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Fanfic / On the Shoulders of Giants

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In an alternate version of 1969, closer examination of images from Mars sent back to Earth by Mariner 6, reveal something unusual, a seven by five kilometer blot west of Flaugergues Crater. Later probes reveal the blot to be the ruins of an alien city, dubbed 'Bradbury City'. As a result of the discovery, the Space Race not only doesn't end, but picks up pace, resulting in space exploration and related science advancing further and faster than in the OTL with the aid of alien artifacts found on Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System.


Given that the ATL is actually set in an alternate version of the Mass Effect universe rather than reality (a very alternate one, at that), this head start is probably going to come in handy.

Available on Alternate,, and previously on its very own wiki, which got got deleted by accident.

Provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Largely averted. The first time an existing AI attempted to reproduce ended very badly indeed, but even then that disaster only resulted in one newly-created AI that was actively malicious, and it was prevented from doing any actual harm by its own siblings. It does however appear that A.I.s are capable of experiencing mental illness pretty much the same way humans are.
    • The Berserkers, a machine race with unknown goals that have plagued the Local Bubble for thousands of years for unknown reasons, fit this very well.
    • A.I.s in most of the Galaxy appear to be more of the "designed to be evil" route, with sociopathic, bloodthirsty personalities — which makes sense, as both the Etcha Concordiat and the Citadel Alliance primarily make them for war or infiltration.
    • The geth do not count in this timeline. While they did rebel, most of the quarians remained sympathetic to their wanting to be free, thanks in part to legends and stories dating back to their "Medieval" period where quetzel-like machines saved them, leading to a love of sapient machines among the majority of the population. The remaining ones who hated the A.I.s fled from quarian space to form the Exile Fleet, who blockaded the Veil from the rest of the galaxy, preventing anyone from either side from seeing what was going on.
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  • Alien Space Bats: though not literal ASB's... yet. Space feathered snakes, Space Laser Dragons, Space Squids, Space Tree People, Space Cat People, Space Nightmare Monsters, though...
  • Aliens Speaking English: Justified in that most of the English speaking aliens learnt the language following first contact with humanity. Or, in the case of the europans, already knew it due to watching and listening to our broadcasts for decades.
    • Played with a bit more since SAC employees are expected to at least attempt to learn the dominant language of each world. So not only is there aliens speaking English, there's alien speaking humans.
  • All There in the Manual: The wiki contains a lot of information and technical details that don't appear in the story itself.
  • Alternate History: Obviously.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Karen Shepard loses her right arm in the Battle of Capella against the Berserker.
  • Armour-Piercing Question: "What exactly is a soul, and what is it good for?" Asked of the Pope, no less, by one of the A.I.s. Humanity's still arguing about the answer.
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  • Artificial Intelligence: Quite a few of them, including a committed Marxist who's more or less running the USSR, a philanthropist, a decorated war hero, an encryption specialist with a fondness for H.P.Lovecraft, a British AI who's apparently working on becoming the first synthetic billionaire, and a Japanese AI with low self-esteem. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: The irinai managed to well and truly cross the line with both the CDC and the SAC at the same time. Cue the two groups teaming up to beat up the hamsters. The fight ended with the irinai being beaten back to their homeworld and having their spaceflight capability destroyed, and the previously competitive CDC and SAC forming the NATO-like Local Compact, the largest and arguably most powerful military alliance in the Local Bubble.
    • The Berserkers later managed to unite the kravok Convergence and the Local Compact, doing much the same that the irinai did.
  • Badass Army: The Espatiers. They are trained extensively and are able to fight effectively in a variety of extremely hostile environments, up to and including hard vacuum, and/or in confined spaces onboard spacecraft, and they've been known to perform orbital drops.
    • The USC Synthetic Warfare Command. As the name implies, it's made up entirely of A.I.s, each of which control multiple combat craft. To be accepted into it's ranks requires the AI to have the rank of Deputy Commander or higher, as well as having served as the AI of a combat craft for at least ten years, and the Flight Director is a three thousand year old Quetzal AI who has more combat experience than anyone else in the Local Cluster.
