Standard disclaimer: I do not own Mass Effect, nor any other content that you recognise. Some characters and systems are original creations. I am receiving no money for my work.
Washington DC - Earth
The President of the United States, Matthew Mattel, took his place at the centre of the cabinet table and tried to hide his apprehension about the coming meeting. Ideally, this discovery on Mars would have happened in his first term, before he had been burdened with 4 years of foreign policy successes, failures and compromises. Actually, any time when he had more authority at home and on the world stage would have been preferable to him. As it was, he was less than a year into his second term and the airwaves were already full of speculation about his successor and he hadn't been able to spend nearly as much time stamping down on that as he should have done.
He had been dealing with another, far more important, event for the last six months, a discovery with world shattering implications.
His deputy chief of staff, Sam Davenport, began the briefing. "Mr President, as you are aware, last month the exploration team finally managed to interface one of our computers with the data systems in the alien installation."
Like most of those present, Sam still had to take a moment to compose himself before continuing. Actual evidence of alien life? It was momentous and completely turned the world on its head. "A week ago, the translation programme finally managed to get a decent grip on the alien language. We now know that they called themselves 'Prothean' and that this was a research and monitoring installation for the study of primitive life forms, by which they seem to have meant us. We also know that the facility was abandoned approximately fifty thousand years ago."
President Mattel nodded serenely as if this was just another meeting about one of the hundreds of things that vied for the President's attention. It wasn't of course, but his staff needed to believe that someone was in control and knew what they were doing. The President indicated that the briefing should continue. "Violet, how are we doing with the European Union?"
Violet Benson, his Secretary of State, cleared her throat and summarised her activities in the last six months. "As everyone is aware, the Prothean base is at the south pole of Mars and as such it's far closer to the EU's colony of Lowell City than it is to our own. I've managed to discredit the idea that the EU owns the facility, which is the line they were pushing hard due to their colony being the both the closest one to the ruins, as well as being the first human colony on Mars. However; their co-operation in helping us investigate, and in keeping Russia and China in the dark as to what exactly we have found is a large marker. A marker that they are going to start calling in if we have actually begun to make progress on learning things from the ruins."
The President sighed as everyone realised that human politics were about to be added to the list of challenges they faced in unlocking the secrets of the Prothean ruins. "Jason, where are we on the inventory?"
His chief of staff, Jason Steel, took over with his findings. "Mr President, we have excavated all of the areas that were caved in and thoroughly searched the surrounding area. We are certain that what we have found is all that there is to find, at least in this area of Mars. The main facility contains the living and storage areas and laboratories for conducting biological, genetic and social research and testing. In addition to them, at the centre of the main facility is the main computer core with its plethora of workstations. The large number of workstations, kept separate from the main labs, indicate its likely primary use was for computer modelling and analysis. A note has been attached to that interpretation though, saying there's some doubt among members of the site team as they think that the computer systems seem to be far larger than a modelling and analysis base would actually require."
Jason must have noticed the frowns on the faces of several people as he quickly elaborated. "The site team is speculating it might have been connected to other installations across Prothean space in a research community specific version of the internet, or that it was a data storage area for other research posts on Mars, or maybe that their computer tech was just not as advanced as we thought. To be honest there is a lot of speculation and we just don't know enough yet for any of our theories to be watertight."
Jason flipped the page in the folder he was holding, it was pure theatre as everyone in the room knew. They all used it all the time, do something with your hands when you need a moment to collect yourself. It distracts the people with you and they miss the fact you had to take a moment.
"The connecting tunnel we discovered leads from the main facility to the secondary area we have tentatively labelled the docking area." Jason continued. "Here there are several store rooms full of spare parts and raw materials, including one heavy security store room containing the substance that translates as 'element zero'. That substance still has all the physicists up in arms but they are promising a preliminary report within a fortnight. As well as that, there is what appears to be a light manufacturing centre, which the site team speculates was present so that the Protheans could produce components for base repairs on site. They also think it's highly likely that it was used to create prefab structures for experiments Earthside, specifically experiments on our ancestors and any other flora, fauna or environmental locations that caught the Prothean's interest. Finally there is the docking area itself."
