This chapter is kind of short, but somewhat packed in information and plot so hopefully that balances out a little.

Now to address reviews!

Makolik, humanity uses something called a "subspace core" in the more power intensive constructs. For everything else in space fusion is reliable, efficient, and fuel is readily available. Fusion also doesn't risk destroying a good chunk of your fleet if it blows up improperly. As to the points brought up in your second review, spoilers.

Tymofey, Alterans have 1500 years of added history. A lot of which was spent simply building up population, infrastructure, and defenses. As to accessing the prothean data cache, it probably could have been pushed back a decade. Considering the premise of Siding Spring actually impacting Mars revealing the ruins didn't pan out (darn?) it would make more sense if I went back and adjusted the plot. Ah well, first fic, lesson learned.

Tallman7, only among his friends does he accept being called Jim. For everyone else it's his rank or James. (I just thought it would be a fun shout out.)

Shiny, I did not know that. And while cool, for the purposes of this fic, it's not a practical use of wormholes due to energy constraints. Better to send massive amounts of steel and titanium to deal with the problem on the other side more often than not.

Human Space – Classified System Blackwatch
July 26th, 2176

"Twenty thousand dead. And as perverse as it sounds, thank God that the majority of those are military personnel." Director Harper ground out to the group gathered in his briefing room. "To say that this is a failure on all our parts would be an understatement."

"At least the bunkers worked as advertised. Rescue teams are still working on extracting people that were blocked in by debris, but there were no casualties mentioned. Considering the damage around them, it appears we've gotten fairly good at engineering stuff to survive disasters."

"Harper, we know all this." Locking eyes with the director of Alliance Intelligence, Admiral Hackett continued. "We know that our fighter corps got off relatively lightly. That roughly one hundred civilians are listed as MIA, likely having been captured and brought back to those transports before they were destroyed. All of this information has been gone over already. So let's cut to the speculation."

Leaning back, Hackett and the others in the room watched as Jack Harper pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. Before turning to one of the Intelligence officers present.

"Loki, if you would begin the analysis we've made."

"Certainly sir." The dark-haired AI swiftly manipulated the holographic display over the table to show a selection of images before selecting one showing the largest raider infantry unit.

"Let us start here. We're calling this Reaper construct an Ogre. It is clearly based off a krogan body, however that and its predilection towards charging a foe are the only commonalities with brutes. Its purpose on the battlefield appears to be some sort of artillery platform, capable of launching several missiles from its back."

"Several were recovered from Elysium, and under strict quarantine were analyzed. The cybernetics used in their extremities were interesting, slightly better than galactic standard, but otherwise unexceptional. It was analysis of the hump which yielded the evidence we expected to find."

With the wave of a hand, the highlighted image shifted from that of a whole ogre, to one that was clearly being dissected. Arms and legs had been removed, and now the assembled panel was looking at the interior of what was once the krogan's hump.

"Several varieties of nanites were found to be mediating the devices found within, integrating them with the organic tissue in a manner similar to other reaper constructs we've found. What's more is that the krogan's dental structure has been fortified to a significant degree as has the mouth and throat. The purpose of this became clear when we discovered that it led directly into the hump, bypassing both stomachs completely. As these ogres became priority targets when they appeared before our forces, none survived an extended period of time, but we surmise based on some of the machinery that had been implanted that there was some form of ammo synthesis going on. Likely the ogre would consume material in its vicinity in order to restore its ammo reserves, organic and metal compounds being the likely targets."

That revelation disturbed several of the individuals sitting at the table. Hackett was the first to speak once the group regained its composure, "What about the other bodies which were recovered? Reports indicated that there was a large degree of cybernetics implanted in the opposing soldiers."

"That is correct sir." Nodding his head, Loki brought forward another image above the table, this time a composite showing several different body parts. All showed some cybernetic implants.

"The general infantry, a mix of most other species, all showed degrees of cybernetic enhancement. The most common enhancements were to cognition and musculature. All of them were mediated by reaper nanites."

"And do we have an explanation for why Sovereign didn't utilize true husks, besides the ogres, in this attack?" Hackett pressed, looking at Harper as he stated the question.

