DISCLAIMER – I do not own Mass Effect franchise, the story, or any of its characters. All rights go to Bioware.


AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Thanks for all the nice reviews people! You're amazing! Not only are you giving me reviews, but they are actually structured, long, and hit the point nicely! That's what any an author could hope for.

This chapter is, unfortunately, a bit shorter by necessity – it turns out that I had originally written an exceedingly long chapter which I felt would have been a bit too long for one sitting. So, I took a bit of time to make a decent split so as not to appear as if I had chopped it mid-scene.


Chapter posted on 21.4.2017.

Main Tags: Action, Sci-fi, Adventure, Friendship building, Love.

Additional Tags: Slowly turning AU, Technology-heavy, Geopolitical themes (to an extent), Economic themes (there are some), Intrigue (a bit o' that, too)…

Rated M – for mature and adult content.

Enjoy…


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Chapter 23 – Experiment Gone Wrong

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The Normandy dove into the atmosphere of the planet Binthu, leaving a fiery trail as it pierced through the upper layers at hypersonic speeds.

"Atmospheric descent stable; systems green across the board," Joker reported over the comms. "IES systems report 99% entry emissions absorbed. We are stealth."

"Mission status?" Jaina called through the comms from where she sat at the wheel of the second Mako.

"700 kilometers to Target," Joker responded. "Speed constant at Mach 8. Time until drop: four minutes."

"I'm pretty sure that even if they've seen a fiery trail of our descent, they'd have assumed it was a meteor piercing the atmo," Jaina commented to Marcus who sat in the other vehicle.

"Still, making an atmospheric entry like this, far away from the target, is a good practice for a ship like ours," he noted. "We can absorb all heat, but the re-entry blaze is visible."

"I'll send the memo to Hackett then," Jaina said. "He'll have to make sure it's applied in the manuals for the new ships." She looked up, noting the lack of any turbulences or sounds. "Though I must say, it's quite a smooth ride."

"Aw, thanks for the compliment, Commander!" Joker called back through the comms merrily.

"I was referring to the ship," she replied dryly.

"Well, it kinda comes with the package," he pointed out with a grin evident in his voice. "Now that I've had a chance to ride her, there's no way they're getting me off of this baby. I found my soul mate," he finished dreamily.

"Why don't you watch the roads some more instead of dreaming," Garrus said tiredly.

"Hey, it's the skies! I can make my own roads," Joker retorted before his voice turned serious. "Standby. Approaching drop point."

"Buckle up!" Jaina called out for the rest of the ground team, and the quick clicking of seat harnesses echoed through the inner compartments.

Both of the armored vehicles spun up their new hover drives, a low, powerful thrum rising up from their interiors. Under the large core's powerful mass effect fields, both vehicles rose up above the cargo hold's floor, their main thrusters priming for launch.

The pulsing orange lights at the sides of the cargo bay doors lighted up and the ramp quickly descended down, bringing with it the sound of roaring gales held at bay by the Normandy's forward air-deflecting barriers.

"Shutting down the launch pad's inertial fields. Braking speed in… five, four, thee, two, one…"

The aerodynamic surfaces at the outside of the Normandy's hull extended, instantly breaking the ship's velocity as the two vehicles throttled up their hover system's acceleration pads. They shot out from the forward-facing cargo bay and throttled their thrusters as they began their controlled descent toward the ground.

The Normandy re-accelerated above them, surging up and away through the atmosphere. As the two vehicles descended the last hundred meters of altitude, their main hover systems kicked into full drive, halting their descent, and the vehicles surged forward in a low flight above Binthu's barren yellow-brown surface.

"Everything check, all systems in the green," Jaina called from the second Hover-Mako as she drove it parallel to Marcus's. "How's the system dealing with the new gun on your side?"

Marcus checked the vehicle's diagnostic layout. The new, significantly longer and more powerful gun now stood perching from the rear end of it and pointing forward, giving the vehicle a completely new silhouette.

