Mass Effect Collision Chapter 23: The Factory

“Your time is precious. Spend it wisely and with those who care for you.” – Justicar Samara

To Elias, factories looked the same the universe over. There was something about factories that made all races tend towards the utilitarian. Actually, to be honest he’d only ever seen about four of the galactic races’ industrial architecture, and he wondered if the Asari tried to make their factories beautiful. They made everything else look amazingly sleek, so maybe one day he’d find out. Turian factories had the strong, clean lines and angular facades of the rest of their buildings, just with the pipework and hum of ventilation ducts that screamed industry throughout the multiverse. The giant plume of purplish-black smoke wasn’t something that was typical of modern industry though—at least not on major council worlds. It was both worrying, and strangely expected.
As they piled out of the skycar, they found themselves at a police line, with local security standing guard—although whether they were guarding against people going in or something coming out was unclear, possibly even to them.
“In there?” Cicepia asked staring at the darkened windows of the structure before them.
Elias nodded. “Yes. Think you can talk your way in?”
The turian stared at him. “I don’t have jurisdiction here, Elias.”
“Well, no, but you talk cop, right?” he said with a grin and gave her a push towards a likely looking officer.
It took barely a minute for Cicepia to find the officer in charge, and picked her way over to his mobile command centre.
“C-Sec?” the burly turian said, his brow ridges rising as he squinted at Cicepia’s badge. “What are you doing all the way out here?”
“Council investigation,” Cicepia lied glibly. “We’re tracking a fugitive and think he might be hiding out Pietas in the Fortis system. We’re actually just staying here a few nights for some R&R before going back to work and thought we’d lend a hand if you’d like.”
“I won’t turn down help if you’re offering. I’m Sergeant Accius. Let me give you a run down on the situation. We’ve had reports of missing employees who worked late shift—and in some cases we’ve found body parts in later days.”
“Any suspects?”
“Initially industrial espionage,” Sergeant Accius said. “But the company’s had no data breaches, no suspicious individuals reported by staff or security or even in the general area. We then started investigating the possibility of an inside job—and then that happened,” he said, gesturing towards the smoke. “I sent in two tactical teams and they were wiped out by…something. Right now my orders are to hold the perimeter, but I know there’s people in there.”
“When you say you found body parts, did you find their heads?” Elias asked.
“In some cases, yes.”
“Are you suggesting what this one thinks you’re suggesting?” Anar asked.
Elias held up a hand. “The staff is all Turian?”
“Mostly,” Sergeant Accius said. “There’s a few quarians who’ve been working to ensure the drug works on them as well, but we checked them all out first.”
“And this image?” Cicepia asked, bringing up a shot of the news broadcast they had seen earlier.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m being told to form a perimeter.”
“You are going to suggest we go inside and investigate, aren’t you?” Anar asked, with what Elias had come to think of as his front end pointing towards Cicepia.
The turian smiled grimly. “You know me too well. Sergeant, permission to investigate?”
Sergeant Accius shook his head. “If you want to go in, you’re welcome to. I don’t have to stop you since you’re not civilians—technically. Here’s a map of the facility,” he said, bringing up a holo with his omni-tool. Our teams were gunned down in the lobby. No one survived—or if they did, they’re not able to report back.”
Copying the image, Elias zoomed in to the main production line. “There,” he said. “The strange signals are coming from that room. I’ll bet that’s where we’ll find whatever’s causing this.”
“Signals?” Sergeant Accius asked.
“I did a scan for reaper technology. It led us here.”
“But the reapers are all controlled!”
“We have a working theory that some may have evaded the crucible,” Elias said. “Or that some rogue scientists may be attempting to duplicate the husk process.”
“Spirits preserve us. I heard rumours of that back during the war but I didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to attempt that.”
“Cerberus was,” Cicepia said tersely. “Who’s to say someone else isn’t? Anything else you can tell us about the facility?”
“When our teams went in I heard what sounded like cannon fire. Not hand cannons—heavy weapon cannons. Like missile launchers but less explosive.”
Just then a uniformed officer approached. “Sarge there’s an, um… male asari here? Says he’s with these people?”
“That’s Drimi,” Sync said. “I figured if we’re going into a factory we should take someone who knows machinery. No offense, Elias.”
“None taken. I’m a software guy, remember? Not hardware.”
The asari walked in with a confident swagger and a suit of combat armour that was reminiscent of his black leather jacket. Slung over one shoulder was a large sledgehammer, and Elias fancied he could see some capacitors connected to the head, as well as some crackling lightning jars that caused the electricity to spark intermittently between some of the wiring and the business end of the weapon.
“Where’d you get that getup?” Sync asked, clapping his friend on the shoulder.
Drimi’s answering grin was just a little bashful. “Just something I’ve been working on for a while,” he said. “I’m glad I can fit into it now. So…I take it we’re going in there?”
“Yes, we are,” Cicepia said, rotating her own 3D map on her omni-tool. “There’s a network of ventilation shafts that could get a small team onto the factory floor.”
“Actually that looks like a floor control station,” Elias said. “Drimi and I should get up there.”
“Not without backup,” Cicepia said. “If there’s resistance there you’re toast.”
“Well I can’t fit through the ducts,” Arkara rumbled.
“This one can,” Anar said. “It won’t even touch the sides.”
“All right. You three do that and the rest of us will go in the front and take that elevator up to the conveyor belt systems.”
“This one trusts you will stay on the platforms,” Anar said. “The drop appears to be of a fatal distance for all except this one.”
“You’d think they’d be mixing in smaller vats,” Elias said with a frown. “Oh well, let’s just…not die. I like the idea of not dying.”
Arkara cocked her head to one side. “Is that an order?”
“If you like.”

Some time later, Elias found himself in a confined space that felt strangely familiar, although duct repair hadn’t been part of his universe since leaving the flotilla. “Well?” he hissed.
Anar floated up from where he had lowered his body down through the now open grate in the ventilation system. “This one is saddened to report there are new husks below.”
The benefit of Anar’s prehensile, gelatinous tentacles had been immediately apparent in tight spaces, as was the hover technology that had him moving through the air ducts like a spirit, towing his case up behind him. When the found their exit point, the hanar had snaked out two tentacles to grip the grate and snuck a third through it while Elias had cut through the bolts that kept it secured to the duct itself. In other circumstances, they would have fallen to the ground and clattered on the plascrete floor. This time, they were whisked back through the grate by tentacle and the entire grate soon followed suit. Then, gripping the sides, Anar lowered his body down and had a good look around.
“Anything that explains the bodies the others found with giants holes through their chest cavities?” Elias asked.
“This one suspects these husks are Elcor with human corpse cannons like the…this one believes the term was ‘scion’ officially. This one had other names for them it will not repeat.”
“How many?” Drimi asked.
“There are two below us, and perhaps three or four on the conveyor belts. This one thinks it saw Cicepia’s father in law struggling with one of them.”
A crackle over their comm interrupted their hushed conversation. “We’re in the lift, heading up,” Sync said. “Arriving at floor, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen and…here.” Even from their hiding point Elias could hear the ding of the lift echo through the processing plant.
“That would be this one’s cue,” Anar said, dropping his case to the floor below and dropping down after it, darting through the air the way Bevan pushed through the water after seeing a particularly interesting mollusc to snack on.
Drimi dropped down after him, and used his hammer to flip some of the heavy steel tables into makeshift barricades. Staring down at the drop, Elias felt the familiar surge of adrenaline in his veins and the jumble of nerves in his stomach tightened into a fierce resolve. Dropping from the air duct into a combat roll, Elia’solor nar Ashru stepped out onto the stage and faced his audience.
With the flick of a wrist he and Pi sent a combat drone spinning off towards one of the hulking creatures. It had taken Elias a while to work out that despite the way they presented, the Elcor were really bipeds who had adopted a quadrupedal gait out of necessity due to their high gravity world. They walked cautiously along on feet and knuckles, but if the situation called for it, they could stand up, lean back, and put on clothing, carry loads, drive carefully reinforced skycars, or strap heavy weaponry onto their shoulders. The reapers had clearly loved the idea, and the almost shaggy looking elcor husks sported giant glowing blue sacs on their backs and a giant bony cannon ran from it’s back to where it was welded onto the husk’s head, effectively aiming the cannon at whatever the husk was looking at. The mouth—if it could be called that—was a mass of chitinous growths that reminded him of earth spider legs. Peeking out from his impromptu barricade, Elias could see one in front of the tables, and a second on the far side of a still upright table, crouched over the mangled body of a turian worker. Glancing to his right he could see a maze of vats and conveyor belts and the crackle of purplish electricity that indicated a weak point in the fabric of the multiverse. Heavy shambling shapes could be seen amongst the machinery and he could see them turning towards either the elevator, or towards them, heavy weapons pointing towards the probably untempered glass that separated the control room from the factory proper.
“We need to get those belts moving,” he said as he locked the scope of his sniper rifle into place.
Drimi grunted and swung his hammer in an ascending arc, catching the far table by the legs and flipping it onto its side. “Keep those things off me,” he muttered, and dashed for a console by the window.
Electricity crackled behind them as the drone sent a pulse of energy towards the nearest elcor husk, and there was a thud of something heavy hitting the floor.
“Target incapacitated,” Pi’s voice came calmly into Elias’ helmet.
“That’s a start,” Elias said.


Continue to Chapter 24

Back to Chapter 22

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 22: McTurian’s

It’s easy as 1-2-3,
As simple as do re mi,
DexToC, 1-2-3
Food for you and me, yeah.” – Elia’Solar vas Rannoch (Blue Universe)

Invictus was dry—at least, it was dry in the capital city Shastinasio, which was located in the drier north of the planet, far away from the infamous jungle. Or at least, infamous throughout the heirarchy, as Cicepia explained—a Tribute to Turian stubbornness.
“And I used to live there,” she said with a sigh. “I…lost my husband there.”
“Octavius.” Elias leaned forward so his arms were resting on the table of the conference room.
“Yes. Octavius. There were sightings of Cerberus ships in the area and he volunteered to go after them. I…saw his ship after it crashed to the surface. There was…nothing left.”
“Did you want to look into—” Sync started.
“Not really,” Cicepia said. “There’s nothing left but bad memories on the planet for me now.”
“Anything we should be concerned about?” Elias asked.
Cicepia shook her head. “Not that I can think of. The pirates mostly keep to the jungles.”
Sync nodded and stood up. “I’ll go guide us in,” he said. “Elias, coming to scan for reaper signatures?”
“Aye aye, Captain.”

On the bridge, Elias slipped into the padded leather seat before the sensor console. “All right Pi,” he muttered inside his helmet. “Let’s find this reaper portal—have you found any other locations in Mimic’s data core?”
“No, Creator Elias. This appears to be the last one.”
Elias frowned, even as he set the ships sensors to scan for the familiar signatures of unsynthesised husks. It was strange and slightly troubling the way his fingers flew over the holokeys, muscle memory already drilled by endless repetition from the war. He could almost hear the foghorn like sound of a giant energy beam charging. “That’s way too easy, Pi,” he said. “Way too easy. Why are there only three? If this was the start of an invasion, there’d be more portals in many more places—more strategic places than Invictus. Why not Palavan? Or Earth for that matter?”
“I can run the analysis again, but I have been unable to locate any other tears in the entire milky way galaxy.”
“And how many other galaxies are out there again?”
“Current estimates suggest—”
“That was rhetorical, Pi.”
“I know.”
“Smart ass.”
“I do not, in fact, have an ass, Creator Elias. You on the other hand—”
From the synthetic there was only a smug silence.

