Author has written 13 stories for Teen Titans, Halo, and Mass Effect.
I suppose I have tell you what I like and hate huh? Very well.
Video Games: I'm an avid gamer. Yet I find that many games are too short for my liking. I finish many of them in two days.
TV: Who doesn't.
Movies: But some are crappy.
I am also a pop culture junkie, which ferverently means I'm going to have a lot of pop culture references in my stories.
Alert: Teen Titans the Musical has been removed, because FF.Net is being snippy and stupid. However you can now find the story here:Updated periodically for your pleasure.
Well with all the old stuff now out of the way, time for all the new profile information. Fanfiction writing is often something that is often maligned by many. Countless slash fics and other crappy stories have given it an image that it's an excuse by the fans to do shit that makes no sense. There's a semblance of truth to that, but I also see it as something more. A chance for aspiring writers to enhance their skills and actually get some practice in story telling/writing. Not everyone can be a good writer of course, but a good story teller can come from anywhere. Fanfiction can help you understand how to become a better one. Its rare to find a good story on fanfiction.net though, and this is more because of the internet's nature then anything. The fact is the internet is a playground for anyone with a keyboard and an opinion to spread. I'm mainly saying all this to explain, just cause most of the stuff is bad doesn't mean one should give up trying to create or find good stories.
I'm also saying this all to explain my hope with my new direction. I've been writing Teen Titans fanfiction for awhile, but the thing is Teen Titans has been cancelled for years. Eventually you get bored of writing the same damn thing over and over and this is especially true when you don't think you're living up to all your standards. script format isn't exactly a high water mark of writing. So over time I abandoned the script format and started writing stories how I knew I could and should write them. And most recently after finishing my final Teen Titans story I abandoned the Titans altogether, believing I had told all the stories I wanted to tell with them. In fact in my last story I even made reference to what I was going to do next by having Shepard appear alongside Grunt to be the new stars of my fanfics. It was a taste of where I wanted to go from there.
Which brings me to my new ongoing project, "The Wormhole Chronicles" Series I'm currently working on. I had the idea awhile ago. Mass Effect in my opinion is a terrific science fiction story, despite what a few detractors say, most of them disillusioned fans that popped up after ME2, In addition, I think Halo is also a fantastic science fiction story. Both of them create large expansive universes, with tremendous amounts of mythology and lore surrounding the races, planets and individuals who inhabit them both. And yet while both are exceedingly popular, Mass Effect isn't as derided as Halo is. I have a number of friends who dislike the franchise because of myriad of reasons. The story isn't good, the characters are bland, it killed innovation in the shooter game genre, etc. I've heard most of the complaints. While I don't think they're entirely invalid, I don't agree with them. I think Halo, while being less high brow then Mass Effect, is no less a good story then it. Comparing Halo to Mass Effect is like comparing say Blade Runner to Aliens. Both are great movies, it's just the former has a few more complex deeper themes then say Aliens or if you wanna go a bit more "low brow" if you will, Predator. They each have their own special qualities that make them great.
And that's what I'm attempting to do here, showcase Mass Effect and Halo's unique qualities that make them both wonderful science fiction tales. This isn't some VS. storyline, it's asking the question how would these two universes interact should they come across one another. I'm aware that many people are wary of ME and Halo crossovers, too many try and fail quite often. Especially ones involving other dimensions. So I decided if I was going to do this I was gonna do it right. I wasn't gonna rush into things without first thinking how the heroes of both games would react to each other. How they'd clash, how'd they'd become friends, which ones would become friends, how the different ideologies and beliefs would work against or for one another. For the most part the response seems to be overwhelming positive. Which is pretty good, but I don't want it to go to my head. I'm always trying to see where I can improve and if I can improve. and I'm always thinking "What can I do that would make this story even more interesting?"
It's a constant process, I'm not trying to win over everyone here, but I do have a story I wish to tell and I'm gonna tell it. Cause as a fan of both series I want to do them both justice. I won't play favourites, if I think something from the Halo-verse is stronger then something from the ME verse or vice versa I'll show that. AND I'll also show what it takes for the weaker side to come out on top should it be required. I don't want to do curb-stomp battles unless it's to illustrate a point. So that's my mission statement more or less, explore the reactions of both universes as they come into contact with one another. Whether I succeed or fail is left up to the audience to decide. All I ask is for people to be honest and constructive in whatever they have to say about it. I'm tough, I can take it.
As a final caveat, a TV Tropes page was created for this fanfic. As a bit of a troper myself it's kinda charming to know I'm featured there. Huzzah for 15 minutes of internet fame! XD Anyway, feel free to check it out at your leisure and edit it if you so desire. I like checking up on it now and again, just to see what people noticed or discovered or whatnot as they were reading. I like seeing if what I aiming for got across, that's the mark of a good writer. You can find the page here:
Guilty Sparks also has it's own page now as well:
Notes on Guilty Sparks:
-Do not read unless you are up to date with all the chapters-
Notes for Chapters 1-10
Notes for Chapters 11-16
Chapter 17-18 Notes
Silent Cartographer: It is the most iconic and probably most beloved of all Halo levels. It has linear goals but there are number of ways to complete them. The terrain is open, you have free reign across the entire island for the most part and it features some pretty badass music. Oh, and let’s not forget the D-Day-esque opening sequence.
It was a really fun level and its rock formations even inspired a few folks to do some crazy stunts with it. I remember watching the Warthog Grenade Launch video with its kicking Scorpions soundtrack religiously back in the day. For supposedly being just a bunch of stupid multiplayer unoriginal bland as shit hardcore gamer Broskis, Halo players can be pretty damn creative when given the opportunity to go nuts.
I tried my best to capture that sense of openness with a number of different POVs, so we got a sense of what was happening across the island during every second of the fight. I suppose I should’ve realised that was going to jump it up a bit in terms of length, but oh well, stupid I am like that. At least I got to have everyone play a roll more or less and showcase the highlights of this beloved level. Now if only I could somehow add a soundtrack to the file so every time someone started reading it, the level’s opening music would play.
Tri-Clops: Well, this is so far the most disgusting thing I’ve created on my own. If only because I had it spew green slime whenever it took damage. That long neck was kinda fucked up too actually.
I wanted to create a roaming gun platform for the Covenant Husks, something that could take a lot of punishment and dish it back out, something that would require our heroes thinking a bit more in order to take it out. It wasn’t easy coming up with a traditional design that worked. At first it looked like one of those limbless freaks from Silent Hill with one eye, gradually it became a tripod with three-eyes and plasma gun strapped to its chin.
Ugly looking spud as it was, its death was pretty graphic, even for me... and I wrote it. I keep getting the image of Grunt caked in blood after every encounter he has. Then again, that’s how he ended up in ME3, so... yeah.
The Tri-Clops was my favourite creation yet and I think I’m going to be using him more often. He seems like a design that could have multiple functions. So look for him to appear again and prey next time they have something that can make killing him a little less up-close and personal.
Unless you want more blood of course.
Daisy: For those unaware, Daisy is from the “Halo Legends” animated short film, “Homecoming.” She is canon as far as I’m aware as Halsey mentions her briefly in her Journal when she’s recaptured. Her story is an interesting one, a Spartan inductee who tries to escape. One wonders why more didn’t try, but I imagine at a young age most children aren’t as attached to their parents as they should be. So it’s easier to recruit them, horrible yes, but easier.
Chief’s attempt to stop them was my own bit of canon introduced. In my mind, Chief wouldn’t want any of the kids he grew up with abandoning the team or him so easily. So, if given the chance, he would’ve tried to stop Daisy. Of course, this was during some of the first rounds of augmentations, so the Master Chief would have probably been in no real condition to actual fight any of them. And if he went unarmed he’d be even less prepared to fight. I know it’s probably unlikely that this happened in the actual canon, but let’s just assume that during the first round of augments, all the Spartans were held on Reach. After all, Daisy referenced undergoing some prior to her escape, so she had to have been on Reach during that time. Let’s also assume Chief was still fit enough to walk after having his body injected with all kinds of crap, he did survive after all.
I’m also aware it’s up for debate whether that was Chief we saw at the end of Homecoming. I’m going to just assume it was and this happened after the Battle of Harvest where the other Spartans were doing clean up duty after retaking the planet.
The idea was essentially to give the Master Chief a chance to share some of his past and connect a little with Commander Shepard. As you can tell, Chief may be fine with working with the Commander, but he isn’t comfortable socializing with him as much. But he’s Commander Shepard for a reason, so it’s not too difficult to get him to open up. It helps that the Commander has built a rapport with the Spartan so far and that the Chief does trust him. It’s not really the Commander or his team he has problem with, it’s the fact he lost his, as you could probably guess. That was his family, getting too close to another one just opens up the chance to lose them again. And after losing pretty much all your brothers in sisters, I think you’d be just a little reluctant to fully embrace a new group of people.
