Chapter 58 - The Solution
Dozens of Bioships orbited the Citadel as the Citadel Fleets maneuvered themselves to allow them access to the landing ports across the Citadel arms. Matriarch Lidanya, commander of the Destiny Ascension watched the giant almost crustacean-like ships as they began depositing the Refugees across the Citadels docking stations.
The last time that Lidanya saw Blacklight in person, a giant ball of insatiable shapeshifting flesh was hurtling towards the Citadel with the very real possibility of eating the whole thing. These Bioships, however, were much smaller than that Flesh Meteor or any Blacklight Bioship she had ever seen during the brief months Blacklight was allowed on the Citadel. She wondered if they intentionally made these ships smaller so as not to agitate the Citizens who lived through that madness.
When the News that the Council decided simply to ban Blacklight from Citadel Space, she had hoped never to see them again. Evidently, the forces that guided the galaxy thought otherwise.
Regardless of whatever Blacklight's intentions were, for good or ill, they were a terrifying species to exist let alone contemplate. The mere implications of the existence of sapient immortal shapeshifting viral abominations had caused much chaos already. Lidanya remembered the brief rise of the Cure and their subsequent fall not long after they became public knowledge. Blacklights actual presence only inflated the uncomfortable feeling their existence created, and no doubt would bring those old fears back to the surface. There was something about Blacklight that caused existential dread when thinking about them for too long. Potentially they were the most destructive race since the Rachni, which of all things Blacklight somehow had managed to not only bring back from the brink of extinction, but also ally with.
For the longest time, Lidanya thought Blacklight would be the worst thing she ever had the displeasure of knowing existed.
Then the Fall of Khar'shan happened.
Lidanya thought of the Batarians. She had seen the footage. Those things had haunted her recent nightmares, filling them with the images gaunt Asari corpses, painfully intertwined with metal and circuitry. She shivered when she recalled the dream, a Banshee stalking her through abandoned halls, wailing and screaming as she pathetically hid from it like a frightened child. To actually live through that and remain sane would be a feat in and of itself, and she couldn't help but feel pity for the Batarians, regardless of her preconceived notions of their culture.
The Universe was not what she thought it was, that was for sure. Blacklight was merely scratching the surface, those things attacking Khar'Shan was proof that for all her wisdom, age, and experience, she knew precious little about the Galaxy at large. It was almost like Blacklights arrival all those years ago somehow caused the nightmares hiding in the galaxy to seep out of its very foundations, it showed that the Cosmos was a place filled with dark and ambiguous creatures that were indistinguishable from Demons and Monsters in ancient tales and fables.
There was a darkness outside the known galaxy, a darkness full of things words can not accurately describe. Unimaginably horrific entities that turn everything known on its head. Races of impossible biology and alien morality. Races of insatiable techno-organic hunger. Machines that spread like cancer. Manifestations of the apocalypse, beasts given form possessing frightening power and with alien sensibilities.
The Galaxy was only partially mapped.
What else was waiting in those dark corners? Hiding behind the stars just waiting to be unleashed.
"A mess if I've ever seen one." said Executor Pallin.
Lidanya turned to her screen, Pallin and she were in constant communication with each other should anything happen. Mainly they were worried about possible Blacklight attack. If he gave the word, she was authorized to fire on Blacklight indiscriminately. When Lidanya spoke to Tevos, she said was skeptical that Blacklight would do anything to jeopardize the first positive relationship they had with the Citadel in years, but it was best to err on the side of caution just in case.
"What's the situation with these refugees?"
"They aren't Blacklight if that is what you're asking."
"Blacklight scanners were given to us by Blacklight themselves, they could have a way to bypass them."
"You don't find that the least bit paranoid?"
"I'm just being cautious, Last time Blacklight was here I had to lead a project to tow a million ton meat meteor using only the gravitational pull of my ship." Lidanya suppressed a shutter.
"Forgive me for not getting over that." She said somewhat sarcastically.
"I was there you know?" said Pallin somewhat sarcastically, though obviously in jest.
Lidanya smiled as she nodded her head.
"I remember. I can't help to be a little paranoid, this is Blacklight after all."
"I'm sure you'll manage." Said Pallin distractedly as he focused on something out of Lidanya's view.
