Yellow eyes adjusted to light not seen in a long time. A dark shape hovered over Nahlyon, surrounded in a cool blue light as whatever she had been inside of opened with a hiss of changing pressure. There was a dull pain at the back of her head. Where she was and why presently eluded her mind. Her eyes slowly began to separate the blurs of color and gave definition to the shapes. A familiar face looked down on her with a sad smile.
“Sooltir? I- I mean Master Gelten?” Nahlyon asked, as the master Prothean scientist reached in, offering the assistant her help in climbing out of whatever she had managed to fall into. “What happened, Master?”
“Come now, child, you know I never cared for that title. Sooltir will do fine.”
“But the recordings-?
“No longer matter, young one,” the older researcher informed the younger.
“I am confused,” Nahlyon admitted, managing to get a leg over the side of the capsule she was being pulled out of.
“I will explain everything, shortly, Nahlyon,” her long time mentor assured.
“Nahlyon?” asked an excited voice. The young female Prothean recognized the male’s voice, but her foggy mind was still putting things together and couldn’t place it. She and Sooltir had been standing before the generals, pleading their case to continue their research, but the generals had forbidden it and then everything had gone black.
A flash of movement later and she was staring across at the familiar face that she instantly connected to the questioning voice of a moment ago. Her right hand reacted before her mind could stop it, had she even wanted it to. It lashed out and struck the male Prothean. While she knew the force of the contact was not nearly enough to do so, it threw him back, nonetheless, from shock and surprise.
“You know this person, Javik?” came an unknown male’s voice that had an overall odd sound to it. Her vision no longer focusing on Sooltir or Javik watching from beyond the master, Nahlyon looked around the room she was still waking up in. She found, to her extreme surprise, the new voice had come from what she was sure was a primitive from the next planet over. He wore black armor with red highlights. It bore not just the wear and tear of many battles, but what she found more interesting were the markings that seemed to be a sort of written language. A cold feeling settled into the pit of the young Prothean woman’s stomach. She slid off the edge of the capsule and turned around to look at it.
“Sooltir . . . is that a stasis pod?”
“Yes, Nahlyon. We have been asleep for quite a long time.”
Nahlyon looked up at the primitive again and saw another one next to it. She absorbed the distinction of male and female . . . and something else: names.
“. . . Shepard . . . and Jack? . . . Humans?”
They turned to look at her instead of Javik, now, surprised to hear their names from the newly awakened Prothean.
“Sooltir?” she questioned, worry creasing her features.
“Calm yourself, child. I transferred basics to you when helping you out of the pod. I have given you the speech, written languages, and a few other things of each of the current cycle’s major races. We can flesh out more details momentarily.”
“Current cycle? Maste- Sooltir, how long were we trapped in those pods?”
“You were hibernating for fifty thousand years, Nahlyon,” Javik answered her. “The shock wears off, trust me.”
“I did not ask you, Avatar of Vengeance,” she said venomously. “And the last thing I will do is trust you.”
The older female Prothean looked from Nahlyan to Javik and back again. “I did not give you Javik’s title,” she said in a questioning tone.
“I would rather not know that . . . or his name,” Nahlyon said, spitefully turning her gaze back to Javik.
Javik looked her in the eyes, and then turned his own away. “I do not blame you, Nahlyon. I . . . should have handled our parting with more . . . understanding.”
“Silence your words, oh valiant warrior! They fall on deaf ears.”
Javik looked back up at Nahlyon and held in the words that too readily had come to his mind. Instead he turned to Shepard. “Captain, I think it best if I wait out in the hall with the rest of the crew. With these two extremely capable scientists, you will no longer need my aid in translating the data here.”
“But- but we were working so well together,” came a soft new female voice.
Nahlyon turned as the one the transference let her know to be the asari Liara T’Soni entered from the outer corridor. Nahlyon was struck by the primitive’s look of beautiful innocence that belied the keen intellect and vast experience showing through in her eyes.
Javik paused in his path past Liara on his way out the door to look at her. He glanced to Nahlyon briefly and then answered the asari with a small squeeze on her forearm. It was a friendly gesture that seemed to come as a surprise to the primitives that Nahlyon understood to have been through much with Javik in a very short and recent time period. “I would only get in the way, slow you down, T’Soni. Besides, these scientists will be more the Prothean type you wished to find before I destroyed your vision of our people with my . . . relentless ways.”
“But-” Liara tried, but Javik was already moving again and not looking back.