"No we don't," was the response given by Harper after a drag on his cigarette. "To be frank, we don't have a good grasp of Reaper psychology beyond 'if it's an advanced organic civilization, make it into a Reaper.' Part of this has been a deliberate handicapping of ourselves in order to protect ourselves from the Reapers learning that we know about them. Another part is that we are dealing with what are effectively hive minds."

The sole quarian in the room interrupted at this point, "Take the geth as an example. We have difficulty on occasion discussing things with them. They are a gestalt of billions of programs far more capable of solving a single program when singularly devoted to the task. Their point of view in many cases is simply alien to individualistic beings, even we quarians can at times have difficulty dealing with the conclusions they draw before they explain, and we created them. What is key in the geth case is that their gestalt is a natural evolution of the development."

Leaning backward the quarian scientist frowned momentarily before continuing, "With a Reaper, no such claim can be made. Yes, they are hive minds, but the gestalt is made from former individuals in a rather traumatic manner. Assuming of course that our initial source is correct. Trying to rationalize a gestalt that is born from such trauma and has such a different point of view is extraordinarily difficult."

"Thank you Doctor Zorah," Harper said with a wave of his hand toward the man. "Our best guess, and it is only a guess, is that this was a test. Whether Sovereign was testing humanity or its own forces, we don't know."

Admiral Hackett nodded at that. "I suppose that will have to do for the moment. There is something else to consider about Sovereign's attack however."

A few key commands later and footage from the battle once more played on the holographic display. This time showing the initial moments of the assault.

"I had my analysts go over the footage of the attack as well. And there was a disturbing trend. Sovereign targeted our particle cannon systems perfectly. Each strike disabled the firing systems without causing a critical system failure. The only explanation we have for this behavior is that the Reapers have encountered our weaponry before. Fortunately it appears that's because they're able to do considerable damage."

"Agreed." Harper said, rubbing his chin for a moment. "If we can figure out how to counteract the disruption caused by the dark energy released when their barriers shatter then our weapons would be even more effective. That's an avenue of tech advancement to pursue. Loki, perhaps you can explain another of our findings?"

"Of course sir." Once more the AI waved, this time showing a frame from the battle that had been waged in space above the planet.

"We've shared the information you're about to hear with our allies in the Hierarchy, STG, and Conclave military in hopes that our combined efforts will yield a solution. We believe that the analysis of our shields' weakness put forth by the AIs and naval personnel present in the battle is correct. Sovereign's main guns create an artificial resonance node in the shield, permitting the majority of the energy and matter to penetrate the shield, whereupon our barriers are insufficient."

"As we're all aware, one of the weaknesses of our shields is that they have to be tuned properly to deal with the energy they will be handling. While we have made immense strides in 1500 years, we still have difficulties in meshing certain shield types with one another. Sovereign's weapon takes advantage of the most apparent, kinetic and thermal shielding. Both interfere with each other due to the similarity in field structure causing interference effects in both shields."

"And since we can't rely on barriers," Admiral Hackett continued for the AI, "due to the fact that element zero interferes with our hyperdrives and other system, we're stuck unless we figure out how to remedy that problem."

"Precisely sir. However there is some good news on this front," motioning toward Dr. Zorah the AI gave a smile, "Our quarian allies have figured out a possible stopgap while we nail down a more permanent solution."

At that prompting, the quarian scientist called forward a technical schematic from his omni-tool to the main display over the table. "Our solution is somewhat simplistic, but technically complicated. You already use it to some extent, but this would require a degree of engineering finesse which humanity lacks."

"Simply put, you rapidly cycle between kinetic and thermal shielding at a specific frequency. While this would reduce the total efficiency of either shield type, ultimately against a weapon like this the effective strength is increased. This is because before a resonance node can form, the shield itself recalibrates between each mode."

"Doctor, we've tried something similar before," came the reply from one of the Admiral's assistants, "And while we are able to do it, it tends to increase maintenance requirements and decrease the lifespan of the systems themselves. The mechanical issues that crop up are more severe than you give credit to."

