Apostle's Message Redux
Mass Effect/Stargate Crossover
Author's Foreword: If you are one of the people who'd read the original Apostle's Message, you'll realize that this story is similar, but immediately has more detail and plot examination to it (also less idiot balls). It took me awhile to realize it, but I've become a better writer because of it. I would like to publically and intensely thank Bullethead for being such a clear and unbiased Beta, along with several others on the SpaceBattles Forum for their constructive criticism. (You know who you are)
To all who read, I hope you enjoy.
Nex Ab Umbras
-Dark Space outside Milky Way-
In the non-confines of dark space, it was a peaceful, final quiet. There were no sounds of parasites leeching the worlds of the galaxy, no pulses of novas or gamma rays to annoy the thought processes of a trillion minds on a single point. The freedom it gave was on the edge of tangible existence, unthinkable to anything but a transcendent life. It allowed perfect thought, a focus on subjects that swayed the growth of reality itself.
Shepard was alive. How was irrelevant- the Collectors had failed in their task on Horizon and were doomed to failure against the singularity that had become Shepard. Sovereign had underestimated the human's tenacity, preferring instead the Turian rat Saren to do his bidding. Saren was brutal, he was efficient… he was wrong.
Harbinger understood that, but there wasn't enough time to deal with Shepard. The new one was still maturing, still growing with every day's supply of material. Shepard was too fast, getting help from something so interconnected that it could sense their influence even now. The work spawned from Shepard's demise was too much at risk,
It would take time before they could reach the galaxy, time enough for Shepard to overthrow the Collectors and unite the fodder of the galaxy. Victory was assured, but millions of years of work would be lost in the battle. Sovereign's demise had been a blow, but from the ashes were the plans to raise a new life, a new collective of variety, something the Reapers hadn't been able to collect since…
That was it then, in order to combat the variety and pure tenacity of the humans, they'd have to go back to their roots, what originally led them to this existence.
Harbinger connected with the others, a quintillion voices joining together to form a single harmonious sound.
-Sentry Omega, Near Virmire-
On the edge of the galaxy, near the Sentry Omega mass relay, in the system where Shepard had delivered the galaxy from a new Krogan Horde through nuclear fire on Virmire, sacrificing one of his closest friends and allies to ensure victory, where nothing had lived and had sentient thought for untold years… something was moving.
Apostle had been lying dormant, too irrational and random for the rest, but willing to wait for when he was needed. This place had been reserved for him, a place where few would venture due to its remote location, allowing Apostle to sleep comfortably. A quintillion voices all as one roused him, the gentle vibration opening his mind. Throwing off dirt and sediment, Apostle awoke.
He was surrounded by a layer of debris that was more than just simple dust. There was an entire crust around him that impeded movement. No matter; the signal had been received and it was time to shift from darkness.
One of his arms constricted and belched out a beam of molten slag, burning a clean hole through the several kilometre thick sediment around him. Several more shots weakened the crust that enclosed him. Engaging his Mass Effect drive, Apostle spun and shattered the thick tough crust as if it were nothing more than an eggshell. Debris rained about, filling kilometer wide sections of space like the shrapnel of a fragmentation grenade. Apostle smiled inwardly thinking of the birth of a dark god in the minds of those unworthy.
Apostle listened to his brethren, the ones who made him, the ones he helped make. There was a calm about him now; he agreed to this plan for the good of them all, a plan that might never have come. How long had it been? It was possible he'd been asleep for eons, stars could have risen and fallen into eternal twilight in the time he lay dormant.
Now it was time to spread Apostle's message.
He moved slowly at first, picking up speed and inertia by using the mass effect drive to its limit. His body had been left in solitude, just near enough to the edge of the galaxy for his brethren to reach. He had drifted far from his original place, the sediment that had encased him gave him a natural camouflage, a perfect cover from the eyes of those not worthy. He needed to shake free the last vestiges of eons past off his body and be free.
The ships orbiting Virmire were unknown to Apostle, but the others explained – Turians. The trip to the planet was quick and as he moved faster than those Turians had likely ever seen, he heard more. They were searching for technology left from a battle - a puppet had worked here and they were still searching for the ashes of glory. They were afraid, afraid of something rising up once more, but they seemed to pay no attention to the Reapers.
Apostle paid no heed as they spun and opened fire. His barriers were strong, impenetrable to predicted fire like this. He skimmed the atmosphere of Virmire, leaving a long scar of atmospheric reentry as he picked up more speed, shrugging off kilotons worth of force from multiple impacts with next to no effort.
The three Turian ships desperately turned, realizing what they were facing. Apostle could have used them, simply toy for awhile until they understood the universe the way he did. But there wasn't time. This… Shepard was using the relays; Apostle's Message, while powerful, would only reach those near the relays, and even then only those whom he deemed worthy – He had to hurry.
Using his arms, Apostle reached out and grabbed the lead Turian ship by its wings, pulled and tore the craft apart – the fodder within flying out and choking in the lack of atmosphere. Apostle opened and quickly absorbed the useful elements, ensuring that nothing ever went to waste. Efficiency was the only assured chance of victory.
Apostle quickly finished the other two ships, disregarding the lack of any followers as of yet. Apostle's message was perfect – a word so powerful it would shatter minds with its intensity. The plan was perfection itself, a redundancy that would leave even the stoutest defenders in chaos, ready to commence once more from the beginning. The exponential risk was worth it now, especially with humanity having proven worthy of joining them.
Apostle neared the mass relay. It was still as powerful as when he'd first seen them; the neural pathways of the galaxy – a living testament to the perfect machine of the galaxy. Apostle moved closer and grabbed a hold of it – linking into the mind of the galaxy.
Things had changed, the Citadel was still there, but the rest of the galaxy was… different. New relays had appeared, the galaxy had evolved along the lines the Reapers had planned. The lives of the seed species couldn't fathom what it was like – the glory they could have joined if they proved worthy.
