Ascension.


A/N

Sorry, couldn't work on Star Wars fic. I had a long holyday trip and then was ill. More important I didn't have any notes on the SW fic, so I decided to work on something else and that resulted in these two chapters.


About

It's an AU. There are two major bifurcation points. A bifurcation point in Protheans' history and a point in our own history:

Protheans didn't stop with establishing an outpost on the Mars, they went to Earth and built up a scientific base there. When the Reapers invaded the galaxy, one of the cruisers managed to reach Earth trying to revive the dying race. They built a small town, but in the end couldn't stabilize the population and completely died out seven hundred years later. There was an energy shield around the town. It forced humans to stay away from there, since everyone who touched the shield died. Soon after last of the Protheans died, the shield went down and the most systems went passive. Thousands years later the town sunk into the ground. Prothean heritage was found in the XIX century.

I should add that technological development was different from our own. Firearms gave their place to weapons based on Mass Accelerators in the early XX century. There weren't many things, because the Empire already had a more advanced alternative. The society which was formed because of the bifurcation points is unusual.

I wanted to start around 1850 and I needed an absolute monarchy, so I was forced to look at available monarchies of XIX. I had actually only six choices: the Austrian Empire, the British Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the German Empire-to-be, the Spanish Empire, Empire of Japan and the Russian Empire. France obviously wasn't a monarchic country anymore. The British and German ones weren't absolute monarchies too, even if it was appealing to write about the German Empire. Austria had a revolution around that time, not a good place to start something. Spanish, Portuguese were declining too and I don't really want to write about them. Sorry. So, it left me with Japan or Russia. I don't know much about Japan… Well, I know really many things, but I don't think I can imagine the world with a worldwide Empire of Japan. It's a suicide to write about Japan. The only choice is Russia. I believe any other country would become democratic and follow the path of original universe. It's irrelevant though, because of the cultural blending in the Solar Empire.

Emperors/Empresses (Reign)

Emperor Nikolai I ( … - 1855)

Emperor Alexander II ( 1855 – 1874 )

Emperor Nikolai II ( 1874 – 1917 )

Emperor Mikhail I ( 1917 – 1961 )

Empress Anna I ( 1961 – 1990 )

Empress Elisabeth I ( 1990 – 2043 )

Emperor Alexander III (2043-2086)

Regent Charles ( 2086 – 2090)

Empress Victoria I ( 2090 - … )


Timeline:

48,891 B.C: Protheans establish an outpost on Mars.

48,884 B.C: Protheans build up an scientific base on Earth.

48,861 B.C: Ripers invade the galaxy.

48,860 B.C: ~2000 Protheans arrive to Earth and try to rebuild the race. They continue to research means to fight Reapers.

48,136 B.C: The last of the Protheans dies on Earth.

1843 A.D: Prothean town is found in the Russian Empire and classified as a secret.

1853 A.D: Crimean War. Russians use Prothean weapons and gain victories over the alliance of the French, the Ottoman, the British Empires and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

1854 A.D: Constantinople is captured. The end of Ottoman Empire.

1855 A.D: Alexander II successes to the Throne.

1856 A.D: The Great Conquest begins. Russian Empire declares war on Austrian Empire. The war ends after three weeks with Austrians defeat.

1862 A.D: Russian Empire use Prothean vehicles. Careless handling with Element Zero results in great number of leaks.

1863 A.D: Conquest of Europe is complete.

1866 A.D: The Empire crushes a rebellion.

1873 A.D: Asia is under control of the Empire.

1874 A.D: Emperor Alexander II is killed by rebels. Nikolai II ( Brother of Alexander III, who wasn't an Emperor in this timeline unlike the original one) successes to the Throne.

1876 A.D: Conquest of the America begins. Prothean technologies leaks can't shake the strength of the Russian Empire.

1879 A.D: Both Americas are under control of the Empire.

1880 A.D: First success in the research of Prothean technology.

1881 A.D: The Great Reformation. Establishment of the Senate (A/N: see the Senate from Star Wars. Instead of Supreme Chancellor there is an Emperor/Empress with more powers than a Supreme Chancellor. It's like a non-elective Supreme Chancellor with emergency powers). A constitution is introduced. The Russian Empire is renamed to the Great Empire to avoid ethnic conflicts. New calendar is introduced but doesn't become official until later.1881 A.D. is the year 1 G.R (the Great Reformation).

004 G.R (1884 A.D): Australia joins the Empire of its own free will.

013 G.R (1893 A.D): First biotics are discovered.

019 G.R (1899 A.D): First mass-production devices based on Prothean technology are introduced.

067 G.R (1947 A.D): Attempt to transfer majority of the powers from the Monarch to the Senate. The vast majority of the populace supports the Monarchy.

