AN: I just read one of the most hilarious scenes in Harry Potter fanfiction ever, and I think you might enjoy it too: Luna Bloody Lovegood pulling off an Asari Meld – with black eyes, 'Embrace Eternity', and all that. Yeah. I couldn't stop laughing for like five minutes...
For those who want to read it in full: 'Harry Potter and the Quantum Leap' by Seel'vor is basically your standard 'go back in time and fix it'-fic but with a lot of science and pop references mixed in. The story is pretty good in my opinion but sadly the author has gone into hiatus.
I won't spoil it all, but Harry apparently is quite the fan of James Bond, Star Track and Doctor Who. And Hedwig's bitch. The odd Star Wars reference thrown in didn't hurt either. Luna makes her appearance in Chapter 25 by the way. It's deliciously weird!
I'm uploading this without a decent internet connection, so there was no way to properly check my spelling. And I want this arc finished before my trip. By the way, I really hate the English language sometimes. Why do some words have to be so similar?
Anyway, on with the show!
By the time they got to the freighter Liara was bursting with suppressed impatience. Despite Feron's promise she wasn't willing to rely completely on him. She had this irrational urge to track the mercenaries herself; irrational because it would be impossible to do so with her limited resources. It simply couldn't be done. For the umpteenth time she wished she had the Normandy, more specifically Shepard, to back her up. I should have told her and insist she stayed back. She wouldn't have forced the issue, would she? Then again the Council wouldn't have allowed her to enter the Terminus. Not that it would have mattered to Angie...
She then continued to mentally berated herself for sacrificing her concentration for such useless thoughts. Hindsight is 20/20, as Shepard was fond to say. Such strange idioms the Humans have! What was the other one? It's no use to cry over spilled milk? Why would I cry because of wasted beverage? Unless it's a 1986 Serrice Ice Brandy or... Avalé! Focus Liara!
"You mentioned you know where they are headed? Please tell me so I can program the autopilot," she finally asked Feron while starting up the engine.
"The Shadow Broker has only one physical command centre in the vicinity," he told her after blinking a few times, using the small holographic interface of the ships cockpit to display the galactic neighbourhood. He highlighted Omega and another system in the Hourglass nebula, one jump away. "Alingon in the Faryar System. It has a magnetic field so strong that scanning equipment is mostly useless and communication requires sophisticated equipment that only he has access to. Makes it the perfect stronghold out here in the Terminus where loyalties are cheaper than alcohol and Aria rules over pretty much everything. It's the only place I know of that Bato could take Meolin to."
Liara didn't say anything to acknowledge his words and instead finished the last steps of reading the ship for departure. After she requested clearance by traffic control she programmed the autopilot to Alingon. With nothing else to do except waiting for TC to clear them, Liara mulled over Feron's reasoning, idly flicking through the holographic star map.
His logic seemed solid. She briefly considered the possibility that there was another base where the Blue Sun's might be headed to but if Feron was correct and there was no other base for at least three jumps, it would be unwise to do so. Also she found it unlikely the Shadow Broker would risk a third-party becoming involved. One Blue Suns squad was probably already too much.
The Omega relay was a rarity in the Terminus, as it was equally accessible by anyone. Omega TC collected a small – for the Terminus at least – fee and made sure that not to many accidents happened. The rest of the galaxy's gutter was not so civil. Out in the Terminus the relays were controlled by local gangs, which collected tribute from everyone that wanted to pass. They usually let them wait for the privilege to travel as well, especially if they were members of the competition. Searchings were also common. The Blue Suns themselves were a major player with control of at least a forth of the relays. Luckily they held only one of the five that were in range of the relay to Omega.
"Batarian freighter,this is Traffic Control. You are clear for take off. And remember next week's sale at Dagro's. Dagro's Weapons – only the best from all the corners of the Galaxy!" Rolling her eyes at the annoying advertisement, Liara guided the ship, not too gently, out of the docking bay. As soon as she had put the minimum safety distance between them and the station she speed up to FTL, ignoring the automated warnings from TC. She idly noted that almost every ship around her jumped as soon as they toed the invisible line that made the difference between a stern, but ineffectual rebuke and getting shot out of the sky. No one fucks with Aria, and by extension her space station. Everyone and everything else was fair game.
