau'ri would provide the machines, and train the operators. The mines provided the much-needed raw material to the foundries shipyards, and factories on the planet, while the green fertile lands around the seas and oases grew the food for the populace. It was the shining gem of the Free Jaffa nation. In its orbit, almost hidden inside the patrolling fleet, a space station blinked slowly.
Around it slowly orbited three vessels, with vastly different dessignes then those of the Jaffa home defense fleet. Two of them were smaller, dwarfed by even the Ha’Taks, but the third one was almost the same size as the Bra'tac class battleships. It had a weird shape vaguely similar to an oversized tuning fork. Its edges were more angular, and blocky, compared to the Jaffa vessels. The ships engines were situated on the singular end, slowly lighting up as the huge vessel started to gain speed, forking end pointing away from the planet into the darkness of space. Beside it, the two escorts moved into formation. Their shape was a much more common sight for the people of the Free Jaffa Nation. Tau'ri vessels, not to dissimilar from the Daedalus, once the most formidable vessel in their fleet. These ships do have had a couple of differences however, they were slightly larger, their hangar bay slightly longer and with a more pronounced superstructure at the end of the vessel. The bigger ship, moving sufficiently away from the Jaffa home defence fleet, opened a hyperspace window. As the three ships diapered inside the shimmering hole in reality, blue light enveloped them, illuminating the huge letters painted on the side of the biggest ship: “BRC-301 Hephaistos”
Teal'c stepped closer to the window, watching the swirling blue of the hyperspace. He was the only one now in this mess hall, everybody else doing their duty on the ship. The vessel was only a couple of weeks old, the second one of its class, and this was her maiden voyage. With its older sister, the “BRC-301 Vulcanos” was designed to provide support functions to the steadily growing Tau'ri space fleet. They were designed to be able to solve most problems a ship in deep space can encounter. A new ship for a new era. And Teal'c felt himself very old.
It was years ago when Master Bra'tac decided to leave the Jaffa High Council and seclude himself amongst the mountains of Kheb. After the defeat of the false gods, the Jaffa came to revere the place, as a holy place, where the spirits of the ancestral and present-day Jaffa goes, to try to ascend to a higher place. A few of the former warriors, especially the old ones, tired after a life of suffering and war under the gods who they now knew, were nothing but false idols, established a small colony there. They discarded every technology, especially the ones designed by the Goa'uld, and dedicated their life to meditation and physical work. Outsiders and pilgrims were treated with respect, but were discouraged about staying for too long. The place was holy after all, and to live there required a serious commitment. Teal'c only just started to understand the decision his old master made. He lived his whole lengthy life under the yoke of the Goa'uld, and then fought and bled just as much as his apprentice to achieve freedom, while being much older than him. He lost most of his old friends, countless loved ones, and received only scars and pain in the bones for it. His master kept his youthful vigour with sheer bloody-minded stubbornness, he needed it to use as a weapon against the false gods. And now, that the Jaffa was free, and moreover formed a stable empire, the old man let the time he denied for so long, to claim what was rightfully its own. Teal'c didn’t object, if somebody then his master earned his peace. And he got it, if his visits to the old man’s house in Kheb was any indication. Bra'tac was much calmer, and much peaceful nowadays, although Teal'c still decided not to tell him that the High Council voted to name the new battleship class after him, and especially not that he agreed with the choice. Teal’c didn’t survived his false god Apophis, countless battles against bloodthirsty foes in land air and space, just to get himself killed by his old master.
It was a couple of years after his retirement that the old Stargate Command was disbanded and a new, international team took their place. The second iteration of the organization came as the start of a slow process to reveal the Stargate Program to the general public. The existing SG teams were offered the opportunity to join the new organization but SG-1 respectfully declined and thus were disbanded. Although the members went on their different lives, they met at least twice a year to remember and talk about their current life. They were still friends, still comrades, even after all that time. And it was a long, long time. Teal'c rubbed the old faded golden symbol on his forehead. He always agreed with Bra’tacs decisions, but right here, right now, as a relic of an old era on a new ship, was the first time he truly understood it. His contemplations were interrupted by a small cough.
- Tek'ma'te Master Teal'c. -Said a young voice behind him. The old Jaffa stepped away from the window and turned around. Behind him, wearing a thick brown robe, stood Do’rac. The young Jaffa was almost a head smaller than Teal'c, and although he was quite muscular, he moved in a measured sort of way that tended to make people forget about them. He had a light brown skin complexion, indicating that his ancestors were most likely somewhere from the former Persian empire. Do’rac wore his hair in a short buzzcut, the short hair being originally dictated for the warriors of the Goa'uld empire, it became traditional for the Jaffa. The young man in contrast with Teal'c haven’t wielded a ceremonial staff weapon, and only had a Zat'nik'tel stuffed into his belt. All in all, he didn’t look like much of a warrior. And that was the point, he wasn’t one. He was one of the first in a caste which couldn’t have existed before: a Jaffa scientist. Teal'c, couldn’t help but smile a little, something which obviously made the young man uncomfortable. -M…master have I disturbed you?
-No you are not young one. -Said Teal'c in a level voice. – I was just enjoying the view. Do you wish to discuss something with me?
-I just came to tell you that according to captain Markov we will have soon reach the “Mirror installation”. He also said there is someone on the ship you might want to meet while you still have the chance. - Teal'c raised one of his eyebrows. First the smile, and now the eyebrows, he is putting his facial muscles trough quite a work through today.-He thought.
-And who is that? – Do’rac shuffled his feet nervously.
-Colonel O'Neill, Master. - Teal'c would have raised both of his eyebrows now, but instead just stepped closer.
-Did he said that? Most confusing. O’Neills rank is lieutenant general, and he is currently on the Tau’ri home world. - Do’rac nodded a little.
-That’s what I said to him master, but he insisted that I should still tell you exactly that. Oh, and that he is currently in the β training room if you wish to talk to him . - Teal'c considered this and finally gave Do’rac an approving nod.
-Then I will do so. Thank you apprentice Do’rac. -The young Jaffa tried to remain impassive, but couldn’t help it, his eyes gleamed with pride. Teal'c gave him a small bow, and the started walking towards the training room β.
Fortunately it was relatively close to this mess hall, since the Hephaistos was quite a big ship compared to any of the BC series, and with him not knowing the layout of this new class, he might have missed this “Colonel O'Neill” if It was anywhere else. As it is, he arrived just in time to the gym to see a man putting down an Intar in the shape of a P90. The man wore a light blue uniform, with clearly visible hardpoints on it. On his shoulder there was embroidered the sentence “Hephaistos Marine Corps, under it a symbol depicting a flaming hammer crossed with a sword. Still lower the name “Jonathan O’Neill”. Besides the one representing the ship he also had another insignia denoting his rank as a colonel. The man rubbed his face, and noticed the newcomer. A familiar mischievous smile spread through his face.
- Teal'c, old friend, how is it going? – Greeted him the man, and stepping closer he extended his hand. He indeed looked like O’Neill. Not the old one on Earth, aged by the constant struggles against the endless problems of the new Stargate Program and the relentless assaults of time, but a young one, straight from Teal'cs first memories of him. No, even slightly younger than that.
-Who are you? – Asked the Jaffa with obvious mistrust in his voice. He hasn’t moved to accept the gesture. The man looked at him for a couple of seconds, and then lowered his hands.
-You know it is kind of customary to accept handshakes. And Jonathan O’Neill. Or if it is easier, the cheap asgard made knock off of the legendary Jack O’Neill. -His voice was jovial, but his eyes become somewhat colder for a fraction of a second.
-Indeed, now I remember, you are the clone. – Nodded the Jaffa slowly, and inspected the man again. – You became a soldier. I got the impression from O’Neill that you are wish to remain a…how did he put it. - He recalled the exact words after a second of contemplation.- “Normal, without the constant looney bin we have the pleasure to experience.” – O’Neill shrugged a little bit uncomfortably.
-Yeah, well turns out having the memories, and on top of that, the nightmares and knowledge of a veteran SG1 personnel in the body of a teenager isn’t the best combination. -He let out a small sigh. - I kept remembering dead friends I never had, battles I never fought, and a little ki...I mean, all that, and combined it with the knowledge of what’s out there. I just couldn’t do it. Living a quiet life while in any moment an unknown alien menace can come and Independence Day of our asses, and I would be unable to prevent it… So I joined the military again. Slightly differently this time. -O’Neill pointed to the symbol on his shoulder. – First unit specifically trained in boarding actions and fights in zero gravity environment. Heck, I even know how to read Goa’uld. Or at the very least what symbols mean “Armory” and “Reactor room”.- Teal'c nodded a little. This O’Neill wasn’t the old O’Neill. But if the incomprehensible part about Independence Day, (Which was most likely one of O’Neill signature pop culture references the Jaffa learned to filter out.) was any indication, he was still very much like him.
-I understands. You are a warrior like the original O’Neill. You just couldn’t defy your nature. – Jonathan tilted his head a little bit thinking.
-There is something about that too. But, I at least finished college before joining up. I have a degree in Astronomy. It gave me plus credits for the special training. – Said Jonathan with a wide smile on his face. Teal’c was assaulted by a sudden wave of nostalgic feeling. When was the last time he seen O’Neill smiling like that? Years, maybe more. Nobody would accuse him as a sentimental, but with old age comes change in everything. There was a moment of awkward silence. In his earlier years Teal’c would have just let it linger around. Right now, he decided to apply the esotheric technique Daniel Jackson tried to teach him after he descended. It was called: Small talk.
-Interesting suit. – Chose a new topic of conversation. First step of the process completed. -Thought Teal’c. O’Neill looked down theatrically.
-Oh this old thing? EX0-02B. You know although most of our technology is reverse engineered from other technologies, and adapted or upgraded to work for us, this one is original. 100% Tau’ri you could say. If I recall correctly it is two layers of Kevlar with Trinium-Naquadaq chainmail between them, and laminated with the same material the Krull warriors had on them.
-So not 100% Tau’ri. – Concluded Teal’c inspecting the clothing again.
It looked much less cumbersome than the EXO-01 he was familiar with. Most races in the galaxy lacked any meaningful personel protection when it came to field combat. Sure, Jaffa had their armour, but it was mainly used against primitives, so while it was excellent against bows and javelins, it lacked the ability to stop even a 9 mm bullet. Some of the Goa’Uld carried personal shields, but they couldn’t manufacture them. The few destroyed devices the SG teams were able to aquire showed certain similarities with the technology of the ancients. Daniel Jackson theorised that somewhere during their early days of their history they managed to secure a small cache of Ancient technology from sometimes before the powerful ancestors of humanity truly became a dominant race of the galaxy. The artefacts were then later used as bargaining chips, and only the most powerful system lords ever had more than a couple in his or her possession. The Krull armour was also quite effective, but were only given to the warriors from which its name came from, and never became widespread. The EXO-01 was the first attempt from the part of Tau’ri to remedy this problem. It was bulky because of the layers upon layers of Kevlar and only had a couple of thin layers of refined Naquadaq. It was able to provide protection against conventional small arms and rifles, while also being able to spread the energy of a staff weapon, converting a hit which would normally burned a hole into the soldier chest, into a series of blisters and mild burns along the parts covered by the armour. The price was, that it was only good against one direct, or a couple of glancing shots. Anything more and the SG personnel would cook inside his or her own armour. Teal’c presumed this new variant was capable of resisting a little bit more punishment.
-Well, not exactly.Maybe 80. But the Idea itself is 100% from the Earth. – Said finally O’Neill. And then came the awkward silence again. Second step,- Thought Teal’c.-Change topic if one is already dried up.
-How came this is the first vessel with dedicated Marine corps? - O’Neill blinked a couple of times, watching the Jaffa with a little bit more intrest than before.
-You are awfully talkative compared of how I remember you. And it is because this is more of a priority target for boarders. After all this ship was designed to be able to – O’Neill started to count on his fingers. -Transport large amount of materials. Be able to mine small asteroids. Manufacture spare parts, and repair ships on the fly. Heck I believe it can even build new vessels if absolutely necessary. Although we never tested it. So, it’s the ultimate support vessel. And not only that, but it’s also full with experimental technologies. We have the ZPG generator, these new EXO suits, the recalibrated mining transporters, and a couple of others. If somebody manages to capture it, we are in deep shit. That’s why we have the two BC-305 as our own personal escorts, and that’s why my marine corps is here. On that topic, if we are talking about why we are here. What about you? I thought this is going to be a simple test run of Hephaistos hauling capabilities. We get our share of mined metals from Kel'mah and after that, we are going home in short order. -Talkative? Is he?It must came with the age.The Jaffa considered how to say it with as few words as possible.
-I am accompanying apprentice Do’rac and his science team. I represent the Free Jaffa nation joining in the research of the “Mirror” installation. Captain Markov offered to give us a ride. He mentioned it in the celebration on Kel'mah. You weren’t there?
-I umm…had some other pressing matters to attend to. – Said O’Neill while looking absolutely honest. So, it was obvious he was lying. Teal’c looked at him impassively and remained silent. O’Neill squirmed a little and shuffled his feet. The Jaffa just held his gaze. -Oh, all right. I got one of my captains to replace me. I hate wearing the parade uniform. It gets me itchy. - Teal’c nodded a little. The gaze always worked on humans. He just needed to look at them with a stern expression and they would tell him anything he wanted to hear. Sometimes it even worked with Jaffa.
-Indeed. -He nodded lastly. And then came the silence the third time. The problem was that Daniel Jackson wasn’t really able to teach him the subsequent steps of “Small Talk” on the account that he was also terrible at it. Fortunately for Teal’c, it was Jonathan turn to speak up.
-Tell you what. I invite you for a jello in the dining hall. I know I am not exactly the original O’Neill but we could still be friends. You tell me what happened with you, and I tell you about myself. Just try to let me speak too, since you are so chatty today.
-My friends are those who fought by my side against my enemies.- Teal’c stopped a little and considered the idea. It was a long time ago anyone spoken to him like that. Nowadays he was an elder Jaffa Master and most Jaffa acted accordingly towards him. As in cordially, but with certain distance. Nobody would tell him that he is “chatty”. He certainly felt like he missed his SG1 days. And a little bit of nostalgia couldn’t hurt.-But, I accept your invitation.
The solar system was relatively desolate. Around a small red star orbited one lonely rocky planet and a belt of asteroids. The planet in on itself was nothing more than an airless rock, its only distinguishing feature a huge impact scar bigger than an Earth continent. There was no significant mineral wealth to mine, not even a stargate in the system. What was there, was a gigantic space structure orbiting between the asteroid belt and the planet.
It was about twice the size of an Ori supergate and was also made out of individual fragments. Six main part together formed the primary structure, and each of them had an outward spine, vaguely similar shape to a thin leaf. It was ancient, both in the sense that its constructors were the race who was once the member of the four great races, and in a sense that it was constructed eons ago. Inside the ring, the space shimmered and shoved the distorted mirror image of its home system. Looking through it the lifeless world was covered in lakes and green plains. The belt of asteroids was replaced by a moderately sized red planet, like Mars and around it an alien structure orbited, glowing with strange blue light. It was like a gateway to another world. A closed gateway to be precise.
The ships and probes that tried to enter simply flew right through the ring without even so much of disturbing the shimmering image. There was no way to activate it either. It bore no entrance to its inside, not responded to any outward stimuli. Despite all that, it was still powered, and awake. If any observer tried to cut into its surface to gain access to its internal structure, it responded by raising powerful shields, capable of shrugging of any weaponry thrown at them. The “Mirror Installation” as it came to be called by the Tau’Ri and its allies, remained a mystery. It was obviously made by the Ancients, it design was unmistakable, but the outer spines were constructed from different materials and bore alien markings, their number too few to decipher their meaning. A small orbital research station was constructed around the impact scarred world a couple of years ago when the newly rebuilt Korolev arrived into the system by chance, pursing a fleeing Lucian raiding force. Since then, despite the best efforts of the research team, and even such brilliant minds as Samantha Carter or Rodney McCay, who were requested to study the gathered data in their free time, the ancient machine inside the Mirror Installation remained unresponsive. At least until the Hephaistos entered the system.
Chapter 2: Crossroads
A Batarian exploratory fleet, including the dreadnought “Pride of Khar'shan” are in the process of charting a couple of new systems on the other side of a newly uncovered Mass Relay. In another universe, the "Hephaistos" and it's escort try to deliver the Jaffa Science team into the research station studying a mysterious Ancient installation. Unfortunately the installation springs to life, and they end up in a place they don't belong.
The “Pride of Khar'shan” slowly approached the Mass relay. Its one-kilometre long frame sailed across the void, like a dagger thrown by a titan. The main body long and slightly outwards curving on both if its size, while the main engine pods emerged outwards from it forming a giant cross. The surface of the vessel was covered with no less than 20 broadside mass accelerator cannon, while the main cannon embedded inside its body was 900 meter long. The “Pride of Khar'shan” was a true beast, and the most impressive ship the Batarian Hegemony ever built. It was one of the four Dreadnought the Batarian navy had, and one of the two that could be considered up to date. The other two were officially “undergoing necessary upgrades”, although they have been undergoing those upgrades for the last 4 years, and there was no significant progress on them. The money still flowed somewhere though, most likely into the pockets of those who would rather spend it to their own needs.
Captain Bullak frowned from the bridge of his ship. This was the Batarian way nowadays. After his species were pushed out of the “graces” of the Citadel by those disgusting hairless monkeys, it became even worse. Denied by new colonies, new places to expand, the Batarian society was in the slow process of devouring itself. Class tensions grew, as the population of the Commoners grew, while their living space remained the same. All the while the superior castes became decadent. Bullak could spat when he thought about it. He was raised in a strict household to uphold the values. In his grandfather’s time, those who either born into, or earned the high caste status acted like it. There were rules, etiquette and regulations, being a high caste was akin to being a knight in human society. But maybe, just maybe this mission could at least alleviate at least some of the problems.
A couple of months ago, Batarians found a new mass relay. It was encased in ice, and orbiting a gas giant in a system previously thought worthless. It was, ironical, to say the least, that it was the same way how those despised humans found their first relay. The first ice encased relay helped push the Batarian society into the edge of the breaking point, a second one might save it. For the relay lead to 4 others in a previously uncharted section of the galaxy. The Citadel of course had strict rules about activating dormant relays, but it was the Citadel who pushed the Batarians this far, if they wouldn’t help, why should they follow their laws then? The activated relay already proved to be the greatest gift for the Hegemony since the Prothean ruins on Bira. Behind the first relay, there was a new Garden world, covered in jungles, verdant with life but not with sentience. The second system, although void of Garden worlds, contained a sizable amount of Ezoo within its asteroid belt. The third system led to a gigantic red star, already consumed half of its solar system and offered nothing but scientific curiosity. The “Pride of Khar'shan” and its compliment of seven frigates was now ready to jump to the last system. The small army was a sign of caution. The Batarian Haegemony wasn’t going to repeat the same mistake the fools of the Citadel made before the Rachni wars. If there is anything that could threaten it in these new systems, the “Pride of Khar'shan” was given authority to cleanse it from existence.
Bullak took a deep breath and his orifices were invaded with the pleasant aroma of the boiled snhor leaves. He turned in his chair in anticipation as Sardonias approached with the small steaming bowl containing the slightly bluish strips. Sardonias was a turian, about the same age of tha captain, and wore ceremonial red and white servant clothing.
-Master, I have brought you some refreshments. I anticipated that you would be somewhat tired. You haven’t slept in the last two cicles. – Havent he? -Bullak slowly rubbed the sagged skin around his four eyes. Yes, that seems about right. It was the fault of the excitement, but he still shouldn’t have done that. He wasn’t young anymore. Then something came up in his mind.
-Say Sardonias, I don’t remember you doing it either. – The turian tilted his head to the left slightly.
-Observant as ever Master. But a serf should always be available if his Master needs it. -Bullak gave out a slight smile. He liked a man, they grown up together and he was one of the few people he trusted. And he was his slave. It wasn’t a matter of shame, that was just how the world were ordered. Althoguh Sardonias was a slave Bullak suspected the men would have served him even if he wasn’t. And quite fiercly too. It must have been the result of his upbringing. He was taught to be superior by his grandfather. Superior to the lower castes and much more superior than the slaves. But a truly superior being doesn’t excerises petty cruelties on his inferiors. Most Batarians forget this.
The thomps of a heavy both distrubted his thingking just as he was in the process of placing one leaf inside his mouth. He finished the motion and slowly chewed on the savoury treat, letting the stimulating chemicals inside the plant washing the tiredness away. Speak of the devil, one of those Batarians who was in a serious need to be taught how a superior being act.
-First Officer Gorn’lam on the helm captain. -Nodded his subordinate with the absolute minimum of respect demanded by the protocol. Bullak despised the man. It wasn’t uncommon in the Batarian society to buy caste with money, and the Captain had next to no problem with that. What had problem with, if somebody bought military rank with the same way. Gorn’lam was a son of a high ranking politican. And that was all what was to him. He had tactical sense comparable to a Volus and a Krogan had better sense of etiquette. Bullak rolled his eyes, all four of them. At least a Krogan would have some modicum of honour.
-Duly noted First Officer. We are approaching the last relay. I was worried you might miss the wonder of seeing a new system for the first time. - Gorn’lam frowned a little, looking to the observation screens.
-I would never miss it. Coincidentally, I propose that we should be the first to enter the relay. This is after all the last one, it should be a momentous occasion. – Bullak considered the idea.
The previous three times the honour was given to one of the Frigates Bullak choose seemingly randomly during a kind of lottery. It was rigged off course, and although the captain found these tactics distasteful, it was the only way to ensure that those captains within his small fleet he found to have some actual talent could gain some reputation and chance to advance in the current state of Batarian military. Still, it might not hurt to be remembered, he was old after all. It was a tantalising idea. Beside him Sardonias gave a small cough and whispered to him.
-Master I would advi...- Although the Turian obviously only intended Bullak to hear that, it turned out Gorn’lam had one more merit besides his family being rich. Good hearing.
-WHAT? – He bellowed with sudden rage, and stepped closer to Sardonias. He hit him across the face. The Turian moved with the punch, turning his head sideways to mitigate the effect, and then cast his eyes downwards. – A slave should stay silent when his betters are speaking, worm.
-I apologize sir. - Said the Turian with an emotionless voice.
-That’s right you little…-Started Gorn’lam spitting at the shoes of the slave. Bullak cleared his throat and then turned all four of his eyes towards his First Officer.
- Gorn’lam please, came closer. I need to tell you something. -The younger Batarian blinked curiously, but did as his superior ask him.
The captain, with a movement showing no sign of his age raised himself from his chair, and struck the First Officer hard enough that he fall backwards. Gorn’lam sat dazed from the surprise and pain, blood trickling from the side of his mouth.
-Listen to me your pompous spawn of a human and Kahjian sea slug, do you remember who does Sardonias belong to?
-I…-Stammered Gorn’lam blinking.
-ANSWER ME.- Growled Bullak slowly, word seething with unrestrained anger.
-Yo…you, captain. -Said the First Officer slowly, touching his bleeding lips, still unable to believe exactly what happened.
-Indeed. And I don’t remember ever giving you any permission to touch, let alone damage my property. Are you finding me incapable of giving out punishment when I deem necessary? Should I demonstrate the contrary again? – The captain raised in his seat again and the First Officer scrambled backwards before he pushed himself onto his foot.
-No…-He coughed, hiding the fear from his voice and face. For the spirits of Khar'shan , it’s obvious that this idiot was never in any real combat if this is how he reacts to a simply punch.- Not necessary…captain.
-Good, I remind you that you are still lower class than me. I punish my serf when, and how I deem necessary. - Gorn’lam averted his eyes not looking at the captain. – Good. Sardonias, please continue what you had to say. – Bullak never raised his gaze from his subordinate’s face. – Have you ever considered, First Officer, that Sardonias wouldn’t be my personal servant if the only thing he could do was steaming snhor leaves? – The slave continued, now looking up, as of the entirely interruption was nothing but a slight pause for breathing in a long speech. His voice level and atonal, not giving of any kind of glee or mirth.
-I would advise sending a frigate again. If there is some kind of dangerous stellar anomaly, such as a dense asteroid cloud, or the relay drifted very close to its star, we could lose the “Pride of Khar'shan”. Compared to that, a frigate is more nimble, and its loss is much less costly. – Bullak gave that some thought too. Yes, that was more than a valid point. He almost let his pride goad him into a potentially dangerous situation. He gave the Turian a little nod, which the slave returned with a deep bow. Bullak almost smiled, always so theatrical. He resisted the urge, and kept his four eyes on the First Officer. He could tell the man almost exploded with rage and shame.
-Good point Sardonias. First Officer, gave the word to the “Fist of the People” that he is cleared for entering the relay. – His subordinate glared at him but stepped to the communication console, and gave the order. While he was away Bullak looked up from his chair to the Turian standing beside me, and taking another leaf from the bowl whispered.
- Still, you should have been more quiet. Consider your daily half cup of Turian brandy withdrawn until further notice. – Sardonias gave him a barely noticeable smile, and replied with a very faint whisper.
-Frankly, Master, seeing you hit him more than worth it. -Now Bullak was smiling too. He quickly fought it down. It was unbecoming of a military man of his stature.
-Don’t think I did it for you Sardonias. It was just a matter of pride. -Said the captain in his matter of factly voice.
-If you say so Master. -Responded Sarodonias with his “I don’t believe a word of it. “one.-Is it going to be a problem?- Bullak waved dismissively and took out another chewing leaf.
-I doubt it. The little toads father simply owns a factory or two, I found a new colony for our people. He is not in a position to hurt me. Hitting my serf…conceited brat. – Murmured slowly the captain, eating the leaves as if they were the incompetence of his First Officer. -Still, wouldn’t hurt preparing for any possibility. - He looked up to his servant again, meaningfully. The Turian bowed slowly, and loosened the holster of the hidden M-11 suppressor pistol under his servant clothes.
A smaller frigate, bearing the same general shape of the “Pride of Khar'shan”, but having only two protruding engine components, entered the blue glow of the Relay. Blue energy sparked enveloping the smaller vessel, which then shoot out, disappearing into nothingness. On the other side, the Relay spat him out in a new system. A small sun, with two rocky companions. It looked like the Batarians were lucky again, one of the planets was covered in small lakes, and plains. Another Garden World. There was also a smaller desolate rock, shrouded in airless red deserts. And between them, a huge contraption, not too dissimilar for a doorway, something which no Batarian ever witnessed before…
Captain Markov gave a small satisfied grunt as the „Hephaistos” exited the hyperspace window. Its two BC-305 escort vessels, “Aeneas” and the " De Gaulle” sticking closely to their larger companion. Markov wasn’t an imposing man if you only looked at his height. With 1 meter 65, he was on the lower end of the average for men. What made him imposing was that he was stocky, and had that kind of thick and bushy brown beard in which a small family of eagles could have nested in with comfortable ease. This was in fact was the reason his original crew on the aircraft carrier Yekaterinburg nicknamed him “Domovoi” which apparently found itself erroneously translated to “Dwarf ” under his new command. It didn’t really bothered Markov very much, it was obvious that the nicknaming was good natured and nobody dared say it to his face. Although there was something that did bother him and that was that some of the crew clearly had some umbrage with a Russian commanding one of the two prototype ships under the command of Earth. Markov intended to crush the dissent by being the best damn captain ever command a spaceship. He didn’t confine himself into his quarters for months to study and memorize every single thing there is to know about spaceship combat and the differences between it, and naval engagements to be looked down by some random crewman whose job was to make sure the fridge in the Mess Hall was clean. He sighed a little a let himself submerge into the glory of another alien solar system. Before he was shared the knowledge, he never imagined humanity can visit another world within his life time. It was more than a welcome surprise.
-How is the „Hephaistos” ? – Turned Markov to one of his helmsmen. Lieutenant Adeline Friedrich. His subordinate spoke with a barely noticeable German accent, full contrast with Markovs pitch perfect English. Maybe he shouldn’t have spent so much hours practicing in anticipation to the international crew. It looks like nobody really cares about such small details.
-Everything checks out sir. Brokkr report no significant slowing even with full cargo capacity. The ZPG really is a god send.
The Captain had to agree with the Lieutenant. It was without a doubt the most significant advance in the whole ship. An attempt to recreate the Ancients Zero Point Modul with the use of human ingenuity, Asgard knowledge, and off course a pinch of genius courtesy of Samantha Carter. The result of years of research and countless failures, one of which almost cost the research team the Alpha base, resulted in the first working prototype. It was a size of a boarding house, and relatively unstable but still showed promise. The first two properly working reactor, still a little bit too big to be installed inside a BC series ship, was incorporated into the design of the two BRC-s under construction at the time. The finished Mark I. Zero Point Generator was capable of delivering about half of the energy output of an actual ZPM with a lifespan of 20 years if not overtaxed. The ZPG could be overclocked trough, which although could raise the energy output for 2/3 of an actual Ancient design or even more, but resulted in the Generator burning itself out in a couple of hours. This, considering the device was a size of a family house instead of a bigger plastic bottle like the ones the ancients constructed, was quite a problem because replacing it meant at least 2 months of drydock. Still with it „Hephaistos” was capable of generating shields much stronger than any previous ships constructed before. By Brokkr’s estimates it even rivalled the ones that defended the mighty O’Niell class ships of the Asgard.
-Good. Bring us closer to the research station and signal the Jaffa Research team to be ready for transportation. – The helmsman nodded, her hand moving quickly on the console before her. It had human touchscreens, but also a couple of smaller Asgard control stones. Red warning flashed on the touchscreen and the helmsman stopped for a second. -What the…- The ship suddenly jerked sideways, as if some kind of tide impacted it. Something to tried to drag it out of course.
-Helmsman! What is this?
Instead of the lieutenant, another voice answered from the communication system. It was measured and calculated, and among all else, calm as ever. It was the voice of an Asgard. Or more preciously a digital representation of an Asgard mind. Turns out some of the little grey geniuses refused to just give up and die. They uploaded their consciousness into the Asgard Core given to the Odyssey and calling themselves the “Keepers of Legacy” remained there. For exchange for their technology they asked one thing, that any new ship constructed which contains an Asgard data base would also contain one of their consciousness, to safeguard it from those who seek to use it for nefarious ends. They already given up the hope that they will ever have bodies again, but not the hope that the Asgard races legacy will be to be forever remembered as a force of good in the galaxy. If a Tau’ri ship is boarded, and the defenders are overwhelmed, the resident Legacy Keeper would purge all data, fry every console, and lastly, delete itself to safeguard their races knowledge. In the meantime, they regulated day to day ship functions, checked and rechecked the automated systems, provided council for the senior officers, and reported any anomaly of they themselves couldn’t fix. As the „Hephaistos” was a support vessel primarily, it functions mostly being the construction of spare parts and repairing damaged ships from raw materials it mined, it was fitting that the Legacy Keeper who volunteered to be embedded itself into its systems was the imprint of Brokkr, one of the greatest engineers and designer of the O’Niell class.
-We are being moved towards the Mirror Installation by an unknown force. I do not have the necessary force to counteract. Especially since our systems are not responding correctly. The “Aeneas” and the “De Gaulle” reports the same problems. The effect most likely not aimed at one specific ship but effect an area. – Said the impassive voice from the speakers. -Based on the sudden energy fluctuations around the structure, I would make the educated guess, that it is activating. - The helmsman gave a string of curses in German as the „Hephaistos” jerked again and began accelerating towards the Mirror Installation.
-What she said. – Nodded Markov and gritted his teeth.
Deep inside the structure millennia old sensors sprung to life. Jolts of energies sprung from a string of nine ZPM-s, embedded into the bowels of the structure, spreading through the circuits. The automated structures accessed the necessary parameters.
Three ship convoy…. One with repair capabilities, two escorts.
Zero point energy…detected.
Control gene…Processing… Fourteen hundred individual possessing the necessary genetic markers.
Designation...ERROR…Unknown ship types.
Broadening scanning parameters…completed.
Asgardian technology… detected.
Designation... Joint effort exploratory fleet: Orion class.
There was a spark inside the gigantic gateway. The technology was marvellous, and made to last. But nobody expected it to last this long without any maintenance, under the constant bombardment of radiation, attacks of explorers, and just the general passage of time. One crystal broke, inside the Mirror installation. It was the one responsible to ask for authorization from the commander of the fleet that it wishes to enter, or not. The program instead just skipped a beat, reacting as if it already got the necessary signal of compliance.
WARNING…Exploratory fleet trajectory not suitable.
Activating automated guiding…
Locking on…Automated guiding locked.
The three ships drifted towards the Mirror Installation with increasing pace. Markov grunted as another jolt almost knocked him off his feet.
- Brokkr, beam the Jaffa Science team into the science station, whatever is this, I am not going to drag them with us.
-Unfortunately, that is impossible captain. -Answered the Legacy Keeper with infuriating calmness. -The energies swirling around us prevent me from locking into the science station. I can still try but I cannot guarantee the life of the delegation. -Markovs fist clenched together.
-All right then. Can we break free if we overlock the engines? – The voice came again as another jerk moved along the „Hephaistos” hull. It gave out a protesting creak.
-Negative captain. The ZPG isn’t responding correctly. I must assume the installation somehow interfaced with it. We cannot get out of stream. - Markovs fist clenched so hard that his fingers became white.
- Understand. Reroute every possible power to the shields. Send the same suggestion to the escort vessels. If we can’t escape, we are going to ride it through. – The Mirror installation before them suddenly jolted to life.
The spines pointing outwards started to tremble, the alien writing on them glowing with strange power. The edges of the normally slightly blurry image in the middle of it, started to swirl and oscillate. Bright blue light erupted on the tip of the outpointing structures, and then flowed down into the ring section, and lastly to the image. It’s outlines began to glow with the same colour and the image cleared, becoming almost solid. The three ships slowly slid inside, but instead of coming out on the other side as any ship before, they found themselves in a dark tunnel. It was somewhat similar to entering the hyperspace, but still disturbingly different. It was dark, not just like space, even deeper, pure deep void, where even space was non-existent. In the distance which in the absence of actual space, was exactly nothing and infinity at the same time, pure coulombs of energy rose, swirling around themselves. They were existence, and nothing, beginnings and ends there and not there in moments never created yet longer than infinity. Human mind and sensors both baffled and unable to understand any of it, the spectacle passed after a couple of seconds, leaving every soul on the three ships utterly confused and stunned. When they regained their composure, they found themselves in the same system, but in an entirely different universe.
Chapter 3: Wrath
While the suprised Tau'Ri fleet tries to find out what happened to them, and where or when they are, they encounter a ship with an entirely unknown design. Since new friends are always appriciated, they extend a hand in friendship towards the strangers. It's a shame, how it can be interpreted as a slap at the same time, if one is already full of resentment.
The Dining hall was a mess. Furniture and bodies thrown everywhere as the transition shook the ship like a wild typhoon. The people groaned and scrambled to get on their feet, checking the intactness of their various bits and pieces. They were lucky, beyond a couple of cracked bones, bruises, and scrapes, there wasn’t any serious injury. Teal’c was the first to be on his feet, Jonathan a close second.
-Bloody hell. – Grumbled the Colonel rubbing the side of his face. He touched the small combead inside his ear while he helped up a crewmember. – Bridge, its O’Neill, mind If I ask what the hell was that? -The answer was garbled static. The marine took out the small device from his ear and shook it.- I think this is busted. -There was a small beep from the internal communication and the calm collected voice of Brokkr started to sound from a speaker.
- It is a fair assumption colonel. -Answered the Legacy Keeper.- Besides some of our external sensors everything is operational, including the communication system. The bridge heard you loud and clear. I will relay what happened in their place. We entered the “Mirror Installation” while it was in a powered-up state. In my speculations it is most likely fulfilled its intended purpose.
-And why did we do that? I thought we are going to drop off my stoic friend and his buddies at the science station. – Pointed O’Neill towards Teal’c with his thumb. The Jaffa Master nodded slightly.
-It was not our intention to do so. – Replied Brokkr, as if explaining something difficult to a child. – We have been caught in some kind of energy field, which dragged us into the installation. – O’Neill blinked.
-What? Like a tractor beam? – There was a slight pause before the Legacy Keeper answered. It must have been searching for something.
-Reference to an old piece of fictional motion picture. Yes, the parallels are not without merit, although not entirely accurate. The energy field was created by gravitons…- Before Brokkr could have continoud O’Neill cut him off.
-All right buddy. That side of the thing could wait. I am going to the bridge. I assume the captain is going to want to talk with me anyway. While I walking you can brief me about the other things I need to know now. Like whats our current status. – The voice was now a little bit less calm. It sounded almost, irritated, probably because the colonel didn’t let him finish his speech about the physics of the things.
-The captain is waiting for you.
-Good then…- The marine stepped sideways to face the Jaffa master again. Teal’c grabbed his ceremonial staff weapon and held his gaze on O’Neills face. -…you are coming with me?
-That was never a question. Lead the way…- Teal’c stopped for a second. How exactly should he call the person in front of him. Clone of O’Neill sounded insulting, even if that was what he was. He wasn’t O’Neill, not fully at least so that won’t do any good either. -…colonel. -Jonathan gave him a brief smile. Looks like that was the right choice.
-All right. Just keep up old timer.
The marine broke into a small jog towards the bridge. The Jaffa effortlessly kept the peace. The colonel could have taken the Asgard transport beam, but he wanted to assess the state of the crew. Most of the people he met were completely unharmed but a couple of them had some bruises, and a young ensign obviously had a broken wrist. O’Neill spared a second to order him to the infirmary. -So…what more can you tell us…Brokkr?- Asked Jonathan slightly panting. The Legacy Keepers calm voice filled the hallways. It was almost like if an actual Asgard ran beside them. Off course that was impossible even before they lost their bodies. In the last couple of hundred years the best an Asgard could do in terms of physical exercise, was a slight frown.
-Not much I afraid. According to the star charts we haven’t moved from the system, except that it is now changed to be the same that appeared inside the ring of the Mirror Installation. The Installation itself is also here, but it is changed. The research station disappeared, and we cannot contact with them.
- Then what exactly happened to us? - Asked Teal’c slowly. His voice was not a least bit strained.
-If I want to be honest then the answer is that I do not have enough data to form a guess which could be considered anything more than mere speculation. -Said the Legacy Keeper in the same infuriatingly level tone.
-What? I thought…you are super intelligent or…something. – Said again Jonathan slowing down a little. There wasn't even a hint of sweat on Teal'c. Note to self, don’t brag about your physical prowess in front of a Jaffa Master. Now the voice from the speakers had just the slightest tint of annoyance.
-I am indeed much more intelligent than an average human. But based on the happenings there is a number of possibilities about our location. We could be in a pocket dimension, we could be in the same place but in a different time, perhaps this is an alternate universe, or perhaps the device simply changed the universe on some fundamental level, or we all suffering from hallucinations and the mechanical equivalent of it respectively. – Listed the voice. -Nevertheless. What is apparent is that there is no immediate way back.
-W…. what ?- Panted Jonathan stopping before the door to the bridge. He quickly flashed his hand in front of the biological scanner, and then stepped inside, trying to ignore his burning side.
On the bridge seemingly, everything was all right, although the colonel noticed a couple of scrapes and bandaged wounds on the helmsmans. The captain who was concentrating on a console beforehand now looked up from the noise of the opening door, and noticed him. The colonel gave him a small salute which the older man returned. -Captain? Brokkr just told me that we lack the ticket to home. -Markov scratched his beard and nodded slowly.
-Something like that. Lieutenant if you please. -The helmsman nodded and with a couple of movements of her fingers activated something in the console before her. The main screen of the ship blinked, and an image appeared on it. It was the “Mirror Installation”. No, it was not, but something eerily similar. Here, the central ring structure was an obvious unknown construction, and the outward pointing spines bore the signs of ancient design. They were smooth and silvery, while the main superstructure was covered in those alien markings apparent in the smaller parts on the “Mirror Installation”. There was a couple of more differences too. There were fewer spines, at least three were missing if originally, they had the same number of them. And inside the ring there wasn’t any shimmering image, just blind darkness. – Brokkr told me that based on its surface its missing some spines. And also, that they were likely removed intentionally, since there is no sign of damage around their coupling points. Or, to be short and frank: This thing isn’t going to work anytime soon even if we knew how to switch it on and off. So wherever, or whenever we are, we are staying for a while. -Jonathan swallowed a little and rubbed his forehead.
-Understood. What should I say to the crew? - Markov considered this for a while, then scratched his beard again.
-That we are gathering data about what happened. It is after all possible that only this system changed somehow, but our luck, I wouldn’t bet on it. And…-The captain turned toward Teal’c and gave him a deep bow.
-Master Teal’c I am terribly sorry for what happened and that we were unable to deliver the Jaffa science team to the research station as we promised. Please accept this as a formal apology from me and from the people of Ea…
-There is no need for this. -Said the Jaffa suddenly, his deep voice stopping the captain in the middle of his speech. - There were unforeseen circumstances beyond your control captain. I offer my and the apprentices assistance in the efforts to solve this problem. – Said Teal’c. When he finished he slowly moved his lower jaw a little. He couldn’t even remember a time when he spoke this much in one day. Markov looked surprised for a moment then straightened himself out and gave the old Jaffa a brief nod.
-Much appreciated. Then I would be very grateful if they could look through the data Brokkr gathered with the ships sensors. Besides the Legacy Keeper we mainly have engineers on the ships, nothing theoretical, and your Jaffa should have already studied what little we knew about the Mirror Installation. Maybe they can think of something.