It took a while to get permission to dock at the Shastinasio Space port, and Elias felt the heat of the desert sun though the material of his envirosuit. The inhabitants of Invictus appeared to be living with deliberately low tech cooling solutions of passive cooling towers, canopied sails covering walkways and hardy green roofs topping their buildings. Fountains were everywhere, and he wondered what it would be like to take off his helmet and let the water droplets fly into his face. Rain. He’d never experienced rain. Not fully.
The turians here dressed the same as everywhere in the Hierarchy, probably with something denoting their rank in society. Elias had never asked about that. He could also see Batarians and quite a few Drell, who probably came in search of a drier climate. The Batarians had adopted loose flowing white robes as their outer wear. With the collapse of the Hegemony in every universe they’d visited so far, Elias had noticed the Batarians had been fastest to break away from pre-war stereotypes and embrace new ideas, cultures and people. It was almost human the way they were adapting. Human. Huh. Across a bustling bazaar he could the toothy grin and red eyes of a Vorcha. Well, no one adapted like a Vorcha.
One thing he couldn’t help noting was the Turians on Invictus were noticeably rounder than any he’d ever seen. As they swept through the streets scanning for reaper signals, they passed a pair of golden arches in the shape of a big M that Elias was familiar with, but had never visited. There was a queue out the door, and many Turians were leaving with brown paper bags printed with red and yellow. A large poster in the window read: “Our burgers are 100% Levo Protein Earth Beef!”. Another featured an animated video of a coy female biting into a burger. “Mmm, So that’s what chicken tastes like,” she said amongst obvious sounds of gastronomic enjoyment.
“McTurian’s,” Cicepia said, glancing up at the sign. “What’s that?”
“Garbage from what I understand,” Elias said. “Human import.”
“Tasty Garbage,” Sync said. “That you should never eat, but…”
Cicepia turned to look at him. “But?”
Sync shrugged. “It’s cheap, fast, tasty and addictive.”
“Even after all their changes, it’s still high in sugar and they add lots of cheese,” he explained. “It’s additive.”
“This one thinks its gorgeous.”
Turning, Elias saw Anar stuffing fries into his cloaca. “How did you get those so quickly?”
For a floating jelly creature with six tentacles, Anar managed to give a very believable shrug. “The small child only wanted the toy in the SmileyMeal,” he said. “She was happy to give her fries to this one. She called it Mickey T’s.”
Sync’s expression froze for a moment, and his good eye blinked. “Of course she did,” he said blandly.
“How is that even—”
Wordlessly, Cicepia pointed towards a giant billboard nearby which had been playing an advertisement. It was monochome and made of very simple line drawings showing a scene of domestic bliss.
“Ice cream!” the little Turian child was crying, her big eyes shining with joy.
“That’s right dear, made with milk from real levo-protein cows. Have you had your DexToC today?”
Inside his suit, Elias’ jaw dropped as his own voice started single a jingle, which he recognised as an earth classic from the Jackson Five.
“Well, I guess we know what my sellout alter ego has been doing,” he said, just loud enough for everyone to hear.
“DexToC?” Arkara grunted.
“This one believes it is a poorly made up brand name.”
“Diet supplement. Allows Dextro-based life to digest Levo-based proteins?” Elias said as several screens of information popped up in his helmet display. “I’m not sure if it provides extra enzymes or actually reconfigures amino acids or…hmm…”
“There are three different conspiracy theories about how it’s being used to mind-control the Turian population.”
“What about the Quarians?”Anar asked.
Cicepia shook her head. “What Quarians? Most of them died in the battle for Rannoch.”
“Oh, right. This one forgot that happened here.”
“Brought to you by the FOTG,” Elias said. “Wait a minute, FOTG? Friends of the Galaxy? Again?”
“Why not?” Cicepia asked.
Elias shrugged. “I just find it strange that there’s two groups in both red and blue universes with the same name that sprung up around the same time given how different the universes actually are.”
“This one thinks you should remember you won Citadel’s Got Talent in three different universes that we know of,” Anar said.
Elias grimaced at the advertisement. “With advertorials like that I’m not sure how.”
“They look so happy.” Cicepia’s voice was neutral and her stance relaxed, but Elias thought he could see a tightness in her jaw that hadn’t been there before.
“They’ll have type two diabetes in no time,” he said cheerfully.
“Or they may invent types three and four,” Anar added.
Cicepia turned her back on the billboard, the tiniest flicker of dark energy shrouding her fists. “Have you found the portal?”
Tapping on his omni-tool’s holopad, Elias cleared the extranet windows and went back to his datasweep. “It seems to be south of us.”
“Let’s go there then.” Without waiting to see what the rest of them were doing, Cicepia turned and marched down the footpath, nearly knocking down a few teenagers who failed to scramble out of the way in time.
“Good idea?” Sync suggested looking after the Turian.
Hurrying after Cicepia, they found her standing still in front of a small child, who was clutching a Hanar plush toy and looking up at her with large eyes. “Mama?” The toy fell to the ground.
“Talia? Wh-what are you doing here? Are your grandparents here?”
“They’re inside.” The child looked up at the McTurian’s Fast Food Restaurant nearby.
Cicepia knelt down and Elias could see her reaching out almost unconsciously towards her daughter. “You’ve grown so big now. Still have that Blasto toy?”
“Uh huh,” Talia grabbed the toy, and held him out to Cicepia. Somewhere from within its fuzzy centre, a squeak emerged that reminded Elias of Anar in his more hyper moments. “Why are you here, mama?”
“Ah…” The seconds stretched for eternity and Elias could almost see Cicepia struggling for an answer.
“Talia? Talia? Where did you run off to this time?” The glass doors of McTurian’s slid open and an older Turian couple walked out. Turian civilians. Elias was always intrigued by Turian civilians. If nothing else, there were nearly as mythical as the earth unicorn, with the military hierarchy spreading into all facets of their life. The couple had matching facepaint, and were wearing what Elias had come to think of as Turian jumpsuits – quasi-military outfits in one size fits anybody—although that philosophy appeared to be getting tested by the new portly builds the population of Invictus was showing.
“Talia, you shouldn’t run off on your own like that,” the woman said with a smile. “I’m sorry she—oh.” Her eyes met Cicepia’s and her demeanor changed. Her smile remained, but the rest of her face backed away from it slightly.
“Cicepia,” the man said neutrally. “What are you doing back?”
“I’m here on business,” Cicepia said, in what Elias had come to think of as her ‘C-Sec’ voice.
“I see.” The man’s unblinking gaze didn’t waver. “Come along Horoponia,” he said eventually.
“But, mama,” Talia said, pulling back as the woman—Horoponia—attempted to steer her into the restaurant. “Can’t you stay for dinner?”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Horoponia said.
“Why not?”
“We’ve discussed this dear. Your mother’s trying to…get better and needs us to leave her alone right now.”
“Are you still sick, mama?”
“I’m getting much better,” Cicepia said with a smile that was almost as fraudulent as the one on Horoponia’s face. “I hope you’ve been getting all the messages I’ve been sending you.”
Talia’s tiny brow furrowed. “Messages?”
Horoponia scooped Talia up in her arms. “All right Talia, we need to go now,” she said as she rushed into the restaurant.
“Mama? Mama!”
“It’s okay sweetie. I’ll see you again. I promise!”
When the doors snicked shut behind them, the man remained, his arms folded across his chest. “Cicepia, we agreed you shouldn’t be seeing her.”
“I didn’t know you’d be here, Lucidis. Why aren’t you on Palavan?”
“I changed jobs to support my family.”
For a moment they stood and stared at each other before Cicepia sighed. “And that involves letting her eat this junk?” she asked gesturing towards the restaurant.
“This is a treat,” Lucidis replied. “She had a small test today and did very well, so Horoponia and I decided to take her out for ice cream. What business brings you back here?”
“Special galactic security mission,” Cicepia said with a shrug. “Top secret. I’m afraid I can’t go into detail.” Cicepia blinked and took a deep, steadying breath. “And you are taking care of her?”
“As best we can. We are her grandparents, after all.
“And you’ve been giving her my messages?” The edge was back in her voice.
Lucidis coughed. “We…didn’t think it would be best—”
“For her to know her mother still loves her?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Not to my face.”
“For her own good we needed to keep her and you separate. It doesn’t do her any good to be wondering where you are and what you’re doing.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d like to banish me out of her life just like that,” Cicepia snapped her fingers.
“Well you banished our son from our lives,” Lucidis snapped, his voice rising.
“That wasn’t my fault,” Cicepia said woodenly. “I had no control over what happened.”
“You had control over what you did afterward.”
“I wasn’t in a good place then.”
“And you are now? Not letting your temper get the better of you? How do I know you’re not going to attack me right now? In front of all these people?” He paused, and when Cicepia said nothing, he continued. “We’re doing this to protect her—and you.”
“I don’t need protecting from you.”
“I think we’re done here,” Lucidis said.
“I do too,” Cicepia said. “Just make sure you treat her right.”
“She’s doing great,” Lucidis said, as he turned on his heel and headed back into the restaurant and the others caught up to Cicepia, who was standing at the entrance, her hands bunched into fists.
“What was that about?” Sync asked.
“Nothing,” Cicepia said, her eyes still on the restaurant windows. “Let’s focus on the mission.”
“That didn’t sound like nothing,” Arkara rumbled.
“I’m fine. I just…we should get going.”
“Are you sure you’re okay leaving your daughter like that?”
Cicepia wheeled around to face them. “Did you just hear me say I’m fine?”
“Suure,” Elias drawled. “That doesn’t mean we believe you.”
“Just give me something to punch. I’ll get over it.”
“You’re not going to do us any good if your head isn’t on the mission,” Sync said. “It’s almost as bad as having overheating cybernetics.”
“Is that your official diagnosis, Doctor?”
Sync grinned roguishly. “Absolutely.”
Over the top of them, the DexToC jingle started again. “Did you want me to swan in and try to find out how she’s really doing?” Elias asked. “The other version of me is recording another…jingle…on Omega so it shouldn’t be too hard to pull off.”
“You’d do that for me?” Cicepia asked.
Elias shrugged. “I can try.”
“Okay, um. Thanks. I appreciate that.”
“Arkara, you up for playing bodyguard?”
“Elia’solor nar Ashru doesn’t go anywhere without security,” Elias said seriously. “In any universe.”
The Krogan grinned slowly. “Sure. I can do that.”


Five minutes, one costume change, and an armoured krogan helmet later, Elia’solor vas Rannoch nar Ashru strode out from the Chandris Hotel and walked across the plaza and into McTurian’s. Almost immediately there were screams and he was nearly mobbed by Turians with acne. Acne. Not something he’d previously associated with Turians given their face plates, but apparently it was a thing. With Arkara’s assistance he pushed his way into the restaurant, where he was soon signing everything from napkins to Smiley Meal boxes. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Talia, sitting in the far corner with Lucidis and Horoponia, the older Turian shaking his head. Somewhere between the McNugget box and the McBeast paper tray liner, Lucidis got a call on his omni-tool and rushed out of the building.
“Lucidis is leaving by the back exit,” Elias murmured into his comm. “Trail him if you want. Horoponia and Talia are still in the building.”
“On it,” Sync said.
Looking up from where she was playing with her ice cream, Talia’s expression changed from one of glumness into an excited smile as she pointed at him, tugging on her grandmother’s sleeve.
“Pi, any idea what she’s saying?”
“Creator Elias, I’m unable to pick up anything on your audio sensors with the volume of the crowd. Talia is also facing the wrong way for lipreading software.”
“How about Horoponia?”
“I believe she said ‘that’s nice dear, eat your ice cream’.”
“Arkara, let’s work our way over there,” Elias said flicking to the secondary comm channel.
“Yes sir, Mr. Elias sir.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir.”
It took about five minutes of small talk to get around to the other side of the restaurant, although thankfully that didn’t involve under garments. Actually, he didn’t think Turians wore undergarments. They didn’t go as far as Quarians did with their envirosuits, but playing Turian and Volus space had always been less…embarrassing in terms of leaving stacks of clothing behind. Clothing. Straightening his performance jacket, he again marvelled at how easy it was to change identity just by wearing something over his envirosuit.
“Negative on Lucidis,” Sync said. “He flew off in a skycar. Cicepia doesn’t know where he lives or works.”
“Okay,” Elias said just as he made it to the corner table where Talia and her grandmother was sitting. When the little girl noticed he was there her eyes grew wide and she gasped, her spoon tumbling from her fingers to hit the table with a clatter. “Hi, what’s your name?” he asked, squatting down so that his face was level with hers.
“Talia,” she said.
“Are you enjoying your ice cream?”
“Uh huh.”
“Can we help you dear?” Horoponia asked. “You’re causing quite a ruckus.”
Elias smiled, “I know. I can’t really help that, it seems to follow me around.”
That got him a smile in return. “I understand, dear. Talia, it’s not polite to stare.
“But he’s Elias,” Talia said as if that was a winning argument right there. “Are you going to sing?”
“Oh…maybe, I’m not sure if they’d let me here.”
“Talia we shouldn’t take up too much of Mr. Elias’ time. I’m sure he just came in to get something to eat.”
“Oh.” Talia picked her spoon of the table, dipped it into her ice cream and held it out to him. “You can have some of my ice cream.”
“That’s okay, I don’t want to take your ice cream. Tell you what though—how about I give you a little sneak peak of something that hasn’t been released anywhere yet?”
The spoon hit the table again, ice cream and all as Talia’s hands clapped together excitedly. “Oh yes, please!”
“I guess that would be all right,” Horoponia said. Elias grinned. He knew the Turian grandmother was well aware saying ‘no’ wasn’t really an option at this point.
“Great!” he said, handing over a small data cube, complete with artwork for his version of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. “What are you going to do later today?”
“We’re going to watch Blasto!” Talia said excitedly.
“Blasto?” Elias’ gaze flicked to Horoponia.
“She means the cartoon. It’s her favourite show.”
“I have a secret to give to you too!” Talia said.
“Now Talia, I don’t think that’s a good idea—” Horoponia started.
“I’m very good at keeping secrets,” Elias said quickly.
“This is less of a secret and more of a…vibrant imagination,” Horoponia said clicking her tongue.
Elias turned his head and cupped his hand to his suit’s audio receptors. “You can whisper it,” he said using stage whisper himself.
“That’s enough, Tal—”

