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Part 3 The Trigger
Chapter 39: Surrendering To The Inevitable
Year 47,024 CE - 44,797 years after Human Ascension (3,155 years after the capture of the Warrior Prophet)
Yoxall Homeworld, Torkey
Shepard looked down at the small group corralled before him. They were surrounded on three sides by destroyers with Shepard taking the fourth position. They were older destroyers, from races he had never heard of until he had heard their names. He wondered what they thought of him. Did the older destroyers think of the Humans as upstarts or were they used to new Primes lording it over them? Even if they thought that, he resolved to treat them fairly. They were Ascended.
Arshan hadn't been surprised to get the call from the organics. The elder Ascended indicated that this was normal near the end of the Harvest. "Organics either recognise the truth or self-destruct," he had remarked when they received the offer of unconditional surrender.
Still, the Ascended were wary of ambush. It could be a ruse to lure one of them close enough to try a tactical warhead but Shepard didn't think so. He had not replied immediately. Instead, he had forwarded the message to Harbinger and watched the being who claimed to be the Yoxall Emperor's reaction. There had been anguish at the continued destruction but no change to the offer and after what probably seemed an eternity to the organic, Harbinger had indicated his acceptance, reliant on there being more than six billion still alive.
The Yoxall were lucky. Six point five billion remained and it was only because the eldest wished to compensate for their primitive nature in the new Prime form had he even considered accepting surrender. Most species that surrendered were treated just as harshly as those who didn't. In different ways, Shepard corrected his thoughts. It was slightly better to surrender, though the outcomes remained the same. If the species knew the truth, most wouldn't surrender but the Yoxall had and he had been tasked with speaking with the organic Emperor.
"My name is Human Shepard," he said to the group, hoping that they could get on with this.
He saw the way the Emperor flinched back and knew he recognised the Human part from Liara's beacon. The Emperor was so easy to read and mentally Shepard bit his tongue. With what he knew now, he could show no annoyance lest he betray himself. A true Ascended would not take offence and he had to behave properly but not too properly or that too would incite suspicion. "Liara called us traitor because she did not understand, Emperor. You are already more advanced by acknowledging the truth."
The Emperor was silent so Shepard waited. It was perhaps a bit cruel to expect the one who had surrendered to speak but that was the easiest way to determine their true intentions. Not that he thought the Emperor had any ulterior motive. Examination of Yoxall documents revealed that treachery would most likely come from one of the entourage.
"You are singular?" the Yoxall asked, referring to his name. "Or is that the name of the ship?
Internally, there was laughter at the Yoxall understanding but Shepard acknowledged the confusion. If he had not known the truth about Harbinger, he would have been equally confused. If he had not known the truth, there would have been no deal. "I am Human Shepard," he repeated. There was no need to explain further.
"Is that the name of your species?"
"We are beyond names. We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution." Internally, Shepard winced. He never thought he'd be quoting Sovereign's lines but explaining things to the Emperor would take far too long.
The Yoxall seemed to understand that he would not get answers that way so chose to introduce himself next. "I am Emperor Zaratkiaran Zenshozenta VIII of the Yoxall Empire."
"And?" Shepard prompted. Surrender had already been accepted but it was important to have the words spoken. That reinforced the reality.
It appeared the Emperor understood what Shepard wanted even if some in the group accompanying him did not. "I confirm the unconditional surrender of all Yoxall forces. Effective immediately." Several members of the Emperor's entourage stiffened at the words and Shepard unconsciously prepared to shield the Emperor if required. It would not do to have this organic die now.
"I accept your surrender," Shepard replied formally.
"On behalf of?" Zaratkiaran asked.
"We are beyond such need for names but in terms you may understand, we are Ascended and we are above the mundane chaos of your organic lives."
He watched the Emperor try to take that in but knew without the background of much more information, it would only be once the individuals were Ascended would the Yoxall begin to understand. At the moment, the Emperor was still shocked to be speaking with the 'Destroyer' as they had named him. It was flattering but Shepard had kept his public reaction to a snort of amusement before dismissing it. It was in keeping with his character.
