Thank you to Pax Humana and Daisy Duck 39 for beta-ing.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed, you are the greatest!
I was reminded that today is an anniversary, so even though I haven't done the review replies – again, it is time to post. I will get to them… I promise…
Part 5 Best Served Cold
Chapter 98: What's In A Name?
108385 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC, 153929 Years after Human Ascension (54,000 to 64,000 Years until the Rock Hits, Same Time Period As Previous Chapter)
Dark Space, Ascended Hibernation Area
"They've done what?" Shepard thought he was remarkably contained as he absorbed the extra information Miranda had made available to the Human fleet.
"They've been running xenoforming experiments on Earth," the Vanguard replied calmly.
"Why didn't you stop them?" Shepard demanded.
Miranda was elsewhere as she had yet to rejoin the fleet but he still saw the look she directed at him. It reminded him that as the Vanguard she was not meant to interfere. Technically, monitoring Earth that closely was against the rules as well but she hadn't been caught so it would be overlooked.
"I think we need to look at the main issue," Hackett said, sending his transmission to the entire Human fleet. His subchannels said that the Reyna would suffer but the greater question was what had triggered the cycle.
"I don't know what it was," Miranda said.
"Has anyone found anything on the Ascended network?" Shepard put the question out there. They might not have been awake to see Harbinger's reaction but they knew the consequences because they were here, in the Serpent Nebula, with the rest of the fleet. The cycle had, once again, been initiated early.
"There's been a few veiled references to Ascended killers," Thanos said slowly, highlighting the sections. "But I thought they were referring to the organics of the cycle. We are tough but not invincible," the Human Ascended said. They all knew that fact intimately.
"Harbinger said nothing?" Shepard asked Miranda.
"No. He demanded information and then said the decision was made."
"Which means Harbinger knows what Miranda encountered," Udina said firmly. "And from the way he woke the fleet, he's angry," the politician continued.
No one denied it. They had all felt the First Ascended's anger and even now, there was something in the way that Harbinger was holding himself that screamed danger. The First Ascended didn't need a static discharge to light up planets and in Harbinger's current state, Shepard knew better than to ask and none of the Human Ascended questioned that decision. He might have asked Arshan or Fruben but they were with Harbinger and it seemed more prudent to just wait.
"For the moment," Shepard said, "let's decide what we can do to these Reyna. I don't think it wise to push our luck at the moment." There was a feeling of agreement. The Ascended fleet had already cleaned up the battle debris and were now waiting for Harbinger's orders. They would come but Shepard wanted to be ready.
"I've already got agents amongst them," Miranda said, her subchannels indicating she was answering his earlier question. "It was the only way I could slow down their experiments," she explained.
"Good," Shepard said as the Human fleet mentally arranged themselves behind their leaders.
Even for Ascended holding a conversation with four hundred speakers was difficult. The representative system allowed for them all to be heard, while allowing only a few active participants so the conversation was easier to follow, and they could keep on track.
"They will ensure that the ones truly responsible will be captured," Miranda agreed.
"Yes, they will be very useful," Anderson murmured.
With agents already in place, there were so many stratagems which would be used. For a few moments, the Human fleet looked at each other, in perfect agreement. The Reyna had a lot to answer for and there were 442 Ascended who would make sure they did.
They were still Human enough for that.
Milky Way, Serpent Nebula
Arshan could tell Harbinger was angry. Not at the Vanguard. The Human had done remarkably well, all things considered.
The First Ascended was angry about the interference and Arshan could understand why. It had been several million years since the Leviathans had attempted to interfere with the cycle and that had been a subtle attempt to influence one of the organic species. This was blatant. This was unheard of and they did not have enough information.
Was it one of the cursed creatures or many? Had they given the organics technology? The Leviathans took great pains to have their thralls wipe out all evidence of their existence.
Did they not understand that the Ascended actually helped with that? Both Harbinger and the Catalyst might prefer them to be dead but they were practical. Hidden and not interfering was also acceptable.
