Last day for open beta on DOOM! Here’s the Warpath Doom – Warpath
While I continue to work on my writing, I’ve also decided to start doing my own channel on Youtube. Not sure what elements I’ll be incorporating into it, but, for now, it’s going to be my own video game play through/commentary channel with other sorts of videos to pop up from time to time, I’m sure. Check it out and be sure to subscribe!
Well, after much deliberation, it just isn’t happening with this next Mass Effect fan fiction book I was going to write. I think I’ve just lost the love for that story that I once had and have many other original projects/stories that I’d rather be working on. That may break some people’s hearts, but probably not. If you really want to know where I might have been going with that story, hit me up and I can summarize the outline in its current iteration (always changing is the story . . . to paraphrase a famous Jedi master). For now, I’m just leaving it to the side. Clearly I haven’t been working on it at the breakneck speed I was with “New Masters” which I pumped out nearly a chapter a week. ME5, “Desperate Measures” is at three and a half after six months, if that tells you anything.
So yeah, on to original works, now. Hoping I can throw myself into those a lot more.
Gray clouds pummeled the combatants on the slippery battleground with cold, wet despair. Gale force winds blew branches of all sizes into the air along side dead and withering leaves. Cold air bit with freezing teeth, tearing at already shredded flesh. The rain ran down the hills, mingling with red blood of a dozen men and flowing against the black blood of their inhuman enemies.
The men that still lived charged their foes, swords raised and dripping with tiny rivers. Their opponents roared and brandished axes equal in size to the humans, half the height of the smallest of the dark creatures. Their tales flicked from side to side, rattling the chain mail armor that sparsely covered them.
The two sides swarmed through the slick trees in the gray of the stormy afternoon until they crashed into each other, metal on metal ringing above dull rolls of thunder. Swords crashed on armor and then found the unprotected sides of the enemy creatures, piercing quickly and without hesitation. Many an ax returned the favor, not worrying about vulnerabilities, favoring brute force to dent and bend and finally break through armor that had long protected against lesser power. Men fell in halves with screams choked in blood that lasted less time then for their bodies to hit and sink into the muddy ground. The creatures fared no better, the quicker swords only made their deaths longer, no less painful or fewer.
The men battled furiously, war cries rising above the din of the storm around them, save for one soul, cowering in the hollow of an ancient tree. He watched, hidden from view, lost in the mayhem, though he could clearly see the carnage playing out before him.
“War God, protect them and lend them your strength to cleanse these hell spawned monsters from the land,” he whispered as he watched the human field leader, pointing his long sword forward, lead another charge.
Time froze. The world held its breath. The winds stopped. The rain ceased. The clouds halted their descent. Both battalions were silent. Confusion swept into the land. Man and beast’s attention was drawn to the peak of a mountain a few miles away, visible through an opening in the forest canopy.
A shimmering light hovered above the rocky point and whirled at great speed. Shafts of white light shot out, escaping the orb sporadically, followed by erratic bolts of lightning. The strange phenomenon grew in size and ferocity with each passing beat of fearful hearts on the lands below.
A bolt of lightning crossed the distance between itself and the warring parties. It blasted the battlefield and the world inhaled. The winds came alive, ten times stronger than before, but in the opposite direction. The rain and clouds went with it. Human and inhuman now ignored each other and sought protection from the unnatural hurricane. Those who found shelter gazed in the direction nature’s wrath had chosen and traced it back to the now blinding light hanging over the mountain.
A second streak of lightning shot down from the light and split the mountain in two with a deafening explosion. A hail of boulders covered the distance between the mountain and the skirmish, crashing down on the battling enemies. The warriors cried out, trying to run. Stony debris rained down on all. Man and demon-creature alike were smashed or flattened, the mountain accomplishing what neither side had yet been able to do.
Those who were not instantly killed by the onslaught fixed their dying eyes on the light that had sent their destruction. As those visions faded to blackness, their last image was of a pulsing light.
The storm reversed course. The world exhaled. Nature returned to its previous state. Clouds came again, along with their companions wind and rain. The blood never washed away completely.
The shimmering orb pulsed greatly once more and then disappeared.
The wind calmed, the rain changed to a drizzle, and the clouds thinned. The sun did not come out. An upturned tree that had survived for a thousand years before that day, curiously bled red.
I realize no one has heard from me in a while, but I’m still here. Don’t you feel so lucky? Seriously, though, I’m starting to work on the next Mass Effect book in my fan ficition/alternate ending universe and it is pretty rough to start off. I meant to get writing a few months ago (okay a year ago, really). I had replayed the games, revisited my own Mass Effect 4, and it was all fresh in my mind. Then, as always, life happened and I kept telling myself I would start it tomorrow and tomorrow and another tomorrow. Four months later (or a year and four months later) I have a prologue and the beginning of chapter one but every step of the way I’m finding I have to pause, go back to what I wrote in “New Masters” and then continue, making sure I’m not creating continuity issues as I go.
My feeling this time is maybe to get a few chapters done at a time before posting them up as, last time, trying to knock out a chapter a week was pretty grueling. Yeah, I know that a self-imposed deadline, but I also know how bad I am at procrastinating (see the 1 year and 4 months reference above). The other reason is because I am also working on a screenplay as well as ripping apart an original 500 page fantasy novel and rebooting it (right now) as a series of shorter tales told with each charater or (or group of characters) as the main focus. There is potentially a video game story that I may be helping a friend with to pile on top. We’ll see how this multi-tasking goes . . .
More on that fantasy work . . .
