The Sword of Humanity
Commander John Shepard hated waking up in subspace.
Truth be told, he hated knowing he had gone to bed the night before, dreamt, and could hold no visual recollection of what he had dreamt about. He knew it was for his own good. PTSD patients showed clear signs of improvement, when the causes of their sicknesses were literally slammed in the corner of their own brains with a mixture of pills and therapy sessions.
He still hated waking up in subspace, because subspace was wrong to him.
The Solforce ships closed all possible views of the exterior with blast shields that usually came down only during battles. Implicitly, every Commander worth his salt knew to close the blast shields if he or she wanted to avoid having the entire crew rebelling.
Specters weren't a pretty view in the subspace. What with their gazes and their hateful whispers and moans…not that they could actually whisper. Specters couldn't do much —just tear your soul apart as if they were spoiled children and you were the candy— but what they could do was unnerve you to the point where you'd rather take a gun and shoot your own head, rather than let them win.
Some speculated the Leviathan-01 had been stolen by them.
Others claimed that being taken was as good as becoming one of them in the long run.
In the end, as long as the blast shields were down, nobody cared.
The little thing everyone knew, but like him chose to refuse to acknowledge was that blast shields were useless in avoiding the Specters. If the things could actually sense them, or see them…
Then they would pass through the thick steel plates and claim their lives. Reinforced sections or not, nothing but energy could harm those foul eldritch things.
His digital clock still showed him the local Earth time of 3:23 A.M. He could try and catch some more wink eye, but he knew he'd just fall into the usual cycle of sleep-erase the nightmare-wake up again to see the sun rising at four in the morning.
Metaphorically speaking, of course.
"EDI?" he queried to the ship. Well, the Slave-Ai that belonged within the ship. "Who's awake?"
"Flight Lieutenant Moreau is awake and discussing Salarian sleep-cycles with Corporal Jenkins. They are…cracking jokes."
"Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko is currently visiting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karin Chawkas for nightly migraines."
John closed his eyes for a moment, before exhaling out the breath he had been holding in his throat.
"Someone who is alone?"
"Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams is composing a message to her family. The message is being scanned and found to contain no traces of compromising information for the Solforce system."
"Maybe someone alone and not busy?" he added then.
"We are sorry John: there is no-one that matches said profile. I am however free with some sub-routines in case you desire a Chess game."
"No thanks EDI," John replied. "I'll feed the fishes or the hamster."
The Commanding Officer's room was, in a single word, cramped.
The five per five meters cubicle was more than what anyone else on the Dreadnought had as personal space, so he wasn't really complaining. His bed occupied a corner, the other side of the wall holding a small aquarium with a delicate breed of Goldfishes.
A 'breed' that could survive nuclear fallout, a lack of food for three months, and even some of the worst sicknesses that could be taken as an animal species. What was amusing was that they still held the uncanny ability to appear in the mornings with their stomachs flipped upside down and dead.
It had to be something within their very genetic code: goldfishes always died when you weren't watching them.
He had a veritable swarm of them, the only other privilege of the Commanding Officer. The upper echelons of Solforce supposed that having the lives of other a thousand men on your shoulders was enough of a reason to grant some…company, to the men or women serving as their Officers.
"Broadside, Shotgun, Rifle," he began tapping gently on the glass panel in the spot of every single one of the goldfishes, as he spoke their names with fondness. "Grenade, Gauss Cannon, Mass Driver, X-Ray, Rocket Launcher and Machinegun," he finished satisfied with himself. "You all ready for your fill, boys?"
The fact none answered back to him didn't bother John.
He hadn't wanted to buy the talking breed of fishes because constantly hearing 'hungry' or 'I pooped' lowered his…his fascination in them.
The moment the automated feeding system began to work, he turned to head towards his private shower. He knew that by the time he would actually emerge for breakfast, the rest of the troops would be either running for the ship's showers or running their exercises in the Virtual Reality modules.
There wasn't much else to do while in Subspace.
No contacts with the outside, no way to know whether they'd end up in a pacified system or a warring one. Still, serving on the Vacuum forces didn't mean having only quite a bit of downtime for the soldiers —it also meant having to spend much of the time inside the Cryo-units. The ground forces always were on rotations. Every week, a team de-froze as another entered the sleep.
In case of boarding attempt, they would all be unfrozen, but otherwise having over eight-hundred men and women running around a two-hundred seventy-nine meter long ship wasn't really the ideal thing. Sure, the ship was also forty-three meters wide and fifty-two tall, but it didn't change the fact that sometimes…you just needed the space.
He walked out in his Solforce Uniform, with the black short mantle on the back of his red suit. His medals chinked one against the other on his chest, the ceremonial sword hanging loosely at his belt. His left gloved hand held over the sword as he passed through the corridors and the hallways towards the forward command bridge.
