Title: Protoculture Effect (19/?)
Feedback: Please be gentle.
Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.
Rating: Harsh language, violence, that's about it.
Spoilers: Just about anything.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to a bunch of other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: Just as robotechnology altered the course of human history, so also did another discovery hidden within Charon.
Author's Note: It was inevitable, I suppose, that I'd try crossing over these two of my favorite science fiction universes. I'm not exactly sure what possessed me to do this beyond just wanting to.
"Here," Nerisse said, handing Shepard an ammo block. "I had this fabbed after you told me what you found. It's got a tracer embedded in it, and it's designed to mimic high-ex ammo for all but the deepest scans, unless someone actually tries to fire it."
Shepard nodded. "And our end-user can't exactly risk test firing it without alerting us anyway."
"Too many," she growled. "The krogan's a good bet, as always, but any asari could easily be an undercover commando, and every turian here has the training to use this kind of firepower. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised to find a few STG agents here either, retired or otherwise. This planet's crawling with corporate backstabbing."
"'A wretched hive of scum and villainy,'" Shepard quoted. Nerisse gave him a blank stare. "Never mind," he said quickly. "So, I guess I'd better get this to Opold."
"I'll have a team standing by," she said. "This had better work, Shepard."
"Hey, it's your tracer," he pointed out. "By the way, what's the story with Lorik Qui'in?"
"Qui'in?" she repeated, surprised. "He runs Synthetic Insights's Noveria branch, but he's under investigation for corruption. Why?"
"Heard the name," he answered, a little evasively in her opinion. "Just thought I'd ask."
"Goddess! I didn't really think such a creature could be real!" Liara blurted out, but Jane wasn't listening. Instead, she was thinking.
Of all the things she could have predicted - geth, krogan, hell, at this point, she wouldn't have been surprised to find a Karbarran or a Haydonite among Saren's lackeys - a fully macronized zentraedi warrior was not one of them.
Where in the galaxy did Saren even find a full-blooded zentraedi? she wondered. There hadn't been any pure strains in close to a century and a half - the zentraedi as a separate subspecies had been effectively extinct since the 2030s, regardless of the cultural revivals over the decades since - and the odds against finding someone who had all the right genetic markers for macronization were astronomical. And even after finding someone who could be macronized, how did Saren get his hands on a protoculture resizing chamber?
"This cover isn't going to last very long!" Kaidan warned as the cargo hauler took another hit, once again nearly flipping over them.
That broke her train of thought. This wasn't the time to ponder the threat; it was the time to deal with it.
"Tali!" she called.
"Not possible!" the quarian was ranting. "The physics are impossible! It can't be real!"
"Tali, snap out of it!" Jane called again, her voice sharp and commanding. Once she had her attention, she asked, "Can you sabotage his gun?"
"Negative!" Tali said, shaking her head. This was all so surreal. "It's a conventional slugthrower, all mechanical and moving parts, chemical propellant, no electronics."
"Damn it," the commander hissed. "Liara, singularity. Let's see if we can disarm him. Alenko, Tali, focus on overloading his shields if you can."
Liara glowed with a blue biotic aura as a swirling mass of dark energy materialized above the zentraedi's gigantic rifle, tugging on the weapon. A biotic pulse arced from Jane's hands and up into the bottom of the rifle's barrel, smacking it up and off target, but the giant maintained a firm grip on the weapon. Electricity crackled over the zentraedi warrior as Kaidan and Tali fired EMP bursts at him from their omni-tools.
Now or never, Jane thought. She concentrated, and her biotic implant tingled with power. What she was doing now was something the EIA had observed asari commandos performing, a dangerous stunt that had been analyzed and dissected... but rarely successfully replicated by human biotics.
But Jane was no ordinary human biotic. She was N7.
Suddenly, she was enveloped in dark energy and shot toward the zentraedi's throat like a glowing blue meteor. She impacted with the force of a cannon... and flailed for something, anything, to arrest her fall. Her charge had taken her right into the zentraedi's kinetic barriers. Weakened by Kaidan and Tali's EMP bursts, the kinetic barriers shattered under the impact, but they still stopped her some distance from her intended target. Latching onto the zentraedi's rifle, she hauled herself up and ran up his arm without allowing herself time to think. The Interplanetary Combatives Academy had forced her to learn to strategize during combat - an invaluable skill for a leader - but on her own, she did her best when she fought on instinct.
