The Spectre has arrived
It was a rainy day, the Summer of 2016 had been on vacation for weeks on the east coast of the USA. But what did rain and clouds matter if you could just streak past them, right into the blue sky above?
The Taxi driver looked to his right, it did not happened that often this days that people looking for a transport into orbit from the US had armor and weapon that could have just come out of a scifi movie. Even if they asked you for meeting them in Canada.
“Are you really from the US? They are still a bit tricky in regards of Handwaved equipment like yours, right?” he asked.
“Yes, had a few problems to get all the equipment together, Handwavium is hard to get on Earth these days. Getting it out of the US wasn’t easy either. I couldn’t believe there are Trekkies and Star Wars Fen here, but no Mass Effect ones. Its one of the greatest games in history!” Shepard replied.
“Oh, we got our share of Mass Effect Fen last year, even if it took us some time to recognize them. A space station full of them to be exact.” the Taxi driver corrected him.
Shepard became visibly happy, that was much better than he had feared. “Wow, that’s great! I cannot await to meet them. I thought I would have to start it all alone. Maybe you can tell me where I can find them?”
The taxi driver grinned visibly. “That’s no problem. If I remember it right, their station Jenga is currently in orbit around Mars, they are friends with some of the Cybers at Marsbase Sara. Shouldn’t be difficult for you to get in touch with them.”
Shepard was to much occupied with dreaming about all the adventures he would have for wondering about the name of the space station.
“Oh, just one thing you might want to know. They are all catgirls!”
“Catgirls...” Shepards eyes seemed to bulge. “Wait, WHAT?”
Shepard just stared in shock at the taxi driver, he could not believe what he just had heard.
“Yes my friend, its true. There is a bunch of catgirls who teamed up in 2015 and founded their own company, ‘Catgirl Industries’. They started with random stuff, but today a lot of their tech can be traced either to the Tron movies or to the Mass Effect games. I heard they have invented the Element-Zero strain of Handwavium and still have a monopoly on it.”
Shepard just shook his head. “There are no catgirls in Mass Effect. There are lots of other races in the games, its not one of those ‘only humans with funny looking faces’ universes. But NO catgirls. How could this happen?” Something was going badly wrong here.
The man on the other seat chuckled. “Hey, this is Fenspace my boy. Anything can happen here. I have no clue about the ‘how’, but if you start asking questions like that, be prepared to be very frustrated very soon.”
“Catgirls...” Shepard still tried to wrap his mind around the concept. “A full space station of them? And they are the Mass Effect faction up here? Whats about Mass Relays and Biotics?”
“I think you have to explain this to me. I have heard about the games, but relays sounds a little bit too antique for Fenspace. Some kind of mechanical computer? Not sure if a Mad have tried to build one. And whats Biotics?”
Shepard smiled. “No, not that kind of relay. Mass Relays are space stations which have a huge Element Zero core that can propel other ships nearly instantly across the galaxy to another connected Mass Relay. And Biotics... its about integrating small bits of Element Zero with the central nervous system of a humanoid to be able to create Mass Effect fields just by concentrating. Think about things like force fields or telekinesis. Just technology based.”
“Ahh, biomods. I heard the Supers are still looking for doing something like this, but biomods are still mostly a random and unique thing. Except for catgirls of course... but your relays? Whatever the cats at Jenga have been doing, I think your relays are still a bit too much for them. But give them a few decades, we might see something like it. Catgirl Industries mostly works as a research institute and a base for crazy tinkerers. They create new waved goodies and prototypes, but licence much of their tech to other people for production.”
Shepard sighed again. Mass Effect Catgirls... that sounded crazy in his opinion. But it was better than nothing at all, he needed help. And if they were a real research institute, maybe the accident with the Eezo already had happened and Biotics would appear there soon!
Getting a Taxi to the moon was easy, but he had underestimated how large a real space city could be. Kandor wasn’t just large, it was huge... and full of people.
It took Shepard nearly a week to became even a bit familiar with this place. He booked a long guided tour and bought a map of the city, but he quickly recognized it would take years to see every street and corner.
‘And this is just one of the Fen cities, there is a lot more to see up here. Shepard always had thought the Citadel was huge, but this was much larger and more crowded. There hadn’t been that much data about Fen settlements available in the US, and most of them seemed to underestimate their size a lot.
