Chapter 62 - Arrival
The Pillars of Strength were one of the oldest known religious texts in the Galaxy. In fact, only the eldest Asari texts of Athame were older, and only by a mere 300 years, a fact that orthodox Asari always found intriguing regardless of their opinions on the contents of the Pillars. The Pillars themselves were little more than a series of allegorical stories, upon the contents of which were built the foundations of what would become the Batarian Hegemony. It told many stories, the first and most important being the tale of the Two Brothers, two deities that existed before creation and were responsible for it. In the beginning, during the times before time, there were only two brothers: Rurtris, God of Life and Chaos, and Vynos, God of Death and Order.
Rurtris was a being of randomness, entropy, destruction, and unpredictability, but most importantly he was a creator. He crafted the stars and the sea and the land. His creations, however, were chaotic, matching the nature of the one who made them. The Stars would burn and fall only to be remade to burn and fall again, the sea would churn and waves would crash into the lands to pulverize it into dust, the lands themselves would shake and crumble from continuous earthquakes without end. In these early days, there was only endless chaos and nothing more. The lands never stopped quaking and the seas never stopped toiling and the stars never stopped falling. Vynos was a being of stability, harmony, symmetry, and perfection. He was the equal and opposite of Rurtris in every way. One day, Vynos looked to his brother's creations and the endless chaotic churning of the cosmos, and as was his nature in the face of such things, stole his brother's creations to 'fix' them under his banner. Under his rule, the Stars remained, the oceans and winds stilled, and the grounds ceased their shaking. Rurtris, who was far too preoccupied creating more and more of the universe did not notice immediately, but when he did see what his brother had done to his creation, he felt sick at the sterile order of his brother's making. Under the rule of Vynos, there was only eternal stagnancy, nothing changed and nothing would ever change. Everything remained frozen and unmoving, so Rurtis ceased his creating and fought back against his brother to a standstill until the balance was struck.
The story is unclear in which of the brothers proposed the first compromise, but scholars believe it was Vynos who suggested it. The brothers reached an agreement, the stars could still fall, but not always. The waves could crash or the seas could still, the ground could shake but only rarely. This was the first and last compromise the Brothers managed to strike, but neither brother liked this outcome, and in secret, they would plot against the other. However as was his nature, Rurtris forgot about the conflict and went right back to creating. He made the trees, and the beasts, and his proudest creation, the Batarians. But he made them soulless. He allowed his children to fight as they were consumed by greed, vice, and excess never to end. Vynos, however, was sickened by the actions of the beings his brother made. The beings Rurtris made would fall, but could never die. Always fighting to the bitter end, and when they could fight no more they would be remade to fight again. The trees would never stop growing and would reach high into the skies until they fell under their own weight to crash into the ground below. Every branch would become a new ever-growing tree and the cycle would continue again and again. The beasts would eat prey that couldn't die, only suffer in the stomach of the predators that consumed them for all time.
So Vynos once again fought his brother and stole his creations and granted them law, order, and death. However, he also gifted them with lethargy, apathy, and sloth. Nothing grew, nothing lived. They merely sat and waited to die. Trees didn't grow, children weren't born, and nothing truly lived, only existed. Rurtris had had enough and the brothers fought again, and they fought ceaselessly. Neither brother was willing to back down this time, and neither one was willing to compromise as they had before. They continued to fight, and eventually, they destroyed each other. Legend says that the first beasts and Batarians of Khar'Shan who witnessed this battle had the fragmented essences of the two brothers enter through their eyes, granting them two halves of a soul. One half belonging to Vynos, the other to Rurtris. This soul granted the Batarians their own agency. They were no longer puppets and could make decisions as they saw fit.
In those early days after they received a soul, the Batarians who lived through the war of the gods knew they could not allow such a calamity to happen again. The world required a healthy balance to exist, tip the scales too much and the end result was destruction. Within the souls of all Batarians were two halves of two beings, and for there to be peace, the two needed to become one in a sort of imposed monotheism. This idea eventually led to the concept of balance. Legends tell that a nameless composite God could be born, one made from the remnants of Rurtris and Vynos. According to a legend that rivaled the Asari documents in terms of age, the only method of salvation was to live by the tenants and rules that the first Batarians believed would ensure that Rurtris and Vynos were reborn as a singular entity, a being of Balance.
So the story goes anyway, and there were other tales in the following chapters that referenced Rurtris and Vynos, but they never appeared again afterward. Historically, any who disobeyed the scriptures paid their debt with enslavement, since death only fed the Twin Brother but not the aggregate god to be. As a result, capital punishment was rare in Batarian society. Few things were seen as heretical. Direct worship of Vynos and Rurtris, for example, was seen as not only unwanted and unnecessary, but dangerous since not only were they technically dead, but the whole point of the Pillars was to preach the virtues of balance, indeed the rebirth of Vynos and Rurtris was seen as a bad thing that would spell doom for Khar'Shan.
One of the few things actually seen as heretical was to exhibit negative aspects of the two brothers. Chaos was far simpler to notice. Mindless destruction, random acts of violence that ended with widespread negative consequences, madmen acting on their psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies and the like were all easily identifiable and were things to be avoided. The negative aspects of order, however, was a much more subtle heresy, but one that prevailed where chaos failed. The issue arose when no one knew exactly how to deal with it. The vice of excessive Sloth was the most obvious sign of excessive Order, as it promoted stagnancy and an undesirable status quo, but usually, Sloth was only really seen as heretical when laziness started to bleed into their everyday life.
Batarians were fiercely proud people, and everyone had to contribute to society in some way, but rest and relaxation were necessary for happy people. Sloth was that very concept, but in excess, and lead to diminished productivity. This fact was drilled into the skulls of the young Batarian children to impose a sense of duty within them so Sloth on such a level was practicality unheard of. Where the issues of excessive order truly arose were with things like corrupt politicians and ridiculously wealthy plutocrats who played the system in obviously self-serving ways. These things were likewise discussed in the Pillars of Strength, and were seen as the most negative aspects of Order that had to be dealt with immediately, but the wealthy were very difficult to punish to absolve them of their sins. They could simply buy their way out of trouble.
There needed to be something to offset the issue, and slavery was the method by which excessive order was to be dealt with. It was meant to balance out the entire universe, like all of creation was one big checkbook to even out. It was supposed to offset any Orderly behavior that went against the Pillars of Strength but otherwise couldn't be punished. Slavery in Batarian culture was seen as the ultimate expression of balance. Slavery itself was chaotic, but orderly as well, both and neither at the same time. After all, it was a bloody business, but it was also structured with an established hierarchy. It was hardly fair, but fairness was a concept the Batarian people cared for very little. Slaves in the early days were always those who committed crimes and needed to repent via forced labor until their debt was paid. Of course once one was a slave, it was very hard to get out of it, and eventually, slavery became such a strong point of Batarian culture that it lost its original meaning of remuneration through servitude.
Balak sighed as he wondered if the original purpose of slavery was done in error, and it was just a greater heresy that offset nothing and just fed the two brothers. If it was, then it was a heresy that perhaps caused this mess. Slavery existed simply because no one could think of a better way to punish undesirable orderly behavior, and perhaps it did not balance the scales as the High Council of old believed it would. If that were the case then this whole time they would have just been feeding the two brothers without knowing... two brothers that perhaps were very recently reborn. After all, currently two new races existed that paralleled Rurtris and Vynos to such a degree that should any holy man notice them, they would surely believe that the quest for balance had failed and instead the two brothers had returned.
