Chora's Den, Lower Wards. You can hear the pounding music from outside, and that is the problem. You are outside, when you would prefer to be inside. Inside, there is a certain volus in the back who, in exchange for letting him take a plea deal during a major smuggling bust years ago, has served as your finger on the underworld pulse.
The volus is inside. You are outside. And between you and him, there is a very large, very shirtless man blocking the door. His shaved head has been tattooed with the colorful scales of a phrenological chart. His muscles have been outlined like a butcher's diagram, labelled and rated for their physiological perfection.
You are wearing an obnoxiously bright tropical-print shirt, and also still hung over.
MEASUREHEAD - "NO ENTRY."
The guy is new. The last bouncer would let anyone in (which is how you got in), but looks like that's no longer an option.
SHEPARD - "I know Fist. Go tell him Tequila Sunrise is here."
MEASUREHEAD - "THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS."
KIM - "We should go."
OBNOXIOUS SHIRT - YOU CAN TOTALLY TAKE THIS GUY, BRATAN!
[PHYSICAL INTRUMENT] - You can totally take this guy.
[ELECTROCHEMISTRY] - You should absolutely take this guy.
You punch him in the stomach, and your hand crumples like newspaper.
MEASUREHEAD - "YOUR BODY BETRAYS YOUR DEGENERACY."
His fist collides with your head the world is spinning. Stars whirl in your eyes as the ground meets you, with force.
[PAIN THRESHOLD] SHIT HURT PAIN OW OW OW
MEASUREHEAD - "YOUR HAPLOTYPE WAS POISED TO INHERIT THE REWARDS OF THE GREAT SUBJUGATION, BUT WAS CORRUPTED BY THE DEGENERATIVE INFLUENCES OF AL-GHUL, DISCO MUSIC, AND MOE ANIME. YOU AND YOUR HAM-SANDWHICH RACE HAVE BEEN RENDERED OBSOLETE.
[CONCEPTUALIZATION] Wait, hold up: what the fuck are this guy's politics?
[PAIN THRESHOLD] WHY WOULD YOU CARE ABOUT THAT NOW
[RHETORIC] No, no, I want to hear this.
[CIVITATIS GALACTICAE] The Great Subjugation is a theory that the Asari Republics' long-term political strategy is the total cultural absorption of the other Citadel species. The asari's pre-existing position of hegemonic power means that they can curtail or outright cripple a polity's ability to function on the galactic stage, and likewise it means that those polities who pass policies in the interest of the Republics, or the Citadel Council at large, will be favored over those that do not. This encourages the spread of asari culture into other species, including the normalization of asari-other unions.
[CIVITATIS GALACTICAE] This last point is the lynchpin factor for most proponents of the theory. Such unions will typically only ever produce asari children, and so are seen as the preliminary steps towards a future where non-asari are reduced to reservation-bound breeding stock.
[CIVITATIS GALACTICAE] Great Subjugation Theory is a common far-right talking point, popular with Terra Firma and related anti-alien groups. The reaction from pro-Citadel factions is to dismiss any fears of asari hegemony as conspiratorial sentiment, overlooking the fact that galactic politics is indeed heavily weighed in favor of the asari and their close allies.
[PERCEPTION] And that the Council has publicly committed two species-wide genocides and is currently working through a third.
[RHETORIC] But if he is talking about rewards...
[CONCEPTUALIZATION] Oh god, we found a human asari-supremacist.
[RHETORIC] Like Martian bigfoot in the flesh...
[INLAND EMPIRE] Wake up babe new type of racist just dropped.
[CONCEPTUALIZATION] This man believes in the Great Subjugation, but instead of manifesting as hate crimes against asari or their partners, he's decided that the best course of action is to use eugenics to become the ideal mating partner in the fuck-enclave future.
[PAIN THRESHOLD] BLOOD HE JUST PUNCHED OUT ALL OF OUR BLOOD
[RHETORIC] Shush, let the adults talk.
When the world stops moving, you see that Kim is offering you a handkerchief. He's helped you limp off to the side of the causeway, out of the way of the foot traffic.
KIM - "Keep it."
He stands like he's on a sentry post. You stuff the handkerchief up your nostrils to try and stop the flow of blood.
OBNOXIOUS SHIRT - OH HE DID US DIRTY BRATAN, THESE STAINS WILL BE RIGHT HARD TO REMOVE. OR! OR THEY COULD BE A BADGE OF HONOR, A SIGN OF YOUR MARTIAL PROWESS!
KIM - "I am going to guess that wasn't supposed to happen.
SHEPARD - "No. It wasn't."
KIM - "Do you have an alternative for...whatever it was that you were trying to do?"
You don't. And honestly what even was your plan? Get a handful of no-name mob bruisers and petty thieves to hunt down Saren? Idiot. If Fist is circling the wagons like this he probably pissed off someone big, there's no guarantee at all your informant was still there, or even still on the Citadel. Dumbass.
[COMPOSURE] Square one is still on the board.
SHEPARD - "No, that's...that's a dead end. Just... give me a few minutes."
The ride to the Normandy's docking bay is long, awkward, and mostly silent.
OBNOXIOUS SHIRT - OI YOU SHOULD TELL 'IM ABOUT THAT ONE TIME YOU FUCKED A KROGAN, BRATAN.
[COMPOSURE] - No.
So it goes.
You arrive without fanfare, and go through the motions of checking in with the crew, showing Kim around. You start with the cockpit.
JOKER - "Hey, Commander."