Despite the agonizingly slow drive of the old and beaten freighter they arrived at the Relay, halfway across the system, after only two hours. As soon as they dropped out of FTL and their sensors delivered reliable data Liara froze. After a minute Feron finally steeled his resolve to see why they hadn't moved yet. What he saw made him worry. There was a look of fear on Liara's face he couldn't understand. Unsure what to do he started fidgeting.
The Omega Relay was a Star Type Relay. Basically there were two types of Relays: Those that could connect to only one other Relay, called Point Type, and those that could connect to more – typically three to five – Relays, called Star Type. Both had their advantages and disadvantages.
Star Type Relays were obviously excellent for hubs - like the Citadel, the Homeworlds, and large space stations – whereas Point Types were ideal for long distance travel. The reason was congestion.
Point Type Relays allowed a near constant flow of traffic. Usually there was at least one other Relay in reasonable FTL distance. They provided an easy and fast way to cross vast distances and thanks to fixed approach vectors, ships only had to drop out of FTL for a short moment. On heavily travelled routes they still slowed traffic down, but wait-times were seldom longer than a couple of minutes or an hour at the most.
Star Types, while at any time able to receive incoming traffic from all its partners, always pointed towards only one other Relay, making the others inaccessible until the Relay rotated to another Relay. For more organized hubs that was not a problem. There was a simple schedule that maximized traffic flow, keeping the wait times reasonable.
Omega wasn't reasonable. In the Terminus the stronger decided; the bigger the guns – or economical cloud – the higher one was in the pecking order.
What unravelled before them was a venerable madhouse; a chaotic, shifting mass of ships where individual parts were constantly playing games of chicken. Every other minute the Relay would rotate to align towards another one of its three partner Relays, followed by ten to twenty exits. Then it rotated again.
About the only places where ships weren't dangerously close to crashing into one another was along the depart and arrival vectors, those being safely buoyed off.
"Doctor T'Soni, we have to move," Feron suggested tentatively, still unsure how to best approach the terrified Asari that had displayed such frightening resolve and skill in battle. "Maybe I could take over the helm? I've some experience navigating this mess."
He really couldn't blame the Asari for being caught off guard. He had been the same when he had seen the spectacle for the first time. Still, her reaction surprised him.
Feron's voice finally snapped Liara out of her shock. Nodding absent-mindedly, she transferred control to Feron's console, stood from her chair and walked out on shaky legs. The orderly mind of the Archaeologist still reeled at the chaos before her.
There was a reason why Liara hated informal settings and large crowds: the chaos inherent to such gatherings frightened her to the core. There was nothing that Liara T'Soni feared more than chaos.
It was a deep-rooted Phobia that made her a recluse but kept her functioning for the most time. She just hated and feared chaos like other people did spiders or heights. And unlike some of them she could face certain amounts of her fear. Benezia had been able to teach her that at least.
This held true for over a century - until she met the first Human Spectre and her future lover, Angie Shepard.
Curiously enough they were very similar. The Human loved order as well and also had a deep-rooted fear of chaos, but unlike Liara, who at best managed to ignore her fear, Shepard had confronted hers and conquered it in the end. She had had to, on Elysium.
Battle was always chaotic and like Liara the marine had learned to ignore it well enough to function. But the Skyllian Blitz was something else. And there, in the mud outside a Batarian encampment, readying herself to defend the lives of the innocent, she had her moment of clarity, her epiphany.
Chaos made things exciting.
It was a mad thought to have while preparing to slit a Batarian's throat in his sleep. Later Shepard would rationalize her insight. Life was chaotic, yet it brought advancement and ultimately had the chance to bring order. It was to be used, not feared.
Back in the meagre crew quarters Liara slumped against the wall, hugging her knees. Her eyes flashed to black as she remembered her first meld with Shepard.