"I'm getting word that the second wave of Refugees has docked, we're going to have to turn the whole place into a makeshift camp until we can start getting relief efforts underway. I'm apparently going to escort one of Blacklight to the Presidium."
"Alex or Elizabeth?"
"Neither, someone called Shepard. Something about this Evolved being less intimidating than their leaders. Not like it matters with that Hive mind of theirs. Technically their whole damn species is going to be talking with the Council."
"That doesn't bother you?"
"I don't get paid enough for it to bother me, just enough to do as I'm ordered. I'll have my Omni-tool with me at all times should we need to talk again."
"Ever the soldier," said Lidanya.
Pallin only shrugged.
"Pallin signing out."
Lidanya nodded as the screen cut to Black. She was left once again to her own thoughts that even her increased workload couldn't fully silence.
Shepard stood with his arms crossed, as the Elevator slowly went up. Really slow. Shepard thought that a snail stuck in tar could have moved far faster than this slow. Slow. Slooooow ass elevator that seemed to exist only to mock and bastardize the meaning of the word elevate.
"Are we there yet?"
"No," said Pallin
The elevator continued to rise slower than an arthritic turtle stuck in molasse.
"Fuck it, just hit any button, I guarantee you I can get there faster than this alleged elevator."
"Of that, I have no doubt. Still, probably best not to scare the civies. I have a feeling a flying Blacklight Evolved is a really good way to get them running."
Shepard hummed and nodded.
The elevator was a tenth the way there. It was at this time Pallin noticed that Shepard looked much less... male.
"I'll be able to get a bit part on the Golden Girls long before we get to the top. Well, maybe if I could age that is."
Pallin stared at the now female evolved. She was trying to get to him, he could see it. Annoy him to death or see if he'd try and turn his... her head into a fine red paste. However, Pallin was much too disciplined for that. He wouldn't let it get to him.
"Please be quiet."
"Fine fine, I'll keep my mouth shut," said Shepard as her mouth literally shut and disappeared.
The Elevator had passed the first quarter of the way. Pallin was just getting used to the silence when the mouth came back.
"Are we there yet?"
Shisk stood upon the makeshift Space Station that now orbited Heshtok. A massive hollowed out asteroid large enough that it could be seen as a bright light from the surface of Heshtok. Larger than even the CItadel, if what Blacklight said was anything to go by.
Massive pillars of stone and metal prevented the Asteroid from falling apart. Geth Mobile platforms currently roamed the place building in the various machinery that would be used to get the station functional.
Currently, the only thing that worked fully was the Algae-Based Life Support System, which despite Blacklight claiming the organisms to be Algae, looked more like Green Glowing Coral.
Shisk looked into the tanks that were built into the walls of the station, making it seem like a massive aquarium. The Bioluminescent Algae-Coral provided not only air but lighting as well, which made the interior of the space station look much more alien as it was bathed in fey green light.
The Coral-Algae also apparently would help as they functioned as something Blacklight referred to as a Bio-Battery, which would provide power to the machinery that the Geth were already building into the Asteroid.
The ships that the Vorcha managed to get from their now dead would be captors were already docked and ready. Hundreds of Vorcha were already learning how to maintain these ships from Blacklight.
'Did you ever picture anything like this?' asked the Voice of Chakwas in Shisks head.
Shisk snorted as his teeth clicked.
"No, Shisk not think he ever see anything like this over Bitch Planet Hestok."
'Your kind is coming along rather well Shisk, you should be proud of it.'
Shisk's posture straightened a bit as one of the Geth Platforms made its way towards him.
"Drive Discharge points have finalized, Should any Starships need to dump their core charges they may do so at these designated locations. We can begin extending to the other planets in the Kyzil System."
"Wat' best one we start with?"
The Geth stood still for but a moment before it began speaking.
"Geth Consensus reached, The Fifth planet, Rustaka is rich in Helium-3. Recommend beginning mining operations there. We can begin building the mining stations with minimal loss of projected progress to Vorcha Station."
"Den' we go dere'."
The Geth Platform nodded before it walked off.
Shepard found this meeting room of the Council very spartan compared to the ostentatious one Alex had seen when Blacklight first met with the Council. Looking at the trio of Citadel Leaders, Shepard waited for them to say something.