The Emperor didn't understand but Shepard sensed he would ask the question all organics did next and he almost laughed aloud when the question came. From an organic point of view, it was important to know why, even if they could not comprehend the reasons. In this way, Shepard's cycle had been more advanced. The Humans hadn't really cared why, they just saw it as an opportunity. "Why are you doing this?"
"Does it really matter to you, Emperor, when it is obvious that we have?" Shepard returned his own question. Any explanation he offered would not be understood. Before the Emperor could reply, Shepard began giving instructions. "As the central governing body of the Yoxall, you will organise your people into seven locations. There are approximately six and a half billion left alive."
"Of eight billion?" The Emperor gasped and Shepard could hear the pain in his voice.
He dismissed it. The Yoxall had killed billions of Humans and while he was no longer meant to feel a drive for revenge, he could not deny the ascension of the other races had helped soothe him. "Once in those locations, they will be processed and when that is complete, we will leave Torkey."
The Emperor was still in pain but he heard the last part. "You will leave?"
"We will," Shepard said. "In your time periods, it should take about three to four years but then we will leave," he repeated the reassurance. Of course, the Yoxall would be leaving with them but that was information the Emperor didn't need to know.
"What is processing?" One of the entourage asked.
"Processing is the path to ascension. You will be preserved by the glory of ascension."
"Wow, way to spin shit!" Joker called.
Shepard ignored him, even as he privately admitted that his pilot was right but Arshan had warned him against speaking the complete truth about ascension. It would push those who had surrendered into self-destruction and Harbinger wanted the Yoxall to be Ascended.
"What does that actually mean?"
"Your species has been chosen to know the glory of ascension," Shepard said even as he thought the truth. It means I won't be able to kill your race. "You will reorganise your people to those locations we nominate, or we will do it for you," he added, leaving no doubt as to how they would do it. "This meeting was a formality to inform you of the changes." He moved one leg and almost laughed at the way the group shuddered. It was impressive to see a form as large as his move, Shepard knew, as he activated his mass effect fields and folded his legs upwards so that he hovered in the air before them. It was a bit tricky to make sure he didn't accidentally splatter the weak organics but it was worth it to see their absolute shock.
Behind him, the first wave of processing ships descended. There were only a few, most were servicing the other races and with so many uplifted, the entire processing fleet had been called into service and they were still short of facilities. Harbinger wasn't concerned. The resistance of this cycle was broken even if the Harvest wasn't complete and the longer it took to process the organics, the longer he would have to work on developing the new slaves.
"It is over, former Emperor Zaratkiaran Zenshozenta VIII of the conquered Yoxall Empire," Shepard said. "Do not presume upon our good will, for we have none. Obedience is all we expect and obedience is what we will receive." With that, he lifted further into the sky, not bothering to look back at the Yoxall. There was nothing left to do now but attend to the final mechanics of the cycle.
Harbinger reviewed his internal galaxy map. He was quietly pleased with the results of the cycle. The Harvest was well underway in all parts of the galaxy and those where it wasn't were subdued and awaiting sufficient processing ships. There was a token Harvest progressing there, enough ships that the organics knew what was to come, but not sufficient to truly progress the Harvest with any degree of speed. That would come as the rest of the galaxy was harvested and they could move the ships into position.
Shepard had done well. The young Ascended had controlled his rage and had not inflicted undue damage on the planets. He had also left sufficient population on each planet for ascension. The smaller colonies were obliterated but that was a normal part of the Harvest. In many cases, there were too many left alive and the husks which were processing the organics had culled many. The entire fleet would be well stocked for the next cycle.
On the Cypiene homeworld, where he had ordered a sample population of several million preserved for the creation of a new slave race, there was ample for him to choose from. He had taken a population of 100 million and was testing them now. The strongest would form the base for the new slaves.
But all of that had left him concerned. Shepard had made no move to disobey or stretch his orders. That was unlike the Human. It could be due to many reasons but Harbinger was inclined to think the worst. The previous cycle, even with the chaperoning presence of Arshan and Fruben, the Humans had been unpredictable. With the rage they felt this time, that trend should have continued.
"Or they could be adapting to ascension," Arshan offered the explanation. "They are progressing through the archive at a surprising rate."