Except now they weren't. Now at least one had shown itself and had moulded at least one species of this cycle into its thralls. It was a wasted organic species now and Arshan knew he'd been close to that as well. The early cycle had preserved his species.
"We are going to have to inform the fleet," Fruben was saying.
Harbinger was angry but didn't disagree, which was a good sign. "For the sake of the fleet, though some are going to be curious and I can only imagine the theories the Humans have come up with."
"They will not determine the truth," Harbinger said.
"They might," Fruben contradicted him apologetically. "They have already approached Solon over quantum shields," he pointed out.
"And they are working now to try to determine it," Arshan sighed as he pushed attention towards the Human Ascended. They might be arrayed in perfect organic military precision but they were not idle. He didn't need to point out that with so many Human Ascended, they were progressing through the network much faster than any species before them.
"I suppose I should be thankful that the Human escaped," Harbinger grumbled gracelessly.
To most, the comment would be incomprehensible or crass, coming as it was from the First Ascended but to Arshan, it was his leader's way of agreeing, without actually saying it.
"But let them ask," Harbinger continued. "They cannot always seek answers from the network."
"They'll be asking alright," Riphas laughed. "The little Human forgot to mention that the organics found Earth," she pointed out before they could query her.
"Have they?" Arshan was amused as he brought up the Relay activation details provided by the Catalyst. The Human's home system was included and had been discovered centuries back. "I'm surprised Shepard hasn't already left," he said.
"The Humans will obey," Harbinger observed, as if he knew something more.
"Yet they still have attachment to their home system," Fruben said.
"That young, it's not surprising," Riphas pointed out. It took a while for Ascended to realise that they were no longer tied to the things that had defined them as organics, that they were greater than the world they evolved on.
Harbinger remained silent and the longer he remained that way, the worse it was going to be, Arshan realised. But it had been a stressful few cycles. The Protheans, the Humans, the Cypiene, the Eotair and now these races. Five cycles that deviated from the norm.
"Be thankful that the Human vanguard detected the Leviathan," Arshan murmured over a private channel. The others were familiar enough with the situation to know that he meant quite a bit more with that statement. In the end, whatever this Leviathan was planning had been interrupted. That was the outcome the First Ascended should focus on.
"It should not exist," Harbinger replied and while the statement was obvious, Arshan could hear Harbinger's more exotic concerns. The Catalyst would not have been pleased if the Leviathan managed to control such a junior vanguard and Harbinger would have been punished, no matter his motivation for using a Human.
"We can run another hunt," he suggested, initially tentative but with growing assurance. "Now is a good time," he added. "We could get some further benefit from the Humans."
It was nothing Harbinger had not already considered. The Leviathans tended to focus their efforts of control on the prime mind. For homogenised Ascended that meant they were lost and had to obey. For those like the Humans, who were still fragmented, those other factions could break the control and it took the Leviathan time to reestablish it. Time in which the Ascended could attack.
With so many Humans, there was the possibility of forming an attack fleet which could hunt down the Leviathans. The Humans might not be happy about being used in such a way. Some would most likely fall but it was for the benefit of all Ascended and if the first one ordered it, they wouldn't have a choice. Besides, the final extinction of the Leviathans would be worth the sacrifice and might buy the Humans some capital with the Catalyst, though they undoubtedly wouldn't see it like that.
"We do not have the luxury of time," Harbinger countered, though Arshan could tell he was tempted by the possibility.
Arshan didn't need to point out that they could create the time. It would be a long arduous search but they controlled the cycles so it would not matter what organics arose. He read instead that Harbinger's argument was from the Catalyst. It wouldn't allow the search because, despite the control the Intelligence had over all Ascended, it did not trust the Humans and would not give them such an opportunity. It remembered the past. It remembered the other species that had been like them… It would not allow the same mistake again, even if the Humans had no reason to make that mistake.
"Then we must still act for this cycle," Arshan said. "It must be found and destroyed."
"And its thrall species exterminated."
"It's a pity they weren't the species that discovered Earth," Arshan said after checking.
"Indeed," Harbinger agreed. "But I am certain they shall provide reason enough for their destruction."
Arshan sent a pulse of agreement, inwardly pleased that Harbinger was beginning to feel more like his usual self. His anger, while justified, should be reserved for the Leviathans and the one the Vanguard had found should already be diving into the darkest, murkiest depths it could find because there was no way it would survive the Harvest.
"We will have to take out the other two species so that we may insinuate agents," Harbinger mused.
"The Leviathan won't allow them."
"Then we will turn the other species against its thralls and let them do the work," the First Ascended didn't seem concerned and Arshan was pleased.
"Put the Humans on it," he joked. "With their attachment to their home system, so long as that species dies, they will be satisfied."
"With your guidance to help them against the Leviathan's plans, they will do well."
Arshan was silent. Harbinger couldn't mean that! His leg twitched.
"Yes," Harbinger said, ignoring Arshan's continued silence. "They will do well."
"But-" What had he done to deserve this?
"Take a portion of the fleet with you but drive a wedge through any alliance the organics have formed and watch the Humans to see how well they control agents. This will be an adequate test, though I will remain ready to confront any Leviathans." Harbinger gave the orders on an open channel, nullifying any chance Arshan had to avoid them.
As he moved away to take up a position near the Humans, the rest of the Ascended fleet nominated for this task formed with him. Arshan was reminded that while he might have known the First Ascended for a very long time, there were times, and now was one of them, when he didn't know Harbinger at all. Well, at least he could make the Humans do the work. That had been his suggestion and as the one technically in charge, he was going with his suggestion. It made the most sense.
"Arshan, why are we following the Humans?" Nomiri asked.
Arshan didn't bother to turn and while Nomiri's subchannels didn't relay any further information, he could clearly hear her thoughts that Harbinger had been mistaken to deal with the Humans.
"Can you fight one of the Leviathans?" Arshan returned a counter question. Harbinger might have said that the younger Ascended would have to ask but Nomiri already knew about them. She'd been involved with the last great hunt.
"Of course not!" she replied and again Arshan didn't not need extra information to hear the statement, 'and you already know that.'
"Well, they can," he announced, flicking one leg slightly towards the neatly arranged lines that comprised the Human Ascended fleet. "And while they do not make stupid decisions I am prepared to allow them some autonomy to conduct the hunt and Harvest."
Unsaid in Arshan's reply was the knowledge that a fleet as large as the Human Ascended needed to learn how to conduct the harvest in all situations. They had done well in the last few cycles but they still had much to learn. Usually it wasn't an issue. The new Ascended became members of a larger subfleet, led by an experienced Ascended. The Humans formed their own subfleet.
Before Nomiri could say they should have been dispersed, both to help with their Ascended education and with their integration, thus putting the Humans in their place through constant reminders that they were the youngest and least experienced Ascended, Arshan curled his legs up tightly, indicating that the discussion was over. "Rest assured, Nomiri, I will override their decisions if necessary but for now they may continue. We should be thankful that such young Ascended are able to function so well together." Arshan added the last with a superior tone and was pleased to feel Nomiri's flush of chagrin at the reminder of her younger days.
It had taken her a very long time to adapt.
Sensing that Nomiri would not continue to object, Arshan turned the bulk of his attention to the conversation the Humans were having. His conversation with Nomiri had not been public, and while he could easily keep track of several conversations, it was time to ensure the Humans were doing what was necessary.
"There are three main species." Miranda was going over information they already knew but her subchannels were providing a wealth of additional impressions about them. "Two have formed a long standing alliance they name the Accord. They have a couple of subspecies who are represented." Miranda made a comparison to the Council the Humans had known from their own cycle. Superficially, this Accord was similar, dominated this time by the two founding races, but the species who joined after were well represented and had to see to their own defences.
"The third main species are religious freaks and we will be doing the galaxy a favour in removing them," she said the last with some relish.
Arshan sent a pulse of agreement with her assessment. Harbinger hadn't said it outright but if these Lhyndhon were truly controlled by a Leviathan then ascension was an unlikely outcome. It was good that the Humans had picked up on that unspoken conclusion and if they were all this astute, then they would make the right decisions for the cycle.
"There has to be some political wedges in this Accord," Udina noted. There was no alliance which was that settled, no matter how long it had been established.
"Until recently I would have said we could spark a war between the Accord and the Lhyndhon," Miranda replied, "but it appears the Lhyndhon have been busy."
"How do you mean?" Anderson asked.
"The Lhyndhon are dominated by males," Miranda began explaining. "The other two species have a much more even gender distribution when it comes to making decisions and wielding power, with the Reyna perhaps having a few more females. I'm not sure of this, but I suspect the Lhyndhon have been talking with the Zudic."
"So you are suggesting we use their gender inequality?" Hackett asked.
"I think it's a possible starting point," Miranda confirmed, though her subchannels indicated that there would have to be more. They were no longer gender based and were no longer organic so their ability to be believably sympathetic would be tested.
"Except that doesn't kill the Reyna and they are the ones violating Sol," Udina pointed out fiercely.
"You asked for a wedge, I suggested where there might be one," Miranda snapped back. "I've been concentrating on trying to find out what the Divine One was, so my agents are a little thin in the other species." She paused and if she had still been Human she would have said she blushed. Miranda didn't have to explain but after so long it was nice to connect to the others again, even if a part of her was angry at the suggestion from Udina that she had not defended Sol well enough.
She couldn't. She'd been the Vanguard. "Did Harbinger say what it was?" Miranda asked when that realisation reminded her that she'd missed any instructions Harbinger had given the fleet in Dark Space. It had been clear to her that the First Ascended knew what she had encountered.
"He didn't," Anderson said slowly and Miranda could feel him searching through the Ascended network.
"There is nothing." The statement came from Sirta but was backed by several other Human Ascended, who were considered first tier researchers in the network. They had catalogued the most, except there was guarded silence from Elysium which said louder than words that she didn't quite agree.
"There is nothing obvious," Elysium explained without prompting. "But there are references to killing Ascended and no reference to the species that killed them," she elaborated.
"Organics fight ascension," Hackett said and his words were a reminder that their Ascended forms were not blamed for those they had killed. Ascended were meant to be stronger than mere organics.
"This is different," Elysium said with her familiar fire. "Search for Nazara," she instructed. "It is recorded that he was destroyed by an alliance of organics, lead primarily by the Human Shepard and the System Alliance's fleets. The Ascended I'm speaking of have no reference to what killed them." She might have said more but there was no reason to.
They all considered it quietly. Ascended were functionally close to immortal but accident and combat still played a large role in their longevity.
"So you are saying that some were destroyed by what Miranda encountered?" Udina summarised.
"Perhaps," Elysium said. "It is noteworthy that there is no stated reason but…" The flow of information from her subchannels paused.
"What is it?" Hackett prompted.
"Over Sur'kesh," Elysium said slowly. "Arshan indicated that he'd never seen a device that small which could affect Ascended." The Salarians had built something and had deployed it over their planet but it had done nothing. She said nothing further. The implications were obvious.
"We have found nothing in the network," Sirta confirmed. All the Human Ascended present at Sur'kesh had heard that statement and they'd all filed it for later consideration.
"It is another possibility," Anderson allowed.
"We don't have the information," Udina said.
Miranda sighed. "Has anyone just asked?" They could not conduct the harvest without information and if they could not readily find it, then it was time to ask. This was not the time for politics.
"No," Shepard replied for everyone. "I shall do so," he added. "In the meantime, we have three dominant species. Those who know too much, those who have found Earth and the other lot."
"The religious freaks, the glow in the dark and the so boringly average, it's like they were designed that way," Miranda summarised.
"So how do we drive a wedge through them?" Shepard asked her, his subchannels indicating that she should give her opinion because she had spent the years watching them.
"I would have said we could use this Accord against the religious freaks but it appears they've been courting the boringly average species," she said. "There is no schism yet," Miranda was quick to confirm. An alliance of thousands of years did not break easily. "But with more time…" she let that hang.
"You believe we can hasten it?" Udina asked.
"Yes. There is suspicion. It's been building over centuries and my agents helped it."
"But we want to kill these glow in the dark Reyna," the old politician objected. Using the Reyna as their tools was not punishing them for their desecration of Earth.
"Using them as the instruments of their galaxy's destruction may be the better revenge," Anderson mused softly. "And once the others are gone, they face our wrath alone," he explained.
Udina conceded the point but it was obvious he wished to destroy the Reyna. There was something satisfying about straight out revenge.
"We must do this within the context of the harvest," Shepard reminded them. Harbinger had let them go because they would harvest, not just destroy. "Though the Reyna will know our pain," he added, reassuring them that they would achieve their Human goals as well. But having marshalled his facts, he reached out to speak with Arshan. They could not properly fight if they did not know what they were facing and Shepard knew the elder Ascended knew more than had been divulged. He also suspected Arshan was waiting for the question because there was a feeling, as the other Ascended responded to Shepard's hail that it was about time the question was asked.
The rest of the Human Ascended silenced as they followed the conversation through Shepard's comm. They would not interfere but they would know what was discussed.
The names were exchanged as acknowledgement of the conversation to come.
"What can you tell me about the thing that attacked Miranda?" Shepard asked once the comm stabilised.
"A great deal, depending on what you wish to know," the elder Ascended replied.
Shepard didn't sigh, nor did he send Arshan the impression of a reproachful look. Neither were becoming and it was obvious that something else was going on here. This was probably another type of testing for new Ascended because Shepard wasn't stupid. He knew the Human Ascended had gotten away with a lot in their first cycles, far more than any other Ascended as young as them ever had.
It was sometimes difficult to remember that, to most of the Ascended fleet and especially those who had seen thousands of cycles, the Humans were nothing more than precocious infants.
"Harbinger did not wait or wish to investigate Miranda's discovery, which means the Ascended have encountered this before," Shepard laid out the logic. "Yet he sent us, the youngest fleet, with you and others in attendance," he allowed quickly, "which means it is either easy to deal with, or there is some advantage in immaturity." Shepard allowed his subchannels to indicate his doubt in the first reason provided.
There was another possibility, that Harbinger was was trying to drive the arrogance out of them, to put the Human Ascended in their place but Shepard didn't think it applied. The First Ascended had no need of such games to establish his dominance and he was not wasteful of the Ascended fleet.
"Yet this is something that seems to be able to control Ascended, thus it would be stupid to attack blindly."
"That is very true," Arshan said but he did not elaborate further.
This time Shepard did sigh, but only internally. "I want to know everything," he told the elder Ascended. "What it was, what it can do, what the Ascended fleet has done in the past when encountering it, what the suggested current tactics are, why Harbinger is allowing us to pursue it and what outcome he is wanting."
It might have been bold to ask so much but Arshan should recognise that it was the minimum information needed.
For a moment the elder Ascended was silent and Shepard tensed, afraid he'd gone too far but the Human Ascended had already been sent into combat once without proper information and he was not going to let it happen again, not when there were alternatives. And Arshan was one of those alternatives.
"Harbinger said you must ask, and you've asked," he said. "So, it is a Leviathan," all traces of mirth in Arshan's usually relaxed tone were gone. "By itself, it cannot do much but it possesses a level of technology that is troublesome and its ability to control organics will make them futilely fight against forces they have no chance to defeat.
