Category Archives: Fundamental Questions

On forerunner concepts and the Premiseverse

The curious thing about all the old ancestral myths is how dickish all the gods were. The Greeks were the Clash of the Douches, with rapists and what not. The Egyptians were flat out creepy, tearing apart the gods bodies. Even old Indian trickster deities like Coyote were often deeply disturbing.

I can’t help but wonder what aliens far older than our entire race must be like.

 

Very few Mass Effect fan fictions take up the trouble to ‘scribble in the blank spots’, as it were, outside of the framework of the games. This is hardly surprising — most fan fiction is about working with what is established, either in new ways or new views or what have you.

Outright world building is rare, and doing so on a time scale of millions of years seems pointless to most. Yet there are so many hinted at but ultimately unanswered questions even in canon ME that I can’t help but want to find answers.

The Inusannon play such a role. They are perhaps the most striking of the races I have tampered with, even though the big reveals will only happen in ME3 and ME4 pieces of my books.

They had technology and abilities we couldn’t match, colonies in other galaxies, and could create machines like Vigil — and they still lost. What chance, then, does modern society, with its squabbling and stupid acts, have?

The key to understanding that question is to realize you are asking the wrong question. As it was said in Wargames, the only way to ‘win’ is not to play at all, a concept they quickly identified.

The Inusannon understood that the Reapers had been at this for millions of years, and were not going to fall for dumb shit like fleeing to another galaxy (never mind Reapers already infested every nearby galaxy). They weren’t stupid. Neither were the Tho’ian. So they made choices and actions that fit what they knew the Reapers expected, and took a Third Path out.

Why is this important?

Because, despite all the foreshadowing I will try to do, it is likely to come out of left field much like the Starkid did at the end of three. The Inusannon are not a simple Deus Ex Machina — they cannot stop the Reapers now any more than they could back then. But they are capable of understanding more and seeing more than today’s races do, and making sense of what they saw.

The Inusannon tampered with many races. So did Leviathans (all three groups). So did Protheans, and so did the races before Inusannon. But the Inusannon did not tamper with races trying to make a weapon.

They instead wanted to make sure that when the threat was passed, nothing else would simply rise up and cause them problems again. And some of the steps they took they hid in the plainest possible sight.

Forerunner races are often given a group of traits — ancient technology, mysterious vanishing, can pull shit out of their hat, a single, ancient survivor by way of X, blah blah blah.

The Inusannon defy that. Almost none of their tech is even known, much less released — a lot of it, like Tho’ian tech, was biological in framework and literally rotted away a long time ago. Moreover, the Inusannon, taking cues from the Reapers, set up their own method of monitoring the situation as it developed, even if the method used wasn’t aware of it’s purpose.

AKA Vigil.

So when people ask me things like “Why can’t you just have Vigil give Shepard kick ass weapons”, it is for two big reasons.

The first is the mystique factor. The more I reveal about the Inusannon, the easier it is to eventually figure out how this mess ends up. So it has to come at the appropriate time in the story.

The second is more story based. The Inusannon made a decision that the Reaper situation should not be altered, be that for good or ill. They did not, once they understood WHY the Reapers did what they did, try to stop them. They simply … got out of the way.

But if they come back, they won’t be a threat if everyone has the tech they did.

Most importantly, making the Inusannon living ass-pulls flies in the face of what I see them as — horrible, horrible trolls.

They knew full well the Reaper threat, and decided it was the better part of self-survival to simply shield themselves from the outcomes rather than actually warn anyone of the coming danger.  With their technology they could have easily destroyed the Citadel in the thousands of years after Reapers retreated to dark space.

So why didn’t they? Because they saw the concept of the snare that catches the hunter and not the hunted as hilarious. This is also why they didn’t fill Vigil in all the way, or let their creation know their real plans.

Ultimately, the Inusannon should be seen as a vaguely defined threat, not heroic and willing to co-exist for long periods of time.

Some interestingly heavy textual analysis going on at DLP and next steps

There has been a perpetual thread that pulls no punches about my series going on at the Dark Lord Potter forums for some time now. Unlike Spacebattles, where if your fic is not about Shepard killing Reapers with his dick while doing his best Kirk impression, the DLP folks are actually GOOD at textual analysis and reviews.

They raked OSABC over the coals quite a bit, but every last criticism was very fair (and are things I’ve tried very hard to address in the next two books). And lo and behold, as I’ve gotten better they have continued to go over things.

More recently they had several text-walls discussing the nature vs nurture argument of Premiseverse Badasses, which tend to run in familial lines. One poster put forth the idea that perhaps outside forces augmented such things to create ‘heroes’.

It is a curious viewpoint, one that I had certainly not considered. I would say that genetics plays a role. So do connections and who you know. There is often a  subtle chain of events.

The ancient dalatrass of salarians, Shego, would have never amounted to anything if she’d not been somewhat rebellious in her youth and made lots of friends outside her clan. While I’m not ready to drop the big reveal on the Thirty and what Trellani found out, the only reason Trellani was accepted into the ranks of the normally Thirty-only Church of the Sun’s senior clergy was her relationship with Benezia.

If not for Anderson growing up near Kahlee Sanders and being friends with Pel’s father, Pel and Leng would have never joined, and Anderson would never have met Michael Shepard. And without that meeting, Shepard herself would have just ended up on the streets, dead, or in a Commissariat labor camp, and the entire focus of the series would be lost.

Fate, or destiny, may be something the Leviathans can control with their subtle manipulations. It may well be that they can’t see specifics but altered the timelines to ensure the most powerful ‘heroes’ were all available at the time when the Reapers would arrive.

Or maybe it’s sheer dumb luck.

Anyway, you should head on over to the massive megathread on DLP if you’re interested in that kind of thing. They have a HUGE range of other stories they review, and some of the reviews of the more sizable Harry Potter fics — and the depth of analysis — is as good as any New York Times review.

