Disclaimer: I do not own Mass Effect or anything else referenced here. Those are the sole property of their writers/companies (Bioware/EA and such). I do not claim ownership of anything but my OC and original concepts.

List of track(s) used (you can copy+paste them in your PC by temporarily switching to the mobile version):

[1] –) Recommended Track (looped): Inspiring and Uplifting Acoustic Corporate, by Carlos Estella (part of the YT link: /watch?v=s6X_wgkxX3U).

[2] –) Track Timed to Scene: Moonlight Sonata - Epic Version (Attack on Titan Style) (part of the YT link: /watch?v=P2GBmOpGpAU).

[3] –) Recommended Track (looped): Now We Are Free, by Lisa Gerrard (part of the YT link: /watch?v=ghxzLw2wRis).


Chapter 19: Azure Blues, a Taste of Freedom and Encroaching Darkness


Somewhere in the Terminus. Mid 2179 CE.

In a large half-empty room, with many hallmarks of a studio, like lightning equipment and green walls, an elegant asari stood facing a floating camera.

"Hello, this is GNN, your best and most biased news source in the galaxy, and I'm your host, Keri T'Vessa." She spoke with a fake corporate smile. "If you're wondering why we missed yesterday's news episode, it's because our former studio had been completely fucked up by terrorists. Unfortunately for them, though, their timing was as good as their morals. Hint: when you're looking to blow someone up, try doing it while they're there [wink wink]."

As the daughter of ambassadors, Keri had spent her youth sailing around bays and going to diplomatic parties. However, when she'd decided to film one of those sessions held by these diplomats, her parents disowned her, prompting her to sign on with the Andromeda Initiative.

Her motto in life? People deserve the truth, not propaganda. After being secretly recruited by the Atlas Foundation, she learned it could be both at the same time, while not neglecting to show the "dirt and blood" in any story.

[1]

Her introduction was accompanied by words appearing on the viewers' screens.

[Galaxy News Network]

[It has been 0 days since we last received a death threat]

[And exactly 1 day since a death attempt]

"Today's news segment is going to be a short and quick one, as we're getting everything properly set up here." She continued, but with a more serious expression. "For this week's shitfuckery, the recent string of slaver raids on human colonies on the fringes of the Attican Traverse and no-man's lands of the Terminus has finally come to an end. Was it because someone did something about it? Fuck no. The slavers just ran out of colonies to raid."

A list of newly built human settlements showed on the viewer's screens, now all marked as 'gone'. They were all located away from, and outside of, any 'safe zones' established by a power tied to the Foundation.

"Of course that was the case, since our hegemons have been too busy pretending to give a shit about the slaving problem of the galaxy, which means it was left for a few groups to deal with it." Keri added, then faked a cough. "Back to the raids. The mainstream theory on why they happened, since only human colonies were targeted, was as a form of retaliation for the Batarian Hegemony's losses in the Attican Traverse, especially that small moon we all know was a forward operating base of theirs, Torfan."

Pictures and short vids of the moon base were then shown, mostly footage available to the public, as well as short news snippets linking captured slavers to the Batarian Hegemony; which its officials promptly denied, of course.

"Still, while that's the prevailing theory, others claim a more sinister motive could be behind the attacks. Nevertheless, they've prompted an equally brutal retaliation by Hell's Angels, who've launched a succession of raids against batarian slave colonies. If you're going to the Terminus, might wanna stay with groups who can actually protect you from slavers and pirates, just a hint." Keri winked. "However, most traditional media conglomerates weren't happy with that, not one bit, arguing it might cause a conflict with the Hegemony. Oh, what about the poor slavers? Won't anyone think of them? They might as well say. Adding insult to injury, they claim that the whole situation was sorely caused by the humans' 'recklessly aggressive expansion'. Basically, they're saying it's your own fault, you human shitheads, for doing what all species did after we became interstellar: expanding. So, fuck you. Also, please ignore how it was also us who ignored the Batarian Hegemony slavery problem for centuries. That's on you too now, so... double fuck you."

She held both middle fingers for the camera, giving it a bit of a pause just for the message to go across clearly.

"Ah, the Batarian Hegemony, known and loved for innovating by re-introducing to the galactic community their tried-and-true, centuries old Socioeconomic Model: slavery." Keri said with a cheerful gesture, smiling deeply into the camera. "Slavery is great for the economy. Just think about it. Zero unemployment. Guaranteed food, water and shelter. No more dirty poors on the streets; I mean, idle vagabonds and beggars. And, of course, we can't forget the best part: maximum profits for our masters, which is also the only metric we really use to determine if The Economy™ is doing well. [a nod] That's right folks. You having a shitter life is good for the economy."

Her satirical remarks were quickly followed by 'buried and censored' scientific articles and studies showing a profound correlation between the 'discovery' of the Batarian Hegemony and an explosion in the galactic slave trade, almost as if its introduction to the galaxy had inaugurated a new 'unofficial' market in the galactic economy. Or, in other words, almost as if the 'supply' for a certain 'commodity' can go up when there's 'demand' for it.

"But that only happens in bumfuck nowhere, like the Terminus, you might be thinking." She exclaimed, hands firmly on her hips for a second, before wagging a finger at the camera. "Come on, don't be silly. Just look at what we asari do on Illium. Oh, those are not slaves; they're… 'indentured servants', yes [!], which is, you know, a person who's 'contracted' to work without salary for a specific number of years. 'Cause everybody knows that you can change just about anything in the real world just by changing its name. Yup, that's how the profound thinkers in Illium mock the Universe… [whispering: and you]."

With another small pause, she got back her enthusiasm to end the topic.

"Still, rest assured that you, dear Council Space citizen, will never be turned into a slave, probably… Forget that time a Spectre arrested over 200 suspected slavers in the Salarian Union, or those slaver rings which exist in the Citadel itself. No, just think about everything the Council has been doing over the centuries to fix the issue. In fact, I'm sure it comes to approximately…" Keri began tapping on her Omni-tool randomly for a bit, before pausing to look at the camera and to show a large "0" on it. She then answered with a bright smile: "...Fuck all."

[This news has been authorized by the Department for Thoughts and Prayers]

"The main stars of the next news segment are the three biggest cunt-, I mean, companies in Garvug's region. They are Binary Helix, Sonax Industries and Guanghui Solutions." She said with a straight face. "They claim to want to 'heal' the damage inflicted upon Garvug by the krogan, who'd consumed the planet, turning it into a frozen wasteland. Because that was so unexpected, no? 'Cause taking a tribalistic species of fast-breeding muder-turtles, who have gone through a self-imposed post-nuclear armageddon, using them to fight in a galactic war and then sending said species on its way to colonize some more planets, with no fucks given about actually fixing their systemic issues, is most definitely not a recipe for disaster. What could go wrong, right?"

Keri T'Vessa paused quizzically, holding her chin in contemplation, before continuing.

"Regardless, fixing the krogan's mess on that planet is their stated goal and mission. How very noble of them!" She mocked, not dropping her satirical tone at all. "And how did they plan to do that exactly? By backing a coup against the local krogan-vorcha government, of course! Sonax Industries provided the credits and weapons, Binary Helix the logistics and both of them worked with Guanghui Solutions to help the rebels deliver the final solution to their 'native population problem'. The coup failed, by the way, prompting the State Forces to retaliate against corporate forces. And that's how the Garvug One Week War began."

A few clips of the fighting were shown, all interestingly from the perspective of the Garvug State Forces, showing the clan-based krogan and vorcha forces facing off against enemy troops wielding rocket-propelled grenades, singularity projectors and mass accelerators.

"While the Intergalactic Press reported on the war from the perspective of the corporations, their close buddies, we managed to get first-hand accounts from the point of view of the 'savage hordes'." Keri revealed. "You see, those 'dumb brutes', they already knew that the corporations were up to no good. And they prepared for it, baiting the coup into happening prematurely, counterattacking and then catching the corporate forces completely off-guard when a new challenger, Nakmor Drack, showed up with his forces and cut off any of their reinforcements, forcing an abrupt stalemate between both sides. Although public opinion initially held that the State Forces would lose, ownership of Garvug didn't seem to be in the coalition's future anymore."

Her words were followed by clan media director Urdnot Galem stating: 'The corporations will win the war, no doubt. But are they dumb enough to expect peace ever again?'

"However, if you thought this conflict was just the usual corporate power-grab bullshit, think again! Things become much more interesting." She said. "After catching the corp forces by surprise and securing air as well as orbital superiority, the leader of the unexpected krogan reinforcements revealed what the corporate coalition really wanted on Garvug: a Prothean Cache. That's right! Who would've fucking thought their claim of 'seeking ways to restore and renewal a promising garden world' was just a bunch of varren-shit? Shocking, really. Furthermore, what came next wasn't less shocking: the krogan stated their desire to share said tech cache with Council space. Yep, it's one crazy thing after another. Next thing you'll know they'll be cured of the genophage or something!"

The purple asari threw her arms in the air dramatically for a moment, letting the revelations sink into her viewer's minds.

"Still, what did the coalition forces do about the Prothean Cache accusation? Did they use the usual, and seemingly VR-generated, corporatese apology to appease the public?" Keri adopted an inquiring posture and facial expression. "Fuck no! They doubled down on the shitfuckery, that's what. They searched very hard within themselves, likely reaching quite deep into their anal cavities, and took out 'evidence' to 'prove' how they're the 'good guys', who were simply trying to 'retrieve' the cache for the galaxy's benefit – without alerting the greedy Terminus' warlords, of course –, which the krogan had hidden for selfish reasons. What paragons of justice!"

Keri then posed dramatically, with nary a hint of her satirical tone.

"As such, the Citadel Council's Committee on Paleotechnology was called on to settle 'the issue'. For their part, the authorities looked very hard at the evidence… evidence provided by the Corporations; evidence the Council itself commissioned; even evidence found by its Spectres, all of which suggested the excuse was mostly varren-shit… And then concluded it was 'essentially sound'." She paused briefly to let the information sink in. "Yep! If you're wondering how, in Athame's tits, they arrived at that answer, it's because the alternative is accepting that they might, maybe, perhaps, rethink how to deal with the krogan's situation in the galactic community. Except they can't entertain the possibility of the 'brutes' gaining any sort of recognition or respect. So, we get varren-shit instead."

She spoke the last part with a serious tone and expression for once.

"But the conflict took another turn when a rising archeological researcher, Dr. Liara T'Soni, who's also the only child of a powerful asari Matriarch, divulged the truth publicly before it could be 'buried' by said attempt at narrative manufacturing." Keri said. "She's responsible for a number of new prothean technology discoveries, such as a top-of-the-line stasis tech unearthed from Eden Prime, and her work on Garvug's cache has already resulted in the development of a high-performance mass effect field generator. Further research is set to be done in partnership with Atlas Foundation, a conglomerate that sets itself apart from the rest by not being cartoonishly evil and openly admitting its goal of galaxy conquest. Well... that's a joke. They haven't admitted the last part yet."

She flashed a quick and genuine smile.

"As for the corporate coalition, after it was irrefutably proven that it knew of the Prothean cache's existence before the krogan had managed to locate it with Dr. Liara's help, Citadel Council investigators had no choice but to press formal charges against 14 of 24 board members of Sonax Industries and Guanghui Solutions, while Binary Helix is facing severe trade sanctions and fines." She reported. "This move was followed by a new investigation that confirmed those companies wanted to withheld Prothean technology from the galactic community for personal gain and instigated an interplanetary war to that end. The Profits, as reality has shown time and time again, care for absolutely nothing, not even our most sacred laws or morals. It's just that, this time, the usual shitfuckery was undone by people with connections in high-places."

