Much like last time, the A/N will be up here to spare ruining the ending.
And it is, the ending.
This is it.
Of this chapter of the WarVerse, at least.
Three years, it took.
Three looooooong years.
The writing of The New Face of War certainly had some ups and downs, including at one point a complete rebranding of the entire thing.
It was, and still is, an experiment in the long game. A lot in here set up a lot to happen down the line, both in the short term (setting up the sequel, The Civil War), and the long term (setting up the Reaper Saga).
It was one hell of an experiment, let me tell you, but seeing all the risks I took, the breakup of the story with the saltorian-centric Interlude chapters, the shifting points of view between three main characters, the foreshadowing in both the short and long term… McGrawandSpokaneandTakingJohn'smemories - seeing it all pay off here… I don't like to indulge in myself often, but just damn, I feel a little inkling of pride here.
There were several arcs I had planned out and abandoned in the end. The whole Project: VANGUARD was scrapped midway through for a better idea with the same general point, and changed into the foreshadowing of TIM and McGraw's indoctrination. I'd originally intended to follow Jorell through bootcamp and then to Manheim, but decided to skip it because we'd already followed John through his entire training, and doing so again would be excessive.
I'd also thought initially to start the Interlude arcs from Jorban's childhood and have each one take place over the course of a century in his life, but decided instead to tell the whole Insurrection/First Contact arc, as well as provide some context to the saltorians themselves, through them instead.
I'd even intended for there to be a couple more 'McGraw Lunches' with Benezia, to slowly show how Miranda aged from the fourteen year old girl we knew on Sparta to the Cerberus Agent we know from the games… But I scrapped that pretty early on because having a fourth Main Character would make the story too jam-packed. I instead saved a lot of her character arcs and development for The Civil War… But that's all I have to say about that. ;)
Hell, and even the reverse is true - there came some arcs that began on accident.
And there's probably a lot more I can't think of at the moment.
Though, ironically, if there was one great regret I had for this story?
It would be the saltorians.
Surprising, I know, but as I continued writing and planning the story I realized how much of a sequence breaker this species was. They fit the mold of the Mass Effect-verse even less than the WarVerse humans do, and I came incredibly close to writing them out in this story's end. Had it gone this way, they would have decided instead of joining the humans and the Alliance, to instead remain on their planet and their star system and leave its reaches under their own strength.
I probably should have done that, to be honest, and I still have an Out of a similar vein, should I decide to use it, but for now I'm sticking to my guns with this one. They've definitely got a role to play, of that you can have no doubt, but much like the yahg or the raloi, I can at least say I don't think they'll ever take center stage.
And if you haven't heard of the raloi, that's the entire point.
Moving on, when I started this story, I knew two things.
One, that I would be irreparably changing the Mass Effect universe into something different, only tangentially resembling it on the surface.
Two: There were still gonna be a looot of not necessarily unfounded Halo comparisons.
Both of these things were what I came to accept as the WarVerse's identity, and as I've said countless times, the entire thing is an experiment. It is there to grant me experience in writing, and to get me practice in storytelling, such that eventually I can move on to an original venture.
Something to call my own.
As I've said before, the WarVerse is what came about when I stripped away virtually all of the fantasy elements from my original setting, and just stuck solely to sci-fi. I used Mass Effect as an established world, a means to springboard these ideas and get practice in using them. As time went on, it turned from what was initially a side project to a shameless (and all but thoroughly abandoned) Self Insert to a full-fledged beast and one of the most followed and favorited stories in the Mass Effect category.
Seriously, both of these stories are on the first page for follows and favorites. It's fucking awesome.
It's brought me joy and triumph, and has even made me a friend or two over the years.
And it's all thanks to you - all of you who read this story and try to find the method to my madness.
I cannot overstate how thankful I am to have all of you reading my stuff and sticking with it for so long. Every single thing I write, I try to make better than the last one, for all of you. This story and your all enjoyment of it has pulled me through the good times and the bad, and it's inspired me to think that maybe I'll be able to turn this into a business some day, and that alone boggles my mind.
Once again, thank you - each and every one of you. I'm so glad you all enjoy this and I cannot wait to make the next step on the journey with you.
And that provides the perfect segue: What the hell comes next?
Well, in case it needs to be said - there will undoubtedly be a sequel to TNFW. Nothing aside from an act of god, my death, or maybe a job offer from Bioware would stop the rest of the WarVerse from being written.
There's still a journey to be had, and we're only at the second step.
I intend for The Civil War to be the culmination of everything before it, which I've come to call the 'Prequel Wars' trilogy, to encompass all three stories that occur before The Reaper Saga, as well as the jumping off point for everything that comes after. It will end the trilogy that began with The First War, and will serve as the genesis of the Reaper Saga, and trust me when I say: It's going to be a hell of a ride.
But, it will be a little while coming.
What I want to do this time is basically already be halfway through the story before I even consider publishing it. TNFW was plagued with hiatuses and delays, and I hated disappointing everyone like that. Every time I had to say the words 'Sorry, but…', I considered it a personal failure on my part, and that's not something I want to repeat.