As for the story itself…

I’m in the process of the following:

  • Getting back to work on several pieces that I mentioned last month, like the Encyclopedia BIotic and Lions. I’ve made progress on both, just not enough to republish.
  • The next chapter of TWCD is at about a thousand words. Memes are hard to create without simply reusing existing ones that don’t really fit.
  • About a third of the way through the hanar military section. The drell and vorcha are outlined, although the vorcha file will be … short indeed.
  • Halfway through the next Engineering Guide file, but still figuring out where to go with the story. The math and science (and bullshit asspulls) on FTL sensor and FTL communications is fun indeed, and I just know one of my readers with a good background in physics is going to call me out as a hack 😀

I’m interested (as always) in what you think should be worked on next, although I’m pretty much tasked to capacity in terms of starting NEW projects. The only one I haven’t started is SevenSeven’s guide to the Citadel forces.

On Victor Manswell — a gift from my friend

Victor Manswell n the Chapel at the Holdfast accompanied by his wife Margareta.
Victor Manswell n the Chapel at the Holdfast accompanied by his wife Margareta. Image by Tyler Kelting.

I’ve written a great deal of the Premiseverse, from the backstories and histories of the Thirty to figuring how eezo works. A great deal has been not invented from whole cloth, but rather co-opted by me from existing materials Bioware never used.

Once such element that I have altered is Victor Manswell.

The following are snippets about Victor. They are not by me or my hand, but by someone who read my works and presented their own take on Saint Victor. And yet, such is his iron will, vileness and determination — that I found myself only having to alter the concepts put here in the very smallest of manners.

It is the work of a friend named Julian, and I am interested in thoughts upon it.

From the Historical Annals, Post Reaper Views on Critical Points of History

“… the enigmatic individual usually known as “Victor Manswell” (March 28, 1998? – November 14, 2095). Also known as Markgraf Viktor Alchsneiss Schlossvogt von Hechingen, or as Sankt Viktor der Feuersbrünste. He claimed to be part Prussian, part Baltic German, and able to trace his line back to the House of Hohenzollern. He provided what seemed to be valid genetic proof of his claim, saying that he himself had only recently grown curious enough to run such genetic tests and that therefore he not not previously known of his ancestry. He spoke and moved and behaved every inch like a man telling the truth. But then, Franziska Schanzkowska (1896-1984) very likely believed herself to be truthful in saying that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. If the Margrave’s statements were untrue, perhaps he believed them truthful….”

From the Salarian Discourse on Humanity, Volume XII:

“Apparently, “Manswell” had been a close associate of a group of human industrialists and millionaires known as the Bilderburgs. It is disputable if such association translated into influence. What is beyond dispute was that he had over a trillion dollars in gold and in commodities essential to human life — food, water, weapons, prefabricated structures, protective equipment, and other materiél. He controlled where the things he had went, and he controlled where they did not go. The man called Victor Manswell was the richest surviving human being anywhere, and bad things tended to happen to those who questioned him….

From the Systems Alliance Uplifting Infantryman’s Primer:

“… Remembering the enormous contributions of experienced professionals like Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben to the American Revolution, Manswell made use of his personal cadre of expert private military contractors, whom he had handpicked long ago. As he reached out to more and more military contractors on Earth, he recruited them with the food, gold, arms, and medical supplies that he had stockpiled in advance. In particular he recruited from among German, Austrian, French and American mercenaries and defectors to his cause. Then he passed these personnel to his training cadre and send the program’s graduates to train and recruit others, who in turn trained others, and so on. Safe in space, Manswell already had all the necessary specialized support facilities for his new troops, with lavish accommodations for supporting them and their families. This let him control whether those families stayed healthy. Manswell also used a carefully considered system of collective discipline and corporal punishment, one derived from the traditions of Prussia. He moderated his disciplinary system by allowing unit members to reduce   others’ punishments with a voting system, and also to volunteer to endure part of a punishment that another unit member would otherwise receive. …”

On Saint Viktor:  A collection of the Will of Iron:

“… He earned the gratitude of countless Alaskans when he annihilated the so-called “Coordinators.” This tenacious group of organized extortionists, formed from rogue emergency management units, had seized almost all of Alaska’s remaining power and fuel infrastructure. The thugs also had centers of power in other states, and were able to call on thousands of combatants from as far away as Cuba. They were led by the unstable “Chief Commissioner” of the “National Emergency Resource Coordination Commission,” William Cosgrove Hammond, who at times imposed barter prices so high that many people were left burning human waste just to survive the cold. Finally, the Iron Guard under the equally ruthless Mickey Rourke tracked Hammond down as he attempted to flee all the way to a bunker complex in Nevada. He failed to get that far — Manswell had him drawn and quartered.”

QUOTES ATTRIBUTED TO MANSWELL

To the Archbishop of Germany, on the eve of the assault on France:
“You ask me whether I kill the innocent? Do you make a joke of this? The burning wave of all the works of the wicked is coming to the shore of mankind. It is taller than fifty buildings; it is wreathed in smoke and cinders.  If I do not act to turn that wave aside, then in short years everyone left alive on this planet will be begging me to help them die. And you ask me whether I kill the innocent? What would you do?”

To the refugees of the so-called “Central Authority” of Romania, who protested his heavy-handed rule:

“Until the faces of the debt collectors are reflected in the eyes of burning corpses, humans have a nasty habit of forgetting they’ve even visited the bank. Humanity’s debt now is in a broken planet, in dead populations, in a land that cannot produce food, in air we cannot breathe, water we cannot drink!

I am just the guy restructuring the debt to save your sorry asses. And you’re arguing.”

Excepts from the Journals of Jacen Manswell, on a call from the Family to set aside the SSA war against Earth:

“Neither I nor anyone in this family will stand by while all sinners and all innocents burn alike.  Neither I nor anyone in this family will put down this burden, will look away from the pain, or will disown the Motherland. Neither I nor anyone in this family will shrink from consequences. Neither I nor anyone in this family will suffer disobedience!

Iron does not bend, and it does not break. This meeting is adjourned.”

