MASS EFFECT II: REAPING
Chapter I: A Colleague in the Commissary
(Author's Note: It is an odd quirk of the original MASS EFFECT game that racial names, such as "turian", "asari", and "salarian", are never capitalized. Thus, I have kept that same style when referring to both humans and aliens. It takes a while to get used to, but then again, it took me a while as well!)
Once, a soldier, a medic, and an engineer are all convicted of treason and sentenced to die in the electric chair. The soldier is strapped in first, but when the switch is flipped, nothing happens! The executioner, flabbergasted, thinks the soldier must be innocent and thus sets him free. Then the medic is next, and the same thing happens again. The executioner sets the medic free, thinking it's a miracle that two innocent men could be spared all at once!
Then the engineer is slated to be strapped in, but he asks to look at the electric chair first. He does, and then he tells the executioner, "Ah! Here's your problem. If you'll just cross that black wire with the yellow one..."
Engineer Peter McGann had always been wary of strangers, especially ones who relied on chronic wisecracking to get their conversation off to a good start. He knew that some people told engineer jokes the way others told jokes about lawyers or politicians, but he also knew that such people were insanely jealous of his talents. He could set any malfunctioning electronics right in an instant, realign mechanical parts of even the most complex industrial machines, and as for hacking? That was truly his greatest skill, the one he prized the most although no one else did. Only his employers at Synthetic Insights, a Noverian corporation with a new branch office on the Citadel, had a use for it--it helped them keep an edge on their competitors.
Not that Peter had really meant to do anything illegal: he had simply been threatened by SI goons higher up the corporate food chain that if he didn't hack, he'd get the sack. Synthetic Insights paid good money, and besides, in his office, "getting the sack" usually didn't mean only getting fired. He'd heard rumors of alien thugs coming over to the Citadel from Noveria to--No matter. He'd quit his job, no matter what it took, and try his utter hardest to avoid any surly krogan wanting to break his legs. He'd find a new line of work, something honorable, maybe going to work for C-Sec or the Alliance military...
Peter rolled his eyes at the wisecracker in front of him, relieved that the joker had finally received his allotted portion of hydrolyzed-starch chips and cheese. Suddenly, he became startled, feeling someone else tap him on the shoulder behind him in the line for cafeteria concessions. It was a tall and handsome human in his mid-thirties, sporting a military-style buzz cut and barely-noticeable stubble of beard. With him were a young-looking asari and an older turian male, both clad in black body armor. "Could you maybe speed things up a little?" asked the human. "We're kind of in a hurry here."
"In case you didn't notice," replied Peter, "I was here first." He smiled at the attractive red-haired concessionaire as she served him up a plate of fries.
"And in case you
didn't notice," replied the other human testily, "I'm Captain John Shepard of the Alliance Marines. Who are you, perchance?"
Peter, caught completely off guard, almost staggered backward and dropped his fries. "I'm sorry, sir. Please forgive me--I have heard of you! You're all over the news and the holovids! I didn't think that you actually were--um--I just thought that high-ranking military personnel had their own lounges and didn't have to come down here with the common folk to get their snacks." He pushed back a fringe of light-brown hair, feeling more than a bit anxious.
"I haven't quite reached that level yet," replied Shepard, "but if our mission goes well and my recruits do their job, I will." Peter noticed how the turian's brow furrowed very slightly--was it in anger or merely annoyance? "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some mid-afternoon refreshments to procure."
Peter stepped aside, and he heard the turian mumble, "Wait, Captain. I've seen this man around the Citadel, long before I ever met you. He works for Synthetic Insights as an engineer, and I know because that's their traditional uniform." The young man frowned--indeed, he was wearing the standard gray one-piece bodysuit with the Synthetic Insights logo on it: the letters SI
and a computer monitor embroidered on the lapel. As humiliating as this getup was, at least he wasn't wearing his name badge at the moment! "He could be quite useful, and capable, in our endeavors. What do you think?"
