Swearing, Shepard leaned into the pilot area. "Ripples, you heard?"
Yes. Preparing for combat maneuvers or escape. What is our battle song? His handling tentacles danced over the controls, thrusters coming to life.
"Fuck. I don't want to leave that poor alien alone with a yahg, even if it'll take them days to get through that blockage to him." She shook her head. "Porridge! How's the crushing device?"
"If we're going to use it, we have to be stationary, and as close to the spot you want me to disrupt as possible," she said, swearing as the machine began vibrating with their liftoff. "Hold it down! One bolt is not good enough!" Popping the other fastener into her mouth, she bit down on the steel, maintaining a grimace as she, Memory, and Taryn all fought to keep it in place long enough to bolt in place.
"Yahg ETA is about three minutes," Taryn said, glancing at his omni. "Most likely, some of them will start shooting at us, so that the rest can enter the cavern."
"They've got a damn frigate. We've got a shuttle. They start shooting, we're all going to die." Shepard yanked open the heavy weapon locker, pulling out a missile launcher. "This isn't going to do much more than scratch their paint."
We can evade them, Ripples declared, but the faint thread of yellow ice in his voice belied his own uncertainty.
"We've got to try. That thing ready?"
Porridge looked up from the controls. "Here goes nothing."
Before she could hit the activation button, the shuttle lurched, zooming upwards nearly fifty meters before leveling out. Local gravity changed, Ripples said, and he even screeched verbally at the controls as they started to slide laterally above the cliff.
"Paalkoris," Shepard said into her omni, setting it to broadcast, "please, let us at least try and defend you."
"I must speak with the yahg, as much as I have with you. I am not worried about my fate. I understand their psychology better than you." The channel fell silent for a moment, before he uttered something in that lilting, musical language. Then it cut out completely.
"What now?" Taryn asked.
She stared out the door. The yahg frigate had been grounded, almost two kilometers from the tunnel entrance. From the gouge in the rock, they probably weren't happy about the landing, either. No one had exited yet, but it was only a matter of time. It would still take them hours, maybe days, to get through that last narrow blockage, but they would reach that lone quarian, and once he admitted to selling out their colonies, they'd probably break open his stasis pod and eat him.
Hefting the missile launcher, she sighted down on the dorsal weapons turrets, and cued up armor-penetrating warheads. As the others winced from the backblast, she fired off all twelve explosives before handing it over to Porridge. "Ripples, get us out of here before they decide to shoot back."
Understood, he said, but she managed not to flinch under the prickling caress of his disapproval.
Boprez growled and threatened their vessel as he yanked it in another sharp turn, evading the final missile from the human frigate. Their stealth ships were difficult to spot, not impossible, but the same was fortunately not true of their attacks. "They have failed to strike us," he declared, flexing his talons and trying to ignore the battle-drug loosed into his veins.
"Good," Paragh said. "We will have our revenge later. They have found this Keeper, and we must retrieve as much as we can." He stretched one arm, glancing at the bandage still covering the wound, courtesy of a lucky shot from the lizard sniper. "Morrza! What is down there?"
The scientist snarled from the other chamber, striking the armor plate alongside her terminal and adding a fresh set of scratches. "Synthetics of some kind. Large solar panel area on the surface. The humans descended into a cavern below it. They have not fled yet."
"We can still catch them," Azord said, his own talons scraping filings off the nearest bulkhead. "Make them pay for their treachery on board the station."
"Today, the humans are not our prey," Paragh said. "Just in our way. If we may kill them, so much the better. But we much reach this Keeper."
Kralb shook her head, one eye still regenerating from a shrapnel hit. "This Keeper is not one person. No human, yahg, drell, or even one of their cowardly Singer queens could manage two empires of data alone. It is a group. The humans may have some. We can get others."
"We will see when we arrive," Paragh said.
Before he could say more, the frigate dropped, suddenly enough that the artificial gravity was not enough to keep them all anchored to the deck. Boprez, strapped into his seat, was the only one not affected, as he fought to control their unexplained descent, and largely succeeded.
