Fight for the Lost

Interlude XVIII

Location: Normandy SR-2 / En Route to Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik

"Tali?" Shepard called out when he entered the engine room.

Tali jumped and whirled around. She had her hand on her chest and was leaning on the edge of the console. "Shepard! You scared me!"

"Sorry," he apologized.

"It's fine. I'm just distracted," she said before she lapsed into an awkward silence.

Shepard raised an eyebrow and was about to ask if she was alright when she beat him to the punch with the same question.

"How are you feeling? After… you know."

"Better than I thought I'd be actually. Going down there… it was cathartic. I think it was something I needed to do," he replied.

"Was that yours?" she asked. She pointed at the N7 helmet he held in the crook of his arm.

When Kelly confided to him about her concerns with Tali, Shepard had forgone going to his cabin to get changed and went down to Deck 4 straightaway, full armor and all.

"Yeah. I found it down there. Interesting story too. I think Legion was the one that—"

"Who?" Tali asked in confusion.

Shepard grimaced and mentally cursed himself. He had hoped the news would make its rounds already. "Damn… I, uh, I reactivated the geth we found back on the Reaper."

"You what? !"

"I reactivated the geth," Shepard repeated calmly, his composed demeanor a stark contrast to Tali's enraged stance.

"Why would you do something like that? !"

"Because I wanted to learn about them," he answered honestly. "And I did."

"Oh. Is that all?" she shot back sarcastically. She threw her hands up in the air and stalked away down toward the Tantalus Core Control Terminal.

Shepard sighed and followed after her. Gabby and Ken tried to be as nondescript as possible while still trying to eavesdrop, but decided against it when he leveled an even stare at them. His eyes clearly said, "Get back to work."

"I can't believe this. A geth! First it's Cerberus, then an AI, and now it's a geth! No wonder the Admiralty Board wants to charge me," she muttered angrily.

"Tali," Shepard called out.

"How could you!" She screeched. She whirled around and jabbed an accusing finger at him. "After what those things did to my people. To yours!"

"The geth were responsible for your people, Tali, there's no denying that. But they weren't responsible for mine," he replied.

"What?" she asked, completely confused by his statement.

"There's a smaller faction of AI's now. The geth call them heretics. Basically, they're AI's that follow the Reapers," Shepard explained. "The geth don't want to cause trouble. As far as far as I know, they don't even want to fight. According to Legion, the geth have never left the Perseus Veil."

"And you believe it?" Tali seethed.

"You're the engineer. You tell me," Shepard pointed out. "Can AI's lie?"

She looked like she wanted to say yes, but under his expectant gaze, she yielded. "Not as such, no. They'll simply choose not to answer, or just give extremely simple answers that won't explain anything. Lying runs contrary to the truth and AI's don't do well with contradictions."

"I figured as much."

"But Shepard, what about my people? That thing—"

"It didn't do anything to you personally, Tali. Big difference. Besides, I want to know when was the last time the quarian people have actually made contact with the geth. Not counting the heretics that are attacking everyone," Shepard asked, before suddenly looking thoughtful. "Actually, I don't think the heretics made any attack on the quarians, have they?"

Again, Tali fell quiet.

"Look, only the heretics left the Perseus Veil. Sovereign made them an offer of some sort and they accepted. The condition was to attack organics, as you might've guessed," he explained. "Before, I wouldn't have asked you to work with synthetics, especially after Eden Prime. But if the geth are innocent, then everything changes."

"The geth are not innocent!" she said hotly.

"Against humanity," Shepard amended. "Look, what's been going on between your people has been going on for three centuries. As an engineer, as an impartial judge, can you really tell me that the geth hold grudges? Or is it just the quarians?"

Tali glared at him, but he gamely met her eyes and pushed on.

"That's what I thought. The geth are unbiased. They don't have emotions. Everything they do is based off calculations and probabilities," Shepard said. "Look, like it or not, the geth, Legion, is going to be staying and working with us. I'm asking you to do the same. Please don't make it an order."

