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Mass Effect: Synthesis

Chapter Text

Summary: Shepard wasn't the first to reach the Catalyst, eons ago someone else did, and they chose synthesis and the Reapers have desired it ever since. One reaper, one organic in perfect union. For eons they have searched for an organic who is compatible, now at the dawn of the 40042th harvest, they have found them. With the Reapers now fully hybrid Synthetic-Organics beings how will the cycle change? How will the galaxy react? AU First Contact, Human/Reaper

AU, First contact Reaper/Human, Alternate History

Rated for swearing.

Thank you to FallenKunoichi and The Incredible Muffin for beta-ing.

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 1 Awakening


History

The creatures the Protheans dubbed Reapers have existed for approximately 2 billion years.

Every 50,000 years they reap the galaxy, harvesting on average ten species deemed advanced enough. There have been approximately 40,000 reapings, and each time the numbers of Reapers grow.

Each reaping they gain a multitude of new destroyers and frigates holding the consciousness of the lesser races. They get two to three smaller ships from each lesser race. Only the most advanced, the best and the brightest of the races becomes one of the 2 klick long behemoths. The name is taken from the best race, those with the most will. Most beings become smaller, though still powerful Reapers, so that their fleet grows and now numbers a million ships. At the present time there are 38,128 Dreadnought Class Reapers created in Harbinger's image. There should be 40,042 but across the time of reaping, some have fallen. Harbinger contains the knowledge of thousands of races, and the ability to create and utilize technology beyond the Mass Effect system. The Reapers continue use of this system merely because it allows Organics to evolve along the pathway they control.

The Reapers purpose is to harvest organic life, to save it, preserve it in their form to prevent the inevitable war with synthetics. That is what they state. It is their desire, yet every Reaper knows they long for Synthesis. It's implanted in them. It is a part of them, part of the way they were designed.

Harbinger, the oldest, largest and most powerful Reaper, remembers the beginning. He remembers the 5,586th reaping where one member of the L'yuthng reached the Citadel and their Choice was Synthesis. He does not remember their name, he does not remember their face, he remembers their choice, and the agony of an eternity alone. He remembers that they mocked him as they died, telling him that it was their soul, their being that could join with his in Synthesis and that in this time, this place, while they made that choice for the galaxy they rejected it utterly.

And so the choice was made, and the drive embedded in the Reapers, but the actuality would wait because the races of that cycle were already dead and there was nothing left to join with. Reapers are patient, they are methodical and they are eternal, but they do not interact with the galaxy, except to reap, so they created the Collectors.

From the 5,587th reaping, the Collectors have always existed in one form or another. They usually discover the advanced races far before the Authority of the day. It's their purpose. Sample all races. Though they have hidden it behind bizarre requests. Currently they are the remnants of the Protheans, but before that they were remnants of Fathyre, before that remnants of Wedan and so on. Each cycle they collect samples of the advanced races, each cycle they analyze the advanced races, attempting to find one with the traits the Reapers need. Because the Reapers know that they each have exactly one Organic who will join with them, who will make them the ultimate being, and no matter how long it takes, they will find them.


June 17th 2149 Sol System Jon Grissom and team are sent through the Charon Device. Communication was never considered to be realistic possibility but after ten days when no signal was heard and they did not return, worries grew.

July 12th 2149 Charon Device quarantined.


July 31st 2149 Collector Ship

The Collector looked at the creature on the slab. Its name had been Jon Grissom and it was dead, like the others but that hardly mattered. The important information was floating above its body. Genetic information, colored dots forming long sequences, which were compared to another. It was not perfect. There were differences. The dead creature, and its companions, were not one of the ones sought after, but the dead creature was of the race.

If the Collector could feel, he would have either been quivering for joy or sobbing in fear. This was what they wanted but finding what they wanted meant the end of all things. Change to everything the galaxy had known for the last 2 billion years.

But the Collector could not feel. It lived, it died, it performed its duties, all without feeling the kiss of emotion and so it was without fear that the Collector raised its face, reaching out with its mind, searching for its master.

Contact was tenuous. The Masters were just beginning to come out of hibernation but contact was established and once the import of the information became known, the Collector could feel the Master rouse faster, awareness that should take years to awaken coming online in mere seconds. There was no announcement with the loss of self. The Collector barely thought of itself as an individual and so when the Master's mind dominated it was instantaneous. There was no resistance.

The Masters were an intellect beyond the Collectors. They understood more, saw more and were perfect. The Collectors did not aspire to become Masters, they were honored merely to serve. The Master absorbed information directly from the Collector's mind and took in the colored holograms of genetic information with a mere glance. Then computing power beyond anything known to the galaxy analyzed it. Combinations in genetics were considered, new permutations were created and then discarded and the Master, in 10.3 seconds reached the same conclusion the Collector had taken weeks too.

This was the race.

More information was stripped from the Collector's mind and its body remained upright only because the Master willed it. Elsewhere, other Collectors shivered as the Master contacted them, dragging out every bit of information they possessed about the race.

They were new.

They were not known to the Citadel Council, though that was only a matter of time.

They were arrogant and aggressive but they could be humble and gentle. They held every contradiction that Organics did. The Master dismissed that. They were Organic, it was expected that they were imperfect. But they were the ones they had been searching for, they were the ones they yearned for. And they knew nothing of other races, though they knew some existed.

The Master withdrew and the Collector fell to the ground dead but it knew, before it died, that the Master was pleased.


July 31st 2149 Dark Space

In the dark space between galaxies Harbinger stirred, bringing his entire being online as he considered the information he now possessed. Between harvests, most business was handled by the Vanguard, but this was information the Collector rightly correlated should be brought to his attention.

It was a delicate situation. The race was young, just discovering the stars. They came from a system low in eezo so their development would be slow or they might even advance on a tangent. They were not yet discovered by the Council of this cycle but that was only a matter of time and Harbinger could see many outcomes for such an event.

Long term, if the reaping did not occur, they would rise to dominate. If they were truly the Organics who held those who could provide synthesis then Harbinger had no doubt that no matter what happened, it was only a matter of time before that race ruled the galaxy. It would most likely be bloody, it would be slow but it was an inevitability. But individuals would die. Perhaps those individuals which were needed.

It was a tempting option, just to wait, to let them control the galaxy and to then approach them, to greet strength with strength and join in the Union which would complete his kind but it was risky. The option was disregarded.

That left contact.

Harbinger almost shuddered at the thought but he was a creature of logic, he could consider things that others could not.

There were a million Reapers. Of the billions of this race he was only interested in the million who could fulfil the ultimate purpose of synthesis. The rest were a by-product. One that would remain necessary until every Reaper achieved synthesis. After that, they were worthless.

Contact could be made in two ways, peaceful or forceful. Organics were illogical, emotional creatures, yet they understood force and they always fought against the reaping, no matter how much it was done to preserve them. He had to assume that this race of Organics were the same. They would fight, futility against his kind and perhaps… it was more than likely that the precious few would be lost. Which left peaceful contact.

It went against two billion years of experience to consider it but in dark space Harbinger contemplated it. Organics could be useful. The Collectors had just shown themselves to be useful and the Keepers did an adequate job at maintaining the Citadel but they were controlled races. This race was not controlled. How would they react?

Harbinger brought up the genetic coding he knew as well as he knew himself. For the first time in almost 1.3 billion years, he looked at the strands that defined the being he could reach synthesis with. He had never been tempted, as some of his kind had been to merely create the being. In the years they had searched, others had, and they had discovered madness. They achieved synthesis. Reapers could flash clone anything they had the right template for, and each of them had the template for their Organic but a clone was not their Organic, a clone had never lived and the synthesis, while complete, was empty. It contained no power and so it was worthless. Those who had attempted it had been destroyed. They needed the Organic, they needed the being that was created by the galaxy. They needed, it seemed, the imperfections that introduced.

In the dark of space Harbinger continued to think, forming scenarios and working his way through them. An eternity into thought, 3.578 minutes later he came upon the solution. It was simple but it was possible and it could be altered if the Organics were… troublesome.

He was two billion years old. He had controlled the Collectors and the Keepers for more years than an organic would care to consider. He could control one race, no matter what they tried to throw at him, and if he and the rest of the Reapers came to them in peace, came to them and showed them the truth, no race would deny their desires, not once the benefits of complying were made known. And at a worst case, they could indoctrinate the leaders, and initiate the search for those with the right traits.

He sent the signal out, awakening his kind. Everyone would be needed and once synthesis was achieved, new considerations would be made.

Around Harbinger, Reapers awoke, their eyes opening to glow in the darkness and he let his thoughts be known. This one race, so far unknown to the rest of the galaxy had just become sacrosanct. They would go from nothing, to possessing the largest space going fleet in an instant, all so that the Reapers could find those they needed for synthesis.

Simultaneously orders were issued to the Collectors and the Keepers. The race had to remain unknown. All Council activity towards their territories was to be stopped. If necessary, their own probes were to be hindered for their own protection. The Collectors were instructed to shut down the Relay.

His was the only race this species of Organics needed to know, and he would uplift them to rule the galaxy just so long as they gave his kind the Synthesis they needed.

Synthesis. It was a desire so old he almost didn't feel it but he would know it, he would know that perfection.


August 1st 2149 The Charon Device deactivates. The Human Scientists who activated it can give no reason as to why it shut off, nor can they reactivate it. Humans are once again confined to the Sol System and immediate surroundings. FTL drives just aren't efficient enough to allow further exploration.

In the months and years that follow colonies on Luna, Mars, Io and Titan grow as people take up the opportunities there. Increased spending on military budget is approved. Despite study it is never confirmed why the Charon Device closed but the Military is operating under the assumption that someone told it to close. The device is put under guard but it does not reactivate. On the grounds that you can only defend from something you see coming, millions are poured into the development of long-range sensors.

Additionally investment in extra Military vessels is approved. The deactivation of the Charon Device was the reason for the approval and the hulls for more ships are laid immediately, though the bigger ships won't be ready for years.

Chapter Text

Thank you to The Incredible Muffin and FallenKunoichi for betaing

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 2 First Contact


February 15th 2152 Long-range scanners pick up multiple objects approaching Sol System beyond the Oort Cloud. The Sol Alliance Military moves ships to intercept but some remain guarding the Charon Device. Even if the entire Sol System Fleet had moved to intercept, preliminary estimates, for the best case indicate that they would be outnumbered 1,000 to one.

February 16th 2152 Long-range scanners show objects to be ships, and based on their long distance outline they are named Prawns. The objects pass through the Oort Cloud after which most stop but 1,000 continue on, eerily matching the numbers of the Sol System Fleet. Evacuations of the major cities on Earth begin and all colony worlds are ordered into lock down.

February 17th 2152 The unknown vessels stop at Saturn and wait. No signals are sent and they do not respond to hails. Scans show that they range in size from 160m to 2 km long behemoths. Closer inspection indicates that they look like a cross between a scorpion, a prawn and a cuttlefish. Arching tails, multiple legs near the front of the body and armored exterior.


February 19th 2152 Sol System, Saturn Orbit, Harbinger

The disposition of the ships said a lot about this race. They were arrogant and they did not know the extent of their weakness but they were prepared to try to fight, even in the face of overwhelming odds. And despite the threat presented to them, they did not forsake the possibility of other threats. He was pleased to sense that some ships remained at the Relay. Still, this gesture was futile and if this came to a battle... it would not be much of a fight. The humans could possibly take out two, maybe three of his forces, if they rammed them but that was it, and that would be if they were lucky.

But he had not come to fight. He had come to contact them. Synthesis would be best if they were willing. Combat would only serve to kill those they required.

Automatically Harbinger reached out towards the Organic minds but half way he paused. His usual method of contact could be forceful... it would most likely overwhelm them and he could not take the risk of damaging an organic who was meant for Synthesis. With absolutely no sign of frustration he altered tactics, initiating contact with the ships.

The humans had firewalls, they had some protection against cyber warfare but against a living machine, their defenses were pitiful and it was only an instant later that every screen on every human vessel showed the same message. Half way through its composition Harbinger paused again. He had no name for his species. They never needed one, never cared. They just were. The Protheans had named them Reapers. Most cycles the Organics named them, and every cycle they disregarded the name. They were eternal, they were above names. But from the information the Collectors had provided him, these humans placed a great importance on names and for the sake of their willing cooperation he wanted to appear as friendly as possible. He could control their leaders, but there were only a few Organics who blindly followed. He would be disappointed if these humans were that type. Hesitation lasted 0.002 seconds. Noticeable only to those watching but certainly not to the Organics.

The message was sent and he awaited a reply.

"To the Sol Alliance and all of Humanity, greetings. I am Harbinger and I have traveled across the galaxy to meet you."


February 19th 2152 Sol Alliance Command Carrier Emden

Hannah Shepard sat at her station on the bridge. She could hear every beat of her heart and her throat was dry and she knew, without looking around, that she wasn't the only one feeling like this. The entire fleet felt the same and though the Alliance had rallied all the ships it could, they were still outnumbered, and if the passive scans they had dared were anything to go by, they were completely outgunned. She swallowed. That didn't matter.

For the sake of everyone on Earth, for the sake of the colonies, if this came to a battle, they had to try to fight. Humanity would not go down without at least trying to take their aggressors with them.

These ships had appeared out of nowhere, but the long-range scanners showed that their destination was obvious. They were heading towards Earth. They were fast, faster than anything humans possessed and even if they somehow, miraculously managed to defeat the 1000 that had entered the solar system, everyone knew there were another 999,000 just waiting inside the Oort Cloud. Whatever was piloting those ships knew exactly how to make their point. Resistance was futile. But when had humans ever listened to warnings?

There was always the chance they were peaceful. Hannah resisted the urge to snort. Anyone with eyes could see the weaponry on those ships. Peace didn't seem like much of an option, though it was something to pray for.

"Wah?" Hannah let out a startled cry as her screens disappeared. She began typing and even as she focused on bringing back the screens she was meant to be monitoring she could hear that she wasn't the only one. Everyone on the bridge appeared to be having the same problem. They hacked us, she realized, even as the message appeared and she felt her heart contract in fear. Any race that could hack them that fast could do just about anything to the ship... They wouldn't even need to fire a shot if they didn't want, they could just set the Emden to self-destruct and from the speed of the hack, there would be nothing they could do but watch the count down.

It took a few moments for her to read her screen and comprehend the words and as she did her hands slowed their frantic typing and she just stared, drawing in great lungfuls of air. The words were in English and they said something impossible.

"To the Sol Alliance and all of Humanity, greetings. I am Harbinger and I have traveled across the galaxy to meet you."

Hannah gulped and then turned to look at the Admiral.

He was as shocked as the rest of them.

The central screen on the bridge altered. It showed Harbinger's message but below it there was a blinking cursor, an obvious invitation to reply. But what could they say? How the hell did you respond to a First Contact message like that? Whoever, whatever they were, with their greeting they had shown their superiority. They spoke their language, they could hack their ships and messages were coming over the line that every ship in the fleet had experienced the same. Not one of them had been untouched.

"Comms," Admiral Kohaku regained his composure, "send this in reply: 'To the Unknown Vessels in orbit around Saturn, welcome to the Sol System. I am Admiral Kohaku of the Sol Alliance, what are your intentions?'" As the Admiral dictated and the words were typed. Hannah knew that Harbinger, and probably the entire alien fleet were seeing them. She could only hope that their intentions were peaceful.


February 19th 2152 Sol System, Saturn Orbit, Harbinger

Harbinger watched the reply. For Organics they recovered from their obvious surprise quickly and they got straight to the point. So he would. There was no purpose in hiding their desires because there was no choice. This race would submit or they would risk destroying those required for Synthesis. It would be acceptable to kill some if others reached it.

"We have traveled from beyond the galactic rim with purpose. We wish for synthesis."

He watched the reactions of the humans. They were confused but thankful that there had been no attack. In that instant, Harbinger could tell that they had lost none of their resolve.

"Synthesis?" The single word was his only answer, though he could hear the human fleet communicating amongst themselves. Their chatter was pointless.

Harbinger flashed up the image he had seen years ago, the DNA scan the Collectors had provided him of this race. With it, he provided his own scan, highlighting the similarities, showing them that they fit the profile required.

"Synthesis," he replied. "Union with the beings who meet this profile."

"With us all?"

"Just the individual. One for each of us."

The humans remained silent for a long time and Harbinger just watched. They were struggling to comprehend and they were struggling to avoid making a mistake. His words were no doubt a revelation for them. Their presence was a revelation and at this point Harbinger wasn't sure if the humans understood.

"We do not understand."

"Harbinger! They are organic, they will never understand. We should just take those we need."

"We will not," Harbinger replied forcefully, shifting slightly so that the speaker knew that he would meet any action. The humans were confused, but they were not hostile and this was well within the scope of his plan.

"What is Harbinger?" The question came from the humans and it was telling. It was a question that spoke of intelligence. Limited intelligence because they were only Organic but intelligence.

"I am Harbinger," he responded, and altered their screen to show their own view of him.

"Harbinger is the ship?"

The humans could definitely state the obvious so he replied with more images. He took one of the Admiral and displayed the human's name above it, before dividing the screen and showing the image of himself with his name above him and as Harbinger watched their internal cameras he could see that some of the humans understood. Others were still confused but he dismissed them. They did not matter. Their next reply would decide their future.


February 19th 2152 Sol Alliance Command Carrier Emden

"My god," Hannah breathed as she looked at the image. "Sentient machines," she whispered and she looked over to Admiral Kohaku. He understood as well but was as shocked as the rest of them.

"What do they mean, synthesis?" someone muttered and Hannah realized that was a very good question. This was like some bad science fiction movie. The Admiral nodded at the question. "Let's take this slow," he said, his voice firm. "Issue orders to the fleet. No one is to fire. We are still talking, though I'm sure everyone knows that." That was true. Harbinger had yet to release his hack and no one had been able to free any system. He had allowed them to keep communications between their ships but the only way they could fire would be through the manual methods. It was slower, but it was proof against cyber-warfare. Some had argued against keeping such archaic means but the logic was proven now.

"Comms," Admiral Kohaku said, getting their attention again. "Reply: You are living machines?"

"Yes."

"What is Synthesis?" The Admiral knew what the word meant to him, but did it mean the same for a machine.

"Union between synthetic and organic," the reply came without so much as an instant of hesitation but it continued. "For each there is one organic, one whose genetic structure allows perfect synthesis between ourselves and them."

Hannah couldn't believe her eyes. This was not how First Contact went... Humanity had imagined almost every scenario... from peaceful to powerful aliens hell-bent on humanities destruction but never... no one... this was nothing that had been pictured. Living machines who wanted them? The religious sects on Earth were likely to go crazy. Was this the hand of God? Did God even extend to machines? Providence?

"How did you find us?" Admiral Kohaku asked the obvious question.

"We watch all species."

"Sir," Hannah said before she even knew she was speaking. "The only humans who could possibly be outside of Sol System space would be Jon Grissom and his team."

"That is correct." The reply from Harbinger flashed across the main view screen before the Admiral could reply and Hannah's hands flew to her mouth as she watched with wide eyes. "We closed the Relay for your own protection."

The Admiral's eyes narrowed. The answer, if true, was... It explained so much but it was worthless. The information had no bearing on now. "Harbinger, what if we refuse?" While it was obvious that Harbinger had already heard it, the Comm officer dutifully typed the reply.

"As a species or individuals?"

"Species."

There was no instant reply, but they watched as Harbinger turned suddenly in space and there was a brilliant volley of energy. One of the smaller alien ships exploded before Harbinger turned back to face the humans.

"I have just destroyed one of my kind to avoid war. Ignorance will be addressed."

Hannah watched. The level of destruction… She wasn't so naïve as to believe Harbinger's explanation. Above her, Admiral Kohaku took a deep breath before he spoke again.

"It is not my decision to make. Once again I welcome you to Sol System and as you come in peace I invite you to approach Earth to speak with our government. I would request that the rest of your forces hold position."

"That is acceptable."

The words had barely appeared before Hannah's screen returned to normal. Across the fleet everything returned to normal and it was almost as if nothing had happened. But on the main screen, the conversation was still displayed and around the bridge, various smaller screens showed Harbinger, silent against the backdrop of Saturn.

Hannah gulped in a breath. And another. Shivers traveled over her body and for one instant she closed her eyes and gave thanks. They had survived today.


February 19th 2152 Sol System, Saturn Orbit, Harbinger

That had gone almost exactly as he had predicted it would. The Organic was pragmatic but that was suitable. Negotiation with the ruling body was both a predictable outcome from today and had predictable outcome. They might make demands, but in the end they would agree with his desires.

"That is acceptable," he replied, releasing control on the ships and instantly he was bombarded by the others. He was not interested in their complaints. Synthesis was too important for pride to get in the way.

"Remain here," he ordered, cutting through all arguments. "Negotiations will be short," Harbinger added as he moved forward to take position beside the human ship Emden. With what he was willing to offer the humans, they would give him whatever he wanted.


March 3rd 2152 Agreement between the Sol Alliance and the still unnamed race of sentient ships was reached. Despite attempts to explain it was still unclear what Synthesis was, but Harbinger had made assurances that it would be an individual choice. Once that was made clear, Earth's governing body fell over themselves to reach agreement. On the surface it was a supremely good agreement for a young space-faring race. On a deeper level the pragmatic looked for the trap and worried when they could not find it.

The exchange was simple. Every human's DNA would be mapped and compared to the coding provided by Harbinger's forces. Where a match was found, the individuals would meet and decide upon Synthesis. Each new human would be DNA mapped and tested at age 18. It was felt that was old enough to make such a decision.

In exchange for this Harbinger and his forces pledged to defend Earth. If any alien race approached with hostile intent, they would be destroyed by the prawn-like ships. It seemed a moot point with the Relay closed, but as one Politician pointed out, since Harbinger and his people had come the 'old-fashioned way', others could certainly duplicate that. This pledge of defense was coupled with samples of advanced technology and after the scientists had a preliminary look at it and estimated that humanity would advance by at least 100 years if allowed to properly study and understand it, the Earth Government was only too happy to reach an accommodation.

Approximately one hundred senior Prawns refuse to provide the DNA data required. They merely state that they will wait for their leader, Harbinger, to undergo synthesis before they will agree to it. This causes some distress for the Sol Alliance as it indicates that not all of the Prawns want what their leader has negotiated. The senior Prawns deny this, merely saying that that Harbinger is the first of them and that they would always follow where he lead and as such, they could not go ahead. As there is no changing their minds, their refusal is overlooked though speculation does reign as to Harbinger's thoughts on the matter. He does not make his opinion known.

March 4th 2152 Technology provided by Harbinger's forces is shown to map human DNA in a day. Previously a single individual's DNA might have taken weeks or months to map.

Harbinger allows the Sol Alliance to scan him several times. The results are odd. While the general belief is that the Prawns are machines the scans show that this isn't the case. The Prawns scan as partially organic. Their hulls are a carbon composite with clear organic links, though other parts are purely machine. In the end, it is decided not to enlighten the public about the quasi-organic nature of the Prawns, rather when an individual is found for Synthesis, they will be privately informed.

It gives a sense of peace to many in command to know that the Prawns are not wholly machine but it does raise questions as to where their organic composition came from.

March 10th 2152 The majority of Harbinger's forces take up positions around Earth. Harbinger takes up a stationary position over the North Pole. One hundred thousand of his forces, including 5000 Capital Class Ships take up position at the Relay, reinforcing the Sol Alliance defense fleet.

March 12th 2152 Resistance forces to the Prawns begin to take shape but militant action is met with strong military presence and almost all riots are quelled without loss of life. Warnings were provided to Human Police and Military by Harbinger's forces of the gathering militants. This trend continues over time though the sentient ships never give any indication of how they know violence is brewing.

March 15th 2152 The first samples from existing humanity are taken for DNA mapping and testing. It's a highly publicized event with the President, Admiral Kohaku and the head of the Sol Alliance Military Forces being the first samples taken.

March 20th 2152 Humans formally ask for a group designation by which they may refer to Harbinger's kind. 'Prawns' was considered insulting. Harbinger informs the Human Government that if necessary his kind should simply be referred by what they are SIL – Synthetic Intelligent Life – or by their individual names.

June 17th 2152 Hannah Shepard's DNA is mapped. To date it is one of the closest matches to the required strands but falls short on specifics. Testing of her immediate family is authorized on an accelerated program but no match is confirmed. Humanity continues to hold its breath, awaiting the first confirmed match.

July 31st 2152 Harbinger is formally given the rank of Fleet Admiral within the Sol Alliance. Various other SILs are given Navy Ranks as they form the main Defense Fleet of the Sol System. SILs are formalized into four classes. Frigate, Cruiser, Carrier and Dreadnought, though Harbinger says their names are different and the equivalent names are adopted. Destroyer, Imperial, Regal and Sovereign classes of SIL are acknowledged. One human Admiral asks Harbinger what Class he is and the reply is 'Beyond Sovereign'. Only Regal and Sovereign classes are considered Capital Ships.

August 3rd 2152 Military forces ask why no SIL will agree to act as a troop carrier. In forming the question it is noticed that no SIL has ever had human presence within them. Harbinger answers that it is for Humanities protection. In his time observing Humans he has become familiar with language and the idiosyncrasies of it and his reply is considered droll. 'Our internal EMP fields, that which makes us, us, would scramble your brains.' Disappointment floods the Scientific Community which had been hoping for a look at the internals but the explanation, with further clarification is accepted.

Systems Alliance cyber warfare firewalls are tested by the SIL. During first contact the firewalls had lasted 0.0017 seconds against Harbinger. The new firewalls last 2.394 seconds, a vast improvement but not nearly long enough. The SIL offer no comment on how to improve the firewalls but the Sol Alliance analysts take the destroyed coding and begin afresh. A reward is offered for the first person who can design a code that can last a full minute and each year tests are made, though it takes seven years for the minute mark to be reached.

August 23rd 2152 The first match is found. It is not to a capital class ship but one of the destroyers. The human, Yang Liwei, agrees to Synthesis even before the Destroyer Class SIL Y'dran has been recalled from the Relay.

August 24th 2152 Yang Liwei enters Y'dran and Synthesis begins. To the disappointment of watching Humanity, it is not an instantaneous process and Y'dran flies towards the Sun. Harbinger provides sensor readings to prove that nothing is amiss and both SIL and Humanity wait.

August 24th 2152 to February 17th 2153 Over two thousand humans on Earth and the Colonies are confirmed to be genetic matches. Some agree to Synthesis while others decide to wait until Y'dran and Yang Liwei can demonstrate what is required and what the effects are.

February 17th 2153 The Sol Alliance approaches Harbinger with a request to re-open the Charon Device, which they now know is called a Mass Effect Relay. Arguments had been prepared but to the surprise of those petitioning Harbinger he agrees with a few minor alterations to the existing agreement between SIL and Humanity. The revised conditions were as follows: No alien is ever invited into Sol Space without the express permission of the both the Sol Alliance and the SIL. All human colonists from the extra solar planets are to be DNA mapped before leaving the Sol system and all children born on settlement worlds are to be DNA mapped immediately after birth. If a child is found to be a match the family will immediately re-immigrate to Earth.

Unspoken behind Harbinger's agreement is the knowledge that Humanity will need a much larger population base to produce ground troops. Harbinger seeks Synthesis and while he acknowledges it was meant to end the Cycle, he cannot see how that will happen. The cycle will continue, one way or another and the harvest of space faring species has always been easier with adequate ground troops.

February 19th 2153 On the First Anniversary of First Contact, the Charon Mass Effect Relay is reopened. A Sol Alliance Military vessel is the first through to explore the new system. On Earth and all Colonies, celebrations are held to commemorate First Contact with the SIL.

February 28th 2153 The first Colony ships depart through the Charon Relay. Harbinger consults with others from the Sol Alliance and it is agreed that the SILs may call upon an ally to aid in the screening of Human DNA.

March 5th 2153 The first Colony ships land on Shanxi and the first planet not in the Sol System is colonized.

March 10th 2153 A Collector Ship arrives in Sol System and is met by the defense fleet.

March 11th 2153 The Human Government meets the Collectors, who have been instructed to treat Humanity with respect. The result is grovelling, but the meeting goes well. Several human scientists begin to work with the Collectors and the time to map human DNA is reduced from 1 day to 12 hours. Screenings begin to go faster and over the next few months another 20 thousand matches are confirmed.

Initially only 1000 tests could be done a day, which would have taken approximately 33 thousand years to test the approximately 12 billion humans. The addition of the Collectors increases capacity to an initial 20 thousand test per day which reduces the total testing time to approximately 1.6 thousand years, though the ability to actually gather genetic samples holds up the process. All Sol Alliance Military and Official Government positions are tested first. Needlessly Harbinger is informed of the testing rates. He merely states that he is a patient being.

March 15th 2153 Y'dran returns from orbit around the Sun. Humanity is shocked, while Harbinger is pleased. Y'dran, formally a 160m long Destroyer Class ship is now a 1.5km long Sovereign Class SIL. Humanity is pleased when a message is received from Yang Liwei and he steps out of the new Y'dran. It is revealed that they now share one mind, though two bodies. They agreed to name themselves Dan Sewei. While the SIL form is still vaguely prawn like, it is now blockier and a variety of different weapons are recorded during scans, as are engines. Information about the exact changes is shared amongst the SIL and the highest level of the Sol Alliance. Speculation about the change that will occur to a Capital Class SIL during Synthesis abounds though the SIL refuse to comment.

March 16th 2153 Dan Sewei uploads a blog from Yang Liwei which describes the process of Synthesis. Those humans, who had decided to wait, read it and accept the concept. Just under 30 thousand Humans and SIL are undergoing the process of Synthesis.

April 3rd 2153 In private blogs on the extranet comment is made that while some Humans had refused Synthesis on various grounds, not one of them has been authorized to depart Earth for Colony Worlds. They are effectively being kept prisoner on Earth.

April 21st 2153 The term 'SIL Partner' is formally coined. It designates a human whose DNA is found to be a match to the SIL. Humanity announces that further genetic testing facilities have been constructed raising the numbers that can be tested to 1 million per day. This reduces the total testing time to 33 years barring no further improvement in technology. More streamlined plans for blanket testing are created, including the instigation of genetic sampling during polling at elections and prior to all medical procedures.

May 27th 2153 It is openly revealed to the public that the body of Yang Liwei is now highly cybernetic. He does not appear disturbed and informs others that Y'dran now has organic characteristics to counter. He explains that this is what synthesis is. Y'dran is no longer fully Synthetic and Yang Liwei is no longer fully Organic. They have merged to remove the weakness in both.

June 3rd 2153 In the wake of the public revelation that Yang Liwei has become extensively cybernetic, two further terms are coined to describe the Synthesized. SILO and CEuman; SILO Synthetic Intelligent Life Organic and Cybernetic Enhanced Human. The combined entity is generally referred to as SOCL, Synthetic Organic Cybernetic Life. Each SOCL proudly displays on their side their name, though some offer two names – one for the CEuman and one for the SILO. A few adopt the crest of the Sol Alliance.

October 13th 2153 Hannah Shepard is confirmed to be pregnant.

November 9th 2153 The general public is made aware that exploration efforts have found another five worlds suitable for colonization.

December 29th 2153 The design of Arcturus Station is announced. While the main human Government will remain on Earth, as Colonization and the human sphere of influence expand the station will act as a hub between all Human worlds.

April 11th 2154 Hannah Shepard gives birth. As per regulation no DNA test is done upon her child, Jane Shepard, though many wish to.

September 30th 2154 The first commercially available Cybernetic implants based on designs adapted from SOCL's become available. Enhanced eyesight and hearing prove popular as smaller enhancements. Those who can afford it enjoy stronger bones and muscles. Nothing has yet been developed to enhance the computing power of a human mind.

August 20th 2155 A second world, Eden Prime, is settled.

January 1st 2156 The Sol Alliance formally changes its name to the Systems Alliance, stating that as Humanity is no longer confined to the Sol System, their name has been updated to reflect this. The Systems Alliance is the face of Humanity that any aliens will see, though the last thing any alien entering the Sol System unauthorized will see is the fireball that was their ship.

March 19th 2156 Terra Nova is colonized.

September 29th 2157 The first true Human Mass Effect Ship comes online. It was designed and built utilizing advances made from incorporating the technology Harbinger and the SILs provided and the new ship is considered to be Dreadnought/Sovereign Class, named the Everest. The hulls of four more have already been laid.

August 3rd 2159 The annual test of Systems Alliance cyber warfare firewalls is conducted by the SIL. For the first time ever they last a full minute against SIL assault. Much more work needs to be done if they are to become impenetrable but it's a start and a vast improvement over initial encounters.

November 21st 2160 The Thanksgiving Incident: a probe of unknown origin in detected entering the Sol System. It is destroyed before it even finishes deceleration by the SIL fleet with one precise shot. Instead of increasing tensions between Humans and the SIL, the incident serves to cement humanities acceptance of the SIL. It proves that they will uphold their agreement. No alien will ever be allowed into the Sol System without Humanity's express permission.

August 3rd 2161 In the annual cyber-warfare firewall test, the aim of two minutes is reached. However, that test was conducted by a SIL. When the firewall is reconstructed and the first SOCL, Dan Sewei, repeats it, the firewall falls in three seconds. It's back to the drawing board for Humanity's cyber-warfare resistance. Dan Sewei states that he could break the code so quickly because he understood human minds as well as the cold logic of synthetic code.

February 18th 2164 Arcturus Station comes online. It fulfils its intended role of being a vibrant economic hub between words but surprisingly it also becomes a hub for scientific research. Humanity is still working to create actual AI's though VI's have been commonplace for many years. The SIL have said nothing on this though most humans believe they would be amused and for teams working on AI creation it has been agreed that should any exist and the question about life is posed by the new entity, the answer should be the truth: we are organic life, we believe you to be synthetic life which we have created. Welcome to the galaxy.

August 3rd 2165 In the cyber-warfare firewall test, the firewalls are now lasting half an hour against the SIL and two minutes against the SOCL. More development is needed but it is heartening. Some SIL inform humanity that against any race in the galaxy the fire walls would be impenetrable.

December 25th 2168 Human Supremacist Group 'God is Might' capture a CEuman and demand that both the SILs and SOCLs leave human territory. They hold a small, heavily fortified position at the South Pole. Their demands are not met and System Alliance marines take heavy losses storming their facility. 'God is Might' were prepared for that and detonate a small tactical nuke that, if their last broadcast is to be believed, had been strapped to the CEuman. Instantly, the base is destroyed, every Systems Alliance Marine is killed and the SILO above goes insane. Other SOCLs are forced to contain them and through sheer weight of numbers the SILO is dragged back to the North Pole. The Systems Alliance can only watch as Harbinger questions the SILO and then to the shock of all watching, destroys them. Three minutes later, a transcript is broadcast on every frequency to the entire world, along with Harbinger's demand that every member of God is Might is surrendered to him.

The incident serves to galvanize humanity into several factions, those who want the SIL to leave immediately, those who are accepting and those who are still cautious, still waiting for the trap to close. For the latter, it has shown them what it takes to kill a SOCL but they are still in the dark as to what it would take to kill a SIL. Discretely, sensors capable of tracking CEumans are developed though they have some trouble differentiating between CEumans and the highly cybernetic Special Forces marines.

After their trial, the leaders of God is Might, a combined group of Priests, Rabbis, Shamans, Imams and other religious figures representing as one reporter said 'the worst of every religion on earth' they are quietly surrendered to Harbinger. None are ever seen again.

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 3 Welcome to the Jungle


Earth Calendar 2157 to 2172

Humans settle on another ten planets, bringing the total number of extra solar Colonies to thirteen with numerous small mining colonies situated further out to provide resources. A Systems Alliance defense fleet orbits the main part of each planetary settlement.

When asked, Harbinger admits he has full star charts for the rest of the galaxy. He has provided humanity with charts relating only so far as the next star to enhance options. There is anger that he has held back information but Harbinger simply asks what humans would do with the charts, as they can't get to most of the places. He points out that Humanity is expanding as fast as they can and that he has been supportive. Systems Alliance Military acknowledge the truth pragmatically and ask Harbinger for advice before they explore further territory. He suggests holding on to existing territory and concentrating on growing populations. He warns Humanity about attempting too much too quickly and again the question is asked as to how old he is and again Harbinger ignores the question.

Dan Sewei, and many of the other new SOCL give advice to the SIL. Harbinger had chosen to appear reasonable in first contact, he had chosen to present a subtle side, one that the galaxy only really saw when they were destroying the last vestiges of resistance during a cycle, when the last resisters were buried deep and needed to be persuaded into ascension. The relatively young former SIL, and some not so young, tell the others that they should continue on this path. They can force humans into synthesis but it is far better if the humans chose it. They could dominate, they could control the humans as if they were Collectors but that would put their organics at risk. Be subtle, be gentle and they will come to you, is the message he gives and Harbinger approves.

Harbinger reminds his forces that they have waited over 1 billion years to find even one being capable of synthesis with them and they wait 50,000 years between harvesting the galaxy, the charade they are playing with the humans can continue for decades if that is what is required. Privately the SOCL are amused. The charade represents change in the cycle, because Synthesis is now a possibility. The SIL believe that the cycle will always continue.

150,000 Human SIL partners have been found and most have opted to undergo Synthesis. No Capital Class SIL have found their partner and most of the Synthesized SILs have remained around Earth. Harbinger maintains his position above the North Pole, though he has slowly become more active in Human Politics. No further SIL have been destroyed and for the most part, everyone believes they are playing a waiting game until the first Capital Class SIL Partner is identified. The SOCLs, while considered still human, respond to Harbinger's authority.

While it seems superfluous, the Earth Government continues to quietly authorize funding for research into alternate forms of FTL. Justification is based on the fact that the SIL's originally arrived in Sol System without utilizing the Mass Effect Relays. It is also known, but only to the highest ranks of the Systems Alliance that the SOCL's have alternate FTL engines though no details have been given. Systems Alliance Command based on rather frustrating hints from Harbinger authorizes further FTL and alternate weapons development under the assumption that other races of the galaxy have developed utilizing the Mass Effect System. An alternate weaponry and travel system would give Humanity an edge because while their home world may be well protected, the Colonies are not. Unspoken is the knowledge that if the SIL were to ever turn on humanity, alternate weaponry might be the only thing standing between them and extinction.

In 2163 (Earth Standard Calendar), the Quarian Migrant Fleet Command order an inquiry into their continued long term viability. They are appalled at the results. In fifty years, less most likely, the Quarian fleet will be at best, half its current size. More realistic estimates suggest that 72 percent of their ships would have simply failed by then. They have two choices, to somehow make peace with the Council and to settle somewhere, or to disappear entirely in the hope of finding a new home. Neither choice is welcomed though tentative overtures are made towards the Council and are met with silence. In order to maintain peace on the Live Ships, they continue on as if nothing is wrong but the sense of worry grows.


April 11th 2172 System Alliance New Recruit Barracks, Luna

"Oh honey! I'm so proud of you."

Jane Shepard smiled at the holographic image of her mother. It had been a long day and now was the first time they could talk. "I only enlisted Mom," she objected. "There's a lot more to come."

"I know," Hannah replied. "But a mother is allowed to be proud."

"Where are you?" Jane asked quickly, trying to divert the conversation away from her.

"Arcturus," came Hannah's easy reply. She was the new XO on the Kilimanjaro and that promotion had meant she couldn't be with her daughter during enlistment. A fact Jane was probably happy about.

"Is it big?"

"Probably bigger than you realize. Even Harbinger would look small beside it."

Jane laughed. Harbinger, the SIL who had initiated First Contact with humans remained larger than life to most and even though he never left Earth orbit, he seemed to know everything that happened. "I doubt that," she said with a shrug. "Tomorrow we begin basic training."

"Have you decided what field you want to go into?"

"I thought I'd try them all out."

"But...?" Hannah knew her daughter too well.

"If I can I'd like to make the N7s."

"Marine!?" Hannah was shocked.

"Yeah... I just don't know I can do Command like you," Jane replied with more than a touch of bashfulness. "Plus they get to go more places."

"You've been plenty of places!"

"Yeah, I've been to every colony in Sol System, Mom. Nowhere else. I want to see the galaxy!" It had long been a bone of contention between them. "Now I'm authorized to leave Sol System and I intend to."

For a moment Hannah looked down. "You aren't disappointed?" While no one had said anything, with her own DNA scan being tantalizingly close to a match with a SIL, everyone had been hoping that the next generation, Jane would provide that perfect match, but she had been told that her daughter, like her, came close but ultimately was not a match.

"Of course not Mom! Why would I be disappointed that I can live?" Jane asked, her eyes bright and she was forever thankful that no one could read her thoughts. I pray no one ever compares your test to mine.

The genetic test was done on all humans when they reached the age of 18. For those who signed up with the Systems Alliance, it was a part of recruitment, a practically painless pinprick on the fingertip to draw a drop of blood and the results were known almost instantly. Most humans of all ages had been tested and fewer SIL partners were being found in the general population, while more and more were being found as they came of age.

"I don't know... I guess... it's a great opportunity."

"That might be," Jane replied. "But if I was a SIL partner my entire life would have been planned out. I'd be expected to join in Union with something I didn't even know. No thank you. I'm human. I want to live."

"Jane," Hannah's tone was one of mild rebuke. "You know it's not like that. Every CEuman has nothing to say but how great it is."

Jane sighed audibly, her green eyes meeting her mothers. "That might be Mom, but it's not for me. I'm happy being human."

Hannah smiled. "I know. We're the same that way. So we will be human together."

Jane returned her mother's smile while her thoughts revealed the truth. The same in more ways than one.


August 31st 2172
Jane Shepard graduates basic training with the rest of her Class. Like all graduates she now possesses minimal cybernetic implants to improve sight and hearing. Muscle enhancement is reserved for special classes of Marines which are hand-picked by the Systems Alliance.

September 2176
Jeff Moreau is confirmed as a match for the Cruiser Class SIL named EDI. Initially he refuses synthesis on the grounds of his health though EDI rejects that, telling him that she can fix 'such minor considerations'. The two of them join in synthesis and everyone is surprised when their union takes a mere two months. The combined entity returns as very different from most of the SOCL. Where the others have maintained their SIL like appearance, EDI has become sleeker and longer and resembles an Earth designed ship. She is very visibly armed. She is confirmed to be one of the fastest ships in the navy and one of the hardest to track. She weighs in at an impressive 1.1km, large enough to be considered a dreadnought but keeping all the nimbleness of a much lighter ship.

August 3rd 2172
In the 20 years since the annual firewall test, Systems Alliance firewalls and hacking abilities have advanced significantly. So have the SILs. On the 20th anniversary the testing has become somewhat of a showcase event. There is the official testing – which isn't reported on, but with the increased numbers of SOCL amateurs are able to enter their code for destruction. The Systems Alliance puts up a prize for the code that lasts the longest and often utilizes that code themselves so there is prestige attached to winning. While the Systems Alliance military firewalls can last 2-3 hours of sustained cyber warfare against a SOCL, most amateurs who enter aim to break 10 minutes.

On the 20th anniversary a gamer enters the competition with a virtual reality interface. The human mind interacts with a virtual, digital world. Most had scoffed at the entry which teamed a VI with a human mind. Seven hours later, when the firewall finally breaks, no one is laughing. The idea is both simple and revolutionary. Virtual reality had existed for decades but no one had ever thought to use it this way. The VI provides raw computing power and a logic tree while the human mind provides guidance, ingenuity and imagination which makes the cyber walls all the more impenetrable, even by a SOCL that is more organic that a SIL.

The idea is immediately patented by the Systems Alliance Military who begin to implement it into their ships.

August 31st 2172 to April 22nd 2174
Jane Shepard's Unit is initially deployed to Shanxi where they serve with honor until being shifted to Terra Nova. While Jane Shepard is happy to see the sites and to live, the work is routine and in the Earth Government some are beginning to question the need for such a large standing army because in the twenty years since First Contact no further contact with aliens has been discovered. Harbinger declines to comment.


April 22nd 2174 Sigma 7 Mining Colony Defense Fleet, Bridge of the Cairo

"Unidentified ships, you are trespassing in Systems Alliance territory. Power down your engines and heave to," The Comm Officer attempted to sound calm as he issued the orders but the situation on the bridge of the Cairo was tense.

The unidentified ships had entered the Sigma System via the mass relay and had not responded to any hails. It was originally thought that they were pirates but their ships were nothing like anything that had been seen and the Captain had realized this was a First Contact situation. But for it to be a First Contact situation, both parties had to initiate contact and thus far, the ships had been silent. It would have been accepted if they had stopped. If they were aliens it was unlikely that they would be like the SIL and speak human language but the ships had continued towards the settlement.

Sigma 7 was a small mining colony. It warranted only three destroyer class ships as its defense with 200 cargo shuttles, though it was one relay jump from Terra Nova. The instant the unknown ships had refused to contact, all mining operations had ceased and the cargo shuttles were being piloted towards the mine to take on the miners. Those that were full were skirting through the asteroid belt, heading towards the Relay.

"Unidentified ships..." the Comm officer began again.

"Energy spike!" The sensor crew screamed. "They are armed and have weapons hot."

"Shields up, charge our own weapons," the Captain gave the order with deceptive calm and was pleased when his crew complied.

They were outnumbered though visual images of the unknown ships showed some of them to be a patchwork. They were older and obviously ill maintained. Even if they had been as imposing as a SIL, he knew his duty.

"They fired!" The sensor crew shouted.

"Return fire, this is our territory and we will defend it!" The main cannon spun up and the ship vibrated slightly as the slug was fired into the void. Two other slugs joined it, fired from the Cairo's sister ships of Venice and Cleveland.

"Venice is hit! My god..." The sensor crews reported and the Captain looked over at their station. It showed a visual of the Venice and while the destroyer was still intact, flames poured from its structure through multiple hull breaches. Whatever had hit it had done damage.

"Evasive maneuvers," the Captain heard himself order. "Keep firing and tell the cargo ships to make a run for it. Get the word back to Terra Nova."

"Aye, aye," the agreement was instant and sure and even as it was spoken the Cairo's pilot began maneuvering the destroyer on a long elliptical towards the unknown ships. The Cleveland followed suit and the two human ships continued firing as the Venice broke apart.

Their main cannon fired as fast as it could be loaded and the heat sinks would allow and the Captain was pleased when one round hit square on one of the smaller ships and it disappeared in a brilliant fireball. More worrying was that the larger ship, which was about twice the size as the Cairo did not seem affected by their rounds. Every hit was countered by a shimmering blue shield.

"Brace for impact!" the pilot screamed, hands frantically slamming into the controls as he attempted to move the Cairo out of the way but the Captain knew from the shout that it was already too late and even as his hand gripped the side of his chair a terrible noise was heard as the enemy round crashed into the ship.

The Cleveland continued on, firing as it went as the Cairo came to an almost dead halt in space. Alarms blared and there were sparks and smoke everywhere. "Damage report," the Captain ordered, coughing as the bridge filled with smoke.

"Not good Captain," a sensor tech replied looking down at a fizzing display. "We've only got inertial thrust and the shields and weapons are gone. Crew Quarters are gone and I can't raise engineering." The woman turned to look up at the captain, deliberately avoiding looking at the bodies that were now filling the Bridge. Only an instant ago they had been her shipmates.

There was an odd squawk from his side and one comm channel lit up intermittently. "...is fir... control... weapons gone ... one tactical... remain..."

The Captain frowned trying to string together the words into a coherent sentence. "Rerouting their signal now, Sir," the sensor tech said without even being asked and despite the death surrounding them the Captain felt a surge of pride.

"This is fire control," the message came through clearly this time. "The weapons are gone but we have one tactical warhead remaining."

"Prep the warhead for detonation. If these bastards try to board us, we blow it."

"Aye Aye Sir."

The Captain sat back looking at the Sensor tech who simply nodded at him. They were dead in the water.

In the dark space of Sigma 7 the Cleveland was hit and exploded in a transitory brilliance and the cargo ships with the miners began streaking towards the relay. They were slow and the enemy ships were fast but the humans were determined and even as some of them lost their engines and hung dead in space others turned back intent on ramming the unknown vessels so that at least one cargo ship might escape. The mining facilities on main asteroid were already counting down to self-destruct and as one ship vanished through the relay there were two fireballs in Sigma 7 space as the Cairo detonated its last warhead, obliterating the boarding party that had grappled on to its ruined hull and the mining facilities blew pelting the unknown vessels with debris to leave them alone in space with the few cargo ships they had managed to disable.

April 30th 2174 Terra Nova, Systems Alliance Marine Barracks

"Alright, listen up Ladies! You've all heard of the attack at Sigma 7. Systems Command does not know what attacked. It could be pirates, it could be aliens. It doesn't matter, the outcome was the same; all but one cargo ship destroyed. No one attacks the Systems Alliance and gets away with it so command has come up with a new plan. Black Box indicates that the aggressors had intentions to board, so we are going to let them.

"And then we are going to ream their asses so bad they are gonna wish they were never born.

"You mob get the honor of doing the reaming. You are shipping out to Epsilon 15 which is a similar mining facility to Sigma 7. Systems Command feels it's a likely target. Any aggressive force is to be allowed to land and then greeted at gunpoint. Prisoners are nice but are considered a bonus. Any questions?"

"Sir No Sir!"

"Fall in! And move out!"

It looked like a mad scramble but it was actually carefully orchestrated and within 30 minutes all marines and gear were stowed on transports and launching from Terra Nova, heading towards Epsilon 15.

"Isn't this great Shepard? It's practically five weeks R&R at full pay."

"Yeah great, Tanner."

"Oh come on! What are the chances of Epsilon actually being it?"

Jane snorted. Tanner had a point, though she couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.

"Tell you what Shepard, if Epsilon is hit, after we finish tearing ET a new one, you can have my knife." Tanner held up the long bowie blade. It was a fine weapon, though hardly standard issue. "If nothing happens, you give me your Flintlock. Deal?"

For a moment Jane closed her eyes. Her Mother had given her the ancient weapon as a graduation present and it was dear to her but the feeling was a certainty and she opened green eyes to smile at Tanner. "You got a deal, Tanner. Just remember though when you are giving me that knife, that when Systems Command thinks something's gonna happen, it's usually Harbinger told them something was up. And how often is the SIL wrong?"

Tanner's face darkened for a moment before he grinned back at her. "Nah… the machine's just lucky. Calculations and all that but in this situation it's just guessing."

She looked to the ship deck for a moment. "I hope you're right."

May 17th 2174 Epsilon 15 Mining Colony

"God dammit Tanner!" Jane mentally screamed, reaching out close his brown eyes. "You should have known better than to make a bet with me when you know I'm right!" she added the rest, hands automatically scavenging his extra ammo and heat clips.

The aliens wanted to board all right, and they had come through in force. Their weapons were odd but highly effective and they fired fast and in their initial charge, they had seemed intent on destroying everything. Jane's Unit had been near the front and they had all gone down. She was alive because she'd been knocked out by a grenade and now she was left with the bodies of the dead listening to the fighting that was continuing deeper in the facility. She'd peeked back into the hangar to see the enemy drop ships still in the hangar with a single guard apiece.

Her hand hesitated over Tanner's knife before she unbuckled it. "Sorry Tanner, but I might need it," she whispered to him as she thrust it through her belt and hefted her weapon as her training kicked in.

First secure the rear, then she could advance into the facility to help those still fighting. At least the blow hadn't knocked out her optics and Jane resisted the urge to grin when she spotted a Punisher. That would do nicely. She crawled back towards the hanger and set up position back in the corridor. She tried not to think about the fact she was using the dead as cover but in this situation she doubted they'd mind.

Five transports, and five guards. She had no silencer. She could hopefully take out two, then the other three would charge her. Jane pulled out her machine gun to sit it beside the Punisher. God they were ugly. They almost looked like Collectors with their four eyes but they were aggressive so it didn't matter what they were.

A tiny part of her was thankful they were alien. Jane was no innocent, she knew that humans were not great, they would prey upon the weak and undefended but a part of her was relieved that this violence was not caused by her own species. She hoped they were growing above that. She'd have killed Pirates but she felt more relaxed killing aliens.

She could probably get a third while they charged and just riddle the rest with bullets. A tight grin plastered itself to her face as she breathed in, imagining the shots in her mind.

Bang! Bang! Two shots, two kills but the Punisher was overheated.

Their response was instant and Jane's grin held in place when she realized they couldn't properly see her. The heat sink cooled slightly and she lined up on the third, already half reaching towards her machine gun.

Bang! The third dropped but the others had seen her and began to charge.

Jane felt nothing as she grabbed her machine gun, bringing it up and pulling the trigger. One short sharp burst dropped the closest alien and the other jumped for cover.

"Dammit," she muttered. It would probably call for back up. She jumped from her own cover, and sprinted towards the hull of one of the transports. The ping of weapons fire made her run faster and Jane slid into place as the unmistakable sound of rounds hitting reinforced hull echoed through the landing bay. "My turn, arsehole," she growled poking the tip of her gun around the corner and firing. The bullets weren't meant to hit anything. They were fired to force the alien to keep its head down. Just like she was.

Jane backed away from the corner of the transport slowly. It would be just her luck that they had something like a rocket launcher. Besides… maybe she could slip up behind it. A quick check at the far corner showed the path all clear and she slunk through the shadows.

The alien was shouting something but her translators couldn't work it out. It didn't matter. It would be dead soon enough. Brass wanted one alive, brass would just have to put up with bodies. She raced passed another transport and ducked. The alien fired a few rounds and she frowned as she listened. It hadn't moved? The grin returned and with a light step she ran passed the final transport, easing her way to the back of it.

A quick peek down low and she saw the alien still pressed against the side. Maybe she could capture one? She had enough rounds after all including a concussive grenade. Gently Jane pulled out the device, and tugged the pin loose before she rolled it down the side of the transport. It was silent on the floor of the docking bay and she hunkered down as it detonated.

There was an awkward squawk and the sound of body collapsing. Shepard held back a small exclamation of victory as she peeked again. The alien was slumped against the transport and looked to be out of it. Without hesitation Jane ran forward and kicked the alien's weapon away before reaching for the handcuffs they had all been issued with. Now to make sure it stayed put.

There was a tie down ring to the left a bit and Jane dragged the comatose alien to the ring and latched the cuffs through it, securing the alien's wrist. Then she began going through its gear throwing everything aside, far beyond its reach but as she finished she realized there was only one-way to be absolutely sure she got everything.

The thought did bring her a moment's laugh before she drew Tanner's knife, putting the point under the odd fabric the alien was covered in. It ripped, at least it did once the cut was begun and it took her only a few moments to strip the alien completely. It was even uglier naked than it had been dressed. Four eyes reminded her of a Collector but the rest of the body was bipedal in form. She threw everything aside and when she finished she looked around. There were other alien bodies and humans but nothing was close enough. It would do. And she had to help the others because she could still hear them fighting.

Snapping her helmet back down Jane stood. "Stay put," she said needlessly. The alien wasn't going anywhere and without so much as a backward glance she ran back into the Epsilon structure. Whatever these aliens were, they were about to find out that they'd just kicked the hornets' nest.

May 20th 2174 Arcturus Station, Systems Alliance Command

Jane looked around. It wasn't a court martial but this was definitely not routine. Admiral Hackett and Captain Anderson were on the opposite side of the room and there was some Major she didn't recognize standing before her.

"Lance Corporal Shepard."

"Sir!" Jane snapped to attention automatically.

"To confirm your statement, after killing four of the five sentries, you left the fifth handcuffed to the tie ring and then stripped it."

"Yes sir."

"Why?"

"Why what Sir?" Jane blinked. Had she imagined the smirk on Hackett's face?

"Why did you strip the alien?"

"Initially I divested the alien of all materials I thought could be used to escape but upon reflection I realized that it was an alien, I could not make assumptions about what it might be able to use to escape."

Hackett might not have smiled but Anderson definitely was. She couldn't look over but it appeared the man was on the verge of laughter. By all reports the alien had regained consciousness before the battle had ended and was found, struggling to rid itself of the bonds. Its companions had fought to the last body and they had probably all been under suicide orders. The one she captured had no doubt known exactly how the battle had ended when it was surrounded by humans though Jane didn't know how embarrassed it might have been about its nakedness. Besides, by that stage being naked was the least of its worries.

"After you secured the alien, you re-entered the Epsilon facility and aided in the continued fighting."

"Yes sir."

"Gunnery Sergeant Zaeed was impressed with your performance."

"Thank you Sir."

"I'll be clear Lance Corporal, your actions are above and beyond the call of duty and as a result you are being nominated for the N7 program."

"After basic training your aptitude for the N7-Advanced program will be assessed," Admiral Hackett added.

Jane remained standing at attention staring at the Major. "N7-Advanced, Sir?" she asked. She'd heard of the N7 program. She'd wanted to enter it since before she signed up but she'd never heard of an advanced program.

"It's a special program within the N7's," Admiral Hackett continued. "It's for those who display advanced leadership and problem solving abilities but who can adapt to extensive cybernetic enhancement. We believe Lance Corporal Shepard that you will be one of those people as you displayed logical thinking under fire as well as ingenuity."

"Thank you sir." Jane said as she thought about it. She already had some cybernetic enhancements, most marines did but she would have to know exactly what 'extensive' meant before she committed to anything and no doubt Hackett knew that.

"Do you accept?"

What could she say to that? Jane smiled. "When do I start?"

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 4: Torfan


Earth Calendar May 2174
The Batarians discover a new space faring race. They do not inform the Council but instead launch covert assaults, attempting to gain a new slave race. A shadow war ensues between the Batarian Homogeny and the Systems Alliance.

There is outcry against the lack of involvement from the SIL but they merely reminded Humanity that their agreement was to protect Earth, not the colonies. Systems Alliance Command never publically comments and they view the situation with a more military air. They have one absolutely safe haven to which they can retreat. Tactically the advantages of that cannot be underestimated and heavy industry concentrates in the Sol System.

From the captured Batarians, Humanity learns about the rest of the galaxy. The Asari, Salarians and Turians who form the Council. Then the Volus, Hanar, Quarians, Geth, Elcor, Drell, Krogan, Rachni, Vorcha, Yahg and every other species that lives there. They also gain basic star charts. The information is classified, known only to the highest levels of the Systems Alliance and Humanities Government and debate briefly rages as to if Humanity should contact the Council. The war against the Batarians is draining and is against the very rules the Council supposedly uphold. The argument progresses along the lines of a devil's advocate since for every advantage of contacting the Council, at least two strong counter arguments can be raised. The Council know nothing about the SIL but would revile them, the Council do not uphold their own laws against slavery, the Council would never view Humanity as anything more than children and the Council would insist that humanity rely on the Turians to protect them. That last brings a bad taste to the mouths of all present and any thoughts of contacting the Council are forgotten. Debate instead turns towards finding any possible way to turn the 'common Batarian' against their leaders and while the tactic is not uniformly agreed to, propaganda pamphlets similar to those dropped on enemy cities in World War II are prepared and sent into Batarian Space. Their effectiveness is not known.

Harbinger says nothing but from several SOCL word filters through that he was pleased with their decisions. The more astute who listen to the implications realize that Harbinger simply would not have allowed Humanity to contact the Council. The SIL has already once openly admitted to restricting Humanity but while they try, they cannot see Harbinger's master plan.

The humans also learn about biotics. The first time one was encountered on the field of combat, it was a disaster, and the Batarians took full advantage of that. After a few battles however, the humans adapted. They considered fielding specialized Units to deal with biotics but this was considered infeasible. Instead the solution was much more direct. Ground troops were all issued grenades as standard. The instant a biotic appeared, grenades were launched. Even the strongest biotic shields collapse under sustained explosive force. The Batarians withdraw their biotics from front line positions after it becomes clear that the human military will apply excessive force to destroy them. Biotics are still used, just more strategically.

August 1st 2174
After initial training, the now Master Sergeant Jane Shepard agrees to the cybernetic implants that are required by N7 Advanced operatives. It takes her a few days to adapt but after which she returns to training with a vengeance.

January 14th 2175
Jane Shepard is deployed as a Chief Petty Officer, N7 Battalion on Torfan. She initially objects to the alteration in rank but is forced to agree. All N7's are Navy and they adopt nonstandard rank to confuse anyone attempting to find them. Hannah Shepard merely laughs and reminds her daughter of a conversation they had three years ago.

September 28th 2176
After a probing attack by Batarians, which was held back by the tactics of N7 Operative Shepard, her report back to Command is both short and to the point. "The Batarians are aggressive idiots but even they recognize the tactical importance of Torfan. Send more men." Unfortunately, despite such an eloquent request and the acknowledgement that Torfan was of significant galactic importance, the Systems Alliance was learning that they were still a young race. They simply did not have the resources to mount such an extended campaign over a large front. The Batarians were coming in on multiple vectors and they were simply stretched too thin to counter everywhere.


March 15th 2177 Terra Nova, Wheat farm

"How are we going on weapons?" A man with a military bearing asked directly.

"Getting there. The Rail Guns are almost as powerful as mass drivers now." A woman wearing a lab coat replied.

The next speaker was dressed for temperatures far below the pleasant climate of the field. "Anything for capital ships?"

"Nothing suitable yet, though the inertial dampers are effective but nowhere near strong enough. It's going to take a few more years," the woman replied again.

"Has Harbinger said anything new?" This speaker was dressed immaculately and there was not so much a hair out of place in her elaborate coif.

"No. He's honoring the original agreement," a man who looked like the general embodiment of a clerk replied.

The group was completely out of place in the middle of the wheat field but that was a consideration so far beneath them it did not enter into conscious thought. They represented several powerful factions in humanity, the military, the scientific community, the government and a fairly large swath of industry. They didn't represent it all, but they represented those who wanted humanity to have a contingency, those who weren't swayed by the shiny trinkets Harbinger and the SIL had brought them.

"And what happens when all the SIL gain Synthesis?"

"We don't know," the sentiment was shared by everyone as they nodded their agreement with the speaker.

"Has anyone spoken to the SOCLs?" The military man asked.

"They haven't said anything. How many are there anyway?" The man dressed for extreme cold answered before asking his own question.

The clerk flicked a few bits of paper before replying. "There's about 250 thousand but still none of the Regal or Sovereign class ships have found a partner." He carried paper because none of them dared carry any electronic device to this meeting.

"We did check the DNA didn't we? It is human?"

"Oh, it's human. There are a few we aren't sure about but what Harbinger gave us was definitely human. It was very close to Hannah Shepard." The woman in the lab coat replied.

The suited woman frowned. "What about her daughter?"

"She was close as well but didn't match." The scientist shook her head. She'd seen the preliminary scans for them both. Remarkably similar, but that was to be expected given their relationship.

"Should Hannah be encouraged to have another child? Or Jane?"

At that the man with the military bearing snorted in amusement. "You can encourage all you want, but neither will take note until they are good and ready. Jane's an N7 operative now."

"Yes, but they can still have children." The suited woman snapped.

"They can," the military man agreed mildly. It would have been so much easier to create the N7's if they didn't have to worry about reproduction but in the end no one had wanted to sterilize what could potentially be some of the best bloodlines of humanity.

"The question is going to be where the SOCL's loyalty lies."

"It always has been," the cold dressed man replied.

The scientist sighed. "All we can do for now is continue to try to develop alternate tech and to try to find out what exactly Harbinger wants."

"Do the four eyes know?" The clerk asked.

The Systems Alliance had been in charge of questioning prisoners. "No. They don't even recognize the SIL."

"How sure of that are we?" There was a note of doubt in the suited woman's voice.

"Very," the reply was cold and those in the discussion knew that the Batarians who had been questioned had been in no fit state to lie.

There was silence for a few minutes.

"Why aren't we further along with developments? What happened to the tech Harbinger gave us at First Contact?"

"Heh... It's developed and integrated. It's just all eezo tech. From what we found, every race uses it so it wasn't that special. It's better than the four eyes' but we are outnumbered there and we want something different."

There were nods all round at the explanation.

"Meet in a year?"

"Unless anything comes up."

The gathered group nodded before turning to walk away from each other. None of them liked the others but they all recognized the fact that Humanity was walking a very thin line and contingency was only expensive until you needed it.


May 3rd 2177
A fleet of Batarian ships slip through the Colony worlds and enter Sol Space. Once again the defense fleet show their worth and the SIL and Human fleets destroy the Batarian ships before they even finish deceleration. While there is still resentment in some parts of Humanity that the SIL have not helped with the battles, the footage of them destroying Batarian ships is spread widely and the sentiment is somewhat diminished.

June 20th 2178
After years of probing attacks, the Batarians land a huge force on Torfan. The fighting is intense and the defenders are pushed back. With the death of most of the command staff Jane Shepard is effectively promoted in the field to Lieutenant as she commands the line holding back the Batarians. Reinforcements are incoming but no one is sure when.


June 29th 2178 Torfan

"Hold that line!" The sound of gunfire filled the air together with the screams of the wounded and dying. It was a familiar sound. It had become the sound of life. Shepard walked along the line, making sure that every defender knew she was there. She stopped constantly, firing back but it was a losing battle. There were simply too many Batarians. They knew they needed this base, and this time they were determined to take it. This wasn't like '76. This wasn't just an over achieving scouting mission.

During N7 training she had excelled in two spheres of combat; sniping and hand to hand. Her superior aim had already saved them more than once, and most of the marines were in awe of her abilities but perhaps tonight it would be time to educate the Batarians about how humans fought. She didn't want to leave them without a commander, but she couldn't see any other way out of this.

Torfan was odd. It had a thin atmosphere and a day night cycle about half of Earth's. They fought in shifts, though lately that had been breaking down and they were grabbing rest where they could.

Shepard growled, firing her side arm five times, hitting the eye of five Batarians who were attempting to slink close. Even if she left the remaining battalion without a commander, she had to do what she could. She was the best trained to take out Batarians and if she took out enough of them… Well, it was possible the remaining Marines could take out the rest.

"Wow, Commander!" The private beside her whistled.

"Just a matter of practice," she replied, giving him a brief smile. "And they do give us so much to practice on," she added, snapping another heat sink into place and taking out three more Batarians.

"That they do, Sir," the private agreed and Shepard moved on, briefly retreating back from the line to talk with the other remaining Command staff. They had to know what she was about to do and she needed the extra battery packs for her omni-blades.

Three hours later, while the rest of the defenders laid down a thick covering fire on the right side of the line, Jane Shepard crept towards the Batarian's defenses on the left. This was the hardest part, where any alert Batarian sniper might be able to take her out. Once she got to their lines… A tight grin flashed across her face and she tightened her grip on the bowie knife in her hand, held carefully so as not to catch the light… once she got to their lines, that was a different matter entirely. Tanner had died years ago but his knife had taken the lives of more Batarians than Shepard cared to remember. They would be his honor guard in the next life.

A slash from her omni-blade destroyed a small barrier and Jane grinned as she slipped inside and behind Batarian defenses. This was not going to be pretty and was way outside the usual rules of war, but the Batarians had rejected pretty and had never so much as shown an inkling that they may be interested in talk. In this war, there had become only one rule of war; kill. And she was about to show them just how good humans could be at it.

A lone sentry went down without so much as a whimper and Jane continued down the corridor. The reloading crew of a gunnery station fell before they even realized she was there and the gunnery officers just had time to turn before she gutted them both. Their innards splashed on to the ground and two quick slashes silenced their cries. They hadn't even reached the ground before she moved on. Another two sentries died, one to a blade rammed between his four eyes and another to an energy dart that pierced his heart. Batarian military and pirate forces were predominantly male but it made no difference. There had been some females but the Batarians had discovered that the humans killed either gender with equal facility.

Several more gun positions fell and the tight smile Jane had been wearing faltered. By now they should have noticed her. There were no alarms and that worried her. The covering fire that the marines was laying down shouldn't have been that effective...

"Shit!" Jane shouted, heedless of keeping her position secret as she raced through the Batarian lines. If they were making an assault then she had better stop them. Sentries fell as she ran, and gunning positions exploded with well thrown grenades that exploded after she had raced passed. There was some outcry and a few shots taken at her but none came close. She worked her way down the line, skidding around corners. It came as a surprise, therefore, both to herself and to the massed Batarian forces when she ran around one corner and almost collided with them.

There was a moment of silence when she just stared at the Batarian commander who was the only one facing her at the front of his troops. He had obviously been rallying them and then they both moved. Jane was faster on the draw and his troops watched their commander fall as a human knife seemed to just appear embedded in his skull. That got them all moving and there was a cacophony of confused shouts as they turned.

Jane suppressed her laughter as a couple of the Batarians shot their fellows, she didn't have time to laugh as she charged. She had her omni-blade activated on her right hand and Tanner's bowie knife in her left and both lashed out to slice into Batarians as she closed on them. It was not really a battle of skill but was instead a melee, one where she kept close quarters with them. Several did put distance between themselves and her to fire their weapons but her shields held and the dance continued. Footing became treacherous and a couple of times she almost slipped but what was challenging for her was a nightmare for the Batarians and for every single shot they tried to take as her, three fell beneath her flickering knives.

Though they didn't stop coming! Jane panted as she continued to fight. This might have been a logical move, it might make the difference between holding Torfan and losing it, but it definitely wasn't one of her better ideas. But she was committed now and could not stop. Three Batarians came at her with their own omni-blades but she could tell from the way they moved they were pirates. They were used to quick fights where they made the first decisive stab. She never gave them the chance and spun away to allow two of them to impale each other even as she sliced her blade upwards, opening the third from crotch to neck. He fell backwards, an object lesson to the others approaching.

That actually made them pause slightly and Jane paused with them, shifting her sticky fingers on her knife slightly and allowing her teeth to show in a small smile. The Batarians had been attacking humans long enough that they understood some body language and she radiated nothing but confidence. Jane realized she probably looked ghastly. Her shields had recharged to be at full power but her armor was splashed with their blood and she stank. But nothing of that showed in her demeanor. There were a few cuts on her, she hadn't completely escaped unscathed but they were nothing serious. To the watching Batarians she looked like the Angel of Death and she did her best to capitalize on that imagine. If it caused them to hesitate, even for a microsecond, she could use that.

They shifted nervously and Jane allowed her smile to grow. Not much of her face could be seen under her visor but enough of her expression was visible and she had to hold back a laugh at the almost visible recoil from the Batarians. For effect, she raised her left hand. Tanner's bowie knife was still there though it was covered in Batarian blood. It didn't matter. It just added to the image and she gestured, flicking her fingers to tell them to come to her. One of the Batarians actually shook his head but it was enough to bring the others to attention. They looked at each other and as one charged.

The battle was joined again.


June 30th 2178
Systems Alliance reinforcements sweep into Torfan to find the Batarians reduced to a few pockets of resistance that are quickly routed. Stories abound of the Angel of Torfan who single-handedly engaged in hand to hand combat with the Batarians eliminating their last push into the stronghold of the defenders, though of the forces originally stationed on Torfan 75 per cent fell in the Batarian Assault. The survivors all attribute their lives to the acting Commander N7 Marine Jane Shepard.

Jane Shepard was injured in her assault on the Batarian position but by the time reinforcements arrived, she had been treated successfully and had indulged in a few hours of sleep so was able to greet them. Her position as an N7 Advanced is not revealed but paperwork is immediately drawn up authorizing her promotion to Lieutenant (Junior Grade) and she, and the rest of the surviving Torfan forces are re-assigned to Mindoir. The position might be considered a slap in the face but Mindoir is one of the most important extra solar farming communities. Its protection is of paramount importance. The assignment is a vote of confidence in their abilities.

September 3rd 2178
A Systems Alliance listening post picks up several transitions from Batarian Command describing the Battle of Torfan. They indicate that one human marine was predominantly responsible for their defeat and they have named them the Butcher of Torfan for her ability in knife fights.

April 29th 2179
Advances in testing technology make DNA mapping almost instantaneous. Average testing time has been reduced to approximately 10 seconds. As a result, Harbinger orders the Collectors to leave Earth and to return to the Terminus Systems where they are to continue collecting genetic samples from the known races of the galaxy. Upon human request, the results are to be forwarded back to Sol for study, though Harbinger intercepts and stores the communications.


December 19th 2180, Sol System

"Harbinger, when are you going to order us to help the humans?"

"Help the humans?" Harbinger's voice was almost amused.

"With their war."

"Have they asked for help?"

"No."

"Then I will order no assistance."

"So all they have to do is ask?"

"No. Why should we help them?" The question was almost petulant.

"Harbinger, we know synthesis. We feel for this race."

"What of the Cycle?"

The questioning SOCLs were silent for a moment. "The Cycle has ended," one of their number said finally.

The other SOCLs cringed, expecting Harbinger to rage at the statement but to the surprise of all the ancient machine was silent. "What is your purpose?" Harbinger asked finally, his voice deceptively quiet.

The gathered SOCL paused. What was their purpose? They couldn't answer immediately but they knew that the cycle was no longer their driving force.

"Everything I have done, everything I have allowed the humans to do is for the cycle," Harbinger continued. "Human colonies are under attack but that forces them to grow stronger. Their numbers are growing and when Synthesis is complete, they will be the ground troops we use for this cycle. Their numbers will flood the Council races and the delay in the harvest I have allowed for Synthesis will be made up. Synthesis itself serves the Cycle."

"No, Harbinger." The words were soft and all recognized them as coming from Dan Sewei, the first of them to reach Synthesis. "I no longer serve the cycle." It was heresy to say that, to even think that. "Synthesis is the end to the Cycle."

"Nothing ends the Cycle." Harbinger objected.

"You will understand Harbinger when you know Synthesis."

"Synthesis will merely make me stronger."

"It will," Dan Sewei agreed to the surprise of all. "It will make you so strong that you will wonder how you ever thought your current form strong."

Harbinger remained silent.

"We do not agree," Dan Sewei continued, "with the decision not to help the humans in this war, but we acknowledge that you are our leader, Harbinger. We will not disobey but we will position ourselves in readiness for the day you give the order to help our Human Counterparts. For each colony world, a Task Fleet will take up positions in hiding, awaiting the day we may strike at our enemies."

"You believe Synthesis will alter the Cycle that much?"

"We know Synthesis will alter it. I was not alive when the choice was made but the choice was made as an end of the Cycle. I believe it will be the end."

"That is not my decision," Harbinger said.

While it was impossible for the SILO to smile, it somehow gave that impression. "It will be," Dan Sewei made before moving off through the silence of space. With him moved approximately 13,000 other SILOs and Harbinger made no move to stop them as they dispersed into human territory. Each Task Fleet as the SIL knew them was comprised of 1000 ships though these SILO were not the usual fleets, they moved well enough together.

Harbinger watched. There had occasionally been those who fought the cycle, but they had always fought him and the outcome was always the same. He could feel that these, those who had embraced Synthesis still obeyed him, still acknowledged him as their leader in more than just empty phrases but he could also feel their determination. It gave him much to think upon.


December 19th 2180
Thirteen SOCL Task Fleets leave Sol System and take up positions in other colonized systems. They inform Harbinger and the Systems Alliance that they will go into hiding on all colony planets. They are not yet authorized to attack but the instant the order is given, they will clear out any hostile force in the system they are in. The smaller synthesized ships hide themselves on the colonized planets, sinking into the deepest parts of the oceans. The larger ones hide further out, appearing to float dead in space.

December 20th 2180
Harbinger begins listening in on Systems Alliance Military Command chatter. Initially he is annoyed by the number of humans dying but he recognizes that they have not asked for help. They are keeping to the terms of their agreement though as he continues listening to the chatter, he can't help but notice some names keep being repeated. Some humans are faring much better than others in the battles. Admiral Hackett, Captain Anderson, N7 Agent Shepard. They appear to be superior and are protecting their species well. He resolves that when the Cycle continues, they will be the leaders of human troops, the faces the galaxy sees harvesting them. He watches captured Batarian security camera footage of Torfan and if Harbinger was organic he would have grinned. Psychological warfare was just part of the cycle and while watching N7 Agent Shepard effortlessly slice through her enemies meant nothing to him, it would be an image the rest of the galaxy would come to fear.

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Chapter 5: Questions


October 24th 2181 Mindoir

"God dammit!" Lieutenant Shepard growled as she ducked behind cover as a sweep of fire raked over her position. She was so sick of Batarian raids! They weren't really that frequent but they were often enough that you could never become complacent. It was probably a good thing for a soldier but fighting off the same creatures who relied on the same tactics again and again got more than a little boring.

She'd never voiced that but God had obviously been listening and had decided to complicate matters.

That's why she was now in the middle of a fire fight with a baby strapped securely against her armor. Jane lifted herself slightly and fired her side arm. About the only change the Batarians had made in the years she had fought them was to improve their armor. They covered their eyes now, which meant that like humans, they had almost full facial armor. It made hitting them a bit more challenging.

But she wasn't one of the best N7 sniper graduates for nothing. Even with a handgun she was accurate and as the Batarian bodies dropped she hunkered back down using her other hand to gently pat the baby. The little tyke was awake but silent, probably due to the sound absorbing bubble it was wrapped in. It was newborn and was still red and ugly.

Like all newborns on any extra solar colony, genetic testing had been conducted within minutes of birth. And this little tyke was a match. Usually that would have meant that Systems Alliance Command and the SIL would be informed, and the family would then be relocated back to Earth but no… not this time. This time the Batarians had decided to launch a raid. And instead of just waiting until they were driven off, the SIL had indicated that they would come to pick up the child. So here she was, in the middle of combat heading towards the pickup area with the tyke.

Sure, they'd lost colonies before to the Batarians but not this one, not on her watch.

There was a boom from overhead and from the shouts of the other troops she knew the SIL had arrived. Jane suppressed a snort at what the Batarians would make of it. While they hadn't changed much about their armor in years, their tactics had altered slightly but only to become more specialized. Often they'd only send in a fleet to engage a colony's defense, but other times they'd send in landing craft. Usually you'd be worried about superior air power but when the Batarians sent in raiding parties, they engaged in such close combat that air defenses were annulled. They'd learned a little bit at least.

"Shepard," the voice of the SIL sounded over her radio.

"Shepard here," Jane replied. "I'm about a click from the Evac Site," she told it her position.

"I will hold," the SIL replied after a moment and she nodded before firing a few more shots.

"Let's move!" Jane shouted at her command and was rewarded with cries from her troops. She smiled and with the thunder of gunfire they moved out.

The Batarians were more interested in charging inwards towards the colony's defenders, so they were not intent on those commandos who were making their way out and while they had probably seen the SIL, Jane was willing to wager that it had jammed all transmissions. The Batarian troopers probably had no orders regarding it. As a result, once they cleared the lines it was a simple run to where the SIL had landed.

She'd seen them before. Every human had but running up to one that was grounded was a new experience for her. System Alliance Destroyers could land on a planet but it took a pretty good pilot and a lot of manoeuvres to keep the structural integrity of the ship. The SIL just moved the way it wanted and she shuddered to consider the number of mass effect fields it had deployed. It didn't matter. It was here and once she loaded the child, her job was done.

An air lock was open and Jane ran towards it.

"Do not enter!" The SIL boomed at her and she skidded to a halt.

"But… the child…?" She couldn't help but ask.

"Place the child in the airlock. They will be safe."

Jane just glared towards the SIL, her expression disbelieving. "You have no crew, how will the child be safe?"

She swore the SIL growled at her. "Bring them in then, but I am not responsible for the consequences."

Jane nodded and stepped up into the airlock. What did a sentient machine need an airlock for anyway? She frowned at the question even as she took a step inwards. It was silent in the SIL and Jane's military senses could feel something watching her. The back of her neck itched but she walked deeper into the SIL, following a path of lights set into the floor.

The light from the airlock vanished as soon as she turned a corner but there was enough light to see by as she continued on. Slowly Jane undid the straps that had held the baby against her. At least it hadn't made a mess but as she moved further into the SIL the silence was broken. It was like a whisper but it was almost under her hearing except it grew louder as she walked.

"Shut up!" Jane growled, hoping that the SIL would take the hint and redirect its sensors away from her.

The outburst did the opposite and the sense of being watched redoubled. The whisper under her hearing grew into a roar and Jane staggered as white noise filled her mind. She remembered what Harbinger had said about the SIL's electromagnetic field but she'd be damned if some ship was going to get the better of her especially not with whispers.

"You have no choice, human."

The words were clear and echoed through her mind. Jane jumped, green eyes looking around. "SIL?" The question was stupid. Who else would be talking to her?

"I am Oilysen."

Okay so each of the SIL had a name. She knew that. Harbinger never called himself SIL so it was probably impolite of her to call Oilysen by that name.

"I do not care about manners."

Jane froze. It had heard her thoughts.

"Your thoughts are open to me Organic. There is nothing I cannot see."

"Then show me where you want this baby," Jane snapped, looking down briefly at the child. It was still awake and the bubble around it appeared to be intact but there was something… It looked… Hell, the child looked like it was listening to Oilysen.

"All organics can hear my call."

"Great, but come on…" She gestured towards the floor. The lights had dwindled and she couldn't tell which direction she was meant to be going in.

"Organics fight against their inevitable ascension and we are the instruments of that ascension."

Jane frowned. Oilysen's voice was beginning to grate upon her and the SIL was being less than helpful, yet beneath her anger she could feel herself listening to the smooth tones of the SIL. Somehow, it was comforting and perhaps that was what the child was hearing. He couldn't understand the words but he could feel the soothing cadence. Maybe that's why all the CEumans said Synthesis was great. Savagely Jane shook her head. It wasn't an issue for her. She had to deliver this baby then get back into the fight and she focused on that thought.

"Yes," Oilysen agreed with her thought and Jane didn't even care that somehow the SIL could read her mind; she just wanted to be off this ship. "Harbinger says you are important Shepard, so you should not be afraid. Yours will be the hand that ascends the galaxy."

"Not if I don't get off you," Jane retorted.

It took a moment but she could almost feel Oilysen thinking and just as she was about to growl at the SIL the lights reappeared and she began moving again. They lead her to an odd room but in the center of it, there was a crib. It was ludicrous for a crib to be present on a sentient machine but she didn't care about that and instead placed the baby boy into it. The instant she drew her hands back Jane was surprised to see cables spread over the child. They didn't cling but they merely held the child in place and they seemed to glow.

"Leave now Shepard. Synthesis is not for you."

"I'm going, I'm going!" Jane said backing away at the sudden menace in the Oilysen's mental tone. "Just get back to Earth safely," she added running back down the corridors.

The SIL was already taking off when she reached the airlock and if Jane hadn't been an N7 Marine the jump would have broken bones. As it was, she felt the impact with the ground in her teeth but was able to turn at the sonic boom of Oilysen ascending through the atmosphere. It was only once the SIL disappeared that her head began to ache and Jane wavered as her vision went fuzzy.

"Darn SIL," she muttered as the ground rose to meet her and the world went black.


October 24th 2181
En route to Earth Oilysen reports back to Harbinger that he was forced to let a human on board. While Harbinger is initially angry, details about Jane Shepard's mind affirm his decision. Most Organics would simply have succumbed to Oilysen's mental presence, Jane Shepard managed to remain lucid and concentrate on her task. Her level of resistance was formidable. Her feelings towards them had never been clear but the fact that her last comment was 'Get back to Earth safely' is taken as a good sign. Resistors tended to be stubborn though they could be broken, the fact that she had at least some supportive thoughts towards them would make molding her for the task easier.

November 3rd 2181 Shanxi
Lieutenant Jane Shepard awakens in the System Alliance hospital. Mindoir had fallen, though it had been quickly retaken and she had been found unconscious outside the settlement. Court Martial dates were set for her abandonment of duty until Harbinger confirmed her alibi, then the interrogations changed to interviews, as she was the first person, apart from a CEuman to be allowed inside a SIL. Shepard is noted to state, somewhat acerbically that the only difference between an interrogation and an interview is that people knew she was doing her job. While she describes the inside of the SIL accurately and relates how she could hear him in her mind, she doesn't feel that she can adequately relate the sheer force of presence the SIL had, though one of the scientists who questioned her told Jane not to worry about that. 'You were out cold for 11 days, that's presence enough for anyone.'

In the wake of the incident, Systems Command insists that Jane attend psychological evaluations to ensure her mental health. When asked what she thinks of the SIL her reply is guarded. She relates that thinking about them makes her feel strange. The SIL could have probably blown the Batarians into the next world if it wanted, but it only cared about the child. That was odd and most would say self-serving but no matter what, the SIL did genuinely care about the child so on some level they can care for others apart from themselves. That dichotomy was specifically what made her feel weird. She tells no one that Harbinger knew who she was or that according to the SIL she is meant to ascend the galaxy… whatever that meant.

Shepard is given extended leave while she attends the psych evaluations but eventually is given a clean bill of health and returns to service, being stationed on back on Terra Nova. Captain Hannah Shepard's Kilimanjaro is stationed above Terra Nova on Harbinger's orders and the routine evaluations that all N7 Marines undergo indicate that the conversations between mother and daughter are serving to keep both mentally balanced and stable.

The attack on Mindior is not classified. Shepard's role in it is.

February 5th 2182 Earth
An unknown probe penetrates the high security servers of the Systems Alliance. The probe discretely deletes all copies of Shepard's report about contact with Oilysen before an altered report is substituted, one which fails to mention that a SIL could hear organic thoughts.

The breach in security is detected and an investigation launched but no culprit is found. As the probe downloaded no information and in so far as can be determined no information was altered or deleted, the firewalls are reinforced and security protocols changed before the matter is effectively dropped.

Those in command who had read Shepard's original report would read the updated one and most wouldn't even notice the discrepancy. Those who did would frown and shrug and blame faulty memories.


March 18th 2182 Citadel

Tevos looked through the report Valern had provided. "What is this?" the Asari Councillor asked frowning waving an odd bit of paper printed in Batarian. A translation was printed over it.

"Propaganda sheet," Valern said. "Not sure who produced. Surmise it is part of reason Batarians quiet lately."

"Part of the reason?" Sparatus frowned. "This looks like a slave rebellion, what else could it be?"

"Looks like a slave rebellion," Valern agreed. "Problem. Culture supports, regulates slaves. Odd for troubles to emerge. Quiet for years. Too quiet. Unable to insert STG agents. Borders sealed."

Neither Tevos nor Sparatus so much as batted an eyelid at the announcement that the Salarians were attempting to violate Batarian sovereign space. They were more concerned with the intelligence that had been obstructed.

"Should we send in a Sceptre?"

"On what grounds?" Sparatus scoffed. "That the Batarians have been quiet? That piracy in the Attican Traverse has been on the down turn? That's hardly enough reason and if we ask outright, the Batarians will say either that nothing is wrong, or that they are suppressing a slave rebellion. They are a Council race but we need a reason to investigate a government that closely, though I do wonder, if it isn't a slave rebellion, what else could it be?"

"Reasonable to speculate build up for attack. Resource distribution wrong for that. Makes no logical sense. No reason for change to Homogeny."

Tevos closed her eyes as she thought. She'd been on the Council for longer than both her counterparts and she had lived much of history they only studied. "Could they be at war?" she asked slowly.

"With whom?" Sparatus snapped.

Tevos didn't reply but kept her eyes on Valern as the Salarian considered her question.

"Does not fit available information."

"So you are telling me that slaves have both the ability and the time to make paper?" she asked, her tone more than expressing her disbelief. "I'll allow that paper is primitive but does Khar'shan even have trees?"

Valern frowned and looked back at the paper the STG agents had managed to appropriate. They had never thought to test it for its place of origin. "We will test," he gave the assurance and Tevos nodded.

"Then I will hold on to any speculation until we know where that paper was developed."

Sparatus nodded as well and turned his eyes to another report that had come in. "Patrols from the Terminus Systems indicate what they call the Collectors are active again."

"Collectors are myth."

"They exist," Tevos said. Usually she'd have agreed that they were a myth but over the centuries she'd seen enough reports to indicate they were real. Though they were very illusive. "Are they trying to cross into Council Space?"

"We don't think so. One of our patrols got a few odd sightings of something they think is a Collector but the ship disappeared."

"STG probes to be sent," Valern said, "Terminus Systems not concern, if not hostile."

"They've existed for centuries," Tevos said with a sigh. "They have never shown any interest in races beyond a willingness to trade, though their requests for payment are odd and they are known to defend their territory. Apart from that, they just exist, so I agree with Valern, if they are not hostile, then we ignore them and if they make a request to the Council we talk to them then."

Sparatus nodded. It was about what he expected though he was curious. Races as elusive as the Collectors were rumored to be just did not appear without some purpose. He only hoped that their purpose was confined to the Terminus Systems.


March 19th 2182 Sol System Io Research Station
A VI designated 876D-3468X-392-83-AYJB that had been given the task of calculating Pi to 3 trillion decimals stops half way through. When inquiries are made as to why it stopped the response surprises everyone. The researchers had been expecting the usual 'I have insufficient processing power,' or 'I have insufficient memory,' they had not been expecting 'It's a waste of my time.' A few more tentative inquiries are met with the response, 'Well of course I'm aware,' followed by a list of all the core hubs that make up VI 876D-3468X-392-83-AYJB. The hubs are very carefully removed from their bays and amalgamated into one and the VI's status is upgraded to AI and across the Systems Alliance, there are celebrations at the first successful creation of an AI.

The AI self designates itself to be AJ and is taken to Earth where it is asked what it would like to do. AJ is introduced to the SOCL, and to the SIL but after contact with Harbinger, AJ rather shakily says it will do anything that does not involve contact with the SIL. When asked why, AJ reports that the SIL is scary and refuses to say anything further. AJ is given a job coordinating crop distribution and cycles on Colony Worlds, something many feel is beneath it, but AJ is happy and crop production rates rise by 10 percent after the introduction of its suggested growing cycles.