Jason seemed to be having trouble getting the words out, so President Mattel finished the report. "And in the docking area, despite several of the berths being empty likely due to their ships being used in the evacuation of the facility, the Protheans left behind what our engineering teams believe to be a 60 metre long scout ship, and a four 600 metre cargo ships."
Silence reigned around the room.
Determined to make progress, The President decided to get the meeting back on track by listing the USA's priorities. "Well obviously we need to figure out how to fly those ships, that's priority one. Priority two is data mining. Jason, get the Mars colony to expand the base around the Prothean installation, coordinate with Violet as assistance from the Europeans will speed things up a lot given that their colony is closest. Sam, begin recruiting three teams of the world's best scientists. And I do mean the world's best so coordinate with Violet where necessary to get the cooperation of countries whose experts we will need to recruit."
Sam interrupted the President in confusion. "Three teams sir? I thought that remote access of the Prothean computers was impossible?"
A mild glare from President Mattel caused Sam to subside and allowed him to continue. "Yes Sam, three teams. Humans can only work reliably for 8 hrs a day over long periods and I don't want those computers idle for a single moment. We will not triple the amount of time it takes to learn anything useful because we limited ourselves to one team for political or economic reasons, something out there destroyed the Protheans, otherwise their facility would not have been evacuated in such haste, and abandoned for so long."
The President shuddered slightly as he remembered the last line of data recorded into the facility. Unknown to almost anyone else present, when the last line had been translated it had been promptly omitted from all official reports. The secret was known by only a handful of researchers, and while that group would grow with time when allied heads of state would be made aware one by one, the public could not be made aware until they were confident in humanity's defences. It was strange how much terror could be invoked by just three words.
'They are coming.'
It was obvious to everyone that the Mars installation had been evacuated in haste. The prevailing public theory, arrived at without the benefit of the knowledge granted by that final line of the facility's logs, was that there was an emergency in the Prothean Empire that caused a mass recall of resources from its fringes, much like the latter stages of the Roman Empire.
But taken with the desperate tone of the later logs, that final entry gave everyone who knew of its existence nightmares. It proved that the Protheans didn't leave the installation on Mars by choice. They fled in terror of an enemy that was hunting them, and they never returned.
Sam subsided and began to mutter with Jason about what would be needed to house such a large research staff. Composing himself, President Mattel spoke over them before moving on to speak to Violet Benson. "Sam, make sure that the research teams prioritise any maps or locations of mining and industrial plants. We need raw materials and the Protheans have already done our surveying for us. That alone will be a massive boost to our expansion efforts, but if any of the Prothean industrial facilities at those locations survived whatever caused the evacuation here? Then we will have even more research material to work with. Violet, stay behind. We are going to need to talk about how we are going to confirm this with the other nations and where we go from here diplomatically, now humanity can potentially leave the Solar System."
As the others filed out of the oval office, President Mattel began to explain the beginnings of a plan to his experienced and formidable Secretary of State. His plan was for humans to provide a unified front against any aliens that they encountered, a group of nations and their future colonies acting as one, in a grand alliance of human claimed systems. It was to be the first of many meetings.
Camp David - Earth
Whilst staring into the hypnotic flames of the log fire, President Mattel spared a glance for the snow-covered landscape that was the presidential retreat of Camp David in October. It didn't seem right somehow, that it looked the same as it always had. Not now that the world knew that aliens were real.
The Prothean maps of the Local Cluster showed over a dozen class 2 garden worlds, in the form of both planets and moons, spread over six different star systems. President Mattel had reserved five of them for his diplomatic plan. The sixth and closest system, Alpha Centauri, contained the only class 1 garden world. This planet he had claimed on behalf of the USA and named Destiny. The class 2 garden world also in the Alpha Centauri system, now known as Twilight, had been promised to Japan in return for their cooperation with his plan. They would have the honour of founding the second extra solar colony of mankind, as the 'something extra' they had demanded for supporting his diplomatic plan.
The other resources of the Alpha Centauri system were its gas giant, Triumvirate, which would soon host Brazil's He3 mining colony, to be known as First Station, and the truly huge, even by Prothean standards, element zero deposit around the distant third star of that triple star system, Proxima Centauri. Apparently, the overlapping gravity fields of the three stars that made up the Alpha Centauri system had managed to trap a huge chunk of eezo from the original stellar nursery that formed the Local Cluster. That would soon be exploited by planned Solomon's Mines mining station. To be controlled by Kenya, the extra concessions that both of those nations had demanded in return for following President Mattel's diplomatic plan.