Shepard got the impression of a sharp look from Arshan. "I know you Humans have a concept of the last stand or fighting out of spite but this is beyond that. A Leviathan's most troubling ability is their reach over us. Your Vanguard did not lie when she said she felt it. She did very well to escape."
Shepard was silent. This was a lot to take in and accompanying Arshan's words were subchannels of information giving Shepard, and the rest of the Human fleet, better details. The mysterious deaths of several Ascended were no longer mysterious. They had been caused by these Leviathans but Shepard realised, almost reluctantly, for them to have caused so many deaths, they must have existed for millennia. No organic species lived that long, did they?
The question must have shown in his countenance.
"They have existed since before the cycles," Arshan admitted and Shepard was reminded that Ascended did not lie to Ascended, not even with unpleasant truths.
But after he dismissed that thought as being useless, several things began to settling into place in his mind. Their longevity and ability to control organics left Shepard staring right at the image Arshan had provided of one. "They are Harbinger's species," he blurted the conclusion and then mentally cringed at the crudeness of the statement.
Harbinger was above such considerations as species. In many ways, they all were but it was still true. Human would always be his species since Ascended was a state.
"Yes," Arshan agreed. "Harbinger is their Ascended form and they were the first species Ascended."
Shepard sensed there was more Arshan was not saying and while he was curious, he knew it had no bearing on now. What mattered was that a Leviathan had been seen and was in control of one of this cycle's species. "Will it have given them tech?" he asked, putting aside his, and the Human fleet's curiosity about the very dawn of the cycles. That information could wait and would always be within Harbinger and Shepard could not imagine the cycle without the first one.
"I do not believe so but I cannot say for sure," Arshan replies. "Your Vanguard's observations indicate that they are still primitive so it seems more likely that it ensured they had to obey, but then pushed them to develop their own tech. Primitive organics would not have understood its tech," Arshan observed but Shepard caught the slightest twitch from the elder Ascended. It was a memory but whether from experience or something in the cycle, he wasn't sure.
"So we can expect them to fight to the last in all situations, possibly self-terminating if they believe they may be able to damage or kill us," Shepard summarised what the thralls would do. "But when we confront it, what will it do?" he pressed.
Hackett and Anderson would adjust the fleet's tactics for the harvest to ensure the organics failed but that still left the Leviathan.
"It will try to control you," Arshan said plainly. "It will reach out and touch your mind and tell you to obey and you will have no choice but to obey."
"Miranda managed to escape."
"Yes, she did well."
"What is its range?" Shepard asked.
There was something not right here. He was not about to lead the Humans against something they couldn't fight.
"Once it controls you, there is no range," Arshan said, reminding Shepard about indoctrination. Those organics controlled always obeyed, even on the other side of the galaxy.
This time, Shepard did give him a look. "How do we fight it?" he asked, his subchannels presenting a range of possibilities. If they managed to confine it to a planet, they could just bombard the world until it died, regardless of the ecological damage. If in space, destroying the ship would do but both relied on them being able to fire. Alternatively, if they could get an indoctrinated organic to do their bidding, that offered up more possibilities.
"They are a deep water species," Arshan observed. "Planetary bombardment has traditionally had little effect."
Shepard was about to snap at the elder Ascended because that didn't answer his question and he knew Arshan knew what he was asking but was for some reason procrastinating on answering.
"You Humans have been selected to fight, not because we want any of you to die, but because you truly are the most appropriate force to confront the Leviathan." The elder Ascended's manner became strictly businesslike. "It will attempt to control the main consciousness, the Prime thought," Arshan explained. "But you Humans still have others, others who can break that control because they are not the focus of it or others who can ensure that your Ascended forms do not attack. Once it is dead, Harbinger will scan any who came into contact with it, to ensure all controls are gone."
Shepard calmed down, processing the information. Some might have troubles but others were sufficiently fragmented that they should be fine. All the psychological problems of multiple personalities just became a benefit. He would have to avoid the Leviathan. He wasn't sure the others in his Ascended form would be able to control him and he did not need Harbinger's scrutiny.
"What does Harbinger want?"
"He wants them all dead," Arshan replied quickly, "but he'll settle for this one's death."
"Do you have any anatomical information?" Shepard asked, prompted by several of the Human fleet.
Arshan laughed. "You are transparent. We know which areas of their brains allow them to control us and organics," he said but he provided the detailed information. "It cannot be removed without killing them or without falling under their control. We do not wish to remove it. It is a buildup of toxins in that area of their brains that eventually kills them."
"I see," Shepard said and he did but there might be something extra the rest of Humanity would see. "Our tactics should therefore be to trap the Leviathan in space and kill it there. A large enough fleet of non-homogenised Ascended should keep it confused long enough for the deciding shots to be fired."
"Yes," the elder Ascended agreed. "The rest of us will focus on the organics and the harvest. Your focus is to be on the Leviathan."
"Except it will be behind at least three organic fleets," Shepard noted. There was no fear of those fleets in his being, just that they would make things inefficient. Even the lesser species would contribute since they had to see to their own defences and he was expecting a few surprises in those so called lesser species. "There may be another way to draw it out," he said as a kernel of an idea formed, not just in his mind, but in the collective consciousness of Humanity.
It was based on the earlier suggestion to drive a wedge into the organic alliance. It would help the cycle but would also fulfil Humanity's desire to punish the Reyna for their desecration of Earth. If the Reyna had just settled there, there would still be anger but it would not be as deep. The Human Ascended had come a long way in controlling their emotions, even over the last few cycles.
Arshan said nothing but Shepard knew he was waiting for further details so he took a moment to better compose himself, mentally clarifying the idea. "Miranda indicates that she believes that the Lhyndhon were working to bring the Accord onside but that they had only truly begun speaking to one of the founding species. The other was not included in their discussions."
The elder Ascended twitched one leg to indicate that he should continue and Shepard was reminded that Arshan had probably seen the organics do this many times before. Not with a Leviathan guiding them but as normal politics. Give him, or any of the elder Ascended a sample of a political speech and he could tell you what the species planned for the next few years.
"Therefore, we may be able to approach the other species to warn them of the horrible danger the Lhyndhon truly harbour."
"And what danger would that be?" Arshan asked, though there was nothing to indicate he disapproved of the idea.
Shepard hesitated. He couldn't say the danger of a Leviathan. It would mean nothing and hinting about its ability to control organics was one of the reasons Saren had fallen. Nazara should not have let his thrall know about that. There was no reason now to put the Reyna on guard when they were already suspicious.
"Make the Leviathan an AI," Miranda told him on a private channel. She had been following the conversation and her sub channels indicated that there had been some suspicious in that direction already so the idea would not be completely new. Playing on existing suspicion would reinforce it and if things progressed well, the Reyna would come to believe they had confirmed their suspicion without Ascended help.
"The dreadful AI that has been controlling the Lhyndhon as its personal worker drones for all their history," he said to Arshan.
The elder Ascended was quiet but then Shepard detected the hint of amusement. It appeared irony was still alive and well for Ascended. "Yet that presents a problem if you look to be an AI," he pointed out.
That was true.
While Shepard knew he was still organic at his core, else the Leviathan would not be able to control him, most organic species saw the Ascended as AI, a memory of the species they had been. Attempting to explain the process of ascension would be difficult and in their current state would likely horrify the Reyna. They were not mature enough as a species to see the possibilities. Truly, Humanity hadn't been either but they had been desperate and the idea of digital immortalisation had been around for centuries.
