Pilgrimage: Earth (Mass Effect Collision, Chapter 1)

Note: This is the start of a storified tabletop rpg campaign entitled Mass Effect: Collision. It is watchable on YouTube and run by AngelArts.

Earth, March 2188 CE

Mass Effect Earth City Art

New Orleans-Lafayette was what happened after sea level rises and the effects of increasingly frequent hurricanes lashed the Louisiana bayous, all but sinking the old city of New Orleans. It had never really recovered from the blows it took in the mid 2000s, and the government of the United North American States had paid billions to migrate the population up the Mississippi River, eventually founding New New Orleans, before urban sprawl effectively merged it with Lafayette. The mega city was a study in modern construction, with ivory skyscrapers pushing up into the sun and elevated walkways looking out over parks and canals that stretched out over Fausse Point Bay.
However, even in all of its rebuilt glory, the elegant decay the city had long been known for wasn’t hard to find. In the old town, the tallest buildings were no more than fifty stories high, and some of them had been painstakingly repaired with scavenged stone. Some were still piles of rubble, although scaffolding was everywhere and all levels of government were arguing over the benefits of preserving the ‘historical precinct’ and the benefits of modernisation and new technologies. There were still back alleyways, full of smoke and less than pleasant smells hidden off the main street where the tourists came through for their sanitised slum tours.
In one back alleyway, so hidden that it didn’t even have a name on the street directory—if it appeared at all—there was also a torn, broken quarian envirosuit, and inside an equally battered quarian, slowly bleeding out. Thick red blood pooled beneath him, some running off into a gutter. Somewhere, in the distance, an omni-tool pinged unexpectedly. A battered metal door squeaked open and a burly man looked out and down. Swearing, he turned back and yelled back into the heat and noise of the building. “Hey, someone get Doc!”

