No Help Coming
"Well, viewers, I've got just a few minutes left and I thought I'd spend them covering a bit of news that hasn't been getting a lot of play from other sources, so as usual it's up to me to enlighten and educate. Hours ago, one of our ambassadors, a Ferdinand Castillo, was killed in an explosion at the quarian fleet which destroyed what they call a 'liveship.' This ship provides the quarians, who as you know have no homeworld, a steady source of food. Well now, it looks like their gravy train may have come rolling to a stop.
"Why should you care, you may ponder? Why should you get involved? This doesn't sound like a human problem, you say? It isn't yet, but it may very will become one. Let's play back a clip from a particularly lucid gentleman from just this past week.
"The 'Migrant' Fleet. Ha. Let's take a close look at what that means. Migration, by definition, means moving from one destination to another... Look it up in the dictionary. 'To move from one country or region and settle in another.' The quarians don't migrate. They're not settling anywhere. They've never even tried adapting or integrating with any other culture... Maybe it's time we start calling the flotilla what it really is. The Vagrant Fleet. They don't contribute. They don't build. They take. They consume. They descend on a system like locusts and strip bare any planet they can reach... Even their mere passing will tie up a mass relay for days. Imagine having to wait a week before traversing the Charon relay just to get to Arcturus. Imagine for a moment, what would happen if the Vagrant Fleet were to come to Sol. I hate to say it, but if the quarians and geth can't make peace, can that be far behind? Are we going to offer up our home to the poor, helpless quarians? Is our solar system next to host the great galactic tent city, until what little resources we have left are sucked dry? ... We have it pretty good here, and it makes us complacent. And even though Chicken Little runs around with his tiny wings in the air screaming 'the sky is falling' sometimes it's not just an acorn falling from a tree. This time, the sky may truly be falling."
"That's right, viewers. I called it. Chalk up another one, you heard it on this program first. The quarians are going to be looking for a new home real soon, and thanks to our involvement with the geth negotiations, some people are saying we're on the short list. It may not be a matter of if, but when. And if they do come here, we'll never be rid of them. So maybe the time to let your voice be heard is now, not later. Let our 'leaders' know that we don't want Earth to become a galactic halfway house for seventeen million vagrants. Hand 'em a map to Palaven, Thessia or Sur'Kesh, but not Earth. Because this is not a human problem, and we need to do whatever we can to make sure it doesn't become one. We have to take a break. We'll be right back..."
As Shepard and Garrus walked back to CIC, the last thing they wanted was to hear raised voices.
"How do we know they didn't do it?" Reegar shouted at Enlea as they stood next to Kelly's vacant console, pointing at the blue geth across from them with Miranda standing between them. "Maybe they were looking for a little payback. Wouldn't take much for them, would it? To reprogram a ship and turn it into a missile?"
"Ah," Enlea tried to back away. "I really don't know enough about the situation to have an opinion..."
"We did not cause this," Platform Two said, its head flaps twitching.
"Then who did?" Reegar's outburst even made the crew in their seats turn around in surprise.
Miranda stood in front of the marine with her arms crossed. "Mister Reegar, you're not thinking clearly right now. I understand how you feel but I need you to calm down."
"Don't tell me to calm down, tell me where Shepard is! Tell me why we're not heading back to the Fleet! Tell me why you're taking this thing's side-"
Miranda's eyes flicked past Reegar as Shepard and Garrus approached. "Commander."
Reegar had been relieved of his weapons when he came aboard, but Shepard couldn't keep from giving him a quick inspection to make sure he hadn't procured one from somewhere else. Fortunately, the marine was only armed with words. He walked toward Reegar with Garrus right next to him. Enlea ducked behind them, not wanting to be attacked by another quarian. "What's going on here?" Shepard asked.
"Commander!" Reegar whirled to face him. The ordinarily calm soldier was anything but. "Tali and I need to get back to the Fleet. Right now."
"Tali's on the horn with the Conclave, right where she needs to be. Let her-"
Reegar stood nose-to-nose with Shepard, one of the few quarians able to look the tall human in the eyes. "That wasn't a request, Shepard."
Shepard's face was devoid of emotion. "You need to take two steps back and remember where you are." Garrus moved closer, wearing a deep scowl, while Miranda kept focused on Shepard, waiting for the slightest indication to act.
Reegar looked at the grim-faced turian next to Shepard and at the frightened eyes of the asari behind them. Shepard was right. He wasn't on an enemy ship. He let out a deep breath. "I urgently request immediate transport back to Raheel-Leyya. I've got to get back there, sir. I've got do something."
Shepard nodded, happy to be talking once again to the Kal'Reegar he'd come to know. "I understand, and I promise we're going to do everything we can. Like I said, Tali's talking to Conclave right now. They're going to take stock of the situation and come up with plan. When she says she needs to go, we'll hustle her back. If we can't go ourselves, I'll let her have one of the Kodiaks. Good enough?"
"Yes, sir. It's just that- every quarian has been ordered back to help out. Even exiles. I need to be there too. Especially if what I'm hearing is true."
Reegar looked directly into Shepard's eyes so he could see the Commander's reaction. "That there's no help coming."
Shepard looked at the deck. "No. Not yet."
Reegar laughed. "Figures."
"Reegar... The Alliance and Citadel are preparing for invasion on a galactic scale. That's going to take every asset at their disposal. This couldn't have happened at a worse time. I'm not saying it's right. In fact, I think it stinks. But the fact is-"
"The fact is no one cares, Shepard. No need to dance around it. We know. We've known it for hundreds of years. Even if this reaper thing hadn't come up, what do you think would happen? The Citadel Council would issue a proclamation, right? Send a lot of condolences, maybe a nice speech. But you can't feed people with words."
Miranda spoke softly. "The private citizenry of both Citadel and Alliance space have offered support in many crises. Charity can be very effective if properly organized."
"We can't eat money either," Reegar snapped. He looked at the former Council representative. "What we need are transports." He then turned to the only other dextro in the room. "And food."
Shepard looked down at the floor again. He'd met many quarians whose perspective of the galaxy extended only as far as the furthest picket ship in the Flotilla, but he never saw Reegar as one of them. At the same time, Reegar was right. Even without the threat of the reapers, he couldn't think of a single government that would expend the resources to keep millions of people alive, or give their fleet a safe haven while they conducted repair. Why should they? It would be a costly, open-ended commitment that no government wanted. The galaxy had proved it over three centuries. The only reason to help would be because it was the decent thing to do, and sometimes Shepard wondered if there was that amount of goodwill in the galaxy.
He looked past Reegar to Mobile Platform two. If there was anyone who could assist in every possible capacity, it was the sentient machine standing behind the quarian. The geth, always eager to please and constantly volunteering to help had been surprisingly quiet. But then again, all Reegar had done was make accusations toward its kind, when all he needed to do was ask. Reegar didn't realize it, but he was biting the only hand that could realistically feed him. What Shepard really needed was a quarian who didn't see the geth as an enemy...
"Garrus," he said. "Why don't you take Kal down to the galley and grab a bite to eat."
"I'm not hungry," Reegar snapped, "It's not like I'm back at the Flotilla."
"Well then let me put it to you this way," Shepard said. "I don't want you in the CIC your current state. You're confined to the crew deck until you get your head on straight. You read me, marine?"
Reegar looked as though he was about to argue, then his eyes disappeared behind his face mask. When he re-opened them, they'd lost their fire. "Yes, sir. Look, Commander... I'm sorry. This is just- We've never faced a situation like this before, and it's hard to be a team player when there's no one else on your team. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I do." Shepard said. He shot a quick glance at Platform Two, then looked back at Reegar. "But the game's not over yet. Now get out of here."
"Yes, sir." Reegar walked to the elevator and Garrus followed. Reegar gave Shepard a tired look, and Shepard waved Garrus off. As the lift door shut behind the quarian, Garrus walked back to where Shepard and the others stood.
"Well," Garrus said. "This day just keeps getting better and better."
Shepard leaned with his back against the comm podium. He looked between his XO and the asari. "I want you two to start looking into who hit the Rayya. It's a mighty big coincidence that this happened so soon after Dashta. And it never is coincidence, is it?"
Garrus stroked his mandibles. "That sounded better when I said it."
"Enlea," Shepard said, "Can you access your group's resources without giving away our location?"