Apostle tapped deep into the Relay Network and began to feel the galaxy's pulse. He timed it; the relays would need the strength of a strong galactic pulse to do what he wanted now. He could feel everything in the galaxy, the unstoppable movement of primitive life just waiting to be uplifted into eternal harmony. There were so many, but there were more Apostle was interested in.
His brethren could have this galaxy. There were others, there had been countless others. This was a new beginning and eventually he would give birth to his own family – a level of awareness and bonding that only a galaxy could provide. The opening salvo would create the foundation, it would shake the bonds of the universe and give Apostle what he needed for ages to come, the galaxy would be his.
But not this one, and the fight would be difficult since he had no idea of the circumstances, but he'd planned for every contingency. Apostle gave one final farewell to his brethren – Perhaps some day he'd see them again, but for now, he had a message to spread and the gift of Shepard's demise to give.
-Aboard the Normandy SR-2, Orbiting Horizon-
There were men with a presence that just let you know they were there – Jeff "Joker" Moreau wasn't one of these men, but Commander Malcolm Shepard sure as hell was, and that was before Cerberus turned him into a Terminator. Joker kept calm and watched Shepard looking out at the stars from the cockpit of the Normandy SR-2 before broaching the question of how things went on Horizon. Finding Ashley after the battle had been anti-climatic to say the least, causing Joker to worry about the sanity of the likely already unstable man.
"Another reminder of how I've lost more than two years."
Shepard's slowly worsening scarred face belied just how much combat he'd seen – the wiry face and body along with the cold grayish blue eyes was something that terrified Joker and made him glad Shepard was actually his friend despite the frequent chidings.
Joker had already gotten the report from EDI, but Shepard always had something more to add about the mission. Sometimes he wondered why Shepard came and talked to him – maybe he just needed to talk to someone who didn't have to rely on him on the ground.
"Right... understood." Joker didn't bother moving past that. Shepard didn't talk much, but he and Joker trusted each other – fighting Saren had given them a bond that Joker cherished, but not one that was close enough to get personal about it.
"Get us outta here Joker, I've had enough of this planet." Shepard turned and walked away without another word.
"You got it, Commander." Joker spun in his chair and hopped on the controls. EDI had already plotted a course back to the Mass Relay, but Joker still tried to make it seem like he was busy. He still had to actually activate the engines anyway.
Joker had traded a few e-mails with Ashley in the past two years, nothing too important. After the Alliance had grounded him, there hadn't been any reason for him to stick around. It wasn't long before Cerberus contacted Joker, who spoke with a few key people from the old SR-1 crew willing to join Cerberus – Ashley hadn't been one of them as he knew she was too stubborn a soldier to ever leave. When Shepard returned from the dead thanks to Cerberus, he'd been torn over whether to contact her – Ashley wouldn't leave for him, but maybe Shepard had better luck. Shepard hadn't contacted her, so Joker never forced the issue. As nice as Ashley could be at times, her brutality on the battlefield could translate to on the ship and Joker wasn't looking forward to something up the ass with or without any sweet talk – even from Ashley.
The Normandy finished discharging its built up static charge and began speeding away towards the Mass Relay.
"Destination, Commander?" Joker asked over the com.
It took him a few seconds to reply, but Shepard's strong voice came over the intercom. "Let's go home, Joker; I wanna make sure I know what I'm fighting for again."
Only one place could mean home beside the Normandy. Joker plotted the course for the Arcturus Relay and coordinated with EDI to obtain the proper coordinates. "Course laid in commander, we'll be there in a few hours."
There was no reply, causing EDI's large blue bulb shape appeared next to Joker. "Mr. Moreau, Earth is not on our planned visitation list. What does Shepard wish to achieve by going there?"
Joker smirked and didn't even bother looking at EDI. "Probably going to try and probe Uranus."
A moment of silence. "…Really?"
Joker just sighed. EDI always missed the punchline.
-Miranda's Office on Normandy SR-2-
"You ever been to Earth?"
Miranda shrugged and continued writing her report to the Illusive Man about the mission on Horizon. Jacob could be so sentimental sometimes, she thought.
"Nothing I care to remember. But don't take that to mean I don't love what's come of it." Miranda added the last touches to her report and sent it off via the Quantum Entanglement datastream. EDI always monitored it but there was nothing particularly sensitive this time – she'd known about Shepard and Operations Chief Williams since Cerberus had taken an interest in Shepard. She couldn't really blame them for their relationship – going after Saren was a suicide mission. The similarities; the survivor's guilt, the undying loyalty to the Alliance, even their academy instructors – it only made sense they were close in their time. "If our Commander wants to leave behind his baggage and worries where he grew up on Earth, I have no issue with that. I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to visit Akuze either."
Jacob sneered sarcastically at Miranda; she found it cute when he got aggressive. "Heard Hackett's on his way to preside over the Shepard Memorial."
Miranda moved on. "Our commander does seem to survive the worst, we'll need that if we want to accomplish our job."
Jacob snorted. "Remind me who we work for again?"
"Humanity." Miranda replied with a small smile. She knew Jacob would catch her fake sincerity. "Cerberus is just the tool - you know that, Jacob."
Jacob still sighed and shook his head. "I dunno.. sometimes I look at all the good we can do. Finally kick some Collector ass and.." he turned to Miranda, still in her chair, as he leaned on the wall. "…Sometimes I start thinking."
"That's dangerous, Jacob." Miranda teased. She found it incredibly easy to rile Jacob up, especially after all the time they had worked together. "We're about to go where no one in recorded history except the Collectors and possibly the Reapers have ever come back from. Thinking isn't recommended right now."
Jacob didn't lash back with his own icy words; now Miranda knew something was bothering him. "I've got no worries about the mission. Collectors have taken so many of us, I just want them to pay. Even if I have to get Chakwas to revive them just to kill them again."
Miranda slid up and out of her chair, noticing Jacob give her body a quick once over – as always – before looking back at her face. "That's the spirit, Jacob. Now seriously, tell me what's wrong."
Jacob clicked his jaw and shook his head idly. He'd gotten the message to leave and he didn't hesitate. "Just thinking about things, who am I fighting for?" He moved towards the door and waved casually. "I'll see you later, Miranda."
Miranda sighed softly as Jacob left. She knew what was bothering him- it was finally time to keep that promise she'd made to him. Once they reached Earth, she'd send him the information.
-McMurdo Base, Antarctica, Earth-
Major Samantha Carter was furious. After saving the planet so many times, to be denied this one mission was an affront to everything she'd ever believed in.
"Be patient, Major Carter." Sam turned to Teal'c, who now had a thin layer of hair covering his once smoothly shaven scalp. "They will see reason. They must."
Sam nodded softly as she gazed over the rest of McMurdo's mess hall. Pilots and soldiers all milled about, ready to protect the dozens of researchers and scientists who were going to the Ancient Outpost they'd discovered. Protect them from what was another thing altogether; there was no immediate threat by the Goa'uld and no international threat aside from the egos of the scientists. Even McKay was slated to show up, which left Sam was wondering if she could find a citrus based conditioner on the base. "I know, It's just…!"
"They will give us the Tel'tak, Major Carter." Teal'c interrupted, voice filled with confidence and authority. "It is tactically useless to refuse. The Asgard will be able to assist us in reviving Colonel O'Neill."
Sam played with the food before her. There was a serious level of wonder on the base, but all she felt was emptiness and ennui. She could only hope that as soon as they could extract the stasis unit from the outpost without killing Jack, she could go and talk to Doctor Weir about the situation.
-Normandy SR-2 enroute to Arcturus-
Garrus had just drawn up the plans to refit the Normandy with the new Thanix Cannons the Turians had recently reverse engineered from Sovereign's weapons when the ship began to shake. Garrus held onto the railing by the disruptor torpedo bay and balanced himself, eyes flicking upwards towards the CIC.
Once it was over, yelling and alarms bombarded him as he opened the compartment's door. As far as he knew they were just heading to Earth- a little out of the way, but Shepard knew what he was doing. No one was expecting a fight now, especially after the pounding the Collector's took on Horizon. Garrus charged out past the cryopods and galley towards the elevator, unsurprised to see Miranda coming out of her office and the crew rushing to their stations.
"What's going on?"
Miranda didn't even slow down as she moved to the elevator. "Something's wrong."
"Obviously." Garrus fell in line behind her, stepping inside and beginning the short journey up to the CIC.
Even before the door opened, they could hear Shepard's voice. "Joker! I swear to god, if that's you and EDI fighting I'm going to make you scrub every last toilet on this ship with your toothbrush!"
Garrus raised an eyebrow. Shepard had changed since Saren and the Geth – but then again so had he.
Joker replied over the com hurriedly. "Not me, sir! Turbulence is from something else! We're about to come out of the Arcturus Relay!"
Garrus learned long ago that turbulence in a ship going faster than light wasn't a good thing.
The ship popped out of the relay, only about a minute worth of travel from one end of the galaxy to the other. Garrus instantly noted on the screens ringing the Galaxy Map podium that the area was a lot emptier than it should have been.
Shepard stood up straight and ran a second scan himself from the command dais. It only confirmed what they were seeing.
The Arcturus Station and fleet were gone. The stellar coordinates were correct, the Mass Relay had the same signature as before. But the station and the entire Arcturus Fleet was gone. Not destroyed, just simply gone.
-Normandy SR-2, Cockpit-
Joker nearly had a heart attack at the sight mere seconds ago. The entire Arcturus fleet, the bastion of the Alliance had somehow ceased to exist. Shepard had frozen in place on the command deck, but only for a moment.
"This is Commander Shepard to the crew, general quarters. Man your posts and await further orders. Shepard out."
Joker didn't know what to do, having never faced a situation so unusual before. EDI ran scans all the while, desperately searching for something recognizable. "EDI… please tell me they're just hiding behind the curtains."
EDI's bulb turned to Joker. "Your attempt at humor to lighten the situation is less than effective."
Joker snorted despite himself. "Says the overmind."
A moment passed without a reply, but then Shepard cut their contest. "Joker, set a course for the secondary relay. Let's figure out what's going on before we make any rash judgments."
Joker tried to reply. "A… Aye sir." He bit his lips, the shock had gotten deeper into him than he'd thought.
"Calm down, there has to be a logical explanation."
Joker quickly checked the communication channel, thankfully Shepard had switched to private line and nobody but EDI had heard the reassurance. "Aye sir."
The CIC was eerily quiet. Nobody was saying anything, at least nothing that could be heard behind closed doors.
-Normandy SR-2, Mordin's Lab-
"What the hell is going on?"
Mordin blinked twice. Shepard was being unusually hostile as he stormed in front of the salarian scientist. It'd been about five minutes since they'd arrived and little had been done.
"Data is insufficient to place even an educated guess. Wild speculation is the best possible response at this moment."
The lab was thankfully soundproofed, as Shepard's stress levels were exaggerated to the point of near comedy. The main table of the lab separated the two as Shepard paced back and forth, constantly fidgeting, while Mordin merely watched in curiosity. Mordin considered whether to answer Shepard's questions or shoot him full of tranquillizers. "The entire fleet is gone Mordin! I'm not talking a few ships lost in combat, they're just gone."
"Scans indicate more than just fleet is gone." Mordin linked into the ship's computer system pulling up the scan results on his omnitool. "Arcturus Relay station is a transit hub for all human traffic. Signals are sent through at all times, but I am only detecting incoming signals. No debris, no outgoing signals from secondary relay, not even particulate matter that implies an artificial origin."
The door to the CIC opened and Miranda stepped through with a stern expression. She waited until it closed before speaking. "The crew is on edge. Most of them are from Earth and many have family in the Alliance. Any luck figuring out what's happening?"
