Chapter 1

Grizfolk – Into the Barrens

"There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory." - Sir Francis Drake




Check the watch. 2:16am.



Check again. Still 2:16.

"Ach, screw this," I mutter, flicking my pen across the desk, gathering up the problem sheet into a heaped pile of papers, and shoving them to the side in a way that was supposed to prove cathartic, but just causes most of the sheets to slide off and onto the floor, accompanied by a heavy sigh. I can clean that up in the morning, and just hope my brain has cleaned itself up by then too.

I'm sure there was a good reason I went to university; something about making something of my education, furthering the pursuit of knowledge, getting a job. I take another cursory glance at the top of the floored work, briefly mulling over how twenty years of my life led to solving Lagrangeans. Six year old me probably thought that I'd be an astronaut by now. Way to drop the ball, Shaw.

I can see my breath misting up faintly in front of me as I open the bathroom door; a cramped, white cubicle that's barely big enough for a stand-up shower, never mind a toilet and a sink. I suppose it's entirely my own fault I'm up this late, but all the same, I'd rather blame the system than acknowledge a lack of application on my own part. That, and a sleep schedule that was slipping already.

I set about brushing my teeth, staring out the window into the pitch black evening, sighing again. At least we break up for Christmas in a couple of weeks. I can hold it out, take some time at home with friends, get everything back on track. Everybody goes through rough patches, after all, it's just-

The hell?

My eyes catch on something out in the dark; a flick of light, this almost otherworldly blue glow, that flashes out of existence almost as soon as I see it. At least until it's back a couple of seconds later, lingering for a brief moment this time, then gone...then back again.

It could quite easily just be someone messing around in the garden, or the fields nearby. Usually is, at this kind of hour; I suppose I should be thankful they're not making any noise.

But then it's back again, and the way the light sort of...bends, flows around an outline, is perplexing. Either way, it doesn't look like whoever's responsible is planning on moving on. Given that they're out pretty much in our back garden, I'm not feeling too comfortable about falling asleep with someone messing about this close to the house. Maybe if I wait five minutes?

It takes about that long to finish brushing my teeth, slip on some tartan pyjamas, slippers and a dressing gown, sitting up on the windowsill and seeing the light shifting about, still in that same spot. Well, shit. "Let's rent on the outskirts, we get all this garden room, look out onto the fields, save money," I grumble to myself as I quietly open the door to my room, imitating the voice of the 'friend' who pushed this whole idea through for the second year house. "Sure thing, Dan, it only takes an hour to walk into town, and we get the crazy people in the garden, I'm glad we save twenty pounds a month..." People usually run as soon as they see the kitchen light come on and hear the door opening, so I'm not overly concerned as I step outside, breath hitching at the sudden rush of cold as my slippered feet crunch against the gravel.

The light is coming from the field directly in front of our garden, so I flick on my phone's flashlight and make my way over to the small separating fence, vaulting over with one hand and managing to avoid tearing the back of my dressing gown. It's going to ruin my slippers, but I've not got the patience to worry about that right now. I just want this joker gone so I can get some sleep, especially since me coming all this way hasn't budged them.

"Hey, sorry, but this is private property, and it's nearly half two in the morning," I sigh, approaching the light source and swinging my own light up at it. "Can you maybe not hang around…"

My voice trails off, given what I see in front of me. The light swirling around an outline makes sense, given that it's being emitted from a person. Female, about six foot, so already having me at a disadvantage, wearing a fairly skin-tight, black, one piece catsuit kind of thing. Directly behind her, is what looks like some kind of enormous, black rectangle, with small rectangle jutting off it like legs, but it has mechanical ridges and gaps suggesting the presence of doors, engines, like some kind of bizarre vehicle.

Oh, and the woman is blue. To top it all off.

"Damn it," she says, turning to face me. The word cuts through the air; her voice is authoritative; frustrated, rather than panicked. At least she can stay calm, given that my limbs are already trembling like jelly as I try to work out what this is. Some kind of dream, maybe? I fell asleep while I was working at my desk? "You weren't supposed to see me like this. You were supposed to be asleep."

"I, uh...sorry?" Apologising is just a reflex, given that my mouth and body are basically running on autopilot, as my brain pours all its available resources into trying to reconcile what I'm seeing with what I know can't be true. This is an asari, undeniably. But it can't be. That's not possible. In the same way that it can't be a Kodiak dropship right behind her. That's fiction, it's not real.

"And now this is what I get to work with," the woman mutters. I won't acknowledge her as an asari, I can't, there has to be another explanation for this. "Great."