The asari looked startled at being addressed, but nodded. "I know a trick or two to hide my tracks. I don't know if I'll still have access, but I'll certainly try."
"Good. And there's someone else you should call." Shepard activated the comm panel. He clicked through several panes of information. "Liara T'Soni, on Illium. Let me pull up her contact information. I've got it right here. She's, uh... Damn it, I thought I saved that off to my 'favorites...'"
Miranda closed her eyes. "I have her information, Commander."
"Right." Shepard switched off the terminal. "Miranda will put you in touch with her. She's an old friend. Who knows, she might be an old friend of yours, too. You run in the same circles."
Enlea nodded. "I had her dossier. She was part of your crew."
"Now she's an information broker," Shepard said.
"One of the best," Miranda said. "Shepard, you know she going to ask again, right?"
Shepard rubbed his forehead. "Shadow Broker, I know."
"What do I tell her?"
"Tell her it's on the list. With about a thousand other things that can't wait."
"Good. EDI, unlock comms for Enlea and Miranda."
"Yes, Commander," EDI replied.
"We'll get right on it," Miranda said. "How's Tali doing, by the way?" She immediately regretted asking when Shepard shot her a look. She braced herself for another of his silly suggestions to have a slumber party and have 'girl talk.'
Instead, Shepard only shook his head. "You find out who blew a hole through her birthship and she'll be a whole lot better."
"Right," Miranda nodded and lead Enlea to the access ladder in the lab.
"Tell Liara I said hi," Garrus called out before the hatch closed behind them. "So what now, Shepard?"
"What now. I sent Hackett some estimates. The Rayya, on average, produced around four thousand tons of food per day. I mean, even if we could wrangle up enough super freighters, getting them here and back is going to take days and burn up who knows how much fuel and eezo. And it's going to take months for them to fix it."
Garrus nodded. "They need to relocate the fleet. Now, while they still have stores."
"But to where?" Shepard looked at Platform two again. "Turians are the only ones who can feed them. And can you think of any system that will take them? Is Palaven going to open its doors, let fifty thousand ships park in orbit for four months? It causes enough of a headache when the fleet just passes through a system, let alone stays there. Blue?"
Shepard wasn't sure how well geth could interpret non-verbal cues, but he was giving Platform Two the most meaningful stare possible. "What do you think about all of this?"
"Your assessment is in line with our current projections based on known factors."
Shepard continued to stare at Platform Two, who watched him in return, its head flaps cycling in and out. "Garrus, have you ever seen an elephant before?"
Garrus shook his head. "An elephant? No. What is it?"
"It's your lucky day. There's one right here in the room with us."
"What? Where? I don't see it. What's it look like?"
Shepard pointed at Platform Two as he turned to the lab hatch on his way to the briefing room. "Blue, do me a favor and hang out here for a few minutes. I'll be right back."
Garrus looked at the silent geth. "Sometimes I have no idea what he's talking about."
The galley of the Vellius was the single largest compartment on the ship, save for the hangar deck. But with both of the shuttles docked, there was just enough space to perform maintenance, and not much else. So if the crew wanted to gather to talk in person, the galley was the only place to do it.
Except no one was talking. The compartment was deathly silent as fifteen turians sat or stood, transfixed by the information pouring over their omnitools and datapads. The only thing that could interrupt them was the arrival of their captain. They made a whole for her and the XO as they entered and stood at attention.
"As you were," Artuis said, stopping in the main hatch where everyone could see her. Only serving a third of the crew at once, the galley was still not large enough to hold everyone especially both shifts. Six turians sat in chairs around the small table, while the rest of the assembled crew packed the floor and spilled into the corridor outside. The bridge and reactor crews stayed at their posts. They would have to watch from their stations.
From the looks in their eyes, Artuis knew she the answer to her question before she asked it. "Has everyone had time to look over the Solus Report?" After a chorus of "ayes," she nodded. "Good. What are your questions?"
A dark-skinned turian with yellow markings up to his fringe spoke; Arvis, the quartermaster. "The ship that attacked the citadel three years ago... It wasn't the geth. It was a reaper?"
"That is correct. Just one of them."
A wave of murmurs washed through the room. "What's Fleet doing about this? What are we doing?"
All around the cramped room, heads nodded and all eyes fell on Artuis. Rusi stood by her side, obviously eager to hear the answer herself.