She made a sound like a cross between a growl and hiss, but nodded stiffly.

Accepting that as the best he was going to get, he asked, "Now, what's this about 'the Admiralty Board wants to charge me' thing? What are you talking about?"

At his question, she visibly wilted and fiddled with the hood of her environment suit.

"Tali?" he asked worriedly.

"I-I need your help," she finally said. "I just received a message from the Migrant Fleet. The Admiralty Board has accused me of treason." She bowed her head and whispered, "I'm scared, Shepard."

He could tell. Almost everything about her seemed like this was the worst news she'd ever faced. Even when they stole the Normandy and pursued Saren to Ilos, she was excited more than frightened. Here, there was almost no trace of the bravery that she often displayed. To Shepard, it was almost heartbreaking to see.

Treason is a serious charge. But to accuse someone like Tali should be crime in and of itself.

A thought occurred to him. "It can't be because of Cerberus, is it? I got a message from your father and the Admiralty Board saying that they gave you permission to come here."

She shook her head. "I'm not working with Cerberus. I'm working with you. And you're right, I did get leave to serve on the Normandy again. I have no idea what they're accusing me of. You'd think I would remember if I'd betrayed the fleet!"

"Nobody who knows you could believe you'd betray your people, Tali," Shepard assured.

Despite his words, she still seemed unsure. "I don't know. They don't lay charges like this unless the evidence seems absolute." She did marginally relax though. "But thanks. I appreciate your faith in me, Shepard."

"What exactly happens when a quarian is accused of treason?" he asked carefully.

"There's a hearing, with members of the Admiralty Board acting as judges," she explained.

"What about your father?"

"He'll have to recuse himself with judgment. I can't even imagine what he's thinking right now," she whispered.

"Have you sent a message to him?"

Tali shook her head. "I don't know what to say or what to ask." She took a shuddering breath. "The punishment for treason is exile. If they convict me, I can never go back."

"Treason is one of the most serious crimes anyone can be charged with, but you've been on the Normandy for the last few weeks. What are they accusing you of, exactly?" he asked.

"I don't know. The specifics of the charges like this are rarely discussed on open channels," she said. "I won't know anymore until I get to the flotilla."

"How often is someone from the Fleet charged with treason anyway? It can't be common."

"It's rare," she affirmed. "It must be something that affects the entire flotilla, not just one ship. The most recent one was Anora'Vanya vas Selani, an engineer who handed over Fleet defense schematics to the batarians."

Shepard raised his eyebrow at that.

"She had good intentions," Tali said, catching sight of Shepard's expression. "The batarians were contracted to upgrade our systems. But they passed the defense schematics to a pirate gang."

"Was she convicted?" Shepard asked when Tali trailed off.

"No… she made a suicide run on the pirates. She destroyed them before they could attack the Fleet. She was pardoned… posthumously." She bowed her head again. "Let's hope I don't have to prove my innocence that way…"

"You won't. It's not going to happen, I promise," Shepard said.

Tali took his words to heart and stood a bit taller. "Thanks."

"What does exile mean for you if you're actually convicted?"

"The specifics are up to the judges. If it's deemed only a tragic mistake in judgment, the guilty party might receive a small ship and supplies." She scoffed and glanced at the Tantalus Mass Effect Core nearby. "Not that it really matters. Either way, if I'm convicted, I'll never see the Migrant Fleet again."

"No prison and no capital punishment, at least," Shepard observed. "Anywhere else, that's the most likely outcome on a treason conviction."

"We don't have the spare resources for long-term incarceration. Monitored work detail is more effective," Tali replied. "And we don't have enough people to afford executions. An exile can still have children and those children are welcomed back to the Fleet."

"So how does the trial work? How soon do we need to get you there?" Shepard asked.

"I've been ordered to return as soon as possible. They'll wait long enough to expense travel time, but eventually, if I don't show up, they'll try me in absentia. As for how it works… it's less formal than an Earth trial, or something you'd see on the Citadel." She shook her head miserably. "We're family. This is just the worst kind of family meeting."

