Chapter 1: The Beginning
The ship made no sound as it sped through the vacuum of space. None on the outside anyway. Inside practically everywhere but the drive core was filled with noise, the crew arguing about what to do, runners bringing messages to Captain Dawkins, the mess officers bellowing for service and of course the sounds of the hundreds of human colonists. Husbands talking to wives, wives yelling at husbands, children screaming as they dashed through the halls and corridors of gleaming silver, their young minds afire with the prospect of colony life.
The MSV Valiant was a colony ship, its mission was to safely transport the 1200 colonists through the Terminus Systems, known infamously as the badlands of the galaxy, known for pirates, slavers and other such hostile threats, and then to drop them off on Secora IX, where they would establish a new colony, a place where they and their families could build new lives for themselves, away from the grime of Omega and Earth or the bureaucracy of the Citadel, the seat of The Galactic Council.
Its skipper, Captain Edward Dawkins, veteran of The First Contact War and colony runner of more than half a decade's experience, sat upon the padded leather of the command chair and stared out of the observation windows, gazing at the great black void before him. Though his body seemed to be at rest his mind was working overtime. He was constantly aware that their current location, the Remus System, although less dangerous than the rest of the Terminus Systems, was no safe haven. The Valiant was no ship of war, only possessing the cheapest kinetic shielding and a few forward cannons, more suited to clearing through asteroid belts than combat. Over and over he asked himself why he'd taken the assignment for Secora IX, considering the neighbourhood, but then he remembered the 300,000 Credits, held by Volus bankers on the Citadel, waiting for him and the pallid complexion of Martin, his son. With that money he could get him some proper treatment, not that free stuff they handed out at the clinic.
But first he had to get there, shaking himself slightly he turned to his helmsman, Chris Hartigan. He and Hartigan had been shipmates aboard the SSV Edinburgh during the First Contact War, Hartigan an ensign and he a forward gunner. When they'd demobbed at the end of the war and he'd gone into colonist transport Hartigan had been his first choice as helmsman.
"How long till we reach Secora Chris?" he asked, his voice, coloured by his Scottish accent, echoing slightly off the walls of the control deck.
"A few more days." the helmsman replied, his friendship with captain overruling the demands of protocol. "Right now I'm taking her slowly, don't want to strain the engines should we need them later, plus the reduced engine use should make us harder to find."
"Good idea." Dawkins replied, confident in his friend's decision.
"However I am a bit worried about going through this system, most reports about Remus talk about how its sun is dangerous, with its high quantities of solar flares and the like. If we're not careful-" he began to finish but Dawkins cut him off.
"Don't worry Chris, the Valiant is a good ship and if our predictions are correct we'll be long gone before the next batch of solar flares start up."
"Aye, aye." came the unusually formal reply.
Casting away the questions he had over Chris' tone Dawkins pressed a button on the right armrest of his chair and spoke into the intercom.
"Ethan?" a young woman, her blonde hair drawn back from her pale-skinned face in a high ponytail, called out, trying to be heard over the cacophony of noise in one of the commons. "Ethan where are you?"
"Ethan?" an all together deeper voice, belonging to a tall, thick set, man with a tanned face and short dark hair, boomed out from beside her "Where are you my boy?"
The two split apart, threading their way through the crowd of excited colonists who were oblivious to their plight. The man moved through the crowd less easily than his slightly-built wife but eventually he reached an empty bench. Standing upon it he cupped his hand to his mouth and once again called for his son.
"Ethan? Come on out, we're not mad. We just want to-"
His speech was interrupted by the feeling of something pulling persistently at the fabric of his brown leggings. Looking down he gazed at a young child, blue eyes wide, clutching a model of an Alliance frigate and smiling widely, as if nothing was wrong in the galaxy.
"There you are!" his father exclaimed and, with one muscled arm he plucked the boy, who squealed with happiness, from the ground and hoisted him onto his right shoulder. The boy loved the rush of adrenaline the sudden movement caused and he loved being able to stare down at people below him. Soon however he forgot the fact he was up high and again became entranced by his small model which he pretended he was captain of, speeding through the space lanes, laying waste to his enemies. He didn't really notice as his mother came running over.
