|Location: SSV Normandy/Frigate Class Vessel|
|Alliance Command CCEDF Number: 33DEFZE9-87541JSN|
She'd been doing it a lot lately, dreaming as a human.
More so over the past few months for reasons she couldn't really guess.
Was it weird to dream as one though?
To be something you weren't?
She took in her surroundings and sighed. Looked like she was in a subway this time. And from the looks of it, the place hadn't been cleaned, nor maintained, in what had to be nearly a century.
It was horrendously filthy here. But it was everything you'd expect from such an old and pathetically ancient place.
Tali gave both of her dirty feet a glance. The broken tiles she stood on were slick with stuff she didn't dare try guessing.
And holy hell. The smell here was bad. Probably from an animal who'd been spending the better part of last week rotting in a tunnel somewhere nearby.
She started walking, in spite of the pitter patter of her bare feet crossing through mildew ridden puddles of water. She climbed the stairs, crossed the hub, and exited out into a foyer before going through a hallway that would lead her outside.
When she finally did make her way outside, she frowned. Didn't look like this dream was going to get any brighter. The street outside was pocked with pot holes the size of her head and cracks longer than the length of her arm. The buildings were equally as so.
It was pretty safe to say the place looked like shit.
She peered at the dark sky and her frown deepened. Not a star in sight. The city lights from some far off place that spanned across the entire horizon were doing an excellent job of putting out enough light pollution to snuff out anything not attached to a damn building. In the far distance, Tali could see an orbital elevator about seventy or so kilometers away. She must've been in an abandoned city far away from any part of civilization.
Tali shrugged and continued down the empty street.
Eventually, after trotting down the road for a number of minutes, she entered a fenced yard with a frugal looking home inside. The grass, overgrown and weed ridden, tickled her legs as she walked up to the house.
She stepped onto the porch, and for some reason, knocked on the door. Nobody answered, of course.
She opened the conveniently unlocked door, peered inside, and set one bare foot onto the foyer's carpet. Her brow furrowed at all the decor.
Tali could tell this stuff was really old. Older than this whole abandoned city.
Swords of all shapes and sizes poised to strike at nothingness...
Pikes draped with flags adorned with strange looking insignias...
Some old metal armor that looked completely useless against anything save a sword.
Against her better judgement, she moved from the anteroom into a hallway before coming across a giant mirror that rose from floor to ceiling. She gave herself a good long once-over.
Tali convinced herself the sudden feeling swelling in her chest was jealousy.
Those pursed lips...
The flowing brown hair...
Those Hazel eyes she was sure John would've loved to see.
The perky breasts.
She turned away and grumbled. No point in admiring something you never were.
"Tali." A chilling whisper echoed from somewhere inside.
Her skin crawled and Tali had to curb the urge to yelp with how much it frightened her.
"Who the hell is there?!" She yelled instead. She whirled around frantically to try and find the disembodied voice.
"Taaaaaaali..." It repeated in a long drawn out whisper.
Her lip started trembling.
She couldn't shake the pestering idea that she was being hunted by this giant, ominous, demon-like, hairy spider with laser guns mounted on its head as a substitute for antennae.
Even if this was a dream, it still scared the shit outta her.
Suddenly, the human-Tali's shoulders hunched over in such a way that made her look like a kid who'd lost her weeks allowance.
The voice belonged to Ashley Williams.
Tali's eyes opened sluggishly as they did every morning.
Screaming human woman or not, it wasn't going to get any easier.
"Tali? Tali! Answer. Me." Ash repeated through the PA at Tali's door.
"Keelah. Ash, I'm awake." She croaked as she failed to stifle her yawn.
"Hurry up. Commander said we're having a meeting in thirty."
She loved Ash. She was like a big sister to her. Though she could be such a bitch sometimes. And her voice could be really irritating. But when you heard it through that crappy speaker by her door side in the morning?
"Okay." Tali murmured, "I'll get ready."
