Chapter Four – First Contact
Omega, Sahrabarik System, Omega Nebula
February 7, 2152
Aria T'Loak looked into the smoky depths of her latest glass of Noverian Rum and contemplated the utter lack of excitement in her life. It was something she'd found herself doing more often of late and she wasn't enjoying it one bit.
It hadn't always been this way. Two centuries earlier she had to be on constant watch for assassination attempts even while doing something as pedestrian as brushing her teeth. But as her power had grown such attempts had fallen off and those fools that still contemplated doing her harm were usually detected and eliminated by her intelligence network well before they could do anything more than plot. No she was the ruler of 'the heart of evil', as some of her fellow matriarchs condescendingly called her station. Queen bitch of the Terminus Systems.
Idly Aria wondered if they would ever have those sticks lodged up their asses removed.
She was considering another drink when one of her guards approached with a look of irritation on his face. "What is it Berus?" she asked the armored batarian.
"Someone to see you," he replied, gesturing to an asari maiden waiting behind him.
Aria took a moment to examine her petitioner. She was a typical example of a maiden from the core regions and wore simple clothing that would allow her to blend in anywhere in the galaxy. Even her tattoos were commonplace and simplistic. Not sensing anything outwardly threatening the pirate queen nodded her head in approval. Perhaps she was looking for a job.
The batarian gestured the newcomer forward only to block her with an outstretched arm. The matriarch smirked at the little show of intimidation while he activated his omnitool and began a security scan. Such precautions were necessary in her line of work. When the scan results began flashing red that smirk disappeared.
Aria shot to her feet, her biotics flaring as her guards trained their weapons on the intruder. "Who are you?"
The maiden grinned as the air around her shimmered and distorted. The outward appearance of an asari vanished, replaced by that of another creature. Its features were remarkably similar but still it was clear that is wasn't one of her race. It had a long cascade of black fur leading down from its head to just below its shoulder blades and its skin was a light pinkish-tan. It was wearing what appeared to be a set of light armor with a sidearm holstered on its right thigh. It looked around, examining the guards dispassionately before refocusing its attention on the matriarch.
As it examined her a smirk crossed its face before it began speaking. "I suppose I should congratulate your guards for finally seeing through my sensorium mask," is said in a condescending tone. "I almost made it all the way to your dais before I was detected. However the fact that it was only disguising my appearance made it a hell of a lot easier so…"
"Watch your mouth," replied Berus in anger, raising his sidearm to strike the intruder across the face. The alien simply looked at him for a moment as a wave of blue-green energy engulfed her body. A moment later he was sent flying into a nearby wall with enough force to knock him unconscious. The other guards took a step back, fearing for their own safety.
"I don't appreciate being threatened, especially by someone so pathetic," it replied, turning back to Aria. "Your guard needs lessons in self-preservation. And to learn his place."
Aria ignored the bleeding batarian as she continued her examination of the interloper. She was of course aware of what it was, having been informed by her contacts on Torfan on the newest race to come to market. She was also acutely aware of what had happened to the slaver world less than a week later. "You still haven't answered my question," replied the pirate queen simply as she retook her seat.
"My name is Catherine Igel and I represent an organization called Cerberus," replied the woman simply as she took a seat beside Aria, helping herself to the nearby liquor.
"Indeed. And what may I ask is Cerberus?"
Pouring herself a drink, Igel took a moment to consider her response. "I guess the closest analogue in Citadel space is salarian STG. We serve many of the same functions however our authority is more in line with Citadel Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. We have the same force projection capacity as the Blackwatch, the independence offered to asari commandos and an intelligence network could easily rival the Shadow Broker's."
"And what does such a powerful organization want with me?"
"I've been sent here to offer you a… shall we say a business proposition."
Aria smirked at that. Many liked to do 'business' with her. She was involved with almost every faction within the Terminus, many of the so-called 'civilized' governments of Council space and was intimately acquainted with several Spectres. "And why would I be interested in your offer?"
"Because Cerberus isn't giving you a choice," replied the operative coldly as she took a sip of her drink. "You can either work with us or…"
"Or what? You'll kill me?" laughed the matriarch. It wasn't the first time someone had threatened her to her face.
"Me kill you, here and now? Nothing so crude I assure you," replied Igel as she leaned back. She was truly enjoying this assignment. "If you refuse our offer or try to have me killed then the following will take place: in approximately two days Cerberus will pass information to Alliance Intelligence that shows a direct link between your organization and the Ha'rasa Syndicate. It will show that you personally had knowledge of and involvement in the raid on Horizon. This information will of course be a forgery but Cerberus is very capable and we'll have no trouble making it seem convincing."
"Alliance Intelligence will probably take a few days to mull it over before passing it on to High Command. I understand that they're still quite enraged over the Horizon attack. HighCom has always taken great pride maintaining the security of the Alliance and the independent worlds and Horizon was a gut punch. After considering it for a few minutes, at most, the Joint Chiefs will decide it is in the best interests of the Systems Alliance to have you removed."
"As to how they'll do that… well I see three options. The first is that they call upon Cerberus to do it for them. We will of course offer full cooperation and send a Dragoon to take care of the problem. If you think a Council Spectre can be trouble then you haven't seen anything yet. Or they may decide to deploy Alliance Special Operations to take care of you. They're not as good as the Dragoons of course but you'll still be just as dead. The third option is that they decide to make an example of you and this station. In that case you can look forward to a full task force showing up on your doorstep within the next ten days. Omega may be well armed and defended by Citadel standards but one of our superdreadnoughts could reduce this station to a cloud of incandescent plasma in under a minute."
It wasn't the worlds that caught Aria so off guard. Anyone could make claims to power in an attempt to intimidate another. No it was the conviction behind them that gave her pause. This woman was absolutely confident that she, or more accurately her organization could carry out her threat. The reports she'd received from her contacts within STG had make it abundantly clear that this new race, these humans, were not to be underestimated. Torfan had proven that.
