Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / Rayya
The airlock hallway leading into the Rayya was long, but it served two very important purposes. One was a lengthy decontamination procedure to ensure that neither she nor Shepard brought any contagions onto the ship. The second was to ensure security of the Rayya. Tali's reports two years ago coupled with the semi-recent attack meant little leeway was given to Cerberus.
Finally reaching the end, she wasn't surprised the see a team of marines, all armed, standing guard outside the airlock doors. However, despite the fact that their weapons were drawn, they were relaxed and simply loitered about. Some were taking their duty seriously by holding their positions at the sides of the doors, but others were just sitting on the deck. The scanners in the airlock would give them sufficient warning if the anything in the Normandy presented them with any sort of threat.
Though she couldn't deny the idea that Shepard's presence may also have something to do with the lack of discipline as well.
She stood straighter when she spotted the captain of the Rayya walking toward them.
"Captain Shepard vas Normandy. Captain Kar'Danna vas Rayya, commanding officer of the Rayya," he formally introduced himself.
Shepard nodded his head respectfully in acknowledgment. "Captain Danna. Thank you for the honor of allowing me aboard your ship."
"Of course. Tali'Zorah told me a lot about you. I wish we could be meeting under more pleasant circumstances. Still, I appreciate that you are willing to stand by her. As commander of the Normandy, you are responsible for the lives aboard it. That entitles you to respect among our people," Kar'Danna said. "'May you stand between your crew and harm as you lead them through the empty quarters of the stars'."
"Keelah se'lai," Tali intoned before whispering to Shepard, "It's an old ship-captain's blessing, Shepard."
"Thank you," Shepard said to both of them. "Tali's helped both the Normandy and myself out of many difficult situations. I'm glad to be able to return the favor."
Tali blushed a bit, but kept her eyes on Kar'Danna.
"I understand. As the commander of the vessel she serves on, your voice carries weight."
Tali tilted her head at Kar'Danna's reply. While she had permission to serve on the Normandy, it didn't mean she was a part of her crew over that of the Neema. Many quarians who serve on different ships often travel to others. The liveships in particular required talented botanists and gardeners, and not all quarians who had those skillsets served on them.
At most, Shepard could probably serve as a character witness on her behalf, but the way Captain Danna spoke…
"Captain Danna, where is the captain of the Neema?" she asked. "I assume he is to be my advocate."
Kar'Danna shook his head. "You will be told everything inside, Tali. I wish I could do more to help, but the trial requires that I be officially neutral. But… I'm here, if you need to talk." He sighed and clasped his hands behind his back. "They're charging you with bringing active geth into the Fleet as part of a secret project."
Tali felt a chill run down her spine. "That's insane! I never brought active geth aboard! I only sent parts and pieces!"
"But, you did send geth materials back to the Migrant Fleet?" Shepard asked in surprise.
"Yes. My father was working on a project. He needed the materials," she explained. Hundreds of scenarios played out in her head. "If I sent back something that was only damaged, not permanently inactive… No. no. I checked everything. I was careful."
"Technically, I'm under orders to place you under arrest pending the hearing," Kar'Danna said. "So. Tali, I'm confining you to the Rayya until the trial is over."
"Thank you, Captain," Tali said gratefully. The idea that she would be shackled and imprisoned hadn't even occurred to her. She was enormously relieved to be spared that shame.
"I assumed you are unarmed?"
"We both are. Obviously, Captain Shepard did so voluntarily."
"I appreciate your candor," Kar'Danna said to the both of them. "The other admirals are flying in as we speak. Preparations for the trial will be underway shortly. The hearing's being held in the garden plaza. Tali, I assume you still remember where that is?"
"I think I can find it," Tali answered dryly.
"Admiral Shala'Raan is already here and waiting for you there. She has requested to speak to the both of you. If you'll excuse me, I must go and greet the rest of the Admiralty Board," he said. "Good luck, Tali."
After Kar'Danna left, Tali took the lead and led Shepard deeper into the Rayya.
They navigated through several decks and countless hallways. Tali easily remembered everything about the Rayya; the sub-decks, engines, residential and trading decks, the hydroponic gardens, even every nut and bolt. Shepard just quietly followed in her wake, staring at everything with undisguised wonder in his eyes.
As usual, groups of quarians were mulling about, gossiping about whatever or going about their daily routines. Naturally, Tali's impending trial was the main focus on their minds today. Despite their hushed tones, she could still pick up snippets of their conversations.
"I can't believe they're charging Tali'Zorah with such a thing."
"Loyalty to the Fleet is about more than just killing geth. Tali'Zorah's guilty."
Determined to ignore them, she finally turned the last corner which would lead into the garden plaza. Standing in the opening, Admiral Shala'Raan vas Tonbay was talking to her aid. Her back was to them, so the aid pointed down the hall at their approach to inform her of their arrival.
"Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. I am glad you're home," Shala greeted. She tried to sound positive for Tali's benefit, but her voice came out strained.
Still, seeing such a familiar face after all she went through, Tali quickly walked up and embraced her. "Auntie Raan!" she said happily before quickly letting go. As part of the Admiralty Board, any of show favoritism would only work against her. Stepping back, she gestured to her surrogate family. "Shepard vas Normandy, this is Admiral Shala'Raan vas Tonbay. As I said before, she's a friend of my father's."
Suddenly, the name 'Normandy' being repeated after her aunt had said it clicked into her mind. "Wait… Auntie Raan, you called me 'vas Normandy'."
"I'm afraid I did, Tali. The Admiralty Board moved to have you tried under that name, given your departure from the Neema," Shala'Raan explained sadly.
"But-but… I was given permission!" Tali protested.
"I take it being associated with a human ship is a bad sign," Shepard inquired. He tactfully left out the fact that the ship was Cerberus. The extra reminder would not help in this case.
"They stripped me of my ship name. That's as good as declaring me exiled already," Tali said, completely horrified by the implication. While she entertained a fantasy or two about having her ship name changed to 'vas Normandy' and be under Shepard's command, this wasn't how she wanted it to happen.
"It's not over yet, Tali," Shala said soothingly. "You have friends who still know you as Tali'Zorah vas Neema… whatever we must call you legally."
"As an admiral, I assume you're one of the judges?" Shepard asked.
"I'm afraid not. My history with Tali and her father forced me to recuse myself," she replied.
"I imagine Father had to do the same," Tali guessed. "And what of Admiral Han'Gerrel?"
"He stated that he swore an oath that he would not let personal judgment affect his ability to dispense justice. After some deliberation, he was allowed to be one of the judges," Shala'Raan answered. "For my part, I moderate and ensure the rules of protocol are followed, but I have no vote in the final judgment."
"All right," Shepard said. "Does Tali have a defense counselor, someone who speaks for her side?"
Again, Tali felt the heat rising to her cheeks. Everything Captain Kar'Danna said before now made sense. Because she was stripped of her ship name, the captain of the Neema was no longer eligible to represent her. Being given a new ship name meant…
"Indeed she does… Captain Shepard," Shala'Raan said and confirming Tali's suspicions. She stared intently at the both of them. "She is part of your crew, now, recognized by quarian law. And remember, an accused is always represented by his or her ship's captain."
Shepard turned to Tali, his eyes questioning her wordlessly.
"So, er… you would actually speak for my defense," Tali explained hesitantly.
To her relief, Shepard nodded confidently. "I'll do everything in my power to help you, Tali."
She sighed in relief. "Thank you, Shepard. I could not ask for a better councilor."
She meant it too. She remembered how he was able to manipulate one of the ExoGeni representatives to convince his superiors to assist Zhu's Hope on Feros instead of condemning it. It had seemed impossible to help the colony there, but somehow, Shepard found a way. Lieutenant Alenko had once joked that if ever got into trouble with the law, he'd want Shepard to be his advocate.
Shepard had long proven that he could savvy with his words just as skilled as he was with a gun. The thought that he was representing her was calming, especially since he was an authority on the geth in his own right.
"Our legal rules are simple. There are no legal tricks or political loopholes for you to worry about," Shala explained to him.
"Present the truth as best you can. It will have to be enough. Now I must begin preparations. Both of you, please remain here. We will call for you soon."
After she left, Tali walked into the plaza and sat down on the nearest bench, furthest from the podium at the bottom. Shepard settled down next to her and patted her shoulder confidently before looking around. She saw the amazement in his eyes that there could be a garden growing inside a ship. Quarians filed into the room as time went on and the buzz of conversation grew louder.
"If Tali'Zorah can't even get a quarian captain to stand for her, she's as good as convicted."
Tali resisted the urge to try and glare at the speaker, whoever it was, and tried to sit still. However, after several tense minutes, the stifling atmosphere caused her to start fidgeting in place.
"It'll be fine, Tali. Don't worry," Shepard said confidently.
"I know, but…" She trailed off and sighed.
"Don't get ahead of yourself, ma'am. If your captain can charge a Colossus head-on, this should be snap for him."
Tali turned around to see a distinctive and familiar red environmental suit standing right behind her. She stood up immediately. "Kal'Reegar!"
"Ma'am. Shepard. Good to see you both," he said before looking around the room and scoffing. "Seems like the circumstances hasn't improved much, though. But between this and the geth, I'll take the geth any day. At least I can shoot them."
"Good to see you, Reegar. What brings you aboard the Rayya?" Shepard asked.
Tali blinked and turned to Reegar questioningly.
"Well, uh… I'm here to argue the charges against Tali'Zorah. I've served with her and she deserves better than what she's getting," he answered.
"Thanks, Reegar," Tali said.
"Just stating the facts, ma'am," he modestly said.
"Any luck?" Shepard asked.
"Admiral Raan asked my opinion about the geth, since I'd fought on Haestrom," Reegar said. "Syrin'Dana and Raz'Sela are here too. Probably doing the same, I imagine."
"Kal, do you know something about all this?" Tali asked with a hint of suspicion. It was rare for her to call him by his first name, and he obviously picked up on it when he stiffened.
"Sorry, ma'am. Under orders. You'll be told soon enough. There's no way you can't be," he said evasively. "Don't worry. I'll be at your side the whole way."
She was flattered by Reegar's loyalty, but there was something telling in his voice. Before she could call him on it, he glanced at the entrance and grimaced.