"The system has immediately adjusted to the different distribution of weight," Marcus replied as he examined the readings. "No significant difference in the power drain."

"I suggest we test the main gun's operational capacity before we approach the target," Jaina said as she checked the surroundings on the radar. "This small valley seems to be well tucked-in between the hills, just as we assumed. The sound blast should be pretty limited."

"Alright," Marcus said. "Garrus, you have the honors."

"Roger that," Garrus replied and activated the new gun's controls. "All systems green. Starting off with a standard pea-sized round… firing test shot in three, two, one –"

A high-pitched whizz blasted through the air, and the entire Hover-Mako kicked hard from the mighty recoil, jumping up whole additional meter into the air before the flight control automatically settled it back down. The round struck the rocky hillside, blasting the rock into a burst of gravel.

"Whoa! That was a mighty kick there!" Jaina commented as she watched how the Mako reacted under the stress.

"It's alright, Commander," Tali spoke up. "We expected the first discharge would be like this. Just let the new V.I. we installed learn how much to compensate using the hover system.

"Preparing another round," Garrus said. "Same conditions."

The gun barked again, the round whizzing through the air and blasting the chunks of rock again, but this time, except for a slight tremor, the Mako remained steady.

"Now that's much better," Marcus said empathically, then shared a nod with the rest of the teammates in his Mako. "Jaina, fall back a bit, we're gonna try firing in lateral directions."

"Roger that," she said as her Hover-Mako slowed down a dozen meters behind Marcus's.

Garrus aimed and fired the gun both to the left and to the right a couple of times in five second intervals. The V.I. virtually instantly used the hover drive to compensate for the momentum and the torque that the eccentricity of the powerful gun's mounting was conveying to the main chassis without any issue. In the end, no matter the direction of firing, the Mako remained perfectly stable even as they kept driving at high velocities.

"I could get used to this kind of stability," Garrus commented. "Nice work with those V.I. subroutines, Tali! I've never seen any V.I. stability assist adapt so quickly."

"How are our heat gages looking?" Marcus asked next.

"There is a powerful heat buildup," Tali said as she examined the recorded readings. "Even our new heat sinks cannot compensate it for too much. One shot every two-point-eight seconds – that's the fastest it can go and keep firing indefinitely."

"Really?" Kaidan queried bewilderedly. "Hadn't we rigged a system similar to the one on the Normandy's IES? The mass effect fields should have accelerated the heat siphoning and diffusion by a huge margin!"

"They did, and to a staggering degree, but this is an exceptionally powerful gun," Tali pointed out. "No standard armored vehicle could handle anything near its heat production. Frankly, even I'm surprised it's working this well. With the punch it packs, I'd have expected at least a four or five-second firing interval."

"How about short bursts for quick dispatches?" Garrus asked. "It's good having the reach, but I figure some flexibility might be good too."

"Hmm…" Tali hummed as she made some calculations. "It could do a three-round burst, but only once every seventeen seconds. Twelve, if we perhaps rig some kind of an emergency liquid coolant system to vent the heat."

"No. No way," Marcus stated firmly. "Designing adequate internal coolant pipelines increases complexity and complexity increases the chance of failure, and spraying a vapor coolant would eat away at the material over time – and that's not even accounting for all the coolant tanks we'd have to lug."

"Forget about any of that, guys!" Jaina called from the other end, ending their discussion. "The readings I'm having here state that that gun inflicts over forty mega-joules of impact energy – that's over six times the standard Mako's round. It's a one-shot-kill – and yet it can keep firing. Quickly at that. Nobody has an IFV gun this powerful and efficient by a wide margin. Trying to improving it any more is only wasting our precious time."

The people in the vehicles looked amongst each other.

"Well, you've heard the lady," Marcus said, shrugging. "That's all the point we need." He then nodded at Garrus. "Tell me how are we when it comes to accuracy and the precision, though."