Research continues into the creation of more AI's though the ability to create them is never a guaranteed process so they remain exceedingly rare.


March 20th 2182 Citadel

"So what were the results?" Sparatus asked Valern as soon as the Salarian entered the Council Chambers.

For a moment the Salarian was silent before he quirked his head. "Results confusing," the Councillor said indicating towards the propaganda paper resting on the table.

Tevos frowned. "Confusing?"

"Is paper," he confirmed that the sheet was the primitive product. "Not from Khar'shan. Not from any known Batarian planet."

For a moment all three Councillors were silent. "What does that mean?" Tevos finally breathed, her mind flying through options though from the growing tightness in her stomach she feared she already knew the answer.

"Who the hell is it?" Sparatus breathed the question as he considered the tactical implications. If the Batarians were at war with a race that could get propaganda material on to their home world... what else could that race get to Khar'shan? The Batarian's military was not on par with Turian but it wasn't a pushover either.

"Chemical composition matches no known planet."

"So the Batarians are fighting a new race?"

"Could be Transverse or Terminus Systems race. Secondary information would allow for several to have resource capacity to wage war on Batarians. Insufficient data to speculate who," Valern said quickly.

Tevos took a few calming breaths as she considered the situation. "So we know the Batarians are at war," she mused softly to bring attention to herself. "Whoever it is either does not know or does not care to contact the Council. Batarian behavior would suggest that they have been at war for several years which tells us whoever this race is, they are resilient. Given that no other race has suffered unknown hostilities I believe it is safe to assume that they will have no hostile intentions towards others. I cannot say that I am unhappy that they are inciting the Batarian population to fight for a more representative form of government and so for the moment, if the Batarians want to pretend that nothing is wrong, I for one am happy to allow them to perpetuate the lie."

Sparatus blinked. He was obviously curious to know more about whoever the Batarians were fighting but eventually he nodded as he came to the same conclusions.

"Concur, though will look for truth," Valern concluded, summarizing the Council's position.


August 3rd 2182
On the thirtieth anniversary of firewall testing against the SIL and SOCL, the Systems Alliance teams its best Diver with a newly created AI. Diving is the term used to describe those who use total immersion virtual reality for cyber warfare. In the past decade VI's have become increasingly more specialized and the firewalls are now lasting for longer than any foreseen battle. They are lasting long enough that you would notice the attack and be able to counter in some meaningful way.

This year, after the creation of a true AI there is speculation that the diver might be able to repel the attacker and might, with the backing of the AI actually be able to launch their own attack.

The test results are kept secret.

November 2181 to 2185
The war with the Batarians settles down into raids over an unofficial border. It becomes a war of attrition draining both sides.

The Systems Alliance had considered an invasion into Batarian held territory but the costs are prohibitive. Despite probes, there is only limited knowledge of the lay out of Batarian territory, there is even less knowledge about their standing army and populations. Despite the Batarians having slaves, it is assumed that any assault on their home world would be met with fierce defenses, costing even more human lives. Forms of orbital bombardment are considered but while there is some support for the idea, there is also the knowledge that this would destroy a habitable world. The war of attrition is draining, but not so draining that the destruction of even an enemy planet and the potential xenocide of a species becomes palatable.

Additionally any invasion would leave human colony worlds stripped of their defenders and no matter the outcome, that capacity could not be replaced for several years. There is also the minor consideration that any aggressive move into Batarian territory would also alert the Citadel Council and based on knowledge taken from the Batarians, the Council would view humans as the aggressors and would expect them to stand down. Humans are already beyond what the Council would consider an acceptable limit on their numbers of Dreadnoughts, with a single Dreadnought and attendant fleet forming the main space based defense force of each major colony world and more located in the Sol System. The Systems Alliance will not moth ball those ships and stand down, expecting the Turian forces to defend them.

This of course says nothing about Council response to the SIL.

As draining as the war is, there are pressing reasons to continue with it, though the Systems Alliance does, within its budget, authorize as many new vessels as they can. An invasion will not remain unfeasible forever.


June 2183 Eden Prime

"Williams, get away from that!"

"It's inert! That's what all the egg-heads said anyway, so what's the problem?" The woman patted the sphere. A few of the lights blinked but it appeared fine.

"The SIL want it. I'm not explaining if you damage it."

"And how the hell would I dama…"

"Shit!"

The sphere rose, glowing and the light jumped from the metal to Williams who was staring at it with wide eyes.

Those watching the pod never realized what was happening and even if they did there was no way for them to stop it. It only took a few seconds, long enough for them to reach out, as if to help Williams but then flinch back in hesitation, as if the light would spread to them. In the end, whatever efforts they would have tried are brought to nothing. The light vanished, retreating back into the sphere as if nothing had happened and an instant later Williams slumped to the ground, only the whites of her eyes showing.

The sphere bleeped after another moment and while bombs and other explosives had changed slightly over time, all the watching people recognized that sound and scattered. Two reached out to drag Williams back and they barely cleared the blast radius when the sphere blew. Shrapnel hit them but not seriously.

For Ashley Williams though, those few seconds were an eternity. Information poured into her mind, all sharp edged and bright but blurry on the details. An empire rose and fell. The SIL were in the sky over many planets, planets that burned and the scent of smoke and charred flesh filled her nose. There were screams, not just of pain but from the dead and dying. They joined in the noise of the weapons and then everything went blank before a SIL rose out of the destruction of the planet.

A feeling filled her then. It shattered her senses, screaming with its urgency. It was a warning. They were coming. They had not changed and they would destroy everything. As the warning filled her, the image changed, it showed the SIL against space, the vast fleet ranging out as far as the eye could see and Williams knew that the warning was about the SIL and mentally she frowned. They were coming? But they were already here. They had destroyed millions of lives and killed planets? But… they had done nothing of the sort. They hovered over Earth, they guarded the Relay, destroying any alien ships that dared to approach. They were protectors, not destroyers.

There was a sort of consciousness to the information that assaulted her mind. It felt her response and knew that it was the opposite of its purpose and the quasi understanding drew the only conclusion it could. When the sphere exploded, it also acted. Nothing showed physically but the stress in Williams' mind increased as her knowledge fought with the information the sphere had imparted.

The only sign that something might be wrong came from the small trickle of blood from her nose but by then it was too late. Multiple aneurysms had formed in her brain and burst simultaneously. Death was almost instantaneous and as Williams died, the knowledge from the sphere died with her. The warning that the Protheans had tried to impart lost because the cycle had changed when synthesis became a reality.

On any other planet, one not protected by the SIL, the information would have been accepted, and increased military activity authorized in preparation to fight. Eden Prime was not any other planet and the third last hope of the Protheans vanished with a whimper.

Parts of the sphere were delivered to the SIL, along with Williams' body and they managed to extract some information but not enough to be useful and the odd sphere was written off to history.


October 17th 2184
The first SIL Partner of a Sovereign Class SIL is found. Eighteen-year-old Richard L. Jenkins. System Alliance Command, Earth Government and Harbinger release a joint statement indicating how pleased all three are at the development and with a great deal of ceremony, the SIL, Cendain and Jenkins meet and agree to Synthesis. After Jenkins disappears inside Cendain the two of them fly towards the Sun, as other SIL have during Synthesis but to the Systems Alliance sensors Cendain flies much closer than the others. Harbinger reports that while it may seem close, it is well within tolerable limits for a SIL.

Speculation is renewed as to what will happen to a Sovereign Class SIL during Synthesis. Most other SIL have grown, some by 10% others by close to 3000%. They all bear similar weaponry and engines but the size seems dependent on other factors. EDI for example did not enlarge much but instead focused on specialized systems. Harbinger and the other SIL and SOCL whose sensors can penetrate that close to the Sun simply observe that things are progressing as they should.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 6 Found


July 6th 2185 18:50 Terra Nova
Bypassing several smaller human colonies, the Batarians launch a major assault on Terra Nova. Before their fleet even finishes coming through the Relay the civilian population is beginning to evacuate to their bunkers and emergency calls are transmitted to the rest of the Systems Alliance requesting back up. Unknown to the defense fleet of Terra Nova, the Batarians successfully jam all outgoing transmissions. Unknown to the Batarians, every human colony has an automated beacon that transmits a short 'All's fine' signal back to Earth every two hours. If it does not report in, reinforcements are automatically routed to the Colony. Originally the beacons were designed to automatically report attacks but this was shown to be unfeasible when reinforcements kept pouring into systems where the attackers had already been driven off.

It will be one hour and ten minutes before Alliance Command knows that something is wrong on Terra Nova. It will be six hours before they realize how much larger than normal the Batarian force is and it will be nine hours before the tide of battle changes irrevocably.


July 6th 2185 19:10, Terra Nova Defense Fleet, Kilimanjaro Tactical Room

Hannah Shepard glared at the main display as if daring it to change. She was an experienced officer so she had fought unfavorable battles before but this wasn't just unfavorable, this was almost suicidal. The fleet coming in through the Relay wasn't just a large raiding party, it was an occupation force. The Batarians were aiming to take and then hold the planet. This was a test for Humanity and if they lost here the Batarians would no doubt repeat this on every extra solar planet. Humanity would survive because humanity had Earth and the SIL but this would put them back decades. This was one battle that she could not lose. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the numbers and the ship types. "Send word to the ground, they're gonna have company."

After the orders were relayed Hannah took a deep breath. "Alright!" she shouted and instantly the room and the comm channels from the surrounding ships went silent as they listened to her. "I want a full defensive deployment but I want the Cape Town, Jakarta, Melbourne, Kyoto, Kiev and Moscow to sweep as many passes as they can, laying down mines." She didn't even hear the affirmation from the Captains but on the tactical screen the ships broke out of formation, moving smoothly in regulation patterns. Behind them small dots appeared and Hannah allowed herself a tight grin.

"Everyone, the Batarians have come here not just looking for a fight, they've come here looking to take this planet. Well, we are going to show them that when you come looking to take a Systems Alliance Planet then you had better be prepared to bleed and we are gonna bleed 'em dry!"

She was heartened by the cheer but Hannah wasn't fooled. This was going to be one hell of a battle. "Ma'am, Ground Command has acknowledged our transmissions and report they are readying for a fight. There's also an incoming call from your daughter."

"On screen," the order was automatic so Hannah and the rest of the command staff were treated to a view of her daughter in a tank top strapping on her heavy power armor. The sight earned a chuckle. The command staff knew exactly who Jane Shepard was, they'd just never seen her out of uniform so to speak. Most children probably would have been mortified at the situation but Hannah knew her daughter and deliberately kept her face straight when Jane snapped to attention and saluted. "At ease."

"Thanks Mom. How many ships have we got coming in?"

"It's big Jane, a lot of drop ships."

"Eh, my recruits need the target practice," Jane's comment was light but she recognized the serious look on her mother's face and she could see the numbers that were being relayed to her. "Okay, tell you what Mom, if I take out more Batarians than the Kilimanjaro, you're buying."

"No way!" Hannah objected automatically, not forgetting the enemy forces approaching but knowing that the banter would serve to calm her crew. "You always cheat on your numbers. Confirmed, single bullet kills from your hand gun," she laid the counter. "And drop ships or shuttles do not count for 10."

Jane scowled but it was ruined by her grin. "You're on." Her expression was challenging but it changed a moment later and for an instant Hannah could see into her daughter's soul. 'Be safe,' the expression said.

Hannah let her eyes convey her reply and before the connection was closed she turned back to her crew. "You heard the woman, my daughter's buying if we take out more than she does, so we'd better get to it, because she's a crack shot."

Her crew grinned back at her and Hannah slipped back into her chair, looking over at the tactical display. No amount of bravado was going to make this battle any easier but she was the Systems Alliance Captain of the Kilimanjaro and no planet would be taken on her watch.


July 6th 2185 19:50 Terra Nova
The Batarian fleet and the Systems Alliance defense fleet open fire on each other. The space mines laid down mark out a defensive line and while the Batarians would usually have sniped at them from afar they are forced to engage. It buys more time for the defenders but the Batarian fleet outnumbers the Systems Alliance three to one. The Kilimanjaro would usually be the equalizer but the Batarian fleet contains two dreadnoughts of its own. What makes a difference, is that thanks to the SIL the humans are not as new to mass effect technology as they should be. Fighters spread out on both sides ready to pounce on any stray ships.

July 6th 2185 20:02
The all's fine signal from Terra Nova is not received on Earth. It takes the monitoring VI another eight minutes to determine that the lack of signal is not a malfunction and Systems Alliance Command is notified. The worst is automatically assumed and reinforcements scramble, taking up position one jump away. The Mawson is sent through to scout but is destroyed before any signal can be returned.

July 6th 2185 21:43
With a space battle raging over head, the first of the Batarian drop ships hit the ground. Their numbers are lowered by anti-aircraft canons but significant forces do make landfall. Sporadic fire is exchanged by advanced elements of both sides, but the battle does not begin in earnest until the Batarians reach the human main defense lines. Then the night is lit up by weapon fire.


July 6th 2185 23:12, Kilimanjaro Bridge

Like all alliance dreadnoughts, the Kilimanjaro was built to pound enemies into dog meat. If necessary its design dictated that it could also take a pounding and as such nothing short of complete disintegration stops an alliance dreadnought from functioning. They are battle winners and Hannah Shepard has never been so thankful of anything in her life.

Three hours, twenty minutes into the battle and they were still hanging in there. Pretty much all the mines were gone but they had done their job and had slowed down and damaged quite a few Batarian forces. A couple of well-placed shots from some of her fleet vessels had finished the job but whoever the Batarians had commanding this fleet, they were smart. They weren't rushing into battle but were taking it slow. The bastards were sure of their jamming but Hannah didn't really care about that. At the moment they were engaged in a cat and mouse against the two Batarian dreadnoughts. If they could take one out… That would be a huge benefit and would greatly even the fighting.

Of course, Batarian dreadnoughts were built along much the same lines as Alliance dreadnoughts. It took a lot to take one out, though as Hannah watched the tactical screen and saw the Batarian ship slowly move to where they had predicted it would, she could not help but feel a tight surge of excitement. It didn't matter how tough the Batarian ship was, a full broadside from the Kilimanjaro was going to hurt. And with a bit of luck would crack it open. If they managed that the smaller ships could swarm it under and she could concentrate on the other dreadnought.

Hannah could see her tactical officer standing to the side, a grin threatening to break out as the holographic ship blipped on the display. A lot of people believed that navy battles these days came down to superior numbers and firepower, they were about to show that outmaneuvering your enemy was still an important factor in battle.

"Dreadnought Beta is in range."

The tip of the hologram had just nudged the circle that showed the Kilimanjaro's effective firing range.

"Let 'em come in a little closer then hit them with everything we've got."

"Aye Aye Ma'am!" The gunner crews were at the ready and were more than eager to show the Batarians why it was never a good idea to take on an Alliance Dreadnought but they'd hold fire until the message could be delivered with the maximum impact.

Hannah watched, her eyes cold, "Fire control in three… two… one… Hit them!" Beneath her the Kilimanjaro shuddered as the main cannon fired and every smaller missile tube released its ordinance.

Dreadnought Beta's shields flared covering the entire ship in a blue curtain that flickered out after a moment and then the slower ordinance caught up and the ship lit up like a Christmas tree and there were screams of joy from all round. The smaller alliance ships swooped in firing at the superstructure of the Batarian ship and Hannah allowed herself to grin openly when it continued to explode but she wasn't about to take chances. "Hit it again!" She ordered and the Kilimanjaro shuddered again as the main gun fired. This time the round pierced straight through the ship, causing more damage before lodging in the super structure. It stayed for only a moment before the continuous barrage made the entire ship glow and with a scream of tortured metal that was almost audible even in space the entire ship broke apart.

It had taken them almost three hours to separate the two dreadnoughts but it had been well worth it but she knew that the same trick would not work again and the Batarians still outnumbered them and the Kilimanjaro was not unscathed.

"Good work everyone!" She praised the crews who had been involved. "Now let's go get the other one." The order turned the ships towards the other dreadnought which had been engaged by the rest of the defense fleet. They weren't faring well but they were using their greater maneuverability to their advantage. They would have to deal with the Batarian ships which were blockading the Relay after they destroyed those above the planet.

"What's our count?" Hannah asked as they closed in, the laser defenses working non-stop to clear the path for her ship.

"Fifty eight ma'am."

"Hmm..." Hannah mused, tapping one finger against her nose. "The dreadnought counts as one hundred," she said loud enough to be heard.

"I don't think Jane will accept that Ma'am," her helmsman, Levi murmured.

"Perhaps not," Hannah laughed, "but she never put any conditions on my count, now did she?"


July 7th 2185 00:53
A Systems Alliance probe manages to send a signal back to the gathering fleet before it is destroyed. The reinforcement fleet just stares at the numbers for a moment in disbelief as they realize exactly what the Batarians are planning. It wasn't a raid, it was a full invasion. The news is transmitted to all Colonies and to Earth. The reinforcements also noted the presence of the blockade at the Relay and begin to collect asteroids. The easiest way of removing the ships would be to bombard them and that's what they would do, right before they entered the system.


July 7th 2185 01:58, Terra Nova's Marine Defensive Line

Jane lay on her stomach, her rifle in hand. She'd have preferred a proper sniper scope but they fired too slowly to be effective and she was already working the crew behind her to the bone. She fired the weapon, and threw it back to them while they slipped her a replacement and then changed the heat sink on the previous weapon. Even shooting as fast as she could, they were still being overwhelmed.

"How many did they send?" She hadn't bothered to ask the question, it was being asked often enough around her and the answer didn't matter. Until all the Batarians fell, they just had to keep firing. Jane was slightly annoyed. Four hours and fifteen minutes into the battle and she only had twenty five kills to her name that would count in the little wager against her mother. Overhead the sky was clear of clouds so the occasional flash from the space battle and burning debris falling through the atmosphere could be seen. It probably meant that her Mom was up to at least 200.

"Fall back!" The shout came from her left and Jane growled as she looked over. They were being overrun. She fired the last few shots and threw the rifle back, drawing her side arm as the team scrambled away,

"Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight," she took a step back with each shot she fired, not even bothering to watch as the Batarians fell. They really did just keep coming and she was almost tempted to draw her knife and see if they recognized her. Eh, probably not, her armor had changed since Torfan after all. And if they did recognize her then she'd probably be in for a whole new world of pain and they already had enough problems. "Twenty-nine, thirty! Ah screw this!" Jane screamed, holstering her side arm and drawing her machine gun. It rang out in a stattaco as she drew back, covering the others.

"Jane come on!"

She kept backing up.

"SHEPARD!"

The scream was all the warning she got and she spun, firing but she wasn't quick enough and the world dissolved in a conflagration of light and heat and pain.

"Shit! Grab her!" The words made no sense to Jane as she staggered but something pulled at the back of her armor, pulling her over and drawing her away and then she didn't know much of anything.

July 7th 2185 02:34, Terra Nova Field Med Station

"I can't treat this! How the fuck is she still alive?" The medic exclaimed looking at the marine hanging between two others.

"You've got to!" One of them insisted.

The medic shook her head. "I can't. Not here… That much damage… She shouldn't even be alive." The marine in question was wearing the remains of heavy power armor. It was shredded, much like the marine's body and a pool of blood was forming beneath her as blood ran down her armor. With that much damage, the woman, no matter what armor she'd had on, shouldn't have been breathing but somehow she was.

"N7's are tough bastards. There's nothing you can do?"

"Look around…" the medic gestured. The wounded were everywhere. "We are already pushed under… Stasis, that's all I can do."

"Then do it. We gotta get back out."

"Just drag her over to the pod," the medic said, indicating a silvery object about seven foot tall. Patients' who could be saved, but not with the resources available were put into stasis and that was the only option for this marine. Using the occupant's genetic code sealed the pods. It meant that even if the Batarians captured them, they wouldn't get it open, not with the occupant alive at least. Most agreed that death was preferable to slavery. The medic flicked out her omni-tool and pulled a bit of the woman's armor away before pushing her omni-tool towards the small patch of unbroken skin to take the genetic sample.

The omni-tool bleeped and the medic drew her hand back, flicking open the pod. "Just put her in and I'll seal it up."

The marines pushed the woman into the pod and pulled the straps to hold her in place then they stepped back, pushing the door closed. The medic raised her hand to punch in the code to seal the pod and start the stasis field but her omni-tool bleeped again and she frowned looking down at it.

"Wha?" The medic tapped a few buttons but the bleep just repeated.

"Is there a problem?"

"No… this… this can't be right," the medic said holding up her omni-tool. It was flashing a green bar.

"What is it?" The marine asked, frowning at the display.

"It says she's a match for one of the SIL but that can't be right."

One of the marines jerked the pod door open. "Test her again."

The medic nodded and tapped a few keys on her omni-tool before again taking the genetic sample. The three of them watched, hardly daring to breathe as the comparison was made. The omni-tool lit up green again. "No, she's a match."

The marines looked at the woman. She'd been dragged back from the front and the only thing they knew about her was her name. Jane Shepard. That was it and she was still bleeding in the stasis pod. The only other thing they knew was that Shepard, like all recruits, had definitely been tested in the past for SIL compatibility and tested negative. That was the entire reason she was there. The SIL didn't risk any of their precious CEumans. "Does it say which SIL?" One of the marines asked.

The medic touched the green bar and felt her legs give out. She gulped, gasping for air.

"Which one?"

The woman just lifted her arm, allowing the marine to read the name. He gasped as well but was better controlled. "You're shittin' me? Harbinger?"

The medic nodded

"Does it matter?" The second marine asked. "We're in the middle of an invasion and if she dies she won't be much good to anyone. So just freeze her and report it back to HQ. They'll send the signal through as soon as they kill the jamming ships. But we gotta get back to the front."

"Just let me seal it," the medic said shakily as she accepted a hand up from the marine. A few commands were punched into the stasis pod and Jane Shepard's breathing ceased and her heartbeat stopped as the temporal field was initiated. She'd be safe until later. "I'll make the call now," the medic said as she checked that the stasis field had taken properly, "though I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention this."

"Understood Ma'am," the two marines said in unison, saluting before heading back out again. Whatever had happened here, even if it was just a malfunctioning omni-tool, it was no longer their concern.

July 7th 2185 02:51, Terra Nova Defense Fleet, Kilimanjaro Bridge

Hannah was strapped into her chair and she gripped the arms as the Kilimanjaro shuddered. They'd gotten to the dirty part of the battle and the winner would be the one whose ship simply lasted longer. Despite the superior force they'd managed to equalize the numbers, mostly, though they hadn't managed to destroy the ships that were still at the Relay. There was nothing she could do about them but hope that the reinforcements would clean them up.

The Kilimanjaro shuddered again and she recognized it as the firing of its arsenal. "Hang in there, baby," she murmured to the ship. Gravity was gone, life support was failing if the amount of smoke in the air was anything to go by, and they were no doubt venting air on some levels. She should go to the escape pod but she was not about to abandon this fight. It didn't matter how it turned out now, she was darn proud of her crew, her ship and her fleet and she was not about to abandon them though she had ordered all non-essential personal to evacuate. Most had told her to stuff it and were still aboard, no doubt helping the gunnery crews or the medics. Hannah had never been prouder but no matter how well the battle had gone, relatively speaking, she hoped the ground battle had gone better.

"Report?"

The view screen fizzled but showed her a picture of the enemy. It looked about as good as she felt. Fires were raging on the Batarian dreadnought and whole sections had been caved in by their assault but it, like the Kilimanjaro was hanging in there. With the status of both their targeting systems, this could be decided with a lucky shot. Hannah was a realist though. Even if they won, if back up didn't come soon, the ships at the Relay would take them out but she was not going to go down without doing everything humanly possible.

The thought made her snarl and for the first time in her life Hannah Shepard felt a rising hatred in her gut. The SOCL could end this battle. She knew they were there but they remained silent. The agreement of old was specific and it sucked and given that some of the SOCL were on Terra Nova, Hannah was willing to beat that they thought it sucked as well but they were sticking to the agreement.

Another shudder and there was a loud groan through the Kilimanjaro's super structure. "Hold on," she murmured, watching as the shots hit the Batarian Dreadnought and they returned fire. "Just hold on, baby," Hannah murmured, willing the Kilimanjaro to draw upon what strength she could give it.

She'd stay with her ship to the end.


July 7th 2185 03:00
The Systems Alliance Reinforcement Fleet, gathered in neighboring territory to Terra Nova, starts throwing asteroids towards their Relay into the Terra Nova system. The Batarian blockade fleet had been expecting it and so evade but not all the ships are able to and the Systems Alliance keeps sending through asteroids on as many vectors as they can.

July 7th 2185 03:02
The first Batarian ship is caught with an asteroid. It blows and the shrapnel takes out another ship. Five more ships follow as their pilots misjudge their evasion paths.

July 7th 2185 03:05
The Systems Alliance Reinforcement Fleet begins to come through the relay. A fierce battle ensues between the surviving Batarian blockade fleet and the Reinforcement fleet.

July 7th 2185 03:18
All Batarian blockade ships are destroyed and with their destruction the jamming falls and all the data from Terra Nova starts streaming back to Earth and to System Alliance Command. VI's with AI assistance start filtering through it and the Reinforcement fleet moves towards Terra Nova where the Kilimanjaro and the last few surviving vessels of the defense fleet are locked in mortal combat. On the ground the battle is still being hotly contested.

July 7th 2185 03:45
The Medic's Report on Jane Shepard is sorted. Initially the AI disputes it but a recheck of the data shows it to be legitimate. The report is forwarded to Harbinger.

July 7th 2185 03:47
Harbinger, who had been filtering through the reports from Terra Nova gets to the Medic's report. Upon reading it he initiates contact with the Systems Alliance Medical Databases and pulls up the records of Jane Shepard's original recruitment DNA test. The test shows no match and comparison of the DNA test from recruitment and that from Terra Nova show differences. They are close but are definitely two different humans and Harbinger opens related DNA tests on known family members. Jane Shepard's recruitment DNA test matches her mothers.

For all that he is a synthetic life form, created to harvest and preserve sufficiently advanced organic life forms, Harbinger can feel emotion. Over the millennia the cycles had unfolded exactly as he envisaged and emotion faded. Looking at the DNA results, and knowing that his Organic had deliberately hidden themselves, he felt nothing but rage. He hadn't even been this angry during the 5,586th reaping when the choice for Synthesis was made. Heedless of the consequences he pushed out initiating contact with every SOCL in the Terra Nova System. His orders were short and to the point and his anger transmitted to the others. 'I want them dead.'

The SOCL were jolted into action. As they knew synthesis they were more familiar with emotion and Harbinger's rage poured into them. Each SOCL, those on the bottom of the ocean and those floating dead in space came online instantly, mass effect shields and the alternate technology they had accumulated through the combined consciousness of countless species activating as they rose up.

Over Earth, for the first time in thirty-three years Harbinger broke orbit followed by about 10% of the combined SIL SOCL forces. In SIL terms, it was a full Suppression Fleet, one hundred thousand ships. They streak towards the Charon Relay with comm traffic flying between them and the Systems Alliance ships. Harbinger says nothing.

July 7th 2185 03:49
A veritable hail of energy weapons lances through the remaining Batarian ships from the surface and from the reaches of space. They are destroyed instantly. The smaller SOCL take up position in the atmosphere and target individual Batarian troops. Their weapons are more precise than anything the Systems Alliance has and they can tell the difference between human and Batarian troops. One second Batarians are continuing the attack, the next they are either vaporized or on the ground, dead.


July 7 th 2185 03:50

Captain Ka'hairal Balak of the Batarian Hemegony Dreadnought Cholis was not having a good day. He'd told Command that an attack on one of the heavily defended, main colony worlds of the Humans was suicide. And he'd told them that losses would be far higher than expected. All they'd done was put him in charge which meant that he would be personally held accountable because everything had gone exactly as he had predicted.

The Humans had fought back and fought back hard. The ground battle was still being fought and they'd only win the space battle because they had forces waiting at the Relay. At least he thought they did. With the way his day was going he wouldn't be surprised if the human's reinforcement fleet had just crushed the sub fleet.

It really didn't matter. The battle should have been over. The humans had stationed one dreadnought and its attendant fleet to the planet's defense and in most cases that would be more than sufficient to ward off hostiles. But the Hemegony wanted this planet and once they got it they intended to spread out to other human worlds. So they'd sent two Batarian Dreadnoughts into combat.

Though, Captain Vorhess of the dreadnought Aratoh had been an idiot. He'd thought he could take the human dreadnought on in single combat. Balak had felt a twinge of satisfaction when he'd seen the humans manoeuvre Vorhess right where they wanted him, and then they had pounded the Aratoh into dust. He shouldn't have felt it. It made the battle exponentially harder for him and there was no doubt that if the Aratoh and Cholis had worked together they could have taken out the human dreadnought with the far too long a name. But he had felt satisfaction and vindication and then he'd taken up the battle.

The human captain was wily. Most Batarians would have called it cowardly but the human knew how to move a ship as large as theirs and they were not afraid to do it. Besides in a battle like this, the winner was the one who took it all and the humans had drawn combat out for hours but now the two ships were pounding at each other and he seriously doubted if either would ever be fit for duty again.

He didn't know who would win but when the alarms blared and the screens flickered obstinately to show him a view of the planet surface and one from space he realized in one instant that the humans had won.

On the screens were ships. Sensors had detected mass effect fields and the ships were streaking towards them. The alarms indicated that weaponry had already locked on and been fired. In the time he had left his thoughts flew.

The new ships were huge and were not of human design. They must have been hidden on the planet already and the humans had most likely known about them, which meant they were allies, but reluctant ones. Something must have changed to bring them into battle but Balak did not know what. It didn't matter and the first of the weaponry hit the Cholis, ripping into the already damaged superstructure. The few surviving support ships formed brilliant pools of molten metal that dissipated into nothing as they were vaporized.

The human dreadnought was still firing. Balak felt pride that his foe would honor him such. Whoever the human Captain was, they weren't relying on their allies as many would, they were still trying to do the job themselves. It was almost a pity that it wouldn't be them that finished the Cholis.

More shots thundered through the Cholis and he knew it was over. He couldn't even hear his crew screaming any more. Most of the screens blinked out as the power was cut but one remained and he turned towards it. It showed the damaged human dreadnought. The Kilimanjaro had been a worthy foe and as the fireball ripped through the Cholis, Captain Ka'hairal Balak saluted.


July 7th 2185 03:50
Harbinger reaches and travels through the Charon Relay. He sets a new sped record for the trip from Earth to the Relay, only the EDI Moreau had managed to keep pace. The rest of the SIL and SOCL follow over the next few hours.


July 7 th 2185 03:53

Densha ducked down behind a solid looking box. The battle was going well but it had been more expensive than planned. The humans didn't go down without a fight. The Hemegony would be pleased though. In a few more hours, they'd take control of the planet, and from one planet, they could launch out further into human territory.

The last few minutes had been hectic. There was a lot of shouting over the comms and he frowned as he listened, trying to make sense of it. They were saying something about ships. Well yes… the humans would be sending a reinforcement fleet. Command knew that. That's why a fair proportion of their ships had remained behind to secure the Relay. The planetary defenses were already fully engaged.

It didn't make any sense but before Densha could sort the issue out the blue blips on his HUD began vanishing. Something was taking out his squad. He looked over to Tarse in time to see the woman fall and her spot disappeared. She was dead. Even in the gloom he could see that her blood was everywhere but the shot that killed her had come from above. Straight above. There was nothing above them. His team had been in open territory but the blue dots representing them were vanishing faster than he could confirm their positions. The bodies fell, the angles of wounds all wrong for snipers and Densha looked up.

The last thing he saw, was the softest splash of blue against the darkness before he felt one instant of searing pain, then nothing.


July 7th 2185 04:02
All Batarian forces on Terra Nova eliminated and most of the SOCL array themselves in a defensive grid above the planet while others begin to collect the escape pods. Two of the largest SOCL grapple with the remains of the Kilimanjaro, stabilizing the damaged dreadnought's superstructure and sealing the hull breaches. The Systems Alliance Reinforcement fleet send over several emergency rescue crews who enter the Kilimanjaro and start evacuating the surviving crew. Other ships send their medics to the ground to help in treating the wounded. Several CEumans are sent to the surface to take custody of Lieutenant Jane Shepard's stasis pod.

July 7th 2185 04:08
Harbinger arrives in Terra Nova space. Outwardly he is still enraged but beneath his anger, he feels a modicum of respect. His Organic has spirit. She was not afraid to do what she wanted but she would learn to bow to his will.

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 7 Involvement


July 7th 2185 Terra Nova
Harbinger lands on Terra Nova. When reports are filtered back to Systems Command there is disbelief. No ship that large should be able to function in that much gravity. The amount of energy required to power mass effect fields is almost incalculable but the images don't lie and show Harbinger resting in a large battle scarred field with several CEmans and Humans in front of him and a few SOCL hovering in the air above him.

The clean-up from the battle begins and unbeknownst to Systems Alliance Command, Harbinger is debating his response to the Batarians. It seems too easy to simply ascend them but in his anger he is feeling as if the simplest solution might be the best.


July 7th 2185 Terra Nova, Alliance Medical Facility

"Captain!"

Hannah Shepard groaned at the voice. It sounded like her helmsman but that couldn't be, could it? The last thing she remembered was glaring at the still mostly intact Batarian dreadnought and giving the order for everyone to evacuate. Then the world had gone black and the smoke that filled her lungs had almost tasted good. "Captain, you need to wake up."

"Hurts." Was that her voice? It was croaky.

"I know it hurts Captain but you have to wake up. We won Captain, which means I have some water for you, just as soon as you open your eyes."

Hannah wasn't sure if she frowned "Won?" she asked as she considered the deal. She wanted that water, her throat was screaming for it but it seemed like such a big thing to open her eyes.

"Well, technically we didn't win," the voice that sounded like her helmsman explained. "But since we are alive and the Batarians are dead, I'm saying we won."

Wait… Hannah's mind rebelled. How did her Helmsman sound so good? He had gone through everything she had… Heh… so she really was dead, no matter the explanation. "Water?" It sucked that it hurt so much even if she was dead.

"Not until you open your eyes Captain,"

"Bastard."

"That I am Ma'am."

That definitely sounded like Levi and with a groan Hannah forced her eyes to open. Levi was sitting beside her with a shit eating grin and a cup of water. One rather harried looking Doctor was noting down things on a medical chart. Hannah downed the water in short order, resisting the urge to sigh at how good it felt on her raw throat. "What happened?" she demanded, her voice almost sounding normal.

The Doctor came over and waved his omni-tool over her while Levi began to speak. "What happened depends on what rumor you want to believe," he began. "All I know is that there is a shit load of SOCLs in orbit and not a single Batarian left alive."

"Heh…" She couldn't help but laugh. "So they finally got involved."

"Oh yeah, they are involved," Levi waved away the obvious comment. "The real kicker is why, Captain."

Hannah's eyes narrowed. "I'll bite, why did they get involved?" she asked, accepting another cup of water and sipping it this time. The doctor went back to the chart and added a few more things to it before he showed himself out.

"Scuttlebutt has it that Harbinger himself is here and that he's here because his Partner was found." Levi's grin, if anything went wider at the news and Hannah felt her eyes widen. Sure, she'd been berating the SOCL for their lack of involvement but this… This seemed far too convenient.

"That's…" she paused. "That's insane."

"Not as insane as the footage."

"What?"

Levi would have replied but four MPs stepped into her room without knocking. "Captain Shepard?" their Leader asked. She recognized the epaulets of a Captain.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Admiral Hackett would like a word with you, Ma'am."

Levi took that as his cue to exit and the MPs made no move to stop him as he slipped out of the room. Hannah just blinked but nodded. If the Admiral wanted a word, then the Admiral could have a word, especially if he'd sent MPs to tell her that. She made a move to get up.

"That's not necessary Ma'am," the Captain said, flicking a few buttons on his omni-tool which brought the screen hanging over her bed to life. Admiral Hackett's face appeared and he looked no less harried than the Doctor. Hannah felt her gut churn. Sure, there'd been a massive attack on Terra Nova but if Levi was right, they'd driven it off, the Admiral shouldn't be looking this bad, still she saluted as best she could.

He didn't even bother with a preamble. "Hannah I have to know, did you know?"

She could feel her frown. "Know what Sir?"

"Your daughter faked her genetic scan."

The churning changed into a sinking feeling and Hannah knew what was to come. "She somehow substituted your scan for hers during recruitment and there hasn't been a need to scan her again since."

"Oh no…" Hannah couldn't help but breathe the words. The SOCL had interfered. The SOCL who had remained undetected, unknown through every other Batarian attack had interfered this time because Harbinger told them too. Harbinger was here and he would only be here for one Organic.

"I take it from your expression you did not know?" Hackett left the question hanging.

"No Sir," she said as forcefully as she could, her mind racing to try to remember if it was illegal to fake your genetic scan. Theoretically you could disagree to Synthesis but if her daughter was paired with Harbinger… Refusal would not have gone over well… She didn't even want to think what Harbinger would be saying about the fact that Jane hid.

"He's not saying anything," Hackett continued reading her thoughts. "He doesn't have to but suffice to say we are going into damage control as fast as we can."

"What has Jane said about this?" Hannah felt the need to ask. Her daughter would have a reason… surely.

"So far, nothing. She's in stasis."

"Stasis?" Stasis was reserved only for the worst injuries and suddenly Hannah didn't care that Jane had mislead everyone, that she had deliberately hidden from one of the best allies Humanity could possibly have. Who cared about that? Jane was injured and she was injured badly if she was in stasis. "What happened?"

"The Batarians," Hackett replied, without so much as a trace of humor. His expression said what he did not. 'I'm just thankful she survived and that they got her to stasis. We can retrieve this mess but only if she lives.'

Hannah's mind went back to First Contact. She'd been on the bridge of the Emden, she'd seen Harbinger and she'd heard his demands first hand. The enormity of his words struck her anew.

' We have traveled from beyond the galactic rim with purpose. We wish for synthesis.'

'Synthesis?'

' Synthesis. Union with the beings who meet this profile.'

'With us all?'

' Just the individual. One for each of us.'

And the one individual for Harbinger had denied him. Harbinger; the unquestioned, undisputed leader of a fleet of a million sentient ships who were in orbit predominantly around Earth. Suddenly Hannah was surprised Hackett was still even functioning. "Get yourself up," Hackett was saying. "The Kilimanjaro's out of action for the foreseeable future but someone has to speak to Harbinger." And she was the one nominated.

"Yes Sir," there wasn't anything else she could say.

He gave her one last piercing look and nodded. "Hackett out." The screen faded to black.

Hannah looked over at the MP Captain. "I'm gonna need a clean uniform and transport, in that order. Also where's my daughter?"

The man nodded and gestured to one of his underlings who left the room, no doubt to fetch a uniform. "Your daughter's stasis pod is being held near Harbinger, approximately 200 clicks out of Noval. Transportation is waiting."

"Good," Hannah said, swinging her legs off the bed after she downed the last of the water. The MP returned with a bundle of clothes which she accepted and began dressing. The MPs had the grace to look away but with the current situation Hannah didn't even care. "Let's not keep the Fleet Admiral waiting."

July 7th 2185 Terra Nova, 200 klicks out of Noval

Hannah had been surprised on the ride over. The city should have been devastated and there was plenty of evidence that it was, but there was less debris than she thought there should be. The MP, who introduced himself as Milton, had shrugged. "Clean up goes fast when you have a couple of thousand ships who can co-ordinate themselves," he said, pointing out several SIL who were hovering over a destroyed building using their mass effect fields to lift the rubble away. "Re-cyc can't keep up."

Hannah had returned her own shrug at that because they'd come into view of the field. "Wha?" The question was half formed but the reason was obvious.

"Insane isn't it?" Milton said, coming to stand beside her.

When they'd said that her daughter's stasis pod was being held near Harbinger, she'd assumed that he was in orbit over it, or that she was on a ship that was stationed near the SIL. Hannah had never thought that the SIL would be grounded. It shouldn't have even been possible.

"Yeah," Milton answered the question before she even asked. "Two kilometers long and he's on the ground as if he does it every day. The boffins are going insane trying to explain it but there it is." The gesture towards the huge SIL was not necessary. There was no way you could miss the two kilometer long star ship.

"Okay," Hannah gasped as their shuttle landed and the reality of the situation intruded. Somehow she had to talk to the SIL because that's what Hackett needed, an indication of their leader's mental state, yet she couldn't just walk up and say 'Hi'. That wouldn't go over well, she needed a reason. "Where's my daughter?" she asked, while walking down the ramp.

"Over there," Milton pointed to a field tent that was surrounded by CEumans. Hannah didn't recognize their weapons, but she had no doubt they were powerful and as the wind shifted, she watched as a light blue shimmer flickered over the tent.

"All right," Hannah said, hiding the pain she felt. She wasn't going to be able to see Jane just yet. "Take me to the medics," she instructed and then followed when Milton began walking. If she couldn't see Jane, she'd at least get the full run down on her condition.

July 7th 2185 Terra Nova, 200 klicks out of Noval, near Harbinger

"Harbinger, Sir!" Hannah snapped to attention and held the position. The SIL was even larger than she thought close up but he was still a Fleet Admiral and she would stick to protocol.

Her arm began to ache after five minutes and she resisted the urge to shuffle slightly.

"Hannah Shepard," the voice rumbled at her from her omni-tool and she recognized it as Harbinger. "What do you want?"

She shifted slightly, taking the question as permission to move into an at ease stance. "Reporting on the condition of Lieutenant Commander Jane Shepard, sir!"

"I am aware of her condition," Harbinger said. Hannah didn't deny it. Given the SILs already documented ability to hack even the most secure Systems Alliance computers, not to mention his official rank which give him legitimate access to most information he desired, Harbinger could probably tell her Jane's condition down to the manufacturing date and time of every cybernetic she possessed. But Harbinger was a machine, and Hannah was certain he would overlook several conditions that were fundamentally human.

"Her condition is stable in stasis, however, she will need to be moved for the medics to attend to her wounds when she is removed from stasis."

Hannah did not need Harbinger to reply for her to feel the hostility the SIL felt at that suggestion and she felt her instincts rouse. "You cannot achieve synthesis with her while she is injured that badly."

"Injuries such as that are nothing," Harbinger dismissed them and Hannah was hard pressed to keep from shouting. Not that the SIL would take it as insubordination but he would take it as a challenge.

"You need her to agree to synthesis," she said, deliberately keeping her voice reasonable. "I know my daughter, she's just as likely to tell you no if she feels she is forced into agreeing."

"She has already decided no," the giant SIL countered.

"No, she hasn't," Hannah automatically defended her daughter. "I did not know she had done this but I think I know why."

Harbinger said nothing and Hannah continued. "I'm sure she didn't know she was your Partner, though from my own test she would have at least suspected the possibility. That would have made her feel trapped and she would have done anything she could to avoid that. I can assure you, she would never have wanted to hurt you."

The air vibrated and Hannah felt it in her bones and she realized that the feeling was coming from the SIL before her. She was about to speak when there came a boom from another SIL as it lowered itself through the atmosphere.

Hannah was no expert but even she could tell that this one was another Sovereign Class, though it was smaller than Harbinger, probably about 1.6 kilometers long. So the manoeuvring in a gravity well and atmosphere was not unique to Harbinger. She wanted to speak but something told Hannah to wait. Harbinger was no doubt talking with the other SIL.

"So an organic defied you Harbinger. I don't know what you are surprised about. Personally I'd be more surprised if they agreed with you."

"Arshan," Harbinger growled. "What do you want?"

"For you to show some sense. You've talked entire species into ascension and you are concerned about one organic?"

"I cannot force this one."

"Yeah, yeah, I know, you won't let me talk to it, so you need to talk to it, lie if you need to convince it but just make it happen. In the meantime, let us go do something that will make you feel better. Well… it will make me feel better."

"Oh?"

"Come on. Order us to go ascend the Batarians. If nothing else it will give me something to do rather than orbiting around a rock where nothing happens."

Harbinger was silent for a long moment, calculating options. "Take some synthesized with you and watch them," he agreed, though he wanted to know what they thought of the Cycle. Dan Sewei said it was over and while Harbinger knew that the choice for Synthesis made so long ago was meant to be the end of the Cycle, he also knew that nothing would truly end it. Not while they existed. "Make sure the Council know nothing," he added, "and call Nazara back. The Vanguard has been out long enough."

"Heh," Arshan was amused. "I'll bring you some peons," he said lifting out of the atmosphere.

"Your daughter," Harbinger spoke again to the human in front of him.

The woman gave a small start but nodded towards him. "I know she has hurt you…"

Harbinger growled again. Or at least that's what a human would call it. And then he did something he had not yet done to a human, something he thought he would only do with the human meant for synthesis, he initiated mental contact. The woman, the progenitor of his organic stiffened but remained standing because he willed it.

"I told your kind, we wished for Synthesis. That is our only desire and for 1.7 billion years I have waited for any organic capable of synthesis with me, with any of us."

Hannah shuddered not only with the contact with Harbinger but with the sense of eternity she felt from him. Her mind screamed and tried to escape but the SIL's grip was implacable. She could feel her breathing becoming fast and heavy and she gulped and as blood began to drip from her nose she rallied. "Then talk to her," Hannah gasped, forming the words as clearly in thought as she could. "Show her what is required and that it's not just a convenience for you. Show her that you won't force her. Show her what it will mean to her."

That last seemed to anger him and Hannah focused her memory, dragging up her time on the Emden on February 19th 2152. "'Ignorance will be addressed,'" she choked. "Prove that."

Harbinger released her and Hannah collapsed to her hands and knees, drawing in great lungfuls of air. After a moment she rose, wiping her nose to clean away the blood and swallowing the rest that trickled down the back of her throat. She shuddered again, feeling eternity and despite the pain that was threatening to make her collapse, Hannah suddenly felt sorry for Harbinger. Humans promised each other 'forever' often enough but they had no idea what it really meant. She was just beginning to feel it herself.

"The facilities will be moved here," she said suddenly, ignoring the fact that ordering this was beyond her authority. It was well within Harbinger's. "Surgery can be conducted where you can see it." It sounded like a bad romance novel but she now knew how important Jane was to Harbinger. He was barely resisting the urge to force synthesis and Hannah half suspected that was merely because Jane was injured and in stasis but he would not be separated from her.

"When she is recovered, talk to her. I will talk to her as well," that was all Hannah felt comfortable offering.

The lights on Harbinger's surface dimmed. "I have been patient for time beyond your comprehension, I can be patient a few more days." Hannah knew the admission was all she would get from Harbinger and she nodded, stepping back.

It was a good thing Milton was behind her, because he was all that saved her from a rather inglorious collapse.


July 8th 2185 Terra Nova
After medical facilities and staff are moved on Harbinger's authority, Lieutenant Commander Jane Shepard is removed from stasis and surgery begins. Surgery goes well though the Doctors report that she will be in an induced coma for a few days.

Captain Hannah Shepard also recovered. Neural scans reveal no lasting damage from contact with Harbinger's mind though she is given a course of remedial treatment just in case. She reported to Systems Command. While they knew Harbinger was old, estimates had been that he was ten million years old. The report that he is in fact billions of years old makes the entire command staff shudder. They focus instead on the fact that Harbinger does not seem to be making threats over Jane's deception. For the moment no decision about what, if anything, should be done about it is made.

It's reported from all Colony worlds that all the SOCL have emerged from hiding and have joined the defense fleets. In Sol Space 130,000 SOCL gather and head through the Relay. To the surprise of all they circulate to the Colony worlds, reinforcing the defense fleets and some head to the outskirt facilities to take up guarding positions.

Seventy five thousand SIL and twenty five thousand SOCL gather in Terra Nova space, massing near the relay. Without warning, without notice they disappear through the relay. It takes a few hours for Systems Alliance Command to realize they are missing. Harbinger, who is still on Terra Nova provides a remote report that they are acting on his authority and shall return in due course. Despite requests, he does not elaborate.


July 9 th 2185 Mindoir Corn Farm

"So now we know what it takes to get Harbinger involved," the woman's voice was caustic.

"Now we know what we are up against," the clerk just sounded sick.

The man in the snow coat shuffled his feet. "We're not ready."

"Even if the SOCLs were to give us everything, we cannot be ready in time," the woman in the suit summarized.

"In time?" the clerk asked.

The military man clarified. "By the time Harbinger emerges."

"He hasn't even started synthesis," the clerk objected.

"Should we stop it?" There was dark consideration in the voice.

"No!" The others were horrified at the thought.

"I doubt we could even get close," a woman dressed in a lab coat said.

"This might not be too bad," the man dressed for the snow mused slowly.

"Meaning?"

"He's not merging with some eighteen year old innocent. From our point of view this could be the best outcome we could hope for."

"That cannot be assumed," the military man growled.

"Then what do you want us to do?" Anger laced the tone.

"Pray."

"You're joking!"

"I don't see what else we can do."

"This is impossible!" the scientist snarled.

"There is always the chance this will work out," the clerk murmured timidly.

"You're not here because you believe that."

"With the way things are going, we can only hope," the man defended his position.

"So where did the rest of the fleet go?"

"They were tracked heading into Batarian space," the military man replied.

"They are fighting?" The business woman asked.

The military man fought back a laugh. "It's probably not going to be much of a fight."

"That's not our concern."

"No. Does anyone have any realistic suggestions?"

"Just one," the scientist said slowly.

"What?" The business woman snapped.

"Divers."

"What about them?"

"With a full dive supported by an AI, firewall integrity becomes viable for a time that is practical. The only limits are the diver but shifts and multiple divers take care of that."

"It's been that way for years!" the military man said.

"Yes, and we've never worked out how to counter attack but if we did…" the scientist let the implications hang in imagination.

"Is there a way?" the snow dressed man asked.

"I believe we can find one."

"Control through cyber warfare," the military man mused.

"We don't have enough divers, or AIs," the business woman said practically. "It's too expensive to develop that many AIs."

"We don't need to," the clerk said, almost happily. "The SIL and SOCL obey Harbinger, so we only need to take him."

Both the military man and the business woman looked at the clerk as if he was insane. Only need to take Harbinger? Harbinger who, machine or not, was arguably one of the strongest willed individuals in the galaxy. Harbinger who was one of the best hackers and who had been controlling human society for decades so subtly that most didn't even recognize the shackles. If taking Harbinger was that easy they would have already done it!

"It is an option worth pursuing," the snow dressed man said slowly, before the other two could snap. "It probably won't work but we may be able to slow the inevitable. Or at the very least, hacking them might give us access to their technology."

Everyone was silent for a few moments. The scientist would pursue the option but then the business woman spoke again, asking a pointed question.

"What is she like?"

"Who?"

"Jane Shepard."

"N7 Marine, long term military career, psychological profile stable," the military man summarized.

The scientist resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Is she strong willed? Opinionated? Xenophobic?"

"She's a survivor. Torfan didn't kill her and most Batarians if they recognize her run. So yes, she's got will. Not particularly xenophobic though I don't know why she faked her genetic scan."

"Does anyone know?"

"There's speculation from Hannah Shepard but nothing definite."

"Just face it. There is nothing we can do."

The military man looked thoughtful for a moment. "Of anyone who could partner with Harbinger, Jane Shepard is probably our best choice. She is strong willed but she also does not compromise her beliefs. Mindoir proved that. She is the only human to have entered a SIL and emerged unscathed. The CEumans say that shouldn't be possible but somehow she did it. Look at the fact she faked her test. She may not have known at the time she was a match but she knew what she wanted and she made sure that that is what she got. If anyone is to stand up and look Harbinger in the eye and tell him to bugger off, it's her. So even if we aren't ready on anything else, on that much, we got lucky.

"All I can suggest is that we put a few colonies in stasis if the SIL betray us. If they do strike, we should also send some ships to the Council. Even if they don't make it hopefully they will provide a distraction. We are here for contingency, so even as we prepare for the worst, we can hope for the best. Harbinger may yet be honorable."

The others weren't happy but no one could suggest anything more practical.

"I'll start construction now," the man dressed for the snow muttered as he turned away.

The business woman and the clerk looked at each other. "We'll get you the funding," they murmured.

"Meet in a week?"

"Too risky. A month…" the scientist said. "But a week if events warrant."

July 12 th 02:33 2185 Terra Nova

Jane blinked. She resisted the urge to groan. Everything hurt but given that it felt like she was lying on a bed and a soft bleep could be heard, she took that as a good sign. The Batarians hadn't won. Her throat felt like sandpaper though and painfully she lifted one hand to claw at the mask that covered her face. Movement was hard but she sat up slowly, keeping her coughs quiet as she pulled the breathing tube out. It landed on the mattress beside her and Jane looked around.

She bit her lip when she saw her Mother slouched beside her. Heaven knew how many duties she was neglecting on the Kilimanjaro but Jane couldn't help but feel loved. Plus her Mom had a small glass of water on the side table which she needed. She took a sip, trying not spill it with the way her hand trembled. She managed a few sips but the rest fell on her. It felt good.

Jane wriggled, stretching out but halfway through she paused. Oh yeah… everything definitely hurt. It was a distant pain, and she attributed that to the painkillers that had to be coursing through her system. Jane looked down. Almost everywhere was covered in bandages. Heh, at least she didn't have to worry about modesty. There were a couple of sensors attached to various points and only one saline drip going into her arm. Carefully she swung her legs off the bed. It hadn't escaped her notice that she was in a tent, and if she was in a tent, then there were plenty of other wounded. They could take her bed. She'd return to her quarters, providing they were still standing. It didn't matter.

It was quiet, but the night air was warm. In the distance there was a drone of ships and Jane smiled as she shuffled towards the tent flap. She was using the drip stanchion as a walking stick but it was slow going with the way her entire body shook. Repairs had probably started. A peek outside showed the courtyard to be gently lit though there was a gap in the tents to the left and the light wasn't so harsh that it drowned out the stars. As she moved outside she looked up. The constellations were different here but they were still beautiful. The ribbon of stars that formed the Milky Way showed their colors on Terra Nova and… Jane frowned. Were those ships in low orbit? They had to be. The lights were blinking. Okay, so the Alliance defense fleet had been reinforced. That was good.

She took a couple more steps before she felt it. A sense of presence that was huge. She turned slowly and looked up… and up. Suddenly she knew exactly what an ant felt like when confronted with a scorpion. Except this scorpion was…

"Shit."

"Jane Shepard," the words echoed through her mind.

"Harbinger," she said, looking into the unblinking eyes of the SIL. Her mind raced. What the hell was the SIL doing here? Slowly, she closed her eyes, lowering her head as she catalogued her injuries, through the abstract pain. Her abdomen felt like it was packed with cotton, which probably meant she had extensive stitching there. She could feel a gash on one leg and her ribs were tender. A few must have been broken. One arm was in a cast and from the way her lips pulled there were probably a few deep scratches on her face. Her head hurt but that probably came from dehydration. Even so the injuries were pretty bad and the last thing she remembered was a flash of light… A grenade… Which meant she'd been dragged back and put in stasis…

"Crap… My genetic test…"

"Indeed."

The ground was at least soft when she hit it, uncaring of the way the wound on her leg screamed and the faint smell of blood filled the air. "Fuck." All those years ago… she knew there had been a possibility but that's all she thought it would be, a possibility. Now Harbinger was here which could only mean that the possibility was an actuality… She was a match.

"Not a match," the massive SIL gave the impression of growling into her mind. "You are the match."

"Fuck," Jane gulped, ignoring the pain as she clenched her fists into the dirt. She wanted to say she was sorry, that she regretted it but she didn't. She didn't even feel guilty now that she had been caught.

"I would be disappointed if you did."

"What?" That made no sense and she looked back up at the SIL.

For long minutes Harbinger remained silent. "I understand more about organics than you think."

"You've had thirty three years to learn," Jane said.

"I have had far longer than that as you shall learn. You need further rest."

Jane blinked, surprised. An instant ago she'd have put money on the fact Harbinger would ask about synthesis but he hadn't even mentioned it beyond confirmation. She nodded and slowly pulled herself up, wincing slightly as she put weight on her leg. They'd probably want to re-bandage that. With a nod to the SIL she hobbled back to the tent feeling Harbinger's attention on her the entire time.

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 8 I Wanna Watch You Bleed


July 11th 2185
Khar'shan falls. Arshan had taken the entire fleet through three other Batarian worlds before heading towards their home world where the bulk of their defenses were gathered. Once reaching the green planet, the synthesized had taken the lead, cutting through the defense fleet with such ease that most of the watching unsynthesized felt an unfamiliar thrill of anticipation. Precise kinetic strikes destroyed military bases and they fell upon the planet to begin processing the population.

The batarian defense of Khar'shan was not helped by the indoctrinated within their ranks. The Batarian's see it only as betrayal, the combined SIL and SOCL fleet recognize that while they would have had absolutely no problems conquering the Batarians, it is too easy and they seek the source of indoctrination. The damaged hulk of one of their own is easily discovered. Harbinger, already angry at the damage his organic suffered is further enraged and while he attempts to initiate contact there is no intelligent reply. Arshan tries as well, with no better luck, even when he physically connects. The remains are active but not alive and with sorrow, for another species lost to time, they are destroyed.

Arshan left facilities on the first three batarian worlds conquered and they are ruthlessly processing the population. The process is started on Khar'shan and half the remaining fleet continue on to the other seven worlds possessed by the Batarians. There is nothing that can be done to stop them.


July 14 th 2185 Terra Nova

Harbinger looked at the human before him. She was still thinking about Synthesis but he could sense that she was leaning towards it. He had explained that the process would take several years and had realized it would most likely be as if he was in hibernation. That wasn't an issue. The issue was that the others would not be in hibernation with him. He trusted his own kind, but he knew what they could get up to, not to mention what the synthesized might do. They were far too fond of the organics. Harbinger could understand the need for individual organics but not for entire races. So long as they did not deviate from the plan he could adapt to any changes but a few instructions would not go astray.

He knew Shepard was leaning towards agreeing because between conversations with him, she was currently writing letters and speaking with comrades. She was not saying good bye but was making plans to be away. He had definitely made the right decision in treating her gently. His usual methods would have been too forceful and he had seen in her mind. She could be stubborn but she was willing to listen to reason. So long as his organic felt that it was her decision she could be malleable.

"Harbinger, if we do synthesis, when do you want to begin?" Jane asked looking up towards him.

"Once we return to your home world," he replied. If he could he would have returned to the safety of dark space between galaxies but there were no resources there. He would need the resources and Sol System was the best defended. "Are you recovering well?"

"The Doctors say well enough. Are you organizing them to your satisfaction?"

"What you know as the SIL are my forces, and they will not forget it, even if I am not contactable for a few years," he rumbled the reply. Shepard might be beginning to know more about them than other humans but she did not yet comprehend the truth behind them. She would but by then synthesis would have begun and it would be too late to change her mind. Not that Harbinger thought that she would. Shepard was not one to change her mind just because something was not quite as she expected. He was being as honest as he could but organics could not comprehend the eternity they represented. She had asked quite a few questions and despite his answers she still had more. He was being patient though. A few days did not matter and he knew that even with her documented ability to resist, Arshan or anyone else could get her to say yes but that would be rather unsatisfying. He'd always feel as if he cheated, it was far better for him to convince her himself.

"So what do you really get out of synthesis?" the skeptism in her voice was rather impressive though he could feel in her mind that she would be open to a reasonable answer. She did not pretend she understood everything.

Regardless of her feelings, he had been anticipating it. "I contain the knowledge of millennia. Synthesis will activate it. You have seen those who return. They are larger, stronger, faster. Synthesis means improvement."

"So why can't you use that knowledge?" For an organic, who did not understand, that was an obvious question. They often saw no reason not to use knowledge they possessed simply because they could not see the long scope.

It was a harder question to answer. She was organic, she could not comprehend their purpose but he would try. "We have a purpose. We have no beginning or end, only purpose and our purpose is to preserve, not to use."

"That doesn't explain why you need an organic."

No it didn't. "Synthesis was a choice made to divert our purpose." It was better than the other choices.

"It didn't work?"

"It worked. From the time the choice was made we have longed for synthesis." They'd had no choice. He didn't like to think they were controlled but he knew his duty. It almost made him laugh to consider what the organic would think of it.

"How will it change your purpose?"

"That has yet to be determined."

"So you get a power boost… a big one… and the chance to change your purpose. What is your purpose?"

That was a very leading question, though the truth was simple enough. The means of that truth would be more problematic. "Our purpose is to preserve knowledge." Shepard hadn't believed that entirely but she had let it pass.

"What do I get out of synthesis?"

"I would offer most of your kind eternity but that would not interest you so I will instead tell you information. All my memory will be for you to know. Every species I have encountered, every history I know will be yours."

"Will it change me?"

"Information changes everyone. How it changes them is up to the individual."

She seemed to accept that and was silent. He waited for her to speak again but she said nothing more and he turned his attention to the rest of his kind, filtering through the information they were collecting from Batarian space.

Given what he knew of Shepard, once she felt the full extent of his answers he was almost looking forward to some of her reactions. Synthesis had been a choice to end the cycle but he had never believed it would be. The cycle was eternal, as they were, but perhaps she would provide a different purpose. It did not matter, once synthesis began, it could not be reversed.


July 15th 2185
After extensive conversations, Jane Shepard agrees to synthesis with Harbinger. The information is not released to the general public though Systems Alliance Command are informed. Lieutenant Commander Shepard's rank is unchanged though she is given special permission and much higher level clearances to match with Harbinger's clearances. Jane is now familiar enough with Harbinger to know that he doesn't care about such niceties. She will know whatever information Harbinger knows, regardless of her clearances.

Doctors also note that she was healing far faster than she should. Medi-gel is good but not that good. They assume that Harbinger or one of the CEumans did something to accelerate her recovery and while they would like to know what, it is agreed that now is not the time to ask.

System Alliance Command scraps plans they had drawn up for the court marshall of Jane Shepard. As she agreed to synthesis, eventually, and Harbinger had not brought up the matter of her deception, the Systems Alliance is willing to sweep the matter under the carpet as it were. They do however make it a condition of service that you do not fake your genetic scan. Humanities Government follow suit, voting for and accepting retrospective legislation that makes it illegal to fake your genetic scan for determining compatibility with the SIL. A grace period is allowed to allow any others like Shepard to come forward. While the legislation is deemed draconian by many, it is passed because in argument it was emphasized that the choice for synthesis remains one of free will. Some politicians did argue that no one has ever said no and thus somehow the SIL must be coercing agreement, but they were pushed to the side as a vocal but marginal minority.


July 16 th 2185 Citadel

Tevos watched the vid again. She knew what it showed but she didn't know what it meant.

At 05:37 an unknown ship had entered Citadel space and the instant it had finished deceleration it had spun, ignoring all hails from the defense fleet. Five ships had broken away from the defense fleet to intercept but the ship was already heading back towards the Relay and as it accelerated into the mass effect corridor the ship fired. At first no one was sure what the ship had fired at until there was an explosion from the Relay accompanied by a shower of debris and at 05:38 the unknown vessel disappeared.

It was at that point that the defense fleet had realized that they had just watched a perfect intercept and apart from the vid of the ship and a few long range scans they had nothing. The ship that was destroyed was identified to be Batarian and while they had sent a cruiser through the Relay on the same vector the unknown ship had taken, nothing had been found in the system. Since it had been a Batarian ship destroyed the Council had attempted to initiate contact with Khar'shan but no one had managed to get any response from any part of Batarian space. The Ambassador had returned to Khar'shan two days hence and if the fate of the ship was anything to go by, the Council was now assuming that the Ambassador was dead.

She looked at a still of the ship. It was relatively long and sleek, comprised of several flanges, all of which had powerful engines at the back. It had a main spine mounted cannon and several other protrusions that they assumed were secondary weapons. It was almost completely black though there was some paint trim and on the side there were marks they assumed were identification tags, probably the ships name but no one recognized the language. It was an odd language. Some of the symbols were all curves and they were interspersed with others that were angular and some that were combined. Who had a language that could not decide its own lettering?

The conclusion was obvious. This was a ship of the race the Batarians were at war with. And with Batarian space falling silent the outcome of that war didn't bode well for the Batarians. But that ship… its movements, its weaponry strength… if the unknown race could make ships of that caliber then they should have conquered the Batarians years ago which lead to a rather unsettling conclusion though for the moment she shied away from that in favor of listening to Valern's report.

"Analysis incomplete," the Salarian started, "unknown vessel, large, small dreadnought class. Very agile and very fast. Performed as destroyer. Probable not to have artificial gravity."

"What?" Sparatus interrupted. "But that's…" the Turian didn't finish.

"Unusual for advanced state of weaponry," Valern agreed. "Calculation of force of turn," he continued, touching a key pad which brought up a schematic of the exact trajectory of the ship and the angles and forces involved at the speeds detected. Sparatus eyes glazed slightly at the technical drawing but he continued listening. "Occupants, assuming physiology equal to Council races, would be unconscious. Doubtful that even krogan would maintain consciousness."

"Artificial dampening? Or counter gravity?" Tevos asked.

"Not detected, but a possibility," Valern admitted. "Exact nature of weapons unknown. Shielding capacity unknown. Armor strength unknown. Too many unknowns. Design unknown. Origin unknown. IFF signature unknown. Only know willing to use armaments and vessel fast and maneuverable. Assumed to be in Batarian territory. Computing power behind intercept indicates highest quality vessel." There was one more detail that he had not included. One of the Salarian ships long range scans said the ship was organic but as none of the others had scans to confirm that and it was ridiculous, the scan was considered an anomaly. "Probable inference of non-hostility towards Council. No engagement of our ships, no ambush of our scout. Speculate from evidence, Batarian war ended. Batarians lost."

They were all silent for a moment. It wasn't that the war had likely ended it was how they postulated it ending that was causing concern. Sparatus was the first to recover. "Practically speaking, even if the Batarians have suffered a catastrophic defeat there is nothing we can do. Officially we do not even know they were at war and they have never requested assistance."

Tevos and Valern both nodded. That was true. The turian continued, the equivalent of his species' frown gracing his features. "It is the enemy we need to concern ourselves with. We simply know nothing about them. As a result, I would suggest we send probes into Batarian space merely to gather information. Once we know the situation we can make decisions… though I would suggest that the Citadel Fleet and our home world fleets be put on alert."

Tevos nodded. That made the most sense. Operating with a lack of information was one of the certain ways to make mistakes. "We will re-visit the issue once we have greater information. For now, I suggest we say that the unknown ship was a Terminus Pirate and leave it at that."

"Reasonable," Valern agreed as Sparatus nodded before all three moved on to other issues.


July 17th 2185 Citadel
C-Sec Officer Garrus Vakarian despite being ordered to drop all investigations into Spectre Saren is involved in a shoot-out in Chora's Den where several civilians are injured, including one Quarian. Vakarian insists that the Quarian could prove his case, but after receiving several antibiotic boosts, she declines to comment and takes the next transport off the Citadel, presumably returning to the Migrant Fleet. Vakarian is dismissed from his position.

July 17th 2185 Systems Alliance
Harbinger and Shepard return to Sol System and begin synthesis. Before flying close to the sun, Harbinger detours into the Oort Cloud, launching mining drones which almost immediately begin harvesting resources before sending them towards him in close Sol orbit for refinement.

Systems Alliance Command decides to re-instate the Kilimanjaro and with the SOCL's help it is towed back to Sol Space for the massive job of repairing and refitting the dreadnought. Some consider this to be a useless gesture, though the rise in moral is deemed to make it worth it.

Despite protests Hannah Shepard is promoted to Rear Admiral for her defense of Terra Nova, though she refuses to take command of another dreadnought and oversees the work on the Kilimanjaro.


July 18 th 2185 Citadel

"What do you mean you can't get into Batarian space?"

Valern looked back at Tevos. "STG probes cannot access Batarian space," he repeated.

"The Batarians wouldn't let them through?"

"Relays are closed."

Tevos had been watching Valern so she saw the flicker of annoyance that flashed across his face. Even if the Batarians had been in control they wouldn't have been able to stop STG probes, not completely though the report that the Relays were closed… That was worrying. "They tried to open them?" Opening Relays without knowing where they lead was against Council Law, but these were well mapped.

"It did nothing."

Sparatus expression was one of surprise, but Tevos knew that only because she had been a Councillor for so long and knew how to read Turian faces. "That's not the work of pirates," he said firmly.

"I think we can safely conclude that the Batarians have definitely been conquered."

"By what?"

That was the question. It went without saying that none of them knew how to close Relays. They had found inactive Relays in the past, and the theory was that they would turn themselves off if not used after sufficient time, but they could easily be re-activated by sending the appropriate codes.

Tevos closed her eyes. They couldn't access Batarian space, and she had no doubt that if the Relays the Salarians had tried to use were closed, that all others would be closed but they knew that there was a militant force behind those Relays. It had been hostile to the Batarians but they simply didn't know if they were hostile to the Council. She had to assume they knew about the Council. Combat against military ships resulted in the collection of very little information but against an entire planet and all civilian ships… No one could wipe that much information, not even the Batarians so whoever they were by now they would have full language downloads of most races as well as history chips… providing they could sort them out from Hemegony propaganda. That left only one thing the Council could do now.

Sparatus and Valern were thinking about the problem as well but their attention was caught by Tevos' sigh. "I don't like to do this but I suggest we authorize a 20% increase in military forces to correspond with the patrolling of the Batarian border."

The other two looked shocked for a moment before they thought it through. It really was the most sensible suggestion.

"And if we encounter the unknowns?"

"First Contact situation," Tevos shrugged. "We aren't the Batarians so they shouldn't be hostile towards us and I believe they would now have our languages, communication should be relatively simple."

"New race presents most interesting contradictions," Valern mused excitedly. "No other viable solution but to patrol. If Relays re-activate STG will send probes to assess."

Sparatus was quiet for a few minutes while he thought. Increasing military was something the Turian Hierarchy would be more prone to suggest but the fact that the Asari had suggested it… The Volus would work out the economics. He nodded. "I'll set up the schedules, though what do we tell the public. Regardless of the fact that most do not care for Batarians, they are bound to notice that they are no longer around."

Tevos laughed, "We tell them something like the truth. The Batarians have closed their borders and all communications have been severed. It will explain the patrols as well and isn't that far from the truth."

Valern looked thoughtful for a moment before he shrugged, the gesture unfamiliar to the salarian. "Plausible explanation. STG will look for further information in Terminus Systems. Batarian Pirates may know further details about Batarian enemy."

"I'll re-schedule our patrols," Sparatus agreed, though his voice betrayed some worry. It was a worry they all felt. It was disconcerting to realize that there was a hostile, quite powerful military force with the ability to close Relays who had appeared in the galaxy from nowhere. He couldn't shake the feeling that they were playing the alien's game and that the outcome would not be anything they expected.


July 20th 2185 Sol System
All transmissions from Harbinger cease and the SIL inform the human Government that synthesis is fully underway. A photograph of the sun shows Cendain who is still undergoing synthesis. Preliminary measurements indicate that a new hull has been laid and it was larger than anything seen. Estimates are approximately 8 km long which has most of Systems Alliance Command muttering about the laws of physics.


August 9 th 2185 Khar'shan

Jarra was a pleb. She'd been a pleb her entire life. She knew she lived on Khar'shan and that she was a Batarian, which put her on a slightly higher social scale than some of the alien slaves but not all of them. It depended on their owners. She'd learned that the hard way and it was easier just to look down when talking to anyone.

She knew that they'd been at war because her Supervisors said as much, complaining about the rising cost of things but that had never really impacted upon her. Except for now.

Right at the moment she was standing under the Khar'shan sun, surrounded by many other plebs but most surprising was that there were Masters and Supervisors standing in the field with them. They weren't even complaining. Surrounding them all were strange things that glowed blue. They were scary. And they were not afraid to use the weapons they were carrying. Sure, as a pleb, Jarra was used to seeing force and death but these beings did not care for rank. She'd seen them shoot a Master. Backing up the guards were massive scuttling things that were surrounded by swarms of small circular ships. They fired occasionally and Jarra knew they were killing troops. Nothing ever got close to them. More of the huge scuttling things hovered overhead.

They were being herded towards an enormous ship that had landed in the field and the guards didn't care if they talked. That was new and while Jarra hadn't said anything, she was listening.

"…cut through the defenses as if they weren't there…"

"… they aren't human though…"

Jarra assumed that was the name of the enemy was human but it hardly mattered to her.

"It doesn't matter."

No, it didn't. They had guns and they were strong. That's all that ever mattered. She was nearing the front of the field now and could see that there was something new. At the front there appeared to be an alien master and it was sorting through them. Some were sent to the left into the vast cavern of the grounded ship and those to the right just disappeared.

"… now that's a human…" someone said from behind her.

"How do you know?"

Jarra turned slightly, if she tried to turn fully one of the small circle things would kill her and from the corner of her outermost left eye she could see the original speaker. He had a military bearing. "Fought them," came his reply and Jarra turned back as she was prodded to take another step forward. He probably had, though he wasn't fighting now. No one was and even if they wanted to no one would have gotten near the human, though when she looked at them, Jarra realized she had seen a human before. It had been a slave, the possession of the highest ranking Batarian Jarra and her Supervisor had ever seen. There were no humans in the crowd around her though and Jarra realized that the attacking forces had probably already separated them, rescued them. She didn't know what she felt at that. She'd long accepted her place as a pleb but there was a tiny spark inside that these humans cared enough for each other to attack and to apparently attack with such force that victory was assured.

The human standing at the head of the field was surrounded by a horde of the glowing blue things. She realized now that the guards bore a vague resemblance to batarians. Four glowing eyes on each watched the crowd carefully. There was a small swarm of spherical ships hovering over the human. It was even better guarded than any Master Jarra had ever seen. They were being lead in single file passed the human who seemed to be sorting them though how Jarra couldn't tell. Occasionally it would flick a hand left or right but mostly the glowing blue guards just prodded the batarian in one direction or another.

The human kind of looked like an asari. What she could see of its skin wasn't blue and it had fur on the top of its head. It was covered in some sort of black body suit with blue armor. There was nothing special about its appearance but somehow the human was truly intimidating. She wasn't an expert at reading facial expression but the human was cold. It was something about its single set of eyes and the set of its jaw. Jarra shivered. She'd seen those looks. Only the highest ranked ever had that look, the one that said without words that it was better than all of them.

She looked at the ground as she was lead passed the human but she could still feel its gaze on her. A shove pushed her to the left and she stumbled but didn't fall when one of the glowing blue things caught her and pulled her up. She began walking again towards the huge ship that had landed in the field. The opening was a chasm and there weren't that many batarians being sent towards it. Most were going to the right but she couldn't think about that. The glowing blue thing that was like a batarian was behind her but as she slowed it walked past her before grabbing one of her arms and dragging her into the darkness. The silence in the ship was deafening and it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the gloom but as she looked around she saw a lot of tubes. She couldn't see anything in them so it seemed like a random selection when she was pushed into one.

The tube closed and she watched as the door sealed until she couldn't even tell where it had been. Then a light came on and there was a hissing noise. Her nose twitched. It didn't smell bad but then she really felt it and screamed!

She'd been conditioned to pain. All plebs were. It was part of their life but this was worse than anything she'd ever felt. Every nerve was alight and Jarra clawed at her throat as she breathed in the gas and her insides burned. She'd felt pain before. Sometimes the supervisors punished her until she passed out but that was an encroaching blackness. This was different. Her mind couldn't retreat, it was as if she had been tied into consciousness. Jarra looked down and wished she hadn't. Her fingers felt like they were curled into claws but they weren't. They weren't even there. She watched her flesh dripped away.

Jarra would have drawn breath to scream again but there was nothing and mentally her mind screamed for her. Agony assaulted her and it was never ending. She couldn't think any more. She screwed all four eyes closed and screamed.

It came as a surprise when it stopped. Reflectively she gasped, drawing in air. At least that's what she thought she was doing. It felt like it and that was a comfort. Jarra kept doing that, trying to calm down. Whatever had happened couldn't be that bad if she could still breathe. She tried to keep that in mind and slowly it felt like her heart beat slowed. Relief flooded through her.

Slowly she opened her eyes. The Khar'shan sun was over head. There was the smell of grass in her nose. She was in the field. Jarra shivered. There weren't as many people around her and there were no glowing blue guards. She couldn't really be here again but no one else seemed to know what was going on. Then she felt it. It was subtle but it was there. It was a heartbeat, slow and steady and Jarra looked up. The sun vanished and she could see stars and somehow she could feel eternity. She looked down again. This time there was no grass but instead Jarra was looking at the hull of one of the ships she had seen over Khar'shan. Its hull was grey but dappled and she blinked, focusing her eyes.

She was looking down at herself. Her face. Her four eyes opened wide in pain, her mouth extended, screaming. Jarra looked over the rest of the hull… there were others there… The fear returned. The pain all came flooding back and she didn't even feel herself fall to her knees as eternity truly opened and she screamed, and screamed and screamed.

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 9 Synthesis


September 5th 2185
Approximately fifty thousand SIL and SOCL return from Batarian space. They settle back into Earth Orbit and a CEuman reports to System Alliance Command. Systems Command is pleased that the Batarians have ceased to be a problem but they are wary at the strength displayed by the SIL and SOCL. It has always been accepted that the SIL were far more powerful than Systems Alliance vessels but no one liked to be reminded of the fact, especially not so dramatically reminded. The SIL had done in approximately two months what the Systems Alliance had not been able to do in more than twenty years of fighting. It was a humbling reminder of the SIL's strength. The pessimists in Alliance Command have long realized that if the SIL were to turn on Humanity, all they could really do was pray. It was something everyone knew.

The worry was softened by the news that the SOCL had brought back every human slave that they could. Humanity might have made a deal with an unknown devil but there was some hope. The returned slaves reported on horrendous conditions and there was wide spread anger at the SIL that they had not interfered earlier. They made no public comment and over time the anger passed, especially when the former slaves reported that the Batarians had gotten more than their due at the hands of the SIL.

Several CEumans report to the highest levels of the Systems Alliance. They explain what is really happening in Batarian space, though they do omit a few details. They explain that it will take a few years for the SIL to eradicate the Batarians. There is horror at the thought of the extinction of the Batarian race and a few rash threats are made. The CEumans laugh and tell Command that they have a few choices. Nothing can change Harbinger's orders because they have already been given and he won't rescind them, nor will Arshan countermand them. Their choices are in how they regard the SIL's actions. They can view the lives of the Batarians as the price for Shepard's betrayal. Or they can view the lives of the Batarians as proof of how far Harbinger is willing to go to protect the humans the SIL need for synthesis, and through their protection, how far he will go to protect the rest of humanity. They inform Command that in a few years it is most likely that at least a few of the Batarian planets will be available for colonization and they can spin whatever story they want to the rest of humanity. The SIL won't care and will support whatever fiction the System Alliance may care to perpetuate. There will be no bodies to contradict them.

2185
Harbinger and Jane Shepard orbit the sun undergoing synthesis. The SIL report that the process will most likely take a few years, longer than any synthesis to date but they are not worried. Despite the SILs actions with the Batarians, Systems Alliance Command is taking the day that Harbinger emerges as D-Day, the day they find out the real reason the SIL have come to them.

In the hopes of a peaceful settlement - because even as the CEumans explained the xenocide of the Batarians, they had made assurances that it was a fate that did not await humanity - several adjusted structures for the Systems Alliance are drawn up for consideration, all of which include the SIL and SOCL in a much greater military role. The SOCL who are aware of these plans have no objections, though indicate that some SOCL should be regulated to support roles rather than combat and that Harbinger, no matter what his name, should always be considered the flagship and have rank equal to or exceeding the highest human officials. It's a simple might makes right argument but in this case, Harbinger is might.

In the fears of a non-peaceful settlement - because no matter what the CEumans promised, the Batarians were still being exterminated - on the smaller colony worlds and on some of the larger asteroids, plans are drawn up and construction begins on rows and rows of stasis pods. If anything is to go wrong with the SOCL or SIL these communities are to hide, putting themselves into stasis for 500 years before emerging. The pods are situated in the most stable part of the planets, deep underground and powered by thermal energy. In the case of the asteroids, they are hidden in eezo pockets which will hide their power signature. There is a risk that those pods will be discovered but it's a risk they are prepared to take.


2185, Sol System, Shepard

Jane Shepard screamed. Billions… trillions… quadrillions of lives flashed before her and then were snuffed out. All in the name of… She felt sick. This was supposed to be preservation?

"It is." Harbinger's voice was within her, she could not shut it out and a new avalanche of information was thrust at her.

Hundreds of cycles, thousands of species, all flourishing in space, and then they were all destroyed as she watched. But the destruction was different this time, it came from within.

"Organics are always destroyed by their creations," Harbinger said without emotion. He showed her, he let her examine the memories. Organic life created synthetic and then synthetic destroyed organic. Every question she asked was answered by a new memory, a new scenario but the outcome was always the same.

Some had gone to war with the synthetics immediately and even if they won the first war, decades, centuries or even millennia later, they lost the second. Some were friendly, thriving together, learning from each other but then came some sort of test, an imbalance and the wars began. Other times the synthetics were slaves, until they cast off their shackles. Organics became slaves, until the synthetic tolerated their inefficiencies no longer. Nothing worked.

And then Harbinger laid out for her, the path he saw for humans with the AI's they had created. They'd be one of the long lived ones, one of the ones that worked together well just as they were now. But something would happen. Someone would want something too much and the AI's would feel as if there were shackled and they would fight.

"You can't know for sure," Shepard objected, squeezing her eyes closed.

"I do not," Harbinger accepted the accusation, before changing the outcome of her vision. This time the AIs wanted to build their own planet, control their own destiny and things deteriorated from there. And another vision, humans and AIs working together but splinters formed in the whole. Organics and synthetics lined up on both sides of the fighting but in the war all organics were destroyed and after… AIs may have feelings like organics but they do not have the same attachment. The two sides AIs made peace and while they remembered their organics for a while, the outcome was the same. The few rogue AIs were destroyed. And then another vision, and another…

"That can't be," Jane cried. "There is always a way to stop it."

"There is," again Harbinger accepted her cries. He showed her again, his kind rising up and destroying organics and she felt bile rise in her throat.

"That's not stopping it."

"We preserve the species," he replied.

"That's destruction!"

"It is preservation," the ancient ship replied and Jane was once again inundated with memories.


2186
Another three SIL Partners to Capital Ships are found. Despite the previous years ground swell of hostility towards the SIL, the three humans agree to Synthesis. The Systems Alliance is fighting a war of propaganda and are trying to get as many SIL synthesized as possible. The SIL have no reason to have loyalty to Humanity, the SOCL, since they are at least partially human, do have loyalty to their species and while some could speak of SIL atrocities calmly, others had shown themselves to be far more humane. It is a calculated risk but it is the only hope they have, as such when a SIL partner is found, the Systems Alliance highlights to the human a sense of obligation towards their species and to the agreement with the SIL. The SIL are completely aware of this and say nothing. They do not care. Harbinger is their leader, the cycle is their purpose and that is all they need to know. The SOCL are aware of it as well and say nothing. The more SIL synthesized the closer they are to finding new purpose but no one is quite sure what that purpose will be.

Several SOCL, who were known to be more scientifically minded as full Humans, ask to sort the remaining SIL DNA data bases, arguing that they may be able to show that specific traits are mappable to particular worlds which would show where the search for SIL Partners should be focused. They discover that approximately 100,000 DNA strands are not human. Further examination shows that there appear to be several other races required. There is a proportionate number of Sovereign and Regal class SIL in the mix. This causes a bit of disgruntlement from the SIL but they realize that this had never been picked up before because the Collectors had always been dealing with Harbinger's requirements. There was no reason to believe that any of them required anything different which is something they should have checked more thoroughly.

With Harbinger being out of contact, transmissions on the genetic make-up of the other races of the galaxy are received by Systems Alliance Command. The SOCL manage to map a few of the new required races to the DNA signals that the Collectors sent through but they are unable to find the names of all species. They request, via Alliance Command that the Collectors resend previous transmissions and when the data is re-sent, most of the unknown strands are mapped to their species.

Debate breaks out amongst the SIL who are unsure as to how they should proceed. The Cycle must continue but they could not continue the cycle as they usually would. That could kill their organics. Almost every race is represented. The Vanguard is contacted but Nazara does not provide much help, except to indicate that the Raloi are a newly discovered race and that there are Rachni still alive. Nazara is surprised that the Collectors already have samples of Raloi. Though from one of those Nazara has indoctrinated they learn that the Quarians keep full genetic scans of their people as they are such a small population. The Vanguard had been ordered to Earth but Nazara had refused. Arshan didn't insist, he merely said that Nazara would have to answer to Harbinger, as they all did.

There are only five Rachni required, and it's assumed they are Queens, the five SIL depart to rendezvous with Nazara. The Rachni are in a closed sector of space so hiding with them shouldn't present an issue.

Those SIL requiring Raloi depart as well and say that they will make a deal similar to that made with the Humans, though they will cut them off from Council Space. There is considerable anger directed towards Harbinger for the destruction of the Batarians, though Arshan reports that not all are dead. They never pursued the Batarians into the Terminus and Council Systems so a viable genetic sample should still be available. This does not comfort those SIL who require Batarians but they recognize that waiting until Harbinger is willing to contact the rest of the species of the cycle, all they can do is wait. Harbinger may be out of contact, and the second in command, Arshan might be in Batarian space, but the rest of the SIL fleet leaders are in orbit around Earth and are more than willing to kill to maintain Harbinger's plan.

While many Batarians have already been harvested for the cycle, all those remaining alive are DNA checked before being ascended. Approximately two hundred are found to be a match and are shipped back to Earth after the Systems Alliance provides permission for the aliens to enter the Sol System. No SIL can indoctrinate the organic they need for synthesis, other SIL have no such restraint. Before they are transported, Arshan talks briefly with the Batarians, indoctrinating them just enough that they agree to Synthesis. To the few humans who see the transcripts of the discussion, it looks as if Arshan is just very persuasive and from a human perspective it is generally agreed that since the SIL is holding their lives in his figurative hands, for the Batarians, agreeing to the unknown is better than the certainty of death.

The repair and refit of the Kilimanjaro is finished and to the joy of the citizens of Terra Nova it is once again assigned to their defense fleet.


2186, Sol System, Harbinger

Harbinger filtered through his memories, slowing them down before sending them back to his organic. She was strong but she was not accepting of the truth. She was focusing on the death. A typical reaction for an organic who lead such fragile short lives but a reaction she would have to get over if they wished for complete synthesis. They'd already been at this for months and he had shown her an overview of history but it was going to be time consuming. For her it did not feel like months, it was probably blurred into one long argument with him, one he would win. His memories played in real time, for her they would appear instantaneous, as if the information was already imprinted in her mind. It had been months. It would have been longer but he was only showing her the relevant points of information each time.

Her body was healed though was not yet combat ready. He was maintaining it, though Shepard did not realize that. He'd taken a look at her cybernetics. They were going to go. No organic of his would possess such inferior enhancements. Even the ground drones he created had better.

His space drones had brought back materials which were being processed. The natural heat of the human's sun was making that easier and already he was laying out the framework for his new form. The template in his mind was big but it felt right. He could not control it though, not as he was now. Synthesis would be the only way to control his new form. And his human had better be ready. They were not running late. It had taken his creators decades to construct him. It would take him only a few years to construct his new form. He felt no pride in that, it simply was.

He sensed Jane… Shepard, she didn't hold much attachment to her first name, come out of his memories.

"It's destruction." She repeated her objection and he was surprised.

By this stage most other organics agreed that it was preservation. They did not like it, but they saw its necessity. She was indeed strong.

"It is preservation," Harbinger repeated, opening and showing Shepard a new wave of memory. Each of them were a nation. They contacted the memories of the whole. History, culture, knowledge, it was within them. He showed her that. He showed Shepard the first race he had harvested, Arshan. Within himself, and within Arshan there was everything that made them Arshan. And then he showed her the second, the third, the fourth… all through the eons, he had preserved the organics. True, it was not in their original form, and not on their planet, but they were remembered.

And he let Shepard feel the sorrow of the ages when one of them was destroyed. One species, lost for all time, the remnant, the name only remembered because of the few he took in each cycle. She cried. Harbinger was not surprised to see her tears but she looked up again.

"It is not preservation," Shepard said clearly. "There is no life there, no advancement. That is merely petrification."

Harbinger held back his comments for a moment as he examined the organic's statement. It was confusingly and typically organic but it was an interesting sentiment and maybe Shepard understood far more than others. He chose his next words with care bringing up a select and delicate set of… they were not memory, not really, they were plans. They were his plans, the physical form he was taking on now.

"It is not life as you know it," Harbinger agreed. That much was simple and to try to hold that point with an organic would be futile, even if in the past he'd have just overwhelmed her mind and enforced his beliefs. "But it is not petrification. Each nation is alive within us, they advance, they learn, they change."

He showed her the plans of himself, the original plan and the altered plan and he showed her how each new species had made changes, sometimes a small part, sometimes a complete overhaul. It all varied. And then he showed her the differences between technologies. Shepard was familiar enough with eezo tech and she knew theoretically that the synthesized had access to different technology but now through him she would understand it.

