Updated to Ver 0.99 as of April 6, 2012.
Mass Effect 3 – A Crucible in More Ways Than One (Ver 0.99)
By Ysionris Gavotte
When history looks back at the human side of the Reaper War, it will remember Admiral Steven Hackett as the least important corner of the heroic trinity of leadership comprised of himself, Admiral David Anderson, and Commander Shepard.
This downplaying of his contributions to the war has little to do with any perception that he didn't do enough in the fight against the Reaper, and is almost certainly an unfair assessment. Still, Anderson had the distinction of leading a human resistance on a Reaper-infested Earth for weeks until help arrived, even when communications worldwide were cut, and Shepard went on an epic galaxy-wide quest to garner the support of all races across the galaxy while doing battle with Cerberus and saving the Councilors. Again.
Plus they were both – in the best traditions of martyrs everywhere – kind of dead.
All of them suffered under adversity. Adversity brought people together, helped them overlook hate, grudges. But there was only so much adversity could accomplish; nowhere was this more obvious in the galaxy – not on Earth, not on the Normandy – than in an undisclosed location where the fleets built the Crucible in secret. It was a hard lesson Hackett was about to learn. Even a common goal under pressure could not overcome the power of culture, individuality, zaniness, absurdity, pyjaks, ryncol, and krogan. And ryncol.
The difficult part was not completing the project. The Reaper invasion brought plenty of motivation for that.
The difficult part was getting out of this project sane.
In hindsight, it was truly a wonder how the asari, the salarians, and the turians managed to co-organize the galaxy for more than a thousand years. Because the Alliance dreadnought SSV Everest – responsible for housing discussions and brainstorming sessions between the engineering and science teams – had an atmosphere that resembled less than something to be expected on a military vessel, and something more like a Catholic all-girl's high school just realized half its student population was homosexual, except – in both cases – everyone in question already kind of knew.
Although – immediately cutting down the appeal factor for Lieutenant Jeanne Rutherford, yeoman to Admiral Steven Hackett – with a lot more males and a lot fewer skirts. The decade-old order to have female fleet uniforms use trousers instead of skirts made many, many people very sad.
"We believe this was intentional on part of the Protheans, admiral," the lead asari scientist was explaining to Hackett with the support of many enthusiastically nodding blue heads behind her, even as everyone else waited patiently for their turn to speak in the dreadnought's briefing room that had been converted into a meeting room of sorts. Of course, by "patiently", it meant the salarians were tapping their feet impatiently at a rate of roughly two hundred and forty times per minute (Hackett suspected that the floor needed to be remodeled soon if this kept up), the turians conducting some kind of experiment involving combining their handguns into several different weapons for no immediately obvious reason, and the humans were gathered around a small monitor playing a (mercifully muted) video of asari-hanar porn (Rutherford kept sending covert glances in their general direction) even though actual asari were only about two meters away. "It isn't infeasible that the Protheans deliberately left space for customization in case new weapons technologies were discovered in the course of building the Crucible, making it more feasible to implement such technologies without dismantling the entire project and starting from scratch."
"Understandable," Hackett agreed even as he consulted his datapad uneasily, looking at the proposed updated blueprints from the asari, trying hard to suppress the kind of expression that would normally broadcast "this is spaghetti?" after being served a plate claimed to be spaghetti by a krogan kitchen that had little materials to work off aside from pyjaks, ryncol, armor-piercing bullets, and weapons-grade uranium. Trying to get the image out of his head without looking too impolite, Hackett raised the datapad a bit so that his covert aside glance to the turians was a bit more covert…and he noted that the engineers had somehow turned a small modest collection of pistols into what looked like an improvised shotgun. "But…why are there spires?"
The asari frowned. "Doesn't it look better?"
Hackett – through an unfathomable amount of willpower – stopped his eyebrow from twitching before it began. "Um…"
"See?" a nearby asari engineer suddenly cut in heatedly in what looked like a mixture of both triumph and frustration, addressing the lead scientist of her team. "I told you spires were so last century. Ziggurats are totally in vogue now. The admiral has the right idea."
"That's not…" Hackett started, but was cut off as the asari team suddenly fractured into two factions – apparently pro-spires and pro-ziggurats – shouting at each other in what was probably an expression of artistic superiority intelligible only to the asari.
As Rutherford tried to maintain order, the admiral decided to take a short vacation from the dreadful, depressing, grim-dark world of sense, and momentarily turned his attention to the turians again, who had managed to improve upon that improvised shotgun by transforming it into something that looked very much like an anti-material sniper rifle.
It took only three minutes for Hackett to finally be able to squeeze word in when the asari incidentally collectively attempted to catch their breath. "I may have been left out of the loop with the design details, or maybe I missed the memo," he muttered, "but last I was informed, we were working on a doomsday device."
"Please, admiral," the lead asari engineer tried to sound placating. "The Crucible is more than just a superweapon of mass destruction. It is a symbol of hope in the galaxy, the first time so many from all corners of the galaxy banded together to work on a single project. Something so…" she waved her hand in circles in the air, struggling to come up with the right words, "…monumentally important should have aesthetic considerations. It should inspire morale."
Hackett sighed. "Fine, but only if it's reasonable and so long as it fits within our scheduled milestones. And the magical rainbow-colored pony decals on the dome have got to go."
"…Not even the sparkles?"
"Not even the sparkles."
The asari engineering team did not try very hard to hide their disappointment.
