. . .


Saren's Story – THE RELAY 314 EXPEDITION (I)


. . .

Uncharted Space

The Gulf Between Worlds

Glittering, nearly alone in the otherwise featureless void, a slender spade-shaped kilometer-long vessel rendezvoused with a far bulkier cousin-ship of similar length. Further away, smaller specks of light twinkled as they likewise began to converge on the pair of motherships, remoras hugging the current and wake of a pair of sharks. None were larger than cruiser displacement and most had hundreds of thousands of kilometers to go before they returned to formation, but space, in space, was relative. Their last jump – a single acceleration and then deceleration event – had covered another eight light-years in their overall round trip of six hundred and twelve light-years, half coming, half going. If all went according to plan, they would reach their destination, the mysterious star system connected to Relay-314, in twenty-eight more days, including stops for maintenance and resting the engines. They would jump, reform, jump, reform, discharge, repeat, every three days. That was the plan.

Between the jumps, though, the fleet had to reassemble into formation or risk drifting further and further apart. In the darkness of deep space and the interstellar medium between systems it was all too easy to accelerate off target and get lost. This had been the fate of more than a few relay explorers since the Rachni Wars, when the Wild Frontier Era of carelessly opening new relays and expanding in all directions came to an abrupt and bloody end.

Flotilla-314 was in a particularly thick region of cool ISM at the moment, which meant the vacuum outside was only one thousandth as dense as in the average solar system. This was not to say there was anything to see outside, such a colorful nebulae or scenic streaks of light from a nearby star. It was simply empty, like most of space. Disturbingly so, in fact, such that most sentient beings preferred not to look outside and be reminded of just how far they were from… anything really.

Most beings.

Obviously not all.

Saren Arterius noticed her while out for his morning run around the hangar bay. The dreadnought Fearless was a refit of the older Redoubtable class, with a long and generous hangar bay able to support double the usual compliment of shuttles and drone-craft. This made the class well suited for patrols into poorly charted space: she had sharp eyes and sensitive ears to go with her guns, while still carrying plenty of armor and shielding - not as much as some of her newer sisters, but more than enough to get the job done. The single narrow hangar bay was also well suited for a run, if one was in the mood, being two hundred meters long and about fifty wide.

Panting as he completed another lap, Saren passed by the asari a third time. He could see she had her eyes closed as she sat, her back to the colossal airlock that serviced the hangar. She was alone, as usual. The maiden commando seemed deep in meditation, paying him no particular mind as he ran. She was plain in appearance, skin a powder blue, with dark paint around and under her eyes but nowhere else. This was not the first time Saren had noticed her in that spot. She seemed to come by every three days to lay claim to that strange place, her back to the blast doors and the vacuum of interstellar space.

Slowing slightly, he shook his head – banishing the distractions for later consideration – and focused on his cardio. As one of the two youngest SPECTREs currently serving the Citadel Council, Saren was well aware of just how far he still had to go. The other 'youngest Spectre' was a salarian, after all, one Jondum Bau, and already considered an expert in the field of cryptography, so his youth was hardly seen as any kind of setback. Saren, on the other hand, understood that he needed to distinguish himself to stand out amongst his more experienced peers. High Command, the Councilor, and the Primarch all had high hopes for him.

'High hopes, and yet here I am. In the very definition of middle-of-nowhere.'

Finishing another circuit, panting hard now, his flanges desperately trying to flutter and cool down the blood vessels that ran close to the neck, Saren pushed himself into another round. As the most expendable of the available turian SPECTREs, Saren had been picked by the new Councilor to participate in the Relay-314 Exploratory Expedition, or more simply, Flotilla-314. Intelligence was apparently quite solid that there was some sort of Prothean Cache or colony at the other end of the relay, but it still had to be scouted first, so here they were. It was officially a Fleet Op, but that didn't mean only the Fleet had an interest or stake in the project.

Sparatus had sent a SPECTRE to officially represent the Council (and himself).

Turian Naval Intelligence had sent a Blackwatch Cadre to represent their interests.

The Vol Protectorate had sent representatives of several economic consortiums.

