The great machine-intelligence watched over the untouched system as the primitive AI called Geth continued to build up forces by its command. Already the armada consisted of over 2300 ships, and more were being constructed continually and at increasing rates.
The machine-intelligence had boosted the Geth's programming exponentially, and upgraded their technology by substantial margins. But still, they were not ready. Not yet. More cultivation would need to be done. More pieces would need to be set into place. And more ships would need to be built.
So for now, the machine-intelligence would bide its time. Its kind was nothing if not patient.
In its infinite knowledge it knew it would not fail.
As soon as Alenna and her group stepped out of the decontamination chamber, they were greeted by a multitude of species, some of them very large. Foremost were two individuals centered in front of them, a human to their right and an alien they had never seen to their left. Both were adorned in elaborate looking outfits, and judging by their stance and demeanor it was clear they were important individuals. Alenna guessed these were the diplomats. Surrounding them were six individuals on each side, standing straight and attentive. A guard unit of some kind? Out of this group Alenna spotted three humans, four four-jawed aliens, three more squat aliens, and two enormous beasts. The latter were clad in metallic plating of some kind with no discernable features beneath other than an orange mesh.
It was the human diplomat who stepped forward first. "Welcome Captain Alenna T'Velos of the Seloria. I am Sergio Augusto, ambassador for the Unified Earth Government representing humanity. I trust you can understand me?"
"Yes," Alenna replied. "It is an honor to meet you." She bowed. "On behalf of the Citadel Council, I wish to extend an offer of peace and friendship between our peoples."
The human ambassador smiled, but it didn't seem to reach his eyes. "That…is very good to hear. I surely hope this offer is sincere. Last time humanity made an encounter such as this it did not turn out so well."
Alenna wasn't sure how to respond to that. Did a war of some kind break out? It seemed the most likely conclusion given the debris field. But on what scale? Deciding that now was not the time to start prying for information—that would come later—she said, "Well, I do not know of such things. I can only guarantee you that our offer is quite sincere. The Citadel Council is the foremost power in the galaxy and has maintained peace for thousands of years. We are comprised of many species and have learned to coexist."
Strangely, this only made the smile on the human's face fade. "This Citadel Council, it claims supreme control over its domain?"
"I wouldn't quite put it that way. Our races are unified, however each species maintains its own anatomy and laws, and the Council always attempts to find peaceful and diplomatic solutions to any myriad of problems that are bound to occur in a vast mix of cultures. There are some laws and regulations that all species must follow to be part of this organization, but they are never forced. If a species wishes to remain separate, we respect that decision, though that rarely happens."
For a moment the human merely stared at her. Alenna got the distinct feeling that he was judging her, determining if she could be trusted or not. Just before the situation could become awkward, the ambassador said, "Well, if what you say is true, it will be great to finally meet a civilization with peaceful intentions."
Now Alenna was really intrigued. That all but confirmed that a war broke out. It also explained why these people seemed so paranoid. If their contact with another race was anything like the Rachni, Alenna could understand why they would be hesitant meeting new species.
Before she could enquire farther, Augusto said, "Speaking of civilizations, I should introduce you to the representative of our ally."
The large four-jawed creature stepped forward, towering over her. It looked very reptilian in nature, and quite intimidating. The creature nodded his head. "Greeting Shipmaster T'Velos. I am ambassador 'Val Mdama. My race is Sangheili of Sangheillios. Behind me is my assistant Kalap, an Unggoy of Balaho. Those two over there", he pointed toward the hulking masses, "are Mgalekgolo of Te. The Unggoy and Mgalekgolo are client races to the Sangheili Empire. Together we represent the Unified Republic of Species."
Interesting. A clearer picture began to form in Alenna's mind. These people were not united, or at least not as thoroughly as the Council. There were indeed two factions here; the humans and the United Republic of Species. She briefly wondered what that meant. If those two other species were client races of these Sangheili, then what did that mean for the balance of power? Was this relationship symbiotic like with the Turians and Volus? Or was this control by conquest? Did the humans have client races under their domain as well? She had too many questions and too little information for accurate conjecture.
Once again Alenna bowed to the Sangheili ambassador. "Greetings 'Val Mdama of Sangheillios. The Council's offer of peace extends to your people as well."
