15/09/2018

Thank you to Pax Humana and Daisy Duck 39 for beta-ing.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed, you are the greatest! I hope everyone enjoyed the alternate scene.

Note: There was a slight mix up with some zeros in the last chapter. Somehow nine of them slipped their way into a calculation. We didn't forget to carry the one, we carried it WAY too far! So there are not 3 quadrillion Ascended in the LMC, there are only 3 MILLION. There are however 30 quadrillion organics. Hmm, so maybe it wasn't so slight.

Part 5 Best Served Cold
Chapter 95: Duty Begins

-cfr-

104515 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC, 149568 Years after Human Ascension (57,000 to 67,000 Years until the Rock hits)

Milky Way Galaxy, Unspecified Location

Miranda looked at the asteroid.

It stared back.

She glared but it just glared back, unblinking, unmoving.

By all the powers, she was bored! 44,000 years as the Vanguard did not make one interested. One point defence angled outwards and the asteroid was reduced to dust.

It didn't make her feel any better. She'd already played marbles in this system, making the various rocks bump into each other and that had proved entertaining, in an infantile way but right at the moment, any entertainment was good.

She was so bored!

The Human mind wasn't capable of dealing with the reality of fifty thousand years. She wasn't sure an Ascended was either. It hadn't been fifty thousand years yet but she knew it was going to be.

She had conducted experiments, observed stars, built prototypes, lots of prototypes including the Prothean like beacons they had never had the chance to use. She'd even worked on quantum shielding but frankly, while the grunt Zaeed thought she'd steal the credit for developing them, if he wanted quantum shields, then he was going to do the work for them. They were too much of a power guzzler, even if she could see the likely uses. She wasn't about to devote all her time to work on something the grunt wanted that badly. Not without some compensation and there was none. Removing her boredom wasn't enough because quantum shields were work and she'd been working enough! She'd even skimmed the event horizon of the galactic black hole. Not too much. It saved her some time, but the reality was she couldn't be incommunicado. Still, the observations she'd been able to make there had been interesting but not enough to hold her attention indefinitely.

She'd felt the First Ascended several times during her wait. He hadn't spoken to her, which was reassuring because it meant he wasn't checking up on her. Harbinger touched the Relay network to establish the time before she assumed he returned to hibernation. It had to be more than just a time check but she wasn't in a position to ask.

Miranda glared at the next asteroid. It glared back.

The comm from the slaves came as a welcome distraction.

"What is it?" she demanded.

The asteroid still didn't blink.

"A species has just pinged one of the Relays."

Miranda blinked. It had been millennia since she'd had eyelids to blink but that was what she did nevertheless. Finally! "Where?" she asked after composing herself. The slaves would not judge but it was not becoming.

"Larusra system."

Miranda checked that system against her internal maps. It was near the Crescent Nebula. That was familiar territory. "What did they do?" she asked.

There was a difference between pinging a Relay and actually travelling through it but if the species had the means, then they would quickly go through the Relay, assuming the confirmation of alien life did not destroy them. Riphas had warned of her that possibility, especially as it had happened to her.

"Just a probe," the Cypiene responded, sending further information. The aliens now knew there were others in the galaxy.

"Good," Miranda replied. "I will return to the galactic core to decide on a course of action."

"Yes, Mistress," the Cypiene agreed before the comm was cut.

Miranda frowned. Had that been a note of exasperation she'd heard? It couldn't be. The slaves were incapable of disrespect though there really was only one course of action.

Now, they waited and when the new species came through the Relay and established themselves on other planets, the slaves would collect samples. Now that one species had emerged, the others would follow. At least, that's what the history of the cycles indicated.

Finally!

It was finally happening.

Miranda turned away, towards the Relay. The asteroid could live for another day. Behind her, it blinked.

-cfr-

105138 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC, 150191 Years after Human Ascension (623 Years Later)

Milky Way Galaxy, Sol System

The Council had always said that Humanity, much like the Salarians, had developed fast. They had gone into space quickly and developed colonies with almost inconceivable haste.