"It's overshooting the mark a by some point-three degrees, so the targeting system needs to be calibrated if we want to snipe out enemies, but the precision seems to be top notch; as one would expect of the gun of this length."

"Good," Marcus said. "Jaina, what our progress?"

"We're forty clicks out from the designated coordinates," she replied. "It'd take us some twenty minutes if we were in an ordinary Mako on a straight line."

"You want to test the new wings, huh?" he noticed, smiling. "Alright. Let's speed this up a notch."

"I'll wait for you at the finish line," she said smugly and punched the throttle, firing up the main thruster afterburners.

The Mako she piloted surged forward in a sudden burst of speed, the blue afterburner flame glaring brightly through the billows of brown dust it blasted up.

"Why, that lil…" he muttered as he punched the throttle of his own vehicle, blasting off after her.

The two vehicles surged across the open and barren landscape, their speed mounting to over three hundred kph within seconds. The Jaina's Hover Mako kept easily at the fore, the lack of the long and heavy gun giving her the weight and aerodynamics advantage.

Still, the mighty hover systems and large eezo cores pushed the combat vehicles hard, quickly peaking their velocities at five hundred kilometers per hour where the safeties limited any further acceleration this close to ground level.

"Whuuuoow!" Jaina whooped into the comm wildly as the vehicles charged across the dunes, leaping through the air off of dunes' edges like the flying fish jumping out across the waves.

"This vehicle is amazing! I love it!" she hollered with a big grin and a shine in her eyes. "And it has nothing with the fact that I'm beating your ass," she egged him on through the comms.

"Just you wait when you get the big-ass gun to weigh you down," he called.

"Now, now, boys are the ones that are supposed to be carrying big-ass guns," she tutored. "You can leave us, girls, smooth and curvy." Her tone turned husky. "Or is this you insinuating about how you'd like me to have something extra other than my lady parts, hmm?"

He chuckled, shaking his head. "Nope; no insinuations of any kind. I prefer you just the way you are."

"Then shut up and bear the burden, buster!" she barked amusedly.

He chuckled more loudly. "How's the afterburner heat buildup look on your side?" he asked then, switching back to the matter at hand.

"Engine temperature stable at eighty degrees, heat sinks working at twenty percent capacity," she replied.

"That's pretty goddamn amazing!" Marcus said, then turned to look at Tali. "I think we may consider removing all speed limitations from now on. Whaddya think, Tali?" he said.

Tali's wide-eyed gaze just shot at him with horror, her making a small squeak in the back of her throat. Marcus frowned, looking down to notice that, despite wearing seatbelts, she was clenching the seat's armrests hard. Looking to her side, he saw Kaidan having a similar expression of contained horror on his face and a similar posture of his body.

The Hover Mako leaped off of the dune's edge once more, blasting off through the air at 500 kph before it landed with a light jolt.

"C…Commander," Kaidan squeezed as he noticed where Shepard was looking.

"Watch the road, maybe?" Garrus finished for him in a rush, equally perturbed.

Marcus cast a glance to the turian as well, noticing that his eyes were wide and mandibles tightly pressed against his cheeks in a visage of horror.

The Hover Mako leapt off of the dune's surface once more, making all three passengers brace tightly in mounting horror.

"Hmm… Honey?" he called calmly through the comms as he slowly returned his eyes on the road. "It would appear that I'm running a rising threat of a multiple power barf here. How's it look on your side?"

Jaina frown in bewilderment. "Seriously?" she exclaimed in surprise. "There's nothing wrong on this end of the –"

"J-Jaina!" Liara's gasp from behind interrupted her.

She quickly glanced to the rear seats, only to see Liara and Ashley clenching the armrests, looking extremely pale.

"A… a little less jumping around would be appreciated," Liara said, her eyes wide.

