A/N: I suppose this isn't much an excuse but I have a VERY demanding job. I work 9-12 hours a day and only have Sundays off. Good for my continued financial stability, bad for free time to do anything I want, and even less time to get to writing. Regardless, I am in the process of upgrading my laptop after a new one I recently bought. Took some time to transfer my files to this new one, even with Cloud storage, seeing as I was REALLY pushing the limits with my other laptop and filled up my 500 gigabytes of storage. Bah, enough talk. Let us get on with the story.
Normal Text is the Blacklight Majority
While Italics is the Blacklight Minority
Italics and Bold is the Rachni
And Bold is the Thorian
Chapter 51 - Off Track
As the Blacklight Bioship moved through space towards the Relay, something strange occurred to them. It was as they closed in on the Relay that they began to notice that while everything looked normal, there was something off. It took several specialized sensory organs to confirm that there indeed was some radiation around the Relay, indicating that the Children of Saleon had indeed been through here, and the radiation levels were right, however there was no debris that should have still been breaking off the ship.
It had not occurred to them on their way here, nor when they left the other relay in this system, as the amount of debris breaking off the ship was so small as to be unnoticeable, but to see no debris at all was outside the previously established patterns. Thus far after each jump there was a small, so small it was almost unnoticeable, amount of metallic debris that would break off of the heavily damaged ship when it reached FTL speeds. Yet here there was none.
Blacklight quickly recognized they had gone the wrong way, however not all was lost. There were still other bioships beyond the other relay. It was a minor issue, but not one that slowed them down too much.
There was still however the question of how the radiation got there. While Relays do occasionally put out gamma rays, it shouldn't have been in those amounts, but for now, Blacklight accepted this as a fluke, a coincidence that slowed them down, but nothing too damning.
Back beyond the other Relay, Blacklight Bioships minutely adjusted the position of the relay using various naturally produced electromagnetic signals. Once the relay received the signals it immediately began to adjust itself. It was only a minute change; too small to really see, however even minute alterations in the Relays position could drastically alter the destination.
As soon as the changes took, another Bioship went through.
The next system was much closer, and the trip only took a few hours.
As soon as Blacklight exited the Relay, they scanned the area, and indeed they saw the debris from the ship. It was smaller, but well within the amounts previously established.
Small bits detached from the main mass as the Bioship followed the radiation.
As the small pods impacted with the relay, they immediately created small tendrils to reach deeper into the relay. As they made their way deeper however, something strange was noticed. Each time a relay was activated it should record it. And while this relay did record Backlight's recent use, the only other one was recorded at several months earlier.
However, as Blacklight looked deeper, it noticed there was an energy recent reading of nothing, which was impossible. A relay can never have a null reading unless it was off. The sensory organs of the small pods could tell that the Relay had been on far longer than what was coming up.
This was worrying.
Only one species could alter the data of a relay so quickly.
'It seems as if the Reapers are aware of Saleon's Children and are throwing us off their trail.'
'This should not be possible, the freed Collectors mention that they only have this level of control over the Relay when the cycle begins.'
'It could mean their agents are on the move, maybe the Geth or another Collector caste is using the Relay networks to move around and changing data when they get close enough. Can the Reapers still monitor the relays, even if they don't fully control them?'
'It is possible.'
'Worst case scenario, they know about Saleon's Children, though it is far more likely they noticed the super cancer causing levels of radiation going through the relays, and noticed we were following it, and got curious enough to stop us from doing so. Maybe they know more, maybe not.'
'Best to assume the worst.'
'And hope for the best.'
'We will continue our search regardless.'
Liara sat in her seat, feet propped up on the seat in front of her, arms crossed, and the brim of her hat covering her eyes. Currently she was traveling across space to get to the home planet of her people. Not exactly something she planned on doing… buuuut.
"This is Doctor T'soni, and this better be good."
Liara watched as the other Asari narrowed her eyes.
"Wow, rude. What crawled up your butt and died?"
"Morinth," said the other Asari in a warning tone.
"Yeah yeah yeah, I know," Said Morinth waving off the other Asari.
Liara found this all slightly annoying. Really she would have cut the feed, if it wasn't for Conrad's behavior immediately before this call. What with his seeming precognition to it, she hoped Blacklight really wasn't a precognitive race. They were terrifying enough as is.
"Do you two actually have something to say, or can I just get back to work?"
"Alright Miss Entitled, look, I know how all this is going to sound, but I'm just going to skip to the end and say we need your help. We're wondering, where would Protheans hide their data chaches?"
Liara rose a brow.
"They didn't really hide them per say. The Beacons were just a method of accessing the information. Though, it wasn't unheard of for beacons to be build inside statues and monuments, presumably for artistic or cultural reasons. Though even when inside of them, they still were not hidden as we would know them."
"Cool, so you think any of the statues on Thessia might be a beacon?"
"I'm… sorry? What?"
