Chapter 63 - The Calm Before The Storm
The biggest problems were never monetary but logistical. Evacuation of a planet was a laborious process. It was impossible in ways that were not intuitive at first, and while this isn't the first time the Batarians had to evacuate en masse, that didn't make this any easier. Panicked people flooded the spaceports in a massive thrashing conglomerate. Fighting for a spot on the next ship out was all too familiar, and what law enforcement remained could only barely contain the gnawing hysteria that infected the masses. More draconian methods were required to preserve what little order remained. Balak witnessed Batarians in riot gear beating a manic Batarian who assaulted a much younger child for his position in line. Balak couldn't blame him or the guards for acting as such. Every single person here had experienced first-hand the horrors of the Reapers. Now they were told that it was most likely going to happen all over again. In the face of that news, how could the masses not panic?
It's so easy to stew, guilt, rage, or in this case, fear. It doesn't take much for an emotion like that to fester. One's thoughts and words could seem so loud in the silence, and when you're alone, they'd seemed to echo back at you, grabbing you with crippling despair and maddening terror that squeezed at your core. Memories surfaced from the hopeless war on Khar'Shan and the steady escalation between the Husks and Blacklight. Everyone here bore witness to both sides as they resembled spartan soldiers and combatants less and less, and started to reach something so much more than anything Balak had ever seen. Towards the end, it was clear that Khar'Shan had become the cataclysmic battlefield between two veritable Gods, with mere mortals stuck in the middle of their awesome might. Even Balak was not too proud to admit he was afraid at the thought of it happening again, and that fear festered and stewed. He could only imagine what the civilians were going through—especially those who hadn't seen the horrors of war until it came rampaging at their doorstep.
How could those who never knew war handle an all-encompassing feeling like that? How could anyone? When Balak heard the Reapers themselves were coming, and coming soon and needed to evacuate Eden Prime ASAP, he knew it would devolve into a chaotic mess. He was painfully aware that evacuation would take forever and dredge up painful memories of the clusterfuck that was Khar'Shan. During that horror show, the simple struggle for survival and being able to make it out alive was a victory in and of itself. Balak spoke to a soldier, one who lost his mind. He had been trapped as far away from safety as possible, hundreds of meters to cross through a menagerie of otherworldly monsters, with only one shot left to his rifle, and he didn't know where to find more ammunition. He fired his last shot and legged it. He survived physically, at least. Mentally, he was a shell of his former self, a traumatized wreck who jumps at any sudden movement.
Now it is coming again, and no one knows when only that it was soon. Any day now, machine abominations will fall from the sky and devour all in its path.
How much more could they take, before the Batarians had nothing left to give.
'It could be worse. You could be at it by yourself, this time you're backed by not just us, but the Citadel as well.'
Also, that. Yes, that was undoubtedly a thing to get used to. When Balak agreed to the Backlights plan, he found himself wearing a damn Blacklight Evolved as a suit. Bardon was once a Batarian, and now he was a suit.
It was weird.
And unfortunately, the plague-spewing sin against biology could talk in his mind through methods Balak didn't want to know, and he just wouldn't shut up.
'Hey, Balak… I'm in your head. It's kinda empty in here.'
It was annoying. Very annoying.
'Speaking if annoying, your ride is early.'
Balak froze as a relatively small Blacklight bioship resembling the unholy hybrid of a Manta. A Squid passed over him before rolling in the air and landing near Balak directly on six insectoid legs. The panicked people stopped momentarily at the sudden appearance. The Bioship lowered itself before it opened its mouth to reveal an interior resembling a cockpit made out of meat, gristle, and bone.
Thankfully sights such as these were nothing new to the populous, and order was restored once more as well as it could be, which wasn't much, but it was noticeable. No one wanted to cause much of a scene when Blacklight was around, partially out of respect, somewhat out of fear. Balak watched as the Batarian who assaulted the child was apprehended in restraints and taken away before Balak sighed and boarded the Bioship.
There was little within the ship beyond a seat that looked like it was made out of muscle fibers and held up with bone. The interior walls had a glossy sheen to it, but it was bare of anything beyond that. Thankfully the smell was pleasant.
'Smells are so easy to manipulate Balak.'
The mouth shut, and the Bioship leaped into the air and took off for orbit, or rather the much larger Bioship above that was much better at interplanetary travel. Balak watched as the walls melted away into a series of tunnels resembling arteries. These arteries were crawling with Rachni workers and the odd soldier. Balak ignored them as he made his way through the Bioship to its heart. He observed his step, fully aware that one wrong step onto a Rachni Worker was not a good idea when they could quickly explode like a hand grenade.
'We've got a lot of mileage from those chemical reactions. It's synthesized glycerol mixed with nitric acid that we get from the nitrogen we breathe in, waiting for it to oxidize, mix with water to make nitric acid, and then throw the glycerol in the combo of which you may know best as nitroglycerin. We've used the same thing in our explosions, but the Rachni workers have this nifty trick where they can sweat the stuff out quickly when nervous before jumping on your face and blowing up. The explosion is just deliciously destructive."
Balak did not want to know that, nor did he particularly care, so long as he didn't explode for something as stupid as a misplaced step. His eulogy would be embarrassing, and rightfully so.
'Imagine what they'll write on your tombstone. 'Here lies Balak. He really should have taken a step back. Oh, or maybe 'He put the wrong foot forward.''