In the meantime, I've got two projects I'll be putting serious work into.
The first will be one that'll be seeing some love immediately: The Hopeless War.
If ever there was a story of mine with a worse release schedule than this one, it's THW. I hope to actually finish this, but I'll leave most of the news for that story in that story.
The second project would be my first OC venture.
A real OC venture, at that. Truly original.
Beyond the bounds of the WarVerse and the bindings of a world I have to work within, in a distant slice of the multiverse, is my first work of Original Content, I call it Oasis Phenom.
The brainchild and a labor of love from an old playground game a friend and I used to play, I intend to use it as the testing grounds for the fantasy concepts I didn't want to throw into the WarVerse.
It's still early in development, I still don't even know where I'll publish it, but I do intend, hopefully soon, to begin making serious headway on it. If all goes well, when I start publishing the Civil War, I will alongside it also be publishing Oasis Phenom.
The plan is, once I finish publishing OP bit by bit, chapter by chapter, as I've done here, once it's done I'll go through it again with a fine-toothed comb, tidy it up a bit, make some changes here and there, and then put it up on the Amazon marketplace, and I will, for all intents and purposes, have made it: I'll have become published.
Once again, the idea that that's within my grasp boggles my mind.
That's the plan, for now. I'm going to draft Civil War and Oasis Phenom, and move on ahead with and finish The Hopeless War.
And when the time comes for The Civil War to be published… Just like last time with this story, I'll publish a 'preview' of sorts, as a chapter added onto the end of TNFW. Sort of like an epilogue epilogue, or a literary post-credits, but I digress. This'll let you all know that the time is coming and that it's coming soon at that, while also giving everyone still in it for the long haul a chance to have the news once it breaks.
However, should you want news as it breaks… I do have a Twitter -at-ProfFartBurger, and a WordPress blog that I intend to revive imminently with a longer, more in-depth version of this A/N here.
Both can serve as primary information sources, and if you're ever wondering what I'm up to - be it a pointless thought experiment or teasing progress on a story - you can find it there.
I also answer pretty much everything sent my way, so that's also an avenue.
But uh, yeah.
That really wraps things up, I guess.
So without further ado:
"Everyone's the lead in their own story, Administrator. Some roles are bigger, some smaller, but none are more important, understand?"
— Glaistig Uaine, Worm
The Citadel's foundations were the polar opposite of the Wards and the Presidium above. Where the Wards and Presidium were actively policed by Citadel Security, to varying degrees of success, the Foundations were not. The only time any armed presence was seen down here was during dire emergencies or riots that leaked out 'upstairs', and even then the presence was temporary, restricted only to the time it took to quell the riots and get out. The slums of the Citadel were where the people the Council sent those they didn't like, but couldn't necessarily get rid of. All of the homeless dregs rotted away down there. The entire krogan population, some three thousand people, stayed down here, along with what few drell strayed away from Kahje and what even fewer vorcha lived outside of the Terminus. Once it had been that a good fraction of homeless quarians on failed pilgrimages would stay down here and beg for scraps, but once the Alliance had come rampaging in, the quarians quickly fled to greener pastures.
Truth be told, it wasn't necessarily bad, not as long as one could get themselves a paltry job topside and could afford the infinitesimally small apartments and condos in the Foundations. Landowners were like organized crime rings - street and turf wars were fought yearly over which gang owned what streets. There was, fortunately, a universal law: Let the krogan take what they want.
It had been after a particularly entrepreneurial turian had tried to oust a battlemaster by taking his yet-ungrown child that the unspoken law had been enacted. Three entire platoons of C-Sec cops had had to storm the Foundations to kill the battlemaster, and even amongst the tidal wave of C-Sec bodies that had formed in the ensuing fight, they still hadn't found the Nakmor or his progeny. Since then, the krogan were left alone, only the stupid or the suicidal tried to break that rule. It was one of the reason krogan homes and streets were used as neutral meeting grounds for various gangs either too weak or too occupied to war against eachother. The krogan didn't care - they either got money from the deal, or, when the talks inevitably broke down, got to kill whoever started shooting; win-win.
The end result was that the Foundations were the Council and the Citadel's best worst kept secret. Everyone who lived on the station knew that they existed, but chose to ignore it. Nearly everyone who didn't live on the station didn't even know they existed, and as such the image of the idyllic space station was perpetuated.
So too was it not admitted how dreadfully easy it was to smuggle things onto the Citadel, through the Foundations. While it may be true that it was easily the more dangerous option, so long as one knew the right people or was even willing to put themselves in danger, the Foundations was the best way to smuggle illegal items up and into the Wards. As long as one knew what they were doing, it was appallingly simple to get onto the station. Not at all like an Alliance station, where there would actually be patrols, be they mechs, drones, or motion sensors, or some sort of defense against potential interlopers walking along the outer hull. Anything would be better than nothing, and nothing was exactly what the Citadel had protecting its outer hull. The most difficult part was finding a smuggler's entrance into the Foundations, and after that, it was just a matter of setting up the pickup on the Wards.