Turning to the salarians (and catching the turians once more as he gaze panned, seeing that they were now hunched over something that looked like a chain gun that was meant to be mounted on a tank) while trying to ignore the din of upset asari discussion escalating to the side ("Do humans not like sparkles? Even asari with that condition in our novels sparkle"), Hackett asked, not without a certain amount of dread, "So what's your story?"
Hackett personally thought the salarian science team was just maybe a little scary. It wasn't only because of their eccentricity and their scientific capabilities, but because they were trolls. It had only been days ago when they decided that – since they were ahead of schedule – they could experiment with prototype transhuman technology to combat Reaper ground forces, and approached Alliance soldiers, asking for volunteers ("humans have greater genetic variance," they explained). This didn't sit well with some of the more religious of humans, a stark contrast of the near-universal appreciation of transhumanism that the salarians had. Naturally, the humans tried to dissuade both eager human volunteers and the salarian scientists from going through with the experiments. Of course, as they were the brightest and most skillful minds the galaxy had to offer, both sides sat down and had a relatively civil debate on the subject with the camaraderie that could only come over several mugs of alcohol at the bar.
Which was to say that two hours, an average of fifteen mugs of batarian ale per person, a Jesus comparison, a snide comment on the League of One, a Hitler remark, some speculation on the size of Dalatrass Linron's cloaca, seventy-three chairs, five issues of Fornax, four frigates, two cruisers, a dreadnought, eighty-five minutes of Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting on repeat through the inter-fleet speakers, the purchase of a krogan quad, a Twilight re-run, and a pineapple later, the carnage had been so horrifying that when ex-Cerberus scientists sent by Commander Shepard to help with the Crucible project dropped out of FTL at the construction site, they panicked and tried to flee, convinced that the Reapers had already came here, found the Crucible, and had their way with the project.
"Simple," the salarian lead engineer declared in response to Hackett's inquiry, and the admiral instantly knew that – from a salarian – it was anything but "simple". "Prototype technologies…"
"Untested prototype technologies," hissed a nearby asari.
"…can be used to vastly increase performance of the Crucible once its dark energy capacitors are upgraded," finished the salarian, pointedly ignoring the criticism from his blue-skinned colleague. "We're looking at an immediate twelve percent increase in both range and energy efficiency."
It sounded good. Too good. There was probably a catch somewhere. "Alright," Hackett nodded cautiously. "That sounds good. What's the other side of the story?"
"That the salarians want to increase everything to ultraviolet levels," the asari mumbled.
"Only to improve effectiveness," defended the salarian.
"And melt the Crucible? We've seen what happens to your GARDIAN lasers."
"Ultraviolet frequencies of GARDIAN lasers increases range and effectiveness against missiles and torpedoes at reasonable risks, you know that."
"And just about cooks everyone inside," the lead asari scientist crossed her arms crossly. Hackett personally felt a bit more intimidated by the turians having assembled what now resembled an anti-aircraft turret in the background. "Do you have any idea how embarrassing it was for Matriarch Lidanya to inform the dalatrass that we had krogan mercenaries volunteering to exhume the bodies of your servicemen from the Manovai after the Siege of Ituriac?"
Rutherford had the decency to stare. "Was this before or after the corpses fused with the hull?"
Hackett grimaced. Not helping, yeoman…
"I thought the krogan prefer their salarian liver served raw," an Alliance engineer in the crowd added unhelpfully.
Screw it, who am I kidding?
"Iron supplement in a starship's good for a thresher maw's diet," a human scientist mused aloud. "Maybe they're good for krogan too."
Cradling her forehead with a hand that was the universal gesture of impatient exasperation, the lead asari muttered, "I don't find that to be very funny. Can we please cut down on the insensitive chatter now?"
The sudden voice of dissent cut through the din, coming from a source so unexpected that many heads were turned to face on Admiral Steven Hackett, who looked just about as stone-faced as ever.
The lead asari scientist, who had come to know Hackett as a very tolerant, open-minded man, was quite frankly surprised by his sudden rebuttal. "Admiral?" she ventured cautiously.
Hackett neither seemed nor sounded any less adamant. "I said no."
The lead asari cross her arms indignantly. "Admiral, surely the spirit of interspecies cooperation is more important than any preconceptions any individual may hold about other…"
Except Hackett, looking distracted, interrupted her. "Excuse me, can you give me a moment?" he asked, then – turning his attention to another corner of the room, thereby causing the everyone else to suddenly realize that the admiral had never been addressing the asari or the issue of racial sensitivity at all – sternly called out, "Turians, I said no."
Everyone – except the turians, of course – turned to look at the turian corner of the room, and discovered that what looked very much like scaffolding had suddenly materialized from out of nowhere when no one else had been looking. The turians, for their part, were all wearing hardhats – difficult, considering the elongated and spiky shape of their heads – and coordinating the connection of what looked to be two large cylindrical devices suspended by the scaffolding, each as large as a shuttle, with each other.
Upon realizing that they were being addressed, the turians looked back at Hackett with wide, blinking, innocent eyes (that were fooling no one). "What?"
Hackett pointed down at the floor. "This is a starship. Those," he pointed at the two cylindrical devices that were just half a meter from connecting, "look like two halves of a mining laser. No."
Grumbling, the turians began to disassemble the device back into their own handguns.
"All that calibration for nothing," mumbled a turian engineer in discontent.
Hackett wanted to say something else as well, but that speech portion of his brain was temporarily sidelined as he realized something in hindsight: …Wait, how did they do that? Did the turians really just make a mining laser out of pistols?
"Look," the lead salarian muttered, irked, wanting to get the conversation back on track (or at least on the track he favored), "the point here is that, with a few fixes and upgrades, all the improvements will be completely reliable, workable, and safe."