"We're holding here," Artuis said.
"Shouldn't we be heading back, ma'am?" asked Second Tech Endus Calis. "The asari... she's gone over to the Normandy. We're done with her, right?"
"That's correct. We're no longer bound by her authority."
"Then why aren't we going back to join our squadron? We need to be getting ready for the invasion!"
Artuis looked across a sea of concerned faces. She let them add their individual agreements, but held her hands up before they could really get worked up. "Quiet down. That's an excellent question, Endus. The entire fleet will be mobilizing to face this threat, and I swear to you that when the time comes, we will be with them."
"But right now," Artuis pointed to starboard toward the hull, where the Normandy hovered in space beyond. "That means staying here. The crew of that ship out there destroyed the reaper that attacked the Citadel. They killed one of them, while the rest of our fleet was decimated, much like what happened at Sahrabarik. Where once again, the Normandy succeeded where the rest of us failed. While our task force may have been devastated, for the Vellius, the engagement was a success. Because our mission was not to destroy the intruder, but to protect the Normandy so it could."
Artuis returned the stares directed at her with equal intensity. "That's why we're here, now. Our mission is not complete. Someone tried to destroy the Normandy at Dashta. Once again, we were their guardians. That ship, her commander, and her crew are the best weapon we have against the coming invaders. Fleet may recall us,, and if they do we will rejoin our brothers and sisters in preparation for war. But until then, we stay with the Normandy. We are their shadow. We are their shield. Where they go, we follow... whether they know it or not."
The galley filled with laughter. Artuis smiled. "Don't be afraid of missing the fight. I have a feeling that when the reapers come, the Normandy will be leading the charge against them. And we will find no better hunting than while flying on their wing."
She watched as the crew nodded in silent agreement. "We serve the Hierarchy!"
"DIE FOR THE CAUSE!" echoed her crew.
"To your stations!"
With a roar, the crew jumped to their feet and scrambled through the narrow passageways to their duty stations. It didn't matter that no alert hat been issued or specific orders given. Just knowing what lay ahead had been enough to set fire to their blood.
Rusi smiled at her captain as they stood in the now-empty galley. "Good speech. I actually can't wait for them to come, now."
Artuis didn't return the smile as started back to the conn, with Rusi behind her. "We need to start analyzing the engagement protocols detailed in the report. Shepard's gunnery officer has some excellent observations. Let's start drilling on them."
"Turian," Rusi said, examining Mordin's professionally laid-out contributor page on her omni. "On a human ship? Hmmm. He's kinda hot. Someone did a number on his face, though."
"I'm guessing whoever it was didn't live to see it," Artuis said, "because from what I've seen, you attack one of them, you attack them all."
"Sounds like a good crew."
"Just one more reason to watch their backs," Artuis said as she settled in her chair. "Tatia? Request a status update from the Normandy please."
The briefing room hatch stood open. Shepard paused before entering and listened, expecting to hear Tali directing salvage efforts on the Rayya to the Conclave, but there was only silence. Had Tali slipped out while he was in CIC, maybe taking one of the access ladders down? But then he did hear something: quiet sobbing. He looked inside. The projection of the Rayya was gone, the space above the table empty. Tali sat in her usual chair alongside the table, her head buried in her arms in front of her. She looked up when she heard him walk in and made no attempt to hide her tears.
Shepard was about to ask what was wrong, but given the events of the past few hours, it was too loaded of a question. Instead he just took the seat next to her.
Tali had to take a breath before speaking. "Everything in Rayya's centrifuge is contaminated by element zero from the explosion. Other than the outer storage ring, the entire yield, thirty thousand tons, is poisoned."
"Oh, god," Shepard murmured.
"But that's not the worst part. It seems some of the Captains on the container ships have been padding their numbers. They've been giving out extra rations to favored clans. For decades, it turns out. They've been stealing from stores and falsifying the records. Our reserves are thirty percent less than what was estimated. Even with maximum conservation and rationing..."
Shepard swiveled his chair and leaned toward her and Tali fell toward him. Her entire body heaved in his arms. In his entire life, throughout years of service and countless brushes with death, he'd never felt as powerless as he did now to help a friend.
Tali pulled back and sniffed loudly, then looked at him with glistening eyes. "Please give me some good news," she whispered.
Shepard looked back at her and slowly shook his head. He didn't have to say a word. Tali slumped in her seat, too broken to even cry now. "Tali, listen... There's one option I don't think that's been explored yet."
"Ask the geth for help."
The quarian stared at him. The sniffing, the tears, the tremor in her voice all disappeared. "What?""
Shepard sighed. Tali looked at him the same way she had done when he said he was going to power up Legion after finding it on the derelict reaper. But that was months ago, and her reactions was not what he expected from the woman who later invited a geth to work in Engineering. Tali blinked several times, her mind apparently doing the same math as Shepard.
"Think about it," Shepard said. "They've got nearly unlimited manufacturing and repair capabilities. Look at what a dozen of them did for us. Imagine a thousand, or even ten thousand of them repairing the Rayya. They could have it up and running in a day or two. And Rannoch? It might be too much to hope they'd let you go home, but they might be able to harvest something and bring it to the fleet. Tide you over until the biomass in the Rayya can be regrown and repairs are complete."
Tali stood and walked away from him, and then turned back. He could only see her eyes, but they were scrunched tightly with confusion and fear. She looked as though her suit's waste processor had clogged. "Let the geth aboard the Rayya?"
"I know it sounds crazy. Your entire life, for you and every other quarian, has been one long struggle against the geth. You're conditioned to think that way. It's instinct, now. I've seen it in every quarian. I saw it with Reegar, just a few minutes ago. And it's completely justified. But the geth are not the same as they were during the uprising. They've changed, they've grown into something more. You know that. You've got one as your assistant, for god's sake. He's your friend."
"That's Legion," Tali said. "He's different. He's one of us. And he's not even part of the collective anymore. They shut him out, because he took our side."
"You're twisting the facts a little here, aren't you? He was trying to help both sides, to bring you together. He got exiled because he acted on his own instead of waiting for consensus."
Tali took a deep breath and nodded. Her emotions were getting the best of her, which always resulted in hasty judgments. But it wasn't as simple as that. It had taken months of living with and especially fighting next to Legion for her to accept him as part of the crew. Even then he was no longer geth, he was just Legion. A lone geth aboard a human ship, far away, safely removed from her home and her people. While she might trust Legion with the safety of the Migrant Fleet, that warm feeling just wasn't there for the rest of the geth.
"They can do it, Tali," Shepard said. "I know it. Just give them a chance."
Tali tried to visualize it in her mind. The geth could repair the Rayya. The estimate of a day or two was wildly optimistic, it would probably take at least a week, but they could definitely do it, during which time shipping food from the homeworld could fill the gap. It might not even need processing. But to let the geth into the fleet, aboard the flagship itself? The mere detection of a geth ship in a system neighboring the Flotilla was cause enough for an emergency relocation, the few times it had ever happened. Geth were to be destroyed on sight. What Shepard was thinking was impossible. She started to hyperventilate. "No... I- the geth must not be allowed into the fleet. They could take over our ships, hack into our systems, endanger the liveships..."
"Your liveships are already in danger," Shepard said. "The whole Migrant Fleet is. That's your conditioning talking now. You need get past it."
Tali sat down again before her legs could give out.
"I don't know if you have any choice," Shepard said. "There aren't a whole lot of people racing to help you, and I'm all out of moves. About the only resource I haven't tried is Cerberus, and I think you want them in your fleet even less than the geth."
"Ha, no. Definitely not them. Thanks for putting that in perspective. But I don't know... I don't know how my people will react to this. It's not just conditioning, Shepard..."
Shepard shrugged. "It's going to be hard and take a lot of effort. I mean, you've had the most contact with the geth of any quarian and I can tell you're not convinced. But starvation will change a lot of minds."
Tali frowned at the callousness of Shepard's remark, but he was right. That was the reality the quarians faced. "Do you really think they'll help?"
"Well, I tell you," Shepard leaned back in his chair. "The geth had their network hacked and the organics almost declared war on them all because they tried to hold peace talks with you. They had to upgrade their entire collective to protect themselves. And even after all that, everything that's happened... they sent a brand new mobile platform to find you, just so they could try again. If you ask me, they must think their creators are pretty important to go through all that effort."