He was sitting in front of himself. And he was short. The plastic seat was hard beneath his thighs and the air was cool against his skin. He could feel the weight of the soft toy in his lap and the taste of ice cream in his mouth. Her mouth. A flash of memory filled his mind. He could see Talia as a little girl, running around a park with red grass and autumnal leaves heaped in piles that Talia was jumping into, keeping just ahead of Cicepia’s hands. Then a male Turian picked Talia up and swung her around in the air. ‘Papa’, the memory insisted. The memory faded and Elias could see himself in the restaurant, head turned to one side and just starting to fall backwards towards the floor. Then he was back in his own body, catching himself against the table edge with Arkara helping him to his feet.
Rising to her feet, Horoponia wedged herself between them, “All right Talia, we need to go or we’ll miss Blasto!” she said brightly. Grabbing the hanar plushie in one hand and Talia’s hand in the other, she all but dragged the little girl out of the restaurant, Talia hanging on to the single in her free hand, and glancing back over her shoulder towards him.
“Are you okay, sir?” Arkara asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Elias said. “Let’s go. I think I need some air.”
Pushing ahead, Arkara cleared a path through the crowd and they crossed the plaza to the hotel, where one quick change later, Elias slipped out the back entrance leaving the hordes of fans out front.
“Well?” Cicepia asked when he and Arkara finally caught up with the rest of them.
“One moment,” Elias said. “Pi, please activate the tracker in that data cube.”
“Of course. Tracking now.”
“They’re heading northwest,” Elias said. “I’ll have an address once they stop.”
Overhead the screen that had been showing the DexToC commercial switched to a news sting, and then the smiling face of Liam Vethanil Musie filled the screen, all white teeth and orange suit.
“Breaking news—there has been a sighting of singing sensation Elia’solor vas Rannoch on the planet of Invictus. This amateur footage shows the singer’s fans rushing into the Centenniary Plaza Micky T’s restaurant to catch a glimpse—or an autograph—from the winner of last year’s Citadel’s Got Talent.” Suddenly Liam’s smile wavered. “And in more breaking news, there are reports of explosions and an attack at the DexToC factory in the south of Shastinasio, Invictus’ capital city. Several employees have been reported missing and there has been this unverified image of what appears to be a reaper husk from what is supposedly the factory security cameras. Company officials and Invictus security have declined to comment. We’ll bring you more as this story develops.”
“Which direction did Lucidis head in when he left McTurian’s?” Elias asked.
“South,” Sync said. “Why?”
“I think I know where the portal is.”


Continue to Chapter 23

Back to Chapter 21

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 21: Leaving Tuchanka

“01001000 01000101 01001100 01010000,” – Hannibal, Rogue VI on Luna, 2183 CE. After being decommissioned, Hannibal went on to become the core intelligence behind the Enhanced Defense Intelligence, now known as EDI.

They were sitting in the lounge, Elias with a small robotic spider on his hand and Arkara with a bottle of beer.
“Want to talk about it?” Elias asked as he looked at the data feeds scrolling through his visor.
“I’m a clone,” Arkara grunted. “And not really.”
“You could have been Chief,” Elias said.
“I’d be a terrible Chief,” Arkara said. “Leaving the Shaman in charge was the right thing to do. What’s that?”
“A gift from Rayne,” Elias said. “Tiny spider spy cam. I killed its feed and took control of it. Not that it would be much use now we’ve jumped universes, but still.”
“Is that what she left in your room?”
“No, she left a stack of music chits for me. I found this in the cargo bay. Judging by the capacitor wiring it’s quarian made. Don’t see that configuration outside our envirosuits much.”
“What did she want?”
“No idea,” Elias said, putting the spider into an equally tiny compartment inside his suit. “I’m glad she was around to get Sync back though. And talk Cicepia down.”
Arkara glanced towards the Turian’s room, where she’d retreated once they’d boarded the ship. Occasionally there’d been the sound of a biotic field hitting the wall. The krogan shrugged and took another gulp of beer.
“If he’ll help my people, I’d prefer that Chen human alive.”
“That’s a pretty big if.”
Arkara shrugged again and drained her beer. “You certain you get get sample of genophage cured krogan tissue to Rayne?”
“Sure,” Elias said. “I’ll pay someone if I can’t find a willing volunteer.”
“Okay,” Arkara said, belching loudly and clambering to her feet. “I need more beer.”
“Do I want to know how many you’ve had?”
The krogan shook her head. “Not enough. There’s a line of bottles in the kitchen to keep score…”
“Knock yourself out,” Elias said. “Maybe not literally. I’m going to check in on Sync.”
“Creator Elias, if Thek Arkara is typical of her species, it would take at least fifty standard drinks to incapacitate her, assuming fully formed secondary organs.”
Elias blinked. “Thanks Pi, I’ll keep that in mind if I ever decide to get into a drinking contest with her.”
“With a full supply of tox filters, and if you didn’t actually drink all the alcohol piped into your suit, you should be able to go for at least sixty standard drinks, Creator Elias.”
Elias paused at the door of the med bay. “Pi are you suggesting I should cheat in a drinking contest?”
“Of course not, Creator Elias,” Pi said. “I merely suggested a method by which you could win should you so desire.”
“Sure, just lay all the moral decisions onto the organic.”
“You are not fully organic anymore, Creator Elias.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“I know.”

The med bay had two sets of doors, and a short corridor with discreet decontamination. It was one of the things that kept a clean room clean, although the med bay had windows and speakers that helped it sound like it was easily down the hallway from the rest of the ship, rather than being it’s own sealed environment. That feature could, of course, be turned off, but Elias quite liked the noise. He was used to the way human, turian and asari spacecraft didn’t get have the thrumming, squeaking and chatter of the migrant fleet, although the fleet itself was but a memory now. He wasn’t, however, used to the near silence of sealed rooms. When on the Citadel, he’d found himself turning on the television just for noise, or turning off the sound dampeners on the windows to hear the buzz of skycars flying past. Sync was sitting up on one of the beds, propped up against a pile of pillows. A datapad lay unnoticed in his lap as he stared off into the distance somewhere on the other side of the far wall.
“You look a bit better than dead,” Elias said.
“Hey,” Sync said, turning to look at him. “Thanks for saving me back down there. Cicepia said you did a lot of the work.”
Elias shrugged “I’m just glad I remembered enough human medicine to know what to do,” he said.
“I didn’t realise you kept medicine on you.”
“With my immune system? Please I always have something,” Elias said. “But your medical system seemed to have pretty much everything diagnosed. I just had to remember what the treatments were.”
Sync’s bionic eye stared accusingly at him. “Wait, what? You…hacked into my systems to medicate me?”
“No, your survival subroutines kicked in. Popped up with a holoscreen display and voice interface. Sounded a lot like Tricey actually—um, Beatrice.”
The two men looked at each other for a moment
“You…didn’t know you had that?” Elias asked finally.
“Can you keep a secret?” Sync asked.
“Well, yes, but it’s probably a little late now.”
Wordlessly, Sync pressed a corner of his metal chest piece, and a small section opened, from which he extracted a small data cube, which he handed to Elias.
“Scanning,” Pi said.
An image of the chip’s internal data started scrolling up on Elias’ helmet display. “Sync this isn’t a VI chip…”
“I call it OI,” Sync said. “It’s Original Intelligence.”
“That’s my wife.”
“Yes, okay, but is it an imprint of her consciousness, a reconstruction based on observed traits—”
“That is her consciousness.”
“Wait, you created a synthetic clone of Beatrice including her mind?”
Sync shrugged. “Long story short, a friend and I were working on different aspects of the same research—he found a way to turn human DNA into binary code. I came up with a way to incorporate binary body parts into human flesh. I guess we were both working towards what you already have: synthesis. I used the machine to save a copy of my wife. I hoped I’d be able to… with synthesis I can bring her back.”
“So you can reverse engineer her DNA from this,” Elias said, staring down at the chip. “No, no, that wouldn’t work. DNA doesn’t contain her mind. It would just be her clone.”
“That’s what I’ve been working on,” Sync said. “How to bring her back—my Beatrice, not just a clone. She’s never activated in my systems before—she just…the lights are from her,” he said.
“If this is her,” Elias said. “Including all of her memories and her mind—if she’s sentient inside of your systems to a degree…do you not want to…activate her?”
“I do and I don’t.”
“She’s activated once on her own.”
“Not like that,” Sync said. “I tried to activate her once. Properly.”
“It brings back bad memories.”
“For you,” Elias said. “She’s the one having her consciousness turned off.”
Sync stared at him for a long time, and Elias thought he saw fear, longing and loneliness warring on the man’s features. “Maybe another time,” Sync said finally. “It’s been a hell of day and I don’t know if I’m up to it, if you understand?”
“I understand where you’re coming from,” Elia said, holding the electronic chip up to the medbay lights. “But if this is your wife, if this is really the consciousness of your wife-don’t you think she deserves to be…well…conscious?”
Sync’s fingers smoothed the bedsheets over his thighs. “I never thought of it that way,” he said finally. “What would you suggest?”
“I can build an isolated AI platform for her. Basic optics and speech, no networking capabilities or visibility of ship systems and modular, portable storage. I think I saw some old blue boxes in Drimi’s stash and I suppose now I know why. Build one, plug her in and see what she wants to do.”
“Okay,” Sync said. “I think she’d appreciate that. I do too.”
“Do you want to be around for it?” Elias asked.
“Not at first,” Sync said. “If it doesn’t go well, I don’t think I could…you know…”
Elias nodded. “Sure. I’ll set up an area in the conference centre and I’ll let you know if it works. I’ll need to hang on to this though.”
“I know.”
“Okay then. Glad to see you’re conscious again, Captain.”
Sync gave him a half smile. “Thanks for saving my life back there.”

As the outer door of the medbay snicked open, Elias nearly ran into Cicepia, who looked poised to enter the doorway.
“How is he?” Cicepia asked.
“Physically, he’s fine,” Elias said. “How are you?”
The turian shrugged. “Stewing.”
“It shows,” Elias said. “You know your get a dark energy flicker around your headcrest when you’re mad?”
“Just listening to him… no remorse. I know it wasn’t my Octavius, but—”
“Octavius killed his daughter,” Elias pointed out. “I don’t think it’s that simple.”
“She was probably Cerberus too,” Cicepia fumed, pacing up and down the corridor.
“And if Octavius had been working for an organisation like Cerberus would you suddenly not love him as much?” Elias asked. “Does that mean Book Chen couldn’t love his daughter?”
Cicepia sighed. “Turians aren’t good at moral dilemmas, Elias,” she said. “It one of the things that make us turian. I just… after how I reacted down there? I wonder if I’m really all that different from my selves in the other universes.”
“Are you planning on assassinating the Shadow Broker?” Elias asked. “Or backstabbing your fellow cops to get a promotion?”
“Um, no…”
“Then I’d say you’re doing better than them.”
Cicepia chuckled. “I’m going to go say hi to the Captain,” she said.
“Sure,” Elias said. “Take care of yourself.”
“You too.”