"He's alright Clara." his father explained "He was just playing with his spaceship."
"He still frightened me half to death, Duncan." his mother exclaimed, slightly out of breath. "Sometime's I think he's more interested in that ship than anything else. And your stories do little else than encourage him. I worry that-"
"Peace, love, peace." His father interrupted, setting Ethan down to which he protested slightly before again getting lost in his battle against five imaginary Turian dreadnoughts. Keeping one foot infront of his son to prevent any escape attempt Duncan Farrows pulled his wife into a warm embrace and whispered in her ear, whilst he ran his hand along her golden locks of hair. "It's okay, all lads his age are interested in space; the battles, the adventure, the excitement. Eventually he'll calm down and he'll meet a nice girl, build a home and have kids of his own. All below the skies, not above them."
"You make it sound so easy." Clara replied, exhaling slightly at the thought.
"Do I?" Duncan asked "Well then, I must have forgot to mention the rebellious teenage years, full of drinking, stim-taking and womanising."
"Don't ruin the moment." Clara replied, whacking her husband lightly across the back of the head.#
Laughing Donald let go of his wife and, once again picking up his young son, led his family over to one of the mess tables. Leaving momentarily he came back with three trays of food, one balanced elegantly of his forearm. Setting them down he dug in, shovelling the fragrantly spiced meat into his mouth whilst Clara tried, at the moment in vain, to get Ethan to eat some vegetables. But the young lad held a tough resistance against the dreaded green matter. So much so that eventually Clara turned, exasperated, to him.
"Can you do something?" she asked, an expression that was half plaintive, half annoyed plastered across her face.
"Ethan." he said, using his best authoritative tone, his voice becoming deeper and slightly harder "Obey your mother."
Ethan turned to his father and, with typical youthful exuberance and disregard for the current discussion, pointed at a long scar, which stood out bone white against the tanned brown skin of the forearm.
"Where'd you get that one daddy?" he asked, his eyes afire with inquisitiveness.
"Ethan," his mother replied, rolling her eyes, "You've heard it a dozen times."
"It's fine." Duncan replied "Alright Ethan, if you eat your greens I'll tell you the story." In literally seconds the vegetables had been devoured and now Ethan's head rested upon his palms, his elbows on the silver table-top, waiting for the story.
"Very well," Duncan said, chuckling slightly at his son's voracious appetite. "It was two years before you were born and humanity was taking its first faltering steps into the galaxy. When a human exploration team reactivated a mass relay, Relay 314, we violated Citadel Law. A nearby Turian squadron noticed the team and opened fire. And so began the First Contact War. I was a marine, under the command of a young captain called Tadius Ahern. We were sent to retrieve a data capsule or some such thing, we got to it and were taking it back to our ship, a brand new Corvette with the best shielding, fine lines and it packed a punch like an angry Krogan, when we were attacked." Ethan gave a little gasp as his father threw himself slightly towards him "Dozens of Turian mercs. Ahern sent me to go get the Corvette whilst he and the others set up on a small plateau. I scrambled down the back of that plateau and started running towards the ship. However this one Turian, he'd seen me running and his commander had sent him after me. He jumps out at me as I round a small hillock and unloads a pistol round into my thigh. I grabbed his gun and threw it away, he grabbed mine and threw it away and so we were both without guns in the middle of nowhere. Then he pulls out this knife, fifteen centimetres long and serrated, like a Varren's teeth. He swings it at me and it breaks through my armour. Lays open my arm, right to the bone but it gets stuck in there. As he tries to pull it out I smack him one across the face, cracking his face plate. He falls back and I break his leg. As I move off to go get the shuttle he calls out to me, begging to have his knife back. He said it was a ceremonial item of his people and that he just had to keep it. Even now the reason escapes me but I grab, tear it out of my arm and throw it to the ground. Then I rush to the Corvette, fire it up and pick up the rest of my squad. Those Turians ran for the hills when they saw me coming with 20 disruptor missiles loaded!" He smiled slightly at the memory but then his face became serious.
