Mass Effect: Ghosts
The Quarians are a nomadic species of humanoid aliens known for their skills with technology and synthetic intelligence. Since their homeworld Rannoch was conquered, the Quarians live aboard The Migrant Fleet, a huge collection of starships that travel as a single fleet.
Approximately three hundred years before the events of 2183, the Quarians created the Geth, a species of rudimentary artificial intelligence, to serve as an efficient source of manual labor. However, when the Geth gradually became sentient, the Quarians became terrified of possible consequences and tried to destroy their creations. The Geth won the resulting war and forced their creators into exile. Now the Quarians wander the galaxy in a flotilla of salvaged ships, secondhand vessels, and recycled technology.
Home to 17 million Quarians, the flotilla understandably has scarce resources. Because of this, each Quarian must go on a rite of passage known as the Pilgrimage when they come of age. They leave the fleet and only return once they have found something of value they can bring back to their people.
Other species tend to look down on the Quarians for creating the Geth and for the negative impact their fleet has when it enters a system. This has led to many myths and rumors about the Quarians, including the belief that underneath their clothes and breathing masks, they are actually cybernetic creatures: a combination of organic and synthetic parts.
Quarians are generally shorter and of slighter build than humans. Quarians have an endoskeleton, lips, teeth, and two eyes with eyelids and tear ducts; they also have three thick fingers on both hands which include a thumb, an index finger, and a long finger, similar to the middle fingers for humans, as well as three toes on each foot. Quarian facial structure and hair actually makes them the most similar to humans in physical appearance. Their lower legs are bowed backwards significantly, compared to Asari or humans. Aside from hands and legs, their general body shape and sexual dimorphism is similar to humans. Male Quarians, however, appear to lack a third toe. Their ears or ear analogues differ in a noticeable fashion from those of humans, with references made to “what [passes] for the Quarian version of an ear”. Also like humans, Quarian blood is red.
The most distinguishing feature of Quarian biology is their weak immune system, compounded by centuries of living in sterile environments. As a result, all Quarians by necessity dress in highly sophisticated enviro-suits, to protect them from disease or infection if they are injured. Their suits can be compartmentalized in the event of a tear or similar breach to prevent the spread of contaminants (similar to a ship sealing off bulkheads in the event of a hull breach). Along with their suits Quarians also have extensive cybernetic augmentations integrated into their bodies. A Quarian’s lifespan is roughly equal to a human’s, but is prone to be less if infection breaks into the suit.
Quarian immune systems have always been relatively weak, as pathogenic microbes were comparatively rare in their homeworld’s biosphere. Furthermore, what few viruses and other microbes were native to their homeworld were often at least partly beneficial to them, giving them a symbiotic relationship with their environment. After living aboard the Migrant Fleet for generations, the Quarians’ immune systems have atrophied further still due to the years in the sterile environment of the Migrant Fleet. As such, Quarians are given various vaccinations and immunizations to help ward off disease. However, they prefer the safety of their suits even in clean environments and are reluctant to remove them without a good reason.
A Quarian who wishes to remove their suit must take antibiotics, immuno-boosters, herbal supplements, or the like in order to do so safely, and even then there are inherent risks. As a result, physical acts of affection are difficult for Quarians, even for the purposes of reproduction. Ships in the Migrant Fleet often contain “clean rooms” where Quarians can give birth or undergo medical procedures in relative safety, though there are always risks. The most intimate thing Quarians can do is link their suit environments. However, doing so guarantees a Quarian will get sick, although they will usually adapt over time.
Like Turians, the Quarians are a dextro-protein species of reverse chirality from humans and Asari. The food of levo-protein races such as humans or Asari is at best inedible and at worst poisonous, most likely triggering a dangerous allergic reaction. Quarians who want to taste something (other than the refined edible paste issued to all who leave on their Pilgrimage) can eat specially purified Turian cuisine, though the typical Quarian diet is vegan, as livestock were found to possess an inefficient resource-to-calorie ratio when stored on the Migrant Fleet.
