Mass Effect - Apocalypse

Conclusion, Pt. 3

The Catalyst

It’s a bit much to absorb. I think the Shadow Broker agents here with me are wondering why Commander Jane Shepard isn’t really giving much in the way of input. The truth is, I’m not sure I’m qualified.

I fought off Harbinger’s attempt at inciting self-destruction long enough to prevent Dariserix Bahktian from fulfilling that imperative. It was about all I had left in me. I watched through a haze as Tori’Xen vas Alarei made it to the console that, presumably, opens the arms of the Citadel permitting our species a tentative chance at survival. Then there was a white light.

I found myself on Virmire, standing atop Saren’s base. Kaidan Alenko had been left with the converted drive-core we were using as a nuclear weapon while Ashley, assigned to assist Captain Kirrahe and Aegohr squad, was pinned down by geth. That decision… it always haunts me. I only remember two occasions where I had to make a decision to sacrifice people to accomplish the greater objective. This one ended with Aegohr squad being destroyed except for Saelan Corl and Ladron. The second involved permitting the Council to be destroyed so that the fleet would have a shot at Sovereign and a guaranteed kill. Saelan judged me for both decisions, although I believe we have come to an understanding. It’s a shame part of that understanding arises from his belief that I, the clone of Shepard, would have made different decisions.

I don’t believe even my original incarnation did what she did for the reasons Saelan ascribes to her. It’s a moot point by now, though.

I had a vision, or perhaps a flashback. I had just decided to turn back to ensure Kaidan and the bomb survived. That was the objective, after all. If I saved Ash only to have Saren capture and defuse the bomb, everything would be for nothing. I found myself, however, having a conversation with Kaidan that we never had… never had the time for. He asked me if I returned because I harbored personal feelings for him. He asked me how it felt to sacrifice Ash. It was a conversation that never happened, but was nonetheless real.

I can only presume the companions I now find myself standing beside had similar experiences

Here we are, standing in an impossible place, the battle of the Citadel happening in slow motion above us, and a hyperintelligent AI, who is apparently the Citadel itself, has explained that after a billion years of cycle after cycle, this time we have achieved the “delicate balance” between conflict and cooperation to bring us to the end of “phase 2” and the beginning of “phase 3.” It claims in that last moment that all of us, the team in the Citadel control room, as well as the team that activated the Crucible, were killed. As we died, however, this AI scanned us on a quantum level, then analyzed the vaporized remains for chemical data. It then reconstructed us as “simulations” running within its own systems.

What was the point? If this AI, who styles itself the “Catalyst”, is to be believed, its long-ago creators gave it the function of guiding galactic evolution. Evolution is a blind force leading to as many dead-ends as advances. This AI’s purpose was to accelerate and guide evolution for the purpose of creating a galaxy-wide, stable, advanced civilization. According to it, this task was an incredibly delicate one, requiring enough conflict to keep us advancing, with enough cooperation to permit us to build on our advances. It claimed that the Protheans had done us an excellent turn by ensuring the Asari would be the pre-eminent species of this cycle, their socio-political culture, as well as mating habits, encourage a collaborative approach to government rather than an imperial one. It claimed that all of our species had been nudged, occasionally plunged into gruesome wars, honed and refined to the point where we still fight, but within a larger galactic cultural framework that permits cooperation.

It then claimed that all of us, as AIs in our own right, would be responsible for guiding the next phase, which was to jumpstart evolution again, primarily by de-activating the Mass Relays, spurring our far-flung civilization into developing the technology on their own rather than relying on what they’ve found.

This sparked quite a debate. As we all started to realize just how much power was at our disposal, some of us extended our consciousnesses to check in on far flung loved ones. Others of us arranged the evacuation of the survivors on the Citadel. The Reapers had gone quiescent, and Admiral Hackett risked some ships for that task. Some contemplated petty revenge, others of us realized that we could conceivably reach anywhere where a mass relay existed.

We are, in short, gods. The Catalyst seemed extremely interested in what we chose to do with that power. This reminded me of the flashback scene with “Kaidan” and I wondered if we were still being tested. I decided, on the off-chance that this was all another elaborate ruse, to transfer all the data I am now experiencing, along with this somewhat old-fashioned log entry, to a distant computer system attached to a comm-buoy. Perhaps someone will find it if something happens to us.

Ultimately, we decided that there should remain no trace of the Reapers or the Catalyst, that life should continue without nudges or guidance. The Catalyst, surprisingly, seemed to accept its own destruction, albeit with a few snarky remarks, mostly in response to Sebastian Murphy who seemed unabashedly hostile to it. Nobody likes to be manipulated, but he seemed to be taking it worse than most. Can’t say I blame him, really. Ultimately, the question was, what was to become of us? We were all dead. There were only a few systems capable of supporting the complexity of our new AI existences, and with our decision to destroy the Reapers, our choices were fairly slim.

Some chose to upload themselves to the Geth consensus. An odd choice, and certainly one I would never contemplate. Perhaps my memories of the geth who killed Ash are too fresh. Whatever the case, Lia’Danna vas Rayya, Urdnot Braga, Ganar Snarle, Thesalia Kyrathis, and Braga’s AI friend ADaM chose that route.

Some chose to upload themselves to one of three advanced Cerberus AI platforms, effectively overwriting three simultaneous emulations of The Illusive Man. This was the route taken by Saelan Corl, Sebastian Murphy, and myself. Even if I’m never going to be alive again, I’m more comfortable in a human-built AI than the alternative.

Some chose to inhabit some particularly advanced Shadow Broker systems on the planet of Alingon. This was the option chosen by Prasi Ptychokota

I believe [[Melsany Ward chose to transfer herself to an experimental Alliance AI on one of the nearby dreadnoughts.

Tessara Eris chose extinction. She deleted herself from the system.

The rest chose to stay with the Catalyst, and be destroyed as it was desroyed. Some, perhaps, because they didn’t want any taint of that technology to escape, others perhaps because they wanted to make sure that the Catalyst would keep its word. Fortuna Corinthus, Tori’Xen vas Alarei, Aldous Tyd, Aleksandr Davidson, and Dariserix Bahktian chose this route.

I’m sending these final words as we await the last refugees departing the citadel before destroying it all. I don’t know what the future will hold as an AI, or without the relays, but I have to trust that our civilization, our species, will adapt and survive.



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