The 23rd Turian Patrol Fleet was a force to be reckoned with. Comprised of over a dozen frigates, four cruisers and a dreadnought, it would be a foolish pirate indeed who would dare attack. The fleet had sufficient fire-power to conquer most smaller colony worlds. Its entry into a backwater system was remarked upon by no one.
"Relay 313, clear. No sign of pirate activity, no distress calls, no evidence of unlawful activity." sighed the Ensign manning the dreadnought's sensors.
"Bored, Ensign?" came the mildly reproving voice of his Captain.
"A little, sir."
"That means we're doing our jobs right. If there were pirates, slavers, smugglers or Terminus scouts around, that would mean someone, somewhere didn't do their duty. Boredom means everything is as it should be." replied the Captain.
"Helm, take us to Relay 315." said the Captain.
There was a blip on the Ensign's display.
"Captain? Relay 314 is inactive, right?" he asked.
"Yes Ensign." replied the Captain in a slightly exasperated tone.
"Someone's trying to activate it."
The Captain lunged out his chair and was looming over the Ensign's station in moments.
"Show me." he snapped.
"Energy signatures raised, matching recorded data from the last time a Relay was activated, right before..." said the nervous Ensign.
"The Rachni War," finished the Captain. "What fool is opening one here? HELM! Inform the Fleet, we're heading to Relay 314. Looks like you're getting your excitement, Ensign." he added as he padded back to his chair.
"Getting first readings of the ship near the Relay." said the Ensign. An hour of tense, high-speed burn towards the Relay had not helped anyone's nerves.
"Ship? Singular?" asked the Captain.
"Yes sir. Minimal Element Zero readings too, and a lot of static along that spectrum. Their drive core may be damaged."
"Or, they don't know any better. Get me a visual." said the Captain.
"Collating scans, and constructing image now sir." responded the Ensign, before activating the bridge's main holo display.
"That...is the ugliest ship I have ever seen." said the Captain.
The ship was a squat, irregular pyramid. Its surface was uneven, with the majority being obviously re-purposed metal, with a smaller amount made of a smooth black substance. It had no discernible windows, wings, weapons, or indeed anything other than a huge drive engine whose aperture filled the square base of the pyramid. In size, it was barely as long as a turian frigate, though it was wider. It could not have contrasted more with the sleek, angular aggression of the turian ships.
"Is it made of scrap?" the Captain exclaimed.
"It would appear so, sir."
"And that is activating the Relay?" the Captain asked.
"Yes sir. Energy readings confirm it. There's a lot of waste energy we're picking up, and there's only trace amounts of eezo present, but they're definitely trying to activate it."
"Judging by its appearance, we're obviously dealing with a primitive race. Target their engines. We'll cripple them, then locate their homeworld. Any race that would leave their planet in a ship like that needs guidance, not to mention discipline." said the Capitan.
One of the turian cruisers fired, its shot aimed precisely at the alien ship's drive. A green-tinged shield flared at the moment of impact, and deflected the mass driver round.
"Ship has shields sir, strong ones. They're manoeuvring to face us. Ah, manoeuvring very slowly, sir. They appear to be relying on chemical rockets." said the Ensign.
"Fire main gun. Try not to destroy them, but I don't want to risk them stocking nuclear weapons, or something stupid like that." said the Captain.
The turian dreadnought's main gun fired, launching its twenty-kilogram slug with 48 kilotons equivalent of kinetic energy.
The green shield flared brighter this time, and the alien ship lurched to the side. Several small explosions and fires could be seen, but it was still almost wholly intact.
"Minimal damage sir!' cried the Ensign.
"What? How can a frigate-sized scrapheap take a direct shot from a dreadnought?" snarled the Captain.
"Ship has completed manoeuvres. It is now facing us directly. Picking up energy spike." said the Ensign.
"Stand ready. These aliens seem to be full of surprises."
Green light flared along the alien vessel. The smooth black substance lit up from within, and it moved.
The Ensign's mandibles flared wide, and his jaw dropped. For a moment, he choked on his words, then managed to gasp out, "ENEMY ACCELARATING! BRACE FOR IMPACT!"
On screen, the alien ship covered the distance between itself and the dreadnought impossibly fast, seemingly gaining massive velocity without bothering to accelerate.
The Captain stared at the screen.