“Well, that was interesting,” Shepard said.
“Quite,” Sooltir said, staring at her protege. “You and the Avatar have history.” It was not a question.
“And that is what it shall stay,” the Prothean female insisted.
“Speaking of history,” Shepard said, giving Sooltir a look. The lead scientist of the Prothean Mars lab nodded.
“I will take care of it, Captain. If you could give us a little while, we will be ready to share our knowledge with you and give whatever aid we can in your plight. And I very much would like to ask you more about the one you call the Catalyst Child and the VI in your head named Vendetta. If it is modeled after Pashak Vrenn . . . your passenger may be more than you know . . . maybe more than it knows”
“You knew the lead scientist on the Crucible?” Shepard asked.
“Lead?” Nahlyon was incredulous. Shepard noticed it and looked from her to Sooltir. Sooltir closed her eyes in acceptance of a fact.
“Yes, that would make sense, after they took us out of the picture.”
“You were the lead scientist before Vrenn?” Shepard asked.
“Yes. He was a capable scientist, though rigid in process and thinking sometimes unless it came to his programming. We will talk further about him if you wish at a later point. Nahlyon, I feel, is about to burst with questions and I have no love of cleaning up Prothean DNA off of walls,” the female Prothean joked. Shepard smiled.
“Thank you, Sooltir,” Nahlyon watched the human captain say with a polite bow before leaving the room. Jack and Liara followed him out automatically and the Prothean researcher felt the leadership and respect that the primitive species male commanded. The strange thing to her was that she felt it as well.
“This . . . cycle is odd,” Nahlyon stated to Sooltir.
Sooltir nodded with a smile. “And you have only been awake for a few minutes. I have been awake for an hour while we tried to make sure your pod was stable.”
“Stable?” she asked, looking over to the third pod that was lifeless. “Is that . . .?
Sooltir shook her head. “Klaxtan? No, we thought it had been, though. The status monitor shows that power was cut to his pod a long time ago. We assumed there was a problem and had to find out what it was and if your pod was affected. Klaxtan is not in there and has not been for a long time.”
“A little more than two thousand years is the last entry on his health upon exiting the pod.”
“Is there anything left of him to bury?”
“Unless he is hidden in this facility somewhere else, it is doubtful. His body would have been taken by the elements, here or on Earth, by now.”
“Yes, the records we have found so far show that he made many trips there. It seems their was no malfunction with his pod. His program was written differently. He was to come in and out of hibernation every so often, to make repairs to the facility to keep things going as long as possible. He was already older when we went into stasis. He started spending a lot of time out of his pod and I suspect old age claimed him.”
“But why did he leave his pod that much? Our technology is extremely reliable and lasts, obviously, for thousands of years. What happened that had him leaving so much for repairs? An attack?”
“Klaxtan was a cultivator, Nahlyon.”
“What?” the scientist exclaimed.
Sooltir nodded. “I always suspected it. Now the records prove it. His mission, handed down from the generals, was to guide the humans. To design a civilization that was constantly at war with itself. They were attempting to accelerate the cosmic imperative.”
“More like subvert it. Who’s to say the humans would have become such an aggressive species?”
Nahlyon’s mentor shrugged. “It was to prepare this cycle for the Reapers. They knew we were not going to end their threat, that the Reapers would come again.
“The same generals that appear to have subdued us and forced us into hibernation.”
“What?!” Nahlyon exclaimed again. She felt the dull ache at the back of her neck and knew it to be true. “But why?”
“Because we refused to end our work. They wanted us to succeed, but not until the threat of the Reapers was gone.”
Nahlyon rubbed at her forehead. “This foggy feeling will pass, right?”
“I remember . . . now. They worried like paranoid fools that it would fall to Reaper hands.”
“Paranoid or not, we never knew who was indoctrinated or not. Still, I am with you. We should have been allowed to try.”
“What about Klaxtan?”
The elder Prothean looked over Nahlyon’s shoulder to make sure no one was within hearing range. “His brief reports say that he took many names and used many different strategies to accomplish his goal. His favorite tactic was exploiting their vast capacity to believe in the superstitious.”
“Military . . . those brutes are all the same,” Nahlyon huffed, glancing back to the doorway Javik had walked out so recently.
Sooltir followed the glance and understood. “I knew of your distrust of the military leaders. In retrospect you were quite justified. I didn’t know why the distrust until today, though. You and this Avatar were important to each other?”