The quarian smacked her lips and slipped out from under her comforter. Shuffling her bare two-toed feet across the floor, she threw off her sleep-ware (John insisted on calling them 'pajamas') and turned on the shower just across her room before lazily stepping in.
Because of her immune system, as anyone would've guessed, she was quartered within the Normandy's clean room, between the hanger and crew decks.
As she squeezed a fair amount of hair soap (John insisted on calling it 'shampoo'), she glanced, amidst the hot steam, at the clock sitting on her nightstand.
Tali was fairly used to it now, but her room was pretty big. A little bigger than the Captain's quarters, actually. And she wasn't going to lie. She absolutely adored living in here. But she would also readily confess that it never felt quite right having it all to herself.
8:38 AM she read on the clock as she gently massaged the locks of hair with her hair soap.
She rinsed her hair and started lathering her 'loofa' (these insane names) with 'body wash' (she could see their point with this one) before scrubbing thoroughly over her body. She always started at the feet and worked her up to her legs, back, chest, and neck.
She never took this for granted.
And the best part? She didn't have to share her shower with anyone else. Ha.
She rinsed the soap off her body, washed her face quickly, and turned off the shower before stepping out. As she dried off, she collected her pajamas off the floor and folded them back into her cubby. Then she hung her towel with patterns of spaceships back on the rack and turned behind her to the mannequin wearing her exo-suit. She placed several locks of hair behind an ear and kept staring at the thing.
This poor excuse of fashion kept her alive. And she hated everything about it. The tubes. The rubber. The metal plates that would rest at her cheeks. This thick panel of glass that barred her away from everything in the galaxy. If anyone had given her a glance, they'd probably call her a robot.
Though Tali would admit that her boobs would give it away that she wasn't.
She went back to the bathroom, wrapped her hair in a spare towel, (the same way Ash had taught her months ago), and started brushing her teeth with a tooth brush and a pasty solution that didn't look all that much different from the food she was used to eating.
A while ago, John had actually asked her what it was like to eat food out of a tube. She told him to eat toothpaste as to get a good equivalent.
He respectfully declined the offer.
She frowned slightly. Eating food out of a tube. Another thing she hated about her suit. She gave it another long glance. As bad as it looked, and as much as she was complaining about it right now, John still seemed able to give her a compliment or two about it. But it never stopped her from wishing she could just slip on some standard issue boots and pants instead. Hell, she even had a pair of fatigues in her room that she tried on one time just to see what it would look like. She rocked them pretty well.
But she couldn't wear them anywhere else but in here. But what if she did? Tali always pondered such things.
She spat out the suds from brushing her teeth and rinsed her mouth with water.
For example: What if she stepped out of the clean room and spent a day out with the others with nothing on but a pair of pants and a t-shirt?
Well… in minutes she'd start to feel a little tickle in the back of her throat.
After an hour, she'd be sneezing and hacking and blowing her nose from how stuffed and runny it would be. Soon enough, even breathing would be hard. Then she'd get a fever and the body aches to follow. Maybe even vomiting too. Who knew.
As bad as that all sounded, there wasn't a doubt that she'd survive the ordeal, of course. But she'd be spending part of half a month in quarantine with a good case of pneumonia and other diseases she didn't really want to think about.
She shook her head at her aimless thinking before grabbing her hair dryer and turning it on to finish her routine.
Best if she get this over with and on with the day.
The elevator door opened, and Tali stepped out. She popped her knuckles and made way to the conference table, the one just next to the sick bay.
Much to her surprise, she saw Wrex, by himself of course, heaving a groan of disdain as he sat down on a chair.
She laughed at the krogan before being eyed so sharply, that it would breach the Normandy's hull if he stared the wrong way.
Despite the dour look, his posture showed nothing less than a warming smile and equally warming heart; the big dinosaur had surreptitiously respected everyone on the Normandy.
"Love you too, Wrex." She purred. She pat his heavy armored vambrace in feigned amusement. He huffed through his nostrils and leaned further back into his chair.
It moaned in pain.
Ash was the next to swing by, her tongue gliding over her teeth to swallow whatever remained of breakfast.
"Hey," she acknowledged Tali with a slight nod, "I said your name like... twenty times. You slept through your alarm clock."
"Shepard said I had to sleep in today. You can't argue with the man." Tali replied curtly.
She guffawed before shaking her head. "Of course he did."
Next was Garrus.
"Hey Garrus. Enjoy the eggs?" Ash spat with her typical snort.
"They were green." Garrus spoke quietly before giving the woman a glare, "Green. Human food coloring could kill me. How you convinced Iowa to let you do that is incredible."
The turian fell heavily into his chair and looked at his stomach as if he'd seen it burst.
The krogan groaned. His patience for their senseless bickering lessened day by day.
"I looked it up to make sure you wouldn't die." Ash argued with a light wave of her hand, "Calm your battle-tits."
"I won't even guess wha—" The turian was interrupted by a blue hand placed on his shoulder.
"Hey, Garrus." Liara greeted.
"Hey." He murmured quietly with a turian smile. Any pent up comebacks he was ready to throw at Ash went completely forgotten.
"Did I miss anything?" Liara asked.
"Nope." Tali said flatly.
Ash flicked her used toothpick toward Garrus.
"Ash. You're a god damned child." He gave the spit soaked tooth pick a good long stare before deciding on flicking the piece of wood back to the offender. His bare claw made contact with the pick and sent it flying straight into the woman's bun without her noticing.
"Hey guys." John turned the corner with several boxes in his hands before setting them on the table and nodding happily to everyone who greeted him.
"Enjoy breakfast, everyone?"
A small chorus of 'Yeses' and one 'No' replied to Shepard.
"Good!" He cupped his hands and purposefully ignored the unmistakable lilt of Garrus' complaint.
Tali shook her head and laughed before giving the toothpick in Ash's hair a good glance.
"Sleep well, Tali?" John pointed at her before giving her a bright smile.
"Uh-huh." She nodded a little too enthusiastically with a bashful grin.
"Good. You've earned it." He gave her a thumbs-up and returned his attention back to the group.
"So. You guys are going to absolutely hate what the brass gave us. I got them a week ago but thought I'd hold them off until now. Skip the ceremony and save Joker his beard."
"The council really let you skip a ceremony?"
"Yeah. Their airing a fake one of us in two days with CGI."
The others shook their heads. Tali found herself doing the same thing.
He spread the small boxes on the table evenly apart. "Atten-TION." He ordered.
The team rose from their seats instinctively. The last was the krogan, who lazily stood up before having the chair behind him faint from the sudden relief of weight.
Wrex looked behind him and shrugged while John shook his head at how pathetic that was.
"It was quite the honor, guys... to serve beside you when no one else in the galaxy would." His hand fiddled with the edge of a box, but kept his stare even. "We wouldn't have accomplished anything, if we hadn't stood as brethren against the storm. We've all sacrificed, supported, and leaned on each other at the call of duty. Because of that, I've been represented on behalf of the Council and Alliance Navy with 'Spectre Authority' to present you one of the highest decorations of honor my people can give: The Medal of Honor."
He opened the first box.
"Gunnery Sergeant Ashley Williams, step forward."
She did as instructed. When she stopped up before him, John gave her a perplexed look.
"Y— You have a toothpick in your hair."
"...I use it in good taste. Sir." She stammered in surprise.
She gave Garrus a blood-gurgling glare.
Before Ash could give a proper explanation, John continued his well-practiced speech from memory.
"I present upon you, a decoration that has carried forward for hundreds of years, since the creation of the United States of America. Gunnery Sergeant, you have distinguished yourself through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of your life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in action against Saren and the geth; an enemy of the Citadel Council and System's Alliance." He placed the sheath around her neck, the medal emblazoned with the Alliance insignia surrounded by the 5 points of a star. When he retracted his hands, he plucked the tooth pick out from her hair and placed it onto her open palm. She nodded in defeat and sat back down.
"Suspended Captain Garrus Vakarian, please step forward."
Garrus made his way to the Commander.
"Haven't heard that rank in a long time." The turian murmured.
"Hope you never hear it again, Garrus."
Shepard repeated the speech with slight alterations, stepping all the way down the line until Tali was the only one left.
"Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, please step forward." A warm and welcoming smile spread across his lips when she stepped up to the plate.
"I bestow upon you the proudest decoration the System's Alliance can ever give. Tali…" He let the words hang for a moment, "You have distinguished yourself through evident bravery and intrepidity at the certain risk of your life above and beyond the call of duty while engaging in action against the Geth and Saren; an enemy of the Citadel Council and System's Alliance. You have accomplished so much, Tali." His hands brushed slightly along each cheek plate as he placed the medal over her head.
"I am so proud of you." He said before saluting her. As she returned the salute the team whooped and hollered.
"Look at that. Just a salute. Hug the woman, you idiot." Ashley yelled.
John didn't waste any time doing exactly that.
As they hugged, John pat her back and whispered to her.
"You did good, Tals."
"Thanks John." She murmured.
The cheering subsided and John finally turned to the others.
"Okay guys. You're all dismissed. Check the roster on your O-T's for your assignments today and make sure you check your mail." He said before pointing at Wrex warily, "And Wrex? Don't make me remind you to stay the hell away from the static attenuators on deck 2."
Wrex brushed off the warning with the wave of his hand and mumbled a slight humph. The mishap the day before had electrocuted the poor sucker so bad, smoke came spewing from his arm-pits.
The smell of burnt krogan was not appealing.
Neither was hauling a ton of meat off the damaged parts to get them repaired.
Tali had to push the krogan off the surviving pieces by planting both her feet on his crest with her back against the wall.
Her legs were powerful as all hell.
...But his weight was really pushing it.
As the group headed off to the elevator checking over the day's roster with their omni-tools, Tali and John stayed behind.
"So. Where's your medal?" She asked when they were all gone.
"Right here. Want to do me the honor?"
She gave the last unopened box a long look and smiled.
"I'd love to." She murmured happily. She took the box, opened it, and let the ribbon rest carefully on four of her fingers.
"Lieutenant Commander John Shepard." She said with the tilt of her head, "I present upon you the highest decoration your own species can give. The Medal of Honor."
"Nope. No words." She said quietly with a small grin, "They can't exactly describe what you've done for us. And me."
She held out the medal a little higher so she could place it over his head.
"I wouldn't have it any other way." He whispered happily.
She finally placed the medal over his neck and centered it carefully on his chest.
"What do you think?" He said before playing with the medal's weight in his hands.
"I think it's amazing," She answered before giving him a giant hug, "and that you deserve it and more."
When he put his arms around her, she smiled.
"And John...?" Tali mumbled into his shoulder, "Seriously. Thank you. For everything."
"Of course, Tali."
Still in his embrace, she grasped the medal around her own neck and looked at it. "A Medal of Honor. Wow. Had I seen this anywhere else, I'd have melted it down for a pipe or something."
"Well, don't." He said before putting her at arm's length, "Because you've earned every atom in the thing."
"Thank you." she repeated in a whisper.
"No thanks needed, Tals." He gave her shoulder a gentle shake and suddenly looked at his omni-tool.
"Well... duty calls. I've got to head up to CIC and settle some things. I'll see you in a couple hours, okay? How does lunch together down in engineering sound today?"
"Sounds great. I'd love to have you come by."
"Good." His hand slipped from her shoulder to her wrist and gave it an affectionate squeeze before finally walking out to the elevator.
She continued to stare until he disappeared around the corner.
Could it be any more obvious? She thought to herself as she fell back into her chair and slouching comfortably.
She let out a long sigh of satisfaction with a wide smile.
Soon enough, she lost herself in memory.