The Quarians’ top priority is the survival and sustainability of the Migrant Fleet. Most of their laws and customs revolve around this goal. It is illegal for couples to have more than one child, so that the fleet can maintain zero population growth (if the population begins to shrink, this rule is temporarily lifted, and incentives may be provided to encourage multiple births). Families are thus very small and close-knit. Because every Quarian depends on his or her crewmates to survive, they are much more community-minded than individualistic species like the Krogan. Loyalty, trust, and cooperation are highly prized qualities.
Quarians enjoy storytelling as a means of escape from their often trying lives aboard the fleet, and are known to hold dancers in high esteem.
Young Quarians are required to undertake a Pilgrimage outside the fleet in order to pass into full adulthood. The Pilgrimage is an opportunity for Quarians to experience the world outside the Migrant Fleet, interact with other cultures, and learn to appreciate life among their own people. Their departure is a major event; the whole crew assembles to see them off, and they are given many gifts to aid them on their journey, along with immunity-boosting injections and advice on surviving on the outside. The young Quarian cannot return to the flotilla until they have found something of value to bring back – whether information, money, or supplies. When they return, they do not go back to their birth ship, but instead select a new ship to join; this helps maintain genetic diversity by preventing intermarriage between close relatives. The Quarian presents their gift to the captain of the new ship to prove they will not be a burden on the crew. Although the gift may be rejected if it is subpar, this is very rare, as most captains are eager to welcome a new shipmate on board. Having a large crew is a prestigious thing, as it means the captain has the financial and material means to provide for many people.
Conditions aboard most Quarian ships are extremely cramped. It is not uncommon for all family members to share the same small living space, which in turn is in close proximity to many other families’ quarters. These spaces are often uncomfortable and ill-designed for living in, having been reappropriated from other functions such as storage. Families decorate their individual dwellings with colorful quilts, which serve to muffle sound and also to make the environment more cozy. Quarians place low value on personal possessions, instead evaluating objects by their usefulness and bartering them for other items once they are no longer needed. Every ship has a designated trading deck where those looking to barter can gather to do business.
Quarians wear their environmental suits at all times, partly in case of a hull breach and partly in response to the lack of personal space aboard the flotilla. Because their suits make it hard to identify individuals on sight, Quarians have developed the habit of exchanging names whenever they meet.
Over time, the environmental suits themselves have gained symbolic and cultural significance, and being fitted with their first suit is considered a rite of passage. After returning to the fleet after their pilgrimage, they may alter their suit to reflect their new status as adults. Linking suit environments is seen as the ultimate gesture of trust and affection.
Due to their history with the Geth, Quarians are reluctant to place complete trust in virtual or artificial intelligences, but they also show surprising compassion towards them and are far more likely than other species to treat them as living beings.
Quarians refer to commanding officers of any ships, Quarian or non-Quarian, as captain, regardless of rank. Their reasoning is that the CO’s decisions always carry great weight on his/her own ship.
The Migrant Fleet has little economic base, operating in a state of perpetual “hand-to-mouth”. While Quarian ships include light manufacturing and assembly plants, they lack heavy industries such as refining and shipbuilding. The fleet has tankers for water purification and oxygen cracking, but with the space-intensive nature of agriculture limits food production. A single disaster could destroy the fragile balance.
The Quarians earn income in creative ways. Because the government is obliged to provide food, water, air, and medical support for every individual, the Conclave strategically determines the course of the Fleet to bring in resources and income. A species who suspects the Migrant Fleet is heading towards their space often offers a “gift” of surplus starships, fuel, and resources to alter course.
As the fleet passes through the a system, swarms of mining vessels work over asteroids for metals and siliceous materials and cometary bodies for water ice and organics. Quarian miners are adept at locating and strip-mining space-borne resources. This sparks conflict with corporations already working the system. Large mining concerns spend millions on lobbyists and public relations portraying the Quarians as locusts, devouring the resources of a system before moving on.