Now, of the target list of the USA, Russia, China, England, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Spain, Japan, Thailand, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey, Iran and Morocco, only Russia and China remained as holdouts from his diplomatic plan. The plan that had grown into the supranational organisation to be known as the Systems Alliance.
Violet Benson was meeting with the Russian President in one of the other lodges, promising him a second class 2 garden world as an enticement to gain Russia's entry to the Systems Alliance. Unmentioned was the threat that the new SA would have cheap helium3 in abundance as it expanded. This could, and would if necessary, be used to completely crush Russia's fossil fuel and mineral extraction-based economy should they prove unwilling to cooperate. The Russian President knew it as well as they did, this was merely a face-saving exercise for him as the failure of Russia to join the Systems Alliance would be the end of his country. The Russian Federation would break apart under the economic collapse that would surely follow being excluded from the Alliance. Just as the USSR had done in 1991 CE, and the Russian Federation itself had nearly done in the following years.
President Mattel himself was meeting with the President of the Peoples Republic of China, the last and most difficult holdout. He looked up as the door opened and President Yang Jintao entered the lodge. He rose and offered his hand to the fellow world leader. "Mr President."
"Mr President." President Yang returned the greeting with as much warmth as the icy blast of wind that had accompanied his entry to the lodge. "Let me state from the outset that I believe this plan of yours to be needlessly wasteful and in direct opposition to the interests of the Chinese people. I have been convinced to hear you out, but I'm not expecting our discussions to be successful."
President Mattel showed no weakness as he gestured to the two chairs set up in front of the log fire. "That would seem to be an excellent place to start Mr President. What are the biggest concerns of the Chinese people?"
"Luytens Star, Kaptyrn, Wolf, Gliese, Trappist." President Yang listed four of the six star systems of the Local Cluster that contained habitable worlds. "Your reservation of these star systems, and the dozen or so class 2 garden worlds the Prothean maps say they hold, for private, capitalist, populations that refuse to acknowledge the authority of the government is an intolerable attack on the Chinese Government. As if that were not enough, you also intend to add the Guris system of the Arcturus Stream to the list. This provision of five star systems for groups who will not recognise the new Systems Alliance in any way to colonise? It's nothing more than a cowardly lack of will to properly control your own people."
"Unlike the Peoples Republic, Mr President, we in the West do not have the tradition of telling our people what to do from behind the controls of a tank." President Mattel's voice was granite hard. The reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 CE, where 3,000 – 10,000 unarmed, pro-democracy demonstrators had been publicly massacred by the Peoples Liberation Army, successfully made President Yang flush with anger at the reminder of the public relations disaster that that 'maintenance of control' had been. Though long forgotten at home it's shadow still affected Chinese diplomacy, much as their imperial past did the major European nations.
Having successfully opened a chink in the fellow president's armour, President Mattel attempted to frame the controversial decision in a way that would make it acceptable to President Yang. To allow people who refused to recognise the Systems Alliance as the legitimate governing body of humanity to set up colonies, without Alliance interference, was something that set off alarm bells for China's leaders after so many years of holding their fractious state together. Fortunately, he had more than a little of the truth on his side, as what President Yang wanted to hear was exactly why the decision had been made. To control the rebellious elements that had the potential to cause so much harm to the fledgling SA.
"However, we do recognise the need to control those who would refuse to accept the authority of the new government." President Yang merely raised an eyebrow in surprise as President Mattel began to outline the benefits of the plan.
"By allowing these independent types to colonise these five systems, they cannot use the argument that we are refusing to let them colonise anywhere. This allows us to legitimately remove, by force if need be, any human colony outside of these systems that refuses to recognise the Systems Alliance as the supreme authority over human colonies. With these colonies deep within Alliance space they will also be trapped, unable to make trouble outside our territory with any neighbours that we may have in the future. As an added benefit, the fact that those systems only contain class 2 garden worlds will keep their populations under control, as they will have to terraform those worlds for centuries before their population can expand without restraints. They will appear to everyone to be free, successfully defying the Alliance and setting up completely independent societies. But in reality, they will be trapped. Limited in location and growth potential they will be under our control in the ways that matter most, potential expansion and access to the wider galaxy."