Part of surviving for as long as she had was knowing when she'd been outmaneuvered. Those were the times when she'd make peace with an adversary and move forward in cooperation. This was one such situation and so all that was left was one option. "Saying I do agree to do business with you. What would such a relationship entail?"
"We do not ask for much," replied Igel as she arrogantly propped her feet up on a nearby coffee table. "Your organization isn't particularly interesting to Cerberus, truth be told. You don't involve yourself in slaving or piracy, preferring more sophisticated crimes; blackmail, assassination, corporate espionage, hacking, prostitution, drug running etcetera. None of those are a direct threat to the Alliance for the moment. But you know people who could pose such a threat and that is something we want to keep an eye on."
"So you want me as your spy?" replied the matriarch with distaste. Aria was used to having spies, not being one.
"As well as the occasional use of specific resources that you have access to such as safe houses and transport."
"And what will I get out of this arrangement?"
"Weaponry, resources, even the occasional spacecraft. Cerberus pays its friends well."
"I already have access to all of those."
"Not the likes of what we have. Tell me, where do you suppose those new plasma cannons came from?" asked the operative with a shit-eating smirk.
"I somehow doubt you sold them to Saris," parlayed Aria as she refilled her glass.
"No but we did allow them to be sold for our own purposes. They were generations behind the state of the art in any case and of no real threat to the Alliance. But they do demonstrate what we can offer you. You've seen the STG takes. Our technology is centuries beyond anything available on the open or black markets. Well beyond even the bleeding edge the asari military maintains. Are you telling me that you wouldn't like to have access to that?"
"Then why offer it at all?" asked the pirate queen. "Why not simply use threats and coercion to keep me in line?"
"We prefer a willing ally, not one we've forced to work for us," replied the Cerberus agent. "We can of course break you or replace you with someone that we can do business with. However you are a smart woman and a ruthless ruler; everything we look for in a potential asset. If you cooperate with us willingly, or as willingly as this relationship will ever become, then you'll provide us with better quality intelligence and support. Carrot and stick."
Aria wasn't sure what a carrot was but she understood the metaphor all too well. It was after all how she'd maintained her dominance over Omega for so long. Letting out a long sigh the asari nodded, "Very well. I'll play this little role you've created for me. But I don't like being threatened."
The operative shrugged, "No one does. But we had to make it crystal clear where you stood. Regardless, now that we have an understanding I have your first assignment. Nothing too important of course but still something that needs to be done."
"We're aware that you'll be hosting a little party for the Terminus' criminal leaders next week. We'd like you to pass on a bit of information to your guests."
"And what is that?"
"Make them aware that in Alliance and protected territories, slaving carries the death penalty. No appeals and the accused are tried as enemy combatants. That means a military trial instead of a civilian one and the burden of proof is placed on the defendant, not the state."
"And how exactly am I to pass on this information? Most of those attending are not aware of your existence."
The operative smirked. "Turn on that vid set over there and switch to a newsfeed."
Aria looked at the human in confusion before complying. Turning to the Citadel News Network she was surprised to see footage from Illium orbit showing what to Aria was a very familiar vessel.
"Any other questions?" asked Igel.
"What will I receive in exchange for passing on your little threat?"
Igel reached into her armor and withdrew a small slate. Placing her rum down, she activated it and entered a series of commands before offering it to the asari. "This is an inventory of our payment as well as its exact location and activation codes. Three crates of Friedan designed FM511A3 directed energy pistols and two crates of FM513A2 directed energy rifles. Each complete with manual, cleaning kit and ten self-regenerating energy cells. I trust that will be sufficient compensation?"
Aria's eyes went wide as she snatched the tablet away. She'd been aware of the types of weaponry the humans had developed but she hadn't expected to get her hands on any for quite some time. "Laser weapons?"
"Indeed. As I said we are considerably more advanced than you are. In this case you are receiving weapons designed by our enemies, the same ones that sold the plasma cannons to Saris. They're obsolete by our standards but considerably more sophisticated than anything you've ever seen. I trust that they'll serve as suitable compensation?"
Aria could only nod dumbly as she studied the tablet, itself more advanced than anything she'd ever used. Already she was mulling over the kinds of advantages her new acquisitions would grant her over the other factions. So engrossed in her thoughts that she didn't even notice her blackmailer standing.
"In any event I have to be going," said Igel as she finished off her drink. "We'll be in touch," continued the operative as she walked away, her image distorting to again show the asari maiden.
SSV Dauntless-A, On Approach to Nos Astra Spaceport
Illium, Tasale System, Crescent Nebula
Commonly known as the gateway to the Terminus throughout Council Space, Illium was the primary point of contact between the two polities. Although Citadel propaganda commonly made the Terminus out to be a wasteland of criminal factions, slavers and pirates, in truth there was far more to it. By and large the Terminus was composed of colonies that simply didn't want anything to do with the Council. Turians that wanted to live in a democratic society, asari tired of being ruled by the Matriarchs, salarians who weren't interested in serving the dalatrasses. They all came to the Terminus to live their lives and for that they were labeled as outlaws.
That wasn't to say that a great deal of trade didn't take place between the two. It was a universal truth of the galaxy that no matter who you were or where you lived, there were always things you would want that came from somewhere else.
To many humans it reminded them of the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Both sides were powerful but unwilling to go to war for fear of the consequences. But there was always trade between them as each had something the other wanted. For the United States it had been oil of which Russia had in abundance. For the Soviets it had been luxury goods, medicines, grain and other products that their own economy couldn't come close to producing due to either political or practical reasons. Political ideology had always been subordinate to profit. That was another universal truth.