“Only the Reapers and his future empire were important to him. I was never first to his mind,” Nahlyon said with bitterness.
“The Reapers were on everyone’s mind, Nahlyon. And rebuilding our people’s civilization was a noble goal had the Reapers not vanquished us. Not a task to take lightly at all. This Avatar has done much to stop the Reapers, in our cycle and in the present one. I see that you have both hurt each other, but let the old wounds die with the creators of their origin.”
Nahlyon was confused by Sooltir’s words while she processed the meaning. Her eyes searched the floor for answers before rising to the elder Prothean. “The Reapers . . . are dead?”
“Yes.” Tears came to Sooltir’s eyes, though they were accompanied by a bow of the head and a smile. “It would appear Klaxtan did is job. The humans- this Captain Shepard was a singular force in uniting a galaxy to bring about their end. Using the weapon we helped to develop like so many cycles before us, what they called the Crucible.”
Nahlyon’s mind was numb. The enemy that had destroyed her planet, that had killed everyone she had known or turned them into their perverted creatures of war, were no more. “But what of our people?” she asked.
“Let me fill you in on the rest, young one,” she said, holding her hands out in the gentle and kind manner that had made Nahlyon readily accept the position of Sooltir’s assistant many years earlier.
“Well, many years before the last fifty thousand, anyway,” she thought as she reached her hands out to join Sooltir’s for the experience exchange.
* * * *
Out in the hallway, Shepard was making his way over too Javik, who he had only seen so shaken a few times before. He was headed off by Vega running up to him from a crowd around Tinman.
“Loco, we finally got some good damn news!”
“Give it to me, James.”
“Turns out Hackett got here with the fleet and has been fighting it out with the yahg. Communications were being jammed, but they must’ve just taken out whatever ship was doing that, because our boy Tinman, over there, just started getting a flood of signals from other geth that are up in the fight.”
“Why aren’t we getting anything?”
“Uh, I asked the same thing. Tinman said something about after effects of the singularity bomb, space-time, warping stuff, science-y stuff like that. And that geth communications were more sophisticated and able to make it through. Sparks said it made sense, and I trust her.”
“And what, Loco?”
“A-D-D much, Vega? What’s the news?”
“Heh, haven’t been accused of that one in a while. Anyway, it looks like it will be over soon, Captain. Only a few enemy ships left at this point. Plus the Normandy was able to stay clear of the whole thing, so no added repairs to what’s still left.”
“Sounds good, marine.”
“Yeah the fuck it does . . . sir!” the boisterous soldier agreed with a laugh before jogging back over to the crew.
Shepard resumed his path to Javik who sat on a random storage container, looking for all the world like a rejected schoolboy pouting over harsh words from a crush.
“Javik,” he said as he approached.
“I do not wish to speak about it, Captain.”
“And that’s why I came over. Friends help each other out, even when they can’t admit that they need it.”
“I do not need it and we are not friends, Captain.”
Shepard stepped back and looked at Javik with a slightly questioning expression. “Is that right?”
“Yes. I am Javik, Avatar of Vengeance. I am the warrior of the warriors of my empire. I was to them what you are to your cycle. The greatest, most able leader on the field of battle. Leaders do not have friends. Prothean warriors do not have friends. Friends were the next enemy in the Reaper armies. Within our military, there were no friends at any level. There were only more warriors at differing ranks. Another set of hands holding another weapon to destroy the Reaper soldier next to the one you targeted. Friends are emotional attachments. Emotional attachments,” he said looking past Shepard and back to the lab’s entrance,”bring only pain in the end.” Shepard followed Javik’s look and then faced him again. Javik shook his head. “You are crafty, human. I have been tricked into revealing things after all.”
“Yeah, but only a little.”
“But why ask me? It is my burden! My pain alone!” Javik stated, standing up and looking at Shepard intently.
Shepard met the gaze without blinking. “You’ve carried enough burdens alone, Javik. And up until now everyone, including me and you, thought you would have to carry them alone. But things have changed,” Shepard said hiking a thumb over his shoulder towards the lab. “Now you don’t have to.”
“You presume too much, Shepard. I am nothing to her now. Whatever used to be between us . . . is as dead as the Empire.”
“Your empire may be dead, Javik, but now you know that she’s not. Are you going to sit here and let old arguments pain you fifty thousand years later?”