Tevos looked thoughtful at first as she was looking at the screen before her, built right into the table everyone sat at.
Sparatus conversely looked nervous as he looked to his own screen.
Valern just looked confused and somewhat frightening.
Shepard sat quietly as they looked through everything the Geth had made. It was a compilation of everything about the Reapers and all the evidence Blacklight had gotten on Saleon's Children, including files from Saleon's own computers.
Valern was the first to talk.
"So the Reapers turned these Children into what they are now?"
"Reaper Nanotech used to make Husks augmented the Children. In many ways, the Children are a perfect blend of synthetic and organic materials. The remaining Biomass on Khar'shan is still engaged with them. The Children currently have a hold of most military storage facilities and factories. They're still building more of themselves. Blacklight is growing too, but we are using hydrothermal vents to fuel our growth, but we are without sunlight after the Relay pulse. Bioships in orbit require water and carbon dioxide to get energy from sunlight, meaning we routinely have to send up resources from the planet to the bioships. Based on our calculations, the Children will surpass us in terms of growth and eventually do to Khar'Shan what we did to Earth."
"Rampancy?" asked Valern.
"It would be more accurate to call it Directed Rampancy. We believe it is being controlled and implemented by the Reapers. The Blacklight Rampancy of Earth took only eight months, our projection put the Children at three."
Valern turned off his screen as he rubbed his tired eyes with his talons.
"What happens when they are done?" he exhaustedly asked.
"We don't know, but the Reapers made the Relays, if they can direct the Children, then they can repair it."
"Wonderful." He said sarcastically before taking a deep breath.
"The Relay is a bottleneck, we can handle them if they pour out," said Sparatus out loud before looking to Shepard.
"I'm more concerned about the footage of both Rachni and Geth troops on Khar'Shan."
"We're allied." Said Shepard simply.
"Clearly, how long?" Asked Sparatus.
"Geth, roughly a month or so after the first contact war. Rachni, a couple months after the Citadel Rampancy."
A loud THUD was heard as Tevos's head met the table.
"Things were so much simpler before you came along," she said, somewhat muffled.
"We have been busy," said Shepard with a smile.
"Enough jokes, just…" Tevos sighed and recomposed herself. "Ok, I am calm now."
Tevos took one more deep breath before she turned to Shepard.
"This refugee crisis is bad enough and will push back a lot of projects by months if not years. I'm laying all my cards on the table, and this is something that needs to be said."
The tone in Tevos voice took on a tone of seriousness that Shepard found palpable.
"I believe you about the Reapers," said Tevos calmly.
"Really?" asked Shepard skeptically.
"I always have, I even have been looking into possible Anti-Reaper weapons, of course, the exact details of the Reapers are nebulous at best, and most of what we are doing is guesswork, but I have seen far too much madness in the past few days, on top of the footage Aria provided us, and everything my top Information Brokers have given me that I had looked into by dozens of experts, only to find no signs of tampering with or digital modification… oh and let us not forget the literal hive mind warning us what is out there, and I think we need to have a serious discussion about the Galaxy Spanning Cataclysm that might befall us when the Giant Robot Squid Gods fall from the skies above to infect everyone with undead machine cancer!"
The silence that followed her outburst was deafening, oppressive even. Shepard smiled at Tevos choice in terminology, it was nice to know that Blacklights colloquial terms for the Reapers were still spreading. Just As Planned.
Sparatus blinked away a haze that had clouded his mind for the longest time as he shoulders fell and his head dropped.
Valern watched the moment between the two pass as they turned to face their guest. His eye caught what appeared to be a conversation was non-verbally spoken between the two using only body language and facial expressions alone. Most of it imperceptible, but with Salarian reaction time, it might as well have been done with exaggerated movements.
"Fine." Said Sparatus calmly.
Valern cleared his throat.
"Well, now that that is cleared up, but before we talk about the Reapers, I do believe there is a much more important matter to focus on."
"What, the Refugees?" asked Tevos.
"No, the Children's origins," said Valern as he highlighted a certain paragraph on is monitor. Once the other councilors turned their monitors back on, they read the text.
