AN: Longer note at the bottom. Previous readers will notice I changed from using terran to human. I talked it over with a few people and made the change. It's more consistent with the human backstory. I'll explain in another AN as the one for this chapter is big enough.
It was a slow day on the planet Therum. Or as slow as any day could be on the rapidly growing mining colony.
Nova Yekaterinburg was the only real city on the planet and every mining facility, research station, and survey outpost was linked to it through a mag-lev monorail system. One of those monorails was linked to the Eldfell-Ashland Mining Station and from there a half-finished road could be taken to the prothean excavation site. Though it was a several hour trip to get back to the city proper, it was as easy as getting on a rover and the train.
It was that same easy transit which had put her… here. Neletha was supposedly the bar to go to on the planet. Though the rest of the University sponsored team had come here many times and dragged her along she never quite felt comfortable in it. She had never been to many bars but this one seemed especially dingy.
Liara sighed to herself. She sat alone at the bar sipping what the humans called a 'virgin pina colada'. It tasted sweet and was nonalcoholic. Many of her fellow researchers and students were clustered around one of the game tables with drinks of their own.
She didn't recognize the game they were playing this trip but it involved thin, whippy wooden sticks, hitting heavy balls with the sticks, hitting their hands with the sticks, and taking drinks whenever someone 'lost'. Which was often.
She guessed it was a drazi game.
She frowned. She had never found the idea of getting drunk appealing, instead choosing to politely sit out and talk to anyone who decided to take a break from the game. She didn't like alcohol and she wished that one of her coworkers would figure it out and join her rather than just try again and again to convince her to take part in their games.
Behind the counter was a human named Jeb, though if it was a nickname or his real one Liara still didn't know. But whenever the team would come to the city the man was there with a smile and a tray of drinks for them. Liara had heard some people mention an old asari who also worked at the bar but Liara had never managed to catch a glimpse of her.
Another cheer went up among her fellow students as Kallo, a salarian technical specialist, managed to win. Liara knew nothing about the game or how he won so she just clapped halfheartedly.
When she was sure everyone's attention had moved on to starting another round Liara turned up the volume on the vid-screen with a flicker of her biotics. Though she had never focused on practicing her talents like many asari did, she knew she was above average in skill and strength. But she didn't want to be known for that. She didn't even want to be known, really. She just wanted to discover.
On the screen was a ship. Its massive hull was a pearly white with lilac colored sections following the contours of the vessel. Nearly four kilometers long with a smooth, flowing form it looked like it swam through the black.
It was an asari exploration ship. The first of its kind… and Liara could not help but wish she was there.
A round of 'oohs' went up at the table. Some more humans had gathered around to watch.
Instead she was here.
She focused her attention on the words as the racket of the bar tried to drown it out.
"The asari exploration ship Vasarel will hold some of the best and brightest minds of the Asari Republics. Its voyage will take it beyond known space in an attempt to locate ancient prothean worlds and catalogue numerous scientific phenomena. Captained by Matriarch-"
Jeb leaned into her line of sight, cutting off the images of the ship's interior. Liara leaned backwards as the man held up a holo-pic. Like always it was a picture of his daughter, Caroline. "Did I tell you about my little girl? Looks just like her mother, she does. She's on Ceti Gamma now working on those new batteries. Very important stuff, but I can't understand it."
Liara had no idea how she had learned so much about an alien she had never actually met, but it had happened. The girl was twenty-four and had recently graduated from Heliopolis University with a doctorate in organic technology. She liked thai food, whatever that was, and spent much of her time studying various lifeforms for inspiration for her work. She had been hired by the Systems Alliance to work at a government-run lab that was apparently well regarded by humans.
"Yes, Jeb. You showed me the last time I was here. I'm sure you're very proud of her." Liara said to him. She smiled politely.
"I did, didn't I? Yes, I'm so proud. Wasn't easy putting her through school. Needed me and my in-law to pay for but she was so gifted."
Liara couldn't bring herself to blame the man for showing her a picture of his daughter every time the Serrice University group came in. She supposed he was just one of the doting types of parents. She had often thought of asking where his wife was but since he had never mentioned the woman by name or where she currently was she didn't feel comfortable asking. Liara had been given a crash course in human interaction since her arrival on Therum and she didn't want to touch a possibly sensitive topic.
They were interrupted from their conversation as a short-haired man in uniform came up to the bar. Though he was still wearing a badged jacket, it was unbuttoned and loose. The emblem on the jacket's sleeve represented Alliance Security.
"I'll take a Sinzar Slow-Down."
The bartender took a long look at the chief of security. The man would never drink while on duty and a Sinzar Slow-Down wasn't a particularly strong beverage. Even so the bartender knew that the Alliance officer had something of an alcohol problem. More than once the man had shown up to work with the scent of liquor on his breath. While the drinking never seemed to interfere with his abilities more than a few people worried that the habit would come around to bite him.
"You sure, Chief?"
Michael Garibaldi let out a slow, soft breath. "Yes, Jeb. Yes, I'm sure. I'm gonna be working my butt off the next few days so I want to get a drink and some sleep before the rush."
Jeb raised an eyebrow. "What's happening the next few days? I haven't heard anything."
"The Marco Polo just dropped the last beacon in hyperspace for the Athens system and now it's on the way here. Good news is the whole cluster is connected to the network. Bad news is I have to deal with an extra thousand people who've been cooped up on a ship for six weeks. They're staying till they're restocked and the colony's going to house some of them."
Liara's eyes widened. She knew that name. She knew the name of almost every exploration ship. The Marco Polo was one of the newer human Explorers, commissioned to link star systems together through the hyperspace beacons.
"Umm. Ex-excuse me." Liara broke in. She looked at his rank, but had no idea how to tell what the small symbols meant on his uniform. "Sir?"
