Title: Guides for the Young
Author: NHunter
Genre: General, Adventure
Rating: T
Warnings: AU; Possible violence and strong language; Crazy author...

Disclaimer: I DO NOTown "Mass Effect" franchise. No profit is being made. Same goes for any books, video games, anime or manga I may or may not use for ideas.

"speech not understood by humans"

Guides for the Young
chapter 1: The Great Discovery

Ever since the dawn of humanity, it was always believed that there were great mysteries hidden on Mars. And once human managed to leave the atmosphere of their home world, the Red Planet saw many automated probes trying to find out, whether those mysteries existed. And the so-called Martian Curse certainly made the conspirator theoreticians think that something out there didn't want to be discovered, even if in reality all those failures were caused by mechanical or software failure of the primitive probes various space agencies sent to explore Mars. Either way, even a century after the first probe made it to the Red Planet, the interest in its secrets was still strong.

Of course, the technology was getting more and more advanced, and by 2065 a semi-permanent manned research station was built near the Martian equator. There even were plans to expand this outpost into a permanent 'settlement' in the near future... Right now, though, it was little more than an underground bunker with a few surface constructions. From there, a dozen or so of scientists controlled the numerous robotic rovers that explored the surface of the Red Planet.

Even such exploration, despite great many advancements of the human technology, wasn't exactly an easy task: while normally rather calm, the Martian weather could devolve into a raging dust storm at the drop of a hat. And even though the rovers had some protective 'armor', if one got caught in the middle of a dust storm, the chances were, its scientific instruments will be damaged. Often to the point where some serious repairs were needed to restore those instruments' functionality... Thus, anytime the satellites in orbit detected a brewing dust storms, all rovers out there were immediately ordered to find themselves a shelter and stay there until the weather calmed down.

Today, the satellites orbiting around Mars detected another dust storm forming. And it was going to be a massive one, predicted to cover nearly half of the southern hemisphere and last for at least a few days, probably a whole week. Immediately, all of the rovers on the storm's projected path were ordered to shelter up and go into sleeping mode to preserve energy...

This storm turned out to be even worse than expected, but, before long, it too ended. Then, the reactivation command was sent to the rovers, along with an order to perform full self-diagnostics. Most of the six rovers that were in the storm's area made through it intact, but the rover #23 that was exploring the central Promethei Terra reported some damage to the spectrometer, x-ray cam and other less-critical equipment – apparently, the tall cliff it was hiding under wasn't a good enough protection against the dust storm. This rover was then commanded to return to the base for repairs. It was also told to use the less-traveled paths wherever possible: why waste the chance to do some extra exploring?

As the rover #23 rolled out of its hiding spot and climbed onto the nearest plateau, its cameras caught the sight of something interesting. Across the valley, among the reddish sands of Mars, something silvery-gray and apparently artificial in nature could be seen. Something that the scientists could swear wasn't there just a week ago. The storm must have uncovered it. And so another one might bury this anomaly under the sands again... It needed to be investigated right now.

Crossing the valley took the rover several hours, but, of course, the mysterious object was still there. And, now that it could be looked at from the close range, there were no more doubts about it artificial nature: it was made from a never-seen-before polished silvery-gray material with light greenish tint. Even based on the images alone, the scientists at the research station all agreed that this thing couldn't conceivably be a natural phenomenon... Alas, the rover's damaged spectrometer made it impossible for them to find out what this material really was right now...

Either way, a sign of intelligent – and most definitely extraterrestrial – life were discovered on Mars!

~/ *** \~

Of course, the discovery that more or less proved that humanity wasn't alone among the stars left the entire population of Earth excited and anxious. Some people believed that the artifact discovered on Mars should be excavated and studied extensively; others were less optimistic and feared that this discovery was a sign of an imminent alien invasion that would be the end of the humankind; and there there were conspiracy theoreticians who argued that the 'Martian anomaly' was created by NASA or ESA or some other space agency to steal taxpayers' money...

