A tiny ship shot out of the void in a burst of brilliant blue light. Its thrusters sputtered erratically as it drifted along, barely able to keep the ship's course straight. Little chunks of metal broke off as it sped along, its failing kinetic barriers unable to completely deflect the bits of debris that surrounded it. A shard of metal struck its front viewport, punching a ragged hole into the far-too-thin glass panel; jets of air spurted out, cooling almost instantly into frosty mist in the vacuum of space. On its side, an asteroid-scarred and worn emblem could be seen; three stars in the centre of a split arrowhead of silver.
Still onwards it continued for a few hours. The jets of air had long since stopped, and the thrusters had burned the last of its hydrogen fuel not too long after the air did. As it skirted the gravity well of a gas giant, it began to drift inexorably towards the swirling storms within the atmosphere. A fate that it would have certainly succumbed to – if it had not careened into a methane-harvesting station in orbit above the planet.
The confused owners of the gas station returned to check on why their previously-functioning harvester reported a fault in the production, only to find a mangled starship jammed into the main uptake turbine in it. Wondering who could be so careless (or drunk) enough to pilot a shuttle-sized starship into a methane harvester, he called in a constructor vessel to begin repairs and tow the decrepit vessel away. It was only at the scrapyards that they realised that the crashed vehicle had survivors inside.
And thus began humanity's first contact with a sapient alien race. With a bang, though likely not the kind that anyone would ever have expected.
Commander Valentina Aleksandrova awoke to find herself staring into the sky. A brilliant pink sky tinged with shades of orange, with fluffy white clouds drifting lazily in the most beautiful sunrise that she had seen. Her limbs felt limp and leaden, unwilling to lift even an inch. Her mind was hazy and unfocused, able to think only of how soft the cushions were beneath her, and how the air smelled of fragrant flowers and delectable fruits. A cool breeze brushed across her face; clean and pure, bearing none of the sulphurous sting of smog that seemed to always linger in the slums of Berlin.
If this was heaven, she would surely start going to church again. Once in a while, perhaps.
"You're awake. Auri'i valari," sang a melodious female voice from her right. "We thought that it would be perhaps another tenday before you would awaken, star traveller,"
Valentina's bed shifted and whirred, pushing the commander up to a reclining position. Her breath hitched for a moment as she saw who had spoken to her.
The elegant lady in front of her wore a magnificent set of clothes. Her luxurious silver robes shimmered like silk that clung to fair, freckled skin, with threads of gold woven into it to depict a simple but tasteful floral pattern. A large sash of red was wrapped around her slender waist, held in place by a golden brooch in the likeness of a four-pointed star on her left hip. Dangling from her neck was a pair of stethoscopes, as ornately decorated as the rest of her ensemble.
A doctor was a doctor. A doctor of a different species, however, was a whole different can of worms. Especially when humanity believed that it was all alone in the galaxy.
The doctor's eyes, partly hidden behind a holographic visor of some sort, were luminous. On top of her head sat a pair of extra ears, triangular in shape and covered in fine blonde fur that matched her hair. One of them flicked slightly as a light breeze tickled it, putting to rest the possibility that it was a mere accessory. To top it all off, three large, fluffy blonde tails sprouted from her rear, each tipped with snow-white fur – and swishing gently from side to side on their own volition.
"Elevated heart rate, dilated pupils. A fight or flight response. You need not worry about Healer Silmaire. She is bound by her vows to not do harm," giggled the doctor – or healer, as she referred to herself. "Now, it's been quite a few days since you and your fellows have crashed on Auri'nala IX. You were quite fortunate to survive. Auri must be watching over you,"
Crashed. The images were fleeting, disjoint and foggy. She remembered her ship being ejected forcibly from FTL at after a malfunction in the ship's mass effect drive. How the front viewport was cracked by a stray meteorite. How they finally resorted to using their EVA suits to continue breathing in the crippled vessel, trying their best to repair it before their air supplies depleted entirely.
"My crew! Did they survive?!" she cried out, sitting up. Or rather, tried to, as a sharp pain lanced through her side.
"Calm down. Your wounds are not yet fully healed," said Silmaire, who gently eased Valentina back into her bed. "If it will put your mind at ease, your fellows that were in the same crashed vessel are all recovering quite well. In fact, they have been asking for you for the last five days. In fact-" her ears flicked slightly, and she glanced towards the door. "-I believe that they are here now, in the primary gardens of this house of life. I assume that you wish to speak with them?"
Valentina nodded. "Very well. I shall take you there. Please keep all limbs on the bed while we are moving,"
The bed beneath Valentina hummed and rose slightly. To Valentina's confusion, Silmaire simply walked towards the door without pushing the bed as a doctor would a hospital gurney; yet that was not truly necessary, for the bed floated along behind her, seemingly of its own volition.
As they passed through the hospital's corridors, the human commander could only wonder about how different things were here. Censers burned sweet-smelling incense that soothed the nerves at every corner; altars of pure white marble sat in alcoves scattered all over the place, bearing gold statues depicting the same four-pointed star that Silmaire had upon her brooch. Instead of dreary white, sterile hallways of Alliance hospitals, the corridors bore windows that reached from floor to ceiling, allowing all to see the magnificent view of the pristine beaches and parklands that stretched as far as one could see. The floors and walls were of pure white marble, polished to a mirror sheen and inlaid with golden leaves and flowers. And instead of electric lights, silver sconces lined the walls and pillars, each one bearing a vivid purple crystal that burned with an almost otherworldly inner light.
Truth be told, the entire place seemed more akin to an ancient temple or a palatial estate than a hospital. A thought that was only reinforced once her bed floated into the most beautiful garden she had ever seen. A single tree stood tall in the centre of the garden, its gnarled boughs heavy with countless luminous purple flowers. Around it was a tasteful arrangement of boulders and stones, covered with bluish-violet moss. Small fountains ringed all of this, interspersed with cushioned benches and small crystal-torches that emitted soft blue light.
"Commander! It's good to see you're okay!" spoke a deep voice to Valentina's right. A tall, muscular dark-skinned man gave her a toothy grin; she could see that he was barely restraining himself from wrapping her in a hug, fraternisation regulations be damned.
"Likewise, Corporal Taylor. How long have I been out?"
"A little over twenty-four Earth days, if my chronometer's accurate. You had us worried sick, Commander. Silmaire said that you were in a critical state, and that they weren't sure that you'd pull through,"
"That bad, was it?"
"Aye, Commander," groused another voice from behind Taylor, with a thick Irish accent. "You had a great big piece of steel, big as a car door, rammed right between your ribs and pretty much got you cut in half. They showed us a photo of it. Wasn't pretty, that. Not sure if the Alliance medics could've patched you up at all, but these Ori-fay-"
"Auri've," Silmaire corrected him, smiling. "We are the children of Auri, the Great Mother,"
"-yeah, what she said. They're honest-to-God miracle workers. Took them the better part of the day to stabilise you, but they got it done anyway. How's the scarring on it?"
"There should be none, as long as we continue to apply the skin-repairing salve for the next five nights. But right now...perhaps it is still not the best idea to have a look," Silmaire said, grimacing a little. "In any case, I must soon attend to High Priestess Vala before her dusk prayers. An acolyte will take you back to your room for your evening meal before sundown. Auri'la veleth, star travellers,"
Silmaire curtsied before gliding away gracefully, leaving the three humans to their own devices. "O'Malley, Taylor. What can you tell me about these...Auri've?"
"Well...I'm pretty sure you know for sure that they're aliens. Friendly aliens, and definitely not reptilian," chuckled Taylor nervously. "Never thought I'd say that, heh. I mean, just look at all those films that are made about alien invaders. Anyway, as far as I can tell, they're really religious. And I mean that. Pretty much every one of them wears a four-pointed star somewhere, they never miss a single one of their seven daily prayers, and they consider steaks a heresy,"
"Steaks. A heresy," deadpanned Valentina. "O'Malley, please tell me that this isn't some sort of joke by Taylor,"
"Nay, commander. He ain't kidding when he says that. Killin' any kind o' intelligent life for profit or pleasure is apparently evil in their religion. They looked real horrified when this buffoon here joked about having a steak for dinner, 'cause greens weren't really his thing,"
"Right. Please tell me that Taylor wasn't foolish enough to start a diplomatic incident over your damned need for a juicy steak?"
"I made sure he didn't, commander. Dragged his hairy black arse out o' the revel hall, I did, and apologised 'fore he opened his mouth again," grinned the Irishman, "They thanked me later, but the mention of steaks ruined their appetites. Still, this planet's something else, commander. The revel hall's all glass with a beachfront view that would turn those Brazilians green with envy. Water's warm and clear, and...well, I wouldn't be able to do it justice,"
O'Malley' grin widened, and he slapped Valentina's shoulder lightly. "I ain't a poet, commander. You've got to see it for yourself. When you can move again, we'll see if Silmaire can get us back to ground level again,"
Captain Valentina Aleksandrova's personal log. 21 July, 2107.
By some major stroke of luck, our exploration vessel didn't tear itself apart while going through a poorly calibrated mass relay. By an even bigger stroke of luck, we landed on a friendly planet. And by that, I mean a planet owned by friendly aliens.
Yes. Friendly. Aliens.
Nothing at all like what I would have expected. They're friendly to a fault, viewing violence as uncivilised. Treated my injuries and my crew's injuries without asking a single favour in return, citing their belief in the value of all life.
These Auri've...they're attractive. Unbelievably so. I thought myself attracted to men, but after attending one of their revels on the beaches of Auri'ilith and seeing their women in swimsuits, I'm not too certain about that. God. The way they move is unreal. I'm not even sure how they can be so flexible and graceful with three large and fluffy tails swishing this way and that. But all I can say is that watching them is almost hypnotic.
Their ears resemble foxes that I've seen on my grandfather's farm. And probably as sharp of hearing too. Last week, they caught Corporal Taylor whispering under his breath that he wanted to stay longer on a planet with beautiful women, and returned the compliment with several visits during the night. I would reprimand him for being unprofessional while on the job, but after seeing him limp out of his room the following night with an unfocused look and silly grin on his face, I'd say that my reprimand would not get through to him any time soon. Not that I could do so without also reprimanding Lieutenant O'Malley too, as these Auri've treated him to much the same...nocturnal visits.
Truth be told, it might be just the way they are. I've noted during my two-week stay on this planet that the Auri've seem to have a strangely high gender disparity. For every five of their females, perhaps even ten, there was one male. When O'Malley asked about whether they were single or married, he was met with blank and confused looks. The concept of staying true to one partner was completely foreign to them, as was the concept of families of two partners and children. 'All are family', explained Priestess Silmaire. A statement that holds much truth when I saw four mothers living together in one habitation block, looking after a horde of a dozen little ones.
Still, I can't help but think that something's amiss with Auri'ilith. The planet is too perfect to be natural. In perfect orbit in a trinary star system to have a stable twenty-two degrees Centigrade all year round, flora that produced delicious fruit? With not a single animal that was toxic, predatory or otherwise dangerous? A notable absence of pathogenic bacteria, viruses or fungi? Oceans and rivers that were crystal clear, without even a trace of pollution? A distinct lack of high winds, combined with rain that was neither too heavy nor too light? One could almost believe that the planet was artificially climate controlled, and all the creatures placed here by design.
Corporal Taylor's personal log. 23 July, 2107.
It's been an Earth month now since we crash-landed on Auri'nala IX. Rough landing, but can't say that I've ever had a better shore leave.
Strolling along beaches while eating purple alien fruit that tastes like fizzy strawberries, with free alcohol and parties that go on all night long. And by all night long, I mean all seventeen Earth-hours of it. Music's a bit soft for my liking, but the captain says that might be due to the fox-people's sensitive ears. Makes sense, I guess.
The captain's ordered us to pitch in however we can, as a sign of goodwill to our hosts. We've been moved to the ground level of their habitation towers to help with farming and forestry work. Not that we do much anyway, seeing as their idea of farming is to drag around a levitating sled and watch their strange biotics strip the trees bare of fruit. I don't think I can ever get used to the idea that they would use those weird purple biotics of theirs to do mundane tasks like picking fruit. Seems like a real waste, but virtually every one of them seem to do things like that with very little thought.
Speaking of day to day tasks. I might be a shipboard engineer while on duty, but that doesn't mean that I don't remember my groundside engineering training. Those habitation towers of theirs are truly something else. I mean, going up so high that they need pressurisation at the topmost levels? That's a real skyscraper. And to think that they could build it stepped, so that gardens can be planted every nine floors. I'm not even sure how they stop the trees from cracking the concrete beneath.
Sergeant Fergus O'Malley's personal log. 15 August, 2107.
Well. It's finally happening.
We're heading home.
The fox-folk's eggheads finally got a communications link with Earth working, based off the recovered comms module from our ship. We've been declared missing for a while now, but thankfully not declared dead. Would be quite awkward to come home and explain to my missus about the fact that I'm still alive.
They've also worked out the 'hyperlane' jumps that are needed to get to Earth. I'm a comms officer, not a scientist or navigator – but somehow, I don't think these 'hyperlanes' are the same as mass relays. It doesn't normally take a month to travel to Earth from places as far away as the Attican Traverse, and we're apparently quite close to the Exodus Cluster.
I'll be glad to be able to see my boys back home again. Still, I'd miss this place and the people too. It's so peaceful here. Like I can sleep at night without a care in the world, and just...float. Yeah, I know, sounds ridiculous and all that. But until you've spent a month or two here, sitting on a pristine tropical beach with a tall glass of fruity liquor in hand, you don't know what the real meaning of peace is.
I'm more worried though about what might happen in the future. I've seen wide-eyed kids in the slums of London get suckered for all they're worth. What's to say that some gobshite won't try to fleece these good boys and girls of all they got? Or some arse in parliament kicks up a stink, raises a rabble, instigates an incident, and suddenly you've got a war on your hands.
Hell, I really hope it doesn't come to that. If there's one thing that's always been true over the years – if old da' wasn't telling tall tales about times before the Systems Alliance formed – it's that war never changes. It's never quick nor clean, and nobody wins anything.
Just a yarn that's been on my mind for a while after reading through various Mass Effect stories. Turians invade Relay 314, proceeds to do a planetary invasion, and thus begins humanity's aggressive first contact scenario. What if the first contact was friendly instead? Would humanity end up befriending or betraying them in the future?
The home planet of the Auri've species. Auri'ilith is an oddity among planets. Its biosphere is incredibly resilient to change; it does not have any dangerous wildlife, poisonous flora or fauna, or indeed any sort of hazard in the environment. In fact, even the bacterial, fungal or viral life exists as strictly symbiotic lifeforms. The planet possesses no hazardous weather patterns, and its biosphere seems to possess a pleasant climate suitable to all higher forms of life at different latitudes. Some scientists theorise that a precursor civilisation may have engineered the planet to be such; a theory which is corroborated by ancient Auri'vela religious texts, but has no archeological evidence otherwise.
As Auri'ilith is seen to be the body of Auri's firstborn, travelers are advised that littering and the use of profanities are seen as a grave offence and may result in immediate deportation. Zero-emissions controls are enforced over the entire planet, and interplanetary corporations are advised that failing a routine emissions check is grounds for license termination.
Gravity: 1.21 G
Radius: 8591 km
Day length: 34 Earth hours
Orbital period: 7 Earth years
Surface temp: 22 degrees C
The Auri've are long-lived mammalian humanoids, whose name literally means 'children of Auri'. Smooth-skinned and built like slender, willowy humans, they possess two triangular furred ears on top of their heads and three tails. The Auri've bear more than a passing resemblance to creatures of Japanese folklore, though they insist that it is purely a coincidence. Auri've possess a psionic link that connects every Auri've alive to each other, allowing them to sense each other and communicate their thoughts just by focusing on one another. Often mistaken for biotics, the psionic abilities of the Auri've are more subtle and protective in nature, allowing them to conjure barriers and manipulate living cellular matter in various ways.
The psionic link also causes them to become stressed when separated from their main community on Auri'ilith for any extended period of time, as isolation quickly begins to set in. This is a fact that is only reinforced by a core tenet of their beliefs, which stresses that all faithful of their religion are one family.
Auri've live for approximately three hundred and fifty Earth years, reaching adulthood at one hundred years of age. For reasons unknown, their ability to produce fertile males is stunted, resulting in poor population growth. Out of fifteen Auri've children born, only one is male; and out of these, only one in five is capable of successful reproduction. For this reason, the population of Auri've remains quite small relative to the Systems Alliance. Even with cloning technology, their slow rate of maturity prevents their population from exploding out of control.
While most states may have clerics and priests of one or more religions, the Auri've Union is a church with a state. A theocracy with an unshakable belief in the sanctity of life, the Auri've Union views the spilling of blood in anger as a grave affront to the natural order of the universe. The Priesthood of Auri controls all affairs of state, which it runs with a gentle but firm hand. Personal gain is frowned upon, as the Auri've equate actions benefiting all as the greatest good that any person could strive for.
Due to their focus on the care of their community, the Auri've Union controls very little space in the galaxy. Their exploration efforts cease on the first hyperlane jumps away from their home system. Each of these star systems are heavily fortified, possessing starbases with FTL inhibitors and bristling with untold amounts of ion cannons to guard their borders. These systems, however, are very strongly developed, with many voidborne habitats and space mining stations.
Modified description of Auri've. Should now be clearer what they look like.