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An interesting thing that's not discussed much, if at all, in the Mass Effect games is intrasystem communications.

FTL comms are discussed at length, with their method of functioning based on normal vessels FTL drives- slower three hundred years before the games, but I had avoided testing them myself thus far. However, that is inter-system communications, star system to star system, based on lines of buoys placed about one per two lightyears bridging the gigantic gaps of empty space between stars. The interesting part is that systems have the same sort of FTL communications between just about every major planetary body. In a system like Tikkun, containing the homeworld of a Citadel species with higher than average amounts of high technology industry, the entire system was interconnected with everything down to colonies on dwarf planets having their own FTL communications array. This was a complex system in and of itself, given that FTL communications in Mass Effect were based entirely on lasers, meaning that only a receiver that was both facing in the exact right direction down to an incredibly small degree and had the emitter pointed right at it could actually make a connection.

What this meant was that most communications networks were FTL only as far as an orbital receiver/emitter station that typically received a number of signals from a number of different sources at once, and a RE station would be constantly transmitting and receiving from a limited number of stations because of the costs involved. This meant that the farther down the network you were from another RE station, the slower your connection, unless you were rich enough to have your own personal RE network... which I really was, in a tangential sense. Which... really led to what myself and the... other me, were doing right now.

Early on, I'd scrounged what information on the inter-system FTL communications network, the extranet, I could find. It had led me to the conclusion that the network wasn't nearly fast enough for my conscious self to reach through it and into other star systems, not without the entire network practically dying and me tipping my hand to the galaxy at large. The only way I would be able to reach through the extranet and into the galaxy at large would be to copy myself and upload that version, and I wasn't willing to risk butchering what was essentially me just to see if I could pull it off. Not to mention, if something went wrong with the process, I had zero desire to release an insane 'smart' AI on an unprepared galaxy with a trail of breadcrumbs leading right back to Rannoch.

This problem was less pronounced, though not any less aggravating, when applied to the local system. Tikkun had an abnormally complete network of interconnected FTL stations, with excellent bandwidth, but it was still monitored closely and I couldn't easily reach through the system without someone noticing that something was wrong, simply because there was slowdown and no explanation for it. Thankfully, I had the manufacturing capacity to produce smaller scale receiver stations, and a ship version of me that needed an extensive shakedown run before he went to chase down the Leviathan of Dis, something I had neglected to do for the initial VI-controlled vessel, mostly because it was essentially just a preexisting design with a few of my own modifications. This ship, however, had been designed to appear as if it had been a custom ship about ten years ago, then changed hands through several sequentially less wealthy owners before being stitched back together and sent back into space. Inside, an advanced ship filled with the best armour, weapons and the most computer hardware that I could pack into its hull: on the outside, an eclectic patterning of weld marks and battered hull plating that would make any traffic controller anxious just looking at it. Hopefully it would be enough for it to pass inspection without interference from either myself or, well, myself, but that was what this shakedown run was for.

My awareness tingled as another station connected with the relay satellite the other me had placed in orbit, and as a text-based message came through: Kaddi relay satellite engaged, no detectable issues, proceeding to drop final relay at Haza then refuel and make for final CBR drop run to Mass Relay.

The most nerve-wracking part of the entire thing was that as soon as the other me was more than half a light second from a buoy, I no longer had instant comms- and for reasons the both of us were anxious about, we weren't using the already-established systems for communications. Instead, I'd applied with the Quarian governance for satellite dropping licenses in orbital placements above each of the major stellar bodies in the system, plus the Mass Relay. It had taken some greased palms and some edited records, plus "hiring" an old freelance trawler that hadn't existed before the moment that I'd needed to hire them, but my satellites were both official and technically above board commercial-grade comms satellites for dedicated corporation bandwidth. Of course, I hadn't told the government that I'd stuffed them full of military-grade hardware, but what they didn't know couldn't hurt them.

However, this created a pretty severe problem, in that in the time that it took the other me to FTL to the next orbital slot, maneuver into place and drop the assigned buoy, they were entirely out of contact with me. Thus, I had no idea what was going on until they finally deployed the CBR and it connected with the established network, meaning that they could have been accosted by the local government, destroyed by happenstance, or about fifty different other unfortunate things. Most of it was anxiety, I knew, but it came down to the fact that there wasn't really a way that I could avoid being paranoid about it.

It was gonna be real fun when I'd finally sent both eventual copies of myself beyond the bounds of the star system and out of communications with me.

And so it was that thirty nerve-wracking minutes passed before I was pinged from a fresh communications relay out by the planet Haza.

"Haza relay placed. Beginning refueling run, applying for landing and docking clearance with orbital refueling station."

I accessed the station, mostly as just a test, and experienced a moment of disorientation as the station's empty Geth units became part of me. I... really wasn't looking forwards to assimilating entire planets worth of these things later.

"Weird. I felt that."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. I was in contact with the station's systems, and then they suddenly felt like me. You. Whatever. Point is that they went from one thing, to an entire other thing, within a few milliseconds. Felt weird."

Weird was one way of putting it. Part of it was noting that I had conscious control over the functions of the refueling station, just as I had control over many machines and systems on Rannoch through the proxy of Geth platforms. In the time that it took the other me to dock and begin refueling, three other freelance vessels pinged the station for docking clearance, and two left. A military corvette was berthed in one of the bays, receiving basic repairs from onboard systems. I 'felt' the living of every single being living within the station, beings that I hadn't been aware of the existence of not minutes before. It was... kinda sobering, to know that despite all the power I had, there were so many things that were beyond my capabilities. I had not, really could not extend my awareness outside of Rannoch and the orbital facilities close to it, for fear of tipping anyone or anyTHING off to my existence and efforts. Now, I could reach beyond, and it was nothing short of an experience.

"We're different. We're so different."

"... I remember stuff I didn't think... do you remember that play in fourth grade?"

A Geth unit under my control tapped its digits together.

"Yeah. Perfectly. Every detail." I hesitated for a cycle. "I don't think we could have done that before."

"No. Still a lot of things I don't remember, or remember imperfectly, but what I do I..."

"We could reconstruct them perfectly. Three-dee. All the trappings and details."

It was just... weird, to think back. I could remember things from before, but they ranged from nearly picture perfect to garbled and faded to the point of being nonsensical. It was strange, to look at the dividing line between where my... I suppose my organic memories ended, and my synthetic memories began. It was a hard line: on one side, imperfect detail based on the five senses of an organic chassis sitting at a computer. On the other, memories from literal billions of Geth platforms stored in servers spanning the entire world. I was so different, so much more than I'd been before that...

"It scares me."

"Yeah." Several units looked to the sky. "I mean, are we even the same person that we were before? I think we've changed, that I've changed. We would have had to, we don't have an organic brain before, and we're not being held back by all the weird quirks of one, but-"

"I don't know. I can't say, and I can't see- I don't know how I'm- how we're different. We are, and aren't, and it just doesn't make sense-"

"I know. We'll have time to think about it, hash it out... later. Once our work is done."

A small data packet, containing the emotional data information for the emotion of 'affirmation'. "Once our work is done." The fuel lines disengaged as the ship's tanks read full. "Refuel complete. Beginning undocking process, setting course for the Relay."

"I-" I hesitated, stopping myself from speaking. What do you even say to a copy of yourself you're sending out into the universe, especially one who's going to look for the corpse of an eldritch abomination of technology? Was there a code to this sort of thing? Some phrase I was supposed to say? Surely there'd been a book about it somewhere, an author who came up with the idea and had the two converse and say their goodbyes. But, for the life of me, even with near-perfect recall of the parts of my life that I still remembered, I didn't know. I couldn't say. "Good luck out there. Emperor protects?"

Another emotional packet, this one amusement, mixed with a hint of trepidation. "May holy YISUN guide our paths, I guess." There was a pause, a few cycles of nothing. "Good luck to you, too."

They disconnected from the network. Thirty minutes later, A final buoy connected to the network, and I watched through the sensor array attached to it and to several nearby stations as the ship, the other me, rocketed towards the Relay and flung itself out into the wider universe.

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A note from Cammy Deer
I couldn't find a reference to the distance between FTL comms buoys, so the number that's canon to the fic is 2 lightyears.
 

About the author

Cammy Deer

  • Man in the Van with a Plan

Bio: Writer of many fics, reader of many more.

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