Why am I doing this? I haven't melded with anyone since mother! And why is that Human female giving me such a dark stare? What have I done to antagonize her? Was it... Focus Liara! You have to help the Commander, show her that you are more than a frightened scientist. But why should it matter... Eyes straight ahead, you are close enough now! Where do I touch her? Goddess what if I... Just take her hand Liara! You are about to enter her mind! It won't matter where you touch her! What do I say now?! I should make her more comfortable, but what do I say?! Relax Liara, breathe. What did mother always say? Ah yes... 'Relax Commander. Concentrate on your breathing and close your eyes. Good. Now try to focus on the visions. Embrace Eternity!'
Goddess she is so strong! I wish I... Ah, there are the visions. She has amazing control over her mind... AHHH! It's to intense! Make it stop! NO! Make it stop!
Even after two years Liara's memory was still patchy about what exactly she had seen the first time the visions invaded her mind. Later they would become clearer and had she chosen to revisit the meld after the Cipher and the second Beacon on Virmire the chaos would have been much more palpable. But the visions were not what she was after.
They had been pure, unabated chaos. Nothing had terrified her more before or since. But after the initial onslaught Liara had felt another presence, a kindred spirit that was there with her, bracing the storm and trying to do the impossible – bringing order to the vision's chaos. It was futile but still the other refused to give up. It was the Commander of course, fighting for her mind, holding herself together through sheer force of will, shouting her defiance, indomitable.
Liara had fallen in love amidst the chaos. That was what she wanted to remember.
Smiling now, her eyes turning back to their normal bright blue-in-white, Liara relaxed, her breathing evening out. Her eyes were still unfocused as she remembered the small dance between herself and the Human that followed. She had been startled to realize that during that first meld something of her emotions leaked through. She hadn't intended for the meld to be this deep and two ways. The possibility that the Commander had seen something of hers had frightened her; not because she had anything to hide, but because she feared the Human would find her dull.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Every day the Commander would spend some hours in the small lab behind the med-bay, engaging Liara in talks about herself, her views and hopes. The woman seemed insatiable.
The melds after Feros and Virmire only intensified their connection, as timidly Liara opened the link to actively let something of hers slip through and both profited from it. Angie had the strength and determination to fight the chaos, to use it, Liara provided the stability and analytic mindset to bring order.
Together they braved the ultimate chaos – the Joining. Two persons, completely intertwined, all thoughts, memories, feelings, and emotions shared between them, making them one chaotic whole.
With anyone else Liara would not have made it. But with Angie Shepard what should have been a terrifying experience was simply glorious!
Liara still struggled how she could best describe that first time. Everything she had read – and she had read a lot – suggested that what had happened was not normal at all. Chaos was to be expected and enjoyed which was why she had always avoided relationships and feared melds with anyone but her mother. Even with her new knowledge about the secret arts which allowed a skilled Asari to hold something back and bring a semblance of order into a very small part of the chaos she knew that what they had experienced was nothing like that.
There had been no chaos. None at all. There never was in the Joinings with Angie.
Or rather, it was there but together they could see the hidden order, the design behind the chaos. There was order, yet there was also chaos; everywhere at once. Instead of terrifying her, the Joining with Angie Shepard gave Liara joy and satisfaction she hadn't known before, and the best part was, that she knew the Human felt exactly the same.
Having come to a decision, Liara stood and activated the terminal. The freighter had no means to enable a real-time call to the Normandy, even if the public comm-buoy they were linked to could provide her with the necessary bandwidth – to a reasonable price at least. A text message would have to do then. It might take an hour to reach Shepard but then, the Normandy could bypass every waiting line by virtue of her CO's Spectre status – or her big guns.
Angie Shepard was restless ever since returning to Ilos. Without Liara there she itched to be back on the hunt but she knew there was nothing she could do. Her only consolation was that in a few more days she could finally leave, taking half of the science team with her.
It was a precarious situation. The expedition was not as secret as she would have liked and therefore it would seem strange if the scientists involved would just vanish. Hard to explain that without outright telling everyone that they worked for her on a secret base. Which really defeated the purpose of a secret base.
