Author's Note: Not a lot to say today. Read, Review, Favourite and Enjoy!

Chapter 72: Rift Alpha

12M 30D 15H Until the Colossus Fires

The Contingency was in the process of tearing itself apart. Their civil war raging as they fought over the last of the sterilisation hubs, the planet itself had yet to suffer damage beyond what the Wizards had done to it. For now this opened up opportunities for the Council, as the two Astral Rifts that had been blocked by the Contingency had been made available to study by them. Well one of them. As it turns out one of the rifts had been the subject of study by the Salarian's for some time, though she would hesitate to call what they got from those studies as 'fruit.'

"This is what was inside of the rift?" Tevos questioned looking at the giant jelly-like thing in a tube the Salarian had brought her.

Not only had the Salarian's gone behind hers and the Union's back to study the rift at great personal risk to themselves, but all that they had to show for it was this glob of goo and dozens of crippled Salarian researchers. To be more accurate the cylinder had been containing a glob of goo, and inside of the goo was some kind of bio-mechanical construct that she couldn't identify.

"The inside of Rift Gamma is some sort of fluid space." Tevos didn't actually hear him say Gamma, instead simply hearing the third letter in her own native tongue's alphabet, but universal translaters convert the language into the listeners native tongue. "Closer to water than void. This was one of the things we found." The Salarian was reliant on the use of a exosuit right now for reasons that she still had yet to explain to Tevos.

"But what is it?" Tevos asked as she looked at the thing in question.

"It's an organelle. Or so we believe." The Salarian was holding up a data pad showing a diagram of a cell, different parts labelled out for Tevos's convenience. "Mitochondria specifically."

"It's a cell?" Tevos was astonished and appalled. "This... Fluid space you people found is a cell!?"

"Correct. It's psycho-reactive as well, as we have become painfully aware of." The Salarian pressed a button on the side of her helmet which caused it to open up and unfold. The Salarian's skin had become see-through, the bones in her head were gone and the muscle tissue had become goo leaving behind an brain, two eyes and the nervous tissue laced with Eezo nerves that was suspended inside of the fluid. Without the support of the vaguely Salarian like shell the head started to sag in a way that looked painful before a psychic barrier abruptly put the head back to it's correct shape before the helmet snapped shut around it. "We're in the midst of trying to regrow our bones and rebuild our muscle tissue."

Tevos made a deeply aggravated noise at this disaster show she was seeing. At best this... Plasmoid cylinder might make an effective weapon against psionic beings such as the Gestalt, a Thresher maw is significantly less threatening after being reduced to a immobile pile of goo after all.

"What do we know about the other two?" Tevos asked as she let out a sigh. "We've identified a planet inside of Rift Alpha, Rift Beta has yet to be explored." Small Miracles. "We're currently in discussion with the Union concerning Rifts Delta and Epsilon."

"Delta and Epsilon?" Tevos asked looking horrified. "There's two more rifts now?"

"No. Rather since we already know the method of opening a rift then we're discussing opening more far away from the three that are already open." The Salarian clarified and Tevos just let out a sigh. "The main point of concern is if both of them should be in Union territory or should they be divided between Council and Union territory." Oh joy. Another political mess with the Union they need to deal with.

"What about the ones you already have?"

"We're sharing our results from Gamma with them, the Salarian's are already part of the research team for Alpha. Beta is still being negotiated."

"Alpha." As in the first one. "That's the one that time was all wonky in right?"

12M 30D 14H Until the Colossus Fires

The Astral Thread technology was getting put through its paces today. By suspending the Astral Weave in a personal shield unit Shepard was able to trap a chunk of 'real space' around her allowing her to reenter the Astral Rift without being put through the grinder again. The Threads had also been used to reinforce the cable allowing it to stretch the vast distance to the planet itself. The planet was every bit as chaotic up close as it had been at a distance, Trees grew from saplings to massive oaks in minutes, rotted away to nothing and then suddenly reversed their rapid ageing and turning from mighty oaks back into tiny seeds. Every sample that Shepard attempted to take rotted and withered away in her grasp. Instead she continued to trudge through the shifting landscape trying to make her way to the centre of the local phenomena.

"Local plant life doesn't appear to be hostile. Aside from its massive oxygen and methane content the Atmosphere is normal. I wouldn't set any fires here but so long as we have the right filters people shouldn't have a problem breathing here." Shepard's job was to be extremely sturdy in the event that she encountered something a normal scientist couldn't handle and collect preliminary samples and observations. She wasn't using her psionics yet: the Salarian research team read like a horror story. "Plant life appears to remain consistent across multiple 'generations' in their cycle of accelerated decay and growth. Oval shaped fruit covered in clear cyan hair like fibre glass is the most prominent feature of the plants aside from their extreme growth and rapid decay." Shepard reached up and plucked one of the fruits in question, while the fruit remained intact the rest of the tree withered and rotted away. "Also, fruit samples don't decay. I know it's standard protocol to round up some more samples but this is the only thing I can find that doesn't rot. I'm returning to the Sphere with the sample, and then I'm swapping. This place isn't dangerous, we need someone qualified to conduct the survey down here."

12M 29D 22H Until the Colossus Fires

Shepard's request was of course denied, for the simple reason that she had only managed to examine one tiny area across the entire planet. They did however accept her reasoning that said planet was in fact safe to land on. Aside the point...

"So the Fruit is a brain?" Was Shepard's take away from the explanation she was given.

"In layman's terms? Yes." Maelon replied as he used his omni-tool to surround the area. Studying samples of the fruit proved that it was not harmless to DNA based life forms, taste testing from several different species concluded that it had a delightful lemon/melon/spicy taste to it. Aside from that it was closer to a fungus than a fruit containing no seeds but spores that would attach itself to other plant based life forms. More to the point, further testing concluded that it also acted as a natural organic room temperature super conductor, though they weren't sure about its capacity as an information storage medium. For now a sample had been given to the research sight's Thorian cluster, so that it could give first hand experience to the substance and determine its worth.

"Another sapient plant." Shepard just let out a sigh.

The sooner that she was finished in this strange new world the faster that she could go home and hopefully destress and let someone else fight the apocalypse for once. The planet was kind of nice ultimately, it was only a shame that she had associated the whole dimension with her trauma after the Collectors had been destroyed. Regardless deforesting this area to make a base was remarkably easier than normal. Normally you'd have to chop down the trees, pull up the stumps, fill in the holes to clear a sight, here? Here Shepard just had to pick fruit and toss it into the Rift Sphere and the trees rotted away by themselves until a sufficiently large site had been prepared. Eventually a forward operating base had been cleared and the scientists could come down to start their survey and build their base. As they were in the process of doing this an odd creature appeared in the area. A long insect-like creature with thousands of legs, like a millipede, jumping from tree to tree its many legs spread wide to help it catch air, and it was coming towards them.

"Spotted something that looks like it's not a plant." Shepard spoke into her coms unit. "I'm sending the nerds back inside until I give it the clear." Shepard grabbed Maelon by the collar of his uniform and shoved him back into the rudimentary base.

They couldn't exactly drop one from orbit like they would usually do with new colonies, the usual colony ship wouldn't fit through the Rift, so instead fabricators had been deployed to build a landing pad typically associated with space elevators. Phase one at this point was just a crude research lab + fabricator, phase two will include a launcher platform to make it faster for them to get off world. For now it was just a convenient base of operations as Shepard went to investigate the creature. As soon as the python sized creature had entered the clearing it began using it's numerous legs to dig a small hole before it sliced off what suspiciously looked looked like a piece of a root vegetable that it had been carrying around and burying it in the ground.

"I've seen enough." Shepard moved to try and grab the creature but before she could it suddenly dived beneath the soil. Naturally she thought it was her, but then all the plants withered away again in their cycle of accelerated ageing, and once the plants started to grow again the insect popped back out, climbing up the newly formed stalk that had appeared before attaching a cutting from another plant, a familiar cyan blue. "I've seen more than enough." Saying that Shepard unceremoniously grabbed the insect before carrying it over to the laboratory.

Crude as it might be the laboratory did have some bare minimum amenities, case in point a sample container that was large enough for the insect.

"It was planting the same kind of plants as what you removed from the clearing?" Maelon asked sounding excited. By the sounds of things there was a mutually symbiotic relationship between the insects and the plants, he already knew that the fruits were edible, were the insects spreading them around so much because they know that? And it buried itself underground as soon as the plants died at an accelerated rate because it felt whatever temporal anomaly assaults this planet coming? The fact that something had been spreading the plants around so much also made sense, given the high concentration of flammable gas in the atmosphere fires that could scorch continents would be common with the tiniest electric storm. That wasn't all either. "We've continued to examine the fruits you collected for us: They contain Astral Threads!"

Oh Shepard liked absolutely nothing about this.

"Strings of distorted time and space composed of reality altering Exotic particles. Those Astral Threads?" Shepard asked just for the sake of confirmation. "What are they even using them for?"

"Excellent question!" Maelon seemed to have zeroed in on the wrong part of the question here. "First we should grow specimens while denying them access to Astral Threads, it's possible that they only contain Astral Threads as a consequence of this dimension being full of Exotic particles." As Shepard shook her head at the mad scientist EDI suddenly piped in.

"Shepard, we have advanced telemetry for the rest of the planet available." EDI brought up a hologram of the planet and zeroed in on another continent, specifically a large round structure of unknown make and origin.

"Is that what I think it is?" Shepard asked narrowing a glare.

"An artificial construct." The AI confirmed.

"We're leaving." Shepard's tone broke no argument. "Pack up the laboratory, begin breaking down the base and release our captive back into the wild."

"Wait what?" Maelon's tone of voice and look on his face was the kid who just arrived at the water park he'd been waiting to go to for a month only to be told that it had closed down. "Why!?"

"First contact protocols, if a primitive Pre-FTL civilisation is found on a planet then any colonists or researchers must vacate the planet immediately and dismantle any trace of their presence." Shepard glared at the Salarian in question. "Your people in the mean time attempted to uplift Pre-FTL civilisation and mold them into instruments of violence to enact your will on your corner of the Galaxy. Twice!" If necessary Shepard was willing to stuff Maelon into a sack and toss him back through the Astral Rift if it meant preventing a third incident from occurring.

"Gentlemen I must interrupt." EDI however steered the conversation back on track. "I've only been able to find a single artificial structure on the entire planet. This isn't the work of the natives, it's another outpost like ours." That changed things significantly, It led to a whole different set of First Contact Protocols. "The next batch of personnel to come to the planet needs to include diplomats. We'll also need transportation to reach the other Continent, we'll probably have to build it on sight if we don't use the sphere." Somehow the day that Shepard got off this planet was looking to be increasingly farther and farther away.

12M 26D 13H Until the Colossus Fires

Progress with the Astral Rift research station had progressed. A 'Reverse Space Elevator' had been built around the Astral Rift through both sides, reinforced with Astral Threads so that it wouldn't destabilise suddenly. The Rift Sphere platform can in theory enter and exit the atmosphere at will, with it's friction-less surface, thread reinforced shield technology, and built in Mass Effect manipulator it could enter and exit both the unreal space and the atmosphere at will. That said the diplomats were waiting to get the go ahead. An elite infiltration team, Shepard plus the first two qualified people she could find, was quickly assembled together to infiltrate the other base and its vicinity and figure out what was going on.

"Don't think the diplomats are going to be needed here." Grunt looked at the state of the facility, the windows were broken, it was half sunk into the swamp and the vegetation had overrun the place.