"We'll divert course and head there immediately, then," Shepard promised.

Tali sighed in utter relief. "I was thinking I might have to book passage on another ship. I didn't think there would be time for you to help."

"I wouldn't leave you like that," Shepard said. "Even if I have to hunt down the Collectors and cripple their ship again to slow them down, I'd make the time."

Despite her herself, Tali giggled. "Thank you, Shepard."

Shepard smiled back. "No problem. So… what's our course?"

~o~O~o~

Location: Normandy SR-2 / En Route to Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet

"Hey, Tali," Garrus greeted as she entered the hangar.

"Hey," Tali echoed, though her greeting was understandably subdued.

Garrus said nothing, but there was a look in his eyes that told her he knew everything. "It'll be okay. Things will work out. You'll see."

"I hope so," Tali whispered. She sat down on the deck and began her stretches.

Garrus just rotated his left shoulder and hopped in place a bit. She guessed that he already finished his stretches.

"What's your opinion on Shepard's decision?" Tali asked with a slight edge to her voice.

Garrus looked confused for a moment at her question before understanding dawned on him and shook his head. "Not exactly what I would've done, but if the geth are inno— uh… 'not guilty' of the attacks two years ago, then I can't really say if this is a good or bad idea. Time will tell."

Tali made a noise of disgust and started stretching her other leg.

"I can't believe it! I knew that profile was a cheating asshat! It was a fucking AI! And a camping jerk at that!"

Tali jerked her head up and stared as Hawthorne ranted at other side of the gym.

Matthews' was laughing so hard, he looked like he was about to stop breathing. "You… got… beat… by… a… geth!" he gasped out before he fell over laughing again.

"Did you see what it's score is?" Hadley said. "Maxed out. That thing doesn't stop playing. I swear, one of its playtime hours was 344. 344 hours straight!"

"Fucking camper…"

"I think sniper is the better term."

Matthews' had finally regain control of himself and stood up, though a bit shakily. He had to wipe some tears from his eyes. "I actually teamed up with it on Galaxy of Fantasy."

Goldstein stopped punching at the bag nearby and turned to him in shock. "Yeah? You actually played with it?"

"Me and a few others. We teamed up on the quest 'Scourge of the Thresher Dragon'. Infiltrat0rN7, I mean, Legion, got the win for best supporter/healer."

"When the hell was this?" Hawthorne asked.

"Before I got deployed to the Normandy actually. That geth has been playing for a long time. It's a freaking level 612 Ardat-Yakshi Necromancer!"

"What are they talking about?" Tali asked in total confusion.

Garrus shook his head and helped Tali to her feet. "Legion likes playing extranet games. A lot. Evidently, a few of the crewmen that play had no idea. They had Legion on something called a 'friend's list' for a while and they only just found out who it is. Shepard was just telling me how much we really don't know about the geth. Heretics, we know plenty of, but not geth. It's a strange galaxy we live in."

Tali stood there speechless before for a moment until the shock wore off. "What? !"

"You know, that's the same exact reaction I had," Garrus noted in a painfully fake surprised tone.

"But… why?" Tali mumbled.

Garrus shrugged. "No idea. Your people were the ones that made them."

"When my people made them, gaming wasn't exactly what we had in mind."

"Well, I might ask if I ever get the inclination. Never really thought I'd ever talk to a geth, myself."

"You think it's alright, though? Having a geth on board?" Hadley asked.

"The Captain's taken out more geth than anybody. This one must be different," Matthews said thoughtfully.

"That's because the synthetics that's been attacking are actually called heretics," Goldstein said as she went back to work on the punching bag. "Apparently, the geth don't like them either. Like there's an interspecies war or something going on."

"Where'd you hear that?" Hawthorne asked.

"Patel. She was in the room when Executive Lawson and the Captain talked to it."

"Hey, are you going to talk to him? It. Whatever," Garrus asked, stumbling over the pronouns a bit.