So, more character growth between our two main heroes to come. Hopefully the Master Chief will try to be more open with Shepard now that he’s shared a bit of his past. After all, Shepard’s been straight with him and shared some snippets of his own life. The longer they work together, the fewer secrets they’ll be able to hold back. That’s what happens when you join up with Shepard. Hell, Mordin released confidential Salarian Union secrets after a week or so with the Commander, Garrus couldn’t wait to tell Shepard about his daddy issues when he got aboard and it took Joker five seconds to blurt out his disease to him. Chief will be a tougher nut to crack of course, but he’s coming around.
Pirate Songs: It’s harder than it looks to come up with alien Pirate songs without making them reference human stuff they shouldn’t know. I felt I could get away with guano because the Jackals may have some bat-like creatures on their planet, but I certainly couldn’t reference sharks or Davy Jones. So I was kinda stuck there. Nevertheless, I think I injected a little more culture in the Pirate lore of the Kig-Yar. But it was so hard coming up with rhymes, ugh. It may be awhile before I attempt anything like that again.
But it was fun, make no mistake about that. Just tiring.
New Weapon Unlocked: So an undercurrent in these two chapters involved characters using weapons from outside their universe. Chief ended up holding and firing a Matlock, Linda used a Widow and Shepard’s team had to improvise with some Covenant weapons for a short bit. Given the nature of the next few missions, that’s probably going to occur a lot more often. So look for Shepard and crew to be picking up UNSC and Covenant weapons from the ground regularly as the situation calls, because they can only carry so many Thermal clips.
Assault on the Control Room: Following up the most iconic level was one that had a setting so popular it got reused three times over the course of the series, twice in the first game and once in the third. It featured our first chance to take a tank for a spin and potentially the first time we could fly around in a Banshee. It had some stealth sequences, indoor and outdoor environments, a bunch of kickass bridge fights and more Hunters than you could shake a stick at.
It’s also a very difficult level. I ended up asking my sister to help me beat it on Co-Op in fact just so I could advance through the game. While I liked the level I was never much of a fan for how much of a slog it felt just getting through it. I loved the outdoor scenes a lot, but always dreaded going inside. You may have noticed I cut out a lot of those particular scenes in the interest of time. I felt the most exciting stuff involved the tanks, the bridges and the final push, whereas the corridors and hallways kinda get a bit repetitive. Consider this as the highlight reel of sorts.
I was kinda worried about the tank scenes though, the Scorpion is a powerhouse in game and even adjusting for realism, it’s hard to see it getting taken out by anything other than a Wraith or a very clever pair of Hunters. I’ll no doubt have something in mind for when we return to this level in the future just to make things a little more interesting.
Regardless, I think the tank scenes came out okay. It helped a bit that I had everyone doing their part to assist Chief instead of having the Tank do all the work. It was great to be able to do a little dogfight though. I remember somehow managing to steal a Banshee back in the day. I think I got really lucky or was just super fast. Man was it fun dive bombing the Covenant on the bridge. Who’s the God now losers? ME! That’s who! To hell with you!
I think that was what was kinda great about the Assault on the Control Room level. There were plenty of ways to complete it. You had a linear single goal, but if you were smart enough you could find other ways. If you wanted to challenge yourself, you could leave the Scorpion behind and just take a Warthog or Ghost. You weren’t forced into taking any specific vehicle, although it’s kind of a waste not to take the tank.
And, like I said, you can avoid an entire part of the level near the end just by stealing a Banshee. The game rewarded skilful players who thought fast and on their feet. That’s what a lot of people missed about Halo. It required skill. It wasn’t a dumb shooter with bland gameplay as is so often stereotyped. Now, there may be some arguments for... later levels... but I’m going to address those when the time comes.
Monitor Duty: I’ll admit I may have borrowed a bit for this scene after watching “Cabin in the Woods” recently, but the idea is relatively sound and grounded. What if Guilty Spark was watching it all go to hell? What if he had some sort of security system that allowed him to see how terrible things were down in the containment facilities? I mean, Cortana suggests later on that she was able to watch you. That would suggest that such a security system exists. So it makes that Guilty Spark would have similar access.
What was he thinking while containment failed? Was he afraid or was he just slightly distressed at everything? More frustrated than anything at how these Covenant kept messing things up. And when did he decide to activate the rings? At what point did protocol dictate that as the only course of action? I would imagine as soon as it became clear that containment was going to fail and his sentinels couldn’t stop it.
I also added some more hints towards Spark’s past in there, just for those who know it and for those who don’t to try and guess. Also, it was a nice chance to get further hint at the Flood while showing exactly what the Covenant are going through and why they’re so afraid.
Legion’s Game: Okay guys, this may not be easy to swallow, but here it goes... Legion has some major unresolved issues with the Creators and while he may not recognize it as hatred, it borders on it.
In Lair of the Shadow Broker, Legion’s dossier file informs us of his gamer cred. Legion has purchased several games. He has a high level character in “Galaxy of Fantasy”, he is an expert sniper in “Code of Honour: Medal of Duty”, he purchased a fundraising game for the victims of Eden Prime but never played it and tried his hand at a dating sim but failed horribly.
I’m not sure why Legion would pick up and play so many games unless it was trying to figure out why organics played them. One could argue his initial interest in the Fundraiser game was to see why organics seemed to hate the Geth so much despite never having any personal contact with them like the Quarians.
He purchased an edition that was exceedingly expensive, given its title of “Ultra Platinum” in the donation level. No doubt because he wanted to repay the innocent human lives on Eden Prime his heretic counterparts had slaughtered. Yet, despite killing plenty of Heretics himself, Legion never played the game. This says more about him than it does organics. He may admit the heretics were wrong and did terrible things, but he resists killing them, even in virtual form. (More on why this might be later.)
In fact all the games say more about him than anything. They reveal his penchant towards long range combat, his inability to understand organic concepts such as romance and even that he has a bit of trash talking side in that he was suspended for taunting.
Then there is Grim Terminus Alliance, a play on Grand Theft Auto of course. I think this game by itself reveals some rather... distasteful elements about Legion we might want to ignore. Legion goes through the game not killing any slaves, earning an achievement that would probably be seen as fairly paragon. He also earns an achievement called “Cure for what Ails Ya,” for killing one hundred plus quarians.
Disregarding that this achievement is pretty damn racist as it makes light of the weak immune systems of quarians, the fact Legion went out of his way to kill a bunch of simulated-quarians is very suggestive of some deep seated problems. He won’t kill fake-geth, but fake-quarians are fair game.
Now, I’m not trying to sound like some Fox News analyst here by saying games can somehow make people commit crimes or do bad things. No, we’re attracted to certain games because of things that interest us or relate to us. We play horror survival games because we like being scared or proving wits and ability to survive in a dire situation. We’re attracted to Arkham Batman games because we love Batman and many of us have dreamed about kicking bad guy ass on the mean streets.
It’s fantasy fulfilment. They’re not real to us. We play them because we can’t do these things in real life. We can kill and steal in Grand Theft Auto and unless we’re already a psychopath, we’re not going to try and imitate it in real life. GTA allows someone to do whatever they want in a giant city knowing there are no consequences for our actions in those games.
We don’t do the stuff we do in GTA in real life because we know we’d probably end up fucking dead within seconds. We want to be a part of our own crime drama. That is the fantasy of the GTA games. It’s not about mindless murder! It’s about playing out a scene from Miami Heat! Nothing more! The worlds of San Andreas and Liberty City aren’t real! They’re virtual playgrounds for us to play Cops and Robbers on. And this time, if you get shot, you can’t claim you weren’t and cheat.
However, no gamer would ever claim that our choices and actions in games don’t say a little something about ourselves. Take the recent Walking Dead adventure games from TellTale. Speak to anyone about their choices and you’ll see they weren’t really playing the Main Character. They were playing themselves embodied in that character.
When I went against one of the decisions I made in a later play through, one that was completely contrary to what I would do in such situation, one that was totally against my morals and beliefs, I hated myself for hours after. I was disgusted by my actions and instantly felt numb, because it went against who I was as a person.
In contrast, there were many people who regretted their actions in Dragon Age II, realising they had made a bad choice that had come back haunt them. That happened a lot actually. But it was their decision and spoke about what they felt was right or moral.
Games can tell us about who we are and what we value, just like films or books. The difference is we’re in control and that gives us special insight into how relate and react with certain characters. Some people think Kratos is completely justified in all the crap he does, others think he is an irredeemable piece of shit who is entirely selfish and only really cares about his own self-gratification because he fucks up the world in his quest for petty revenge. This quest is even set off due to a punishment he probably rightly deserved.
Two guesses which camp I fall into.
So, taking that into account, what does this say about Legion going out of his way to earn an achievement that requires the murder of one hundred quarians? Some of us purposely avoid achievements that turn our stomachs, (Unless we’re going for a hundred percent completion of course, but that’s neither here nor there) I know I do.