All this information passed through the mind of Anita Goyle. A senior diplomat in service to the State Department, she'd been chosen to represent the Alliance during first contact. A very serious person by nature, Goyle had spent most of her career dealing with the Independent Worlds, a loose coalition of colonies that bordered the Alliance in the Local Cluster. While most of them were bound by the Montreal Accords, that hadn't exactly made her job any easier and she was therefore one of the most experienced diplomatic operatives in the entirety of Alliance space.
Still this would be a first for her or any member of State. With the notable exception of the prothean survivors found on Eden Prime, the Alliance hadn't had any contact with alien races. They had in the course of exploring the local cluster come upon several sapient races however the most advanced among them was barely into the Iron Age. Parliament had decided very quickly that while the Alliance would study them and protect them from extinction, any direct contact was completely off limits.
"Are you worried?" asked a voice from behind, startling the woman from her thoughts.
"I'd be insane not to be. This is our first real contact with the wider galaxy. Just whispering Shepard's prayer to myself actually."
Commodore Jason Caldwell laughed and nodded as he quoted the astronaut. "Oh Lord, please don't let me fuck this up." He'd been assigned as military liaison for this mission due to the fact that the Dauntless had led the assault on Torfan. While they could've sent anything up to and including the SSV Terra herself, it had been decided that sending only a single capital ship would balance the requirements of modesty and intimidation that this contact would require.
"We'll get through this," he continued, observing the planet below. "And don't worry. We've got your back."
Anita nodded, not sure whether to be comforted by that or not. State and Defense had always had a love-hate relationship with each other going all the way back to the beginning. This relationship hadn't been made better due the atrophy of the former. The simple fact was that the Alliance didn't have much in the way of foreign powers to deal with. They'd been at war with the Frieden Union for more than a half century and the only other powers were the independent colonies.
Deciding that diplomacy was her best course, Anita replied, "I appreciate that commodore. But I hope I won't need it."
Nos Astra Spaceport
The normally busy docks had become a ghost town as Nos Astra security had locked down the entire area, supplemented by Illium Law Enforcement and Illium Spaceguard. The only exceptions to that lockdown were the representatives of the Council waiting patiently for the human delegation to arrive. As Illium was a major Citadel world so it followed that it would have a large and well-staffed consulate. For the most part the staff spent their time dealing with the problems Council citizens ran into on the border world. Accidently signing yourself into indentured servitude was common here and so their legal team was easily one of the most active of any consulate's in the galaxy.
But first contact, no that wasn't something any of the consuls had been prepared for. Despite its location on the border, the space surrounding Illium had long since been explored and no one was expecting a new race to turn up anywhere nearby. Add that to the fact that since its founding the Council had only made twelve first contacts including the rachni, vorcha, geth and yahg. Needless to say there wasn't exactly a normal procedure for them to follow.
"A momentous occasion," commented one of the assembled diplomats, this one an asari matriarch.
"Indeed it is," replied the salarian consul, Jonis Ternol. "But may I ask why you are here Matriarch Benezia?"
The asari smiled benignly at the amphibian. "Can you honestly expect me not to be? This event will impact the course of the galaxy."
Ternol nodded warily at that. It was widely known that Benezia supported the opinion that the asari should take a more active role in shaping the galaxy. It wasn't a widely accepted idea even among her own race never mind the rest of the Council. Personally he would've preferred that she not be here at all but Benezia was a powerful woman and could do as she wished, especially on an asari world.
"Well despite my colleague's attitude, I am honored to have you here matriarch," commented the asari consul, a matron named Selera L'Tor.
Benezia nodded dismissively at that, accepting the brown nosing for what it was and choosing not to reply. She wasn't in a particularly good mood at the moment. She'd had another fight with Liara three days earlier and it had been a bad one. It was getting to the point where she couldn't even speak to her daughter without some sort of explosion and that saddened her. Idly she wondered if she should consult Liara's father for advice before dismissing the idea out of hand. She'd broken away from Aethyta a long time ago and it had been for the best.
Idly watching the sky for the human shuttle, the matriarch felt her jaw go slack at the sight that greeted her. The day had been cloudy threatening rain and so when the human warship broke through the clouds all she could do was gape. The vessel was massive; easily the size of a dreadnought and by any sane standards shouldn't have been able to even think of entering atmosphere.
As she studied the vessel she could make out an almost electric haze being emitted from numerous points across the ventral surfaces, presumably part of whatever system was keeping the monstrosity aloft. It decelerated gracefully and come to a hover directly above them, just high enough to clear the skyscrapers that dotted the area but still at least a quarter kilometer up. As the delegates watched a circular hatch opened and began projecting a bluish beam of light. It impacted just I front of them without causing any noticeable harm however every biotic within a half kilometer could feel the dark energy wash over their skin.
Moments passed before three figures could be seen descending through the beam, landing lightly on the loading surface. Benezia took a moment to assess this new species and was surprised at how closely they resembled her own race. While the bipedal form was common throughout the galaxy there had always been some variations. Reverse jointed legs, a different number of fingers or eyes, even metallic skin. However never had any race found such a close analogue to themselves before.
But for all the similarities there were also differences. One appeared to be female while the other was male, something no asari had ever been. The third she couldn't make out, dressed as it was in a sleek set of armor. She assumed it was another female but as it turned she was surprised to find that it had a tail. Could they be dealing with more than one species?
The three figures moved forward, stopping just before the assembled diplomats.
"On behalf of the President of the Systems Alliance and our peoples I offer you greetings," said the leading female, offering her hand.
"And on behalf of the Citadel Council I offer you greetings in return," replied Selera, grasping the hand in an obvious gesture that was very similar to what the turians used. That alone told them something. Such gestures evolved in warrior cultures as a way of demonstrating that they offered a hand of peace, unarmed. "My name is Selera L'Tor of the Asari Republics. This is Jonis Ternol of the Salarian Union and Fikus Caerus of the Turian Hierarchy. And last but not least Matriarch Benezia who…"
"Who's here out of curiosity," she finished, grasping the human's hand for a strong shake.