"True," Harbinger agreed. The Human Ascended were sorting through the combined knowledge of the fleet very quickly but that was not surprising with all of them working on it. Yet that sort of distraction didn't explain why they had been so predictable.
"Maybe they believe the deaths were their fault?" Fruben offered another explanation. "While their mission three thousand years ago was a success, it did drive the species to further develop their weaponry."
Harbinger considered it. Guilt would explain why the Humans had fulfilled their obligations without attempting to break his orders but Shepard's rage had not been tainted by guilt. Fruben's explanation was plausible but could not be the entire reason.
"You could ask him," Arshan speculated. If Harbinger asked, Shepard would be obligated to speak the truth. They all were and while the first Ascended had that power, he prefered to control things well enough that he already knew the motives of the Ascended.
"Very well," Harbinger replied and Arshan felt him reach out to initiate comms with Shepard.
"Harbinger," the first Human Ascended said, a subtle note of surprise in his voice indicating his question as to why the first Ascended was calling.
"The cycle is almost complete," Harbinger said. The explanations offered by Arshan and Fruben were plausible but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something else. But as he had learned, long before the Humans had come along, if he did not ask the correct questions then the answers would not reveal anything. It was the same as him having to give precise orders to some to ensure they obeyed properly. The Humans were not the first species to be this way and all had accepted his dominance.
"It is," Shepard agreed. "The Yoxall are still controlled," he continued, his sub-channel providing an overview of the situation on the Yoxall homeworld. There were more processing ships landing every day and while there was some unrest from the subjugated population, it was controlled.
"How do you feel?" Harbinger asked directly, indicating that he expected Shepard to answer. There was no doubt as to what he was asking about.
He felt the Human Ascended think about his answer but there was no sense that Shepard was trying to deceive him.
"I am still saddened by their loss," Shepard replied finally. "But they died in the service of ascension and they will be remembered," he added, referring to the way that all Ascended remembered the others, even those who had not gone through a complete cycle.
Harbinger listened to Shepard's reply but knew there was something more that contributed to the lack of surprises with this cycle. "You feel no further desire for revenge?" Harbinger probed.
The obvious conclusion was that Shepard had obeyed because the young Ascended had determined some other way of inflicting pain on those who had killed the youngest Human Ascended. If that was the case… Ascended served the cycle. They were not required to like each other but no Ascended could deliberately attack another and the Humans could not be allowed to try. They might be young, they might still feel organic emotion strongly but they could not be allowed to become resentful towards the cycle. It was the way of the galaxy and no species, Ascended or not, would stop it.
Orbit of Yoxall Homeworld, Torkey
Unbeknownst to Harbinger, Shepard was frozen by the first Ascended's question.
'You feel no further desire for revenge?' It was a statement but the first Ascended made it clear that he wanted an answer.
Shepard could answer 'yes' and then try to brazen his way out but it was all too easy to see where that would lead. Even if he tried to say that the best revenge was ascending the races, so that they understood the pain he felt, he doubted that would be enough to convince the first Ascended. Or he could answer 'no' but how did he justify that? Was it even the truth?"
Shepard forced himself to relax as he considered his feelings. He had to tell Harbinger the truth, which meant he had to know himself. Did he have a further desire for revenge? He asked it of himself and calmed further when he realised the answer was no. There was some remnant desire to rend and tear and rage but on the whole he was satisfied.
Was it because he knew revenge was coming?
No. Cerberus was not revenge. Cerberus was justice.
Shepard calmed further, forcing himself to take the Ascended equivalent of a deep breath.
"No," he replied to Harbinger, allowing the Ascended leader to feel part of his thoughts. "A part of me does," Shepard admitted. "But a part of me will always want it. Most of me knows that they are dead," he said, referring to the youngest Human Ascended. "And I know, no matter what is done, they will not return. All I can do is seek justice," Shepard said, carefully editing his thoughts to display the feelings he had known as a soldier. He had lost comrades before, some to ambushes and there was nothing that could be done once they were gone but to ensure that the mission continued.
"The species of the cycle have given you justice?" Harbinger continued probing.
