Orange screens hover, holographic displays floating over their consoles. In the silent cabin of the cockpit, a tin floats over. Suspended in a purple haze, it rotates through the air, lip twisting off and releasing a single, curved and thin yellow crisp. It flies, rolling and accelerating. It passes by floating dice, curving around a floating empty glass.
And it makes a full rotation before passing into the mouth of the bearded man leaning back in the chair.
Turning the chair around, the young man in the pilot's cap and blue uniform levels his purple eyes at the approaching visitor. Tall, beefy, broad and chiseled. Kaidan Alenko scratches the back of his head as he stares at the floating objects in the middle of the cockpit.
"Joker, are you using your psychic powers to eat potato chips?"
"Yeah." Jeff Moreau shrugs, opening the side of his mouth as the soda can floats over, straw first. "It's not like I'm going to see front lines, Kaidan. If I got it, I use it."
Kaidan shakes his head. Walking over, he grabs the cup out of the air, his own eyes flashing purple for a moment as the other objects float over to him. "Anyway," he says, "Any word from Shepard and her team?"
Joker shakes his head. "Nope. Peak Fifteen's in the middle of a storm and pretty isolated, though." He draws another potato chip over before Kaidan snatches the tin. "Don't be so worried, Alenko. I'm sure they're fine. They got Tali and Garrus with them, and that sort of makes up for Liara." He looks up at Alenko with smirking purple eyes. "What's the worst that can happen?"
Alenko stares at him for several long moments. "Did you really just ask that?"
The spider tentacle monsters shriek, purple nimbuses surrounding them as their many eyes turn a deep, striking violet.
"The Rachni have psychic powers!" the turian screams from behind the half wall.
A deafening array of clicks fills the air as every speaker sprays sparks.
"The Geth have overriden every system in the base!" the quarian girl shrieks, next to the red haired human woman in black armor, "Shepard! Plan!"
Jane Shepard peaks up from behind the cover, staring past the psychic rachni, omnipresent Geth, and at the red light coming from the green glow on the top of the nearby buildings. "Shit! Asari Snipers!"
Next to her, the blue skinned girl with the head tentacles tightly grips her pistol. The fear is evident, both from her eyes and-
"We're all going to die!"
A snort. The krogan stands up, red lights painting him from waist to the red crest atop his head. Hocking, he turns and spits, reaching behind him and pulling out his shotgun. "Know what? All you little babies better duck." He pumps the shotgun, grinning. "'Cause I'm about to turn left, and I don't want to smack you with my dick."
One hundred and twenty years after an alien invasion of Earth, human astronauts under the auspices of the XCOM organization found an ancient outpost of the Protheans. Within this ruin were plans, information, and technology that humanity used to unlock the Mass Relay in their system, and spread out amongst the stars.
Where they found both new allies, and old enemies that were not what they seemed.
Humanity called the secrets of the Protheans the greatest discovery in human history. The other races of the galaxy call it the-
Black, pointed legs skitter back and forth. Four legs carry it across the metal floor of the small apartment. It looks up with two opaque, solid yellow eyes and chirps, rattling the mandibles hanging beneath its sloped back head. Yellow tipped purple tendrils rattle on its back, and it parks itself in front of the door, waiting. Watching.
The door opens, revealing the tall, redheaded woman with a curly ponytail falling past her shoulders. She blinks green eyes, looks down, and reaches down to stroke one of the tendrils. The fearsome predator- which comes up just above her knees, vibrates in place, plates rattling along its legs in time with a cat-like purr.
"Heya, Chirples. Were you waiting for me?"
The chryssalid squats down, clicking his mandibles and emitting a low trill. Jane Shepard rolls her shoulders, walking into her apartment. Raising her left arm, the orange outline of the omnitool appears, turning the opaque wall window transparent and revealing the urban sprawl of the Citadel Wards.
On her heels, the vaguely arachnid pet follows, leaning back and staring at her with large golden eyes. In response, she rolls her eyes with a smirk. Setting the overnight bag down by the room's single table, she skips over to the squat minifridge. A single motion, and the varren steak is caught in the chryssalid's claws, the sound of messy devouring and cheerful shrieking filling the apartment.
She adjusts her blue uniform jacket, rolling her neck. Walking across the single room, stepping over her feeding companion, she rests a hand on the bed and flips onto it. Landing on her back, she sprawls out, clicking her omnitool as the drone on the table glows red and floats over. The doors on the front open, the distinctive sound of a mixer coming to life followed by the thermos dropping into her hand.
Jane Elizabeth Shepard, Commander. Recently appointed XO to the SSV Normandy SR-1.
Combat Engineer, Command School graduate.
She sips her drink, rolling her eyes. Already five congrats messages from Mom. Two from her cousin on Mindoir.
It's been around three decades since humanity joined the larger galaxy. Second Contact, the Shanxi incidents. The Blitz. Which she was lucky enough to be at.
There is a shriek, and she grunts as several pounds of Chirples lands on her stomach, looking at her with big gold puppy dog eyes. Smirking, she reaches out and strokes a tendril, letting her pet curl up next to her.
"Okay, kiddo," she says, "Hope they don't mind you on my new ship."
The vents on the shoulder wings glow, propelling the suit forward. Weaving through automated traffic, he takes a moment to appreciate the view. The open flower of the Citadel surrounds him, the massive station home to millions.
It doesn't take him long to find his target. Hanging from a docking berth. It is arrowhead shaped, sleek and long. Pearl white armor, black stripes up its side leading to the four prismatic bulbs in the back. Waving to the side, weaving back, he accelerates gently through traffic, past skycabs and frigates moving into the flow out of the station.
"Normandy, this is Archangel 7. Requesting permission to come in."
"Roger, Archangel. Opening a landing pad for you now. Welcome aboard, Lieutenant."