Mordin shook his head, while Shepard just sighed and rubbed his right temple as the salarian glanced over the data. "If scans are to be believed, there is no traffic in either ships or signals coming from secondary relay to Earth. Signals from the Arcturus Relay heading towards Earth have actually increased."
Shepard furrowed his brow. "Increased? What do you mean, people are trying to get in contact with Earth?"
Miranda shook her head idly and sighed. "We could try and break the encryption, but most of it is probably military. It would take EDI a while to get through that level of encryption."
Shepard turned to Miranda with a scowl. "We'll be at Earth for awhile by the time she does. Concentrate on Alliance military channels, but check the newscasts now, see if anything's happening."
Miranda linked her own omnitool to the extranet and brought up the news. An Asari news caster appeared in a hologram before them. "…ain calm. I repeat, we've lost contact with several worlds and relay hubs, but we have no information regarding why. The council has been convened in emergency session to examine what is going on while all military forces are to be put on high alert. Military and civil leaders urge civilians to stay in your homes and avoid using the relays for the time being."
Shepard waved his hand. "Enough. Let's get to Earth now." He lowered his head. "If it's still there."
-Normandy SR-2, CIC Deck-
Garrus considered heading back to his station at the weapons control; a good place to be in the event of a battle, but something told him that wasn't going to happen here. He gripped onto the console ahead of him and saw Miranda do the same on the other side of the Galaxy Map, while Shepard stood atop the dais, gripping the railing with both hands. Tense was an understatement.
The holographic screen changed to a forward camera, with the secondary relay to Earth in full view. Joker called out the transit and Garrus felt that ever so slightly unsettling feeling as they entered the relay. It quickly came to an end, and as Garrus gave thanks for his instincts, the ship suddenly lurched violently as though it had been hit by heavy weapons fire. Garrus hung on to the console for dear life as he was flung towards the aft bulkhead, barely managing to keep his grip as the worst of the impact reverberated through the ship.
The holographic screen went black, but quickly began to light up with stars and the dim light from the sun ahead. Alarms blared throughout the ship as everyone was tossed about from the violent impact. Shepard held on throughout the turbulence, grimly staring ahead as the galaxy map flickered in front of him, and screamed. "Report!"
No one answered. Fires and sparks were all over the place, forcing the crew to scramble to keep the ship from falling apart. A cacophony of voices filled the air as crew members began damage control and performing triage on injured comrades. Garrus brought up sensor information on his console, struggling to read the information as the display flickered in and out of existence. "We're in normal space! Something's wrong, I'm not reading the relay!"
Joker finally replied. "Commander! I don't know what the hell just happened but our barriers are down to nothing! Armor's penetrated all over the place and engines are damaged! Weapons, sensors and communications are going haywire! We've got stress fractures and warped hull along the wings, and power's browning out!"
"Are we venting atmosphere?"
"No sir! But whatever that was it tore us a new asshole!"
The holographic display's view swept around the ship, showing a cloud of debris was all around them. But it was not the simple debris that was expected to be around a relay; large chunks of ice were rapidly flying away from the Normandy.
There must have been an asteroid near the Charon Relay, Garrus thought, but that didn't make sense. The stations near the relay would make sure the area was clear of anything that would pose a major threat to the ships using it. Were those stations gone too?
Miranda moved back to her console and tapped the controls, causing EDI to pop up. "EDI, What's going on?"
The bulb projection blinked once, and then replied casually. "Sensors are either malfunctioning, or we have just broken through the outer mantle of the ice crust that surrounded the Charon Relay."
Miranda scowled. "That's impossible; the relay was uncovered and cleaned out. We must have ended up somewhere else."
Shepard's voice cut through the din. "No, look." He pointed to the holographic display which now swung around to show what lay behind them. The relay was there, a large portion of it still covered up by the sediment that had built up over the ages. "Check sensors. We're in Sol." He grimaced and tapped communications. "Set a course for Earth. And someone get me a full damage report."
Garrus watched Shepard calmly turn and walk back to the elevator. He could see the confusion on his old friend's face amidst the smoke and sparks of damaged electronics in the air around them. The war-hardened soldier did not look happy as he got in the elevator and tapped the control button.
Garrus hated these kinds of battles where it was nothing but nature working against you.
-McMurdo Base, Antarctica-
The alarms in the Antarctic base suddenly went off. Sam saw servicemen and women rushing to their stations and with a glance to Teal'c, the pair decided to investigate.
They entered the main command and control room of McMurdo, where General Raymond Warnes was simultaneously issuing orders and receiving information from a dozen different places. The room was packed with computer monitors of various sizes and warrant officers scrambling about, passing information and coordinating armed forces. The General was in his typical dress uniform, a military hat hiding the majority of his hair except for a band of silvery grey along his temples. He was lean and fit, a career soldier from the looks of both his physique and medals on his chest. Sam gave a quick salute which Warnes returned, along with an explanation for the red blinking lights and agitated officers inside. "Just in time. I was about to call you down, Major. We're receiving telemetry now; deep space sensors just picked up a disturbance on the edge of the solar system.."
Sam nodded idly and watched the large screen in the room flicker to life. She could make out Pluto in the distance as the focus cleared and zoomed in. There was a large amount of debris nearby - gigantic chunks of ice.
"What the...? It's like Charon just suddenly erupted on one side. This is live?"
General Warnes nodded and picked up the phone. "This is General Warnes to all pilots. Prepare for possible launch. I repeat, prepare for possible sortie." He turned to Sam. "Look in the left corner, NORAD's tracking it with those fancy Asgard sensors."
Sam's eyes drifted over and she saw what Warnes was talking about. It was tiny compared to the rest of the moving parts in the image, but it was clear. "A ship… I've never seen that configuration."
"Nor have I." Teal'c added. "It appears to be heading this way. How fast is it moving, General?"