The impact with the planet sent everyone crashing back onto the deck except Morrza, whose head bounced off the corner of her desk. "Report!" Paragh shouted, the first to regain his feet. "Pilot, what happened?"
"Some kind of major gravity well, artificial," he said. "It almost shattered our ship."
"But we can still take off?"
Boprez looked at all the indigo warning lights. "Yes, if the humans leave us alone. Otherwise they'll crack us like an egg before we reach orbit."
Their leader snarled, whirling around. Ordek was bent over Morrza, prying open her other three eyes and examining them. "She's in a fugue. That field felt like a biotic burn, and she suffered a head thump along with it."
"Leave her here, we have no time for coddling," Paragh said. A series of thumps echoed through the hull. "Now what?"
"Small explosives from the human shuttle. Dorsal lasers are disabled," Boprez growled.
"How far are we from the Keeper?"
The others all glanced nervously around, before Boprez pulled a map onto the main display. "We are the orange x. The Keeper is the green circle, and that x is where the humans emerged. The blue box leaving the screen is their shuttle, fleeing."
Paragh paced back and forth for a moment, studying the terrain. "Armor on, all weapons. Ordek, remain here, protect our vessel and begin what repairs you can. Kralb, Azord, Boprez, with me."
It took only a few minutes to get armor in place, air systems pumping. Boprez took extra time examining his needle gun; he preferred to shoot down humans and drell from the comfort of his pilot seat, not face them in person. There was no telling what this Keeper was, and his weapons commands would be an hour walk away, across broken terrain.
Azord was put into the lead, with Paragh guarding their rear. From orbit, the surface looked deceptively flat and even, but the gravity of the nearby brown dwarf, even more than the planet this moon orbited, pulled and tugged on the surface, rising it up into jagged, wave-like protrusions. Boprez watched their left flank, but nothing moved, no shadows or signs of this Keeper organization. Halfway there, he risked a glance the other way. "How sure are you of their numbers?" he asked.
"The Imperium produces enough records to fill the Emperor's Palace daily if they were scribed as in the old days. The humans somehow make a thousand times that, most of it feeble entertainment and pointless self-indulgences," Kralb answered. "Even with data-mining programs, one day of information takes forty palace scribes to understand and condense to being understandable for the Emperor. How the humans manage is beyond me."
Paragh growled wordlessly, and they shut up again, continuing their slow bound across the weak gravity of the moon. Only the warriors, who actually practiced for combat in all kinds of conditions, were used to this, and Azord was constantly having to stop and wait lest he outpace the rest of their group.
At long length, they reached the edge of the canyon. At this point, it was only ten meters tall – easily jumpable in this gravity, so one at a time, they jumped down. The tunnel was another quarter kilometer down, and the marks of the shuttle's landing gear were still fresh and sharp where it dug into the canyon floor. They stood and waited, Boprez staring into the inky depths of the tunnel.
"Azord, boost," Paragh said. As Boprez watched, the smaller warrior set aside his heavy rifle and braced both feet in the rough gravel of the canyon, linking his hands together. Two running steps put Paragh's foot into his hands, and he heaved upward even as their leader jumped.
Combined with the low gravity, he soared to the top of the canyon, gripping the edge and clambering to the top, all without letting go of his rifle. Long seconds passed as the other three waited below, Azord watching the canyon to each side while Boprez and Kralb stared up at their leader. Eventually satisfied, he came sliding down the steep rock wall, stones clattering and flying in his wake. "There are no defenses on the surface," he declared.
"Is that not good? Defenseless prey?" Kralb asked, starting to put away her gun.
"No, it means they are hiding their protection," he said. "Keep ready. Azord, rear." Flicking on his light, he stepped into the tunnel, moving cautiously, frequently poking at the stone floor with his rifle before risking a step on it. Two narrow spots nearly defeated them, Paragh only making it through with the others pushing and, in one case, Boprez slipping past to pull, to get him through the obstructions.
The last narrowing defeated them, however. Even the pilot, wiry as he was, doubted he would fit. Paragh paced three small steps back and forth for a minute, finally attacking the obstruction with his arm blade, leaving gouges in the rock but failing to dislodge anything. "How did they get anyone out of that?" he demanded.
Kralb stepped around him, climbing partway up and shining her light around. "They had Singers. This route is sized for a human or a drell, even better for a Singer. If there are yahg among the Keeper, they are still inside."
"I bet Boprez could fit," Azord said. "He's scrawny like a human."
"I'll remember that next time I'm deciding how to evade human missiles," he retorted.
"Boprez, squeeze up there. See if you can get in," Paragh ordered.
Grimly, remembering the fate of Ozdar, the third warrior who had lasted all of two days before challenging for leadership and losing, the pilot pushed Kralb out of the way and scrambled at the rough slope, managing just barely to fit into the edge of the narrow, flat tunnel. "What if I get stuck?" he asked.
"When the ship is repaired, we are returning. Unlike the humans, I am not leaving anything behind," Paragh said. "We'll get your corpse out when we get a chance."
Snarling at the joke, Boprez nevertheless began crawling forward, pulling himself along one handspan at a time. Yahg bodies weren't built for crawling, they had been designed for vicious fights, and occasionally climbing to drop on unwary prey from above. Usually that prey was other yahg, naturally. They didn't hunt through tunnels, they collected boiling water and flooded vermin holes, eating whatever came floating to the top. Or dug them out.
On the other hand, refusing Paragh has a guarantee of short, painful death at his teeth, he reminded himself, while this tunnel still holds a slight chance of my survival. He grunted as he pulled forward, finding himself face to face with a robotic servant, crushed in the debris. Weird thing this is.
"Kralb, I have a visual for you," he declared, holding his video pickup steady. "Is this Alliance make?"
"No," she finally declared. "There's a cache of machines like that we found, almost on the edge of the galaxy, all of them shut down, starved of power."
Now he had visions of some ancient tomb, except instead of a vengeful deposed emperor buried alive, it was hordes of robots from before the galactic extinction, all of them bent on supremacy for a race dead centuries ago. But, remembering the sound and smell of Ozdar's demise, he continued forward, one handspan at a time.
When the tunnel ended in front of him, he panicked for a moment, flailing at the drop-off with his hand before realizing what it meant. Berating himself, and not realizing he was still broadcasting, he pulled himself out of the tunnel, rolling down the slope on the other side and catching himself on his feet, weapon still in his right hand.
When he saw the first intact synthetic, he started raising it. By the time he finished aiming it, he noticed the other ten. He still almost pulled the trigger – he was still yahg, even if he wasn't warrior-caste – when the other other ten stepped out from the stacks of crates. All of their weapons were unfamiliar to him, but were similar enough to Alliance weapons that he was reasonably certain of the outcome.
"Place your weapon on the ground," one of them ordered. "You may retrieve it when you leave."
He stared at it for a moment. Sure, Kralb said that the Keeper – who must control these machines somehow – had been accessing all of the Imperium's data for centuries, but it was still odd to hear guttural, scientist-caste-accented language coming from it. For all that he didn't like the gun, it was awfully comforting in his hands right then, but he still slowly lowered it, putting the muzzle tip on the floor and letting the grip fall from his hand.
"Follow us," the same one said. It turned around, moving with a grating noise with every left footstep, and he followed, twenty guns or more pointed at him at all times. Every time he thought the crates would block the lines of fire, some of the damned machines climbed atop them, or were already there when he shined his light around.
When they emerged from the crates, he stopped in shock. Two ranks, of at least fifty synthetics each, stood to either side, weapons pointed at him. Hundreds more lay, scattered around data cylinders across the cavern. The one leading him did not slow, so he hurried to catch up. The machines were wearing out, falling apart, that much was obvious. Paragh probably would have attacked anyway, but the ornery warrior regenerated better than he did. So he kept walking, looking around to all sides and gathering as much information as possible.