Continue to Chapter 22

Return to Chapter 20

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 20: Friends of the Galaxy

“Science never solves a problem without creating ten more,” – George Bernard Shaw.

Padok Wiks led them back through the main garden and up the large, central stairs that Arkara remembered from her last visit. They led up to the…the…how much of her memory was actually hers, she wondered. How much of it was am imprint from the original Khel Ghyal? How much was a fiction seared into her brain with careful manipulation of biotic fields? As the group passed the largest cloning tank she paused and pressed one hand up against the thick glass. Inside an older version of her floated in the bluish liquid, eyes closed and limbs hanging limply by her sides.
“That’s you,” Cicepia’s voice brought her out of her reverie.
Turning, Arkara saw the C-Sec officer standing behind her, the asari Rayne by her side. “No,” Arkara said. “I’m her.”
“No,” You’re both different,” Elias said from where we was standing on the bottom step. “She’s her, you’re you. Similar, but different.”
“How can you be so certain?” Arkara asked.
Elias shrugged. “Have you heard what I sing in this universe?”
“Don’t say that in front of Mridi,” Arkara advised as they started up the stairs.
“So what’s upstairs?” Cicepia asked.
“Cloning labs,” Padok Wiks said. “Scientists from Friends of the Galaxy.”
From the upstairs landing, the salarian led them through a decontamination scanner and into the cloning labs, which were clean, clinical and the delicacy of salarian design seemed slightly at odds with the the heavy blockwork of krogan architecture. Two rows of cloning tanks curved around the room, creating a double U shape that Arkara had heard was something like a horse shoe. Not that had any idea what sort of alien a ‘horse’ was. In any case, the space between the rows housed workstations, monitoring equipment and quiet research areas, and the empty space inside the U held a large conference table, where a dark haired human was sitting, the lines on his face serious and his eyes covered with tinted glasses in the glare of the fluorescent light. Unlike the scientists he wore almost military garb, with army cargo pants and a loose white t-shirt, covered in a heavy jacket with enough pockets and weight that she wondered if it was, in fact, military grade.
“Sir, apologies for intruding, but we have representatives from the Thek clan to see you.”
The human looked up, and the lines on his forehead deepened slightly. “A clone wishes to speak to me?”
“Yes,” Padok said. “She is the original clone,” he said, placing a slight emphasis on the word ‘original’.
“I only speak of clan business with the Chief,” the man said. “Where is he?”
“You’re looking at her,” Arkara said.
The human stared at her, his face impassive. “I’m sorry?”
“Thek Targev has been succeeded,” Padok said. “New Chief.”
“Is that so?” he said, putting his omni pad away. “What is it you wish to speak to me about my dear? Please make it quick, I’m a very busy man.”
Arkara walked right up to him, until her face was staring down at his own. “Let’s start with what you’re doing here?”
“Exactly what it looks like,” he said. “We’re trying to cure the krogan of the genophage.”
“By making us meek?” Arkara asked. “Taking away our fighting spirit?”
“That is a…side effect of the cloning process,” the man said. “It’s something we’re looking into.”
“A convenient one for Targev, then? And you?”
“The old Chief wasn’t overly concerned by it,” the man conceded. “I don’t have a strong feeling on the matter one way or another. If you are angry about their treatment by the clan then it would seem you’ve claimed your revenge for their plight already. Our contract with the clan is simple: we provide them with clones and they pay us for our services. We do not meddle in the affairs of the krogan themselves. We are, after all the Friends of the Galaxy, not its dictators.”
“And you’ve been doing this for how long?” Arkara asked.
“Three years.”
“So your only interest here is credits?”
“Hardly. Friends of the Galaxy aims to make the Galaxy better as a whole. To help those who’ve been treated unfairly by fate or circumstance. Or other people. Like the krogan,” he said, waving his hand at the tanks. “I’m sure you can relate.”
“Why do you care about the krogan?”
“Why shouldn’t we? The rest of the galaxy may be keen to sweep the krogan under the rug until there’s another war, but we wish to provide them will the tools to save their people. How you use those tools is up to you.”
“You’re saving them by making their entire species meek and docile?” Elias asked.
“That was a unintended side effect—”
“That will be passed down through the generations from your clones,” the quarian continued.
“And they would prefer extinction?” the man asked. “The temperament of the clones is no different to that of the average human. Significantly different to the typical krogan baseline, I’ll grant you, but in my view that’s still survival of the species.
“And what is Cerberus’ interest in this?” Arkara asked.
A hush fell over the room as the scientists gave up even the pretence of work, and Book Chen was suddenly the focus of every ear in the room. “Where did you get that idea?”
“I have my sources.”
“Cerberus no longer exists,” he said, folding his arms. “Even if your allegations are true, why would it matter if I had ties with them in the past?”
“Because their ideals of human supremacy might be affecting your work,” Arkara said sharply. “Those side effects still not addressed for three years?”
“You’re starting to try my patience, Chief. Do you wish us to stop? Would you like to condemn your race to the ignominy of the genophage once more?”
“Oh, I intend to pull the plug as you say,” Arkara replied. “But I have other ways of fighting the genophage.”
“You want to close the facility?” Padok said, surprise evident in his voice. “We are not too far away from reaching minimum number of clones for species viability, even factoring in normal krogan aggression and mortality rates.”
“Very well,” the man said. “What do you wish to do, chief?”
“Take care of those in the tanks, but no new clones.”
“We have a contractual obligation to continue until we reach species viability,” Chen said.
“Is anyone good with contracts?” Arkara asked, turning to the group behind her.
“Absolutely,” Elias said.
“I’d like to take a look as well,” Rayne said.
Rayne and Elias withdrew to the far side of the conference table and started peering closely at the contract, and there was a flurry of whispered conversation that Arkara couldn’t catch. When the two returned, Rayne was smiling.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well, you’re wrong on two counts,” Rayne said.
“How so?”
“She can tell you to stop cloning,” the asari said. “Your contract stipulates you need to create as many viable females needed for species viability, yes. It doesn’t state you must use cloning technology to do it. But because your contract was made directly with Thek Targev and not with Thek Arakara—”
“She’s not bound by it,” Elias said simply. “She doesn’t have to pay you single cred, no matter what you do.”
The human pulled out his omni-tool and stared carefully at the text on a display. “Fair enough,” he said. “What do you propose then?” he asked, turning back towards Arkara.
Arkara’s earpiece bleeped as Elias’ voice filled her helmet. “You could kick them out and void the contract entirely, or renegotiate better terms—the contract is weighted heavily in favour of the FoTG,” he said. “As for actually curing the genophage…that’s up to you.”
“I’m not honouring that contract,” Arkara said bluntly. “If your scientists would like more work, I’d want the current clones cared for until they’re ready to be released and then…Elias, you had an idea?”
“I may be able to obtain samples of genophage resistant krogan tissue,” Elias said. “I believe a cure could be reverse-engineered from that, yes?”
Book Chen turned to the salarian. “Padok?”
“Uh, yes. Mr Chen. With correct samples, cure synthesis is quite possible. I would be curious as to your source, however?”
“I’m sure,” Elias said. “But that’s confidential. I can guarantee it will be from a willing volunteer and not obtained through coercion.”
“Very well,” Book Chen said. “If you provide a sample of tissue, we’ll work on a cure for you. Consider it a done deal.”
“After a new contract is drawn up with some more…balanced safeguards and assurances,” Elias said. “I’m happy to provide a template.”
“Ah…of course.”
“One more thing, Mr. Chen,” Cicepia said.
“Yes? Who are you?”
“Cicepia Altus. Are you familiar with the name Octavius Altus?”
“Sounds a bit familiar, why do you ask?”
“Just answer the question!”
Book Chen looked around at the rest of the people and then stepped back, thinking. “If memory serves that sounds like the name of a turian military operative responsible for killing a large number of Cerberus soldiers.”
“What happened to him? Did you cross paths with him? Is he alive?”
“He murdered my daughter. And no, he is not alive.”
“She was probably a Cerberus agent,” Cicepia said.
“And that matters why?”
“Did you kill him?” Cicepia asked, her hands wreathed in dark energy.
“We were at war,” Book Chen said. “If it makes you happier to think I killed him, then yes. I killed him.”
“Cicepia,” Elias said. “Wrong Octavius.”
“He still killed him.”
“And the you here was pretty dodgy too. Should we be imprisoning you for what she was attempting to do?”
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re even,” Book Chen said levelly.
“How dare you…”
Cicepia’s arm raised, but Rayne grabbed her wrist, and the air around them distorted and bulged and then stabilised. Book Chen pulled out a pistol. “Chief, is this really how you intend to start negotiations?”
“No, Arkara said, walking between Cicepia and her target. “It is not.”
“Then please keep your people under control.”
“But he killed Octavius.”
“Wrong one, if I’m understanding this correctly,” Rayne said. “And if you want revenge for that you can sit and stew on that for twenty years and come back to dish it out but I will not let you drag the Krogan down with you on it. I’ve invested too much here on Tuchanka to let that happen. Understood?”
Cicepia stared at the asari, then at Arkara and finally at the guns pointed in her direction. “Fine. Can I get out of here? I need some air.”
“There is a balcony overlooking the courtyard garden back through decontamination,” Padok Wiks said, hostering his pistol. “I would be happy to show you the way. Incidentally, regardless of what you think of Mr. Chen or Friends of the Galaxy, I personally am committed to seeing the survival of the krogan people. The genophage effects are ghastly; a blight on galactic history and needs to be fixed. I don’t know how to demonstrate this to you other than vocally.”
“Thank you,” Arkara said, as Padok showed the biotics out of the room.
“In light of these events I feel I would prefer not to write up the contract until the samples of tissue are provided,” Book Chen said once the three had left.
The quarian shrugged. “The genophage cure work would need to be contingent on the samples being delivered anyway. Are you sure you don’t want a contract for the care of the remaining clones? Without that there’s no guarantee of payment.”
Chen nodded slowly. “I’m happy to do that. I don’t believe that will take more than six months though.”
“There is still a portal to deal with,” Anar said. “Unless we do something all of this is will not matter.”
“This won’t take a moment,” Elias sending something over on his omnitool to both Arkara and Chen. “Acceptable?” the quarian asked.
“Fourteen day cooling off period?” Chen asked looking up from the scrolling text.
“You both might find something in the contract you decide you don’t like,” Elias said. “Basically, agreed rate of pay continues until delivery of the final clones on the standard growth timeline.”
After the contracts had been signed, Arkara nodded towards both of them. “All right. I have to take care of some clan business. We’ll go to the portal once I settle things with the shaman?”
Elias nodded. “We’ll be downstairs.”

In the end it was a relatively simple thing to get the Shaman installed as Chief in power if not in title.
“We’ll be wakening Khel Ghyal from stasis soon,” she said. “They won’t be able to make any more clones from her after that I don’t think. It will take a while, but perhaps if you choose to return you’ll be able to speak with her.”
“I’ll be back, Arkara promised.
And that had been that. Rayne had stayed behind to talk to the scientists, although not before giving her contact details to Elias and offering further assistance if needed. “It sounds like you’re into something big,” she had said.
“Thank you,” Elias had said, taking the number. “We’ll certainly let you know if we pass through again.”
“That wasn’t very enthusiastic,” Mridi had noted later.
“I’m not sure I trust her,” Elias said with a shrug. “Something was off there. I can’t put my finger on it, but something was off.”

The portal itself had been in the middle of a ruined wasteland, prowled by varren and the occasional klixen.
“No reapers?” Arkara said as they exited the tomkah truck they’d commandeered for the journey.
“This one was looking forward to some carnage,” Anar’s voice said from within his mech.
“It does seem too easy,” Elias agreed, even as the glowing blue thread faded from view. “Not that I’m complaining but…it does seem rather anti-climactic after everything we just went through.”
“With apprehension: I do not feel we should jinx our good luck,” Otto said. “Especially given that we almost lost the Captain.”
The roar of engines overhead made them all look up as the shadow of the Endurance drifted over them. “Speaking of which,” Elias said, “time to go to Invictus…blue universe this time, right?”


Continue to Chapter 21

Return to Chapter 19

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 19: New Chief; Old Friends

“They have a Krogan, why can’t we have a Krogan?” – Cat6 dropout.

There was already a crowd gathered when Arkara strode out into the main compound. There were cries of ‘Where’s the Chief?’ and ‘What happened to the Chief?’ and one of the men behind her pointed towards her and said “She’s what happened to the chief.”
A murmur spread through the crowd and the women gathered around her. Some of the men seemed less than pleased with the turn of events but so far, no one was questioning this turn of events. As Otto stepped up beside her, she felt relieved to have at least one friendly face nearby.
“Last five years,” Arkara said. “What happened after I set fire to this place? And where is the shaman?”
The crowd looked at each other, none seeming to want to speak first, but then the voice of an old krogan rumbled up from somewhere deep within his belly. “Chief Targev took charge of the clan, after the fire, Khel.”
“Why do you call me that?” Arkara asked.
The Krogan looked confused. “Because…you are her? You do not bear the number of a clone, so you are the original.”
Arkara’s jaw tightened, but she let the comment pass. “And where is the Shaman?”
“She is at the cloning lab.”
“Take me there,” Arkara said. “Show me what Targev ‘achieved’.”
The hubbub and murmurs of the crowd rose as they Krogan looked at each other, and then one of the male warriors said “Follow us.”
“What about this trash?” Anar asked, dumping the unconscious form of Targev at Arkara’s feet.
“He may know what’s going on here,” Elias said, resting a hand on Arkara’s arm.
Looking down, she found the muzzle of the shotgun–Targev’s shotgun–that she held in her right hand was pointed directly at Targev’s head. “I want to see him dead,” she muttered.
“The Chief was saving us,” one of the male Krogan said.
“Through enslavement and cloning?” Arkara snapped.
“We don’t have another way,” one of the females said timidly. “We have a purpose.”
“If these preening pyjaks stopped killing each other—and us women—then we could find a better way, a better purpose.”
“Well, yes,” Rayne said. “What did you think I was doing here?”
“Throwing a concert?” Elias asked. “You always did well in Krogan space…if I recall correctly,” he added hastily. No one else seemed to notice the quarian’s slight slip of tongue.
“Well, yes, but the proceeds have been going towards genophage cure research.”
“And why would an asari help us?” Arkara asked.
Rayne paused. “Because I believe that every race has a right to make their own decisions and to live to their best potential.”
“And what if this is our best potential?” Arkara asked, sweeping her arm wide across the gathered krogan.
“I don’t believe that,” Rayne said. “And I don’t know who you are, but from what you’ve just said, I don’t believe you think that either.”
“So you support this?”
“A cure isn’t worth anything if there’s no Krogan left to give it to!” Rayne snapped.
The silence that followed was broken by a small cough. “There um, might be another option,” Elias said.
Arkara turned towards him. “I’m listening, Elias.”
“There already is a cure somewhere…else,” the quarian said delicately. “We’d just have to go fetch it.”
“You said the cure was distributed,” Cicepia said. “There was only ever the one dose.”
Elias shrugged. “So we find the formula. It would be around somewhere. Failing that a sample of cured krogan DNA would kickstart research here—it would become a process of replication and reverse engineering from a known solution.”
“Is that not universe tampering?” Anar asked.
Arkara snorted. “As opposed to everything else we’ve been doing?”
The hanar paused. “This one concedes you have a point.”
“It’s an option,” Elias said. “Or if you’re really worried about meddling we could just go close the damn portal and leave. Or not. We could just leave and let everyone take their chances with the…” he glanced around. “You know.”
Rayne stared between them. “I’m going to need the full story on that one. And you’re Elias, as in…”
“Parallel universe,” the quarian said, and his eyes glowed very briefly green before his mask flickered and the usual white glow Arkara had been used to shone through once more.
“I…see.” Rayne said.
“He’s stopped breathing,” Cicepia said from where she was monitoring Targev’s vitals.
“And Sync?” Arkara asked.
“The Doctor’s life signs are stable, Thek Arkara,” Elias’ drone said. “However I would recommend he gets medical attention in the next two point seven six hours.”
“Our ship’s too far away,” Cicepia said.
“I have a car,” Rayne said. “But I’d need someone to give me directions.”
“I’ll go,” Cicepia said. “You should go with Arkara,” she added to Elias and Anar.


The krogan led her and the others towards an irregular line of parked tonkas, Rayne and Cicepia walked off in a different direction, Sync’s body hovering between them on a biotic field.
The facility was as a squat plascrete bunker, built on the ruins of an old hospital and Arkara noticed there were both krogan and salarians with guns on the fortified roof. They passed at least three gun posts that she spotted, carefully camouflaged in rubble, debris and twisted metal, and when they pulled up to the structure itself, she could still see the scorch marks from the chemical fire that had raged when she’d set it ablaze half a decade ago. There had been a half hearted attempt to patch some of the damage up where there had been structural damage, and the new plascrete stuck out like a sore thumb against the pitted and weatherbeaten fabric of the old building—as did the new second story that sat atop the building, giving it a commanding view of the ruined city it sat in.
“Killing field,” Elias muttered as they drove up to the entrance. “All the fortifications face outward.”
Arkara grunted. “Looks like the sandstorm’s cleared up,” she said. “Any sign of the reapers?”
“No actual reaper signatures,” Elias said. “The portal’s to the southwest of here, some distance off the main road. We’ll have to get it on our way back.”
The tonkas drove through heavily guarded vehicular gate, and then they were led down a ramp into the facility proper. The inside smelled strongly of antiseptic, and there were a large number of salarians inside, most wearing labcoats. In contrast to the outside, the inside of the facility was clean and it appeared that a bit more care had been taken in making recent repairs. There even appeared to have been some attempt at painting, and a natural light well fell upon a rare garden of Tuchanka native plants. Salarian influence no doubt. The aliens stared at their group with some surprise, and she could see groups forming as the news sparked from quick thinking brain to quick thinking brain. There were a number of large, round glass tubes, each surrounded by shiny new machinery and filled with a bluish liquid. About half of the tubes contained the floating forms of female krogan, although none appeared to be moving.
A salarian dressed in a black soldier’s uniform approached them, carrying a datapad. “Hello and welcome. I admit I’m surprised to receive unscheduled visitors—and aliens at that. What brings you all here? You come with guards, so this can’t be invasion. We have no diplomatic ties to Palavan, Rannoch or Kahje. You can’t be connected to the Friends of the Galaxy, I would have heard—”
The krogan guards stepped aside and looked towards Arkara and the salarian started.
“Khel? No, you can’t be Khel, I passed Khel in tank just…” he half turned towards one the largest tank at the center of the indoor garden.
“Who are you, and what is going on here?” Arkara asked.
The salarian’s omni tool lit up and he appeared to be scanning something. “Padok Wiks, former STG. I’m with Friends of the Galaxy now, attempting to save the krogan race from extinction. That doesn’t make sense,” he said, staring at his omni tool. “No records of…” he looked up at Arkara. “You’re the first.”
“The first of what?”
“You’re the first clone of Khel Ghyal.”
“I saved Ghyal,” Arkara burst out. “I burnt this place to the ground to get her away from Targev!”
“I’m sorry,” Padok said. “I don’t have any records of that. I joined this facility two years ago. I would suggest you talk to Shaman, although you would need…permission to visit her from the Chief,” he added, glancing at the guards.
“Targev’s dead,” Arkara said flatly. One of the males nodded confirmation.
“I see. I wondered why you had his shotgun. Very well. Come with me.” The salarian hesitated slightly. “I would like to say I personally disagreed with the…quarters assigned to the shaman. The old Chief insisted. My professional recommendation is that she be removed from facility entirely. The quarters are wholly unsuitable and the precaution of having her here is unnecessary.”
“Take me to her,” Akara rumbled.
“Walk this way please.”
He led them through the garden, past the large tank containing what appeared to be another Arkara. Down a small corridor they came to a locked door. A metal, locked door with heavy bolts and a tiny viewing window, which was shrouded in cloth. On the other side was a room best described as a jail cell. It was small, cramped and although there was some comfortable furniture and pelts on the floor, the walls were rough and there was no natural light. At the far end of the room, an elderly krogan sat on a padded chair, reading a book printed on yellowing paper. A long chain ran from her leg to the wall. Looking up, she stared for a moment, and then pulled out a round spectacle, which hovered over her eye, caught up in a tiny mass effect field that appeared to be generated by the frame itself.
“Is that you, Khel? You are out of your pod. Did they release you? Have they made enough of our people?”
“Shaman? Why are you here? And why are you calling me Khel?”
The shaman squinted at her. “Come closer, child.”
Arkara strode forward, and the shaman looked her up and down. “Arkara? It’s good to see you, but you shouldn’t be here. You must be very confused.”
“What happened here? And why… can someone get her out of that leg cuff? Now!”
“Uh, I’ll get the passcode,” Padok said, just as Elias said, “Done.”
Arkara looked down to see the cuff clink open and fall off the Shaman’s leg, then at the quarian, who was putting away his omni-tool. “What? It’s not like that was an unexpected request.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“You hacked our security systems,” Padok said accusingly.
“You bought commercial software,” Elias said. “And haven’t installed patches for four years. A nine year old could get through your security. I mean, a server administrator username of ‘admin’? Come on.”
Leaving the two to bicker, Arkara turned back to the Shaman. “What’s going on?”
The shaman reached out to cup her face. “How much do you remember from when you left?”
“I remember the fire. You helped me and Khel to the space port. You got me off planet, said you had somewhere to hide Khel.”
“Yes, you helped stem the treachery of Tarak, but after you left his brother Targev led a hunt for you. He didn’t find you, but when he returned he was determined to continue with the research. He wanted to continue Dr. Lennox’s work. Oh. I’m sorry, you probably don’t remember who Dr. Lennox is.”
“Blind salarian. He claims he left and took all of his technology and research when he found Tarak trying to use it to build himself an army, not cure the genophage.”
The shaman sighed. “Ah, then things were worse then we thought. Yes, Dr. Lennox left and took everything, which infuriated Tarak, but I never knew why. You’d already been born at that point though. You were the first clone of Khel Ghyal. You were so close—the best of friends. You talked like each other, thought like each other and…shared some of her memories. You remember her first child, slain by the hand of Thek Tarak?”
“She was named Arkara,” the shaman said with a smile. “You were named in her memory.”
“Why don’t I remember any of this?” Arkara asked, sitting down on the small cot.
“The salarian’s departure sent Targev into a blood rage. He rampaged through the female compound and…Khel was not battle ready. You were. Normally the one who slays the Chief is the next chief, but…you are a clone. None of the krogan saw you as an equal. Not after that Urdnot got his company killed on Uttuko to save the indoctrinated Rachni. So, you had to leave. I reached out to an old friend, an information broker named Shias Lazeen. She forged you a new identity, but to keep you safe, you asked for one more favour. You asked me to alter your memories so you would only know of yourself as Thek Arkara. You were never a good liar, and in order to keep your new life intact, you had to believe the lie. So I used biotics to imprint the new identity into your mind and you left.”
“So that’s why everyone keeps calling me Khel.”
“Yes, but you are your own person Arkara. You made it so through your own choices.”
“But what about here?” Arkara asked. “What’s happened here? If Cyrus left how is this place still running? Why are the cloned females so…docile.”
“Targev found a way to restart the facility with the help of a group calling themselves Friends of the Galaxy. They came to us, saying they wished to help the krogan. I don’t think they have intentionally sabotaged the cloning process, but well… even their best minds are not a match for Dr. Lennox. I think they’re more interested in being paid for their research. At least…” she paused. “Do not misunderstand me, the scientists here have treated me well and I believe they are genuine in wishing to help the Krogan. I’m not sure about the motives of their leaders—especially the ‘Chen’ human who calls the shots and represents the Friends of the Galaxy.”
“Is he here?”
“Usually. Unless he’s gone on one of his ‘business trips’. Be careful around him,” she said. “He used to be…” the shaman’s voice lowered. “He used to be with Cerberus.”
Arkara nodded and rose to her feet. “I will have to meet this Chen. But why were you chained up here?”
“Thek didn’t trust me,” the shaman said with a grin. “But he knew if he killed me he would have a more difficult time convincing the females to go along with his demands. So he keeps me here, and I am escorted to as I go about the rituals of our people. It is comfortable enough, for a prison, but I am isolated from the clan. I can at least keep conditions here comfortable for the women here. But once outside the compound I have no influence. I can’t say I condone what Targev has done outside these walls, but when the alternative is extinction…”
“Targev’s dead,” Arkara said softly, reaching out to take the shaman’s withered hands into her own. “Will you help me fix this?”
The shaman stilled and then nodded. “Yes child, I will. I believe it’s time for you to reclaim your clan.”
They sat a while longer, saying nothing. And then it was time to go upstairs.


