Chapter 1 - 4: First Movements

665 GS
Outskirts, Prothean Ruins Excavation Site 01
Ullanor, Planetary System Armageddon (Tentative Name)

Trudging through the wet and muddy undergrowth of the forest, five bulky shapes brushed past moisture-drenched leaves and light branches, their red and blue combat armor in stark contrast to the peacefulness of their surroundings.

"Battlemaster." One of the krogan spoke up, mouth twitching in annoyance. "Why are we on this bloody patrol again? This feels like an insult, a way to throw us out just because we aren't needed."

That's because it is a bloody insult, you useless fool. Just that its fired at me, not you. Apparently my useless pyjak of a brother doesn't want me messing up his 'glory'. The leading krogan thought mutinously.

Oh, how he wished he could release those emotions in a swift and precise biotic attack, perhaps show the krogan around him that it was he, not his fellow hatchling, that was the one who should have been in charge…

But he couldn't. Clenching the grip of his shotgun, Urdnot Wrex willed himself to dispel those thoughts. The words of his trainers, a group of older, wiser krogan, came back in whispers: Remember who you are. A Battlemaster should not so easily fall to ideals like power or strength, like your brother or father. You are a tool, careful and to be intricately handled-

The chirrup of a bird interrupted his thoughts. Looking up, Wrex saw a flock of birds dance around a tree in front of him, before taking to the skies.

Why Wreav would ever name this planet after a sort of apocalypse will always evade me. Wrex snorted. Then again, he's always been that kind of krogan…obsessed with bringing doom and destruction to care about 'lesser things'.

He checked on his squad again. Ordinary scout privates, some armed with rudimentary biotics alongside their guns, most of them were new to space exploration, and hence looked around the forest they were in amazement and wonder. In fact, some of them had forgotten their job, instead staring wide eyed at the sheer diversity of life in this lush planet.

Wrex didn't have time for that. What others saw peacefulness and beauty, Wrex felt a sense of unease and danger around the planet. Not that any of the planet's inhabitants could harm the krogan - although there were a few animals that looked imposing enough - it was more due to the circumstances that landed them on this world. With the illegality of this expedition, the reckless actions of his family, and the number of power-grabbing schemes involved, Wrex could not shake off the feeling of unease, the suspicious thought that anytime, a Council vessel or a Dominions Navy battleship would descend from the skies, and lay waste to Clan Urdnot's holdings and personal armies swiftly and decisively, punishing them for their transgression, without listening to their pleas.

Even the thought that multiple clans were on this expedition did nothing to soothe Wrex's feelings. If they chose to bind together and oppose the Citadel Council or the Highlord of the Dominions, it would lead to outright civil war, and according to his mentors, the Krogan dooming themselves back to the state of their forebears, wanderers among a blasted wasteland, instead of glorious victory for them.

Not that Jarrod or Wreav would ever listen to them, 'servants to the Highlord'. To them and the various other conspiring clans, such thoughts were 'submissive', after all. Just even paying a tiny bit of attention to those same thoughts were what made Wreav commander of the expedition to this planet, and Jarrod to threaten transferring his birthright as clan leader to his younger 'brother', after all.

The expedition itself...despite all the misgivings he had about it, Wrex still found himself torn on the issue. Family was family after all, and Clan Urdnot was still his home. Besides, if this expedition turned out well, they would receive great recognition from the other clans, for solving the overpopulation problem that was currently plaguing their species, as well as discovering another precious Prothean ruin. And if his family was right, the Citadel would see the truth in time - that this reckless course of action was for the better in the end for the galaxy at large-

"Battlemaster?" One of his recruits asked him, rousing him from his brief reverie.

Blast. By Aralakh's wrath, I've gotten myself distracted on assignment - again. In response to his recruits, Wrex simply motioned for them to keep moving, before he followed behind. The young krogan commander felt a brief sense of shame fill him as he reflected on that brief lapse of attention, but quickly shrugged it off as he got back to work.

These thoughts won't just go away, huh? Just have to endure them I gu-

Hearing a sound, he abruptly stopped and frowned, turning to look to the left. In that direction, groups of leaf-laden branches shook heavily, spilling water from them as rustling noises filled the air.