There were stares from around the room towards the salarians.
"Really!" he insisted. "Absolutely nothing to worry about, in full compliance with any set of safety regulations in any military fleet."
Everyone stared harder.
"Now, honestly, are you people doubting salarian technology?"
The stares almost became audible.
"Oh, don't look at me like that," the salarian finally snapped even more irritably before, throwing a three finger armed up in the air as if exasperated by an argument over something so trivial. "It's just a little bit of highly lethal Cherenkov radiation, nothing serious."
"Right, how about no?" deadpanned the admiral right on cue.
"Enough." It was here that the turians finally cut in, deciding that they were finally going to take part in the discussions and cut through all the crap. "I will remind all of you that this is not an ornament for a Fornax beauty pageant or a primary school science project." The salarians looked irritated at their ideas being dismissed as a "primary school science project". More than a few asari in the room blushed, a worrying implication. "This is a vital weapon of war we will be using against the Reapers."
Inwardly, Hackett produced a ghost of a smile. Leave it to the turians to figure out what's important in war.
"What we need the engineers to do is to build ten dreadnought-class mass accelerators attached to the Crucible. And a massive ship-to-ship flamethrower at the fore. Right now."
The inward smile of Hackett shattered into thousands of tiny sad pieces.
The conference once again devolved into a chorus of shouting, arguing voice even as a despondent Hackett shuffled out of the room in despair, unnoticed by all except the sympathetic humans scientists and engineers who felt almost as overwhelmed. When Hackett first received a pre-briefing heads-up from the Alliance teams, he was a little disappointed to hear that they had very little to offer beside so many asari, salarian, and turian proposals. The humans, in their corner of the room, had even been remarkably quiet throughout the meeting, almost distressingly so.
Now, the admiral couldn't help but feel relieved, if not a little bit proud. It felt so good to be sane sometimes.
There was at least the silver lining that, if the science teams were going to quarrel over the modifications to the Crucible, they'll probably be too busy deadlocking each other instead of actually building those modifications.
Or maybe he was just being hopeful.
"Look at the bright side, admiral," Yeoman Rutherford tried to comfort her admiral. "At least the krogan here don't have any WMDs ready to give the turians."
Hackett was not comforted. "Please don't tempt fate."
The krogan did bring weapons of mass destruction with them, but the turians never got those, and that was an entirely different and unrelated story, involving twenty-three bottles of ryncol, a hanar, a volus, a nunnery, two harvester eggs, and the unluckiest pyjak in the history of the galaxy.
The unrelated story, however, was related to the story when Hackett went down to the kitchens one day and found that the cooks for the SSV Everest, a group of men that was supposed to prepare meals for over five thousand individuals, was down to one…and that one wasn't even a man.
In hindsight, he really regretted comparing the asari plans of a spires-equipped Crucible with "a plate claimed to be spaghetti by a krogan kitchen that had little materials to work off aside from pyjaks, ryncol, armor-piercing bullets, and weapons-grade uranium". This had to be karmic vengeance.
Hackett regarded the kitchen in a wary manner that looked for hidden cameras connected to the screens of hundreds of giggling servicemen fleet-wide, or perhaps for the cooks that would surely suddenly jump out from where they've been hiding behind the counters with a cry of "April Fool's!" (perhaps having read his mind, Rutherford went to look behind the counters, just in case). In fact, he couldn't help but notice that there was a lot of blood on the cutting board, which had also splattered across the counter, enough to suggest that this was the crime scene of a grisly murder.
"Grunt…" the admiral ventured slowly, cautiously, "where are the cooks?"
Urdnot Grunt, the leader of the krogan commando team Akalakh Company, had been deployed to the Crucible project in advance largely because he was recuperating from wounds sustained from what had been a one-man stand against a nest or Ravagers, and because – with no Reaper presence on Tuchanka since Shepard cured the genophage – the only other place he could be was Palaven. So Urdnot Wrex had sent Grunt over to the Crucible first in preparation for the eventual retaking of Earth.
He was also strangely out-of-place in a kitchen meant for humans to navigate in, even though he was wearing a tiny too-small-for-a-krogan apron.
"Unconscious," Grunt rumbled even as he busied himself over pots and pans, which meant for every pan he picked up, two pots nearby went crashing to the floor when his wide mass inadvertently brushed against them.
Hackett was dreading this already. "Why?"
"Those monkeys called me a 'baby' when they discovered I was tank-born," the krogan replied with a derisive sniff even as he poured a pot of something green that glowed and bubbled into the vat of daily soup, and Hackett thought he heard ominous chanting in Latin, promising horrifying deaths from vengeful chaotic gods, like all songs seemed to be sung in Latin. "So I challenged them to a drinking contest." A pause, then the krogan equivalent of a smirk. "I had ryncol."
Hackett questioned the sanity of any man who challenged a krogan to a drinking contest, or accepted such a challenge, age be damned. It frightened him to think how many meals he might have eaten from a team of sanity-challenged men. Sadder still was the fact that the kitchen team had twenty people in it, and not one of them knew better, rendering the entire team out of commission. At least it meant they weren't murdered…hopefully.
"I see," the admiral wanted to nod, but he was too busy pinching the bridge of his nose in an attempt to stave off an ulcer. Beside him, Rutherford was busy silently keying in orders on her datapad for aspirin from the medical bay. "And…why are you cooking?"