The latter two groups, understandably, were mostly ignored by the scientific community; thus the debates were about how the 'Martian anomaly' should be excavated and studied, rather than whether it should be done or not. And with how many things had to be accounted for, those debates lasted for quite a while: it took the space agencies almost half a year to reach the consensus. And then two more years were spent on getting the expedition – probably the most important one in the human history – ready... Finally, on October 13, 2070 a small fleet of spacecrafts, carrying over a thousand tons of equipment, numerous surface habitats and 160 scientists departed from Earth.

The 'fleet' arrived to Mars in the middle of December, and the establishment of the research outpost next to the future dig site was completed by the Christmas time. And just as the new year rolled around, the actual excavation of the 'Martian anomaly' began.

About the first thing the scientists did was analyzing the material the mysterious object was object was made from. This material turned out to be a rather complex metal-organic polymer, both light enough and sturdy enough to be usable as an armor for a space-faring vessel. It was also remarkably-resistant to corrosion and degradation: it was projected to last for thousands of years even in rather corrosive mediums. As for what was built from such a polymer... Once the Martian sand and dust were removed, the ruins of a few large buildings were uncovered.

What was even more remarkable, these buildings hadn't collapsed by themselves; something had purposely destroyed them. Further analysis showed that the destruction was done with a weapon straight out of the science fiction: a cannon that fired streams of superheated ferromagnetic liquid at relativistic speeds. The revelation that an alien war had been fought in the Solar system a few thousands years ago was certainly quite very shocking, but as there were absolutely no signs that either of the forces that fought that war was still active anywhere in the known space, it was decided to continue the excavation.

As the rubble was cleared, the exploration of the alien buildings truly began. Unfortunately, most of the things inside – those that weren't outright destroyed during the structures' collapse – had degraded into dust and useless metal scraps. Or, in the case of dead aliens, into just bones. That was kind of disappointing. Still, despite all that, the purpose of this alien base was quite clear: research and observation of the Solar system as a whole and the Earth in particular. Whether the aliens had been doing this for benevolent purposes or not was unknown...

While the others were digging through the ruins in hopes of finding some secret hidden cashes the contents of which had survived to this day, the xeno-biologists were busy studying the alien skeletons, which turned out to be just a little less than fifty thousands years old. And despite the rather bad conditions the bones were in, a lot could be still learned from them.

These aliens were an oxygen-breathing bipedal race that stood a little over six feet tall and, apparently, had evolved from some sort of a reptile-like creatures. They had three fingers on each limb, though the third toes were small to the point of being rudimentary. Their bone structure suggested that they were viviparous and their teeth were those of a predator... Oh, and these aliens had four eyes. Another curious thing about these aliens was their DNA: whereas all complex life on Earth had double-stranded DNA, these aliens had a quad-stranded one... Their home world must have been an interesting place...

After over a month of futile attempts to bypass the alien gates, the human explorers finally managed to access the underground portion of the Martian base. And to their disappointment, everything in there too was in a damaged state. Though, unlike what they had found on the ground level, most the devastation here was caused not by ferromagnetic cannons, but by an explosion of what everyone assumed to be a power reactor of some sort.

The reactor chamber and the nearby rooms were completely destroyed, and whatever little had survived the explosion itself had decayed into useless scrap over the thousands of years since then. The rooms further away from the 'ground zero' weren't damaged as much, but most of their contents still had turned into the useless scrap over the millenniums... Either way, pretty much nothing had survived to the present day intact.

And that was why a pair of strange vehicles in the 'garage' drew so much attention: they were more or less in one piece... except for their engine compartments, which were destroyed by a collapsed wall. These vehicles were shaped like elongated turtle shells and about as big as a bus. They had no wheels or tracks, but they wouldn't be able to fly under the known laws of physics either... It was really such a shame that the motors of these machines got destroyed – successfully reverse-engineering that technology would have advanced the humanity by several decades!