"No," Tali said tersely. She walked over to an empty section of the gym and put her hands up. "Not unless I was allowed to bring my shotgun, then the only thing I would say is 'goodbye, you bosh'tet'."

"I see we've been a positive influence on you," Garrus said with a chuckle before sliding into a fighting stance of his own. "Okay… let's see if we can't work on your agility a bit more…"

~o~O~o~

Tali stepped out of the women's bathroom, idly adjusting her environment suit. She sighed in relief as the soreness in her muscles was lessened from her shower.

It was 'nighttime' now, or at the very least, the chronological equivalent of nighttime. Life aboard a starship meant living by a set schedule dictated by numbers on a clock. Without sunrises or sunsets, day and night were arbitrary words to denote working and sleeping periods. Human ships lived by Earth time, 24 hours in a day. Naturally, the Migrant Fleet had its own measure of time based off the orbital rotation of their homeworld, but the time difference was nothing she couldn't adapt to.

It was only after hours when she could safely take a shower, and only after sterilizing and locking the bathroom to prevent any problems between her and the crew. It was a mild inconvenience, but the female portion of the crew had accepted it and planned their trips accordingly. Since she used it during the off hours, and with only a few crewmembers taking the 'graveyard shift', whatever that meant, there were no problems.

Shepard had kindly offered the use of his personal bathroom to facilitate her needs, but she couldn't accept. As generous and gallant as his offer was, it was too much.

And much too personal.

She felt herself blush as certain thoughts floated unbidden in her mind's eye and banished them away quickly before she let herself get too distracted.

Nearby, the door to the Starboard Observation Room opened. She turned her head, intending to greet Samara, but was mildly surprised to see Shepard walking out instead. It drew Tali's curiosity considering he was leaving the Justicar's room in the middle of the night.

He didn't notice her immediately, even when she was standing almost in front of him. Instead, he was rubbing his bottom and twisting his back at the same time.

He stopped short when he finally raised his eyes and spotted her. "Evening, Tali."

"Hi," she replied and looked over his shoulder.

Samara was sitting on the floor, her back facing the door. She looked like she was quietly observing the kaleidoscope of energies of FTL travel outside the window before the door closed.

Tali turned back to Shepard. "You're up late."

"Biotic training with Samara. I keep losing track of time. I think I'm getting the hang of this meditation thing she does, though," he explained. He twisted his back again and was rewarded with a series of cracks.

Tali couldn't help but wince at the sound.

"The drawback is that. I have no idea how she sits that long and not feel it later… For me, sniper training was the same," Shepard said with a grin. "Keep focused, keep breathing, and keep still. One shot, one kill; no luck, just skill."

The words didn't mean anything to her, but the way Shepard recited it meant he probably had heard it a lot.

"My offer is still open if you want to use my bathroom," he said, noting that she was still standing in front of the Women's Lavatory.

"I know," Tali said. She could feel the heat return to her cheeks with a vengeance and was thankful for her mask once again. "I appreciate the thought, but I can manage."

"It's not a problem," he said. He tilted his head as a thought occurred to him. "You know, I think it's good I bumped into you. Have time to talk?"

"Of course."

Shepard led the way into the Common Area and sat down at the nearest table. Tali opted to sit across from him and waited expectantly.

"We're flying in on a Cerberus ship. I don't think we should be sneaking up on the Migrant Fleet using the Normandy's stealth capabilities," he stated, only semi-seriously. "So what should we be doing or expecting?"

Tali nearly slapped herself for forgetting. With the mission, the sudden charges against her, her concern about her father, Auntie Raan, Admiral Han'Gerrel… she had completely forgot to inform Shepard of the Migrant Fleet security measures. "Keelah, I'm sorry. I already informed the Fleet of my coming arrival and they're expecting me. But there are a few things Joker needs to know as we approach."

Shepard waited expectantly.

"We need to approach openly. No wild maneuvers or aggressive flight patterns, obviously. Navy ships are always patrolling and they're heavily armed. They will initiate first contact once they detect our approach."

"Okay. That's understandable. Cerberus ship and all," he said.