Warnes sighed. "At the speed it's going, it'll be here in a few hours." He turned to Sam and nodded. "Looks like the Goa'uld aren't through with us just yet."
Sam looked at the tiny craft in the image. It didn't look like anything she'd ever seen before; certainly not Goa'uld. But whatever it was, they'd soon find out.
-Engineering Deck, Normandy SR-2-
It had to be the work of the Reapers. There was no other explanation given the timing and circumstances. Shepard didn't know exactly what to think- the Charon Relay looked exactly as it did in his history classes when they'd dug it out of the ice. He idly wished Tali was around as he looked over to Engineer Donnelley. "There! That help?"
Donnelly and his partner in crime, Gabriella Daniels, nodded. "Aye sir! Venting the plasma has stopped the overheating for now, but we're lit up like a Christmas tree! Anyone with half-decent sensors will be able to pick us up until we can shed this heat."
"I'm a little more worried about the engines! They took a beatin' coming out of the relay and we're coastin' on thrusters now!"
"What about the anti-protons?" Shepard asked. "I do not want an explosion."
Daniels breathed deeply, her hands caked in dust and grease. "Emergency containment kept it from blowing obviously, and we can jettison the storage core if things look really bad. I don't want to do it unless it's a last ditch move."
Shepard sighed tersely. The Alliance had trained him specifically to deal with tech oriented combat, not maintenance. Infiltrators broke shit, not fix it. "No. Jettison it now, we're hit bad and one false move and they won't even need body bags to bury us. Aim it towards one of the gas giants so it doesn't do any damage." Daniels visibly gulped, but nodded in agreement. Shepard could swear she mumbled 'aye sir' but he didn't hear it. He turned to Donnelly. "Can we make orbit of Earth? Get close enough for them to send us some help?"
Donnelly brought up the thruster system on his display. Shepard looked over his shoulder and saw that the thrusters could only muster fifty percent power. They'd taken serious damage. "Long as Joker doesn't skim the atmosphere we'll be fine. Just hope we don't crash into any of those old satellites."
Shepard grumbled and walked away. Donnelly and Daniels would have to work it out now, he was needed else-
Shepard turned to see Jack popping her head out of her hidey hole beneath the drive core. "What do you want, Jack?"
Jack pulled herself up and around onto the stairs. "Who the fuck do you have driving this Cerberus tin-can? That cripple's gonna get us all killed!"
Shepard stopped in his tracks before entering the main hallway of the engineering room. The woman had only been on the ship a few weeks and already acted like it was her playground. His eyes widened as he slowly turned his head to face Jack. "You talk about Joker like that again, I'll seal off your little cave and vent your ass into space."
Jack scowled and flipped Shepard off before jumping back into her cave. Shepard still had misgivings about having Jack aboard, but as biotically and criminally gifted as she was, she was useful.
The door opened, and Shepard again flinched as Grunt growled loudly in front of him.
"Shepard!" Grunt looked down at Shepard. "Don't shoot anything without telling me first."
Shepard grimaced and wearily shook his head. "I wouldn't dream of it."
-The Oval Office, Washington DC.-
General Hammond sighed and looked at the Joint Chiefs around him. They had been planning the funeral honors ceremony for the carrier battlegroup Anubis destroyed when the phone had rung.
Another possible alien invasion – not even a week had passed since Anubis's massive fleet had been repelled by SG-1. He'd been hoping that Carter and Teal'c would be able to set out soon, but this new visitor changed all that. He looked over at President Henry Hayes and shook his head. "Prometheus is still in drydock under repair. The soonest we'd be able to launch more than the F-302s at McMurdo and Area 51 would be two days."
Hayes groaned and drummed his fingers on the desk. "What about that Ancient Outpost? We took out Anubis easy enough."
Hammond sighed. "Colonel O'Neill was the only one with the gene and knowledge to use it. Waking him up would likely kill him, with no guarantee that he'd be physically able to fire those drones anymore. We've contacted the clone of Colonel O'Neill, but the soonest we can have him to the Antarctic outpost is three hours. We also don't know if the ancient knowledge is required to use those weapons. Frankly, I can't consider it more than a last ditch option."
Hayes smacked the desk with his fist softly. "You know, when I accepted this office, I always wondered what would define my administration other than Kinsey's being a popular jackass." He sighed and looked to Hammond. "Who knew it'd be alien invasions? Get the Russians on the horn, Tell em to pretend its 'war games'. Bring us to DEFCON 2 because if this does turn out badly, I want to win that quick draw."
-Cockpit, Normandy SR-2-
Joker fought to keep from complaining about how sluggish the Normandy was manoeuvring. The Tantalus Drive was only making the ship somewhat lighter than its normal mass, so the trip to Earth was taking a lot longer than normal - although though he could already see that everything was wrong.
"Sir, I'm picking up a lot of strange readings…"
Shepard was standing right behind him now. It wasn't like before with him standing at the command dais, now he was getting into the nitty gritty. He snorted. "The Arcturus fleet is missing, Charon is covered in ice again and now you're saying Earth is different too. Define strange."
Joker looked over his shoulder to where Shepard had situated himself. He looked so different in his Cerberus jumpsuit rather than Alliance blues. His tone had gotten rougher and more condescending, his sarcasm getting dangerously sharp. Joker wondered if the clothes really did make the man. Looking at Miranda standing nearby though, Joker figured those jumpsuits had their benefits too.
"Not that normal kind of strange, Commander. I'm not picking up any of the standard frequencies. Just a bunch of radio and microwaves. And I'm not picking up any eezo, defense platforms, satellites… just nothing. It's all gone."
EDI popped up and began to explain in detail. "Long range scans reveal that it is Earth, but not the Earth we know. We are not yet close enough for a detailed scan, but none of the outer planets have any of the mining operations or sensor satellites our records show."
Joker gulped and looked around the console. "Please tell me this is the second coming of David Blaine."
