• Published 13th Apr 2012
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Mass Effect 2 - DLC: The Equestrian Equation - Loyal2Luna



In this exclusive DLC, what begins as a simple search-and-rescue mission unveils a mystery millions of years in the making. Your choices are Commander Shepard's choices, and all of Equestria is at stake.

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Part 1: Just Another Mission

Mass Effect 2 - DLC
The Equestrian Equation
By Loyal2Luna

Warning: Contains Spoilers for Mass Effect 1 & 2

From the Normandy Galaxy Map, a new star system opens up in the Hawking Eta Cluster following the download of the new DLC, labeled "System AR-43281."

As the player moves the Normandy’s icon into the unexplored system from FTL speed, rather than bring up a map of the local solar system, the loading screen pops up, images of mass relays replaced by a swirling icon of two winged unicorns, one black, one white, circling around one another.

There was a darkness to this place that deadened all of the senses.

Not a sound could be heard, nothing could be felt. There was no orientation as a weightlessness settled into the stomach of the man who was experiencing this, his mind struggling to make sense of the alien environment as he tried to determine if he was awake or asleep… Alive or dead.

“System update: Unscheduled supplicant introduced into system. Genotype analysis indicates species compatibility,” a soft feminine voice stated in a calm, rational manner.

It came from everywhere, giving no sense of direction as the human attempted to lift his arms, to move at all, without success.

“Not another one! This has to stop! Sister, discontinue the introduction process. Activate Security Protocol 'Kickback.' We cannot allow this to keep happening,” a second, more regal-sounding female tone interrupted. Unlike the first, this one was clearly emotional, giving the immediate impression of one that had been knocked from her comfort zone.

“...Who’s there?” the man asked, fighting to keep his head clear as the darkness seemed intent on oppressing his senses.

“It’s conscious?” a new tone asked, this one male, the flow and pitch giving the human the impression of a whimsical personality. “Impressive… Most impressive.”

“Warning: Cybernetic implants detected in new supplicant maintaining critical biological processes. Biometric rewrite interrupted,” the first voice came again, remaining calm. “Introduction Protocol A-087 commencing.”

“NO! LUNA! DISCONTINUE! Discontinue, I said!” the second voice came again, this time barely containing a wrathful outrage.

“Discontinuation of introduction processes at this stage will result in immediate termination. Secondary confirmation required.”

Termination? No… He couldn’t let it end like this…

The human in the dark struggled, not for the first time, against his certain death.

“No,” the male voice came from the dark. “Let it through.”

“DISCORD! Don't… you… dare!”

“There is something different about this one…” the voice named Discord teased, at ease in spite of the anger of the elder-sounding female voice. “I want to see what it will do.”

“Your whims will bring doom upon us all!”

“Doom is already upon us, Celestia, my sister,” the factual, calm voice called Luna stated. “This one may be our last hope.”

Still trying to struggle in the dark, a feeling of warmth swept up through the human’s body as he struggled to maintain consciousness, his mind running over a specific train of thought that kept him focused on his purpose no matter what the obstacle.

“I am Commander Shepard. Alliance Serial: N7-42. The Reapers are coming… I have to stop them… Commander Shepard… N7-42… The Reapers are coming… Have to stop them… Shepard… Reapers… are coming… Have to…”

Then… there was nothing.

————————————————————

“Oh my gosh! Is he okay?”

“Put him on the bed.”

“I’ve never seen him before… Where did he come from?”

“I found him on the edge of the Everfree Forest… Oh, please be okay, Mister Seven…”

Commander Shepard began to focus again as he slowly climbed into the world of the awakened and voices could be heard as if through a distant haze. His head pounded as he tried to clear his mind of the heavy cobwebs that had formed. The feeling of pins and needles ran over his entire body, deadening any tactile sense of his surroundings, although he could feel the weight around his body to indicate he was still wearing his armor.

It felt… strange somehow, as if the proportions were off.

“Wow, he’s like, SUUUPER heavy!” the first voice came again, female in tone, sounding as if she was straining against something.

“Yeah, he really is… You brought him all this way yourself, Fluttershy?”

