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. My thanks to HTM for sorting through my spelling and grammar.
The Citadel – The Serpent Nebula
Citadel News Net ran in the background of the Council's private meeting chamber, showing a loop of the pictures of the first quarians setting foot on Rannoch in over 200 years. The sound was muted. None of them needed to hear what they had already heard from the reports they had been inundated with.
Matriarch Tevos simply sat and watched, disbelieving what she was seeing. She had laughed when she heard that the humans were going to host a peace summit between the geth and quarians. She had been certain that it was doomed to fail. She had enjoyed herself immensely when it actually had failed, partying like a maiden for the first time in centuries at the irreparable damage the Systems Alliance had taken. Glad that the government that seemed to be able to survive every cannon anyone fired at them had finally taken a hit that stopped their dangerously fast growing diplomatic power in its tracks.
Then came the news of the Migrant Fleet's split.
The maidens of the Republics were overjoyed, peace meant the return of the quarians to the galactic community. When added to the newly discovered humans, it made it one of the most exciting times to be young and exploring the galaxy.
The matrons had been angry at the humans at first, just like how they would react to their own children inevitably taking on a project their mothers had already warned them about, and then those children would proceed to mess the whole thing up, rather than simply ask for help.
When the Migrant Fleet split and the peace summit was revealed to be a success after all, their reactions changed. They were surprised and pleased. They merely saw a race that valued diplomacy, and were highly skilled at said diplomacy. A protégé to take under their motherly guidance and help hold the line against the militaristic turians, batarians, and to a lesser extent, salarians.
The matriarchs however, oh goddess the matriarchs.
Tevos shuddered as she remembered the emergency meeting the Council of Matriarchs had called. The sheer fury had been unbelievable from a group that prided themselves on their control and outward serenity. It had been insulting enough when the Alliance had accepted the role of a mediator of peace, not even calling in asari to act as observers. Their certain failure had been a soothing balm to that. The matriarchs were willing to forgive the insult, since the failure would be a lesson to the whole galaxy; that when you wanted diplomacy done properly, you called an asari.
Then the goddess dammed pyjaks had succeeded.
It had been the greatest diplomatic triumph since the turians were brought onto the Citadel Council. There hadn't been a single asari involved.
It would have been less damaging to the Republic's galactic reputation if Admiral Drescher had blown the Destiny Ascension to pieces! At least then they could've fallen back on the excuse that war was never the asari's forte.
"How…" she muttered, still staring at the screen. "How are they doing this?"
Corinthus Oraka went to fetch himself another drink to hide his pleased expression. Finally, the humans had done something that damaged the asari rather than the turians, and he was enjoying seeing Tevos being the one struggling to accept it for a change. That her reaction was far more than was polite was simply an extra bonus.
She'd never been sympathetic when it was he that was the target, after all.
"We have to do something," Tevos declared resolutely when she had gathered herself again. "The Council of Matriarchs has demanded that we-"
"Do what?" Councillor Oraka asked mildly. "I seem to recall the two of you telling me that there's nothing we can do."
"We begin a propaganda campaign," Councillor Tevos declared. "We turn the public against the Alliance for giving genocidal robots a route straight into Citadel space. We break out all the recordings of the Morning War and the predictions of the casualties we calculated when the geth were expected to continue their assault through the Perseus Veil and-"
"Will not work," Councillor Tolan spoke up, his omnitool lighting his wrist with an orange glow, processing vast amounts of data. "Public pleased by treaty result."
"They can't expect killer robots to keep their word!" Tevos Callis was not succeeding in keeping the frustration she felt out of her voice.
"Split in geth actually helps them," Tolan replied, bringing up the relevant polling graphs. "Announcement that third of geth declared 'heretic' geth due to refusal to accept treaty, and subsequently exiled from geth space, contrasts perfectly with third of quarians cast out of Migrant Fleet for accepting treaty. Makes geth look individual, like quarians, like organics, less like hive mind monolith."