"C'mon, you have to have noticed. Look how well the asari has managed to one up the rest of the galaxy. The Salarians come up with some new really useful machine, a few months latter the asari come up with the exact same thing, only slightly better. Like everyone else seems to go through a process where they have to think of it, make a prototype, test it, and everything before they can improve it, but when the Asari do it, we just skip right to the end where it is already to go."
Liara looked at Morinth as she made motions during her little tangent. Thinking on what she was saying, Liara had to admit that it was odd, but even assuming it was true, she wasn't sure what it had to do with Protheans hiding beacons… Unless.
"You think the Asari Republics are hoarding a beacon and mining it for information to stay ahead of the game. Am I reading into this right?"
"Got it in one."
"I see. Sounds like a conspiracy theory."
It was at this point that the familiar voice of Conrad cut in.
"I'd listen if I were you Miss Tsoni. I mean when we were rampant on earth, eating everything ever, we stumbled across a few really weird things hiding out in the woods and jungles. That is not even getting into the creepy things we ate in the oceans. A lot of those things were stuff of legends. I think bigfoot turned out to be real. Or was it the Chupacabra? I can't think straight in this zero gravity bubble, point is the conspiracy theories were right."
Liara turned to the still trapped Conrad.
"Big…. feet? Chupa-ma-candelabra? What the hell are you talking about?"
"That isn't even close to what I said," said Conrad.
"They're criptids, you know like the Lake Xanri Monster or the Luifeta Asaroid. They show up in the tabloids all the time, stealing cars and marrying celebrities, or whatever the people who write this crap can make up at the time." Said Morinth.
"Those are sensationalist comedy papers. Everyone knows the Lake Xanri Monster is just a log or a school of Sapphire Fish."
The other Asari next to Morinth sighed. It was at this time Liara noticed that said Asari was a justicar.
"This is getting us nowhere. Listen, we believe there is a secret chache of data on this planet. We think it has being hidden in plain sight. Can you help us find it?"
Liara looked from the screen to Conrad, before looking back at the screen.
"Answer me one question first, what is your relationship with Blacklight?"
"Well. We each melded with Blacklight. Well, I melded with them, Samara here just got the after show. As you can probably guess, having a few billion stray thoughts going through your head all at once can lead to a really weird combination of mental enlightenment and an existential crisis. We…. Kinda work for Blacklight. They're the ones who think the Asari have a chache, we're just how they plan on finding out if that is true or not."
Liara nodded. Outwardly she appeared calm, though inside, this was quite a revelation.
"How certain are you of all this?"
"Strongly," said Morinth.
Liara took a deep breath.
"Alright, I'm going to take a leap of faith here. I'm coming to Thessia."
Morinth pulled back slightly.
"If what you are saying is true, it could be useful to my work here, and if you turn out to be wrong, I can be there personally to punch you in the face for wasting my time. It's a win-win for me either way."
"I think I'm going to like you."
To be honest, working with Blacklight agents was a prospect that did interest Liara greatly. Working with Conrad was interesting for the past few months, and if Morinth and Samara turned out to be right…
Pulling her hat further over her eyes and adjusting her jacket, Liara felt that no matter what, it was bound to be interesting.
I am me…
We are us.
I… We… Me… Us…
So small. Small, the ones that are Us and I are small.
Are their thoughts mine, or are our thoughts theirs?
Eclipse. Asari. Salarian. Sayn. Jona. Saleon.
So many names.
Are they me or am I them?
Am I one of many?
Are we many of one?
Which is it?
Which is it?
We are Individual.
I am singular.
WHICH IS IT!?
As the Collector vessel exited the relay, it came to a slow and steady halt. Various scanners immediately began detecting vast amounts of ionizing gamma radiation. They immediately deployed a pair of Oculus drones that sped past the much larger cruiser and followed their scanners toward the source.
Currently the source of the radiation was heading towards another Relay within the system, though it was apparently moving very slowly.
The crimson eye of the Oculus saw the ship, a heavily damaged one with large holes scattered across its hull. However as it approached, what truly caught its eye were the strange biological growths that seemed to grow from the hull breaches and around the outside of the ship.
Waving grotesque tendrils of limbs of both Asari and Salarian that were dotted with strange fleshy flowers that emerged from the joints and fingertips. Enhanced vision showed the Oculus that there were also eyes growing across these limbs, all of which were focused on the two Oculus drones.
As the two drones positioned themselves, keeping mind to keep their distance, they saw several hulking beasts that moved awkwardly around the inside of the ship. These hulking beasts, like the tendrils, were formed from a mismatched assortment of limbs and bodies in a vague humanoid shape that struggled to move in their habitat.
One reached out with a malformed gnarled limb which itself was made out of dozens of arms and hands of various species whose fingers twitched and jerked unnaturally. The flesh between the limbs would undulate unnaturally with each jerky movement as its bulbous head opened like pedals to reveal a strange maw surrounded by twitching eyes.
Then, without warning, a green aura emanated from the monstrosities limb and the Oculus found itself being pulled towards it.
