Disclaimer, all this belongs to bioware and bungie. I can't promise this story is good, I wrote most of this while away from the internet. The story won't really follow the events of mass effect. the basics will be there, but everything will be happening differently
Tali'Zorah nar Rayya found herself in a cramped maintenance shaft aboard an aging asari freighter, the Shantea. She had been hired as a mechanic by the captain, a relatively young asari named Lantea. Most of the crew tended to ignore her, and Tali liked it better that way. Most people she met greeted her with open suspicions and hostility, a little bit of loneliness she could get over.
The captain and the engineering crew were all generally nice, especially once they discovered her skill with starship technology. The rest of the crew not so much, it was obvious that most of them subscribed to the notion that all quarians were beggars and thieves, she was happy to generally stay out of their way, which was one reason she found herself crawling through one of the ship's maintenance shafts.
She had just removed the access panel covering one of the ship's VI cores. This particular VI was assigned to monitor the element zero core powering the ship. The freighter was old enough it didn't use a centralized VI to control its systems, and the hardware supporting the systems was prone to failure, no matter how many times she went in to fix them, they still managed to fail regularly. She was trying to get a connection soldered when she heard the intercom.
"Tali'Zorah, the captain wants to speak with you on the bridge."
She finished what she was doing as quickly as she could, hastily sealing the access panel behind her, and rushed up to the bridge. Along the way she passed a few of the asari crewmembers of the ship, and a few of their passengers, a research group headed by Dr. Liara T'soni. They were generally lounging about and slacking off, so different from the migrant fleet she had called home not six months ago. There were one or two turians in the mix, but they were in the definite minority.
Tali walked onto the bridge, most of the on duty crew were at their stations, though their attention seemed fixated on a small cluster of people standing around a display in the corner. She noted Liara T'soni and the captain among them. Tali walked up to the group, "Captain Lantea?"
The asari turned to face her, and waved her in closer, pointing to the display. It showed the results of a long range probe. The captain began talking, "We sent a probe ahead to our destination, the site of some supposed prothean artifacts. It's been returning some strange readings, I was wondering if you could clean up the data a bit."
"I'll have to look at, but I should be able to do something," Tali responded. She activated her omni tool and began to download the data to a personal OSD so she could properly analyze it. Tali tapped a few commands into the omni-tool. "Hmm… This might take a while, the probe seems to have malfunctioned, these readings don't seem right."
The captain smiled, "Take your time, we're still several hours from arriving in the system."
"Yes, I'll get to work," Tali mumbled out, her mind already in motion, trying to piece together the corrupted segments of data and make sense of the probe's scan.
She wandered back to her quarters near the engine room, working on the data the whole way. Once she got to the cramped closet like space, she activated a larger holographic display from her omnitool. A lot of the data appeared to be missing, corrupted from its transmission by FTL buoy; apparently there was a large amount of radiation in the target system. She finally managed to clean the data up enough that her omni-tool could interpret enough to make sense of it. The only device that seemed to work properly on the probe was the mineral scanner.
Apparently there was a large belt of titanium around the second planet, probably artificial. Limited energy readings came from the asteroid belt, of a strange type. Other unknown alloys were present in very limited numbers. Other than that, there wasn't much data from the probe.
Tali looked up at the clock, apparently she had been completely engrossed in her work, the projected ETA to the unknown system had come and gone. She nearly hit herself for her inattentiveness, and rushed to the bridge, hoping that she hadn't been too late to give the captain her findings.
Upon arriving at the command deck, she found the asari crew staring at the main monitor, the archeologist, Dr. T'soni, stood at the back of the bridge. Tali looked to the monitor as well.
"Keelah," she whispered under her breath. The screen displayed a video feed from one of the freighter's probes. A massive field of debris spread across the view, in front of a planet. The planet itself appeared wracked by storms. Every so often, a brief break in the clouds would show a devastated land, parts appeared to glow a dull red, overlapping craters covered other parts of the planet.
The number of ships and stations in orbit of the planet was mind boggling. Hundreds of wrecked craft circled the planet lazily.
The bridge was silent for several minutes, until finally the captain turned around to face the doctor. "So, what do you think? Are they prothean?"
"I am not sure, but, all my research does point to a violent event that wiped out the Protheans, I don't know we would have to look."
Tali took this opportunity to interrupt. "Um, I just completed my analysis of the first probe. Its scanners said that, debris field was made of titanium."
Liara brought her hand to her chin as if thinking, "Hmm… none of the dig sites I've visited suggest the Protheans used something as uh, mundane, as titanium."
"Well then who were they?" The captain asked no one in particular.
Tali asked herself the same question, saddened by the thought of a race apparently wiped out, just like what had nearly happened to her own race three hundred years ago. Then she realized something that sent a chill of fear through her spine.
"Captain, the debris, is recent."
Captain Lantea whipped around to face the quarian, "What!"
"Look at it, there's still small bits of junk, there's too much of it. All that would have fallen into the atmosphere within a few decades since it was first made. And think about the storms. If that planet was bombarded, those would have died down in even less time."
One of the crewwomen spoke up. "Well then, who did this? I've never heard of a planet so… destroyed, except during the krogan rebellions."
The captain turned back around to face the monitor, "It would probably be best not to be around, in case they come back."
Liara stepped forward. "But what about this species, maybe we should try and see if anything remains, bring it to the citadel, and warn them about whoever did this."
Lantea cupped her head in her hands, mulling it over. "Okay, we'll see if we can find an intact ship in that mess, see if we can salvage its databanks. After that though, we're getting the hell out of here, I don't want to be in this system one second longer than necessary."
John Shepard, XO of the prowler Midnight Dreary, stood in the middle of the CIC, looking over a representation of the Epsilon Eridani system. Former home to the military hub of the UNSC, Reach, now just a graveyard. The captain, and by extension the prowler and crew had been called from the battle for earth for something.
What that something was sparked equal parts hope and anger. The elites, the military leaders of the covenant, and those generally held responsible for the glassing of nearly a hundred colony worlds and reach itself, had apparently developed a guilty conscience. Now, after the slaughter of billions, they had finally realized their damn religion was false. As much as he hated the idea of working with such butchers, he knew they were truly earth's only chance at defeating the covenant for good.
Another quieter part of his mind hoped desperately for peace at last.
After nearly three days of waiting, something finally appeared in the holographic display. The "dumb" AI, Metis, in charge of the sophisticated suite of monitoring systems and plotting slipspace jumps, appeared. "Two contacts, covenant frigate and covenant CCS class battlecruiser at primary jump point."
Shepard gestured to the table, "Do we have any drones near the jump point?"
"Yes, drone two seven, and drone three three."
Shepard reached for his nearby helmet and sealed it to his ONI modified ODST armor. The rest of the crew in the CIC began to do the same.
Shepard keyed a button on the side of the holo-table. "Captain, two covenant contacts detected."
The intercom came to life, sounding general quarters across the ship. Orders came over the intercom, most of them from the operations officer, coordinating the actions of the dozens of crew. On a prowler, being such a small vessel, the XO generally stayed out of the operation of the ship unless the captain was incapacitated. His job was primarily to lead the ONI commando teams stationed aboard ship. In ship combat though, it was essentially his duty to sit around and watch the battle.
"Metis, bring up a visual from probe two seven." Shepard leaned in close to the holotable. An image of an empty starfield filled the screen.
"Bringing covenant vessels into view," The screen began to shift rapidly, the moving stars almost dizzying. Soon the familiar bulbous purple shape of a covenant frigate came in to view, along with the blue glow of covenant plasma torpedoes. Some of them curved off away from their target, others where struck by identical torpedoes fired from the frigate. The battlecruiser's shields flashed as a torpedo from the frigate splashed across its bow.
The AI's voice spoke up again, "Detecting UNSC IFF codes from covenant frigate."
Damn, thought Shepard, Why can't it ever be easy?
The prowler's heavily baffled engines came to life as it made its way towards the battle. Shepard felt the slight tug of acceleration over the artificial gravity.
Shepard watched the battle between the two covenant ships. He didn't know much about covenant ship to ship combat, but he knew the frigate was hideously outmatched by the CCS battlecruiser chasing it down. A second plasma torpedo hit the frigate and dropped its shields. A third curved around the ship, impossibly close, leaving an angry black burn across the frigate's hull. By this point the frigate had made it to the dubious safety of the orbital debris field.
His attention was drawn away from the battle by the intercom.
The captain's voice came over the speaker system, "Standby to retrieve phantom, Commander Shepard report with a security team two to the docking bay." Shepard made his way to the ship's armory. He met the on duty security team soon after leaving the CIC. Each one grabbed a SMG and a magnum from the ship's store. Each member of the team also grabbed two grenades, just in case the elites turned hostile.
"Okay people, remember, we aren't shooting the alien bastards today, we're making friends, so we can kill the prophets who started this war." With that short speech he and the squad polarized their visors and took up positions in the ship's small docking bay. A pelican took up space to one side. There was barely room for the expected phantom. Six members of his twelve man squad took up position on the upper catwalk; the others flanked him in the bay. They all had their SMGs pointed at the phantom as it came in to dock.
Shepard noticed plasma scoring across the dropship, even a crater in its armor that appeared to be from a rocket launcher. It also had a very… green… paintjob. The gravlift near the back lit up. A half dozen humans jumped down from the dropship, each one was armed, though some carried covenant weapons. Four of the six had bandages on various limbs. Evidence of some hard fought battle, wherever they had come from.
The next three to exit the gravlift made his finger twitch involuntarily to the trigger of his gun. A supreme effort of will kept him from actually firing; he found it miraculous that none of the other soldiers in the bay started shooting purely on reflex.
Three elites stood underneath the gravlift. None of them carried weapons in their hands, though they all had at least one in a magnetic holster at their sides.
Keyes walked up to Shepard, "Holster those weapons soldier."
"Yes, ma'am," Shepard replied and clipped his SMG to his side. He followed the lieutenant commander out of the hangar bay, followed by the other survivors, the elites, and finally the security team, who still had their weapons in hand and aimed at the hulking aliens.
They arrived on the bridge, where the captain was busy staring at a map of the debris field. Miranda walked up to the man and saluted, "Sir!"
Without looking up from the map the captain answered the commander. "At ease," He brought up an image of an orbital defense platform on the bridge holoprojector. "Commander, what do you know about the early model orbital defense platforms?"
"Captain, are you sure this is the right time? We need to get to earth, stop the covenant from activating the halo array."
"I am well aware of the stakes commander, but if we leave for earth now, it will be at least three days before we arrive in orbit. That covenant cruiser could make it back, glass the planet, and sit around waiting for us to arrive. We need to take it out before we leave." The ONI veteran fixed the much younger commander with a steel hard gaze which softened when she nodded in agreement, "Now, ODP number seven should still be relatively intact, if we can use its supplemental generators to build up a charge on the MAC, we can take out that cruiser in one shot."
"I volunteer for the mission sir," Shepard looked to his captain. He knew the mission would be dangerous, but it was exactly what ONI commandos trained for, a high risk boarding operation.
The captain nodded, "Good luck commander."
Tali stepped off the shuttle along with a few armed members of the Shantea's crew, and Dr. T'soni. The asari were dressed in hard suits, and carried a mish mash of weapons, a few assault rifles shotguns and SMGs. Dr. T'soni carried only a small pistol. Tali lifted her shotgun up to firing position, remembering all the pre-pilgrimage combat lessons. The magnetic clamps in her boots clicked as they attached to the deck. There was a distinct lack of air and gravity on the station.
The station was as big as a dreadnaught if not larger, and dominated by a huge, apparently hollow space in the center. Tali's personal theory was that it was some sort of primitive mass accelerator. The shuttle had docked in the middle habitation ring, in some sort of hangar, or cargo bay.
The bay was cavernous. Hookups for various craft of some kind littered the bay. Landing pads surrounded the sides; which gave evidence that the station had artificial gravity at some point.
Tali walked up to what might have been a maintenance airlock, something made to transfer small amounts of personnel in and out of the bay. A small non-holographic keypad sat to the side. She sighed, without a standard interface, hacking a ship's security system could be a real pain.
She removed the panel and found herself pleasantly surprised. It was a simple keypad, a small data cable left the device, but the locking mechanism was easily bypassed, and automatic systems kicked in, cycling the airlock.
The inner door opened, into a vacuum filled corridor, and the air that had been cycled in was promptly sucked back out. The corridor beyond was lit with a dull red glow. Tali guessed the red was emergency lighting, she knew that asari and turian vessels used the same colors in this situation.
The asari began heading down the corridor, looking around at their surroundings. The space station had seen some hard use, judging by the scuffed floor. The lens on one of the lighting strips was cracked. Tali and the asari crew would have walked right by, but the archaeologist stopped them.
"Stop for a minute. This wasn't smashed by some loading accident, it would have been replaced. It looks like someone did this on purpose." She looked around for a few minutes, while the rest of the group stood around awkwardly. "See?" Liara held up a small shard of plastic, from its rest position against a wall. "That would have been cleaned up if it happened before whatever attack wiped these people out."
One of the asari spoke up, "How the hell did you think of that?"
Liara seemed to act a lot more awkward answering the question, "Well, on a dig, attention to detail is an important skill. It's something I picked up at those prothean dig sites."
"So, what exactly does it tell us?" asked another asari, who seemed to have a too tight grip on her assault rifle and looked nervously around the corridor.
"Well, that I don't know exactly, there must be some reason."
Tali bent in close to the smashed light, and started pulling off the rest of the lens. "Looks like pretty typical LED strip lighting, there are still a few old looking capacitors here and there; the rest of it is solid state."
The asari all shrugged at that revelation.
"It's not much I know, but I don't think this tech is very advanced compared to citadel systems." Tali supplied helpfully.
The group set off again, looking for a computer system or something similar. It took them longer than normal to make their way through the space station, as every blast door was shut and sealed. Tali found what appeared to be a robust security system in place. Each time she bypassed a door her omnitool detected a detailed transmission being sent back to some unknown destination.
She stood up as the latest in a line of blast doors slid open and turned to voice her concerns to the rest of the group. Tali stopped as she noticed they all had surprised expressions on their face. Tali slowly turned around and was amazed at the sight that greeted her. She stepped over the threshold and found the pleasant pull of artificial gravity on the other side.
Plants lined various stairs and walkways through a large open park-like structure. A window showed a view of the starry sky. The central spire of the space station rose ominously into the distance. "Wow," Tali muttered under her breath, now slightly jealous of the extreme amount of room. If the fleet could retrofit this vessel with an FTL drive they could house thousands of quarians, hundreds in this room alone.
Tali put that thought out of her mind and continued around a corner. She almost threw up in her helmet at the sight. Bodies were strewn about. Several small alien figures lay in pools of faintly luminescent blue blood, their bodies torn apart. At the top of a flight of stairs another darkly armored body lay slumped against some sort of mounted weapon, dried rust colored blood coated the steps where it had flowed from the dead alien.
"By the goddess…" She heard Liara behind her, he turned around to try and avoid looking at the scene of carnage, only to see more blood splatters on the floor above. Tali closed her eyes and took several deep breaths.
She opened her eyes to see the asari doctor kneeling next to one of the little corpses.
"Tali, come here, tell me what you make of this."
Tali walked over hesitantly. The doctor was obviously a lot less squeamish about dead bodies; she turned one over on its side and removed a small device from its head.
Tali gingerly accepted whatever it was from the asari, and looked it over, trying not to think about where it came from. "It looks like some sort of rebreather, which would mean that these aliens didn't live on this station."
"Yeah that was my conclusion as well." Liara stood up and walked up the stair where the second kind of alien was slumped at his post.
This second one was roughly the same size as a quarian or asari; it was wearing some sort of heavy armor. Tali brought up her omnitool for a quick scan. What she found amazed her. The soldier's guns were all chemical based projectile weapons; there was no trace of element zero anywhere. She gave voice to something that had been bothering her since she came aboard. "There's no element zero whatsoever, anywhere in this whole station. How the hell did they have artificial gravity?"
One of the asari scoffed, "That's impossible, you have to have it wrong, every species discovered at least knew something about element zero."
Tali shot the asari a dirty look, she didn't know how much of it could be seen through her mask but the crewwoman got the message. "I'm not wrong, this whole station is the only thing that seems wrong, No element zero, but technology that needs Eezo to function. Dead bodies everywhere, but no sign of who did this, or any survivors."
Tali shuddered, "I don't like this."
Their communications lit up from the Shantea, "People, get back here now, two ships just entered the system, they look like dreadnaughts."
Panic started to set in, Tali started to run after the asari as they tried to hurry back to the ship. She started to fall behind, slowly but surely. By the time they got back to the bay she had fallen nearly twenty meters behind the others. They ran into the shuttle, ignoring their missing fellow.
All of them except one, the scientist stopped for a moment to look back. When she turned back she found the door to the shuttle shut in her face. Tali and Liara banged on the door but to no effect, the shuttle took off and sped out of the hangar bay.
Tali yelled out obscenities that would have made a krogan blush at the retreating shuttle. She stopped as the craft suddenly exploded.
Her eyes widened as an organic looking purple craft blew through the debris and began circling back around towards the hangar bay.
Liara was standing there, still dumbfounded by events, so Tali grabbed her arm and shouted at her, "Come on, let's get out of here!" That seemed to motivate the asari. They ran back towards the air lock. She felt rather than heard impacts of weapons fire around her. The two barely made it through the airlock, when it slammed shut behind them, and started cycling air in again. Only this time something was different, Tali couldn't quite place what it was.
"The gravity is on!" Liara exclaimed.
Tali nearly smacked herself for not noticing artificial gravity. She didn't have time though, she felt the door behind her start to heat up, and as soon as the inner door opened she broke into a sprint.
Liara spoke again between gasping for breath, "What… is going… on… here?"
Tali looked forward, noticing that some of the lights were now off and others where on. Doors that had been closed as they made their way through the ship were now open. An obvious path was being lit up for them, but why.
"Hold up." Tali stopped, the asari did as well. "How do we know this isn't some sort of sick trap laid by whoever killed these people? We could be being led into some sort of holding pen or something."
As she said that air started hissing into the station through several vents. "It feels like we're being herded somewhere."
She heard an alien sounding shriek behind her. Tali spun around, shotgun already in hand, and spotted two avian like aliens sprint around the corner. On spotting them she simply reacted, her shotgun blew a large hole in the chest of the first one. Her second shot bounced off some sort of hand held shield. The impact caused the predatory looking alien to stumble. A biotic shove courtesy of Liara sent it flying back into a bulkhead.
Other aliens soon came around the corner. About a half dozen of the little ones she had seen dead deeper in the station, and one towering alien, even larger than a Krogan. It seemed to be wearing some sort of heavy armor, and it yelled something and pointed at Liara and her.
Tali did the first thing that came to mind, she threw a tech mine at the group. The little ones seemed to cower in fear. The big one crouched down and yelled in anger.
The mine exploded, and to her surprise the big alien's armor seemed to fall apart and shatter, like mass effect based tech armor. It roared and charged forward on all fours. She shot it center of mass, barely slowing the monster down. The thing crushed one of the smaller aliens in its berserker charge. She jumped to the side at the last minute, it charged past her and skidded to a stop.
Liara shot it with her pistol, doing about as much good as her earlier shotgun blast. It turned around and prepared to charge again. Before it could, the door it was standing in slammed shut, crushing the creature. The little ones all fled in a panic, throwing their arms about and screaming in high pitched voices.
Tali looked at the bloodstained door, now open and revealing a lit corridor, obviously beckoning them to continue. Deep growls and barks could be heard from where the aliens had come from.
Liara gestured to the open door, "Better than sticking around waiting for more of those things…"
"We might as well." Tali said and began running down the open corridor. "I feel like I'm in a damn horror vid."
Tali could have sworn she heard laughter from down the corridor at that statement.