Wrex stared suspiciously at them, before stomping off to follow his team.

September 15, 12200 A.D
Alien Base Outskirts, Planet 2-Huali-2, 'Eden'
Planetary System 2-Huali, Milky Way

9S held his breath, watching the red-armored alien stomp away. Holding their position for a few minutes, he and his six-man team finally released their weapons as their internal sensors tracked the alien patrol to a few hundred meters away.

"S-sorry." Through the Fireteam's communication channel, Tewi made a quick apology.

"It's alright, newbie. One of the Blood Ravens replied in a gruff, yet kind manner. "Teleportation, especially when stealthed, is never an easy thing to pull off. Continue leading on.

"Thank you."

Tewi replied, before continuing to follow a trail through the forest. Crossing pass various Scout markers such as markings on trees, strings hanging from branches, or a line of branches on the ground, the Fireteam made their way to the alien base.

Finally, after walking up an incline, they reached a hilltop. Jumping onto the branches of the tall trees, they peered from within them, and on the alien operation below. Slivery buildings dotted the landscape, arranged neatly around a crevasse. Within the crevasse, the team saw the silhouette of alien ruins, green lights on silvery metal. From within, aliens walked in and out, carrying datapads and the odd artefact.

9S turned his attention to the various structures in the alien base: one of them jutted out high above the rest, its prefabricated structure ending in a spire with a balcony attached to it - probably for speeches, 9s thought. Or just another observation deck?

Making a gesture with his fingers, 9S silently pointed at the spire. One of the Fireteam's members nodded, who proceeded to withdraw a thin, long barreled railgun - first by causing it to materialise on her back, before pulling it over her shoulder. As she did so, her Pod appeared, separating into four parts while marking points across the base and performing targeting algorithms for the multi-kilometer shots. Grabbing a certain magazine from her utility belt, she loaded it into the gun, cocking it silently, before raising it to her shoulder, and firing six separate shots at places over the spire in rapid succession, with only the muffled thrmm of an electric discharge and a silenced supersonic burst accompanying each shot.

As the bullets shot through the air, a series of white patterned circles formed across each bullet, before flashing and disappearing. The bullets began to split, their surfaces opening up to reveal a set of miniature yet complicated equipment. Slowly, what was once the bullets' shells transformed into sticky pads, while the equipment within separated and attached to the other sides of the pads. A millisecond later, each of the transformed bullets landed on the surfaces of the spire, with only a soft thud to accompany their impact.

"Auditory Bugs operational." Pod 153 commented from her cloaked position above 9S's shoulder. "Directing information feed to Observation Post."

Meanwhile, the Fireteam Member sighed, before stowing away her weapon. "And that's my last magazine of those, and we won't be able to get more unless the Experimental Deployment Board are willing to release more prototypes..."

Ignoring her comments, 9S gestured to move, pointing at a path that led to the alien ruins along the outskirt of the alien base. With a flash of light, he and Pod 153 disappeared, and the rest of the Fireteam made to follow.

665 GS
Intelligence Room, STG Stealth Frigate
Unidentified Relay System 106

"Well, it definitely seems that our new friends are far from new to this whole business of space warfare."

Beelo Gurji made a sarcastic remark as he concluded his study of the various details and data pads that were scattered over the table. Meanwhile, Illyssa laid on the sole empty spot on the table and waited for her superior to begin engaging in one of his informative monologue, far from interested in verbally sparring with him. A few other salarians were also at the table, listening carefully to Gurji or reading through the material.

"To enter the system first by remaining at its outskirts, before directly using their FTL drives to jump from covering obstacle to covering obstacle while hiding from the krogan fleet, even when they already had a form of visual camouflage as part of their arsenal alongside many other basic stealth quite impressive. Of course, it's great that STG has long had advanced heat tracking sensors as well as our own cloaking systems, otherwise we would have never been able to track them in the first place. But still, that's quite a formidable feat. It does also, mean that they were long familiar with this system before the krogan entered, as - confirmed by the entire ring of faint satellite readings across the planet, meaning that they might already have claimed this as part of their territorial settlements. "

Illyssa simply groaned. Unfortunately, the Dagnes had failed to silently secure a diplomatic team before leaving the Citadel, even through its STG channels, which meant that if they were to going to contact this new group of aliens, she was going to be one doing it. She had absolutely no skill at diplomacy, which meant that by not receiving the 'proper Citadel welcome', they might reject entrance into the Citadel, which could have serious repercussions in future galactic conflicts. And every part of her body rejected being responsible for this nonsense.