While mechanics and engineers were salivating at the thought of learning the secrets of the alien tech, the computer specialists were not as impressed: a husk of a mainframe they've found was the size of a room and looked like something straight out of the 1970s or 1980s science fiction. Most of this computer's hardware had decayed into dust over the past fifty millenniums, thus making it impossible to turn the thing on – and even if could be done, where were the guarantees that a human would be able to interface with this alien tech? There were no displays or keyboards or whatever in sight... And the same decay that rendered the hardware inoperative also made it impossible to take out the data drives for later study. Whatever information had been stored in this mainframe was lost to the sands of time...

~/ *** \~

While everyone agreed that the discovery of the Martian Ruins was among the most important discoveries in the entire human history, there wasn't much that the humanity actually learned from these ruins. And, aside from confirming that they indeed weren't alone in the universe, the Martian Ruins only gave the humanity the basic genetic map of some race of ancient astronauts and the polymeric material that they used for their ships and their buildings. That was about it. No super-tech that would allow reasonably-fast interstellar travel, no super-tech that would solve Earth's hunger problems, no super-tech that could give unlimited amounts of energy... Nothing!..

Thus, once pretty much every inch of the Martian Ruins was explored after half a year of study, it was decided that the time for the expedition to head back home came. Most of the equipment was packed within a week and everyone was getting ready to depart for the Earth, when a well-disguised secret door was discovered next to 'garage' area of the ruins' basement.

Immediately, the expeditions' mission was extended as the people wanted to know what was behind that door. Alas, opening it was no easy task. An alien mechanism that opened this massive door in the past was apparently broken, and that made manual opening impossible as well. And since this door was made from the same armor-like polymer as many other parts of the alien outpost, cutting even a human-sized hole in it would take several days of work even with plasma torches. But since no one had any better ideas on how to get past this obstacle...

And let it be said that the plasma torches – the very same ones that could 'eat' through military-grade metal armors at several inches per second – indeed were woefully inefficient when it came to cutting the alien material. Then again, this stuff was tough enough to survive an atmospheric re-entry. Even on a hellish world like Venus... Still, the slow progress in opening a passage through The Door left more than a few people wishing a faster alternative existed.

Finally, after almost eighty hours of nearly non-stop work, a human-sized hole was made in the door. Through this hole a rather featureless dark tunnel spiraling downwards is observed. And while it might have been a kinda risky decision, it was decided that a small group of three engineers, armed with little more than flashlights and some instruments, will explore the tunnel. Oh, and just because they weren't carry many tools, it didn't mean that the 'chosen ones' had a light load: while the spacesuits got smaller and more comfortable over the past century, the air tanks were still there and they weren't going anywhere anytime soon. And, due to no one knowing exactly how long this tunnel was or what was at its end, the engineers were carrying double the normal number of those...

The first thing the trio of explorers noticed was the state of the tunnel: unlike the rest of the alien outpost, it was in almost pristine condition. Some even thought half-seriously that, should some secret switch be activated, the lighting would turn on! But there was no switch in sight, and so they continued descending with their flashlights as their only source of light. This darkness also made it harder to determine how long this tunnel was, especially with the 'entrance' no longer in sight...

Finally, after over an hour of slowly inching through the darkness, the team of engineers finally reached the level out of the tunnel, and, likely, its end. At very least, there was a huge and tightly-sealed gate some ninety feet ahead of them.

"Whoa!" One of the engineers suddenly exclaimed.

"What is it, Alex?" His colleague, Jhao Liang from People's Republic of China, asked immediately.

"Switch your visor to infrared." Was the only answer that Alex gave. His two fellow engineers did as he said, and a moment later they saw what had shocked him: not even three feet in front of them, the tunnel was crossed by a diagonal grid of small laser beams. Alien laser beams. Created by working alien lasers. A trip-mine of sorts most likely – the lasers were too weak to be usable as a weapon.

"Are you seeing this, boss?" Alexander radioed to the surface. "How should we proceed?" Unfortunately, his answer was nothing more than static: apparently, many layers of alien armor polymer and Martian soil had screwed the communication channels up. "Boss?.. Damn it!" There was a short pause, before he asked: "Okay, what do we do next?"