Jets flare and he accelerates. The circle on the top of the ship opens, and he twists in his descent. Boot jets fire, a sphere of rainbow light surrounding him. A single jerk, a single practiced motion, and he lands in a crouch on the pad. White armor reflects light off condensation. The single glowing grill on the helmet flares and dies down. Black seems on the armor hiss as it begins venting atmosphere, and he begins walking as the long landing strip.
Robotic arms rise out with every step. Plates are detached along the seems. The back jets power down as they are pulled off and down into storage. Shoulder plates are pulled off and reveal the black uniform jacket with the patch on the arm, displaying a stylized X.
The helmet comes off last. It shows the square jaw, the close cut black hair and purple eyes. He rolls his shoulders as he steps out of the boots last, and finds the person waiting for him.
Jane Shepard blinks, holding the pet carrier in one hand and duffle in the other. Dropping both to the sound of an angry chirp, she salutes.
"Lieutenant Alenko. Welcome aboard." She clears her throat. "Commander Shepard, XO. Was that Archangel armor?"
He nods with a smirk. "Archangel Mark 7 armor, actually." He returns the salute. "Pleasure to meet you, Commander. Reputation proceeds you."
She rolls her eyes. "Tell me about it. Anderson sent me up to make sure you got onboard. We're shipping off to Eden Prime ASAP."
He nods. "No problem." He rolls his neck. "Sorry for the delay. Needed to break in the new combat armors before we get into trouble." He gestures to the floor. "Are you certified?"
She shakes her head. "XCOM washout." She taps her omnitool, bringing up a screen. "Aaaaand you're a certified XCOM agent. Wonderful."
Clicking his heels, he nods. "Certified in Archangel, PSI amp, Ghost armor and with plasma long range rifles, yes." He coughs. "Not to brag."
He smiles. She smiles back. Then, she remembers to speak.
"So. Want a tour?"
"Let me get this straight. Out of every officer we have, out of all the possible agents we can recommend, we are recommending an X-COM dropout for humanity's first SPECTRE?" The voice, acidic and biting as it is, echoes through the office as he paces. "Anderson, I have reviewed every possible angle on this. I have also confirmed from multiple sources that despite your long-standing friendship with Captain Shepard there is absolutely no chance this is nepotism. So may I ask why?"
Bracing his hands against the clear plastic desk, David Anderson lets out a long pent up sigh. "Ambassador, the worst thing we can do is recommend an X-COM operative for SPECTRE status."
There is silence on the other end. "Anderson, I am sitting down and listening. I also suspect I may need a drink after this explanation."
You and me both, he thinks. But does not say, as there is a good chance that Donel Udina had his quarters bugged. That, and there are the ever present rumors he is a psychic, as well. Douchebag, Anderson thinks. No reaction, so either those are unfounded rumors, or he should never play Udina in poker.
"X-COM has a reputation, Ambassador. And that reputation involves violence. Lots of violence." Pacing the room, hands folded behind him, he chooses his words. "We can't let the galaxy see us as savages. Xenophobia has its place, but not as the face of humanity."
"SPECTREs aren't the face of humanity, Anderson. They-"
"Are the Left Hand of the Council. They are the will of the Council and the finest their governments have to offer." Turning to the computer on his desk, displaying the seal of the Consul Office, he levels a finger at it. "Our finest soldier should not be someone who shoots first and asks questions of the still-twitching corpse! It should be someone who thinks for themselves, who is willing to accept that some things cannot be done! That is why I recommended Shepard for this position!"
A pause on the other end. A long, long pause. "I think that argument is idiotically idealistic, Anderson." Another pause, followed by something hitting glass. From the chink, from the sound, probably ice cubes. "I can also see how it makes sense. Your recommendation passes. Udina out."
The screen goes blank, and Anderson smirks. Which lasts all of five seconds before the voice comes over the speakers. "Captain Anderson, our VIP has arrived."
In media res, the motto of Jane Shepard's life. Every situation she ends up in, more often than not, is a situation already in progress. Walking on a brisk pace along the hallways of the Normandy, she wraps the lead around her hand and looks down at the sound of high pitched warbling.
Chirples keeps pace next to her, compound eyes glancing from side to side as he familiarizes himself with his new, albeit temporary home. High pitched squeaks as they pass new people, who smile down at the dog sized spider alien. He always has been people friendly.
Tugging the lead along, she trots up the stairs from the mess hall to C&C. Chirples follows her lead, hopping up and running alongside the wall next to her. Passing the navigation crew, passing servicemen in hardsuits and carapace armor, she and her chryssalid walk into the open dome comm room.
Clicking her heels, Shepard salutes. Chirples stands straight, before trotting over and sitting on his haunches next to Anderson.
Shepard snorts at the traitorous chryssalid. The chryssalid squarks back as Anderson reaches down and rubs one of his head tentacles, and Shepard turns to the guest standing in the briefing room. Clicking her heels, the redhead salutes, meeting the eyes of the blue skinned alien.
"Commander Shepard, XO, Normandy SR1."
The asari nods, smirking. "Tela Vasir, Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. Captain Anderson and I have just been discussing you."
Jane nods, but says nothing. She turns her gaze to Anderson and her chryssalid, both of them wearing feigned expressions of innocence, although she is relatively certain David Anderson didn't shit on the floor. "What's this about, sir?"
"Vasir is here to evaluate you, Commander," he says. He waits, but she says nothing, as she is not sure exactly what she is being evaluated for. "Your name has been put forward as the candidate for humanity's first SPECTRE."
To which Jane Shepard, XO of the Normandy, Commander and N4, does have a response.
Eden Prime. The jewel in the crown of the Systems Alliance, a blue green world orbiting the star of Utopia. White jets along its front fire, and the Normandy decelerates, arching gracefully through the array of satellites surrounding the garden world.
Inside the cockpit- or Helm, as he would insist- Joker waves his hands along the haptic controls and whistles, letting purple eyes set on the virtual representation of Eden Prime's extensive defensive network. "Just want to point out," he says, "We had less than fifteen hundred kilometers drift from the Mass Relay."
In the copilot seat to his right, Kaidan says nothing. He favors the pilot with a look and turns back to his own console. Behind Joker, the Asari cocks her head. "Hell, if you're ever tired of flying for the Alliance, I'd hire you," Vasir says, "That's fucking amazing."
Joker grins, but manages, somehow, to not preen. Kaidan rolls his eyes.
Reaching out, he taps the display hovering next to the controls. "STC, this is SSV Normandy. Requesting landing clearance at minimal distance from the Prothean Beacon. We are here for pickup."
A window folds out to a young woman with large, black eyes. Her hair is tied back in a bun, and even from the muted colors of the communication screen, they can make out the green and black of X-COM. "SSV Normandy, clearance granted. Please land at the following coordinates. Please be advised that there is a delay in Beacon transport."
Vasir leans forward. "STC, this ship is on Council Business. Please explain what the delay is."
"VIP. We apologize for the delay."
The screen blinks, and becomes a view of another section of Eden Prime's airspace. In particular, further into the atmosphere, and a ship hovering over one of the smaller settlements of Eden Prime. A ship standing nearly half a kilometer tall, carved features over its surface resembling the shape of a four armed humanoid in state, but only from a distance.
Up close, the grooves and vents become ingenious channels for mass effect engines, allowing the ship exceptional maneuverability in the atmosphere or space. Which, thankfully, no one present has had to deal with one.
"Well shit," Vasir mutters, "Clarify, STC. Is an Ethereal Eidoleon on Eden Prime?"
"Yes. With full escort," the weary voice of the space traffic controller replies, "Again, sorry SSV Normandy. Coordinates sent."
Joker swears at length, and leisurely dips the frigate into the atmosphere for the landing.
"Okay. Mission parameters have changed." She grabs the rifle off the rack, the faint green glow of its power cell dim when it folds into the oblong carry mode and clamps onto her back. The blue, form fitting armor glows from the servos in its joints and the aesthetic lines along the chest's solid plate. "We are going to be meeting with an Alliance Marine stationed on Eden Prime. They have been the liaison between the Ethereal and Eden Prime's defense forces."
She grabs a pistol, holstering it on her side. The motor hums through her armor like an underpowered massager. Turning to her squad, she lets the display of her clipped on visor boot up, and lists off the names.
JENKINS, R. L.
"This means we are delayed in picking up the Beacon, and we are going to be in the presence of an alien we have a history with," she says, stressing the last part, before tapping on her omnitool. On the table next to her, a squat, winged machine sputters to life. Panels underneath it glow and it hovers over to her.
Anderson smirks. Jenkins nods. Alenko raises his hand.
"I'd just like to point out," he says, "As the token X-COM officer on board that I have no problems with the Ethereals."
Jenkins turns to him, cocking an eyebrow. The career marine opens his mouth, closes it. "Wait, wha?"
Kaidan shrugs. "I took electives on galactic history. The Temple Ship was completely unconnected to the actual Ethereal Adventium." He waggles both hands, as if milking two invisible cows. "I mean, we've had access to archives- and I admit most people are too busy to go through them like I did- but even cosmetic evidence tells us that the aliens on the Temple Ship were considerably modified compared to what we see these days-"
Jane raises her hand. She points to Anderson, or in particular the domesticated chryssalid standing next to him, twitching his mandibles and giving her multiple puppy dog eyes.
"Yes, Commander," Kaidan says, "I know you don't have to be convinced."
Behind her, light pours through from the ramp opening to the vast green that is Eden Prime. Vasir walks past Shepard, patting her on the shoulder. "I'm going to go ahead and check up on the Beacon." She favors Jane with a grin. "Looking good so far, kid."
Vasir jumps out before the Normandy fully lands, a blue glow surrounding her before she darts off into the distance.
Light clearing, eyes adjusting, Jane adjusts the visor over her right eye and takes in the sights, smells, and colors of the garden world before sneezing. Her display reads off the pollen in the air and how many ways she is allergic to it, and she taps her omnitool to administer the appropriate treatments.
"Good luck, Commander," Anderson says, snapping off a sharp salute, "We'll be taking the Normandy back into low orbit."
Jane nods. She turns to Alenko and Jenkins. "Let's go," she says, and walks off the ramp. Her GREMLIN drone follows her, along with the two marines, and whatever smartass thing Jenkins had to say is drowned out by the roar of the Normandy lifting off. She is not sure what it was about- whether about the woman approaching them, in white and red armor, carrying an impressive machine gun, or the seven foot tall purple alien following her several paces back.
Jane comes to a half arms reach from the woman, and salutes. "Commander Shepard, SSV Normandy."
The woman folds the rifle and holsters it, snapping her heels together and saluting. "Chief Williams. I'm the company head for the marines here." She smirks. "Call me Ash, everyone else does."
She's about half a head shorter than Jane, but not short. She would more consider her condensed rather than small. Ash idly adjusts the scrunchy keeping the black hair under control. "So the Eidoleon is about a click this way and says it's been 'waiting' for the Normandy. Tsoriokos volunteered to act as escort."
"Who's that?" Jenkins asks, eyes still on the purple giant, and in particular on the cannon it's carrying that looks like it was yanked off a fighter.
Ash nods her head to the Muton. "That's Tsoriokos. The T is silent."
"Male," Kaidan says, softly, "I mean, I can tell because he doesn't look like he wants to tear our heads off." He then coughs when he realizes Ash is now glaring at him.
"As a woman should I be offended by that?" Jane can see the small smirk on the corner of Ash's lip but says nothing.
"No, no," Kaidan says, hands up, "It's just that Muton females are about a foot taller than the males and can punch you so hard that the last thing that goes through your brain is your jaw. The Temple Ship ones were-"
"Berserkers, right," Ash drawls, "Is that racist? I can never tell."
Jane shrugs. Jenkins keeps staring at the cannon. "I don't thing so, as long as you keep in mind that the Temple Ship aliens were all heavily modified," Kaidan says, hands up and looking as if he is trying to juggle, "I mean, compare a Temple Ship Chryssalid to Chirples."
Ash cocks an eyebrow. "Chirples?"
"I have a pet chryssalid," Jane responds.
Ash stares at Jane for long moments. The Muton balls his hand and coughs.
"That's badass," Ash says, "He ever try to-"
"No." Jane shakes her head, and realizes she forgot to tie back her hair, taking the offered scrunchy from Ash and pulling it back, "Seriously, that's over-stated. Most of the time, when someone's talking about domesticated chryssalid attacks, it's because the owner didn't know what they were doing. It's not 'bad' chryssalids, it's bad chryssalid owners."
Another cough, and the Muton walks over. No one goes for their guns and he smiles. "The Eidoleon Ialamos is waiting," he says, his voice deep and scratchy, like it starts in his feet, "This way, please."
Codex Entry: Chryssalid Domesticus
The homeworld of the parasitic, egg laying genus of insectoid and arachnids known as Chrysalids is unknown. All known examples of chryssalids come from the Muton homeworld of Tzimskei, where it is believed that, following the Temple Ship attack dated at 14,000 years ago, a breeding population of chryssalids were left on the continent of Kalnilia, where they quickly filled most of the ecological niches. The chryssalid trait of genetic memory- that is, that memories are passed on from parent to spawn- is believed to be the main reason the Mutons, with their cultural fixation on lineage, did not wipe them out. Once humanity took to the stars, they were confronted with the fact that their enemies from the First Alien War were galactic citizens, including the parasitic aliens that were frequently used as terror weapons. However, it was soon understood that the Chryssalid Domesticus, or domesticated Chryssalid, was not the horror of the twenty first century, and fear soon melted in the face of its four puppy dog eyes. Common breeds include the Reaver Chryssalid, the Opal Hard Shelled Chryssalid, and the Eight Legged Jumping Miniature Chryssalid, or as they are commonly called, 'Spider Puppies.'
Raised on a starship, Jane Shepard was taught two things- Space is empty, but space is also crowded. Most of space is just that- space. Empty, vast, and completely unfriendly to human life. But at the same time, humanity was never alone. Even before the discovery of the Prothean Ruins and the Charon Relay, humans knew they weren't alone. That came in the form of an unwelcome wakeup call in the second decade of the twenty first century.
The second wakeup call came earlier this century, when humanity spread out from the Sol system, and found that not only were the invaders from that first, fateful war still out there, but that they were friendly.
One of the 'Great Pictures of the Twenty Second Century', one that is framed and blown up for everyone to see at the Presidium, is of General Williams shaking the hand of an Ethereal, closing the First Contact War.
"So, what model Gremlin's that?" Ash points at the hovering drone, which unlike her other companion isn't self aware. Hence, the gremlin doesn't turn to her, simply hovering next to Shepard.
Jane, on the other hand, does react, turning to Ash and then to her drone. "Well, it started as a Mark IV I picked up on sale, but I've modded it considerably. I mean, I could switch over to the IMP, DJINN, or RABBIT drones, but I've gotten attached to this one."
She pats the drone, and winces from the static shock. Kaidan and Jenkins walk a few steps behind them, and behind them walks the Muton with the rail cannon he apparently lifted off a ship. The emerald garden that is Eden Prime is quiet around them- in the distance they can see spires of the colony, and the simple bursts of light that are its communications tower, relaying to the orbital traffic above.
They can feel it before they see him. The great weight of mind, spreading out like a warm spring breeze, lifting worries from mind and washing away all doubt with an ever present aura of calm. It stands twice as tall as any human, taller than the Muton. A long red cloak falling over it and an ornate, vented helm over its head. Jane briefly looks down, and sees at the end of the cloak two sandal clad feet barely touching the ground.
She looks up. She hears him say her name but understands that it is not with breath and word, but with thought. The fact that everyone else looks up is a sign of it not being a private conversation.
"Good afternoon. I am Eidoleon Ialamos of the Adventum."
"I'm Commander Shepard of the SSV Normandy," she says, and salutes, "A pleasure to meet you-" She bites her lip, and clears her throat. "My apologies, but I don't know your title past Eidoleon. Is it Ambassador or Councillor or-"
"Ialamos will do. I have been waiting for you."
The Ethereal tilts his head. Jane mirrors the action. "For the Normandy?"
"No. And I cannot say why. It is a portent, but I imagine humans are bringers of such," the Ethereal says, faint chimes accompanying its speech, "The further one travels down the path of the mind, the more confusing it can become, I suppose."
Jane nods. Ash shrugs. Jenkins glances between the muton behind them and the terrifyingly powerful psychic in front of them. Kaidan just gives a knowing nod.
"Humans are a topic of much instance amongst the Adventum. Many of us ask ourselves how your world was able to do what none other have and stop our great shame, the Temple Ship."
Jane shrugs. She takes a deep breath, looks up at the face of the inscrutable alien before her, and says something which, the moment is leaves her mouth, she realizes is the stupidest thing she ever said. "I guess they were so busy anal probing humans that it never crossed their minds of what would happen if the humans anal probed them back?"
A dense and sudden silence falls over them. Ash chokes, turning to Shepard with a verbose look that says, 'Did you just start a war?' Kaidan freezes in place, and Jenkins glances from side to side, as if ready to make a run for it.
The Ethereal, however, makes a light sound. Like wind through chimes. "Thank you."
Jane blinks, frozen in place. "For?" she squeaks.
"It has been too long since we have felt amusement. Come. The Beacon is this way."
And Ialamos turns, feet lifting off the ground, and floats towards the stone structures in the distance.
Jane Shepard. N4. Commander. Chryssalid trainer. Ethereal comedian.
"I should put that on a business card," she mutters, and walks after the Ethereal.
The Normandy is an experiment, a symbol. A fusion of human and turian design- the Elerium technology of the System Alliance serving as the foundation for the prototype stealth frigate. Turian engineers designed the ship, as is evident from the holographic replica of Eden Prime set in the center of the CIC, set in in the back of the ship.
Charles Pressly might not agree with working with the aliens that much, but he isn't at that rank where people value his opinion just yet. Rather, the bald man in alliance blues does his job, and does his job well. Standing at the console and eyes going over the map, he lets them dilate to take in more information- base level genemods. Helps him in firefights, helps him serve.
Also helps him spot the faint distortion on the globe, and he taps his fingers against the haptic interface built into the otherwise featureless console in front of him.
Eden Prime zooms out. First to the orbital traffic, then further. He sees it- not the object but the ripples left by an object. "Captain Anderson," he calls out, and grunts when he sees him not on the bridge. So he taps his omnitool, the orange display coming to life, and the internal comms of the Normandy come to life.
"Captain Anderson! Unknown contact enroute to Eden Prime!"
The Ethereal slowed down to allow Jane to catch up. It floated leisurely, feet hovering off the grass and soil, the vents of its all-concealing helm filtering air to the tune of wind chimes. She walks in silence along the enigmatic alien, and considers what she knows- and doesn't know- of the fourth race on the Citadel Council.
Well, there's the fact that there aren't that many. The Ethereals are reclusive. They rarely leave their homeworld. According to friends in the diplomatic corps, with a little effort you can learn the name of every Ethereal currently roaming around Citadel space. Some races of the Adventum worship them as gods, but all of them sing their praises.
Then there's the-
"What do you know of the First Alien War?" Ah, yes, Jane thinks, He waits until she is distracted before potentially embarrassing her. She should set him up with Mom.
"I know it wasn't officially connected with the Adventum," she says, angling her head to the side to check on the others. In particular Alenko, who holds up his hands and nods. "I think the official story was that the 'Temple Ship' was a rogue colony ship of some sort that launched thousands of years ago."
The Ethereal is silent. Silent for long moments, while they walk along the farms of the garden world. Jane considers it- the First Alien War was a defining period in human history. Her great-great grandmother was a member of XCOM and-
"It was built for a purpose." Jane nods, quickly turning her attention back to the enigmatic, possibly centuries old alien. "I was not yet even born when it was made. Not all of the Ethereals are ancient. But we share our knowledge, and the ancestral knowledge we have of it is that it was built for a purpose."
"A...terrible purpose?" she hazards.
"A terrible purpose. To prepare, to fight against something from beyond the stars. Terrible and ancient and vast."
Jane blinks. She turns to the Elder as the farms give way to the high walls of the excavation site. "This has something to do with the Beacon, doesn't it? With the Protheans?"
A small hymn and chimes escapes the ethereals mask. And then it stops, and turns. And looks up. It turns, directing its gaze, concealed by its helm to the muton. "Tsoriokos. They come."
The Muton drops his cannon, bringing up his left hand to his mouth in time with his omnitool manifesting. "This is Shipcommander! General evacuation! All crew to the escape pods-"
And then there is light, and the grass beneath them ripples out in waves. They look up, to see the first pieces of the Ethereal ship burning up in the atmosphere. The muton stares, at the cinders that were his crew, his ship, his responsibility.
Then, the air turns still, and silent and calm.
To be broken by the overpowering and terrible sound of a bass horn.
When one looks into the eyes of Tela Vasir, Tela Vasir looks back at you. In that moment, in that brief second of understanding, you know. You know the truth. You know she's seen some shit.
So when the hum started not more than ten paces from her and she felt the static on the tips of her tendrils, she knew what was coming. One gesture, and a wall of crackling blue appears between her and the human handyman she was talking to.
Another gesture, and her right hand goes down, unlocking her shotgun and bringing it up with one hand to fire directly in the face of the alien that teleported right in in front of her. Or, behind her a second ago. The other two aliens- tall, landky, vertical mouths- aren't given a chance to react or raise their glowing green weapons before she headshots them, too.
Tela Vasir has seen some shit.
"That's new," she says, lips a straight line. Well, newish. Similar enough to when an Eclipse vanguard tried to jump her with a cut short biotic charge that knew how to react. At least she doesn't have a broken collarbone this time.
She turns to the biotic wall and the older, cap wearing human. "Now's a good time to find someplace to hunker down," she says with a wink, "It's just gotten ugly."
"No questions there," he says, tipping his cap, and runs into the warehouse behind him.
Vasir turns to the three cooling corpses. She only knows of one race out there with vertical mouths, and these don't look like Volus from even a generous perspective. Squatting down next to the third- the shot hit him in the neck, so the face is still intact- she makes mental notes. Two eyes. Flat nose. Blue lines under the eyes- looks like circuitry.
Then she feels the hum, the static again, and stands up to aim her shotgun. And stares at a rotating disc with a massive cannon aimed right at her.
At least, before a rocket slams into its side, rocking it and tilting it before a second rocket flies right down the cannon and the entire thing explodes. A hastily thrown up barrier deflects the shrapnel, and she blinks to clear the dots from her eyes.
Quickly going through mental inventory, she goes down a list. Sneak attack. Purposeful exposure of weak points. Breaking cover because it inflicted maximum carnage.
"Tela." A voice like rolling gravel accompanies the tall, bare faced turian, holstering his rocket launcher behind him and pulling out his rifle, "Council business?"
"Yeah," she says, idly circling the fellow Spectre, who simply taps a button on his left arm. The faint distortion surrounding the rest of his armor relaxes, a camouflage effect disengaged. "You're here on Council business, too?"
"Hierarchy business, actually," he says with a twitch of his mandibles and a grin, "If it was Council business you wouldn't have seen me."
"Oh I'd just track you by the explosions," she says with a smirk, "What was that and who are these?" She points the muzzle of her gun towards the corpses.
"Zudjari. They're not Citadel or Terminus. Anyone who's encountered them before call them Outsiders." He angles his head towards the stone structures in the distance. "Only thing worth protecting here is the Beacon. Do you know where it is?"
She nods. "Yeah. Follow me." She begins walking, letting him walk behind. "Heh. So we're working together again? Kind of like that time on Illium?"
Saren twitches his mandibles and rolls his eyes. "You and I remember Illium a lot differently."
The flashes of light precede the appearance of a dozen aliens- lanky, vertical mouths, holding plasma rifles the type which one normally doesn't see amongst the Citadel species. Glowing eyes and blue circuitry along their faces tell Jane that they are not there for diplomacy, and she unfastens her rifle in one smooth motion, along with-
No sooner do the words leave her mouth than a wall of violet energy appears between them and the aliens, plasma fire splashing off of it. Another flash, and a dozen more appear behind them. Jane turns, watching one thrown back by a burst of fire from Ash's rifle, its compatriots giving not a single damn as they open fire.
One blast fizzles against Jane's shields and she hears the alarms. Ducking into a roll, she whistles and her GREMLIN flies, chain lightning arching from alien to alien, blasts going wide and the squad scattering. Jenkins dives for a half ruined pillar- old architecture, possibly prothean and now partially melted from the sustained fire.
"Duck and cover!" he yells, and a simple green sphere is tossed overhand, flashing in mid air before an explosion of heat and light marks the detonation of the plasma grenade. The aliens don't scream- two of them closest to it reduced to charred husks but they don't scream.
The psionic wall falls under sustained fire, and Kaidan pulls out his pistol, running and shooting as he dives for cover. Tsoriokos roars, his railgun humming before sending the aliens flying two at a time- blood red rage in his eyes ignoring the plasma blasts peppering his armor, more teleporting in to replace their fallen brethren.
Ialamos does not move from where he stands. Blasts go wild around him. A headshot curves in flight and hits a nearby tree, setting it alight. He parts his robes and raises two hands, both on his right side, and a crackling aura of indigo surrounds them, surrounds him. Around the aliens he stares at, the air turns dark and thick, crackling electricity accompanied by the screams of the world itself torn asunder by will alone.
And then the world opens, the sky opens, and the vortex of raw psionic force rips into the minds of the aliens and a dozen of the attackers die where they stand. Bodies drop and the ethereal turns to the rest.
Backs against the pillar, Jenkins turns to Alenko, unfolding his rifle and whacking it until the barrel glows green. "Say," he yells to Kaidan, "Isn't this around the time X-COM drops a giant robot on these assholes?!"
It isn't that he is yelling out of anger. It is more the din of the firefight happening around them. "Technically they're called MECs and they're cyborgs," Kaidan yells back, "And we didn't have any on the Normandy!"
Jenkins peaks his head up, ducks down to dodge the volley of green, and then swings back up to shoot two aliens in the crotch. "Seriously? And there's none of those on Eden fucking Prime?"
Kaidan stares at Jenkins for a long moment. It is a moment not wasted, however, as they are also under extreme fire. Bringing up his omnitool, he takes a deep breath and shouts over the firefight-
"This is Lieutenant Alenko, requesting Fire Support on my position!" A light sweeps over his eye. The screen on the omnitool warbles and wafts. Then they both hear a voice that, at least for Jenkins, defines the rest of his hopefully not-short life.
"Authorization recognized. Operation Sky Slap underway."
While the boys have their backs against the prothean ruins, the girls have taken cover behind the Muton, who roars while unloading round after exploding round into the growing alien horde. Plasma round after plasma round hits him, but rage and armor keep him standing, keep him from doing more than wince in discomfort.
"Shouldn't you get to cover?!" Ash yells.
"I am cover," Tsoriokos roars, raising his cannon and letting the underslung grenade launcher send the invaders scattering, "Elder! We are being over run!"
Shots go wide the closer they fly towards the Ethereal. Blasts of plasma veer off, flying past Ialamos, and he stands with arms outstretched, staring at the alien invaders. The air sings with vermillion and the invaders, for a brief moment, halt. Their weapons lower. Ash and Jane peak out from behind Tsoriokos' legs and stare, before nodding in agreement and running from behind the muton to behind the Ethereal.
"Remember," the Ethereal says, "Remember who you are. Remember me. My voice guides. My voice commands."
Their weapons lower. Inching lower and lower to the ground. And then the blue around their eyes turn red and their weapons rise, and they fire with mindless rage at the Ethereal.
The blasts fly wild, striking stone and earth and the trees surrounding the battlefield. One barks a command in a dead language, and above them a burst of light forms into a ring of metal, with a sphere at its center pulsing with gathering golden light.
And then something passes overhead. Jane catches the briefest glimpse of it, and only sees the prismatic glow of its engine trail. But she does see what dropped from it. "Incoming!" she yells. She jams a grenade into the ground and it explodes, forming a barrier around herself, Ash, and Ialamos. The muton looks up, and Jenkins peaks his head above the pillar to watch.
Which is went a metal giant lands between the aliens and them, grabbing the ring in one hand and slamming it into the alien horde, sending them flying as the core of the weapon explodes. He wades through unharmed, his right arm folding out into an oversized plasma cannon, and the sky turns green and fills with the sounds of monotone shrieks of the aliens.
"Alenko! You should've told me you were planetside!"
Three soldiers in flight armor descend, two of them, already unlocking plasma rifles, unloading on the aliens as the third, the one speaking, lands next to the pillar and pulls Kaidan to his feet. Despite the fact that the archangel armor is built like a large, burly man, the voice is unmistakably female.
"Should've told me you were on Eden Prime, Rahna," he breathes, patting her on the arm, "I'm going to assume this attack's localized."
"Yeah, Command's dealing with a ship that just showed up in orbit. It hasn't launched any landing craft, so we didn't know there was trouble on the ground until you piped in."
Jenkins watches. Not the woman in the flight armor, but the metal giant that punched an alien and sent it through another one. Shepard walks over to Kaidan, gun still out, Ash behind her.
"Kaidan. Beacon. We need to get there," she says, and nods to the armored woman when she turns to her. "Commander Shepard. SSV Normandy. Gonna say you know each other?"
"Yeah, me and Kaidan were-"
"Later," Shepard says, "Over drinks. Which I am buying for you and your entire squad." She angles her head towards the Beacon. Kaidan nods, pats Rahna on the arm, and follows Jane when she takes off in a sprint towards the Beacon, with the others following behind. And the Ethereal keeping pace despite floating.
Rahna shrugs, pulls out a glowing green cannon half her size, and joins in the decidedly one-sided battle.
Codex Entry: Plasma Countermeasures
During the First Contact War, Systems Alliance Forces found that, despite the advantage that plasma weaponry gave their forces it was not an overwhelming advantage. While the Systems Alliance has developed countermeasures for plasma weaponry, it was not expected that the Citadel aligned forces would also have defenses. Due to the fundamental differences between plasma weaponry and mass effect weaponry, the common defense- kinetic barriers which slow or swat away hypervelocity projectiles- are ineffective against directed plasma weaponry. Defenses include Prismatic Refraction Pulse Layers- commonly referred to as Energy Shields- and reinforced armor. Due to the specialized nature of Energy Shields and the rarity of plasma weaponry outside of the Systems Alliance, only the most advanced and expensive military vessels will have them equipped, and even then will only raise them when coming under fire by plasma weaponry. As for how the Turian, Asari, and Salarian fleets have managed to develop these countermeasures, the official explanation is from researching artifacts found on worlds attacked by the Temple Ship. Conspiracy theories in System Alliance Space, especially among the Terra Nova movement, counter that it is due to alien infiltrators and snake people.
True fact- standard Systems Alliance armor includes servos to allow soldiers to run really long times. Hence, how Jane has been running non stop for fifteen minutes while the Ethereal idly floats along, keeping pace. They pass bombed out warehouses and plasma burnt pillars, hearing the sounds of the aliens teleporting behind them, and wisely dives, plasma blasts flying over her.
Kaidan turns, digs in his heels, and digs deep. A wall of indigo rises between him and the others- stretching across the field and shielding them all, even as blood leaks from Kaidan's nose.
"Shepard! Get to the beacon! We'll hold them off!"
Ash has already taken up position behind one of the partially melted pillars, Tsoriokos catching a thrown pistol from her and holding up his cannon with one hand. Shepard climbs to her feet, looks up, and jumps onto the Ethereal, wrapping her arms around its neck from behind.
"Can you fly?"
"This is novel. We never expected humans to be so quick to embrace us in such a manner."
Jane blinks and stares at the back of the alien's helm. "That was a pun." She shakes her head and lightly slaps the metal. "Less cryptic! More flying!"
The Ethereal makes a light, airy sound, and vanishes into the distance. Trailed by Shepard's surprised, high pitched scream.
More and more Zudjari appear in flashes of light. Discs appear, hovering above them. Jenkins whistles, back against a pillar, and checks the readout on his rifle. "So," he calls out, "Kaidan, about how serious do you think XCOM took your call?"
His answer comes in the form of blasts of green fire, falling light lightning bolts from on high that blast the discs into scrap. Overhead, Jenkins sees the Firestorm pass, seconds before he hears it pass.
"It gets better," Kaidan yells.
Two objects drop, one next to Ash's cover and one next to Jenkins. The fading, prismatic glow of the gravity waves are the reason the impact doesn't knock them off their feet, and Ash gives off an appreciative whistle. Each is a head taller than a person- man shaped, gleaming alloyed armor as tall as a muton and half as broad.
With a burst of steam, the backs of both sets of Titan armor open up.
"I have always wanted to take one of these things for a ride," Ash squeals, and without prompting climbs into the armor, sliding her arms into the gauntlets and her feet into the foot rests. It closes around her and the eyes on the helm glow green, the wrist mounted plasma cannon spinning up.
"Jenkins," Kaidan calls out, "Get in the powered armor!"
Jenkins nods, dives in, and watches the heads up display resolve in front of him. My, he thinks, That's a shitload of weapons.
"Hey, Alenko," he calls out, "What's a blaster launcher?"
Kaidan reloads the clip on his pistol and darts next to Ash. "It's your new best friend!"
The wall drops, and Jenkins raises his left arm. The launcher folds out and a burst of yellow light accompanies the activation of the launcher. As it turns out, Kaidan was right. It is, indeed, Richard Jenkins' new best friend.
The Beacon itself stands on a white platform, ringed with gold. The Beacon, and the structure around it, were dated back to the Protheans. Majestic, gilded, timeless. Carbon dating the Prothean technology has been difficult due to the unfamiliarity with the materials they used, hence the common perception that they were supremely ancient.
This is the last thing on Tela Vasir's mind, but she does appreciate that the wonder materials the Protheans used provide excellent cover. The high wall in front of the beacon has taken a direct hit from one of those disc weapons and hasn't even warmed up. The Protheans knew their shit.