"The Sangheili Empire will never again submit itself to another power," Mdama replied quickly.
Alenna blinked at the statement. "We are not asking you too," she cautiously replied. "The Council only wants prosperous relationships. If your kind wishes to join us later in the future, we welcome all with open arms."
"That won't happen," Mdama said bluntly.
"What ambassador Mdama means", Augusto interjected, giving what Alenna guessed was an agitated glance at his counterpart, "is that our histories give us reason to be weary of such powers. Perhaps you should introduce the rest of your crew."
Alenna knew that the ambassador was trying to change the subject quickly. Not wanting this first meeting to turn negative, she nodded. "Of course." She gestured to each of her crew. "This is Liara T'Soni, an Asari like me. This is Mordin, a Salarian. And these two are General Fealix and SPECTRE Arterius of the Turian Hierarchy."
"You are the general who defeated the overwhelming forces that attacked your people?" The Sangheili asked.
Fealix shifted unexpectedly, perhaps unprepared to be called out upon. "Yes, though only because I had competent and loyal soldiers."
Mdama stood straighter, reaching his full eight feet of height. "Impressive. Your actions are that of a true warrior. If we are ever pitted against each other, it would be an honor to fight you,"
"Uh, thanks, I guess."
Augusto spoke again quickly, once again shooting Mdama an agitated glance. "With introduction out of the way, perhaps we should take a tour of the ship."
"Yes, would like that." Mordin seemed almost jubilant. "Impressive ship. Very large. Am very curious."
"Mordin is a scientist, a common career among his people," Alenna explained. "New technology is very intriguing for him."
Augusto smiled. "Oh, I think you'll be quite impressed. Please follow me."
He turned and the group followed, now entering the Colossal megastructre. Alenna noticed that out of the twelve surrounding aliens lined neatly on each side, only two began to walk with them. Another Sangheili, though this one much slimmer, and a human in blue and black armor. The armor appeared much different from other humans, much sturdier, and he was much taller than any other human she had seen before. As they walked, the armored human briefly locked eyes with her counterpart, Liara—his face full of curiosity—before continuing on in a purposeful stride.
When the group left to explore Sol, Captain Miles returned to his ship. Once in the hangar bay, he gathered his entire team and thanked them for their actions. He then told them they were cleared for shore leave for the next 24 hours. The Sol wasn't just a warship, it was a moving megatropolis, with its own districts, parks, entertainment venues and restaurants. It even had an agricultural production facility. All of these things were necessary to maintain a crew of over 100,000 personal. Normally it would be odd to have civilians and shops on a warship, but Sol was simply too large and had too many people to exist without them. And the civilians that lived aboard understood the risks and went through routine exercises in case of an emergency.
As the crew separated, Miles' data pad chimed. It was a message from Admiral Hackett. He opened the message and read through it quickly.
Good work transporting the aliens to Sol. I read your report and saw the footage Athena sent me. The situation could have gone to hell quickly but you managed to resuscitate the situation through firm and decisive action. Your actions are befitting of an officer and I commend you for it.
These plated aliens concern me, particularly the individual who drew a weapon. My people will watch him closely while on my ship. More pressing however, is the potential security leak with Lieutenant Kyle Doran. ONI is not happy, regardless of the kid's assurance that no sensitive information was released. And I have to say I'm skeptical as well. Who knows what that alien could have seen or done to his mind. ONI has requested that Doran report to their headquarters on Sol for a debriefing. But don't worry, I have ordered that one of my people be present during the questioning. I won't let the eggheads turn this into an interrogation. Doran is military and we look after our own.
You and your crew enjoy your shore leave. God knows you need it.
Admiral Hackett's message filled him with both thrill and dread. Thrill to be complemented by one of the highest ranking officers in the UNSC, and dread for what might become of Kyle. Hackett said he would look after him, and all Miles could do was hope that the admiral kept his word. After all, it wasn't Kyles fault with what happened to him; he was just trying to be friendly. What would ONI do? Take him off his ship? Ferry him away to never be seen again? He wouldn't put it passed them. Miles determined that at that moment he would do everything in his power to defend Doran. It was his ship and the crew was his responsibility.
Miles glanced around. Many of the crewmembers were already leaving. He spotted Doran by himself, reading over a datapad with sorrowful eyes. Miles approached.