069 G.R (1949 A.D): Rebellion in the Administrative Region West Europe is put down.

073 G.R (1953 A.D): Launch of the first artificial satellite to the orbit of Earth using Mass Effect fields.

074 G.R (1954 A.D): Prothean language is deciphered. Rapid technological development. The information about Reapers is known and classified.

075 G.R (1955 A.D): The first manned spaceflight on Prothean shuttle.

076 G.R (1956 A.D): The first manned spaceflight on Empire's own spaceships.

078 G.R (1958 A.D): The first human on the Moon.

081 G.R (1961 A.D): The first human on the Mars. The first space station is established on orbit of the Earth.

082 G.R (1961 A.D): The new calendar is ratified.

085 G.R (1965 A.D): The first settlement on the Moon is established.

098 G.R (1978 A.D): Prothean ruins on Mars are discovered.

102 G.R (1982 A.D): Mass Relay is discovered.

103 G.R (1983 A.D): Introduction of biotic implants.

109 G.R (1989 A.D): Charon Relay is activated.

110 G.R (1990 A.D): The first human outside of the Solar System. The Solar Empire becomes a new official name of the Empire.

111 G.R (1991 A.D): Empress Elisabeth stops further exploration of the space in fear of the Reapers and starts a construction of the Great Solar Fleet and Defensive Belts.

139 G.R (2019 A.D): To increase resources supply Empress Elisabeth makes a decision to expand Empire's borders by activation of two more Relays.

188 G.R (2068 A.D): Success in construction of Mass Relays building upon Prothean's latest technologies.

204 G.R (2084 A.D): Four major Relay routes are dublicated by Empire's own Mass Relay Network.

206 G.R (2086 A.D): Empress Victoria success to the Throne of the Solar Empire at the age of 14 under regency of her cousin Charles. Construction of the spaceship «Destiny» begins.

210 G.R (2090 A.D): Empress Victoria is of age. Construction of the Destiny comes to the end.

01.12.210 G.R (2090 A.D): The crew of the Destiny is approved by the Empress. The mission of the Destiny is to explore the outer space, discover if Reapers are in the galaxy, search for allies and establish diplomatical relationships with them…


The Solar Empire of 2090 A.D.

Total population: 23 billions.

Biotics: 0,00001%: ~2300, ~400 strong ones and only ~40 in the active service.

Earth population: 11 billions.

Solar system population: 12 billions.

Colonized systems: 19.

Colonized planets: 82 (Either colonized or a mining world).

Space stations: 30

29 planetary systems, 4 active Reapers'Mass Relays, 2 active Empire's Relays.


Vessels of the Imperial Navy (2090 A.D.)

30 dreadnoughts,

50 battlecruisers,

120 cruisers,

45 carriers,

300 frigates,

1000 smaller vessels except fighters.


A/N II: Of course, John Shepard of this story is completely different one from the game, but I decided to use the name as a tribute. Even if it doesn't really make sense, I will still use some words like 'biotic'. I'm sure if it were for real, two different universes would have different names for the same things. I assume the humanity is the race introduced fighters. Every ship of the Empire carries a large amount of fighters, since fighters are the main firepower of every ship. I use metric system.

Notice: there is no such thing as public internet in the Solar Empire! There is no *adult* television as well!


Chapter 1.

All night John Gregory Shepard was wide-awake. How could one hope to sleep if it was the very night before the launch of the most important mission in human history? The first expedition to outer space, to the ancient Citadel humanity knew about from the heritage of the Ancients. They didn't have much information on it, the Ancient information systems were damaged in the course of last fifty thousand years, it was however known, that it was the center of the civilization of the Ancients and it took first hit during some war. No one knew for certain what to expect. Were the Ancients able to rebuild their civilization? Was the Citadel destroyed? Was the station still serving as a center of some new civilization?

He cursed silently as he saw it was six in the morning; time to get up. He sighed and went to the bathroom to take a shower. He put the dress uniform then and left the apparent heading to the dock where the starship Destiny was awaiting him.

"Hey, John!" he heard a voice from behind and turned round.

"Alex," he nodded to his old friend and chuckled, "Didn't see you in ages! Did you finally get tired of my sister and transferred from the Chomolungma?"

"No, the Chomolungma is here, we've docked hour ago."

"You're joking," John said.

"Well, she is longing to see you before the mission."

"She wants me dead."

"Ah, she's your sister; I doubt she'll hurt you… much."

"Yes, the sister who likes to embarrass me every time I see her."