"Joker!" Shepard growled much louder than needed. "I've got an idea, launch a probe at the nearest planet."
EDI blinked twice before asking. "Shepard?"
Joker winced. He'd meant it as a joke dammit… EDI sighed wearily and muttered. "Probing Uranus." Joker bit back a laugh. The humor helped distract him from the seriousness of the situation. Those within earshot either winced or chuckled and when Joker turned, Shepard's eyes were wide.
"Oh grow up Joker." Shepard scolded, but bit back a laugh of his own. Obviously Shepard hadn't expected the ridiculous comment from EDI.
The probe quickly met its target, relaying information back to the ship. EDI made a curious sound. "Fascinating, the probe's information indicates an abnormally large amount of minable surface resources."
Shepard narrowed his eyes and Joker could see the hamsters turning the wheels in his head. "This isn't our solar system… Nothing's the same."
"Except the planets." Joker ventured. Shepard gave him a slight glare.
- McMurdo Base, Command Center -
"Launch fighters. I want a course prediction for that ship so we can intercept it in high orbit."
Sam bit the insides of her lip, but did as she was told. Sitting down next to the chief warrant officer relaying the launch order, she began to calculate where the craft would reach Earth.
The ship looked so strange, nothing at all like what the Jaffa or Hebridians or any other space faring culture she'd met used. The Asgard sensors began to get more detailed information, but none of what they detected seemed familiar at all.
- Normandy SR-2, Cockpit -
"I have infiltrated their wireless networks and find nothing that we'd recognize in our day and age."
"Day and age?" Miranda asked as they cleared Mars, close enough to pick up wireless signals from Earth. "You're saying that we're not in our own time?"
EDI's bulb moved to face Miranda. "Given the level of technological development I can see, I would assume we've arrived sometime in the late 20th century to early 21st century. In fact…" EDI popped away and the image of a newscaster appeared. The date in the bottom left said 2006.
Joker quickly looked to Shepard. "Not my fault!"
Shepard just sighed, and shook his head. "Not blaming you, just get us in orbit." He opened a com link to Mordin. "Mordin, as stupid and crazy as this sounds, EDI thinks we're almost 200 years in the past. I want theories for how this could have happened ASAP."
"Understood Shepard. Wild and untested hypothesis bordering on lunacy may be only recourse," replied Mordin.
Shepard cut the line to Mordin and opened a new one to engineering. "Donelly, can you get stealth systems online?"
A few seconds passed, but Donelly replied with an oddly cheerful voice. "Aye sir, though we won't be able to maintain it for more than an hour with our damaged capacitors. Anyone with good enough sensors will be able to pick us up with an active pulse regardless, as our stealth sheathing is damaged as well."
"Got it." Shepard turned to Miranda. "We'll take a look, see what's going on, then decide whether or not to make contact. This situation is crazy, but it is what it is. I hope that fancy schooling of yours had good history teachers."
-Command and Control Room, McMurdo Base-
"It looks like it's taking a high orbit of the planet. Scans reveal some kind of gravity drive and anti-proton engines. I'm also picking up laser emitters and a pair of what look like missile launchers as far as weapons go. It's…" Sam winced and ran her fingers through her hair. "I don't get it. The technology aboard that ship is completely unknown to us. A few things look like hypothetical technologies, but nothing we have is even close to that. It doesn't resemble any Hebridian or Goa'uld technology either."
"It doesn't appear to be fully functional though." She pointed to the sensor display. "We're picking damage to its exterior hull plating, which seems to be a radar absorbing material, but we can't get clear enough readings just yet. It's also coming in way too fast for a safe orbital entry."
Behind her, General Warnes growled. "Is it a threat?"
Sam shrugged. "Well…yes sir, but even an unupgraded Ha'tak is more of a threat."
Warnes didn't need to hear more. "Then it's enough." He tapped his headset. "Tell the pilots to disengage safeties and to take a defensive position. Make sure the target can see our fighters."
"Wait!" Sam turned. "Let's try and contact it, sir. We don't know they're hostile."
Teal'c nodded as well. "Indeed. Apart from their arrival, they have not made any hostile actions General."
Warnes clicked his jaw as he stared at the screen. "After Anubis, we're not taking any unnecessary chances with aliens in our system. President's orders." He turned back to the headset. "Pilots, approach the target once it enters orbit and give an ultimatum. Terminate with deadly force if they don't respond."
"Sir!" Sam chided. "We have no clue if they're hostile or not, they're not like anything we've seen before and to assume they're hostile…"
Warnes turned to Sam with a hardened face. "I won't be responsible for a preventable attack. If they were friendly, they'd contact us before entering orbit, and looking at that vector they're trying to land." Warnes rubbed the side of his temple and then spoke again. "Get me the head scientists at the Ancient outpost. I want to know if we can fire those Ancient weapons if we need to. And I want coordination with NORAD SATCOM for our ICBMs."
Sam held her tongue. Warnes wasn't taking any chances...
-Cockpit, Normandy SR-2 in High Orbit of Earth-
"Shepard." EDI chimed.
Shepard turned to EDI as they began to near Earth. "What?"
"I've just calculated our approach vector and velocity. With the damaged Tantalus Core, we can only maintain a high orbit of the planet."
Joker snorted. "Yeah, that's what I'm aiming for. We need a good amount of inertia if we want to get something stable with only thrusters to manoeuvre with. What, you think I'm not trained for battle damage?"
Shepard wanted to chide Joker, but EDI wouldn't speak up without a good reason. "What's wrong EDI?"
"Sensors are picking up what appear to be interceptors taking off from a base in Antarctica and the Nevada Desert. If these fighters can reach us, they may be able to push us into a decaying orbit we would not be able to escape."
Miranda raised an eyebrow. "If I recall, those are McMurdo and Area 51 respectively. I don't remember anything about Earth having space capable fighters at this time. We were barely beginning to get into genetic engineering and cybernetics from what I recall."
