The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:
- Joel 2:10, Christian Bible
Constant, Eden Prime - Zaeed Massani
March 15th, 2183
Sighing, Zaeed Massani popped the top of his pint of Emu Bitter and relaxed in the early morning sun. It was winter now, so the fields were lying fallow, but temperature was still pleasant here near the equator of Eden Prime. It wasn't a half bad name for the planet Zaeed mused. Out of all the worlds humanity and the races of the Independent League had colonized, Eden Prime was renowned as one of the most pleasant to live on. Which was why Zaeed had chosen it to settle on after his retirement from the League Marine Corps six years ago. Well, that and the planets distance from Citadel Council Space. When war inevitably came again, Zaeed intended to be well out of it.
"You're drinking early."
Cracking open his one good eye, the other having been lost when a turian had put a mass accelerator round in Zaeed's head during the Second Contact War, Zaeed glared up at the face that was blocking his light. Four eyes stared expressionlessly at him from a mottled greenish-yellow face, with four nostrils and a prominent head ridge, below which dull purple lips were pressed into a thin line.
"So what if I goddamn am, Crelli? Man's got a right to relax when the harvest's in. You should be too. Go bother the Ylorres girl to play in the hills or something, maybe go see what's up at the dig site. You're seventeen, go be a bosh'tet while you're mother and I are still here to bail you out."
Crelli's head tilted ever so slightly to the left, her face still blank. The lack of expression irked Zaeed, as it always did. His adoptive daughter was always so serious, not like he'd been growing up. Though even in the slums of Sydney, things hadn't been as bad for him growing up as they'd been for Crelli. Growing up in Reaper territory did that to a person.
"We should be training. The news reports say that there was another skirmish along the turian border. And the killed could come back at any time," Crelli stated after a moment's pause.
Groaning, Zaeed set his drink down and sat up on his lawn chair, motioning for Crelli to sit beside him. "Look kid, the Reapers are gone. We towed that monstrosity into a goddamn star. They've cleaned out most of the killed in the Kites Nest, even if Balak and a few of his ships did slip away. The fleet's in orbit, and Commander Williams and her garrison are just down the hill. No goddamn Reapers are gonna drop out of the sky. We can relax, it's safe here."
"Mother told me that nowhere is ever safe."
Zaeed rubbed the dead right side of the face, massaging the reconstructed tissue. As good as League medicine was, they'd never been able to fully restore feeling there, and it always tingled when he touched it. "Kid, that was on Aratoht, where the Indoctrinated beacons were everywhere and everyone was killed and trying to kill you or worse. This is Eden Prime, in the heart of League space! We've been here for five years now. Have you ever seen anything more dangerous than a gas bag in all that time?"
It was a conversation Zaeed and Crelli had repeated a thousand times if they'd had it once. The girl had seen her planet burn, as Warlord Jak and her krogan warriors extracted the five hundred odd survivors from a system that had once had over 300,000 inhabitants. The batarians had been abused all across the Kite's Nest, but the Bahak System had been where the Leviathan of Dis had been, and where the poison that had eventually engulfed the galaxy in the First Pan-Galactic war had originated.
Zaeed was an old campaigner, who'd visited death on the League's foes on scores of planets, but he had the most nightmares about what had happened on Aratoht. Even the turian occupation of Shanxi during the Second Contact War paled in comparison to the horrors Zaeed had witnessed on Aratoht. Children marching silently into battle, eyes dead as they were mowed down by krogan warriors and N7 operatives. Mothers strapping bombs to their babies at the behest of their Reaper masters. Black stone pillars that seemed to suck the light out of the air, and caused dark whispers in the back of your mind. It wasn't something a man could forget, and Zaeed had been on Aratoht for only a week. Crelli had spent eleven years in that hell.
Instead of answering, Crelli pulled out her Predator heavy pistol ejected and reinserted its metal clip several times. It had been Zaeed's while he was an N7, and he'd given it to her shortly after they'd left the Bahak system. Most girls slept with stuffed animals or crap like that. Crelli slept with a gun, and was never parted from it.