When they stopped, the data cylinders were behind, and a row of body chambers lay before, the kind reserved for the dregs of yahg society, the kind that no one would sully their teeth with. Humans did something like that for their dead, but why waste perfectly good meat, unless there was something wrong with the body that meat came from? The machine stopped next to the only one with lights on and connected itself.
"If case you're considering violence, or wondering how I taste, this cavern has two gigaton fusion warheads beneath it," the thing said, in a different voice this time, one that sounded almost human. Same kind of atrocious accent as the ones who spoke without a translator. "When I die, they will detonate. That would destroy your frigate entirely."
Boprez said nothing, not sure if it even wanted a response, but he did get close enough to glance in one of the deactive ones, staring at the wrinkled, shrunken gray body. Eww, he thought. "You're here because someone in the Imperium needs to know," it continued, and he looked back towards the synthetic. "Your little force might actually get the Emperor to do something about it."
"About what?" he asked.
"We called them Reapers. Machines, synthetics larger than the Emperor's dreadnaught. Every fifty thousand years or so, they emerge, returning from somewhere outside the galaxy, to destroy every organic species that has reached space."
That sounded ridiculous to him. Maybe Kralb or Morrza would make better sense of it. "Alright, so what? We'll kill them and eat them."
"If they came back tomorrow, you would kill some of them, but your Imperium would die. All of them. They do not tire, they cannot be distracted or bargained with, and they want only your annihilation." The robot, unlike any organic orator, stood utterly still, and he found he was expecting some kind of dynamic movement – gnashing of teeth, sharpening of claws, even a human slave's hand-waving. "Do you understand?"
His eyes narrowed, and he stepped closer to the active pod. The ones holding guns didn't move, having kept their guns trained on him the whole time. "You want to tell us we're doomed?"
"No. I have information about how they fight. What their weaknesses are. They are not the Alliance, and you cannot fight a Reaper as though it was. You will receive data disks and be allowed to leave. Any yahg returning will be killed."
Boprez wanted to complain about that. But he was pilot, not warrior. He couldn't take on hundreds of machines by himself, and he didn't have the speech training of Morrza, nor her biotics. "If we come back with questions, I expect answers," he demanded, doing his best to imitate Paragh.
"If you have questions, take them to Omega and pay, as always," it said. Before he could formulate another response, the synthetic disconnected the cable, and began walking again. Lacking any other course of action (except getting shot and killed, he thought bitterly), he followed it to one of the data cylinders, making a point of stepping on one of the fallen robots. None of his minders reacted to the intended slight, so he sulked as he accepted the handful of prior-race data disks and slipped them into his armor.
The machine led him back to the exit, standing and watching with gun pointed as he picked up his own weapon, climbing nearly to the tunnel before he realized something. "Why is the gravity higher in the cavern?" he asked.
A moment later, with a lurch that felt like a drive core failure, it wasn't. Much lighter, he pulled and scraped himself back through the blocked tunnel, feeling somewhat superior about having noticed that fact.
Emerging on the other side, he nearly stumbled as Paragh's hand intercepted his slide down the slope. "Let me see the disks," he demanded.
Boprez goggled for a moment, before pulling them out of a pouch on his belt. "Here," he said.
One was promptly slotted into the omni-tool built into the vambrace of the armor. Kralb grabbed a second, likewise putting it in place. "Here is our enemy," Paragh declared. The holo display was filled with an image of the insect-like aliens they had encountered before. "The ones responsible for the culling." He grinned as he turned it off, smile visible through his helmet. "Now we can truly begin to hunt."
"What about the humans? Moon?" Azord asked.
"We'll have other hunts to catch them," Paragh said. "This one keeps us off the Emperor's scrap table."
"Back to the ship, then?" Boprez asked.
"Yes. Fix it, so we can take off." Without another word, their leader started down the tunnel, easily maneuvering in the lowered gravity and leaving Azord to help the other two.