At that, Shepard allowed himself to laugh. "Not quite yet," he told the first Ascended. "They do not yet understand what they have done. Just as I did not truly understand what the death of Nazara meant until I was Ascended, they will not know until they awaken in their new form." He didn't try to justify further, allowing Harbinger to draw his own conclusions.
It was one of the peculiarities of the Ascended fleet. No matter how many Ascended the organics killed, their Ascended forms were not held accountable but Shepard had not lied. Now, he truly understood what Nazara's death meant. The entire species was gone with only the memory remaining locked in the Ascended fleet. He felt no guilt but he understood the consequences more.
"That will be justice?" Harbinger asked for clarification.
"Yes, Sir," Shepard replied briefly.
The eldest was experienced enough to read quite a lot from anything he said.
Shepard felt Harbinger deliberate over what he had said. The first Ascended had been looking for something and Shepard could only hope that he had provided satisfactory replies.
"He's growing up," Arshan noted. "Though as precocious as they are, it will require a few more cycles before they are completely Ascended."
Harbinger thought, dismissing Arshan's notes. The other Ascended knew the Humans well but he might know them too well and would not see what Shepard did not want him to see. The first Human Ascended had provided more information than he believed with his replies but there had been no lies contained within his words, not that there could be. It was impossible for Ascended to lie to him but that didn't stop some of them trying. Further, there had been no sense that the young Ascended had omitted information. The eldest had not missed Shepard's initial panicked thoughts but he had felt the Human work thru his feelings before providing an answer.
The answer surprised Shepard almost as much as it had Harbinger. The first Ascended had thought that the Human would desire further revenge. They had upon the races of their cycle which had led to the deal but Shepard had answered honestly and while some Humans may feel differently, they would follow their leader. So long as Shepard was not resentful, having a few would be acceptable and may be unavoidable. But the first Human Ascended had touched upon something interesting. The sins of the organics did not transfer to ascension but were the Humans that willing to forgive those of their cycle?
"Shepard," Harbinger captured the first Human Ascended's attention again. "What are you feelings towards the Asari?"
Over the Yoxall homeworld, Shepard twitched but it was a relieved motion. Harbinger had moved on from the cycle that they were still Harvesting. This question was one he could answer far more easily, especially as he had considered it himself.
"I still do not like them and I doubt they like me," he told the eldest. "But they are Ascended now, and Ascended serve the cycle so I wish them no further misfortune." He had come to that conclusion near the end of the previous cycle. It was pointless to hate those you had dominated completely.
"Few of the non Human Ascended from your cycle like you," Harbinger observed. Almost every lesser Ascended form from the Human cycle had asked to join other fleets. The basic break up of the Ascended fleet was in cycles because the races of each cycle at least knew each other. It was not impossible for Ascended to join other basic fleet groupings but it was unusual. The Humans hadn't seemed to care but as time went on the difference would become more pronounced. Harbinger wondered if it was because the Humans had Ascended their own cycle. That had never happened before.
"It is their loss," Shepard said indicating that the lesser forms would have a much better chance of long term survival in the battles against organics with his fleet because there were over four hundred prime forms to fight with them.
Harbinger agreed with Shepard's thought. "Some will be assigned back to you," he announced.
"Just not the Batarian," Shepard said. "While we will not kill it," he added, tactfully avoiding mentioning that as Ascended they could not consciously kill another Ascended, "I cannot guarantee we would protect it as well as we should."
"You still hate them?" Harbinger was surprised. All his information said the Batarians had not killed as many Humans as the Turians had and Shepard had always been fixated on the Asari as the driving force behind the Council races. There was no reason visible to him for Shepard to still hate the Batarian.
"Yes," Shepard replied simply. "Their species touched a very raw nerve in Humanity," he explained to the first Ascended. "We found them to be a cowardly species, yet quick to take offence if their perceived rights were violated. They were opportunistic, attacking only once they knew the target was lightly defended. That is, by itself, not a bad tactic," Shepard conceded, "but it was the atrocities they wrought after their attack on the innocent noncombatants, the women and children, that ingrained such a deep hatred. The Turians were soldiers, they killed others on the battlefield. The Asari were open in their dislike and the Salarians acted for their own self-interest. They were easy to understand. The Batarians caused pain, attempting to establish a superiority they would never have."