The short-haired man looked her. He put on a smile but it didn't reach his eyes. "Yes?"
"You said the Marco Polo is coming here? When is it supposed to arrive?"
Michael rubbed his temples in thought. "Uh… about six hours." He looked back to the bartender. "So I'd like a drink before then. Please."
As Jeb nodded and pulled out a glass, Liara quickly left her seat and headed over to Kallo. She was fairly certain he had the access codes to the shuttle.
"What was that about?" Garibaldi asked the bartender.
Jeb shrugged. "Thinks Explorers are the best thing since smart-glue. Wants to find the prothean homeworld and those Explorers are her best bet. Least that's what dayshift tells me."
Garibaldi raised his eyebrows, skeptical at such an ambition. He shook his head as Jeb went to put together his drink. "Find the prothean homeworld. Good luck to that." He said sarcastically.
If she had been honest with herself Liara would admit to having expected something like this. She didn't know how to fly the shuttle herself and needed someone to pilot it. She wasn't even sure how to request clearance to take off at the human space port. She just wished it had been someone other than Rathus. An overbearing female turian at the best of times, Liara made it a point to stay out of her way.
She preferred to work in peace rather than deal with the boisterous girl.
"So how'd you hear about the Marco Polo arriving? I mean I'm glad you did, you're just kind of a shut-in so I'm surprised."
If only Rathus shared that same courtesy.
"I talk to loads more people and I didn't hear about it."
Liara's eye twitched. This was why she avoided the female turian as much as she could.
"Really, we had to drag you out of the excavation site. You wanted to sit there and study an antenna tower."
Liara frowned. Just because they hadn't reached the actual structure yet didn't mean there was nothing to learn. "I heard about from a human in the bar. Jeb called him… Chief, I think."
"Chief? Like… Gunnery Chief, Service Chief, Chief Chief, what Chief?"
The asari sighed. "He had a security badge on his arm. So, Security Chief." That was a human rank. Right?
"You mean Head of Security."
'Isn't that what I said?' Liara thought.
"And wait. Wait, wait, wait. You talked to Michael Garibaldi? Aww. I've been wanting to meet him so bad but I keep missing him." Rathus moaned in frustration.
Liara was puzzled. "Speak with him? Why?" The man had seemed like a normal human as far as she could tell.
Rathus took her eyes off the instruments for a long moment to stare at the asari. "You really need to get out more."
Rathus exhaled deeply as she returned to starting up the shuttle. "He's like a legend. A hero. Twice over. Nearly every human knows his name. So do a lot of aliens for what he pulled off."
Liara stared forward and tried not to sigh in exasperation. Rathus had a bizarre fascination with people who survived events that had killed others. From the centauri trailblazer who had stayed alive for a month on Nakaleen to the Spectre who had supposedly outwitted a Justicar. The female turian loved stories like those even if some of the characters tended to die horribly. She also shared those stories. Often.
Liara was spared from listening to another morbid story when Rathus activated the shuttle's engines as they were given clearance to take off.
Without hesitation the turian gunned the shuttle's engines as the mass effect field lifted them off the landing pad. Far faster than Liara felt comfortable with the shuttle rocketed upwards to the darkness above.
There was an awkward silence in the shuttle as Rathus focused on the equipment and flight path and Liara struggled to make conversation.
"So… Explorers aren't exactly exciting to most people. Why did you decide to come along? Kallo was willing to pilot if you didn't want to be here."
"What, are you kidding me? Liara, do you even know what my major is?"
Liara stuttered for a moment. Rathus was brash, domineering, and confrontational. She never hesitated before making her opinion known in her usually gruff manner. Liara's avoidance of her meant she had very little idea what the turian actually did.
"Something with… buildings."
Rathus rolled her eyes. "I'm a structural engineer with a sub-degree in advanced materials. You're the one who figures out what the buildings were made for. I'm the one who figures out how they were made. So yeah, Explorers are awesome. Seventy million tons and six kilometers of heavy engineering. Did you know you can fit an old Val'Kon dreadnought inside the construction bay? You know the salarians are building some of their own models?"
Liara didn't manage an answer before Rathus continued.
"They've got five already out with a ten more slated. All small enough for-"
Liara was finally shocked enough to respond. "You- How do you know about that? I listen to everything about the exploration vessels the governments are building and I haven't heard anything about the salarians."
Rathus leaned over the seat and her mandibles flared into a sly smile. "Because they're salarians and they like being sneaky." She half-joked.
Liara stared at her coworker in disbelief.
"What? I don't know. I was lucky to hear about it at all." Rathus defended. "They've sent out five and no one knows where they've gone. Tell me that doesn't sound like standard salarian spy stuff."
"It doesn't sound like salarian spy stuff." Liara responded promptly. "I swear it's like you believe in every stereotype you hear. Salarians are all secretly STG. Turians are all good soldiers. Humans are all busybody telepaths and centauri are slave-happy maniacs."
"Everything you just said is absolutely true." The turian deadpanned.
There was silence in the cockpit for a long minute as they approached the jumpgate.
Rathus finally broke it by saying. "What were we arguing about?"
Liara managed to hold back her initial response and composed herself. "Something silly. I'm sorry. I'm just… more reserved than you are. I didn't think like you'd be interested in ships that mostly just chart deep space. I guess I'm just surprised someone like you is interested in the same thing I am."
Rathus raised her hands in the near-universal sign of 'what'. "The hell does that mean?"
Liara was spared putting her foot in her mouth anymore as the jumpgate flared to life.
Streaks of energy flare out from the struts and met at the center of the gate. Space bulged and collapsed. A spiraling vortex of brilliant blue extended from the event horizon of the jump point and into realspace.
At the center of the entry into the alternate dimension the Marco Polo emerged. The massive construction bay and sensor towers jutting forward were the first visible sections of the ship followed by a latticed framework holding endless cargo containers and assembly equipment. After that came the kilometer-long rotating section and the equally massive reactor segment with its attached radiator fins. In the vast stretch between the middle and end of the craft was more framework with more storage for food, water and fuel. After nearly five and a half kilometers of spaceship the massive engines could be found pushing the enormous craft forward.
As the vessel passed by the miniscule personnel transport Liara stared almost longingly. She was only broken out of her staring as Rathus maneuvered their craft to follow alongside the vessel.
"Hey. You think they'll give us a tour?" The turian asked.
Liara blinked at the sudden question before smiling. "We have to try. If takes some time for them to agree... well… I'll admit I'm curious. What did you say the human was famous for?"
Vega System, 2262
"Hey Toombs! Get up here and take a look at these readings. I'm getting some weird responses from the weather station on the far side of the planet." The voice of their fellow marine Colleen, also known as Cowpoke, hollered down from the top command room of the outpost.
Garibaldi chuckled as Toombs got out of his seat and made his way towards the stairwell. His colleague shouted back up. "It's not a planet, it's a moon!"
The tiny base on the moon of Vega II was part of StarWatch's massive network of hyperspace listening outposts, tachyon detectors, deep space probes and automated surveillance drone-ships. Arrayed across much of the Alliance's territory, it was considered impossible for any ship to sneak into human space without using the monitored hyperspace network.
The outpost consisted of single 'control tower' with a tachyon communicator, a small cluster of sealed buildings in the underground surrounding its base, and a sturdy bunker at the perimeter in case of an attack. It was also used if the main complex became exposed to the searing hot temperatures outside.
Most of the actual detection equipment was on the fringe of the star system, allowing advanced warning in case any ship was detected approaching.
As part of cost cutting measures all the moon's detection equipment, even that not part of StarWatch, were routed to the facility. That meant getting regular reports about weather, geological activity, and the occasional civilian ship that landed so its crew could feel some gravity or get a quick tan.
There were was another team but the long shifts they pulled generally meant that the two groups spoke little to each other. Ruiz, a fulltime member of StarWatch, had worked at outposts such as this for over a decade. Though he wasn't the highest rank present, his seniority and knowledge of the equipment gave him some authority.
As Toombs came back down Ruiz questioned him. "Any problems? I know the seismic gauges get finicky sometimes. It told me the building was about to come down on my head once. Scared the crap outta me."
Toombs shrugged as he answered. "Nothing special. Huge lightning storm on the far side of the moon. She was just confused 'cus the station over there isn't picking up any clouds. Had to remind her there aren't any on this rock."
Ruiz's eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he scratched his forehead. "A lightning storm? This moon is a desert. You can't get lightning storms without dust storms, man. The station should be picking that up."
Toombs took a bite out of his sandwich before speaking. "Huh? Look, I'm just telling you the sensors say huge amounts of lightning and the skies are clear. Electromagnetic and flash detectors are picking up lightning and there is no sign of dust clouds. I can read the equipment, Ruiz."
"And I'm telling you, you can't have one without the other. There's not enough moisture in the sky to hold a charge and there's not enough of a temperature gradient. I've been working this moon for three damn years. I know what I'm talking about." Ruiz argued.
"Shut up, both of you." Service Chief Chan, the officer in charge of the base, rubbed his bald scalp. "Alright, prep a probe for launch. If Ruiz says it's impossible then it probably is. Let's get some eyes on it. Probably something is just broken out there but there might be a real problem."
Though there was a communal groan the squad went to it. Garibaldi, Ruiz, and Toombs went to pick up an R-Class probe and load it into the launch tube. Chan moved up to the command tower to join Cowpoke.
The R-class probes were designed to be fired from the surface into low orbit and automatically tapped into a planet's communications satellites. Equipped with a rocket for flight, a variety of sensor equipment and a nose-mounted camera, they were used across the Alliance for long range surveys.
In less than fifteen minutes the three soldiers had moved through the underground hallways to the missile section and loaded the small rocket into its silo. The loading zone was underground and electromagnetic rails slid the probe upwards into the turreted launch platform above the surface. With a few short commands Chan put in the target zone and the probe was on its way.
As the trio made their way back to the main cluster of rooms Toombs grumbled to the others. "We should be out there fighting the cat-Nazis, not back here figuring out the weather."
Garibaldi responded. "Somebody's gotta watch the back door. You ever hear about the narn? When we were fighting them at the Epsilon systems? They tried to make a secret hyperspace route into the Indi system to attack our guys from behind. Managed to stop them, sure, but that could've been bad."
Despite their early argument, Ruiz seemed to agree with Toombs. "Yeah, but we've got hyperspace sensors everywhere now. Kinda dumb that we're here. Except for you. Didn't you get shot in the ass on Tiree?"
Garibaldi was instantly on the defensive. "No. I got hit in the leg."
He had been in the military for barely a year before the Dilgar War broke out. The only battle he had actually taken part in was the liberation of Tiree. He had, in fact, been hit by shrapnel deep in his gluteus maximus and sent back to an Alliance hospital to recover. By the time he had been healed the fleets had moved on and he had been stationed to the very edge of Alliance space on border duty.
"Not what I heard." Cowpoke smirked at him as they walked into the command tower. A blonde from the outskirts of the Texan Megapolis, Colleen was probably the only one on the entire moon who got along with everyone else. It might have had something to do her home-style cooking that she made for the lot of them. Even with limited supplies the meals were excellent.
As they took their seats Chan threw up the information from the probe as it started to come in. The signal strengthened and the static faded on the vid-feed. The probe crossed thousands of miles and stabilized its flight once it reached low orbit.
The group watched the monitors with dull anticipation. Toombs had gone back to eating his sandwich.
Cowpoke decided to make conversation. "You guys hear about the find they made on Mars? The alien ruins?"
"We all get the same news, Colleen." Chan spoke from his workstation.
"I'm just sayin'. It's what? The third group of alien buildings we've found there?" She gestured grandly. "Mars. You wanna get out so bad, you'll leave all your crap." Colleen laughed.
Garibaldi looked at her. "You know I live on Mars, right?"
She raised an eyebrow and smiled challengingly. "You gonna tell me I'm wrong?"
"No. Just wanted to tell you I'm surprised a Texan knows something not about Texas."
"Cowpoke got prodded!" Ruiz taunted. Toombs and Chan both smiled at the conversation.
Toombs took another bite as the probe finally crossed the curvature of the planet keeping the lightning storm hidden. The image and data started to stream in earnest. The video feed finally stabilized into something discernible.
He stopped chewing. The sandwich dropped from his fingers.
Ruiz made a sign of the cross where he was sitting.
Garibaldi stared dumbly.
Colleen finally spoke. "That's… that's not real is it?" Her voice was trembling.
It was a dilgar fleet. Though not one of the massive Strike Fleets of the Imperium, there were still dozens of warships on the screen. Continuous streaks of lightning were coming down from the cluster of ships, creating a display as beautiful as it was intimidating. One of the ship's lightning strikes slowed before stopping. The camera could barely make out its engines flaring in activation.
Chief Chan snapped into action. "Colleen, wake up the others. Ruiz, patch us into StellarCom. No, set us up on StellarCom and on a general broadcast. Make sure the whole system hears it." If there were dilgar ships here, there was no way to be sure the StellarCom beacons hadn't been disrupted or destroyed. "Toombs, monitor them. Garibaldi, transmit what's happening. Tell the Alliance now."
In seconds the team was moving.
"Dilgar, dilgar, dilgar! Get up! Get up!" Cowpoke shouted to the day crew still in their bunks. She was yelling even as she ran down the stairs.
Toombs forwarded a data packet to Garibaldi's station. In seconds he was broadcasting across every channel through the tachyon network and to the other planets of Vega System. If Vega II's communication buoys were down, the other planets would pick up the signal shortly and forward the message.
The data packet was being sent repeatedly while Garibaldi spoke into the comms. "StarWatch Post 219 to everyone listening, we have dilgar inside Vega System. I repeat: dilgar warships are in Vega System. We are counting over fifteen pentacons, all capital ships. Forward this message to Alliance forces. I say again-"
Garibaldi heard Toombs shout from behind him. "That Targrath class is breaking from formation! It just shot down the probe!" A beat. "Lost contact with a comm satellite! It's heading towards us oh god…"
Chan quickly questioned. "Are we still broadcasting?"
Ruiz checked. "Yeah, we're still going but they've started to jam us. I don't think they have any ELINT ships though, jamming's pretty weak…"
Toombs cut him off. "Dammit another satellite just went down! That thing's gonna be in range soon!"
"Ok. Garibaldi, I'll take over transmitting. You all need to get everyone and get to the bunker." Chan ordered. For a moment no one moved. They didn't want to leave anyone behind. "Go!" He shouted.
Obeying their commanding officer the group ran down the stairs and entered the long tunnel to the sealed shelter. Chan took Garibaldi's seat and continued the broadcast, trying to boost the signal as much as possible against the dilgar's jamming.
Just as the two squads of marines closed the blast door to the bunker the Targrath Strike Cruiser crossed the horizon. A single bolter round erupted from the prow of the ship. It streaked through the sky, creating a superheated shockwave along its trail. The atmosphere managed to sap some of the energy away from the round and reduced its destructive ability, but it wasn't enough. The single particle bolt struck the edge of the outpost. Molten glass and stone were thrown outwards from the impact zone.
Even within the safety of the sealed bunker, the ground heaved and the walls cracked. The lights went out.
The group of nine humans trudged their way through the cold desert landscape. After gathering as much food, water and equipment, though mostly water, as they could from the bunker they had decided to head to one of the weather stations. Their goal was to hack its transponder and connect to any satellites that might still be in orbit. There was a risk it wouldn't work but it was all they had. It was the second night of travel, with them setting up camp in the day to prevent dehydration from the heat.
"Is that a crawler up ahead?" One of them asked as they crested a small hill of sand and rubble. In the flat land below there was a huge, faded yellow land-crawler in the very center of the small plain. Its thick treads were motionless.
"Yeah. They sent out a few automated C-22's a year or two ago to check for metal deposits. They've found plenty already but they're still running." Ruiz panted as he wiped the sweat off his brow.
Colleen took a sip from her canteen. She was carrying most of the weapons the bunker had. Though they had argued fiercely about whether or not the group needed them, the idea of having and not needing had won out.
Ruiz snapped his fingers. "We can use the crawler! Don't even need to go to the station. Those things are driven by a V.I. but there's still a crew compartment and an override inside. We just use one of its transmitters to get a signal up to a satellite."
There were a few whoops but the desert had sapped the energy out of most of them.
The group slowly made its way towards the enormous crawler. At almost forty meters the giant crawler had been designed as a cargo and personnel transport or as a mobile sensor platform. This one had sonic, gravitational, and seismic sensors arrayed along its top and sides.
One of the girls from the other shift asked. "Ruiz, shouldn't it be moving?"
"Eh, it's got solar panels and an energy cell. It'll stop and recharge for a while before going again."
As they reached the crawler Ruiz and the girl stepped up the access ladder into the cabin. He tried starting up the systems but there was no flicker in the display panels. The woman got out of the cabin to check the underside of the crawler and inspect the power cell.
On her hands and knees, it took her some time to get the center of the crawler.
When she finally managed to see the power cell the news was grim. "It's melted. Oh there is no way I'm getting any closer to that."
"Melted? Like… melted melted?" Ruiz called to her.
"Yes, melted melted. Half the damn thing is slag." Her echoing voice continued. "There's a hole in the middle of the power cell. Looks like acid damage."
"Maybe there was a chemical imbalance in the battery. Heat might've done it in." Someone offered.
Ruiz let his head smack the control console. So much for the crawler.
The youngest of the group spun towards Toombs. He looked shaken. "I… I saw something." His flashlight was shaking in his grip.
Toombs looked out with his own flashlight and saw nothing but sand and rock. He decided not to take chances. "Boys and girls, do you mind taking a sweep of the area with your lights? Kyle here is seeing ghosts and needs a nightlight." He tried to tease the tension out of the younger soldier.
It didn't work. "I said I saw something, man!" He argued.
"Just calm down, if something is here we'll find it." One of the other squad members consoled his comrade.
"And we'll kill it." The woman underneath the crawler offered.
For nearly a half a minute the group moved around the crawler, panning their lights in all directions into the dark night.
"Woah! On my target!" A dark skinned Private shouted.
The squads turned towards him and looked at where his light was pointed. A bulge in the sand was visible for only a few seconds before it flattened into a smooth surface like its surroundings.
"Oh hell." Garibaldi uttered. "Cowpoke, hand out the guns."
"What? What's going on up there?" The girl underneath the crawler asked. She hadn't made it back out yet.
"Get out of there. Now." Garibaldi ordered. He tossed Ruiz a BiLPro rifle as he got down from the cabin.
"I'm going, I'm going. But what-" The was a sound of ground shifting underneath the crawler. Then she screamed. The group ran to the front of the crawler where the massive treads weren't blocking their view but the screaming was already muffled and fading.
Garibaldi flashed his light underneath the crawler. There was nothing.
"Oh god oh god she's gone oh god..." Kyle repeated.
"Alright, hold it together! Guns up, everyone." Garibaldi ordered.
The unit did as he commanded. They were positioned in a circle with their backs facing each other. They began moving back to the side of the crawler so they could get into the compartment or on top of the massive vehicle.
Then the ground shattered around them. A huge worm, nearly eight feet tall, burst up from the sand in the midst of their group. Thought a few were sent to the ground, multiple rifles were fired at the large creature. The rapid onslaught of rounds tore into its skin and it seemed to howl. A large mantis-like limb lashed out and hit Kyle in the chest.
He was sent sprawling backwards away from the group. The worm retreated back into the ground.
Another worm darted out of the sand next to Kyle. Its yawning mouth gaped open and tried to swallow his legs. He managed to use his rifle to kick start a roll as its mouth descended. Garibaldi and Cowpoke focused their fire on it as Kyle desperately rolled from side to side to avoid the worm's lunges.
Just as that worm dropped dead from a spray of bullets into its head another burst out of the ground and wrapped its limbs around Kyle. The marine screamed and fired into the body of the worm to no avail. It dragged him down into the earth.
The first worm reappeared, its outer skin in tatters from the earlier weapons fire. It lurched and let loose a spray of acid at Ruiz and the remaining woman. The lethal shower hit Ruiz in his side. He instantly dropped to the floor and began screaming.
Garibaldi and Cowpoke shifted their BiLPro rifles to the worm that had felled their friend. Its eyestalks seemed to notice them and swayed its body for another salvo of acid. He and Cowpoke had been prepared for it, lunging out of the way and continuing to fire at the worm's large face.
A round managed to sever an eyestalk. The creature howled in pain and began flailing its limbs wildly. Its spasms allowed plenty of time for him and Cowpoke to shower the worm with a near-endless shower of bullets.
"Get to the crawler! We've got to get off the ground!" Garibaldi shouted as the worm dropped still. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a worm fall to Toombs and another soldier.
Yet, another worm came out of the ground, trying to stop his and Cowpoke's advance to the crawler's access ladder. It too prepared to fire acid at him and Colleen. Garibaldi quickly grabbed the sole grenade they had off his belt and pushed the activation mechanisms.
Garibaldi pitched his grenade into the worm's mouth as it started to lean back. It choked on the sudden object in its mouth before reflexively swallowing. As it re-prepared for its acid spray its torso exploded.
The Garibaldi turned his head to check on the woman who had been with Ruiz but saw no one next to his friends body. He hadn't even noticed when Ruiz had stopped screaming.
He grimaced and turned his back. Toombs was at the top with the surviving pair of marines and Cowpoke was heading up the ladder. Garibaldi climbed as fast as he could behind her.
As he reached the top, they watched a single bloodied worm emerge next to Ruiz's corpse and pull it into the sand.
No one spoke. They stared silently at the ground the entire night.
"Hey. Hey!" Toombs kicked Garibaldi's leg to wake him up. Michael took a quick look and realized he had been the only one still sleeping.
"How many did you all kill? We got one." Toombs pressed.
"One here." A marine threw in.
"I got three with Cowpoke. Got real lucky with a grenade down its throat." Garibaldi threw in.
"I saw that. That was great." Toombs enthused. "Look, that's five down. There can't be that many more of them. We're armed and we can hurt them."
Colleen's blonde locks shook fiercely. "Toombs I know what you're about to say-"
Toombs looked at her fiercely. "We can make it to the station."
Cowpoke shook her head again. Garibaldi agreed with her. "It's a death trap out there. Even if we could run the whole way to the station we don't know how many there are. Or if they'll just follow us. We know they can't get us up here. I say we wait it out."
"We stay here… we might not ever get a rescue. We haven't sent a distress call." Said the black man who had sighted the first sand worm.
"We sent the warning about the dilgar ships. The Alliance knows we're here." Cowpoke argued.
"Or they might think we're all dead. If we make it out of this valley we'll be fine." Toombs shot back.
"You don't know that. I'm staying. Possible death here versus certain death out there? I'll take my chances." Garibaldi flatly stated. Cowpoke agreed.
The other two marines didn't. After a short but heated debate about splitting the rations the groups agreed to separate.
When nightfall came again Toombs and the two men were set to depart for the weather station.
They reached the bottom of the ladder and waited with their guns ready. Garibaldi and Cowpoke covered them from the top of the crawler.
Nothing. Not a single worm appeared nor was there movement in the sand. They walked further away. Still nothing. The group picked up the pace until they reached the hillside.
The three of them crested the slope and turned back to look at the crawler with Garibaldi and Colleen still topside. Garibaldi waved at them with his hand, wishing them luck.
The group turned and walked away. Toombs lingered a few moments before vanishing as well.
It had been eight days.
They had moved into the crew compartment and set up a tarp over the windows to try to keep the heat out. Neither was sure how effective it was. They kept the doors open to allow a breeze through the crawler.
To stave off boredom they had begun trading stories and recipes of what they were going to do and eat and drink once they were rescued.
"-that is how you make my ma's Three Alarm Chili. Been wanting to make it for everyone but all the ingredients never seemed to be here at the same time."
She sighed and stretched in her seat. It was getting harder to get up and move at all.
"So what's the first thing you're gonna eat when we get picked up?" Cowpoke asked him.
Garibaldi smiled, even though it hurt his chapped lips. "Let me tell you. I'll have my dad make it for you. You're officially invited to dinner. My family's bagna cauda. It's delicious. Butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. All put to a boil…"
Neither mentioned how they were down to only a few ration bars.
Garibaldi woke again. He didn't know how many days it had been now. In the distance the white sun of Vega rose above the horizon once more, bathing the world in its searing heat.
He groaned. Even within the first few minutes of sunrise he could feel the temperature rising again. He took a deep breath of the air and savored it. It was only at dawn and dusk when the temperature was actually comfortable.
He held in a sigh. Another day of waiting was going to be harsh. He hoped that the others had made it to the weather tower but optimism was draining hour by hour now.
She didn't answer.
"Cowpoke?" He nudged her side but again there was no response.
Garibaldi moved his upper body so he could see her. His entire body felt slow and sluggish. He took in her appearance. A thin layer of dried sweat covered her now gaunt face.
He slowly raised his hand and set it on her arm. "Colleen?" He felt her wrist. There was nothing.
He couldn't bring himself to move his hand for a long time.
He hefted a PPG in his hand. Compared to many human weapons the pistol was tiny and lightweight. Right now it felt like lead.
He had managed to move Colleen into the rear section of the crawler and covered her with a small tarp. It taken most his strength to do it, but he felt he had to.
In his other hand he held his canteen. It had barely a tablespoon's worth of water. He hadn't drunk it for almost three days.
'Next time.' He resolved. 'Next time.'
He'd have his final drink and see Colleen again. He closed his eyes.
An explosion woke him.
With his blurry vision, Garibaldi could barely make out a Frigga VTOL firing at several of the sand worms with its particle cannon. The sound of gunfire suddenly seemed to be coming from everywhere as he was pulled out of the crawler's driver seat.
As he was hefted into a stretcher his vision shifted. All he could see was the open sky. There were people speaking to him as they made their way to the Frigga troop transport.
"We got your warning, Corporal. You saved a lot of lives. Just hang on." A man with a medical patch on his sleeve appeared over him. His voice could be heard even over the noise.
Garibaldi couldn't even lick his lips properly. They were as parched and dry from disuse as his tongue.
"Wa' 'appe'?" The words were barely a murmur. His head drooped backwards on the stretcher.
Against his will he closed his eyes once more.
And then he opened them.
He pushed the thoughts of his squad out of mind. Toombs and the two men had never made it to the weather station. He'd always remember them, but there was little use wishing for 'could have beens'.
With a groan Michael pulled himself up so he was sitting in bed. His omni-tool beeped on the nightstand. He rubbed his eyes and reached over to activate it.
"Hey, boss. Had a little trouble with one of the Polo's scientists and he's demanding to speak with the guy in charge."
There were a few moments of silence as Garibaldi's hazy mind started to pick up speed. His subordinate's report clicked together.
"Was it the geologist?" He asked.
"Uh… yeah. How'd you know?"
"I did some checking before they arrived. His uncle's a big shot at IPX. Gotten into trouble more than a few times for being too frisky with the locals. Thinks he's mankind's gift to the galaxy." The man rubbed his face as he took a look at the clock. "I thought I told you to call me once the Marco Polo arrived. When did it get here and why'd you let me sleep?"
"Eh, we had it handled. We still have it handled, really. This punk is just trying to go over my head. Too bad he doesn't know it's you above it, eh?" The voice chuckled over the radio.
The answer was one Michael had come to expect from his second in command. The man was a competent, if laid back, member of Alliance Security. Like Garibaldi, the man had spent much of his life in Security. They had both been transferred to Therum as Security for the colony's military garrison. With the base being a part of the dome city of Nova Yekaterinburg, Military Security and the local law enforcement had come together to share the jurisdiction and the workload.
Promising he'd be there soon, Garibaldi got out of bed and swiftly put his uniform on. A quick morning routine and he was rinsed and ready for another day of policing. He stepped into the elevator for his apartment building and watched the polymer dome of the colony rise higher above him.
His omni-tool beeped as soon as he stepped out of the building's front door. Garibaldi stifled a sigh and switched on the communicator.
"Garibaldi. What is it now?"
"Chief, we need you at the port. Like, right now." The voice sounded slightly panicked and out of breath.
Garibaldi's brows furrowed. He didn't like surprises and most ships that arrived were just for resupplying or expanding the various mining operations. He changed course and headed for the space port's landing bays. "I'm on my way but what's going on? Talk to me here."
"You know the Serrice University sent a ship with some more equipment and a new member?"
He wracked his mind. It had been a while but… a week ago maybe… "I got the memo."
"Yeah, well they didn't say he was a damn dilgar. Somebody saw him and word's spreading."
Michael's eyes widened. He picked up the pace to a full run.
A dilgar? On Therum? What was dilgar doing on a human world? What was he doing in Alliance space at all?
He borrowed, not stole, borrowed the aircar in front of a group of people at a public transit station to shorten the trip.
As he arrived at the city port he continued forward with a brisk jog towards a growing crowd of people at landing bay 8. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the asari and turian girl that were part of the Serrice team. The asari seemed intimidated by the anger simmering in the group of humans.
Garibaldi didn't blame her. Having a bunch of people who had previously been friendly and polite turn into this would be a hard thing to witness. Even with his own hatred of the dilgar, he had a duty to do. It was the only thing that kept him from kicking the alien off the planet himself.
He stopped as he approached the feline alien waiting next to his bags. The dilgar hadn't ventured from the transport shuttle. Short and unassuming, the dilgar looked very little like the ones he had fought at Tiree and Comac. "I'm Chief Warrant Officer Garibaldi, Head of Security on this colony. You are?"
"I am Kah'Ren. One of your guards said I had to get back on the shuttle. I have every right to pass through here to the prothean excavation. I am a student of the University of Serrice and I have the files to prove it."
Garibaldi's mouth turned upwards in a grim smile. "You know there's a joke in what you just said."
The dilgar looked confused.
"A dilgar talking about rights. It's funny. Ironically." He would do his duty. But he wouldn't be nice about it. Not to them. Garibaldi continued before the dilgar could answer. "Give me your identicard."
Kah'ren fumbled in a pocket for a few moments before handing it over. Garibaldi slid it across his omni-tool and look at the information it displayed. His lips thinned.
"It says you've only been a student at Serrice for a year. How'd you manage to get sent on the dig?"
The dilgar's eyes flashed towards the crowd being held away by the security and police. "I'm skilled at languages. I understand prothean script better than anyone else at the university. All the other experts are here. I earned this spot."
Garibaldi hummed thoughtfully. "It says you're only twenty. Impressive."
The dilgar paused slightly. "…thank you."
"You must have been what, three or four when Omelos went kablooey?"
The catlike face tightened. "I was four."
"Hmm." He continued looking over the data. As much as he wanted to say otherwise, the forms were legit. The dilgar would go to the dig site. Though the idea of letting a dilgar go near any piece of prothean technology grated it wasn't his decision to make. The Alliance had agreed to let Serrice run the dig with its own personnel as long as nothing left the planet without being catalogued and its data sent back to Sol for approval.
As Garibaldi was about to order the police officers to clear the crowd, he heard a voice.
"Hand him over, Chief."
It was Jeb. The bartender had made his way to the front of the crowd. Garibaldi grimaced. The entirety of Nova Yekaterinburg was housed within a single dome. News moved fast and if other people were showing up then it likely meant word had spread throughout the city.
'Screw you, Luck. Really.'
"Just walk away, Chief. No one'll say anything." The older man was clenching his fists so tightly his knuckles were white. Other people in the crowd were holding heavy repair equipment for ships or trying to shuffle forward against the group of officers.
Liara's eyes widened. The same people who had been friendly, the same humans she had seen working and talking earlier today were silent, glaring and focused. There was hatred in their eyes and their faces were grim. Liara chilled as she made the realization.
They wanted to kill him.
Liara took a step forwards to speak but Rathus yanked her back by the elbow. She looked at the turian in confusion.
"I can't do that, Jeb. And I can't let you do this." Garibaldi spoke. Liara was thankful for the man's presence. It seemed that even if he didn't like the dilgar, he wasn't going to let a student be mobbed.
Jeb shook his head. His always scraggly hair flailed about. His lips parted in a snarl. "I lost my wife, my son, on Proxima."
Garibaldi stepped forward in front of Jeb and spoke to him. "I know, Jeb. I lost my family on Mars. It sucks that he's here but he's got the right." Michael put his hand on the graying bartender's shoulders and shook him once. "He's got the right. Unless he breaks the law then we treat him like any other visitor. 'Cus we're human, yeah? Rights are what we're about. We're not like them, Jeb." He jerked his head back towards Kah'Ren. "We don't kill people because we can, or because we feel like they deserve it. We aren't killers."
For several seconds Jeb tried to work himself up. To argue against the Security officer. Eventually his shoulders slumped. The old man stepped back towards the crowd. Some of them had heard Garibaldi's words and though they didn't like the idea, they had understood it.
Garibaldi raised his voice and spoke to everyone present. "We aren't killers. So we treat this dilgar like we treat the rest. Ignore him. You all know who I am. Until he breaks the law, until he breaks the peace, he goes his way and we go ours. If he does." Garibaldi pointed at the dilgar without looking at him. "Then I will come down on him like the wrath of God. But not before. That is not how our justice works."
The crowd grumbled but seemed willing to follow his instructions. The hangar bay was quickly cleared by the law enforcement officers.
Kah'Ren still stood at the bottom of the shuttle ramp where he had been. He wasn't certain where to go. With a shout and a gesture Garibaldi urged the dilgar to follow him. He looked at Liara and Rathus and called out to them. "You two, you come too."
Garibaldi led them out of the landing bay and into an elevator. From there he used his clearance to enter the lower maintenance levels. As the elevator descended he contacted the police department, ordering for a team to go and clear out the mag-lev station to the Eldfell-Ashland facility.
The trip was nearly silent. Garibaldi seemed totally focused on navigating the maintenance corridors and only stopped to swipe his identicard at the occasional blocked door. Kah'Ren did not speak nor was he spoken to. Liara didn't dare break the silence and Rathus felt no need to.
Though it took nearly half an hour, they neared the monorail hub for the dome-city. They moved up again through a cargo lift and into an empty terminal. Without protest the three students entered the mag-lev car and sat down.
It was only then that Garibaldi finally spoke.
He looked at Rathus. "Make sure he gets to the prothean ruins and make sure he stays there as much as possible. It's for his own safety."
"Understood, sir." Rathus responded crisply. Garibaldi gave her an odd look.
"You." Liara shrank back in her seat at the man's gaze. The harsh demeanor and actions of both the Security Chief and the other humans had shaken her badly. "Make sure someone sends a message to the University about this. Because you can bet the Alliance is going to be talking to them about dropping off a dilgar unannounced. I could have cleared the landing bay. Instead we almost got a murder."
Liara nodded silently at the man.
"And you." Garibaldi poked Kah'Ren in the chest, letting his fingers stay there as he talked. "I don't like you."
The linguist swallowed thickly. He had been assured by the University of Serrice that his stay on Therum would be safe. That no one at the excavation site would hold his species against him. He realized now that they hadn't mentioned the people not on the team.
"By law you can be here. But by being here you make a lot of people upset and my job a lot harder. So you go to the site and you damn well better stay there unless it is absolutely necessary. Do you understand me?"
"I understand." The dilgar spoke softly but in the silence of the tram it was easily heard.
With that Garibaldi stepped out of the mag-lev car and made a gesture at one of the security cameras. The tram doors closed and in seconds the mag-lev was in motion.
Codex: Events: The Battle of The Line
Considered the greatest defeat ever suffered by humanity, the Battle of The Line occurred in the later months of 2262.
Bypassing the well-guarded hyperspace routes, a dilgar assault group was only detected after it had infiltrated Alliance space and was discharging their drive cores at Vega System. While the dilgar were repelled at Proxima by defense forces after plague-bombing a small part of the colony, Earth had only two days to prepare for an attack with most of the Navy hundreds of light-years away.
The Alliance President called upon every ship capable of fighting to join the Navy forces in Sol. Thousands of private transports, corporate shuttles and cargo freighters joined Earth's defenses. Many had weapons and missile racks simply bolted on and ships that couldn't be given weapons in time used themselves as kamikaze attackers and living shields.
Though The Line held the victory was a pyrrhic one. Dilgar ships launched nuclear and biological warheads en masse. The low number of warships forced Alliance commanders to prioritize which missiles to intercept: there were simply too many to shoot down. The bioweapons, which could exterminate all life on the planet, were destroyed at the cost of several conventional fusion bombs impacting the surface. While larger cities were mostly spared Atlanta, Tampa, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Stockholm, Lyon, Kaohsiung, and Shantou were destroyed in the attack.
To add further injury the surviving dilgar warships attempted to crash onto the planet. When the attempt was repelled three ships broke off and performed an FTL jump to Mars. Two were shot down but the last successfully rammed Dome Four, killing most of the city's population.
Codex: Council Races: Asari: Psionics
For millennia academic communities questioned how asari minds managed to interface with those of other species. It was long believed by conventional science that attuning the nervous system to another's should not have allowed asari to experience the thoughts and memories of alien races. Even taking into account the asari's highly advanced and multipurpose nervous system, the neural chemistry between species is vastly different.
When scientifically confirmed long-range telepathy was introduced to the asari in 2267 the question had been answered.
All asari are latent short-ranged telepaths. Studies reveal that the Meld activates key portions of the asari brain that synchronizes the two mental presences. As the nervous systems blur into one, so too do the participant's minds. While lacking certain abilities that some other race's telepaths possess, to date the asari are the only species that is naturally biotic and telepathic.
AN: There was a recurring question about technology in the reviews, so I'll try to answer a little.
Firstly, the question about minbari stealth: The only explanation I have is that according to B5's canon the Earth Alliance tried everything. Radar, LIDAR, radiation, even backtracking minbari sensor signals. None of it worked. The minbari jamming/stealth technology has been aptly described as 'bullshit magic ECM'.
I tried to blend the humans from Mass Effect and Babylon 5. B5-human history is more dominant, but I've incorporated ME-humanity, such as the Second American Civil War occurring during World War III and their advanced genetic engineering. The Alliance has B5-ships, but started including mass effect tech into their designs.
The same goes for the Citadel and the rest of the League. They are each upgrading their ships using the other races' tech.
Humanity developed the Omega and it was deployed in the Dilgar War. At first it followed the series' technology: Interceptors and E-web, pulse and laser weapons, and a rotating section. Then the Mars archives were found and mass effect hit the scene. The next generation of Omega's included kinetic barriers, eezo-based artificial gravity, and primitive drive cores. The rotating sections were removed and replaced with, you guessed it, more guns.
Turians have been studying minbari crystal armor and gravitic engines since the war, the wreckage of the Sharlins gave plenty of pieces. They've made headway with the armor and use an inferior version on their ships. They haven't figured out the workings behind the artificial gravity systems, but they have purchased and developed their own improved weapons.
Minbari have installed hilariously overpowered drive cores and kinetic barriers onto their ships; their superior technology lets them get more potent and precise mass effect fields than everyone but the asari. The turian's FTL abilities blindsided them but now the minbari know how it works. The artificial muscle fibers in Citadel power armor have been adapted into Warrior Caste armor to make the physically powerful race even more dangerous.
Asari, who were already the most advanced race in the Citadel, rapidly progressed on their antimatter containment systems. They've been studying directed energy weapons and used that knowledge to advance their ships' offensive use of mass effect fields. These newly developed weapons have replaced most of their ship's mass accelerators. They are working on refining their drive cores to hold greater electrical discharge for longer trips.
This is all just ship and military oriented and the most visibly obvious. Citadel eezo communication buoys are being replaced with tachyon ones. League telecommunications took a leap forward with Citadel processor improvements and the haptic interface. Advances in computing, medicine, materials, and manufacturing are all taking place.
It's an amazing, if dangerous, time in the galaxy.