Struggling with what to say to his daughter, Zaeed stayed silent, putting an arm around her shoulders. He'd known he was going to have to be a father to her when he'd married her mother, but Zaeed had never felt very skilled at parenting. His own father had beat him regularly until he'd run off to enlist in the then Systems Alliance military, back when humanity had been alone in the galaxy. That felt like several lifetimes ago, though it was only been 30 years.
"Husband, you have visitors," a familiar voice called from the homestead.
Zaeed turned and smiled at his wife, grateful for the interruption. Hevesh looked like an older version of Crelli in many ways, with a face that was frequently as inexpressive. Zaeed had married her less than six months after Aratoht, right after he'd officially retired. He supposed it hadn't really been love that had motivated their union, not in the traditional sense anyway. Really, what they'd both wanted was companionship. Someone to be there when the night terrors came, to hold onto when they relived all the deaths they'd seen or all the lives they'd taken. It had worked out though, and Zaeed and come to love his batarian wife, even if he did wish she'd be a bit more emotive at times.
"Who's here?" Zaeed asked, standing and taking a swig of his beer. He needed it; if he was going to be doing this much thinking this early in the morning, he was going to need to be doing it drunk, visitors or no.
A massive shadow filled the doorway behind Hevesh. "Just a couple of strangers," a deep, rumbling voice growled. The speaker stepped forward to reveal a hunchbacked alien that stood over two meters tall. Wide set dark green eyes glared out from underneath a heavy brow of bone and sinew, which crested in a dark brown plate of thick bone. A stubby tail poked out from behind massive legs that ended in three sharp talons. The arms looked too short for such a massive body, stumpy, muscular things that ended in claws that were clutching a covered plate of hot wings.
"We were in the neighborhood, and thought we'd stop by," another voice said, this one high and lilting with a sing-song quality. Another alien stepped out from behind the krogan with the hot wings. This one was more human looking, though her skin was slate grey and her legs faced backwards. Her hair was lavender, and hung loosely about her shoulders. Like most quarians, she wore dark sunglasses to shield her glowing nocturnal eyes from the daytime sun, and in her three fingered hands she held up a two bags from the local market. "We brought food, if I remember right you and Leerg can't seem to go more than an hour without killing something or eating."
Grinning broadly, Zaeed hurried forward to usher his guests out into the yard. "Goddamn, it's Jorgal Leerg and Oro'Veskar. What are a couple of bosh'tets like you doing all the way out here? I thought you'd settled down back on Earth Oro, and last I heard you were still deployed in the Kite's Nest, Leerg."
"I'm here on a mating contract," Leerg rumbled, handing the plate of wings to Crelli, who dutifully took them over to a table beneath the shade of a large snaketree. "Oro heard I was going to be in the area, and decided it was time we got the old gang back together."
"It's been too long since we've seen you and your blushing bride. Crelli, you've grown quite a bit since I last saw you," Oro remarked pleasantly. Though she didn't look it in her sun dress and sandals, Zaeed knew that Oro'Veskar had been the deadliest sniper in the N7 corps, and still had more confirmed kills credited to her name than any other sentient in the short history of the League.
"I have," Crelli deadpanned.
"Talkative as always," Leerg remarked, pulling off the lid of the hot wings and tossing a handful of them into his mouth, bones and all. Krogan were not picky eaters, and had a robust digestive system that laughed at puny things like chicken bones. Large flat teeth crushed the wings to splinters in a heartbeat. Teeth that Zaeed had seen crush an asari or salarian neck just as easily as the wings.
"My daughter knows her manners well," Hevesh stated, pouring cups of wine from the box for the friends as they seated themselves around the table, save for Oro. Quarians were dextro-amino based instead of levo-amino based like the other League species. The only other known species that was dextro based were the turians, the most militant of the Citadel Council's races. It was rare indeed for a turian and quarian to willingly sup together, ever since the quarians had been banished from their homeworld long ago.
"We're just a bunch of refugees, ain't we," Zaeed reflected as they ate. "Humans, we were the new kids on the block, a bunch of wimps ready to be crushed by the Council and ordered about like every other race before us."
Oro nodded, setting her cup down. "I suppose. We quarians had been wandering lost and alone, ever since the geth rebelled and took Rannoch from us. We wandered for 300 years without friends, until 314."
Originally a Citadel species, the quarians had been evicted from their homeworld of Rannoch by a race of sentient machines they had created, known as the geth. The geth had achieved sentience by accident, but according to Citadel Law such synthetic intelligence was grounds for extermination of the creator race. The quarians had tried to destroy the geth before the Council found out, but they had failed. The geth had managed to overthrow the quarian homeworld of Rannoch, and all the quarian colonies. Forced to flee, the quarians had begged for aid from the Citadel, but instead they were exiled as an example of what happened to those that dabbled with AI.
Relay 314 had been where humanity had met their first alien species, a Mass Relay that allowed travel between distant stars, left behind by the ancient protheans, who had vanished from the galaxy 50,000 years ago, according to some. The Belari, a quarian patrol boat captained by Rael'Zorah, had come upon then Rear Admiral Steven Hackett's task group, and made friendly first contact. For a few days, things had gone well, and both races had rejoiced to find a friend among the stars.
And then the turians had come. The Citadel Council was the ruling body of most of the galaxy, and it had then dictated the lives of half a dozen minor species, though only the turians, the salarians and the asari had any say in how the Council was run. The turians were the enforcers of the Council's will, and at that point they had been the uncontested strongest race in the galaxy. They had scattered Hackett's fleet, but the Belari had sacrificed herself to save her captain, who was onboard Hackett's flagship for negotiations, and a human child named John Shepard. Ultimately the turians had been driven off by reinforcements from both the humans and the quarians, and after a short, bitter struggle, the turians and the Citadel Council had recognized humanity and the quarians as a sovereign power.
However, instead of joining the Citadel as had been expected, humanity had invited the quarian people to share their worlds and both had declared themselves to be a new political power, the Independent League, unaffiliated with the Citadel.
"And the krogan were dying. If it hadn't been for Urdnot Wrex and his alliance with the League, I'd probably still be selling my gun for credits to the highest bidder," Jorgal Leerg added. "The League changed all that. We can have children again. No more mountains of stillborn infants from the Genophage the salarians gave us. I've got over 200 healthy young myself from twenty mating contracts. Being an N7 has its benefits."
Oro snorted. "If my husband was half as philandering, by now I'd be dead from a dozen infections. Four children are more than enough for me."
"You are having another?" Hevesh asked.
Oro smiled and nodded. "There still are not enough quarians. We're not in danger of extinction anymore, but some days I wish we could reproduce like the krogan."
"I fear for my own people these days," Hevesh admitted. "Too many killed, too many worlds burned. And now we are divided. Half are in the League, and the other half the Citadel. Those still held by the Citadel have no rights, they are little better than they were as plebs or slaves when the overseers ruled us. We should free them."
"That would mean starting a war," Leerg growled. "You think we're ready for that?"
"There was another skirmish with the turians on the newscast," Crelli stated, startling the adults. She was so quiet, it was often easy to forget she was there.
"War is coming, and soon. I pray my children grow up in a time of peace, but the Citadel is relentless. They will not rest until we are under their heel," Oro spat.
Zaeed took another long drink, then stared into his empty glass. "Makes a man glad he's retired. The war should pass us by here. I'm too goddamn old for that shit again."
"The krogan stand ready. The Citadel will not find us wanting. You fought in two wars old friend. Not bad for a species that lives as short a time as humans," Leerg mused.
Krogan lived a long time. Leerg was relatively young by his species standards at two centuries. Krogan matured faster than humans, quarians or batarians, but thanks to their multitude of redundant organs, rapid cellular regeneration, and a level of telomeranse repair that surpassed even the asari, they could live for centuries. There were no known cases of a krogan dying of old age; they were a fierce species that made their home on hard worlds. The oldest known krogan was Jorgal Shaman, a distant relative of Leerg's, who was over 1600 years old. Old enough that he remembered when the krogan had been part of the Citadel, and had saved the asari and salarians from the rachni.
