Chapter 1: So Many Unknowns

Commodore Niva'Zorah vas'Hatak looked over her domain and was pleased. A squadron of the finest frigates in the Patrol Fleet and her flagship, the cruiser Hatak.

Codex: Hatak Class Cruiser Unlocked.

Formerly a Batarian vessel, she had led the team which captured it, during her Pilgrimage back when she'd been nar'Levshepa. The vessel had been spotted raiding in the Terminus and the Hegemony had explained to the Citadel Council that the ship had been sold out of their military years ago, providing documents to prove it.

Codex: Live-Ship pilgrimages Unlocked.

That had somewhat limited their options when she and her crew had stolen the heavy cruiser right out from the yard which was repairing it after an ill-fated attempt to raid a Hierarchy convoy. Still, the traditional Batarian temper meant that whenever the Migrant Fleet was passing near Hegemony space, the Hatak got sent on the longest patrol route that could be imagined, with strict orders not to come back until the Fleet was well clear of the four-eyed slavers.

It was definitely about the Batarians and not about Niva's temper. It was mere coincidence that she'd been assigned the youngest and most hotheaded officers, except for her second-in-command, her elderly, staid cousin, Semmi. Or so the Admiral had said, when asked. Niva was well aware of the reality of the situation and didn't even really object to it, though she felt that her reputation for savagery was a bit unfair, setting the slavers on fire had been a purely tactical decision and she'd only done it once.

Still, she didn't fight her reputation, partly because it was useful to the Fleet to have someone with that reputation (especially someone who wasn't actually insane) but mostly because it got her commands like this one. A detached command scouting future routes for the Fleet. Eight frigate analogues scattered around four systems while the Hatak acted as the command ship.

She glanced over the command screens. The Hatak was functioning properly, despite the dearth of spare parts and none of the frigates would be returning for at least a week. The Hatak and her shuttles surveyed the mostly empty system, looking for any resources worth mining if the Fleet chose to pass this way, but the system contained a gas giant and a remarkably useless asteroid belt. The only item of interest was the planet orbiting close to the main sequence star. It was reading as denser than usual composition would explain, suggesting some heavy element.

The Fleet didn't generally engage in planet-side mining, but if the materials were valuable enough, it might be worthwhile. The problem was that the world was so close to the star that the hull would melt with any lengthy exposure to the sun. So the Hatak hung on the other side of the planet, using it as a parasol. It took a tricky bit of flying to stay there, but nothing beyond the capabilities of her crew. She had challenges aplenty, but none beyond her capabilities. Mistress of all she surveyed, Captain and Commodore, she was what she wanted to be and where she wanted to be. The future led only to Admiralty that would take her from field command. This was a perfect moment.

In the weeks to come, she would often remember that moment and wonder if she'd cursed herself with thought. For it was then that alarms began to scream as the Lorion dropped out of FTL, tight-beam communications hit the Hatak's communications system at the same moment that the light from Lorion's arrival did.

They hadn't bothered with a voice link, instead it was downloading massive quantities of data into the larger ship's system as Niva's bridge crew burst into startled action, pulling the Hatak out of orbit, weapons spinning up. Standing orders were for the exploring frigates to stick together. One coming back alone was a big red flag. On the other hand, Niva's eyes ran over the Lorion, there was no sign of battle-damage. Finally, the flash-download stopped and there was sufficient bandwidth for a voice-and-video link.

The helmeted head of Diol Tirion vas'Lorion appeared. Niva, an expert in reading body language through the suit, could see the tension coming off the young officer in waves, but his voice remained even. "Niva, in exploring system TS129A, we detected heavy electromagnetic radiation and discovered a world teaming with life." He brought up a hand and projected an image of a world, brilliant blue and green, with several thousand artificial satellites tagged in orbit.

Codex: Quarian Body Language Unlocked

Niva's eyes rose, there were no orbital docks, or other suggestions of interplanetary, let alone interstellar travel. One moon, but no sign of any sapient presence there…

A lost colony, perhaps, but that seemed unlikely, given the location and the lack of mass effect fields. Maybe the system lacked element zero? Or could it be that they'd located a new species? The Citadel would give much for such information, especially so close to Batarian space, where the Hegemony might have botched the first contact. Indeed, give the Asari another species to chase, and maybe they'd pry loose enough forces to help the Fleet take back Rannoch, or at least give them a system of their own…Niva's mind raced, until she forced it to focus. Diol would tell her what happened soon enough.

"They appear to be a previously unknown species," his omni-tool projected an image of a bizarrely familiar creature, almost Quarian in general appearance but with none of a Quarian's natural markings and, Niva blinked, far too many fingers. It was subtly disturbing in a way the more obviously alien creatures were not.

"Where did you get the images?" Semmi interjected, the older man looking far more disturbed by them than Niva allowed herself to be (or at least be seen to be).