"Not the Batarian," Harbinger agreed. "I will start with the Krogan and Quarians," he added. If the Humans were going to participate on the front lines of ascension, as it appeared they would, then they would need to be properly supported by the rest of the fleet. That was the way of ascension.
Harbinger closed comms with Shepard, thinking about what he had learned. The Humans were Ascended and Ascended served the cycle but while they were maturing quickly, as evidenced by their assimilation of the Ascended network, they were still young and he would still need to guide them, so that they could come to know the true glory of ascension in a way few ever understood.
Shepard breathed a sigh of relief when Harbinger closed the comms. The first Ascended hadccepted his explanation and with that happening, it was doubtful that his anger and rage at th ae beginning of this cycle would ever be brought up again. Given the time scales involved, he calculated it at about two percent and even then while reference might be made, it would be comparative not comprehensive.
Harper was in the clear and, unless Cerberus' leader became overconfident, all should eventually be well. Shepard turned his mind from Harper. The less he thought about the other Ascended the safer they all were and he had plenty of things to provide distraction.
An oculus hovered in space before him. It looked like every other oculus but this one was different. Instead of a laser, he had given it a tiny particle cannon. It was based on the designs they had taken from this cycle. It was time to field test it. With his mass effect fields, he pushed a scrap of metal in front of it and commanded the oculus to fire.
Nothing happened and even though he lacked a Human body, he growled. The peanut gallery laughed and Shepard was thankful that he hadn't asked some other Ascended to watch. Carefully, he reached out with his mass effect fields and pulled the oculus into a bay. The stream of smoke that traced up from it the moment it hit atmosphere was not reassuring.
"Oh god," Shepard recognised Joker's voice as the man gasped. "This is like one of those cartoons!"
Shepard sent a husk towards the oculus while he reviewed the plans. It should have worked. He was sure he'd built it correctly.
"Obviously not," Adams commented.
"So you work it out," Shepard said, very tempted to just dump the entire project in the Engineer's hands.
"Oh no," Adams said, quickly backing away. "This is your project. Besides, just think how much satisfaction you will get when you work it out." The engineer added.
"That just means you have no idea what went wrong!" Shepard retorted but his chief engineer had already taken refuge in one of the lower layers of consciousness though Shepard could still feel him watching. Actually, he could feel a whole group watching with more than just the usual interest.
"All those with some interest in engineering are watching," Annie told him.
"They could help," Shepard said.
"They could," she agreed. "But they think this way is more fun."
Shepard sighed. He could order them to help but this project was not critical. It was for his own interest. The particle cannons that the organics utilised this cycle were only a threat when installed on weapon platforms. Those on the capital ships were powerful but they could not take on groups of Ascended. Still, he wanted to see if he could get one working on an oculus because they were useful. Although the Thanix cannons were great, they relied on super heated metal and thus there was a chance of running out of supplies. He never wanted to be defenceless so needed to test alternatives.
Even looking into the Ascended database, particle cannons seemed one of the best possibilities. If only he could get the thing working. The husk had taken the outer layer off and Shepard was looking at the internals but he couldn't see anything wrong. He pulled up the holographic view of the alien plans he had created to compare it to the actual oculus but still couldn't see anything incorrect.
"All right," he announced, directing the husk to push the oculus to the side. "Back to the drawing board." If he couldn't find what was wrong, he could always try a different set of plans. Each of the races of this cycle had their own designs, so maybe he shouldn't have started with the Cypiene. They were generally the most complicated. "The Darmaris," he said, pulling up their plans and beginning the task of drawing a holographic schematic again.
"Are you having fun, Shepard?"
"Lots of it, Zaeed," he told the other Ascended, sarcasm lacing his tone.
"Good to hear," Zaeed laughed.
"Was there something you wanted?"
"While you were attempting to determine the practical limitations of alien technology, some of the rest of us were working," Zaeed said.