The krogan had been living in a self-made nuclear winter until the salarians uplifted them to serve as soldiers against the insectile rachni. Ultimately the krogan had triumphed, but while the salarians and asari had taught the krogan how to fight with weapons far beyond anything they could have made alone, they never taught the krogan how to live with such power. Shortly after the Rachni War had ended, the Krogan Rebellions had begun. If it had not been for the intervention of the turians, relative newcomers on the galactic stage at the time, humanity might very well have found a galaxy ruled by krogan warlords instead of the Citadel Council. As it was, the turians had forced the krogan down by infecting them with a plague known as the genophage, which had meant only 1 in 1000 krogan births could be carried to term. The krogan were long lived and fertile, but they could not replenish their numbers faster than krogan were killed. Extinction had been less than a century off before they had allied with the League and the Genophage had been cured.
Glancing over at his daughter, Zaeed frowned, his face turning into a ghastly mask thanks to his dead tissue. "It's not me I'm worried about anymore," he muttered to Leerg. "I've got a family now. Crelli's seventeen. She can enlist now. Hell, she would if her mother and I hadn't convinced her we need her here on the farm. She's still in the militia, with Commander Williams and her garrison. She spends more time training with them than anything else. Christ, I was an N7, I don't remember being this obsessed with war when I was a kid."
"That's because you didn't grow up where war was a constant. Where other species threatened to kill you and your kin. Young humans are much the same as Crelli these days. Oro and I saw enough of them when were instructors at N school. They want blood as much as she does."
Before Zaeed could reply, his omnitool blared a warning. He glanced around and saw that everyone's omnitools were buzzing, and activated the holographic display of the little computer chip embedded in his arm that acted as multipurpose electronic aid. On the screen were four words that made Zaeed's blood run cold.
INVASION IMMINENT. CODE: MORNING.
In the distance, the colony's sirens began to wail. There was a sound like thunder, and Zaeed swore, grabbing his daughter and wife and running for the homestead. He'd been in enough hostile LZs to recognize the sound of discharging drive cores and ships entered the atmosphere. Above him, dark shapes began to descend on the colony, insect like shadows that dove for the ground as the anti-air defenses of the colony activated.
"The armory is inside, this way!" Zaeed shouted, and glanced up as the geth ships began to descend on the colony amidst red lightning.
Prothean Digsite, Eden Prime - Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams
"How the hell did these things sneak up on us?" Ash growled as her ground car bounced along the dirt road towards the prothean beacon that had been uncovered only hours earlier. She'd been on her way back in from inspection, ensuring that everything was ready for the retrieval team. There had been rumors of a turian skulking about the secure site, and Ash wanted all her men on alert. She'd thought they were ready for anything. Now, she knew better.
"Must have come in ballistic ma'am," Gunnery Chief Kal'Reegar answered, his voice calm. The quarian marine kept his eyes on the road, his eyes glowing from behind his helmet's faceplate.
Ash nodded in exasperation. That was the obvious answer, but still, why hadn't the League had warning? The fleet in orbit around Eden Prime wasn't especially large, but it should have at least slowed the enemy down. There had been no warning from them though, and Ash feared the Eden Prime navy was no more.
There was no warning when the mass accelerator round hit the road near Ash's jeep, and if Reegar hadn't swerved around a pothole, it would have destroyed the car. As it was, they just spun out of control and flipped. The marines armor and Reegar's reflexes spared them anything beyond bruises, but Ash and Reegar left the ground car behind.
"Reegar, point your helmet cam and me and broadcast on a priority band. We need to get word of this out!" Ash ordered as she raised her helmets visor.
"Recording, ma'am," Reegar stated, turning his face toward Ash.