“Well, he looked injured… so I thought… Should I have taken him to the hospital? Oh, I’m so sorry, I just thought that you would know what to do, Twilight.”

Fluttershy?

Twilight?

Before his still-dazed mind could puzzle over these strange-sounding names, Shepard felt his world go vertical, throwing off his growing sense of orientation as he was hefted upward… Or was he falling? No… more like gliding, gently being pushed along in the air while his weight was negated.

Wait, he knew this sensation.

Biotic lift… But… such control… He doubted even Samara, with all her centuries of experience, could have manipulated a mass effect field so precisely as to carry a living thing with such grace.

“Unnngghhh…” Shepard tried to speak, the world seeping in as he shook off his exhaustion, trying to work up the strength to move… or at least open his eyes.

“Hey, I think he’s waking up.”

“Hello… Mister Seven… are you alright?” the softer tone cooed over him as he started to move, feeling returning to his limbs.

“Aahhhhh…” was the first thing out of his mouth as he brought his hand up to his head.

Wait… This felt weird.

He felt his arm move, but there was a feeling of restriction, as if his arm was pushed at an awkward angle from his shoulder.

Then his… hand… touched his… face.

Something was wrong…

Commander Shepard’s eyes snapped open.

OH! Good, you’re awake. We were so worried.”

Shepard was quiet as he took in his surroundings… the most immediate thing in his field of vision being a pastel yellow creature with a soft, swirling pink mane standing over him with large eyes, a smile, and obvious intelligence. Although it possessed very human expressions and features, the creature was unlike any intelligent species that the well-traveled Commander had ever encountered.

Pulling himself up, he got a better look, his eyes running down the creature’s body to notice a set of feathered wings sprouting from the middle of the creature’s back, while a tattoo-like print was obvious on her side, depicting three pink and blue butterflies.

Quadrupedal… with legs ending in hooves… The creature was equine in nature… like the horses of Earth.

Turning his head, Commander Shepard scanned the area around him, realizing a natural setting… like wood… with a multitude of books piled into rustic-looking shelves all around.

Slightly farther away, two more equine creatures stood, both watching him more cautiously than the first… One a deep shade of purple while the other had a neon-pink body and curly hair that Shepard would have normally attributed to a clown… They were each branded in a similar fashion… but the purple creature had a horn sprouting from its forehead while the pink one lacked horn or wings, seeming (oddly enough) to be the most normal of the three.

No stranger to alien encounters, Shepard managed to fight back an initial reaction to panic in the face of the bizarre as he pulled himself up, attempting to push himself to his feet.

“Oh, no… Wait… You’re hurt. You shouldn’t…” the purple equine creature started forward, but too late, as Shepard felt himself shift awkwardly.

Something was wrong… and not just with his surroundings, the Commander realized... Something was clearly wrong with him.

Shepard’s center of balance was all off, causing him to fall forward towards the floor where he had to throw his arms out to catch himself.

*Clop-clop*

Shepard was now facing the floor, noting the knots in the smooth wooden surface scuffed by triangular marks before he caught sight of his own hands.

Or lack thereof.

Rather than his expected gauntlets, Shepard was looking down at the white and black of his armor which ended on his arms just short of a set of furred red hooves.

His heart hammering, Shepard looked about at the three alien creatures, all of them watching him cautiously.

“Careful, girls… I think he’s confused… Just give him space,” the purple one started, holding a hoof up to the pink one in an obvious attempt to keep her from rushing forward.

“Oh… Mister Seven… are you alright?” the yellow one drew back in a fearful manner, as if she were about to burst out crying should he answer negatively.

Again suppressing the panic, something that took all of his N7 military and combat training to do, Shepard pushed himself up on his hand… hooves... and felt his legs straightening in a manner that should have been impossible.

Human legs don't bend like that… How could…?

Then, he caught sight of a mirror, and took a step sideways to catch his own reflection within it.

Clad in a full, custom-made suit of black and white armor that curved perfectly over an equine body stood a creature like the three he was with, but rather than a brand, a familiar "N7" symbol was emblazoned on the armor’s backside. With cold steel-grey eyes looking back from a red-furred face that had a short crew cut of black hair, the creature gaped in shock at Shepard.