For Elia’solor nar Ashru, New Orleans-Lafayette had been the perfect place for the next part of his pilgrimage. Maybe he’d find something worth bringing back. Maybe he wouldn’t.
Arriving just in time for Mardi Gras, Elias was swept away in the music and riotous colours and revelry of the parades, parties and street performers. He was soon sporting around six necklaces of cheap, sparkling beads and was being offered delicacies by the Turian and enterprising human entrepreneurs who had thought to cater for dextro-tourists. The amount of flesh and casual nudity during the festival had caught him by surprise, and he wondered what it would be like to feel the breeze on his skin. He’d heard that there had been recent advances in genetic engineering that was aimed at strengthening the quarian immune system, but ancestors knew when that would bear fruit. Of course, before the Device had been triggered there had been some geth uploading themselves into quarian suits and effectively running high speed immuno-boosting programs to allow some quarians to bypass to live without the suits, but after the Synthesis, well, things were tricky as geth suddenly found themselves to be a strange mix of hardware and software and with a council injunction against creating new synthetic life, that wasn’t something likely to happen now. Or to him.
Elias had found odd jobs around town—some welding, some basic electronic repair work, and after a few auditions, he’d also started booking gigs at jazz bars and lounges around city. After a few months he had a regular gig at Le Alligator, and even a few fans who showed up wherever he was performing. About six months into his stay he was making plans to move out of the rooming house he’d been renting, probably to a studio apartment. More space than the bedsit, but, well…still roomier than anything he’d had back on the Ashru. He’d kept a few things—the very first string of beads he’d been thrown, and digital copies of the posters his name had appeared on, along with one pristine copy of the first poster that had his face on it. Posters were still used in the city—there were digital billboards everywhere, but for the small, independent music scene it was still easier to print on cheap paper and paste the posters up on the many abandoned walls and temporary fences that were ubiquitous in the area. Sometimes cheap holograms were used, or iridescent inks, but often simple black on colour prints were used in a technique that hadn’t changed in centuries.
He was cutting through the maze of alleys in old town at 3 AM when he was jumped. He ducked the first blow from a two by four and sliced through a length of metal rod that came towards him with his omni-blade. It was an instinctive response, as was ducking to one side and going into a combat roll that took him past the two attacking thugs and then he took off down the closest side street. Footsteps behind him told him he was being pursued and it sounded like there were more of them if the shouts and hollers were anything to go by. Ahead, a red shape loomed out of the dark, and a bright, circular white light illuminated a rising gun. Elias hit the deck as shots rang out, his hands covering his head for all the good that would do. There was a cry behind him that was cut short and the footsteps stopped.
“Creator Elias. You should not be walking alone through back alleyways. Chance of assault calculated at six point seven eight percent per night which is not insignificant.”
Elias stared up through his faceplate at the familiar, lithe figure. “You’re geth?”
“Yes creator Elias,” the weapons platform said, its voice smoothly modulated. “We should not delay. I suspect the gang after your credits have guns of their own.”
Scrambling to his feet, Elias pulled out his sub machine gun and took cover behind an old bollard.
“You’re not synthesised,” he said. He’d become used to seeing the green shimmer over all forms of life and not seeing it on the weapon platform had come as a bit of a shock.
“No I am not. You should ready your weapon, Creator Elias. The humans outnumber us significantly,” he said.
The firefight was swift and brutal. Although Elias and the geth hit most of their targets, one of the gang members, a scrawny, pale human with faux Krogan tattoos and scraggy hair was using modded rounds that tore through Elias’ envirosuit. The red danger icon flashed up in his visor advising of breaches in the abdomen, chest, and left arm. As he fell to the ground with a cry the platform stepped forward, placing itself between him and his assailants. There was more gunfire, more screams, the loud crack of a shotgun and then the platform slowly toppled over to lie next to him. Slow footsteps approached, and Elias stared up into a scarred, battle hardened face.
“Who are—”
The man raised his shotgun, the barrels staring down into Elias’ mask. He opened his mouth to speak and then stopped, a gush of blood pouring out as he fell to his knees, his eyes both shocked and accusatory. As he fell out of view, Elias saw a three fingered, cybernetic hand, holding a pistol.
“Creator Elias?”
“You shot him! Is he…it? Are…there more?”
“Creator Elias you must flee. This area is not s-safe and you…you…”
Elias grimaced and pulled himself up into a sitting position. “My suit’s ruptured badly and…are you okay?”
“Mobility seriously imp-impaired, power reserves failing. I am…dying, Creator Elias. You m-must apply antib-b-biotics and flee.”
In the distance, Elias could hear the the sounds of gunfire, although whether that was more of the gang that had attacked him or something unrelated he didn’t know. Reaching over to the weapon’s platform, he deftly opened the panel to the geth’s memory banks. “Come with me,” he said, using his Omni-tool to open up a localised wireless network. “I’m probably not going to last long anyway and…someone might as well… Try not to get the suit trashed, okay?”
Elias half limped, half crawled away, not knowing which direction was best even as he saw the meter in the corner of his vision showing one of his isolated hard drives filling up as the geth’s programs transferred into his suit. On the other side he pulled up a map of the local area, and cursed when he found himself in the middle of an unmapped mess of buildings. A snatch of alto saxophone floated through the air with the sounds of laughter and glasses clinking, and the night air felt warm against Elias’ blue skin. It wasn’t the feeling of freedom he’d been hoping for, however, and he as his strength gave out he collapsed on the floor.
“Creator Elias!” the geth’s voice rang in his helmet. “Creator Elias!”