She shook her head. "It's not because of Cerberus. Ships are our greatest resource; many quarians tend to bring new ships home as part of their Pilgrimage. Because it's new, or old, depending on the case, there isn't a valid IFF. The flotilla will have no records, registrations or call signs in the system."

"Which would make the flotilla a bit nervous, no doubt," Shepard commented. "Approaching foreign ships with no identification of any sort."

"Yes. It's standard practice to challenge any incoming or loitering vessels within a certain distance of the Fleet. I have to identify myself on board with a unique code phase that is registered to me, and me only. Every quarian that leaves the Fleet is expected to memorize this," she said.

"Okay."

"There are two, actually. One is for safe passage, but the other is the alert phase. It will tell the fighters to attack without hesitation and destroy the incoming ship in the event that one of our people is coerced into assisting anyone that is trying to infiltrate and/or attack the Fleet."

Shepard raised an eyebrow at that. "Does that happen often?"

"No, but we can't afford to be lax. And the system isn't foolproof either. Cerberus managed to infiltrate the flotilla and nearly destroyed Idenna and everyone on board."

Shepard frowned. "How'd they do that?" he asked, though he sounded like he worked it out.

"I don't know for certain. I never heard the full story. What I do know is that one crew tasked with gathering materials for the flotilla. A quarian that was exiled came back instead and he knew the pass phase. It's likely the information was… extracted," she explained. "We never found the missing crew."

"I'm sorry," Shepard said.

Tali shook her head. "In any event, we shouldn't expect trouble. Besides my trial, anyway," she said uncomfortably before clearing her throat. "Once I've identified myself, we'll be given directions to the ship that my trial will be on."

"Okay. All this sounds simple enough… anything else?"

"One last thing. It is customary to ask for a security and quarantine team to meet us."

"Because of cross-species contamination, right?" Shepard said knowingly. "Is that a good idea with our ship though?"

"In our case, with a Cerberus frigate, it's more of a formality. No sweep will be done, though I have no doubt there will be armed guards posted at the airlock entrance. Many quarians died when Cerberus attacked us," Tali said bitterly. She took a breath to calm down and continued. "By requesting a team to meet us, or me really, it proves that I have nothing to hide. Normally, I would just greet the team, chat a little, and be on my way. No search would really be conducted by the security team, just the quarantine team and I doubt they'll come aboard."

"I'll order the crew to behave all the same. I don't want anyone making more trouble for you," Shepard promised.

Tali smiled at his thoughtfulness. "Thanks."

"Would you like me to come with you? Or are you going in by yourself? Come to think of it, could I even come in?" he asked.

She paused and mulled the idea over in her head. Despite the loss of their embassy 300 years ago, the quarians still followed Citadel conventions, if only because the Fleet often passes through Citadel space and quarian's on Pilgrimage go to Citadel planets more often than not.

"I would like you to come," Tali said after a few silent minutes.

"Will it be any trouble for you?"

"Maybe, but I would still rather you come," she said. "After Cerberus' attack, our policy has been stricter about letting non-quarians on the flotilla. But you're a Spectre and we still follow Citadel laws, so even the Admiralty Board can't deny your authority."

"Alright. What about Garrus? I'm sure he'd want to come too."

Tali bowed her head and considered the idea carefully. Eventually, she shook her head. "I don't think it's a good idea to bring more people than needed. As much as I would welcome his support, it really should just be the two of us at most. Any more may cause unnecessary tension and I imagine there will be enough of that."

Shepard nodded and leaned back in his seat. He looked thoughtful about something. "Can I ask a different set of questions?"

"Sure."

"I get that 'nar' is for quarians that are pre-Pilgrimage, and 'vas' is post-Pilgrimage, but what do they mean, exactly?"

She blinked at the sudden inquiry and tilted her head at him quizzically, but he gazed back in earnest curiosity.

"Oh… um, nar means 'child of'. So my former name would mean that I am, was, a child of the Rayya. Vas means 'crew of', which means that I am now a productive member of the Neema now." She smiled depreciatively and shook her head. "Exiles are known by a different name: nar Tasi and vas Nedas. Child of no one and crew of nowhere."