"But you listen to me Ethan, I may have fought Turians, I may have killed Turians but I never HATED them. Hate of an entire species is a stupid as it is damaging, you hear me?" He waited for a minute for a response, before tapping his son's head. "Ethan?" then he turned to his wife, a warm smile on his face "He's asleep."
"He always loves your stories Duncan. They send him to sleep with dreams of you standing against huge armies and winning without so much as a scratch."
"True, but he never stays awake to here the best bit."
"The best bit?"
"Yeh," Duncan replied, wrapping an arm round his wife's waist. "The bit where I met a brilliant and beautiful nurse, who eventually agreed to make me the most lucky man in the galaxy."
"You old softy," Clara replied, her laughter ringing clear and clean "Come on, let's get sleepy-head over there back to the cabin. Then we'll see how 'lucky' you think you are."
"Well, well." Duncan answered, his eyebrows raised "How can I refuse such an offer?"
With that he got up and swept his sleeping child into his arms, who snuggled deeper into his grasp, his ears taking in the sound of his father's heartbeat. Without any haste mother, father and child made their way towards the door that led to the section they were sleeping in for the voyage. Before they got there however Captain Dawkins' voice came over the intercom speakers.
"Good evening everybody, this is Captain Dawkins. I understand many of you will just be about to bunk down for the night but I'd just like to inform you all that we are on schedule and we should reach Secora IX in approximately 3 days. That is all and may you all have a good night's rest."
The intercom clicked off and immediately all conversation in the commons turned to the announcement.
"Well that's good news anyway." Duncan said as he and his wife walked through the hallways. Ethan was thankfully still asleep.
"Yeh, within a few days we'll touch down on Secora IX. There we can finally get some peace. Ethan won't have to fight like we both did, he'll live a peaceful life."
"God willing." was Duncan's only reply as entered their sleeping quarters.
Setting Ethan down in his bed in the second room and kissing him tenderly on the forehead Duncan let his son dream away. Leaving his son to sleep he engaged the locks on the both sets of doors, interior and exterior, as well as the sound-proofing system, a MUST-HAVE for all couples according to the brochure, before finally turning to his wife, who drew him into an embrace.
"Now then," she said with a twinkle in her eye "Where were we?"
When they awoke it was to the sound of an alarm and people in panic. Immediately Duncan's mindset switched from that of a colonist to an Alliance Marine.
"Alright Duncan think! The first thing to be done is," He looked down "Get dressed."
Throwing on a pair of trousers and a black shirt he refocussed his mind whilst behind him Clara was busy dressing.
"First thing to do is identify the threat. Talk to the crew? No, too busy combatting whatever this is. Ask the other colonists? Hell no! They're probably scared out the wits and they'll probably know as much about what's going on as a Varren does table manners." Then an idea hit him.
"Clara come on! We need to find a comm console!"
"What about Ethan?" she challenged him, moving to the door that led to their son's room.
Immediately becoming a father again at the mention of his son's name, though the marine modus opperandi remained at the back of his mind. Immediately he unlocked the door to Ethan's room and stormed in, sweeping the boy, who was oddly not troubled by the sudden influx of loud noise, into his arms. Grabbing his attention Duncan spoke to his son in a tone he hadn't used since he de-mobbed at the end of the war. A tone of urgency.
"Ethan listen to me. Mummy and I are just going to find out what's going on okay? We'll be back soon I swear to you, then I'll tell you every story I know okay?"
"With sound effects?" Ethan asked, still blissfully unaware in his childish innocence.
"Yes with sound effects." his father replied, kissing him on the forehead, as did his mother, before putting him back on his bed and rushing out the door, taking Clara with him.
Spinning around he locked the door and soundproofed it. Then he raised his forearm and the orange holographic display of his Omni-Tool appeared. His fingers danced across his Omni-Tool, bypassing firewalls until finally, after using all the skills he possessed, he hacked into the ship's systems and began re-routing power what little power he could to the door's locking mechanism. As auxiliary clamps locked down on the door he breathed a sigh of relief and turned away, moving towards the door.
He didn't get far. Spinning him around Clara glared at him. "What the hell Duncan?" she demanded, her maternal instincts overriding her powers of deduction "What the fucking hell?"
"I sealed the door. Nothing less than me or a shipwide electrical failure would open it now."
"But why? Why did you-" her husband cut her off
"Clara think. This ship is in danger. Either it's under attack in which case I don't want anybody getting to Ethan. If there's trouble with the ship itself then at least he's somewhere familiar while we figure out what's to be done. You with me?"
Clara stood still for but a moment, her mind taking in all that her husband had just told her. She'd never regretted leaving the Alliance Military, she'd wanted to get away from the hectic lifestyle and now she was right back in the middle of a crisis. But she knew what had to be done.
"I'm with you." She said, nodding her head, her composure restored.
"Then let's go!" and with that they sped from the room, looking for a communication console.
A few minutes earlier...
Captain Dawkins was once again sat in the command chair, having just returned from his evening meal in the Captain's Quarters. As he often did at times like these he took a moment to relax and think back on all he had seen. He remembered his Drill Sergeant yelling at him in basic training, calling him a maggot and other such things, charming bloke. He saw again the tired and haunted faces of the garrison as the Edinburgh pulled them out of Shanxi, the only human defeat to an alien fleet. He saw again the explosions that racked a Turian frigate above Shanxi after a broadside from the Edinburgh, sounding its death knell. He saw his wife, tired and worn out by the traditional labor she had requested, handing him the squirming pink form of his son, who tightly gripped his finger with one pudgy hand. He saw again the Valiant, gleaming in the docking lights. Then he saw the long nights bent over datapads, which detailed the sorry state of affairs their finances were in. He saw the REJECTED symbol on his loan requests. He saw his son fall to the ground in a coughing fit, his forehead afire with heat.
Suddenly an alarmed cry from Chris jerked him out of his reverie.
"We've got solar flares erupting all over the star captain!" Dawkins had never heard Chris sound as scared as he did now, not even when they'd stared down a Turian cruiser's forward cannons. Looking through the viewing window he saw tendrils of star matter burst from the surface of the huge star at the system's centre, heading straight for them.
"Evasive manoeuvres!" he yelled and Chris began punching in directions into his screen but only a few seconds past before he turned back to his captain and friend.
"We can't evade it sir, that wave of solar energy is too big!"
"Impact in ten," a visibly terrified ensign "Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two." Everyone on the command deck closed their eyes and waited "One."
The huge wave of solar matter and radiation hit the Valiant full on the starboard side. It easily cut through the kinetic barriers of the aged cruiser with ease. It nearly completely overloaded the ship's electronics, bringing down safeguards, the resulting explosions down on engineering ripped great chunks of the ship's hull out, the unfortunates working there getting pulled into the dread vacuum of space before the emergency shielding came online. Red warning lights flashed across Chris' control panel as multiple systems went offline.
"Damage report!" Dawkins yelled to anybody who would respond. When the wave had hit the resulting overload had killed the ensign who had be counting down as his console exploded in his face, fragments of metal and glass embedding themselves in soft flesh.
"Critical failures across nearly all systems, re-routing power to artificial gravity and Life Support. Catastrophic damage to lower decks, emergency shielding online where possible, emergency bulkheads dropped where not. Current casualties stand at...forty seven. All crew, no colonists.
"Prognosis?" Dawkins asked, momentarily stunned by the catastrophic endured by his ship in barely seconds.
"We can't keep going like this, we've got to find somewhere to land."
"Saheros, class 3 Planet, Off our starboard bow." an ensign called out from her scanner readings.