Excepts from the Journals of Darcen Maxwell, unpublished:
“By the leave of this family — and its many sacrifices —  you are numbered among those who give orders, or who will grow to give them. No one is born with the skill for such, you must learn how to give them.

Sooner or later, you will have to face the microscopic issue of what to do when you are disobeyed by your lessers. In such a case you may well be forced to eliminate the offender — even perhaps to slaughter his defenseless animals, kill everyone he ever knew, blast his homeland to cinders, exterminate his culture and people in their entirety.

Therefore, you had better be damn sure of what you say, what you don’t say, how you say it, and when you speak. You are both blessed and cursed. You have fewer chances to make mistakes than does the man in the street, and sometimes you have no chances to make mistakes at all. I won’t always be here to help you understand the situation.

God help me, sometimes I … don’t … I don’t even … ”

Deathbed conversations : the annals of Maxwell Manswell:

“Enough. Max, you will listen to me. In the cell at the end of that corridor there is an organically alive but societally dead creature, the kind called an enemy of the people. If ever we can no longer kill the few to save the many, then we ourselves must expect death. That is how it must be for me — how it must be in the time of your heirs, their heirs, and theirs, and theirs. You know what is required. Soon I will return here. Don’t make me summon the part of myself that will kill you if you fail.”

The Sermon on the Hill: Victor at the dedication of the Statue of Christ Tormented at Arlington National Memorial:

“God sent his Son to die for our sins. God took back from His Son’s experience a firsthand familiarity with the experience of death, and death holds for Him no fear.

But mark well that for his part, Satan fears death. When we ask why this is so, we must see that unlike God, Satan has no part of himself that has experienced death. What he does know is that his existence is finite. Someday, souls will escape him simply because he is no longer there to turn them to him. This is one reason why, like God, Satan trains humans to magnify his work.

Satan fears death, and knows in advance the shame he will feel for each soul ultimately escaping his grasp. He knows he will not live forever, and from his fear and shame at this, he yearns to guide us to hurt and destroy ourselves.

Satan strives to encourage our belief in disinformation about sin. Satan’s propaganda on this subject falls into four main categories. First is the lie that God does not exist. The second is the lie that there is no sin. The third is the lie that when God promises to forgive the sins of the repentant, God intends to go back on his word. The fourth is the lie that God is some sort of incompetent or charlatan, lacking the power to forgive sin at all.

I find the worst of those who have been convinced by such falsehoods as these. Then I kill them … before they can kill our race.”

Conversations in Yellow: Accumulated memoirs of Shi Kon Chu, First Gong of Family Chu

“I think the risk of one family going to Hell is an acceptable trade for the preservation of humankind. I think the risk of fifteen being cursed for all time by historians and the weak is of no moment.

Extinction threatens us. And it is not an option.”

Collectors and the Premiseverse

Horror is like a serpent: always shedding its skin, always changing. And it will always come back in the way you least expect it, catching you by surprise.

 

The funny thing about ME2 is how much sheer potential was allowed to fall by the wayside, and how easy it is to put it back where it belongs.

I’ve had more than one person ask me about why the Collectors wear robes in my story. That’s because they were originally designed that way. The image is from a picture I took from one of the ME Art books.

I have a hobby in collecting the ‘art books’ that come with games. The ones for ME, ME2 and ME3 were particularly fascinating as they showed a ton of content that had been sidelined, ignored, changed or re-shifted to fit the game we know today. Some of the most profound changes came in the ones made to the Collectors.

Sure, the Collectors of the games are creepy — giant insect flying things with glowing eyes, bug-like clouds and weird ships. But they simply don’t back up their smack. Unlike the geth of ME1 and the Reapers of ME3, even on insanity Collectors simply fail to truly cause terror. And in the end, it’s shown they are little more than tools, perhaps without even the ability to alter their fate.

I really have no damned clue what Bioware was intending for them, but it doesn’t matter much as I’ve changed up the nature of what they are. The Collectors will be the first ‘taste’ of the true power of the Reapers, and all the crazy big resources I’ve thrown at Shepard in the lead-up into TWCD will be used and probably not enough to take down the threat. But I also want to explore what it means that they survived, and give a hint of why Saren and Benezia felt the way they did.

I’ll do that in three ways.

First, the Collectors are actually going to demonstrate the crazy technology we keep hearing they have. I won’t spoil anything, but the goal is to make the technology of the Collectors as creepy, sickening and unnatural as the bug-men themselves. Given their tight resources, they are masters at recycling biomass and wreckage, and some of that will bleed over into their tech.

Second, I want to give them a rationale for both continuing to exist and a reason for their activities. We’re told in ME2 that they are twisted, indoctrinated Protheans. But the Codex later tells us that the Reapers left the indoctrinated Protheans to die, so someone is confused. In my version, the purpose of indoctrination remains to break minds and make them obey. But the Reapers are managing more than one galaxy and they need tools to monitor events, identify the best choices for ascension, and act as a back up in case things go wrong. That can’t be done with mindless remote controlled drones, dammit. So they have … something like a culture. Even in the state they are in.

Finally, and most importantly, the Collectors are there to introduce the idea that some of what the Reapers and Leviathans are doing is simply … beyond our comprehension. Some of the science the Shepard Team will find or have to do will uncover really disturbing things, and even the tiny amount of power the Collectors can draw upon to use will be terrifying to deal with. Nazara was an arrogant ass who was completely unaware until too late that he was being played — if he had known he could have wiped the entire Citadel Fleet by himself with a single use of the Godpower.

The Collectors have an identity as tools, but they are ‘smart’ tools. They are looking for their own answers, and have their own plans separate of that of the Reapers. The Collector General is the son of the Prothean who came up with the Beacon project, after all. They made a gamble when it was clear they would lose, and the destruction of Nazara is the first sign the gamble might pay off.

That being said they would never even think about allying with or working with the ‘natives’. They see the Citadel races as barely any more advanced than vorcha, but they don’t dismiss them as a threat, only as being of any real use.