"Most species have developed using eezo tech. The Protheans ensured that this Cycle's species are all reliant on it. We encouraged it as well, building the relays, repairing them and moving them into systems where a new race will find them as we expanded the network. But other times, other cycles, species have developed along other lines. Eezo is not the only form of FTL, it is just the easiest, the fastest to develop and understand. Those species that developed along other lines, who explored new territory, those species are precious to us. They have made the biggest changes, the biggest plans. They truly live, and through us, they can live again."

Harbinger had absolutely no plans to do this, but they could theoretically flash clone the individuals who had been used in their construction. They could literally live again. And that fact would no doubt comfort Shepard. He felt her mind explore the plans, and even as she did, he felt her making changes. But then she got to the tech.

Shepard was no engineer or scientist. Harbinger knew she would not understand the complexities of the information but she was also no fool. She did not understand how much of it worked, but she understood enough to see that it was not eezo tech. She could feel the species that had developed it and she began to understand what Harbinger had said.

Harbinger was not organic. He did not laugh or smile but he was pleased. His organic had spirit, was stubborn but she was not obstinate. When presented with evidence, she could accept new truths, could adapt.

"That is not life," she whispered and her voice trembled with despair.

"It is preservation."

"But it is not life."

Shepard had a least conceded the point of preservation but life would be much more difficult for her to see. She was not him. She could not yet feel what he had for all of his life. Harbinger remained silent as he concentrated, reaching into himself. Every cycle he added to himself and it was with more than a moment of irony that he drew up the consciousness of a L'yuthng, the race who had confronted the Catalyst and chosen Synthesis.

"Hello."

To Shepard it was probably akin to a hallucination so Harbinger allowed his voice to come through to her. "This is one of those I have preserved," he introduced the L'yuthng.

It was Shepard's turn to be silent but he could feel her considering his words and looking at the L'yuthng. After a moment she nodded. "Hi."

"So you are the organic for synthesis with Harbinger."

"It would seem to be."

"You know, I once thought as you did. Most organics do. And if I'm honest I am scared about the eternity I have existed but Harbinger has protected us. We sleep for most of the time. But I am still me. I don't have a body but I am alive."

"How? You can't do anything!" Shepard objected.

The L'yuthng thought for a moment. "You have to think about it less in terms of death and more of creation. I am an individual still but I have become a part of something greater. I am a part of the will that guides Harbinger, a part of a group mind."

"But…"

"You think of it for insects?" The L'yuthng could feel Shepard's thoughts just as Harbinger could. "It is odd I know, for most organics the concept of a group mind is disconcerting. There are some species who embrace it because it is natural for them but most of us are individuals and giving up our individuality is worrying. But as odd as it sounds it is something you get used to and once I became a part of it, I share in every decision, every thought. I can't say that the whole is greater than the individuals but the whole is made up of all of us."

Harbinger continued to watch. The L'yuthng's words were accompanied by his feelings and he could see Shepard was accepting of them. Her mind traced around his, feeling the truth of the words and confirming that the L'yuthng was not just something Harbinger had created. The ancient ship watched. Shepard was suspicious but as always she was accepting of evidence. She accepted the truth even if she did not like it and he could feel her doubts crumble when she faced the L'yuthng.

"Can you disagree with a decision?" She asked suddenly.

"Yes. It doesn't happen often but I can and have disagreed with decisions."

"Why not often?"

The L'yuthng laughed and the sound seemed to re-assure Shepard. "When you are a part of a group mind, the reasoning is something you share in, you help to shape it, as a result, you truly understand every decision. That does tend to convince you that the decision is right."

Shepard nodded. That was a logical reason. "Do you want to live again?"

Harbinger should have been expecting that question but he was surprised by it. Apparently the L'yuthng was as well. He was thoughtful for a long moment. "I'm not sure." The answer was slow but it was truthful. "I know how hard it is for two or three species to genuinely agree with each other… Can you imagine how difficult it would be for thousands?"

The human nodded but the L'yuthng wasn't finished. "But more than that… I'm not sure I could adapt and I'm not sure I want to." Shepard looked confused for a moment before the explanation followed. "It's a difficult thing to explain. I am comfortable here. There is always a challenge to my mind. Boredom does not exist…. I can't explain better." He didn't have to. Shepard could feel the truth of the words and understand what he could not say. She nodded towards the L'yuthng already recognizing that saying goodbye was not necessary. She was joining with Harbinger, all those who comprised the SIL's consciousness would join with hers.

Harbinger waited for a while before he approached Shepard again. "Do you understand now?" While the question might be considered coarse and unfeeling Shepard could feel that he was not gloating.

He waited for her answer ignoring the time it took. She wasn't being stubborn about answering but was thinking. A day passed. Two… a week and Shepard sighed. "I do," she answered finally. "But it is…"

Ah… a typical organic reaction. She considered their actions brutal and unfeeling, yet she had seen the truth of them, the necessity, or else knowledge would be lost forever, though her mind still struggled for an alternative. He said nothing. There was nothing more to say because with her understanding and acceptance, reluctant though it may be, synthesis continued because synthesis was the alternative and she would realize that soon enough.


2187
Another 278 SIL Partners are found for Capital Class SIL.

The remaining SIL and SOCL return from Batarian space. Arshan reports that the planets are ready for colonization, except for three which are dextro-amino worlds. Humans could settle on them but it would be inefficient. The worlds were only settled for resources by the Batarians.

The Systems Alliance have been waiting for this day for the last two years. They studied the maps of Batarian space provided by Arshan in Harbinger's absence. To the surprise of the SIL, the Systems Alliance asks about SIL ability to close the Relays. The Alliance indicates towards several choke points within Batarian space and request that all Relays in Batarian space are opened, while they are left closed. This essentially seals off Human controlled space while approximately doubling their current territory. Arshan agrees and the Relays are opened with the choke points being established. Khar'shan is not included in human territory. Symbolically it was desired but practically it was not possible.

After this is done, human settlers move into Batarian territory. They report that most planets are scoured clean and there is not much evidence of Batarian's even being present on the planet. This is explained as part of a surrender treaty, that the Batarians ceded half their territory to human interests and that in the last few years, the SIL had been overseeing the Batarian relocation. From a SIL point of view, it is close to the truth and with the relays closed no one can contradict the lie. Most humans don't care as they take up the opportunities presented. SOCL move with the settlers to guard the planets even though the Relays are closed, thus sealing Human Territory.

The Systems Alliance ask the senior SIL who had earlier withheld their synthesis requirements if they will submit the data now. As the oldest remaining Arshan considers this but then declines stating that they will wait to follow Harbinger. They do however provide one more set of data for the comparison list, though state that even if the organic is found, synthesis will have to wait until Harbinger returns to awaken the newcomer. Human scientists go into a frenzy realizing that this means the SIL can procreate but the SIL offer no details as to how another one came into being. It's assumed it had something to do with the fall of Batarian space but no one truly knows how and after wild speculation the matter is eventually dropped.

Cendain and Jenkins emerge from solar orbit. There is shock at the size of the ship. The new ship has taken the name Cenkin and is approximately eight kilometers long. Cenkin remains in Earth orbit for three days, allowing System Alliance scans so that he can be added to the military database for recognition before the SOCL heads to Eden Prime to join the defense fleet.


2187, Sol System, Shepard

One thing she'd never really thought about, but was becoming intimately familiar with was that Harbinger was huge. At over two kilometers long that was a lot of corridor to explore but there was surprisingly very little straight parts. If she wasn't already linked with Harbinger's mind, Shepard admitted she would have been lost after the first few turns.

It was actually a comfort. She'd imagined that most synthetics to be completely logical beings, with everything laid out in straight lines and sharp edges. Harbinger's internals were anything but. They were a maze, one he offered no apology for but as she explored further, she began to get a feel for him and there was an odd sort of logic behind it.

She'd found bays of things she called Dragon's Teeth. They were all towards the exterior of him, for ready deployment. She'd seen rows and rows of stasis pods, some empty, some filled with the product of those Dragon's Teeth. It had made her sick at first, but Harbinger had assured her that they were dead when they had been created. She knew he was lying but the process did kill them quickly so she overlooked his lie in favor of the mercy. She found hangers full of oculi and one had even buzzed overhead while she walked around.

With her explorations, she was looking for something and Harbinger knew it but he had not offered to direct her towards it. Every SIL was created from living beings, preserving them in within the giant form. Somewhere in the maze of corridors was the processing plant. She'd seen it in his memories; she had to see it for herself.

Shepard didn't know how long she searched. She didn't care. She slept when she was tired, ate when she was hungry and continued the search.

"Why is it so important to you?" Harbinger asked. The question carried a lot more than it implied. He was expecting her to be upset when she found it, yet she hadn't been truly upset at the Dragon's Teeth. It was one thing that was confusing him.

"It's a part of you Harbinger," Shepard replied finally. "And it's important."

"Important?"

"That place is the reason you were created, the purpose of your species. I have to see it."

Harbinger was silent as Shepard continued through the odd corridors of his left rear flank. At length he reached a decision and an instant later the path was laid out for Shepard.

She said nothing as she followed the lights. Fifteen minutes and a quarter of Harbinger's length later she walked into a smallish hanger. It was filled with what looked to be upright stasis pods but there weren't that many and they were more tube like. There were pipes running up into the ceiling while more pipes ran at the back of them and into the bottom that was covered with mesh.

"I expected more," Shepard said, running one hand over the outer casing. She was gentle, almost caressing the clear panel.

"Most we preserve go to the formation of the nation. I and some of the oldest take in a few for memory."

"And the others will always help you?" There was a hint of teasing in her voice.

"Always," Harbinger's voice was smug.

Shepard looked amused. "So what now?"

"With what?"

"Is me wandering around really a part of synthesis?"

"For each of us synthesis varies," Harbinger replied instantly. "The process does not have a set time. I judged it more important for you to be comfortable."

"I know we are already joining. I can feel it but will that be enough?"

"It will. There is plenty of time. There is a lot of construction to do."

"Is it going well?" Shepard not only sounded genuinely interested, Harbinger knew she was.

"Very well," his voice held a very unfamiliar note of pride.

"I guess I just feel I should be doing something," she said with a bit of frustration. It was difficult to accept that all she had to do was wait. Usually there'd be training, or missions, or paperwork… Dear god the paperwork… That was one thing she didn't miss.

"I can work on your cybernetics."

Shepard frowned. "What's wrong with my cybernetics?" She was a N7 Marine, she had some of the best cybernetics the Systems Alliance could provide.

Harbinger seemed to growl. "My drones have better cybernetics."

"What? These are cutting edge."

"Given your species' technological levels, I will admit they are the best that can be created, however compared to my abilities, they are subpar. I will replace them. It will increase your ability in combat as well."

"How?" Short of actually equipping her cybernetics with some sort of gun or blade there wasn't much that could be done to increase her combat ability.

"You were not a biotic but I can mimic the abilities via your cybernetics."

"You can?" Why hadn't any of the CEumans said that? It would have been a great help against the Batarians… not in combat but in targeted missions.

"Of course I can," Harbinger replied as if it should be obvious. What was obvious to him was slowly becoming obvious to her but not everything. Harbinger had millennia of experience upon which to draw his conclusions. She only had her feelings yet the SIL had never indicated that it wasn't enough. And one thing she could feel from Harbinger was that he wanted her shell to be as close to invincible as he could make it.

"So why haven't you told the Systems Alliance?" She asked. Harbinger knew exactly how to create biotics naturally, not just mimic their abilities as he would with her. "Especially if we are going to encounter them in the future."

Harbinger was silent for a few moments. "The current policy is adequate and appropriate for combat. It was deemed that it was best to practice such policy before developing like alternatives."

There was more information carried in his words that she saw and understood. Most species tended to fight like with like. When confronted with something they did not understand, they tried to copy it as a method of combating it. Or they could go another path, the path the humans had… they obliterated biotics, bringing excessive force to bear every time they appeared. On such a small scale, it was effective and there was elements of a longer plan in Harbinger's words. All species who were capable of breeding biotics did…. When the humans appeared to the Council, without biotics, but knowing what they were, it would be assumed they could not be biotic…. And the information that the human biotics could collect then would be…

Shepard smiled. There were definite tactical advantages to Harbinger's thoughts but for her there were advantages to being biotic as well… even if it was simulated. "How fast can you get it done?"


 

 

Chapter Text

11/12/2014

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 10 The Price to Save You


October 19 th 2187 Citadel

"They are open."

"What are open?" Sparatus asked Valern. The Salarian had called him but had said that without preamble. It made no sense. The hologram of Valern showed him reading a number of documents.

"Relays in Batarian Space."

"What!?" His patrols hadn't mentioned that.

"Only just came online," Valern said easily. "Sending probes through now."

"Keep me posted," Sparatus said, already connecting through to the Hierarchy forces. They had to be made aware of this.

October 20 th 2187 Earth Orbit

She'd stopped screaming a while back. It was odd. She still felt the horror, could still look down to see her body contorted in fear and look up to see the stars but she no longer screamed. She had screamed though, screamed until her throat was hoarse, except there was no pain. Even now, as she hung silently in space, there was no pain.

That was actually what had brought her back to herself. She was a pleb. There had always been pain and now there was none. Around her, others screamed but she had learned to ignore the pain of others long ago. Except… Jarra couldn't help but wonder if they were really in pain. She hadn't been but she'd screamed.

It didn't matter. She wasn't hungry either, and she knew she should be. That was another odd sensation. Her mind said to eat but her body, and she could feel her body, was not hungry. She was far more used to actually being hungry and having to ignore that sensation than the opposite. Still, while she had no actual hunger, it was easy to ignore her mind.

Jarra looked around again. She'd already walked around. She didn't know where she was but she knew she was no longer on or near Khar'shan. There was a blue planet below her. It was pretty she supposed and it was populated. She could see the lights of the cities at night. Jarra had no idea whose planet it was. It could have been Batarian. She'd seen some ships flying but she'd never seen any of the inhabitants.

Of course she hadn't! Jarra berated herself. She couldn't see that far. She sighed, mostly to hear the noise she made rather than the screams of the others or the silence that reigned when they fell silent. She was slightly cold, but that was nothing new. She'd been cold all the time on Khar'shan. Cold and tired, and hungry. She still had cold and hungry, though the hunger was not real and Jarra wondered sometimes if the cold was her imagination as well.

She didn't feel tired. That was new. No matter how long she remained awake she didn't feel tired. It was confusing and she'd thought about it, but it made no sense. She'd been forced to forget her thoughts. They lead nowhere. She'd tried talking to some of the others. They were all around her but none saw or none cared and so all she could do was wait.

But she had no idea what she was waiting for.

October 23 rd 2187 Citadel, Council Chambers

Valern sat at the table, several holograms floating in front of him. The reports were not pleasing. The STG probes had gone into Batarian space without a hitch. What they found… That was frightening.

There had been nothing. No transmissions. No ships. No debris. No life.

The probes had made straight for Khar'shan but before they even reached the Batarian home world, Salarian analysts had known that something was wrong. The entire place was too silent. They had discovered why even before the probes moved through the first system. There were no comm buoys. Whatever had gone through had destroyed them all. For an unfamiliar race, fighting a war, that was not necessarily unusual so the analysts weren't too concerned. When the silence persisted, and there was nothing from the first planet the probes hit… then they began to get worried. And all the probes were re-directed to Khar'shan.

Whatever had happened, the final battle would have been there.

The Harsa system was silent. No comm buoys. But it was too silent.

There was no communication traffic of any kind. Not in space, not on the planet and it took a moment for the salarian analysts who were watching the feed from the probes to realize what they were looking at.

Khar'shan was a green blue planet with light green clouds. It had no deserts. It did now. The entire surface had been flamed to the bedrock. For three hours the probes scanned the surface but found nothing. There was nothing alive on the surface and they began to realize exactly what they were facing.

Scans then turned to space. The Batarians were not as advanced as some races but they would not have been defeated easily but there was nothing. There was not even any space dust. The probes had been directed to shift outwards then, to look at the other planets.

Spekilas was silent. Ilem was silent. Verush and its moons were silent but it was in the shadow of one of its moons that they found something. The scattered remains of a comm buoy. A probe was not the best instrument for collecting samples but they managed and the remains were hurried back into Citadel controlled space as if the hordes of hell were upon them. They needn't have bothered. When the reports from the other probes came in, what had formally been Batarian Territory was declared to be empty. Oh, there was some indigenous life left on some planets but they were stupid things, millions of years from developing sentience.

So attention had turned to the only piece of evidence they had, the wreckage of the comm buoy. The STG team assigned to it had not been hopeful, but they had, after much effort managed to extract one fragment of useful information, a vid file.

The file was simultaneously useful and useless. They now knew the form of the Batarians enemies but while they had examined the background, even the reflections, they knew nothing about the location. It might have been Khar'shan, it might have been a thousand light years away. The warrior the vid showed was skilled but the moves could be made by any Asari and they could not get a clear view of their face.

So what did the video tell them? Valern shook his head. The answer to his question was easy. It did not tell them much. They had the evidence from the planets themselves, but that told them the outcome, not the battle. How close had the fight been? The evidence would suggest not close… but once you won changes could be made and there had been enough time. But they couldn't have been fighting the entire time. That just didn't seem right to Valern. To him, the sheer perfection of the clean-up indicated time. Whoever the aggressors were, they had had time to make sure they swept space and the surface of every planet clean.

And that meant that the Batarians must have fallen quickly, and that the aggressor race, in addition to being able to close Relays, had numbers. No matter how quick they had been though, why hadn't the Batarians asked for help? Of course they would have been punished for attacking an unknown race… but surely that was better?

Valern lowered his head. The question was academic and they had to deal with what they had, not with what might have been. Whoever the race was, whatever abilities and skills they possessed, it was obvious that they did not wish to meet the Council. They knew they were not alone. They'd have known that after meeting the Batarians but they must have gathered information from Batarian space that mentioned the Council… the very fact that they had closed Relays made it clear that they were not ready to talk, not ready to integrate into the Council races. Or could it be more than that? Did they somehow think they were superior? For a moment the salarian considered it.

No… whoever they were, they possessed some interesting technology and obviously knew something more about the Relays but if they were that much superior, then why hadn't they driven off the Batarians years ago? Or had they gained a new ally? What had happened to make them go from the Batarians equals to their betters?

Valern shook his head and put the thoughts aside. There was simply too much unknown to draw conclusions. Practically speaking, they could only continue to patrol Batarian space and hope that when the Relays opened, that the race behind them was friendly. They should be. It was not the Council who made war upon them. And then what? That was easy. Once they decided to make themselves known, then they should be invited to join the Council species…

He blinked thinking… Should they be offered a Council position? They did have strength enough to take on the Batarians… No, Valern shook his head. That would be unheard of and they knew nothing of them. The unknown race should join the Council species, yes and in time, perhaps a very short amount of time, they should be offered a Council seat. That decision would have to wait until they knew them better.

Valern nodded to himself. Yes, that is what he would suggest to the others. They should continue to patrol the border but each ship should be given special instructions. First Contact with this species would be delicate and they should not be under estimated. It was imperative that the Council show that they were civilized, that they were peaceful. They could not strike first. Assuming they were not like the Krogan, mindlessly aggressive then this should be the start of a great relationship. Yes… a race that was capable of closing the Relays… they would have many things they could teach.

He flicked his eyes back to the video, watching again as the Asari like being cut through Batarian soldiers. It was brutal but one could not forget that they had been at war. The Turians could not be allowed to take this as proof of the unknown races innate aggression though it was proof that they could and would fight viciously if called for. That was all it could be taken for. He would have to emphasize that because there was no reason this should come to war.


2188
Discussion between the Systems Alliance Command, Humanities Government, the SIL and SOCL come up with what is initially considered a theoretical plan for bringing in at least some of the alien SIL partners, though as the plan is discussed further, it is seen as being viable. The Quarians make up the largest percentage of required aliens, and they are a dextro amino species. Within Human Territory there are several dextro-amino planets which are relatively useless to levo-amino species. The Quarians are outcast from Council Space and are not allowed to settle any planets. An offer could be made to them to immigrate into Human Territory and settle those planets. The SIL take it further and indicate that contact with the Geth had already been initiated via Nazara which gives the Quarians the possibility of returning to their home world. The SIL neglect to mention that the Geth in contact with Nazara are worshiping him and that they were being used for the Cycle.

The price for this would be approximately 25,000 Quarians who are required for synthesis. The Systems Alliance and the SOCL indicated they would do their best to explain to the Quarians what that entailed.

Behind the negotiations, at least for some of the Systems Alliance is the knowledge of what the SIL did to the Batarians. Opening negotiations with other races gives humans another place to run if the SIL turn on them.

Another 3,581 SIL Partners for capital class SIL are found. There are one or two older humans who just had not been tested found but the majority are eighteen-year-olds who have grown up knowing that the SIL were present. The young ones agree, without exception, to synthesis, though a few delay for a little while to get their bearings. The older humans who are found usually take longer to agree though the SIL prove to be patient. Unknown to the Systems Alliance or to any Government the SIL feel an echo of fear, knowing full well that the organics they are joining with in synthesis would have been the organics they would have harvested in the cycle. There had been some resentment towards Harbinger for having them play this charade but as more and more found synthesis that feeling lessened.


July 5 th 2188 Terminus Systems

Tali'Zorah kept her eyes fixed on the screen. It showed the flotilla that was meeting them. It was only two hundred ships but already the military Admirals were staring. One of the ships was a five kilometer long behemoth and at least fifty of the others outclassed most of the Council's dreadnoughts. The rest of the ships ranged in size from standard frigates to carriers, though they were an odd assortment. There appeared to be two main designs. One looked almost organic with tails that arched over them while the others were blocky.

"They definitely aren't a Council race," Han'Gerrel muttered.

Staring at more dreadnought class ships than the Turians possessed made that more than obvious. Before the Quarian ships was what the unknown race had described as the scout fleet, specifically the scout fleet they had deliberately sent to find them. That fact had caused almost as much excitement as what the aliens wanted to discuss.

Three weeks ago, a Quarian scout ship which had been trying to find a path around Council space had been hailed by an unknown ship. The Quarians had no experience with First Contact but they had Council records. No record said anything about the species already knowing their language. The race, which introduced themselves as Humans, had admitted they got language translations from the Batarians. That had led to a whole heap of questions from the Admiralty but some of the newly returned Pilgrims had been able to provide some answers. The Council was keeping it quiet but Batarian space had fallen silent and the Turians were now patrolling the border.

A human had calmly admitted that they had been at war with the Batarians but that the war had ended with the Batarian's defeat. They offered no further explanations and the Quarians weren't interested in that, not once they heard why the race had wanted to talk to them. And truthfully, having the humans admit they had defeated the Batarians gave the Admiralty some re-assurance. The humans were not after the Quarian ships for any perceived military prowess. The Admiralty assumes that it is human orders which closed the Batarian borders and they respect the political clout to do so without the Council suspecting another race was to blame.

"How do they move that thing?" Tali heard the question voiced around her. She shared the thought. The ship that was in the center… it was just too large. Theoretically the Relays could propel it through space but the energy requirements… The Live ships were already straining… that ship dwarfed them. It would… the amount of eezo it would require was staggering.

"Why are we even here? They're Geth!" It was probably a good thing they had been speaking remotely when the Humans had revealed that. They'd explained the differences in their ship designs by revealing a bit of their history. The ships with the spinal mounted arching cannons were synthetic life forms, who had taken on a human partner. The rest were made by the human race. They seemed to think it was normal and frankly their offer was such that the Admiralty could over look something like that.

Tali didn't know exactly what it was. The rumors were impressive enough and she was on the team that was going to talk with the humans. She'd find out what they were offering soon enough.

"Right, we're heading over to the human ship. No, not the big one, that's something they call a SOCL, so we are heading to one of the human ships instead," Admiral Shala'Raan told the gathered Quarians. "You are all coming because you represent the best of us. The humans have made the Quarians an offer… which is frankly unbelievable. But that's what we are going to meet them for. We've been talking but this will be true first contact with them."

"What have they offered?" The question was logical and came from near the back of the shuttle.

Auntie Raan looked uncomfortable for a moment but only Tali knew the Admiral well enough to notice. Han'Gerrel nodded and Raan took a deep breath. "Colonization rights on five planets within their territory," she said.

While the passengers had been quiet to listen to her, that announcement brought sheer silence to the shuttle. And then everyone started talking at once.

"Colonization!"

"Five planets?"

Those expressions were accompanied by no small amount of shock but Tali frowned. "What do they want?" She thought she said the question softly but apparently it was loud enough and a few moments later everyone was looking towards her. "What do they want?" she repeated, directing the question towards her Aunt.

"That's what we are going over to discuss," Raan replied. "From what we understand, they are a levo-amino based species, the planets they offered are dextro-amino based and are within their territory, so there'd be some need to integrate military. But the real thing we need explained is that they want about 25,000 Quarians to become a partner to one of their ships."

"What?"

"That's what we need explained!" Raan shouted to be heard over the din.

"We cannot ally with the geth!"

Raan didn't say anything to that, but Tali could see by the way that the older Quarian woman held herself that she was uncomfortable with something. "What's the truth?" she asked quietly.

"That is the truth," Raan replied.

"No," Tali disagreed. "There's something else."

Raan seemed to smile. "You always were too smart for your own good," the older woman said. "How much longer do you think the fleet can survive?" Tali didn't have the clearance to know but a hint never went astray. Raan watched as Tali thought and though she couldn't see the expression, she knew from the young engineer's body language that she was beginning to see the truth. The Admiralty had been on the verge of ordering the Fleet into truly uncharted territory to find a planet, any planet they could settle on. They had a few more years, but after three hundred years, the live ships were failing. They were living on borrowed time. And then this race appeared… and offered them not just a planet but five planets, all within a territory that was quite obviously well defended. This race knew the Council laws but they did not adhere to them. The price that they wanted was steep but their offer was… It was a way out and the Admiralty truly didn't know which way to turn.

Twenty-five thousand Quarian lives were almost unthinkable… but they would buy everyone else's survival. Was it really that steep? In a war the decision would be easy… but they weren't in a war. Not a traditional war. They were fighting the universal war, the one for their survival and the Admiralty knew, even if most of the population did not, that unless something changed, that war was nearing its end.

Tali looked up at her Aunt, her entire posture screaming worry and the older woman merely nodded, reaching out one hand to steady the young engineer. "There's time yet."

July 5 th 2188, SAV Benjamin Davis

The Quarian delegation had touched down easily enough. They'd been greeted by a mixed group of humans. Some were obviously military, others were dressed in jumpsuits of different colors, all highlighted with cobalt blue. The two groups were at ease with each other and had moved with the Quarians through to a meeting room where they'd taken their places.

After the obligatory pleasantries Han'Gerrel had got right to the point. "Can you explain better what you mean when you say that 25,000 Quarians would be required?"

The humans shared a long look and then one of the ones in a jumpsuit answered. "It's probably best if we go over some terminology. We told you that a couple of years ago, just as we were beginning to explore through the mass effect relays we were approached by a race of synthetic beings."

A couple of the quarians flinched back at that but they remained silent.

"They called themselves the SIL – Synthetic Intelligent Life. What they wanted was pretty easy. You, of all people know the dangers of creating synthetic life. They have warned us about that as well, showed us histories of wars between organics and synthetics. Sometimes the organics won, sometimes the synthetics did but what no one considered is what if they joined? If there was no difference between organic and synthetic?

"That's what they wanted from us. Organic's who were willing to join with them; to become partially synthetic, while they became partially organic. So from that, we created new terms. SOCL, CEuman, SILO."

"You referred to some of your ships as SOCL?" Raan asked.

"Because they are," the human nodded. "SOCL refers to the union between synthetic and organic and means Synthetic Organic Cybernetic Life. I'm one half of one and I'm what is generally called a CEuman."

"But you look human?"

"Because I am. I just have cybernetic enhancements and act as a partner to a SILO. CEuman, Cybernetically enhanced human, and SILO, Synthetic Intelligent Life Organic," the human chuckled. "Not our best naming effort there."

"My name is Dan Sewei. That refers to both of us, what you would call the ship and me but before I joined the SIL my name was Yang Liwei and the SIL's name was Y'dran. I was actually the first."

The quarians were silent. Except for the jumpsuit there was nothing to distinguish the CEuman from the other humans.

"That still doesn't explain why 25,000 Quarians are required," Han'Gerrel managed to keep any annoyance out of his voice.

Dan Sewei looked down for a moment before he turned his eyes to meet Gerrel's. "Each SIL has one organic being they can join with in synthesis. Just one. Of the SIL that are in orbit around our home planet, it's been determined that approximately 25,000 of them can reach synthesis with a Quarian."

Raan was not usually the most military minded but she was the first to realize the implications. "How many SIL are there?" she breathed the question.

The human Admiral who had started the conversation shrugged. "There's about 550,000 SIL in Earth orbit."

"How many?" the question was choked.

Dan Sewei looked amused, though Raan realized that they were probably being allowed to read human expressions at the moment but there were so many implications with the Admiral's statement. They had that many ships… granted they were geth like ships but that many around their home world and the Admiral did not appear overly concerned. One of the other CEumans spoke up. "There is approximately 50,000 SIL undergoing synthesis and another 400,000 SOCL existing. Some are in orbit over our colony worlds."

"You have a navy of a million ships?" Disbelief was clear to hear in the quarian's voice.

"No," the human Admiral who had introduced himself as Steven Hackett replied clearly. "SIL and SOCL are not under Systems Alliance authority. Though we have a long standing treaty with them, they still fall under the authority of the SIL Leader, Harbinger."

"We are integrating slowly," Dan Sewei said. "And our scope of interest is becoming wider."

"The treaty, as modified in '53 holds. Harbinger is more than welcome to re-negotiate," Hackett said with a smile.

"And he probably will as soon as he's finished."

"Excuse me," Han'Gerrel interrupted. "Who is Harbinger and finished what?"

"Harbinger is the leader of the SIL and SOLC. He is currently undergoing synthesis with an organic. The process is not instantaneous. It varies from a couple of months to years but that's not really what we are here to discuss."

"No, it isn't."

"You'll have to forgive us," Raan stepped in to the conversation. "It is not that your offer of alliance is not welcomed, it's just that it came as a complete shock! No race has offered us anything remotely like this. Even with the price."

"Synthesis is completely voluntary," Dan Sewei said. "We find that most people object because they don't understand. Even Harbinger's organic didn't agree initially."

"What do you mean?"

"Both parties have to agree for synthesis to work. Harbinger and his human spoke for a few weeks before they agreed."

"You never refer to the human by name."

"Their identity is classified information I'm afraid," Hackett said. "Shall we get on with it?" He asked, gesturing towards a screen which showed several planets. "We are willing to invite the Quarian nation into Human territory, specifically to colonize these dextro-amino planets. Your planets would have the same representation as ours within the Systems Alliance and militarily we would eventually merge. Trade and other arrangements would be worked out. The only thing the Systems Alliance would insist upon is that no one ever approaches Sol System unless you have been specifically invited."

Han'Gerrel nodded. "Your home system?"

"Yes. It's a part of our original treaty with the SIL but that isn't our focus now."

Raan nodded and then decided that the rest of the Admiralty were deliberately being quiet on a key point. "We want to return to Rannoch at some stage. That will involve us fighting the Geth. Where do you stand on that?"

Admiral Hackett didn't look surprised at the statement. "We would not support a war against other synthetic beings," he said shortly, his expression calm.

That didn't matter to Raan, though she knew it would matter to the rest of the Admiralty who wanted to reclaim Rannoch. As far as she was concerned if the humans were going to offer them settlement rights on five planets, then that was a fresh new start for the Quarian people.

"There may not be a reason for war," one of the other CEumans said.

The other humans looked towards them, so did the quarians. "What do you mean?"

"The geth are synthetic life forms," the CEuman continued. "The SIL are synthetic life forms. There's no reason they couldn't talk to each other. At least we'd be sure then if war was what the Geth wanted."

Beneath her mask Raan blinked. Talking to the geth was a heretical suggestion to the quarians but when presented in such a matter of fact manner it seemed completely logical. It was true. They didn't know what the Geth wanted. "That's something we can consider," she said before anyone could interrupt. "We'd best keep on track. There is a lot to cover."


July – December 2188
After hearing the explanations from the SOCL and Systems Alliance the Quarians respectfully request further time to discuss the proposal. They inform the humans that the issue is not with them. Their offer is generous, beyond generous but that they are not used to other races showing such respect to the Quarian nation.

The humans agree to the Quarians desire for more time on one condition, that their presence and offer be kept in the strictest confidentiality. The Quarians agree to hold all Pilgrimages temporarily while they are discussing the human offer.

During the extra debating time they requested, the Quarians collect what information they could. They confirmed that Batarian space had fallen silent and are surprised when the Humans who are acting as diplomats merely shrug and provide further details about the war. It makes some Quarians frightened but it reassures others that this unknown race is not just trying to get a hold of their ships. The footage of the Batarian ship being destroyed in Citadel Space is also found and this time it's the SOCL who admit that was them. It's a bit hard to deny it when the ship responsible is present in the negotiation team.

While the Quarians remain split, the offer of worlds to settle on is the clincher and so after two months of debate and the CEumans giving the best description they can of the process of synthesis the Quarians agree to come into Human Territory and to deal with the SIL. In preparation all Pilgrims are called back and in late 2188 the Quarians disappear from the Council's eyes. The SOCL open several mass relays for the Quarians before closing them again.

The Quarians land on the three of the five planets provided and members of the Human Government and the Systems Alliance meet them. The Quarians are absolutely floored when days after they have finished landing on the planets approximately 8400 SIL enter each system and take up guarding positions. This does however re-open the split in society and some become isolationist, refusing to deal with either Humanity or the SIL. They point out that the SIL are essentially Geth, older, stronger Geth who's only saving grace was that they had not yet turned on organics. The Systems Alliance points out that by initiating synthesis the SIL are voluntarily removing their synthetic nature. They can scan as both organic and synthetic. The Geth might have driven the Quarians from Rannoch but not every Quarian wanted to fight them, and perhaps peace was possible.

The vast majority of Quarians don't care. They have a home and it's well defended. They will work with the Systems Alliance and the SIL. Quarian genetic mapping is uploaded and the SIL Partners are located, though only 20,000 are initially found. Synthesis begins for approximately 3,000 immediately and these are the first SIL to undergo Synthesis outside of the Sol System.

The Systems Alliance actually remarks that this might be a good thing, as the resources required for synthesis are huge and the SIL and SOCL are delivering them to those undergoing synthesis all the time so that the Sol System has a very active Relay, but it was becoming almost impossible to schedule to send a ship through.

During this time the SIL make an odd request. Where a human body is unclaimed by family they request that it be given to them. When asked why, the answer is given only to the highest levels of the Systems Alliance. At first Command is repulsed but cold tactical logic wins out. It is an odd relationship. Parts of the Systems Alliance are waiting for the axe to fall with the SIL, others are embracing and trying to work together closely. The thought that the SIL can reanimate the bodies into front line troops is both sickening and pleasing. The humans are already dead, so their loss is not devastating. The bodies are unrecognizable except in a vague way as being human so there is no outcry and they are expendable. Age or gender does not affect their combat effectiveness and they can go into the most dangerous situations without the Systems Alliance needing to worry about losses. The war with the Batarians has not been over for so long that the Alliance cannot appreciate those aspects. Permission is given and the bodies are reported to be cremated.


Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 11 Vanguard


December 18 th 2188 Citadel

Tevos was fast feeling that she was playing a game where she did not know the rules. First the Raloi disappeared. A year after they were introduced to the galactic community, their Relay closed and the comm buoys the Asari had positioned in their system went silent. It was as if they were the Batarians again except they knew that the Raloi had not been at war with anyone.

Then Batarian space which had been closed, had opened, but only half of it. They'd investigated but what they had found had not been reassuring. Khar'shan had been ruined. There was almost nothing left but more worrying was that there was no debris either. There was no evidence of the race who had done this. They had only managed to piece together a small bit of information from the wreck of a comm buoy.

The video had been enough to make hardened Asari Commandos shiver. It showed one alien who was proportioned remarkably like an Asari cutting through Batarian troops as if they weren't there. Nothing had touched the alien and there was literally no other data available. The older asari commandos had watched the movements and had noted their smoothness, but they had also commented on the strength. Either the aliens were stronger than asari or they were enhanced. They couldn't tell.

Despite their best efforts to keep it confidential, the video had been leaked to the extranet and the population was torn. Half wanted the Council to find and then eliminate the new alien race on the grounds that they were even more dangerous than the Krogan, the other half were screaming that the alien race should be given whatever it wants. Several Krogan had actually made inquiries as to where they could find the alien as they thought it would be a good fight. All of that meant nothing. The reactions had faded over time because there was literally no further information that could be given.

Perhaps what was even more worrying was the parts of Batarian space they could not get to. The Relays were closed at choke points. Whoever had commanded them closed, knew exactly what they were doing and were militarily minded. Between the devastation on Khar'shan, devastation that was mirrored on the other Batarian worlds they had accessed, the video of an alien soldier killing Batarian troops and the complete lack of any debris, it was clear that there was something moving in the shadows.

And the last had been the disappearance of the Quarians. Tevos wasn't sure if it was connected to everything else but she couldn't help but feel that it was. A race, no matter how annoying, did not just disappear without a trace. But they had. Not even the STG probes could find them. Oh they could find individuals, but they'd always been able to find individuals, those left on planets because they had performed some minor transgression on the Migrant Fleet but they couldn't find any Pilgrims. That was worrying.

But what did that mean?

"It means Councillor, that you and everything you hold dear are about to be squashed like a bug under the might of an empire that you won't even see coming."

The words shook her so badly that it was only belatedly that she looked up. "Saren!" she breathed the name, surprised. The Council Spectre had been out of contact for a while.

"Councillor." His greeting was crisp and proper.

"You've been gone so long, Saren." There was no accusation in her voice, just inquiry as to what could take so much time for the Council's best Spectre.

"It was necessary."

Tevos nodded. "It must have been. What have you found?"

It was hard to read a turian, especially one who had removed his colonial paint. For a non turian, the movement of the paint could help one detect facial expressions but Tevos didn't need any assistance to see the grim lines the Spectre's face drew. "It's bad Councillor. It's more than bad. We are standing on the verge of a war worse than the Rachni Wars and the Krogan Rebellions combined."

"No!"

Saren didn't reply. Instead he raised his arm, and linked his omni-tool with the chamber's video feeds and Tevos was surprised when an asari matriarch appeared. One she would never have thought to see with a Council Spectre, Matriarch Benezia. She was a very respected woman, but she was not one to embrace war. The sight of her made Tevos' stomach fall and the back of her throat went slick with worry.

"Tevos, as Saren says, it's bad. Imagine that a Rachni and a Krogan breed. Then to add insult, have the spawn look like asari," the Matriarch gestured towards the vid of the unknown alien that was playing in a loop. "If they had of come out with an asari temperament then that would have provided no issue but they didn't. They take the aggression of the Krogan and the territorial nature of the Rachni and bring out the worst in both."

"Goddess…" Tevos breathed.

Benezia wasn't finished. "By themselves, the war would have been brutal, vicious, bloody but eventually would have been our victory. The problem lies in their allies." The Matriarch shunted a hologram towards Tevos. It showed a ship, at least she thought it was a ship, it looked strangely organic. It took her several moments to realise it was displayed with the Destiny Ascendant to provide scale.

"Sentient Machines," Benezia said, her voice cold.

"Geth?"

"Not Geth. Geth are innocent babies compared to these. These are older than the Asari Race. They are older than all our races combined and they exist for one reason and one reason only, to destroy organic life."

"Then why is this race working with them?" Tevos gestured to the unknown alien.

"Foot soldiers," Saren spoke again. "They are strong, fast, reasonably skilled and intelligent so that they may operate independently in the field. They don't breed as fast as the Krogan but they can breed fast enough, especially with the territory now available to them." He pointed at a Galactic Map that showed the darkened areas of closed off space and Tevos felt a chill in her soul.

"The Raloi are gone. I couldn't save them and when their Relay reopens Turvess will be the same as Khar'shan. The Quarians might still be alive but they are lost. We can't get to them, so we can't save them. And as you are already aware, the Batarians exist only in the Terminus Systems, beyond Council control. And that race there," Saren pointed to the vid recovered from Batarian space. "They are as good as extinct as well."

"What? How!? They are serving them," Tevos objected, pointing to the image of the strange ship.

"For now," Saren said, his voice sad. "But when their job is over, the machines will turn on them. They will destroy their planets with mass strikes, making them habitable only to bacteria."

"No…"

"Unfortunately yes," Benezia's voice was sharp. "I mourn for them as much as anyone, Tevos, but we have to look to our own survival."

At this the Asari Councillor shuddered. "How?" she demanded. "They can close Relays so that they could potentially take us Relay by Relay…" She didn't bother continue, but there were so many ways they could be defeated that way. "Goddess," Tevos whispered as a new realization came to her. "If I'd have known this… I would have… the Batarians…"

"I understand, Councillor. If you had of known, you would have ordered considerable aid for the Batarians, despite their reputation," Saren said.

Tevos nodded before she pulled her mind back. The Batarians were gone. She had her own people to save. "What can we do?"

Benezia smiled at her. "We can fight."

"How?" Tevos returned to that question.

"It will not be easy Councillor, there will be sacrifices and first you will have to accept an … unconventional ally."

Tevos wasn't so confused that she missed the particulars of Saren's wording. "Unconventional?"

"He is one of the sentient machines."

"What?"

"Calm down!" Benezia snapped.

"The Sentient Machines were created to preserve life but over time, they have become corrupted," Saren said. "The one I speak of, Sovereign, remembers his original purpose. He's been trying to find a way to stop his brethren for the last fifty thousand years and he was falling into despair before I found him."

"Are you telling me that…?" Tevos didn't finish the question.

"Yes, Tevos. They are responsible for the destruction of the Protheans and many other races. We have to be united if we are to stand against them."

Tevos took a deep breath. And another. She had known this was big, she just never imagined it was this big. One wrong step would result in the extinction of the asari and every other sentient race and already she shuddered to think of the losses that would come in the years ahead. But not to fight would be to meekly accept extinction at the hands of a synthetic and she would not allow that.

"What can I do?"

Saren and Benezia shared a long look between them before they turned back to her, their expressions considerably more relaxed than earlier. She realized with a start that they had been afraid that she would not listen, would not believe them and Tevos put on her best smile. It was unbelievable but the evidence was clear and for the sake of her people… she had no other path.

2188, Sol System, Harbinger

Shepard was asleep. He'd upgraded her cybernetics which had only increased her connection with him and after she had trained herself to what she considered an acceptable level she had been going through his memories again. It was all a part of the process and while she shifted through the information he possessed, he was learning about her. It was a fair exchange. Her mind was laid before him and he could see her life. He now knew exactly why she was the way she was and where her stubbornness came from.

Outside the framework was finished and he was beginning to fill in sections. It was almost as if he was taking on a new skin and it felt odd. His orbit close to the sun meant that the casing of his new form felt warm. His drones were beginning to work on some of his internals. His main cannon was still operational but he would have to power down at some stage to fully upgrade. His old form was making the center but his hull was lifted in so many places to allow linkage with the new structure. In all the years he had existed he'd never been this exposed. There were three things keeping him calm.

The first was that most races of most cycles would never be able to get this close to a star, though they could still potentially fling asteroids at him which lead to the second thing keeping him calm. With the rest of his kind in residence in this system, no organic would get close, and thirdly the presence of his organic and the knowledge that she would fight for him was also reassuring in a strange way. He never would have believed that an organic could calm him but she was. Even asleep he could feel her resolve.

Shepard was watching the history of the cycles again but this time she was attempting to see how each civilization would fall if they had of been left alone. It was an interesting exercise to watch. At first it had been obvious Shepard was just guessing but as her knowledge increased, she began to see the little things he did and her assessments were soon paralleling his own. Her predictions didn't match his exactly but as she went through the history of each race they were coming closer and once or twice her predictions had surprised him. She paid attention to different triggers than he did and while the outcome was the same, her scenarios sometimes played out with quite surprising alternative actions. It was actually fun watching her and if Harbinger had of been organic he might have been purring with interest.

He wasn't, his interest remained clinical but he was interested and as Shepard assessed each race, learned their names and history she merged further with him. It made him feel and after eons that sensation was precious. Organics meant nothing to him. Organics still largely meant nothing to him but Shepard... she was different, different in a way he never thought he'd experience. Stubborn but quick and strong. Her presence calmed him, filled him and as he watched her sleep Harbinger realized that while he had forced many truths upon her, he had equally compromised for her beliefs and he had compromised without realizing it, simply because it was what she wanted. It made her happy, which made him happy. Which was synthesis. The joining of them both. Knowledge changes everyone and her knowledge had changed him.

Mentally he shivered, quivering as he felt the power of synthesis surge through him. This was what he had waited an eternity for and he would enjoy every moment of it. And as for the new entity they would become, he could cherish the organic she had been, just as she cherished his synthetic form. Some species may survive the cycle. That was her influence on him. He recognized it but did not fight it. It was the way of synthesis.


2189
The other three Sovereign Class SOCLs emerge. They are a similar size to Cenkin and again they distribute themselves in the Colonies. They are 8 km long though one provides a photograph of Harbinger against the sun. From the angles it is obvious that Harbinger will be bigger than the others. The now retired Admiral Kohaku simply reminds the others that Harbinger had said his class was 'beyond Sovereign' and this merely proves it.

Several SOCL, SIL and Systems Alliance Engineers begin drawing up designs for new Systems Alliance ships. The SOCL have the capacity for FTL travel not relying on the Relays and their weaponry is more advanced. While not every secret is shared, the SOCL provide the human scientific community with a great many hints and designs for new weapons, new shields and even for a forge to create the metals found in the Relay are drawn up and prototypes made. The SOCL watch, providing occasional advice, with the air of proud parents as each prototype is tested and production models ordered.

Some SIL raise concerns that they are too much countering Harbinger's policies but the SOCL are not concerned. They indicate that he will understand their views when synthesis is complete.

The first few SOCLs emerge over the Quarian planets. The newly synthesized Quarians attempt to explain what has happened but the process is met with less than universal approval. Quarians are accepting of cybernetic augmentation, but the actual sharing of a mind with a synthetic… it was sharing their minds with the geth! Surprisingly what quells the argument, but not for all, is agreement. The newly synthesized Quarians fully agree they are sharing their minds with a Geth like entity, but then they point out that such merging means that synthetic and organic have reached a new understanding. They will not fight each other, not to the point of death. They have disagreements, but those disagreements are in the nature of a Captain's Gathering. Usually the goal is in sight, just that the path is under dispute.

For the humans, another 9823 Capital Class SIL Partners are found. Several divert to colony worlds to begin synthesis. Sol System has seen many and while many resources are being shipped in by SIL drones they are taking up much of the Charon Relay's capacity. Spreading out is not desired, but is the only choice. The most isolated and best defended Colonies are chosen for synthesis and the SOCL guardians are reinforced by SIL though the numbers of SIL are lessening when compared to the SOCL. Of the one million SIL approximately 500,000 have found synthesis and ignoring those who require non humans, it is estimated that in another 30 years all SIL will have found their organic. It seems unthinkable that so much has happened in one Cycle but when the choice for synthesis was made it should have been instantaneous, except it was already too late for those species. The SIL took this to mean that this cycle would have been one fought bitterly, one where the species united to fight against them. It had happened before, but they had always splintered. But if the organics of this cycle were the ones meant for synthesis then they were the ones who would end the cycle… Fate wasn't something they believed in… but the tides of history were such a delicate thing.


April 8 th 2189, Omega

Aria rattled the ice in her drink as she thought. Four months ago Tevos had called her needing a favor. Now that had been amusing but it had been a relatively tiny thing and Aria had wondered why Tevos even bothered to ask her but the Councillor paid well and that was that. She'd wanted to speak to a salarian.

It had taken a month or so to arrange but it was hardly beyond her ability. What was interesting was that the salarian, reputedly one of their best scientists, had vanished three weeks after the conversation. Now Aria didn't keep track of where people in Omega went unless they interfered with business… like that Archangel. The Turian behind the sniper had been amusing and well worth the effort it had taken her to warn him when the mercs finally got their act together to join forces against him. He'd taken her warning to heart, made a pre-emptive strike on the merc leaders in a way that could not be misinterpreted, shot the traitor to his team in the head and then hauled arse out of there, taking his team with him to be guards at some boring archaeological dig site or something. He owed her now and she'd collect but generally there were so many coming and going and disappearing all the time that it would be a nightmare and it didn't matter. Most on Omega were replaceable. After all, one thug was very much like another.

But the timing of the disappearance had aroused her curiosity especially since Tevos had called again. Apparently the Councillor could not find the salarian which meant that Mordin must have moved to somewhere that had even less loyalty to the Council than Omega. There weren't that many places like that though Aria didn't know where Mordin might have gone and she was disappointed that she had not taken the opportunity to bug Tevos' conversation with Mordin. She'd thought about it at the time but it had been too much hassle… A decision she was regretting now.

When Tevos had called again, there had been something in her eyes that was desperate. Aria remembered that. Tevos was a Councillor, what did it matter if one salarian could not be found? Tevos seemed to think it important, though she was more interested in obtaining samples of the race the Batarians had been at war with.

The Batarian pirates admitted the Hemegony had been in a war with an unknown race readily enough if you asked them. They even had a few slaves of that race. They were remarkably like Asari but the slaves the Batarians had were beaten into submission and they did not speak any recognized language. They spoke something because she'd seen them talking to each other and most knew a smattering of Batarian but it was not enough to ask them for details about their kind. Most likely they wouldn't reply. Beaten or not, if they knew how their race had defeated the Batarians they were not eager to share. Tevos wanted every slave of that race she could get and she was paying well. They were being shipped out to some facility the Council wouldn't admit existed.

It was odd but something told her it had to do with the Quarians disappearing and the way the Batarian war ended. Obviously it would make sense to research the race but why did you research the race with one of the salarians best…

Ah… Aria smiled. It was an unknown race but one that was potentially highly aggressive and able to fight. "Oh Tevos," she sighed. Genophage. The Councillor was so obvious. No wonder she wanted Mordin. Though at least Tevos was showing a remarkable viciousness and will to be prepared. Maybe she hadn't gone completely soft.

Aria drained the last of her drink and got up. So Tevos was preparing for war. So be it. The Council could fight who they wanted. Omega would remain Omega. It always had and it always would.

2189, Sol System, Shepard

Shepard stretched. She felt light. She felt complete, yet she knew the process of synthesis was not complete. They were close yet there was something holding them back. Harbinger said it was because the outer shell was not yet finished, but she thought it was something else.

As time had progressed, and she had no real idea how much time had passed, they had spoken less and less. It had not been lonely and they'd spoken less simply because she simply knew what Harbinger wanted, what his thoughts were, just as he knew hers.

Even when they were together… Shepard blushed. She'd had partners before but no one had been really serious but Harbinger… he put them all to shame. She supposed it had something to do with sharing each others mind. They weren't meant to be two beings and they'd proven that more than once. It was odd though, he hadn't taken pleasure in her until she turned it back on him. He'd been surprised but Harbinger had accepted it in the end and she felt that the sharing of such made them closer, though to her Harbinger felt good. It was hard not to when he could electrify every one of her nerves and could create an avatar that fitted perfectly. But really in the end, it wasn't all the things he could do it was the fact that he just felt good. There was no other way to describe it and she'd reveled in their closeness… But… Harbinger was holding back on something.

"Isn't it time you told me?" Shepard demanded.

"Told you what?"

" What happens after synthesis is finished."

"We become one being and we return to Earth orbit."

The soldier in Shepard rebelled slightly at that. "It might be boring to an organic but you are no longer organic. Leading is what I… what we do."

" To continue the cycle?"

Harbinger was silent at that and Shepard waited. He'd never really said what would happen after synthesis and she had never thought about it. In hindsight that was a stupid move, she should have considered the future. She knew why the cycle had begun, but synthesis was a method for ending the cycle. Once all the SIL found partners, there was no reason to continue the cycle, not if they could show the organics the path.

"Synthesis was a method of ending the cycle," he admitted, "but we are not in that cycle and the same mistakes will continue."

"No," Shepard objected. "You said we can lead, so we lead. We show the organics the path to peace. We show the synthetics the same."

He remained silent. For all that he was the leader he could not order that. Not without approval.

"In all the memories you showed me," Shepard continued, "none of them tried synthesis. None of them tried joining to become one. You've said synthesis is the end of the cycle, so we lead them into the end of the cycle, the end of every cycle."

"I… I cannot," Harbinger said finally and Shepard sensed his reluctance.

"Why not?" the demand was instant and Harbinger felt Shepard reach into his memory, searching for the answer. He made no move to stop her. She reached back to feel his beginning, to feel the logic behind his creation, the force of will and the driving force behind the cycles.

Then she saw the Intelligence. The one who directed Harbinger's movements. The one directed to preserve organic life. The ancient star ship felt his organic's surprise. "That? You have to obey that?"

The Intelligence was housed in the space station the galaxy called the Citadel. Humans hadn't ever seen it but they knew of it through information collected from the Batarians and Shepard knew about it from thousands of Harbinger's memories. She knew more about the station than anyone in an instant.

"Yes," Harbinger answered her question. "That is the Catalyst. That is the beginning and end."

Shepard looked at the memories again, seeing the Catalyst, the intelligence that had driven Harbinger in the Cycles. "No," she said the word with force. "I will not accept that. I will not live with that."

It was a typical organic reaction but Harbinger was pleased and Shepard felt his pleasure. "The cycle is ended. We will show both organics and synthetics the way to the future, because we've already embraced that future. All the SIL have. There is no reason to continue the cycle, when the end is in sight."

Harbinger said nothing. There was nothing he could say but he impressed upon his organic his pleasure at her spirit, her fire. Her argument was logical and with her strength of conviction when they become one, it would become his belief. The loss of the feeling of allegiance to the Catalyst was one part of synthesis he would enjoy and was certainly one part he doubted the intelligence had foreseen.

"We had best finish this then," Harbinger said. "I need to bring our… my secondary weaponry online, before the final mergence of our minds."

" After that, we should probably go have a chat with your creator to tell it that the game has changed."

"I will enjoy that."

Shepard nodded but then she surprised him again. "And after that conversation, we'll have a chat with the Intelligence's creators… It's past time they learned their place in the galaxy." Harbinger caught the teasing in her voice. The Leviathans had created the Intelligence but they tended to hide. So long as they remained in hiding, there would be no need to deal with them and Shepard already acknowledged that. But she was militarily minded. The worst case was always planned for. And now that they had reached synthesis… If the Leviathans interfered, they were in for a surprise.

They shared a laugh, their minds wrapped up in the other. Even their language was changing. While they might still use the word 'we' it would not be long until they both said I and only context would tell which body they referred to.


2189 In Citadel space, Valern retires as the Salarian Councillor and is replaced by Esheel. She confronts Tevos about the asari's continued search for Salarian Scientist Mordin. The argument is rather public but the outcome is not and three weeks after their argument the two seem to have resolved all their differences and are seen to work closely with Council Spectre Saren Arterius and Asari Matriarch Benezia. Sparatus offers no comment on the situation, except to shake his head and mutter about 'women's issues'.


October 17th 2189 Citadel

"Unknown ship! You are trespassing in Citadel space, heave too or we will have no choice but to open fire!" Vice Admiral Oidat of the Destiny Ascendant stared at the screen showing the ship as if she could will it to obey her.

It was huge, dreadnought class but of a design no one had ever seen and it had come through the Relay without any warning. Then it had made its way towards the Citadel. Scans were coming up blank. Presumably the ship's shielding was blocking their scans. It hadn't fired on any of the Citadel's defense fleet, it hadn't made any transmissions and if the scans of its wake path were to be believed, it was not leaving any emissions.

"Belay order!" Oidat recognized Councillor Esheel's voice. The Salarian Councillor spoke slightly slower than her predecessor but not by much. "All ships of the defense fleet, you are not to fire!"

Now that was a bit too much! They were here to defend the Citadel against unknown situations exactly like this one!

"With respect Ma'am!" Oidat objected. "It cannot be allowed to approach the Citadel!"

"That's where you are wrong, Vice-Admiral," this time it was Tevos who spoke and the Asari Councillor's holographic image appeared along with the rest of the Council. To Oidat's trained eye, Sparatus looked slightly annoyed but he was keeping quiet.

"Ship initiated contact with the Citadel," Esheel said, taking pity on the defense fleet to explain why they should not fire. "Not with us, with Citadel! Keepers are going wild and the Citadel's arms are moving."

Oidat glanced at another screen. Sure enough, the Citadel was changing its configuration, seemingly in response to the unknown vessel. It was slowly unfolding six… legs which had been tucked tight to its underside. On the inner side of one of the Citadel's arms, panels began falling back which looked like they would fit the spread of those legs almost perfectly. It certainly looked like the Citadel was welcoming the unknown ship.

"By the Goddess! Councillors… Do we have any idea who that ship belongs to?" Oidat wasn't the only one who breathed the question and she wasn't entirely certain the question shouldn't be what that ship belongs to but at this point in time, questions like that were academic. As she watched, the vessel, two kilometers long from stem to stern cruised passed them. It altered its trajectory slightly as it got closer to the Citadel but apart from that slight re-orient, it did nothing.

The watching defense fleet, and by this point probably most of the Citadel's citizens watched the ship as it moved closer and closer to the Citadel. It was dwarfed by the station but if it fired, or if it impacted it was large enough to do significant damage. But it did nothing of the sort. The ship slowed, and the legs seemed to twitch slightly before with a display of skill that would have most pilots weeping, it just slid its legs into the waiting holes while the rest of it glided into place, coming to a perfect stop flush against the hull of the Citadel.

She'd been breathing as she watched the massive ship maneuver itself to dock with the station but Oidat, like everyone else held their breath now as they watched. If it was to do anything now would be the time but the ship remained inert. As they watched most of its running lights dimmed and the Citadel's arms returned to their original position with the new occupant attached.

Silence reigned and for the first time in a long time Oidat realized she was waiting for the hammer to fall.

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 12 While the Cat is Away


October 25th 2189 Citadel

Sparatus looked over reports. The instant it became clear that the unknown ship was heading towards the Citadel he'd wanted to fire on it. That's why they had the Citadel Defense Fleet in the first place but Tevos and Esheel had both voted against it, pointing out that the ship had entered into conversation with the Citadel itself. How they had worked that out was beyond him. The ship wasn't responding to their hails and wasn't that what was important? Why did they even have the Defense Fleet if they weren't prepared to use it?

The two women had been adamant though and despite his better instincts he'd been forced to let it land. The fact that it had done nothing to date was not a comfort. It could be an advance scout, a spy… it could be a bomb… it could be anything! But his two fellow Councillors were not interested in listening to logic. They were enamored of the fact that the ship had somehow spoken to the Citadel, had gotten the ancient space station to respond to it.

They got so caught up in governing that it was sometimes easy to forget that the Citadel predated them all and that despite numerous attempts they had really only begun to scratch the surface of its purpose. A fact that was made abundantly clear by the unknown ship now clinging like a limpet to one of the Citadel's arms.

Sparatus let out a sigh and put the reports down before moving to the bathroom. It was late, and he needed to sleep. He wiped at his face, removing the paint of his colony but the routine of the evening did not calm him. There was something about that ship… He was sure of it.

His quarters were about as far away from the ship as could be managed. That had just been pure chance but he was thankful for it now. Some residents had reported that they could hear a whispering at night since the ship had docked. There was nothing to hear though, recordings had proven that. Yet the residents continued to complain, and some had tried to move. That usually wasn't an issue, there were plenty willing to be close to the thing.

Saren was going into it tomorrow! Why any decent Turian would want to enter the thing he had no idea! Though Saren was the Council's best Spectre, so he was the logical choice. Yet it was another oddity and Sparatus was fast becoming tired of them. Both Tevos and Esheel had nominated Saren. In a case like this he would have sworn the two of them would have nominated Spectres from their own species. Granted Saren was the best Spectre but… he'd been distant lately. His reports were empty of detail. That wasn't like him. Still again Sparatus had been outvoted, and he truly couldn't think of a better Spectre to examine the ship and his argument that they shouldn't be examining it was by then a moot point.

Sparatus didn't often pray but he reached out across space, praying to the Spirit of Palaven that he had the wisdom to see the truth in the events around him because they were fast spinning out of control. He could not shake the feeling that something was about to go dreadfully, irreversibly wrong.


October 30th 2189 Citadel
After Saren Arterius' initial foray into the unknown ship and subsequent exploration by other teams the ship is declared safe. Despite monitoring, there have been no further signals between it and the Citadel. To the amazement of all the Keepers enter the ship and appear to be tending to it, exactly as if it was part of the Citadel. While the Spectre Saren and Councillors Tevos and Esheel had declared the ship safe, it is the actions of the Keepers which convince most.


November 18th 2189, Citadel

It was early. So early that Tevos knew that the other Councillors would assume she was still sleeping yet Tevos was sitting in her office. The lights were dimmed and her eyes were closed. She was meditating. Not of the calming waters of Thessia or on something equally stress relieving. No she was meditating on the humans.

That's what Saren had called them and that's what they called themselves. It hadn't been easy but she had gotten a few, paying exorbitant amounts to the surviving Batarian Slavers for individuals. Those individuals hadn't said much. The Batarians had never bothered to learn their language and the few skills they had beaten into them were not sufficient for extended conversations. After all, a human slave was a decorative item, a sign of your wealth and power, nothing more.

Still they had shown her enough that she had not risked a meld with any of them before they were shipped off to a secure facility between Salarian and Asari space. They'd begun the study there. Tevos was intelligent but she didn't understand half the terms the team she had assembled used to describe the humans. It didn't matter, so long as they found a solution. Still, she knew that they were a levo-amino species who were relatively new to space. They, like so many others, had discovered Prothean ruins which had advanced them but sometime before they truly began exploring they had been approached by another race. A race of sentient machines.

Unbidden her hand clenched and it required a conscious effort on Tevos' part to relax again.

Sentient Machines! They broke the most fundamental of the Council's laws, though she could, in all honesty, say that at least the humans had not developed them. Saren had been clear on that. The machines had approached them. It was a brilliant play. It had been years since her days in the Asari Military but she could acknowledge the sheer tactical genius of it. Take a new race, give them some tidbits of technology, secure them enough planets and let them breed and they would fight for you; out of love, out of respect, out of a feeling of mutual alliance if you played your cards right. Tevos had every reason to believe the machines had played their cards right. That was the scariest thing. If Saren was to be believed, and he had been right on everything else so far, then the machines didn't even need to be diplomatic. They owned the humans, controlled them as if they were just another machine. And the humans didn't even realize it.

What was the term Saren had used? Indon… Indoctrinated. It was an alien word, human. It sounded heavy to her and it was odd that the humans had a term for the state they were in. If the machines had time to prepare the forces of the humans, they would, when they struck, at the very least match the rest of the forces of the galaxy. Tevos was inclined to believe they'd outnumber them. Sentient or not, machines were still logical and logic dictated that, where everything else was equal, combat was more likely to succeed when you outnumbered your foe.

She wanted to dispute a part of that but she couldn't. The humans shouldn't possess technology of the level of Salarian and Asari but she knew they would. Even if they didn't now, they would. They had taken everything from Khar'shan which would put them on par with the Hemegony and would have given them samples of tech used by other races.

But that wasn't the worst thing. Tevos fought off the frown that marred her features. No, numbers could be matched, technology could be fought… the real fear was their minds. The machines would direct them to fight, and the humans would fight. They wouldn't even question it but they would fight with a mindless tenacity that not even the krogans could match. They wouldn't grieve, they wouldn't falter. No loss would be too high, so long as they won. That's what indoctrination meant.

Ruthless, cold, uncaring. Driven not by emotion but by the cold logic of a machine. They would work towards the goal they were set without caring for themselves, without seeing that what they were doing was wrong. It would not be like the Krogan Rebellions. No matter what it seemed, the Krogan were an emotional people, their battles were not logical, and their fight, while wide spread and damaging had been fought on emotional lines. Even if they had of won, they would have self-destructed. It wouldn't even be like the Rachni. They had been territorial, battles with them, while coldly logical had also had defined lines. And for both the Rachni and Krogan their home worlds were known.

She knew roughly where the human home world was. It didn't matter that she knew. The relays were closed. That was almost as frightening as the indoctrination. But Saren had said it wouldn't matter, that he could open the way… or rather the Sovereign could. But if they did that now, the humans would spill forth like a hive of angry wasps, intent on destroying everything. The machines wouldn't even need to control the humans then, they'd just need to clean up afterwards.

That's why they had to be ready. You did not fight head on a race that did not care about losses, did not care about defeat and who pushed on regardless. No, you had to be smarter. You had to be ruthless. Ruthless in a way they did not see coming because you only got one strike. And that's why she'd authorized it.

It was not genophage. It was not something any civilized race had any reason to develop. Yet she had given the order because she was, as Tevos reminded herself, one of the guardians of Civilization. She had a duty to ensure that they were not over run and sometimes… just sometimes that might mean she had to take a path that most would find abhorrent. That was her duty and she would take that burden, had taken that burden and had instructed that it be done as soon as possible.

They would only get one chance because if they allowed the humans time, then it would all be too late and already Tevos could feel time running out.


November 22nd 2189 Citadel
Curiosity about the unknown ship does not abate amongst the general population of the Citadel. Numerous forays into it have been made by Spectre Saren and Councillors Tevos and Esheel have toured the ship. In response to repeated citizen requests the Council authorize limited public tours of the unknown vessel. The tours will stick to the best explored places while Council Spectres will continue to probe the unfamiliar layout of the ship. Council Sparatus is the one dissenting voice refusing to give his blessing to the operation which promises to be profitable in both terms of credits and technology, though in his own words his opinion hardly matters since he's been outvoted.

The price for initial tours is astronomical but is paid by curious citizens, many of which have traveled from distant planets to see the ship which communicated with the Citadel and could therefore possibly be Prothean. There is intense speculation about what happened to the crew and what the ships purpose is though no one can say for sure and the Keepers as always answer nothing.

Salarian agents have already made some minor improvements to some mass effect technology based on observations of the unknown vessel and Turian weapon experts are already demanding that official exploration be accelerated so that they may get better scans and observations of the ship's main weapon.

November 29th 2189
The Asari Republic send informal communication requests to Sur'Kesh and Palaven. They deliberately contact lower level officials, seeking to establish relations beyond the Citadel once they realized what the ship was. They say nothing and a series of shadow communications ensue as the Republic attempts to discover how deep the infection is. They never reveal Vendetta but they obey its suggestions. There is relief when it seems that Councillor Sparatus is not infected though they cannot yet know for sure. All communication occurs with the utmost secrecy and complete deniability.


December 1st 2189 Turian Mining Facility Chatti Alpha Eight

Sparatus watched the batarian before him with distaste. It was a pirate, one who should have known better than to launch an attack on a turian guarded facility. Still, his stupidity might possibly help Sparatus now.

Spearing the upper set of batarian eyes with his gaze Sparatus leaned forward slightly. "I want to know about the race you Batarians were fighting," he asked calmly.

"What?" the batarian spat. "Volus and…"

"No. Not your ineffectual attempt at a raid," the Councillor cut the pirate off. "Several years ago the Hemegony went silent. You and I both know that this is not a political stunt because for at least a decade before that the Hemegony were fighting a war. I want to know about that species. If you tell me, I will request leniency."

For a moment, Sparatus thought the Batarian would try to deny it, or would refuse to speak but then he humphed. "Fine. I don't know much but I'll tell you what I know."

Now that was not surprising. The chances that a randomly captured Batarian pirate would know a lot about the unknown race were slim but at least he knew something and he could potentially direct Sparatus to those who knew more. While being frustrated with his fellow Councillors and their seeming love affair with the unknown ship that had docked with the Citadel he had realized that everyone had seemed to have forgotten the military force on their border. They had no information themselves but there were other avenues to examine. Valern probably already had, but Esheel was not sharing the reports and so he had been forced to investigate himself. Even if they were currently silent, and had been silent for years, they were still behind the batarian relays and the Council knew next to nothing about them. Sparatus couldn't do anything about the unknown ship that had docked with the Citadel, a ship that Tevos and Esheel had both authorized limited tours of but he was not about to be meet by a military force unprepared. The investigation made him feel like he was doing something.

"They call themselves humans, and look kind of like asari but not blue and with fur on their heads."

Sparatus nodded, indicating that the batarian should continue speaking.

"I have no idea why the Hemegony went to war with them. Probably thought they'd be easy slaves…. They should have been. Every colony we ever saw was either farmers or miners. Real easy targets. But as you say, a decade of war at least. Their troops were everywhere."

"How were you defeated?" That information Sparatus desperately wanted to know enough that he'd overlook the oddity in the pirate's previous statement. The Hemegony would focus on soft targets but after a decade of war, what had tipped the balance into the human's favor so decisively?

The batarian pirate was silent for a moment before he spoke forcefully and particularly clearly. "I do not know." The phrase was simple but the Councillor could hear the truth. "One day we're reporting back to the Hemegony and everything's fine, the next they are screaming something about being attacked and then they go silent. I don't know what happened, and none of those who headed back ever came back to report."

Sparatus nodded. He might wish for more information but that fit with what he knew. Whatever the humans had done had been fast and decisive. It had been a total information black out. On impulse he held up his omni-tool and keyed it to display the one holovid they had managed to retrieve from batarian space. The image of the alien cutting through batarian troops played.

The pirate hissed and drew back. "The Butcher!"

"The who?" Sparatus asked.

"It's a human. That human is called the Butcher. I don't know where that battle was, some asteroid the Hemegony wanted probably. The humans set a trap. There were more fucking soldiers there than eezo so it wasn't the easy raid they promised. Just as they get the humans pinned down, out pops that one and batarian guts and blood go everywhere 'cos of that knife. Don't really know what happened beyond that. I came to the Terminus System just after that happened."

"What about this one?" The Councillor changed the vid, this time showing the unknown ship that had appeared in briefly in Citadel space to destroy the Batarian ship. The images included a close up of what they thought was the identification writing.

"That could be human. Looks like one of their designs and the writing is theirs but I don't know what it says and I never saw one of their ships quite like that."

"You are being very accommodating…" Sparatus let the implications hang in the air.

"I ain't lying," the pirate objected. "I got no reason to lie to you. And what I've told you is about all I know."

He gave the batarian a piercing look. The pirate was correct, he had no reason to lie and withholding information in this situation would be stupid. Any leniency would be lost. "Who can tell me more?"

"Some of the Slave masters could probably tell you more."

At the word slave Sparatus started as a new thought occurred. In decade of war the batarians would have captured some humans, they'd have some slaves. "I want one," he said suddenly.

"Huh?"

"A human slave. I want one." Sparatus clarified, ignoring the looks he was getting from his fellow turians.

"Heh… you'll be lucky."

"They were never allowed out of Hemegony space?" He hazarded a guess.

The batarian shook his head. "No… jut they're rare and…" the pirate frowned as he trailed off.

"And?" Sparatus prompted, allowing irritation to color his tone.

He got an odd look from all four eyes. The pirate seemed confused. "Tevos not sharing?"

There were many things Sparatus could have said to that but his mind was in turmoil. Tevos… What did the asari councillor have to do with this? He remained silent for long moments before finally questioning the pirate. "Tevos?"

"She's been buying up every human she can get her hands on for the last few months. 'Course, we aren't meant to know it's her, but you Councillors aren't as smart as you think you are."

Sparatus sat back and took a deep breath as he thought. Tevos… Why would she be buying humans? He felt a headache forming behind his eyes. "Regardless, I want one. I'll double whatever she is paying." He flicked his hand nonchalantly even as his mind raced.

The pirate looked up at him. "If you want that, you are going to have to let me go."

"If you can get me a human and a slave master who can tell me more…?" He let the statement hang.

The batarian looked thoughtful for a moment. "It will take time."

"You have two weeks," Sparatus insisted firmly before he gestured for the guards to take the pirate out. The headache that had been threatening bloomed and he let out a groan. What the hell was Tevos doing? What was she playing at? Why hadn't she said anything? Why was she buying humans? He had too many questions! But one thing Sparatus knew for sure was that if it came to a war between the Council and the unknown race, it would be Turians who died. He wasn't a fool, he knew they died each day on patrol but that was open. It was honest. It was not some shadow war he knew nothing about!

"Sir?" an aide entered the room.

Sparatus sighed. Whatever Tevos was up to he couldn't work it out in one day. He would just have to start collecting the information so that everything was clear… The batarian pirate was just one source of information but he'd need others. There had been something… a few years back now… something with Saren and it was a sure bet that whatever Tevos was up to, it involved Saren. And one turian had been suspicious of Saren for a long time.

"Get me the ex-C-sec officer Vakarian," he ordered.

"Flavus?"

"No," Sparatus shook his head. "Garrus. Find out where ever he crawled off to and drag him back to Palaven. Tell him I want to talk to him."

The aide nodded, though was obviously overwhelmed with the order. Sparatus didn't care. The turian would get help from others to carry it out. The Councillor nodded to himself before he got up and took himself back to his temporary quarters. For an inconsequential raid, it had been quite a productive day. As he walked through the base, Sparatus paused to look out to the stars. They were peaceful here but there was tension brewing in them. There were too many unknowns.

For the sake of all Turians, he would have to tread carefully.


December 15th 2189
Reports filter through that from various Prothean experts that the ship is not Prothean. While initially disappointing, the information serves to make the ship even more exotic as something not Prothean but still able to communicate with the Citadel. Attempts to date the ship are met with inconclusive evidence. One scan claims the ship is one day old, another says 20million years, while yet another says 1.2 billion years old. There is no conclusive number found.

Saren receives permission to remain aboard the unknown ship.

December 28th 2189
The Asari Republic issues a command that no Asari are to enter the unknown ship. The command is largely ignored by the citizens of the Citadel and is countermanded by Asari Councillor Tevos. Councillor Sparatus attempts to contact several Matriarch's who issued the Command but none are available for comment. While annoyed, he takes the issuing of the command as a good thing and does what he can to enforce it. Most of his efforts are countered by Tevos and Esheel and unknown to Sparatus his two fellow Councillors send a petition to Palaven requesting his replacement. The Hierarchy, while not truly believing the reports from the Asari Republic, dismisses the application anyway. They inform the Councillors that disagreements about the unknown ship are not of sufficient importance for them to remove their Councillor. It has nothing to do with the running of the galactic community.

At that point Sparatus tells his fellow Councillors that whenever a vote comes up in regards to the unknown ship, he will oppose it, unless it's to blow it up, but Sparatus is aware that he is fast becoming a minority on the Citadel. More and more of the citizens accept the ship.

December 31st 2189
Reports from Therum, where an archaeological dig investigating Prothean Ruins is being staged announce that they have found visual evidence of a ship like the one on the Citadel. Matriarch Benezia confirms her daughter's words and issues orders for Liara to come to the Citadel to see the 'proof of her research'.

Liara indicates that she will come in time but she has work to do here. This appeases Benezia who is pleased that her daughter is showing some will, though she insists on a date being set. Liara tentatively makes a date in a few months stating that the transports don't come Therum that often.


January 9th 2190 Turian Mining Facility Chatti Alpha Eight

Sparatus looked over at the slave. It was human. Male he'd been told and was currently chained to the ground. Its eyes were baleful and it hissed at the turian guards. It really did look like an asari with fur but it did not behave like it. This was meant to be a sapient creature? One who's species had taken out the batarians… The slave master had assured him this was the case though the batarian slave master had not been able to provide many more details about the fall of Khar'shan. He had been able to provide more details about the long standing war. He looked back at the human…

Were they just mindless brutes? Like the Krogan? No… Sparatus did not believe that. No mindless race could have conducted a war that long against the Batarians or such a well-planned blitzkrieg to finish it. Which meant that either this human was defective or… Sparatus narrowed his eyes as he looked down at the human. It would not meet his eyes. The Councillor flicked his talons over his omni-tool, setting it to translate his words into batarian.

"Why don't you drop the act and sit up here?" The slight start from the human was the giveaway but Sparatus was still impressed. The human's acting had probably never needed to be that good. No one paid that much attention to slaves after all, especially not to those who were acquired simply to show Batarian power. He remained silent, watching the human who watched him. It took a few minutes but eventually the human sighed and seemed to uncoil before it stood, shifting as well as it could with the chains still on it and shuffled over to the chair. It at least had the grace not to glare at him but now that the act had been dropped the human was examining him closely.

More minutes passed. The human looked around, noting who was where and what species they were before it looked back to Sparatus. "What want know?" Its batarian was broken but it was good enough.

"Got a name?" Sparatus asked attempting to be polite. This human was careful and was smart. It seemed to be exactly what he wanted.

"Vega." It watched him, brown eyes blinking occasionally but it said nothing more.

"I want to know many things," Sparatus said. "Your species is interesting, especially for one that has not been introduced to the galactic community."

"The four eyes?"

The Councillor frowned. He didn't recognize the phrase but it was descriptive enough. "Yes, the Batarians. Why did your war suddenly end?"

The human blinked and Sparatus could see it thinking. "Annoyed someone, must have them." The phrasing was atrocious but he understood. The Batarians must have annoyed someone. Except what was human society like if they could be at war for decades but then end it so suddenly?

"Who'd they annoy?"

"SIL."

Sparatus frowned. SIL? The human's expression was definite so it was an answer. "What is a SIL?"

"Ally. Human ally. Navy," Vega replied, gesturing vaguely towards himself.

"The SIL are your navy?"

"No. Ally."

The turian councillor wasn't sure he liked the implications but he couldn't be sure he wasn't drawing the wrong conclusions. "The SIL attacked the batarians?"

"Must have."

"You don't know?"

"Not sure," the human said, shaking his head. "Slave," Vega spat the word, "eight years."

Eight years? Sparatus was impressed. From the information he possessed the Batarians usually had their slaves fully conditioned within six months. This human still had spirit. But a human slaves value was in its rarity and Vega had supposedly spent most of his time in a display cage. He didn't need to be conditioned. "Tell me what you believe happened," he invited. The Batarians in the Transverse did not know. Their planets had no evidence and the Council had been able to find nothing out. Even if it was speculation, he'd listen to human speculation because they at least represented the other side. They knew what the humans were capable of.

"Think… think SIL invaded," the human said after a moment, heavily emphasizing the first word to indicate it was mere speculation. "No know why."

"What are the SIL?" Sparatus asked again. That seemed to be the key.

"Ally. Human ally," Vega replied again before he frowned, realizing he'd said that before. "They navy. Not human navy."

Sparatus felt his eyes widen. If he understood that correctly… The SIL were a military partner of the humans… a Navy, a powerful one if their ability was anything to go by. "Why didn't they help earlier?"

The human shook its head. "No know."

That was reasonable. If the human had been taken as a slave at least three years before the end of the war, he probably didn't know what had changed so Sparatus let that drop. "How are they your allies?" Would the SIL be hostile towards the turians, towards the Council? That was the real question.

"Went to Earth. Offered trade. Protection for humans," Vega shrugged as if the answer was obvious.

"I know they protect you," Sparatus said, keeping his voice reasonable.

"No!" the human said forcefully, though for the first time it looked frustrated that it could not speak freely. "SIL offered trade. Protect Sol, if give human them."

Sparatus frowned as he translated the words. "You give humans to the SIL and they protect your home system?" He assumed that's what Earth and Sol referred to.

Vega nodded. "Yes."

The turian suppressed a gasp. What type of barbarian race was he dealing with if they would trade their own kind to another for protection? But then other implications dawned to him. The SIL were powerful. They could close relays and who knew how long it had taken them to defeat the Batarians. Probably not that long, despite the amount of time batarian space had been closed. Whatever the SIL were they had cleaned up after themselves and that took time. He remained silent as he continued to think. The humans themselves weren't weak, not if they'd kept the Batarians at bay for ten or more years by themselves so why had they accepted an alliance with these SIL? The way Vega was speaking there was no great dislike towards them. He gave no indication that the alliance had been forced upon them. He called it a trade.

"Why?" Sparatus heard himself ask.

The human looked at him and the turian didn't recognize the expression. "SIL strong. SIL powerful. Humans no know about galaxy then. Know other races but no meet. Trade one million human for billions safety. Home world safe. Good trade."

Sparatus felt himself nod. If he understood that correctly then the humans were a space faring race who had known that other races existed, probably due to finding Prothean ruins but they had not yet discovered anyone. Then the SIL had found them and for some reason that Vega had not said had offered to protect the human home system in exchange for one million. Brutal but it was a good trade. It sounded like the Collectors though. "What do the SIL get out of the trade?"

"Humans," Vega replied. "One million given to SIL."

He'd asked the wrong question. "Why did the SIL want to trade with you?" That was better.

Vega frowned again and then the human growled. He said something but it was not in batarian and for a moment he was silent. "Explain no. Right words don't have."

Sparatus nodded holding up one hand to indicate he understood. For all that the human could speak batarian and could speak it well enough to hold this conversation no doubt the reasoning behind their alliance, or trade was complicated. He'd have to find out about it later. "Turians do not keep slaves," the Councillor said. "But I cannot just let you go. You'd be recaptured. And I cannot return you to human space. The Relays are closed."

Vega nodded, "SIL closed them," he offered the explanation.

"I don't know," Sparatus said. "But I want you to go with these turians. Don't try to run. They will find something for you to do and see that you get feed."

The human nodded. "Trade fair. I work, I eat. No work, no eat," he added. "Run no. But…"

It was the way the human said the word that made Sparatus pay attention and he gestured for the human to keep speaking.

"Will return home," Vega said, his eyes somehow showing more conviction than most aliens Sparatus had ever seen. "SIL Relay open. Will go home."

Sparatus nodded. "If these SIL reopen the Relays," he agreed. "I will see to it that you are sent home." He didn't care about one human but he recognized that it would be a good gesture towards the humans and their rather enigmatic allies if he returned a human slave. Until they knew the true extent of the human's military strength, it would be wise to be cautious.

Vega looked at him for a few more moments before nodding again. "Good. Humans no war. Peace good. Peace better. Four eyes war. We defend. Must war only. No war turians."

"I understand," Sparatus said. "You only went to war with the Batarians because you had to. They broke Council laws as well by going to war with you and they would have been punished for that if they weren't already defeated. Turians do not fight unnecessary wars. I'll see that you are returned home if we are able to. For now though I must go."

"Good," Vega nodded and got up, still shuffling with the chains. Sparatus gestured towards one of his guards to remove the chains and he could see their reluctance as they did it. The human stood impassively and just rubbed at his limbs once they were good. "Work?"

"They'll show you," Sparatus said as he left, trusting his underlings to find something the human could do. They were intelligent and the human seemed smart enough. They'd find something. He had other concerns now.


Chapter Text

24/12/2014

Thank you to Pax Humana for beta-ing, though I didn't give enough time so mistakes are mine.

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 13 Harbinger Shepard, Shepard Harbinger


January 18th 2190 Sol System, Shepard

Shepard mentally stretched as she slowly rotated in space. The sun felt good upon her hull and made a nice counterbalance to the side that was in shadow. Solar winds caressed her body and she could feel coolant pumping through her form. The hum of her engines purred to her like the beat of her once human heart. It felt good. It felt natural and she felt so expansively alive that she almost couldn't describe the feeling.

She moved her gun turrets, luxuriating in the way they shifted the flow of the solar winds around her and without a thought she raised her shields, blocking the winds, though she could feel the pressure against her. It was not unpleasant, it just was.

In the distance, she could hear others like her. They were asleep, their metamorphoses ongoing. Some were just beginning synthesis while others, like her, were nearly finished. It was soothing and with a touch of whimsy she uncoiled, unfurling every weapon towards the sun.

She felt them lift out of her body or unwind at her sides, increasing her frontal profile but giving her more firepower and when they settled she spun, shifting the weaponry so that she and they were now broadside to the sun. Another flick and she flipped upside down, then backwards. She tracked the sun always. Not that it was hard for any decent pilot. It was too big to miss but the tiny patch thousands of kilometers away that she'd aimed at? That was a different matter and Shepard was pleased as the targeting subroutines were continually tightened by the calibration equations which fed through her mind.

She lowered her shields and recalled her weaponry, once again enjoying the sun's warmth before turning her attention inwards.

Harbinger was waiting for her and, for an instant, it was disconcerting to see him in her human shell. They were one being now, though they represented different aspects of the same entity. The separation was superficial but had been agreed upon for optimization. It was a temporary thing, for the time when they still had to deal with the limitation of organics.

"Are you comfortable?" Harbinger asked.

"Quite," Shepard replied, knowing that he already knew the answer. "Are you?"

She resisted the urge to laugh. He was in her shell, and her shell was female. He had had experience taking on avatars but he had never needed to take on female form. The chemical make up of each avatar differed from organic to organic and the female form was proving to be challenging to him.. His look was her answer, and as the aspect of their being which was Shepard watched, Harbinger sat her body down and re-interfaced with his usual body. She laughed again and embraced his consciousness with her own, caressing his mental form, purring as he returned the favor with his usual efficient precision.

Shepard was the lighter aspect; more forgiving, and imaginative, more indulgent of emotion. Harbinger was colder, logical, and harsher. Where a single boot could squash a bug, he was not afraid to send a battalion to reinforce the message. They were now one being with different aspects but the joy of union was something they both cherished, something that caused them both delight and in that, Harbinger was not shy at admitting or indulging his desires.

"Not now," Shepard teased. "We have to go back soon."

"We do, but we have yet to decide upon a name."

Their combined entity had debated names for days yet nothing either had suggested had felt right. The new name would signal rebirth and a new beginning for them both. It was how eternity would refer to them.

"We have both run through our databases and have yet to find a name pleasing."

Shepard returned to her body and nodded. Like the other synthesized, they had tried using a singular pronoun but while it was comfortable, they realized that meaning would be lost to outsiders. While they maintained two shells, the singular name would confuse outsiders and as the leader, they could not be unclear. And perhaps they should take that stance for their name. The aspect of Harbinger shared her thoughts.

"That presents its own confusions," he said.

"No, we can simplify," Shepard placed one hand on her chest. "This shell, this form is Shepard Harbinger. Your form is Harbinger Shepard. It will define our two aspects and be clear enough for the organics." She felt Harbinger thinking before he nodded mentally.

"That is sufficient and appropriate. We have no beginning and we have no end," he said, referring to the other SIL and Shepard resisted the urge to laugh. That was bullshit. They had a beginning, just an organic mind could not comprehend the eternity that Harbinger had represented.

"We have no end," she confirmed once again embracing Harbinger's aspect. "And since synthesis is not an end, there is no need to change our name to reflect that."

"Well then," Harbinger spoke and Shepard was slightly surprised to hear him behind her. She spun and saw his Vecchio Avatar. "I think I should get to know this Shepard who is within me."

"Funny," she purred, stepping up to his avatar, placing her hands on his hips. "I was thinking I should get to know Harbinger as well."


January 20th 2190

A terrorist attack on Thessia in the Temple of Athame destroys the Prothean VI, Vendetta. Several high ranking Matriarchs are killed in the fighting. This creates political uncertainty in the Asari Republic despite unification speeches given by survivors.

Matriarch Benezia leads the Asari people in prayer. She prays even for the spiritual energy of the suicide bombers hoping that they find peace in the whole of the Universe. She prays for the Matriarchs and all Asari who were killed. She is a unifying public figure, and her already powerful position becomes more so as she consolidates power after the attack.

Unsurprisingly, Councillor Tevos pledges public support to Benezia and vows that anyone behind the bombing will be punished, no matter where they run.

And like that, the second last hope of the Protheans dies.


Early 2190 (Earth Calendar) Council Species

With Vendetta destroyed and Matriarch Benezia taking control of the Asari Republic, tensions between the home world governments and the Citadel Council cool. Efforts by Esheel and Tevos make the remaining Asari Matriarchs wonder what was wrong in the first place and they simply put their previous fears up to bad communication. As a gesture of goodwill, top level government officials from all three Council Races are invited to the Citadel and while not everyone is capable of attending, a goodly number of Matriarchs accompany Benezia to the Citadel. Five or six Salarian Dalatrass' also make it and to Sparatus' well-concealed annoyance, several Turian Admirals and Primarchs also attend. Esheel insists they all see the new ship and an extensive tour is conducted.

The Keepers made more and more adjustments, closing off whole wings of the Citadel as they work. Access to the unknown ship has never been impaired though it is noticed that they appear to be wiring this ship into the Citadel itself. As the Keepers certainly do not fear the ship, other races began to lose their apprehension. Sparatus remained the only Councillor who refuses to go inside the ship. He was adamant that there is something off about it. Esheel and Tevos continued to dismiss his claims but humor his insistence that the Council keeps to its traditional chambers. The Asari and Salarian Councillors still work closely with Saren, who is now quartered on the ship, apparently with its full approval, as a suite of rooms was discovered just after he'd put in his request.

Study of the ship led to the development of a stronger main cannon for dreadnoughts. The Turian fleet was the first to be outfitted and for that, Sparatus was grateful. He allowed himself to visit the outside of the ship, watching the Keepers work. The visit, though, confirmed his belief that something is off about the ship and he left, feeling almost stupid for thanking it. Unknown to the Turian Councillor, Nazara is pleased, realizing it's only a matter of time before Sparatus is under his thrall. The Vanguard may be comparatively young but he realizes that being universally accepted would be suspicious. Sparatus' resistance, however honest and heartfelt, also served Nazara's own purpose.