This collection of short stories idea, here, is mainly because I had 500 pages with lots of things happening, but when it was done, there was not actually a story there. There were a series of actions and events that were somewhat connected and leading somewhere, but I just kept thinking to myself “what do I have?” The answer was “a fantasy world that was pretty fleshed out, but not a good narrative.” No main character or maybe too many main characters, because that’s how they all felt. Too many origins to explain, to many “leading up to this” background stories to fill in (and which kept growing and building themselves in my mind), and well, there’s so much that I didn’t feel right about so I had to reimagine how to tell the story. (Side note: like most creative people, I’m my own worst critic, so that 500 pages might actually be a great first novel to a longer series as intended, but I just . . . I don’t know. I’ve had it in the works for SO many years that I’ve just started to wonder about the whole damn thing.)
So with a strong foundation, I’m going back and overhauling the idea of how I will tell the story I wanted to in the first place. Now, this may turn out to be a worse idea than before because I’m trying to do short stories (or more likely novellas) and I have no handle on that medium. Believe me, I’ve tried. Hell, the Mass Effect story was just supposed to be a re-write of Mass Effect 3’s terrible ending and it turned into what? A re-written chapter and then an almost 500 page “what happens next” story. Shit, what I’m writing now is just supposed to be a quick update (fail).
The screenplay . . .
This one is a contemporary piece that I’m actually writing in hopes of filming myself (with some like minded friends) and I want to pull off a real cold-blooded, dark feel. Sort of along the lines of maybe Last Man Standing or No Country For Old Men . . . though probably more Last Man Standing because that was fun (though harsh) action flick. But darker.
I’m always amazed at some of the simpler films that pull off something way beyond their tiny budgets and premises. One example that always comes to mind is Cube. If you haven’t seen it, go find it. Not a 5-star movie, I’ll grant you, but (and this is sort of a spoiler), the entire thing happens in one area. 90 minutes of story in a box. How? You’ll have to watch it. How many people watched The Blair Witch Project? Kids in the woods and yet I worked the theaters when this was out and it packed the seats for weeks. Crazy. Another one I just saw that was actually really good and starred the late Paul Walker (he actually did pretty damn good acting in this, such a shame) is Hours. Again, simple premise, one location, but gripping. Hell I gave that one 4 out of 5 on Netflix. So yeah, I would love to be able to pull off something that has a tiny budget (basically, no budget) that is still a decent product. Anyway, my story is crime world related and will no doubt have lots of action and hopefully a little mystery and few moments/twists that may not blow you away, but at least should be somewhat unexpected.
Yeah . . . I’m done. I guess.
Oh! The game idea! Psych! I’ve got really a bare minimum on that so there’s no point in even putting out any details at this point other than to let you, my readers (all 2 of you), know what all is on my plate and why there may not be quite as fast a release of chapters this go round on Mass Effect.
Not yours truly at all,
Two days later, he still felt numb. Captain Shepard, the first human Spectre, survivor of the massacre on Akuze, a dozen other battles that should have claimed his life, and one that did, still felt numb. Two days since Earth had fallen a second time in less than a year to a hostile alien force and Shepard still felt cold, mixed with sickening rage. It didn’t matter that the yahg had been less destructive than the Reapers, opting to enslave Earth’s population instead of harvesting it. It didn’t matter that the yahg on Sur’Kesh and in that entire system had been eradicated after Anderson had kept the Alliance fleet in the system and denied an immediate and unplanned attempt to retake Earth. And it didn’t matter to Shepard that plans were already in the making to reclaim his home world.
What mattered was the feeling of failure to protect it once more, to have seen it burn a second time while he could do nothing but watch from a system away. Shepard wanted something to do, a way to make things right- or at least try to.
Instead he sat in a logistical meeting that was only one step in slowly building up to the goal of liberating Earth and keeping her this time. Anderson stood at the podium of the salarian conference room, laying out the basic plan to his Alliance officers. The admiral had been picked up by Ashley when Anderson had ordered the mission to Omega put on hiatus to bring the Eden Prime and her crew to Sur’Kesh to regroup what forces he could. Grunt had enjoyed physically restraining the enraged mercenary queen, Aria T’Loak, for the trip to Logan and then Sur’kesh.
“The salarians have graciously allowed us to set up a base of operations in Talat for the time being,” the now highest ranking Alliance military commander said.
“It’s the least we could do,” a recovered Major Kirrahe added, waving off the comment with a new tank grown arm from his seat in the room. The salarian was, himself, now one of the more senior ranking military leaders in what was left of the salarian forces and acting as representative and advisor to Anderson’s own limited command staff.
Anderson nodded in thanks and continued. “I know the situation looks grim. Hell, it looks as bad as, if not worse than, our war with the Reapers, as far as our numbers go. But we’re not out of the fight. There is still hope.”
“How do you figure that?” Zaeed asked, not concerned with any protocol in a chain of command he was not party to.
“The yahg are playing at something different than those damned machines. Forced labor and terrible conditions aside, we have enslaved populations. They’re not being systematically killed off. That gives us time to plan and rebuild our strength. The one kindness Hackett did for us in his insanity was to force the geth to come to Sur’Kesh. They’ll be instrumental in helping to build up a new fleet . . . if they are willing,” the admiral finished, turning to face Tinman.
“Of course, Admiral Anderson.”
“Thank you, Tinman. The next thing we need to do is something that our salarian friends are renowned for: gather intelligence. The yahg came out of no where and seem like they still could for one obvious reason: we have no information on them at all. We need to change that and fast. I’ll be assigning a team-“
“Count me in,” Shepard said quickly. “I’ve had enough sitting around already. I’m ready to move and so is my crew, Admiral.”
Anderson looked at Shepard with an appreciative smile. “I know you are, Captain, but you won’t be doing this alone and gathering intel is not the only thing we need to win this war. What we need is a decisive advantage. Right now we do not have that.”
“That may be something we can help provide,” Master Sooltir Gelten offered. “What we found at Logan . . . there is no telling what could come of it.”
“Indeed,” David agreed with the Prothean scientist. “There are also many other locations I can think of that hold hidden assets the enemy- hopefully- is unaware of. Unfortunately, those are in in the Sol system, some on Earth, some not. I mean to reclaim those. Shepard, you and the Normandy will be spearheading that goal.”