"Inhabited?" Dawkins asked
"No, but able to support life. Nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere. 1.1 G surface gravity. However deemed unfit for colonisation by surveyors due to inability to support anything above village level population for any long period of time without extensive terraforming."
"What do you think Chris? Dawkins asked the helmsman.
"At current damage levels it's our only hope."
"Lay in a course, once we hit planetside we'll set up a beacon and wait for rescue."
The next report however, turned everybody on the command deck's blood to ice.
"Second wave of star matter incoming!"
The second wave hit the crippled ship with as much force as the first. Consoles exploded, all the lights went dark save for emergency floor lighting, from the few working security consoles Dawkins could see the now awakened colonists rushing about in panic and confusion.
"Status!" he nearly screamed at his crew. But glancing around he could see that, apart from Chris, all his crew were dead.
"The last wave took out all but a few consoles sir!" Chris yelled out. "We've lost all shields, bulkheads dropped on decks 20 through 11. Casualty rate climbing."
"Are we still on course dammit!"
"Aye sir..." what Chris said next came out so quietly that Dawkins barely heard it above the noise of panic and destruction. "We've lost engine control. I won't be able to control the descent."
The words hit Dawkins like a body blow. They were going to hit that planet full speed with no shields whatsoever. He didn't even know if they'd survive re-entry in this state. He felt again like he was aboard the Edinburgh, watching the Turian frigate go down. The frigate's captain must have felt like he did now: powerless. "Ab...abandon ship." were the only words that came out of his mouth.
"Aye aye." Chris answered, but at that point a warning came up on his screen from one of the few engineers left alive. Scarcely believing what he was seeing he span his seat round to face his captain. "All escape pods inoperable! Their electronics are completely shot to hell!"
The news completely toppled Dawkins' previously iron-clad self control. His face grew wet with tears and he held his head in his hands, groaning at his impending death. There would be no treatment for Martin, no meal waiting for him when he got home, nothing. His wife would wait for months before the Citadel Bureaucracy finally declared him dead and released his tiny Alliance pension.
"Hello?" came an unfamiliar voice from one of the remaining Comm speakers. "Is anybody still alive up there?"
Considering the state of his friend Chris took the call. "This is Helmsman Christopher Hartigan, who is this? You're no crewman."
"Corporal Duncan Farrows, ex-marine, 10th Frontier Division, 3rd Brigade, 14th Infantry Regiment. Now what the hell is going on?"
"We..." Chris paused for a moment, considering the lie "are suffering electrical problems. Be calm, everything will be rectified in-"
"Cut the bullshit. What's really wrong?" Duncan interrupted, knowing the stock lines all too well.
"We got hit by massive amounts of stellar energy, we've suffered massive damage and I can't control the ship. I'm sorry sir, I'm so, so sorry but all I can say is to pray to whatever god you believe in and hope for a miracle."
"I see..." Even though distorted by the aged comm system Chris could hear the despondency in the man's voice. "Very well. Good luck and Godspeed."
As he signed off Chris heard movement behind him. Turning in his chair he saw Dawkins stand up from his seat, a pistol in his right hand, his eyes staring unseeing in front of him.
"No Ed!" he cried, his arm shooting towards his friend, but he was too late. Before he could do anything the man he had served most of his adult life with places the pistol's muzzle against his right temple. The gunshot echoed through the empty command deck. Chris could only watch in horror as the bloody body fell back into the command chair, a twisted parody of life. Sealing off his grief, he turned back to his console, which flashed crimson with warning signs as the shape of Saheros became ever closer.
Several decks below the chaos on the bridge, whilst all around him people panicked, wept and prayed, a small boy slept in his bed. He slept whilst his parents struggled against the tide of colonists in the corridors, trying desperately to get to him. He slept whilst above him Chris Hartigan tried to re-establish control of the propulsion systems. But with all but a few of the engineers dead or incapacitated his efforts were in vain. He slept whilst the ship hit the atmosphere of Saheros, the mettle glowing red with the heat of re-entry. He awoke only briefly when the ship slammed into the planet's surface, the metal buckling and shattering on impact, the breaking into pieces, but then he slammed into the wall of the room and was knocked out cold. He slept whilst his father died as a wall panel exploded next to him. He slept as his mother was crushed by a falling girder, trying to save his father from the cold hand of death. He slept whilst Chris Hartigan was slammed through the forward observation window and crushed beneath the contents of the bridge.