Ultimately, as the heralds of the Reapers, the Collectors and their goals should be horrifying. If you put a few things together it isn’t hard to figure out just what they are planning to do. But the Collector Agenda adds one more layer of things Shepard has to figure out, and is a big part of the divergence in my AU from canon.

On Why the Council is Dumb

The one question I get over and over is ‘Why isn’t anyone seeing what is going to happen?’

It was a question many asked in canon ME, and simply because the Premiseverse is not canon does not mean I have dismissed the very good points Bioware raised in their own storytelling.

And it is important, if you read my work, to understand this, as it is perhaps critical to understanding why things happen the way they do in the Premiseverse.

At the end of the day, there are three things that blind people to seeing what is going on around them, no matter what situation, culture, race, or time period they live in.

The first and most commonly cited reason (or excuse) is institutional arrogance. Or Ahern puts it, assumptions. But the leaders of society are not merely chosen because they are charismatic or able to mobilize money and influence. Most of them — despite what you may think by reading the internet — actually are efficient planners and thinkers, with enough vision to see trends (or else they are swiftly out of office).

More than one person has commented how much more ‘competent’ my Council is over the canon one, and how much more effective Udina is. That’s mostly because the Council members in canon ME were a bad literary device, the Obstructive Bureaucrat. Such people exist in real life, but almost never at the highest levels of political control, because you put people like that in places to block access to those levels, not to make them worthless.

There were other issues (see further below on context) but the bottom line remains that, at least in canon ME, the polticians wanted to be blind as not to have to deal with problems that would make waves.

This isn’t the case in the Premiseverse, because of the ugly fact that most of the Council members are more like puppets. Their only real task is to keep the galaxy from flying apart into open war, and they are very good at it. So our answer as to why people are blind is not merely institutional arrogance.

A second common explanation is that the problem is one of sheer outlandishness. Politics deals with the here and now, and even after seeing a big black ship thing attack you, you may not go ahead and decide that more of them are on the way. The premise shoved down our throats in ME was bad enough, but how TIM somehow linked the disappearance of humans to Reapers in ME2 without any clues whatsoever (that we ever saw) was even stupider.

I cannot think Bioware wrote this badly on anything but deliberate intent. And it should be easy to see why. They were building a story to explain why things happened, but the narrative changed several times, from mysterious cthuloid monsters, to conspiracy laden plots and suicide attempts, to weirdness with dark energy, and finally to whatever the fuck that ending was supposed to mean. You can’t have a coherent story that contradicts itself, and the only way to hide those contradictions was to make everything seem … well, unfeasible.

Shepard HAD no options in Canon ME to do much of anything. The player was railroaded at every step of the process , and the illusions of choice given had very little effect on the final outcome. As such, being dismissed as crazy and having any evidence produced dismissed was not a choice by the people involved but rather the requirements of the text, and can’t even be analyzed.

We’ll leave aside the first two, because while they explain things, my own preferred reason fits better.

No one saw it becuase of one thing, a simple  lack of context.

It is impossible for a medieval culture to know it should be preparing for the cometary strike that is coming if they can’t understand orbital mechanics or the nature of what a comet is.  Even if they knew that ‘the world would end’ on a certain date, what could they feasibly do to prevent that?

Lack of context can be found in both canon ME and PVME. The context is not, as some people assume, Reapers. The context is the scale and scope of the threat,and the political cost to face it.  People sneer at this concept because they have never run for office, or realized that the vast majority of humans (and I can’t see most aliens being much different) are focused on the here and now.

Given the omniscient viewpoint, it is all too easy to simply lambast those in power to being blind as to context. But consider: right now on the Web, there’s a series of articles about the mathematical certainty that a civilization-wrecking cometary or asteroid impact will happen on Earth in the next century. We have the technology to avoid this. We have the resources and knowledge to colonize another world if we research it and push it. The danger is not some pie in the sky imaginary thing — it WILL happen.

Yet nothing is being done to address it, and I doubt it will. The financial cost is too high. People will point to all the other problems we have. It would require sacrifice, it would require a great deal of moving energy and money away from our entertainment, our wars, our self-absorbed internet culture to undertake such a thing.  The danger is real…and yet no one who sees it has access to the levers of power.

If we knew a comet was going to hit us in a century, and had an exact date, perhaps we would be motivated. But we don’t. It will be handled ‘in the future’. Someone else’s problem. No context. We’re too busy wondering what appalling stunt ISIS will pull next, or watching music videos, or reading fan fiction.

In canon ME, the problem was Shepard, despite being a good soldier, was an idiot when it came to being an intelligence agent — which is inexcusable when partnered with a goddamned DETECTIVE. Shepard didn’t make an effort to bring back evidence or proof of her findings, instead relying on the sadly common military mindset of ‘identify the threat, report the threat, and let the chain of command determine how to deal with the threat’.

Without evidence, you can’t have a threat to identify aside from vague reports. Without any form of context, the choices made by the council are suddenly not merely political ass-covering out of arrogance, or even bad storytelling, but the sort of reactions that ANY person in a position of power makes when told something they can’t do anything about.

In the Premiseverse, no one knows when the Reapers will get here, or if they are coming. It could be six years, or six hundred, or six THOUSAND. To prepare for their arrival now would throw the galaxy — already in a state of chaos — into more chaos. And while Shepard had enough evidence to back up her claims of the Reapers being real , what she didn’t have was the context to say “they’re coming in X years.”

Passing the buck is that thing everyone sneers at , and yet everyone has a tendency to do. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Is it surprising the Council would?

 

On the nature of horror in the Premiseverse

“I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge, or lustre, or name.” – H.P. Lovecraft

The canon ME-verse is a place of bright futures and hope, a place where evil is viewed with disgust and rejection, where the darkness beyond the stars boils down to incompetently coded AI’s and oversized fish with ego problems.  The only true horror is that of the sorrowful disgust we experience at seeing the Reaper mockeries of existing races, a horror put paid to easily enough by fire and sword.