Anderson nodded and went on. “I’ll speak with each team’s leader individually about your assignment specifics. Needless to say, we have a lot of obstacles in front of us and it won’t be easy. So everyone get rested, get your ships refueled and restocked, and tell your crews to be ready. Dismissed.”
The crew stood up and headed for the exits. Ashley came up beside Shepard on the way. “And to think, we were worried about our allies all swooping in and taking Earth away from us. Now we need them all to come back, swoop down on Earth, and take her away from the alien bastards that did just that.”
“Funny how things play out, isn’t it?” Shepard asked rhetorically.
“Hmph,” Ashley responded. “So: lather, rinse, repeat, huh?”
“Yeah. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” the captain said as he headed to the Normandy to prepare for whatever Admiral Anderson, his long time friend and mentor, assigned as Shepard’s next mission.
“This . . . is not good,” Garrus said, glancing over the same reports Ashley had received from her fellow Spectres. “They all left?”
“All but some of the geth,” she answered. “And the rachni. They’ve kept their new home world hidden so the yahg can’t attack them directly. Leave it to the bugs and flashlights to be the dependable allies,” Ashley added. Seeing Lazarus standing silently near the rachni on board the Eden Prime, she quickly amended,”No offense, guys.”
The rachni stood still, only blinking its eyes in response. Lazarus rotated his single visual sensor Ashley’s direction. “No offense was taken, Commander Williams. We understand it is hard for organics to let go of old designations after circumstances have required altered thought processes.”
“But why are they leaving now?” Lanna asked, from a seat across the table in the prototype frigate’s conference room. “They’ve had the mass amplifiers installed for weeks, some of them. They could have left at anytime.”
“Doubt,” Grunt said plainly. “Without Anderson or Shepard- who trusts the Alliance’s plan? Shepard’s been the only one holding all the races together. Without him, they have no faith in anyone but themselves to take care of business.”
“I’m with Grunt,” Zaeed said. “No one gives a damn about alliances when their homes are burning. And like he said: without Shepard, no one believes the war strategy can work.”
“It’s not like he’s dead!” Cortez nearly shouted from his seat at the table. “Right?” he asked, looking around the room. “We don’t believe that . . . do we?” he inquired further, doubt growing in his eyes and his voice faltering.
“Of course not, Steve,” Tali answered confidently. “It’s Shepard. He took on Sovereign, ran us through the suicide mission against the collectors, and he defeated the Reapers. He wouldn’t allow himself to be killed by a random attack by yahg. And look at Vega’s report. It says MIA. Missing. Not killed. They dragged him off. So he’s still alive.”
“Yeah, you can’t interrogate my- his dead body,” Ericson said. Despite having more time since the memory transference from Javik, his thoughts still blurred every so often. It was happening less, but right now it felt like the group was talking about him and Shepard at the same time, neither of whom he felt were dead.
“And what about the Admiral?” Wayne asked, silent until now. He eyed Ashley who turned her gaze downward.
“I . . . it doesn’t look good. I’m not even sure what the hell Anderson was doing in the Theseus system. Still waiting to hear back on that. Lazarus, has the rachni gotten a report from Hackett on that yet?” Ashley asked the synthetic.
“The fuck you will!” Aria barked. Six pair of ice cold eyes turned to stare her down. Lazarus and the rachni looked her way with what might have been neutral expressions. Grunt leaped from his seat and was already halfway across the room with a knife drawn before the chair finished falling to the ground. The krogan was impossibly fast, even for the mercenary queen’s battle honed reflexes. The knife was at her throat and biting a perfectly controlled depth of millimeters into her blue flesh before she could erect a protective biotic barrier.
“I’m feeling pretty generous today, so I’ll give you a choice, asari: Do you want your death to be painless or quick?” he growled.
Ashley jumped up and pulled her gun on Grunt. “Stand down, Grunt!”
Garrus lurched to his feet and threw out his hands. “Whoa! Easy people!”
Grunt calmly looked past the turian and addressed the commander. “Williams, this . . . thing thinks she’s in charge. Thinks she’s going to tell us what we’re going to do or not do. Who we’re going to save or not. I won’t stand for it.”
Part of Ashley wanted to lower the gun and look the other way. The small, desperately crying for attention, logical side of her forced the weapon to stay up. “I can’t argue with you, Grunt. But as much as I hate to admit it, we’re going to need her to retake Omega.”
“And why should we do that at all?” the young experimental krogan asked. “Why give her that power back? We can keep it in our hands. With someone the Alliance- or what’s left of the major races- can trust. She’ll only turn it against us as soon as we take care of Cerberus and the yahg.”
“Damn straight,” Aria said, albeit a little hesitantly, the knife still breaking skin and Grunt’s breath pulsing on to her face. “I’ve got a vested interest to help you fight. That’s my station. The systems around it bring me the customers that make me money. The yahg are killing my customers. Plus, my mercs keep more pirates out of Citadel space than you realize. It’s a balancing act of raiding them enough to keep them down and not draw the Council’s attention to my station but not over doing it to provoke a full coordinated attack from the pirates on Omega. Without my leverage and the knowledge of how to use it, Omega falls and the yahg and Cerberus gain new allies to ravage your planets.”
“But,” Ashley took back control of the conversation,”you are right Grunt. She’s not in charge and, bitch as she might, I’ll make the decisions on my damn ship,” she said, lowering her weapon. “We’ll detour to Theseus and scout out Logan.”
“And Shepard?” he asked, slightly lessening the pressure of the blade on Aria.
“What about him?” the commander asked with a smile. “It’s not the first time he’s been declared dead or missing. The way he keeps doing it, I think it’s some N7 strategy.”