"What?" Wrex barked as he turned in his shotgun seat toward them, looking no worse for wear. "What the heck are you talking about? This ain't nothing! Have you ever driven a Tomkah across Tuchanka's ruins while being chased by a Thresher Maw and a flight of Harvesters that are dropping exploding Klinx on your head while an enemy clan is slugging heavy mass effect rounds your way? Now that's the definition of bumpy! This thing? It's fun!"

Ashley pursed her mouth tightly, tucking her chin in and forcing her stomach down.

"O-kaaay," Jaina spoke slowly. "Marc, honey, why don't we rise a dozen meter's higher and keep it level?"

"Right after you," he said and the vehicles quickly adjusted their flight, preventing any further ramp jumps from the dunes' edges.

"Th-thank you, Commander," Ashley gasped out, reaching into her helmet to wipe the cold sweat off her brow.

"You're welcome, but we're talking about this when we get home," Jaina chided. "A little bit of bumping shouldn't rattle you this much."

"Not all of us were spec-ops supersoldiers trained for every vehicle of war, ma'am," Ashley pointed out. "Some of us were nothing more than planetside grunts."

"Or archaeologists, sitting in unmoving dig sites."

"Or just sniper specialists trained to lie for hours in wait."

"Or biotic sentinels, trained for war on foot."

"Or flying their whole life in peacefully-floating ships with inertial dampeners turned on the whole time!" Tali cried out angrily.

There was a moment of silence.

"I volunteer to teach them how to drive; ha-ha!" Wrex's sinister voice through the comms.

A moment of shocked, disbelieving silence.

"We'll put it under consideration," Jaina said, diverting a bunch of shocked people's attention her way.

"Heads up," Marcus called, preventing any further outburst. "We're approaching the coordinates!"

"That rise over there," Jaina called out and both of the vehicles simultaneously turned their vehicles toward the location she'd indicated.

The two vehicles climbed the rise and glided low as they approached the top, descending down and positioning themselves behind a series of rocky outcroppings. In front of them, at some two kilometers of distance, a single artificial structure stood.

"Looks like a Type-2 outpost from here," Jaina said as she examined it through the powerful zoom. "Subterranean complex with one surface access, with three additional missile turrets on top of it."

"Could be a Type-4," Marcus pointed out. "Both gunners, scope the area and try and see if there's anything that resembles a secondary entrance within five hundred meters from the first one."

There were a few moments of silence.

"I think I got one," Garrus said. "Twelve-point-three degrees, twenty-two-hundred out."

"And I have another one," Wrex said. "Fourteen-point-one, twenty-one-hundred and twelve out."

Marcus whistled. "We've got ourselves a big sucker. Joker! How long until the Normandy can do an overpass?"

"Nineteen minutes, Commander," Joker replied. "Do you want me to strike them with a pulsar?"

"No, we don't want to spook the hornet's nest if they're still here," Marcus replied. "Use only passive scanners and watch for heat and energy bleed signatures."

"Aye-aye," the man replied and ended the comm.

Marcus cast a quick look around his vehicle's compartment, noting that the passengers had already regained their color.

"You guys alright?" he called, receiving the nods from around.

"We're good here too," Jaina said after he checked out her own wards.

"Good," he said. "This Type-4 outpost might be only a couple of tunnels that link the exits, but if it's sprawling, then we'll need everyone on their top game. So, relax guys. Grab some water. We got eighteen minutes."

It was Liara who spoke up then: "Um… can somebody please explain to the clueless asari what does a Type-4 mean?" she asked with an innocent tone.

Marcus and Jaina both simultaneously opened their mouths to formulate a response when an audible sigh echoed through the comm.

"Fiiine," Ashley declared, obviously trying to make it sound like an exaggerated exasperation; "I will play the big sister and explain… even though you're… like… as old as my great-grandma, but whatever…"

"Ah-hah," Liara drawled out with a mock-irk smile on her face, and a few good-natured chuckles echoed through the comm.