Fortunately for a less-than-merry band of SIGMA II's, they didn't need to worry about the potential dangers of smuggling through the gang territories. They didn't have to worry about messing with the krogan, paying fines, or even setting up the pickup for the Wards. All they needed to do was find an entrance, and then a condo they could hide out in, and without further ado they were suddenly at the top of the food chain, in regards to the Foundations. Even krogan knew to second guess their options if they fought SIGMAs. It didn't stop many from trying, of course. They were krogan.
Once they landed on the Citadel and snuck off of their civilian cruiser, it only took Rabbit Squad two hours to break into the Foundations, and half of that was spent being as cautious as they would have been had it been an Alliance station. Once they confirmed there were no outer defenses as they had been prepared for, their snail's pace quickly accelerated to a more reasonable they slipped inside and felt an atmosphere press at their armor, Eli S2-10 turned to the other two members of his squad. They each nodded, and with but a thought, he ordered his suit to begin a timer.
Starting now, John had one year. The Council had one year. Peace, such as it was, had one year.
Little did they know, that with their landing upon the Citadel, they had sealed the fates of untold billions, and set the entire galaxy down upon the path to a war that would eclipse anything before it. Though they were few, and their role small compared to the titans, giants, and men that would fight the wars to come, even the smallest pebble could cause the greatest landslide. They were the linchpin upon which the entire galaxy rested, their fates inexorably tied to everyone and everything.
Including, and especially, a certain Ghost that would dock with the Citadel the very instant they set their timer.
Time was a luxury. It was, perhaps, the most valuable currency so often cast aside by the vast majority that did not truly understand this. There was always more time - there was always tomorrow, always another day, so why worry about this moment? So few truly understood that time, in and of itself, was why one had to worry. Everyone, and everything, only had so much time. There were only so many years before a person died, only so many eons before even the hardiest atoms fell apart. Even time itself would eventually run out, leaving a universe once vibrant and bright, filled to the bursting point with life, now cold, dark, and filled with matter that could no longer hold itself together.
So few people understood the precious nature of time. The salarians, who lived such short lives, simply cast it aside, many dedicating their entire lives to the pursuit of just one point of data, such that the next in a line of rapidly aging and cycling generations could get the next point of data. In their secular, divided species, they didn't understand that their time could be more well spent as a collective. If that entire species were to devote even an hour of effort towards whatsoever they saw fit, they could truly learn anything they wished. Instead, they threw time away and entire generations were devoted to points of data, making and unmaking mistakes, learning things.
The asari came close to understanding the value of time. Living for a millennia as they did, many understood that few races existed that would survive and live as long as they, and as such they saw satisfaction in the time they had with whom they had it. However, their mistake came when they chose enjoy this time, but control it. They sought the long game, and they sought control, using entire generations of other species as pieces.
The krogan, ironically, came closer than the asari. With their multiple redundant organ and nervous systems, many of them could survive longer than even the eldest Asari matriarch, to the point that lived some krogan who had fought in the rebellions, and some still who had slain rachni. They were closer than most to enjoying time for what it was, and spending the resource valuably, but their mistake was in that they saw it only as a means to an end, and sought enjoyment in the killing and eventual, inevitable, and preferably explosive death at the hands of a powerful enemy. They wasted time, when, considering their population size and newfound birthrate, they had none to waste.
Perhaps, altogether, this was why the galaxy was the way it was. As a collective, no species spent its time wisely, and the golden age it lived in was a mere twinkle compared to the iridescent beauty it could very well have been. The other species only saw fit to contribute to this idea. The quarians feared time, the drell remembered it. The hanar gave theirs to their gods, and the batarians enslaved it. The volus horded it, the elcoor and the vorcha didn't care for it. Though, as the worst offender, there was then, the turians. The turians didn't throw time away, they didn't play the long game, waste, or fight time.
Turians ignored it.
Perhaps it was unfair, as it was merely a small portion of the turian population, a mere percentage point hidden from the whole, that ignored time. Truly, the entire species sought instead to serve in time's best interest - to protect and serve those who had little, to buy them as much as they could. Of course, the mistake there was that in their service, they spent their time on others and would not enjoy what time they had for themselves. Honorable, in a sense, but, while they served time, there existed a small subsect, less than three million, who had voluntarily decided to ignore it.
These were the Ghosts.
To serve time, they chose to ignore it.
They spent centuries at a time, entombed in cryogenic stasis pods of prothean-turian design, their minds networked and linked together such that no moment was a moment wasted. That every second of these millennia spent under the ice was spent training their minds, imprinting upon their muscles, building their experience. Education, training, battle experience, not a moment was wasted, ever. The Ghosts were a people altered on an intrinsic level to better play their role and serve time. Existing before even the Unification Wars, until 2201, they had been the single most lethal unit in all of the galaxy. Once contact had been made, krogan had been the bar to which they had been set. Before, training a ghost required them to become more than even their cabals, to be able to combat a platoon and win, single-handedly. Now, they had to be more lethal than a blood-raged krogan battlemaster, and for two thousand short years, that had been their standard. They at their lowest, even before alteration, were to be better than the krogan at their best, and the result was nothing short of beauty. They, alongside their species and the post-rachni Citadel Council, bought the entire galaxy generations.