"Captain," Doran said. "I…I guess I made a mistake. ONI wants me to report to their headquarters."
"I know Lieutenant, I just received the news myself. And I'm going with you."
Miles did his best to project confidence. "I'm not going to let these pansies in suits push you around like they own you. You're my responsibility and I determine if you made a mistake or not."
"But what if Alenna did trick me into revealing sensitive information? Isn't that treason?"
"No, treason requires either intentional action or extreme negligence, both of which are not present in this situation. No mens rea. No actus rea. No guilt."
Doran nodded, though he didn't look convinced. "If you say so."
Miles raised his voice. "I won't let them remove you from my command. Now stop drooping and let's get this debriefing over with."
"Yes Sir," the lieutenant replied, standing up straighter.
Just then Heavier-Than-Others came whirling towards Miles. The engineer used one of its tentacles to grab the Captain's arm, desperately trying to get his attention. Miles stared back at the creature in confusion. Huragok weren't normally this frantic unless it involved protecting Forerunner technology, and Hev was particularly conservative even among its own kind. "Whoa, calm down Hev. What's wrong buddy?"
Miles' datapad beeped again. It was a transmission that Hev just sent. He looked back at the engineer quickly before reading.
Took skin cell samples from species designated Asari – Alenna T'Velos. Species Deoxyribonucleic acid marker matches to human marker with 98.5924% accuracy. Indicates early Asari ancestry evolved on Erde-Tyrene now designated Earth. Distant Homo sapiens relative confirmed. Comparable data enclosed.
"Sir? What's wrong?" Doran didn't think a man's eyes could become so wide.
"Hev just sent me the same message," the AI interjected over the intercom. "And yes, for the first time ever this all-knowing AI is baffled."
"But this can't be correct." Miles felt like his head was spinning. A new message appeared on his datapad.
We do not make mistakes.
"It would explain their remarkable similarity to us. At least, it's a much better explanation than convergent evolution. Nature doesn't work that way. The odds are simply too great."
Miles thought hard on the subject. Another subset of the human family existing in a different part of the galaxy? Living in a different civilization? It couldn't be true. He glanced at his datapad. But the evidence is staring you straight in the face. "How would this be possible?"
"Captain, with all of the recent revelations concerning the human race, is it really that surprising? Let's not forgot, it was only four decade ago that we learned that humans once had an ancient empire that rivaled the Forerunners. Who knows what humanity's ancestors could have done? Or even what their enemies could have done. It is known that the Forerunners greatly meddled with the human genome."
As Athena's words sank in, Miles directed his attention to the Huragok. "Hev, do you know anything about this? Anything about the Forerunners that would explain this?" His datapad chimed.
No. Forerunner archives on Homo sapiens are extensive, but no records on species designated Asari.
Doran threw up his hands in mock frustration. "Okay, I'm thoroughly confused. Somebody mind filling me in here?"
Miles briefly glanced at Doran. "Lieutenant, follow me," he said, turning to leave the hangar quickly.
"Wait, where are we going!" Doran yelled, jogging to catch up. "ONI headquarters?"
"No. We're heading straight to Hackett."
The first thought to come to Liara's mind was open enormity. Before her spanned a hangar so large and so high one would be pressed to wonder if it had an ending at all. Occupying the first few hundred meters of the bay spanned a large contingent of military forces arrayed in precision formation. Most of them, Liara noted, were humans, adorned in the same kind of body covering armor they witnessed moments ago in the confrontation. But a close eye revealed that there were indeed other kinds of species within formation. A small group, perhaps twenty individuals or so, composed of the short, squat hunch-back looking aliens with large legs and arms and a breathing apparatus of some kind on their faces. Another group farther to the right revealed a slightly smaller group of the alien that had introduced itself as 'Val Mdama. On average they were much larger than humans in both height and body mass. If Liara had to make a vague comparison, she would say they looked like a cross between a Turian and Krogan. Directly next to this group stood four more of those hulking…things. These beasts towered over everything. She could make out no discernable face, just an orange mesh between thick metallic plating. All in all, Liara estimated about 90% of the contingent consisted of humans, and the rest a multitude of different species. She decided it was a good sign to see unity among different species, though she filed the apparent human dominance away for her to conjecture over later.