Blacklight was so much like Rurtris, and the Reapers were so much like Vynos. Could they be the two brothers reborn, signaling the death of Balance? Perhaps not, but the parallels were there. Blacklight was chaotic, and a species not unlike a god. One who was the very essence of life. The Reapers meanwhile were sterile Order and a product of Death. It was just so eerie how well they fit those roles. It wasn't perfect, few things are, but it was there. Balak was not particularly religious, but he was educated on the subject, and it was a close enough approximation for his mind to make the connections. All things considered, however, if Blacklight and the Reapers were personifications of Rurtris and Vynos, Balak would choose Blacklight. They may be bloated, monstrous masses of diseased tissue that festered from the collective biomass of an entire planet, but at least they valued life. Though considering the Hegemony was an overly aggressive military superpower with expansionist ambitions, Balak supposed that judging blacklight on their nature was hypocritical.
Balak sighed as he looked over the fields of genetically engineered crops. His vision focused on the horizon as the fields of Eden Prime were harvested. For all the things that the Hegemony did wrong, one of the few things they did right was get their hands on so many colonies as possible. Not unexpected for a culture where militant expansionism was a virtue, but in the two years since the Fall of Khar'Shan, the refugee crisis had simmered and cooled down as the dozens upon dozens of Batarian colonies built up infrastructure with help from the Citadel.
The cost for that aid... was the success of the abolitionist movement. Slavery was no more, it couldn't be, and as far as Balak was concerned, it was for the best. The non-Batarian ex-slaves were returned to their respective governments and were free once more. It was a difficult sacrifice for the Hegemony, no doubt, and in any other circumstance it would have completely obliterated their economy, however, after the fall... that was already the case. What was a little more really? There was a saving grace, after all. The Citadel extended a very generous line of credit to the remnants of the Hegemony. It wasn't quite enough, and now they were in debt, but the Citadel Council was not looking to collect anytime soon. Blacklight helped as well, using their infected organisms to build homes and plow fields with genetically modified super crops created by Neo-Gentek, crops that were able to grow in damn near any environment, lasted far longer than should be possible, and were packed with just about every essential dietary staple one can imagine. Balak turned around and walked away. Things were so very different now, to an almost unrecognizable degree.
Blacklight Evolved walked the fields among Batarian farmers as they cultivated food to feed the people. They had built homes by weaving trees, bone, and vines into shapes that could not ever exist in nature. A living infrastructure that needed ample water and sunlight to survive, shaped by unknown means to have habitable hollow interiors and grow nutritious fruits that could taste like anything one could imagine. Balak still was getting used to the fruit that tastes like meat yet grew from trees with ossified tissue for bark. The root systems of a dozen of these bone trees became bridges and fences, luminescent bacteria held in transparent sacks became light sources that turned on and off by a mechanism eerily similar to blinking, and all of it was somehow free of Blacklight infection, and far stronger than mundane plants. More impressively was that these plants could produce anything from medicine to materials like rubber and adhesives. Balak at least thought it better than Backlights usual Flesh aesthetic. That still didn't make the blinking lights or the colossal walking trees used by something that Blacklight called the Thorian any less creepy.
Seeing Blacklight help was a strange sight, but not an unwelcome one. However, what was still eerie, and would continue to be so, were the Batarian Evolved. More than twenty million Batarians were left behind on Khar'Shan following the Neo-Husk blight. According to Blacklight, any Batarians left on the planet were protected to the best of their ability as the world continued to die around them, but some took the offered escape of assimilation into the Blacklight Hive Mind. Over half of those left behind chose this fate, and due to the unique method by which Blacklights hive mind worked, anyone consumed could throw their consciousness to any available Blacklight Biomatter at any arbitrary distance instantaneously, allowing many to simply walk out of the infected pustules that grew off of a nearby Blacklight Brain Hive, which loomed over the colony to coordinate with Blacklight infected organisms that had become living farming equipment.
The few Batarian Evolved whom Balak had managed to speak to had painted a disturbing picture. While many of the Batarian Evolved Balak had known before they were consumed seemed to be their old selves, there were subtle differences that resulted in radically shifted loyalties. Every single Batarian Evolved, without exception, self-identified as Blacklight over Batarian. According to them, intrinsic to Blacklight Assimilation came a change in perspective as billions upon billions of thoughts and ideas flowed through their minds. This change in perspective inevitably resulted in a series of realizations and ideals that more or less were intrinsic to the hive mind. Seeing how easily once-loyal citizens shifted loyalties so completely was just so unnerving.
Balak didn't blame them for choosing assimilation over certain death, but the end results were eye-opening. Worse still, according to the Evolved, there were no more pure Batarians on Khar'Shan. All had fallen to the living biomechanical ecosystem that the Neo-Husks created. His memories returned and the flame in his soul burned brighter. He desired revenge, craved it even, against a foe that deserved nothing less than complete extinction.
He would have his chance, just not in the form he expected as a very familiar face entered the room. It was one of the Evolved, and a rather infamous one at that. Balak straightened his back as he looked to the figure.
"Alex Mercer. To what do I owe the pleasure?" asked Balak cordially.
Alex hummed to himself as he took in the surroundings. Balaks quarters were the picture perfect image of a disciplined soldier. Everything, absolutely everything was pristine, clean, and sanitized. The spartan decor probably helped in that regard.
"I'll keep it short. We're looking for candidates for a very special initiative."
"Large scale conflicts require a lot of things. A small enough team, composed of multiple species, working in conjunction with Blacklight. The purpose is a very specific set of missions designed for sabotage, infiltration, and high-risk high-reward engagements."
"I see. Is that why you are here? Do you want a list of names for me to put forward?"
"Actually, we were considering you specifically."
"You personally lived through and successfully saved hundreds of people when the Neo-Husks attacked your home. Were it not for you, people who are now living would be dead, or worse. You're just the kind of person we're looking for. Now, we're still working on the specifics and the roster, but so far, we have four candidates. A genetically perfect Krogan, and three Asari - one of whom is a Justicar - all ready to join this little group. We're expanding from there," said Alex with a shrug.
"What… exactly would I be doing?"
"You'd be a soldier. One working behind enemy lines. You know the Omega-4 Relay? Well, it's a strategically advantageous resource to control what's on the other side, something that might be fun to use against the Reapers."
"You want to steal from the Collectors? Really?" Asked Balak, somewhat confused, baffled, and intrigued.
"Reapers technically, but is it really stealing if you're stealing from an asshole?"
Balak wasn't sure what kind of logic that was but he wasn't about to argue.
"I'll admit, it's intriguing, not a bad idea for a Sentient Tumour, no offense." Said Balak.
Alex merely shrugged.
"None taken, it's factually correct anyway, if anything it's an understatement."
"Understatement? What would be a better description for Blacklight if not a sentient tumor?" Asked Balak.
"Hm… sapient colonial superorganism with dissociative identity disorder composed primarily of extremophile, undifferentiated, cancerous, and high potency stem cells. Mmmmaybe? We sorta defy traditional classification systems to the point where things like domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species are arbitrary, blended, and optional. Hold on a minute, I'll ask," said Alex as he got a glassy look in his eyes.