"Aaaanywaaay," Ashley continued. "Alliance separates outposts into five types. Type-1 are surface structures – anything ranging from a single shack to a structured cluster of prefabs. Type-2 are underground and don't house more than a few dozen people. Type-3 are a mix of the two. Type-4, however, are actually large, sprawling underground bases that have more than one entrance. This is one of those. This one has three entrances, and by all accounts, it should mean it's a big one."

"And the Type-5?" Tali asked.

"A military type of outpost," Ashley replied. "Those employ everything from subterranean generators, multiple exits, and a bunch of surface structures."

"And anything larger than that?" Liara queried.

"Well, then you're talking about full-fledged colonies and military bases," Ashley replied.

"I see," Liara said interestedly as she seemed to be mulling over and storing the information in her mind.

They waited for some more minutes until the Normandy passed overhead on its orbital trajectory, and Joker called down:

"Commander, we're picking up some seriously wacked readings from that base down there."

"I'm listening," Marcus replied evenly.

"Well, for one, the base isn't as large as it seems to be by the positioning of its exits. It is only some twenty-five hundred square meters including hallways."

"How accurate is that?" Jaina asked.

"Very. We're detecting their generators – they're operating at full capacity and all of those internal energy systems are producing induction fields and heat. The entire base is lighted up like a Christmas tree!"

"Not terribly low-key of Cerberus," Marcus noted with a frown.

"It gets stranger than that," Joker said. "The life support system should be completely closed, but the emergency vents show that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is cycled into the base."

There was silence as both Marcus and Jaina mulled the implications of this discovery with both of their brows knitted together.

"Any life signs?" Marcus asked.

"The passive spectrometry shows evidence of organic compounds at the vents, but they are not what you usually see in human outposts. Ensign Kozlova believes we're dealing with an alien infestation in there."

"Shouldn't Binthu be uninhabited by higher-form organisms?" Jaina demanded in surprise.

"That's a negative on survey accuracy, ma'am," Navigator Pressly called from above. "Binthu was charted, but never combed by true scientific teams," he said. "It is feasible that some periodic organism might have spent the time sleeping underground."

"Yeah, like the first Riddick movie, Pitch Black!" Joker exclaimed eagerly.

Marcus sighed. "Fucking great," he muttered.

"Should I hit it with the Pulsar?" Joker called.

"Do it," Marcus said without preamble.

The Normandy's mighty sensor suite blasted a dark energy FTL pulse, illuminating the entire base.

"Commander, there's definitely something wrong going on down there," Joker reported a minute later. "We are detecting biomass inside the compound. There are, however, four shuttles behind a hidden shuttle bay entrance, and they all seem to be intact."

"Great," Marcus muttered. "Alright, everyone – breather helmets on! We're going in. Maximum level of alertness. If something seems too off, we back out."

Both he and Jaina revved up the drives of their Hover-Makos and accelerated toward the base entrance.

"Are those turrets tracking us, or am I imagining things?" Wrex asked suddenly.

Marcus sent a broadband scan along with visual tracking and spoke after a moment.

"No, you're not," he said somberly.

"They aren't firing," Jaina added. "We're well within their range."

"Stay alert, and prepare for evasive actions if necessary," Marcus reasserted.

Both of the Makos slowed down as they approached the base entrance, with all three of the turrets still tracking them.

"Tali, take the wheel," Marcus directed her, and they swapped places. "I'm heading out. If something happens, gun it. I'll make sure to jump in or on – or whatever's possible."

"Understood, Commander," the young quarian replied tensely.

The internal atmosphere equalized with the external, and Marcus popped the hatch carefully, slowly stepping out of the Mako, keeping his weapon in hands.

One of the turrets turned his way, and his HUD pinged with a LADAR scan originating from the turret. Three seconds later, all three turrets disengaged their tracking, and reset themselves into their default upturned angle of forty-five degrees, tracking the skies.

"That's… good," Jaina commented dubiously.