Her Defiant was fitted with a rifle stock, forward pistol grip, and wide-dispersal muzzle adapter, optimized for the close quarters combat she favored. It was with this weapon that she shot the zentraedi in the face. A Defiant in this configuration - essentially an electromagnetic particle shotgun - was devastating against most infantry, but against a person over thirty feet tall, even this was hardly a death blow. Still, the impact was enough to knock his head back, at which point, Jane hurled a Mark 14 grenade, hooking it into his mouth, then leaping off and scrambling for one of the catwalks that were suspended throughout the room. For all their size and toughness, zentraedi were still flesh and blood.
It took a few minutes for the team to regroup, gathering near the gigantic corpse. Tali had her omni-tool up, scanning the zentraedi as she muttered questions about how he could even support his own weight.
"Jesus, Commander," Kaidan said, shaking his head, "and I thought Shepard pulled some crazy stunts."
"You haven't seen us at our worst yet, Lieutenant," she replied, a tired grin on her face. A charge always took a lot out of her.
"I'm impressed," Liara said. "I didn't think human biotic amps were advanced enough to support a biotic charge."
"They're not," Jane said between deep breaths. She turned and stumbled. Kaidan reached out and caught her arm before she could fall. "Shit," she swore as she forced herself back upright.
"Are you all right, Commander?" Kaidan asked, concerned.
"I'm fine," she insisted, waving him off. "Just... just gimme a minute."
She knew it was probably asking for too much, given the racket they had just made, but until she had a moment to catch her breath, she was in no condition for another fight.
"Here," Kaidan said. Jane blinked and found herself inhaling the unmistakeable aroma of chocolate...
"I keep it for emergencies," he explained. "I know what it's like to overdo it on the biotics. I've found it helps a bit more than the rat-pack energy bars."
"Thanks," she said, accepting the candy bar, wolfing it down before she knew it. She had always stuck with the standard energy bars that came packaged in with the Alliance-issue ration packs, but had never found them particularly helpful after a biotic charge. They drained her in a way most biotics didn't.
Judging by how she felt at the moment, the secret, it seemed, was chocolate.
She looked around warily, waiting for the inevitable counterattack, and she was not disappointed. "Krogan!" she called. "Liara! Alenko! Lift!" She stretched her arm out, and together, the three biotics glowing blue with dark energy. The three charging krogan suddenly lost traction as the dark energy lifted them off the ground, their momentum carrying them over the group. The quartet aimed their weapons into the air, blasting away at the krogan as they sailed overhead.
"And you want me to go in and get that evidence," John finished for Lorik Qui'in. Apparently, Anoleis was as dirty as they came and had a few of Captain Ganthus's people in his pocket, something she probably would want to know about. Qui'in had evidence that incriminated Anoleis, but the administrator had trumped up corruption charges and was using the dirty rent-a-cops to search for said evidence.
God I hate corporate politics, he thought. Again. "And if I do get it for you?"
"Well," Qui'in replied, "I understand you're trying to get to Peak Fifteen. I can give you my garage pass, overrule the weather lockdown."
"Uh huh," John said, nodding. "Not what I meant. What exactly are you planning on doing with that evidence once you have it?"
"I would... use it. Wisely and with great care," Qui'in assured him.
"You're going to blackmail him."
"Think about it, Commander," Qui'in said, leaning back, ignoring the accusation. "You don't owe a thing to anyone on this planet, least of all Anoleis. Now, I've told you where to find the evidence; all you need to do now is get it and give it to me. Or you can allow Anoleis's corruption continue unchecked. The decision is yours. If you want that garage pass... well, I'll be waiting."
The main doors leading out of the garage and into the facility - the zentraedi-scaled ones - were sealed, forcing the team to take to the catwalks and go through the human-scaled doors. The doors opened into what was clearly a security checkpoint: To the left was a window view of the other side of the zentraedi-scaled doors, and to the right was a mirrored wall that was almost certainly one-way. Gore and signs of gunfire covered the checkpoint. A lot of someones had been killed and thoroughly mulched here.
"I think we're late to the party, Commander," Kaidan said as they cautiously crossed the room.
A ker-thunk and whirring sounded behind them, and they spun, Liara and Kaidan glowing blue, Tali's omni-tool flaring. Jane, for her part, simply raised her Defiant to her shoulder. A hidden panel in the ceiling had dropped down, revealing twin gatling guns which were spinning furiously.
"Why aren't we dead?" Tali asked after a moment's hesitation.
"I think it's out of ammo," Jane said, finally.
"I find that... very disturbing," Liara murmured. Jane had to admit that the asari had a point. Even with the vicious rate of fire twin gatling guns like these could achieve, the idea that any weapon - especially fixed defenses like these - could actually run out of ammo was mind-boggling.
"What the hell happened here?" Kaidan asked, voicing the question on everyone's minds. "And why are those guns pointing the wrong way? Is this a lab or a prison?"
"They must be afraid their specimens might get loose," Jane mused. "I mean, they've gotten one pure strain zentraedi somehow. Maybe they're cloning them, both sizes."
"Thanks, Commander," Kaidan said dryly. "My nightmares were getting too tame as it is."
"Anytime, Lieutenant," she retorted with a smirk. "Just say the word, and I'll find something less tame to fill your dreams with."
They continued out of the security check point and onto another catwalk in yet another zentraedi-scaled corridor. Jane squinted down at the massive pile of blood and gore on the floor and frowned. "Something's not right with that body," she said, before heading for a ladder and sliding down. The team followed her soon after.
Her gaze swept across the fallen zentraedi warrior. "No gunshot wounds... no laser burns..." she murmured.
"Something ripped him apart," Kaidan said. "Up close and personal."
After discussing the matter with Captain Ganthus, John took Garrus and Ashley with him to the Synthetic Insights office. The office was under lockdown, but the idea that some of her subordinates were on the take positively infuriated the turian woman. A brief explanation from Garrus on turian culture explained why.
"So... she's upset because it's her responsibility, and she feels she should have caught it?"
"That's essentially it," Garrus replied. "Let's see how this plays out."
"I'm Commander Shepard," John said as they approached the turian guarding the entrance.
"Everyone on the planet knows who you are," the security officer grunted sourly. "The captain called ahead," he continued, waving them in. "Damn Spectres," he muttered as they walked past.
John pretended not to hear as he led his team past. The sour looks he got from the ERCS personnel inside made it clear that Qui'in was onto something, but unless they tried to pull something or Qui'in's evidence implicated them, there wasn't much he could do.
Jane had chosen to take point, but in the end, it didn't really matter. The corridor was a no-frills affair, lined with pipes and conduit along the ceiling, and it was from there that it attacked.
"It" was some sort of bug creature, and it dropped down in the middle of the group, slashing at a shrieking Tali.
One shotgun blast and three biotic warps later, they were looking at its remains.
"So..." Jane said, "anyone want to tell me what the hell we just killed?"
"Aside from 'a creature from a bad horror movie,' I've got nothing," Kaidan replied. The two humans looked at their alien companions.
Tali shrugged and offered, "Creepy spider monster?"
"I'm an archaeologist, not a biologist," Liara reminded them. "I have no idea what this thing is."
"You know," Jane pointed out, "there's probably a lot more than one. This critter didn't gut that zentraedi we found all by its lonesome."
"This day just keeps getting better and better," Kaidan griped.
"I hate spiders," Tali murmured with a shudder.
"Hey, cheer up," Jane said. "It can always be worse. I mean, the place could be full of rats. Or, you know, on fire."
"Thanks," Kaidan said dryly. "That makes me feel so much better." He knew the attitude was her way of dealing with stress - the chocolate probably contributed too - but it still unsettled him.
"You're welcome," she chirped - chirped! - cheerfully.
"That's it," he declared. "No more chocolate for you."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine, Lieutenant. Let's move out."
Codex: Humans: Zentraedi
The zentraedi were a sub-species of humans developed by the Robotech Masters to serve as their primary military force. They were genetically engineered to withstand the vacuum of space and relatively severe injuries for limited periods, but the two primary distinctions of the zentraedi sub-species were the protoculture that infused their physiologies and a series of genetic markers that allowed them to undergo a forced-growth cloning and mental transfer process known as macronization. Macronization resized zentraedi to much larger proportions, an average of between nine and twelve meters in height, and granted them denser bone and muscle structure which, along with the protoculture in their systems, allowed them to function at that scale.
The Robotech Masters' manipulation of the zentraedi also extended to their culture and society, forbidding personal interaction between genders and fostering an artificial history that extended much further than the sub-species' true age. During the First Robotech War, the zentraedi were reintroduced to many of the cultural elements they were denied. After the defeat of Dolza's Main Fleet, several zentraedi ships and crews remain unaccounted for, but most of the zentraedi who were allied with the humans underwent micronization and were integrated into human society. Since then, cultural dilution and interbreeding with the humans of Earth have rendered the zentraedi effectively extinct, although there is a strong zentraedi subculture on most major human worlds.