Evil sits in nicely defined packages, and Garrus’ complaints about shades of gray are manifest only to the clean-arrow view of the universe a turian would hold. Likewise, the terror invoked by Nazara and the visceral horror of the fate and plans of the Collectors is derailed by their cartoonishly-bad execution, ending with the fate of the galaxy being decided by if you can beat a space ninja or not.

I am afraid, gentle readers, that the Premiseverse is altogether a much nastier place. I had a PM asking me why I made my AU so dark, and why change it from the way it was.

My answer is simple: because in horror there is a chance to explore meaning. Drama for the sake of drama and action for the sake of action is what canon ME explores. And despite the plot holes, it does so very well. That does not mean that every interpretation must merely reshuffle events with that narrow framework.

There are three basis points for horror in the Premiseverse:

  1. the reality that sentient life, and all it’s goals, dreams and hopes, is little more than fuel for things fighting on another level of existence, one so vast and terrifying that even with all the answers the questions are still incomprehensible. Nine million years of fighting between the Ascended and the Darkness, in a war where entire galaxies were weapons and whole races were evolved, born, lived, and died as battle thralls for both sides? Millions upon millions of years of harvests by the Reapers?  The ugly knowledge that the very technology used by the races is slowly converting our reality to dark energy and matter, and one day it will pop like a soap bubble? These things make the concerns of any group seem small and pointless.
  2. the knowledge that all of the races are willing to embrace evil, disgusting acts in the pursuit of power, or safety, or knowledge, or dominance. Unlike in ME, where it seems like humans (and a lesser degree, salarians)  are the only people doing really horrible things, in the Premiseverse everyone is in on it with the exception of the quarians and elcor. Rather than turn from such in disgust, the powers of the galaxy blackmail each other in a dance of shadow operations, each one framed in the struggle of other wetwork groups — the Shadow Broker, P., Cerberus, the STG, and the Nightwind — doing their own horrible things. There very simply are no good guys, and instead much of what the average person thinks about their government is flat out wrong.
  3. the critical concept that science and advancement also bring dangers and corruption along with knowledge and enlightenment. We only get to really see this in canon ME with Cerberus experimentation always going horribly wrong, but that misses the larger point — that the singularity and increasingly advanced technologies only further increase the damage and danger of what a race can do. Mad science should have ugly fallout, and reckless crash programs to try to even up the technological edge between the races of the Galaxy and the Reapers should blow up badly, and for multiple races.

Too many choices in ME can be factored down to doing things the Paragon or Renegade way. It is, I suppose, meant to provide the illusion of choice, but instead all it does is cheapen the meaning of such choices. The reality of life is that we are often forced not to pick between good and evil, but from a selection of various evils. The triumph is in getting the job done without corrupting the soul of your species at the end of it all.

There are those who claim making everything dark is ‘unrealistic’, yet I do not think these people have any idea of what reality is like. I assure you, neither my country nor yours in real life is a “good guy”. Every government on earth has done things that would make you ashamed. To suggest that for some reason humans are the only people to descend to this level is more Star-Trekesque bullshit, which I reject utterly.

A second (perhaps more valid) objection to the darkening of the ME verse is that so much decency remains. That is because the darkening is due to those in power, not any sort of magical change in people or aliens themselves.

The big alteration in the Premiseverse is that the old levers of power (asari Thirty, salarian Six Families, Turian Palavanus, Human nobility, etc) did NOT lose power and fade to insignificance as they did in canon ME — instead they retained their power, and plan to keep it.

What happens in the fullness of ME2 and ME3 hasn’t been planned yet, but by ME4 in the Premiseverse, much of this old guard had been removed, allowing peace and calmness to settle on the races.

The style of horror I prefer is the slow reveal and the philosophical horror, rather than slasher style or shock style. I am still in the process of developing this style, as seen in Fear Unrelenting.

 

Fixing ME2 : Part I

One thing that pisses me off about ME2 is how badly the ball was dropped on so many characters.

With the exception of Tali (walking infodump), I can’t really complain too much about the ME1 cast — they were distinctive, original, and strong. And there were certainly characters that fit that description in ME 2 as well — Mordin, Miranda, Zaeed — certainly the Illusive Man.

But there were other characters —  important characters — that were either neglected or, more commonly, were simply clever writing tacked onto boring, repetitive shit we’ve seen elsewhere.

Urdnot Grunt is not given enough introspective, nor enough of a chance to demonstrate what it means to be krogan outside of mindless violence. Worse, the message is sent that such violence is NOT actually part of the krogan mindset — the calm and quiet krogan on Korlus proves that. Instead of using Grunt’s childish antics to show a softer side of the krogan, we get silliness like a one-ton alien playing with action figures.

Worst of all, Grunt’s biggest failings are highlighted by the glimpses of something else only hinted at,like him reading Hemmingway. Ugh.

Morinth is a criminally badly written thing. Let’s add up the stupid cliches : stupidly hedonistic even after hundreds of years, check. Lack of maturity after hundreds of years, check. Kills a young single white female to establish her as the evulz, check. Vampy, gothy, and playing the victim card, check. Stupidly cliched ‘irresistibly attractive’ statement without any display of such? Double Check.

Who in their right goddamned mind would fuck that, even if you didn’t know she’d eat your brains? Goddamn it, Bioware, at least fucking try.

Jacob Taylor pisses me off even more because I am a black man, and this is the single most insulting stereotype I’ve ever seen. Jacob has a father who abandoned him, just like all Black Males. He was basically a criminal in his Alliance Service, just like all Black Males. He uses stupid ‘cool’ slang that was dated in the fucking 90’s, like ‘spill some drinks’, just like all Black Males.

Bangs you and leaves you for some other chick he knocks up? Check. Volunteers for an assignment he can’t handle in the SM so the black guy dies first? Check. Rejects any attempt by FemShep to actually get him to open up, dismissing it as ‘grade school psyche and a crying jag’? Check.

Supposedly emotionally stable, but comes off as emotionally stunted. And, of course, facial bumps from shaving. Nice. Fucking assholes.

Thane is wasted, more because they crafted him to be ‘attractive to female players’ and to have a goddamned sob story. Repentant assassin with a spiritual side? Check. Soft-spoken and eloquent? Check. Humanoid yet exotically handsome?

Get the fuck out of here. What he tells us about drell culture and his own experiences is so contradictory and self-fellating in it’s calm acceptance of morality being something external to the soul that it’s vomitous. If you have nothing to feel bad about, Thane, why in fuck are you coming along on a suicide mission to redeem yourself!?

Fucking Bioware.

Jack is a strong character, but a stupid concept all the way around for two very simple reasons. First, if you are trying to create a superbiotic to serve you, that is NOT how you gain loyalty or even initiate Stockholm Syndrome. Cerberus (once again) comes off looking like incompetent idjits who wouldn’t be able to run a taco stand without killing the entire planet it was on, just so she could have reasons to hate them and be tragic and have runny mascara when she cries.  There is ZERO (ha, get the pun) logic in her setup and presentation. Every bit of it — naked to the waist, the stupid cutscene only biotic power that blows up fucking ZEUS mechs, even her foul-mouthed defiance of Miranda — all of it is to push an image and background that makes no sense.

Secondly, her concept doesn’t work because that is NOT how abuse victims reclaim their body. People who are victimized and abused do not go out and victimize and abuse other people they don’t know, period, fucking ever. They often abuse those close to them, those they say they love, or those much like them — because that’s how they know to interact. They do not become wild pirates playing queen bitch of the hill — their self-esteem was destroyed, how would they find the strength to do such a thing?

Finally, Kasumi pisses me off because they just took two cliches (dashing master thief + ninja) and slapped them together without any more development than “oh her boyfriend died”.

I know she was an add on character, but WHAT THE FUCK. SERIOUSLY. Zaeed had tons of badass background, a completely plausible psychology, a consistent set of moral reactions to the world around him, and a perfectly good reason for being an ice-cold asshole. Kasumi acts like someone stole her out of a fucking anime.

 

These six characters I intend to change almost entirely. Their backgrounds, motivations, roles, and even classes will change. When I get done with them, they will share very little in common with their canon counterparts.

 

Perspectives of Character : On Jack Harper

Our place in the universe is more fragile than we’d like to think.


There are many interesting, multifaceted characters in the ME Canon Universe. But none of them are as nuanced, as difficult to actually transform from merely parroting words into a fresh new take, as the Illusive Man.

When we first meet the Illusive Man in ME 2, he seems confident, knowledgeable and powerful.  His most basic precept never wavers — that humanity should be the dominant power in the galaxy. His belief in this is absolute, overriding all other considerations — in canon, it drove him to nearly destroying the galaxy with his mad plans.

But this certainty is not part of what it means to be Jack Harper. That’s merely a goal. You can still have TIM be TIM, regardless of his ultimate goals, as long as they they are bigger than one human man could normally achieve.


 

The Personality of ol’ Blue Eyes

Salvation comes with a cost. Judge us not by our methods, but by what we seek to accomplish.

When taken in series, a few observations can be taken away from TIM, both from his in-game speech and the Shadow Broker’s files.

  1. He is supremely confident, yet never reckless. As a leader, he focuses on leading by inspiring confidence, by gathering together those who can use the resources, tools, and intelligence he gathers to complete goals. But he never risks himself in these ventures, always staying back, out of sight. TIM should never be used as a physically aggressive character, even if he has been one in the past and is certainly capable of it. He sees himself as both beyond and above such things now.
  2. He comes across as emotionally cold, often with a neutral expression that betrays nothing except occasional condescension, irritation, or slight amusement.  Yet he is clearly capable, during the comic, of many strong emotions — love, hate, fear, sorrow, despair. Whatever has happened to TIM, his emotions are damaged. He can still feel love, but he chooses to believe he can’t. He sees himself as immune to emotional damage like that he took when Ben and Eva died if he simply doesn’t care about people , instead only becoming passionate about objectives and end results.
  3. TIM surrounds himself with mystery. From his demeanor to his location, from whatever his real goals are to his effortless mastery of almost any situation, he never lets any truly understand all of him. He perfectly embodies that Art of War’s stricture about being chaos, for one cannot predict the wind.
  4. Perhaps most critically, TIM embodies an aspect of humanity. If Shepard embodies humanity’s heart and spirit, then TIM represents humanity’s intellect. He is reflective, yet determined to see through his goals to the end. He is never reactive, always seeking to control the pieces on the board. Even when at bay or thwarted, he never lets his anger get the best of him, always thinking of a new way to proceed.

Taking this into consideration, in my AU Jack Harper’s personality is much the same as in canon, with several modifications.

Many people start off with the old canard that “TIM hates aliens”. Even in canon, this isn’t true. TIM hates turians, sure, but given what he went through on Shanxi, this is hardly surprising.  But even in canon, he is complementary and impressed by Mordin Solus, agreeable to the concept of enlisting a mostly-alien crew for the fight against the Collectors, and based on what the Shadow Broker wrote, banging an asari matriarch.

TIM does not strike me as the kind to engage in that level of hypocrisy, thus he never hated aliens. He hated the idea that humanity would be subjugated by aliens, much as the krogan and quarians have been. He hated that aliens dominated the galaxy and yet gave humanity no room to share in the wealth.

Another person who did an analysis of TIM summed it up thus:

He felt that the human race had done everything it needed to do to earn a firm place within the galaxy. When they still were faced with hardship and an uncaring Council, Cerberus stepped in to ensure that this would be changed. If the humans wouldn’t be welcomes, they would make themselves be welcomed.

Thus, a great deal of his personality can be driven by his outlook on the nature of how humanity interacts with the galaxy, and more importantly, how they are treated.

Goals and motivations

Cerberus isn’t just an organization or the people behind it. Cerberus is an idea. That idea is not so easily destroyed

In canon, we are given a pleortha of motivations and goals for TIM, but they all boil down to one thing:

He feels humanity is at least as good, if not better, than the aliens. In my AU, this doesn’t change.  What changes are his ultimate goals.

In Canon, he felt that aliens would never accept humans as equals, mainly because most of them seemed blind to anything but their own internal squabbling. The sheer focused idiocy of the Citadel Council makes one question if he’s all that wrong that humans are superior.  The only way he sees being able to safeguard humanity is through outright human dominance. Unfortunately, the only path to dominance is over the broken corpses of those already atop the galactic heap, but the gap between human might and the aliens is narrow enough that, if he’s careful and cunning, he can be the push to put Earth on top.

His canon goals are simple and ugly:

  • Ensure humanity is the dominant military, economic, scientific, and covert power in the galaxy
  • Kill or at least cripple alien races that provide a current or future threat to humanity.
  • Steal or otherwise acquire alien technology and abilities that could enhance humanity
  • Build some form of shock-attrition army (geth, creepers, rachni, or eventually indoctrinated humans) that are superior to all other races’ military forces to aid in suppression.
  • Sabotage alien economies, disrupt political movements, and prevent anyone from coming to power in the SA that would seriously opposes him
  • Infiltrate all levels of SA governance and acquire military technology of a level to allow Cerberus to act as a ‘third flank’ for conventional human forces
  • Eventually, reduce all other aliens to either subservience or outright slavery, to ensure human dominance never fades.

This list sounds like the goals of, at best, a monomaniacal dictator, and at worst a sociopath. They end up doing nothing to strengthen humanity, and in the end TIM’s entire rationale is defeated by indoctrination, bad aim, and a pistol. Pathetic.

In my AU, however, he is equally convinced that, while some aliens may tolerate humanity being on par with them, they would never accept humanity as superiors. The technological, financial and military gulf between humanity and aliens is so vast that the SA resorts to sickening, Cerberus-like actions to bolster their strength, and the aliens themselves commit atrocities that would impress the Dark Eldar of Warhammer 40k. In this environment, humanity pushing for supremacy is not only mind-bogglingly unrealistic, but likely to simply unite the other aliens into an assault on humanity.

His goals are thus much more … demure.

  • Ensure humans have an equal voice in galactic society, with enough respect to inspire partnerships, and enough fear to prevent conquest.
  • Ensure humans eventually break free of the confines of the current SA government before humanity becomes as corrupted, power-hungry and wretched as the salarians and asari.
  • Ensure humans are not subsumed into another culture, such as the asari, or flung into suppressive exile, like the batarians and quarians
  • Push forward human technology, economic might and knowledge so that humanity isn’t dependant on technical handouts, financial aid and alien ‘advisers’.

The goals are at least achievable, and do not end up uniting the galaxy against humanity out of self-defense or outrage. Furthermore, UNLIKE the canon goals, they allow him to stay in the background and work from the shadows, which is one of his core personality points.


 

Methodologies and tools

Information is my weapon, Shepard.

The Illusive Man does not rely on, in my AU, the massive use of force. He prefers to use three things that are often much more effective — intelligence gathering, economic manipulation, and disruptive technology.

TIM rarely needs to resort to direct violence, and when he does it is very surgical — he relies on a pair of supremely skilled and very dangerous assassins, Pel and Kai Leng. Both were (in the AU) contemporaries of such figures as Anderson, Ahern, and Preston Kyle, and as such have abiltiies on par with them.

But he only uses violence when other methods have failed, and never before they have at least been tried.

His greatest ability is information. His network of spies and information brokers rarely if ever even know they are reporting to him, and many are aliens. He has contacts at every level of human society, allies who would rather die than betray him, and a reach that even the Shadow Broker or STG can’t match. He has deals with powerful figures — the salarian crime boss Edat Valern,  with Aria, with the turian shadow-master known as P. , and with many disaffected officers of the human AIS. He even has a couple of Commissariat contacts with faulty conditioning allowing them to work for him.

His network is only half his power, though — his mind allows him to sift through data and make instinctual connections instantly. His ‘upgrades’ at the hand of the Arca Device didn’t indoctrinate him, but they did affect him, letting him translate all alien languages as well as literally decrypt things by merely looking at the patterns.

Added to this is his vast wealth, which is only augmented of that of his allies — Henry Lawson with his billions, the Ashlands and Eldfells, who are the wealthiest humans in the galaxy, smaller groups who support humanity’s independence, even his asari partner , Trellani. Added together, Jack Harper can move more money than the entirety of the Noveria Development Corporation, and he is a master at making investments to not only allow it to grow but find more influence in corporations.

His reach and influence allow him wide access to a staggering array of technologies. Rather than pick the most potent, he often selects and invests in things others have written off. He was one of the primary investors in volus missile research that lead to the development of the modern M/AM matrix missile — which the volus of course sold to humanity, boosting it’s combat power. Many of the science initiatives he (and not the rest of Old Cerberus) is responsible for are researches into communications, stealth, encryption, VI-driven combat, and AI.

He is aided in this later on (in my version of ME2) by acquiring a very potent ally with technology beyond the asari or salarian abilities, which he uses sparingly but with good effect.

This ties into Jack never getting involved. He prefers his operations to be like him — in the shadows, dealing with issues at arms length, and never facing exposure or danger directly.


 

Final Thoughts

You think because I’m willing to use the enemy’s tactics, they’re no longer my enemy?

TIM’s ultimate fate in my version of ME3 is different than canon, both due to the fact that my ending is vastly different and because he’s not a goddamned idiot this time around.

At the end of the day, though, some things remain the same. If the choice is decency or humanity, TIM will always choose the latter. If the choice is between keeping the Reapers around to prevent something worse from happening to the Galaxy, or destroying them and gambling humanity’s future on the unknown, TIM  will take the safer bet. While he does not betray Shepard the way Canon TIM does, and certainly never gets indoctrinated, the ending I have planned highlights how TIM is different from Shepard — any Shepard.

Jack Harper sees himself as a catalyst of change, a bridge between an uncertain dangerous present and a bright, shining future for humanity. No intepreation of him should ever alter his fundamental belief that he, and only he, is the one who has the answers to save everyone, be it to lead them to dominance or to survival.

Every Shepard, from all three canon backgrounds and all three canon life events, and from every fanfic Ive read, doubts themselves at some point. They see themselves as a savior, or a protector, or a predator, or merely a clean-up man — some are saints, others criminals. But they all wonder and doubt if they’re good enough, if they have made the right choices, if the decisions they have now committed to will work.

Jack Harper never doubts himself. Not even once.

Perspectives of Character : on Tali’Zorah

Of all of the core canon characters, I think Tali’Zorah is the hardest to write correctly.

Much of ME and many fanfics portray her in what has to be an unrealistic light.  She is a civilian teenager, barely old enough to be on her Pilgrimage, yet somehow magically is a better engineer than people with years of experience and is capable of handling fights that challenge trained marines and experienced C-SEC types.

Tali is presented as some kind of bizarre admixture of Roma Gypsies, Middle Eastern stereotypes, with a dash of Jewish history thrown in for good measure. Instead of being able to develop an actual character aside from Hartman Hips and a cute accent, she’s instead used as a walking quarian-culture infodump.

The intent is of course to build her as some kind of ‘little sister’ character with cutesy overtones, and in ME 1 I supposed they succeeded at that. She didn’t really ‘do’ anything in Engineering, after all, and we never get to see her really pull out anything impressive in terms of skills.

Then comes ME2, and all of a sudden when she joins the Normandy’s crew, she’s some kind of super-engineering expert, even showing up the two engineers with the ship on some obscure techno-bullshit. It’s designed, I suppose, to establish her ‘engineering’ chops. But it comes of hackneyed, since how in shit would someone working on quarian ships this whole time know more about a cutting edge design than the human engineers who’ve been working on it for months?

(Hilariously, in ME3 we see her incompetance — her ideas to extend the ships’ stealth endurance by using weapon sinks fails totally, just like the human engineers said it would.)

Her criticisms of Cerberus are also hilarious. Her comment that Cerberus should be reviled because “Cerberus thought that enslaving Thorian Creepers and rachni was a good idea” would come off as less hypocritical if her people weren’t exiles for first enslaving and then trying to genocide the geth. Additionally, she has no alternatives — Cerberus is bad in her eyes even when literally no one else is doing jack shit to stop the Reapers or even respond to missing human colonies.

Likewise, her leader-role on Freedom’s Progress and Haestrom is supposed to show growth, and instead only shows an inability to actually lead. She can’t control her men (the VERY first thing required of any leader) and instead of providing inspiration she cowers at Haestrom to retrieve data  she doesn’t even know the significance of.

Her trial for treason is completely , utterly nonsensical. Leave aside the fact that the treason accusation is stupid. Sending back geth parts that had to be re-assembled and repaired in order to form a geth is no more a crime than sending raw materials and circuit boards that that had to be assembled to form a geth.

What bothers me the most is the trial is supposed to be some kind of contextual crap about the ‘direction of the quarians’ , yet no matter what choices you make they still do the same stupid shit in ME3. Worse, the politics of it all don’t make sense in a culture supposedly about communal burden-sharing.

We’re given almost nothing on Rael’Zorah save that he was a massive dick with no real characterization.  And all of the attributes of the admirals shift entirely around from ME2 to ME3 for no good reasons.

Tali is ‘exiled’ from a society that she clearly wasn’t fitting into anyway, a society that saw fit to use their daughter’s friend as some kind of bargaining chip to convince quarians down one path or another, and then end up attacking anyway. It’s the illusion of choice, the fake effect of your actions meaning something.

It is also hilarious that even after being double-crossed by her own people, she hates Cerberus, who only attacked due to the actions of yet another exiled quarian, Golo.

Tali’s choice as a possible romance was handled with heavy-handed insistance.  My main issue with it is that she’s frame as, aside from Liara, the only choice for many players. Miranda is a bitch who will stop talking to you if you criticize her for defending the torture of children. Jack is a criminal with a plethora of issues that are turn-offs for lots of people. You can’t sleep with Samara, Morinth will kill you, and Kelly is a slut in a shiny stripper outfit.

By contrast you have polite, kind, loyal, exotic Tali. Real subtle, Bioware.

By the time ME3 rolls around, the image is entirely warped and stupid. Suddenly Tali is an admiral, for no goddamned reason we’re ever given that makes any sense. All the other admirals are in charge of entire fleets and are older.  She is made an admiral because … why?

“Due to her expertise with the geth.”

What fucking expertise? Shooting them? The geth data she submitted — oh wait, that was GIVEN to her by Shepard, she had jack shit all to do with it. Getting her ass shot off in Haestrom?

It’s a bullshit excuse. Even WORSE, it’s the same excuse they use if they bring her back after they exiled her, even though exile is supposed to the the worst punishment for unforgivable crimes in the Flotilla.

So basically , bullshit.

Trying to find a way to re-write Tali so she isn’t a pile of badly designed sterotypes in a cutsy but illogical package is difficult. The main themes I am trying to achieve are as follows:

  • A conflict between her duty to the Flotilla and her personal life. Given that in my AU the quarian situation is not as dire, she begins to question if she has to sacrifice her happiness and life for that of the Flotilla, especially given what doing so has cost her father.
  • A conflict between her views on what is ‘correct’ in terms of engineering and technology based on quarian methods and her growing understanding that quarian methods aren’t always the best. Her tiresome devotion to things quarian in canon never was shaken even when the quarians clearly were making suboptimal choices.
  • Her relationship with Jeff, her self-confidence issues, and her lack of feeling like she has choices in life.

I want to recreate Tali, to make her something interesting that references but moves beyond the Tali in Canon. I find myself not needing to recreate Garrus, or Liara, or most of the other characters, but Tali has the feel of a character they repeatedly threw in as a last minute gesture without trying to develop her more fully.

Talimancers will dislike my opinion, but I challenge them to show their work on why I’m wrong.  Merely stating she is nice, loyal, has sexy hips and an awesome voice and is good with a shotgun is not character development.