Was Blacklight intentionally insufferable? Balak assumed it to be the case. Either way, he continued on his way, guided by a sense of familiarity despite him knowing he had never been in this ship before, no doubt a result of his entirely living suit. He would have gone the rest of the way silently until he saw something inside of this meat ship that was most assuredly fully mechanical. Balak froze as he watched a small circular drone move across the floor, seemingly cleaning it. However, that was not what made him pause. Instead, it was the knife haphazardly duct-taped to the machine.
"What is that?"
'That's Stabby. He's a Roomba, a simple cleaning robot.'
"Why is a knife attached to it?"
'Because it's cool. We also have a shooty model named Shooty!'
Balak wondered again precisely what in the hell it was he signed up for.
Things had proceeded rather well. The Salarian Super Soldiers had been a resounding success, the S-Series Infiltrators and Commandos were being fielded quite liberally, albeit covertly. On the other hand, the S-Series Sentinels' probable existence of a Hive Mind was disturbing. They were under a massive level of scrutiny. While their operations were passed, with excellence no less, there was still a lot of risk with well-coordinated Biotic Salarians with unprecedented regeneration levels. Mordin believed it was best to keep them on ice unless it was an absolute necessity.
On the other hand, the Exoskeleton was very promising, and already a dozen prototypes had been made with various minor alterations to weapon load-outs and capabilities. In such a short amount of time, things had progressed at a slow but steady pace. Still, Mordin couldn't shake the feeling that something was just off. Things had gone too well. Everything proceeded as it should have. The Salarian Super Soldiers had succeeded with flying colors and had gone through a trial by fire and came out no worse for wear, and the A-Series Bio-Armor seemed to be ready for field use.
It took a moment for Mordin to realize what it was niggling in his mind, and when he figured it out, Mordin sighed.
"What's eating you?" Asked Sil.
"It's the Bio-Armor… we managed to modify it cybernetically, but I have some doubts on the long-term effects for the biological components. A lot of this is based on Blacklight and our models on Neo-Husk biology. These groups don't have DNA in the same way "normal" creatures do. There's useful information in there if we could read DNA or XNA that easily, but that isn't going to give us an adequate working knowledge of even individual tissue groups. Not to mention more complex structures like organs, especially because some of what it's made of aren't DNA at all." Said Mordin as he lifted his Omnitool, revealing a holographic representation of the suit's nervous system.
"Take this, for example. Now while the nervous system is partially cybernetic with integrated circuitry, not all of it is. When the suit's nerves triggers, like normal nerves, they release ions across the synaptic junction, creating a charge between one neuron and its neighbor to pass on the message by stimulating the next neuron in the sequence. So far, so good, but using Blacklight methods, instead of magnesium, calcium, and potassium ions, the suit uses fluoride ions. Useful in the sense that it is much more reactive, granting the suit increased reaction time on par with Blacklight, dangerous in the sense that ionic fluoride will react with just about anything. The suits own cellular architecture can rip apart molecules like fluorides by merely flooding them with high energy xeno-enzymes until they break apart. They are now combined with the hybrid aerobic-anaerobic respiration to use oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere.
Nitrogen can fix it into biological compounds, and we start seeing a dangerous level of complexity. Nitrogen attaches to other synthesized compounds like ammonia that the Blacklight based xeno-cells are capable of producing. This effect is good because the suit can use ammonia to react with other elements to create chemical energy. However, because high ammonia levels can cause many health issues, we had to engineer the suit to use the excess fluoride to synthesize hydrofluoric acid to prevent ammonia buildup. As a happy side effect, the suit can now use this acid as a projectile while leaving the pilot inside safe as he, quite literally, sprays his foes in an acid-filled with ionic fluorine, the most reactive element on the periodic table. That is but one single ability this suit possesses amongst a sea of other skills. Let us not also forget that the suit can use hydrogen in emergencies in emergencies from the water with fluorine and, using the same methods as Bioships, fly for short distances. Of course, doing so produces even more hydrofluoric acid as an exhaust. We are showering the ground below the suit in acid. That's a second ability the suit possesses we managed to engineer. Do you see the problem?"
"Not really no. The suit protects the user from the acid, anyone who would get sprayed is an enemy, and in emergencies, it can fly. The worst outcome I see is that the surviving family of the guy who gets splashed will be getting a wrongful death settlement."
"Perhaps, but you're focusing on the wrong thing. It's not about the acid; it's about the complexity. We first used the hybrid aerobic-anaerobic respiration. The pilot is trapped in a low oxygen environment; he needs not to worry about the suit ceasing to function. This, of course, leads to nitrogen buildup, so we engineered cells to produce ammonia, which allows the nitrogen to be used as chemical energy for the suit. Because ammonia is an alkali, and thus dangerous to other tissue, we had to synthesize cells to create hydrofluoric acid to neutralize and prevent excessive ammonia buildup, which leads to the idea of using fluoride ions for the nervous system to increase reaction time. Of course, fluoride ions are too reactive, but the increased reaction time and the acid's ability to break down chemicals further help exhaust the buildup while also giving the suit even more chemical energy to work with. That is all only a few things that make up this suit's labyrinthine biology. However, these abilities require a lot of biochemical traits taken from Blacklight and Saleon's abominations, but without Blacklight's ability to monitor its biology or the Children of Saleon's ability to ignore hazardous mutations. Those genetic alterations, on top of everything else we both cybernetically and genetically engineered into the suit, all come together in a particular and very delicate pattern. In essence, not counting Blacklight, this suit is the single most genetically and biochemically complex organism in the Galaxy, and with complexity comes a greater chance of error." Said Mordin.