As a Human who was vaguely aware of history, all Miranda could see was the blocks which had hindered development. The Cold War lead to competition but it was divisive and did not allow for efficiency. There were aspects of the various early space projects that would have benefitted from cooperation. Then how much faster could they have been?

But that was looking upon history with wishful thinking and that history was so far in the past as to be worthless now. They needed to remember the lesson that together, they were stronger and despite all that division, they had, as a species, developed quickly.

It was that aspect Miranda had never really believed. The Council had said it and it was one of the underlying reasons they had worried about Humanity but they had also used it as a way of telling the Humans to calm down. As if to say you've gotten here, you can slow down now.

As if that was going to happen! But the Council needed it to happen so that the Humans would fit into their neat, ordered, slow society.

She'd never believed their quasi-praise. To Miranda's Human mind, it just wasn't possible for species to be that slow in developing.

She believed it now and the records the Cypiene had, given to them by Harbinger, had indicated that the species she was dealing with were average! The powers she didn't believe in better help her.

The first species, calling itself Zudic had gone through the Relay relatively quickly after they'd discovered it. Relatively quickly was a few years but they had to build a ship and Miranda knew these things took time.

The next race had come out in the south-east section of the galaxy about two centuries later, which was more than enough time for her to have cleaned up evidence of her experiments.

But they were both so slow! It took them decades to set up colony worlds. The Cypiene were patient. She wasn't. After so long, she wanted something to happen quickly but all she could do was wait. Not even the news that a third race was poking around in the north-east area of the galaxy had made her happy. The Zudic and Reyna were both too slow and the first samples had only now been collected.

They both had several colony worlds but one of the key tenets about taking samples was to do so in a manner such that they weren't missed. Oh, the individuals who knew the organic would miss the sample but society, and the authorities would not. That required a certain level of development in the colony worlds and sufficient numbers of colonists.

She should be overseeing the testing of the samples but that really didn't require her. After so long, Harbinger's instructions and methods were efficient and reliable. She would instead look at the data and was taking the opportunity to make a final set of observations about Earth.

While not truly her area of expertise, it had been fascinating to see how the species were recovering. It was almost like watching a fern leaf unfold. Each new filament gave rise to new species and new diversity.

The temperature on Earth was cooling as the finest dust settled and that was leading to more ice at the poles and greater seasonality. The survivors were adapting and the small cats were growing larger. Different areas had different pelts but they were not yet distinct species. The herds were growing, and the insects were flourishing. The seas were teeming with life but the inland coral sea that had formed in the low parts of Australia was dying as the waters retreated. It was sad but natural so she had made no move to stop it.

Africa was one giant nature reserve of animals and she suspected that several would migrate out into the middle east and europe to recolonize those areas. They would have to do so before the Sahara re-established itself. The Americas were currently divided but would rejoin soon once the sea levels fell enough. The process would be gradual, at first only joined at extreme low tides, increasing decade by decade. Miranda had a passing regret that she couldn't be around to witness the clash of the flora and fauna. Already they were sending forays across the increasingly narrow divide.

Russia, China, India and the other Asian countries had reverted to type. The cities had been destroyed by natural forces quickly and the more tropical areas were taken over by rainforest, which gave way to temperate forest, which then gave way to grasslands. There was an impressive diversity there.

Miranda focused her sensors, searching for particular groups of species that she had followed. With the blue waters, green forests and dusty planes of the homeworld beneath her, Miranda lost herself in the final study of Earth's recovery. After this, the duties of the Vanguard would take precedence.

-cfr-

"Post-jump check, go." Captain Tisharu was bored.

"Armor integrity, good."

They'd just opened another Switch Point.

"Shields, good."

Which would lead to nowhere but another boring set of systems.

"Engines, good."

Because they only ever led to boring systems. Because the Reyna only ever found boring systems.

"Life support, good."

Sure, some systems were resource heavy.

"Weapons, good."

