Chapter 12: All Along The Watchtower

STG Scout Ship, Athame [Attican] Traverse

December 30, 1973

"Oooh, see the Turians chasin'

Their very fleet today

Turn and their whole life's gone, baby

Walled world, burned away"

"Stop." Jayern Solus instructed his assistant. "First verse of song. 'Turian' likely Turyen. Add to dictionary and continue translation program."

The last two months had been most fascinating for Agent Solus and the rest of the STG. An assignment to track a Batarian pirate on the borders of known space had led them to a complex new mystery, one involving the infamous quarians.

The STG was less than thrilled at the prospect of quarian exile at the time it had been proposed and implemented, and would have sabotaged the project had the turians not been so absurdly bloodthirsty. Salarian concerns were of course practical: unknown space was just that, an unknown, and sending the quarians into it and destroying a Relay rather than just maintaining the status quo was an unnecessarily risky move. What if they found another way back, via first contact with an advanced species?

Or, apparently, a primitive one.

"What do you make of this situation, sir?" Nelrin asked.

"Do not believe in gods or fate, but still uncertain about these circumstances," he replied honestly. "Consider our equipment. Most powerful signal detecting technology available to Council, loaned for purpose of pursuing infamous criminal."

Nelrin was young, even by Salarian standards, but he wouldn't be in the STG if he couldn't make that connection. "It was not beyond the realm of possibility for us to discover their fate."

"No," he conceded. "Not beyond possible. But improbable. Science is a mixture of certainty and probable outcomes. Improbable outcomes can be...problematic."

"I'd say this was fairly probable."

Jayern blinked several times. "Elaborate."

"The Council views itself as old, but what is our civilization in comparison to the galaxy? We've only seen a fraction of it, and the ruins of those who came before indicate many, many others have seen far more than us. It was arrogant to assume exiling a spacefaring species to an area of the galaxy we know nothing about would solve the problem. It was even more arrogant to be confident we wouldn't hear from them again. Much as I didn't care for the suit rats, they are smart."

"Indeed," Jayern agreed. "Fascinating, though, if translations are accurate. First Contact with Level 3 Limited Spaceflight Species? Exile did not solve problem, but created novel scenario for study. Am divided between leaving quarians alone to obtain new data or addressing future issues now."

Nerlin flicked his eyestalk dismissively. "Everything's an experiment to you, sir." The last few words caught his attention, though. "What do you mean by 'future issues'?"

"First contact. More accurately for them, second contact." Jayern liked studying history. The lack of precedent here was severely concerning. "Humans will have extensive knowledge of galactic community when they discover how to return with quarians. Will likely be strongly biased against us and other Council races due to cohabitation with quarian people."

He closed his eyes and breathed in and out, a trait he would have passed on to a famous descendant had the Ekuna War not changed the galaxy forever.

"Not a good situation. But an interesting one."

Council Chambers, The Citadel

December 2, 1975

Dalatrass Dandus wasn't looking forward to this meeting but there really wasn't any way to put it off further. She hadn't been on the Council when the quarians were exiled but she had foreseen the problems it could potentially cause. At least she could say "I told you so" - implied rather than spoken, for poise was called for in this moment.

"Councillors," she blinked curtly before sitting down.

"Why have you called this meeting, Dalatrass?" Terntus asked. "I believe yesterday's discussions adequately addressed all current security concerns facing the Council."

Here it comes. "We must discuss the quarians."

"What about the quarians?" Nelyana chimed in. "We're all aware there are a few dozen in Batarian space, but they're not enough to repopulate their species, let alone fight the geth."

"I will discuss them shortly, councillor." She allowed herself a small smile. "'Hold your horses', please."

"What is a horse?" Terntus again.

"To answer that question, I must first explain the results of the Veth R'loth reconnaissance mission."

"Excuse me, Dalatrass?" Nelyana was getting slightly annoyed. "That mission was terminated over a year ago after R'loth's destroyed ship was discovered. Please be clear."

She returned Nelyana's annoyance tenfold. My predecessor was a fool, but I cannot blame him for tiring of the borish dolts. "Councillors, it is an open secret among our respective governments that the wreckage was faked. However, until now we have withheld our primary reason for doing this. Chiefly, we felt it was necessary to resolve that so our agents could focus on listening to the Vas'ilya."

"That wreckage remains-"

Nelyana heard the last word the same time Terntus did. Vas'ilya. The Khelish translation of the common shorthand name for the Migrant Fleet, Flotilla.

"Oh, spirits, Dalatrass, why are you monitoring those accursed suit rats?!" The Turian councillor never wanted to talk about them again, for his own sake more than anything else. "They are gone, and they will remain gone. The galaxy's perpetual nuisance was dealt with, severely."

"If you will recall, Councillor, the Salarian Union was opposed to the Second Exile precisely because removing them from known space was not dealing with them. As I will demonstrate today, you were not merely wrong. You were more wrong than you could have possibly imagined, and now we will all pay the price for it."

Before the turian could protest, vehemently, she started playing Give 'Em Shelter on her omni-tool, a translation accompanying the lyrics. Members of the Citadel Council were not slow on the uptake; it didn't take long to infer the singer was not quarian. Combined with the theme of the song...

"And so our predictive models are proven correct once more," she said after the song concluded. "The quarians found and uplifted a pre-spaceflight species, humanity, just as they were beginning to develop thruster-based rocket technology." Early or pre-spaceflight? Humanity blurs the lines. So fascinating, these humans...

"Respectfully, Dalatrass, how will this affect us?" Councillor Nelyana asked. "While having a species lost to quarian interference is regrettable, they cannot reach us. They will never know the light of civilization." She grieved for humanity, in that condescending way asari grieved for "lesser" species.

The Dalatrass allowed herself a large grin. "Perhaps their newfound leader might be of greater interest to you."

The broadcast had taken over a month to reconstruct. Radio signals were easy to intercept, video less so. But it was worth it to see the look of confusion on the face of the other Councillors quickly replaced with incredulous disbelief.

"Javik, what must humanity know above all else?"

"You are doomed." There was no hesitation in the reply. "If you ignore me, and my warnings, your species will die faster than ours ever did. The Reapers took centuries to defeat my people. It would surprise me if it took longer than a year for yours to die."

It was bizarre, watching a Prothean speak in a primitive pre-spaceflight language. But it was understandable.

"That can't be," Nelyana whispered.

"It is," the Dalatrass forcefully returned. "We have compared images of this 'Javik' with the few extant descriptions of Protheans available to us. They are a match. So is the timeframe and his explanation for the disappearance of his people. Somehow, humanity and the quarians discovered a Prothean who had been in stasis for 50,000 years, and said Prothean is now preparing them for the return of the Reapers."

A light went on in Terntus' head. "And because the Protheans built the Relays, they would know how to work around the destruction of one. Even if these 'Reapers' are merely a convenient fiction, the Prothean will want power over us. 'Javik' will...lead them back here." The last words were forced out of his mouth with great effort.

"Precisely." Now the image shifted from the Prothean to the more familiar recording of a Batarian, which quickly spoke.

"To the Citadel Council: My name is Vetek Don'Shar. I represent the Batarian Republic and the Geth Collective."

"Perhaps," she began, "if the quarians are returning, we should consider preparing to meet them."

Jalnor, Lorek [Batarian Republic]

November 28, 1975

Neva vas Alarei stared at the sight that greeted her when she walked into Jalnor.

"This is..." she started, before pausing.

Was it truly insane? After all, her escorts into Jalnor had been two Geth. And everyone else was staring at her; to them, it was a normal situation.

What a difference a year can make...

"Do you require assistance in completing your observation, Creator Neva?" Left Platform asked. She had refused to name it, but it needed some distinction and it was always on that side of her.

"No, Left Platform, I just...I wasn't expecting this when you invaded. I was expecting anything but this."

The markets of Jalnor, formerly segregated and restricted to the monied elites, were now open to all. The various walls segregating the classes in the cities had been torn down - classes, along with slavery, had been abolished. Despite some tension, former slaves - one or two she recognized! - were integrating into the setting remarkably well.

"We understand-"

"No," she interjected, "you don't. It's not just your attitude towards us. It's the idea that this is your 'experiment'."

After she had stopped screaming and overcame her utter shock, the Geth had explained their logic to her. They believed all beings had the right to self-determinate, and that the Second Exile was the tipping point that convinced them they needed to intervene to enforce that doctrine. The idea that the Geth actually had a schism over how to advocate for made her question everything she believed.

Well, perhaps not everything. She found their explanations for the "Morning" War very wanting, and would never truly like them. And despite their benevolence towards the downtrodden of Lorek, their true goals were readily apparent: show a new face of the Geth to the galaxy, and force the Council to reconsider the logic of punishing the quarians for making them. It was...contrived? Could machines even be contrived? But it made a twisted sort of sense, when she thought about it.

"We acknowledge divergent goals in the conquest of Lorek," Left Platform replied. "However, we believe that our administration benefits both organics and synthetics. We would not have implemented our plans if consensus did not indicate that as the most likely possibility."

Conquest? Left - no, the Left Platform, she reminded herself - was sounding more organic as time went by.

The crowd parted for her as she made her way through the market, never stopping their staring. She couldn't decide if her species or her destination were the cause of the attention. Probably both.

At The Liberator, formerly Athar's Upper District Eatery, Aria T'Loak smiled as the rarest of all aliens made her way to their designated private room. Lorek thought they were so special, but just like on Omega, she would have them where she wanted them. It'll just take time.

Moscow, Soviet Union

May 1, 1980

"I see my empire, and find it lacking."

Javik held back amusement at Admiral Netra's remark. The May Day Moscow Parade was a festival of ironies. The true power of the country sequestered in a high-rise apartment building while the meaningless General Secretary lead the festivities. The high-rise itself, capitalist decadence proudly embraced in the heart of "communism". And finally, a supposed state of the workers lead by a very business-oriented dictator.

"As do I," Javik agreed, hoping to catch the Admiral off guard. "If we are to properly prepare for what is to come, we must take a more active role in the development of humanity."

"Careful," the quarian cautioned. "The humans are a stubborn sort. Take too much of their freedom away, and they'll hate you for generations."

"That is correct, to a degree." Javik hated acknowledging that, but instilling humanity with the discipline of the Empire was a lost cause; they were too far gone. "But while they cannot be fully controlled, they can be moved in the correct direction."

At the most important meeting in the history of humanity, there would be no humans and no minutes for later humans to look over; if they did their jobs correctly, nobody would even conceive of such a meeting in the first place. Humanity would be brought in line, non-linear though the line would be.