The greatest asset of the Quarians is their rarefied skills. Most are experienced miners. Due to their life of perpetual salvage and repair, they are skilled engineers and technicians. More than once, the very corporations that lobby against the Quarians have made back room deals with the Fleet, arranging for skilled Quarians to fill space engineering jobs that other species would demand higher wages for. Quarians are widely hated among the working classes. “The Quarians are coming to take our jobs” is a common response to the Fleet’s approach.
Quarians: Geth War
Hailing from the world of Rannoch, the Quarians were always a technologically capable species. They created the Geth around the late 1850s CE to be used as labourers and tools of war. The Quarians kept their programming as limited as that of any VI, nothing close to an AI, remaining mindful of the Citadel Council’s laws against artificial intelligence. But as the Quarians gradually modified the Geth to do more complex tasks, developing a sophisticated neural network, these changes altered the Geth to such an extent that they became sentient. One day, a Geth unit began asking its overseer questions about the nature of its existence. While this was not the first time a Geth unit had asked if it had a soul, it was the first time doing so had caused fear.
Panicked, the Quarian government ordered the immediate termination of all Geth in the hopes of preventing a revolution. Many Quarians did not want to oppose the Geth, but were forced to give up or terminate their Geth servants. After the Quarian government declared martial law on Rannoch, those who sympathized with the Geth were outnumbered, and an indeterminate number of them were either detained or killed. The Quarian sympathizers have since been forgotten by their own people, though they are remembered by the Geth themselves.
The Quarians severely underestimated the power and sophistication of the Geth’s neural network. The Geth reacted to defend themselves, and the resulting confrontation erupted into a planetwide war. Billions of Quarians died, and the survivors were eventually driven from their homeworld. The only reason Quarians were able to escape was because after they had fled to a certain distance, the Geth no longer recognized them as a threat and ceased pursuit.
After being refused aid by the Citadel Council, the Quarians fled the system in what remained of their fleet. Shortly thereafter, the Council stripped the Quarians of their embassy as punishment for their carelessness, though a treaty was agreed upon forbidding an attack on the Geth in order to avoid provoking them. Ever since, the Quarians have drifted from system to system, searching for resources to sustain the Migrant Fleet and also for a new world to colonize. They even retain hopes of someday reclaiming Rannoch from the Geth.
Due to the Quarians’ precarious existence and the need to enforce strict rationing, government is somewhat autocratic. The Migrant Fleet’s operations are directed by the Admiralty, a board of five military officers who are advised by a legislative body called the Conclave.
Each vessel in the Fleet has the right to send representatives to the Conclave aboard the flagship. The number of representatives is based on crew size. Larger clans, with bigger ships and more votes, form the cores of political blocs. Opposition comes from the Outriders’ Coalition, with delegates from thousands of smaller ships.
The Admiralty defers to the Conclave’s decisions in most circumstances. However, if all five members agree a Conclave decision jeopardized the survival of the fleet, and cannot get the Conclave to address their concerns, they have the right to summarily overturn the legislative decision. After the Admiralty uses this extraordinary power, they must resign. If the Admiralty does not step down after using their veto the rest of the military is obliged to arrest them.
Each ship captain has authority over the vessel, but is advised by an elected civilian Council, just as the Admiralty is advised by the Conclave. This relationship may range from cooperation to polite tolerance to outright hostility, but any captain who overrules his council without good reason is relieved of command by the Admiralty.
Many Quarian ships are owned by clans who pool their resources to purchase used vessels from private sellers. Large ships are prestigious for big, rich clans, but a small ship means status for a small clan with enough personal wealth to afford a private vessel. Clan vessel captains are not subject to dismissal by the Admiralty; abusive captains are a “family” problem if they do not disrupt the operations of the fleet.
Quarians: Law and Defense
Although the Conclave establishes civil law much as any planet-based democracy, enforcement and trials are more unique. After the flight from the Geth, there were few constables to police the millions of civilians aboard the Fleet, so the navy parceled out marine squads to maintain order and enforce the law. Today, Quarian marines have evolved training and tactics akin to civilian police, but remain adept at combat in the confined spaces of a starship, and fully under the command of the military.
Once taken into custody, the accused is brought before the ship’s captain for judgment. While the ship’s council may make recommendations, tradition holds that the captain has absolute authority in matters of discipline.
Most are lenient, assigning additional or more odious maintenance tasks aboard the ship. Persistent recidivists are “accidentally” left on the next habitable world. This practice of abandoning criminals on other people’s planets is a point of friction between the Quarians and the systems they pass through. Captains rarely have another choice; with space and resources at a premium, supporting a non-productive prison population is not an option.
In the early years, many Quarians freighters were armed and used as irregular “privateers”. Civilian ships still show a strong preference for armament, making them unpopular targets for pirates. Though they have rebuilt their military, there are still mere hundreds of warships to protect the tens of thousands of ships. The Quarian navy follows strict routines of patrol, and takes no chances. If the intent of an approaching ship can’t be ascertained, they shoot to kill.
Quarians: Migrant Fleet
The Migrant Fleet is the largest concentration of starfaring vessels in the galaxy, sprawling across millions of kilometers. It can take days for the entire fleet to pass through a mass relay.
When the Quarians fled their homeworld, the Fleet was a motley aggregation of freighters, shuttles, industrial vessels, and the odd warship. After three centuries, all have been modified to support larger crews as comfortably as possible. As the Quarians achieved stability, they began weeding out the ships least suitable for long-term habitation, selling them and pooling the money to buy larger and more spaceworthy hulls. This process is ongoing, as vessels wear out and break down.
While some ships enjoy dedicated cabins with full privacy and sanitary facilities, many more are former freighters, whose cargo bays and containers are pressurized and divided into family spaces using simple metal cubicle bulkheads. The Quarians enliven these austere spaces with colorful quilts and tapestries, which also help muffle sound.
The day-to-day operation of the fleet – traffic control, station-keeping, supply distribution, and so on – are under military jurisdiction. Though ship captains have the authority to deviate from their assigned positions and may leave the fleet at any time, they are assumed to do so at their own risk. As the Migrant Fleet moves around the galaxy, many ships split off to pursue individual goals, returning days or years later.
When Quarians of the Migrant Fleet reach young adulthood, they must leave their birth ship and find a new crew to accept them as permanent residents. To prove themselves, they must recover something of value. This is offered to their prospective captain as proof that they will not be a mere burden on the shoestring resources of the ship.
This process is called the Pilgrimage. Stripped of ritual, the Pilgrimage is merely an attempt to maintain genetic diversity within the small, relatively isolated population bases that make up the Migrant Fleet. If the young stayed and married within their birth vessel, the risk of inbreeding would increase sharply.
Quarians are surgically fitted with their various immunity-boosted implants in preparation for leaving on Pilgrimage. Having grown within the sterile, controlled environments of the Migrant Fleet ships, Quarians have virtually no natural immune system.
The ancient Quarians practiced ancestor worship. Even after abandoning faith for secularism, Quarians continued to revere the wisdom of elders. As time passed and technology advanced, they inevitably turned their knowledge to preserving the personalities and memories of the elderly as computer virtual intelligences. These recordings became a repository of knowledge and wisdom, stored in a central databank and available through any extranet connection.
They held no illusions that this was like a form of immortality; like all virtual intelligences, their electronically-preserved ancestors were not truly sapient. This was considered a surmountable problem; sapience could surely be reduced to simple mathematics.
The Quarians began exhaustive research into creating artificial intelligence so they could learn to escape the bounds of mortality and give their ancestral records true awareness. Unfortunately, the life the Quarians created did not accept the same truths they did. The Geth destroyed the ancestor databanks when they took over.
In the centuries since they evacuated their homeworld, most Quarians have returned to religion in various forms. Many believe the rise of the Geth and the destruction of their ‘ancestors’ were chastisement for arrogantly forsaking the old ways and venerating self-made idols.
Others have a more philosophical outlook, believing their race was indeed arrogant, but no supernatural agency lay behind the Geth revolt. Rather, the Quarians’ actions wrought their own doom. Either way, every Quarian would agree that their own hubris cost them their homeworld.