Chapter 19: The Ascension

Tevos watched as the dozens of Imperial heavy transport dropships set down in the field before her. She still, quite frankly, couldn't believe that the Matriarchs had accepted the Chancellor's offer. Admiral Hackett would be on Thessia in two days to oversee the joint exercises, and the Chancellor would be staying until he arrived. It had taken some time, but the Chancellor had mustered a group of Marines who were awaiting deployment after a return-trip to Earth. A full company of the best commandos the Matriarchs could muster were awaiting the UHE Marines as they gathered up their equipment from the cargo bay of their respective dropships.

The small facility in the lesser-developed region of Thessia had been converted into a large training ground almost overnight. Even from the edge of the training grounds, Tevos could see that some of the Commandos were visibly uncomfortable at the sight of the Marines. The hulking masses of sleek, black armor began making their way over towards the carefully assembled Asari Commandos. Tevos watched as the imposing black helmets of the Marines folded back, revealing their faces behind the glowing red optics.

One of the Marines with two silver bars next to his nameplate, denoting him as a Captain, stepped forward. He scanned the Commandos with a clinical eye, hands clasped behind his back. Tevos couldn't quite make out the words, but she could tell that he was addressing the Commandos. Judging by his expression, the Captain was not impressed. "They look tense…" Stratton nodded to the Commandos, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Some of them are survivors from the Second Contact War." Tevos explained. "They've only ever seen your Marines from behind a gun."

Stratton gave a hum of acknowledgement as he watched the Captain continue to address the Asari before him. All of his Marines stood at rigid attention behind him, their rifles cradled in their arms. He reached over to a datapad that was resting on the table before him, keying into the Captain's comms. "Captain Richards, activate your external comms systems. I'm interested to hear what's going on."

Tevos watched the Marine, without any words of acknowledgement, reach up to the armored collar of his exoskeletal armor and continue his address. Tevos could hear the Marine's words from the datapad as he addressed the Commandos, and it seemed to be a pep-talk of sorts. "Unlike the Birds and the Lizards, you were obviously smart enough to listen to the Chancellor!" Richards' voice was commanding, carrying an authoritative weight with it. "There's a war coming… and it's pretty damn clear that the Council and the Empire have different ideas on war. This enemy we'll be facing doesn't give a damn about winning hearts and minds. They don't care about civilian casualties; hell, they don't even know what a civilian is!"

"When they come, and believe me… they're coming, you need to be ready to lay waste to the enemy!" Richards shouted. "March through the rivers of blood that run under your feet! When more come to take their place, put… them… down!"

"Truth be told, I don't think any of you are ready for a real war." Richards scanned over the Asari before him. "You may have a reputation in the rest of the galaxy, but that reputation don't mean shit to me! Until you can prove to me that you don't hide behind your biotics, my men will teach you how a real soldier fights! You might be wondering what makes me think we can mold you into killing machines… For over eight hundred years, the Corps has done two things for our great Empire: we make Marines, and we win battles! You didn't win a single engagement against us. If your fancy Biotics can't stop Marines, they sure as shit can't stop the Reapers… Divide yourselves into platoons, I want you all ready for live-fire exercises in five!"

XXXXX

Shepard sighed, leaning against the wall of a small bar in Illium's upper districts. Wrex had gone off to find the rogue Shadow Broker agent of his. Thane had gone off to shadow Wrex, ensuring that he didn't draw too much attention. Vega and the other Marine Raiders had gone off to re-stock the Normandy's food stocks, the standard Marine garrison had gone off to spend their shore leave as Marines tended to, and the Normandy was running on a skeleton crew, monitoring comms chatter. That left Shepard's rag-tag band to wait around the upper levels of Illium for Wrex to flush out his mark, then they'd finally be free to get on with their enduring mission.

Her group stuck out like a sore thumb, occupying the corner booth of this small bar and conversing among themselves. The Humans in the group caught a few sideways glances from other patrons, who tended to give them a wide berth.

Shepard glanced down to her Datatool, seeing a mission complete ping from Thane. Right on cue, a veritable swarm of Illium Police Skycars blazed past the bar with their lights on. She shook her head, knowing that Wrex had probably taken down a building to kill Vasir.

As she glanced back over to her small team, she saw Garrus to be in a rather animated discussion with Miranda and Tali. He certainly wasn't kidding… he was one bad Turian. "There's no way…" Garrus shook his head, mandibles clamping down to accent his serious tone.

"She's not kidding, Garrus." Tali piped up. "Human synthetics are incredible."

"That's some crap, there's no way they can make synthetics that can reproduce!" Garrus rebutted.

