The construction of a Reaper was strange to a degree that I… I’d say I hadn’t expected, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true.
The relatively tiny shard pulsed red to itself on top of a spire of glass. From what I could tell, the light and the regular pattern of pulsing was some sort of error code, though the purpose for the combination was one that I couldn’t fathom. Even the idea that it was an error code was a shot in the dark, given that the entire thing was… strange.
Attempts to parse the light into something comprehensible were still on-going, and I’d tasked an entire processing bank to attempt to sort it out, but I’d gotten nothing so far. The electromagnetic signatures coming off of the thing, measured with equipment plugged into a computer, then read off a screen by a heavily EM shielded Geth unit attached by data cable that led out of the thing’s sealed containment, hadn’t made much more sense than the light. Cursory scans had returned garbled, field equipment not enough to penetrate through the material and the shroud of EM radiation that surrounded the chunk, but more powerful scans had revealed nano construction with resolution that I couldn’t come within lightyears of matching. As far as I could tell, the entire piece was all computer substrate mixed with hardened material, all powered by arrays feeding off of background radiation. Just scanning the thing had increased the power readings I got from it by a bit.
It hadn’t reacted to the presence of Geth units. I’d even placed empty Geth in the same chamber with all its communications open wide and completely undefended and, as far as I could tell, the chunk hadn’t injected any sort of code into it. The makeup of electromagnetic radiation from the thing hadn’t even shifted in the slightest, merely exhibiting the same patterns that it had when I’d first sorted through them.
I considered all this as I directed my orbital and ground assets to focus on a thousand- kilometer radius around the site that I’d found the chunk. If I’d have to give a guess as to what was happening, I’d say that whatever piece of the larger Reaper that survived in this tiny piece, it was at least enough to make it glow, keep it powered and maintain the EM shroud that surrounded the thing. Which was exceptionally annoying, as I’d started building the theory that the shroud was what was giving me so much trouble finding the corpse of the Leviathan itself, screwing with sensor readings and preventing me from seeing through to the thing itself. I’d only detected this piece when I was nearly on top of it, and even then it had been just as garbled as the field scans I’d done.
So, whatever it was, it didn’t react to AI or to machines outside of itself. But what I remembered of what I’d read on wikis and in fanfiction said that the larger Reaper had managed to indoctrinate the Batarian scientists and officials that had removed the Leviathan from Dis and studied it. Did that mean that the actual Leviathan was still alive and intelligent to some degree? Or, did it mean that Reaper artifacts could indoctrinate regardless of their status, as long as they aren’t destroyed down practically to their atoms?
Regardless, I was somewhat scared to actually tap into the thing and attempt to access the internal memory banks I was sure it had. If I was wrong, there could be a dormant Reaper shard sleeping within the memory and processors left here, something that would awaken if poked and rip straight through anything it could access. Even if there wasn’t something that intelligent, the Reapers were originally constructed by the Leviathans to suppress those troublesome AI that kept trying to break their species’ iron dominion over the galaxy, and I wouldn’t put it past them to have left some truly nasty surprises for any AI that stumbled across a bit of Reaper tech and got a little too eager. One does not become a species of AI-hunting AI lasting for millenia without putting in at least basic precautions against the very things you hunt.
So… I had to start sorting out what did what, how it did what it did and why, but without accessing the thing. My repeated scanning was getting me nowhere, because while the thing was reacting and energy was flickering here and there throughout its structure, I had no idea what was for what and what was DOING what. I just knew that it wasn’t dead. So, I had to introduce some sort of outside stimulus that I knew that it would react to, something that every Reaper was built for.
Thankfully, I’d come with the tools for exactly this sort of situation. Or, well, requested them from home.
The Varren embryos I had were in the process of modification while I slowly spun up artificial meat production in sterile environments. It would have been easier and quicker to release stock Varren and start experimentation right away, but somehow that felt… wrong? I didn’t want animals to just be disposable experimental stock, even if Varren were more or less essentially large space rats. I’d felt at least a little guilty about it, so I’d decided that, well… I could do something about it. So I would.