Valern spoke as they did.
"If what this document is showing us is true, then Jobol had a hand in their birth, even if indirectly. He brought Saleon into the Experiment, and no doubt he has been continuing with those Experiments. If a lone Salarian can make something like that, then what do you think a whole think tank of geneticists and biologists could potentially make."
"We actually have a plan for that," said Shepard.
Valern looked to the Evolved before him with a curious gaze. Shepard spoke before Valern could even ask.
Valern paused for a moment as he recalled the name.
"This might be something you can help us with. Mordin has a carefully compiled list of information on the Children's biology, we wanted him to be put on the project as our mole. We think if Jobol knew of Saleon's progress, he might be interested in their biology, and since Mordin has it, he might be called in to help on the project."
Valern drummed his fingers on the table.
"That information can be very useful to us."
"We're fully aware, but we think it best to take care of this sooner before Jobol makes something worse than the Children. We can give you the information, all we ask is you keep it private, if Jobol thinks only Mordin has access to this information then it increases the chances of him being accepted into the station."
"We'll discuss it later with a few friends in the STG," said Valern.
"I do hope I am not butting in. But I think both Tevos and I will be kept in the loop for this project of yours," said Sparatus darkly.
With that out of the way, Tevos crossed her arms.
"I vote to lift the ban on Blacklight in Citadel Controlled space."
"Wha…" said Sparatus eloquently.
Tevos only glared into Sparatus eyes. Thinking it over, it was clear she held more than a little fear of the Reapers, and even Sparatus had to admit that the only species he could picture being in a similar weight class as the Reapers, or at least very close to them, was Blacklight.
Balak sat in front of the makeshift camp that the docking station had become. His eyes focused on nothing as his mind ran wild with images he would much rather forget.
He remembered the stench of rotting meat, a stomach-churning, the nightmare-inducing wave of walking corpses whose skin would slough off to reveal the network of circuitry beneath. A seething mass of bodies upon bodies, lumbering, rotting cadavers twisted into grotesque parodies of their original shape. The living dead, the progeny of the machine devourer, an unthinking annihilation cast in flesh and metal. Guided by the Dark Gods beyond the stars who sing in enthralling subjugation.
Balaks body sat still as a statue, his only movement was the steady rising of his shoulders with each breath he took.
His solitude was interrupted by a familiar voice.
"You look unwell old friend."
Balak looked up to see Jath'Amon standing over him, accompanied by two other politicians, both notably shaken and on edge.
"Balak I would like you to meet Dakira Brorcomon and Selin Na'kyr." said the plump Batarian.
Balak nodded to the two as he turned back to his old friend.
"What is happening Amon?"
"Same as before, War, only the target has shifted. We are going to talk with the Council once we can calm things here."
Balak nodded absently. Jath'Amon exhaled slowly when he saw the man before him slump in defeat.
"Your fire is out," said Amon with what Balak identified as an accusation.
"Everything we had, every ship, every soldier, every civilian, slave and Councilor alike was snuffed out. What war could we fight Amon? Our military is decimated. I would be surprised if we had enough ships left to make a single patrol fleet."
"Our colonies were not left undefended, we have many ships left."
"And to use those ships is to leave those colonies unprotected. Face it, Amon, our people have been reduced greatly. We don't even have a large enough fleet to take out a single Turian policing fleet let alone those...Things."
"Balak, we are not dead. Hundred of Thousands still live, millions more on our colonies. We are not done."
Balak said nothing.
"If I may."
Amon looked to Dakira, who had taken a step forward over to Balak.
"We were in over our heads. We have never prepared for something like this, and how could we? Regardless Balak we still fought. Many of these people are alive thanks to you and your men, be proud of that Balak. Our world has crumbled, but we can rebuild."
"Blacklight spoke to you too?"
"They did to everyone. You as well. You just needed reminding. Know that we may be weakened, but they will help us, and you and I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt they will try and make this right."
Balak then recalled the visions Blacklight had shown him when being transported. He nodded once more and stood a bit straighter. Amon observed his old friend, before placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Many happenings across the galaxy has been kept from us, secret wars against the Reapers. Blacklight is powerful, but the Reapers are ancient, and their actions methodical. Blacklight will need support against a foe such as this. War is still coming Balak, one unlike any in our history. We can either prepare for it or run from it." said Amon before he lowered his arm.