Though Boprez did have a moment of satisfaction, remembering the other narrow tunnel, where he'd have to wait for them to arrive to help him scrap his way through.
On board the Hades, the landing team all gratefully removed their armor, Marines helping the Singers out of their own artificial shells. Moon stood nearby, waiting. "I was watching. Good job down there."
She shrugged. "Wish we could talk those geth into coming with us. It's a waste."
Moon shrugged back at her. "It's their choice. We can't force them. DAIR is probably already putting together an ambassador to come out here and ask them a whole lot of annoying questions."
"Good luck with that." Reaching down, she pulled the data disks out of her armor pocket. "How are we splitting these up?"
"You and I each take one. Give one to Benson, and one to Singh. Each of us has a Singer along as an outside opinion on them." Reaching over, he picked one at random. "Singh was in medbay, and Benson should still be on the bridge."
Shepard raised an eyebrow. "You left her in charge?"
"She's using the big display to update Alliance information about Omega and the Haze. That's been largely her stomping ground for the last ten years. She's not happy about our having to run off. I don't blame her."
"If you say so," she muttered. She started off towards the medbay, then halted, turning towards Ripples. "You want to be my research buddy?"
Certainly. Your quarters? He flexed and bent, getting movement back that their exosuits hindered.
"Let's say an hour. Give us all time to eat and wind down a little bit." She patted his shell as he zipped past her, quickly climbing the wall of the passage and clinging to the pipes overhead as he moved along.
Thus decided, she continued on to the med bay. Crew nodded respectfully as they passed, and she kept to the silent nod. She'd learned the hard way, on her first N7 assignment, just how much wider the gulf was between a random enlisted technician and an N7, than between the same tech and a regular officer. It was the most rewarding thing she'd ever done, going all the way to N7, but sometimes it was the loneliest, too.
In the medbay, Singh was at a terminal, his back to the door, and didn't even look up. One of the corpsmen nodded to her, holding out a datapad. She glanced at it, taking in the realities of Smith's injuries. Damn. Nineteen broken bones, three of which can't be healed by a regenerator. Unknown toxins in two injuries, likely from specialized yahg roungs. Had to amputate his left foot, not enough left for regeneration and medigel. She glanced at the curtained-off bed. Still could have been worse.
She handed the datapad back with a tiny, professional smile, and moved to the curtain, glancing in. He looked more alive than he had in the elevator, but smaller, too. "He'll be asleep for another two days," Singh said behind her. Letting the curtain drop, she turned around. "Induced coma, helps speed the tissue and bone regeneration. Once he gets used to the prosthetic, he'll be back on duty, if he wants to."
She pulled up a chair, noting how his face hadn't left the display. "Having second thoughts?"
"About becoming N7? Not really. About our odds of success at this madness, maybe. We, eight of us, just took on a gang whose membership numbers in the tens of thousands. By ourselves." At this, he finally glanced up. "I'm surprised that no one else died."
"I'm used to the Dead Zone. It's quieter out there, but not without perils. Pirates, corporate raiders looking for tech, yahg raiders looking for tech, and a lot of places booby-trapped down to the damn chairs." She thumped her armchair for emphasis. "Nearly got stabbed in the ass by a depleted uranium shiv hidden in a cushion, but thankfully I hadn't taken off my armor."
He stared back at the screen, looking more through it than at it, she thought. "So you've lost people before."
"I've got artificial inner ears, one kidney, and both kneecaps. I've had to bury Marines, and even noncombatants." She patted him on the shoulder. "You haven't?"
He shook his head, smiling thinly. "I've been science track my whole career. Mostly we don't end up on the front lines. I've had friends who died, but … never on my missions." Closing his eyes, he put both palms flat on the desk, breathed in deeply, and let it out again. "I'll be fine. I heard you found some interesting stuff."
She held up the three remaining data disks in her hand. "Pick one, and get one of the Singers to ride shotgun in your eyes for extra viewpoint."
"Intriguing," Singh said, grabbing the middle one. "I'll have at least a preliminary by oh eight tomorrow."
"Good." Sighing, Shepard stood up. "I've got to give one of these to Benson, and get something to eat before Ripples and I tackle the last one."
"I wish us all luck, then," he said.
The bridge was quiet, Moon back at the command seat, Benson sitting in Shepard's normal chair as she edited three reports seemingly simultaneously. Markers flashed on a holographic map of Omega. "Did you need the seat, Shep?"
"No, just came up here with your homework," she replied, holding out the two disks. "Pick one, and a Singer, give Moon and I a prelim tomorrow morning."
Benson studied them through her bangs for half a second. "Sure. Just drop one, I'll get to it in an hour or so." Shepard watched her for a moment longer before setting down one disk on the edge, and in between sentences Benson's hand snatched it up and vanished it into a pocket.
She swung by the galley, getting a sandwich and a bottle of water before retiring to her quarters, sorting through her mail and glancing over a few shipboard reports while she ate. The door admitted Ripples automatically, and she waved him over. "Any guesses about what we'll find?"
Moon already scanned the derelict, caught in the grip of the brown dwarf. They are … His mental voice faded off, into oily black smoke and vibrato bass fear. By appearance, one could hold off a battlegroup. Ten, a fleet.
"Things aren't always what they appear, right?" She thumped his carapace lightly. "Like Skyllian Five."
May we never face another drug dealing planetary governor again, he said, resting one pedipalp on her hand. Let us begin.
She slid the disk into her desk, the multi-reader quickly adapting to the format and opening a list of files. She could feel Ripples in her head, watching behind her eyes, taking in the greater color range, the sharper focus of the holo display. "Sometimes I wonder how you learned to pilot," she said, deciding to tackle the files in alphanumeric order.
With great practice, and many failed simulations, he chuckled.
The first file opened, a video of one of the Reapers. A ship, resembling nothing so much as a dismembered, black hand, red beams reaching out from the palm. Where it struck, the ship simply disintegrated. The opposing fleet looked imposing, sharp and angular, like a fleet of arrowheads in space, thousands strong.
They failed to kill a single Reaper. Five of those monsters destroyed all but a handful, ships who fled, leaving their compatriots to die as they panicked and ran. His horror was deep in her mind as they watched, thick and choking, minor chords scraping off into cacophony.
The second file detailed the combat capabilities of both sides. For all their thousand ships, these 'turians' (the spiky ones) barely had the destructive ability of a single Alliance battlegroup, and their defenses were laughable. They fought, and they died, like trying to douse a bonfire with a hand-size water pistol.
They spent greater time examining the data on the Reaper weapons themselves. Nasty, she thought, watching in slow motion as one carved a space station in half. Even Alliance shields won't hold up to multiple hits from that.
Our ships are stronger than theirs, but not strong enough, Ripples agreed. They would hurt, even die, but not fast enough.
Three hours passed, as they watched the destruction of each major fleet that existed in the galaxy. Even her favorites, the asari, managed only a single kill before succumbing to their deaths. And these Reapers weren't fighting alone, they had contingents of geth ships along, letting those synthetics swarm the smaller ships, killing them with a thousand stings. She judged the Reaper's attitude was, "After all, they're only synthetics," both amazingly hypocritical and somewhat logical. Surely the geth had repopulated their numbers faster than any organic race, as they never seemed to decrease in numbers. But at the same time, she wondered how they felt about sending fellow synthetics to their deaths.
Timelines detailed the fall of every major system, as the Reapers landed, somehow brainwashing entire populations into walking peacefully to their own doom. Data was spottier there, with every fleet and most satellites blown apart during the offensives. Some was still broadcast, automated systems and isolated clips from resistance cells still withstanding the insidious takeover of their planets.
Eventually, they ran out of files. Their minds separated, leaving them both dizzy and reeling from hours of close contact and shared thoughts. "That … was … "
The death of all, like our race suffered at the hands of those aliens. If the Reapers appeared again, sleeper ships of eggs would not save us a second time. His mental voice was thin, tremulous violins, and soft sandpaper.
Reaching over with one heavy arm, she punched in a comm code. "Teri, it is zero two thirty local," a sleepy voice answered.
"Sorry, Eric, I wouldn't wake you if it wasn't important. Single still image." She queued up one frame of the first space battle, and sent it.
"Shit. Broadcast nothing, hear me? Nothing. Nobody on your ship is cleared for this." His voice had gone from sleepy annoyance to genuine fear in the space of a blink. "Tell Moon to come immediately to these coordinates. Your ship is under total radio silence until you've been debriefed, understand? You don't answer the fucking Commodore."
She nodded, before remembering it was audio-only. "I figured. We'll be there," she promised, saving the coordinates and sending them straight to Moon, along with the instructions. "Today is one of those days, isn't it?"
You said the same thing the day after we landed on Skyllian Five, Ripples reminded her. Please stop whatever voodoo prophecy this is, before things get any worse.
Codex Entry: Shandrakor
Shandrakor stands as the fifth planet colonized by early departure from Earth. The first colonists landed on 8 April, 2245 at Point Owen, named for the navigator of the Enterprise who did the original flyover of the planet. Prepared for success, five hundred seventeen people disembarked their colony ship to build a new home.
Two hours later, one hundred and nine survivors took off for orbit. The planet, originally deemed as a top priority due to the lack of advanced animal life, turned out to be extraordinarily dangerous. Rather than mobile animals, the planet was largely covered with varieties of omnivorous plant life and incredibly toxic worm-like, burrowing fungi – all of which had spent the last three hundred thousand years preying on each other with varying levels of success.
Twenty years later, the first surviving colony landed, a contingent of Alliance Marines building Fort Nixon on a rocky outcrop facing the newly-christened Vega Muerta sea. These Marines were not along to protect the colonists, but rather to guard the first Singers allowed to leave Sol. Many in today's Alliance forget that the Singers were met with significant distrust for their first quarter century. Three-thousand colonists, many of them former Alliance soldiers, spread out carefully into the flood plains surrounding the massive fresh-water sea.
As the colony proved to be a success, with the more dangerous indigenous species driven away or killed, disaffected groups proceeded to spread further into the interior of the planet. Two of them went as far as the nearby Knife Hands mountain range, founding the towns of Goldsand and Hangye, atop rich veins of gold and platinum (for Goldsand), and cobalt and iron (for Hangye). While the towns were successful for their first two months, they quickly became target of more opportunistic Shandrakor flora, specifically rotting fungus and sith.
Rotting fungus latches onto local plants and, by secreting low levels of hydrochloric acid and enzymes similar to human saliva, break down what they cling to. The colonists kept themselves safe, but the fungus proved capable of digesting many of the synthetic compounds used in pre-fab buildings and the aircars used for hauling ore. Sith were one of the aforementioned fungi, approximately one centimeter in length. Sith burrow up from the ground, imbedding themselves into anything they find, and chewing with microscopic cilia-lined mouths. These cilia are sharp enough that under laboratory conditions, sith have been used to etch body armor.
With their buildings falling apart, and growing number of sith taking advantage of this to attack colonists, the surviving two hundred and seven members (out of an initial six hundred seventy-nine) fled their towns, marching on foot back to Fort Nixon. Halfway there they met up with the thirty-three survivors of Yoshiko, a farming village further along the plains. Under attack by increasing numbers of sand crawlers, they radioed for help.
The Singers present at the fort convince the Marines that they could help, and with the soldiers flying above them on grav sleds and armed shuttles, the Singers swarmed across the plains, crossing twenty kilometers in as many minutes. With biotic brood warriors, and warrior-burrowers, they drove away the sand crawlers and escorted the last one hundred twenty survivors to Fort Nixon.
The daring rescue, much of it caught on combat cameras, earned the Singers a great deal of goodwill with the Alliance, and when the towns of Goldsand and Hangye were resettled, four years later, both of them explicitly demanded Singer colonists as part of their effort.