Even the asari had managed to get some of their people involved in the form of Matriarch Lisle Dantius and her little band of Armali Commando bodyguard. Tyla was one of them. One of the four asari in the entire Expedition. They were likely hoping that, if a first contact did somehow occur, that they could get their names (and their Armali sponsors) in on it, or if the system was devoid of life, that they could at the least secure some deals for their corporate overlords alongside the volus. Normally, Saren had a very low opinion of corporate goons, whether they were asari or volus or any other species, and regardless of his distinguished their age was supposed to make them, but Armali goons were at the least competent. For the most part.

Breathing heavily now, Saren finished his last lap and immediately snatched up a cold, wet towel. Patting the skin around his neck with it he winced. Unlike asari, turians had no sweat glands at all. Their primary means of thermoregulation was fluttering or otherwise cooling the blood vessels around the throat. Resting with his hands on his knees, he'd only just started to catch his breath when his instincts compelled him to look up.

The asari, once meditating, was now standing and looking at him.

Maybe it was the little bit of teenage soldiery in him, but he'd half expected her to be looking at him appreciatively. He was a turian in the prime of his life, after all. There were few who were his physical equal. Instead, her eyes were half-lidded, more like she was inspecting something unusual rather than something interesting. Not that Saren had an asari-fetish, quite the opposite really, but enough asari did seem to have a turian-fetish that the expectation was there. Tyla's lack of one was something he filed away in the back of his mind. Maybe she wasn't the usual flighty maiden.

Not that he expected to have to do much of anything with the Armali contingent on the Fearless, but there was always the possibility of minimizing the trouble they could cause depending on what the expedition found on the other end of 314. As such, he had tried to expand on the dossiers of all four asari with personal impressions and analysis. The system there was going to become part of the Hierarchy; its secrets would be delved into by Hierarchy scientists, first and foremost, its resources would go to the Hierarchy (and the volus) first and foremost, and any systems connect to the primary relay there would likewise fall by default into the Hierarchy sphere of influence. The asari understood this. They did the same with the systems they scouted out and settled. Saren expected no real problems, except for some squabbling with the volus.

Based just on the paperwork, the four Armali representatives were rather typical. The Matriarch of the bunch was Corporate to the core. She'd been born into Armali (literally) and would probably die serving the "Most Ancient Armali Trading Council" – the oldest corporation in the galaxy. Her battle matron was a veteran of Armali adventures in the Terminus, most notably having participated in establishing and defending the charter colony of Uxana, and then later fighting in the '67 Coup on Galle III giving the Armali a monopoly on trade in that little pocket of the Terminus. The other maiden commando was apparently renowned for participating in blood duels on Korlus.

Then there was Tyla: a maiden with little to no record to speak of.

'Not that that's suspicious… but it is my job to be suspicious,' Saren thought, as he watched her out of the corner of his eye. 'She looks like any other maiden. Maybe a little taller than most, but that's it.'

Techius, his man in Naval Intelligence, had summed up his thoughts simply: she was probably just sleeping with one of the older asari, the matriarch or the matron, that, or she was a spy. Maybe even one of theirs.

"Is there something on your mind, Mister Arterius?" the maiden passingly inquired as she walked by. She wore her usual: a brown softsuit with twin red stripes down the middle, checkered textures, and a prominent logo representing the Armali Council in the form of a stylized triangle within a circle.

"Nothing too important," he answered, toweling off his flanges and taking a parallel path along the hangar. "I do wonder, though: why that spot?" He gestured towards the end of the hangar.

"I like the solitude," the strange asari replied, and she sounded utterly serious. No grin. No smile. "That door is as close as I can get to being outside and off this ship."

"Sounds like the Fearless isn't to your tastes." Saren tried to study her expression, or at least her body language. It was somewhat Spartan by asari standards, yes, but as a dreadnought the accommodations were far better than most turians could ask for. It certainly beat life on a frigate, which was where most turians in the fleet cut their teeth.

"She's a fine ship, but… I'm afraid it isn't what I'm used to," Tyla confirmed, only looking back at him to add, "Good day, Mister Arterius."