"That's because you have in the past utilized a brute force method utilizing a single shield unit." Came the reply from the grinning quarian. "By utilizing a duel generator setup linked together so that the energy is shared between both generators as they switch between the two you can effectively switch between a 'standby' mode and an 'active' mode for each generator. Again, this is a stopgap. A better solution would be to create a shield that is capable of handling both thermal and kinetic energy equally."

"Thank you Doctor, this is definitely helpful." Admiral Hackett said, cutting off his assistant's next rebuttal.

"Anything to help."

A quick cough brought the table's attention back to Harper, who had started on his second cigarette. "We can show a technical demonstration of the setup later in one of the engineering labs. Loki, there's one final matter we have to attend to."

"Yes sir." Another wave of the hand and the images floating in the air disappeared and were replaced with helmet footage of a soldier from the battle engaged in hand to hand combat in with an unmarked figure.

"This footage shows one of our N6 operatives engaged in combat with what we have come to conclude is a Confederate operative. It appears that somehow a Confederate cell learned about the recovered artifact and attempted to seize the research materials and staff related to the project for their own purposes. And while that highlights a critical security failure, there is something even more dangerous at work here. Doctor Morgan?"

All eyes turned to the medical doctor seated at the table as he rose to speak. Straightening his jacket he called up several images of an autopsy to the main holographic projection, as well as a genetic analysis.

"To put it simply, these Confederate soldiers are perfect specimens." The British doctor stated once the others had a chance to glance at the information presented. "Not only were they in perfect physical condition prior to their deaths, but genetically they are perfect. Not in the 'blue eyes, blonde hair' sense, but rather in what is absent. There are no genetic abnormalities in their genetic makeup. No diseases, no physical deformities. Perfect."

"More to the point, the genetic code is the same throughout their body. The modifications that they underwent would be propagated to their progeny, in clear violation of both Citadel and Alliance law." Pausing, the doctor frowned and scrunched his face before continuing, "Not that they would care of course. But beyond simply perfecting their genetic makeup, there is evidence of genetic tampering. They are stronger, faster, and likely had a slight cognitive advantage in addition to their apparent immunity to stunning."

"And while this was likely an expensive endeavor at first, it is primarily in the initiation of the project. Yes, their perfection will be diluted with their progeny, genetics drift over time, but that's a rather simple correction in comparison to the initial effort. The entire team that our forces encountered was enhanced in this matter, and while the loss of several members would be worth the data obtained, the entire team? Each individual must have cost billions of credits in resources and expertise to modify, which implies that the Confederates have that sort of money. And given that this team was sacrificed on such a mission there must be others like them."

Turning to look at each Alliance officer present, the doctor completed his analysis. "Gentleman, this suggests that the Confederacy is not quite as dead as we initially thought and remains a threat to the galaxy. Had they managed to acquire the research present on Elysium whatever plans they

Sitting down, the doctor nodded towards both Hackett and Harper. The two leaders shared a look before the director spoke.

"Thank you doctor. Fortunately for us this Confederate team failed. It has also granted us a boon." A few commands into his datapad brought two images to center of the table with biographical information underneath both. Lieutenant Marc Shepard and Specialist Garrus Vakarian.

"This attack has finally identified just who our Shepard is. As such, he is being recommended for Spectre status alongside Specialist Vakarian."

Smiling, Director Harper sat back as he prepared to light a new cigarette. "Well gentleman, the end-game has begun."

Light years away the same two images shone in a similar briefing room, if more dimly lit. And one in which the occupants held much different feelings for the two individuals shown.

"Of course it would be Shepard who would interfere with the operation. And alongside a xeno. What were you thinking authorizing such actions?" The apparent head of the meeting snapped at one of the military officers present.

"This was a decision agreed upon by myself and Melendez." The officer replied acidly while gesturing towards another member of the meeting. "We saw an opportunity to advance our agenda to the detriment of the Alliance, and we took it. Unfortunately the damned hero of Elysium was there along with his pet."

"And while the operatives themselves and their skills were irreplaceable, the methods of their creation were not Pyotr. We already have several more troopers being created at considerably reduced costs and their numbers can be increased quickly and without much fuss."

"That hardly matters if the Alliance increases its attention towards us General Liang." Came the reply. "We have spent a century rebuilding ourselves in the shadows and depths of space so that when the time came we could swiftly gain control of humanity. We have had to slowly integrate the Alteran colonies into those plans, sacrificing cats' paws now and then to satisfy the Alliance's hunt for us. And all that has now been jeopardized by one foolish mistake!"

Silence reigned for several moments as the assembled Confederate leaders ruminated on the events that had brought them together. While the colony they were on was hidden, none of them could be sure that the Alliance hadn't managed to discover its location. And some amongst them had more to lose than others if they were caught.

Finally one of the members whose expertise resided in corporate matters spoke. "Chairman, this may actually prove beneficial in the long run. If I may?"

Making a quick gesture, Pyotr Linden indicated for the man to continue.

"Thank you. Yes, this may drive the Alliance to redouble its efforts to eliminate us as a military threat. We will of course lose several of our moles located in the various services that have managed to evade detection. And our political allies throughout human space may be cowed for some time."

"This doesn't sound particularly beneficial Henry." One of the others interrupted to general laughter. And a glare from the chairman.

"That's because you think much like our opponents," pausing to sip some water, the corporate executive allowed his fellows to absorb the insult. "And like them you are only thinking of the political effects. Yes, they will go after our agents, but they will not go after our economic strength. How could they? Several of us control some of the most successful corporations in the galaxy. Yes, our political power has been kept at bay by those damned Federalists, but then we haven't truly pushed the issue since the first years they gained power. They may have stripped us from our thrones when they came to power, but even they realized that we were too necessary to break our influence completely."

"So what is it you suggest?" Chairman Linden asked, having calmed down to a significant degree.

Smiling broadly, the executive finished his recommendation "That we do as we have always done. Sacrifice. Distract the Alliance as usual with some easy victories. Let them find some of our agents and forces and dispatch them. When we finally make our move we will have the economic, and therefore the military and political clout to force humanity to follow us. If we distract them properly."

"And the Reapers?" Another military officer questioned.

"Let the Alliance and their xenos 'allies' handle them. They can sacrifice themselves all they want. Meanwhile we can conserve and potentially grow our strength as our enemies bleed themselves dry. The Reapers will be defeated, all we have to do is pick up the pieces afterward and we regain our rightful places."

Again the members of the meeting were silent. A few nodded their heads in agreement, the other corporate members signaled their approval in their own way. And as Henry watched the chairman, he knew that his own influence had grown by a small amount with the Confederate leadership. Some were simply better fit to lead than others.

The Alliance would fall someday. And he would be among those who ruled over humanity.

Light-centuries away Nazarra ruminated on what it had discovered.

Its forces had proven themselves. Casualties were expected and within tolerable levels. They would be replaced and improved based on the data gathered. Unfortunate that the artifact had not be destroyed, but it would prove little help to humanity. Its creators had experienced ascension after a brief struggle.

Soldiers and ships could be replaced. Raids in what was termed "the Terminus" would see to that. An army would be compiled once more to bring the organic races of this cycle to ascension.

The remnants of its incursion into human space would be repaired. Improved.

And yet something troubled its consciousness.

The defenders had reacted as they would to any invader. But there was something odd to their behavior.

Once more it went through the battle. Approaching the situation from all the assets it had put forth until they had fallen.

And as it did so, it grew concerned. The humans had recognized the threat it posed. They had saved their particle weaponry for use against itself, and had focused down those creations which clearly bore his mark.

Somehow the humans recognized the threat it posed. The scar it was now repairing was evidence of this fact, but even more so the hatred they directed toward its pawns.

It went over humanity's actions since they had joined the galaxy. Artifacts destroyed at their hands, its pawns rebuffed and attacked at every turn, their avoidance of the relays except when necessary.

Somehow humanity had learned of the Ascendants' existence. A message from the previous cycle, uncovered early enough in their development to curb their use of the manageable element zero.

For a moment they considered calling forth their brethren through the alternate access points. That however could prove disastrous. Without control of the relays, the organics could fight. A moment to calculate the odds of their success left Nazarra concerned about the future cycles.