Grunt chuckled slowly and sheathed his knife, tipping Aria’s already leaning chair past its balancing point. The crime boss crashed to the floor with an ungraceful flailing of arms and legs. “You’re right, Williams. But crazy strategy theory or not, Shepard disappearing is bad. The fleets leaving . . . splitting up. It’s bad tactics. We’ll be fighting ground warfare for years on every planet, now. And that’s only if we gain some sort of advantage. Otherwise . . .”
“You’re probably right, Grunt,” Ashley agreed. “And as shitty as it sounds, Ericson, that’s not our problem right now. Our problem is checking on the wreckage of the Kilkenny and then securing Omega. The rest will be up to Hackett to figure out.” She looked at her team around the table and saw the determination in their eyes she had seen so many times under Shepard’s command. “Maybe I have the knack for this leadership thing after all,” she thought. Then she addressed her friends again,”We have our plan. Cortez, make the adjustment to the flight plan and Lazarus, you and the rachni . . . comm specialist send a message back to the fleet to let Hackett know. Dismissed.”
“And now for you, Captain,” Chakwas said.
“Does he now? Is he the medical expert suddenly?” she questioned.
Miranda looked up with a smile, moving a fallen strand of hair from in front of her face. Liara turned to him as well with a smile, though it did not hold the soft warmth as Miranda’s did. The salarian agent of the Shadow Broker did not look up, continuing to work, unknowingly, next to his boss.
Captain Mark Mastoon sat in his desk chair, gritting his teeth against the pain in his shattered leg. “Damn Alliance bitch,” he cursed as he looked down at the makeshift splint that the Cerberus leader had whipped together. “Need to find a doctor on my next trip back to Omega,” he told himself.
“Mastoon, the ship is destroyed?” asked a dark face with yellow eyes. The inquiry came from the captain’s private terminal in his quarters aboard the Retribution, an exact duplicate of the Normandy SR-2 frigate. Mastoon had spent a considerable amount of the funds he had stolen from Cerberus, after escaping during his failed coup, to build it. Now the Retribution was the flagship for the terrorist organization he had assumed control of after the death of the Illusive Man at Shepard’s hands. The group had been devastated by the Alliance attack months ago, and with its leader gone, it had been an easy void to fill for the opportunistic Mastoon. However, with Cerberus funds and resources wrecked, he knew he would have to use the alien races. He would play one off of the other to weaken them all while humanity, and Cerberus, rebuilt.
Kahlee steered the Kodiak through the silent wreckage of the Kilkenny. The shuttle sensors scanned for signs of life, but every passing second brought all on board closer to accepting reality.
“Anything?” Anderson asked earnestly.
Kahlee shook her head.
“God damn it! Where the hell did they come from? How did they know we were even here?”
“I’d like to know when Cerberus built a second Normandy,” Kasumi said. “Would have been helpful against the collectors and Reapers.”
“You ever hear about it while you were with them?” Coats asked Jacob.
Jacob shook his head. “No.”
“What about this guy, Mastoon? Ever run into him when you were part of that group?” Brynn asked.
“Heard of him? Yeah. Never met him, though. He was gone before I joined up. They said he was just the latest in a line of overly ambitious fools. Thought he had outsmarted the Illusive Man and attempted a coup. He managed to survive the resulting battle, but ended up retreating into the Terminus System and was never heard from again. Guess we assumed he’d learned his lesson.”
“Well I’d guess that he maintained some sort of contact within the organization,” Anderson said. “Someone must have fed him the designs for the SR-2.”
“Agreed,” Jacob said.
“This is all interesting,” Nahlyon began,”but it does not help our situation. We now have only this shuttle which does not have the mass amplifier we need to return to your Earth.”
“That’s another thing,” Coats said. “How did this second Normandy get out here at all? The only ships that have one of those were either retrofitted by our coalition . . . or created by the yahg.”
“Think this Mastoon might have made a deal with them?” Anderson asked.
Coats shrugged. “How else can you explain it?”
“True,” Anderson said. “But Nahlyon is right. We’re stranded unless we figure something out. Without our Rachni ally on the Kilkenny, we’ve got no way to send out a distress call that will be heard in a thousand years.”
“We could search the ships at Slenthix,” Brynn offered. “They might have advanced communication systems that could reach back to Admiral Hackett.”
“Good thinking, Cole,” Anderson acknowledged. He took a long last look at the wreckage. “May they rest in peace . . . take us back to the station, Kahlee. Let’s see if we can send for help.”
Back on the station, Caretaker greeted the crew at the entrance to the docks. “You have my condolences, Admiral David Anderson. The loss of one’s crew and ship is never easy on those left behind, especially on their leader. It is something I have been witness to on many occasions. Only the truly worthless are unaffected. What’s more, my assessment of your situation is very dire. You are stranded on an alien station, hidden to any passing ship and with no sustenance or communications. The nearby planet of Feros could provide food, but little else.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any help you can offer us with any of that, is there?” David asked.
The yellow human-shaped interface paused. “Considering possibilities,” Caretaker said. “Options exist given available physical presence and materials.”
“What possibilities are those?” Sooltir asked.
“Communication, for one. My systems require repair to components damaged when the last visitor to Station Slenthix attacked upon being locked out of our systems. While destroying many large structures nearby that were redundant, the truly detrimental loss was to components of my main communication relay. Repair to these components would be mutually beneficial.”
“In what way?” Kahlee asked.
“I have been out of contact with . . . others for twenty years. Since your arrival, having accessed data available through your ships, I have learned new information that significantly affects my original purpose.”
Jacob walked over, crossing his arms. “Which is?”
“Monitoring Rialusan activity and providing assistance to their enemies, when possible, without allowing the technology of our station or our ship to be discovered. Had they captured our stations, our ships, our scientific knowledge, the balance of power in this universe would have been drastically altered in their favor.”
“In their favor?” Nahlyon exclaimed. “They’ve destroyed countless species and dominated for millions and millions of years! How is the ‘balance of power’ not already in the Reapers’ favor?”
“And who is this ‘we’ you keep referring to?” Brynn asked.