"The majority of their communications are unencrypted. We believe them to be some sort of entertainment, or religious broadcasts. The Pathine remained in system to continue gathering data and expand the data the translation VIs are working with."

"So we haven't translated the language yet?" Semmi said, surprised that Diol would report back without a full picture of the situation."

"No, because approximately two days after our arrival, the local moon was in position between where our ships were observing and the planet. At that point we saw this," Diol pulled up another image, filled with two dozen small ships, none of them larger than a frigate, which were hiding behind the moon.

Codex: Passive Extra-Planetary Observation and Espionage Techniques Unlocked

"Other observers?" Semmi asked.

"Invaders, we believe," Diol continued before Semmi could ask the obvious question. "Because approximately an hour into our observation, this occurred." The image changed and one of the ships simply vanished, without bothering to build up momentum to make the jump to FTL. A new image appeared of the planet, with the missing ship appearing again in low orbit. Niva's eyes automatically compared the time stamp, it had made the transit instantaneously, without otherwise moving, that was…impossible.

Semmi caught it to, body language screaming surprise as he muttered inaudible questions about the impossibility they had just witnessed.

"Yes, they have some mysterious alternate means of FTL travel, which does not rely on element zero. We detected no element zero on planet, or in the fleet," Diol explained to the question they were shooting for.

Codex: ?-NO FILE FOUND—ERROR

"What—how—but—" Semmi was stammering desperately.

Amusing as Niva found it to watch the staid older officer struggle for words. That was mitigated by her own shock, which she kept a tight grip on. If Diol knew how the drive worked, he'd have said so and wouldn't have referred to it as a 'mysterious alternate means of FTL travel.' "You said they were invading?" she asked, prompting him to move away from the impossible conversation.

Semmi tried to break in, but Niva shot him a look and waved him to a computer console where he could examine what information they had at whatever length he cared to. Diol nodded and manipulated his omni-tool and the ship raced towards one of the coastal areas of the planet and dozens of small craft, clearly designed for travel in atmosphere, without element zero cores. She'd seen their like in historical designs, but nothing like them survived the discovery of element zero, which negated the need for aerodynamic designs.

"These vessels are local craft, they're minimally armed, with guided missiles. Their ECM capacity is minimal, however the invaders do not appear to take advantage of that. They also," missiles launched from the craft even as Diol spoke, "do not have shields," a handful of the missiles impacted the ship, "but their armor is extremely powerful and-"

Niva did not hear the rest of his statement, because she was busy being distracted by the invader's vessel spitting what appeared to be plasma at the defending ships. In atmosphere, that wasn't such a great weapon, as the ball of plasma was reacting to the gasses of the atmosphere, radically reducing accuracy, slowing the projectile and causing the originally small ball to spread out.

However, despite the many problems atmosphere caused, the shot was so powerful that the impact of the near-lightspeed burst of dispersing plasma took out the two vessels it hit, almost vaporized them in fact, and the sudden increase in air temperature melted a wing off the nearest craft.

Niva's mind abstractly noted the various problems, then realized that the projection was artificially shortening the distances between the various craft. The engagement was actually taking place at long range (for an atmospheric engagement), which just made it even more clear how powerful the weapons were (or how fragile the atmospheric craft were, or both).

While the small attacking ship was swaying around in the atmosphere like its pilot was drunk, it still managed to pick off the remainder of the squadron of attacking ships, only to fall as two small craft raced up behind the attacking ship, carefully keeping clear of its front mounted plasma weaponry and unleashed a flurry of short-ranged kinetic shots which must have damaged the attacking ship, sending it careening down to the world it had assailed.

They lost sight of the ship as it passed through the cloud layer, as even the advanced optical systems of the scout frigates wasn't able to see through clouds and the more advanced scanners wouldn't work given how far away the gas giant the frigates were hiding behind was from the planet. Diol brought up a different set of images, lower resolution, probably local broadcasts, given that they were focused on the pale figure of a native, then swaying over to a scene of figures with shockingly different skin tones, but all wearing a blue uniform fired primitive projectile weapons at the various invaders, to a disturbing lack of effect, as there were none of the tell-tale shimmers of shielding. Armor and flesh were shedding the projectiles easily. Worrisome.

There were three main species amongst the invaders. Giant green aliens who towered over the natives and their fellow invaders. It was hard to get a feel for scale, as she didn't know the size of anything. They wielded heavy plasma weapons, handheld plasma weapons. The green energy they spat punched through buildings, barricades, cover, and soldiers alike, leaving behind screams, blood, corpses and fires.

The second were smaller even than the natives, let alone the giant green invaders. They moved in packs and were naked, revealing grey skin, almost like a Quarian's. She would have taken them for some sort of attack animal, though at least they had a closer to appropriate number of fingers, except for the fact that they were also wielding small plasma weapons. These were falling to even the primitive weapons the natives were using.