"Look, if you're having problems, or you're lost, you can come in, have a cup of tea or something, I can get the police round," I start stammering, gesturing back in the vague direction of the house. It's the dark and the weird lighting, that'll be it, she's just...a strange looking lady, who got lost with her giant cardboard box, and light emitting catsuit. Christ, this is really happening, isn't it? There's no way this can't be what I think it is, but then...I can feel my heartbeat rising rapidly, blood pounding in my head, adrenaline kicking in. Should I run? Get help? She's a bloody alien, I need to panic, do something, not offer her tea-

It suddenly gets cold. I mean, it was already cold, but really cold, like someone's pouring freezing water right into my veins. The asari sighs, and a quick look down at her hand shows a stubby looking thing, small, almost flat, curved like a gun. With her finger curled around the trigger of it. Definitely a gun...and when I try to run, my legs give way entirely, collapsing down to the ground as black spots dance on the edge of my vision.

I try to gasp something about her shooting me, the words rasping as they get caught in my throat, hand going to my chest and expecting to feel something warm from the impact. But I don't feel anything. By the time my hand reaches the fabric of my shirt, my vision has blanked out entirely, and then there's nothing at all. A faint awareness of an inky black, then -

My eyes jolt open, body following suit a second later as I break out into a coughing fit, rolling over onto the smooth, firm ground beneath me as my mind tries to catch up with everything my body's reacting to. Shooting. I got shot. There was that asari, in the field outside of my house, she shot me...but I'm not dead. I don't feel dead, at least. I think. I guess I don't have anything to base that on, but I'm moving, and the coughing sure as hell hurts enough to suggest I'm alive and in need of a functional pair of lungs.

Firm ground...shiny enough for me to see my own reflection in, actually. Slightly curly blonde hair, swept across to the side to try and hide it a little, though with recent events it's looking a bit ragged. Same for my face; bright blue eyes are in check, at least, along with the low brow, raised cheekbones, soft jaw and slightly freckled, narrow nose. The glance downwards also makes me realise that I'm not in my pyjamas anymore; instead, I've got on a fairly tight t-shirt thing, I suppose, though the raised collar and padded patches on the arms and sides are a hell of an odd style. Same for the trousers; hints of normality, at least, but the fabric still stretches in an incredibly comfortable fashion as I shift my legs and unsteadily stand up to get a better look around.

The alleyway I'm in is pretty non-descript, to be fair; raised, similarly shiny walls, and following them up with my eyes...there's not so much a sky as there is a dimmed light of the underside of something enormous, and lanes of blocky splotches shifting about in an orderly fashion above me. I can hear the muffled sounds of lively conversation around me, from out on the main streets, seeing all kinds of odd shaped people walking past in the distance.

I know exactly where I am, and right now, I'm really not sure whether that makes the situation better or worse. It doesn't make it any less impossible. This is the Citadel; the lower wards, specifically, though I've no idea where. The blocky splotches are cars, the underside is presumably part of the Presidium, and those odd shaped people are...respectively as they pass, a turian, volus, another volus, salarian…

I can feel myself getting dizzy again, reaching a hand out to rest against the alley wall and support myself, blinking rapidly as if that'll somehow help at this juncture. Unsurprisingly, it does absolutely nothing. The vision doesn't magically break apart, fracture around me; the world moves on, as I stand still and try to work out what the fuck I'm supposed to do beyond screaming. Just before I get to that point, though, a buzz on my arm and an orange display flickering open draw my attention to a familiar asari, her eyes narrowed.

"Good, you're awake. Listen closely. I've got a lot to tell you, and not a lot of patience to do it with."

"Not a lot of patience?" Anger, at least, manages to stifle out the rising sense of panic and despair, at least for a few seconds. "Listen, you fucking shot me, and now you're going to lecture me on-"

"With a tranquiliser. If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead." I quickly yank up my shirt to check the skin beneath it, and true enough, I can just about make out a puncture mark from a dart, rather than any signs of scarring a bullet would probably cause. "You're alone, on an alien station. This is not your world. You have no friends, no resources, nowhere to go. If I decide you're not worth the trouble, you can deal with this yourself, do you understand?" And just like that, the panic and despair are back. Sure, I know the Mass Effect universe. Great. I'll be able to stumble around, jobless and homeless, with no idea of how to integrate into galactic society. I'll get to enjoy it for all of half a day, before I run out of money, and it's not like I'll be able to get much help when I can't even explain where I came from. Regardless of what she did to me, I need her.

"I understand." I can feel my voice trembling a bit as I say that, attempts at steeling myself not quite working out. "Look, I just want to go home, okay?"