"Commander on deck!" one of the attendants snapped as he walked through the hydraulic-operated doors, standing to attention.
The rest of the deck's officers and operatives saluted a second later.
"At ease," he remarked.
The Command deck was rectangular in shape, with soft curvaceous lines rather than angular spots where the sides connected. Various holographic depictions of the space around the Dreadnought as well as data charts containing the percentage of functionality of the sub-systems of the ship all appeared in front of Shepard as he sat down, on the slightly raised surface at the center of the deck. His right hand was on the palm shelf of the Commander's chair, his fingers nimbly working through the program.
EDI's holographic appearance sprouted to 'life' on his left palm shelf, her blue color unexpectedly bright for the moment.
"Commander, we will be passing by the Subspace buoy within five minutes. You may compose a brief message to be sent."
"All right Edi," John said, his eyes closing as he brought up a thoughtful face.
They couldn't receive communications because of the speed at which they were going through space, but sending brief intermittent signals was a possibility. Of course it had to be in Morse code, and the privilege was Commander-only, but it was needed to know where the Dreadnought was in Subspace, and how long it would be before they could reach their planet.
"Three minutes to com buoy," Edi remarked all too quickly for his tastes.
John breathed slowly, before composing the message.
Dreadnought Deep Darkness requests updates on crew's families upon arrival.
It was the official request every Commander sent, time and time again, to make sure the crew had the chance to discover if something had happened to their beloved ones.
Every time, someone would start laughing in joy at his parents having successfully evacuated from an attacked colony. Every time, someone else would scream his frustration at not knowing where his MIA relative was.
Every single time, someone would start crying for the loss of his family, torn apart by Liir torpedoes, enslaved by the Zuul, disassembled by the Loa, eaten by the Hivers, shredded by the Tarka or vaporized by the Morrigi. Every time, a tough and gruff marine would clench his fists and soldier on.
It didn't make the job or the request any lighter however.
"You know Commander, my sister on colony Tiptree is convinced you should send me home for Christmas," Joker remarked from his position. "She menaced to write you, so if by chance you get something of her, well her name's Hillary so maybe you could be nice?"
"I'll think about it Lieutenant," John said as his lips twitched slightly in amusement.
"Message sent," Edi piped in. "Next com buoy is at twenty-nine hours."
"So, you doing anything tonight Commander?" Jeff sarcastically drawled out. "Or are you finally ready for Poker night?"
"The commander can't play Jeff, and I hope you're following my advice and not betting money or rations."
"Nah commander! We're working with candy bars."
"Yeah, the pot's a sugar pill, the highest bid is with something made of chocolate and the lowest one is with mints. Two mints make a high bid. We start with eight mints and three chocolate things."
"I suppose you don't play every night."
"Once a week commander, we restock in every colony. It's all in the resupply manifesto!" he quickly added. "And I mean, we can't get drunk because we're 'technically' on duty since the Zuul found out how to intercept us in mid-flight, but we have to bet on something and if alcohol's out…"
"You aren't making a compelling argument, Jeff." John sighed as he shook his head slowly.
"Oh come on Commander! You'd have fun if only you tried once!" Corporal Jenkins exclaimed. "I mean— I'll end up in the fridge tomorrow, I'd like to be able to tell my grandchildren that I wiped the floor with my Commander at least once!"
"You're too green behind your ears to make these boasts Leeroy," Jeff muttered loud enough to be heard through all of the command deck. "You'd have to beat me first."
"That's the easy part," John chuckled. "If you play poker as well as you play chess, I should just requisition your sweets to begin with."
"That's not my fault! It's Edi who's damn good at the game!"
"I am an Artificial Intelligence. If I could not logically determine the entire possible move-pattern of your pieces I could not be considered 'intelligent'."
"Did the Ai just call me stupid?"
"I surely did not call you intelligent, Lieutenant Moreau."
"Are we sure she isn't unshackled?" Jeff asked again.
"If she were, I doubt we'd still be breathing," John pointed out. "That's the same reason everyone aboard has the codes to terminate the AI, rather than leave them to the Commander's knowledge alone. Two key words and Edi here will bite the dust."
"I cannot bite solid molecules, Commander."
"It was a metaphor, Edi," Jeff rolled his eyes.
Liara T'soni was nervous. She should have been at the dig site in Therum, rather than standing idly by at the Citadel's docks with an over-talkative Spectre.
"And then Nihlus told me I had the damn best aim since Saren, you know?" was the Turian's name Garrus-something? She supposed it had to be, since he was still speaking. "He said, 'Garrus, my boy, if you keep this up you'll get Spectre status in no-time' and here I am. Escorting an important diplomat to—"
"I'm afraid you have been misinformed," she replied startled. "I'm just an archaeologist, my mother is the diplomat."
"I know that," Garrus chuckled lightly. "But the Council believes that this is the best shot they'll get at cracking open the Solforce enigma."
"I have enough in my hands with the Prothean relics, and I'm not spy material!" she bit her lips while crossing her arms over her chest. Her right leg moved slightly behind her left one. "Maybe I shouldn't have accepted."
"Too late now I suppose," Garrus remarked as he pointed to a crowd forming in a corner. The vast bulk of it was made of C-sec officers cordoning the area as a mixed group of alien species were curiously waiting at the emptying dock —since C-sec was asking everyone else to leave the area.
"We don't want a repeat to the Batarian accident," Garrus supplied seeing her frightened face. "It's been years, and yet many don't even know the face of a Human. Personally, I think they've got four eyes like the Batarians," he whispered confidentially. "And a set of tentacles like the Hanar, followed by Turian scales and a Krogan's hunchback."
She imagined them and chuckled. Liara had been told they resembled the Asari, albeit their skin was white or dark, sometimes yellowish but generally not in the spectrum of colors that belonged to the other alien species. The dock's overseer voice echoed through the now empty area —barring her and the Spectre.
"Attention, Unidentified Human Vessel landing shuttle at Dock Four, please all unauthorized personnel are to leave the area."
"Here they come," Garrus whispered beneath his breath.
"This tension is killing me," Liara whined as she skipped from foot to foot, opening and closing her sweaty palm at the same time.
A sleek-looking white thing, with a double-W shape, came into view beyond the gravitational area of the Citadel. It seemed to be armed, and as it silently docked against the metal magnet of the port, Liara's breath hitched.
The magnet rotated slightly, before lowering the shuttle on the helipad nearby. The magnet detached itself then, the metallic arm resuming its 'at rest' place as the doors of the shuttle opened at the same time.
She had expected a male or a female of the human species to come and meet her. Maybe they would have held some sort of frown on their face. Maybe they would have had some crude words for her or things like that. She doubted the stories on Extranet of humans eating Salarian and Asari's inner organs were real. They certainly had to be spook tales born of ignorance.
Fifty armored humanoid-figured things descended from the shuttle, rifles at rest in their arms as they ran to the sides of the metal walkaway. They stood to attention as a man wearing a crimson uniform filled with medals began to walk out of the shuttle, a black mantle that reached the middle of his back was fluttering in the wind of the dying engines of their shuttle, his dark hair and eyes reminding her of the Asari's crests, albeit more…fluid-looking.
He had pinkish skin and seemed even small compared to the armed corps. Some of the armed guards held clearly feminine figures in their armors, and yet stood shoulder to shoulder with the males, some even taller than them. There was silence as the only thing Liara T'soni heard was the erratic beating of her heart as her mouth stood slightly ajar.
"You're going to catch a Hanar's tentacle if you keep your mouth open," Garrus teased right next to her. She sheepishly closed her mouth, and then looked embarrassed as she had no idea what to do now. She felt like being in charge of a first contact meeting. What did she have to do now? The human seemed to be looking at both of them with slightly narrowed eyes, clearly in distrust.
"Liara T'soni?" his voice was, for lack of a better adjective, a mixture of the Krogans deepness and the Asari's strength. She felt weak.
She felt insignificant.
Garrus gently nudged his elbow into her side, which made her stammer out a quite more-chirper-than-intended reply.
"Yes! It's me! Liara's my name!"
There was silence for another moment. Then the human turned to the Turian, the distaste now clearly visible on his face.
"Is she brain damaged?"
That actually hurt.
"I'm not brain damaged!" she snapped back at the rude human. "I'm perfectly and one-hundred percent functional."
"Then where are your things?" the human remarked once more, his eyes scanning her immediate surroundings. "You have everything on your… person?"
She didn't believe someone could make the word 'person' sound so…insulting, but apparently humans could. She scowled, her arms tightening around her as she crossed them over her chest and huffed. "I have everything checked in with the docking patrols. They would have already been loading them in your shuttle, if you had—"
"No. We will check through your stuff and what we deem safe will be what you will bring aboard. You are to deliver your Omni-Tool also."
"W-What? I wasn't informed on this!" she stammered. Would these…humans go through her clothes? Her…her private things!? And even the Omni-Tool? That was savagery! That wasn't possible, surely the Spectre wouldn't…
"Concerning that," the Turian to her side spoke. "We knew how difficult you'd make this joint operation, so the Council already prepared her luggage." Garrus then produced a handbag. A plain white handbag with nothing more than her name on one side of it.
Suddenly, she felt much violated and far less on the 'nervous' scale…while more on the outright frightened.
"Standard issue?" John muttered, grabbing the handbag and opening it. There was a toothbrush. There was a…a handkerchief. There was an old Extranet-less old Omni-Tool that could probably be used only as a note writer and maybe a calculator. There was some mint flavored toothpaste.
