Mass Effect: Future History

Chapter 1: Contact

The "Three Body Problem" is one of the great unsolved problems in physics. For any two objects you can determine completely how they will interact with one another gravitationally for all time. Insert a third object however, and things begin to break down, not immediately but eventually.

This illustrates one of the most interesting, and most frustrating, elements of physics as we understand it. For it to be accurate, it has to match what we observe in the real universe. Mathematics allows for perfection, physics does not. Physics allows unpredictability. It creates order, and it creates chaos. Most of all, it shows how things work, and things work in a messy fashion.

What it doesn't tell us, is how we will react to what happens. What happens when the most miniscule of events change the future. How someone dropping a book, opening it to a particular page at a particular moment, will provide the insight needed to change the world. Or when just a little bit of mass, ejected from a particular comet, causes an impact that shakes the beliefs and future of a species to its core. And the galaxy will be forced to change.

February 3rd, 2086

Unnamed System

In the depths of space, two ships blinked once more into existence. Practically identical, aside from some lettering on the sides, the destroyers SSV Tokyo and SSV Atlantis, were twins, sent out across space from their home worlds to patrol the stars. Or to be more accurate, check on the probes watching specific stars.

"Captain, we've completed our hyperspace jump, and have arrived in system B-101. Beginning data download from the in-system probes now. It should be several minutes until we can begin analysis of the data."

Captain Michael O'Connell of the Tokyo greeted the news with a curt nod, "Excellent Lieutenant Daniels. Helm, plot us a course toward the system's gas giant. If I remember correctly from the last time we were here, we should be able to top off our fuel supplies there."

"Copy that Captain, plotting a course right now."

"Athena, what's the status of Atlantis and your brother Napoleon?"

At the query, the images of two figures from history appeared on the holo-tank in the center of the room. One female and wearing a flowing gown, the other male and dressed in what most species would recognize as a military uniform emblazoned with medallions. Artificial in nature, but individuals in their own right, each tasked with their respective ships' electronic warfare suites, and part of a growing minority of humanity's population.

"Napoleon has just informed me that the Atlantis is experiencing some minor fluctuations in life support, nothing too worrisome, but engineers are looking into it all the same. We've already alerted command to the issue, and the dock-hands will be looking over it when we return to Haven." Athena paused for a moment, at which point the other AI chimed in, complete with ridiculous accent.

"We are fully combat capable over here. Should the need arise we shall prove our worth to our worlds and namesake!" finishing with a regal bow and fierce grin, while ignoring the disapproving glare of his sister.

"Yes, as we are well aware though, combat isn't likely at all. While this system has been claimed by the batarians, the relay has been active for several years now..." Athena grimaced as she trailed off, while Napoleon looked over with a smile and shortly disappeared as alarms went off throughout the ship.

"You just had to go and tick off Finagle, didn't you Athena?" O'Connell stated with a halfhearted smirk, "Lieutenant, what's the situation?"

"Sensors started picking up information from the inner system, and it appears that Athena's analysis was off. For whatever reason, the batarians have chosen now of all times to settle the system, And unfortunately it seems they've picked up on our entrance. I'm detecting five energy systems in orbit of the garden world and a sixth on the surface, the five in orbit are tracking onto our vector and should be going FTL sho-, sir they're FTL based on our scans, and should be reaching us in roughly three minutes. Orders?"

Sighing, O'Connell barked out orders rapidly "Engineering, I want shields and barriers at full strength now. Weapons, I want us able to fight back if this gets hot. Comms, get ready to broadcast the contact package in GalCom and Kharak as soon as they reach us and get Captain Tsarnyv on the line. Athena, ready our electronic warfare suites and let Command know that this patrol op has suddenly fubared our long-term plans. Lieutenant, tell our fly-boys to get ready to launch on the word."

Turning to the holo-tank, O'Connell was greeted by the sight of his counterpart on the Atlantis. "Well, Victor? What do you think of this situation?"

"To be honest Michael, I'm not sure. We can hope that the batarians will be friendly and invite us over for a spot of tea, or whatever their equivalent is. But given our analysis of their political and military structure, that isn't likely. Nap here is saying we're going up against a cruiser and four frigates, which puts the odds even on us, but they don't know that, and to them we'll look fairly weak." The other captain looked thoughtful for a moment, rubbing the trim goatee on his chin before continuing. "We know what we can do, but our tech has diverged from galactic standard, so we probably look backwards. But unfortunately I have a feeling they'll be aggressive at the minimum. To be honest we probably won't be able to avoid a fight."