He realized that his mouth was hanging open and closed it.

The reflection did the same.

Commander Shepard’s eyes went wide as he watched the red equine alien wearing his armor copy his expressions… mouth moving in sync with the mirror’s image as the one thing unaltered about him hit his now-pointed, flicking ears.

It was his own voice.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!”

————————————————————
5 Hours Earlier

On board the Normandy SR-2, Commander Shepard looked over Yeoman Chambers' latest reports on the crew’s state of mind as he tried to relax in his quarters.

Relax…

As EDI would say: “That was a joke."

They were preparing to go into the eye of the storm… literally. To strike directly at the Collector Base and put an end to their attacks on human colonies… preventing whatever work they were doing in the name of the true masterminds behind the abduction of entire settlements… the Reapers.

So suffice it to say, there was a little bit of pressure on all of them right now.

Kelly’s conclusion was spot on, he knew. Everybody was tense. They handled it in different ways… but still, the black cloud of what they had to do was hanging over them, made all the more real as EDI and the engineering team worked to integrate their most recently acquired asset; a Reaper Identify Friend/Foe device, into the Normandy’s systems.

They were as prepared as they could be… All of the crew’s unfinished business had been squared away… All possible upgrades had been made to the new Normandy. Once the IFF was ready… it would be time to hit the Omega-4 Relay and end this. One way, or another.

Shepard sighed as he set down the datapad, closing his eyes as he tried to fight off the strain from reading the holographic text. He tried to remember what shore leave felt like. He was pretty sure that his last attempt at R&R had been (quite literally) in another life.

The intercom chimed, pulling Shepard out of his self-indulgent musings as the holographic representation of EDI, the Normandy’s Enhanced Defense Intelligence, projected into existence from the console near his aquarium.

“Shepard: I have an update.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of knocking, EDI?” Shepard sighed slightly. He knew the silence couldn’t have lasted.

“I have attempted such formalities, but organics lack the appropriate handshake protocols to acknowledge my pings and I lack the hands to properly emulate the motion of ‘knocking’ without a query of ‘Who is there?’” EDI clarified.

Shepard looked at the hologram for a moment with a tired expression.

“…That was a joke,” the A.I. explained flatly.

“Of course it was… Is the IFF ready, then?”

“Negative. There are still security measures I wish to implement before physical installation. However, I have received an urgent contact from the Illusive Man. He wishes to speak with you immediately.”

Shepard’s mood dropped like a hanar in high gravity. Their "generous benefactor" was hardly on the top of his list of people he wanted to speak with at this point.

“Why didn’t you just let Kelly call me down, then?”

“Yeoman Chambers was hesitant to interrupt your, as she put it: ‘You time.’ The Illusive Man is far less restrained by such concerns.”

“That’s an understatement,” Shepard sighed. “What is this about?”

“His contact message only indicated it was a matter of galactic importance.”

Shepard huffed slightly as he shook his head.

“Why can’t he ever just call to say ‘Hi’?” the Commander mused as he stood up and stretched.

————————————————————

The image of a unique star, ringed in blue and centered in a burning red took shape in front of Shepard as the Normandy's on-board Quantum Entanglement Communicator recreated the scene of the Illusive Man’s office.

His arms crossed, Shepard kept his stance firm as he prepared for whatever insanity the head of Cerberus was preparing to throw at him, and was not surprised to see the influential leader standing with his back to the hologram projector, taking a drag off of a cigarette.

“Shepard,” the Illusive Man started without turning around. “I understand your mission with the geth you recovered on board the Derelict Reaper was a success.”

“Somehow, I doubt you called just to talk to me about Legion,” Shepard stated, his tone very matter-of-factly as he tried to plow through the superficial statements.

“No… Although I do find the continued cooperation between yourself and this particular geth to be quite... enlightening, you are quite right. That is not the reason for this interruption.”

“So what’s the emergency?” Shepard asked, wanting to get to the heart of the matter.