"This is Lieutenant Commander Ashley Williams of the 2nd Frontier Division, Fourth Company. We are under attack! I repeat, we are-" another explosion flung Ash to the ground. She looked up to see the smoking ruins of her command. She scrambled back to her feet, tapping Reegar on the shoulder. He was blazing at away at a distant geth ship, but stopped and turned back towards Ash. "This is Code Delta, they're after the Macguffin! We can't hold them off for long! Send reinforcements!" She paused, glancing up at the sky as more geth ships descended from on high. "God help us all."
The Temple of Athame, Thessia - Lieutenant Kurin T'nagi
March 15th, 2183
It was going to be another beautiful day on Thessia, Lieutenant Kurin observed grumpily. She stifled a yawn, watery eyes gazing blearily at the sunrise. This was always the worst shift to have. The one that started in the small hours of the morning, and dragged on all demon taken day. Oh well. At least she was off in a few more hours. Then it was time to grab a few bites to eat and then stumble off to bed. Such was the life of an asari commando.
Sorry, asari SOLDIER. That had been a recent change, at least to someone who was 200 years old. It hadn't been until the last six years, after the First-Pan Galactic War, that the asari had started to keep a standing army. No longer were huntress packs of commandos the only fighting force the asari fielded. Now they had cohesive fighting units with a standing army hundreds of thousands strong, with more in reserves. They even had turian drill instructors, though not even the turians could instill a significant level of discipline and professional bearing upon their charges. Which was why Kurin was slumping at her post instead of standing at attention.
The blue skinned natives of Thessia were not traditionally soldiers. They'd never had the need before. The mono-gendered asari race looked like blue female humans, save for the tentacles on their heads. Traditionally asari solved problems via diplomacy or seduction, or application of concentrated biotic force. Generated by element zero, a particle that gains mass when exposed to a positive charge or a negative mass when exposed to a negative charge, biotics allowed an individual to create a mass effect field by running positive or negative charge through pockets of eezo in their nervous systems. All asari possessed biotics to one degree or another, which they used to reproduce with any other species via a strange sort of parthenogenesis. Their biotics allowed them to "scan" the neural patterns of another species by sending electrical impulses through the skin. They then used the scan to randomize part of a gamete's DNA, creating a child without actual genetic material from another.
Kurin glanced around at the other temple guards, all at various states of sleepiness. They were alert enough she guessed, but the only people who came to the temple these days were justicars and scientists. Even the most dedicated scientist wasn't going to show up right at the crack of dawn. Not on Athameday, the traditional weekly day of rest. Still, the temple did have to be guarded. It held quite a few prothean relics, including a recently uncovered prothean beacon.
A few years back, the traitorous Doctor Liara T'soni, the so-called Voice of Truth, had stolen a prothean AI from the statue of Athame and run off. It had been SNAFU in every sense, though Kurin supposed that at least T'soni and the AI had managed to reveal that Indoctrinated agents had been responsible for the start of the war, not the League or Citadel Council as everyone had thought. T'soni hoped to bring a lasting unity and peace, to unite the Council and League against the Reapers that were sure to descend upon the galaxy at any moment.
Except now, it was six years later, and no one had heard a peep from the Reapers the entire time. At first, Kurin and many other asari had flocked to recruiting stations, eager to defend Thessia from more traitors and save the asari people from the Reapers. Except no Reapers ever showed up. And the menace of the barbarians and primitives that made up the League was ever present. Kurin snarled silently at the thought. Humans, quarians, krogan, and now turncoat batarians. Thirty years ago, if someone had told Kurin that a primitive race that had just ascended to the stars, homeless suit-rats in their garbage heap refugee fleet, the neutered krogan, and the hopelessly backwards and conservative batarians would be the biggest threat to galactic peace since the founding of the Citadel Council, Kurin would have laughed in their face.
Things had changed. Humanity had made first contact with the quarians at relay 314 twenty six years ago. Now, the quarians were no longer homeless, having taken up residence on human colonies. They'd fought the turian navy, the most powerful military in the galaxy, to a standstill. Peace had been made, and the asari had attempted to bring humanity into the galactic community peacefully. Except that humanity had responded to their olive branch by collaborating with its suit-rat allies to steal the envoy ship and kidnap the asari ambassador and her aides. That had just been the first of many times the newly minted Independent League had spit in the face of the Council had showed that the League considered violence to be their best option.