"What?" he said in confusion.
There was a dull thud, and the entire dreadnought shook.
Shaking his head, the Captain snapped, "Damage!"
"Minimal, sir. Shields are completely gone, but hull is fine. Wait, reports of localised hull breaches."
That could only mean one thing.
"Who uses a frigate as a boarding pod?" said the Capitan. He was really starting to hate these aliens.
"Emergency bulkheads and mass effect shields in place. No atmosphere loss. Marines deploying to repel intruders." said the Ensign.
The Captain smiled. The bulkheads and shields could only be over-ridden from the bridge, and each was strong enough to resist anti-tank fire. Even if these aliens had weapons that could cut through eventually, the marines on the other side would...
"Bulkheads breached! Interior shields down!" yelped the Ensign.
"What?" roared the Captain. "How? It would take a tank to punch through those that fast!"
"No explosions detected. No energy drain detected."
"Where are the marines?" the Captain yelled.
Squad-leader Iretlian stormed down the dreadnought's corridors, his squad close behind. Deck 7 had been breached. The emergency bulkheads had sealed, so he had a minute or two to get his team into position, but in never hurt to be prepared.
He rounded a corner into a bronze-gauntleted fist, and knew no more.
"Squad One, down! Squad Three, down! Squad Four, down! Squad Two,..."
"Down, I know." interrupted the Captain. "By the dark spirits, what are they? A dozen krogan battle-masters couldn't make that kind of progress."
"Sir, they're heading for the bridge!" said the Ensign, his fear and nervousness practically palpable.
"All hands, stand by to repel boarders!" yelled the Captain. He was shaken, true, but he was Turian. Turians died with guns in their hands, not bullets in their backs.
The bridge crew grabbed their stowed weapons, and the bridge guards flanked the door. The Turian-designed bridge had lots of cover for just this kind of situation. Tensely, they stared at the armoured bridge doors.
"Motion sensors indicate they're coming down the access corridor now, sir." muttered the Ensign.
The tension mounted, as heavy pounding footsteps became audible.
"This, Ensign, is why I prefer boredom." said the Captain, just before the door exploded.
Three-inches of high-density alloy tore open like tin sheet. Five blurs darted into the room, green flame pouring from them. The turian crew opened fire, but their shots had no effect. The right bridge guard leapt forwards to engage the nearest figure, and was casually thrown a dozen meters into a technician. The Captain aimed carefully with his expensive, and powerful, heavy pistol, each shot hitting the central figure right between the eyes. Each shot was met with a green flash, and the Captain couldn't even see it impact. The central figure, unlike the other four who were quickly incapacitating his crew in green-wreathed blurs, walked straight towards the Captain.
Just before it reached him, the Ensign threw himself at it. The figure grabbed the Ensign by the throat, easily lifted him clear of the ground, and then lazily flicked its wrist, flinging him onto the deck hard enough that he bounced.
The Captain stood. He was the last of his crew concious on the bridge in a fight that had taken perhaps a dozen seconds. He stared straight at the figure, studying it. It resembled an armoured batarian, with thick bronze metal plates covering it entirely. Trickles of green flared out from seams in the armour.
"I am Captain Evarian, commander of the 23rd Turian Patrol Fleet." said the Captain, straightening his spine, holstering his gun, and clasping his hands behind his back. "Your capture of this ship will not last. The rest of the fleet stands ready, and they will destroy this ship rather than let an unknown power claim a turian dreadnought."
The figure stared at him for a moment, then removed one of its metal gauntlets. The hand underneath was almost asari, apart from the pure white colour. The figure stepped forwards, and in one lightning-fast movement, grabbed Evarian's face. Pain exploded, and Evarian felt as though his flesh was being burned from his bones. His head felt as though it was imploding and exploding, combusting and freezing all at once. After a few eternal moments, the pain stopped.
He struggled to stay standing on weakened knees, and when an arm helped steady him, he forgot for a moment where he was and grasped it gratefully. When his vision cleared, and he saw that the alien was the one supporting him, he pulled away.
"What was that?" he snapped.
"Sorry." came a voice. Its accent was thick, and the words barely understandable, but it was in turian.
"You speak turian?" he asked of the figure.
"Not before." came the voice, each sentence it spoke seeming to be an effort, forced out slowly and methodically. "Partial bond. Understand now. Process imperfect."
