Mass Effect: Thadus
Swarm of the Stars
The sound of wind whistled by Ral’s ears as the ship sailed across the sands. They sailed west just as the suns were getting low in the sky. The orange and yellow colors of the bathed everything in warm colors. But Ral wasn’t able to enjoy in it.
She had her hands tied behind her back. Her fingers were starting to grow tingly as she knelt out on the center of the deck, guarded by heavily armored aliens. The others as well. Paz seemed to be taking it hard, speaking quickly to himself. Vicia didn’t have a choice with a crossbow in her face.
Their captors were unlike any creature Ral had seen. At least she had heard of the collectors, heard rumors of what they looked like and how Commander Shepard destroyed their main base. But she couldn’t say the same with these creatures.
The men guarding them looked like insects but unlike the collectors, they were more human in their appearance. They had a light brown exoskeleton but looked more agile than the collectors. Their black eyes reminded Ral of looking into dark space, absent of light. They had two sets of eyelids, one regular eye lid that closed top to bottom and a clear second set that closed from side to side.
When two of them greeted each other, they butted heads. The top of their heads were hardened, dark brown, starting from their forehead before spreading to the top and back. The men had two horns circling round the hardened area, protruding from the back.
One of the men took off their robe and sat by railing. Four appendages, like the legs of a spider, originated from his back. He seemed to be able to move them independently like a dog would its tail. The extra appendages clung to the wire railing, keeping the man from flying off if something were to happen.
He spoke in a strange language with one of the others when the door to the lower decks opened. Out stepped their leader, Nych, the one with the cross bow. She and the other females looked slightly different. While they did share many features with the men, there were two things that stood out the most: their horn and their wings.
While the men had two smaller horns, the females had one singular horn. It followed the curve from their forehead to a point at the back of their head. They too slammed heads together in greeting. Sometimes hitting harder than the men.
The women had wings; two pairs of lovely transparent wings Ral compared to a dragonfly. Other than that, the men and women looked very similar.
Their leader glanced at her captives before starting to give orders, “Harak, Zha’Kril!”
“Harak!” came the response.
“We bring news of victory!” she announced, arms out stretched. “We have sent the General back to the Dark One! We have shown our might!”
“But we must not forget the ones we have lost! We have avenged them victoriously! May they return to their place among the stars!”
Nych raised her arms, “Come, my brothers! We have been away from the clan long enough! Let us bring news of their ascendance! Harak, Zha’Kril!”
“Xarot! Bring us home before night fall!” she commanded.
The man nodded and brought a large wooden horn to his mouth. The sound it made was low and deep. Ral could feel the vibrations through her suit and in her jaw. Xarot blew the horn several times, receiving cheers from the other ship.
“And you?” Nych snarled at her captives. “We will see what Vaennua will do with you.”
In the distance a mesa rose on the horizon. The mesa was about a mile in length with a tower to one side three-fourths of a mile tall. The tower flattened out before sloping down to a plateau and dropping down the remaining half mile to the ground.
As they approached, Ral could make out an opening. It looked nothing more than a cave except for the fact it wasn’t on ground level but 500 feet above ground. Fused pieced of metal were fused together and hung on rope like a draw bridge. From the ground, a bridge made off rock and stone extended most of the distance to the cave before cutting off.
At the base of the bridge was a kind of lookout post. Two posts were stationed on either side of a well-traveled path. A light flickered at them as the ship approached. Nych ordered a response. Xarot brought the instrument to his lips. He played a series of notes.
When the lookout post was satisfied they signaled another post within the mesa. The bridge was let down across the gap allowing access to the cave. The ships sailed passed the two outposts and proceeded up the bridge.
Darkness washed over the deck of the ship as they wound through the tunnels. Various lights automatically turned on, lighting up the deck and the outer hull. The cool contrast of the cave from the heat was welcomed relief to Ral as she sat in her enviro-suit.
The ships pulled in to a hollowed out section. Caves were carved into the sides of the walls housing more ships. The two ships circled around a large stone platform before stopping.
“Bring the prisoners and follow me!” Nych commanded. She turned to Xarot, “Take care of the ships maintenance. I will go see my mother.”
“As you say, Captain,” Xarot nodded and went to accomplish his task.
Ral was pulled to her feet and carried off the ship. One of the females flew her down from the twenty foot high deck. She and the others were led, single file, up the stone platform. Ral looked up at the large hole in the ceiling. The mesa had been carved out into several levels. They stepped onto a metal platform attached to chains. There was a lever in one corner and Nych pushed it down. The lift started to rise.
They passed through the ceiling and rose through to the second level. Ral looked over the scene. The area around the hole looked like a market. Stalls and tables were filled with goods both edible and handmade, very basic in appearance. In the distance were homes built out of scrap metal. One after the other right up until the end length of the cave. Light flickered from windows and opened doors. Folk gathered around wells, pumping up water from far below the earth. They were just living life.
As the lift rose, several creatures looked up at them. There was an audible gasp. Children looked up at them wide eyed and pointed as their parent hurried them away. Several families walked back to their homes, closing the doors behind them.