To her viewers, it was shown a list of individuals who helped expose the lie before it could become the 'truth', like a few people tied to Matriarch Benezia as well as representatives from the Foundation, who backed Liara.

"And how it did! Binary Helix isn't screwed much, but for the other companies… let's just say that the 'Big Three' wouldn't let go of this opportunity to bring the 'newcomers' down a peg." Keri spoke, with a sly smile forming soon after. "Let none in this galaxy deny that the Citadel Council, and the many interests it represents, take corruption very seriously. Which is why they're so good at it! Take, for instance, our High Commissioner of Galactic Rights Yrania Asula, who stated that 'The acts of these corporations went beyond mere illegality and into crimes against the galactic populace'."

A 'screenshot' of said declaration was shown to Keri's viewers.

"Funny how it's only about 'the galactic populace' when it suits their agenda. 'Course, we all know who's really set to profit from all of this at the end of the day. The 'Big Three', like always." She said sardonically. "Regardless, in lieu of accusations such as this, the Citadel Council has reinforced that it's the duty of all species, especially the 'elder races', to share prothean technology with the galactic community, so that all may profit from it. Ha! Imagine if someday people were to find out one of them was hoarding a Prothean Cache or two. Now that would be very embarrassing."

Besides helping the Council dig their own grave a little deeper, she ended the topic with a joke (that wasn't really one for those 'in the know', but was still intentional).

[This news has been authorized by the Department for Digging through Varren-shit]

"Speaking of the Council, there's been a new development regarding Zorya, the Terminus colony you've probably been bombarded with propaganda against, at least for a couple of years by now. And the news is that the Council put together a multi-species 'Peacekeeping Fleet' to go into the region." She reported, then switched to an inquiring expression. "Now what could make the Council send a joint fleet into the Terminus, which is a widely known big no-no for them? To rescue our people from slavery? Perhaps to deal with a few rowdy pirates? Or maybe to smooth diplomatic relations with the people of Zorya?"

She gave it a bit of a pause, so as to let people come to their own hypothesis.

"Fuck no. We've already established that they don't give a shit about those, silly!" Keri spat with a humorous and dramatic tone. "It's for the interests of their dear, dear children, who are oh-so fragile and helpless… I'm talking, of course, about the big helium-3 Corporations who got kicked out of Zorya for trying to turn it into a corporate hellhole – or, as experts call it, for being sociopathic arseholes. Because how DARE they go after our donors! Cries out the politicians."

She faked an angry gesture of indignation, glanced sideways while fixing her clothes, then returned to a 'normal' fake corporate smile.

"I mean, how dare they demand outrageous things like… a job, housing, food, affordable healthcare, education, safety... you know, basic living conditions from their 'democratically elected representatives'?" She asked rhetorically, as a black picture with 'image not found' written on it was shown on-screen. "Uh, didn't the people of Zorya get the memo from their corporate overlords? You're supposed to vote on one of their preselected representatives, the Shit Party or the Shit-lite Party, and then sit on your ass and do absolutely nothing until the next 'election', a few years later, where you'll have the amazing freedom to once again vote for the lesser of two shits, hoping they'll finally improve your life instead of just serving their corporate donors' interests. See? It's not at all a repressive regime that doesn't even have something less corruptible like preferential voting. Just vote harder next time, silly."

A link as well as directions to a video explaining how a preferential voting system worked was displayed to her viewers.

"But what's bad is that, when folks realized true representation had been denied to them, they tried to take back power. Unacceptable! And what's even worse: they used force to do it! Which, by the way, is the only language our friends at MegaEvil Corp™ understand and respect." Keri satirized. "Don't they know that, in the face of growing violent repression, you're supposed to organize worthless peaceful protests, only where your oppressors let it happen, which is usually just out of the way, where it bothers no one? After all, if there's one thing our mates at MegaEvil Corp™ love, it's a fucked up ideology that condemns only those who act against an unjust status quo, never those who use violence to preserve it."

She dropped her sassiness a bit, assuming a temporary serious bearing, then continued.

"Here's a tiny reminder that the people of that region of the galaxy aren't all lava-spewing, hellfire-throwing, bloodthirsty demons. Not yet at least… Who knows what kind of genetic engineering they're up to without the Council's shackles?" She mused jokingly. "The truth is that they've just had enough of corporate varren-shit and shitfuckery to tell them all to fuck off. A few of you might recall how ship fuel and energy prices jumped up a few years ago. Yeah, it was also related to that."

After a brief pause, one where she took a small breath and moved a bit around the studio, she continued to relay the story.

"And how do we know about this again? Of course, it's because of the now very infamous hacker known as '4chinz', who, in a move which eluded most of the galaxies' intelligence agencies, leaked to the public all of Zorya's corporate cartel's plans to bend its population over and fuck them sideways." Keri summarized. "Basically, they wanted to have what the batarians have in their homeworld (yay!), except kinda not exactly the same, yet still worse in some aspects. For more on that, you can still find the details on the extranet. A lot of journalists received the data leak and reported on it. Believe me, those were not fun weeks for many powerful folk in Council space…"

As she spoke, a list of news headlines giving examples of such 'chaos' were shown to her viewers.

"By the way, if you're wondering what became of the criminals, of course said intelligence agencies persecuted them..." She said as she looked in a certain direction, where a list of the worst corporate offenders was shown to her viewers. "Not them, silly! I mean whoever was behind the leak and the journalists who spread the news! Though they didn't even get a single lead regarding the aforementioned hacker."

A picture of the hacker's symbol, a cunning trickster, was shown with a big '?' written over it.

"Oh, you're wondering why they were persecuted? It's 'cause they're wanted on charges of making certain untouchable people look like baddies, which of course they are, dear." Keri crossed her arms with a smug look, before shifting to a sermon demeanor. "And this was a very, very bad thing to do. Yep, that's right… Those journalists were indicted for the crime of letting the people access documents in the public interest, otherwise known as GOOD JOURNALISM. And fucked if we wanted more of that!"

She spat the last part. For added effect, she threw her hands in the air dramatically.

"Journalists, as we all know, are not supposed to be good. They're meant to be piss-weak, unquestioning scribes who publish what those in power tolerates or explicitly tell them to. Which is why they wanted to send a clear warning not to mess with their shit again." Keri declared, giving a stern look. "So, if you're a good journalist…" She stated intensely at the camera, "...don't compile all your evidence on their dirt; don't get into contact with us, here at GNN; and definitely don't ever think of using our platform to anonymously expose more of their shitfuckery while getting rewards for it, got it?"

She spoke with a serious tone, as extranet links for said contact information and platform were shown to the viewers, yet winking at the end.

"But let me get back to you about this new development. You're probably wondering what happened to the joint fleet sent to the Terminus." Keri resumed, as a picture of two fleets facing off against each other in space was shown to her viewers. "Well… the Terminus told them to get fucked. No, seriously. A bunch of Terminus factions put together a 'welcoming fleet' for the sole purpose of telling the Council to respectfully 'leave' and go 'copulate with themselves'. Probably in that order, I guess. Funnily enough, even the 'we're totally not the Batarian Hegemony's deniable assets' of the region participated in the 'Great GTFOing'. Those slavers and pirates are already fucking over the local populace enough. They don't want any more competition, it seems."

She crossed her arms while nodding facetiously.

"After examining the events from start to finish, our analysts have coined a scientific term to describe the whole situation: a shitshow. Well, at least the Council gave up on the whole thing before it could escalate." She said everything with a straight face and a serious nod. "So, to recap for those still lost: those dickbags corporations tried to get filthy rich from the overexploitation of some Terminus colonies; when said colonies revolted, you got shafted on ship-fuel and energy prices; the Council tried to recoup those arsehole 'losses' with its military, bureaucratic and spying apparatuses, which you pay for (by the way); and anyone who exposes this shitfuckery might get a few Spectres thrown their way. 'Cause it's in their peacekeeping policy to help all those in need. Except it's not. Fuck you."

[This news has been authorized by the Committee for Actually Doing Shit... when it threatens the Stock Market]

"With these quick and short news stories, I now bid you goodbye. This has most definitely not been a message approved by your Local Government Franchise™." Keri stated with a fake corporate smile that was worthy of a space oscar. "This has been Galaxy News Network; quite frankly your only source of honesty in this cesspool of corporate media propaganda and misinformation, keep that in mind. And, as always, never forget: with governments and enterprises like this, who needs terrorists?"

[Galaxy News Network]

[We take pride in offering the subversive truths that cause fear among the high and mighty]

[Those who live atop a mountain of lies]

The camera turned off. Keri dropped her shoulders and relaxed.

[1]

"Wasn't this one, you know, a bit over the top? Even for us?" Keri asked somewhat shyly, completely unlike her previous demeanor.

From behind the floating camera, moving with carefree steps, a pleasing and handsome young human approached as he answered her question: "Oh, no no no. Quite the contrary, dear. You were excellent. Just what I'd envisioned when I came up with all of this."

He gave her a charming smile, which matched pretty well with his trickster personality. He wore nordic-inspired clothes and presented the demeanor of a suave gentleman. He was, of course, Loki. Only a trickster like him would go through with something like this.

"T-Thanks. So… any leads on who tried to hurt us?" She asked, switching topics.

"It was sloppy work, so probably one or a few of those corporations from Zorya. Ours was, after all, the most successful exposition on their BS." He hypothesized. "We told you it was dangerous to stay near their center of power. Never underestimate their capacity for, and willingness to use, unethical, I mean, 'unorthodox business practices'."

Keri bit her lip reflexively, slightly ashamed of not taking their advice before. Luckily, there were many layers of protection keeping her and her team safe. Regardless, this was what she expected when she joined this clandestine organization of the Foundation, due to the nature of her work, as well as who it'd piss off. It couldn't be any different, considering how their news was presented to the public.

After all, too many things were reported in the news every day, but very few were properly explained (i.e. why do things happen). Devoid of such a framework, mainstream galactic media usually presented news as a flow of events, a scatter of particular developments and personalities unrelated to a larger set of social relations – propelled by happenstance, circumstance, confused intentions and individual ambition, never by powerful interests –, yet curiously producing effects that serve such interests with impressive regularity.

And all of this, in what may be its worst aspect, always under a veneer of neutrality that could never be found in the words actually spoken. Keri couldn't accept being part of that. So, she joined this organization of daring troublemakers, who never shied away from their intentions of actually informing their viewers.

Still, for many good reasons, there were a few things she couldn't go public with yet… The Keri of today knew what the Andromeda Initiative was really about. Reapers, Cycles, Arks as a backup plan, etc. But this was something for her to worry about in the future. As for now…

For now, she'd continue doing what she was hired to do. Causing fear among the high and mighty. Those whose power was built upon castles of lies.


Afterlife, Aria's Lounge, Omega. A day later.

"So, I've heard from a… friend that you can help with my little vorcha problem." Aria stated while lazily sitting on her favorite couch. "You've gotten pretty famous lately. Many thought you had fucked up by getting involved in Garvug's mess, but you've proved them wrong by outplaying those annoying corporate assholes and the Council's idiots. Well done."

"Can't really take all the credit for that one. That T'Soni lass, for example, kicked 'em real good in their teeth." Drack nonchalantly shrugged off the praise while sitting on her couch as if he owned it, which earned him an annoyed twitch from Aria. "Now, 'bout the vorcha situation… What do you say I get a few recruiting stations built here to relieve you of those vorcha who breed too much and start causing trouble? Here's the details."