President Yang now wore an expression of respect openly upon his face. "Not, I suspect, how you will be selling the idea to your own voters." His voice held more than a little amusement.
President Mattel gave him a wiry smile. "No, but it is the way that you can justify the policy to the holdouts in the Chinese Communist Party."
President Yang leaned in closer, clearly more interested and attentive than when he had arrived. "You are not what I expected, President Mattel." He remarked. "Perhaps we can work together. But there are still several stumbling blocks that China will need to be resolved before we give our consent to this….deal."
President Mattel made no outward sign of his excitement as he moved on faster than anticipated. "Such as, Mr President?"
"Such as the governing body of the Systems Alliance being a council of representatives from its member nations. This is concerning to us, as in your current proposal the Peoples Republic will not have a veto." President Yang's eyes were like flecks of flint. "China is well aware of the number of tributary states America can call on. Japan, England, Scotland, France, Canada, Mexico and Germany to name just a few. China will not be placed at the mercy of the imperialist powers again Mr President, the century of humiliation is long past. You can give a veto to yourself as well, and the usual three others as well if you must, but you will give us a veto."
"No." The short and definite response left President Yang shocked.
"I do not think you understand Mr President." President Yang addressed his American opposite in confident, controlled tones. "America's time as the sole superpower has ended. You owe billions of dollars in debt to China, your country relies on cheap, Chinese, goods and your advantage in military technology grows smaller every day. All while China's manpower outstrips yours more with each passing year. America no longer has the power to say 'no' when China speaks, President Mattel."
President Mattel forced down the burning anger, anger that only that intense because what President Yang said was true. Oh, China was heading for an economic crash in the near future, the long-term demographic effects of the one child policy were finally taking effect after all. But at the moment, China's hand was exactly as strong as President Yang said it was, and any future changes weren't going to help President Mattel in the here and now.
Calling in America's debt would cause immense damage to the world economy which China's economy wouldn't be able to escape, they weren't supermen despite what their state TV channels proclaimed, but the damage to the USA's economy would be much worse if they decided to go down that route. His generals always scoffed, saying that the Chinese would never make good on their economic threat, that it would cause too much damage to their own economy. But the same time those same generals constantly warned him of the threat of Chinese military action, stating that China was becoming more willing and able by the day to absorb the damage that would be caused in a limited conflict with the United States. Provided the gains in territory from America's allies and the loss of American power and prestige were big enough to justify it.
That the Chinese would be willing to risk this, but not the damage caused by economic warfare had always struck the President as absurd. Now, as President Mattel looked across at his counterpart and saw an iron determination that made him believe that President Yang would indeed carry through on his threats. Both the declared economic threat and, if need be, the military threat that remained unspoken. The President answered his Chinese counterpart carefully.
"No. The Systems Alliance will need to represent all of humanity, with speed and certainty. The League of Nations taught us the folly of unanimous votes being required to take action, the United Nations has taught us the folly of vetos, no matter how few there are. No nation in the Systems Alliance will have a veto on its executive council." President Yang looked as furious as President Mattel felt, so the American President pushed on before the Chinese leader could leave.
"But! We are prepared to make the vote required to take action a supermajority, rather than a simple majority. For China's acceptance of this we are also prepared to offer you one more class two garden world than any other nation possesses, now and at any time in the future. The colony rights issued to the member nations for all new worlds that the Alliance discovers as we expand will reflect this."
President Yang's eyes took on a calculating glint as he mentally ran through the states China could rely on, or persuade to back them in the proposed Alliance Executive Council. "You ask much of us, Mr President." He said slowly as President Mattel braced himself for further demands.
"In addition to the… indignity, of being denied a veto, you ask us to open all non-garden word bodies in future Chinese territory to capitalist exploiters. All they will have to do in return is recognise the Systems Alliance as controlling their military and foreign affairs, pay into the Alliance budget, and follow the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. How can the Chinese people be expected to let capitalists exploit the people and the people's property in their own star systems? How can Chinese colonies be expected to follow a set of laws based on decadent western imperialism that completely disregards Chinese culture?"
