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Mass effect initiation, p.1
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       Mass Effect: Initiation, p.1

           N. K. Jemisin
 
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Mass Effect: Initiation


  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  About the Authors

  INITIATION

  MASS EFFECT NOVELS FROM TITAN BOOKS

  MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA

  Mass Effect Andromeda: Nexus Uprising

  by Jason M. Hough and K. C. Alexander

  Mass Effect Andromeda: Initiation

  by N. K. Jemisin and Mac Walters

  Mass Effect Andromeda: Annihilation

  by Catherynne Valente (forthcoming)

  INITIATION

  N. K. JEMISIN AND MAC WALTERS

  TITAN BOOKS

  MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA: INITIATION

  Print edition ISBN: 9781785651601

  E-book edition ISBN: 9781785651618

  Published by Titan Books

  A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd

  144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

  First edition: November 2017

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Editorial Consultants: Chris Bain, Joanna Berry and John Dombrow

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  © 2017 Electronic Arts Inc. EA, the EA logo, Mass Effect, Mass Effect: Andromeda, BioWare and the BioWare logo are trademarks of Electronic Arts Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

  Did you enjoy this book?

  We love to hear from our readers.

  Please email us at [email protected] or write to us at Reader Feedback at the above address.

  TITANBOOKS.COM

  INITIATION

  INITIAL AIRDATE JANUARY 1ST, 2184

  Andromeda Initiative recruitment ad title:

  “COME WITH US”

  Notes of the Central Nairobi Advertising Agency

  SFX: Stills of ark Hyperion superimposed with shots of the Andromeda Galaxy. (Nnamdi, do we have permission for close-up? You know what these private-funding types are like.)

  SOUNDTRACK: Something inspiring. Adjust style for local market tastes per extranet IP address.

  EDIT TEAM 1: Can we use Vaenia’s music?

  EDIT TEAM 2: No, are you high? We want “inspired,” not “let’s go fuck an alien.”

  EDIT TEAM 1: Hey, inspiration’s what you make of it!

  VOICE-OVER: We are travelers, constantly moving forward—and looking back. Alone and as one, we have no choice but to try. For our insatiable curiosity. For our fear of what should happen if we don’t. You can be that explorer. We will say goodbye, and you will look back one last time—and know that wherever you go, we will be with you. (This is good. Woman’s voice, alto for maximum appeal, tough-sounding.)

  BLACK SCREEN WITH INITIATIVE LOGO: Select to learn more and sign up!

  CHAPTER ONE

  “‘There is always a moment when the familiar becomes the strange,’” Cora recited, as she stood looking around at the bustling open docking area of Tamayo Point. “‘Look at your own hand and you will eventually notice the variation of textures, the growth of nails and the fade of scars, the peculiarity of having five fingers instead of three.’”

  If there had ever been a time when the words of Sarissa Theris resonated more, Cora couldn’t remember it. This was a moment that should have felt familiar, after all; she’d disembarked hundreds of times during station runs with her old Alliance unit, and before that cargo pickups on her family’s ship. She’d even previously visited Tamayo Point, Sol’s gateway to the galaxy for the no-frills travel set, though she didn’t remember it well. Too many ports over the years. Too many crowds shuffling and murmuring and jostling in exactly the same way… and yet, somehow, everything about this crowd felt a little off-kilter. Familiar, but strange.

  From the shadowed loading area near her shuttle’s docking tube—out of the other passengers’ way but with a good elevated view of the busy promenade—Cora found herself watching with growing fascination the first human crowd she’d seen in four years. There was just something inherently alien about the way humans acted in large groups, wasn’t there? Well, the crowd wasn’t completely human; her huntress-trained eyes immediately picked from the churn of movement the slower, dancing glide of two hanar, and over there was a salarian standing stock-still as he checked something on his omni-tool. But mostly she just saw hundreds of humans: running to catch the next shuttle, arguing with the cargo staff, yelling some kind of slogan and hefting a placard along with a small gaggle of other protestors, calling out to partners or siblings or grandparents to say that hey, the cafe had real shrimp and not that protein-vat crap.

  Asari, Cora knew, would all be moving at about the same pace and maintaining a noticeable distance from one another. She’d read somewhere that their version of politeness meant a slightly wider zone of personal space, just beyond easy melding distance. The adults in a turian crowd tended to move in lockstep, probably out of leftover habit from their years of compulsory military service. By the same token, krogan deliberately resisted the formation habit, since when they slipped into lockstep, they instinctively started looking for a warlord or battlemaster to lead them in a charge. Took forever to get through a big group of krogan because so many of them would just stop suddenly and stand still for no reason—but it was either let them do that, or risk a station-wide, days-long brawl between impromptu armies.

  At least there was a reason for the behavior, unlike with humans.

  That was what Cora found herself noticing, as her gaze picked out a hundred little vignettes of behavior. Humans stopped mid-walk while reacting to messages on their omni-tools; humans paced back and forth, bounced on their toes, leaned against walls; humans got annoyed when someone slower moved in front of them, and speeded up to pull ahead, even though the crowd meant they wouldn’t get very far. She kept pinging on them because in any other crowd, these small oddities of behavior looked suspicious. Potential threats. But she was pinging everywhere, because they weren’t threats.