"So why the Neema?" Shepard asked.

The sudden question and topic change threw her off a little. Forgetting about her despondent thoughts, she looked at him blankly. "What?"

"Why did you choose the Neema?" he reiterated.

"Oh. A close friend of my father, Admiral Han'Garrel vas Neema serves aboard that ship. I guess I thought I could make myself useful to him."

It was the truth, but only partly. She often thought that the real reason why she chose the Neema was that it almost sounded like Normandy. A small way of honoring the faithful frigate. And her doomed captain.

"Are the two of you close?" Shepard asked.

"I… I suppose so. He's closer to my father than he is to me. The best description I can think of is that he's like a distant uncle," Tali explained. "If I don't have any specific orders from my father, then I would get orders from him. The mission at Haestrom was actually on his command."

"What about the other admirals? Do you know them well?"

"Um… Admirals Shala'Raan and Han'Gerrel really are the closest. I know Shala'Raan more though. She's like a surrogate aunt to me," Tali explained. "There's also Admiral Zaal'Koris vas Qwib Qwib…"

Shepard smirked at the name.

"Please don't ask about the name," Tali said with a small giggle.

"I'm trying, I really am," Shepard said with a small laugh.

"I don't know him well, though I have met him occasionally. My father and Han'Gerrel would always argue against him and his policies concerning the geth."

"What policies?"

"He vying for peace with the geth," Tali said before catching the look on Shepard's face. "Don't."

"Fine. But we are going to talk about that sometime," Shepard said staunchly. He glanced at the darkened Med Bay and the door to the AI core within.

Tali huffed in defiance, but continued. "The last is Admiral Daro'Xen vas Moreh. I never met her."

"At all?"

"No… despite the fact that she's an admiral, I don't think she takes her duties as seriously as the other admirals," Tali theorized. "She's also the youngest though, so maybe it's a matter of status among the Board. All I know is that my father doesn't have many positive things to say about her. He believes she should be taking her responsibilities more seriously."

Shepard nodded before changing the subject again. "Is the Neema a good ship?"

"Oh, yes. I'm proud to be a part of her crew…"

~o~O~o~

They talked into the late hours until Tali felt drowsy. Seeing this, Shepard escorted her to the Crew Room and let her sleep.

The next morning, she was woken by Garrus. He continued to shake her until she finally crawled out of bed.

"About time you're up. Get some breakfast and meet me down in the gym. You're starting to develop some bad habits. There are some things I want you to work on before they become problematic. I'm giving you 30 minutes," he said.

Tali blinked at him sleepily and wondered if she could get away with slapping him again, but by the time she made up her mind, he had already left.

Her morning lesson with him was the most intense he'd ever done. When they first started, it felt more like a hobby than anything serious; just something to do in the off-hours. Picking herself off the floor, she regretted accepting his offer to teach her hand-to-hand combat as he barked out her mistakes and forced her to try harder.

By the time they were done, she was tired, sore, sweaty, and cranky. Since she couldn't take a shower, she had to go through the day as she was, which added to her irritation.

In the aftermath of Garrus' training, though she had other choice words to describe his new sadistic streak, she didn't feel like going down to Engineering and working on the IFF. Fortunately, Shepard took pity on her and waived her duties. Gabby and Ken were sympathetic and took over.

Following last night, Shepard continued their conversation with the addition of Kasumi. The exuberant thief had dozens of questions about quarians and her lively personality was infectious. Despite her rather odd start of the day, she happily passed the time talking over lunch.

Later, Garrus sauntered in and started chatting as well, though she thought teasing was probably more accurate. She tried to stay angry at him for her miserable morning, but his friendly approach got her to let it go. He even got her to talk about her immune system again, dredging back memories of their odd conversations inside Citadel Presidium elevators.