Legion specifically went out of his way to complete two awards that he did not have to complete to win. Being a machine, it’s hard to believe he’d find value in completing these objectives since they offer nothing in exchange but a frivolous award. You can suggest they don’t mean anything, but that would disregard his other more noble action of saving slaves. Those are the two achievements highlighted by the dossier, suggesting they held some form of significance.
Narrative wise, I find this rather troubling. Geth aren’t organic, so playing in a virtual space is about as real as existing in a HUB. The idea of fantasy fulfillment doesn’t fit as well, because to Legion this world is probably as real as the one that exists inside any Geth mainframe. Why else would he purchase but not play a game that involves killing Geth? We’re fine with killing other humans in video games, but Legion refrains from killing other geth in the digital plane, even when he must know they’re not real. Even when they represent the heretics, the Geth he’s fighting against in real life! But he has no problems with snuffing out virtual quarians? What gives?
You can say the fact he picked up a Fleet and Flotilla date game as a suggestion he’s not all that adverse to relations with quarians... except for the fact he flunks it hard. I can imagine he was a bit too guilt trippy when trying to woo quarian females in the game and didn’t understand why they got so touchy about it. He was just being honest with his opinions after all and he has first hand evidence of the fact quarians tried to kill his people. Why would he lie about his opinions just to impress a Creator female? We know why, but he can’t process it.
So, you can’t really claim that this is just a fantasy world for Legion to escape to because of his nature and you can’t really just dismiss it. What does the fact he spent a considerable amount of time killing any quarians he saw say about Legion? It could just be a regular defensive mechanism, a knee jerk reaction like I supposedly suggest, just a leftover from Legion’s early days before he got to know quarians like Tali, but it still raises some questions.
In my mind, Legion still hasn’t stopped considering quarians as a threat, neither has the Geth as a whole. And because of this, they have a very excessive leaning towards their termination on sight. Meanwhile, Legion isn’t comfortable with killing his own kind, because, even with the heretics around, they’re not supposed to kill each other. It’s natural to kill quarians, they’re the enemy, but geth must not kill geth! It’s not natural, even virtual ones as he recognizes them as just as real as he is. In the same vein, those virtual quarians are real too, so they’re a threat, so he kills them.
This could be regarded as a prejudice based on defensive logic. The Creators are dangerous and must be killed to preserve yourself. Some of the actions of Legion’s back-up in the third game further suggest that Legion had an extreme animosity towards quarians, distrusted them greatly and, more or less, didn’t like them.
I’m going to be completely fair here and talk about myself again. I figure, might as well be damned for who I am. Destroy All Humans 2, I bought it for one reason. It took place in the Sixties and it gave me the option to kill hippies. Yes, I’m not a big fan of the flower children, still ain’t.
Nowadays I’ve realised the amount of disgust I felt was a bit overblown. I don’t agree with them on a lot of things and I’m still critical of a lot of what they say and do. But I recognize that it is very petty to take out my frustrations on digital versions of them. I would never harm another human being, hippie or not, but I can’t really say I’m proud of the zeal I had towards picking up that game for the sole purpose of slaughtering them.
To be honest, I’m a bit ashamed for buying the game for those initial reasons, especially when the game’s title requires you to kill all humans, not just one demographic. I should’ve picked up the game because I loved the series and the characters, not to fulfill a petty revenge fantasy. But I’m flawed, imperfect and at times very judgemental of others. And Legion is the same.
So you can claim Legion shouldn’t feel guilty for slaughtering fake-quarians, but don’t say it doesn’t speak to a sense of prejudice or uncomfortable truth about him either. As a synthetic life form who probably sees digital life no different than itself, killing digital quarians at random does not seem very... well... moral or tolerant, especially when it singles out a specific group.
Tali may be a bit racist against the Geth and AIs in the Mass Effect series, but that doesn’t mean Legion can’t fall prey to the same vices. Hell, some folks seemed to think Vik’s hatred of batarians was a bit racist on face value, and that’s a society run by slavers!
If you’re wondering why I spent so much time on this, and put it into the story itself, it’s mainly because of a beef I have with the Mass Effect community and the third game itself. Suffice to say, I’m not here to kiss one side’s ass and pretend they’re wholly innocent. The Geth have serious issues concerning their creators, issues born out of a legitimate conflict and wrong done to their kind, but issues nonetheless. Legion’s miniature mass killing of virtual quarians is evidence of that. They are not so pure as one would think they are, that includes everyone’s favourite Geth I’m afraid.
Plague Spreader: Man, was this a long time coming. I mean, shit, that thing is nightmare fuel. I only hope I captured the original creator’s vision for the absolute terror this thing evokes. Truly a horrifying monster I enjoyed writing as much as I enjoyed killing. It was a nasty piece of work.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why the electrical current of the Husks the Spreader makes don’t affect mass effect weapons like the implant in Liara’s story does, well that’s simple. They aren’t tuned to specifically disrupt mass effect fields like the implants are and the field exists almost completely internally like a capacitor that holds in energy before shooting it out. The Implants generate an electric field whereas these Husks just internalise and then shoot it out. There, we’ll go with that.
Cortana in the Control Room: True story, my sister when she saw this scene during our co-op session thought Cortana was going to turn on us. Funny how my sister’s prediction, which was later shared by an entire fandom, turned out to be false despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. Cortana’s sudden change at the end of the level was rather disturbing to me, as I had never seen her so freaked before. I knew something bad was about to happen, but I didn’t know just what.
As an interesting aside, they really set up the possibility of Cortana betraying you a lot. A lesser game would’ve followed through on that plot thread, instead of the twist they did. Cortana hadn’t gone crazy at all. She was the only one who knew about everything that was going on.
Question is, why did Cortana not try to explain what was happening to you? She gives you a vague approximation, but never just says “There’s a bunch of killer space zombies that want to wipe out life and this ring is designed to beat them to the punch.” I have an idea, that Cortana went into some kind of emergency lockdown mode where she prioritized matters.
She needed to keep the Control Room secure and locked up, fearing that someone would inadvertently activate it, possibly the Monitor or another human. She needed to find Captain Keyes, fearing for his safety because of the loss of contact they had encountered before. Believing herself short on time to accomplish that task, she gave Chief a bare bones warning and sent him off. Cortana probably also felt it would take too long to fully express what they were up against and she was having problems processing it herself. The information could’ve triggered some kind of security lockdown inside her, or maybe that control terminal was affecting her just a bit and it was keeping her from fully explaining everything. Perhaps a bit of Spark’s protocol was forcing her to hold back certain information.
But really, these are all just some random theories. I intend to better explore and explain Cortana’s lack of an answer later on, but for now... we have a parasite to get to.
Notes for Chapter 20
Khar’shan: Whenever I think of the mysterious, often mentioned but never shown, batarian homeworld, my mind conjures up images of a semi-temperate forest world. Where nation states continue to bicker and fight each other, but never outright opposing their government. Perhaps the Hegemony even allows this to go on for the simple reason that as long as everyone is too busy fighting each other they won’t dare remove them from power. It gives me the impression of a cold, untrusting place where the poor and destitute are completely at the mercy of those in authority. The lone outlet they have for their misery is through the only thing the government will allow them to blame for everything, humans
In many ways, it pretty much is North Korea in Space. A prison state that you’re born into and can never leave, where whoever is at the top of the pyramid controls everything. North Korea constantly feeds propaganda to its people, they’re unaware of much of the outside world and a cult of personality has evolved around their leaders to an insane degree. They are a fascinating conundrum and a very popular pick for enemies in movies right now. Truth is a lot stranger than fiction though.
It would be easy to say they’re just outright evil, and in many ways their Government kinda is. They let their people starve, giving the bare minimum to survive. All public works go to honour the supreme leader. Their lives are strict, regimental, there is no freedom of press or speech and there is the constant fear of being taken away to a camp up north. And yes, they do deprive their citizens of electricity. The only things they connect to the grid are the lights that illuminate monuments. The cult of personality and military parades and constant sabre rattling doesn’t help either.
But North Korea isn’t nearly the threat some films had made them out to be. Their nuclear program is rather haphazard and while they may have the capability to fire missiles at the US, they simply don’t have those kinds of weapons in large quantities. We’re not even sure if they work right. The only real threat they pose is to Japan and South Korea, which is why America has so many troops stationed over there. It’s to match up against their huge, but technologically inferior army.
Yes, they have lots of troops. Yes they’re no doubt well-trained, since all they do is train. That does not mean they’re much of an army. Compared to the United States, Japan and their southern cousins, they’re woefully inaccurate. They’d probably be able to take Seoul relatively quickly if the war started up again. And they’d lose it just as fast because they’re seriously unprepared for the American response. And that’s even assuming that the only lifeline North Korea has, China, will allow them to go to war. China literally is the only reason North Korea is still alive today. They use them as a buffer state against Japan and America. North Korea going to war would threaten that. They’d sooner annex country than let them do something that fucking stupid.