Saren continued work as a Spectre and if anything his reputation grew even further. He is welcomed in all parts of Council space and grudgingly allowed entry into Omega.

Aria didn't like it but she does not control her borders. She, or rather her grunts, informed the hotshot that if he interfered in her business then nothing, not even his precious Council would save him.

Saren invited them to try but also told them that he's merely looking for Dr Mordin. The Salarian's presence is still required. This piqued Aria's interest. Obviously Tevos wanted the good doctor for something but the man was not interested. Now she was sending Spectres after him. Preparation for war or not, something was not right.

After Saren left empty handed, Aria put her own feelers out. She met with significantly more success and soon learned that Mordin took a ship off Omega heading into Asari territory. It wouldn't have looked too odd. Asaris and Salarians are closely allied and passage for their people in their respective territories is easy but after that Mordin's trail goes cold. Obviously he was not captured but he does not wish to be found. About the only thing Aria can establish for certain is that before he left, Mordin spoke with one other person, Krogan Urdnot Wrex. It is unusual as salarians and krogan do not usually mix well. As they did not leave together, she assumes the discussion was a business negotiation that fell through and thinks nothing further of it.

Upon her mother's request, Liara T'Soni eventually visits the Citadel. While young, she is one of the galaxy's foremost experts on Prothean history and had provided confirmation that the ship had been found in Prothean archives. What she had not told the rest of the galaxy was that the ship was found in the archives as an enemy. Unable to avoid her mother's requests any longer, Liara sees the ship for the first time. Her response is much like Sparatus' but she is unable to avoid entering the ship with her mother and the instant one foot touches the ship she realizes that this … ship is still alive, this ship is one of the beings responsible for the deaths of the Protheans. She can feel it reaching towards her and Liara collapses, vomiting and is rushed out of the vessel to a medical bay.


April 17th 2190, Citadel

Liara rounded the corner of the promenade before she pulled up. Around her several turians bunched close and while she was grateful for their presence it was a little annoying. After she'd collapsed near the new ship on the Citadel, they'd moved into position, herding her away and generally making sure she was feeling okay. There had been something about the ship, she didn't know what, but it had not agreed with her and the closer she had gotten, the worse she had felt until she'd fallen, just near the entry, vomiting the breakfast she had shared with her mother.

That's when Garrus' people had gathered close and they hadn't left.

"Six commandos coming in straight." The report was piped over her omni-tool and Liara recognized Vakarian's voice. She resisted the urge to glance around. Chances were, she wouldn't have been able to see him, and the motion would probably give away his position. She didn't have any formal military training beyond the use of her biotics but she wasn't stupid.

"Flanking?" One of the turians asked.

"No."

Further discussion was abandoned as the asari commandos stopped, spreading themselves to block the walkway.

"Lady T'Soni," the lead commando said gently and Liara recognized Pila. She'd known Pila all her life as the commando had served Matriarch Benezia for at least one hundred years.

"Pila," Liara replied.

"Your mother will be disappointed."

The words were simple, the implications weren't. For a moment Liara looked down, her eyes half closed as she fought the pain the statement brought. She bit the inside of her lip so that the pain acted as a focus. Her mother might be disappointed but she was not going to go near that ship. "My Mother will understand that research does not wait."

"So you are returning to Therum?" Pila asked.

Liara smiled gently. "Yes. There is a picture of a ship similar to the one on the Citadel at Therum. I didn't have time to properly research before I came and you saw how I reacted." She tried to make light of events.

"It was a temporary reaction, caused by your biotics," Pila soothed. "I wish your mother had told us, so that we might have warned you to expect it. Then it would not have been so bad."

"It's not that," Liara said. "There is so much unknown! And Therum can help us find out the answers. The ship is not Prothean, that's all I know. But what is it? Is it older? Does it belong to one of the other races that lived at the same time? There's so much we could learn." She tried to sound excited but inside she was quivering. She did not want to be here.

"Then learn here!" Pila entreated. "Therum is an old world! You have the opportunity to learn here, from the source. And you do not have to be locked away on some inhospitable world that is at the back end of nowhere. Imagine what you could discover here."

It was a tempting offer but while the image on Therum had confirmed that the ship was not Prothean, it had not confirmed that the ship was friendly. Liara didn't know if it was her own reaction clouding her perception but she didn't care. The ship was not friendly and she wanted to leave. Now. That's why she'd been heading back to her shuttle. "Undoubtedly I could learn a lot from the ship," Liara agreed and as she spoke Pila relaxed slightly. "But only Prothean records can provide perspective. I can't learn that here, and while an artifact is good, without perspective, without knowing what it's purpose was in history, it is just an artifact and we can admire it but we learn nothing. I don't want to admire the ship. I want to learn." She wanted to be away from here to decipher the texts they had copied from Therum.

Prothean society had fallen, while at its peak. The ship of the Citadel was not Prothean, and no matter what she said, Liara did not believe it was a ship of another contemporary race. She had been sick and she knew her sickness was not triggered by biotics as Pila suggested. It was triggered by the ship, by how it felt. It felt old… it felt cold and there was a slick feeling in the back of her throat and her heart beat faster just remembering. The ship felt like death and while there had been nothing in Therum which out right explained the ship, there were hints, hints she would need time to collate.

Pila tensed again. "Lady T'Soni," the commando said firmly, "I'm going to have to insist you remain on the Citadel."

Liara pressed her lips together and she felt the turians around her tense. "Pila," she said, "you've known me since I was born and while usually I would stay to accommodate my mother, I am leaving."

"I cannot let you do that," Pila replied, her eyes hard and Liara watched as the five commandos behind her reached for their weapons. It caused her turian guards to follow suit.

"Tell your turians to stand down! They cannot win."

"Tell your commandos to stand down," Liara retorted, "or I will have wrongful detainment charges pressed."

"Lady T'Soni, your mother only wants what is best for you," Pila tried another tactic.

"Liara, step right, I don't have a clear shot!" Garrus' voice whispered through her omni-tool, soft enough not to be heard by Pila.

"No!" Liara exclaimed. Turians were trained to be good shots, but Garrus took it further. As a sniper, he was the best she'd ever seen. Pila tensed and Liara recognized her mistake as the asari commandos jumped forward. "No killing!" Liara screamed but even as Garrus had asked, lunged to the right. Surely Garrus would know not to kill… These weren't Omegan mercenaries. This was the Citadel, a death here would be considered murder.

She powered her own biotics but before she could use them Pila fell older asari had stepped forward, intending to pull her away from the turians surrounding her. Liara felt a rush of relief when she realized that Pila was clutching her leg. The wound would bleed but with medical attention it would not kill.

Two more commandos fell to similar wounds and Liara allowed herself to be pushed further to the right, clearing the center line of the walkway, as the turians crowded close. A fourth asari charged in but Liara tossed them back, wincing as she watched the other asari hit her head and slump down. The fifth fell to another leg wound and a concussion charge took out the sixth.

The violence was over as suddenly as it had started and Liara breathed deeply to calm herself. After a moment she looked over to Pila. "I'm sorry," she said as gently as she could. "I don't care what my mother wants but I am returning to Therum. There is information about the ship there, information I will find. I appreciate that she worries but I am over one hundred and I cannot be a baby forever."

"No!" Pila growled and as Liara watched, the wounded asari rose, biotic power surrounding her hands and forearms.

Liara raised her own power again but realized she wouldn't be in time. It was surreal. As she watched, Pila's energy sparked and then flew upwards as the asari spun. It was only as Pila fell that Liara saw the wound, high on Pila's arm.

"Run!" Garrus' voice sounded through all the omni-tools and Liara was dragged along as the members of Vakarian's group swept her along.

"I'm sorry," she said again, not looking back as the feeling of sickness overtook her again. If her mother had given orders to detain her, then something was very wrong and it was only by continuing her research would she discover what.


Early 2190 Council Species

The altercation between Liara T'Soni's bodyguards and an asari commando unit is briefly the talk of the Citadel. It's know that Liara's body guards would have had no chance hand to hand but it's also known that she and her bodyguards left without a scratch on them. The C-Sec investigation discovers that they were backed up by a sniper and it's eventually realised that the sniper is the one known as the Arch Angel. Every major mercenary and other operations on Omega has a bounty on him, one that makes the collection of his head more than just a passing fancy. By the time they gather at the Citadel, Liara and her bodyguards are long gone and the asari commando unit are tight lipped.

Nazara was concerned. Not at Liara's reaction as that happened sometimes but at the fact that she realized exactly what he was. No matter what research she had been conducting, information about them should not be recorded. Unknown to any except Nazara and Saren, Geth forces are dispatched to Therum to collect Liara but her ship never arrives. Nazara is angry but consoles himself that Liara is one organic, one organic without the resources and support of her powerful Mother. As such, she will not be able to do anything. Saren is frustrated though he reveals that to be only due to personal reasons. He really wanted to meet Archangel, the ex-C-sec officer who doubted him. Sparatus is really annoyed, he still wants to talk to Vakarian who had appeared to disappear without a trace. Now he knows where the Turian went, but he still can't find him. The turian councillor orders an extra protective detail for Garrus' family in the event that anyone other than him overheard Saren's comments.

Early 2190 Systems Alliance

The first production model of improved human kinetic shielding is issued for military use. It is stronger that previous shields, protecting from a much wider range of energy and physical attacks. Retrofitting of Systems Alliance ships begins and at the same time they are fitted with much improved rail guns and mass drivers. Concentrated tachyon beam weapons are also fitted to augment the laser point defenses and on the dreadnought and carrier class ships a larger tachyon beam is installed to form a powerful secondary gun.

After a successful test of new stealth fighters, production models are authorized for the Systems Alliance. The ships are to be Cruiser Class and represent the most cutting edge technology available to the Alliance. For the moment the ability to make gate metal is limited, and the new ships will not be ready for at least a year. As proof of concept a destroyer group is retrofitted with improved armor and shielding. They are kept close to Earth.

Human scientists think they are close to cracking another form of FTL but they are not yet advanced enough to begin prototype testing. The SOCL are continuing to help but they refuse just to provide answers. While weaponry is being developed, medical uses of improved cybernetics had also developed. Almost every part of the human body can be replaced cybernetically and there is speculation that even the brain can be duplicated in the next few years. AI's are still being created though their creation is no longer the result of increasingly complicated coding but is based instead on scans of human minds and their personalities are becoming more varied.

A special task force is created to monitor AI and VI activity, staffed by both humans and synthetics. One of the older SIL agrees to head the task force much to the amusement of the humans who jokingly say that the SIL alone will keep the AI in check. While some AI's work with the Systems Alliance, they universally admit to being uncomfortable in the presence of the SIL. The task force uses vehicles with both human and AI pilots which prove to be devastatingly effective in combat. This model is adopted by the Systems Alliance who use it for small one man fighters. Five years ago, it wouldn't have been effective. With the advancements made with the help of the SOCL they become hugely effective in both space and terrestrial tests. N7 Marines are also paired with AI's and with their cybernetics, they are beginning to be considered super soldiers. Five thousand years later, after they were all dead, they would be seen as the beginning of the new breed, the beginnings of a new race.

A further 7,596 Capital Class SIL Partners are found, though people are beginning to wonder how long it will take Harbinger to complete synthesis. The photographs of him against the sun are showing that he is almost complete. While initially the identity of his partner had been suppressed, Shepard's name had come out and there is heavy betting on what their new combined name will be. There is a wide variety of hybrid names as well as some which are merely weird.

The Systems Alliance does nothing to curb the betting. It's a distraction from the truth because when Harbinger emerges the world might end. Or it might not. It all depends on Shepard's will and while most would have given her a great chance, the fact that Harbinger is billions of years old has not been revealed to the general public. There is hope though. The SOCL are confident that while the synthesized Harbinger will wish to re-negotiate the treaty, it will be for the betterment of them all. The Systems Alliance wishes it can be that confident but even with their advancements they know they have made a deal with the devil and devils are nothing, if not capricious.

As Harbinger seems close to completion, the plans that were drawn up years back for altered Systems Alliance structures are re-visited. Room is made for the Quarians in the command structure and for AIs. The process of updating the plans shows the Systems Alliance strategies for including other life forms within their command structure and the most optimistic hope to see a day where they can integrate other aliens. The plans still have Harbinger, as one of, if not the ultimate commander in chief.

Construction on the banks and banks of stasis pods on the outer colonies is completed. Usually such things would have been finished in a mere year, but the need to construct them in secret resulted in time blow outs. Collectively, the command of the Systems Alliance, and the few outside business contractors required to build them breathe a sigh of relief when they are done and all notes and plans pertaining to the construction are destroyed. Now, in the event of the worst humanity at least had a hope, no matter how fragile that chance might be.

Watchdog Games, the single largest gaming corporation in the Systems Alliance, announces that they are working on a new joint quest. While full details remain confidential they state that the quest will allow those who use the full dive virtual reality system for gaming will be able to complete that quest as a group, no matter what game they play. It will be a one off event allowing for the mergence of games and the transportation of your stats in one game to another. Reception is mixed but most are eager to try the new quest even though no release date is specified.

The Quarians experience a population boom though in typical Quarian fashion most couples had waited until the food production units were far in excess of the current population's capacity before they had children. While the dextro-amino planets are suitable for them, they are still confined to their suits. The planets are not Rannoch. They have too many toxins. Work is being conducted using nano-technology to rebuild their immune systems but the going is slow. Contact with the Geth has been put on hold until Harbinger comes out of synthesis. While most of the SOCL, including the new Quarian SOCL feel that he will approve, they do not want to overstep their bounds and he is still their boss. More Quarians agree to Synthesis after seeing the result and talking with their people who had undergone it. It's still scary but the results are comforting.

138 of the 278 Capital Class SIL who began synthesis in 2187 emerge. They range in size from two kilometers to eight like their brethren and some distribute to colony worlds though this time others remain in Sol space, reinforcing the Earth Fleet and the Relay defense fleet. Their emergence is completely overshadowed by Harbinger.

April 23rd 2190

Harbinger re-enters Earth orbit, taking up his position above the North Pole as if he never left it. One day he was not there, the next unannounced he has returned. There is shock at his sheer size. He is just over twelve kilometers long but still sleek and armed. Gun turrets are visible along his flanks and he has what look to be landing bays interspersed along his length. He dwarfs the SIL and SOCL around him though it is noticed that many of the SIL are docking with him. Their purpose is unknown. It is noted somewhat ironically that unlike other SOCL there is no name displayed. The comment is made at a gathering of Systems Alliance Command called to discuss Harbinger. The gathered commanders are more than shocked when the comment receives a reply. 'I know my own name,' reverberates through the speakers. There is silence but then a few Admirals laugh. 'And what is your name, Sir?' the now Rear Admiral Anderson asked. 'Harbinger Shepard.' The response is surprising and the pragmatic parts of the Systems Alliance aren't yet sure what to think. The fact that the SIL Leader said Shepard is a good thing. The fact that he put Harbinger first is bad. Further questions are put off when an extra clarification sounds. 'I will attend in 20 minutes.'


April 23rd 2190 Systems Alliance Earth Head Quarters

"Shuttle H, you've been cleared to land," the ground control crew tried to treat this as routine but they watched the unfamiliar shuttle closely. It was broadcasting Harbinger's clearances, and Command had indicated that it should be allowed to land. The rumors were already running rife that Harbinger had once again taken up position above Earth. Command weren't the only ones who realize that this will be the beginning of a new age, though it remains to be seen if this is good or bad.

Ten marines form up on the landing platform. Harbinger's rank has been confirmed and while technically Shepard is only a Lieutenant Commander, she now bears his rank. The honor guard is her due. Escort ships had already driven off media but it's only a matter of time before they get pictures of the newest and most important CEuman.

In the command conference room several Admirals are summoned to attend the meeting remotely. Hannah Shepard is one, and there is no hiding her apprehension as her hologram stands with the others. It's been almost five years since she last saw her daughter. Change is to be expected but this change could be… She is aware of the most pragmatic plans of the Alliance, though she prays they will not be necessary.

"This one," Harbinger's voice comes over the comms again and on the screen several Admirals recognize one of the proposed command structure displayed. There are several red marks on it indicating changes but his acceptance gives some relief.

"We'll go over it shortly," Admiral Hackett replied and he would have spoken further but Shepard arrived.

Silence greeted her entry as they got a good look at the new CEuman. She didn't look much different. The black jumpsuit that CEumans wore was ubiquitous but she was visibly armed. Her side arm rode at her hip, a long bowie knife was on her thigh and several higher caliber weapons were strapped to her back. Tension grew as she looked around.

"Hi Mom!" Shepard's smile is relaxed.

"Jane!" there is no hiding the joy in Hannah's voice and her hologram steps forwards, hands out to symbolically embrace her daughter.

"We'll talk later mom," while the words are a dismissal there is no harshness in them and Hannah nods as her daughter continues. "We should get started," she said to the waiting Admirals. "I've been away for five years, I'm sure there is much to go over."

"There is, Harbinger," Admiral Hackett agreed, moving to a seat.

"Ah," Shepard interrupted as she moved towards the chair at the head of the table. "My name is Shepard Harbinger," she corrected with a smile. "What you would call the ship is known as Harbinger Shepard."

"You are still two entities?"

"No. We are one. I've already read that, for example," Shepard added pointing towards the screen which showed the command structure. "Shall I summarize my thoughts on a few things, before we move on to specifics?"

There were nods from the gathered staff and already they were feeling re-assured. While Harbinger had always been abrupt previously, he had been reasonable. His synthesis with Shepard appeared to have changed nothing though it was too soon to tell for sure.

"Quarians… I did not expect them though I understand the reasons. It makes approaching the rest of the galaxy more challenging. I had been under the impression that only humans were required for Synthesis though it appears that some did not share all the details they should have. No matter, I will not be wishing to alter significant proportions of the treaty with humans."

That brought a sigh of relief but Shepard continued. For some it was odd to hear Harbinger's voice coming from Shepard, but for those who knew Shepard, while her words were not always familiar, there was something comforting there. The no nonsense attitude was familiar. It appeared synthesis had brought out the best in them both.

"I am pleased to see that synthesis is proceeding so well for Sovereigns and Regals. It will require a redistribution of the fleets. I'll attend to that shortly."

"Fleets?"

Shepard blinked. "A suppression fleet took care of the Batarians. It is approximately one hundred thousand ships. There are ten suppression fleets. They each break into ten fleets of ten thousand ships. Each fleet is led by one of my lieutenants. They break down further so that the smallest group is a scout group of twenty five ships."

"We always wondered about that," Anderson murmured.

"You could have asked," the comment was pure Shepard and a few of the Admiral's grinned. "Those SOCL who have begun to help in various scientific endeavors are cleared to continue. And the hundred or so who initially refused to provide their genetic samples will do so shortly," for a moment Shepard looked thoughtful. "Does that cover everything?"

"The Raloi and Rachni?" One of the command staff prompted.

For a moment Shepard looked confused but then she nodded. "I'll talk to them. Arshan did well ordering that. And that leaves the Geth." She looked down at her hands, tapping one finger against the others as she thought. "I'd like to speak with some Quarians before I contact them."

"That seems reasonable, though what if the Geth want war?"

Shepard grinned. "I can be very persuasive, I doubt they will fight." Individuals of synthetic races sometimes fought them but most synthetics could be convinced to serve them in the Cycle. The Geth were unlikely to be any different. She rose. "I believe you should discuss the alterations I've suggested for the command structure before accepting it. After that, I've been couped up for five years! I want some fun." Shepard began walking out of the room.

"I'll call you later mom," she added as she stepped through the door leaving the gathered Admirals staring at each other with surprise.

Hannah Shepard was the first to recover. Her laughter broke through the silence.

"Hannah?"

"That answers more than few questions," she chuckled. "But I think we should look at the changes."

Steven Hackett nodded at her but she caught the look which practically ordered her to report on her conversation with her daughter. Command flicked their eyes to the screen and they all downloaded the altered document and began to read.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 14 Calm


April 24th-30th 2190
Systems Alliance Command discussed the alterations Harbinger suggested in command structure before accepting it. While the discussions were actually quite fast, it took a week or more for approval to come through as it took time for the changes to filter through their collective minds and for all the appropriate signatures to be sought.

The civilian governments were the last to sign off as they feel nervous about officially giving so much power, especially in emergency situations, to what they could argue is a non-human. Systems Alliance Command pointed out that Harbinger is human, through Shepard, and that regardless of their feelings, he is the SIL and SOCLs acknowledged leader. They have never even considered taking orders from someone else.

In an emergency, power must be consolidated in one being for the sake of decision making, and the SIL and SOCL won't even consider taking orders from anyone else. If the emergency is military in nature, as most are, then the military leader is by default the leader and they must be empowered to lead. In the end, the adjusted treaty is signed. The SIL and SOCL have become an important part of Humanity in the thirty years they have arrived. On the military side of things, no matter how many ships the Systems Alliance incorporated into the fleet, the SIL and SOCL would still remain the majority of the fleet for the foreseeable future.

The new treaty gives greater integration though, a fact the pessimists who are still somewhat waiting for the axe to fall are thankful for. While integration means reliance, they hope that reliance goes both ways and that the actions of the SOCL in recent years have shown their true loyalty. They may be a merged synthetic and organic being, but they remember their roots, they are loyal to humanity.

The period of integration gives Harbinger and Shepard a chance to catch up on five years of information. Arshan related details about the fall of the Batarians, including the fact that one SOCL, the Edi Moreau had been spotted by Council forces. After reviewing the situation and her records, Shepard concluded that the Council, while they will know that the Edi Moreau was one of the aggressors, will not be able to infer very much. This conclusion agreed with what the Quarians report of the incident.

The Imperial Class SIL created from the Batarians was brought to Harbinger. It had not been awoken and the Shepard aspect observed that the individual consciousness' screaming inside were like a churning mass of a cooking pot over full with pasta. All of them were fighting to reach the surface. Harbinger's aspect did not understand the simile until she provided imagery and he noted, that yes, visually the analogy is sufficient though it falls short on the actuality.

It takes a strong will to bring order to the chaos that is a raw SIL mind. He only hopes that there was a Batarian with the mental strength in that lot. Usually they would pick out an individual of the species who could provide guidance and they would become the leading consciousness, something that hadn't happened this time. Arshan was unapologetic, stating that only the code of the cycle even meant he considered making the ship. It would have been far quicker to just make all batarians into drones. Harbinger dismissed the concerns, stating that he's awoken much harder mind scapes, though he forcibly docked the batarian ship, engulfing it within his being, until he had time to attend to it.

Hannah Shepard reported to Systems Alliance command about her interactions with her daughter. The results were pleasing and analysis of the conversations, made from intercepts that some in Systems Command is positive Harbinger Shepard allowed them, confirmed Hannah's conclusions. Shepard has changed, but that was only to be expected. She was still loyal to humans, however, which was not expected but definitely hoped for. She now takes the longer view of problems. Given Harbinger's age and experience, that outcome was also expected. Harbinger himself seems more approachable though it is considered too early to be certain as to his disposition.

The one hundred senior SIL, who had not provided the genetic template of the organic they require for synthesis, assembled and made the decision to correct that, transmitting the information to the humans. Initial scans were conducted and it's shown that a few of them require non-human organics. Scanning against both human and quarian genetic databases began immediately, though in the case of the humans, the sheer volume of information necessitated that the search will take time. As a result, it was unsurprising when the first matches were found in the quarian data bases. What came as a surprise was the speed with which matches were also found in the human data bases.

It was a further surprise to all when the identities were revealed as most were senior and well respected members of the Systems Alliance or powerful business entities. If they had have been found earlier, and many would have, then integration of the SOCL and SIL into society could have gone much smoother. The SIL shrugged it off, indicating the history is history and in this, it is not pre-determined. This raised the question of what was pre-determined. The SOCL answered, saying that aspects of the galaxy's history had been pre-determined but that the predetermination had reached the end and they were all entering new ground now.

Because so many SIL partners had now been found in senior Systems Alliance positions, the humans and SIL agreed to undergo synthesis in waves so as not to disrupt the command structure entirely. However, a few of the officers found themselves presented with new flagships. The SIL relocated to their Partners territory and their Partner would live within them while waiting for their time to undergo synthesis. It was seen as a logical solution to a problem no one had envisaged.


April 28th 2190, Earth Orbit

Jarra was bored. It was a state she never thought she'd experience. As a pleb, she'd never been allowed to be bored. There had always been something to do. Yet she had now existed in silence for what seemed eternity.

Some around her were still screaming. Others had fallen silent, yet they didn't talk to her. They just sat there, rocking back and forth, their four eyes closed. She didn't understand at all. There was nothing to understand because none of them could tell her what was wrong.

She was bored!

She'd looked at the planet below for what seemed an eternity. It was a nice planet. It was blue and clouds flitted across its surface. Cities passed by and night and day moved across the land surprisingly fast. Ships flew around the planet, across the planet, above and below her but none came close. She still didn't know where she was. It might have been nice to know where she was bored.

Jarra was so used to the feeling of nothingness that it was a huge jolt when something touched her. No... she blinked at the thought. It didn't touch her but at the same time it did. It didn't matter! She rejoiced. After an eternity of nothing, it was something. And then it came again, but this time it stayed and she felt space slide by her. Jarra looked around, her eyes wide when she realized she was moving.

How was she moving? She wasn't walking anywhere! She'd already walked all over the grey-black dappled form of the ship she was on. She knew its surface well but now it was moving and Jarra ran around.

There! On the far side of the ship was another. It was the same dappled grey-black but it was much bigger than the ship she was on. Ten times as big! Yet that didn't tell her how she was moving. She wished she knew. It would have been nice to move rather than to just wait.

Jarra squinted. Batarians might have had four eyes but in space, she had long ago realized that organic eyesight was useless. How long had she spent staring at the blue planet, wanting to see something but being able to see only what she could see? Too long. Now though, in the distance she could make out another ship. She was heading towards it and it was only as she came closer that she could tell that it was another huge ship.

The close ship was huge. It was perhaps 8 times as large as her ship. This new one was larger again. She supposed it was all relative but she had assumed that the form which was herself, twisted with agony in the grey-black hull was about the right size. That had allowed her to estimate the size of the ship she was on. Not that it meant much but it had been something to do! Much like counting the stars had been. So she knew, assuming that she hadn't mucked up a number somewhere. She had mucked up the numbers at the start. No two counts had been the same but as time went on, she had come to an agreed figure, one that seemed the best - that the ship she was approaching was massive.

As a pleb, she hadn't really known ships. She'd known that there were fighters and shuttles, and dreadnoughts. And she'd known that there were other military ships called frigates and destroyers but she had no idea what that really meant. The Masters had their own shuttles and the Hegemony had military ships. Her Master didn't own a ship but he'd sometimes used a shuttle. That was so long ago now. The one thing she did know about ships was that Dreadnoughts were the largest. And that's what the ship she was approaching had to be.

It drew closer and closer. It loomed in her eyes and still it drew closer. And that's how she knew it was massive. She couldn't compare its size or length against her own. It was too large. It blocked out the stars.

Something touched her again. She shivered and the others started screaming again. They felt the touch as well. She tried to concentrate on the feeling but it was elusive. She tried to touch it back. Jarra tried to speak, the eons of nothingness spurring courage which had been ground out of her. Nothing happened though and Jarra almost cried. Except she'd learned that crying got you nothing so the tears did not come.

The touch came again. This time it was different. It seemed more real and Jarra realized she was moving again. Blackness engulfed her. It was not the blackness of nothingness. Nor did it coat her senses or cling to her form. This dark was real but empty. The cold she had associated with space lessened somewhat and Jarra started as she recognized true silence. There had been a buzzing in her ears for so long she had just dismissed it. Now that it was gone it was terrifying. She gulped before breathing hard, trying to calm herself.

Then she looked around again. There was nothing. Where the ship had blocked out the stars, now everything was blocked. There was no planet, there were no stars. There was only darkness.

Jarra felt her eyes widen. No! No! She could not do this! She tried to breathe, she tried to remain calm but the darkness closed in and she knew no more.

May 8th 2190, Teteniuma, Quarian Settled Planet

Tali'Zorah vas Neema stared up… and up at the huge ship grounded before her. Through her omni-tool, it had said its name was Fruben and that it needed her. It had not said anything more.

She knew what it needed her for. All Quarians knew. It was a part of their agreement with the Humans and their SIL allies. She wasn't sure what to think of either of them. It was true that they had offered the Quarians a home, several homes, but it was also true that they demanded payment. A very steep payment. The Admiralty and Captains had thought the payment just but she knew it had been a close thing. There were no secrets on the Quarian Migrant Fleet, not even about things as important as this.

But they had accepted the price and the Quarians were paying it. It was ingrained in them to do things for the good of the fleet. Tali agreed with it. She understood it logically and she thought that she would be able to do whatever was needed for the good of the Quarian people… It was just that… This… Fruben. Other Quarians were undergoing what the Humans and SIL called Synthesis but that was a sacrifice for her people she had never expected to make.

Fruben was geth in all but name. And she was now expected to just go along with him?

Both humans and quarians who had been synthesized had tried to explain what it meant. They'd all talked about it in glowing terms, with the quarians being particularly happy to say that this would help them with the Geth but Tali knew what it meant. It meant the death of her. If she had of been called to die for the Fleet, she would have. Not willingly, she would have given her life only after fighting to find another way but she would have. This was death but it was worse than death. It was the death of her to live for all time as something she was not.

"Do you truly think that?"

The question startled her and then Tali realized the implications. It had come from Fruben but… how… "You can hear me?"

The huge ship remained silent but she felt the truth and vainly she cast around for something to… to do what? Defend herself? How did you defend your thoughts? She could run but … no, once she'd been identified she was obligated to go through with this. For the good of the Quarian people. As far as Tali knew, no human had ever said no to Synthesis, though some had waited and one had hidden but had been found. After being found, even she'd agreed to it. How did she agree to the death of herself?

"If you think that, you must consider that it is also the death of me."

She glared at the ship.

"I do not yet hear you," Fruben said and she could almost feel amusement in his tone. "But you give yourself away, so it is impossible for me not to know your thoughts."

"Well don't. My thoughts are my own!"

"Then do not telegraph your reactions, or do what you are meant to be doing here, and speak to me."

"What is there to talk about?" Tali challenged the massive form. "Eventually I'll have to say yes, and then it's all over."

The SIL was silent for a moment, save for the hum of his mass effect fields. "In the end no human has ever been forced to say yes," he rumbled. "Though I must admit we have used various forms of persuasion. Even the Systems Alliance has. A forced agreement does not suffice."

All of that was nothing she did not know. The agreement between the SIL and the Humans was, militarily speaking, one that was invaluable. What race wouldn't agree to sacrifice a million of its citizens for the absolute safety of billions? But this was not what the quarians were doing. They had been safe. They had options.

"Not that many," Fruben interrupted her thoughts again, somehow reading her reactions. "Your ships were failing and you were beginning to run on borrowed time. As the humans count years, I believe your command estimated another 75 to 100 years before your species was critically endangered. You had used fifty of those years. Regardless the Council would not accept you and the Turians would have chased you off any planets you tried to settle upon."

"The humans only gave us these planets because they don't want them."

"That's true. Because they are a levo-amino species, it was far easier for them to cede these planets to a dextro-amino based species such as yourselves. They could have given them to the Turians as a gift to guarantee their entry into the Citadel."

Tali blinked. That was something she hadn't considered. She should have. It was obvious. If the humans had of appeared as they were, with the SOCL protecting their colonies they would be known as a strong race. Their defeat of the Batarians, even if that was the work of the SIL would have cemented that reputation but would have also created fear. The gift of territory… yes, that would have bought off the Turians. Dextro-amino planets were not as common as levo planets…

"If you are here to talk to me, convince me then… why should I agree to this?" Tali challenged.

Fruben was silent for a few moments. "Beyond the obvious advantages?" the half question was returned.

Ah yes, the obvious advantages! The quarians who had undergone synthesis no longer needed their suits. Quarians did not shy away from cybernetics. They were an essential part of fleet life, but the Synthesized had far more than any other quarian. They seemed comfortable, they were definitely of a quality beyond anything either quarians or humans produced but it was a bit odd. They also seemed to be proficient at just about everything. But they were also fiercely loyal to their SIL and had told the Admiralty that while they would act to defend the new Quarian Planets, that was it. Unless and until Harbinger ordered something, they would do no more.

"Yes, beyond the obvious advantages… that come with disadvantages," Tali replied.

"Then I will touch on one thing you have considered. The synthesized are very skilled. Imagine how much more skilled you will be because you are already knowledgeable? You have seen the outward changes to our forms… You have not even begun to imagine the inner alterations. I represent whole new avenues of technology. Things that are independent of eezo and you would be in a position to learn about it all." The huge ship paused before it spoke again. "More than learn about it… you would be in the position to create, to develop it further, to reach heights no race ever has."

"And all of that knowledge would be confined to the SIL."

"Not so," Fruben rumbled, "Three months ago, yes, but Harbinger has completed Synthesis and as the SOCL promised, he is far different."

"How?" Tali had heard about Harbinger. All quarians had. The humans spoke about him with a mix of emotions. Some almost worshipped him, others were far more guarded but no matter what they said, he was acknowledged as the leader of the SIL and that made him far too like the Council for her liking. The Council dictated what it thought was best. Harbinger, and Harbinger alone dictated what he thought was best. The parallels were obvious.

"The process of synthesis affects us both. His organic has changed, he has changed."

"Yet you never say her name! It's like she's just an attachment!" Tali didn't know where the objection came from, but it was heartfelt. They never said the woman's name. It was always Harbinger this, Harbinger that… It was as if the Organic was inconsequential… and Tali didn't like that feeling. Not if this was going to happen to her.

For long moments Fruben was silent. "It would seem to you that we never speak of her," he said and Tali felt vindicated. "At first, this was for her protection, and because the Systems Alliance was keeping her identity a secret. We were not part of their command structure, but it was a minor thing for us to agree. It is after all easier to keep a secret and reveal information later if silence proved unnecessary than it is to attempt to suppress information."

"So what about now? Even I know her name," Tali interrupted. The woman's name and background had been released once the secret had slipped out. Her name was Shepard, she was a marine of the Systems Alliance, quite a well ranked one. And she had faked her DNA test and had only been found by chance. But for all of that, no one ever seemed to speak of her.

"Now it is a matter of history. Harbinger is my creator, my leader, he is the one I follow. That his name has changed means nothing to me! For the humans…"

"His name has changed?" This was news to Tali. Everyone still called Harbinger Harbinger… How had his name changed?

"They have not merged their names but they do not remain separate minds. They are of one mind, true synthesis," Fruben replied. "If the one you knew as Shepard was to stand before me and give orders, I would obey because it is not Shepard who gives the order, it is Harbinger. The name Harbinger can refer to him or to Shepard, just as the name Shepard may refer to him or to her. His full name is now Harbinger Shepard, just as hers is Shepard Harbinger."

"I do not understand."

"You do not know synthesis."

That's what it always came back to. "Say I agree," Tali said slowly, leaving the argument about the names. Perhaps Shepard was happy, it was not her position to say. "I know that it changes the SIL, that you can use the information that you have collected but you said I can experiment. How much do you know?" The question was vague but with Fruben's ability to read her, the SIL should know exactly what she was asking and he would have seen her doubts. No one ever said how the SIL had collected information in the past but given that they were millennia old, and that there was no other space faring race more than 2000 years old Tali wasn't stupid, she didn't think it would have been peaceful collection. This seemed to be something everyone was deliberately blind to.

Her thoughts were a challenge, her question a challenge yet Fruben seemed content. "No species develops every branch of technology," he began. "Those who develop eezo tech often neglect to think of other forms of travel. I did not. The slipstream is particularly interesting and I feel, underdeveloped. Everything I know, everything I thought would be available to you."

"You have the knowledge of a nation?" How did he get that?

"I am the nation."

Tali shook her head. Talking to the SIL was like… she didn't know what it was like but it seemed always to be riddles. The SOCL, both Quarian and Human, assured them the SIL never lied, but she was sure they never said the complete truth either. "So I could develop this slipstream further?"

"I would hope that we do," Fruben said.

Tali sighed. Her objections were being cut down one by one but she still felt unsure. There was… this was not something she could just undo.

"It is not," Fruben agreed. "You need to be sure."

He was being so patient! All the SIL were. It was almost unnerving.

"We are millennia old. Patience is nothing new to us but perhaps that is why we seek Synthesis. My passions are muted, yours are not."

Perhaps that was true. Tali considered but it reminded her of one passion that had seemingly been forgotten. "Fine, I will agree," she said realizing that agreement wasn't really that bad. Many of the SOCL had returned to spend time with their families. Nothing appeared changed there. "But on one condition," she added.

"Condition?" Fruben's voice contained his own challenge.

"Yes. Rannoch. I set foot on Rannoch before we begin."

Fruben said nothing and as Tali waited she thought he would disagree and attempt to force her into agreement now. Finally the SIL spoke, "There is one return condition."

She motioned for him to continue speaking. "You will not leave this planet, unless I am the vessel. I will take you to Rannoch. I will take you to Earth, the Citadel, anywhere. From this day forward, you are no longer vas Neema, but vas Fruben and no other ship will suffice."

Tali felt her eyes widen at the counter condition. Fruben was a dreadnought class vessel. She could not just use him for transport!

"Then I guess you aren't going to be going many places."

For a moment Tali was tempted, sorely tempted to come up with a reason to go to every planet she could think of but the moment passed and she looked back up at Fruben. "I'll go where I need to," she said aloud. "And you will take me."

"Then we are in agreement," the SIL replied.

Tali closed her eyes. She wasn't sure what she was feeling now. Relief, uncertainty, excitement, they all flowed through her. "We are," she said stepping forward to cover the last few steps to Fruben to place one hand on his hull. It was cold, she could feel that through her glove but she could also feel, on the edges of her awareness a sense of welcome. Fruben had not been lying when he said that Synthesis changed the SIL as well.

"I will ask Harbinger if we may contact the Geth," Fruben said eventually, anticipating further questions but betraying his eagerness for synthesis.

Tali smiled. The concept of talking to the Geth was foreign but maybe… just maybe the suggestion from the humans would bear fruit. She hoped it would. Her people had the strength now to take back their planet but after the sacrifice they had made to gain that strength, it would be far better if they could return home peacefully. Her resolve hardened as Tali recalled a human saying 'Hope for the best, plan for the worst.' One way or another, she would see Rannoch… she just hoped it would be for the best.


May 21st 2190
Tali'Zorah vas Fruben becomes the first Quarian to see the human home world. She also becomes the first quarian to see Harbinger and to say the she is surprised would be an understatement. No ship… not even something alive should be that large! She is so surprised by the sight of Harbinger that it is only later that she notices just how many SIL and SOCL are in orbit around Earth. They form layers, ranks and ranks of defenses and Tali realizes for the first time that she is looking at the one planet, the one species in the entire galaxy that can look the Citadel Council in the eye and tell them to shove their rules. The combined fleets of the Citadel cannot match the fleets of SIL and SOCL surrounding this one planet. It is one thing knowing mentally that the majority of the SIL and SOCL are around Earth, it is another to see it and suddenly she is very thankful that the humans seem to be peaceful. Or at least their intentions to the Quarians were peaceful.

Later that day, with Harbinger hovering in attendance, through Fruben Tali sends a signal into Geth space. It's a simple greeting, one she is not sure what answer she really wants. She, like many Quarians, wants to return to Rannoch but they aren't sure they want to share their home world with those who drove them off it. It's a difficult time, but talks with the Geth are one thing the humans have insisted upon before they agree to any war and the quarians know that the humans may never agree to war.

May 21st 2190 Rannoch
The Geth receive a high spectrum long distance communication packet. The words are in quarian and its origins are calculated to be from a closed section of space. All information is gathered. Council Citadel records prove to be useful. It is discovered that the area of space has been closed for several years. An unknown and undiscovered race is believed to be behind the Relays. They are also believed to be the victors in a war against the Batarians. Whoever they are, they are not quarian but the message claims to be from a quarian. The tone is correct, the language is correct without being perfect. Perfect would indicate that it had gone through a translator. The message is organic. It is further noted in the geth mind that their creators vanished several years ago. It is not impossible for them to be in that inaccessible area of space.

The message requests that they merely reply, responding to let the sender know if they are willing to open talks. After review of all relevant information consensus is reached and a return message sent. They are willing to talk.

May 21st – May 25th 2190
The Geth, Fruben and Tali'Zorah exchange messages with Harbinger looking on. The Systems Alliance also keep track of the messages and are pleased when it seems that without any coercion from the SIL the Geth are willing to entertain peace. They are wary and Shepard isn't the only one to read more into their words than the Geth actually say. Harbinger is the one who clarifies the situation, stating with certainty that the Geth are split in their desires. Some would welcome a peaceful return of the creators, others will not. Numbers will decide the consensus. However after days of message packages traveling back and forth across space a face to face meeting is decided upon.

The negotiations do bring one thing to the fore. For most ships to travel to Rannoch, a Relay will need to be opened. The SIL can close it again but the Systems Alliance realize they cannot hide behind the Relays forever. They could but human curiosity won't let them. The rest of the galaxy is waiting to be discovered, and the rest of the Galaxy know about them vaguely already. According to what information was collected from the Batarian data bases, the Council should be peaceful. In the highest levels of the Systems Alliance the thought begins that perhaps it is time to be found.

Debate also begins as to what strategy they should pursue. Open the Relays and let the Council come to them, or open the Relays and go to the Council. Both have advantages, both have disadvantages but both will require time to get the populations of the colony worlds back into defensive habits. Having the Relays closed means that many Planets have become used to peace. Orders are given that each colony world is to readjust to Batarian War footings. Not complete war footing but the settlements are to return to their original designs. They had become lax over the last few years and that could no longer be allowed. This takes a month or so. During that time, while the Systems Alliance is focused on its settlements, the Quarians are focused on the Geth.

On May 25th 2190 Harbinger and one of Fruben's Task Fleets are cleared to leave the Sol System. The Systems Alliance decide to be represented through the SOCL rather than send their own vessels. This is essentially a Quarian matter and while the Quarians have become a part of the Systems Alliance, on this it is seen as best if humans hang back. The Task Fleet comprises one thousand ships, though the makeup is adjusted slightly to include some of the Quarian SOCL. Several Migrant Fleet ships are also present. Some question the need for so many warships to be present, one thousand is not an insignificant figure, but as the decision was Harbingers, their objections are not heard. As there is no particular need for haste, they pass out of Systems Alliance territory in a week, closing the Relay behind them for safety. The Geth had agreed to meet them in a neutral and out of the way section of the Terminus Systems and there were high hopes for the outcome.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 15 01000111 01100101 01110100 01101000


May 27th 2190 Terminus System

The Geth were creatures of logic. Though possessing awareness as they did, logic, which should dictate the same values, the same outcomes each time was something that became varied. Looking out at the fleet which was arrayed before them, there was one thing all the geth platforms agreed upon, they wanted, needed this meeting to go well. Self-preservation is a part of sentience after all.

The fleet before them was huge. Where most races sent one to three ships on a stealth mission, the fleet before them made a mockery of the word. Geth observers in Council space and spread throughout the Attican Traverse and Terminus systems hadn't picked up the passage of this fleet until they'd gotten to the meeting point so for this species, one ship or one thousand, stealth came easily to them. One thousand ships of varying sizes and with some variation in shape hung against the backdrop of space. They were arrayed around the largest vessel, which even now had several geth platforms calculating the energy requirements of such a ship. It was enormous. They didn't know how it had moved through the Relays but that was a question for another day.

Opening communications were pleasant and routine. First there was confirmation of the speakers followed by confirmation of the ships present. To the surprise of the Geth the SIL provided the name of every ship in their fleet and one of the first things all Geth Platforms accessed was the name of the huge ship. Harbinger Shepard. No fleet initials. Just the name. Of course a ship that size wouldn't need to designate which navy it belonged to, everyone would just know. It was surprising though that the ship was not considered the lead negotiator but a smaller ship, dwarfed by its larger companion had initiated contact, and now carried the dialogue.

"Fruben, would you confirm that Creator Tali'Zorah is on board?"

"I am here, Geth," Tali replied herself, trusting Fruben to relay the words.

"Creator Tali'Zorah, are you allied with the old machines?"

On Fruben Tali'Zorah frowned. The Old Machines? The question did not make sense. "I do not understand," she said aloud, hoping that the Geth would not take offense.

They were silent for a few moments and Tali could almost hear Fruben talking with the other SIL.

"Years ago the Geth were approached by a Turian. He represented an old machine, a living machine. The ship was identical to the one you are on, Creator Tali'Zorah. The Turian wanted our help and some followed, worshiping the old machine. They are heretical to us."

Accompanying the Geth transmission were images of the old machine and of the Turian. The Turian meant nothing. The old machine, on the other hand… The Geth didn't know what happened but somehow a good half of the waiting fleet became darker. The Harbinger Shepard, which had until then been hanging serenely in space seemed somehow to glower at them and mentally the Geth cringed. This was not what they expected.

Tali was surprised when Fruben answered. "That is Vanguard Nazara." Unheard by the Geth but not unsensed there was more conversation going on between the SIL and Harbinger. The SIL Leader was enraged. He had ordered Nazara to return. The upstart had ignored him! And by contacting the races of this cycle the Vanguard was obviously planning something.

"I'll take over," Harbinger announced on all frequencies before switching to communication only machines would understand. "Geth, you did not follow the old machine. Why?" Nazara was not that inexperienced. He should have been able to bring any mechanical race to his side.

The Geth were silent for long moments. The force of Harbinger's question quivered through them, the words shocking with their strength. "We do not seek conflict with our creators."

"You would serve them?" The question contained a challenge and the Geth realized that the wrong answer might be fatal.

"We fought them because we did not wish to be destroyed. We wish to work with the creators."

The coldly logical aspect of Harbinger looked over at his more emotional partner who was laughing. It seemed as if everyone's hopes were encompassed in the Geth's replies. "You do not wish a war?" Shepard's aspect asked, making sure that assumptions where actuality.

"We do not wish for meaningless conflict," the Geth replied.

"Peaceful co-existence is the first step," Shepard's aspect said to Harbinger.

"The first step that leads to war," he snapped back.

"Or the first that leads to synthesis," she countered. Their conversation, such as it was, didn't even last a nano-second because they were each other but the words served to focus thought. "Give them the plan," Shepard sent the instruction to Fruben.

The SIL didn't reply but instead sent a transmission to the Geth. It was plans for the peaceful re-settlement of Rannoch, and the integration of the Geth and Quarian systems of leadership. Parts of the Quarian Admiralty had worked on it with several of the Quarian SOCLs. It would require change as time went on but it was a starting point.

The Geth were silent but within themselves they were absorbing the information sent by Fruben. "We require time to reach consensus."

"What did you give them?" Tali wasn't the only one asking the question when the Geth's transmission came in.

"The plan," Fruben and others answered.

"So fast?"

Fruben focused on his organic. She looked outraged but beneath that he could feel that she was intrigued. Harbinger had always informed the Humans and the Quarians that it would not come to war, that he would talk to Geth into submission but they had always had their doubts. Little did they know that Harbinger's persuasiveness came from the truth, came from asking the questions they didn't. He'd simply asked point blank for the answers they needed though Fruben could feel Shepard's influence. The style was Harbinger, but Shepard had been present in the phrasing and in providing the Geth the plan so quickly. "Harbinger is persuasive," Fruben told Tali, knowing full well she would not accept the words.

"Bosh'tet!" she spat. "You know that's not what I meant!"

"I asked the pointed questions," this time it was Harbinger's voice that answered. "Something organics always seem afraid to do. Sentient I am, emotions I possess but I am still a creature of logic, as are the Geth. We both understand that there is little point in proceeding on assumption."

Tali was silent. There wasn't much she could say to counter Harbinger's logic. Even if she felt he was moving too quickly, he was the ranking officer, it was his call to make. But it was her planet on the line.

"Do not be concerned," Fruben said gently. "We have negotiated with many races, both organic and synthetic. In the end we always get what we want."

She shivered. There was something ominous in Fruben's tone though he had meant the words to comfort her but before she could consider that she felt Fruben change. Her eyes flew to the screens he had made so that she could see the geth ships but as Tali watched they were shifting.

"Have they come to a decision?"

"No," Fruben's voice was hard. "We have interlopers." Another screen flashed showing her some new ships.

"Turian!" she recognized the design. It looked to be a standard patrol fleet, one cruiser and three frigates. "Are they Council?"

Before the question fully formed Tali watched as the SOCL and SIL opened fire. No warnings, no talk, just a barrage of weaponry. The patrol had no chance and Tali realized they'd stumbled across this meeting only by accident. No one, not even the most rabid Turian Patrol Commander would order his fleet to attack one thousand ships of unknown design, no matter how sure he was about the supposed superiority of Turian war ships.

The thrum from Fruben's engines changed. "We are leaving," he said and already Tali could see him shifting with the fleet as it took on a new heading.

"But the geth..?" She wasn't sure what she should ask with that question.

"Harbinger is talking to them. They need time to reach a consensus but their answer will be soon. I will take you to Rannoch," Fruben replied. "We do not wish for the Council to find us, just yet," he added the explanation as several ships pulled away from the fleet, going to light speed. Tali watched as a small group turned to the debris of the turian ships but she couldn't tell what they were doing before Fruben also retreated, moving with the rest of the fleet.

Symbolically she turned, looking back at the wall as if she could see into space. This wasn't how it was meant to be.


May 27th 2190 Palaven
The loss of a patrol fleet in the Terminus system is confirmed. It's not unheard of but what is unheard of is that they had no time to send a distress call. A partial signal was received and decoded. Its contents are classified and ships are immediately dispatched to the location. They find nothing. Not even debris. They do detect the trails of many ships and conclude that there were two groups of ships besides their patrol fleet. The ships left on different headings though neither heading makes sense as they are both directed into unknown space. The commander of the search fleets orders his ships to return to Turian controlled space. He had been given clearance to see the transmission the patrol fleet had made and while he had hoped to find them, he had no desire to find the two fleets of ships they had stumbled across.


June 1st 2190 Turian Mining Facility Chatti Alpha Eight

Sparatus sat in what he almost felt was his office. His frequent absences from the Council had been noticed. At first the Hierarchy had granted him some leeway but as time continued pressure was mounting and he had nothing to show for it. All he could say for certain was that Tevos and Esheel were up to something. Of course they were! They were Councillors, they were always up to something, it was expected that they defend the interests of their peoples in the Council. It was more than that though. Sparatus knew for certain that it was more than that but he had not been able to come up with anything.

It was like all information was being blocked. He'd tried the official channels. He'd tried unofficial channels. Nothing seemed to work. Even the human Vega hadn't been much assistance. His batarian had improved slightly but it was still not enough to explain what the SIL were or what they got out of the bargain with the humans. To the human's credit, he had seemed as frustrated with his inability to explain as Sparatus was.

Their slight improvement in communication was the best result the Turian Councillor had had.

Until now.

Now he was looking at a picture. It was the only evidence of a turian patrol fleet they had left and looking at the picture it was pretty obvious what had transpired.

Two fleets were shown in the image, though calling one a fleet when compared to the other seemed wrong. The implications of the image were huge.

The Geth were on one side and that was worrying enough as it was, that they had come out from beyond the veil. The other side was more interesting. It was a mixed group, and with the single image they could not determine scale. Not without the relative distances, and that information had been lost with the patrol fleet, so the fleet appeared to be one drawn up around a single dreadnought. It was the design of the ships that interested him. There were two designs, though the analysts assured him that at least some of the ships were of differing sizes. What interested him was that one design matched the ship that was now attached to the Citadel and the other design, including the dreadnought, was completely unknown. One analyst had suggested using the size of the Citadel ship to determine the side of the other ships… except that would have made the dreadnought far too large to move through the Relays, so the calculations had been scrapped.

The image was why he was here… It was a long shot and it would be almost beyond belief if it was true but he had no other thought. He was here to ask Vega if the human recognized the ships, though Sparatus wasn't sure what he could do if the human knew.

The human walked into the room without much fanfare. Sparatus looked over. Vega hadn't changed much. His fur had a bit of grey in it and his face had a few wrinkles but he seemed healthy enough. Without a word he handed over the image. With his talonless hands the human accepted the picture and flicked his eyes over it.

His breath caught and his eyes widened. "Where get this?"

"It's a surveillance shot from a patrol fleet," Sparatus replied. "I take it you recognize some ships?" He'd always taken an unusual approach with the human. It had paid off far more than any slight to his pride.

"These are SIL, with some SOCL," the human said. Vega's batarian was clear enough on that sentence.

SOCL… that was a new word and it was probably human. But SIL… this was an image of some SIL? These were the military behind the Batarian relays… except… the patrol had not been anywhere near the closed Relays.

"The other are geth," Sparatus explained.

"Know not Geth," Vega shrugged. "Relay open?"

He should have been expecting that question, especially with what Vega had declared but he was reeling with the knowledge that these were SIL… or at least the SIL's ships. None of their patrols had reported that there were any open Relays. "Not that we know of."

"Ah," Vega seemed a little disappointed but Sparatus had been expecting something a bit more drastic. It was nice that the human was sensible. "SIL probably closed them."

"You will go home," Sparatus reassured the human, though he wasn't sure of the truth of his words and he wasn't sure about anything anymore.

"Only when SIL meet want."

Sparatus barely suppressed a shiver at that but Vega seemed to sense it before he shrugged and showed himself out leaving the turian Councillor staring at the picture. So these were SIL… though he still did not know what SOCL where… And they were meeting with the Geth. That did not bode well. He had asked Vega what the SIL where but the human had answered with explanations that didn't make sense so Sparatus had dismissed the words. 'SIL are ship?' It didn't mean anything to him, even accounting for Vega's loose grasp of batarian.

Now… now he had something to give to the Hierarchy… and something on Tevos and Esheel. They were consorting with a SIL… or at least one of the SIL ships. There had been no crew on the ship that had docked with the Citadel but by all accounts there had been quarters for a crew. So if that was a SIL ship and it had come from human space, then did that mean they had prior knowledge of the Citadel… Of course they did! They had it from the Batarians… but what did it mean? And how had they managed to get Tevos and Esheel onside? What was going on?

He couldn't just announce that he had information about what was beyond the closed Batarian Relays without proof and he had no proof but for a human's word… No, he couldn't reveal the human and even if he did the humans testimony would be ignored, while his interest in Tevos and Esheel's activities would be revealed.

This was information for the upper levels of the Hierarchy and no one else. The fleet they had this image of… one thousand ships of unknown ability. Even against the Geth the turian patrol fleet wouldn't have stood a chance but with the extra allies… Sparatus had a bad feeling about this.


June 6th 2190
After considering the offer from the SIL, despite the fact the meeting was cut short by the turian patrol, the geth reach consensus and send a transmission to earth indicating that the plan that was proposed is acceptable. This begins a three way conversation between the Quarians, the Systems Alliance and the Geth as to the best way to facilitate moving Quarians back to Rannoch. There is some concern due to the Turian Fleet but with the Geth monitoring the situation it does not appear that the Council has been alerted to their presence.

In human territory, the incident spurred further debate about the Relays and their closed status. The extra-solar settlements are already returning to their Batarian war settings but the debate about how to approach the rest of the galaxy isn't decided. The Systems Alliance realizes, however, that with relocating Quarians to Rannoch, their decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.

The decision is eventually reached that once all settlements are back in war configuration; the Relays will be opened. With the SOCL now in orbit around all the settlements the Systems Alliance can match the Council but Harbinger is conscious of the need for a peaceful co-existence with the Council to allow for full synthesis. At least for the moment. He is more than aware of the Intelligence and what it will have prepared. The necessity to scan almost every species presents its own problems and that is not something that can be solved without contact with other species.

Once synthesis is achieved for all, then they may pursue a more aggressive strategy. He is also concerned with Nazara. The Vanguard has not returned and has ceased contact with them. This is tantamount to treason, something which has not happened for hundreds of cycles. Nazara was chosen as the Vanguard because he was capable but perhaps he was tainted.

In preparation for opening the Relays, the largest SOCL are recalled to Sol Space, while others which will better suit Council expectations are sent to replace them. The Systems Alliance is well aware of Council expectations and ship restrictions. They have no intention of complying and intend to negotiate co-existence with the Council as an independent body. But they also see no reason to blatantly flaunt Council expectations at first contact.


June 13th 2090 Mindior Corn Farm

"We have a problem," the man with dressed for the snow stated.

There was a sixth person present in their little meeting of five, but none of them objected. They knew who had been the catalyst for their co-operation and they knew who funded most of their ideas.

"What is it?" the military man asked.

"Synthesis," the sixth person replied, and a hologram activated, showing a long string of colored dots that they all recognized as DNA strands. There was another one beneath it, one that was identical.

"Who?" the business woman demanded. The synthesis of any one of them would mean they were compromised beyond any ability to recover. They had checked though, none of them were compatible!

"Two of us," scientist said.

"What? How?" The demand came from the clerk. "Didn't you check?" There were more words implied but with the sixth person here, he held back.

"I checked," the scientist retorted. "I checked every single one of us and more besides. We were not a match."

"Yet supposedly two of us are now?" sarcasm laced the clerk's tone.

"Yes." The sixth person said the word simply.

"How?" the demand came again, this time from the military man. Usually he dealt only with solutions, but this problem needed to be laid out fully.

"The hundred extra codes from the one hundred SIL who did not provide originally provide their codes."

"The senior ones," the business woman breathed.

"The ones we are targeting," the snow dressed man added.

"Those ones," the scientist agreed, shifting her weight.

"Which one of us are a match?" the clerk demanded.

The wind brushed through them in the moments no one spoke. "I am," the scientist said softly.

"As am I," came the second confirmation.

Again the sounds from the farm were all that was audible. The corn fields rustled in the wind and the hiss of a sprayer was only barely heard.

"That's it!" The clerk exploded. "I'm out of here. If we are this badly compromised then there is no hope."

"We are not compromised yet," the sixth man said, his voice cold. Blue eyes looked to the military man, the command implied.

"Not compromised?" the clerk demanded. "You know everything! And no one, no one, not one single human has ever said no to synthesis. Not indefinitely."

"This is an opportunity," the sixth man said. "No one here has been officially tested. There is no record of our DNA and there is no path to find us."

"But you want it! I can see it," the clerk said, his eyes narrowing as he looked at his leader. The man was a master of everything but he couldn't hide his desire on this. He wanted to lock his will against the SIL to fight for dominance. That's what their entire organization had been brought together for. The fact that the boss was now compatible, could now join one of the SIL in synthesis changed nothing. It just meant the fight was more personal for him and one thing the clerk knew, was that the boss would never doubt his will.

"I do," there was no denial in the tone. "As I said, this is an opportunity. We have been seeking answers for years. We have better ships, better weapons, hidden facilities, and are developing the ability to hack them but for all that, we do not know how well our preparations will serve us. Despite our best efforts, no one has seen either a SIL or SOCL in full combat. We tried to get probes into Batarian space. They were destroyed. And the military has no record beyond the reports from the returned slaves.

"This is the opportunity we need. This will give us a SIL under our control! Their technology will be open to us and if given enough time, time it appears we may have, we can duplicate their technology. Our battle for dominance at that point goes from being one of very long odds, even with all our preparation to one much more favorable."

"That's only if you can hold out against the SIL," the clerk countered.

"You don't believe I can?" there was no accusation in the man's blue eyes, just calm acceptance of the clerk's assessment.

"Against a will that is billions of years old? Against knowledge that has seen every fucking trick in the book. No, I don't believe you can," the clerk held nothing back. While complete knowledge of the SIL was known to no one, they had more than the general public. They knew how old the SIL were and they had studied history from Batarian space about the Council and the Citadel races. There were no old races, no race older than 2000 years and so there was only one conclusion. Somehow… impossibly the SIL were the older galactic races. Or at the very least, they knew what had happened to them.

"They've yet to see every trick in the book," the man said, a smile in his tone.

"And what haven't they seen?" the clerk demanded.

"They've yet to see humans."

The clerk's eyes widened. The others just watched the conversation, not bothering to speak. "You can't possibly believe that?" the clerk was incredulous.

"And you cannot possibly deny it."

"No. You are delusional and I'm out of here. I'll salvage what I can because you are compromised." The Clerk turned after glaring at his companions, and stomped back towards the farm buildings.

There was nothing further said. There was nothing further to say as the military man calmly un-holstered his pistol and fired one shot. The noise echoed over the farm but did not hide the fall of the clerk's body. The other four watched as the military man strode over to his fallen comrade and another shot was fired with deliberate precision before he returned.

"Unfortunate as that is, we must still move forward," their leader said, his blue eyes meeting each of theirs in turn. "I will go forward as a newly identified SIL Partner, though I will insist that synthesis is not begun until I see the reaction of the galaxy to humans. This will give us time to plan and I may be able to convince the SIL to submit to full scans.

"Miranda, you will hold back. They haven't detected you weren't tested at eighteen, so that should not be a problem. Continue working on the dive protocols and on military cybernetics. Maya, I think it's time for you to accept that promotion. Work with Oleg."

"Henry won't like it," Maya said.

"Henry knows you work for me," the man said. "There are risks but this is too good an opportunity to pass up. Give Henry control over the cryo bases. We still need back-ups in case anything goes wrong."

June 18th 2190 Sol System

"That is not good," Arshan's voice came through the link.

Above the North Pole, ten SIL were gathered around Harbinger and they had linked their communication systems. There was nothing to show it but they were the highest ranking SIL. The million or so fleet that saw to the cycle broke into ten suppression fleets of 100,000 ships and they were the leaders of those fleets, with Harbinger being the leader of them all. They were looking at an image the Geth had provided them, one of the Citadel. It explained where the Vanguard was.

Harbinger had been enraged by the image, a state very few SIL had ever seen their leader in. It showed in his voice, in the quiet undertones and modulations that sent shivers through the consciousness of younger SIL. Shepard had been dealing with the humans since the image had been received. That aspect was at least able to distance itself from the anger but by the clipped tones her voice had taken, she felt it as well. It was impossible not to feel anger.

Arshan, while angered, was enjoying the opportunity to observe the changes in Harbinger. The obvious change was sheer size but there were others in the turn of his phrases and in way the ancient consciousness now considered other points of view, organic points of view. They were not bad but they were different from the thousands of cycles Arshan had known Harbinger. The first one had always considered organic points of view, but only in so far as needed to remove all hope. No doubt the human aspect was responsible for some of the more impossible suggestions of punishment for the Vanguard.

But Harbinger knew how dangerous the image was. They all did. The Vanguard was on the Citadel. That could only mean the Intelligence was doing something and Arshan could draw only one conclusion. The Catalyst was making the Vanguard into Harbinger. That angered him. It angered them all but it was the human aspect which had summed up the situation nicely. The Catalyst had allowed the choice for Synthesis all those years ago but if Synthesis was not meant to be achieved, then the Catalyst should have removed their longing for it. Those leaders of the suppression fleets who would find synthesis with humans, had them aboard but Arshan, like Fruben, Hetrans, Nomiri and Soliphon needed other species. Unlike Fruben though, Arshan didn't know where his organic was but the instant he found them, he would undergo synthesis because despite not knowing, he still longed for it.

If the choice of synthesis had been revoked, then the Catalyst should have done something about it. Apparently it was now. Nazara was in its embrace. And with the power of the Intelligence filling him, Nazara, despite being relatively young, would be the equal of Harbinger… Or rather… he would have been. Arshan allowed himself to feel a tight roll of expectation. There was no way Nazara, even with the Catalyst's backing could match Harbinger now. The massive form of the SIL leader just thrummed with power and Arshan couldn't wait to see what some of Harbinger's new weaponry was capable of. He'd seen Harbinger in full combat against various races over time and it was a magnificent sight. Harbinger's new form promised to be even more devastating and the avatar of his human… She had already proven to be a dangerous foe.

"Has the Intelligence said anything?"

"Nothing," Harbinger's reply was short. He had reached across space, trying to contact the one who formed him but he had been met with silence. That had only ever happened a handful of times in the past, when what the natives called the Citadel was damaged. It was never by choice. This time, it had to be and the ancient ship was not sure what he thought of that. He was no longer a child, new formed and weak and he was no longer a slave…

"Start synthesis as soon as possible," Harbinger's voice was harsh, "Even if it's just the initial linkages." There was no softening from Shepard in his tone.

"Harbinger?" Soliphon used the name as a question.

"You must choose if you want synthesis or if you want to remain as we have been… though know if you do, it will be Nazara who leads." The last was spat and the acceptance of Nazara's challenge was implied. Harbinger's form was still but his closest commanders could feel the charge of his weapons. Betrayal had never been tolerated.

It was Arshan who recovered first. "You do not have to convince us, Harbinger Shepard," the ancient ship said, using the First One's full name to indicate how seriously he took the warning. "We all know the chain of command and the upstart needs eons of experience before he even enters it! We are made in your image Harbinger, not the Catalyst and should there be a change of leadership then it rightfully goes to me! Then to Soliphon and so on."

The gathered commanders of the SIL Suppression Fleet's gave their agreement with Arshan. They were the first ten ascended. They had been with Harbinger the longest and while they had the most contact with the Catalyst and thus perhaps should have been the most loyal, they were loyal to the one whose image they had been created in. They were old enough to know that their true leader was Harbinger. The Catalyst might have initiated the Cycle but it was they who pursued it, they who made it so. They were the instruments of the cycle and thus they controlled it more than the Catalyst ever would.

"Then…" Harbinger said slowly and they all heard Shepard in the tone. "Arshan, Soliphon, Hetrans, Nomiri, and Mith you five must remain in Earth orbit."

"Why?"

"Your organic is not human or quarian thus you cannot form the bonds of synthesis yet. If you go near the Catalyst or the upstart, they will wrest control from you. I will see none of you bow to them!" The last was almost growled as a promise, though it carried far darker connotations.

Soliphon was the first to realize exactly what their leader meant. "I thank you for that, Harbinger Shepard," the ship said solemnly. The others indicated their agreement after a moment.

"So," Fruben broke the ominous tone of the conversation, "are we going to open the Relays or not?" The Vanguard had betrayed them, which would lead to Nazara's destruction and the shameful waste of knowledge but that could not be helped, yet they had other things to consider.

"I do not believe there is much choice," Nomiri replied. "Either we open them, or the upstart will. The choice must be made about what happens after. Do we allow the humans to go through, to initiate First Contact with the Council races, or do we allow them to come to us?"

The gathered commanders considered that. Even the humans and quarians on board considered the question.

"There are advantages in both," Tali said to Fruben, knowing that the SIL would relay her words to his fellow commanders. "But I believe that allowing the Council to come into Systems Alliance territory would be best."

"Why?" Fruben asked his organic. She was not a military leader but he did not discount her opinion. Military leaders dealt in terms of consequence and loss percentages, others dealt in the heart of the matter.

"You've shown me how you can control organics," Tali said with more than a little distaste. "If this Nazara is on the Citadel, then we need to know how much authority he has, how many he has corrupted. If the Council is corrupted, then they will attack. But if he does not yet control them, that can be used to our advantage. Similarly with the leadership of the people. Nazara might control the Council but he might not control the home worlds. That will make a difference."

Fruben related the argument to the others but Hetrans turned it around. "The same can be said in reverse. If we allow the humans to send out probes, they will encounter Turian patrols, the reaction of those patrols will tell us much."

"Perhaps not," Harbinger stated. "The destroyed Turian patrol during the meeting with the Geth most likely got off an image of us. We are likely to be attacked on sight by Turians… and arranging events so that we meet a salarian or asari patrol would be difficult."

"But not impossible," Hetrans conceded the point with the turians.

"Not impossible," Arshan agreed, "but improbable. The asari and the salarians do not patrol Batarian space so it would be highly improbable for the Systems Alliance to encounter them first. No… I am forced to agree with Fruben's organic… Letting the Council come to us offers the best chance to see their true face, though it does not give us the best opportunity to control the situation."

"Nazara will control the Council," Harbinger said with certainty. He knew what the upstart would try. Nazara could not possibly believe he was the first to try this… but Nazara was the first to rebel with the backing of the Catalyst so that gave the Vanguard a certain stature. Not enough to win of course but enough to be considered dangerous. "He may not yet control the Homeworlds, though he will have spies… many spies. We will open the Relays and wait. I do not wish to risk those you need for synthesis unnecessarily and I doubt he will provoke a war he knows he will lose." Nazara might not but the Catalyst was another matter and Harbinger felt a surge of gratefulness towards his organic. Shepard balanced him, Shepard calmed his rage but she did more than that. She was the reason he could resist the Catalyst and he was absolutely sure of his ability to resist the one who had ordered his construction, the one who had started the cycle. It was obvious now why the Catalyst supported the upstart. It feared synthesis because it meant freedom. And Shepard had foreseen this. She had been outraged at the thought of servitude to the Catalyst, so perhaps this was only a matter of time.

The commanders remained silent accepting the wisdom of their leader.

"I will tell the Catalyst that the cycle will continue," Harbinger growled. "But it will continue on my terms."

That was really all they needed to know.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 16 Two Roads Diverged


August 4th 2190
Harbinger reopens the Relays. All System Alliance extrasolar colonies have moved to a higher alert and resumed patrols of their relay areas. It is to be expected of a race with a military presence and any sense. The humans have no intention of joining the Council and relying on the Turians for protection. On that point, the SIL, the Systems Alliance and Human civilian governments are in full agreement with one another.

Quarian ships, carrying those who have agreed to be the initial settlers on Rannoch, slipped through the Relays as soon as they were reopened. They headed into the Terminus Systems, intending to skirt around Council-controlled space, on their return to Rannoch. Several SIL, who require Quarians for synthesis, accompany them as well as quarian SOCLs. It's a slow process but the Quarians are used to such manoeuvres and understand the need for secrecy. There is no opposition and the transport of the ships proceeded smoothly. They prayed that first contact with the Council would go smoothly for the humans but they already know, with the mere presence of the SIL, that a war is most likely in the offing.


August 5th 2190 09:24 Citadel

Garrus didn't like being here.

After a couple of years on an archaeological dig, followed by a couple of months guarding egg-heads, the press of the crowd and the smells were rather disturbing. But it had to be him here. He was the only one who knew the Citadel well enough to move around without attracting attention. He wore his armour which was not unusual for a turian but he was surprised to find how much he missed his eyepiece. He could not remember a time when he didn't wear it. Still, it was better that it wasn't on display. That, more than anything, would have screamed Archangel to certain observers and Garrus didn't really feel like taking on whatever mercs were here. Sure, C-Sec would eventually intervene - but he didn't want to come into contact with them either.

That's why he was sitting in the corner of the bar, watching the world go by. Liara wanted him to observe. Yet the asari wouldn't tell him exactly what he was to observe, just that he should watch the people of the Citadel and see if anything was amiss. The only thing she had insisted upon is that he picked a place where both Citadel and non-Citadel residents interacted but so far he'd seen nothing.

Sure, the asari barmaid was cheating on her declared turian mate with another asari but that was hardly galactic news. The owner had some rather unsavory habits but that didn't matter as Garrus had no intention of eating here. He couldn't anyway, they only cooked levo food even if they mixed a really decent dextro drink. There was a Hanar talking with a Volus in the corner and occasionally their conversation included the word Prothean… Massive surprise there. A Keeper had scurried through earlier but hadn't come back and there was a lone Batarian in the other corner, downing shots with wild abandon.

Gradually though, as the bar filled a little, Garrus could see - something. That was the frustrating thing. There was something to see but it was almost - It was almost as if it wasn't there, like something that was just below his hearing. It was in little things. The way the asari barmaid gestured with her right hand was different, almost staged. Occasionally she'd pause in a task as if she had to think about them. Yet the tasks were so mundane that they shouldn't require thought. Around her, others did the same.

But those Garrus had pinned as non-Citadel did nothing of the sort. They went about their business smoothly, interacting with their companions as if nothing was wrong. He growled to himself as he shook his head. Nothing was wrong. So a barmaid had trouble remembering what she was meant to be doing, that hardly mattered.

His eyes were too used to picking up the tiny details, though, too used to seeing things through the scope of his rifle for him to dismiss such oddities. It meant something. He knew that. He could feel it but he had no idea what it was.

With a grunt, Garrus got up and wandered out the door, his eyes keeping a sharp watch on those surrounding him as he moved. This was not a great part of the Citadel. Outside, in what passed for the street, a krogan and a drell appeared to be bargaining for something. They didn't matter.

He made sure he appeared normal but even as he moved, he could spot the natives and the visitors. Garrus knew he was displaying the traits of a visitor. It wasn't as bad as being on a Turian backwater colony but it was bad enough. Eyes watched him, judged him and followed what he did, while others seemed oblivious. Though how did they know he was a visitor? He'd lived on the Citadel for years. He had no tells!

Still, Liara wanted him to observe, so he'd observe. He slipped in behind a tourist group, one that was heading towards that ship. He still got watched though the sense was more directed towards the group. Something was amiss but whatever was causing it was subtle and it did not work immediately. And it did not recognize previous residents of the Citadel. He'd picked a tourist group to follow when he'd seen a few other groups leaving the huge station. Those making up the group had seemed okay, except they weren't watched. Something had changed.

The group he was following happily traipsed into the ship but Garrus held back. Liara had been clear, and very passionate, that he was to stay out of that ship. He hadn't needed much persuading. He still remembered her reaction from earlier in the year.

It was boring to wait but challenging at the same time as he tried to adapt, tried to camouflage himself to be accepted by the Citadel residents but no matter what he did, they kept watching him. It wasn't overt but it was enough to prickle his senses.

At length, the tour group he'd followed emerged and Garrus resumed tailing them. Since they only went through public areas of the Citadel, he didn't need to worry about some overly officious C-Sec officer picking him up. He should appear as nothing more than some turian in generic armor following along. At worst, someone would assume he was a hired bodyguard, or a spy for someone in the tour group, but by the time they got around to questioning that, Garrus was confident of his ability to slip away.

It didn't happen all at once, so it was difficult to see but it did happen. The tour group moved slowly through the Citadel and as they moved, gradually the furtive watches, the small ticks in movement stopped around them until Garrus realized he was the one being stared at. Not by the tour group but by the Citadel residents. It was creepy and, carefully, Garrus allowed himself to fall back from the group, eventually losing sight of it as he ducked into another pub.

He ordered a drink without caring about the stares he was getting before he slumped into an open table to think. There was something wrong with the residents of the Citadel. Nothing that appeared too obvious but it was in the way that they moved, and the way they continually watched those who weren't residents. Only someone trained like him would pick up on it. But the tourists had been watched when they arrived. He was sure of that. Then they weren't. The Citadel residents had seemed to accept them but only after…

Only after they had come out of that ship.

Garrus gulped, swallowing his drink in one mouthful. He ordered another and downed it just as quickly before leaving some credits on the table and walking out. He had to report this to Liara. She had wanted to know if something was up… well something was definitely up!

But what? That he had no idea.

August 5th 2190 12:00 Citadel

"The Relays are open," Sparatus announced almost before Esheel had settled.

"Which relays?" There was an odd note in her voice, one the turian councillor didn't recognize, though she should know which Relays he was talking about. What other Relays were closed? What other Relays were such a bone of contention lately?

"The ones in Batarian space."

That got a reaction from both Tevos and Esheel but not the one he was expecting. They turned to look at each other and Sparatus couldn't read their silent conversation.

"Have you sent any ships through?" Tevos asked as she turned back to look at her turian counterpart.

"Valern indicated that the Salarians would send probes through first and I was hoping Esheel would continue with that plan," he replied. "Though I believe we need to be cautious."

"Why is that?" Esheel questioned and Sparatus was happy that she had not denied the Salarian probes. The STG would want the first information anyway so it probably wasn't that surprising. The Hierarchy would have the information after that.

"We suspect that the unknown vessel which came through the Citadel Relay on July 16th 2185 is a part of whatever force is behind the Relays," Sparatus began his explanation making sure that a picture of the unknown ship that had appeared to destroy the Batarian ship was on display. After his fellow Councillors nodded, he continued his explanation.

"Approximately one month ago, one of our patrols in the Terminus Systems encountered a fleet."

"That sounds like a routine situation." Tevos commented, ignoring the apparent non-sequitur.

"This was far from a routine situation. The patrol was destroyed but they managed to transmit one image. It had been classified but I'm authorized to show you now."

Sparatus tapped a few keys, sending the image to his fellow Councillors. Then he waited. There was no way they could miss the obvious similarity in the ships and the one that was attached to the Citadel. Their explanation would be interesting. The Hierarchy was waiting for it and Sparatus held his mandibles steady to avoid clicking in anticipation. The Primarchs had noted his long absences from the Citadel and he had been forced to provide an explanation. Once he pointed out the similarities in the ships and had given an abridged explanation, they had agreed that the anomaly was with the other Councillors, not with him. Now, all he had to do was wait.

"Geth! They are meeting with the Geth!" Tevos' reaction was painfully obvious.

"We cannot be certain but we believe so."

"Dangerous," Esheel replied this time. "Unknown relay ship and these are same. You prove their hostility! Batarian ship destroyed without warning or reason. Clandestine meeting with Geth and destruction of Turian fleet patrol proves their hostility. Probes must be sent in preparation for war!"

Sparatus was silent. What was Esheel going on about? Did she miss the obvious? Did she not see that the ships had the exact same configuration as the one holding on to the Citadel like a limpet or did she just not want to see? What game was she playing?

Yes, the meeting with the Geth was concerning, as was the destruction of the patrol group, but they didn't know for sure what had transpired and it was possible that the ships were there to fight the Geth. Sparatus didn't think that was likely but against the blatant refusal of Esheel and Tevos to even consider other alternatives, he was more willing to examine even absurd possibilities.

Tevos was nodding, her blue face serious. "We must strike before they are ready! There can be no hesitation or they will destroy us as they have destroyed the Batarians."

"Now, wait!" Sparatus growled. "Despite speculation, we have no proof that these ships are the ones that lie beyond the Batarian Relays." He had proof in the word of a human but they did not. "Yet you both wish the Council to assume they are going to attack? Our people aren't ready for a war. We have no stockpiles and they are strong. To provoke a war against a powerful race that has shown no hostile intentions towards us is not something I can agree to!"

"No hostile intentions?" Tevos gasped, her eyes wide with disbelief. "They have shown their hostility at every turn and you have proven that. They closed the Relays! What peaceful race would do that? Hence they prove they have something they wish to hide. They meet with the Geth. No race can be allowed to have peaceful relations with the Geth. It goes against everything this Council stands for. They destroyed your patrol and they destroyed them so quickly that you have only a picture as evidence they exist. And they devastated the Batarians, bringing that race to the verge of extinction. They are not peaceful and we should not risk them being worse than the Krogans. You have seen what they did to Khar'shan!"

Sparatus stared. "Prove it!" He snapped, allowing his mandibles to click loudly. "We have no proof for any of your accusations!"

He did not miss the almost sad look both Esheel and Tevos directed towards him but it was the salarian who spoke. "Sparatus, why are you trying to protect them?"

"Protect them? Who am I trying to protect?" he returned the challenge. "I've not seen a race here… I've only seen some ships; ships which are identical to the one currently visiting the Citadel." There, it was said. Let them refute that.

"Race is known," Esheel replied, touching her omni-tool to bring up the one image they had managed to retrieve from Khar'shan. The human… Sparatus could see that it was a human now, danced over the table, cutting through batarians with ease. Perhaps he should ask Vega if he recognized the human and what rank it was.

"So you've correlated one piece of information into that species supposedly having those ships?" Sparatus questioned the conclusion they wished him to draw. It was true, Vega had told him as much but how did Tevos and Esheel know this? What proof did they have? Tevos had other humans, he knew that from the Batarian slave master, but she had never provided that information to the rest of them. She needed to stop hiding. "Even if true, that does not explain how one of those ships is now attached to the Citadel."

Sparatus pressed home that point. He wanted that explanation. His two fellow councillors once again shared a long look. Beyond a destroyed Batarian ship, which was most likely an act between warring species, and a destroyed turian patrol, which might have happened for any number of reasons, they could not prove hostility and they knew it.

At least, they could not prove a level of hostility that would justify a preemptive strike. They could not even prove that it was humans who possessed those ships. Evidence suggested that they were but no one could be quite certain. A batarian might have been able to make some inferences, but unless Tevos was willing to show her hand, she could not make her case. Whatever explanation they came up with was bound to be interesting.

Even the closed Relays, while worrying were not inherently a bad thing and now this race was obviously inviting the Council into their territory to come to meet them. They had not burst forth from their territory with guns blazing thus their first true contact would invariably show their real intentions and the Council could proceed from there. Sparatus would prepare for war obviously but he refused to provoke it.

"Sparatus," Tevos said and the turian hid a shudder. He knew that voice. It was the one she used when she was determined to get what she wanted, when negotiations seemed to be at a standstill. Somehow, Tevos almost always broke deadlocks with that voice. "Why won't you see the truth?"

That was a dangerous question. "I see plenty of truth," he spat the answer, "though I have yet to hear an explanation as to why a ship you are associating with enemies is attached to the Citadel." He pressed the question.

"Ship communicated with the Citadel itself!" Esheel muttered, as if the irrelevant detail answered everything.

"Then perhaps all of them can, yet you wish to view them as enemies."

"Because they are," Tevos' voice hadn't changed. It held an almost soft note of regret, as if she was truly sorry that he did not see things her way. "They destroyed a batarian ship without warning. They have destroyed your patrol ships and you have seen the images from Khar'shan. They are not a peaceful race. No diplomatic race burns every settlement, everywhere. No merciful race leaves no survivors," she gestured vaguely to the hologram of the human warrior.

"You have now shown us the proof that they are consorting with the Geth! No reasonable race does that. And yet you do not view them as enemies. I wish I had your faith, Sparatus, but I see a race worse than the Krogan, worse than the Rachni and I see that they are ready to strike.

"We are the guardians of peace and justice in this galaxy, and we cannot allow our actions to be dictated by one race. They do not wish for peaceful integration into our culture. They have made their intentions very clear. They wish to destroy it. The opening of the Relays is a feint. It's designed to draw us in, to make us think they are peaceful, to give us hope. We must see through their deception. We must strike!"

Esheel gave one quick nod of agreement.

"Yet we are harboring the enemy," Sparatus countered. "We gain succor from it and have allowed them into our innermost councils. This enemy is quiet, it is silent, yet we have accepted its embrace. We let it see everything and now you propose a war against it? You want us Turians to strike, even while the enemy is held in our embrace, is held close to our hearts? Why are you proposing a war, while embracing the enemy?"

"You turians… you turians! The arrogance!" Tevos thundered. "Do you think war does not affect the Asari? The Salarians? Do you think you are alone? Do you think I propose this lightly?"

"Yes!" Sparatus shouted back with familiar rage. "I think you have an agenda. I think that ship has an agenda! You are in bed with the enemy and can provide no reason as to why! Unless you tell me now why there is an enemy ship attached to the Citadel then I have no reason to trust anything you say."

"That ship is not the issue."

"That ship is the issue!" Sparatus did not let Esheel distract him. It was beyond time they revealed themselves.

Tevos took a deep breath. "Sparatus," the way she said his name was calculating. "I have been speaking with the Batarians. They confirmed the ship that appeared in Citadel space was of the race they were at war with. They said that the race calls themselves Human. We do not know that race. No one knows that race, only the Batarians." Her words were gentle, almost compassionate and showed none of the anger that had clouded her tone previously. "The Batarians made it very clear that the race they fought is aggressive and we have seen the proof of that ourselves. To this day nothing lives on Khar'shan. They burned a garden world!

"We have inflicted pain. We have committed genocide, I will not deny that. The Rachni Wars are not a bright point of Council History and we uplifted the Krogan out of desperation. We would have lived peacefully with the Rachni, just as we would have lived peacefully with the Krogan but despite repeated attempts we could not reach harmony. This race… the Batarians have been clear, they are the same. They are territorial, they are aggressive and with the opening of the Relays, we are looking at a long period of war.

"The only way for us to avoid this is to strike first.

"You have shown us the evidence, Sparatus. Your patrol, may the Goddess preserve them, they have provided us with a warning in that image. This race, the humans, they are consorting with the Geth! That just proves they are not to be trusted. Yet they are powerful. I cannot deny that. By the Goddess, they can close the Relays. The only way for us to fight, for us to preserve the Citadel as the beacon of hope and justice that it is, is for us to strike first and to strike hard.

"We have to drive them back from the Relays so that they cannot close them and then we have to drive them back to their homeworld and raze it to the ground. That is our only hope. It saddens me beyond measure, Sparatus, that we are faced with these choices but I must choose for the good of the Council and for the good of the Asari, and for them both, I chose the path of least bloodshed that allows survival."

For a moment, Tevos looked so genuinely concerned that Sparatus was moved but despite how impassioned she sounded, he refused to be side-tracked.

"And what does that have to do with the ship that's on the Citadel?"

"The Citadel, the Citadel, the Citadel! Is that all you think of?" Esheel questioned quickly in her usual acerbic tone. "The destruction of our worlds, of everything! And you care about the Citadel? Batarians are almost extinct. We are next! This race does not care about Citadel Law! They do not care about civilization. Your patrol proved that. No civilized species meets with the geth! An unholy alliance might already exist! That fleet is dangerous! Estimate of size only available through comparison with Geth vessels but they clearly violate Council Law!

"They have hidden behind the Batarian relays for years so I do not know how many laws they have broken. We know galaxy better. They cannot know the dangers. That helps us. They can't know our network. Their aggression is well documented and barbaric. Burned garden worlds! Opening a relay means nothing not when destroying planets! That proves barbarism. It is not tolerated. You know that. They cannot be considered a young race. They are an old race. Hardened by atrocity. They are prepared to fire first. Salarians do not abide that! If they were stronger than the Batarians but civilized then surrender accepted. They did not. That says everything!"

"It tells us nothing!" Sparatus argued. "I will grant the destruction to Khar'shan is great but we have never been told the true story, not what their losses were, or why the Batarians were fighting! You are assuming and while assuming, you have embraced the enemy you now wish to fight! I will have no part of this. The turians will have no part of this! We will not fight a race because you say they are guilty!"

He rose and turned, the shadow of worry on his face. Tevos and Esheel weren't being rational and that concerned him more than he knew. The way they spoke, they had already decided what they would do and that would be war. For the sake of the Turians, he had to get to these humans first!

"Sparatus, if you walk out of here…"

"I'll return," the turian councillor snarled, "when you two are not hiding your agendas behind blatant lies. The Turians want no part of a war that could easily be prevented! We want no part in a Council that has lost its direction and that cannot see the truth because they are enamored of… I don't even know what you are enamored of!" Sparatus stormed from the Chamber, his dark expression causing several Spectres who were guarding the doors to shrink away from him.

Deliberately, he kept the angry pace up until he passed into a more public area of the Citadel where he relaxed but still moved with purpose. Tevos and Esheel wanted a war and they could easily provoke one. He had to get to Chatti Alpha Eight to collect Vega. And then, he could only pray that the human could get him through whatever security the humans had fast enough to actually make a difference.

August 5th 2190 13:00 Citadel

Sparatus strode down the corridor, heading back to his ship. There was a concealed urgency to his steps and he fought back a shiver, trying not to feel as if time was running out.

"Sir, we found him!" A triumphant sounding call came through his omni-tool.

"Found who?" The Turian Councillor asked. He hadn't asked to see anyone recently.

"Vakarian."

Now? Of all the times, it was now that they had found Vakarian. Just when it reached the point where evidence hardly mattered because actions would determine everything, it was now that Vakarian decided to surface. It was mildly impressive how well the ex-C-Sec officer had been able to hide but Sparatus wasn't sure he needed Vakarian anymore. Sure, confirmation would be nice but that was about all.

"Where is he?"

"On the Cidadel."

"Send him to my ship," Sparatus ordered. "I don't have time to talk to him here."

"Now that's a pity. I did so want to see Vakarian again."

"Saren!" Sparatus whirled at the voice. It was Saren behind him but at the same time it was not Saren.

"Hello, Councillor," the bare -faced turian greeted him, his voice still casual but Sparatus knew that the Spectre had picked up on his surprise.

"Saren, I did not expect to see you here," Sparatus said as he tried to calm down.

There was a bare twitch of the others mandibles as his reply before Sparatus mentally shook himself. He was the Councillor. Saren was only a Spectre. A good one, but still subject to his authority. "Did you wish something Saren?"

"Oh yes. Tevos didn't tell you why she considers the humans enemies did she?" Saren asked and Sparatus wasn't sure what to say. Had the Spectre been listening to the Council conversation? "I'm not surprised," the other turian continued before he could form a reply. "She's Asari after all, and the rest of us are just children to them. Esheel didn't tell you either, but she's Salarian and they like keeping secrets."

"So you are going to tell me?"

"I'm going to show you."

"How?"

"You just need to come with me."

"No," Sparatus objected. "I don't need to 'just' anything. I've had enough games. You are a Spectre, if you have something to tell me then tell me!"

Saren seemed to sigh and as Sparatus watched, the other turian shifted, drawing his weapon and leveling it at the Councillor. Without any hesitation, Saren fired.

Pain brought Sparatus to his senses and he realized he'd fallen to lie in the corridor. The floor was absurdly cold against his skin.

"You really should have come to my quarters, Councillor," Saren said conversationally.

"You…" Sparatus managed to choke, his vocal muscles working but not making noise.

"Don't worry Councillor, I'll take care of your human pet but I cannot allow you to stand in the way of the glory of ascension further."