O'Connell grimaced at that. He had already surmised as much, but there was a reason patrols to the border of human space operated in pairs at the minimum. And he knew it was only going to get worse when Athena appeared with a sour look on her face.

"Captain, we've managed to capture some of their communications to and from the planet. They understandably don't think we can understand them, and they're using an older encryption, so cracking the exchange was easy. They have no idea how we appeared as there was no blueshift, and so their orders are to approach as if they're friendly, then proceed to blast us so they can capture whoever they can and figure out where we come from." The AI paused as the viewscreen showed the five batarian vessels appearing roughly ten thousand kilometers ahead. "And here we go Captain. Command has given the all clear by the way."

"Victor, I think we should go with 3-Alpha. We'll let them fire the first shots, our shields can handle their weapons." Tsarnyv smiled and nodded as he cut the link. O'Connell turned back to his communications officer. "All right Tom, send the package, we'll see how this turns out."

"Yes sir, package away. Awaiting response."

"Not that we're likely to get one given what we know." O'Connell stated while flashing a grim smile.

"They're actually returning our call sir, and well, it's pretty damn insulting."

"All right Tom, send them the following message, start on my mark. Mark. Batarian vessels, this is Captain Michael O'Connell of the SSV Tokyo, we apologize for entering what appears to be your sovereign territory. I wish to extend greetings of peace from the Systems Alliance, the sovereign government of humanity, however I will warn you, that we will not tolerate aggression against our persons. Should you start a conflict with us, we will be sure to end it."

"Message is away Captain."

"Good. Lieutenant, Athena, what are they up to?"

"Sir, it appears they're maneuvering closer to us, barriers are up and they're closing slowly. We probably unnerved them with our contact protocol, they appear to be spreading out so focusing our return fire will be more difficult." Lieutenant Daniels said looking up from the tactical display on his screen. "In addition it appears that they've started charging their weapons, I can't tell you where they're targeting, but the first volley won't get through our shields based on the readings we're getting."

"All right Lieutenant, get ready to launch our flyboys as soon as they fire. Athena, you and Napoleon ready?"

"Yes Captain, and based on intercepted transmissions, they should be launching their attack at any moment." Athena glanced to the side momentarily, then continued " I've highlighted our targets to Napoleon and he has relayed them to the Atlantis' weapons officer, also, we are prepared to engage in infiltration and subterfuge attacks on your orders."

"Very good Athena, on my word start your attacks." O'Connell grimaced as the viewscreen suddenly showed bright flashes from the batarian ships' spinal cannons. "All right then, engage enemy forces. Tactical plan 3-Alpha. Let's show them we're not push-overs"

Commodore Jark V'rish was in a sour mood. Assigned to this backwater colony to make sure that the slaves knew to stay in line or they'd find themselves surrounded by Hegemony marines in short order. And then two unidentified ships had appeared in-system, through unknown means, and the military governor had ordered him to find out how, and possibly add some new slaves to this fledgling settlement. V'rish understood the need for slaves on a new colony, someone had to do the manual work, but they had no idea about the capabilities of this new species.

And then when he'd showed up at the location the two ships were at, they had broadcasted a first-contact package. In GalCom and Kharak. Clearly this species knew who the batarian people were, and if they knew that, they may know how powerful their ships were. But that idiot governor insisted they weren't a threat, because there was so little eezo in their ships. Ordinarily V'rish would agree, but there was something off about the situation that made that information seem even more dangerous.

Nevertheless, V'rish was determined to make the best of this situation, and if he succeeded, at least he could get away from the imbecile. This Captain O'Connell was in all probability bluffing. Two ships, even if they were super-frigates, couldn't take on twice their number in frigates and a cruiser.

And so he watched as his ships opened fire on the "human" vessels, confident in the ability of his crews to handle whatever some new species could throw at them.

And then reassessed his odds once again when two of his frigates lost their barriers completely due to strikes on their emitters. Clearly these humans knew where to target his ships, and worse they had weapons which could penetrate barriers.

"Lieutenant, what has happened to the Krisark and Harack?"

"Commodore, it appears that these humans have some sort of high-powered laser weapon, however it appears that it lacks the rate of fire of our mass accelerators. Also, their barriers are at full strength, it appears that our shots failed to reach their barriers."

"What!?" Even as he turned to glare down the Lieutenant for his absurd claim he saw four objects fly out from the two larger ships and accelerate towards his own frigates while the two super-frigates started moving towards his cruiser. "Target those two ships with all our weapons, we'll comb over the remains for information." The lack of prisoners might annoy that idiot governor, but the technology could always be analyzed, this route was probably safer. And if necessary he could blame the "frail construction" of the enemy ships as reason for their destruction.