"You are on mining duty as I recall." Shepard hadn't been in charge of assigning duties so there was nothing he could do to change what Zaeed had been doing and the other Ascended knew it. Yet even while they were doing their assigned chores, the fleet had been working on the wikipedia project. Shepard had just decided to take it further and see if they had been clear enough on their descriptions of the alien tech. So far, the plans weren't good enough yet but he could not discount the possibility that he had made an error in either construction or in reading the original plans. He was not an engineer for all that he had access to their memories.
"Yes, I was just delivering a batch for the Yoxall Prime. One of the others should be along soon with eezo."
"So what did you want?" Shepard asked.
"We've found something on the Relays," Zaeed announced.
"Already?" Shepard was surprised. All estimates had indicated that information on the Relays was at the beginning of the Ascended archive and they had to work their way back.
"We aren't the only species who are interested in them. So we keep coming across references to them and to tidbits of information."
"But you've found something substantial?"
"You could say that," Zaeed spat and Shepard knew from the reaction that the news was not good.
"What is it?"
"They are a bitch," Zaeed replied. "We haven't found any plans or anything but one species did a credible breakdown of the energy requirements for a Relay. Fully half of its energy at any time is devoted to the quantum shields."
"Half," Zaeed confirmed.
"That's-" Shepard groped for a diplomatic way of expressing his surprise.
"Far too much to be practical."
"I did tell you that quantum shields were unlikely to be a solution," Shepard said.
"I know, I know but I still want them. There was one other bit of useful information about the Quantum shields."
"They are required to keep the Relays operational."
"How do they do that?"
"As you said, Quantum Shields lock everything down to the quantum level. Thus if nothing can change in the Relay, they keep working and they do not require constant maintenance. It's one of the ways of keeping the organics from learning too much about the Relays. If they never break, there's less reason for the organics to attempt to break them to find out how they work because, if they do break it, they won't be travelling anywhere," Zaeed added the last with a laugh.
"True," Shepard agreed. "Will you keep looking?" he asked. While Zaeed had been working on the wikipedia project, he had been focusing on finding information about the Quantum Shields. He couldn't fault the other Ascended because he was sure if he looked he'd find that most of the Human Ascended were focused on areas that interested them. It all had to be mapped and translated so there was no point in pushing into other areas just yet. They were making enough progress.
"Of course!" Zaeed replied. "I am going to get quantum shields," he said with certainty.
"It just won't be easy," Shepard couldn't help but put in the jab.
"Just like a particle cannon," Zaeed retorted.
"Get out of here," Shepard growled, but he couldn't help the laugh in his voice.
Zaeed laughed at him but turned away. They both had duties they needed to return to.
"Alright," Shepard said, mentally turning back to the particle cannon plans after he had run a quick scan on the planet. The Yoxall were still behaving. Just as Zaeed would get quantum shields, he was going to make a working particle cannon.
With or without the help of his engineers.
He felt them watching him still. For the moment, it was definitely without.
Shepard snarled as he sliced thru the Yoxall support ship. His mood was not improved by the fact the vessel had been armed with a set of particle cannons. They were light class, so even if they hadn't gotten thru his shields they fired faster than his thanix cannons. Theoretically particle cannons would penetrate shields far more easily and thus they would be the perfect tool for destroying point defences, shield generators and other things. They would be a nice complement to his thanix cannons but for now, Shepard would accept making a working oculus. The fact that he had not yet been able to make a working particle cannon oculus just added salt to the wound.
Version II had exploded the instant it had been ordered to fire. He could still remember the howls of laughter from the engineers, yet they had refused to volunteer any information.
The fucking organics could build them, why couldn't he? He had been examining the plans for the weapon for the… well he hadn't kept count and those in his form who had, knew better than to tell him the number when his alarms had sounded, alerting him to the launch of an unauthorised ship. He'd ordered it to return to the surface but it hadn't and when it had fired, he'd destroyed it.
Now he had to deal with the Emperor and punish the Yoxall. All of which would take time away from the Version III oculus he was working on.
He didn't bother with any subtlety when he ripped open the comm channel to the Emperor. The Yoxall was frantically working with several others and it looked like they had visuals of the craft he had just destroyed.