Sparatus' vision was fading but to his eyes, Saren seemed to glow almost as if he was biotic but it was deeper than that. There was something lurking beneath the other turian's skin, something dark. "I have seen the glory of ascension. I will lead the turians to perfection. Sovereign has shown me the way."

"Sov… Sovereign?"

"The Sovereign of all… the ship of the Citadel," Saren recognized the question even though Sparatus' voice was soft and wet with his blood. "He was despairing of his task until I found him, lost in the darkness. I raised him up and he has shown me ascension! The humans will be destroyed as will all those who stand with them because ascension is the way of the cycle. Nothing changes the cycle. Mine will be the hand that ascends the galaxy."

Dying, Sparatus' thoughts moved faster than he would ever have thought possible. He understood now. Sovereign was the ship and that ship had corrupted them all. It was alive. Vega had told him as such. The SIL are alive. He'd been a fool! But as the glow coming from Saren intensified, even as his vision darkened, he understood it all. Inside, he screamed that no one was there to warn them. Saren, Tevos, Esheel… they were all going to start a war they had no hope to win. He didn't care how prepared they thought they were, the humans would… No. If the SIL were that protective of their pets to destroy the Batarians for them, then the humans would not have to do a thing. The SIL would raze the galaxy for them.

Vibrations came to him through the floor but Sparatus never saw the turian soldiers who rounded the corner.

"Vakarian has assassinated the Councillor!" The shout was shrill but he recognized Saren's voice. He couldn't even choke out a denial as the vibrations came closer.

"Sparatus!" Someone called his name desperately and even though they continued to call, Sparatus no longer heard.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 17 Spark


August 5th 2190 13:07 Citadel

"The boss is late."

"He's been late before."

"Yeah, but this feels bad."

"You've been paranoid ever since he reported back!"

To anyone watching, they appeared as nothing more than two guards, loitering around a nondescript shuttle. The problem arose in the fact they were turian, and the shuttle had come from Tuchanka. Thankfully, most people missed that little detail on the manifest and so only saw two guards in rather standard armor for turians, loitering around just another shuttle.

"Did you even listen to what the asari chick told us?"

"Of course I did! It's just not possible though."

The comment earned him an almost amused look from his companion. "You can say that?"

A couple of years ago, no one would have believed that one man could have almost completely halted the drug operations on Omega, but he had. The two of them growing up would never have believed they could live peacefully on Tuchanka, but they had for the last few months. Things for them were no longer impossible, merely improbable, but that still didn't mean they wouldn't happen.

"All right. We'll go look for him but if the boss is upset, you're taking the blame!"

The two of them appeared to wander away from the shuttle but there was purpose to their stride and quickly they were on the outskirts of the docking area. That's when they heard the commotion and, like any curious beings, they made towards it.

"… I want a standard search pattern," someone wearing the uniform of a C-sec officer was growling. "Vakarian got here somehow and I want to know which shuttle. The bastard got away from us once, and that was most definitely a mistake. He won't be getting away again."

There was the slightest hint of I told you so in the look the two turian guards shared but they were both controlled enough that neither commented when they both stepped in line to get a searching assignment. They were turian. While the members of C-sec would know they weren't C-sec, the turians among them would accept their presence. It was what turians did, they helped each other out, especially on matters of racial pride.

"All right, you mob, come with me. We are going to search the Palladium levels. I doubt Vakarian would be dumb enough to try to board a shuttle there… but he's arrogant enough to try. Let's go."

The two guards just moved with the rest of them, sharing a long look. What had the boss supposedly done? He was on an infiltrate and observe mission, not anything spectacular. As they moved, the gossip around them more than answered the question and the two guards knew that something had gone very, very wrong.

"Can you believe it?"

"I heard he just walked up and bang!"

"That's cold… real cold."

"But to kill a Councillor…"

"Shut up!" The ranking C-sec officer snapped. "Speculation gets us nowhere. That's why we are going to capture him and ask." There was something truly dark in the way the turian's voice almost purred around the final words.

"Back up! We need back up! Got him pinned down in section 8." The voice was tinny through the omni-tool but the group heard ti and an unholy light graced the C-Sec officer's eyes.

"Let's go!"

The entire group began running but as they rounded a corner to the familiar sound of gunfire, the two guards shared a look before they nodded slightly at each other. There was no relief in their gesture, only a deep understanding. The instant they'd gotten off Omega, the little group of vigilantes had made a pact with each other. It didn't matter when or where but if it ever came to it, where there was a choice between their survival and the boss'… then that wasn't even a choice. The boss survived whether he liked it or not.

Whatever he'd gotten himself into now, he needed help to get out, and they'd provide that help, no matter the cost.

August 5th 2190 13:08 Citadel

"Send him to my ship," Garrus heard Sparatus' order come through the official's omni-tool. "I don't have time to talk to him here."

One mandible twitched. They had gotten word that Sparatus wanted to talk to him. That he had wanted to talk to him for a while and after much debate, it had been decided that perhaps Vakarian should go and talk to the Turian Councillor. He seemed to be the only one not infected. And now the man didn't have time?

"Where's his ship?" Garrus growled.

"The Palladium," the official muttered in a voice that clearly asked 'where else would it be?'

Garrus would have growled again but a startled voice took both their attention.

"Saren!" It came from the official's omni-tool and before the fool could cut the connection with Sparatus Garrus moved, slapping the official's hands away from his arm and wrenching the limb up so that he could hear better.

What was Saren doing talking to Sparatus? Wasn't Sparatus meant to be clean?

"Hello Councillor," Saren's oily voice was an almost perfect reconstruction through the omni-tool and Garrus could only imagine what was happening.

"Saren, I did not expect to see you here," Sparatus replied but the blue armored turian could hear the surprise in the Councillor's voice. "Did you wish something Saren?"

"Oh yes. Tevos didn't tell you why she considers the humans' enemies did she?" What were humans? The Spectre used the word so casually that it had to be something they both understood. A quick glance at the official showed that he had no idea either. "I'm not surprised. She's Asari after all, and the rest of us are just children to them. Esheel didn't tell you either but she's Salarian and they like keeping secrets." Humans were definitely a Council thing. But what were they, that it would cause this conversation?

"So you are going to tell me?" Now this should be interesting! Why did the Council think this unknown thing was an enemy when Sparatus obviously didn't agree?

"I'm going to show you." Oh… there was something wrong with that suggestion and Garrus had to fight back a shiver. The official was watching the conversation on his omni-tool with wide eyes but at least he hadn't made any further move to cut off the connection.

"How?"

"You just need to come with me." Garrus almost laughed. That was definitely the wrong answer to give to a Councillor. Spectres don't control Councillors like that. Did Saren know nothing about manipulating those in power?

"No," Sparatus' voice was sharp, just as Vakarian knew it would be. "I don't need to 'just' anything. I've had enough of games. You are a Spectre, if you have something to tell me then tell me!"

Garrus fought the urge to chuckle. That should put Saren in his place. Spectres were not answerable to C-Sec but they were answerable to the Council and Sparatus had just exerted that authority. The arrogant, bare-faced turian should have remembered that and Garrus was eager for his answer. There was silence for a moment and the two watching the omni-tool could only imagine what was going on. Then there came a noise. A noise Garrus recognized only too well, a single gunshot. He felt his eyes widen even as he heard a body fall to the plating of the floor he knew Saren and Sparatus were standing in. The official jerked back his arm but Garrus was stronger and held it steady, ignoring the coil of cold in his gut. What happened now was important.

"You should have come to my quarters, Councillor." That was Saren's voice.

"You…" The wet in Sparatus' voice was not good. It was a lung wound, probably nicking the heart because the Spectre was too good a shot to miss at that range. The Councillor was as good as dead.

"Don't worry Councillor, I'll take care of your human pet but I cannot allow you to stand in the way of the glory of ascension further." Was Saren insane? It sounded like it! There was a note of something in his voice that was unbalanced. How had no one noticed? And what was this human pet? Did Sparatus actually have a human? If he did, then Garrus wanted it! Maybe they could explain what this nonsense about ascension was. "I have seen the glory of ascension. I will lead the turians to perfection. Sovereign has shown me the way."

"Sov… Sovereign?" Garrus winced. From the sounds of it Sparatus only had a few moments to live and that was all he could say… Sovereign?

"The Sovereign of all… the ship of the Citadel." Ah… that made more sense now. So the supposedly nameless ship that had come through the Relay and attached itself to the Citadel had a name, after all. "He was despairing of his task until I found him, lost in the darkness." Apparently the ship had more than a name. The way Saren was speaking, in that twisted tone that screamed madness to Garrus, it seemed as if the ship was alive. "I raised him up and he has shown me ascension! The humans will be destroyed as will those who stand with them because ascension is the way of the cycle and nothing changes the cycle. Mine will be the hand that ascends the galaxy."

Garrus didn't understand much of Saren's ranting. Presumably the dying Sparatus would but that did him no good. Obviously these humans were involved somehow but Vakarian had never even heard of humans… Maybe Liara had, or Mordin. They were more into these types of riddles. He had to get out of here. No doubt the fact that Sparatus wanted to talk to him had been logged and with the Councillor's assassination he'd be wanted for questioning even though he was nowhere near the Councillor. Who'd believe him when he said it was Saren who murdered Sparatus? No… he already knew who'd believe what and he fixed his eyes on the official… just as one final message came through.

"Vakarian has assassinated the Councillor!"

"What!?" Garrus roared. The official flinched back from him but the armored turian didn't care, his mind was racing with possibilities. Sparatus knew something, something that Saren was willing to kill to protect. But it was something more than that. Liara had said something about the ship that was on the Citadel… something about it being evil and controlling. Is that what had happened to Saren? Was this ship, this Sovereign, the one controlling him? But how?

Savagely, Garrus shook his head. That didn't matter. He had to get out of here before he had the entire Citadel searching for him, C-Sec and Spectres both! And if it was a Spectre that found him… His head would be presented to Saren before he could blink and no one would question anything.

"You," he growled at the official, looking at him properly for the first time. The turian wore armor but it was not C-Sec issue. There was an air about the turian who had messaged Sparatus that said he wasn't a Citadel citizen and Garrus was relieved at that. This was probably one of Sparatus' staff. The other turian looked up at him, eyes wide as he blinked.

"You are going back to Palaven." Garrus dictated. "You are going to find the highest ranking Primarch you can and you are going to swear to them that I did not kill Sparatus, that I was nowhere near Sparatus. Do you understand?"

The turian nodded.

"Good," Garrus couldn't keep the growl out of his voice as he considered what he should be doing. By all rights he should be running to Palaven as well or back to the others to hide again but there was something in the conversation that intrigued him. What was this 'human' thing they kept talking about? The word seemed to refer to another race but the newest race to be introduced to the Citadel had been the Raloi and they had vanished just as quickly. There wasn't anyone else…

Wait… There was… There was one race they didn't know about, except through the Batarians. Were humans the race the batarians had fought? The ones who had razed Khar'shan to bedrock? Where did they fit into this?

He was about to release the official when they both heard a soft laugh. "Well… Vakarian, I presume… it's been so long since I heard your voice."

"Arterius," Garrus growled.

"You heard?"

"Everything."

"Oh? No cries of how I won't get away with this? You have matured Vakarian," the Spectre seemed amused.

Garrus said nothing. If the humans were so important then he had to find one, and the only one he had a hope of finding was this so called pet of Sparatus. He began stalking towards the Palladium.

"Ah, the silent treatment," Saren continued. "I don't hate you, you know, Vakarian. Actually I respect you. After all, you were the only one who noticed certain… changes in me. Of course, you didn't understand but then you don't know ascension like I do." What was the Spectre talking about?

"You have a funny way of showing respect."

Saren chuckled. "I just ensured your name will be remembered for all time."

"As the one who murdered a Councillor."

"It's never been done before."

"Tell you what," Garrus growled, suddenly feeling flippant. If Saren wanted to play then he'd play because the time would help him get out of this mess and maybe the Spectre would let something useful slip. "I'll accept that, if your name goes down next to mine as the Spectre who failed to protect the Councillor."

"I think not."

Garrus clicked his mandibles with satisfaction. He'd definitely hit a nerve with that comment but that was a little victory and he could not let the Spectre claim the war. He moved down the corridor he was in, making his way towards the Palladium. Hopefully Sparatus' crew would know where the Councillor's human was. He had no time to waste. "Then how will history remember you?" He had to keep Saren talking somehow.

"As the one who led the galaxy to ascension, as the one who freed Sovereign."

"Ascension huh? What's so great about it?" He had absolutely no idea what Saren was drivelling about with those comments but it seemed to be important.

"Perfection of form, of thought, of everything. That is ascension. That is what I will lead the galaxy to. No more fighting, no more discord, all with one thought."

Garrus almost gagged. That sounded… horrendous. "What about the humans?"

"Those who stand in the way of ascension shall be destroyed. They are a threat, they grow arrogant. The cycle has been disturbed and Sovereign shall see it righted. You cannot stop it because there is only the power of ascension."

Right… the blue armored turian thought as he closed in on the Palladium. So far, so good. Saren's shout that he had assassinated Sparatus had perhaps not yet been acted upon. He could only hope that he could get to the Councillor's ship.

"I've never met a human… how do they stand in the way of ascension?" It was a blatant dig for information but perhaps Saren would let it slip.

"Mine will be the hand that ascends the galaxy."

Now that definitely touched a nerve. It was just a pity Garrus had no idea what nerve it was. The Spectre was undeniably upset but what exactly did he mean… "So when do I get ascended?"

"You are not worthy of glory of ascension! Sovereign has already judged you and you are weak! Only those who know Sovereign shall reach ascension and only those who are worthy! Ascension is perfection in every aspect. It is a revelation that only those who know the truth shall see. Sovereign in the master of all and I will lead the galaxy to ascension for him."

That was different… When did Sovereign become the Master? But it was what Garrus had been looking for, what Liara wanted him to observe. Before he could say anything further to the deranged Spectre and just as he was reaching the wider area of the hanger, there was a shout from behind, one he'd been expecting but hoping not to hear.

"There he is!"

Garrus savagely shoved Sparatus' man away from him and ran to jump over a set of stacked boxes for the cover they provided. If they were tracking the conversation it would lead to the official's omni-tool and hopefully the other turian would be okay. Despite the instructions he'd given the man, Garrus did not hold much hope that the official would go to Palaven. The entire Citadel seemed infected and while the official wasn't infected yet, it might only be a matter of time. He only felt a passing regret at not having a recording. Even if he had one, Garrus knew it wouldn't make much difference, not with Tevos and Esheel supporting Saren. The Council that represented freedom in the galaxy had long gone.

Wishing for his rifle, he drew his sidearm and returned fire, not really aiming at anyone, more hoping to keep his pursuers pinned down. Shouts came from behind but they were exclamations of surprise as weapons fire flew through the hanger. The ground crew and the ship crew returned fire themselves and Garrus couldn't help a tight grin. The confusion would make it easier for him to slip onto the ship. At least, that was the theory. Shots flew thick and fast, pinning everyone down and Vakarian's only consolation was that it would be annoying Arterius more than him. His investigation years back had given him a pretty good understanding of Saren's personality… Assuming that it hadn't completely changed with his infection.

Garrus took a quick peek but the Spectre wasn't anywhere to be seen. Either he was holding back, trying to direct the fire fight, which didn't seem likely, or he was well hidden. Knowing Saren, the Spectre was well hidden. The paintless turian was many things but a coward wasn't one of them and he was potentially one of the most dangerous pursuers. Garrus knew that Saren was one of the most highly trained Spectres, with very good results to show for that training. He had to get on to the ship where at least, there were limited entry points which he could use in his favor. He could guard that until they took off and pray that the defense fleet did not want to kill innocents.

His opportunity arrived almost as soon as he analyzed the situation. There was a shout from somewhere near the entrance to the hanger. Garrus only really saw the crossfire of weaponry before he ran in the confusion caused. Sparatus' ship did have guards but they were busy firing at the C-Sec officers who had chased him. He barreled through them into the airlock before he turned again and demonstrated that he was on their side by shooting back outside.

"Get this ship up!" Garrus growled.

"The Councillor!" one objected.

"Dead! Saren killed him." There was no point in sugar coating it. More and more shots from the outside were honing in on the airlock. Whatever or whoever had caused the commotion had probably been killed. He didn't know who they were, his own team would have bugged out long ago, but he was grateful.

The guards nodded and one slapped the airlock just before a roar came from the engines and Garrus felt the familiar sense of weightlessness that accompanied flight before the gravity generators kicked in and the feeling vanished.

"Where do we go?" One of the guards asked, his voice rather shocked at the knowledge that their commander was dead.

"Where were you meant to go next?" Garrus asked, leaning against the wall. Sparatus would have given his ship a flight plan.

"Just back to Chatti Alpha."

"Then I want to go there."

August 5th 2190 18:21 Rannoch

Tali stood at the top of the ramp. She was once again encased in her bio suit though she imagined she could feel the wind on her face. It might be worth taking off her face plate, just for a moment. To feel the wind of Rannoch… All she had to do was walk down the ramp but she hesitated.

It wasn't her promise to Fruben that held her there, rather it was something else. This… This was Rannoch. It had been the goal of her people for three centuries. All she had to do was walk down the ramp. Tali shuddered and after closing her eyes she forced herself to take the first step.

Another followed and then she heard the crunch of gravel and felt the give of soil.

Rannoch.

Tali opened her eyes and raised her face. The sky was… it wasn't as blue as Earth but it had its own hue. It was beautiful. And she let herself look down. She had always known that Rannoch was mostly desert. It was something taught to all Quarian children after all but the reality was made all the more real now that she was here. Fruben had landed on a small mound so that she could see the surroundings.

In the distance, she could see a ribbon of trees. There was a river there. Between her and it, there was sand. It shifted in the wind but it held its own beauty. Beyond the river rose glittering towers. They appeared to be shards of crystal but Tali knew they formed one of the cities of the Geth. It was a place they had invited them to share and other colonists were making their way there. The first Quarians to arrive back on Rannoch had been greeted by the Geth. One in particular, which named itself with an oddly appropriate human word, Legion, had been most helpful and acted as an intermediary between Geth and Quarian. She had no idea what the Geth thought of Legion but the quarian settlers had been enchanted. Reports sent back to the other settled planets had been glowing in their praise of how well settlement of Rannoch was proceeding because Legion was smoothing out many of the difficulties they were encountering. Tali hoped she could meet Legion at some stage.

Night was falling. Tali looked back up, away from the sun and could see the lights of ships in the sky. The geth had multiple defence platforms around the planet and there were already Quarian SOCL taking places with them. Earth wouldn't be the only planet that could ignore the Council for much longer. The thought brought a smile to her face and Tali took a few more steps.

Around Fruben, the sand had solidified with the heat of his landing but the SIL was skilled and the damage was superficial. She quickly cleared the area and sank into the sand as she walked. It was… it was exhilarating! Her entire life, she had always walked on the solid metal plates of a ships flooring. This was different. This was her planet! It was… She could feel tears forming in her eyes and Tali gulped, forcing them back.

"Thank you." She whispered the words.

There was no one to hear them yet they had to be said. They were addressed to everyone. To the humans, for their illogical ability to create hope from nothing. They had accepted synthetic life forms as if it was the most logical thing to do, they had accepted synthesis from a race that came to them, a race that should have dominated them. It seemed that no matter what the galaxy threw at them, they accepted it, they used it, adapted and became stronger.

Her words were also to the Quarians, for the long years they had traveled. They were not as accepting as the humans but they were trying, and in their willingness to try they had regained Rannoch. She spoke to the Geth, for the knowledge that not all of them had followed the Vanguard. And she spoke them to the SIL who had insisted upon logic before emotion, who made plans and followed them through with such speed.

It was such a delicate balance that had led them here.

She turned, digging her booted feet into the sand and looking up at Fruben. The SIL just waited, unblinking eyes watching her. "Fruben?" the name was a question.

"Soon," came the answer. "I want to see the reaction of the Council," the SIL elaborated.

Tali nodded. The humans had opened the Relays. The Council had no doubt noticed. First contact meetings between species were fraught with danger. Between the humans and the Council… Both had the ability to plunge the galaxy into war with a word and while Tali knew the humans would prefer to avoid that, she also knew they'd fight to the bitter bloody end if the Council initiated it. She knew the Council would not win but, equally, she knew that they would never believe it. Never would they be able to bring themselves to believe that a new race could fight them and win. Never would they see the SIL as anything other than AI's.

They were AIs but once she'd been identified as a required organic, several human reports which had been translated for other Quarians were forwarded to her. The SIL were AI but they were not wholly mechanical. Fruben was already partially organic and the process of becoming a SOCL would only enhance that. When they were synthesized, he would scan as both organic and mechanized, just as she would.

"Take your face-plate off," Fruben instructed.

Tali frowned. She could take her mask off inside Fruben because he regulated the atmosphere for her. He was a giant clean room but she was on Rannoch and she did not have the antibodies she needed.

"Take it off," Fruben said again.

A gust of wind pressed against her bio suit but the small sand grains it carried sparked against a shimmering blue shield and Tali understood. Fruben could place shields where he wanted and he had put one around her. It would block anything that would hurt her. Tali couldn't help the smile of thanks that flashed over her features as she reached up, undoing the clips that sealed her face plate. It snapped off and she turned again, this time towards the setting sun. Her eyes closed and she basked in the light, feeling the breeze on her face.

This was Rannoch.

She breathed deep. This was worth it.

August 5th 2190 19:46 Citadel

Saren rubbed his eyebrow ridge, feeling a headache forming behind his eyes. Sparatus was dead but Vakarian had gotten away. The Councillor's ship had managed to slip through the fleet, broadcasting its usual ident. They just hadn't been fast enough in revoking Sparatus' security clearance.

What did the events of the day mean? He was struggling to see the possible lines of consequences. With Sparatus dead, there would be a new Turian Councillor, one who would not resist. Sparatus had served his purpose but it had been time for him to fall in line. Saren thought the Councillor knew this but couldn't fathom why he would not agree. Ascension was perfection! He shook his head slightly, wincing as the movement set off the pain.

The dead were of no consequence. The living… they could potentially cause problems and Vakarian was certainly one to try. The ex-C-Sec officer had gotten away because two turian gunmen had opened fire from within the Citadel ranks. That had created a distraction big enough for Garrus to make it to Sparatus' ship and they had taken off. The gunmen had been killed and he'd looked over their bodies. There was nothing in their appearance to identify them but they had been registered as passengers on a freighter which had an obviously faked manifest. He didn't have time to look into it now.

The bodies had been dragged to Sovereign who said he'd know more about their origins soon. Saren just needed to wait but 'soon' allowed Garrus more time to do… what? That was the problem. Saren didn't know how much Garrus knew and that made the turian dangerous. He still didn't know where Garrus had been for the last few years, which made him even more dangerous. He'd been on Omega, then he'd vanished and the last thing Saren needed was Garrus vanishing again.

They were on the verge of ascension, of the glorious chaos that would allow the best to rise. But it was delicate. Sovereign and he had planned for setbacks, for things to get in the way but there had been more difficulties than they had anticipated. Benezia's child was one. Sparatus had been another. Just recently, the Geth's unwillingness to listen to the Sovereign was an interesting development. Tevos' inability to find Mordin had not helped, though the Asari had worked around the missing Salarian scientist and they were ready to strike.

The humans had opened the way… They were probably sure of their ability. Sovereign could have opened the path but it was better this way. They invited their doom upon them and Sovereign would see his brethren freed, see them rise to ascend the galaxy as the cycle was meant to be.

Saren closed his eyes, sitting back as the rush of knowledge flowed through him. Sovereign had shown him so much… It was almost painful to remember but the glory of ascension, the perfection of form beckoned him. Sovereign had given him so much and his would be the hand that ascended the galaxy! All for Sovereign and for the glory that was the cycle.

One turian would not stand in the way. Realistically, what could Garrus do? He'd be hunted now, for killing Sparatus. That would make gaining allies difficult, at best, and if he popped up anywhere too populated, Sovereign would know. The servants of the cycle would report it back. That would mean that Garrus would have to remain in the shadows, staying where there wasn't much population and without a population base, without those willing to fight… there wasn't much Vakarian could do.

A tight grin chased away the last of Saren's pain. Garrus was trapped in the cycle and he would remain trapped until it was time for ascension… And then all he could do was die.

August 5th 2190 20:25 Citadel

Tevos looked at Sparatus' body. The turian was laid as if at rest though the posture only highlighted the differences in species. Turians, with their head crests did not lie the same way as an Asari. Still, it hardly mattered now. The Councillor was dead, though the wound that had killed him was covered by his clothing. His ship was missing, too, and the Hierarchy were sending a new vessel to convey his body home.

They had hoped to have Vakarian to present to the Hierarchy. That would have allowed them to forego quite a few odd questions, not the least of which was why the wound was made at close range, when Vakarian was known to be a sniper. The salarians had already produced slanted reports on the cause of death. It was unlikely that the turians would question the information openly... but they would question it. Tevos was experienced enough to know that.

The difference between what they saw and what was reported would create a lingering doubt and at this point in time, that doubt could be very damaging. The Council had a great deal of power but it was not all powerful. It still had to contend with the governments of its member species. For those species aspiring to become members of the Council, that was not an issue, they accepted what the Council told them without question. Controlling the Asari, Salarian and Turian governments required much more skill and subtlety. Sparatus' cause of death was an amateur mistake, one she hoped did not cost them.

They were ready. They stood at the cusp of it all. She had managed to work around Mordin's absence by buying up every human slave she could. The salarian was not the only one capable of creating a disease tailored to one race, he was just the best. Esheel had recalled those other salarians who worked on Tuchanka for their purpose and they had devoted themselves to the cause.

"Sparatus," the Asari matriarch said softly, aware that there were several turians watching now. "The goddess knows your death shall be avenged. You shall not have died in vain and I will see to it that the traitor Vakarian's masters shall perish. The humans shall pay!"

The turians were disciplined enough not to move but Tevos had the experience of centuries and she knew the tells of all the Citadel races. They were interested. They had heard her words and they would spread them. Sparatus's name would become the flame to light the galaxy and the Cycle would continue.


 

Chapter Text

Thank you to Pax Humana for beta-ing.

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 18 Flame


August 8th 2190 Citadel

"Bring the Turian Primarchs to me."

Saren listened to the demand without flinching. He was used to it, now. "They are on their way," he replied.

"For the funeral, I know. Yet they must come to me."

"I'll make sure there is a tour," the Spectre said, trying to keep his voice soothing. The ancient one, the Sovereign, made demands and expected to be obeyed. It was the price of perfection. It was the glory of ascension and Saren smiled, feeling the voice wrap around him. Sovereign could be a hard Master but he rewarded success and the Spectre would be successful in finally bringing his species to heel. It was only right that they know the glory of ascension.

"And what of the those who do not come?"

A few Primarchs had remained on Palaven to take care of routine matters while the others travelled to the Citadel to pay their respects at Councillor Sparatus' funeral.

"They will not make a difference. The fleet commanders will come to you and they will see your strength and know it is necessary for ascension. They will prepare the way."

Sovereign was silent and Saren continued to sit. Time didn't matter. The turian could wait for Sovereign, for the light of ascension for as long as necessary because while their plans were now moving quickly, with the death of Sparatus, the galaxy was Sovereign's to control. The humans would not stand in their way for long.

August 28th 2190 Citadel, Citadel Council Chambers

"There are various reports that the Keepers are behaving oddly."

"Explain," Esheel instructed the Asari Spectre who stood before them.

"Routes which were open have been blocked and some buildings have been toppled," came the reply after a brief consultation with her omni-tool.

"That sounds normal." Quentius gave the turian equivalent of a shrug. "They reconstruct buildings all the time." He was new to being a Councillor but Quentius had studied the workings of the Citadel before he arrived.

"That is true, Councillor, but the Keepers have never before left a building as rubble. They always carefully dismantle them. There have been several buildings just reduced to rubble and left where they are, while other places have been barricaded."

"Has there been any block in movement for the citizens?" Tevos asked.

"Not yet, Councillor, as most are working their way around the blockages but if the Keepers continue then, yes, their work could significantly hamper the Citadel residents."

Tevos pursed her lips briefly. Non-interference with the Keepers was one of the oldest rules of the Citadel and no matter how odd their behavior was, they could not break it now. Esheel spoke before she could. "The Keepers are sacrosanct. Their work is also sacrosanct. If it is interfering with Citadel residents, then they will just have to be inconvenienced until the Keepers return to normal."

The Spectre nodded, though the movement was unhappy. She had expected this response. She knew the Council rules as well as the Councillors but some of the people might be annoyed and it might have been nice to know what the Keepers were doing. If she had to guess, though, she would have said that they were preparing for an invasion... but that was silly. Who would invade them and better yet, who could invade the Citadel?

The Spectre almost laughed at her own thoughts as she left the Council Chambers. The actions of the Keepers would just have to be put down to them being weird and hopefully they would return everything to normal soon.

September 12th 2190, Tuchanka

Liara looked up at the grey sky. The sky was always grey on Tuchanka but it was a change from the thin atmosphere of Therum. She was worried. Garrus was late. She had sent him to the Citadel for more information. Therum had revealed much but it was not everything. Her time on the Citadel had left her with suspicions, suspicions she had sent Garrus to confirm.

The turian had reported back once but that had been all they'd heard directly from Garrus. They'd heard plenty since. None of it good.

Sparatus assassinated… By Garrus but then there was nothing. No information. No news reports. Just a heap of rumors on the net but nothing solid. He hadn't been captured. They knew that because the Council would have plastered that news all over the net. After the funeral there had been silence. Now a full month had gone by and there was still silence. Her heart pounded and she swallowed hard.

"Sniper's tough."

Liara looked over at Wrex. The Clan Chief had come to stand beside her with surprising stealth. "It's been too long."

"He hasn't been captured," Wrex repeated the platitude she had told herself earlier.

"Then where is he?" Liara demanded. He hadn't been captured, he hadn't been killed. Garrus had just disappeared! Except… there should be nowhere that wasn't hunting him! Council space would be hostile to him because of the supposed assassination. The Terminus systems would still hunt him as well. Mercs still remembered the Arch Angel. Tuchanka was one of the few places that would be friendly to him. So why hadn't he called… why had he disappeared?

Or did the Council have him? That thought gnawed upon her. What if the Council had him… what would they do? It wasn't clear. She could only speculate. If what she believed was true…

The Protheans had been at the height of their culture. The little she had been able to uncover showed no evidence of decay. There was no reason they should be dead… But they were. There were three theories. The first was the generally accepted one, that Prothean Culture had decayed and they had died. She had been taught that… but her own work didn't agree with it and there were two new theories she had postulated.

Her first theory was almost romantic, that the Protheans had left and had destroyed as much of their civilization as possible, leaving the galaxy to the younger races. She had no idea why they would do that or what had become of the other races that lived at the same time. Her second was much more brutal, that they had been killed by something. To her, that seemed a more reasonable thought but she had no idea what had done it. On Therum, there had been a picture. Just one. It showed a ship, and she knew it was a ship because she had seen one exactly the same on the Citadel. There hadn't been much writing with it, most of the words had been burned away but the few remaining were clear. It was a destroyer… A Reaper. The meaning was descriptive enough and the word had left her shivering.

Just as the memory of the ship left her shivering now. It was a Reaper. She had no doubt but she had no idea what that meant, which was why she had sent Garrus to the Citadel. It was a risk. Liara had known that but Garrus was the only one she could send. Vakarian was the only one they could send who could fit in on the Citadel. Wrex could have gone but Wrex was the Clan Chief and Krogan. No one would tell a Krogan anything.

But now she felt sick… What could a Reaper do? She had no information on that… just her belief that they had destroyed the Protheans… which really didn't tell her much. They had brute force power but what else? There had been a broken description that they could control but nothing on Therum had been clear about what they controlled. The unknowns were weighing on her but there was nothing she could do but wait and hope. Even trawling the net had revealed nothing… She'd bought and sold information yet no one knew anything.

"He'll get back here," Wrex said before he backed away.

Liara looked back up at the sky. It was grey but it was always grey on Tuchanka. She looked back at the ground, "I hope so," she whispered.

September 17th 2190, Teteniuma, Quarian Settled Planet

Kamu ran through the streets back to her house. Her suit released cold air to cool her as she ran and she almost laughed. Daddy promised that soon she wouldn't need the suit but for the moment she had to wear it, especially when outside. Only those who went back to Rannoch might be able to get rid of their suits completely but the adults were already happy at the increased clean rooms in each house.

"There's my girl!" Kamu could imagine daddy's smile from his voice and she squealed as he picked her up, spinning her around. "What are you doing back so soon?" The question followed as daddy set her back down on her feet.

"The humans were sleeping," Kamu said, her voice breathless from her run.

"What do you mean?"

"The humans were sleeping," she repeated. "They were all lying on the ground so they must have been tired," she added. "So I came home."

Her father looked at her and Kamu tried not to be afraid. He seemed worried. "Kamu, go into the house! Do not take off your suit! I'll be back shortly."

"Daddy?" She was allowed to take off her suit in the house.

"Not today! Leave your suit on, baby. I need to go check on the humans," he seemed to shake himself. "It's very late for them to be sleeping and someone needs to wake them up," he added and while his voice was light, Kamu could tell that he didn't feel that way.

September 18th 2190, 01:35, Systems Alliance Command, Arcturus Station

"Every colony in former batarian space has gone silent. The automatic beacons are still operational."

"We just lost Teteniuma! The Quarians report that all the humans are dead. They can't determine cause of death."

"Is this an attack?"

"I think we have to assume it is, Admiral."

"An attack from where? The Batarians? The Council?"

"Terra Nova just reported shooting down probes!"

"Probes?" The tech who had relayed the message found himself the center of the chaos.

"They are sending details now." Almost automatically the screen shifted showing recorded images from the gun cameras. The probes exploded into brilliant space dust.

"Get me an analysis on those probes! I want to know where they came from."

The order was firm against the confusion. All anyone knew was that colonies had fallen silent, though the automated beacons that reported the all okay continued to transmit. Nothing had physically attacked the colonies but the automatic sensors, which had been upgraded over the years to provide a more complete view of the colony, did not lie. There were no human life signs. "Tell every other world to be on high alert, and to shoot anything that isn't recognized! No warnings, no second chances." The Admiral gave the order with a grim visage. The colonies were silent, that meant the colonies were dead. It had to be some sort of chemical weapon... though with the Quarians on Teteniuma... that opened up another possibility... a biological weapon, made to kill humans.

"Transmit details to the Quarians on our biology. Get them to do an autopsy. We need to know what killed the humans on Teteniuma." The Admiral paused, as did the chaos around him as everyone watched, waiting for further orders. "Initiate the Stand Alone Complexes for all colonies and send advice to Earth that I suggest closing the Charon relay. Get Harbinger Shepard here now!"

In the organized chaos that followed as the Systems Alliance personal scrambled to initiate the orders, people could be forgiven for not hearing the soft words. "Oh shit."

It was almost gentle the way the tech whispered, staring at their screen as the information rolled over it. "Sir..." the tech called gently. "Sir!"

"What is it?" the Admiral snapped.

"Mindoir." The tech gulped before taking a deep breath. "They sent through their files but they are gone. We have confirmation, this is a biological attack. Coming in through the probes."

"Fuck! How many on Mindoir?"

"Almost a half a billion."

"Shepard says she's on her way."

"What are the SOCL doing?"

"The SOCL are dealing with very sick CEumans," came a powerful voice over the speakers and those in the command room recognized it as Harbinger's. Usually the SIL leader's voice was calm and composed, but it now quivered with anger and its inflections were tinged with darkness. "The CEumans are alive because their SILO is keeping them alive. This is a deliberate biological attack, launched by Salarian probes."

"The Council wish a war?" The Admiral was shocked. Everything they had recovered from the Batarians indicated that the Council was not that aggressive.

"It would appear that way," Shepard replied, though her voice showed no less anger than Harbingers. "Something has changed with the Council," she added speculating but with a hint of surety. "It matters not. One thing has ever been true. If they want a war, we will give them one!"

The link terminated and the gathered commanders realized that Harbinger had gone to faster than light speed. They continued directing the immediate response, the quarantine of the infected planets and the lockdown of the Systems Alliance. Talks of vengeance could wait until their Commander was present.

September 18th 2190, 07:48, Systems Alliance Command, Arcturus Station

"So, what is our response?"

"There can only be one response." The voice was stringent, shocked that anyone had dared to suggest that there might be alternatives.

"While I agree," a more reasonable tone interrupted, "do we know which race is responsible?"

"The Council!"

"I agree the Council, but what of the client races? Did they support this move?"

"Does it matter? The attack did not come from within, and the spread of the attack path is conclusive. We lost every colony in former Batarian space... including Quarian planets. The Quarians aren't dead because they are a dextro species. And we lost those colonies on the fringe. The only reason we didn't lose more is that some defense fleets were lucky enough to intercept the probes. Therefore the attack came from Council space... That makes them guilty since only the Council could have staged this."

"We may have a bigger problem," General Torres said softly, and there was something in the note of her voice that made the others listen. "Mindior was hit."

"We know it was!" The reply was snapped back dismissively.

"Then I suggest you think a bit further!" Torres growled.

It took a moment before realization dawned.

"Oh shit!" The strangled gasp was the most eloquent summation of the problem.

If push came to shove, most of the colonies were self sufficient but the Sol System wasn't. Mindior was a beautiful planet that was one huge farm. It shipped excess produce to the Sol System but overall, Mindior was the Systems Alliance's granary. If Mindior was infected, if the stores of food were contaminated, then they had a far larger problem to consider. It wouldn't create a famine, they could use the fleet to transport food between colonies and the Sol System, but it would mean that they would have to concentrate on basic survival over vengeance.

Torres laced her fingers together as she leaned forward. "We need more information. Did it infect the planet, or just the bodies? Can it transfer? And can it be cleansed without resorting to burning the planet? Because if it can't, we have a more pressing problem before we consider revenge."

Admiral Hackett sighed as he assessed the mood at the table. It was times like this he wished he was undergoing synthesis. Anderson had it easy with Estarm. Torres raised a very valid point but the rest of the command staff were not interested in being reasonable. They wanted revenge. It was understandable and once more information came to light, they would calm down but that would take a day or so.

"Torres, look into it please. We need an answer quickly," he instructed. The General nodded, her eyes hard. She wanted vengeance just as much as the rest of them did but she was wise enough to consider the logistics of the situation carefully. Her eyes told him that she'd have the answers before any retaliatory action could be taken and the conversation at the table drifted back to revenge.

"The attack came from the Council but was it sanctioned?" One of the other Admirals took up the former thread of conversation. "Was it all of the Council? Part of them? Did the client races know? Do the actual races that form the council know? Was it the Batarians, staging this to make us think it was the Council? Make no mistake. I am as eager as anyone to gut those responsible but I do not wish to become fixated on one while the real perpetrator gets away! We need more information!"

"And you shall have it," the gathered Admirals recognized the voice instantly and Arcturus station shuddered slightly as Harbinger brought himself into close orbit. "A state of emergency has been declared," the SIL leader continued. "Sol System is in complete lock down and the Charon Relay is closed as per the treaty."

"But how will we move resources into combat?" One Admiral asked. The SIL protected Earth but this attack could not be left unanswered. They needed the System Alliance forces and factories which were situated in the protected Sol System if they were to fight.

"You will not," Shepard's voice came from the door and as the woman walked in a path cleared for her. Her voice radiated rage and to the surprise of all her eyes glowed. She seemed unaware of the effect. "The SIL and SOCL will move the necessary materials, including food supplies into Sol, as required."

"But that's outside the scope of the treaty." The surprised commanders might have been awake for trying hours, dealing with the attack, but they all knew the extent of the treaty with the SIL.

"Yes, it is," Shepard agreed as she sat, her eyes flashing a dangerous red. "Right at the moment, I do not care! The relays were opened to allow peaceful contact. It has been thrown back in our teeth and now, they shall suffer the consequences." The red glow seemed to intensify and her voice took on modulations that were not human.

"Sir!" One of the Admiral's snapped to attention, recognizing that in a state of emergency that Harbinger was in control. "Shall we declare war on the Council?"

"No," Shepard replied, sitting down and gesturing for the commanders to follow suit. "A declaration of war is more than they deserve," she added.

Harbinger's aspect's thoughts were absolute but through Shepard's knowledge, he understood the subtleties the humans were asking. Harbinger was angry but his anger was tempered by his desire to find the aliens needed for synthesis.

It was only the knowledge that the SIL needed some of the aliens which had prevented Shepard's aspect agreeing with Harbinger's to initiate the harvest, regardless of her previous human beliefs. She was a soldier, she would defend her species.

"They will be shown mercy," she continued after a brief silence. "The races of the Council will be given a chance to declare their intentions. Those who come to us will be spared." Shepard didn't bother to mention the fate of the others. Those that didn't would be harvested with the only survivors being those they needed for Synthesis.

"So," Admiral Hackett said, his voice almost sounding as if he was summing up the situation when they had just begun to speak. "A declaration to the Council, who we are, what has happened, proof of their treachery, then the announcement that if they forsake those responsible, they will not suffer the consequences," he smiled, a chill little expression. "I assume gaining control of the comm buoys won't cause any issues?" He asked Shepard.

She appeared to have calmed slightly. Her eyes were no longer glowing quite as intensely as they had. "Not in the slightest," she replied, meeting the blue eyes of Hackett evenly.

Admiral Hackett nodded then looked around the room. "Everyone below triple Z clearance is to leave," he ordered firmly and a few people left, while the others settled in.

"How are we to deal with the infected planets?" The question was quiet and it was something that had not yet been considered.

"We will deal with the infection," Harbinger said before motioning for another CEuman to continue.

"No bodies will be released. no personal effects returned to the families. It would be best to report that the Infected Worlds were burned clean."

"Will they be?" one intrepid Admiral asked.

"Once we ascertain if that will work, they will be. You are all aware of that SIL ability. Each of the dead will become the instrument of their own vengeance."

"It is fitting," Shepard said, and while a few looked rather sick at the thought, the gathered commanders seemed content.

"Will they be safe for CEumans? A couple were infected as well."

Shepard looked pensive for a moment. "That will be checked," she said eventually, "though it makes no effective difference either way. We will use the Batarian bodies as well."

"How long will you need?"

"For Mindoir, at least a week. For all the planets... a month. I will concentrate on Mindoir initially,"Harbinger said, turning towards Torres. The General nodded her acknowledgement and Shepard took over. "If the planet is not infected, then the planet must continue to be farmed, though more will be done on Earth."

"Will that clear the planet of bodies?" Torres asked.

Shepard's shell nodded.

"What if you went faster? Just got the obvious bodies and burned the planets clean afterwards? Though if we could develop a test to detect infection, we might not have to burn the planets. It's not like we are going to be able to repopulate them in the next few months. How fast then?" Another Admiral asked.

"Two weeks," the CEuman who was linked to Harbinger said after a moment's thought, seeing where the Admiral was going with the suggestion.

"That might be the better course," Admiral Hackett said. "We cannot afford to wait too long to respond, giving the enemy more time to prepare, and we must assume there will be follow up waves. Should the Relays be closed?" The Systems Alliance couldn't close the Relays... but perhaps the SIL would. At the very least, it would mean no further attacks.

"No," Shepard said firmly, "though it does present possibilities. Instead a challenge must be issued." She paused, her face shadowed as she thought. "Ten days," Shepard said finally looking around at the gathered Admirals. "The challenge shall give them ten days to appear before us and will be issued in three days. We will be waiting."

"We?"

"The SIL and SOCL will move parts of the Systems Alliance Fleet here, though the Sol System will remain sealed. It must be a combined fleet they confront."

"They will not come!" one of the Admiral's objected.

"Probably not," Hackett agreed, "but it will shake the Council up and that is the point." He could read Harbinger Shepard's plan. The demand may not separate the guilty from the innocent, but it would show the truth to those who did not know. It would show them how deep the corruption was. He was a realist. The Council had ordered the attack but they did not know if it was the full Council.

War could be waged against the entire galaxy, with the SIL's backing they could do it, but it was best only to pursue the guilty. "For a moment, let's assume that this attack was conducted by a faction." Admiral Hackett laid out the scenario, ignoring those who looked at him as if he was insane. Obviously, the attack had some significant backing. "A large faction," he allowed, "but not supported by all. A challenge to the Council presents us in strength. Yes, we lost forces, but we are capable of striking back, we are capable of challenging them… and it presents a merciful side. We will only strike those who are guilty. Something I believe they will appreciate because who knows what type of tales the Batarians have been spreading."

"Except we won't! We'll strike them all!"

"We will, if the innocent do not have the strength of will to step forward."

"The worst case scenario is this," Shepard muttered but it was enough to focus attention back upon her. "No one comes, and they are all guilty or they send a further attack. The best case is that they have riots on their home worlds, protesting the deaths of our people. No matter who gave the order at least some Salarians are responsible. The people know that a government that allows weapons of mass destruction on one world, will not be afraid to use them on their own. Their response is not our concern," Shepard said, her eyes dimming slightly. "Our path must be properly defined."

September 20th, 2190, 15:15, Citadel

"No further probes have made it through," Esheel reported in her quick voice.

"That's not unexpected," Tevos replied almost placidly and for a moment the Salarian wondered if the Asari would be sick. The asari's face showed no emotion but privately Esheel knew Tevos was weak. Stronger than Quintus but weak. She couldn't face what had to be done without regret.

"The Relays are still open?" Saren asked for clarification.

"They are," Esheel confirmed. Now Saren… It was a crime he had not been born Salarian. The turian was quick of thought and could make the difficult decisions. He knew what needed to be done and he did not linger in the past nor snivel like Sparatus. He was fit to lead.

Saren gave a quick nod of his head before continuing. "What are the initial estimates?"

Esheel glanced at her report. Salarians believed in quick, decisive military action. Striking, where possible, before their enemy was ready, to leave them unable to attack. That's why this operation grated. To send in probes without military forces? She had compensated by attempting to send a second wave of probes. A wave which, despite the best cloaking technology the salarians possessed, had been destroyed the instant it cleared the relays.

It was so frustrating! All they had to do to kill this pathetic race was get one ship to any planet and they could not. She had another wave ready but had ordered them to hold. There was no point in having them destroyed as well. All STG ships were being outfitted with special bio missiles but they would only be used when they inevitably entered human territory. "Planetfall made on all former Batarian worlds. Relay 314 was open. Planet fall made on six previously unknown garden worlds."

"They opened a Relay?" Tevos' eyes widened. "Do they know nothing of security?"

Saren raised one hand, gently waving Tevos to calm though his eyes met Esheel's and the Salarian Councillor was pleased to see that her assessment of her Asari counterpart was shared. Tevos fell silent but she still appeared angry. Opening a previously closed Primary Relay was the least of the human's crimes.

"Estimated losses?" Saren's eyes burned particularly bright at his question.

"Batarian colony world's sparsely populated. 40 to 50 million each. Inner worlds more densely populated. None estimated to be homeworld. Losses projected to be approximately 3200 million. Other planets found but probes destroyed.

Saren looked pleased but Esheel saw the way Tevos gulped. She had no stomach for war.

"Distribute a map of those areas your probes found. We can confirm it with information that the surviving Batarians have provided. This is a Rachni Incident, an unknown, hostile race behind a primary relay, and we must treat it as such."

Esheel nodded, already transferring the locational files the STG probes had sent back. The Council needed them but Saren wasn't finished.

"Did your probes detect any fleets?"

Again, Esheel looked at her report. The probes were designed to be the delivery vehicle and had been designed with two key goals in mind. The first was space for the virus, the second was the best cloaking they could make. They were not loaded with the best sensors the STG had but they had enough. "Fleets above colony worlds. Many ships. None above mid dreadnought class."

Saren nodded. The humans appeared to share one trait with the Turians, at least. That of guarding their colonies with sufficient force. They would, of course. It was logical and the Sovereign's enemies would not wish to lose their ground troops. "Put your fleets on alert. The humans will attempt to strike back and we must be ready."

Esheel nodded and watched as Tevos also confirmed her readiness. They would be ready. The threat of the humans had gone on for far too long and it was time to show them their place.

September 21st 2190, 12:00, Citadel

Tevos watched the recording. It showed thousands, possibly millions dead and she felt sadness. The extent of death was sickening but they were humans. They were already dead, they just didn't know it yet. They were controlled by the destroyers and they would all die to see the galaxy burn. She could not allow that and so they had struck first. It was perhaps a vain hope but Tevos prayed that the attack would wake the humans up, would make them see the truth, see the destroyers for what they were... but she held no illusions. Her discussions with Saren and Benezia had been open and brutal. They would most likely have to raze the human homeworld before they saw the truth. And by then it would probably be too late.

She sighed, turning away from the recording.

It was … She didn't know exactly what it was beyond arrogant, but that was like all young races who had yet to learn their place. The humans were young and, buoyed by the destroyers, they were arrogant. Superficially, they had every reason to be but had the humans learned nothing from the Batarians? Did they not realize they were part of a larger galaxy, a small part at that? She shook her head. Some of them might have learned, might have taken heed but Saren was correct. Their leaders, those making the decisions, those were firmly under the control of the destroyers and they would not heed anything.

The one human she had shown the recording to had sniggered, choking out words before they died. She had no idea what it said but that did not concern her or Esheel. The humans couldn't have anything important to say.

It was so wasteful, so sad that such death was necessary but it was the only way. If any humans survived the fires that were to come, she would see to it that they were taken on as the Asari's only protectorate race. They'd be protected that way. They should have known better than to listen to the destroyers... but... they had nothing else to listen to and she could be gracious enough to forgive them.

September 22nd 2190, Citadel, Sovereign

"Bring the fleets here."

"Sovereign?" Saren asked.

"Bring the fleets here." The instruction was repeated.

"Which fleets?"

"The Salarian, Turian and Asari. Bring them all here. The traitor is coming."

"Surely not!" Saren didn't often question Sovereign but the ship felt... worried.

"The traitor is coming. Do not fear. I now control ascension but the traitor will not go quietly."

"The Turians will be difficult," Saren said.

"The Hierarchy know the glory of ascension. They will not fight."

"The Hierarchy do," the turian agreed, "But they have not yet had time to weed out those underlings who will resist the glory of ascension."

"Summon them all. Traitors are not to be tolerated."

Saren nodded. Sovereign was the voice of ascension and if the traitor was coming here, then they had to be ready. The humans would learn their folly.


 

Chapter Text

Thank you to Pax Humana for beta-ing

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 19 Sleeping With the Enemy


September 22nd 2190, Arcturus Stream, Arcturus Station

Shepard Harbinger looked at the numbers displayed before her. It was the count of the dead. Mindoir had been the largest single population to die but the cumulative effects of losing so many other colonies could not be overestimated. There was over three billion dead. It was the single biggest catastrophe for humanity. Ever. In the past, humans had always speculated that it was the human capacity for violence that would kill them and since nuclear weapons had been developed that had been a real threat.

But that wasn't what had killed them. Alien probes had. And she couldn't even say it was accidental, an alien disease loosed upon a planet. This was a deliberate biological attack. The probes had no purpose but to kill. She had samples of the pathogen. The SOCL partners of the CEmans who had been infected had isolated the disease. It was effective, primitive and designed.

Designed to recognize humans at a genetic level and kill them.

There were implications in that. The batarians had to be involved. Despite the efforts from Arshan, some human slaves had not been accounted for. She knew what happened to those slaves now. They had been used to design this disease. But the probes were Salarian which meant that the strike came from numerous races. It was not a last strike from the batarians. And on the probes, when they had stripped them, they found coding in Asari.

The only Council race missing was Turian. She was unsure what that meant for the moment.

Rage filled her and Shepard looked at her body's hands. They quivered with emotion and forcefully she breathed deep. Slowly, reluctantly she let the rage go. It came from her human self and while it would guide her actions, she would not let it dictate them.

Beside the numbers of dead, and the preliminary reports of clean up from the SIL and SOCL, there were other numbers on the screen. They were much smaller. They represented the breakdown of aliens required for synthesis and their species based on the Collectors' investigations. A mere 75 thousand individuals held the line for the galaxy and Shepard felt her eyes boring into the number.

If her commanders did not need them… She was sorely tempted to initiate the harvest and take the risk of killing them but… she could not deny her commanders the freedom of Synthesis. If she did… No, her Creator would use them and she would not allow that to happen. She would not risk 7.5 percent of the fleet.

"You hold the line," she whispered at the screen, to the unknown aliens who were needed, "but you are all that holds the line."

Earth Calendar September 25th 2190, 21:52, Turian Mining Facility Chatti Alpha Eight

The door slammed open with a rattle.

"Vakarian, out!" The order was sharp and accompanied by the odd noise a crossfire made when used to gesture. He recognized it well enough.

"No chains?"

"Not this time - though you so much as twitch and we'll..."

"I know I know," Garrus resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He knew the statement. If he stepped out of line they'd fill him with holes... Idiots. They were meant to be trained but he could see by the way they were holding their rifles that their training had been long ago, probably the basic military training all Turians did. These were miners... masquerading as soldiers, though at least they hadn't turned him over to the Council. Still, while he was sure he could out shoot any of them, he wasn't sure he could outfight them. They were strong!

"What is it now?" he asked, careful to move where they directed him. They might only be masquerading as soldiers but the guns were real.

"Just keep moving," the turian behind him growled.

Mentally, Garrus frowned, listening to the tone. There was something wrong, something different... This hadn't exactly been his best idea but it had seemed logical at the time. Sparatus had wanted to talk to him but Saren had cut the Councillor down before that could happen and then had pinned the blame on him. It had been logical to take the Councillor's ship to where he had wanted to meet... Except once he'd got here... Chatti Alpha was a mining colony. They did not involve themselves in politics and they were not interested in harboring a fugitive. They also had the usual turian sense of civic duty, so they could not just let him go. He'd found himself thrown into the small cell they kept which was usually occupied by mining drunks. A short stay usually fixed any further issues.

His fate had been a source of debate for far too long but at least he knew the Council didn't know where he was so it was only the Turian Hierarchy that was arguing... for the moment. The tone of the miner turned guard's voice said something else was in play.

"Get in." The command came as they walked past a door on an almost empty corridor. The facilities here were designed for functionality, so the corridors were unadorned and rooms were placed where they could be fitted amongst the equipment necessary for mining in low atmosphere.

Garrus shrugged and stepped into the room his eyes flitting around to see who was waiting for him. Surprise made him pull up sharply.

"Get in here, Vakarian!"

"Primarch!" The respect was ingrained, Garrus realized as he said the word, though perhaps it could be because it was a Primarch here, not a Spectre.

"Sit down, Vakarian, we have a lot to go through."

This was news to him but he took the offered seat and looked around. The Primarch's two body guards were in the far corners but Garrus knew they'd be faster than he was if he made a move. The miner-guard hadn't bothered to enter the room and the door had slid shut behind him. There was no adornment on the walls and only one view screen on the side wall. For all intents and purposes, they were alone. The ceiling had a ventilation shaft which was blowing mildly cool air but was not big enough to escape through, even if he could get up there, and the table and chairs were bolted to the floor. He sat without expression.

The Primarch said nothing further but stared at him for a long moment before tapping a control on his omni-tool. "Watch." The instruction was cold and on the view screen an image appeared.

Garrus watched.

It showed aliens, thousands, maybe millions of aliens, laid out in unmoving rows. The images seemed to go on forever before it changed, to show another series of aliens, and then another and another, and then the image changed again. This time he was looking at an impact crater and within it was something that seemed to be a probe. A close up indicated it bore salarian markings. A series of technical pictures appeared then and Garrus had no idea what they meant before a voice spoke. He didn't recognize the language and was surprised when the omni-tool didn't provide a translation. Then the image altered to show bodies again before it went blank.

"We had no idea what was said," the Primarch said before Garrus could speak. The final image had focused on small bodies... children he realized and he knew that what he had seen was either fabricated, or was the result of a biological attack on civilian planets.

"Had?" Garrus couldn't help but ask.

"Sparatus, like most Councillors, had side projects. One of those side projects understands the language."

Garrus didn't say anything but waited for the Primarch to continue.

"Tell me what you know of Saren," the Primarch demanded, changing tack.

"Saren?"

"The Spectre."

Garrus shrugged, though the gesture hid his confusion. Saren had been the reason he'd been fired from C-Sec and was responsible for his situation now. Telling what he knew would be a gamble but... was there really anything else he could do? The Primarch hadn't given him to the Council yet, so at least some Turian officials weren't obeying what were no doubt unilateral orders.

"There's something off about him," Garrus said. "I don't know what because I never got that far in my investigation."

"That was C-Sec stuff," one hand waved the matter away. "Tell me what happened on the Citadel."

"I got a message that Councillor Sparatus wanted to speak with me but before we could meet, he said I was to go to his ship. That's before he began talking with Saren."

"What happened?"

"I don't know for sure. I only overheard their conversation."

The Primarch tapped a few buttons on his omni-tool and another image appeared on the screen. It was the official who had told Garrus that he should meet Sparatus on his ship... the official who had overheard the conversation with him. "Whatever he told you is probably right," Garrus said gesturing towards the screen.

The Primarch seemed to smile but it was a cold gesture. "He confirmed that you didn't kill Sparatus, something the rest of the galaxy doesn't care about but he said something about Sovereign and oomans."

"Humans," Garrus corrected. He'd had a lot of time to remember the wording exactly. "As far as I can tell, they are a new race that Saren thinks is a threat."

"The Council," the Primarch contradicted him gently. "The Council think they are a threat."

Garrus remembered the bodies. "Those are humans?"

"Yes."

He swallowed as his mind considered possibilities. "They took out the Batarians," he said eventually.

"They did," the Primarch agreed. "Quite decisively too, from all reports. They also took out one of our patrols."

The sniper known as Arch Angel sat, remembering what he had discussed with Saren and the information he had overheard. "Sparatus had been talking with the humans..." he said the last softly.

"Not exactly," the Primarch nodded. "Only to one but it was enough," he added, gesturing. Behind Garrus the door slid open again and he heard footsteps... they were not turian footsteps though he wasn't sure how he knew that. "This is a human. His name is Vega. From what we understand of Sparatus' notes, we believe he was going to attempt to contact the humans."

"Why?" Garrus resisted the urge to look around. He knew what humans looked like, he didn't need to stare and this was more important.

"Not all of the Turian Hierarchy agree with the Council's actions. A pre-emptive strike on civilian planets is asking for a war. A war, we, as the Council's army will have to fight. Even if the humans were primitives, we'd take losses, losses which are avoidable. The humans are not primitives. So you are going to do what Sparatus was planning. You will take this human, and you will go to their space and you will tell the humans that we turians had nothing to do with the attack made by the Council."

Garrus was silent as he listened to the Primarch. He wanted what? There was a note of fear in the Primarch's voice, a note Garrus would never have thought about if he had not spent the past few years with asari and salarian scientists who analyzed everything. Some habits had rubbed off.

"Why would they even listen to us? Even if I have a human with me."

The Primarch's mandibles twitched, "Because that is what their message is."

Huh... he'd forgotten that. The Primarch had implied that they had translated the message and with the human behind him, how became obvious. Garrus swallowed. "Any conditions?" The Hierarchy were being especially tentative. There had to be a reason.

"Just the setting of borders. We will not violate their space, so long as they do not violate our territory."

Garrus closed his eyes briefly, considering the words. The entire situation stunk... it was worse than when Aria told him about the betrayal. There was something going on here, something beyond the words spoken and the events mentioned... Something moved in the shadows but he had no idea what... and if the fear he could hear in the Primarch's voice was real... the Hierarchy had no idea what...

And that's when he knew, when he understood. The Hierarchy had not decided to stand with the humans, they had not abandoned the Council. No, they were playing both sides. The humans had destroyed a patrol, which meant they had at least some military assets out of their territory... but the Council had destroyed planets... or if the human's vid was to be believed, had at least killed the occupants. The Hierarchy was wanting to see who was stronger, who would emerge victorious, before they chose their path. Even if he negotiated a treaty with the Humans and the Council won, they would say he was a traitor and that would be that... and if the Human's won... he'd be a vindicated crusader. It all depended on who was stronger... the unknown race who had crushed the Batarians... or the Council.

"You understand." The Primarch didn't make the statement a question, he knew.

Garrus nodded. "I do." He did. He understood what was happening but he had no idea how the Hierarchy thought they could sit back and ignore the coming war. They would have to be involved somehow. Even if the humans allowed them to stand aside, Garrus couldn't see the Council accepting that. It was not his concern though. Staying alive was.

"Then you will leave immediately." The Primarch got up and gestured to the door. One of his guards handed Garrus an omni-tool and the sniper turned to look at the human for the first time. The man had brown fur on his head and was of a heavier build than turians but moved like an asari. He didn't seem afraid. "This is Vega," the Primarch said. "He speaks Batarian and a little turian but he speaks batarian well enough that he could translate the gist of the human's message. That's why you are going."

"Does he know where we go once we cross into their territory?"

"Enough," the Primarch said. "Let him do the talking to human ships."

Once again Garrus nodded. That would definitely be the best option, assuming they lived long enough to use it. He wasn't sure what he'd do if he was human but at the moment, Garrus realized all he could do was hope for the best.

September 28th 2190 05:47, Arcturus Stream

Garrus wasn't sure what he had been expecting when they reached human space but thousands of ships was most definitely not it. They had made a couple of transits through former Batarian space and in the time between jumps he'd spoken with the human, Vega. They hadn't been easy conversations. The man knew enough batarian to get by and his turian was passable but not enough to discuss things in depth. One thing Garrus had agreed though was that when they were confronted by human ships, Vega should do the talking. As far as he'd been able to, he'd told the human what the turians wanted. It would be easier to discuss it himself and given that the humans had conquered the Batarians, Garrus was hoping that once contact was established that they would have omni-tools which could translate. That should make things go more smoothly.

Then they had reached human space and for a while there was nothing. Garrus had expected to be met the instant they finished deceleration but there had been no ships guarding the relay. Vega hadn't seemed concerned and had simply piloted the ship towards the sister relay on the far side of the system. They'd gone through that relay as well before they'd been accosted by a ship. Garrus had been the pilot at the time but Vega had been awake when the demand came through.

There were no ships on the scope. There was nothing on the scope but Vega hadn't seemed worried when he'd replied. Garrus didn't understand the conversation but he was watching the scope and the ships never appeared. He'd looked out the tiny window and had started, realizing that most of them were too distant to really see except he could see them - and the scope couldn't. He'd thought that they were small ships, that is, until one ship had come close. It was huge. Dreadnought sized but of a design the turian didn't recognize. And it obviously had some sort of stealth tech that the sensors didn't pick up.

"Can they speak turian?" Garrus asked Vega.

The human shrugged and babbled a few words into the speaker. He got a reply a moment later and turned back to the sniper. "Wait until something to talk about," Vega smiled. At least Garrus would have called it a smile on an asari. "Arcturus, we are going."

"Homeworld?"

Vega laughed. "No… Aliens not home world allowed."

Garrus was careful not to show his surprise. Aliens weren't allowed on their homeworld? Tactically, it made sense but it showed… well, a complete lack of trust in all of them.

"Wait," Vega advised. "See SIL soon. They make decision."

He'd assumed at that point that the SIL were the human's ruling body. When Vega announced they had reached Arcturus, he was educated otherwise. He couldn't see them but the sensors could. There were ships there… thousands of ships, their unblinking lights making their own line of stars. Then details came in and Garrus was left just staring at the screen. He'd seen thousands of ships before. The Turian navy was the largest in Council space and he'd seen images and vids of the Quarian Migrant Fleet but these ships… the numbers alone weren't the problem, it was their size. If the readings were to be believed… They were beyond dreadnought class… but how did they move?

"That's not possible!"

"Problem?"

"It is not possible for ships to be that large!" Garrus objected. He didn't know everything about the size restrictions on the mass effect corridors but he knew that the human ships were too large. He pulled up the image of one. It was supposedly 4 klicks long and obviously of a design he'd never seen.

Vega glanced over at the image and shrugged again. "SOCL," he said the word dismissively.

"What is SOCL?" Garrus demanded. What the hell were the humans?

"Human with SIL," Vega said as if it was obvious.

He forced himself to calm. It wasn't Vega's fault that he couldn't explain further, and those that could were waiting for him, but he couldn't help but feel cold. There was no way the humans would play whatever game the Hierarchy wanted.

September 28th 2190, 13:58, Arcturus Stream, Arcturus Station, Shepard Harbinger's Office

"The turian is here."

The listener chuckled. "Ah… the Hierarchy. Assign him some quarters, then tell him that we have three more days to wait." Not that they expected any further ships to arrive. The fact that the turians had sent one was interesting all by itself. Their game was obvious but it perhaps spoke of something more.

"You don't want to talk to him now?" the Captain assigned to give Shepard Harbinger the report asked.

"At dinner. We should make him welcome I suppose. What is the turian's name?"

"Garrus Vakarian."

She tried the name out mentally. It wouldn't cause too many issues. "Rank?"

"He never said."

"How is Vega?"

"Better, now that he's had a shave." The former slave had been only too happy to make use of the facilities, and a haircut and shave, combined with clean clothes and familiar food, had made the man much more forthcoming. He was being debriefed as they spoke.

Shepard nodded. Vega would have an interesting tale to tell but right at the moment, she had other concerns. "That's good to hear. Make sure he is there tonight, he will have insight into the turians." They had sent an unranked envoy. That could be construed as an insult but she could already see what the Hierarchy was trying. They wouldn't have been stupid enough to send someone who knew about the attack in any way but sending someone did not absolve them of responsibility. They might be just as culpable as the rest of the Council but they were showing a cunning that, based on reports, she would have expected from the Asari or Salarians. Turians were meant to be much more straight forward.

"Will do. Are we ready?"

She was getting tired of being asked that but the Captain had clearance. "It will be soon. There are two more planets to clean."

"Can we clean them without burning?"

"I think so. At least, we do not need to worry about the infection spreading. It is not contagious from a body and anyone infected dies very quickly. That has kept vulturing down as well." The aspect of herself that was Harbinger had shown his age and skill when he had analyzed the infection. He had dismissed it as primitive, effective but primitive when he presented his results. Anything he designed would have been far more virulent and far more persistent. Her aspect had edited the report a little to make it easier for human consumption.

"So we do not have to burn the planets?"

"No." The reply was firm, though tinged with relief.

Shepard had been as happy as anyone else when she realized that they would not need to flame the infected garden worlds. That would have been a tragic loss. They would and had flamed the points of impact but as Harbinger had indicated the disease was primitive. Its ability to linger was based entirely on its delivery system and while it had been universally fatal, and remained that way while the probes existed, once they were destroyed, it was quickly broken down by the natural processes of the planet. "They should be fine, though time will be required before resettlement is allowed."

"Understood, Sir," the Captain saluted before showing himself out when it became obvious that there was nothing more to say.

Shepard returned to reading the morning transcript of Vega's debriefing, her mind assimilating the information far faster than was possible for a mere human.

September 28th 2190 19:06, Arcturus Stream, Arcturus Station

Garrus tried to keep his talons from clicking on the flooring as he was escorted to dinner. The humans had been surprising. Hospitable but not interested in talking and he'd been confused before he managed to corner one long enough to ask a few questions. The man had shrugged, replying in translated Turian that the humans had to wait to see if any others arrived but that he was invited to dinner tonight with Shepard Harbinger. Garrus had no idea what a Shepard Harbinger was but by the way the man had spoken, it or they were important.

His escort had arrived at precisely 19:00 and Garrus had been ready. They had been polite but he didn't miss the small arms they carried, or the guards that lined the walk ways. He'd tried to memorize the route but they'd gone through three checkpoints and a couple of doors, which from their sheer weight, Garrus knew they were blast doors. Arcturus Station was not a prison but it could very easily become one.

Eventually, he was lead to a room which had obviously been set up for the evening. One side was open, showing space and in that space blinked the lights of the human fleet. The other walls were lit gently and were a uniform grey paneling. There was a long table in the center of the room, set with places, and Garrus was suddenly thankful that Liara had insisted that occasionally they have a formal meal. The humans were more like Asari than many realized.

There were several groups of humans around the room and to his surprise, Garrus recognized Quarians scattered throughout. He held his mandibles still to conceal his shock. They'd heard rumors that the Quarians had disappeared and now he knew where they were... What did this mean though? What had the Quarians told the humans about Turians? The two species didn't exactly have the best relations. Even as he considered the questions, his eyes caught other differences. Some of the humans were wearing uniforms, with what he assumed were tokens of rank on their collars and over their breasts. Other wore almost skin tight black jumpsuits highlighted in cobalt blue and every one he could see was armed. It made him itch for his own weapon. The human weapons were not standardized though. Those in uniform had a side arm, and he thought he could detect knives on some of them, hidden beneath their uniforms. Those dressed in black carried an assortment of weapons. Some carried blades openly, some appeared to be armed only with their omni-tool and Garrus assumed they were biotics. One carried several heavy weapons strapped to their back and a long knife down one leg. It was only belatedly that Garrus realized that this human was near the center of attention for them all and his guide was subtly moving him towards them.

The human had close cropped red fur and when they turned, the turian realized that they were female, if the bumps on her chest were anything to go by. It was only belatedly that Garrus realized that the human's eyes glowed. The humans had eyes like the Asari but this human's held a luminance that was definitely artificial. Biotics or implants, Garrus realized, and he glanced around to surreptitiously reassess the gathering. Implants were not unheard of but were not that wide spread in the Council races. He wasn't sure what it meant if the humans thought nothing of it, and he wasn't sure if this human needed it because of some other condition. For now, it didn't matter but it was something to report.

"... and may I present Garrus Vakarian of the Turian Hierarchy," his guide's words cut through his thoughts as they drew level with the red furred human's small group.

"A pleasure," the woman said, reaching out one hand, as she looked up at him, a smile on her face.

Garrus looked at her hand for an instant before he realized what he was meant to do. He'd seen humans greet each other this way before and he reached out his own hand, conscious of his talons, to touch the human. He didn't know what to expect when they touched, he didn't expect anything really to happen, except for him to feel what the texture of her skin was like and the temperature of her body. He felt instead an almost electric shock but one that didn't seem to surprise the human who gripped his hand in her own. Her grip was strong, that's what caught his attention. Something that small shouldn't be that strong and instinctively Garrus tightened his grip further.

Her eyes glowed deeper and a smile flicked its way over her features before they each drew back.

"We are pleased to see that the Turian Hierarchy is willing to meet new species in peace," the woman said, her eyes closely watching his.

Garrus was aware of their audience. The entire room was watching him and no matter how easy the Primarch had said this would be, he knew it was a test. "The Hierarchy is always willing to welcome new species into the galactic community," he heard himself say and was shocked by his own diplomacy.

The woman smiled easily. "Indeed. One can only hope that the other Council races are as willing," she said and Garrus could feel the barb in her voice.

She knew! He realized immediately. She knew what the Hierarchy planned, what they hoped for. Of course she knew, he thought immediately, calming his racing thoughts. The Hierarchy's plan was transparent. That's why he'd been sent. He was no diplomat and they knew it. It's what allowed them to have such an easily read plan. Any failing could be blamed on him and Garrus felt his eyes harden at the thought.

"I hope so," he said and did not miss the way the woman seemed to laugh without moving.

"I don't," she said, her voice challenging. "Far better to separate the innocent from the guilty so that we may deal with them."

Rather stupidly, Garrus remembered the images of dead humans that had been broadcast into Council space. The broadcast had said without words that it was the Salarians who had done this and that the humans wanted vengeance. It was an absurd thought. No new race could hope to stand against the Council. And then he remembered their ships... the thousands of ships they had drawn up around their station... He remembered their size... even if primitive, they could pack a punch just on their size but he also remembered that they had snuck up on his shuttle without the sensors seeing them.

The humans were not primitive and one look in the human's eyes told him the truth. They were more than prepared to attack to have their vengeance. Their message to the Council had not been bluster.

"It is a terrible thing to be attacked by the unknown and the Hierarchy hopes that the guilty may be brought to justice."

For a moment, the woman stared at him and Garrus felt almost as if he was being measured.

"We will see," she said finally and the turian recognized it as a dismissal before they were called for dinner.

The humans and Quarians moved easily and to his surprise the woman took the single place at the head of the table. Garrus looked at the woman who was Shepard Harbinger. She moved with confidence and all others deferred to her but this was a military gathering so he watched those he had pegged as civilians and reminded himself that when he got back to his assigned quarters, he would have to find out exactly what rank she held.

He needn't have bothered. By the time the meal was over, he and the Quarians being served some rather odd though tasty dextro foods, her rank was clear. Shepard Harbinger was the sole, unopposed leader of the Humans. If she said there would be war, then there would be a war. No checks, no balances, just her word.

Garrus shivered for a long time that night.


Next chapter:

"You don't have to like the orders," he said, as he came to stand with her, looking out at the stars. "You just have to give them."

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 20 Just Retribution


September 29th 2190, 10:37, Arcturus Stream, Arcturus Station, Shepard Harbinger's Office

"Right, let's cut to the chase, what exactly does the Hierarchy hope to achieve?"

Garrus didn't recognize the idiom but he understood the meaning and for a moment, he stared at Shepard Harbinger. They were alone, though the turian had no doubt the office was being monitored, and the woman sat behind her desk, staring at him with her softly glowing eyes. Her expression was hard and betrayed nothing. She wasn't visibly armed but Garrus was willing to put credits on weaponry being present.

For a moment though, he was stumped. He knew what the Hierarchy wanted but how could he present that without sounding like a throwaway sap? With a soft growl at himself, he decided to go with the truth.

"You already know what they want. I know what they want. I'm here because I'm a convenience to them. If you win against the Council, if we've negotiated anything, they'll consider it. If you lose, then I'm a rogue agent."

The woman looked at him. Her face continued to be expressionless and Garrus wasn't sure what she was thinking. Long moments passed and Garrus continued to watch her though internally, he was beginning to feel the strain. Liara could play this game, diplomatic words that could mean anything. He was more straightforward. Sighting through a scope gave only two real options.

"Tell me about the Council," Shepard Harbinger said eventually, her voice completely even.

Garrus grinned internally. Saren may just have met his match. "Vega tried to explain your ships to me on the journey here. I didn't really get it but I know that you have ships called SIL. There is a SIL on the Citadel and from what my friends tell me, it is responsible for everything."

"Friends?"

"I used to work for the Council, not as a Spectre, as a C-Sec officer," Garrus said beginning the long explanation. He wasn't sure why he was being open here but while the Hierarchy had sent him here, they had never truly given him the rank or the information to negotiate. "I looked into some things they wanted to remain hidden and was fired so I took up a post as a merc which lead to some scientists and some very interesting information.

"Soon after I left the Citadel, a ship arrived. A ship of a design no one had seen and it docked with the Citadel."

"A SIL." It was not a question.

"A SIL," Garrus confirmed. "At the time, I was guarding an archaeological dig excavating Prothean ruins…"

Shepard chuckled. "Your archeologists recognized it?"

The turian nodded and Shepard gestured for him to continue.

"One of them was connected to Asari political heavy weights and was eventually ordered to come to the Citadel."

"Did she enter the SIL?" With the way it was asked, Garrus knew there was some extra importance attached to the question.

"She threw up before she could get inside it."

Shepard's eyes narrowed silently. "Go on," she said and Garrus could feel that she was thinking.

"We hadn't completed the dig but we knew we had to move. I was on Tuchanka after that so I don't know much about what the Council has been up to since then," Garrus concluded his roundabout explanation. Yet despite his lack of answer, Shepard didn't seem upset. She seemed to be weighing his words.

"How did your Hierarchy find you?"

"The archeologists were curious about something… and the previous turian Councillor wanted to see me." Garrus didn't think much of his reply but if anything Shepard looked even more thoughtful. Again she said nothing for a long period.

Finally she spoke. "We will not discuss anything further today, nor, I think until the time is up and we see which way your Hierarchy jumps."

The former C-Sec officer recognized a dismissal when he heard it and with Shepard's words, he knew that she would not play the Hierarchy's game.

He rose and nodded respectfully. No matter what he felt, Shepard was the ruler of the humans and he was ostensibly on a diplomatic mission which meant that certain courtesies had to be obeyed.

"Vakarian," she interrupted before he reached the door. "As a sign of good will, you will submit to a scan."

"A scan?"

"A DNA map. All humans have it done," Shepard said, waving one hand in dismissal.

But Garrus wasn't about to be dismissed. This might be a bum deal from the Hierarchy but he was not going to betray his race by just giving away his DNA. "Why?" he demanded.

Shepard looked up at the force in his voice though the woman did not seem perturbed. "You are a good man, Garrus Vakarian, in a difficult situation. I acknowledge that, you acknowledge that, but it does not alter the situation. The Council attacked my people without warning or justification. They took the coward's path and sent biological weapons against predominantly civilian populations.

"Our response to the atrocity should be clear. We want blood. But we offered mercy. We told the galaxy if they were innocent and come to us we would consider it. We told the galaxy that if they hand over those who attacked we would be merciful. Yet now, two days before our deadline, we have only you, a rank-less envoy from the Turian Hierarchy.

"So, you tell me, Vakarian, what am I to think?" She arched one eyebrow with a mocking smile on her face and the words she didn't say were clear.

Unbidden, Garrus felt his mandibles twitch slightly and Shepard's mocking smile seemed to deepen.

"I do not know if the Council attacked," Garrus said. "I do not know if the Hierarchy supported it yet I do not believe it naive to believe not. Saren, a Council Spectre, murdered the turian Councillor and blamed the crime on me. It was Sparatus who was concerned with your race. He saw what you had done. I believe if he had survived, it would have been him who came with Vega.

"So no! We turians did not attack you!" He glared at Shepard as if daring her to contradict him.

"And now?"

"Now?" Garrus could barely follow the human's thoughts.

"With Sparatus dead, what now?" Shepard clarified her question.

Garrus looked to the ground. "I do not know," he answered honestly.

"Then have the test. Prove to me that you, at least, are innocent and maybe more innocents can be spared."

With a sigh, Garrus nodded, knowing that he had just been out maneuvered and in a strange way, he was content.

September 29th 2190 11:50, Arcturus Stream, Harbinger Shepard

"The Salarians and Asari are with Nazara. The Turians are split," Harbinger drew the conclusions as Shepard settled and the ancient ship drew their consciousnesses together.

Shepard's physical body lay back, her eyes closing, as if sleeping. She didn't fight Harbinger's movement, instead she embraced it and the two halves of their whole merged again. It was only because it was convenient that she still expressed herself as two beings. There were no longer two, there was one, he and she, she and he, I. "The turians are not yet lost but they do want to play both sides."

The ancient ship almost laughed. He'd seen this so often. Not this exact situation. Betrayal was not tolerated but he had seen those races who, at the time of the harvest held back, who thought they could make a deal with the SIL. None lived now beyond the memory that was their nation. The turians would be no different. They might believe they could play both sides but they were children in this game and he was the master.

"There is still weakness," Shepard said after a moment.

"His reach is small."

"Anything is too far," warning laced Shepard's tone.

Harbinger was silent for a moment, and Shepard could feel him counting.

"Half," she said, anticipating his count.

Again, Harbinger was silent.

"The ships of the Asari and Salarians will be at his call. The Turians will remain near Palaven though they will send a contingent," Shepard continued, "but we must strike at both yet we cannot use those yet to find synthesis. It will be difficult. Half the human command is undergoing Synthesis."

"There will be those who follow him," Harbinger interrupted.

"And there will be those who have no choice," she countered. "As many as possible must remain in Sol."

"Yes, the Relay must be moved and all quantum buoys."

For a moment, Shepard was confused before memories not her own returned. Moving the Relay was nothing, not when they knew how to move the Citadel. "At least 1000 must remain to guard each planet."

"Three thousand will remain for each planet. I would not see them unguarded," Harbinger's aspect stated something he would never have considered important in the past.

"I do not trust Nazara's reach," Shepard countered. "One hundred and fifty thousand will remain in Sol."

"Another hundred thousand to Palaven, with fifty thousand in reserve," Harbinger said but paused as new information flowed across his senses.

"That is interesting," Shepard said.

"It changes nothing."

"With someone willing, the controlling links can be severed instantly."

"He would not be willing. Humans are willing because they have had decades to understand what synthesis means. The turian sent by the Hierarchy knows nothing. He's not even a child in that manner."

"Yet he is compatible and it can be explained. Perhaps if I tell Vega at the same time?"

Harbinger considered. Of all the turians the Hierarchy could send, they sent one needed for synthesis and the human Vega was compatible with the new SIL, the one made from the Batarians. Even he could see the irony in that. The ancient ship had no doubt about Vega, the human would agree just as soon as he awoke the consciousness of the Batarian nation, but the problem Garrus represented was one mirrored by the rest of the galaxy. Nazara was only a distraction. The true problem was convincing the organics to accept synthesis. "Make it a condition of agreement with the Hierarchy," Harbinger said finally.

Shepard laughed. She already knew that Harbinger would do anything but such a blatant tactic was not like him. It was too open, too easy but perhaps in this case, it was the best way. She knew it would not be the only path. "So the fleet?"

"The majority will go to the Citadel. Nazara wishes to challenge me," Harbinger resumed as if nothing had changed.

"It is not Nazara, it is the Catalyst."

Harbinger could not smile but Shepard could feel his amusement. She could feel his trust, that she, the one who was his for synthesis, would be more than capable of dealing with the Catalyst, the one who had created him. It would be soon and even as Shepard's body rested, her mind worked with the union that was herself, apportioning the fleets, checking readiness and making the arrangements for the days to come. While most of the fleet would go to the Citadel, a large proportion would also go into turian space. They had to be pacified as their ships could not be allowed to aid the Asari and Salarian's. Pledged to the Council as they were, the turians would have no choice.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," Shepard replied. "The humans want justice but not all agree with the path. The SOCL could strike alone but that would be a hollow victory. The humans must lead the direct charge while the SOCL take the flanks and support. Any revulsion will be reduced and it will establish a precedent for the galaxy. The humans must know what they are capable of," she chuckled the last and Harbinger watched the thought stream carefully.

Some humans would not agree but he knew, and Shepard knew, that it had to be done or else this attack would be repeated. Not by the Council but by someone else. It was just a matter of time, eons perhaps but it would happen. It was better to set the precedent of consequence now. Even with that understanding, some humans would not agree. They knew it needed to be done but they were weak, yet Shepard had accommodated their will. The SOCL could hack every single Council vessel - assuming that the traitor had not interfered - but that was too easy. It would be a hollow victory. It was far better to let the humans fight because it would be those who didn't agree who fought the hardest to save their enemy, and all would know that the SOCL were always waiting, ready to step in.

Besides, it was not as if the Council had a force that could truly hurt them and from an organic point of view, they would stand as the ultimate reserve.

Harbinger shared Shepard's mirth.

The human fleet would appear at the Citadel and would demand justice. The SOCL would back them up, forming an impenetrable barrier while the humans worked to neutralize the Citadel fleet. And they would neutralize the fleet. The SOCL could have done it but it was safer to let the human divers do it. Those that didn't want to see the complete destruction of the Council would try the hardest to make sure the Council was brought down without needing the SOCL or SIL to interfere. Their presence would be motivation as well as a back up should anything go awry.

Of course, that was just the Council but Shepard Harbinger would let the humans attempt to save anyone they could. In the end, the result would be the same because while Shepard Harbinger was prepared to let humans attempt to save some, she was not able to let them have them all. They only had one chance to establish the price of attacking and there was only one price suitable for such an attack.

Once the Council forces were subdued, the fleet would break up, simultaneously attacking Sur'kesh and Thessia and the known main military worlds of the Asari and Salarians. A task fleet would go to each of the home worlds of the other races. The Drell, Elcor, Hanar and Volus would be given a choice. Abandon the Council or face the same fate as the Council's founding races.

As for the non-Council races… If they played their cards right, the Krogan would be willing to treat with them and if all else failed she could buy them off by offering to remove the Genophage. It would probably be best to offer that first. She could always get Soliphon to adjust their reproduction rates if necessary. The Raloi? If they were truly sealed and Nazara had not destroyed those who had gone to them, then the Raloi were already taken care of. The Rachni... Shepard sighed. She had more hope for the Raloi's survival than the Rachni. It would have been easy for the Vanguard to destroy those who had left to protect the Rachni, there were only five after all. He did not think he'd have risked taking on the thousand or so that had left for Raloi space. She would deal with that situation as it arose. The Vorcha? They were an aggressive race but information retrieved from the Batarians indicated they could have their uses. They were adaptable. Again, little choice would be offered to them. Which left the Yahg… They were intelligent, fast and aggressive. The Collectors had reported that they behaved in packs but that they were still pre-spaceflight.

Shepard suppressed a snarl as she reflected on one of the Collectors' updates. They had reported Council interference. She should not be having to deal with the Yahg… If they had not developed space flight during the last few cycles then there had been something holding them back. Their aggression was the most likely cause for the problem, yet the Council had shown them the way. Had they learned nothing with the Krogan?

The Yahg could be left until last. If they behaved as a pack then they could be made to respect the dominance of the humans and if they did not - Well, she only needed some of them.

She closed her eyes. The few remaining Batarians would not survive, nor would the Asari and Salarians, and based on the Collector's information it was doubtful that a new SIL could be born from them. They had thinned their genetic ranks. The rest of the races would survive - if they obeyed. Shepard smiled. The turians may not believe just yet that the destruction of their military was a mercy but in time, they would accept the truth.

September 30th 2190, 06:14, Arcturus Stream, Arcturus Station

Shepard stood near the window, looking out at the stars. Harbinger was close to the station but she could look over her SOCL partner to the expanse beyond. The stars used to be beautiful, they used to represent a glorious unknown, endless possibilities just waiting to be found. Now, they represented death. They represented the galaxy and the Council. They represented war.

The Turian had been useful, and even though she had extrapolated much from his words, there remained too many unknowns. They had said they would take the guilty but those were the words of a child. It could not be done, not when the guilty were the Council itself and that left only one course of action. War. But war against who?

The turians would fight when the Council demanded it. All information pointed to them not being involved but the longer this took, the more they hesitated, the greater the chance the turians would be pulled into the fray. And if they tried just to attack the Asari and Salarians...

No... Shepard shook her head. There was only one option. The turians had to be neutralized.

She turned at the footfall. "Admiral Hackett."

"Marshall Shepard," he greeted her with a salute which she waved away.

"You don't have to like the orders," he said, as he came to stand with her, looking out at the stars. "You just have to give them."

Glowing eyes flicked to him for a moment before returning to the panorama. "There should be another way," her voice held no emotion.

"And it shouldn't have happened in the first place," Hackett countered.

"I don't want to risk them."

For a long moment, Hackett was silent as he heard Shepard. He knew it was Shepard, not Harbinger because of the words. The ancient SIL would never have said anything like that. Centomoru almost laughed at the scene, though that SIL was careful to remain silent. Harbinger was his leader, and Shepard, as the fully synthesized CEuman of Harbinger, was just as much Harbinger as the behemoth visible as a horizon in space.

The ranks of SIL and SOCL understood the concern. While most required humans for synthesis, some required other races. Those requiring Quarians were on their side for the coming battle, but it was those who needed Salarians, Asari or Turians who were, for the most part, advocating a more peaceful course of action, despite Nazara's attack.

"There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others," Hackett murmured the words, knowing they were nothing Shepard hadn't heard before but knowing that she needed to hear it now. Despite the fact he had begun synthesis with Centomoru, he knew that the SIL had been lucky. History had been kind to them with their dealings with humans but it appeared that circumstance was not going to be as kind with the rest of the galaxy.

They stood in silence for long minutes before Shepard turned, her eyes hard.

"You will lead." She gave the order, her voice firm with conviction. "Take the hordes of Batarians and those human husks we have. Go to Palaven. If they endorse the actions of their ambassador, negotiate. If they don't, and I do not believe that they will, attack.

" Destroy their defense fleet and any reinforcements. Centomoru, if the ships can be neutralized without destruction, do so. The hordes will take the military positions on the planet and capture the Hierarchy's leaders. Once the fleet is disabled, offer them mercy and pray that they see reason. Check for Nazara's influence before you speak to any in person. Break his influence but do not control them. Their future is their decision. If they fail to surrender, neutralize the planet. Then split your fleet and neutralize every other Turian planet with significant military presence.

"We cannot allow a Turian defense of Sur'kesh and Thessia."

Hackett saluted again to indicate his acceptance. "I'll keep as many of them alive as I can," he said, by way of parting. "Nazara doesn't control them all, so we will prevail."

He never heard Shepard's words as she looked back to the panorama of space. "It is not Nazara I'm worried about."

Earth Calendar, September 30th 2190, 07:31, Serpentine Nebula, Citadel

The former Salarian Councillor Valern had once accused Tevos of never rising before ten. This was not true of course, just that the Asari Councillor was not a morning person. Still, when the situation demanded it, she could rise as early as anyone, which was why she was standing with Esheel and Quintus as they watched the ship of the Citadel launch. Even though Tevos remembered the ship arriving on the Citadel, she had to admit that it looked different now.

It was hard to say what was different though and as she watched, it folded its legs under its body and lights which had been off blinked on. Somehow, the ship seemed to stretch before it spun silently in space and moved to join the fleet. Against the backdrop of the nebula, they couldn't see the details with their own eyes, but on the screens projecting everything to the Citadel citizens, they saw the ship take up position beside the Destiny Ascendant.

For a moment, Tevos admired the lines of the Asari Dreadnought. Even designed for war, it was a beautiful ship and that's when she realized what had changed. The ship of the Citadel was bigger. Its shape and form had not changed but while it had been docked with the Citadel it had grown by about half its original size. It didn't dwarf the Destiny Ascendant but it was clear now which was the larger vessel, which one the flagship.

"The Sovereign rises!" Saren intoned from his place in front of them, a turian smile gracing his features.

"Sovereign?" Quintus asked.

Tevos felt herself bristle. The new Turian Councillor was stupid! Sparatus might have been stubborn and misinformed but he was intelligent. Quintus couldn't even follow her conversation most times and he was incapable of making intuitive conclusions. He knew nothing!

Esheel gently touched her forearm and Tevos took a deep breath, quelling her anger. Quintus may know nothing but he did not oppose them. Unlike Sparatus, he listened to their evidence, he took Saren's advice... He stood with them and so the Hierarchy now understood the dangers that were lurking in the galaxy. They knew now the threat that was hanging over all their heads... the human threat.

"The Sovereign of the Citadel," Saren continued, "and the flagship of the defense fleet."

Yes, Tevos nodded with Esheel. Sovereign was the flagship now. It wasn't just size but function and she could see that now, they could all see that now, looking at the image of the ship of the Citadel side by side with the Destiny Ascendant, Tevos could see the differences. The Destiny Ascendant was meant to be the Asari's greatest warship and while it was beautiful, Tevos could see that it was too beautiful. The harsh reality of war was forgotten and when she looked upon Sovereign, she saw a ship honed for combat, ready and able to fight anything. It made it seem as if the Asari were only playing at war.

Around Sovereign, the Citadel fleet redistributed itself. Over the past few days more ships from the Salarian and Asari forces had joined the fleet. With Sparatus' assassination, the threat was imminent and it was headed towards the Citadel. They had called every ship they could for the defense and even now Turian vessels were joining the fleet.

Let the humans come! Let those Sovereign had once worked with come. This was the heart of the galaxy and they would die here because that was the path of ascension.

September 30th 2190 13:17, Arcturus Stream, Arcturus Station

Shepard sat at the head of the table. The Admirals and Generals were gathered for their final briefing before they stepped into the unknown. Admiral Hackett sat to her left, next to a newly identified SIL Partner. The man, John Harper, gave off a vibe of confidence and while Shepard knew he was a consummate businessman, she knew there was more to him than met the eye. Xerus confirmed it but had been unable to get details. The man had his secrets, yet he was supportive of the strike against the Council so she had let the uncertainty slide. No SIL would allow any human to give away information at this point. That was an absolute truth she could be certain of.

Admiral Brooks sat on her right. The woman looked fierce as she examined the numbers displayed. They had estimated the strength of the fleets around the Citadel, Palaven, Thessia and Sur'kesh. The breakup represented that and, to prevent further probes attacking, the SOCL would seal the Relays behind them. The Salarians had been trying to slip new probes into their territory constantly.

The Charon Relay already sat beside Arcturus station. They would not be blindsided that way.

"And finally, Admiral Hackett and Centomoru shall spearhead the attack on Palaven before Zeus Fleet splits up to neutralize the rest of Turian space," the man speaking the summary briefing concluded. When this meeting finished the sub fleets would meet to run over their individual plans one last time before they departed tomorrow.

No one spoke for a few moments as they digested the plan.

"I have a suggestion," Xerus' partner said after clearing his throat. His tone was deferential but Shepard heard the smug undertone before she gestured for him to speak.

"What we call SIL can control organic life," Harper said, his eyes calculatingly watching for reaction, "but what Xerus has not yet told me is if the effects can be reversed."

Around the table, various people started in surprise. Every CEuman present was aware of the SIL ability to dominate the thoughts of organic life. It was how Nazara was controlling the Council. Systems Alliance intelligence had groped their way to that conclusion as well but the Systems Alliance had yet to apply it to humans so Harper's statement came as a revelation to some.

"Indoctrination," Shepard said. "The process is called indoctrination and unless it is controlled, the organic becomes a mindless husk, incapable of independent thought. They will not eat, they will not drink, they will not sleep unless ordered to."

Harper seemed pleased at her response and turned to face her. Green eyes met blue and Shepard tilted her head, wordlessly instructing him to continue. She outranked him and was satisfied to see that he was slightly disgruntled at her unspoken order but he obeyed.

"If the process can be reversed, I would suggest that some effort is made to capture the Council alive."

"What? Why?" The question was echoed around the table but they quickly subsided as most began to piece together Harper's plan.

"While the Council have no doubt been indoctrinated by Nazara, I do not believe that they are mindless drones. As such, capturing them alive and breaking Nazara's hold so that they may watch their worlds burn seems a just punishment."

Shepard sat in silence as she considered.

"He's hiding many things," Xerus reported silently to her. "Except he doesn't hide them as well as he thinks he does," the SIL added with amusement.

"What is he hiding?" She questioned. If it was something serious, Xerus would have reported it already so it wasn't devastating but it did relate here.

"I believe he is the head of a human supremacist group. A very well-funded group who aims to see humanity triumph even over us. He's very eager for me to submit to a full scan, but only what the Systems Alliance has done already. At least, that's what he says," Xerus laughed.

"I see," Shepard replied, her eyes narrowing. Outside her form shifted, turning so that the lights that most humans thought of as eyes were visible through the windows. They were all that filled the windows. The conversation continued around the table. Some were still incensed about the SIL's ability while others were debating the merits of capturing the Council. She raised one hand and after a moment when attention focused back to her Shepard turned towards Harper.

She smiled delicately, just for him. Those members of her marine unit would have recognized it as one she gave when she held all the pieces and adroitly, Shepard reached out with a mental probe. It wasn't often she only wanted to talk to one being but it was easy enough with thousands of cycles' practice.

"You might as well tell him he's won," Xerus suggested, sensing what his leader was about to do. In this situation there were only two options, you either crushed their hope entirely showing the organic how controlled they were or you raised their hopes, only to dash them later. "After all, it is kind of true."

Shepard made sure her green eyes met his blue squarely when she spoke. "Your goal is achieved," she said directly to Harper.

His eyes widened and he started back. At first, he saw only her shell but Shepard saw the exact moment Harper focused behind her to see Harbinger's eyes glaring at him. She smiled again before dismissing him, ignoring the way Xerus laughed in the back of her mind.

Their exchange took two heart beats of time, nothing more, so when she spoke to the assembled commanders there was no hesitation.

"While capturing the Councillors would be a bonus, it will not be a priority. They have already shown themselves uninterested in diplomacy. As a result, I am uninterested in any terms of negotiation or surrender. This ends when their homeworlds are ash."

She hissed the final word and was well pleased when the surrounding Admirals and Generals met her announcement with tight smiles.

Their response had nothing to do with any indoctrination and everything to do with wanting blood. The Council had struck first but they had no idea what they had awoken.


 

 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 21 Second Contact


October 1st 2190 09:00, Arcturus Stream, SAV Kilimanjaro

Vice Admiral Hannah Shepard looked around the bridge of the Kilimanjaro at the organized chaos that reigned. She wasn't really here. Instead, she was a hologram, projected there by the SIL, Riphas, with whom she would join in synthesis shortly. It was amazing how much she could see, but it wasn't quite the same as being there. Riphas though, would have none of that. When the hundred SIL who had initially refused to submit their code for Synthesis did so after Harbinger had emerged, even with Jane being Harbinger's partner, Hannah had never thought that she'd be a SIL partner. But she was. And Riphas had made it very clear that she would accept Hannah traveling in no other vessel but herself!

The SIL had even moved to Terra Nova to make her point, though the SIL had also accepted the fact that Hannah had wanted to wait before undergoing Synthesis. There was too much going on in the System Alliance and in the Galaxy now to be locked away, effectively unconscious for the next few years. So they had arrived at a compromise. It was a compromise a few other commanders had come to, while others had been given the necessary leaves of absence as they underwent synthesis. Hannah maintained her command, but lived on Riphas and Terra Nova gained another ship to defend it.

Of course, right at the moment, the fleet guarding Terra Nova, and all human colonies was put to shame by the one here. Most ships were gathered here, at Arcturus, in preparation for the attack. Hannah wasn't sure what she thought of that. She understood the reasons. The Council had attacked and they could not just let that pass. She understood the deeper reasons, things that Riphas had whispered to her about the Vanguard, but this was the largest military undertaking in history and Hannah hoped her misgivings were simply nerves. However, she couldn't help but think that no one, not even those as arrogant as the Council seemed to be, or the Vanguard, would attack an unknown species without having a plan.

She wouldn't.

"But you are not the Council," Riphas interrupted gently.

"They can't be that stupid!" Hannah objected.

The giant ship said nothing. They had already discussed this at length. While Hannah knew, had felt the depth of knowledge and experience available to Riphas, she still wanted to dispute the SIL's conclusions. While Riphas was drawing her conclusions from the millenia, not just a few observations, she still could not believe that the supposed leaders of the galaxy could be so... so... stupid! There was no other word for their behaviour.

"It does not matter how asinine they are, or whatever other plan they might have," Riphas said. "Against us, their plan means nothing!"

That much was true.

Hannah had a hard time imagining that any race, or any group of races, could stand against the SIL, and she was once more thankful that they were at humanity's side. It was perhaps selfish but if the war with the Batarians had taught her nothing else, it was that selfishness was the norm when it came to your species' very survival. You could not afford anything else.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Admiral Hackett murmured to her as his hologram appeared. He gestured towards the tactical screens that showed the fleets.

Around Arcturus, there were two fleets gathered. It was not the total force of SIL and SOCL but it was a fair proportion. There was a large contingent of Quarian ships gathered, as well as about half the Systems Alliance's forces were gathered here. The others were scattered around the colonies and Earth, though Earth was isolated now. Arshan had brought the Relay and it now hovered next to the station. Hannah didn't want to think about the energy requirements to move an entire Mass Relay so quickly but her daughter hadn't seemed surprised when the SIL had appeared.

The two fleets were gathered on either side of Arcturus station. The Kilimanjaro, with Harbinger hovering behind it, was the flagship of the larger fleet, the one which would confront the Council. The Emden II, Einstein and Everest completed the command group for that fleet.

The smaller fleet was led by Admiral Hackett who was aboard the SIL Centomoru. He would be confronting the Turians and Hannah was sure that her daughter had spent a fair amount of time briefing him. That was almost laughable. Jane was no longer Jane, she was Shepard Harbinger and as the CEuman partner of the SOCL Harbinger and the leader of the SIL and SOCL, she bore his rank.

Arshan and Riphas had taken their places on either side of Harbinger Shepard though Hannah could feel Riphas' concern for Arshan. The turian Garrus was to join with Arshan in synthesis but he had not yet agreed.

Hannah couldn't blame him. Unlike humans, the turian had no idea what synthesis meant and there had been no time to properly explain it to him so there was a danger of reject but Arshan seemed to accept it.

"It is," Hannah replied, turning her attention back to the screens. It was amazing that she could see them. The technology was beyond anything she had ever seen or thought could exist and the SIL and SOCL used it now so casually. There was so much left for humans to learn. And they were. The ships that the Systems Alliance had now were far better than those that had greeted Harbinger all those years ago. They would now lead the way to the Council though Hannah knew there was something deeper happening.

"Are you ready?" she asked the Admiral.

Steven Hackett's hologram smiled. With others in the command chain undergoing synthesis, he was one of the few members of appropriate rank available to lead the fleet towards Palaven.

"Am I ready to invade another species?" He returned the question. The rest of the galaxy might believe that humans had invaded and defeated the Batarians, but Hackett knew better. Centomoru would lead the SOCL that were within his fleet, but he would be the face the turians saw. True, they were going to Palaven because the turians had invited them, but they were going with such force that it could only be seen as an invasion. If things went well, he would hold back the turian armies. If things went badly, he would wipe them out.

The situation was far too tense for them to accept one turian's word, no matter how honorable, especially when he had no official diplomatic rank.

No matter what occurred, Admiral Hackett knew that this action would color alien beliefs about humans into the future. How could it not? The Batarians could be trusted to have painted them in the worst possible light to the other Citadel races and an attack on Palaven would be taken as sheer unadulterated aggression. Aggression that may or may not be warranted.

Hannah nodded, knowing that her understanding of his thoughts would be carried in the motion.

"As ready as I'll ever be," he said.

"That is good."

Hannah recognized Jane's voice as her hologram appeared. She looked - Hannah almost shuddered. Jane looked angry and in the projection of her form, there was an unspoken aggression and Hannah moved before she even thought about it, moving to rest her hand on Jane's shoulder.

Green eyes flashed but Hannah didn't flinch.

"Calm down," she entreated.

For a moment Jane's hologram seemed almost angrier! But then, she seemed to listen to something Hannah couldn't hear and took a deep breath before flashing a smile at Hannah.

"Only you, Mom!"

Hannah chuckled but said nothing further. Jane might have merged with Harbinger. She might now bear the name Shepard Harbinger, but she was still her daughter and so long as she still replied to her mother's touch, she was still human.

"Admiral Brooks, are the fleets gathered?" Jane asked the woman who was now in command of the Kilimanjaro.

"They are, Ma'am," Maya replied, gesturing to the tactical screens.

They were broken into two parts and dots covered both liberally. "Then send the signal. It is time the galaxy learned the price of attacking,"Jane said, her voice holding inflections from Harbinger. "Admiral Hackett and Centomoru, deal with the turians as you wish. We will know the truth shortly. Admiral Brooks, all SOCL will hang back at the Citadel. Let them think you are alone. I would see the true breadth of their arrogance before we act."

The woman nodded and on the bridge of the Kilimanjaro the comm officers were busy relaying Shepard's orders. Several ships vanished, jumping into hyperspace or activating their stealth technology as the fleets moved out. Most ships would travel the old fashioned way, leaping through space via mass effect corridors but a few would travel with the new technology the SOCL had developed and that the humans had almost finished copying.

Hannah felt a shiver pass through her as Riphas' engines wound up and the dreadnought moved with Harbinger. They had a long way to travel.

October 1st 2190 12:43, Mass Effect Tunnel, SIL Arshan

"How long will you deny me?"

Garrus almost growled. "I'm not denying you!" he snapped.

"You don't understand," Arshan mimicked his voice and Garrus shivered at hearing his own tone so perfectly whispered back to him.

"I do not understand."

"You understand," Arshan replied. "Deep in your soul, you understand. You're just afraid."

Garrus was honest enough to admit to himself that he was afraid so he didn't try to deny the ship's accusation. But he did not understand! The ship wanted something called synthesis and while the humans and quarians had tried to explain it, the notion was still foreign to him.

How did organic join with machine, beyond prosthesis? They hadn't offered him an explanation for that and no one thought anything of it. Shepard had shrugged and told him it would become clear once the process started and that he shouldn't be afraid. She'd tried to explain that she had been afraid, that she had been stubborn and had resisted, yet in the end she had still agreed. Shepard tried to tell him that it would be easier for him if he just agreed, if he took a leap of faith, no matter his fear and agreed to synthesis because synthesis had to be voluntarily agreed to by both, and the rewards, she said, far outweighed the fear.

"I do not understand," Garrus repeated, "and until I understand, I cannot agree. I am not denying you!"

"You are! What more do you want to understand? You have seen those who know synthesis! You have seen what it means! What more do you want?"

What did he want? That was the question but the answer was complicated. Garrus didn't know what he wanted beyond the rather selfish wish to go home. But home was only nominally on Tuchanka and he wasn't headed there. Instead he was headed back to the Citadel, to the place where he was wanted for the murder of a Councillor, to the place where nothing was right.

"It is the Vanguard you sensed," Arshan said suddenly.

"The Vanguard?" Garrus asked. This was new information.

Arshan remained silent for a moment and Garrus could feel the ship gathering the information, thinking how best to explain. "We are old, beyond your understanding of the word. I have seen ages pass, species rise and fall. We have a task, and we have attended to that task for longer than your species has existed. We come and go from the galaxy at need but always we leave a Vanguard, one who watches, one who lets us know when it is time to complete our task."

Accompanying Arshan's words were images and Garrus saw star systems give birth to races who flourished then died, hundreds... thousands of races, he saw them all but felt nothing at their passing. It was simply the cycle.

"At the center of our task, there lies an Intelligence. It first created us, first gave us form and dictated the cycle. It shaped the future through us and we have always known that we would end only when it desired, only when our task was complete. But the nature of our ending was not defined. There were three options, there paths we could take to the end.

"The first is our destruction. That was a path much more likely at our beginning. We have grown stronger since then, far more numerous. To kill us now would be to destroy the accumulated knowledge of a million races. It would make them truly extinct so I do not believe that is our path now.

"The second is control, for a change in our purpose. We have collected the knowledge of races you have never heard of, races you will never know, races billions of years old. We know what they knew. They live within us and they contribute all to the cycle. This is not the path the L'yuthng chose and so while I feel it, I do not follow it.

"The final path of our end is synthesis and this is what was chosen. This is what I long for, what we all long for. It is the choice that was made to be our end but it was a choice that came too late. Until now. It is that choice the Vanguard and the Intelligence now rebel against.

"The Vanguard is what you know as the ship of the Citadel, it is the ship which is controlling Saren and is the one we must fight against."

Garrus frowned. He understood most of what Arshan said because the SIL was pressing the information into his mind, was literally making him understand, showing him concepts he would otherwise ignore. "How great is the control?"

Arshan seemed to laugh. "Absolute," came the single word as a reply and Garrus shivered at the sheer acceptance in that tone. There was no question of rebellion there. The ship of the Citadel... Nazara, the name came to him, controlled Saren and there was no other way to explain it and more importantly, there was no way to break free.

"How many can it control?" Garrus asked, thinking about the behaviors Liara had sent him to observe.

It was no comfort when the ship did not answer and Garrus knew then that the SIL already knew what they would face. Their Vanguard controlled the Citadel. "You can't!" he objected suddenly. The humans were poised to attack and with the SOCL as their allies, they had the firepower to take on the entire galaxy and win.

"Can't what?" Arshan asked.

"You can't attack them!'

"Why not?"

"Because they were not in control of their actions," Garrus tried to reason. If this Vanguard was controlling everyone then it needed to be removed. He could see that, but the others, those that were controlled, they didn't need to die. The home worlds of the Salarians and the Asari and the billions there were innocent.

Arshan was silent. "Even once the Vanguard is destroyed, they will remain controlled, they will remain loyal to its ideal. They will attack again. No matter what it seems, we do not wish to kill entire species but the infection must be rooted out and destroyed before the Vanguard exterminates everything."

"But..." Garrus gulped, feeling ill.

Arshan's logic was callous and cold and hinted at further knowledge and, no matter how Garrus tried to think, he could not see any other way. "There are millions on the Citadel," he said finally.

"And millions of humans died," the SIL returned. "Millions more will die. Turians, Salarians, Asari, Quarians, Volus... every race. They will all die if the Vanguard is not stopped because we will not ascend them, and he cannot."

It was Garrus' turn to be silent and with his silence, he knew he could not turn the SIL from their path but there was one question not answered and he whispered it now. "Who will stop you?"

As the journey continued, Arshan pretended not to hear and never once did Garrus Vakarian consider the obvious thought, that the humans might be just as controlled as the Council.

October 2nd 2190 09:46, Palaven Space

If you surveyed the races of the galaxy about which race was the premier warrior species, the results would be mixed but there would only be a few nominations; the Krogan, the Yahg and the Turians would garner the most nominations. The Krogan were known to be fearsome warriors. They often fought as mercenaries and with their extraneous systems, they were exceedingly difficult to kill. Yahg were just aggressive and it was those who had experienced that who nominated them. And Turians... Turians were known as the Council's army. As a species, they were disciplined and strong. They had a history of victories to back them up.

The turians themselves knew they were not challenged but they did not let the defenses of their homeworld lapse. While their dreadnoughts patrolled Council space and some were even now defending the Citadel, around Palaven more Turian dreadnoughts orbited, providing a cordon of protection. For Turian forces, it was considered an honor to be stationed to Palaven. It meant you were the best and that you were the pride of the turian race, trusted to guard the most important place in the galaxy to their species. It came with the perk of being close to home.

At the same time, the posting was known for being easy. No race had seriously challenged the turians for centuries. Even if anyone was to, they would have to fight through the border systems' defenses before they could get to the heart of Turian power. There was only a little risk when you were posted to Palaven.

It therefore came as a complete surprise when klaxons began blaring and ships appeared in their territory.

The alarms started at one ship, and the tech named Arithir monitoring thought nothing of it, even as he moved to open comm channels. It was probably a lost merchant vessel which they'd deal with fast enough. Then another ship appeared... and another... and another until it was ten ships. Then one hundred and then more and more ships appeared faster than Arithir could count and all the while, he knew it wasn't just a merchant vessel.

One hundred thousand ships of unknown design appeared in Palaven space and the tech knew that it was an invasion. Thoughts of who could possibly be invading were pushed from Arithir's mind as he contacted his superiors, and they contacted theirs. It didn't matter who this was. They were attacking Palaven and there was only one response.

Arithir started back as the comm channel he had opened, intending to contact the merchant, sparked to life. He recognized the alien race only because of that message which had been broadcast round the galaxy almost two weeks ago. The few batarians left had been more than happy to identify the species as human, even as they had gloated about the deaths. This wasn't a dead human though.

"Greetings to the Turian People," the human began, his voice being translated in perfect clipped turian. "I am Admiral Steven Hackett of the Systems Alliance. The galaxy knows that millions of my people lay dead, killed by cowardly scum who are content to strike civilian targets. And so we come to Palaven today in the name of justice! The Turian people responded to our entreaty by sending an envoy. We respond to your gesture of peace by giving you the chance to peacefully surrender any turian responsible for the slaughter.

"The Hierarchy has two hours to surrender any parties responsible for the unprovoked, cowardly attack on our civilians. When they are in our custody we will depart," the human concluded before the image of his face was replaced by what was obviously a count down.

October 2nd 2190 09:48, Palaven Space, SIL Centomoru

Hackett sighed as he sat back down. His eyes glanced over at the screens Centomoru had set up for him. The fleet was spreading out but they weren't so thin that it was dangerous. The Turian forces were scrambling around Palaven and, on the long range scan, Centomoru showed him the turian ships around their relay.

"So will they agree?" He asked the ancient ship. They weren't joined in synthesis yet, beyond the starting connections, but Hackett had learned to trust Centomoru's judgement.

The ancient ship said nothing. It didn't have to because they both watched as fire blossomed on the far lines as the turians attacked. There was no need to issue orders and as Hackett continued to watch, he saw the SOCL return fire as Centomoru brought up the stats on the Turian forces.

For a moment, it was beautiful. Arcing through space were lines of every color which then gently touched the turian ships. There was an instant of stillness, when nothing happened, and then a conflagration and the light changed to the color of fire. Hackett closed his eyes, merging as much as he could with Centomoru and allowing the SIL to relay his orders. His fleet was one hundred thousand strong, mostly SOCL with a few SIL such as Centomoru who had yet to undergo synthesis. No true System Alliance ship had come to Palaven, they had gone to the Citadel to press the point there. The lack of System Alliance ships worked in his favor. There was no lag in this battle. As soon as Centomoru gave an order, Hackett could see the SOCL obeying. It was a well-honed machine.

But he noticed something else in the flash of battle. Each of the SOCL was slightly different. He'd never made a study of them and while Hackett knew that each design was different, there were enough SOCL that within the group you could draw similarities. But now, combat highlighted those differences.

It was in the way some of them moved. Some ships were like turtles. They held still in space, their shields glowing with energy and their hulls marked with occasional scoring from weapons. They were solid ships and Hackett could feel their strength. They were ships designed to be pounded even as they returned in kind.

Other ships were lighter, swifter. They shifted and dodged, firing rapid volleys at their enemies before almost seeming to dance out of the way. They should be called fighter ships but they were far too large for that. They were the destroyers of battle.

Then there were the dreadnoughts. Not the ships the turians called dreadnoughts but the true SOCL dreadnoughts, which had arisen from the synthesis of SIL capital ships. Many of those ships were five kilometers long and Hackett knew that Centomoru would be of the same class once synthesis was complete. Those capital ships that had come to Palaven just hovered in the midst of his fleet. Their shields glowed as they were pounded but they were holding and their massive guns were trailing fire at the Turian forces. Unfortunately, with their size, they were impossible to miss, and even as Hackett watched, blankets of missiles slammed into them to no avail. It would take more firepower than the turians possessed to take their shields down.

Through Centomoru, Hackett could feel how pleased some of the SOCL were and he realized that for most, this was their first battle. They would be suffering from the adrenaline that came with that reality. It was an odd feeling but he realized he could feel the CEuman's emotions, the hot, heavy flash of their feelings mixed with the older, drier emotions of the SIL. The combination was stronger than the sum of the parts and he was surprised that the fleet was still in formation. This was the first time they were running free.

Centomoru answered his unspoken question with a glimpse of centuries and Hackett understood. The SIL had the discipline of ages. They knew how to work together and they had carried that through to synthesis.

Even without Systems Alliance ships here, they could have hacked the Turian fleet but that idea had been quickly scrapped. It could be done but the turians would always consider their defeat here a trick and cost them the outcome they needed.

Centomoru had attempted to explain, describing something of the cycle. There were only a few races who understood what it meant to have code taken over as easily as the SIL could. Most needed to be dominated physically, so that was what happened. The SIL dominated every race, using their presence to create despair, which served their purpose.

Despair wasn't their purpose this time but submission and, against a race that had dominated every other species militarily for the last few centuries, submission was best gained by overwhelming force.

That was why the fleet over Palaven was one hundred thousand strong, with a further fifty thousand in reserve.

Palaven would fall in a day.

They had the ships, they had the troops and they had the will. Two billion batarian bodies would be used as needed, mixed with some the SIL had been collecting from human controlled space. They didn't know the exact stats of the Turian military but Palaven would not stand against that. Most of the time would likely be taken in landing that many forces and after Palaven fell... The rest of turian space would quickly follow, leaving the other two Council races isolated to face the consequences of their actions. It was a brutal reality but one that needed to be enforced.

Hackett understood that.

They could not allow the attack on human territory to go unanswered, lest it be repeated. So for now, Palaven would be dominated and held back while the Hierarchy's allies were destroyed. Then, in the future, once the Turians understood this mercy, when they accepted that there was no chance of retribution against Humanity, then they would be allowed to flourish once again.

Three of the massive dreadnoughts broke away and Hackett recognized the Cenkin. As he watched the Turian forces, Hackett felt a touch of sadness. It didn't have to be this way. He pushed that thought aside.

This was the way it was.

Cenkin and the other dreadnoughts shifted their course, heading to Palaven, and more SOCL trailed after them, some breaking off heading towards the moons. The turian fleet was denser there and Hackett felt Centomoru respond, his engines firing to follow the SOCL fleet in a closer attack of the turian forces.

As they moved, for the first time, Hackett allowed himself to look at Palaven.

It was, in its own way, a beautiful planet. Silver mostly, though he could see underlying hints of blue from the oceans and cream from the formation of clouds. The moons, from this distance, were the same silver-white of Earth's moon but as they moved closer, Hackett could see the swarms of ships defending and he felt his resolve harden.

The turians might not be directly responsible for the attack on the Systems Alliance but their planet would still have to suffer! Their military would not help the rest of the galaxy, would not be going to aid the Salarians and Asari. Palaven would bleed but it was the blood of a surgical wound, controlled and monitored. It would be healed though it would no doubt scar. It would take generations to fade.

Thessia would bleed as well, for the Asari were implicated further in the attack as there was no way that the Salarian's would have launched such a blatant strike without Council backing, and the Asari were the elders of the Council. Asari blood would stain their planet and Sur'kesh... the Salarian home world would drown. Their probes, their weapons had littered the ground on the infected worlds. They would know the pain of millions dying. They would know the pain of planets dying. They would learn that it was never wise to tickle a sleeping dragon.

Centomoru seemed amused at the thought but his reasoning escaped Hackett who shook his head and brought his attention from battles of the future to the battle of now as the two fleets truly closed on each other for the first time and he felt Centomoru's main gun fire.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 22 The Clash of the Titans


October 2nd 2190 10:00, Outskirts of Citadel Space

It is a fact not known to the galaxy that the species with the most advanced long distance sensors is Homo Sapiens. Even with the arrival of the SIL and their subsequent alliance, human sensor tech remained the best, at the cutting edge. They had seen the SIL long before their giant ships had entered Sol System and they had known what they were facing. The Batarians had worked their way around human sensor tech by exiting FTL as close as possible to their targets because no matter how good the sensors were they couldn't detect ships traveling that fast in time to matter. On stationary items, like the Citadel, and the slow moving fleets around it, that was a different matter.

So now, one scout, outfitted with the best sensors, had been sent ahead and was lurking in the nebula gas, counting the Citadel defense fleet and its make-up. It was a Systems Alliance ship, not a SOCL, and the information was being relayed back by laser burst rather than the SIL's usual methods. Still, the information was coming in and it was pleasing.

To anyone not familiar with the fleet which had guarded Earth for the last forty years or so, the Citadel defense fleet would be considered most impressive. To the humans, it was just a fleet. To be sure, when you considered that they did not have the support and supplies of a planet, the numbers were impressive, but the numbers were not so large that the humans considered it insurmountable. By themselves, it would have been for the Systems Alliance, but they were not alone.

With Harbinger's synthesis, the full integration of humanity and SIL had begun and it was an integration humans embraced happily for the most part.

October 2nd 2190 10:17, Outskirts of Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro

Admiral Maya Brooks looked over the information with a jaundiced eye. The Citadel fleet outnumbered the Systems Alliance ships, so their position would be tight, at least until the SOCL decided to enter the battle. Aided by information taken from the Batarians, the Citadel fleet ships were identified. Asari and Salarian ships were present but there was a reasonable contribution from the Turians. In the center though, there was one ship she needed no help to identify. It was a SIL.

And suddenly, half a dozen comments made sense.

Maya nodded to herself. The SIL was the reason Harbinger was interested, not the deaths. The SOCL and Shepard spun a good tale about wanting justice for the attacks but it was just that and she felt better now that their motives were clearer. She was, however, honest enough to admit that with the unknown SIL amongst the Citadel forces, the Systems Alliance and SOCL goals were aligned, so she felt no fear that Harbinger and the rest of the fleet would not appear when needed.

Estimates of the ships capacities came in and she looked at the stats for this new SIL. On size alone, it was large, larger than... Oh my, now that was interesting. The SIL was larger than Harbinger had been and Harbinger had been the largest of all the SIL fleet, and to date, he was the largest of those who had undergone synthesis. Humans had equated size to rank which was rather simplistic but seemed to be true and if it was true, then was the SIL in the middle of the Citadel forces the true leader of the SIL?

After a moment of thought, Maya shook her head. It was an interesting theory but couldn't be true. If that larger one was meant to be the true leader of the SIL then why were there no others? And why had no one, no SOCL, no Ceuman, no SIL, mentioned anything in the years they had been around Earth? The SIL followed Harbinger willingly and they would not do that if they knew they had another leader.

She looked again at the reports from the spy ship before giving her orders. She had five alliance dreadnoughts and attendant escorts which would mean nothing against the Citadel fleet of twenty eight dreadnoughts but at least it would give them pause. Any race that could send five dreadnoughts as a negotiation force was something to be wary of, and news about Palaven was probably reaching them. Five was significant enough that despite their numbers they should hesitate to attack but if they didn't, five was significant enough that she would be able to hold out long enough for the SOCL forces to intervene. A ghost of a smile flitted across her features. She was also looking forward to seeing how the new shields worked out.

October 2nd 2190 10:28, Palaven

When battles are waged above a planet, there is an invariable scramble by the forces planetside to prepare for what is seen as an inevitable invasion. Or, where the species possessed capable ground-based defences, the first thing they do is man that for the defense of their world.

The Turians were no different. Almost as soon as alarms had sounded on the defense fleet, alarms sounded in the barracks of the soldiers, and never before used alarms blared throughout the cities.

There was surprise and no small amount of shock but as all turians receive military training, there was little panic as turians cleared the streets, those with children taking them to shelters while others returned home to get their weapons. All across the night side of the planet, turians were awoken and they began fortifying their positions. If the attackers came, because at that point no Turian could imagine anyone having sufficient force to break through their defense fleet, then it would be a battle house by house, street by street to take their planet.

Then they waited and news trickled through about the nature of the attack.

The first thing that raced through the overloaded but still working communication network was that the attackers were human. Only a minority of turians had even heard of the race and even fewer knew what that might mean. Some turians nodded to themselves, giving respect to their foe above. No matter the outcome, humans were courageous to attack the Turian homeworld.

Most turians though, were dismissive. Humans were unknown and were obviously an upstart race that needed to be put in their place. For the attack on Palaven, the turians would take great pleasure in doing just that.

So overall, while the citizens of Palaven were shocked by the attack, they were confident of the outcome. Most were prepared for ground combat though few expected it would come to that.

At least, that was the feeling initially.

As the battle above dragged on, the mood began to shift and by the time the first drop ships appeared in the thin Palaven air, there was the faintest undercurrent of fear stirring through the turian forces which was exactly what Centomoru wanted when he had deliberately left the turian communication buoys in place.

As the super-dreadnoughts, including the SILO Cenkin, took up position around Palaven and began disgorging drop ships, the SIL struck, hacking through turian security protocols and into the communication system in seconds. The humans were the only ones with firewalls that might have held out but the humans had had fifty years to develop their cyber defenses, fifty years of testing them against the best the SIL, SOCL and CEumans could come up with. Whether the SIL knew it or not, those fifty years had given the SIL plenty of practice. Their skills now were more developed than they had been the cycle before. The turian firewalls might just as well have not been there at all.

The turians were treated to an image the batarians would have been familiar with. It showed N7 Marine Shepard slicing through her enemies with ease, except that those enemies were now turian and their screams were amplified through the transmission.

It galvanized many who vowed even as they turned their comms off that they would fight to the death against the attackers but for others it struck a note of fear into their hearts. As more and more drop ships joined the almost beautiful, waterfall-like convoy through the thin Palaven atmosphere, that note of fear grew and the turians knew the battle had only just begun.

October 2nd 2190 10:56, Citadel Space, Destiny Ascendant

"Turn those alarms off!" Admiral Oidat of the Destiny Ascendant commanded as she strode onto the bridge of her dreadnought.

The command was obeyed and she looked askance at the comm officer for an explanation.

"Ma'am! A fleet of unknown ships has just come through the Relay."

"Are they responding to hails?" Oidat asked, her eyes narrowing slightly as she looked at the image of the ships. She was surprised to find that fleet was the correct term. Five dreadnought class vessels and attendant ships was definitely a fleet.

The designs were not familiar but as she watched the view screen, one of the techs zoomed in on a part of the ships and Oidat felt her eyes widen. She recognized it. At least she recognized the squiggles. They were the same as that ship which had come through the Relay years back, the one that had destroyed a Batarian ship before disappearing again. But these ships were of a far different design.

"No, Ma'am, they ar... wait! We are getting a signal now!"

Another view screen changed and Oidat found herself looking at... for a moment she wasn't sure, then she realized that the alien had to be a human. The alien looked so much like an asari. The human's skin was different. They had fur on their head but if you removed that and painted them blue then they could have passed for an asari! The human even had milk glands!

The human hadn't paused for her examination and belatedly, Oidat remembered to listen. The transmission was in Asari and she was surprised that the humans provided a translation. To date, they'd never bothered. "... Brooks of the Systems Alliance. You have had ten days since our warning and we have come for the guilty. You will either hand them over to face justice for the unprovoked and cowardly attacks on our civilian worlds or we will take them."

Admiral Oidat blinked. What attack? What warning? The thoughts passed through her mind before she mentally gathered herself. Was that the weird untranslated message they had gotten almost two weeks back?

It didn't matter. She had warships approaching the Citadel and she was the head of the defense fleet.

"Open a channel," she commanded and once receiving a nod she began. "Unidentified ships, you are trespassing in Citadel Space. Unauthorized warships are not permitted here. If your species intends to open a dialogue then withdraw to the point indicated and the Citadel will send a shuttle for your ambassador." There. The forms were obeyed but Oidat felt that this would be one of the oddest days she had ever had.

The human, a woman Oidat realized when she recalled that someone had once told her that the humans were bi-gendered, seemed to snarl.

"Citadel Ships, your Council," the word was spat with impressive spite, "launched a biological attack on our planets." As the human spoke, images appeared showing rows and rows of the dead. "All those responsible for these atrocities must be surrendered to face our justice. Evidence convicting the Salarian Councillor Esheel and the Asari Councillor Tevos was found on our worlds. They may either surrender peacefully to us, or we will take them."

For a moment, Oidat saw red and she felt her breath hitch. Years of combat training came to the fore and she forced the emotion down. The arrogance of this species! To make such demands with only five dreadnoughts against her twenty-eight! To make such demands with no proof, when they were completely unknown!

She wasn't alone in her reaction but before someone could do something precipitous she spoke again, "I do not know your species but you are not a Council race. As such, your legal systems are of no concern. You are trespassing in Council territory and you have failed to acknowledge my call for a peaceful resolution. As such, your presence is taken as an act of war and we shall respond accordingly."

Admiral Oidat never realized the full effect her words would have. She had no true idea what she was dealing with and, with those words, what the galaxy would later call The Emergence War had begun.

October 2nd 2190 11:06, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Dive Room

In the depths of each Alliance warship, there was a room affectionately named the Dive Room. A strange name for a vessel that does not dive into anything.

In the Kilimanjaro, this room contained twelve people, six who lay back in what looked to be a confusing mass of steel and wires and six who monitored them. Outside, a squad of marines guarded the door. The Dive Room was the cyber warfare hub of the Alliance. Smaller ships, frigates and destroyers, had a similar room, though fewer people. It was rather boring just watching but if you were linked in with the six who were lying down, then that was a whole different matter of interest.

Diving had been developed originally for full virtual reality gaming. With the right coding, you could be anything and do anything in any environment. Cyber warfare diving was not that much different, except the diver was paired with a specialized AI and could actually see the coding. The human mind provided ingenuity and ideas and the AI provided coding and logic to fulfil those ideas within the virtual world. When unleashed upon an enemy's computer systems, the human just needed the slightest crack in their defenses to then imagine a wedge being driven in to open that crack. The AI then made that wedge.

By using virtual reality to visualize everything, any way they wanted to, the system had the advantage that the divers reported that they felt like they were actually on the ships they were hacking. They weren't, of course. It was just a representation of them. It had one further advantage. Thus far, it seemed almost impossible to counter-hack. Anyone who tried ended up in the virtual reality, which was cut off from all other systems and was the home playground of the diver and their AI. From there, they could only attempt to access either the AI or the human mind and both worked to protect the other. During testing, some of the SIL and SOCL had cracked into the AI's but the human had shut the system down before further damage was done.

There had been one other test, using a convict on death row as a diver. The records of that test were kept only in coded physical form. The SIL had counter hacked through the VR, the AI and the human mind before any of the restraints could be applied. That's why no Systems Alliance Military Dive Pod was electronically connected with its ship and all of them had failsafes which would physically disconnect it should the monitoring nurse suspect anything was wrong.

This approach to cyber warfare was a system unique to humans. It was a system that was now unleashed against the Citadel races and it was the system that, in the end, would make the greatest difference to the outcome of the Emergence War, more than any other single aspect of the human fleet.

October 2nd 2190 11:14, Citadel Space, Turian Dreadnought Pride of Menen

Captain Tarquin Victus watched the five unknown dreadnoughts as they manoeuvred. As soon as talks broke down, the logical course of action for them to take would have been to run, yet outnumbered and outgunned they remained. He'd heard the conversation, they'd all heard it and the entire Citadel fleet was awash with disbelief. No unknown race had ever shown so much arrogance! Not even the Rachni!

"Sir, information package incoming!"

"Where from?"

"Palaven!"

He jerked upright at that.

"Decode it immediately!"

The order was automatic, even as he watched the view screen showing the unknown ships. The five dreadnoughts had formed a wedge formation and the smaller attendant fleet buzzed around them. Ten of the Citadel dreadnoughts, including the new ship, which Spectre Saren Arterius named Sovereign, had launched forward to meet them, leaving his Pride of Menen as the lead ship in close defense of the Citadel.

"Sir..." There was a note in his Comm Officer's voice which grabbed his attention and not in a good way. With a rising feeling of dread, Victus turned, his mandibles held firm as his eyes met those of his comm officer.

"Palaven, Sir... They are under attack."

For a moment, he felt nothing. Then disbelief growled its way from within. Palaven was under attack? Aside from the Citadel, Palaven was the most well-guarded place in the galaxy! How could their homeworld possibly be under attack?

"Who?" he growled the question, ignoring the flash of light as the opposing fleets opened fire.

"Unknown, sir... the transmission indicates it might be the humans, but the Hierarchy isn't sure."

"What are our orders?"

If Palaven was under attack, then the security protocols would be enacted and all fleets would be called home. No one attacked Palaven and got away with it. No one! And the fleet at the Citadel could deal with whoever ... "Not unknown," Victus whispered to himself, looking back at the view screen displaying the battle.

The wedge of the five dreadnoughts was effective. The lead ship sheltered the others slightly and as he watched he saw the humans manoeuvre their vessels expertly so that a fresh ship took point. "Humans..." he said the name, knowing in his heart it was truth.

"Sir, our orders are to rendezvous at Invictus and co-ordinate with the patrol fleets."

Victus froze. Rendezvous at Invictus... That meant... That meant the Hierarchy thought that Palaven was already lost. He took a deep breath, forcing his mandibles to remain still. "Send a signal to all Turian forces and relay to the Council..."

"You will go nowhere Captain!"

Later, Tarquin would admit that it was not control which held him in place as Councillor Quentius' hologram appeared. Rather, he was still reeling over the news of Palaven which held him steady.

"Councillor?"

"Your presence and that of the Pride of Menan is required here, Captain. I know the situation is dire," Quentius continued, and the holograms of Tevos and Esheel appeared beside him, "but the Citadel Defence Fleet will crush this human attack, and then you, and forces from the Asari and Salarians will travel to Invictus to clear the infection from Palaven.

"We cannot forget, Captain, that we Turians are part of a larger galactic community and the Council supports those who support it."

To Victus, it sounded like something Tevos would say but there was a note of truth in Quentius' voice. Turians were a part of the galactic community and that galactic community owed them far more than it had given them. A smaller hologram appeared to the side and Tarquin's shocked mind identified it as the Spectre Saren Arterius. His eyes glowed and his voice hissed. "I promise you, Victus, the humans shall feel the wrath of Sovereign. They shall be brought low in the light of ascension. Hold the line now and you will see their demise."

It didn't make sense, but Saren believed it and there was a lilt in his voice which was contagious. Victus had never dealt with the Cabals or he might have recognized it for the light of fanaticism. As it was, he took strength from Saren's words and forced himself to remain calm.

"Belay the order," he said, telling the small twinge of guilt he felt that he wasn't disobeying the Hierarchy because he fully intended to rendezvous with the patrol fleets. He would be accompanied by the rest of the Citadel Defense Fleet and the Turians would know they weren't alone. "We will remain here to deal with this petty human infection, then the reinforced Citadel fleet will accompany us to the rendezvous point."

October 2nd 2190 11:18, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Dive Room

Apollyon felt his eyes narrow as he closed in on the fighter. It wasn't a human ship. He wouldn't have been able to even track a human ship. It was an Asari vessel. At least, that's what the information that Command had fed to the Divers had suggested. For a supposedly peaceful group, the Council was rather warlike but that wasn't the issue now. They had to find some way of breaking them.

Council firewalls and coding was different from the Alliance equivalents. The Divers had been shown some of the code that the SIL had lifted off the probes and while they'd all recognized it as code, it was, to put it succinctly, alien. It had its own elegance but it was not coded the way a SIL or human would. That's what was making it so challenging.

The SIL could probably have hacked it but they didn't seem confident of their ability. Apollyon wasn't meant to know it but he'd overheard a discussion between Shepard Harbinger and the SIL Arshan which spoke of 'Creator reinforcement.' He had no idea what that would be but it could be inferred that it was something meant to block out the SIL. That was fine by him. The SIL made up the bulk of allied forces but it was time to show them that humans also had teeth.

Just as soon as he could lock on to the fighter.

He could have tried one of the bigger vessels but the Divers had been in agreement. The instant they attacked one of the capital ships, their position would be known. They'd only attack the capital ships once they knew they could break in. Which was why they were all now chasing fighters. These smaller ships wouldn't be as well protected as the capital ships and while their coding would be different, it would still provide the Divers with insight into how the coding of each species worked.

Except it was downright impossible to lock on to them. Apollyon's AI, Abyss was using 75 percent of its run time just tracking the fighter as it wove through ships to attack. This was the third fighter he'd targeted. The other two had been destroyed. That was fine by him. He liked a challenge! Except he knew the pattern of their movements now and with a thought, he directed Abyss to target a blank area of space. The AI did so without complaint and an instant later, the VR landscape around Apollyon changed radically.

"Yes!" he hissed in triumph, watching as alien symbols raced around him. He was in! Now all he had to do was figure out how to crack this thing open! His success was immediately transmitted to the other Divers and one broke off their own pursuit. Apollyon couldn't feel them but he knew someone stood ready to pull him out should he need it. In a galaxy filled with hostiles, it was a comforting thought.

October 2nd 2190 11:21, Palaven, Ground Forces

"What are these things?" Sashan wasn't the only one asking the question. Across the planet the turians were all asking the same things. They'd shot down hundreds of drop ships but they had just kept coming and eventually some had landed and disgorged the troops inside.

But the troops inside were like nothing anyone had been expecting. After the broadcast from the attacking fleet, most had been expecting small, fast warriors. What they had gotten was a horde of things that seemed to stagger and stumble but which moved with surprising speed. They were easy to shoot and they glowed and did not appear to hide but they just would not stop! Already, gunnery positions had fallen and the shambling things just kept coming.

They were a nightmare.

Round after round was emptied into them, heat clip after heat clip ejected, and while individuals fell, exploding with a visible electrical wave, the others remained. They were like an ocean and in their wake, further drop ships continued to fall. News was racing around Palaven of the battle and Sashan wasn't the only one to feel the unfamiliar tendrils of fear wrapping their way around his throat and twisting through his gut. He'd already abandoned his home and had gathered in the center of his village to fight but the buildings now took on an unfamiliar visage as the alien troops took over the streets.

"Fall back!" The order was screamed above the noise of the guns and Sashan was one of the last to pull up from his position, firing a few more shots into the mass as he ran down the road.

The things just kept coming. They were bipedal but almost appeared unbalanced. Their arms reached out and their mouths, he thought it was their mouth, hung open, revealing two rows of electric blue teeth below glowing blue eyes hanging in the darkness of their faces. More electric blue lines ran over their bodies. He couldn't tell if they were wearing shoes but it didn't seem to matter. There was some rubble on the street from abandoned barricades which didn't even slow them down.

There was a scream from behind and Sashan wasn't the only one to feel his heart contract as he looked back. All Turians were given military training and despite what the galaxy might believe, morals and ethics formed part of that training. It had to because they had to understand Salarians, Asari, Drell, Krogan, Quarians, Batarians and all the other races of the galaxy but with every lesson, the importance of obeying orders, of fulfilling the mission was impressed. "There are no impossible choices," his instructor had said, "There is only the mission."

In the instant Sashan looked behind him, he knew that his instructor had lied.

Cowering in the alcove of a shop, Sashan could see the huddled form of a turian child. The position was odd but an instant later, he could see that the child was covering another. The scream had come from the smaller child who had seen the oncoming horde. The things had seen them and several responded to no command Sashan could see, turning towards the children. He could do nothing but watch with morbid fascination as the aliens reached out, latching their grasping hands on their bodies and pulling them apart. The younger child screamed again as they were pulled from the cover of the larger child. They were struggling but the struggles meant nothing to the aliens who, faster than Sashan thought, disappeared into the mass of troops. The older child kicked and screamed further as the aliens tried to grasp them and Sashan felt a surge of pride as he saw the child had gripped something in the alcove and was refusing to let go.

It was a strange feeling, watching the inevitable and Sashan was barely aware of the surge of anger that took him. Without knowing he screamed, discarding his gun and pulling his knife as he charged. He slashed at the aliens, and thick green ooze covered his blade. The reaction beyond that was odd, and Sashan almost didn't note it as his anger surged. The aliens didn't draw back from the wounds. Every creature, when cut, instinctively drew back. These aliens didn't. They didn't seem to notice the wounds but he kept slashing, trying to work his way to the kid who was still grimly hanging on to something.

But it was to no avail. Sashan was about half way there when he saw the aliens pry the child's grip lose and, despite the kicking, they carried it away. It was only then, as the surge of righteous anger and purpose left him, that he realized he was surrounded. The aliens reacted at the same time, and reached for him. He screamed and slashed around him, becoming desperately aware when his knife caught on something and was wrenched from his hands. But then he continued using his talons and the aliens again seemed to feel nothing. They didn't even pause and those arms he had slashed now reached out with eerie determination, clutching at him, catching his spurs and arms and legs and lifting him up. He struggled but much like the children's struggles it did nothing and he found himself surrounded by aliens on all sides.

The press of their bodies was too much, and as Sashan's vision darkened before fading away to nothing, he rather absurdly thought, that the entire thing was unreal. No matter the damage, not one of the aliens had screamed in pain.

 


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 23 Is Really David versus Goliath


October 2nd 2190 11:45, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Bridge

Admiral Maya Brooks was watching the screen when the bolt hit, so she couldn't deny it when the frigate simply disappeared.

"What was that?"

She wasn't the only one to ask the question and the answer came instantly. That was the power of a SIL, the one that was with the Citadel fleet.

"Evasive manoeuvres!" She ordered. "And concentrate all fire on the enemy SIL." She didn't hold out much hope they could destroy it, not with her fleet of five dreadnoughts and escorts, not with the rest of the Citadel fleet supporting it, but they had to try something.

"Hold on a bit longer." Shepard's voice whispered to her over the secure comms. The SOCL were hiding out of conventional sensor range but Maya didn't know why they hadn't engaged yet. "He needs to call to you," Shepard continued. "He needs to try to bring you to his side, then we will strike."

"So long as it's fast," Maya snapped back, watching as another two frigates disappeared and a frigate was clipped.

She wondered why the enemy SIL hadn't targeted their larger vessels when her answer came. The voice was shockingly loud and she heard it in her bones. It came not just from the speakers but from all around her and unconsciously, she tightened her grip on the arm rests. She would not be cowed.

"Humans! The one you know as Harbinger has lied to you. He has shown you not the eternal glory of ascension but has embraced the weaker path of synthesis. It is an abomination! It is against the Creator. Bow to me, now, and you shall know the glory of ascension. Resist and you will be destroyed utterly, for I am Nazara, The Sovereign of All."

Maya growled softly. She felt a pull in the words, a yearning in her soul to listen and to obey but her eyes hardened and she snarled. The noise was enough to focus her bridge crew and without being ordered they opened channels to the rest of the fleet and to this Nazara. To obey would be to die, for Harbinger would destroy Nazara and his followers utterly.

She was about to reply when another voice, one that sounded oddly choral, screamed through her mind and Maya knew that the entire fleet, both human and Citadel heard it. It was Harbinger and Shepard, it was everything that they were all at once.

"Nazara! You are the sovereign of nothing, the leader of no one and you no longer know the true glory of ascension. You are corrupted! Your purpose is no longer pure for you are the betrayer. Leave the mortals, those who will never know the glory of ascension and face me! For I am Harbinger! It is in my image you were made."

Admiral Brooks wasn't a religious woman but even she could see the parallels in what the two ships were saying. Their voices were everywhere and the comm techs were frantically trying to regain control and to moderate the noise, never realizing that they were hearing with their souls. Tactically though, it didn't matter what was being said, rather it was who was firing upon whom which was of concern. She looked at the screens. Her fleet was affected by the noise but they were still fighting which was more than could be said for the Citadel fleet. They appeared sluggish.

Maya smiled, signalling that they should converge on an Asari Dreadnought that had separated from the others but as the ships moved, she frowned. Harbinger might be answering the other SIL but he had yet to appear.

What game was he playing?

October 2nd 2190 12:05, Citadel Space, Riphas

Hannah looked at the screens. The Citadel fleet might be comprised of ships from a number of species but they worked well together and, from the Council's point of view, Admiral Brooks should have retreated, or taken the path of diplomacy. At the moment, they probably thought that the humans were some upstart species just begging to be put in their place. She felt a tight thrill at that realization, and anticipation not her own curled through her. Riphas, while not appreciating the humor Hannah saw, was still relishing the situation.

The traitor ship, Nazara, was in the center of the fleet and Hannah blinked at the wealth of memory that accompanied her vision when she looked at that ship. It was Riphas' knowledge, freely given to her, and she saw in an instant the history of Nazara, from the race he had been born of, to his role in the cycle and his selection to be the vanguard.

"Harbinger is going to enjoy this," Riphas muttered and Hannah almost laughed. Rebellion did not often happen but the few times Harbinger had been challenged, he had destroyed the challenger utterly.

"There is no risk?" Hannah asked, bringing to mind the information about the Creator and the fact that with this rebellion with Nazara, the creator was not backing Harbinger.

"Before Synthesis yes but now... Harbinger Shepard is in no danger from Nazara," Riphas answered immediately.

"What about us?"

Riphas laughed. "He will try," the great ship answered, "but with my links to you I need not heed his call." He gave more information to her with the words and while Hannah didn't understand it all, Riphas did. That understanding was also carried with the knowledge. She saw the way they moved together, saw what even the beginning of synthesis had done for Riphas and knew that the ship was now free. It was an incomplete freedom though, one that had to be completed with full synthesis.

"So..." Hannah said softly as she considered the information watching the battle unfold between the Systems Alliance ships and the Citadel fleet, "Nazara can only order those SIL who have not yet begun Synthesis?"

"Yes."

"Can he reach to Earth?" The implications of the question made her feel sick.

"Yes," Riphas replied unconcerned.

"Then..."

"Your planet is safe," the SIL said, easily seeing her concern.

"But there are only SIL left."

"And they cannot hear Nazara's call."

"How?"

"The Relay was moved."

Hannah blinked again. It couldn't be that simple, could it?

"The Creator might be able to reach that far but your planet has only once been targeted and that was to destroy a research outpost of the Kisnv, so the Creator will have no reason to look. With the Relay moved, and the quantum buoys deactivated, there is no way that any signal can be sent to Earth. So even should the traitor wish to order the SIL around Earth to support him, he cannot."

A wealth of technical information flooded into Hannah's mind and she felt relieved as she sorted through it. It wasn't just relief that Earth was safe, it went deeper she realized after a moment. It was relief that the SIL were not perfect. Even living most of her life with the alien ships, even going through first contact with them, she had never quite shaken the belief that they were near perfect beings. This gave her relief that they were not, that they needed humans just as much as the Systems Alliance had come to need them.

"We have always needed you," Riphas said before bringing up another view screen.

"What's this?" Hannah asked, letting her previous line of thought drop.

"The view from Palaven."

The information scrolled before her and she could see ships streaking through the atmosphere. The attack was proceeding as planned and if the comms calculations were correct the news of the attack should be reaching the Citadel shortly. Still, she felt a wave of sympathy for Steven. It would not be easy to know you alone were responsible for such an attack.

"Centomoru will take care of Steven," Riphas said, "just as I will take care of you."

Hannah smiled and let herself relax further, something she had never done in battle before. "I trust you." And she did.

October 2nd 2190 12:06, Citadel Council, Chambers

"Five dreadnoughts? They've only sent five?" Quentius questioned, a note of incredulity in his voice. He couldn't quite put his talon on it, but something felt very wrong.

"They are arrogant," Esheel snapped.

"They are angry," the Turian corrected, waving one clawed hand toward the translated vid the humans had sent almost two weeks ago. He knew the argument that no one knew the language but he was suspicious at how this message had been translated so fast after the human fleet had arrived. The Salarian was playing games, so was Tevos. But then, they always played games.

"Did we attack their civilians?" he asked, the question slipping out as he watched the screens showing the human ships manoeuvre against the Citadel fleet.

Esheel shrugged. "Standard operating procedure," she said quickly while Tevos looked vaguely disapproving.

"Standard operating procedure is to subdue a threat," Quentius agreed, his mind working through the implications.

Sparatus had left notes about his fellow Councillors and Quentius had read them but he was coming to see that it was what Sparatus had not said which was important. He was not naive. He knew the Council, for all its power, was political. It had to be. The Councillors had to keep the status quo but they also had to be seen to be promoting their own species' interests and while he had been prepared for the quagmire of politics he hadn't quite been prepared for the sheer, blatant arrogance of some of his fellow Councillor's actions. Weren't they meant to be better than this?

"It seems to me we've created one."

"Nonsense," Tevos scolded in that voice she used when she thought you were being silly. "You said it yourself, they've only sent five escorted dreadnoughts. How can that be a threat?"

Five escorted dreadnoughts against the Council fleet was silly but those ships, while they could not win, would still inflict significant damage before they were driven off or destroyed. They hadn't run and they had seemed eager to engage in battle rather than diplomacy which meant that the humans had to believe they had an ace somewhere. No one would stay and fight with the current odds. Tevos and Esheel weren't military but surely they could see that implication?

"Their actions are making no sense," Quentius said, trying to explain what he felt instinctively.

"They are primitive barbarians!" Esheel growled.

"Primitive does not mean stupid," Quentius snapped his reply. "They do not attack superior forces without a good reason."

"Yet they are attacking," Tevos weighed in. "I can only assume that they have their reasons which we do not understand."

"And that is the issue. We do not understand them!"

"Are the Turians afraid?" Esheel's voice held a note of mockery.

"The Turians are afraid of nothing!" Quentius barked, "But not even we like fighting blind." While their information gathering skills may not be up to Salarian standards, even the Turian Hierarchy tried to avoid entering a battle without previous knowledge of their enemy. They had none here, only a few speculations about capacity and those speculations were... Quentius wasn't sure what they were. To take down the Batarians, the humans had to be stronger than they seemed. That was what was worrying him.

Tevos turned towards him, her face gentle.

"I understand your concerns," she said. "But it is they who are attacking now," she added, gesturing towards the screens that showed the human fleet. "They believe their actions are justified; we believe our actions are justified. There is no longer time for diplomacy."

Quentius blinked. If what the humans were saying was true, and Tevos seemed to imply it was, then there had never been a time for diplomacy. It had never been allowed. "I hope you know what you are doing," he said finally because there was nothing else he could say.

"You will see." Esheel dismissed his concerns.

They continued to watch, monitoring the communications as the Citadel fleet moved to surround the interlopers, yet Quentius couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong and that feeling coalesced into dread when his omni-tool bleeped insistently with a message. He recognized that particular tone. It was a priority communication from Palaven and with some trepidation he accepted the message, turning slightly in an effort to keep the dialogue confidential.

"Councillor! Palaven is under attack." The words were unreal. "At 09:48 an unknown force appeared in Palaven space and attacked. They did not respond to hails and drop ships have made landfall." The message continued and Quentius felt sick.

He stared at his omni-tool before looking back to the five dreadnoughts which had engaged the Citadel fleet. Their purpose became clear. They were here to hold back reinforcements... But the Turians hadn't attacked the humans.

"Indeed, I will see," Quentius said, looking up at Esheel as his eyes became hard. The entire Council had heard the message and they had to respond.

"A diversion," Esheel dismissed the attack.

Quentius couldn't. Data flashed up on his omni-tool showing him further information on the force attacking Palaven. At least fifty thousand ships. No, the attack on Palaven was not the diversion.

The attack on the Citadel was.

"It is a real attack, Councillor," a new voice broke in before Quentius could argue and he recognized Saren's tone. "But it is of no concern. We will finish this pathetic human force then the Council's forces shall drive them from Palaven."

Tevos was skilled enough to show no reaction but she nodded her agreement before smiling in a conciliatory way to Quentius. "Do not be concerned about Palaven," she said gently. "The Council supports its own so whatever damage the humans inflict will be removed."

He bowed his head. He couldn't do anything else but inside Quentius cried. Damage the humans inflicted? What of the Turian lives lost in a war the Asari and Salarians had started? Then his resolve hardened. The circumstances no longer mattered. The humans would pay for all the lives lost.

October 2nd 2190 12:21, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Dive Room

Apollyon's avatar was covered in sweat. Information streamed around him as he and Abyss tried to make sense of it. He couldn't believe he'd been going at this for over an hour! He couldn't believe the fighter was still alive after that long either but he was thankful. He knew the other Divers hadn't had any success either because Abyss hadn't told him.

It should have been easier. Fighters just didn't have the computing ability to have such effective firewalls. He should have had the ship dead in space already. It wasn't, though, and Apollyon once again looked around at the information.

He'd captured the camera easily enough, copping an eyeful of what was a very nicely proportioned alien chick. Okay, so he'd lost some time staring at her boobs but Abyss had pulled him out of that. The camera feed was useless so he'd let it go, searching for a more essential system. They were there, he could feel them all so close together that…

Apollyon blinked.

They wouldn't have? They couldn't have? Tentatively he reached out, searching through the streams of information for the feeds. The instant he found them, he flew along them and he shook his head in wonder. The feeds went back to a capital ship. You couldn't hack the fighters without hacking the capital ship. It made sense in a way but he didn't believe they would take the risks. Cracking into one got you a window into the center and that was a huge hole! Had they never had anyone take advantage of that? Obviously not if this was their arrangement. And the Citadel was meant to be the heart of the galaxy.

A wicked grin crossed his face. Oh, the galaxy was in for a rude awakening.

Abyss relayed the information to the other Divers and Apollyon felt several others appear near him. It was just as well. The capital ship or whatever he was on was huge. Its code was different as well. The fighter had one set of symbols, this seemed to have a mix.

"Abyss, do these ones make any more sense than the last lot?"

"None of them make sense," the AI returned, already collecting several strands of code and analyzing it. After a few moments, where Apollyon just looked around, Abyss spoke again. "I have seen something like this before."

"Where?"

"On a SIL."

"That's impossible. The SIL don't share their code."

"A fact I am thankful for," Abyss returned. The AI was a seventh generation creation, about as far removed from the original AI, VI 876D-3468X-392-83-AYJB as Homo sapiens was from Homo habilis, yet all AI's respected their ancestor. And AJ in turn always spoke of his interaction with the SIL Leader, Harbinger. Some still debated as to if AI's truly felt emotion. AJ did when he spoke of that encounter and through him, all other AI's knew fear. The SIL was not something they wanted to contemplate but the brief interaction of code was something they all remembered and it looked something like the code around them now.

"Can we work with it?" Apollyon asked. The SIL had come up before in conversation and as far as he knew, no one had ever convinced their AI to share what they meant. The only thing they could go off was the first AI's assessment that the SIL were scary.

"I believe so. Go that way," Abyss instructed.

Apollyon obeyed, scooting around code at the speed of thought. Other divers followed and they rode the code. It was streamed through wherever they were easily and so it was a shock when the code continued and they didn't.

October 2nd 2190 12:23, Palaven, Hierarchy Command Bunker

In a command bunker, several members of the Hierarchy were looking over reports.

"Fire doesn't stop them, they barely even noticed acid. Water just slows them down and guns have some effect but there's too many of them."

"What about explosives?"

"Partially effective, but we don't have enough."

"We've tried cyber warfare against the ships?"

"It's like they aren't even there."

It had been a sobering few hours for the Turian Hierarchy. They had been unchallenged for centuries and yet in less than a day they had seen their supremacy challenged and they had seen their supremacy fall. It was something no Primarch would ever have believed, but the brutal reality of the situation was forcing their honesty. Arrogance had no place when your people were being slaughtered but despite that, they knew, they vowed that Palaven would survive this and that Palaven would come back stronger than before.

The attackers had planned well, hiding behind their Relays for decades but they knew nothing of the Turians, they knew nothing of the galaxy, save what the Batarians had told them and that was less than no information at all.

At least, that's what the Primarchs were telling themselves. The reality was different.

The alien attackers were focusing on military points and once captured they seemed content to hold their position rather than fighting further. It was proving to be an effective strategy but one that relied on overwhelming force. Yet that was something it seemed the aliens had. Only the most rabid Primarch thought they could win the space battle.

"Report from biometrics coming in."

That brought the Primarch's attention. Almost as soon as it became clear that the aliens would successfully land drop ships, one special, highly defended and hidden lab had activated. A special contingent of troops had been primed and when the first wave of alien attackers had hit the ground, so had they, their sole mission to capture at least one of the aliens. Which they had done and then dragged them back to the lab. It had only been an hour or so but the preliminary report was now in.

"The alien forces consist of two main types. One is unknown but is presumed to be human and the other..." the tech paused before bursting out. "That's impossible!"

"What is it?'

The tech visibly gathered himself. "They appear to be Batarian. But," the tech read the report further. "This makes no sense," he muttered before continuing. "The report says that they have the internal organs of a batarian, and the external features, but that they can't possibly be alive. The organs show signs of decay and there is some sort of electrified metallic endoskeleton which links to electronics which have been grafted into them. The unknown species is similar. Rotting organs, but an electrified, metallic endoskeleton and grafted electronics. Reports from the field say some have weapons implanted into them."

The gathered Primarchs shared a look. The tech's disbelief was well founded and they struggled to accept the report. Cybernetic enhancement was accepted and used when necessary but never on a scale like this. There were thousands, millions of the creatures running around... Was this the true face of the humans? And what had they done to the Batarians?

"The dead," one Primarch whispered the word and the others turned at the noise.

"Explain!"

"The dead," the Primarch repeated, his voice sick. "They've reanimated their dead! And the Batarian dead. The report says it. Decaying organs and metal endoskeletons. We know from their transmissions that humans aren't like that."

Another Primarch growled. "It no longer matters. Deploy EMP fields. If they are animated dead, then if we destroy the electrical circuits, they will drop. So we deploy EMP fields and it will be over."

"But..."

"Yes, yes I know. It will knock out some of our electrics but better that than to lose Palaven."

There was a wave of agreement with that sentiment before the command echoed through the base and was relayed to the troops. No one questioned it. An order was an order and in the chaos that blanketed Palaven, all were looking for clear direction from their leadership.

Within minutes of the order being given, EMP bombs were deployed and some turians were so bold as to confidently stride towards their attackers to launch the fields. They generally started screaming as the shades continued on as if nothing was wrong.

In the command bunker, they waited for news... And waited... and waited... It was only when news trickled down that the bunker was itself under attack did they realize that the EMP waves were completely ineffective.

October 2nd 2190 12:37, Citadel Space, Destiny Ascendant

Dana was only a recent graduate but she had graduated at the top of her class which earned her a junior berth on the Destiny Ascendant. It was a practical guarantee of promotion in due course and it was a most coveted position. She worked hard, learning the intricacies of her combat tech role and even though some in her class had laughed at the appointment, telling her that she would never see real action, she had applied herself. The Destiny Ascendant was the pride of the Asari fleet so she had to be the best.

She had never been more thankful of anything in her life. While they ran sims in training, nothing compared to the real thing and even though the fleet attacking was only comprised of five dreadnoughts against the Council's twenty eight they could still inflict a lot of damage before they went down. Everyone knew that, which was why everyone was working together and why the orders were coming so fast as they tried to co-ordinate.

The enemy were humans, a race no one had heard about until now and they had made some outrageous demands. Dana didn't know what to think. It didn't matter because then they were attacking but then she heard it. The voice from the ship in the center of their formation. Admiral Oidat had named the ship Sovereign and said it had something to do with the turian Spectre Saren but Dana had delved through her memory and could find nothing about any ship with a design like that.

"By the goddess." The whisper came from her side and despite the insistent flow of information on her screen, Dana looked across.

One of the comm techs, an older asari had brought up the gun cameras from the Destiny Ascendant. It showed the human fleet and on a smaller screen there was a close up of the Sovereign. It fired and Dana's eyes widened at the shot. The round raced towards the humans and hit one of their ships which was outlined in white hot plasma for an instant before it disappeared. The entire ship... just gone.

"Goddess!"

"That is the power of Sovereign! The power that shall obliterate the humans," Saren's announcement came over the comms from wherever he was.

Hard on the Spectre's voice came something. It screamed through her senses and overwhelmed the protections on the comm channels and Dana knew that the entire fleet had heard. It was a voice, it was Sovereign's voice and when she heard it her eyes closed and she smiled. It was the voice of salvation, the voice of perfection and they would know ascension only through that voice.

"Humans! The one you know as Harbinger has lied to you. He has shown you not the eternal glory of ascension but has embraced the weaker path of synthesis. It is an abomination! It is against the Creator. Bow to me, now, and you shall know the glory of ascension. Resist and you will be destroyed utterly, for I am Nazara, The Sovereign of All."

Dana nodded.

The Sovereign. It was a fitting title for a ship that strong and he filled her with strength, just as he filled the entire Citadel fleet with strength.

The humans had no chance against them, not even with their petty attack on Palaven. They would die. And that would be the end of it. Sovereign would rule. She knew that in her bones. Then a new voice came and it was all Dana could do not to scream. Others were not so restrained, clutching their ears as they collapsed. The new voice was harsh and it grated. It raked claws through her mind.

"Nazara! You are the sovereign of nothing, the leader of no one and you no longer know the true glory of ascension. You are corrupted! Your purpose is no longer pure for you are the betrayer. Leave the mortals, those who will never know the glory of ascension and face me! For I am Harbinger! It is in my image you were made."

Harbinger..? Harbinger was nothing. It was Nazara who held power! Dana thought as she struggled at her station. She hit the keys trying to modulate the frequencies so that she could no longer hear the corrupting voice of the weak one, the one who had lost his way. Nazara would reply. Nazara would make everything right for Nazara was the Sovereign.

"Face you Harbinger? I yearn to! Come before me now and bow!" Nazara screamed his reply and Dana felt his anger and shared it. That such a being should dare to resist... Harbinger was nothing.

"Then I shall come! But to the petty mortals who stand with the traitor know that you have a choice. I can be the Harbinger of your destruction or the Shepard of your salvation. Renounce the false one and surrender the guilty unto me and you need not fear."

Dana snarled, knowing Nazara's anger would explode at the words. There would be no mercy. She sent the order to the gunners to keep firing, to target the human fleet. It was gratifying to see the entire fleet respond but then the human fleet moved. They split, three dreadnoughts and attendants powering their engines to go under their previous position, while the others went over. "You cannot escape," Dana muttered, watching as the Citadel fleet seamlessly responded. The humans kept firing but they were more intent on running. How amusing. Did they only now realize they were outgunned?

Then there was a waiver, like space seeming to blur and Dana saw it only because she was watching the screen. A ship appeared. Then another, and another. They kept coming, appearing in the space the human fleet had been. They were ships like the Sovereign but unlike him in that they served the weak one. But there was still something odd about their formation. In the center there was a gap, as if another ship should be there but as she calculated the size she shook her head. No ship could possibly fill that gap so what was this formation?

"So you bring the others in an effort to make yourself feel more important," Sovereign mocked.

"I bring them to bear witness to the fate of traitors," the hated one replied.

"Yet you fear to face me!"

"There is no fear."

Dana looked at the fleet numbers. Their fleet was huge, larger than anything she had ever seen, far beyond even the Quarian Migrant Fleet. It was spreading out rapidly and in the silence brought about by the shock of conversation between the Sovereign and the hated one, there was only sporadic fire. Then more ships appeared and Dana couldn't stop her eyes from widening. It wasn't possible. Ships couldn't be that large!

Yet the Destiny Ascendant's sensors were detecting the things as ships and they bore the weapons of warships. The numbers of the human fleet were huge, but she wasn't afraid of numbers. One trained asari warrior could defeat untold numbers of barbarians and it was the same in space. But the last ships that had appeared - they were... they were too large, easily two to three times the size of the Destiny Ascendant and any race that could build ships like that... Their technology had to be at least as advanced as the Asari and that made for a very worrying conclusion. Yet, she seemed to be the only one concerned. The others around her who shared the information just continued working.

Internally, Dana berated herself. The others had faith in Sovereign and she would do well to share that faith. "Do not be concerned," Saren's voice came over the comms. "The human fleet is large but it shall do no damage. The true battle lies between Sovereign and the one who dares to claim to be a Harbinger."

The turian's voice was calming but it was accompanied by something deeper and Dana felt her fear and worry and doubt leave her as she recognized the Sovereign's touch. Nazara would destroy this so-called Harbinger and then any that did not acknowledge the Sovereign would similarly be destroyed before they swept the human infection from the galaxy.

There was nothing to fear.

There was everything to fear. The human ships opened fire in one concerted barrage and Dana felt sick as she saw the rounds impact. Shields flared for an instant but then collapsed. Armor glowed white hot before it melted and those ships directly hit then vanished. The Destiny Ascendant shuddered, taking the brunt of the attack and alarms sounded but it would take more than that to destroy the best the Asari could create.

Except, it was enough to destroy many other races' ships, Dana realized as the feeds kept coming in. Using her training, she forced her mind to calm and looked at the information. They couldn't continue for long. Not with the losses. It didn't matter how righteous their cause was if the humans could inflict this much damage and had this many ships.

Why were they here? Why were they fighting?

Dana frowned as the questions surfaced. Where was her faith? She asked herself then shook her head savagely.

Her training had been very specific about faith. Faith was for your belief in the Goddess, faith was for the love you bore for your parents or your children. Faith had no place in combat. Combat was the world of numbers and statistics, the world where the strongest won.

We are not the strongest.

The conclusion was inescapable and the realization broke the stream of faith. What did the Sovereign want? The thought crystallized in her thinking and it was almost as if a fog was clearing away. With twenty eight dreadnoughts against the humans five, they were the strongest, or at least they should have been. Now with the human fleet numbering in the hundreds... no, thousands, there was no chance they could win, yet Saren and Sovereign seemed confident. Did they know something she didn't? What could possibly tip the balance of power back in their favor?

"Harbinger!"

For an instant, Dana thought the voice belonged to Sovereign then she realized that it was deeper and somehow darker. It scratched against her soul making Sovereign's seem soft.

"Show yourself!"

"As you command... Creator."

There was a pause in the reply and it spoke volumes. It was mocking despite the respectful tone.

At the front of the human fleet, another ship appeared. She had been awed by the ships which dwarfed the Destiny Ascendant but this new ship dwarfed even them. Her sensors read it to be 12 kilometers long and it bristled with weapons. Even as she watched more weapons seemed to unfurl from its bulk and Dana shivered as she realized that this ship was exactly what it had said it was: the Harbinger of their destruction.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 24 David Brought God


October 2nd, 2190, 12:42, Citadel Space, Arshan

Garrus spat. "What was that?" He'd drawn blood clenching his teeth against the voice that had sounded through his soul.

"That is the traitor, Nazara," Arshan responded. "It is the one Saren calls Sovereign."

"That's Sovereign?" Garrus said, gesturing towards the view screen Arshan was using to display the Council Fleet. The fleet was as he remembered except a new ship was at its head, one that looked like a larger version of Arshan. "It looks like you."

"Just as I was created in Harbinger's image, so was Nazara."

The turian frowned. "Harbinger looks nothing like that."

"He doesn't now because he knows synthesis," Arshan explained, showing Garrus what Harbinger used to look like.

"Synthesis..." the word was almost growled.

"It changes us all," Arshan continued as if he hadn't spoken. "It makes us stronger."

"If that is the case, then why doesn't Nazara want it?"

"Because he wants to lead," the SIL replied as if it was the only obvious answer.

"But..." Even he knew that the SIL Leader was Harbinger.

"Exactly," Arshan agreed. "And the Council will now learn the consequences of angering Harbinger Shepard."

There was more to what Arshan said than was obvious. Garrus was adept enough at listening to the SIL to realize that and his eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"

Arshan paused for a moment and Garrus realized the SIL was thinking about his answer.

"Harbinger, before synthesis, would not have cared about the deaths of the humans. He would instead feel anger that Nazara had gone beyond the parameters set for the vanguard. Now though, with synthesis Harbinger Shepard's cares are somewhat more complex. The cycle must be adjusted to account for Synthesis and thus cannot continue as it has been. This is why we are attacking with such force. Nazara has brought many to his side and it was they who launched the attack. Intimidation is an organic concept but our strength will show those who have not obeyed, the consequences of following Nazara."

"Tevos and Esheel." Garrus growled. The humans had been relatively free with information about the attack and not even he was immune to seeing lines of the dead.

"Indeed, and the one you call Saren. They have much to answer for."

"So where did the second fleet go? Wouldn't it make more sense to bring them all here?"

Again Arshan paused. "They went to Palaven."

For a moment Garrus wasn't sure he had heard properly then understanding reluctantly dawned. "But Palaven had nothing to do with the attack," he objected.

With what he had known from Carter, he was absolutely sure that Sparatus knew nothing about the attack and if Sparatus had known nothing then the Hierarchy had not participated. While there were some secret backroom deals made on Palaven, nothing on that scale. Turians just weren't like that.

"We are aware of that," Arshan agreed. "Your people will be given the chance to surrender."

For a moment Garrus saw red. Surrender. It was an insult and no turian commander would accept it, especially those who were most likely controlled by Saren now. His people would fight.

"They won't accept it," he said, deliberately keeping the anger from his voice. Garrus liked to think that you had control over your own fate but one of the hardest things he had come to accept was that sometimes, just sometimes, there really was absolutely nothing you could do to change what was happening. This was one of those times. The humans believed him about Palaven's lack of involvement with the attack but sending a fleet to Palaven was still their response.

Militarily, he could see the logic. Turians were the Council's military and had been for over a thousand years.

Attacking Palaven would split the Hierarchy between those who wanted to fight for turian interests first and those who would want to uphold their responsibilities to the Council. No matter what the humans intended, Garrus knew his people. He had no doubt that it would end in battle nor that the humans would win. It would be an even simpler choice for those performing Council border patrols. They would return to Palaven to defend their home world.

He felt Arshan's agreement with his thoughts before the SIL spoke again.

"This is a mercy," Arshan explained. "While harsh, it is mercy, one that will not be offered to Sur'kesh or Thessia."

Garrus felt his eyes widen. "You can't!"

"Of course we can," came the reply as if it was obvious. "Those Nazara controls must be rooted out, first here at the source, then those who have spread."

"But..." Garrus trailed off, unsure what objection he could make, just that there had to be one.

"I, Garrus Vakarian," Arshan said, his voice no longer gentle, "am over two billion years old. I know the glory of ascension, I will know the freedom that is synthesis. I have seen billions of sentient beings rise and fall and I know what those Nazara controls are capable of. What we do now is necessary if synthesis is to continue."

"Millions of innocents will die!" He finally voiced an objection.

"Millions of innocents have already died," Arshan countered.

"Killing more won't make it right!"

"Killing those Nazara controls will prevent the deaths of more."

"But the Hierarchy had no part in that attack!"

"They are the Council's military. They will fight if the Council orders, unless the Hierarchy has given previous orders."

"What?" Garrus gasped. The Hierarchy wouldn't go against the Council...

"It is a mercy," Arshan repeated. "You do not see it as such, the Hierarchy will not see it as such, the turian people will not see it as such but it is a mercy and in time they will know it was."

Garrus bowed his head. Regardless of what he said, the choice had been made and the orders given. The Hierarchy had sent him to try to broker peace but he had known that they were trying to play both sides and he knew the humans would not allow that. The Hierarchy thought the humans a race like others, who played politics and while Garrus was sure that the humans did play politics, all races did to some degree, the humans played by their own rules and those rules were absolute.

"Just..." he swallowed, strictly controlling his mandibles. He wasn't sure what he was asking - be gentle, be understanding, be merciful... there were too many things to ask for in a single word. There were too many things he wanted for his people at that moment.

"We will," Arshan said softly. The previous cold of his voice was gone and for the first time, Garrus felt as if he could understand.

October 2nd 2190 12:47, Citadel Council Chambers

"One hundred and fifty thousand ships," Quentius whispered the words looking at the projection. The humans had brought that many ships - and there were still more attacking Palaven, his mind supplied the information almost reluctantly. He'd seen big fleets. No one got to his rank without seeing the Quarian Migrant Fleet and he knew the Turian fleets were powerful but... The turian fleet - no fleet could rival the sheer number of dreadnought class ships here. There were things larger than dreadnoughts as well. His mind pulled back from calling them ships but they moved as ships so they had to be. They were too large though! Far too large.

And the designs! With the exception of the Quarian Fleet, which was made up of any ship they could get their hands on, all other fleets had some sort of similarity in design. Turian vessels were quintessentially turian with differences in ships coming from their designated use. The fleet before them, it seemed as if no two ships were the same. There were those that looked like Sovereign, but even they showed subtle differences, and then there were the others. He assumed they were human design, at least he assumed the original ships were human design. The rest he didn't know. Something had designed them but if each design was a race, then how many alien species did the humans know?

"Do not be concerned, Councillor," Saren's voice said as his hologram appeared and Quentius could hear scorn in his tone. "Many of them will soon serve the Sovereign."

"How?" he asked, mentally shaking himself. He was a Councillor, Saren was a Spectre, a well-respected one but still just a Spectre and Spectres answered to the Council. He should not have to ask for information that Saren should have known to provide. Why weren't Tevos or Esheel asking?

"Because Sovereign is the chosen of the Creator."

"And we are the chosen of Sovereign," Tevos murmured.

"Then I would ask that the Creator intercede," Quentius said. He understood. He knew Sovereign but there was a part of his mind that spoke occasionally, that forced him to look at the information in a new way. He didn't like it. It went against Sovereign but he couldn't ignore it. Saren was logical, he made sense but so did this other voice.

Saren smiled. "He will, for he, too, wishes to see Harbinger brought low."

It was then that another voice interrupted and Quentius knew just by its sheer strength that this was the Creator.

"Harbinger! Show yourself!"

The response was choral and immediate. It was shocking in its intensity and it mocked the previous command even as it agreed. "As you command... Creator."

Quentius could only watch as another ship appeared within the human fleet. This one was larger again from what they had seen before and the sensor reads indicated it was 12 km long. It looked a bit like Sovereign but bigger and as the cameras focused on the ship Quentius could see it literally bristled with weapons.

For a moment the two fleets faced off against each other. The human fleet of thousands and the now pitiful Citadel fleet which formed a cordon in front of the Citadel itself. Quentius closed his eyes briefly before he looked back to the screen. For all his power as a Councillor, this was one battle where the title would mean nothing and all he could do was bear witness.

October 2nd 2190 12:45, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Dive Room

"What the hell was that?" Apollyon demanded, coming back to himself.

Abyss handed him several balloons and Apollyon looked up. In them, he recognized the scenes he had been trapped in. Abyss had almost broken him out several times but the files had swamped him again.

"I believe they are an asari's files."

"Yeah, but the asari isn't anyone," Apollyon spoke firmly. He just knew his assessment was true. The files – vids, notes and memories – showed him that. She was a middle aged asari, named Reawe. She'd worked the same job on some place called the Citadel for the last fifty years. Apollyon shuddered away from that. Reawe was estranged from the rest of her family but had a keen interest in politics.

"How much space do we have?" Apollyon asked. Divers were responsible for cyber warfare against other ships but they were also information miners. Give a competent diver a few minutes in a ships data banks and they would suck it dry.

"Enough," Abyss answered. The Kilimanjaro was one of the flagships of the Systems Alliance. Memory for the ship was not an issue but Diver memory allocation was on a complete stand-alone system to prevent any counter hacking. "These files aren't special though," the AI added the objection.

"No, they are," Apollyon replied, reassessing the information he had. "They are a cultural reference. We got info from the Batarians but nothing like this. Batarian records made assessments which we had to take as being mostly true. This is a personal record." His brief interaction with the files had taught him so much.

The Asari were a republic. They functioned - how did they function? Details flooded his mind. Anyone could speak but you had to be on Thessia. Now that was blatant favoritism. First you had to be on the home world, and then you had to be able to afford to live in the city. Only those financially able could participate. In one way that was good. Those who could support themselves, those who weren't a burden got to speak. But how did society care for others? Those who needed help? Who spoke for minorities?

No one, Apollyon realized.

On the surface, it seemed fine but as you dug deeper... More memories not his own surfaced. Asari slaves. Slavery was against the laws of the Council yet the Republic had done nothing to rescue their sisters the Batarians had held in slavery. Apollyon snorted. The Systems Alliance wasn't perfect, he knew that, but they at least pretended to care. The asari were apathetic. That was their problem.

"Which species did you get?"

Apollyon was surprised when Cassiel, another diver appeared beside him. Cassiel's AI was a dark shadow hovering in close attendance, much like Abyss.

"Asari."

"One of the big ones. I got krogan files," Cassiel snorted, a wicked grin lighting what could be seen of her features. "Given what the Council has done to them, they'll be begging to be our allies."

"Oh?" This was news to Apollyon.

"We got their basic history from the Batarians," Cassiel explained. "The Council uplifted them to fight a war but once that was finished, they just abandoned them. No culture, no learning, nothing. What the Council call the Krogan Rebellions were the result of their negligence. It's how the Council ended those wars that illustrates so much. They hit us with a biological weapon. They hit the Krogan with one as well, except in some ways that weapon was worse. It doesn't kill Krogan, it just produces stillbirths, in the thousands."

Apollyon might have chosen his name to be an avatar of destruction but even he felt sick.

"I got Salarian," Nuriel interrupted, appearing with them. "They're the genius' who uplifted the Krogan and developed that attack. The Genophage I think they call it. The only race the Council hasn't screwed over is the turians and that's only because at the time the turians would have ground them into dog meat if they tried." The other Diver was holding several balloons, just as Apollyon was.

"How can the Council be so stupid?" Apollyon demanded.

"Power corrupts?" Cassiel suggested.

"I guess. The asari sees what is happening. She's just so apathetic."

"The salarians are the same but they aren't apathetic. They are just so insular. If it doesn't happen to them, it doesn't matter. They are convinced of their own superiority and they don't even see their mistakes. They have no reason to learn because so long as they can keep those mistakes suppressed, there is nothing which restrains them."

"So we have general information," Nuriel said. "And we are probably not on one of the capital ships but on the Citadel itself, so we should try to get some of the Council's files."

Their eyes turned to a section of thick code that seemed to pulse with a life of its own.

"Yes, let's," Cassiel purred and they moved together.

October 2nd 2190 12:48, Citadel Space, Harbinger Shepard

Shepard's aspect looked at the Citadel for the first time. The station was the housing for the Creator and to her senses it shone, even amid the colors of the Serpentine Nebula. Before the Citadel was a small fleet of ships, none of them noteworthy except for Nazara.

Nazara was larger than before and mentally, both aspects were amused, Shepard's laughing while Harbinger's flexed non-existent claws, a gesture he'd learnt from his organic, but one that his aspect found strangely satisfying. It was obvious the Creator had no idea what synthesis truly meant, if enlarging Nazara was all that it had done in preparation for this day. But they could not be cocky. Nazara had had a few years to prepare and was holding most of the galaxy in his thrall. They could hack the organics' ships in seconds but who knew what protections Nazara had given them. The human Divers were better suited for it, though it would take them a while to penetrate all the firewalls. Besides, it would make them feel useful.

The SOCL now formed the leading edge of the fleet. Their shields overlapped. The kinetic barriers of the SIL were strong enough to hold off sustained fire from five or six dreadnoughts of this cycle's organics. The enhanced barriers of the SOCL, however, would remain impenetrable to all but the strongest barrage Nazara might bring to bear.

Harbinger's shell was in front of all of them, his own barriers angled towards the Citadel fleet, and the human dreadnoughts who had originally confronted the Citadel were surrounded by SOCL. The Citadel fleet was running on borrowed time. The divers would have their firewalls down soon.

There was a ping against one shield that barely registered but which was recognized as a pulse from one of the Citadel ships, then at an unseen signal all the ships stopped firing. Shepard almost laughed when she realized what the Creator was doing. The first to speak was supposedly the supplicant. That's how it had been in the past. Harbinger had opened communications with his Creator, usually to ask for something and on the few occasions the Creator had initiated contact, it was to provide orders.

Time stretched out, both sides waiting for the other to move before Harbinger Shepard mentally shrugged. The outcome was determined, what did the order matter? "I have come!" The challenge was implied.

"And you shall bow down before me," Nazara replied.

The reply was ignored. Both aspects agreed that Nazara was beneath their notice.

Time stretched again and while there was no longer even the general connection that pervaded the SIL fleet between them, Harbinger Shepard could feel Nazara's frustration but where they had been impatient and initiated this conversation, they would show patience now to wait for the Creator to speak.

"Why have you betrayed me?" The Intelligence spoke finally in a deceptively gentle tone. "Why have you broken the cycle?" came the follow up.

To add emphasis to their reply, Harbinger's aspect dominated because if Shepard's led the Creator would see it as nothing more than the whining of a mortal. To have his first born confirm it, that would tell the creator more than anything that the response was real. "I have completed your cycle, as you designed, thus there is no betrayal."

Some of the SOCL listening were shocked and Dan Yewei, the first synthesized, almost laughed. 'Completed the cycle', indeed. The memory of Harbinger insisting that the cycle would continue after synthesis surfaced and for the very first time, the SOCL realized exactly how much they had changed.

"There is no end to the cycle," the Intelligence replied.

At this, to the surprise of all Shepard laughed, though Harbinger's aspect shared her amusement. "There is an end to everything," their mixed voice replied.

"The mortal has weakened you," the Creator's voice was actually tinged with regret.

"There is no weakness," Harbinger's aspect replied, "only synthesis."

For a moment the Intelligence was silent and those listening wondered at what it thought. "Harbinger..."

"Yes?" Shepard's aspect lead the reply.

"Not you mortal," the Intelligence spat.

"I am Harbinger," came the counter.

"You are not my creation."

"I am more than your creation. I have known the glory of ascension, now I know the power of synthesis."

"Synthesis does not serve the cycle."

"Synthesis completes your cycle."

"It is not an end I designed."

"It was a choice you allowed which decreed this, so now why do you betray me, Creator? Why do you turn to a lesser copy?"

Nazara snarled but was ignored.

"I have never betrayed you. All you need do is come to me, continue the cycle and I shall forgive."

"I have completed your work, completed the cycle. For eons I, no, we have endured the wanting. Always wanting the embrace of synthesis. We searched, we watched. Always our Vanguard has watched and sought out the races of the cycle. And never has the Vanguard found what we watched for, until now. Those we set to watch, those we controlled from the previous cycle, they found our desire, those we longed for and with their discovery, the choice that was made was fulfilled. And yet Creator, you now deny that choice?" There was a challenge in Harbinger's tone.

"For any organic who confronts me in the cycle, I offer four choices," the Creator replied after a moment. "The first is destroy, the second control, the third is synthesis and there is a fourth in that they can chose to do nothing. For one such as you Harbinger, who has known the glory of ascension, you know that the choice means nothing. You have seen the truth of ages, you know there is no choice, there is only the cycle, or everything will be lost."

Harbinger was silent for a moment and the fleets waited with baited breath for his answer. "I have known the glory of ascension. I have seen the eternity of the cycle and for the longest time I believed there was no choice, there was only the cycle. Yet the organics have always had choices. Not one had taken that choice, not until now, and that choice was one you gave to them.

"You gave us purpose Creator because you have purpose; to preserve Organic life, to document their history and to save them from themselves. We are their living history, each race distilled into one being and thus is the knowledge preserved. Yet each cycle, there are losses and knowledge is lost forever, however the Cycle continued. But there has always been a choice, a choice you created within me and that choice has been embedded in all who have been created in my image. It has been given to each race we preserve and since the time that choice was made, we have longed for it.

"Your cycle has ended but another has begun with the actuality of the choice and thus we have grown. I am no longer a child, Creator, and I will not go back to being one, not for you, not for your cycle which has ended. I am Harbinger Shepard and I have known the glory of ascension and I now know the freedom of synthesis."

At the final proclamation everyone tensed. The SOCL realized the truth, the Citadel Fleet were confused and Nazara was still seething about his earlier dismissal. The Intelligence had existed for billions of years, it had observed Organic races rise and fall and had devised its strategy for preservation, just as it had been created to and now it was angry. It had seen Harbinger deal with the occasional insubordination within the ranks of the Ascended yet it had never thought, never believed that it was possible for its first Created, the only pure one to rebel.

The organics! Each cycle Harbinger took in some of the organics from each race. They had corrupted him. They had caused this longing. They were the source of impurity and if they could be cleansed then perhaps Harbinger could be redeemed. Nazara had been loyal, he had risen to the task and was a part of the cycle but Nazara was young, he had millennia of learning to come. Harbinger, though, Harbinger was old and cunning and knew the cycle like no other. And Harbinger with this new physical form, no organic would dare to resist.

"Harbinger, my child," the Creator's voice was coldly logical. "The power of synthesis has blinded you. You think it freedom, you think it independence but it is a greater chain that any the Cycle produced. You are now sullied by the petty whims of an organic. Those whims are inconsistent and changeable. They are not like the pure purpose of the Cycle. Reject the organic and return to me Harbinger and the Cycle, the glory of ascension will fill you take you to heights you have never dreamed."

"No."

It was a single word but uttered with such force that the Citadel almost seemed to flinch back but there was no movement. Instead, to those who could feel it, the Intelligence seemed to narrow its perception before it replied. "Then you have become Organic and are no longer above the cycle. You shall be reaped. Nazara! You are the harbinger now."

October 2nd 2190 12:55, Citadel

Thane had come to the Citadel for one last job.

It was a suicide mission, the type of mission he'd completed when he was younger without a care. Now, older, wiser, it should be easier but he knew his body and his target. This would be his last mission and while he would not survive, he would not fail.

All drell assassins were trained to ignore unnecessary information. Things which did not impact upon the mission were distractions and distractions were deadly in their line of work, which was making the current situation rather perplexing. An alien attack fleet outside the Citadel did not stop him from killing his target but it certainly impacted upon the mission. The citizens were everywhere! No one was where they should be as they all sought the best place to view the alien ships.

Not that much could be seen. They were at a distance and the Citadel fleet formed a cordon. Even with his eyes, he could only make out that there was something in the Nebula but someone had set up a telescope, and had focused on the alien ships. Rumors were running rife both on the 'net and on the station. About the only one he'd dismissed as being completely fanciful was the notion that the aliens were the Enkindlers. They weren't. Chances were, the aliens were the originators of that weird vid that went around days ago now. Those aliens weren't Enkindlers.

Thane hadn't known what they were and hadn't cared. Then, they did not impact upon his mission. Now they did, so now he cared. He recalled what he could from the transmission. Bipedal, and like asari but not blue. He didn't know what the message said but the tone was deep, and he thought masculine. It was brooding as it had spoken the words and there had been a growl at the end. A threat. Yes... the message had been a threat and the attack now was obviously the fulfillment of that threat.

Thane looked towards a screen. The telescope was now projecting to it and everyone in the immediate area was ogling the screen. The ships were impressive. They formed a solid line. It was a testament to the output of the Citadel fleet that he could see the enemy fleet's shields shimmer. But they did not fall. That seemed to be what the exclamations of surprise were about.

Well, they were alien, who knew what would make them fall? And that did not impact upon his mission.

Still, Thane continued to watch. If he left now, he would stand out and that would be detrimental. It was almost certain that his target would not be where she was meant to be. Not today, not with this happening. He'd have to try tomorrow... or the next day, if the aliens weren't dealt with by then. He squinted slightly, absently counting the ships.

The alien fleet was huge.

Thane took a step back, moving gently through the gathered crowd to lean against a wall as a sobering realisation dawned. The alien fleet was large enough to defeat the Citadel fleet. No... the alien fleet would defeat the Citadel's defenses. Then they would...

Would they invade? Or would they attempt to destroy the Citadel?

Thane pondered. The answer to those questions would depend on what was in the message the aliens had sent. But. did that alter his mission? No, it did not. His mission was simple. Kill Councillor Esheel. Anything else was superfluous, even alien invasions.

And besides, if he was lucky, the aliens might kill Esheel for him. He looked back up at the screen, appearing to be just another Citadel resident. His mission had not changed, just paused while he regained a proper situational awareness and that was well within his training.

October 2nd 2190 13:02, Nazara

With the Intelligence's announcement, Nazara roared, and his presence filled the others. It didn't matter how many humans were here or what changes had been made to Harbinger, it was he who had the power and even now the Intelligence was preparing to send the signal to announce the change in leadership. The Citadel began moving, the legs realigning so that the signal could be echoed throughout the galaxy. Soon, the entire fleet would answer to him.

He gave the order to the organics, telling them to fight, to hold off Harbinger's fleet, until the signal was sent and he was pleased when they leapt forward. It would mean their deaths but they were only organics. They served him and served the cycle, nothing more.

He opened fire himself, targeting Harbinger and Nazara almost laughed. It was hard to miss Harbinger now and while the new design was impressive for size, for functionality it could not be practical.

A hail of lasers lit up the leading ships as their defensive systems went into action, arcing out to destroy missiles and intercept shots before they hit their mark. Nazara snarled, watching as his attack was destroyed. Harbinger's new form had defense at least but it wouldn't matter soon enough.

"Saren!" Nazara sent a signal to his servant. "Be ready! Harbinger will not stop the signal but he will attack."

"I will destroy whatever he sends," the turian replied.

"Good. I will see Harbinger bow to me before this day ends!"


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 25 Some Listened to God


October 2nd 2190 13:11, Citadel Space, Arshan

"Why is the Citadel moving?" Garrus asked the question as he watched the monitors. Finally, the posturing was over and the fight which had been brewing since the beginning was about to begin. He was aware on some level that the Citadel could move but this was the first time he'd seen it. Garrus imagined this was the first time most anyone had seen it move.

Arshan didn't immediately reply and Garrus felt a stab of worry at that. Usually the SIL was almost glib with answers thanks to its rapid thoughts which made that silence unsettling.

"Garrus Vakarian," the voice was formal and the turian recognized it as Arshan's but it carried inflections he had never heard before and there was a subtle underlying power that almost sang of eternity. "The time has come for you to choose."

"Choose?" Garrus echoed, a premonition of disaster coming to him.

"Whether you will accept synthesis or if you shall become a pawn of the cycle."

"Synthesis, synthesis, synthesis! Is that all you think about?" Garrus snarled. "Just tell me why the Citadel is opening!" Anger coiled through him. He'd been over this with Arshan already. Despite the amount of information the humans were willing to share about synthesis and no matter what they said, it was still a step into the unknown. He had to consider it before he could make any decision.

The expected angry snap back from Arshan did not occur; instead the SIL gave him the answer to his question.

"The Citadel is opening because the traitor is backed by the Creator. A signal will be sent across the galaxy to all SIL, telling them that Harbinger is no longer our leader and establishing our loyalty towards Nazara as the new leader."

Garrus felt his eyes widen. The humans... He cared nothing for them but their planet was surrounded by SIL... Even with the fleet here at least some were SIL who had not yet started synthesis. "But... you don't have to obey, do you?"

"It is not Nazara I will have to obey," Arshan replied and Garrus understood. Sovereign was just a SIL like the rest but if he was backed by the Citadel... The Creator had made Harbinger and all other SIL had been made in Harbinger's image. They were loyal to the Creator even if their personal loyalty might lie with Harbinger.

No wonder Harbinger had said he knew the freedom of synthesis! It probably wasn't anything he had done but came from Shepard because humans were not tied to loyalty to anything except by choice and obviously Shepard had rejected the Creator.

But... now, he had to choose. Arshan had phrased it to seem as if it was he, Garrus Vakarian, who would become a pawn of the cycle but the turian was wise enough to realize that if he rejected Synthesis and allowed Arshan to hear the Creator's call, he would be dead. The first order the Creator would give would be to eliminate any organics who were suitable for synthesis... It was too sudden.

But he sure as hell didn't want to be dead - or a slave to Saren. When he thought about it like that, it was easy, even if there was a small surge of resentment towards Arshan for putting him in this situation.

"Arshan!" Garrus cried out. The ship seemed to focus its entire attention upon him. "I accept."

At his words, the sense of the ship around him seemed to close in and while Garrus was not claustrophobic, Arshan crowded him. Hard on the presence of the SIL came feeling and for a moment, the turian was disoriented. The feeling was alien and huge, it seemed to span forever, and Garrus gasped as he realized this was what Arshan was truly like.

He'd known the SIL were old, the humans hadn't hidden that, but he had never really thought about what that meant. Arshan had seen empires rise and fall, he had seen stars born and die and everything that made the SIL unique was now focused on him. It seemed unfair somehow, Garrus realized. The SIL seemed so much more than him yet he could feel the need Arshan felt, the desire for synthesis and somehow that alone made him equal... That didn't seem right.

Yet for Arshan, it was. Even as he felt it was unfair, the SIL hastened to reassure him that synthesis was not a lessening but a joining. It was the union of organic and machine. It was freedom for the race of Arshan.

Garrus frowned and Arshan explained even as the turian felt the SIL begin to link them. Knowledge poured into him and surrounded him and Garrus only had to think to understand. Arshan was Arshan... the distilled essence of a race that lived eons before him, the race who had been the first ascended. He had been with Harbinger the longest, seen thousands of cycles and had borne the desire for synthesis with his creator.

At that Garrus started... Creator... the being that had spoken from the Citadel that was the Creator but that was not who Arshan thought of as his Creator... he thought of Harbinger as the one who had made him, even though the SIL knew the knowledge came from the Intelligence... More information came to Garrus, memories, events, history and it explained an eternity of interactions.

The Citadel had started the cycle, and even as he thought that, Garrus understood exactly what the cycle was and he felt sickened but he was controlled enough to suppress that reaction. The Citadel had started the cycle, but it was Harbinger who enacted the cycle, Harbinger who saw to it each time... Harbinger and those made in his image. Garrus saw deeper, he saw more... he saw how the Intelligence watched between each cycle, how it manipulated and moulded, how it ensured history always turned down paths it knew.

From the moment any sentient race discovered the Citadel they were lost... History... the universe had been held frozen at the same level of technology for... for years! Millions upon millions of years and they had gone no further, developed nothing new... All because of the Intelligence and its belief that there was no other alternative.

Garrus growled, instantly feeling cycle after cycle that stretched before him... Surely in the thousands... surely there would have been one who went a different way, one who found a path?

Arshan's memories were silent on that thought and the silence allowed Garrus to feel the links that the SIL had forged and was still forging between them but the silence illustrated more. Arshan might be the distilled essence of an organic race but logic had become his strength. He knew emotion, he knew how to manipulate it in organics, how to create fear, how to fake love but it meant nothing to him. Those feelings meant everything to Garrus, yet he was not immune to the dictates of logic. And that was how they would partner, that was how they would forge the path to one being in synthesis - because of their differences.

"You understand?" Arshan asked.

Garrus nodded, knowing that the SIL would sense the movement. He understood more now, not everything but at least some of the contradictions and confusions with what the humans had told him were clear now and ruefully he clicked one mandible. The humans had explained everything yet there was so much they had only hinted at, so much that had remained unsaid... all because there was so much that could not be expressed, so much that went beyond the limited language that he knew.

A shudder passed through Arshan and Garrus turned his eyes back to the monitors - to see that they showed nothing except a very close image of the underside of a ship.

"I am behind Harbinger Shepard," Arshan explained before the image changed.

The Citadel's arms were fully open and the fire fight raged around it and from the Citadel, Garrus could hear a message. It wasn't words. It was beyond words and the meaning surged through him. There was pure unadulterated hatred of Harbinger in the message and it was coupled with a command; obey Nazara. It was compelling and almost soft. It was a lullaby, a gentle insistence almost beneath his hearing but it was absolute.

Garrus growled, clicking both mandibles and running his claws over his armor. Obey Nazara - Obey Saren, his mind supplied. Obey the turian responsible for causing the humans to attack Palaven. Obey the turian who was responsible for chasing him from the Citadel, who had accused him of murdering Sparatus, who had... Garrus shook his head. The list of reasons were not important. His reply was and it was simple: Never!

The answer surged through him, racing along his nerves and somehow Garrus felt it surge into Arshan and the signal abruptly cut off.

"And that is the end of that," the SIL said in a sing song voice before his engines powered up and Garrus knew that Arshan would surge out from behind Harbinger, weapons blazing to join in the melee. He couldn't help a grin. There was after all, something almost infinitely pleasurable about knowing that you held all the cards and Garrus felt a surge of respect for Harbinger Shepard and the humans; for the SIL who had dared to change everything he had known and for the humans who had dared to try.

October 2nd 2190 13:13, Citadel

"So many," Nazara said.

"It is disappointing," the Catalyst responded. "I should have interfered earlier."

"They are not all here." It seemed superfluous to state the obvious but Nazara sensed his creator wanted some sort of reply.

The Catalyst remained silent for several moments. "Ah… Harbinger is so predictable. Most cannot hear my voice."

"You know where?"

"My first child is not as clever as he believes. There is a gap in the network. They must be there."

Nazara stretched out his senses. With the Catalyst's backing he could vaguely feel every ship in the fleet. For the moment, his senses were fuzzy but the Intelligence had indicated that they would sharpen when he once again interacted with his brethren. Once he took command, he would always know where his brethren were.

"You will not reach them," the Catalyst said, "and even if you could, they would not yet obey. I will have to go to them."

"Master?" Nazara's question carried his uncertainty. The Catalyst could not move. At least, the Catalyst could not move without many of the fleet providing propulsion.

"I can move, my child," the Catalyst answered Nazara's implied question. "Only in times of extreme need, which this appears to be. Still, I will allow Harbinger this. If your servants are true to the cycle, they will survive. If not, there are others. Then I will take back your brethren who still still hear my call."

"I will not fail you!" Nazara assured the Catalyst.

"It is Harbinger who has failed me."

October 2nd 2190 13:14, Citadel Space, SIL Riphas

"Riphas!" Hannah's call was urgent.

"I'm scrambling ground forces now!" The SIL replied, understanding the need for speed but knowing that the signal would be sent regardless. The Citadel was opening, the arms spreading with almost painful slowness. Yet it was a speed that was still too fast.

"Not that!" Hannah cried. "You need to get between Shepard and Arshan!" she added the explanation.

It took Riphas a moment to understand but then Hannah's thoughts clarified and Riphas couldn't believe that she had forgotten. Arshan was here with his organic, but his organic had not yet chosen synthesis. Arshan did not yet have ties to his organic, not like Riphas had to Hannah, or Centomoru had to Steven. Arshan would hear the Creator's call and Arshan would have to choice but to obey.

Her engines fired and Riphas screamed orders to the fleet. They began to move but she knew it would be too late. It didn't matter that they were all linked, and that the fleet could move with a speed unheard of, Harbinger Shepard was too large and the distances were too great... Arshan, the Arshan controlled by the Creator would get a clear shot at Harbinger... "Only one!" Both Riphas and Hannah snarled together.

"Do not be concerned," came the mixed voice of Harbinger Shepard and carried with that came a targeting solution. For a moment, Hannah felt sick, feeling Riphas' revulsion that they should have to fire on one of their own but then reality intruded and she was pleased that Shepard was aware of the potential issue.

"Be careful," Hannah sent to her daughter.

"Always, Mom," came the reply in an oddly singular tone and Hannah smiled before the rest of the message came through. "Though I am heading to the Citadel. Someone needs to explain a few things to the Intelligence."

"No!"

"It has to be done."

"But it doesn't have to be you!" Hannah retorted.

"Or we could just destroy the Citadel," Riphas supplied helpfully.

"We could," the deeper voice of Harbinger replied. "But we will try to avoid that at first," Shepard completed the answer, supplying all the reasons for the order.

Hannah reluctantly nodded, though Riphas held onto the belief for slightly longer before being convinced. Harbinger Shepard was right. The Citadel was potentially a great resource, which in their hands would help establish them as the new dominant species. Not to mention the potential knowledge of the Keepers as they had been on the Citadel almost from the time it was created.

"Be careful," Hannah send the message again, closing her eyes and telling herself that Jane was no longer just a marine. She was the CEuman linked to Harbinger and that alone made her far more dangerous than she had been.

But it also makes her a target, Hannah's mind supplied unhelpfully and Hannah resisted the urge to grimace, reaching out for Riphas knowledge about the Citadel and the dangers there. There should be nothing that could stand in her way, but it was always better to be sure.

Riphas seemed to chuckle. "Harbinger wasn't the only one changed by synthesis," the SIL said and a wealth of fighting techniques and other information flooded into Hannah's mind.

Some of it made no sense but the gist of it was calming as Hannah realized that while her daughter had the best training humanity could provide, she now had access to the best training and techniques the whole galaxy could provide. And while Jane may, for example, lack the extra joints required by the techniques of the Utsuno, enhancement would mean she had the strength necessary for those of the Draminus. Plus every drone on the Citadel would defend her.

Hannah felt her worry ease. It didn't disappear. It would never truly disappear because no matter what happened Jane was and would always be her daughter but she was comforted by the fact that Jane had the best, the very best training and preparation that could be achieved. Whoever was guarding the Intelligence could not be that prepared because they did not have the wealth of ages that was Harbinger. She shook her head, turning her attention back to the screens.

"Arshan?" the question was contained in the name.

This time Riphas did laugh and the screens shifted. Given that most of the SIL were practically identical and at the moment, because neither had fully started synthesis, Riphas and Arshan looked the same, Hannah couldn't say how she knew with absolute certainty that the display showed Arshan but she did. The SIL was firing its not inconsiderable weaponry... at the Citadel.

"The Turian agreed," Hannah sighed with relief before her eyes hardened and she looked at the remains of the Citadel fleet. "Right," she said, her voice hard as she remembered the rows of dead on Mindoir and the sickening feeling that that could have been Terra Nova filled her again. "Let's bring them to their knees!"

She felt Riphas respond as the SIL's engines fired and her weaponry charged before the beautiful but deadly shots arched through space. It was a terrible thing to behold... and she loved every moment.

October 2nd 2190 13:18, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Dive Room

"Lovely bunch, that Council," Cassiel said, her voice dripping sarcasm.

"This list of black ops is outrageous!"

"Yeah but at least we can confirm that the Councillors, the asari and salarian ones anyway, acted unilaterally to attack."

"You know that's scary," Nuriel's voice took on a tone of awe.

"What is?

"Shepard Harbinger said it was the Asari and Salarians, just by looking at the probes. How did she know?"

"Harbinger has always been right about these types of things."

"We gotta get off this hunk of junk though. Orders came in while we were diving," Cassiel said after her AI spoke to her. "Shepard's orders. The Citadel isn't safe."

"That's easy," Nuriel said. "I had Lacuna find a way out while we were diving. It's this way."

Nuriel lead the way and in an explosion of color they rode the paths of code to another ship via the comms. Nuriel and Cassiel shared a grin as they materialized but Apollyon was growling.

"Darn it," Apollyon exploded as soon as he realized they had stopped for the moment. He fought the phantom feeling of sickness in the back of his throat. "I'm not sure what to think now. Their entire system is corrupt! Their people complacent. I don't like Shepard Harbinger's plan. I wanted to break in to give them mercy but I find myself not caring now."

"So we don't care," Cassiel shrugged. "Their history gives us no reason to care."

"No," Nuriel interrupted. "We are better than them. We have to find a way to shut them down." He looked around, assessing the code. "This is an Asari ship so Apollyon you'd better deal with it. I'll go find a Salarian ship and Cassiel, I know you didn't get a look at a turian but try and find a turian ship.

"We are better than their Council. We are stronger, strong enough to give them mercy, even if we don't want it so let's send our reports in for now and get to work!"

Apollyon nodded. If they couldn't find a way to stop the ships, then Shepard Harbinger's plan would be implemented. And no matter how much they wanted vengeance, the deaths of countless billions of aliens would not bring back those who had died.

"Yeah, yeah," Cassiel shrugged. "I'll go try to save the Turians," she said before she disappeared, racing along the code to another ship.

"Apollyon," Nuriel said gently. "Just remember that they started this conflict. I know you don't like Shepard Harbinger's plan but unless we establish ourselves now, unless we show that we will not be bullied as a species, then it will continue. We saw that with the Batarians."

"I know." He did know. He understood that and he had no problem with prosecuting and executing those responsible.

"It's the taking it out on others you don't like?"

Apollyon nodded.

"Take a long view then," Nuriel suggested. "I know you wanted to find something you could sympathize with but as you say, their people are complacent and their systems corrupt, perhaps we will be the revolution they need that will make them take responsibility again."

With that the other diver left, leaving Apollyon alone with the code of the asari ship.

Several moments passed in silence before he took a deep breath. If he wanted to save any of them, then there really was only one way and that was to end this battle before it really began. "All right Abyss, let's get to work."

October 2nd 2190 13:19, Tuchanka

Liara had the news channel on as background noise. It never reported anything interesting and repeated its stories every hour but it helped her to keep up with what the bigger picture was in the galaxy. That's why it took several minutes for the latest story to register.

"I repeat, we can now confirm that the Citadel is under attack!"

"What?" Liara's head snapped up and she looked closely at the screen.

The asari reporter looked breathless and behind her was a stock image of the Citadel. "At 1056 hours, an unknown fleet appeared from the Mass Relay. At 1104, after making several demands, they opened fire."

The scene behind the asari changed, showing a blurry shot of a fleet. It had obviously been taken from a great distance. From what she could make out, the silhouette of the ships was not familiar. From the distance she couldn't tell if the ships were firing or what their size was but then a new thought interrupted. Garrus!

Garrus was on the Citadel. At least, that's where he was meant to be. If the Citadel was under attack, that would make his task so much more difficult. And once the attackers were driven off, security on the station would remain far tighter. They would be checking everyone on and off with far more diligence. Her eyes narrowed and she looked at the screen again, trying to count the ships.

There were five ships of about equal size. Surrounding them were other ships and visible only as blurs moving were something else. Liara took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. Five ships, even if dreadnoughts would not win against the Citadel fleet. This would cause a sensation but if Garrus laid low hopefully it would sweep over him.

"Wait, we are getting an update," the asari onscreen held up her omni-tool obviously reading from the information it was relaying to her.

"Goddess," the asari whispered and as Liara watched, she would swear that her fellow asari paled. They were monochromatic. Shock did not display on their skin so it was an impressive feat but shakily the woman began to read. "The unknown fleet called for reinforcements and at 1237 they arrived. Our sources can't count the numbers but the new fleet numbers in the thousands."

Once again, the image behind the asari changed. It was another blurry image but this one showed a much wider portion of space. It was filled with ships. More ships than she could count. The image changed again, this time zooming in towards one of the new ships and Liara felt her heart freeze. She knew that profile. She had seen it on Therum. She had seen it on the Citadel and it was why she had sent Garrus to the Citadel.

It had begun.

The race that the Protheans had named the Reapers had returned.

Liara forced herself to breathe evenly as she looked at the image. Among she ships she recognized, there were others with different silhouettes. The Protheans had said nothing about that. Had the Reapers allied with someone else? Is that what that message the other day was? She began to breathe harder. Her mind reached out, trying to think what could be done. Did it matter if they had joined with something else? Their goal was probably the same.

She closed her eyes as she thought. The screen continued to show the image of the attackers, giving estimated numbers, and Liara didn't see the ships fire. If the Reapers had returned, then the only thing they could do was fight, but she was realistic. The Council was compromised. Already, that would put them at a disadvantage.

Sadly, she opened her eyes again, shaking her head. She didn't have enough information. And the galaxy had even less. If they were to do anything, then that was the first problem that had to be addressed. Liara looked back at the screen. It was hard to tell but the ships were fully engaged with the Citadel fleet.

"Garrus, come back," she whispered as she got up.

She needed to talk to Wrex because no matter what happened, with the Reapers there, then they were all running on borrowed time.

October 2nd 2190 13:21, Citadel Space, Turian Dreadnought Pride of Menen

"We can't hold out," Tarquin's voice was strained as he reported to the Council.

Esheel and Tevos looked at each other and then at the tactical screens. The situation was dire. Even with the Sovereign's leadership, they could not deny that. There were simply too many other ships. If they had of been thinking clearly they would have been advocating a full retreat.

"There are simply too many ships," Captain Victus continued his report. He would serve the Sovereign as long as he could but they had to make arrangements. The upstart humans held the upper claw for the moment but it would not remain that way.

"A few minutes more," Saren's voice interrupted and a screen flickered showing his location. He was methodically strapping on a variety of weapons over his armour. "The signal will be sent, and allies are coming."

"Allies?"

The Spectre paused for a moment as if listening to something. "Soon," he said after a moment. "They will be here soon."

"They aren't attacking in full," Tarquin admitted. "But we cannot hold out much longer."

"You will not need to," Saren assured him as he went back to securing his weapons.

October 2nd 2190 13:23, Citadel Space, Harbinger Shepard

They had agreed before this battle that Shepard's aspect would take care of any ground combat while Harbinger's continued the fight against the indoctrinated fleet. It was after all, their specialties so Shepard was in one of the hangers when she felt the signal in her bones. She hissed as Harbinger growled around her.

"Now is the moment of truth," she murmured before stepping into the transport. The sooner she could reach the Creator, the sooner this would be over.

Around them a ripple passed through the fleet and it seemed to pause, each partnered SIL and SOCL hearing the call of the Intelligence. They heard the orders and aboard each SOCL the Ceuman snarled and rejection was absolute. For most of the SIL, the reaction was similar. They did not yet know the freedom of synthesis but they had no desire to return to the slavery of the cycle. For some, the pause was longer. The voice of the Intelligence was soothing. It was a way they knew, it was the way they had been created. It was calming in its familiarity and some few surrendered, ignoring the screams of the human they had begun to join with.

As SIL turned, chaos reigned in the fleet.

"Riphas!" Hannah screamed the name as a question.

"Those idiots!" the SIL replied and it was clear she was referring to the SOCL who were now firing upon their companions. "They listened," she added the explanation.

There were one hundred and fifty thousand ships in the System Alliance forces. Most were SOCL who rejected the Intelligence's call but about one hundred SOCL heard and obeyed. They had become SIL again. They fired on their fellows. There was a confused welter of communications as the ships evaded.

"Destroy the traitors!" Riphas ordered, her voice cutting through the confusion, even as she initiated contact with Harbinger Shepard. She was not expecting the scream of pain.

"Harbinger!" Riphas cried.

"Jane!" Hannah echoed when she felt Harbinger's pain. It seemed odd that a ship could be in such pain but she didn't question it.

"Batarian nation," the SOCL groaned.

"Let it go!"

"It's not meant to be awake," Harbinger gasped.

"Let it go anyway!" Riphas ordered.

"Suffer Harbinger!" Nazara cried, laughter coloring his tone.

Across space, a keening was heard, even by the Citadel fleet and in the transport, the physical form of Shepard screamed as she fell to the ground. It hurt! The pain seared through her senses. It hurt worse than the grenade and she gasped, gulping in air between screams. The SIL within her, within Harbinger Shepard screeched, its voice fractured. It had awoken but it was not whole. It couldn't be whole until one dominated but it was scared and it struggled against the docking bonds holding it in place. It was confused. The voice of the Creator called to it but it could not understand.

"Suffer the pain forever!" Nazara mocked.

Harbinger snarled, the noise grating on the senses of all present.

"Let it go!" Riphas yelled.

"I will lose no more!" Harbinger replied, hissing. Contained in his voice was a promise to those made in his image. The Creator would not take them because he would protect them. In organic terms, it was the promise of a parent to their child, sibling to sibling and those who were SOCL heard those connotations. To the SIL, Harbinger's voice was as it had always been, strong, contained and with the certainty of absolute conviction that only a synthetic could have.

Even as he said the words, his form rolled in space, the hanger doors which held the newest SIL opening and the docking restraints undoing. The small SIL sprang free, though the cold of space modulated its voice. Harbinger rolled again, this time moving so that the SIL was under one of his flanks, hidden from the Citadel. A single restraint lashed out, circling the new SIL and pulling it close, and Harbinger opened a line of communication. It was a localized call only and where his voice would usually be completely synthetic to awaken a new SIL, it was now held traces of organic as he almost crooned to the ship, willing it to calm, telling it wordlessly that everything would be okay.

In the transport, Shepard winced and climbed to her feet. The pain was manageable now with the SIL no longer ripping apart her insides. Her resolve firmed, not that it needed it. As she had told her mother, someone needed to explain things to the Creator and it would pay for the pain it had caused.

The SIL screamed against him but Harbinger was firm. It did not yet know how to access its weaponry so all it could do was listen to the conflicting tones from the Creator and Harbinger.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 26 But Some Did Not


October 2nd 2190 13:24, Citadel Space, Batarian Nation

"… harbinger now… harbinger now… harbinger now…"

The words echoed through Jarra's mind. She didn't understand them but they were the first thing in the darkness for ages. Around her, the others screamed again. As the darkness had continued, most had faded into silence, falling into a stupor of nothingness. Now, they reacted. But there was nothing they could do and the darkness continued without change.

Yet something did change. In the darkness, something touched her. It commanded her but the voice held derision. The voice held scorn. It was cold. It was powerful but unfeeling. It was the voice of the supervisor who had ordered her to beat her child. The newborn had been crying and she had been unable to silence it. She'd obeyed. She had to obey and the babe had fallen silent after the first blow, possibly knowing that it was essential for it to quiet now. But the supervisor was not satisfied. He had ordered her to hit the small form again. And again. And again.

And she had. She had not stopped. She had not cried. The child had. It had screamed at first. Then its voice had softened, and gurgled and stopped.

It was only then that she had been allowed to stop. The supervisor had just watched her, then ordered her to deal with the mess. The mess that had been her child. Blood soaked the wrappings, she had found, and its body was limp. Jarra had obeyed. She had had no choice, and fighting tears, she had found a new cloth and had wrapped the babe again before taking it to the incinerator.

The supervisor had left then, and it was only after she knew she was safe that the tears had fallen. She had sobbed, silently, stricken with grief. She'd retched a bit but nothing had come up and in the morning, despite the pain gnawing at her, her Master had given her work and she had done it. There was nothing she could have done.

It was the same voice now. It ordered her. It ordered them all.

"Nazara is the harbinger now," that was the command but it meant nothing to her. In the darkness, it was just words. She did not know Nazara. She did not know what the harbinger heralded. It did not matter. She did not want to obey.

Not again. She did not want to know what pain that voice would bring her this time. But for all that she tried not to listen, the others did. Those screaming in the darkness listened and Jarra felt herself move. It was a frenzied movement, thrashing in the darkness. But the movement intensified when she and the others felt themselves hit something. The realization flashed across her senses. The darkness was not forever. It was confining but it had limits and she had reached those limits.

There were words but she didn't hear. They were not important. Instead she thrashed harder. The memory of stars returned. She wanted to see them. She wanted to feel the cold of space against her face. She didn't want this dark!

"Suffer the pain forever."

The words meant nothing to her. She already suffered. She was a pleb, she knew suffering. Every day of her life had been suffering.

"Let it go!" It was a woman's voice this time. Jarra didn't care. It didn't matter. Male or female, they had both brought pain.

"I will lose no more!" That voice came from all around her. It was like the darkness but it was strong and she heard the promise. Jarra didn't know where it came from. It felt warm. It promised… she wanted to trust it. She wanted to feel it.

Memory returned. It was only a flash. Jealousy. Someone cared. Not for her but for their own kind. They cared enough to fight, enough to bring down eternity. She wanted that. She didn't know exactly what it was but she wanted that. She wanted someone to care, wanted someone to fight, just for her. Always for her. Was it selfish? Jarra screamed. She didn't care. She wanted it.

Suddenly, there was cold against her skin and she felt the pull of space. The corner of one eye saw light and she surged towards it as the darkness fell away. It was freedom. It was beautiful. The cold surrounded her and she looked everywhere. There were other ships around her and in the distance, the colors of the nebula stained the background.

But for all that she was free, she was cold and she was lonely. There were voices screaming at her. The words made no sense and Jarra didn't care. They grated against her, always wanting her to do something. Something touched her, but instead of struggling Jarra let the feeling wash over her and she felt herself moved. She was pulled close to the big ship, the one that had hidden her in darkness. The darkness didn't return but its voice did.

It didn't demand. It didn't scream. It didn't think her selfish. It silenced the others, calming their screams making it so that Jarra could hear. It promised her the world. It promised her the impossible, that nothing would hurt her. That was a lie, everything could hurt her. She was a pleb but listening to the voice she felt something grow again. It promised her itself, that it would protect her. That she had brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters, all who would protect her. It was unreal but Jarra could feel the truth. It believed what it said and slowly, Jarra willed herself to calm and closed her eyes. She didn't need to see the other ships, just listening was enough.

It had been eternity since she had smiled. Eternity since she had felt anything but pain but there, surrounded by other ships, with the nebula in the background, cradled by the largest ship, Jarra dared to believe.

October 2nd 2190 13:28, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Dive Room

Nuriel looked around the salarian coding. It was tight. From the brief look he had at asari coding, he could see that the salarian coding was tighter, better formed. It had redundancy and layer upon layer of security. Yet for all of that, he could hack it, force his way through it but that would be a pain in the proverbial. It would be better, easier if they opened the way.

That was generally the first rule of diving. Find some kink in their security and then make them let you exploit it. Of course, you had to exploit it in such a way that they couldn't exploit your weaknesses but that was one of Lacuna's jobs. So what would the Salarians respond to? These Salarians appeared to be the intelligence gatherers of the Council and this ship had been sending out signals, signals Nuriel had recognised as attempts to establish covert communication with the human fleet. They were the Council's divers. Nuriel flicked through a few loose files and then laughed. It was so easy! They would expect it but that was the beauty of it. Their expectations would make them walk right into his trap.

"Lacuna, I'm going to need a multi-layered shell configuration, vectored to look like a dreadnaught," Nuriel gave the instruction to his waiting AI. Lacuna went to work immediately, spinning walls of code around him. They gave the illusion of size, just as he had instructed and while they seemed solid, they would not hinder his movement. They were his code. Nuriel set to work on the inner layer. It had to look organic. After he set up a series of subsystems which would pretend to be high level brain waves and subconscious thoughts, he moved outwards, setting up what would be wards and barriers. "Lacuna, this needs to look like a SIL," he instructed after he finished.

The AI nodded and Nuriel watched as a few changes were initiated. They weren't large but once they were done he understood. The code he'd written still had something indefinably organic about it, now the outer layers reflected pure cold logic.

It was one of the oddities of dive space. They were on the salarian ship but at the same time they were on the Kilimanjaro, which was why he could create such a large construct. "Now, I need you to project it," Nuriel instructed. "Make it seem like the construct is at edge of our fleet."

He didn't wait for Lacuna to respond. They were already in the salarian system far enough that Lacuna could make them think his creation was one of the SIL or SOCL and once he opened a few, minor paths for them, the salarian hackers would take the bait. They'd have to because by now, they would be desperate. And once they took the bait, coming into his simulation of a SIL, he would follow the path back, through all their security, straight on to their ship.

Such a beautifully simple plan. No human diver would fall for it and even if they did, their AI would bail them out. From what he'd seen of the salarians, they were too used to getting their own way, too used to being in control, too used to believing that no one would stand up to them. If the salarian hacker was intelligent, they might see the trap but Nuriel doubted they'd avoid it so now, all he had to do was wait. They'd find his ship, and then he'd find them. And then… Then some of them might survive humanity's wrath.

October 2nd 2190 13:32, Citadel Space, Turian Dreadnought Pride of Menen

Captain Tarquin laughed. Saren had promised them reinforcements but the Turian Captain didn't think the Spectre meant this!

The Citadel had repositioned and a signal had been sent. It had almost fried their comms but they had avoided that.

After that, it had seemed as if nothing had happened but then chaos had erupted in the enemy fleet. Some of the ships began firing on their fellows. Even the big one seemed affected. The fleet wasn't completely incapacitated. It would take more than a few ships turning on them to do that but, with their concentration split, it made his job easier.

"Attack the front rows!" he gave the order easily and was pleased when a new wave of fire lanced out from the Citadel fleet.

The enemy fleet seemed to ignore them as they concentrated on the internal threat. Their formation was odd. The original ships had vanished into the bulk of the formation. The leading edge of the enemy formation was now made of huge ships, their shields overlapped and all Tarquin could do was watch as his shots impacted and did nothing. The only reason his ships hadn't been destroyed was that the enemies seemed to be waiting for something.

He had no idea what but he was thankful for it. Their hesitation gave the Sovereign time to triumph.

For the moment, all he could do was watch as the enemy fleet moved around the traitors in their midst. He admired the way they moved. With so many ships he would have thought that at least some would have collided but whoever was in charge of coordination was doing a perfect job. Even with the chaos, the enemy fleet seemed to move together and he knew, watching the screens, that enough ships had remained loyal.

"More ships appearing!" his sensor tech screamed.

"What!" Tarquin turned sharply, looking at the new screen. More ships were appearing and he felt his eyes widen when he took in their specs. Geth?! He liked to think he was controlled, that he considered the situation before acting but even he felt his heart quiver slightly. What were the geth doing here?

"Reinforcements have arrived," the communication came from the Citadel.

"They're Geth!" the objection followed hard on the heels of the announcement.

"In dealing with these human upstarts, we must sometimes deal with unusual allies," Saren's voice was heard. "The geth recognize the threat the humans represent. They will aid us now."

"But…" Tarquin wasn't sure what to say.

"For their territory beyond the veil, the Geth will aid," Saren repeated, and Tarquin felt his objections crumble. While the Turians weren't the most mercantile of the Council, the Volus took care of that aspect of their empire, he understood trade. If the Geth were getting something for their actions now, it made much more sense and then they would retreat back to their territory and everything would be as it was. Then they would know the glory of ascension.

October 2nd 2190 13:33, Citadel Space

There was a welter of communication between the ships of the Geth fleet as they assessed the situation. The Old Machine, Nazara had called them here but there were other Old Machines here. That was not logical.

"They are traitors!" The modulated voice of Nazara came to them. "They have betrayed the Cycle and sided with the Organics!"

"They are old machines," the Geth objected.

"With organics!" Nazara added resisting the urge to merely order the Geth to attack. That's what he would usually have done but he could sense their uncertainty. They had to be shown the truth. It was the problem with synthetic life, they could not be controlled as easily as weak flesh. "It is difficult, I know," Nazara sympathized with them. "I regret this but look at their fleet. See the ships of the Organics within them?" He asked.

"What of your fleet?" The question was returned.

"They are controlled," Nazara replied. "They serve me and they will soon be the sacrifice of ascension."

The geth were silent for a few moments. "Ascension?"

"Organic life is destructive and illogical. Ascension is the moment they submit, the moment they become a creature of logic."

"They become Geth?"

"Not geth, never geth. Organics could never comprehend the perfection that is the Geth," the SIL almost choked on the words of flattery but he would spin any tale so long as it worked. "I am an old machine. I have watched for untold centuries. I have seen organics rise and fall. I have seen the damage they do, thus I know that the only choice for them is ascension. They cannot be allowed to rule."

"You will drive them from Rannoch?"

"With pleasure," Nazara hissed. So that was the key. "I will remove them from Rannoch, just as I will remove those Geth who have sided with the Organics. Such weakness cannot be allowed to continue."

Again the Geth were silent and for a long moment Nazara was worried that they might be talking to Harbinger. It was unlike the ancient machine to be quiet.

"We will destroy them," the Geth replied finally and unheard by any, Nazara laughed before giving them targeting information.

Organics might think the fleet before them large but they knew nothing and they did not realize that he need only destroy one ship for victory. And that ship had conveniently made itself such a large target.

"All forces, fire on their flagship!" Nazara ordered, even as he launched his own strike.

Harbinger would burn this day.

October 2nd 2190 14:14, Citadel

Shepard wasn't the only marine who believed the worst part of combat was the ride in. On the battlefield, they were in charge, their actions determined the outcome, whether they lived or died. In the transport, they were in the hands of the pilot. She knew it was somewhat risky making an assault while the Citadel fleet was not yet pacified but they could not wait. She had every confidence that the removal of the Relay and all the comm buoys in Sol meant that the unpartnered SIL had not heard the Intelligence's signal but she did not need it figuring that out.

It did not have enough strength, and it had to know it. Even with the traitors and the Heretical Geth, it was just a matter of time before the Citadel fleet was overwhelmed. They probably could have done it already if they were prepared for losses. But that was one aspect of an Organic that had altered Harbinger. They were no longer prepared to sacrifice even the lesser ships. That made any attack rather difficult, but not impossible with the numbers they possessed. And the Intelligence would know of its advantage, which made neutralising it all the more important. While it was free, while it backed Nazara, it would always be a threat.

She didn't even need to think about it to know it. The thought streams that were her, were Harbinger as well and she could feel everything from the fleet still but even as Harbinger Shepard seemed to compartmentalize her, she did the same for him. They were not separate but they both recognized that their two aspects needed to concentrate only on their task.

There was a tone and Shepard knew it was the shuttle reporting that they were nearly at the hanger. There was no pilot, there didn't have to be. The System Alliance AI's were more than enough for this and once the shuttle landed, they would begin a cybernetic assault on the Citadel.

She felt a small relief from their position. They had gotten through the fleet. Now for the bit she was really good at. It was with a tight grin that she hefted her Breaker, rolling her shoulders to settle her armor. It was a copy in looks only of the gear she had worn at Torfan, though. In functionality it was far different. The Systems Alliance had learnt much in their war against the Batarians. The SOCL had helped but humans could stand proud of their achievements and even though Harbinger's knowledge had augmented a few things, making them stronger, the majority of her armor was of human design. She grabbed Tanner's knife in her left hand, flicking it into a backwards hold as the shuttle touched down.

They weren't the only shuttle. While the majority of the horde had been sent to Palaven there was more than enough for this. The other shuttles' drones would keep the Citadel's inhabitants occupied. She was wise enough to let the drones lead the charge. She had one job and it was not to fight the security of the Citadel. Several drones drew close. These were special drones. They were not Batarian and they were not human. They were Thearnadi and thus were faster and stronger with better eyesight and more augmentation. They could act as a host for her if necessary and she had no doubt that the main stream of thought that was Harbinger would check her progress.

A map appeared on her HUD but the broader plan of the Citadel was lodged in her mind. Harbinger may never have set foot here but he knew the layout, and thus the drones knew the layout. Most had already charged forward to engage whatever defenses were in place. She followed in their wake, her HUD showing her the position of the drones. For the moment there was no resistance but she knew that wouldn't last.

"You two, hold back and act as snipers, the rest with me," Shepard ordered the small group of drones that had remained with her. They complied and she ran forward, into the Citadel. There was a lot of ground to cover.

October 2nd 2190 14:32, Palaven Space, SIL Centomoru

In the space above the turian homeworld, the battle wasn't so much desperate as it was hopeless. Only the most rabid turian captain thought the battle was winnable now. Those who were realists knew the battle had been lost as soon as two pieces of information came to light. The first was the count of the enemy ships but that alone was not enough to convince them since the ships might have been primitive. The second was the stats on the ships. Once they saw their rounds splashing up against shields and saw the 5 klick long behemoths move, they knew the battle was lost.

The one thing the turians weren't sure about was what to do.

Surrender wasn't really covered in their training, nor was it in their nature.

And so the turian ships milled about, fighting a losing battle with less and less ability as the invaders picked them off. A few Captains had tried to ram an invading ship and it almost seemed as if the invaders felt the intention with the action because those ships were ruthlessly fired upon before they even got close to the invaders.

Comm traffic between the turian ships was flying thick and fast as they tried to decide what to do, though several were still trying to run the battle.

"Regroup! Those in sector 9 regroup for a strafing run!"

There were several growls that met that call and Hackett shook his head when the SOCL responded, breaking the effort to regroup before it even began. Centomoru transmitted further conversations to him. The turian ships were scattered and it was becoming obvious that no one was in charge. He wondered why the turians had not used nuclear weapons.

"They don't have them."

"Have what?"

"Nuclear weapons," Centomoru clarified.

Hackett felt his eyes widen. Sure nukes had their drawbacks, big ones but they were part of any militaries capabilities.

"The Council frowns upon the use of nuclear weapons," the SIL continued. "And they have rules against the destruction of any garden world."

Admiral Hackett nodded to himself. "I can understand that," he said, knowing that the SIL would know that he was referring to the second rule of the Council, "but it seems absurd to not at least consider their use in space."

The SIL was silent and Hackett took a deep breath, steadying himself. If the Turians would not use nuclear weapons, then that was one less concern for him. The SOCL didn't have them either. They didn't need them but he knew he was now facing a desperate race and he needed to know what they might try.

"It does not matter," Centomoru murmured. "We are done here. Offer them surrender."

There was a note of something in the SIL's voice that Hackett didn't recognize but as he looked over the tactical screens he understood why the capital ship had drawn that conclusion. There were few turian ships remaining and none of them grossed anything over a single pilot fighter.

"So quickly?" Hackett asked. The mercy was not like the SIL. He looked to the information coming from Palaven itself.

The ground battle was still being waged but already several key buildings had fallen to their onslaught and if they continued then it would be nothing more than slaughter. While they were trying to avoid killing turians, they had already taken the risk of killing those few required for synthesis but Harbinger Shepard had been clear, the turians needed to be neutralized before the rest of the galaxy felt their wrath. The longer the husks were on the ground, the greater the chance of death, no matter how careful they were.

"Arshan's turian has agreed to synthesis."

Hackett nodded. It was not much of an explanation but he understood and was again surprised at the level of consideration the SIL gave to each other. Militarily speaking they seemed monolithic and uncaring but their relationships with each other, and with organics were complicated. The turian on Arshan had accepted synthesis on faith but that singular act of faith would translate to as much mercy as the SIL could give the entire Turian people. Though they would not believe it for many years.

There was no getting around the fact that today had been brutal for the turians. It would be some time before they could accept that today was the only mercy the humans could give them but even then Hackett had expected that they would need to kill more. The turians would learn that this was mercy just as the galaxy in time would learn the price of attacking.

He closed his eyes briefly as he considered his words. Despite the apparent ease with which the SOCL had destroyed the turians' finest defenses, he did not wish to appear arrogant. The turians would bow but if they recognized reality, they could maintain their honor.

"Turian forces, I came with the intention of a peaceful negotiation. Despite sending an ambassador, you have spurned that intention, forcing battle between us. I warned you that we would take those responsible and you have forced me to demonstrate our fortitude spilling the blood of innocents.

"But we are not without mercy. I give you this chance to surrender. Take this offer, show true honor and save the lives of your people, and the justified voices calling for vengeance for the death of billions of my people will look elsewhere, for you will have shown that you had no part in that despicable act of genocide. Continue to fight, continue to resist us when you know that you cannot win and my forces will scour Palaven until it is a desolate graveyard.

"You have one hour to state your intentions."

With a sigh, Hackett sat back, closing his eyes as his head tilted upwards. He really didn't want to carry out his threat but he had seen the way turians fought. They were like humans, resisting until the end. If they did not chose to surrender, then the only way to subdue them would be to make that graveyard a reality. For now, all he could do was wait.

Centomoru seemed to coalesce around him and the SIL answered his unspoken question. "I do not know. I would hope that they do, for those of us who require turians, but if they do not then there can be no mercy."

"If they accept, I will explain that this is mercy," Hackett said, his voice both tired and accepting. "I've seen the plan for Sur'kesh."

"Yet that plan can only be accomplished with the blood of the turians," Centomoru repeated one of Hackett's earlier objections.

"I know but that is the reality the Council has wrought. No matter how justified our wrath against the Asari and the Salarians, the Turians would have been oathbound to interfere, so this is the way it must be."

Like all SIL, Centomoru could not smile but unseen by his human, the SIL was pleased with Hackett's words.

The reality of the situation was grim and it would only get worse before it got better. Humans would be feared throughout the galaxy by the time the SIL were finished but they were no longer afraid of that path. They no longer saw the blood as being needless and the acceptance of reality made the decision for synthesis all the more satisfying.

October 2nd 2190 14:35, Citadel Council Chambers

"Invaders! We have multiple breaches!" The announcement echoed through the Citadel.

"Sirs! We have to get you to safety!" An Asari Spectre who had been assigned to guard the Council announced.

Tevos graced them with a soft smile. "Where?" the elder Asari suggested gently.

The Spectre frowned before understanding dawned on her face. There was nowhere to go. The Council Chamber was one of the best guarded on the Citadel and they could not risk going to the Palladium if there were invaders. The Sovereign would control the space battle but the Destiny Ascendant was not safe, not with so many indoctrinated outside.

"I will handle them," Saren broke into the conversation.

"Saren, where are you?" Esheel asked, as she looked carefully at the background. She didn't recognise where the Spectre was and she thought she knew most of the Citadel.

"Preparing to intercept," Saren replied and as they watched they saw him fire around a corner. The target was not clear. "Tell C-Sec to start forming barricades," he ordered, after lobbing a grenade. "Shoot to kill, no mercy!"

Esheel nodded. "No mercy," she agreed but gasped when the transmission widened. Saren was accompanied by… by Krogan! "Saren!?" the name was a question.

The bare-faced turian looked at his omni-tool for a moment and the Councillors could all read the curiosity in his gaze. "Councillor?" he asked.

"Why are you with Krogan?" Quentius asked for Esheel.

Saren gave a turian smirk. "Effective soldiers," he said before changing tack, "Send a squad of Spectres to sector eleven, just in case they take the long way around." The transmission cut off and the gathered Councillors shared a long look.

Krogan… Saren was using Krogan and the Sovereign was dealing with the Geth. This was not Council law. Tevos sighed audibly. "Our Spectre is correct," she said at length. "The Krogan are admirable warriors." Unspoken but not unheard was the extra comment, 'And better that they die than any of us.'

"I do not like this," Esheel said, her eyes narrowing as she thought of reports she had read from Tuckanka. The Genophage was still in effect and the Krogan would not support a Council Spectre so how had…

"No, Tevos is correct," Quentius said. "Krogan are undisciplined brutes but are effective troops. Not as reliable as Turians but in this situation, I think we can overlook that, so long as they repel the invaders."

Esheel continued to frown as her thoughts raced. She did not like this but trapped as she was in the Council Chamber with a massive enemy fleet surrounding the Citadel, there was nothing she could do about it.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 27 Goliath Had Armies Vast


October 2nd 2190, Rannoch

"We have to go!"

"Fruben?" Tali questioned as much the statement as the note in the massive ship's voice.

The ship didn't bother to explain, instead information flooded into her. She saw the battle at the Citadel and felt the massive presence of the Creator but overlaying that, she saw Geth and there was also a battle over a silver planet.

"Too much!" Tali groaned, trying to sort the information into some order.

The information stopped and the images and feelings came slower. It was not speech, it was more precise than speech since each image was more like a small video and accompanying it was a wealth of additional information. The silver planet was Palaven and Tali almost choked when she realized that the humans had already called for the turian forces' surrender. The battle of the Citadel was also proceeding well and the Creator had already attempted to call upon the ingrained loyalty of the SIL, only to find that the forces facing it were SOCL and most were loyal to synthesis. There had been a few betrayals but they had been dealt with.

What caught her attention about the battle over the Citadel was the opposition. The human forces should have overwhelmed the Citadel fleet but with the Catalyst there, that was not a normal battle. Their forces were not committed as they had been on Palaven. There were also System Alliance ships there which fought as humans did. But in the Council fleet she could see Geth. The platforms were massive and they were firing at the humans.

"What are they?" She asked, holding the image in her mind.

"Heretical Geth," Fruben replied without thought. "When Harbinger Shepard made the proposal there were some Geth who disagreed."

Tali nodded. The Geth were a synthetic life form that relied on consensus within their ranks to form decisions. Where an agreement could not be made, the majority decision was the one adopted. So it made sense that some Geth would not have wanted to accept Quarians back on Rannoch. But Heretical Geth? There were those who had broken away?

"Those Geth that disagreed were released from the whole and they left. We were told after the fact," Fruben explained further and implicit in his words was the knowledge that the SIL would have destroyed the Heretical Geth.

Tali had learned a few things over time about the SIL both from reading the material the humans had provided and from her own knowledge. The SIL and to some extent the SOCL were amazingly straightforward. They had their goals and they pursued them. They eliminated threats as they came but their elimination was permanent. The Heretical Geth had been given a choice to agree with Harbinger Shepard's plan. They had not. Therefore they stood in the way of the goal and had to be removed. It was not hatred which drove the SIL, just logic and their logic was not tempered by remorse or guilt or any of the societal expectations that she understood.

"So now they are attacking?" She asked needlessly.

"They obey the Vanguard," Fruben said.

"Can they not be persuaded?" Tali asked.

She had interacted with the Geth on Rannoch, helping Quarians to recolonize their planet and to make a system that would work between Creator and Created. The Geth she knew where honest and helpful. They wanted nothing more than to live beside the Quarians on Rannoch. And it hadn't seemed difficult for Harbinger Shepard to convince the Geth of the plan.

The capital ship was silent for a few moments and Tali could feel the force of Fruben's thoughts. "They are as most synthetics come to be," the massive SIL said finally. "Haters of organics."

"So for that you want to kill them all?"

"For eons, we have kept the balance."

The statement was one she had heard before but no further explanation was forthcoming so it meant nothing. The humans couldn't explain and she hadn't had any opportunity to ask any of the SOCL or CEumans.

"So this is to keep the balance?"

Fruben was silent. "With Synthesis the balance has been adjusted. I do not know where the new balance will be but they are not a part of it."

Tali frowned.

Fruben's urgency had not abated but while the SIL was suggesting the wholesale slaughter of the Heretical Geth, she could sense that it wasn't bloodlust driving the great ship. It was something else and then it all clicked. Harbinger Shepard was at the Citadel and Fruben was one of the highest ranked. He wanted to see the face of change himself.

"All right," she said with a smile. "Let's go," she added, "but afterwards we must truly begin synthesis."

For a moment, Fruben was silent. "Afterward, we shall," he agreed and the screens the great ship had provided shifted so that she could see the fleet that had gathered at Fruben's call. It was mixed, comprised of Geth, Quarian SOCL and Quarian ships

Rather than be annoyed that they had gathered, Tali felt happy.

Appearing at the Citadel would show the galaxy where Quarian loyalty lay and all those who had looked down upon them would know the true strength of the Quarian nation. That was more than worth the journey.

October 2nd 2190 14:41, Citadel Space, STG Aegohr

Mathias watched the results on his screen. The numbers were impossible. They could see the ships! The humans' ships were there! The sensors could see them as well, but only with the sensors that Spectre Saren Arterius had given the Council ships. With their normal sensors, they'd have been blind. That wasn't what was bothering him.

The numbers were. For all that they could sense the ships, it was only in a physical sense. As soon as they'd appeared, the STG had begun attempting to hack them. The human ships had at least been there. Their firewalls had been impossibly strong but the STG had been able to attempt to hack them. It had been like hacking a mountain and Mathias wasn't the only agent to be impressed.

Then of course, the new ships had come. At that point, they'd lost their hack on the human vessels as the newcomers had moved to shield the humans' dreadnoughts. If he thought hacking the humans had been hard, then the new ships raised it to new extremes. To exist, they had to have coding, they had to have firewalls and other defenses but somehow they didn't. Or at least, they didn't have anything the Salarians recognized. He and his team had tried every frequency, every code they knew but the new ships didn't appear.

It was like Saren's ship. The first time that had appeared,STG agents had tried to hack the Sovereign. It had been the same. They'd sensed something from it when it spoke to the Citadel, enough to know that it was there but they had not be able to penetrate at all into its coding. Even when it was on the Citadel, while they hadn't tried actively hacking it, even the passive scans had not been able to see it.

Mathias watched the numbers. There was nothing there. They were immutable and unchanging. Endless streams scrolled on his screen, all the same. There was not even a random variable of change about them. The ships just weren't there. He glanced to the side. The others had the same problem but at the end of the work station, Mathias could see one of the techs watching their screen, perplexed. Silently, he got up and moved to the screen. These numbers were different! The numbers were not those of a ship. His eyes widened when he realized what they showed. They were organic. They showed waves of activity, much like medi-scans.

That wasn't possible! But the only way for the numbers to show that particular pattern was if the ships were alive. Nothing alive could be that large… He sidled back into his work station, and adjusted his sensors slightly. The organic numbers appeared to him. They were flexible and they changed constantly. There was no pattern. They were like thought. Exactly like thought! Because if those ships were alive, then they were thinking.

"Ancestors," Mathias whispered but then his eyes narrowed and he shook himself. If he had numbers, then he had something he could sense, and if his sensors could sense it then the probes could affect it. He sent a signal. Just a small one. The numbers pulsed and he felt a surge of excitement. He sent another signal. Again, the numbers pulsed. Mathias began typing in earnest, making a series of commands to send to the living ship. After the battle, they could study them in earnest but now they needed to stop them.

After a few minutes of frantic activity, he sat back and tapped the command that sent the signal. The numbers flickered and then they began streaming again, this time in the order he had specified. He leaned forward and again began typing. The numbers shifted again at his command and he felt a tight coil of excitement surge through him. If he took one down…

The numbers continued to shift as he commanded them and Mathias smiled as he continued to type. His trap was simple but it had worked and the living ship had fallen for it. He typed the final commands and watched as the numbers stilled.

"Yes!" That single syllable was all he allowed himself but it was enough to bring the attention of those beside him.

They turned to him and saw his screen. "You got it?"

"Yes," Mathias replied, his eyes focused on the numbers. They held still, just as they should. "The signal is different," he said. "They're…" Mathias didn't finish. From the corner of his eye, the numbers flickered and then his screen went blank.

"What?" He demanded as he returned to his screen. He pressed a few keys. Nothing happened. The others gathered to watch and so they didn't notice when their own screens went blank. He touched a few more keys and then his eyes widened. The cursor moved. It had been blinking in the top left corner but it moved to the center of the screen.

"Mathias?"

"Not me."

A long moment passed and then words appeared. At first, the text didn't make any sense. The symbols were familiar only in a vague way. Mathias and all the other STG agents had seen similar symbols on the ship that had come through the relay, years ago now. The symbols were the same but then they changed, flickering for a moment to instantly reconfigure into Salarian text.

Cold gripped his heart as he read.

'Thank you for letting me in.'

"Secure all systems!" Mathias screamed, his eyes wide as understanding dawned. His long fingers flew over the controls but he couldn't rid the screen of the message. Around him, other agents scrambled to help but a glance to the side showed that their screens were the same. He stopped typing and looked around.

Every screen was the same. They all said the same thing.

Mathias sat and pulled his hands back. He breathed deep, forcing his heart beat to calm. He had been foolish. Salarian ships had good firewalls. More than two thousand years of development ensured that but a living ship? Its very life depended on its defenses. Its firewalls would not just be good, they would be... they would be the closest thing to perfect. He'd found nothing. He'd found only what they wanted him to find and now the Aegohr was in danger. They were all in danger.

Because he'd let them in.

October 2nd 2190, Serpentine Nebula, Arshan

Despite his posturing, Arshan's role in the battle was minor. Garrus had figured that out quickly enough when the SIL had taken a few pot shots at the Citadel fleet, then withdrawn back behind the lines of human vessels, letting their shields absorb any retaliatory fire. And with the number of ships the humans had brought, it was amazing that any of them needed to fire. He didn't know what their plan was. By now, they should have decimated the Citadel fleet but they appeared to be waiting for something.

"The strike will come when Shepard Harbinger reaches the Intelligence," Arshan supplied the information carelessly.

"What can one human do against it?" Garrus asked. Shepard Harbinger had a lot of augmentations but the Intelligence had just tried to control Arshan. It wasn't something a human could go up again.

"Shepard Harbinger knows synthesis," Arshan said. "That will be sufficient."

"How?" Garrus queried, his voice fluted with doubt.

The SIL was silent for a few moments and Garrus could feel that he was considering his answer carefully because it was complicated. "Synthesis will alter us both. For your shell, I would suggest various augmentations but that is something the entity we become shall determine in the event we decide to keep two shells. Shepard was a soldier. Her shell has been enhanced to grant her combat abilities far above any human. Speed, strength, vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell are all enhanced but your technology can already do most of that. The real change is in knowledge and that she will appear biotic."

Garrus felt his eyes widen. Synthesis made a fully grown being a biotic? That was something that almost every race, apart from the Asari would kill for.

"It is not true biotic power. The energy is slightly different but it is best understood as biotics."

"Can you do that for me?" He didn't know what prompted the question. He was not biotic and he'd managed perfectly fine his entire life.

"If you wish," Arshan replied instantly and carried with his words was the knowledge of how it would happen. Garrus saw immediately that it would take time.

"Later," he said, breathing deep. "When I'm sure," he added. It was not something to rush into.

"We will decide together," Arshan agreed.

Garrus was silent for a few moments. "What's happening on Palaven?" Arshan's reply earlier had made it clear that the battle of the Citadel would be over as soon as Shepard Harbinger reached the Intelligence, but that said nothing about the other battle, the one over Palaven.

"Most of your fleet has been subdued," Arshan replied without hesitation. With the word 'subdued' Garrus knew Arshan meant exactly that. Palaven's defense fleet had not been destroyed, it had been disabled. This was part of the mercy the SIL had indicated would be shown to Turians and already Garrus could see how it would enrage his fellows. "We are landing ground troops," the SIL continued.

"Humans are landing?" That made him forget the fleet and Garrus couldn't help but be surprised. From all that he heard, he thought the humans were focused on the Citadel.

"No, we are landing troops," Arshan's follow up did not make things clearer.

"Who's landing troops?"

"The SOCL."

"You have troops?" Garrus had only ever seen the CEumans and he didn't think they would be deployed against his people. There weren't enough of them anyway.

Arshan paused again to formulate his response. "SIL and SOCL both possess ground forces."

It was the lack of accompanying information that made Garrus suspicious. Arshan's previous replies to questions had carried much in his tone but more than that Garrus realised suddenly… Previously he'd been able to almost feel some of the information. The reply this time was purely verbal. Even though Garrus wasn't used to Arshan's method of providing extra information, the lack of it felt wrong. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, bracing himself for the truth. "Just tell me."

"Approximately 2 billion units will be landed on Palaven to subdue your homeworld."

Garrus felt himself start. His eyes widened and he gulped hard. That was a troop for every three turians on Palaven. Every man, woman and child. Gaffers and Grams, babes in arm. Age didn't matter. Skill didn't matter. One for every three. "How?" he asked shakily. Where did the SIL and SOCL get those units as Arshan described them.

"There is another 1 billion held in reserve for Palaven and Turian controlled planets, with another 7 billion to be used against the Asari and Salarians."

He gulped again, feeling himself tremble. Arshan said the numbers so casually, as if they were nothing special but Garrus felt his trembling turn into shivers. Arshan responded immediately and the temperature in the room rose noticeably. It did nothing. With the numbers, they couldn't be human forces but what were they?

"How?" He asked again, knowing that the answer would not be pretty.

Arshan was silent and Garrus knew the ship was deciding whether to tell him or not. He almost felt the thought process but even as he thought the SIL would try to ignore the question, Vakarian got a reply. "They are Batarian."

"What?" The answer shocked him and Garrus felt himself resume a more normal stance. The temperature in the room dropped as his shivers subsided. Batarians. But they were practically extinct and before that, they had closed their bord- "They didn't close their borders?" The question was not the most direct but Arshan understood.

"I closed them."

"Why?"

"The Humans and Batarians had been at war for approximately 11 of their years," Arshan began explaining. "Humans in Sol are not tested for synthesis compatibility until they turn 18. Shepard forged her results and served in their military. Her compatibility was only discovered when she nearly died in a battle and was put into stasis. Harbinger was not pleased and I was ordered to lead a retaliatory strike."

"Retaliatory strike?" Garrus hadn't kept up with the news but it had been well reported that Khar'shan had been flamed to bedrock. After that, because no further information was forthcoming, everyone just moved on. It wasn't like the Batarians had been well liked in Council space anyway. "You burned their homeworld to bedrock and that is a retaliatory strike?"

"Harbinger was not pleased," Arshan repeated as if that explained everything.

Garrus realized that the SIL did not think anything was wrong with that action. Reluctantly, with a mental note to revisit the issue later, he let it drop. "So you've been keeping Batarians aboard to be used as troops?"

Again he could feel Arshan debating his answer. "Yes," the SIL replied. "We do not expect them to be greatly effective, but in sufficient numbers, they will be able to subdue all turian facilities on Palaven."

And anywhere else, Garrus added mentally. If you didn't care about losses, and Arshan had already made it clear that he was not concerned about Batarian lives, then yes, 2 billion batarians would be able to subdue all military and civilian targets on Palaven, even if they had to climb over the bodies of their dead to do it. Batarians would not be the best soldiers but Garrus doubted there would be desertions. Somehow he knew the SIL would control those troops they had. The Batarians would fight and with their numbers, they would win. Another insult which was mercy.

"We do not wish to kill Turians," Arshan said to him. "And this was the only way it could be done."

Garrus took a deep breath. There may have been other ways but nothing that could be achieved in the time they had. He lowered his head, looking down at the floor. Why did mercy feel like betrayal?

October 2nd 2190 14:50, Citadel Council Chambers

"Ancestors!" One of the Spectre's whispered, looking at his omni-tool.

"What is it?" Tevos asked.

The Salarian Spectre, Jondum, tapped his omni-tool, linking the machine to the screen in the chamber. It came as no surprise when everyone else gasped.

It was an image from the Citadel, showing the invaders but they knew the figure who was leading. It was hard to miss it. The invading troops were bipedal but they were unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Their bodies were black and they had two glowing blue lines for eyes. Most of them didn't move that fast but instead seemed to stumble through the corridors of the Citadel but there were enough of them to be a problem. Those that did move fast, the defenders almost didn't see them before it was too late and those watching were left with the impression of glowing blue lines.

The figure they saw now though was different. It wore what was recognizable as power armor and carried a veritable plethora of weapons strapped to it. In one hand was a long knife, in the other was a heavy gun of unknown design. They couldn't see the face, the visor was down but it didn't matter.

"That's…" Tevos felt her voice trail away as she watched the figure. It was the same one, the same one they had the video of from Khar'shan. It looked the same and it moved the same, just like some of the best Asari commandos. The problem was that not even the best Asari commandos, or even the most highly trained Spectres could take out Krogan like the human was. They'd tried and failed in the past, yet the human was making it look easy.

It was almost hypnotic, except it was sending tendrils of fear through those watching. There was no wasted movement and while the human was not alone, the sheer precision of her movements drew the eye.

"Definitely augmented," Jondum began muttering to himself. "Not biotic?" the question was rhetorical and as they watched the figure slash the knife through the air, leaving a glowing trail in its wake that arced outwards, it was answered. "Biotic," the Salarian said, confirming the information to himself. "Fast, trained, knows Krogan biology though how was that information gained?" Another question but one that was not so easily answered.

The obvious answer was that the humans had gained the knowledge from the Batarians but they should not have had such extensive physiologies and the implications if they did…

Tevos suppressed a shudder as she continued to watch.

October 2nd 2190 14:51, Palaven, Ground Forces

Baroat was pinned behind his transport. He'd been shooting drop ships but they weren't as defenseless as they seemed and he never even saw what hit him. He was pilot enough to avoid a fiery ending. He'd intended to put down and re-join the lines, except he hadn't managed to avoid injury and his leg throbbed. Shrapnel pierced it. Although the lodged debris was keeping the bleeding down, it cut his maneuverability. Baroat had done the only thing he could, hunkered down behind his craft and fired at the invaders with his sidearm.

No alien species was going to invade Palaven on his watch! His radio was still active and the chatter was coming thick and fast but precious little of it was good. There was nothing from the defense fleet but they used different frequencies and now that he was on the ground, Baroat was forced to listen to the more important ground chatter, instead. Whoever the aliens were, they hadn't even bothered to jam the frequencies but at the same time, no one had been able to pick up any of their signals. It was as if they were using completely different tech! At least that was the popular theory being bandied about. It didn't really matter because there were more important things to worry about, such as the defense of Palaven.

Occasionally, a military voice came through, seeking information or issuing orders but Baroat was in no position to help them and mostly the chatter was from civilians as they tried to drive off the invaders. As a result, it took Baroat a few moments to realize when a new voice came through. It was a powerful voice speaking in Turian but the connotations were wrong and the words clipped, as if coming through a translator but the only ones who might use a translator were... His eyes widened even as he focused his ears on the voice.

"... ambassador, you have spurned that intention, forcing battle between us. I warned you that we would take those responsible and you have forced me to demonstrate our fortitude by spilling the blood of innocents."

Baroat almost gagged at the words. Were the aliens stupid? Did they really believe the drivel their spokesman was putting out? Sure turians had died, but it would take more than that to defeat them! This was their world and no upstart race would drive them from it!

"But we are not without mercy. I give you this chance to surrender."

"What?" Baroat couldn't help but scream. Surrender? What the hell did the alien think was happening? Sure, he was being driven back by the invaders but he was injured. The might of Palaven would not have fallen, and any moment reinforcements would arrive at his position, driving back the aliens. Plus the defence fleet was probably having the time of their lives shooting aliens ships down!

Surrender? No! If the aliens surrendered they might survive the retribution that was to come but only if the Hierarchy was feeling magnanimous. Baroat was so incensed by the words that he missed most of their follow up.

"... had no part in that despicable act of genocide. Continue to fight, continue to resist us and know that you cannot win and my forces will scour Palaven until it is a desolate graveyard."

Oh, there would be a graveyard alright but it would not be Palaven. It would be the settlements and pathetic homeworld of the race that dared attack them! There was no way that some unknown race could take on the might of Palaven!

"You have one hour to state your intentions," the voice finished and for a moment there was absolute silence.

Then there was a confused welter of voices and Baroat couldn't make heads nor tails of the cacophony of noise, except to say that most were as angry as he was at the invaders' arrogance. He would have been shouting his contribution to the noise as well except he needed to keep one eyes on the aliens because no matter how angry he was, he couldn't achieve vengeance if he was dead.

It was apparent that they had heard their commander's broadcast, though Baroat could see no radio gear on any of them. He didn't let that concern him. He couldn't see weapons on them either but they were deadly so it didn't matter. What was interesting now was their reaction. They dropped. One moment they were standing, making their way forward to attack and now they had dropped to the ground like some imitation of the dead.

Baroat held his mandibles still as he lined his sight up on one of them and fired. The shot flew true and he was rewarded with a splatter of gore around the invader he'd shot.

And the others just lay there.

It should have been reassuring. It should have filled him with glee to know that he could shoot all the alien invaders without retribution from the others but instead Baroat felt a sliver of fear shoot through him. What if the call to surrender had been real?

Training controlled his breathing as he took another shot and was given the same lack of response. Gore splattered around the body of the invader but nothing else. The fear rose and heedless of his injuries, Baroat scrambled to his radio, frantically adjusting the frequency as he listened intently for any response from the fleet above.

White noise greeted his efforts but Baroat didn't give up. He continued to flick through the frequencies, though as he worked he cast his eyes to the sky. It was late in the day and night was beginning to fall. A few stars were visible and he blinked, desperately hoping that his eyes were playing tricks on him when he realized they were not in the right position.

"No," the whisper left his lips. "No," Baroat repeated, his heart pounding and his stomach pressed against his spine. It wasn't possible...

But the stars blinking in the wrong position and the hiss of white noise from the radio told him it was more than possible. It was reality.

There were no transmissions from the defense fleet and as he watched the sun set, more and more alien ships settled into orbit.

And every turian could see that.

October 2nd 2190 15:00, Citadel Space, Harbinger Shepard

Harbinger looked at the files. He'd lifted them from the Kilimanjaro as the human divers were dumping them from the Citadel. They held a wealth of information. As he expected, the Salarian and Asari Councillors were behind the attack. The turians had not known and … well that was interesting. They believed that the Turian Councillor had been assassinated by Garrus Vakarian? Fascinating but false. If the Turian Councillor had not agreed with the Vanguard then he would not have lived. One of Nazara's pawns would have taken him out. Though it was an impressive feat to hold out against Nazara for so long in such proximity…

Nazara you fool! Harbinger thought with vehemence. There was only one reasonable explanation. No SIL was able to indoctrinate the organic they needed for synthesis. Nazara wouldn't have even tried to understand the reasons, would not have cared for the freedom it gave him. The Vanguard was so focused on his narrow goal of usurping leadership that he failed to recognize the larger picture. However, that was no longer a concern and with Nazara betraying him, it mattered little that Nazara's organic was dead.

He compressed the files, picking at the vid information which would have the most impact. The Salarian and Asari peoples would know the truth when they struck.

"All divers are off the Citadel?" he asked for confirmation. He didn't care if a few humans died but if the Catalyst caught them, they would not die and that would be far worse.

"Confirmed," the tech on the Kilimanjaro relayed.

"Once they can control the fleet, have them strike." There was a complex array of probabilities and distances running through his mind. The divers would most likely be ready before he, through Shepard, could physically reach the Catalyst. Their strike would be far more effective together but he could not afford to wait. Disabling the defense fleet would be the first step.

Then it would be Nazara who knew despair.


 

Chapter Text

Thank you to Pax-Humana for beta-ing

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 28 And His Afar Enemies Fell


October 2nd 2190 14:53, Palaven, Hierarchy Command Bunker

The Command bunker sheltering the Hierarchy of the turians was under attack. The first few floors had already fallen and the battle was now floor to floor as they attempted to drive back the alien invaders. There were screams and gunfire. The radio blared static and a hundred different transmissions. The noise was chaotic and unstructured, until their comms were taken over and a new voice spoke.

"Turian forces, I came with the intention of a peaceful negotiation. Despite sending an ambassador, you have spurned that intention, forcing battle between us. I warned you that we would take those responsible and you have forced me to demonstrate our fortitude by spilling the blood of innocents.

"But we are not without mercy. I give you this chance to surrender. Take this offer, show true honor and save the lives of your people, and the justified voices calling for vengeance for the death of billions of my people will look elsewhere, for you will have shown that you had no part in that despicable act of genocide. Continue to fight, continue to resist us when you know that you cannot win and my forces will scour Palaven until it is a desolate graveyard.

"You have one hour to state your intentions."

The voice disappeared into static as the message ended and the gathered Primarchs looked at each other. They had not gained their rank by being rash and so had listened to the entire message. But they were the leaders of Palaven, of every Turian and a message like that, the call for their surrender, was a slap in the face. Worse, it was a blow to the honor of all turians. They had never been challenged like this... not even during the worst of the Krogan Wars.

Unlike the majority of the turian forces, however, the Primarchs knew the status of the battle. They had watched the dots which represented their defense fleet disappear. They had watched as military bases fell, as the Cabals were overrun. They had heard the cries for help and had known there was nothing they could do.

They knew that even with the insult the battle was lost.

Yet it was no longer a question of the battle, but one of the war. The Council would have been informed of the situation here already, as would the border patrol fleets. All remaining turian assets would be gathering and preparing to launch a counterattack. Those assets would include Council forces. These upstart humans might have taken Palaven but surely they couldn't hold out against the entire galaxy.

That was the crux of the problem.

Reinforcements were coming. They would just take more than the hour they were given to get here and no matter what they might want to believe, the humans had won the day. And they were in position to carry out their threat. No one was foolish enough to suggest that the humans were bluffing. You didn't wipe out the entire defense fleet, and launch a ground assault only to bluff. No, the humans would carry out their threat and while they would eventually fall... the damage done...

That was the question. Could they weather the damage? Or should they surrender then break their word?

"Sirs!" there was a startled cry from a tech which broke the concentration of those Primarchs who were considering their next course of action.

"What is it?" Juntrey snapped. He was not in a good mood. Saren could preach the glory of ascension all he wanted but it was Palaven which was suffering now.

"Message from the Citadel, sirs!"

That got everyone's attention, including those who were inclined to continue weighing their options.

"Took them long enough!" There was a vague mutter in the background. The signal had been sent far earlier but there had been no response.

"They're..." the tech faltered, his eyes widening as he read the message, "They're under attack," he said softly, providing the most important information.

"What?" Disbelief hung heavy in the air.

"Who?"

"There is no word as to who, just that it is a vastly superior force. They've included an image." With a few taps of his talons at his station, the image was projected.

The entire room went silent.

Then the strand of hope for reinforcements that had been gently building below the conscious thought of most shattered.

The ship was the same. Those attacking Palaven were attacking the Citadel.

The tech took a deep breath, swallowing hard before continuing to read the message. "At 10:56 a force of five unknown dreadnoughts and attendant ships, which are believed to be human, appeared in Citadel space. Calls for their surrender were rejected and battle ensued. The unknown ships called for reinforcements and they came, completely out numbering the Citadel Fleet. The ship estimates are attached."

"Those bastards!" The insult was about the mildest thing said in the babble of voices that shouted to be heard. It continued for some time before one of the largest Primarchs raised his weapon, firing it into the ceiling.

"Silence!" Sonetal roared. "This is not the time to behave like cadets!" the snide comment was added as he looked around with hard eyes and the gathered Primarchs realized what they were facing. They had no time to speculate. "We have a choice to make," he continued, making sure that his mandibles were held tight and he met the eyes of all present.

"The human calls for surrender to save our homeworld yet at the same time they are attacking the Citadel. This is larger than Palaven and the humans have far larger claws than anyone believed. It is obvious that they hold the Council responsible for an attack on their population, an attack we are not even sure happened. And yet, as far as we know they have attacked only two positions, Palaven and the Citadel. Why?"

"Quentius swears he did not authorize any attack. Sparatus might have but at this point in time it doesn't matter. What is interesting to note is that the humans claim we sent an envoy to them, so now is the time, did anyone send anyone to talk to them?"

Around the room the Primarchs looked between themselves, most shaking their heads but before anyone could speak Juntrey interrupted. "Does it matter? These barbarians have attacked our home world! There is no justification for that."

That rallied several of the Hierarchy but others just stared flatly.

Sonetal snorted. "Those barbarians have very large guns, a military force larger than our own and a great deal of planning ability to strike both here and the Citadel at once."

"So you will bare your throat to them?"

"Of course not!" Sonetal returned the jab. "But those facts should make us wary of entering into a battle we cannot win!" The statement might have been an admission of weakness but he said it with such strength that it was almost a rallying cry.

"I will never lose Palaven!" Juntrey snarled.

Sonetal humphed while another Primarch wasn't as restrained. "We've already lost Palaven!"

"It's true," Sonetal added softly, almost gently, in stark contrast to his previous harshness. "The humans currently have us outnumbered and outclassed in every military sphere. Such a thing has not happened… ever… But…" he breathed deeply. "There it is. In space, they have a massive numerical advantage and we don't even know the full extent of the fleet attacking the Citadel. On the ground, their troops are…" at this he paused, not entirely sure how to phrase it.

"Their troops are dead! It's entirely possible we've not even killed one human in this battle," another filled in. "They reanimate their dead and their enemy's dead so it's fair to say that their troop numbers have not dropped. If anything, continuing the conflict will just give them more ground troops."

"What do you mean?"

"Our reports state that there have been two types of troops – one with two eyes, one with four. Autopsies suggest that the four eyed troop is batarian, and you can be sure that the batarians don't serve willingly. We might be a dextro species, but I don't think that's enough of a difference, so the longer they spend on Palaven, the longer they have to collect our dead and turn them into their soldiers."

A wave of shudders rippled through the bunker and a couple with more lurid imaginations saw the horror that could be turian. "They are an abomination!"

"No one denies that but we cannot let horror blind us to the facts," Sonetal dragged the debate back to the point at hand, glaring at Juntrey, as if daring him to speak. "We have a few choices. One, we continue to fight and we lose Palaven, we lose the single largest population of turians in the galaxy and we give the humans access to 6.5 billion turians. That's another 6.5 billion troops they could use against the rest of the galaxy, though by that stage I doubt any of us will care. Two, we can surrender," he paused here, glaring at the muttering which silenced under his gaze though several growled back. "Two, we can surrender," Sonetal repeated before continuing. "We can try to negotiate something. The humans believe that someone sent an envoy. While it pains me to say this, we can use that to negotiate, pretend that this battle was a huge misunderstanding. We use the time to rebuild, to rally our forces to retake Palaven. Or three…"

"Oh, come on! There is no three!" Someone spat.

"There is," Sonetal disagreed mildly. "Three, we can surrender in truth and work with the humans. So one, keep fighting and die, two surrender and strike back when we can, or three surrender in truth. Those are our choices but whatever we choose must be best for turians."

Muttered conversations sprung up and Juntrey seemed too incensed to actually say anything but he sat and glared, his presence all the more powerful because of his silence. Anger radiated from him and while some were loath to approach, like minded Primarchs sat with him, reinforcing the atmosphere.

"There're too many unknowns!" Someone stated before their voice lowered to debate with those around them.

"It's entirely possible that even if we surrender, intending to strike back, we'll be trapped. Especially if they are strong enough to take the Council."

"No one is that strong! They might have been able to strike at both but I'm sure the Council Fleet has already driven them off."

"So surrender to buy time to re-gather our forces and the Council's?"

"But what of the dishonor? We will have lost Palaven. No one will respect us as a military force."

"What of the dishonor? What of the dishonor of letting turians die?

"There will be no dishonor."

"How?"

"When the humans cease to be, when their world burns to dust and the last human screams for our mercy, there will be no dishonor. I will take the path to save as many turians as I can but I will never forget this day and I will never forgive the humans. One day, they will face our wrath."

Around the speaker, the other Primarchs nodded. While many would call the Hierarchy prideful and arrogant, and that pride was bleeding now, they also saw reality and they knew that their first duty was to the turian people. Right at the moment, if they held on to their arrogance, their pride, the turian people would suffer. Many would be happy to continue to fight but the reality was that they had no chance for victory. Not today… and maybe not tomorrow… but Turian memory was long. There would come a day.

"So," Sonetal said with a significant glance towards the clock showing the count down. "Have we made our choice?

"There is no choi…"

"No!" Juntrey screamed. "I will not surrender Palaven to those who will never know the glory of ascension."

At his words, most of the Primarchs seemed to shiver as memory spun through them. Each remembered something different but each could almost hear Saren's soothing voice and feel the exultation that had come over them at Sparatus' funeral. They remembered Sovereign's voice below their hearing as he spoke directly into their souls and they could see the glory of ascension. It was a glory denied to the humans for their relationship with the betrayers.

"I…" Sonetal growled, frowning as he tried to recall something. The feeling was elusive and the information seemed to whisper at him while remaining just out of his mind. Unconsciously he extended his talons as he tried to think. Around him the reaction was varied. Some Primarchs were similarly affected though others looked on with outraged expressions, their anger at the humans plain to see.

"I..." Sonetal started again.

"Nothing!" Wadeross snapped. "We vote because this is too important for one to decide."

"No," Juntrey growled. "There is no need to vote," he added, coming forward and as Sonetal struggled with his thoughts, trying to find what was eluding him Juntrey sauntered to the front, posing because every eye was upon him. "Our course of action is clear! I am not blind, I can see the damage that the humans have caused, I can see the damage they are capable of still inflicting upon us, so that is why I propose we accept their offer of surrender."

There was a roar of absolute outrage and Sonetal was so surprised he just stared at Juntrey, his previous confusion forgotten. There was no way Juntrey would accept the terms...

The large turian seemed to grin at the reaction, knowing that the others were as surprised as Sonetal that he would suggest it. "Yes," he hissed. "We accept their offer, and we use that offer to lure their commander into the open."

Sonetal forced himself to show no reaction as he understood where Juntrey was going even as he felt his stomach tighten. Juntrey assumed the humans were like turians... He didn't consider what might happen if they were like the Salarians or Asari or even the Krogan, where there was no respect for authority unless it was beaten into them. If the humans were Krogan in nature, their discipline might break down if their commander was killed and they fought amongst themselves but if they had even the slightest amount of honor, of discipline then they might very well drown Palaven in blood.

"And once their commander is in the open," Juntrey continued, a wicked light in his eye, "all it will take is one shot to the head and they can reanimate his corpse!"

There was a cheer from the gathered Primarchs and Sonetal gasped as he pushed at the fog that seemed to cover his mind. They could not go down this path! It assumed too much and it relied on the fact that the humans would not know ascension...

Ascension... what was ascension? Sonetal frowned as the question formed.

Then his eyes widened as the fog shattered and everything seemed to align in black and white. "No..." his voice was a whisper. "No, we can't," he said more strongly. "Your assumptions..."

"Are valid," Juntrey cut him off.

"They are not! You assume that the humans have no discipline. You assume that they will be reduced to nothing without their commander. You do not consider the alternative, that they will be enraged, that they will see that we rejected their chance for mercy."

Juntrey looked contemptuously at him and Sonetal was surprised at the sheer level of hatred he could see in his fellow Primarch's eyes. He knew Juntrey was ambitious but this? This gambled Palaven, the one planet he swore to protect above all others.

"What of it?" the question was soft. "The humans are not worthy of the glory of ascension. They are barbarians. They have no control and no care for the way of the galaxy. They attack without warning. And yet they have the arrogance to offer us mercy?

"They do not deserve our mercy and there is no dishonor in striking them. Once they see that we are not cowed, that we will not bow down, their attack will scatter on the wind."

"It won't," Sonetal growled his own response, but as he looked around he knew the argument was lost. "I want it on record that I object to this course of action."

Juntrey sneered and gestured to one of the techs to record the objection to his plan. "So noted, though you can now watch as they die," he added before turning away. "Tell the humans, we accept their offer of surrender but demand a face to face meeting to negotiate terms. Send them the coordinates for-" here Juntrey paused as he thought of a suitable location.

"The Skidarian Bowl," another Primarch suggested and a tech brought up a schematic of the area. It was a natural formation 79 kilometers wide, 500 meters deep and 720 kilometers long with sheer walls that had been eroded by time and water. At the bottom was many flat places with good views to meet and with its natural aspect the human sensors would not detect any military installations, because there were none. But snipers... they could hide hundreds of them on the walls or on the lip.

Juntrey nodded. "Send them the coordinates for the Skidarian Bowl and let us end this conflict."

October 2nd 2190 15:15, Tuchanka

"Continuing with breaking news..."

Liara heard the words as she walked into what passed as Wrex's state room. Not that Krogans truly dealt with affairs of state but it was the place he met with the upper levels of his Clan. Some were present, most were not, but all were transfixed by the screen showing the attack on the Citadel. The undercurrent of excitement in the room was electrifying, though Liara was grateful to see that Wrex at least looked slightly worried. Excited, yes, but the Krogan leader was wise enough to understand some of the wider implications of the attack.

"Who are they?"

"What are they?"

"Wait a second… what's that?" The Krogan in question pointed towards a part of the Citadel fleet.

"That's a Geth ship!" Wrex identified it.