After two days of walking around Kando, he’d visited Tranquility Base National Park and viewed the place where Mankind had first visited another celestial body. He stand there for hours, thinking about how space travel and exploration had changed since then. He had dreamed about standing here since he was a small boy, still remembering his dad telling him when he had watched the first Moon Landing on TV.
But now he was here, he had made it.
Now it was time to get to the start of his first real quest.
He had bought a cheap waved Tablet PC, which had surprised him with instant speech recognition, free interwave access through the whole city and even a real holographic display! Now he was surfing some news pages to find more data about that catgirls.
Fenspace Interwave was even more crazy than the one he knew from the US. More chaotic, more... more dynamic. The Fen seemed to own a lot more computerpower than anyone on the ground, and without the RIAAs army of lawyers present to sue anyone stepping out of the line, they were quite creative how to use it.
America had second life... and it was quite okay. Fenspace had KoFen and other virtual reality spaces, and a lot of hackers and AIs to improve on them. Stepping into that simulation of a Lord of the Rings battle had been breathtaking, beyond anything he had seen at home before.
But the same facts that made the Interwave incredible made it also difficult to search for a new user. In the Internet you just asked Google or Wikipedia about something, and you could be pretty sure to get a good tip what was going on. Here you had a lot of small ‘data monitoring and indexing’ services, and each of them kept track of just their small part of the 'weave.
In the end someone hinted that he should go to the Blue Blazers internet page and use their search engine. He had heard about the Blazers in the news, when they had appeared after the latest earthquake in south Asia. Fox news had cried out against the ‘illegal meddling of Fens in Earth things’, but nobody sane had listened to them anyways. It was difficult to talk badly about a group of people helping to dig out victims from their collapsed buildings.
Digging through tons of interesting information about the end of the war against the Boskones he finally found some useful information about the ‘Mass Effect catgirls’.
Much of it were rumors and discussions about the crazy tech they were working on, but a few documents described visits on their space station Jenga. It turned out that their station contained the second largest group of Catgirls in Fenspace, just one of the asteroids contained more of them. Most of them were said to be victims of the war against the Boskonians. A free floating, ever changing complex of large steel boxes, where they built stuff. Unfortunately it seemed they never produced something larger than a small drone, except for the base itself. But with their modular base design, this would be possible to change quickly.
They would certainly see how important his mission was.
Getting from the Moon to Mars was just a short hop for a modern spaceship. Unfortunately for Sheppard, he had no spaceship, so he took the bus.
He used the five hour long trip to go over all the data he downloaded from the Interwave again. The story of the Boskone war kept his eyes fixed on the tablet, it was incredible how close the whole Fenspace community had come to being wiped out or conquered by some damned criminals. But it seemed that they managed to turn the tide just in time. Their own variant of the Spectres, the Trouble Shooters, and the forces of OGJ and Space Patrol had worked hard until they had cleaned out the last concentration of Boskonian forces.
But it seemed the Boskonians had not been wiped out completely. There was suspiciously little information about where the catgirls that had founded Catgirl Industries had coming from in 2015, but it was clear small cells of the Bad Guys had survived. He had to make sure to gather more information about this later.
Not that the Spectres had a perfect score either. They’d even had a few traitors in their own ranks.
It was always a problem of support and resources. Without someone supporting him, the chance to make a difference was slim. Equipment, squad mates, crew, a ship, everything depended on external sources. In Mass Effect 2 the player had even worked with some insane pro-human militants called Cerberus, who were one of the bad guys in the first Mass Effect game. But they were the only group that had supported the player. After doing that much for the council in part one it shouldn’t have been this way, but the council had been a bunch of Jerks... as always.
Mars was already a huge sphere visible through the front window and a speaker announced they would reach Helium within the next ten minutes. Shepard sighed and put away his tablet. He would have liked to read more about the countless of military operations during the war, but it was time to find out where to go next.
According to his information from the Moon, the space station of the Mass Effect catgirls where still near Mars. It should not be that difficult to find someone who would take him to the station.
Traveling through Helium was a bad idea. At least that was Shepard’s thought as he left Helium towards Marsbase Sara.