The figure reached up, and carefully removed its helmet. The face underneath was remarkably similar to an asari, but pure, pale white. The creature also had pale grey fur on its head, and its eyes glowed a faint green.
"We human." it said. "You turian. You Council."
"How do you know of the Council?" he asked.
"Not just language. Ideas. Only small, only little, but Council big. Citadel big. You are good guys?"
"We are the military might of the Council, and its law-enforcers."
"If you good, why attack?" it asked, haltingly.
"You were breaking the law. Relays are dangerous."
It made some sort of dull hooting sound. Evarian realised it was laughing.
"Danger. Human know danger. Our world, danger. Danger happened. Our world, dying. Human dying. Turian good guys. Council good guys. Show turian our world. Tell Council, help human?"
It took Evarian a moment to figure out what the creature, the human, was saying. Its world was dying? He thought for a moment.
"You want Council aid. You will show us your homeworld." he said.
"Why trust us?"
The human laughed again. "Turian honour big. See this. Have word?"
Evarian thought for a moment. "I give my word, as Captain of this vessel, and commander of this fleet. If you stand down, and show us your homeworld, then we will take you safely to the Citadel, where you may meet with the Council."
The human nodded, then spoke in a dull, hooting chatter. The other humans moved to flank it.
"Turian crew live. No death. We need jettison our ship. Is broken. Tell rest of turian crew, no shoot, maybe?"
Evarian felt something loosen in his chest. No deaths? That made the prospect of a group of apparently unstoppable beings staying onboard slightly more palatable. "You can stay in the cargo bay. With an escort. I will make a fleet-wide announcement."
There was a drumming of feet, and the last squad of turian marines burst onto the deck. They took aim at the humans.
"Stand down." said Evarian.
"Sir?" asked the squad-leader.
"These are humans. They have requested Council aid, and until otherwise ordered, they will be treated as diplomatic guests."
Turians follow orders, even bad ones. Even extremely strange ones.
"Escort them to their ship. They will be detaching it, and then set them up in the cargo hold. Comfortably, if you can."
As they turned to leave, the helmet-less human nodded at him.
"Thank you, turian" it said.
He watched the marine squad escort them out the door they had literally torn open minutes earlier. He was thinking. While he had no strong political leanings, he was in charge of a fleet. No turian got promoted that far without some grasp of politics. Now that the pain had faded fully, he could sense impressions, most likely left by the human as it borrowed language and 'big things' from him. He sensed power, and desperation. The humans were strong, but they needed help. If the Hierarchy could supply it...
He grinned. A new client race, absorbed peacefully for once. One stronger individually than the krogan, more powerfully biotic than the asari. The green was new, but he'd fought enough biotics to recognise the ozone and nausea double-punch of active biotic use.
Captain Evarian waved the med-techs towards his crew as they finally poured in the door. He had an announcement to make to the fleet, and reports to send to the Council, and the Hierarchy.
Squad-leader Iretlian's face hurt. He cracked open his eyes, wincing as the bright med-bay lights stabbed at them.
"You're awake Squad-leader?" asked a voice.
Iretlian turned his head to face the nearby medic. "Yeah. What happened? My face feels like an elcor punched me."
The medic chuckled. "Far stranger, actually. Congratulations, you have the prestigious honour of being the first Turian to meet a human."
Iretlian blinked and flared his mandibles in surprise, then flinched when pain shot through them. "Human?" he asked. "I remember assembling to repel boarders."
"Yeah, those were humans."
"Did we stop them?"
"Not in the slightest. They tore through you, your team, your back-up, their back-up, fourteen bulkheads, the bridge door and the entire bridge crew," responded the medic.
"The captain?" asked Iretlian, fearful of the response.
"The captain somehow managed to negotiate with them. We have no casualties, the humans are sitting in the cargo hold under guard, and we're currently heading towards their homeworld."
"That's..." muttered Iretlian.
"Insane? You're not the only one to think so. But the captain seems to have a good grasp on the situation, and considering what the humans are capable of, I'm glad they're sitting quietly in a ventable area of the ship," said the medic. "Now, even though there were no casualties, there were a lot of broken bones and cracked skulls. If you're awake and feel up to it, I have others who need the bed."
"Yeah, sure. Can I get some painkillers? My head's killing me."