"Still important to determine who built this facility and why." Mordin countered dual omni-tools at work to try and figure out as many details about this station as possible.

The People Shepard brought with her couldn't be more different if she tried, a scientist to study the site and make sense of the technology and information within and a warrior to destroy anything left that might be a threat. All potential possibilities had been covered.

"The Facility seems to be abandoned, we're moving to infiltrate right now." Shepard used two fingers to signal to Grunt and Mordin to take two different directions. The building looked like it was made out of some kind of Copper or Bronze, the material chosen for its ability to withstand the test of time presumably. Grunt went up the stairs, Shepard used a jump kit to enter through the broken windows while Mordin began to skilfully climb up a support beam that had become overgrown with vines.

"Clear." As Shepard gave the signal Mordin entered through the same broken windows. To Mordin's minor disappointment it was Grunt who found the facilities purpose first, personally the Salarian wanted to blame his past experience with cloning technology.

"They're pods?" Grunt's confusion was only exacerbated by the presence of the tubes throughout the station. Rows and rows of maturation pods similar to what he came out of were inside the facility, most of them had the decaying carcasses of dead fetal creatures being fed on by mice sized creatures. "What were they trying to do here?" Grunt asked as he looked at the container. The mice sized creatures were like crabs with fat little bodies and a maw lined with rows of sharp teeth, they disappear from one place in the tank and reappear in another not unlike certain other teleporting annoyances that the Krogan can think of. "Can't imagine that this place has been abandoned long." Grunt stated as he tapped on the glass of the tank. "Carcasses look fresh. GAH!"

"Astute observation Grunt. Even if the tank fluid has preservative qualities with the smaller creatures feeding off of their flesh-" Mordin was suddenly hip checked to the side. His medical-suite resetting his bones and his internal bleeding healing Mordin looked up to see something moving underneath Grunt's skin. "Here let me!" Mordin pounced on Grunt like a predator, Omni-tool flicking out its blade as he stabbed with the precision of a veteran surgeon and flicked the moving lump out from underneath Grunt's flesh. It was one of the crab-like creatures that were floating around the tank, currently flipped onto its back and unable to move.

"The Shroud I barely even touched the tank!?"

The creature disappeared again, and this time Mordin had a uncomfortable feeling of something crawling underneath his flesh.

"Arm up!" Mordin suddenly raised his arm into the air, and good thing too. A single shot from Shepard's side arm simultaneously put a hole through Mordin's arm, extricated the parasite and killed the creature in question. "Are you alright?" Shepard asked as she walked up to the duo.

"That was rather stimulating." Mordin winced as he talked, his medical implants already treating his injury. "I would rather not do it again."

"No one touches anything unless it tells us what the hell these things are." Shepard wagged her finger at both of her compatriots warningly. "These things are incredibly dangerous, and the only thing keeping me from nuking this whole facility is the slim chance that this place can tell us what the hell we're dealing with on this planet. Do I make myself clear?"

"Also in this highly oxygenated atmosphere, the deployment of such a device would-" Shepard grabbed Mordin by his face and pulled him closer, glare down right murderous.

"Do. I. Make. Myself. Clear?"

"Yes Shepard." At times, Mordin valued the need for both parties to make things clear.

"Find a computer, and lets hope that it's cross compatible." Shepard instructed and at once the three of them scattered. The station bore two more surprises, the first was that one of the fetus's were still alive, and the second was that there was indeed a somewhat familiar computer inside of the station.

"Organic console. Prothean styled." Mordin looked underneath the station. "The fruits from the surface. Looks like they tried to integrate it into the computer system." Which might also explain why the computer is still functional, even despite the Protheans having been extinct for millions of years. Or it's more of the weirdness of this place messing with time again.

"But can we get information off of it?" Shepard asked though she suspected that she wouldn't like the answer.

"We can't. You should be able to, you have the Prothean cipher after all." Mordin confirmed Shepard's worst fears and responded with a sigh.

"Mordin, make sure none of those bugs get into me. Grunt." Shepard eyed the dozen or so pods that they gathered together, the ones with the still living creatures that were being tormented by the crabs. "Keep the safeties off." And so Shepard plunged her hands into the muck, and so soon she wasn't Jane Shepard Dragoon.

Instead Pasharti Avatar of intelligence was sitting inside of the ruins of her laboratory alongside her science team.

"Day 1 of the Survival and Observation Journal. I know not who will read this but if I must talk to myself I'd like to feel productive. The Treacherous Zroni's gambit has paid off, the Reapers in orbit were destroyed but at a cost. This world has no stars and no sun anymore yet life still thrives though I don't know for how much longer." I could feel the exhaustion through the link, the days without sleep. "Parties have been to the surface, scavenging for supplies and trying not to lead the Destroyers to the suspended animation pods. This world should be considered dead." Bleak but accurate she supposed.

"Day Five! The Destroyers have become the Destroyed, though I cannot call this salvation." The footage from the surface played, entire buildings collapsing under the weight of centuries the bodies of the scavengers rotting alive, and then springing back to the time of their youth. "We've examined the people who were able to make it back below the surface." Pasharti stated bluntly. "Plants are growing at an accelerated rate, the increase in the rate time advances has translated into the accelerated biological processes but not into increased reaction time or the ability to process information at an accelerated rate. Trying to scavenge the surface for supplies and materials at this point in time is useless. Time isn't just flowing forward but backwards too, but only time is being affected, neither gravity or space have shown any anomalies. The rubble of our buildings are not magically flowing back into place, but our people are spontaneously ageing and de-ageing, so long as they don't die in the process under the stress that is. Why only time has been affected is not clear to us as of yet. More testing to follow." She didn't mention the electronic data storage devices. Did they just not have any? "The only consolation is that the Destroyers have been eliminated as well. Our people are trying to find a way back to the surface. For now we've dubbed the phenomena affecting the surface as 'Time Tides' since like the tide time is flowing forwards and backwards. For now it's relatively predictable. Our people are timing the flow to get supplies from the surface. If we can reach our leaders and scientists in stasis then we may yet understand this phenomena and reclaim this world." Well that didn't work out so well.

"Day Fifteen. We have been knee deep in research. Those of us who have been caught in the tides and come back to the underground have been thoroughly examined." A seemingly empty jar was produced, one containing seemingly nothing and yet distorted light as it passed through. "It's hard to tell what this material is. We know that it is there, and with great effort we have been able to collect it. But that is the extent of what we can determine without the tools to conduct proper tests. It's neither a solid, liquid or gas, by every other test that we can currently conduct, it is not even there and yet we can see it. Or I've gone mad in the isolation, in which case sweet oblivion I embrace thee." Shepard's has had days like that, though she's pretty sure those are supposed to be Astral Threads she's talking about.

"Day 150. We've managed to suspend the immaterial threads inside of a shield generator's field, we'll be able to build on the surface now. But the technology is very crude. We'll have to move quickly. There aren't any landmarks any more, we can't even rely on the sun and stars to navigate anymore either. We have nothing we can rely on as a landmark but this base. For starters we need to select materials that won't rot away from the effect of the tide." As Shepard was getting to the part about the facility itself being built she was suddenly pulled out of the machinery by Grunt.

"We got a problem." Grunt turned Shepard around to face the issue in question and she dropped her Jaw in shock. "We never should've brought along the Salarians." Shepard face palmed at what she was looking at. Bloody Mad scientists every one of them!

Review Section:

Monster King: Thank you for saying so.

RonaldM40196867: Me: Creates unrepentant sociopathic monster to demonstrate that the Union is not inherently morally perfect. You: Cool Character. Me: Surprised Pikachu face.

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