"As is, the suit is perfect, and if it were to remain static, then it would be one of the most potent weapons ever built. However, it isn't static because it is, in part, a living organism. For all we know, when the biological components of this suit gain a single mutation, and eventually it will, it could start expressing genes that we were not aware was even there to begin with. Just one alteration and the suit could do anything from nothing at all, spontaneously growing an extra finger, or even turning into a malignant cancerous organism that eats its pilot. It doesn't even matter that the suit gets cellular energy from chemical reactions instead of sugars. It can still use sugars to make chemical energy, sugars it can get by eating the poor bastard driving it."
Sil blinked as she processed that little tidbit of information.
"So… what are you saying? That we need to suppress mutation. That is impossible. Mutations can happen arbitrarily."
"Not suppress, predict, we need to have a working knowledge of everything. We need to know what every protein, gene, and amino acid does. We also need to know how these interact with each other. We need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what every single possible mutation could potentially do. Do that, and we could devise methods to prevent the most likely mutations that would end in disaster for the pilot."
"You're kidding, right? We do not know what most of our DNA does, nor how, or to what extent it governs traits, and we sequenced it hundreds of years ago. 98% of our DNA doesn't even code for proteins, and many protein binding events are random and inconsequential. We know the non-coding DNA performs essential regulatory functions, but we do not know what exact function each sequence performs or which gene affects each one. So, we can't even fully understand our DNA. Still, you want us to not only do exactly that for a completely alien organism based on the weirdest biology in the known Galaxy, but you also want to have predictive models for every single possible mutation. There isn't a computer in the world that could display that much data." Said Sil.
"No, but there is a species that is very good at understanding how genetics work. A species that might see the most likely mutations the suit will experience. Using that knowledge, we ignore benign mutation, and monitor for malignant mutation."
Sil's eyes narrowed as she crossed her arms.
"You do know that this work is top secret, right… especially from them. Besides, don't you think you're overreacting?"
Mordin sighed before shaking his head.
"No, you are underreacting. Let's do a straightforward thought experiment right now. Let's say I give this suit a very simple mutagen, guaranteeing a simple albeit completely random and arbitrary mutation. Would you wear the suit afterward knowing both its already complicated biology and also known for a fact that that complex biology mutated unpredictably?"
Sil blinked, then looked to the suit for but a moment before slowly sliding her chair away from it by little more than a few inches. Not too much, but at least now, Mordin was much closer to the suit than she was. Sil believed fully in that age-old adage. You didn't have to outrun a feral Varren; you just had to outrun the other guy.
"I see your point, considering what it's made of… I wouldn't be surprised if a random mutation let it sweat out spiders on the inside of the suit. Still, I doubt anyone will approve of Blacklight knowing about our work, or that we have access to their biological materials."
Mordin only smiled.
"Why not, we're Salarians, of course, we have access to their biological materials. Why wouldn't we?"
Sil found that she couldn't disagree with that statement even if she wanted to. She sighed.
"I'll talk to Vurlon."
The station above the Blacklight world of Shanxi was impressive. While space stations in orbit were nothing new for Balak, this one was highly unusual in more ways than one. First, it looked less like a typical space station and more like a giant partially mechanical hive. The station was vaguely cocoon or pod-shaped with a rigid exoskeleton and a honeycomb of various holes and the shell that seemed to function, unlike ports, docks, or even exhaust vents for the smaller holes. The mechanical parts included different antennas emerging from the 'bottom' and other obvious machinery with a noticeable Geth aesthetic.
When the Bioship docked, Balak immediately found the interiors he stood in shift until an opening formed on the wall nearest to him, revealing the insides of the Blacklight space station. Balak then watched as hundreds, if not thousands of Rachni workers within the Bioship he emerged from swarmed around his feet before entering the Space Station where they disappeared through a series of orifice-like ducts along the walls. That was the first thing Balak noticed about this station. It wasn't wholly biological, like most of Blacklight architecture. Parts of it were, but the floors and walls were undoubtedly artificial and seemed to be made partially from both stone and metal. What's more, some blatant machines were sticking out of the walls. The lighting and support structures were very much organic.
The supports resembled a ribcage wrapped around the walls and connected to a spine in the center of the ceiling. Occasionally the spine would branch off into more halls, which was incredibly upsetting to see deformed vertebra that connected two spines. However, the lights were comparatively pleasant, merely dangling bioluminescent organs related to the spine by nervous tissue.
It was a real shame that the Reapers were mechanical. In any other circumstance, Blacklight was an absolute nightmare on the battlefield. Beyond their obvious advantages, they were masters of psychological warfare and demoralization. The mere idea of Blacklight got under the skin in ways no other species could match. They could quite literally weaponize the fear of biological horror. That said, they were fighting emotionless A.I. At least the other advantages Blacklight possessed worked just as well against the Reapers as anything else.
That said, when it came to this station, it wasn't as grotesque as most of the Backlights 'technology'. Granted, it was still disturbing, but not exceptionally so. Though Balak did not doubt that if he were to map out this station's entire electrical systems, it would be far more similar to a nervous structure than anything else. Still, the blatant machinery was so odd and out of place in such a setting.
'We have had to accommodate the Geth. All machinery is theirs. Some of the architecture is Collector based or Rachni, but mostly Geth. Also, yes, this station has a nervous system and a brain—several of them.
