Title: Cause and Mass Effect
Setting: Mass Effect, late 2182
Disclaimer: I don't own Mass Effect, Bioware and EA do.
Author's Note: Thanks to TheRev28 for his feedback and help on this story. If you haven't already, go check out his awesome SI Welcome to the Family, and it's sequel, Welcome to the New Family!
Owww, my head hurts. You know, since I don't drink, I wouldn't think it possible for me to wake up with a hangover. Actually, since I've never had a hangover, I'm not even sure what they feel like, but this sure feels like one. What the hell did I do last night? I roll around, trying to get away from the light that's filtering through my eyelids.
And promptly roll off the chair I'm sitting on. Well, that hurt. Wait, a chair? Oh, right, I think I fell asleep at my desk. Man, opening your eyes with a pounding headache is really, really hard. When I finally manage to squint in a way that makes me not want to throw up, the ground feels...weird. It's too smooth to be the carpet in my room. And it's the wrong color. My carpet's white, this is grey. Charcoal grey, like they use on sidewalks and stuff. Not to mention the fact that my room's gone.
Better get up, I do not want to get caught laying around on the ground here, wherever here is. It's really strange, the sun's shining - at least I think it's shining, it's not really too bright, so after a few moments I don't have to shield my eyes, and my headache's finally clearing, and I hear water splashing, but the smell's...off, for being outdoors. The air smells kind of processed, and a little stale. Kind of like an airplane, really.
Time to look around, I guess. My neck has a crick in it - to be expected after spending the night in a desk chair, I suppose - and I feel the distinct need to yawn and stretch and pop all my joints back into place, but otherwise I don't actually feel too bad after the initial bout of vertigo upon waking up. I'm in an alleyway that, despite all cliches, is actually brightly lit and there's sunlight streaming in above me between gleaming white and silver skyscrapers. Ignoring for a moment the fact that it's totally illogical that I should wake up in a different place than I went to bed in, excluding, of course, such crazy ideas like abductions, invasion of the pod people, and similarly crazy thoughts, that just leaves me staring, slack-jawed, at the sight before me.
Well, I'll be damned. Maybe I'm dreaming. I think staying up late to finish Mass Effect 3 last night was a bad idea (Kai Leng on Insanity is one tough son of a bitch to kill with a Vanguard), because that's the only logical explanation for the fact that I'm standing on the Citadel and looking at the Presidium towers. And...yep, there's a hanar floating past the edge of my vision as I inch towards the end of the alley. This is either a dream, or an epilepsy-induced coma, or one hell of an acid trip, because there's no way I just woke up on the goddamn Citadel.
Out of reflex, I reach into my pockets. Just as I suspected, I got nothing on me; no cell phone, no wallet. Of course, that'd just be way too convenient. They're probably still sitting on my dresser at home where I left them when I got home from work. I poke my head out of the alley and immediately pull it back as my head starts swimming in alien languages. Crap, this was so much easier in the game when everyone conveniently spoke English. I giggle. I actually, honest-to-God, giggle. Yeah, I can't quite decide whether to panic and break out into hysterics, or laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Like I said. What. The. Fuck?
Okay, maybe I'm dreaming. I pinch my arm. Yeaaaouch. Okay, not dreaming. Coma? Unlikely, not like I'm epileptic, and I like to think I'm in reasonably good health, barring any freak spontaneous brain aneurysms. Okay, calm down. Breathe in, breathe out. No need to freak out. There's gotta be a logical explanation for this, right?
If there is, I sure can't think of one. Maybe I'm in one of those crazy fanfics, where the authors get sucked into Mass Effect for whatever reason. Although, if I was in a fanfic, I'm pretty sure I'd know about it. Or maybe I'm breaking the fourth wall just by thinking about being in a fanfic. Shit, that makes my head hurt. I see a couple of humans walk by, huddled in their group and pointing out an asari as they chatter amongst themselves excitedly. Man, I've never seen a real asari before. Which makes sense, since they're fictional, or so I thought.
She's so...blue. I wonder if they come in different shades? I mean, every asari I've seen in the game came in the same shade of blue as Liara, so...Shuttles hiss by overhead, their engines surprisingly quiet as they dart through the air, and for the first time I notice that the artificial sky of the Citadel wards is, actually, just as two-dimensional as it appeared in the game. It's a sheet of light providing the day/night cycle at an altitude I'd guess to be about twenty or so klicks, considering how high some shuttles and starships are flying.