"I say, we return to the surface." Nicola Faure, the third member of this team said. "Proceeding forwards is too dangerous: who knows what will happen when we touch these lasers?" His Chinese colleague laughed.

"Are you expecting it to unleash an army of homicidal robots or something?"

"Be serious." Alexander snapped. "While I really doubt there is an army or robots behind this gate, touching the lasers might still activate some sort of a security system... And since we aren't the aliens that built this place, it might think that we're enemies and..." Suddenly Nicola froze as if something had paralyzed him.

"Guys... I think the valve of my air tank is malfunctioning." The French engineer reported after a long silence. "Help me install the new tank." He said then, while lowering himself on his hunkers to make the upcoming task easier for this colleagues. The Chinese and Russia-born American men swiftly connected the new air tank to their teammate's spacesuit, before disconnecting the malfunctioning one.

"Better?" Jhao asked.

"Yes. Thank you." Nicola replied. Then he tried to stand back up. Alas, the spacesuits the Martian mission was issued weren't the most flexible ones – they were built to offer maximal protection from the elements instead – and so the man couldn't help but sway at one point. His teammates were able to catch him before he could fall on his ass, but he still managed to touch the alien detection grid with something. Almost immediately, several more lasers activated and... began scanning three humans, none of whom even dared to breathe, as if expecting some alien cannons to pop up and turn them into a bloody paste on the wall at any moment.

The 'scanning' lasted for about a dozen seconds. Once it ended, greenish-white lights came to life along the floor and the ceiling of the tunnel, momentarily blinding the three humans. At the same time, a force-field-like wall appeared at the 'end' of the even portion of the tunnel, seemingly trapping the humans there. Seemingly because with some effort it was possible to pass through this 'wall'...

The questions about the nature of that force-field aside, once it was up, the previously-hidden pumps began venting the Martian atmosphere from this portion of the tunnel, replacing it with an air mixture that was actually breathable by humans – the percentage of the oxygen in it was a bit lower than it was in the Earth's atmosphere, but not enough to render it dangerous for a healthy human. It was also sterile, so no chance of catching some alien disease. Nevertheless, none of the three engineers dared to remove their spacesuits. As soon as the alien air pumps finished their work, the gate at the end of the tunnel began opening, revealing a circular chamber that lay beyond it to the three brave explorers.

"Oh my God!" Nicola exclaimed. Indeed, it was hard to believe that he and his colleagues were seeing this. The chamber they could now access was huge, easily a hundred yards across. At the center of the chamber, there was a deep thirty yards wide hollow that, apparently, housed an alien reactor that powered this underground facility up. Above the hollow, there was an island with a strange antenna-like construct sitting atop of it.

Oh, and that antenna-like thing wasn't the only object within the chamber, not by a long shot. The sector of the room across from the entrance was filled with numerous bales and containers of alien goods. The right-hand quarter of the chamber contained various machinery – most of which was still in a working condition – as well as three of those vehicle-things, much like the ones found in the 'garage'. Finally, the left-hand quarter of the chamber was dedicated to a strange machine with maybe a hundred of coffin-like containers attached to it. Most of these not-coffins were 'dead', but seventeen were highlighted, indication that something – or someone – might be inside.

His curiosity sparked, Jhao Liang began carefully approaching this wall-of-coffins. And for a while the alien machinery showed no reaction. Then, once he got within maybe ten yards of it, a greenish holographic display was suddenly projected from a 'console' sitting at the edge of the installation. And while the text on this display was beyond the human understanding, the accompanying image was simple enough: it was schematic depiction of this machine. On this scheme, a half of those coffin-things were shown as inactive, while thirty three more had some sort of an error symbol over them. The remaining seventeen pods on the scheme – which perfectly matched the seventeen highlighted 'coffins' on the actual wall – were perfectly fine.

It took the Chinese engineer several seconds to finally realize what this all meant. This was some sort of a cryogenic sleep device and... Some of the aliens in there were still alive!

That's all, folks
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