He used his Omni-tool to send her a detailed plan about it, solving a constant thorn of hers while also getting a new source of troops/workers for his powerbase.

"Let me see what you've got." The Pirate Queen said, taking her time to go through it. After analyzing everything carefully, she sent a few instructions to her men and threw a datapad at him. "Done. Gavorn isn't going to be too happy about it, but I can put him to better use."

"There's something else, now that the main business could be said to be finished." The old krogan brought up another topic. "I'm looking for an asari, a doctor to be precise. Name's Lexi T'Perro. She should be living with her family on this rock."

Aria raised an eyebrow, slightly annoyed at his use of words, before wanting to poke fun at the old krogan. "What's this? Looking for a bondmate on my 'rock'?"

"No, nothing like that. Just looking to hire a good doctor. 'Sides, you scratch my hump, I'll scratch yours. That's the human saying, ain't it?" He spoke defensively.

"Something like that, yes." Aria replied with a blank nod, then beckoned for a batarian near them. "Garka, check out the name."

The batarian called up his buddies to gather up any information they could. After a minute of investigation, he came back and gave her a datapad.

"Here it is." Aria said, throwing it to Drack after checking the information. "Her mother's a dancer. The father's a turian and a bouncer. They've moved into the Gozu District recently. Word of warning; their neighborhood is facing a turf war."

"Now that's just great. What's the cause?" Drack inquired as he thought of all the changes going around the galaxy.

"Gozu's in chaos ever since the Blue Suns abandoned many of their operations here." She explained. "Power can't tolerate a vacuum. Not indefinitely, at least."

The veteran nodded in agreement. Over 1,400 years of life had shown that fact to him. He then asked: "So, when are you going to clean up this place for good?"

"One of these days." Aria said succinctly, putting an end to the topic.

"Well, I'll see myself out then." He got up and said his goodbye, while she waved him off.

Drack left some of his men there, to help with their future arrangements, while the rest took their shuttles. Upon arriving at Lexi's District, he instructed his men to spread out, forming a safezone against troublemakers or eventual Blood Packs mercs.

The streets were the same as everywhere else on the station: dark, dirty, metallic, mostly lit with neon signs, filled with a chaotic assortment of metal boxes, which were supposed to count as houses, and placed haphazardly in residential blocks – sometimes simply going on a straight line inside of a random wall. Lexi's house was almost like the latter, was Drack's opinion after reaching the place.

However, while getting closer, he was surprised to witness the scene of a bunch of thugs bullying a defenseless asari maiden. A textbook vid cliche, if he'd ever seen one, except for how weird it actually looked. That's because they had a krogan, a turian, a batarian and a human, in the same group and not killing each other; the human looked kinda half-dead; and the young krogan was their leader. Drack wondered if he was a clever one.

"... try to lie to us. We know you can treat humans too." Threatened the krogan.

"Bu-... but I don't have any medical supplies left… And no credits to buy more." The asari, who turned out to be Lexi T'Perro, nervously replied.

"I don't see how that's our problem." The krogan countered. "Find a way to treat our friend here. You know better than not to pay for your protection fee, or else…"

"Hey, what's going on here!?" Drack suddenly shouted, interrupting their shakedown, as he approached the group.

Startled, the young krogan turned to get a good look at the veteran.

Then, he saw the old features adorning Drack's body, the bones on his heavy armor, how tough and menacing it looked, and came to the brilliant decision to shout an order back at the veteran: "Move along, old man! This here's our turf. No place for an old timer like you."

Nope. This was just another dumb runt. Drack realized. And that about done did it for him.

He showed them his large teeth, chuckled maliciously "HE HE HE..." and then headbutted the krogan right into the ground.

The turian pulled out a pistol and tried to take aim, but Drack charged at him, hurling said thug at a nearby wall. He hit it violently, leaving a small dark blue stain on it, and then lost consciousness soon after.

The injured human looked terrified at the scene, barely considering if he should pull out his own gun too or simply run away, before losing his opportunity to choose by getting his face acquainted with Drack's fist, then also fainting immediately.

Seeing two of his buddies get knocked out in seconds, the batarian tried to use Lexi, who watched the beatdown from a safer distance, as an asari shield against the old krogan, but he was much quicker. Drack biotically lifted the thug from the ground, mentally calculated a trajectory and then threw him towards another wall with his biotics. Another one down.

Finally recovered and back on his feet, the young krogan went into a blood rage, charging at Drack with his fists raised. Lost to madness, he could only think of pummeling his foe, a strategy which was easily countered by the older krogan, who 'roused' him up with a hard punch to the face. Still, it was already too late for him to try anything else, his defeat clearly decided, yet not before he managed to stab Drack's right forearm with a small knife.

The veteran didn't care. He just concentrated his biotics on his left hand and hit the runt so hard it cracked a part of his head plate. It was another instant KO.

"You… you beat them all up… just like that." Lexi spoke out loud, still trying to regain her composure.

"It was nothing. Just some light exercise." He boasted, waving his right arm dismissively.

"Wait. Hold still." She said as she moved closer. Drack didn't resist when she took hold of his arm and began patching it up; he just kept staring at her, who finally noticed what she was going and added: "Sorry, force of habit."

"Thanks." He spoke sincerely, while carefully watching her work.

From what he knew, she spent a lot of time patching up her father's injuries from his work as a bouncer. Because of that, she discovered she was good at it, which led her parents to spend every credit they earned to get her the education she needed to become a doctor. It was a sacrifice that would bear fruit; however, at some point before joining the Andromeda Initiative, under normal circumstances, Lexi would lose both of them in some turf war…

A few seconds later, she was done.

"Oh no…! Wa-, what now?" Lexi suddenly panicked, confusing Drack, which prompted her to point at the KO'd thugs. "The gang. When they wake up, who do you think they'll seek revenge on? Damn it! I need to call my parents. We'll need to move, again."

"Huh? You don't need to worry about them. I can make sure of that." He stated.

"Wa-, what do you mean?" Lexi inquired curiously, which he took as a sign to get on with his true goal.

"You see, my line of business often gets me scratches like this, so I'm looking to hire good doctors. I've heard you're one of 'em. So…" He spoke his rehearsed justification. "Oh, and creds aren't a problem. In fact, you could say my group's been sitting on a metaphorical eezo mine."

"That's it? You came all this way to hire an unknown doctor like me?" She asked doubtfully.

"What can I say? I'm quite picky." Drack answered.

At that moment, a few of his men arrived there, coming due to the sounds of fighting, and then began taking the sleeping thugs somewhere else.

"Wait, you're that famous krogan… the one they mentioned on GNN." Lexi pointed out.

"You're well informed. Either that or I guess I'm just naturally awesome." He replied, which elicited a small chuckle from her. "So, what do you say about leaving this rock somewhere better? With your family, of course. You won't ever be in danger or anything anymore…"

"I'm… I can't make that kind of decision just like that…" Lexi said with hesitation.

"You don't need to decide right now. I'm in no rush. 'Sides, there's a few things for me to finish on this rock." Drack told her. "We can chat a bit while we wait for your folks to return. What do you say?"

"I, uh… alright then. Come on in." She beckoned. "Sorry. It's not very spacious."

"I don't mind. Well, it looks bigger than some critters I've crawled out of." He joked.

Lexi led him inside and the doors locked behind them soon after. A few days later, she and her family left Omega, on their way to begin a new life.


Logasiri, in the Batalla System, of the Omega Nebula. Late 2179 CE.

This was a miserable place, or alien planet. Such was Michael's evaluation after suffering on this damnable rock for months.

The batarians didn't take him and his son to wherever it was the others were taken, since they were too 'ordinary', whatever that meant. Perhaps, for the first time in his whole life, being unremarkable came as a boom. That was what his instinct told him; until he returned to the present, and to his current situation.

Michael wiped the sweat off his forehead. He didn't know the exact number, but this hellish alien planet was easily over 50 ºC. To make matters worse, there were constant fights over water, since it was becoming scarce even before he was sent here. And then there was his new daily routine, endless and grueling mining work in a dark, damp and rotten cave deep down inside this damned rock. Despite feeling that he weighed only half his normal weight, the labor was still backbreaking.

Taking a deep breath through his shitty breathing mask, yet another amazing feature of this hell, he grabbed his shitty mining gear and moved on to another lode before one of the 'masters' decided to inflict punishment on him. Ah, there was that too. The constant threat of pain and torture. Touching the back of his neck, Michael felt the wound marks where his 'slave control chip' had been brutally implanted.

The brutality was the point; it was on purpose. And it still hurt sometimes. Furthermore, his forced labor was accompanied by constant threats, like being ground up into compost in a greenhouse, then said produce being fed to his son – or vice versa.

At least the children would only work in the agri-habitats. Not out of kindness or anything like that, simply… 'efficient use of resources'. Whenever he recalled what those four-eyed aliens bastards had inflicted on his little Matthew, his eyes went red and a lifetime's worth of 'education' on the virtues of 'pacifism' completely evaporated away, as if it hadn't been ground up into dust already by his recent experiences.

Arriving somewhere else, he quickly found a new mining spot and joined up with his fellow damned. They were all thin and he was no different, not ever since a month ago. The older ones were also quite tall, but their bones were much weaker. He guessed it had something to do with the weaker gravity – and he was correct. Despite all of that, they – just like him – worked with almost machine-like precision, for such discipline had long been drilled into them by 'enforcers' who'd occasionally come to check their work.

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, they toiled away for their masters' gain, with the only reward being just enough food to survive and toil another day.

On his way back to his 'holding pen', now exhausted and mentally drained, Michael faced a situation that hinted that this wouldn't be just another day. Coming from the agri-habitats, he saw one of the blue woman aliens, an asari as he recalled, barely managing to walk his way, before she suddenly fell to the ground. On pure instinct, he rushed at her.

"Hey, are you okay?" He asked gently while helping her up; however, rather than thanking him, she gave him a frightened look and scrambled away.

He was completely taken aback by her reaction, not knowing what else to do besides stare in confusion. On a closer look, he then noticed that there was a dark blue stain between her legs, but didn't quite grasp what it meant. Realizing how she'd reacted, the asari spoke something to him in an alien tongue and resumed her slow march.

Shaking his head, Michael soon followed towards their cell. Along the way, more joined the slow march of the enslaved, which was monitored by enforces at every turn. After passing by a messy assortment of buildings and segmented barriers, he reached his destination.

Their 'holding pens' were, in a few words, big metal boxes with no beds, no bathrooms and nothing else that could ever allow someone to mistake them for a place they'd want to live in. Those were just lockable cages that the four-eyed aliens used to 'store' their property.

Opposite said buildings, there was a large barracks, with weapon emplacements and thick walls, where the 'masters' would watch over their property. Also, the bones of slaves who tried to escape in clear view – as a warning. There was no need for shackles when one's chains were engraved deeply within one's mind.

Arriving there, Michael waited for his son to come back from 'work school', where they'd be taught how to be a proper slave by doing intense, forced work in their agri-habitats. Seeing him briefly was the only good thing of his day. However, unlike usual, his little Matthew did not arrive by himself today, but was carried by a large four-eyed alien slaver, who promptly threw him onto the ground like a worthless object.

His son's eyes were tear-stained and there were many bloody whip marks on his back.

"What did you do!?" Michael shouted out loud without thinking while he rushed towards his son. In response, the large slaver merely activated a device and Michael fell to the ground shortly thereafter.

Pain… Pain… Overwhelming pain coursed through his entire body, as if there was a force trying to tear his spirit… soul… being itself, everything apart. It lasted for seconds, so that the other slaves could watch it fully; and feel fear.