“You humans have a saying reserved for harsh disagreements that translates easily to Prothean. I believe one of your women would say: not if you were the last man on Earth. That is where things stand between Nahlyon and me, Captain. I have no spirit of optimism left to me as you do.”
Shepard patted Javik on the shoulder with a hopeful smile. “Hey. Ilos, Eden Prime, now Mars. Prothean stasis pods seem to be a dime a dozen. Who says your the last?”
Javik’s eyes flickered with a hint of a smile. “I had not considered . . . but why dangle such hope before me, human? Hope is for the weak willed. Those who seek to hide from reality.”
“More so than those who seek to hide from living entirely?” Shepard asked, staring Javik down with knowing, unflinching eyes.
The Prothean could not meet Shepard’s challenge and looked away in shame. “I . . . I will consider your words, Shepard. Thank you.”
“Whether you admit it or not, Javik, you’re part of the Normandy’s crew. We all watch each other’s back and not because I ordered it. Not because Anderson or Hackett passed the order down from higher up. It’s because we are friends. To me, the Normandy is more. It’s family. And family is everything.”
Javik nodded in understanding and Shepard left him to his thoughts.
* * * *
Sooltir exited the lab, followed by her master scientist in training, Nahlyon. Captain Shepard introduced them to his crew and then quickly came to the point.
“Sooltir, Nahlyon, you’ve been informed of our situation.”
Sooltir stepped into the middle of the circle the warriors from the Normandy had naturally formed in response to Shepard’s calling them over. “Yes. These yahg beasts have attacked you many times recently, are intent on something on Mars, and have the ability to still make mass relay jumps when no mass relays are functional. Does that sum it up, properly, Captain Shepard?”
“Pretty much,” he confirmed.
“And your Alliance scientists have one of their ships?”
“Partially. They were able to salvage an intact engine and are reverse engineering it as we speak.
“I see. I will need to see this engine, Captain. If these yahg have stolen data from the archives here, and have what I think they have, then it very well may be my research that is providing their advantage.”
“How’s that?” Javik asked, standing up from his spot leaning against the wall outside of the circle.
“The reports we read,” Liara said looking across to him. “They must have been true. The Protheans,” she turned to Sooltir and Nahlyon,”were researching a new engine.” She turned back to Javik. “We just didn’t get the time to find that data ourselves.”
“Most likely,” Nahlyon agreed. “But they wouldn’t be able to use our data if they are as primitive as Captain Shepard’s memories lead us to believe.”
“Why not?” asked Ericson. “If you created a new engine and the data was there for the taking, what would stop them?”
“The fact that we never finished it,” Nahlyon said angrily.
Sooltir turned her head to the side to look at Nahlyon. The assistant looked down. “I am sorry, Ericson. I am not mad at you. It is just-“
“I know. Shepard filled us in on the whole forced stasis pod deal. I understand. I didn’t take it personally.”
“Thank you. But the point was that we didn’t complete our research. We were never allowed to. Never mind building any sort of initial design and testing it. We had theory and only a rough design of the basic systems the engine would need. Nothing detailed.”
“But it would have been enough for a more advanced species,” Sooltir added. “Perhaps these yahg have recruited an unscrupulous individual from one of your cycle’s top races.”
“Bet it was the goddamn Illusive Man, again,” Vega said. “Gave away the Citadel to the Reapers. Why not finish a super engine and hand it to the yahg?”
“Fuckin’ Cerberus,” Jack spat next to him.
Tinman weighed in. “Sooltir Gelten, I have processed a small amount of the data here related to this engine. You yourselves were basing your research on that gained from a species from the previous cycle,” he stated.
Sooltir eyed the geth warily and cast a questioning look to Javik. The male Prothean merely shrugged and shook his head. “Yes . . . synthetic. We had many cities built on those we found left by the Inusannon and we made full use of any knowledge they left behind, protected from Reaper destruction during their cycle. They passed on the designs of the Crucible as well as their own research on a vessel they discovered that was millions of years old. It had a . . . unique technology.”
“And that was?” Shepard asked.
“We were going to call in the Prothean drive . . . had we finished it,” Nahlyon answered. “It would effectively have been a ship-based mass relay, capable of the same speed and distance as a mass relay, without a destination point relay to connect to. At least the equal to the secondary relays.”
“Yes, in time we would have surely perfected it to match the primary relay ability, but we were not given the chance,” Sooltir added.
“Shepard, would it not be advisable to allow the Prothean scientists to study the engine the Alliance has recovered?” EDI asked.
The captain nodded. “That’s the idea, EDI. But first, Sooltir, do you know about the work on Ilos? Your scientists there were able to create your own mass relay they called the Conduit.”
“Yes and I see where you are going with this, Captain. Being a . . . Master among Prothean scientists, I had access to all research going on among our various groups. At least what wasn’t cut off by Reapers. Ilos and Mars were the last to lose contact and we fed each other copies of all data so that if one fell the other would carry on. You believe that our ability to build our own relay will allow us to help repair the damage to the relay network now.”
“That’s the hope,” he confirmed.
The rest of the Normandy crew tightened the circle a little, closing in to hear the answer from the Prothean scientist. She looked to them with a blank face and paused. She waited a moment longer and then cracked a smile. “We can help you,” she assured.
The team let out their individual sounds of relief, joy, and victory. Shepard held a reserved smile.
“Then let’s get in contact with Admiral Hackett and let him in on the good news. He’ll be able to transmit the repair process to the other systems through our Rachni contacts.”
“Rachni?” Nahlyon questioned in disbelief. “But . . . they are . . . an enemy?” she finished in an unsure tone, looking at Shepard and avoiding Javik’s eyes.
“Not anymore. Whatever happened in your cycle is long gone. They attacked in this cycle thousands of years ago and were hunted nearly to extinction. They were brought back by bio-warfare scientists a few years ago who found a queen egg. The scientists were killed and the Rachni queen was freed to return home, to start their civilization fresh. They were enslaved by the Reapers and we freed them again. Now they fight with us, not against us,” Shepard told her.
Nahlyon shrugged and rolled her eyes. “This is the cycle of opposites,” she muttered to no one in particular as she walked back towards the lab. Sooltir moved to go with her. “We will find repair specifics you need, Captain, and transmit it when you give us the channel for your Alliance,” the lead researcher called over her shoulder.
Shepard turned to his crew. He made his way over to EDI who was conferring with Tinman. “EDI.”
“What’s our communications situation?”
“Contact with our allies has been restored to optimal functionality, but you may wish it was not.”
“Why do you say that, EDI?” Shepard asked, the familiar cold uneasiness creeping out of the recesses of his subconscious.
“I do not know, but Admiral Hackett wishes to tell you himself. He is in a shuttle on his way to the Normandy and is requesting you meet him there. That is not how good news is normally delivered.”
“Great,” Shepard drawled sarcastically. He turned once more, looking for Williams only to find the lieutenant commander already heading his way, her hand up to the radio in her hear.
“Sir, we’ve got word coming in from Jondum about yahg attacks underway in every major system!”
“Damn it! Must be what Hackett wants to talk to me about.”
“Captain?” Ashley asked.
“He’s on his way via shuttle to the Normandy. I’m supposed to meet him there. I was coming to find you to tell you take command here.”
Ashley saluted. “Yes sir.”
“Try to keep Javik level headed around this Nahlyon.”
“And vice versa, it seems.”
“Picked up on that, huh?”
“Yeah, some of the looks she was throwing his way, or not throwing his way . . . there’s some bad blood there, Shepard.”
“A bit. On second thought, I’ll take him back to the Normandy with me and some of the other crew. Who do you want staying behind?”
“Think more yahg will come?” Ashley asked.
“Not now. They’ll know we’re too well defended and will probably assume we’ve found what they were looking for if there’s a brain among them. And it sounds like they’re busy everywhere else.”
“Have we found what they’re looking for?”
“It almost has to be our new Protheans and their knowledge.”
“Let’s hope so. I don’t want to fight another force like that.”
Shepard smirked. “What, that? Hell, Ash, I’m just feeling nice and loosened up.”
“All right, all right,” Ashley said waving the captain’s comment off. “Let me keep Jack, Tali, Grunt, Zaeed, and Liara. You couldn’t pry her off a Prothean right now, anyway.”
“True, but which one?” Shepard asked, remembering the oddly tender moment he witnessed between Liara and Javik earlier.
“What?” Ashley asked, confused.
“Ask Jack, she was there. But good call. Wrex is gonna want to be in on the meeting with Hackett. Garrus too. EDI and the geth can finish helping repair the Normandy and fighters, though Tinman might be our geth representative for the meeting, I suppose. Not sure what their hierarchy is . . . if they have one.”
“Sounds good. We’ll hold the fort down, Shepard.”
“Lieutenant Commander,” Shepard said with a salute and then turned to inform the others of the plans.