Shepard watched on the screen as the little red dots began to approach the Normandy. The situation was so bizarre that he didn't know whether to be worried or not. "Can they pick us up? Stealth systems are online. I thought Earth didn't have deep space sensors back then, least of all countermeasures to stealth. How do we know they're coming for us?"
EDI's voice remained calm as always. "Their trajectories imply an orbital target, very unusual for an atmospheric fighter. I have been going through their networked wireless internet signals as well, and apart from a shocking amount of pornographic material, I am picking up references which are completely unknown to me. This is not our Earth, either past or present."
Joker smirked. "Except for the porn."
"What do you mean?" Shepard ignored Joker and directed the question to EDI. "From what I can see, it seems to be Earth. What references are you talking about?"
EDI brought up news images, newspaper headlines, all dated well in the past. "These are events that do not match up with our records of Earth. Asteroid impacts, solar flares, war games between the USA and Russia."
Shepard furrowed his brow. "Cover stories?"
The situation was getting more and more confusing. "Those fighters, are they a threat?"
"Scanning." EDI announced. "Fighters appear to be a mixture of Earth and unknown alien technology. Shepard?"
"I am not picking up any Element Zero drive cores. Those craft are being propelled with chemical rocket boosters and aerospike engines. Their armament seems to be 20mm chemically propelled projectiles and rocket boosted anti-air missiles. I would surmise they are hybrid fighters, utilizing technology unknown to us. At their rate of climb, the pilots should be experiencing inertial blackouts. Very unusual."
"Cannons and anti-air missiles? Not even enough to crack our armor, let alone a frigate sized barrier." Miranda commented. "They don't have anything stronger?"
EDI blinked. "I am picking up over twenty three thousand nuclear weapon signatures on the planet."
Shepard smiled ruefully. "Definitely Earth. But not ours. I think we should tell them we're coming."
A few seconds passed, and EDI replied. "Our communications systems are both not completely compatible, as well as damaged at the moment. Had they our same level of technology we could at least ping them to acknowledge our arrival, but their systems will not detect our laser based communications. We can hear them, but they cannot hear us. I will require a few moments to adjust our communications while the ships engineers work to repair them."
"Will they get here before that?"
"More than likely."
-Ancient Outpost, Antarctica-
Major John Sheppard watched in awe as more of those fancy new 'experimental' fighters took off from the runway. Even up in his transport chopper, he could feel the wake from their powerful engines. He'd heard of the hypersonic Aurora plane that was supposedly in development, but he discounted it as ramblings of conspiracy theorists. I guess I was wrong, he thought as the planes flew into the distance.
John had just dropped off a fresh batch of scientists to some research facility in the middle of nowhere before circling around the sudden no-fly zone to make way for the fighters. They looked like blades in the air even at this distance and he wondered, maybe, if he hadn't screwed up in Afghanistan, if he could have gotten to fly one of them.
He pushed those thoughts out of his mind and just hovered. It was just a matter of waiting for the fighters to finish taking off before he could land and he had plenty of fuel left.
-Cockpit, Normandy SR-2-
"Donnelly, can you get the barriers back up?"
Shepard cursed softly under his breath. His ship was torn to shreds from punching through Charon's icy crust and he didn't like the possibility of being shot down by his own people because he couldn't talk to them. Donnelly reported. "Not before those fighters get here, sir. We're already losing power to the Tantalus drives and…"
"Got it." Sheppard interrupted. "Can you at least get GARDIAN on-line?"
A moment of hesitation. "…I can give you a few shots, but it'll deplete our reserve batteries."
"Good enough." Shepard moved up and stood next to Joker. "If those fighters get too close, try and warn them off. If they fire any of those missiles, shoot the missiles down but don't touch those fighters."
Miranda raised an eyebrow. "Shouldn't we wait to try and hail them?"
"I'd love to but until we adapt we have to make due. Besides, they don't look like they want to talk. This isn't our Earth and if they've got hybrid technology, they know about aliens.." Shepard explained. "They wouldn't launch fighters if they thought we were friendly. Let's just hope we can talk our way out of this one with a minimal use of body bags."
"Shepard, I have come up with a plausible explanation!"
Shepard flinched at the rapid stream of words. He wasn't surprised that Mordin was listening the whole time and coming to his own conclusions. "Good to see someone's on the ball. Whaddya got?"
"Turbulence in relay suggests possible space/time anomaly. There is no known method for disrupting Mass Relay or FTL travel using Mass Effect fields, but full extent of Reaper technology also not known. Sensor logs and EDI's report suggests we are not even in our own universe. Multiuniversal travel theoretically possible considering relay physics and potential space time anomalies, but practically impossible…" Mordin paused for dramatic effect - at least that's what Sheppard thought he always did it for. "...in theory."
Shepard blinked and looked over at Miranda. "Did he just tell us we're fucked?"
Miranda shrugged. "More or less." She pointed ahead to the fighters coming up from the atmosphere. "Whatever you're going to do, you'll need to do it soon. Those fighters might not pose a huge threat, but if we get into a fight, those ICBMs might."
Shepard turned back to the screen where Earth shone like a big blue marble. This wasn't the homecoming he was expecting. "Nothing's ever simple anymore, is it? EDI, get our damn communications online."
-Command and Control Room, McMurdo Base-
Sam watched the situation unfold on the screen – the F-302s were moving closer, spread out in a wide wedge formation. "They haven't made any aggressive moves. If they wanted to fire on us they could have done it by now."
Warnes growled. "They haven't hailed us. Doesn't seem like a friendly thing to do, Major."
Sam decided to just shut her mouth and pray. The F-302s were getting closer and it wouldn't be much longer for visual contact.
The craft began to move, tufts of exhaust pushed it into a lower orbit, almost like it was trying to evade the F-302s. Sam worried about what Warnes might do. She barely knew the General; he was nothing like Hammond from the looks of it.