After dinner, Kasumi dragged Tali down and showed her a few moves that she assured would allow her to get a temporary advantage over Garrus the next time they had a lesson. Tali was hesitant at first, considering how sore she felt, but eventually jumped at the chance. A long shower ended the day and she fell asleep before her head hit the pillow.

However, the next morning, Shepard was the one waking her up. He requested her help to install the Warp ammo converter on his weapons. Because of the security measures installed on HMW Spectre weapons, all she could really do was look over his shoulder and give him directions.

Once finished with that, Jacob called her over to help with a few other improvements on the other weapons in the Armory.

Later, Grunt stalked up to her and asked, though it almost felt like a demand, to help him with the Cain and see if there was anything she could do to speed up the charge time.

"The faster we can blow up our enemies, the faster we can find more and do it again," he rumbled.

Poking around the Cain made her a bit nervous, but she relented and ran her scans on the heavy weapon to see what she could do.

Her time suddenly became a whirlwind of activity. It seemed like everyone wanted a moment of her time for some reason or other. Kelly wanted to understand quarian religion. Dr. Chakwas wanted to update Tali's medical records. Mordin wanted to double-check the facts in his book: Cross-Species Contamination and Xeno-Plague Potential and asked for her opinion. Thane casually inquired about her relationship with her father and asked for her advice on what he could do to improve his relationship with his son. EDI passed along regular updates on engine status from Ken and Gabby, as well as few of its own observations. Random crewmen asked if she could repair or improve something or other for them. Even Jack popped up asked if she wanted to play some Skyllian Five to pass the time.

The distractions were such that she almost jumped in surprise when she heard Joker's announcement one day. "We're about to make the mass relay jump into the Vallhallan Threshold Nebula. I repeat: We're about to make the mass relay jump into the Vallhallan Threshold Nebula."

"All hands, prepare for mass relay jump," EDI added.

"Wha—?" Tali said in confusion.

"I win this hand," Jack crowed. She scooped up the smile pile of credits in the pot.

"Tali? May I have a word with you?" Miranda asked. She gave Jack a cool glance. "Jack."

Jack narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.

"What's going on?" Tali asked, hoping that she wasn't going to be in the middle of a conflict between Jack and Miranda.

Miranda sat down next to Tali, and as far from Jack as the table allowed. "I wanted to tell you that I've passed the word amongst the crew. We're confined to the Normandy and in lockdown during our stay with the Migrant Fleet. A gag order has also been issued on Legion and EDI's presence. No one is to talk to or about them and they won't reveal themselves until after the trial. You have my word that we will not cause you any undue trouble," she said.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Jack muttered. The ship lurched slightly as they cleared the relay.

It struck Tali at that moment that she had completely let slip the idea that she was going home. To face trial on the charge of treason. "My trial… wait…"

"Talk to Shepard," Miranda hinted heavily. She stood up and walked into her office.

Tali turned to Jack. "Shepard?"

"He asked if I could play with you for a bit. Just pass the time a little," Jack said.

Tali felt her mouth open in surprise and closed it with a snap.

"Hey, uh… good luck, yeah? Whatever is going on down there, its bullshit. I know it is. And thanks for the creds." Pocketing her credits, she also left for the confines of the sub-decks.

Stunned, Tali just sat there until Shepard himself took a seat right in front of her. "Keelah!" she cried out in surprise, yet again.

"Sorry," he said with smile. He didn't look sorry at all.

Shaking herself out of her stupor, she looked at him like he'd grown another head as her mind tried to wrap around the last couple of days. "You… you set all this up?"

"I politely asked if anyone wanted to cheer you up and distract you for a bit," he freely admitted. He looked proud of himself. "Many answered the call and to great effect it seems. How're you feeling?"

"So you… they… everyone?" she stammered. Her mind finally caught up on what had happened. Everyone had kept her mind off her impending trial, all to the point where it slipped her mind.

He shrugged. "We care about you. We're not quarians, mind you, but we are a crew. I don't know if that's good enough, but…"

Tali shook her head. She could feel tears build up in her eyes and she smiled. "No, it's… it's more than enough. Thank you. I mean, if you hadn't, then all I would be doing is thinking about what I might have did, or what might happen, or—"

"You're welcome, Tali," he cut in smoothly. Standing up, he gave her a reassuring smile. "I'm going to get my armor. See you in CIC."