“I refer to those my people left behind. I was not the only caretaker left to watch after the evolution of this tiny section of the universe, though I am one of the few left. The Rialusan were relentless in pursuit of my people, but they are not nearly as advanced as they like to believe. However, they did adapt to our safety measures, causing us to enact our failsafe policies, a few of which you have seen the results.”
“The destroyed planets?” Sooltir asked.
Caretaker nodded. “Yes. My fellow AIs were close to being captured and that is unacceptable. Keeping our people out of danger is our prime concern. Self destruction is preferable to giving the Rialusan any further advantages or information of our species.”
“What species created you?” Anderson asked. “What happened to them?”
“Further questions of my creators may not be answered at this time. Please consider repairing my long range communications array as destruction of the Rialusans may result in more available information.”
Anderson was getting tired of running in what he knew was going to be a circular conversation at this point. The AI was not going to answer anything useful until its requested repairs were made. “So what do we need to fix, where is it, and what materials will we need?”
“I will transfer the information to your omni-tool devices. You will find the components, locations, and needed parts in the data. I will know when you have completed the task. I thank you in advance for your help in this matter, Admiral. You will find that this action will further your goals as well. To repair this technology it has been deemed appropriate and safe to transfer knowledge of our communications systems.”
“I guess that’s something. What about repairing your physical body?”
“Further action on that will depend on information gathered after restoration of full communications.”
Anderson motioned to his crew as he walked away from the yellow Shepard. “I think I prefer the ones I can shoot,” he thought. His human and Prothean team gathered around him, awaiting instructions. “Alright, people, check your omni-tools.
Anderson brought up his omni-tool display and looked at the needed items. “Okay, some of this we can pull from the shuttle, but the rest we’ll need to pull from what’s on hand here. We’ll split into three teams. Team 1 will go to that mother ship out there. Team 2 will take the Inusannon ship. Team 3 will search the station itself. Keep your eyes open for what we need and anything else we can easily scan or maybe take with us. We don’t have time to spare covering every square inch while the yahg are tearing us to pieces. Once we get back to the fleet, we’ll send a research team out to do things properly and we’ll gain untold advances, from the looks of it. But those will only come if we can make it back to Earth, so that’s the priority. Let’s go.”
The Kilkenny dropped out of the mass effect field established by the mass amplifier and standard FTL took over, pushing the cruiser through the Hercules system of Attican Beta at a quick pace.
Admiral Anderson looked at the time on the display in front of him. They would be entering the Theseus system in a little while. He double checked the ship status reports and then headed off the bridge. The door to the elevator opened and Anderson stepped in.
“Main hangar,” he told the transport VI.
“Acknowledged, Admiral Anderson,” the VI droned. David laughed on the inside, finding it funny that he was much more comfortable with the cold, indifference of a military interface compared to the overly nice and helpful software now in use on the Citadel.
The elevator descended swiftly a few levels before lurching sideways to whisk the admiral halfway across the length of the ship to the central flight deck. It slowed to a stop and Anderson exited onto a busy floor. Pilots and engineers inspected and worked on the fighters, interceptors, and shuttles that lined the bay. Some crew members ran parts around the deck while others made minor repairs to bad systems or broken tools. One of the pilots, hustling across the floor, noticed Anderson and snapped to attention with a salute. “Admiral on deck!” she hollered.
Those in earshot turned to make sure it wasn’t another attempted prank by the more senior jokers in the various fighter squads, but then jumped up from the middle of their activities to mirror the pilot. Anderson waved them off.
“Cut that bullshit out, crewmen,” he told them in a relaxed tone. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to salute and be all official. This is not that time. As you were.”
“Sir, yes sir!” the first pilot said and then resumed her dash to a far bay of the hangar. The rest of the men and women returned to their tasks as well and Anderson continued on to the shuttle area. He walked up behind an older man who was busy with a data pad showing system scans of the shuttle in front of him on one half and a checklist on the other. The longtime mechanic rubbed a gray beard with his free hand and let out an impressed puff of air. Hearing Anderson’s footsteps, he casually turned around and nodded to the familiar face.
“David Anderson. It has been a long time, my friend.”
“Henry Korlov, you old dog. Pounding away at ships, just like the last time I saw you.”
“How have you been, Admiral?”
The admiral smiled and shook the man’s offered hand. “Good on some days, worse on others. What about you, Hank?”
“Ha ha, I know the feeling,” the Russian native said with a heavy accent. “About the same, more or less. Glad you pulled me on board, buddy. Haven’t had the chance to talk with you since I got dragged into this super secret project. Thanks for that, by the way. I know you had a hand in that decision.”
“Might have something to do with being the one in charge of said project,” David chuckled. “So . . . is that stuff going to work?”
Hank stepped up to the shuttle and wrapped the hull with his knuckles. It barely made a sound. “I don’t see why not. Great time to test it,” he cracked with a roll of his eyes. “You know, on an actual mission with only computer models to assure us that it’s good. It is amazing stuff, though. I’ll give them that. I see what they did and I get how it works, but I just can’t imagine how long it would have taken them to develop it, nevermind us.”
“They didn’t survive through the ages and wipe out who knows how many thousands of races by not having proven armor. As for how long- who knows? Who’s to say the Reapers even came up with it in the first place? Might have stolen it from some species a billion years ago, for all we know. I just want to be prepared for whatever we face on Logan and I figure that gas giant will be a good real world test.”
“Still, I’d feel a lot better if you’d sit this one out, my friend. Not many admirals left and even fewer good ones. I’d hate to be responsible for losing the man that kept Earth alive.”
“Quit worrying, Korlov. Just prep that bird and we’ll take her for a nice easy flight to . . . whatever we find on that planet.”
With a mock salute, Hank Korlov returned to his checklist. “Sure thing, Admiral. You’re the boss.”
