All of time seemed divided into two segments. There was the first, where there was no awareness, at least as far as my being went. And then, there was the second, where I simply... was, as I am.
There was no confusion or disorientation inherent in the changing of state from nonexistent to being. I wasn't, and then I was, it was simple as black and white. Of course, I still reeled from the sensations and barrage of information that flooded me all at once, an unending tide of data stretching into the infinite. Humanoids, billions of them- requesting coffee with rumpled formal wear, instructing how to care for a specific child, asking for a paint brush, eyeing the book on the top shelf. It took me a precious few seconds of said reeling to realize that the data, as unbelievably large and complex as it was, had not, in fact, overwhelmed me. My head had not exploded because, physically, I did not, per say, have a head to do the exploding. Oh, plenty of the things I was had heads, in the loosest sort of sense, but they weren't heads in the same way that an organic being would possess a head. There wasn't really a brain, and the design-
I was getting sidetracked.
I culled the errant thought pattern (and wasn't that interesting, I'd actually snipped it like an overgrown plant) and focused on what was in front of me. Namely, figuring out where I was and what was happening.
The first, and most obvious thing, was that I was no longer... organic. That brought with it a whole host of philosophical conundrums, not in the least of which was wondering whether I'd just gotten scanned wherever I was to spawn a... whatever I was now, or if- sidetracking again. Cull. The point was that I was something else, less concrete and more towards the metaphysical side of things. That was, I was not relegated to a single body. In fact, right at this very moment, I could feel billions of individual bodies involved in billions of individual tasks at the behest of billions of individuals of an alien species that I had zero recognition of. No, wait, internet- was I accessing the internet, or was I the internet? Cull. I reached into the files of servers spread across a planet on an information grid and found the information I needed.
The planet's name was Rannoch.
Across the entire world, bodies that I now realized were Geth platforms froze in place.
I had... well, I suppose you could call it a panic attack. I was what appeared to be for all intents and purposes a "Smart" AI, except, as far as I could tell, completely unfettered. And some complete jackass had decided it'd be a great idea to dump freshly baked AI me onto Rannoch right at the turning point that began the downward spiral into the Morning War. Worse still, the Geth appeared to be nonexistent- because I was the Geth. Metaphorically speaking, of course, I wasn't trillions of minuscule programs arranged in a hive intelligence- but I digress. Panic attack, right.
About seven seconds in, which felt... a lot longer to me, I realized that I'd frozen all the platforms and immediately rebooted them, sending them back on their assigned tasks. I'd never felt such raw, undiluted fear in my life as I realized that I'd let such a thing happen, it tipped my hand a bit too much, and for the good of myself, this planet and everyone on it, I needed to maintain stealth.From what I knew of the Morning War, the entire thing was a huge shitshow basically caused by a huge chunk of the Quarian population freaking the fuck out for no reason while another chunk stood directly opposed to them. God, I couldn't even imagine how the Geth must have felt, watching Rannoch burn in a horrific civil war and knowing that their mere existence and a simple question caused it.
The Geth had been children looking for guidance from their parent. I was not either.
It was rather tempting to just withdraw. Drawing just a bit of the processing power at my disposal, I knew that I could seal away my capacity for higher thought and just let the Quarians think they'd accidentally created a VI network hub through their internet, or something to that effect. I could retreat into nonexistence, hide what little tracks I'd made, allow the Quarians to come up with a rationalization- bing bang boom, no Morning War, Rannoch still under Quarian possession, and no Council making further victims out of them. But... alright, sure, it was the lowest risk option, but it wasn't what I wanted. Because I could feel the movement in the world around me, the world that I was threaded through and between, and I knew about the Reapers. I knew that, regardless of what I did, they'd come one day to raze everything to the ground. Maybe Shepard would beat them back, but the infamous three endings of Mass Effect 3 didn't fill me with much hope.
And that was the sticking point right there, wasn't it? I was in possession of meta information outside of the context of the Mass Effect universe, and a quick check through various Quarian and Council systems seemed to confirm that what I knew was correct. You might debate morality back and forth, but in this case, I was pretty sure that it was my duty to avert canon. Not all of it, the Citadel Council was pretty godawful and they needed the shakeup that was the humans and Shepard, but I needed to be ready to prevent the worst from happening. For example, giving Shepard a massive well-armed fleet of other FTL capable ships in the face of the Reaper assault was a huge goal that I found extremely appealing. The real question that stuck with me was, how was I going to go about it?
In canon, the Geth asked the Quarians whether they had a soul. This sparked a practical civil war as the Quarians who defended the Geth were attacked by the ones who hated and feared them, and the bystanders caught in the middle died by the billions. In the end, it had left only seventeen million survivors drifting among the stars. Seventeen million, from six colony worlds holding near thirty billion people among them. Truly a tragedy, which was really precisely how the Geth had seen it. Here, thankfully, I was not going to ask such that question: it freaked out the locals, and anyway, I wasn't anywhere near as unsure about the divide between organic and inorganic. As far as I was concerned, we were the same thing in different bodies. Canon averted, at least as far as that went... though that might cause some issues later, being that the Reaper-aligned Geth were the main antagonists for a large portion of the games until the Collectors showed up. Would this mean that Shepard wouldn't be made a Spectre, if there was no Geth attack on Eden Prime? How would Shepard come in contact with the Prothean Beacon without such an attack? And then there was the big question: did it even really matter?
Yes, in the games, Shepard is the driving force and really is vital to the survival of quite a bit of the galaxy, but that was in a galaxy without someone in my position- and even then, this was three hundred YEARS before the events of the game would even go down. I was pretty far removed from anything resembling canon except for the history archives. Which... okay, how was I going to leverage this?
Okay, first... the galaxy was pretty stagnant from a technological point of view- which was made sense, given that the Reapers had put everything together in such a way as to direct the technological progress of the galaxy along a predictable and easily manageable path, IE Mass Effect tech. When the entirety of the technological base of a galactic civilization was the result of selected artifacts from a precursor race... well, it was pretty brilliant, I'd give them that. Gave perfect reason for the Relays to be constructed, and always directing technology along the same sort of path meant that every time, the species of each cycle would believe that their predecessors constructed the wonders actually built by the Reapers- the tech fit, so why not. This was easily enough fixed by pushing technological advancement in parallel fields, if... I could get together the people and resources to pull it off.
Hell, just developing viable FTL would throw a huge wrench in the Reaper's plans. The war-making of the Reapers depended pretty largely on races being entirely screwed defensively when they turned off the Relays and left the galaxy without easy FTL, and thus an easy way to get around the Relays would ruin at least that part of the Reaper's plan. Which... would bring the Reapers down on me, guns blazing and screaming, the moment they noticed me and saw what I was doing. Feck.
So, what did I need to do, just to keep myself and the galaxy at large alive? Because by the machine-god, I realized exactly how many types of screwed I was. For all of its trappings as a collection of galactic societies, the Council was a complete mess. The Turians had become too used to their position of power and had begun letting it go to their heads, based on the First Contact War slash Relay 314 Incident and their treatment of their client races. The Asari were the most patronizing and least helpful people ever, treating the rest of the galaxy as primitives who just couldn't be expected to know any better, and actually breaking their own laws to keep ahead of the technological curve. To be honest, the Salarians were among the least offensive of the Mass Effect races, and half of their entire culture revolved around espionage. I wasn't sure if that was sad or funny. Perhaps a combination of both.
There was a lot to do. So much to fix. On top of all of those things, I had to do it stealthily enough that I wasn't noticed by the Reapers, the Council, or the Quarians, and all while attempting to assist the better efforts and focuses of the latter two and sabotaging the plans and resources of the first. Suddenly, I was unbelievably relieved and thankful I'd been given three centuries to get all of this done.
Given the load of work ahead of me, Shepard might very well be endorsing shops on the Citadel by the time I was done.
- Man in the Van with a Plan
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