As you can see by him being a space station, the Mad Lad is an absolute unit. His name is David Archer, if you're interested. Friendly kid, and a savant to boot.' Spoke Bardon within Balak's head.
"I wasn't, but… isn't all Blacklight evolved savants?" Asked Balak.
'Well… yes, but actually no. Our definition of Savant is a bit different from yours. It depends entirely on how focused one is at doing a particular task. David is highly interested in math, almost to the exclusion of everything else. We all have our quirks, but he chooses to run rapid complex calculations for fun. So, he's in charge of the Shanxi station since he loves math and the Geth love math, so David and the Geth get together to make beautiful calculations together. It's all adorable in an aromantic nerdy kind of way. I ship it.'
"I'm sorry, I asked." Said Balak, to which Bardon acquired an annoying high-pitched screech in his ear.
'Carry the two senpai!'
The Batarian sighed as he walked down the halls, occasionally passing Rachni and the odd Geth platform, but the strangest thing he saw was a small group of Collectors patrolling the halls. While he had been informed of these Awakened Collectors, it was still odd to see a walking urban legend casually patrol these halls.
Blacklight had undoubtedly acquired a very unusual variety of allies, almost all of which were very fringe groups rarely seen in the Galaxy. Rachni, Geth, Collectors, and while Balak didn't see any, he heard they were in quite deep with the Vorcha of all races. That wasn't even getting into the looser alliance with Aria and the slow restoration of their relationship with the Citadel. To Balak's knowledge, the only species Blacklight hadn't called in deep with was the Quarians and the Krogan. Even then, Balak knew that there was trade between Blacklight and the Quarians involving their highly unusual Medi-gel compound. He wasn't sure how well that would go if the Quarians learned just how close Blacklight was with the Geth. As for the Krogan, Balak wasn't sure what steps Blacklight took to get them into the fold, but he expected they were planning something. All in all, in the years since Khar'Shan fell, Blacklight had been very busy, and with the existential threat of the Reapers, the other races were more than willing to play ball when their right to exist was on the line. This was as united as the Galaxy had ever been since the Asari and Salarians discovered the Citadel.
However, Balak wasn't sure if it would be enough. He still had nightmares of the fall of his homeworld.
Clearing his thoughts, Balak made his way to a large chamber, and he wasn't alone. Sitting in the Corner were three Asari, each one speaking amongst themselves. Not far from them was a juvenile Krogan headbutting the wall.
'That's Grunt. We're raising him.'
That explained so much, really, like the headbutting of a wall, especially the headbutting of a wall.
"This isn't everyone, is it?" asked Balak.
It did not escape his notice that the trio of Asari all looked in his direction but quickly ignored him. Which was the desired outcome.
'No, we reached out to several friends we made. Not sure how long until they arrive. Still, until they get here, mingle a bit. You might make a friend.'
Balak found a dark corner to sit down while fiddling with his Omnitool, completely ignoring everyone else in the room as he played some mindless game he downloaded to pass the time. It was an annoying game, made by Blacklight and released before their banishment from Citadel Space. He was doing rather well until the field erupted in explosions.
Damn Minesweeper. The only Blacklight could make a game so addictive and frustrating all at once.
Every damn time Balak flags all the prominent mines, doing his best to determine which squares to avoid using common sense, but it always comes down to a random chance at the end between two squares, and every time he picked the wrong one. Every. Damn. Time. This was not an exaggeration. Balak must have played this game tens of thousands of times. Yet he never won. He always picked the wrong square.
Balak decided he was either a statistical anomaly or the game was rigged.
Why did he play it anyway? Sure, in theory, logically deducing where the next mine was should be simple, but in practice? Every time, every damn time, it was two squares. Two goddamn squares.
"I hate this game." Said Balak as he ignored everyone else in the room to start up another game.
He once more glanced in the direction of the Asari, before immediately ignoring them. Balak was many things, a gifted military strategist, a competent fighter, a decent cook, but there was one thing Balak was not a people person. He knew this; he accepted this, hell he liked this little facet of his personality. It made life less of a headache. He was not here to make friends; he was here to kill Reapers violently if at all possible, but Balak wasn't all that picky.
Then the field blew up again.
"Every! Damn! Time!"
It was very fortunate it was impossible to throw an Omnitool in frustration.
Omnitools were expensive.
Then one of the Asari stood up and made her way toward Balak. Idly he noted that her movements were odd. She glided towards him, moving like a ghost before she just stopped. Balak watched as she quirked her head for a moment. Then she jumped up into the air, very high. Far higher than she should have been capable of before, she unceremoniously landed herself into a nearby chair with a thud, in the sitting position, no less.
It was impressive, but Balak had seen Blacklight accomplish much the same. He simply assumed she was another Evolved. With that assumption done, Balak decided the best course of action was to ignore her. But she eyed Balak in a way that made ignoring her impossible. It was with a sigh that Balak raised his gaze to the Asari in question, who was smiling at him rather creepily.
"Sup, I'm Morinth. I get the feeling we're going to be great friends."
Little did Balak know, Morinth wasn't an Evolved, rather she, much like him, also wore a Blacklight Evolved as armor, and little did he know that that Evolved she wore went by the name of Shepard and little did he know that Shepard had rubbed off on Morinth. There was very little that Balak did know about the current situation, but regardless of all that, Balak did know one thing.