"Speak only when spoken to, slave! And that's Master Overseer for you. Never forget that." The tall four-eyed alien spat, his words being barely understood due to the shitty translator also brutally shoved in their heads. "Since your spawn ain't speaking, I'll explain why. This was to teach your disobedient mutt not to try and help any lazy, idle vagabonds. What, did he think a five years old couldn't work just 'cause they're small? In this world, it's dominate or be dominated. All of you are our property, that we bought and paid for, fair and square. So learn your place, you inferior two-eyes."

Master Overseer, the one responsible for overlooking this 'flock'. Michael preferred to call him The Bastard. But only in his mind, of course. After barely getting up, he took his son's hand and they moved to a corner, where he hugged him gently.

"Was it true, what that… said?" He asked his son, but Matthew didn't, and wouldn't, speak. Ever since they'd gotten here, he spoke very little. "I just wanted you to know that you did the right thing, alright? I'm proud of you."

Matthew hugged him back tighter.

While the duo interacted, The Bastard wasn't idle. With an almost sadistic glee, he spoke to the slaves: "Good. Now that that's taken care of, it's feeding time. Here's your reward for a good day's work. Boys…!"

After saying so, his enforcers brought in some large pots, all filled with a disgusting gruel. This was the second and last meal of the day. While they were supposed to eat that, The Bastard would chew on real/decent food and even threw some of its crumbs to an alien dog. They got the message. He was saying that they were even lesser than an animal.

Michael and Matthew took their share for the day. In a corner, they shoved said gruel into their mouth and began getting ready to sleep. As was customary, one of the largest slaves stole a bit of the food from the weaker slaves' share.

One would think facing this kind of profound oppression would unite all in solidarity, but no; some chose to step on their fellow slaves, if only to feel like their situation was a bit better than others'.

To complement the hellish heat of the day, the night was as cold as the hearts of the evils who came up with, built and still maintained this hellhole. Out of necessity, or almost as if by a spell, the slaves huddled together to gather and share their warmth between themselves. At that moment, that particular moment when only survival mattered, no prior difference between them counted for anything anymore.

Too tired to think of anything, least of all rebellion, they soon fell asleep. However…

Deep within the night, the slaves were roused awake by sounds coming from everywhere. Loud shouts, intermittent barks, machines roaring and alarms blaring. In one word, panic. Utter panic had spread around their slave camp seemingly in an instant. Michael looked at his fellow slaves and saw the same bewilderment he was feeling in their eyes.

Then, he looked upwards, at the starry sky. Beyond the sparse clouds; beyond the rays of moonlight seeping through and between their cage's small windows, and illuminating their wretched existence.

There were many flashes of light up there. And there was also something else, falling. Lots of somethings. It wasn't more moonlight. It was a series of fireballs.

A series of objects burning through this miserable planet's thin atmosphere…


Illium, on its fanciest high class skyscraper. Minutes prior.

This place was beginning to make me miserable.

'I' was attending the Galactic Economic Forum Meeting, an event hosted on what could be considered the 'true heart' of Illium, more specifically on its topmost lounge. It happened exactly every 10 years, partially due to consideration for the salarians' lifespan. Otherwise, if it was up to the asari, we would only have one of these every century. The venue was surrounded by militarized security, including my own, all to protect the individuals meeting here today.

Who were they exactly? Political leaders from all around the galaxy, media conglomerates, corporate representatives, defense contractors, bankers, billionaires, trillionaires and so on and so forth. Save for some politicians, no one's net worth was below a billion credits, as even multimillionaire vid actors or businessmen would be unqualified to be present. Those were still considered poor by the people here, it's just that they were 'premium' poor in their eyes.

Why? Because they're all part of a real elite, all interconnected in a massive network that ensures they all generally work towards their collective self interests, and ties in with states and non-profit organizations to monopolize the galactic economy. That was their goal here, to outline, negotiate and decide the general socio-economic direction of the galaxy for the next decade, so that they may perpetuate themselves in power (aka to maintain the status quo). In that regard, I represented the biggest force of disruption in centuries, more so than the Systems Alliance – which, of course, made me persona non grata.

However, this wasn't what was making me miserable here. Nope, it was the conversations that 'my' augmented hearing was picking up here and there; more specifically, their open display of sociopathic behavior, including how naturalized it was.

One salarian CEO, for instance, was boasting about how he got to ruin a major strike in a peripheral colony of Council space by infiltrating members of an extremist hate group into the protest, who pretended to be a part of it. When said infiltrators were expelled with the only means available to the strikers (force), the local police 'conveniently' showed up and arrested their leaders.

Then, the one opposite him, an asari who owned one of the largest media corporations in that part of the galaxy, commented on how she spun the story to the public afterwards. Of course, the strikers were painted as sympathizing with said extremist hate group and their protest was subsequently squashed. While the leaders still rotted in jail, she sipped a drink that was more expensive than all of their wages combined, in an entire year.

A turian, an 'honor-bound' species, and volus were talking with a politician of a bordering turian colony about how difficult it became to 'acquire' their preferred criminal syndicate's drugs, due to 'abrupt shifts in the usual supply lines' (i.e. we began going after drug lords). The volus, a member of Elkoss Combine's board of directors, on the other hand, couldn't help but boast about how well they were selling weapons to the Terminus' warring factions. Drugs and weapons; those usually went hand in hand in the criminal world.

Another was talking about a recent wave of layoffs (aka mass firing), which their company claimed was due to some nonsensical jargon of 'unpredictable economic downturns'. They had record profits and profit margins this year.

Many were discussing how the Terminus was becoming too chaotic for 'business', save for weapons dealers, so it might be better to recall their private military forces operating there. Pretty much all of their PMCs were not that much different from pirates, at least those I've killed on the battlefield, and some were even more sadistic than batarian slavers.

Over and over, conversation after conversation, they kept casually espousing admissions that'd utterly shock the average Council space citizen, if only they met the qualifications to be here in the first place. And those were simply a few subjects they had no quarrels about speaking openly. I knew of much, much darker information from the Network.

But what irked me most was something else. It was the fact that, to them, people were just numbers; statistics; calculations; parts of an equation; inconsequential little gears in their wealth accumulation machine, who could be easily thrown away or replaced at a moment's notice. So, it didn't matter if their business ended up satisfying people's needs or harming them, because all that mattered was their own line's numbers climbing higher than their competitors'. And the line must always go up, by any means necessary.

Back in my former life, people used to think of the Citadel Council as the main driving force behind this Civilization's stagnation. In truth, that committee merely represented its public face; its surface. The people here were much closer to its root, to the structures of power which kept the Council species from advancing into, for example, a fully automated society (because they needed scarcity, even if completely artificial, to maintain this kind of social order).

Honestly, I felt like punching a whole lot of them, but that wouldn't truly benefit anyone. My only satisfaction was that many of them were utterly pissed off at GNN, especially their inability, despite all their power, to 'handle' it.

Gaia, if these were the people responsible for your creation and upbringing, do you think we'd 'make' the Reaper's correct for once? I thought up impulsively.

Who knows? I'd rather not think too much about it. Gaia dodged my question.

Scared the answer might be a 'yes'? I insisted.

Maybe… Let's just say it's a good thing I wasn't then. She answered concisely.

Different from her response, I believed – or rather feared – such a scenario would lead to, merely going by the aforementioned sociopathic behavior, an apocalyptic disaster. Still, despite my personal dislike, it was still necessary (or rather opportune) for our future plans to mingle with these people. And so here I was, after a very long journey.

In order for me to appear as 'one of them', we decided to present an outward facade, by using the usual kind of story they loved 'selling' to the public: the myth of 'a garage and a dream'. That meant crafting a triumphant tale of an orphan guy coming from the bottom, who met the right kind of 'opportunities' (aka influential people), took 'risks' and eventually reached the top with hard work. Pretty much every single billionaire and/or trillionaire did this kind of 'rebranding'. Those who investigated me found a much more believable story, which was a second layer to the deception, so to speak.

Of course, the 'garage' was the Broker's ship (including his Network) and the 'dream' was assets amounting to trillions of credits. Can't forget about those tiny little details, now could we?

That was our actual starting capital. With it, along with the cheat-like Prothean Beacon, we began developing our budding research teams (led by Mordin, Liara and Ellen), plenty of technologies, as well as a capable fighting force (to protect ourselves).

The next step was hiring plenty of labor (especially quarian) to turn our research results into reality, which we did after making a lot of large asteroids' insides into manufacturing plants, resulting in a lot of Cruiser-level Thanix Cannons. How many? Enough to tip the scales of power in the galaxy. If Council space rejected us, we could just arm the Flotilla and have it almost 'match' their Dreadnoughts in a short time. Evidently, this fact greatly annoyed the Big Three. But not only them…

When we introduced ourselves and Thanix technology, we didn't just piss off the biggest navy (space warships) military contractors around, but a whole lot of shared interests. That included large banks, whose directors would often join comfy positions (Board of Directors) in said corporations after having supervised their business (and vice versa), the financial sector, public officials, as well as some politicians whose campaigns were funded by those military contractors. In other words, the 'revolving door' fraternity.

That's why it was so important to put pressure on our audience back then; to put them on the defensive and earn as many advantages/benefits as we could. After all, we were going to fight for (and into) their share of the market, otherwise known as 'fat defense contracts'. It'd certainly be an uphill battle, one where they'd use everything in their power to crush us.

That's one of the reasons why we didn't 'open up' our capital for investment (i.e. we never 'went public'). On one hand, it meant less credits to reinvest into the circuit of capital (i.e. to grow our businesses); on another, it meant no shareholders to hold our decisions and/or planning back. That usually meant whatever path led to short-term profits – or, in the worst case, a way for our opponents to try to sabotage/control us from the inside.

In order to make up for it, besides negotiating with other smaller banks (which couldn't be easily influenced by our competitors), we negotiated with the Council space governments for subsidies and tax cuts/breaks. Tax cuts and state subsidies; now that's the real 'binary helix' right there!

With funds secured, we easily deal with whatever sabotage they could still pull with their power. For example, when some governments' public officials started creating hindrances for us, we weren't able, 'unfortunately', to send some massive shipments of Thanix to their governments, which tipped the balance of power in favor of their rivals, pitting one against the other. Evidently, it didn't take long for the 'mishap' to be resolved.

Another factor that also helped us was that military contractors weren't the most powerful section of the economy. There were other sectors who dwarfed them, such as consumer goods (simply due to sheer population size) and eezo related industries (since it's almost on everything), especially considering how relatively peaceful this Civilization kept its core. The Council member species only needed enough military power to keep the 'lesser races' under their boot, which wasn't much when those were 'convinced' to not invest in military technology and/or forces.

Suddenly, an asari server came up to 'me' and offered many strange drinks, of which 'I' took one. These servers, almost all of them asari, worked with almost machine-like precision, blending into the background as they serviced the guests with drilled discipline.

I never drank anything alcoholic, especially if it's glowing, so what 'I' took was a kind of fruit juice. Sending it down 'my' throat, its contents were quickly stored and analyzed. An exotic sour fruit. Mixed with a few others. Bits of 'space sugar' added in. Not poisoned. So… they didn't try anything funny.

Legally cornering the Council and its related governments was all fine and good, but we'd be fools to believe that mere 'legality' and their institutions could protect us. Thus, it wasn't a surprise when, having no recourse in contract or Council law, our competitors looked for 'extrajudicial means' in order to deal with us. In other words, they began trying to have me killed. No, not only me, but also those who had high positions in the Foundation (such as people we took from the Network and Benezia), we were all marked for assassination. And more than one attempt was thwarted by our intel apparatus and Hell's Angels.