"Get ready Balak, when the Reapers come, We'll be there."
Mordin looked over the notes again. The exact genetics of the Children of Saleon were a conundrum if there ever was one. It was constantly in flux due to the various Alkylating and oxidizing mutagens present in their body not to mention the radioactive materials they actively fed on. The Gene regulatory network and Hox genes, in particular, were constantly changing to react to certain stimuli, which explained why the morphology of the Children could change so quickly. On a larger scale, the cell itself was a union of biology and tech. There was microscopic machinery present inside the cells themselves, almost like mechanical organelles.
A union like this really should be impossible.
Mordins observations of Husks showed nothing quite like this. It was similar but distinct. Looking into it, the Huskification process could be greatly improved with the introduction of the Children's Biology. In fact, it would be frightfully efficient at cybernetic augmentation and conversion.
Mordin was drawn from his thoughts when Grunt joined him on the couch, eating the largest hunk of Pyjak meat he had ever seen.
"What are you doing?"
"Eating, what does it look like," said Grant as he took a generous bite out of his meal.
Mordin looked away from the grotesque display of poor table manners as he continued looking over everything.
"What about you?" asked Grunt with a full mouth.
"Memorizing mostly, and musing on the Children's frightening implications."
Grunt nodded as he took another bite. Mordin's eyes focused on the hunk of meat.
"Where did you even get a hold of cooked pyjak?"
"Some Vorcha in the slums knows a guy. I've got connections now," said Grunt with a smile.
Mordin said nothing as another person, specifically Ashley, walked out of a nearby flesh wall. It then occurred to him that he was getting used to Blacklights shenanigans, and it honestly worried him a bit.
"Yo Mordin," said Ashley as she took her seat next to the Scientist Salarian.
"Good morning Miss Williams, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Good news, well sort of good news at least. Pack your bags, cause Councilor Valern thinks he can pull a few strings and get you on Gorath."
"Excellent, I'll finish compiling everything and review the data from my worm in their systems. I can get the Personnel files for Valern if he wants, but any documentation on their experiments is kept off their servers."
"Think they know about your bug?"
"Possibly, but I do not believe so, even if they did, I think they may believe Saleon put it there. It was part of the reason I placed the worm in Saleon's Omni-tool initially, he makes an excellent scapegoat. If they were aware of it, however, I would think they would try and feed false information to throw off the worm, but instead, they just don't put any of their experimental data on the servers.
Ashley hummed to herself.
"Seems excessively paranoid."
"Perhaps, but in their defense, there is a worm in their systems."
"Point taken," said Ashley with a short shrug before an impressive belch came from the nearby Krogan.
"Can anyone get me some of that Ketchup stuff? It's kinda bland," asked Grunt with another burp.
After passing the Omega-4 relay, Saren was greeted by a fleet of Oculus Drones.
"Is that a Black Hole?" asked Benezia, somewhat aghast at seeing the myriad of vessels, both destroyed and functional, orbit what was arguably the most dangerous celestial phenomena in existence.
Saren, however, ignored it, instead he was focused on the scrapyard of ships, many of which had a design he found truly unrecognizable, covered in text and iconography of species long since dead.
The functional Collector Drones moved towards a dark patch of sky past the scrapyard, and Saren followed behind them. Eventually, as he made his way through the ship graveyard, he saw the main base of the Enigmatic Collectors. Much like their notorious ships, it was vaguely reminiscent of an insect hive, yet was undoubtedly mechanical in nature. He piloted his ship to the nearest docking port he saw.
As he docked, his sensors picked up hundreds, if not thousands of active ships all around him. Many of which seemed to be circling him almost ominously, like a predator stalking its prey. He turned off all electronics before standing up. Benezia followed behind him. Unlike Saren, she felt ill at ease, and the knowledge that they were far from any form of help did little more than increase the already great feeling of dread, though she managed to put on a facade of indifference for now.
When the airlock opened, Saren was greeted by a familiar creature, the multi-limbed Collector General, who observed Saleon curiously. Saren recalled the last time he saw this particular Collector caste, and his mind once again flooded with memories of Desolas.