The third level was slightly better. Homes were built out of stone and rose up to the ceiling like columns. Lifts were on the outside allowing access to different floors and rooms. Again, a market appeared around the hole but they sold much nicer things, a mix of common and luxury items. Most people ignored them the best they could and hurried on to do their tasks.
The fourth level was much smaller than the previous two and it had the privilege of sunlight. At the end of the cave it opened to a flat plane. The light was too bright to see what was outside in detail.
The homes were built much bigger. They were like mansions compared to the others before. Again another market place but it was a little different. There were much more luxurious items like necklaces and clothes. Something the lower levels could never afford.
They continued upward and ended up in an extravagant room with a high ceiling. Unlike the other levels, this floor had distinct rooms, doors and hallways. Guards stood around the circle gap for any intruders.
Nych spoke with the guards who eventually let them pass. She led them down a hallway and to a set of doors. Two guards saluted her and pushed the heavy doors aside.
At the back of the room was a cave entrance. Strings of beads cascaded down like a river of beads. The strings parted. Out stepped a woman, her wing tips almost touching the ground. She wore a white gown and a scarf that wrapped around her neck. Large earrings dangled from her pointed ears. She looked at the captives before looking at Nych. The second woman looked at the aliens again and approached.
She clapped her hands, “I am Vaennua, queen of the zha’kril. Who speaks for your kind?”
Vicia stepped forward without hesitation, “I will.”
Vaennua took notice of her, “Explain yourself. You fall from the sky. We haven’t seen your kind before.”
“I am Vicia. I am known as a turian,” Vicia introduced herself. She turned to the others, “The krogan is Khal. The salarian is a doctor who goes by Paz. We have a geth named Consensus and a quarian whose name is Ral. The human we call Widow.”
Vaennua looked at Widow a few moments before continuing, “Turians, humans, salarians, quarians…you were all primitives during my cycle. Now look at you. I thought the Dark Ones had killed everything. I thought nothing had survived.”
“You don’t seem surprised,” Vicia spoke. “How do you know our species but not know what we looked like?”
Vaennua ignored her question, “How did you get here?”
“Our ship was under attack by an enemy known at the Reapers,” Vicia explained. “We were barely able to get out alive. Our escape pod became damaged and we landed here, on your planet.”
Vaennua looked worried, “Did the ones you call Reapers follow you?”
Vicia shrugged, “I can’t say for sure—”
“Good,” Vaennua said. “You may stay here on Thadus. You can live here in peace.”
Vicia shook her head, “No, we need to contact our people and let them know where we are. There is a war going on! Everything we are fighting for is back there, we can’t just abandon them! We can be discreet. There are secure channels we can use that won’t give away your—”
“No!” Vaennua shouted. The room grew quiet. Her voice shook as she spoke, “I cannot risk the Dark Ones coming here. 50,000 years I have kept what is left of my people safe. I will not endanger that.”
There was silence. It pressed against Ral making it hard to breath. 50,000 years? That was when the Protheans were wiped out by the Reapers. The merciless terrors systematically destroyed all advanced life in the galaxy. There were many species destroyed during that time. Their cities gone, only mentioned in Prothean ruins. If Vaennua lived at that time…
“You used to be the Zha,” Ral spoke aloud. “I remember the story of the swarm. You implanted yourselves with AI technology in order to live in your homeworld as it became unlivable. The AI’s allowed you to adapt on the cellular level to your surroundings so you became the zha’til, the swarm of metal. But the Reapers came and used the AI’s to change you into monsters. The Protheans called you ‘mechanical swarms that blotted out the sky’. It order to defeat you, the Protheans sent your star into supernova wiping out your entire solar system; and you.”
Vaennua looked at Ral, “How do you know of the zha?”
Ral took a deep breath, “There are many who consider your story similar to that of the quarians. We were unable to control our technology as well.”
“That isn’t the end of the story,” Vaennua approached her. “We didn’t all die. There were a few of us unaffected by the Dark Ones. We managed to escape on a ship before the Protheans destroyed our star. As we passed through out Mass Relay it was destroyed by the blast. We ended up here.”
“Where exactly is ‘here’?” Vicia asked.
Vaennua motioned to two guards, “Let those two go.” Once the girls were free, she motioned for them to follow her.
Ral stayed close to Vicia as they walked through the cascade of beads. They followed the zha’kril queen as she led them to a wide hallway with large arches on either side. Ahead of them was a pillar of light shining down from a hole in the ceiling. They stepped on a platform and one of the guards pulled a lever. Ral breathlessly looked at the stars as they rose.
The sky was so clear, each celestial body shown with splendor. The arm of the galaxy left a hazy band of stars across the sky. There was no moon that night but it wasn’t necessary. The stars themselves provided enough light.
The women stood on top of the mesa. Vaennua pointed to a blur of stars in a darker patch of sky.
“That is your world,” Vaennua stated.
Ral stared at it. Vicia shook her head, “What do you mean?”
Vaennua looked at the turian, “That is your home. Your galaxy.” She paused, “You are 2.5 million light years away from home.”