Hey all, sorry this one has taken longer to get out than usual, I've been away off doing things in the wilderness for longer than I initially expected. Cheers for sticking around.
KitBeast: Thanks for the constructive criticism. I'll go back and have a look at it and see what can be done.
Darkcrush: Now you have me wanting to write that in somewhere. Damit.
IHateGenericCereal: I've had to dial back how much I wanted to go into the wider galaxy for this chapter. The wider galaxy bit was taking me a while to write and I just wasn't 'feeling it' and I know it is long overdue for an update. I'll try to get back to it soon.
GlrassHopper: The Reapers are a mysterious bunch.
12agnar0kian: Here you go!
Sparatus finishes his drink of hiven stomach contents and places the empty mug on the table in front of him before responding to Valern, "Yes, a new vessel. It has been a concern of my people for a very long time now, and with the latest developments, we have at last had the justification required to get the funding needed. Before Tevos returns, we will approach the Council with our plans."
"Smart," The Salarian Councillor initially replies, "Tevos will be a big opponent, enough so that she will slow down its blessing by a considerable period of time." Valern takes a sip of his own drink, a type of muddy water with some herbs thrown in for flavour, before blinking his large eyes twice, restoring moisture into them that the clinically dry Citadel air saps away. With some mirth, the Salarian then asks Sparatus, "But I must inquire, do these newcomers scare you enough that you are willing to build a costly.."
"Surely, you know better?" Sparatus fires back before the Salarain can finish, already knowing what Valern was going to imply, "The Primarchs have wanted a stick to rival the Asari's for a long while now."
"Are you sure?" Tests Valern, the Salarian knows that he can get an easy rise from his Turian counterpart regarding this issue; he knows the Councillor is a big fan of big ships and has been jealous of the Destiny Ascension for as long as he can remember. With a dreamy voice, Valern continues to say, "Relay metal, plasma weaponry, stealth vessels..."
"All gimmicks." Sparatus shoots back with a waft of his clawed hand. "There is a creature on my homeworld that we can hunt. This creature can toss a Turian 20 meters through the air without a second thought..."
"Yes," The Salarian now sounds slightly bored, as if he has heard the story numerous times before, "I know of the creature, and I know you are probably about to say something about skill over technology." Contrary to what many may think, Turians similar to the Salarians and Volus actually require technology to be the apex land predator of their homeworld.
"Then less of my people," Sparatus goes on to say, "What of your own. Your reccy vessel is yet to be accounted for; by now, its capacitors are surely requiring discharge, and I bet the heat sink would have cooked the crew alive by now." The Citadel has not yet received news of the Salarian vessels return.
The Salarain Councillor blinks his large eyes twice before responding, "The Salarian government refuse to speculate on the Ranitomeya or its fate." The fact the Ranitomeya is missing has been leaked to the Salarian population, and from what Sparatus can understand, there is great concern among the Salarian community.
Just like Valern, Sparatus also knows how to get a rise out of his fellow councillors, "Then let me embark on a thinking exercise. What if it has been attacked or captured?"
Valern gives a Salarian smirk before powering up his omni-tool. "I said the Salarian Government. I, on the other hand, can speculate all I want. We know that the ship got into trouble, but that is all we know."
"Now how would you know that?"
"Salarian ships are fitted with a basic QEC device. The device can't send data, we lack that capability, but it does send through enough random information that if it stops transmitting, we know something has happened. Shortly after the Humans requested the Fleet Commander to leave their system, the Ranitomeya stopped transmitting this random information. Now, the captain of the ship could have turned off the transmission manually, so the ship may very well be intact, but unequivocally something has happened to the ship." Sparatus wonders if the Salarian only revealed this information as the Turians are close to getting something similar themselves - no doubt the sneaky Salarians know this.
"How soon after the fleet in the Human system left did the Ranitomeya go silent?"
"A third of a day."
"Then it is my bet," Sparatus starts to say aloud, "The Humans have known it has been there the entire time. Now, that must be most concerning for you and your military doctrine." Salarian military doctrine is to win a war before the war starts, and they often enable this through the use of stealth ships; if the Humans can find their stealth ships with ease, then their doctrine is under threat.
"The thought has passed my mind," Valern eventually admits after a moment of silence. "But speculation will get us nowhere. What will be of use is discussing the Batarians."
"Ah, yes. The four eyes." Sparatus speaks as if he is referring to people who are a constant source of irritation - which they are. "My military advisors have reported little progress in the talks." In the last week, talks have started between the Council and the Batarian government; the Turians want permission to patrol the Human border, but the Batarians understandably are not keen to allow Turian fleets access to their space. Turian fleets famously hunt pirates ruthlessly and considering a vast majority of traffic in Batarian space could be regarded as pirates, a Turian fleet in Batarian space would cause all sorts of headaches.
Valern responds without delay, "As have my own. We have many arms we can twist, it is just the matter of twisting the right arm to have the desired outcome. Have you had any thought on the Asari input?"
Sparatus flares his mandibles downwards, a sign to show that, yes, he has thought about it. "Etiam." He initially replies, talking in his native tongue. "They are split. Half want future space bridges set up, allowing free access to Human space; others want to respect Batarian boundaries. What will be decided in the Asari high council meetings is anyone's guess at the moment. It would be most useful for Tevos to return to make some executive decisions for them." While the Asari have stepped up a temporary replacement, that replacement is a representative with severely limited power - they are merely to ensure that Asari thoughts are heard and considered. The fact that the Asari representative is not in this meeting alone tells of how little power or influence they have.
"If we leave it to the High Council will be waiting a while before any of us know the probable outcome," Valern remarks, knowing full well that Asari politics is a slow-moving machine. "We need for her return, and we can engage the Batarian diplomatic team as one combined entity. At the moment, without her team's full support, it feels like we are arguing with just the right side of our cortex." No one will argue against the Asari having the best diplomats; they can spend hundreds of years learning the rules and blindly pull out regulations most don't even know exist. Asari often go for the strategy of blinding with their knowledge of policy, and unfortunately for the none Asari, this can tangle teams up for weeks if not months to try and counter.
"We also need to ensure that the Batarians agree to our patrols." Sparatus adds, "The Batarian economy is taking some drastic hits. If they think they can get some cheap wins from raiding Human assets or space, then they will." The concern here is not for the Humans themselves, but rather for the trade and relations with the Human government. "But what if we fail to secure the patrol routes?"
"Not good I am afraid," Valern notes, "If our analysis on our newcomers is correct, Humans prefer stealth warfare, much like ourselves. We have seen few actual military assets, but Stealth Vessels keep making an appearance. Batarians, on the other hand, like yourselves, enjoy being seen; our own analysis on the Batarians tell us time and time again, they do not mix well with stealth tactics. Often because they use attrition strategies, they resort to tactics which say, if the enemy can't be seen, then they aren't there." It is for this reason Batarians often raid Salarian worlds, only to receive heavy casualties from installations that are hidden from sight.
"So, what do we do?" Sparatus sighs.
General Septimus Oraka pushes his glass forward and towards the Asari behind the bar before turning 90 degrees in his chair to watch the holographic news device that is playing away in the top corner of the bar. At the moment, the news anchor is once more going into details about the Humans, which seems to be a none stop occurrence these days, and Septimus is tired of it all. "Do you know how many Turians died yesterday?" He asks the unamused looking Asari behind the counter. "In the line of service?"
The Asari does not react much as she pours a new drink into his glass; she is well used to the disgraced Generals rants. "Half a small battalion."
"114," Septimus says, almost spitting the number out, "114 of my people died hunting down pyjaks, and all these news anchors care about are these multi-coloured soft skins." 'Soft skins' is a common insult for non-Turians.
The bartender knows Septimus well, the disgraced General frequents her bar quite a lot, and he tips well, so she often goes out of her way to make him feel a little more welcome, even if that means reading into Turian news and ignoring his phyletic jabs. "Let me guess. Raid of Lupanar? Sounded like a nasty skirmish."
Septimus quickly responds to the Asari. "The raid of Lupanar! 1 Frigate destroyed, numerous ground side installations raided, and families slaughtered. I'm telling you, we should send a fleet and make 'em remember it. Glass in return I say."
"Oh yeah?" The Asari responds as she goes back to cleaning glasses. "So we shouldn't keep the fleets ready for these soft skins?" The Asari has learned to be a good devil's advocate with her many years.
"Bah," The old Turian responds with a waft of his clawed hand, "For what? How much do you honestly think the Council is telling you is true? That containment fleet will hold the line." The Turian takes to sipping his drink before going off on another rant, "I know how they think, I know."
It humours the Asari bartender that this is not the first time she has had this conversation with the man, in fact, she has had it numerous times, just the drunken General gets himself into such a state he forgets. After a while the General has another outburst. "Look at that! More news on the Humans. Protests at the fleet they sent. Pathetic."
"That fleet is costing us a great deal." The Asari replies, once more being a devil's advocate, "Getting us into debt with the Batarian government. Not a place we want to be."
"And what do you or these protestors know of containment?" Asks the General. "If you would rather be in debt to the Batarians than the Rachni you need to let us do our job."
"Not as simple as that." The Asari tuts. "And more than most. You forget my species are long-lived in your drunken stupor."
"Bah," The General exasperates as he pushes his glass once more towards the Asari, "Have you seen..."
"How your government is using the Humans to push through regulations?" Asks the bar keep taking a not so random stab into the dark, "Yes. I know your government quietly renewed the License act." The licensing act requires Turians to be given a license to have a child in Turian space, and the licensing authorities often forget about those in opposition parties. "And I know the Salarians are angry that their own government has forced through an act allowing only certain STEM fields to be funded by their education authority." In truth, the Humans have been a good distraction for many, allowing some shady business and deals to go on as eyes and ears are pointed elsewhere, but the Humans have also caused many other problems.
For the Turians, it is proving costly, people of significance are forecasting an increase in the military budget, which is causing certain stocks and shares to collapse, and others to panic buy in certain sectors. This then causes shockwave effects in the other species as they attempt to counter this increase in spending or limit the damage caused from the panic buying of stocks. Then the fact the Humans have been discovered in Batarian space has caused other unintended effects. People can see the strain between the Batarian and Citadel governments, causing them to judge who will come out on top and as a result, people are abandoning Batarian businesses, which is causing certain sectors to collapse as the market comes unstable and unpredictable. Certain resources the Batarians mine have gone through the roof in cost as a result, and the cheap labour Batarian space provides is now too unstable, causing businesses to pull out for more stable endeavours elsewhere. This then hits supply and demand of certain products, which once more pushes prices through the roof.
The more the galaxy learns of the Humans, it occurs to the Asari bar tender, the more it costs the galaxy.
Shepard approaches her phone that is resting on her bed and accepts the incoming call, putting it onto loudspeaker. "Commander Shepard Speaking," She says before she goes back to drying her hair, having just gotten out of a shower. Unsurprisingly, it turns out the Asari also like a good high-pressure shower, although Shepard would have preferred it to be a little hotter than it was.
"Commander Shepard," A gruff voice speaks in return, "Just so that you are aware, there are a few of us around the table. You have myself, Captain Melchett of the Praetorian, Doctor Michel, chief MO of the Praetorian, and Anita Goyle, head of the diplomatic team."
"So this ain't a friendly chat." Shepard assumes out loud, "Okay, out with it; what has gone wrong?" One would not usually be so candid with a captain of a ship, but most are not augments who have been through some of Humanities worst conflicts.
Anita Goyle responds to Shepard, "You still being on that alien ship. Issues outside of our control have arisen, which makes your current location troublesome."
Shepard rolls her eyes, "Ambassador, just give it to me straight. I am going to have assume because the MO is in attendance this is medically related."
"Correct." This time its a third unknown voice so Shepard assumes it is the MO, or the Medical Officer speaking. "Most of the Praetorian has been exposed to some type of radiation, with many receiving a lethal dose."
"Alright," Shepard replies, knowing that there are many treatments for radiation exposure, "How long do I have before its terminal?" Shepard knows that there are many treatments for radiation sickness, providing the treatment is applied in time, so she is not too worried.