The insect creature quirked its head as he turned away and began walking. Saren followed without Hesitation. His mind focused and the dark thoughts banished into the deepest recesses of his mind.
Benezia looked all around her, at the Collectors myriad of forces as they patrolled the hive like halls and bizarre pseudo-insectoid architecture. Though the Collectors lacked a pupil, she could tell by glancing at those eyes that glowed with eldritch light that they were watching her intently, almost expectantly. Undead Husks would occasionally stalk by, ignoring the world around them in a faint haze of dim awareness. Benezia watched as a gaunt Banshee took irregular steps past the Collector General, its arms held close to its chest, with occasional twitches, not even bothering to glance anywhere but the floor.
The exaggerated and jerky movements irked Benezia. Out of all the Husks, the Banshee's were the most familiar, and yet also the most alien. It was uncanny in its horrific visage, and it gave the Matriarch uncomfortable chills that unnaturally clung to her nerves and refused to leave.
The group moved through the Collectors Base with purpose before they made it to a large door. It didn't open. Instead, the Collector General turned to face Saren.
It observed the Turian for but a moment, before motioning to the door, which caused it to open.
Inside the room, Saren looked at the strange beast before him.
It was a small grub-like creature, barely larger than Sarens own hand, covered in wires and circuitry with a shell made of what appeared to be a strange hybrid of metal and stone. Yet there was also smooth skin with visible veins on the many legs just below the Translucent Skin below the grub. The creature skittered towards the Collector General and crawled up its exoskeleton.
Saren only watched the creature with a strange Gaze.
"I was told everything would be explained when I got here," said Saren.
"ALL WILL BE REVEALED" said the Collector general as it lifted one of its many limbs. The Spider-like creature crawled down his arm and onto the General's raptorial limb.
Saren observed the creature, before looking to the General.
"What is it?"
"OUR SALVATION. YOUR ASCENSION."
Saren observed the squirming thing once more before he lifted his hand. He held it back for a moment before he grabbed the grub thing with a disgusted look on his face.
Then he heard it. The once barely audible choir exploded into an orchestra. A congregation sang to him, for him. Hymns of choral music that brought forward intense long forgotten emotions within Sarens very being.
He closed his eyes and focused on the music.
From the grub came snaking tendrils and wires that merged seamlessly with his flesh. Saren didn't even feel it as they intertwined with his bones. Neither did Benezia, who was backing away from the grotesque scene, only to fall to the ground. She looked to her leg, that now was tingling only to see another of the grub creatures that was fusing itself to her leg, melding it with strange machinery and circuitry she felt bio-mechanical cancer creeping and growing just under her skin.
Benezia's eyes widened as she screamed her throat raw when she heard and felt a soft lullaby crawl its way into her ear and sear itself into her mind.
A swarm of programs vaguely described as Legion flew through a digital sea amongst a countless sea of identical programs, each of them simple, but together they formed a vast intellect that spanned the Extra-Net.
Quadrillions more passed by in an instant so brief that it might as well have not existed in the first place.
The sea of identical programs analyzed valuable data taken from the battles on Khar'Shan.
An in-depth analysis was made and a consensus was drawn, before immediately discarded to be replaced as new data became available.
The data was analyzed once...twice... A trillion more times.
Routine scans of the signals being shared by the Children of Saleon had revealed something… odd.
A nebulous intent that had always been there but had gone unnoticed. Its grasp exceeding that of the entirety of Geth.
Something was stirring. Something once content to merely observing had begun to act within the networks that united the galaxy.
The Catalyst, that great mind that crafted the Reapers was directing the Children of Saleon directly.
As the Geth made their observations, they stilled for but a moment as the Catalyst did something both wondrous and terrible that no Geth could comprehend but they experienced by proxy.
It felt direction.
On an academic level, the Geth knew emotions. They had even been capable of simulating them for research purposes.
What the Catalyst just did was not feeling in the traditional sense. Rather it was a directive masquerading as a feeling. A single-minded directive based on a premise of organics and synthetics inevitably fighting.
What was worrying was that somehow this nebulous intellect had just come to believe it found a solution to a non-existent problem.
A solution that had just begun.