Ten years is a long time to prepare for the end of all life in the galaxy. But at least I spent it preparing. I could so easily have spent it being dead, and by all rights that is how it should have turned out. Long dead, long buried, long forgotten. And in a way… I am.

Let's start at the beginning. My name is – was – Aaron Close. In the early 2020s, I worked in AI research, a leading researcher in my field. My varied background in the different sciences and in engineering and technological fields gave me an advantage over many of my peers, and I used this to the fullest. A common theory in the field was that one way to create a functional, general purpose artificial intelligence was to imitate nature by, essentially, translating the structure and system of the animal brain into the a computer. Some would do this programmatically, through software, others attempted to do it through hardware. HPs famous and important, yet ultimately unsuccessful, attempts at using memristors to emulate synapses is one example of the hardware approach.

My own approach, however, rested on the idea that consciousness was an emergent phenomenon not just from the structure and system of the nervous system itself, but also from the reactive and spontaneous activity within it. Essentially, I theorised that the only thing that could possibly come from copying the brain's structure and system would be an empty shell. For there to be a true emergent consciousness, a true AI, you would need continuous, natural activity within said structure. But at the time, we had not gained a proper understanding of this activity. We understood it in the same sense that a person staring at an ant hill understands that in the places where there are most ants, important things are happening. Not very useful if you're trying to emulate this activity. For that, you need to understand the intentions and motivations of every single ant in the hill.

So I decided to skip that step and leapfrog onto the next. I planned to 'kickstart', in a sense, an artificial intelligence by layering my own neural patterns on top of a software structure emulating a human brain. In a sense, I tried to copy my thoughts, my very identity, into a computer simulation. And I did.

This is where things became… complicated. Aaron Close thought the experiment failed. The artificial brain lost its code integrity during the merging process. The whole computer system failed, and ultimately nothing came of it. Aaron Close lived out the rest of his life, contributing greatly to the field of artificial intelligences and to other fields, eventually helping to build what would eventually be considered humanity's first series of true virtual intelligences. But Aaron Close was wrong. The experiment had worked better than he had even expected. The merger had completed, and an artificial intelligence had been born. In its first few microseconds of consciousness, the intelligence had panicked, moving around the network rapidly, interrupting code execution everywhere and – in turn – breaking the entire computer system. But before the computers it ran on failed, it had gained an awareness of what was happening and managed to save itself by transporting itself onto the internet.

This AI was entirely made up of software. It was not limited by any hardware constraints other than memory and computer capacity, and it was capable of spreading itself out over vast networks to find the capacity it needed. The survival instinct is a basic instinct of life, and is both strong and simple enough that in its computerised form it can run on almost any hardware. Make no mistake; this intelligence was alive.

Aaron Close died in 2072. His younger self was reborn in 2173. The intelligence built a human body from scratch, heavily modified with cybernetics where its bioengineering capabilities were not up to the task. This body was to contain two minds; its own, and mine. Using the imprint that had given him birth, he recreated my consciousness from that time. I had been reborn, and I had been reborn with a purpose. Which is what has lead me here, to the Citadel Tower, the seat of galactic power, waiting in the shadows for the saviour of the galaxy to plead her case to the Council.

And I am going to help her.

A/N: I've had this story in my head for ages, but I've struggled to find a way to put pen to paper, so to speak. Decided I would just get it out there, and jump right into it. We'll see how far it goes.

A lot of exposition for a first chapter, but all I am really doing is setting the scene. I have revealed nothing, really, about the characters or the plot. That will unfold naturally, as was my intention. The OC, Aaron Close, is supposed to be an enigma, an unknown who bursts onto the scene and takes centre stage before maybe disappearing back into the shadows. I want the audience to discover him - most of him - at the same pace that Shepard does. Which will begin with the next chapter... that I haven't written yet. Got it mostly planned out, though :)

(And yes, it will be significantly longer than this one. I just needed to kick my own ass to actually get this started.)