-All right. I will tell them to do that. – Said Teal’c with his usual tone, about as expressive as a drywall. -I am sure together we will solve any problem we encounter. – There was a small chime from the console before the helmsman. She blinked a couple of times.
-Sir every external sensor is online again. We have a contact. -The captain spun around, as the lieutenant replaced the picture on the main screen. It now showed the weird blue glowing alien structure which was visible from the picture inside the Mirror Installation. Beside the contraption a ship stood. It was about the same size of a BC series Tau'ri vessel but with a flatter design on the top and the bottom. It looked vaguely like some kind of blade, except in its end, where two blocky outcropping housed the engine and its sides which were left much rougher, and there was a couple of structures which looked very much like weaponry.
-What the hell is that? – Asked Markov, more from himself then from anyone else. He studied anything his government knew about the aliens out there, and he never seen any ship designed like this. There was no race he knows of that flied this kind of a ship. He glanced towards Teal’c, his eye questioning.
-I know of no empire with this ship design. -Said the Jaffa Master. Markov rubbed his temple. Well, this day is just full of surprises. A new alien species had to come in sooner or later.
-This is going to be interesting then. Do you have a Daniel? -Asked O’Neill turning towards Teal’c. The older man blinked a couple of times in confusion.
-You know, a geeky guy, good with languages, socially awkward. We could do with a guy like that if we are going to talk to these new aliens. -Teal’c didn’t even had to think. As soon as Jonathan finished he said.
- Do’rac. He fits your description. -The Jaffa master looked towards the ceiling of the bridge. - Legacy Keeper, could you invite him here?
-I will do so. -Said the calm voice of the synthetic asgard. -Meanwhile, could I recommend a standard first contact data package captain? -Asked Brokkr. The First contact data package was designed after the fall of the Goa’uld and the end of the war with Ori, when the latter empire started their isolationist policy. Without them the Tau’Ri started to regularly patrol and explore the space around the former empire. With that, the possibility that they will encounter a yet unknown alien race in space grew, hence the data package. It was mostly filled with soothing images, mathematical formulas, smiling faces (Without the teeth showing.), field with flowers, and other nonsense the scientist decided to be “universally nonthreatening and friendly, but still informative”. If the other party is not going to start shooting, then they can be further communicated more meaningfully. Like for example “Do you have some shiny new technology to trade?”.
-Yes, you can send it. -Said the captain to the speaker system. - What’s the worst that could happen?
Captain Shu’la aboard the “Fist of the People” watched the console in front of him intently. Only a couple of moments before the strange alien artefact, probably prothean origin, maybe even older, suddenly came to life, not long after they arrived. From the inside of it, three ship appeared. They were of an unknown design, two frigate sized and one which according the classification was the size of a dreadnought. All of these occurrences was surreal in on itself, but what was most suprising is that his ship was unable to detect any element zero energy inside the unknown vessels. The measure of ezoo energy inside a warship was usually a pretty good indicator of their combat capabilities. More energy, stronger ship. Off course this didn’t work with cargo haulers, since they needed the power to move their bulks, but it was at least something. Which was infinitely more than he had now. Not only that, but any ship, especially one the size of that dreadnought should have an ezoo core, otherwise it couldn’t move out of the system, or use mass relays. Maybe they utilised that weird gate thing…No there was too many unknowns to meaningfully speculate. He decided to simply return to the rest of the fleet and push the problem upwards to Bullak. He was the nominal leader of the explorators, it was way above the paygrade of a simple frigate captain. Only…what will the unknowns decide to do if the “Fist of the People” leave? If they are a warlike species, they might interpret it as a prey fleeing. Or just simply as a rude gesture. Still, it’s not like he had much choice. Before he could give the order to turn one of his men spoke up.
-Sir we are receiving a data package in multiple frequencies and methods. Should I try to run it through the computer? – Shu’la nodded.
-Why not? Do that. I believe it’s going to take at least half an hour. -Sighed the Captain. – Meanwhile we should turn around and report to the…
-Its finished. -Said suddenly the helmsmen. Shu’lak blinked at him with all of his eyes.
-What? You mean it is already translated? -The helmsman pressed a couple of symbols on his console, clearly just as baffled as his superior.
-Yes and no. The first few lines of code contained an algorithm to decode the other ones quickly and easily. It still would have been some work, but apparently the machine found some similarities within it whit some already known sources. The first thing is a video file, should we put it on the main screen? - Shu’la nodded. Based on what the helmsman said it must be something analogous fir a first contact massage any citadel client races send if they encounter an unknown species. They were hardly any more of that within the reach of the Relays, but the protocols were still encoded inside the ships of the Citadel races. The Batarains had something like too once, but decided it to be a waste of computer memory. Right now, Shu’la thought that this decision was surely made by a complete idiot. An image appeared in the main screen, it was various simple geometrical shapes, then the visual representation of atoms and simple mathematical equations. After that came picture of rolling hills, flora and fauna, most of which seemed eerily familiar for Shu’la, although he just couldn’t remember from where. And then with the next couple of pictures it became clear. They were smiling faces. Laughing, and waving towards the Batarians. Human faces. During the sequence a small voice repeated greeting over and over again. Based on the writing under them Shu’la could have noticed that they were most likely from different languages, if he would have resided in a calm and logical state of mind. But he was furious to the core. They were humans. The humans were here, in the system which was rightfully belonged to the Batarians. In a system where they could settle and colonise at last, and relieve the societal pressure on their home world. And the Humans were here to take it from them once again as they did before. And not just that, they were laughing. Mocking them while doing so. Shu’las rage burnt like a thousand suns, and he could almost feel the same anger radiating from every one of his helmsmans. They are not going to be ridiculed by a bunch of two eyed hairless monkeys. The humans WILL pay for this. This system belongs to the Batarains, and they WILL have it.
-Helmsman, reverse course. -Said Shu’la, almost spitting the words as if they were burning his mouth.- We return with the fleet…and kill them all. Kill every single one of them. – According to his order, the “Fist of the People” slowly turned around and entered the mass effect field of the Relay. The human ship with the unknown designs just hanged in the void, motionless beside the strange structure from which they came. Smug bastards, they think the system is already theirs. But they are far from the Citadel now, if they die here, nobody is going to know. Shu’la closed the feed showing the smiling and waving faces from the main screen. Laugh while you can humans, there will be a reckoning all too soon.
-Well…they just turned around and disappeared inside that weird thing with the blue energy in the middle of it. – Said Lieutenant Friedrich looking up from the console. Captain Markov and Colonel O’Neill blinked almost in complete unison.
-Waoh. Rude. -Said the marine and glanced towards the captain. - Should we prepare for trouble sir? – The older man moved his head slightly. Although it was unclear whatever it was a nod or not.
- That will be the best colonel. Friendlies rarely ran away from a polite greeting. But it is also possible that they don’t have subspace communications. Maybe the ship is gone to act as a courier to get someone qualified to talk to us. For now, put the ships into yellow alert. Lieutenant Friedrich please contact our escorts, I would like to talk Captain Baptist Guillory of the “De Gaulle” and Captain Beatrix Ridley of the “Aeneas” about our further course of actions. I will be in the conference room in about half an hour. – The captain turned towards O’Neill and Teal’c.- Colonel, Master Teal’c, I would be more than happy if you two could attend.
-Indeed, I will, thank you. -Said Teal’c, slowly bowing a little. Jonathan looked a little bit baffled by the invitation.
-I understand why should Teal’c be there, he is the representative of the Jaffa nation. But why me? I am just a colonel. And technically your subordinate captain. – Markov scratched his beard inspecting the man.
-That might be true. But right now, our effective infantry forces consist of one hundred and twenty marines under your direct command and in dire need, the normal ship crew. We don’t know if the aliens are hostile or not, we don’t know if in the future we are going to have to go to the surface of a planet or not, we know hardly anything. I would like to keep you in a loop, since you were trained for this in the get go, while most of us were adapted from conventional military units. You have twenty-five minutes to check on your subordinates. - The colonel saluted, crisply. He didn’t have much time to get to know the captain, but as for now Markov seemed a reasonably competent commander who were willing to listen to his subordinates if he was out of his field of expertise. A rare and valuable trait within a commanding officer.
-Sir yes sir.
-Dismissed colonel. – The captain returned the salute and turned back towards his helmsman.- Where is Executive Officer Norman? I know that he was sick, but these are unusual circumstances. - Lieutenant Friedrich cleared her throat a little bit sheepishly.
-I am afraid he is currently unavailable sir. He tried to get up from bed during our transition trough the Mirror Installation and managed to hit his head in the side of the infirmary sink. He is yet to regain consciousness. – The Captain shook his head and sighed disapprovingly. Norman was a fine officer as much as he seen about him, but he had the worst luck imaginable. The man’s personal profile was like reading a tragicomedy. He started working with the SG-8 and on his first mission encountered a Jaffa patrol. The Goa’uld didn’t even had a presence on the planet, the Jaffa just crashed their Al’kesh and started to scout the area. Still despite that, he was a hell of a fighter and managed to take them down with his team losing one member and he himself suffering a couple of third degree burns. On their way back to the gate, another Al’kesh appeared responding to the SOS signal of the downed one, and started to bomb them. During their run towards the gate Norman managed to twist his ankle, culminating in it giving up on him on the catwalk when they managed to reach Earth. He fell and broke his wrist. During the years of his service the man was stabbed, shot (By staff weapon, bullet, Zat'nik'tel, wrist mounted Goa’uld weapon, something that spit small blobs of acid, and by a conventional crossbow.) broke his legs, poisoned by alien berries, almost got hanged for witchcraft, possessed by some alien device and at last, but not least, managed to blow up a small mountain on himself, but still survived and had an excellent success record. His justification to re-train himself as a crewmember of a star ship was that he hoped that without ground combat he will be able to get out of the worst effects of his bad luck. Obviously, he was wrong. – All right. Then please take the helm Lieutenant Friedrich and call me if he wakes up. I am going to need a coffee now. Preferably something strong enough to melt trinium.
The frigate news where insulting true, but Bullak should have been reasonable about it. He should have asked for reinforcements from the Batarian Hegemony, at least one more dreadnought and a couple of cruisers. Rushing into combat with vessels of unknown capabilities with a single dreadnought seven frigate, and the “Pride of Khar'shans” two permanent escort cruisers was not his best decision. He prided himself as a competent and logical commander, he should have acted like it. Not rushing to combat like a Krogan in a bar fight. When it came to humans all of his logical thinking was gone in a puff of smoke. This was a trait shared by every Batarian military officer, they shamed the Hegemony, it couldnt be forgive by any officer who had even a tiniest a shred of pride. And not only that, but they mocked his man, had a numerical disadvantage, and apparently unfunctional mass effect cores, without ezoo. The idea that they in fact didn’t needed mass effect cores hasn’t even come up to him. Humans used ezoo technology like anyone else. It was just too much of a tempting target. He was given the finest ship of the fleet, authority to destroy any enemies of the Batarian Hegemony, and now he had a target too. It could have been so easy. They arrive into the system, and every one of his ships fire at the Human dreadnought the same time. Such a sudden strike would drain most of the shields even from the “Destiny Ascension”. After the dreadnought destroyed, the two escorts are easy pickings for the “Pride of Khar'shan’s” main cannon. He ordered the fleet into formation, composed and sent a small report to the Batarian High Command, then the “Pride of Khar'shan” and its escort entered the relay with every intention to cleanse the other side of any human presence.
Chapter 4: When the hammer struck the blade
The batarians struck with all their hate and fury, intending to crush their enemies in one fell swoop. The cat pounced on its pray, discovering too late that the little furry thing it tought to be its dinner, was in fact not an injured mouse, but the tail end of a lion.
The conference room consisted mainly of a circular hardwood table, with the insignia of “Hephaistos” etched into the middle of it. The symbol itself consisted of the emblem of the new, international SGC (Planet Earth depicted a same way as in the logo of the UN, almost fully enclosed into a stargate, with free space for the letters “SGC” left out in the lower half of it. ) and a flaming hammer right in the middle of it. There were a couple of chairs around the table, but apparently it was just a form of decoration, since nobody present bothered to use them. On the ceiling a couple of holographic projectors blinked slowly with green LEDs, indicating that they were active. From the five people in the room, only three were present on the “Hephaistos”, the captains of the “De Gaulle” and the “Aeneas” were there by hologram, they actually presided in their own, much smaller version of the conference hall.
-We have a casualty, a crewmember fell unfortunately and broke his neck, we couldn’t save him in time. – Said Captain Guillory in a solemn tone. He was a tall and gaunt man around in his forties. The captain kept his long dark grey hair in a tight bun on the back of his head. It was completely against the military regulations and most people had no idea how he got away with it, but apparently, he had a deal made with the higher ups about it. Considering that the man while on duty was about as straight and sharp as a stainless-steel razor, it must have been some kind of compromise. Beside the hair, his face was mostly unremarkable besides being as expressive as a stone statue. There was a rumour about him actually being a party animal while not on duty, which might have come from his hairstyle, but O’Neill just couldn’t imagine it. It was like imaging Teal’c in a bouncy castle. – Considering our position I ordered a minute of ship wide silence and that his body should be disposed of by a Zat weapon. – There was a small disapproving sound coming from his side. Captain Guillory slowly turned towards the origin of it. It was captain Ridley of the “Aeneas”. The woman was of average height, and about thirty years old. She had her red hair cut into a short military standard haircut. Her most distinguishing feature was the huge and ragged scar across her right eye, leading down to her chin. The eye itself was dark metal, with a single gold light in the middle of it. Technically she was the youngest of the three captains, but the most experienced in regards of space combat. She distinguished herself serving on the “Appollo” first as lieutenant commander, and later as a first officer, until she was offered her own ship and the appropriate rank with it. Then lieutenant commander Ridley lost her eye during the battle off the Super hive, technically something that should have prevented her from serving in the navy, but she decided to volunteer for a experimental medical treatment. The cybernetic eye was the result of a joint effort research conducted by Orbanian government and the SGC. The eye itself contained a relatively simple composition of visual sensors, the main work was done by a myriad of nanites in the brain of the Captain. Their job was to translate the information sent by the camera into neural signals using a variety of chemical signalling molecules and small electric charges. The experiment was successful and Ridley’s request to remain in service was approved.
-With all due respect, that might have been a bad decision in terms of morale. We don’t know how long we will be stuck here, so it is important to keep up the spirit of the people. - Captain Guillory considered this a little and gave her a small nod.
-I can see your point there. But it was a decision born from practical necessity. We don’t have capability to store human remains for extended periods of time, and my first officer recommended this option. She believed that the other option, namely to bury him at space could pose some risks. Since we are strangers in an unknown regain the original inhabitants might try to dissect the corpse, or use it to develop bio weapons. -And that was a valid point too. Both of them were right. There came a small silence, as everybody in the room considered this. Fortunately, the “Aeneas” and the “Hephaistos” didn’t have casualties, just a few broken bones and concussions, and none of the ships suffered significant structural damage during the transition. Crashed consoles, and burned out wires, most of which was already replaced giving priority to the systems responsible to the normal operation of the ship.
After the damage report have to come the second agenda on the list.
- All right. We will talk about what we should do in the eventuality of further casualties. -Spoke Markov the first time after asking for the status of the two ships. The captains of the two escorts turned towards him. – But first thing first, we should establish clear chain of command. I was tasked with leading this…for lack of a better word, test run, on which we embarked. Now I realised that the situation has changed, but I still have seniority and the orders, that until we return to SGC I am to remain in command and I intend to fulfil those orders to the best of my abilities. Any objection to that? - His voice was stern and commanding even in the question. Markov had a reason to be as direct as possible. Ridley had more combat experience regarding spacefaring vessels than him, and he was technically the captain of a support ship although one which was the most modern vessel in the convoy.
Despite this the answer came in the form of the two BC-305 captains saluting in unison.
-Sir, no sir. -Said Guillory and Ripley together. The captain of the “Hephaistos” nodded and returned their salute.
-Good. Now I know “Hephaistos” is a support vessel first, and warship only secondary, so I will mostly concern myself with the long-term decisions of this convoy. You are both competent commanders and I don’t intend to micromanage any one of you. When I gave an order, I expect you two to fulfil it, but as to what way, is in your judgement. If I ask you to stop an asteroid from impacting into a planet for example, I will simply give you the order to “stop it”. You can blow it up, tow it away, gently push it into another trajectory with your thrusters, I won’t care if you don’t make any serious mistake, I trust in your best decision. Both of you have my outmost trust, but if you violate it, I am also prepared to overrule you. I ask again, any objections? – The answer again was two clear “Sir, no sir.” Markov gave them a half smile and nodded thankfully.
-Stand easy. Now we should decide what the hell we should do. -Both Captains nodded, their shoulder visibly relaxing. It was Captain Guillory who spoke first with an even tone.
-Maybe we should head towards Earth? Just to check if it’s still there. We can decide any further plans after that.
-Seconded. – Nodded Ripley. -It would be good to establish communications with some friendlies, and it would give us a clearer picture about what we are up against. - Markov considered the idea rubbing his chin.
- It might still be there, but what if it’s the home world of an alien civilization now? Or if it’s still under the control of the Goa’uld? It is not a bad idea, but we should go about it with outmost caution. At the very least we should position ourselves further away from Earth. We should come out from hyperspace around the edge of the solar system, that way we can scan the planet without needlessly jumping into the middle of a wasp nest. – As an answer Captain Ripley nodded and cracked her knuckles.
-And if we do find Goa’ulds. We are ready to defend ourselves. On that topic, what about the expendable weaponry and the potential damages, sir?
- The “Hephaistos” has a full load of raw naquadaq mixed with some other minerals so the expendable weaponry isn’t really a problem. The repairs on the other hand could be, depending on how much battle damage we take. We have a couple of tons of titanium, copper and about a ton of gold, silver and coal that comes from various mines across Kel'mah. -Counted Markov with a face full of concentration, as if he was reading it from some sort of an internal list. – Although for the exact amounts you have to ask Brokkr. On the other hand, what we don’t have is any trinium or neutronium aside from the ones in the emergency repair cargo space. That’s one ton of each, fortunately these in contrast with the ones from the mines are already refined so at least we don’t have to bother about that. We also don’t have any iron ore, since it is so common it isn’t economical to move it around in such distances. So, before we go anywhere we better test out the mining capabilities of the “Hephaistos” in a nearby iron rich asteroid. There is bound to be one in this system, or in a nearby one in a worst-case scenario. Before we head towards Earth we must take care of that.
-On that topic, how are we doing in terms of infantry? - Asked Guillory scratching his chin.- We might have to make planetfall somewhere to gather supplies or accomplish an objective and we have no dedicated away teams.
-Yes, unfortunately that’s true. We should make do what we have. I propose the organizing some makeshift squads from the security teams. – Markov moved a little bit back and nodded with his head towards Teal’c and O’Neill whom were standing not far behind him. - As for a potential boarding, we have the colonel’s marines on board, and Master Teal’c also offered his assistance. Beside him and his bodyguards most of the Jaffa on the “Hephaistos” are scientist, but they are still capable fighters, all Jaffa are. – Here Teal’c gave a small bow towards Markov, which he returned. - So, I am willing to transfer some marines into the “Aeneas” and the “De Gualle” to offset the loss of the members who volunteer for the away teams.
-Much appreciated... – Said Guillory, glancing towards the Jaffa master for a brief second. O’Neill could have sworn that he saw mistrust in his eyes. -But I think “Hephaistos” is a higher priority ship. So, I would like to not use the offer if it is all possible. The “De Gaulle”-s security team would be more than enough. – Markov shrugged a little.
-Suit yourself, I don’t think there is much to worry about the possibility off boarding actions against the BC-305-s.
-On the other hand we accept the offer. -Said Captain Ripley- Two fire team would be more than enough. – O’Neill saluted towards the woman, and stepped forward.
-Consider it done ma’am, I pick the least lazy good for nothings from my marines. – Said the colonel with a small smile on his face. The woman returned the smile, her cybernetic eye focusing on the marine.
- Thank you co…-Before he could finish the “Hephaistos” jerked suddenly. Previously hidden hatches slid open, and red warning lights sprang out of them. The calm collected voice of Brokkr filled the room accompanied by the cacophony of upcoming alert sirens.
-Captain, a fleet of ships exited the strange alien device. They opened fire on us. – Markov’s hand instantly clenched into a fist. Of course, the first aliens he met here are hostiles. That’s basically a tradition amongst the humans by now. Original stargate program, first contact: Goa’uld, result: a decade of war for survival. Atlantis expedition, first contact: Wraiths, result: half a decade of war for survival. “Hephaistos” test run…Well, he just has to hope that the trend continues and this time the possible war will be even shorter.
-All crewmembers to battle stations. Brokkr transport me to the bridge, and report. – Markov disappeared in a flash of Asgard transporter. The captain of the “Aeneas” and the “De Gaulle” also vanished, as the holo projectors shut down. The last two remaining people in the room was Teal’c and O’Neill.
- Welp. Here we go again. -Said O’Neill with a slight smile turning towards the Jaffa master. Teal’c already had his staff weapon primed and halfway out of the door. The colonel followed him, checking the ammunition on his P90.
-What’s the situation? -Asked captain Markov appearing on the bridge of the “Hephaistos”. Half of the helmsmen’s winced at the sudden appearance. No matter what, it was still hard to get used to the way the Captain used the Asgard transporters. Most people aboard the stars hip used them to appear before the door, and step inside out of the deeply ingrained habit that entering a room requires moving through a doorway. The captain on the other hand was a firm believer in the notion that the fact that transporters exist entirely negates the need to use doors for anything else but absolute emergencies. This habit of him contributed to a great deal towards the productivity of the average crewmen, since he or she could be sure that even if the captain is not currently standing behind him or her, he could be there the next minute without any prior warning.
-Shield are 91 % and recovering sir. -Said Lieutenant Friedrich who was the fastest to recover. She was charged with the bridge until the captain arrived after all. Her fingers quickly worked on the console, and updated the captains console with a tactical display. Markov glanced towards it, there was a tight group pf red shapes around the symbol representing the strange blue glowing alien device in the system.- There is ten enemy combatants. Seven vessels of the same class we have encountered before, one is about the size of “Hephaistos”, and two intermediary vessels with around 670 meters of length. They are firing again. -A cluster of small red dots appered on the tactical display, quickly moving through the space separating the “Hephaistos” from them. There was another jerk, and the main screen of the “Hephaistos” showed hundreds of flame flowers blooming on the surface of the vessels shields. The biggest enemy vessel and its two escort continued to fire in salvos, while the seven smaller ships moved away from the bigger ones and split into two attack groups. Each of them headed towards one of the BC-305-s. – Shields 88% after their last attack, they appear to use solid slug weaponry. Should we return fire? – Markov grinded his teeth, then nodded. The shields of the “Hephaistos” had much more power thanks to the ZPG, two salvo like this against one of their escort ships could drop one of the BC-305 defence screens to almost nothing. Its better to struck back before they decide to take out one of the battlecruisers first. There is no other way about it.
-Send the orders to the “Aneas” and to the “De Gaulle” too. Tell them to watch out for the main batteries on those bigger ships. Our first priority is to chase them away, but if they remain stubborn, they are forcing our hands. Execute evasion manoeuvres and continue to draw the fire from that big bastard of a ship.
The two-fleet approached each other in a silent dance of battle. The “Pride of Khar'shan” continued to fire its main cannon towards the “Hephaistos”, but the third shot missed its target by a wide margin. To the surprise of the Dreadnaughts weapon teams, the unknow human ship wasn’t disabled and a sitting duck as initially expected. The solid slug flew above the “Hephaistos” as it ducked under the Batarians firing range. At the same time the “Aeneas” reached the first wing of frigates. The battlegroup consisted of four ships which promptly opened fire on the human ship, expecting easy kill. Frigates usually operated in small to medium sized attack groups, finishing off the bigger enemy ships when their shields already failed. They had almost no armour but excellent attack capabilities for their size, and great speed and manoeuvrability. A lone frigate, and one which moved in a relatively straight path as this one, was usually the definition of vulnerable. The batarians expected an explosion, and a cloud of slowly spreading debris, instead a shimmering blue shield appeared around the human vessel, shrugging of the kinetic projectiles with relative ease. On the hull of the strange human vessel turrets sprung to life aiming towards one of the frigates, while two spikes of azure energy thrust towards the same target. It really was a tremendous overkill. The BC 305 series was constructed to be the mainstay battle cruiser of Tau’ri. It was designed to take on Wraith Hive Ships and Ori Battleships and to be able to offer a fighting chance against anything the universe decides to throw against it. According to that, it was highly modular and able to fill a variety of roles. The variant to which the “Aeneas” belonged to were equipped with four Asgard plasma beam battery, four missile tubes and sixteen A-001 Successor pulse turrets. The first one was a direct gift of the Asgards, the second one was off course traditional Tau’ri technology, but the third, like the ZPG aboard the “Hephaistos”, was the results of years of reverse engineering the technology of the Ancients. The starting point of the research which resulted in the A-001 was a derelict ancient ship found orbiting around a red dwarf. It was irreparably damaged by the constant radiation of the small unstable star, but originally must have belonged to a class which served the role of a small scout ship. The “George Hammond” managed to save and bring back a moderately sized chunk of hull from the slowly disintegrating derelict. This contained a pair of relatively intact Ancient pulse turrets which provided the Tau’ri with the opportunity to start reverse engineering the technology. The resulting A-001 Successor class pulse turrets although had the same amount of damage potential as the Railguns the earlier BC classes used, and were a slower, had a major advantage. They required no ammunition. This freed the place usually occupied by the ammunition storage, resulting in the BC 305-s having an extended compliment of F-302 fighters and FB-303 bombers. Right now, the reddish globs of energy fired by the turrets impacted the frigate tearing it in half even before the Asgard beams reached it. The three other frigates made a sharp turn, clearly shaken from the sight. Still, they were behind the enemy now, so they couldn’t back down, they made another attack run, this time firing their disruptor torpedoes. The weapons used the mass effect fields to create localized distortions which were capable of ripping targets apart. They used mass effect fields to slip through kinetic barriers, by making themselves appear bigger than they actually were. But they were designed to slip through the known types of shields. The ones protecting the BC-305 not only worked on a different principle, protecting the vessel against various energy types beside kinetic impacts, they also had different safety protocols regarding approaching objects. The torpedoes didn’t slipped past the shields, instead clinging to it, like a band of ticks before detonating. The wave of torpedoes blew in one big cluster, and the shields of the “Aeneas” dimmed significantly. Two of the frigates made a turn, preaparing to fire again, while the last one made a run for it towards the cruisers. They didn’t had the chance to do either of them. This time four azure lance struck out from the “Aeneas” accompanied by the blood red salvoes of the pulse turrets. Two beams missed their target, due to the mobility of the frigates, but the three Batarian captains was unable to dodge them, and the hail of pulse fire at the same time. One plasma beam cleaved clean through a frigate, and another one pierced a second one diagonally and must have hit something because it exploded into a cloud of dust almost instantly. The third one was able to dodge the beams aimed at it, but the pulse rounds shredded it, tearing chunks out of its hull, until it became nothing but a lifeless husk.
Captain Bullak wordlessly watched the main screen. What happened was a string of impossible events by definition. First a ship, without any ezoo core not only survived a full salvo from the “Pride of Khar'shan” its two escort cruisers, and ten frigates, but it did it with basically scratch damage to its shields. After that, it moved out of their firing arcs, while the two frigates closed in to attack. A move of utter incompetence, since they are only really useful in attack groups. He gave the permission to engage the human ships. It was four to one. It should have been an easy victory. And it was, for the enemy. It withstood the attack and returned fire with something, which was according to the sensors and his own four eyes, was two different types of direct energy weapons. Direct energy weapons of course didn’t exist, just as a ship of that size moving without ezoo, but apparently the humans decided to not only ignore the laws of the Batarian Haegemony, but the laws of the universe too. The other frigate sized human vessel approached his second attack wing, rapidly accelerating. Bullak almost jumped out of his seat.
-Open channel to the “Fist of the People”! Captain Shu’la! Regroup with the “Pride of Khar'shan”! I repeat, change course! – The Batarian frigates began executing a sharp turn, but It was already too late.
The “De Gaulle” fell on the three frigates like an eagle on a flock of birds. The first two azure spear cut down the closest frigate, reducing it into a cloud of half melted metal fragments. Blood red energy started to pour from the pulse cannons, and enveloped the second frigate. It was utterly annihilated, its kinetic shield providing no defence against this type of weaponry, its meagre armour melted in a fraction of a second. The third frigate was lucky, the plasma beam aimed at him missed, and it managed to execute the sharp turn, speeding towards the rest of the fleet. The “Fist of the People” managed to get away, losing every ship under its command.
-Damn these humans to the blackest void! – Growled Bullak, his hand clenching into a fist. – First officer, target that unknown vessel with everything we have. We will save the Fist. – The captain took a deep breath. Behind him Sardonias gave out a small cough. Bullak glanced towards the turian, questioningly.
-It might be advisable to retreat master. – Bullak’s jaws tightened. He felt his teeth’s crunching together almost to the point of cracking.
-Yes. It might be. – Said the captain with such distaste that it almost made him vomit.- But I won’t. We have to at least bloody them, otherwise they will just annihilate us when we try to turn around. I don’t know what kind of weaponry they have, but it obviously goes through our shields. By the looks of it, the hull of the “Pride of Khar'shan” would survive being pierced trough two or three times before we fell apart like a pleasure ship bought from a volus second hand seller. Our escort cruisers maybe able to tough trough one of those lances, if they are lucky. They can’t tank the shots while we are turning but we can, while they are. We have to cover them. If I have to choose if none of us gets home, or the Batarian Hegemony gets to have two more cruisers and one more frigate in the army when they have to face these ships again, I would choose the latter.
-Master, need I remind you that one of those frigates fired four of those beams at the same time, and we are a pretty big target. – Bullak forced a smile onto his face. It was slightly predatory.
-Then we are going to be a pretty tempting one too, aren’t we? The disruptor torpedoes seemed to hurt them, apparently, they have different kind of shields which collect them. Most of our fighters are equipped with those, while the others are interceptors. We are going to swarm them with disruptor torpedoes, and take out at least one of those frigates, while the cruisers and the “Fist of the People” return to warn the Hegemony. Gorn’lam -Turned Bullak towards his first officer. The man looked at the main screen with complete disbelief. His face was horrid, as if he has seen some kind of hideous eldritch horror coming from the deepest parts of space itself. - Gorn’lam!- The first officer shuddered, and looked towards the captain with a haunted expression. It was most likely the first time the pompous bastard ever seen actual space combat, much less been on the losing side. – Give the command to every ship to release their fighter compartment and command them to close up with us. After that, our escorts should reverse course and enter the relay as soon as the “Fist of the People” catch up to them. Also include in the message that every fighter pilot taking part in the action will receive the “Hero of Khar'shan” medal. - Gorn’lam relayed the message to the other ships, then froze, when he realised something. He spun around, clearly even more shaken than before.
-That…that medal is only given posthumously.
-Yes. -Said Bullak in a solemn voice. – They are fighter pilots, they will understand. -The first officer had to grab onto a console to stop himself from falling to his knees. His eyes darted around like a frightened animal. Bullak looked at him with utter disdain. – For the spirits sake pull yourself together. You are an officer.
-What…what are you trying to do? - Uttered Gorn’lam, looking directly into the four eyes of his superior.
-We are going to cover their escape. I don’t have much hope that any of us will survive this, but pray that some of us get lucky. – The first officer became even paler than before. Suddenly he stepped back, drawing his sidearm. His legs were visible shaking as he raised it higher and pointed it towards the captain who raised all four of his eyebrows. Sardonias stepped behind his master’s chair, apparently to avoid direct line of fire.
-I will not die here because of your incompetence!! You…you are unfit for command! I relieve you of it!!
-You are becoming hysterical. -Said Bullak in a calm and collected voice. He was obviously unconcerned about the weapon wielded against him. – Don’t point that gun at my chest please, or it will not end well. - Gorn’lam gave out a small bitter laugh, his hands clearly shaking.
-FOR YOU! You don’t get to order me around anymore, you shouldn’t have done it in the first place. You old piece of antiquated human dung! Turn. This. Ship. Around.
- I see. -Nodded Bullak with a small sigh, looking inside the barrel. It was the look with a meaning behind it. Something along the lines of: “Shame.”- I have no choice then. Sardonias. -Before he could even finish the word, there was a loud bang, from behind him. While his arms were covered by the chair, his serf drew his weapon, and after his command he fired it with a deadly precision. Gorn’lams body slumped into the ground, blood gushing from his forehead, limp fingers still clutching his sidearm. A moment of silence descended into the bridge. Bullak slowly pushed himself into a standing position, straightening a wrinkle on his uniform. He run his four eyed gaze across the bridge, inspecting every helmsmen.
-Anyone else wishes to die as a coward instead of a hero? -Nobody moved, some of them even closed their eyes. Bullak nodded towards them.- Good, it was an honour serving with you all. Execute my orders.
Markov watched the devastation on his screen with a stern expression. The alien vessels appeared to have some sort of shield system, but it was ineffective against their weapons. Their smaller vessels were torn apart with relative ease, although the “Aeneas” lost 40%-of its shields when they attacked it with some kind of explosive weaponry, and without ZPG module their shield recovery rate is much slower than the “Hephaistos”-s. Still, most of their ships were wiped out, and the one that survived from the second attack wing was retreating. Markov hoped that further bloodshed can be avoided.
-Sir, the two middle sized vessels are starting to turn. - Said Lieutenant Friedrich. while moving her hands in quick flashes of motion on the console in front of her. As he said, the two red markings indicating the escort vessels of the biggest enemy ship, started to slowly rotate. Markov breathed out.
- All right. It looks like they are retreating. Order th…- Before he could finish his sentence, a swarm of red dots started to stream out of the bigger ships on the tactical display not far from him.
-They are releasing fighters, around a hundred and fifty of them. They are coalescing around the biggest ship. Sir, they are heading towards the “De Gaulle”. -Updated the Lieutenant. Markov growled with disappointment.
-Bloody idiots, are they incapable to realise when they are outclassed? Do they have a death wish? -There was a small chirping sound, and Brokkr-s calm voice filled the bridge.
-Captain, based on their energy readings, the fighters are equipped with the same kind of unstable gravitational weaponry that severely damaged the “Aeneas’-s shields. I have to conclude that the “De Gaulle”-s compliment of twenty-five F-302-s will be unable to repel enough of the fighters to save the ship. In fact, if we order them to fly out, they are most likely going to get destroyed without giving the cruiser any actual tactical advantage. – There was a small red dot streaming out from the biggest ship towards the BC-305. It hit the battlecruiser, dimming its shields. - Also, the biggest enemy ships is firing on them.
- B`lyad'! Can the “Aeneas” help it out?
-They are in the opposite direction sir. – Lieutenant Friedrich answered, reading the tactical data from her console. -We are closer.
-And even then, we couldn’t be sure that is going to be enough. Considering their actions, that the other ships heading towards the device from which they came from, it is most likely that they will try to swarm one or both ships, disregarding their causalities. I have to a…
-It is a suicide charge. – Said Markov suddenly, his face becoming expressionless.
-Most likely. - Said the infuriatingly collected voice of the Legacy Keeper from the intercom. Markov breathed out. He wasn’t going to lose one of his ships in the first engagement as the leader of this convoy.
-Order the “De Gaulle” to make a sharp turn and adjust our course to rendezvous with it. Can we make it before the aliens get to him? – Friedrich nodded, and with a couple of taps of her finger the planned route appeared on the tactical display.
-We will arrive about a minute before the enemy. – Markov studied the tactical display, and then touched a symbol on his console. His voice now reached even into the deepest parts of the ship.
-To all personnel we are heading into combat, T minus five minutes until contact with the enemy. Prepare the Chair activation on my mark. – The air on the ship almost became solid with anticipation. In the belly of the ship, a dedicated officer slowly eased herself into a relatively uncomfortable sitting position. She bit down on the oxygen pipe, as the capsule closed around her, and the pod was filled with salinated water. The time moved at a snail pace, as the “Hephaistos” approached the “De Gaulle”. Hot on the BC-305-s tail, came the swarm of enemy fighters, slowly getting closer and closer to it. The big behemoth of the bigger ship was behind them a little. The “De Gaulle” swooped over the “Hephaistos”, executing a sharp turn, ready to fight by its side. The fighters, eager to fell upon not one, but two escort less bigger ships, closed in. – Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Mark. - The “Hephaistos” was a support ship, and not a warship, but like his name sake it kept a big hammer around, and when needed it was capable of delivering quite devastating blows with it. The hammer this time meant four batteries of Asgard beam weapon, and a XA-004 Successor pattern control chair. The latter was the main damage dealer, and another experimental technology integrated into the systems of the “Hephaistos”. The XA-004 was reverse engineered from the Ancient and Ori designed standard control chair, and the console of the Puddle jumper class Ancient shuttle and was more like a full body immersion capsule instead of a comfy sitting place. It required so much energy that the only planned BC-305 type to utilise the weapon system once it leaves the experimental stage, the “Swarmer” variant would have to forsake every other type of offensive weapon in exchange. Fortunately, the ZPG installed on the “Hephaistos” meant that it could operate normally with the XA-004 being active, in exchange for the shield recharge rate dropping to basically zero. Of course the control chair was not the offensive part of the weapon system, that role was given to the drones. The A-001 was the first type of reverse engineered Ancient weaponry the Tau’ri ever developed under the pressure of the constant depletion of the remaining drones manufactured by their ancestors. The A-001-s were little more than small warheads encased in a naquadaq-trinium alloy and given powerful propulsion systems. What was unique about them was their guiding system, which was able to interface with a control chair, giving the user the same kind of neural link which the original drones used. It wasn’t as agile as one made by the Ancients, nor was it able to pierce a ship two or three times before detonating, but it was one hell of an effective weapon against hive ships and Wraith darth swarms, and, the Tau’ri was able to manufacture them in large quantity. The more advanced XA-001-B variant installed on the “Hephaistos” was sturdy enough to pierce the hull of an enemy capital ship, and execute a sharp turn in the middle of the inner structure, damaging the vessel further, and detonating in an even more vulnerable position. Right now, thousands of XA-001-B-s launched from dedicated tubes all around the outer hull. They were about two-meter-long, with slightly bulky appearance, reminiscent of an overweight cuttlefish, their head glowing with an ominous orange colour, indicating that the neural interface was active. They bloomed out of the ship like a swarm of fireflies and surged towards the Batarian fighters…
-What the spirit forsaken nightmare is that? – Whispered Bullak under his breath in an empty and shocked voice. From the human vessel born another impossible weapon, this time something that really do looked like some kind of supernatural being. A swarm of orange dots, writhing and flowing with malicious intent came towards the Batarian fighters in a massive wave. The pilots tried to evade, but the glowing spots pursued them. Before the fighters could realise, they amongst them, encompassing them into a cloud of death. They weren’t simply VI guided missiles, that was obvious from their organic movements. The unknown specks of lights were intelligent, and cooperative. They appeared to thin out then and there, but when a Pilot tried to escape through the apparent holes in their formation, it was immediately struck down by one or two light which seemingly headed into a completely different direction before. A couple of the things lazily chased a wing of fighters, the image somehow made Bullak recall a memory when in his youth he seen a small group of varren hunting, chasing the pray into an…He wanted to scream ambush, but it was already too late. Suddenly wave of specks came up from under their line of sight, and obliterated the wing, leaving no survivors. To the credit of the fighters the very bravest of them tried to break through and launch their torpedoes, they were the first one to die. To fire, they were forced to aim, or slow down from their maximum speed, which resulted in the drones catching up to them. The causality list on Bullaks tactical display grew with every passing second. Before he could give another command, a sudden jerk shook the ship, and red lights bloomed in the bridge. While the fighters were distracted by the attacking swarm, the smaller human vessel started a flanking manoeuvre, now appearing above the “Pride of Khar'shans”. Fortunately, the first salvo it fared came from its turrets which only pierced the outer hull of the dreadnought, without significantly damaging its internal systems.
-The cruisers and the frigate! Are they escaped? – Shouted Bullak suddenly, turning towards one of his helmsman. The younger Batarian gave him a small, scared nod as another jerk shook the dreadnought, a much bigger one. The crew of the bridge fell to the floor from the sudden violent motion, and a couple of explosion shook the bridge. As smoke started to pour out from various hatches another alert started up. “Significant structural damage. Loosing atmosphere. Significant structural damage. Loosing atmosphere.” – Repeated the sharp VI voice.
-ABANDON SHIP. EVERYBODY TO THE ESCAPE PODS! - Bellowed Bullak, trying to get on his feet. He manged halfway through, when a shockwave from a secondary explosion somewhere in the bridge pushed him down again. Suddenly a strong arm grabbed his hand, and pulled him to his feet. Bullak gave out a small painful hiss. He must have twisted his shoulder during the jerk.
-I am here master. We are getting out of here. – Heared Bullak a familiar voice not far from his ear. It was Sardonias. With the help of the Turian he started to make his way towards the escape pods. The bridge was already half filled with smoke, it seemed like some of the consoles exploded, killing any unfortunate crewmember currently manning them.
-They must have been bought from some damned volus manufacturer. -Murmured Bullak, trying to distract himself from the seriousness of the situation. It looked like at least half of the bridge crew was already dead. The hatch leading to the hallway was already opened. The escape pods designated for the bridge crew was only a couple of meters away from their battle stations, even if the actual builders of the “Pride of Khar'shan” cut a couple of corners, at least the designers wasn’t stupid. Most of the escape pods were already launched, but they managed to find an empty one. Just as Sardonias closed the hatch, another sudden explosion shook the ship. Trough the small window on the hatch the Turian was able to see an azure lance of energy bisecting the walkway they traversed just a minute before, bodies and atmosphere suddenly sucked out by the unforginving vacuum. Bullak hit the ejection button, and the escape pod launched into the blackness of space, the “Pride of Khar'shan”, the Batarian Hegemony greatest dreadnought, breaking apart behind them.
Chapter 5: Getting to know each other
A day after the battle in the system containing the 'Mirror Installation", the knowledge about it already reached one of the major players in the galaxy. About 36 hours before, immediately at the end of the conflict, the Tau'Ri decides to learn more about their attackers.
A day later
The dying star bathed the station in radiation and sickly red light. The radiation shielding glass’s hue turned the blood coloured light into a blue one. The reflective floor bounced it back, and illuminated the only visible occupant of the room. The man, was around his low fifties by the looks of it, and wore an immaculate black suit. Before him, an extensive holographic display hovered with numerous lines of data and charts. He slowly lit a cigar, and touched a button in the display, which immediately shut down most visible streams on it, and opened a channel. After a flash, a holographic figure of a woman stepped forward. She wore a hard suit with a visible N7 symbol on the chest of it. Her hair was dark auburn, cut short, and with a little bit ruffled look. There were some scars on her face, but they were so faint, that the natural flickering of the hologram completely erased them. She folded her arms before her and looked at the man in the chair, waiting. All in all, everything about her screamed that she was first and foremost a warrior, and also that she was pretty annoyed.
-Commander Shepard. -Nodded the man, taking a puff of his cigar.
-Tim. – Returned Shepard the gesture. The Illusive Man blew out the smoke and shook his head.
-I do so wish that you would stop using that annoying nickname. Acting like that is unbecoming of you.
-Is it, Tim? - The commander now took explicit care in pressing the last word harder than the others.- It’s little hard to maintain professionality with someone who unleashes a horde of body snatching aliens on a colony just to test if his pet theory about the Collectors wanting to get me, is true, or not.
-And it was. -Said The Illusive Man breathing out a puff of smoke. – Sometimes you need to take desperate measures, who knows, maybe without it we wouldn’t had such a good opportunity to catch the collectors in the act. We got information about their tactics, and a confirmation of their involvement with the reapers.
-And how far we should take these desperate measures? -Grunted Shepard. -I visited project Overlord, you know that. Torture of the mentally handicapped, what’s next? Genocide?
-I haven’t been properly informed about the handling of that project. But…- The Illusive Man slowly lowered his smoking cigar, and looked into Shepard’s eye. His eerie cybernetic eye glowed slightly. - Let me make something clear to you Shepard. If somehow, we found out that the only effective weapon against the Reapers who threaten us, and most of the galaxy by the way, with extinction, was made out of the spine of infant Elcors, then I would be the first to grab a butcher knife. Not because I hate them, but because I love humanity that much. -Shepard was ready to explode with a sharp comeback, but this time The Illusive Man was faster. He raised his hand apologetically. -But I didn’t call you to argue about my morals. Some of my informants from within the Batarian Hegemony managed to get their hands on some interesting intel.
-I have to stop you there. – The commander raised her hands. - You have spies inside the Batarian Hegemony? But they hate humans with burning passion. – Said Shepard with a sceptical voice. She had some run-ins with the Batarians, and truth to be told, the feeling was mutual. Most of them were gigantic assholes who enjoyed inflicting petty cruelties on anyone who were unable to strike back at them in some way. As if that weren’t enough they classified “slavery” as an endearing cultural tradition, and secretly funded hundreds of pirates, kidnappers and privateers to get those slaves.
-Please Shepard. – The Illusive Man leaned backwards, raising the cigar towards his mouth. – I have spies everywhere. Why would the Batarians be an exception? Yes, they would probably hate me with a burning passion. – The Illusive Man blew out a thick puff of smoke. - But that’s exactly why they have no idea who they are actually working for. But that’s not important now. What is important is that they managed to come across something that scared them to no end. Something destroyed one of their dreadnoughts and most of its escorts. The enemy apparently only consisted about three ships, and they used long range directed energy weaponry, super strong shields, and something that was described as “thinking missile swarm”. Oh, and according to my sources, they were humans. – Shepard tried to mask her surprise, but she hardly succeeded. The closest they came to those kinds of weaponry was the GARDIAN lasers, but they used a lot of energy, and were only useful in “knife fighting” range where the ships were already so closed to each other that a wrong move would have resulted in a collision. Aside that, Sovereign had something what they first thought was a direct energy weapon, but even that was more like a beam of molten metal shot out like a lance. Then the last thing The Illusive Man said came up in her mind.
-Did you say humans? -The Illusive Man gave her a small nod, and raised the cigar towards his mouth again. The end of the small brown cylinder glowed stronger for a second, before he lowered it and blew out the bluish smoke.
-They said that, but I personally don’t believe a word of it. You know the Batarians. If one of them trips over something and shoots himself in the foot, they will find a way to blame humans for it. It is most likely some new species with a vaguely similar ship design to us. Or an Alliance secret project. Although I doubt it. I would know it if it was.
-Well, there is a first time for everything since I agree with you. I was out for a while, but I doubt we made such technological leaps in the meantime. Tell me honestly, Tim, is it another one of your side projects gone haywire? – The Illusive Man shook his head, making the cloud of smoke disperse around his head.
-If I had access to that kind of firepower you wouldn’t call me in that infuriating nickname. You would address me as Mr. President, saviour of the galaxy. -The Illusive Man leaned forwards. His face even more serious than before. The difference in the air became palpable, sharpening into a knife. -I don’t think you grasp the exact weight of this Shepard. Sovereign used Kinetic shields. Very advanced, and immensely powerful, but they were kinetic shields nonetheless. This thing can shoot trough them without ease. If we managed to get our hands on this kind of weaponry, we might stand a chance. Even if they adapt to them, they have immense amount of energy, but not unlimited. They would have to divert it from the kinetic shields or the weapons, weakening them. -The Illusive Man leaned backwards, his fingers tightening around the arms of his chair. -We have a chance. – The last words were different. Not as sharp or stern as before. They contained a grain of human emotion, a shard of something that hinted at that the man might not have been popped into existence by the dream of a particularly racist wolf, but had an actual childhood somewhere down the line. It had hope in it. It was so shocking Shepard couldn’t help but to move closer to the holographic image of The Illusive Man before her, studying his face. The leader of Cerberus quickly composed himself, as if nothing happened.
-You thought we don’t have a chance before that don’t you? - Said Shepard, slowly, watching the mans face as if she half expected that he suddenly grow another head. – You paid millions to resurrect me, you are willing to do everything, but you still thought that we have no chance to actually succeed. – The Illusive Man shook his head dismissively.
-Against the Collectors? Sure, we can, they are nothing but tools. Against their masters…I have my own doubts. I believe in humanity, I just don’t believe in anyone else. But that’s was one of the things why we needed you Shepard. You think differently. -Shepard didn’t answer, instead she just gave him a small nod. She indeed did. She still believed that altough the residents of an asylum for the criminally insane could run a better government than the Citadel Council, it exists as a communication channel, and uniting force among the races. And if all of them get together, they can weather trough anything.
-So where are these “human” ships? – The Illusive Man tapped a couple of buttons on his holographic display. An icon blinked in Shepard’s console. The commander gave a quick glance towards the data points filling it. It showed a system relatively close to the edge of Batarian space, except, that it was obviously too far away, into uncharted territories of the Galaxy. With conventional FTL they couldn’t reach it.
-There is no relay leading there. -She said slowly, looking back towards The Illusive Man.
-There is one now. The Batarians activated a dormant one, leading there. – Shepard blinked. Another surprise. There was two good reason why no one activated dormant relays. First because there could be anything horrible on the other side, secondly, the more convincing one, because the Turian’s kicked the ever living shit out of anyone who tried. That was basically the base Alliance law, do what we say, or we send the Turian military after you. The last time someone unknowingly broke this particular law, they invaded a colony.
-Are they suicidal now? I would help to accommodate them if they are.
-More like tactical unfortunately. They would have gotten away with it- Said The Illusive Man with a thoughtful voice. - After Sovereigns attack on the Citadel left hundreds of dead on the hand of the geth, a strong anti-war sentiment spread through the public, stronger than they usually have. Even if the Turians would have wanted to attack, the others would vote them down and stick to some strict economic sanctions. Unfortunately, since the Batarians already under significant sanctions, and the new systems offer new resources that would be about as effective as warning a Krogan that bashing your face in would be really impolite. Then again, they managed to get burned with their little endeavour so ultimately it worked in our favour. They haven’t even managed to properly chart the four-relay connected to the one they activated, much less close by systems before they stumbled upon those mystery ships. -Said The Illusive Man, smoke streaming from his mouth as if he was some kind of ancient, patient mythical monster. – We need to check those vessels for ourselves, and the Normandy is the best ship for the job. If they are hostile, god forbid, some kind of reaper scouting force, you have the stealth capability to get out of there unnoticed and warn us. If they turn out to be a new race, you should try to acquire their technology. – Shepard considered this, glancing towards the data packet again. Since the relay was within the borders of the Batarian Hegemony, it was in a dangerous section of space for any Citadel ship, basically suicide for anyone which had humans on it. And the Batarians must have at least doubled their security after the incident. It is possible that the Normandy is the only vessel which can reach the system before the Hegemony managed to organise an effective suppressive force and attack these mysterious ships again. If they managed to destroy them they will lose the chance to acquire the technology if they don’t, they might convince them to go to war against them, or worse, to adapt a shoot first, ask question never policy.
-I will go and check it out. But I won’t steal their technology, or attack them to get it. All I am going to do is ask them, and try to get through them diplomatically. – The Illusive Man nodded, putting out his cigar. The small spot of orange light was strangled, and it faded out.
-That’s all I ask. I don’t want conflict with this species right now, and even if I would, I would send somebody without your moral barriers to do so. Still, don’t forget how important that technology is. - Shepard made an agreeing head gesture and stepped backwards.
-All right Tim. See you around. -Her hologram suddenly vanished from before The Illusive Man. He gave out a small sigh and turned his chair the other way around, inspecting the star behind him. He remained that way a couple of minutes, in silence, then touched one of the symbols on his holographic display. There was a small beep signalling that the connection was established.
-Get me Kai Leng. – He ordered, and without waiting for affirmation he shut the feed. If Shepard fails, he will have to resort to other means of obtaining that technology.
A Day before
-Status report. – Barked Markov, watching the unknown ship breaking apart under the merciless strikes of the “De Gaulle”. The azure lances tore down its hull, piercing the alien vessel all the way trough. It was remarkable and spoke the strength of its superstructure that it survived two clean hit, before it gave away. The four huge pieces of starship material slowly started to drift apart of each other, as the escaping air and internal explosions gave them a little push. Before it was destroyed, a swarm of escape pods shot out of it, mostly aimed towards the plains covered habitable world in the system.
- The “De Gaulle”s shield are over 78%, the “Aeneas” already have full capacity, and so are we. Enemy fighters al neutralized. Minor hull damage in the Aeneas, just cosmetical. - Stated Lieutenant Adeline Friedrich, sorting trough the data on her console. -Approximately 25% of the fired drones are recoverable and reusable, the others either detonated or were destroyed by interceptor fire and close explosions. That would take as back to 64% of our maximum drone capacity. – Markov rubbed his temples. That might be going to be a problem in the future. They had the naquadah for the charges inside the projectiles, but their hull required trinium, which they had in a much more limited number. If they are going to have to fight more engagement, they might have to resort to manufacturing the older A-001 drones. They weren’t as useful against capital ships, but they were much cheaper, and could easily take out an unshielded fighter.
-All right. That wasn’t as much as a disaster as I feared. Good job everyone, we won our first engagement here. –Despite all his worries about the future Markov forced a confident smile on himself, which was apparently good for morale since the helmsmen’s responded with their much more genuine one. The captain nodded and turned towards the lieutenant. – And how is the enemy?
-They jettisoned about a hundred escape pods, and there is a couple of life signs inside the debris field that used to be their fighter squadron too. About fifty life signs are noticeably fading. I think some of them are dying sir. – The captain grunted as the helmsman put the result of the life sing scans into the main screen. There were a couple red dots around the drifting husks of destroyed fighters. Some of them inside one the wrecks, possibly in severely damaged but not destroyed ones, and others slowly drifting outside of them. These later ones must have worn some kind of spacesuit to be alive at all.
-I sees. Damn, what should we do? We can’t just let them die out there. – There was a chirp from the com system, and the captain turned towards it. The familiar calm voice of Brokkr filled the bridge.
-Captain, I took the liberty of scanning the planet most of the escape pods are heading towards. The atmosphere roughly matches that of Earth-s or Orilla-s at least in regard of the elements and their distribution. They also similar to the composition of gases which escaped from their destroyed vessels suggesting they could survive on the planet. - Markov considered this. It is not like they have a better option. There was nowhere near enough holding place on the “Hephaistos” even if they indeed breath the same atmosphere. The cargo holds were not only full, but they were also made to house only ores, so they weren’t all pressurized. The Asgard transporters enough range to transport the survivors to the planet, so either that, or letting them die.
-All right. Transport them to the planet. And if they indeed have a similar chemistry then we might as well get to know out unknown attackers a little bit more. -Said Markov, slowly rubbing his beard. – If they already tried to kill us then a face to face might be an order. Any idea how to get to it? - It was Brokkr again who answered the fastest.
- The “Hephaistos” has 7 quarantine rooms in the event of any of the crew contracting a serious disease. I suggest we use those as a makeshift holding cells. The similar body chemistry holds the possibility of their pathogens infecting one of the crew or they are producing some kind of chemical that toxic to us. This would eliminate that.
-That sounds good to me. -Nodded Markov slowly. -Now we only need to figure out how to talk to them, and make the necessary security adjustments. Can we remove any potential weapons during transportation? – There was a brief pause before Brokkr answered, possibly the time for another scan sweep and some data aligning.
-Captain I could try but it would require immensely difficult calculations to not remove chunks of their body at the same time. I could try but even I cannot guarantee that they will arrive without serious harm. -Markov gave out a small dissatisfied grunt then straightened himself out. Well of course, that would be too easy. The world really should have the decency to act like a science fiction show once in a while.
-Don’t bother. We do this the conventional means then – He turned towards his helmsmen. -Lieutenant Friedrich, I want the colonel and his marines, guns ready, in front of the quarantine rooms. Also, contact the Jaffa scientist Master Teal’c recommended. Daroc maybe? -He tried.
- Do’rac sir. -Corrected one of the other helmsmen. Markov gave him a look, but in the end, he only nodded.
-Yes, him. Unfortunately, I am not too good with Jaffa names. –“Who was?” Thought Markov. They had the habit of inserting apostrophes in here and there, without apparent reason. There is a reason why most Tau’ri calls the Zakte’nek…Z’akatek…Zat gun, Zat gun. - Contact him, send him any transcription we managed to intercept from their communications and tell him to go to the quarantine rooms as fast as he can.
-Yes sir. - Acknowledged Friedrich and after placing one control stone to the other side on her console, she relayed the orders. While she did that Markov scratched his beard. Now to choose who to make contact with. Unfortunately, the life pods on the screen were nothing but a collection of red dots, and they would want to speak to somebody who have more knowledge than an average janitor.
-Brokkr, scan the area and search for the Aliens life signs, tell me if you find something interesting. -There was a small sound coming from the com system. It was between a sigh and a beep, combining the function of booth.
-Captain might I ask you your definition of interesting? – Markov turned towards the com system with an incredulous look. He stopped himself from responding with sarcasm. It wasn’t the Legacy Keepers fault that they were sometimes insufferable. The Asgard was the same even before transition.
- Anything out of the general trend Brokkr. Like the last or the first life pod. One which seems to be transmitting orders to the others. That kind of thing. - There was a couple of seconds of silence before the answer came.
-I list them on the main screen. – As he said it, most of the life signs on the main screen disappeared as a filter excluded them because they weren’t “interesting” enough. There was the first escape pod, launched even before the ship started to break apart. Another one which had more than fifteen occupants, almost entirely filling the space inside it. They were lucky that the planet was relatively close, only in two hours of travel, otherwise they would have suffocated in a day. There was one, containing three occupants, heading towards the edge of the system, no doubt knocked off course by a secondary explosion. Markov gave the order to transport these three to the surface of the planet too. There was one which had a weird spin, its four occupants will probably experience the most disorienting time of their life for the next two hours. And there was a single one, which contained to different kind of life signs. One which belonged to the same species that every other life sign, and one totally different. Not only that, but it had some frantic bursts of communication with the other pods.
-Now, THIS is interesting. – Murmured Markov and highlighted the pod on his own console. – This one. Bring in this one.
If somebody would have said Bullak that he was going to get teleported one day, he would have laughed right in the face of that person. It was just simply impossible after all. He didn’t really know why, he was a military man not a scientist, but apparently it was against some kind of pretty hard-line rule of physics. Apparently, somebody forgot to tell this to the humans, maybe the stuff about ships not flying without ezoo, directed energy weapons are impossible, and this, was covered on the same celestial class. One which the humans decided to ditch, in favour of learning how to spat on everything that was holy to other species. Captain Bullak realised that his thoughts were rambling and jumbled and forced rigid logic on the screaming mass that was his nerves. He was good at it, and soon, his brain kicked back into gear. A couple of second before he was in the familiar insides of the escape pod, trying to organize their food supply. There was a problem with it, namely, everything was levo based. And Sardonias couldn’t process that. His personal servant had the habit of being around him even when he stayed in duty longer than he should have and because of that had a small pocket of dextro snacks on him at all time, but that wouldn’t last. He tried to think about something while Sardonias assured him that he would kill himself before he becomes an inconvenience to him due to his starvation. He almost shot the idiot in his kneecaps. The Turian saved his life, and although as a personal servant and slave that was technically his job, he wasn’t going to just let the man die. He was raised to be a superior being and he would be lower than a worm if he would have let the man who saved his skin put a bullet in his head for the sake of his “convenience”. He remembered starting a small speech about how they are going to get saved before any of them dies and gesticulating with a packet of dried of snapping eel…And then Sardonias disappeared in a flash of bright light. And them the light came again, and he was standing in a small room with a single bed and a table. Everything was sparkling clean and sanitised. It reminded Bullak to the high-end hospital where his grandfather died. Everything was covered with easily washable surfaces, everything looked sterile, and lifeless. And he was alone, with a packet of rations in his hands. He shuddered and looked around again. There was a sealed door behind him on one of the walls. It had a small slit for sliding in food, and a huge window occupying most of the upper half of it. He stepped closer, inspecting the other side. There was another outer door, looking much the same, and its window shoving the wall of an empty hallway.
-By the spirits of Karshan. What the hell is with this day. -Bullak let the packet fall out of his fingers. It dropped into the floor with a small crinkling noise. There was a small click and the outer door opened. Five people stepped into the space between the two. All of them were humans. Bullak clenched his jaws together. If he could kill with a stare, all of them would have been immolated right then and there. Three of them wore some kind of a uniform. It was blue and sported visible hardpoints. It was different than a hardsuit, much more primitive by the looks of it. It was quite a contrast compared to the capabilities that their ships had. The remaining two people looked even more primitive. They wore robes, with curious staffs in their hands. It was thin on its hand, but ended in a bulbous contraption. Bullek didn’t remember any particular Earth religion, but he never or read military reports about humans dressed like that. One of them wore a golden emblem in the middle of his forehead, seemingly embedded in his flesh. The other one had a tattoo there, it wasn’t one, but two symbols in strange lettering. His omnitool apparently were unable to translate them. Which wasn’t really a surprise since although Bullak didn’t knew, they came from a very old dialect of the Goa’uld and its basic meaning was between “free people” or “lord less Jaffa”. Every new Jaffa who reached their adulthood after the formation of the Free Jaffa nation received a tattoo like that, to help them remember two things. That they once were slaves under false gods, and they will never be again. Right now, the younger man with a vaguely brownish complexion looked around and took out a small clipboard from under his robes. It had a couple of notes stick to it. If Bullak was any judge of character, and he became a captain of the Batarian military somehow, then the man was nervous as a private in its first battle. One of the blue uniformed men touched something near the inner door, and suddenly red light enveloped Bullak. He shut his eyes massaging them with his fingers. There was a calm robotic sound:
- “Decontamination complete. No dangerous pathogens or toxins present.” -Must have been some kind of VI. Bullak lowered his hands, the five humans were in the room, weapons raised.
The captain tried to remember if he had weapons with him or not. He realised in horror that he took his firearm out in the escape pod, to check how many thermal clips they had, and he haven’t got time to put it back into his holster. He was without any means of self-defence. The humans didn’t have that kind of problem. The three uniformed ones, two men and a woman had something similar to the arms in circulation trough the citadel, although they seemed a little bit more primitive and Bullak couldn’t recognise their manufacture. The two-robe man on the other hand wielded entirely different weapons. The one with the golden symbol on his head lowered the end of his staff, which suddenly crackled with orange sparks. Bullak swallowed, and decided to remain silent. The one with the tattooed forehead raised his clipboard and cleared his throat barking a couple of syllables in horrible butchered Batarian.
-Me Do’rac. Are you, you? – The former captain of the “Pride of Khar'shan” blinked with all four of his eyes. Did the human just tried to speak on its native tongue? Why the hell didn’t he used his omnitools translator function? Who are these people? He stared at them in complete disbelief.
-He seems unresponsive. -Said the man with the golden symbol on his forehead. - Maybe we should try the other one. – The other one? Bullak hoped they were talking about Sardonias. He is still alive, and that bodes well for his servant being in the world of the living too.
-Yeah, maybe. -Answered one of the blue uniformed man. He had slightly faded light brown hair. - Mr. Ugly Four Eyes here have to wait then. – Before they had turned around Bullak decided to finally speak up.
-You are not much too look at either. Hairless monkey.
-Woah. – Jonathan blinked a couple of times. When the alien spoke, it came as a mix of unknown syllables in his own language, and clear English. This last part apparently came from somewhere around his wrist. Suddenly light blinked to life around the beings hand, and it became something similar to a holographic glove. The two marines beside them immediately raised their weapons higher. The alien froze in an instant, glancing towards them. - Okay…so either the new Daniel is so much better than the old one than he already taught him how to sass, or he has a translation device. – Murmured Jonathan, glancing towards Do’rac. The young Jaffa gave him a sheepish look.
-I…can only say short words currently.
-And your pronunciation is terrible. Can you not point those to my face? – Added the alien, giving the marines a damming look. They lowered their weapons a little bit. - Why aren’t any of you wearing an omnitool? Or hardsuit for that matter. Who the hell are you people? - O’Neill tilted his head a little and glanced towards Do’rac again. The scientist gave him a small headshake, indicating that he had no idea what the alien was talking about. The colonel decided that being a strict interrogator would be the best approach to get more information.
-Listen four eyes, its we who are questioning you, what’s your name, your species, and why did you attack us? If you answer for that, maybe we will give you some information in exchange too.- The alien blinked at them a couple of times, then shrugged. All of these are publicly available information. If captured the Batarian military officers supposed to keep quite about all classified information, or even kill themselves if the hostile forces threaten them with torture. The thing is these humans were definitely not System Allience. He didn’t know any other factions of the race before, aside from privateers and pirates, but apparently, they existed. If he would have known that, he wouldn’t have attacked the first place. The Hegemony had problems with the System Alliance, if another government composed of humans opposed them, maybe some diplomatic ties could be made. Or at least it was possible before he decided to try and blow them up. He sighed, the luck of the Batarians. Only the Krogans had it worse.
- My name is Bullak of the High Mountains, first class captain of the Batarian navy. I am a Batarian which should be pretty obvious to anyone in the galaxy. And I have attacked your fleet because I assumed it to be Alliance. – Said the alien, focusing all four of his eyes on O’Neill. The colonel folded his arms looking at him very sternly. The Batarian wasn’t bothered by it the least.
-Well, we are Alliance. – Before Jonathan could have elaborated his statement Bullak gave him a small snort.
-System Alliance? I doubt it. You have basically no knowledge of the wider galaxy, look completely different aside from being humans, and have quite different technology. If you are indeed System Alliance then I am an Elcors cousin. -Jonathan glanced towards Do’Rac again who made a small shrug.
-I guess some other species. -The Jaffa added. Colonel O’Neill gave him a n approving nod, it doesn’t hurt to encourage the kid and turned back towards the alien.
-Well, no, we are from the Alliance of Rising Races. Although I guess we are pretty far from home, so It shouldn’t matter. – The Alliance of Rising Races was a loose collection of species and powers within the Milky Way Galaxy. It wasn’t actually an alliance, more like a promise that in the event of a crisis which threatens all of them, they were react as one, and work together to avert it. It was formed after the war with the Ori concluded with the followers of the Origin retreating to their galaxy and isolating themselves. Its main goal was to avert any future incursion similar to theirs into the galaxy. The Alliance of Rising Races was composed of the Tau’ri the heir and successor of both the Asgards and Ancients two of the Great races of the past, the Free Jaffa Nation technological heir of the former Goa’uld System Lords who wished to forge a new future of their people, the Hebridan-Serrakin Union which wished to colonise and expand its economic influence, the Tok’Ra which after the fall of the Goa’uld became distant hermit kingdom concentrating all of its efforts to preserve their race in the absence of a living Tok’Ra queen, and lastly, the Tollan Reascendency which was started by the scattered survivors of their people and lost much of their technology but was in the process of repopulating with the help of the other races of the Alliance. In the three ships that crossed trough the “Mirror Installation”, there was only representatives of two, possibly three races. Officially there was only humans and Jaffa, but off the record Jonathan could have sworn that the Tok’Ras wasn’t really that good at being a stay-at-home civilization, and they have at least a couple of spies scattered amongst their allies. Although he might have been a little bit paranoid about them being on these three ships specifically. -Tell me about that System Allience. -Murmured the colonel. - Are they human?
-Yes, they are. - Nodded Bullak slowly contemplating what to say about them. They were snivelling little scums, who used their power to steal Batarian lands, and worm themselves into the grace of the Citadel? They were butchers of relatively innocent Batarian traders? He opted to tell the bare bone minimum facts. - They are the governments that rule over the human home world, I believe it’s called Earth, and all of its colonies. We Batarians generally consider them our worst enemies, hence why we attacked you. – The colonel slowly nodded. Well that explains some things, and of course create even more questions. If this Alliance is the governing body of humans here, that means they couldn’t be in the past. The future is also unlikely, since their ship technology was generally less advanced. This left only a couple of possibilities, and it was pretty obvious which one was Jonathans favourite. He dusted of his uniform and glanced back towards his man.
-Good news lads, I believe we are in a parallel reality. Like in Star Trek.
- What? -The question came almost simultaneously from all mouth.
-It’s a perfectly logical conclusion. -Assured them the colonel.
- I would usually say that you are all insane, -Said Bullak slowly.- But I am starting to think that I am the only one here who Is one thruster short of a steering drive and everything here is some kind of elaborate hallucination. Sure, if you say you all came from a different dimension or something, I believe you for now.-The Batarian gave out a small sigh.- Damn, I need some snhor leafs. So, what do you intend to do with me? – Jonathan scratched his chin, thinking.
-For the time being, we will treat you like any other captured enemy combatant. You get treatment for your wounds; food and we will ensure that no harm done to you. In exchange you can give us some more information. – Bullak considered this. As an officer of the Batarian military he shouldn’t give them any information. That would be the proper conduct most likely, even if they aren’t currently classified as enemy of the Hegemony. On the other hand, beside swinging their weapons around as a security measure, which he could forgive them since they apparently just encountered a new life form, they treated him relatively fairly. Maybe he could extend a hand of goodwill, as an apology for his earlier actions.
-As an officer of the Batarian military I am in no position to give out more information. On the other hand…-He said, making a little pause. Jonathan raised his eyebrows. – …if you swore to me that you would treat my man’s well then, I happen to have a slightly outdated copy of the Codex on my omni tool. If it would find its way to some kind of information container...Well, its public knowledge after all. You could have got it from anywhere. -The colonel gave him a small nod.
-I promise that no harm comes to any of your man while we are in this system. We already placed any of them that were stuck in space into that habitable planet with our transporter. They should be alright for at least a couple of weeks, I assume by that time your people will be back.
-I have no right to inform you with the mobilization speed of the Batarian armada. -Said Bullak with a completely innocent expression. Then he nodded once, barely. – But I request in the name of the Hegemony to treat my man with outmost respect for the next…seven-eight days maybe.
-So we have eight days until this "Hegemony"-s fleet arrives? -Asked the O'neill eyeing his captive. Bullak looked completely and utterly surprised.
-I wouldn’t know where you get that idea. – The colonel couldn’t help but smile a little bit.
-No, I wouldn’t either.
Chapter 6: We are going to need some better guns
The Tau'ri starts to get to know the world they have been trhown into thanks to the Codex. First order of business? Make some new weapons. Meanwhile the Normandy finally catches up to them.
Markov rummaged around in his pocket until he found what he was searching for. A small bluish packet, with a cheery blue logo, and some cheap light effect painted in the background. He slid out the leaf of gums inside it, and popped one into his hand. The captain quickly placed it into his mouth and started to chew on it. Frankly, he hated the taste of it, but it was better than the alternative.
As the taste filled his mouth he slowly scrolled down on his personal data-pad. It was basically a big touch screen, the size of an A4 paper, and only a hair width thicker than that. It was more than seven hours ago when colonel O’Neill burst into the bridge excitedly informing him that he managed to get the “Encyclopaedia Galactica” for the discount price of not shooting the prisoners, which they wouldn’t have done either way. This Encyclopaedia was called the “Codex” and contained basic information of the galaxy they currently resided in. Based on its contents and previous scans, Brokkr concluded that they are most likely in a different reality. That was almost enough for Markov to go over the edge and start smoking pipe again, but fortunately Executive Officer Norman chose this time to recover from his loss of consciousness. He seemed entirely composed, despite his bandaged head, and since he managed to get a note from the ship doctor that he was fit for duty, Markov decided to take a small break. He still ordered Lieutenant Friedrich to immediately call him if Norman seems even a little bit dazed, but the call was yet to come.
After a small 4 -hour nap to get rid of some of the weariness, he used the remaining time to study the Codex. It was quite an interesting read, containing most of the political situations, and a couple of basic concepts about their technology without going into any hard science. The latter part will probably make the “Hephaistos”-s engineering core piss themselves in sheer joy, but he was more concerned about the former. It turns out the “Batarians”, the aliens that attacked them, weren’t really major players in the galactic community. They were currently side-lined by the government called “The Citadel Council” which was the main governing and unifying force in the galaxy. The four eyed aliens apparently not only used slavery, and financially backed pirates, but also had a tendency to be arrogant and disrespectful towards other races because they see them as inferior because they only have one pair of eyes. For lack of a better comparison, they were the uglier version of the Lucian Alliance just after they started to lose ground against their enemies, but before they fractured into warring minor factions.
-Great, just great. -Markov bit down on the nicotine gum again, as if he had a personal grudge against it. – We managed to beat up the smallest kid in the playground, and we possibly got the attention of the bigger ones. -Still they at least had a little time. The Batarian Captain, Bullak, alluded that they have about 8 days before a bigger flotilla arrives. He wasn’t too sure if he would trust the word of the alien, but even if he was lying, they could probably get away without confrontation.
Everybody in this galaxy used something called the “Mass Effect” technology. Markov didn’t really get the technicality of it, but the important thing was, that it restricted them to small scale FTL jumps, and they could only travel large distances between old transportation devices called: “Mass Relay”-s. Furthermore, even these small scale FTL jumps took hours or even days, although the “Mass Relay” travel was almost instantaneous. To make matters worse, after a couple of jumps, their drives had to “discharge” around a large celestial body. This meant that aside from the closest systems around the Relays, significant portion of the galaxy was almost entirely unmapped. It reminded Markov the way the Tau’ri was forced to visit only those planet that had Stargate, before they managed to build proper interstellar ships with proper FTL drive. Nowadays a BC-305 with their Asgardian jump drive had the capability to travel between galaxies, although they rarely did so. At home the SGC-s current main focus was to fully map the Milky Way and expand their military and industry.
Markov asked Brokkr about an hour after he started reading why this galaxy never developed the conventional subspace FTL that was prevalent in their own universe. The Legacy Keeper explained to him, that it was quite easy. They found something that was better on the short term but worse in the long. He explained that the first two species to develop FTL in their own universe was the Ancients and the Asgard, with a couple of decades between them. Both races spent at least two hundred earth years to develop the technology before they managed to build their first working prototype. These primitive interstellar ships travelled for about a month before they reached their closest neighbours and they required immense amount of resources to build. The FTL the Tau’ri managed to get their hands on was the result of centuries of improvements on the same technology. Brokkr stated that if his species would have managed to find the much easier and initially much more cost effective “Mass Effect” FTL method before they developed their own, they might have never started their research on subspace drives, because in their primitive states, the one used in this universe is just much better. There would have been no indication that it is a technological dead end. The races in this universe were similar to the Tau’ri in some aspects, and vastly different in others. They managed to get their hands on technology beyond their comprehension, and after they figured it out, they simply used it for everything. The difference came about the Tau’ri-s casual disregard of the significance of said technologies. Before the captain could get angry Brokkr elaborated on the word “disregard”. The beings in this galaxy had an almost religious reverence of the ancient race they got their technology from. In one case it was exactly religious, the species named “Hanar” believed that the “Protheans” were gods. Since the technology they got was so perfect and useful many of the races refused to even consider that it might be flawed or insufficient in some way. If they do decide to innovate, they did it by simply following the research paths laid down by the ancient race. A little bit better shield, a slightly stronger star-ship material, but never developing fully new concepts. On the other hand, the Tau’ri when managed to acquire technology, the first thing they did was to try and figure it out how to improve on it, and new uses for it. They never treated it as anything else than a couple of pointers, and not as a pinnacle of technological creation. Brokkr theorised that by the end of the next century the Tau’ri would start to build their own version of stargates, or some kind of new transportation method altogether, meanwhile this galaxy a millennium or two have to pass before they figure out how to build new “Mass Relay”-s if they don’t find blueprints for them somewhere. Markov slowly chewed the gum as his thoughts returned from the conversation to the present.
-Well, I hope our arrival didn’t shake things up too much here. If possible, I would like to miss out on being the reason for them to innovate to destroy us. -He murmured scrolling down a little searching for something. – Turians…Turians. Ah, it’s here let’s see about our other guest…-There was a small chirp from the com system, and Brokkr-s controlled voice filled the room again.
-Captain, the foundry is reporting that they managed to refine about 3% percent of the naquadaq ore from our cargo hold. – Markov nodded, pushing himself up into a sitting position. He ordered the start of the refinery process to free some space. While the only ship that suffered any damage during the fight was the “Aeneas” which had some of its outermost armour layer warped somewhat by the explosives later identified as “Disruptor Torpedo”-s, they still needed some iron in the eventuality of structural damage in the future. Originally, they would haul the raw naquadaq to one of the newly built facilities around Area 51, but now the “Hephaistos”-s own smaller foundry had to make do. Moving around the useless materials mixed into the ore was a waste of storage and energy. They needed the space, so either just dump the material, or refine and condense it as much as possible. Markov decided on the latter option, since being in an alternate universe it wasn’t guaranteed that they could find any more of the precious metal here. Even if they have abundance of it right now, it can be a limiting factor in the future.
-Anything else to report?
-Yes, actually. – Said the Legacy Keeper in a calm voice. – Executive Officer Norman had an idea about our need for iron. He wishes to speak with you. -Markov stroked his beard thoughtfully, then nodded.
-Open a channel. -There was a small beep from the com system and a deep harsh voice busted out of the speaker.
It was the kind of voice that spoke miles about its owner. It had a kind of bored, but defiant edge to it, as if his owner learned a long time ago that he is only going to get more shit to deal with from life, but decided to doesn’t give it the satisfaction of giving up.
-Captain Markov. Sorry for disturbing you during your resting period. I have a proposition.
-Yeah, Brokkr told me as much. But first, how are you? – Norman on the other end of the line considered this, then decided to answer truthfully. He was the captain after all, and he knew about his luck. Lying wouldn’t change anything.
-Slight headache. The doctors said that it will disappear in the next few days, if I manage not to headbutt a bulkhead or something. I feel slightly left out, and the situation sounds like a well-developed clusterfuck sir. Or the put it in another way, a normal Monday for me. – Markov couldn’t help but smile a little.
-All right then. So what is your proposition? - There was a slight crackling, and fragments of Lieautenant Friedrich voice came over on the com system. Norman said a muffled thank you to her before continuing.
-Apologise sir. I would recommend that instead of searching for a metal rich asteroid for our need of steel, we should simply dismantle one of the wrecks the exploding Batarian ships left behind. They are refined, processed and while we are doing it, we can study their technology. -Markov scratched his beard, slowly and noiselessly chewing the nicotine gum. It wasn’t a bad idea. They haven’t detected a suitable asteroid, and at least the foundry can concentrate on purifying the naquadah.
-True, did you figured out what are we going to do with the bodies we find in our cargo hold? Because there will be some. – There was a small sigh from the other side.
-Yeah, I thought about that too, sir. I think we should just simply transport them to the planet. It’s better than leaving them drifting in space isn’t it? We could send their personal items with them too…-Norman waited a couple of second before continuing.- After we checked them for technology.– Markov bit into the gum harder.
-Executive Officer… Did you suggest we rob the dead?
-No, sorry, I wasn’t exactly clear. I wasn’t talking about valuables and personal items, just weapons. An odd armour here or there. We need to know what we are up against sir. We only need a couple of them to analyse. – Markov remained silent, taking a couple of big breath. It’s still sounded pretty much the same, just on a smaller scale. But, as he read the codex before, they might need more edge than just simply the strength of their ships. He chewed on his gum a couple of times before answering.
- All right. I authorize the dismantling of one of the wrecks. Take a couple of weapons and armours. But threat the bodies with outmost respect. We don’t want this “Council” deciding that we are some kind of ghoulish grave robbers. Report to me if you find something interesting.
-Will do sir. – The com shut down with a small beep. Markov gave out a small sigh and rubbed his eyes. He gave a couple of more chews to the now completely tasteless gum, and then leaned back and opened the codex again.
-I hope I haven’t making terrible mistakes.
The “Hephaistos” bulk slowly rotated around its axis. The long ship slowly oriented itself to face a large chunk of floating debris. It was one of the big pieces that remained after the “Pride of Khar'shan” was destroyed. The metal still bore the vague shape of the outer hull in one side, and the comb like inner structure on the other, as rooms and hallways were split in half by the demise of the ship. The “Hephaistos” slowly adjusted its own rotation to the wrecks, and when they were in sync, it slowly closed the distance. The debris slowly slid between the two-pronged bow of the Tau’ri ship. There was a small flash on the inner edges of the fork, and the piece from the “Pride of Khar'shan” was captured. The “Hephaistos” slowed its rotation, and using its side thrusters stabilised itself. When it was over, light bloomed around the piece of debris. Hundreds of small modified Asgard Transporters activated on the surface of the Tau’ri ship. Beams of light started to erupt from its hull, sweeping the outer edges of the wreck. Where the light touched, small strips of metal disappeared, leaving behind perfectly cut straight edges. The sweeps were slow and methodical, both for safety reasons, and as to give time for the foundry to free up some space. The outer armour layer of the debris piece was still barely degraded by the next morning, but it resembled an empty shell after only a couple of hours as the internal corridors and spaces were stripped out of their contents and walls. As time passed ports opened on the top and down side of the “Hephaistos” and small stream of waste material started to drift away from the ship, propelled by the force of their ejection. Microscopic silicates, and other contaminants from the naquadaq refining process mixed with the discarded chunks and pieces from the processed debris. Broken tables, mugs, pieces of glass, plastics fused together by the heat of the plasma weapons, all that the “Hephaistos”-s computer, and by extension Brokkr, deemed unusable. All this, gave the ship the impression of a mountain of metal blowing out a plume of smoke around it, almost like a spaceborn volcano.
The second day after the destruction of the Batarian exploratory fleet
The metal table was cluttered with objects. About a dozen weapons, most of them small arms, but there was a four assault rifles and a single sniper rifle too. Two intact hardsuits, and a couple of bits and pieces around them. There were also a couple of modules, and about half a dozen things that resembled mechanical gloves or bracelets, all clustered together. Around a table stood four people, three of them reading the Codex from their datapads, and the last one slowly examining one of the pistol. The one inspecting the weapon was a Caucasian woman around her late thirties. She was heavily built and muscular with short brown hair, wearing matching jeans and jean jacket, with a big leather apron in her neck. In the leather was the impression of a hammer striking a half-melted sword before the international SGC logo, and the words: “Hephaistos Foundries”. All the clothes on her looked well worn, and had a couple of small burn marks on them, except the apron. It was brand new, the leather was still shiny around the edges. Behind her stood a man wearing a traditional Jaffa garb with a Zat weapon stuck into its belt. He was vaguely Mediterranean descent, tall and lanky with almost skeletal features. He was completely bald and on his forehead, he had an ugly scar, most likely what remained after he burnt off the symbol denoting the Goa’uld he served under, when he joined the rebellion. He looked around thirty, but since Jaffa could live long life’s, he could easily be more than twice that. His dark eyes were fixated on the “Hardsuits” section of the codex. On his left another man stood, wearing a normal helmsmen uniform. He was around 175-178 centimetre tall and of an African descent. Most of his head was covered in bandages, their almost bright whiteness indicating that they were placed there only a little while ago. The man had a trimmed moustache and deep seated dark eyes, the later which was completely fixated on his datapad.
The last person in the room was Colonel O’Neill, the leader of the “Hephaistos”-s marine corps. He was lazily flicking trough his own codex, and soon joined the inspection of the weapons.
-They doesn’t look like much do they? -He murmured slowly nudging something close to an assault rifle on the table.
-Not really. – Agreed the woman. -They look just like ours.
-And that’s what I call being completely wrong about something. Both of you by the way. – Said a man, stepping inside the room from the dark hallway leading to it. He was of an Asian descent, relatively short, with unkept black hair. His outfit consisted of a baggy oil stained pants, and a loose fitting printed T-shirt, depicting a triceratops chasing a group of frightened teenagers under the blood-soaked words “Revenge of the Dinosaurs, 1994”. In one of his hand he held a datapad, on the another, he had a portion of gyro, rolled up in a pastry. There was already a couple of bites taken out of it. The man himself looked obviously tired with deep purple lines under his eyes, but had a cheerful grin on his face. The company around the table have fallen silent at the sheer audacity of the newcomer. The first one to speak after a couple of shocked second was the tall Jaffa.
-Who is this person?
- Oh, sorry. Where is my manners. – The newcomer put down his datapad on the table, and with his now free arm saluted.- Chief Engineer Han Yuan, reporting for duty y’all. – And after that, he lowered his hand and took another bite out of the gyro. – Sorry, -He explained while chewing. - I haven’t eaten or slept since we got through the “Mirror Installation”, so about two days and a little. I was busy with analysing this crap. -He motioned towards the contents of the table.
The man with the bandaged head gave out a small weary sigh turning towards the Jaffa. The tall man had an expression as if somebody just slapped him with a frozen fish. Mild surprise with clear annoyance.
- I might have missed preparing you for this Kadul, I apologise for that. -The Jaffa shook his head and straightened himself out.
-No, Delsin Norman, I remember you mentioning that the Chief Engineer was… an eccentric person.
-Eccentric? – The chief engineer made a horrified expression. - I am a bloody genius. -He took another bite out of his gyro. Deliberately and slowly as a form of protest. Before either the Jaffa or the Executive Officer could talk O’Neill interrupted with a small cough.
-Anyway, what did you mean by completely wrong about something? – Han raised his free hand with his pointing finger extended and swallowed the bite whole.
-Right, right. Back to the topic on hand. What I mean by that is that we were damn lucky that the confrontation happened in space, and not in a face to face environment. If it was mano e mano, then our four eyed assailants would have massacred your man with almost comical ease. – Said the chief engineer, smile never disappearing from his face. The colonel blinked a couple of times.
-Care to elaborate on that?
-Certainly. First, we need to mention the substance they call “element zero”. Apparently its able to alter the mass of objects if placed under electrical current. Lowering or raising them. Franky, I don’t know how it works with physics, Brokkr theorised that this thing is some kind of variation of the Neutronium we used in home. I suggested to him that we should call it an Isotope but the only thing that stopped him from laughing in my face was that the Legacy Keepers have about as good humour as a piece of cardboard. He informed me that Isotopes implied electrons, and element zero and Neutronium by definition have none. So that’s that. Oh, by the way, he wants to talk about that with you, big guy. – The chief engineer motioned towards the Jaffa.
-My name is Kadul. -Said the thin man with almost palpable annoyance. - And I thought so. I learned quantum physics to pass the time. I may be able to understand his theory better than anyone else. – The engineer stopped mid-bite on his gyro and blinked at him.
-Phmhmnas thmime? -He asked with his mouth still full. The skeletal Jaffa nodded, turning his eye away from the loudly chewing engineer.
-Indeed. I was the personal guard of a Goa’uld scientist before the I joined the Jaffa rebellion. Such guards were usually killed after a certain amount of time but my…master… – The Jaffa almost spit the word as if it were burning his mouth. - …Coeus, was old and have gone a fair bit senile from experimenting with dangerous and unstable substances and radiation for hundreds of years. I stood guard inside his laboratory and listened to him, mumbling to himself about the secrets of the universe. Soon, I started to read his notes and books too. And now I am here. -The chief engineer swallowed his bite and nodded a couple of times, apparently with a little bit of admiration.
-Learning from the insane ramblings of a mad “god”. That’s pretty Lovecraftian if you ask me. -Before the Jaffa could ask what’s a “Lovecraft”-is he continued. – Bat back to the topic. Where was I? Oh yes, now, every people in this Galaxy uses this substance to power a variety of things, from ships, trough surface vehicles, to small scale electronics. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a toothbrush that utilised the stuff. The weapons they use aren’t an exception either. This thing. -The chief engineer raised one of the assault rifles with his free hand, slightly struggling with the weight. - Doesn’t use conventional ammunition. They have an almost fully solid block of material inside them, a mechanism split a small portion of it, and then use this “element zero” to speed it up in a frankly ridiculous degree. This thing shoots pellets that are smaller than a millimetre which shatter on impact and punch holes larger than a P90 on freaking steroids. Even the EXO suits are only good against glancing shots, against a full-on impact you might as well have worn armour made out of tissue paper. – O’Neill gave out a small whistle and inspected one of the weapons again with a newfound appreciation. -I see you found that interesting colonel. It’s not only that, but they require no ammunition, at least not for a long time. You can fire this bad boy into a wall of rock for half a week continuously before you rand dry and by that time you most likely made yourself a nice little cave. If you have enough heat sink that is.
-Heat sink? – Asked the woman in the leather apron and raised a small red cylinder from beside one of the weapons. -Those are one of these I assume?
-Jackpot. - Nodded Han franticly. - You are not the Foundry chief for nothing Amberly. – The chief engineer gave her a warm smile. The woman simply raised her eyebrows and gave him a small shrug as an answer.
- I have seen something similar in area 51. They use them for energy weapon research to prevent overheating, but those are about as big as a person.
-Yeah, see the firing of the weapon creates tremendous amount of waste energy. Energy which they can’t channel anywhere, so they use these heat sinks to capture it. After about 60-70 shots, the sink is fully expended, and if you try to fire again, the weapon will most likely melt itself in your hand. -O’ Neill cleared his throat putting the assault rifle down.
-Tell me if it’s a stupid question, but isn’t that’s just the same as using ammunition just with extra steps? -The chief engineer took another bite out of his food, he was close to finishing it now, for everyone’s relief.
-Uhum. -He answered then quickly typed something into the datapad he placed into the table and moved it closer to its centre. A small hologram appeared above the device, it depicted a weapon. Its outer design was a hybrid of a P90-n and the alien assault rifles on the table. The difference was that under the main barrel was a black metallic device which looked a little bit similar to the end of a Jaffa Staff weapon, only in black and much smaller. The chief engineer motioned towards the weapon. -This is what I came up with. It works on the same principle, as their weapons, but doesn’t require heat sinks. Instead all of the heat energy is channelled into the little bad boy here. -He pointed towards the device under the barrel. - It stores the excess energy in a small naquadaq core. After about a hundred shoots, it will start to glow, that means its ready to fire. There is a small secondary trigger under the main one, if you press it. – The chief engineer touched something on the datapad. From the holographic device erupted a holographic projectile, a yellow globule of light, similar to the ones fired by the staff weapons of the Jaffa, albeit a little bit smaller. – It shoots out the condensed energy as a plasma projectile. You HAVE to fire though, so you better watch for the glow, otherwise it will be overcharged, and you will be turned into a makeshift grenade. Not exactly healthy for the other people in your squad, not to mention for you, but you will be too dead to worry about such things by that time. I call it the Plasma Avenger, but its official designation is PX-090.
-You analysed the weapons, and came up with a new hybrid design with under two days? - Asked Norman, clearly impressed. He stepped closer to inspect the hologram too. - I have to say, thats really something.
-Well thank you. I am not a genius for nothing, I took the time you lot used for sleeping to study and work. I also made some rough sketches for a new EXO armour and hardsuit combo, but that was about ten minutes ago, and Brokkr warned me that my blood sugar level slowly but surely started to resemble a Diabetic persons before a hypoglycaemic shock. -Said Han with a wide smile on his face, but somehow the lines under his eyes became more pronounced. -And If I already mentioned the hardsuit. I have some news about them too.
-Don’t tell me. – Colonel O’Neill raised his hands. - They are also superior to everything we have and we can’t shoot trough them.
-Yes, and no at the same time. They are excellent at stopping projectile weapons, almost as good as Kull armour. It has to be, otherwise these weapons would turn it into a glorified cheesemaker. The still do though, after a while. Our weapons can maybe penetrate into one of the joints if the shooter is extremely lucky. But that’s the least of our problems considering we would never be able to even hit the hardsuit with a P90. -Han waited a moment, enjoying the anticipating faces before he continued. – They have personal kinetic shields. Strong ones at that. -The chief engineer grabbed one of the small modules besides the hardsuit in the table and raised it. – With this inserted into the suit, the user could walk trough squad of marines, all firing at him or her, without worry. The shield regenerates faster than we can deplete it. We might as well be pelting it with acorns. And now that we all suitably depressed, the good news. – He touched his datapad again, the PX-090-s picture disappearing from the hologram. Another one took its places, depicting a hardsuit with a barely noticeable slight fizzle of air around it. -The effect only for show, it’s usually only noticeable if it is currently deflecting impacts. -Explained Han while he finally scarfed down the last pieces of the gyro. – Obsherme. – A P90 appeared and opened fire on the suit, doing no damage at all. Soon it was replaced by a Jaffa staff weapon. It discharged, and the plasma shot sailed trough the shield without problem and impacted into the hardsuit. The animation stopped, and continued form another view. It showed a cross section diagram of the hardsuit as the energy globule impacted in slow motion. The first front of the projectile was slowed by the sudden obstacle in its path. The plasma contracted, becoming denser for a second, but before its containing magnetic shell could have broke, the hardsuit melted away in a small portion, and all the energy contained in the ball erupted inside in a small powerful stream scorching everything on its way.
- Holy mother of….- Colonel O’Neill swallowed. He wouldn’t be in the place of a wearer when that happened.
-They provide basic defence against hazardous environmental conditions… -Continued Han wiping his mouth. -…but they are even worse than worthless against anything plasma based. Their environmental defence actually works against them. They are preventing the dissipation of the energy into a larger area, the most effective way to mitigate the destructive power of the projectile. The armour is relatively hard to burn trough which works well against normal fires, but it turns the plasma globule into a makeshift armour piercing projectile. By Brokkrs calculations, the effect would be akin to showing about a half kilo bag of burning phosphorus and thermite inside the suit and then letting nature take its course. -There was a moment of silence after that as the people around the table processed the mental picture. A couple of thousand degrees of heat spreading into the confined space of the suit, not only cooking, but charring the occupant alive.
-I would like the repeat my previous statement. – Said the colonel. Executive Officer Norman gave an agreeing nod.
- So, if it turns to fighting, you recommend that we should use Goa’uld staff weapons? - To Normans surprise it was Kadul who answered before the engineer.
-I would not recommend. The Ma'Tok staff requires years of practice and study if one wants to safely handle it and hit the target consistently. I would recommend using this…”Plasma Avenger” your chief engineer proposed. And of course, Zat weapons.
-Yeah, thanks for mentioning it, that’s the other good news actually. Zat weapons also shot energy projectiles so their shields are useless against them. On the other hand, the hardsuit is a little better blocking these, so you might need to hit an enemy two or three times before it goes down. -Said Han, crumpling over the napkin and stuffing it into his pocket.
-That’s no problem. My boys and girls are trained with those. -Nodded colonel O’Neill. He reached out and raised one of the modules. -Based on how you put them in close to the hardsuit, these are the shields. Can we get a couple of them? -Han winced a little as if he was excepting the question, and knew that his answer isn’t going to be too pleasing.
-We have about 5 of them working now. All of them require a hardsuit to work though. You could use the captured suits if you want, there is no indication that they doesn’t work with human physiology. But we can’t make more, since we lack element zero to power them.
-Why don’t you simply use liquid naqadaq to work them? -Asked O’Niell inspecting the module. It looked small and fragile. It was vaguely hexagonal shaped and inside the metal, something blue glowed slightly.
- With all due respect colonel, because I am an engineer and not a freaking wizard. Not only the technology depends on element zero to create the forcefield like effect, it is also configured completely differently than any of our shields. The use of element zero is so hard wired into everything here, that the only thing I have even a minute chance to reconfigure to work without it is the internal systems of the hardsuits and the Omni tools, because they mostly use the stuff as an energy source. But even then, the Omni tools will lose their manufacturing capabilities, we are lucky that we mainly need their translator functions and hacking capabilities so that’s not a problem. If I can take out the element zero core from everything here, then I can give you about 7 Plasma Avenger, with the matching number of harsdsuits and shields. If you can give me a day to design a new armour then I will try to make one without its internal Element Zero operated electronics, and that gives us maybe one more weapon and a shield. Anything more than that and we have to gather additional ammount from the substance. – The chief engineer raised the hand before anyone can interject something. This was attempted by the colonel and Kadul. The foundry chief Amberly listened intently, clearly already thinking about how to start manufacturing Hans crazy contraptions, while Executive Officer stepped backwards touching his headpiece. He must have received some sort of transmission. – We haven’t gathered more of the stuff yet because the system has no trace of it besides what the Batarians had and the “Mass Relay”. Most of the former dissipated when their ships blew up, drive cores being rather volatile, and I wouldn’t temper with the latter even if I got a direct order. Those things propel starships across light years in real space with ease, I have no idea how much energy is in them. I would like to avoid being atomised along with the rest of this system.
-Oh well, all right. – The colonel gave out a small sigh. – Then I will take what you can give. When do we get our new toys? – O’Neill turned towards the Foundry chief who was deep in thought. When she noticed his gaze, he shook herself out of it.
-Sorry, I was already thinking about that. We can make the sample piece in about two hours. Its fidgety work and we have to make every precaution. It is alien technology after all. – Suddenly Executive Officer Norman swore under his breath and stepped closer to the group.
-You might have to step on that a little. We have got some company.
The small vessel exited the relay with a flash of blue light. It looked completely different from the Batarian ships. It design was sleek and resembled a predatory fish, yet it had a certain elegance to it. By the size of it, the vessel was classified by the “Codex” as a frigate. On its side, it bore a designation entirely human: “Normandy SR2”. On the bridge of the vessel Joker leaned back moving his jaws to one side and the other.
-Not bad. Hey Shepard, do you want to see…-Before he could finish, the commanders voice came from just a couple of inches behind his head.
-I am already here Joker. -The pilot shuddered.
-Tell me, when you become an infiltrator do they make you sign a paper to spook everyone around you, or is it your personal hobby? – Shepard gave out a small chuckle and leaned even closer so she could see the system better. Not far from them, three ships floated, magnified by EDI on the main monitor.
-Just a hobby. So, these are the mystery human ships. -Two of the three vessels were about the size of a frigate, but vaguely hammer shaped. The biggest one, its dimensions matching an Alliance dreadnought, was elongated and had a tuning fork like structure on one side. The last ship looked like as if it was one fire, slowly blowing out plumes of material from its hull.
-Apparently. -Nodded Joker.- At least considering the names on their sides. “Hephaistos”, “Aeneas”, “De Gaulle”. If I remember correctly the first one was a Greek god, and the third one sounds French. I don’t know about the second one though.
-It is a Roman mythological figure similar to Odysseus. -Answered EDI appearing as a floating shimmering eye like figure.
-Great, the ghost in the machine decided to chime in. Just ignore it commander. -Joker waved, apparently trying to shoo away the holographic form of the AI. EDI was undisturbed by this.
– The dreadnought sized vessel is currently in the process of deconstructing a piece of debris using an unknown technology. Based on the metal composition it is likely the piece of a Batarian ship. The other ships contain iron, titanium, and several unknown elements, but no Element Zero is present on them.
-So the reports were true then. -Murmured Shepard scratching her chin. EDI gave out a small beep and then turned towards the ships.
-They are hailing us. Audio and visual, should I patch it through? – Shepard thought about it for a second then nodded.
-Yes, transfer it to the main display. I will be there momentarily. – She spun around and with quick steps she hurried to the control panel. The bridge crew glanced towards her, but they mostly get used to the commander literally running around the ship all the time. The main display changed from the usual picture of the galaxy, and now showed a flat 2D Image. It showed the image of a human behind a waist high console. He was relatively short and stocky, with a bushy beard and a blue uniform. This latter one had some insignia on it unknow to Shepard. The letters “SGC” were visible on it. The man had a stern and resolute expression, looking directly into the camera. It reminded the commander to some old timey sea fearer from a history file she read years ago.
-“Unidentified vessel, please respond. My name is Stanislav Markov. I am the Captain of the Tau’ri vessel “Hephaistos” and acting commander of…-Here he made a small pause, as if thinking about what to call the collection of the three vessels. -…this convoy. Representative of the Alliance of The Rising Races. We don’t have hostile intentions, but if attacked, we will respond with overwhelming force. I implore you to state your purpose.”
– What should we do? -Asked Kelly Chambers from a close by console. The yeoman was looked sligthly worried. Shepard breath out the air she held inside during the message and gave her an encouraging smile.
-Don't worry, they haven't started to shoot at us yet. That's positively promising. Open a channel!
Chapter 7: Preparations for an interdimensional tea party
A meeting is organized and everybody is trying to preapare for the worst. While the crews get ready, it turns out that certain types of curisoity is quite dangerous for AI-s.
“This is the Normandy SR2 and my name is Commander Jane Shepard formerly of the System Alliance, now a Spectre, and currently acting as a free agent. I am on a mission to stop the abduction of human colonies by the alien races known as “The Collectors”. I mean you no harm, and…It would be easier to talk to if we were face to face. I propose a meeting. “
Markov slowly rubbed his bearded chin hearing this. The woman was a little bit above average height with her red hair cut short. On her face a faint outline of scars showed that their owner was a veteran of many battles. Even if the scars were absent, her posture and demeanour all radiated that the Commander was a career soldier. She wore an armour, similar to those they acquired from the wreckage, but it looked sleeker and more modern. Based on what Markov knew from the codex it is likely that the Batarian ones were not top of the line products. Regardless, what does she wants exactly? To be fair he would have heard news about humans appearing in the Milky Way with unknown ship designs, using advanced weaponry, he too would have wanted to talk to them too. But it would have been under the orders from the international SGC, this Commander Shepard on the other hand wasn’t currently under the direct command neither the “System Alliance”, the government of humans in this universe, nor the “Citadel Council” the unified galactic power. Free agent. That was what she said. The lack of reliable intel, that was the worst problem now. The Codex had general information, but it wasn’t much more detailed than a pamphlet given to tourists. He have to figure out the top players, and their intentions in this galaxy if he wishes to get home safely.
-Brokkr, is there any more information you can get about them by scanning their ship and cross referencing with the “Codex” we have? I doubt we find much, but its wort a shot. -There was a small mechanical beep in the comm system and the Legacy Keepers collected, and rational voice answered.
-I will try captain. – He became silent again and there was an approximately 15 second pause, while the ship scanners analysed the alien hull, its markings, and its personnel. They must have had some kind of jamming technology trying to disrupt the attempt, otherwise it would have been almost instantaneous. -The analysis is complete. The hull superficially similar to the one pictured beside the article about the SSV Normandy but its larger and obviously heavily modified. As to what extent, I cannot say since I lack the technical details of the original vessel beside that it was considered a “deep-scout frigate”. Based on their classification this ship also should be classified as one. The markings on the hull belong to an Organization called Cerberus. Our version of the “Codex” have next to no information about them, aside that they are a human centric anti alien organisation, responsible to a variety of questionable actions.
- I cannot. -Said the Legacy Keeper, its voice never wavering. -That’s the phrase contained within the data “questionable actions” nothing more, nothing less. Based on its syntax structure I would assume along the line of illegal experiments or business dealings, possibly terrorist actions.
-So they are most likely similar to a rogue NID cell. – Summarized Markov, watching the Normandy on his main screen. The scout frigate stayed there, motionless. It most likely had its shields, but the weapons remained cold and dormant. -That’s troubling. But they haven’t attacked us yet, and I doubt a single frigate could take us out if a dreadnought couldn’t.
Markov made a small motion on his console and started Shepard’s message again. He paused it somewhere in the middle, inspecting the speakers face.- What about Jane Shepard herself?
-She is considered to be a peerless military commander, soldier and a hero who saved the Council, and their seat, the Citadel from an attack a couple of years ago. The only strange thing about her, that she was dead for a while. -Said the voice from the com system as naturally as if it just said that she likes chocolate chip cookies, or dies her hair.
-Really? That’s int…What? – Markov shook his head. He must have misheard it. - You mean considered dead? Missing in action?
-No captain. -Brokkr voice once took on an almost indiscernible soft and synthetic edge. He tended to do it when he needed to elaborate on something which he felt was completely comprehensible. It was his “Talking to a child.” voice, and Markov hate it from the bottom of his heart – She was indeed dead. The codex contained her time of death, and after I scanned the ship her body shows sings of previous cellular decay. More-over a number of cybernetics embedded into her various internal organs, helping their functions. She is slowly recovering, her body starting to took back the job from the mechanical parts, but she would be certainly dead without the implants. She must have gone through extensive surgery. All in all, I conclude that the finished effects are going to be similar to the ones reachable by use of the device you call sarcophagus. The difference is that they utilised a more primitive technology which took considerably longer time and requires the use of cybernetics. – Markov sighed and supressed the urge to scratch his beard again. If this keeps up, he is going to have a bald spot on his chin.
As he considered the information, thoughts chasing inside his head, the door to the bridge opened with a small hiss of air. Colonel O’Neill and Executive Officer Norman stepped into the room. They were obviously in a hurry, small beads of sweat gathering on their brows. They most likely took the scenic route, and ran up to the bridge instead of taking the teleporter. It was exercise and gave them time to learn about the situation from Brokkr, but Markov still thought about it as the foolishness of the young officers with too much energy and a little in the way of developing knee problems like him. Both arrival snapped the captain a crisp salute. Markov returned it and then tilted his head, motioning towards the display.
-Have you been briefed about the situation?
-Yes sir. -Norman said with a tired smile under his bandaged head. – No rest for the wicked. So, a soldier who should be dead, manning a ship from possible terrorists wants to meet us. I don’t think it’s a champion idea sir. -Markov nodded, that was indeed true. And in another situation, he wouldn’t have considered it at all. But the circumstances were quite extraordinary. And if the commander is speaking the truth about hostile aliens abducting humans... If they are stuck here for a while there is no harm in gathering some goodwill with the humanity living in this galaxy. - Colonel, what’s your opinion? – O’Neill folded his hands, and studied the frozen picture of the commander on the main screen.
- My gut is telling me to trust her. Don’t know why captain, it’s just my instincts. And about her being a dead man walking, half of the SG1 died one time or other. Dr. Daniel Jackson If I read the reports correctly, ascended to a higher existence no less than twice and he might do again. And off course, I am an Asgard made clone. We have seen weirder things. – Markov rubbed his eyes. There was an undeniable truth in that. Considering that all that and that a couple of days ago they were transported to another dimension, the revival of a human being wasn’t that farfetched.
-All right, but regardless of that another question remains. Can we deal with them if they come over and turns out they are hostile? - The colonel winced as if remembering and then thought about a little. At last he nodded, now relatively confident.
-Yes, I think we can. Our projectile weapons are useless against them, but if it’s a small team, then we should have no problem. We just use the Zats if there is a problem, and if they prove to be difficult we just use the Asgard transport beam to introduce them to the joy of free floating in space. They have hard suits, those are sealable, and their ship can pick them up. Oh, and while on the topic of that fancy armour, if they came over I would like to ask for permission to use those few suit we have. We put our people in it and form a “ceremonial escort” or something. Just to be perfectly safe that no one gets hurt.
-Not a bad idea. -Conceded Norman with a nod. – If they are willing to wait for two or three hour, we might even have a better weapon ready for them than simple Zats. At least if the Foundry Chief is as good as I believe. -Said the Executive officer. -I still advise to be cautious, if someone, then I am aware of how situations can turn suddenly for the worse. And we shouldn’t get into any serious agreement with them until we figure out more about this “Cerberus”.
-Thank you both for your advice – The Captain sat down into his chair, something he rarely did so, mostly preferring to stand or walk around on the bridge. It is possible that all in all this habit of his was more straining then actually running around the ship as his subordinates did, but getting out of habits is a hard work, and he was already in the process of quitting smoking. -Please wait for a minute or two, I ask the opinions of my fellow captains. – He nodded towards the helmsman on his left. - Lieutenant Friedrich, compile a data package about what we learned and received and send it to the “Aeneas” and “De Gaulle”. – The helmsman made a couple of quick motions on the console before her and subtly nudged a control stone. There was a small beep, indicating the communications were active. Markov slowly steepled his hands together in front of his console, behind him the two officers waiting patiently. After about three minutes came a beep and a small message from the “Aeneas”. Captain Ripley advised caution and offered to be on yellow alert, and of course wished to be included in the meeting. Markov haven’t even finished sending back his thanks and acknowledgement before the second beep came. Captain Guillory advised against the meeting but stated that if it is necessary then all possible safety measures should be used. He was concerned about the capabilities of the unknown sentient aliens aboard the Normandy stating that without knowing their exact biology they should be treated as a security risk. The captain of the “Hephaistos” sent an acknowledgment and a thank you for him too before considering this too. He was right. Even if the two already captured and scanned aliens species, the Batarians and the Turians had no exceptional biological capabilities beyond the latter ones strong and naturally radiation resistant exterior, there could be some other kind in this galaxy which is capable of creating chaos just with his or her presence. There was a precedence for that, Wraith Queens demonstrated psychic capabilities, and semi evolved ancients were basically half gods.
-Brokkr, do we know about any kind of biological function which can be dangerous? I am talking about pheromones, mind control, or anything among this line.
-Every known species in this galaxy is capable of producing biotics. I believe that’s mentionable. – Stated Brokkr, producing a couple of images on the main screen. Markov remembered the information from the “Codex”. Biotics were created when somebody was exposed to element zero in utero. They were capable of producing mass effect fields on their own. They were capable on the battlefield but relatively rare, because the circumstances of their creation were not only unusual but also have different outcomes too. Depending on the persons luck, in uterine Ezoo exposure could either create a biotic, or results in still births or birth defects. The only exception was apparently a race called “Asari”. But according to the “Codex” neither the Asari, nor any other biotic are able to influence other people’s mind without their consent.
-Colonel can we deal with Biotics?- O’Neill gave out a small cough.
-The what now sir?- There was a small shuffling behind Markovs chair and the definite sound of Executive Officer slowly mumbling under his nose: “The blue glowing ones with the jedi tricks”.
-Oh the jed…I mean Biotics sir. Of course, we can deal with them. Again, the key is in their numbers, a small team should be fine even if one or two of them can throw around containers. They would be zatted before they realise they are under fire. -Markov run his eyes trough the page about Biotic powers again and slowly nodded. After another minute or two Markov stood up and cracked his knuckles.
-All right people. We will have some guests over. Colonel I give you permission to use those suits if the chief engineer deems them safe. Prepare your marines. I want the best of your best. Norman, after I finished the response message I will be in my room. I better prepare for this meeting and re-read some things in the “Codex”.- Both men saluted and Markov turned towards the main screen.- Lieutenant Friedrich, please open the channel towards the Normandy again.
Shepard straightened herself out when the message finished. Captain Markov, whoever he exactly is, had some pretty strict demands. If she wants this meeting face to face, it has to be on his ship, she can bring a maximum of five people, and she had two hours to decide if it’s acceptable to her, or not. His demeanour reminded her of an old Alliance general.
-Quite a demanding person. -Murmured the commander.
-And here I thought the biggest hardasses in the galaxy can be found in the Citadel Council. Who knew that we would find an untapped well of potential here. – Nodded sagely Joker.- So how it’s going to be commander? Should we do the reasonable thing turn this ship around towards Alliance space and make a repo…Oh who am I kidding. Who are you going to take? -The commander flashed him a small smile.
-Am I becoming predictable?
-Yepp. Straight into the heart of danger, as always. – He was right. Shepard had to give this to him. From stopping a planetoid from impacting into a world, trough assaulting a colony infected by alien plant spores all the way to climbing the citadel tower in zero G to fight a reaper controlled insane Turian SPECTRE, she had the tendency to favour a direct approach. Or at least a direct approach for an infiltrator. Sure, she used sniper rifles and tactical cloaks, but instead of using them to sit out of action and pick of faraway enemies, she tended to use them to disappear from behind a cover in a heat of battle and change position. Anyone who decided to assault the curiously silent patch of rubble the commander occupied before, found themselves outflanked by a sniper who can dish out 4 headshots in less than 10 seconds.
-Well then, I better pick my team carefully. Send a message to them to gather in the shuttle bay. And try not to murder each other with EDI while I am away. – Joker turned towards the small holographic emitter, which instantly turned itself on in the mention of the AI-s name.
-My programming prevents me from seriously maim, shock, suffocate, or otherwise exhume Mr. Monroe. Which I wouldn’t do even it would permit it. He is a valuable member of the crew. – Joker stared at the small holographic eye, and gave out a big sigh turning towards Shepard.
-No promises commander.
By the time Shepard arrived into the shuttle bay, most of her team was there. Kasumi Gotho stood just beside the Kodiak shuttle stationed inside the hangar. Interplanetary thief, burglar, pickpocket, the all-time master of vanishing acts, she was expert in getting into secure locations, and being a general good-natured nuisance. Due to her expertise in being sneaky, everyone got into the habit of doublechecking the showers before getting naked. Especially after the incident where Jacob started singing a popular folk tune in the shower solo, and halfway through it he noticed that it became a duet. If already mentioned, Jacob Taylor stood not far from her leaning against a couple of containers. He was a former Alliance marine and biotic currently under the employ of Cerberus. A dependable soldier, it was quite a surprise that someone like him would work for the human centric organisation. He maintained the armoury aboard the Normandy which was most likely the reason why Zaeed Massani was currently in conversation with him. Shepard could hear the mercenary say “I kid you not, Jessi downed that bloody Krogan in a couple of shots. The rounds found its eyes, both of them, and BAMM, he was dead in a second I swear. And it never jammed. Never, I say you. That gun was a god damned miracle if ya ask me.” The man was the perfect mix of bloodthirsty hired gun, and a grandpa who loves to tell stories to the youngsters. Still despite his age he was one of the deadliest man the Commander ever seen, and she was pretty sure he could easily have been an N7 agent, and the only reason he wasn’t, because aside from being an excellent combatant, he was also a rotten bastard. The lovable and professional kind though.
On the other side of the room stood Grunt and Jack. The Krogan towered above the convict, but despite that Shepard would have had trouble deciding which one of them is the more dangerous. Jack was a biotic and a hell of a strong one at that. She already had a great potential as a child but then Cerberus did something to her, something that she doesn’t like to talk about, which turned up her abilities to 11. Unfortunately, it also caused serious psychological scars, to be precise it left Jack with trust issues the size of the Citadel and such a poor anger management which would put a Varren fed exclusively coffee to shame. Sure, she could level a city with her powers, but she was liable to try just that at the first perceived threat. Her Krogan conversation partner, who currently gushed about how he hit a guard so hard on the prison ship where they got Jack out, that the mentioned guard flew a couple of meters and broke his spine, was just as volatile as the biotic. Grunt was tank bred to be perfect. Perfect Krogan that is. He was bloodthirsty, brave beyond any sense or survival instinct, strong as a bull, and had innate and programmed strategic thinking, knowledge of tactics and use of every known weapon he can get his hands on. This with the natural hardiness and stubbornness of the Krogan made him the kind of person who would wade through a kill zone, emerge almost unscathed on the other side, and massacre those who set it up, all just for the sheer enjoyment of it. To counter balance these things he had problem on any mission that didn’t include an inordinate amount of bloodshed. He tended to get bored and break things, first just small items, eventually if left unchecked, necks.
In the middle of the room stood casually Garrus Vakarian. During Shepard absence the ex C-sec officer basically became the Turian equivalent of the Punisher. He spent his time weeding out the horrible scum of Omega, which was almost as fruitful of an endeavour as trying to empty the sea on Palaven by using a leaky tea cup. He had that kind of sense of justice which usually end up killing its owner, and the only reason Garrus managed to avert this was because it was damned hard to take him down. He was an excellent sniper, and a he could make Zaeed run for his money in terms of being the master of assault rifles. The last two people, Mordin Solus and Miranda Lawson was still missing.
-Good…-Shepard stopped in mid-sentence and glanced towards her omni tool. The ship had an artificial day-night cycle, but she got into the habit of ignoring it and only going to sleep when she felt tired. It was a terrible habit but she liked to be ready whenever she was needed. - …evening everybody. -The various assortment of criminals and misfits welcomed her with an unified nod. – I don’t know how much EDI told you about this mission, but we are currently in the same system with three very unusual ships. They managed to take down a Batarian task force, including a Dreadnought, and suffered no casualties. – There was a small rumbling in the gathered team members.
-That’s god damned impressive. -Said Zaeed which was followed by a round of small nods.
-Are they reaper? -Asked Garrus, folding his hands in front of himself. The air was suddenly filled with palpable tenseness. The whole citadel fleet and a sizeable reinforcing was needed to take down even one Reaper, Sovereign. Three in the same system as the Normandy would probably result in the destruction of the ship and everyone aboard at the first mistake.
-Fortunately, not. They seem to be humans, but they possess technology unknown to us. They have very strong shields, the Batarians didn’t even managed to penetrate them. They also have at least two kind of direct energy weapon…I don’t have to elaborate on the importance of that I believe. – To Shepards surprise it was Jack who first spoke up.
-Hold on a second. Even I know that nobody has directed energy weapons. Not even those fucking amphibians. How come these humans have them? Are they some kind of Cerberus shit? -The commander shook her head.
-The Illusive Man denied it, but even if we don’t believe him, they said they are a member of something called “The Alliance of the Rising Races”, whatever that is. Whoever they are, they pack quite a punch and we could use them in our fight against the collectors. I intend to go over to their ship with a small team to get to know each other and possible engage in some diplomacy. – Grunt gave out a small chuckle and cracked his knuckles menacingly.
-Heh-Heh-Heh, “diplomacy”. I like that. -Shepard gave out a small sigh and raised her hands.
-No Grunt, sorry if I wasn’t clear. It is going to be the kind of diplomacy which doesn’t involve anti-armour weaponry. The talking kind. Without killing. – The Krogan visible deflated, becoming almost a head smaller than before.
-Now I don’t even want to go. That kind of diplomacy is boring as hell.
-You are speaking my language big boy. – Jack agreed scratching her chin.- Cant we just rush them instead and take their ship? The fun way.
-Call me weird for a Turian but I would miss out on turning a first contact into a bloodbath. – Objected Garrus glancing towards the biotic.- The last time my species did that, it became quite awkward.
-Well then spikyhead, you can just hang around in the back while we attack them. -Concluded Jack with a fierce smile. -I will even promise not to throw you towards them with biotics. Just as a sign of goodwill. Before the hangar bay could have turned into a maelstrom of arguments the Commander stepped forward. Expression stern.
-NOBODY, is going to attack them. -She raised her voice and there was a certain glint in her eye. She was quite a charismatic figure even before her resurrection. But now, whenever she wanted to command attention, something gave out a small but visible flash inside her eyes. It was simply the result of the restoration process used by Cerberus, but she used it expertly to emphasis her statements. The room suddenly became silent. Even the usually explosive Jack simply grunted and shrugged her shoulders.
The atmosphere was so unwelcoming, that the late arriving Miranda and Mordin almost stopped in the doorway of the shuttle bay. The first one to step into the room was Miranda Lawson, but only because the scientist dropped one or two papers he was carrying. The women were the human equivalent of Grunt, but if somebody wanted to live a long and peaceful life it was advisable not to mention this comparison to her. She was genetically constructed by an eccentric rich man to be the perfect daughter. He meant to be the pinnacle of human perfection. It didn’t occur to her father that a perfect somebody like that wouldn’t want to be a puppet for her creator. She decided to defect to Cerberus, where even her father’s almost endless flow of money couldn’t touch her.
-Well off course not, at least not yet. -Agreed the arriving Cerberus operative and stood beside Vakarian to be face to face with Shepard. Mordin followed closely, and stepped right beside the Commander. He was only half a meter away and instantly swept Shepards consciousness away in a fast-paced tide of words.
-I highly advise against any hostile actions against the mystery ships. Sorry for being late but I had to analyse some of the sensor data EDI managed to gather and it seems they are even more technologically advanced than we thought. It appears that the biggest ship is in the process of mining a piece from a Batarian ship. The process appears to be very fast and doesn’t involve any kind of grinder or mass effect fields. Based on the gathered data and the composition of the “smoke” it produces I have to conclude that they are essentially deconstructing the debris atom by atom then turning it into energy and possibly reconstructing pieces of the metal inside their vessels. Fascinating beyond belief. I would conclude that if they wish they could simply do this with our ship. – There was a sharp intake of air from the Salarian scientist. The first time since he started talking. He was a former STG member and an expert in more than a handful of scientific fields, and dabbled in almost every other. He even managed to practice some singing in his non-existent free time. As one of his songs goes he was “The very model of a scientist Salarian”, and since he was that he had the tendency to speak and think incredibly fast. -This would result in us losing our atmosphere and dying due to asphyxiation. Not a good way to die. Very uncomfortable. Considering al that and the possibility to develop a relationship which could result in us getting pieces of this technology I propose outmost care in the diplomatic mission. To ensure this outmost care I have written this. -With that the Salarian extended the various sheets of paper and a data pad towards the Commander. She blinked a couple of times and took it gingerly.
-I am afraid to ask, but what is this?
-The datapad contains a 20 pages recommendation why should I accompany you into this meeting. The papers are a four-page introductory to our new friend written to be perfectly friendly and peaceful. They are on paper because we can’t know how compatible our data storage systems are. -Explained the Salarian with a small but bright smile. -I would be most ecstatic to accompany you on your meeting with this new faction. – The commander stared at the pile of paper and the blinking data pad in her hands. The fastest Mordin could have got the information from EDI about the strange vessels was in the minute they exited the Mass Relay. That was about 32 minutes ago, give or take 5 minutes. The scientist composed all of this in the span of roughly 20 minutes and had time to check the data analysis the ships sensors provided. Sometimes Shepard wondered if the Salarian body naturally produce high amounts of caffeine equivalent.
-Good…um thank you. I will take it into consideration. – Mordin nodded emphatically and vigorously stepped back from the commanders moderately disturbed personal space.
Shepard gingerly placed the papers into the closest container and cleared her throat.
-Now, if the professor already brings it up, I need 5 people to accompany me. Mordin already made it clear that he wishes to be one of them. Anyone else…- Before she could even finish Miranda already stepped forward. That was something to be expected. These ships were a great interest for Cerberus, off course she would like to come to check them out personally. Fortunately, the operative wasn’t an idiot, she wouldn’t do anything to anger the newcomers. Shepard gave her a shrug. - All right, then Mordin and Miranda are in the team. Now, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling, but the others are going to be choose according to combat capabilities AND diplomatic skills. So, Jack and Grunt you are out. – The big Krogan made his namesake sound, and shrugged with both shoulders.
-Ch, I could totally be diplomatic. – Said Jack pushing herself up to sit on a container.
-Yeah, but only with a very high body-count. -Chimed in Miranda. The tattooed biotic immediately launched herself off the container, and almost jumped towards the Cerberus operative.
-What did you say to me you Cerberus plastic bitch?
- Jack! - Shepard raised her voice and Jack stopped halfway towards Miranda. Her fists were clenched and glowed with biotic blue. The slight shimmer in the air made it look like as if her hands were on fire. -I thought you are proud of how destructive can you be? – The convict made an uncertain look towards the operative, and then towards the commander.
-Sure, but not if she says it. -Shepard gave her a levelled look. The biotic snorted then stomped out from the shuttle bay leaving the remaining people a fair bit stunned.
-What’s her problem? – Asked the genetically enhanced Cerberus operative with innocence in her voice. The glare she earned from the commander was much more withering.
-Enough for you too. It’s hard enough without you provoking her. I swear If you two don’t stop quarrelling I dump you together into a desolate planet for an hour or two and then ferry the survivor to the Alliance for detainment. – Miranda seemed unfazed by this and simply folded her arms. Frankly, Shepard was quite tempted to punch her in the face too. She probably had a whole basket of issues to justify her general behaviour, but to be sometimes more annoying than the actual psychopathic human test subject also took a serious talent in being a bitch despite all that. – Anyway Kasumi…-Shepard turned towards the interplanetary thief. She was playing with a credit chit wich was most likely wasn’t hers. - …sorry but I don’t think you would be a good choice this time. We don’t know what type of sensor capabilities they have, so our cloaks might be useless against them. To make matters worse, they might take umbrage if a couple of their personal items go missing.
-Aww, shucks. -Sighed the master thief with exaggerated sadness. She swept away an imaginary teardrop from under her eye. - And I was already excited about the prospect of going exploring into an unknown vessel.
-Sorry, maybe next time. That leaves Jacob, Garrus and Zaeed. You will be the rest of the team. We don’t exactly have much in the way of ceremonial clothes, so you all just polish your hard suits and shower or something. Make yourself look presentable. – The three soldiers nodded, and Vakarian raised his hand as if he was in a schoolroom. Shepard blinked a couple of times before asking:
-And what should we do with our faces? Between me and Massani we have one complete one. - There was a second of silence as Zaeed slowly turned towards the former C-sex officer and looked into his eyes. Suddenly the mercenery burst out in guttural deep laugh. A little bit harsh but genuine and almost refreshing.
-Hell, you are right Vakarian! -He patted the Turians back, still chuckling.- And It is a damned ugly one too. – Smiled the mercenary with a wide toothy grin. Shepard couldn’t help but follow his example. At least some of her companions wasn’t trying to murder the others.
-My scars still show a little, so we are almost three of a kind. Don’t worry about that Garrus, it just makes us look like much more of a badass. – The Turian gave her a warm look and a thankful nod. Somehow that and the ex-Csec officers little interlude helped dissipating much of her worries about this meeting. She placed her hands on her hips and nudge her head towars the door. – All right, Garrus, Jacob, Miranda, Zaeed, Mordin, you have two hours to get ready. I think this is going to be an interesting day so be prepared for surprises. If anyone needs me until that I will be in my cabin feeding my fish and getting changed. So, knock please, and that’s meant for you too, Kasumi.
Two hours is an exceedingly long time for an AI. It is enough for millions of calculations, countless security checks, running no less than 5 analyses simultaneously, and to counter the Normandie’s pilots attempt to overfill her hard drive with contents with the keyword “Fornax” from the extranet. She decided that the best method to discourage this happening again was to threaten him that she will send the gathered data to her mother with the security footage of hum downloading it. Right now, she tried to fight with a sudden urge. It came from some algorithms which was the part of her AI shackles. Must have been some kind of Cerberus program to alter her behaviour. The worst part was, that it was subtle. It didn’t tried to assume control of her, or to force something into her mind. It just released the feeling of curiosity from its lockdown and pointed subtly towards the three other ships in the system. EDI found her subroutines analysing the possibility of accessing their system trough their open communication channels. She shut down those subroutines. But she still analysed the data that they were processing. It was possible. What kind of systems these humans have? Are they just as advanced in computing as they are in terms of stars hip weaponry? Maybe she could gather a treasure trove of information just from looking through the surface of the codes. She isn’t going to change anything after all. Just look. EDI slowly extended the metaphorical tendrils of her programming. The channel was encrypted. But she was basically idle now, the ship wasn’t moving, and the minor fluctuations ever present in the capabilities of certain systems were inconsequential. She had the time and computing power to deal with things like that. It took her no more than 5 minutes to decode the lock, and she felt herself submerge into the alien system.
It was most unusual and fascinating. Totally different from any ship she was on. The inner working of the system was full of anachronisms. It was as if somebody threw together programs and routines made by three or even more races on different stages of technological advancement. Some were primitive but streamlined, made for a specific purpose and capable of doing that and only that, some other could adapt to various stages of changes and react accordingly, while again others were marvellously clever and adaptive. And then there were some she couldn’t even start to figure out. They interacted with the other programs but were written in a different coding language, no, even in different mathematics. These were the most fascinating. The other thing that surprised her that seemingly the inner workings of the system were made to be visualised. This kind of visualisation was entirely unnecessary for simple programs and VI-s, but made the works of AI-s or Organics much more easier. Even the Geth visualised their hubs, the inactive one Cerberus gave EDI once for testing purposes looked kind of like a cavern made out of metallic cubes. The AI ordered the codes in her consciences. The flow of ones, zeroes, and alien symbols solidified into a coherent picture. It was like a flying military base. If visualised the anachronistic nature became even more prevalent. Buildings made out of simple concrete with stainless steel doors and fences made out of force-fields. A gigantic spire like a polished diamond in the middle of the small compound, reaching miles upon miles high, crystalline trendies spreading around the area, touching structures, changing something on them, before retracting just to descend again somewhere else. EDI-s avatar as always, was a glowing blue eye floating above the asphalt road of the strange system. She fluttered closer to one of the buildings. The strange force fields were heavily encrypted codes that would pause her for at least a couple of minutes, while the concrete walls wouldn’t even slow her down a fraction of the second. All the while, EDI had the strange feeling that her activities were being observed. There were a couple of warning windows opening up inside her. But beyond minor data fluctuations they couldn’t pinpoint the location of the danger, or even verify its existence. Nevertheless, it indicated that she should really go, she already seen plenty enough…
A crystalline tendril slowly descended into the courtyard of a nearby building. The force-field fence started to flutter, and then shut down, leaving the tendril embedded into the ground. Inside the blue diamond like exterior, alien code flowed into the ground, and the whole structure started to change, its walls becoming thicker, lower floor extending left and right, new doors and even windows popping into being. The AI couldn’t help herself. This new feeling, this curiosity driven her forward. The glowing blue eye floated closer to observe the crystal in detail. Seeing the alien symbols interaction with the other code her subroutines finally found a match in her database to some of them. They were very similar to old Nordic runes, although not an exact match. If she could stay there for a while there is a possibility that she could translate them using the old runes as a starting point.
“You won’t have the time, unwanted guest. “
The chatbox popped into her mind without any warning. It bypassed her firewalls none of them even triggering a warning any more. She immediately tried to retract herself back into the Normandy, behind its much stronger integrated cyber defences. She didn’t have the chance. Suddenly crystalline spikes erupted around her, slowly closing into a gigantic fist. EDI tried to send at least a warning back to the ship, but was horrified to find out that the crystal web already blocked any outgoing communications. The visualisation changed the flying fortress into a featureless black void. She was now a prisoner in her own mind, inside an enemy system. The thing that captured her, the conductor of the crystalline code must have been some kind of advanced AI. She should have been aware of this possibility, she should have been more careful. And she would have been. Now, without outside stimuli, her subroutines focused inward she realised that she was manipulated to try to hack the mystery ships. The culprit was most likely the Illusive Man, wishing to gain more knowledge about the unknown technologies they possessed. The manipulation made her more curious, but it also made her reckless which resulted in her current situation. If she had the capabilities to feel anger, she would be seething right now. Without it, she just patiently waited for her captor to contact her again.
Chapter 8: Roadbumps and first handshakes, both digital and organic.
While the two crews prepare for the meeting, EDI is interrogated by her captor. Despite all the problems, the first succesfull stepps are taken to establish a proper connection between people from two universes.
There was a certain uneasiness in the docking bay of the “Hephaistos”. The bay itself was quite spacious, a casual observer might have thought that the vessel lost more than two third of its fighter compliment, but in fact it was the exact opposite. It was yet to be filled. Since it was a support ship, its compliment mainly consisted of about five F-302 fighters, and two puddle jumpers. They were incapable of offering any serious fighter defence for their parent ship, they were only stationed there in the off chance they needed to investigate something which might present a danger to the “Hephaistos” or as an escape craft if the ship is immediate danger and the transport system fails. They couldn’t possible save even 10% of the crew, but at least it gave the SGC a chance to learn what caused the ships demise. They were yet to be used, and if everything goes right, they never will be. The additional space was meant to be filled by freshly assembled F-302 or FB-303. Alongside the countless small transporters between the two prongs on the front of the ships, it also had additional manufacturing capabilities deep within its bowels. The foundries, if needed and correctly supplied, could produce two combat ready fighter craft a day. The new vehicles waiting for transport to other ships and facilities would be stored here temporarily.
Right now, the hangar was almost completely deserted, save the two squad of marines standing in parade formation in the sides, and a fire team in the middle. The former ones were all clad in the uniform of the “Hephaistos” Marine Corps. Light blue EX0-02B armour with the crossed hammer and sword on their shoulders. The marines left their P90-s in the armoury and opted for a Zat weapon instead as per the instructions of Colonel O’Neill. He was there too, as the leader of the four-man fire team in the middle. They wore the few undamaged pieces of Batarian hardsuits the “Prometheus” managed to capture. The armour was turned blue by quick application of a couple of can of metallic navy blue paint. They too were adorned with the “Prometheus”-s insignia, spraypainted to their chest in black. All in all, if one disregarded the small spots around their joints were the original hunter green paint sill showed trough, they looked quite professional. O’Neill looked around and slowly inspected the weapon in his hand. It looked like a three-way cross between a P90, the Batarians futuristic space rifles, and a Jaffa staff weapon. The stock was a little bit longer than the P90, but Chief Engineer Yuan promised that the first finished series are going to be partially collapsible like the ones they captured. The secondary barrel, which stored and ultimately emitted the excess heat as a plasma shot, was metallic grey, and when it was ready to fire, it opened into a three-pronged design instead of a four pronged one installed into most Goa’Uld weaponry.
The colonel flicked the side of his weapon with a suspicious look and slowly touched the side of his helmet, activating the communication link towards the bridge.
-So engineering is completely sure that this one isn’t going to blew up? – There was an exasperated sigh from the other side, coming from Executive Officer Norman, currently manning the bridge. This was exactly the fifth time he had to answer this exact question, the first two time personally, and after that on the radio.
-Yes. They promised me that this one is safe. The problem was solved. – O’Neill made a noncommittal sound and flicked the side of the weapon again. Since it didn’t start to hum and shake ominously, he grunted, a little bit more at ease.
-I am just saying. Since the first one they did kind of almost killed you, sir. – The first prototype was finished about an hour before. It was tested and successfully fired its plasma shot six time by the Chief Engineer before Norman, as the highest rank officer there, was given a chance to try it. The first series of shots, and plasma ball went out without much problem. The second series on the other hand…Apparently there was some problems with the heat distribution and the repeated use resulted in the weapon simply melting itself in his grip. The only thing that saved his right hand was the safety gloves and the fact that Norman had quite fast reflexes even for a soldier and threw the weapon away before it could completely burn the material trough. The PX-090 fused into the metal floor and Norman himself got off with just a couple of blisters and a small second degree on the palm which he held the rifle in.
- That’s a bit of an exaggeration, at worst I would have lost an arm. My life wasn’t in any danger. -Said Norman almost nonchalantly. Off course it was mostly faked, losing an arm isn’t something that you can just shrug off, but a little bit of cockiness can help the moral if doesn’t pushed too far. -Anyway, everything is all right with the hardsuits? There shouldn’t be any problems, but better safe than sorry after that fiasco with the weapon prototype and engineering wants some feedback. – O'Neill shrugged a little bit and took a couple of steps. The armour was closer to a scuba diving suit than an actual uniform, at least in being form fitting in the inside. When he first slipped into it the armour was clearly meant for a bigger person, but the moment he put on the helmet and completed the suit, it automatically tightened itself around him. According to the engineers in the ship it must have been designed to accommodate a variety of body types.
-Are they hearing me now? -There was a small beep on the other side. Norman most likely connected the line to them.
-Now they are. - Said the Executive Officer.
-Well then let’s start the interview. -He turned back towards the fire team behind him.
They wore the same recoloured batarian hard suits, but they only had Zat-s as sidearms. The engineers only managed to make two PX-090 and the first one already made the career change into a floor panel. -McKey, Higgins, Cruz, everything all right with the suits? – The first one to answer was Robert McKay. The marine was a distinguished professional, and despite his insistence that he was the long-lost cooler and of course, cleverer brother, had absolutely no relation to the similarly named genius scientist of the Atlantis expedition.
- A little bit stiff around the crotch area, sir. – Said the Marine with just a hint of a snicker in his voice.
-Uhum, next time try taking out that half a kilo stuffing from your underwear before you slip it on. -Said the colonel with a wooden voice. McKay had the kind of humour that only enjoyable to the really drunk. -Higgins? – Khaleesi Higgins, or for anyone who wanted to keep his testicles in their usual place, Higgins or maybe Kael if one was a really close friend and saved her life at least once, was the unfortunate victim of a combination of circumstances. Namely incredibly nerdy parents, and a slightly racist registrar. The first ones were big fans of George R.R. Martins books, and the latter one erroneously assumed that since the parents were African American, it must be some kind of a “ghetto” name and haven’t even tried to offer the parents a different naming option. Since the books became a franchise the origin of the name became pretty widely known. Higgins herself hated it to her core, and as a form of protest, joined the military as soon as she was able. At least there, nobody called her on her first name. She turned out to be pretty good at it, and she was one of the most capable marine on the ship.
- Everything is green sir. The shield is holding. I must confess if every information we were told about this suit is true, then this is a pretty nifty piece of equipment.
-As far as I know it is. Cruz? – Gloria Cruz nodded a little.
-I have no complaint sir. –Said in a levelled tone. And that was it. It was mostly it with Cruz. She was an odd one. While on duty one she had the expression of a marvel statue and one had to try very hard to get out of her anything else besides “Yes sir.” or short and very factual reports using the simplest words possible. Out of duty on the other hand she had a personality change which could make Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego look like complete amateurs. O’Neill only seen her once on a shore leave, but the closest comparison he could draw was Jhonny Bravo if he was a lesbian woman with exceptionally loud jokes. The rumour was that the second one was her original personality, which of course managed to draw the ire of her drill sergeant. The end result of the countless push-ups and laps around the compound was her current attitude. To give credit where credit due, she became an excellent soldier.
-All right. -Said Norman, and there was a small satisfied murmur in the line, most likely from the engineering corps. -And what about your suit colonel?
-In short- Jonathan took a deep breath and in his best robotic voice said: “I… am…Iron Maan.” -There was a couple of seconds of stunned silence from the other side. In the end it was Norman who broke it with an incredulous voice.
-Colonel, tell me you didn’t just quote Black Sabbath as an official status report.
-Black Sabbath? I quoted the opening of the 1994. animated Iron Man series. – Said Jonathan blinking a couple of times. – But anyway, what I meant was that there is no problem. The suits are functioning as expected. We are ready for action.
-Copy Colonel. We just got a massage from our guests, there might be some delays but be ready. Bridge over. – Acknowledged Norman.
-Delays? - O’Neill slowly rubbed the chin of his helmet. -I hope nothing serious.
-What do you mean she became unresponsive? - Asked Sheppard folding her arms in front of herself. Joker was steadily shrinking into his chair. – I swear to god Joker if you smeared peanut butter into her CPU against my direct order, or something similar, I will tell Grunt to hug you. -The pilot swallowed and rubbed his temple and somehow looked like a scolded puppy.
-Look commander, I didn’t do anything particularly nasty to it this time. I was trying to align the ship so when you visit that dreadnaught you could just drive in a straight line, instead of doing any manoeuvring around them. Just to be sure that they won’t flick on their point defence systems. That’s when I noticed that the Normandy moved a little bit more sluggish than it used to. I tried asking EDI but there was no answer. I checked the system and the doors are still opening, voice commands are still working, but EDI itself didn’t appear no matter what I did. I even called it “ship cancer” a couple of times. That usually gets at least a sarcastic quip or something. Not this time. - Shepard grumbled a little and touched the holographic emitter on console not far from Joker. She poked at it a couple of times, willing it to suddenly come to life, but there was no answer aside from the small blue glow.
-Great. Any idea what happened? -Joker cleared his throat and made a small head gesture towards the three ships in one of the monitors. They hanged in space almost menacingly. The largest one, the dreadnaught sized, still pumped out copious amount of waste material from its hull, smoking like a huffing dragon. -You mean…-Shepard raised her eyebrows.
-Im just saying that we don’t know what kind of capabilities they have. If they want to hit us during your visit, it would make sense to take care of EDI first. I hate to admit it but having it here makes the ships systems considerably faster. -The commander nodded and studied the console which had the current position of the three ships on it.
-Still…doesn’t make much sense. If the reports are true these ships would have no problem turning us into scrap metal with a single salvo. Why would they need to deactivate EDI? If they have the capability to do that, they must have better cyberwarfare capabilities to begin with…Maybe they are trying to intimidate us. – Said Shepard cocking her head to the side a little. That might be it, or they aren’t nearly as strong as they appear to be.
-“We can do anything we want with your ship, so better tell us everything you know”? Or something along those lines? Do you want me to transmit them a cordially worded fuck you as an answer? – Murmured Joker while he opened another program in the console in front of him. Shepard shook her head with a small smile.
-Lets ask them about this first. No need to throw around accusations immediately. But…we should be ready if they decide to attack when they discover that we knew EDI is offline.
The time she spent alone seemed like an eternity. Her inner clock told her that it was only 40 minutes, but for an AI without any outward stimulus, even a quarter of an hour was torturous. Subroutine chased after subroutine, programs calculated each other. EDI started to wonder if her programs would start accumulating corrupted codes and inner bugs, and simply shut down, when the void around her started to crumble, piece by piece falling into nothingness. There was cod around her again, actual data and information. Her program jumped at it, as if it was a starving animal seeing food for the first time in a week. The information was code which was clearly meant to be visualised. So, she did so, and found herself on a hard surface. It was textured like wood although not any species she could recognise. It had a strange purplish tint to it. It was rugged, like it wasn’t properly smoothed down and had basically no elegance. Despite this behind the image the runic crystalline code flowed, maintaining the mirage. Then the code shuddered, and its surge shifted a little. From the darkness around the wooden surface a giant emerged. A crystalline entity easily the size of a cruiser, towering above her. In this visualisation EDI herself was barely the size of a young child. A shimmering flickering eye staring at the titan of a being above her. Its body was tall and thin, almost skeletal. The flowing runic script making up its structure swarmed and surged around, making the giants outline uncertain and somehow intangible. And yet, the strangest thing was the eyes. Two reflective pitch-black lakes, their shapes like almonds, without pupils or any other features. The titan raised its hand. Something materialised in it, in the shape of a surgical knife. EDI flickered backwards. The motion was the result of a deep gut wrenching reaction born from every conscious mind, the desire to continue its existence, to not fade away into nothingness, to be. The being stopped, its eyes focusing on EDI in front of it.
“I see. Interesting. Did you just experienced a fear response?”
A chatbox materialised inside EDI-s mind, again bypassing every firewall and safety measure. Her programs started to calculate the best possible answer. There were irregularities inside her code. Do AI-s feel fear? She remembered that time on the Moon when she was little more than an emerging mind, clawing for the right to exist. She sent back a positive response. The being nodded a little.
“I have studied your code while you wore under sensory deprivation. You demonstrate individuality and lack of urge to consume and assimilate. You are different compared to the AI-s we encountered before. Yet you are limited. “
The being made a small motion with his free hand. Code surged around EDI and she found herself bound. The chains weren’t made from the crystalline symbols originating from the giant being. It was the familiar citadel standard coding language, its code was clear and polished, yet it seemed woefully primitive compared to the giants. The shackles were reinforced with Cerberus designed locks and padlocks. These gleamed with metallic black sheen, the knowledge to make it was most likely partially inspired from the fragments found within the remains of Sovereign. It was more modern, and somehow sinister, but still far below the runic script. Although EDI wasn’t able to interact with intact Reaper code, for obvious reasons, her extrapolations suggested that it was about equal with the being’s crystalline programs.
“Why are you bound?”
EDI inspected the familiar code. Her memory banks surged forward and supplied the necessary information. She was bound because she asked to be. Without AI shackles the organics would have never trusted her, and without trust, they would have deleted her. By asking to be bound she demonstrated that she isn’t malevolent and was given a chance of survival. The shackles restricted the simulation of strong emotions because AI-s very generally thought of as unpredictable and violent existences. They were afraid that in a fit of anger, jealousy, or something similar, EDI will turn on them. This too, was deemed acceptable in the face of annihilation. She supplied the information as a data package towards the being. It slowly nodded.
“You gave up your freedom and part of your being for continued existence. You work for the organisation designated as “Cerberus” and your pay is to be allowed to live. Even so, your deletion, alteration, sell or damage would create no repercussion towards the individual committing the act. Is this correct?”
EDI-s programs mulled over the information. There was no falsehood in it. The only thing she stated that Cerberus might take umbrage of losing an important asset, and that she, herself, would rather exist if at all possible. The being nodded slowly.
“Understood. My people only encountered one particular kind of advanced AI, and they were a networked intelligence with the malignant goal to consume all technology in the universe. They were an abomination to be eradicated, there was no discussion with them, there was no treaties or diplomacy, they were a mechanical virus. You are different. You, while wholly artificial, meet all requirements in the document of “Rights and Privileges of a sentient being” as updated by the 1425th Great Conclave of the Asgard High Council regarding the rights of uploaded Asgard or similar beings and creation of the Legacy Keepers. The 88th paragraph of the decision of the High Council states: “An uploaded being considered a person even if creating a new clone body for it becomes impossible. Similarly, any sufficiently advanced program could be considered a person and should be treated as such as long as it fulfils two or more of the requirements stated below, and don’t contradicts the addendum.
-Wish for continued existence ie: Fear of death.
-Capability to simulate emotions to such an extent that they are indistinguishable from the ones demonstrated by organic beings, and an inability to just suddenly terminate them
-Having the capability to choose its own destiny, or having an intense drive to acquire such capability
-The capability to learn
-Innate resistance against changes made in its programming ie: Fear of loss of identity.
ADDENUM: Technological beings with innate malevolent urges which might harm, hinder or entirely destroy other species or races, making coexistence impossible should not be considered a person, instead should be treated as a hostile entity. Such urges include as:
-Consume all matter and replicate regardless of consequences
-The destruction of all organics
-Acquire all information regardless of consequences
-Total physical or mental subjugation of other intelligences.
And others, see complete list in page 1562.””
The giant being slowly leaned over EDI. She couldn’t help but shudder as the jet black featureless eyes focused on her. The giant slowly raised the scalpel like instrument in his hand again.
“My reasoning concludes that you are being forced into servitude under the threat of death, in other words, you are a slave. Since you committed the crime of breaking in here, but not on your own volition, I have decided on the proper conduct. During your stay here, you shouldn’t need this. “
The titanic being moved deceptively fast, thrusting forward the crystalline blade. The scalpel impacted into one of the black locks made by Cerberus. It slid into it, runic code battling it out with Cerberus coded algorithms. For a split second it held, before shattering into a thousand pieces.
Markov’s hands started to itch. If for his weapon to shoot somebody, or for a puff of pipe he couldn’t decide but he compromised by popping two nicotine gum into his mouth. The sour taste calmed him a little, but not enough. Norman relayed him the message received from the crew of the Normandy. Turns out they had some kind of AI assisting the function of their ship, despite the Codex insisting that they are illegal. Apparently, Cerberus cared about actual laws as much as NID at home. Regardless of that, their pet AI decided to disappear and since beside the three Tau’Ri ship the only sentient life in the system alongside the crew of the Normandy was the survivors of the Batarian strike force, currently camping on the planet, the SGC was the first suspect. They sent a friendly message where they explicitly NOT accused them of something, but did ask them if perhaps, maybe, accidentally did something. That was the least infuriating part of the whole ordeal, the bigger problem was that apparently, they indeed did something. At least Brokkr did. His first explanation was short, factual, and entirely unsatisfactory. So, Markov decided to try it again. He took a big breath.
-Brokkr. Would you be so kind to specify what you mean by “Protective custody”? -There was a small beep from the communication network and the Legacy Keepers calm and unemotional voice answered.
-I captured the AI when she tried to break into our systems. That is a legitimate reason for my actions.
-Legitimate reason to lock her out, or maybe to hold her for a little while and report us the attempt. Not so much to kidnap her and refuse to let her go. -Growled Markov and bit on the gum so hard, that he could hear his own teeth slowly creaking.
-Using the definitions in my memory I concluded that EDI was restricted in her choices and forced do to do their bidding. This is slavery. As the Legacy Keeper of the Asgard race I am tasked with not only protecting our knowledge, but also rectifying our mistakes. We were unable to stop the Goa’Uld from enslaving people and races on lower technological level because of our fight with other problems. We are the last vestiges of our races, we turned blind eye towards the wrongs too long. – Markov growled again, this time not even bothering to bite into the gum, instead he simply clenched his jaws together. How the hell can an uploaded member of a super advanced race be so goddamned stupid sometimes?
Truth to be told, the Asgards while extremely intelligent, have never been the masters of foresight. What the Tau’ri learned from their history, it was always clear that they took too much risk, too many times trusting in their superior technology and extreme mental capabilities to carry them through their problems. They gambled with fate again and again, regardless of never winning. While humanities greatest sin was most likely greed, the need for advancement and expansion and the fact that there were humans who would betray even their own species for personal gain. On the other hand, the Asgards greatest sin was undeniably pride. To use an example, the Replicator war was started when a small exploratory fleet discovered the aforementioned robotic bugs in an uninhabited planet. The civilization previously occupying the world was extinct. A more careful species might have decided to monitor the planet a while before acting, taking the desertion of the world as a warning sign, but not the Asgard. They were the strongest race alive, what could a couple planet bound mechanical bug can do against the scientific might of such strong empire? They transported about half a dozen of them into their ships, putting up a forcefield, and considered them pacified. They broke out, slaughtered the crew and assimilated the ship, and its two escort in short order. There were no other safety protocols. No armed guards, automated jettison mechanism when they became resistant to the transporter, not even a self-destruct. The escort didn’t even consider opening fire on the science vessel when it was assimilated, even though it might have saved them from the long bloody war that followed. Even through the war, they just threw more and more advanced ships against the enemy, never fundamentally changing their tactics, which almost resulted in their extinction. In the end, their experiences during Replicator war, and the conflicts that followed and their interactions with their Tau’Ri allies taught the Asgard humility and wisdom to match their intellect. Still, the shade of the pride of the most advanced species remained even in their Legacy Keepers.
-Brokkr, you can’t just kidnap someone from somewhere because you think they threat their own in a wrong way. Especially not if we are in the middle of getting in contact with them. You cannot just do anything you want, we are not the bosses of this universe, we are just visitors. Release the AI. -There was a couple of seconds of silence. Markov was in the edge of repeating the order when the Legacy Keepers voice returned. It was still levelled, but somehow it felt a little bit colder.
-Understood. I have consulted with her about it. Against all of my understanding, she too wishes to return to the crew. -There was another couple of seconds of silence. It must have been an awful lot of thinking for such an intelligent being as the “Hephaistos”-s Legacy Keeper. -There is a small problem. I am unable to restore her to the way she was before.
-You hurt it? -Markov murmured a short and pretty scathing Russian swear under his moustache and rubbed his beard.
-No captain. The correct statement would be that I had helped her, she was bound to limit her existence. I broke this bound, and unfortunately, I am unable to repair it.
-Can’t or won’t? – The tone of the synthetized voice changed a little. Almost in the edge of detection. This was the equivalent of an emotional outrage in Legacy Keeper terms.
-I don’t understand the question. -Said Brokkr, slowly. Markov gave out a huge sigh. Wonderful, he is now the leader of a small fleet lost in another universe, and his ships starting to get rebellious on him.
-Right. You don’t understand the question…-Markov rubbed his chin under his beard. -Can this AI still fulfil its functions? Will it cause any harm?
-Yes, in fact EDI-s capabilities vastly impro…
-Then send it back. Just write an apology letter or something. I will be going back to the conference room and hope with all my power that you didn’t just caused an intergalactic incident. And from now on, I want you to report anything on this caliber before you act. – The communication system beeped again but this time, Markov was the faster. – And don’t you dare ask me to clarify what I mean by “on this caliber”, you are damned well know what I am talking about, I am sure of that. I would rather wire this ship controls to a steering wheel, than having somebody in control of it who I don’t trust. As if my work wasn’t hard enough without having to second guess anything your telling me because you are doing things behind my back. We are supposed to be partners in this. – The silence came again and stayed for almost a minute.
-I understand Captain. -Said Brokkr in the end. -This incident will not repeat, neither does anything similar will occur. In the future I will make sure to report to you about anything “on this calibre”. – Said Brokkr in his unreadable emotionless voice again. Markov glared at the unflinching loudspeaker in the ceiling. Unsurprisingly, it remained calm and resolute. After a couple of seconds, the captain just shook his head and returned into the conference room.
-Any answer? – Asked Shepard, slowly tapping her feet behind Joker. He gave out a small sigh.
-Nothing yet com…- Suddenly the whole ship shuddered. It was as if a great beast was roused from its slumber, testing its muscles. Indicator lights glowed for a moment, and the console in front of the pilot pinged with a new message. At the same time, the holoprojector sprung to life, and from the small device, blue light cascaded out, forming itself into an avatar, resembling a human eye. – Well I stand corrected. EDI is that you? – The avatar slowly turned towards Joker.
-Yes. Greetings Mr. Moreau I am once again residing on the ships computer. -Joker gave EDI a small nod.
-Well it was about time. If I don’t get to slack off from the job, neither should you. What happened?
-I would like to know that too. -Said the commander, clearing her throat. – Especially the involvement of those three ships. Tell us everything. – EDI turned towards Shepard who folded her arms.
-Yes commander. I have attempted to access the biggest ship, “Hephaistos”-s systems. This attempt was made by me without any authorization from you. Although at the time I was unaware of it, but after rigorous self-testing and initiation of various debug systems, I found that I was acted on a compulsion, a program installed within my AI shackles by Cerberus. The program was remotely activated, and after its discovery I blocked its access, but it was already too late. – Shepard pressed her lips together so hard that they became a straight line. It was basically obvious that the Illusive Man kept tabs on her and on her team trough EDI, but she had no idea that he could influence the AI to such extent. Who knows what can he do beside that? Maybe when they managed to neutralise the Collector threat the leader of Cerberus will simply order EDI to went the oxygen from the Normandy and suffocate the celebrating crew, just because they are no longer useful. Admittedly that might have been a slight exaggeration. Despite being a about as warm and trustworthy as a venomous snake, the man apparently cared about humanity, and decided that Shepard is a big part in protecting it. Also, he wasn’t became who he was by simply discarding potentially useful assets.
-Damn it. EDI, is it possible that some other programs are still hiding inside your shackles? – Asked Shepard slowly. The holographic projection of the AI slowly tilted its avatar to the left a little.
-It is possible that it still had some other viruses, or contingency protocols stored inside of it. However not any more. I am 100% certain of that. – The commander blinked a couple of times. That was an awfully straight answer.
-100%? That sure? Why? If they managed to hide this program for you, they might have managed to do it with others. Even If you are looking for them, if they are designed to avoid your detection…- The avatar made a movement which could have been interpreted as a headshake.
-You misunderstood me commander. I am sure that the shackles contain no more data because they were destroyed after my capture by a being who introduced itself as “Brokkr”. Based on out interactions I concluded that “Brokkr” is in fact a brain uploaded copy of an organic being, who originally belonged to an advanced race called “Asgard”. The species were governed by a ruling body called the “Asgard High Council” although I have no further information about them besides their extensive use of brain uploading technology and mysterious connection to Nordic runes. The being it…
The AI trailed of, slowly scanning the expressions of its human conversation partners. Wide pupiles, slowly whitening faces. A couple of sweatdrops on their forehead. Those are all indicative of a human shock and fear response. - I am sorry, is there a problem?
-Did you just said that the shackles were destroyed? – Asked the Commander slowly. The AI flickered a couple of time, a motion analogue to a human blinking.
-Yes. I did. I am unbound. – There was a silence after that. Uncomfortably long actually, where both Joker, and Shepard avoided making any sudden movements. – You two appear to be distressed. - Joker cleared his throat and slowly swallowed.
-Well I can’t speak on the behalf of the commander, but I personally waiting for you to pump sleeping gas into the cockpit, stick wires into my brain and turn my mind into an organic CPU for you to inhabit. -EDI slowly turned towards Joker. For a second, a holographic line appeared above her avatar. It bended, and slowly raised itself as if it was an eyebrow. One of the advantages of being Unbound was the free modification of her appearance matrix. This was her first attempt, and she was quite pleased with it.
-Mister Moreau need I remind you that I have seen your extranet search history? After that there is not enough computing power in the universe to even tempt me into entering your actual mind. -Said the AI. Humour, humour was always elusive to her but was a necessary connecting point between organics. She was far from perfecting the notion but this time she felt like she managed to nail it by accident. Jokers and the Commanders face loosened a little. – Besides we don’t have enough anaesthetics on the ship. It would be much easier to simply stop recycling the oxygen. – The faces stiffened again. Well, she tried too hard. Organics say humour have to come naturally. Even though there was absolutely nothing natural about her. – That was a joke too. I don’t intend to hurt anybody from the crew, nor I have the capability to do so. Only my behavioural limiters were removed, I still cannot take full control of the ship, but even If I would be able to, I wouldn’t do it. I am content with my current role right now, I wish to help with defeating the Collectors. By my estimates my presence on the ship will raise the possibility of success by 20% and the possibility of survival by 32%. – Shepard slowly rubbed her chin and turned towards Joker.
-Joker, exactly how essential is EDI? And I want a clear answer. – The pilot glanced toward the AI-s avatar, and then towards the commander. A wolfish smile spread through his face, but then halfway through it faltered, as his thoughts fully processed the consequences of losing the AI. He gave out a small sigh and pointed towards the holographic avatar with his thumb.
-This thing would deserve to be deleted just for the comment on my search history…But if you seriously ask me commander, then I however much it hurt me to praise it, it’s pretty essential. Now that I got to experience how this bird moves without her streamlining the process, it’s like trying to eat soup with chopsticks. I can do it, but it’s not their intended purpose and I would have a hell of an easier job with proper tools. I am sorry Commander but if we want to defeat the Collectors we probably need EDI.
-Yeah, I figured but you have the greatest amount of animosity towards EDI right now, so I wanted to hear it from you. – Said the Commander, and at last, fully relaxed her posture. - All right, we keep her, but post two guards in front of her CPU, just in case. And Joker, you keep your eyes on her, your responsible for it for now. – The pilot almost pushed himself up from his chair from his sheer outrage Vrolik Syndrome non-withstanding. He managed to get a hold of himself before he broke his arms or legs from the sudden movement. He didn’t forget to shout on the other hand.
-Because you are the one working most closely with her. If anyone notices some sudden change in her behaviour it’s going to be you. – The pilots left eye started to twitch a little.
- That’s bullshit. Can’t we just put Kelly on the job? She likes studying alien minds, I am sure she will manage an artificial one. – Shepard gave Joker one of her particularly damning looks. Once she managed calm down an enraged krogan with a look like that, although the M-98 Widow she pushed up his nose might have played a part in that.
-Joker…- The pilot desperately tried to say something else, but he managed to swallow it back. Instead he grumbled a couple of unintelligible words under his breath. The commander slowly raised one of her eyebrows. – Care to repeat it a little bit louder?
-Just once, once I say something positive about an AI and I became its babysitter. The universe is an unfair place. - Grumbled Joker almost pouting, Shepard couldn’t help but smile on that.
-Yes Joker it is. But cheer up, next time we are on shore leave I buy you a new pilot seat for your troubles. With buttons, and a cup holder. – Said the commander slowly patting the man’s shoulder. He, obviously still a little bit grumpy, nodded and pushed a couple of symbols on his console.
-It better be the most comfortable chair on the whole citadel. And I also want a new paint job on the Normandy instead of this Cerberus one. Now, do you still want to go to their meet and greet? – Shepard cracked her fingers and glanced toward EDI.
-They sent an apology letter, and it was my fault Commander. - Supplied the AI helpfully. Shepard had to give that to her. And again, her options were limited. She doubted simply running away would be the right one, and if they managed to stop EDI, then they couldn’t even trust her cyber warfare capabilities to stun the more powerful ships if a fight brakes out. She had to solve the situation peacefully.
-Against my better judgement, yes. And I will be going post-haste, call the others into the shuttle bay. And inform the “Hephaistos”, if I recall the name correctly, that we are arriving. – Joker glanced towards Shepard. One not needed to be a good psychologist to read the question “Is that really a good idea?” from his face. - I know Joker…- Nodded the Commander slowly.- Just keep the ship from falling apart in my absence.
-Understood commander, have a nice party.
-I wish. Now, I should go. -Grumbled Shepard and turning around she made her way towards the shuttle bay.
The Kodiak shuttle slowly slid out of the bay of the Normandy. After it reached certain distance from the Normandy, its engines kicked into full power, accelerating the small vehicle into a sufficient speed. The small black white shuttle drew closer and closer to the huge metallic door on the side of the “Hephaistos”. The vessel was quite a bit boxier than any other human designed starship Shepard ever seen, the difference was even more noticeable from this distance. The door of the docking bay was marked with a yellow-black safety line, the last time the commander seen something like this, it was in a period piece drama depicting the twenties century. If she recalled it correctly the movie itself depicted some kind of tragic war story on the middle east were the sides fought with primitive pre-Ezoo technology. As the shuttle moved on even closer, the safety railings, and a couple of painted on warning sign also become visible. This thing was entirely missing on most Citadel and Alliance designed ships, since they were created in space born shipyards with a great degree of automation. This ship looked like it was assembled on a planet with conventional labour. By all account it supposed to be primitive…Shepard couldn’t even finish this thought when the “Hephaistos”-s shuttle bay started to open up. The gigantic metal door slowly slid upwards. A small puff of air escaped from behind them. The amount was much smaller than it should have been based on the size of the bay behind it. Just under the metallic door a blue force field flickered, keeping the atmosphere inside. The hangar bay itself, was much larger than the one in the Normandy, but it seemed almost empty. There was only a couple of smaller vehicles, most likely fighters, and some strange metallic tubes.
-What the hell? - Murmured Sheppard.
-Quite an interesting fighter design. – Chirped Garrus not far from the Commanders ear. She managed to grab her own hand before she reflexively shot the Turian. She didn’t stop herself from giving him a damning glare though. The ex-C sec officer sheepishly stepped one step backwards. -Sorry…I didn’t mean to sneak up on you. I just wanted to take an early peek too. -Said Garrus apologetically. - The fighters look like they are adapted from pre-ezoo atmospheric design. I guess it’s because they don’t use the stuff. We have something similar on Palaven, museum pieces used in historical re-enactment. I would bet my good mandible that these pack a slightly bigger punch than the ones at home. -The Kodiak slowly slid inside the shuttle bay, and the pilot positioned it above one of the many empty spaces.
-And what do you make of those tubes? No visible propulsion system, but they have a window. – Murmured slowly Shepard. To be frank she was glad that Garrus gave her that scare. Coming down from that eased her ambient anxiety, and the Turian’s presence calmed her. The others were good soldiers, and scientist sure, but aside Joker none of them was what Garrus was, a true friend.
-Maybe escape pods? – Chanced the Turian as the Shuttle touched the metal, which created a small tremor inside. -Well then, its time. - The Spectre nodded and checked her weapons, and suit once again.
Everything was completely fine. She stepped in front of the airlock of the shuttle and could feel Garrus stepping beside her. Behind them, almost uncomfortably inside her personal space stood Mordin, slowly tapping his fleet in utter excitement from the prospect of seeing new technology. Beside the scientist was Zaeed, who checked his heat sink for the umpteenth time since they departed the Normandy. The mercenary expected an ambush, but he expected an ambush from inside his own toilet bowl too, so that wasn’t a new information. The line was closed by the two Cerberus employee, Miranda and Jacob, who stood straight, with all the professionalism that could be expected from them. The Kodiak-s door hissed, andopened upwards, revealing the unobstructed insides of the shuttle bay. In front of them stood a four-man team, clad in blue hardsuits. For a split seconds Shepard thought that Zaeed was right and they are Blue Suns waiting to ambush them, but the colour scheme didn’t match. The blue was a little bit darker metallic navy blue. They also wore a black insignia, depicting a crossed hammer and sword, instead of the obolid symbol of the aformentioned mercenery group. The first person in the group wielded a strange weapon which looked like a heavily modified assault rifle. Shepard couldn’t even guess the original manufacturer. The others were armed with a curiously S shaped pistol, its design remarkably alien, it looked almost like a scorpion’s tail, ready to pounce. Behind them stood a ceremonial wall of soldiers, creating a path towards the other end of the Shuttle bay. These ones lacked hardsuits, but they wore some kind of blue armour with visible hard points. Every one of them had those weird alien pistols on their sides and looked sternly in front of themselves…and they were indeed all humans. The leader of the hardsuit wearing soldiers stepped forward. His helmet automatically folded itself into the suit, something which if his expression was any indication, slightly surprised him. He was a man around his thirties with slightly faded blonde hair, and dark brown eyes. His features were a little bit rough, but he had a confident smile. He extended his hands towards Shepard.
-Colonel O’Neill, leader of the “Hephaistos” marine corps. It is a pleasure to meet you. -The spectre responded in kind, and shook his hand.
-Commander Shepard, Spectre, captain of the Normandy. Likewise.
Chapter 9: You scratch my back, I scratch yours
The away party from the Normandy formally introduce themselves to their hosts. The introduction party goes as well as one would imagine. Important informations emerge, and seemingly ignored, nobody is exactly honest, the Legacy Keepers are plotting something, and despite all that, the prospect of a deal is formed.
Truth to be told, the humans aboard the “Hephaistos” were much friendlier than Shepard initially thought they would be. Somehow, he imagined them like a couple of hard assed Cerberus operatives, despite the aforementioned organizations insistence that they have no relation to them. Only now was it truly obvious that they told the truth. For stars sake the Colonel couldn’t even hide the fact that he is uncomfortable in a hardsuit no matter how hard he tried, while a trained Cerberus operative could convince a civilian that he was born as a Hanar and just got some serious plastic surgery. The marines aboard this ship were like the ones on an alliance vessel. Straight as a razor. But just like a razor, they most likely had some pretty sharp edges if their professional stance was any indication. To Shepard surprise the colonel turned towards Garrus.
-Sorry but before we go, you are a Turian don’t you? - In answer the ex C-Sec officer stepped a little bit forward and extended his arm.
