by Kyle B. Stiff
If you think the Indoctrination Theory is too dark to be true, check out what would happen if a player chose Synthesis at the end of Mass Effect 3. Perhaps the “middle road” choice is more extreme than it appears on the surface…
Sou was the last of the protheans. She was sure of it. There were a handful of others who looked like her, organic creatures who still spoke the dead language of protho, and who could read memories laced throughout the material universe, but as far as she was concerned – she was the last of the protheans.
Sou made her way through the streets of London. She avoided large groups, especially work teams milling about reconstruction sites. No sense in arousing the curiosity of a helpful reaper. Finally she found a lone salarian making his way down the street. He would do.
“Hail, friend!” said Sou. “I need assistance.”
She had to hold the salarian’s arm to keep him from continuing on. She stared into his green glowing eyes. She had never gotten used to those eyes; two years after being thawed out, they still struck her as an abomination. What was going through the salarian’s mind as he stared through her? Was he in an important business conference with others halfway across the galaxy? Was he reading a critique of some pre-war piece of artwork? Was he analyzing a list of chores written out by the collective intelligence of all living things (or whatever passed for a ruler in this peaceful new world)?
The salarian finally acknowledged her presence. “Ah! You are a prothean, are you not, my friend?”
“I am,” said Sou.
“You have not joined the greater galactic community. You are still alone.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Sou. She swallowed the bile rising in her gorge. “I as hoping for your assistance in this matter.”
“I would be glad to assist you, friend!” said the salarian. “I was just on my way to a local pub. Have you eaten?”
“I have. I am fine.”
“Is there anything I can do to-”
“No, no, I’m fine. I only need help with… I am ready for synthesis.”
The salarian’s mouth turned up at the corners. A smile, or something close to one. “This is good news, my friend! Come, I will escort you to the Citadel. Others can assist you with your synthesis.”
Sou did not thank him. He did not offer his name, and nothing more was said between them as they made their way through the city-wide construction zone. Sou was glad to follow from behind because it helped remove from her mind the image of his people licking their own eyeballs. Squatting savages crouching in the swamp, gathering bugs and mushrooms to help their mothers grow fat – that was how she remembered the salarians. It did not seem they had changed very much in the past fifty thousand years.
Sou’s mind drifted, and she remembered when she’d been woken from her cryogenic unit. She was disoriented and terrified, unable to reconcile her memory of the garden world of Eredheim with the cold, arid, bright wasteland that greeted her. Nobody had a clear idea how long the cryogenic chambers would last, but the assumption was that she and the others would be woken up after a few thousand years. Long enough for the reapers to return to dark space, long enough to begin again. Instead, she’d gone to sleep after it was clear that the empire had fallen, then woke during the end of yet another cycle that saw the reapers triumphant. Her coworkers and her friends were dead. Only bones rested in their cryo-coffins.
The one who woke her was a prothean named Javik. His story about the defeat of the reapers and the unification of the galaxy did not add up. At first she argued with Javik, but she gave that up when she sensed the taint of indoctrination. Javik was nearly two heads taller than her and built like a warrior, and it was obvious that his biotic abilities were those of a highly-trained military leader. She was a small professor who never lifted anything heavier than a data reader, so fighting him was out of the question.
Javik’s odd behavior soon made her question whether something worse than indoctrination was occurring. Upon waking her, the old soldier only stared at her in silence. He did not comfort her or give her information about the current era. He often looked about as if conferring with others not present. When Javik finally acknowledged her, he was far too friendly. The soldiers she interacted with at the research facility displayed nothing but bitter hatred toward the reapers, and were either sullen or argumentative due to stress. Javik, on the other hand, spoke of the wonderful reconstruction, how the reapers were now helpers, how everyone had become one in a new civilization that the old prothean empire could never have fathomed.
During their flight, she nodded and smiled at Javik’s stories. He did not mind when she examined his memory shards; in fact, he showed little interest in them at all. After examining the uncensored chronicle of not one but two wars against the reapers, she got away from Javik as soon as they landed in London.
She did not know how the reapers had done it. Now everyone’s eyes were green, like empty portals leading to some collective identity that understood nothing outside of its own ways and means. Those eyes saw only the plans of its own collective consciousness.
The various species working in London mostly ignored her. Her worries about finding sustenance in a society beyond her understanding turned out baseless. She found many public eating establishments; there were even special provisions made for squawking turians and spear-chucking quarians. Sou simply stood in a line and then ate what was given to her. No currencies were used. As far as she could tell, she was invisible to the others. She was a ghost, an eternal outsider trapped in a dream. She walked the streets and lived in vacant buildings, never staying in one place for long. Many times she saw the people silently enjoying one another’s presence, but they mostly seemed like automatons. She was reminded of the work of Yoong, the prothean dream analyst, who said that the people encountered in dreams were automatons thrown up by the deeper mind; lucid-dreamers who questioned these figures were often surprised that they simply stood and stared, unable to speak or act outside of their role. Sou could say without doubt that she did inhabit a dream, but it was not her own dream. It was the dream of a blind being beyond comprehension, and the individual members of the various species were only its hands or fingers.