He was regretting agreeing to this.
"Mhm!" Said Balak absently.
"Yep, we're gonna get along just fine you and me… and Liara… and Shepard… and Ashley… and Kaiden… and Grunt... and Mom, I guess."
"Yep." Said Balak as he started up another game of Minesweeper.
Morinth's smile fell just a bit as her brow rose, her eyes moving to look at the Omnitool for a moment before looking back at Balak.
"Are you hearing me?" asked Morinth.
"Unfortunately, I am hearing you. It's annoyingly hard not to hear from you. I'm not listening to you, though. Big difference." said Balak as he continued tapping squares.
No mines so far. All signs were good. Maybe this time, he could win.
"Well, that's no way to treat a new friend." Said Morinth.
Still in the green. No mines were triggered, and two mines were flagged.
"And we're friends now. I'm adopting you, by the way. Welcome to the unbreakable bonds of friendship."
"I'm sure you've been wrong before… if not, congratulations on your first time being wrong. Now go away and leave me alone."
Morinth's smile only widened.
"Yep… real good friends."
Damn mines always exploding when you least expect them to.
"Always two damn squares." Said Balak as he absently stared back at Morinth.
Who was smiling in a way that made Balak very uncomfortable?
"The best of friends!"
Balak assured himself that he most definitely did not shutter. Thankfully however, the awkward whatever it was exuding from Morinth was broken as the doors opened, and a Turian casually walked in with a blue blob scuttling at his feet. The Turian blinked as he looked between Morinth and Balak for a moment before clearing his throat.
"Um… am I interrupting something? It feels like I'm interrupting something."
Morinth's smile widened.
She found a new friend.
Jobol was a meticulous Salarian. He always had an eye for the finer details that too many weren't immediately intuitive; a gift possible through a combination of high intelligence and low-latent inhibition. He was also a very well-connected individual able to call in many favors from very powerful people. So, when Jobol heard that Blacklight had managed to find an alleged Prothean weapon that might just be capable of destroying the Reapers. Jobol called in a few favors, and within days, acquired schematics of this weapon. Jobol noticed several exciting things about this Crucible. Things that most people wouldn't immediately notice.
First was the fact that some of the data was coded in a very archaic manner. Archaic in the same way that Protheans were, of course. Old, but still quite advanced. Despite this being known to be a schematic made by the Protheans, some of the designs were remarkably similar to certain design philosophies seen in the Asari. It was such a small thing. But just because something is small does not mean it wasn't important. Looking at it, Jobol could draw several conclusions as to why it was that the design was uncannily close to the Asari. However, the most prominent theory was that perhaps the Protheans intended the Asari to build this Crucible, and while it was quite clear that this Crucible was the product of dozens. If not hundreds of Cycles, even a part of it was designed to be much easier for an Asari to build, implied a level of familiarity with the Asari ways.
Perhaps the Protheans saw the Asari as some form of successor?
Possibly, but also inconclusive. Still, assuming that was the case, does it not also make sense that the Protheans would place this information where the Asari would easily find it? Assuming all that was true, no matter how unlikely: Jobol asked himself a simple but important question.
Would uncorrupted Prothean information like this be worth hiding?
Jobol decided that it was.
Though it was inconclusive, it was none the less plausible, and that was all it had to be. It didn't need to be correct at all. A plausible lie often could be much more useful than an impossible truth. Still, if it were true, that just made it all the more valuable a commodity, so it would be advantageous to know it for sure.
Jobol mentally filed that information away for later. It was worth investigating, but other observations he made when he looked at the Crucible itself. While it was incredibly complex, there was just something off about it. Something vaguely familiar. It was a massive machine, of this there was no doubt, but no one was intending on building it. It was simply too convenient, a fact Jobol had to agree on. If a weapon capable of killing Reapers existed, why has it never been used? How had the information to build it not been destroyed in one of the previous cycles?
The most logical conclusion was it was a trap—one devised by the Reapers.
Still, replicating some of it was useful. Smaller components that were a part of the larger whole could offer insights into what the Crucible was capable of. Figure out what each piece did, and you could model what the whole thing might be capable of. Several experiments were being carried out across the Galaxy. A myriad of components was built and tested at this very moment, but that didn't solve the main draw that kept niggling in the back of Jobol's mind.
Why did it look incomplete?
Could it be? It was rather interesting that the base of the Crucible seemed to look almost modular. Like there was a larger piece that was supposed to attach to it.
This required further research.
Jobol was drawn from his thoughts as Vurlon entered the room, right on schedule to drop off any relevant data of the day. Yet there was a look on Vurlon's face that all but highlighted he was conflicted. Jobol steepled his fingers as he looked to his most trusted assistant.
"Speak freely, Vurlon. I can tell something is bothering you."
Vurlon seemed to take a pose that spoke of contemplation, a thoughtful pose as he searched for just the right words to use. Eventually, however, Vurlon sighed.
"It has been brought to my attention that your nephew has an… well… he has an interesting proposition."
Jobol merely quirked his head.
During the very first Cycle, long before the birth of Harbinger. The entity known as the Catalyst brought an end to the Leviathans, not through overwhelming force, but deception, false flag operations, and subtle manipulation. The Enthralled slaves of the Leviathans had constructed Machines and A.I. that was easily Indoctrinated into the Catalyst's way of thinking. It was those machines who struck the Leviathans first. Never enough to warrant any full-scale war, but just enough to capture the still living Leviathans to begin the Construction of Harbinger. The dead remains of the Leviathans' enslaved Thralls were likewise collected, brought to an automated fabrication facility orbiting a Black Hole at the heart of the Galaxy, where they became the first of the Reaper Destroyer class. Even to this day, that factory serves as the womb from which all new Reapers are born.