She didn't know whether they really believed she would spend three weeks cooped into their ships with only that much or if they were playing a prank on her.
"Ah…ah…" she chuckled nervously. "This is a joke right? It's not funny."
"This is no joke Miss T'soni," the man in front of her spoke. "We cannot risk our technology to be stolen."
"I'm not going to steal it by the Goddess!" she yelled. "I just want to have my luggage aboard! Is that really that big of a deal!? What is wrong with you!?"
Her biotics were flaring —something that would be scoffed on by the other Asari, and yet the answer of the man was much more…bland.
"She wasn't told?"
"The Council thought that she would refuse, if she were to know."
"What?" Liara's voice was now barely a whisper. "I'm not going! You can't force me. This is too much! It's too much! Send someone else! Someone who…"
"She's the only one approved for this," the man spoke again. "One hundred and six years old, barely past being a child by Asari age, biotics not as strong as a Matron or a trained operative of the Asari Commando. Daughter of Matriarch Benezia so she will make for an excellent hostage should the Council decide to infringe on any of our laws while she is in our space…and we will not hand back the planets granted to us."
"What…What are you talking about?" Liara's voice now lost all semblance of reason. "This isn't just an expedition in human space because of a Prothean relic, is it?" she turned to the Spectre. "What am I? A slave to be traded?"
"I'm sorry," Garrus lowered his gaze for a moment. "It is highly classified information by the council."
"It isn't in Solforce," the man spoke once more. "You want to know?" his eyes locked into hers, and there was some sort of amusement as the lips quirked upwards in the human's face. Was he really having fun seeing her terrorized form? Seeing her squirm under his gaze?
"Commander, this is improper," Garrus' voice was barely a whisper now. "There are still people who could overhear."
"Then shot them down," the human shrugged. "They're your civilians, not ours."
Somehow, those words made Liara feel extremely cold.
"We have wasted enough time," the human snapped back again. "Either she comes or not, that shuttle leaves in five minutes. She can be aboard or she can stay here. That is all."
The human then turned around, his mantle swooshing as he began to walk back upon the metal walkaway and towards the shuttle. The rest of the armored humans followed quickly, all mechanically precise as they left.
"Listen," the Spectre's voice was in a hurry by then. "You have to go. It's important —really important."
"Why?" she whispered with what little strength she still felt in her muscles.
"Because we need anything we can get on them. Even the composition of their cells for holding prisoners is important to the Council now."
"But why?" she pressed on. She couldn't understand. Why send her? Why not a Turian or a Salarian? Why not a Batarian for all their love of—
"Batarian slavers attacked a human colony three years ago," Garrus spoke softly. "Two weeks later, the entire Hegemony pleaded the council to make the humans stop. We couldn't, and all life in half of the Batarian Hegemony was exterminated. Humanity doesn't play for keeps. It plays for genocide."
"But…I didn't hear of any of this!" she hissed between her teeth.
"That's because if it comes out, we would have massive panic! Think about a race that could wipe out the Turian's prime fleet standing just on the Asari's borders! How would you feel!?"
Comprehension dawned on her as she gasped, a hand moving to her mouth.
"The…the fleet wasn't decommissioned?"
"That was our first contact with Humanity," the Turian whispered. "We don't want another carnage. So please, just go."
She closed her eyes and inhaled sharply, trying to calm down her erratically beating heart.
Humanity wasn't just another race in space that preferred independence to joining the Council. Humanity was a race capable of defeating the prime fleet of the Turians.
This wasn't a diplomatic mission for unity. It was a display of strength and hostage exchange.
The Council was a vassal to Solforce.
The chill that travelled down her spine as she reached for the shuttle, and as she climbed aboard only to find the only free spot in front of the rude man…that chill told her that maybe she simply shouldn't have gotten out of bed, shouldn't have answered the door and shouldn't have left the dig site on Therum.
Then, maybe, she wouldn't be imprisoned in a small and cramped place while staring at the extreme rude human who was seemingly trying to debate something with himself as the shuttle's doors closed.
"I am Commander Shepard of the Solforce Vacuum Forces," he spoke calmly —his hands clasped as the shuttle lifted off and departed with a slight shake. "And on my ship, my word is law. Are we clear?"
"Y-Yes," she croaked out. Why had she accepted? Maybe she could still fall off the shuttle, plummet to death and all…
"Good," and then the human nodded.
The armored human on her side slammed something against the side of her neck —a needle?
And then her eyes rolled over as she lost consciousness.
"Then sleep, alien."
Garrus is a Spectre.
Liara is in for a rough ride.
Shepard is Xenophobic.
The Council handed over a political hostage.
Humanity has the possibility to destroy the Council races, but doesn't.
Happiness is abundant!