Saren murmured a 'hrm' and let her go.

In the long term, the asari was just a minor distraction. If she was a spy, it was unlikely she could cause much harm, except perhaps to Armali itself if she worked for Serrice or some other competitor. Tevos was likely, too, since she would want to have an independent eye on the expedition but had only heard about it at the last minute. STG was another possibility. They often used asari assets, and the salarians had been largely excluded from the turian venture to explore the relay opposite 314. The snub was deliberate, since turians had been previously excluded from the last salarian expedition to explore opposite Relay-226. Naval Intelligence had already caught one spy program onboard the frigate Caltus, no doubt placed by the STG.

Honestly, the dizzying array of inter-Citadel intelligence services was something Saren had always found tiresome. The Council had the SPECTREs. The salarians had the STG but every other Dalatrass also had her own family spies as well. The turians had Turian Naval Intelligence and the Army's Office of Signals Intelligence which got along like oil and water half the time. The Hegemony had three official intelligence services. A half century ago, two of them had even gotten into a shooting war with one another under the rule of a particularly weak Hegemon on Khar'shan. The hanar had their own covert and overt spy program using those damn drell. The volus had the Bureau of Statistics and Inference, the elcor had the Office of Internal Affairs and the Office of External Affairs… the list went on and on. Then there were the asari. Sometimes it seemed like every matriarch in the Republics was trying to manipulate someone or something, usually far less subtly than she imagined.

'At least the League of One is out of the picture. Unless you believe in conspiracy theories, in which case they're secretly behind everything and everyone I just mentioned,' Saren thought with a quiet chuckle. No: the spycraft was not his preferred field. Not in the least. Some SPECTREs specialized in it and did little else.

Flexing his arm and pulsing a ripple of biotic force up to his fist and then back down to his elbow, Saren smirked to himself. Turian SPECTREs often came out of Blackwatch candidates. Most weren't inducted to spend their time hunched over a screen sorting data or writing hacking code. Not that turians made the best spies anyway. It was just their nature.

No. He was here to make sure nothing interfered in the Hierarchy's acquisition of the Prothean Cache. Especially if that meant killing people.

Until then, though, there was just killing time.

. . .


Day 18

Uncharted Space

Unknown System en-route to target

The shuttles came over soon after the Fearless finished discharging, detaching cables from the boxy Discharge Ship that was the lifeline and nucleus of the expedition. While dreadnought-sized, most of the logistics vessel was not inhabitable or occupied. The capacitance modules that stored the charge of dozens of warships required a tremendous amount of space to function safely, even if they were only a thousandth the size of the originals found on the Citadel. Aside from a paltry pair of GARDIAN arrays, the Discharge Ship Utanes had no armament. Both weapons and shields only interfered with its ability to function as a giant radiation and heat-sink.

Yet even with the Utanes, the range of the expeditionary fleet was not unlimited. The sinks on the ship needed to be discharged themselves sooner or later. That meant a quick layover in a star system along the way to their target.

Unlike most of the systems on the relay network, the planets and stars off-relay were a hostile lot. This one had no name, only a numerical designation: the star was a sickly looking brown dwarf with a pair of rocky proto-planets and the remains of a dusty accretion disk. No one had any intention to mine in such a remote and hostile system, so no probes were wasted on further exploration. It was better to save those for the system opposite 314, now tentatively being called Aryaxis, after a renowned General of the Unification Period. Still, hostile and useless as the brown dwarf and its proto-planets were in the grand scheme of things, it was sufficient for the Discharge Ship to offload its stored capacitance. Unlike with most ships, the Utanes could even have discharged directly into the magnetosphere of the sun itself, if the need had arisen.

While the Utanes took care of its business, though, the rest of the flotilla would pause and relax.

They had been traveling almost nonstop, pausing only once every four days, and those moments were meant to given the engines downtime, not the crews. The entire fleet was turian, for the most part, so they could handle being pushed hard but even turian crews could enjoy some time away from calibrating their instruments.