    • The Vanguard Program. The SAC's answer to the Spectres, a group of heavily armed and armored soldiers with AI implants and the best training imaginable.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted. The edani, who are a race of creatures made of three separate life forms living symbiotically with one another and who look like nightmarish spider monsters, are some of the closest allies of humanity and are great friends. The irinai, on the other hand, look like a race of two-foot-tall gerbils and hamsters, and are utterly adorable... except that they view all species, including their own, as "useful resources," and are capable of turning living beings into horrifying examples of biotechnology, and are considered terrible enemies of both the SAC and CDC.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: To date, most of the alien races encountered by humanity are Starfish Aliens at best. The closest to human form that anyone has found so far are the kravok, which have triple-jointed arms and legs and have skin that looks like bark. At least, until the Compact meets the Citadel in 2080, and the discovery of the asari Tela T'Loak in 2069.
  • Chummy Commies: Due to a variety of factors the main one being that their economy is being run by an AI the Soviet Union is still around in the twenty-first century, however the Cold War sort of fizzled out decades ago after the horde of genocidal death-bots turned up and forced humanity to join forces against a common enemy. We've all been through too much together to squabble amongst ourselves.
  • Cool Starship: O'Neill, a space habitat retrofitted with thirty FTL cores making it the largest FTL-capable object known.
    • Slightly less cool then O'Neil are the Ves'aw'eik-class, 342m long heavy combat craft with enough firepower to one-shot a Berserker Leviathan; and the Iarcha mobile dock, an FTL capable mobile dock controlled by an AI, equipped with a large scale rapid manufacturing system (read: giant 3D printer), and theoretically capable of manufacturing entire spacecraft.
    • Petan. Last (known) surviving AI of the quetzel race, his entire body is a starship, and now has a small flock of drone ships that he controls.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The SAC. So far their preparedness includes orbital defenses around their planets, covering cities with kinetic barrier domes that are capable of withstanding kinetic orbital bombardment, establishing multiple strategic reserves of neutrium, and letting O'Neil go exploring the galaxy in order to have a 'back-up population' should the SAC fall to the Berserkers or anyone else. Basically what you'd expect from a group that's fought one war of survival and knows that there'll be another.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: humanity's allies include the quetzal, a race of 'feathered snakes'; the tiaunt, who can be summed up by the phrase 'dragons with Eye Beams'; and the edani, who look like something straight out of a particularly inventive horror movie. All are fairly nice people, especially the edani.
  • Dead Fic: Sadly, but yes. The author is writing a spiritual successor titled "Seeing Further" (which is based on the title quote in a different way- "If I have seen further it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.") The story is somewhat the same, but set in an original universe, rather than the Mass Effect world. There are familiar elements- Petan and the Quetzel come back, for example, but it's purely original work.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: The first sample of human-made graphene was created with the help of duct tape.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: the raloi (a race of bird-like beings that debuted in the Cerberus News Network files between Mass Effect 2 and 3, but never made it to the game) get discovered by the O'Niell station in 2061, over one hundred and twenty years before they were discovered in the Canon timeline. However, first contact has yet to happen between the Compact and the raloi, partially because the raloi are still at an industrial level of society, and the Compact thinks that it will be more interesting to watch them grow and make contact on their own terms.
  • Enemy Civil War: The Kravok appear to be heading toward one, as several of their conquered client races start to fight back.
  • Energy Weapon: SAC ships are typically designed to have laser-based weaponry, but not exclusively.
  • Everything's Better with Spinning: it turns out that having a rotating hull increases the speed of FTL drives, or as one reviewer put it, "Thank you, Warringer, for making a setting where the Giga Drill Breaker is a viable form of transportation."