After a minute of Balak staring back waiting for Alex to say… something... Alex spoke.
"General consensus among Blacklight is that we are a sapient symbiotic ecosystem."
Balak blinked all four eyes at once.
"Did you just draw in a consensus from your entire species?"
"This surprises you?" Asked Alex as he rose a brow.
"I'm not accustomed to politics that actually manages to efficiently do, well, anything really. Damn hive minds," said Balak with a dismissive gesture.
Alex exhaled audibly through his nose. It wasn't quite a laugh, but it was close enough.
"Regardless, getting back to why I'm here, we could use someone like you on this project of ours."
Balak hummed to himself as he further contemplated their idea just a little bit more. On the one hand, it would give him the opportunity to get back at the Reapers for all they have done, but on the other, he'd be officially under Blacklight control; a notion he was very wary of, regardless of how much he owed them. However, there was one thing bugging him about this.
"One last question. Why are you specifically delivering this proposal to me? Anyone could ask this, so why is it that Alex Mercer, of all people, is the one?"
It was a subtle shift in the Evolved's facial features, but Balak noticed immediately that Alex's face had hardened, and his gaze intensified, indicating that whatever it was he was about to say was very important. Or at least it was to them. Intrigued, Balak leaned in closer as Alex spoke.
"Because this idea of ours is one of the few things that Blacklight as a whole has unanimously agreed upon. You probably can't appreciate this, but our semi-independent quasi-individualistic hive mind causes a very annoying cognitive dissonance when we can't all agree on something, at least where discussion making is concerned. While not everyone can agree what this team should be used for, we do agree that it's important to have one. So important that the best way we can convey that is for me specifically to ask you to join."
Balak nodded. It was with utter conviction he spoke his next words.
The massive boost in fleets brought a whole host of problems by itself. A sudden influx of ships being built only to be put into storage was not exactly economically sound by any stretch of the imagination. To justify the investment, initially the Council increased patrols in Citadel Space. Officially these new ships were extensions of the Citadel Fleet itself, unofficially they were entirely new fleets. As more ships were built, however, more patrols were implemented to justify the cost. Eventually, Citadel space - both inner and outer - was bloated to such a degree that routes were redrawn and extended into the Attican Traverse. Meanwhile, in the Terminus Systems, Aria T'Loak had managed to leverage her influence to unite various criminal syndicates and pirate fleets in a loose alliance based entirely around Omega. Eclipse, Blood Pack, and Talon were the main players. Which also proved to be fairly strange at the moment for Aria. Namely, the fact that the new de facto leader of the Blood Pack was a Vorcha named Narl.
Initially, the Blood Pack was a Vorcha gang until an opportunistic Krogan took it over. However, after the strange progression of the Vorcha species, they took it back. With interest if the duo of Krogan bodyguards were anything to go by. Actually seeing Krogan being subservient to a Vorcha of all things was just so utterly bizarre that Aria wasn't sure if she was dreaming or not. The pinch to her own arm confirmed to her that, yes, this was real life.
The Vorcha Narl clicked his teeth as he exhaled audibly through his nostrils before speaking.
"Blacklight infested the Omega-4 Relay, they say strange readings are comin' from other side. Warlord Shisk requests that the Void Devil fleets be allowed to guard. Shisk think tha' something may come out. Omega big Reaper target. Void Devils help," said Narl.
For a Vorcha at least, he was remarkably well spoken, and he was built like a brick shithouse. Like a mini Krogan really. Aria had yet to grow used to this strange renaissance of the Vorcha. She had even seen pics of their homeworld. It was actually quite modern and well built with a functional economy, eyesore infrastructure, crude educational system, and even a military that was best described as schizophrenic. Though the exact governmental structure of the Vorcha was still under debate, general consensus was that it was a disorganized confederation with an established ranking hierarchy composed of sovereign leaders of various clans, not to mention that they had a fucking embassy now on the Citadel. Something absolutely no one in the history of fucking forever expected to happen within the next Galactic year. Probably ever, to be honest, actually. Aria herself would have thought that she would see the Krogan open, or rather re-open, an Embassy long long LONG before the Vorcha did absolutely anything of note. A talking Varren in a top hat was more believable, though given Blacklight she shouldn't count anything out. Still, here she was, engaging in diplomacy with a Vorcha.
"Keep the ships away from Omega unless I say otherwise and I couldn't care less what you do." Said Aria with an air of feigned disinterest.
Narl clicked his teeth before bowing slightly. As he left, Aria went back to sitting back and relaxing. As the room around her was empty, she sighed, still confused and baffled at the proceedings. Aria could only say one thing.
"Goddess, the Galaxy is fucking weird."
Bardon looked at the festering flesh-warped landscape of quivering meat and breathing metal. A world where everything was alive: the rocks, the lakes, the oceans, the mountains. Like Hell itself had oozed up from the earth below to turn everything into a damned landscape composed of waves of writhing biomechanical tentacles. Still-living congealed bodies were draped over the walls and carpeted the ground and buildings underneath layers of flesh and skin. Some of the still-living mass of bodies were only halfway through their conversion into Neo-Husks, and could only scream ceaselessly at the unimaginable torture they were forced to go through. Various mechanical and biomechanical "life" roamed around on bundles of spindly mechanical limbs in an ecosystem comprised of metal, death, and tissue. A machine hell for all intents and purposes, populated only by flayed things that were merely a walking shadow of their former selves. Titans with arms for fingers carried bulky cutting-edge rail guns fused to their spines as a collection of Batarian heads hung loosely underneath. A beast fashioned from both synthetic and organic material into a living weapon.
The walls were covered in cysts and pustules that would burst with noxious bloodtox gases as huge living furnaces spewed toxic ash into the air. Massive amalgamations of jumbled body parts roamed aimlessly in dispassionate patrols to seek out any blacklight lifeforms that still remained, and annihilate them wholly. These twisted beasts, stuck in a bizarre pantomime of life, resembled artillery vehicles and tanks with legs, mouths, claws, and teeth. Stringy biomass infused with wires held large esoteric constructs together in nightmarish designs.
As Bardon walked forward with a blank expression on his face, he currently found himself entering a building that used to be someone's home. Now blue-hued flesh and viscera covered the walls, or rather was seamlessly integrated into the walls. Limbs, capacitors, ribs, wires, veins, and spines could be seen pushing against the flesh, the act of which also revealed dense subdermal circuitry. As Bardon walked through the halls, the image only became increasingly more horrific with each and every step. Unblinking eyes on the ceiling followed his movement, numerous snapping and chattering mouths sticking out of the walls clicking their sharp, jagged, and pointed teeth, and a collection of waving fingers that twitched bonelessly like a grotesque sea anemone.
Then he made it into what could have once been a kitchen, and it was here that Bardon paused. The appliances were integrated into the fleshy mass, and slowly being modified into the writhing mass of gibbering, screaming technorganic flesh. However, that was not what made Bardon pause.
No, it was the Batarian partially merged into the walls by its own sinew, skin, and muscle fibers. He was not quite infected, not fully anyway. A cybernetic hand emerging from the wall had grasped itself around his wrist, and more or less merged with it. His lower body had ruptured and extended around the room, one leg was hanging from the ceiling, the other was merged against the wall opposite of his body, a wall that was ten meters away, connected only by his own abdomen that had all but replaced the floor in front of him like a carpet. His face was flattened and stretched against the wall like some sick and twisted version of wallpaper. Both left eyes had migrated away from his face with wires prying them open and preventing him from blinking. His other set of eyes were still mostly flesh and blood, only one incapable of blinking.
Bardon's eyes were riveted at the pitiful sight as he and the hive mind of Blacklight beheld this nightmare in front of them. The visible circuitry plainly visible growing just underneath his transparent skin made it clear he was not far away from full conversion, until then the pitiful thing stared at Bardon. His exposed wire covered lungs started rapidly inhaling and exhaling, lungs that were now not only exposed, but several feet above his head. It was just so grotesquely surreal and nauseatingly visceral that even the Hive Mind of Blacklight could only stare in disgust, horror, pity, and sorrow. Then the unnatural parody of a Batarian started to sob.
"I am all over," he said weakly.
Bardons breath hitched as he stared at the face of this not yet Huskified Batarian sticking from a wall. It attempted to turn away from Bardon, as it took in another breath.
"Please, don't let me live like this," he said as his eyes started to glow. The face then became less pitiful as the features twisted with the unmistakable mask of hate and anger. Bardon glared as the face started to snarl, all while it tried (and failed) to pry itself from the wall.
Bardon's skin around his right arm squirmed as immediately manifested a blade to slice at the head and allow it to fall to the ground. Almost immediately, however, snaking wires, arteries, and cables crept from the pseudo metallic floor and started to reintegrate the severed head back into the landscape. Slowly the skin covered floors coaxed bones to grow as a spine attached to the base of the skull, wires, and devices then began to weave flesh and lace sinew around the partially mechanical exoskeleton. Bardon gave it no time to finish its reformation as bacterial decay within his gut accelerated exponentially, producing hydrogen, which was expelled from his mouth and ignited, burning the abomination to cinders as the landscape caught fire. The walls screamed, but Bardon ignored it as he looked to the half-formed, smoldering corpse that had once been in the wall. Thankfully, it was dead, and the person it once was suffered no more, or at least Bardon hoped so. The alternative was too terrible to imagine.
It was with that realization that Bardon realized that more out there were suffering the exact same fate, and that thought made his blood boil. Bardon didn't stick around, however, as the fires raged around him, he immediately took off in a sprint, expertly jumping through a gaping hole in the wall as he started leaping and bounding across the landscape before the Neo-Husks that had yet to become apart of the landscape came to fight. So Bardon ran past more decrepit buildings. He watched the strange imp-like Neo-Husk creatures, these ones resembled small apes with four glowing eyes, many twisting communal spines holding it upright, and six boneless limbs. The ape-like creatures gathered metal, corpses, and anything else to bring it to their foul living factories. Factories more akin to slaughterhouses, where those taken would be rebuilt and reformed with crudely-fashioned appendages and grotesquely mutilated bodies. Until they were turned into more of these unliving, undying things that clawed their way straight out of a nightmare.
Bardon had no intention of letting these things finish their gathering as he shot off a sharpened bone at one, pinning it to the wall before he maneuvered himself into the swarm. They attempted to subdue him, but the memories and skills of billions allowed Bardon abilities far beyond what any one individual was capable of. It was with the skills of the best CQC fighters and Olympic level gymnasts that Bardon lethally danced around these small imp creatures. They could not even so much as scratch his ossified armor as he moved with the grace and fluidity of dancers and athletes. A quick swipe here and he decapitated three of the demons, a swift strike there and he decimated their mechanical components. Yet more and more came, and Bardon had no intention of being overwhelmed by creatures that deserved nothing less than annihilation. So he leapt up gracefully into the air, and upon hitting the ground, he released a devastatior attack that skewered the creatures with clusters of six meter-long four-jointed arthropod-like legs tipped with metallic blades that exploded from every square inch of his flesh. With each leg striking out rapidly like the raptorial limbs of a praying mantis, the Neo-Husks were quickly dealt with as Bardon reabsorbed the hundreds of stabbing insectoid legs and began to work quickly by performing an autopsy on the creatures. He had to work with haste, the Neo-Husks own Hive Mind would call more husks here, and Bardon did not want to be around when that happened. He fashioned his right index finger into a scalpel and took to better understanding his foe.
Bardon was able to discern much about these new Neo-Husks through a combination of magnetoreception, electroreception, modified eyes based on the mantis shrimp to see wider ranges of colors and even light polarization, chemoreceptive organs, and thermographic pits that enabled Bardon to sense radiant heat. There were several unique differences between the Children of Saleon and the Neo Husks. Notably, the strange Bloodtox proteins present in their nucleic acids, which even now were poisoning Bardon as his hands sifted through the innards of this abomination. This made the already difficult to consume Neo-Husks even more impossible to consume, add to that the carbon-nanoweave muscle fiber augmentation and a reinforced endoskeleton made gaining any form of sustenance from them completely and utterly impossible, even disassembling them on a molecular level would only provide very small boost at best.
Further examination revealed that it was impossible even for Blacklight to draw a distinction between meat and machinery. Simply put, there wasn't one. Their grotesquely mutilated bodies in fact had nanoscale electronic components that augmented them down on not just the cellular level, but the molecular and atomic level as well.
This wasn't completely alien to Blacklight, many of the biochemistry of Infected and Evolved possessed organic compounds in their biochemistry not found in nature that were created through the usage of the fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl protecting group or FMOC. FMOC itself allowed blacklight to basically LEGO other chemicals onto it really easily through artificial peptide synthesis to make all sorts of interesting organic compounds. Everything from complex polymers and Macromolecular assemblies were created via this method.
The Neo-Husks, however, took this to a whole new level. These things possessed not only many novel protein structures and nonstandard amino acids that could only be artificially created, yet they could easily match or improve on the functionality of existing proteins found in Khar'Shan lifeforms, but they also possessed tens of hundreds of thousands of single-atom transistors in their cells, that acted as artificial organelles; making any distinction at all between what was machine and what was living objectively impossible.
These specific Neo-Husks were composed of Batarian, Salarian, and Turian tissue with highly specialized cells composed of both normal and synthetic polymers wrapped in a plastic shell with a nucleus possessing the same triple helix nucleic acid as the Children. Every cell was a miniature computer in constant contact with every other cybernetic cell, networked together allowing the Neo-Husks to forgo a brain entirely. This freed up space in the head for other devices, namely an incredibly complex processor array that seemed capable of "translating" input from all artificial components, essentially allowing Neo-Husks to read and write computer data without the use of an external interface.
In addition a complex cybernetic/organic transceiver system allowed these things to receive and transmit not only visual and auditory input, but a wider spectrum of electromagnetic radiation ranging from low frequency radio to high-energy gamma rays, giving it a sensory system more in line with the Geth than Blacklight. Upon further inspection, what appeared to be the haphazard integration of a large spherical pseudo-cybernetic/organic component located in the chest was in fact a kind of nano-factory, which took any materials not used directly in the Neo-Husks 'biology' and repurposed them in the cybernetic augmentation of fully organic cells.
It was without a doubt the weirdest Biology Blacklight had ever seen, and for a shapeshifting colonial superorganism composed almost entirely of undifferentiated stem cells infected with more pathogens than you could shake a stick at, where things like the ability to see, understand and broadcast nearly the entire electromagnetic spectrum, the ability to make others blister with plague, a lithovorous diet, titanium coated bones, and opposite-chirality proteins were more or less optional and could be changed nigh instantaneously… that was saying something.
As Bardon finished his observations, he watched as the once dead Neo-Husks slowly merge together to rebuild themselves, mimicking standard Blacklight behavior… but it was noticeably slower in comparison as any mechanical components couldn't self repair or merge together quite as easily as tissue could, and any alterations had to be implemented or repaired with whatever resources were available. Occasionally whole mechanical implants were cannibalized to rebuild critical components. While these less critical machinery could be rebuilt later, it did make them marginally less efficient than Blacklight, as repairing machines required wasting resources that could be utilized better in cellular processes. It had its advantages, but also its own disadvantaged.
Bardon took off again in a sprint, leaping out of a broken window as he made a beeline for the shore. Bardon coughed as the choking bloodtox in the air rapidly dried the mucus membrane he developed to keep himself protected from the more debilitating effects of bloodtox, so Bardon started a process by which the outer cellular layer of his skin absorbed Bloodtox, died in the process of breaking the compound down into its harmless components, was eaten by the still living cell layer underneath, and was quickly replaced via cellular division. However, this process would not last, and Bardon quickly expended resources to secrete the much more efficient mucus membrane.
The state of Khar'Shan made energy production excessively difficult. The dark skies above prevented photosynthesis, most life was dying out, bloodtox was pumped out of Neo-Husk biomass factories in copious amounts. Most of the Blacklight biomatter on this planet was limited to the fringes where the Neo-Husk plague had yet to reach. All in all, there was very little Blacklight could do to turn the tide, but Blacklight remained. Observing the Neo-Husk blight to gather the necessary intelligence to ensure something like this would never happen again.
As Bardon made it to the shore, he shifted his form upon entering the waters into a hydrodynamic Mercury Fish as he rocketed off to regroup and recoup lost energy at the extractor lungs over undersea geothermal vents. At the bottom of the sea, Blacklight held the advantage. Bloodtox could not proliferate as well through a liquid medium as it could through air, and the undersea microbial mats of native Khar'Shan bacteria were carefully farmed for additional energy and biomass. While aquatic Neo-Husks did exist, they were not as adept at undersea warfare than Blacklight, and they had yet to discover the flourishing blacklight colony stationed around the Geothermal vents. Bardon passed Blacklight Leviathans harvesting some of the microbial mats for sustenance before swimming off to find new places to spread and grow.
Then… something unexpected happened.
A small car sized brain hive running trillions of calculations detected unusual gravitational fluctuations with its nerve webs consistent with the mass effect theory coming from outer space. These rhythmic distortions in space time were repeating themselves in millisecond intervals, as spacetime itself was randomly stretching and compressing, most likely caused by a large amount of element zero being repeatedly subjected to a positive current then a negative current then a positive current and so on and so on. The changes were so small, that they would be borderline undetectable without specialized equipment. Upon the manifestation of biotic organs capable of detecting element zero phenomena, it was discovered that, most alarmingly, these fluctuations were coming from several sources, and if Backlights calculations were correct, these locations were consistent with where the nearby planets in this system were in relation to Khar'Shan. This hinted at an artificial origin. Mass Effect generators were capable of these fluctuations, but for these particular rhythmic gravitational anomalies, it would have to be tens of thousands of Element Zero Generators working in unison.
With the darkened skies, it would be impossible for even the best possible sensory organ available to Blacklight to peer into the night sky and see exactly what was going on, meaning that if Blacklight were to find out, they would need to go into orbit, past the layer of darkness, and indeed Blacklight planned to do just that, however… they never had the chance.
Whatever the reason, immediately after these gravitational fluctuations… the Neo-Husks began mobilizing on a hitherto untold scale. It didn't take long for blacklight to come to a very… startling realization. The Neo-Husk knew where they were, against all logic, the Neo-Husks suddenly gained the exact locations of Blacklight… to a startling level as Blacklight mycelium across the planet was burned by flaming tank monsters. All across Khar'Shan, the husks coordinated in a massive attack.
As Blacklight fought back, in orbit above them, the Old Gods waited.
The end of all things reached the outer edges of the Milky Way, following the path the Husk Mother took to reach them. It took years without access to a Mass Relay that connected to the regions of the Galaxy as the Citadel knew it, but eventually, they reached the doomed remnants of the Harsa System, once home to the Batarians, now soiled by an element zero supernova and all but abandoned. There were five planets in this system, all orbiting a yellow Type G star. These planets were the uranium-rich Dwarf Planet Dezda, The Batarian Homeworld of Khar'Shan, the Gas Giant Verush and it's many moons, some of which possessed Prothean Ruins, the Cold lifeless rock of Ilem, and finally the magnetically active Spekilas. The Reapers immediately began to swarm these worlds. It was here they would stage their seizure of the galaxy, their grand crusade of synthesis salvation. It was here that the twenty thousand Reaper Capital Ships and the hundred thousand Reaper Destroyers descended upon each and every planet in the system to enact new directives, excepting Khar'Shan for now. Five thousand Reaper Capital Ships landed on Dezda, five thousand landed on Ilem, and another five thousand landed on Spekilas. Five thousand more divided amongst the moons of Verush, and the final Five thousand went to Verush itself. Any remaining Reapers immediately began repairing the Mass Relay. On these dead rocks, guttural rumbling and growls came from the amassed Reapers before they all began blaring their cacophonous horn in unison to signal the end of cycles. Beneath the legs of the Reaper Capital Ships, Angular osteoderms of metal and bone opened up to reveal a set of bio-organic pharyngeal jaws that flexed within their throats. These drooling inner mouths parted their teeth to devour the very earth and sea below. Whole mountain ranges, canyons, and valleys were bitten into and devoured by thousands upon thousands of Reapers that roamed across these dead worlds and moons. The Reapers chewed at the elements to be forged within their foul bio-mechanical innards into materials necessary to ensure that this would truly be the Final Harvest. Slowly and surely the worlds were eaten bit by bit and piece by piece. As the process went on for weeks and months, megastructures were constructed as Reaper Destroyers started the process of building massive Element Zero reactors evenly spaced across these now metal worlds equatorial plane. The Reaper Destroyers, who had evenly split across these worlds to work alongside the Capital Ships would occasionally open their newly developed mandibles to reveal a maw of metallic teeth and spew out a slurry of electromagnetic particles, ferrofluids, organic paste, and hybridized Reaper-Children of Saleon (CoS) Nanotech.
This sludge-like muck viscously crept across the land as it slowly clumped together into living and breathing machines that exhaled choking Black Smoke filled with essential minerals, electrical charges, and nutrients to ensure growth of Reaper based biotechnologies. This ooze was, in fact, a symbiotic bio-technological biosphere, with the hybridized strain of the Children of Saleon and Reaper nanotech that behaved as molecular disassemblers. This CoS-Reaper nanotechnological entity was driven to dismantle, assimilate, and integrate all compatible matter into itself. Slowly this wave of living slime spread and grew.
As the Destroyers horn like siren call echoed across the lands, the slurry began taking shape to become a thick pseudo-metallic vein-like growth connected to hundreds of growing machines that consisted of a tall botanical looking armored trunk with six leaf-like structures at the apex, surrounding a central mass effect field emitter. The tree-like eezo reactors began moving, growing, and crawling about like an animal across the landscapes of these worlds. Creeping through the crust and passing the mantle into the molten core to harvest and power the ring of tree-like eezo reactors.
Strange forms continued to rise from the roots and slurry as a large mechanical apparatus twisted upwards towards the sky. Colossal manufacturing bays, grown from the living bio-slurry, began to churn out new living machines at an overwhelming pace. Some of these beings took semi-human form, some choose abstract physical shells, and others fused into massive esoteric macrostructures. Each one designed not for war, but for advanced terraforming.
As the days passed, fields of barren stone and soil were replaced with an endless featureless field of metal and machinery. Large terraforming bio-mechanical beasts - massive enough to easily crawl over mountains - roamed the land. Their shape was similar to the Reaper capital ships, but they were merely 300 meters in length and walked horizontally instead of vertically. Their front tentacles elongated and terminated in various manipulator appendages and equipment. They took raw materials, smelted them down, and rebuild them into newer machines.
A process that would otherwise take centuries would be completed in mere months from the sheer number of Reapers and Neo-Husks swarming these worlds, greatly increased the speed at which the conversion took place. In the end, these barren moons and planets were forged anew into robotic globes of flesh, bone, blood, glass, circuitry, and metal used to create the necessary infrastructure to prepare the final cycle. Already the flowing metallic liquid veins spewed from the Reapers had enveloped whole worlds. The endless fields of vein-like machinery now possessed a coruscating glow running through them. Where there was once only lifeless rock, now the vast majority of the planet resembled massive circuit boards that extended past the horizon as far as the eye could see. The Reaper Destroyers once again released their siren-like war cry as they took to the now blackened skies to leave this world to its own automations.
As this was finished Harbinger and his ten thousand Reapers began orbiting Khar'Shan as the months-long process of converting these barren worlds into very special Element Zero Reactors finally finished. Each Reaper waited in Orbit around Khar'Shan was ready to atomize anything that might leave. While the Children of Saleon that had blighted this world remained and had already begun converting the planet into a Machine World, that did not diminish the fact that Blacklight was still here. As such not since arriving had the Reapers landed in Khar'Shan, not yet anyway. If even one Cell of Blacklight survived, then they would know the Reapers had arrived and were repairing the Mass Relay, and that could not be allowed to happen.
Thankfully, the atmosphere that had been transmuted following the destruction of the Mass Relay, blocked most visible light from getting through, making any potential Blacklight colonies blind to anything that would be waiting in orbit. The still-growing Neo-Husk plague continued to ravage the world, as it had since the Husk Mother crashed in the ocean. As such most likely any remaining bits of Blacklight would be much too busy to pay attention to anything in orbit, even if the sky weren't permanently dark. The Reapers were adamant about not being discovered until the time was right.
As the machine worlds finished their activation protocols, the Eezo Reactors whirled to life, causing storms of dark energy to ravage across these worlds. All manner of strange gravitational phenomena and reactions pulsed outward from these mechanical planets. The gravitational forces being bent and twisted by the Dark Energy Storms created seemingly random distortions in spacetime, but they were anything but random. Each and every reaction was carefully monitored and appraised by the Reapers to have the exact desired effect, namely taking advantage of the fact that gravitational waves could pass through and penetrate regions of space and intervening matter without being scattered significantly, something that electromagnetic waves couldn't do. As a result, the Reapers managed to create a high-resolution series of gravitational waves that was currently being used to analyze everything around the Harsa System at the atomic level.
These waves passed throughout the system and over Khar'Shan, and as soon as it did, the Reapers had a near-perfect real-time map of the entire planet… right down to an accurate count of atoms and elementary particles that made up the planet. This high-resolution scan included the few remaining crevices Blacklight hid in. It would have been a tremendous waste of resources to construct such analyzers out of whole planets, but with their Hive Mind, Blacklight could not be allowed to know the Reapers had arrived, and now that the Reapers knew where Blacklight was, however, as with all cancer, they had spread far and wide.
Blacklight was mostly limited to geothermal vents for sustenance, but a large continent-sized mass of mycelium-like growth of branching, thread-like tissue crept under the soil. All it took was carefully maneuvering the Huskified Children of Saleon to these geothermal vents to annihilate the cancer from Khar'Shan as mineralized Bloodtox salted the earth. It halted the growth… but the Mycelium began to bloom with tumorous growths that fruited from the soil to spread swarms of small insects the size of grains of sand. It was clear that Blacklight would not go quietly. Even with choking bloodtox in the air, the blackened skies, and poisons that littered the ground, Blacklight continued to grow. The Reapers sat in orbit and waited as each and every method used to kill Blacklight merely slowed them down, but never seemed to kill them. The Neo-Husks had all but engulfed Khar'Shan.
It took three days and over a dozen genocidal methods to cut away the last of Blacklight. With the darkened skies, they could not feed on sunlight to gain the energy needed to fight back against an enemy they knew exactly where they hid, as predicted. Vents that soon found themselves swarmed by vast amounts of Neo-Husks, something Blacklight could not consume to turn the tide. After all, while visible light was mostly blocked by the never-ending night skies, UV radiation was not, and the Neo-Husks could feed on radiation far more efficiently than Blacklight. The gravitational analysis also indicated that the last Batarians had died seemingly months ago, leaving only Blacklight to impotently fight back without any method of regaining biomass fast enough to make a difference, and the final Cell of Blacklight was purged from Khar'Shan. This endeavor was carefully orchestrated, and done against a crippled Blacklight, but not all battles would be as easy. Still, with Blacklight out of the way, the Reapers descended upon Khar Shan, ready to use all of its infrastructure to begin construction of another Machine World.
With the analyzers finished, their gravitational fluctuations shifted for a new and terrible purpose.
The Reaper Destroyers repairing the Mass Relay watched as the central star of the Harsa system began to act up from the gravitational fluctuations that passed over it. The outer layers of the central star churned unnaturally as its luminosity increased at an accelerated rate. It bled a lethal amount of radiation to feed the Neo-Husks as the star began to spin faster and faster.
The Harsa system had been taken, and more would soon fall. Some Reapers left to use Conventional FTL to begin converting other nearby systems in the Kite's Nest Cluster. Soon the Indris, Untrel, and Vular systems would share the same fate as the Harsa System. As the Reapers continued to spread, Harbinger stood on Khar'Shan, waiting for the Mass Relay to finish being repaired as the others continued to subsume the entire solar system. It was the only relay in this system, and led only to the Exodus Cluster. Once it could be repaired, the Reapers could use it to begin spreading throughout the greater Galaxy… but at the same time… it was a bottleneck, and no doubt was well guarded. Even after the Relay was repaired, going through would cost far too many Reapers.
Thankfully however… there was another avenue to begin preparing the final cycle. The system beyond the Omega-4 was finalizing production, and was ready to attack at a moment's notice. That Bottleneck was far too much of a weakness for the Reapers liking… perhaps that issue could be rectified.
It was impossible.
The Neo-Husks somehow, for whatever reason, seemed to gain what could only be described as omniscience. As if all at once, they knew the location of every cell of Blacklight on Khar'Shan. Every infected, every complex structure, every evolved, was gone. Even blacklight organisms in cryptobiosis or metabolic stasis were burnt out and annihilated. Microbial cysts, tardigrade, and protozoan analogs hiding in the remnants of Khar'Shans extreme locations such as geothermal vents, hot springs, permafrost, and sewer systems simply ceased to be as floods of Neo-Husk and bloodtox snuffed them out.
The sheer probability of the Neo-Husks figuring out where every single cell of Blacklight was located was so astronomically small, that the only logical explanation was they developed a method of scanning orders of magnitude greater than any known scanner ever invented. The fact that the simultaneous attack occurred immediately after the gravitational waves consistent with the locations of the Harsa Systems celestial bodies meant that event was the method by which their detection functioned.
Billions upon billions of networked consciousness discussed the event and could only come up with one explanation. There was something in space on those planets capable of very quick action in building element zero generators. The fluctuations were consistent with eezo phenomena.
The only species Blacklight knew that might have that level of technology, was the Reapers.
Tevos stared at the Evolved woman before her with a look of pure, unadulterated terror. Well masked, but the news delivered could only mean their five years of preparation was over. Despite every ounce of hope that maybe… just maybe Blacklight was wrong, and the Reapers didn't exist.
"What?" Asked Tevos.
Tevos hid her fear and trepidation well, but Elizabeth could smell the gnawing fear rolling off her like a miasma. She might as well have been screaming.
"The Reapers are here," repeated Elizabeth.
During the five years of peace, Tevos looked deeper and deeper into the knowledge from the Prothean Beacon hidden on Thessia. More aggressive data mining revealed not only information on the Reapers, but an actual account from a long-dead prothean that was utterly terrifying. She was plagued by a recurring nightmare of a midday sky darkened by the sheer number of a thousand Capital Ships. Of the dead rising to consume the living. Of the mass extermination of innocent people to build another of those dark ancient gods and their apocalyptic directives.
Elizabeth Greene quirked her head as she observed Tevos, all the while putting out weak chemicals calibrated for Asari biology that should provide some measure of calm.
"We however have one advantage that will give us a lead in the coming war. While we hypothesize that at least some of the Reapers are engaging in relay-less FTL, which is slow enough that we need not worry just yet, we also believe they are repairing the Harsa Relay, which only leads to one location. When they do fix it, they can only arrive in the Exodus System."
"Do we know how long it will take them to repair a relay that suffered catastrophic failure?" Asked Valern.
Elizabeth shook her head.
"We do not, but considering they are the architects of the relay, even our most optimistic estimates are worrying," said Elizabeth.
"What of information gathering? Could one of your Evolved Consume a Neo-Husk to gather intelligence on the matter?" Asked Valern.
"No, the Neo-Husks are very… strange. We can craft a virus that would infect them, but they would simply develop an immunity to that tailor made virus, requiring any viral vector we use to be constantly modified and updated accordingly. The triple helix backbone of their genetics is likewise difficult to alter with traditional methods, not impossible, just difficult. These problems we could get around, however the one we cannot is their Bloodtox Biochemistry." Said Elizabeth.
"Your kind evolves. Why can't you evolve an immunity to Bloodtox?" Asked Valern.
It did not escape Tevos that Elisabeth narrowed her eyes at that. For a moment, Tevos believed Elizabeth would kill Valern where he stood, but instead she just shook her head.
"You may as well ask alkali metals to cease being water-reactive, or for dextro amino species to gain nourishment from levo amino foodstuffs. Neither of these examples are a choice, they are based on predictable and repeatable chemical reactions. Bloodtox takes advantage of our genetic complexity. Simplicity is an optimal level of complexity, but to do the things we are capable of requires a great deal of complexity. We have little to no non-coding DNA as well as unique and novel biochemistry that is not easily found in nature. Bloodtox is, to Blacklight, a highly toxic mixture of virucide agents and cytotoxic compounds that annihilate the viral vectors we use to alter our own cells, after which the compound seeps into the cell and begins breaking down the complex chemical machinery of those cells that are responsible for producing thousands of identical copies of the original virus. Any neighboring viral vectors that could be instructed to repair the damage will die in contact with active bloodtox, as such the cell must fend for itself.
Eventually, however the damage to the cellular machinery within the afflicted cell becomes too much and it dies in the process, the only saving grace is that bloodtox breaks down into its component parts very quickly within dead cells and becomes harmless. We can cannibalize these cells once they render bloodtox inert, but some energy and genetic information is irrevocably lost. The Reapers however have constructed an artificial protein with a very specific fold that their xeno nucleic acids codes for to not only enhance Bloodtox by increasing how long it takes to break down but allow it to be produced within Neo-Husk Biochemistry in excessive amounts. Their synthetic and cybernetic biology utilizes bloodtox resistant nanomachines as a vector in place of a virus, the chemical machinery that Bloodtox targets within cells is likewise replaced with mechanical analogues. Normally, Bloodtox is harmless to most living beings due to both the absence of symbiotic viral agents and a large amount of non coding DNA, but it interferes with very important Blacklight biochemical processes related to the unique ways we function. To evolve complete immunity to bloodtox while still possessing the abilities we have would require changing the ways chemicals react with other chemicals, and there are only so many chemical reactions that exist that can be utilized by life."
Once more Elizabeth shook her head in that simultaneously elegant yet unnerving way she was infamous for before turning to the Salarian Councillor.
"So no Councillor Valern, we cannot become immune to Bloodtox. Resistant to it yes, but not immune. It is the final nail in the coffin that makes it impossible for us to consume the organic components of Neo-Husk biomass."
Valern hummed to himself as he adjusted his seat.
"As entertaining as that educational enlightenment was, perhaps we should get back to the matter at hand. Namely the return of the Reapers," said Sparatus.
"Of course, what did you have in mind?" Asked Valern.
Sparatus fell back on his old strategic thinking. As far as he was concerned, knowing exactly where an enemy was coming from was half the battle already done.
"A single relay is a good enough choke point. We could set an ambush or maybe a trap to cripple them before the first shot is even fired," said Sparatus.
"I was thinking the same thing actually, and I believe I know just what to use. It's never progressed beyond the proof of concept stage, but I believe it would be quite the opening move," said Valern.
After saying that, the Salarian Councillor activated his omni-tool to reveal a strange device holographically projected from his wrist. The projection was a roughly spherical object, superficially similar in appearance to a sea mine, but far more advanced.
With but a motion of his hand Valern held the image in his hand to show the others around it. With another flick of his fingers, it opened to reveal a hollow chamber surrounded by a myriad of small components.
"This is something we've been working on for a while, it was deemed a waste of resources, but against the Reapers it could be a godsend. Antimatter Mines. Research into antimatter missiles lead to few practical weapons, none of which can be safely stored for long periods of time, though this one was the most promising. No doubt maintaining it would be difficult, but this design takes advantage of space being a vacuum to safely store antimatter for extended periods. It will still need to be held in an electromagnetic field, but at least there won't be any air to set it off. The mine can be packed with proximity sensors and a built-in IFF… maybe even a high end VI. Expensive, but useful. Once the proximity alarm has been triggered, a secondary electromagnet is activated, drawing the mine to its intended target. Hence the use of a Friend or Foe identification system so it won't activate unless an enemy is in the area. The speed the mine is pulled towards its target is theoretically slow enough that it shouldn't activate a Kinetic Barrier… theoretically at least, analysis of the Reaper Sovereign indicates a slightly different design philosophy than any other species… but the math is sound based on current estimates. Once it makes contact with its intended target, the electromagnet holding the antimatter particles in place is deactivated, and they collide with the matter particles of the mine itself." Said Valern as the image in his hands flickered and died.