Grunt shrugged, nearly dislodging a shelf in the process. A small kettle fell into the vat of what looked very much like radioactive sludge, but the krogan didn't seem to have noticed. "They were stupid," he muttered, unaware that said kettle was beginning to melt, "but it's my mess, so I figured that I'd cover for them until they stopped leaking themselves like a…like…like something that leaks itself." Then, in an afterthought, a gleeful, "Like a volus leaking himself!" The laughter that came after was something to behold.
Usually, it got things done with minimal bloodshed and lots of good press, but it was at moments like these that Hackett really hated Shepard's sense of responsibility and how it tended to rub off people. It always came back to bite others in the ass at rather inconvenient times. Everyone had different ways of "taking responsibility"; a lot of it was rarely for the better.
Against his better judgment, Hackett took a closer look at the vat where the food was being cooked, which alone was enough to cause his brain to momentarily blind his eyes, as if it subconsciously rejected what the eyes saw as reality, and temporarily ignored his sense of vision akin to how a child might plug his ears and go "I'm-not-listening-I'm-not-listening-I'm-not-listening". The ominous Latin chanting had turned into something that sounded suspiciously like what passed for R&B sung in a young voice with a Canadian accent. Emergency mass effect fields that were supposed to contain kitchen fires were probably the only reason why what had to be poisonous, toxic fumes had not yet made rounds through the Everest's ventilation system and killed them all.
In what was probably a hesitantly joking, poorly-considered better-safe-than-sorry mentality, Hackett asked (and regretted it the moment the words left his mouth), "You…wouldn't happen to have put a pyjak in there, would you?"
"Hah!" Grunt rumbled in approval. "You've got a good nose for a human, admiral. Caught two near the drive core. Thought the crew could use some real meat for a change."
That explained the blood on the cutting board counter, at least. Strangely, the knowledge that Grunt had not actually killed any of the cooks in his quest to commandeer the kitchen was of no comfort to Hackett. From the vat, what looked like a pyjak agonizingly trying to crawl its way out of a sludge it had no business being alive in caused Hackett some alarm. "Look, Grunt, have you ever heard of instant ramen?" Food by which even you might be able to avoid poisoning the entire fleet? Though he didn't say the last out loud; Hackett did not need Grunt reacting like a sensitively violent Japanese schoolgirl being told that her cooking was lethal by her childhood crush. Though that wasn't to say he had any experience with that, certainly not. The latticed scars hidden under his hair on the crown of his head inflicted by a Japanese lunchbox hurled at supersonic speeds when he was a young high school student most certainly did not exist.
The krogan, however, merely made a disgusted sniff as he dumped in a bucket of what looked like the kind of stuff harvesters produced after mating for sixteen hours that wasn't eggs. It drowned what looked very much like a radioactive pyjak back down into the vat, and it was never seen again. "Ramen's disgusting."
Of course. The one dish that Grunt could actually make just by pouring hot water in it, and he hates it. "I think you might want to reconsider this cooking business," Hackett made another desperate, diplomatic attempt to dissuade the krogan from his present course. "It's a…very delicately sophisticated procedure that can kill if done wrong. I mean, you wouldn't send a volus to do what you did with the rachni back on Utukku. Maybe you might want to leave the kitchen to someone with that specialty?"
Unconcerned, Grunt merely shrugged and laughed. "Hey, what's the worst thing that could happen? Rupturing a stomach? That's what redundant organ structures are for, am I right?"
Sadly, despite the best efforts of an Alliance biochemical counterterrorism team raiding the kitchen in an attempt to stop Grunt, his meal was ultimately distributed amongst the crew of the Everest to disastrous effect. The results were not something that could be adequately described even with a Reaper lexicon. It took two days for most servicemen to remember what vowels were, three days to finally stop being utterly traumatized by prime numbers, and four days before all bathrooms across all fleets (temporarily declared level five biohazard sites) were not at one hundred percent occupancy.
On the fifth day, a salarian STG team came and offered to clean the mess up and collect samples. Usually, Hackett would be worried about whether such would be repurposed into some kind of doomsday biochemical weapon, the asari matriarchs would decry such to be against the Citadel Conventions, and the turians would wonder if the salarians were trying to recreate the genophage. This time, though, they remembered that they were already building a doomsday device anyways, and that their officers were still incapable of counting from one to ten without skipping five for no apparent reason; they were all too happy to see the STG come, take the stuff, and leave.
The battle reports against the Reapers that came in from across the galaxy the following week were surprisingly optimistic.
From that day on, however, no krogan was allowed into any kitchen in the fleet, and six-man teams armed with M-22 Eviscerator shotguns and decked in riot armor stood guard at the entrance of all kitchens at all times to enforce that order. As the victims decided that pinning the blame directly on a tank-bred krogan was probably a very, very bad idea, the original kitchen team experienced two weeks of nonstop hazing instead for having allowed this to happen. Exasperated, one of the cooks drank some more ryncol, eventually found Grunt in a room next to the drive core ("it reminds me of the storage back on the Normandy," he explained), and offered him quite a few choice words.
Surprisingly, perhaps because Commander Shepard had rubbed off him, Grunt turned out to be remarkably reasonable for a krogan, understood the cook was just frustrated and not being actively malicious, and admirably reacted with relatively astonishing restraint.
After all, the window overlooking the SSV Everest's drive core was only three stories high.
"Admiral Hackett, I…"
"Miss Goto, Mister Taylor is a married man. I'm not going to be an accessory to an unsavory divorce, so please stop trying to steal his 'precious thing'. Or at least leave me out of it."
"…A hundred credits says you can't beat extra stage on Lunatic without using bombs."
"I get to use one continue."
"My eyesight isn't what it used to be."
"Liar. I know the Alliance provides retinal correction surgery free of charge."