Time. Enough time could aid the organics in preventing their ascension if they girded themselves. However there were no signs of widespread preparation for the Ascended. Time could lead to conflict amongst themselves as had occurred time and again.

Time would also allow Nazarra to build its own forces. No, its brethren could sleep for now. It would handle the threat these humans posed soon. But it would not act in desperation, threatening the work that handle already been accomplished.

The cycle would continue. Humanity would not stop it. Could not stop it.

Codex: Alliance Intelligence Agency
Director Jack Harper

The director of Alliance Intelligence since 2171, Jack Harper is a staunch defender of humanity and its colonies. Serving in the alliance military for several years after graduating college, he soon found himself in Alliance Intelligence. Rapidly rising through the ranks due to his competency and insight, he quickly found himself in charge of several assets scattered throughout the galaxy before being selected to command the organization.

Working closely with the AI in charge of cyber-security, Loki, he quickly took charge of the expansive organization, working tirelessly to bring it into greater coordination with the military than had previously existed. While historical rivalries still remain between the spooks and the grunts, both sides recognize the efforts he has made to strengthen humanity's position in the galaxy.

Some of his critics maintain that he has gained the position as a means to keep a more careful eye on his activities. However, even his harshest critics recognize that his loyalty to humanity has been proven time and again.

Codex: Alliance Military Figures
Admiral Steven Hackett

Born in Buenos Aires in 2134, Steven Hackett is one of the leading military officers in the Alliance Navy. Attending the Advanced Training Academy for Juveniles, he was quickly acknowledged as a future star in the Alliance Navy, receiving his commission in 2156. Serving during the Attican Piracy campaign of 2157 with distinction, he led several successful missions against fortified positions through a combination of ingenuity and resolve earning himself the attention of his superiors.

Given the longevity of humans since the development of the nanite-immune system, this attention is partly responsible for his rapid rise in rank. The other part comes from the continued need for high-caliber officers. Recognized for his natural talents in command and combat, he swiftly found himself in the captain's chair. A chance encounter with a Confederate ship undergoing a resupply mission led to him successfully destroying two undercover cells, earning his promotion to admiral.

Now serving as a Rear Admiral in Fifth Fleet, he is in charge of the defenses covering the Arcturus system leading to Earth. A responsibility he takes seriously, he is known for his attention to the abilities of those under his command, a recognition of the circumstances that led to his rapid advancement and his responsibility to foster the next generation of military leaders.

I was going to throw in a Council scene here, but it seems superfluous in light of the Blackwatch discussion. Also I was going to throw in a Federalist politician at one point to discuss the political realities, but as the scene evolved it looked like it would simply add clutter and distraction.

Handling the Confederate Union is going to be tricky. They've evolved over the years and accepted new elements in that time but they are very much in the shadows. Effectively they represent the old guard authoritarian governments and other elements which carry a more Hobbesian view of humanity (Listen here you, and fall in line for your own good!). The Alliance in comparison is very much founded on the ideals of Locke and Rousseau (Respect for rights is inherent in human nature).

As for corporate elements. This is tricky to handle. There is a bit of back story that I've hinted at that hasn't exactly been revealed. To give the quick and dirty summation, in a few years (in America at least), a new party forms that combines the good aspects of both Republicans and Democrats and ditches a great deal of the corporate sponsorship. This party (the Federalists in case you weren't paying attention) introduces several reforms which greatly reduce corporate influence in the US government. They go on to be a leading force in the Alliance (I picture a Labour like party, Terra Firma, and a more libertarian-esque party as being the major players in the Alliance government). Not everyone likes them, clearly, but they essentially relieved the critical pressure that is clearly building in American politics at this time (both on the left and the right).

And that's all we'll say on that for the moment.

As for Sovereign, dun dun dun. And of course I'm trying to think like an insanely intelligent, ancient, and tormented hive mind a few pages after saying that's incredibly difficult/nigh impossible. Please forgive the hypocrisy.

Also, Hackett is only 52 at the start of ME3, which he does not look. Expansion of the fleet and cycling out of officers is the expansion. I keep using the example, but Royal Manticore Navy shows how this might work.

Next chapter brings us... a bit more familiarity.