The Illusive Man turned as he took another puff from the cigarette, his glowing blue cybernetic-enhanced eyes giving the impression of spinning in place as he focused his gaze on the hologram of Shepard before continuing.

“You remember Doctor Chandana’s science team? The one that found the Reaper corpse that you recovered both the IFF and your new synthetic compatriot from?”

Shepard grunted slightly, remembering all too well the "scientists" that had assaulted his team in that deathtrap. “Yeah… They were driven to insanity, indoctrinated, and then turned into husks. It was a total loss.”

“That is what we believed as well… However, new evidence indicates that this was not the case.”

Shepard didn’t want to admit it, but now he was intrigued. “I’m listening.”

The Illusive Man allowed himself a brief smile.

“We had thought that all members of Chandana’s team had been accounted for on the Derelict Reaper when it was destroyed…” the Illusive Man explained. “However, three hours ago, we received a coded subspace message on Cerberus encrypted frequencies… Specifically, from Doctor Chandana’s second-in-command, one Doctor Horace Milligan… a specialist in xeno-technology. He sent us a text report followed by an S.O.S.”

“Tell me about the report,” Shepard inquired.

“It was not included in Chandana’s records. Why? We don’t really know... But it appears that Milligan was put in charge of studying the weapon that Cerberus discovered using trajectories from the Great Rift on Klendagon, while Chandana took the bulk of the science team to the Derelict Reaper’s location.”

“That was the weapon that disabled the Reaper… I thought you said it was defunct.”

“It is. Shepard, this weapon predates the evolution of every single sentient species currently in the galaxy by more than fifteen million years… When it fired, mammals on Earth hadn't even learned how to walk upright. The vast majority of its components have been worn away by time and what little we have recovered tells us nothing about its function or design. However, according to Milligan’s new report, he and a team of seven other scientists pursued a new lead based on an energy signature residue that was present inside what we now believe was the weapon’s power source.”

“An element zero core?” Shepard assumed, knowing that nearly all advanced technology in the galaxy was based on the harnessing of Element Zero and the mass effect fields it generated.

“No… That is what intrigued Milligan… and why I myself have taken a personal interest.” The Illusive Man took another drag on his cigarette. “Whatever this energy is, it’s even more advanced than anything the Protheans created. It's capable of lasting for tens of millions of years, can be produced without eezo, and can supply power to a weapon that can destroy a Reaper Capital Ship from clear across a star cluster.”

Shepard gave the Illusive Man a sideways look. He sounded excited, just a bit; the possibilities breaking though his perpetually calm mask. Apparently, the head of Cerberus realized this as well and regained his composure.

“This could be the godsend we’ve all been waiting for, Shepard. While it may not be on the same level as Reaper tech, this energy could give humanity the edge we need to fight back when the Reapers finally do come in force.”

“And here comes the snag…” Shepard said, already seeing where this conversation was going.

“Indeed.” The Illusive Man shook his head. “The text report was corrupted when it was transmitted, suggesting that Milligan’s team had to improvise in whatever was used to send the message. That indicates that their ship was either disabled or destroyed before they could catalog whatever it is they found. The S.O.S. is likewise vague, as it used an archaic analogue distress pattern.”

The Illusive Man brought up an omni-tool on his arm, tapping the holographic interface for a moment before a series of intermittent beeps could be heard.

Shepard was visibly stunned. He hadn’t heard anything like this since a class in ancient military history back at Alliance Academy. Of course, having passed that class with flying colors, he was able to place it.

“Morse Code?”

“That's right.” The Illusive Man nodded. “It took our futuristic computer-obsessed techs an hour to realize it was more than static and then another twenty minutes to realize what it really was… And then they had to brush off a centuries-old manual just to translate it. But I believe that someone with your training will have an easier time of it.”

Shepard listened for a moment.

“We… are… still… alive… Send… help…” Shepard’s eyes narrowed as he listened to the beeps, his mind scrambling for everything he could remember during his training relating to old military codes and protocols. His eyes widened as the last series of beeps ran though his mental translation. “Send… Shepard…”

“The message repeats on a loop after that.” The Illusive Man pressed another button, disabling his omni-tool and causing it to vanish. “And use of such an archaic form of communication may also suggest they were attempting to send out the message under the radar, so to speak.”

