A/N: Well, erm, hello there. I know. I got some 'splainin' to do, but don't worry: I have some good news, too.

To make a long story short while trying to avoid delving too deeply in my personal life, I was nearing the end of the semester when I last updated this story. I had time on my hands, but very limited ways in which I could use it. Thus, I had some time and motivation for writing. I thought that, once the semester was over, I'd have much more time-and more importantly, far better conditions in which to use said time-for writing. Well, it didn't quite turn out that way. As I had planned, I had a lot of makeup work to do over the next few months, and coupled with some other major challenges, I didn't really have the time or conditions for writing much.

Thus, the good news: all of that is finally behind me. For the next few months, I'm pretty confident that my writing productivity will drastically increase. I have urges to start new story that's entirely different from the genres/style I've done in the past, in one of several potential IP's-like Shadow of the Colossus, Lord of the Rings, or Halo. The idea is not to abandon FC or anything-on the contrary, the idea is to have multiple outlets for writing, so that I can stay in the habit of writing even if I'm not in the mood or mindset for working on FC. I'd write it as it comes, not simply picking one over the other as part of some plan.

To all of the people who have reviewed this story or sent me a PM about it: thank you, seriously. It's more than I deserve and it never ceases to surprise me. You guys-and the thoughts you express about this story-are the lifeblood of this story. Sharing this experience with you all is more rewarding, interesting, and worthwhile than doing any of it for myself.

Quick note: this chapter is something of an interlude. I have about twice as much as this written up right now, but this chapter contains the only parts I felt were refined enough (or just complete in the first place) to post at the moment, and I desperately wanted to give you guys something before I let the long wait drag on any longer. Next chapter is almost guaranteed to be a heap of some much-needed storytelling, and that's where I have needed (and will need) the most help from my beta, Skipper311. This awesome guy has a level of patience that still impresses me, and I hope to have him have a greater hand in the story from this point on.

Now, without further ado, the mythical (undead?) chapter...

Chapter 16: The Art in Science

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." -Alexander Pope, "An Essay On Criticism"

The most surprising thing thus far to come out of the joint-Council races-human wargames think-tank is actually the lack of even remotely conventional ideas. Rather than refinement of existing doctrines or creative variations of proven tactics and strategies, the think-tank seems intent upon immediately dismissing anything that would make even a modicum of sense to the admirals of either side—at least, not without explanation. One theory is that the human experts are simply ignoring anything conventional in order to intentionally focus on the novel.

I think we misunderstood them a bit, with regards to military psychology and history. In many ways, yes, they were just a fresh perspective with unique historical and cultural backgrounds—a potentially useful novelty. But here, at least, is something far beyond that: I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of instinctive and/or biological link to their perplexing talent for naval warfare. Perhaps a deep historical link, or cultural reverence; unknown.

For every ten ideas they throw out into the brainstorm, nine of them will be impractical at best and foolishly suicidal at worst. But the remaining one will be something that is both intriguing and seemingly practical enough that it can't be ignored. It turns out that humans have a saying for that kind of feeling, that dynamic: 'refuge in audacity'—the idea that a course of action is so bold, unforeseen, nonsensical, and bewildering that its chances of success are much greater than it technically should have. Not an entirely foreign concept, but the human experts we brought in treat it like an art. It isn't just something they usually consider—it's their first consideration, almost every time.

The most consistent notion they've forwarded is to throw out the doctrine of using dreadnaughts as strategic, defensive deterrents. They argued that the dreadnaughts and their strategic impact were 'largely wasted due to extreme predictability, passivity, and reluctance to commit to any kind of decisive action—unless the decisive action was forced upon it'. In other words, by being predictable, passive, and strictly defensive, dreadnaughts are more strategic obstacles than warships, and thus a grossly inefficient use of resources that could be put to better use. They did, however, reject the notion that dreadnaughts are inherently inefficient or impractical, emphasizing that the dreadnaught design standards and deployment doctrines are merely…'outdated'. Extreme irony aside, our consensus was that a major refit of existing dreadnaughts and a revision to their deployment doctrines would achieve a dramatic improvement in naval efficiency.

In the event of intense warfare before that transition can be completed, their solutions were…intriguing. The alternative doctrines varied considerably, but they all generally followed the same basic principle: dreadnaughts were to be aggressive, unpredictable, and decisive. Even if dreadnaught losses mounted, they argued, it was far more important that they were used to throw off the enemy's plans decisively and change the momentum of a war, rather than predictably sitting out of the action until the war's outcome was already decided.

Though we insist that their argument seriously undervalues the sheer deterrent power of defensively deployed dreadnaughts, we do concede that it is far more likely for the enemy to have developed counters to such defensive deployment due to expecting its certainty and predictability. Given these circumstances, we deem it worth the risk to utilize our dreadnaughts to seriously disrupt the enemy's strategy and sow serious doubt and hesitation into their deployments, even if only for the short-term.

And as intriguing as we find Case Delenda Est, the situation would have to be drastic for such extreme risks and novel tactics to be worth trying. Also, putting the vital assets of Contingency Bastion at major risk is currently deemed unacceptable, as per [REDACTED].

One outstanding note worth mentioning: modern dreadnaughts are currently classified as having two very distinct roles, at least in human eyes. The unique and powerful range advantage of a dreadnaught fills the role of artillery and fire support, they say, while its massive array of secondary, broadside-fixed cannons is ideal for line-engagements, maneuver warfare, and adaptable tactics in slugging matches. Their conclusion is that, by filling both roles so strongly, modern dreadnaughts suffer staggering shortcomings in their theoretical performance potential.

It goes on to state that the two roles are inherently opposite of each other, and historically dreadnaughts have never filled both roles adequately in a tactical- or strategic-level engagement. Modern dreadnaught design is best broken up into two major subsections, they say: faster, cheaper, and more specialized artillery ships, and smaller, more heavily armored, and more maneuverable battleships of the line.

Human naval theorizing—or "brainstorming" as they sometimes call it (perplexing, really: how is a storm—a manifestation of chaos, unpredictability, and extreme weather conditions—supposed to metaphorically represent anything positive with regards to the brain?)—seems to have developed a dramatic shift in warship design and philosophy. Its emphasis on very rapid, reasonably precise, highly coordinated FTL jumps to conduct naval maneuver warfare on a scale and degree never before employed is as interesting as it is concerning. Such intentional overspecialization of warship designs would mean that foes resistant to "alpha strike" shock FTL jumps could throw a navy reliant on rapid, precise, specialized warfare into total disarray. On the other hand, the human experts quickly responded to such criticism by saying that it would be foolish to overspecialize an entire navy for such warfare, but having it as a specialty of an element of one's navy provides a plethora of flexible tactics and strategies.

Currently, a number of Anedraastani-class light cruisers are being refitted to experiment with this philosophy, with their heavily modular construction allowing rapid (and therefor practical) modification for such specialization. Broadside guns are being swapped out for FTL-drive capacitors, NAV computers for improved rate and accuracy of FTL jumps, and additional fuel reserves. Forward-oriented main guns are being augmented for greater damage potential and range, with modifications to allow for the increased power draw and heat management. One experimental variant has sacrificed most of its armor, secondary armament, and all of its main guns to allow for a dreadnaught-level spinal cannon to be mounted. While lacking the range of the 'real thing', it fully achieves the power of the weapon and maintains enough of a range advantage to allow the cruiser's superior agility to compensate. Another variant further along in development is a "carrier" refit, wherein most of the ship's firepower is exchanged for increased strike craft capacity, munitions storage, and fuel/supplies for longer deployments without logistical support—these vessels are intended for harassment and unpredictable raids on enemy logistics, supply convoys, and rear-line targets of opportunity. STG, Spectres, and elite asari units have expressed interest for use as a special operations platform; will relay developments as they come.

Lastly, conceptual outlining of 'Varunastra'-type mass driver systems has reached initial component- experimentation phase. Simulations predict a significantly reduced range and speed for the projectile, but with substantially greater effect on target at all velocities. Even at very low velocities, a sufficiently heavy projectile could deal tremendous damage on impact—the tradeoff being that landing such a hit would require firing at point-blank range. Salarian admiralty has expressed considerable interest in arming frigates with this weaponry, believing it to be an excellent augmentation to their existing battle doctrines.

"I'm just saying, the possibilities are practically endless, and you settle for the most boring, simplistic application as the state of the art?"

Wavela was tempted to give a try at rolling her eyes—an extremely odd, but interesting gesture she'd seen plenty of in recent days—at Keigo. "We choose basic mass driver setups because they are cheap, reliable, versatile, scalable, and effective enough to neutralize any target in a reasonable amount of time." She paused, looking at the pair of playing cards in her hand, trying to decide her next move. This bizarre gambling game—"Texas Hold Um", she thought John called it (a strange name, especially with the nonsensical stalling phrase at the end—surely she misheard it), was amusingly difficult. Apparently the real competition of the game came from psychological warfare, deception, and probability; humans being thus far impossible for her to predict, she was at a loss. Even Morlon, who could now manage decent (if slow) communication with humans via the rudimentary translation software she had created, couldn't fare much better than her despite a mastery of probability mechanics.

"Well yeah," Kate commented, throwing a few colored chips into the center pile, "but what happens when some other guy comes along with something ten times as effective?"

"Then we improve, holding the line with what we have, or simply win outright in spite of it," Wavela answered, deciding to call John's raise. "But that's incredibly unlikely to happen in the first place. Few entities have the resources and expertise needed to even create such advanced technology, and anything they'd create would be very impractical for such high production costs."

"What makes you say that?" John asked, quirking an eyebrow at her. "Technology advances all the time. Eventually, the impractically expensive thing of today will be the cheap standard of tomorrow."

"It's a case of diminishing returns," she explained. "While there are many useful military applications of the mass effect, as far as practical weaponization goes, the simple, reduced-mass heavy projectile fired from a railgun is the most cost-effective and versatile technology there is."

"I seriously doubt that," Keigo remarked, eyes not leaving the five cards laid out in the center of the table.

Wavela couldn't help herself. "Suddenly you're an expert in mass effect physics and military applications?"

To her surprise, Keigo barely even reacted to her challenge. "Don't need to be," he said, sounding even more casual than usual. But unlike before, she noticed, he seemed deliberately nonchalant, like he was actively suppressing some other feeling. "The mass effect itself is a useful tool to open up new options, but it doesn't need to be a one-trick-pony to make a simple weapon more effective."

Morlon, having long-since folded, managed to follow the conversation well enough to understand Keigo's expression. After speaking a sentence into his light-duty omnitool, a monotone translation played back from the device: "What options are you thinking of?"

To her shock, Wavela saw small smirks form almost simultaneously on each of the three humans present, even though none of them were looking at or otherwise communication with each other.

Sounding almost bored—though as Kate would tell her later, exasperated in actuality—Keigo lounged back in his chair as he listed the options, extending fingers sequentially as he went. "For starters, you could fire a nuclear warhead-cored projectile instead of a solid slug, so you'd get a big kinetic impact along with a huge explosion, all of which would be travelling at relativistic speeds. Simply design the warhead to be physically detonated by the impact itself, and make the projectile sturdy. You could make things interesting by lightening the mass of laser-excited plasma and shooting it in a concentrated stream at relativistic speeds, using a magnetic bottle. You could have large torpedoes filled with huge antimatter warheads, fired from a larger ship, which then makes a single precision-jump right into the face of the target before detonating. Or—"

"Keigo—" John tried to edge into his friend's rant, but it was futile.

"—you could make a Yamato Cannon: basically a contained, directed nuclear fusion blast which is then mass-lightened and shot out at relativistic speeds at a target. You could make a negative-mass corridor and stream antimatter through it, or laser-excited plasma. You could weaponize the mass effect itself, projecting powerful mass-raising and mass-lowering fields on the same ship and ripping it apart. You could make a torpedo that does a single precision jump right up to its target, which then detonates a shaped-blast of thermite or extreme-heat payloads, which would largely ignore mass effect barriers because the heat energy would still go right through, heating up the target to dangerous levels. Or you co—"

"I think she gets it, Keigo," Kate quipped, suppressing a chuckle.

Having been watching Keigo during his rambling rather than Wavela, neither Kate nor John noticed the dumbfounded expression on the asari's face.

That's…how…what? Wavela was struggling to wrap her mind around all of the ideas she'd just heard and how casually someone with seemingly no military or weaponry expertise came up with them. Even if none of them were truly practical, the fact that someone like him had even thought of them in the first place was absurd. After a few moments of unexpected silence, the human trio turned to see the asari's reaction with confusion.

"Wavela? You okay?" Kate waved a hand in front of her face, snapping her out of her distracted shock. "Earth to Wavela…"

Keigo slammed his head down onto the table. "You did not just do that…"

"I'm not sure whether to laugh or punch myself in the face," John added. "Though I can't really blame you; someone had to be the first, and the temptation must have been overwhelming."

"What?" The asari was even more confused, now, to her continued frustration.

"Never mind," John said. "Did anything Keigo said bother you? You just went all…silent and distant, there."

Regaining her composure, she did her best to answer. "No, he did not say anything…bad. I was just very surprised. I did not think Keigo was so learned or…interested…in theoretical military technology and development."

"I'm not," Keigo said, looking more curious than confused.

She blinked, trying to understand this seeming contradiction. "So…then…how did you get all of those ideas?"

He blinked back at her, the same blank expression of bafflement on his face. "I, uh, just kind of…thought of them."

"When?" she asked, wondering when in the past several days he had taken the time for this much brainstorming and research.

"Erm…a minute ago?" Keigo lifted a hand to scratch his ear, seeming every bit as lost as the asari. "Pretty much when you asked me the question. Why?"

Unable to respond, Morlon picked up the slack. "Does weapon design come naturally to humans?" his translator awkwardly put out.

"Huh?" Despite his tone, Keigo seemed far less perplexed now. "That's not really weapon design…that's just some normal brainstorming. Just think of what you already know about science and technology, and then add the possibilities of the mass effect to that. Don't you…haven't you guys already thought of all those?"

Wavela decided not to go with her first answer of 'no, because they're all insane and could not possibly be practical', and chose a more diplomatic "I can't say; I imagine such research and development is classified, and I don't even interact with the military aspect of things."

"That makes sense, actually," John said, satisfied by the answer. "Okay, I'm all in." He pushed his considerable pile of chips towards the center, and Wavela's jaw went slack.

She immediately folded, knowing better than to invest further in a round that obviously had much better hands in play than her own.

Kate glared at John for an entire minute, who didn't even meet her gaze while looking bored out of his mind. "I'm not falling for that, you bastard," she shot at him, moving her pile of chips towards the center. Wavela thought for a moment that Kate had actually meant to insult her friend, but she quickly realized it to be friendly banter by the smile on the woman's face.

Keigo groaned, his head falling to the table's surface with a solid thunk.

"Show 'em," John challenged, partially flipping his pair of cards. Kate threw cheap drama out the window and revealed them straight away, displaying a three-of-a-kind.

"You need to work on your bluffing," Kate remarked.

John finished flipping over his pair of cards, revealing a straight. "On the contrary."

Scant moments after Kate's smirk turned into slack-jawed surprise, Keigo tiredly blurted out from where his face was still buried in the table. "Ugh, Kate. That was the most obvious fake bluff I've ever seen."

"I know," Kate shot back, crossing her arms with a huff. "It was too obvious. I thought he was trying to make his real bluff more convincing by making it overly suspicious."

"When have I ever gone to that much trouble in a poker game?" John countered, looking almost horrified at the notion.

Wavela felt like joining Keigo in burying her face in the table.

Mssg-FWD: ICCW Report 17-3c-1

[Material Classified. Check Clearance…]

[Sufficient Clearance Confirmed. Decrypting…]

Interspecies Collaboration on Conducting Warfare Report 17-3c-1

Written and Compiled by [REDACTED]

Discussion between human and nonhuman members of the strategic and tactical brainstorming group—talking about the utterly massive differences humanity has/had in the fundamental nature of how land warfare and naval warfare were conducted.

[…skipping to 75% marker…done]

This goes a long way towards explaining the immense difference in nature of how humans have conducted naval and land warfare.

In essence, ground warfare is far more individualistic by nature—even in the blocky, disciplined formations of sword-bearing armies, maintaining discipline, group cohesion, and commitment to action was a constant struggle for even experienced units. Commanding them on an operational and strategic level was extremely difficult. Naval warfare is fundamentally different—even when commanding many ships as an admiral, an admiral can reasonably expect each individual ship to act like a sufficiently cohesive, disciplined whole. Each ship acts as its own unit, as the physical reality of a crew all being on the same boat (in the middle of a vast ocean where survival can otherwise be measured in minutes or hours) enforces such a status quo. Given that such morale and cohesion effects are self-fueling cycles, having a constant, physical bias towards cohesion makes a tremendous difference for humans.

In ancient human warfare, successfully coordinating an army at operational and tactical levels was an extremely difficult task. Morale was not merely an abstract, indirect concern that manifests over time, but a major and immediate factor in any engagement. Whereas a lone soldier feels isolation, confusion, desperation, etc, when fighting alone (or feeling like one is fighting alone), a lone ship feels the opposite. After all, without the ship, no one is going to survive—so even those who break discipline or determination will usually contribute to the ship's wellbeing, though with severely reduced effectiveness.

To convey the gist: the most critical factor in a human army's effectiveness is its coordination and communication, not its weaponry, advanced training, or familiarity with the terrain. One doesn't even have to look far back to see when some of the biggest game-changers in a given battle were preparing effective and innovative means of communications and coordination. To quote one of the central tenets of the ancient, influential, and utterly fascinating human text 'The Art of War', "all warfare is based on deception." Humanity having a general consensus supporting this notion says a great deal about their psychology and military history: information, misinformation, and lack of information is, to them, what warfare revolves around. Armies are the agents of force to achieve objectives, but knowing and not knowing various information is a more important and influential aspect of the conflict than force of arms. While this sounds just like a basic salarian military ethos on the surface, the key difference here is that for salarians, the information warfare is constant and distinct from the physical warfare, where violent action is a tool that comes into play at the proper times to brute-force their way to otherwise unattainable objectives; for humanity, information warfare—or intelligence, as they call it—is a completely different concept in peace or war. In peace, openness about intentions, general goals, and relationships is paramount; in war, every tool of deceit is brought to bear as the first line of defense and offense in the physical sense: the deceit is not at all used to avoid conflict but rather to decisively conclude it. That kind of deceit is, to humans, a central tactic of warfare that almost completely doomed to disaster if employed outside of warfare (with a few notable exceptions, granted, but the general point still stands).

A/N: Whelp, hope it isn't horrendously sloppy. I've been very lenient in that regard for a long time in this story, perhaps to too much of a degree (or for too long).

Please, let me know what you think! Your thoughts and ideas about the plot, the writing, the format, etc., are what drives this story (and where it goes and how it gets there). What parts of this story do you like best, and worst? What would you like to see more of (or for the first time) in the story?

(Also, yes: the "Texas Hold Um" thing was intentional; I originally screwed up by making it too unclear to really tell, so thanks again to Skipper311 for catching that one!)

Until next time!