By the time the last of the Leviathans died, there were Seven Reaper Capital Ships, a dozen Destroyers, and an army of machines and Artificial Intelligences. One of the more interesting of these Machine races was not a machine, not entirely anyway. It was a small insectoid species who had intertwined their brains and nervous systems with mechanical components so thoroughly that they leaned far closer to a Synthetic organism than an Organic one. This race would eventually go on to become the Keepers of the Citadel. It was a crude, but effective form of what the first Reapers saw as a probable form of Synthesis. It was the basis from which a later fascistic civilization managed to reverse engineer the Huskification process from analyzing the Keepers to improve and refine to create the very first Husks eventually. Only by applying the mechanics of Keeper cyber-engineering to their early husk programs, they created a potent weapon that was still being used by the Reapers today.
During these early years, the numbers of Cycles were vast, limited to a mere 5,000 years, resulting from the Catalyst only viewing the universe in terms of inputs and outputs. However, it had become far more sophisticated since then. Reaper Capital Ships scoured whole systems, looking for components and civilizations not yet at their apex, but far along enough to gain novel forms of technology. Many of these civilizations were only barely into an early Space Age. Despite this, they were harvested and converted into Reapers again and again until the Catalyst evolved as the numbers of Reapers swelled and reached satisfactory levels for its needs. This began the first of the 50,000-year Cycle that is used even today. On average, they managed to produce a single Reaper Capital Ship and Five Destroyers per Cycle, though there have been outliers. One highly successful Cycle produced four Capital Ships and twenty Destroyers purely due to a combination of high population density and a whole united collection of religiously inclined civilizations willingly sacrificing themselves for what they believed to be their ascension via becoming Reapers.
The Reapers were never a single specific entity or even a collection of entities. Instead they were an overarching system. one dedicated to maintain the Cycle and facilitate the Harvest. Now, however, the parameters had changed. Currently, there are 105,041 Reaper Capital Ships and 698,192 Destroyers. All of which were within the Harsa System, the Home of the Batarian Civilization. There were five planets around them, each one converted by 803,233 various Reapers into something so much more. By digging deep into the planet's core and covering every available space with mechanical components, the Reapers managed to create their thinking Machine Worlds. Machine Worlds capable of the fabrication and construction of a new kind of war machine and a new breed of soldiers, all without the grotesque inefficient ways employed by the Children of Saleon. Also, these Machine Worlds were fully capable of running ceaseless simulations, calculations, and war games on a massive scale to predict, anticipate, and strategize around their foes. Still, beyond that, these Machine Worlds existed as a proof of concept, a method to assimilate the universe into their endless patterns and constructs. Soon, both entire planets and living creatures would become united into a massive network of reaper architecture, machines, and complexes. With a universe worth's of matter focused only on construction and endless experimentation to model new methods of ensuring survival until the heat death of the universe itself. They were helmed by entities that were constructed from the remaining biological matter harvested from Khar'Shan. Corpses and machines were endlessly dismantled so their parts could build and create mostly mechanical constructs, save for the biological paste driving each machine. In the end, the husks and mechanical abominations were deconstructed into mechanical shells around a heavily-integrated organic core.
The purest form of Synthesis.
Unlike the husks of old, these were fully sapient, thinking beings. A genuinely living entity that was the perfect fusion of everything organic and synthetic, all connected and networked together. Every unit was a part of a singular vast mind that thinks faster than light, one gigantic interstellar computer system with numerous components spread throughout both the Harsa system and the Collector Base at the center of the Milky Way. Circuits meshed with nerves and logic gates intertwined with thoughts, all existing together, weaving throughout their bodies to form their being, a perfect Synthesis of artificial and natural materials protected by replicating back-up systems. Their redundant systems alone would potentially last for tens of thousands of years before they required repairs.
Now, flesh that flowed like water, packed with sensors, circuits, transistors, and capacitors flowed over the remnants of the Mass Relay—flowing deep into the innermost parts of it, combining with old machinery and completing broken circuits with nerve and flesh and slowly rebuilding as the circling rings vibrated with unseen power. Slowly the relay was repaired and improved. Tens of thousands of Improved Reapers locked in place around it, watching as the ever-growing synthetic-organic mass made its way through the old machine soon to be reformed and reactivated, all to eventually repair it, and spread Synthesis through the Galaxy, and to eventually become the last and only race in existence after assimilating all other life into a new paradigm and a perfect pattern.
To become a sprawling labyrinthine entity-device that spreads itself across space, time, and reality itself. No longer would synthetics rise against organics, for the distinction between them would be rendered null and void, and soon the absolute survival of life would be ensured underneath a new order, an order of meat and machine-made one. When the last race was assimilated, then new avenues of ascendancy would be open. A new form of computation and energy production, along with redundant systems that would survive the Heat Death of the Universe, would ensure that life would exist and survive, in a new perfect form, long after the last star dies.
Life would survive, ascend, and thrive indefinitely via techno-organic Apotheosis. It was the only logical course of action to ensure the directives were met.