Ethan Farrows slept whilst thirteen hundred and seventy six people, colonists and crew, died.
Slowly light returned to the young boy's eyes. His deep blue eyes, ringed by his beautiful blonde eyelashes, fluttered open. At first all he saw were shapes, but then focus returned and he saw his room in perfect clarity. He was on the ceiling. Or to be correct his room had been flipped upside down. He gazed up at his bed, which was still bolted down above him. He sat up, casting his eyes about him for his frigate. With childlike dismay he realised he couldn't see it and so he went in search of someone who did.
As he stood however, white lights danced across his vision and his head throbbed incessantly. Stumbling forward, tears in his eyes and one hand to the back of his head, he moved towards the door. From beneath the bottom edge, which hung halfway along its runners, bright lights shone.
Scrambling beneath it he was greeted by a terrible sight. He saw twisted piles of metal, from within fires danced. He saw people lying still, like puppets with their strings cut. His pudgy arms pumping he ran over to a person who lay upon the ground, which had been scorched black by the fires unleashed when the ship's drive core exploded, sending pieces of the ship flying all across a wide expanse of land. The land itself was beautiful, though he would not see it yet. Great expanses of rainforest, streams flowing with cool clear water and to the north, great hills with slopes of long green grass. The land surrounding the young boy had been like that, till it was devastated by the ship's fire.
Running over to the prostrate figure he fell to his knees beside them.
"Excuse me," he began, using his best manners as his mother had always told him to. He got no response "Excuse me!" he said again, pushing the corpse slightly, unaware that the person was dead.
"This one does not believe the figure you are talking to will answer, child." Said a beautiful, serene, flowing voice behind him.
Turning around Ethan was first confronted by a set of long tentacles, which he followed upwards, where they terminated in a large, translucent, body. He remembered what he was looking at from on of the vids he'd watched with his father. It was a Hanar.
"Why won't he answer?" he asked, his voice curious.
"This one says he will not reply to your entreaties due to the fact that he is..." the Hanar stopped for a moment, considering how to address so young a creature "dead."
"But then how can he tell me where Mommy and Daddy are?"
"This one has scanned this planet several times, this one is deeply saddened to inform you that there are no other survivors. Only you remain." and with that the Hanar turned and began to move away from the boy.
"But...but..." Ethan began, his face made wet by tears "Who will look after me?"
At that the Hanar paused. Many thoughts went through its head as it 'stood' there, the young human child beginning to wail sorrowfully behind it, calling for its deceased parents. Eventually it turned back to face the young boy.
"This one has an idea." it began, choosing its words more carefully than usual "This one shall take care of you. This one shall train you in all the ways this one knows and in the return you shall obey it in all its instructions. Do you agree?"
The child glanced around. Then, with a sad sigh as he came to terms with what had befallen him, he looked up at the Hanar. "Okay."
"This one is glad to hear it, now if you would follow this one, this will show you to where we shall live."
As the Hanar moved off Ethan scrambled to his feet and fell into step beside the Hanar who would train him in everything he knew. Looking up he asked one final question.
"My name is Ethan, what is yours?"
The Hanar stopped for a moment. "Until this one is ready...Ethan" the child had freely given his name so it seemed better to use it "To tell you its name, you shall call it 'Master' as a term of respect." with that it moved off again, heading into the rainforest that surrounded the crash site.
"Okay," Ethan said, falling back into step beside the Hanar "Master."
And so began Ethan's journey. A journey that would take him into battle against the greatest threat to life in the galaxy, and into the company of the galaxy's only hope.