Rayne strode through the doors of the med bay, and deposited Sync onto the main operating table. “Hey doc, we have a patient for you.”
From a nearby desk, Cyrus turned around. “Ah, I see. So you need my help now, do you?”
“Sorry, what? I thought you were the ship’s doctor?” Rayne said.
“I was talking to the other one.”
Cicepia sighed. “We’re dealing with the aftermath of your mess. Now are you going to do your job or not?”
“I’m on it, I’m on it,” Cyrus said, and walked over to the bed, and his visor flickered as it scanned Sync’s body. “I see, severe heat stroke coupled with near failure of cybernetic implants. Really should find fix for temperature extremes. Poor thing. No foresight,” he added, tapping Sync on one of the man’s pallid cheeks. “Seems to have cooled down now. The transport had air conditioning?”
“Yes,” Rayne said.
“Also used mud to absorb heat, I see. Still, I should be able to help.” Pressing a few buttons, Sync’s body was suddenly covered with tiny ice crystals as was Cicepia’s purple hood which she’d kept pressed against the gun would on Sync’s torso. “Bringing core body temperature back to normal parameters. You can release pressure now,” he added. “Cryo-stasis should stop surface bleeding. Will need to suture any major blood vessels though. Looks like shot went straight trough. No shrapnel at least. Less complicated.”
Cicepia stepped back, her hood frozen solid in her hand. She’d have to put it through the wash to get all the blood out.
“Have you found the cloning facility yet?” Cyrus asked as he started surgery. “I’m curious as to how it has held up—and who’s running it.”
“The others are on their way now,” Cicepia said, putting her hood into a plastic bag and going over the sink to wash the blood off her hands.
“Jerks wouldn’t let me in earlier,” Rayne said. “Hopefully I’ll get to go in now.”
“What was it like when you were last here, Cyrus?” Cicipia asked.
“It’s Tuchanka,” Cyrus said. “It’s hardly a five star resort.”
“What were you working on exactly?”
“Cloning,” Cyrus said. Suddenly he turned towards the Asari, who was holding up a tattered photograph. “Put that down, that doesn’t belong to you!”
“Sorry,” Rayne said, replacing the picture, and Cicepia saw it was a yellowing picture of a young human girl. “I guess I’ll go snoop somewhere else since you asked so nicely…jerk.”
“Go find the female asari,” Cyrus said as he turned back to the operating table. “I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
“All asari are biologically female,” Rayne said with a frown.
“Oh are they? Of course, I suppose you’d know.”
Cicepia sat down on one of the beds, keeping out of the way as the Salarian moved around the table.
Moments later, Rayne stormed back into the bed bay. “What wasn’t I warned about this?” she demanded.
“About what?” Cyrus asked, without looking up.
Rayne pointed at Drimi, who was standing uncertainly in the doorway.
“I didn’t think he was an issue,” Cicepia said mildly.
“Not an issue? You do realise he makes Asari inbreeding look tempting right? No one should be allowed to be that hot.”
“Um…thank you?” Drimi said. “I think.”
“Drimi, you might want to come in.”
“No, I’m good here, thanks,” Drimi said, still staring at Rayne.
“Sync’s on the table.”
“What? Boss?” Drimi pushed past Rayne and went straight over to the examination table
“Use the disinfectant first!” Cyrus snapped.
“What happened?” Drimi asked as he washed his hands.
“He overheated,” Cicepia said. “Then he…looked like he was about to go on a murderous rampage and got shot. Badly.”
Drimi’s omni tool glowed as he ran a scan over Sync’s body, and then there was a whirr as he started loosening some tiny screws Cicepia hadn’t even seen when Elias had been looking over Sync’s medicals back at the Thek compount.
“What are you doing?” Cyrus asked. “I’m trying to work here.”
“You handle the flesh, Cyrus, I need to make sure his implants are still working. If they’re not, nothing you do is really going to help, now is it?”
“Hm. I suppose that makes sense. The blood vessels from the gunshot are sutured or repaired. I’ll pack the wound with medigel to aid healing. I’ll also prescribe some mild antibiotics as a precaution. What’s the status of his technical implants?”
“Some damage to the power circuitry,” Drimi said. “The shielding stopped most of it, but I’ll need to replace some of the neural interfaces. I’m not sure if he’ll be properly registering the implant feedback at the moment.”
Some minutes or hours later Cyrus was wiping down Sync’s skin with a yellowish liquid and applying gauze and bandages to his chest when Drimi put his tools away. “Done.”
“And it looks like pretty boy is waking up,” Cyrus said, and Cicepia saw the man’s good eye flicker.
“Sync,” Drimi said. “Sync, say something!”
“D-drimi? That you?”
“Where…am I?”
“You’re on the ship. You gave us a bit of a scare there.”
Sync grimaced, and tried to sit up, but fell back down against the table. “But I was on Tuchanka… it was hot.”
“You overheated,” Cicepia said. “Arkara had taken down the Clan Chief and it was… you walked like mech and looked like you were going to execute him.”
“Did I?”
“No. You froze and one of the bodyguards shot you.”
“I froze?”
“Someone hacked your systems and tried to override your cybernetic automated survival subroutines,” Drimi said. “I don’t think they were fully successful.”
“Elias,” Cicepia said. “I wondered what he was doing with his omni tool.”
“I acted like a mech?” Sync said.
“Damn it,” the human swore.
“It’s all right,” Drimi said hurriedly. “Were were able to patch you up and you’ll be as good as new soon.”
Sync nodded and looked up at all of them. “Thank you. All of you.”
“You’re welcome,” Cicepia said.
“Hey, where’s your hood.”
“Got dirty,” Cicepia said with a shrug.
“Right. Where’s everyone else? Was anyone else hurt?”
“Not badly, although I think Anar’s mechsuit will need some fixing. They’ve headed over to the cloning facility.”
“We’re still on Tuchanka? They’re still out there?”
Sync pushed himself into a sitting position an would have swung his legs over the side of the table if Drimi hadn’t pushed him back down.
“No, you need to rest,” the asari said firmly.
“He’s right,” Cicepia said. “You overheated just being on that planet. You need to stay here.”
“Sedative?” Cyrus suggested.
There was a shriek from the back of the ship.
“What was that?” Sync asked.
“I’ll go check,” Drimi said, leaving the med bay.
“I presume the female asari just met each other.”
“Female asari?” Sync asked. There’s more than one. Wait, I remember…”
“Rayne T’kai,” Cicepia said. “She’s been surprisingly helpful considering.”
“Did she recognise Elias?”
“That is interesting.”
In the distance they could hear Drimi’s voice raised to a yell. “You can’t have both Elias AND Rayne!”
“They’re a set,” Mridi’s voice came down the corridor.
“That’s not how it works. They were pitted against each other.”
“But they’ve clearly patched things up and now we can all hang out together…like friends.”
“Oh sure, ‘friends’. I’ve seen you staring at Elias’ ass.”
“It’s the suits. I mean, form fitting right?”
“So not the point!”
“Oh and what is the point then, hun?”
There was a smug pause. “I’m hotter than you are. And I don’t need a push up bra.”
“Well, I’m smarter than you and I don’t need to resort to nitpicking over clothing items to win an argument.”
“You? Smarter? Ha! No chance.”
“Really? Well, I guess I’ll just have to prove it then.”
“Okay. How are you going to do that?” Drimi asked.
“We’re going to do a tech off. We’ll both build something set to parameters set by…hmm… your boss when he’s back on his feet. Rayne and Elias can be judges.”
“You’re so on,” Drimi said.
Cicepia sighed. “Well, at least they’re getting along.”
“If you need to get into the facility, I suggest you go now,” Cyrus said. “Sync is stable, but I advise against planetside activity until countermeasures can be taken against extreme heat.” He paused. “I suggest you take one of the wonder twins with you.”
Cicepia sighed. “I’ll go talk to Rayne.”


Continue to Chapter 20

Return to Chapter 18

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 18: The Ones Who Fall

“It bears emphasising: our traditional ways of thinking have ignored – and virtually made invisible – the relationship between people and technology,” – Kim J. Vincente

Elias looked around at the people he’d been travelling with. A turian, two krogan and a hanar. Back on the Endurance, there were two asari and a salarian doctor. Which would have been great if the ship wasn’t over an hour’s walk away. And if Sync didn’t look likely to bleed out before they even got there. Applying a coat of medigel onto Sync’s wounds, stopped some of the gushing, but if something had ruptured…
In his visor, Sync’s body became awash with green lines as Pi activated Elias’ omni tool’s diagnostics.
“Creator Elias.”
“Doctor Sync’s physical upgrades include both arms, one leg, one eye and portions of his torso. While his vital stats are deteriorating, we have a sixty four percent chance of saving him if we get him to a trained medic in the next thirty minutes. Alert: secondary survival subroutines present in the Doctor’s circuitry. Activating now.”
In the background, Elias could hear the footsteps of other krogan, doubtless drawn by the gunfire, and Rayne was pointing a gun at Thek Targev’s head. “He’s not dead yet, but if you get any closer he’s going to be.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Arkara move towards them. “He just got kicked in the quad as he richly deserves.” She was still holding the shotgun. Targev’s shotgun.
“You!” One of the krogan said. “What are you doing here?”
“Finishing what I started,” Arkara said firmly. “It looks like you’ve been busy since I’ve been gone.”
“How did you escape from the lab?”
A female voice which Elias recognised as belong to Tricey—or possibly Beatrice—came out of speakers that appeared to be in the middle of the human’s chest.
“Deactivating Synthskin,” it said as the holographic illusion that Sync used to clothe his augmented body in the illusion of flesh flickered out of view. From his sternum to his belly button was a smooth, diamond shaped metal plate, with a circular piece that sat just underneath where the human’s ribcage would be. From around the edges, angry red light leaked out, and Elias was reminded how Sync’s emotions were often betrayed by the light of his cybernetic implants.
“Emergency systems online,” Beatrice said, and the circular section popped open like a lid. “Error. Critical damage sustained. Manual start required.”
Elias flipped open the lid, looking into the small cavity and finding a bright red button. Heart pounding more than it had during the battle, he pushed it.
Immediately, the covering of the button opened, sections sliding away from the centre to reveal a lens, and a holographic interface appeared, projecting up over Sync’s body.
“Running diagnostics. Organic tissue failure. Heart function at point zero five percent. Recommend mechanical CPR. Yes/No?”
Elias poked his forefinger at ‘Yes’, passing through the hologram in his haste.
“Initiating mechanical CPR.” Sync’s chest began to rise and fall, his chest shuddering unnaturally, and a heartbeat monitor appeared on the holographic display.
“Look,” Rayne was saying. “I don’t care what the politics of the situation are—lower the guns or I’m going to start taking off your chief’s headplates. One by one.”
“I know who you are,” it was a youthful, male voice.
“And I don’t care.”
“You should have won!”
For a fleeting moment, Elias was annoyed, but then, Rayne had been very popular on Tuchanka. Besides, this wasn’t his universe, and given his counterpart’s taste in music, maybe she should have won. A looming shadow interrupted his thoughts and Elias looked up to find Otto standing there, holding a ceramic vessel of water.
“With Regret: I was seeking water to help the Captain. It appears I am too late.”
Cicepia grabbed the water and ripped a piece of fabric from Sync’s shirt. Wetting the rag, she lay it across the man’s forehead, and then levered a crumbling piece of stone from the dias, revealing the cool earth below. “No, you’re not,” she said, pouring the water into the cooler, lower soil and smearing the resulting mud over his extremities. “Help me cool him down.”
“Mechanical CPR failure,” Beatrice said matter of factly. “Suggest endocardial defibrillation. Yes/No?”
Elias slapped both Otto and Cicepia’s hands away from Sync’s body and hit ‘yes’, and the man’s body spasmed as voltage coursed across his heart once, twice, three times. There was a pause and Sync’s body jerked again, and a slow, steady beep on the heart monitor coincided with a shallow breath.
“Heartbeat restored. Running diagnostics.”
“Hey guys,” Rayne said in the background. “I’m going to need an airstrike at these coordinates—”
Elias looked up and the standoff was still going, with Arkara and Anar pointing guns at the three male krogan who had entered the clan leader’s compound.
“Wait, wait,” the young male said. “We don’t need no airstrike.”
“Are you sure?” Rayne asked, her omnitool still orange and glowing on her wrist. “Because you’ve still got guns pointed in my direction and I don’t like being shot. If I’m going to die, I’m at least going to take you with me.”
The younger krogan nudged the warrior next to him with his shoulder. “We pick new clan leader this way,” he said.
“Or you can become krogan barbeque,” Rayne said. “I sort of like that idea…mmm…barbeque.”
“The new chief is the krogan who defeated the old chief,” the older warrior grumbled.
“Ah,” Rayne said brightly. “I think you’re in luck there.”
Beatrice’s voice pulled Elias’ attention back to Sync. “Arterial blood gas collected.”
The holographic screen showed a table, which flickered accusingly at him.


