Saren Arterius, born 2139, was the longest serving turian member of the Spectres, the elite group of galactic law enforcement operatives answering directly to the Citadel Council. For 24 years, he was an agent of the Council's will, a zealous defender of stability in the unsettled border region of the Skyllian Verge.
Official records of Spectres are sealed, but it is known that Saren followed turian tradition and entered the military at the age of 15. In 2155, he was promoted to active service after only a year of training, though it is unclear whether his unit was involved in any of the battles against human forces during the First Contact War of 2157.
In 2159, he became the youngest turian ever accepted into the Spectres. Intelligent, cunning and capable, Saren quickly developed a reputation for ruthless efficiency. Although there were a number of unsettling rumors concerning the brutality of his methods, there was no denying his results.
In recent years, Saren has become an outspoken opponent of human expansion. Like many other non-humans, he believes the Systems Alliance has become overly aggressive in its efforts to establish the people of Earth as a dominant species in Citadel space. Historically, species took centuries to accomplish what humanity had achieved in less than one, and there are several species that have a "lower" standing on the Citadel compared to humanity, despite having been part of the Citadel community longer.
His speciesism is speculated to have originated in the First Contact War, when the turians attacked Shanxi. In 2165, Anita Goyle informs David Anderson that Saren lost a brother in the war and has disliked humanity ever since. After their abortive mission together, Saren retained a particular dislike of Anderson.
Saren has little regard for life. He does not see saving lives as a priority unless the Council deems it necessary, or if there is information to be gathered. He remains the Council's top agent despite his records: Saren may be ruthless and calculating, but he gets results. He follows two principles, the first being: "Never kill anyone without a good reason" and the second: "You can always find a reason to kill someone".
First Contact War
Saren and his brother Desolas served in the turian military during the short battle known to humans as the First Contact War, and to turians as the Relay 314 Incident. Dispatched to Shanxi shortly after the colony's defeat and occupation by Hierarchy forces, the Arterius brothers apprehended Jack Harper and Eva Core after an accident with some ancient ruins left Harper unconscious. Weeks later, the Council had intervened and brokered a ceasefire, effectively ending the war and welcoming humanity to the galactic community. Saren and Desolas then transported their human prisoners back to the Alliance HQ at Arcturus Station.
Eventually it comes to light that the ruins Jack had discovered, codenamed the Arca Monolith, possessed the bizarre ability to transform those exposed to it. Jack's brief exposure had expanded his knowledge and given him strange visions and insights into the galaxy. The visions compel him and Eva to fly out to the asari world Illium, where they are attacked by Saren and a group of people transformed by the Monolith into mindless soldiers. It is implied that the Arca Monolith was the subject of secret turian studies, which was why they attacked Shanxi in the first place, using the excuse of the ongoing war with the humans as a convenient cover. Saren expresses interest at how much the Monolith has transformed Jack, seeking to drag him back to Palaven and run tests on him. During the fight with Saren on Illium, Jack and Eva are shocked to discover that one of his mindless soldiers is their friend Ben Hislop, thought to have been killed by the Monolith's influence back on Shanxi. Saren's forces overpower the duo, and they are taken onto Desolas' waiting ship.
When they reach Palaven, Desolas presents his group of hooded, Monolith-transformed turians to the public as "Valluvian priests" --- figures from turian legend --- as a cover to enter an ancient structure called Temple Palaven. Desolas aims to place the Monolith inside the Temple, and then use its strange power to force "an ascension of the turian race", making Palaven's inhabitants stronger, faster and tougher than ever before, all aimed at usurping Council authority and making the galaxy the turians' to rule.
Jack warns Saren that the ancient runes told him the history of the Monolith ---- that its power is infectious, causing transformed victims to roam their planets to transform others. Saren is appalled to hear this, and declares a bioweapon emergency. Desolas resists, but Saren seals the temple and blows it up with Desolas still inside, seeing no other way to protect Palaven from the dangers of the Monolith. Cursing the uncontrollable chain of circumstances that forced him to kill his own brother, Saren swears to avenge Desolas' death. Thus his deep-seated hatred of humanity was born.
Powers and Abilities
Saren is considered one of the finest soldiers Palaven has ever produced, even by the notoriously high standards of the turian military. At the age of 21, he became the youngest soldier to ever be inducted into the elite group of Council operatives known as the Spectres, a testament to his skill and tactical ability. He also possesses powerful biotic abilities; rare for a turian, even rarer for high-ranking soldiers given the stigma attached to biotic powers among the armed forces. These powers give Saren the ability to produce telekinetic blasts and barriers.
When his corpse was being controlled by Sovereign, he possessed superhuman strength, speed and agility; as well as powerful weapons that were grafted onto his body by the Reaper.