"Sorry our tech's too far out of reach for knuckle-draggers like you, Garrus." Ashley smirked, leaning forward. "See what happens when you actually advance as a species and don't completely ignore entire fields of technology for no reason?"

"But how would that even… work?" Garrus asked.

"I'm not having the birds and the bees talk with an alien, Garrus." Miranda shook her head, a small smile betraying her.

"What?" Garrus asked. "What do birds and 'bees' have to do with reproduction?"

"It's a say-" Miranda began, realizing the futility. "Ugh… never mind."

Shepard eventually made her way back to the booth, joining in on the conversation for a bit. After a few minutes, she saw Thane and Wrex make their way in, thankfully not in handcuffs. A third had joined them, apparently. An Asari with a very… questionable choice in attire walked alongside them, wearing a jumpsuit that would generally be associated with the Asari Justicars. "Commander…" Thane began, offering a nod. "I made contact with Samara, she has agreed to join our cause."

"Excellent." Shepard nodded. "Good to finally meet your employer, Thane."

"Vasir's gone." Wrex grunted. "I'll hold up my end of the bargain, Shepard…"

"Good." Shepard nodded again, looking down to her Datatool. She sent a quick burst back to Earth through the Normandy's QEC, receiving a response almost instantly. "Looks like we're hitting the Collectors through the Omega-4 Relay."

"So soon?" Garrus asked. "I thought we'd at least find their homeworld first."

"Naval Recon hasn't been sitting around doing nothing, Garrus." Shepard explained, closing down the message. "Looks like we're stopping by Earth to link up with the Strike Fleet we'll be hitting the Collectors with." She opened up a secondary message sent from none other than the current director of the N7 Project: Alec Ryder. Her eyes widened when she saw the message. She quietly forwarded it to Miranda, Ashley, and Kaidan, who all had a similar reaction when they saw 'Ascension' pop up on their Datatools. "Looks like we're getting some upgrades, too." She stood up, powering down her Datatool. "C'mon, no sense in keeping the fleet waiting."

XXXXX

"Bringing us back to sub-light." Joker's voice called out over the humming of the Bridge. All of Shepard's rag-tag group of operatives were standing on the Bridge, watching the black void of space through the viewport. When she had told them that they'd be heading for Earth first, she didn't imagine the entire alien crew of the Normandy would be crowding the CIC, waiting to get a glimpse of the Human homeworld. As the ship's Void Drive powered down, allowing the vessel to ease back into sub-light speeds, she could practically hear jaws hit the floor.

Earth's orbit was bustling with activity, both civilian and military. Massive fleets of warships were orbiting over the planet, surrounding the hundreds of orbital defense platforms. Sitting at the head of a formation of Titan-Class Dreadnoughts, of course, was Imperator. Garrus seemed to be the most amazed, seeing the goliath that was Humanity's war machine working to defend the core of their civilization. Seeing such a massive concentration of Human warships suddenly made it clear just how the mighty defenses of Palaven fell so quickly. If this was what the Humans could accomplish in just a few short years… what else were they capable of?

"Spirits…" Garrus muttered, seeing a formation of Atlas-Class Cruisers jump away, seeming to simply blink out of existence.

"Isn't there some Human phrase for this?" Liara asked, stunned.

"UHE Normandy, transmit clearance code to dock at Phoenix Station." The voice of a systems operator from Phoenix Station came over the comms.

"Copy, Phoenix Control." Joker acknowledged. "Commander?"

Shepard stepped forward, placing her hand against a biometric scanner that would allow her to transmit the proper code. Once the scan was accepted, she spoke. "Lost in the night, wandering alone."

"Clearance code accepted, welcome home, Normandy." Phoenix Control acknowledged.

XXXXX

"Commodore Ryder!" Shepard and her N7 Fireteam snapped into a salute as their N7 generation's director stepped into the small atrium which connected the various laboratories aboard Phoenix Station.

"At ease, all of you." Ryder called out, causing the four N7 Operatives to stand at parade rest. "You all already know why you're here… it's time."

It was true. Shepard and her team already knew what was in store for them. The Ascension Project was Humanity's greatest ambition, and its most closely-guarded secret. Even the Shadow Broker couldn't leak this project, as knowledge of it was restricted to the Chancellor himself, Imperial High Command, and the N7 Program. Genetic engineering and biotechnology could only take mankind so far… this was the next stage in Human evolution; designed not by nature, but by Human hands and Human minds. Knowing what she did about the recent developments in the Ascension Project, Shepard couldn't help but find it poetic that an alien race whose home had been destroyed by nature would hold the key to breaking free of that nature. "Aye, sir." Shepard nodded.

"Alright… follow me." Ryder gave a knowing smirk as he gestured for the N7 Operatives to follow behind him. As he walked towards a bulkhead on the far side of the room, he started running through the specifics. "The procedure will take less than an hour." Ryder shot a glance over his shoulder. "It might take you some time to… acclimate, but it's certainly better than implant rejection."

Shepard shuddered at the thought. She knew the risks of implant rejection when she first accepted the offer to join the esteemed ranks of the N7. Having much of your body's biological and neurological functions enhanced or downright replaced by cybernetics or nanotechnology took its toll. N7 Operatives tended to have a much shorter lifespan compared to that of an average Human, assuming they weren't killed in action.

"The test run has proven to be an… incredible success." Ryder continued, stepping into what appeared to be a medical facility of sorts. Next to each of the four surgical gurneys was a large pod, which was generally used to contain a Synthetic that was still undergoing construction. Each of the pods was labeled with a name from the N7 Fireteam that followed behind Ryder. Ryder stopped near the center of the room, looking to the three-dozen technicians that were moving about the medical bay and preparing. "Go ahead… take a look at the new you." He said with a smirk.

Shepard was the first to approach the pod that was assigned to her. As she drew near, what she saw was truly astounding. She was inside that pod, the body contained within completely barren of the scars she had accumulated over her years in the N7 program. There were no surgical marks, no scarred-over wounds, no imperfections in the skin. She could see that the body within was undergoing some sort of final diagnostics check. The faint violet hue of biotic amplifiers thrummed beneath the synthetic skin. After a moment, the diagnostics check completed, and the pod settled back into its normal bright lighting. It all carried a sort of uncanny valley feeling with it, but Shepard shoved those feelings down. This was the Empire had been working towards for almost two centuries now.

With this, disease meant nothing, harsh planetary environments were no longer a concern for colonists, and the Human species would be able to survive and thrive under even the most dangerous conditions. As Shepard looked down at herself, contained in that pod, she saw the rebirth of the entire Human species.

"Whenever you're ready…" Ryder began, drawing the attention of the four N7 Operatives back to him. "We'll plug you in and get started."

XXXXX

Fleet Admiral Petrovsky watched as the distant glimmer of the lone star drifting through space slowly grew dimmer and dimmer. The entirety of this fleet had been dedicated to protecting the Navy's most ambitious undertaking, and it would seem that the first field test of Dying Star had been completed. He watched for a few more moments as the distant star eventually faded and faded until the light it once provided to the universe disappeared entirely.

Now, the once-bright Red Giant star would serve a new purpose. It would be the first of its kind consumed for Humanity's war machine. The heavy elements cooked in its core would be the materials that would see the cycle broken.

A/N:

I'm BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK

Sorry for the long hiatus. I had to make some… careful considerations with this chapter.

Review time!

CReaper210- It was only right to send the Voyager home.

Werewolf36- Like I've said, Humanity is definitely OP compared to the Council. Unlike them, Human tech didn't stagnate for thousands of years. As for the Reapers getting some upgrades… let's just say the easy destruction of Sovereign didn't go unnoticed.

Me making their military small was something of a logic-based decision. The entire mentality is that Humanity spent hundreds of years trying to hide. It wouldn't have done them much good to start expanding to garden worlds in every direction. They had to carefully consider the placement of their colonies in order to stay hidden, which led to them essentially building up instead of out. Unlike the Council, Humanity's colonies are generally high in population, even young ones.

I'll be bringing Javik back soon, too.

Phallus of Malice (Fan-fucking-tastic name)- Does this qualify as shitting out a chapter?

BClassDemon- I think they asked in Mass Effect Canon. If I'm remembering properly, he didn't know, because the Crucible was never finished.

Erik- In that context (which I'm assuming is the orbital battle of Palaven) it was meant to be in reference to a single, independent squadron being wiped out. Probably could've worded that better.

Andy201- Thanks, my dude. I'll fully concede that Roses was a bit of a shit show when I first started it. I did recently re-write it, but I'm not sure how much it helped. I did start that one when I was still in college, after all.

Benthatguy- I'm pretty fuckin' trash at writing any sort of sexual encounters (see the aforementioned Roses Born of Dust that I wrote for evidence), so if I ever do, it'll probably be implied like it is here. (And yes, I am dodging the actual nature of the review. You'll see what'll happen).

Frost5- No need to pester, I've got a new update right here (even if it did take a long-ass time).

Guest- My bad on the latin. Even with the real translation, it still gets the meaning across, I suppose. Also, thank you for your service, my dude.

Everyone else, because it gets boring for me to say "thanks for the compliment, man"- Thanks, everyone. And a special thanks to you guys for sticking by me on my shit update schedule.