Tali nodded out of habit, but then the meaning of what Shepard said finally sunk in. Out of all the involved parties in the galaxy, the Admiralty Board, the Conclave, the Alliance and the Citadel, the geth were the only ones still trying.
Shepard waited for a few seconds, but Tali had no further reaction. "Can I call Blue in here?"
Tali nodded again.
"EDI," Shepard called to the air. "Ask Platform Two to report to the briefing room."
"Right away, Commander," EDI replied.
Tali looked up. "And Legion."
"Of course, Tali."
Tali stood from her chair again and began to pace, her gloves rustling in the quietness of the briefing room. Shepard watched her with a mixture of worry and anticipation, but also with the same excitement as when Legion first told him stories of how the geth had preserved the creator homeworld for reasons that weren't entirely clear even to them. Wouldn't it be amazing, he thought, if the destruction of the Rayya turned out to be the the first step for the quarians to return home? If repairing the liveship doesn't lay a foundation for peaceful relations, nothing can.
"Shepard-Commander," Blue said, standing in the hatch. "Creator-Tali'Zorah."
Tali stopped her pacing but kept wringing her hands.
"Hey, Blue," Shepard said. "Come on in, have a seat."
The blue geth walked around the table and sat in a chair opposite the organics. Tali looked at Shepard, then resumed her pacing.
"Uh," Shepard said. "Legion's on his way up. Let's give him a minute."
Tali couldn't make eye contact with the geth. She stared at the table, still wringing her hands. Shepard drummed his fingers on the table. "So, uh... How are repairs coming?"
"Structural repairs are one-hundred percent complete. We are now concentrating on superficial and aesthetic restoration."
"It's amazing what you've done. I don't know how to thank you. Again."
"No thanks are necessary, Shepard-Commander. We are in your debt."
"Shepard-Commander," Legion said from the forward hatch. "Tali'Zorah."
"Legion, good timing," Shepard stood and guided the white geth into the room and then shut the door. "Come on in, have a seat."
Legion looked around the room, then its camera focused on Tali. It registered a tremendous amount of stress in the quarian's biometrics. It walked in, then took a chair two down from Shepard, its traditional spot next to Tali. Tali sat between them.
Legion's camera remained focused on Tali. "Daniels-Gabriella asked us to tell you she is 'thinking about you, boss.'"
Tali sniffed. "Thanks, Legion."
"We all are," Shepard said. "It's bad situation, but I don't think a hopeless one. Blue? The collective sent you here to negotiate peaceful relations with the creators, is that correct?"
"As you know, the creators are in a pretty bad jam. Their main source of food has been destroyed, and they don't have enough capacity left to feed everyone."
"We are aware of the creator's predicament." Blue turned its camera eye on Tali and its head flaps slowly expanded and contracted.
Shepard cleared his throat and stared intently at his engineer. Throughout their time together with Legion, Shepard always insisted that Tali and Legion talk to each other, instead of through him, to solve their differences. It took months, and a dance with death, before they would. Now it seemed, Tali was back to square one. She sat, transfixed on the geth across from her, unable to speak. Then, under the table, her hand reached out to grasp his leg. He gave it a gentle pat. Then, he saw Tali was doing the same thing on the other side, extending her hand to grasp Legion's thigh.
Legion looked down as capacitive sensors registered the foreign contact. Visual sensors as well as accelerometers measured microtremors in her hand and her respiratory patterns became suddenly irregular. It rested its hand on top of hers, then Tali's hand flipped over and compressed Legion's palm with 39.3 kilograms of gripping force. It looked back at her face. She was still concentrating on Mobile Platform Two.
"Blue," Tali said, "We're doomed without the Rayya. We don't have the resources to repair it, not before our people begin to starve."
Platform Two's aperture widened. "We concur with this assessment."
Shepard squeezed Tali's hand. Feeding a geth information it already possessed always produced the same result. Ask them, Shepard willed the quarian.
"We need your help," Tali blurted. "We have nowhere else to turn. Can you repair the Rayya, like you helped us repair the Normandy?"
Platform bowed its head. "We anticipated this request and have already received the consensus of the collective."
Tali let out a deep breath.
The blue geth stood. "We will not help," it said and walked from the room.