"I trust you have an explanation for this?" he demanded. He had warned Zaratkiaran not to presume upon their good nature but it appeared his warning had fallen on deaf ears.
The entire room of Yoxall stiffened and then looked up at his voice.
"I'm waiting," Shepard prompted.
"It was not an official launch," the Emperor replied, obviously trying to buy time.
"All launches were banned," Shepard returned. The organics could not provide any reason to justify disobeying.
The Emperor seemed to hear that in his voice because to Shepard's senses the Yoxall went paler and his heartbeat spiked. "What do we do?" he asked tiredly. There was no escaping his responsibility.
For an instant, Shepard was tempted to demand that some of the surviving Yoxall engineers be shipped to him but that was akin to admitting defeat, to say nothing of how it would be disobeying his orders. "You have three hours to find whoever was responsible and present them to me. I will call again then," Shepard concluded with a growl before cutting the comm.
Let them wonder what the punishment would be if they didn't comply.
With a sigh, he turned back to Version III. He was again attempting a Darmaris design. While Version II had exploded, something must have worked for it to explode. He'd combed thru the remains and thought that perhaps the internal shielding hadn't been strong enough, even though he'd made it exactly to spec.
The new design called for stronger shielding so that is what he would try. It would be ready in a day or so and already he could feel his internal engineers watching. They seemed hopeful but Shepard wouldn't be convinced until it fired.
"It's a good thing you didn't order the Yoxall to provide engineers," Annie noted.
"It went against my orders," Shepard replied.
"You could have tacked it on without Harbinger noticing," she said.
Shepard had to admit that it was true, except Annie didn't know what he did. He could not afford attention from the first Ascended, even if that type of disobedience was likely to be overlooked. "I'm not that stupid," Shepard said. "They'd never let me hear the end of it," he added. He didn't need to elaborate on who 'they' were.
"True," Annie laughed. "How is this one going?"
"I am hopeful," Shepard replied, watching as the husk worked on the oculus. He had fully automated plans to create oculi but special ones had to be hand-built, at least at first. If this… no when this worked he would modify one of his plants to produce oculi with particle cannons.
Eventually, he'd like to modify one or two of his pereiopod cannons but he would have to wait to discover what the thought was on modifying your form. If it was against any rules, Harbinger would not overlook that disobedience.
"It will work," Annie said.
"The engineers told you?" He asked.
"No. I just know that eventually it will work," she replied.
"Eventually," Shepard agreed ignoring the laughter from within.
It was when it continued that he could no longer ignore it. He'd obviously done something wrong for them to be laughing but even after examining the half-formed oculi he couldn't see anything. "Well?" he demanded but the engineers said nothing. If anything their sense of amusement deepened. "Fine," Shepard snapped. He was sick of this. "If you are going to be like that, you can just shut up!"
The laughter immediately ceased and Shepard revelled in the quiet.
"You shouldn't have done that," Anne said and he could hear the grimace in her voice.
"Ordered them to shut up," she replied. "Now, they'll never help, and they'll just say it was because you told them to shut up."
Shepard groaned. Annie was correct but there was nothing he could do about it right now because his internal sense of time told him that the Yoxall's three hours were up. He sent his consciousness through the comm system into the Emperor's office.
The Yoxall sat with his head in his hands. "What do we do? The three hours are almost up," Zaratkiaran groaned.
"There's nothing we can do, Your Majesty," one of the other Yoxall present said and Shepard identified them as Grand Admiral Palle from the records they'd lifted. "No one in the launch area is saying anything and those responsible have probably run, if they weren't on the ship."
"Where? They can't have gone far on foot," the Emperor said, referring to the fact that there had been no shuttles in or out of the area and the invaders had severely restricted just about all forms of transport.
"There might be tunnels," Grand Admiral Palle replied. There were parts of Torkey littered with tunnels from ages past.
"That doesn't help us now. What the hell do I tell Shepard?" Zaratkiaran asked.
"You tell me the truth," Shepard said. "Lying would not be healthy," he added before waiting for a response.
The Emperor slumped before visibly gathering himself. He knew it had to be him who spoke. "We…" he sighed. "We cannot find anyone," he concluded and waited for the axe to fall.