Ghosts understood time for what it was. Living for as long as they did, so separated yet so intimately involved with their people, they came to a perspective unique even to the long-lived asari. They knew that time was finite, that all had it and all were losing it. The ghosts understood that it was one's duty to use time wisely - not in the sense that one was therefore required to spend it on the betterment of others, but to simply enjoy what time they had. To take small fractions from the approaches of all species and to form a whole. The Ghosts, in effect, played the role their entire species played, but in a vastly different way. To serve time, to buy others as much as they could, to serve in the interests that maybe, eventually, after enough time had been lost, the people would begin to understand its value, the Ghosts therefore had to ignore it. There was only ever one Ghost, ever, who was allowed not to ignore it, to live and serve outside of the ice. It was to continue to perpetuate the myth, the illusion, and the reality, of turian power and authority, by having a Ghost serving the Council as a Spectre.
For a very long time, it worked. For every life they stole, countless more were saved. For a very long time, it was good. People had time, they may not have spent it wisely - they never spent it wisely - but in this perpetual peace they were at least able to enjoy it however they did spend it. Truly, what else was there to fight for, but that? Yes, the goal, the hope, was for all to understand their finity and to spend it with wisdom, but the realistic goal was instead to give them the time to learn this, preferably before they had no time left. Unfortunately, as with all good things, there inevitably was an end, and this end came when those who feared, were defeated by those who were crushed, and then ran afoul of those who served.
To find those who fought.
Under the ice, in the networked environment, they weren't as isolated from the galaxy as one may think. The Network was among the most advanced simulation matrices in the known galaxy - perhaps the most advanced. Everything was portrayed with picture-perfect accuracy, from physics, to tactile sensations, even to aesthetics. They used this train, ceaselessly, on the simulated environments of new colonies and planets. They got news, they were able to work with and learn new advancements, weapons, concepts, and technologies.
Truly, the Ghosts were perhaps the most up to date out of any faction alive. They had been among the first to learn of the incidents involving the Migrant Fleet, though at the time not a single one of them had even considered it would escalate to a war that would that them out. When the reports came in that the quarians had made contact with a new species, many training missions and live fire scenarios were temporarily put on hold, such that they could get the facts as they were, and not as the Hierarchy's PR put them.
The moment they had learned of the casualty counts, from the brief engagement between the combined Hegemony and Hierarchy navies, against the comparably paltry human battlegroup, they knew they may be called. Their every waking moment was spent studying these new species. Once footage and reports came in from earth, they knew it was only a matter of time until they would be fighting these people. They'd had a month to build simulations based off of the data they had received, and to train against the humans. When Palaven was struck, they, for the first time in nearly six and a half centuries, awoke.
He remembered it vividly.
There was a distinct difference from consciousness under the network, to waking from the ice. While it was true that it was needless, they still simulated lethargy in the network, so as to not introduce potential weaknesses once they awoke. This made networked consciousness feel still and static, lacking a biological imperative. Waking from the ice, however, they could feel the blood in their veins and the pull of true lethargy at the back of their minds, turning still and static, to fluid and mobile, much like drinking filtered water, versus fresh water from a pure, cool spring, or heat from a heating element versus a natural fire.
There hadn't been a need for any briefings or moments of confusion or clarity when they had awoken. They knew why Palaven was under siege, who was attacking it, and how powerful this enemy was. They knew that they could not win the orbital game without nearly every single fleet available to the Hierarchy, but so too did they knew that they had numbers enough to win a ground game, even without the Ghosts. In truth, they didn't blame the humans for what they did, nor did they hate them. The humans had been seduced by the quarians and, in perhaps the single longest, uninterrupted chain of horrible, ill-informed choices on all sides, not just the Hierarchy's, had come to lash out in blind fury. It was their job to push these people back and hold the lines, to avoid the war deteriorating any further until all sides had been properly appraised of the situation and could be defused.
Unfortunately, for some, this viewpoint would not last.
Before he even set foot on Palaven, the first thing the Ghost saw was the assembled human fleets surrounding Palaven and bombing its cities and major military bases from orbit. Noticed by these ships, they all turned their guns to the dreadnought, forcing the Ghosts to flee as a precious few stayed back to do what they did best: Buy time. He would never know how many ships were destroyed by their dreadnought, but he would know that it would number in the upper dozens, and the Alliance would take from them this dreadnought, to send it Spirits knew where.
His shuttle had been forced to surf through the void under no powered thrust, to shield them from radar detection. It had taken them several hours to reach the atmosphere and make landfall, and as they descended to the ground, he saw Menan in flames. It had been bombed so often and so much from orbit that many of its grandest buildings, some of which the Ghost had remembered seeing been built centuries ago, had been torn from the ground and dropped in smoldering heaps. The light of Palaven's sun baked the city and the ambient heat radiated off of it in waves.