The military contingent was aligned neatly in rows and columns, leaving a wide isle straight through the center for the group to walk through. As they approached, one of the humans yelled, "attention on deck!" In unison everyone changed positions, standing straighter and bringing their hands to their foreheads in what Liara assumed was a salute.
"It is customary for both humans and Sangheili to greet diplomats with a show of military strength. The tradition goes back long before our peoples ever left our homeworld," Sergio explained.
"I understand," Fealix spoke up. "We Turians have a similar tradition."
The group proceeded through the bay, passing the soldiers as they went. "Does the military play an important part in your culture?"
"Absolutely. We have a strong warrior culture, though our ways are not brutal. To Turians discipline and order are central to our lives. Is your species a warrior culture as well?"
It was a question Liara was pondering herself. It wouldn't necessarily be bad if they were; the Turians were proof of that. Even the Protheans were thought to be a militaristic society. But there was a stark difference in how this cultural trait manifested itself. The Turians allowed this quality to give their society structure and order. Other species, like the Krogan or Yahg, let this quality control them completely, often dwelling in violence and savagery.
"That depends on who you ask?" the human diplomat answered, flashing an incredibly Asari-like grin. "I don't think most humans view their kind as a warrior species, though we are definitely no stranger to war, sadly." He gestured towards his reptilian counterpart. "The Sangheili, however, commit their entire lives to military discipline. Maintaining military honor is the single most important part of any Sangheili's life."
Mdama lowered its head slightly, perhaps their version of a nod. (Liara still wasn't sure what gender Mdama was). "It is true. A Sangheili would rather die than dishonor himself."
As they reached the end of the displaying soldiers, a full view of the bay became possible. Liara couldn't help to stare wide-eyed in wonder. Several kilometers above them revealed many ships in docking clamps, some of the quite large. But what really caught her interest was the platforms the ships were connected to. Layers upon layers of these platforms seemed to hang in the air without any kind of structural support. Some of them looked enormous, easily kilometers in length. Many of the platforms were slowly drifting from one area to another.
"What kind of ship is that?" Fealix asked, pointing to his far left.
Sergio followed his gaze. "That's a UNSC Autumn-class Heavy Cruiser. There are currently eight stationed in the Sol," he explained.
Fealix nearly did a double take, and Liara could understand why. She hadn't thought of it before, but this Citadel-sized ship was large enough to dock Dreadnaughts in its bays. She, like everyone else, had thought the human and Sangheili forces that arrived consisted of twelve vessels. But how many more were stationed on this ship alone? By the size, it could easily be hundreds of combat vessels, and thousands of fighters. This realization sent a chill through her spine. The Turian forces in the system are hopelessly outgunned.
Though Liara was told to stay quiet, her curiosity got the best of her. "Ambassador, I have to ask, what kind of vessel is this?" Others in her team nodded their sentiment. It was a question on everyone's mind.
"The UNSC Light of Sol is a human military vessel, though it is jointly crewed with the URS. It is one of a kind, and exceeds all other classification of warships. The crew consists of over 92,000 service people and roughly 12,000 civilians. The closest analogue to its function would be that of a Carrier."
"Carrier?" Fealix asked.
"A large vessel designed for transporting high numbers of ships, troops, and supplies to a warzone. Carriers are typically the largest ships in the UNSC fleet." Sergio continued. "At peak capacity, the Sol can transport three fleets worth of UNSC or URS forces to any area of interest extremely quickly. It is by far the fastest ship we possess."
"So, the Sol is less like a warship and more like a mobile military fortress, transporting fleets and armies to a warzone when needed," Liara affirmed.
"A glorified transportation vessel then?" asked Saren.
Sergio chuckled. "Yes, yes that's exactly correct. Though that doesn't mean Sol doesn't pack a punch. Its main armament is the most powerful weapon we possess."
"Exactly how powerful?" Fealix enquired.
The group came to a stop upon a slightly raised platform, on top of which rested a strange-looking construct. It consisted of six long arches surrounding the circular platform, like an incomplete globe cut off at the top and bottom. The only other object on the platform was a holographic terminal. "Well," the ambassador replied, "we only ever fired it once at full power, at a barren, resource-poor planet. In hindsight, we should have enacted restraint."
"Why is that?"Liara queried.
"Because it ended up atomatizing the entire planet."