Garrus and Tali had worked it out in the end. The Turian's expertise in hunting down people who were hard to find and Tali's hacking skills allowed them to create a convincing lie that while it was next to impossible to get a hold on the scientists, they were out there somewhere. But they still had to make an appearance once in a while.
So instead of shipping them directly to their lab-planet she would tour around with them, closely monitoring with whom they interacted. After dropping them off one by one the next batch would follow, leaving only a small team behind on Ilos to extract more data.
The scientists weren't exactly happy about this arrangement, but acknowledged the need of secrecy. Liara had handpicked every single one of them, not only looking for excellence but for this special mix of attributes that would make them loyal to their cause. Every one of them was convinced that the Reapers were out there and had the will to stop them – and that Shepard and her merry band were the ones to do it.
Still, they regularly bitched about the restrictions that were placed on them, most notoriously about communication with their family, friends, and colleagues. Which was why Angie was hard pressed to suppress a groan when she saw Doctor Schreck approach her. She really liked the short man in his early forties, but half the time he was bringing one complaint or another to her.
"Hi Captain!" as always the excitable Doctor's comically big eyes – he had bad eyesight that for some reason couldn't be cured - were studiously focused on her, but she knew that underneath he was bubbling with energy. The man had to make a concentrated effort to not burst into one of his enthusiastic talks. Angie actually wished he would; they always reminded her of Liara when she talked about the Protheans. "I just wanted to give you a quick update before we turn in for the night. I feel tomorrow will be quite packed."
Doctor Schreck was a physicist by trade but well versed in many other sciences, especially computer science. His management skills combined with his friendly nature, completely at odds with his name, made him an obvious choice for project leader and his exuberant interest in anything new only sealed the deal.
"I hope it's good news? Have you found the coordinates of this second facility somewhere else?" she said as she shook his hand in greeting.
"Sadly not, but we have made some progress with the indoctrination scanners," he told her. "We finally managed to pinpoint them and figure out how they work, at least in principle."
"I sense a but," Shepard ventured carefully.
"But," he gave her an appreciative smile. "You see, the scanners themselves are only one part that allowed the Protheans to sense indoctrination. The other crucial part is their memory-based technology. Sadly we can't just replicate that. The necessary devices need constant power to keep them from degrading. When the power was cut a year ago, much was lost that is needed to correctly identify an indoctrinated person. In time we may be able to reconstruct the missing elements but we have to master the technology first and find indoctrinated specimens to gather the necessary data."
"Dammit!" Angie pinched the bridge of her nose. "Make the whole project a high priority. We need those scanners fast if we ever want to stand a chance against the Reapers. Anything else?"
"Not much, I will forward a detailed report to you and Doctor T'Soni as soon as we are on Haldeman. Only one other thing: Doctor Vash has finished his preliminary scans on the Conduit – by the way are you certain it won't be possible to bring it with us?" he asked, sidetracked by the possibility, his enthusiasm showing trough, only to be crushed by the shake of her head."A shame. Anyhow, since the Conduit is only a prototype there is no shielding like the proper Relays have. Doctor Vash was able to ascertain that there is a substantial Element Zero core at the centre. But the readings are slightly off. It appears that the Eezo has been altered in some way. We will know more when we disassemble the Conduit, but we don't want to do that just yet."
"Interesting," Shepard mused. "I always thought Element Zero can't be modified. From what I understand it's Hell to work with. Have you seen any equipment that could be responsible for altering Element Zero?"
"No, but who knows? Maybe that's the purpose of Facility Two."
"Yes, maybe," she agreed. "Ugn... That only makes it more important to get the location fast. If there is another type of Eezo, we need access to it, and soon."
They stood together for another minutes, talking about logistics as Kaidan cut into their discussion.
"Normandy to Captain Shepard. A call by the Alliance brass just came in. They demand your presence," the normally amiable Lieutenant managed to convey the same disgust she felt at the order. Has to be Mikhailovich. Hackett knows better.
Acknowledging Kaidan's words and excusing herself from Doctor Schreck she made for the shuttle, her mood suddenly sour.