The salarian took her to a small, cramped ship at a spaceport and, without a word, an asari pilot flew her beyond London. A weight fell from Sou; it was good to be away from a place drenched with black memories of a final desperate war against the reapers. The cries of ghosts who died filled with fury and remorse finally receded into darkness. Just ahead, the arms of the Citadel were open, ready to accept one more into the great synthesis. Sou could not sleep during the trip. She watched the back of the asari’s head and wondered if the silent creature was simply enjoying one more mindless communal orgy, repeating a pattern begun by her licentious ancestors.
They landed at the Citadel and Sou watched the crowds moving in absolute silence about the Presidium Commons. It was a wonder to her that a prothean was finally stepping foot on the Citadel once again. Overhead, she could see the slender tower of the Presidium and, crouched atop it like a fat krogan wet-nurse relieving herself, she could see the Catalyst.
So it was finally completed, thought Sou. Not only did it not destroy the reapers, but it must somehow be a part of this unimaginable synthesis. It must act as a sort of hub, a broadcasting nexus-point…
“Excuse me. You are here for synthesis, are you not?”
A human who looked no different from a shaved monkey stood before her. His (or her?) green eyes stared at her with affable indifference.
“I am,” said Sou. “Will you escort me?”
The human only turned and walked. Sou followed.
Sou watched the many green-eyes moving about the grounds beneath the tower. There was not one security checkpoint. If she had somehow secreted a gun on board, would anyone know? Would they care? It was true that war was a thing of the past. Sou had not seen one single act of violence since she’d been woken from her cryo-sleep. Then again, she also saw no evidence of art, or of any religion for that matter. There were extensive records of art and spiritual beliefs kept by the green-eyes, but that was all just data, information recorded and passed around by silent automatons who cast no judgment and formed no opinions.
Their world was utterly strange to her. They moved and built and labored no different from a capitalist culture intent on increasing its wealth, but provisions and resources were allocated like a perfectly-orchestrated communist society. The green-eyes spread to new worlds as if they had the weight of an empire behind them, but they enforced laws and imprisoned law-breakers like an anarchistic society who had no need to do either. Depression and stress-related illnesses were unknown, and when one green-eyed citizen died, others simply came and disposed of the body without tears or sadness.
They rode an elevator to the top of the Presidium Tower. Behind the veil of peace, Sou could feel the memories of violent battles breaking through. Indoctrinated monsters fought against heroes here. Sou stared at the dead mask of the face of her human guide and wondered if any spark of those fallen heroes was left in him. Sou forced the memories from her mind before she choked on the awful sadness; she had too much to do, and she could not rest until that thing was accomplished. Her hand strayed to the memory shards in her pocket.
They reached the upper limit of the Presidium. There were no leaders in debate, no crowds shouting in disagreement or agreement. It was clean and dead and inhabited only by a few lowly creatures pushing brooms under the shadow of the Catalyst overhead. Sou followed her guide, and then her breath caught in her throat when she came to a horrifying sight.
A monster walked by. It was only vaguely prothean. Its skin was hard and mottled with dark splotches. Its musculature was absurd. Biotic currents glowed deep red in a hellish halo. The monster did not even have a mouth to speak. The human paid it no mind as the creature began lifting heavy construction materials with biotic surges.
That must be one of the collectors I’ve read about, thought Sou. That’s what they did to my people.
She turned to the human guide and thought, Perhaps it is no worse than what they did to this soulless husk.
The human guide finally stopped, then said, “Step through that doorway, please, and a helper will guide you through the process of joining us. Do not worry, there is no pain!”
The guide watched with utter indifference as Sou looked through her collection of memory shards. Most were incidental; study guides, project notes, even some propaganda passed around by soldiers. Her heart caught in her breast when she found one about Tuno, her love. There was another about her daughter Semela, when they’d visited warm Prachess so long ago. Still another was about her son, named Tuno after his father, who had died shortly after birth but was loved no less because of it. She did not engage the memory shards, but only caught fleeting notions along the edges. She knew that she would lose herself if she fully engaged the memories; she would break inside, and would not be able to complete her task.
Then she found them: Three shards that did not house memories.
“Those are used to store memories,” the human said, his voice flat. “That is interesting. Perhaps you will show us how they work when you have become one of us? Our friend Javik could not tell us how they work.”
Sou ignored the living corpse. She tried to place the three shards end to end, and her hands were shaking so badly that she dropped her other memory shards.
Keep it together, she thought. The memories will live on even after the shards have been evaporated!
Before she was frozen with the others, Sou was one of the leading researchers on the Mannetan Project. She had been in charge of developing weapons that could be made to look like memory shards, and which could be activated by unknowing enemies in reaper-controlled worlds. To say that the weapon “exploded” when set off was an understatement. It was far more accurate to say that any molecule within reach was incinerated and shredded into nonexistence. Theoretically, an entire planet could be reduced to a handful of ash if enough of the shards were used in tandem.
Ironically enough, she had always wanted to work on the Catalyst Project. Now Sou, the last of her people, would destroy it.
I do not know if this will be enough to kill the monstrous meta-being that has consumed every living thing in the galaxy, she thought as she finally activated the shards of death. But perhaps it will be enough to disturb the monster’s endless sleep. Perhaps the ghost of life will wake, if only for a moment.
* * *
Hey readers, if you liked this post then you should take a look at my outline for a game that I call Mass Effect 4: Indoctrination Theory. If you want to see some more fan fiction, check out my piece based on the Destroy ending, which is called The Crush: Shepard’s Final Mission, and this piece based on the Control ending, which is called Big Goddamn Hero.
You might also want to take a look at some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.