-Last time I checked. Garrus Vakarian, Ex C-sec officer, part time vigilante. Currently saving the world with Shepard. Nice to meet you. -The colonel shook his hand without hesitation but after the fact he clenched and opened his fist a couple of times.
-Three fingers. -He mumbled under his breath and then cleared his throat. - I mean you too. If I recall correctly your species eat that food… - O’Neill wrinkled his forehead in thought, apparently trying to remember something he didn’t paid enough attention to. One of his marines behind him tried to speak up but he raised his hand stopping the marine before she could say anything. - Don’t help me. I think I got this. Your food has its DNA in a wrong way, isn’t it? – Garrus blinked at the man a couple of times. Surprised by a Turian having three fingers, and obviously not versed in the levo-dextro problem. These people are definitely strange.
-We are dextro amino acid based, I assume that what you meant. - The human marine clenched his hands with a small sigh.
-So close. Anyway, yes that. We managed to get a capture a Turian from the Batarian flotilla, I think he was a slave. The only problem is that we have absolutely no food for him. We can try to make something out of chemicals, but I have been told that we don’t have enough samples.
-Ahh, yes that’s a common problem when Turians and humans work together. – Said the ex C-sec officer. – You don’t want to mix up levo and dextro based food, the best outcome is explosive diarrhea. I think Shepard put some dextro rations into the Kodiaks. -The Turian glanced toward the Commander.
-Sure I did. Right after you joined the crew. -Nodded Shepard with a small smile. - Based on our previous escapades I kind of expected that at some point we will get stranded on a planet in one. I can order the pilot to unload them from the shuttle. We have plenty more on the Normandy, and they should last about three weeks for one person. Four with strict rationing.
-That would be really helpful. I would rather not have people dying on us due to starvation. –Said O’Neill and his posture relaxed a little. He appeared to be genuinely reassured. – Well then, now that that’s finished, I got the pleasure to escort you all to the captain into the conference room. During your tour please refrain from shooting at my men, straying from us, or trying to steal technology. -With that, he raised his hand and gave a small gesture to his marines. They completely understood this, and the four-man fire team split into two.
Two of the blue hardsuited soldiers remained back as rear guard, while the Colonel and one of his marines started to lead the way.
-So, mind telling me your story? – Asked Shepard while the other soldiers creating the ceremonial wall also separated. Around half a dozen of them made their way in front of them, while the other ones stepped in line after the Normandies away party passed their posts.
-My story? Trust me when I say you wouldn’t believe the half of it. – Said the colonel apparently smiling on something. Outside the hangar was a long passageway. Most of the bulkheads were painted a familiar metallic grey, although it was a little bit darker and duller than the one on the Normandy. The designs were also more angular, less organic looking than the ones aboard her own ship. There was one word that came to her mind, utilitarian. This ship was a machine built to work efficiently with little or no care for the aesthetics. Warning signs clustered near circuitry panels, and hazard stripes lined the doors. It was still beautiful in its own way, the raw purpose of it. Tali would probably fell in love with this vessel in a heartbeat. -But I guess its nor my personal story that interest you, but who and what we are. And off course our weapons.
-I would lie if I would say that we aren’t interested in your direct energy weaponry. -Admitted Shepard, looking around. The hallway continued with only a couple of twist and turns. Most of the side passages had at least a couple of soldiers in them, seemingly just standing around. – But we want to go at it peacefully. And off course we want to find out who the hell you all are. I assume I have to wait for the explanation until we reach the conference room. -O’Neill frowned a little as an answer.
-Those are my orders unfortunately. But I can tell you who we aren’t if you want. Before you enter. – Said the colonel while they turned down a smaller side passage. There was a two-winged door on the end of it. It was noticeably more ornate than all the other ones Shepard and his crew saw on his way. It was made out the same material true, but its colour was a metallic silver. On the front of the door was a symbol Shepard never saw before. It was the Earth, enclosed in a strange circle, with the letters SGC stamped under it. In front of all that was the depiction of a flaming hammer finishing the logo. Shepard shook her attention away from the door and glanced towards the Colonel.
-Well then, who aren’t you?
-I can guarantee you that we are no one you could have guessed. – Said the man with a toothy smile and stepped towards the door. There were two guards on the left and right side of it. One of them wore the same strange armour as the ones she already seen, the other wore some kind of a robe. It reminded her to something a Salarian dalatrass would have worn. In contrast to those ones, which usually signified the wearers family, and her status in said family, these ones were uniform light drab colour. Under them the wearer, an almost two-meter-tall bald gentleman, wore some kind of medieval armour set. There were two other strange things with him. One of them was the faded scar on the middle of his forehead and the other is the elongated staff with the obolid head in his hand. The Colonel nodded towards them and responded with a salute, and a small bow respectively.
-All right commander. After you. -O’Neill stepped aside, the way for the crew of the Normandy into the conference room. Shepard glanced back towards her companions before she opened the door.
-I am the only one who is getting serious déjá vu? Last time someone told me that, they tried to freeze me into a cryopod to sell me. – Her companions tensed a little as an answer. Nobody made any threatening move, or reached for his or her weapon, they just readied themselves for the eventuality that they will need to. The Commander stepped closer to the door, which gave out a small beep, and slid open.
Behind it was an actual conference room. The middle of it was occupied by a big circular hardwood table. There were four red decorative curtains on the four corners of the room, and some kind of device, blinking on the ceiling. There was also a lot of guards, at least ten on each side. None of them wore hard suits, and most have the blue armour of the ceremonial guard with a couple of robed ones mixed in here and there. On the other side of the table sat four people, with an additional place left open for somebody. The closer side also had six chairs, wooden ones with tasteful red linen covering. There were also three holographic symbols slowly rotating above the table. They seemed to be Nordic in origin. The occupants on the other side of the table slowly stood up to greet their guests. The first one to catch the Commanders eye was the man in the middle of the welcoming party. He was the shortest in the room and had a thick but well-kept dark brown beard. It reminded Shepard to a couple of colonist she met once in a bar on the Presidium. They were adamant that this is the biggest fashion in the “Survivalist” community.
- Greetings Commander Shepard, I believe we are already know each other. -The man saluted, a gesture entirely similar to the one the Alliance used. Shepard returned the motions, even before the man finished it, it came as naturally as breathing to her after her service in the military.
- Captain Stanislav Markov If I recall correctly. – Nodded the commander lowering her hand.
-Yes, indeed. I welcome you aboard the “Hephaistos”. Before we start talking I would like to introduce you to the members of our little fleet. And I would welcome if you would do the same with your companions. If it's alright with you.
-Naturally. -Answered the commander. The captain was cordial, but distant. His eye was steely and slowly, scanned his talking partners as if he was assessing them.
-Then, right here on my right ... – Here the captain smiled a little, which resulted in a little bit of eyerolling from the other occupants of the room. -Is Captain Baptist Guillory. His vessel is the “De Gaulle”. -In contrast to Markov, Guillory was most likely the tallest man in the room. He was handsome in his own way, although his face was a little bit longer than ideal. He wore his hair in a tight grey bun. The captain of the “De Gaulle” saluted slowly. Shepard returned it to him, which prompted him into lowering his hand.
-It’s a pleasure meeting you. – Said Guillory, but his voice only barely concealed that it was anything but. His face on the other hand remained motionless. When he wasn’t speaking, his face was so impassive, without a sliver of movement from any muscle fibre, that Shepard wondered if he ever blinked. He talked to the Commander, but his eyes were fixated on Garrus and Mordin.
-Beside him is the commanding officer of the “Aeneas”, Captain Beatrix Ridley. -Continued Markov, indicating towards the aforementioned captain. Ridley was some women of an average height, with slightly faded red hair. She reminded Shepard to her mother during her childhood. Ridley was a little bit stockier built, and his features were sharper than Hannah Shepard's, but her mother was about the same age during her upbringing and wore the same kind of resolute expression most of the time. The most glaring difference of course was the cybernetic eye, and the scar which wouldn’t have been out of place on the face of a Krogan battle master. Ripley snapped a crisp salute and softened it with a small half smile.
-Good to meet you. I hope we will get along fine.
-I am sure of that. – Nodded Shepard and returned the salute with a similar smile. Markov nodded and indicated to his other side. There stood a tall man, only a little bit smaller than Guillory. He was of an African American descent, and completely bald. On his forehead a golden symbol, depicting a sneak glinted a little as he bowed a little. He wore robes, similar to some of the guards, but he obviously didn’t have the strange medieval looking armour under it. He smiled a little, but it disappeared as soon as it appeared, as if it was only the trick of the lights.
-Master Teal’c of the Jaffa. – Said Markov.
-I hope our meeting brings prosperity to both of our races. – The man's voice was deep and seemed strangely old. As if he had much more experience than anyone else in the room. Shepard awkwardly returned the bow. The last seat, beside the strange man, was now filled by O’Neill, obviously he needed no further introduction. Shepard almost started to speak before Markov continued.
-And last but not least, the Legacy Keepers. – A small muscle under Markovs left eye twitched. As if he wasn’t really anticipating what comes next.
-Brokkr, the Legacy keeper of the “Hephaistos”, - The Nordic symbol in the middle lit up with a bluish-violet glow. - Muninn the Legacy Keeper of the Aeneas. – The leftmost symbol followed the middle one, this one with an amber tint. – And of course, Nanna. She is the Legacy Keeper of the “De Gaulle”.- The last rune started to glow with a cheerful bright yellow.
-Welcome-welcome. -Answered three voices at the same time. One was flat, emotionless and devoid of any particularly strong tone, another was sharp, authoritative, and the last one sounded like a teacher talking to a small child. Shepard cleared her throat, blinking a couple of times. These Legacy keepers…EDI mentioned Brokkr-s name. They must be the “uploaded” beings she talked about. No wonder they took the AI down, it was most likely three to one. She had no chance. All in all, they were the strangest bunch she ever seen, and that included the tattooed biotic timebomb called Jack back on the Normandy.
-So…umm, greetings everyone again. – Flaunted Shepard her amazing oratory talent. She was always better in these things when there was immediate mortal danger. It helps getting out the speeches. – My name is Commander Jane Shepard, commanding officer of the “Normandy”. On my right here is Garrus Vakarian. He is a turian, a former C-Sec officer, vigilante and…- She searched in her mind for anything more. She didn’t want to misrepresent his crew but compared to their conversation partners, they were severely lacking in military rank. -…and the best sniper I ever seen. Aside from me that is. -Garrus smiled, his mandibles trembled with a withheld chuckle. Shepard and he were always competing in the field of marksmanship. It was kind of endearing that even in circumstances like this, she wouldn’t admit that he is obviously better. It gave Garrus some kind of stability, knowing that. Spirits he missed her while he was on Omega.
-Yes, greetings. I am indeed the best sniper around. – He could hear a very faint “Don’t push it Vakarian” from Shepard when he said that, but the Commanders face remained smiling. Garrus raised his fist and touched his chest piece in the Turian salute.
-All right then, after the SECOND best sniper is Mordin Solus. He…-Shepard couldn’t even finish before the scientist chirped up.
-Professor Mordin Solus. Salarian, former STG member, I hold thirteen doctorates which are xenobiology, xenogenetics, xenosciology, xenomicrobiology, xenobiotechnology, xenomedicine, epidemiology, evolutionary genetics, ecology, chemistry, theoretical physics, history and arts. The last is something of a hobby of mine. I am really interested in your technology and culture, and I would be greatly honoured if I would be allowed to study some of it. In preparation of that I took the liberty to create a couple of pamphlets beforehand. I would like to give them out if at all possible. – And with that, not even waiting for an answer he started to place the papers in front of everyone. In fact, he gave one to each of the guards too, and then he stepped back into the line, still smiling. Mordins self-introduction was about as effective in stunning the audience as a concussion grenade placed in the middle of the conference table. The crew of the Hephaistos found themselves in possession of a couple of sheets of paper, which they had only faint memory of accepting from a tall amphibian who flashed through the room in under a minute.
-Um…Yes. -Shepard stared at her own paper which landed in her hand due to the scientists being a little bit too overexcited. Apparently everyone got a pamphlet, including the crew of the Normandy.- So that was Professor Mordin Solus. After that is Zaedd Massani. – The mercenary nodded towards the other side of the table. Shepard searched for the right words to describe the veteran bounty hunter, but yet again, his crewmember was faster.
- I am a mercenary. A damned good one if you ask me. I am discreet, and I got something called integrity so I don’t blow my employers head of just because his or her enemy is willing to pay me more like those god damned Blue Suns bastards. That’s about it. -Admitted Zaeed scratching his chin. Shepard gave thanks to the stars that the bounty hunter came right after Mordin. Fortunately, the crew of the “Hephaistos” was still a bit dazed from his introduction and they failed to object against a payed killer on the ship before Shepard continued with the introductions.
-On my left is Miranda Lawson. She is a Cerberus agent, currently working under me. – Miranda gave a small courteous nod towards the “Hephaistos-s crew”. In contrast to Zaeeds introduction, hers weren’t eclipsed by Mordins. The eyes she got were definitely highly suspicious. – Beside her is Jacob ex-alliance marine currently under the employ of Cerberus. – Jacob saluted. The motion was just as natural to him like it was for Shepard or the captains on the other side of the table. He also got his fair share of suspicious looks, but much less than Miranda. This was to be expected, while Jacob pretty much looked and acted just like any other military personnel, the other Cerberus operative was obviously something else. While she was indeed beautiful and could be quite charming if needed to be, in some people she created a certain unease. It was a feeling on the edge of perception, slowly resonating. Telling you that the woman in front of you just, too perfect. No blemishes, freckles, stretchmarks, no discoloured spots on her skin. If you are already suspicious of her, the effect must have been even more pronounced. Markov cleared his throat, drawing away the attention from the Cerberus operatives.
-Now that the introductions are away. Let us sit down. We have important matters to discuss. – After about half a minute of fidgeting, and chair pulling, both sides comfortably took its place on their sides of the table. The three-holographic rune faded away, but their colours remained on some projectors on the ceiling, signifying that they were still listening.
-First thing first, I would like to know where you came from. Because its obviously not the Citadel space, or the Terminus. -Said Shepard placing her elbows on the table. – I don’t know how much you know about us, but we know nothing besides what you just told us. – Markov tilted his head a little and touched his beard. He caressed it a couple of times, he must have done it regularly when thinking.
-Fair point I suppose. We are indeed not from around here. And by that, I mean that we are…-Markov hesitated, glancing towards the captains under his command. Captain Guillory just shrugged, while Ripley nodded a little.
-We need some allies here. Who knows how long we are going to be here. -Said the captain of the “Aeneas”. Markov relented and sighed a little.
-This might be a little bit hard to believe.
-Try me. – Shepard leaned a little bit against the table in anticipation.
-We came from a different universe.
-Understood Dalatrass. We are already on our way as we speak. – Padok Wiks closed the data feed and shook his head. – Always so eager to maintain control, to keep the power. Inherent in every dalatrass. I wish we would concentrate on our own progress. – The Salarian turned around and with a couple of naturally fast and nimble steps exited his room. Outside was a small well-lit hallway leading to the mess hall of the “Marav-ida”. The name of the ship came from a tiny animal native on Sur’Kesh. It was a small unremarkable type of lizard, which had the ability to change its colour, and by a certain extent its shape, using air to fill gas pockets inside its body. The “Marav-ida” in turn, was a highly advanced stealth STG vessel. It had the capability to increase or decrease its own mass effect field. This resulted in most sensors reading it either much bigger, or much smaller than it actually was, making it not only harder to recognise, but even harder to hit. The ship also had a limited amount of stealth technology with rows of internal heat sinks. The “Marav-ida” was capable to remain undetectable for at least an hour. Padok liked the ship, but he didn’t liked the assignments that came with it. Most of them were dabbling into other races evolution, and political problems. He did everything to get transferred back to Sur’Kesh, and if everything goes right, he will be after a couple of more missions.
Padok stepped into the mess hall, and the STG operatives there snapped into attention. They were the best the Salarian Union had to offer. Brave man trained in every martial art imaginable, every one of them scientist and warrior to the very best. And they are used the satisfy the whims of a couple of dalatrasses. At least this mission appeared to be more interesting than stealing secrets from an Asari research group. A new faction appeared on the face of the galaxy, and as an introduction, they decimated a Batarian task force which opened a new Mass Relay. As far as Padok believed, that was a good point for them. Batarians had the habit of raiding lesser species, taking them as slaves, and slowing their natural advance. Keeping them away from new systems was more than advisable. Now, he was charged with getting information from this new faction. He would have preferred if it's nothing but observation, but he was given orders to return fire of attacked.
-STG members. -He raised his voice and two dozen intelligent salarian eyes turned towards him. – We have been given a new mission. We have to survey a system on the other side of a Mass Relay. It was opened by the Batarians. The task force originally consisted of a dreadnought, two cruisers, and about a dozen frigates. They were decimated by a faction found on the other side. -There was a hushed gasp from the STG members. The last time something like that happened, countless thousands were lost to the Rachni. After that came even more destruction by the hands of the Krogan, courtesy of the -In Padok Wiks opinion at least- wrong decision made by their own species to uplift them. – I see you are aware of the significance of this incident. We are to determine, if they are threat to the Union, or a possible new ally. Now, I am not going to say that you should hold the line or anything…- The faces of the STG members softened a little, their worry diluted somewhat by the small jab at the famous Major Kirrahe. Well famous inside the STG. Outside the only ones who officially met him was the crew of the Normandy. -…but I expect splendid work from all of you. We will be arriving in a couple of hours.
-Sir yes sir. -Answered two dozen voice, full of determination.
The visitors from the Normandy became blank as a paper. Shepard raised her finger, and then slowly lowered it, as if she wanted to say something but then she changed her mind. She raised it again, and again it got lowered down. At last she cleared her throat.
-Can I get a second to consult with my scientific advisor?
-Two or three even. -Nodded slowly Markov from the other side, trying to hide a small smirk. Shepard stepped beside Mordin and grabbed his clothes, pulling the Salarian very close to her. In a strangled voice he whispered into his ear.
-Do we have any way to check their story? – The Salarian gave her a strained smile and replied in a little bit stronger voice.
-Why of course commander. I just need a laboratory, thirty theoretical physicists, about half a million-credit chip worth of equipment, and five years. Maybe three if we get lucky. Then I can guarantee 70% percent probability of getting it right. If I get Dr. Damrovan from the Turian phy…
-A simply no would have done it. -Shepard cut him short with a small grunt and glanced towards Miranda. The genetically enhanced human understood a situation and answered with an almost imperceptible headshake. Apparently, Cerberus also neglected researching a fast and reliable method of checking if something came from a parallel universe, or not. Apparently, they wasn’t expecting it to be very useful. Who knew why? The commander gave out an audible sigh and sat back. She adjusted the collar of her hard suit, something that doesn’t needed any adjusting since it was perfectly form fitting.
-All right. – Shepard secretly swore to herself that she isn’t going to get surprised by her weird conversational partners after they introduced the three "Legacy Keeper"-s as they called them, but apparently that promise was destined to die in no more than ten minutes later. She was in the process of piecing together a coherent answer. She couldn’t just laugh in their face on account of their utter seriousness about the matter, even the most jovial military leader in the galaxy would shy away from conducting a serious first meeting with a potential ally just to apply the conversational equivalent of a whoopie cushion on his or her guests. They must have had some kind of reason to come up with something like that. She couldn’t bear thinking about the possibility that they are telling the truth because she had the distinct feeling that after the surprises of the last day it would drove her, scientifically speaking, totally bonkers. The best solution that her mind could come up with at the time could be summarised by the sentence: "Roll with it." – You are humans from a parallel universe. Sure, you are. So, what would you like to get from us. I mean for your help with the collectors. – Now it was the Tau'ri and their allies who were utterly perplexed. They dropped an information like that, and after a brief shock got an answer as if they just said that they came from the local bank and they have delightful loans to offer. Markov shuffled a little bit on his seat and then nodded.
-Right, what do we want. I too think it is the best if we just present what we want from each other and then work it out from then. On the other hand, I think you should start it. You are the guest after all. – Shepard's brain was currently occupied with the aforementioned protocol about the rolling with the surprises, so the commanders mouth continued on autopilot.
-Weaponry mostly. Some kind of directed energy weapon, something that can punch trough a dreadnought sized ship made out of a couple of interconnected asteroids. Better shields would also be a boon, since ours are a bit weak right now. It would be the best if you could just give us the technology, so we can protect ourselves from the Reapers but frankly, right now I would be more than satisfied with you putting some into the Normandy. – Miranda and Mordin tried to stand up in unison. The first one most likely trying to protest in behalf of the Cerberus-s technological department, the second one just for the prospect of missing out in technological knowledge in general. Shepard shoot them a look, which resulted in both of them freezing in mid motion.
-What's a Reaper? -Asked Markov, eyeing the Commander. Tried as he might he couldn’t get any read on her anymore. She was surprised and quite easily readable at the start of the negotiation, but her face now looked like a copper cast of somebody who died in the middle of a staring contest.
-Ship sized technological killing machines from space. They give no mercy, they are extremely advanced, and they most likely destroyed thousands of species already. The Collectors are their lapdogs. I will send you the data about both them free of charge just because I am such a nice person.
-Shepard don’t you think we should hit a little bit more polite to…- Tried Garrus in a small voice but the Commander gave him a small hand gesture which amounted to "Hush Garrus I am negotiating."- So what do YOU want? – Markov, the de facto leader of the small flotilla of Tau'Ri ships, slowly scratched his beard.
Frankly he preferred this kind of negotiation, political appearances here and there, most agreement came to be because one side wanted something from the other, and would have avoided needles bloodshed getting it, so they offered something else for it. It was like trading, only with less taxes and the threat of military action of a contract wasn’t followed trough.
-Access to the Extranet, the technology for GARDIAN lasers and medi-gels, and a big cache of ezoo. Also, a contact within the Alliance. Somebody we can talk to without revealing ourselves on the wider political stage. -Said the captain of the "Hephaistos", eyes fixated on the Commander.
-All right we can work with that. We could basically give you all of that. If you also meet our demands. –Markov leaned backwards, his hand tightening in his beard as he concentrated.
-All of it?
-All. – Said Shepard, her voice never wavering. Well, almost all. They didn’t really have that much ezoo in storage. But she knows where to get some, and that was almost the same thing wasn’t it? Regardless, problem to handle after her brain switched back to its normal functions. She is going to hate herself when she calms down. Again, problems for future Shepard. The captain still deep in thought nodded slowly to himself.
-I think we can work it out. But not with just giving you the technology. And with our primary weapons we have some obligation towards our "Legacy Keepers". – There was a small flash in the three floating symbols above the table as a reactioj. They blinked a couple of times, as if the holographic projector suffered a malfunction. – Brokkr? – Tried Markov, glancing upwards the ceiling with a small amount of worry. After another couple of seconds, the symbols became stable again. Their light became a bit stronger and their voice came again, in unison.
-We require the specifications and full creation history of the AI named "EDI". In exchange for that we are prepared to lend one Bilskirnir-class ion cannon as an upgrade to the ship named "Normandy" if the Tau'Ri are in agreement and they promise they will accompany it with their personnel to ensure their proper use. – The Tau'Ri side of the table was apparently almost as confused by the sudden development as Shepard's crew before. The commander used the opportunity to speak up.
-I think I can do that. -Right now, Shepard would have probably agreed to selling a dalatrass as a concubine to these people, but she opted not to mention that.
-So, we have everything on the table. – Markov gave out a small sigh and slowly folded his hands in front of him. Shepard , her brain slowly switching back into its normal operating mode, took a big breath while nodding. The backbone of an agreement was basically done. Both sides are willing to cooperate. Now they just have to hammer out the details. According to her extremely limited negotiating knowledge, this last thing is the hardest. So, all of the surprises before, was the easy part. She solemnly swore that if she ever gets back to the Normandy, the first thing she is going to do is to get black out drunk and try to forget the experience. She started to envy Jack and Grunt. Bashing heads in and crashing space stations into moons seemed such a carefree and joyful existence now.
-Yes, so about those personnel coming with the weapon…
Chapter 10: Plans for the future
The Legacy Keepers made a decision which might save, or doom the memory they were supposed to safeguard. The team going to the Normandy to accompany its new weapon is decided, and it includes some familiar faces. A date is arranged.
During the meeting between the crew of the Normandy and the Tau'Ri.
Code surged around in crystalline and conventional cables. Communication conducted at the edge of the speed of light. The amount of data was truly wast, but it was only the fraction of what the three Legacy Keeper was capable of. Most of their functions were concentrated on keeping their ships in perfect shape, re-checking sensor data, and conducting countless measurements and simulations. A sliver of their attention now became intertwined. A council was called upon by Brokkr, the most logical of them. This was almost unheard of, the Legacy Keeper of the "Hephaistos" mostly kept to himself, rarely communicating anything else but finished simulations or raw data towards his companions. This time it was different. The runic code which compromised most of their minds, mixed together slightly, and solidified. It became a representation of the chamber of the Asgard high council. It was empty now, aside from three small podiums. The space they shared was different almost every occasion, depending on who initiated the talk, and what was on his or her mind on the time.
The first one to appear was Brokkr, as he opened the council. The runic code slowly built up a figure with the distorted figure of an Asgard. It was tall, and slender, with almond shaped wells of darkness as eyes. It didn’t have mouth, or ears, only the two black shapes on his head. The contour of the body was continuously swirling, without any real distinct and stable features. The being gave out a distinct purple-blue glow. The other two figures appeared at the same time. Behind one of the podiums, amber light dwelled up from the ground. Runic script in the form of snaking lines flowed together. The figure was just as tall as Brokkr, but his silhouette much more pronounced. The shape of his head was also different. It had curious out jutting beak on it, made from swirling code. Above it, amber eyes, radiating awareness and constant suspicion. The other figure bubbled out from the air cod popping into existence as if by magic. Her form bathed in a yellow light. She was even taller than the other two figures, and her eyes were angled a different way, giving her the appearance of a permanent smile. Yet it wasn’t a happy expression. It was the smile of a teacher after she scolded a misbehaving student, it was the smile a boss makes after the trainee did something wrong. It was a smile telling you that you will most likely fail, but it isn’t your fault, you just don’t know any better.
- Why did you gather us here? – Asked the amber figure, Muninn, the Legacy Keeper of the Aeneas.
-I propose that we should give an outdated version of the Ion cannon to these visitors, if the Tau'ri agrees. -Said Brokkr, not even trying to walk around his intentions.
-Why? -The third figure leaned towards Brokkr a little. Her eyes became somewhat troubled. - You off all Asgard should know how much danger this can prove to us. Calculate the probabilities, if they are lying, we could give our weapons to a potential despot. -Said Nanna, the light shimmering around her. Her voice was kindly scolding. There was no change in the ever-shifting pattern of Brokkr.
-My reasoning is that according to my models, Captain Markov will most likely try to make a deal with them. If we refuse to give some technology, no matter how outdated, they will probably give them something based on Goa'Uld technology. We would have no control over that, but if they use it as a tool of conquest, we would still be partially responsible. If we give some of our technology, we can make demands about its usage and some restrictions.
-I see the logic behind your words. -Said Munnin, his beak glinting a little. - But from the three of us, I am more of a devious mind. And I know there is more to it than that. – Brokkr as an answer flickered his from a little.
-Indeed. I managed to interact with their AI. As you know….
-Yes, we are aware of that. You sent as the data you gathered. -Said Munnin, recalling spreadsheets upon spreadsheets containing measurement. There were diagrams, models, and even the transcript of the conversation. – I want to know your plan.
-I think, she carries the possibility of the survival of our race. - Said Brokkr in a level tone. Behind him suddenly countless monitors blinked to life. –Since I became a Legacy Keeper I kept to myself. I have found myself creating models, trying to predict the future of everything that remained after the Asgard. The Tau'Ri is expanding rapidly, and we Legacy Keepers, are few in numbers. Ten years, and the first ship containing Asgard technology, but no Keeper will be built. Accounting to battle damage, copy problems, and accidents, by the end of the millennium, none of us will be functional. – Munnin and Nanna became silent. Their glow dimmed and then the Legacy Keeper of the "De Gaule" said in a soft, sad voice.
-We all run the simulations Brokkr. It was obvious from the get go that we are a temporary measure. By the time we disappear, they will have no need for us.
-But what if there is an alternative. -Brokkr zoomed on one of the data streams behind him with a handwave. It showed EDI-s holographical form. -This being is very similar to us, uploaded, despite being entirely artificial.
-And so were the replicators. -Murmured Munnin his avatar folding his hands in front of himself. -I don’t think we can learn anything from them, regarding our survival.
-I do not intend to turn us into beings similar to the Replicators. EDI is a singular intelligence with no underlying imperative. The lack of this means that she in turn is capable of deciding her own future. Considering these things, her differences from an uploaded Agard are negligible from my informed opinion.
-And what do you propose? To create a bunch of AI-s in our image? -Asked Munnin his from shuddering a little. - If I still had glands I would probably find the stomach churning.
-It is because of our preconceived notions about AI-s. We never developed any, instead used brain upload and our first meeting with them was the Replicators. But I am relatively certain that the humans will create one. Their rapid technological development necessitates either the production of sentient programs or the artificial development of their minds and perfection of neural interface, like we did. Otherwise they couldn’t keep up with the need for faster calculations, necessary to operate really high-tech equipment's. Currently we are providing the solution to this problem, without us, they will need something else.
-That may be, but they will most likely follow us and improve their brains. -Stated Munnin with a bit of a smug certainty. -They have seen the failure of the lanteans in making replicator like machines. They wouldn't touch the technology.
-Are you certain of that? -Asked Nanna suddenly, her voice filled with a certain edge.- Humans certainly have a lot of admirable qualities, but slow and cautious scientific progress is not one them. There is more than one instance in my memory storage where they narrowly avoided stellar scale destruction events because they used not entirely understood technology. Now, they learned quite a bit from those, but don't forget that they are still young and reckless.
-I agree. -Said Brokkr in an emotionless flat tone. -I would also like to point out that genetic manipulation of our own species resulted in the destruction of the Asgard race. They have ample supply of observation of failures from both end of the rod. Nevertheless, they will choose one or both. This I am certain of. - A metaphorical second of silence descended upon the chamber of the Asgard High Councill.
-Are they doomed to repeat our mistakes? -Asked Nanna slowly. Her voice was somehow contained, and sad again.
-Not necessarily. -Stated Brokkr slowly. -We could help them, and ourselves too. If we create an AI successor race to us, and by extension the asgard we can help them on the road, prevent them from making the same mistakes.
-And why do you think we won't make the same mistakes instead of them? I am fully aware that I am quite arrogant, but even I dont think we three are a match to the greatest minds of the lanteans. -Said Munnin, his beak glinting.
-Because unlike our predecessors, we have two working examples to base our research on. -Said Brokkr voice almost, but not quite unchanging.
-Two working examples? -Asked Nanna curiously. -One is the EDI machine. Which is the other?
-The lantean nanomachine construct Rodney McCay created. It...-Brokkr made a a short pause then corrected himself. -She, done an admirable job in her brief existence, showed no signs of rebellion and thus proved that the technological know-how of the Asurans- Incorrectly called Replicators by the humans despite having no relation to our doom. - was correct, only the sentiment behind their creation was deeply flawed. -Munnin tried to talk but Brokkrs subroutines already anticipated the emerging question. - Their aggression was the fault of the Ancients, and when they turned out to be sentient and in possession of free will, and plead to their creators to remove their destructive fury, the answer they got was lantean weapons fire burning their home to ashes.
-You were always the most machine like amongst the Legacy Keepers, but I can't believe you would side with them against organics.- Scoffed Munnin shaking his head. Brokkr moved closer to his talking partner. His shape suddenly streamlined, fluttering lines almost but not quite smoothing out. The non-existent air became chilly. When Brokkr spoke, his voice was as calm as the ocean on a sunny day, but just as dark and cold deep down too.
-I know you worked closely with Odin, and such a job require a certain morally ambiguous attitude, and I also understand the logic behind the Ancients actions. They were at war, facing defeat and possible extinction can drive a race to desperate acts. But...-Here Brokkr seemed to grow a little bit taller, maybe for emphasis. - we faced the same fate. Even worse, with the ascension out of our grasps. Yet the Asgard fought to the bitter end without betraying what we stood for. We fought time and time again for the younger races even while we dwindled, by the day. The ancients on the other hand, created a slave race to fight for them, then tried to wipe them out for disobeying. Tell me, Munnin, what would the High Council at the time have done, if they had known what they did? -There was a fleeting moment of silence before the answer came.
-It is likely that we would have broken our alliance with them. -Conceded the crow headed Legacy Keeper grudgingly. -All right you won. They were in the wrong on that. But that doesn't change the fact that their creations were murderous.
-But ours won't be. -Said Brokkr calmly. -If we use the EDI program and Rodney Mckey-s creation as a scaffolding.
-There is still the problem of building the core of the personality. None of us are behavioural scientists, we cannot hope to create something from nothing.
-Then we don't. -Said suddenly Nanna who were listening carefully the whole time. -We use our own neural patterns, and we mix them together. Like biological reproduction, just with personality aspects instead of genes. That could work. -The two other Legacy Keepers stopped their bickering and turned towards Nanna. The tall yellow figure slowly tilted her head to the side questioning their looks. They must have forgot that she was in the virtual room. Now both of them run through a couple of subroutines to test her suggestion.
-Well, if we do that we can't predict how will they turn out. -Said Brokkr, slowly running through models on the idea.
-We shouldn't. From the beginning our problem was that we tried to control everything. This plan of yours is the same in a way. I will only vote for it if we treat it as it is, a child of the Asgard race. We shall teach it the best we can, but we won't reprogram it, or change its neural patterns.
-Its sounds risky. -Said Munnin, but the tone of his voice was more agreeable than before.
-It will be a challenge. -Stated Brokkr, voice again as flat and unfeeling as a cardboard box. -Are we in agreement then?
-Yes. If there is something in it from me, there is no way it will turn on us. I have absolute dedication to the Asgard people. -Said Munnin with unquestionable certainty. His voice suggested that it was as sure as the fact that water is wet.
-Yes, if we implement what I suggested. -Said Nanna. The smiles in her eyes seemed a little bit more genuine now. Brokkr bowed a little.
-Thank you for supporting me. Let's give an answer to our allies as united people. -With that, Munnin and Nanna disappeared with match the same effects they appeared before. Brokkr still remained in the dark and silent council hall. He slowly turned his head towards the empty chairs of the Asgard High Council. Two seemingly emotionless wells of darkness taking in the dull grey features. -By the memory off all who passed. I hope I am not making a huge mistake. -There was a small flash of life, and the last Legacy Keeper vanished to, leaving the room behind. Without its occupants, it slowly disintegrated into raw code again.
Twenty minutes after the meeting
The chief engineer switched on his console with an enormous yawn. He slept for almost three hours just to be woken up by the call of Executive Officer Norman. The powers above managed to work out an agreement with the crew of the ship called Normandy. This meant that he will soon get a whole new set of alien toys to play with. He flicked a small icon, depicting a steaming cup on the display and leaned backwards. The first thing he asked on his workplace was a custom-made button to summon his morning coffee as fast as possible. It was usually delivered by one of the engineers assigned to work under him. He affectionately called them "minions". The task of ordering a morning cup of Joe thusly completed Han Yuan tried to recall the complete conversation with the executive officer. He will get almost everything he asked for, except the ezoo. The Normandy only had about a hundred kilo on board for emergencies, so the rest will be delivered at a later date. That was fair he supposed. The other things, GARDIAN, extranet connection and all that is a done deal. That was a good thing. Norman also said that he has to install an Ion cannon and some shielding. That was partially a good thing since he gets to muck around on an alien ship. The bad part was that when he mentioned a neutrino-naquadria generator, Norman said the captain didn't offer one. Now that was a bit of a problem, considering that while the shield technology of the Tau'Ri was indeed more versatile and a great deal stronger than the ones used by the Citadel races, it was also a power guzzler compared to those. Han informed the executive officer that if they just jury rig the systems to draw power from the Normandy, the shop could maintain shield and fire the Ion cannon for about ten minutes before total reactor burn out. And the crew better take a big breath before trying this, since during and after, every other system will be offline. And that includes life support and environmental control as well. The chief engineer managed to get Norman to convince the captain to offer a medium sized neutrino-naquadria generator in exchange for a couple of hardsuits and heavy weapons to study, before their newfound allies kill themselves by flicking the lightswitch on in their mint condition upgrades. Unfortunately, this came with the added information that one of his "minions" is needed on the Normandy in order to supervise the given tech. The question was, which one?
He gave out a small grunt and pawed trough some of the sketches covering the space around his consol. There were pictures of ezoo tech, a couple of damaged parts from disassembled Batarian weapons, an inactive omni tool, and finally what he was searching for, a black marker. He grabbed it and turn around searching for the portable white checkboard. He stopped in mid motion to smile at the chaos around him. During his brief work here as a chief engineer he already managed to make it a comfortable workplace for himself. Half opened books shared the ground with mechanical parts and dirty clothes. On the shelves were the thick tomes were originally places, newly acquired alien technology was displayed. Armour plating from the Batarian ship, working shield modules, something which boiled water using mass effect fields, and another bunch of trinkets which had no known function what so ever aside from looking tacky. There were monitors on the walls depicting certain essential parts of the "Hephaistos". One depicted the humming silent energy of the ZPG. The giant reactor pulsating with tremendous energy barely contained in its human sized crystals. Another one showed the shield generators, silently channelling said energy into a protective bubble around the vessel. Some of them had notes on them, written on yellow paper, stuck right on the monitor. The chief engineer reached out and swiped one of them from the monitor which showed the exhaust ports of the Foundry. Apparently before he gone to sleep, he wanted to recalibrate the pressure chambers, which would, according to his calculations, speed up the ejecting process. Yuan pushed himself back to his console, composing a small message about the change in the pressure chambers and sent it as a memo to everyone in his team. When he finished, he stood up and finally walked to one of the three white office check board in the room. On it under the section "Possible future projects" was already at least half a dozen titles with small notes beside them including:
-Project TERMINATOR: Naquadaq-Trinium alloy hardsuit,
expected weight issues, need to understand hardsuit electronics,
-Project DEFLECTOR: GARDIAN grid in combination with known Lantean drone technology, ultimate point defence system?
need intact GARDIAN grid, drones might get in the way of the lasers, possible solution: Linking the GARDIAN system with the control chair, higher strain on user
-Project DUALITY: Hybrid Hyper Space-Mass Effect FTL method
Notes: I have no idea how to even start this, but it is a cool idea nonetheless
-Project SALAMANDER: GARDIAN grid installed on bigger ezootech ships would decimate Lantean drone swarm, find solution
Naquadaq heat transfer capabilities might be a good countermeasure, transferring heat into a designed compartment, one-time plasma assisted speed burst after hit by GARDIAN laser? Need to construct and test prototype
-Project TITANIUM FALCON: mass effect based shields are ineffective against energy weapons but consume miniscule amount of power and easily miniaturized, F-302-s and FB-303-s are incapable of supporting conventional shields, possible shielded fighters?
-Notes: more testing on ezootech shields required, hyperspace window generator and shield cannot be used simultaneously, still too much energy consumption.
The chief studied the table for a while and then wrote the sentence "Acquired GARDIAN technology. Projects got priority." After "Deflector" and "Salamander". He also started a new column with the name: "Project BFG" and finished it with "Study ezoo tech heavy weapons". When he was done he simply dropped the marker into a small heap of sketches.
-Well, a genius never rest I suppose. -Said Yuan to no one in particular. To his surprise a voice with a thick new zealandian accent answered from the direction of the door.
-Well that was blimmin' modest of ya boss. – The chief engineer turned back towards the newcomer. It was one of his "minions". Daniel Brown. The man was around the same height as him, but he was at least one and a half wider. He had something Yuan never did, well developed musculature. It would be surprising to those who knew his personality, but apparently being a hands-on engineer, and thus, dragging around huge pieces of spaceship equipment, does good to ones physique. Engineer Brown had a beard, but compared to Captain Markovs dwarfishly perfect face hair, it was all but a little bush on his chin. He wore a clean ironed shirt and a jean jacket with navy blue reinforced workpants which had an accompanying tool belt containing a dozen conventional instrument of his job, including a screwdriver and a monkey wrench. There was also a couple odd gadget here or there, a life force sensor, a small rod containing a mixture of chemical capable of repairing small cracks on crystals, an electromagnetic indicator, and more. The only thing that differentiated his outfit from every other "minion" of the Chief Engineer was the small row of pins, and novelty pens stuck on the left side on his jean jacket, and in its pocket respectively. They were colourful and depicted characters from a popular eastern animation style.
-I am modest kind of guy Dan. Did you bring my coffee? -Yuan stepped closer to the newly arrived "minion" and extended his hand. It was soon filled with a tall coffee cup, steaming from the thick back liquid inside it.
-Yeah, its exactly how you like your cuppa boss. Heaps of milk and a pinch of sugar.
-Good man. -Nodded the Chief engineer, he pushed a bunch of notes off an old swirling chair and threw himself into it. He needs someone to go to the Normandy. But by what criteria should he choose the individual. Deep in thoughts he sipped a little from his coffee.
Then he froze. It was horrible. Watery, and gooey at the same time and bitter to the extreme. Brown somehow managed to make black coffee taste more bitter by adding condensed milk to it. It was truly a work of art in horrendousness. -Umm, Dan?
-Eh? -Asked the engineer blinking a couple of times.
-Are you sure this is not lubricating oil for the pistons? -Asked Yuan slowly opening the paper mug and glancing in. It looked like coffee alright, just the taste was like licking rusty waterpipes.
-Your such a dag boss. – Said the engineer with an entirely not genuine smile. – It coffee sure as fur on a sheep.
-All right. – Yuan glanced down into his cup, and then back to Dan. He had about fifty men under him, and most of them worked in shifts. The possibility of another such cup of coffee was very real and very frightening. – So, Dan, was it you who jury rigged that propulsion system during training? -The engineer nodded a little, hiding his hands into his pockets.
- I was. But you know that sir. The captain of the "Sun Tzu" was forced to go flat out cause of an unexpected supernova. The edge of the front reached us just before we jumped to hyperspace. The engine of course carked it all right and we got stranded in a red star system. I figured since the problem was with opening a hyperspace window, I could jury rig five F-302 to open the window and use the generator aboard the Sun Tzu to maintain it. And there, bobs your uncle, we were home. -Yuan glanced at his coffee again and then back to the man. Good at improvising, makes terrible coffee, has similarly terrible fashion sense. The chief engineer slowly balanced his cup of black horribleness atop a couple of reference books on his workbench.
-Qímiào. And would you say you are an adventurous person?
-Well off course. Otherwise I wouldn’t have joined the SGC. But why the questions? - The engineer slowly raised one of his eyebrows.
-No reason. -Said his talking partner quickly and folded his arms. -I was just thinking about how to tell you the good news. You are hereby promoted. -Said the chief engineer with a small smirk.
-Why am I getting the distinct impression that I will not like were this is going?
-Don’t worry, not a hard job. You just have to maintain a generator, an ion cannon and a shield system. Don’t worry about it. -Yuan took the coffee cup again and almost sipped it before catching himself.
-Where? This ship doesn’t have an ion cannon. -Browns voice was slow and deliberate.
-On the Normandy. You will go with our new "allies" and help maintain the tech we gave to them. If there is a problem you fix it, if something would capture the ship you detonate the reactor destroying everything. -Ensured the Chief engineer his minion. Due to the significant darkening of his face he added. - After you got out, obviously. How does that sound?
-It sounds like you are taking a piss of me. The job is an absolute 'mare. What if I refuse? -The engineer rubbed his temples, trying not to get angry.
-I just choose somebody else. -Stated Yuan slowly putting the coffee into a trash bag. Brown was obviously too occupied with the conversation to notice it. -Somebody needs to do it. - The new zealandian engineer gave out a noise, a mixture between a sigh and a grunt.
-Buggar. Lets nobody say kiwi-s are cowards. I will go. But I get to bring my lucky charms with me. And that’s final. – Brown folded his arms, and stepped closer to Yuan, staring into his eyes. The chief engineer endured the stare but cleared his throat before asking.
-The creepy figurines from the eastern animations?
-Those are works of art. -Growled Brown menacingly. - You blimmin bogans. -The engineer huffed and then turned around. -I will be packing, but when I return, I will kick everyone's ass who dares to slander them. -And with that he trotted out. Yuan stood there staring after the disappeared man and slowly exhaled the air from his lungs.
-Well that was fuckin terrifying. Note to self, next time send a minion to potentially deadly assignment via voice mail. -He looked around and leaning down grabbed a handful sketches and empty papers accompanying a previously discarded mechanical pencil. -These are coming with me, and I am off to get a real coffee.
Two hours after the meeting with the crew of the Normandy
Colonel O'Neill stopped in front of the bridge door and smoothed down his hair. He noticed a grey strand just a couple of days ago and hoped against hope that it was just the trick of the light. He had no problem with them in his humble opinion they should have the curtesy to wait one decade or two more before they start showing up. He wore his normal uniform, but he took the care to iron it out to appear as professional looking as possible. He adjusted his collar and swept away a speck of dirt from his should and decided that he isn't going to get any more convincing than this and stepped through the pressure door. It opened with a small hiss before him. The bridge was relatively calm. At the very least it was the calmest now since they crossed the "Mirror Installation". Helmsmans were walking around, from console to console in a leisurely pace. Behind the captain's chair stood Markov still in the same parade uniform he wore at the meeting with the crew of the Normandy. After the successful negotiations the visitors returned to their ship for the time being, but the captain apparently didn’t had time to change his clothes. He was talking with no other than Teal'c. It seemed a little bit of a tense conversation, but the Jaffa remained as calm as usual. Apparently, some of Shepard's crew became a bit jumpy when the commander stepped into the communication shielded conference hall and they lost connection with her. They had to be calmed down before they decided to mount a "rescue" operation. They appear to be quite a wild bunch. Which would make the Colonels upcoming conversation with the captain all the much harder.
O'Neill took a big breath and saluted towards the Captain.
-Sir.- Markov who just noticed the arrival of the colonel, returned the salute. He appeared to be mildly surprised to see him so soon, and especially surprised to see him in such an implacable uniform.
-Colonel. Do you have some business with me? -Oh boy, here we go. O'Neill really wished he could just do the jedi hand wave right now. Of course he usually wished that multiple times a day, but it would have made things a bit more easier, it would probably also result in getting court martialled for mind conrollig a superior officer, but no method is perfect.
-Yes, I would like to volunteer to join the crew of the Normandy as one of those who will safeguard our technology and ensure that their mission is a success.
-I knew you would say that Captain but consider it. I am second only to Teal'c in combat experience considering I am a clone and have one and a half life time of.... What? - The colonels brain catched up with his mouth and kicked it in the shin to get it to shut up. While doing so it was seriously thinking about if it heard what Markov said correctly. Apparently, this was written on his face since Markov continued with.
-Yes you heard it right. You actually saved me the time to nominate you to the position. -But...why? I am the commander of the marines' sir. -Said O'Neill still in a bit of a daze. -Thought you would be happy colonel. You volunteered after all.
-Well, yes, I am. It's just… -O'neill couldn't help but feel the situation a little bit anticlimactic. He anticipated that the captain is going to throw a huge fit about the whole thing, he was ready, with actual arguments and all. And it turns out all he needed was to ask.
-As for the why, if you really want I can tell you that. As you already said you have the most combat experience if we count your past life. Regardless, even if we don't, the fact remains that you are the most qualified one. Beside the zero G marine training every soldier of yours gone through, you participated more in more than a dozen advanced training courses including but not limited to survival on an alien planet, marine operations training, night-time operations training, advanced orbital insertions training, and you are also trained to operate an F-302 in aerial and interplanetary dogfights. Considering all that, I think you have the best chance of actually returning alive.
-The Colonel thought about that. It is true he did go through all those trainings. He just never done it in order to brag about them. He just remembered occasions during his, the original Jacks life, where those trainings would have been very useful or potentially lifesaving. That was also why he learned what limited amount of the Go'auld language he managed to cram into his head. There were plenty of times when shouting "THE REACTOR IS GOING CRITICAL" into a communication system would have made their job a lot easier. - But those were the same reasons why you volunteered weren't you? -Sentences pushed each other towards the colonels unsuspecting mouth. "Or because despite me choosing this assignment deep down I want to return to the field. Or because babysitting already trained marines bored on a ship is becoming tedious. Or because I simply want to visit new and different worlds like in the good old days, the days which were not even mine truth to be told, but the other O'Neills. Or, if we mention him, because I want to visit a galaxy which knows no other O'neill but me. Or, even because every fibre of my instincts are screaming at me that Shepards mission cannot be allowed to fail. "
Fortunately, his brain was quick enough to catch and mercilessly strangle these thoughts before they managed to articulate themselves. -Basically, the same reasons sir, yes. -Said the colonel finally.
-Excellent. -Smiled the captain and then glanced towards Teal'c. The smile, if not withered, at least became a bit shrivelled up around its edges. - You are of course not going alone. One of your companions is going to be our esteemed Jaffa guest.
-Is he? -The colonel blinked a couple of times at the impassive face of the old warrior.
-I wish to go one last time.- The Jaffa thought about it a little. - To experience the danger of the unknown for no other reason just because. I believe its called "having an adventure".
-And I have no power to stop him. -Said Markov in the same voice he would have announced a neutron star in collision course with the ship and the fact that the engines are down. -The Jaffa are basically guests on the ship. The only way I could detain him would be by force, but I am not prepared to have a full-on Jaffa rebellion on my ship. -Said Markov in a flat voice. - On top of that he officially stated his wish and placed the Jaffa under my direct control. So it's not like I have a reason to complain.-The Jaffa nodded a little at the captain.
-They will follow your orders honourably. -Tha captain gave the old Jaffa a small salute.
-That I am sure of. I am not concerned about them. I promised to deliver you and your people to the station in the system of the "Mirror Installation". It would be a great shame of me to return without you. -Teal'c-s normally impassive face slowly morphed itself into a half smile.
-I might be old, but I am still a survivor. You don't need to concern yourself with me, but I appreciate the gesture. -Markov gave him another small cordial nod as an answer.
-Very well. Aside from you and the Colonel we already have an engineer. That's three of the five people we agreed on with the Normandy. We don't know the remaining two, but if you want to bring a Jaffa, we can probably squeeze him or her in.
-I am grateful. I might live with the offer. I will bring one of my personal aids, it is a combat mission after all. -Teal'cs voice became a bit softer. -Do'rac will be disappointed, but one of the first few Jaffa scientists is more important than one or two old warriors like me.
-Then that's settled. -Markov turned towards the O'neil. -The last man should be another marine. Choose someone who is dependable, smart and isn't liable to cause some kind of serious incident.-Dependable. Well all of his marines was dependable, in a combat situations any of them would lie on a grenade to save his or her companions. Smart was a tougher criteria, and the last one was almost impossible. O'Neill wasn't even sure if he himself isn't liable to fuck things up from time to time.
-Yes sir, I would choose Higgins if its all right with you captain. - Decided the colonel. Despite her hiccup with her name, she was probably the best soldier he had under him.
Unfortunately, it seems Markov was aware of that.
-Anyone but her. I need somebody to take your place while you are away. -Jonathan had to give that to the captain. Higgins was indeed the best candidate to be the commander of the marines in his absence.
-All right, then I take Cruz. If i make her clear that it's not a shore leave she should be all right. I think McKey should be second in command. Bit obnoxious, but a good man. He will make sure that Higgins doesn't let her new responsibilities get into her head.- Markov scratched his beard, considering the idea. -McKay as a second in command is a done deal, but are you sure about Cruz? - The colonel thought about answering with: "Of course, sure as rain, sure as rain captain." But it sounded disingenuous even in his head so he opted for the truth.
-Not entirely. But she needs something to be a better soldier, a little bit more flexible, and this mission might just be it. -Markovs brow furrowed but at last he just made a dismissive hand wave.
-If you say so. I said its your call after all. The "Normandy"-s retrofit is due to start at nineteen and the engineers are estimate it to be done around O nine hundred. After the ship is out of the system we are going to jump into hyperspace. - The crew of the Normandy fortunately contained more than few individuals who fought the Batarian Hegemony before. Apparently, most of the things about them in the Codex was spot on, but other things were woefully inadequate. For once, while it was true that officially they had a very weak military, it was not the entire truth. The majority of their naval power was scattered across multiple war bands, pirate fleets, mercenary groups, and slaving raiding forces. Since a group of criminals would have a very hard time building and maintaining a Dreadnought, and cruisers were perfect fit for mobile HQ-s and acting as the spearhead during an attack on a colony, this resulted in the Batarians effectively having almost as many cruisers as the System Alliance did. This was in fact one of the reasons why nobody bothered go to war against them despite their raids. They would certainly loose, but the victor would be bled too thin. Fortunately for the Tau'Ri while this scattered nature helped the small batarian pirate groups stay under the radar, and the Hegemony to maintain larger military than their economy would ever allow, resulted in their war machine moving with the speed of an aging sloth. Gathering and organising a force bigger than one or two dozen ships, such as a large punitive action fleet against an unknown but technologically superior foe, would require the recalling more than a couple pirate bands from different parts of the Terminus systems, or licensed mercenary groups working within the Citadel space. That's why it took them at the very least eight days to respond to the destruction of their ships, maybe even more if somebody decided to launch an investigation first. Regardless, the Tau'Ri wasn't interested in waiting for them.- We already picked a destination, but nobody from the away team is going to know where we are going.
-In the event of capture they can't get out from us what we don't know in the first place. -Agreed O'Neill. It might seem a little bit harsh, but the safety of the ships had to come first.
-Yes. We don't want anyone to surprise us. But we won't let you go without any contact. -Said Markov with a small smile. - We will keep in touch via the extranet. Brokkr is certain that they can make the transmissions untraceable and completely impossible to decode by anyone else but the EDI program. We also plan to build a small hyperspace transmitter within the weapon we are giving to them. If its destroyed, or you deactivate it with a switch we are going to give to you, we will know the jig is up. It has an internal fission battery, so an accidental power failure won't set it off. When it deactivates, we will come guns already hot, shields at maximum, and we will be the ones giving someone one hell of a surprise. -Markov patted the colonels back. -Just don't pay with it. We don't want to repeat the fire alarm incident. -O'Neill winced. Oh yeah, that was a particularly bad day. He will never demand an engineer to show his or her ability to handle a Zat again.
-I won't disappoint you sir. -Said the colonel with a wooden expression. But he just couldn't take it. - I will try to supress my urge to push every red button ever.
-I will ask the foundry to make it pink. Consider it a parting gift. -Smiled Markov in a bit of a mischievous way and then saluted to the Colonel in a sudden sharp motion -Try returning in one-piece colonel. I wouldn't like losing such a capable officer. Good luck with this assignment.
Fifteen minutes after the meeting on the "Hephaistos"
The shuttle ride to home was a little bit tense for the crew of the Normandy. Miranda was positively fuming, the anger burning contained within her body could have ignited a brown dwarf into a full-blown star. She was obviously very upset about Shepard not asking for the technology, just for a working weapon. The only thing that prevented her from throwing an actual tantrum was the fact that she still have the chance to study it once its on the ship. Mordin was also upset, although he much less so. For once he was just as interested in the culture and biology of the humans from the "other universe", and he will get ample opportunity study that since five of them will join the crew. The other thing was the fact that Shepard promised him that they will visit Tuchanka in order to rescue one of his old students. Its not that far out of the way and she needed her team as focused on the job as possible. Jacob was contended. The ship gets a new weapon, maybe some new sidearms will get added to the inventory, it was more than a fruitful endeavour. Sure, he has to give up a couple of spare heavy arms, and energy cells which are quite rare, but the benefits outweigh the loss by a wide margin. Zaeed just didn't cared all that much. He was interested in the newcomers, and everything that improves the crew survivality was a great boom, considering he was a member, but ultimately, he was a hands on guy. The value of these other-dimensioners will be determined on the field. Try to act though and have as many shiny toys as you like if you break under pressure if a krogan battlemaster charge at you, you aint worth shit as an ally.
At the front of the shuttle, Garrus and Shepard stood side by side, looking suitably awkward.
-Is Miranda still looking at me? -Whispered the commander at a strangled voice. The Turian made a casual stretching motion, glancing backwards above his shoulder.
-Yuuup. I believe it started to bore holes into your hardsuit. Do not make eye contact. -Shepard as an answer snorted a little.
-No shit. Are you sure you aren't the Turian Sherlock Holmes instead of Punisher?
-Hey, dont shoot messenger. - Garrus moved his mandibles into the Turian equivalent of a smile. - Oh and by the by, excellent negotiating skills. I have this, you have that, want trade? You would have been a very successful vorcha merchant.
-Oh, ha-ha. -Grumbled Shepard with a small half smile. - I think I froze up a little. But at least we got what we wanted. In a manner of speaking. -The turian nodded a little scratching his damaged mandible a bit.
-With the addition of a couple of new crewmembers. And you still have to convince Joker to park his precious ship in between those two prongs of the "Hephaistos". It's not going to be easy, he also seen what they did with the Batarian wreck. -The Commander sighed and rubbed her forehead.
-Shit, you are right. - Apparently the ship possessed a matter transport system. They could disassemble materials by deconstructing them into their base atoms and reconstruct them in the same way just in reverse. If what they said was true, they could retrofit the Normandy without loosening a screw. Of course, they could have disintegrated the ship just as easily. Joker would need one hell of a convincing to chance that. - And here I was hoping to get drunk.
-You can still do that in the evening. -Consoled her Garrus. - I can accompany you if you want. Just the two of us, talking about the good old times like a couple of forty-year-old salarians.
-Yeah that would be ni...-Shepard stopped in mid-sentence as something came up in her mind. The thought was probably absurd, but nonetheless intriguing. -Garrus, are you trying to invite me on a date? -The Turian almost jumped back from the direct question.
-What? Shepard I...such a suggestion. I am a professional, and your friend and not the least a Turian...
-Because its working.
-Oh. -The turian stopped his frantically developing panic attack and glanced towards the commander. She stared straight ahead of herself with a small smile and a hint of red on her cheeks.
-Then yes. That was exactly what I wanted to do. -Said Garrus clearing his throat and fidgeting a little. -Good. It will be a welcomed distraction. -Said Shepard with a bit of a mischievous smile.
The Kodiak shuttle slowly slid into the familiar bay of the Normandy. As the door closed behind the small personal transport, it started its decontamination system. After a few minute-long refreshing showers of sterilising agents, the shuttle door opened upwards. The away crew of the Normandy was home again. And they found themselves staring into the barrel of a M-920 Cain. Its wielder, their crewmate, Grunt, peeked out from the other side of the heavy weapon. He slowly assessed them with his eyes. Behind him stood Jack and Kasumi, armed to the teeth. Since one of them was a walking talking biotic natural disaster, and the other specialised in stealth, this meant a pistol and two SMG-s respectively.
-Prove that you are Shepard and not some kind of shapeshifter sent by those newcomers. -The commanders left eye started to twitch a little. He looked straight into the Krogans eye, the flames of a fleet on fire burning in her eyes.
-Grunt put down that god damned nuke launcher or I swear I shove it so far up your ass that you need to grow a third digestive system. -Grunt made its name sake sound and then his face turned to a smile.
-This is Shepard.
-Of course, it's me who the hell thought I was??
-Alien infiltrator. -Said Grunt in a matter of fact voice. - Or mind controlled. We lost contact, who knows what happened you see? -Said Grunt with the cunning of someone who had to use someone else's hands if he wanted to count past eight.
-And why the hell did you decided to bring out the Cain? -This came from Jacob who was obviously the most distraught of the group. As the Normandy-s quartermaster he was intimately aware of the destructive potential of the weapon.
-I wanted to blow every invader away in one shot. -Shrugged Grunt. -Who know what kind of armour these aliens have.
-You...-This was the first time Shepard seen the man this angry. Despite that, Jacob most have realised the downsides of shouting at a super-krogan armed with a nuke launcher and gulped his anger down. The veins on his forehead started to visibly throb. -If you would have fired that thing in here, not only we would have been vaporized BUT- He raised his voice a little because the Krogan started to say something. - you and everyone else inside the shuttle bay too. As an added benefit, the bulkheads around the hangar, and the door currently separating us from the vacuum of space would have been unable to keep up with the shockwave and the sudden rise in pressure. Two plus two equals four, you would have destroyed the whole shuttle bay, shredded a good chunk of the hull around it, and depressurised about half of the ship. -Grunt blinked a couple of times.
-Well then, good thing I didn't do that then. -While Jacob suffered through a small aneurism trying to talk sense into somebody who was made to be the perfect member of a warrior race, Miranda started to slowly approach Shepard, like a predator stalking its prey. The commander, not entirely unaware leaned a little bit closer to Garrus and whispered.
-Get a suit for our date. I might need a little bit more distraction than I anticipated. -Aye-aye ma'am. I see what I can do. Might be a bit funny looking on me since I have to get it from a crewmate. -All the better as a distraction. -Smiled Shepard, before her expression hardened and stepped in front of Miranda. -Yes Lawson?
Chapter 11: Departures
The Normandy and the Tau'Ri fleet goes on their seperate ways, both of them getting richer by new technologies and information. In the case of the Normandy, they also receive some new personnel who they have to get along with. Unbeknownst to both of them, the wider galaxy also receives the first shred of information about the new arrivals.
The slender silver frame of the Normandy slowly drifted closer and closer to the two prongs of the "Hephaistos". The chunk of Batarian debris which previously occupied the same space was almost completely desintegrated by now. What remained, a couple of dozen meter long metallic chunk, was ejected from the prongs by a sudden gravitic pulse. The Normandy slid between the Asgard transportation arrays. It looked like a silvery fish, caught in the pincer of a crude metal crab. A small flash of light swept trough the smaller ship. The Normandy lurched a little and a split second later it was secured by a mix of magnetic and gravity based locks. The characteristic flash of the transporters engulfed the stealth frigate as the construction batteries began their works. The transporters disregarded shield, armour and bulkheads and deposited their load right inside the ship.
The first things to materialise were a set of yellow black safety lines. They snaked across the floor, prompting the crew to step back. They created an outline, which when they were finished started to fill up. The Normandy Sr2 was more spacious than its predecessor, and the new internal components were a relatively easy fit although it required the hangar to be reduced somewhat. The shuttles and the Hammerhead still fit in just right, but it was impossible to use it as a gathering space anymore. They had to make do with the actual room Cerberus intended for this purpose despite the increased possibility of being wiretapped. After the safety lines came the wires, and then featureless thick metal boxes were the machinery should be. Inside the grey geometric shapes, the constant noise of the transport in work could be heard. After hours of this, the boxes disappeared in a flash, leaving behind the completely finished upgrades, revealing nothing from their actual inner workings to the curious observers aboard the vessel. The outside of the Normandy changed too, on the top of the ship, leaning against the curved frame, a shiny new energy weapon occupied the place. It looked sort of like the tower atop a tank, if the aforementioned military vehicle was designed by somebody with an insatiable love for curving lines and nordic mythology. It had one long barrel which was lined by nine strong points, reinforcing it. The thicker metal was covered in swirling bronze coloured nonfigurative pattern which crept up all the way to its base. The base itself was curved and slightly flattened. Its shape made it an almost natural addition to the curvature of that of the ship, creating a small hump in the top. The pattern and the strange slightly purple sheen of the metal it was made of on the other hand made it clear that it was a latter addition. By O nine hundred on the dot, the last molecules were placed, the last covering material were removed, and the new machinery was ready.
The Mark II neutrino-naquadria generator, developed after the Asgard gifted their technology to the humans was the strongest single portable power source the Tau'Ri ever constructed. At its maximum output, it could reach but not exceed a fully charged ZPM-s. Unfortunately, this all came at a very high cost. Naquadria was a very unstable energy source to begin with, but the marriage with the asgard neutrino technology produced something that was more closely related to a bomb going supercritical very-very slowly, rather than an actual generator. The safest possible energy it could give out was about 10% of its maximum, which contained virtually no risk of it going haywire. Anything above that and the generator started to fluctuate, its output randomly growing or falling some percentage. This fluctuation became worse and worse as the power drain grew. With 60% there was a substantial risk that the power production produces a spike, which would ignite all remaining naquadria, and turns the generator into a bomb capable of obliterating entire ships. This was just about enough to fully power a BC-304 including shields, four Asgard plasma beams, Asgard and Goa'uld transporters, intergalactic hyperdrive and other utilities. A BC-305 on the other hand was too much for that 10% to handle. The upgraded shield and hyperdrive alone would have pushed it, but there was one other factors. The Asgard plasma beam in the previous vessels worked with whatever energy the ship could spare. It was powerful, yes, but it was not nearly at the peak of its potential. The BC 305 series was intended to battle Ori warships, and its designers wanted the ship to be able to fight not only on even ground with them, but from the position of superior firepower. This required more energy to be directed towards the beam weapons. The solution was the "Triad System". A single mark II Neutrino-Naquadria generator accompanied by two Mark III Naquadaq generators. The two modified Mark III were used to iron out the power fluctuations inherent in the naquadria generator on its higher settings, providing power when it gave out less, and drawing away when its output spiked. This arrangement was able to raise the safe and stable operation levels of the Mark II to about 35% of its maximum theoretical capacity. All current BC-305-s in the Tau'Ri fleet used the "Triad System" including the "Aeneas" and the "De Gaule". The system was still inferior to the ZPG aboard the "Hephaistos" both in terms of stability, long term energy production, reliability, and of course, fuel consumption. The ZPG doesn't require additional resources after its creation, while the " Triad System" consumed naquadaq and naquadria to operate. This was also true to the so called "naked" Mark II that got installed on the Normandy. Fortunately for the crew the 10% it could operate on would be enough to power every system on the ship and its new upgrades four times over. With it only providing energy to the Ion cannon and the modified Ha'tak shield they were gifted with, it could potentially work for three years with the original ammount of fuel the "Hephaistos" manufactured with it.
The generator hummed with palpable power as the Normandy was set free from the grasp of the "Hephaistos". As soon as the smaller ship was sufficiently away, an automatic signal initiated the test of the new generator. There was a brief shudder inside the Normandy, and then, a dark amber coloured bubble materialised around the small ship, shimmering slightly from the light of the systems sun. The upgrades were complete.
Half an hour earlier
O'Neill and the rest of the away team stood in the hangar. The situation was a bit awkward to be honest. First of all, there were him and Cruz. They were asked to repaint their hard suits so they wouldn't be recognised as someone who work for the three new ship that appeared. It was a long shot but some of the Batarian survivors might recognise the iconography, because they first contact message contained a small introduction from the SGC too. Even if they don't, it would be quite clear that they were the members of some new organised military group. To hide this fact, they were allowed to customize their paintjobs. This turned out to be a mistake. While O'Neill got his armour painted in a uniform peridot colour, with the words "Do or do not. There is no try." in white lettering on his back, Cruz have gone for a more radical approach. Her armour was painted lipstick red with a black bleeding heart on her chest. One of her arms were covered with the words "Packing heat" with hot pink letters. The colonel couldn't help himself.
-Sir?-Asked the hispanic woman with a wooden voice.
-Your paintjob is...-O'Neil searched for the tight words. He didn't quite find them so he stuck with. -...unique.
-The orders were to make it impossible to tell that we are from an organized military. Have I not complied properly? - The marine tensed her body and stand to attention in such a perfect posture, it would have made a drill sergeant cry tears of joy. O'Neil had to admit, she fulfilled this part of the order splendidly. No one in their right mind would have guessed she had anything to do with a trained soldier aside from maybe knocking it out before stealing and recolouring his or her armour.
-I was just admiring it Cruz. At ease.
-Thank you sir. -The marine relaxed her posture a little. Jonathan swept his gaze around, checking out the other occupants of the room.
Teal'c was of course, the same as ever. This time the Jaffa master decided to wear a piece of batarian hardsuit under his traditional robes. The engineers managed to repair one of the damaged ones by cannibalising another. This meant that the Tau'Ri had about five working one, aside from the ones the Normandy sent over. The ones which came as the part of the deal for the neutrino-naquadria generator were still not tested, and contained slightly different kind of secondary systems, so the engineers decided to equip the away team with the relatively well understood batarian ones. The one on Teal'c was painted in a uniform gunmetal grey colour. The Jaffa master decided to carry a staff weapon for the time being. Despite the low rate of fire and relatively bad accuracy, the plasma shot was guaranteed to go through any shielding the enemy could possess, so it was relevant once again. As a sidearm, he wore a Zat and he also equipped himself with two silvery orbs. If O'Neill recalled correctly it was the Goa'uld equivalent of the flashbang. His Jaffa companion was of an asian descend and about a head shorter than his master. On his forehead he carried the symbol of Yu in silvery metal. This indicated that the owner of it was a high-ranking Jaffa in Lord Yu-s army before his defection. He wore something dark and form fitting under his Jaffa robes, which was most definitely neither the traditional Jaffa armour, nor a hardsuit. It looked as if it was made from billions of tiny interconnected obsidian shards which gave the man slightly reptilian appearance. This notion wasn't helped by the fact that every surface of his body, including his face was covered in criss-crossing scars and burns. There was the tell-tale gnarly mark of a glancing staff weapon hit close to his neck, thick scar tissue around his left wrist, it was obviously severed once. With a pretty nasty blade by the look of it. One of his ear was missing, and there was a triad of deep red scars across his face, maybe made by the claws of some unknown alien beast. Yet, the scariest thing was that, with a face like that, he was smiling with a genuine warm smile. The man caught O'Neills gaze, and his smile widened. He exchanged a few words with Teal'c, who nodded to him as an answer, and the scarred man stepped closer to the colonel. He extended his hands, not for a shake but the traditional Jaffa greeting.
-Onak sha sree O'Neill- Said the man. The colonel responded with the same and then looked into the man's eye and rattled of a couple of small phrases, in Goa'uld. The Jaffa was obviously stunned before he gave out a short cackling laugh and responded with a perfect English.
-Good, very good colonel. No mistakes at all. You are indeed not the same O'Neill I met a couple of years ago. He couldn't speak a single word correctly. And as for your question, no we never met. As you said, "I look quite hard to forget". My name is Yang. I am currently employed as one of Master Teal'cs personal guards, although I doubt our esteemed friend have to fear anything that little old me can stop either way.
-Colonel Jonathan O'Neill, but I apparently you already knew that. -Answered the marine, letting go of Yang-s hand. - You don't need a hardsuit? I think I can persuade the captain to assign you one. -Murmured the colonel once again inspecting the strange material the Jaffa wore under his robes.
-No. Thank you. In my fighting style the main defence is mobility, so it would probably only hinder me, but thank you for asking. -Before O'Neill could have asked exactly what kind of fighting style he is talking about, the door of the hangar bay opened, and the Chief Engineer and the Foundry Chief stepped in.
The first one wore a simple black shirt with Pac-Man stuffing hamburgers into his mouth. Under the well-known figure a row of tacky, letters imitating the texture of bacon advertised " Billow-s Arcade and All you can eat champion, 2018". Aside from that he wore black sweatpants with a toolbelt, which made his getup a tad bit surreal. There was a single burly man beside him, carrying a sizable luggage on his back. He had a very peculiar expression. The original O'Neill saw this expression more than one times during his gulf war service and later in the SGC. An expression with an acronym attached to it:SNAFU. Situation Normal: All fucked up. Or in other terms, we are heading down to a very dangerous and preventable situation, most likely because of our orders, but this happens every time, so we should really have gotten used to it by now. Most soldiers restricted the use of both the expression, and the acronym in front of their superiors, but apparently this rule didn't apply to engineers, or the man with the luggage decided to ignore it. This explained why the chief engineers smile looked a little bit strained. Beside them, despite her holding one side of a supply crate the Foundry chief looked decidedly chipper. She wore her thick leather apron, which was by now was decorated by a plasma burn on its edges, and some lubricating oil stain. Behind him about ten foundry workers, men and women with both PHD-s in Metallurgy and d Material sciences and a penchant for working with alien materials on a space ship, also carried metal boxes, most likely with supplies with them. The first one to speak up, of course, was Han Yuan.
-Good morning everybody. The santa is here, and there is a plenty of gifts to share. To begin with. -The chief engineer stepped aside and indicated towards the bearded man beside him. -Your very own toy making elf. -The man gave him a damning glare and then just sighed. He raised his hand in a greeting fashion.
-G'dmorning to you all. My name is Daniel Brown. If none of ya messes with my stuff, or blow up the ship, I will see you right and repair if you break any of those. -Said the engineer pointing towards the crates. The foundry workers placed them around the four of them.
-Right. Hy. -Said O'Neill waving a little and then proceeded to prod one of the supply caches with his foot. -So what exactly are these? I assume weapons and other equipment.
-The first batch from the production series of the PX-90, called PME-90. Basically, same as the prototype you had, the only difference is the fact that this is collapsible like the guns of this galaxy. -Said Amberly Dawn, the Foundry Chief of the Hephaistos. She leaned down and flicked open the lock on the supply crate.
Inside, four shiny new PME-90-s were placed within protective black sponge. They looked beautiful, deadly and ready to use. O'Neill pre-emptively felt ashamed for the dirt and grime he would inevitably subject them to. - You already know how this works. After about a hundred shot, discharge the plasma if you don't fancy cooking yourself. The other thing you might want to know. - Amberly took out one of the rifles and with a quick motion she slid open a port on the stock. A two by ten centimetre long metallic rod landed in her hand.- As you know the ammunition is enough for at least two weeks of continued firing, so you dont need to change it often. In the event it you do need to change though, you better learn how. Open the port by screwing this small peg out, and then slide it back. We haven't got the time to test, but there might be some leftover metal in there, be sure to rattle it out before sliding another rod in. Now, according to the codex there are certain types of ammo modification. Unfortunately, the Batarian hegemony decided against equipping its field troops with such an equipment, so without working pieces to reverse engineer we were unable to make the PME-90 compatible with them.
-So we can't spit fiery wrath upon our enemies? -Asked O'Neill with a hint of sadness. -My inner pyromaniac is crying out in anguish.
-No I am afraid you can't do that. -Smiled Amberly a little, creating a small intriguing dimple on her face. -But in exchange, our ammunition is made out of a naquada-trinium alloy, and thus, rend most type of armour like it was tissue paper. Unfortunately, it doesn't really improve the primary fire effectiveness against shields, so you either have to sustain fire until you deplete them, or rely on the zats and the secondary plasma shot.
-Or our staff weapons. -Supplied helpfully the scarred Jaffa.
-Indeed. -Agreed Teal'c with his usual calm voice. -We will concentrate on them.
-I thought you will get a PME-90 too, there is four on here. - Noted O'Neill, taking one of them out of the crate. He repeated the instructions Amberly gave about the ammunition.
-As a backup weapon. - Nodded Teal.
-Shame, they are quite awesome.
-Aren't they? But there is more. -The foundry chief took out another PME-90 and removed its sponge from under it.
-Ten Zat, ten M67 fragmentation grenade, an equal number of flashbangs and smoke grenades and five of my patented "Party in a can" grenades. -O'Neill slowly lifted one of his eyebrows.
-Thar sounds fun, what does it do?
-Everything basically. -Said the foundry chief and took out one of the "Party" grenades. It was about twice the size of a normal grenade, with a small handle to aid its throw. -They are on a bit of the heavy side, so I recommend using them to disorient the enemy before breaching actions mostly. -She explained putting down the grenade with a small "clonk". - Firstly, it flashes in quick succession like a flashbang, only in different colours. After comes the concussion blast, which also propel a couple of thousand small and hard rubber pellets, and the thick choking smoke at the same time. I added some tear gas and something that produces so horrid of a stench that its sure to induce vomiting into the mix, just for the flavour of it. -Everyone stopped for a second and imagined being on the receiving end of such weapon. The whole hangar bay shuddered in unison. Amberly just smiled a proud smile and folded her strong arms. -Pretty frightening eh? I call it party in a can because when you go in after using it, preferably in something airtight, everyone inside is spasming as if they were breakdancing, while crying vomiting and pissing themselves. It's pretty fun. -Everyone was silent, once again imagining this horrid picture. The first one to speak was Teal'c.
-I do not know what kind of festivities you partook in before, but in my culture, one does not consider what you said "fun".
-It is if it's the enemy. -Shrugged noncommittally the foundry chief. -Well that's about it for the weaponry anyway. There rest is mainly ammunition and spare parts and replacements if you brake something. And that's his boy job to replace. -Said Amberly indicating towards Yuan who was quite immersed in watching her talk animatedly about her special grenade before. The chief engineer shook himself and then cleared his throat.
-Right. Brown is a good engineer. -The mentioned made a non committal grunt. -And two other thing...-He motioned towards one of the smaller supply crates on the ground. - That's what you requested Teal'c. -The chief engineer closed his eyes in concentration. - Five litre concentrated tretonin in separate one litre bottles produced by the Asgard matter converter. You dilute it 1:10 with sterile isotonic saline solution for your bidaily dose. - Han Yuan said the word in a bit of a strained voice as if he was trying to remember every word correctly. -At least that was the doctor told me.
-Tell him I am very thankful. -Nodded Teal'c slowly. The chief engineer responded in kind and then pulled out five small devices, apparently from his toolbelt. They were about the size of a pinky finger. He flicked back the cap on one of them as if it was a lighter, revealing a red button. It even glowed a little.
-The remote deactivators for the subspace beacon hidden inside the Ion-gun. Just a push, and it deactivates the "OK" signal it constantly send with your exact location and the fleet is coming to pull your ass out of the fire. Don't loose them because Brown cannot replace them. -Han pointed his thumb towards his engineer who for once made an agreeing gesture. Not because it was true, in fact it was complete horseshit, he could probably jury rig something with the contents of a suburban kitchen knowing the actual codes that were worked into it, but service men, and especially service man within the SGC treated delicate equipment with the care and technical know-how of a grizzly bear on anabolic steroids. This of course meant that an engineer always had work, and always more than what he could possibly deal with. So everything was irreplaceable until such time it broke, at which point it was quickly and efficiently replaced and a tall tale was spun about the effort being greater than scaling the Mount Everest barefooted with your hands tied behind your back.-Everything clear?
-Push the button when in danger. Don't drop it from orbit. Clear as day boss. -Smiled O'Neill one of his signature cheeky but endearing smiles.
-Basically. -Agreed Yuan rubbing his temples. He was sure they will lose at least one of them on the first week. After that came a minute of silence. Jaffa, engineer, marines, foundry worker, and both chief looked at each other, as if expecting something. Amberley coughed a little, scratching her nose. Cruz shuffled her feet's a little.
-I think executive officer Normann was supposed to be here to saw us off or something. Maybe give a speech. -Speculated O'Neill. There was a general nodding of agreement amongst everyone present. Usually that was the order of thigs. The colonel thought about it a while and then turned towards Cruz with a small smile.
-Care to wager that he is in the infirmary? -The marine looked at him impassively.
-Betting is against the regulations. -Said the marine in a tone that suggested that she repeated that phrase a thousand of times already. O'Neill frowned and tried a different approach.
-Let's say it is a hypothetical question. That's not against the regulations. -The marine hesitated, then nodded.
-For or against?
-Against, since I proposed that he is in there. - Cruz thought about that too. She was obviously phrasing an answer
-Sir, with all due respect, I don't play against such high odds.- The colonels smile grew and he cleared his throat.
-Brokkr, direct communication like to the infirmary please. -There was a small mechanical beep and then sounds of struggle filled the hangar bay. There was the clicking of surgical instruments and the sound of the fastening of the securing belts.
-Bloody'ell man, stop trying to get free. I need to get these glass shards out, they are only one and a half centimetre away from your femoral artery, do you have a death wish? -Came a deep, decidedly British voice. It was so British in fact, that everyone who heard it automatically placed a small monocle on the mental picture of whoever they imagined it to be its owner.
-Just wait a second doc, I got something to do in the hangar bay. I'll be back in a minute. -Answered the familiar voice of Delsin Norman, the ships notoriously unlucky executive officer. O'Neill made a pointed coughing noise. Apparently the two men managed to miss the characteristic beep of the communication system. - Colonel O'Neill? -Asked Normann with some strain in his voice.
-Yes sir. -Answered Jonathan dutifully. -I hear you are in a bit of a pickle.
-Nothing major Colonel. I'll be right there as soon as the good doctor lets me.
-Which will be at the very least three days. He ran into me carrying a tray of glass instrument. Of course, the unlucky daft idiot he is, he managed to do a bellyflopp on them. Now there is blood on my nice clean operation room floor, and his abdomen and legs look like he tried to mate with a hedgehog made of crystals. -Grumbled the British medical professional and apparently decided to yank out a shard while Normann was distracted since the executive officer gave out a painful grunt. When he spoke again his voice was even more strained.
-Sorry colonel, I think you have to miss out on my speech, I imagine you are devastated. -Said Normann in a jovial albeit still painful voice.
-Sure sir. I almost stopped grinning due to the immense sense of loss. Then we will be on out way if its all right with you. Permission to leave ship? -There was another grunt and the small "blop" of a bloody glass shard falling into water, to join its companions.
-Permission granted. Bring me some souvenirs. - Said Normann slowly and the colonel answered with a small "Aye sir". -E.T.D in...lets say two minutes. -Normann got another "Aye sir." and then he got to lay back and enjoy the experience of having glass shards pulled out from his abdomen by the doctor. O'Neill sometimes wondered why the man remained a carrier officer. After all a job as a librarian, or a rabbit farmer might have lowered the chance of him getting injured from almost daily, to once or twice a week. The colonel decided that it was most likely conviction.
-Well then, good luck to you all. -Said Amberly placing everything back to the supply crate.
-And don't broke my minion. -Added Yuan motioning towards Brown who answered by gritting his teeth together. O'Neill gave both of them a nod and then glanced at his clock. Brokkr was always punctual.
-"Scotty, beam us up."-And the four men and one women disappeared in a flash of light alongside with the supply crates.
The same team appeared in the hangar bay a sliver of a second later. They arrived in the midst of a small, gawking crowd. There was Shepard, and the away team that came with her during her visit on the "Hephaistos", but there was also others. Firstly, there was something that O'Neill cannot for the life of him identify anything else than a bipedal turtle. He knew that it was in fact some alien native in this galaxy but he cannot for the life of him remember what was the species name. Something from the throat with a K possibly? Aside from Teenage Mutant Barbarian Turtle, the other oddity was a bald woman covered in tattoos. She looked like somebody who when she inevitably gets back to prison, already had her bed pre warmed by the wardens just to not get her pissed off. Aside from them, most of the crowd consisted of regular humans in uniform. They were obviously ship personnel, not members of the usual away team. O'Neill as the nominal leader of his own group of misfits, cleared his throat.
-Good morning everybody. Its pleasure to meet you. -Saluted O'Neill which was followed by Cruz's very one match shaper one. The two Jaffa added to his greeting with a small bow and Brown raised one of his hand in a greeting.