"I'm not doing this for myself! Don't you see, Sovereign will succeed. It is inevitable. My way is the only way any of us will survive. I'm forging an alliance between us and the Reapers, between organics and machines, and in doing so, I will save more lives than have ever existed. But you would undo my work. You would doom our entire civilization to complete annihilation, and for that, you must die."
-Saren Arterius on Virmire
Saren is the main antagonist of the first Mass Effect game. Shepard first encounters him in a cutscene where he brutally executes another turian Spectre named Nihlus, who was on Eden Prime to investigate the discovery of a new Prothean beacon. Saren then escapes on board a gigantic starship called Sovereign, which possesses technology seemingly beyond any species in the galaxy. When Shepard tells the Council that their top agent has gone rogue, Saren demands that proof be produced, which Shepard is unable to do. The charges against him are then dropped. Later, however, the quarian machinist Tali'Zorah finds proof that Saren is working with the geth, and the Councillors immediately strip him of his Spectre status and declare him a rogue agent. By that time, however, Saren has already left the Citadel on board Sovereign and Shepard is sent to apprehend him.
While apprehending one of Saren's accomplices, the asari leader Matriarch Benezia, Shepard learns that Saren's followers and allies all describe him as having some unexplained ability to influence and dominate their thoughts; spending a few days around him seems to automatically bring people around to his way of thinking. Benezia hypothesizes that this ability is linked to Sovereign somehow; that the ship emanates a signal of some kind that slowly alters the thoughts of those in its vicinity. She herself fell victim to this "indoctrination", and in a moment of lucidity, she tells Shepard that Saren secretly fears that he himself has become a victim of the signal.
The true significance of Benezia's words becomes clear when Shepard comes face to face with Sovereign on Vimire: it is revealed that Sovereign is no mere ship, but a Reaper; a sentient artificial intelligence and a vanguard of a race of similar beings who return to the Milky Way every 50,000 years to wipe out all organic life. Saren was never in control of Sovereign; rather, it was Sovereign controlling Saren. The Spectre had discovered Sovereign several months before the attack on Eden Prime and learned of the looming Reaper invasion. Believing he could convince the Reapers to let organic life live, even if only as slaves of the Reapers, instead of wiping them out, Saren allied himself with Sovereign. His rationale was that Sovereign, being a machine and thinking like a machine, would not discard an asset; and if Saren proved that he could be an asset, the Reapers might spare organic life and instead convert them all into similar "assets". These were the hopes of a man long since indoctrinated to Sovereign's cause; in reality, the Reapers never had any intention of sparing organic life, no matter what Saren said or did.
Shepard tries to convince Saren that Sovereign is pulling his strings, but he refuses to listen. Activating a Prothean portal on Ilos, Saren brings Sovereign to the Citadel, where the Reaper begins to use the station's status as a dormant mass relay to bring the rest of the Reapers back from dark space to conquer the galaxy. Shepard confronts Saren one final time while the Alliance Fifth Fleet and the Destiny Ascension lay siege to Sovereign's defenses. In this final confrontation, it is possible to either kill Saren with a bullet to the head or convince him that he is indoctrinated; if the latter option is chosen, Saren will then commit suicide out of remorse. However, Sovereign reanimates his corpse as a cybernetic avatar and uses it to attack Shepard. After Shepard kills the cyborg Saren, Sovereign's shields fail as a result of the avatar's signal getting disrupted, giving the assembled fleets the window of opportunity needed to destroy the Reaper and halt the return of its kind.
Mass Effect 2
Saren does not return in the game's sequel, but in the DLC mission Kasumi: Stolen Memory, Shepard and Kasumi Goto gift a gold statue of the rogue Spectre to underworld leader Donovan Hock as a party present/distraction while infiltrating his vault. Inside the vault, Shepard glances uneasily at the statue of the old foe.
Mass Effect: Revelations
"Necessity is one thing. But how can you be so cold about killing innocent people?" Anderson asked in disbelief.
"Practice. Lots of practice."
-David Anderson and Saren Arterius, Mass Effect: Revelations
Saren is featured in the novel Mass Effect: Revelations that serves as a prequel to the main series. At the height of hostile relations between the Batarian Hegemony and the human Systems Alliance, a batarian entrepreneur named Edan Had'dah discovered a strange alien artifact on the edge of the Perseus Veil, near geth-occupied space. Unknown to him, he had stumbled upon the Reaper called Sovereign, then awakening from millenia of slumber and preparing to become the vanguard of the Reapers' arrival yet again. Determined to learn the secrets of the mysterious artifact, Had'dah got in contact with the human scholar and synthetic intelligence expert Shu Qian, who was working on a classified Alliance facility on Sidon at the time. Qian agreed to secretly study the artifact out of scientific curiosity, and they took measures to ensure the Council (and more specifically their Spectres) would not learn of the artifact's existence.