In response, we sent a few agents of our Intelligence Branch to personally 'visit' the actual owners of the guilty companies/corporations (not their CEOs or board directors), in their homes, with promises of reprisal/escalation if they didn't stop. However, rather than back down, they responded by upping their security paranoically, which, given our limited power back then, might've done it had it not been for a minor fact: they were already dead.

During said visits, they were secretly poisoned with a slow acting agent. We'd have offered the cure if they gave up on the assassination attempts, but only if they did so. They didn't, so the poison did its work.

If none of our actions until then made me persona non grata, that one definitely did.

It also threw the galactic community into a bit of chaos, not only because their successors fought each other for their shares of the inheritance, but also since these kinds of people weren't used to facing the consequences of their actions. Only 'pawns' were supposed to be sacrificable; not the actual 'players'.

This also forced our adversaries to investigate us further, which led them to 'discover' our third layer of deception: that we represented an old and powerful 'shadowy group', such as the likes of The Benefactor. After that, the assassinations ceased and they finally accepted our place in the galactic economy, albeit begrudgingly. It appears it became much easier to do so when they perceived our power as deriving from 'one of theirs', rather than from one of the 'lesser races'; worse, from the newest one.

With these challenges beaten, we firmly established our reputation as the most unorthodox conglomerate in the galaxy.

While most companies were quite happy to just wait for research to be done after it'd been financed by the public sector (e.g. universities), we invested in R&D like crazy. Besides not really being a risk, as we had massive data caches (the Beacon and Steve) to study, it was the perfect excuse to 'come up' with new stuff constantly. Two of our competitors tried to do the same, thinking we'd 'figured out' a way to circumvent the way things usually worked, before almost going bankrupt and asking their respective species' states for handouts.

Contrary to the industry standard, which sought a perfect equilibrium between breaking too soon and royally pissing off customers, every 'product' of ours was made to last; forever if possible. This, in particular, made every competitor consider us crazy. They believed we'd just been desperate for market share. Of course, in normal circumstances, and if we didn't hold a monopoly over a lot of technologies (Thanix, Cylonic Barrier Technology, etc.), we'd just be shooting ourselves in the foot by reducing future profits. But they didn't know what we were really aiming for – and what our real plans were…

Completely unlike anyone else, we organized our companies' workplaces with a bottom-up approach, meaning our employees democratically elected their own managers, organized how to meet our performance targets and had the power to recall said bosses anytime. In that vein, we tried to foster a cooperative environment, in which people wouldn't treat each other as enemies to tread on (e.g. a C-suite steps on a manager, who then goes on to step on his assigned employees). It's amazing how much more productive people can be when they aren't constantly trying to sabotage each other.

Moreover, save for sensitive work (e.g. schematics) and work that really required physical presence, many of our employees worked from home. When they'd reached their quota of work, they could either clock out earlier or continue working and earn bonuses.

This went all the way up to the likes of CEOs, whose real contribution to any company, as I found, was way, way overestimated. Even those 'curated' or nominated by Benezia. From my experience, most C-suites out there were utterly disconnected from reality. They often couldn't see any way forward besides through the lens of a 'bean counter'. One could even say that they knew less of the true workings of companies than 'factory floor workers'. And, furthermore, they knew even less about how people actually worked.

For instance, when called upon to improve employee happiness or 'work-life balance', their solution would usually be a variant of 'making the workplace like home', such as by adding the meme'd 'Office Ping-Pong Tables' (which no one would ever use, otherwise they might get fired for not working). The truth of the matter was that the 'issue' was never about any of that. And it's not complex at all to comprehend.

To most people, life begins only when work ends. They don't want to turn work into an extension of home; they just want to go back home, in order to start living.

However, most of said 'geniuses' couldn't fathom such a simple concept, so detached from actual people that they were. In fact, some needed to read studies to finally figure out this ultimate truth. Others just refused to accept it. I've never regretted replacing them completely with our Digital Sentiences.

So on and so forth...

These, and many other factors, made us really stand out from the rest. One positive result of such policies was 'stealing' some of the best people from our competitors. Furthermore, our growth was faster than any estimates could ever try to predict with certainty. It almost became a meme for 'experts' to be wrong about our development.

Eventually, we grew enough to be able to fund whole Terminus colonies (i.e. The Daybreak Accords), almost assuming their states' function, in order to develop their productive forces (e.g. material extraction, machinery, energy, etc.) and heavy industry (i.e. industry meant to produce more industry) in preparation for upcoming conflicts, while using the ongoing ones as a smoke-screen. So far, we'd been very successful at it, turning colonies like Anhur into 'small superpowers' of production.

Adding the trade routes we'd opened up and secured, this led to a major increase of trade with the Attican Traverse, linking both region's economies in an unprecedented way. This also had the added effect of helping the Systems Alliance colonies in the Traverse develop faster than normal, especially as we negotiated bilateral trade and partnership deals. One thing was for sure: the SA would definitely not be any weaker than in canon.

Speaking of humanity, out of the corner of 'my' vision, 'I' saw one lone human man quietly observing the event while sipping a drink. He was a bald old man, sporting a white grizzled beard, and the owner of the Eldfell-Ashland, Jonah Ashland. I once met his granddaughter, Aishwarya Ashland, nicknamed Aish.

She had a lot of characterizations, but I still preferred Zaeed's description of her: Absolute socialite, with most of that entails, including the complete disconnect with reality. Not a bad kid though. Too bad her head was filled with more air than her father sells to the galaxy.

Leaving my drink on a closeby table, 'I' decided to approach him and chit-chat for a bit.

"Hey, long time to see. Having fun here by yourself?" 'I' greeted, reaching for a handshake.

"Oh, hello to you too. Eh… I could be better." Jonah replied, returning the gesture.

"Still weeping about your lost refineries in Zorya?" 'I' asked, poking fun at the man.

"Ha, you know it…" He said, his tone depressed. "Our shares tanked for a while, I couldn't fulfill a few contracts and then there was all that media chaos that followed. Lost almost a billion credits, all things considered."

"And what does that make you again? Ah yes, still a billionaire." 'I' pointed out playfully.

"Aahh… Sometimes, I wish I could still have this carefree outlook." He spoke ruefully, taking a long sip of his drink. "We both know how damaging this kind of setback is in this rat race of a system we're all bound to."

"Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, I do." 'I' replied, giving a brief pause. "So… changing the subject, what's your take on this event?" I asked suggestively, having long noticed that humans were somewhat segregated into a small corner of this place, kinda just 'out of the way'. "Our treatment is rather special, wouldn't you say?"

"So you noticed it too, huh? Call it a gut feeling, but I think they're somewhat afraid of us; of what we can do." Jonah revealed his opinion, taking a profound look at 'me'. "In fact, I'd say your group of… eccentrics is to blame for a large part of that. For some reason which I'm not privy to, they're more careful about your group than the Systems Alliance itself. But, then again, there's something else to it…"

He paused briefly, now staring at the venue and likely gathering his thoughts.

"We've been allowed to join their circles, but they still treat us as lessers, as if we're below them." He let out a tired sigh. "Sure, we've been allowed to join the galactic economy and, although we're barely approaching the elcor, Earth is developing quickly with all that wealth extracted from our colonies. And all it only cost us was our sovereignty. Sometimes I ask myself: was it worth it?"

'I' stood by quietly, just thinking about his comment.

Not content with the silence, he turned to face 'me' and spoke again: "Maybe I should ask you instead. Was it worth it, Mr. Nouveau Trillionaire?"

His sudden question surprised me, especially that he directed it at me. Trillionaire. A trillion credits. I only reached that amount of personal wealth recently; that astronomical amount, I should add…

To put that number into perspective, if one began earning 1 credit every second, it'd take around 11 days and a half to reach one million credits, thus becoming a millionaire. With that in mind, how long would it take for one to become a billionaire? Almost 32 years. And one trillion was a thousand times that!

Then, to go further, one considers that the Atlas Foundation constantly moves around (and works with) quadrillions of credits everyday? It's just absurd.

It was simply too much money. It was like living with cheats on. Nothing was beyond reach or strictly impossible. Anything could be bought, be it a product or an experience; laws had long become mere suggestions; it grants one enough power to influence large sections of the galactic community; and so on.

It's more money than could ever be spent in many lifetimes. And also the 'dream' of many, who could only live life by dreaming of other's lives. But, to me, it was simply boring and empty. Even getting shot at was a more exciting way to experience life. After all, beyond a certain level of wealth, one I'd long passed by now, there wasn't really much of a difference. It did, however, give me a deeper appreciation for a 'simpler' kind of life.

With those musings out of the way, I decided to give him an answer.

"It will be." 'I' firmly declared.

He raised an eyebrow briefly, then gave me a reserved smile.

Thinking back on everything we'd accomplished so far, it already was. Besides, it wouldn't matter in the end even if every human company went under. How things would end would be completely different from how they began.

And, looking at the people around us, no one would see it coming, so comfortable with the status quo had they become that, for example, they couldn't imagine a privatized military ever becoming an issue…

At that moment, a piece by Beethoven, Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement), began playing in the venue, drawing my attention. A wave of nostalgia hit me.

'I' was captured by it briefly. It was one of my favorites. And, due to our influence, it seems it'd also become so for these alien beings too. We, indeed, were changing the galaxy… one butterfly effect at a time. But suddenly, and without warning, my real senses shook me awake and my connection with this body ended, as Gaia stopped sharing its senses with me.

[…]

b

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[…]

I was roused up by a loud explosion. A projectile flew by my Orbital Insertion Pod, followed by its shock waves propagating in the then atmosphere. After so many times, our enemies had finally wisened up, so we had to add some kinetic barriers to these large metal boxes. Sometimes, I miss being able to just jump out of them and bring death from above without worry of any decent retaliation.

Suddenly, I felt as if gravity had been 'switched on' again and it was trying to crush me into the Pod's ground. We were approaching the surface, so its main thrusters turned on and it began to rapidly decelerate. As the space battle raged on behind me, I connected with the Pod's cameras and looked down at the planet we were assaulting, Logasiri. It was one of the batarian slaver hellhole planets on our 'hit list' and our landing zone just so happened to be its main slave camp, near some rock formations, where mines were dug out.

At last, my Pod safely landed with a loud thud, the resulting impact easily cushioned by my suit's exoskeleton. One of its walls then came down, forming a ramp, and Gaia 'awakened' the drones, all eezo-equipped for this mission, that were stored on the other walls and led them through the new exit. The outside was covered by a big cloud of dust, an accidental layer of protection for my assault.

After I went down the ramp, there was already a chaotic exchange of fire going on. Traces of supersonic slugs, large cannon shots and rockets painted lines all around the battlefield, while our enemies scrambled to put up a defense. The paths leading to their encampment were dotted with depressingly gray metal buildings, where the batarians would store their ill-gotten ores and mining equipment. Now, they were also used as cover against us.

Taking in the information gathered by the drones, I began a steady march, wielding only a heavily modified Canifex pistol and armed with a healthy amount of bottled up hatred. Or a resolution to personally put an end to some wrongs today, for good. And, in front of me, was a section of prefab buildings and boxes littering the ground in a messy pattern, where I could begin. The world went green as I activated my night-vision.

The drones went ahead, taking the brunt of the assault, while I searched for critical points in the enemy lines to strike. One was soon discovered, a platform with a heavy turret that was protected by a five-batarian squad. It was also protected by an anti-air battery, which was trying to take out my drones, with no success so far.

Arching forward, I biotically charged at the leader figure, sending him flying into the anti-air battery. With almost no delay, I pointed at the fastest reacting enemy to lock him in a stasis and, with my other hand, shot an unshielded batarian, who wielded a shotgun, right in his head. I then threw a singularity at said AA battery, which dragged the first batarian as well as the remaining two, ripping everything on its way apart

The drones were allowed to get closer and began shredding the heavy turret. Approaching the paralyzed batarian, I put my pistol on his head and pulled the trigger just as I canceled the stasis. To finish it off, despite only a few seconds having passed so far, I warped the singularity into a massive explosion of biotic power that basically erased this platform from existence.

The march resumed. A few streets ahead, I found another opportunity, enemies who were staying in an elevated position, on top of a building, behind a thick fence, and using it as protection. With a singularity, I pulled them out of cover and up in the air, right into the loving targeting systems of Gaia's drones. They were peppered with shots and I finished it off with another large biotic explosion, tearing off half of that building's metallic support.

A couple more streets ahead, another event called for my intervention…

From a nearby building's window, one batarian popped out with a grenade already primed. No, not only one, but an entire belt of them, ready to throw it my way. Instantly reaching out with my biotics, I paralyzed him in complete stasis, with the primed grenades – and the countdown for his life – ticking down.

3… 2… 1…

BOOM!

The slaver, as well as his slow-reacting team, were blown up to smithereens by a massive explosion of his own making. Another tried to blow me up with a missile launcher, a tactic our enemies kept falling back on, but I reached out with my biotics once again and held it in mid-air. Then, with a slight turn of hand, I turned it around and returned it to its sender. A new explosion took that bastard's life along with a good portion of his cover.

This was a small taste of what our next generation of biotic implants, the L6s series, could do. They focused on precision and reduced 'cooldown' times. It was almost incredible how beyond 'canon' tech levels we were already.

Just like that, my march went uninterrupted. The tried-and-true tactic of an overwhelming drone vanguard with a deadly mobile core wielding heavy hitting biotics was simply hell for the slavers, who were only used to dealing with helpless victims. To make matters worse for our foes, more Pods kept landing near my location, from whence more of our Angels of War and drone swarms spilled out, already adding their fire to the slaughter.

Alone no more, I marched as though a wave of death followed me. With each step, a new enemy body hit the ground to never get up again; with each drone dance, a new hailstorm of bullets crashed into the enemy's armor and found it wanting; with each maneuvering charge, biotic shockwaves would spread around the battlefield, overturning any barricades the slavers tried to put up. Not even the thickest walls were enough to impede us as we ripped them apart with sheer gravitic brutality.

Squad after squad of batarians was torn down and its members shredded in seconds. Not a single one had the time to relay – or warn about – the massacre to its incoming allies, as we continued to break through enemy lines. When we met a defensive fortification, it'd be blown by light orbital bombardment before it could ever become a problem. When a larger group of enemies showed up, I'd simply mentally think of a word…

Overload!

…and all of their shields would be gone in a sequential jump of electricity. Then, with a flick of my finger, a large singularity would drag them into the air, only to be ripped apart by a hailstorm of hypersonic bullets and then be torn to pieces by a biotic explosion. We didn't even need armored vehicles or aircraft to deal with this rabble, so used to their 'dominance' were the slavers.

It didn't take long for our death march to reach deep into the main camp, where the slaves were kept, which allowed me to understand why this planet was considered the source of the worst horror stories in the cluster. Stories of the cruelty that living beings are capable of inflicting upon others, such as that of a slaver named Silparon, who once worked to death more than 400 slaves over the course of a galactic standard year and then ground up their bodies for compost in his greenhouses.

Evidently, his 'business model' still hung over this planet of misery, for the enslaved people we kept rescuing were the spitting image of 'worked to death'. Thin, weak, malnourished, tired. Apathetically obedient. To add insult to injury, many batarians tried – that being the keyword – to use them, for one last time, as their 'living shields'. Those slavers were quick targets for our snipers, while those slaves were quickly protected, soon after, by the largest possible biotic bubbles, before being led to safety.

Still, one thing got to me. Along the way, I couldn't help but pause at a 'warning sign'. What was it warning about? The consequences of rebellion. It consisted of a wide and long walkway filled, on all sides, with hanging skeletons. Lots and lots of bones. Large ones, from all kinds of species. Some disfigured; others broken – or in pieces. Also… tiny bones; not even half an adult's. Some even smaller than that…

Gaia. I called.

Yes? She answered.

No mercy today. I declared.


Other side of the main slave camp. Around the same time.

To Michael, the slavers' panic only increased as time went on. It appeared as though every single planetary defense had been activated and was shooting at their attackers. That was especially true of some large kinetic cannons that fired upwards at the falling objects, with each shot being followed by slight ground tremors.

Not for long, however, since they were met with an equally devastating counterattack from space. Explosions lit up the night's sky, bringing destruction to said cannons and fire to the slave camp. One of those bombardments just so happened to take out a large barracks, exactly the one overlooking his metal cage, and with it part of its wall.

The moonlight then shone much more through this new entrance.

[2]

Michael looked through the light and saw chaos. The four-eyed aliens were trying to put up a fight, but only fighting desperately for their lives. He didn't know who the attackers were, but an opportunity was still an opportunity. Or a hope.

"Matt, this is our chance. Let's go." Michael said, beckoning.

However, as Matthew approached, a scally alien (turian?) grabbed his shoulder, shouting a bunch of alien words at the duo. He was one of those who'd bully the other slaves. Without any hesitation, Michael took all his pent up rage and punched his scaly ass into the ground in an instant. Then, following with an unhinged killing stare, he convinced the guy to back off and go away from them.

Seeing his retreating figure, Michael remembered that they weren't alone in the suffering. There were other people enslaved here, many of whom were aliens. Some he knew, asari, turian and salarian; others he'd never seen/read about. It didn't matter. In the end, they all shared the same struggle.

So, he opened his mouth, hoping his gestures and tone would convey his intention. "What are you waiting for? Come, let's go!" He shouted at them.

"B-but… we shouldn't leave; the masters will get angry…" Replied a human woman.

This left Michael briefly stunned. He stared at her with wide eyes. What's worse was that no one contradicted what she said or even realized this was their opportunity to escape. In fact, this might be their only chance – ever – to be free.

And yet their silence was deafening.

And yet their stares were apathetic.

They couldn't even think about revolting.

But Michael wouldn't have any of it. He had an idea.

"That's why we gotta go somewhere else, so we won't bother them." He said to her with a soothing tone. "They can't fight while being worried about us, right?"

The asari from earlier saw this, realized what he was doing and took to his side, speaking to the crowd in her dialectic. After going back and forth 2-3 times, everyone decided to join them – even the turian bully. And so began their escape.

Not much time after they left, Michael started hearing alien dogs barking behind them. He had no idea, since he was just following his gut feelings, but the slavers were planning on using them as 'living shields'. That's how desperate those scum were. Unbeknownst to all, this group of slaves had just ruined that partucular plan.

They moved close to the direction that the slavers' enemies were coming from, a fact that the slaves thankfully didn't notice, going from street to street, but always keeping out of the way of any combat. Michael and that asari led them. As luck would have it, he'd committed all these surroundings to memory, knowledge he made ample use of.

So, they maneuvered themselves in such a way as to evade slaver eyes, by hiding behind anything that could be used for that end, even amongst trash or stacks of ores. Enforcer squads, vehicles and even gunships flew past them, but no one noticed this group of slick escapees. The night also helped.

Unfortunately, when they were very close to leaving the zones where the slavers still had a presence, their luck ran out.

They ran into a large squad of enforcers, who noticed them and blocked their path. While shouting orders, they pointed those sci-fi guns in what appeared to be their direction and looked ready to fire at any moment. Michael pulled his son closer, shielding his eyes from what he imagined would come next. Time seemed to have slowed down.

But then something happened.

[2:02s]

A streak of bluish light 'arrived' right in front of them, from which emerged a figure with the silhouette of an asari, clad in dark heavy armor. Then, she began glowing blue, as if by magic, and a large blue bubble popped into existence; surrounding them, protecting them.

Despite those enforcers reacting with their utmost violence, their shots stopped harmlessly before her protection. Almost as if by plan, a gunship emerged from behind a tall building, its engines causing a gale to build up. Without hesitation, it fired a storm of bullets at the bubble, trying to burst it, yet it also couldn't break through that barrier. So, it followed up its attack by opening two side hatches, from which something else was fired.

Missiles!

Four missiles, leaving a trail behind, raced towards them; until they simply didn't anymore, for they were stuck in mid-air, being held up by the hands of a dark/red figure, with red eye sockets, who'd just arrived at the scene, in a steady march.

Following that, he moved his hands and the missiles moved with them, turning back on the aircraft. Then, with a push, they were let loose once again, but now at the flying machine's direction. With a series of explosions, its shields then just vanished.

By then, more and more dark figures showed up, while hundreds upon hundreds of drones accompanied them, all moving in unison, in preparation for something. And, at their center, was that red eyed figure, who set it in motion.

[2:46s]

Small drones danced around him, their blue streaks of light shredding that aircraft into a lot of smaller pieces. The larger pieces fell onto the enforcers' heads, who couldn't even react properly because they were already too busy getting utterly shredded by the other swarms of drones. Besides that, spacetime itself seemed to have been thrown into chaos by those figures' blue-ish white powers, which ripped it apart with each wave of a hand.

It was, not mincing any words, a brutal massacre. Those who, just hours before, seemed impossible to overcome simply couldn't put up a bit of a fight against this group of walking Angels of Death. Their 'dominance' was so easily shattered in mere seconds.

During the onslaught, either by chance or accident, Michael met the leading figure's eyes. Those red eyes. He'd seen them before, on the news. Sometimes in praise; sometimes in condemnation. Regardless of which, the figure just pointed at a certain location, which the escapee identified as a possible safe haven for his group of escapees.

So, he then took the others, despite being still stunned by what they were seeing, to move and hide there. Time passed, although it felt much slower than before.

[2]

After the fighting died down, Michael & Co. came out of their hiding place. More and more slaves (?) were being gathered, by those dark/red figures, from all over the place. As were many of their 'masters' (?), or all those few who managed to survive. The rescued people were standing freely in an open area; the four-eyed aliens were bound on the dirty ground.

That dark figure, the same one who'd locked stares with Michael, appeared once again, in a way that gathered the crowd's attention, and began speaking to them.

"Today marks the end of Logasiri. This slave colony is no more, for today each and every one of you goes free." The figure proclaimed, in english and then an alien tongue. Many of these newly freed people, especially the children who'd grown into slavery, had no idea what those words really meant. "You're now free to go wherever you want, to live your life as you wish, and with dignity. These scum, these parasites on the ground, are also yours to do with as you wish."

They simply couldn't comprehend what he suggested. So, they just stared at their (former) 'masters' pitiful situation.

Their condition in the real world had changed, turning around completely, but reality in their minds hadn't managed to keep up yet. Their oppressors laid helpless at their feet, yet they still couldn't muster any thought of rebellion.

"These scum have stolen your freedom, your health, your past, your dignity, maybe even your loved ones… Why do you hesitate?" The figure asked, his red eye sockets almost digging deep within their souls, while moving closer to them. "Are you afraid of retaliation? There will be none. Or is it because of some dubious moral belief?"

Squeezing his fists, Michael felt a rage building up inside of him with each question asked. Furthermore, he was not completely alive in that feeling. However, that fire was soon – and almost completely – put out…

"Hahaha… Those things aren't people; they're just docile cattle… They'll never raise their hands against their masters." One of the four-aliens dared to speak up at the moment, and in a mocking tone no less.

It was none other than The Bastard, who it appears had managed to survive the previous onslaught by some rotten luck. His venomous words were like daggers piercing the hearts of the former slaves. Some of them lowered their heads, in subconscious acceptance.

But the dark figure didn't even acknowledge those words, for he simply raised his right fist and aimed it at the four-eyed alien's jaw. Crack! And a muffled scream. With a simple, but violent punch, he took away The Bastard's voice, just like he'd taken theirs.

"Fuck that! To fight back, to hit back is a historical right of the oppressed. Let none take that away from you, least of all yourselves." He added. "And never confuse the reaction of the oppressed with the violence of the oppressors. Your revenge against these slaver scum wouldn't be comparable to their violence even if you were to tear them apart. So… have at them!"

The dark figure threw The Bastard right before the crowd, forcing him down on the ground, while the other 'masters' were also forcefully pinned down.

Tracing the scars on his son's back, Michael hesitated briefly, thinking about what the alien had done, but long enough for the asari from earlier to make a move first. He stood still to see what she'd do. In fact, everyone did.

Click. Click. Click. One unsteady step at a time, a rock in hand, the blue asari approached. When she was standing over him, she raised said rock, screamed at the top of her lungs "AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!" and smashed it down at The Bastard's face. Again. And again. And again!

Then, taking a brief break, she raised the rock once more, aimed it at his crotch this time and, with another loud shout, smashed it down with hatred. Again and again. Until no more muffled screams could be heard from The Bastard. Her actions sparked a reaction from a large portion of the freed slaves, who were also inspired to their own revenge.

During the whole process, the black/red armored figures did nothing; they simply watched. The crowd didn't know it, but it had nothing to do with any sadistic feelings. Those slavers were already marked for death, so they just wanted to have that mean something; to help break the lingering chains nestled inside the former slaves' minds.

A considerable portion of these dark armored figures were once slaves. Now they fought to free others, in more aspects than what could be seen at surface level.

When it was all over, the leading figure took center stage again, grabbing their attention.

"You now have a choice; a real one, perhaps for the first time in your whole life." He didn't mince words when gathering the crowd's attention. "You can choose to go back to your life, and we'll help with that, or… you can come with us, to build a completely new one, filled with new possibilities, in a safe and distant place."

The liberated people, from now on forever changed by everything they experienced, began seriously thinking about that choice. Curiously, or not, only those who didn't participate in the previous event chose to go back to their old life. No one chided or judged them. It was their decision to make after all. As for Michael, he recalled what he'd been told about that red eyed figure…

The Commander of Hell's Angels. Legendary Mercenary. Rescuer of Teltin. Hero of Azuke. Savior of Torfan.

The Devil of the Terminus.

If anything, it was rather appropriate. For many people and groups, none of them the type one would associate with the word 'good', he was a devil; one that inspired fear. Regarding this devil's choice, Michael would no longer hesitate. That 'amazing' colony life they'd been promised had turned into a nightmare. And they had nothing to go back to on Earth.

They should have something to look forward to by following those who inspired fear in the hearts of the 'powerful'.


Arcadia System's Gate Transit Hub. Half a day later.

Michael and his son stood on a large space station that was located in the middle of much larger stations. Together with them were those liberated people who chose a new life, now all cleaned up, properly clothed, well fed and feeling like people again. On their way there, they witnessed many miracles. The first one was all of their injuries being healed, including those caused by the 'slave control chips', which had also been removed. The second one was how they didn't need to sleep on the ground, or eat a disgusting gruel, or be forced to do slave work, suffering every single minute of it, or do anything at all.

In a few words, they were free.

[3]

But another miracle, of a very different kind, was right outside the window…

"Dad, is that the Citadel?" Matthew asked, pointing outside with a renewed curiosity.

"I-, I'm not sure. I guess so…?" Michael replied, unsure. But then… wasn't there only one? He asked himself.

"Is that where we're going to live?" His son questioned, looking him in the eyes.

"I don't think so." Michael answered, this time with more certainty. "Places like that are only for rich and important people. Come, let's keep moving."

They followed the rest of the group, who were led by a guide to a registration office. After a quick 'check-in', they were then taken to a large room that was filled with a lot of… 'portals' (?), with many different 'worlds' depicted inside of them. Michael thought it was something straight out of sci-fi stories, sort of like wormholes.

The guide led them to one of those 'Gates', as they were called, going first. His son wasn't any less daring, following right after.

"Woooaahhh… This is so trippy!" Matthew exclaimed, in innocent wonder, as they walked through the Gate's metallic ramp/path.

A wormhole! Michael shouted in his mind. He wasn't going crazy after all. That was a real wormhole! Nope, this was definitely not the Citadel. Where had they gotten themselves in?

They arrived at another location, an open area inside of one of those massive stations, in what felt like an instant.

At that moment, while his group were still processing what they'd just experienced, they all heard a gentle woman's voice…

"Welcome to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon."

"For your safety, please use the designated zero gravity recreation areas. Trans-wall habitat jumping is not only dangerous for you, but for others as well."

"Sunrise will be delayed by another half an hour as crews led by our Glorious DS Overlords finish repairs on the Star's track."

At once, they were stupefied by those words. Or, at least, they'd be if their attention wasn't entirely grabbed by what they were seeing. Despite being 'night', many organic-like lights illuminated a vast and beautiful city, painting a fantasy-esque image that perfectly melded nature with futurism. All in all, it had hints of a solarpunk aesthetic to it, while still keeping a foot firmly planted on realism.

The guide shook them awake from the revelry and then they resumed their journey, taking a ride on this place's public transportation, which allowed them to take in the sights of this environment. A few minutes later, the people were led to an 'Administrative Office', where they registered themselves, a process that took a while since they had to do so basically from scratch, and received a new identification as well as an Omni-tool.

Coming out of there after the process was finished, the duo saw the 'Sun' rise. They saw it for the first time in a long time. And then they just stood there for a good few seconds, until that moment was interrupted by an unexpected company…

"Hello, I'm E.E.V., your temporarily assigned DS relocation assistant." A floating drone said in a woman's voice while hovering in front of them.

Michael, being the engineer that he still remembered he was, guessed that someone was controlling this drone remotely.

"Hi, I'm Michael and this is my son, Matthew. These are our new IDs." He replied.

"Let me see… Everything's already settled. Follow me." The drone responded very fast.

Taking a ride once again, they were taken to a new section of the city, which could be seen by the fact that it was clearly still under construction. But there were already plenty of large buildings already finished, such as some apartment blocks. One of those just so happened to be their destination.

It was a large and wide building, with many public places within it for leisure, like a shared park, swimming pool, playgrounds, benches and tables, growing trees, running tracks and so on. It also contained a lot of apartments. The duo were then led to one of those, which had smooth wooden floors, two rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, soft beds and all the basic utilities of a proper home.

After checking everything out almost in a daze, Michael gathered the courage to speak.

"Sorry, but we can't afford it. We don't have any money with us." He said, apologizing with a defeated tone, remembering their current situation.

"Ah, that's not a problem at all. You don't need to pay any rent or anything; at least not for a while." The drone revealed.

"What? You're just going to let us live here?" He exclaimed with widened eyes.

"Of course! How would you start your new life without a shelter, a place to call home? Did you think you'd have to live on the streets?" Inquired the floating drone. Michael opened his mouth, but no words came out. He had no response. "Where's the logic in that, right? Still, you'll have to visit the main office again later and register for a job, but that's secondary. For now, you guys should rest, ok?"

The drone spun around mid-air, then spoke again: "Well, this apartment's digital keys are already stored in your Omni-tool. My contact's also there. I'll be going now, bye bye."

In silence, he simply watched it go away. Both father and son did, in fact, before looking at each other while being completely lost at their reversed fates. Almost mechanically, they proceeded to tidy up the place, slowly recalling how having a home was like.

With it done, and after having a snack as well as taking a good shower, they laid down on the main room's family-sized bed, the most comfortable one they'd ever had, hugging each other like they'd gotten used to. Like that, they soon fell into a deep sleep.

[3]

Immersed in happy dreams, only now did they finally feel free.


Tortuga. Nemean Abyss. Days later.

Bang! Crack x25. BOOM!

Distant sounds of gunfire, rifle bursts and an exploding grenade blended in the background as Charn walked the streets of Tortuga's largest city. This was a place for pirates, thieves, smugglers and slavers to drink, boast and barter. Oftentimes, to settle personal issues as well, like the batarian's ears had just confirmed. After the Torfan Disgrace and subsequent human military campaigns, they'd been reduced to hiding in the Nemean Abyss.

The Abyss. It was the Terminus of the Terminus, located more or less in the Ass End of Nowhere, straight past No Safe Passage, but before Dark Space. A region of space further away from the jurisdiction of the Citadel Council than even the – decreasingly – anarchistic Terminus. And they had moved there because their amazing leader, Balak, had a growing paranoia about the Terminus, as if everything was spying on them.

As a lawless region that's populated mostly by pirates, mercenaries and bounty hunters, with a sizable batarian presence, it made Charn feel right at home. Being the darkest part of the galaxy didn't matter at all. In any case, the fact that humans rarely ventured into the region, save for a few scattered colonies looking to escape the overview of the Systems Alliance, was a plus to him.

Charn paused while navigating between street alleys. And so did the… honorable guests following him, who were the representatives of some powers in the Terminus. Not too soon after, they saw what caused the batarian to halt his steps. A pile of bodies on the ground, results of a fierce battle, while a bunch of 'security officers' were bagging them – or more like looting. No wonder it was said Tortuga was more heavily guarded than Bekke. Those guards showed up even before the bodies grew cold.

The batarian showed himself, as well as his affiliations, and then called his guests to follow again. They went on their way, arriving at a large compound shortly after, which was their temporary HQ in the region and where an important meeting would soon take place. Charn let the guests in and left alone towards the main office, where Balak usually stayed.

Arriving there, he was received by his amazing leader with a datapad straight to his face.

"Another one! They took down another one of our slave colonies." Balak spat at him.

Chen took the datapad and quickly scrolled through the information. Logasiri this time. No one ever dared hit so close to the core of their territory. And no wonder he was so angry.

"Boss, I've brought the last of our guests." Charn informed, hoping it'd calm him.

"Good. Very good. The time for our retribution is almost upon us. After suffering all these years at the hands of those blasted humans, we will…" Balak began going on one of his villain monologues, though less angry this time. Evidently, it had worked. "...now, lead the way."

"Yes sir." Charn replied, but not really paying attention.

They arrived at a large room in the compound that was filled with weapons stashes, what looked like military-grade hardware, and some very tall 'things', although no one could tell what they were, since all were covered by large pieces of cloth. Waiting for the duo were a selection of distinguished figures, such as…

Blood Pack's Garm, a 'freak of nature' who could regenerate even faster than most krogan.

Sillius Soddus, a turian with the largest fleet of pirates (currently) in the Terminus.

Kralla, an asari chosen to represent a large coalition of drug cartels/syndicates, including drug lords.

Aristos Linron, a salarian representing many businesses who'd lost something at Hell's Angels backers (Atlas Foundation), especially those from the arms industry.

Lira Speight, once Sonax's supreme commander, now a famous outlaw on the run, leading a large group of mercs (pirates) and representing an equally famous human smuggler.