"We don't know," The MO responds, "With you being a Mark 2 Augment, not much is known or willing to be released. If your AI would provide, then I could make an estimated guess." Most forget Augments are paired with an AI.
Shepard raises a brow before responding, "Should have it now." As the MO looks over the AI's data, the AI does its own quick analysis and realises that Shepard has a great amount of cell damage. It could be queried as to why the AI has not picked it up yet, but the AI is not a medical bot, it is a combat aid, it does not, nor was it commissioned to run a highly specific and detailed health report every two minutes. If Shepard entered a known radiation hotspot then yes, a report would be compiled, but otherwise, the AI would not waste its time running such a report.
As the MO reads over the data sent, Anita Goyle begins to interrogate Shepard over everything she has seen and witnessed on the Ascension, from the smallest of details to her thoughts on the design of the overall ship. As Anita questions her, Shepard with a now mostly damp set of locks looks at a mirror provided in her room and decides to change her hair colour from green to blue. It will take the nano-particles in her hair a few moments to change their shade but nothing too long. With her hair changing colour, Shepard looks at the evening attire that the Asari have provided her, and for Shepard, it is classy by her standards. To get her sizes, the Asari stood her in front of an orange holographic Asari and the VI instantly stated her sizes before a machine whirred to life and quickly printed her a black dress. The shoes for the evening were thankfully flat-soled, and fortunately, they look rather comfortable.
After a while, Anita finishes her interrogation and Shepard is told by the MO that she has 18 hours and no longer before she must return to the Praetorian for medical treatment.
An hour later, Shepard finds herself sat in a regal looking room, the centrepiece of the room is a large wooden table, the wood is coarse, and littered with holes, which makes it feel out of place in the otherwise high calibre room. On top of the table, there are numerous silver looking vessels that contain Asari wines or water, and every so far around the table a set of fancy looking plates, glasses and eating utensils have been placed. Around the walls of the room, there are multiple paintings, most of them appear to be oil-based and of considerable age, and each shows what could be the same Asari with only small differences between them. Out of curiosity, Shepard asked about the table and paintings; she is told that the table is from a defeated pirate that had gained infamy raiding Asari worlds, and the paintings are of various Asari officers who have some significance to the Destiny Ascension. Strangely Shepard is unsure if this comforts her because Human militaries do something similar with their defeated foe's and famous corp personnel.
At the table sits some of the most senior officers from the Asari's ship, a few from the diplomatic team, and Shepard herself. At the centre of the table sits the most senior officer, that being the ship's captain, then moving outwards are the other officers, with the highest of ranks being closest to the middle. The only exceptions to this is Shepard, who is sat opposite the captain of the ship, and besides Shepard are a few others from the day's activities. While the act of sitting opposite the captain may seem small, if this were a Human mess, it would be seen as a show of respect to be sat opposite the captain. It does not take long from taking a seat at the table for the conversation to move to Shepard. At first, it is small talk, asking about the room she was provided, why her hair is now a completely different colour - many of the Asari were overly curious about this, or how the current room compares to a mess among Human messes.
Eventually, the conversation moves onto more significant subject matters. "Did you take part in the raid on the Salarian vessel? Or do you know anything about it?"
Shepard takes a second to translate what was said before giving her response, "No. My team not sent in." Realising that she has been asked a few military questions over the day now that have forced her to give no answer or play dumb, Shepard tries to ask her own, "Why did they commit voyna... - war?" This question makes the table turn to utter silence with everyone knowing their response will have to be very carefully constructed, considering the accusation. After a second or two of silence the Human goes on, "Human space, we don't want your stealth vessel."
"And I'm sure the Salarian's have learned their lesson," Irissa is quick in her response, "But I have watched the interviews we have had with the returned Salarians. They all praised your people's efficiency onboard."
Shepard squints her eyes a little as she recognises the attempts to manoeuvre the conversation onto another topic. Not wanting to press with her early topic, she instead jumps onto the new subject, "They messy, but effective." Shepard knows the commanding officer of the team that was sent in, after all the military world is a small one.
After some back and forth, with the Asari asking why the Human considers the other team messy, the conversation changes again, "So, what is your opinion on AI?" A younger Asari asks Shepard, "Yes or no?"
Once translated to Prothean, Shepard squints her eyes a little and takes a moment before slowly responding, "AI could be useful. You have?"
"No." Tevos replies for the younger Asari, "We have strong citadel laws against the production of AI." Tevos was invited to the evening meal considering her status.
"Bad experience?" Shepard asks "Or fearful of what if."
Tevos allows a small unfortunate blink, "It is a sad story. A species created them, and now the AI has almost driven the species to extinction."
"Ah," Shepard responds as if seeing something that she recognises, "Bad code."
"You don't have them, do you?"
Shepard once more takes a moment to respond, which tells Tevos that she is weighing her answer carefully, which probably means that they do. "Would it matter?" Tevos makes a mental note to have the ambassadors and diplomats to quiz their human counterparts on this.
"It would certainly complicate things." Tevos quickly supplies. "It would be better for all if you didn't."
The Human looks a little confused, "It answers simple questions." Shepard quickly proceeds to get her mobile out that she has been using to scan her food, and power it up, before asking in Prothean, "Glados, what is weather on mud, Haskiv?" The device gives a simple answer back, telling Shepard the temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction and chances of snow. "It simple."
"Can this thing think for itself?" Another Asari asks.
Shepard shakes her head, "Not as far as I'm aware."
This causes a small chuckle from Tevos as she realises what has happened, "We call this a Virtual Intelligence," Tevos supplies, "It can only answer programmed questions. These are allowed and actively encouraged."
"Yes, yes." Shepard replies with a nod of her head, "This slow." As if to emphasise Shepard taps her phone off the table in a roughly handled manner.
When it is explained to the rest of the room that Shepard was getting confused with a Virtual Intelligence, it causes a small amount of relieving humour. "I think you had us all worried there for a second," Tevos tells her.
It is another ten or so minutes before another question is asked of the Human which causes some intrigue and the dining table to quieten down. The Human's evening dress has revealed a few nasty scars that run up her arms. In the dim light of the room, a few of these scars have a faint red glow to them, and if you catch the Humans eyes in the right light, there is also a faint red glow from her eyes. Shepard knows that they have probably scanned her by now, and will know of some of her secrets, so she comes out with some of the truth, "Cybernetic enhancements."
This causes a whole other type of questioning, what do the cybernetic enhancements allow? The simple answer which is easy to believe is that they allow for additional strength and durability on the battlefield, and anyone with a set of eyes would most likely be able to figure that out from a simple scan of her body. When asked how much stronger, it is figured out that the Human could probably lift a Krogan, but unless they go to the gym, the claimed feat of strength is not tested. On a tit for tat question, Shepard finds out that Asari also have cybernetic enhancements, but while hers are for strength, the Asari cybernetics are for their biotics. For Tevos, it raises yet another issue that must be addressed in the future, because Citadel law prohibits certain types of enhancements through cybernetic augmentation.
Near the end of the meal, Shepard is asked what she wants from the whole first contact situation, which Shepard jokes that as long as there is no invasions, she will be happy. While this may seem rather innocent, it is slightly more alarming for Tevos, and the fact the Human has joked about it, can tell her a lot more than the Human may realise. In addition, it could be interpreted in a few different ways, does the Human not want the Citadel to invade, or does she not want the Humans to invade? It's most likely the former, but the latter is not to be taken off the table. If it is the former, then it tells her that in actuality, the fear of a citadel invasion may be very real for not only the marine, but many other Humans. It may mean that at the moment, future trade and relations is not at the top of Human minds, but rather survival, which may mean Humans could be unpredictable if they feel threatened. If Tevos wanted to dig into, however, she knows that she could translate it to mean many different things, but it is still something worth letting the first contact teams know about and let them come to their own conclusions.
Eventually at the end of the night, the Human retires mostly sobre, and leaving a good impression to the rest of the Asari officers. This soldier does not seem to be some sort of war-crazed Krogan, or a Batarian that lacks respect, but more like a potential future ally in the making.