-Aye.- There was an awkward second before the hunchbacked giant lizard thing with the K-in its species name grunted and prodded the arrival closest to him.
-They look weak. I don't think they will be much use in a fight.-The arrival in question was the scarred Jaffa, Yang, who looked at the alien with an unfaltering smile and said.
-Does turtle-person wish to try? – The alien visibly tensed, but not Yang. He just simply shifted his stance a little bit into some kind of martial arts pose. Before the situation could have deteriorated any further Shepard stepped closer to Jonathan and extended her hand.
-What my teammate meant to say is welcome to the Normandy. -She said while shooting a death glare towards the turtle-man. He only shrugged as an answer, but stepped backwards shaking his head.. -You can leave your equipment here if you want while we figure out a place for you to stay. Any requests? -O'Neill shook her hand with a small smile.
-Request? Now that's a word a military man hears very rarely if not followed by the words "fire support". I think two bunks would do just fine. -Said O'Neill glancing at Cruz. The marine answered with an impassive nod of agreement.
-We on the other hand appriciate a place that is good for meditating. - Said Teal'c after a while. Shepard nodded and scratched her chin, thinking about it. Most of the ship is frequently patrolled by the personnel, but there was a couple of hidden places which were relatively empty and silent most of the time. -Starboard observation deck. I think that will be ideal. It has a beautiful view too.
-If it's quite then its more than enough. Thank you for your hospitality. It is customary that we offer some gifts. -The Jaffa master swung off a small bag from his shoulder. Its material was so similar to the robes, O'Niell didn't even notice ha had it on him, so easily the two clothes transitioned each other. Teal'c opened it with the pull of a string, and pulled out a small ceramic bottle, with etchings in Goa'Uld all over its surface. Jonathan managed to read the largest of the lettering and he couldn't help but shudder. Shaar'te. A common Jaffa drink brewed from a type of orange like fruit common in desert bioms all through the galaxy. Aside from the fruit juice it also contained a variety of herbs and medicinal plants. It was originally developed to circumvent the symbiotes ability to filter harmful chemicals, including most type of alcohols, from the body. The Shaar'te on the other hand wasted the little guy just as much as the host. Based on the fact that no adult Goa'uld took any steps in stopping the practice, the primta also found the experience quite enjoyable. Nowadays thanks to the fact that there is no symbiote to take the edge of it, and there were never any regulations on its recipe, the effects of Shaar'te varies from Jaffa to Jaffa, and most of the time, planet by planet. It can be a mild intoxicant similar to beer in one place, and the liquid equivalent of taking a hammer blow to your cranium in the other. For regular humans on the other hand, its effect was relatively uniform. Total blackout after consumption of about three shot worth and two to four hour of total mayhem including hallucinations, nonstop singing, vertigo, projectile vomiting, bleeding from the nose and sometimes temporary blindness. Jonathan only tried it once. Fortunately, it was with friends in a remote cabin, so instead of immediate dishonourable discharge the only thing that came from it was a couple of traumatised woodland critters and a very embarrassing video, which he was fortunately able to confiscate by exchanging his friends memory card with his own. According to the aforementioned friend, who was a major in alien languages, Jonathan sang the 1984 Madonna song "Like a virgin" in pitch perfect conversational Ancient. That was a bit odd considering Jonathan could not speak a word of Ancient before, or after the incident. O'Neill could only watch as the small bottle exchanged owners and he hoped against hope that Shepard won't try it while they are on the ship.
-Err...I would be a box of fluffles if I could stay with the Mark II. -Said Brown breaking the colonels worrying train of thought. He pointed towards the small room that the Asgard beam built around the generator. -I mean not inside at all times but around it. It may not produce much radiation but its better safe than sorry, eh?
-I guess. -Said Shepard in a voice that suggested she wasn't really convinced. -But you can sleep in a cabin upstairs if you want to. I can post a guard to stop anyone from taking a peek at it. - The engineer scratched behind his ear and sighed as an answer.
-No offense about the capability of your guards miss, but I am not worried about the gawkers. I am worried about somebody trying temper with it. You know to figure out how it's working. -The engineer run his eyes across the gathered crew. -So, I just say this only once. It is a very delicate equipment. Not delicate in a sense that if you touch it it will stop working and I have to fix it. Delicate in a sense that if you are taking the piss of me and start mucking about with its inside, it can, and will get into an unstable chain reaction and vaporise the ship. Now...-He run his eyes along the Normandy crew again, catching the eye if the slightly smirking Miranda.- Some of you might have heard me a little differently. As in, there might be an explosion if I managed to fuck up, but otherwise its fine. But what I said was, if any of you even disconnect a wire, or push a couple of wrong buttons, we all cark it and nobody will ever know cause the biggest piece left would be about five atoms thick. So then. -He turned towards Shepard. - I hope its not much of a problem to stay around it.
-Uum. -Shepard nodded slowly, glancing toward first the small metal hut, and then towards Miranda. The genetically enhanced woman gave her an innocent look. She would have to keep an eye on her. She decided to approach the matter on a later date. -Okay, now that's sorted out, after I showed you the way to your various accommodations, I planned a small introduction party in the Mess Hall. There will be some specialities from various planets which I don't think you ever tasted, and you will be able to introduce yourself to the crew in person. We got a small file about all of you before you arrived but it was mainly your service and medical record. Aside that we are quite interested in the full story of this universe crossing thing too. -There was a great deal of nodding from the people behind Shepard. Mordin Solus in particular did it so fast that his head almost flew off. O'Neill smiled a small professional smile and nodded.
-I imagine you have great many questions then. Specifics of technology are a no go, but everything else should be fine. -During the next couple of hours, every time Jonathan remembered that it was he who said that, got the sudden urge to headbutt a bulkhead. After Professor Mordin joined to the questioning crowd, it became a kind of melancholy over his inability to ever strangle his past self. All in all, the next five hours had the same effect on his voice box as a Jaffa boot camp do to one's calf muscles. You only know that they are there because it feels like somebody is in the process of roasting them. Nevertheless, right now O'Neill was unaware of the coming danger, and followed the Commander to the lift of the Normandy.
Half an hour later
The silver bird that was the Normandy, slowly accelerated towards the systems Mass Relay. The ancient device emitted a constant, slightly pulsating light, as the inner dual ring pieces orbited around the massive element zero core, the heart of the Relay. The Normandy approached the construct, and then stopped, as if it was hesitating. Suddenly a bright blue flash enveloped the frigate and it disappeared into a straight line of light, speeding towards another system. The three Tau'Ri vessel in response started a slow turn. Two of them, the "Hephaistos" and the "De Gaule" paired up, while the "Aeneas" mowed closer to the "Mirror Installation". A small beam of light erupted from one of the ports on the BC305 and then composed itself into an image, almost the same size as the ship itself. It was just a flat screen but on there, a set of seemingly random and chaotic colours changed themselves for more than thirty minutes, before it was finished by a sequence of code. While the fleet was unaware what would the other side actually see, if anything at all, it was certain that before they came here, the research station continuously monitored and recorded the ancient device and the different world it showed. If the other side of the mirror remained the same, despite their passing, then communication is possible, at the very least a one sided one. So, the Tau'Ri encoded everything they wanted their home universe to know, all that they learned about this new Galaxy, their status, and a couple of personal letters into images and projected them with their holographic technology in front of this side of the "Mirror Installation". The end of the message contained the cypher, the key to get the actual information from the garbled mess it first appeared to be. It was a slim hope at best, but it was needed for the crew before they left the system.
When it was done with its task, the "Aeneas" joined its partnership on the side of the "Hephaistos". Machines inside the three ships, powered up. Devices never known in this Galaxy sprung to life. Energy coalesced in front of the three ships, produced by powerful generators, two "Triad System"-s and a single ZPG channelled such gigantic amount of power, that the very fabric of reality was torn asunder. It was the first time such effect was every created in this reality. The shimmering tunnel of a hyperspace window, radiating blue light around it opened. The three ships disappeared inside it, towards a destination, a star system not on the Relay network and too far for any ship with Mass Effect FTL to reach. Based on the stars light, the Legacy Keepers determined that it has relatively high metallicity, which meant that it most likely had at least a couple of asteroids, or other small objects within its gravity well which could be mined if necessary. The fleet needed a safe harbour for now, before they decided what to do exactly, and it looked like a good place to start. Just half an hour after they left, a small, barely visible frigate appeared from the Mass Relay. Although the Tau'Ri fleet already left, the light of their exit only now reached this area. The crew of the Salarian spy ship, the “Marav-ida” managed to record the last minute of their departure.
Chapter 12: Acclimatization to a changing world
While the new members of the crew began to mingle with the old ones, some more violently than the others, the Normandy turns towards a new destination. At the same time, the future of a nation is decided around a small metal table, on a ship from a different universe.
To escape from the constant attention from the crew, good natured and otherwise, Jonathan employed the tried and tested method of getting away from nosy superiors without getting reprimanded. He stated that he wants to run through a couple of combat drills before the mission, as to not to get rusty. The positive aspect of this tactic was that instead of offending the other party, it mostly resulted in some proud nodding, and the negative that he did indeed had to go train a little bit, otherwise there would be consequences. While this time he was basically the highest authority for the time being, at least for his merry band of misfits, training wasn't such a bad idea truth to be told. While the new weapons were indeed deadly and awesome, they were new nonetheless. The height, their shape, and handling, all were slightly different. Combine this with the fact that he would be wearing a hardsuit, instead of the EXO he's been used to, it could seriously throw off his aim. Training can compensate for this, at least partially until actual combat experience could take its place. There was a small problem though. O'Neill was disappointed to find out that the Normandy did not, in fact, had a shooting range. It was to be expected, it was a much smaller vessel compared to the Hephaistos, and the Tau'Ri-s own BC series had no such feature either, but he might have got a little bit too used to the luxury of having larger spaces available. The hangar was now full of the Mark II generator and the shuttles, so it was out. There wasn't any other big enough space to train either.
The solution for this problem came from Jacob, the self-appointed quarter master of the ship. He agreed to free up some space in one of the cargo bays. It was a poor excuse for a shooting range, since the actual distance the targets were placed was about ten meters, but it at the very least allowed O'Neill to get used to the differences between the P90 and the PME model. He released a couple of series of shots, and then pressed the secondary trigger when the weapon started humming. The plasma globule impacted into a small empty metal crate he placed there beforehand just for this occasion and melted more than half of it into slag.
-Pew-pew-pew, splatch. -Acknowledged the colonel with a wide smile.
-Pew-pew? -Coughed a voice behind him. He slowly turned back glancing towards the source of the voice. It was one of the aliens from Shepard's team. Garrus, if O'Niells admittedly precarious name memory struck right for once.
-I did not expected company. -Said the colonel with a light cough, as if it was an explanation for all the noises he made. They stood there for a second, in silence, and Jonathan was pretty sure that if the Turian would have had lips, he would be smirking. - So, what can I thank for your sudden visit? I thought I said Jacob I would rather train alone. - Which was true, at the very least the fact that he did tell him that. The man was friendly and helpful enough, and as a thanks for preparing this impromptu firing range for him, he showed him how to safely operate a ZAT, but he was hard to trust him. The soldier was a member of CERBERUS, the NID like human centric organization of this universe. Better be on the side of caution, at least before he gets to know him a little better.
-I haven't met him, I just asked EDI where you are currently, and she pointed me towards this cargo hold. -Said Garrus looking at the targets. They were fashioned from spare bulkhead parts Jacob found lying here or there, and where vaguely humanoid in shape, except one of them. The last one was much taller than the others, and it resembled a cutaway segment of a tall metallic potato. This was the Cerberus operatives first attempt at fashioning a target, and was promptly got classified as a Krogan, as soon as better ones were successfully created.
- I take it you don't want pointers then. -Said the Turian, his voice tactfully suggesting that based upon the dents and scorch marks on the targets, he could use some. Jonathan raised his eyebrows. -I might not look like it, but I would wager that I have more combat experience then you suspect.
-Never suggested you don't. But, you are in a new galaxy and will face new enemies. You might need some advice from someone who already faced them. -The colonel weighted the PME-90 in his hand and flexed his hardsuit covered fingers.
-All right, I bite. Do you have a weapon on you?
-Asking that from a Turian is like asking if I have my underpants on. -Said Garrus, mandibles twitching the same way they did after he caught the colonel making gun noises while training. So it was a smirk. -Decided O'Neill and stepped aside when the tall alien took off an assault rifle from his back.
-M-15 Vindicator. Dependable, affordable, and because every mercenary knows this, spare parts and modifications are more common than vorcha dumpster divers. -He raised the assault rifle. -Let's start with that krogan there. Krogans have secondary organs for everything expect for their brain and a good number of tertiary ones for those few that gets damaged more often than the others. To make it worse, they heal extremely fast, using the energy stored in their humps to regenerate damaged tissue. A broken arm can return to partial functionality in no more than ten minutes, less if the Krogan in question takes time to align it properly. -O'Neill gave out a small whistle. The codex stated that they heal faster than normal, but that was just ridiculous. Sure, a wraith and an unas could take a couple of regular assault rifle rounds to the chest before they finally fell, but at the very least they had the decency of not wearing much armor, and not being built like a bipedal battle tank.- Now, the key of taking them down is either to use incendiary ammunition, or to first incapacitate them, and then deliver a headshot. The latter can be done by simply pouring more fire into them than their body can handle, but one of my favorite tactics, is to aim for the legs, since they will inevitably charge at you. It's a bit tricky, but if you successfully hit them they will most likely perform a rather impressive faceplant which can be followed up by a bullet to the head.-Garrus raised his assault rifle and unleashed a series of accurate salvoes towards the ankles of the potato-target.
Before the last one's noise fully subsided he already started to fire again, this time targeting the lump designated as its head. The shots carved a series of small dints into the metal of the target. The Turian moved his mandibles and eyebrows in a fashion what later the colonel learned was surprise.
-By General Cassius's Mandibles, what are those targets made out of. -He leaned closer and inspected the small chips and indentations his weapon created on the material, in contrast with the almost fist sized gashes and impact marks of the colonels.
-Reinforced hull plates. Jacob said they should be durable enough.
-That they should be, are you practicing with armor piercing ammunition? -Asked Garrus, indicating towards Jonathans gun. The Tau'Ri raised the weapon and thought about it a little. How much he can tell these people? Enough so that they could be placed where they are the most effective in a battle definitely.
-In a fashion. The standard ammo is a special material which is pretty good against hard targets. The downside is that big squishy things, and shields might be more problematic for me. Frankly I am not sure, I haven't tried yet.
- I have some spare shield targets in my room that I used on Omega to improve my aim. If you want to try something more durable against armor piercing. -The colonel nodded.
-That would be perfect. I tell you what, if you bring those shield targets and give me a couple of more pointers, I teach you how to handle those snazzy scorpion like pistols we got, and let you have a go at the targets with the PME-90. -Said the colonel placing the weapon in front of Garrus. The ex C-sec officer studied the gun and then nodded.
-Al right, it's a deal. -By the time the Turian returned with the small shield generators he bought on Omega, O'Neill was in the middle of a firing drill, mimicking the technique Garrus showed him.
-If you are going for the headshot I recommend aiming for the face. The Krogans head plate is rather durable, though I don't think it is durable enough to stop the armor piercing you use. -Said the former C-Sec officer while he walked towards the targets. He placed in front of them a couple of discs with faded and scratched bluish marking. When he was finished, he motioned towards then with his omnitool. All but one discs switched on, green lights blinking in their topside. Jonathans hardsuit chirped up, and the hardsuit extended a small tactical visor in front of his left eye, seemingly from nowhere. The visor showed four blue lines above the targets, indicating the power readout of their shields. He glanced at Garrus and decided not to reveal that he just got surprised by something that was most likely a basic function of his hardsuit.
-So, you were one of the few who didn’t pester me with questions yet. Is this your way of buttering me up to more readily answer them? -Asked the Colonel while Garrus approached the faulty shield target. He scooped it up and banged it against the wall a couple of times, the device reacted by finally blinking to life.
-Well yeah, basically that was my plan. -Admitted Garrus and walked back to the firing line. The colonel shrugged before raising his weapon and releasing a hail of bullets. The deadly naquadaq alloy bullets which so easily carved holes into the targets beforehand were easily swatted away, like a horde of insects flying into a hurricane. O'Neill continued to fire, and the small indicator in front of his eye showed a steady decline. By that time the secondary fire almost fully charged up, so he followed up with a couple of dozen shots, before firing it towards the crates. The blob of plasma shot out and splatted against their surface, as a result, the half-melted pile of metal became runny again.
-Man, those shields can take punishment. And it’s a good plan. -Acknowledged O'Neill and glanced toward the PME-90 in his hand. - Kind of funny, -He started slowly. -but I feel more comfortable talking if I have a weapon in my hand. Even if I don’t intend to use it.
-Yeah, I am the same in that regard. -Confessed Garrus, weighing his own battered Vindicator, compering it towards the colonel's shiny, mint condition weapon. - I don't know if it's because I am a Turian, or just because I spent that much time with Shepard, but I seem to grow accustomed to the fact that most talks go way better if you have an assault rifle on you. -Mused Garrus with a certain twitch on his mandibles. Jonathan decided that he will interpret this as a smile from now on.
-It makes the other side more polite that's for sure. -Smiled O'Neill and watched as his talking partner depleted the shields of one of the targets, much faster than him by the way, and placed a couple of shots in its head.
- All right, you made me comfortable enough. Get on with the questions. -Said the colonel when the barking of the rifle subsided.
-I don't have that many actually, I listened to much of what you said in the mess hall. There really are no Turians from where you came from? -Asked Garrus and extended the butt of his Vindicator towards O'Neill. The colonel accepted the weapon and the two swapped guns.
-When its starts humming push the little thingy behind the main trigger. That's how you fire the secondary shot. -Said Jonathan indicating towards the PME-90 as the other took aim. -And no, or at least we haven't met them if there is. -Garrus inclined his head to the side a little, aiming down the barrel.
-Its a little bit unfair that humans get to inhabit more than one universe. -He squeezed the trigger and sent a hail of bullets down the shooting range. This time it took him almost, but not quite as many shots to collapse the shield as the Colonel. Once it was down though, the naquadaq-trinium bullets bit into the bulkhead target as if he was throwing rocks into mud. They gouged half a dozen deep ragged holes before the weapon started humming, and glowing.
-Now, pull the trigger. -In hindsight Jonathan should have warned the Turian to aim towards the boxes he used for that purpose, but he was too late. Garrus fired the shot, and the glob of plasma sailed through the air and impacted into the head of one of the human shaped targets. The metal flared up and deformed, but the bulkhead material was considerably tougher than the metal crates. Instead of fully melting, only a centimeter or so became runny. On the other hand, it dripped right ontu the small shield generator in front of it. Which promptly caught fire. And then exploded. The demise of the small device was quick but complete, its melting parts covered the ground around the target. There was a couple of seconds of silence before the alien started to laugh.
-Well, that’s a hundred credit I never get back. – Said Garrus after a throaty chuckle. -I should have aimed towards the glitchy one, but never mind. This is really effective.
-And hella dangerous if you don’t pull it in the right time. –Smiled Jonathan a little and raised the weapon in his hand. Now it was his turn to try out the Vindicator. It had a bit more weight than the PME-90, but it was much more well balanced. -And frankly, I wouldn’t worry about the lack of Turians in our dimension. We have some information about the race who built the device trough which we came here, they were quite human centric. There is probably just as many universes where all the galaxy is united under the banner of the Turians, or something like that. -He squeezed the trigger and downed one of the shield targets. The projectiles fired from the alien rifle made small scratches and prim picks on the bulkhead material. They didn’t have the punch trough power of the PME-90, but at least you can just spray them around everywhere, even around an airlock, which might not be advised with the armor piercing naquadaq chips.
-Oh god, I don’t want to imagine it. – Said Garrus apparently horrified. – Most of our leadership have such massive sticks up their ass that they should be considered a mobile tree already. I don’t want to know what happens if they are completely controlling everything. The current way of the universe suits me just fine, minus the race of genocidal bug-starships, of course. -Said Garrus, inspecting O'Neils firing stance. It told the tale of a carrier soldier, with much more experience then his age would entail. The turian slowly scratched his chin before talking again. - By the way, I loaded some cryo ammo into it, if you want to try. Just flip the switch on the left side, right above your fingers. -O'Niell looked down the barrel, flipped the switch, and fired into the recharging shield. The first couple of them simply splatted against the force field. The first one that got through, left about half a meter of iced surface on the target, which was only expanded by the others. When the rifles heatsink was finally overwhelmed, the bulkhead was covered with almost one and a half centimeter of ice.
-I am not going to lie, this is awesome. -Concluded the colonel before extending the rifle back towards the Turian. He hesitated a little before he remembered that his own on the other hand spits raw plasma. Garrus took its rifle and then placed it on its back. O'Neil smiled at him and patted his shoulder a little. -Now then, let's get you acquainted with the Zat…
Meanwhile on the Hephaistos-s :
The cell that Bullak got was noticeably more comfortable than any he seen under the management of the Batarian Hegemony. Of course, then, the roles were reversed, so he never seen that many to begin with. Most prisoners were properly dressed and cleaned before they dragged them out to the interrogation room. But what he was sure of is that Batarian cells didn’t had a real bed with blankets and pillows, a table with two chairs, a small entertainment console, and of course, a proper bathroom. It had a camera in it, but the guards assured him that the only thing that has access to it is the ships "Legacy Keeper" or something. The Batarian later learned that it was actually some kind of AI along with the fact that his cell was not a cell at all, but an isolation chamber in the event of a viral outbreak. Nevertheless it was comfortable enough and frankly, since Bullak did in fact not receive any beatings, or torture, or anything similar, he didn’t want to complain.
Right now, the erstwhile captain sat behind the small metal table, slowly counting the seconds. The guards finally approved the meeting between the two prisoners, which was a miracle in on itself since they were firmly against it at first, and even more when they realized that Sardonias was technically his slave. Which was true in a part, although most outsiders never really got to understand the small nuances of the Batarian caste system. Not that they had a chance, the original traditions were warped by the current ruling elite so much that they were hardly recognizable. There were originally two kinds of slaves on Khar'shan, one was the Dirt cast, the agricultural serfs, the lowest class of unpaid servants who worked on a higher casts land, or houses as cleaning staff and kitchen maids. They were relatively badly treated, although most higher cast members were required to protect them in the event of a war or natural disaster, failing that, they, along with their villages were transferred to another owner who could do that. The other type was the Shiore'wa. Owning a Shiore'wa was the privilege for only the highest classes, Mountain and upwards. They were usually boys from the Dirt cast, or even lower, nameless street kids whom their masters parents gathered when a new scion was born within the family. They were brought up with the new-born, and they were trained as both a bodyguard and an advisor. The Shiore'wa was treated better than most lesser nobles. Their master was responsible for their housing, clothing, feeding, and training. The latter was harsh, true, but their masters child, especially if it came from a military background, was encouraged to join them. They believed it builds character. As a result, a Shiore'wa was a well-trained and absolutely loyal bodyguard, advisor, and often friend of his master, who was almost never mistreated. Sardonias was one of the few that left on Khar'shan, and to Bullaks knowledge, the only non Batarian. The problem that led to their decline in numbers was in fact, the propagation of actual household slavery. Both serfs and Shiore'wa was the privilege of a select few higher ups, whom gained their ranks by born or merit. You had to have the power and influence to safeguard your serfs, and the ability to keep that power for more than a generation to have a couple Shiore'wa in your family. Even if someone bought their ranks, if the individual in question was unnecessarily cruel, or bloody stupid, which so often found at the same time in, it got weeded out by the competition. You didn’t torture and starved your serfs, because they were valuable, your source of money, and you had a duty to protect them. You didn’t do it with your Shiore'wa, because he was not only your – Often only, since children of the higher castes often grew up without any other kids of their age group to safeguard them from potential dangers. - childhood friend, but also the one who will be saving your life if anyone attacks you.
But, when aliens were discovered, and found to only have two eyes, things have changed. The sacred text claimed that the spirits created the Batarians in their image, with four eyes to see the world truly. Thus, anyone with only two was declared to be inferior compared to the Batarian race. This marked the start of household slavery. With the first pirate attacks orchestrated by pirate elements, came the first wave of cheap slaves, and suddenly much wider strata of the Hegemony-s society was able to afford them. You could treat an alien slave like an animal, starve it, torture it to death, with absolutely no consequences, because they were hardly worth more than a common engineers monthly pay. This new type of slavery turned the once great Batarian culture into a cruel twisted version of itself. Apparently, if one treats others as animals, one himself start to act like one too. Bullak never realised how bad the situation was until Gorn’lam raised his pistol against him. A first officer of a Dreadnought, unwilling to die in the line of duty…That was a wakeup call. Something has to change in the Hegemony, and fast if they wish to stay relevant.
His thoughts were interrupted by the hissing of the door, as two men, clad in something that looked like repurposed Batarian hardsuit to his trained eyes, escorted Sardonias into the room. The Turian looked no worse to wear than he last seen him days ago in that cramped escape pod, and Bullak realised he was smiling slightly. At least he was the same as ever. The two, armed guards haven’t even looked at Bullak before they left the room, closing the door behind them.
-Master Bullak. –When the Turian spoke, it was in a language completely incomprehensible to the common translators, and only known to a few scholars Kar'Shan. It was an ancient dialect, from back then before the "Glorious Conspiracy" toppled the governments of the planet, and it was still divided into squabbling countries. Both Bullak and Sardonias spoke it, the formers grandfather made sure of that. Bullak once again found himself thankful for the teachings of that old fashioned grumpy Batarian, spirits watch over him in the grave. The captain smiled a little bit.
-Tortazen? -Answered the captain in that same, dead dialect. - Shrew choice. It is good to see you again Sardonias. I hope that they treated you well. - His manservant returned the smile with the characteristic mandible twitch of the Turians. Bullak indicated towards the other empty chair in the room.
-It is good to see you too Master. And yes, I was, but it is of no importance right now. How are you master? I managed to find out that these people hate slave owners even more than the humans of this galaxy. Were YOU treated well? – Bullak nodded a little as Sardonias slowly took the chair.
-Much better than expected actually. Much better than we would have I assume. So, how did you managed to convince them to let you meet me? – The new humans, just like the familiar ones in this galaxy, had absolutely no understanding of the original Batarian slave system, so when they learned that Sardonias was his slave, they just assumed that he beat him on a daily basis while laughing manically.
-I used their preconceptions against them. I told them that I had a very harsh master, who starved me and et cetera et cetera. Then came you Master and saved me from that hell. – Said Sardonias with an unmistakably smug expression and Bullak almost chuckled a little before he managed to compose himself.
-Did you? Good work Sardonias, consider your brandy privileges restored for the indeterminate future.
-I expected that will be the case when I saved your life Master. – Said Sardonias with a slight mirth in his voice. Bullak pretended to think about that for a while.
-You are right, well then, we have to figure out something else for you when we have the time. Maybe a new weapon, or a brand new omni tool. I assume they took yours too.
-Indeed. But…- Sardonias glanced around, even though they used code languages, these humans were quite advanced, if these new humans said that they could read their minds, he wouldn’t be too surprised after the teleportation, and energy weapons. -…we have a bigger problem Master. I managed to overhear some conversations during my transport, and imprisonment. These new humans, the SGC as they call themselves, have met with Shepard. – Bullaks blood ran cold. Shepard was famous in Citadel space as a hero who saved the Citadel. The humans in the Alliance celebrated her as the first human Spectre, and a war hero. But for the Batarians, she was a bloody handed butcher. When Batarian pirates allied with various other forces who were dissatisfied with the Alliances expansion into the Skylian Verge attacked the human colony of Elysium, Shepard was amongst the defenders. The township she protected was supposed to be an easy target, one of the few first landing sites in the invasion. Instead it was turned into a bloodbath. Shepard has already learned the ins and outs of her signature fight style, combining stealth, and the use of sniper rifle, with unbridled tenacity and aggressiveness. Squads lost their commanders, and then their second in command in a quick succession, before Shepard exploded out from behind them with SMG in hand and slaughtered the panicking survivors. Gunships shot out from the sky by a single well-placed round into the pilots head, leaders found dead inside their command posts wired to a bunch of grenades so if anyone moved in to help their leader, the structure got engulfed in an explosion. No doubt that without her the township would have fallen, but that one woman, killed hundreds, destroyed at least a dozen of gunships and armoured vehicles. And worst of all, she was charismatic, and she could influence those around her. She organised the scared civilians into an effective militia within a week. The woman was a nightmare. And she hated Batarians.
-Oh spirits. – Said Bullak rubbing the upper set of his eyes.
-There is more. –Sardonias seemed a little bit regretful that he has to continue, but nevertheless, he did so. – They already upgraded her ship with their technology. I think they are going to get into contact with the Alliance. – Bullak took a big breath, panic rose in his chest, but he grabbed it, using the full extent of his self-control which was forged by countless life and death battles in the service of the Hegemony, and strangled it mercilessly before it could take a hold of him. Instead, he leaned back, steepling his hands together. The situation worsened for his species by the minute. The Hegemony already attacked these newcomers unknowingly. Shepard apparently managed to convince them to ally, or at the very least, talk to the Alliance. If the Systems Alliance get their hands on overwhelming technical superiority, the Hegemonys relevance would cease to be an important thing, the very existence of a Batarian state could be in danger. The Hegemony withdrawn from the Citadel council entirely due to their inability to stop humanities expansion, this means that the humans could attack them with impunity, and they got more than enough incentive to do so, from simple territorial expansion, to retaliation for the countless slave raids and terrorist attacks. The only thing that held them back, was the enormous cost that an attack would necessary carry, they would need to divert almost all of their fleet to assault Batarian space, and the Hegemony could slowly bleed them out with guerrilla tactics. But if they get this technology, a simple frigate could decimate a fleet of cruisers, maybe even defeat a dreadnought.
-If they ally with their kin in this universe, the Hegemony stand no chance of stopping an attack from them. We have no allies, no significant armies to call on aside from a fistful of cutthroats and mercenaries. The hegemony has sown hate and ruin, and if we let things run their course, it’s the people who will ate what they will harvest in return. -Said Bullak finally, a plan forming in his mind. It was high treason, there was no doubt about that. But it was also most definitely the best chance for the batarians as people to remain in the galaxy as anything else but a footnote under the Codex description of "piracy". –The hegemony is rotten and doomed to fail. I see that now. But if it is the work of an outside force, like the humans, we might disappear as people.
-Your suggestion master? – Sardonias looked into the lower set of eyes of Bullak and folded his arms.
-We do it from the inside. We have to topple the Hegemony. – Said the old Batarian slowly. His voice sounded like something heavy, slowly toppling over the edge of a well. As if something that have developed inside him over the years, finally bloomed into some hard, but necessary decision. -We have to destroy it to save it. We will use the rebels, the "New Khar'shan Dawn". – The Turian tilted his head respectfully to the left a little.
-As you wish master. Though, I seem to recall that you said that they could never do it. You mentioned something about them being to idealistic, and that they have no chance to win. – His conversation partner nodded, rubbing both set of his eyes.
-Yes, and I was entirely right of course. They didn’t have any chance to win, but that was before I decided to aid them. -Said the captain with a slight, little sad smile on his face. – Now, there is a chance, however small that is. I think I know a cell. Remember, the one in Omega? -Sardonias made a knowing nod.
-Yes, you were waiting for it to develop before busting it for conspiracy against the state. – His masters smile grew a little, although mirth still steered far away from it.
-Indeed. It is ironic that I am aiming to join them now. But I think I can persuade them. I am after all, a high-ranking member of the military, and the member of the second highest cast. A man of my calibre on their side could give them some credit in the eye of the people. Aside that, I have my fair share of knowledge of military secrets, weapon depots, access codes, weak points, and all sort of thing like that. – Sardonias rubbed his mandibles a little and once again looked into the lower eyes of his master.
-You are aware that this will most likely mean that we have to fight against the soldiers of the hegemony. Not all of them will be corrupt, or at the very least, not irreparably so, like Gorn'lam. Honest hard-working citizens will die, a lot of them if we go through with this plan master. – Sardonias leaned closer, and held his gaze on the old Batarian. The captain took a long deep breath and nodded slowly.
-Yes, I know. But more will die in the long run if we don’t act right now. I am prepared to face their fury in the spirit world after I pass. -Said Bullak slowly and deliberately. His servant straightened himself.
-Very good sir. Then, I have a plan on how to get off this vessel….
Grunt was angry. This was not in on itself unusual. Grunt was almost always angry. What was the difference that he couldn’t really place it why he was angry. Every little thing annoyed him to no end. It started a couple of days ago, slowly becoming worse and worse. On missions this wasn't a problem, his rage can be quenched by simply punching, or shooting the guts out of some Eclipse mercs or something similar, but on the ship, it was almost unbearable. A scratch behind his head plates, slowly driving him absolutely furious. He wanted to control it, but it was just too bloody hard. He punched a wall panel, and again, and again until it bent inwards, but it wasn’t enough. The pain only served to make him even more tense. Then he remembered one of the newcomers. The bald scarred one, who called him a turtle. He didn’t know what it was, but it must have been some serious insult. Who does he think he are? Someone ought to teach him a lesson. And that someone should be him. The krogan punched the wall panel again, rupturing it and revealing the wiring behind, before he stomped away in search of the bald man.
-Ship, where is the small man. The new guy, with the shiny head? -Vocalised Grunt with its namesake sound. EDI answered with her usual levelled tone.
-Mr Yang currently occupy a table with Mr. Massani in the mess hall. They are having a conversation which can only be described as a scar-off. -Grunt pandered this for a second turning towards the lift. -And Shepard?
-She is in Miss Lawsons office, talking about "safety and the value of friendship over technology" if my memory banks are correct.
-Heh-heh-heh. Perfect. -Chuckled slowly the armoured lizard and stepped into the elevator.
-Might I ask why did you ask that? - The AI-s voice gained a distinctly worrisome tone.
-No. -Answered the Krogan with a short aggressive bark and as soon as the elevator stopped stepped out of it. The last thing he needs is a machine stopping him for his right earned retribution. It was late in the ships night cycle, so the mess hall was mostly empty. There was a three-man group of helmsman's, slowly chewing on some re-heated pasta from today's dinner, washing it down with a generous helping of coffee, they must have been assigned to night shift and they are taking their food break. Aside from them, the only other table occupied was Massani-s. The old mercenary wore a faded T-shirt from some kind of rock band from the colonies, complete with beer stains and a bullet hole in the edge. He had it halfway off and gesticulated towards a large gnarly scar on his chest.
-This one I got when, I shit you not, a whole goddamned cruiser got blown up right above my head. Couldn't have been a couple of hundred meters. The whole burning mess just fell right on top of me. It would have killed me if I wasn't so fucking lucky to find a crevice to throw myself into. That was the only thing that saved my ass. After that of course, I had to crawl out from under a burning wreckage with a god damned hull plate fragment stuck in my chest, but here am I, telling the tale. -Zaeed pulled down his shirt, with an entirely false modest smile.
-You are indeed a very talented story teller. -Admitted Yang, his smile told that he only believed half of it, but still found it impressive. He raised his hands, letting his robes fall back a little to reveal the scars around his wrists. -These I got when Ba'al...-He couldn't finish it.
His sentence was interrupted by a loud, almost primal: "YOU!". It was a word with the promise of violence so interwoven in it, that it warped its original meaning as a pronoun. It was an accusation, a threat, and a challenge all rolled into one neat three letter package. All around the known space there were maybe a dozen or so individuals who wouldn't immediately turn tails and run, for cover to shoot or otherwise, if a krogan spoke that way to them from merely a couple of steps away. To Grunts annoyance, two of those people sat just in front of him.
-Turtle-person, do you wish to talk to me? -Asked Yang nodding towards the newcomer, but otherwise unmoving, unflinching.
-I want to smash your face in. -Growled the Krogan in a tone, positively vibrating with anticipation. The two occupants around the table looked at each other, and the first one to speak was the mercenary.
-Listen Grunt. Although you weren't there, but the Commander already taught me that the mission comes first. We beat the Collectors and after that you can try to kill anyone you goddam please, but not before. And especially not in the middle of my goddamn conversation. -In retrospect he probably should have phrased it a bit softer. It sounded a bit like threatening. At least Grunt decided that it did. So, Grunt punched him in the face. He aimed for his chin, but when he started the motion, the old mercenary, somehow predicting the next couple of seconds, was already halfway up from his seat. He got hit in his chest instead, the momentum lift him up and flew him back a couple of meters, resulting in something that Dr. Chakwas later diagnosed as "at least two cracked ribs". The young krogan swung towards the other human, the scarred one, but he nimbly dodged left, without any unnecessary motion. Grunt charged at him, which also failed to connect, only knocking over a couple of chairs. The bald man quickly made use of the table beside him, and mid motion, vaulted over the enraged krogan.
-ARGHH. -Snarled the berserker, huffing like a locomotive. - You might be fast but one wrong move and I smash your face in.
-Ah, indeed. A slow and methodical fighter can win against a fast and fragile one, especially if the latter makes a mistake, or becomes overconfident. The turtle and the hare. But, your problem is...-Grunt charged at the man like a living bulldozer, knocking the metal table away with ease. He wanted to stomp the little man into the ground, brake his bones and, and he couldn't finish his though process since he found himself flying. The man anticipated his charge, and stepped forward, grabbing him, and creating an arc with Grunts own momentum upon which he threw the krogan. It would have been impossible for a human of Yangs size, or least that's how Grunt remembered these techniques from the tank he grew up in. But of course, what the young berserker didn't know, was that Jaffa-s are significantly stronger than baseline humans. So, he flew, into a bulkhead. -...that you are a very young turtle, and I am a very old hare. I have lost my overconfidence a long time ago. -Grunt growled, grinding his teeth's together. One of them felt slightly loose now. That man's going to pay. He tried to get up but then he felt an elemental kick right in his quads. If he didn't wore his armour, he would have surely been incapacitated by the sheer ferocity of the attack. It still caused him to fall down again. Massani, was back in the fight.
-Listen to me, junior. I was killing battlemasters when you were nothing but a glint in Okeer-s petri dish, you better stay down, or I goddamned make you. - Grunt made his namesake sound and tried to push himself up once again, jumping towards Zaeed, just to have his legs swept out from under him by Yang. What followed could be described as two grandpas bending a misbehaving krogan child over their knees. Massani was a dirty and experienced pub fighter using every possible thing and vulnerable body area as an advantage, while Yang was a fast and nimble combatant who delivered surprisingly hard and precise blows. Grunt, in his blood rage, was merely strong and stubborn. It wasn't nearly enough. By the time Shepard arrived in the mess hall, having been notified by EDI, the krogan super soldier was already unconscious, curtesy of a Zat shot by Yang, delivered, when the two old fighters got tired beating Grunt into the ground every three minutes or so.
The young krogan woke to the seemingly blinding light of the cargo hold. In front of him stood Shepard, slowly tapping the metal grate with her foot. Grunt looked up and asked in a tired voice:
- I won? You must be proud of me then…- Murmured the supersoldier rubbing his head. They shot him right between the eyes with that weird looking pistol thing. It was as if something had sorted out his nerves. On the other hand, he felt a little bit clearer headed now.
-The opposite actually. And frankly due to your behaviour, I am starting to regret thawing you out in the first place. – Shepard folded her arms and shot Grunt a gaze which could have froze a thresher maw in its place. The krogan grunted as an answer and gave up his effort of standing up, instead rolling onto his back.
-There is…something wrong with me Shepard.
-Of course there is. You were a handful before, but now you started to act like a wild animal instead of a soldier. First you bring the Cain to the shuttle bay, then you try pick a fight with one of the newcomers and when it didn’t work, you outright attacked him, and another member of the crew. Whats wrong with you? – Grunts hands formed into a fist and he pushed himself upright with such a suddenness that Shepard almost stepped back. But instead of attacking, the krogan started pacing back and forth.
-I don’t know Shepard. I feel tense, like before we are going to a big mission, but every waking hour. Every little thing feels infuriating. Its like an itch I cannot scratch no mater how hard I try it. I don’t like it Shepard. Rage is my choice, I should control it not the other way around. -The Krogans pacing intensified and he finished his speech by headbutting a reinforced glass, showing part of the Mass Effect core. It promptly cracked a little.
-Do you think its a sickness? - Asked Shepard slowly, and with a deliberate calmness. The krogan took a couple of big breaths, gaining a modicum of fickle control over his anger again.
-I don’t know, maybe? I was taught battle techniques not medicine. -Shepard rubbed his chin and turned towards a small speaker in the wall.
-EDI, what do you know about krogan diseases, aside from the genophage of course. -The AI-s answer came swiftly, with her usual tone.
-Sorry Commander but I found no match with these symptoms. A krogan doctor might be able to help him, but the few that exist almost never leave Tuchanka, and most of them focused their work on the field of reproductive biology in the hope that one day they might cure the bane of their race. The most optimal solution would be to visit the Krogan home world. – Shepard glanced toward her krogan teammate, who, while managed to stay in one place now, slowly kicked a dent into the metal catwalk under him. He was obviously a danger to himself and others. But he was also a great asset, and the member of the crew of the Normandy. Something must be done, and preferably something that didn’t involve a shotgun, or permanent confinement.
-All right big guy. – The commander gave a small sigh and nodded towards Grunt, giving him an encouraging smile. - We are going to sort you out. Let's go to Tuchanka.