  • Eye Beams: The tiaunt have biological lasers that come out of (some) of their eyes.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The SAC and, probably, the CDC. Fighting for your survival against genocidal spacecraft tends to have that effect.
    • The relationship between the SAC and CDC would also count. They started out suspicious of each other and almost came to blows at least once. A couple of joint operations against the irinai and Preservers later and they'd formed a NATO-esque alliance known as the Local Compact.
  • Five-Man Band: Made for the fans.
  • Freak Out: When Asari Tela T'Loak discovered that one of her friends was an AI with a human-shaped robot body, a fact that he had quite literally forgotten to mention, she did freak out... because both the Citadel Alliance and the Etcha Concordiat use infiltrator AI's that utilize robot bodies that look and act like people, right up until they start slaughtering everyone. The misunderstanding was cleared up quite quickly, however. It did also lead the author to write the short story "Conflicting Thoughts," which looked at the reason why Tela left on her scouting mission and why she reacts as badly as she did to her close friend being an AI. An AI disguised as an organic became close friends with her, but then the programming activated and tried to kill her and a Salarian scientist.
  • Gunship Rescue: First contact with the edani involved a human armed exploration vessel showing up in the middle of a Berserker attack on the edani homeworld, opening fire on the Berserkers and turning the tide of the battle which the edani had previously been losing.
    • The Local Compact met the main governments of the risachen this way by saving them from the Kravok Convergence.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A human vessel, the SC Intrepid, rammed a Berserker that was attacking the tiaunt homeworld, destroying it at the cost of the Intrepid and its crew.
  • Had to Be Sharp: Applies to all spacefaring Local Cluster races due to it being, in the words of one fan, 'the scary part of the galaxy'.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: Played very, very straight with the Irinai. Don't let the cute and fuzzy exterior fool you.
  • It's Raining Men: The SAC has, and has repeatedly deployed, orbital drop troops.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Played with. Food compatibility levels are mentioned a few times, with only one planet having 100% compatibility with humans, something which is put down to panspermia. The Europans being fully compatible with Earth's biosphere is a bit more of a headscratcher though. The atmospheres of the inhabited planets are all different, although most are human-friendly, the exception being Enend, the edani homeworld which has a large amount of sulphur dioxide in its atmosphere. Additionally, non-allied species include two dextro-amino based races. And then there's the quetzal who due to their planet being biochemically varied have some adaptions to their physiology that allow them to more or less laugh in the face of biochemical barriers, but who on the other hand require regular intakes of mercury and arsenic in their diets.
    • Averted for Ardat-Yakshi when it comes to mating, see No-Sell.
  • No-Sell: After reviewing the data on Ardat-Yakshi, the SAC decided to keep Morinth on either an edani or tiaunt world, because they were somewhat immune to their effects- the edani because their bizarre biology made melding impossible, and the tiaunt because a) they have two brains, and b) even if she did meld with a tiaunt, it would most likely burn out the brain that controls the eyes... which would also set off the lasers, which would kill her.
  • Noodle Incident: In 2071, there is a slight incident involving Tela T’Loak, the Avatar of Nelson, two Quetzal, three Europans, an inter colony transport of cooking oil and an erotic shop.
  • Nuke 'em: The SOP of the Bersekers. Humanity also seems to be rather fond of using Casaba-Howitzers and Tsar Bomba-size nukes; the former as spacecraft weaponry, the latter for when they want something well and truly destroyed.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Karen Shepard drunkenly declaring herself "God Empress of Mars" comes to bite her back several times in hilarious ways, especially after the God Emperor of Jerat supports a movement to actually make that her official title when Mars becomes independent.