The circular Maybe-Amphitheatre of the Beacon is littered with dead Zudjari, and more keep coming in. Saren has been busy, using the covering fire from Vasir to launch spheres from the underslung launcher on his rifle.
Holding her pistol above the wall, she drops another Zudjari with a blind fire. "This isn't resembling Illium at all!" she yells.
"I told you!" he yells back, pumping the grenade launcher and launching another projectile, "Vasir! Mute!"
Vasir jams down on her omnitool, and the world drains of sound. She feels the wave slam against her barriers instead of hearing it, and after several seconds rises. The amphitheater is collapsed, around and on the zudjari hordes. She taps her omnitool and sound returns, Vasir letting out a breath as she leans against the gilded white wall.
"Well, that bought us some time," Saren says, "It will take their groupmind time to process a loss of this size."
Vasir nods. Then narrows her eyes. "Question, then. How do you know so much about the Zudjari."
She hears the whine and turns, staring down the barrel of Saren's pistol. "That's because I command them," he responds. There is a cerulean flash, and then silence.
The muzzle of the gun flashes, and Vasir falls backwards- her barriers take most of the hit, a second shot from the gun spraying blue blood from her armor. Raising the gun, Saren allows his mandibles to twitch, aiming between the eyes. It is not that he hates her. He just knows how difficult putting her down is going to be. But he has the explosives for a reason.
Then he sees the twitch of motion, the distortion. He turns, and stares straight at the newly arrived GREMLIN drone the instant before it discharges its entire capacitor bank directly in his face.
Saren screams, dropping the pistol, grabbing at his face and feeling his plates spark like they were on fire. There is a brief purple glow, and he opens one eye before Jane Shepard drops onto him, repeatedly punching him in the face.
Saren grabs her by the collar of her armor, pulling her off with one hand. "Imaginative. Impressive. But still too-"
"Zap him again!" she yells.
The GREMLIN obeys, and Saren screams, smoke rising off his scales.
Which is then followed by him choking when Tela grabs him in a headlock from behind. "Should've started with the fucking explosives, Saren," she purrs, "Not the first time someone shot me in the face."
Saren tries to get out a curse, cut short by another electric shock. "So here's how we're going to play this," Tela says, "You're going to give up. Then I'm going to choke you out, we're going to get aboard the Normandy, and you're going to explain to the Council how out of your fucking mind you are."
Saren growls, gutteral, struggling under the surprisingly strong Vasir. "Nice save," Tela adds, winking at Jane, "I was falling back to get him in the kneecaps but you gave me a better opening."
"Least I could do," Jane says, tapping her omnitool and rewarded by another turian curse and a blast of electricity, "You okay?"
"I'm fine. You're great!" She grins, flashing teeth at Jane. "In fact, you passed my test!"
Jane beams. Saren tries to swear again, but the air around him flows purple. "And there he is," Jane says. Oppressive vermillion energy swirls around the turian, his eyes glowing.
"Your will is mine."
Something flows over them- powerful and intense. Indigo and white followed by the fluttering of crimson robes.
"Your thoughts are mine."
They hear it- Tela and Shepard at the edge of their thoughts, and Saren at the center of his mind, expanding outwards like thick ink in water. IalamosSavariOpalisamAsaruYblesen. They look up- Tela and Jane look up. Saren freezes in place. Ialamos floats above them.
"Your mind is mine. Saren. Kneel."
The Ethereals are worshiped as gods among the Adventium, among many races in Citadel Space. And for good reason. Against the unfathomable will of the ancient, powerful alien, the will of Saren breaks.
But as his thoughts are subsumed, he lets the Ethereal in. Shows him his thoughts. Hovering above, the hand of the Ethereal recoils as if burnt by fire.
And in those thoughts it sees the face of something great and terrible and metal black. Saren's eyes glow, from purple to red. He speaks, and his voice is several octaves lower and not his own.
"We do not kneel before failed gods." And even in Vasir's deathgrip, under the assault of Shepard's GREMLIN, Saren reaches out to the ancient obelisk. It pulses, green lines running up it.
"He's activating the Beacon!"
It flashes, and they see the end of all things.
She saw it. She saw it all. An empire spanning a galaxy, screaming out in terror before silence and the thud. But the thud was not the empire- it was her, piercing her chest and ending the vision of chaos and bloodshed with all-consuming pain.
She sees the red tinted blue sky, tasting copper in her mouth. Straining, neck cracking, she looks down- to see she is on her back, looking down upon the ruined, cracked Beacon. At Vasir, slumped and prone against one of the walls surrounding the beacon. At Ialamos, one hand extended towards the beacon, in a pool of thick, indigo blood.
Jane lets her head roll back, and each breath becomes more labored, more forced. Black creeps in along the red, and darkness floods her vision with an almost welcome finality.
But in the blackness, she sees something. White and blue, like a rippling pond. A face, human but more, looking upon her- not from on high, but right in front of her. A voice, human, haunted, but carrying power she feels like electricity on her spine.
"Be more," the voice says, "No who you are, but who you can be."
Even in the darkness, between tick and tock, she feels like she's only a tertiary part of this. "Who are you?" she asks.
The woman smiles. It is a pleasant smile, and somehow Jane knows she's one of the rare few to see it.
Jane's eyes open. Her breath labors but she pushes herself. She pushes herself off of her elbow, gasping, fresh pain running through her ribs where the bullet- or multiple bullets- hit. She forces herself onto her stomach and drags herself- past Vasir, towards the Ethereal.
Towards the outstretched hand which she realizes was not pointed at the Beacon.
The hand was stretched out towards her.
So, Jane Shepard- XCOM dropout, Chryssalid whisperer, Commander, Ethereal Comedian, takes the hand. The light and psionic pulse is enough to be seen from orbit, and when it clears the robes are empty.
And when the Normandy arrives, she is unconscious once again.
End Chapter 1