When they landed on the outskirts of Menan, the Ghost saw that many of the outlying buildings, outside of human artillery range, had been appropriated for use as field hospitals and command centers. It was a military police station that he and his squad landed at and entered to report for duty. As was the intention, when they told the commanders they were Ghosts, he assumed they meant Ghost Infiltrators, and instantly sent them off, to make ready as an indirect attack force when they made their next push for Menan. During the time before this strike, the Ghost took in Palaven's air for the first time in many centuries, and got a feel, firsthand, for the destruction the humans had wrought.
He saw parents and children in the hospitals, many with different facial markings. Some knew not in whose arms they sought solace, but still cried in them nonetheless. Some told him tales of the 'screaming iron rods' that fell from the sky, of the enraged, furious humans gunning down anyone in their way. He saw soldiers with wounds from ammunition not used since the industrial ages, giving reports of armor so thick that their ammunition just bounced off of it. What caught his attention more than perhaps anything else, however, were the stories of the towering titans. Humans, nearly a meter taller than their brethrens, and multiple leagues faster and stronger, too. The reports and stories he read, of humans single-handedly taking on and defeating many multiple times their number without even so much as an injury, they felt startlingly familiar to the Ghost, and it was these stories that helped him realize who the humans were.
Whereas the asari played the long game, the krogan wasted time, the salarians threw it away, and the turians ignored it, the humans fought it. They considered time an enemy, and as they would with all of their enemies, they fought it. They inherently denied time's pull upon them and fought it with every fiber of their being. To defeat time, they fought it, and took the spoils to live. Anyone they met, anyone who threatened them, it was their enemy - it was them trying to steal that which they had fought to obtain. Time was their enemy and their resource, they fought it to defeat it, they defeated it, to gain it. Everything they did was to this effect, and none more apparent or proving than the replication of a concept that, until that day, had been unique to the turians. No other species had even conceptualized any soldier of a caliber higher than special forces - to be better simply required more training. Until that day, only the turians had ever sought genetic modification as a means to achieve an efficiency heretofore impossible in war.
Unlike the turians, the human soldiers would not ignore time. Truly, their method of alteration was a reflection of this. Ghosts were changed from a genetic level, from the ground up, as it were. Among so much else, their aging processes were effectively halted, their natural healing abilities accelerated to levels only seconded by the krogan, their musculature and skeletal structures enhanced to the point that they could even easily function on planets worse than Dekuuna; but all of these revolved around changing their genetics.
Chemical treatments, biological alterations, Ghosts were arguably not even turian anymore, once they awoke from the operating table. Humans, however, took a different approach, relying upon technology to achieve many of the same effects. Computers were wired into their brains, metal was grafted to their bones, they were turned from organic creatures to hybrid, cybernetic ones. Just as the Ghosts were no longer turian, so too were the SIGMAs no longer human.
All of this, this drive to fight, it made the humans dangerous. They were not irredeemable, but they were dangerous nonetheless. In a way much different and far worse than the krogan had ever been. The krogan, at least, used their time without any wisdom at all; they were known as the ones who wasted it for a reason. The humans, however, they carried themselves with a wisdom few species but the asari had. It was a wisdom born not from experiencing life as long as the asari, but born from having fought an enemy for so long that they understood it intimately, and were proud of every one of their victories, both minor and major. This made them dangerous, and perhaps the greatest threat to the galaxy since the pre-genophage krogan. Despite this, however, many, he included, knew that they could be a resource unparalleled in its value. They merely needed to learn.
By force, if necessary.
He remembered making this decision, and the distinctions that preceded it. It was perhaps the most vivid of all his memories from his first visit to Palaven in centuries. It had been after he'd seen the unbridled fear in a young child's eyes when she described to him one of their SIGMA's efforts. Too young to yet fully settle in to the discipline of the Hierarchy, she spoke to him with tears in her eyes and a tremble to her voice. Her entire family had fought it as she had fled - her father and mother dueled the creature together, but she said it absorbed volumes of gunfire and knives and omni-blades shattered against its armor. She said that after dispatching her parents, it moved onto her brother, and she watched as the former cabal threw everything he had against it, barely holding out longer than their parents, and as she ran, she saw it tear through him as if the act of snapping his bones and breaking its spine was as easy to it as it was for another person to breathe.
"Can you win against monsters like those?" She asked, turning her wide, green eyes up to his own silver-blue.
The Ghost's mandibles pressed tight to his face, as he considered his next words. After a moment, however, he simply smiled, and lifted his hand, his palm facing upwards. He nodded to it, prompting the girl to look into his empty palm. Her eyes grew wide as, with a ripple, a biotic barrier shaped like an orb appeared in his hand. It collapsed to the size of a small pebble, and another barrier appeared, this one the size of a large ball, before it too collapsed downward. He pressed his talons tightly, deforming the orb around them, before it popped, and out came a gust of wind as the compressed air inside rushed outwards, generating no more than a tickle of wind, and a gasp of pure awe from the child.