"A pleasure. My name is Anita Goyle, senior member of the Alliance Department of State. This is Commodore Jason Caldwell, commanding officer of the SSV Dauntless and Gunnery Sergeant Samone Torres of the System Alliance Marine Corps," replied the woman, gesturing in turn to her companions.
"Welcome," said Selera, shaking both of their hands. "I must say I'm surprised. I had not expected to make first contact with two races," she continued, gesturing to the marine.
A look of confusion crossed Goyle's face before it was replaces with a smile. "Ah, I can understand your confusion. Sergeant Torres is in fact human," she replied. "Sergeant if you would?"
The marine nodded before triggering her helmet and revealing her furry face.
"The gunnery sergeant here is a member of a subspecies of humanity commonly referred to as anthromorphs."
"And your races evolved simultaneously?" asked Ternol curiously.
"Not exactly," replied the ambassador delicately, hoping to phrase this properly. She knew that their exchange was being broadcast to the entire galaxy via the camera drones hovering around them like a flock of excitable pigeons. "Approximately one hundred years ago scientists successfully hybridized the DNA of humans with non-human fauna from our home world of Earth. The children that resulted became the first anthromorphs."
The looks that crossed their faces would under other circumstances be considered hilarious. "I… you must forgive me," stuttered the asari consul. "In much of the galaxy such genetic experimentation is widely illegal."
"Yes we are aware," replied Goyle, fully briefed on the differences between Council and Alliance law. "However in the Alliance Sergeant Torres and all that are like her are protected under the Sapient's Rights Act of 2048 and are considered full citizens, entitled to all of the rights and protections of our laws."
"I see," commented Caerus neutrally. Turians unlike many others within Citadel space were far more tolerant of genetic engineering. It came from being a military society that regarded practicality above all else. He was therefore more interested in the fact that this human was a marine and took a moment to study her from that perspective. What he saw was a woman who was extremely confident in her movements and well aware of her environment. By her body language he could already tell she was aware of the snipers that were on overwatch and had taken note of the security forces that surrounded them.
"Let us not dwell on this subject," continued Selera, smoothly transitioning from the subject. No doubt it would feature heavily on the various news networks that were covering this event. "If you would follow me we have a facility that would be more comfortable for this meeting."
"With pleasure," replied Goyle in acceptance as she followed the small delegation.
They walked in silence for a moment before Benezia spoke. "I was surprised that you would choose Illium to make your first public appearance," she said, ignoring the wince that came from L'Tor. She had read the human representative during their brief contact was certain that they wouldn't take offense over such a simple observation.
"It made sense," replied Goyle with a shrug. "Illium has a well-staffed consulate, is in a very public location and as it borders the Terminus it cannot be claimed that we are only interested in meeting with the Council."
That surprised Benezia and led naturally to the next question, "You seem to know a great deal about our society."
"We've been studying you for almost a decade in preparation for this meeting."
"Studying us?" asked Caerus, torn between alarm and indignation. Alarm because they could be preparing for an invasion and indignation that these newcomers would regard them as a scientific subject of inquiry like some sort of fungus in a petri dish.
"Yes. Don't misunderstand. We have no intentions of initiating military action against your peoples or worlds. However our fiction tells of numerous situations where first contact led to violence and so it was decided that we would study you before making contact so as to avoid any unpleasantness."
"How long have you been aware of us?" asked Ternol.
"We first became aware of your people when one of our exploration vessels noticed recent activity on the former prothean world of Feros," replied Caldwell, not mentioning that the vessel in question had belonged to Cerberus. "They emplaced several stealth satellites in orbit that noted the arrival and departure of almost thirty vessels over the course of several months. It was decided to have a stealth vessel follow one back to its homeport."
"You have working stealth technology?" asked the salarian excitedly. Everyone in the consulate figured him for a member of STG.
"Indeed," replied Caldwell. Part of this contact was to show off a bit and so he gestured to his ship. "Take the Dauntless for example. The outer layers of her armor are composed of a sophisticated carbon-silicate compound that allows it to either absorb or diffract most active electromagnetic scans such as radar or lidar. For visual concealment we have a cloaking system that utilizes an array of holographic projectors that allows us to blend into the background star field. We also have thermoelectric conversion systems that transform waste heat back into electricity instead of venting it and producing an easily detectable thermal bloom. The only exceptions are when we engage our thrusters, activate our defenses or fire our weapons."
"Then how do you move under such conditions?"
"Our sub-light systems utilize anti-proton rocketry augmented by a mass effect propulsion technique known as a gravitic pulse. When we want to move stealthily we simply disengage our thrusters and rely exclusively on the pulse drive. Granted it cannot offer the same rate of acceleration but it is virtually undetectable beyond a certain range."
'That certainly explains a lot,' Caerus thought to himself. Such technology would make these vessels virtually undetectable to even the most sophisticated scans and it was no wonder the patrol hadn't seen them. This could set a very dangerous precedent. "How many vessels like this one do you have?"
"We're currently replacing most of our older vessels with newer designs," replied Caldwell. "The Dauntless is actually the lead vessel of her class and was launched only six years ago. Currently she has forty seven sisters in service with a total of one hundred seventy five due by 2160 or nine years from now."
That stopped the Citadel representatives in their tracks. This vessel was by all definitions a dreadnought and by the sounds of it the humans were mass producing them. "That is a lot of dreadnoughts for one species," commented Selera, trying to hide her alarm.
"Oh the Dauntless isn't a dreadnought," replied Caldwell with a chuckle. "By our definitions she is classified as a battlecruiser."
"Battlecruiser?" asked Caerus as the group resumed their journey. "I don't think I've ever heard that term."