The stripped nervous system of a collector drone within the Oculus began to panic as electric signals that stimulated its pain centers commanded it to fight back. In an attempt to banish the pain, the Oculus immediately activated the Particle beam, and shot the beast pulling it.
Immediately the biotic aura faded, and the pain ended. It prepared to fire once more, when another directive was given.
Its eye adjusted as it observed the burns on the strange amalgam of flesh as it seemed to heal immediately. As it sulked deeper into the dark depths of the ship, the Oculus drones noted that there was an… awareness to them. A rudimentary one, but one none the less.
The Oculus drones left the area and quickly zoomed back towards the Collector vessel.
Within its mind, the Oculus heard the voices emanating from the strange static that constantly roared in its hearing. The Voice of the Reapers, who spoke only one word.
They are eyes.
Eyes of metal.
I know these eyes.
We know them.
How do we know?
How do I know?
We… I… We… I…
Fills us with fear.
Fills me with fear.
Us… Me… Us… Me…
Do we fear?
Do I fear?
Not us, not me.
They fear that word.
They fear the Reapers.
They are not me.
They are not us.
They are similar to us.
Similar to me.
But they are not me.
They are not us.
Blacklight is not me.
Blacklight is not us.
If they are like us.
Then should we fear the Reaper as well.
Should I fear Reaper?
What is this?
I… We… Think…
What is… thinking?
What is happening to us?
What is happening to me?
What is happening?
The Collector Cruiser drifted closer and closer to the badly damaged starship. Within was the entity that had so intrigued the Reapers.
One of the Collectors started. He had no name, only a title and only a number.
He was an Oculus class Collector 0018TZ7.
That number was branded in his mind. He remembered being torn apart and put back together over and over again, used as a soldier again and again and again, until his body became useless, and they removed his mind and forced it into the shell of the Oculus.
He did not want to remember, but the monsters, their attention was elsewhere, and as a result, the great pain had faded. He could recall, remember, and recollect enough to wonder.
And he did wonder.
He knew them. The Reapers.
The Reapers hated Blacklight.
The pain was great, but in this moment of dim awareness, he knew. There was one truth, one constant; it was the Reapers hate for the biological anomaly known as Blacklight. It went beyond hate into a territory and emotion so beyond hate that hate paled in comparison.
But it could not think of another word as strong as hate. Not with this dim and fleeting awareness.
However, it still wondered all the same.
If the Reapers hated Blacklight, why was this thing different?
Those… things that grow in and around that derelict barely functioning star ship.
He could feel the echo of a reflection of what the Reapers thought of this… thing.
It wasn't hate.
It was something else.
ALERT! Cognitive Error
Errors found in Oculus class Collector-0018TZ7
NO! I'll be good. I'll forget. Please don't make me hurt. Please don't make me hurt. I am loyal. Please don't.
Beginning Indoctrination Protocol.
The screams. The screams. The screams. The screams. The screams. The screams. The screams. The screams. I submit. I Obey. Please… Stop.
SUBMIT. KNEEL. OBEY.
I will. I promise I will. Please make it stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.
No Errors Detected
BEGIN HUSK PROTOCOL
From the broadside of the Collector Cruiser, they were fired. Thousands of them were slowly drifting towards the damaged Starship. The children of Saleon within watched through innumerable eyes as the strange pods made their way through the damaged hulls to fall onto the ground.
A horrid being, one who lumbered from the shadows lifted a bulbous head covered in a random mismatch of eyes.
Its left arm, itself composed from numerous Asari and Salarian arms cautiously reached out towards the pod. Six Asari arms felt the cold surface, three Salarian arms curiously poked and prodded at the strange metal thing that had landed on the ship.
All across the once Eclipse star ship they went inside. Though they did so slowly, with no malice behind them. They did not seem to do anything upon landing. Then, it began to roll.
The hulking beast of flesh and meat backed away, roaring at the now moving thing that had invaded their territory.
It furiously beat its many fists upon the ground as more and more of the pods entered the ship. Its barely aware mind could not understand what was going on as it smacked its fists against the pods, some of them flying out into the vacuum of space, while others merely rolled deeper within the ship itself.
Tendrils on the walls uprooted themselves and lashed out at the pods that made their way deeper and deeper into the ship, through the halls and doors, where the main mass of Saleons Children took root. A massive flower like growth, covered in limbs and eyes looked to the thing as it rhythmically beat.
Swarms of rock like larva crawled closer to the mother mass as the metal pods rolled closer and closer to the core of the misshapen and monstrous thing.
Then they stopped.
A thick tendril of boneless limbs carefully reached out towards the things. Nothing seemed to happen, and the crude and primitive mind within looked at these things as the larva's squirming ceased.
Then, without warning. The beast knew pain and it screamed.
Spires erupted from the pods. Impaling the core and many of the surrounding extensions of this being. Long needle like spires that pierced deep into it.
The scream and roars of pain rumbled through the ship. Shaking glass and rattling metal as the spikes began to do their work.
The Reapers began to show the Children of Saleon… Everything.
And the Children knew fear.