This was the future. It was spaceship, space stations... terraforming! What were these sword-and-sandal movie fans doing up here and why did they built a city on Mars? Being told that their fandom was older than any science fiction show he ever knew had not been a pleasant surprise. Who could have known that they were slowly beginning to prepare for the celebration of the 100th birthday of the first book?
To be fair, Helium had been a nice and friendly place, great for tourists who were just visiting. Lots of things to look at, but not that interesting for a future Specter on his way to the first mission. They had given him some friendly advice, but he had been unable to learn where this space station was at the moment, just that it was not in orbit around Mars. He had quickly left after a few hours.
Marsbase Sara was a totally different kind of city. There were mechanical constructs and mechs everywhere, it had a smell of a place of production and engineering, not the sight of a tourist trap. Both Mecha pilots and cybered humans made a large part of the people in the subterrain base.
THIS was looking like something belonging to Mars. Robot... Mechs... even flying Mechs! This was a place of technology, they would know where to look for the catgirls.
It had taken a while to descent into the catacombs of the base, but then he had been able to find someone who worked for the space surveillance office here. A nice guy with a mechanical arm, sitting in a bar and enjoying a free day. A couple of beers later Shepard was sure he had found the right man.
“Jenga? The kitties? Yes, of course I know. Must be a funny place, lots of engineers and mads doing interesting things.”
“So you have been visited Jenga in the past” asked Shepard.
“Me? No... just heard stories about how their base started. The original gang of Catgirls have been living and working in Helium for a month or two in 2015, before they got enough money to start their space station. I think they had something to do with the Panzer Kunstlers. You know, the guys from Grunthal.”
Shepard had read a bit about these Panzer Kunstlers in the files about the Boskone wars. They had participated in a lot of dangerous operations, including the raid on Boskone Prime. Maybe he could ask them about the Catgirls if this was a dead end. But he didn’t believed it was, he was close to the second part of his first quest, he was sure about it. This man had the information he needed.
“But you can help me so that I can meet them?” he asked.
“Normally they don’t have many visitors I think, most people that want to hire them for some research work just call them over the Interwave. Shall I give you the number?” the man tried to help Shepard.
“No, its really important that I meet them directly. You have to understand, some things should not be done by phone. Do you think you can get me the coordinates where they are at the moment?” Shepard asked urgently.
The man sighed. “Okay, I will see what I can do. You know, maybe they are still in Mars orbit, if they are I can help you from here.”
The man took out a small computer from his pocket and a series of commands flashed on the screen. “Lets see... Jenga... no, they are not in orbit anymore. Left two days ago, most likely to the belt.”
“Do you think you can find out where they are at the moment.” Shepard asked nervously. “Its a space station, it cannot be that quick.”
The man thought about it for a moment and nodded. “Okay, okay... you seem to be a nice one, just wait here while I call a friend who is on duty at the moment. Maybe he can help us.”
Shepard shook the mans hand and thanked him again when he finally got the coordinates of his target. In his mind he could see the quest status log updating again. It shouldn’t be difficult to find another taxi here to bring him to the space station now.
It was the moment he had been planning for since he left orbit. He already knew how it would go!
“I am John Sheppard, System alliance. At this date, the 10 July 2016 I am taking command of this space station.”
A few catgirls looked over the the man in his armor that had arrived in a Taxi a few minutes ago and began to giggle. Another one did not seemed to be that amused, but unsure if these armed person was serious or not.
While Shepard still waited for someone important coming, hearing his case and finally agreeing to his decision, a door of the hangar opened and three other Catgirls entered the room.
‘These three have spacesuits with helmets... and they have a mean looking gun’ Shepard thought, feeling uncertain how to continue. ‘Where are the dialog boxes when you need them?’
Finally one of the giggling catgirls responded. “Isn’t he cute? I say we allow him into the kitchen and drink a hot coffee, he has earned it for this spontaneous stand-up comedy.”
The tension in the room vanished and most of the catgirls were grinning or nodding. Shepard just stared at them, he didn’t wanted to believe what happened.
He was a command approved soldier, he had played all three episodes through on all difficulty levels. He would become the first Spectre as soon as the Fen found the first real Mass Relay and got involved with the Citadel Council. How could his plan had failed?
In her private quarters Cathy was just closing the helmet on her suit and grabbed her Gyrojet pistol as Cortana hit her with another update.
“I think you can relax Cathy, it seems he is not willing to draw his assault rifle.” she heard the AI saying.
The 6 shot ammo clip clicked as she pushed it into her weapon. Cathy wasn’t willing to let it drop that easy.
“Are you sure Cortana? Three of us with an armored spacesuit is good, but two of them just have a waved Paintball-gun! Remind me we need some weapon detectors for incoming vehicles, I don’t want this to happen again.”
Maybe it was time to call her friends from Venus for a few more real weapons too. Security was not very useful when only the other guys were armed.
Cortana chuckled. “You should see him, he looks as some kid who just got told Christmas has been canceled. I have no clue what he was trying to do with this stunt, but he doesn’t seems to be openly hostile.”
“I am not sure Cortana... get him somewhere he can relax a bit and keep me informed, I will stay close. We don’t know the capabilities of his gun, until he is willing to give it away for the duration of his visit here, I am taking no chances. If he draws his weapon to impress someone or enhance his arguments, I will see how good his armor is against a gyrojet missile.”
Shepard was sitting in an armchair in a smaller room near the kitchen area. He had his hands around a large cup of coffee, trying to regain his courage. It still wasn’t over, he had a chance to succeed. If he only could get EDI’s daughter to join his cause, it might be possible to push this back on the track.
He had thought about using a renegade option and drawing his rifle, but believing he could succeed against a whole space station alone was insane. When one of the catgirls approached him a minute later and asked him to put down his weapon, he had agreed to it. It didn’t matter what what chance he had, he did not want to start a fight.
It was not the right thing to start a fight.
“Cortana, you have to help me. I am sure I am the best here for command duty, but they just don’t listen to me. I have trained so hard, I cannot just give up and walk away. Everyone would laugh about me.”
Cortana was close to telling him that this might happen anyways. But there were worse things than to be laughed about by a few Fen. Maybe this was something Shepard had still to learn.
Shepard was getting desperate, he was at a crossroad of the quest of his life, and he feared that he was close to failing it. “If you support me, I might still have the chance to get this right. I had so much work with this armor and the weapon, it would all be for nothing.”
Cortanas virtual avatar sighed. “John... maybe you should open your eyes and look around. Two years ago nothing of this existed. The working areas, the drones, the waved cars... the space station! We built all of this and it was a lot of work too. Ten years ago Fenspace did not exist at all. Not the stations around Earth, not the flying cities of Venus, not the thousands of outposts through the solar system and beyond. Do you think you are really the only one who had to work hard to get to this point?”
John Shepard just looked to the ground. He just felt like he would start to cry in a moment. Could it really be that he had fooled himself? That he had that much looked into his role in this game, that he had overlooked that he wasn’t the only player? Had he planned so much about his future quests that he had lost sight of something more important?
“Oh what a mess. I don’t know what to think, maybe you are right...” he finally pressed out, still managing to prevent himself from just breaking down. “Can... can you leave me alone for a moment, I really need some privacy? Just a few minutes please.”
Cortana nodded. “I will mark this room as busy, so that no one busts in. Take you time and call for me on the terminal beyond the door when you need something.”
She shut down the holo projector and moved away from the sensor systems of the room, just leaving a small expert system to make sure she was notified if Shepard tried something stupid.
A small crowd of Catgirls had gathered in one of the rooms besides the kitchen, just one door away from the room where Shepard was sitting. Everyone was curious what had happened since their new ‘guest’ had arrived.
“No, he will not try to take over the station anymore” Cortana explained once again as a new catgirl joined the crowd, asking about the status of the invasion.
Everyone was whispering since Cortana had declared that their guest needed some private time and threatened to throw out everyone if they became too loud.
“Did he really threaten to take over the station?”
“Is he just the scout off a whole group, checking up if we would resist?”
“If he wants my room, I will personally throw him out of the airlock!”
Cathy sighed and decided to leave the room, there was no use to calm down everyone. A moment later another catgirl would appear and everyone would start exchanging rumors again.
She finally arrived in her private room and dropped onto an armchair.
‘May you live in interesting times’ she thought, it seemed Catgirl Industries was a magnet for ‘interesting’ things happening. Sometimes it was tiring, on the other side life would be very boring without it. And Fenspace wasn’t about being bored.
“Cortana, what do you think... do we have a crisis or can we just lean back and watch the show?”
Cortanas holographic avatar materialized, looking thoughtful. “I would say we don’t have a crisis... but our visitor might have one. I am not really sure what is going on, maybe it was just too much computer games and handwavium during the last year, but I am sure he believed it was the right thing what he was doing. I tried to be gentle to open him a bit for the real situation, but he is still in shock.”
“Maybe he needs a little bit company?” Cathy asked, but Cortana shook her virtual head.
“No, I don’t think he want to see anyone for the next hour, he is not the kind of person for this. Give him some time, he will get out of this mess on his own, I am sure. He just will need a new plan how to continue from here, taking over Jenga hasn’t worked out that well for him.”
Cathy laughed. “No, it has not. But if he really want to continue to live his fantasy, I am pretty sure I know a few good friends who would take him with open arms.”
Sheppard was standing in the hangar, waiting for another taxi that would take him to the Space Patrol recruiting office back on the Moon. He had been such a fool, how could he had believed he might succeed with this mad plan? He was damn lucky the cats hadn’t just spaced him!
Cathy was standing besides Shepard, the poor guy needed some company while waiting for his new transport. Shepard wasn’t a bad guy, just a little bit delusional. Maybe an effect of the Handwavium he had worked with on Earth, or even a quirk of a subtle biomod.
“Its okay John, no one is angry with you. Fenspace is full of people who did all kinds of crazy things, a lot of them much worse than you. Just take it with some humor, and you will get over it. And to state something obvious, you don’t go from ‘joining Fenspace’ to ‘becoming a spectre’ within a few days!” She smiled to him. “But before you leave the station I have just one last question for you.”
Shepard looked resigning at the catgirl. It had not been his best day, he was very happy that he would have been out of this disaster soon. What kind of question could she have in mind?
“I don’t think you are the type of Fen who just wants to boss people around, you seem to be too nice for that. So why did you need a space station full of Mass Effect Fen? You could easily have started working here in Fenspace for a living, earning some money and then start building your own stuff.”
Shepard sighed, maybe it was time to tell someone about his dream that never would come true. “I have to admit there is a slightly selfish reason for it... I am not really the great engineer. And without a larger number of people and a reasonable resource base, who could built the Normandy for me?”
The shuttle was gone and Cathy walked back towards the research area to meet some friends. It had been a really crazy evening. Not the only one this week, but a special one.
Beyond the door Vivio was waiting for her, still grinning about the things that had happened. “He is gone?”
Cathy nodded. “Yes, he is gone. I think he will follow Cortanas suggestion to join the Space Patrol, maybe it will help him to see if he is as good as he thinks doing this job. And maybe finding his place here in Fenspace. I have called a few friends I have to get in contact with him, if he is serious about it he will not have any trouble.”
“He seemed to be a nice guy, except for the fact that he planned to take over our home... but at least he had a good taste for computer games.” Vivio said. “Don’t you think too the Normandy from Mass Effect looks cool? I admit, the bridge was a little bit strange and the Maco was really crazy, but it felt like something really fast and stealthy... and nasty, if you try to hurt it!”
Cathy sighed. “Yes, it looks nice, but only because its larger on the inside than on the outside, a lot larger. And even with this enlargement, it was a damned submarine, not a space ship. Think about it, they didn’t even had a kitchen or a bathroom on the first Normandy. I like the SR-2 more, it was a ship that felt usable. More realistic... large enough!”
They were still talking when they arrived at the research area.
“So you want to join Space Patrol?” the person on the other side of the desk asked him, looking over Shepard, his armor and the weapon. “Looking for an exciting job with lots of shooting and adventures?”
Shepard just wanted to open his mouth, but then thought about it for a moment.
“No. I am here because I want to do the right thing, help making Fenspace a little bit better... but...” he replied, searching for the right words.
“But there is so much I don’t know. I need a place to learn, someone who can tell me where I am wrong and help me to correct it.” Shepard sighed. “I learned the hard way today that Fenspace is a lot different what I expected. Luckily no one got hurt, but I don’t want to rely on luck alone next time.”
The other person nodded silently and smiled.
“Then welcome on board. Keep that attitude through training, and we might have a job for you.”