At first, everyone had thought the League could be contained. True, they had a fairly significant population base and a tech level that was advancing with disturbing rapidity, but they were just a small portion of the galaxy. It would take hundreds of years before they could have the population and economy to take on the Citadel, and by then they would be tamed and absorbed. But then the krogan had joined. A few short years later, the Genophage, the only thing keeping krogan numbers from exploding exponentially and reigniting a thousand year old conflict that had once brought the Citadel to its knees, had been cured. Now the krogan were rapidly multiplying. Just a few short years ago, the first new generation of krogan had reached maturity. They had promptly taken up arms.
Which was why there was now a standing asari army and why the asari navy was rapidly expanding to levels previously forbidden by treaty. The once peaceful daughters of Thessia were preparing for the war everyone knew was coming. The Second Pan-Galactic War, the war that would decide once and for all who would inherit the galaxy.
A war, Kurin realized as alarms began to wail and tactical reports appeared on omnitools, that appeared to be arriving.
"Move, move, move!" Kurin shouted, getting her troops into their hardened bunkers. She swore foully as she glanced at her HUD. The enemy had broken through the Thessian inner defenses already, having somehow bypassed the outer fortifications around the Mass Relay and around the locus where League ships using their own relays were projected to appear. The make of the ships was unknown, and their weapons and armor was scything through everything before them.
"And I only had three more hours on duty," Kurin grumbled to herself, her earlier boredom gone in a rush of adrenaline.
In a few minutes, the first ship burst through the atmosphere, wreathed in darkness and lighting as its drive core discharged. They were obviously not League ships, with hulls that appeared to have been carved from asteroids and shaped like massive cones. There were dozens of the ships that Kurin could see, and she swallowed nervously.
"Target the lead ship with our AA guns!" she bellowed, and for a brief moment, she hoped that the ships might be driven off as the temples hidden defenses activated and sent streams of molten death at the enemy ships.
The Thranx rounds impacted harmlessly on kinetic barriers, and GARDIAN lasers on the asteroid ships replied, quickly charring the temples defenses into ash. It was up to Kurin and her soldiers now. Black clouds of something Kurin didn't recognize spewed from the vessels, and Kurin ordered her soldiers to seal their hardsuits. It was probably some form of biological warfare.
A few moments later, the bugs appeared. They were tiny and insidious, swarming the asari in great clouds. Mass accelerator guns were useless against them, the rounds were just too small. Using small eezo cores, mass accelerators fired bits of metal the size of grains of sand, reduced to negative mass and then accelerated to near relativistic speeds, impacting with more penetration power and force than any bullet ever fired with chemical propellants. Against asari sized foes they were deadly, but they were useless against insects. Thankfully, biotics were not. Using the trace amounts of element zero in their systems, the asari defenders were able to hurl destructive orbs of energy into the clouds of their foes. Someone dragged out a flamethrower from Goddess knew where, and hosed down the swarm. Kurin and her command were keeping the bugs at bay, for now.
Hope proved to be short lived as black, buzzing shapes began to descend from the skies. Kurin swallowed, glancing up at the raging heavens as more AA defenses from around the city attempted to bring down the enemy ships and great scars of destruction were carved by the ships cannons as they fired streams of molten metal. This day, the heavens above Thessia raged and trembled. Kurin prayed they would be able to weather the coming storm, and readied her rifle.
Thanks for reading the first chapter in "The Heaven's Shall Tremble" book two in the Heirs of the Galaxy trilogy. If you haven't read book one, And the Meek Shall Inherit the Galaxy, don't worry. I'm going to do my best to make this story as accessible as possible to anyone, even those who are totally unfamiliar with the Mass Effect universe (which is an awesome universe created by Bioware. I do not own the ME universe, and I make no claims as such. I don't even claim to own the AU I've created, I just play in it) and have not read And the Meek Shall Inherit the Galaxy.