Of course, they might have been offended enough by the krogans' intrusion on their property, making them even more suspicious of the Citadel, so I guess observers back home might already call this 'the varren mess of the century'. A thought came to her mind, and she turned to Gurji. "Do you think that species will willingly accept Citadel intervention on this matter?"

"I don't know enough of them to make any judgement on this matter." He replied, looking at sensor readings. "So far, all we have established is that they managed to sneak through the krogan, making use of their lack of preparedness, and perhaps drop troops onto the planet itself, and that they are certainly a sneaky group. But other than that, we have little to no data about their full capabilities or technological advancement."

" step would be a stealth insert?" Illyssa asked. "Get the Dagnes to drop us off, send a few of its scouts to scan the area, while a shuttle brings us down?"

"Something like that...but with the Dagnes leaving for the Citadel afterwards." Gurji replied.

"Wait, what?" Illyssa exclaimed in shock. "Are you serious? Leaving us in hostile, unexplored territory that is currently contested by two clashing factions, one of them being a complete unknown, for what could be weeks? That's literally a recipe for disaster!"

One of the other salarians, dressed in a black suit, simply folded his arms. "I admit, reckless and crazy this may be, given the time limit imposed on us this may be our only option. We must gain intelligence on this new alien species before we can actually request a intervention fleet. The problem is that, staying too long in this system will have the krogan coming down on us with no hope of the Dagnes staying alive, moreso if we were to enter the planet's orbit while supporting a hypothetical team on the ground."

"That's why you are going straight back to the Councillor, Captain." Gurji said, sternly. "Although we may not have details on this alien species, the alert that we have unknown heat readings would alert the Council to move. At the very least provide an additional cruiser and diplomatic team, since I doubt they would want evidence of this illegal krogan operation to come out."

The Captain of the Dagnes simply shook his head. "I disagree, Gurji. While I agree with your analysis, a few heat signatures are not enough to convince the Council that there is an alien presence. We still need more."

"So you mean that you will be staying in the system?" A ghost of a smile fell over Gurji's face.

"Until you get the intelligence we need." The captain replied. "The Dagnes has the resources for a base that can support you and our onboard team for several weeks, as well as a cloaked burst communicator. Once you get the data we need, we will come back down, and retrieve all of you."

"There's that satellite network though." Illyssa pointed out. "If we enter orbit, this would mean that they - the aliens - could detect us."

"It's just a risk we will have to take." Gurji shrugged. "Our main goal is simply not getting noticed by the krogan. In fact, if we let them see us, there may be a chance that first contact might happen earlier. If we do that, we can get a lot of data immediately, and hence accomplish our job faster. We might also be capable of asking them to stand down for the moment, and wait at the side for the Citadel to intervene."

"If they aren't aggressive." the captain replied. "Alright, I agree to this plan. I will get the teams to prepare for orbital insertion."

"Illyssa and I will go prepare ourselves then. Meeting adjourned." Without ceremony, the captain and his aides left, while Gurji began to pack up the various materials left on the desk.

"The captain's has been nice enough to us since we boarded, but I can't say the same for the rest of the crew." Illyssa muttered under her breath, trying her best not to alert the other salarians left in the room. "I guess it's the criminal record speaking…"

"Not really." Gurji spoke as he switched off a datapad, before carefully stacking it to the side on top of others. "STG has never been averse from working with criminals or stray asari maidens. It just happens to be me that's causing so much discomfort on the ship."

"Must be all the controversial decisions that you made while you were with them." Illyssa dryly commented. "And I suspect you never bothered clarifying things to those under your command before you met me, hence all the distrust on this ship about you."

"One very big mistake. And pretty much one of the main reasons I tolerate your nosiness."

Illyssa simply clicked her tongue, stacking the last datapad to side, finishing up their clearing of the table. "What about the captain?"

"An old friend, really. But that's a story for another time." Marching out of the room, the both of them headed for the armory. "Focus on the mission."