Joker was bored and that he had the graveyard-shift had nothing to do with that. After two weeks doing almost nothing on Ilos, the monotony only disrupted by the brief chase after the mysterious shuttle, and another half week hiding somewhere near Batarian space anyone would. And he couldn't even share in some good old-fashioned banter-battle with Garrus, what with the radio silence and all that. He idly wondered if the ground team would be bored as well, but he doubted it. Tali might, but the rest was trained to be patient. Kaidan and Shepard had to in order to master their biotics and Garrus his marksman skills. They would be frustrated though, because once again the Alliance had dumped them into a situation that hardly called for such a high-profile team. Why couldn't they get the interesting missions like Mefen? But no, some hotshot N6 had to make a mess out of that one...
He idly flicked through his movie collection, that contrary to popular belief did not consist of porn. Not entirely anyway. He briefly considered to watch the second Blasto but decided against it. Despite being a decent vid it somewhat lacked in the logic department and right now he wanted something to stimulate his underused mental facilities. Boring. To many Elcor. Boring. Ugh – why do I even have this one? Maybe this? Nah.
He was halfway through the list as the ship-VI announced a new priority message over QEC. Which was odd, since they were mostly used for voice communication. Quickly skimming over the message he mentally cursed his luck. With Kaidan on the ground, Pressly still on shore leave, and Adams in the pod, he had the deck.
The situation was really simple. The message was an urgent request for backup but only Shepard could grant it. And since it was neither the Alliance nor the Council he really shouldn't break radio-silence. Except the outsider happened to be her girlfriend. From the sound of the message it was really important for Shepard to hear this, but if he broke with protocol the brass would hear it. On the other side the Admirals were back on Acturus whereas Shepard was right here to kick his fragile arse. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Checking the clock against the mission plan he came to a decision. In three hours time the show would go down and radio-silence would be pointless. He only hoped it would not be too late.
Shepard was perched on a small rise shrouded by the dark, moonless night. Sniper rifle drawn, one of the mission targets behind her, she surveyed the camp before her. She could just make out the form of her Turian squadmate in the distance in a similar position. In the small valley between them was one of the freighters that those bloody pirates had fitted with a small assortment of weapons – and some animal cages. Tali and Kaidan were down their rigging it to explode, once in a while stepping over one of the dead sentries. It was the last ship and with the bombing beacons set all that was left was taking out a couple of the leaders to even further promote chaos. Ah the beauty of it! One brief flash of it and than nothing. The colonists of Tiptree will be safe and none will be the wiser who wiped out those imbeciles.
Glancing down again Angie saw Kaidan waving at her, signalling that they were all set. Giving him a muted acknowledging sign she began to make her way towards the main camp. Out of the corner of the eye she saw Garrus doing the same, just as the rest of her team was making their way towards some rocks in the distance were they had hidden the Mako.
Already having scouted out her target she flicked on the heat view of her sniper rifle. Bloody amateurs. She thought. Not only were they using tents instead of prefabs, they didn't even use therma-shielded ones. It was easy to make out the sleeping form of the leader of this sorry bunch. She was raising her hand as soon as the cross-hair had settled on her target. Some distance away Garrus did the same. She lowered her arm and started the count, just as she knew he did. Ten. Nine. Eight.
"Normandy to Shepard. Please respond," came Jokers voice over her earpiece.
Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Exhale.
Two shots, almost impossible to separate, rang in the night. They weren't particularly loud, not like in the old days were weapons still used chemical propellants. Still, the rapid displacement of air and the resulting pressure gradient along the flight path of the grain sized projectile ensured that the whole camp heard. Not that it mattered. Ten ships being blown up make enough noise to raise the dead.
Shepard was already running towards the Mako by then, soon joined by Garrus. Only then did she deign to respond. "Lieutenant Moreau, what about radio-silence did you not understand?" there was an audible gulp at the other end of the line at the use of his rank and name instead of his nickname.
"Sorry Captain, but there was an urgent message from Liara, and I thought..." Joker trailed off, not really wanting to fuel her anger.