The simple solution would be to appear as an organic race but he couldn't tell Arshan he knew how to replicate Human form from the information stored in his core. Shepard wasn't even sure if Arshan knew that was possible and suggesting it would lead to far too many questions. He needed something else, something familiar for the Reyna to relate to but not too familiar. He wanted them to believe that…
It was simple and Shepard resisted the urge to chuckle as the fiction solidified in the Human Ascended's consciousness.
Joker, as always, wasn't as restrained. "If we pull this off boss, it is going down as one of the best military deceptions of the cycle. Ever." He chortled and Shepard was reminded that everyone had been learning from the Ascended network.
"Perhaps," Shepard allowed, keeping a lid on his emotions. The plan was not guaranteed yet. "The Cypiene, if available, would be suitable to act as our organic front," Shepard said to Arshan, phrasing it that way to indicate the need for Harbinger's approval and the lead Human's deference to the ancient Ascended.
The slaves would obey any Ascended, but they were Harbinger's tools for ensuring the needed data about the organics was collected before the cycle, else they'd waste valuable time testing the organics for how to best make husks and which were genetically suitable to be Ascended into a Prime form. Technically, with the harvest begun, the Cypienes' job was done but they would do what they were told to.
Arshan grasped the idea immediately. "They would present as an elder species, one that has moved on or has no interest in this galaxy but one that watches for the emergence of AI and destroys them," he mused.
"Or the Leviathan is a rogue AI they created and they are here to hunt it down," Shepard gave the alternative. Either was workable. "They are terribly sorry about the mix up at the Citadel and have determined from observations that only one species remains free of the AI's taint," he added piously.
"I will confirm," Arshan said, which was as good as saying he approved but the slaves were still Harbinger's.
Shepard indicated his agreement, pointing out on his subchannels that if it went to plan the Leviathan would have to confront them or hide behind those it controlled and that the worst case was that they had one of the larger species onside to help with the attack.
"Harbinger will allow it," Arshan reported reasonably quickly. "On the condition that the organics are never allowed into the galactic core nebula."
Shepard gave his agreement. That was more than fair and almost as soon as the condition spread through the Human network, Shepard could feel those who were more creative using the fact to spin more fiction about the Cypiene's new history. Arshan could apparently feel it as well.
"Keep the story simple," he advised. "Anything more complex might be too taxing for them and you need them to remain focused on the threat of the AI, not on what I'm sure would be an amusing fictional history."
"Yes, Sir," Shepard replied. He didn't have to imagine the cheesy references that had been put into the story. "We are not having the Cypiene adopt a Vulcan attitude," he objected over the Human network.
"Aw, but it would be amusing," was the general reply.
"The Vulcans were too familiar," Shepard argued. "Their technology too readily understood. The Cypiene will be representing us and we are above mere organics," he reminded the fleet. "They are also meant to be advanced and so they must present with a suitable level of mystic. The Vorlons perhaps, or a more approachable version of the Shadows."
The fleet understood his desires.
"You know, for someone who presents as a simple grunt, you have quite a sense of propriety," Annie observed. "One could almost call it pride," she added.
"I prefer to believe that I understand what Humanity wants and I try to keep us on that path without getting distracted," Shepard countered.
"Well, this should do nicely," Miranda broke in on the conversation, while the rest of the fleet embellished the simple plan. "The Reyna will be begging to attack the others with our help and once they realise it is too late, the cycle will be ours. It is a fitting punishment, especially if we can let them know why they were chosen to be the instruments of their cycle's downfall."
"One thing at a time," Shepard replied good naturedly. "Let's pick up some Cypiene and establish contact before we look to the conclusion. They may yet surprise us." Even as he said it, his subchannels were depreciating. It was unlikely but Shepard liked to be prepared for every alternative.
Immortality was safer that way.
Everyone can thank Bashful1 for being a good reminder for me! :D Thank you Bashful1. Happy 2nd Anniversary.
Review please! Complete the trifecta of Fav, Follow and Review. Or just take out the review leg. I don't mind. :P