“It could be another trap,” Shepard reasoned, remembering all too well the last "distress call" they had answered, which led them into an ambush at the heart of a Collector ship. An ambush which the Illusive Man was all too eager to send them into.

“Definitely,” the Illusive Man agreed. “To my knowledge, Doctor Milligan was in no way acquainted with you, so such a specific request in aid is questionable, at best. But if they recovered anything that could help us learn about this power source, it would be well worth the risk.”

“And saving the remaining science team might be a good idea…” Shepard’s tone was accusing, as, clearly, the preservation of these scientists' lives was not at the top of the Illusive Man’s priority list.

“If at all possible, their survival would be preferred…” the Illusive Man agreed in an offhanded manner. “But your primary concern on this mission has to be the recovery of Doctor Milligan’s research and anything that he has discovered in relation to this power source. I am sending EDI all of the data we have, including information on where we believe the transmission originated from: an until now unexplored star system in the Hawking Eta Cluster of the Attican Traverse.”

“Any idea what we’ll find out there?” Shepard asked, not caring for the lack of intelligence or the vagaries of the assignment.

“None… But if there’s anyone who can accomplish this, Shepard… it’s you,” the Illusive Man noted. “You’ve done the impossible before; this should be a walk in the park. You have my complete confidence.”

—————————————————————

“Complete confidence…” Jacob Taylor shook his head. “Another way of saying ‘Go take care of this while I sit back on my lazy ass.'”

“Well, nothing’s been able to stop you so far, Shepard.” Miranda Lawson, the top Cerberus operative on board the Normandy nodded over the conference table to Shepard as the fourth member of the meeting, the salarian Mordin Solus, stood by in uncharacteristic silence. “I can understand why the Illusive Man would trust you with something like this.”

EDI’s holographic form erupted from the projector on the conference table at this, the ship’s A.I. giving her own opinion.

“At our current speed, we will arrive at the star system in approximately two hours, Shepard. The sample of the power source residue energy signature should allow us to narrow our search using the Normandy’s mineral scanner.”

“How will that help? Shouldn’t we try to find the science team’s ship transponder?” Miranda asked.

“Attempts to track the Cerberus transponder signal have failed. However, it was confirmed that Doctor Milligan’s team took the original sample of the energy residue with them. Thus, it should still be in the possession of the survivors, if any remain.”

“Or whoever took it from them,” Miranda noted dryly.

“We still have no proof that Milligan’s team is compromised. They could still be alive out there,” Jacob interrupted.

Shepard nodded and turned to the salarian who was looking off into space. “Mordin, what do you think?”

“Uncertain. Not enough data. Too many unknown elements. Promise of power source could be lure. Same with S.O.S. Playing on human predisposition towards search and rescue. All methods used to draw out response. Unlikely the Collectors would use same method twice. But… could have predicted that we predict they would not use the same method. Difficult call…” Mordin paused a moment, taking a deep sniff of air. “…Glad it’s not mine.”

“We are also approaching a critical stage with the installation of the Reaper IFF,” EDI interrupted. “Cerberus Protocols indicate that all senior officers of the organization remain on board while the physical integration takes place.”

“She’s right… If something goes wrong when we plug that thing in, we need to be here to counteract it,” Miranda agreed.

“Which means that Miranda and I will be sitting this one out…” Jacob sighed in agitation, pushing away from the conference table.

“Grateful I am not a Cerberus officer. Doubt resumé would meet standards in any case. Much better employment opportunities available. Waste management in vorcha habitat for instance,” Mordin mused in his usual rapid-fire manner. “Should decide now, Shepard. Unknown what you are heading into. Need to prep and brief squad. Recommend rest of crew focus on IFF installation.”

Miranda nodded in agreement.

“So… who will you be taking with you?”

Choices:

"Let's see what we can learn." (Mordin and Tali)

"We need to be discrete." (Garrus and Thane)

"I need people I can trust." (Garrus and Tali)

"We should expect hostiles." (Jack and Grunt)

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