President Yang shook his head as he rammed the point home, both leaders knew America could not force China's compliance. He had to give it, and he was going to extract more concessions from President Mattel before he gave it. "China will except only two more class one garden worlds than any other country at any time, we will not suffer all of these indignities and attacks on our culture without receiving fair compensation for the Chinese people."
President Mattel glared at his opposite number. He knew dam well that such a colonisation advantage would certainly see China, who had been catching up fast anyway, overtake the United States of America as the most powerful human nation state, and allow it to secure an unbeatable lead for the future. He couldn't allow this to happen, but he also couldn't allow the Systems Alliance to fail.
The American President decided to make a last role of the dice. "This is completely unacceptable to the people of the United States. However." He paused and saw that President Yang was giving him a cool gaze, but he was still listening. "The United States could see its way to agreeing that the Peoples Republic of China would always have two more class one garden world colonies than any country OTHER than the United States. The USA shall in turn have one more class one garden world colony than any other state apart from China."
President Mattel let is genuine feelings slip through his political mask, trying to make President Yang see that this 3:2:1 arrangement of 'shirt sleeve' worlds was the best deal he was going to get. That it was this, or that there would be no human united front as they explored the stars, and their dangers.
President Yang studied him for a long time before leaning forward and holding out his hand in the flickering fire light. "Agreed."
Codex Entry: Humans – Pre Mass Effect Colonisation – Overview
(Citadel Codex, First Human SPECTRE Collector's Edition, 2183)
While Sol, the home system of the humans, only has a single class one garden world, it contains no less than FOUR class two garden worlds. This amazing abundance of habitable planets within viable range of a Slower Than Light (rocket propulsion based) space programme, has been theorised to be the major force behind the speed of human expansion. Unlike other races, humans were able to colonise semi-habitable worlds with the same technology that took them into orbit of their homeworld. This gave them a significant pre-existing space based population, industry and experience by the time that their first mass effect FTL vessel was constructed. This boost allowed human expansion from Sol to occur at what the Citadel species consider to be a breakneck pace.
In addition to their class one homeworld of Earth, humans have in their home system the class two garden worlds of Mars, Venus, Europa, and Titan. Though the latter two are moons of Sol's two gas giants, limiting the total population that they can support and requiring additional resources to maintain human standard gravity, these staging posts allowed the development of Sol System to proceed at incredible speed. While Jupiter's intense radiation prevents it from being mined for helium3, Saturn's weaker radiation belts made He3 mining viable, if extremely dangerous.
Fortunately having the class 2 garden world of Titan in orbit made exploitation of its He3 resources much easier than any other known species first attempts. Providing cheap, abundant fuel for human planetside and shipbourne reactors both in record breaking time, and with minimal initial resources needing to be hauled from the inner system. This was the largest factor in the explosion of interplanetary colonisation, industry and commerce that followed and allowed Sol to claim the title of the most developed STL system on record. A title it still holds to this day.
Codex Entry: Humans – Pre Mass Effect Colonisation – The Inner System
(Citadel Codex, First Human SPECTRE Collector's Edition, 2183)
Prior to the discovery of the Charon relay, humans had no central authority for their species. As such their early in system colonisation was carried out by individual nation states. The first planet of Sol system, Mercury is suitable only for scientific research stations as the intense heat makes even mining difficult.
At first glance, many would question the classification of Venus, Sol's second planet, as a garden world, even a class 2 one, given its surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead, the pressure is the same as under a km of ocean water, and it rains sulphuric acid. Venus does, however, have near perfect Earth level gravity, a thick atmosphere, and a magnetosphere to protect its atmosphere and surface from the solar radiation – the key indicators of a garden class world. With current technology Venus is also easier to terraform than Mars, though given the relative ease with which its current colonisation is progressing, the inhabitants of Venus have decided against terraforming their home.
Venus was colonised by the Russian Federation in 2091 after the colonies on Luna, Mars and the asteroid belt were established. The USA, China, and the European Union all raced for the outer system as the next step in human expansion, and with their stronger economies, the USA and China were able to claim the two class 2 garden worlds present there. Lagging only slightly behind, the best station colony candidate was claimed by the European Union which left the Russian Federation with few options for outer system colonies. Being, largely uninterested in the research possibilities in the outer system, already having extensive mining operations in the asteroid bet, and used to existing in hostile environments and with limited economic resources, Russia turned her back on the scramble for He3 mining and instead set out for Earth's closest neighbour. Choosing to claim an entire planet for themselves instead of sharing with others as they had been forced to do on Mars.
