As soon as the word of an impending invasion was broadcast back to the Alliance, the fleets moored at Arcturus Station were scrambled immediately. The news of a human exploration vessel being fired upon for no reason – and nearly destroying it – incensed a great multitude among the ambassadors of the human nations. Most clamoured for an immediate military action; and on hearing of the alien fleet besieging the Union colony of Caer'ilith, the humans had the location to release their wrath.

Some would claim that the swift action was based on compassion. There were, after all, quite many humans who had taken Auri've paramours and wives, and they would have demanded something to be done.

Honourable diplomats pointed out their mutual defence treaty obligations. With only one major neighbour that was friendly, the Alliance stood to lose much if they shirked their pledge of mutual protection when the need arose.

Mercantile executives urged them to move quickly, before the Auri've Union's supplies of cheap base metals would dry up as their foundries cranked out weapons of war instead. The outermost human colonies – and indeed, humanity's colonies as a whole – could not possibly remain so profitable without an inexpensive source of plentiful raw materials.

And no matter who looked at it, they could agree on one thing. If the Union fell, then who could say the Alliance would not be next?

It would be in humanity's best interests to engage the alien fleet while they were being stalled by the Union's partially upgraded defences at Caer'ilith. From what the resident Lifesinger said, the garrison at Caer'ilith spaceport should be able to delay the aliens' overwhelming fleet for three hours without any friendly fleet support.

That was three hours ago.

The Auri've Union's own defense squadrons were already en route, but that would still take six more hours to arrive.

Time that they did not have. But time that the Alliance could buy, given their proximity to the besieged Auri've system. Perhaps even win the defense, if they were quick enough with deployment. Should they lose, however, the battle would turn into a gruelling ground battle on the planetary surface. One that would inevitably be a months-long, if not years-long siege; the Auri've did not exactly keep it secret that there was a vast network of tunnels running through the surface of the terraformed planet. A guerrilla war executed there would be nigh impossible to win without incredible numerical superiority.

Well. Unless the enemy had no compunctions about using weapons of mass destruction liberally on the planet and glassed it from orbit.

Admiral Kastanie Drescher grimaced at the thought of that. She'd saved up her shore leave time along with her weeks of long service leave in order to enjoy a two-month vacation on what she heard were the 'finest beaches in the known galaxy'. It would be a shame if those were spoiled by a little bit of radioactive fallout by a stray nuke, or churned up by a protracted groundside campaign. But if it did come to that – well, there was something to be said about the stress-relieving properties of setting off very large explosions. Perhaps she would pay a visit to the enemy aliens' homeworld if her beach vacation was to be spoiled by this untimely invasion.

"Ma'am, the Auric chaplain aboard the ship is very distressed," reported her aide-de-camp. "She says that the last defence turrets in the Caer'ilith spaceport have been disabled by enemy bombardment, and that the enemy fleet is now surrounding the planet in a blockade,"

"Wonderful. Just my luck," she muttered under her breath. Maybe she could make use of the Armageddon-class fifty-megaton thermonuclear torpedoes after all. "Advise all ships to go as fast as they can. I don't care if we have to burn through most of our fuel in afterburners to get there in time to assist, but make it happen. Resupplies can happen later, a chance to catch our enemies unaware will certainly not! Double time! Send out the order!"

"Aye, admiral!"

Saren thought that he had seen many things during his time serving in the Hierarchy's armed forces. Soldiers losing limbs on defeating pirate raids? Unfortunate, but normal. Deaths in action? Acceptable losses. Sacrificing part of oneself to ensure that the mission succeeds? A laudable effort.

What sorry wreck awaited him on rendezvousing with the seventh cohort of the marine legion, however, disturbed him.

The five scouts were whimpering uncontrollably while curled up, like some grist-nibbling chicks that had yet to leave their mothers' side. Their armour still shone in the light, as could be expected of a freshly cleaned and maintained hardsuit. Their weapons lay on the ground, seemingly forgotten. Stooping over to check them, Saren found that their rifles still held a full charge and unused ammunition blocks, indicating that not even a single shot had been fired at an enemy.

If these were auxilia fresh from basic training, he could understand their cowardice. Yet three of them were veteran centurions with twenty years of service!

"Optio. Report," Saren said, trying his hardest not to kick the sorry wastes of space on the floor.

"Not much more to say here, Legate. We discovered them like this, and haven't been able to get any answers out of them since. It's been the same – they keep muttering about monsters that only they could see,"

Insanity from witnessing traumatic events wasn't something that Saren was unfamiliar with. Hastatim squads in the Taetrus Rebellions often returned with a proclivity for drink and an intense dislike of popping noises similar to gunfire. Yet given how disciplined the Hierarchy's youth were, he found it hard to believe that five scouts would succumb to madness at the same time. One or two, perhaps; but definitely not all five. "Check your suit seals," he said, "Maybe the enemy is deploying nerve agents of some sort. Medicae, scan the area for any contaminants,"

The soldiers with white hardsuits immediately complied, activating their omni-tools and sweeping them left and right. After a minute or two, however, they shook their heads and deactivated the scans.

"Results are negative, sir. There's nothing aside from a low-density atmosphere consisting of breathable gases,"

"Then...what could have caused this?"

A bloodcurdling shriek pierced the local comms. "! Stay away! Get away from me!" one of the younger scouts whimpered, batting at empty air with his talons. When one of the medicae attempted to restrain him, the poor youth was struck full across the mandible with an audible crack; the medicus tumbled to the ground, his helmet cracked and leaking air. "No! Stay back!"

The apparently insane scout began to clutch at his own throat. His talons found no purchase on the hardened carbon fibre fabric of his undersuit, yet the poor creature kept trying to claw at his throat regardless. After a few more seconds of fruitless scrabbling, he eventually shuddered and went rigid. His eyes closed – and then reopened, blazing with an inner purple fire.

"Invaders," he droned, his voice flat and free of any emotion or inflection. "Heathens. Turn back from this world. Your bloodthirsty race is unwelcome on this hallowed ground,"

"What kind of insanity is this?" blurted out the commander of the seventh cohort, gripping his rifle tighter. "Caeso, snap yourself out of it!"

"His will is but a feeble ember in the face of an infinite tide. Do you truly believe that your senseless bleating is going to ignite that into an inferno?" snorted the possessed turian. "Again, I repeat. You are unwelcome here, infidels. Turn back from this world, and we may yet show you mercy,"

Saren let out a sudden bark of cold laughter. "Mercy? Look around you. We control the airspace. It would be easy enough to bombard your position to dust,"

There was no reply, but the possessed scout raised his arm jerkily to point a single talon at Saren. His mandibles and jaws were splayed wide in a twisted, mocking grin. "A position in which you also stand. Empty words from a honourless worm. I see this creature's memories. You are a decorated officer of this...Turian Hierarchy. A soldier that has seen much bloodshed among your own kind. Putting down a rebellion for independence, solely for the benefit of those at the very peak of your vicious society. Perhaps you need a reminder of how tenuous a house built upon blood is,"

A flash of purple. A pair of blazing eyes. A stab of agony in his mind. A brief thought that he could see everyone around him screaming in pain as they all fell down.

Saren fell to his knees, clutching his head. Visions flashed before his eyes.

The quelling of the rebellion on Taetrus, where his commanding officer was accidentally blown up by a grenade. The thrower was another centurion in the fifth cohort. How his drillmaster had beaten his best friend to within an inch of his life for failing to rise in time for the morning inspection. How one of the legates sent Saren on a dangerous mission on a police action on Thrakia III, knowing that it was nearly certain death without reinforcements – and yet did so anyway.

Countless more of the horrible visions assailed his mind. How many, he knew not; but at the end of it, even he despaired.

Yet the visions faded almost as suddenly as they had come. And when Saren picked himself up again, he could see that everyone in the cohort had been affected. Some lay on the ground, their eyes stuck gazing at something in the distance while their jaws hung limp. Others quivered while curled up in a ball, sobbing uncontrollably. A few were fighting each other, snarling profanities as they sought to correct some long-forgotten slight.

"How fascinating. One that can resist the malefic visions of their past," mused the voice. "Very well. I had hoped to subdue your entire force without further bloodshed. But as needs must..."

A greenish-white beam erupted in the darkness, coalescing into the shape of a long blade with a snap-hiss. Soon followed by dozens. Their glow illuminated the forms of their wielders, who resembled eerie hooded phantoms in the darkness. Behind them were other forms, carrying what could only be rifles in their hands.

If rifles' barrels glowed with sickly green light and arced verdant lightning.

Before Saren could even shout 'ambush' into his comms, the enemy was upon them. Bolts of deadly green plasma ripped through the air, striking down dozens with the initial volley. In the corner of his eye, he saw his second-in-command struck squarely on the chestplate of his armour. His shield flashed brightly for the briefest of moments before the shield emitters exploded in a shower of sparks.

His screech of agony was as brief as it was horrifying. The advanced Praetor-class hardsuit, proven to be hardened against glancing shots from anti-materiel rifles in countless prior battles, was not penetrated by the directed energy bolt. Yet perhaps failure would have been a greater mercy, for the outermost layer of the armour simply melted like wax in the sun – and heated the inner layers white-hot, roasting the unfortunate trooper alive in his armour. Hot enough to ignite turian flesh, blood and bone, until the trooper was nothing but smouldering ash inside a still-glowing hardsuit.

Who would have thought that ablative coating was a necessity beyond starship armour, Saren thought grimly, as he dived behind a nearby counter for cover. "Legionaries! Find cover and return fire!" he barked into the comms.

Caught flat-footed, unaware and with so many seemingly succumbed to madness, the remaining combat-ready turian soldiers were quickly taken down. Many fell to the deadly bolts of plasma, which thankfully still possessed the very poor rate of fire that seemed to plague the surface-to-space cannons of the spaceport. Others, however, found that the aliens moved with supernatural grace and agility, capable of seemingly dodging slugs mere split-seconds before triggers were pulled. More than once, soldiers gawked when bullets were quite literally deflected right before their eyes.

Severed limbs soon hit the floor as the blade-wielding aliens surged forward. The much-touted turian discipline could do little with so many soldiers incapacitated, including countless officers. Firing on targets already mixed in within the ranks of the turians risked friendly fire, and thus the soldiers still standing resorted to using their omni-blades to engage in close-quarters battles – or omni-blade bayonets, if they were fortunate enough to have been issued shotguns.

The aliens' focus on melee combat quickly took its toll. Turian soldiers, though unstoppable on an open battlefield with ample materiel support, proved to be far less than adequate in handling such a deadly close-up threat. Neither armour nor shields could resist the deadly glowing swords, nor the plasma projectiles of the enemy. The three cohorts under Saren's command were nearly incapacitated to the last man before friendly armour and the converging troops from other parts of the spaceport arrived to relieve the ambushed forces.

Yet the aliens simply broke off their assault and faded back into the depths of the shadowed spaceport, laying down dwindling amounts of covering fire as they retreated.

"Legate? What are your orders?" asked a commander of an approaching squad.

Saren ground his mandibles together. The aliens had taken their pound of flesh yet again – and the Hierarchy's honour would demand nothing less than vengeance for those lives lost. Yet Saren was not a fool. The gibbering wrecks on the floor – strangely unharmed even through all the violence of the moments prior – was proof that they had some way of incapacitating large numbers of incoming troops without warning. Their directed-energy small arms easily ripped through the heaviest infantry hardsuits that the Hierarchy could provide. Worse yet, sensor scans were completely blocked by the bulk of the spaceport, rendering them effectively blind inside the lightless building. For an enemy with an apparent doctrine of hit-and-run raiding tactics, this advantage was one that could not be ignored.

Checking his omni-tool only confirmed his concerns. Thirty-seven of his soldiers were dead, with nearly two hundred incapacitated and likely will be discharged from the military. Many more were in questionable mental state. That was nearly a third of the ground assault troops out of the action. Another engagement such as that was unacceptable.

"We retreat from the spaceport," he barked out. "Call down four frigates for medical evac for the incapacitated. The rest of us will form a perimeter to ensure nobody escapes. I will request Admiral Drusus to glass the spaceport,"

"I don't believe it. That son of a varren wants the fleet to do what?!" thundered Shipmaster Oraka. "Attacking a neutral spaceport of a new contact is already bad enough, but to level it just because the occupants defended themselves? This has gone too far,"

Many of the marines under Oraka's command nodded grimly, echoing their captain's thoughts. This would be yet another violation of the Citadel Conventions. One that would stain the honour of their fleet for years, if not decades, to come. Attacking a neutral spaceport was already bad enough. Destroying the surface-to-space weapon emplacements could have been considered justifiable use of force – if one neglected to consider that said weapons emplacements had only fired back after simply shielding against multiple incoming shots. Destroying a facility that was clearly a civilian cargo and passenger port, just because it contained some remnants of the enemy's military? That was going too far.