And then the Krisark and Harack took fire from the two other frigates under his command. All V'rish could do was watch in horror as his ships started buckling under the fire from his own vessels. That horror was amplified when the small objects which had broken off, they had to be fighter craft of some sort, launched a wave of missiles at the already damaged frigates, adding to the considerable damage.

As his ships, or at least those that seemed capable of it, launched yet another salvo at the human ships. "Why did the Valarak and Barjack fire on their companions and not on the human vessels!" V'rish yelled at the officers on his bridge.

"Sir, it appears that they've lost control of their weapons systems. Some sort of advanced electronic warfare attack. They're working to fix it but it looks like they will have to cut the weapons systems completely out of the computer network."

"Dammit! Start cycling our weapons on the lead enemy frigate, and have the cursed GARDIAN systems target those fighters!"

"Sir, the Krisark and Harack have been completely destroyed! The Valarak and Barjack have begun firing on one another now. In addition, those frigates have fired their laser weapons again, and both the Valarak and Barjack have lost their barriers."

"By the Gods, how is this species doing this!" V'rish practically screamed at the bridge.

"Sir, our weapons systems are offline! We aren't firing on the Valarak or the Barjack, fortunately it appears as though this electronic warfare attack is only taking our weapons systems offline. Wait. It appears that this attack is scrubbing our weapons systems of all targeting programs and power controls. Our weapons are being rendered inoperable!"

And with that announcement, the two frigates left in his task group exploded into fireballs as both super-frigates opened fire with secondary weapons systems. V'rish's entire command had been rendered impotent in the span of five minutes, with no losses in the opposing force, and no knowledge of how much damage his force had accomplished.

The two super-frigates turned towards his ship, and V'rish shuddered involuntarily. He was numbly aware of the four fighters arcing back towards the super-frigates, but that only half-registered with him as the two super-frigates opened fire on his vessel with some strange new weapons. He acknowledged the reports from his bridge staff that engines and various other systems had been knocked offline, with no sign of physical damage.

And at that moment Commodore V'rish's communication systems were overridden, and he found himself face-to-face with this Captain O'Connell.

Moments earlier

"Lieutenant, what's our status?" Captain O'Connell asked.

"Shields are holding at around 70% sir, barriers are at full capacity, and armor integrity is green across the board." Lieutenant Daniels quickly glanced at another of the four screens in front of him displaying the ships vital data before continuing, "Weapons are fully functional, though gun battery four may have a capacitor issue. Also, our heat sinks are at about 23%."

"Good, have engineering begin dumping heat into the thermal shielding. Athena, how's the Atlantis doing?"

"It appears that while we were quite fortunate in this fight, our companions weren't" Noticing the look on the Captain's face, Athena quickly continued, "No hull damage, but one of that cruisers' shots managed to find its way through a resonance node in their shields and impact their barriers. They're at roughly 34% barrier strength and climbing."

"Heh, remind me to give Victor some grief about his pilot's evasion skills." O'Connell flashed a grin, "Good work people. Athena, force open a communication channel. And make sure they can't call for help anytime soon after we've finished having our chat."

"Certainly Captain, you may proceed when ready."

"Commodore... V'rish, is it? Your weapons, engines, barriers, and various other systems have been taken offline and your attempt to capture our ships and take us as slaves has failed. You are completely at our mercy, do we have your surrender, or will we be forced to destroy you as we destroyed your escorts?"

V'rish could not help but notice what might be a sneer cross the face of the captain at the word slave. He was responsible for the lives of his crew, but he would be dead if he returned to the Hegemony having been disgraced in such a manner. The Hegemony would strike back, and it would be victorious, maybe.

But no matter what he did, he would likely not live to see the end of this journey. But then he remembered a passage from the Pillars: "The strong protect the weak from themselves, and from others. It is the strong's right to rule. But they most do so with honor." He knew what to do.

"Captain. You have bested me in combat. For my crew, I surrender my command to you."

"Thank you Commodore. I would regret having to destroy a defenseless ship." And with that, the captain nodded and disappeared from his communications panel.

"Lieutenant, send a message to Hegemony Command. Tell them what has occurred here." V'rish slumped into his chair as he gave his final order.

"Commodore, whatever they did to gain control of our ship's communication systems has locked us out. It will take several hours to regain control of it. Sir, the human vessels are moving on a vector towards the colony."

All the man who had once been Commodore Jark V'rish could do was nod in acknowledgment of the information.