In a lot of ways, that’s incredibly similar to Khar’shan. The only differences are, no one likes them or trades with them, they have to doll out cash to others to do their dirty work and North Korea doesn’t have quarrelling city states within its borders. The Hegemony is basically seen as a nuisance more than a legitimate threat, although they would like everyone to believe they’re dangerous. They have no money, their military is outmatched by everyone else’s (Even the quarians, and that have their own planet) and they’re backed into a little corner of the galaxy where people just generally ignore them. The Alliance could probably wipe the Hegemony out within a year of declaring if they tried. They don’t because war is costly and Humanity has bigger fish to fry. Plus, they’d need a legitimate reason. Deniable terrorist actions don’t count.
In light of these similarities, I based a lot of batarian culture on what I read about North Korea. Since there are so many gaps to fill concerning Khar’shan it gave the chance to actually build this planet myself. I was able to name its capital, describe its weather and climate, and layout how their government and society functions. There were a few particular elements that you noticed in the opening. I’ll go over those now.
Drothan: The common man, not to rich to be a merchant, but not too poor to be turned into a slave. The only thing separating him from one of course is the fact he’s paid. He’s a good man, representative of many a batarian stuck in his place. He does what he can to get buy in the slums and isn’t afraid to break the law when he knows the system is corrupt. He’s street smart, never getting into major trouble, always vying for plausible deniability. I like to think he’s a typical of a person in similar regimes, just a regular ordinary guy who tries to do his best. He’s a good expository character to write, I enjoyed writing a good batarian for once. I don’t want to make it seem like they’re all evil after all. There’s good in even the darkest of places. Sure, he’s a smuggler and a criminal in many ways. But that’s how crappy Khar’shan is, he’s the good guy.
Emperor Narvkel: Picture an aging, grandfatherly traditionalist who never swears or says something mean, even about his enemies. He always speaks like a nice old man with a big old smile and a hearty laugh. He fashions himself a people’s Emperor, one of the common folk, despite the fact he’s from a house that’s rich as fuck and never had to worry about going hungry in his whole life. With Narvkel, I created a mix of several famous leaders, specifically those that fit a cult of personality of persona as it was important to who he is. The Idi Amin’s openness to the media, the dress of Augustus Pinochet, the religiously inclined fundamentalist pulpit of Ayatollah Khomeini, and just a little bit of Ronald Reagan’s mannerisms.
I want to be clear here. I actually don’t hate Ronnie and give him a good deal of credit for his actions during the latter days of the Cold War. Despite making that “Evil Empire” speech, he was probably one of the first presidents in a long time to be willing to try and talk things out with the Soviet Union. He hated Nuclear Weapons and wanted to get rid of them. The Star Wars program, although incredibly fanciful, was something he hoped would make the world safer, not just America. Think of all the fears of nuclear Armageddon evaporated because a satellite overhead is ready to shoot down anything that flies at us. Reagan deserves credit where it is due. He helped put a quicker end to the Cold War by actually negotiating with the Soviets. He recognized that no one could win a Nuclear War and was legitimately terrified by it.
That said, he wasn’t perfect, I could list a number of things to point that out. (Reaganomics, Iran-Contra, his initial escalation of the Cold War, the disastrous legacy of the War on Drugs, etc.) I try to accept history in all its facets, good and bad. Knowing that not every German was a Nazi carries over other historical figures. Churchill was an imperialist and a drunk, Martin Luther King Jr. committed adultery, Ghandi apparently didn’t like black people, Charles Darwin married his Cousin, no one, not even the people you admire, is going to be a saint. People are human, people make mistakes, people do stupid things.
Emperor Narvkel is only representative of the outward appearance of Reagan, adopting the aura of a kind-hearted old man who just wants to do right and all that. In reality, he’s not at all like him. He’s a cold-hearted asshole who only cares about advancing his own power and maintaining it. He’ll step over anyone to achieve those ends. He lacks Reagan’s capacity to change and consider alternatives. Freedom is just a word to throw around in a speech to Narvkel, whereas the Gipper honestly believed in the inherent goodness of America. (Of that I think no one will disagree about Ronnie) I have no doubt Reagan himself would probably outright hate Narvkel, call the Hegemony an ‘Evil Empire’... and perhaps even sponsor a covert group of rebels to undermine his authority and take out his regime. Probably sponsored with black market weapons. Just saying.
And yes, there was a reference to the Rappin’ Ronnie Reagan Tape from the Simpsons in the chapter. He did indeed say “well” a lot.
The Rakavekyon Tower: I based this off the infamous Ryugyong, which has under construction in Pyongyang since 1987. Yes, this is a thing that exists. North Korea has been on and off building this thing for twenty-six years! It is supposed to by a hotel, a business skyscraper and sports a bunch of revolving restaurants on the top of its giant pyramid like structure. It is an oversized eyesore that no one in North Korea needs since tourism is bare minimum and no one could afford the place anyway!
They keep claiming they’re going to open the doors soon, but they always postpone. They only recently finished the exterior last year, but as far as we know that’s just a coat of paint to make the city seem modern. It’s another example of Pyongyang’s existence as a city that exists as a false front. It’s made to look clean and shiny and brand new, if only so when Western cameras get footage of the place we’re somehow convinced they’re not poor anymore, that they aren’t a third-world country pretending to actually matter. It’s more bluster to fit the narrative they wish to convey.
Rakavekyon is the same thing and plays a bit more into the plot to come. Some letting you know now of the real world equivalent so you’ll have an idea of what it looks like. It’s pretty much the biggest landmark in the city, standing over everything like a monolith, staring down at all the little ants below.
Batarian Cartoons: Captain Patriot may be an incredibly stupid, poorly animated, shoddily produced and totally insane kids show, but it pales in comparison to its inspirations. North Korean cartoons are typically propaganda in orientation. Let’s be honest here, so was GI Joe, although it was a hell of a lot more subtle about it. The difference is, in the end, GI Joe was trying to get you to buy toys more than anything. In North Korea, the cartoons for the kids are basically aimed at the goal of making sure they all grow up to kill people.
Everything is geared towards the military and fighting the evil oncoming Americans in some way. A show will have a kid who doesn’t want to do geometry and then there will be a dream sequence where he blows up invading American aquatic tanks with giant explosive school supplies to explain that he needs to learn if he doesn’t want the Yankees murdering his family. Anthropomorphic Potatoes will defend a garden from blight and then willingly go into carts to get chopped up into chips, fries and other things North Korean kids will never eat anyway. Evil Americans will send swarms of bugs to eat crops or be represented as predatory animals intent on killing the cute little North Korean soldier mice who kill shit in their super advanced jet fighters. Or there’s the cartoon of the bullfrog with a praying mantis girlfriend who fights garden pests with a fucking homemade rifle while his said Mantis honeybun slices them in half... on screen... in the air.
This exists, this all exists. It’s absolutely insane and if nothing else, I’ll give the North Koreans credit for not shying away from onscreen violence. But then again, anime in general tends to lean towards more adult orientation. It’s not that we here in the West are any better, we have tons of war glorifying crap in our media too.
The thing is, North Korea seems to revolve around the idea of an ever present Cold War and hyping up kids to die for their country. It’s like if we still kept producing those horribly racist anti-Japanese movies from the 1940s during World War II or if Red Dawn became an animated series. Can you imagine, today, kids entertainment involving bad guys who are clearly defined as Iraqis or the Muslims? No, because that’s not what we’re really fighting. We’re fighting a method of war, or more accurately an ideology. To North Korea, they’re still fighting the war from the 1950s and they’re not being remotely subtle about it.
Villains in kids’ media today revolve more around indiscriminate threats, people who are clearly bad because they do terrible things. They’re incredibly violent, they hurt people, they want to rule the world, or destroy it, or in general just do bad things. Villains usually represent negative behaviours or ideas that we find as hurtful to others. North Korea prefers to outright point to Americans as the constant ever present danger, a specific group of people that actually exist instead of a made up alien race or nation of pyromancers. In my mind, the Hegemony would do the same, convincing their children that slavery is good, humans are bad and that we need fight them or they’ll destroy everything we love. It’s very basic propaganda, but that’s why it works so well. Kids are impressionable, we learned that ourselves here in the West. Our Cartoons just sell us toys... not a career in the military. (At least not anymore.)
Heritage Fields: I referenced Heritage Fields in an earlier chapter almost like it was just a random throwaway line. It was actually foreshadowing its inclusion into this chapter. I had the idea of a propaganda-based theme park that the heroes would have to fight through. I always liked the idea of fighting bad guys in Disney World and I thought about scenarios where this would happen. Movies like Zombieland and games like Bioshock helped inspire the idea further and my favourite rides provided ideas for attractions where the heroes face off against the enemy. It was hard, however, to transfer them into a futuristic alien concept centered around a amusement park that was built to indoctrinate rather than entertain. I have to pick and choose what kind of attractions would be found in such a place.