"Then you shouldn't have wandered out and found me. It was this or killing you, and you should be glad I was charitable enough to opt for this option," she replies dismissively, brushing off my concern entirely. "Your omni-tool account has two thousand credits on it. You can work out how to use it yourself once we're done talking. Then get over to the C-Sec academy within the next two hours so you can have your job interview."

"My job interview-"

"I already fixed it so you've got the job, it's just a formality. You do need to turn up, though, so get your bearings, fast" the asari interrupts. "After that, it's up to you. Find somewhere to live. You'll be covered by the credits I gave you for a month or so, and then your pay can cover it after that."

"You're just giving me some money and then abandoning me? How is that fair?" I protest, trying frantically to keep up with all this information. "I have a family back on Earth, friends, I have a fucking life, you can't just drag me out here and act like giving some money makes it alright."

"I can't babysit you. Like I said, be grateful that you've got a life here."

"Well, how about I tell C-Sec that you abducted me?" I ask, trying to make my tone threatening as I stare her down on the vid-screen. "Maybe you should try treating me a bit nicer."

"Okay, tell C-Sec you got abducted by an asari, who brought you here from Earth. What was her name?" She gives me a smug smile.

"I dunno, but still..." I trail off, realising there's really nothing I can say here that'll counter her point. I'm not holding any cards here, and we both quite clearly know it.

"Oh, where did she take you from on Earth, sir? What date, what time, what place? Do you want to sit down, sir, are you sure you're feeling alright?" she continues, tone mocking. "Be grateful that I'm giving you a lifeline, Ian Shaw. Oh, and if you try telling anyone that you know about Reapers, or geth invasions, or that Saren Arterius is going rogue, well...they'll think you're crazier than with the abduction story."

"How do you know about any of that?" The asari gives a chuckle, reaching over to something out of shot. "Hey, I'm serious, what the hell-" The feed goes dead, leaving me gawping at a blank display, mind still racing, and anxious feeling still rooted deeply into my stomach.

Deep breaths, think it all through. However this asari knows all this stuff, she's right. I need this 'lifeline' of hers, and if I start talking about things I know, people are going to think I'm crazy. Right now, I need to go to this interview, find somewhere to stay, and then work on getting home. One step at a time. Survival now, escape later.

It doesn't make me stop feeling sick, but it helps the dizziness and fear get suppressed, at least for now, as I look back onto the main street of this ward, getting ready to step out and look for a way to C-Sec before a thought hits me. The asari talked about Saren and the geth invasion. What year even is it?

Getting the omni-tool to open again takes a couple of minutes in of itself, before I work out that it seems to open and close based on a hand gesture; opening my palm and rather deliberately and forcefully closing it gets the display up, and the date is prominently displayed in the upper right, skimming over to the last number. 2181. Two years before Mass Effect 1 kicks in.

At least I don't have to worry about a Reaper invasion for a couple of years, then. Weirdly enough, that doesn't particularly relieve the tension.

Closing the display, I take another deep breath, and my first steps out into the flow of Citadel foot traffic. Almost getting bowled over by a krogan skirting past the alleyway's entrance; he shoots me a glare that makes my stomach do a few flips before he lopes off.

I guess it's time to find C-Sec, and hope that I don't throw up on the walk there.

A/N: Hey, not dead.

A lot has changed in my life since the last update; I've graduated university, started a job, got my own place, etc. So, in the spirit of a new start, I figured I'd address what was stopping me from continuing Masses to Masses 4; I really, really don't like 1& 2, and they contain stuff and canon information that don't really reflect what I want to do with the rest of the series.

So, in the interest of being open, here's the plan:

Masses to Masses 1 and 2 will be getting redone and republished. I'm leaving the originals up for people who like them, but some details are going to get changed a bit so later stuff makes more sense.

Masses to Masses 3 onwards are safe for right now, though I'll need to make minor edits to make sense in the new canon. That'll probably be through editing bits of existing chapters (I actually quite like 3).

The bright side is that this won't take me as long, since I'm working off existing material and plots on shorter stories, though obviously updating the dialogue and stuff takes a bit of time. However, it's a project I've really wanted to do for a while, and it'll make me happier about writing more once it's done! There is also enough stuff changing that it should still be entertaining to read through again; you're basically getting MtM1 and 2 with less shoddy dialogue and characterisation, at least in theory.

I don't want to give a time for updating/when this'll be done, since that hasn't really worked out for me in recent years, but I hope it's something you guys can look forward to. I appreciate it's probably not what everyone wanted, but I hope you can understand why I'm doing it.

Cheers for the patience and messages while I've been gone. I do appreciate it, and I'm sorry about the wait.