"It dates back to the early twentieth century. The British Royal Navy had a doctrine of starting three new battleships and four armored cruisers per year under what was known as the Selborne Plan. However at the time British tax revenues were falling and so the plan was no longer viable. A compromise between the cruiser and battleship classes was reached that resulted in the first battlecruiser. While it was very heavily armed and could maintain a remarkably fast velocity, the compromise meant that unlike its battleship cousins, the HMS Invincible was comparatively lightly armored."
"Generally speaking the battlecruiser wasn't a success during the following twentieth century. A combination of poor safety standards and their extreme cost tarnished their reputations. The costs in particular continued to balloon out of control culminating with the construction of the HMS Hood, a behemoth of a warship that was sunk during a battle in 1941. A stray shot hit her magazines and due to the lack of armor, she split in two in a massive explosion. At the same time the aircraft carrier was increasingly rendering both the battlecruiser and battleship obsolete. The last battlecruisers in service were the Soviet's Kirov-class, only four of which were built. None of them ever saw combat and the last of the Kirovs were retired in 2023."
As Caldwell was finishing his lecture, the group had entered a conference facility and taken their seats. "If they weren't successful, why resurrect the class?" asked the turian consul.
"Technological progress has made them more practical," replied Caldwell. "Back then we're talking ocean-going vessels powered by oil-fired boilers or in the case of the Kirovs, nuclear fission reactors. The class itself has also evolved somewhat since then. In modern times they serve as light capital ships whose job is to engage and destroy escorts or other battlecruisers. Technology means that weight is no longer a factor in a vessel's protection and so we don't have to trade speed for armor anymore."
"As interesting as this is," interrupted Benezia, "I doubt you came here to talk to us about your military. I for one am more interested in how your society functions."
"Indeed," replied Goyle, glad to be back in control of the meeting. "Well to start the Systems Alliance was founded on February 15, 2066 or just under eighty-six years ago as we began colonizing the galaxy and three years after we discovered a prothean observation outpost on the fourth planet in our system, Mars. The Alliance is a supranational government that exists above the various national governments that are members. We're a representative cyber-democracy wherein the members of the Alliance Parliament are for the most part required to vote the will of their constituencies. This is not a law however as each political party operates somewhat differently."
"How does that work in practice?" asked Selera.
"The Alliance has numerous political parties to which most politicians belong. Each party has its own way of operating. Some such as the Gaians, Solarians or Terra First operate on a direct model. You elect your representatives and whenever he or she is required to vote, they hold a plebiscite among their constituents and then vote on behalf of whatever option wins. Others such as the Democrats, Liberals and Progressives only hold plebiscites on major issues, trusting their representatives to handle minor issues using their best judgment. And some such as the Republicans and Conservatives don't hold plebiscites at all, allowing their members to vote however they want. People elect members who represent their political ideologies and if a politician doesn't act properly then it's possible to recall them from office if a sufficient number of constituents decide it's necessary to do so."
"How can that all possibly function?" asked Benezia. All in all it seemed to be a remarkably complicated system compared to the direct democracy the Republics employed.
"Parliament is divided into three separate groups, called houses, all of which must approve a bill before it becomes law. The Congress is the largest and each representative represents a fixed portion of the population or approximately ten million citizens. The Senate is composed of two senators from each political entity within the Alliance. These include the nation-states of our home world and the various colonial governments. Finally the Stellar Council consists of one councilor from each planetary system, defined as a planet and its orbiting satellites such as moons and stations, within the Alliance. This is to ensure that a planet like Earth, which has fourteen separate nation-states alone, sixteen if you include Luna and the orbital colonies, doesn't dominate planets that have only one government."
"So once all three groups approve of a bill it becomes law?" asked Selera.
"Not quite," replied Goyle with a smile. "Then the law is passed to the second branch of our government, the judicial branch. They examine the bill and make sure that it doesn't violate the Alliance Constitution. If it does they veto it and send it back to Parliament for further work. Finally when the bill passes the judiciary then it is delivered to the president, head of the executive branch. If the bill doesn't have two-thirds support from all three houses of Parliament, the president has the authority to veto a part of or the entire bill as he or she sees fit. Finally when the president signs the bill into law the various agencies that are housed in the executive branch, such as my agency, the Department of State, go about implementing the law. This is further complicated by the fact that the Alliance has more than one race in it."
"I don't understand," replied Jonis in confusion. "I thought that the Alliance only had humans in it, disregarding various subspecies."
"Not quite. In 2133 we discovered a primary mass relay that connected our cluster to the Attican Traverse. We moved quickly to expand into the region and colonized several nearby systems. On one of those planets, a garden world we named Eden Prime, we uncovered the buried remains of a fairly significant prothean colony. During the excavation we discovered a bunker deep beneath the surface. The bunker was heavily damaged but as we cleared the rubble we discovered several intact, functional stasis pods."
"Functional?" asked Selera in shock, echoing the thoughts of the entire room.
"Indeed," replied Goyle. "The facility showed signs of extensive small arms fire, orbital bombardment and even the residual effects of a neutron purge. But we uncovered a total of three-hundred and ninety two functional pods in the upper levels. Further exploration of the facility revealed an elevator shaft that connected to a series of deeper reinforced caverns. There we found two hundred thousand additional pods, almost sixty-nine thousand of which were still operational. We were able to revive the occupants without further losses and the surviving protheans, realizing their empire was gone, elected to join the Alliance as the Prothean Protectorate."
"You have living protheans among you?" asked Benezia. Liara would go ballistic when she found out.
"Indeed. As of the last census their numbers had climbed to just over one hundred fifty thousand, most of whom still reside on Eden Prime."
"Can we meet them?" asked the asari consul hesitantly. She could already imagine the fallout from this discovery. The protheans were almost revered by the Citadel races, and the hanar viewed them as their creators.
"I'm sure that can be arranged in time," replied Goyle diplomatically, "and if they themselves wish to meet with you. Only a small number of the survivors were members of the military. The vast majority were civilians that were put in stasis as a way to preserve their empire. Therefore we cannot compel them to do anything they do not wish to do."
"I understand," replied the asari, disappointment creeping into her voice. "So the Alliance is composed of humans and various subspecies of humans as well as protheans then," she concluded, but stopped when she noticed Goyle exchange a look with Caldwell. "Is there more?"
"Yes," replied Goyle hesitantly. "The other major population in the Alliance is synthetic."
Caerus came out of his seat at that. "You have AIs! Do you have any idea how dangerous that can be?"
Goyle sat quietly and watched the turian, waiting for him to calm down. It was only when he sat down that she continued. "Yes the Alliance considers sapient synthetics to be full citizens, again under the Sapient's Rights Act. As to the dangers we are all very aware of the potential hazards that synthetics can pose. We are also aware of the fact that your views of synthetics are largely colored by your experiences with the geth. However we have successfully coexisted with synthetics for over a hundred years and have never faced a large scale uprising. In fact the Sapient's Rights Act was specifically written to avoid that possibility."
"How so?" asked the salarian consul.
"Human fiction going back to before even the crudest electronics had been invented has warned us of the possibility of a sapient computer turning on us. One of the most seminal works was written by a man named Isaac Asimov. In it he popularized the so-called 'Three Laws of Robotics', a set of rules that were conceived as a way of protecting humanity from a robotic uprising. This work began a whole school of thought that today is known as cyberethics and led to the requirement that any sapient synthetic has to have an ethics program incorporated into its cognitive matrix, a sort of conscience. It does not prevent a synthetic from committing a crime or harming another. But it does require a synthetic to consider the consequences of its actions much as an organic must do the same."
"And what happens when a synthetic does cause harm?" asked the salarian.
"At that point they are in violation of the law. They are tracked down, arrested and tried. If found guilty they are remanded to the corrections system for rehabilitation. Again the same as what would happen to an organic."
"And you really haven't had any problems?" asked the turian incredulously. It had become accepted fact that organics and synthetics could not coexist without killing each other.
"Of course we've had problems," snorted Caldwell. "Organics attack synthetics. Synthetics attack organics. But, and here's the important part, for the most part we get along with each other. Humanity has never been a particularly peaceful race, and the inclusion of synthetics hasn't changed that. But we manage to work together somehow, just as we've always done."
"We consider that what brings us together to be far more important than that which makes us different," added Goyle. "Isn't that how your Citadel works? The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?"
That stopped the Citadel representative's arguments. Was it possible that they had let their blind prejudices overwhelm them? It wasn't an idea that someone, regardless of their species, liked to think of themselves. But it was a valid point nonetheless.
"I can understand your reasoning when presented that way," replied Selera. "And we're not here to judge you in any case."
"As we are not here to judge you," replied Goyle with a smile. "So shall we move on?"
Citadel News Network Headquarters, Zakera Ward
The atmosphere within the studio was unlike anything the various reporters had ever experienced. It was almost as if electricity had charged the air itself, such was the excitement. It had been almost a century and a half since the Citadel had made contact with another race, in that case the drell whose world had been dying. Some remembered that time, the crushing sadness of seeing an entire species near extinction. It had been even worse when the numbers that the hanar would save had been published; far too low for anyone's tastes.
But that had been a long time ago and this time it was a different feeling. This new race, these humans were going to change everything. At least that was what CiNN's lead anchor was sure of.
Her name was Veness S'Lona, an asari maiden that had just celebrated her one hundred-fifty sixth birthday. She was the youngest asari to ever head the prestigious network's primetime news broadcast and it wasn't just because of her stunning good looks. Across Citadel space she was considered to be one of the most dedicated reporters around, having broken numerous major stories including one linking a high ranking turian hierarch to the Blood Pack mercenary group, a story that had ended his career.
Still as they watched the feeds coming in from Illium she could tell that this would be one of the most important stories she'd ever report on. They'd just finished watching the initial meeting between the two sides and the humans had returned to their ship through that beam of light. She was going on air in less than two minutes for what was probably going to be one of the liveliest broadcasts in thirty years.
Taking a deep breath, Veness left her dressing room and headed for the main studio.
"Hey there Ven," said one of the camera operators as he made final adjustments. "Big night eh?"
"No kidding," she replied with a smile as she took her seat at the large glass table, already occupied with the other commentators. "Everyone ready for this?"
"Yeah," replied her turian counterpart. A former naval officer named Filo Razarius; he'd been with the network for almost five years and was an expert on military matters. "I still can't believe this is happening."
"I just wish it was happening here," interjected the salarian anchor, Penin Othar. "Can you imagine the ratings we'd be pulling if they'd shown up at the Citadel?"
"With barely contained excitement: I can just see the awards now." That was their elcor colleague Callir. "Disappointed: But we cannot change what is."
"True," replied Veness in resignation. "Let's just focus on getting through this show."
"Ten seconds," announced the lead cameraman. "Five, four, three, two…," he counted down, pointing when the camera went live.
"This is the Citadel News Network. I'm Veness S'Lona and this is Day in Review."
"For those of you just joining us, the top story of the day is the surprise first contact taking place on Illium. Approximately four hours ago an unidentified ship appeared in the Tasale system and requested a meeting with Citadel representatives for the purpose of discussing the recent incident on Torfan. What do we know about that Filo?"
"Recently declassified STG reports suggest that the slaver world was attacked approximately one week ago by a fleet belonging to this new race. They've identified themselves as humans and were responding to an attack by the slavers on one of their worlds. Footage shows them completely overwhelming the defending forces leading to a full surrender within hours of contact."
"And what does that say about the humans?" asked Veness leadingly, opening up a spot for the turian to give his expert commentary.
"The first thing that comes to mind is that they have a very well equipped military. I doubt the Hierarchy could've accomplished the same in less than a week. But the footage also shows that they employed several weapons that are banned under the Citadel Accords."
"Yes I've seen the same footage," added Penin with a nod. "Nanite and antimatter weaponry was used against surface targets. That shows both a dangerous level of technology and a ruthlessness that is alarming."
"Questioningly: But were they not responding to an attack on one of their worlds?" interjected Callir.
"An alleged attack," countered Penin. "We have no confirmation except for the human's accusations. And for that matter we don't know the level of devastation the attack caused. This could've been a massive overreaction."
"Oh please," replied Filo dismissively. "They were completely justified in their assault. I just wish the Hierarchy had the fringe to do the same in a similar situation. And it sets a precedent too. I doubt any of the Terminus slavers will be so eager to attack the humans again."
"So you think they were justified in their actions?" asked Veness. Inwardly she was pleased the conversation had taken this turn. Filo was a known critic of the Hierarchy and Citadel appeasement and Penin was an utter pacifist. Put them together and it was always something to see, not to mention great for ratings.
"Absolutely," replied the turian. "They were attacked. They responded and by the way crippled one of the largest slaving rings in the galaxy. They should all get metals for their actions."
"But what about their illicit technologies," countered the salarian, "and especially their revelation about having synthetics in their society? That poses a threat to the entire galaxy."
"Dismissive: They seem to have them under control," replied the elcor. "Questioningly: Why must we assume that all synthetics will act like the geth did?"
"Organics and synthetics cannot co-exist Callir. Just ask the quarians!" replied Penin.
"Challengingly: But the quarians tried to exterminate the geth. What if, when that first geth had asked if it had a soul, the quarians had replied that they didn't know but they would try and find out? Where would they be today?"
"Oh please. That question has been parsed for the last three centuries by every first year political science major," replied Penin. "For all we know those things would've still turned on their masters and the quarians would've still ended up as the vagrants they are today."
"With rising hostility: And maybe they'd have a seat on the council. Until this point there has been no practical way of knowing what could've happened. Now the humans offer hard data on how organics and synthetics can co-exist."
"And I find it interesting what the human military officer said," interjected Filo. "That they don't live in peace and harmony but instead still have conflicts with each other and find a way to get along. I think that we've placed too much emphasis on the organic-synthetic divide. From my perspective it appears that the humans don't really think that way; instead treating their synthetics like they're just another race."
"Speaking of aliens," said Veness, moving away from the synthetic issue, "what do you guys make of the revelation that the humans also have living protheans among them?"
"If it's true then it's pretty incredible," admitted Filo. "The race that built the Citadel and the mass relays is living with the humans. And that also opens up the question of what they've shared with their human benefactors. Do the humans have the ability to build relays? Could they build another Citadel if they wanted?"
"Personally I doubt that possibility," dismissed Penin. "Such undertaking would be far beyond such a young race. They openly told us that they haven't had mass effect technology for even a century."
"Young?" asked the turian in disbelief. "Their battlecruiser is still hovering not a half kilometer over Nos Astra. Not even the asari could accomplish something like that. I don't think this species is young, at least not in the technological sense."
"The protheans probably gave them that tech Filo and you know it," replied the salarian. "Any other explanation would require their rate of development to be almost two orders of magnitude faster than the asari. There's simply no way."
"With stunned disbelief: You are assuming things about this race without knowing anything about them. Accusatory: I think you simply want to maintain the myth of Citadel superiority," rejected Callir. "Not all species develop at the same rate. Perhaps their synthetics have increased their rate of development."
"I agree," said Veness, retaking control of the conversation. "I seem to remember reading about a similar theory published by a quarian futurist that suggested that if synthetics could be successfully integrated into society, it could lead to extremely rapid technological progress."
"I know of that theory and its complete crap," countered the salarian passionately. "I'll tell you now that synthetics and organics simply cannot coexist. And when this false utopia that the humans believe they're living in comes crashing down around their heads, then I pray that any deities that exist will protect us from the consequences. And that's not to mention their wanton tampering with their own DNA."
"It's their race," replied Filo with a shrug. "If they want to alter themselves like that or uplift animal species it's their choice."
"But to mix themselves with non-sapient fauna? It dilutes their entire genome," replied the salarian. He had been chosen as the token conservative on the network for a reason. "I cannot even begin to imagine the damage it has done to their culture."
"Accusatory: Again you judge an alien race by your own narrow standards Penin. We don't know enough about them to make such statements."
"Can we all agree that we will need to know more about them before making a decision," asked Veness, receiving agreeing nods from everyone around the table, even Penin reluctantly. "Good. Now Filo I want to know more about their announcement of having stealth technology and the potential impact it could have right after this commercial break…"
Citadel Council Chambers
"She's right you know," said Turnius. "We don't know nearly enough about them."
"And they seem to know everything about us. I don't like this. Administrator," added Palar addressing the head of STG, "what intelligence do we have about them. And I don't care how classified it is."
That made the other salarian shuffle uncomfortably. STG generally hoarded intel as a miser hoarded his money. "The truth is that aside from the recording of the battle on Torfan, we know very little. I can confirm their stealth technology is everything they say it is. There was an incident near Omega a few years ago that allowed us to detect one of their vessels for a brief time. But our analysis suggests that it was experiencing some sort of malfunction. When it was resolved the vessel was effectively invisible again."
"We also believe that the humans were responsible for the new plasma weapons and shields that have come onto the market in the Terminus of late. But until Torfan that was only speculation. Rumors and hearsay of a new race appearing and making business deals have increased over the past decade but we dismissed those for the most part as more 'collector' misinformation."
"What sort of deals?" asked the Tevos curiously.
"Apparently this new race was interested in acquiring eezo, military ship hulls and several rare earths in large quantities. They paid for them with the sale of plasma cannons and shields which apparently netted them quite a large amount of credits. But again this is all rumors and speculation and I personally tend to dismiss it."