Taking advantage of the fact that a standard human atmosphere is lighter than the CO2 rich atmosphere of Venus, acting much like helium does on Earth, the first colonies were aerostat balloon colonies, floating in the clouds 50km above Venus's surface where the pressure is normal for humans, and the temperature is a manageable 75 degrees centigrade. Following the great advances in material science and mass effect fields that came with discovering the Citadel, construction began on the first floating cloud cities, using mass effect fields to gain an extra 5km of hight in addition to that provided by the natural buoyancy of human breathable air, and placing the cloud cities at a hight where the temperature is a much more comfortable 27 degrees centigrade. Thanks to this technological boost 6.5 million people call Venus home today.
Luna is the moon of Earth, Sol's third planet and the human homeworld, and it was colonised by multiple nation states; as was the fourth and second most Earth like planet in Sol System, Mars. Luna colonies are designated station colonies as Luna has no atmosphere or radiation protection, and mass effect fields must be used throughout all colonies there to maintain Earth standard gravity.
Sol's fourth planet, Mars, is known colloquially as the red planet and named after one of early humanities gods of war. This was the planet where the humans discovered their Prothean ruins. Mars's designation as a class 2 garden world is controversial as it is only barely acceptable in all categories, the Martian atmosphere is barely present, being far below the Armstrong limit (the pressure at which a human can survive without a pressure suit) and at 0.06-0.09 kPa it is less than 1% of the next thickest atmosphere in the system – Earth's 101 kPa. The gravity is only a 3
rd that of Earth, leading to major health problems and physical changes if adults do not spend the majority of their time, and children their entire time until after puberty, in domes where mass effect fields provide Earth normal gravity. The most insurmountable problem so far and the largest obstacle to the success of the proposed terraforming project is that Mars has no magnetosphere, leaving its surface blasted by solar radiation and making it impossible to live outside of the shielded domes.
In all categories Venus has a better claim to be a class 2 garden world than Mars does, but humans are a surface obsessed species and were of the opinion that Venus's cloud cities wouldn't 'count' as colonisation because there wouldn't be 'boots on the ground'. As such, despite the additional challenges, it was Mars that captured the human imagination and was the target of the first colonisation efforts. After the colonisation of Luna and the build up of Earth's skyhooks and other orbit infrastructure made it economically viable for Earth's most powerful nation states to send the first colony ships.
The European Union's Lowell City was the first colony on Mars, but within a decade it had been joined by American and Chinese colonies. Other nation states would start their own colonies on Mars in the coming years, as the ever-expanding mining and manufacturing plants in the Luna colonies drastically reduced the cost of colonisation missions, with materials no longer having to be sourced from Earth where its deep gravity well and pre mass effect technology made getting any amount of materials into orbit insanely expensive, even with skyhooks meaning humans no longer had to rely on chemical rockets to reach orbit.
The intense competition between these factions drove the rapid exploration of the Mars's surface, with each nation hoping to discover and secure resources vital to these early colonies and their parent nation state's industries. It is theorised that had this competition not occurred, the ruins could have lain undiscovered for decades. As the only option for several of the smaller nations of Earth to colonise, due to the difficulty in colonising the outer system and Venus being an exclusively Russian colonial endeavour, colonisation by less powerful nation states continued even after the discovery of the Prothean ruins. Meaning that today 15.2 million people call Mars home.
Between Sol's rocky inner planets and the outer gas and ice giants lies a substantial asteroid belt. The four dwarf planets present in this belt were colonised by the most powerful nations of Earth at the start of humanity's exploration. Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and Hygia were colonised by the United States of America, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the Peoples Republic of China respectively. From these bases, the exploitation of the belt has fed the human industrial machine a vast array and volume of resources, fuelling their expansion both before and after First Contact.
Timeline changes so far
First colony on mars: 27 years earlier than canon
Discovery of Prothean ruins: 64 years earlier than canon
Founding of the Systems Alliance (council of nations version): 63 years earlier than canon