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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.

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?