“Homeland Defenders”, inspired by rides like ‘Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin” and “MIB: Alien Attack”, was the easiest. The concept was a ride that was basically a game where kids and their parents rack up points for shooting holographic humans, something that would fit a message and work in the Mass Effect universe. Hologram VI programs are common place, as Armax Arsenal Arena and Pinnacle Station proved. You can shoot them and you’ll probably get a lot more fluid movement and satisfaction out of it. The idea worked in the world and I saw no reason why it wouldn’t exist. It would just be updated with better technology than we have.
“The Hall of Leadership” was obviously inspired by the “Hall of Presidents.” While the attraction has gotten better and the animatronics still hold up, it is undeniably a show meant to overly praise America. It doesn’t ignore the unsavoury aspects of course as it has a huge section concerning the hypocrisy of slavery in a country where men are supposed to be all equal. Inevitably it was the first thing I could think of that would be placed in a park like Heritage Fields. I obviously had to change it so the fake Emperors weren’t 20th century age animatronics. So I made them repurposed Mechs who have been dressed up and program to look-like and talk-like their real-life counterparts.
In the full show, they would interact with the audience as well, answering questions with pre-recorded lines. The VI inside would determine the best way to answer that question, much like Avina on the Citadel. And they’d probably alert security as well if they asked a potentially subversive question. The park is also meant to monitor the Joe Q Public’s average opinions and make sure that potential traitors don’t challenge the status quo. Also, while originally not planned, I realised I could end the chapter without destroying the entire attraction. It would be like setting up a string of dominos but never knocking them down.
I needed a roller coaster, because all parks have at least one and I wanted a fight scene on it, so I came up with “Chakiel’s Expedition.” I used it to fill in a blank concerning the canon history of the universe. There was an expedition to a moon that found Prothean ruins and propelled the Batarians onto the galactic scene. I felt that a lot had been left out of the story so I made up the commander who performed the mission, Jeftak Chakiel, Batarian Astronaut.
Out of all the attractions this would be the least nationalistic/propaganda oriented. It does purport the idea of galactic expansion and the pinnacle of Hegemony technological achievement, but it’s more related to scientific discovery. I doubt that the Russian Cosmonauts cared too much about making their leaders look good. They just wanted to go to space and, hopefully, the moon. Jeftak, in my mind as I was creating him, was just a guy who wants to go to another planet and unfortunately ends up bolstering the cause of his corrupt government for years to come. Not his fault in the slightest.
I did this because I didn’t want to diminish or seem to be criticising the desire of a people to explore. I have utmost respect for the people involved in the NASA program and the Cosmonauts of the former Soviet Union. They put their lives on the line to achieve something amazing in the 20th century. They left the Earth and they went to the moon. No politician, or jingoistic spewing propagandist, or nutbar conspiracy freak, can take that away from them.
“Terror on Torfan” was basically inspired by walkthrough haunted houses. I go to Universal a lot during October. I decided it couldn’t be a traditional one, so I made it related to a historical event that the Hegemony twisted to their ends. I didn’t think it needed too much in way of advancements. Scaring people is the same now as it has been thousands of years. You put them in a very uncomfortable situation, affect the mood and play on their senses.
Because I didn’t activate the attraction like the others, I didn’t have to worry too much about anything too complicated getting in the way of the fight scenes. I figured most of the scares would be generated by actors portraying faceless Alliance soldiers attacking people as they walked by. It’s just not as scary if it’s all done with puppets, some things need to be alive or the scares just don’t work. By the by, strobe lights in haunted houses are the worst. They’re a great effect, but they seriously make my eyes hurt. It works though. I’m so busy trying to see again I don’t notice the fucking zombie on the table next to me.
Our Glorious History: This one deserves its own friggin section because of how huge it was to the story and in conception. I got the idea for this playing through BioShock Infinite. I liked the idea of a massive museum dedicated to a distorted and inaccurate portrayal of history in service to propping up a single man. In this case, it was all aimed at making the Hegemony look super awesome. I didn’t want it to be a walkthrough though, that seemed not nearly theme park enough.
Luckily, I discovered a new technology that is currently being used in Florida. “Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin” is an amazing feat of technology, utilizing a non-set track and controllable rider car that allows visitors to actually direct sections of their ride. I found the concept incredibly enticing, and I decided to play with it. So, I created a museum that you got to ride through in a bumper cart of sorts where guests could direct their own experience through the tapestry of history. Fully operational, there would be live actors alongside the models and animatronics. They’d play the parts of famous batarian heroes and give further details of historical events. (All from the approved official Hegemony history text book, of course.)
I used the opportunity to expand upon on a few events in Mass Effect history that are only briefly mentioned. We’re told that the Batarians annexed Esan and renamed it Lorek, we’re informed they bombed Mannovai and that they clashed with Citadel forces in a skirmish at one point. I tried to examine those events and give more context to their bare bones descriptions.
Mannovai is supposedly at the heart of Salarian space. The only way the Batarians would’ve got there would be if they had snuck there like the Japanese at Pearl Harbour. There must’ve been a reason for it, so it was probably the same as always with the batarians, the salarians were blocking their expansion. Why didn’t this spark some kind of war though? Probably because the raid was a failure, accomplished nothing of value and the bombers never made it home. I imagine the salarians easily beat off the bombing raid and then sent their fleet out to finish them off before they could escape. Crippling their long range military capability, the salarians would declare victory and batarians would probably back down from their aggressive stance. Wouldn’t stop them from justifying why it had to happen though.
Lorek’s annexation saw the asari kicked off a world they colonized. Why would they tolerate that? I can only guess the good-natured, ever diplomatic asari decided fighting over a Terminus world wasn’t worth it. They backed down, favouring relocating and saving their displaced people rather than fighting the Hegemony. It makes sense from a practical point of view. Lorek is just one planet and there are plenty more the asari can live on. No sense in going to war for it. The asari probably never forgot the incident though and that more than likely influenced their decision to sanction the Hegemony and favour the humans. You can’t make friends when you steal their planets. In light of that, it’s rather two-faced of the batarians to ask the asari, or any Council race for that matter, to recognize their right to colonize the Traverse when they have no respect for the rights of other species to colonize either.
Enael is described as a minor skirmish between the batarians and Citadel Forces. My guess? It was an attempted Commando raid gone wrong. They got spotted by the Council Races and soon realised they had bitten off more than they could chew. Given the chance turians, asari and salarians were among the Citadel Forces, they would’ve been easily routed within minutes of getting compromised due to such overwhelming odds. This is probably why the Council doesn’t think much of the Hegemony, because they’re not much of a military threat. Of course that wouldn’t fly with the Hegemony’s image of itself, so they make it a big gunfight that lasts for hours, worthy of song and blockbuster films with high profile actors. The equivalent of some dude assuring you something was “totally awesome, you should’ve been there, man. Friggin sweet.”
I created the Slave Revolt of 1957 as a bit of a “what if?” Namely, how would the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising have been remembered if the Nazis won the war? It was easy enough to figure out. Records of the event would be erased, the Nazis would pretend it never happened OR used it as a cautionary tale to warn kiddies of the evil nasty Jews who killed tons of German soldiers in Warsaw because Jews are evil. You know, the typical anti-Semitic garbage. I figured, at some point, there had to have been some slaves who tried to gain their freedom and it allowed me to further show how the Hegemony views the institution. It is the way things must be, the lower castes must bow to the higher ups. The slaves must follow their masters, the whip is law, to defy this cosmic order is anarchy. I felt it was a nice way to cap off the visit to the history abusing museum as it finally showed that the Hegemony could warp its own past just as much as the rest of the Galaxy’s.
As an aside, the entrance music is meant to be sung to the tune of the song in “Mask of the Phantasm” at the Gotham World’s Fair. I felt the tone matched the atmosphere I wanted to create. I flipped it around of course, now it’s about welcoming folks to the past and not “Welcome to the Future.”
I didn’t plan on it, but in writing the scenes I realised I ended up having the characters repeat the real historical events against the back drop of the lies. The Mannovai exhibit sees the bomber models destroyed, the Annexation exhibit sees Liara’s team forced to flee from an overwhelming force, the Enael Exhibit fight doesn’t last as long and we end up burning down the whole damn museum to cover up what really happened. It seemed almost appropriate and I liked the way it turned out in the end. Way better than I had planned.
Foreshadowing: So this chapter was mostly about foreshadowing how the Arc will progress. Liara is taking more risks, Saya is still trying to distance himself from the group, Wrex especially, Vik is getting more intense and reflective, Nelanax is sinking deeper into her addiction, Wrex is trying to be the voice of reason here (an odd position for him as a krogan, but that’s kinda his job as Chief anyway) and Kayap is... well he’s trying to be brave. Good on him. I felt it was important to properly establish that Liara’s team and their problems are only deepening. This little vacation to Khar’shan should be bringing them more together, but it’s actually making them a little worse as desperation mounts. In theory, they’re all on the same page and want the same things. In reality, they all have their own sub-objectives that conflict.
None of these will be more present than Nel’s issues with her “juice.” I said it was going to get worse, this is how “worse” starts and it will worsen even more by the time we get to the final act in this arc. It’s like the PSAs always said, the buzz is great... but when the high is done, you come down. Nel is about to plummet. Watch her closely dear readers, this is gonna be blood bath.
Notes for Chapter 21
Connected: With Liara and her crew now connected to the Hegemony’s systems, expect them to start being a lot more proactive. For the most part they’ve been chasing leads in a sort of connect the dots pattern. Now, they have a lot more diversity in the kind of intel they can acquire. They’ll need that to prevent what is about to go down in the future.
As an aside, hacking in media can tend to be very dumbed down for the regular audience. Most people don’t know how computers, I’m no expert myself. Be that as it may, I try to not fuck it up and use terminology that is clearly wrong. I may not always avoid all the clichés, but there is one element about hacking that I try to get right. Vik may have great skills, but he can’t just type on his omni-tool and expect to get things done. Everything he does requires a connection of some kind to the systems he’s cracking. Sometimes that means a wireless connection that he can tap into, other times he needs direct access. That’s how Snowden did that shit with the NSA. He actually got in. Not by connecting to a computer a thousand miles away, he did it by getting into it manually.
Obviously, Mass Effect is a futuristic science fiction world, so there is leeway. Especially when the games handle hacking pretty much like it’s at the touch of a button. But I still try to show that it’s not as easy as just typing shit on a keyboard like some movies do. That’s just really stupid looking and makes people laugh.
Here’s a specific example of avoiding that. Vik managed to get into the opposing train’s systems, for example, because it was using computers to pilot it. It was already established that he had a map of the secret underground, information on its schedule and its secret entrances. All because of their newfound connection to the batarian network at large. Therefore it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine he knew what kind of system their trains were using to stay on time and on the right track. All he needed to do then was locate the signal for their pathfinder computer. This program would be similar to some traisn today that use computers, alongside engineers, to lay out their route along the track. Vik then reprogram it to force the armoured train away from them a little by rerouting them onto another track. He didn’t just magically have the ability to connect into the systems and solve the problem. I had to establish that he had the ability in a subtle way.
That’s the key here, people assume computers and hacking are akin to magic. Just show someone typing shit and they can do anything. That’s not Vik. In fact, after writing this I’m going to go back and try to fix some elements of that scene to better reflect that. The end result of this clean up will be in the version that is published.
Liara’s Burden: The problem with writing women, as stated before, is writing them too much like one thing or another. If you write a woman with the specific perception in your head that she is a woman that will colour your perspective. You’ll be making them essentially really pale cliché characters that support specific tropes that are believed to be exclusively female. In contrast, if you try too much to avoid feminine aspects of a female character because you’re afraid you’ll perpetrate a stereotype of how women act, then that is wrong too. You’ll be subconsciously reinforcing that women can only be effective characters if they possess male traits.
Sometimes it’s really hard to avoid both those traps, especially if you are a white, middle-class male whose biggest problem on a daily basis is remembering what time to put the dog out. Or being pissed he only has peanut butter to eat.
While it isn’t wrong to make a female character more masculine or feminine, you need to be careful when doing so. There are all different types of women, but you should never let someone’s race or gender completely define that character. You need to throw in a few neutral tropes alongside those female and male tropes. These are elements universally applied to both genders. Essentially, you need to write someone like a person before you write them like a dude or dudette.
Liara’s issue here is primarily her concerns about being a leader and the pressure that comes with it. This is not because she is a woman, but because who she is as a character. Liara was first introduced to us as a relatively young, for her species, woman. Like Tali in many ways, she was innocent, naive in many ways, had a number of parental issues, was socially awkward among the crew and was still trying to find herself. The next time we saw her, she had changed so drastically that some people were a bit turned off by her sudden shift in personality. Many people didn’t seem to realise that the turns her life had taken and what she had to endure had forced that change on her.
Liara constantly throws herself into her work. Any goal she has, she focuses on like a laser and can’t remove herself from it. She has no personal life. It’s all about the work. It makes sense considering her social awkwardness that she would prefer to focus more on her work than anything else. That’s the safe realm for her, where things are easy... or at least easier. We see this in Mass Effect 3 as well, where Shepard has to practically beg Liara to stop work for a second and talk to her “father” who is the only direct familial relation she now has left after the death of her mother.
So failing in that work, whether it is losing a colleague/friend, not being taken seriously or just not succeeding in a given task is devastating to her. Like Shepard, she puts a lot of the galaxy on her shoulders, so much so that she somehow finds a way to blame herself for the disaster on Thessia. A situation where there was no way she could’ve done anything differently. Earlier, the death of Shepard drove her to team up with a terrorist group just in the hopes to get him back. Feron’s capture set her on a two year long quest for revenge, so much so that she was detached mentally from the very person she had risked so much to save before. So, Liara may have been happy to see you again, but she was more focused on her current goal that she couldn’t really do anything but ask you to help her. Why? Because taking down the Shadow Broker became so important, that she overlooked another important person in her life had come back to her.
At the same time, she doesn’t want to be the workaholic she constantly acts like. When Liara feels she loses or fails someone she takes it personally, because while she may put more emphasis on her work than her personal life, she doesn’t want to lose those connections. I think deep down she knows they’re the only people she really has that can bring her out of her work. She needs people like Shepard, Garrus and Tali. Losing them is frightful to her, because she already feels so damn responsible about everything else that she’s doubly concerned with the lives of those she feels closest to. It’s a constant balance between her responsibilities and those she cares about. And I don’t think the fact her responsibilities may impact those people she cares about in both positive and negative ways is lost on her.
So when Shepard ends up lost because of her information and Ben dies because of her plan, it affects her even greater. Her responsibilities to the greater picture got people hurt, but she can’t abandon those responsibilities either because they are so terribly important. It’s a very vicious cycle, and one that isn’t strictly feminine in origin. Liara’s problems are very people problems, ones we can all relate to in our constant balance between work and a life.
I have to admire Liara for her resolve. It’s why I still have a Commander Shepard who is dating her. I may not have played him in awhile, but he’s there. I may love Tali more, but there’s a special place in my heart for Liara and her inner strength. She’s a great female character and one of my closest companions in the games. Next time I play FemShep, I’m having the two hook up, if only because it just feels right in that scenario. It’s why I try so hard to make these Liara chapters the best they can be. Not only are the most original aspect currently of this crossover, they are also the best way I can delve into Liara’s character and do her justice. I think she deserves it, because she was the first romance I had and I always enjoyed having her around. Hopefully, she won’t have to carry that burden much longer. But then again, we probably wouldn’t have much of a story if she didn’t have awhiles left to go.
Extreme Makeover – Story Edition: Ugh, this chapter was not supposed to end up the way it was. Not that I think it’s bad, but it became a lot more difficult than initially thought. I previously spoke about how a single scene developed and changed over time. This chapter was drastically changed from its original concept.
I had first wanted to do this. The team was originally going to enter a rundown Cinema in the slums where they would find it was a front or on top of a batarian store house filled with weapons they could use for their attack on the Tower. The mission would end in a high speed chase through Khar’shan as Liara’s team escaped from Hegemony police and soldiers. They would also find a secret weapon to use, a Vampire the Covenant had given the Hegemony. They would later use this massive attack aircraft in the next chapter. It seemed rather simple.
It didn’t turn out that way.
I soon realised that the cinema setting was too damn similar to the “Hall of Leadership” in the previous chapter. Yes, I could still do it, but so soon after the last chapter? Yes it was a movie theatre and not a parody of the “Hall of Presidents” but it still involved theatre seats, a stage, it just seemed too damn samey. So I decided to table the idea for another day, maybe when I’ve put some distance between Heritage Fields and myself.
So, I needed a new setting. I teetered between two, a stadium and a strip mall. After getting some advice from a friend of mine, I decided on the latter. The strip mall was something I was more familiar with and could work with. The problem now was, how the hell do I even get an aircraft under a damn strip mall? And doesn’t that feel a little stupid? An amusement park the government owns can probably hide something like a terminal containing data on the visitors and state secrets, but a strip mall hiding an alien gunship?
Plus, how would it have even got there without being seen? It just didn’t seem feasible... unless it had been transported to it underground. So, I decided there were would be a secret underground train system that delivered it to the bunker under the strip mall. I’d use it to have the team get there without being spotted, yeah, that worked. But, the fact they hid this thing under a strip mall still nagged at me. So I moved it into the secret tunnel system instead and decided to just have the strip mall be the final spot they just ended up at through hijinks.