  They were just humans—a complete chaotic mess.

  And she was just going to have to get used to it again. Finally proceeding down the steps, Cora shouldered her satchel with a sigh, and braced herself to push and weave through the crowd.

  “Lieutenant Harper? Cora Harper?”

  The voice made Cora jump, nearby and unexpected as it was, though she sharply controlled the reflex to snap up a biotic barrier around herself. Turning, she saw a tall, slim, brown-skinned woman watching her with a polite, open smile. No—Cora frowned, reassessing at once. It hadn’t been for nothing that Nisira T’Kosh, her old commander on Thessia, had drilled her in rapid threat assessment and response. Cora might be pinging false positives all over the place, but she felt sure that her instincts were right in this case. There was something off about the w
oman’s smile.

  “Yes?” Cora replied, trying and failing not to sound wary.

  “I thought that might be you!” The woman brightened, extending a hand to shake, which Cora did automatically—her body remembered local custom even if her mind was still somewhere back in asari space. “I’ve been waiting here all afternoon to speak with you. Your shuttle was late.”

  “Traffic going into the Parnitha Relay,” Cora said, even as she wondered Who are you, lady? The politeness came automatically, too, after four years of thinking of herself as an ambassador for humanity. “Sorry to keep you waiting. What was it that you wanted to speak to me about, Miss…?”

  “Khalisah bint Sinan al-Jilani.” The woman’s smile widened to show teeth, and—what? A camera drone floated up from where it had been hidden behind her, suddenly focusing a blindingly bright spotlight on Cora’s face. She squinted into it while al-Jilani continued. “Westerlund News. Do you mind answering a few questions for me, Lieutenant Harper? It won’t take long.”

  “I, uh—” It had been years since Cora had received any media training, before shipping off to Thessia, and she hadn’t used it since. Asari simply didn’t think that members of other races coming to learn from them was particularly newsworthy. “I guess?”

  “Great. I can see you’re a little off-balance; sorry about that. Why don’t we start with a few softballs?” Al-Jilani glanced at the drone, which flashed a red light to indicate that it had begun recording, and nodded in satisfaction. “You’re returning to the Sol system, Lieutenant Harper, after—was it four years that you spent on Thessia as part of the Alliance’s Valkyrie Program?” She glanced at a small datapad. “Quote, ‘To strengthen diplomatic relations between humanity and the asari, improve the quality of human biotics training—’”

  “Yes,” Cora said. Then she winced inwardly; she hadn’t meant to interrupt. That wouldn’t play well with women and non-binaries. It was just that she’d heard the précis of the Valkyrie Program before, more times than she could count, and she wanted this interview over with, and it was hard not to let these things show. “Uh, I mean, not quite. I was stationed with a commando unit based on Thessia, but we took missions all over asari space.”

  “Talein’s Daughters, right, under the command of Nisira T’Kosh—seventy-tour combat veteran, survivor of the Ailanthus campaign and the Siege of Arta. What was it like, working under such a distinguished asari matron?”

  Cora relaxed fractionally, thinking, It was exhilarating… and terrifying. Nisira had never fought alongside humans before, and all she’d really known of humans came from a few data files and a quarter-century of extranet articles. Her philosophy for training Cora had basically boiled down to “Well, you look like an asari, so I’m going to treat you like an asari”—and Cora had had little choice but to measure up.

  That had meant hours of additional physical training as well as, after dismissal, studying ancient texts on biotics and philosophy, and even learning how to cook with Thessian ingredients so she wouldn’t starve between the asari’s twice-daily meals. It had been the most demanding, most dangerous training Cora had ever heard of… and she’d loved every minute of it. But how to boil all of that down to a sound bite?

  “It was great,” she muttered. And then inwardly she slapped herself.

  Not that al-Jilani seemed to notice her utter failure of eloquence. “Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm. And what do you say about rumors that you failed to meet even the most minimal standards of performance for an asari commando? That they created a new, looser set of standards for you which are roughly equivalent to the training given to asari children?”

  What? Cora stared at her. “Those are… none of that is true.” Some of the minimum standards had taken her a few tries, sure, but she’d made all of them eventually.

  “It’s not? And what about the rumors that you ‘went native?’ Eating only Thessian food, wearing only asari-made clothing, using a biotic amp custom made for you by a high-end Armali bespoke manufacturer?”

  Al-Jilani’s face still bore the same open, friendly smile as before, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that her friendly demeanor was horseshit. It made Cora’s teeth start to itch—a sure sign that she was starting to lose control of her temper. For whatever reason, her biotic biofeedback tended to start with dental roots.

  “I ate and dressed with my comrades,” she snapped. “I ate and dressed like them, because that’s what people in any military unit tend to do. Food’s food and clothes are clothes; asari clothes fit me fine, so why would I pay through the nose to have stuff shipped from human space if I didn’t have to? Call that going native if you want, but the whole point of the program was to provide an immersion experience.” She opened her mouth to add, “And that was an unfair question,” but while she drew a breath al-Jilani slid her next comment smoothly into the silence.