Varren were percieved by the rest of the galaxy as being pretty stupid, even more ugly and capped off with high enough breeding to make them pests. Really, none of those things were actually very far off of reality: Varren had the processing power of a below average chihuahua, a temperament that was often worse than a twitchy dogfighter and were about as attractive as the term “fishdog” implied. Marginally, they were similar to dogs in that they were sometimes smart and tame enough to be trained as attack animals, but considering that most of what you heard of them were either just that, a pest or a food source... yeah, space rats. But Tuchanka space rats, which meant they were like an upgraded ROUS.
But, right now, I had access to a bio lab of my own design, a lot of labour and not much to do besides wait for the meat production to ramp up and search the empty, barren wasteland of Dis for the corpse of a giant AI. The lack of stimulation had begun driving me at least a little batty, at this point, and I thought I’d started seeing weird shadows, which is about the point where one does an about face and tries something completely different. Engineering man’s best friend IN SPACE? Well, that was different enough for my purposes.
Thankfully, Rannoch-me had had the foresight to include a software package with the equipment and embryos that contained all Varren genetic research done thus far, a full gene sequencing and a modeling program that was more commonly used on finding and eradicating genetic diseases. Rannoch, however, had redesigned the thing to work like an actual simulator, working out what changes to genetic code would do to the recipient of those changes. It felt… strange, plugging that program into my mind. It was different from so many others that I’d eaten and absorbed into myself during the time that I’d been Rannoch-me, and yet… similar, down to what would be an unsettling degree if I wasn’t fully conscious that Rannoch-me was as much me as… as me.
Regardless, there were a number of fundamental changes I wanted in what I was tentatively referring to as ‘my Varren’. Higher intelligence, lower chance of rejecting implants, reduced capacity for reproduction, more mellow attitudes and longer lifespans. More intelligent subjects meant a higher chance both that Reaper indoctrination would work on them and more noticeable effects when it did, and all that would be monitored through implants that I’d prefer weren’t rejected by their host. Regardless of how effective my food production was, I could only supply so many of them before production was surpassed and space filled up, so reduced reproduction was a necessity. Mellow attitudes just made them easier to handle, while longer lifespans meant that long term effects of Reaper manipulation could be observed in the same subjects over a correspondingly long period of time.
Of course, there was one more change I wanted to make, but I admitted that it was a mix of my desire for companionship of some sort and a sort of sense of vanity within me. Namely, I wanted to modify the Varren specifically so they appealed more to my own (originally) human sensibilities.
Dogs, for example, had co-evolved with humanity over a period of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. This had a number of effects, obvious and subtle, but it primarily meant that humans bred for things in dogs that they considered desirable. Useful instincts, intelligence, looks, facial muscles that allowed for expressions easier to interpret by hominids, to name a few.
I think… I was lonely. I felt lonely, anyway, the way that one gets from a period of isolation with nothing but work to do. I’d at least had the ability to exist in and around sapient beings when I was Rannoch-me, but now I had nothing of the sort, and I wanted companions of a sort. Though… I wasn’t sure how I felt about experimenting on the same animals that I was going to be considering pets.
Well… I’d pushed aside more than one thing for the greater good of the galaxy and my own survival. What was one more.
Halfway through the process of designing the creatures, though, I had to pause as something occurred to me. Checking the genetic information archives that I possessed, it confirmed my suspicions.
Reaper tech, as far as the games went, had only ever worked on sapient creatures. Now, there could be a number of reasons why this happened, but given the fact that many species neurological architecture was more or less similar, I was inclined to guess that Reapers specifically seeded planets with modified species that would respond better to indoctrination. I had no proof towards that regard, but it was a strong hunch, and what information I could get ahold of seemed to indicate it. I suppose I’d get information when I finally unearthed the Leviathan and figured out how to safely access its memory.
Regardless, said neurological architecture for sapient beings was very different from the sort seen in sub-sapient creatures such as the Varren. This, of course, might mean that Reaper indoctrination protocols might dictate that they be ignored entirely in favour of targets more capable of understanding the information being impressed upon them. This, of course, meant that the default Varren neural setup wouldn’t work for what I intended it for.
That… brought a whole host of problems into the mix. Namely, the fact that I would be sticking something that evolved to support sapience into an engineered race and then experimenting on them with (I suspected) physically mind-altering brainwashing tech. I gained a whole level of understanding for why the Citadel Council allowed genetic experimentation with tight restrictions, and specifically outlawed the creation of sapient species.