  • Precursors: Okay, this gets a little complicated. As this is set in the Mass Effect universe, there's the canon ones like the protheans (although they play less of a role then they did in canon) and the Reapers. Then there's the races that humanity has dubbed the 'Elder Things' and 'Thark' respectively due to how they seem to have looked, who once had outposts on Mars but which got killed off. Then there's the quetzal and europans, the former of which served as precursors for both humanity and the tiaunt, while the latter also acted a precursors for humanity and gets bonus points for actually being survivors of the cycle before the protheans and being referred to as the 'precursors of precursors'. However both depart from the precursor-norm in that they a) are still around, and b) have been knocked back to the point where they're reliant on help from the younger races, mainly humanity. Then there's out and out Abusive Precursors in the form of whoever created the Berserkers.
    • Maybe Abusive Precursors. the actual intent of the creators haven't been revealed thus far, and this is a universe where A.I. Is a Crapshoot is a possibility...
    • Then there's the canon, Mass Effect Abusive Precursors, The Reapers.
    • Then there are the Habitat Builders, who were only recently discovered and from whom the Compact is learning construction materials from, even though they are extinct.
    • It's strongly implied that the kravok were heavily influenced by prothean technology, as their religion implies that a "Great Disaster," is coming, and their technology seems far more in line with Mass Effect canon-tech than the Compact's tech.
    • A recent post indicated that beings similar to the quetzel visited Rannoch several hundred years ago, during the quarian's medieval period.
  • Properly Paranoid: The SAC seems to have a talent for this trope, mainly with regards to any tech that seems in any way suspicious. Appropriately, it's motto is "Always Vigilant."
  • Ramming Always Works: Has been employed against the Berserkers at least twice, once by the SC Intrepid and once by Petan. In both cases it did as much damage to the rammer as the rammee, resulting in a Heroic Sacrifice on the part of the Intrepid's crew, and Petan having to get a new 'body'.
  • Religion Is Wrong: Averted in a way that most sci-fi fans wouldn't expect: Noah Bergman becomes a Rabbi. The shocking bit? Noah Bergman is an Artificial Intelligence, proving that science and religion can in fact, mix.
  • Robot War: The Berserker War. Somewhat subverted in that there's a number of A.I.s fighting on the 'organic' side.
  • Sapient Ship: Petan and Tirpitz.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sol Is The Centre Of The Universe: An awful lot has happened in the Solar System over the centuries.
    • The author has said that it is precisely because Earth was in the middle of nowhere that so many races are interested in it, as it's a good place to hide. So... oddly enough, it's played straight because it was averted.
    • Despite being set in the larger Mass Effect universe, the Local Bubble has had most, if not all, of the focus of the story so far, and has given rise to more races in a three hundred light-year diameter bubble than the entirety of the canon Mass Effect galaxy. Debate on the forums as to why exactly this is is ongoing.
  • Space Is an Ocean: Averted. In fact the author puts a lot of effort into doing so, to the point of inventing new terms for things, for example, the name for troops on spacecraft is "espatiers" rather then Space Marines.
  • Space Station: A lot of them. Humanity seems to be particularly enthusiastic about the concept, with almost twenty of various sizes and functions in LEO and cislunar space. Not all play major roles in the plot though.
    • A space station that probably is important to the plot is Central, the SAC's answer to the Citadel, which is located in the Epsilon Eridani system and which the SAC built themselves.
    • Another is the O'Neill, an FTL-equipped station about half the size of the Citadel, which is dead set on a voyage nearly 6,000 light years away, straight through what was known (but not in-story) as Citadel Space. Eventually, forces from the O'Neill were the ones to make first contact with the Citadel.
    • The Habitat Builders, who died out almost a million years ago, built orbital structures so well that roughly 20,000 Compact Citizens decided to move into them.
  • Starfish Aliens: Most of the Local Cluster races, but especially the Edani.
    • To the point where the running joke on the Spacebattles Forum was that compared to things like the Quetzel or Edani, the Asari (which are nearly identical to humans except for a few differences) were going to be the source of much Uncanny Valley. This turned out to be incorrect.
    • Until first contact was made with the Asari, the most human-like species encountered were the Kravok, who have triple-jointed limbs, glowing red eyes, and skin that looks like bark. Oh, and no lips.