The third were insect-like and scuttled around, easily slashing locals apart, making no distinction between the armed soldiers and the fleeing, panicking, locals. Their skin seemed to repulse the small weapons fire, but as Niva watched, a tracked vehicle with a heavy mounted cannon pulled up and blasted a group of them to pieces. For a moment, it seemed the tide had turned, but then the green aliens turned their fire on the tank. The first shot melted the tracks into immobility, the second fused the turret in place and melted the secondary weapons. A hatch popped open and one crew member tried to get out, only to be picked off by a burst of fire from one of the grey invaders. Screams echoed from inside as the rest of the crew began to cook as the barrage of plasma fire heated the armor and interior of the tank. The crew burst forth as best they could from a hatch, but none of them made it to cover.

Niva made herself speak, "Well, that's interesting…"

"I saved the best for last," Diol said, speeding the video up as the aliens secured a perimeter around the crashed ship, losing more than half their number, but eliminating the forces which attempted to handle them. Half a dozen soldiers dropped onto the battlefield from a VTOL aircraft, which suppressed the remaining aliens, then fled before they could return fire. As one of the green aliens popped up to fire at the fleeing craft, it went down again under…laser fire from the three of the soldiers.

"Lasers? Handheld lasers?" Niva squeaked, drawing the attention of everyone on the bridge.

Codex: Energy Weapons, Unlocked.

"Yes, ma'am," Diol agreed.

She watched the natives advance under heavy cover fire, pushing the remaining invaders back into the ship where a brief, hidden firefight could be heard, then the assault team withdrew, carrying two of their number, one still and clearly dead, the other injured and, if its body language was anything like the other sapients she knew, then it was swearing up a storm as it dripped shockingly red blood on the ground, despite its companions attempts to seal the wound. "Keelah…" Niva whispered.

"Yes, ma'am," Diol agreed again, voice filled with heartfelt sincerity.

The reminder of her rank and position snapped her out of her shock and her eyes narrowed. "Okay. Captain, do we know why the other ships didn't come to rescue the downed one?"

"No, ma'am, immediately after we saw the end of this battle, I returned here to inform you."

"Understood." Niva had already made the decision about what to do. All that remained was to come up with a way to explain it. Fortunately she didn't need to do that for a while. The words would come to her. Now it was time to act. "All courier crews to shuttles, orders will be on your displays when you arrive," she broadcast throughout the ship, then turned back to Diol, "I need a rendezvous point within one jump of the system you've discovered," she ordered.

The captain had anticipated her order and sent a location instantly. A quick check confirmed it as a good choice, less than a day from where a secondary mass relay could drop them out. She took a seat and typed out quick orders sending the shuttles to gather the remaining ships of her flotilla at the rendezvous point. Then she had the hard message, the one back to the Migrant Fleet. They were almost a month out from the Fleet, so that would be her justification for acting without permission. She just needed a justification for the specific action she was going to take, that was not going to be easy.

The Admiralty Board would see things her way, after all, she was a product of their training and they had promoted her to Commodore, but convincing the Conclave that her actions were correct, and should be supported was going to be trickier. She'd need help for that. But first things first, she dispatched three of the courier shuttles to bring back the rest of the ships in her flotilla and snapped orders sending the Hatak speeding towards the rendezvous point.

Codex: Quarian Government Unlocked

Then she went to talk to Semmi. The older man was still flicking through the images, demanding more information than the passive observation could provide. He'd come up through the technical side, only achieving his current command rank due to his familial and Conclave connections. Usually Niva resented that, but at the moment, it would be useful in figuring out how to explain herself to the civilian government, as the blunt truth would probably not serve.

Codex: Hatak-Class Cruiser

The Hatak-Class is a new class of anti-piracy cruisers designed and built by the Batarian Hegemony. The vessels discard the spinal mount most cruisers rely upon, as it isn't expected to fire on dreadnaughts. Instead, it has an expanded array of GARDIAN lasers and maintains a quintet of heavy, FTL-capable assault shuttles, each armed with anti-vehicle mass accelerators and able to carry almost twenty fully armed soldiers.

Despite the ignoble fate of the class's namesake (sold out of service almost immediately as it didn't fit the usual roles of a cruiser, lacking the CNC capabilities of a frigate-pack leader, or the firepower of a battle-line vessel), the class has proven remarkably successful at handling pirates. Certain commentators believe that this is because the vessels are essentially scaled up versions of pirate vessels. And it is certainly true that sold, or captured Hatak class vessels are great prizes amongst the pirate community.

Codex: Live-ship Pilgrimages:

Though most Quarians go out on their pilgrimages as soon as possible after reaching maturity, seeking the privileges and potential rank which come from being an adult, the Live-ships, having so many more inhabitants and so much traffic as they constantly feed the Migrant Fleet, they instead send out their Pilgrims once every half-year as a group. They are not required to stick together through their Pilgrimage, however they tend to.

They also tend to go for spectacular results, in order to justify the return of everyone in their group. This has resulted in a great many successes, but even amongst those, capturing a heavy cruiser and destroying a pirate ship-yard, with a mere two dozen Quarians stood out. The group deployments may also explain the somewhat higher survival rates of the Pilgrims off the Live-ships, though it does mean that when they fail, many die.

Codex: Quarian Body Language:

The original suits worn in the Migrant fleet were cobbled together space-suits, environmental suits and hazardous materials suits. The one thing they had in common was that they were bulky and concealed the vast majority of their occupant's movements, as well as their skin. The Quarians adapted, gestures becoming broader and broader to actually be visible to those they were speaking to.

Though the current generation of suits reveal far more, most of the older generation of Quarians still make broad gestures, while their younger counterparts try for a more minimalistic approach. Indeed, a main-stay of current Quarian comedy is demonstrating how either an elder, or a youngster (depending on the age of the comedian) would communicate in a given situation. This brand of humor does not travel well and is generally viewed as incomprehensible outside the bounds of the Migrant Fleet.

Codex: Passive Extra-Planetary Observation and Espionage Techniques

Given the distances involved and the complete lack of any FTL sensors, passive extra-planetary observation is difficult. The easiest way to do it remains classical sapient-intelligence. If you have someone in the ships you wish to observe, than all that is required is a communications route, which may be obtained in any number of ways.

However, when dealing with an unknown, the standard technique is to drop in for a moment, examine everything you see, making sure that you leave before the light from your arrival can reach the sensors of anyone present in the system (or at least before they can respond to that light with cannon fire). Then, depending on what you see, you make an FTL jump away, turn around and jump back, placing yourself behind some stellar body which will block the light of your return.

Then placing small, hopefully undetectable satellites in orbit around the body, you poke your head out and scan for what you can find. This waiting period is the most dangerous, as, if detected, the locals have plenty of time to drop a fleet out behind you and pound you to scrap before you can build up sufficient momentum to escape.

Codex: Energy Weapons

The only effective energy weapons are the GARDIAN lasers which are used as a point defense weapon. The power requirements mean that these are only mounted on ships, or in fixed positions where they have power-plants to draw upon. They are effective because mass effect shielding has no effect on them, and, travelling at the speed of light, they'll hit their target the moment the target sees them fire. Experiments with mounting them on terrestrial attack vehicles have not been particularly successful, as their low rate of fire (due to heat build-up), the swift diffusion of lasers in atmosphere and high expense left them vulnerable to being swarmed under by cheaper, cannon-equipped tanks, or infantry.

For these reasons, hand-held energy weapons have long been a goal of all major militaries. The short range of most combat, constrained by urban locations, or ship corridors makes the diffusion problem minimal and soldiers trained to trust their shields would be easy prey to soldiers armed with weapons which would ignore those shields. The power problem has proven insolvable, though there has been some success with removable heat-sinks for the vehicle mounted lasers, with automated reloaders cycling through heat sinks, radically increasing the fire rate.

Codex: Quarian Government

The Quarian civilian and military governmental structures are intertwined to an extreme degree. Unlike the Turians, where the military is the government, or the Asari, which separate the two structures, or the Salarians, who also separate the two (except for the STG, which is the exception to many rules), the Migrant Fleet's structure does not provide sufficient space between the two. Rather than attempt to maintain the previous distance, the Fleet accepted integration between the two.

The Conclave is made up of elected representatives of the various ships. One representative is elected from each ship, and then a number of others based on population. This means that a coalition of the smaller ships can carry the day, but the Liveships which are the heart of the Fleet will almost always win if they are unified on an issue.

The military vessels also have representatives in the Conclave and many members of the Conclave are actively serving members of the (formal) Quarian military, as well as members of their ship's crews (who will fight to defend themselves as all Quarian vessels are armed as best the Fleet can manage). This integration seems to function mostly due to the outside pressure of a hostile galaxy and the internal pressure of knowing that if things ever get too bad, any ship can simply leave.

Author's Note: Holy crap, a Mass Effect cross-over which actually crosses over in the first chapter? Way to go, me (this is a reference to my other Mass Effect crossover, where its almost 150,000 words before the crossover portion actually occurs).

Comments and reviews are always welcome. In X-Com it was never entirely clear to me if they were trying to cover-up the invasion, or just X-Com's existence. There was a lot of talk about cover-ups, but things also showed up on TV broadcasts...

Let me know if I've missed anything, or you spot any mistakes.