"The humans think they've the only uniquities a galaxy built upon the ruins of the protheans, young one." He brushed some rubble from the child's small shoulder. "But…" He reached down and picked his helmet off of the ground, securing it to his head with a loud click and the hiss of a suit sealing itself off and compressing. After but a moment, the helmet synced with his occiput, and he was granted a panoramic, nearly three hundred sixty degree field of view.
"They're not the only ones with surprises." He assured her, his voice gaining a deep, rumbling echo.
The child's look of awe, however melted away to one of sorrow. "Then why did you let them win?"
The Ghost did a double take, and when he looked again, the child's face was half burned off, revealing a charred skeleton underneath. One eye was missing, portions of her right arm and chest were blasted off to reveal the meat and organs underneath, freely leaking copious amounts of blood. Her voice, coming from damaged lungs, now rasped rattled.
"Why did you let them burn Palaven?" She asked, her head slowly listing to the left, showing more of its skeletal, damaged side to the Ghost. "Why did you let them kill so many of our people? You had time. You had numbers. You could have led a force to their home, routed them, but you did not." She hissed.
He furrowed his brow, no, this wasn't right. He had been out too long, awake, too long. His mind, he was -
The Ghost awoke with a start, his biotics already flaring and the arms of the chair in which he sat crushed under his strength. He growled in a low, flanged baritone, as he realized where his dreams had taken him this night. Spending so much time out of cryo, his mind had finally regained the ability to conjure up dreams, and for the last two years he'd been haunted by these memories, turned to nightmares. Where once he had simply seen the child and his attempts to console her, now he saw her question his every action, challenge his beliefs and convictions. Where once he had engaged and killed three SIGMAs, even recovering the only SIGMA corpse in the entire war, now they were innumerable and chased him ceaselessly as he dragged the body from one defensive line to another, the distance growing larger and larger with every step.
He knew that the machine wasn't responsible for these, as he'd had them for many a year since he'd killed those humans on Palaven. It was almost as if his mind were showing them to him so much and so often so he would never forget his encounters, and would always study. Perhaps he was unconsciously trying to replicate the network, since he had been disconnected for so long. Still, its appearance now after he found the machine did not instill him with confidence. Fortunately, that was why he had thirteen gigatons of explosives sitting next to its drive core. He had not been bluffing. It may be able to flay him alive without any effort at all, but he was capable of much the same, and thus, their impasse.
It was not in the bowels of this machine that he sat in at this moment, as the shutters on the main windows of his recovered warship opened up and revealed to him the giant sterling Citadel. Had he come here in the machine, a great many questions would have been asked at a time far too soon for his liking. Loathe though he was to admit, he needed the machine, as much as it needed him.
"Unidentified cruiser, you have entered Citadel space on course Two-Three-Zero. Please identify or submit for a boarding."
The Ghost leaned forward and fingered the communications suite, "Citadel Control, this is Hierarchy Vessel Apparition. I am requesting clearance to dock, on official business. Transmitting codes." He leaned over and sent a few data packets to the speakers a few light seconds away, as his cruiser continued soaring through the void.
There was a pause. The Ghost watched the Citadel grow in strength, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the ship's scanners identify to him that a targeting vector had been gained. He knew, of course, that this was little but standard procedure, and in any moment -
"Copy that, Apparition. Codes confirmed. Please proceed to docking bay B-Sixteen."
"B-Sixteen, yes ma'am." Said the turian, before he deftly maneuvered the ship and manipulated its controls.
"In other news, in the wake of the revelations of the SIGMA Twos, the United Nations of the human homeworld, Earth, have publicly condemned the Systems Alliance. Reports have come in of anti-Alliance riots in many of Earth's major cities, with unconfirmed rumors of weaponsfire being exchanged with UN personnel at Alliance embassies. When questioned about the potential for Civil War, Donnel Udina refused comment. However, when asked about his involvement with the SIGMA Two program, Christopher McGraw only had this to say:
"'Well, sure, but people don't condemn Einstein for helping make the nuke, or the Hierarchy or the Union for sterilizing the krogan. Is this any different? I'd argue not."
The asari Councilor's lifted her gaze from the reports she was reading to turn down the volume on her terminal, allowing the news to bleed into white noise. Below her were the plans for dividing the Harsa system between the Alliance and the Citadel. A great deal of the logistics of the operation was being handled by her salarian counterpart, however it was her job to coordinate asari relief efforts for the Citadel half of Khar'shan. So far as she had read, the plan appeared to be to divide the planet from the city the saltorians had wiped away, and the system, from its relay.
From the line drawn at the mass relay, the buffer the Alliance had created in the wake of its war against the Hierarchy was thoroughly removed. The only way for Citadel territory to continue to expand would be to go to the galactic north, into the Attican Traverse - and unlike the Alliance, who could colonize potentially hundreds of planets without hardly encroaching on Terminus territory, even one relay jump into a new solar system brought them pressing dangerously close to T'Loak's Terminus. They were effectively boxed in and facing a war no matter which way they moved, and that was before taking into consideration how unimaginably livid many client and member races of the Council was becoming in the wake of the former Hegemony's annexation.
