The days and nights passed in a blur of concerts, sleeping and carefully looking after his health to ensure he was able to perform the next one and the one after that and before he knew it, Elias was backstage waiting for the curtain to go up on his final show. He’d done so many now that stage fright didn’t really kick in until he was in the wings. Of course, now that he was in the wings he could feel the rush of his blood and the slight shaking in his hands. Any moment now his stomach would start to jitter and then he’d step out on stage and it would settle into a warm glow in the pit of his belly when he sang the first note. Probably.
Some of the techs were watching a broadcast of Talkback, an extranet round table show where five hosts discussed and debated the news of the moment. Or three years past in this case.
“But what right did he have to force this…this Synthesis upon us?” a female human was saying. Elias thought her name was Karen. “What right did he have to choose this? Not just for one city, one planet, but for the entire universe?”
“If anyone had the right to make that call, Sheppard did,” an Asari replied. “He was the first to warn us of the reapers. He was the one the galaxy turned to to fight them.”
“He was supposed to destroy them, not infuse us with part of their…their…essence!”
“We put our trust in the Commander to get us all through the war alive,” the Asari said calmly. “He did that.”
“What alternative do you propose?” a Salarian said, his voice rapid fire and pointed. “Sheppard on spot, only one to make it to the catalyst on Citadel alive. Should he have sent out extranet survey via non-existent comm bouys and waited for a months to collate results? Years? Not an option. Sheppard made best call with available data, and of all in universe, had the most data. Right or wrong a luxury only available after the fact.”
Elias tuned out and went downstairs to the lift that would rise through the theatre floor in a grand reveal for his opening number. He’d long ago concluded that life continued because someone or someones made a lot of hard calls. Doubting those decisions was a luxury of those alive to reap the benefits, and those who did were typically those afraid of change. People didn’t like having change thrust upon them. Some might even choose death over it. Well, some wouldn’t. But they were very quick to forget that those had been the choices available.
He was halfway through his set when an electric lightshow went awry. Or at least, he thought an electric lightshow went awry. In the centre of the theatre, a purplish electric cloud was crackling, looking for all the world like a miniature lighting storm. He could hear the techs chattering in the background, but the show must go on, as the earth saying went and so the show did go on. At least, up until a the centre of the storm fell into itself and there was a sensation of darkness and distance, and something was approaching, and the people who had been sitting in their seats were falling into the black, disappearing and falling into the darkness that the things were falling out of. Finally, six squat figures snapped into place in the theatre as the electric storm faded and the fabric of space snapped back into a taut, impervious sheet. They were volus, or had been volus. Actually they were husks. Volus husks. He hadn’t seen any volus husks during the war. These appeared to have the scuttling legs of rachni underneath and from the centre of their chests came a flexible piece of tubing, which in turn led to something that looked much like a bomb detonator, which was clutched in one of the volus’ hands.
Husks weren’t exactly uncommon in society, although they tended to form the underclass of society and had higher rates of mental illness and suicide than any other species—if indeed grouping husks together as a ‘species’ was the right thing to do. These ones moved with a singular purpose and aggression Elias hadn’t seen that since the war. Then one of them turned, hand upraised as an omni blade grew around his forearm and stabbed through one of the seats to hit its occupant. The band paused, the flow of music squeaking to a halt with a brassy squelch from an electro-trumpet. From the catwalk a shot rang out, and one of the husks turned, red eyes searching for the shooter. Elias paused, still outlined by the spotlights on stage. A part of himself that he’d buried five years ago quietly rose from whatever bed it had been sleeping in, and he found himself angry. It was a cold anger though, one that endured in its icy rage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please leave the auditorium immediately. This is not part of the show. I repeat, this is not part of the show,” Elias said, his intonations clipped and inflectionless. With a flick of his wrist, he and Pi sent a stun drone zipping through the air and over to the husks. He didn’t have much hope that it would last long, but he hoped it would buy the audience some time.
“Mr Elias, we need to get you out of here.”
There was a turian on stage now. C-Sec judging by the uniform. Exactly how he rated C-Sec rather than private protection remained a mystery to Elias, but he suspected Jamak had something to do with it. Saving Creds no doubt although given that the more Elias made the more Jamak made, Elias didn’t really feel the need to complain about it. Besides, the more money he had, the easier it was to find ways to help Rannoch build anew.
“Yeah, sure,” Elias said, and left the stage at a run, heading for his dressing room.
Creator Elias, the drone has been destroyed, Pi murmured into his comm.
Elias cursed inwardly. He had hoped it would last more than a few seconds, but there was no time to think.
“Stay here, sir, your bodyguards are on their way to escort you out,” the Turian said, before heading up the stairs to the theatre catwalks. Nodding, Elias ducked into his room and opened one of the boxes inside that looked identical to the many that were overflowing with gifts from wellwishers and fans. Identical in almost every way except this one contained cushioning foam and his weaponry. Grabbing his SMG and Sniper Rifle, he dashed back out the door, heading for the area where the wings met the stage curtains. Sliding across the floor he poked the barrel and scope of his gun through the gap and looked out into the theatre.
The crowd’s stampede had cleared everyone from the ground level of the theatre, aside from some C-sec officers, and what appeared to be a mechanised suit of Krogan battle armour, that was being driven around by a hanar, its pink, gelatinous body floating in a thick, transparent viewing pod where the Krogan’s helmet would have been. There were perhaps a dozen civilians dead, some stabbed, but mostly collapsed without any noticable wounds. There was also a haze of orange tinted gas that discoloured the air, and of the three remaining volus, two were caught up in a biotic singularity, and as he watched, the third was felled from a shot from above.
Shooting. Right. Turning back to the helpless husks floating in the air, Elias sighted down the scope and fired. It was an off the cuff shot, taken without proper aim, but he was in a hurry. He still found his mark, and the lights in the husk’s eyes dimmed and its struggles ceased.
“No one attacks my concerts and gets away with it,” Elias said with some satisfaction. “Not even reapers.”
A burst of shots from the hannar-controlled mech’s assault rifle took out the last husk, and the as everyone turned towards the stage. Elias realised he was still hooked up to the audio system. Shouldering his rifle, he stepped out into the spotlights again, and hopped down from the stage, just in time to see the hannar turn to a nearby C-sec officer and hand over an assault rifle. “This one thanks you for…” suddenly the aggressive, snarly tones were replaced with the calmer, more modulated hanar voices Elias was used to, and he realised the hanar must have been using a secondary voice modulator. “…the use of your weapon.”
“Um… you’re welcome.”
On the prompt side of the stage the officer who had escorted Elias to his dressing room entered through the emergency exits, a female krogan in cuffs before him and a human tailing along behind. “I’ve apprehended the Krogan, Lieutenant Accius, she had a sniper rifle.”
“Good, take it for testing,” the Lieutenant said.
Not being the centre of attention took Elias completely by surprise, and for a moment he was both angry and relieved. Then he looked out at the bodies in the audience and sighed. Hopping down from the stage he started checking the bodies. Some had bullet wounds from the guns the husks had been wielding. Some had knife wounds. Some had no visible damage at all. Running a diagnostic on his omni-tool, he found traces of a neurotoxin, the likes of which he had never seen before.
“This one questions why you are taking those individuals into custody,” the hanar was saying, it’s mech lumbering over to where the Lieutenant was standing. “They were a great help during the battle.”
“This does not concern you, citizen,” the turian snapped. “And and how did you get that mech past security?”
The hanar paused. “This one has its case in case of emergency. This one felt the attack by hostile reaper forces constituted as an emergency.”
The turians eyes narrowed. “I’ll let it slide given your efforts today.”
“This one appreciate the compliment, but its issue still stands. The Krogan was of much assistance in the battle.”
“So was he,” A wounded C-sec officer said, limping over. He took out three of those creatures before they could do more damage.”
“Noted,” the Turian said. “Go see a medic, Officer.”
“Yes Ma’am. Say, weren’t you supposed to be on your honeymoon?”
“Is this some sort of joke?” she snapped. “You know I’m widowed.”
The C-sec officer seemed taken aback. “Already? What happened?”
“Happened? I’ve been widowed for years.”
“Officer Altus, did you…hit your head during the battle?” the other Turian said carefully. “Perhaps you need to see a doctor.”
“No, I’m fine. I’m fine.”
“Did you need us to contact Octavius for you?”
“Your husband, ma’am.”
“I’ll be fine. Please escort the suspect back to the precinct. I need to…sit down.”
“It’s nice to see leadership being kept up,” the Krogan muttered in what she probably thought was a quiet voice. However, before Officer Altus could continue, a human behind her piped up.
“So you’re the one in charge around here.”
Officer Altus sighed. “Why am I not surprised to see you?” Apparently the two had a history.
“So you’re just arresting people without cause now? Is that how you run things?”
The turian sighed. “I believe she may be able to help us with our inquiries into an unrelated incident earlier today.”
“Oh yes, your inquiries, I’ve seen those,” the man said hotly, a strange, yellow-orange light flickering in his right eye. “Having your snipers shoot a surrendering man? Is that how C-Sec runs its ‘inquiries’.”
“I said stand down, citizen,” Officer Altus snapped. “Unless you want us to take you in to find out what you had to do with all of this.”
The man went for a gun, but it was the Lieutenant’s gun that he grabbed and she was too quick, grabbing his wrist and yanking hard. Her pull turned into a throw and in the blink of an eye the human was on the ground, face down, his hands cuffed behind him. “You’re under arrest for assaulting an Officer.”
Creator Elias, these husks do not appear to be synthesised, Pi said, his voice sounded soft and muted inside Elias’ helmet.
“I thought the blast from the crucible hit the entire galaxy,” Elias said.
Yes, I am computing probability diagnostics, but these husks do not have the base level of organic material found in all reaper creatures after the Crucible was detonated, Pi said. They also appear to be responding to the pre-synthesis old machine signals.
“Did everyone take their crazy pills this morning?” Elias asked, standing up his voice booming through the speaker system once more. “Am I the only one the least bit concerned about the dead husks on the floor here?”
The hanar turned. “This one would like to point out that the husk bodies are riddled with bullets. It would be safe to presume this one noticed. Also this one questions your need for higher vocal volume.”
Rolling his eyes, Elias disconnected his comm from the theatre sound system, even as the Krogan said. “It is odd that they show up again three years later,” she said. “They shouldn’t be here at all.”
“What to you mean?” the hanar asked.
Creator Elias, those four individuals do not seem to hold the same synthetic DNA as the rest of the people here. I have not seen their like in years.
Turning to the officer that was unobtrusively shadowing him, Elias pointed at the husks. “Officer, these husks aren’t normal. They haven’t been synthesised.”
Elias pulled up a scan on his omni-tool, showing the structure of the husks, even as the hanar turned, opened the clear blast shield of his mech and peeked out, two of its tentacles curling over the lip of the neck area. “This one thought all the husks were destroyed.”
“That’s what I thought,” the Krogan said. “It’s odd.”
“This one agrees.”
Creator Elias, I am picking up some strange readings from the hanar’s mech. No known match to current databases. Analysing.
“That one isn’t synthesised either,” Elias said stalling for time.
“That’s impossible,” The C-sec officer said. “Everyone in the galaxy was synthesised.”
“He’s not. Look at his skin.”
“I guess…maybe…people might have…I don’t know. I don’t know how this all works.”
Walking up to the mech, Elias asked. “What’s should I call you, Hanar?”
The alien didn’t respond, and Elias reached up and knocked on its suit.
“What should I call you, I can’t keep thinking of you as ‘the hanar’?”
“This one’s face name is Anar. You’re Elias correct.”
“That would be me.”
“This one didn’t vote for you.”
“No one’s perfect,” Elias said absently. “You’ve got some rather interesting readings coming from your mech suit right now.”
“How many mech suits do you normally see.”
“Anar, I’m a quarian. I see anything and everything mechanical. It’s a racial obsession.”
“What strange readings do you mean, exactly?”
Creator Elias, analysis shows the hanar has old machine technology inside its suit.
Stepping back, Elias drew his Sniper rifle and aimed it directly at the hanar’s head. “You’re carrying reaper tech.”
“Nothing personal, but non-synthesised reaper husks and non-synthesised hanar with reaper tech… you do the math.”
“Do not take this personally either then,” Anar said and the blast shield closed with a click. “This one believes it might know what you are referring to. This one saw something strange earlier and will check.”
A number of fast food containers, confectionery wrappers, a bobble headed orange and black cat that Elias recognised as being from a Garfield comic from earth and a few back issues of fornax fountained up into the clear bubble canopy. Apparently the hanar’s mech was something of a mess.
Then it peeked up through the blast shield. “This one would like to point out that its suit has never done that before,” then the arms of the mech folded across its chest.
“Would that one like to dispose of the reaper tech before I punch a hole through its mech?” Elias asked pointedly.
Almost reflexively, the mech pulled out its assault rifle and aimed it as Elias. “This item is of personal value and will not be removed from this one’s possession.”
From the ground, Elias could hear the human civilian mumbling something about ‘bigger threats’, but it was drowned out by the sounds of thermal clips being replaced and guns being aimed at the hanar’s mech.
“This one means no harm,” the hanar continued, “but it will not be threatened.”
“Half a dozen people are dead, killed by hostile husks and the only link we have to them is you. You mean no harm…but?”
“This one has its questions as well, but will defend itself if threatened.”
Chask and Markanis burst into the room and rushed to Elias’ side. “Mr Elias,” Chask said. “Are you all right?”
“Currently,” Elias said, nodding towards the hanar mech.
“We should get you out of here, sir.”
“We need to get a look at that reaper tech first,” Elias said.
Chask grinned and clapped his hands together. “Not a problem, sir, did you need that pretty suit intact too?” Markanis simply pointed his assault rifle at the mech.
The mech’s rifle slowly lowered. “This one would like to offer a sign of good faith,” Anar said. “It will allow the inspection of the device on two conditions. Firstly, this one will retrieve the object from its suit and it will be returned to this one-the item is of sentimental value”. Secondly, the object will go with the C-sec officer, and not with the Quarian singer.” Turning to Officer Altus, the hanar managed to stay impressively calm facing a pistol pointing directly towards its head. “Are these terms at least somewhat agreeable?”
“I can work with those,” Officer Altus said.
“Suits me,” Elias said.
“Very well then.” The hanar stowed its assault rifle on its back and disappeared from view briefly before returning. “Does anyone have tongs? If this item is indeed reaper technology, this one would prefer not to touch it.”
“Sure, hang on,” Elias said, and a moment later a pair of tongs dropped off his omni-tool and into his his right hand.
By mutual agreement, Officer Altus took the tongs from Elias and handed them through the blast shield of the hanar’s mech suit, and a few minutes later the hanar reappeared, carefully lifting down a glowing, greenish-purple object that looked for all the world like a datadisc. Except for the glow. Datadiscs didn’t normally glow. As she took it out of the hanar’s tentacles and walked a short distance away there was a…ripple. It was as if the space inside the theatre was twisting, and the purplish electric light show that Elias had seen during the show crackled through the air.
“This one suggests the disc should not be brought near that area of the theatre,” Anar said.
“I second that,” Elias said. “Officer, may I run a diagnostic on that device please?”
Backing away from the central seating area, Officer Altus looked thoughtful as the crackling energy faded and the distortion in the air stilled. Turning towards Elias she stared at him for several seconds longer than was comfortable before she shrugged. “All right. But no touching.”
“Last thing on my mind,” Elias agreed, and sent the drone out so that Pi could complete some remote scans.
“Analysing,” Pi said.
In the suddenly still air, the sound of Pi’s scanner was incongruously loud. Everyone in the room, from Elias, the armed concertgoers to the C-sec officers were standing still, rooted to the spot with their eyes glued on the red drone. Inside his helmet a barrage of information started sprawling across his HUD, and Pi’s low murmur filled his ears. The scan clicked off, and the drone flew back to Elias, who staggered back to lean against the chair behind him.
“Are you all right?” Officer Altus asked.
“I don’t think so, no,” Elias said. “Tell me officer, are you familiar with the idea of parallel universes? The idea that significant events have…you make a choice in this universe and another you makes a different choice and suddenly there are two universes running along different lines of causality?”
“Only in that old historic earth documentary: Terminator,” Anar said.
The C-sec officer shot a glance that was both irritated and tired at the hanar. “I thought that was science fiction.”
“It’s an unproven theory at least,” Elias agreed. “That… as far as I can tell it’s reaper tech and it’s a…reality collider. It needs another piece to work, but if the readings I’m getting are right, it’s supposed to allow passage from one part of the…multiverse to another.”
“That chit was just a pet project of this one’s best friend,” Anar said. “This one has never known him to dabble in reaper tech.”
“How well do you know your friend?” Officer Altus asked drily.
“Well enough to know he would never go that far down that path.”
“That thing is old,” Elias said, pointing at the data cube. “It pre-dates this cycle at the very least, so unless your friend has found…what’s the term… a spring of youth?”
“Fountain,” the human civilian said, pushing himself into a sitting position on the floor. “Fountain of youth.”
The hanar climbed out of its suit and drifted closer. “Well, in honesty, this one only assumed he made it. It seemed like the most logical explanation. This does not bode well.”
“I still don’t understand what you’re saying, exactly,” the turian said.
“I think, Officer Altus, that you’ll find there’s another Officer Altus from this, synthesised, universe who just got married.”
This time it was the Turian who sat down in her chair. “I don’t understand.”
“Wait,” wounded C-sec officer said. “What you’re saying is that this Officer Altus isn’t the real Officer Altus?”
“No,” Elias said. “I’m saying that this Officer Altus is the Officer Altus from a universe where synthesis didn’t happen.”
“This is making my head hurt,” the officer said, and Elias noted that he had the name ‘Shields’ engraved into the collar of his armour.
“Also, the hanar, that human and the krogan are all from other universes.”
“So…they could be responsible for the husks then?” Officer Shields asked. “They could be from a universe where the reapers won? Maybe they’re indoctrinated!”
“I can assure you we defeated the reapers in our universe,” Officer Altus said.
“How could you have? You’re not synthesised.”
“No, Shepard took control of the reapers instead.”
“Controlling them? One person controlling all the reapers? Why didn’t he just destroy them in that case.”
“Hold on, in this one’s universe Shepard did destroy all the reapers, along with all synthetic life.”
“What the squishy one said,” the Krogan said, her voice soft, but strong enough to cut through the babble of voices.
“I’d hate to be in your universe then,” the male civilian muttered.
“Look,” Officer Altus said. “If I was indoctrinated I’d have been helping the husks. And you can easily dig out the psych evaluations from the war that we had to check for indoctrination. I know Commander Bailey used them on everyone after the Cerberus coup attempt.”
“We’d all have been helping the husks if we’d been indoctrinated,” the human pointed out.
Officer Shields paused in thought. “You’re right. My apologies Officer Altus.”
“We’re getting sidetracked,” Elias said. “The point is that device allows the reapers—war winning not friendly reapers—to jump from one universe to another. Once they finish a harvest they can…check on other realities to ensure that they have wiped out organic and synthetic life throughout all of the multiverse, not just the one that they happen to be in.”
“You got all that from a few minutes of scanning?” Officer Altus asked.
Elias shrugged. “Most of it’s extrapolation based on the data contained on that device. And a little speculation based on those volus husks.”
“You’re saying the reapers jump from a conquered universe to a not conquered universe and kill us all across different probabilities?” the human asked.
“That’s what the evidence suggests, yes,” Elias said.
“Have you ever seen a tear in the universe before?” the man asked. It was an earnest question, where someone else might have been skeptical.
“No,” Elias said. “Only in vids where someone passes through a black hole or wormhole and gets spat out somewhere else without being crushed into nothingness. That said,” he added, gesturing to where the purplish lightnight had flared not long ago. “I think we all witnessed it today.”
Off to the side, the hannar lowered its body into one of the plush theatre seats. “In retrospect, perhaps this one should have voted for you,” he said.
“Hey, I might be an airheaded wanker in your universe,” Elias said. “Hey, maybe you can meet yourselves while in this one.”
“What if we do not find our synthesised selves likable?” Anar asked.
“Or alive?” the human added.
“Maybe you can reopen the portal and go home?” Elias suggested. “We should be able to open—or for that matter, close—the portals if we can find the other half of the key. It should look something like this.”
He brought up a holographic rendering of a synthetic construct that looked something like a cross between a toothy maw and a giant metallic claw. There was the hint of a reptilian face, or possibly just at eye, but the lower half of it was a tangled mess of metal and tubes. “The reality collider needs something to weaken the walls between universes, and I think this is the thing that does it. The reapers have to find a weak spot first—like the centre of the theatre—but once they do…”
Everyone strained to look at the holographic image hovering above Elias’ wrist.
“Hang on the second where’d you get that?” the human civilian said. “Do you know what that is?”
“Um, again no-that’s just an image extrapolated from the data on the data cube itself. It appears to be reaper technology.”
“This thing…I’ve been seeing it for about five years now. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been calling it Mimic. Apparently no one else other than me can see it though.”
“Can you see it now?” Elias asked.
The drone, which had stayed close to Elias, hovering silently turned towards the human. Or at least, Elias saw it. Possibly no one else saw it turn its microarray of sensors towards the man. Definitely no one else heard the quiet Scanning, that came into his helmet.
That would make sense, creator Elias. It would appear only synthetics can see the…this mimic. And that man has cybernetic enhancement in the ocular region. Left side.
I should be able to detect it, yes.
“Funny how you weren’t synthesised with everyone else, you know, Pi. Why do you think that is.”
I’m sorry Creator Elias, but there is still no data available.
“Can’t you speculate?”
Speculation requires data upon which to build a theory.
“I’m not saying anything else until I get a bit of freedom around here,” the human was saying, jingling his cuffs meaningfully. The officers looked at Officer Altus.
“If we get that mimic thing, can you close the breach?” Elias asked Pi quietly.
I should be able to, yes. Pi replied. However, I suspect the other universes will have other breaches in them that require closing as well. I can run a diagnostic to determine their locations once you obtain the mimic.
“Well,” Elias said. “Step one: find this mimic thing. Step two: see if I can use it to close that breach. Step three: sell the movie rights for a lot of money and live off the interest for years to come.”
“This one agrees,” Anar said. “This one has rent due in a week’s time and would like to be there to sort it out. This one would also suggest we move to a more secure location.”
“Good idea,” Elias said. “We should get that disc away from this place until we can locate mimic.”
“We can go to the precinct,” Officer Altus volunteered. “I appear to still have a desk there and we should get statements from the concertgoers.”
Anar walked over to his mech and…hugged it, his tentacles seeking out nooks and crannies in its construction and suddenly it was folding in on itself and folding down until it looked just like an oversized suitcase. Elias wondered where the fast food wrappers ended up being stored. “This one feels a suitcase would be less conspicuous and cause less panic,” he said when the others stared at him.
Elias sighed and started removing his performance outfit, tucking the various bits and pieces into pockets in his suit. “Oh well, I guess I’m back in the military now,” he said. “And here I was wondering what I was going to do after the concert tour ended.
Just then a side door opened and Jamak hurried in, his navy blue suit a little creased and breathing deliberately in the fashion of one trying not to show recent exertion. “Elias! Good to see you’re unhurt! You are unhurt, right?”
Elias nodded. “Yes, Jamak, I’m fine.”
“This wasn’t how we planned your final concert would go. I’ve got reporters out from asking for a statement and our pre-prepared ones won’t cut it under the circumstances.”
“Well, I think we’re back at war now, Jamak,” Elias said, staring down at the dead husks.
“War? We can’t be at war! We don’t have time in your schedule for war. What about your biopic?”
“That’ll have to wait,” Elias said. “Tell you what, I’m about to go save the galaxy. Why don’t you turn that into a reality vid special? I’m going to need funding and it’ll be much more interesting than a biopic of my past.”
The Batarian paused. “I like it!” he said, beaming. “I can see it now: Elias! Music Sensation Turned War Hero! I’ll—we’ll make millions!”
“Absolutely,” Elias said. “But we’ll need sponsorship to make it happen. Possibly a ship. Think you can work your magic on that?”
An almost predatory grin spread out over Jamak’s face. “Elias, baby, have I ever let you down?”
Elias laughed, “No, you haven’t.”
Turning smartly, Jamak headed out towards the front of the building, chest puffed up with importance. On the way, he paused to look down at one of the volus husks. “Thank you very much for this opportunity,” he said sincerely before carrying on.
“So…he’s a character,” Officer Altus said.
“You have no idea,” Elias said, his tone carefully blank. “He’s been amazing for far though. Shall we go?”