Shepard was intrigued, and so was the hungry engineer. As soon as he and his turian and asari companions had purchased their food, the Captain motioned for Peter to follow them to one of the waiting metal tables in the Citadel's massive public cafeteria. They sat down, and it interested him to see what snack each of them had chosen. The turian, probably a die-hard carnivore, had settled on a varren-meat sandwich melt with two patties. The asari, favoring exotic fare, had purchased two chicken satay sticks with dipping sauce, and as for Shepard, he kept things the simplest--one cup of caf. Peter folded his hands on the table and decided to get the ball rolling:
"So, what's this 'mission' you're on?"
"To find and destroy the Reapers," Shepard replied, "or at least drive them back to deep space. They're going to invade if we don't stop them."
Peter almost choked on a fry. The Reapers were urban legends. So went the conventional wisdom around the Citadel, but if Shepard was right--!
"We're going to need an engineer," continued the Captain, "if we're going to have a fighting chance against them. My turian second-in-command, Commander Surgan Muress, thinks you might make a good member of the squad. What do you say?" Shepard took a long sip of his caf, sizing Peter up with his cold gray eyes.
a minute," Peter stammered, not quite knowing what to say. "I thought the Reapers were just some story, a myth that no one here on the Citadel really believes. Not only that, but I already have a job, and the folks at Synthetic Insights are going to be pretty pissed if I tell them I'm quitting."
"Suit yourself," replied Shepard, "but don't blame me if the Reapers start bombing."
"Excuse me, Captain," said the asari humbly, "but I still don't know what the Reapers really are." She nibbled tentatively on one of her chicken satays.
"Fifty thousand years ago," began the turian, Surgan Muress, "a highly civilized race called the Protheans was simply wiped out. No trace of them was ever seen again, except for the ruins of their cities, until now. The Protheans were slaughtered by a hyper-advanced race of machines called the Reapers. They exist, and we've already taken down one of them. Sovereign
was its name, and its captain was a rogue Spectre agent named Saren Arterius. You've heard of the Spectres, right?" V'torym nodded. "It turns out that Sovereign,
this ship, this Reaper, was controlling Saren's mind so that he was more of an indoctrinated slave than a commander. In the end, Captain Shepard convinced Saren to kill himself, thus allowing us our only chance to destroy Sovereign
once and for all. Now, there are many more Reapers than that one ship, and they're coming for us."
Peter had gone completely pale. "I can't believe this," he said. "The Reapers are real?
If so, then I'd better put my engineering skills to good use. I can repair the vessel--your vessel--if it needs routine maintenance, and I'll also try and figure out a way to hack these ships before they attack anyone."
Commander Muress' eyes grew wide. "You can't just hack
"I'd like to see him try." Shepard set his polyfoam cup of caf down on the table so hard that some of it sloshed out onto its polished surface. "If you're completely serious about what you've told us, then welcome aboard, Mr.--"
"McGann." Peter held out his hand, and Shepard shook it. "Peter McGann." He also shook Commander Muress' hand after he introduced himself, although the turian's claws made him a bit nervous to do so. Luckily, the Commander's hands were covered by the gauntlets of his body armor, and so there was no harm done.
The asari, finishing her snack, stood up and smiled. "Yeru V'torym."
Peter didn't know whether to shake her hand or kiss it. He had never seen an asari quite so lovely or so young, and the few he had met were rather 'cold fish' in his own opinion. The only one he had even thought about going to visit was Sha'ira, the asari consort, who lived here on the Citadel, and--well, he'd heard juicy secondhand gossip about the 'services' Sha'ira and her acolytes provided for their 'clients'. Thus, he was having second thoughts, but this V'torym was making him have third thoughts about her alien race...
Shepard noticed this. "Come on. It's great to have you with us, but let's go."
Peter nodded and followed the Captain and the rest of the crew, wondering how the turian had known about him--and also wondering how he was going to tell Rihanna Dune, his boss at Synthetic Insights, that he'd be leaving!