  “Immersion in an alien society, of course,” al-Jilani said, nodding in what Cora assumed was supposed to be a thoughtful manner. “But then you quit the Alliance military after completing the Valkyrie Program, which means humanity’s investment in your training has seen no returns. I understand you’ve moved on to bigger and better things—the Andromeda Initiative, yes?”

  Cora ground her teeth. She’d quit the Alliance military because her enlistment was up, nothing more. She’d reupped once because Nisira had asked her to continue serving with Talein’s Daughters for an additional two years after her first tour, and Cora had happily agreed to stay. But she hadn’t made the same request of Cora at the end of that one, insisting that it was time Cora tried something new, and Cora had taken her advice. Like most marines did, if they respected their COs—but it was clear now that al-Jilani had some sort of specific narrative she was trying to spin. Cora was going to have to figure out what it was, and quickly, before she got blindsided again.

  What’s she after? Smearing the asari? Smearing the brass behind the Valkyrie Program?

  “Yes,” Cora replied, just managing to keep her tone civil. “I was recommended to the Initiative by Matron T’Kosh, in fact.”

  “Oh, of course!” Al-Jilani’s face lit up, and with a sinking feeling Cora belatedly remembered her media training: Never volunteer unasked information. Al-Jilani continued, “It makes perfect sense for an alien to recommend a soldier like you to something like the Andromeda Initiative.” And as Cora stood there floored—A soldier like me?—al-Jilani went on. “Were you aware of allegations that the Initiative’s principal backer, entrepreneur Jien Garson, has misused investor funds, underreported earning statements, and sponsored illegal research?”

  “Oh, for—” Cora caught herself. Was that who this was really about? Garson? The Initiative? Then why was al-Jilani ambushing Cora? “No, Ms. al-Jilani, I wasn’t aware, and if they’re allegations, then I don’t think you are, either.”

  “There’s no need to get defensive, Lieutenant. I’m just asking questions.”

  And I’m a shifty space cow, Cora thought. “Is that all, Ms. al-Jilani? I’ve got another ship to catch.”

  “Just one more question.” Al-Jilani glanced at her datapad again, though Cora was sure this was part of the act; al-Jilani already knew full well what she wanted to ask. “The Andromeda Initiative plays itself off as a quaint throwback to the past, when humanity thought itself alone in the universe and bravely ventured into the unknown purely for the sake of exploration itself.” She glanced back at the drone and murmured, “Pause here, search file footage for twentieth-century Apollo mission launches, pre-first contact shipflight images, Initiative press release shots of ark Hyperion. Splice together with a music track from… I don’t know. Pick something old-fashioned and obscure. Canadian electronic rock, maybe, whatever.”

  The drone flashed a light twice in acknowledgement, and Cora blinked away afterimages as al-Jilani resumed. “But given that the project now stands poised to place more alien than human colonies in the Andromeda galaxy—specifically asari, salarian, and our former enemies the turians—and given the
project’s tendency to hire personnel like you, with questionable loyalty to humanity’s interests—”

  That did it. The fury blazed white in Cora’s head, pounding behind her eyes, and then it was all around her, sheening the world in a glimmering blue haze of dark energy. Al-Jilani’s eyes widened in alarm, which was probably the first honest emotion Cora had seen in her, and which made perfect sense considering that the power to crush every bone in al-Jilani’s body now crawled unfettered over Cora’s skin.

  But flashing biotics was something asari did to show anger—their version of krogan headbutting, or turian mandible-clacking, or human and batarian fist clenching. Four years of asari immersion had left Cora with the habit. Thing was, although humans had no problem recognizing the threat displays of other species—some body language really was universal—few human biotics had the strength to flash at all, let alone as casually as asari did. Those humans who did usually couldn’t control it.

  So even as Cora belatedly remembered that she was using the wrong body language for human space, al-Jilani quickly blurted, “Well, I suppose I have enough material. Thanks for your time, Lieutenant!” and hurried away…

  Cora knew she’d made things worse. It would be nothing for al-Jilani to spin her visible fury as further proof that she’d “gone alien.” And now she could insinuate that hiring someone of Cora’s “questionable loyalty” was further proof of the Andromeda Initiative’s corruption, since that had apparently been the woman’s angle all along.

  And that was just great. Because now Cora was about to report for her first day of work… at the Andromeda Initiative. Which she’d just helped smear all over the extranet.

  * * *

  She was in the cafe, eating a po’boy made with real shrimp and contemplating a post-military life of unemployment-induced poverty, when the protestors came in.

  Cora had briefly seen them earlier, a yelling knot of people with placards milling amid the promenade crowd, and had dismissed them just as quickly. She’d literally been on another planet for four years. Whatever they were mad about, she didn’t care. It didn’t particularly bother her to see them in the cafe, either, since they weren’t yelling or brandishing their placards at the moment. Angry people had to eat too, didn’t they? So she stopped paying attention.

 
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