Community Corner: Mass Effect Lore – Quarians

Community Corner

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Mass Effect Lore: Episode 7 – Quarians

by Adam Clark

“After time adrift among open stars, along tides of light and through shoals of dust, I will return to where I began.” To most life forms, these words are meaningless gibberish, but to a Quarian they are practically gospel. The phrase signifies the trials and hardships they have lived with as a species for nearly three hundred years, and the hope that they still hold in their hearts. An entire race without a home; the Quarians have endured more in just a few centuries than other species have in thousands of years.

The Quarians originally dwelt on the planet Rannoch, an arid world composed primarily of desert and rocky mountains; separated from the rest of known space by a gargantuan nebula known as the Perseus Veil. The Quarians lived close to Rannoch’s rare bodies of water and vegetation, and ferociously guarded their homes against any external threat. Even the name Rannoch translates to “walled garden” in ancient Quarian tongue.

Excelling in technological achievements and industrialization, the Quarians created what was intended to be their greatest accomplishment in the late 1850’s of the Council Era. An undivided and unquestioning army of synthetic beings – they were designated “the Geth”. With limited programming and stringent regulations on their protocols, the initial drive of the Geth was to assist in labor and possibly defense should the need arise.

The Council had strict laws in place regarding synthetics and their retained intelligence. The Quarians liberally abided by these laws; always experimenting while making sure no Geth possessed a fully sentient artificial intelligence. As the Geth were continuously upgraded to complete more complex tasks; they developed a sophisticated neural network, a virtual consensus of all Geth minds that could independently learn and develop at an incredible rate. As the Geth’s intelligence grew, they began to question their Quarian creators. The Quarians were terrified that the Geth would eventually become self aware and rebel, so they took steps to deactivate Geth units. Some Quarians protested the deactivation of the Geth and defended them against their fellow Quarians, and in turn, they were also under the protection of their Geth. When Geth began to attack the Quarians who threatened their creators, the Quarian government ordered the immediate termination of all Geth.

The Geth had reached a level of intelligence that dictated they defend themselves, and Rannoch was plunged into war. The Quarians severely underestimated the Geth’s combative ability, and billions of Quarians were killed in just under an orbital year. The survivors had no choice but to flee the planet to a far enough distance that the Geth would no longer recognize them as a threat. The Citadel Council refused aid to the Quarians, and as further punishment for their disregard for Council law, shut down the Quarian Embassy on the Citadel.

Homeless and abandoned, the Quarians are now forced to live on a flotilla comprised of nearly fifty-thousand salvaged vessels appropriately dubbed “the Migrant Fleet”. Consisting of various classes of ships, the Migrant Fleet is home to nearly seventeen-million Quarians, and is so large; it can take days for the fleet to pass through a mass relay. Because resources and interactions with other species are remarkably scarce within the flotilla, each Quarian is required to take a rite of passage known as the Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage is taken when a Quarian reaches young adulthood, and they are required to prove themselves by leaving the fleet to scour the galaxy for anything of adequate value whether it is more resources, another ship for the flotilla, or knowledge that might improve the Quarian way of life. Upon returning from their pilgrimage, the now adult Quarian is assigned a position in the military, a new ship to serve on, and a new life to begin. The Pilgrimage is also an attempt to maintain genetic diversity among the isolated population. If young Quarians were never required to leave their birth ships, inbreeding could become a problem.

Survival and sustainability are the top priorities in the Migrant Fleet. Quarian couples are not allowed to have more than one child; this ensures a population growth factor of nearly zero. If the population were to ever problematically decline, this law would be temporarily lifted and families-incentivized to produce multiple offspring. Unlike the individualistic Krogan, the Quarians are very community-minded. The crew of a ship in the Migrant Fleet is a tight-knit family who rely on one another for most of their lives.

Given the delicate nature of their immune system, Quarians live in constant danger of lethal diseases and infections. Environmental suits must be worn by every Quarian at all times while away from Rannoch, and if the suit is breached, it is almost always considered a death sentence; the ultimate gesture of trust among the Quarians is linking their suits environmental systems together. Any Quarian who wishes to remove their suit must take several antibiotics, Immune-boosters, and herbal supplements, and even then there is a tremendous risk. Most ships in the Migrant Fleet are equipped with a “clean room” for Quarians who are giving birth or undergoing surgery. These rooms are the only place a Quarian can be without their environmental suit in relative safety.

Many aspects of Quarian life have changed due to the insular conditions that come with living in cramped ships.  A common Quarian language has developed throughout the fleet known as Khelish. It is uncommon for any other race to understand Khelish words other than the widely used “bosh’tet”, which is considered to be an insult among Quarians, or the phrase “keelah se’lai” which translates to “by the home world I hope to see one day”.

The galaxy usually sees Quarians as a lesser race. They are looked down upon for creating the Geth and interfering with galactic day-to-day life when their massive fleet enters a system. It is not uncommon to witness a young Quarian being taken advantage of while on their Pilgrimage. An impressionable Quarian with no little-to-no experience outside the Migrant Fleet might borrow credits from the wrong human, stare too long at a short tempered Turian, or simply be in the way of a rampaging Krogan.

Even though the Quarians have signed a treaty with the Citadel Council; agreeing to not attempt a re-occupation of Rannoch, their patience is still wearing thin and their fleet is growing restless. Entire Quarian families are forced to reside in former storage closets while the synthetic Geth have a whole planet to live on. Since the exodus of the Quarians, Rannoch has been transformed into an impregnable fortress world that no organic being would dare step foot on, but that is a story for another day.

— Adam Clark