pH 7.28
PO2 98
PCO2 89
HCO3 24

“Displaying suggested treatments.” Three further options appeared on screen: epinephrine, HCO3 and 0.9% Saline, each with an ‘Apply Y/N’ selection toggle next to it.
“What’s that mean?” Cicepia asked.


“What does all that mean?” Elias asked Corbin as he stared at the datapad by the side of his bed. “You know, I’ve realised that for all that quarians have weak immune systems, we rely a bit too much on pre-programmed diagnostic tools when it comes to our health.”
The human smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he turned the datapad so that Elias could view it more easily. “Those are just your blood gas readings. It tells me whether or not your body is getting enough oxygen to function—see the PO2 reading? That’s a measure of dissolved oxygen in your blood. The PCO2 reading is a measure of the dissolved carbon dioxide in your blood.”
“And what’s the P stand for?”
“But the pH is just the…the…acidity measure?”
“Yeah, it is,” Corbin said. “You know, I can’t actually remember what pH stands for.”
“And seven point four two is good?”
“Well, it turns out that humans and quarians have similar biology, leg shape and proteins notwithstanding,” Corbin said. “Normal pH is seven point three five to seven point four five. You should have seen your stats when you first got here though. CO2 readings were through the roof.” He paused for a moment. “Actually you probably didn’t want to see that.”
Elias stared down at the small numbers on the datapad. CO2 was reading thirty seven, which appeared to be good. “So what about medication? Has it been hard getting dextro first aid supplies?”
“Not for this,” Corbin said, tapping the screen with a stylus. “It’s just the proteins in our bodies that are different. Chemistry is chemistry regardless of species and there’s no proteins in medical grade saline solution so that’s useful galaxy wide…well…maybe not on volus on account of pressure, but you’re no trouble at all.” The human smiled, showing even white teeth and Elias couldn’t help but smile back. Not for the first time he hoped he had enough credits to cover his medical bills.


“His blood has too much carbon dioxide in it and for some reason is too acidic,” Elias said. “The CO2 probably built up while he wasn’t breathing. Epinephrine. That’s adrenaline, so yes. Saline will help given he’s lost blood and the bicarb should counteract the blood acidity.”
They watched as the numbers flickered and changed, pH creeping higher and CO2 creeping lower until both flickered into green.
There was a loud crack of bone on bone and Elias looked to see Arkara headbutt the largest of the krogan warriors.
“Gather the clan,” she said. “I want answers.”
She swept out between them, not waiting to see if they followed. After a moment the two larger warriors followed, but the smaller one sidled up to Rayne.
“Can you um, sign my shotgun?” he asked.
With a smile, Rayne pulled out a thick marker and signed over the silver sideplate of the gun, along with a picture of a cat.
“Thank you!” the krogan said as he hurried out after the other two. “I’m going to sell this on the extranet for lots of credits!”
“At least a thousand or you’re being ripped off,” Rayne called after him. “That kitty face is rare!”
“No, she hasn’t.” Pi’s voice sounded softly inside Elias’ helmet.
“Hasn’t what?”
“Undergone synthesis,” Pi said. “This is not the Rayne we know.”
“Mmm,” Elias said non-committally as the asari walked over.
“How is he?” she asked.
“Stable,” Elias said. “But we need to get him back to our ship. He needs medical attention from someone with a better understanding of human medicine than me.”


Continue to Chapter 19

Back to Chapter 17

Mass Effect Collision Chapter 17: Ethics in Science

Oh, better to die to a thresher maw,
With shotgun-blasting-roaring-roar,
Than to play ambassadorial games,
with the blood of Shiagur in her veins

– Mordin Solus

“Ah Captain,” Cyrus said when Sync brought him up on his omnitool. “Maybe you can sort this out. I suspect your ship ‘engineer’ may not not worthy of the title. My med bay door has been stuck for two minutes now and I’m fast running out of cookies.”
“This one would like to remind you that there is a rack of cookies in the kitchen,” Anar said. “This one saw them earlier today before leaving the ship.”
“Which would be great, if I could get to the kitchen!” Cyrus snapped.
“Drimi’s working on that,” Sync said.
“In the meantime, perhaps you could help us with a few things,” Cicepia said.
“Yes, perhaps you can,” Anar said. “Otto can you pass the cookies this one asked you to bring along?”
Taking a peanut butter cookie from the krogan, Anar started eating as noisily as possible, and Arkara shook her head.
“You know, Protheans used to eat hanar. Said they were crunchy. I have a recipe here. Always wanted to try it.”
“Before or after your historical course of flies?” Anar asked.
“Ha ha,” Cyrus said. “In all seriousness Captain, I demand you send someone more competent to deal with this situation. The Med Bay is clean room. I would like it to stay that way.”
“Sure,” Sync said. “We’ll get that door open as soon as we get some information from you.”
“Ah,” Cyrus said. “So the door being locked is not a malfunction. I should have guessed. I’m surprised you did not simply ask first.”
“It’s a precaution,” Sync said. “Normally I would, but I love my ship, and I’m not about to set you loose on it after what we’ve just found out.”
“And what’s that?”
“The krogan say you’re the one who gave them the cloning technology they’re using in an attempt to beat the genophage,” Elias said.
“And what if I was? That was shut down a long time ago and—”
“It’s still running,” Elias said.
“What? That’s impossible. I took all machinery and notes when the Chief decided to misuse the technology. He wanted an army, not a cure. No krogan could have started the facility up again.”
“Arkara, would you mind showing Dr. Lennox where you are?” Elias asked. “Do a quick tour of the building.”
“Interesting,” Cyrus said, scratching at his temple as Arkara showed him the ladies with her face. “Someone has dug up my work. Implications unsettling. The cloning technology was…imprecise.”
“In all seriousness, this one is surprised you tried to help the krogan,” Anar said. “You’ve never mentioned it before.”
“To what point?” Cyrus asked. “I failed. I hoped for a better resolution.”
“When did you do this? This one finds it hard to believe Eclipse authorised this.”
“They didn’t,” Cyrus said. “They just put me in a position where I could steal cloning technology from Cerberus which I used here.”
“We need to get inside and shut down that facility,” Anar said.
“And how can I help you with that? I haven’t been back to Tuchanka in years.”
“Dig out the facility blueprints,” Elias said. “We need to find a way in.”
“I can send them over, but this is Tuchanka. Unless there’s a hole in the wall there is only one entrance to facility. No secret doors, no hidden passages. Will send over the file now. I trust that will be sufficient to have my door unlocked. I also want two dozen macaroons. No. Three dozen.”
“Proudly: I can make those.”
“One other thing,” Elias said. “If they are using your technology, what’s the best way to shut it down? You know, aside from a bomb or airstrike.”
“Pull the power or destroy the generators,” Cyrus said promptly. “Bearing in mind doing so will kill any clones growing in tanks at time.”
“We’ll deal with that when we get there,” Arkara said. “Was your facility located in the clan compound?”
“No,” Cyrus said. “Given your current coordinates, the facility was off to northeast. I can send you exact location, but there’s no guarantee the krogan would be using same place.” He sniffed, “They’re traditionalists, so it’s entirely possible, but potentially a waste of time.”
“We’ll have to deal with the Targev either way,” Arkara said. “He’s not going to let us out without a fight.”
There was a ping on Anar’s omni tool. “Schematics sent. I recommend caution. I destroyed all local copies of my research and wiped all computers before leaving with the hardware. Only way for facility to be restarted is with Cerberus intel. Many possibilities. Mostly bad.”
“Thanks Cyrus,” Sync said. “I’ll get your door sorted.”
“And there really are more cookies in the kitchen,” Anar said.
“We’ll talk later, Anar,” Cyrus said. “Or not. I might just lace your next meal with something interesting. I have some research on mindfish active compounds that need testing.”

Arkara left the dormitory just after dawn, along with the other women, and met up with the others outside. The temperature was already climbing towards scorching, and even with the cool of the night Sync seemed to be in trouble.
“You need to drink some water,” she told him.
“Ran out,” Sync said, keeping to Anar’s shadow. “Let’s just go, all right?”
“Sure. Where’s Otto?”
“Not here,” Cicepia said.
“We need to find him,” Arkara said, but the turian laid a hand on her arm.
“We don’t have time,” she said. “If we don’t see the Clan Chief now, we’re risking a fight with all the krogan warriors here.”
“I’d like to see them try,” Arkara muttered.
“I wouldn’t,” Elias said.
Arkara grunted. “Where are your guns?”
“This one has them on a rack in its mech,” Anar said, “along with your armour.”
“I don’t think I can put it on now,” Akara said, glancing around at the stares of the male krogan. “You’ve got my assault rife, Anar?”
“Then let’s go. You’ll have to do the talking once we’re there.”