Holy freaking Jesus on a pogostick. There's a turian frigate flying overhead, on docking approach I'd guess, because it's flying really, really low. It's really freaky, because it's so quiet, it's just a deep hum, maybe something akin to a very deep bass as it passes by, nothing like the roar of jet turbines or rocket engines.
I just stare for a couple of minutes as the Presidium Commons open up before me as I continue to walk aimlessly. Over there's the statue commemorating the krogan victory in the Rachni wars. And to the left of that is the mass relay monument. I walk past the market place, where I remember that volus who was working for the Shadow Broker had his shop set up, Barla Von, I think his name was. And there's asari and hanar and volus all over the damn place! Even an elcor, and he's huge, I mean, I can see how they'd just be able to lumber into a ground battle carrying heavy artillery on their backs. I can't really understand a word of what they're saying, but just the sound of their voices...
I halt at the lake in the center of the Commons, just staring down into the water. I remember in one of the games, I forget which, there was a krogan who was wondering if there were fish in there. I think it was Mass Effect 2, actually. It doesn't really matter, because this is when it hits me.
I'm in Mass Effect.
And I have no idea what the hell I'm doing here. I can't even breathe for a moment as the implications sink in.
Well, let's think about this logically. If this is a hallucination, or a really persistent dream, then I've got nothing to worry about. I might even have some fun with this. I can't help but grin at that thought, because, hell, I'm in Mass Effect! This could be bloody awesome!
On the other hand, if I'm stuck here, for real, then I'd be shit out of luck. No way back, and I don't even want to think about what happened to me when I was whisked away to...here. I think there was one Mass Effect self-insert where the SI actually died to get here. No, don't go there. Don't even want to think about that.
At any rate, it doesn't bear thinking about that right now, anyway, because one way or the other, I'm stuck here. I head over to the VI console. Might as well figure out when I am.
"Good afternoon...records not found. Welcome to the Presidium Commons. I am Avina, the Citadel's tour and assistance VI. Would you like to create a user profile?"
"Sure, I guess." Okay, so sadly, unlike some of the fanfics I'd read, there was no anthropomorphic representation of Death or another otherwise benevolent entity that conveniently provided me with a background and credentials. That'd make things...difficult. Although, do I even want to join Shepard's crew? I know what's going to happen, but still...I'm an engineer, not a soldier, and my degrees and experience mean nothing in the world of Mass Effect. Then again, if I don't do anything, the galaxy's going to go to hell, anyway, considering the Mass Effect 3 ending. The DLC isn't out yet, but I'm still pretty sure it won't change anything, like the mass relays blowing up and such. Which leaves the galaxy in a pretty shitty place.
Fuck. Hallucination or not, I can't let that happen. I mean, it scares the crap out of me, but there's no way I'm not helping with the Reaper war. Avina flickers for a moment as she creates a record in her database.
"Please state your name and planet of origin."
Hm. Maybe I'll be in luck, and I'm just on the Citadel illegally. Man, that sounds wrong when I say it like that. "Patrick Grayson, Earth."
"No records found," Avina says after a few seconds. Quantum computing for the win, I guess. "Would you like to try a different name, or submit a DNA/RNA sample?"
"Wait, could I ask you something before we do this?" I just thought of something. The fact that humans are on the Citadel indicates that it's post-First Contact war, which is good. But I have no idea when the Reapers are going to come, or if I'm even close to 2183.
"Certainly. Standing by."
"What date is it?"
Avina rattles off a string of numbers in reply that mean absolutely nothing to me.
"Could you convert that into Earth standard time?" I ask.
"Certainly. The current date in Earth standard time is October 17, 2182."
Okay, I know the Normandy is launched on her shakedown cruise to Eden Prime sometime in 2183, which gives me three months at worst, and almost a year at best. That's...that's good, I guess. Gives me time to get the lay of the land, if this really isn't a very elaborate hallucination, not to mention figure out a way to get myself on a prototype military frigate. Wonderful. Just freaking wonderful. Of course they couldn't give a specific date in Mass Effect, that'd make things too easy.
Apparently, I've been staring at Avina for too long, because she's active again. "Would you like to continue with your profile creation?"
"Widen search parameters to all human colonies." Well, it's worth a shot.
Again, Avina is only still for a split second while she blitzes through her databases. "No record found. Facial recognition is insufficient to identify a match in approximately seven hundred and sixteen thousand matches for the search string. No records matching facial recognition or biometrics found in C-Sec customs archive."