"Well consider the battle for Torfan. The humans deployed an entire fleet but not a single one of the ships we recorded even vaguely resembled known vessel designs. If they were buying large numbers of hulls then that suggests that they're short of deployable forces and therefore it follows that they would've deployed at least some of those ships for such a major strike."
The three councilors nodded in agreement to the logic of that. "So you're telling us that we know nothing," concluded the turian.
"Yes," replied the administrator simply. "They've gone to a great deal of trouble to remain concealed until this point."
"And how are we supposed to deal with a race that we know nothing about?" asked Turnius rhetorically.
The room was silent for a moment before Tevos spoke. "Let's change that then."
"What do you mean?" asked the salarian councilor.
"Well they've sent expeditions to our space to study us. I think turnabout is fair. We request to send an expedition to this Systems Alliance of theirs. Only when they return do we begin making any decisions about our future relations."
"What makes you think they'll agree to this idea?" asked Turnius.
"Whether they agree or not will tell us something," replied the asari matriarch smugly. "If they do then we gain vital information about their culture and society. If they don't then we still learn something about them; namely that they're insular and distrusting."
"And what about those that we send?" asked Palar. "How can we ensure their safety?"
"Maybe ask that some of their people stay on the Citadel for the duration," suggested the turian.
"As hostages?" replied Tevos in distaste. "That'll only insult them. It would say that we don't trust them and it could sour our relationship for decades. No we'll invite a group of humans to stay on Illium for the duration but their safety won't be conditional on our expedition's. First contact has always been a dangerous undertaking. I'm sure we all remember our experience with the yahg."
"I like this idea," said Palar, "however I suggest we send one of our vessels instead of simply turning over a delegation to the humans. Maybe even send a media team to broadcast from human territory if that should prove feasible."
"Turnius," asked Tevos as she turned to the old general, "we could force this issue but I won't push for this plan without your support."
The hierarch sat quietly for a moment, seemingly deep in thought. Finally he nodded his head before turning to the administrator. "On one condition. I want at least one of the envoys to be a high ranking member of STG."
"Of course," replied the salarian spy. "That goes without saying."
"Good. Then I agree to this proposal."
"Very well. Casadra," said Tevos, turning to her aide, "contact Selera L'Tor on Illium and have her pass on our proposal to the human delegation at the next available opportunity."
"Of course councilor," replied the maiden as she excused herself from the meeting. Already she was preparing her graxbox data for transmission. Cerberus would be able to make great use of her recordings.
Neu Berlin, Reichstag System, Local Cluster
The structure was simply known as The Temple; an imposing ziggurat shaped arcology built at the center of the capitol city of Brandenburg. The name was an allusion to the ancient home of the Knights Templar atop the Temple Mount back in Jerusalem. The building represented the single most fortified position in the entire Frieden Union, a citadel within the center of a city that itself was a fortress. It was from the imposing onyx structure that the Union's true leaders ruled.
Deep within the structure, through countless layers of security sat eleven men. Known as the Council of Payens, the eleven were responsible for charting the course of more than thirty billion men, women and children. However the people were just a means to an end, a convenient resource that they could call on to fight their wars and fill their coffers and like any resource, they were easily discarded whenever it proved necessary.
At the head of the table sat the Grand Master. Well into his eighties, he was one of the longest standing members of the Templars and the grandson of one of the organizations founders, the man that had held the Nanite detonator that had destroyed Tehran almost a century earlier.
"So the Alliance has made first contact with the Citadel," he spoke, a low growl underlining his hatred.
"Indeed," spoke another, this one in his late sixties. "Our contacts on Omega also report a possible contact between Aria T'Loak and a Cerberus operative however we have no confirmation as of this point."
"They're moving quickly," spoke a third. "They seek to cut us off from our resources."
"That cannot be allowed," replied the second. "Our resource base still hasn't recovered from the war."
"It will be necessary to resume hostiles in the near future," declared the master. "It is all part of the plan."
"I was a brilliant stoke I have to admit," said the second. "Instigating an attack on one of the Traverse colonies as a way to draw the Alliance fleet out of the Local Cluster."
"And all it took was a rumor of prothean artifacts and a few amplified radio signals," chuckled the third. "I always knew the Ha'rasa Syndicate was too stupid to live. And it did tie up a loose end quite nicely."
"They captured Enton Malar," commented another, this one a well-dressed young man at the bottom of the table.
"What do you mean?" asked the second, a note of fear in his voice.
"Exactly what I said," replied Jack Harper, head of Frieden Intelligence. "General Williams forced her into surrender towards the end of the battle. I imagine Cerberus is interrogating her as we speak; assuming they haven't already gotten what they wanted."
"It doesn't matter," dismissed the third. "Our dealings were with Balor, not his harlot second. And he died along with his ship. Although in the future," he continued, turning a glare to the second, "I think it would be best if you procured your 'merchandise' from local sources."
"Enough," commanded the master. He had never been one to indulge in the more risqué benefits of his station. "What is the status of the upgrades to our fleet?"
"They're proceeding apace," replied Harper with a grin. "We should have the new weapons installed on approximately one-fifth of our fleet within six months."
"That will have to be enough," replied the master with a frown. "I must commend you on developing these new armaments. You will be suitably rewarded for your actions."
"I am honored master," replied Harper, hiding his disgust for those around him behind a mask of fawning deference. He was biding his time for an opportunity to dispose of these pathetic old men; stuck in the past and clouded by fanaticism. When they were gone he would claim the title of Grand Master for himself, leading the Frieden Union into the future and erasing the Alliance and their Cerberus backers from the galaxy.
He was thankful to his ally, the great ship he'd encountered in the Terminus years earlier. It had promised to help him further his plans in exchange for his help in destroying the Alliance. How it had learned of the Alliance was immaterial. Their elimination would serve the greater good of humanity.
As the meeting broke he made plans to contact his friend. Nazara would need to know of the new timetable.