REPAIRS: 87.98% COMPLETED
FINAL CYCLE PROTOCOLS ENGAGED
SALVATION THROUGH SYNTHESIS
While the Shanxi System was utterly infested with Blacklight, it could not hold a candle to the massive solar system spanning superorganism that was the Sol System. Anyone exiting the Charon relay would see that not only was there the typical Brain Hive attached to it, but also a massive living space station only a few kilometers from the exit. This station, resembling a massive tangled mass of roots and vines, housed countless Bioships ready to attack any intruder. Not far away was the Dwarf Planet Pluto itself, which possessed an unseen ecosystem living in the liquid water ocean beneath Pluto's mantle, hidden beneath a layer of frozen nitrogen. This Ecosystem of extremophiles could, at a moment's notice, amass and emerge as another swarm of smaller Bioships.
Past that was Neptune, which possessed an unseen ecosystem of its own. Deep within Neptune's interior, hundreds of kilometers below the surface, where temperatures and pressures increase, there was a point inside the planet where water remains as a liquid, and it was here that Blacklight flourished. However, most life in this region lived on the moon of Triton.
Most of the Blacklight based life passed Jupiter could only survive deep within these planets, and in small numbers not fit for much defense. Most had to be fed by importing food from elsewhere in the Solar System, but that all changed at Jupiter and its moons of Io and Europa. Large life forms resembling massive Jellyfish floated throughout the Gas Giant inhaling in the atmospheric gasses as smaller creatures, similar in appearance to a Kite, swarmed all around Jupiter in massive swarms so plentiful that on Earth they would blot out the sky for miles. These creatures numbered in the tens of billions and had yet to exploit Jupiter to its fullest. It was here that the vast majority of Blacklight Bioships were born from the excess of resources the Gas Giant provided. Io and Europa likewise were teeming with life far more complicated than anything found near Neptune and Pluto.
Past Jupiter, closer towards the Sun, was the Asteroid Belt, which had all but been converted into a massive sensory organ that circled the Sun. Each asteroid possessed masses of multi-kilometer spanning tendrils, webs of muscle and nerve stretching, and folding to sense and feel the solar system around them. A massive decentralized sensory organ that connected asteroids in a massive neural web. All of them specially developed to detect the comings and goings of the Sol System. This special collection of organisms was fully capable of using eezo nodules and electroreceptive organs for a broad spectrum of gravimetric and electromagnetic sensory input, all to ensure that every bioship had a free range of movement with the absolute least amount of effort or danger as they flew throughout the Solar System.
Then there was Mars.
Mars was fun, and Mars flourished with massive towers of Biomass releasing greenhouse gasses into the air to rapidly terraform the planet into what by all accounts was second Earth. The absence of a magnetosphere was an issue that could be dealt with one day. Perhaps by a large ring of bioelectric tendrils producing an artificial one, but until then, Mars was positively teeming with life of all kinds. To the point that it may as well have been a second Earth.
Venus and Mercury were also hotbeds of living extremophiles designed to utilize both the nearby Sun. In Venus's case, the atmosphere, to harvest resources that could be used by the collective Trinity of Thorian, Rachni, and Blacklight. Mostly, Venus, which now possessed a variant of the Helix Towers, only this one was made from a thermoacidophilic extremophile plant-like organism that could survive in the inhospitable atmosphere of Venus that was extreme enough to melt lead. More importantly, this giant Tree-Like entity could fly. Granted, a flying tree living in the acidic clouds of Venus was probably not the strangest lifeform Blacklight managed to create, but none of Blacklight cared because the census was drawn, and yes, all of Blacklight was in agreement. Flying Trees are fantastic. Ok, so it didn't fly, just kind of floated around thanks to the hollow and porous structure it possessed to make it incredibly light, but no one was going to argue with flying trees on a technicality. Besides, Venus' upper atmosphere was positively abounding with a mysterious compound that absorbs ultraviolet radiation. Blacklight would be stupid not to find some way to use that to their advantage.
Life on Mercury sucked, though, but what are you going to do.
Regardless of all that, while the massive Ecosystem that the Sol System had become was fascinatingly diverse, especially compared to Shanxi, it was still nothing compared to the heart of the Blacklight Species of Earth.
The Thorian enjoyed his new domain. For the sake of convenience and protection, the original mass that was the Thorian had been moved, piece by piece, and cell by cell to a new location far from its original home of Feros.
In a location, Blacklight said it was once the Amazon Rainforest's home was the main body of the Thorian. Simultaneously, cellulose neural tendrils expanded outwards in every direction to encompass both of the Americas. Besides, further subterranean and aquatic adaptations had already allowed parts of the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean to possess neural fibers that were making their way to Earth's other landmasses. Current projections showed that the Thorian would encompass every available landmass on Earth in less than a decade. Until then, it was content with the dense foliage that had sprouted from its tendrils to become its new domain. All of it came together in a writhing mass of green that allowed the Thorian to feel every groove in the bark, every knob, every leaf still attached, and every vein inside said leaves as they gently swayed in the wind. A veritable botanical marvel, an amalgamation of several trees and various other flora that had all but swallowed what was once South America. A multitude of trees taller than redwoods, walls of thorns that crept up cliffs and through rivers, undergrowth were tended to by sharing energy with the leaf canopy above, which had knit together into a single massive sheet of photosynthetic cells, held up by trees, as the ground beneath was colonized by a dense, tangled growth of specifically engineered vines, shrubs, and smaller trees, that thrived even in dim the green-tinted light that pierced the sheet above.