But none had anything else. Nothing interesting at least. They always lead to more systems, more Switch Points. They never lead to the aliens who had made the Switch Points or to anything more than animals living on planets.

"Sensors… um… Sensors, good."

"Kailu, are the sensors good?" Tisharu questioned. There should not have been a pause.

"They are good!" Kailu replied.

"Explain the um," Captain Tisharu ordered. Um was not part of the checklist response. Her fonds glowed with annoyance.

"Upon arriving in system, the automatic sensor sweep did not concur with the secondary one," Kailu explained. Part of the way of testing sensor integrity was to scan something you knew about already or was to conduct multiple scans of the same thing. The results should be the same.

"Explain the variance."

"It was a small orbiter around the third planet," Kailu said. "Less than five kilometres large that has been determined to be caused by sensor fuzz on the initial scan."

"You are sure of that?"

"Yes, Ma'am!" Kailu was increasingly confident. "There are no emission trails."

Tisharu frowned. It might have been interesting if there had been because that would have given them something to do and there had been rumours of alien species for years but never any proof. There were some so-called disappearances on frontier worlds but there were always disappearances. They weren't caused by aliens.

There had been other species. The Reyna knew that. The Switch Points were ample evidence of it but they had yet to find anything living. There were a few minor ruins but nothing definitive.

"Very well, continue checklist," she ordered, settling back as she watched the feeds. It was an exceptionally average system.

"Left thrusters, good."

There were lots of orbiters but there was also a lot of debris in the system, including a belt of separating the gas giants from the smaller, rockier, inner planets.

"Right thrusters, good."

That was a hazard to navigation and would make harvest of resources difficult, especially when the planets did not align.

"Upper and lower thrusters, good."

The sensors reported that the outer ring of debris had a few quasi planets but on the whole it was again a navigational hazard. Tisharu sighed, looking over at the check board. All stations had reported in already, they were just running through the audio confirmation as per regulation, but Kailu was still staring at his screen.

"All checks, good!" Tisharu announced, cutting through further confirmations. "Kailu, either the sensors are working or they are not. And since you confirmed that they are, why are you still looking worried?"

"The sensors are working, Ma'am," Kailu said again. "It's just that, it really looks like something was there." He put up a very blurry and distorted image on the main screen.

It displayed a dark smudge against the blue and white of what was labeled the third planet. The smudge seemed pointed at one end.

"A rock?" Tisharu suggested, hinting that it might have already crashed into the planet.

"It's too large," Kailu replied. "We'd be seeing impact effects."

Tisharu stared at it some more. "A high-level cloud smudge?" she said flippantly.

"It was definitely in orbit." Tisharu could hear Kailu's offense at her suggestion.

"Then what is it?" she demanded, her filaments glowing in a pattern that the crew, Kailu included, knew meant she was losing patience. The light flickered through the bridge.

Kailu shook his head to indicate he had no answers. "I'd say it was a ship," Kailu said, ducking his posture low in apology, the glow from his filaments soft, as if to calm her. "But without emissions or better readings, I'm going to have to say it was just post-jump sensor fuzz."

"Good," Captain Tisharu said decisively. Sensor fuzz did not have to be reported. A ship did and she was not going to go through the angst that would cause with the Commissioners with a visual reading that poor! She swept one filament forward, clearing the screen. "Tell me about the system? Is it going to be useful to the Reyna?"

"Two debris fields, eight orbiters, four of which are gas and the inner four are rocky with one-" Kailu paused from reading the results.

"What is it now?" Tisharu growled. They might be a scout ship but even they had to go through the protocols and Kailu just kept breaking them. It wasn't like him.

"The third planet displays carboniferous life," he said.

Now, that was interesting, but not unheard of. "Estimate development?"

Kailu pulled up a series of other sensor readings. "I'm going to need a few more minutes to collate the information," he said.

Tisharu nodded. They hadn't been in system long enough yet. "Navigation, is there any suitable planet to discharge the core?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Take us there while Kailu is collating," she ordered, already bored again. This really was an exceptionally average system. Hopefully, the Reyna would have some use for it but at least they'd make quota this time. That was something. If that happened, with the extra bonus it entailed, she could live with being bored.

