It was interesting picking through Chima's gear, as he guided us to all his data storage devices, and we checked everything else.
"What're these?" I rested my hand on some silvery orbs, resting against a line of grenades. They appeared seamless, like oversized ball bearings.
"Clotrif grenades, they don't have an opening but be careful with those."
"That didn't translate, Clotrif?"
"… Ok, for those of us who doen't-"
"It's a yellow liquid which boils into a colourless gas at 11 degrees, ignites just about everything but a select few metals like iron, which reacts for form a barrier with it before it ignites. Ignition temperature is below freezing, and it's quite happy eating through ceramics. HF Gas is a common by-product, and the heat given off will quickly convert any unignited fluid into vapour."
He didn't bother to disguise his smile as I very slowly retracted my hand.
"Lovely, those will be a pain to check… I'll list those as incendiary grenades… Everything else looks rather obvious, but we'll need to check it all thoroughly anyway."
"Take your time. I wouldn't want you to miss anything."
Despite what some might expect, checking his gear for data storage devices was very straight forward, and we found nothing that he didn't point us to… Of course, if we had he'd get to visit the airlock for a trip through it's best friend, Hard Vacuum.
And then, that left me with the slow and endlessly boring trawl, looking for anything like it could be or could make an AI, based on what was known about ByteGeists… Which wasn't a whole lot, which meant instead of an automated process, I was expected to go through everything manually… Well, as manually as I could with this much data.
It was like looking for the 1% nickel/99% iron needle in a pile of needles that were supposed to be 100% iron, and being forced to use only my brain and a magnet.
It did however turn out to be necessary.
"… Here, I think I have something. If I'm right, these might combine into a ByteGeist."
As the 'resident' AI experts, Guuba and Tali were both helping, albeit on a significant light lag. I had enough time to go grab a coffee and get distracted with my other laptop before they could possibly reply.
For all we had FTL laser communication, Hyperwave didn't work well affected by Mass Effect, and the Galaxy was ridiculously large.
"You have. In simulation this produces a Geth-Like construct that may or may not be an AI, but if these programs don't combine to create a ByteGeist…" Tali stopped, thinking of an appropriate metaphor.
"She'll strip dance using an Asari's pole."
Even using a military channel with low-clarity video, only watching out of the corner of my eye, and there being an opaque faceplate in the way, I could see Tali's blush… I wasn't sure if I wanted to high five the smelling Krogan or crack his crest.
There was a short skip as Tali paused the feed to compose herself, her hand shooting out as soon as her brain fully comprehended what Guuba had said, but when it continued she wasn't there.
"Somehow I keep forgetting The Quarian's weakened immune system. Obviously it's too hard to teach an old Krogan new tricks. Anyhow, I've just checked, I need voice confirmation from you in order to test whether or not we're right. Apparently I can't just grab a computer and isolate it for testing when AI's are involved."
I barely looked as I sent my reply.
"I, Spectre Aleandrea Shepard authorise Guuba to perform an AI test using the files contained within this message, End message. Guuba, if I find you sharing Quarian porn around the ship, you'll have a pair."
I set up an automated search based on the files I'd found while I waited for the reply.
I got it 15 minutes later, Tali still wasn't back, obviously letting Guuba do the talking.
"We're certain it's an AI. From what we've observed it definitely looks like it could be a ByteGeist. However, once it had assembled, it seemed to have been missing a few pieces, and then promptly deleted itself leaving a message in Ethereal, which boils down to listing a collection of programs as not found, including a personality matrix, and that 'Personality Finalization and Testing' was incomplete due to the lack of a local database or Hyperwave Relay to 'Deep Memory'. Any clue what that last one is?"
Guuba shook his head, shrugging, he couldn't exactly get a reply.
"Anyhow, he broke his end, and they should have left a more secure error message than plain Ethereal, even a basic cryptogram would have left us guessing."
