I am endlessly thankful to Yawning Dragon, Gladius, Kadenex, Misfire Anon and ex-Clusum for reading the manuscript at various stages of completion and providing me with invaluable feedback and insights. Also to Heavenly Eros for taking my crude cover design and making it look gorgeous. To all the devotees of Mass Effect who keep the fandom alive with wonderful art and writing. And finally, to the authors of the series, for creating an amazing world and allowing us to extend it.
One day in the third quarter of 2172,
Captain Tirren of the STG reported an incident so incredible that he was
initially suspected to be making some kind of a joke.
Marked URGENT:GENOPHAGE, the report stated that only hours earlier, a top-secret military research facility located in the largely uninhibited Dio-Oroch nature reserve on Sur’Kesh had been assaulted by a small multi-species team led by a krogan identified as Warlord Okeer. The assailants had arrived in a standard shuttle after disabling the regional anti-aircraft defenses and cutting off all communications to and from the facility by means unknown. In the time it took the STG to notice the facility had gone silent, Okeer and his men had decimated its security forces and murdered all the research staff. Arriving at the scene a minute after the assailants had departed, the STG team that was sent to investigate discovered that Okeer had effectively stolen all the classified research data stored in the facility using a highly sophisticated VI to encrypt the data and all its backup copies with a biometric key.
Nihlus gaped at the settlement,
unbelieving. Primitive boats lined the riverbank along the makeshift docks, and
wooden huts with straw roofing riddled the coast like warts. At least a couple
hundred people lived here, hiding from the tropical heat in the shades of the
giant ganut trees. Some trunks sported ladders leading up to abodes inside the
trees and on their lowest branches, thick enough for two grownups to walk
astride. Ignoring a couple of worn prefabs and a water dispenser that stood in
the center of a clearing like a phallic monument, the village could’ve been an elaborate stage for a pre-contact
From atop the little knoll on the west edge of the clearing, he could see far upstream the great river Ibiss. Her opaque, sluggish waters flowed toward him. The rippling reflections, dark blue from the evening skies in the east, and bright, fiery orange from the setting sun, caught between the solid margins of deep jungle green, made for a scene of peace and serenity that might have been beautiful if not for the wretched props and actors.
Okeer lifted the visor on his helmet and
sniffed the moist air, observing the surroundings. Squat trees with smooth,
wide trunks were spaced evenly in every direction. Their sturdy, large leaves
had played a key role in letting him reach the ground in reasonably good shape,
and he saluted them with a chuckle. The darkening sky could only be glimpsed
through the gaps between their sprawling crowns, high above. Varied
undergrowth—some of it as tall as he—crowded every available patch of the soft,
porous ground. There was a heavy, moldy smell coming decidedly from the north.
Water. Wortag had mentioned a river.
Satisfied in knowing where he was, or at least, where to go, Okeer checked his omni-tool. He’d calibrated his kinetic barrier to generate a strong field along his arm at the expense of everything else. A dubious decision. If he were to die, the data he’d stolen from the salarians would all go to waste. Marash had made sure of it. He’d acquired the encryption algorithm from batarian slavers and it bore the signature of their evil genius. The only way to generate a key was from the unique pattern of Okeer’s pupil dilation, which couldn’t be replicated in case of his demise.
This chapter mentions characters and events from Misfire Anon’s story The Other Beginning and was written under the assumption that you have read it. If you haven’t, please do so before you go on! Not only because it supplies crucial subtext for this and a few other chapters of TTSS, but also because it’s one of the best stories for Mass Effect ever written.
escorts had deposited him in an empty meeting room in the headquarters of the
Invictus Legion, located in the heart of Hierote, the largest city on the south
hemisphere and the de facto administrative capital of the colony. The HQ was a
tall and slender spire of asari design, all rounded edges and convergent
curves, looking down upon the squat, angular buildings that surrounded it with
the condescension characteristic of its architects. The artificial lake around
it mirrored the strange, deep-blue darkness of the evening sky. Everything
else, as far as the eye could reach, was the same desaturated orange as the
desert sand. Even the trees.