[EMPATHY] - Something is clearly wrong, it's practically written all over his face in neon.
SHEPARD - "Something wrong?"
The pilot sighs.
JOKER - "Wallet got hacked. Someone stole all my varren. Poof, like that. Holding them for ransom."
[INLAND EMPIRE] Por que?
SHEPARD - "Not sure I follow."
KIM - "I believe he means he was collecting Indolent Varren. They're a variety of non-fungible token."
JOKER - "Yeah, had some of those. Someone stole them right from my wallet."
[INLAND EMPIRE] Imagine if you will the sound of a dial-up modem.
SHEPARD - "..."
KIM - "It's rather complex, I can explain it in detail later if you'd like."
JOKER - "Oh, didn't know you were into them too?"
KIM - "I'm not."
[EMPATHY] - He emphatically is not.
JOKER - "Oh."
[INLAND EMPIRE] You know what, let's just not say anything and pretend we understand, yeah? Blah blah, Joker's varren got funged.
SHEPARD - "At ease, Joker. We'll see you around."
The rest of the tour passes without further incident or embarrassment.
You spend the next few hours reviewing the files Anderson sent you, bottle of Commodore Red at hand.
[ELECTROCHEMISTRY] The buzz loosens up ideas and taps into the universal ego-death!
The helmet-cam footage of Saren is Patterson-Gimlin quality. Blurry, out of focus. Saren appears only for a few seconds, in the distance, attended by a pair of red geth. He's identifiable - not many turians of his generation grow their cranial spurs that long - but you have to admit that yes, this could be fabricated.
[VISUAL CALCULUS] You'd need someone skilled enough to make it look this bad, but it could be done.
The cover investigation you were given is much more solid. On paper, Anderson's sent you after one Clara Mills, who headed a human-supremacist terrorist group through the 60s and 70s. The Alliance was never able to confirm her death, and the cover story for the Eden Prime attack uses a similar group, so as long as you can worm some "convincing evidence of connection" into your reports, you can write it off as a wild goose chase.
[SPECIAL OPERATIONS] Not forever. Naval Intelligence is absolutely still keeping tabs on her and they will notice something is up the longer this goes on. Stay on your toes.
The dossiers for the Normandy's crew are what you expect. Half the people were here during your first run as its commander, and the rest were brought on by Anderson personally. It would be difficult to find a ship better staffed for your purposes.
[ESPIRIT D'CORPS] They'll follow you for now. Don't let them down.
[ELECTROCHEMISTRY] Speed has never let anyone down. You should get some.
The Saramiriza is currently en route to Arcturus. You'll meet it there, and take on the artifact and the four marines that recovered it. Anderson included their files.
You take another gulp of Commodore Red. Nice and sweet. You flick through files, skimming the important parts out of the padding. You'll pass these on to Kim when you're done, if you can remember.
Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko - Born 2151 (32 years old), Earth. Systems Alliance Marine Corps. Biotic (L2 implant series), underwent Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training (BAaT) at Gargarin Station.
[SUGGESTION] I'm positive I've seen this guy before...
Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams - Born 2158 (25 years old), Sirona. Systems Alliance Marine Corps. Fourth-generation Alliance military. Grandfather (General Thomas Williams) oversaw the surrender of Shanxi to turians forces during the First Contact War. Has been passed over multiple times for promotion despite competent service record.
[AUTHORITY] Good odds of a chip on her shoulder.
Corporal Richard L. Jenkins - Born 2160 (23 years old), Eden Prime. Systems Alliance Marine Corps. No combat record of note. Disciplinary record for minor infractions (mischief et cetera). Wounded by geth during surface engagement.
[WAR HERO] Everyday roughneck shmuck. Seen a thousand of them. Join the marines, they said. See the galaxy, they said.
Sergeant 1st Class James Vega - Born 2150 (33 years old), Earth. Systems Alliance Marine Corps. Took part in the defense of Fehl Prime against a Blood Pack raid, which was later adapted into a critically-panned film.
[VISUAL CALCULUS] Jesus look at this guy, it's like he popped out of the womb and shouted "MOTHER GIVE ME PROTEIN."
[INLAND EMPIRE] SLAB BULKHEAD
[DRAMA] THICK MCRUNFAST
[ELECTROCHEMISTRY] CHUNK SLAMCHEST
[PHYSICAL INSTRUMENT] PUNCH ROCKGROIN
[RHETORIC] SLAB SQUAT-THRUST
[SAVOIRE FAIRE] TOUCH RUSTROD
[SHIVERS] BIG MCLARGEHUGE
[AUTHORITY] ROLL FIZZLEBEEF
[INLAND EMPIRE] Well, I'm glad we got that out of our system.
There's a fifth additional dossier, with the briefest of memos.
"Best option we have at the moment."
Liara T'soni - Born 2077 (106 years old), Thessia. Doctorate of Exo-Archaeology, specializing in prothean civilization (see attached publication history). Theories regarding the destruction of prothean and older galactic civilizations (including a vitriolic critique of Dr. Senara Dosare and her Biotic Ascension Hypothesis) have remained controversial and, along with her age, have prevented her from breaking into the field. Currently at active dig site on Therum (Knossos System, Argus Rho Cluster)
[CONCEPTUALIZATION] Clever, Anderson. A prothean expert who won't cause a stir if they happen to go missing.
You marinate for a while in the alcohol fugue, half-plotting out the next steps of the investigation. Arcturus, Therum, Eden Prime. Arcturus, Therum, Eden Prime.
You pass out in your chair.