Liara's gut lurched. Both Alenna and Fealix looked disturbed.
"Destroying an entire planet…I couldn't think of anything more irresponsible," Liara said. Doubtless Alenna didn't want to cause any friction with the aliens, but Liara felt compelled to express her opinion. For an archeologist like herself, preservation was among the highest of goals.
Sergio was about to reply, but it was a different human, the blue armored guard who kept sparing her glances when he thought she wasn't looking, that answered first. "When faced with extinction, every alternative is preferable."
Liara held the soldier's gaze for a long moment, and then examined him thoroughly. His eyes were crystal-blue like hers, but a much lighter shade. His head fur was a sandy-yellowish color and cut quite short. The outline of his face was very…defined might be the right word, a trait she noticed seemed common in the males. He was definitely tall, much taller than other humans she'd seen anyway. But how much was due to his armor she didn't know. She hadn't detected any malice in his gaze. Good. She didn't mean to offend anyone. Instead, he looked quite…thoughtful.
After what seemed like an eternity, they broke eye contact when the human ambassador spoke. "Sometimes extreme action is necessary for the greater good. Our first destination will be for the Edifice," he said, abruptly changing the subject again. "The Edifice is the command center for the entire ship. There you'll meet Admiral Steven Hackett, commander of all Sol operations. Everyone please ready yourself, slipspace translocation can be a bit unnerving."
"Slipspace translocation?" Mordin asked. "A transportation method of some kind?"
Sergio nodded. "Yes. Sol is too large to travel through by conventional means. Portals are required throughout the ship."
Liara raised a brow. "Portals? What does that—whoa!"
The six surrounding arches lit up, and then an enormous bluish field appeared and enveloped the group. For a brief moment, all Liara could see was black—the deepest black she had ever seen. And then an instant it all went away. Her heart racing, she blinked furiously and looked around, only to come to a startling realization. They were no longer where they used to be.
For a few short moments, Liara believed they were now outside, no longer confined to a ship. There were trees, grass, running rivers, and exotic looking flora. She could feel a gentle breeze, the smell of nature wafting through the air. Many constructs abounded the area, but none so dominating as the large, silver-grey pyramid-shaped superstructure resting directly ahead of the group. Liara's eyes followed from the base of the structure to the very top, and it was at that moment that she realized they were indeed still on the ship. For high above rested not a sky, but a glass ceiling that emanated light. That structure must be the Edifice. And this area seems to be similar to the Presidium.
"Welcome to the Atrium Grounds," the human diplomat said, spreading his arms. "Ahead of us is the Edifice. Please, let's continue."
Alenna's eyes were wide in confusion. "Is this…were we just teleported?"
"Yes," Mdama answered. "Do your kind even know what slipspace is?"
"Slipspace? Is that how you travel without the mass effect?" Alenna asked, finally beginning to regain her composure.
"I have never heard of this 'mass effect'," the Sangheili replied, arms folded. "It's very difficult to fathom another way to traverse the stars."
Sergio nodded. "Your method of faster-than-light travel is very odd; we have never encountered a way in which to travel in such speeds in real space, let alone negate the problem of time dilation. We instead travel between the stars by entering into slipstream space, a set of seven intertwined spacial dimensions which lie under the four conventional dimensional planes of existence."
"Knew it! Final proof of inter-dimensional transitioning confirmed. Know a few former colleagues who will be pleased," Mordin said with great enthusiasm.
"You mean, you're able to enter different planes of existence?" Liara knew Mordin had suspected as much, but she still found it hard to fathom. It seemed like something out of old asari science-fiction vids.
"Yes." Sergio answered. "Honestly, I'm very surprised your civilizations have never heard of this. To us, it is the only way we know that enables us to travel faster than light."
"Wait," Fealix said, bringing up his arms. "There's something I still don't understand. How do your people not know what element zero is? It's practically everywhere in the galaxy. It's pretty much central to all of our advanced technology."
Sergio shook his head. "I do not know. We find it very curious ourselves. The UNSC has traversed thousands of light-years and hold a great many worlds. But we have never encountered an element with an atomic mass of zero." They had come to stop at the base of the Edifice, to what liked like a lift not dissimilar from one commonly seen on the Citadel.