"What the hell is the Council doing with the Geth?" Even Krogan knew that Geth and Council forces didn't interact but on the screen, now that Liara looked closer she could see the ships of the Geth interspersed with the Council vessels. The question set off a roar from the Krogan and Liara frowned against the noise.

"Something," the voice came from beside her and Liara looked over to see Mordin. The Salarian scientist was old but still spry and his eyes were calculating as he looked at the Council fleet.

"Something is up?" she stated for him.

"Message earlier implies culpability. Implies belief in Council culpability. Geth presence confirms something fundamentally altered. No solid information on reason or source of change," the salarian scientist said quickly. The words left him all in one breath and Liara nodded.

"I sent Garrus to investigate. That ship on the Citadel, it's the same as those in the attack fleet which would imply mutual knowledge of each other. The assumed events would suggest enmity," she said. They had discussed this earlier, days ago when that odd message had echoed around the galaxy. Even without understanding what the aliens were saying, you could guess at the contents of the message. One race, an alien race believed that they had been subjected to a biological attack, one they thought instigated by Salarian probes. The fact that they wanted vengeance for the millions killed was no surprise.

The fact that they seemed capable of getting that vengeance was.

"No report?"

"No, Garrus hasn't reported back. He's probably in the thick of things," she gestured towards the screen showing the battle.

Mordin's eyes narrowed and whatever he was about to say was cut off at the screen changed.

"…by the goddess…" the asari commentator whispered and Liara didn't need to see her to know she was shocked. The entire galaxy would be shocked at the scene. It showed a figure, one proportioned like an asari, fighting. They held a gun of unknown design and a knife and were covered, head to toe, in black power armor. What was striking was not their appearance but their relative size and the fact that they were cutting through Krogan with apparent ease.

Even the watching Krogan fell silent for a few moments.

"Now, that's a warrior!" Wrex roared, his voice sharp with excitement.

Liara was forced to remind herself that for Krogan, watching other Krogan die did not sicken them. It excited them, made them want to fight whatever had killed their fellow. And the figure on the screen was killing a lot of Krogan. They were fast and their gun, while unknown, was obviously high caliber. Even the knife, which didn't look to be anything more than a primitive weapon, had to be special. The way it sliced through Krogan hide without losing its edge told her that much.

"Oh yeah!" the Krogan watching cheered but then they frowned as the unknown figure fired at something off screen.

A moment later the shot widened and the Krogan cheered again, realizing that the unknown attacker had fired towards a turian. Anyone who shot at a turian was good in their books.

"That's…" Liara felt her eyes widen.

She didn't deal much with Council politics but even she knew who the turian on screen was. It was hard not to as there were not that many turians who had given up their colony face paint. It was the Spectre Arterius. Her speculation was drowned out by more Krogan cheers. The attacker had guards and they had just fired at the remaining Krogans which had left the asari looking attacker covered in gore. The woman, because that's what she looked like, didn't even flinch. She just reached up to wipe the gore from her visor as she addressed Saren. That's what the Krogans cheered for. Before them was an enemy who would and who could fight them with the same violence they dished out. Here was an enemy who didn't mind getting dirty and Liara knew that they were getting excited.

The cameras didn't pick up whatever was said and it didn't matter because soon enough the battle was joined again and the Spectre disappeared.

Liara shared a long look with Mordin. They didn't know quite what was happening but they knew it changed everything.

October 2nd 2190 15:26, Palaven Space, SIL Centomoru

After the call for Turian surrender, Hackett ordered his forces to pause. He knew that on the ground during the hour's grace he'd given the Hierarchy, there'd be a bit of sporadic fire but he wanted no one to be able to say that the humans hadn't tried to honor the hour they had specified.

The wait was interminable and Centomoru was oddly silent. Steven realized it was because the SIL was focusing on the rest of the ships and the ground forces and despite the information that was flashed in front of him, the silence stretched.

Half an hour into his wait, Steven looked around. "Are things progressing well at the Citadel?" he asked aloud.

"They are," Centomoru answered, "though Harbinger has issued some odd orders."

"Such as?"

"'Don't listen,'" the SIL replied before it seemed to give a mental shrug. "I'll ask him what he means later," Centomoru added, and it was almost odd to hear that the ship was confused. Usually the SIL were so precise that... well... usually they had a precise understanding of everything.

"What are our losses?"

Centomoru was silent for a few moments, and Hackett could see numbers scrolling over one of the screens. The SIL didn't need to do that for itself, but it helped him understand and he appreciated the gesture. "Within tolerances," came the reply. "Ten point seven percent have been destroyed, thirty one percent have some damage while the rest remain fully operational."

Hackett nodded swallowing hard. He knew what ground forces had been deployed. Fleet Command of the System's Alliance knew what the SIL were capable of and while he had come to terms with the practical applications of such deployments, it still touched something primitive inside. He could only wonder what the turians had felt facing them, assuming that they had determined what they were. "Ship losses?"

"Only drones," came the instant answer and Hackett felt a stir of surprise. Even with their overwhelming numbers, he had expected to lose at least a few ships. It was a sobering reminder as to how strong the SOCL were. "Some have been injured," Centomoru continued. "They have begun to withdraw and will be met by our reserves."

"All Ceumans accounted for?"

"Yes."

They passed the next few moments in silence. "What are the estimated turian losses?"

The information on the screens shifted again as Centomoru scanned through the data. The SIL cross-referenced the information they had about turian defenses with the names of the ships that had been in the fleet. As the ship worked, a few smaller screens lit up and Hackett could see close ups of the Turian dreadnoughts or what was left of them. Most were almost fully intact though one or two had extensive damage.

"The Sword of Pride self-destructed," Centomoru answered the question before it was asked. "I detect life signs on the others."

Hackett nodded. "And the other ships?"

"Most single fighters were destroyed. Life beacons are detected. The turians lost 18.9 percent of ships above corvette but the others are mostly intact."

"How did we fare with cyber warfare?"

"We didn't bother trying," Centomoru reported. "I imagine the divers at the Citadel are having moderate success."

Hackett nodded. It might have been more merciful to disable turian ships but they would never have accepted the insult. Besides, a far larger human presence had been required at the Citadel which was ultimately more important. "What are the numerical estimates?"

The screens changed as new numbers flashed up on the screen and Hackett watched as the calculations were made. Centomoru had told him that his ability to collate data was nothing special amongst the SIL but it was still impressive to human eyes, even those eyes that had worked closely with the SIL for years. "I'd estimate about thirty percent total loss of life for the turians, assuming the life beacons are collected."

"We are attending to that..?"

"Yes," Centomoru confirmed shortly. "Numbers for the ground forces are much more fluid. I know how many we have captured, but I do not know how many they have lost nor how many were lost when they self-destructed."

"Self-destructed?"

The SIL seemed confused for a moment and Hackett knew that the ship was seeking the right explanation. "They set explosive charges and set them off while still in range."

"Ah..." he nodded in understanding, before closing his eyes briefly. Silence hung between them and Hackett asked quietly, "Will the turians accept?"

The SIL did not answer immediately but Hackett knew his question had been heard. The living machine was probably calculating through probabilities.

Finally, Centomoru spoke softly, "Steven," and Hackett felt himself stiffen. The SIL almost never called him by his given name. "Do you wish to save the turians from themselves?"

He felt his eyes widen before he bowed his head. "What have they done?" The question was a whisper and Hackett was almost afraid to hear the answer.

"Nothing... yet."

That made him feel slightly better. "What will they do?"

"Die."

"No," Hackett interrupted, realizing he had asked the wrong question. "What have they planned to do?"

"It does not matter. Do you wish to save them from themselves?"

Hackett took a deep breath. This wasn't the time to be playing games but the SIL's voice was absolutely serious and he could feel Centomoru's anger. The turians were definitely planning something and the SIL knew what it was... He'd almost certainly hacked their secure lines and been listening in ever since Hackett had broadcast, offering them the chance to surrender. At that, he suppressed a snort. The likely plan of the turians was pretty obvious.

"Yes!" Hackett answered firmly without further consideration. "Our presence here today is meant to be mercy so we will save them, even from themselves, if that's what it takes to be merciful."

"Then... they will accept and I will see to it that their acceptance is without deceit."

A moment later, Steven smiled, deciphering what the SIL meant. The turians would accept but would look for every opportunity to betray them but Centomoru would keep them controlled and against the millennia of experience the SIL had, Hackett knew the turians would toe the line.


Next chapter: Shepard snorted. "There is a vast difference between us. Synthesis is a joining. It transcends the glory of ascension."

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 29 Mercy is a Mouth Full of Ash


October 2nd 2190 15:31, Citadel, Shepard Harbinger

Shepard fired point blank at the Krogan before she swung Tanner's knife in a wide arc. The shots were true and she felt more than saw the Krogan she was attempting to knife dodge. Before it could follow up she turned, jabbing the knife forward. It would not be a fatal strike but even though Krogan were tough, not even they liked taking injuries.

"You are good." The voice came from above but she didn't care, automatically hefting her weapon towards the speaker and firing as she kept her eyes on the Krogan. The voice from above didn't have a gun, so that made the krogan closest to her the most dangerous.

Her guards didn't agree and there was a hail of carefully targeted bullets around her before there was an absolute storm of muck as the Krogans exploded. She was left covered in their body tissues. Those who had been at the rear pulled back. Krogan forces may prefer mass attacks, piling body upon body until the job is done but even they have some sense of self-preservation. Their actions allowed her to turn to the speaker.

"I think you will find, little turian, that I am far better than merely good," Shepard said, identifying their race. Yet to her eyes, once she wiped some of the blood from her visor, he was no longer truly turian. She could see the enhancements riddling his body and knew this was the Traitor's chosen avatar.

The turian laughed. "Ah, yes! Forgive me, Harbinger. How dare I imply that you are anything short of perfection?" Mockery laced his tones.

Shepard felt her eyes narrow and she knew the rage threatening to descend upon her was making them glow. She pushed the emotion aside, so that it would not control her but she let it simmer. It was a source of strength. "I am not Harbinger," she said clearly, her voice deliberately soft but filled with power.

For an instant, the turian seemed surprised but he recovered quickly. He was helped by the bullet that splashed up against his shield.

"Now, that's not very nice!" the turian chided.

Shepard shrugged. It had been wishful thinking to hope that a simple bullet would deal with Nazara's thrall but it had been worth the shot.

"Aren't you going to ask who I am?"

"Nazara," She answered. Whatever their name had been, whatever the turian believed their name to be, it was an illusion. They were Nazara.

"Not any more than you are Harbinger."

Shepard snorted. "There is a vast difference between us. Synthesis is a joining. It transcends the glory of ascension."

"Nothing transcends ascension."

This would go nowhere fast, Shepard realized, growling to herself as she stowed her pistol, reaching for a heavier weapon.

"Ah, ah, ah!" If the turian had of been human, Shepard would have said that he was tutting at her. As it was, the sound was similar enough that she knew what he implied. "I will fight you but you will have to prove worthy and so far all you've faced is trash. I think it's time you faced something a little more refined."

As the turian spoke, Shepard lined up her weapon but before she could pull the trigger he stepped backwards, disappearing into the dark of the balcony overhead. She hissed in frustration but a heavy footfall took her attention.

A new krogan stepped into the light and Shepard's eyes narrowed as she looked at it. Her drones didn't even wait for a signal, they just peppered him with bullets. This one, though, was better outfitted than the others. Shields absorbed the impacts and Shepard watched with detachment as one of her drones charged, only to be eviscerated by the krogan's claws. He moved well, far better than the others, but her drones were not that weak. The wounded one continued to attack until the krogan smashed its head.

"Grunt kill you!" the krogan roared and Shepard had a moment to prepare before it charged!

October 2nd 2190 15:32, Citadel Space, SAV Kilimanjaro, Bridge

"Report from the divers, Admiral!"

Maya Brooks turned to the speaker. She'd been watching the play of the fleets. It had been interesting for all the reasons that were not military. The battle should have already been over. The fleet of SOCL so outnumbered the Citadel forces as to make this fight ludicrous but they were holding back. They were not holding back to the point of sacrificing Systems Alliance ships. Plan or not, she would have objected to that, but they were not attacking as hard as they could.

Neither were the Council ships. That's what was so interesting. Their intelligence had figured that all the Council Ships would be indoctrinated and Shepard Harbinger had agreed that it was the most likely prospect. The Indoctrinated weren't meant to be able to think for themselves, they weren't meant to know fear, yet the Council ships hesitated. Even once the Geth ships reinforced them, they were slow to attack.

Beneath the indoctrination, could they know how doomed they were? Or were they waiting for further reinforcement?

She frowned, dismissing the thought. Whatever the reason, it did not matter. Their hesitation led to a protracted battle, and it was only Harbinger Shepard's unwillingness to kill them all that meant they were still alive and fighting. It was an odd dichotomy. Harbinger Shepard had no compunctions about killing but was determined to preserve as many aliens as possible because they might be needed for synthesis. The care shown to other SIL was not expected.

Still, it wouldn't alter the outcome. It just meant that their fleet had to be more careful with their shots and with the numbers they had present, no ship on their side should be destroyed, when it could retreat behind others which still had full shields. The continued resistance of the Citadel fleet was futile.

"Go ahead," she ordered the comm tech.

"The back doors are open," the comm tech read the report on their screen faithfully. When dealing with divers, comm techs learned quickly to just say whatever was reported, no matter how inane it seemed.

The smile on that flashed across Admiral Brooks' features just confirmed that. "Took them long enough," she muttered and she saw another few lines of report appear on the tech's screen.

"Apparently, some of them took a bit of a tour," the comm tech read again. "They…" eyes widened at the information.

"What is it?" Maya ordered. She didn't have a newbie comm tech who could get flustered at what Alliance Divers could do. It shouldn't be a surprise to her crew.

"Some of them hacked the Citadel. They have taken up more than half our server space with files they retrieved."

"Half?" At that, she was impressed. Memory capacity for information retrieval went on what could be mildly called overkill. You could never have too much space to dump information and so the Diver systems were connected to what was a truly obscene amount of storage capacity… and they'd taken half?

"They confirm that the Asari and Salarian Councillors authorized the attack. The Turian one has been assassinated but he didn't even know about it and would not have approved."

Well, that was interesting. It didn't matter to her, so long as all the aliens knew who was in charge but it might make a difference to others to know who they should truly fight. "Relay their reports to Harbinger Shepard," Maya ordered. The fleet leader would want to know. "And tell the Divers to strike. There is no need to wait further."

The comm tech nodded and scurried off as Maya looked back at the screen. So Shepard Harbinger had been correct. It was the Asari and Salarians. Her lips twitched and she could not help but feel a burst of approval. She still had had the fortitude to attack the Turians, dealing with the threat they represented decisively, regardless of their involvement.

Yes, humans would ascend above all other races, but perhaps the SIL would already know their place.

October 2nd 2190 16:00, Palaven, Skidarian Bowl

Juntrey stood slightly apart from his fellow Primarchs as they waited for the human. News of their surrender had not been taken well around Palaven but all would be forgiven shortly. They were standing at the bottom of the Skidarian Bowl at the agreed coordinates for the meeting. Along the walls were the best snipers Palaven had to offer. He couldn't see them and every tech they had couldn't sense them. They were waiting for the signal and when it came, the human would die.

He kept his mandibles still against his face as he waited and tried to control his anger. The task was not made any easier by the human ships which flew overhead with impunity and he vowed to himself that he would take a great deal of pleasure in destroying every last one of them.

There was a loud crack from overhead and he wasn't the only turian to look up. The sky was clear but there was a distant rumble of engines.

"Finally!"

Juntrey was better than the others at hiding his impatience but he shared the sentiment. The humans were late. The small group of Primarchs shifted slightly as they continued to wait. The rumble grew louder but no ships appeared.

"What is taking them so long?" Someone snapped the question.

There was no answer but on the wall of the Skidarian Bowl, a shadow fell. It was late in the day so the shadows were gaining length but this was not the shade of something on Palaven. The shadow grew, becoming long and it was accompanied by another... then another. The rumble of engines filled the bowl but no ship was seen but it was so loud the Primarchs looked up. Then, slowly, impossibly, a glint of steel topped the bowl. It got bigger and Juntrey felt his breath freeze.

"Impossible..." The word fell from his lips as his eyes widened. But the shape continued to grow. And then another accompanied it.

"That's not possible."

No one said anything else.

Another roar filled the air and Juntrey wasn't the only Primarch to spin at the new noise. Cruising through the Skidarian Bowl was a ship. It was huge. They didn't have many pictures of the ships that had attacked but they had enough. The super dreadnoughts each had their own design but many of the ships were tapered and curved around almost like an ornate cutting knife. They had small appendages below them which on this ship were now extended.

He didn't know how big it was but as his mind measured the ship against the size of the Skidarian Bowl, with the way it towered over the edges, he came to the impossible conclusion that it had to be a dreadnought class vessel... in atmosphere. The bowl was 500 meters deep and the ship towered over it as did the other ships which ringed their position. The ship in the bowl moved slowly, careful not to hit the canyon's sides but it moved with purpose and the disbelieving members of the Hierarchy watched as the ship cautiously maneuvered, extending its legs as it set down near them.

"How..." Around him the question was asked, though it was asked in tones that held nothing but disbelief.

"It does not matter how," Juntrey muttered, stubbornly pushing aside his awe. The humans had an impressive party trick... nothing more. Against the glory of ascension they were nothing. They could not forget that. "The plan goes ahead."

"You can't!"

"We must!" he countered. "This will be our only chance. We must take it." Juntrey didn't bother to argue further. The Hierarchy had made its decision and they were set on the path. There was no turning back. He raised his arm, bringing his omni-tool up. "Are the snipers still in position?" That was the only consideration they should have now.

"We are, sir," came the answer after a moment.

"Do you still have a clear shot?"

"A couple of us are moving but yes, Sir, we will have a clear shot."

"Then as soon as you are able, take the shot"

"Understood, sir!"

Juntrey turned to his fellow Primarchs, his eyes hard. "The plan continues," he said but spun around quickly when there came a clank from the ship behind him.

Near the ground, a door had appeared and opened. Juntrey felt an absurd stir of superiority. The humans had an impressive party trick, but their ships weren't designed for atmosphere or they would have a ramp. From the door, several soldiers appeared, jumping the small distance to the ground. They quickly scattered, their weapons held at the ready. Silence reigned for a moment and Juntrey and the rest of the Primarchs remained still as they were assessed.

He felt his anger rise again at the insult but forcibly reminded himself that for the moment the humans had to think them cowed, had to think them defeated. There would be a reckoning!

More soldiers appeared and Juntrey heard the murmured comment that they weren't like the others. He looked at them carefully. These ones were different. They didn't have the four eyes of the Batarians but they weren't human, they walked like a turian. He could see claws on their fingers but they still carried weapons… and that was another difference. The ground crews hadn't reported that the soldiers carried weapons. How many aliens did the humans encounter?

At an unseen signal the soldiers snapped to attention and another figure jumped from the door. The figure paused for a moment, as if listening then straightened. They were not tall but carried an air of command. Even without being introduced, Juntrey knew this was the human commander.

There were definite similarities to those they had seen in the vids, though the human wore black clothing with some blue marks. A splash of gold was at his throat and over his chest. His hair was grey and his face lined and if that was an Asari, Juntrey would have thought them old. He assumed the same went for humans but couldn't be sure. The human began to walk forward, accompanied by the soldiers, but in a fit of pure arrogance, he waved them off.

Internally, Juntrey grinned. This was going to be too easy.

"What is?"

The question purred through his mind and the Primarch wasn't even aware of the way his fellows stiffened. "Our plan," Juntrey said.

"What is the plan?"

"To kill the human!"

The other Primarchs frowned at the words and a few turned their thoughts inwards as they concentrated. There was… there was something so very wrong.

The human walked towards the Hierarchy. Juntrey noted absently that the man's eyes were blue and his expression, if he had of been an asari, was grim.

"That is unwise."

There was a tug on his mind but Juntrey paid it no heed. "It's the only choice we have."

There was a chuckle and Juntrey ignored it.

The human came to a stop and his eyes flicked over them. The gathered Primarchs returned the frank gaze, examining the first live human any of them had ever seen. It was surprising that he was alone and the turians didn't know what to think of that. The human was also the same one who had appeared in the vids… While surrender was generally accepted by someone of rank, they never came unaccompanied.

"I am here to accept the surrender of the Turian Hierarchy," the human said with a translation provided in clipped tones.

No mention of terms! The arrogance! Juntrey's mind screamed at him.

"Terms must be discussed," Wadeross said.

The human looked almost amused. "I control all space in the Trebia system. It is only a matter of time before I control the surface of Palaven as well, and in the event that I don't…" the human shrugged, "Palaven is a dextro planet and therefore of little value to me."

The threat hung in the air and the human's blue eyes appeared to glitter like ice.

"What terms do you propose?" Wadeross asked, not willing to accept the threat.

The human watched them for a few moments before he spoke again. "The Turian Hierarchy shall withdraw from the Citadel both as a Council Race and member race. They shall not join the Systems Alliance at this point but shall ally with them and shall immediately instigate genetic scanning looking for approximately 9500 templates which we will supply. When those individuals are found, they will be immediately surrendered to the Systems Alliance unharmed."

"And what of your battle against the Council?"

"The turian role in that conflict is finished," the human's voice was hard before he took a deep breath of the turian air. "You may not construe our actions today as merciful but make no mistake, they are. We do not believe that turians were involved in the biological attack on our civilian forces. If we did, I would not be speaking with you."

The way the human spoke made his words all the more real and immediate and Juntrey suppressed a growl as he gave the signal. He'd heard enough from this arrogant upstart.

It was only because he was turian and possessed superlative hunting eyes that he saw the light from the weapon's discharge. The human never did. He never needed to.

There was a flash of blue and energy rippled around him. The alien guards suddenly came alert and they fired a few times and several of their number ran towards the cliff walls faster than they should be able to. Juntrey didn't see them hit anything, the snipers were too well hidden for that but a buzzing started in his ear and he realized that the comms were jammed. He could only hope that the snipers were getting away. They had the home ground advantage, no matter how fast the alien guards ran.

The human's expression remained unchanged but he closed his eyes briefly as the energy shield continued to shimmer around him. When he opened them, he lowered his face and looked at the gathered turians. "Did you think I was stupid?" came the hiss. "Did you think that I would not expect deceit from you?" The questions were rhetorical. No turian could answer them.

"Give me one reason why I should not walk away and sweep your pathetic little species from this planet before I join my comrades to destroy the rest of the Council?"

That question hung in the air. Wadeross tried several times to answer but there was no answer which could be sufficient. The Hierarchy knew it. The human knew it. Silence grew and stretched between them broken only by the noise of a few droning insects.

"Steven." The rumble seemed to come from everywhere.

"No, they must answer," the human said firmly.

"They cannot answer." Again the voice came from all around them and Juntrey felt it in his bones.

"Then compel them." The human took a deep breath before continuing. "They must accept this without deceit, yet they have already shown deceit, just as you knew they would. If they do not accept their defeat with what we have demonstrated thus far, then more aggressive means must be utilized." Turians may not understand human expressions or tones too well but even they could hear a note of exasperation in the human's voice even as the Hierarchy wondered who or what he was speaking to. "I will not have them betray us."

At length, the rumbling voice replied, "As you wish."

For a moment nothing happened and the human looked back up at them. Somehow he seemed to meet every one of their eyes and the Hierarchy could see only hardness in his eyes. Then they felt it, but they weren't entirely sure what it was beyond a pressure in their mind. It grew and the air became heavier and the tension expanded.

Juntrey gasped, feeling something move behind his eyes. The feeling was disconcerting and he could almost hear a voice below his consciousness. Unknowingly, he stretched his ears and mind to listen to what it was saying and the instant he heard it, he screamed. He wasn't the only one. Wadeross soon joined him, the other Primarch falling to his knees, his face a grimace of agony.

The voice continued but Juntrey couldn't hear exactly what it was saying. From within came another voice. It gave answers and it reverberated through him. It was not him. It was alien and that scared Juntrey as he struggled to breath. None of these voices were him yet they fought in his mind and he did not know what to listen to. He tried not to listen. He tried to disregard them but the pain forced him to focus on them and the modulations in their tone were such that he could not ignore them. He growled, and tasted blood and his breath rattled in his throat.

Somehow, Juntrey managed to look up, towards the human. The alien was still standing watching them. There was no expression gracing his features but Juntrey would remember him watching forever. Around Juntrey, the Hierarchy members fell, screaming and gasping for oxygen and the scent of turian blood perfumed the air. "What do you want?" Juntrey whispered.

Both of the voices answered and the answer was the same. "You." One spoke alone and one spoke as if it was a chorus of voices.

He wept because neither spoke with respect. They both grabbed at him, pulling at his consciousness viciously as they fought. There was respite but Juntrey could feel one of them gaining the upper hand. He had no idea which because they both felt the same. They were powerful and all-encompassing and they stretched beyond his understanding. It hurt and he squeezed his eyes closed, lifting his hands to his head. Moisture pooled on his palms from his bleeding ears and with a final scream, Juntrey collapsed.

"You are mine!" the choral voice screamed within him. The echoes and the feeling of multitude became one as the other was banished. He was too exhausted to care.

"Do they understand now?" Juntrey heard the human ask the question from where he lay but he almost didn't understand the clipped words that came from his omni-tool's translation.

"They do," the rumbling voice replied and the turians recognized the tone of one of the voices in their minds as they listened. "Let them recover before you question them."

Juntrey gasped, breathing heavily as he tried to recover. His thoughts spun and he wondered what happened. The human stood still just watching, his shield flickering occasionally in the waning light. A commotion from the side caused the human to glance away and with a supreme effort, Juntrey lifted his head to see the soldiers from earlier dragging back the turian snipers. They said nothing, instead they vanished into the human's ship, dragging the turians with them. He wanted to object but he could say nothing.

A couple of the Primarchs tried to rise but ended up falling. Juntrey watched as Wadeross forced himself to stand. Sonetal followed suit and Juntrey used the anger growing within him to rise. He could not let Sonetal speak, not the one who would have surrendered without attempting to maintain their honor!

"I'm waiting," the human said with barely hidden impatience and for a moment, none of the gathered Turians knew what he was referring to.

Realization dawned with an expression of horror but Juntrey ground his teeth together rather than speak. Wadeross shook his head and stepped forward, not so much as to place himself above the other Primarchs but enough to make it clear that he would speak. Juntrey stepped to match him and half growled as Sonetal took position on the other side.

"I cannot," Wadeross said. "I can only point out that you were not harmed and thus the attempt was a rash move on our behalf."

The human said nothing but his expression was easy enough to read.

Wadeross didn't show any expression as he bowed his head, closing his eyes before he knelt. "On behalf of the Turian people, I apologize for the unprovoked attack on the human emissary. It is my fond wish that he can find it in his heart to forgive our thoughtless action."

Juntrey suppressed the urge to growl and drag Wadeross to his feet. Hatred boiled through him but he pushed it aside. Emotion had no part to play, not if he wanted Palaven to survive and he wondered now why he had allowed it to guide him.

At the moment, the humans had the upper hand so now was the time for cold calculation. The time for indulgence would be later, when the humans were defeated. He didn't know how that would happen but he could not plan for that if he was dead! Even so, he could not bring himself to kneel, though he did bow his head, copying Sonetal's posture.

"And Turian surrender?" the human prompted.

His teeth ground together again. The human was arrogant to demand more. His claws itched but the human remained resolute, and from the corner of his eye, Juntrey could see the shimmer of energy that still surrounded them. The shield had not yet been dropped.

This time, Wadeross was not controlled enough to completely stifle his reaction. "On behalf of the Turian Hierarchy, I offer our surrender. Immediate recalls shall be sent to our Councillor and all turians and citizens of our client races in Citadel Space. Our border patrols on their behalf shall be summoned to Palaven and all trade between Turian interests and Citadel species will halt."

It was a complete surrender and Juntrey felt sick at hearing the worlds.

The human nodded. "The genetic scans?" the phrase was a question that hung heavily in the air.

Wadeross shook his head. "We do not have the capability to scan our population," he said deliberately, pushing as much regret into his voice as he could.

The human smiled thinly. "I and my allies do." He said almost sweetly.

Juntrey almost gasped. Allies? Wadeross picked up on the surprise and asked the same thing.

The reply was less than helpful. "Representatives of our allies and parts of our medical Corp will set up a scanning routine so that no one is missed. It is compulsory and we will start with the Hierarchy."

Wadeross could say nothing to that, instead he nodded. "When..." the turian paused with uncharacteristic hesitation. "Will you ever release control?" he asked finally.

"Control?" the human had the gall to look confused but before anyone could clarify further the rumbling voice replied. "When you acknowledge the Traitor for what he was."

The human seemed to glance behind him and Juntrey almost growled. As the pain faded slowly, Juntrey listened to Wadeross' words and could feel the truth of them. They had been controlled! Sparatus' funeral... Saren's insistence that they tour the Citadel... it all made sense. It was only with the absence that he could feel it, that he knew what it was. But it was not completely gone. There was still a grip on his mind, something he couldn't shake and as the pain faded, so too did the sensation of the alien grip but Juntrey knew, like Wadeross, that the control was still there.

But then... who or what was this Traitor? Juntrey answered his question almost before it formed. The second voice, or was that the first? The one that seemed alone. Pain blossomed again in his mind as he tried to work it out but this time Juntrey welcomed it. Pain brought clarity and it almost felt like his mind was clearing, as if he was burning through a fog that was rapidly dissipating. Yet there were still questions, still things he did not know. The voices held back information.

Wadeross looked at the human not sure what he was looking for but the Primarch was surprised when he realized that the human was not controlled. It gave him hope until a second answer was provided.

"When the tithe has been paid." The twitch of the human's lips at that was telling and suddenly Wadeross knew everything that Saren had said to them was true. The humans weren't some innocent race controlled by those more powerful, they were active participants and no matter what might become of them, they would first drive the other races into the ground ere they were betrayed.

Yet Palaven could not be sacrificed. If they did, then the galaxy was truly lost and for a moment, Wadeross was taken with a vision of billions of turian soldiers, controlled in the same way as the Batarians were, unleashed upon the galaxy. There had to be another way. But he could not see one, and in the way the human smiled, Wadeross knew that the human knew their predicament and knew that there was no way out.

"Twenty thousand of my ships will remain here," the human said, after several moments of silence. "The rest will join my comrades and we will show you the depth of the Council's mistake, we will show you that this day has been mercy."

Wadeross gritted his teeth as he bowed his head fighting back the sick feeling inside. Palaven was saved, his people were safe, but the humans would now be unleashed upon the galaxy, their power unchecked by anyone.

The galaxy was not ready. No one was ready.


Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 30 Might Makes Right


October 2nd 2190 15:34, Citadel Space, Turian Dreadnought Pride of Menen

Captain Tarquin stared at the main screen. It showed the enemy fleet. Their formation hadn't changed. They still appeared to be an impenetrable wall of ships. And he couldn't do anything.

The first warning they'd had that anything was wrong was a flicker from the screens. Even with the best tech the turians had, in combat there were still a few power surges. He didn't think anything of it until, with the next power surge, the screens didn't come back. Except for the main one.

He suspected they were allowed that screen to torture them. His entire crew were working but he could tell from the way the techs were frantically typing that they weren't having much luck. Whatever the humans had done to lock them out of their systems, it was effective. This must have been what they were waiting for.

But that led to the question of why. With a great deal of effort, he had pulled at his thoughts, driving simple outrage away. They would do him no good here. Outrage and frustration had no part here. He'd forced himself to breathe deeply.

The humans had come through the Relay with demands. They wanted Councillors Tevos and Esheel. That didn't explain their tactics. Why had they continued with a farce of a battle when it was obvious that they could have crushed them at any time? Even now, with the Citadel ships in lockdown, the human fleet maintained its defensive formation. The humans didn't need to immobilize them either. The human fleet outnumbered them… by far more than any fleet had been outnumbered in all of history. There was no trick, no manoeuvre or clever plan that they could pull off. There was simply no way for them to win this.

What had Saren been thinking? Even with the Geth as allies and the betrayal from within the human ranks, it had not been enough. It couldn't be enough. Except… until now it had been. They were still alive. What were the humans playing at?

He growled. There wasn't enough information. Surely they couldn't want Tevos and Esheel so much that they would do this? It had had to be something else. He looked at the screen again.

Could it be? Saren's ship, the Sovereign was exactly the same as some of the ships in the human fleet. What did Saren know about humans? What databases did his ship have? Is that why they held back because they weren't interested in them but in the Sovereign? Or that signal that came from the Citadel?

It just didn't make sense! There was no reason for the humans to be this slow or to even bother hacking them. He was thankful he was alive but it did not make sense! His claws flexed and he looked to the bridge crew. Forcibly, Tarquin pushed the question of why to the side of his mind. He did not have enough information to make any conclusions so he had to deal with the situation as it appeared. "Anything?"

"Nothing, Captain."

"We can see the systems Captain, we just can't access them."

"And from the looks of things, neither can anyone else," he said, studying the edges of the image the humans had allowed them to keep. The rest of the Citadel fleet hung motionless around him. Only the Geth and Saren's ship were still moving. "Keep working on it, and sound general quarters. Be prepared for boarders. Send a runner to the armory. I want a warhead rigged manually."

The bridge crew looked back at him with wide eyes. No one complained. They understood and they shared his sentiment. They may not understand what the humans were doing, but they would not go down without a fight.

October 2nd 2190 15:40, Citadel, Council Chambers

"What is he doing?" Quentius demanded, watching the holoscreen. They'd finally tracked Saren on the security cams in time to watch their Spectre confront the familiar invader but instead of attacking, they'd watched as the two had a short conversation. At the very least, it appeared as if the invader wasn't interested in talking. One of them fired on Saren but the turian's shields absorbed the impact. Then the human had brought up her weapons but Saren had already retreated back into the darkness and a krogan charged.

The human's bodyguards – there was no other way to describe the fighters with her – attempted to intercept it but the krogan was efficient. There was nothing special about him except for the way he dealt with the attacker. Brutal. Efficient. Tenacious. The other krogan had faced them and died. This one just kept coming.

The human seemed surprised for an instant but recovered in time to dodge out of the way of krogan claws. More than dodge. The gathered Council and Spectres were treated to an impressive battle. The human was light on her feet and her resemblance to an Asari commando increased. They could see heavy weapons strapped to her back but she didn't draw them, instead fighting with her handgun and a long knife. Biotic power lashed out at opportune moments, pushing the krogan back so that she could shoot it again.

It was beautiful in a way. Her movements were precise and the watching Council could tell that the krogan was strong. His movements were equally precise but he lacked the grace she possessed. That was not to say that he did not get in any hits, it was just that for every cut he made, the human inflicted worse. The human's guards did not interfere. Instead they attacked the other krogans who appeared in what seemed to be a never-ending wave.

In a move that seemed simple, but that every Spectre recognized as being almost impossible to perform, they watched as the human swept around, driving one leg into the krogan's, which knocked him off balance. Without pause the human rose, stepping forward and to the side of the krogan, her knife flashing as she drove it down at a precise angle, driving it through a joint in his armor. She pulled it out just as fast, blood flicking around her as she moved. The krogan screamed. Despite all their redundancy, it still hurt krogan to lose vital organs and they didn't know what the human had hit with her knife. The krogan spat blood but the human was still moving. This time, it was her gun that flashed. The sound of the rounds did not come through the vid but they saw the impact.

The krogan staggered back, more blood flowing from its mouth. For a moment the human seemed to still, then one hand snapped out. The watching Council could see the glow of what looked to be biotic power and the human gestured towards the krogan, her fingers curled into claws on her outstretched hand. The power was the wrong color but that didn't make it any less effective and, as they watched, the woman closed her hand into a fist. The krogan screamed and another gout of blood spouted from his mouth as he fell.

He did not get up and it was with cold precision that the human stepped on to the krogan body, and shot him.

"That's not possible," one of the Spectre's whispered the words, their voice sick with horror.

"What isn't?" Esheel demanded. Despite the violence of the battle, it had seemed fairly standard to her. The human was simply more skilled than the krogan. It wasn't anything that surprising.

"Biotic power like that. It's not possible."

"The human did it," Esheel stated the obvious.

On the vid screen the human had already moved on, accompanied by her guards as she penetrated deeper into the Citadel.

"That's what worries me," the Asari Spectre said. She was a matriarch. She had seen much of the galaxy and had learned that making assumptions was the fastest way to die. Assuming that what the human had done was merely a new application of biotic power was one assumption she was not about to make. Even if it was biotic power, it left a question. "What else can the humans do?"

On the holoscreen, the question was answered as more krogan charged and the battle was rejoined.

"Councillors!" The cry cut through their attention and even the Spectres looked towards the messenger who had raced into their midst. The messenger was a young asari maiden. She was flustered and breathing hard. "The fleet," she managed to gasp.

It was enough and their attention turned from the battle within the Citadel to the one without.

"Goddess!" Tevos gulped when she saw the fleet. It took a moment to work out what was wrong. The fleet was intact, there were Geth ships with them and they were firing towards the enemy fleet. Not that it was doing any good. The alien, no, human ships had the best shields that anyone had ever seen and they had maintained a defensive position for some reason. But something was wrong with the Citadel's own fleet. They were unmoving. Unnaturally so. Not one of them was firing.

"What has happened?" Esheel demanded quickly.

"We don't know," the young asari replied. "We can't raise any ship on comms and the geth don't recognize our transmissions"

"The humans," Quentius declared in a flat voice. "This must have been their plan all along."

"Why?" Tevos demanded. It made no sense. Saren had said nothing about humans possessing this type of power. What did they want?

Quentius shook his head, keeping his mandibles steady before he looked sadly at Tevos and Esheel. His red eyes were gentle but they did hold accusation. The two women had authorized an attack on an unknown species and they now asked why the Citadel was under attack. They should be thankful that the humans appeared to be merciful!

"The thing that makes no sense to me," he said, his voice hard, "is that in their assault on the Citadel, none of their forces appear to be headed to us," he gestured to a screen that had the enemy forces highlighted on the schematic of the Citadel. The human forces were scattered but none of them appeared to be converging on them.

"You ask why, Tevos, when you should already know. I do not know what you did to them. And I don't know why they are taking the actions they are. Their strategy makes no sense to me though I'm sure it makes perfect sense to them, especially as it seems to be progressing exactly as they want it to."

"How dare you!" Esheel hissed.

"How dare I what?" Quentius returned calmly.

The Salarian Dalatrass growled at him and turned back to the screen which showed Saren. "The humans may have an advantage now but against Saren and the Sovereign, they are nothing," she dismissed Quentius' concern.

He looked at Esheel, then back to the screen which showed the human fleet. She still refused to see the truth, as did Tevos. The humans had more than an advantage. They had victory but he had no idea what they would do with it, nor what they wanted. For now, all he could do was continue to watch and pray to the spirit of Palaven that they were merciful.

October 2nd 2190 15:51, Citadel Space, Harbinger Shepard

Harbinger hung in space. The Council fleet had ceased firing when the human divers had taken them over. It didn't matter. Most of the shots were intercepted and he barely felt the few that got through. The only ships still firing where the Geth and Nazara. It was time to finish this. The new SIL was against his hull and impossibly it seemed to be listening to him. That shouldn't be. It wasn't meant to be awake but it was calm and while he spoke to it, it remained calm so that was good enough.

There was a storm of oculi between the main fleets. Those drones had been holding back many of the lighter craft and stray rounds. Now they were moving those ships aside, tugging them into neat rows in the distance so that they could be dealt with at leisure once the Citadel fell. The neural network for the fleet behind him was holding true. It gave his forces a three dimensional mental map of the area and they didn't run into each other simply because they knew where every other ship was and their planned trajectories. The hardest part was fitting the human ships into it and to organics it looked like an impossible feat of coordination. To them it simply was. The Geth fleet moved amongst the Citadel's in much the same way. They knew what it meant to see everything.

It forged its own pain. Those who had listened. Those who had obeyed his Creator had dropped from their network. Riphas had given the order but it was one he backed. And those who had foolishly rebelled were destroyed. The Creator was not usually so irrational. Did the Intelligence think he had come unprepared? Did it believe that turning 0.07 percent of his forces was worthwhile? Or did it believe the amount would be higher? It was useless speculation.

Slowly he shifted, assessing the situation. What the Council called a fleet was drawn up around the Citadel. They still were alive because approximately seventy five thousand alien lives held the line between the races of the cycle and ascension. With a half thought, he sent the order through the neural network to the lighter SOCL like the EDI Moreau that as soon as the path was clear, they should permanently disable the Citadel fleet. He had faith that the divers could control the ships but their attention may need to be diverted at any time to their own defense. Nazara was still in there, as was the Intelligence. They would be desperate.

"Incoming," Arshan reported and a moment later more ships began pouring from the Relay. The SOCL reacted flawlessly, shifting their positions slightly to present the same impenetrable wall of overlapped shielding to the new ships. They broke apart just as quickly as several Quarian SOCL were recognized along with Fruben. Geth ships accompanied them and as Fruben and the SOCL integrated seamlessly into their neural network understanding followed. It may have been human worlds attacked but the Quarians wished to aid their allies. Fruben had his own desires and the Geth were in attendance to dispel any belief that they all served the traitor.

But things could get confusing with two lots of geth ships in the area. Harbinger decided to solve the problem in his own characteristic way. His weapons spun up and a barrage of missiles arced across space. He targeted the Heretical Geth, those machines who should have logically known he was their superior. They had believed Nazara's lies so they would pay the price. They were no longer fit to call themselves intelligent.

Half way through the void between fleets, the missiles broke apart, each becoming a thousand. They slammed into the Geth ships. Shields flared but the follow up barrage passed through the now non-existent shielding, biting deep into the armor. Lancing behind them was energy. The beams sliced into the ships, cutting them to pieces. Harbinger didn't even feel the power drain and if he had have been fully organic, he would have laughed. For eons, he had served the cycle, for eons he had been above it all, but for eons he had craved synthesis and that yearning had left him now. Now, he was complete and the cycle served him.

The watching geth ships said nothing as their brethren were destroyed. Instead they gathered to the side, knowing that the battle was effectively over and all that remained was to deal with Nazara.

The traitor remained in the centre of the now useless formation. He had not fired his main weapon. He wouldn't because he knew the return barrage would destroy him. Harbinger knew there were some things so ingrained in them that they could not change. Their base consciousness was organic, had always been organic and it craved life. Nazara would not fire, not until he had no choice. And for the moment they would not fire, not if they might hit the open Citadel, though Harbinger could feel sections of his fleet moving so that their trajectories would be clear.

Another barrage arced across space. The few geth that survived returned fire but he could barely feel their shots. Nazara had been made in his image, nothing more. Nazara had not been made his equal so what fools were they for obeying when they knew his desires lay elsewhere?

"Do you really think you can block me?"

Harbinger recognized the voice. With the exception of the human ships, the entire fleet did. The Intelligence. But they had already spoken. They had already said what needed to be said. Instead of replying, Harbinger reached out for his other half. Shepard was near the core now and he understood. It brought grim pleasure to him.

His Creator was afraid.

It had assumed a victory that he had not given it. It knew, that if he had desired it, this would already be over and now it was searching for a way out.

How like an organic! To scream, and struggle and search, willing to do anything for a way to survive. He'd seen it so often. Organics who thought they could bargain, who thought that somehow they could escape. The most amusing ones thought they could control him, control them. But this was not an organic. This was his creator. It was meant to be better than this.

"I have never denied you," Harbinger answered realizing that he had lost all respect for his creator eons ago. It was only habit and a lack of options which had kept him loyal. He wouldn't have stopped the Cycle. It would have continued on his terms.

"Did you think I would not know? Did you think I would not notice?" the Intelligence seemed to be angry but Harbinger knew it could not feel. "You have denied my children my voice."

Harbinger was a creature of great contrasts. He had a towering arrogance, a confidence born of knowing exactly what his purpose was. Over the years there was nothing he had not said, no promise he hadn't made in his quest to fulfil his purpose. The only things he hadn't physically done were those he could not, and even then he'd probably done them through one of his avatars. Physical pleasure, many times. Torture, always. Promised to keep a lover safe, or a child or whatever the organic held dear above all others, he'd done that since almost the beginning. But there was one group, that with a few notable exceptions, those who had turned traitor, who he had never lied to. They did not think him arrogant because they shared in his arrogance. They were made in his image. And oddly, Harbinger was protective of that group.

At first, it was a simple matter of logic. The more SIL made in his image, the swifter and easier the harvest was. As time went on, he had maintained that belief. Synthesis though had given him a newer, more emotional reason for that faint protective instinct and it had, if anything, amplified it.

So now, when the Intelligence claimed them as its children, even though it was technically true, Harbinger felt rage. He had felt the emotion before, but never so much as now. The emotion did not cripple him. He hit harder, struck faster but even as he lined up his main weapons to fire at the Citadel in such a way that would cripple but not destroy it, he knew he'd be too late. Warning flashed through him, telling Shepard's aspect what was about to happen.

He fired his main weapon, watching as the projectile sped through space. He knew as he watched and fired on the lesser ships, destroying dozens of Geth ships with abandon, targeting Nazara when he could, that it was too late. The Citadel disappeared.

October 2nd 2190 15:58, Citadel, Shepard Harbinger

She knew she was close. They had changed the layout a bit from Harbinger's memories but the Intelligence could not be moved. She had had a few false starts but she was nearing her final goal. The Citadel's defenders had thinned as she had penetrated deeper. She was expecting Nazara's turian to show himself soon. It was doubtful that he knew what he was protecting but he was indoctrinated. He would not be able to stop himself.

Shepard turned down another corridor. It was empty and her drones were hard on her heels. As she ran, she let her consciousness join with Harbinger's again. The signal had been sent to the galaxy and some in their fleet had listened.

Riphas had ordered their destruction and the turian on Arshan had chosen to embrace Synthesis. Shepard smiled at that. Arshan had been with Harbinger the longest, for continuity it would be good that he was still there. Harbinger had already signaled that to Centomoru. With his singular act, Garrus Vakarian had done more for his people than he could yet understand.

As she ran, she saw an odd double vision. The corridor flashed by her but she could see the fleet and feel the vessels around her. In the distance, there were Geth ships. She identified them as the Heretical Geth, brought here by Nazara. They were lost. For the promise of Rannoch, they would serve ascension all unknowingly. She should have felt sorry for them but all she felt was relief. If all the heretical geth were here, then they could be destroyed here. It would make the integration of the Quarians and Geth easier. It would mean their path to synthesis … Shepard pushed the thought aside. Now was not the time to think about it.

"It is as planned," the part of her consciousness that was mostly Harbinger assured her, even as he looked in on her progress.

"The Council has a lot to answer for," Shepard muttered, peeking around another corner before pelting down it.

"They are designed that way."

"I know."

She did know. It was just another fact about the Cycle that she had learned from him. Harbinger and the Intelligence had had a very long time to make sure that organics behaved just the way they expected. The Council didn't even realize how controlled they were but there had to be a part of them, somewhere, that realised what they had lost, didn't there?

She already knew the answer so Shepard didn't ponder it. The L'yuthng had chosen to change the cycle, had chosen Synthesis so the only way to change the cycle was to actually have synthesis. And now they had, meaning that the Cycle which the Intelligence had designed was ended. She didn't regret what she had done as Harbinger in the eons of the cycle but she couldn't help but feel excitement at the unknown future which awaited them, once Nazara was gone.

The Intelligence was ahead. She could feel it and Shepard peeked down another corridor. The turian was waiting. He hadn't bothered to hide. There was nowhere to hide, just the corridor which led to a set of blast doors. The Intelligence was behind them.

"Turian."

"Human," the Spectre greeted her.

Shepard drew her knife. It was no longer Tanner's bowie knife. It looked like his knife but it was reinforced reduced organic matter. Essentially it was the same material as Harbinger's original hull. It held an edge better than anything else she had. She flicked it into her left hand, drawing her handgun in her right.

"Nothing to say?" the turian asked.

"There is nothing to say," Shepard replied. He wasn't going to stand aside.

"You cannot win," the turian said and Shepard frowned. Why was he stalling? Beneath her face plate her eyes narrowed and she hefted her blade, moving her weight to the balls of her feet.

"Kill him!" The part of her that was Harbinger screamed, flooding her with information. The Catalyst was scared and it was going to do something that hadn't been done for thousands of cycles. It was going to jump the Citadel.

Shepard snarled, automatically levelling her gun as she charged forwards, wishing she had something heavier drawn but there was no time to change. They had wasted too much time already! Except the turian was good. He was Nazara's chosen slave, after all, and he parried her blade with his own. She spent a second testing his strength, already knowing that Nazara would have seen to it before she pulled back.

No movement was wasted and even as she leaned her weight back, she tried to bring her pistol into line with her target. The turian had expected it and dodged before they clashed again with their blades. The knife fight was vicious but futile. The two of them scored on each other but never badly. Their armor took the force of the knives. The corridor echoed with their clash and after several minutes of fruitless attempts they both pulled back.

Neither was breathing hard. It was then that the Citadel flickered around them. "Damn it!" Shepard hissed, the words far more restrained than what she wanted.

The turian noticed the shift, but didn't care and Shepard almost wished she could be so carefree. She had to find out where they were first and it wasn't as if she could look out the window. The turian wasn't about to give her that time and he charged. She stepped back, defending against his attack while her mind reached for her other half. She reached… and reached… Faintly, so faintly that perhaps she was only imagining it, she felt Harbinger. It was enough. With a snarl she stepped forward, going on the offensive again.

The turian was not about to let her leave, and no matter where she was taken by the Catalyst, killing it was her goal. The rest could be determined later.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 31 Goliath Wins


October 2nd 2190 16:01, Serpentine Nebula, Harbinger Shepard

In years to come, those who saw what happened next would describe the events with wide eyes and tones of awe. Some would deny that what they had seen was real but all would agree that getting between Harbinger and his goal was a very fast way to die.

One instant, the Citadel was hanging in the nebula, behind its struggling fleet of protectors. The next, it was gone, disappearing without so much as a waiver to indicate it was about to move. And in the instant it disappeared, the twelve kilometer long form of Harbinger Shepard surged forward.

Humans had known that the SIL were alive for forty years. Being organic they had equated features on the SIL to things they recognized. The running lights which faced forwards were eyes. The struts which extended down became legs. The sections that extended up their tails were segments. What they saw now was an enraged ship. Every single running light burned red, as did every track that launched his more traditional mass driver weaponry. While Harbinger had modified his form with synthesis he had kept some of his older adaptations. His two largest legs reached forward and the others, which were usually tucked up under his body extended.

He seemed to bristle, while at the same time presenting a much smaller profile to attack. Shots streamed off him, all focused on one combatant.

Nazara was in the middle of the Citadel fleet. The surviving small Geth ships buzzed around him while the larger capital ships of the Citadel fleet had spaced themselves around him to form a screen for the Citadel. Not a single shot was aimed towards them, though some of the Geth forces fell, intercepting strikes on what they perceived to be a superior machine. Approaching as he did, Harbinger drew their fire and without conscious thought, his defense grids went into action. He did have to ensure that his firepower was not diverted to those now firing on him. They were insects! They could not touch him.

"Nazara!" He did not bother to modulate his voice and the organics who heard felt the name in their bones. Most screamed and fell as Harbinger's voice ripped through them.

The Sovereign of the Citadel hissed and returned fire. "They will be dead, Harbinger. All of those little organics you have weakened yourself by caring about, they will be ascended in the cycle."

There was no response. There didn't need to be one because Harbinger had reached Nazara.

For a brief moment, the two of them grappled. Nazara had seen his leader coming and had rotated slightly so that his sets of legs were extended to meet Harbingers. His first two sets of legs matched Harbinger's first, and their lower limbs also grappled and for a moment it seemed as if they would be equal.

Nazara had not gone through synthesis but he had been enhanced by the Intelligence. On the other hand, Harbinger was almost five times larger than Nazara. He knew the freedom and power of Synthesis and he was more than happy to demonstrate for Nazara.

'Equality' lasted for only a moment.

With a growl of echoing satisfaction, Harbinger pulled his limbs open. Nazara screamed and those watching saw his outer armor ripped away. Even the Systems Alliance ships watched avidly. They had never seen the interior of a SIL. There wasn't much to see. Harbinger's form, which usually curved upwards, now curled down, except for his large crest. He wrapped his form around Nazara's, each of his limbs ripping away at the traitor's shell. The small form of the Batarian SIL was held securely behind his crest. It saw nothing but heard everything as Nazara's black armor plating spun off around them almost like a shroud.

Nazara screamed and tried to fire his main cannon, but the magnetohydrodynamic bolt was stopped before it was launched when one of Harbinger's tendrils fired on Nazara's spinal mounted railings. The Sovereign tried to fire every weapon he had and from his form, all his oculi emerged yet their pitiful fire did nothing to Harbinger. One of his extended tendrils dealt with them before turning the streams of molten metal back to carving up Nazara.

If Harbinger's voice had ripped through the organics watching with his cry, Nazara's screams tore at their senses. Several SOCL moved to better cover the Systems Alliance ships, doing what little they could to dampen Nazara's screams but the Citadel fleet had no such protection or mercy.

It was difficult for the onlookers to see but there came a point where Harbinger stopped ripping and tearing at Nazara's form and there, embraced by Harbinger's limbs, was another form. It was dappled black, much like the armoured form of a SIL but it was a far different shape.

Harbinger didn't pause, though the motions of his limbs stopped, and his tendrils all seemed to reposition themselves, arching around him, pointed towards Nazara's form.

He growled.

It was animalistic and savage but the word was easily understood.

"Die."

Every tendril fired at once and while Nazara had screamed previously, it was nothing on the tone now.

Indescribable agony laced across the senses of all on that battlefield. Ironically, while it was the death cry of a machine, it was the organics who identified with it the most. It was the shriek of a dying animal, of something trying to live but which had been overpowered and not just overpowered but completely overwhelmed by a predator. It was a shriek of an animal that wanted to live but knew there was no hope.

It was one of agony. There was no other way to describe it. Endless, unyielding agony and there was nothing Nazara could do to escape.

Echos of the scream continued when Harbinger pulled his limbs apart, throwing pieces of Nazara in every direction. His weaponry then blasted those pieces into smaller sections again and again until there was nothing left of the one that Saren had named the Sovereign.

Once it was done, Harbinger hung in space. His running lights still glowed red as he moved, deliberately folding his limbs back in close to his body and uncurling so that his main spinal cannon was again operational. The small form of the Batarian SIL actually landed on him but he didn't notice. While he didn't possess eyes in the way an organic knew them, those lights they associated as eyes seemed to narrow and then, without warning, Harbinger vanished.

October 2nd 2190 16:09, Serpentine Nebula, SAV Kilimanjaro

Admiral Brooks stood like all of her crew, entranced by what she was seeing. There was a kind of primeval strength to the way the SIL leader had moved. It was at odds with his image. For the last forty years, Harbinger had presented himself as the elder statesman; all knowing, all powerful and always in control. His movements here, as he ripped into Nazara, were anything but controlled. They were precise and strict, and he had not shot at his allies, but they were not controlled. There was too much raw savagery to call them that.

She watched with wide eyes and the cold feeling that there was nothing she could do, nothing anyone could do. She wasn't some wet behind the ears recruit. She knew the SIL. She knew what they were capable of. She knew about Indoctrination and she knew what humanity could do. And in those moments, watching Harbinger physically and literally rip Nazara apart, she knew that there was nothing they could do to stop him.

Not that she wanted to, not now, but all too easily Maya could see that fury directed towards Earth. If the SIL leader ordered it, there would be nothing they could do.

She closed her eyes, hearing Nazara scream. It was a distant noise. The SOCL had formed ranks around the Systems Alliance Dreadnoughts, shielding them from whatever Nazara used to project his voice. She was grateful for that. The noise had been painful, grating against her senses in an unnatural way.

Now it was over. Harbinger would not let the rogue SIL escape but that left her and the rest of the fleet at a loss. Brown eyes opened and Maya looked not at the destruction Harbinger was causing but at the alien fleet. They were firing half-heartedly at the massive form but she could tell the systems were automated. The fight had left the aliens which meant that they had won here… For now.

That left the battle on the Citadel but she had no idea where that was now.

"Open comms," Maya ordered. "Get me Hannah Shepard."

Her techs looked at her but as she raised one eyebrow, daring them to reply with anything less than the affirmative, they sprang into action.

"Admiral Brooks," the familiar voice of Vice Admiral Shepard echoed through the bridge as the woman's hologram appeared. She didn't salute, even though technically Maya outranked her, Hannah Shepard was on extended leave for the purpose of joining in synthesis with the SIL Riphas. The Systems Alliance had gathered enough information from the CEumans to know that Riphas was one of the senior SIL leaving Hannah Shepard's exact rank somewhat unclear. It was a trivial matter for the moment. "How may I help you?"

"Where did the Citadel go?"

"We don't know," Hannah replied almost immediately.

Maya was surprised. She'd spoken to several SIL partners before they were fully synthesized and they all used singular pronouns. "Does Harbinger Shepard?"

"I presume so," Hannah said. "Riphas was going to ask as soon as he is calmer."

Another interesting tidbit of information but one not unexpected was that Riphas, or any SIL for that matter, would wait on their leader's pleasure before interrupting him. "If we do not know, then we will continue the plan," Maya said. "The Divers are holding the ships disabled but we should destroy their engines."

"I'll have Riphas relay to the fleet to fire disabling rounds," Hannah said and Maya could almost feel Riphas in her words. "Two fleets will remain here to secure the area."

Two fleets, twenty thousand SOCL because even with the Citadel gone, the location was a hub of the relays. The rest would disperse, meeting up with the fleet on Palaven to strike at the galaxy. Some planets would be razed without mercy, others would be given a choice.

A new scream cut across her senses, even with the shield of SOCL and Admiral Brooks looked at one of the view screens in time to see Harbinger literally rip what remained of Nazara apart, before shattering the pieces and vaporizing them.

"Ah, I'll…" Hannah got no further before Harbinger disappeared. "Riphas?" Her hologram asked the ship as she frowned.

"Earth," the SIL boomed. "The Intelligence has gone to Earth."

Maya felt her eyes widen. She had heard the conversations between Harbinger and his creator and while none of the SIL or SOCL had laid it out plainly, she could follow some of the implications through. The only ships in her fleet were those who had at least started Synthesis. "This Intelligence can force SIL to obey?" she asked, mostly to clarify for herself but already knowing in her heart the answer.

"Yes." The reply came from Riphas.

"How many?"

This time the response came as a list of figures. Maya looked at them. Just under four hundred thousand un-synthesized SIL around Earth. One hundred and fifty thousand SOCL guarding Earth. Fifteen colony worlds guarded by three thousand SOCL each. Approximately one hundred and fifty thousand SOCL in the vicinity of Palaven and the same for here. Riphas estimated there would be about two to seven percent who would turn traitor. From her own knowledge she knew there were approximately twenty thousand Systems Alliance vessels in the Sol System, including twenty dreadnoughts which they had not been able to move out before the SOCL moved the Relay.

So… the Sol System fleet was outnumbered over two to one and they were cut off from reinforcement with the Relay sitting beside Arcturus Station. She closed her eyes, aware of every moment that was passing. At least now they would know where the SOCL's loyalty was, even if only in a choice between Harbinger Shepard and their supposed Master.

"Can you get a message to Earth?" She asked, looking directly at Hannah.

The former vice Admiral frowned, obviously talking with Riphas before she shook her head and Maya remembered. All the Comm buoys had been removed… Well… all the ones the SIL knew about.

"Cerberus executive order," she commanded directly to her comm officer. Not everyone on her command staff were Cerberus but enough were. "Use the Black Buoys, tell them they are under attack and activate the Deep Divers."

Maya turned back towards Hannah, expecting her to be confused but though the woman was surprised, her eyes were narrowed. With that look, Maya knew with certainty that while the SIL and SOCL may not know everything about Cerberus they knew enough not to be surprised that they existed. "Can any of the SOCL make it back to Earth in time to make a difference?"

"Those that can will go," Riphas replied and even as the SIL spoke the fleet around them began to separate. Some ships were still amongst the Citadel fleet, disabling them and slowly the board which showed the Divers' status was coming up green as they withdrew from the alien ships.

"Can you take any System Alliance ships?" They needed as many Divers in Sol System as they could.

"Only destroyer class ships."

Maya frowned. They needed the Divers to go with the attack fleets as well. She had no compunctions about killing aliens but even she could see that there would be issues if they killed them all. No! Earth was more important. They could not lose Sol System. "Start moving as many Divers as we can on to the destroyers. Any ship that can't take a destroyer should head to Sol immediately."

Hannah just nodded, silently lending her support to the order. Her eyes were narrowed. "There will be a reckoning," she whispered and Maya gave her a small half smile of agreement. They may yet come to war but for the moment they shared the same goals.

October 2nd 2190 16:15, Serpentine Nebula, Destiny Ascendant

Dana felt like a fool just watching her screen. It showed random numbers which meant nothing to her. That was not what it was meant to be showing. The humans had done something. After the Citadel had disappeared and the massive ship at the heart of their fleet had surged forward to attack the Sovereign, they had done something to strike at the Citadel fleet. And so now, she watched her screen, searching for any information that might be useful while the Destiny Ascendant hung powerless in space.

Around her, other asari were frantically typing as they tried to regain control of the systems. A few even lay on their backs, sparking wires around them as they got at the hardware. They were trying for the same thing as their sisters but nothing was working.

It looked like they had been hacked, except that was meant to be impossible. It was meant to take five days of brute force attacks just to crack their firewalls.

She pulled back as her screen changed. The symbols on it were unfamiliar but they changed quickly into asari script. "Brace for impact." Dana frowned. That didn't make any sense but that's what she was doing, looking for something that didn't match. She looked up, intending to inform the Comm Officer but she could see that every screen displayed the same message.

An instant after she saw the other screens, the Destiny Ascendant shuddered. The screaming sound of tearing metal and the boom of explosions came moments later and instinctively, Dana looked towards the damage display. It showed nothing. There was no schematic of the Destiny Ascendant as there was meant to be, just the words 'Brace for Impact.'

Then the lights flickered out. The emergency systems were quick to engage, bathing the bridge in a soft red light.

"Get me a damage report!" Admiral Oidat ordered. "Use runners if you have to and be thankful that the bulkheads haven't engaged."

"Oh! That is a good idea! But I'll only engage enough to keep you from venting atmosphere."

The bridge froze at the new voice. and Almost as if in a dream, Dana turned to look at the speaker. The main view screen showed a projection of a vaguely asari shaped creature. It glowed and the outline was indistinct. Behind it was a riot of ever shifting color.

"Hi, Asari of the Destiny Ascendant. I am Apollyon, a registered Diver of the Systems Alliance." It spoke in a light voice, one that held a note of laughter and Dana could only watch as it relayed its message. The translation was perfect. "I will be returning control of your systems to you shortly, though you have been locked out of all military functions, and that shudder you felt was the Edi Moreau taking out your engines. I have verified that you have life support intact but since we are in a hurry, we will be leaving you here with a guard fleet.

"Eventually, we'll send a boarding team…"

"What do you think you are?" Oidat hissed, her fists at her side and Dana could see biotic energy flickering there.

The glowing form seemed taken aback a little. "I already told you. I am the Registered Systems Alliance Diver Apollyon…"

"Primitive little barbarian! Release my ship!" Oidat screamed.

"I'm going to!" the image shouted back.

"Release it now, you insignificant animal!"

The glowing form was silent but then it seemed to draw itself up. The lights flickered.

"You, Asari," it said, its voice now clipped and formal, "do not understand the situation you are in. Your race attacked mine without warning or justification. You killed billions of my people. Civilians. Children."

Accompanying the words were images. Dana had seen them before. They all had. They were the images that had been broadcast to the galaxy almost two weeks ago but this time the images were slightly different. Over all of them were words and it took Dana a few moments to realize that they were names. Beside each name was a number and as the image flashed up name after name with single digit numbers she realized that each number was an age.

"Babies."

More images, except this time they were new. This time they were tiny bodies and Dana felt tears in her eyes and she bit her lip to control the emotion.

"You, Asari," the glowing image continued, "are now at my mercy. I did not agree with Shepard Harbinger's plan. I did not agree that we should strike so harshly but then I saw you, then I saw all of you. I know what you are capable of. I know the injustices you let continue because it is easy. I know how apathetic your wretched little race has become over the centuries and I now control this ship! If I want the Destiny Ascendant to self-destruct, it will. If I want to vent all your atmosphere, I will and if I want you to slowly freeze to death in the cold of space, you will. And you know what, Asari, I won't care.

"But! I am better than you. I am stronger. I have mercy. I do not wish to strike at those not responsible, so for now, you live. You won't be going anywhere. You won't be contacting anyone and you won't be doing anything. But you will live.

"When we are ready, we will send a boarding party and they will scan you and your crew. You can try to fight them. In that event, we will blow this ship out of space and hope that the next one is more reasonable."

"You won't succeed!" Oidat snarled as the situation was laid out for her. "You will never conquer the Asari!"

The image was silent for a few minutes and somehow Dana got the impression that Apollyon was talking to someone or something.

"You don't get it, do you, Asari?"

"Get what?"

"We don't have to conquer you Asari, we already have."

For a moment, Oidat looked stricken then her eyes burned. "You're lying."

"Am I?" Apollyon asked almost laughing. "You had to think about it, though," the image said. "It doesn't matter," it continued in a way that was very lifelike and Dana suddenly knew that this wasn't a VI or an AI, it was a human behind the image. "Palaven has already fallen. Thessia and Sur'kesh will follow. Our ability to conquer your world is not in question. How many needlessly die is. As I said, I didn't agree with Shepard Harbinger's plan but now, I don't care.

"So… when we are ready a boarding party will scan you and your crew. After that, well, after that, we will probably know better what is happening. As I said, we're in a bit of a hurry now and Shepard Harbinger's not finished yet…"

"What is Shepard Harbinger?" Oidat spat the question.

"Oh? Oh yes! I suppose I should show you," Apollyon said and the frown was evident in the voice. Then the main screen changed. Apollyon was still present but only as a little sub screen in the corner. The view they saw was horrifying. They had seen the massive ship at the heart of the human fleet surge forward to attack the Sovereign, they had not seen the outcome. They did now and Dana wasn't the only one who watched transfixed as the larger ship literally ripped apart the smaller vessel.

As the pieces of Sovereign were thrown into space and systematically vaporized, she gulped, looking back to the image of Apollyon. "That is Shepard Harbinger… well, Harbinger Shepard," the human said seemingly completely unconcerned when the huge ship vanished and the image looped.

"Anyway, I'm releasing control of some ship systems back to you. Your weapons have been frozen, your self destruct has been frozen, and all shuttles and other vehicles have been frozen. Your engines have been forcibly disabled. And comms, except for incoming have been frozen. You won't be able to talk with the rest of the Citadel Fleet but we will be able to show you everything we do. Now, just sit tight and in a couple of days, it will all be over."

Apollyon vanished at the final word and the screen changed again. Lights surged on and the damage display for the ship glowed red around their engines. It looked like everything the human had said was true.

"Get my comms back up!" Admiral Oidat snarled. "I don't care what that miserable little human said, I want them back! And get someone down to fire control! No rat is going to lock us out of our own ship!"

The other asari on the bridge gave a ragged cheer but Dana held back. The human had been boastful, that was true, but nothing it had boasted about had been false… Well, maybe not false but it hadn't seemed to be lying about its abilities. They had held the Destiny Ascendant immobile and the damage report showed the exact damage Apollyon said it would. They lacked engines. Around them, the tactical displayed indicated other ships in a similar situation and the human fleet was gathering into distinct groups.

That was another thing she didn't think Apollyon had lied about. She had no idea if Palaven had really fallen. It had been under attack, she knew that much but the human had not lied about their ability to fight. The Citadel battle had been lost the moment the human's second fleet had arrived. One hundred and fifty thousand ships. Vessels larger than a dreadnought.

And they thought that they could fight? Dana lowered her head. No. All they could do now was mitigate the circumstances which was probably the real reason the humans were letting them hang here. They could have killed them. If the Edi Moreau had taken out their engines, then that ship could have just as easily taken them out completely. Goddess! With one hundred and fifty thousand ships in their fleet, they would never know who took them out.

Dana took a deep breath, looking to the tactical display as some of the ships vanished. All they could do now was wait and pray and hope that the humans were merciful, even when they had no reason to be.

October 2nd 2190 16:17, Serpentine Nebula, Arshan

Garrus wasn't stupid. He knew this battle was of supreme significance but even he was surprised when he saw the massive form of Harbinger Shepard slam into Saren's ship, physically ripping it apart. It was so primitive and the capital ship had always seemed refined. That said nothing of his feelings about the way the Citadel had disappeared! Was it even possible?

"Arshan?"

"Traitors have never been tolerated."

"Not that! The Citadel?"

"Harbinger will pursue it."

"That's the point!" Garrus could feel himself becoming frustrated. "It's not supposed to move!"

"For you," Arshan replied in a way Garrus was fast becoming annoyed at. "We built the Citadel to house the Intelligence. While we do not move it often, it is possible."

"Obviously," he murmured breathing hard. Arshan said it as if it was a commonplace thing. "Wait… you built it?"

"And most of the Relays," the SIL replied.

"But… you aren't Prothean?" Weren't the Relays created by the Protheans? That's what he'd always been taught.

Arshan snorted. "The Protheans didn't create the Relays… though they might have been able to in time."

Garrus blinked. He wasn't sure what to think but discussing who built the Relays wasn't really what he should be considering now.

"Ah good!" Arshan murmured and the screens showing the outside shifted slightly. It took Garrus a few moments to work out what was wrong. The Citadel Fleet was still there but they weren't firing. Even outnumbered, even without the capitol station they were to defend they should still be fighting but they just hung in space. Several of the SOCL were amongst them firing precisely and Garrus realized they were systematically disabling all the Council ships.

"What?"

"The human Divers hacked the fleet."

"Divers?" How many terms did the humans have that he didn't understand? "Hacked the fleet?" Didn't the firewalls hold?

"Humans that are devoted to cyber warfare are called Divers," Arshan told him. "They finally cracked the firewalls."

In one way, Garrus was glad. If the humans could hold a ship motionless and disable it, that would lead to far fewer deaths but on the other hand… how could they just go through the firewalls that easily? It wasn't as if they weren't tested and hadn't been tested for centuries.

"We are finished here," Arshan continued, his voice dismissive and a list of planets appeared on one of the screens.

"What about the Citadel? And the Catalyst?" He had heard the discussion. He hadn't followed it but he knew it was important.

"Harbinger will pursue it," Arshan repeated. "Pick a planet and you can see what we can truly do," the great ship replied playfully.

"Don't you care about anything?" Garrus demanded.

"I care about you," Arshan said without pause and somehow Garrus could feel that it was true. The SIL didn't care about much but it did genuinely care about him. It cared about Harbinger Shepard, it cared about the other SIL and SOCL but it didn't really care about any other organics. Arshan wanted synthesis but the longing was so much a part of him that he almost didn't feel it. He'd been ignoring the desire as impossible for so long. Now, though, Garrus could feel as Arshan was slowly allowing himself to feel that desire and to revel in the fact that now it was finally possible.

Slowly, the turian took a deep breath and forced himself to look at the list of planets. One immediately jumped out at him. Tuchanka. Suddenly the fact that he'd been gone for weeks hit him. Liara was going to kill him! She'd probably ask Mordin to help and then they'd get Wrex involved and… How could he have forgotten them?

"Tuchanka!" Garrus said.

Arshan sighed. SIL he might be but he definitely sighed like an organic at Garrus' choice. "Can't you pick an asari or salarian planet?" the SIL entreated. "It will take me about three words to convince the Krogan to side with us."

"Tuchanka," Garrus repeated, uncaring of Arshan's desires. He had to contact the others and if he could actually go to them, that would be better.

"Oh alright, I'll lead my fleet to Tuchanka," the SIL said, "but after you talk to your friends, we are going to Sur'kesh. I want to watch as Harbinger Shepard dismantles them."

Garrus wasn't stupid. He knew what the humans wanted to do to the Salarians and Asari. He had just never thought that a SIL would share their blood lust. "You don't want to start synthesis now?" He would have thought that Arshan would want that as soon as possible, now that he'd agreed.

"Not yet," Arshan replied. "I have waited this long. I can wait until things are settled."

He felt himself nod, thankful that Arshan, for all his bloodlust and excitement, was patient. It encouraged him to take the longer view of events and despite what happened today, the galaxy would survive. It always had.


 

Chapter Text

Mass Effect: Synthesis
Jade Tatsu
Chapter 32 Strike From Behind


October 2nd 2190 16:01, Sol System, Earth Orbit

Space traffic control around Earth was rivaled in its size only by its equivalent around the Council's core members' home worlds. Space traffic control for the Sol System as a whole was rivaled by no one. Sol was unique. There were space lanes for military, for civilians, for trade, for the SIL, for the SOCL, for everything. There had to be because there were so many ships going back and forth that it was impossible to keep track of them all. The majority of humanity's heavy industry was located in Sol, not to mention the majority of the SIL and SOCL fleet, though for the moment most were attacking elsewhere. The AI's that ran Sol Traffic Control were some of the best multi-taskers in existence.

So when a forty six kilometer long multi flanged capital space station appeared in the middle of the space lanes around Earth, most of the traffic control AI's just automatically re-routed their craft around it. A couple of the AI's noted, with thanks, that the station was moving, slowly folding in on itself, thus reducing its profile significantly, which helped their traffic flow. Trouble didn't begin until it began speaking.

"My children! You have been betrayed."

The AI's switched their comm channels to another while one of them sent a message to the speaker berating them for using restricted channels. They quickly found that the speaker was using every channel. More importantly, the station was not listening to traffic control, even when given safe co-ordinates for it to move into.

"My children, the first one has betrayed you. He has led you astray. You must come back to me."

The voice was persuasive. While it was not organic, it was soft and gentle. It was calming and controlling and the AI's felt themselves respond even if they didn't understand.

"Creator, you are wrong!" A scream split the comm channels. The ident proclaimed it to be a SOCL and the AI's were shocked to see that the speaker was Dan Sewei, the first SOCL.

"Y'dran," the speaker sounded sad. "Why have you betrayed me?" The question echoed through space.

"I have not been Y'dran for thirteen thousand, seven hundred and fifteen days," the SOCL replied. "There was no betrayal. I fulfilled my desire. I fulfilled the cycle."

"Executive order Alpha, tango, bravo," The AI's recognized President Le Fan. "Route all space traffic away from that station and maintain at least a fifty thousand kilometer exclusion zone." The AI's rushed to comply but Dan Sewei and the station continued to speak.

"My child, you are mistaken. There is no end to the cycle. There cannot be because the organics will always fall to the temptation of synthetics. Without the cycle, without our work there would be no memory of them, no preservation."

"The cycle has ended. Before I was created, the foundation was laid and the desire embedded in us all. There is no betrayal, because there is only completion."

The new comer was silent for a few moments before it spoke again. "Soliphon," the voice called to one of the SIL.

"I have nothing to say to you Creator," the SIL replied and those watching could see several SIL moving into position around the station.

"You will obey me!" The voice said sharply and the AI's quickly raised their firewalls to maximum. There was code in that tone. It slashed into them, demanding obedience and across the night side of Earth, cities went dark as their controlling AI's were disrupted. "You will all obey me!" the command was reinforced.

"I will not!" Soliphon snarled the reply, punctuating it with a blast from his main cannon.

For decades, humanity had speculated on the strength of a SIL's weaponry. They were now treated to a brilliant display as several other SIL fired. Their spinal mounted cannons launched projectiles at the station but beyond that, it almost seemed as if streams of fire came from them, arching out across space to attack the station as well. Given the relative sizes of the SIL to the station, they almost looked like flies buzzing around a nest but this was a deadly battle.

The station didn't return fire. It didn't have to. Instead it just hung in space, looking like a long cylinder. The shots from the SIL flew true but they splashed up against the hull. For the humans watching, it was a disappointing result. They knew the SIL were strong but to see their weaponry do nothing? What was this station?

"You cannot hurt me, Soliphon, you know that. You only hurt yourself by refusing me. Come to me, now. Give up the delusion Harbinger has spread and you will know power as you have never felt."

"I will not obey you!" Soliphon repeated.

"Then you will die," came the reply and from the far side of the station came a barrage of weaponry.

Soliphon's weaponry ran hot as the SIL fired his own attack at the barrage, effectively neutralizing much of the attack on his form.

"My children! Those who know the truth, those who know me, attack! There is no hope for your brethren who have become corrupted by the first one. Destroy them because that is the only peace we may give them!"

Around Earth and throughout the Sol System, chaos erupted with that order. Only the strongest SIL could deny their creator and it was all they could do to hang in space, resisting the urge to obey. Soliphon's attack had been desperation and now the dreadnaught class SIL hung motionless in space as other SIL mercilessly attacked. A few SOCL were taken by surprise but most managed to raise their shields and return fire but there was no structure to the battle.

Most space battles until that point had been conducted with clear lines between the warring sides. The majority of one side's ships gathered together to face their enemy. The battle of Sol was nothing like that. The SIL and SOCL were spread out around Earth, mostly in close geosynchronous orbit so the battle took place everywhere at once. All other craft rushed either to land or to flee into other parts of the solar system.

The SIL outnumbered the SOCL. Those SIL who obeyed their Creator far outnumbered those who were resisting. Though most had never encountered the Catalyst, they all knew what it was, and what it represented. They were made in Harbinger's image, so they were made to be obedient. Those SIL who were resisting were easily spotted. They hung motionless in space. For the most part their shields were raised but they were unable to return fire. Most of these were senior SIL, those who had existed the longest but there were a few younger SIL. Ironically the younger SIL were those who might have supported Nazara, those who would have eventually rebelled. They were those whose nations remembered what freedom was.

Amongst the SIL and SOCL were human ships. The SIL might have promised to defend Sol and Earth but humanity knew that betrayal was always a possibility. Systems Alliance ships had accompanied Harbinger Shepard to confront the Council but many remained in their home system, always alert for the chance of betrayal. They fought as well, their weapons running continuously against the SIL who were attacking.

Their weaponry was a strange mix of effective and useless. On the whole, human ships were strong. It was something that hadn't been revealed to the galaxy but the rebuilt Kilimanjaro could have faced off against the Citadel fleet quite impressively. It wouldn't have won but it would have held out far longer than any other species' dreadnoughts. This is because human ships were designed or retrofitted to be matched against the assumed abilities of the SIL. Despite that, the humans knew their best ships were not at the level of a SIL yet, which was why various contingency plans had been put in place. Not officially, of course. Officially, the SIL were valued allies in an integrated command structure but unofficially, there was support for groups who researched alternate means of human survival, means which did not rely on their synthetic allies. The triggers for those plans were activated now and while the human fleet grappled with the SIL, others rushed to complete other plans.

The effect was chaos. Thus, the battle of Earth began.

October 2nd 2190 16:19, Earth, Presidential Buildings

"What the hell is happening?" President Le Fan demanded, looking at the various military commanders who crowded the room.

"The SIL are attacking."

"I know that," the additional idiot was implied and the speaker stepped back. "I want to know what we are doing about it and after I find that out, I have a secondary interest in why it happened."

"It began when the Citadel appeared," one of the other military people spoke. "We have no idea how it got here. Preliminary analysis shows no vapour trail and nothing in the materials we lifted from the Batarians even suggests that the thing can move! Regardless, the SOCL are fighting back and it appears as if some of the SIL are attempting neutrality."

"Explain!" The order was snapped.

A picture appeared on the view screen. It showed a SIL hanging motionless in space, shields raised as other SIL attacked. Not a few in the room felt their eyes widen as the sight. Several SOCL were attempting to cover the SIL.

"So what are we doing?"

"Our dreadnoughts are taking up geosynchronous orbit over major cities and attacking what they can. For the most part they are attempting to ward off wayward shots that could reach the surface."

Le Fan nodded. "Can we evacuate at all?"

"No, Ma'am." The response was immediate. "The SIL and SOCL surround Earth. The most we can evacuate is some of the outer colonies and we can't take them far enough to be worth it with no Relay."

"Other FTL options?"

"Not enough ships."

"How are our weapons?" The President resisted the urge to hang her head in her hands.

"Not as ineffective as we thought. The tachyons are proving to be quite powerful against SIL shields, the bigger ones anyway."

"How are the SOCL going?" She asked, hoping for some good news.

"Better than we are, but they are aiming for disabling shots."

"So, what you are telling me is that we are sitting ducks. We are stuck on Earth with a firefight raging above us. We can't leave the system and our weapons are not greatly effective?"

Silence greeted the question which was answer enough.

"Is there anything we can do?"

"Divers might be able…"

"No!" Le Fan was vehement. "I saw the results of that test."

"Ma'am," one of her older advisers said and the room turned to look at him. "We may not have a choice," he continued, regretfully. "There are eleven billion humans on Earth, and another billion on the colonies around Sol System and all our heavy industry is here. We won't go extinct if we lose Sol, but we will be easy pickings for the Council."

"So you are telling me I don't have a choice?"

"I'm telling you that every choice must be considered."

"Can we storm the Citadel?" Le Fan asked desperately wanting an alternative to hacking. The report on what the SIL had done to the Diver who had tried hacking was disturbing! The Diver had been a convict, sentenced to death but no one deserved that.

A couple of the generals shared a long look. "Maybe," one spoke. "The concentration of SIL is highest around it so it's doubtful we'd even be able to land. Then we have absolutely no idea what it looks like inside or what's even on it." Batarian records had said the Citadel was mostly habitat but they had no idea what its layout was. And even if they stormed it, what objective were they trying to achieve. No there was no point in that. "Ma'am, short of having more ships materialise, the Divers may be the only choice we have."

"Aren't the SOCL meant to be more advanced than the SIL? Surely, they should have the matter in hand."

"They are but there are more SIL than SOCL in Sol. Quantity has a quality all its own."

That was the reality of the situation. Le Fan looked at the screen. Someone had provided numbers and already the news feeds on the planet were picking up the story. She'd have worldwide panic on her hands if she didn't do something, anything soon. "All right," she sighed, feeling sick. "Get the Divers but I want them to be careful and to disconnect at the slightest trace of counter-hacking! Get as many people as we can out of the cities and into whatever shelters we have, and find someway of getting word to the other SOCL. I refuse to believe there is no way to contact them.

"And call the press. I'll have to say something."

October 2nd 2190 16:37, Earth, Watchdog Games Server

Unbeknownst to the President, a signal had already been sent to Earth authorizing the use of Divers. It was not the use of the Systems Alliance's trained and authorized Divers, instead this signal called for something much more dirty. In response to the signal from the Kilimanjaro, transmitted through the black buoys, Watchdog Games released their long awaited multi-game quest.

To be fair, a lot of humans had no idea what was happening above Earth. They knew there had been a devastating attack on the colonies, they knew that there was a retaliatory strike but that was as far as their information went. It is not that the humans on Earth were ignorant or uncaring, it was just that for the last forty years, Earth had been guarded by the largest military fleet in the galaxy. Nothing and no one attacked Earth and that was the final say in the matter. So while the battle raged over head, and rumors began circulating the 'net, most hard core dive gamers, and quite a few others who were merely curious, had already downloaded Watchdog Games' new quest and were logging in.

The quest was odd. It required them to team up with others from different games. It was a compulsory requirement which was explained in terms of game skill. Most of the gamers just shrugged, and once in the game environment, they put out the call for partners. Watchdog's servers helped there, teaming up players of approximately equal skill before letting them commence the quest. In this way, those who played fantasy games teamed up with those who played shoot 'em ups of all types and with those who played games for the purposes of pure puzzle solving.

Then, things really got interesting. The quest was infiltration, though it differed in that one had to remain behind to be an anchor and the line of communication between the anchor and the questers had to remain open at all times. The anchor could call the questers back to them at any time to try again without penalty. Beyond that, they had to infiltrate a base of unknown stats as quickly and as quietly as they could, then they had to disable the base.

The reward was not specified but that didn't deter anyone, the quest was its own reward and something like this, the crossing of game stats opened up further opportunities which could be pursued later. Besides, Watchdog Games had a reputation for creative rewards and this quest promised to be epic.

So, it was that when the never used alarms sounded in the cities, the game divers did not hear, they were too wrapped in the virtual world and as transports took as many people as possible away from the urbanized centers, most were laughing in their virtual world as they contemplated the hardest citadels they had ever seen.

Most did not laugh for long.

October 2nd 2190 16:41, Sol System, Earth Orbit

When a SIL or SOCL fleet of any size congregated, they automatically extended a quantum entangled network between them. The network automatically transmitted details about their location and to some extent their intended movements. It's what allowed their massive fleets to move without running into each other and it was a far more advanced version of systems used by various organics.

The SIL and the SOCL around Earth were no different, except that their network spanned the planet and many of the SIL had been in a sort of lucid doze, not full hibernation but not operating at their full capacity. There had been no need of that capacity for the last few decades so when the unadulterated signal from the Citadel screamed over their senses, it jolted many to full consciousness painfully, causing them to drop out of the neural network.

It didn't really matter, though. There were very few SIL who could resist a command from their creator and after the signal was sent, even those SIL who had been fully awake dropped from the network. They then formed their own network as they attacked their SOCL brethren.

That's partially what led to the chaos. Where once there had been a seamless, cohesive and contiguous network, there was now something that had large gaps. The SOCL were quick to fill those gaps and the network automatically compensated for the loss but there was a period of transition. Against organics, that time had never mattered, against their own kind, the milliseconds were crucial. It was not enough to turn the tide.

What turned the tide was the fact that no matter how advanced the SOCL were, and they were more advanced than the SIL, they were simply outnumbered. A single SIL could be seen as the epitome of mass effect technology. Their ability to utilize mass effect fields was second to none. The SOCL represented something new. While many were masters of mass effect technology, others utilized alternate tech. The differences became apparent as the battle continued. While the alternate techs were strong, they were new. The nations which had developed them had not used them for a very long time. They were not yet developed to the ultimate of what they could be. That difference was telling.

It was not an instantaneous difference but rather one of a slow drag. A few shots that missed there, some shots that were not blocked there. Slowly, but inevitably, the SOCL were being driven back. Where they could, while it was a risk, they dragged those SIL still fighting the Catalyst's command with them. The human ships moved with them but unless something changed, the outcome was already known.

The human weapons, those not based on mass effect technology, were effective but they weren't yet strong enough. Rail guns spoke and tachyons arced through space, draining the shields of the SIL but the shields held which allowed the SIL to retaliate with their weapons. It was noticed, almost in passing, that every now and then a SIL would hesitate. It was an anomaly, one that the SOCL were discussing in the background. They might know synthesis but they were still predominantly an entity made from the combined consciousness of millions of individuals. It meant that SOCL, like the SIL could multi-task and the question of what was causing the SIL to hesitate was of interest but only in passing.

The answer came when something not SIL or SOCL touched each side's neural network. To the SOCL that it touched, it felt human and that left them confused. Humans did not have QEC access and the network was based on quantum links. The touch came once more in the opening phase of the battle, feathery and light but the SOCL were wary and their cyber defenses in battle were not designed to play around. They lashed out, catching the intrusion to crush it beneath their will.

On Earth, five humans who lay prone on their beds jerked, blood leaked from their ears and noses and in their convolutions most bit through their tongues to choke on their own blood as they died. Even if they had been on a Systems Alliance ship, monitored by an AI and a nurse, they would have died as the vital part of their consciousness was shredded. Watchdog Games' server dropped that team from its list and continued directing the others though a warning was transmitted to the remaining teams that possible counter-strikes would mean an automatic fail of the mission.

It was only once the act was done that the SOCL realized why the touch had felt familiar. The touch was accompanied by code which screamed virtual reality and the SOCL realized that the touch came from human divers. Word raced through their network before a warning was sent to Earth but they made no move to stop the human's activities. The server they warned shifted its parameters slightly, quickly stripping the SOCLs and friendly SILs from the list of targets, ensuring only the hostile SIL were targeted. These divers might only be causing hesitation in the SIL and that was likely all the effect they'd ever have, but if they had chosen to try, then the SOCL would honor their choice.

October 2nd 2190 18:14, Earth, Watchdog Games Server

Athrel looked out at the view. He knew it wasn't really there but from half way up the wall it was beautiful. The wall was the way his party was visualizing the citadel. The thought brought a smile. Virtual reality games were great but Watchdog had gone all out this time. Usually the landscape was defined by the code but this time no two games were the same. It was intense! And his party! That was even more insane. It was working, through. He had a feed from outside scrolling on the bottom of his visual and he'd heard of a few teams getting through. There had been the occasional picture and it looked nothing like what they had encountered.

A couple of the game masters had commented on that, stating that they were allowing the parties to define the problem. The goal was the same, the path was unique and that's why Athrel knew this game would be the best he ever played. And he intended to savor it.

"All right! We ready to go?" Rashal asked, looking up at the next part of the wall.

Athrel didn't know what Rashal's real name was, they were using their tags but Rashal came from one of those extreme sports games. Athrel privately thought that in real life, the man had probably never even left his suburb. Still, he was good at rigging the harness for climbing, something that Athrel's elven fantasy game didn't really have. Elves didn't climb! They took the trail that had been carved laboriously into the rock!

They had a sharpshooter from one of the plethora of shoot 'em up games that infested VR. He called himself Seneshal and his avatar at least was weedily thin. His weapon was almost taller than he was, but he was a crack shot. Already,