"Oh, come on, you aren't so old to be unable to lead a fleet."
"Old man privileges."
"And don't even try spiking my drink with ryncol."
On a project of this scale involving so many species and organizations, there were going to be a lot of work-related disagreements. The question of how to design the Crucible was the tip of the iceberg; there were also arguments over how to build what, and who got to build what. Everyone wanted to be the one to construct the dark energy reactor (except for the humans, who – in a moment of unprecedented soberness – decided that dark energy technology wasn't theirs to begin with, and didn't want to touch something potentially dangerous and so logically-freaky that they didn't invent).
Some issues were more contentious. More than one potential fight had to be broken up before it started when what few krogan there were on the ships confronted the salarians and the turians about the genophage, now that the topic was fresh once more. Similarly, sentiments from the Geth War lingered despite the recent pledge between the quarians and the geth to coexist on Rannoch. Other problems bordered on the bizarre; ex-Cerberus scientists and engineers openly complained that even Cerberus afforded them comfortable leather seats instead of what standard Alliance ships had, while the geth had to strenuously stress that "nightlight" was not one of their intended functions.
One such confrontation, unsurprisingly, involved the geth, but the other belligerent was a surprise even to Hackett: A turian. Or, at least, it surprised him until he found out which turian was involved.
Admiral Altimus Senilius was apparently a very famous, very celebrated old-school turian hero in the past. He was also, Hackett suspected, now old enough to go half-senile, except since the turians – being the turians – didn't have a mandatory retirement age, there was a notable lack of officers in the Hierarchy who had sufficient rank to politely ask for him to retire already. Throwing Senilius here with the turian Seventh Fleet was probably the Hierarchy's way of kicking him far enough upstairs where he wouldn't do something horrifically horrific.
Surprisingly, Senilius was actually fairly popular with the Alliance enlisted. A bit of a maverick, the admiral wasn't afraid to show up at the bar and give soldiers of all races pep talk about the "good old days" and how "war used to be, and is supposed to be, fought"; Hackett may or may not have heard a gem or two from him about the days when turians only "resorted to guns and dreadnoughts after we broke the stick we pulled out of our asses". The enlisted affectionately insisted that the shit Senilius came up with was "rich enough to turn Palaven into a garden"…although, of course, never to his face.
None of that really changed the fact that he was old enough to be half-senile now, so there was definitely some concern (read: a whole lot of concern equivalent to the concern one would get if one found their great-grandfather engaged in a shouting match with an APC) when Hackett one day heard Senilius' aging, cracked voice in the process of arguing with a geth platform in the hangar.
"Admiral Hackett," the turian admiral greeted with a nod the moment he saw Hackett and Rutherford approaching from the other side of the hangar, gesturing aggressively towards the geth platform he stood face-to-face with. "I was hoping you'd help me talk some sense into this damned synthetic."
"Go on," Hackett mumbled, not terribly fond of hostilities this early on, but knew it was going to happen sometime, and – for all his bluster – Senilius just might have something important and legitimate to complain about.
Rutherford, knowing precisely what her hopeful admiral was thinking, suppressed a cackle.
"No one is denying that the geth are a welcome addition to our war effort," started Senilius, taking on a tone that sounded like a general giving pep-talk to his troops on the eve of the final battle. "However, the Treaty of Farixen is clear: As the Hierarchy currently has thirty-five dreadnoughts still intact, it would mean that the geth should only have seven." He glared at the geth standing next to him. "Yet aside from their dreadnought flagship, the geth have an additional thirteen dreadnoughts in deployment."
"The geth are not signatories to the Treaty of Firaxen, Senilius-Admiral," the geth pointed out in that calm, almost-monotone voice of theirs.
"Your alliance with us should imply that you are now subject to the Treaty of Farixen, and therefore must abide by the protocols of galactic security!" growled Senilius. "Even the Terminus Systems abide by such rules."
"The batarians have no dreadnoughts remaining following the Reaper emergence from batarian space, and the independent factions of the Terminus Systems never possessed the resources to construct dreadnoughts."
"Perhaps not, but at least the forms are obeyed. The geth…" Senilius trailed off, suddenly realizing that that male member of his human audience was beginning to display symptoms of what resembled a stroke. "Is there a problem, Admiral Hackett?"
Grimacing, Hackett mockingly took a step back, putting his hands up in front of him as if trying to ward off a collision. "Oh, by all means, don't let me stop you," he drawled. "And while you're at it, would you mind giving the Reapers a call? I had been thinking about lodging a complaint for them having so many ships."
"I'm not insinuating that we should destroy the geth dreadnoughts," the turian admiral huffed, shuffling on his feet, crossing his arms and looking defensive. "They're far too valuable to simply scrap. I merely suggest these some of the vessels be turned over to the authority of the Council races."
Like that will really happen, Hackett thought, grimacing. Even more ridiculous was the notion that Senilius even believed that the human would simply allow the turian to have his way with a valued ally. Hackett was a fair leader and negotiator, one who looked out for friends and allies alike, who-
"The Alliance has only nine dreadnoughts thus far, does it not? The extra seven dreadnoughts could easily go to the Alliance fleet, and your numbers would still fall short of the twenty-one ship limit imposed by the Treaty."
-was also an admiral and really, really liked big ships with really, really big guns, especially if they're part of – or are about to be part of – his battered fleet.
"I am not certain I judge the twinkle in your eye to be sound, Hackett-Admiral," the geth warned worriedly.
"Control, admiral," Rutherford coughed not-so-subtly beside him. "Control."