Though, much like the controls on AI, I didn’t have to agree with it to understand.
I’d have to balance on a knife’s edge with the Varren. Too far to one side and their neural structure was useless for my purposes, being entirely mismatched with what the Reaper tech needed to work. Too far the other way, and I risked creating another sapient species, and I had no idea what I’d do from there. Probably find an out of the way garden world and dump them there with enough tech for a civilization headstart? But, then again…
Several platforms shifted uncomfortably as I considered a different side to it. If I were to, say, accidentally create such a species from my work here… how bad would that be, really? I’d been looking for an organic species to support and ally with me, particularly when I eventually approached the galaxy at large, but so far I’d been very careful to put my eggs in as many baskets as I could reach.
And I was justifying this to myself.
In the end, all said and done, I didn’t feel comfortable experimenting on sapients- even more uncomfortable than I felt about animal experimentation, no matter how necessary it was in the current situation. Having another organic race that could potentially back me up in a situation where I was unveiled to the galaxy, intentionally or unintentionally, would be nice. However, I wasn’t about to cross moral lines to get there. I’d have to balance on the knife’s edge of useful, between invalid subjects and actual sapience, and I’d have to walk that line with a lot of care.
Thus, so decided, I rolled up my metaphorical sleeves and started developing.
Fists made a loud BANG as they contacted the table.
“We are NOT letting this piece of Varren shit slip away!”
Ar’Ten felt the very corner of his mouth twitch in annoyance.
The Board of Red Jarraut seldom called in-person meetings, and when they did, it was only under the highest level of security and for only the most important of things- especially now, with an entire Citadel patrol fleet hanging over their heads. However, matters had come to a head, and enough of the present board members, if they could be referred to as such, had decided that this meeting was important enough to risk.
Someone had crossed them, humiliated one of their own, and very publicly at that.
Xen Nerrine towered over the table, sharp teeth bared in an ugly snarl twisted slightly by the scars that covered the left side of his face- a wound the Krogan had received taking a grenade practically to the face many years ago, a story it took little coaxing to hear. By far, he was the physically largest of all the Board, and had achieved his position among them by quite literally tearing his predecessor in half. He cast his baleful gaze up and down the long table they all sat at, and Ar’Ten once again tempered the first impression Nerrine made as a mindless beast with the spark of measuring intelligence that flickered, veiled, in his one eye. Seeming satisfied with the effect of his outburst, he turned on an Asari towards the end of the table.
“Vala! You ain’t gonna let this go, are you!?”
Neutrally, Ar’Ten looked down the table as the blue-skinned woman, who had grimaced upon being addressed by Nerrine, the initiative stolen from her. Still, she stood at the challenge, venom laced through her voice.
“No, I’m not. Whoever Mudanma is, they’ve stepped into something they most certainly can’t handle.” Cold, precise, and smart enough not to counter-attack the Krogan. Ar’Ten’s measure of her ticked up a few notches. “What they’ve done, and the aftershocks of it, is bad for business. For all of us.”
There were sounds of irritated agreement up and down the table. Ar’Ten chose to stay silent, subtly glancing around the table to see who would rise to that particular comment, making eye contact with one of his fellow Quarian board members across the table. They gave the slightest gesture of their head towards Vala, an unspoken question, which he simply answered with the raising of an eyebrow. With an inaudible sigh, he spoke up.
“And why does this concern us, any of us, or any of our business pursuits? You are the only injured party in this exchange, none of the rest of us have had to do much more than slow our activities, and that only because of the hammer hanging above us all.” he scoffed. “Which, as we all know, is a consequence of your inadequate security.”
Vala flushed purplish with rage, but the Asari maiden was at least experienced enough to not let it show beyond that. The Quarians at the table all shared a silent, subtle moment of amusement at her expense. Which was interrupted when Nerrine spoke up.
“Ain’t got the experience, ain’t got the wisdom- remind me how yah got on this board, again?” He folded his massive arms, ruined face curling into a scowl, his customary expression. “If yah can’t handle it, maybe somebody else aughta step in.”