She nodded, not trusting her voice at that moment.

After he left, Garrus walked in a few minutes later and sat down. "Hey."

"Hey," she echoed.

"Sorry about the rough lessons," he apologized before looking around. Seeing that no one was around besides Rupert, he leaned in and whispered in a pleading tone of voice, "Just to set the record straight, it was all Shepard's idea. He said one way to distract you was to get you all angry and to have someone to get angry at. I swear: It was all his fault."

Tali stared at him uncomprehendingly.

Garrus stared at her expectantly.

An awkward silence settled in-between them.

A giggle escaped her lips and it broke the floodgates. Once again, despite the fact that there was a chance that her life might be falling to pieces all around her, she couldn't help laugh.

~o~O~o~

Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / Normandy SR-2

"We're about 150,000k from the Migrant Fleet," Joker announced. "Ships incoming. They've queried us."

"Put it through," Shepard ordered.

"Approaching vessel, you are entering a restricted area. Please identify."

"Tali?" Shepard said.

"This is Tali'Zorah vas Neema nar Rayya, requesting permission to rejoin the Fleet."

"Our records have you currently serving aboard a Cerberus frigate. Verify authorization."

"'After time adrift among open stars, along tides of light and through shoals of dust, I will return to where I began'," Tali recited.

"Wow…" Joker said quietly. "That's pretty."

"Permission granted," the Traffic Controller said after a few moments. "Welcome home, Tali'Zorah. I have been instructed to inform you that you must dock at the Rayya. Transmitting coordinates now."

"Damn… how do they fly like that?" Joker asked. His hands moved deftly across the controls when he received his directions. "I mean, there's at least 50,000 ships in there and they're all flying so close together."

"Centuries of practice," Tali said dryly before speaking to the Fleet's traffic control. "We'd like a security and quarantine team to meet us. Our ship is not clean."

"Understood. Approach exterior docking cradle 17."

"Rayya, huh? Your birth ship?" Shepard asked.

Tali turned to face him and nodded. "Yes, and one of the three live ships on the Fleet. She provides food for a third of the entire flotilla."

Shepard nodded in understanding.

Tali took a moment to study at him. He was wearing his Kestrel armor, but instead of his regular helmet, he was wearing his N7 Breather Helmet instead, allowing her to see his eyes. "Why the change of helmets?"

"So I don't fully hide my face. I don't want make anyone nervous," he answered. "No weapons, I take it?"

She idly wondered if that was a subtle slight against her opaque faceplate, but shrugged it off just as quickly. "No. If I'm being charged with treason, then it's best to appear as nonthreatening as possible. We're to comply with the captain of the Rayya and the Admiralty Board and whatever they order."

"We're approaching the Rayya," Joker reported. A quick flick of his hand and the intercom was on. "All hands: Prepare for docking procedures. I repeat: all hands prepare for docking procedures."

Tali glanced at the nearby pedestal and noted that the AI was nowhere to be seen. Apparently, it was keeping itself hidden per Miranda's instructions.

After a few silent minutes, there was a large thump near the vicinity of the airlock and the hiss of gas could be heard.

"Docking procedures complete. Pressurizing airlock," Joker said. He tapped a few more commands to shut down the propulsion systems before spinning his chair around to face Tali. "Hey, good luck in there. We're all behind you."

Tali smiled. "Thanks, Joker."

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

I know people were probably expecting some kind of initial confrontation between Tali and Legion, but realistically, I couldn't manufacture a reason. I really doubt Tali would ever voluntarily visit it and I didn't want to make it an order without good reason. She's honestly welcome to her opinion, misguided as it may be.

Rest assured, they will meet and I'll make it as real as possible. Until then, she has other things on her mind.

To any Tali fans out there: Once again, I don't bash characters. Ever. Just a friendly reminder.

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