I looked from the Screen to the Data-Pad with an inventory listing of Chima's gear… His MEC had a Hyperwave Relay and a large on-board database, And checking program names I found a few, including one hidden in his sidearm that I'd missed on my second comb through.
"Fuck… Well, we'll finally have a copy of one." I quickly cut off the message from recording and deleted it, before closing the channel and opening one down to Engineering.
"Core, Auir has a life to give."
"Huh?" Chima's voice came over, followed by a surprised shout.
"Done, waiting for you. Gor'Ria get down here! Everyone else out!"
"What the fuck's going on!?"
I closed the line, opening one to Bau.
"Bau, can you meet me in Engineering. Someone broke the AI clause."
"You want to tell me-?" Chima sounded a mixture of confused and outraged as I stared up to him. Right now he was trapped mid air within a microgravity field and a cylindrical barrier.
"Personality Profile PX45-1A-Maria. No clue what most of that means, but that program, combined with a bunch of other programs you have scattered through your gear are pretty damning, wouldn't you agree?"
"… Mothe-" His face didn't even shift before he started swearing.
"Oh shut up before I roast your corpse and expose it to hard vacuum. Everything with data storage on you is going to be tossed out the airlock, including a large majority of your personal effects, as well as many of your augments, to be picked up by someone else or to fry in the sun, it hasn't been decided which yet. On reaching Arcturus, you will be resupplied with a suit containing a remote destruct controlled by me and a handful of others, be glad that number doesn't include the Qurian that will be joining us. Then, you can either return home or continue on the mission with us." I paused for a moment, letting the options sink in.
"Your third option involves Gor'ria flooding that field your trapped in with a column of plasma and me dumping you out as well, before letting The Remnant know they can bring you back from your last save. I'll be nice and have her aim above you so the column spears down into your brain nice and qui-"
"Second option." He didn't even give me the pleasure of letting the third option hang a while.
"Fun. I'm sure Chakwas will enjoy the practice of pulling you apart… Unless you'd like to change the option Bau?"
"He will also be subjected to several EMPs once he's been stripped down."
Now I was certain Chima had a synthskin face, he didn't even wince.
"Well… It looks like you won't have your eyes or ears back until after we return to Arcturus."
Ah, there was a wince. Sensory deprivation isn't fun, and he'd only have scent and touch between getting EMPed and recieving new implants. I turned to leave before Bau interrupted me.
"We're certain he doesn't have a black-box?"
"Yes, he only a built in Mind-Tap."
Bau paused for a moment, looking at Chima. "Then such will be fine. Have you already deleted the AI's components?"
"I've deleted all available to me, yes."
"I thought the Alliance wished to obtain source code for a ByteGeist?"
"They still do." Technically true, it's always good to have multiple samples. "Also, I'm a Spectre now, not much they can do." Technically not true, I wasn't one officially yet. "I expect to be yelled at later." Also true, just not about this, unless the Council found out that I had sent off a copy of the AI, as part of Alliance policy, instead of deleting everything without copying it, as was Council policy.
Bau nodded, taking it hook, line, and sinker.
"Ok. Now you just hang in there, you'll be floated into the med-bay, then Chakwas will get some practice disassembling you… You'll be detained by barriers and we'll do the EMP's just before we get your replacement parts. Understood?"
"Good. I've a feeling you were ordered to bring the AI?"
"I was, I said it wouldn't get past. I bet a half-year's wage against it, I'm sure someone's there's going to be some very thorough reaming for breaking that clause of my entry in such an unsubtle manner."
I smiled softly as I remembered the pay-out for breaking that clause. The amount of resources they'd be forking over would have to hurt, even if they were supposedly a post-scarcity society… And any other breach would result in Chima's death, so given the order I doubted he would be testing any of the other clauses for his entry.
Arcturus Station, Simulation room 111
"American Evacuation selected. Linking Pods. Simulation loading. Selecting Random Drop-zone."
"This' Big Sky, Dropzone's in Haverhill, we got evac ships arriving in 25 minutes. Chryssalid front will hit you in 20, they have floaters ranching. They aren't targeting non-combat planes and dropships that aren't using their weapon mounts but are destroying all combat vehicles, so I'm kicking you out instead of providing you a firing platform. I'm going to be making a couple of Evac runs before the Chryssalid's arrive and then I'll be waiting for you. You'll be holding the hospital, evacuees should mostly be off the streets in time and anyone who's not gone or in the safe zone is considered to be stupid enough to be expendable, so weapons free."
The Skyranger's transport bay was silent as Big Sky gave his quick and dirty briefing. The American Evacuation was the first combat simulation undertaken by N-1 recruits, and was the only one where crippling injury and death was an instant wash out during the first run through. Failure rate was 25%
The simulation? You get the best of modern gear you're cleared to know about, and take the role of X-Com operatives stalling for time for the evacuation for those that couldn't safely leave a random city in America by ground. The only foes being Chryssalid's and Floaters. Average combat time was 6 minutes.
Garrus had bet he'd be able to take an X-Com simulation better than an N7 soldier. Gor'ria offered to run him through. Along with them were Tali, Guuba, Liara, Kaiden and Ashley. Tali would be guiding two Shiv's, Guuba having given his 1 SHIV [The simulation had some limits.] to Tali, and would be fighting as a regular soldier. Gor'Ria had command.
"Vakarian, Zorah, you two are with me on the roof, we're going to be keeping the hospital free from Floaters. I want the hospital to be so droned that the first we know of Floaters sneaking around the sides or back is the sound of them exploding from far away, understood?"
"Alenko, Williams, Guuba, T'Soni, barricade and mine the first floor, don't bother contesting it, make sure everyone's that can survive moving is on the third and fourth floors. Collapse everything you can and defend the second. Y, you'll want to cloak, you're an obvious alien and plenty of the people here have guns. Any who want to volunteer, let them, just don't rely on them. Understood?"
There were nods around the Skyranger.
"Zorah, send me schematics for anything you want made, I know you won't have anywhere near enough Omni-Gel. Also, remember mine and Vakarian's bets… It's open! Interior team go!"
Quickly the team for inside the hospital disembarked, before the Sky Ranger rose to the roof, depositing the rooftop team and taking on a small group of evacuees.
The next 15 minutes were of frantic tension and desperation… And civilians getting in the way. 5 minutes in, Gor'ria could hear the first collapses of elevator shafts and stair wells. While Chrysalids could jump when from a hard surface which would support their leg-claws properly, such as concrete, they didn't like to. And even though they could jump onto the top of two story buildings, they seemed to be too stupid to grasp the concept of jumping into a building through it's windows, much to everyone's joy. Tali was not the only one to request Gor'Ria's MEC's production capabilities, Guuba requested turrets as well as some 'callers' produced to supplement his supply, when asked what the 'callers' are, Guuba merely told Gor'ria to activate one, which instantly assaulted him with a cacophony of human cries.
5 minutes after preparations were complete, everyone began settling in to wait for the Chrysalids to arrive.
It was 6 minutes after that until the Floaters started herding Chrysalids to the hospital.
In one direction, a hail of ferrous darts and coherent light streaked, supplemented by air-bursting plasma grenades, in the other, bolts of plasma rained and cries of hunger pieced.
Drones and turrets were immediately slagged, not having their barriers wide enough to resist the plasma fire, being hotter than modern human plasma weapons, which were primed for beams, however nothing of note was damaged. Meanwhile, Floaters detonated by the handful and Chryssalid's shrieks turned to pained cries as ferrous darts glanced off their hardened carapaces, sometimes ripping them apart.
"Floaters have kinetic barriers!"
"Very light ones!"
"Why wasn't that recorded!"
"It was! Just not how you expect! Use body shots or automatic weapons! They self-destruct if any damage is done to their internal system and their shield is only enough to knock a bullet or two off course! And modern flachetes are much lighter!"
"You just shot through their steel plating?"
"Not personally! But I hear it's was rather thin early on!"
Meanwhile on the first floor, turrets and drones were making barricades out of Chryssalid dead, funnelling them towards minefields and the second floor maze, where 'caller' mines lead the Chryssalid's in circles, past turrets hidden in vents and through mines, it was three minutes before the interior team actually saw a Chrysalid in person, before they shredded a small pack, 21st century ballistics firing alongside 22nd century weapons, quickly creating a barricade of bodies.
While the fight on the rooftop was much more one sided, it was no less bloody. Floaters fell from the sky like spent fireworks, however for all they existed in a state of agony, they were almost as smart as base Mutons, and for all plasma had little in the way of penetration, it was perfectly good for making concrete brittle, and even melting it with sustained blasts on areas.
Gor'Ria had already fallen through the roof, and Tali's feet were starting to cook from being herded over patches of molten concrete, and Garrus had long since determined the drawbacks of a weapon that could handle at most two shots in a row before suffering through a lengthy cool down period, when being swarmed. He had long since swapped over to his assault rifle, moving confidently on the hospitals rooftop.
Gor'Ria made her way to the rooftop slowly, having ditched her MEC and let it enter automated mode, it chose jumped from the 4th story windows to fight without risking setting the building alight, and had also dropped it's Cain to fight with bare hands, crushing and burning any Chryssalid that entered it's reach while it's shoulder mounted weapons fired on the Floaters above.
It's plasma channel was rendered non-functional after a minute and a half of constant use, and the MEC was torn apart nearly 20 seconds later, screaming Chryssalid in each hand as it's self-destruct protocol activated, which had been set so as to prevent it destroying the hospital as well.
"This is Big Sky! You holding?"
"Rooftop's damaged but you can hover! How close?!"
"We see you, two minutes before the first Evac choppers begin arriving, keep a space clear."
"Understood! Everyone towards the front and take it, Tali get over here!"
The com line didn't close fast enough to hide Tali's surprised cry as Gor'ria put an arm around her and lifted her off the roof, jet pack flaring so she wouldn't need to dance around puddles. Garrus had long since started standing on one spot and turning, his shields flaring near constantly but he didn't risk standing in something that would cripple him, however the fumes given off by the roof caused him to activate his face mask.
Some Floaters attempted to close for CQC, but they weren't numerous enough to survive the approach, meanwhile the Second Floor defence had long since become the third floors defence, the sheer mass of Chryssalid bodies forcing the defenders back inch by bloody inch, and some of the more intact corpses had even been infested, sending headless or armless Chrysalids at them. Though those that spawned from the piles of corpses were often malformed they sometimes spent time to cannibalising the other dead corpses 'heal' to a fully formed Chryssalid.
The Civilians and Police had long since run out of ammo, taking up the groups side arms. By the time Guuba was forced to join the group instead of supervise his drones, his help was so appreciated none questioned the fact he was clearly not-human by his size and build.
While evactuation was quick, if just because most of those that remained were well trained, being a combination of hospital staff and police, and patients who couldn't leave their beds. The remainder were the family members of those patients who would not do anything to jeopardize their chances of evacuating. The alien's reluctance to fire on unarmed air transports was once again a tremendous boon, as floaters were kept far enough not to get a good shot at fleeing civilians, but would not deliberately shoot down the hovering helicopters.
In the end, it seemed the only true sacrifices would be material, with the SHIVs sacrificing themselves, passing through the third floor windows to distract the Chryssalid's inside, fighting to buy time for the escape of the interior team.
It seemed like a perfect run, and then it was ruined by a lone burst of gunfire. Garrus had fired his assault rifle to pick off one last floater before the drop bay doors closed, and Gor'Ria wasn't looking the right way to stop him.
"Leaving it open! Floaters are giving chase! They're firing!"
"Drop us on a rooftop! Now! Everyone out!"
The Skyranger's doors opened, and Gor'Ria started shoving everyone out, they weren't reacting fast enough.
The Skyranger's wing was clipped, steel vaporising where it was hit and the surounding melting. With one last leap everyone was out, Gor'Ria firing before he had even landed to draw attention from the Sky Ranger.
"I'll circle to pick you up! If they don't give chase I'll be back in a minute!"
"Why are we-?!"
"Not now Vakarian! You're last in! Prepare for CQC!"
Everyone was on edge, Tali was limping, her feet covered in blisters, Liara and Kaiden were exhausted from their heavy use of biotics, and everyone was looking forward to fighting a Chryssalid swarm. The Skyranger had dropped the group on top of a flat topped building, probably a restaurant.
Within 30 seconds, Chryssalid's had found the group, leaping up to fight.
Liara's did her best to keep the Chryssalid's from the roof, but there was only so much she could do. 10 seconds in, Guuba's arm was implanted only for Gor'ria to quickly turn and rip the egg out, Guuba succumbing to his blood rage in the process. A Chryssalid got through the front line, and tore open Tali's suit and left nasty gashes along her stomach before it could be put down, fortunately the Firaxite plating prevented the claws from entering enough to leave poison. Finally the Skyranger returned, without anything chasing it, and only a hole in it's wing. The Floater's didn't fire on it as it came down.
"Everyone in! No shooting!"
Gor'Ria fell as the group retreated, Chryssalid claws punching through his faceplate. Garrus' lost a section of faceplate and received several deep cuts from a claw swipe, and immediately began reacting to the venom as Kaiden pulled him into the rising Skyranger with his biotics.
Gor'Ria, Garrus, Guuba, Liara, Tali, Ashley and Kaiden had entered the combat zone.
Garrus 'died' to the Chryssalid venom 'in flight', while of the wrong chirality it still did tremendous damage, and he had an allergic reaction to both it and the antidote in his bloodstream. Gor'Ria and Guuba both died on the rooftop, both killing Chryssalid's in CQC before being overcome by a combination of the Chryssalid's venom and sheer combat prowess.
Despite being a larger than normal group, they were a perfect example of what normally happened on this mission. Rarely was anyone lost before pick up, but soldiers rarely held their fire on the Skyranger the first time through, often sustaining significant casualties, or being wiped out before they can be picked up again, if they could be picked up again.
In truth, only the ones who fired on the Skyranger would automatically drop out if they died after the initial evacuation, those that died afterwards of wounds not-sustained in the defence would get to run through it again with automated SHIVs in place of those that had passed and dummied out. It was rare anyone failed on a repeat '1st run' through of the American Evacuation simulation. Deaths before the evacuation were such a rarity as to almost be unheard of, and those that did occur were carefuly reviewed before a second run-through was allowed, if it would be.
Garrus' interrupted question was often one asked by those who fired on the Skyranger. Once in flight, wasn't it faster than a Floater?
The answer was no. Floaters had Elerium cores that could lighten them enough to keep up. It was rarely seen used, but it was a lesson learned early on in the Second Contact War, at great cost to the newly merged X-Com.
I like to imagine people asking me questions, not that they normally do. So here's one I imagine someone smart who misremembered what Eezo is in this fic asking.
"But Elerium is Eezo. How were there not Human biotics before the third contact war/Did Humanity have Biotics before the third contact war?"
No, Humanity didn't have biotics pre-third contact war. Elerium isn't Eezo, it's an unstable isotope of Eezo. In theory you could make a biotic with it, however their ability would quickly reduce as the Elerium in their system degraded… Which would also give them lethal radiation poisoning.
What was that? Radiation poisoning? Yes. Ethereal plasma weapons also worked off Elerium… And then there's the aerospace craft engines! Yep, there are plenty of radioactive areas all over earth other than the wasteland that is the remains of USA, and due to how targets were picked, many are in what were major cities.
Yes, ClF3 is a real thing. I've wanted to use it somehow ever since hearing about it, and now I have the chance. Oh, also I use Metric measurements, just to clarify now.