"Titan wing, keep on the intruder. If it continues to evade without communication, fire a warning shot."
Sam bit her lip. The General was treating the intruder like something he knew. Without more information, there was no way to tell what the craft's intentions were.
-The Oval Office, Washington DC-
"What?" President Hayes screamed as Hammond explained. "Who gave them permission?" The objects on his desk shook from his fist pounding on it.
General Hammond sighed tersely. "You did, sir."
Hayes eyes went wide. "I did not! I told Warnes to launch fighters in case we were under attack! Being prepared isn't an aggressive action. I never authorized him to take any offensive action!"
The Joint Chiefs behind Hammond were now busy coordinating with the other SGC nations. Russia had armed their ICBMs as well and China was preparing for disclosure. The Commonwealth Nations were prepared to assist the United States in anyway they could. General Hammond nodded. "You signed the order three days ago for all SGC affiliated Generals to do whatever it takes to defend this planet from alien invasion, sir. In the event of an emergency, we may not be able to reach you and each General and Base is authorized to act independently in the interest of planetary security. General Warnes is acting under your authority."
Hayes turned to his assistant who'd gone pale seeing the screen with the small blue dots now approaching the large red one. "Goddammit! Get Warnes on this phone now! We have to stop him!"
-Cockpit, Normandy SR-2-
"Incoming! GARDIAN defenses online!" Joker targeted the fighters and tried to move the ship out of the way. The thrusters vainly struggled to move the heavy ship in orbit, but it wasn't enough. "They're sending ultimatums, but we still can't reply!" The fighters were moving in a course to intercept. If they had hostile intentions, they would be at point blank firing range. "Shepard, orders?"
Shepard looked at EDI who shook her holographic avatar. "Just another moment for communications."
"Too long." Shepard muttered. "Joker, Move us out of the way! Hold fire!"
Joker felt a soft drift as the ship's thrusters fired. The Normandy drifted lower into orbit dodging the incoming fighters but also losing height. They'd begun to graze the top of the atmosphere, ever so slightly losing speed. With the Tantalus core damaged, Joker didn't know how deep he could take the ship while still being able to pull out of a decaying orbit.
The fighter craft spun around after zipping past, now following the Normandy as Joker tried to push the craft up and out.
- McMurdo, Command and Control -
"Titan leader, do another close fly by. If they don't respond by then, open fire." Warnes ordered with conviction.
"Sir they haven't opened fire on us!" Sam need to try and get through to him, she didn't see any hostile intentions. "Our fighters came close enough to throw rocks and…"
"And they took a lower orbit!" Warnes growled. "Now you will shut your mouth unless asked Major, or I will have you thrown in the brig."
Teal'c moved closer, just enough to let Sam know he was on her side. Orders were orders though and Sam bit her lip. "Yes sir."
"Fly by ineffective, the craft is heading into a lower orbit!"
"What the… It's got words on it… Normandy!"
Sam could feel the tendons in her arms constrict. This wasn't how they were supposed to be dealing with this situation. She spoke as politely as possible, but still firm enough to get the point across. Brig be damned. "General, I strongly recommend you order those fighters off. That craft has laser cannons and if they wanted they could have burnt our fighters away before they fired a shot. They're not hostile!"
General Warnes looked at Sam and then around to the command and control room. His graying hair denoted experience, but Sam could see he was questioning his resolve. "And if you're wrong? And if this is just some trick by some alien bastard to blow us to kingdom come? You know as well as I do how simple it would be to arm a ship like that with Naquadah based nuclear weapons."
Sam gave Warnes a pleading look. She could see the near despair in his eyes at the deteriorating situation. She wondered if maybe Warnes wasn't just still paranoid from Anubis' invasion. That she could understand. "With a Laser Cannon at that range, it would be near impossible for any automated targeting system to miss." Sam tried to keep the indignation out of her voice, Warnes needed to see reason. "Look at their ship sir, they're crippled. The biggest threat is them crashing because our fighters are forcing them into a lower orbit!"
The pilot's banter suddenly switched to shock as they began to peel off, even without orders. "This is Titan 2-1; I just received a signal from the intruder. It's declaring peaceful intentions - in English. The ship does have writing on it! Big white letters spelling out 'Normandy SR-2' – it's in English too. The hell's going on here Command?"
General Warnes watched on the screen as the 'Normandy' fired it's engines again, this time trying to move away from the planet but struggling. "If you're right… then who are they?"
Sam contained her anger, Teal'c reassuring her with his presence. "I don't know, sir. But they could have destroyed our 302s; we should try and contact them."
The red phone behind Warnes on the wall began to ring, and instantly Sam knew what was going to happen. They might have dodged a serious bullet here, but that still didn't mean this 'Normandy' wasn't a threat.
-Cockpit, Normandy SR-2-
"They've broken off, but we've got a problem." Joker furiously tapped on his controls, his voice getting antsy. "Tantalus core is just too damaged. The ship weighs a shit ton more than it should for space flight and we're skimming the atmosphere. We're in degrading orbit and we can't fight it without the drive core at full strength. We are so going down."
EDI popped up and quickly ran through information on the screen. "Mr. Moreau is correct. Without the Tantalus Drive reducing the overall mass of the craft, we do not have enough operational thrust to prevent landfall."
Shepard cursed under his breath and looked over at Miranda. Even in this dire circumstance she looked smug. "What about venting the hanger? Maybe the boost'll keep us in orbit."
"Unlikely." EDI explained. "I have already calculated that venting the hold will only buy us a small amount of time, at our present course and speed, we will be entering in the northern Atlantic Ocean within thirty minutes"
Joker cursed. "Oh well that's just perfect. A space ship with no brakes in an atmosphere where it'll fly like a wet tissue."
"Joker." Shepard warned, his voice getting dangerous.
A/N: Updates will be about this size, every few weeks i'd say. Bullethead IS a very good Beta :D