General Kalanos had announced, two days previous, that they would be stopping in this unknown system and having a little tournament on the Fearless. No prompting had been necessary. The other ships of the expedition had very quickly used those two days to determine who among their crew they would send to the Fearless to represent them. Rather interested himself, Saren had taken some time out of his schedule to go down to the hangar and observe the competition.

Every turian frigate had at least a small compliment of security personnel, and beyond that, all turian recruits were expected to have at least some basic proficiency in a fight. The frigate shuttles came in on approach and, maybe with a little more fanfare than was customary, revealed their picks for the upcoming tourney. Four came from each ship, eight from the Fearless. Competition for a spot had been particularly difficult on the dreadnought, simply because it had a crew compliment four times that of a frigate.

Standing on the rafters overlooking the hangar, Saren noted a few potential arrivals who could be worth the trouble, especially one dangerous looking female from the Rapeta, and a hulking fellow from the Teti. There was also an alien from the Rapeta, a Bytue, which Saren watched with a bit of surprise. Bytue were a large mammalian species, a client race of the Hierarchy, natives from an eezo-rich moon discovered during the Krogan Rebellions. Somewhat lanky and blue in color, the aliens had once been part of a sort of shared regional subconscious. Generations ago, of course. Even in the present, though, it was rare to see one with the chops to make it off-world. The majority still opted to pick berries and wipe their asses with leaves or whatever it was primitives did with their worthless little lives. The Hierarchy let them be, but supervised the education of their youngsters off-world. Those with potential sometimes went on to ascend the meritocracy. It was all standard protocol for client species.

This one looked to be an engineer.

"Ha. Hahahaha!"

Saren turned to see a familiar looking asari pointing down at the crowd below. And she was laughing.

Just as quickly, though, Tyla covered her mouth with her hands and silenced herself.

"I don't suppose Matriarch Dantius entered any of you in the competition?" Saren wondered aloud, projecting his voice to make sure she could hear him since she was some distance away. Nor was she alone, he saw. Two other female turians had also come up to the rafters to spy on the entrants from the rest of the fleet. Friends of hers perhaps?

"Uh, no. I'm afraid not." Tyla shook her head. "Our battle matron forbade it."

Not that he'd needed to ask. He knew the answer already.

"Really? That's unusual," Saren said as he stood up and strolled over.

Tyla had gone back to looking at the fighters below. She didn't glance in his direction again, but she did respond. "Unusual? You think so?"

"In my experience, asari commandos rarely pass up the opportunity to prove themselves," Saren said, crossing his arms and studying his quarry. The inconspicuous maiden was still setting off some sort of instinctive warning bell in the back of his head. Further digging into her record had revealed that she had no records beyond the basics, and she had been added to the Armali cadre at the last second. It was rare for a Matriarch to travel with a companion who wasn't a long-time disciple, and as much as this maiden pretended, it was clear she wasn't a loyal follower of Matriarch Dantius. Not that Saren expected Dantius to have much a philosophy to impart on her well-paid followers.

"The battle matron doesn't think we have anything to prove," Tyla argued, still fixed on the group below and then on one of the approaching shuttles. "That's that."

"That's that," Saren agreed, but only mockingly. A slight tightening of her hands on the railing betrayed some sort of anxiety. With the matron's decision, perhaps? That was the obvious guess.

"It's been a while since I took on a commando." He saw the needle have some effect. "They train alongside them in Blackwatch, you know?"

"I've heard a lot about Blackwatch… and SPECTREs," Tyla admitted, but shook her head. The imagine of her badgering her battle matron to let her fight amused him.

But it was followed, oddly enough, by the notion that she would just tell the battle matron what to do.

Saren, on the verge of ribbing her a little more, considered that strange bit of intuition. Thinking back, while he had seen the matriarch and battle matron on occasion, on the bridge, meeting with the General, and so forth… he couldn't recall a single instance in which either one had given this particular maiden an order. She was always just there, in the background, even when the other one was sent out of the room or to ceremonially guard a door. But then, it wasn't like she ever seemed to speak during those times either. Saren mentally kicked himself. What a ridiculous notion. What, was this maiden… pulling the strings of the others? Secretly in charge? It might make sense if she was Tevos' agent, but that was pretty far-fetched. Armali would be feeding Tevos information regardless. There would be no need for her to strongarm them. There was just no need for it.

'There are spies, damned spies, and asari,' he recalled the salarian saying with a dismissive huff. The salarians were rational spies at least. The asari prided themselves on being convoluted and enigmatic. All the better to mess with the short-lived races around them.

"A shame you'll miss out, then," Saren said, resting his arms on the railing next to her. "But there's some pleasure to be had in just watching, I suppose."

Tyla muttered something under her breath.

"Not as much pleasure," Saren added with a smirk, "but some."

The maiden's eyes narrowed, and with the dark paint around them, she actually looked rather intimidating.

"Maybe. I'll ask the matron to reconsider," Tyla said after a long pause. "I doubt it would hurt to have some… fun… with the natives. All work and no play."

. . .


Saren watched the commando dismantle one of the Fearless's Blackwatch marines in hand to hand with an analytical eye. He himself had been a Blackwatch candidate before the SPECTREs. They were good. They were very good. No self-respecting turian would think to run or participate in a betting pool, but that didn't stop the volus and client species crew from doing just that, and Saren was aware that the three Blackwatch entrants to the tournament were considered the most likely to win… after the ship's only SPECTRE.

Suffice it to say that Blackwatch were good.

"Ha. Hahaha!" Tyla laughed as one of the Blackwatch marine's fists finally connected with her jaw, in what should have been a stunning blow. Saren noted that she had left herself open, letting the blow connect. And there she was again, laughing that somewhat strange laugh of hers.

"Is that as hard as you can hit?" she asked around the plastic guard protecting her teeth and tongue. "I'll give you one more! Come on!"

The Blackwatch marine did not take the comment well. Snarling, he went for a tackle, trying to lift the commando off her feet and take her to the mat. It was a good move; one he should have tried earlier. Asari were not accustomed to fighting on the ground. They liked to have space to use their biotics, to jump and move around. There were certain jokes about asari "on their backs" not getting up anytime soon. Double-entendres, yes, but not inaccurate in a fight.

This asari, though, seemed to be no stranger to a take-down. Bringing up her knee and bringing down her elbow, she stunned the Blackwatch male, then stepped in and threw him to the ground using her hip. Letting go of his arm, she then stepped back and let him get back up so she could play with him some more.

'She's good… but then, many commandos are, even the maidens.' Saren's pale face frowned as his analytical mind took over. Spying was neither his preference nor his specialty, but combat, fighting, killing? His trainers had called him gifted. Better than that, he had the instincts for it.

And right now, his instincts were sending mixed signals.

'Forget her technique. Look at her face.' Arms crossed, he stood on the sidelines as the fight continued, the crowd watching and cheering around them. 'She's enjoying this. She's even enjoying being hit. Not that any of the blows seem to have done anything to her.'

No turian would seriously injure a comrade in a ship-wide tournament. It was just to blow off steam. But that didn't mean participants took it easy on one another. Some superficial injuries were expected and even seen as a sign of comradery. It was understood that it built bonds among most crew, at least among turians, both male and female. Not… like this, though.

Tyla finished her opponent in less than a minute.

Saren made a point to do the same with his.

They plowed through the first round and watched the competition. Only the official running the tournament knew the arrangement of fights and who would face who in the second round. Tyla wasn't the only solid fighter to progress, not by a long shot, nor was the she only one Saren kept an eye on… but for a multitude of reasons, she was the one that bothered him the most, that kept raising strange questions. During one fight, he took time to look around to try and see if the other asari were present to cheer on their sister. They weren't.

"Asleep in their quarters," apparently was the answer, when he inquired as to their whereabouts.

In the second round, Tyla manhandled a burly quartermaster from the Payach.

Saren, meanwhile, demolished the scarred female from the Rapeta.

Watching his future opponent carefully, Saren was more sure than ever that there was something off about her. Not just her behavior – she was unusually aggressive for an asari – but her body as well. She'd taken a blow to the jaw again. At the least, it should've given her a split lip. Asari were squishy, like most mammals. Their lips were no exception to this, in fact, there were much more prone to damage than other parts of the asari epidermis. Yet this one looked unharmed. So intently had Saren been watching her that he must have slipped up, as she turned between matches to narrow her own eyes at him.