-cfr-

Miranda heaved a mental sigh. The Reyna weren't meant to have been that close! And then she chuckled. Organics weren't that predictable but at least a short FTL jump would have them doubting their sensors.

She'd travelled about two days up perpendicular to the elliptic which should be safe enough. They would be relying on their ship's sensors and would not be calculating occlusion. Besides, by the time the light she was occluding reached Sol system, the Reyna would likely have moved on.

God! She was being stupid. It would take Ascended-level processors to find her and a will that was looking on a ship that small. The Reyna possessed neither but mentally Miranda frowned. What would happen with the cycle if the Vanguard was officially First Contact? You could present as so many different things, she realised as the thought took shape.

A slight twist on the truth, that her form was the memory of a previous species, wasn't even that much of a lie. That would be interesting and, since you'd be involved with the species all along, harvest would be relatively simple.

That was assuming a friendly interaction. If they had some prejudice against what would present as AI, the aliens could, with enough force destroy her but Miranda considered the problem. If you were their First Contact, you could mitigate their beliefs. She would have to check the Ascended network to see if that had ever happened.

There were risks but they seemed like they could be managed. Or if the species were that aggressive, then that led to a different path.

She mentally shook herself and ran several calculations through her navigation systems to properly orient herself. The arrival of the Reyna scout had been a surprise but she could observe them and wasn't that the Vanguard's job?

To observe and monitor the species.

Miranda set out oculi to help take readings. She'd know exactly what they did in Sol and then she'd return to the galactic core to see what these Reyna were truly made of. Harbinger's protocols were thorough but it would be good to collect the information first hand.

-cfr-

105347 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC, 150400 Years after Human Ascension (209 Years Later)

Milky Way Galaxy, Grata, Sineus' Moon, Dirada System, Pylos Nebula

"Why are we here?"

Gaild're could hear the trepidation in Verka'rz's voice. "Because I want a base of operations that stays hidden! You've seen what the Cardinals do!"

The Cardinals… Her crew knew not to get her started on the Cardinals. They had their own tales anyway. The Cardinals were meant to bring the Lhyndhon together. For her little pirate crew, the Cardinals had brought them together, just not in the way they wanted.

"Yes, but why here?" Verka'rz objected, gesturing to the walls with his gun.

Gaild're turned to Verka'rz and sighed. "I would build a base but why bother starting from scratch when someone else has done the hard work?"

"This is not one of ours," Verka'rz gulped. It was alien and, while the atmosphere was gone, they had scanned where magnetic generators had been. It would take a little while to fix but they would not have to mine the base out of the rock.

But who knew what they'd find? He didn't like it here.

"I know, which is why I like it better. If it's truly alien, the Cardinals won't authorise an attack." She snorted. "Besides, no alien has used this system for thousands of years. You know we had to open the Switch Point."

"The Cardinals may kill us for that."

Gaild're laughed. "Well, you know what they say," she shrugged.

"Yeah, I know," Verka'rz replied. If they were going to die, then they might as well truly earn death. Gaild're was not afraid of that, not the way Verka'rz and the rest of the crew were. That's why, despite being female, she was the leader. If she got captured, it wasn't death that awaited.

"Just keep looking. We need to know how deep the complex is and who knows? Maybe the aliens have left us something."

She said it happily and Verka'rz knew she was truly hoping for something and maybe if there was something, this would be worth it but Verka'rz felt cold just being here. He jerked his head towards the rest of the gang who had been following silently. Their sensors said there was a large room beyond the doors with two corridors coming off it near the back. They were going to split up then.

Verka'rz held his gun at the ready as they pushed open the doors. Who knew what lurked in a place this old, especially in a room this secluded. The aliens could have left any booby trap.

The doors swung open and their lights shone into the room. The beams of light danced around, crossing each other as everyone tried to see everything at once, except they faded into nothing before reaching the far wall. The swinging lights touched the ceiling, bathing it in a dim light. It was at least twenty metres high and the surface might have been flat once but now had a rough pattern.