This created a near impenetrable landscape of plant life covered with toxic barbs, spurs, and thorns of all types. It would be difficult for anything to trek through without connection to the Hive Mind. Landscapes were covered in rolling seas of green that was nourished by draining the veritable feast of minerals that saturated the soil. All of it was connected to the evergreen heart that was the Thorian's original main body, who now rested in the heart of the Iguazu Falls. The body had significantly changed, now sporting a photosynthetic dermal layer of bark-like skin and highly efficient dorsal leaf-plates, capable of absorbing solar radiation at an incredibly efficient rate. Also, the Thorian's main body was surrounded by a semi-independent collection of continuously growing and shifting vines armed with secondary mouths. It was fully capable of limited movement by extending and contracting parts of its root system. Though it could never venture too far from its chosen domain, it did allow it to move to better locations to bask in the Sun.
Each part of this botanical superorganism exhaled spores that grew into the various Creeper forms that the Thorian had managed to create until the creepers themselves numbered well into the billions. It had even taken time to create new Creeper forms, including a variant of the Flyer that possessed adaptations taken from various plants, including a sophisticated wing system based on the pappus of Dandelion seeds, if somewhat modified. Naturally such feathery bristles of the pappus function as a "parachute" that enabled the seed to be carried by the wind, but the introduction of a muscular system based on Creepers used in conjunction created a much lighter and smaller form of the Flyer fully capable of the same hydrogen production and rapid expelling of flames. The Thorian supposed they would work well in large flocks.
Regardless, the Thorian believed that this location was more than sufficient for its needs and provided the best climate to promote the forms' growth to be used for the coming battles ahead. Many Blacklight Infected organisms and Rachni roamed these lands, feeding upon the energy produced by the many modified helix towers that now were almost exclusively looked over and tended by the Thorian itself. The result even boosted the production of chemical energy and ATP to levels so absurdly high that even the rest of the Earth had experienced a boom in production.
All of Blacklight was in agreement. There was no better gardener than the Thorian.
While the Thorian was currently confined to the Americas, the Rachni were much more widespread. Nearly every cave system on Earth was now their territory. The largest caves were teeming with countless Rachni, many sharing territories with the Thorian. The Queen, however, dwelled within the Veryovkina Cave in Abkhazia, Georgia. Famous for being the deepest known cave on Earth at 2,212 meters deep. The Rachni continued to burrow and tunnel from it, even connecting the Veryovkina cave to other nearby caves, including the second deepest cave on Earth, the Krubera Cave in Gagra, Georgia. Vertical chasms did little to impede the Rachni, and much of the tunnels had been widened considerably to accommodate larger Rachni variants.
The Queen Herself nested 2,080 meters underground in an expanded cavern known as Game Over. Blacklight found highly amusing when they described something similar to the Rachni called a Xenomorph to the Queen. The Queen was not sure why Evolved continued to say "Game Over Man, Game Over!" Repeatedly. Even after explaining the joke, it seemed odd that they still found it funny. Perhaps it was merely their eccentricities, but the Queen just didn't find it all that funny, and it was getting old very fast.
Regardless, with the aid of Blacklight, the Rachni ruled the Underground, and most pleasingly, new Queens were gestating, ready to hatch very soon. Eventually, they would spawn expanded hives of their own. Separate yet connected to the Symphony of their species. Worker caste Rachni had swarmed the tunnels and were burrowing outward. The plan was with aid from Blacklight; massive stable tunnel systems would exist on every continent to be used for housing and caring for as many Rachni as possible. The Rachni would flourish in specially designed symbiotic Blacklight based ecosystems designed, from the ground up, to feed and nurture them as their Queen raised them until they were ready to venture out.
Transport of Rachni to other locations that the new Queens would nest in was accomplished by Sea dwelling Bioships, called Leviathans, which vaguely resembled ichthyic saurian hybrids.
The Rachni would soon be returned to their former glory, ready to expand together with their conjoined allies. It would be a new golden age for their kind. All they had to do was defeat the Great Foe. To that end, the Rachni had built marvels of engineering. Partially mechanical, but mostly biological. With a galaxy-wide population of over 20 Billion, and a fleet of nearly a thousand ships.
So, it was here, with a living Solar System, that They prepared. A perfect union of three separate species united as one culminated in this. Blacklight, Thorian, and Rachni, all three pushing what life was capable of to its absolute limits. Continuously evolving to survive in every environment they could think of with fleets and swarms so vast that it would blot out the stars. A titanic horde is fully capable of consuming whole worlds right down to the bedrock and overwhelm their foes with the weight of numbers. A constantly mutating and evolving entity able to counter any weapons brought to bear against them. An entire space-faring ecosystem, composed of innumerable different organisms, guided by a singular gestalt consciousness. A being of unity able to field massive organisms dwarfing all others. Bioships, Bio-Drakes, Anansi, Behemoths, and of course, their most proud creation was the one who grew beneath Eden Prime: Apophis.
All of it for one singular purpose. The destruction of the Reapers.
They would not be denied.
Maybe they should have Apophis sweat spiders.
A.N: Yes, those cave systems are real, and Yes there is a Chamber called, and I kid you not, Game Over… and the Rachni are primarily subterranean… and they bare more than a passing resemblance to the Alien Xenomorphs… and it is the deepest cave on the planet. The joke needed to be made people. I had no choice in the matter what so ever.
Also… Fuck Minesweeper because of EVERY FUCKING TIME!