  • Super Soldier: The SAC's Espatier Special Operatives Group, or Vanguards; squads of extensively screened and carefully selected volunteers who are each partnered with an AI that at least partly resides in an implanted Direct Neural Interface, and equipped with state of the art powered armor.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The 'Bigger Brothers' variant. The Kravok were invading the far less advanced Risachen with the intention of basically enslaving them and the Risachen were losing the fight. Then the SAC and CDC showed up, saw what was happening, and proceeded to drive the kravok off the planet.
    • Arguably also applies to the Europans and quetzal. The former are basically squid who due to a lack of metal on their world didn't have spaceflight capability until they bought some spacecraft off someone else, and the latter are a Racial Remnant that is largely dependent on humanity. However they're also members of the Local Cluster's version of The Federation and as such have three very well armed allies. Not to mention that they both live in the Solar System and are therefore under the protection of fellow SAC member humanity more or less by default.
  • Take That!: Originally much more prominent in the story, where Christians and Republicans began carrying the Idiot Ball on a mass scale by demanding all space travel cease because the quetzal are vaguely snakelike. Toned down after readers complained that the timeline was becoming less an interesting story and more a bash-fic against groups the author dislike, since the majority of Christians would be interested in comparing theology with aliens and trying to find common points while Republicans have traditionally been supporters of programs such as NASA and DARPA in comparison to Democrats who have traditionally favored routing money from those programs into social programs. After a few revisions it turned into a much more realistic depiction of fringe movements. The Church of Scientology as a terrorist organization still stands, however.
    • The "Liberty City" arc grew grating on many reviewers because it seemed like an extended "Take That," against the Tea Party movement and extreme-right-wing Republicans.
  • The Alliance: The MSPP and CDC.
    • More recently there's the Local Compact, a NATO-like alliance between the SAC and CDC.
    • And the Anti-Berserker Alliance between the Kravok Convergence and the Local Compact.
  • The Federation: The Mutual Space Protection Pact's successor, the Systems Atarda Confederation (SAC) seems to be heading in this direction.
    • The Local Compact, a military alliance between the CDC and SAC, is very much a traditional version of this. Contrary to expectations, colonies (and species) are not ruled by a single race, but each colony and nation are allowed to become independent. In effect, the Compact has hundreds, if not thousands of member nations, colonies, and planets, but they are all individuals.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Played with. Due to the various departures from the OTL, the Soviet Union is still around and run by an AI
    • Though Poland recently broke off from the Soviet Union; Apparently this was done mostly because several Polish reviewers complained.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. According to the wiki, there's even at least one AI getting therapy, something which kind of says a lot about the setting.
    • The short story, "The Sounds of Silence," that tells things from the AI (Petan)'s point of view, shows that nearly 3,000 years of psychological trauma will not be easily overcome.
  • Training from Hell: several on the Spacebattles Forum speculated that the Berserkers were a form of this, forcing species to advance quickly to overcome their attacks and form powerful fighting forces. What they were training the races of the Local Bubble for is a subject of some contention, ranging from other alien races to the Reapers themselves.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Averted. Humans, AI's, space squids, laser dragons, winged snakes, and nightmarish symbionts all manage to live together in the spirit of mutual defense and friendship.
    • And now that the Local Compact is formed, they're also living with torpedo crows, non-hive-minded ants, cat people, and multi-eyed raptors.
    • Further averted from a story-telling perspective in that most of the more well-developed and 'fleshed out' characters are A.I.s.
  • You Didn't Ask: The reason that Rabbi Noah Bergman didn't reveal to Tela T'Loak that he's an AI. Unlike other examples, it isn't because he's a jerk, it's that AI are so thoroughly accepted into SAC society, and the O'Niel station in particular, that he's honestly confused as to why Tela is freaking out. Tela, however, had a bad experience with an AI that resembled an organic long ago, so she sees it as a betrayal.

The tropes that have been affected by butterflies: