Author's Note: First off, I'd like to say I appreciate your generosity. The comments have been wonderful, and some of you have even raised a few good points. Thanks to those few, I've been inspired to take the character of John White in another direction.
And second… some of you have brought it to my attention there have been other Mass Effect/inFamous crossovers. Honestly, I had no idea. I haven't been up to date in fanfiction circles for well over a year. I didn't even know it was some sort of trend. I feel somewhat embarrassed to be a little ignorant about that. But now I refuse to read those other crossovers out of fear I might unconsciously steal plot elements from any one of them.
Third, with this chapter, I'm going to attempt to try and interweave the canons of both inFamous and Mass Effect. I seem to recall a few mentions in ME1 and ME2 about the illegalities of genetic engineering. If someone like Miranda Lawson would be seen as a walking violation of that law - which I'd like to remind everyone is imposed by the Council - then I had to wonder... what would they think of Conduits? How would this have affected humanity's relationship with galactic society? Were there anymore Conduits after Cole MacGrath's disappearance? This will be explored.
Be sure to let me know if I'm doing a marginally passable job at that, and if you have suggestions I'd be more than happy to hear them.
Anyway, enough rambling, let's get on with the show.
Skeletons in the Closet
The redheaded woman overlooked the damage. In the span of three days, the living machines known as the Keepers managed the mess admirably well. The Presidium wouldn't win pageants anytime soon – obviously – and homes down in the Wards had been abdicated in lieu of the quarantine and clean up, but as an optimist she was one to think that with time and patience the Citadel would look good as new.
Commander Shepard watched the activity of C-Sec, STG units, emergency services, the Keepers and construction workers work in perfect synchronicity, like clockwork. The Citadel was buzzing with activity. She saw rescue teams dig kids and other poor saps out of rubble, and krogan contractors pile junk neatly into corners. STG agents were scanning rubble and items for any hint of radiation.
"Nothing like a good disaster to bring the community together, eh Garrus?" She nudged her turian comrade in the ribs. Garrus gave her the turian equivalent of a cheeky grin. The Commander – in lieu of wanting to know each and everyone of her crew on a personal level – took to studying turian bodylanguage and facial expressions, courtesy of the extranet.
"Yeah. Shame it's only during a good disaster and not – hypothetically speaking – all the time."
"I'd say "that's just the human condition for ya," but that would just be racist."
"Yeah, it would."
The two shared a laugh together, and continued, the rest of the Commander's handpicked squad in tow. Everyone was accounted for, save Liara T'soni. Shepard sighed, sympathetically.
'Poor girl,' she thought.
They had responded as fast as they could. At the time they had received the news of the emergency on the Citadel, Dr. Liara T'soni lost a mother on Noveria. The Commander was many things, and she had been called many things (only half of which true). But counselor?Shepard simply hadn't the slightest clue how to approach the grieving asari. When the Normandy docked, she offered Liara the chance to join them. In return, the archaeologist politely declined. Even now, she was likely sulking in the shadows of her small home aboard the ship. Even Ashley had briefly attempted to console the poor woman. The rest of the crew offered their condolenses, which was rather difficult. They had only known her – let alone each other – for the better part of a month.
Shepard, ever the people person, had poked and prodded her squadmates to conversation during every meal. The results were awkward. Wrex's ideal conversation was comparing everyone against one another and asking, "Who do you think would win in a death match?" Garrus – always good intentioned – had this tendency to somehow let the conversation stray into sensitive historical territory for quarians and krogan alike.
And Liara liked to talk about protheans, Shepard reflected, all the damn time.
It came to Shepard's mind that perhaps she had collected the most antisocial and neurotically dysfunctional squad in any military anywhere in the galaxy.
Before they reached the door to the human embassy, she turned to her loyal crew.
"Garrus, you know this place better than the rest of us. While I'm getting yelled at by Udina, I want you guys to help out the rescue teams and look for survivors. You'd know where to look, right?"
Garrus relied with a dutiful, "Yeah, sure thing, Commander."
Gunnery Chief Williams cocked an eyebrow. "Don't we usually do this together?"
"Apparently," Shepard made a mocking quoting gesture with her hands, "it's gonna be confidential."
It quietly dawned on Ashley, "… And you're gonna tell us everything about it-"
Shepard's casual smile was both mischievous and reassuring, "And I'm gonna tell you everything about it."
The child was crying in Ashley's arms. Garrus had a hunch some kids – he called them "duct-rats" – might have been hiding in the vents during the incident. He was right. As they were passing the markets, Kaidan was the first to hear a weak scream for help seeping through obstructive rubble. When he pointed this out, Garrus knew immediately there had to be someone trapped in the vents. With a careful application of biotics on the part of Kaidan and Wrex, it wasn't difficult to free the tear-stricken little girl.
They found the nearest C-Sec officer they could. As he walked away with the little girl, she turned her head slightly, and waved goodbye to her rescuers. Tali couldn't help but wave back, if a touch dejectedly.
"Keelah… I don't want to imagine what it must have been like."
Garrus was uneasy; he laid a hand on the back of his neck, struggling whether or not he should point out there could be dozens of other children in the ducts. On the other hand, he reasoned it was also equally possible they might have made it out themselves. He knew a few duct-rats. The smarter ones were resourceful. He hoped. Something caught Ashley's eye.
"Hm?" She made her way to the opposite end of the hallway, approaching a pile of rubble. Protruding from this was a white fin of sorts. The others watched as the Gunnery Chief – kneeling down - removed junk and garbage with her bare hands.
"This is just getting weird."
Wrex grunted, "What was your first clue?"
She ignored him, and motioned for Kaidan to inspect the relic. The biotic knelt down besides her, and titled his head, quizzically. "What am I supposed to be looking at, exactly?"
"LT, read the sign."
So he did... moments later, those dark eyes widened in shock. "You're right. This is getting weirder."
Tali looked over the duo's shoulder, to see what the fuss was about. She drawled out the word; her knowledge of human writing was limited at best, but she could make it out. "New Marais… Café... I don't understand, why is it so shocking?"
Kaidan and Ashley exchanged looks. Now Garrus and Wrex were curious.
The biotic lieutenant straightened up, "There was this city back on our homeworld, called New Marais. Two centuries ago, it sort of just… blew up."
"Are we talking nuked? Hydrogen bombed? What?" Garrus inquired.
"Uh, not exactly. Half the city was burned to the ground, other parts smashed to debris, and the rest... vanished."
Anderson and Udina were mutually silent. When Shepard casually strolled in, she knew something was up. Not that her earlier meetings with her former superior officer or the obnoxious curmudgeon were fun and games, what with Saren Arterius amassing an army and getting his hands on an ancient superweapon of sorts for God knows what nefarious purpose, but usually Anderson would extend a warm friendly hand and Udina would be in her face with the latest complaint.
That was when she noticed it.
On Udina's table sat some sort of open metal ball, inside of which was a transparently blue conductor. It might have been an alien soccer ball. She glanced at the grave faces of Anderson and Udina, and corrected that assertion. No, it was definitely not.
"I'm sorry I didn't arrive any sooner, there was business to finish on Noveria, and…" She couldn't stand it any longer, "Okay, just what's going on?"
Udina was the first to speak, "Commander, whatever is said here, it must never leave this room."
Anderson read the Commander's face well, and he knew her better than most. "We mean it, Shepard."
She was feeling the gravity of the situation. If only she understood just what the situation was. A thought crossed her mind, and she asked,
"We talking Cerberus?"
Anderson shook his head. "No. This is too random to be some sort of attack, and why resort to… this instead of something more conventional?"
"So, what is it then?"
Udina cupped his chin, "The salarians already have their pet theories, chief among them what we've experienced was some kind of "quantum hiccup" in the fabric of time and space."
"Everything remotely recognizable in the debris is from the year 2011. Old, busted vehicles that should be rotting in some junkyard or gimmick museum, street signs belonging to a dead city…"
At that, Shepard had to interrupt. "I'm sorry, what?"
Anderson replied with two words. "New Marais."
The big picture was getting clearer now, and Shepard was thinking back to history class in high school. She remembered the story of New Marais. By extension, it was tied to the story of Empire City, another city that had been wiped off the face of the planet. Within the timeframe of a single year, the American East Coast was decimated, and the world had dubbed New Marais and Empire City the modern equivalent to God's holy smiting of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Words, names and terms like "Conduits" and the infamous "First Sons" were recalled. There was the thing known as the Beast, a figure of mythical proportions so legendary it had been argued it couldn't possibly have existed. But that was ignoring the truth. At some point, in the early 21st century, mankind had unlocked the means to become supermen.
At the cost of millions of lives.
Shepard stared into the sphere. If it was what she thought it was, then she suddenly understood why Udina – of all people – was keeping his mouth shut.
"This is KesslerTech, isn't it?"
She saw the look in their eyes. They didn't have to say "yes," or nod, simply the fear and worry were enough to convince her otherwise.
"How did you find it? It's- it's –" Shepard took a deep breath, and composed herself. "I'm surprised the Council hasn't kicked us off the Citadel already."
"C-Sec found a man at ground zero of the incident." Udina replied. "He was unconscious. Next to him, we found the sphere and… a giant cattle prod."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Commander, do I look like the sort of person who would joke about this?"
At any other time, Shepard would have made some witty quip about the stick up the ambassador's ass. The situation deemed it inappropriate, given the circumstances.
"I took the sphere when C-Sec just lumped it in an evidence locker, it wasn't difficult." Shepard couldn't help but note the slight tint of pride in Anderson's voice, and smirked as she imagined her mentor sneaking into C-Sec and retrieving a high security item.
"I knew what it was the moment I saw it. If the Council figures this out, they'll think humanity is working on Ray Sphere technology again. They'll believe we have violated the treaty!"
Shepard's eyes widened, her own growing fear matching Udina's and Anderson's. "You don't really think the Council would go to war with us if…"
Udina said sharply, "Commander? Yes, they would!"
Shepard glanced, imploringly, at Anderson.
"Anderson, are you absolutely sure?"
A grave nod, "I recognize the technology."
"How?" Shepard pressed.
"There have been fringe groups who've sought to continue KesslerTech research, as you well know. I've been in enough off the book black ops, I've read enough rough schematics, to distinguish this from any regular old junk. It's KesslerTech," Anderson charitably explained.
A pregnant pause. Shepard fully appreciated the gravity of the situation. She knew now, under no circumstances, could she confide in any other soul. Especially not her – she cringed at the idea think of them this way – her "not-so-human" teammates. Garrus, Liara, Wrex and Tali would have to be kept in the dark. The chances are, if they had but a single inkling to the existence of this sphere it would be their duty to galactic society to report to the Council.
To have the Council amass every force under their banner would result in this scenario: a human parallel to the Krogan Rebellion. The other scenario, she couldn't bear to think about. As far as anyone knew, humanity was the only known species to possess the potential for… to call it what it was, godhood. Krogans were small pickings compared to supermen who could lift ships with their minds, or obliterate armies with the power of the sun.
It was a miracle they had an Armistice Day at all.
Shepard massaged her temples, muttering under her breath, "Jesus fucking Christ…"
She palmed her face, and for a moment took to collecting her thoughts in order.
"Where's this unconscious guy now?"
Huerta Memorial Hospital
"-Nurse, I am telling you, this human has to be the product of genetic tampering in utero-"
Before Cole's eyes, there was nothing but a veil of darkness and the echo of voices. It was like a cave. He strained his eyes and his ears, forcing himself to wake. He focused on the voices, he was sure they were voices. Except why did they sound like gibberish?
"-No, seriously, he did! He had several holes in his body like he had been stabbed with a spear! But look! Gone, just pale bruises! I've worked on many humans before, and this… this is a freak of nature. I can't even get a beat on his heart rate; the equipment's shorting out-"
A tiny slit cut across the veil, the light penetrated the darkness step by step. It became clear he was in yet another hospital room. Disjointed thoughts raced through his mind at breakneck speed. Did he win? Did he fail? Did Zeke drag his unconscious butt to the nearest ER?
"- I've never seen a space-faring human without a translator, either, bizarre case – "
Cole was not one to panic. His his career – as Zeke would have put it – as a "superhero" led him into confrontations with hobos who could assemble robots out of trash, vampires, giant monsters and (naturally) the Beast. Cole did not scare easily.
But one could be forgiven for panicking when waking up to the faces of decidedly-not-human doctors holding syringes in three-fingered hands. Cole could not understand what they were saying, which only fuelled the sudden shock of waking up to an unfamiliar sight.
From the salarian doctor's perspective, in the span of five seconds, Cole's eyes had snapped open. In the span of five seconds, this human being who somehow healed five mortal stab wounds, was literally crackling with electrical current. In the span of five seconds, Cole's first act upon awakening was to discharge a shockwave…
The two turian C-Sec officers at guard never stood a chance. When they saw a raging human in a hospital gown escape the ER, seething and frenzied, they traded glances that read "Yeah, we can take this guy. What's he gonna do?"
Cole shot them both with lightning bolts.
Cole stumbled into the lobby, and froze, panting heavily in his anxiety. Every face, alien and alarmed. Hulking lizard men, skinnier things that looked like the Roswell Greys, blue skinned women with tentacle hair, multi-eyed men and giant jellyfish. He raised his left hand, amassing electrical currents for a blast.
"Get back!" He snarled, "BACK!"
Doctors, nurses, patients, family, bystanders parted like the red sea to let the crazed, feral man through. The receptionist calmly pressed the silent C-Sec alarm under her desk as the Electric Man stepped into the elevator. The moment he disappeared from view, everyone – from asari to krogan – in the room exchanged shrugs and expressions that held the same meaning.
"What was that about?"
He didn't know where to run to, and at the moment, he didn't care. What mattered more was that he was running period. Wherever he was, Cole had to admit – rubble and insectoid things aside – it had a clean, pristine, even pretty look to it. It was like the park of the future. He would admit this were his mind not preoccupied with anxiety and alarming realization he wasn't in Kansas anymore.
Citadel citizens turned their heads, astonished and dumbfounded, as the man in the hospital gown raced past them. One elcor citizen accidentally stepped into Cole's way, and all the world was treated to the sight of this strange man jumping over him.
The elcor watched the Electric Man run off, in bewilderment.
"Incredulous shock, what the hell?"
Siren wails blared loudly from unseen speakers, the tell-tale sign that whatever passed for the law around here was gearing up to track him down. Cole was almost relieved to see actual humans… were it not for the fact they were brandishing assault rifles. C-Sec officers, human and turian, were crawling out of the woodwork. They already had a few crossways and bridges blocked, and any other entrances or escape routes were rendered mute by an outpour of heavily armed C-Sec. Soon, a dozen or so guns had their sights trained on the Electric Man, who sighed with some relief. Half-naked, stranded on an unknown world, alone, Cole at last found something somewhat familiar. People were trying to shoot him. That he could live with. That was a constant in his life he was comfortable with.
The siren was heard in the human embassy too. It rang across the entire Citadel. Shepard regarded Anderson questioningly, her pulse thickened.
"Okay, now what?"
Anderson activated his Omnitool. The multipurpose gadget casted a gentle orange glow on the man. Quietly, he read the message that was given to every C-Sec and military personnel in the vicinity. He was not amused.
"Oh, hell." Anderson bemoaned, "The suspect's escaped, and he's already injured a dozen C-Sec officers."
They could hear the gunfire. It was literally a walk away from the Embassies.
Shepard urgently tapped her communicator, "Garrus, we've got a situation. I'm at the Presidium. You've heard it too, huh? Okay, see you there."
The Commander unholstered the Sokolov VII from her back. It was then an entertaining thought came to mind, and she sported the smile of a hunter that has found worthy prey. A predator's smile. A fighter's smile.
"You know, I always wanted to fight one of those Conduits. Should be fun."