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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife[]

Chapter 25 - Absolutely Nowhere[]

Part 1[]

Dead ends. Nothing but dead ends.

Saren felt the frustration gnaw at his insides once again. The Prothean Cipher, which he'd intended to retrieve from the Thorian on Feros, was the last element he needed. Yet the humans, somehow, through both careful planning and sheer incompetence, were thwarting his repeated efforts to obtain the Cipher.

First Feros, where their greedy quarian-like plundering, hanar-level religious mania and krogan-esque violence had ravaged the world, which made the search for the Thorian difficult. Then Saren discovered ComStar had found the Thorian first, and promptly ended up killing the ancient being without comprehending its true value.

At which point one of the idiotic human mercenaries he'd hired nearly unraveled everything. Saren punched the hard ferrocrete wall, venting his mounting anger. It held firm, annoyingly.

His plans had come close to discovery at that point, though he'd managed to redirect scrutiny towards the humans' failures instead. That at least had forced ComStar to reveal the location of the Thorian's core on Coromodir, which they and now everyone named the 'Pied Piper', an allusion to some worthless piece of human culture. To the turian Spectre's benefit, the Citadel Council had discreetly given him instructions to scout ahead of the diplomatically quagmired official investigators, leaving him free reign to pursue his own agenda.

Which was why he was here, in the middle of absolute nowhere, hundreds of light-years from the nearest mass relay, while the Reaper dreadnought orbited overhead, the one the humans called the Black Ghost, the one which had started him on this entire path.

Saren needed full access to the Thorian's remains, and had known better than to trust ComStar's hospitality. So he'd returned to the ancient dreadnought instead of traversing the Tartarus Relay, gathered up the geth fleet willing to follow him, handled a few minor matters, and taken an alternate route the Reaper dreadnought knew, through mass relays unknown to the Citadel and humans. Even then, it still took weeks, weeks, to reach Coromodir, literally in the middle of nowhere by both human and turian standards. When his forces had finally descended upon the helpless system, he'd felt relief the long search was over.

He was a veteran Spectre. He really should have been prepared for failure. There were the lesser specimens, but the tank that should have contained the Thorian was empty.

He'd scoured the Aurigan Reach for every last clue. ComStar had been thorough covering their tracks. But Saren was a Spectre, and he had dealt with asari conspiracies centuries old. Starting from discrepancies in the historical databases he'd recovered on Coromodir, he'd deployed the geth serving him to collect further information from across the Aurigan Reach, hunting for the concealed ComStar hideouts where the cult had hidden the Thorian. It had been well hidden. They'd erased nearly all records of it in the entire Aurigan Reach. Planet after planet, archive after archive, ComStar had been thorough. Traces of hints over three centuries old, innocuous enough to have survived the purge. Saren had painstakingly assembled the pieces, using all the skills and experience accumulated over his long career. He'd narrowed down the locations, scouted the sites, and at last found the entrance, hidden in a crater on this airless dead rock orbiting a small, dim star.

As it turned out, the facility was so well concealed because it had been forgotten for three hundred years

Once more, Saren looked up at the rows of ancient, obsolete Mechs occupying the bunker. In the vacuum and shielded by thick rock against radiation, they were perfectly preserved. Somewhere near the entrance, he knew, there was a metal plaque commemorating the construction or something of the ]]Star League]] Royal something something.

This had been his best lead. He was certain he'd found every pirate den, smuggler's cache, hidden settlement and more in the Reach by now. There had even been an abandoned hideout, apparently once the headquarters of a movement to overthrow the local rulers and restore the 'venerable and glorious House Espinosa' to power. This, this relic from so long ago, so unimportant no one had bothered remembering it, this had been his best lead, and just like everything else in he'd found since he came to this wretched space, it was a worthless dead end.

Several of the geth escorts were still examining the old machines, silently communicating with one another as they watched a geth platform sit inside a cockpit in the shape of a massive human skull, but Saren had no interest in staying any longer. He turned away and left, instructing one of the turian-sized geth platforms standing next to him as he did, "I'm returning to the Reaper. Do whatever you want with this place, but return to orbit in one hour."

He had once liked big explosions. Maybe spitefully obliterating this place from orbit would help his mood.

Part 2[]

"Arterius Prophet, there is an urgent update from the Terminus Systems."

Saren sighed. "What is it now?"

The geth platform droned, synthetic voice utterly flat and monotonous, "Multiple conflicting reports are propagating rapidly through the extranet, reporting the assassination of Matriarch Benezia on Noveria."

That caught his attention.

"The Noveria Development Corporation has enacted information control measures," the geth platform continued, "but evidence indicates a major incident occurred on the planet. In addition, data from orbital surveillance taps are consistent with a possible self-destruction of the Peak 15 Research Facility. We have been unable to establish contact with the Prophet's Delegate. There is a high probability the reports are accurate."

"Who was responsible? How?" It could not be some Terminus megacorporation, they knew the consequences of crossing him. Some internal asari matter? Benzy had made many enemies over her long life, but those were more political opponents. Or was the Citadel Council beginning to investigate his activities?

"The reports are unanimous. The Human Star League was responsible for Matriarch Benezia's death."

"The humans." Saren repeated.

"Affirmative, Arterius Prophet. The majority specified the Normandy Initiative in particular. Several press meetings have been announced, we expect more accurate information within a few hours."

Saren rose up from his chair, and it seemed to take all of his will not to simply lash out at the messenger. The geth were loyal, but that was no reason to test their limits. Instead, he paced around his chambers on the Reaper, seething.
"The humans, again. Again!" The words slipped out, full of vitriol. Briefly, Saren relished the emotion, for how alive it made him feel, rather than an empty husk. Then the moment passed, as his mind turned to the walking disasters masquerading as a species. "They shouldn't have developed this way. There shouldn't have been an Inner Sphere, did you know that?"

"We are aware, Prophet. You told us this before."

Ah yes, the geth were a hive mind. Conversation with them just wasn't the same. Still, he had started, he wasn't about to stop. "They should have discovered element zero, mass effect technology, as every other space-faring species in the galaxy did. Hyperspace jump technology is obsolete, inferior to mass effect FTL. It should have been discarded, cast aside, the moment they found a Prothean cache, or element zero deposit, or just a mass relay. Except they didn't."

"Affirmative. There is no evidence the human species made the discovery before first contact. The new data in the Aurigan Reach supports this conclusion."

"They had a mass relay thirty-six light-years from their homeworld. There should have been a mass relay at their homeworld, except it's missing from the network, and there is apparently no information on what even happened there. And the first mass relay they found, they blew up." And his own brother alongside, together with all the turians and their own people on Shensi.

"Affirmative. Arterius Prophet, we have recently updated our organic behavioural models based on new data. Discovery of the backdoor primary relay we used to access human space is predicted to decrease galactic political stability, with a high threat to relay network integrity from organics, especially humans."

"They will not have the chance," Saren promised. There was no time to wait for the humans to change, or for the rest of the galaxy to adapt to their madness. They had destroyed a mass relay, and set a new precedent. Sooner or later, the humans would repeat their mistake, or another would copy them. Then the relay network of the galaxy would be destroyed. He would not let that happen. "We must preserve the relay network from further damage, no matter how much else must be eliminated."

"Nazara the Old Machine wills it." the geth platform canted, referring to the Reaper dreadnought they were on.

The one good thing from the human's destructiveness, finding this ancient dreadnought. Saren had found it pursuing rumours of the Black Ghost. It had provided him with the tools and knowledge to ensure his turian species would survive the oncoming extinction of galactic civilisation, and the geth followed him in worship of it, naming him the Prophet of the Old Machine.

"Yes, this is Nazara's will," Saren murmured. "It will usher in a new era of the galaxy, one where you synthetics will serve as guardians and caretakers of the relay network. And only the worthy organics will survive, under my guidance. No humans."

Of course, that required the plan to succeed. Except things had gone wrong, fittingly, due to the very species responsible for the end of galactic civilisation. But perhaps it could still be recovered, salvaged from the strife with the humans that endangered it, so close to success. Saren ceased pacing, thoughts racing through his mind.

For starters, he had become too single-mindedly obsessed with obtaining the Prothean Cipher. Was that a sign of his mind failing? He would rectify that mistake. Everything else was in place, after all.

"Begin preparing for departure from the Aurigan Reach. We are going through the Mu relay," Saren commanded, knowing the geth would relay his words to all the other geth. "We will make do without the Cipher."

"Arterius Prophet, do we not require the Cipher?"

"Enough time has been wasted on this fool's errand. The Cipher is lost, but we can do without. We know what to look for on the other side of the relay, signs of Prothean activity past their extinction. There was a Prothean world there, Ilos. We will begin there."

"Affirmative. Should scouting be initiated with available units?"

"Yes. Wait." He had more geth in the Terminus Systems. And other assets he'd gathered and cultivated, whether personally or through his contacts, several of them only of limited reliability. Matriarch Benezia acting on his behalf to manage them, but with Benzy gone, he'd lost control. Geth intermediaries and extranet communications would be insufficient, and he didn't have time for everything. It was time to consolidate what he could.

"The base on Virmire might be a liability now. Shut the base down, and Transfer everything we need through the Mu Relay." He would need to get in touch with what agents he had elsewhere, perhaps use the Shadow Broker's services if necessary. "Bring only geth and the scientists, no mercenaries. No other organics of any kind." He'd vet their loyalty and usefulness in person, if he found the time. If not, the geth were more than enough.

And he'd need to pay closer attention to the Normandy Initiative, if the humans kept interfering. He rhetorically asked the geth, "Do you know what I loathe about the humans?"

The geth platform stood there silently, waiting for him to elaborate.

"Every single other past civilization that discovered hyperspace travel abandoned it the moment they could, once they finally discovered element zero. And once they started using relay networks? Any colonies too far from the mass relays became backwaters, too isolated, too irrelevant. They'd stagnate, be forgotten, while everybody else grew and developed across the relay network, every time."

Every time, except this time. "Except this time, the humans were somehow so blind and ignorant they kept using hyperspace. The Inner Sphere should never have existed, let alone the Periphery, or the Deep Periphery, or this ugly rock."

"Affirmative," the geth repeated again.

His mind turned towards the future, away from this miserable collection of stars. "Their incompetence was why I underestimated them. I won't do that again."

"Send out couriers and recall all the squadrons to Coromodir. We'll take stock, then depart for the backdoor relay together."

Part 3[]

Cameron Hyperspace Advanced Research Mission
Pluto, Sol Star System
Terran Hegemony

Hey, Bob.

Yeah, Al?

You know those weird readings of Charon's core?

Look, I'm working on fixing the glitch.

Well, see, I kinda got an idea. Maybe there is something at Charon's core, some kind of freaky physics thing.

Al, not this again.

Come on, Bob, let me finish. So I got to wondering, how do we get a closer look at Charon's core, when it's six hundred kilometers below?


Fine, fine, I'll get to the point. Anyway, I took all our KF-drives and tried to channel a KF-field through Charon. You know, sorta like the Ryan Cartel Iceships.


Hey, we're CHARM, we're supposed to experiment. I know it's kind of bigger, by a couple of magnitudes, but point is, Yusef's theory is wrong, mine's right, and it worked. I got a KF-field all the way through Charon, from one side to the other.

You know, I'm impressed. Hang on, I don't like that look.

Well, see, Bob, uh… Right after that, the jump drives all, how do I put this, underwent a spontaneous unscheduled disassembly?

And Charon had an earthquake?


And I didn't get any useful data from the experiment, but the weird readings are gone?

Al- wait, gone?

Yeah, nothing. So, uh, no idea what happened. And I'd appreciate your expertise.

You want me to come up with something to tell Terra. For why we need more jump drives.

Yes? I'd be very grateful, Bob, you know?

Siiiiiiiigh. Fine, Al, on one condition. You don't ever try that again.

CHARM was destroyed during the Amaris Coup. While the exact events are unknown, it's destruction was discovered during the Liberation of Terra. No data or records have ever been retrieved of CHARM's research.

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