And Ka'hairal Bhek'hett, Lord Admiral of the Batarian External Forces' Fleet, who brokered Balak's and the Hegemony's deal with the Collectors. Also, a member of the same house.

"There he is. You'd better have a good reason for gathering us all here, in the middle of nowhere." Garm demanded.

"Ah, gentlemen. Trust me, I've carefully chosen this place and every single individual here to launch a grand undertaking, one to right a lot of wrongs." He spoke. "But first, I believe proper introductions are in order. I'm Ka'hairal Balak, one of the Captains of the Batarian External Forces. At this moment, I speak not only for myself, but also for the Hegemony."

"That's in spite of your… growing failures, I should add." The Admiral interjected.

"That's… that's correct, Lord Bhek'hett." Balak admitted, almost deflating completely from his prior arrogance. His current position was 'earned' only due to a deal successfully struck with the Collectors. Also, because most of his colleagues were dead. "But no more. No more will we, who should've been dominating every single System of the Terminus, and the Traverse too as is our right, have to scurry under these damned newcomers' shadows."

They couldn't tell if he was speaking about their factions or actually just about the Batarian Hegemony. To be honest, they didn't really care either way.

"Newcomers? So that's what this is all about, the humans? Or are you after Hell's Angels?" Garm questioned. Lira's eyes twitched.

"Yes, that's right. One of our goals is to cripple that damned PMC for good! They've been a major thorn in our side, I mean all of us, for too long." He immediately answered.

"And how, suppose we want to join you, are we going to do that, exactly?" Asked the asari.

"It's simple, really." Balak said. "For starters, we're going to kill their blasted Commander."

Silence. Complete silence for a moment. They just stared at him like he was insane.

"And what in the fucking fuck is simple about that?!" The turian spoke in an outburst. "Half of the people here didn't ever get a shot at it. The other half can't be here 'cause they did and they're fucking dead."

"More importantly, what makes you think anyone here, other than my clients of course, would want to antagonize them?" Inquired the salarian, making his interested stance clear.

"Why? Because every single one of you has a score to settle with Hell's Angels, whether you know it or not." He stated, before pointing at them one by one. "They killed a Spectre and blamed his death on the Blood Pack; they plan on copying what they did in Torfan on the Terminus; their backer is behind those new softer drugs which are already causing a lot of problems to your drug cartels and syndicates; and you, human woman, it was their connections, particularly their relationship with Liara T'Soni, that you should blame for your current fate. If that wasn't enough, there's still the fact that every place they conquered has made your line of business simply impossible. Need I say more?"

"Are those true?" Asked Garm, staring intensely at the batarian. The others did the same.

"It is correct. I can show all the evidence we've gathered to you later, if you want." Added Bhek'hett. "The Hegemony's Intelligence Department is the best in the galaxy, after all."

They rolled their eyes at the last bit, but were very interested in that intel nonetheless.

"Ok, I'm in." Garm said, pointing at Balak. "But, after we're done, you'd better help me deal with that old fossil that's been causing my Blood Pack trouble."

"Good. It's a done deal then." Balak said.

"Me too. I can get us some exotic guns." Lira offered. "I'm in touch with a smuggler named Donovan Hock, from Bekenstein. His accent is shit, but the weapons are good."

The others also signaled their interest in the objective, though with less enthusiasm.

"Wait a moment. You still haven't told us something. What makes you think we can pull this off?" Asked the asari, ever the careful species.

"Where's my confidence coming from, you mean? The fact we'd make the largest alliance in the Terminus to date, the fact that the Hegemony is getting serious about this threat; but, more importantly…" Balak dragged his words, preparing to pull the cloths covering/hiding those tall 'things', then exclaimed: "THIS!"

The crowd began raising their heads to look up… then, they raised them some more, and again, until they finally managed to register what they were seeing.

It was tall. Much taller than any YMIR mech. It was also heavily armored, way more than a heavy tank or mech, carrying a shitload of weapons systems and was quite alien in design; almost insect-like in some small details.

This was just one of the results of Balak's 'hard work' of many months. What he'd attacked human colonies for; what he'd agreed to collect Angels' gene samples for; and so on.

"Now, any more doubts? Or can we begin?" He asked rhetorically.


Media Reviews


[Marvel Cinematic Universe]

Drell Vid Reviews

Revisiting these overarching human vids now with a "panoramic view", though I didn't write a review during the first sitting, has made me note two interesting things about it.

For one, life in the Marvel Universe isn't pleasant at all, at least not for the average human living on their homeworld. After all, what do you have to look forward to? Villains and/or monsters popping up all over the place, invading aliens, superheroes and powerful "gods" wreaking havoc in order to deal with them, a near-extinction event every year, sometimes involving the entire Universe... and I think I've already made my point. It's also a Universe where very little progress can be made.

But there's something else that caught my attention; something I could only notice after revisiting it more carefully, in the dreamworld, and getting a "feel" for the whole picture. I'm talking about its almost zealous, though subconscious, desire to defend the status quo. It's almost an explicit principle in the 'verse. Let me explain.

These vids, taken in collectively, paint the idea that we should not try to change our society at all, because it's already "the best it can be", while the only ones who can dictate how to operate the world are these "powerful" and/or "exceptional" individuals, as everyone else (normal people, aka the overwhelming majority) are deprived of their historical agency and protagonism. In fact, there's no "public" to exert its will upon the world; only three kinds of people: innocent victims, "fans" or unruly mobs.

Perhaps, some would argue, it wouldn't be such an issue if this world was a wonderful "paradise". As can be easily seen from Iron Man's origin story, it most certainly isn't one. Iron Man, as a superhero, is "born" when Tony Stark realizes that his corporation's weapons, which were supposedly meant to "protect the world", were instead being sold to terrorists. How does he deal with the issue (spoilers incoming)? By creating a superweapon of his own, going after said terrorists and destroying their Stark Industries' weapons, then later shuts down his company's weapons manufacturing division.

In essence, the solution to that story's conflict was an individualistic one, which dealt only with the immediate problem rather than unraveling the causal links behind its origin. Why did a terrorist group form in that part of the world? What were its goals? How did it acquire the weapons (money). How deep does said corruption go? What would it take to actually bring peace to said region? In other words, it never dares to go after the root causes of the problem. Thus, would Tony Stark's actions really solve the systemic problems plaguing his world? It's unlikely, as a market for weapons would still remain, whose demand would only end up being satisfied by someone else after Stark Industries' sudden shift.

And this is commonplace in this Universe. The superheroes are very passive, only reacting to threats when they've already materialized as an actual problem. In other words, they're always reactive; never active. Imagine what they could accomplish, how much better they could make their Universe, if they put their power and abilities to better use.

Moreover, when they do try anything remotely audacious to change the world, such as Iron Man's project named Ultron (in an exception that proves the rule kind of case), it ends very badly.

The villains, on the other hand, are the only revolutionary actors on stage, always plotting to reshape institutions or the world anew. However, this makes them "too radical", which is a term supposed to automatically render anything targeted by it unacceptable and off the table, because all that's acceptable for the status quo is slow, gradual, peaceful, "within the system", impotent reforms, which never really manage to fix anything at all and can always be rolled back in short notice. Then you'll have to start a costly uphill battle all over again. But, worse than that, the villains' "solutions" (if one can even call them that) always seem to involve a lot of indiscriminate killing of innocents, for some nebulous reason.

It's incredibly annoying when you notice that the villains are somewhat on "the right path", but then suddenly start murdering people at random just so that we, the audience, don't forget who the bad guy is. This isn't a mistake. Having the villain's methods always involve indiscriminate killing is a deliberate decision by the writers. It's almost as if they desire to associate the idea of change, any change, with evil – or with catastrophe.

The message is quite clear. Don't try to change anything. Things will only become worse.

So, what are we left with? Merely random, individual acts of "charity" by the superpowerful, who are the only ones with any agency. In truth, it's merely a denial of reality and an urge for simplistic and sensational solutions. The reality of life is that you can't deal with indirect actions with direct action. But this is endemic to superhero media, where it's all about the troubleshooting lone wolf finding trouble and shooting it right in the face!

Although it might make you feel good about it for a while, you can't fix systematic issues by finding a few bad individuals and punching them in the face. But it most definitely does feel good to watch.

[Eurobeat]

Asari Music Reviews

The first impression I had after getting acquainted with this old genre of human music was how well it went with driving, especially in high-speed routes. My subsequent realization was not to try that anymore. Not ever again. Seriously, don't try it! You're probably going to crash your skycar. I'm one to talk. I almost did.

[Eiffel 65 - Blue (Da Ba Dee)]

Salarian Music Reviews

This might sound crazy, but I think I just discovered the Asari Republics' national anthem. And it was made by humans ages ago!


Author's Notes


Hey, how's it going? As for me, I'm still practicing my favorite hobby: continuing being alive on this planet!

This chapter was done mostly for worldbuilding, especially about how the Atlas Foundation managed to reach its position in the galaxy over the years, despite facing the kind of fierce opposition that's expected from those whose interests clash with it.

There's only three reviews because the chapter got too long. If you want a few more, then check out the reviews for "Gladiator" in the "Chapter 28" of the fanfic "Mass Effect: Plan for the Galaxy", by bored peasant.

Now, let me add some extra info for you guys…

Regarding the Galaxy News Network bit, it's heavily inspired by the "Honest Government Ads" series, from the YT channel thejuicemedia. I'd recommend it for anyone who wants to have a laugh, but even more for Australians (and those who want to get an idea of what's going on there). Their sarcastic take on politics, elections, corporate/politicians' shitfuckery and related stuff is hilarious and I definitely did not marathon a lot of their videos (nope, not at all!). I think I've matched their kind of satire. Moving on...

If the slaves' treatment felt too fucked up to you, know that it didn't originate from my own imagination. By chance, I ended up reading John Locke's "On the Poor Law and Working Schools" (1697) and was inspired by it. What does that text say (and in what context)?

Well… the context is that he's talking to these "Lords", who'd probably never worked a day in their whole life, about the growing population of "idle vagabonds" (unemployed poor/beggars) on the UK and how its cause "can be nothing else but the relaxation of discipline and corruption of manners" – not, under any circunstance, the fault of all enclosure acts happening back then, which threw a lot of people out of their land and right into misery.

Then, to "fix" that, he began "humbly" proposing things such as any "idle" children from 03 to 14 years old should be "soundly whipped" and then sent to little concentration camp schools, I mean, working schools, and be forced to work like slaves. Yes, you've read that right. Three years old. And they'd be taken from their mothers, who would, as such, be "free" to slave away as well (for less pay than a man, of course)!

That's just a small part of that fucked up text; there's much more stuff on it. That's John Locke, I guess. Basically, considering that he owned stock in slave trading companies and even wrote laws in favor of it, a guy that would make a fine batarian. Now you know...

By the way, the housing policy in the Cylinders was inspired by the Housing First program, which was very successful in reducing Finland's homelessness, so it's definitely a solution they'd look into. If anything, because it's simple pragmatism.

Lastly, I've kinda decided to do 2-3 chapters detailing the end of the "Terminus Wars", so to speak. That's why it's taking a bit longer to finish the First Act.

Question(s) for my readers:

1) Would you like to see GNN's "Honest/Satirical News" more in the future?

2) What do you guys think about the subject of drugs in the Mass Effect Universe? What would you guys do about them and how? P.S.: Some of you guys misunderstood me. I'm asking about your opinions on how to face it as a "policy", not for personal use (which, for the MC, there will be none). For example, scyfly and unkiedeedah wrote interesting perspectives on it.

When is the next Chapter coming? When it's ready!