Right, Hackett mentally steeled himself, ordering himself not to give into the temptation, damningly sweet as it was. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to decline, Admiral Senilius," he stated, rather pleased with the "control" in his voice.
"Are you kidding?" protested the turian. "Imagine how well they'd bolster the Citadel Fleet! They're longer and thicker than anything I've ever seen!"
"The payload it shoots is greater than anything anyone else has!"
Right, thought Hackett. One's an instance, two's a coincidence…
"With salarian enhancements to give them stealth technology, we can easily penetrate the Reaper fleet from the rear!"
…He's doing this on purpose. I swear, he's doing this on purpose. Half-senile my ass.
"We cannot let this superiority go untested!" Senilius continued to rage. "Our reputation as peacekeepers of the galaxy is on the line!"
Hackett could feel the aneurysm coming on. Hell; Rutherford could feel Hackett feeling the aneurysm coming on. God, the admiral complained inwardly. The end of the world is upon us, and we're having a naval dick-measuring, pissing contest.
Either Senilius could read minds, or Hackett's despair had been so great that it began to emit some set of subliminal brainwaves acting as an alternate form of telepathy. "This is not a pissing contest!" Senilius protested.
The geth platform beside him agreed in an unusual gesture of solidarity. "Geth do not urinate."
It was at this moment, however, that their conversation was interrupted by a loud crash; the hangar, which was storing a lot of construction equipment being moved here and there, echoed the sound of a few metallic beams falling down from its pile, one of them momentarily impaling a nearby geth colossus. Nothing that looked serious or life-threatening – or functionality-threatening, one supposed, given the nature of geth platforms – but there were still smoke and sparks coming out from the hole the metal beam tore through the colossus.
Making several mechanical groans for a few seconds, the colossus suddenly spoke in a linguistics emulator that became standard issue amongst all geth platforms since Commander Shepard effectively ended the Geth War: "Heat management system damaged. Activating secondary mechanisms. Ejecting contaminated coolant."
A small hatch at the bottom of the colossus opened and swiftly ejected a long stream of white-colored liquid swiftly forming into a puddle that probably was coolant, except that was a detail no one really cared for given the context of their earlier conversation.
Senilius' mandibles flared.
Hackett's eyelid twitched.
The geth shrugged. "Geth do not intentionally urinate," he amended.
"Ah." Hackett's head had suddenly never felt so clear as he turned around and prepared to head back to his quarters. It was tiring. Sleep was good. The answers in the galaxy were so clear. "I'm going to sleep. I'm going to sleep and I'm going to pretend this was all a dream. You guys work this out on your own. I give up."
The end of the world – or life, galaxy, whatever – was generally a little bit stressful, and any commanding officer worth his or her salt knew that, even with overwhelming work that made the fleets want to take a page from the batarians and institute slave labor, people needed to blow off steam.
In general, with the realization that these could be the last days or weeks or months or years for them in the galaxy, people wanted to enjoy whatever may or may not be left of their lives while they could. Race didn't matter. Some believed that this was largely the chance to throw all rules and regulations out the window. Others wanted to do things that they've never done before.
Xenophilia seemed to rank rather high on the list, with no one actually judging anymore. Hackett once caught a quarian in a closet "appreciating" some of the more unique applications of a geth platform's vibrating components. Non-asari having expressed a newfound taste in turians were reporting to work bow-legged and complaining of "chafing". Women were speaking of Fornax and hanar in conjunction with (alarmingly) increasing frequency.
On the more "normal" side of things, there were a lot of people going after the asari, which Hackett didn't actually mind, although – for the record – he didn't care how most asari were biotics or how creative they could be; mass effect fields weren't meant to be used that way.
Still, the admiral did what he could to accommodate the members of the fleet within reason, and encouraged his turian counterparts – who ran their ships a lot more tightly – to do the same. But, still, some of the requests that he got bordered on the impossible and ridiculous, such as the request he received on his datapad when he was eating breakfast one morning.
"This is the fourth time this week, admiral," Rutherford remarked with a raised eyebrow when she leaned her head over to take a peek at his datapad after having heard him sigh and nearly slam his head onto the table (how she heard him "nearly slam his head onto the table" was a matter of subsequent debate).
"Okay," Hackett grimaced, passing the datapad into his yeoman's hands. "Put up a fleet-wide notice just to make my position on the issue clear: No, even though the armor is meant to withstand up to multiple hits from a Reaper magnetohydrodynamic weapon, and although it's vaguely convenient as a court because of the dome shape and barriers, there will be no zero-gravity football games during breaks in the Crucible, so stop asking."
Rutherford eyed Hackett cautiously. "That's…asking for a fleet-wide mutiny, you know."
"We're near anarchy anyways. At least this way we can all stop pretending it's otherwise."
This particular story started with a bloodcurdling scream.
This was one of the things Hackett actively feared in the project, that he'd be awoken one day to discover that someone was murdered because the group couldn't get along, and there goes anything resembling teamwork out the window. The possibilities were endless: A geth killing a quarian, a Terminus mercenary killing an asari, an ex-Cerberus human killing any alien, a krogan killing…well, just about anyone.
The only other thing he probably feared more was waking up one day to see a krogan dressed in a French maid outfit next to his bed and calling him "Master".
Rushing out from his cabin towards the source of the scream – third-generation dreadnoughts really weren't as soundproof as Hackett would like them to be – the admiral expected to find a body in a pool of blood, but that dread turned into a sense of exasperation when he heard Rutherford – who apparently heard his familiar footsteps rushing over from around the corner – call out in the kind of tone a daughter would take towards a mother when her brother had done something incredibly stupid, "Admiral, the rachni are doing it again!"