"Difference in technology surprising but logical," Mordin input speedily. "Our civilization relies heavily on eezo use. Technology evolves around it. Their civilization lacks eezo. Must find alternative means to achieve same results." He took a breath of satisfaction, perhaps enjoying the outdoor aromas. "Nature adapting to surroundings. Simple."
"That makes sense," Sergio agreed. He gestured towards the lift. "Please, this way. Admiral Hackett is very eager to meet you. After that, we can sit down and discuss how best to move forward for both our civilizations. I'm sure we all have many questions. I hope this will be the beginning of a great trade of knowledge and prosperity."
"As do we, Ambassador," Alenna said, entering the lift with her crew. As they ascended, Alenna fought to hide a grin. Teleportation? Trans-dimensional travel? The Council's going to flip. And the knowledge that these people, these humans, were genetic relatives of the Asari clung to her mind. It was scary and exciting at the same time; she constantly wondered how this would change things for her people. Could this be the greatest thing ever? A separated people coming together in harmony after untold millennia apart? Or could this somehow end in total disaster? She had desperately wanted to broach the subject to the ambassador, but the Thessian Council gave her specific orders not to. At least not yet. Either the humans didn't know, or they were making a show to hide it.
All of these thoughts were swarming through her mind as the lift finally came to a stop and opened. As they followed the ambassadors out, she half wondered what galaxy shifting revelation she was going to discover next.
Michael Shepard should consider himself privileged to be at the forefront of meeting a new galactic civilization, even if he was acting as a glorified security detail. But if he was honest with himself, he was having a hard time getting over the shock of the two blue aliens' appearance. 'Asari', they were called. They looked so human. It was almost disconcerting. He kept sparring glances to the one closest to him, the shorter one with a soft face and shy demeanor. He had viewed the photos in the debriefing, but seeing them in person was another matter entirely.
Michael was instructed to keep quiet. But when the small asari spoke of the morals of using the Sol's weapon, he felt obliged to respond. She didn't understand—couldn't understand—why such an option had to be enacted. Striking at the heart of the Brute's forward operating base had crushed the temporarily unified Jiralhanae from invading human space, dividing them into warring clans again.
Of course, even the UNSC was surprised at how powerful the weapon was. It didn't just vaporize the planet down to a molecular level, it destroyed every single Brute ship in its orbit. The once mighty Jiralhanae fleet, consisting of many Great War era covenant vessels, had been practically obliterated in one volley.
The asari at first looked surprised that he had spoken at all, and then he got the impression that she was examining him, like a researcher in a lab. It was only Sergio's voice that drew her attention away from him. From then on, it was through the portal, (which Michael admitted he found himself rather amused by their reaction), and up to the Edifice. All the while, he kept the plated aliens in his peripherals. He had been told these aliens were militaristic in nature, and that the tall, plain-faced one even drew a weapon at a UNSC officer in some kind of confrontation. Michael paid extra attention to him. He noticed the platted alien kept looking in every which direction, as if assessing the area for strategic purposes. Briefly, he wondered how well these aliens would stack up in a fight.
As the elevator doors opened, Michael locked eyes with his Sangheili counterpart and second-in-command, Stramus S'lorai. Since the N7 team was formed she had been vital for Michael in…well, pretty much everything. Whether it was keeping humans and Sangheili from ripping into each other's throats, or gathering tactical information and strategy, she had become an invaluable resource.
He was also learning to read her mannerisms and body language quite well.
'You go forward. I'll stay by the door,' her eyes told him.
Michael nodded wordlessly. It was at this time that his AI, Aris, gave him an alarming warning through his ear peace.
His gut wrenched.
AN: So, I guess an explanation is due for my incredibly long absence. To be honest, I really don't have much of an excuse other than the fact that life can really suck sometime. I moved back to the states and since then have had to work two jobs, about 75-80 hours a week, just to get by. Anyone who has had to do that knows how incredibly draining that can be. It's like my whole life consisted of work and sleep (because it kinda did). As you can imagine, I didn't have very much spare time to do anything, much less write, which does take me a lot of time.
Thankfully though, things have started looking up. I got promoted and can now afford to work just one job, which means I will have a life again. So expect me to start updating again. To everyone who has read, reviewed, and followed me, and can't express how grateful I am for your support and I appolgize prefusely for not updating for so long.