"Of course," John heard a female voice, "I'm your big sister, why shouldn't I tell funny stories about your childhood?"

"Well I would happily live without them, Anna," he said embracing her.

"Be happy I didn't tell all of them."

"Hey, Alex, do you see how happy I am?" he asked his friend.

"You're practically radiating happiness," Alex nodded grinning.

"Don't worry, it's your big day, brother. I'm here only to wish you break a leg."

"Thank you; can't wait till it happen," waved John.

They reached the docking bay and he saw the Destiny again. The starship was the largest one ever produced by the Solar Empire and it was incredible how majestic it looked. He closed his eyes for a moment, sighted and stepped forward. His sister and friend wished him luck and joined the crowd, consisting of military, nobility, journalists and other people honoured to face the start of the mission. He looked at to the left and saw five admirals and the crew of the Destiny behind them. John braced himself and headed towards admirals, who were waiting for him. The first one was gray-haired Heinrich Lewald, there were shoulder straps on his white dress uniform indicating him to be the admiral of the fleet. He was the second party in the fleet of the Empire after the Empress. To his right stood admirals of the second fleet Wilhelm Sutherland and Peter Blackmon the admiral of the third fleet and one of the friends of Shepard. To his left - duchess Anastasia Orlova the admiral of the fourth fleet and the admiral of the fifth fleet count Mikhail Gorchakov.

"Your Highness," he greeted the duchess with a light bow, and turned to other admirals, "Your excellencies."

"At easy, Shepard," Heinrich said. "Nervous? Don't worry, I would be nervous too."

"Lewald," Peter said, "the only thing can make you nervous is a pack of battlecruisers and big guns."

"Don't be so sure, Blackmon," the older admiral said and smiled, "Moreover, the Destiny is much better than a pack of battlecruisers."

"Sure," he laughed.

"Her Imperial Majesty Empress Victoria!" they heard the voice of a herald and John took his place to the right of admiral Blackmon.

"I didn't expect her to be this early," whispered Blackmon to him. "She is beautiful, isn't she? You're lucky to be here earlier too. I wouldn't want to upset the empress."

"Shut it, Peter," John hissed.

"Why so serious? Smile, she'll like it."

John sighed, but didn't answer looking at the young eighteen years old empress. He never saw her with his own eyes and could only agree with a common opinion that she was the most beautiful member of the Imperial House. He sighed, knowing that she was unreachable for lowly count like him even if he was going to become one of the most famous people of the Empire given the mission would be successful. He was very nervous. He was so engrossed in his thoughts, that admirals greeting her and her coming up to him and offering a hand for a kiss, what was considered a great honour. The empress pouted, having a disbelieving look on her face. An elbow into the ribs from Blackmon helped him to regain his senses. John kneeled and kissed her hand.

"I beg you for forgiveness, Your Majesty," he said as he stood up, "I was enthralled by your beauty for a moment," he continued and cursed silently realizing what he said.

"You should be more attentive, count Sheppard," she said hiding her blush, "We're glad to meet the one who will represent the Solar Empire at last," she smiled, "I must say, it was entertaining to hear about your childhood adventures."

"You spoke to my sister?" he asked grimly.

"Yes, she is a great story teller and even better captain of the Navy. Surely you don't think we would approve you knowing next to nothing about you?"

"No, of course no, Your Majesty."

She smiled and headed to the tribune.

"Well, somebody, please, kill me. I made a fool of myself," he sighed earning snickers of admirals.

"Don't worry over nothing, Shepard," said the duchess, "It's your first time seeing my cousin. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Many of respected people were more nervous than you. The empress didn't take it badly and your compliment though slightly inappropriate was well-timed and distracted her from your stupor."

"Thank you, Your Highness," he said.

"Ah, Shepard, please, we know each other for ten years, drop the formality at last."

"You know," said Blackmon grinning, "when I said smile, I didn't mean to be an idiot."

"Shut up, Peter."

"You owe me."

Everyone in the bay silenced as the empress reached the tribune and began to speak.

"My loving people, I greet you all on the significant day for we all were waiting for it many years. The day the humanity will lance towards the unknown. It is nearly two hundred years since the day we found the Heritage of the Ancients and my ancestors brought peace to the humanity, hundred thirty five years since we launched a first artificial satellite, hundred years since the Solar Empire moved the borders beyond the Solar system. At last, we have a new goal before us. The Galaxy!"

"We learned from the mistakes committed by the Ancients to not repeat them. Our fleet is strong and we are ready to repel any aggression against the Solar Empire and any citizen of the Empire. However the history warns us for conceit. We do not know what is awaiting us beyond the Relays, but we have the starship Destiny, the most secure and the most armed ship, a result of combined efforts of the best minds of the Empire. The ship will allow us to glance beyond the borders of the Solar Empire. The Destiny is a vanguard of the Humanity; for it will be the crew of the ship, who will meet new friends or face enemies of the Empire. The Destiny is entrusted to establish relations with alien civilizations. If the Destiny happens to find an enemy, I, the Empress, vow to defend the Empire. We will overwhelm and crush all the enemies to ensure prosperity of the humanity! All hail Solar Empire!"

"All Hail Solar Empire!" everyone exclaimed at once.

The ceremony lasted for almost two hours and it fairly tired the captain of the Destiny, who wasn't a devotee of noisy useless crowds, since he was a man of action whether diplomatic or military. When the ceremony came to an end he managed to do it second time for the day. He didn't noticed the empress coming up to him, this time however he could be excused by being absorbed in a conversation between two naval officers. The conversation he didn't really was a part of.

"Count Shepard," he heard her voice and started.

"Yes, Your Majesty? How can I be of use?"

"I only wanted to ask you personally to be very careful. You must understand that information is the best advantage you can give the Empire. We can't lose the Destiny before you gather information, it is the best ship we have with an extraordinary team at your command. If you fail to pass information about the galaxy, your mission will be meaningless. Do not enter conflicts unless you have to. Do you understand?"

"I will do everything to successfully accomplish the mission."

"Don't fail me," she said, her rare vibrant green eyes locked on his own brown ones.

"I won't fail you, Your Majesty."

The Empress nodded and left the docking bay. He sighed and clinched his fists vowing to not fail her at any cost.

"And, what did Her Majesty wanted from you?" he heard his sister's voice and smiled.

"Well, she wished me luck," he answered and turned to look at her. "By the way, you told her of all people about my childhood. You will embarrass me until my death, don't you?"

"As I already said, it's my duty as the older sibling," she laughed. "Why does it bother you so much? You don't have anything to hide. I think Her Majesty liked what I told her."

"Someday I'll have my revenge," he sighed.

"Brother," she said as her smile vanished from her face, "Please, promise me you will come back."

"Don't be ridiculous, Anna."

"Promise it."

"Okay, I promise I will come back," he sighed and looked for a time, "I have to go."

"I'll see you once you come back."

"Goodbye, sister," he smiled at her.

The Destiny was a massive three kilometer long starship, which had a resemblance to old sea ships with narrow body and high superstructure, which however was symmetric, going both upwards and downwards. It carried five hundred fighters, a pair of two-hundred-meter-long frigates and ten shuttles along with various research and reconnaissance equipment. The destiny was armed with two ship-long main guns and other smaller weapons, which were able to obliterate every life on the planets. An advanced shielding was there to defend the crew from any danger. In spite of the size, the Destiny was one of the fastest ships of the Empire bigger than hundred meter due to a very controversial enormous zero element core and massive engines. The construction of the core led to many discussions. There were many who said it was a waste of highly valuable resource, since one could use the amount for a dozen dreadnaughts. Captain Shepard was sure in the success of the mission. How could one fail with the Destiny?

"Captain, we're nearing the orbit of the Relay. It's active, we're ready to jump," the first pilot said.

"Set the coordinates and move on with the jump."

"The coordinates are set, all systems are green. Approaching the Relay."

The bridge wasn't the usual one. It was a small round room in the heart of the starship. There were three pilots, the captain, a xo, a communication officer and a warfare officer. A moment later all of them felt the usual but unpleasant sensation of the transit.

"Captain, the Relay Beta-1 is passive," the pilot said.

"Good," he nodded, "There are three more Relays." He turned to the XO and added, "Commander, begin the launching procedures for frigates. Send the Klotho and the Lachesis to investigate Beta-2 and Beta-3 Relays. As soon as they undock, direct the Destiny to the Beta-4."

"Aye, captain."

He sighed and looked at the personal terminal, which indicated that the main objective of the mission was changed. He was surprised, since it indicated that the original objective was only a fiction. He was even more surprised as he found out that he had a message from the empress with details to the new mission.

Captain John Gregory Shepard,

I'm sure you're surprised to receive the message and a new objective. It was a necessity to conceal the real goal of your mission. The new objective and this message are restricted information you may share only with those who has access level 7 and above until you face the subject of the new objective. The information is to be network-restricted. We don't want to cause panic and the information to land in the wrong hands.

As you know the civilization of the Ancients was destroyed by the war. What almost no one know is they were wiped out by the ancient machine race they named the Reapers. It's a race of massive synthetic starships of dreadnought size. All the information you need on them was made available to you.

We can only hope to be ready to face them, but we can't afford to live in isolation anymore, since we have nearly depleted our last element zero mine and intelligence didn't discover any new yet. Other resources are going low too. The exploration of the space without Relays as well as building new ones is too expensive. We need more active Relays.

You should know that the ship was designed to fight the Reapers. Every weapon was made with the thought of fighting them. The main guns are designed to penetrate their shields with one and only hit. In spite of it, your main objective is not to fight them, but to gather information. They're too numerous for the Destiny.

Sincerely,

Victoria Romanova, the ninth Empress of the Solar Empire.

P.S. Making allies think about our opinion on the morality, norms and values. We don't need allies who may want to corrupt our citizens and destabilize the society.

He frowned being bewildered by the new revelation. He opened the database and queried every information available on the Reapers and after few hours sighed. The mission became even more troublesome he assumed at first. He could now understand the amounts of money invested into the military. However he couldn't be sure the Empire was safe despite all the efforts, but he would do everything to ensure the safety of the Empire. He would hold on his word to the Empress. He won't fail. While he read about the Reapers, he received a report on Relays, which were investigated by frigates. All of them were inactive.

"Captain, the Beta-4 Relay is inactive," the pilot said.

"Excellent," the captain smiled. "The Klotho is to activate the Beta-1 Relay and contact the Empire. The sectors Beta and DB-01 are safe to claim for the Empire. I want Commander Lee of the Klotho head to the Destiny immediately. I command him to leave the ship to the XO. Return the Lachesis to the Destiny. In meantime begin the activation of the Beta-4 Relay."

"Aye, aye, captain."

"Mitsuharu," Shepard said to his XO, "Gather everyone with access level 7 and above in the main conference room in four hours. I'll be in my quarters."

Then he stood up and left the bridge heading to his quarters. He was going to use every available minute to rest and since he didn't really sleep the night before, these four hours couldn't be used better. The ship was way too big for walking all the way, so there were enough turbo-lifts around the ship and the captain had his own. As he reached his quarters, he took clothes off and lay in the bed and fell asleep. It was like a second as Shepard woke up from the clock alarm. The captain took shower, dressed himself and went to the conference room.

When he entered the conference room, all the officers took their seats already. There weren't many with the access level that high. His own XO - first commander Shizue Mitsuharu, commander Malou Lee of the Klotho, her XO lieutenant-commander Gilles Hughes, commander Anton Bovelin of the Lachesis and his XO lieutenant-commander Frímann Ellertsson, commander Cheng Han, who was Mitsuharu's vice and lieutenant-commander Janina Hoffmann the head of the scientific part of the crew.

"At easy," Shepard said immediately, "I know the most of you for years, no reason to be all business here. No doubt you're wondering why I gathered all of you here. The reason is simple, our main objective was altered. To be exact, we've got access to the original objective, which was classified until we reach beyond the borders of the Empire."

"What is the new mission exactly?" Mitsuharu asked.

He looked at his most trusted friend and a comrade Shizue. She had a Japanese ancestry, but was born in the Administrative Region North America. He wouldn't admit it, but he found her regular features, black hair and large dark eyes quite attractive. He knew, however, she wasn't interested in any kind of relationship which isn't friendship and was happy to share the opinion. Twelve years ago at the age of sixteen they were admitted to the Imperial Naval Academy at the same time. They both left it five years later in rank of ensigns being assigned to the same cruiser, the Annapurna. Four years later, when count Shepard was promoted to the rank of commander, he was transferred to the cruiser Mont Blanc. The commander requested lieutenant-commander Shizue Mitsuharu to be his XO. The request was accepted and soon they became known for the most impressive performance in war games. Their ship was the only undefeated one for three years in the row in both space and surface war games. If one would ask them, they would brush it off saying it was the achievement of the whole crew. It was the main reason they and the most of the old crew were transferred from the Mont Blanc to the Destiny. Almost everyone in the conference room except Janina Hoffmann served with him on the cruiser.

"The information I will share with you has to be excluded from network access and can't be shared with anyone who doesn't have access level 7 or above until we encounter the subject of the objective. It's direct order from the Empress and you all know the law," he said, and looked at officers. He took chips with data on Reapers and handed it over to them. "This is available information on the species of ancient highly advanced machines that were responsible for the end of the Ancients' civilization. You will have time to read it later. The main objective is to find out if they're still in the galaxy and if not, how much is known about them by other species we may encounter. Our knowledge about the Reapers is not to share with any alien civilization we may encounter unless the Empress orders it."

"Well, it's the best surprise I ever had," Shizue said smiling.

"It's an understatement, commander Mitsuharu," Lee said and turned to the captain, "Do you know more about the Reapers, or is it all we have?" he pointed to the chip.

"The chip contains all the information on the Reapers the humanity currently has. I suggest you read it after the meeting is over. It's our mission to find out more. Any other questions?" he asked but didn't receive one. Well there wasn't much to ask, no one had enough information to formulate a question. "We proceed to the Gamma sector. Be ready for the transit in twenty minutes. Dismissed."

He sighed and left the conference room heading to the bridge. Mitsuharu followed him but was silent thinking over the new information her eyes locked on her communicator which she used to read about the Reapers. When they reached the bridge, he took his place in the captain's chair. Soon the ship made another transit through the Relay and reached the Gamma sector.

"Gamma-1 Relay is passive," reported the pilot.

"Set the course to the Gamma-2 Relay," Shepard said and sighed. He wished the entire trip would be this peaceful. As soon as he thought it, he saw it on the face of the pilot, who turned to him, that the peace was over.

"Captain, we're getting readings. An unidentified vessel is approaching the Gamma-2 Relay."

He looked up to his panel, and sighed with relief. It was too small to be a Reaper, but just in case…

"Engage level two combat readiness," he commanded and switched the ship's readiness level. It meant that fighter pilots meant to stay nearby their vessels. Both frigates were ready to undock to provide additional assistance in the battle. Additionally it meant that no alcohol for the crew in the bars. Everyone on the ship knew however, that the second level implied a contact with an alien vessel.

"So we aren't alone," Mitsuharu said.

"We aren't," Shepard nodded as he watched a computer generated model of the alien starship.

"I doubt it's an Ancients' vessel. The data says it's technologically obsolete compared to the latest ships of the Ancients found on the Earth."

"It could be a vessel of one of the lesser civilizations."

"Captain, we found a functional information transmission," said the communication officer. "The most bandwidth is heavily encoded, but we could try to break it using our computers from the research division."

"Send a request for time estimation, lieutenant Awad. You said the most of it is encoded. What is not encoded?"

"We're not sure yet. The bandwidth is very limited. I'll be able to answer in few minutes," He paused. "I received time estimation from the RD. It will take more than a hundred fifty hours to decode the transmission."

"Proceed at low priority as long as the computational powers are free."

"It's ready," the lieutenant said and frowned, "Well, I don't know what the transmission is. Looks like some slop bucket for all kind of things."

"Bring something on to the main screen," Mitsuharu said.

The next moment most part of the audience turned bright red, the other part green. They were seeing the most repulsive thing they had ever seen in their lives. There were exactly two individuals on the screen. A blue one resembled a human female, and the second one was some kind of large reptile.

"Turn this thing off!" commanded the XO and as the comm. Lieutenant did it, she continued, "What the hell was that?"

"I said it was garbage," Awad said.

"Were they even of the same species?" the second pilot asked.

"Williams, do your job," snapped Mitsuharu. "Is there something appropriate in this… transmission?" Shepard asked.

"Well, there are more appropriate things, but the most is about… mating."

"Why do they send these things?" the XO asked.

"They don't, videos have a public access. Basically everyone can watch them. They won't be sent to somebody, they're just placed there for others to watch. It's like the Imperial Knowledge Archive in some way."

"The Galaxy Sex Archive," the warfare officer snorted and began to laugh.

"Very funny, Andersen. It's disgusting," Mitsuharu said with a scowl.

"So, the computer managed to filter… unwanted data," the comm. Lieutenant said. "Let's see," he murmured and brought another video on to the main screen.

For the next ten minutes they watched as some creatures, that resembled humanoid birds without wings, were doings something no one really understood. They spoke some language, which was already in the process of decoding. The second half of the video these creatures were using some kind of weapons to fight each other which was far more interesting.

"Do they film their wars of was that only a fiction like our historical recreations?" Mitsuharu asked confused.

"Don't be ridiculous, Shizue," Shepard said, "It's probably a fiction movie of some sort. I would like to understand what they are talking about."

"They do place those videos for a public view. Why wouldn't they film their wars? They seem to be extremely violent."

"We were violent before the Empire too," Shepard argued. "And if you consider every third citizen of the Empire has at least ten years of military experience, these species would think the same about us."

"We didn't have a war for a long time."

"As I said it's probably fiction or a historical recreation," he sighed and asked the comm. lieutenant, "Connect us to the RD. I want to hear scientific opinion."

"Connection established," the lieutenant answered and brought the view from the RD on the secondary screen. On the other end were Janina Hoffmann and the whole scientific team.

"Commander Hoffmann," the captain said, "Did you see these videos the lieutenant showed us?"

"Yes, he sent them to us. We're currently analyzing these and other videos. Too early to say something about their culture. We hope to decode some languages in about six hour. There are many, but some are used more frequently."

"Excellent," the XO said.

"What's the recommendation of the RD on the best course of action?" Shepard asked.

"We advise you to lay low on the orbit of third the gas giant until we can give you more information about these species."

"Good," the captain nodded, "I'll follow the advice."

The Destiny stayed on the orbit of the gas giant for two standard days. The mission didn't have a time limit and it was only logical to use time to learn about species currently residing in the galaxy. The captain was in his quarters. He hadn't contacted the RD yet, instead Shepard used his time to learn more by himself using this strange network as scientist called it, since all the languages were decoded after only eight hours. The RD found glossaries and linguistic rules for other languages in the network, which was translated to the Imperial common as the Extranet. They found out that they had access only to the part of the network. To access the whole thing they needed to decode the other part of the bandwidth. It was however a problem of the Research Division and they were working on it. He preferred to learn about alien races. He knew now, that these avian-like species were the turians, blue ones – asari, the race which fascinated scientists on board of the Destiny. The reptilian ones were krogan. Even after two days he had headaches at the memory of that first disgusting video with a krogan and an asari.

"Shepard," he heard the voice of Shizue from his communicator. "The RD is ready for the report."

"Understood. I'll be on the bridge soon. Give me fifteen minutes," he said and broke the connection.

He stood up, put a coat on and went to the lift, which brought him to the bridge. The RD was already on the screen. This time there were only head researchers and officers of the division in the room. He took his seat and commanded to give the report.

"We analyzed every available data from the Extranet and were able to deduce many important facts about alien species", Hoffmann began, "Let's start with the overall situation. Currently there are many different species coexisting in the galaxy, which is by most unexplored. For last thousands years there were no serious military conflicts, however, we found out there were disturbing events before. The krogan species, for example, were irresponsibly uplifted and used to lead a war against aggressive race named the rachni and then, after rachni were extinguished, the krogan were subjected to the biological warfare, which resulted in their current declining situation…"

"…The main government body is the Citadel Council. Obviously it resides at the Citadel. The Council consists of three members: an asari, a turian and a salarian. Other species have embassies and considered associate members, but don't really have a say at anything. The Council, however, has authority only in the Council Space which isn't even the largest part of the galaxy. The Terminus Systems don't fall under control of the Council. Slavery, piracy, constant conflicts predominate there. Species residing there refuse to accept the rule of the Citadel's Council. Beside there are regions, which only partly controlled by the Council…"

"…Overall they aren't as technological advanced as the Empire. Our military and computer technologies are slightly more advanced, moreover they have no knowledge of the construction of Mass Relays, we inherited from the Ancients and slightly improved over time. They rely on existing Relay network completely, consequently we can assume they have much less information about the Ancients they oddly call the Protheans. They honestly believe the Protheans built the Mass Relay Network. However, we have our own drawbacks in some areas. We found many fascinating technologies and devices, like the thing they call omni-tool…"

"…As we both know, the Solar Empire won't accept the rule of the Citadel's Council, so it's advisable to search for allies except the asari, the turians or the salarians. The Turian Hierarchy has similar values and even comparable state duty, which is almost as long as ours, but a bit more flexible. They could be considered potential ally, however the turians are one of the major races of the Citadel Space. An alliance with the Hierarchy is highly improbable without us accepting the rule of the Council. An alliance with the asari and the salarians is improbable as well. There exists, however, practically a hundred-percent chance for a non-aggression and trade pacts between the Empire and the Citadel…"

"… However, the quarians are excellent material for an alliance, despite their reputation in the Citadel Space. They place a great value on the community, loyalty, trust and cooperation. Despite the life of nomads they're known for their skills with technology and often are abused as cheep but qualitative labour due to their lack of a choice. The Empire could use their help and the quarians aren't in the state they can decline our offer to be part of the Empire. They aren't numerous and we could easy sustain them if needed for some time. Not to forget they're familiar with the artificial intelligence. Besides, we need man-power for colonization of new worlds, especially since the last discovery of a habitable planet with most life based on dextro-amino acids…"

"…the krogan could be potential allies if we find a cure to the genetic warfare called genophage. However a cure isn't recommended due to their longlivity, vitality and originally rapid reproduction. Basically they would overpopulate the whole galaxy if they could. We advise for a careful approach if it's absolutely needed. They aren't trusting species, mostly because of the genophage and never had needed values to join the Empire. Like the quarians they have very controversial reputation, and it's mostly deserved. The majority of the galaxy, however, seems to forget that before the genophage the krogan had a highly attuned sense of honour, courage and strength. The krogan may be useful as mercenaries…"

"…an alliance with the batarians is out of questions. The Empress will rather declare a full scale war on them to release slaves. Alliances with other races are too difficult to consider. We have barely enough information. As a conclusion to the diplomatic part of our analysis, we advise you to contact the Migrant Fleet; for they are the only secure ally. Besides that we need to establish diplomatic relationship with Citadel's Council. They will grant us an Embassy, because they won't risk a war against the Empire. The Destiny's size and firepower is a good argument in the discussion with the Council, so a mock demonstration of fighters and frigates would be useful in the Serpent Nebula. I should add, the opinion of the RD may be corrected, after we get a full access to the extranet…"

"…From now on the path to the Citadel lies through active Relays. The Gamma-2 Relay leads to the Omega Nebula, where the Omega Station is located. Obviously it has another name in Asari, but it's a logical translation, since the station has the name of the nebula. The station is the unofficial capital of the Terminus Systems. We advise to go directly to the Citadel, we need to test them and probably sign some mock treaties before we return to the Empire. Sightseeing at the Omega and in the Terminus Systems is highly unadvisable," the woman smiled. "That's all we had to say, captain."

"Thank you for your hard work," he said and broke the connection and commanded, "The course on the Gamma-2 Relay."

"A bit less than I hoped," the XO said.

"What do you mean?" Shepard asked.

"The Migrant Fleet. I hoped for a stronger civilization."

"I believe you're upset by something entirely different."

"Well, I'm sure you're upset too. I hoped the mission would be more… demanding."

"You should be happy our mission proved to be simpler than anyone could imagine," he said reading an encoded message from Janina: 'There is a small to none chance the Citadel Council will believe in the AI threat and the real purpose of the Citadel.'

"I know, but theoretically we could return to the Empire any moment now. It's disappointing."

"True," he sighed and smiled, "But you should try to take comfort in messing with the Citadel Council."

"Yeah, sure," she rolled her eyes.

"We're ready for a jump, captain," a pilot said.

"Proceed. From now on we move directly to the Citadel without further confirmation," the captain said.

"Aye, aye, captain," the pilot answered and several seconds later the ship jumped to the Omega Nebula.

"Do you want to take a look at the station?" the XO asked.

"No need, we already have pictures and detailed information from the extranet."

"The Delta-6 Relay is active, engaging the Relay," the pilot said.

The way to the Citadel took sixteen hours, which were pretty peaceful. The RD continued to analyze new data, but made no significant corrections. John made sure to have a good sleep before they went through the last Relay to the Serpent Nebula. It amazed him, how low was the security. Basicaly the Relays weren't protected at all. It sure would be bad news for the Empire if a three-kilometer-long ship could pass through all Relays to the Earth not being stopped by Defence Forces. The Destiny was sighted by alien vessels, but neither ship nor group of ships took the opportunity to contact the unknown enormous by their standards vessel. Do they believe the Citadel to be secure enough to defend itself against the Destiny?

"Launch fighter wings one and two. Undock both frigates," the captain commanded, "Let's show them we aren't to be trifled with. Approach the Citadel. Slowly."

Next minutes the small Empire's fleet was approaching the ancient station. Sensors detected the chain of the defensive fleet, which was ready to fight an unknown threat.

"More vessels are coming through the Relays," the XO said.

'Well,' he mused, 'They're able to defend themselves. We were obviously led into a trap, but regardless these defences are hardly enough for a capital of civilization. Hell, it's barely enough to hold of the Destiny.' He sighed, 'Like the Ancients, they wouldn't stand a chance against the Reapers.' He could see about fifteen frigate-size, ten cruiser-size, and three dreadnaught-size ships and as far as he could say they had no fighters in any form only small support ships, but then again, there were no information about fighters in the extranet at all and he knew from experience, no dreadnought couldn't stand a chance against squadron of small and manoeuvrable fighters. Only one thing was distracting him: the Citadel. It was a breathtaking structure with petal-esque arms that reminded him of a flower. 'How could the machines build something like that?'

"Captain, they're trying to contact us," said the comm. lieutenant. "They're sending both holographic and plain visual information."

"Bring the plain one on the main screen and open the channel," Shepard commanded and as soon as the lit up and showed the face of an asari, he turned an translator on said, "This is the Destiny, a starship of the Solar Empire. I'm captain John Gregory Shepard, the appointed representative of the Empire and Her Imperial Majesty Empress Victoria the First," he then grinned predatory and added, "We came in peace..."