There was a strange look on her face then, having noticed him watching her.

Then her finger came up to her lip.

As if she knew that he knew.

Tyla threw the very next match.

Not even that convincingly. She drew the lanky Bytue as an opponent, at least an opponent with some serious strength behind his blows, but not a lot of experience. Given her speed, she could've danced around him for hours. Instead, ten seconds into the fight, she let him toss her out of the chalk circle.

To Saren's own surprise, he found himself getting angry. Confronting her afterwards, throwing subtlety to the winds, he had demanded an answer. Luckily, he had kept enough of a cool head to at least couch his concerns in turian terms and not those of a curious young SPECTRE.

"Throwing a match is disrespecting your opponent." He's bodily blocked her from leaving after being declared out of the competition. "You know that, don't you?"

"I shouldn't have come here to begin with," she muttered, and put a hand to his shoulder. "Now let me go. I'm tired."

"Don't you have any pride?" Saren snarled, refusing to let her past. When she tried to go around him, he shifted to remain in her way.

"Apparently not," she spat, and tried again to go around him.

Grabbing her shirt by the collar, he forced her back in place. "You think I'm blind? What was with that fight?"

"Let go of me."

"You will answer me, asari."

Her eyes had been downcast, but when he gave her another jostle, she glared up at him. "Let me go."

The sudden urge to do just that hit him like a hammer to the back of the skull. The rest of the room, the crowd, the fight underway, everyone and everything, it all seemed to shrink away. Suddenly, he felt sick and dizzy, his equilibrium shot to hell.

But he didn't let go.

"Stubborn alien," Tyla murmured, and he barely heard her. Saren lurched forward, barely able to stand on two feet. A trickle of blue blood dribbled from his nose and his eyes felt like they were on fire.

But he didn't let go.

"You're right," she finally admitted. "I threw the fight."

"Why?" Saren demanded to know, now only upright because of his deathgrip on this asari's shirt, his fingers twisting the Armali logo into an unrecognizable mess of black.

She leaned forward to whisper in his ear, propping him up with her right arm, "Because… I was having too much fun… and that's not why I'm here."

He let go.

Slumping forward and starting to lose consciousness, Saren Arterius was barely cognizant of the fact that a pair of arms held him up. Those same arms continued to hold him up all the way back to his quarters. He wasn't awake when the referees declared him disqualified due to non-attendance. The tournament simply continued without him… and without her.

. . .


Word had traveled around the ship quickly enough: apparently the tournament's two wild cards had slipped away to sleep together instead of bothering with the end of the contest. For his part, Saren couldn't recall a single thing from that night, and privately, put little stock in the scuttlebutt. It wasn't particularly difficult to tell if you'd had sex, especially with an asari. Like most mammals, they left their disgusting fluids everywhere. It was one of the most off-putting things about them.

Tyla was more ghost than mammal.

A scan with his omni-tool revealed next to nothing in his quarters.

Two days later, with the fleet moving again, Saren saw her meditating by the hangar bay's blast doors. He was on his routine run. She seemed to be wishing she was floating in space. Neither spoke to the other.

. . .


Day 24

Uncharted Space

They found it waiting for them in dark space.

"By the Spirits…"

Saren was not a religious turian but even he uttered a quiet prayer after getting to the bridge. It had been by the Captain's request. Shortly after their latest jump, scouts for the Fearless had detected an anomaly nearby, a mere three million kilometers from their median point of emergence. 'Cold' anomalies, like extra-solar planets, were not unknown for expeditions across interstellar space. They could make for convenient discharge points. 'Hot' anomalies, though, were extremely rare. A 'hot' anomaly meant a heat source, non-random electromagnetic radiation, a signal or…

A ship.

In this case, a damned huge ship.

"Look at that thing," a turian down in the command pit was staring, flanges slack at the sight before them.

"Spirits protect us," another worried, echoing the thoughts of many.