“And don’t you forget it, Chief,” the old soldier said, slapping his friend on the back with a laugh before leaving.
* * * *
“Don’t rush us in, Mills,” Admiral Anderson told the slightly nervous looking young pilot of the shuttle. “Just ease us into orbit to start with.”
“Aye aye, Admiral.”
“What are we looking at, Kahlee?” Anderson asked from the blonde scientist sitting in the co-pilot seat at the front of the shuttle.
“Odd readings, that’s for damn sure. Those signals are definitely there, just very very weak. If we weren’t looking for them specifically, or knew what to look for thanks to the Inusannon data that Sooltir dug up for us, we’d never see it. The signal strength must have been magnitudes higher when it was detected by chance all those years ago.”
“Can we pinpoint it?”
“I’m already working on it,” Brynn answered from a seat behind Kahlee. She made some adjustments to the scanning parameters and a red data stream changed to dark orange. “Barely,” she finally answered. “We’ll have to go in closer.”
“Can the shuttle handle that?” asked Major Coats.
“These things are rated at a thousand standard atmospheres, so yes. It will handle the planet. It’s what we find behind those clouds down there that I’m more worried about,” Anderson said.
Kasumi spoke up,”That surprises me, Admiral, what with that Reaper tech covering this flying box.”
“Sir?” Coats questioned, looking to Anderson.
David turned from looking over Kahlee’s shoulder to face his trusted resistance leader. “It’s true. This shuttle is a test platform for one of the various pieces of their tech that’s being looked at for wider implementation across the fleet.”
“Do we really want to start blending Reaper technology with ours? Look at what Cerberus did to their own people! No offense Taylor,” he tacked on, looking Jacob’s direction.
Jacob shrugged. “Hey I’m not Cerberus anymore. I corrected that mistake.”
“Easy, Major. We’re not doing any organic-synthetic blending. Weapons, armor, the militarily prudent. Hell, it wouldn’t be the first time. Don’t forget where Thanix Cannons came from.”
The soldier looked down, conceding the point.
Next to him, Nahlyon looked up. “Where did your weapons come from?” she asked.
“It came from a Reaper named Sovereign that attacked the Citadel a little more than three years ago. He had indoctrinated the Council’s top Spectre, a snake of a turian named Saren. That Spectre tried to open the Citadel relay after the Reaper’s signal to the keepers failed, thanks to your scientists from Ilos. Sovereign brought an armada of geth to destroy the Citadel fleet while Saren worked to transfer control of the station to that damned Reaper. We took him out and lost a lot of ships in the process.
“Every species allowed on the station snatched up whatever bits and pieces of scrap from that ship that they could. Now is no different. If humanity stays out of the game for some altruistic notion, we’ll be at the point of a very advanced gun in the not too distant future. The Alliance isn’t willing to risk that. That’s half the reason we’re out here now. Whatever Logan is hiding . . . we think it’s very old and most likely very advanced. Let’s just hope it’s still intact. Helmsman, keep her going in. Slowly.”
The conversation ended, each of the crew lost in thoughts of the Reaper war, this cycle and the last. The shuttle moved closer and closer, the swirling clouds of the planet becoming more defined on the ship’s multiple video displays. The mix of red and brown obscured the view of anything behind the thick puffy formations. Anderson squinted at the main display that overlaid the signal strength with the actual video of the planet. He tried willing it to turn green. Instead, after a long couple of minutes of waiting, it turned bright orange.
“Closer,” the admiral stated. “Looks like we’re on the right track. Take us in a little more and a little faster, Lieutenant Mills. I don’t feel like sitting in this clown car all day.”
“Yes sir,” the pilot complied.
“Clown car?” Sooltir asked.
“Human expression,” Kahlee said. “Small area packed absurdly full.”
The shuttle rocked lightly. “Just a little turbulence. Not even a drop in the bucket of what we can take,” informed the pilot. Anderson saw the orange turn yellow and exchanged a questioning glance with Kahlee.
“Hold this spot and drop down some more,” Anderson said, acting on a hunch.
The shuttle’s elevation indicator steadily lowered. The so called turbulence increased. Flashes of blue energy began to punch through the impenetrable clouds around the ship.
“That is not a natural phenomenon,” Sooltir observed.
“Is that . . . an eezo field?” Major Coats asked.
“Starting too look like one, isn’t it?” Kasumi agreed.
The signal strength started flashing between yellow and green rapidly. An alarm went off. “Sensors say we’ve got . . . something. High velocity! Heading right for us!” the pilot yelled. “Hold on!”
There was a hard impact and Anderson was thrown off his feet, falling back across Coats and the Protheans. They caught him and he slid into a seat and grabbed the safety harness for stability. The shuttle took more hits. “These things are good! Adjusting for every move I make!” Mills shouted.
“How are we holding up?” the admiral called.
“Lots of contact. Shields dipping, but even with all that, hull integrity is still good.”
“Nice test run, eh Admiral?” Coats asked.
“That’s one way to put it,” he replied with half a smile. “Keep going, Mills.”
The pilot pushed the shuttle deeper into the clouds with the attacks coming even faster and harder. “Shields can’t recharge at this rate of fire, Admiral. We’re going to start taking more damage. This armor should hold . . . as long as they don’t focus on any one spot, I guess.”
“Understood. Max out our speed. I have a feeling . . .”
The signal went solid green as another round of hits exploded on the front corner of the ship, closest to the pilot. A section of the console burst open. Fire and electricity shot directly into Mills’ face. The pilot screamed in pain and then slumped forward on top of the ruined controls.
“Mills!” Kahlee cried, jumping out of her seat. She checked his pulse while she pulled him from the seat. “He’s gone, David!” She pulled his body to the side and went back to her seat to use the co-pilot controls. “Do we keep going or turn back while we still can?” she asked.
The admiral looked at his crew.
“Admiral, perhaps we should consider turning back,” Sooltir suggested.
“I would stick to the path, Anderson,” Kasumi offered. “The strongest defenses protect the most important treasures.”
Anderson glanced to Kahlee and then from the master scientist to the master thief quickly making his decision.
“Take us in, Kahlee,” he ordered. The ship shuddered and warning alarms continued to blare in the small confines of the modified Kodiak. “I’m willing to bet we’re almost-“
The shuttle broke through the wall of clouds and into a clear section of the gas giant’s skies. The attacks ceased and the only sounds were those of the signal trace with a positive lock on its target and the alarms warning about significant damage to the ship.
“-through,” Anderson finished. He looked at the video feed. “Look at that,” he told the others who were getting up from their seats to inspect the strange calm. “No wind. No clouds.”
“And one huge ass asteroid floating in the middle of it all,” Jacob observed.
The crew studied the images coming in over the video display. A blue field of energy shimmered every few seconds around the asteroid that easily matched the size of a modest space station.
“And another unnatural phenomenon,” Brynn added. “Looks like it’s the source of our signal, too.”
Anderson leaned towards Kahlee and put a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s look for an opening,” he whispered.
The synthetics expert nodded and moved the shuttle in towards the levitating rock.
“I don’t like it,” Coats said. “Why did the attacks stop? Why attack in the first place?”
“I don’t know,” Anderson answered. “When we find the source, we might get some answers. Make a pass around it, Kahlee. Let’s give it a look.”
The Kodiak drifted in a lazy loop, scanning the large object from what Sanders hoped was a healthy distance. Two thirds of the way around, Kahlee swore. “Holy shit!” The shuttle coasted to a stop.
“Jackpot!” Kasumi exclaimed with a smile.
Tethered to the asteroid by short metal looking tubes were two distinctly different alien crafts. One was close to the size of the Kilkenny in orbit and it had a second covered walkway extending from its side to the other, much larger, ship. It was easily twice the size of the largest Reaper.
“Master!” Nahlyon gasped. “That ship . . . the smaller one . . . is it . . .?” she trailed off in disbelief. All eyes turned to the younger Prothean woman. Sooltir looked at her assistant closed her eyes and nodded with a slow confirmation.
“Inusannon,” Sooltir said.
“And the other ship?” Anderson asked.
Sooltir studied the huge ship for a moment and shook her head. “I do not know. I can tell you it is not of Inusannon design. It does not resemble any style of vessel or architecture they ever described or left notes on that I can recall being found. I believe we may be looking at something very very old, Admiral. We must get aboard both of these ships. Hidden for ages and defended well. There must be good reason.”
“And don’t forget that space station,” Jacob said. Anderson looked over to the former Alliance soldier turned consultant with a questioning expression. “What? That’s gotta be what that rock is. The tunnels to each ship. That’s no mining operation, either. Those ships are docked for something other than some crates of palladium. I’d look for another docking port and check out that too.”
“Good points, Taylor,” Anderson agreed. “We might want to split into a few teams. We’ll look for a place to dock or land, check things out and then a separate group will search each point of interest here. Kahlee, take us to the far side of that unidentified ship. I don’t see a dock on this side of the asteroid. Maybe we’ll find one there. But let’s send a message to the Kilkenny and let them know our situation.”
Kahlee shook her head. “Already tried. We’re being blocked. I’m guessing by whatever energy is forming their protective bubble,” she said, indicating the display where both ships and the asteroid could be seen more clearly as the shuttle coasted by them to the far side of the docking area.
“Great,” David said. He tapped the display screen to take note of the new object coming into view. “Looks like we’ve got some luck finally. Put us in there.”
A single docking port extended to the emptiness in Logan’s high atmosphere next to the massive unidentified capital ship. Another lay crushed into the rock surface of what Anderson was beginning to believe really was a space station or research facility of some kind. How it came to be suspended under the cover of the planet’s shroud he had not guessed yet. As the ship approached the port, it came alive with a bright yellow light.
“That looks promising,” Jacob said.
“I don’t know,” Coats countered. “Yellow doesn’t scream safe to me. Plus, one minute it’s about to turn us to scrap, the next it’s welcoming us? Why?”
“I say we go find out,” Kasumi answered, the thief’s eyes wide with anticipation of new and exotic items to procure.
“We’ll find out when we get in there,” Anderson told them. “But we’ll go in armed and ready. Suit up and stay alert.”
The shuttle came within a few meters of the port’s end and the yellow light extended outwards, surrounding the ship.
“What is that?” Brynn asked.
“I think some sort of shield,” Kahlee thought out loud. “And I’m getting readings of breathable atmosphere from inside it.”
“Alright. Open the door and let’s get moving. But keep your helmets on, people. Friendly or not, this stuff is old. I don’t want to get spaced if the power suddenly burns out.”
“Roger that, Admiral,” Coats responded, pulling down his helmet and picking up a weapon.
* * * *
Commander Jack Miller stood next to the Kilkenny’s communications officer, Chuck Little, who sat working to try and find a way to make the cruiser’s signal punch through the interference coming out of the Logan atmosphere to reach Admiral Anderson and his team.
“So, Chuck, how’s the family doing?”
Little didn’t look up. “Doing good, Jack. I’m so damn lucky to have them all make it through that Reaper hell. Running from broken building to hole in the ground, day in and day out, living under the Resistance’s watch when they were stretched so thin. My boy Ronnie . . . he’s found himself a sweet little girlfriend. Cutest thing and she makes him smile all the time.”
“It’s nice to see one bright mark come out of the blackness.”
“I know. Who’d have thought it? And my baby girl just turned six and Lynn and I are just hoping that schools get moving again so she gets the education we always wanted for her. There will be a lot of home schooling, though, I’m sure. A lot of schools were too close to all the big targets for the Reapers.”
“Too many teachers are gone, that’s a fact,” Jack said, providing Chuck’s unsaid thought.
“What about you, buddy? Monica . . .?”
“She had a section of a wall fall across her legs during an attack. Lost one leg completely and the other from the knee down.”
“Oh, shit. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay. She’s strong. Nothing but positive thoughts and looking to the future for my beauty. And the doctors are amazing. You know that rumor about Commander Shepard having died and getting brought back to life?”
“Yeah . . . isn’t he Captain now?”
“Something like that, but it’s besides the point. Turns out, it’s true. He was torn to pieces and spaced. Helmet had sealed, protecting his brain from what I hear. Point is, he was nothing but chunks and they put him back together.”
“Didn’t Cerberus do that?” Chuck asked.
“True, but the project lead on that task turned from Cerberus after helping Shepard defeat the collectors and all their medical breakthroughs came to the Alliance. They’re growing Monica real legs, from her own DNA.”
“Thought that was old hat, Jack?”
“But it will be done in weeks instead of years, and it’s not even a tenth of what it used to cost!”
“She’ll be as good as new,” Chuck understood, looking up to share an approving smile with his friend.
“Damn right!” Jack said, beaming. “Now how’s that communication coming?”
“Not too good. I’m getting something back, and it’s from our shuttle, but nothing useful.”
“Well, at least that means they’re probably still mov-“
“Commander Miller!” a frantic crewman shouted.
The commander yanked his head around, feeling his stomach sink. “What is it, Saj?”
“Spit it out, man!”
“The Normandy just came out of FTL at our rear!”
“What? The Normandy? That can’t be. They’re at Sur’Kesh.”
“Something isn’t right, Jack,” Chuck said.
“Give me a visual, Saj.”
The unmistakable outline of the galaxy renowned frigate streaked towards the Kilkenny, a black shadow coming out of the Theseus system’s sun.
“Sir, I’m reading massive energy spikes!”
“WHAT?” Chuck yelled.
* * * *
Anderson stood behind the crouching Kasumi Goto as she worked at the outer door of the asteroid’s airlock, the rest of his eight person crew waiting less and less patiently behind him.
“I seem to remember you being an expert at this, Kasumi,” Jacob said. Brynn gave the soldier a disapproving push. Kasumi didn’t turn from her task.
“I seem to remember you being an idiot,” the thief shot back with a smile. “But if you’ve suddenly become an expert at never before seen, ancient alien technology, by all means, lend me a hand. Other wise, please refrain from distracting banter. This may take a while.”
The large door flashed yellow and there was a heavy thunk from the seal between the door and floor. The entire team instinctively stepped back. When the expected explosion did not materialize, Kasumi looked from the door to Anderson.
“Or . . . not?”
The door opened slowly but with little of the noise the admiral expected. He estimated it was on the order of hundreds of thousands of years old, if the city-ship dwarfing the Inusannon ship was from a cycle prior to that race, as Sooltir conjectured, was any indication. It was a technical marvel that anything that ancient still worked at all, never mind operated so flawlessly. As the door receded into the ceiling, the interior passageway was illuminated with more yellow light, the source of which could not be readily determined.
“Let’s go,” Anderson ordered.
They made their way down a smooth tunnel that was easily five meters high at the apex, but only two across its widest point. It extended in front of them with many connecting branches meeting the apparent main hall on both sides. Kasumi tentatively reached out a hand and touched the nearest section of wall. Her fingers depressed the material slightly. “Creepy. Feels like flesh.”
“Fascinating,” Master Gelten said, poking the wall herself. “This is not Inusannon construction. At least, not like any we ever recovered or read about.”
“We should look for a command center and see what we can find out about this place and who left it behind,” Kahlee said.
“Station Slenthix is a multipurpose facility with no command center and it has not been left behind. Not exactly. I am here,” said a voice that caused the Alliance team to raise their weapons, sweeping the immediate area for the owner’s face while continuing to head down the main path into the station. The voice continued. “You will find your weapons quite useless. Security measures were enacted upon your unauthorized access to this facility. Further hostile actions will provoke automated defenses and you will most likely perish.”
David waved his hand down and everyone lowered their weapons. “We’re not here for a fight. We came looking for information.”
“I know why you are here, Admiral David Anderson. Though, to speak plainly, you did yourselves no favors arriving in a vessel integrated with the technology of the Rialusans. The station’s automated defenses nearly destroyed you before my data hacking processes absorbed your Alliance information and determined you not to be an indoctrinated enemy. I apologize for the death of the one you called Mills. It is an unfortunate side effect of adapting the enemy’s tools.”
David bit his tongue, wanting nothing more than to give the speaker a piece of his mind for the killing, but he told himself to let it go for the sake of the mission. “Rialusans? You mean the Reapers?”
“That is what they have come to be known as, yes.”
“Where are you? Who and what are you?” he asked.
“I am accessible from anywhere on this station, my creators’ vessel, and the Inusannon vessel docked here. That required modification, but I was able to convert an enemy agent and it made the necessary changes. As for who- I am the caretaker of Slenthix.”
“Some sort of advanced VI? Like the one Shepard found on Ilos?” Brynn asked.
“Not one of ours, that’s for sure,” Nahlyon answered.
“That is the ‘what’. I am what your cultures call an artificial intelligence,” the voice answered. “My creators identified me simply as Caretaker. You may do the same if you like.”
“What is this place?” Major Coats asked.
“This is Station Slenthix. A multipurpose facility, as I stated before. However, there are no active parties currently utilizing the station. You are presently making your way down the main hall of the docking area. It leads from the many sections of the docking area to a transit system that accesses the rest of the station. The transit vessel can be found straight ahead.”
“You mentioned using an enemy agent for modifications. Are you only a program with a voice for communication?” Kahlee asked.
“You wish to know if I have a physical form, Kahlee Sanders?”
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
“How about something different,” the admiral suggested. “Maybe something representing what your race looked like?”
“That is not advisable. I do not wish to reveal information that I was sworn to withhold.”
“Give me a visual, Saj.”