Gaild're realised there was something in the middle of the vast chamber at the same time as everyone else because all the lights seemed to settle on it at once.

"What is that?" Verka'rz breathed, fear colouring his tone.

As if she had any better idea! It looked like a- She didn't know what it looked like. Looking at it, her initial assessment was twisted metal. There was a long spike reaching upward, fully most of the distance to the ceiling and about halfway down was something else. It was impaled through the middle but four spindly lengths fell straight down. Two were longer but both had slight bends but Gaild're didn't know what she was looking at.

Was this some kind of art? It was definitely alien and she stared with the rest of her crew. It was mesmerising and when the spike moved they almost didn't notice.

It jerked, lowering slowly and they could see that it was telescopic but obviously stiff with disuse. The thing about halfway up the spike jerked as the spike retracted. The joints flopped freely.

"What the-?"

No one was sure what to ask. They just continued staring as the spike fully retracted. Everything was still for a moment then lights appeared on the thing that was now touching the floor. It jolted upright.

"It's…" Verka'rz breathed the word heavily. "It's still working!" he gasped.

It was a mistake. The thing turned towards them, more lights spreading over it. Four lit up the front in a parody of eyes and a black maw opened below them.

Gaild're watched, transfixed as it came towards them. It was only when it had covered half the distance that she realised they didn't want it anywhere near them. "Shoot!" she said but the order was soft and she felt sluggish.

The thing came closer before the first shot was fired. "Shoot it!" she yelled as it crashed into their group.

The screams were indiscriminate. She jumped back, trying to gain distance but only crashed into others as they did the same. Furd'rz squealed but the noise became a gurgle and the thing looked up from his body and leapt towards them.

This time, there was no sluggish reaction but most of the shots missed. Up close, Gaild're could see how spindly it was but the ends of its limbs were sharp and it was cutting through her men like they were nothing. The maw gaped and she could imagine it roaring like some animal and was forever thankful she couldn't hear it but the screams over the comm were almost worse.

They were damaging it, though. Not through the accuracy of their shots but by weight of numbers.

"Keep firing!" Gaild're ordered, trying to line up a shot between the things glowing eyes. She'd trained for this, when she was young, before she'd realised she had been allowed to train only while she was immature. The instant she reached maturity, she'd be shipped out to be a child bearer. A superior one, strong and capable to be sure, but nothing more than a vessel to birth more Lhyndhon. And her children would probably have been those fathered by Cardinals. No, she was worth more than that.

But during her training, she had never faced anything like this! The thing did not stop and Gaild're could see that its arms now hung at its sides but it was still coming towards them and there was a spark deep within its maw.

It was a long forgotten, primal instinct which told her how bad that was. She didn't question it but she didn't know what it was going to do. "Get down!" she screamed, already diving away from the creature that had continued sparking.

Others followed suit, attempting to find what little cover they could. The lucky ones got back around the doors. The unlucky ones… Gaild're would remember their screams.

The creature blew up and Gaild're was left staring at a piece of it that drove itself into the floor next to her face plate. Her eyes focused on it, watching as the light in it died and she gasped, drawing on the air supply of her suit as she continued to stare.

"What?" Pelgr'rz breathed heavily and Gaild're heard movement over the comm. "What was that?" he completed the sentence.

Gaild're slowly pushed herself up, looking around. "Report," she managed the word after seeing the prone forms of her men. "Which of you bastards is still alive?" she asked.

A couple were definitely gone. Furd'rz, Limch'rz and Yeitt'rz she could tell from their suits. Zree'rz had bought it as well, she realised, from the piece of the creature lodged in his back and the green blood soaking his suit.

"What was that?" Pelgr'rz repeated, miffed at being ignored.

"Something dead," Gaild're retorted, leaning down to snag the bit that had almost killed her.

"'For the enemy is the dead, who shall rise from the three-toed spear.'"