"Order on the bridge," the ship's captain said, softly, but even he seemed to be at a loss for words. It quieted the crew some, though. Saren only paid passing attention to it. He had been called to the bridge as soon as the object had been detected but before it had been scanned and identified by a frigate, the Rapeta, sent to investigate up close. Also present was General Kalanos, in overall command of the expedition in the name of the Primarch and the Hierarchy.

"Scans coming in. Processing. Producing overlay," an officer down in the dreadnought's pit spoke up, as sigils and lines and numbers appeared over the video stream from the Rapeta. "Object is… a little over sixteen kilometers long…"

Respecting the captain's wishes, the bridge was deathly silent.

Saren, though, felt a chill run down his spike at the sight of the monster vessel before them. It was not just the size. After all, the Citadel itself was more than forty-four kilometers long. However, the Citadel was a graceful and elegant design for all its monumental size. This ship was a ragged and ancient looking monstrosity, built like a brick at the core but then covered in countless protrusions like buildings and temples rising out of a city, if that city was then wrapped around a tube.

It appeared dead, too – more a colossal catacomb than a ship for living beings. There were no lights save for a strange sickly brown haze and green ink-like glow in spots. Up close, many of the towers and spires looked like they had been worn down by time and the elements. It was almost as if the whole thing had been left to rust in the rain and smog of Korlus for centuries, rather than abandoned to space and the relatively gentle caress of cosmic winds.

'By the Spirits, what have we found out here? This ship… it can't possibly be prothean… can it?'

"Set down beacons behind us, connect to the chain leading back to Citadel space!" General Kalanos ordered, seeming to snap out of a daze. "Inform the Primarch. We have found a derelict vessel and will attempt to salvage it before resuming our journey to Aryaxis."

"Such a huge ship," the Captain said softly, leaning forward in his command chair. "How did it get out here? Has it been adrift? We… we're a hundred light-years from any known relay… and a ship of that size… the amount of eezo it would require just to move…"

"We need to actually land on the ship to claim it," General Kalanos reminded them. "We must prepare boarding parties." An aging veteran of the Hierarchy, Saren had respect for the elder. While so many seemed stunned by the find, the General was thinking ahead and even more importantly: thinking of the Hierarchy. Reaching up to his nose, Kalanos seemed momentarily dizzy.

His finger came back with a drop of blood, the same color as the dark blue of his face paint.

"What… what is this?" he growled, looking down at the blood on his hand. He snorted and fished a cloth out of his pocket to hold up to his nose. "Something in the air...?"

"No."

Saren turned towards the sound. It was Tyla, arriving on the bridge with the rest of the asari. They were late.

And–

"Your eyes," Saren spoke first. None of the other asari seemed to even notice. They just stood behind the maiden, like silent marionettes. Tyla's eyes were bleeding and bloodshot, sparks of purple flashing and burning her skin. The dark paint she wore around her eyes was smeared and charred.

"I was right… T'leth ai'thu y'flgn... the Recipe for Hate… oh god," Tyla fell forward onto her hands and knees, her whole body shaking like a leaf. "You need to go. You need to run. Now. Go now."

"Spirits! Help her!" Kalanos barked, but the other asari also pitched forward and fell limp. Collapsing. Like puppets with cut strings. "Medic! What is happening to them?"

"I TOLD YOU TO FLEE!" Tyla screamed, as a turian medic ran up to them. She ignored him to glare up at them, a wild look in her eyes. A terrified look. Her eyes set on Saren himself and the young SPECTRE involuntarily shuddered. "It's awake! God help you! It's awake! It was waiting here… I can't, can't-"

And just like that, she lost consciousness.

Barked orders followed, but not a one was to leave the system or abandon their claim to the derelict. Saren barely heard it all. It was just noise in the background. Tyla's terror had been real. She knew what that ship was and she did not scare easily. Looking back to the display on the Fearless's bridge, at the monster ship Tyla had called the "Recipe for Hate," Saren couldn't help but wonder privately if they were making a terrible mistake…

They had come this way looking for the unknown.

Looking for ancient relics.

What if those same ancient relics had been looking, waiting, for them?