Marcus just nodded, then heard a thump behind him. Wrex had joined him, Devastator machinegun in hand, both of them scanning the compound entrance.

Suddenly, the light indicator of the entrance lock switched from red to green, and the main entrance doorway opened widely, making both Marcus and Wrex, and both of the Mako's guns aim at it. A moment later, a single humanoid figure began to slowly emerge from the stairwell.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Ashley exclaimed.

"What's a Thorian creeper doing on this planet?" Liara followed up right after.

In front of them was, clearly as day, one of Thorian's creepers, the one whose physique resembled the long-extinct Protheans. Its green plant body was interspersed with small turquoise-blue bulbs, and its four eyes glowed the same color. The creeper raised its hand and made a beckoning motion as it turned and descended the ramp.

"Come on," Marcus made a general call as he lowered his gun slightly. "We're going after it."

Both of the Makos popped their hatches open, and the teammates shuffled out one by one, and closed in and descended down the outpost entrance in short order. As they all entered, the entrance doors closed, and the atmosphere started filtering out the toxic chlorine. But not the carbon dioxide.

Marcus looked at the creeper, whose neck began to shift and reshape, and a set of vocal organs developed. It rumbled with a slow, inhuman, but quite understandable voice:

"Do not remove your armor, Commander Shepard," it said. "This atmosphere is too toxic for you."

"Am I speaking with Thorian from Feros directly?" Marcus asked.

"Yes," the creeper replied. "Follow this creeper."

With that, it turned and went toward an elevator that would descend them down. Wrex looked at Marcus.

"If they've changed their mind about being friendly and turn us into compost, I'm blaming you," he declared, then moved to follow the creeper.

Marcus shared an amused look with Jaina before they too followed, leading the rest of their team down the very much functional elevator into the bowels of the base.

The creeper led them through the hallways of the base that was obviously claimed by Thorian's plant form. Leafy, moss-covered vines were spreading and sprawling across the walls. The air was humid, hot, and the light settings seemed to be set brighter than what would be normal. Several of the other Thorian creepers were there as well. They carried guns, human-built guns, just like many of their brethren did on Feros when they had captured geth rifles.

The creeper led them to what appeared to be one central operations room where there was no plant life whatsoever, the air dry and cool, and all the computers that were there being fully operational and at work.

The Thorian stopped, turning to them as it spoke:

"Before you came to Feros, some of these creepers were taken and… transported… here by humans you call ExoGeni. I didn't know where this place was, but the humans that were here did not belong to ExoGeni. I have heard a lot of what they spoke of but didn't understand much at the time. Once we had made our Deal on Feros, however, I began to understand much more. I began to understand many more things.

"These humans called themselves Cerberus. They wanted to perform… examinations… on these creepers. They wanted to use my creepers as their own weapons. They wanted to use my creepers to find a way to control me, as well. I did not want to allow that. I am me, and I do not allow to be controlled. Cerberus was… complacent. They… assumed… that all creepers were mindless plants. So, I tricked them at a… crucial… moment and destroyed all of their bodies. Their lair is mine now."

Marcus and Jaina shared a look.

"Where are all the bodies?" she asked.

"They are being decomposed at the greatest chamber – the… warehouse," Thorian replied. "Their flesh will provide nutrients for the new seedling that will one day become another me."

"Y-you're procreating!" Liara realized in utter amazement.

"Holy fuck," Ashley muttered as she shared a look with Kaidan.

"This planet isn't exactly hospitable to life," Garrus pointed out. "Other than carbon dioxide, it has little else that plants can use."

"You, soldiers, rarely know what plants use," Thorian said. "Or what they need. I need light, minerals, water, and to breathe. You may not see it, but this planet has all I need. I have found a way to tap water, minerals, air, and light. My seedling will live and grow. And, after many long cycles, it will fertilize this planet in the whole."

"Huh… that is a… pretty goddamn awesome thing to hear, actually," Marcus said, sharing a look with Jaina.