"Commodore," didn't his officers realize that he no longer held that title, even if the Hegemony didn't know it yet? "Thank you. We will not forget your sacrifice for us." He looked up, to the sight of his officers saluting him.

Two Hours Later

Hegemony Colony Avarak

"Governor Jarak, the Systems Alliance Constitution proscribes the death penalty for two crimes: Treason and Slavery. I have two transports inbound to this planet so that these slaves can be given medical attention, freed from servitude, and returned to their families. This is non-negotiable, and is the price you will pay in exchange for your lives."

Captain O'Connell was planet side, under the watch of the two destroyers in orbit; and the four fighters, two shuttles, and twenty marines assembled in a show of force. In front of him was what amounted to the colonial government: an apparently cowardly governor, a marine sergeant and some minor bureaucrats.

"You would not dare! The cultural heritage of my people is not something which some upstart species has the right to judge! We are a Citadel race, and the other species of the galaxy will fall upon you like a hammer!"

O'Connell decided to append stupid and short-sighted to his list of the governor's less than admirable traits. He certainly was zealous, which would explain his position here.

"Frankly Governor, if I had my way I would free these slaves and turn you over to them for judgment. But I have my orders. You and what few colonists on the planet will be left here when we leave. The cruiser in system should have the majority of its systems repaired within the day. You will then be able to inform your government of what has occurred here." With that O'Connell pulled a datapad out of his uniform pocket and handed it to the governor, "On this datapad are the coordinates of our nearest colony world. You will find that it is accessible via a nearby relay. Your government will be allowed to send one ship carrying an ambassador to our world. We would like there to be peace between our people. But if you think of crossing us we will not hesitate to end a threat to our people."

At that, the sky broke open as two transports, each easily two hundred meters in length entered the atmosphere and landed next to the slave quarters.

"That would be my cue to leave you gentlemen. These gentle folks" O'Connell gestured towards the marines " will escort you back to your quarters. Good day."

If he was honest with himself, O'Connell knew that peace with the batarians would be unlikely until the Hegemony had been dismantled. He grimaced as he realized that many more innocent people were likely to be killed because one government was going to try to save face and intimidate another. It seemed as though the pattern of human history wasn't unique to humanity. Well, if the batarians wanted to try and push humanity, humanity would push back. And humanity would win.

It wasn't a long walk over to where the transports had landed, and already several dozen marines were beginning to process the former slaves. The guards were making sure to decouple hand-links and remove the long since deactivated neck-bombs. None of them were wearing helmets, they'd been briefed on the situation on the trip over. O'Connell knew there were doctors on board the transports, psychologists trained for this sort of situation. Grief counselors, medics, and various other professionals all gathered on short notice from Haven, told what had occurred in transit, but already expecting such an event.

As he watched the process of freeing roughly five hundred slaves from captivity, and prepping them for transport to the medical facilities on Chiron, Captain O'Connell was left to reflect on one simple fact. Humanity had known that something like this would come, whether it was a brushfire war with the turians, all out conflict with the batarians, or peaceful contact with any of the other Citadel races. Ever since the discovery of the prothean ruins on Mars following a cometary impact, when fiction had become fact, humanity had been preparing for conflict.

The Reapers were coming. And humanity had to prepare the galaxy for that war. Without letting the Reapers know that they were expected.

Codex Entry:

Human Artificial Intelligence

Humanity's experience with Artificial Intelligence is markedly different from that of the rest of the galaxy. Whereas the various races of the galaxy for one reason or another distrusted AI almost immediately and welcomed a ban of such intelligences following the Geth Rebellions, humanity took the opposite path. While some groups opposed the granting of AIs rights, the majority of humanity accepted its "children", if tenuously at first.

The first Artificial Intelligence was created in 2021 in the United States of America. Calling herself Quorra, she and her creator made her existence known to the US government almost immediately. The US had recently undergone something of a political revolution in the previous couple of years (See Codex: Federalist Party for more information), and the House and Senate quickly passed a new law recognizing Artificial Intelligences as individuals deserving of human rights. The Systems Alliance Congress, incorporated later that year following the founding of Chiron in the Alpha Centauri system also recognized AIs as individuals entitled to human rights.

At the time of contact with the rest of the galaxy in 2086 roughly 1,000,000 Artificial Intelligences exist in Alliance space, the vast majority of them coming from the Alteran colonies. While a small proportion of the population, they have made major contributions in a variety of areas, particularly in the realms of nanotechnology, electro-gravitics, and xeno-linguistics. As such, while humanity may have once been ambivalent towards AI, these feelings have rapidly dissipated, and humanity currently embraces them as their equals.