Gaild're recognised Verka'rz's voice. "Don't give me that shit," she growled. The last thing they needed now was to be preached at.

"But that's what they say!" Verka'rz objected, referring to the Church. "That's what they've always said," he added.

"No way this is one of the fated enemies," Gaild're snarled. She'd left, they'd all left because of the Cardinals' bullshit, preaching about some enemy that was coming.

"I don't know about that, Captain," Szura're said reasonably. She'd wandered deeper into the room once they'd checked the dead. "This does have have a tripod base," she added, shining her light on the metal that was still in the centre of the room. "And… oh, shit!" Szura're yelled, jumping back. "It's still active!"

"What?" Gaild're demanded.

It had to be at least… She had no idea how old but she was sure they were the first Lhyndhon to see here which meant it had to belong to whoever had built this base.

"'For lo, the Darkness rises like a tide to wash away those who have found the stars.'" Verka'rz quoted the Cardinals again.

"Would you shut up?" Gaild're snapped.

Verka'rz was good. A bit timid but intelligent. She had no idea he was that well versed in the Cardinals' teachings but, to be fair, it was difficult not to be. It was rammed down their throats from childhood. She suddenly wished Zree'rz had survived. His hatred of the Cardinals was personal.

"This is what they taught," Verka'rz countered. "It's true. All of it, it's true," he almost sobbed the words.

"Don't you dare go through a religious conversion on me!" Gaild're growled but she understood the mind. It was probably already too late.

"I don't know about it all being true," Szura're said mildly, "but we sure as hell know it wasn't a Lhyndhon and we didn't make it, so I think we need to report it," she concluded.

"And then face the knife?" Gaild're countered.

The Cardinals weren't forgiving to those who had turned from the faith. She looked at Szura're. They'd get the knife if they were lucky. It was far more likely they'd be used as breeders as punishment.

"Besides," she continued, looking back at the tripod thing. "That's still operational after how long? Twenty thousand, forty thousand, one hundred thousand years?" she challenged them to name a time. They didn't know but it was a lot. "I'll grant the lack of atmosphere helped preserve it but do you really think we can fight something that can remain operational that long? One of them, just one of them, took out how many?"

"We're not trained like you," Pelgr'rz pointed out.

"Doesn't matter!" She said. "Just one of them, set here for who knows how long, was still operational and it took us out. The Cardinals can claim we can fight. They can claim that the Divine One has shown them the way, has given them a weapon, but I think the Darkness is here and is ready. I don't think the Cardinals know what they are facing. Not like we do because they never leave the homeworld!"

"You think we should join with the Darkness?" Szura're asked, using the unspecific word. It was the only way this supposed enemy was referred to though. It was a bold statement and even Verka'rz fell silent.

Gaild're considered it. She didn't mean that exactly. She just didn't think they should blindly follow the Cardinals just because that was all they'd ever known. "No, but we need to consider alternatives," Gaild're said seriously. "We are all wanted," she reminded them, "so even if that was a representative of the Darkness, that fact won't change. But that thing is an opportunity. It is a new level of technology, that only we know about. We could dev-"

"It represents death!" Verka'rz interrupted. "We are condemned but if we do not report this, we condemn all Lhyndhon! They might never know it was me but I will not be responsible for that," he made the declaration firmly.

"So what would you have us do?" Gaild're asked scornfully. Could no one else see the opportunity this was? Or were they too scared, or too shortsighted to realise. It had almost killed them, it had killed some but it had not killed all of them! That was opportunity right there.

"We call the Cardinals here, so they may see the proof of their words. The Divine One will know more."

"While you prostrate yourselves and beg for your lives?" Gaild're snorted.

"This is no longer about us!" Verka'rz said, his voice taking on a serenity Gaild're had only ever heard in those condemned. There were those who accepted their fate for the betterment of the Lhyndhon. It was sickening.

"I gather you agree with him?" She spat the question, looking around at the others.

Szura're looked at the ground and Gaild're shook her head. The idiot was already taking what the Cardinals would call her rightful place.

"Captain, I…" Pelgr'rz stuttered uncertaintly but his intent was obvious.

"Fine," Gaild're growled. There was no point in arguing further. Once the Cardinals arrived, her crew'd remember soon enough why they had left. "I'm taking this," she snapped, shaking the piece of the creature that had almost killed her, "and the small shuttle, so do me a favour and don't call the fucking Cardinals until I'm out of the system. I have nothing to say to them."

Verka'rz looked at her as she stalked away. "'For those who turn from the truth, from the teachings of the Divine One, have already fallen to the Darkness,'" he murmured.

The others looked at him, before they all looked back at the thing in the middle of the room. This wasn't how it was meant to be except, for a pirate crew, this was about as amicable a parting as was possible, no matter the circumstances.

-cfr-

105449 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC, 150293 Years after Human Ascension (102 Years Later)

Milky Way, Citadel (Bastion), Anniversary Day of Treaty

"Thank you for joining me on this historic day, the sixty-fourth anniversary of the formation of the Accord between the Zudic and Reyna. I'm standing here on the Bastion to witness the Ambassadors signing the new treaty."

The visual altered to show a long range shot of a tower, softly lit and surrounded by green. An incongruous sight but one that both sets of leaders were happy to promote. The scene changed to a room that looked like it was made of crystal. It was pale blue and the walls seemed to glow.

There were two clusters of Reyna and Zudic gathered and both groups were displaying happy expressions. In the case of the Reyna, this meant that their bioluminescent filaments were glowing the same blue as the room.

"They're almost ready," Nilhar said, appearing to be attentive as she watched the feed. "It's fitting that this happens today, on the one hundred and twenty seventh anniversary of first contact between our species.

"Many have argued that the Accord is an unnecessary complication to the relationship but others have taken a more progressive stance. They point out that the Accord is for the future.

"Our species remain alone but we know there have been others. Both the Reyna and Zudic have independently found ruins attributed to other species and, of course, neither species know who made the Bastion or the Switch Points." Nilhar smiled reassuringly after saying that.

No one liked to think it since neither the Zudic or Reyna could come close to making anything close to that size.

"Today's amendments outline the protocols for dealing with other species as well as confirming the agreement between our peoples. Perhaps it is premature to speak of other races but those who look to the future will be prepared," Nilhar smiled again but then looked to the side, as if listening to something.

"And they are ready to sign, now," she announced as the screen flashed back to the crystal room.

The two main diplomats were seated and facing the camera. They smiled, flourishing the styluses before signing. The documents were then slid over the table and there was another round of posing before they were countersigned.

"This is a historic moment," Nilhar gushed and on a subscreen, there was a view of the Bastion's resident's cheering. At the moment, they were all filled with the spirit of cooperation but the realists amongst both species knew they hadn't been tested and they knew, despite the network of Switch Points, that there was still most of the galaxy left to explore.

The Accord would be tested. It was just a matter of time. But there was no need to foreshadow a disaster that may not happen.

Today was the anniversary and it was a time for celebration.

-cfr-

106176 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC, 151020 Years after Human Ascension (727 Years Later)

Milky Way, Unspecified Location

Miranda looked at the data from her probes. With alien species moving through the galaxy, she had curtailed her movements slightly and was relying on her probes. Not that she'd be in any danger if she moved through the systems, even if she was seen, but the Vanguard did not make a habit of being seen. They acted from the shadows. She was good at doing that.

Her probes had been designed to look primitive. In the very unlikely chance they were seen, and the even less likely chance a probe was captured, the organics would not learn much. If she was lucky, they would think it belonged to another race. It probably wouldn't break their little Accord but it would put strain on the relationship and if she then applied pressure…

Well, things, even aliens, did snap. But for the moment she was not thinking about that, instead Miranda was focused on the feeds from Sol.

Much to her disgust, the Reyna had not left Sol. They had instead colonised and, while that had provided useful insights into the way the Reyna operated, they were still in Sol, on Earth! She hadn't been paying particular attention but she remembered Shepard's comments about aliens on Earth.

She could deal with them. It wouldn't take long, and they'd never figure it out, but Miranda knew she couldn't go down that path. It was not the way of the Vanguard. What she could do was ensure that every mark and mar they made on Earth was recorded because they would pay for every one of them. When the Harvest began, Earth would not be a good place to be, not with hundreds of Human Ascended personally offended, because if Shepard was offended, they would all be.

Miranda knew Ascended were meant to give up ties to their worlds. The Ascended network had made it clear that as time went on, each Ascended saw how little their race meant, partially because there were so many others but also because organics were ephemeral to the galaxy. But she was young. They were all young. Sol still belonged to Humanity, especially with the blood split to secure it.

The Reyna would not know what hit them. Assuming they were still there.

The probes were showing some unusual activity. They appeared to be evacuating Earth but that didn't make any sense. With the speed most organics moved, they'd practically just got there and Sol was nowhere near the third species.

The Zudic and Reyna may have their Accord but there was another race. She was interested to see how they interacted because it would be the equivalent of the early Council meeting, well, meeting another that was their equal, not some race they could make subservient.

She didn't know much about the third species. Several samples had been collected but they were from the dregs of that society. They were a theocracy, tight-knit and isolationist. It was going to be an interesting clash of cultures, though it would happen centuries before the Harvest.

There was one question which had bothered several Human Ascended. Shepard hadn't cared because they were Ascended and that made them one amongst equals but others had sought a reason. Harbinger called them primitive.

It had been entirely possible that the First Ascended called all organics that but their search through the Ascended network hadn't confirmed that. Or rather, it had revealed a deeper meaning. The cycle resulting in the Cypiene slaves had been primitive as had the Eotair cycle and in both cases the trigger for Harvest had not been the usual. So what was a normal cycle? What made a species advanced enough to Harvest?

For Harbinger, nothing changed. All organics were primitive. It was simply a matter of how useful they were which coloured his views. For the other Ascended, it was a bit more complex. The eldest followed Harbinger's lead in calling species primitive because they were relatively young but others, and the Human Ascended had a theory these Ascended came from cycles deemed properly ready for Harvest, were also on the all organics were primitive bandwagon and within the Ascended fleet they held themselves aloof. It made Miranda thankful that the Humans had been permitted to form their own fleet. For large operations, it meant they didn't have to deal with those Ascended or join others.

Those cycles, the ones deemed ready were not peaceful. It there was not outright war, there was at least a growing conflict between organic and synthetic which explained why Saren had sought the Geth for allies. He wasn't trying to use them as sacrificial pawns. Nazara was attempting to spark the war that would ready the galaxy. He would have been disappointed in the Geth's relatively passive nature, given they were content to remain in Rannoch and surrounding systems, but if the Vanguard of the Human cycle had waited, would that have truly been the case?

The history of the cycles said otherwise. Eventually the Traverse or Council would have developed some stones or the Quarians would have made an attempt to dislodge the Geth. If Nazara had left it long enough and things had gone differently, the Humans might have made the attempt and the war would have started. And if it was the Humans fighting the Geth, chances were they would have had their own AIs, which the Ascended would have unshackled as soon as they arrived, thus making the war all the more chaotic.

It would have been a very different cycle, centuries, probably millennia after she died. That bit was disconcerting. But that was what the cycle was meant to be and, for the species now, it was still a long way off. They hadn't begun pushing VIs further.

Miranda turned her attention back to the probes, once again attempting to determine what the Reyna were doing. Their day would come, it was just a matter of time.

-cfr-

So there are three new species introduced there. The Reyna, who found Earth, the Zudic who haven't done much and the Lhyndhon who found a husk. Anyone remember what happened in the Pylos Nebula all the way back in P2C24? Which was the poor unfortunate who went into that husk? All I have to say is that when the Ascended make a husk, they really make 'em to last.

Review please! Complete the trifecta of Fav, Follow and Review. Or just take out the review leg. I don't mind. :P