"Slightly intimidating, when you think on it, but… yeah," Jaina admitted. "It is pretty fucking awesome!"

Marcus turned to look at the creeper once more. "We came here searching for the Cerberus agents. We believe they are hurting a lot of people for their own causes. We wanted to stop them. But this cell is only one of many. We wanted to find clues of the whereabouts of others.

Thorian rumbled plant-likely and pointed to computer consoles.

"The… computer… holds a lot. I could use some. But not all."

"Wait just one damn minute!" Wrex spoke up gruffly, raising his one hand. "Where, in the name of Kalros and all that crushes and kills, had you learned how to use a goddamn computer?!"

"That's right!" Ashley spoke up in surprise, pointing a finger at it accusingly. "You were the one that tracked us with those turrets back on the surface using computers, didn't you! How could you possibly know how to do that?"

"Shiala teaches me a lot," Thorian replied nonplussed. "Zhu's Hope colonists teach me a lot. Other asari, turian, and salarian envoys that came teach me a lot every day as well – whether that's their intention or not."

"Well, I'll be damned," Jaina murmured in astonishment, voicing everyone's thoughts.

"Does anyone else know that you're on this planet?" Marcus asked.

"It was in my… interest… to keep my presence here to myself," Thorian replied. "The Cerberus does not realize what I am doing here. They think that my creepers will expire here given enough time. I have seen it on their computers. In their… communications. But, I haven't been able to access everything. A lot of it is… encrypted."

"Will you let us take it?" Marcus asked then.

"Yes," Thorian replied. "But leave a… copy. I will learn eventually how to… access it. I will enjoy the challenge."

Marcus nodded, and then turned to Tali, and motioned her toward the console. The young quarian slowly stepped behind him, watching Thorian with an equal dose of amazement and disconcert, before she set down to cracking the files.

"Keelah, they'll never gonna believe this back on the Fleet."


.

Three hours later, Normandy's comm room…

"So, what's so important about Columbia system if the Cerberus chose it as their base?" Kaidan wondered as they all watched the system's tactical overlay on the holographic projector.

"Nothing," Marcus replied as he too observed the system with a frown. "And that's why it is perfect."

"It is far away from the cluster's mass relay, and far away from any hubs or even outposts," Jaina said. "A perfect tucked-away spot for the main base of a shadow organization's cell where they can perform its operations without being detected."

"The Skillian Verge is riddled with such star clusters and systems," Wrex said slowly. "Only a handful of the Verge systems are colonized by anyone. Most of it is just a bunch of barren rocks!"

"True," Marcus said. "Which means that if Cerberus is going to operate anywhere, it is going to be right here, throughout this entire quadrant of the Galaxy."

"Makes sense, assuming they're as smart as we think they are," Garrus agreed. "Though, by now, it is pretty much obvious we're dealing with something major here. This is bigger than a mere rogue team or branch of Alliance Secret Service."

"I expect that whatever we find on Nepheron will be only a small piece of the puzzle, encrypted, and very likely booby-trapped," Jaina said.

"And we'll operate under those assumptions," Marcus said, then pressed the comm button. "Pressly, give me an update on our progress."

"Twenty hours out, Commander," Pressly replied. "No change in parameters."

"Thanks, Pressly," Jaina said, then turned to the rest of them. "Assuming an eight-hour nighttime rest, two hours of meal time and two hours of R&R, that leaves us with six or seven hours of effective time. Tali, what's your assessment on the progress of our Mako upgrades?"

"That depends on what you'd want to be done in that time," Tali said. "It might be true that we have four technically savvy people in our team, but even we can only work so fast."

"We shouldn't push it," Marcus said, sharing a consulting look with Jaina. "The first Hover-Mako has the new and improved main gun, and the second one has the hover system, but installing any further structural upgrades on any one of them is out of the question in this short a timeframe."