Truly, splitting Khar'Shan down its middle as as much of an action to delay war with the Alliance, as it was a means of keeping the peace on the homefront. The turians were itching to show the Alliance how tolerant it was of their continued barbaristic ways in the last two decades, and were spending more money than ever on building warships and fielding weapons research. The salarians meanwhile were trying nearly everything they could to co-opt human AI to a Citadel-appropriate fashion, and gain a more effective intelligence foothold. They didn't want the Alliance to be able to hide something as big as the saltorians, ever again, and were going so far as to drop STG agents in former Hegemony territory, to pose as slaves, such that they could run through the Alliance rehabilitation programs and be taken in as citizens, where they could more easily work.
Then of course there was Tevos' species, who found themselves between rocks and hard places in regards to the Alliance. On one hand, for all of the wars they had fought against private militaries, the Hegemony, and even they themselves, since their contact twenty years ago, they did stabilize the Traverse, and their clear willingness to use their military meant that the Terminus Systems were ever more nervous of making moves on either faction. If they moved on the Citadel, the Alliance may be tempted to step in and ally with the Citadel, both to gain favors, and to gain territory. Then of course was the fact that they had not only made contact with, but seemingly pacified the geth, of all things, and had functionally reclaimed all of the formerly quarian territory from beyond the Persius Veil. The humans were just as capable from a philanthropic standpoint as they were from a military one.
However, then came the rock. For all of their goals in helping make the galaxy a far more stable and, dare she think it, explorable place once again, they also were clearly ready and willing to fight at the drop of a hat. Many used the term 'small krogan' to describe them, and the term wasn't too inappropriate. Many asari political groups were pushing for closer ties to the humans, to gain and trade favors to try and ease tensions. Then there were other groups that wanted to place those favors' in the turians' hands, such that they could build their military at a faster rate and, with some subtle encouragement, advance the Citadel races at a more rapid rate.
Tevos leaned back and let the artificial sunlight outside her office spread over her face. She had, of course, failed to consider the growing number of people from all races that were demanding some sort of official response in regards to the Alliance's SIGMA program. It had essentially been overlooked and brushed under the rug since the Alliance had entered the playing field. They were a people - and, if rumors were to be believed, a warrior cult - who were bred, trained, and actually changed on a genetic and physical level, to exist for one sole, singular purpose: War. A SIGMA was a proclamation of intent - seeing one was that SIGMA saying they were there to kill, to wage war until they were finished. SIGMAs breathed air, and people died, that was the entire purpose for their existence.
Even ignoring what a potentially horrible life such an existence must be, the existence of the program itself was also a statement from the Alliance. They were absolutely willing to all but sacrifice their people for the greater good. To turn people into some sort of repulsive man-machine hybrid that, again, solely existed to fight, kill, and die. That alone was horrible on many existential levels, but then these new revelations - of the SIGMA II's. Tevos couldn't even comprehend how a government, in the best interests of its people, would sanction the abduction of more than half of a thousand children for a glorified military-science experiment. If the I's were a tortured existence, she couldn't bring herself to even imagine what the II's were.
The closest example she could think of would be drell assassins, but that would be unfair to the drell. Theirs was a strictly voluntary service, with the parents of the potentially affected child having the final say. It was as much of a trade between the hanar and their client race as it was a choice of vocation for the drell in question; and when they were finished, or too old, they could leave! For the II's, it appeared that it wasn't a choice, and it appeared that they never would leave.
Telling a child that he must spend his life killing… Tevos leaned back forward and looked down at the papers and datapads that lined her desk. I just cannot imagine such a horror.
Of course she and the other Councillors would condemn these actions, but beyond that, there wasn't much they could officially do. On an unofficial scale, considering how high tensions were going between the Alliance and Earth, it likely wouldn't be impossible to try and throw Earth a little assistance in the form of some special forces squads, but other than that, little could be done about it.
Goddess… She thought, looking at one of the papers about Khar'Shan. It looked as if the turians were truly considering building a wall. How was she going to talk them out of that?
"It would be an inefficient decision, but not a bad one, depending on what type of wall they constructed." Said a baritone, flanged voice, startling Tevos with its suddenness.
Tevos' head snapped up and she jumped in her seat, rolling backwards as she was greeted by a strange visage. It was clearly a turian, with its body structure, but the armor threw her off. It wasn't the standard hardsuit, covering his chest were multiple plates of interlocking metal, rolling right over his shoulders and down his back, framing his upper body perfectly. On his arms were plates that protected his biceps and forearms, and covering his head was a thick, seamless steely-gray helmet that didn't have any visual eyeslits, almost appearing closer to a head-shaped bowl than it did an armored helmet. Then there was the suit he wore underneath it all, appearing to be closer to a human skin-suit or a quarian enviro-suit than a simple under-layer, it moved in perfect sync with his body and momentarily had Tevos thinking he actually hadn't been wearing anything at all.