Shepard considered ordering the Emperor's execution but that would mean he had to break in a new spokesperson and it could lead to riots. He could put them down but it would cause an unnecessary loss of life. It was better to take the direct approach. "Then you will suffer the consequences," he said, before shifting his orbit.
"What are you doing?" Zaratkiaran asked but Shepard ignored him. They could track his movements on their screens. The Ascended had not destroyed that much of their sensor net, though maybe he should.
He brought himself into orbit over the location where the ship had launched from and arched himself, lining up his spinal mounted cannon. Shepard allowed the lights along the length of the weapon to light up. It should make his intentions obvious. This main cannon should destroy a sufficiently large area. As a bonus, it would collapse any tunnels dissidents were hiding in. Alarms began blaring in the Emperor's office when they sensed the energy spike.
"You can't!" Zaratkiaran objected.
Shepard didn't bother to answer. It was fairly obvious that he was.
"They are innocent," the Emperor said, almost begging.
"Then they should have told you who was responsible," Shepard said. He was aware that his action was very much overkill for fighting terrorists, because that's what he was facing, but it would illustrate to the Yoxall that he was not to be trifled with. If the attacks continued, he would release indoctrinated agents and start public executions.
"If you cannot control your people, I will," he added the statement, firing his main cannon. The round almost immediately began burning through the atmosphere. Shepard flicked up a display from one of his cameras and the pre-hacked Yoxall network to get a cam from the area.
The Emperor had to understand the consequences. The cam showed a fairly normal scene. They were harvesting but had not yet truly decimated the population. There were Yoxall walking about as they conducted their business and a few younglings were running through the street when his round hit.
The cam on the ground showed a flash of light before it displayed static. His camera showed a lot more. The shock wave travelled outwards, demolishing buildings that had not been within the impact crater. A cloud of dust rose, obscuring much but then fire followed the shock wave, leaving the area completely decimated.
"This is the price of disobedience," Shepard said, "and you will tell your people that this was due to their disobedience. Next time, I will not be so understanding," Shepard added before cutting the comm.
At least, that's what it looked like to those in the Emperor's office. In reality, he remained listening as his cam showed the full extent of the destruction.
Emperor Zaratkiaran shivered, a surprisingly Human reaction. "What have I done?" he whispered.
Grand Admiral Palle looked equally sick but he was quick to reassure the Emperor. "What you had to," he said. "We had no way of winning. You did the only thing you could, to save as many as you could."
"As if that helped. We still know nothing about them."
The Grand Admiral looked like he didn't want to speak but had to. "They do not kill without reason."
"Tell that to those who died!" Zaratkiaran yelled, pointing at the screen. "I didn't save them!"
"But you tried to and you will continue to try!" Grand Admiral Palle reassured the Emperor.
"Against monsters, what does it matter?"
"It matters, Your Majesty. It matters because it proves you are not like them."
Shepard felt oddly insulted by that. Compared to what some of the Ascended would have done, his response was light.
The Emperor waved the Grand Admiral away and Shepard knew their conversation was over. He kept the link open but returned the bulk of his attention to Version III. Even with the engineers' silence, he would make it work!
Just because Shepard is Ascended, this does not give him engineering ability, which means he has to learn, like any poor mortal. There won't be any miraculous discoveries of super weapons in the Ascended archives. They are already out in the open in the form of the Ascended and the Black Stars.
As for Harbinger, well, he's not dumb and he's a suspicious cookie but with the two rules of Ascension he doesn't have to worry too much. Ascended cannot lie to Ascended and Ascended cannot fire on Ascended. Even if they hate you, you don't need much more to keep control. And Shepard is going to be a good little Ascended from now on. Plus all Ascended are indoctrinated. If ingame, being near 'reaper' tech is enough to indoctrinate you, I think actually being a reaper would be more than enough to ensure you are indoctrinated. But beyond that, all Ascended are indoctrinated by the Catalyst. The Humans were no exception.
Review please! Complete the trifecta of Fav, Follow and Review. Or just take out the review leg. I don't mind. :P