The air smelled of antibacterial cleaner and the floor was white. No, the ceiling was white. He was on his back, staring up at a ceiling. Grunting, Elias tried to sit up, and gasped as his body protested. He fell back against the pillows beneath him and swift footsteps approached.
“No sir, don’t you be trying to get up now. You’ve taken quite the beatin’ and I don’t know how good your suit’s held up. You’re running a fever, which is to be expected and you’re in the cleanest room we have, but I’d appreciate it if you don’t tax yourself none, all right?”
Turning his head, Elias saw a tall, broad shouldered human with what appeared to be an engaging smile. He was wearing a surgical green suit that was probably a hazmat suit and a clear plastic helmet that was more tub than anything else. Inside, Elias got the impression of black rimmed glasses and short, dark hair, slightly damped down with sweat.
“You’ve got one hell of a diagnostics program in there though,” the man continued. “Kept telling me where you had contaminants and what I needed to do to make sure your suit was sealed up and well…patched I suppose. I didn’t know you could section off your suits like that. Makes sense I guess, but it sure puts ours to shame. I’ll bet it costs a bit more to make than this cheap thing though.”
Staring down his torso, Elias could see the black of his envirosuit had been patched with a rough, blood red resin.
“Sorry about that,” the hazmat man said. “I’m not real good at patchin’ stuff, but I used a new tin of resin over medical gauze. I should’ve matched the colour but…honestly I just grabbed the first unopened tin I could find.”
“I can—” Elias’ voice came out in a rasp. Coughing, he cleared his throat. “I can work with it. It’s a bit of a signature look, I guess.”
The other man laughed. “I’m glad to see you’ve still got your sense of humour. I’m Corbin, by the way. Most people ‘round here call me Doc though.”
“Doc Corbin?”
“No sir, just Doc. My boss is Doc Skinner, and there’s four of us here in total, but I’m just Doc.”
“Why’s that?”
“Cause I’m the first boy from Old Town to go to college, and come back a doctor, I guess,” Corbin said. “What’s your name? I don’t really like just having ‘Male Quarian’ on your chart, y’know?”
“Elia’solor nar Ashru. Most people call me Elias.”
“Well, Elias, it’s very nice to meet you,” Corbin said. “Now do you think you can drink some water for me? I’ve got you on a drip, but your throat sounds dry.” Reaching over to the table on the other side of the bed, Corbin brought over a bottle of distilled water and a straw. Cracking the top he helped Elias get the straw into the right section of his helmet.
“I’m amazed you managed to get a drip in,” Elias said. “Actually I’m amazed you know enough to treat a Quarian patient.”
Even through the hazmat suit, Elias could see Corbin was blushing. “I studied some xenomedicine in college. Honestly I had to dig out my notes from that class and well…like I said, your diagnostics program was incredibly helpful. Voice interface and everything.”
Elias swallowed and lay back into the pillows. “Thank you,” he murmured to the Geth in the privacy of his own helmet.
“You’re welcome,” was its muted response.
Corbin might have said something else, but Elias was fast asleep and didn’t hear it if he had.

When Elias woke next he was alone in the room. Well, mostly alone.
“Good afternoon, Creator Elias.”
“Good afternoon…wait, have you picked a name yet?”
There was a pause. “No, I have not.”
A number of questions swam through Elias’ mind, and he picked the first one that came to him. “How did you know my name?”
“Your name and voiceprint was in our database of creators likely to be in this system.”
“The geth have databases on quarian pilgrims?”
There was a pause. “Your safety is important to us.”
“That was kind of creepy.”
The baritone voice in his ear sounded amused. “It was also true.”
“You are our creators,” the Geth said simply. “You and the Sheppard-Commander chose to give us life. We choose how to live it.”
“And how do you choose to live it?”
“Do you remember what the word geth means, Creator Elias?”
“Touché,” Elias said. “Okay, so tell me about you.”
“I am geth.”
This time Elias grinned. “Okay, that might have flown four years ago, but I know better than to believe that’s it.”
“I am made up of three thousand one hundred and forty one individual runtime processes. I like circles. I also like red.”
Elias smiled. “I like red too. Why haven’t you returned to Rannoch?”
“Why haven’t you?”
“I did. Then I left,” Elias said. “I just didn’t think I’d be very useful there right now.”
“I came to the same conclusion.”
“Wait, I get that I’m not useful back home, but why not you?”
“I am not programmed for construction.”
Elias paused. “You can reprogram yourself to do anything you want, can’t you?”
“I can yes. But then would I be me?”
A laugh escaped unbidden from Elias’ ribs, which turned into a gasp. “Please don’t be funny,” he said. “It hurts too much right now.”
“All right. I will be funny in the privacy of your envirosuit circuitry.”
“Smart Ass.”
“I am a fast learner.”
“What’s the difference between learning and re-programming?”
The answer was slow in coming. “Learning is iterative.”
“You know, if I could just add data directly into my brain to improve my knowledge immediately, I totally would.”
“You are hardware and software,” the geth said. “I am just software.”
“And if you weren’t, you’d be dead by now,” Elias pointed out.
“So why don’t you have a name?”
“I have not found one that fits.”
“You like circles, huh?”
“Yes. I find them to be…mathematically symmetric.”
“You could just say beautiful, you know.”
The geth paused. “I am still formulating my concept of beauty.”
“Until you find a name, do you mind if I call you ‘Pi’?”
There was a long pause. “What flavour?” Pi asked eventually.
“Does it matter? You don’t eat!”
“I do not think I’d like banana,” Pi said.
Elias grinned. “Well I can’t eat those either, so I can’t help you there.”
“Who are you talking to?”
The clean room doors hissed open, and a now familiar pale green hazmat suit.
Inside his helmet, Pi’s voice rang softly in his ears. “I suggest you do not be too forthcoming,” he said. “I’m not sure if humans will be comfortable with geth, even one in a suit.”
“It’s my VI,” Elias lied glibly. “I’ve been modifying the voice interface and need to test it.”
“You have a VI for your suit?” Corbin asked, as he made his way around to the drip that Elias was attached to and switched the bags over.
“Well, for some of the functions inside of it, yeah,” Elias said. “Mostly things like enhanced facial recognition, birthdays, sorting through audition notices and keeping track of my…wait, what day is it?”
“Thursday, why?”
Elias sat up with a jerk and started to swing his legs over the edge of the bed. “I’ve got to go, I’ve got a gig at Le Alligator and if I don’t—”
A hand on his chest stopped his movement and a strong arm grabbed his shoulders just as the pain hit.
“You’re not in any condition to be gettin’ up on no stage, no sir,” Corbin said.
“I’ve got to,” Elias said. He tried to push past Corbin’s grip but found himself weaker than an Eden Prime Gasbag. “I need to pay the boarding house, I know I’m going to need creds for this place and if I lose that gig—”
“You’ll get another one,” Corbin said. “I know Le Alligator, I’ll give them a call and let them know you’re here. How long are you paid up for at the rooming house?”
“Until tomorrow,” Elias said. “I was planning on moving out to a studio, but I’m not sure I can afford to now. Studio’s aren’t cheap.”
“Do you mind me asking how much you’re paying?” Corbin asked, as gently encouraged Elias to lie back down.
“Seventy five creds a week,” Elias said. “It would be more, but I can’t eat the meals there.”
“Let me get your stuff from where you’re staying,” Corbin said. “I think I might be able to help.”
Elias collapsed into the pillows with a sigh. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Doc, but why would you? You barely know me.”
Corbin laughed. “Elias, I’ve spent the last two days monitoring your vitals, patching your suit and draining out your suit’s waste port. I didn’t even know quarian suits had a waste system, you know? I know more about you in two days than I knew about my ex after two years. You’re a good guy. Plus I love this city.”
Elias blinked. “I didn’t follow that leap of logic.”
“I’ve lived here all my life,” Corbin said. “Bar six odd months hiding out in the countryside patching up soldiers’ hurts, I’ve always been here. And I think it’s better than what you’ve experienced—and I’d like to prove that to you.”
Elias laughed, only slightly awkwardly. “That’s the southern charm I’ve heard so much about is it?”
“If you like,” Corbin said. “You’ll be out of here tomorrow evening, if you keep mending the way you are. Do you quarians normally heal this fast?”
“Compared to humans? I don’t know,” Elias said. “My suit does monitor my health constantly though.”
Corbin shook his head. “There’s something to be said for those things,” he said. “Maybe all of our patients should wear those.”
“Expensive treatment process,” Elias said. “Could be good if you could tailor it to their species though.”
Corbin laughed. “Something to think about, that’s for sure. Almost a pity I’m a doctor and not an engineer, huh?”
“Nope,” Elias said. “I’m very glad you’re a doctor. When… I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it.” He took a deep shuddering breath and let it out slowly. “I just…”
“Are you… oh um… this is normally when I’d give you a tissue, but um…”
Elias laughed a shaky laugh as a suction fan turned on inside his helmet. “It’s all right. My suit has an extractor fan built in.”
Corbin squeezed his shoulder gently. “All right. Can you get your suit to bring up your temperature please? I’m a bit concerned you’re still feverish now.”
“That’s just my body adapting to the environment,” Elias said. “It’s normal.”
“Right,” Corbin said, snapping his fingers. “That quarian response to foreign pathogens. I remember learning about that.”
Elias looked up into a big toothy grin. “You’re getting a kick out of having me as a patient, aren’t you?”
“Yes sir, I am,” Corbin said. “It’s a chance to get better at xenomedicine and hell, I’ve been talkin’ to doctors on the Citadel to make sure I’m doing right by you. Most of the other staff here ain’t got the training in alien physiology. Wasn’t a thing when they were going through college, you know? Now. Where are you stayin’ exactly? I need to get a wriggle on to get everythin’ done, you know?”

Go to Chapter 2