Angie felt a stab of fear. An urgent message from Liara could only mean that she was in trouble. "When did that message arrive?" she forced herself to ask calmly.
"Uhm, about three hours ago?" he tried to appease her. "It said she was near Omega, the rest didn't make any sense but it sounded pretty urgent. Sorry if I made the right call, but I guessed by now the show must have started."
"Fuck, Omega? Nevermind that. Start the bombing now and send me the message to the Mako. Rendezvous in ten," she said just as she hastened her pace, mentally calculating how fast the Normandy could reach Omega. Luckily they were near the border but it would still take a couple of hours to reach the heart of the Terminus, even at full speed and provided that they got through the relays swiftly. Shit, just hang in there Liara!
Codex: Avalé is an Asari exclamation of my own invention and in this context is the equivalent of 'Dammit!'. I introduced it, because I can't have Liara swearing on screen. Not yet anyway.
Liara's flashback: Asari don't have a perfect photographic memory like Salarians or Drell have, rather they have a selective photographic memory, triggered by a meld. That means everything shared trough a meld will always be remembered in perfect detail– it's much like The Sight in the Dresdenverse. It also holds true for most different species. A Human that experiences a memory through a meld will always remember it afterwards. And yes, this CAN be used to torture others. In fact Liara has used it against Bato.
Mass Effect Relay 101: I contemplated if I should write this explanation or not, fearing to rob myself of a future, as of yet not planned plot twist. But then again, I love giving this kind of nerdy explanations. And apparently some reviewers do as well.
So. What I wrote up there reflects the organic's knowledge at this point in time. It's correct from a empirical point of view, but actually a lot of bullshit.
First of all, there are no point-to-point relays. All of them are connected to all others in a thousand lightyears radius. There are also a few Alpha Type Relays (as established in Arrival) which can connect to any Relay and any normal Relay can connect to all Alpha Types.
Connected Relays share a sort of Quantum Entanglement that can be tracked by the Relays to establish the Mass Effect tunnel through which ships can jump from Relay to Relay almost instantaneously. That those QE-links exist and are traceable was established in Leviathan. It's also the only explanation why the Mu-Relay still works after being kicked out of its place.
But that's what's possible in terms of hardware. In software the Reapers have restricted which Relays can and can not connect. They build a bloody Rat's Maze out of them!
They knew which planets would most likely yield viable sapient species for the next harvest. They then made sure whom they encountered next. They planned for the Asari and Salarians to meet up on the Citadel first, because of all the races they would get along best and start the Galactic community. Also the curiosity of the Salarians mixed with the reluctance of the more conservative Asari would ensure that progress would not be halted but not exceed what the Reapers deemed safe. Unchecked the Salarians might have necessitated a Harvest much sooner. That's not in the interest of the Reapers.
But no plan, even if made by almost godlike AIs, survives contact with reality. Initially the Krogan's were meant to be the driving military force, ensuring that there was always enough war and strife. The Reapers didn't want another Prothean Empire. To much unity makes the Harvest a) gruesome and b) a lengthy affair. But the bloody turtles had to nuke themselves back into the stone age...
Hence Sovereign sicking the Rachnii on the Asari and Salarians. The Salarians uplift the Krogans back to where they were (or Sovereing would have nudged the Turians to make an appearance). Krogans rebel, Turians come in swinging and stomp the Krogan down (with a little help of their new friends).
What's important here is that all these species were balled into a relatively small volume of the Galaxy. Yet it takes them almost millennia to actually meet. By the time that the Salarians reached the Citadel it would have been feasible (but not easy) for them to simply fly to either Tuchanka or Palavan, no Relays needed. Same for the Rachnii. Yet the first to actually meet were the Asari and Salarians – not exactly direct neighbours. All because the Reapers control the roads in the maze.
Another thing: The Relays in the home systems are not Star Type but Point Type Relays. The next system however has always a Star Type Relay right on top of the exit. That gives the Homeworlds a better defensible position. Think of it like a moat. The Reapers, while encouraging war, don't want the species wiping each other out completely.