Prolonged exposure to Sovereign wreaked havoc on the minds of both Qian as well as Had'dah, as the Reaper slowly bent their wills to its command. Qian was affected more severely than Had'dah due to a greater degree of daily exposure as a result of near-constant study of the artifact; this in turn caused him to become irrational and visibly unstable to the people who worked with him on Sidon. A young Alliance scientist named Kahlee Sanders discovered Qian's link to Had'dah and the artifact and was about to turn him in to Alliance Command; to prevent this, Had'dah contracted the Blue Suns mercenary group to destroy the Sidon facility and kill everyone inside, framing fringe batarian terrorist groups for the job. Sanders managed to escape before the facility's destruction, prompting Had'dah to hire a deadly krogan bounty hunter named Skarr to track her down and eliminate her.
While all this was happening, Saren was investigating the theft of a turian freighter carrying military-grade weapons on the planet Juxhi. Upon discovering that the culprits were turians selling arms to humans, a race Saren despised as a result of his brother's death during the First Contact War, he slaughtered them all after condemning the turian smugglers as traitors and a disgrace to their kind. He interrogated one survivor and learned that the weapons were originally going to be delivered to the Blue Suns for a major operation the group was planning, until they pulled out due to fears that they might attract the attention of Spectres working in the Skyllian Verge.
Saren tracks down Groto Ib-ba, a batarian Blue Suns commander, and slowly tortures him until the merc tells him about the Blue Suns' operation on Sidon and Skarr's mission to track down Kahlee Sanders. After breaking Ib-ba's neck and killing him, Saren heads to Elysium to visit the home of Jon Grissom, Kahlee's estranged father. He arrives just in time to save Kahlee, Jon and David Anderson from Skarr's wrath, although the krogan manages to escape the scene. Saren demands that Sanders tells him the truth about the real purpose of the Sidon facility, subtly threatening to torture and execute her if she lies or withholds information. Kahlee lies and tells him the Alliance was researching ways to create and train human biotics on a larger scale than before. Saren suspects her of deception, but ultimately deems her and Anderson's involvement to be insignificant and leaves Elysium to hunt down Skarr and find out who hired him.
Upon learning of Skarr's failure, Had'dah orders him to head to Camala and destroy the Dah'tan Manufacturing Plant, the only remaining physical link between him and Sidon. By the time Saren managed to trace Skarr to Camala, the plant had been reduced to smoldering rubble. When Anderson and Sanders arrive on the scene, Saren confronts them and reveals that he has deduced the truth about Sidon: it was a secret Alliance research facility dedicated to the study and development of artificial intelligence; an activity considered one of the worst violations of Council law and banned in Council space since the quarians' massacre at the hands of the geth almost 300 years prior. Saren demands to know what more they are hiding, but Anderson refuses to divulge any information. Saren leaves to visit a nearby batarian hospital where the sole survivor of the plant attack lay suffering on life support, horrifically wounded in a dozen different ways and not expected to survive much longer. He unhooks her from the machines and orders her to tell him who orchestrated the attack. She croaks out Had'dah's name and then dies slowly and painfully as Saren leaves the machines unhooked and watches her writhe in agony. Leaving Camala, Saren contacts the Council and tells them of the Alliance's illegal AI research.
Anita Goyle, the human ambassador, manages to smooth over the political fallout from the revelation and convinces the Council that humanity's growing role in the galaxy's affairs is too pivotal for them to treat humans as second-class citizens. She offers to share the Sidon findings with the Council as an act of good faith to maintain friendly relations and dispel with the widely-held notion of humans being aggressive, unreasonable and domineering. After receiving the Sidon findings, the Council votes to clear Sanders of any suspected involvement in the destruction of the facility, and directs Saren to extract her safely from Camala and bring her back to the Citadel. Additionally, the Council agreed to consider Anderson for Spectre status, and directed Saren to vet him during the operation and report back.
Saren, however, decides to exploit the situation to his advantage. He leaks Kahlee's location and watches as Skaar and the Blue Suns attack her military guard and kidnap her, figuring that they would lead him straight to Had'dah. Anderson is enraged when he discovers this, but Saren quickly beats him down and warns him to play along with the plan. Upon reaching the eezo refinery where Had'dah was holding Kahlee, Saren blows the place up and kills everyone inside, with Anderson and Sanders barely escaping with their lives. Saren also tracks down Had'dah and Qian and learns of the artifact's existence and location before killing them both.
Reporting back to the Council, Saren pins the blame for the refinery explosion and civilian deaths on Anderson, ending any hopes of him joining the Spectres. Later, he travels out to the Perseus Veil and discovers Sovereign for himself, deciding to eventually harness its power to establish turian dominance over the galaxy.