The Winter Harvest
Chapter 1: Repensum Est Canicula
There is one immutable law that pervades every skirmish, war and battlefield, whether fought with tooth and claw or gun and laser, whether it rages in dank caves or glistening cities, and that is that someone will blunder.
Here, in the depths of space, around a long-dead world, in (by the measurement of a certain species of apelike mammals) the Year of Our Lord 2645, the Suul'ka had finally blundered.
It was supposed to have been a tiny recolonisation effort, the Morrigi pathetically trying to rebuild their lost glory. It was supposed to have been, by the standards of the Second Winter War, defenceless – easy prey for the massive horde of Zuul. But there was no colony, yet, though massive Empire-class habitat ships betrayed the birds' future intentions, for all the good it did. And they were far from defenceless. A ridiculously huge fleet of Crows had been waiting in deep space, and as the Suul'ka's fleet had fully committed to taking on the unexpectedly tough Empires, it had torn into the rearguard, arriving almost instantly thanks to that curious quirk of the Morrigi Void Cutter drive that meant the more damnable avians there were, the faster they went. The Suul'ka and his fleet were being enveloped by a Murder of Crows. The Deceiver of Fools had been deceived. The irony was not lost on the Suul'ka. But no matter how many ships the Morrigi brought to bear, he was not done yet.
"Solution Plotted. Opening Fire." Xhar'Dai the Blessed smiled as the AI of the Executioner's Mercy guided the Rail Cannon Rounds precisely into the Mission section of the Zuul C&C Dreadnought, smashing it in two. As the last enemy scanner ship in range disintegrated, he deployed his final ace. He was as close to elation as he had ever been in one hundred years of war as cloaked cruisers struck at the Zuul from below, their projectors and antimatter cannons sending hails of purplish death into the disgusting marsupials underbellies. The scum fell in the dozens, unable to respond to their invisible attackers, pounded by the massive guns of the Morrigi Leviathans. With the presence of Xhar'Dai's Gravboats, which, using the effects of the Void Cutter drives, slowed down enemy vessels while speeding up the Morrigi, they had no chance to escape. Everything was going to plan.
Which is a really, really bad thing to say, or to think. It's just asking for trouble.
The Deceiver of Fools watched dispassionately as his fleet was cut to ribbons. All he had needed was a couple more minutes, and for the Morrigi to come just a little closer, which the Crow commander had obligingly done. It didn't matter that half his armada was ashes on the solar winds. It didn't matter that in thirty seconds, he would personally be in range of the Crow battle line. Because in five, it would all be over. He would see if the oh-so-superior Morrigi technology could find him where he was going.
Alerts suddenly blared on the Bridge of the Executioner's Mercy. The Suul'ka had suddenly disappeared in a sphere of a colour that was darker than the void – a darkness that was expanding outwards, ever out wards. Memories flashed into Xhar'Dai's mind – memories of a Suul'ka station, another darkness, the same thing. He had witnessed the Deceiver's shipyard do this when all else failed, had witnessed what it had done before that, and knew that it was the only chance of survival for him and the fleet. Faster than humanly possible, he smashed an inexplicable override command into his console and activated his comm unit, shouting desperately:
"All ships, lock navigation to my signal and keep to it no matter what! This may be an unpleasant expe-"
And in one place, that was it. Neither the Deceiver of fools, nor their Morrigi assailants were ever seen again. The 2nd Vengeance Fleet of the Silver Throne, under the command of Xhar'Dai the Blessed, was recorded as lost in the line of duty. The three remaining Suul'ka crossed another name off their `to kill` lists. Eventually, the incident became nothing more than a historical footnote. In one place.
But in another…
It was stupid. It was ridiculous. It was, unfortunately, entirely to be expected.
In short, it was politics.
Fleet Marshal Vorin Garek groaned. Not that he was at all disloyal to the Hierarchy, not in the slightest, but whichever of the High Commanders thought that he was the best choice for this mission deserved, in his humble opinion, to be fed piece-by-piece to a Thresher Maw. He was a soldier, not a diplomat. But since he was the ranking official on the Terminus border, he'd got landed with it, and he hardly had a clue what to do with it.
On paper, the Systems Alliance represented all of humanity off of Earth. In reality, it only covered about two-thirds, the rest being the small independent colonies in the Terminus Systems. But none of these had been of any political significance – too small and fragmented to have any reach across the void. That had been until about ten years ago, when Paradigm, New Constantinople and Kerensky, three of the more developed and peaceful colonies, had formed the Paradigm Protectorate Commonwealth. They had prospered and become exponentially more powerful, their appreciable military presence warding off the ubiquitous Terminus Pirates. There were five of them now, Rick's World and the tiny Drell colony on Sirocco having joined later. Now, they mattered. On the scale of the Citadel, Flotilla and Hegemony they were still nothing, but after their first dreadnought, the Kusanagi, had made her maiden voyage (after a discreet refitting following purchase from the Ilium shipyard), they were all but unique in the Terminus, and the Council had finally had to pay attention to them personally. They hadn't got on well. The PPC refused to accept Council authority, or respect the Citadel conventions. They considered themselves outside of the Council's jurisdiction. And they particularly disliked the Hierarchy, not approving of the Turian's organised society, or the fact that the Hierarchy did not subscribe to the mob rule they called `democracy`. Yet they didn't even have the decency to close themselves and their idiocy off, like the Batarians, instead insisting on their ships right to hawk their wares in Council Space, while undercutting Citadel tariffs to attract trade away from the great nations. They were a parasite, money-grabbing thieves to put the Volus to shame. But what made it worse was that people were starting to agree with them. The Council had not, in fact, wasted resources on protecting `self-sufficient` colonies, or preparing for a Geth attack lead by an insane Spectre. This was, apparently, a good reason to abandon the cause of Galactic Unity entirely. Idiocy!
And the Hierarchy fleet under Garek's command couldn't even squash the mewling PPC like the bug it was. That would make them martyrs to Citadel `oppression`. So Garek had to play `diplomatic`.
Even when the bastards held STG operatives hostage. Everyone who was anyone knew the Special Tasks Group had agents everywhere. It was one of those basic facts of life: Birds flew, fish swam and Salarians spied on everyone else, and each other. The only time anyone who was anyone didn't know that was when they could get political leverage out of it. When they weren't dealing with vote-yourself-rich systems, Hierarchy High Command had a tendency to forget that anyone who was anyone excluded most of the people in the galaxy. Random unimportant citizens, not knowing the basic facts of interstellar politics, often were shocked by the thought of spies in their midst. Accordingly, when some idiot thought of giving such ignorant people power, they tended to vote for people who apparently objected to that.
So it must have seemed like divine intervention when a few Paradigm cops smashed open a door to a lowlife hideout and found that the `terrorist cell` had a much more interesting agenda. Spying was a capital crime on all the PPC member planets. But Garek, for all his thousands of soldiers, had few cards to play. They couldn't take military action. Economic action was way above his pay-grade, and would still make the Citadel look bad. They had no actual legal ground to object – the STG agents had committed a crime in PPC jurisdiction, been found guilty, and sentenced normally. All Garek could really do was appeal to international relations (which were already awful, as far as the Hierarchy and Union were concerned) and the goodness of their hearts. Not exactly the best way to convince a politician.
The intercom icon on the screen in front of him lit up. "Marshal, their Prime Minister is on the line again. Shall I patch him through?"
Sighing inwardly, Garek gave his weary reply. "Suppose we may as well, for all the good it'll do." Of all the threats and problems he faced, he dreaded none so much as politicians.
Xhar'Dai knew the readings in front of him couldn't be true. It was impossible. Whatever the Suul'ka had done, it could not have moved the galaxy. But the eyes of machines did not lie, and neither did the technicians who swore they were in working order. And they said that, after the Silver Throne fleet, confused and psychically screwed-up, had crawled out of Subspace, the stars and planets of what humans called the Milky Way were not quite the same as before. As the confused AI corrected for the strange effect, Xhar'Dai collected his thoughts.
He had met this weapon before, back in the First Winter War. A deep-space shipyard built to construct a terrible technology, a Suul'ka serving Von Neumann AI race, had disappeared in much the same way, taking half a Liir battle fleet with it. The after-action reports concluded it was something similar to a Node Cannon, Zuul weapons that sent their targets into subspace, which would doom any ship that did not carry a node drive. Xhar'Dai now repented of his opposition to using Node and Void Cutter drives on all ships – The 2nd Vengeance Fleets souls would now be Spectre food otherwise. But that didn't answer the question – Node Cannons could send you into a parallel universe, but they couldn't change this one.
A parallel universe…
Suddenly dreading a possibility that, for all intents and purposes, should be impossible, Xhar'Dai brought up his C&C console.
"I want the All-Seeing Eye to perform a complete long-range scan on everything, and I mean everything – every single zorn variable. Don't ask why, you dumb lizard, just do it!" A tired and incongruously sounding voice belonging to a female Tarka responded simply, "As you command, Daiko."
He hoped his suspicions wouldn't prove right. But a part of him somehow knew that it was time for the 2nd Vengeance Fleet, of the Silver Throne Federation, to learn the lesson humanity had learned two hundred years ago: Repensum Est Canicula.
First Captain Sophia Coral, commander of the Kusanagi, was not best pleased with the situation. This was an unfortunate state of affairs, because it often resulted in people who were unlucky enough to not be Coral get hit with blunt objects. When asked, repeatedly, about why their highest ranking field officer was approximately three inches from the asylum (normally asked after yet another broken nose and lawsuit), all they could point to was the wreckage of countless ships, few of which bore the PPC Moon-and-Spear.
The current reasons for her annoyance was the fact that she and her ship (not to mention the rest of the fleet, and several satellites carrying nuclear surprises) were having to sit on alert, pointing their various weapons at a mass relay in case Turians appeared next to it and started making a fuss, as Council lackeys were often wont to do. This annoyed her because it meant that the crew, particularly those of the captainly persuasion, had to stay awake for a long time. She had spent most of her life on Kerensky, which had a nineteen-hour day. Thus far, the crew reckoned, the threat of blunt objects becoming airborne was only being just staved off by altogether too much coffee.
She was further annoyed because it looked more and more likely that they might actually end up fighting the Hierarchy fleet, which by Corals measurement was the highest form of idiocy. The Turians only just outclassed them in sheer tonnage, but the most powerful military in space outfitted its soldiers well, far better than a small band of colonies. The PPC had the home advantage, but any fight would be very bloody – probably the worst battle since the Geth attack on the Citadel two years ago. And neither side could win anything more than a pyrrhic victory in the best of cases.
But what really, really was annoying her right now was that the comm alert was beeping. This presumably meant that one of the goddamn politicians, in between angering the other goddamn politicians, had somehow contrived to get her, a field officer, not even an admiral, into their goddamn debate. The universe was fucking with her and someone, most likely a hapless subordinate, was going to pay for it.
Lieutenant-Commander Vaneh Zirol was not going to be that subordinate. The Drell stalked over to his desk, safely outside the range of a thrown coffee cup, and quietly listened to the Prime Minister's conversation with the Hierarchy Marshal. No-one aboard the Kusanagi had noticed (or more likely, had not cared) that the ex-Assassin had hacked the communication system and knew what the admirals had said almost before they had even said it. But he was an intelligence officer for a reason. However, as the conversation entered his ears, said intelligence reached several conclusions.
The first was that he really, really was not getting paid enough for this.
The second was "Oh, Shit".
Picking up the pieces after major battle was always unpleasant, and it was even worse when the battle ended with being blasted through dimensions. The Invisible Death had been protected from the worst of the damage by living up to its name, but something had warped and torn into the left flank of the ship when the Suul'ka had used the Node Weapon (or whatever it had been), and Kala Orr, the ships Gunner Qu'ann, did not particularly want to know what it was, only that it had taken seven of the cruisers hundred crew with it. Luckily, they had been able to seal the lost section off, despite being in the wrong dimension, or the entire ship would have been lost, like altogether too many of the Morrigi Armada. But still, seven men – four of them hers.
It had been, literally, indescribable. Trying to explain `normal` subspace travel in languages meant to say `you throw the spear at the lion, and I'll hit the Gazelle with this stick` was hard enough, but what had just happened… It would be like trying to explain abstract art to a creature that not only had no eyes, but had no concept of vision. Kala decided to stick to the response the Tarka had used when the rules of the universe, as they often seemed to, didn't seem to apply – shut up, stop thinking about it, and do the task in front of you. Said task being repairing the damage done by the Suul'ka did not, however, make that easier.
"… Scanner! I said pass me the Mek-fucked scanner, Var'Kona!"
Kala jolted back from her thoughts with a start. One of the problems of signing on with the strictly egalitarian Morrigi, even the somewhat more structured Silver Throne, was that you got people of refinement and culture, like Kala, stuck together with idiots like Thalt Bente, the Invisible Death's Technical Qu'ann (and now, she realised, she was using the Morrigi word for leader. Standards were slipping everywhere). It wasn't that she objected to a common (or even a male) Tarka outranking her. She objected to the fact that the fool would not shut up about it.
"All right, dumbass, all right!" She bit back in English – it was the common language in Throne space, and she was more comfortable with it than the Gutter dialect of Tarkasian Thalt spoke. "Just giving a little thought for my lost troops, not that you would know what that's like, cowering in the-"
"All crews, your attention."
Both Tarka turned to the communication screen on the wall, argument forgotten. An all crews meant that this came right from the top – and the Fleet Qu'ann, Xhar'Dai the Blessed, rarely needed to address every person on all of his five hundred ships personally.
"Loyal soldiers and colonists of the Silver Throne Federation, you have been through far too much already. You have been, quite literally, through hell. It is an evil fate we have been given that I must now add greatly to this burden."
It was all Xhar'Dai could do when he looked at the faces on the screen in front of him – almost a billion of them, Morrigi, Human, Tarka, all of them waiting for him to tell them how they were going to get home. None of them ready for what he was about to tell them.
"We assumed that the weapon the Deceiver used was merely a form of Node Cannon. That it merely threw us into Subspace. I am afraid the truth is far worse. The Milky Way we have arrived in is not the same Milky Way we left. My Friends, this is not our reality. We are in a world where we should not exist. Where the Silver Throne, and for that matter, almost everything we love and cherish never was.
It is not, however empty. Here too, the light of civilisation shines in the stars. Here too, sentients have carved out empires across the void. And not all of these species are unfamiliar. A species of apelike mammals, in by their reckoning the Year of Our Lord 2152, have just begun to take their first steps into the void. In this universe, thankfully, their first colony ship wasn't destroyed by bugs. Yes, My Friends, though this place has only now been graced by Morrigi or Tarkas, Humanity exists here.
Unfortunately, it is clear that we are not the only ones thrown here from our reality. We must assume, men, that the Deceiver and his pets are here also. Thus, it seems, our duty is clear. We cannot allow the Suul'ka, having been defeated in our world, to triumph here. He must be stopped, finally. And we will stop him.
Our course will be difficult. Many of us will fall against the enemy. If any of you objects to this, say it now." Not one whisper came from the shocked but suddenly hardened faces of his men.
"Very well. We will proceed as the empires of space always have. It is a stroke of luck, perhaps, that the colony vessels are here. Each of the seven Empires will head for a different world, accompanied by one seventh of the fleet. We will explore, we will expand. When the time is right, we will make contact with the other races and, we hope, recruit their aid against the enemy. And when we find the Suul'ka and his minions, we will exterminate them.
Full briefings have been sent to each ship. That is all, soldiers. Thank you."
"All Paradigm Military Vessels prepare for imminent attack by unidentified forces, approaching on vector 79/204. Reinforcements will be arriving from outside normal routes. Do not fire on any vessel using the following IFF signature. This is not a drill. Fleet Command Out."
At this point, Zirol was not only sure he was not getting paid enough, but was working out precisely the raise he would demand after this operation. Assuming there was an after this operation.
Just before the speakers had blared, he had been the only person on the Kusanagi to have an inkling of what was happening. On his hacked feed, he heard the alarms go off in the Prime Minister's office and a last snippet of conversation between the PM and an aide: "What do you mean, faster than expected?" The feed had been terminated then, but not without giving Zirol enough information to know that shit was about to get real. The Captain evidently agreed with him, currently focusing her copious anger towards Fleet Command.
"You know there is an enemy coming. You know that it is, in fact, an enemy, not some teenager joyriding the Destiny Ascension. You even know where the coming from, so would you kindly tell me what the fuck they are!"
"I believe I may be able to answer that question somewhat better than your admirals, Captain." A new voice had cut into the broadcast. "I am Ogodei Onewing, Zo'Qu'ann… That is to say, Commander of your reinforcements, courtesy of the Silver Federation. Don't ask me questions now, Miss Coral; we have more important things to attend to."
Someone had called her `Miss Coral` and no one had been hit yet. This was bad.
"The enemy are called the Zuul. They are a ruthless and disgusting species, but not without cunning. They will be using primarily short-ranged energy weapons and boarding pods, so do not let them close with you. You can beat them at a distance, as their ships will not be using kinetic barriers – but if even one gets on a ship, even the Kusanagi, that ship is lost. And above all, do not let them get to your planet. My force will reach you in twenty minutes.
I have been informed that you are good at what you do, soldiers of the Paradigm. Prove that today. War is coming to space, and you will be needed.
Good luck, soldiers. May Our Lord watch over you."
Solforce Diplomatic Corps
Dossier: The Silver Throne Federation
The Silver Throne Federation has become, by the 27th Century AD, the most influential Morrigi faction in known space. Originally a traditional Morru'igi, just before the First Winter War they began to adopt a more martial and structured society, forming official military and representative bodies. And bringing many independent colonies and small nations under their control. Compared to Solforce and the Tarka and Hiver Empires, however, they remained a very uncoordinated society. Their patronage of small factions brought them into conflict with the great nations, notably in the Frontier Rebellions in 2487…
…During the First Winter War they, like the other Morrigi nations, were among the first to fully commit to fighting Suul'ka forces unilaterally. However Silver Throne losses remained comparatively low thanks to their preference for long-range combat and the advantages of the Void Cutter drive. Their territory was also far from the main front, and they acted as a major supply line to the Allied war effort. After the `End of Flesh` Crisis that led to the end of the First Winter War and the fall of Muur, they, like Solforce, remained one of the few powers to be capable of waging war against the AI forces during the Via Damasco War…
…Nowadays the Silver Throne and its affiliated nations dominate the galactic north. They retain diplomatic relations with all of the civilised species save the Liir, and in light of renewed Suul'ka offensives against Morrigi and Hiver territory, have been pushing for the resurrection of the Free Races Alliance…
Author Note: So this is first Sword of the Stars/Mass Effect Crossover. We haven't got a regular SOTS fic yet, meaning there's a crossover before the normal thing. I reckon that's a first.