Tali nodded. "By my estimates, the main gun for the second Mako will take at least six hours to manufacture and install, even with the experience from installing the gun on the first Mako. Might be doable if we push it, but…" she trailed off with a discouraging shake of her head.

"What about the "pincer" turrets?" Kaidan queried.

"Forget about those," Marcus stated firmly. "The installation of the main gun was easy – the turret is positioned all the way on the rear of the vehicle, so the armor protection can be simplified. The pincer turrets are mounted near the front, where it is by default much more exposed to enemy fire. We'll need a lot of careful math to set those turrets properly, so we'll save those for later. Right now, I think it would be for the best if we were to boost both of the vehicles' kinetic barriers."

"That will be easy," Tali said. "All we'll have to do is add additional emitters and boost the flow from the new Martellix core. Even the standard emitters can endure twice the mass effect flow on their own."

"And I will calibrate the new gun," Garrus added his two cents. "With as strong recoil as it has, I'd say we can't go without that."

"True," Marcus admitted. "Alright. We'll reconvene in the cargo hold in thirty minutes. Dismissed."

...


...

SOME DECISIONS

In the previous reader address, I questioned Andromeda's iffy Codex explanations and technology aspects because of how its existence might affect some of the technology considerations, which I, as you've noticed, like to keep prominent in my story. I decided to play the game a bit more before deciding. These days, though, I've been playing it, thinking, and had some thoughts about it...

I was thinking that the Codex has always been a focal source of Mass Effect information and all of the fanfictions – the best of the fanfictions, in fact – had used the Codex information as a baseline by which they have made their own story, or even altered or adjusted its lore.

With that in mind, I have used the information provided through the Original Codex as well (as several canon in-game sources) to serve as a baseline for the technological explanations that are used in my story. Using "what is allowed" by mass effect's fictional properties explained in the Codex, I strive to imagine and implement new technologies into my story – something I feel would be essential (but also plausible to have developed) for when the fight against the Reapers finally comes.

But, playing Andromeda and reading its Codex, I came to realize that Andromeda has butchered and then frankensteined much of what Mass Effect had originally created and explained through its Codex, all for the sake of satisfying the needs of their pathetically disappointing story, setting, and characters. I had found that most, if not all, of the so-called technological breakthroughs that the Initiative has done for the sake of their colonization effort, while somewhat plausible, are very poorly implemented from an engineering standpoint (unlike the tech of ME1-2-3 – most likely reason being because Casey Hudson, who directed the Originals was a mechanical engineer) and many plausible technologies that do appear are obviously far beyond the scope of what was possible back in the days before 2185. Hell, some of the technologies of the Initiative weren't around until the onset of the Reaper War! The Codex tries to talk its way out of this conundrum by giving various far-fetched explanations, but it's too obvious to ME veterans that it's just a sloppy job.

Therefore, I had decided to completely ignore everything that the Andromeda Codex has stated – all of the so-called Initiative innovations that came from the Milky Way and all of the advanced technologies that they had inexplicably appropriated. Most of the technological explanations that the Andromeda has made, I will ignore, because I don't feel they're good enough – not like the Original Codex. They will never appear in any of my stories, nor will they influence the technological ideas for some future Systems Alliance military gear that I might conceive.

Finally, let me just say this: Andromeda has a pretty damn nice and dynamic combat gameplay. I like it a lot, actually! It is the best part of the game! Characters, setting, story, and colonists' incompetence – not so much (and that's an understatement). I hope that someone on this site writes a story called "Andromeda: how it should have been" where colonists don't behave like entitled idiots who went on a 600-year long journey only expecting to get everything on a silver platter the moment they got there.

Oh! And Nomad ND1 is not that bad at all. Except that the M-35 Mako beats hands down it in almost everything except top speed, and its defenses are barely tougher than Hammerhead's. But hey, at least the Nomad looks pretty! And it burns pretty too when it passes by a kett entrenchment.

Cheers, and see ya soon!