Ar’Ten narrowed his eyes by bare degrees. The Krogan was useful, even competent, but combined with his ambition he became a danger. The last thing they needed was a play from him or the answer Vala would have, especially with everything they had on their hands. Even as he thought, he could just about see the ugly remark coiling itself to strike in the Asari’s throat, the spark of conflict between the two that would be like a beacon visible from orbit, especially to those hanging in the heavens just waiting for such a thing. He’d have to step in, even if he didn’t want to. He stood, both of their attention drawn to him in an instant, and gestured with his hands.
“Friends, colleagues, please. We came to discuss an outside enemy, not make enemies amongst ourselves- especially in these trying times.” He’d have to play this carefully. Now was not the time to needle the pride of either, not with so much on the line. “This enemy, this... Mudanma, has struck at not just one of us, but all of us. True, they have hit but one, so far, but they did not target Vala specifically. And if they did not target specifically one of us, then any one of us might be the next to be… inconvenienced.”
Vala seemed to weigh his words in her head, then nod very slightly and settle back in her chair, seeing the logic of it. Nerrine, on the other hand, narrowed his one eye as he recognized Ar’Ten’s spoiling of his fight.
“Don’t think there’s any question’ah capability on my side. Mudanma ain’t gonna be able to do tah me what they did tah her.”
“Perhaps not exactly, but then, you don’t have all the information.” Nerrine growled a warning, even though his calculating look shone through. Ar’Ten tapped a series of documents in front of him, actual paper files the likes of which were rarely seen nowadays. A necessity, given that technology was not allowed in the Boardroom in any form. “I have it, from multiple reliable sources, that simply cracking data infrastructure was not all this Mudanma did. No, they went all the way to somehow disabling every weapon in an entire arsenal. Wholesale.”
he turned to the Asari, who was frozen in shock. After a bare moment, she seemed to realize her momentary mistake, scrubbing the expression from her face and body, reverting to her usual crossed arms and glowering look.
“Can you confirm this information?”
She spoke through gritted teeth, though given how she leaned forward and sent a glance in Nerrine’s direction, she had some idea of where he was going with this. “Yes.”
He smiled, a small and clinical expression, and turned back to the Krogan.
“Mercenary groups, all arms and armour, aren’t safe from them either. If they can so easily disable firearms, who is to say they couldn’t do the same to armour? Biotic implants? No, none of us are safe from them.” Now, something to pique their interest. “And thus, I have already decided what action I am to take.”
He gestured his assistant forward. The man set a case on the table before him and he nodded his thanks, swiftly operating the purely mechanical locks sealing the thing shut. After a bare few moments, it clicked open, and he turned it to the room to show the softly glowing silvery bars it contained.
“ten million Citadel credits of pure platinum to make Mudanma disappear into myth as their namesake did centuries ago.”
Several board members let out surprised sounds, Vala included. Others whispered amongst themselves, and even he couldn’t tell whether his Quarian colleagues were trying to sell the effect or were truly surprised by his offer. Nerrine himself whistled, leaning forward with his sledge-like fists resting on the table, eye drinking in the reflected silver light.
“Well, guess that means you’re serious… doesn’t mean much if yah can’t shoot the bastard.”
“All the computer acumen in the world doesn’t mean much with chemical propellent.”
Nerrine blinked at him, then burst out in deep, throaty laughter. “Slug throwers!? You ain’t serious!”
Ar’Ten smiled. “Perfectly so. Unwieldy, heavy, inefficient… but immune to all the issues of conventional weaponry for the same reasons mechanical locks are favoured for valuable cases. You can’t hack gears and chemicals.”
The huge figure leaned back for a moment, considering, then turned and stomped towards the door.
“Keep that case warm for me, gonna need it when I get that back.”
Vala jumped to her feet as the rest of them simply watched. “Where do you think you’re going!?”
He paused, just this side of the thick, sealed mechanical vault door that sealed the entrance to the room. He turned, showing only the mutilated side of his face… and the predatory grin that split his face with a line of shining, sharp teeth.
“Gonna hunt me a fairy.”
- Man in the Van with a Plan
Writer of many fics, reader of many more.
Join my Discord! https://discord.gg/66WJrHK