The enemy was subdued without the surface-to-space armaments. The Hierarchy held complete control of the airspace. What could the troops on this barren moon even do? There was absolutely no strategic reason whatsoever to commit to such wanton cruelty.

A ping from his omni-tool forced him to look away from the sight of cruisers moving into position for orbital bombardment. He sighed in relief as the orders he received were not the ones he'd expected. "Helm, move to land on the north side of the facility. We are to rescue any incapacitated soldiers from this invasion," he grumbled. "Inform the medicae corps onboard to bring medical kits for both levo- and dextro-based species. I will not have any of the crew under my direct command commit any war crimes. See to it that they are made aware of the order to not harm any unarmed non-Hierarchy personnel they encounter,"


The muse does as the muse will, and unfortunately the muse has been off chasing random butterflies T.T

Anyway. To the reviews!

coduss: Yeah, pretty much. It even happens in regular Stellaris if you play a tall pacifist empire. Good when behind that maginot line of super upgraded starbases with a bazillion defence platforms...not so good if the defences aren't fully set up.

Connor Ohlander: When your society revolves around following orders and treating the commands from above as absolute, you've got problems when any level of finesse is required.

Fokusas: Materiel wise, not really. The particle lances in this setting are incredibly expensive weapons. One of them along with the cooling system and the energy source I imagine to cost as much as 2-3 Citadel-spec standard cruisers. Think of the Turian Hierarchy having swarms of destroyers (frigates) and cruisers that are chock-full of T1 and T2 equipment. Naked corvette spam works if you have enough of them, and the Hierarchy definitely isn't hurting for manpower as a whole.

ghost777: One would imagine so, yes. There's nothing that spurs progress faster than a war, as unfortunate as it is.

Uberch01: In my imagination, Mass Effect mass drivers are somewhere between T2 and T3 ballistics. They're essentially rapid-fire ballistics with light shells and very high muzzle velocity (thanks to reduction of mass). Humans are adaptive, but we also have this concept of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Seeing as humanity has evolved along the Mass Effect tech base, where weapons are ballistics, they would likely see a catch-up to the energy weapons of the Auri've as a wasteful proposition. I see them as developing weapons using engineering instead of physics, therefore missiles and ballistics.

CReaper210: Thanks! The Auri've generally don't care about anything beyond their immediate surroundings. I don't envision them as a race that would chase an enemy beyond their home borders.

Narsauce: Mm, uplifting in my opinion also covers tech sharing. Anything that would cause the humans to develop along lines that they would otherwise not, had they not been introduced to artifacts from the Union. However, arguably even coming into contact with a foreign culture/species would also cause them to develop in a reactionary manner, hence making that rather questionable regardless.

ElusiveGuest: Yeah, it's not really an angle that's often explored. The way I see it is, doing an unprovoked attack while acting as the 'peacekeepers' of a galactic confederacy is definitely going to ruin the Turians' credentials. Attacking the belligerent Krogan during the Krogan Rebellions? Fair game, they started it. Attacking a race that's minding its own business (and doesn't even know about the Citadel)? I can see a lot of Asari getting up in arms about the unprovoked attack.

Mr Medan: Humans generally always find something or another to fight about :P But sometimes the lure of profits can outweigh the fear of the unknown. When there's a massive source of cheap materials out there, it would be lunacy to provoke a war when greater benefits can be had through cooperation. Especially when that source is relatively friendly.

blackdog420: In a way, I don't think so. The Turian Hierarchy (and mass effect races in general) heavily rely on numbers to get anything done. It would make sense that to get the numbers up, they cut corners on quality and tech. Note that the Turian Hierarchy has a pretty bad economy in canon, and it wouldn't make sense to have every ship Silaris-plated with Salarian-spec weapons and point defence. They're more akin to a naked corvette spam than anything.