I thought that was it, that everything was settled and now I could just friggin write. But then... I got a better look at the Vampire and its statistics. I was checking it to properly see how big it was so I could have them directly reference it in the story. The Vampire is fifty feet long and forty-six feet wide. Now, the bunker in my mind was big enough to hold this thing, that wasn’t the problem. The problem now, was how the hell they had gotten it to the bunker on a train?
I toyed with several ideas. The flatbed was extremely wide being one of them, as were the tunnels. However, it didn’t seem feasible to me that you could have such a wide load riding on a set of train tracks. I thought about, maybe they could have flown it here, but that still left the issue about how they’d get it out on the train. I thought about putting it on its side on the train, but that just looked ridiculous. I considered making it a smaller variant of the more traditional bigger Vampire, but that sounded too much like me pulling crap out my ass. I thought, maybe the wings fold up like on a carrier? And that made about as much sense as anything else, so I ended up hating that idea too.
Unless I wanted to create the sci-fi train version of the Griswolds bringing back their Christmas Tree, I was stuck. The Vampire couldn’t and wouldn’t work, which sucked because I loved that fucking thing. There were no other uber Covenant flying vehicles that worked either, they were all either bigger than a Vampire, so they were even worse fits, or they just didn’t exist. But I still wanted Liara’s team to have some kind of air support for the next chapter. I wanted a flying vehicle going around shooting shit up and blowing gunships out of the sky! If I still wanted that, I had only one choice, well, two I guess. Either I make the flying vehicle a Mantis Gunship, which could feasibly fit on a train. Or I make it a Banshee. I decided on the Banshee, because I still wanted a damn Covenant aircraft.
I briefly thought about having the stolen aircraft also shooting up the strip mall in the final scene, but after losing the Vampire and thinking about the crash I was about to cause, I decided against it. For it to work I’d need Saya to not be injured during the crash if I wanted it be believable that Saya could fly in this condition. This made little sense to me. I couldn’t just have a train crash and have no one end up injured. Besides, I was pressed for time and decided to just let Nel finish off the chapter, slightly redeeming herself from that grenade debacle she caused earlier on.
The only thing that remains from my original concept is the movie poster Nel punches in a fit of adrenaline fuelled rage. The idea was that during the cinema fight, she’d turn on the movie in the projector room, which would be a stupid propaganda film about how humans were infiltrating Khar’shan disguised as batarians through genetic and plastic surgery. I still wanted to reference the idea, so I just threw it in real quick with a poster. Better than nothing. Maybe one day you’ll get to see my original vision for that fight.
The chapter turned out better for it though. I got to reference more concerning the facade of the Hegemony through the subway idea, I got my chase scene regardless and I was able to touch upon the outdated technology they throw to the lower castes to appease them in subtle ways. It worked more or less, and I’m happy with how it came out. It was sad to see my original ideas fall by the wayside one after the other. But there are just some things you need to realise you can’t do. You need to know when to fold them and to try something else. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an unbelievable scenario that just doesn’t work. I felt I owed it to my readers that I not insult their intelligence by trying to force something that doesn’t make sense onto them.
How could I call myself a writer if I let that happen? Respect your audience, that’s something more people in the entertainment business should learn. I wasn’t about to repeat their mistakes.
This is your Brain on Drugs: I always knew Nel’s addiction was going to get worse. The moment I had her get hit in the lab, I knew she was going to blame it on not having enough juice. I knew that would lead her to taking bigger doses and that it would inevitably lead to her irrational, almost insane, behaviour. Her dependency has grown and that is affecting her greatly. You could see that clearly in her oblivious reaction to their situation, her irritable behaviour, the fact she’s doing things for no reason and can’t explain it, and not noticing she’s severely injured. The last one is probably the most dangerous.
By the by, I specifically wanted to show that there are consequences for running through fucking glass. It’s gonna hurt like hell if you try that. Nel’s just lucky she’s an alien covered in hard armoured plates, and also on drugs. A regular human would probably be bleeding even more profusely from such an endeavour. I felt it was important to do this also because of her character. She is someone who lives in an action movie world, completely divorced from reality, where running through glass has no consequences. The drugs she takes give her the ability to ignore these consequences, but her dream world is fleeting, as Vik showed.
While Vik, Saya and Kayap’s arcs are all about to come to a significant turning point, Nel’s is probably going to have the most impact in my mind. In this chapter she discovered that her actions have consequences, and she still ignores that fact by drowning out the truth and blaming others. Soon, she’ll have no one to blame but herself for what is about to happen next. For those assuming this means death, no. Nel is about to get a rude awakening, and that can be worse than death in some cases. Revelations about her juice, why she takes it and how she got kicked out of the military are all about to come to light. Eagle-eyed readers can probably determine for themselves the answers to those questions if they’ve paid attention though, especially in this chapter as we spent a good chunk of time in Nel’s head directly.
Speaking of which, I decide upon telling most of the final act for this chapter within Nel’s mind. I felt that we hadn’t really seen things from her perspective all that much yet. We got a taste in Heritage Fields, but we didn’t see how she feels about other people. We didn’t see how a full-fledged battle, where she isn’t the only participant, looks like. It’s a bit of a warped view to be sure, but what did you expect? She’s as high as a kite, remember?
Also, apologies for all the train puns you suffered through. I am truly, deeply sorry. I could not help myself and Nel was just a natural fit to use them.
Notes Chapter 22
Argument: I felt like it was kinda unfair to always dump on Nel. Although she does deserve a bit of, she’s not the only one screwed up here. I had her point out some of Vik’s flaws, his paranoia, the fact he’s incredibly opinionated but doesn’t really act on them, that he doesn’t really have much initiative, he prefer safety over direct action. He has his reasons for this, mostly involving his past and what turned him into the conspiracy nut he is now, but the fact Nel doesn’t know that is because of his own inability to trust others. It’s all a part of his psychosis and it makes it hard for people to understand why he does what he does.
So Nel is an uber violent bitch and a druggie, but it’s understandable that she’d get pissed off having someone rant and degrade her so often to the point she tears him down just as bad. I felt it was a good way to also set up Vik’s motivation to go after the Emperor, which I had been hinting at since the arc began. The only thing holding him back was his fear of trusting his own initiative or that he could succeed.
Nel sorta helped him in that respect, but in the worst possible way and at the worst possible time. Nel touched some buttons that she didn’t even know were there, setting him off in the wrong way. If she didn’t say those things, about him not being able to actually do anything, about him being worthless and pathetic, that he’ll always be afraid because all he does is complain, then he wouldn’t have gone off like he did. To be fair, she also probably wouldn’t have been saying those things if she wasn’t suffering major side effects from overdosing.
I think the dynamic between both Nel and Vik allows the other to properly correct the other or point out flaws in their philosophy. I don’t consider their relationship at this point as romantic, although I won’t stop you guys from thinking it could develop that way. I do however think it’s nice that they’re at least honest with each other. Vik finally saw things Nel’s way this time, and Nel continues to deny her problems, but that was expected. So truthfully, I enjoy having them play off another a great deal and I figured if anyone was going to get Vik try and kill Narvkel it would be her.
I short, Nel’s overdosing allowed Vik to develop a bit. Although not entirely positively, because in his pursuit to actually. As his pursuit to affect change made him think more with his heart and not his head, and his mind is truly is as valuable as his passion for the truth.
The Summit: This was a lot of fun to write. I just like having bad guys actually talk to each other and discuss their plans. It was nice to have a chance to let them all play off one another, because they’re all such diverse in their motivations, backgrounds and agendas. I didn’t want to make them cliché of course, so I tried to think about what each of them would be concerned about.
Orukuri, as much of a scheming snake in the grass as he is, does care about his loyal employees. They were willing enough to go along with this plan of his. A plan he thinks is the only way the Hierarchy will survive in the face of its enemies.
Vorsa barely tolerates working with heretics and is easily frustrated with them, but he realises the necessity. He also is devoted to his mission and simply wants to see it through while getting his people best prepared for the challenges ahead.
Trox is only there for money, but he has a decent enough head on his shoulders and isn’t much for rants about destiny and battle like his former boss. He admired Kreave to be sure, but he isn’t like him at all. He doesn’t care about making a name for himself or creating a legend. He just wants his checks and his guns, it’s really not that complicated.
And of course there is Balak and the Hegemony, who honestly think they’re the good guys in all this. To them, all these alliances and terrorist activities are meant to serve a greater good. Balak himself is not motivated out of greed or religious fervour. His designs are more in line with Orukuri except approaching it as a soldier and not a business man. He wants to make his people strong again and he truly does feel like the humans are preventing that. Except, whereas Orukuri still cares about his employees, Balak has gotten to the point where his gone all in on this alliance deal. As you saw with Varvok before this arc started, he ignored his most trusted lieutenant’s warnings. He only cares about achieving the goal and if some soldiers must be sacrificed so be it. So long as the Hegemony endures their deaths are at least noble. Of course, not everyone agrees with that philosophy of sacrificing the few to save the many.
With so many different people, here for such different reasons, they’re obviously not getting along. They’re like the Allies from the First World War. They all had their ideas about what was important and why they needed to fight, but not all of them had the same stakes in it as the other. Britain was concerned with Belgium independence, France was allied with Russia and supported them, America only got involved much later near the end because of how they felt threatened. It was a bit of a mess to be sure, not the best of friendships and it was why things got worse after the war. None of them could really agree on how to handle the post-war world.
It’s the same here, the Covenant, VykurCorp, the Blood Pack and the Hegemony all have their own agenda and not all of them fit in line with each other. It was inevitable they’d clash a bit during the meeting because they are dissatisfied with how the other members are running the show. They it’s interesting that I ended up having Trox as the most level headed of the Summit members. Perhaps this is because, out of all the members of the Conspiracy, he has the least to lose if it fails. Everyone else has the fate of nations and their faith on the line.
Regardless, it was a lot of fun having the bad guys talk it out with each other and play off one another. It’s nice to see that they aren’t just cackling assholes, they do terrible things to be sure but they’re not Snidely Whiplashes. Seeing their motivations finally come to light was a real treat for me to write.
Dogfight: If you all really need to know where I get my inspiration for doing dogfights, it’s a number of reasons. Firstly, I played a lot of Crimson Skies and subsequent flight combat games, mostly arcade. I love airplanes a lot, so it’s always a treat for me to write a dogfight. Also it’s more satisfying because I can work in three dimensions more fluidly than most other combat sequences. Secondly, I watch a lot of documentaries about aerial combat in general. The more detailed the better, as it properly illustrated what you can do in a dogfight and how you can actually win one.
However, I was doing this one with Saya in an alien ship. I knew the only advantage he had was the advanced tech and the fact he had the anti-air on his side. (If you need to ask, they changed the banshee’s IFF signal so that the missiles would identify him as an enemy, and then when the virus switched the parameters as a friend.) So, I knew if I did too much with him it was going to look unrealistic. Saya could keep the bad guys at bay for awhile, but he wasn’t trained to fight like this. So, I planned to have him shot down before too long. I felt five kills was sufficient enough.
I hope I properly emphasized that Saya was slightly out of his element and that he preferred getting out of the cockpit where he became more in charge and in control. All in all, it was a fun scene to write and expect more aerial combat in the future.
Nel comes down: First, if you must know what kind of music Nel is playing over her speakers, look up the main theme to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It’s more or less something like that. And maybe a lot of thrash metal soundtracks. I figured it would be something Nel would do. Heroes have their own soundtracks in the movies after all.
You may have noticed some references to Scarface in there as well during Nel’s scenes. I just felt again it was somewhat appropriate given the context. Nel is just really damn high and out of her skull insane at this point. To me, there was no better way to properly illustrate that than by drawing inspiration from the climactic scene of that movie.
Now, if you wanna know exactly what happened during all that crazy shit in the tower, I’ll break it down. When Nel ingested the juice in her already overdosed state, which was tearing at her body trying to keep up with her, it was not dispersed through her bloodstream as intended. It instead went through her digestive system and throughout her entire body as a result. That included her brain. The juice already causes mild hallucinations when overused, taken orally it can create more vivid ones. This ended up turning the enemies she faced into how she views them subconsciously, the bad guys from her movies.
Of course, that’s not how it’s meant to be taken, so not enough of it went to where it was supposed to go. Her feeling of invincibility lasted for a few fleeting seconds, but a big enough shock to her body knocked her back out. After that, Nel came down hard from her high. Think of it as a hard slap back to reality.
The trauma of her overdosing also finally took its toll, bursting smaller blood vessels in her eyes and nose. She didn’t feel it because the same drug dulls her pain. All in all, the juice screws you over hard. Using too much of it burns your body up faster, as it’s designed to make it go into overdrive. It’s not a good idea to overheat an engine or machine like that continuously. It just finally caught up with her and also allowed her secret to be discovered. There will be a reckoning for this, rest assured.
Saya hesitates: I’ve revealed a bit more of Saya’s past now and allowed him more depth beyond “I don’t like Krogans, they took my voice and my career away.” Following in line with what Vik told Nel earlier, he doesn’t see Krogan as people, he just sees them as the enemy. Now, I painfully reminded him that isn’t true. Why did it affect him so much? Well, he’ll need to explain, but rest assured it will definitely shed more light on why Saya is the way he is.
Vik goes Rogue: Despite not being the best shooter or stronger fighter, Vik has always made up for it in technical knowhow. Since his virus is the thing that takes over the Defence systems, it made sense he’d be able to steal it away for his own purposes. So, he wouldn’t be the sole person attacking the Emperor, he’d have a small army to help him.
I knew no one would be able to buy Vik killing Narvkel’s entourage otherwise. I wouldn’t have. That’s not Vik. He uses technology to make up for his obvious shortcomings, he’s not going to bust into a room guns blazing. He’ll send in a drone first and give himself covering fire with a turret. He’ll thin out the numbers before he actually steps a foot inside. It shows he can be dangerous in other ways, because he knows how to use technology against people.
It also forces us to think, despite everything we may or may not like about Vik, how much do we really know him? He’s a paranoid schizo who thinks the world is against him and is suspicious of every shadow on the wall. That is true, but why is he like that? And does it make him more of a threat to people than we realise?
Like everyone in this chapter, we had Vik get his walls torn down a bit here. He ends up revealing who is more, his anger comes out in a more violent fashion and he’s obviously got some issues that have yet to be resolved. If Liara hadn’t stopped him, Vik would’ve killed Narvkel. Whether or not he’d eventually regret it I can’t say.
While Vik is a good person at heart he clearly has some demons and he needs to get them out the right way. Nel’s way is not his strong suit. He’ll need to find a balance between the techno-geek truth seeker and the man who wants justice for the downtrodden. The person you saw beating up on Narvkel wasn’t the real him, it was all the pent up rage and anger inside him he held back coming out in one great big violent torrent. It would be easy to say it was mostly Nel’s fault for pushing him, but this was probably inevitable. Being Khar’shan for so long just made it impossible for him not to do something.
Khar’shan in general brought out the worst of some of our heroes, even Liara. They’re all going to have to look at themselves now and try and understand what happened. It will be painful, but necessary if they wish to truly beat Balak at his game.
Foreshadowing: Despite the obvious, there were a lot of hints towards future events. The summit and Narvkel talking about the Leviathan were the most forward. The self-reflections of some of the characters were slightly more subtle. However, there was one seemingly innocuous unimportant thing that happened during the chapter. It’s a hint at what’s to come, but I’ll let you figure out what it is for yourselves.
Zorvash: Okay, I was never going to have Liara and Vik kill an obviously powerful sangheili so easily in a fight. I knew they wouldn’t be able to achieve that. They would have to cheat. That meant having them stall long enough for the others to swoop in and basically fire as many rounds as they could until his soul stopped dancing.
It was the only way I was going to get them out of that. The only other idea was him getting tossed out a window and even that felt cheap. It was better to have an obviously powerful Elite meet his end due to circumstances beyond his control. He was expecting an honourable fight, not a dirty one. I only hope this doesn’t become another example of me nerfing the Elites in some people’s eyes. I mean, nothing Liara did seemed to hurt him and he had the momentum through much of the fight. Hopefully, that’s enough.
Heroic Villain Behaviour: Keeping in line with what I said before, I did my best to show the various batarian soldiers and other minions running about as being competent in their actions more or less. Those Officers could’ve easily escaped, but they heard their Emperor was in trouble and tried to save him. The batarians in the server room were trying to save the lives of their fellow soldiers by deleting Vik’s virus. Narvkel’s entourage did their best to protect him at the cost of their lives.
They’re on the wrong side, but at least they didn’t abandon their duties when they were needed most. Vik probably didn’t appreciate it of course, as all he saw were slavers getting what was coming to them. That may be true, but I felt it was important to give a face to these nameless drones. They were just doing what they felt was right, it just made them the bad guys here.
PS. To the anonymous reviewer who pointed out and reminded me about how fusion reactors work, thanks, I have properly addressed your concern in a slight change to the chapter. But since your review no longer accurately depicts the chapter itself and only commented on that singular issue with no further substance in a somewhat demeaning nature towards me it has been removed. If you had actually bothered to comment on the story itself along with politely pointing out the discrepancy instead of being a nitpicker for the sake of nitpicking I would've kept it.
Let this be a word of warning, I will look into all warranted claims about the nature of both ME and Halo lore, but if that's the only reason you're commenting don't be surprised if something like this happens. Leave reviews with substance pertaining to the story, not nitpicks. I prefer critiques, not complaining. Please be polite, do not be a condescending jerk who just wants to flaunt his nerd knowledge. That is all I ask. Also, if you can please leave reviews I can actually respond to. Otherwise I can't answer your questions directly and I may not ever because I do not reserve space just to answer every question I'm privy to. I did that before it did not work out so well for the formating of the story. Thank you.
Unsafe External Link