"C-Sec has been alerted to your potentially unauthorized and unsanctioned visit to the Citadel. Please remain here until officers arrive. Have a pleasant day."
And she's gone. Well, shit. I wonder if I should take off? I mean, she was polite enough to let me know C-Sec is coming and all, and she just asked me not to leave, so technically, I'm free to leave, right? Guess it doesn't matter anymore as a skycar comes to a halt next to me, and a pair of C-Sec officers step out. Geez, these guys are quick.
Just freaking wonderful. I haven't been on the Citadel for fifteen minutes, and I'm already being arrested. What a great start to my campaign to save the galaxy.
All things considered, it could've been worse. I mean, I'm stuck in a tiny cell in C-Sec headquarters in Zakera Ward, without money, ID, or anything, really, except the clothes on my back (and the turian C-Sec officer who brought me in looked at me as if I'd stolen those, too), and they're outside searching for an identification record they'll likely never find. But hey, at least I haven't been shot at yet, so my day's not completely ruined.
And I'm not sharing the cell with anyone else, so that's a plus. So now I'm just cooling my heels in here until I'm let out, or they decide what to do with me. The cell's not much, to be honest, I'd say it's a typical jail cell, but I have no clue what a typical jail cell looks like. Guess I might as well lay back down on the cot in the corner and see what happens next. Not like I can bust out of here, after all.
"That's quite the mess you've gotten yourself in already." The words come from nowhere in particular and I shoot right back up. Who said that?
That voice...it sounds so familiar. Then I hear a snap and there's a flash of light in the corner of the room. Oh fuck, what's he doing here? This isn't Star Trek, goddammit, and he's supposed to be fictional! Standing there, leaning against the wall, resplendent in his red-and-black Starfleet uniform, is John de Lancie, complete with that insufferable smirk that used to drive Picard and Janeway nuts in their respective TV shows. Okay, now I know this isn't a hallucination, because even on my worst days I'm not crazy enough to imagine that.
"Q," I mutter. I just know he's here to mess with me, because, hell, he's Q. He always messes with people, whether they want him to or not.
"Ah, you know me? Good, good. Saves me the trouble of introducing myself." He claps his hands cheerfully. "Would you like a cup of tea? These accommodations are quite dreadfully primitive, and Jean-Luc always likes his Earl Grey."
"This has got to be a nightmare..."
The omnipotent Q tuts in disagreement. "No, not at all. This is quite real, let me assure you. You are, in fact, in the universe of Mass Effect, as created by the company Bioware for your entertainment in your universe."
"The fuck you doing here then, Q?" I sigh. This just keeps getting better and better. I mean, doesn't he have other people in his own universe to bother?
"Straight to business? How rude, even Kathy usually indulges me before asking me that." Q almost looks disappointed.
"Yeah, well, today hasn't exactly been fun for me, either, and it barely qualifies as morning." I start ticking things off my fingers. "Let's see, there's the fact that I'm not home, but instead in a fictional universe, then there's the fact that I landed here without ID, so now I'm stuck in a tiny cell while the police is trying to figure out who the hell I am, and to top it all off, there's yet another fictional character infamous for his meddling in human affairs standing across from me in my cell!"
"You humans are no fun."
This is surreal. I mean, being in Mass Effect is one thing, but Q, of all people, being here? That's just bordering on the ridiculous. I wonder if I just fell out of bed and hit my head somewhere and am just imagining all this. Maybe I'll wake up with a nasty bump on my head and a headache, and this'll all be gone. "What do you want?" is all I can manage, rubbing my temples to stave off the coming headache.
"Well, quite simply put...I put you here," Q announces, as if that was a grand feat worthy of recognition. He's grinning that stupid, shit-eating grin again that makes me want to haul back and smack him, and it leaves me briefly wondering what would happen if he ever met Wrex. I look at him pointedly.
"I suppose you want to know why?"
Don't get mad, don't get mad, don't get mad, don't give him the entertainment or the satisfaction...it's my new mantra. "That would be nice, yes." I'm surprised he's actually willing to be helpful, considering how cryptic his usual interactions with humans are.
Q shrugs as a steaming cup of tea appears in his hand. "Well, it's quite simply. You're here because the way it ended is, pardon my French, c'est des conneries. So I figured I'd put someone here to fix it."
I open my mouth to retort, but nothing comes to mind. I mean, what the fuck? "Why me?" I finally ask him. "I mean, why not someone like, like Patton, or Rommel, or some other military genius who could've fought circles around the Reapers? Hell, if this is real and you're real, you could've brought James T. fucking-Kirk!"
And Kirk would probably have made the Reapers shit themselves and caused Harbinger to run away screaming for his mommy by sheer awesomeness and manliness alone. I mean, he's James T. Kirk! He bluffed klingons into backing down with a made-up maneuver consisting of a made-up word! I can't really help but grin like an idiot as I imagine the Reapers facing off against that.
"Who says you're the only one?"
That gives me pause. "You mean...I'm not?"
"Not at all. As much as I'd like to see the havoc one lone human could cause in this universe, I'm not naive enough to believe some of you won't get it wrong, after all." Aaaaand, that insufferable smirk is back. "Besides, it's very entertaining watching all of you come up with your own solutions."
"Who else is here?" Maybe I don't have to go about this alone, after all.
"Oh, no, you misunderstand. You see, each of you is in a different part of the multiverse, so you don't have to worry about running into each other. It just wouldn't be as entertaining, otherwise."
"This is all entertainment to you? Some kind of sick game?" I growl, rising from the cot. This is bullshit, omnipotent or not, Q's about to get punched.
"Of course!" he replies as if it's the most natural thing in the world. "I do have to keep myself occupied, after all. And this is much better for Q Jr. than any soap opera."
"Then tell me why, Q? Why just rip me, and others if I'm to believe you, from their lives and put them here, knowing what's going to happen? What do you expect us to do?"
Q's being uncharacteristically serious now, his smirk completely gone, giving me pause. I halt in my advance towards him. "The best you can," he says simply. "That's all. You're here to do what any of your admittedly limited species can do. Your best."
"But...but why? What's the point?"
"The point," Q's looking up at the ceiling now, but for some reason I get the feeling he's looking past it, into the great unknown beyond, "is that your species can do extraordinary things when placed into impossible circumstances. And it's your time to show it to the rest of the Continuum."
"So...did I get that right? You transplanted random people into other universes to see how they react to...to show the other Q that we're...what, exactly?"
"That your race is warlike, power-mongering, obstinate...and, when it really comes down to it, capable of achieving truly great things."
"Well fuck me sideways six ways to church." That's...heavy. Almost reminds me of the whole situation with the Reapers. It's funny, really, humans never seem to just lie down and accept defeat when it comes down to it, no matter who the foe.
And Q's smirk is back. "But I've got my reasons, trust me. I must be getting soft, actually explaining them to a human, but I guess Kathy would approve."
I can't help but get in one last barb, especially since I stopped keeping track of Star Trek canon after Voyager ended, with the exception of that reboot movie. "Still haven't got Janeway to marry you, huh?"
"Not yet!" Q grins mischievously, and suddenly I feel sorry for the woman, fictional though she may be. Or maybe not so fictional, considering the situation I'm in.
Well, I guess I better make the most of it. No sitting back now, definitely not. "I guess I better get to work, then huh? Especially since you weren't nice enough to give me an ID of any sort. Those guys out there probably think I'm some kind of batarian terrorist who's had facial reconstructive surgery and genetic modification."
"Ah, yes," Q hums along for a moment. "I do admit, that one guy had it quite easier, especially since I placed him in a position to receive the vision from the Prothean beacon. What was his name again? Donald? Dylan?"
Wait, hold up, back up a second. "Wait...the guy from Welcome to the Family?"
Q snaps his fingers and nods vigorously. "That's the one! He's a great shot with a rifle, by the way, unlike you."
"You're Death? the Death trying to fight off those...what'd he call them? Cosmic bureaucrats?" Holy crap. All those self-inserts I've been reading lately are actually happening as I read them. Or rather, happened as I read them. I wonder if anyone's reading this right now? If this is all a story popping up on someone else's browser, who then in turn gets sucked into the Mass Effect universe? Damn, that's meta.
"But don't you worry, I've arranged matters. It wouldn't do for your adventure to end before it started, now, would it?"
Part of me is really excited that I'll get to do this. Don't get me wrong, I love my life and my job, but this...I think everyone's dreamed of being able to make a difference at some point in their lives, and this is my chance. Besides, I get to meet some of my favorite sci-fi characters ever. Hmm...I wonder if Shepard's male or female here. But I get ahead of myself here. The rest of me is, quite frankly, terrified, partly because I know what's to come, and partly because this shit's now real. "Will I ever get home?"
That stupid shit-eating grin is back in full force now. "Now where'd be the fun in telling you? Not to worry, if you're successful, it won't matter. Trust me."
"Knowing you, I'd rather not. Trust you, that is." In fact, I don't trust him as far as I can throw him. Of course, him being the incorporeal entity he is, I can't actually throw him at all, which should tell you something.
"Trust me," he repeats. "There will not be any lasting consequences to you or your life if you succeed in this little adventure. As Kathy told me, you humans place so much value on your promises, so I give you my word."
"All right," I guess that's as much as I'm going to get out of him. "So what's this help I'm getting?"
He actually waggles his finger in front of my nose. "Can't tell you that, wouldn't be any fun. You'll have to stick around and find out. Now, I really need to be going, the Missus is calling me." With a grandiose clap, he's gone in another flash of light, leaving me alone in my tiny cell at Zakera Ward's C-Sec office wondering if I just had a hallucination within a hallucination.
"For the last time, who are you, and how did you get on the Citadel?"
"I told you, I don't know!" This is frustrating, it really is. I mean, it's not like I can come out and say, oh, an extraplanar being of unspeakable power placed me here for his entertainment because humanity has something to prove. Yeah, that'd go over real well. "I just woke up this morning in an alley near the Presidium Commons out of the blue. I'm not even supposed to be here!"
"You got that right," the second officer mutters.
I let out a heavy sigh. We've been stuck in this interrogation room for at least half an hour, and we still haven't got past the second question. The first, naturally, was my name. Their search, much like Avina's, turned up zilch. Nothing. Nada. As expected, there's no record of me anywhere. Then again, I don't belong in this universe, although how I'm supposed to help Shepard save the galaxy when I'm stuck in a C-Sec holding cell is quite the interesting question.
The turian of the pair - the other guy's a salarian - sighs and taps his omni-tool again. "Okay, let's start over. We can't find any record of you anywhere. Your facial recognition and biometrics don't match up to any registered human anywhere. So, who are you?"
"Maybe he's just a stoned duct rat, Pakto," the salarian offers helpfully. "You know what Red Sand does to people's memory."
"I'm not a druggie!"
"He's not a druggie!"
Wow. I'm tempted to call jinx on that. But seriously, I would be fine if they accused me of being a terrorist, or an illegal immigrant, or something, but hell if I let myself be called a drug addict. I know, my priorities are kind of skewed.
The turian glances at his partner, then back at me. "His bloodwork came back clean. He's not on Sand. Look," he seems almost tired, and it's barely even noon. Maybe he's doing overtime from the night shift?
"Why don't you make this easy for all of us and just tell us what we want to know? I can tell you're a good kid, but we've got our job to do. We can't let any unauthorized personnel aboard the Citadel, and you show up in none of our records."
"And like I've been telling you from the beginning, I haven't the slightest clue how I got here. Just woke up this morning and bam! There I was." And I'm getting hungry now. I mean, I haven't eaten since dinner last night, and now it's what? Past noon, probably. Hard to tell without a window. I wonder if they plan on keeping me here until I go on hunger strike?
The door to the room opens before any of them can respond, and I barely manage to keep my jaw from dropping, because right now, a ridiculous grin is fighting to spread itself over my face. I'm pretty sure I'm twitching and look like a mad man before I can get it under control, but hell. This is Q's exit strategy for me? Damn! I mean, seriously, dayum.
"You are dismissed, officers. Special Investigations will take things from here. It's already been cleared with your captain." The name tag on her jacket identifies her as Agent Carmichael, but her accent is just like in the game, a slight lilt of British, and her demeanor is about icy enough to freeze the room if one isn't careful. The two C-Sec officers look at each other before shrugging and leaving the room. The door shuts behind them, and the woman who just walked in locks it and takes a seat across from me. She pulls out a small device and places it on the table. It turns on with a tiny electronic chirp, and then blue eyes are staring at me inquisitively.
She's sizing me up, I can tell. Why she's here now, I have no idea, though I figure she was probably an operative long before her involvement in a certain project. Since she's still staring at me, I figure I may as well start things off. Dredging up what I remember from her dossier in the Shadow Broker's base and the games, I give her a tiny grin. Let's see if I can shake the Ice Queen.
"Well...good afternoon, Operative Lawson."