The strangest of all, however, was the metallic cloak he wore. Secured to his waist, starting at the bottom of his ribcage and rolling down his hips and flowing over his legs was an armored, metallic cloak that encircled his body, parted just barely in the middle, and ended just half of a foot above his feet. The overall effect was less of a standard, modern soldier, but rather something more ancient, and archaic in appearance.
The first question on Tevos' mind was how he had gotten in here, without even her hearing. Then came how he was able to read her papers when he was standing on the other side of her desk. Then, who the hell he was.
The turian seemed to read her thoughts, and said, "call for your guards, ma'am, and you will only succeed in placing them in the hospital." with a light, almost respectful inclination of the head. "Perhaps this will clear up some of the confusion: I was sent here by a mutual friend, in the Alliance… By the name of Edward Spokane."
Tevos blinked her deep blue eyes, before her flawless face settled into a frown. "Oh." Him. The damned human that seemed to be able to pull as much weight as the Shadow Broker. The only thing standing between her and her suddenly not-dead daughter. She was not afraid to admit she had almost pushed for war, once she had been able to procure proof that he hadn't been lying to her. "Sit down." She nodded to the chair in front of her desk, as she pulled up her terminal and began typing away.
"Thank you, ma'am." Said the turian, as he seated; Tevos noticed out of the corner of her eye how his suit flowed with every movement, as if enhancing it instead of hindering it. "I would hope this to go over quickly." He said, no doubt to fill the silence. "I'm a very busy man."
Tevos hummed, "how did you find yourself working with him, at all?"
"Only through mutual acquaintancehood. He almost worked for someone I work with, and as you no doubt already know, he wants favors." Said the turian, who folded his arms respectfully in his lap.
"And why does he want you to be a Spectre?" Tevos demanded, curtly.
To which, the turian shook his head. "He does not. I require it to make my job easier." He said.
"And what is that job?"
"That would be telling, Madam Councillor." Said the turian. "Suffice to say, I once believed one thing, and now believe another. Our universe is more vast than many know, I do all things with a purpose. Perhaps not as short-sighted or emotional as his, but a purpose nonetheless. I play a long game. Time is my goal."
"And…" Tevos drawled, looking at her screen. "That you came here in a decommissioned turian warship helps you with this 'purpose'? What time does that buy you, that it won't waste in explanations?" Her eyes raised, as if challenging the turian to keep going.
The turian, however, met her challenge. "It serves a purpose, that is true. What? Well, that would be telling. As would be revealing the status of your daughter." A pause, "for the time being." He said, with a sidewards nod of the head. "Suffice to say, the time I spend explaining that ship, is, indeed, lesser than that which it buys me. Few truly question things when they are staring down the main gun of a turian warship. Even as old as mine." Tevos found it disconcerting how inanimate he was, save for those few times he ever actually added in a physical expression. The helmet masked his face, the cloak, his lower body, and his arms in his lap kept his chest and core enshrouded. "Should you continue to waste my time, however, I can confidently say that the result would be one neither of us would enjoy."
"I want a guarantee that I can see her." Tevos said, leaning back in her chair. "Or I call -"
"Four guards outside the door. Armed with Sordyn-Six pistols and protected by light armor to enhance biotic efficiency. Twenty more lining the hallways and patrolling the chambers. C-sec squads on standby with average one hundred eighty second dispatch time." He nodded forward, "one… Lone Councillor, and a window to escape from. Madam Councillor, you calling your guards will be a horrible idea, because then I will be forced to kill them, and will be forced to kill you. Then he will likely kill your daughter to wrap up loose ends… And all you will succeed in doing is slowing me down a year. Five at the most." He said, "and do not doubt what I imply I can do. On Palaven I engaged and killed three SIGMA operatives and even recovered one of their corpses, a feat yet unreplicated. I pursue this route because it is easier, not because it is my only option."
Tevos scowled at the turian, though there was a slowness to her heartbeat, and a stillness in his voice that told her he wasn't bluffing in the slightest.
"You will see her. I surmise he has said as such. Even for a human, he is a man of his word, and he is very capable of accomplishing things that would ordinarily seem impossible. After all…" He leaned forward a fraction of an inch, and yet to Tevos, he may have well leaned within centimeters of her face, he took up so much presence in this room. "I am about to be made Spectre."
Tevos bit the inside of her lip, and sighed. She had been outplayed before the turian had even stepped foot in the room. Any semblance of power that she had convinced herself she may have had, in the time it took for him to show up, thoroughly shattered by him and his human counterpart.
"I'll need your name." She said, turning to her terminal. "And a picture."
The turian leaned back and lifted his hands, placing them under his chin, and the back of his helmet. There was a light hiss, and he turned the helmet just an inch, before lifting it off of his head. It revealed his pale gray hide, the dark cap he wore over the back of his head and the steely blue eyes that locked onto Tevos' own. His left mandible was covered in a series of gnarly scars, and pressed tightly to his face in a blank expression. He wasn't even showing her satisfaction in a verbal spar having been won, making the once proud Councilor wonder if it was because he'd known he'd win, or if he hadn't even considered her an opponent in the first place.
"My name is Saren." He said, "Saren Arterius."