Tolan shook his head in dismay at fickle public opinion. "Also allows people to accept geth will honour treaty without having to admit they were wrong about geth being genocidal killer robots. 'Heretic' geth are genocidal killer robots, so they were right, no need to change opinion and admit fault, just add that there are good geth as well, accept that not all geth the same, like people. People have latched on to that, propaganda will only reinforce fear of 'heretic' geth, not 'true' geth as would need. Visual evidence of 'true' geth leaving known space also reassuring. As long as it continues, public will not believe attack imminent."
"The Union can't be happy with this!" Tevos was pushing hard but getting nowhere.
"Are not," Tolan replied shortly. "Humans showing intolerable levels of independence, success, and resilience. Power growing dangerously. Current threat level pathetic, but worrying trend emerging. Predict serious problems if continues unchecked, but no viable methods to bring to heel given peace summit success. Many if summit failed, but success makes Alliance invulnerable for moment."
"No one is invulnerable!" Tevos's responded sharply in a raised voice, though she maintained enough control not to shout.
"Well, let's look at our normal options, shall we?" Oraka, still enjoying seeing the usually so infuriatingly composed matriarch flustered, as she'd derided him for being angry at the human's actions so many times he'd lost count.
"If we issue a statement condemning them for not involving us when they succeeded anyway, we'll just look foolish. If we lodge a protest, we'll look foolish and weak, as they'll just ignore it. We can't cut off economic support, restrict market access, or withdraw Citadel Fleet patrols from their space, because they don't receive any of those benefits yet. We can't break off diplomatic relations without terminating their ascension process, and so produce all of the long-term destabilising results you're so set against. We can't use the SPECTREs as someone already tried assassinating the most troublesome elements of their government and it not only survived their deaths, it actually made our problems worse. And our final option of declaring war might be seen as just a little bit of an overreaction."
Tevos said nothing, simply staring at the wall and trying to get her breathing under control, refusing to sacrifice her dignity with an open display of anger.
"I'll draft a statement of congratulations, and an offer to tie the quarians's readmission as a Citadel associate race to the human's ascension process," Oraka concluded smugly after a few moments of silence. At last the other two were feeling the consequences of indulging the humans. Hopefully, that meant they'd be more willing to act next time they stepped out of line.
Oraka mused as he drafted the orders for the press office to prepare the statement. To give them their due, the humans had assumed the peacekeeping responsibility for the Tikkun system that the treaty demanded without complaint. They didn't have the ships or the cash to do so without severely weakening their own defences, and there were several Citadel laws that they could easily have used to petition for Hierarchy peacekeeping support, drastically reducing that burden on an already pathetic – in galactic terms – navy and economy. But they hadn't used them, hadn't even sent out the most unofficial feelers suggesting that the turians step up and fill the peacekeeping role instead, not even a portion of it.
Corinthus Oraka grudgingly had to admit that humans did seem to have a firm grasp of duty, and the turian in him respected that. The Alliance might have interfered in affairs that they had no business taking on, but at least they weren't just taking the glory and leaving others to do the work. They were putting in the hard graft required to keep the galaxy spinning themselves, which was honestly a refreshing change.
Silently the turian Councillor raised his glass in respect to the stars and delta symbol of the Alliance on the datapad, before staring forlornly at the stack of intelligence reports. Reports from the STG recommending various alterations to the Citadel Fleet's patrol routes, based on the external threats and internal criminal operations that their networks had identified this month.
"Duty's a harsh mistress," he muttered, glancing longingly at his chrono before sighing and picking up the first report.
Arcturus Station – Arcturus
The majority of the seats at the cabinet table were empty as Asa Lovin, Minister of Defence and leader of the Greens, entered and took her seat. The war cabinet combined the four great offices of state with the two ministries that were absolutely impossible to plan or execute war without; defence and industry.
In peacetime, this was to allow classified intelligence, black ops, and contingency plans to be discussed and authorised without the security implications of the ministers of health, education, work and pensions, environment, sapient rights, culture, transport, administrative affairs, and the attorney general and chief whip, collectively known as the outer cabinet, being privvy to secrets that weren't relevant to them.
Asa was at least thankful that unlike the inner cabinet of the Salarian Union, which was a law unto itself, the war cabinet at least had to answer to the Grand Assembly's Defence and Intelligence select committee, providing democratic oversight without having to put all of the Alliance's black ops and secret projects up for a vote in front of the entire Parliament.
She took her seat opposite her Green colleague – a slight smile gracing her features at the memory of managing to secure that position for her party – when Rajendra Tharoor had fired the previous Minister of Industry for corruption over the new ship design incident. Taking strength from that visible success of outmanoeuvring the three far larger parties, she focused on the First Space Lord as the Prime Minister signalled for him to begin the meeting.
"The military situation continues to be dire," Thomas Carmichael didn't sugar-coat his report. "The deployment of Third Fleet to Tikkun to defend Rannoch has left our colonies critically exposed with only Second Fleet to defend them. First Fleet has been stripped to a skeleton force to help, but the ships taken and used to reinforce colonial defences have left Sol itself vulnerable to a determined attack."
The Fleet Admiral looked pained as he continued his report, but reality would not bend to anyone's wishes, so the unvarnished truth had to be spelled out to the people responsible for the Alliance's defences.
"Ships to create the Fourth Fleet have been laid down at all available shipyards, even though they are our pre-First Contact War designs, but we need the hulls themselves even more than we need to increase their effectiveness. Even when Fourth Fleet is completed, we will still be both critically exposed to slaver raids, and unable to take on the turians, asari, salarians, geth, batarians, hanar, or the Migrant Fleet in a straight up fight.
Asa Lovin frowned seeking to understand the seeming contradiction, refusing to be forced into even higher levels of military spending unless it was absolutely unavoidable. "I understand that we are not at war, so our vulnerability to that eventuality is currently invisible. But given your report Admiral, I would expect our trade routes to be overrun with pirates. For us to be losing hundreds of thousands of people to slaver raids across the outer colonies, and for our mid-range colonies to be suffering constant ground attacks against their city defences. None of this seems to be happening, so perhaps you can understand my confusion? Surely our enemies would strike during our weakest moments, not wait for us to grow strong enough to oppose them?"
Admiral Carmichael turned a cold but respectful smile on the Minister of Defence. As a pacifist leader of a pacifist political party, the Admiral didn't like Asa Lovin, finding her incredibly naïve with regards to what people were actually capable of. But he still respected her, as although she clung to her pacifist principles tightly, she did so as a Swedish-style pacifist. Willing to authorise extensive defences and military assets despite constantly fighting to never actually use them. She understood that while she believed non-violence was the ideal, not everyone in the galaxy agreed. She had a duty to defend the people she represented from any enemy military force if all non-violent methods of deterring that enemy failed.
She was certainly more acceptable to the Admiral than the huge chunk of the Green party and their voters who he viewed with utter contempt for their calls for complete disarmament. It was in line with their own interpretation of the pacifist world view. In his darkest moments, Thomas fantasised about moving them all to the batarian border and removing the fleet's protection. It would give them what they wanted, while stopping them from trying to compromise the defence of the rest of the Alliance at the same time. Then they'd find out if their moral superiority and military disarmament was the unshakable defence against aggression they thought it was.
It was as if they had never heard of Duchess Satine's Mandalorians, of Alderaan, of the pemalites, the tuatha'an, and so many other non-strawman fictions that tried to show that while armed pacifism was possible, perfect pacifism was not. At least not in any world humans actually lived in.
"Admiral?" Minister Lovin raised an eyebrow at him questioningly.
Swallowing the self-loathing that came from even thinking about abandoning people who he was sworn to protect to batarian slavery, no matter how offensive their attacks on his officers were, the Fleet Admiral answered the question.
"We currently have a single saving grace, Minister. None of the relays connecting us to batarian space are open. We currently have only two relays connecting us to Citadel space towards the galactic east, and two towards the galactic west. With the uninhabitable and unnavigable galactic core to the north of us, that gives pirates and slavers only four entry points to our territory. When you take into account that the two to the east lead directly into the Krogan Demilitarized Zone, which is heavily patrolled by the Citadel fleet, it leaves them only two viable entry points. That's where we've concentrated the fleet. And given that the minimal level of trade that uses those relays allows for intense inspection of all incoming ships, so far we've been able to keep pirates and slavers out."
"A situation that will become untenable if we open the southern relays before we have enough ships to patrol them and defend our outer colonies," Chancellor Bakari noted.
"I'm aware," Foreign Secretary Ayumi noted. "I'm using all available resources to frustrate the batarian's petitions to open the relay. Thankfully, the volus have a low opinion of the batarians, and their lawyers are very good at finding delay-inducing segments of corporate law. We should be able to keep those relays closed for a considerable amount of time."
"Really? We're that good at diplomacy and legal fights, against galactic civilisations that have hundreds of years of experience and contact cultivation on us, that we can stop crippling damage in its tracks with a few lawyers and our good old human superiority."
Jusaf Bakari's scepticism was blatantly obvious.
"It's more a case of the batarians having burned an awful lot of bridges over the centuries," Ayumi Yasutomi replied. "I've no doubt if we were trying to keep relays to the elcor or the hanar closed, they'd wipe the floor with us. But the batarians have pissed off pretty much everyone. The only reason they're still a Citadel associate race is that since the quarian exile, the Batarian Hegemony is the most significant military power outside of the Council races themselves, and the Council long ago decided that it was better to have that kind of power inside the tent pissing out, no matter how many headaches they generate. It's the same attitude we've been taking advantage of so ruthlessly."
"Now the rest of Citadel space has a chance to take revenge for those headaches and kick the Hegemony where it hurts; by denying them access to the slavers dream that is outer Alliance space at the moment. Governments and individuals alike are lining up to give them a good kicking. That it helps us is purely coincidental. They'd probably help the heretic geth if it meant getting to kick the Hegemony in the balls."
The Conservative leader inclined his head, finding that explanation far more realistic.
Asa Lovin simply frowned. "Very well. I concede that our military situation is far more dire than it appears at first glance. I take it you have a proposal to remedy this that goes beyond our planed emergency shipbuilding program and general military build-up?"
"We do. Project Argo," Thomas Carmichael replied, activating the holo-projector, causing the silhouette of a UNSC Athens class carrier to appear again, just as it had the last time he had discussed ship designs before the cabinet.
"The first of our new ship designs has been completed. This is to be our new dreadnought class, and the first class that uses our box armour and modular internals design. She has been tentatively given the designation Aztec, with the subsequent ships of the class to be given the names of other extinct civilisations. A constant reminder of what awaits us if they fail in their duty."
"And that the Aztecs were brought down by a group of subjugated people they were sure they had under control, when they suddenly managed to ally with an outside force before the Aztecs could react," Christine Swinson noted dryly.
Thomas Carmichael ignored her and carried on. "The Treaty of Farixen operates a 5:3:1 ratio, limiting us to a single dreadnought for every 3 the asari and salarians are permitted, and every 5 the turians are permitted, with the turians setting the benchmark. The Turian Hierarchy currently fields 35 dreadnoughts, with 2 more laid down in response to the Migrant Fleet's construction of the Reclamation. As such we will be permitted to build 8 when the new turian ones launch, as the associate races are permitted to round up if the turians do not field an exact factor of 5, provided they don't breach the other Council race's ratios either. The asari have already laid down the additional dreadnought the new turian construction permits them to field, taking their fleet to 22 dreadnoughts, including Destiny Ascension, which is passed the 21 benchmark required for us to round up, officially covering us under the treaty."
"I fail to see how his could be considered a game-changing project," Asa noted. "It's simply what the cabinet already agreed to. You even convinced us to build all 8 dreadnoughts now, simultaneously, and simply double up the dreadnought deployment in our first 4 fleets until the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th fleets our built, rather than construct 4 now and the other 4 in sequence along with each of the fleets they will lead."
Wordlessly Admiral Carmichael added a scale to the diagram.
"Is that…..?" Jusaf Bakari whispered, trailing off.
"Over 2.2 kilometres long," Ayumi Yasutomi noted harshly. "That's illegal. Your plan is for us to break our treaty obligations Admiral? Do you not realise the level of damage that will cause?"
"She's 2,212 meters long to be exact, with a 2,200 meter long main gun, the same as Destiny Ascension's main gun," Admiral Carmichael specified. "And forgive me for contradicting you, Foreign Secretary, but the treaty of Farixen defines a dreadnought as any ship with a main gun of 800 meters long or longer. It doesn't place an upper limit on ship size. The fact that an unofficial upper limit of approximately 1 kilometre exists is entirely through convention and economics. Due to the increasing inefficiency of mass effect fields past 1 kilometre, you can build three 1 kilometre dreadnoughts for the price of a single 2 kilometre dreadnought. There is no legal limit on dreadnought size, as the Destiny Ascension shows. It's just that as they're not as limited in numbers as the associate races are, the Council races see no reason to go large, apart from the prestige value of the Citadel flagship. Among the associate races, the batarians don't have the cash to go large, and the others don't have the political will to field more than a couple of dreadnoughts at all, let alone challenge the Ascension."
There was silence around the cabinet table.
"Firepower?" Christine Swinson asked after it was clear that the others were still thinking.
"A 293 kiloton main gun," Admiral Carmichael rattled off. "The same as Destiny Ascension's main gun, Ascension's additional size and her three other 87 kiloton guns give her significantly more firepower than the Aztec, but it can't all be focused in the same direction. Compared to normal dreadnoughts, salarian and turian first-line dreadnoughts have 80 kiloton of firepower, asari dreadnoughts have four 39 kiloton main guns set in a cross arrangement, the same style as the Ascension, giving them greater firepower than turian and salarian dreadnoughts overall, but able to bring only a quarter of that firepower to bear on any specific target."
The Foreign Secretary's analytical mind quickly ran the numbers. "The salarians only field 16 dreadnoughts currently. They haven't built the full amount they're permitted to. If their dreadnoughts have a firepower of 80 kilotons, and they only have 16, they will have a combined firepower of 1,280 kilotons. If we build the 8 Aztecs we're permitted, our combined dreadnought firepower will be 2,344 kilotons. Nearly double that of the entire salarian dreadnought fleet."
"Given that turian second-line dreadnoughts have only 44 kilotons of firepower, we'll actually have roughly the same firepower as the combined turian dreadnought fleet," Admiral Carmichael noted proudly.
"The turians won't stand for it," Secretary Ayumi whispered in horror.
"Legally there is nothing to-"
"I don't care about legality, Admiral! The turians will not stand for it!"
"No, Chris! This overgrown child is going to bring down the entire Turian Hierarchy on our heads! And this time the asari won't stop them!"
London – Earth
2118.06.11 ABC News
The news anchor gave her trademark polite smile as the introduction music ended.
"Good evening. Tonight we will talk about the election. After two days of counting, the shape of the new Parliament is now set in stone, so we transfer you now to our politics correspondent for the summary of what has happened and what the parties might do next."
"Thank you. As you can see," the political correspondent gestured to the graph behind them. "There have been some significant changes in the strengths of the parties following their solidification from random alliances, turning into true Alliance wide political parties over the last 6 years. This has drastically altered the look of the Grand Assembly following Systems Alliance Parliament's first true election."
Socialist Labour – 28% vote share / 29% seat count (-2/-0)
Liberal Federalists – 22% vote share / 23% seat count (+11/+10)
Conservative Alliance – 19% vote share / 18% seat count (-18/-13)
Terra Firma – 12% vote share / 11% seat count (-10/-12 against former NFC)
Green Party – 10% vote share / 10% seat count (+8/+8)
Outer Systems Alliance – 9% vote share / 9% seat count (+8/+7 against former PPG)
"The biggest story, is of course, the fall from grace of the Conservative Alliance party. The party that Rajendra Tharoor made the largest in the previous parliament, that looked like it might be dominant for decades, has instead crashed into third place after haemorrhaging support following Jusaf Bakari's expulsion of Jack Harper, as well as the deselection of any MPs who supported him. That action has made sure that the Conservatives are unified around Mr Bakari's leadership rather than constantly being wracked with bitter infighting, but given the level of support it's cost them, many people in the Conservative Alliance party will be wondering today if that was the right decision."
"So where has that support gone? Not to the Socialist Labour party which has basically stood still, losing a little vote share but managing to hold onto all of its seats. Instead, the Liberal Federalists party, surprising many people, has done spectacularly well in this election. The liberals have managed to secure the lion's share of the voter churn, leaping from a poor fourth place into a close second and snapping at the heels of the Socialist Labour party. With this sort of performance, doubling their previous representation in Parliament, I think we can safely say that Christine Swinson will be remaining Prime Minister. The Liberals will undoubtedly have to settle for fewer cabinet positions than their numbers deserve as the price tag for this. They're still not the largest party after all, but given the scale of their increase in support, ousting Swinson from the Prime Minister's office is likely to be a fight that the Socialists just won't want to take on at the moment."
"Coming in fourth is the new Terra Firma party. Jack Harper hoped would find easy pickings among the long-collapsed NFC's former supporters. Unfortunately for him, that doesn't seem to have worked out as well as he'd hoped. A huge chunk of the old NFC support has in fact been turned off by the accusations of racism that have dogged the Terra Firma party throughout this election. Even the voters Jack Harper brought with him from the conservatives haven't been enough to make up the difference. A bitter blow to Jack Harper personally, and a severe setback to his Earth First agenda."
"The Green Party have had a brilliant night as well, seeing the largest vote share increase after the Liberals. They're still second from last, but what a second from last it is! Asa Lovin will certainly wield far more power at the cabinet table if she is in the next government. The new Outer Systems Alliance party has done exceptionally well for a new party, capitalising on the 'Earth First' way Terra Firma chose to promote its ideals of human supremacy. The OSA seem to have vacuumed up votes from the mid-range and outer colonies and secured themselves a substantial level of support, by railing against what they call the 'undue focus' of the Alliance government on Earth and her first daughter worlds."
"So, what does this mean for the new government? With Socialist Labour and the Liberal Federalists controlling 52% of Parliament between them, they do technically have a majority, but it is wafer thin. Most analysts agree that neither the socialists or the liberals would be comfortable governing with such a small majority, given how often the left wing of the Social Labour party protests against any concession given to their collation partners, and that getting liberals to all vote the same way is like herding cats. No, it's virtually certain that both of them will agree to invite the Green Party to the government as well."
"The big wildcard here is the Conservative Alliance. Will Ayumi Yasutomi, Christine Swinson, and Asa Lovin invite them back into the government? The instinctive answer is no. The Liberals and Greens do have some overlap with the Conservatives; they could work together no matter how much they disagree over policy, especially given the purging of the Terra Firma wing. But the socialists would clearly jump for joy at the chance to get rid of their hated rivals, right? Well, not so fast. Remember that Jusaf Bakari has taken a massive hit this election for expelling the Terra Firma wing of the party? If the Conservatives are excluded from the government as well, that would likely be enough for a leadership challenge, and there is a strong possibility that whoever wins would forge an alliance with Terra Firma, rather than expelling their Earth First agenda as Bakari has done. The Socialists might decide that having the Conservatives in the government, strengthening Bakari's position, is a price worth paying to stop that Conservative Alliance - Terra Firma pact."
"So, the summary! What will the new government look like? Its constituent parties are likely to be the same. The same old characters will likely be around the cabinet table. But the relative power those people wield? That has changed almost beyond recognition. It's going to be an interesting 6 years."
The Citadel – The Serpent Nebula
Corinthus Oraka groaned as the insistent chiming of his omni tool refused to cut out. "Tolan, you are aware that other species need more than four hours sleep, correct?" he managed to growl out without opening his eyes.
"Must speak at once. STG has finally breached Project Argo."
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
First Contact War: 45 years earlier than canon
Founding of the Systems Alliance (parliamentary super state version): 44 years earlier than canon
Citadel Ascension Process: 52 years longer than canon (humans become an Associate Race 7 years later than canon)