Captain Evarian approached the door to the cargo hold. The fleet was approaching the final Relay indicated by the humans' data. The two guards outside the door were already at attention as he approached, fine examples of Turian discipline.
"How are our guests?" he asked.
"Quiet, sir." answered the guard on the left.
Evarian nodded. "Open the door."
The guard to the right tapped the door pad, and Evarian walked into the hold. Inside, there were eight more guards standing in a semi-circle near the door, facing the piles of crates that filled the hold. Seated on these crates were the humans. They had not removed their armour, and had in fact sealed their helmets once again. As Evarian entered, the central one stood, and stepped towards him.
"Turian! Good see you again! Human home close?" it said, still speaking in rough, broken Turian. It seemed entirely too cheerful and relaxed for all the weapons aimed at it.
"Almost. We're approaching the final Relay now. I would like it if you would accompany me to the bridge as we enter your home system."
"Yes, good view. Danger is Big Danger, but beautiful."
Evarian's mandibles flared in minor frustration. The human simply did not have a strong enough grasp on Turian to communicate what the 'Danger' was. Worrisomely, the closest word it could find was an old Turian word for an Eater-of-Spirits, a fictional demon of Turian mythology that Evarian had been terrified of in his childhood.
The fact that it only ever said 'Biggest Eater-of-Spirits' was very, very worrying.
"I have something to give you," said Evarian. He held out a small chip attached to a hastily-modified wrist-strap.
The human took it, studied it for a moment, then put it on.
"Device? What purpose?" it asked.
"It's called an Omni-tool. While it has many functions, most of them have been removed from the one I have given you. What is active, is the translator function. You speak turian. Not well, but you do. The more you speak in human and turian, the more the Omni-tool learns. Hopefully, we can have a functioning translator module for distribution in a few days."
"Good device." said the human.
At that exact moment, Evarian's own Omni-tool lit up, the orange holo display indicating an incoming call from the bridge. He tapped it open.
"Sir, we have arrived at the final Relay indicated, but there's an issue." came the voice of the Ensign.
"What kind of problem?" asked Evarian.
"You should see it for yourself, sir."
Evarian glanced up at the human. It nodded, then turned and said something to its companions.
"I'm on my way." said Evarian, before he and the human leader left the cargo hold, followed by two guards.
Evarian had had a bad feeling about the human homeworld and its 'Danger' ever since the human had tried to describe it with horror stories. The sight of a Relay, normally a brilliant blue, glowing a violent red colour was disturbing.
"That looks like the Omega-4 Relay." he said.
"Spectrograph analysis is very similar, sir." said the Ensign.
Evarian turned to the human, who was blithely ignoring the various stares and glances it was receiving from the bridge crew. "You can't tell us anything more about what's beyond here? It is safe for ship travel, right?"
"Safe for ships, yes. Turian ship better than human ship. Human ship safe. Eater-of Spirits not interested in little ships." responded the human.
Evarian knew that this would be a moment he'd remember for the rest of his life, either because he led an expedition to discover a new race's homeworld, or because the rest of his life wasn't going to be very long.
He recalled that odd bundle of concepts he seemed to have acquired from the human. It had taken his language, and concepts, but had left impressions. He knew they needed help, desperately so. He closed his eyes, and made his decision.
"Helm, take us through. Be ready." he said.
With a remarkable amount of trepidation for a gigaton starship, the dreadnought edged towards the Relay, and engaged its drive.
The jump seemed longer and more turbulent than usual. The dreadnought, closely followed by the rest of the fleet, emerged into nothing.
For a moment, Evarian felt relief. He wasn't certain what he had been expecting, but the vague and terrifying statements from the human had him half-imagining emerging into some terrible demonic realm.
"What do we have? I don't see anything here." he said.
The human tilted its helmet towards him. "Turian cannot see Eater-of-Spirits?"
"Sir, we're picking up a lot of infra-red and other background radiation." said the Ensign. He tapped a few buttons, and the main display changed.
Before them, a perfect black circle hung in the void. Close to it was a bright light with streamers lashing out towards the circle. Around both objects was a coruscating halo. Evarian was confused for a moment, but suddenly he remembered that the oldest Turian word for 'Spirit', was also their word for 'Sun'.
"Biggest Eater-of Spirits" he muttered.
A black-hole. The human homeworld orbited a black hole.