Less than ten minutes later, a familiar group was assembled in the Meeting Deck of the Normandy, with two additions. The first was Mordin Solus, who insisted on being present, both as a doctor, and as a scientist with many a skill, including anthropology as it turned out. The second figure, clad only in a small white robe, was the more eye catching however, as the prothean woman seemed to glide into the room, her steps measured and controlled, before she took a seat.
Behind her entered Jon and Tali. The former wore a robe much like her own, though it didn't bulge in the solders the same way her's did, due to the fact that the Terran lacked her ridges. Tali, meanwhile, was fully armored, wearing something that resembled her old environment suit, save the exposed face, and she was once again carrying her shotgun, which she held in a way to suggest it was ready, as she stared daggers at the prothean.
Jane wore her own armor, and cracked her knuckles a few times, imaging the small prothean in her fist. She'd only heard second hand about what had happened, but she knew enough. She knew this prothean had screwed with Jon's head, and as the older sibling, that made it her prerogative to break her. Physically, if she were allowed. She settled, for now at least, at simply nodding at Tali, creating a silent agreement between the two that when they could, they would show Jsalana the error of her ways.
The prothean ignored them, taking a seat in the circle that had been provided for her, while everyone else did likewise. When everyone was seated, a low hum, followed by a whoosh sound could be heard from the walls, as the AI's applied a privacy field. A chime confirmed that the room was sealed, at both ends, and Skarrde confirmed that they were being recorded by the AI's. Typing in a quick command he looked at everyone, and then spoke.
"Greystone Regrets, confirm voice print," he said, and soon a tiny light floated in front of him, going from red, to yellow, and finally glowing green.
"Soon started is sooner done, and I'm positive this will take longer than most of us like. To start with, please give name, rank, and species," said the Zentraedi as he turned to the woman before him, and everyone else looked at her expectantly.
"I am Jsalana, Adjunct to Lord Javik of Edenia. I was grown on what you would call the Citadel for that purpose, and sent there. I am a Nazara, but your people have named mine Prothean, after the name of our empire," she said in a very mechanical manner.
"You were grown?" asked Skarrde, and she nodded.
"As your people were, General Skarrde, mine could be. I was made for my Lord, to serve him in all things. His shield in the light, his knife in the dark. Is that not the same as a Zentraedi?" she said, and he seemed about to argue the point, but then just shook his head.
"It was, I will not lie, but I did not think technology of that sort existed in this galaxy. Did you people have the capability of producing themselves in numbers via such techniques?" he answered, following up with another question.
"In numbers? No, such things were beyond us, and in truth, it would likely have never caught on. Those, like myself, were made in small numbers, as servants to the upper class. We were to be the tools to perform any job they needed done," she explained.
"Fascinating. You had a class structure then? Was it rigid, or loose? Was it based solely on blood, or was there some form of meritocracy involved?" asked Liara before she could stop herself, and when she realized she'd butted in, she quickly withdrew, sitting up straight as Jsalana and Skarrde looked at her. When the former turned back to the latter, however, she found him motioning for her to answer the question.
"We were not castes, if that is what you are asking. While those like myself were made with purpose, others earned their positions, through skill or cunning. Lord Javik was one such, a leader and soldier who defeated many enemies during the Metacon Wars, despite his youth. He was given governorship of Edenia, at which time I was made for him," she answered succinctly.
"Metacon Wars?" asked Tali beside Jon, and Jon nodded beside her, motioning in the air.
"Bok-Ton varka," he said, and made typing motions with his fingers. Jsalana was about to translate, when a terminal appeared in the air in front of him, and he began typing. His fingers flew over the keys, soon bringing up an image that resolved itself from a blurry form, into a very simple looking vision of a Meta, one of the race of machine people Jsalana had in her memory.
"Indeed, that. Fighting them was the very reason our empire existed. They hounded us from the moment we left Proth, to the final victory over their homeworld," she said, then was quiet as Jon kept typing, eventually creating other images. The flat winged visage of a Meta Raider, as well as a larger shape, that soon resolved into a BaseStar, it's two plate like sections meeting a thin point between, while numerous weapons could be seen dotting the surface.
"Yes, those," she said, even more impressed as the images animated themselves. He even added in some fighters of Prothean make to the dance, before he paused it, his head jerking around as something caught his attention.
"Vot? Cun thrak da?" he said, and she nodded.
"The Meta gave us little choice, and even had they done so, we would not have shown weakness. Exterminating them was the only choice," she told them, and Jon shook his head, banishing the images, and then bringing up another one. This was of a planet, that everyone soon recognized as Eden Prime.
"Cun thrak da. Javik kuntaka da," he said, and this got a rise out of Jsalana for the first time. She leapt to her feet, and pointed one of her long fingers at him. She made no other motions, however, and just stared, all four of her eyes focusing on him.
"Do not judge, myself or my Lord. Our choices were harsh, but necessary," she said, and Jon stared back at her.
"Please sit down, Adjunct. And Commander, please do not upset our guest. For the moment, we must allow her to speak," said Skarrde, and Jon whipped his head around to face his leader, before saluting, fist over the heart in Terran fashion.
"Good, now Adjunct, what has you so riled up," asked the General.
"He claims my Lord failed his people. Whatever memories of mine he holds, this Terran knows nothing of how our empire fell, or the hard decision that were needed," she said, and Skarrde nodded.
"Then perhaps, you can explain it to us. Were the Meta responsible for it in some way?" he asked, and as she sat back down, she barked out a laugh, her voice echoing in an odd way as she shook her head.
"The Meta were a threat, to be sure, but never on that scale, no. If you knew the horrors we faced…" she trailed off, her inner eyes shutting, as her outer ones glazed over. Any soldier could recognize that look at a glance. This was someone who'd seen far, far too many people die. Not in a distant way, not hearing about it, but watching them be killed, and being able to do nothing for them.
"Tell us about them. While I trust my brother, he's a bit of a bleeding heart," said Jane, and this seemed to startle the Prothean woman out of her revere.
"You say that like explaining it is so simple, yet it is a tale of centuries," she said in a very tired voice.
"We have time, Adjunct. We'll be traveling for at least a week to get to the Citadel," said Skarrde, and Jsalana barked out another laugh, placing her hands at the sides of her mouth, and covering it with them, as she blew a sigh out from between her fingers.
"The Citadel. To my people, it was the Keep. The great fortress of the Inusannon. As we are to your Cycle, they were to ours. We believed them to be the makers of the Relays, the forgers of miracles. It was on the broken moon of Proth that we found one of their stations, an observation post, and learned the secrets of the universe, the power we would come to call Mass Effect," she seemed resigned now, as she leaned back in her chair.
"We used those secrets well. We spread out to the other worlds in our system. Eighteen worlds, of which we were the seventh from our blue sun. We then discovered the Relay at the edge of the system, as so many have done before us, as you did yourselves," as she spoke, Jon provided pictures again, this time showing a galactic map, pinpointing a system near the core, one that was unexplored at the moment.
"Yes, that was home to my people. We expanded, explored, and conquered, as we had Proth itself. Soon, that brought us against the Meta, a species, if you would call it that, of mechanical beings. They used the bodies of others, threading their circuits through dead bodies in some grotesque imitation of life. They consumed whole worlds with this process, to spread their Choir to all worlds," as she spoke, the small dot of a world began to spread a blue haze over the galaxy, only to stop as a red haze appeared near it, one that encompassed a large section of the galaxy.
"We fought them, as we would not be used as cattle for their people. They were relentless, however, and for every one of ours that fell, they gained a new follower. A tide of horrors that threatened to bury the galaxy in legions of the dead," the two hazes clashed, moving like ameba to hit each other, but it was quickly obvious that the red haze was winning, pushing the blue back until only a handful of systems remained.
"Then we found the Keep. To be blunt, it was the most fortuitous event of the war, and we realized later that it was likely the machinations of what came after. At the time, it was deemed a gift from the spirits, and we quickly made use of it, both as the ultimate staging base, and as a wealth of technology. Using those, we began to stem the tide, destroying utterly those who would use us as shells," the hazes shifted now, and it was obvious where the Citadel was, as it was poking into the red territory often, as the Meta tried to take. Oddly, it was not in the Widow Nebula where it should have been.
"It took centuries, millennia, but we fought the Meta back time and again. In so doing, we took planet after planet, establishing protectorates on many of them, and observing those who were not yet ready to be made members of the empire," she looked around the room, her eyes stopping on each in turn, as she considered them. They were the descendents of projects that had been left running unattended for far too long, and yet, now they stood on their own. Quite the accomplishment really.
"So, you conquered your way across the galaxy in order to protect it from these Meta. What about after the war was over? Did you intend on freeing them?" asked Tali, and Jsalana barked out a laugh.
"You speak of such high minded ideals, quarian, and yet, you would not exist but for our efforts. The Veil that hides your world is a thing of danger, and when a radiation wave passed, we were there to shelter you. Without us, your people would have died using only bronze tools. Does that not give us some claim to you, both as protectors and lords?" she asked, and Tali looked like she was about to respond, before Skarrde held out his hand.
"Ms. Zorah, we are not here to pass value judgements on the Adjunct's culture. Allow her to tell her story," he commanded, and after a moment of hesitation, she nodded, everyone turning back to the prothean.
"Very well, I shall continue. After the final victory over the Meta at their homeworld, and the destruction of the core of their collective consciousness, we stood tall and proud, lords of the heavens. None in the galaxy could challenge us, and we were beginning to understand the underpinnings of mass effect. With that knowledge, we began construction of the Conduit," as she spoke, Jon leaned forward, and called up an image from the database, this of the Relay Monument that was on the Presidium, in the heart of the Citadel.
"It still stands?! We were certain the Reapers would have torn it down," she said, staring at the image, reaching for it with on hand.
"Reapers?" asked Liara, and the word snapped Jsalana out of her reverie. Jon, helpfully pulled up the file on the enemy ship that had attacked them at Eden Prime.
"Yes, they are the next act of my people's history, the final act, and the perpetuators of the Great Cycle," her eyes smoldered a little, green haze playing in the back of them as she spoke now, and her tone became not hollow, as one might expect, but angry.
"They live in Dark Space, beyond the galactic boundary, where no light shines. We do not know why, or how, they came to exist, only that all of this, the Keep, the Relays, and even our people, are but great links in an unbroken chain of Cycles, stretching back so many years that only the barest hints remain of the beginning," as she said this, she rose from her seat, and began to stalk around a bit.
"They came, from the Keep itself. The trap at the heart of it all. It's the center of the Relay Network, the point around which it all moves, and eventually, anyone using the network is taken there. The trap is baited perfectly, a space station of immense scale, even your people have only built a few like it, and I can assure you, knowing what I know, your largest weapons would be as drops of water to the defenses of the Keep," this was spoken to Skarrde directly, as she turned to face him.
"Creatures there, maintainers of the Keep, Keepers you call them, despite naming the thing itself the Citadel. They seem harmless, completely benign. Kill one, and another is made, but never do they react. They're as automated as the rest of it, and lure you in. All the civilizations of the past Cycles made the Keep their capital, as you did, as my people did," this got more than a few concerned looks going around the room, as they realized the truth of her words.
"And why not? After all, the Citadel is the ultimate fall back position, with a size to house entire fleets, and even the facilities to build them. Better, when you explore it fully, you will learn it controls the Relays, able to remotely activate and deactivate them. Why would you build your capital anywhere else? Why not store all the data of your people there? Right where the Reapers can claim it as they begin the Harvest," this time a bit of sorrow creeped into her voice, as she intoned that final word.
"The Harvest began so suddenly that it seemed almost unreal. My Lord and I had only been on Edenia a few decades, barely enough time to build the infrastructure for our colony, when we heard of the Fall of the Keep. Overnight, our fleets were swept aside, as so much of our force was kept there or at Proth itself, the very first system to be invaded. The images of them raining death down on my people's ancestral home, it was horrible, and yet, beautiful in a way," Jsalana's out eyes closed, while the inner ones focused on the ceiling as she spoke.
"A line of fire, carved into central continent, visible from those satellites they left in orbit, as if to mock those below with the images of their demise. The brave captains, commanding their ships, threw themselves at their enemy, only to find them invulnerable to all our weapons. Even charging at them, intending on smashing them with their own hulls, proved futile, as the Reapers could move so quickly, and their barriers, even if struck, barely noticed the collisions," she finally stopped in front of her seat, her head facing downwards now.
"This pattern repeated itself. As with the satellites, they left our beacons alone, so we could watch in horrid detail as they destroyed us. System after system, world after world, city after city, they advanced. Nothing we did even slowed them down. At best, we inconvenienced them for some time, at worst, our weapons would sometimes do more damage to our own people than their's did," Jsalana took in a deep breath, bracing herself before continuing.
"As you might guess, the Servant Races rebelled at this point. They knew we were breaking on the tide of the Reapers assaults, and they believed they could be free, but they were fools. The Reaper's Harvest claimed any and all in the galaxy, and so many of them felt that dreadful touch on their people. It was only when the Densorin proved the folly of trying to appease the Reapers, offering up their youth, only to be slaughtered en masse, that the Servants fell into their place, and the war began to drag," she almost seemed happy for a moment, at the memory of the fallen Densorin.
"Finally, we struck back in the one way we thought would work, using their own great works against them. We lured as many as we could to an isolated colony, using the people there as bait, then, when as many of them as would come were in the trap, we destroyed the Mass Relay in the system, as a final act of defiance," Jon accompanied this with an image, a huge asteroid slamming into a Relay at a fraction of C. The simulation ended as the objects collided.
"Yes, like that. It was a desperate gamble. The loss of life on that world would be total, but it had to be done. We were fools. They controlled the Relays, and within the moment of collision, the target powered down, so all we did was trap them in system, a world ripe for the Harvest to sate their hunger, until they could repair the device, and once more menace the galaxy," this time Jon showed an image of the Reapers, seeming small compared to the huge Mass Relay, slowly repairing the thing.
"After that, we knew we would not win. Our best efforts had been for naught. So we thought not of victory, but of base survival. I know of many worlds that shot sleeper ships into the void, hoping to go unnoticed. The Reapers made certain that we would know that for folly, as they used our own beacons to transmit the demise of each vessel they found, giving us a gruesome reminder of how weak we were," she shuddered, remembering some of the more horrid image to come from those transmissions.
"So, that brings us to your world. You survived, obviously," said Liara, and Jsalana nodded, as Jon brought up a picture of Eden Prime.
"We planned for it. It takes time to disassemble an empire that took millennia to build, and we were one of the newest colonies, barely enough people to be worth their time. Saved for last, forced to watch as our people were Harvested, we came up with idea, after idea, until finally, we began the work of preparing for our end," the image of Eden Prime suddenly glowed, with the three supervolcanoes highlighted.
"You. Detonated. Them," said Jon, sounding out each word, and Jsalana nodded, barely acknowledging that he'd spoken.
"We did. We knew from bitter experience that the Reapers were relentless. They would not stop unless all of us were dead, and it was not enough to fake it. We had to make sure they believed it, thus, the plan," Jon seemed angry at her words, and quickly typed on his console. Soon, another image floated beside the world of Eden Prime, a biped, looking like a hammer headed shark, save for the body shape, and obvious flat teeth.
"Sacrificed. Pawns," he said simply, and Jsalana looked at them.
"The people of Edenia were primitives, uplifted by the Empire for their unique talents. My Lord was to turn the colony into a triumph for our people, and now, he would make use of them. Gathering them in one city, where a massive construct was being built, a ship they were told would carry them into the stars," she didn't turn away from the image of the biped, instead looking at it as one might look at a tool.
"The plan, however, was far more cunning. In building the great ship, we also built bunkers beneath, kilometers underground, while preparing the means to destroy our enemies. The Reapers, we had learned, could not use their barriers in an atmosphere. A flaw they have never overcome. So we used that flaw against them. When the Reapers finally came for us, the Nazara abandoned the surface for the bunkers, and left the Edenians to their fate," this time Jon activated the recording that Liara had, showing the people climbing into the pods.
"Lord Javik...yes, that would be the part to survive, wouldn't it?" she said, leaning back in her chair and laughing, but a single tear rolled out of her left most eye, creating a glittering trail down the side of her face, before she wiped it away.
"The rest, I can only guess at. I evacuated, my Lord put me in my pod, and I knew nothing until waking in your medical bay. I would hazard a guess that our plan succeeded, given I still draw breath, though not as well as we would have liked," she leaned forward then, and looked around.
"The facility, the base we found, it could have housed a million pods like your own," said Liara, and Jsalana nodded.
"A host to rise again when the Reapers had returned to dark space, beyond the galactic boundary. We would be the center of a new empire, rallying all the races of the galaxy to our banner, and trying to discover a way to somehow fight an enemy that had dismantled us so easily," she explained.
"By rally, you mean conquer," clarified Garrus, and the prothean nodded again, not feeling the need to voice such thoughts.
"Obviously, that plan has failed, and yet, things are different. Our people had observed the Reapers in our Cycle, or at least, a single one, as a ghost story. A phantom ship that was sometimes spotted at the edge of sensors. This Reaper has behaved quite a bit differently," she said, turning the conversation away from such things.
"This one is acting openly. Our's observed us, until such time as the invasion began, it never attacked as far as we know. Something is obviously different. Perhaps some other plan of my people interfered. I know others had such ideas, but they, obviously, did not share their specifics over the beacons, lest the enemy hear them," she looked up at the image still floating there, of Edenia, her home, now twice dead since she'd last walked on its earth.
"Could you have saved them? The natives of Eden Prime?" asked Liara, and Jsalana looked towards her instead.
"Would you have? Knowing that saving one of them, a primitive who had barely discovered fire, would mean sacrificing one of your own people?" she asked, and Liara looked about to respond, when Skarrde cut her off, holding out a hand to draw all eyes to him.
"We are not here to debate morality, merely to learn of the Protheans, and we've done that. Now we must make other plans. Tell me, Jsalana, what would you do now?" asked the old Zentraedi, and the Nazara woman looked at him, before just sighing.
"What can I do? I will show you what I can of our records, and then I will die. Nothing more, nothing less," she seemed consigned to her fate, but Jane just looked at her.
"Why not make more little Naz' instead? I mean, you've still got about fifty people, right?" she asked, and Jsalana barked out a very empty laugh, a single noise, before shaking her head.
"You are not learned of the ways of genes, Sergeant. There is a rule your brother knows. 50/500. To wit, you need fifty individuals for short term survival, five hundred for long term, at minimum. Even if all of the remainder are capable of breeding, which I myself am not, we are doomed in two generations," Jsalana said nothing else, but that was more because of Jon, who typed rapidly, soon bringing up an image of some kind of liquid filled tank.
"Cloning tanks. En mass production," he said, his words coming easier now, as his mind finally restored itself to rights.
"You...you have those?" asked Jsalana, looking hopeful for the first time since all of this had begun, as she stared at the object floating in the air before her.
"We do, but why don't you know about them? I thought you knew everything Jon knew?" asked Jane.
"Your minds were built with traps and pitfalls for those who would invade your minds. Crude as they are, given your nature as a hybrid species, they're still effective at scattering things. Jon's mind told me nothing of these," she admitted, her eyes wildly looking them up and down, at least until Skarrde placed his hand forward, and shut down the holograms with a touch.
"Then we have something to offer you. That is good, because you have something to offer us. Would you be able to make binding treaties for your people?" asked the General, and she quickly shook her head.
"Only Lord Javik would be able to make such agreement," she admitted.
"Then we'll awaken him next," as the General spoke, he brought up an image of the pods in the bay.
"Which one is his?" he asked, and Jsalana squinted at the pods, before shaking her head again.
"I wouldn't be able to identify them from a distance. Their occupants would be listed on their status boards, however," she explained, and that caused the General to stroke at his chin.
"A conundrum then. Your own actions, on awakening, were not passive, Adjunct. I'm sure you realize we can't have an entire team of Protheans with your abilities running around. I'm sure you understand," he countered.
"I do, General. In your position, I'm sure Javik would do the same. I can open the pods in the bay. You may have as many weapons present as you wish," she assured him.
"I...will trust you. For now. Open only Javik's pod, however. Until we have agreements in place, I will not risk this ship, or her crew. Is that acceptable, Captain?" he said, turning to Garrus, whose mandibles clicked in thought, before nodding.
"My people have enough wanzers in the bay to take on a company of Terrans. With Ms. Shepard's firepower added to it, I don't see a single Prothean being a problem," he admitted. Orders were sent out, and a few minutes later, everyone exited the Meeting deck, Garrus and Skarrde to the command section, the rest to the launch bay, where Commander Javik was about to get a rather rude awakening.