Targev’s throne was just as she remembered it—heavy, crumbling and sat on a dais ringed by towers that had probably once been part of the defensive walls of a fortified bunker. Whatever roof had covered the area had been ripped off years ago, and now only protruding lengths of rusted metal suggested that there had once been a structure overhead. The giant statue of himself behind the dais was new, although unsurprising. It was hewn out of rubble, and Arkara fancied she could see the rough, blocky joins where piece had been cobbled together. Shoddy work, even by krogan standards. Targev himself lazed on his throne, one leg thrown carelessly over an armrest. He was flanked by two bodyguards, and Arkara saw the flash of metal in one of the towers above.
“Two krogan the the towers and two o’clock and ten o’clock,” Elias’ muttered softly as they walked into the centre of the room “Also one behind us at four o’clock.”
“I’ll deal with him,” Cicepia said quietly. “These collars are unlocked, right?”
“Just yank them off whenever.”
“What took you so long?” Targev said impatiently. “You arrived yesterday.”
“She underwent the rite of purification,” Anar said. “Taking a new clan is not something done lightly.”
Targev grunted and turned towards Arkara. “And what’s your name?”
“Our female is mute,” Anar lied quickly. “She does not speak.”
“And how did she become mute?”
“She’s always been mute,” Anar said. “I think it makes her more appealing. You don’t need to speak to have babies.”
Rising from the throne, he strode over towards her, eyeing her as he might eye a prized varren. “She certainly looks strong,” he said. “She seems…familiar somehow. Where is she from?”
“Another tribe.”
Targev turned his glower towards Anar. “Which one?”
“One you don’t know.”
“I know all the tribes, clanless scum,” Targev said and slammed his forehead into Anar’s mech. Arkara tensed as Anar’s helmet rotated nearly a full one hundred and eighty degrees.
A thick oppressive silence descended as everyone stared at the krogan who by rights should have fallen to the ground with a broken neck. Reaching up, Anar twisted his helmet back into its normal position. “This one’s kid hits harder than you,” he said.
Targev roared, and went to headbutt Anar again, when Arkara barreled into him, yanking his shotgun out of his hands and pointing the weapon at him. Behind her, she heard the the now familiar hum of Cicepia’s biotics and an exclamation from a now airborne krogan, and another tumbled down from the tower wall, landing on the floor with a bone crushing thud. The crack of bullet fire rent the air and shots punched their way into Anar’s mech and carved new scars into the rubble pile Sync had ducked behind.
“Hey turian lady, do more of that!” At the back of her mind, the voice was familiar, but Arkara shoved it aside and fired the shotgun at Targev’s head, only to have him duck out of the way and lash out with his foot, sending her stumbling backwards, right into the sights of one of his bodyguards, who had his rifle trained on her. The guard squeezed the trigger and the thermal clip ejected into his face, a hiss of superheated air blasting outwards. Finding her feet, Arkara glanced over at Elias, who had ducked down behind Anar and was tapping away at his omni tool. He gave her a thumbs up and then grabbed both his sniper rifle and his sub machine gun as Anar’s suit opened up.
More gunfire rang in the air and she felt a shot graze her shoulder, and she roared, more in anger than anything else and rushed forward, using the butt of the shotgun to knock Targev upside the head, and heard shot hit one of the nearby bodyguards, releasing the smell of pepper, chilli and something hotter. The bodyguard sneezed, which was promptly followed up by a second sneeze and a third as more of the spices entered his nasal cavities. As the krogan shook his head to clear his nostrils—or waited for them to shut down—a field of blue energy crackled across Targev’s armour, causing it to buckle. A spray of blood splattered her face as Anar unloaded six shots in rapid succession into Targev’s chest, and the clan leader keeled over, gasping.
Glancing around, Arkara saw only the other of Targev’s bodyguards was still in the fight. The krogan in the tower behind them was still struggling in the grip of Cicepia’s singularity and the third warrior had been pulled helplessly into the air by another biotic field, only to fall to the ground moments later, a bloody hole punched through its helmet.
She felt the cool touch of medigel settle over her shoulder, and looked over to see Sync beside her.
“Thanks,” she said.
He nodded woodenly, and she could see his face was flushed and his synthetic implant lights were glowing an ugly maroon. She thought she could just make out a voice repeating the phrase ‘Critical heat levels detected. Engaging survival mode’, but as she raised the shotgun to fire at the still remaining bodyguard, she saw the doctor step forward, his pistol in hand and aiming down at Targev’s skull. It would have been a point blank shot. It would have blown the man’s brains out. Sync moved as a robot, and then he paused, a burst of electricity crackling over his body, and she glanced towards Elias, who had his omni-tool back up again. Then a burst of gunfire sounded and she saw two holes punch their way through Sync’s chest. The human hit the ground like a sack of meat, and while the return fire from Anar brought down the krogan it appeared they were too late.
The mopping up was clinical—Elias finished off the floating krogan with a shot from his sniper rifle and Arkara used Thek’s shotgun to down the man’s last remaining bodyguard. As the dust settled, Cicepia was already trying to staunch the blood flowing from the doctor’s wounds.
“How is he?” Elias asked, running up.
“Bad. I think it punctured a lung.
“Is he…”
“No,” the turian said. “But his systems are failing.”

Back to Chapter 16

Mass Effect Andromeda: Is it homophobia if…?

So I’ve been playing Mass Effect Andromeda blind. And I’ve been intending to upload that as a Let’s Play. And yes, I play gay men where possible because after spending nearly twenty years pretending to be straight I don’t see why I should have to do it in a video game. Bioware, as a studio has been one of the video game creators at the forefront of representation, and Mass Effect Andromeda is the fourth instalment of their flagship sci-fi series, and the second game in that series to include gay, lesbian and bisexual romance options. Bioware’s fantasy flagship, Dragon Age, has had gay, lesbian and bisexual romance options included in all three games.

Although records have since been scrubbed from the internet, it is an open secret that both Kaiden and Ashley in the original Mass Effect were originally written as bisexual, with romance tracks for both male and female Shepards, down to their lines being partially voice acted. This eventually came full circle in Mass Effect 3, where they became, once again, romance options for Shepards of either gender. So why was the content cut? Time seems unlikely, since most of the content was already there and shipped, and the official reason for the lack of gay male representation from the developers was “we didn’t have any gay men on the team, but one of the sound engineers is a lesbian so we have the asari”. The asari, of course, are a monogendered alien race that appear to be attractive females to any dimorphic sentient species in the milky way, and pretty much play directly into the heterosexual male fantasy of two hot women getting it on, but it’s not two women – it’s a woman and a monogendered alien. The excuse of “we couldn’t find a single gay man anywhere to talk to in the studio – or the city the studio was located in” rings hollow, as did the idea that somehow, having one lesbian allowed them to keep Liara as a female Shepard romance option, but not Ashley.

Then we had Dragon Age 2, a game with faults, and the dudebros got freaked out by having a guy hit on them, and Mass Effect 2 followed with a suspicious lack of any gay male romance options at all. In short, the history of the Mass Effect franchise has been one of exclusion, and frankly, homophobia, whether for reasons of marketing or the developers being deliberately or accidentally exclusionary. Given the lack of representation in Mass Effect 2 and constant fan interest, accidental exclusion seems unlikely.

Mass Effect 3 was better. And it seemed like vindication that Mass Effect was finally moving it a more inclusive direction akin to the Dragon Age series. There were still issues – such as in the Citadel DLC where Shepard and Kaiden go upstairs after Kaiden cooks a steak dinner – and if you play as MShep, it’s obvious that they’ve animated FShep, and then played them on MShep’s body – because clearly gay men react to foreplay as women, right down to assuming they have breasts. It’s a tiny moment, about five seconds tops, but it’s…indicative of a lack of caring. A notion of “this is good enough for gay men and those men and women who play them in a video game”. And with Mass Effect Andromeda, this appears to have continued despite a change of project leads. I’m not sure if it’s completely fair to Bye Felicia Casey Hudson, or if he was just the poor schmuck who had to defend the business decisions to make Mass Effect a playground for the straight male dudebros and them only, but well, community anger does tend to gravitate to the man in charge. And if nothing else, he doesn’t appear to have fought that decision.

And it wouldn’t be an issue, really, if Dragon Age hadn’t continually kept showing how it could be done well. Honestly, it seems to me that Dragon Age is where Bioware takes risks and experiments, and Mass Effect is their safer, mass market juggernaut that’s more carefully controlled, but after the representation in Dragon Age Inquisition, I had high hopes for Andromeda, especially when the developers confirmed that they were including queer chracters and they were happy with the balance of options provided.

The Internet disagreed.

And really, I’m disappointed. Really disappointed. Feeling betrayed might be closer to the truth of the feeling, but let’s be honest, Bioware doesn’t owe me a great gay male romance. They don’t have to write one that is of the same prominence, depth and character as the romances they write for straight men, or women, mostly straight men. But they implied that’s what they were making. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe when they said they were happy with the balance they’d struck with the romances, they were happy with the heterosexual male romance options being the most detailed, the most nuanced, and everyone else can fuck off because the heterosexual male romance was the only one they really cared about. And given that gay men didn’t get any depth, or squad banter, or mission dialogue and the least screen time and fade to blacks more consistent with Jade Empire than Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age Inquisition, I can’t help but think that for the Mass Effect Andromeda game developers to be HAPPY with the balance – they have to be homophobic.

Whether that is actively homophobic and trying to work in a company that isn’t and they’re actively working to make the gameplay experience worse for gay characters, or whether they’re just clueless straight men who think that by having a ‘gay character’ around they’re being inclusive along the lines of separate but equal the way that America pretended was racial equality for a long time is open for debate, but they have to be one of the two. There is no way they could genuinely be happy with the balance of the romance options if they actually cared about equality for sexually diverse people and the representation of those people in their game. If that were the case they’d have created a game that shipped at a point which didn’t need the promised ‘Improvements to male romance options for Scott Ryder’, coming over the next two months, to quote GM of Bioware Aaryn Flynn.

While they’re at it, they seem to have promised to improve the hamfisted treatment of their (presumably one) visible trans character—again, something that wasn’t needed with Dragon Age Inquisition shipped. That development team just got it right. So why can’t Mass Effect?

Why is Bioware satisfied with producing exclusionary sci fi games, but strives for equality in its fantasy games? Why does Bioware accept homophobia, whether latent or active, in its Mass Effect development team? Why after four games has it been unwilling or unable fix that singular issue in its Mass Effect development team? Why should I pre-order any Mass Effect game if it’s going to lie to me in its marketing now? Mass Effect is a great universe and the only shooter I’ve ever really loved, even if I had to wait three games before its development team decided people like me were allowed to visibly exist. And sure, they don’t have to do that – lots of games don’t. But lying about how progressive they are to get the dollars is really not cool.

An argument in progressive circles at the moment is that outrage is great and makes us feel better (heck I’m writing this for catharsis so that I feel better), but if we want people—or game studios—to get better, we have to let them. The issue is that after four games, my patience is running a bit thin. And I don’t see why I have to wait ten weeks for the game I was promised I was going to get out of the download. And now I’m torn, because my immediate choices appear to be stop playing the game, including my Let’s Play and hope the promised patch will actually deliver something better than the heteronormative bullshit that whoever okayed the Andromeda storylines seems to think is ‘sufficient’ for people who play anything other than a straight man in their game. It might not. It might still be crap, the way the non-heterosexual sex scenes are still heterosexual animations played on different bodies that don’t actually move the same way. Or I could play the unpatched version and then HAVE to play a second run to see the (hopefully) better content. And maybe the game has enough replay value that I’ll be okay with that. Maybe it won’t. Either way, I shouldn’t have to make that decision. It shouldn’t be acceptable for a triple A studio to ship a game that forces its players to make that decision. Not because I’m demanding it, or other players are demanding it. It shouldn’t be acceptable because in the society we have, and the one that Bioware is saying it supports, it should be unacceptable on the basis of its own Quality Assurance.

And I’d like to skip this bullshit and get to the point where I’m living in that world. That fantasy world that’s more compelling than anything I’ve played in Mass Effect Andromeda so far. Honestly, until that happens, I don’t think I’m going to get very far in my Let’s Play. In fact, I’m tempted to stop playing until I get that better content. Or maybe I should demand a refund and refuse to give them my money until they deliver on the balance they apparently promised.

And next game, I think I’m going to wait until I see whether they do deliver before I hand over any cash.

Better with Bacon – Touring the Blogosphere

Recently, I’ve been popping up all around the internet doing guests posts as part of a blog tour for my new Novella, Better with Bacon. The story itself follows David and Patrick: two best friends who have the chance to deepen their relationship. There’s just the question of Patrick’s ex showing up in his life. His very pregnant ex.

Better with Baconis is now available for at Dreamspinner Press, so head over and grab it now.

If you haven’t found all my guest posts, be sure to follow me on twitter, and you can also check out the links below:

I’m also aware that there are going to be several day 1 reviews coming out, so expect me to be sharing those with you as well!

Better with Bacon

Genre: Fiction
Sub-Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

When Patrick’s long-term girlfriend Li Ling dumps him just as he’s working up the nerve to propose, he ends up drunk on David’s couch—and later in David’s bed. Although initially reluctant to pursue anything beyond a one-time drunken tryst, David throws caution to the wind during an intimate dinner, where the two men also discuss Patrick’s dream of entering the food industry. Just as the friends-turned-lovers are settling into their new romance, Li Ling calls Patrick—she’s pregnant.

Convinced the announcement spells the end of their love affair and a return to their platonic friendship, David flees to Sydney to escape his heartbreak. But upon his return to Melbourne, David discovers the situation hasn’t gone the way he’d expected. There might still be a chance for David and Patrick’s dreams to come true if they can forgive each other’s mistakes and move forward.

Available From: