I prepped ground-probes in launch tubes one, three, five and seven, pairing them with Geth platforms in tubes two, four, six and eight. This involved a series of mechanical movements as the equipment and accompanying Geth were moved through my innards into their launch capsules. We'd designed the things at least partially based on Helljumper pods, though without a lot of the displays and the window. Instead, a Geth or a scanner would be inserted into the center of the pod, and then the entire thing was sealed. A quick overpressure check to ensure a proper seal was done, and then the entire thing was filled with crash foam, insulating whatever was loaded inside the thing. Once launched, each would adjust trajectory and landing coordinates with a series of maneuvering thrusters and ceramic fins once they struck atmosphere, before engaging a series of engines to slow down before impact.
It didn't so much matter if they totaled themselves on impact. Mostly, the things were shells with a few engines, a parachute and enough heat-resistant plating to survive the drop. All systems were run from the Geth inside the pod, who communicated back up to orbit constantly with its own internal communications array, and was programmed to carry out a simple set of landing instructions should the connection be severed. The main complicated pieces of the pods were a booster antennae, meant to better facilitate orbital communications, and a series of batteries and deployable solar cells meant to power it all, and allow the Geth unit to recharge when necessary.
Currently, I was in orbit over Jartar, in the Dis system, the planet where the Leviathan of Dis had been found... in canon. Right now, I was really hoping my meta information would hold for this, because while that meant that no one was getting indoctrinated from this particular source, it also meant that I wouldn't have access to any of the juicy Reaper technology I could reverse engineer. Additionally, I wouldn't have access to a dead Reaper's data banks, which would mean that I would have none of the telemetry and tactical data it might have stored- locations of earlier civilization's settlements, Reaper numbers, weapons... the whole lot.
So, here I was, going after it.
When I'd hopped in system, I'd deployed three different relay satellites, one above Dis' gas giant Raysha, one in the middle of a cluster of resource-rich asteroids and one here, in orbit of Jartar. I'd dropped Geth units, along with mining and manufacturing equipment, on a large metal-rich asteroid that, funnily enough, I was pretty sure was the exact same one that appeared in the games. Of course, here, there weren't any abandoned mining facilities- the fake gold rush to Klensal hadn't happened yet, wouldn't for another few hundred years yet. In fact, the system wouldn't even have been surveyed until the Batarian teams came in to falsify the surveys- which... I suppose wouldn't happen, now. The, eh... other me, had logged and filed survey and mining rights to this system with the Citidel, working through the proxy of the Quarian governance. As the system had already been claimed... that meant that the Batarian team would never come here. Huh.
Regardless, Geth units were currently in the process of locating ore deposits and setting up manufacturing- eventually, this would allow me to produce the modules that would be assembled into the stations that would allow me to skim fuel from the moons of Raysha, as well as produce the resources and equipment I'd need to construct and expand facilities on Jartar's surface. Unfortunately, I only had a single ship to do the ferrying for me- the one that I'd come to this system in. To construct further ships, I'd have to place orders for shipments of Eezo needed for the drive cores, which meant couriers coming in and out of the system. This carried the very real risk of someone noticing that none of the facilities or ships within this system were actually manned in any way, shape or form, something that I had zero desire to spread around. So, I'd have to do my best with what I had. Thankfully, a decent cargo bay and a large supply of Eezo meant that I wouldn't have any problems for some time yet.
No, right now I was dealing with the beginning stages of any RTS: setting up the infrastructure so I could set up the manufacturing to do what I needed to do. Thankfully, with a combination of Geth paired with ground-based sensor equipment and a number of satellites I had in inventory, I could begin the search for the Leviathan while my mining and manufacturing built itself up out in the asteroid belt. I couldn't really get looking until I could manufacture an orbital sensor network and start building a comprehensive deep scan map of the whole planet, looking for anything that stood out from the rock and dust that composed the majority of this dead planet, but for now I could at least do some work on it.
It was strange, though... while I found myself dissatisfied when I was stuck twiddling my metaphorical thumbs waiting to take the next step, I found that I didn't get bored anymore. Really, unsettling as it might be, I had the sneaking suspicion that I wasn't physically capable of it anymore. Bye bye squishy brain meats meant a lot of fundamental changes to my behavior and decisions, which already nervous-making, but the real shake-up was the pieces of organic behavior that I'd never thought about before.
I didn't sleep because I didn't need it. I could get something like mentally or emotionally exhausted, some of my behavior and thinking back on Rannoch, when I used to be the me on Rannoch, showed that. However, I didn't sleep. This really was the most obvious change, and to be honest, one of the ones I most appreciated. No, what was weirder was that I'd noticed my behavior towards tasks and goals change from something impatient to more... accepting things as they were. It'd freaked me right out when I realized that I wasn't really feeling impatient about stuff, which was an extremely odd experience in and of itself regardless of anything.
I'd never been especially impatient about things before, or at least I hadn't thought of myself as such, but now it seemed like night and day. Now I was making plans and projections based on things taking a certain amount of time and watching about a thousand different things, and I didn't feel especially concerned about the time they took outside of it messing something else up. It was... hard to express, but even my view on time had changed, stretching out and expanding small increments of time into ages that passed for me with not much more than acknowledgement.
It screwed with me. It screwed with me in a lot of different ways. I brushed it off, tried to accept things as they were now because I was trying hard to integrate the idea that the beginning circumstances of what I'd become was completely out of my metaphorical hands. However, deep down, there was still a burning coal of fear that I was so alien, so different to the person I'd been before, as to be entirely unrecognizable even to an organic me. And it was hard not to dwell on it, when I could easily process so many things at once, linear lines of thinking and stimulus gathering all running in parallel across dozens of systems that were as much me as any part of my organic brain had been. And, honestly, it was kinda comforting that I couldn't stop thinking about it. Something that echoed the anxious, burned-in habits of a worrier that accompanied a brain.
Everything about this situation I'd found myself was odd, even alien in nearly every single case. I'd been thrown into the deep end of a terrifying situation where my very existence was at stake completely on the random rolls of the dice that formed the universe. At any moment, I could have the Citidel kicking down my door, or have the Reapers nuke me from orbit because I was a threat, or because I was against their doctrine, because I got in the way- or, just for the hell of it. While the other me hadn't admitted it outside of our brief mutual discussion of the subject, I'd been them not too many hours before that. Both versions of me, as odd as that sounded in my... head, metaphorical head, shared the same worries and insecurities. Both of us were scared of every power out there that could crush the life out of us just for existing, both of us were worried to hell and back about what was going to happen, but knowing that one person shared our concerns completely was a comfort. Even if that person was, well... ourselves, but not. I didn't have to wonder whether the other me felt much the same or not. Wasn't even a question, really.
As I began launching the Geth and sensors, clearing the drop tubes for another series of loads, I wondered about what the other me was doing. The alpha me, I supposed, the first and original, another odd thing to think regardless of its truth. Right now, they were probably digging out more of the facilities, potentially manufacturing and storing more relatively small ships. Working on about a couple thousand contingencies at any one time, dealing with billions of souls spread across an entire system, trying to fix what they could and save who they could get to. Here, where space was not much more than static and the chatter from the pieces of me spread throughout the system, I was actually somewhat glad for the silence and lack of all that stress. I wondered if they felt the same, simply reversed, wanting to be away and alone. We'd never been all that good in social situations before, and though we'd improved when we ditched our faultier wiring along with our brain, it didn't change our antisocial nature.
Vaguely, I wondered if it'd be possible to switch places at some point, or if the other me should do something weird and eccentric like purchasing a little plot of land in the middle of nowhere and have a Geth unit run a little farm there. Something of a getaway and a rest for someone who had none. I'd have to suggest it in the courier craft, when I finally got the resources together to construct it.
I tucked the thought away, and moved more of my concentration to the work.
Traeda affected impatience as he sat in his uncomfortable chair, one of many lined up in the room. Up front, a Quarian speaker with a Geth assistant was speaking, gesturing to a holographic display and going through an orientation process. Shifting in place and allowing discomfort to show on his face, he sent a hidden glance around the room.
Ingen was entirely new to the corporate game, as new as something could be on Rannoch. Here, businesses were branches of branches of branches- following the leads back, as he had many times, led some rather surprising places. A game studio owned by a mining interest, a restaurant chain that turned out to also make decorations and accessories for Omnitools. Quarian businesses tended to belong to a thick web of interlinked relationships and ownerships that led back and around in fifty different ways. It gave most STG operatives headaches, and those that threaded their way through the corporations of Rannoch were encouraged to send back simple summaries with their reports. It was an environment Traeda thrived in.
Now, he was looking into a new laboratory startup primarily specializing in a number of more niche fields that found its primary backing from a maker of various popular beverages, which would make him grin at the ridiculousness of this if he wasn't acting like someone with several different academic accomplishments to their name. Not that Traeda didn't have his own share of accolades, of course, there was no way he could reliably land a position here without them, he just had to act like a civilian, and a civilian would be twitchy and not enjoying their freshly-fabbed chair in the slightest. His true purpose here was to ascertain exactly in which fields the small company appeared to be specializing in, then report back any useful information about them and determine whether or not any particularly interesting or valuable findings were made. Easy stuff, of course, but he'd been wanting something of a vacation for a little while and scouting out this relatively little infant operation seemed like a good option to step back from the far more dense and complex corporations while still doing something of use for the STG.
"- And that is, essentially, what we're aiming for here." The majority of the orientation itself hadn't been very useful, mostly concerning employment, benefits, money things- not any particularly useful information in regards to their planned research, though it would be useful in a more general sense. "Now, everyone should have a paper card with a number on it- each number corresponds to the specialty we feel will fit you the best based on your prior work and stated interest." He'd been very intrigued to note that the test they'd been given had addressed aerospace as one of the largest options for this, and decided to follow along with that specifically to see where the thread went. Who knew, really.
Holographic displays lit up above several doors along one side of the orientation area, each with listed subjects. Each corresponded with a number, but Traeda only had eyes for number four, aerospace engineering. The card he'd been given, frustratingly, was listed as number three, though that was at least convenient in a way that Ingen had obviously not intended.
As Traeda stepped forward to join the loose throng of low to middle-level researchers moving towards the various doors, he went stiff with surprise as his foot caught on one of the stupid chairs that were littered throughout the room, sending him crashing down. Just as one would have thought a date with the partially-complete flooring was all but inevitable, a hand caught him and steadied him, and he found himself staring into the four eyes of a Batarian dressed in the same lab coat that he'd been issued at the start. She smiled, nervous, as she helped him steady himself.
"Ah, be careful, yes? I don't think you have insurance through the company just yet."
He laughed good-naturedly at the little joke, nodding his thanks as he separated from her. "No, do not think so either- have to solve issue by being hired. Many thanks."
She let out a small sound of amusement, then nodded and moved away. Traeda watched her go, then looked casually at the number four card he'd palmed from her pocket in the process of her catching him, the thing he'd really been thanking her for. Satisfied, he moved towards the line forming as people filed through the door- then paused as a Geth unit, clad in white plastic and branded with the logo of the corporation on one side of its chest, a tablet device clutched in its metal claws. He felt the faintest flicker of frustration, but his face was only bemused.
"Ingen asks that you fill out this standard questionnaire regarding orientation, which may affect placement going forward." Another tiny flicker of frustration. That meant that he couldn't not fill it out. "Ingen apologizes for any inconvenience you might experience due to taking time to answer this questionnaire and assures you that your placement and role with the company will not be affected by taking time to fill it out."
In a lightning fast series of thoughts, Traeda weighed the pros and cons of refusing to carry through. After just a moment's paused, covered completely underneath a short series of confused blinks, he shrugged casually and placed his card in the pocket of his coat, taking the tablet in one hand and going through the forms with the other. Thankfully, the actual questions were few in number and didn't inconvenience him unduly, and thus it only took a minute to be done and hand the little computer back to the Geth that had walked up to him. The creepy thing took it and walked off without real acknowledgement besides a 'thank you', and he waited a moment before he withdrew the card from his pocket to move forward.
And then he stopped.
And he stared, in incredulity, at the card in his hands. Just a minute ago, it had been the number four, but now... he read it through again, just to make sure he had it correct.
NUMBER TWO: WASTE MANAGEMENT AND RECYCLING
Well. That wasn't right.
I watched the STG operative look at his card, only the barest hint of his confusion showing through, feeling rather satisfied with myself as I slipped the number four card into a pouch containing a number of similar cards. It wasn't the first time an operative had tried to spy on a company I'd funded, and from what I gathered, it was a pretty common occurrence across Rannoch. High tech really drew the spies in, I supposed, like moths to a flame
Amused, I watched as he made a veiled examination of the doors, noting with dismay that each came with a card reader that only allowed those with the matching card through a revolving door. Really, I'd only followed through with a basic pick-pocketing strategy, distract the target with one individual while another relieves them of the goods, but it was embarrassingly effective when carried out by a pair of robots that might as well have invisibility cloaks for all that anyone paid attention to them outside of when a Geth addressed them specifically. Even if he did suspect someone of switching his card, which he looked like he suspected given how he was surreptitiously scanning the room and everyone in it, there was absolutely no chance in hell he'd suspect a robot driven by a basic VI to be the culprit. Privately, I wondered how many times I'd have to repeat this performance before he gave up, or if it'd only make him try harder given the obvious discouragement.
I hoped I'd have more chances. As genius as this little joke had been, I had more that I wanted to try out, and this Traeda operative was a great and unsuspecting target regardless of his STG training.
Just made him more challenging, really.
- Man in the Van with a Plan
Writer of many fics, reader of many more.
Join my Discord! https://discord.gg/66WJrHK