"What's the yield?" Asked Sparatus.
"I can have one built with a ten Megaton yield in just under a week. So long as it is not too close to the Relay, it won't be catastrophically destroyed by the resulting matter-antimatter reaction."
"I recommend multiple mines," said Elizabeth.
"Ah, a challenge. I'm sure the scientists will love that. I'll send the word as we speak," said Valern simply as he activated his omni-tool once more.
"Tell them Elizabeth Greene requested the multiple mines. They'll probably have it finished in half the time," said Sparatus.
"Am I truly that uncanny?" asked Greene with a quirk of the head that almost made her neck seem boneless.
"...I rest my case." Said Sparatus motioning to the Mother of Blacklight.
Elizabeth hummed to herself as Valern finished.
"It's been sent."
"We'll need a fleet ready to take out any survivors that make it past the minefield. With proper preparation, this could be a devastating first blow in the war in our favor… but that is a Batarian system. The remnants of their admiralty are situated there… as is the majority of their fleet. We'll have to coordinate with them." Said Sparatus before he signed.
"I hope their fleet is disciplined enough not to run headlong into battle for revenge."
"They're angry Sparatus, not suicidal," said Tevos.
Elizabeth nodded… impressed.
"We already have a foothold on Eden Prime. We suspect that will be the Reapers first target after Relay activation. We are creating a sustainable ecosystem in and around the barren worlds. After the mine detonates, we will aid in the strike and defer to the designated commander. Our Bioships are theirs."
"Then we have a plan, we will have to hammer out the details, but I'm confident it will work. As far as first engagements go, this one is promising." Said Sparatus.
Tevos felt slightly locked out of the conversation. War was never really her strong suit… that said.
"It would decimate the remaining Batarians if they lost Eden Prime, can we guarantee its safety?"
"Statistically, being optimistic, based on a ten megaton yield and our projected estimates of the size of a Reaper fleet, assuming that the minefield takes out a generous half of their forces, there is a 0.009% chance at best that we won't lose Eden Prime from the remaining Reaper fleet, and the Geth believes that figure to be and I quote, "overly optimistic" unquote. The geth have quite a few more zeroes added in their own calculations. We however have expected this, we have a model for a swift and effective evacuation time and have prepared for Reaper occupation of Eden Prime accordingly." Said Elizabeth.
"How?" Asked Tevos.
Elizabeth turned her head towards Tevos as she stared at her. As Elizabeth contemplated her words, she continued to stare at Tevos, who had suddenly become quite uncomfortable under that blank, dead-eyed gaze. It was an exhilarating relief when Elizabeth finally spoke.
"We exhibit a great variety of very novel biochemical reactions in our metabolism and use many sources in energy generation. We have generated quite the surplus and instead of just storing it, we have been putting it to use in a new kind of infected organism. It should rival Reaper Capital Ships far better than even our Bioships."
"What exactly is it?"
Elizabeth smiled and Tevos decided she did not like that smile on that particular face.
"We call it Apophis."
Larger Blacklight Organisms almost universally push the limits of what could feasibly exist. The square-cube law meant that as size was increased, the volume of an object increased far more than the surface area. By all logic, large blacklight bio-morphs should collapse under their own weight. To get around this, Blacklight cheated, exoskeletons composed of thick bone-like plates, titanium bones, reinforced carbon graphite musculature, and a lot of effort went into making these creatures exist, let alone move far faster than should be possible for a creature that size. These adaptations enabled Anansi, Behemoths, Bioships, Bio-Drakes, and Elizabeth's favorite MOTHER form to move with grace and fluidity one would not expect from such titans.
Yet as much as those creatures pushed the limits of size however, they held but a candle to the newest pet project of Blacklight.
Deep beneath Eden Prime, near the molten core, something fed, something grew, and something breathed. A beast connected to world-spanning tendrils that undulated and bore through continental plates. These multi kilometer-long prehensile roots, as thick as buildings, were nourished by draining the rich nutrients near the molten core, minerals like zinc, chlorine, iron, cobalt, nitrogen, and boron. It fed on the mineral rich environment it was born in to collect and distribute necessary materials throughout its body. Following these tendrils lead to an undulating and animated mass of fungi, flesh, bone, vines, roots, muscle, and bark that crept beneath the continental plates. It moved little now as it connected to a massive mycelium network hybridized with nervous tissue that spanned the planet around it. Through this network, it was linked to the myriad of Brain Hives, Extractor Lungs, and Helix Towers above.
It was a gigantic clawed and tentacled serpentine beast, one powerful enough to effortlessly chew through stone and earth with powerful metal teeth, crushing them with ease as its numerous eyes gazed at the molten core. These eyes were protected by folding bone plates that wrapped around its face and acted as secondary jaws. The primary maw under these plates was lined with a hundred rows of wide teeth that parted to reveal long tentacular tongues that began sifting through its subterranean lair, snatching up anything that could fuel its being. On either side of the primary mouth was a set of spider-like pedipalps that terminated in a rudimentary three-fingered hand. Strategically placed tumors and cancerous growths within it slowly developed over time into dozens upon dozens of redundant organs. Trailing behind it were the long, content spanning tentacles that were covered in stiff, toxic, and absurdly sharp petals and thorns.
It had several dozen long triple-jointed limbs on either side of it. Arms that terminated in mouths and tunneled through the dirt, feeding on organic compounds in the soil with the many gnashing teeth in its palms. Truly a marvel of biology resembling less a massive creature and more something like a moving mountain. One that should it so desire, could cause devastating earthquakes, sinkholes, and rock slides. As it dug through solid rock and earth, swarming masses of microscopic carnivorous Indra mites living symbolically on its skin released bioelectric storms. This electricity distributed through the beast, making touching it unprotected a fatal mistake.
Assimilated Thresher Maw genes made it partially a lithovore able to gain nutrients from consuming stone, metal, and earth. Layers upon layers of reinforced metallic exoskeletons based on the Turians gave this titan great defenses against all but the strongest weaponry. Much like the skin of sharks, its chitinous metallic exoskeleton was itself covered with a matrix of tiny, hard, tooth-like structures called dermal denticles or placoid scales. Vorcha traits were integrated in the creature alien biology as the cells of this behemoth began to attack and devour each other again and again. Resources were used to regenerate tissue, considerable regeneration to such a degree that genes would break-down and result in spontaneous mutation. Beneficial mutations were kept, benign mutations were studied, and hazardous mutations were discarded. Constantly this massive organism evolved again and again at a cellular level that quickly spread through the entire organism. Coupled with a hyperactive metabolism that could rapidly replace most of the creature's body, and this being would be one of the most… interesting creatures Blacklight had ever created.
It was a masterwork of genetic manipulation that fed, grew, and spread, waiting to be unleashed.
Blacklight could only hope it would be enough, but they were confident, and itching to test it out.