Chapter 2 New Neighbors
Turian cargo freighter, Li' Velum
Open Space, Tgyreas (Exodus) Cluster, 2559 GS (Galactic Standard), 298 AE (After Exodus)
It was cramp, dark and full of cobwebs.
Exactly what you would expect inside of a maintenance shaft of an old cargo ship that hasn't been totally sterilized.
But this was of no major concern for the Quarian making her way to the access panel along the shaft.
"There you are." She spotted her goal just four feet away on the right side of the duct. She filled the gap with the ease of one who has crawled on her belly through tight spaces a great many times throughout their life.
Shifting her pose so her back leaned against the opposite wall opposed to the floor giving her better use of both her arms, she turned the manual release switch and pried the panel lid off to the side.
One look inside gave her a good idea what the problem was, but you can never be sure on sight alone.
She activated the device mounted on her wrist and a hologram encompassed her hand and forearm.
She typed in some commands on the projection and the omni-tool started scanning the panel.
"Power conduit cracked. Shorted out almost half of the circuit relays and distribution systems" she read the analysis as they appeared on her tools holo-screen before reaching into one of the many pocket that adorn her enviro-suit. She took out the fabricator module of her omni-tool along with some scrap computer parts and items as well as some omni-gel and extra tools.
"Lets see if I can work around that" she said with a hint of child like excitement in her voice.
After a short time and using up a number of scrap, second-rate microframe circuits, and omni-gel, she was done. The finished product wasn't a pretty sight to other engineers but Quarians prefer function over fashion any day.
"Now lets see if that did it" she turned on her comm set, "Lemm, I've finished patching up my end. You can start transferring some power now."
"Understood, Tali. I'll start rerouting the power slowly just in case."
Tali turned her attention back to the diagnosis screen of her omni-tool still displaying the live readout of the field distribution grid as slowly power started returning to it.
"Power is up 25%. How's your patch up holding up, Tali."
"No ruptures or complication. Bring it up to 40" she asked as she examined the readout with a fine eye for the littlest of problems.
It was slow but soon power was flowing regularly and Tali packed up her tools and crawled her way out the shaft.
A friendly hand greeted her of which she gladly accepted. "Thanks, Lia."
Lia handed her a datapad, "Engine parts are holding up nicely. So long as they don't go through too much stress we'll have no problem."
"I'm not so confidant of that. Considering we salvaged most of those parts from Korlus." Lemm said as he walked up, him own datapad in hand.
"One of the probes found a nearby system that hasn't been documented on any star charts. The distance is no strain on our fuel reserves. Its only 6 hours away. Might be worth a look."
Tali took the pad, scrolling through the contents. "Sounds like it could be worthwhile. An uncharted system means the resources are free to claim, and that can go a long way for the fleet."
"Assuming the Council doesn't get wind of it and come up with an excuse to kick us out." Lia practically hiss out.
"Either way, lets check it out but go at 70% power. Better not put too much strain on this old ship."
Medical Bay, Frigate Shenlong
Along the coast of City Ruins former seaport
Consciousness slowly crawled back to him. And with it came a small, throbbing pain in his head.
"Doctor Chakwas! He's waking up!"
That didn't help. He slow worked his upper body up to a vertical position. The pain in his head is fading.
"Easy there Colonel, you had us all worried there."
When he finally muster the will to open his eyes he saw his chief medical officer inspecting him, her hand gently on his shoulder slowing his rise.
"How do you feel?" asked the doctor.
Ever slowly he shook his head, fighting off the left-over pain inside, "Like I went toe-to-toe against a full sized Zentradi, uhh, and without a mech. What happen to me, doc?"
"I don't know. Whatever the device did caused a lost of consciousness when it released you. You've been out for almost 9 hours" she said in a soft, informative voice like that of many doctors when giving prognosis to a patient.
"I don't think we'll ever know what exactly happened" came in Conner, "When I got to you, the device was no longer glowing. Musta' used up whatever juice it had left."
"Is there anything wrong with him, Doctor" inquired Kat standing next to Beckett.
"Physically, he's the same. But its not the body that has me concern, its the mind" her face an example of curiosity and concern.
"Not big on this kind of suspense, doc. Just tell me whats wrong" Shepard kept his voice respectful but there was the 'don't sugar coat it' tone underneath.
Chakwas let out a small sigh before she made her way to her computer and typed down some keys. The mounted screen on the center of the wall came on displaying an EEG readout of one 'Shepard, J.'
"This is your EEG readout from the medical exams done three weeks ago, sir" a few clicks on the console and a second EEG readout appeared next to the first, "And this are the readings recorded by your EX-Gear."
"They look the same" commented the rookie pilot.
"Just wait" was all the doctor said.
After a few short seconds, the latest displayed EEG readings went completely crazy. The waves that represented brain activity moved at a constant, steady rhythm before suddenly moving up and down at high speeds filling their respected graphs almost entirely.
As quickly as it began, the readings returned back to what looked to them as normal as compared to the first readout. With one that appeared more active than its counterpart.
Shepard, Kat and Conner passed stares at each other, the screen and finally Chakwas.
"So what was that; a ten on the Richter scale" that retort earned Conner a swift smack to the back of the head by Kat, "Oww... I was just trying to lighten the tension."
Her face was one of exasperation but she couldn't help but let out a small scoff of enjoyment. She even saw the Colonel let out a small chuckle and Chakwas looked amused as well.
"Idiot jokes aside, what exactly did that mean, Doctor?" she asked returning to the matter at hand.
"Guessing that was my brain during whatever the device was doing to me" Shepard said.
"Precisely. Activity has returned back to normal after the ordeal, with the exception of elevated beta waves. There was also rapid eye movement I noticed while examining you. All these are typical signs of intensive dreaming."
Chakwas leaned forward on her table, elbows resting on, fingers interlocked and a look that had worry and curiosity in one. "I have a hypothesis but I'd rather hear what you can recall. What were you dreaming about, Colonel?"
He remained seated on the bed, staring intently down at the floor, trying to make sense of what he saw.
"It's difficult to... I saw people, aliens, screaming, dying. There were machines... mixed or bonded with flesh. Ah, whatever that thing burned into my mind it's too fragmented to describe anything coherent" Shepard said rather displeased with himself.
The three other occupants stood silent as they passed stares their CO and each other.
"I'll have to add this to my report. We will need to run the appropriate medical test when we return to the fleet, perhaps even sound thera.." the whoosh sound of the door interrupted her.
XO Taggart walked in with a spry in his steps, "Colonel. How you holding up, sir" his voice alert but professional.
"He's fine as far as I can tell, Keller" answered the Doc in the CO stead. "Though I'm making an appointment for when we rejoin the fleet."
"Well since the commotion has past, I'm heading for my quarters. Being SMS is no excuse for my academy life" said Conner as he left the med bay.
"Get well, Colonel" with that and a wave Kat followed the exit.
"I'll leave you gentleman be, then" Chakwas moved to her small office, closing the door to give the two their privacy.
Finally off the med-bed, Shepard could now feel the slow, constant swaying of the ship.
"We're not in orbit, are we Tag?"
"Resting along the coast of the city, sir."
"So whats been happening during my nap?"
Kellar handed the datapad he's been holding to the Colonel.
"We've been ordered by the fleet to say put but not disturb the ruins any further than we already have.
"That's a three day wait."
"They were quite adamant."
"Of course they were." he said with sarcasm before looking through the PAD. Both began walking to the elevator.
"Kaiden brought some samples of that new element aboard. He and Mochigi must be having a grand time in their little lab. Nothings blown up yet, right?" his question was laced with both concern and humor.
"It passed every form of screening we could perform so we're fairly certain it won't blow up on us."
"Are you forgetting who is examining it? I'm sure they'll find a way. Even if it should be scientifically impossible."
Taggart gave a look that says he understands and that he's actually waiting for what has to be the inevitable. He regained his more professional demeanor before continuing, "They did make an 'astounding' discovery, as they quaintly put it, in their testings. Page 21 on the PAD."
Shepard scrolled through till he found the entry. "DARK ENERGY?" he shouted, "That substance generates dark energy. As in the theoretical energy that-"
"-That expands the universe. That's what they believe it is. At least that the closest analogue they can compare it to. Not like we have previous experience with dark energy to compare note."
"So they don't really know what the energy is."
"They can not confirm or deny the possibility that the substance generates dark energy."
'So they don't know.' They arrived at the elevator. When the doors closed, Shepard continued"We made history now, didn't we."
"We discovered an ancient city of a completely alien civilization and a new element that can generate dark energy -supposedly- which could have who knows what kind of potential and it hasn't been a full day. This will go down in the books, sir."
"And there won't be any mention of us in those book."
"Such is the fate of SMS. No official recognition."
They both let out a small sigh of solemn.
"I'll check on what our resident mad scientists are doing myself. Save the ship from an accidental explosion. Again."
"Better hurry then, sir."
The elevator doors open to the hanger deck and Shepard headed to the 'lab' in a jog.
On the Bridge
"Remind me again why we have to wait here for the fleet" Ariel Show had her head resting on her open palms, elbows up on the control panel, a pout on her face.
"Orders from the client. 'Stay put until we arrived', that's what they said" replied Cassandra, eyes never veered off the book in her hands.
"Its not like the planet is going anywhere. What do they think? That a bunch of pirates are gonna show up?" Ariel raised both arms high in the air, stretching out the kinks formed from hours behind the computer. "They won't even let us look around the ruins anymore. I didn't even bring anything to do on board."
Cassandra let a sigh escape at her friends childish whining, "I brought plenty of books with me. I can lend you one to read."
Ariel winced in fear before giving a soft chuckle, "Thanks but I'll pass. I don't think my poor brain can handle what you consider literature."
"Why don't you join Lilian in the lounge if your bored. You don't have ta wallow around the bridge if you don't want to. Its getting annoying personally." said Joker, still at his post.
Ariel gave him a sour look at that comment, "Fine. Here I thought I could keep you guys compa-" she stopped her retort when a chime came from the computer.
Roa put down the book and looked at her monitor, "Surveillance satellite-one picking up an object on approach at faster than light speeds", she scrolled through the readings, a look of scrutiny forming as she did, "That's impossible."
"Please tell me that doesn't mean something bad." asked Joker.
Her mouth open, then closed, then open again after coming up with the right words, "According to what I'm reading the object is moving at speeds of over 8 light-years per day."
"That pretty slow for a fold" commented Ariel her focus return.
"Its not in Fold. Its moving in real space. And it just slowed down, now moving at speeds of 335,000 km a minute" Roa read off the screen at shock at the number. The object, obviously a ship, is moving faster than any known ship or fighter in history.
Show put the comm-link back in place and sounded the alert, "Attention all hand, attention all hands. Unidentified object has entered the system moving at high speed. I repeat, unidentified object entered the system moving at high speed. All remaining staff report to the bridge..."
Colonel Shepard, XO Taggart, and Sens-Op Hood came through the door.
"Sit-rep" Shepard called out, now seated in his chair.
"Ship of unknown profile entered our senor range moving at faster than light speeds in real space, sir." Roa put emphasis on that last part.
"It didn't go through Fold?" Shepard was dumbfounded. Understandable.
"There's no sign of anything coming out of or ever being in Superdimension Space since our exit. Once the ship neared the systems vicinity, slowed to speeds of three thirty-five thousand kilometers a minute." she continued.
"How the hell is that even possible?" demanded the jealous pilot, "At those speeds, the g-forces would turn any living being into paste on the back end of the wall."
"Inertial dampening technology. That's the only explanation. Decades ahead of anything we've got." The look on Tag's face was a mask of worry and ecstatic.
Something big has just been dropped on their collective laps.
"We got ourselves a first contact scenario" mumbled Shepard, "Is the ship heading here?"
"It is now in orbit above this planet. Over 20,000 km above the exosphere." Hood reported.
"Damn! That ship is fast." quipped Joker.
Which Shepard expertly ignored. "Is the satellite we deployed in range of it."
"Bringing up the feed now."
The main screen came on displaying high orbit of the planet. The mystery ship dead center. Right off the bat it was clear that it didn't resemble any known design with its sharp angles and predatory look. It is small, smaller than their frigate. The main thing that came to the Colonel's mind is it didn't look like a warship.
"Ship's dimensions are 38-22-17 approximately. By it's design and profile, high probability its a transport ship, cargo freighter most likely." stated Show.
"There scanning the surface. Detecting radar, LADAR and thermographic emissions." said Hood.
'Radar and LADAR?' thought Shepard, "Any chance they can pick us up."
"Though powerful, they're not able to see through our passive system especially with most of the ship submerged. But that not all, sir. I getting readings of some sort of distortion field around the ship. It unlike any on record."
On the screen they saw the ship make a decent toward the planets.
"Give me an estimate on where its gonna land." the Colonel asked.
"By its decent vector and speed, estimate landing point is half a mile outside the city, north by northeast."
Prothean Ruins (outskirts), Li' Velum
"Keelah" Tali stood looking out from the open cargo bay at the city horizon. It was already pass midday on this side of the planet but the sun remained high in the sky and would for about five hours.
It sight looked so majestic that it almost made her forget the city she was looking at wasn't suffering from millenniums of disarray.
"We just hit the proverbial jackpot." To her left came Seeto, his new vid recorder out and aimed at the same horizon. "This planet has given us a way to finish each of our pilgrimage. Can you imagine what the Asari or the Salarians would pay the fleet for the location of a never before disturbed Prothean city."
Tali couldn't help but smile, at Seeto high enthusiasm and the prospect of what he said. New Live Ships, chance for appropriate repairs on their ships, resources, medicine. All would seem like a steal to the two races, especially the Salarians. Their entire species would race at the chance to study what secrets lurked in these ruins.
"Don't get too hopeful there Seeto." Kenn came up next to Seeto. "Its an invitation for despair. And put that away. You'll have all the time to use it once we're off."
"Come on, you bosh'tet! Start."
"If Lemm can get the truck started, that is."
They turned to see the man in question frantically trying to start the skytruck. With little success.
"Oh come on! Lia, how in blazes do you always start this thing?" Lemm asked the Quarian standing next to the truck, arms cross as if waiting for her moment.
"Its quite simple, Lemm." she said as a matter-of-fact like before walking up to the front of the vehicle and kick it in its underside. Almost immediately the ship let out its humm of life. "You just got to have the right touch."
Though his expression is concealed behind his helmet, his posture spoke for Lemm just the same.
"Alright, enough with the showing off. Lets get on with exploring the city." Tali told the group and one by one the team got on the truck bed. "Your sure your fine staying aboard, Lia?" she asked the only other female aboard.
"I have thing to keep me occupied aboard. So I don't mind." her tone shift to one of concern, "And I don't mind keeping Veetor company."
Tali gave a nod in understanding and made her way to the passenger seat of the truck. "Keep the radio channel open. We'll update you as we go."
Lemm pushed the acceleration and the skytruck was out of the cargo bay.
Seven minutes later, North side of Prothean city
"This is good. Stop here, Lemm."
When it came to a stop, Tali and Seeto jumped out the truck.
"We'll go west from here and look around. Lets meet up at the largest tower in three hours."
"Be careful, Tali. This place might be home to who knows what wild animals."
"Thanks for your concern, Kenn. But I think I can handle myself." she pulled out her shotgun to get the point across.
"I don't doubt that, but I can't say the same for others." he moved his head away from her gaze, to which she followed. Seeto was moving back and forth, recorder in hand, documenting whatever he could.
"Despite appearance, Seeto can handle himself also."
"I'll take your word for it. Lets go Lemm."
Lemm and Kenn soon disappear as they went down south of the street.
"Lets get going, Seeto." she called out.
"You know I'm more worried about a building falling on us than some wild animals on the hunt." the youngest member informed.
"Not really a comforting thought, you know." she retort as they both walk down the street.
Shenlong, Bridge, one hour later.
"Looks like this auditorium could house over a thousand spectators during its prime."
"Wonder what Prothean plays were like?"
"Let the anthropologists figure that out, Kenn. You two are close to where we detected a large catch of refined eezo. Check out what you can find."
"Keelah. Just thinking of what remnant technology could be left intact here... I wish we could do some digging for them."
"We all want that, Tali."
"Wants to see the city."
"We'll give him the chance soon."
"Wish I had time to finish that up-link function for my recorder."
"Yeah, so do I, pal. Perfect excuse to brew up some popcorn." Joker's quip earned him some small chuckles from the bridge crew.
For the past hour or so, the crew of the Shenlong have been listening these 'Quarians' conversation. It didn't prove all that difficult to tap in the channel. According to Cassandra, deciphering the computer language was easy, it was cracking the encryption where the challenge was. 'Like a work of art' she described it. A hell of a complement coming from her.
Next step was building a proper translation program which, again, didn't take very long considering they've been very talkative.
"They sound like kids on a benign adventure." said Keller with a small smile.
"What do you suppose the 'Migrant Fleet' is?" asked Show.
"Colonization Fleet?" said Hood.
"Sure doesn't sound like one" injected the Colonel.
They've learn quite a lot cause of their eavesdropping. Like the fact that the Quarians are in contact with a small number of other alien races. This was going in the history books for sure and Shepard will make sure it mentions how it was SMS who made this happen.
"I believe its time we introduce ourselves."
Everyone in the bridge turned in unison towards the Colonel.
"Now, sir. Shouldn't we wait until they-"
"I didn't mean this instant, Tag. We wait till their back in their ship where they will feel more secure." he gave the XO a cocky smile, "Is that what you where going to say?"
Prothean Ruins, Team 1
"Watch your step, Seeto. You trip and your recorder hits the ground hard." Tali tired to reason with the young one in her little crew.
"You know I read a few days ago an article by a Prothean archeologist named Liara T'Soni. In it she stated her hypothesis of how the disappearance of the Protheans is identical to other mass extinctions of civilization that far predate the Prothean." he looked over his shoulder to stare at Tali, "According to her, it happen 50 thoOOHH..."
"SEETO!" Tali rushed to see the Quarian pushing himself up from his tumble.
"What happen?" That was Lemm.
"Ah. Fell in a hole. Guess I should've watch where I was going." he retrieve his vid recorder and found at it was still recording everything, "That will be fun to watch. Little help getting out, Tali."
But the female wasn't pay attention. She was staring at the hole he was in, then left and right of the street which is a crossroad.
"I don't think that a hole." was all she said before running to the sidewalk, up a short flight of stairs to get a higher vantage point. "Keelah!" what she saw gave her chills.
"Tali!" Seeto, who work himself out of the hole and followed Tali up, is confused. He ran up next to her, "What's the matter?" Tali didn't acknowledged the question, she just stared at the road. When he turn to look as well, "Keelah!" he saw why.
The hole he fell in wasn't a hole at all. And there's than more than one.
"Footprints." said Tali, the fear evident in her voice.
"Big footprints" said Seeto, "I fell in a giant footprint."
"And they don't look that old." she said.
"Hey isn't that where you and Conner trekked through, Colonel?" Jokers received a cold glare as his response.
"We may have to initiate contact with them sooner than we want." suggested the XO.
The Colonel let out a sigh of frustration. "Let open a channel to them."
Before Roa could open a channel, the sensors chimed in.
"A vessel just entered our sensor net. Traveling at speeds of ten light-years per day in real space. It just slowed down 200 thousand kilometers out system moving at speeds of over 307 thousand kilometer a minute. Their heading takes them right toward this planet. They'll be here in two minutes." stated Hood.
"Assessment of the ship." Shepard ordered.
"Big, sir. Estimate dimensions are 315-86-48. Design does not match the Quarian ship. Profile: High estimate that its a warship." Ariel informed.
The ship was now on screen. Its indeed a warship. And its now in orbit. From its hanger bay came out half a dozen small vehicles, all heading for the ruins.
"Set condition 2 and have all pilots on alert/standby." Shepard orders.
Again they turned to their CO. This time their faces etched with worry.
"Getting a feeling, sir?" ask Tag.
Silence was his answer. It got the message across as they went to condition 2 and Joker was ready to bring the ship up at a moments notice.
That moment came when the newly arrived vessel opened fire at the surface. Dangerously close to where the Quarian ship sits. The sonic boom resonating as far off to reach even the Shenlong.
Shepard gripped the armrest of his chair. 'I hate it when I'm right.'
"WHAT IN BLAZES WAS THAT?"
"Orbital mass accelerator fire."
Like they heard the question, the now hostile ship broadcast a message on an open channel. It was clear now that the ship was a different alien race given the language is not of the Quarian.
"Crap! Batarian slavers!"
"Did he just say 'slaver'?" that was Cassandra.
"I'm picking up incoming vessels heading towards the ruins and the ship."
"Lemm, double back to our position. We need to stand together."
"You'll never make it. And even if you get back aboard, that ship is still above us."
"I'm not gonna let these bosh'tet but collars on us. We'll come up with something and we will make it out of this."
'Thats it!' Colonel Shepard stood up from the seat with vigor and urgency. "All hands on full combat alert. We're gonna introduce ourselves to these bastards and show them what we think of slavers."
"YES, SIR!" They all said.
"I'm taking my squad and Sagittarius to help the Quarians. The Shenlong is to break atmosphere and engage the slaver ship with the remaining squads. Full use of the packs is authorized. You have the command, Keller." with that he left the bridge to suit up.
"You heard him. Joker rise the ship to the surface. Stealth system on active and warm up the weapons. Tell the techs to put armor on our birds. We'll catch these Batarians with their pants down."
He remained standing next to the captains chair, eyes on screen still showing the slaver ship. 'I get my wish after all. Damn.'
Authors Note: My Christmas present to you all. I originally intended to post this on Christmas Eve but I wasn't fast enough writing this. And I took my time getting everything right.
Again, I inform the reader that I won't be updating till Mass Effect 3 come out.
I will say that in terms of technology of the three game, I'll be mixing them up a bit so please don't writing any hate review that say 'Why they have this when they don't get those till the third game'.
I plan to start doing Codex entries in future chapters.
Please review the story and Merry Christmas.