Whatever "it" the rachni had done, the aftereffects were obvious when Hackett finally rounded the corner. A small crowd had gathered around a very traumatized-looking woman – an Alliance scientist - on the ground right outside the women's bathroom, hunched in a ball and hugging herself tightly in the middle of a small puddle, her eyes terrifyingly wide and trembling uncontrollably in a manner not unlike a severe PTSD victim, as a psychological counselor tried to console her.
From the corner of his vision, unnoticed by the crowd who were too busy being concerned for the shell of a woman trying to rock her fears away, Hackett could've sworn he saw just a glimpse of a tentacle whipping around the corner and disappearing.
Which pretty much dashed all of his hopes that this was going to be a largely uneventful day.
"You were going to have to address this issue sooner or later, admiral," Rutherford pointed out twenty minutes later, by which point she was accompanying the admiral on a shuttle that transported them from his flagship to another dreadnought of the Fifth Fleet. Although her voice was liltingly teasing, it also came with sympathetic undertones; she didn't seem to suffer much under the command pressure, but she at least understood the insanity.
"I was hoping 'later' would be after we finished building the Crucible and defeated the Reapers, at which point it would cease in being an issue," Hackett muttered even as the shuttle began to dock with the SSV Kilimanjaro.
"Wishful thinking, admiral," clucked his yeoman chidingly. "Problems never disappear if they can come back to bite you in the ass." A pause, then, coyly, added, "Although I must say, even though I'm not interested myself, that is a mighty fine a…"
"No, lieutenant," sighed Hackett. "I will not convince the asari to host women-only inter-fleet strip shows on their ships."
The pout on Rutherford's lips were all too evident.
Even after Shepard vouched for the assistance of the rachni in the construction of the Crucible, project leaders had been hesitant to incorporate them, partially because they feared that the rachni may have already been indoctrinated, but mostly because they were giant alien spiders. But that deal was sealed when it was discovered that the rachni queen Shepard rescued was, in fact, immune to indoctrination, prompting Alliance scientists all but demand that the queen be kept with the Fifth Fleet. To that end, the rachni queen was kept in the repurposed hangar of the Kilimanjaro, which had suffered from hull breaches from a previous battle anyways.
As the rachni were incapable of verbal communication, several Alliance volunteers, largely xenobiologists interested in the rachni anyways, were constantly on-station to study rachni behavior and be voluntarily utilized as a telepathic communicator by the queen if necessary, although soldiers nearby had standing orders to "dissuade" any non-consensual telepathic links. Still, the rachni had played nice, and remained cooperative, aside from a few issues that included the one Hackett was about to address.
Still, as Hackett docked, climbed out of the shuttle, and took a look up, he was reminded once more of the fact that rachni queens were really, really big. And, in fact, as Rutherford prompted one of the xenobiologists to initiate a telepathic link so Hackett could talk to her, he realized that, not having actually spoken personally to the rachni queen before, he had no idea how to address her specifically. "Your Majesty"? "Your Royal Highness"? "Glorious Leader"?
One thing was for sure: If she starts flailing her antennae around and screams "call me queen", I'm out of here. I quit.
"Your Majesty," Hackett finally attempted to start conversation, hoping that the Earth-equivalent would not be offensive to a queen that had never been to Earth.
Despite telepathic access to higher thought functions, the fact still remained that the queen was mentally inhabiting a body she wasn't familiar with, and the "possession", so to speak, still caused the xenobiologist – a pretty young girl who looked more like an intern – resemble an epileptic vorcha. "We remember you as Hackett," the xenobiologist intoned in a way that sounded like her throat had been replaced by a poorly-manufactured voice synthesizer run on a 21st century calculator. "The sour yellow note grows, but you stave off its noise."
Hackett was too busy trying to figure out what a "sour yellow note" is to reply instantly, giving Rutherford a moment to whisper into his ear, "I can never get used to that telepathy. It's like asari melding, but…creepy." A thoughtful pause. "Do you think an asari has ever mated with a ra…"
"Your Majesty," the admiral spoke instantly, now with sufficient motivation to not let his yeoman finish that sentence. "We need to talk about something."
"Is this about the tentacles?"
"Well, no, actually, it has to do wit- …what?"
"Tentacles," the xenobiologist/rachni repeated firmly.
Hackett stared. He was not alone in his surprise; even Rutherford's left eyelid was twitching at a tempo that should not be humanly possible. "Did someone actually ask?" she questioned in a timid, squeaky voice.
"No," the admiral cut in instantly, "please don't answer that question." No one ever needed to know the answer. "What I meant to say was that there was an incident involving the rachni on one of the ships just half an hour ago."
The xenobiologist smiled; Hackett really, really hoped that the rachni not understanding human expressions and muscle placement was the reason why it wasn't a frown, because he really did not want to find out that the rachni knew about trolling. He got enough of it already from the salarians. "We do not know of anything important that happened half an hour ago."
"Well, some of your rachni terrified one of our servicewomen into…well, they frightened her."
"We do not mean offense," said the queen which would really be a lot more credible of the young xenobiologist she was controlling didn't have a trail of drool leaking out from the corner of her mouth at this point.
"This isn't the first time it's happened," Hackett continued to grouse. "I had hoped we had already come to an understanding."
Even with alien control of a human form, the rachni queen managed to look defensive with the xenobiologist. "Our children need sustenance," she droned defensively, if droning was capable of sounding defensive. "They, too, need fans to their flames."
"Yes," grimaced Hackett, trying to find a way out of this uncomfortable subject, "but surely there are alternatives."
"Our children believe this is the most convenient method for all involved."
"Dammit, your Majesty," the admiral sighed explosively, "there's got to be some way better than drinking out of the toilets!"
Hackett had not considered the possibility that rachni understood the comic value of beats.
"Is there a problem with drinking out of toilets?" the queen finally asked in what almost sounded like a hesitant manner in drone.
Hackett managed a wry smile. It happened to look diplomatically patient; it was meant to be a gesture to keep his own slipping sanity. "It may surprise you, but our ladies are kind of terrified of bugs, especially when they find one behind the doors of a bathroom stall. No offense."
The xenobiologist actually managed to look confused, something that may or may not be a coincidental match with what the rachni queen was doing with her muscles. "Do they not see our children everywhere else in building your Crucible?" she asked innocently.
There was no good answer to that without going into completely embarrassing territory. "Yes," the admiral conceded with a wince, trying and failing to find some graceful way to put it. "But restrooms…well…"
There weren't a lot of situations where one had to explain the cultural and social significances of restrooms to a race of giant spiders. In fact, if he ever survived the Reaper War (which he did), Hackett had no idea how he was ever going to explain this explanation to his grandchildren without doing a lot of explaining. Still, he managed to explain – in a rough, vague manner – that men and women went to separate restrooms. This was followed by a series of questions in which Hackett also had to explain – in varying degrees of humiliation – cultural stigmas towards "private parts", how specific organs exclusive to men and women worked, the difference between an anus and a cloaca, the human reproduction process, and – in what Hackett knew was some kind of collective racial vengeance against his species for whatever involved tentacles taken out on the poor admiral – the rough circumference of specific orifices on the human body.
Halfway through, Rutherford had given up on trying to hold back giggles, and – after catching a glare from her admiral – fled to a nearby hallway to release the hilarious howling laughter she had been keeping in for so long.
But all of that seemed worth it in the end, however, when – after a moment of quiet deliberation – the queen finally said through the xenobiologist, "Very well. We understand the importance you place upon the specific contexts of restrooms."
Heaving a sigh of relief, Hackett actually felt fairly proud at having succeeded in diplomacy with a bunch of giant spiders as he spoke, "Thank you, your Majesty."
"From henceforth, our children will feed in 'men's restrooms', save what few daughters we have, who will feed alongside all women of all species in the 'ladies' restrooms'."
The sound of Hackett's forehead hitting a flat surface was all too audible.
After the long and tiring day that was every day, Hackett found the nearest bench in the near-empty mess hall – it was well after mealtime – and sat down, elbows on the table and his hands cradling his head. A geth platform was already seated there, its glowing optics angled downwards, but Hackett didn't care. He was exhausted, exasperated, and despondent.
Forget Shepard and Anderson; Hackett was the most long-suffering person in the entire war effort.
"Hackett-Admiral." The geth sitting next to him greeted the admiral in a voice that would've sounded suspiciously depressed if it was anymore human (and if Hackett gave a vorcha's ass at this point). "How was your day?"
"Well," Hackett sighed, speaking almost absentmindedly. "I stopped the asari from adding pyramids to the Crucible, the salarians a cosmic death ray, and the turians a theoretical thresher maw cannon. Another biohazard threat from the kitchens has barely been stopped, several ships are on hunger strike, the krogan have barely been convinced not to hold a 'salarian liver donation event', and people were persuaded that using rachni workers as footballs was not a good idea only after several feet started melting." That abridged list was enough for the admiral to sink his face deeper into his aging hands, and he sighed once more. "What about you?"
"A creator-quarian successfully guilt-tripped me over the Morning War into uploading myself into her enviro-suit to enhance and supervise her Nerve-Stim Deluxe program."
It took a moment for the admiral's face to emerge from his hands as he took a moment to stare incredulously at the geth, who looked back before giving what looked like a slow, despondent nod.
In his little corner of the galaxy, Hackett, throwing his arm around a geth platform's shoulder in sympathy for the first time ever, found a new appreciation for his life and his job, and decided maybe – just maybe – he wasn't the most pitiable sap ever.
Hackett woke up one morning.
"Enthusiastically: Good morning, Master."
"Submissively: Would you like eggs with your toast for breakfast, Master?"
On the second thought, maybe a krogan maid wouldn't be so bad after all.
Hackett woke up one morning.
"Aaaaaaargh! Wake uuuuuup, Master!"
"Yoooou have teeeeea, Master! No go to wooooork with no breaaakfast!"
Oh, god. He really wanted that hypothetical krogan maid back right about now.
Author's Note: Ysionris writing humor crackfic? Heresy~
Those of you familiar with my work know I do far better with suspense and thriller. Humor is something alien to me, and this is probably the first time I've really tried to write a crackfic. This may or may not get better when I may or may not develop an actual functional sense of humor. Subsequent versions will be uploaded and updated once revisions have been made. Please bear with me; I'm still trying to get used to the genre.
As of version 0.99, I would like to ask everyone what your favorite moments and jokes in the story are. Three is a preferable number, but as long as I get feedback, I'll be remarkably happy.
Such a task of insurmountable odds (relatively, of course) was made only possible by the advice, guidance, and input from Becca-nyan, Darth Slaverus (Sith Lord of Meido), and Gazetteer, to whom this fic is dedicated to. Dedication and special thanks also go to Grim Izen, who may as well have co-authored this story with me. Special thanks to YamiPaladinofChaos, who inspired me to write this without ever knowing it or having ever talked to me; you may recognize a few of your jokes in here. May all of you continue to fill the lives around you with smiles and laughter.