"Looks like they're all here. Hearing's going to start. Shepard, it's in your hands now. Ma'am, good luck. I meant what I said: At your side, the whole way." He walked off to the center of the room and took a seat near central podium where she would be standing.
Tali tried to figure out what he meant, but the meager clues and hints she'd been given weren't enough to reveal the whole picture. She shook her head and led Shepard to the center podium, which stood in front of the panel where the admirals could look down on the accused and advocate. She gulped and felt a light sweat build on her forehead, even with the temperature controls built into her environment suit. Looking around, she spotted Captain Kar'Danna, but not her father. In fact, she couldn't see her father anywhere. She took several deep breaths to calm herself down, but almost ended up hyperventilating. Shepard put his hand on her shoulder again and she took comfort in his touch. She took one last breath and felt her heart flutter instead of trying to pound its way out of her chest.
The Admirals were taking their places now. She knew Shala'Raan and Han'Gerrel and she recognized Admiral Zaal'Koris vas Qwib Qwib. She had met him on a handful of occasions and her opinion of the man varied from the negative to the positive. He was intelligent and certainly a man to respect, but the differences in their opinions were too great for them to ever get along. The fourth admiral was one she had never met before, Admiral Daro'Xen vas Moreh. She was an oddity if the rumors were to be believed. She always kept to herself and despite being on the Admiralty Board, didn't seem to care much for the responsibilities of her position. According to her father anyway. He always had a disparaging word about Admiral Xen.
Once everyone was settled into their positions, Shala'Raan spread out her arms to silence the chattering crowd. "This Conclave is brought to order. Blessed are the ancestors who kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. Keelah se'lai."
All the quarians present bowed their heads in respect. "Keelah se'lai."
"The accused, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, has come with her captain to defend herself against the charge of treason," Shala'Raan formally stated.
Admiral Koris raised his hand. "Objection! A human has no business at a hearing involving such sensitive military matters!"
"Then you should not have declared Tali crew of the Normandy, Admiral Koris. By right as Tali's captain, and on his own authority as a Council Spectre, Shepard may stay," Shala'Raan countered.
Koris shook his head angrily. "Objection withdrawn."
"Shepard vas Normandy, your crew member Tali'Zorah vas Normandy stands accused of treason. Will you speak for her?" Raan requested.
Shepard leaned on the table and regarded the Admiral's standing before him. "If it helps Tali, I will. But in her heart, she remains Tali'Zorah vas Neema, a proud member of the Migrant Fleet. I regret that her captain is forbidden to stand at her side today."
Tali raised an eyebrow and studied the admiral's reactions. Shepard's last sentence carried a hint of disgust as well as a thinly veiled accusation. It was well played, no doubt carefully engineered to try to rattle the panel of judges and see what reactions he can generate and use to his advantage. Not to mention shift the seriousness of her charge of treason to the faux pas of the admiral's judgment.
As predicted, Admiral Koris sputtered at the preverbal finger-pointing. "Nobody has been forbidden from anything! It is a simple—"
Han'Gerrel turned to confront him. "Lie to them if you must, Zaal'Koris, but don't lie to me and expect me to stay silent! Captain Shepard is right!"
"Admirals, please," Shala pleaded. "Shepard's willingness to represent Tali'Zorah in this hearing is appreciated."
Gerrel glared one last time Koris before stepping back to his post.
Shepard watched their altercation intently.
"Tali, you are accused of bringing active geth to the Migrant Fleet. What say you?" Shala asked carefully.
"Tali would never endanger the Migrant Fleet. She pleads not guilty," Shepard stated confidently.
All four admirals turned to Tali and looked down at her expectantly.
"I left parts and technology for teams to pick up. My father ordered me to do so," she revealed. She wrung her hands nervously as she felt all eyes on her after her admission. "But I would never send active geth to the Fleet! Everything I sent was disabled and harmless!"
"Then explain how geth seized the lab ship where your father was working!" Koris snapped.
The crowd burst into shocked murmuring. Tali stood frozen when Koris dropped his bombshell on her.
Shepard called out to her. "Tali?"
She shook her head and looked up at the panel above her. "What are you talking about? What happened?"
Han'Gerrel glared at Koris again before turning to Tali. "As far as we can tell, the geth have killed everyone on the Alarei… Rael'Zorah included."
Her knees almost buckled at the news. She gripped the side of the table in front of her to keep herself from falling. "What? Oh, Keelah…"
Despite the frightened and outraged shouts from the crowd and despite her torrent of thoughts and emotions, Shepard remained calm and took charge of the situation.
"While I respect your adherence to tradition, protocol, and due process, right now our first concern must be the safety of the Migrant Fleet. As I understand it, ships are the Fleet's most precious resource. As such, the Normandy and her crew stand ready to assist in whatever capacity necessary."
"Thank you, Captain Shepard," Raan said gratefully. "Quarian strike teams have attempted to retake the ship, so far without success."
"Shepard, we have to take back the Alarei!" Tali pleaded. While the Migrant Fleet Marines may have failed, Shepard's record against the geth was impeccable. She knew he would succeed. What frightened her wasn't the geth, but the thought that she might be too late…
"The safest course would be to simply destroy the ship," Koris said coldly. "But if you are looking for an honorable death instead of exile…"
Rage filled her and she whirled at him. "I'm looking for my father, you bosh'tet!" Tali shot back. She didn't give a damn if Koris was an Admiral. She didn't even give a damn about exile. Only one thing mattered now.
"You intend to retake the Alarei from the geth?" Shala said, tactfully overlooking Tali's breach of protocol and giving her a significant look. "This proposal is extremely dangerous."
"With your permission, Admirals, yes," Shepard said. "The good of the Fleet must come first… and Tali needs to find her father."
Keelah, how could he stay so calm?
"Agreed. And if you die on this worthy mission, Tali, we will see that your name is cleared of these charges," Gerrel offered.
"We can discuss that later," Koris said quietly.
"Then it is decided. You will attempt to retake the Alarei," Shala stated. "A shuttle will be prepared and weapons provided for the both of you. You are hereby given leave to depart the Rayya."
"Thank you, Admiral," Shepard said.
Tali swallowed the lump in throat and nodded gratefully.
"Be safe, Tali. Captain. This hearing will resume upon your return, or upon determination that you have been killed in action," Shala said.
"Excuse me, Admiral Raan. Members of the Board. I'd like to accompany Tali."
Tali jerked her head and saw Reegar stand up and moved next to her and Shepard.
"Lieutenant Reegar?" Raan asked in surprise.
"I don't believe Tali'Zorah's guilty of anything you throw at her. Now either with, or without, your permission Admirals, I'm going with her. I want to give her the chance to prove that you're wrong about her," Reegar said.
Tali turned around and looked for the next speaker. Another familiar figure was pushing through the crowd. Another behind her was reluctantly following.
"Syrin'Dana vas Tesleya. I served with Tali on Haestrom. I'd like to help to her retake the Alarei as well," she said.
"Oh, damn it. Fine… Raz'Sela vas Tonbay. I guess I'll help, too," he said dejectedly.
Syrin whirled on him. "Don't sound too excited," she hissed.
He put his hands up and backed away. "Sorry!"
Koris bristled. "This hearing is to determine—"
"This isn't about the hearing, Admiral," Shepard interrupted. "This is about the Alarei and the chance to rescue, or confirm, the lives of everyone serving aboard her. If they want to help, we're not refusing. Is there any reason you should?"
"Now see here—!"
"Please!" Shala cried out and quieted the multitude of cries that erupted. She turned the marines that volunteered. "Do you understand the dangers involved?"
"We do, ma'am," Reegar stated for the three of them. Syrin and Raz nodded, silently conveying their tacit agreement.
"Then you are given leave to join Tali and Captain Shepard to retake the Alarei. This hearing is adjourned pending the outcome of your mission. We will see to it that the shuttle is prepared as soon as possible."
With that said, the trial ended. For now.
"Thank you all for helping me take back the Alarei," Tali said quietly. She and Shepard were standing at the upper area of the plaza. Reegar, Syrin, and Raz were standing beside her in a show of support.
"It's no problem, Tali," Syrin said sympathetically. "Raz and I owe your captain our lives. Least we could do is help."
"Yeah," Raz agreed before muttering, "Though I'd gladly go another month without seeing another geth."
"Suck it up marine," Reegar barked, causing Raz to flinch and involuntarily stand at attention. He turned to Tali. "We'll be getting the weapons and securing them in the shuttle. Gotta make sure they're up to snuff for this. Wouldn't put it past Admiral Koris to give us second hand crap."
"No problem, ma'am. See you there."
After they left to prepare everything, Tali turned to Shepard. He'd been silent the whole time. "From the way they spoke, the admirals sound sure that my father's already dead, but…"
"We don't know anything until we know something," Shepard said.
It was the truth, but she recognized the hidden message inside. "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."
"How are you holding up?" he asked. "They just threw a lot of fire at you, even before telling you about your father. Your ship name, the details of what they're accusing you of…"
"I knew this would be bad, but I guess you're never really prepared to be charged with treason." She turned away from him and paced. "And my father… I don't know. He could still be alive. They don't know for certain that he's dead. I just don't know, Shepard. And I need to find out."
"We got a bit of time until the shuttle's ready. Maybe we can—"
Whatever else he said was lost on her when she spotted Captain Kar'Danna standing nearby.
She pushed past Shepard and stalked up to him. "My father dead? Or trapped on the Alarei? My name stripped? How could you not tell me this, Captain? !"
To his credit, Kar'Danna managed to hold his ground, though his body language suggested he was uncomfortable with the disrespect that Tali was presenting. Still, under the charge of treason, insubordination hardly seemed worse. "I'm sorry, Tali. I was under orders from Admiral Raan herself. I couldn't say anything."
Tali turned her head to glance at Raan standing nearby. She was talking to her aide again in hushed tones.
"She wanted to get you on the Alarei. She said the Admiralty Board needed to see your reactions," he continued. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."
Tali shook her head and walked off. When she was within hearing distance she shouted, "You set me up, Shala!" Again, she didn't care for military formalities now. Idly, a random thought in her head said that her father would be greatly disapproving of her attitude. Anger smothered it away.
The aide back away slowly.
"You told Captain Danna not to say anything. I don't hear that my father may be dead until I'm in the trial? Why?" Tali demanded.
"The admirals needed to hear the shock in your voice, Tali. Otherwise, they might not have let you retake the Alarei," Shala said regretfully. "That is your best chance at recovering evidence that can exonerate you. I'm sorry. We cannot afford sensitivity."
"I don't care if I'm exiled! I care about my father! This delay may have cost him his life!" Tali shouted. "You should have told me the moment you heard. We could've boarded the Alarei and taken her back already!"
"And if he is dead? What then? Allowing you to be exiled is not how I wish to honor his memory. Please, Tali. Understand that we are in a difficult situation. Rael would care about your future more than his. I was respecting his memory by looking out for you first," Shala entreated.
Tali seethed, but she didn't know who or what she was angry at now. How could blame Shala when she was trying to help her and keep an impending panic among flotilla at bay all at the same time?
"Are the other admirals that set on finding her guilty?" Shepard asked worriedly.
"Anything involving the geth is a live wire, Shepard. But there is still hope," she said. She gestured to the other admirals in turn. "Han'Gerrel greatly respects both you and Tali for stopping Saren. Admiral Koris sees the whole thing as a war crime and wants to convict. I have no idea what Admiral Xen wants."
"And what can you tell us about the situation on the Alarei?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. Rael only said that he was researching new defense technology."
"Against the geth," he replied evenly.
Shala looked at him in confusion. Tali could understand why. Shepard probably killed more geth single-handedly than anyone else alive, including everyone on the old squad. To hear him defend synthetics now was off-putting to say the least.
"He told me only that he needed any geth parts or pieces I found," Tali explained to Shala. "I assumed he was testing weapons on geth components."
"We knew nothing until the Alarei sent a distress signal, then went dead. We didn't even know about the geth until a boarding team was attacked," Shala revealed.
"So you're saying there's no intel about the inside of the ship," Shepard summarized blandly.
"That's exactly what I am saying. The marines who survived and escaped saw bodies in the halls. We must assume the worst," she regretfully said.
"No. We don't," Tali said tersely.
"About the trial: What kind of evidence will carry weigh with the admirals?" Shepard inquired.
"Tali, you admitted to sending geth parts to your father for his project?" Shala asked.
"Yes. But never anything that could have come back online on its own. I took every possible precaution!" Tali insisted.
"Then find records of your shipments and the experiments. Something that proves you were careful," Shala said before quietly adding, "Something that proves that this is all just a terrible accident that nobody could have foreseen."
"There also seemed to be some other arguments going on among the admirals," Shepard noted.
"You caught that," Shala said with some relief. "Yes, the geth presence makes this a touchy issue. The Admiralty Board is trying to determine whether or not to focus on colonial development… or attempt to retake the homeworld."
"So it's true," Tali said. She found that she wasn't surprised. If her father wanted to test weapons on geth components, then the most logical outcomes were narrowed down to a few suppositions. "Are you really thinking of going to war with the geth?"
"I'm not, Tali. But others are."
"I don't think that's a wise idea…" Shepard said. He was hesitant to reveal about what he knew in light of Tali's predicament.
"We grow tired of wandering the stars, Shepard," Shala said. She looked at the crowd of quarians around them. "We want our world back. We have paid enough for our mistake. I'm not giving you my opinion. I'm telling you which way the wind is blowing."
"Do you think we can get back the homeworld?" Tali asked quietly.
"I don't think we can. But it may not be about what I think."
Tali stiffened when Shepard looked like he was about to argue the point on behalf of the geth.
Instead, he sighed and looked around the plaza. "Is it alright if we talk to the other admirals until the shuttle is ready?"
"There are no rules permitting against it," Shala evasively answered.
Tali understood what she meant though. Behind the vague answer, she almost said: "Talk to them and find out what you can". She had to admit, out of all the admirals, Shala was the most politically inclined. It was that quality that probably allowed her to remain a part of the trial as a moderator instead of stepping down entirely.
"Thank you," Shepard said.
"Good luck on the Alarei," Shala said.
"Thanks, Shala," Tali said before spotting Han'Gerrel. She walked up to him and waited until he became aware of her presence.
"Tali!" Gerrel greeted. His voice was a gruff as ever, but he tried to sound positive, most likely for her benefit. However, the stress in his voice could still be felt. "I'm glad Admiral Raan got you leave to hit the Alarei. Hopefully you'll find something that clears your name."
As much as Tali respected him, she couldn't help but narrow her eyes. "I'm more concerned with finding my father, Admiral."
"You and me both, kid," Gerrel muttered quietly, almost mournfully. He turned to her advocate and cleared his throat. "Captain Shepard vas Normandy. Admiral Han'Gerral vas Neema."
"Admiral. Tali told me a little about you," Shepard politely replied.
"Good and bad, I'm sure," Gerrel said with a glance at her. "Tali's never been one to shy away from saying what's on her mind when she needs to."
Tali smiled appreciatively.
Gerrel jerked his thumb over his shoulder. His fellow admiral, Zaal'Koris, was talking to some people at the back. "You got Admiral Koris backing up worse than a krogan toilet. Glad to see your captain knows how to handle a courtroom."
"I get the sense you're inclined to believe the defense," Shepard said without actually voicing out Gerrel's verdict. It was in the nature of politics to speak ambiguously and be understood, but not speak plainly and directly. "I'm glad at least one of the judges is."
"I'm not convinced there's enough evidence to say it was Tali's fault. It could've easily been an accident aboard the Alarei. Or maybe one of the teams that picked up the parts tinkered with it. Tali may have been a party to this whole mess, but Rael kept his cards close to his chest. Even I didn't know what he was up to. It's too early to blame her for anything," Gerrel said before he turned to Tali and continued. "But I do know you and your father. You've put too much of yourselves into this Fleet to do anything to jeopardize our safety. And you're both smart enough not to make mistakes like the ones they're saying you made. If you were only giving Rael inactive equipment for weapons tests, I've got no problem. We need to test weapons against geth material."
"Can you tell us anything about the Alarei? What father was working on? How long they've been silent?" Tali asked, trying to keep the worry out of voice.
"Nothing good," Gerrel answered in frustration. "We sent some of our best marines. Damn few made it back. Whatever Rael was doing, it might've blown up in his face. The ship is crawling with geth. Don't go in expecting survivors."
"Admiral! My father – your friend – is on that ship!" Tali cried out in shock.
"I know that, Tali!" Gerrel snapped back. He caught himself and grimaced. Taking a deep breath, he said in a more professional tone, "But if Shala hadn't suggested that you might volunteer, we'd already have destroyed the Alarei. That's where we stand." He regretfully shook his head. "This is not something I wanted to admit, but…"
"I'm sorry," Tali whispered.
"Me too, kid. Me too. I know you want to believe he's alive, but you only just got here. I saw the reports and I personally interviewed the surviving marines. At this point, I can only pray that Rael took some of those synthetic bastards with him."
"Can you tell us the about the other admirals?" Shepard asked as carefully as he could. "Something that might help us change their minds about Tali?"
Gerrel nodded in appreciation for the topic change. "The one you didn't recognize, Tali, is Admiral Xen. She's on the fence. She takes Fleet safety very seriously. On the other hand, she's always been in favor of studying the geth. I hope she sees the benefits of Rael's research."
So it's contest in the middle. Admiral Gerrel is on my side and Admiral Koris obviously isn't. That makes Admiral Xen's the deciding vote.
"Admiral Koris is the same whining suit-wetter he always was," Gerrel said in irritation.
"You disagree with Admiral Koris' policies, I'm guessing? Or is it personal?" Shepard asked.
"The man is a damn geth apologist. Thinks we were 'wrong' to try to destroy them centuries ago," Gerrel stated angrily. "He wants us to search for new colony possibilities instead of taking back the homeworld. Any research on the geth makes him angry. You won't have much of a chance with him, I'm afraid."
Again, Tali got the distinct impression that Shepard frowned on Gerrel's attitude toward the geth, but held his peace. For her part, she managed to reign in her irritation that her advocate was trying to defend the geth when she was on trial for bringing geth parts aboard.
At this point, the irony alone could kill me.
"It sounds like we're dealing with more politics than just Tali bringing back equipment," Shepard observed.
Gerrel snorted. "You noticed that, did you? Rael wasn't just running weapons tests on the geth for fun. He was looking for something to give us an edge when we attack the geth in full-scale war."
"I know Father wanted to retake the homeworld someday, but are that close?" Tali asked.
"I don't know, kid," Gerrel admitted with a shrug. "We almost had the votes. We just need to give people hope for victory."
"I hope the quarian people find someplace to live, Admiral, but war with the geth is playing with fire," Shepard warned.
"We're too comfortable now, Shepard. We've got the largest fleet in the galaxy and we just ride around doing nothing," Gerrel argued.
"There's a growing threat out there, Admiral. A clear and present danger. We might need our Fleet against it," Tali said.
"What? That Reaper thing that the Council denied existing?" Gerrel asked. "I know your captain has been pushing on that issue."
"Yes. And the geth are allied with them," Tali said.
"Sort of," Shepard added. He shot her a stern look.
"Then we need a world to shelter our noncombatants," Gerrel stubbornly asserted. "We're almost an endangered species, second only to the drell. Even the krogan has more numbers than us, and they're practically neutered. And now you're asking us to throw the Fleet at the Reapers? Seems to me that we're going to take losses either way. If that's the case, I'd rather fight to get the homeworld back than help the people that turned us away to start with."
Tali winced a bit and avoided making eye contact with Shepard. While she didn't agree with his opinion on the geth, she did side with him on the prevalent Reaper threat. Han'Gerrel was always stubborn and stuck his guns once he made up his mind. It made him an effective military admiral, but often narrowed his opinions to the comings and goings of the galaxy around him.
She tugged at Shepard's arm. "We should talk to the other admirals," she suggested before he said anything that might complicate his presence and her fate.
"Hang in there, kid," Gerrel said.
She nodded appreciatively. "Thank you, Admiral."
She pulled Shepard toward Admiral Koris and mentally steeled herself. She knew that this coming conversation was one she wasn't going to enjoy.
"The human can work a crowd, I'll admit that much," one of Koris' aides commented.
"If Tali'Zorah is stuck with a human captain, at least it's an eloquent one," another quarian agreed.
The admiral scoffed and was about to rebuke them when the aide looked over his shoulder and pointed.
Koris turned around at their approach. "Judging by your ability to play to a crowd, human, I have done Tali a favor by stripping 'vas Neema' from her name."
"It's 'captain', Admiral. Or if you wish to pull rank, Spectre Agent Shepard. I don't go calling every random quarian by their race like it's a slur, so I'd appreciate a little civility in return," Shepard replied evenly.
Tali jumped in before Koris could begin his rant. "Captain Shepard vas Normandy, this is Admiral Zaal'Koris vas Qwib-Qwib," she hurriedly introduced before whispering, "Remember: Do not ask about the name."
Shepard silently nodded. Whether he was acknowledging the introduction or her warning, she had no idea.
"Admiral," Tali greeted frostily and barely keeping her own voice in check.
"I take no pleasure in this, Tali, truly," Koris said imperiously, but sounding surprisingly genuine as well.
"No, but you often make things personal," Tali countered. "Perhaps too much so."
"You have gravely endangered and dishonored our fleet," he argued.
"I did not hear you present any solid or significant evidence to that effect. All I heard is theories and accusations thus far."
"But there will be. You should have let us destroy the Alarei. When we find the evidence of what you and your father did there, any hope of convincing the other admirals will die," he scathingly said. "If Admiral Zorah is still alive, then he too, will face trial for treason."
"I did not bring active geth to the Alarei, Admiral! I know how dangerous that would be! I only brought pieces!" Tali shouted.
"The captured ship, with her crew slaughtered by living beings in pain, belies your argument," Koris coldly stated.
"Pain? ! What hurts is having you question my loyalty to the Fleet! What hurts is the idea that my father might be dead and you tell me while you call me a traitor! That's pain! Since when do geth feel anything? !"
Before Tali could tear into him more, Shepard placed a restraining hand on her shoulder and pulled her back. He physically put himself in-between them to prevent any further arguments.
"What exactly is your problem with my crew member, Admiral?" he asked.
"Ah. Trying to see if my vote is biased?" Koris shrewdly asked after both he and Tali composed themselves. "Rest assured, Captain, that I respect Tali immensely. Her actions against Saren are to be lauded."
Surprised by his admission, Tali crossed her arms and waited for the other shoe to drop. "But?" she asked just to humor him.
"But like your father, you want nothing but the destruction of the geth… the people we created," he said. "The people we wronged."
"The geth drove us from our homeworld!" Tali argued hotly. Shepard pulled her back again.
"Of course they did. We tried to kill them," he stated as if were the most obvious fact in the galaxy.
She tried to ignore the idea the Shepard had similar views of the situation, though she could see his expectant gaze in her mind's eye.
"You and the other admirals appear to have some disagreements beyond Tali's trial," Shepard probed.
"You are correct," he confirmed. He turned to Tali. "I apologize for it being brought into your proceedings. The other Admirals, save Shala'Raan, are pushing for war. Rael'Zorah was researching new weapons to use against the geth. They would see our fleet destroyed in the skies over our homeworld rather than find a new colony and adapt."
"No doubt your opinion is in the minority," Shepard commented.
"Indeed." His voice lost its earlier haughty attitude and his shoulders were slumped, looking as if the weight of the Fleet were bearing down on him.
For a moment, Tali actually felt bad for snapping at him.
"Can the quarians coexist with the geth after all your history?" Shepard asked.
"I don't know," Koris admitted with a shrug. "But all deserve to find out. They are our children, Shepard. We have all done horrible things to each other, but it has to end. For both groups. I simply don't believe in furthering more casualties for either race in what amounts to a 300 year-old-war."
Again, Tali felt as if Shepard's eyes bore down at her in her mind. She pushed the feeling away.
"This is why I cannot sanction whatever experiments you helped enable, Tali'Zorah. I believe this message needs to be sent," Koris stated with finality.
She knew why he was pushing for a guilty verdict now, but it certainly didn't mean that she had to like it. "I understand, Admiral. I do not agree with you, but I understand."
"We should move on," Shepard suggested.
"Goodbye, Tali'Zorah. Be well," Koris said with unexpected gentleness.
"I'm surprised to hear you say that," Tali said.
"I don't hate you, Tali. And I certainly don't want you to be hurt or worse in this endeavor," Koris replied. "I just think your father's plans for war were wrong. I would never wish for anything malicious to happen to anyone; both to the geth and our people."
Tali opened her mouth to say something, but found herself too conflicted to put her feelings to words. Instead, she settled for nodding at him before leaving. Once again, she found her opinion of Admiral Koris fluctuating between the positive and the negative all in one conversation.
But that didn't mean she was sorry for her outburst during her hearing.
It took a little searching, but she and Shepard finally found Admiral Daro'Xen. She was standing in the corner the plaza of by herself, appearing quite bored, as if she had better things to do than be a part of the panel of judges that would determine Tali's future.
"Tali'Zorah," Xen greeted neutrally. She didn't even turn to look up at them as they approached. "Given the circumstances, are you certain that speaking to me is appropriate?"
"I'm looking for information about the Alarei. I don't intend to bribe you in the middle of the plaza, Admiral," Tali sarcastically answered.
"The Alarei, hmm?" she asked thoughtfully. "Unfortunately, we know little. We detected several communications signatures before the geth jammed the comm systems. Given the likely networked intelligence requirements for taking over a ship of that size, expect between 10 and 50 units."
"Then this can't have anything to do with me. I only sent parts and pieces, and certainly not enough to make that many geth," Tali muttered.
Xen shrugged uncaringly. "Perhaps. Or perhaps there were other teams involved with the collections you were unaware of. It matters not. The circumstances remain the same."
"You seem unconcerned about this whole thing, Admiral," Shepard stated.
"I noticed you didn't say much during the opening statements."
"There wasn't much to say," Xen replied in a bored tone. "This trial is a waste of time."
"It matters a great deal to me!" Tali said in indignation.
Xen finally looked up and made eye contact with Tali. "If you and your father were actually experimenting on active geth subjects, then you are simply idiots; meaning you are guilty as charged. No reason to waste resources on a trial. If not, then this was a tragic accident in the pursuit of a higher cause; I understand that sacrifices are often necessary in the pursuit of progress, so in the end, you are innocent. Again, no trial is needed to determine that."
Within just one minute of meeting her, Tali finally understood why her father held little respect for Admiral Xen.
"If you're not interested in this trial, why not recuse yourself?" Shepard asked.
"Ha!" Xen derisively laughed before finally standing straighter and faced him fully. "And let the aging warship Han'Gerrel and the cowardly Zaal'Koris be the ones to chart this course? I think not."
"What do you mean?" Tali asked suspiciously.
"The broader purpose underlying the trial is too important," Xen explained. "You are only peripherally related. No offense intended."
She was offended, but she didn't feel like commenting on it. What Xen was saying was eerily similar to what Koris had said a few minutes ago. Even what Gerrel had said possessed a similar undertone. "And what is the true purpose of this trial, Admiral?"
"To determine whether quarians should fear their past mistakes, or reclaim their glory using our natural affinity for artificial intelligence," Xen revealed.
"So the only reason you care about this is because Admiral Zorah might have learned something valuable from the geth?" Shepard asked incredulously.
Xen looked much more animated than she did during the trial. She gave off a feverish kind of excitement. "Indeed. If he has, then even in this accident, we may find something worthwhile."
"You want to create new AIs?" Tali asked in shock.
"No, Tali'Zorah," Xen replied condescendingly. "I wish to return the geth to the control of their rightful masters, the quarian race."
Tali stared at her uncomprehendingly. Now she was beginning to wish she'd never bothered talking to Xen. "You're insane."
Xen either didn't hear her or ignored the insult entirely.
"And here I thought Admiral Koris' opinions were in the minority," Shepard commented.
"Yes. At least on the Admiralty Board," she answered before sniffing in distain. "Han'Gerrel sees an enemy that must be crushed. Zaal'Koris would run away and hide on some new colony world. Shala'Raan is still undecided."
Tali glanced at Shala out of the corner of her eye before turning her attention back to Xen.
At least someone on the Admiralty still believes in rational thought.
"I had thought Rael to be firmly in Han's camp, but if his experiments were on active geth, perhaps we have ideas in common," Xen mused.
Keelah, I hope not.
"You support experiments on living creatures?" Shepard asked.
"Rael should have felt no more guilt experimenting on geth than I did while performing surgery on a childhood toy," Xen answered with a dismissive wave of her hand.
"The fact that you performed surgery on your childhood toys explains a great deal, Admiral," Tali responded in disgust.
Forget rational. Sanity should be a minimum prerequisite to become an admiral.
"A ship travels faster than I can. With the right programming, it can choose locations, even defend itself when attacked. But it is just a machine," Xen snapped back. "It was built for the sole purpose of serving its master. And it can be dismantled whenever its master desires."
"I'm not sure I like the way you're describing the quarians as 'masters'," Shepard said. "That implies slaves; free will that's being dominated."
"I'm hardly interested in arguing semantics with you, Captain," Xen said dismissively. She leaned back against the wall and turned her nose up at them. "Are we finished, yet? I find myself somewhat curious about Rael's fate and I hope you'll succeed in finding out what happened."
It was official. Tali decided she despised Admiral Xen right then and there. "What do you mean, 'somewhat'?" she asked indignantly.
Xen shrugged. "If Rael is dead, then the power balance will be disrupted. Han loses a vote for his foolish and self-destructive war."
No more foolish and destructive than your plans!
"That would favor peace, then, as Shala'Raan is too careful to risk her own neck," Xen continued, unaware of the glares Tali and Shepard were leveling at her. "But if the admiral replacing Rael agrees with me… things could become very exciting."
"Ma'am? Shuttle's ready. We can depart whenever you want. Got some weapons here for you as well," Kal reported.
"Thank you for the information," Shepard said, barely keeping his voice civil.
Once again, Xen either missed it or ignored it. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Captain," she said flippantly, obviously not sincere in any way. Like Shepard, she was merely going through the motions of being polite.
"We're on the way, Reegar. Thanks," Tali said. She hurriedly led Shepard toward the hangar. In addition to wanting to save her father, she couldn't wait to get away from Daro'Xen.
I really hope that things don't get any worse…
Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / En Route to the Alarei
"So how are we getting in? I doubt the heretic—I mean, geth will make it easy for us," Shepard asked.
Tali, Shepard, Reegar, Syrin, and Raz were all in the cabin of an order model shuttle; one that didn't even have FTL capabilities. They were also assigned a pilot to ferry them to the Alarei.
No doubt to ensure that I'm not a flight risk.
"We're sending some signals that we're going to breach the portside hangar of the Alarei. Should draw the geth away. We'll be infiltrating an airlock on the starboard side. It's going to be a bit of a trek to get to the bridge though. According the surviving marines, damn geth have been fortifying themselves," Kal briefed.
"Why the bridge?" Shepard inquired.
"Place to start if we're going to look for records on what happened. Besides, the geth are probably concentrated there. They'll try and seize control of the Alarei proper. If there's survivors, they'll make their stand there too. Make sure the geth doesn't take the ship."
Kal shrugged. "Stories vary. The survivors mentioned something like waves of geth, but I don't know if that's the fear talking or what. After Haestrom, I doubt we'll see it the same way as they did. Still, it might also mean that they might be making more of themselves out of whatever spare parts they can tear out of the Alarei."
"So the bad news is that there might a more than we thought," Shepard translated.
"There shouldn't be any at all," Tali said angrily.
"The good news is: if they're assembling themselves out of whatever crap that's lying around, then they might not be built as tough as they usually are. Figure some might not even have shield generators," Reegar optimistically pointed out.
"Plus, the Alarei is a science ship. There can't be many weapons on board," Raz added.
"Unless Admiral Zorah wanted to be prepared for the worst," Syrin argued. "Then he might have a small armory on board to put down any rogue experiments. Add to the fact that the marines that were sent were killed in there, and the geth are probably well armed, all with weapons salvaged from the dead."
"Oh…" Raz said dejectedly.
"At the very least, we know that the Alarei's weapons and propulsion are down," Reegar said.
"How do we know that?" Raz asked in confusion.
"Because the geth would've used the Alarei to attack the Fleet already, idiot," Syrin answered. "And then the Admirals would've had no choice but to destroy the Alarei long before Tali even came back."
"It was a close though, but until there's solid confirmation that Admiral Zorah is KIA, the Board started arguing on what to do," Reegar explained to Tali. "Eventually, I recommended getting you onto the Alarei. Admiral Raan didn't like it, but agreed."
"So that's why she was pushing for me to get there. It was you…" Tali said quietly.
"She and Admiral Gerrel are hoping you'll kill a bunch of geth to get the crowd on your side, then find evidence to clear your name. They were hesitant, but, well, you didn't have many options, ma'am," Reegar revealed. "I knew you could handle it though."
"You did the right thing. Thank you," Tali said gratefully. She meant it too. There were few people she could trust to help her find her father and she was fortunate enough to be working with two of them.
"You sure you're up for this, Reegar? You took kind of a beating on Haestrom," Shepard said.
He shrugged. "Physical damage wasn't bad. I was down for about a week with infection, though. Figure I got off easy. I don't have to face those admirals long."
"With your immune systems, it couldn't be easy for quarians to fight a war. You'd lose more people to infection than injury," Shepard commented.
"We can't afford a frontline attack, that's for sure. Have to fight smart – ideally from orbit. If not, well, skill and guts still count for something."
"We do have stockpiles of antibiotics. It's not as though everyone would die from a single shot," Tali said defensively.
"No, Shepard's right," Reegar said. "You've only been on our strike ops, ma'am. Don't have all the fancy equipment in a frontline fight. Supplies get strained, things get ugly fast."
She fell silent and leaned back in her seat. She had often wondered if she was a help or a hindrance to Shepard because of her physical weaknesses.
Stop that. If he didn't have faith in me, then he wouldn't have asked for help.
Shaking those thoughts away, she checked the shotgun she was given for the mission. It was an older model, as expected, but better than she thought it would be. Kassa Fabrication's Armageddon Shotgun. More powerful than her preferred M-27 Scimitar, but could only fire around 6 shots before overheating with a 7 second cool down, over the 8 shots of the Scimitar with heat sinks. Still, it was better than most, so she couldn't complain. Reegar probably had to pull a lot of strings to get higher end weapons for them. No grenades were given, but she didn't mind. Last thing she wanted was to throw explosives inside a ship and cause a hull breach. Getting sealed inside a section of the ship would help no one. Their 'arsenal' was rounded out by some cheap pistol that she probably wouldn't even use on a varren, much less a geth. Ultimately, no current generation weapons were issued to them, so no rapid reloading heat sinks.
These kinds of weapons served us well enough in the past. We'll make do.
Shepard was only given an assault rifle, some kind of Rosenkov Materials model; Kovalyov if she wasn't mistaken. Not the best, but not bad either. Like her shotgun, it was an older class of weaponry that he was inspecting with a critical eye. Satisfied that everything was in working order, he pointed at Reegar's rifle. "What kind of weapon is that?"
"Family heirloom. I don't give a damn what other guns are on the market or whatever tech they come with; I'll never part with this. It's a Callahan full-bore auto lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge," he described before sighing reverently. He patted the rifle fondly. "During my Pilgrimage, six mercs tried to kill me. She's the reason I'm still alive. Best damn gun the quarian people ever made."
Everyone in the cabin looked at him with varying degrees of exasperation or amusement.
"Oh Kee'lah," Tali said. Syrin giggled.
Reegar apparently didn't hear her, because he kept patting his rifle. "She is my very favorite gun."
"Did you say 'she'?" Shepard asked.
"Her name's Vera." He held up 'Vera' to show her off. "So what do you think?"
Shepard was at a loss, but his helmet obscured most of his face, hiding his expression. "It's… um… shiny."
"Yep," Reegar said, holding Vera close to his chest and patting her again. "I recently equipped her with a Disruptor Ammo converter, so we should able to make short work out of those synthetic bastards."
"Okay, everyone," their pilot called out. "It looks like the geth might have fallen for our ruse. I'm docking with the Alarei in five minutes. Stand by."
"Tali… look, whatever happens, it's going to be okay. One way or another, we're here for you," Shepard said assuringly.
She nodded. She knew what he meant, even if he didn't say it, just like at her trial.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Her father might be still alive, but at the same time…
I can't think like that. Not until I see it with my own eyes.
She studiously checked over her shotgun again while trying to ignore the looks the others were giving her. Until she was knew, nothing was certain.
Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / Alarei
"Clear," Raz reported.
The rest of the team slowly and quietly entered the airlock, weapons raised and ready.
They walked down the airlock hallway. The hissing as the pressure equalized sounding unnaturally loud.
"Hurry. The geth will know we're here soon enough," Shepard said. He took point and stalked toward the far door.
Tali glanced at Reegar, wondering if he didn't mind following Shepard's lead on this. As she expected though, he was a professional and followed orders as they were given. Raz and Syrin did the same.
Once the door opened, she spotted two geth in the room, merely standing around, or their case, powered down.
They took advantage of the element of surprise and open fired immediately.
"Contact left!" Raz warned.
The sounds of gunfire increased when the digital chatter of the geth warned the group that two troopers rushed in from the far left door.
"Hunter!" Reegar shouted.
Tali and Syrin unleashed duel Overloads on the crowded doorway, short circuiting the smaller geth as they tried to attack.
"Ha!" Syrin shouted.
The Hunter was still standing, but its cloak was completely disabled. Shepard and Reegar rushed forward, their assault rifles blazing away.
"Damn it! Overheated!" Shepard cursed when his rifle started beeping. He glowed biotically and launched the Hunter headfirst into the ceiling before it crashed down in a heap on the floor.
Reegar ran up to it and put four more rounds into the body and two in the head for good measure.
"Two more incoming!" Raz shouted. His shotgun was barely able to hold them back.
Tali and Syrin added their own weapons to the mix to push back the geth charge.
"Overheated!" Tali shouted when her shotgun failed to fire. She dropped Chiktikka and let her float around the corner to buy time.
"About time," Shepard growled at his gun. He and Reegar started firing in bursts at the doorway whenever a target presented itself. Between the both of them, they easily suppressed the attack.
Tali checked the gauge on her shotgun and saw that it had finally cooled down.
"If there's only one thing, and one thing only, that I'll ever say something nice about the geth: it's this heat sink idea they got. Would've come in handy in a situation like this," Syrin muttered. Her rifle was still cooling down.
Tali privately agreed, but didn't care to voice her appreciation about the geth. Or heretics. Or synthetics in general for that matter.
"Looks clear for now," Reegar reported.
Raz bend over one of the geth troopers and poked it with his shotgun. "Looks like you were right, LT. Take a look as this."
Tali stepped over and knelt down. "This doesn't look right. It looks mismatched."
"Jury-rigged," Raz agreed. "And this thing when down against your Overload tech just like that. Its kinetic barrier must've been crap. They really are making more of themselves out of whatever's laying around."
"Should probably recommend to the Admiralty that the Migrant Fleet Marines needs to get better weapons, better training, more funds, and an ass kicking if the strike teams ran from something like this. I'd hate to see us shiver our way through a real fight," Syrin said in disgust.
"Hoo-rah," Reegar muttered.
Everyone regrouped and continued on.
As they made their way to the bridge through the hallways and decks, occasionally, some more patchwork geth attacked them. But there were only a few at a time, small skirmish groups really, and not nearly enough to increase their thought processes, making them predicable and easy to dispatch. After two hours of roving through some of the labs, Tali glanced inside one of the rooms via the observation window and paused when something caught her eye. "Wait."
"Perimeter. Hold this area," Shepard ordered to the quarian marines. He turned to Tali. "Something up?"
"I don't know…" She entered the lab and did a cursory check for hostiles, just as Shepard had taught her two years ago. Satisfied that there were no threats, she looked down at the drone she had secured back on Haestrom and had given to Reegar for him to take back. "This is a storage unit I sent to Father."
It was taken apart, and its components were carefully laid out on the next table over. She inspected everything and tried to get a sense of what her father was doing.
"Looks like parts from a disabled repair drone, plus a reflex algorithm that I didn't recognize. I got this on Haestrom," she said.
Shepard looked surprised. "Haestrom was a war zone. How did you salvage gear in the middle of all that?"
Behind him, Raz, Syrin, and Reegar all chuckled at his question.
"These suits have more pockets than you think," Tali said wryly as she theatrically gestured to her near form-fitting environment suit. "Quarians have learned how to salvage whatever we can, whenever we can."
"Huh," Shepard said. "I always thought you managed to carry a lot of our omni-gel and grenades. I just thought you kept converting extra junk lying around and got lucky with finding spare grenades."
Tali crossed her arms. "Very funny, Shepard. Everything we do is within reason. We're not vorcha, but we repair what most people would throw away. Hundreds of ships in our fleet were salvaged wrecks, either found dead in space or purchased for next to nothing."
"I've been meaning to ask, what made a part worth sending back to your father?"
Reegar and the others perked up and listened in, even though they held their defensive positions at the door and hallway.
Tali blinked at the question. It was an odd time to be having this conversation, but she shrugged and answered, "It had to be in working order. Something that could be analyzed and integrated into other technology…" She trailed off when she realized why some of the geth were able to function, despite their shoddy construction.
"Tali?" Shepard called out.
"Oh, sorry. Um… anything new had priority. Technology the geth had developed themselves. Signs of modification, clues to their thinking."
Shepard nodded and took point again. Tali followed in his wake with the others trailing behind.
"How did you get these things to your father?" he asked as they navigated through the ship.
She suddenly realized that he was still keeping his mind on her trial and was asking his questions away from prying ears back on the Rayya. Even after they took the Alarei, if her father couldn't adequately explain himself or if they couldn't present any evidence, then her defense would rely on how the accident might be viewed. Or if she was even at fault at all.
"Sometimes I left packages at secure drops in civilized areas. Someone on Pilgrimage would see that it was shipped home. For very valuable finds, I'd signal home and Father would send a small ship," she revealed
"So there were other teams…" Shepard quietly muttered to himself.
"Did you learn anything about what happened here, ma'am?" Reegar asked as he fell in step next to her.
Keeping an eye out for the distortions of Hunters and an ear for the digital chatter of the geth, Tali said, "No… I don't know. Look, I checked and double checked everything I sent here. I passed up great finds because they might be too dangerous, prone to uncontrolled reactivation or self-repair."
"Wasn't saying you weren't careful, ma'am," Reegar said quietly.
"Sorry, Reegar… I just… I don't which possibility is worse: I got sloppy and sent something dangerous, or that my Father actually did all this…"
"We'll figure it out, ma'am."
"I hope so. I just don't know if I'll like the answer."
Tali cursed under her breath and quickly typed a command in her omni-tool with experienced hands. The geth were utilizing the mess hall as a chokepoint and staging area to attack them on all sides.
And it was working.
They had cautiously entered and it was a good thing they did. Reegar spotted a gas tank that was rigged. They managed to get away from the blast just in time to escape injury, but the scramble divided them and the geth struck at that moment, opening all the doors and rushing them.
The geth Hunter that ambushed them held Raz by his head and was threatening to break his faceplate open. To his credit, Raz kept struggling and firing his pistol at the Hunter, trying to strike its optic, even as his head was threatening to be crushed. Shepard was trying to maneuver around it, looking for an opportunity to shoot it without hitting Raz while simultaneously dealing with the other geth pouring through the right passageway. He was forced to create a Singularity to buy some time while Reegar tried to support them.
"Contact! Left door!" Syrin shouted as she threw out an Overload at a doorway to stem the tide of geth. Unfortunately, there was enough geth that they were exercising advanced tactics. The geth halted at the doorway and used it as cover to protect themselves against the electrical storm before charging forward again.
Reegar ran up to her and crouched down. He alternated between shooting them and using his Incinerate Tech, forcing the geth to seek cover and return fire.
"Let go of me, you bosh—!" Raz grunted out before the Hunter suddenly let go of him. He fell to the ground in a heap and looked up at it in confusion.
With her hack complete, Tali directed the Hunter to make a suicidal charge at the approaching Troopers.
The Hunter stood in the path of the incoming fire from the Troopers, absorbing their shots, and acting like a bullet shield for the organics.
Reegar, and Syrin pressed forward, firing around the Hunter and finally overrunning the geth positions.
Once the coast was clear, Reegar turned on the Hunter and put a trio of shots into its head to bring it down.
At the other end of the room, Shepard had managed to hold his ground and eliminate the last of the geth singlehandedly. Tali almost felt bad for not helping him, but shrugged off the feeling just as quickly.
He was fine. He trusts me to do my job, I should trust in his abilities as well.
Instead, she ran up to Raz. "Are you okay?"
He nodded and felt around his helmet. "I think so. Nothing's breached."
Tali checked his helmet and winced. "There's a small dent here. Probably from its finger."
"So long as the dent is in helmet and not my head," Raz grumbled.
"Clear!" Syrin reported.
"Clear," Shepard echoed.
Satisfied that Raz was okay, Tali helped him to his feet before turning to Shepard. "Are you alright?"
"Is he alright?" Syrin asked incredulously. "He downed five geth by himself!"
"I'm fine, Tali. I might need a scan when we get back to the Normandy, but I'm good. No pain," Shepard assured.
"What?" Raz asked in confusion.
"Never mind," Shepard said in a tone of voice that ended any more questions. He glanced at Syrin and Reegar. "Okay, over there?"
"We're fine, Shepard," Reegar answered. "Geth put up a good fight this time."
"Not good enough," Syrin boasted and punctuated her point with a single shot into a downed Trooper.
Tali saw the disapproval in Shepard's eyes. Whether it was the unprofessional bragging during a mission or the fact that Syrin was shooting a downed enemy, she had no idea.
"Let's go," Tali said quickly. She took the lead this time and made her way past the geth remains and out of the mess hall.
Eventually, they found what looked like was the data collection hub of the ship. More bodies of the crew were found and slaughtered here. Throughout their incursion, they came across dozens of bodies. First it was the marines that tried to take the Alarei, and then it started becoming the civilians and crew working aboard, and finally, the scientists and researchers. They haven't found Tali's father yet among the dead. It gave her hope that he was alive, but she still couldn't help but feel a sense of trepidation that there were no other survivors yet.
"What do you make of this?" Syrin asked curiously. She was poking around on a console that linked the servers together.
Tali stepped up and tried to access it. "Damn… most of the data is corrupted, but a few bits are left."
"Defensive perimeter," Shepard ordered.
Reegar, Raz, and Syrin took positions at the entryways and kept a lookout.
Using her omni-tool, she tried to recover what data she could without corrupting the system any more than it already was.
"Well?" Shepard asked after a few silent minutes.
"There were performing experiments on geth systems," Tali said aloud so the others couldn't hear them.
"We already knew that," Shepard reminded.
"They were looking for new ways to overcome geth resistance to reprogramming," she elaborated.
"Did you know what kind of tests your father was running?" he asked carefully.
Tali shook her head. "No. Father just told me to send back any geth technology I could find that wasn't a direct danger to the Fleet," she asserted. She knew she was being repetitive, but it was the truth. "I suspected he might be testing weapons, but I thought he was just working on new ways to bypass shields or armor."
"I'm not sure I agree with this," Shepard said uneasily. "If the components were inactive, sure, but on living subjects…"
"It's not testing weapons on prisoners, Shepard," Tali said defensively. "I only sent Father parts. Even if he assembled them, they wouldn't be sapient. Remember: the geth flash their AI cores when they get deactivated."
"Then what the hell are we fighting?" Shepard asked. "Those heretics seemed real enough."
"I-I don't know," Tali admitted. "But you saw what Saren and Sovereign did with the geth!"
"Heretics," he corrected.
"Whatever! Synthetics! Any research that gives us an advantage is important!"
"Even more than the lives lost here?" he responded and gestured to the dead quarians around them. "This is something we've seen too often with Cerberus and their experiments on the rachni and thorian husks, but this… at some point, you cross a line. When does the cost become too high?"
Tali fell silent and bowed her head. She couldn't bring herself to look at the victims that surrounded them.
Shepard sighed and looked around. "Could any of that data clear your name?"
She checked her omni-tool and compared it to the notes on the console. "Doubtful. This is mostly results data. Effects of different disruptive hacking techniques. I don't understand all of it."
"And parts you do understand?"
"I think… I think they were activating geth deliberately," Tali whispered.
"I thought the geth flash their memory cores," he pointed out, echoing her earlier reminder. "How could they activate anything you brought?"
"I don't know," Tali answered in frustration. "Nothing here says specifically. But if they were… then Father was doing something terrible."
She didn't know if it was the idea that they were putting the flotilla at risk or if she actually shared Shepard's viewpoint that testing on POWs was monstrous, even if they were synthetic.
"What was all this, Father? You promised you'd build me a house on the homeworld. Was this going to bring us back home?" Tali asked aloud. Whether she was talking to her father, to herself, or to the empty, dead ship, she had no idea. Perhaps all of the above.
Shepard turned his head away and shuffled a little in place. He looked like he wanted to say something; instead, he nodded his head to the far door that Reegar was standing at. "We should keep moving."
"Right," Tali agreed. "There is something here… it looks like there's a central hub that the geth network is interfaced with…"
"That's probably the main lab where your father was working in," Shepard said.
She nodded in agreement. "I think we should go there instead of the bridge."
"Regroup," Shepard ordered.
"Anything?" Reegar asked when they started moving again.
"I found the main lab. We should be able to find Fath—something there," she answered.
If anyone caught her slip of the tongue, they didn't comment on it. They followed her lead and navigated through the Alarei, moving in a different direction now; Deeper and lower into the bowels of the ship, rather than the lofty heights of the bridge. The lifts were disabled, so they were forced to use the stairs instead.
On the last junction that would take them to the same deck as the lab, Shepard peered over the rail and raised his rifle in an instant. "Contact!"
The others ran up and started firing on the unsuspecting geth below.
Despite their ambush, the geth raised their weapons and counterattacked, even as their fellows were falling one by one. The far door in the back suddenly opened and allowed more geth to pour in.
"They got reinforcements!" Syrin shouted.
"Dropping a drone!" Raz tapped on his omni-tool and allowed his red Combat Drone to materialize in the middle of the doorway. As hoped, the geth had to contend with the attacking sphere, allowing the organics to continue their onslaught.
They were so distracted by the geth below that Tali almost missed the flickering distortion on their left. She turned her head and gasped when a flaring pain shot up her left arm, causing her to drop her shotgun. "On our left!"
Reegar whirled around and didn't hesitate. His rifle fired a dozen rounds into the Hunter, the Disruptor Ammo causing its cloak and shields to fail. Tali followed up with Overload to bring it down.
She backed away and quickly checked her arm and saw that it was nothing but a graze. Her suit was punctured; a through and through. Combat seals had already clamped shut around the affected area. She picked up her shotgun and returned to the fray.
With the advantage of the high ground, the geth soon fell one after another until the rest retreated deeper into the doorway and out of sight.
"On me!" Shepard ordered. He carefully walked down the stairs, his rifle pointing at the door and ready.
Tali followed, but took the time to quickly inject a dose of medi-gel on her wound. She took care not to let the others see so they wouldn't worry or get distracted.
Shepard peered around the edge of the doorway. "Clear. Looks like they fell back into the lab."
"That's definitely where we need to go then," Reegar said. "If it's that important to them that they want to retreat rather than attack us head on, then whatever's in there has to be important to them."
"There's a door on the left. Blood trails leading into it," Shepard observed. "Syrin, Raz: Go."
Both quarians cautiously entered the hallway first and toward the door. The rest of the squad kept their weapons trained on the door at the far end of the passageway, in case the geth decided to make a reappearance. Both quarians were lucky; the door stayed shut.
Once they were on either side, Raz opened the door and allowed Syrin to enter first. After a few seconds, she gave the all clear, though she sounded subdued.
Tali steeled herself and entered next when Raz opted to stay in the hall. Inside were more dead quarians. It looked like they had tried to take refuge in a storage room before they were shot down. The doors bore burn marks, signifying that they were cut open from the outside.
One of the researcher's omni-tool was still on. Tali bent over and activated it.
A message started playing. The researcher was panting and gasping, her rapid breaths in concert with the others around her. They were crying and shouting in primal fear. The sounds of metal being cut and touched were heard in the background. "We locked down navigation. Weapons are offline. Our mistake won't endanger the Fleet. They're burning through the door. I don't have much time. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry! Jona, if you get this, be strong for Daddy. Mommy loves you very much!"
The recording ended with the sounds of geth chatter followed by gunfire and screams.
"Turn it off," Reegar requested quietly. His voice carried a strange mix of sympathy and rage.
Tali did as he asked and carefully checked the bodies. Once again, she felt a kind of guilty relief that her father was not there, but the hope that he was alive was fading fast with every loss they encountered.
"We need to go," Shepard said. He and Raz were still in the corridor, watching the door to the main lab carefully.
Tali woodenly stood up and rejoined the group, as if her body was willing to follow his orders, but her mind had seized up as the events began to overwhelm her and threatened to break her down.
Reegar put his hand on her shoulder and brought her back to the present. "Ma'am?"
She took a shuddering breath and shook her head a few times to force herself to focus. If they were to succeed where the strike team failed, they needed to work together, not have the others carry her through her shock. "I'm fine. I'm okay. Let's go."
Reegar pulled away and nodded.
The small band approached the door and stacked up.
"Boy, it'd sure would be nice if we had some grenades," Reegar muttered from his position next to the door. "Just breach and clear. Be done before echo of the last shot fades."
"Where's the fun in that?" Shepard replied wryly from the opposite side.
"Explosions are fun. The only time they're not fun is when they happen to you," Reegar shot back.
Shepard chuckled a bit before being serious again. "On my mark. 3-2-1!"
Tali opened the door and waited for her turn to enter. The moment Shepard and Reegar rushed in, bullets started striking everything. She and Syrin entered next, their shields buffeted against a storm of firepower and draining quickly.
She slid into cover and fired her shotgun wildly, trying to suppress them while estimating the number of geth and the types of models that were attacking them.
Another Singularity manifested into existence right in the middle of the geth positions. A few of them were soon chattering rapidly as they floated around it or were crushed.
She managed to see that there were at least a dozen more left. They were using the neural network to their greatest advantage now. A Geth Prime had been dominating the room, using its massive size and arsenal to draw their attention while the smaller Troopers tried to flank and finish them off.
Fortunately, Shepard's Singularity halted that idea and now it was a contest of which could outlast the other.
Tali had to control her shots now. If her shotgun overheated, the right side of the room would be vulnerable. The geth still had more numbers and could afford to let a few guns to overheat and still pin them down.
A lucky shot from Kal and Shepard blew off the Prime's arm and weapon, leaving it incapable of attacking over distance. Far from being disabled, it used its body to protect its smaller fellows and tried to create superior tactical positions to fight back.
Tali fired twice more before the pain in her left arm brought the circumstances of her injury to clarity. She ducked back down behind the table and quickly scanned their area of the combat zone.
Raz turned around and looked for the distortion.
A Hunter had almost been on top of him.
Yelling in surprise, he scrambled away just before it shot at him with a spray of fire from its Hahne-Kedar Lancer.
He dropped his Combat Drone in-between to try to block the bullets just before his shields failed and took a couple of rounds in the chest. He fell with strangled gurgle. The drone stood its ground dutifully, taking bullets and shooting its electric shocks.
"Raz!" Tali shouted. She used her Overload and brought down the Hunter's shields and cloak.
"Dana! Tighten that formation! We gotta hold this line!" Reegar shouted. He turned on the Hunter fired a burst to take it down. "Tali, help Sela out!"
Tali pulled Raz out of the line of fire and checked his wounds. "Just hang on, Raz!"
Raz gasped and coughed weakly. "Ah, bosh'tet… this is r-ruining… my d-day… I r-really liked… t-this suit…"
"Just stay quiet, Raz," Tali said as she checked her omni-tool scans. She marginally relaxed and applied a liberal dose of medi-gel. "You're fine. You'll definitely need a doctor, but you'll make it. Just stay strong."
"They're pushing us back!" Syrin shouted. "We can't hold them off!"
Tali picked up her shotgun and dropped her own Combat Drone to supplement their flagging numbers. "Go for the optics, Chiktikka! Go for the optics!"
"Tali, move! Hunter!" Shepard warned.
Tali barely had time to look before Reegar pushed her out of the way. The Hunter tried to compensate, but he brought omni-tool up and used Incendiary on the Hunter at near point blank.
Tali scrambled to her feet and fired her shotgun at it until it overheated. It went down in a heap.
"We have them! Just keep pushing!" Shepard ordered. Dark energy coalesced around him as he rotated his arm and scattered the geth ranks with Shockwave before using his Warp Ammo to tear his way through the geth Troopers.
Whirling around, Tali saw that there wasn't enough geth now to exercise advanced combat tactics.
The Prime lost interest in protecting the Troopers and simply rushed at them, using its formidable armor and shields to withstand Reegar's attack. It picked him up and tossed him clear across the room.
"Kal!" Tali screamed.
He landed with a grunt and lost his grip on his gun during his ungraceful landing. He rolled over onto his stomach and crawled toward it, keeping low to avoid taking a stray bullet.
Shepard and Syrin were too busy trying to get at the last holdouts of Troopers to be able to help in time.
The Prime stomped up it victim and used its remaining arm to grasp Kal around his neck and lifted him up. Kal struggled against its grip and pulled out his pistol. It was completely useless, but he was fighter.
Just before the Prime crushed his neck, it stopped and put him down on his feet and moved to protect him against incoming fire.
Tali manipulated the Prime, turning it away from Kal and forced it to run down the remaining geth. While Shepard and Syrin pressed their counterattack, she kicked 'Vera' back over to Kal. "Here!"
"Thank, ma'am," Kal said. He groaned a little, but otherwise showed no outward signs of injury. Picking up his rifle, he charged back into the thick of things.
Tali forced the Prime to attack two more geth when she saw that her link was starting to become tenuous. Growling, she forced the Prime to fall flat on its face. Shepard took the opportunity to fire half a dozen shots into its head before helping sweep up the last of the geth.
The sudden silence following the constant staccato of gunfire was deafening.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Tali ran back to Raz and checked him over. He was unconscious, but the medi-gel had stopped the bleeding. The damage his organs took was relatively manageable, but they didn't have a lot of time.
"We have to find that hub!" Tali shouted. "We need to shut down the geth and get him back to the Rayya!"
"I'll stay with him," Syrin offered. She knelt down and monitored him with her own omni-tool. "Looks like he'll be okay. We have some time."
Tali nodded gratefully and stood up.
Kal was standing nearby, but he looked completely lost, as if he had no idea what to do. She frowned when he didn't even make eye contact. He was looking at everything but her.
"Kal?" she asked.
"Ma'am… there's… we found… Shepard and I… we, uh…" He trailed off and swallowed thickly. He pointed with his rifle to where Shepard was standing. There was another locked door in the back of the lab and the Spectre was standing near it holding his weapon loosely. What caught her attention the most was the fact that he didn't meet her eyes as well.
"No… no!" Tali said in denial. She ran past Kal and stopped next to Shepard, her eyes wildly searching the area and praying that she wouldn't find what she was looking for.
Her prayers weren't answered.
She saw the crimson pattern her father favored for his environment suit. He was slumped against the wall next to the door. Several bullet holes dotted his chest and one through his faceplate, creating a broken webbed pattern that hid his face.
"Father!" She bent down and ran her omni-tool over him. When no life signs were detect, she shook her head and refused to believe it. She grabbed his arm and shook him in a futile gesture to wake him up. "No, no, no! You always had a plan. Masked life signs, or, or an onboard medical stasis program, maybe. You! You wouldn't…!"
"Tali…" Shepard lightly grasped her arm.
"No!" She pulled her arm away and held onto her father. "They're wrong! You wouldn't just die like this! You wouldn't leave me with all this! You can't…"
"Hey. Hey, come here." Shepard knelt down and gently, but forcefully pulled her away. This time, she didn't resist. He wrapped his arms around her in an embrace and rubbed her back.
She tried to stop the tears, but they came out anyway. She clutched at him and buried her face into his shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably. "Damn it… Damn it!"
"Syrin, stay with him. I'm going to secure the hallways outside. In case more geth reinforcements are coming," Kal said quietly to the others and through his voice module to avoid upsetting Tali further.
It was a nice thought, but she still managed to hear him.
Shepard was still holding here and rubbing her back soothingly. He didn't say anything, but she didn't mind. There was nothing he could say that would change anything anyway.
Eventually, she regained control of herself and pushed away from him. She damned her suit at moment, more than any other time. She wanted nothing more than to rip it off her helmet and rub her tears away. She wanted to feel the warmth of the hug and physical sense of Shepard's presence that he was still with her, but it was all denied by the damned numbing tactile feeling of cloth instead. "I'm sorry," she mumbled.
"You've have nothing to be sorry about," Shepard said softly.
She heaved a shuddering breath and looked back down at her father. "Maybe… He would have known I'd come. Maybe he left a message."
Kneeling back down, she couldn't help sob one last time as she stroked the side of his helmet before accessing his omni-tool. As she thought, there was a message that was encoded, but it almost was specifically tailored for her. In practically no time at all, she played his final words to her.
A miniature hologram of his image floated in front of her. He was clutching the side of his chest. Blood was seeping past his fingers. He was sitting next to the door just as his physical body was. "Tali. If you are listening, then I am dead. The geth have gone active. I don't have much time. Their server hub is just past this door. I tried to get inside to shut it down, but they locked me out and I can't bypass it in time." He paused a moment to groan in pain and applied more pressure to his wound. "It is the only server hub they can connect to on board the entire ship. You'll need to destroy it to stop their processes from forming new neural links with one another. They should be much easier to dispatch after that. Make sure Han'Gerrel and Daro'Xen see the data. They must—"
The recording ended abruptly. The last sounds heard were like the others, geth chatter and gunfire.
"Thanks, Dad," Tali whispered. At least the Alarei could be saved now. And more importantly, at least in her eyes, Raz'Sela as well.
Shepard knelt down next to her. "He knew you'd come for him. He was trying to help you. It's not perfect. It's not what you wanted. But it's the best he could do."
Tali bowed her head and rubbed the side of her father's helmet one last time. "I don't know what's worse: thinking he never really cared, or thinking he did, and that this was the only way he could show it." She took a deep breath and stood up with new resolve.
"It doesn't matter. One way or another, I cared. And I'm here. And we're ending this."
The bypass was complicated, but Tali worked the links with almost single-minded intent. After five minutes, the door yielded to her efforts. The room beyond was deceptively simple. A few sever hubs that were all connected to a central terminal and little else.
It was amazing that the geth they fought all worked out of something this small.
She ran up and accessed the terminal. A preliminary check showed that her father was right. Disabling it would almost shut down any geth they missed. However, the geth locked the console. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that Syrin was still tending to Raz in the room previous, but Reegar hadn't reported in.
"Reegar? Any problems?"
"All's quiet. I don't want to bet that it'll stay that way though, ma'am. You got something?"
"Yes. I'll need a few minutes."
"Take however long you need. I'll stop'em here."
"Or however long it takes to get Raz to a doctor," Syrin chimed in.
"We'll be done before then. Just keep him stable," Tali ordered.
"Roger," they acknowledged in tandem.
She started typing furiously, alternating between the terminal and her omni-tool to crack the firewalls the geth erected.
Shepard had moved to the side and was looking at another terminal.
"What's that?" Tali asked.
Shepard poked around the terminal a bit. "Looks like it's unconnected to the server. I think it's their research notes and logs. Seems to be intact."
As if to prove his point, when he tapped a button, a voice played out.
"First entry: Our hacking attempts failed. The geth have an adaptive consciousness. Hack on process and the others auto-correct. Still, we're making progress. Rael'Zorah is convinced we'll have a viable system in less than a year. This weapon will put our people back on the homeworld. And it's all because of Rael'Zorah."
"Oh, Father," Tali said mournfully. She turned her attention back to her console. Typing a few more commands, she said, "It's done. The server is being flashed. The geth will have no way of communicating with one another now."
The next log began to play.
"Something's slowing down the systems. We're taking down the firewalls to rebalance load distribution," the scientist clinically reported.
"Damn," Shepard muttered. He accessed another random log with a later date.
"Who's running this system diagnostic? I didn't authorize… oh, Keelah. How many geth are networked? !" the researcher demanded.
"All of them," the scientist answered in horror. "Rael'Zorah—"
"Shut it down! Shut everything down! They're in the system!"
Tali approached the terminal slowly. She reached around Shepard and typed a very specific set of keystrokes. At her touch, a new hidden set of files revealed themselves.
"These are my Father's personal records. Ones that we would've wanted to be kept private," she said quietly.
"You sound like you really don't want to hear it," he said just as quietly.
"I don't. But we have to. I just… this is horrible, Shepard. I know he's a part of what happened here, it's just…" she tried to say before accessing the records.
"Do we have enough parts to bring more online?" Rael asked anxiously.
"Yes. The new shipment from Tali will let us add two more geth to the network," a male scientist reported.
A female voice was heard. The same one that was dead in the store room "We're nearing a breakthrough on systemic viral attacks. Perhaps we should inform the Admiralty Board, just to be safe."
"No. We're too close," Rael argued. "I promised my daughter a house on the homeworld. I'm not going to sit and wait while the politicians argue."
Tali shook her head sadly. She distantly noted that Shepard's omni-tool was on as she listened.
"We'd have an easier time of it if Tali could send back more working material," the first scientist pointed out.
"Absolutely not," Rael said in a tone that would accept no further arguments. "I don't want to expose my daughter to any political blowback. Leave her out of this. Assemble new geth with what we have. Bypass security protocols if need be."
"He was doing this for you," Shepard said.
"I never wanted this, Shepard. Keelah, I never wanted this," Tali whispered.
"Everything here is his fault! When this comes up in the trial, they'll…" In a flash, all the possible scenarios played out in her imagination. She ran up to the terminal and began purging the records within. "We can't tell them, not the admirals, not anyone."
"Are you serious?" Shepard asked. "The chances you have without this…!"
She realized with horror that Shepard had recorded everything. She was about to argue her point before remembering about the others. She held up a hand, turned away from Shepard and accessed her radio. "It's done. We should be able to handle anything that gets in our way. You two take Raz back to the shuttle right now. Shepard and I need to clean up here."
"Got it," Syrin said. "Okay, Raz. Let's go. Maybe next time, you'll learn that your shields and armor are supposed block bullets, not your organs."
"You okay?" Kal asked worriedly.
"We're fine. We'll join up with you soon," Tali said tersely.
"Alright. Hurry back. We've been here a little longer than we estimated," Kal said before signing off.
"Tali, without this evidence, you're looking at exile!" Shepard warned.
"You don't think I know that?" You think I want to live knowing that I can never see the Fleet again?" she shot back. She took a deep breath to try to control the torrent of emotions that gathered in her chest. "But I can't go back into that room and say that my father was the worst war criminal in our people's history! I cannot!"
"Rael'Zorah doesn't need you to worry about him anymore. You heard him say that he didn't want you to be caught in the politics!"
"You don't understand! They would strike his name from the manifest of every ship he ever served on. He would be worse than an exile. He'd be a true traitor to our people, held up for children as a monster in a cautionary tale!" she screamed. More tears streamed down her cheeks. Her voice trembled pleadingly, "I can't let all the good he did be destroyed for this, Shepard. Please."
"Tali…" Shepard said before shaking his head. "We're not going to decide anything here. Let's see what the admirals say once we're back."
She swallowed the lump in her throat. No answer meant that he still had the recording on his omni-tool and could use it if he had to. For a moment, she briefly thought about hacking her way into it and purging the evidence within.
Deep down though, she knew couldn't do that to him. She trusted him and she would not dare betray that trust for anything.
"You're my captain in this hearing, Shepard. It's your decision. But please. Don't destroy what my father was," she begged.
Shepard sighed. "We should go. Hopefully, they won't think we're dead."
Tali nodded and followed a few steps behind him.
What her father left her… it almost felt like a betrayal of his own, regardless of his intentions. It was due to his failure that she's now facing the charge of treason and possible sentence of exile. And yet, he did what he did for what may be the best reason in the galaxy.
He did it for her.
She couldn't help but look at his body as they walked by.
I love you too, Dad.
Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / Rayya
The shuttle ride back was filled with silence.
Raz was still unconscious.
Syrin was either watching him or fidgeting in her seat.
Kal was staring intently at both Shepard and Tali.
Shepard was leaning back in his seat, arms crossed, and head bowed down in thought.
Tali was avoiding eye contact with everyone.
It made for a very uncomfortable ride.
Once docked with the Rayya, a medical team met them at the hangar and retrieved Raz. The squad crowded around him until the medics assured them that he was in good hands and that they'll do everything they can.
The ship's intercom system screeched on. Given the far-reaching ramifications of treason, her hearing would be broadcasted throughout the ship and the flotilla to keep the rest of the quarian people in the loop; the equivalent of the press. It was either that, or through word of mouth, given how tightknit quarians tended to be. Rumors and heresy could often more damning than a full trial.
Admiral Koris was talking. "We need to face facts. There has been no word. There is no reason to think that Tali'Zorah survived."
"What…?" Tali turned toward their shuttle pilot accusingly.
"We must trust Captain Shepard's offer of assistance! It has only been a few hours!" Shala implored.
"I called it in!" the pilot said defensively with Reegar, Syrin, and Shepard all turned their gazes on him as well. "I swear, I called it in! I told flight control that we coming back to dock with the Rayya, we needed a medical team, and for someone to inform the Admiralty Board that you were successful and to send another strike team sweep any holdouts!"
"I don't want to say it, but the quarian marines lasted less than five minutes," Gerrel said. "And all she was given was a team of four others. She's tough, no word in six hours? She's smarter than that. We need to call it."
Tali groaned. She would've thought that Gerrel would've had more faith in her abilities. "Why is it that this feels like a conspiracy against me?"
"I swear! I called it in!" the pilot said in alarm. "Keelah, you better get up there!"
"A pity Shepard vas Normandy is a better speaker than a soldier," Koris said haughtily.
"That actually hurts," Shepard said as they started jogging back to the plaza.
"Tell me about it," Kal said. "You're a marine. There's a difference, damn it. You'd think a serving admiral would know that."
"I recommend posthumously exiling Tali'Zorah," Koris said.
"At least he's consistent," Tali grumbled.
"You mean he still wets his suit?" Syrin joked as they broke out into a run.
"What?" Gerrel asked indignantly.
"It was agreed that Tali'Zorah would not be convicted if she were killed in action!" Shala cried out in shock.
"It was suggested, Admiral. I recall no agreement. To that end, I call for an immediate vote."
"No. That I won't agree to," Gerrel stubbornly responded. "There is no evidence of her direct involvement with the events on the Alarei. I call that she be cleared of all charges."
"Now see here…!"
They finally reached the plaza and pushed through the crowd of quarians. Each was shouting out their support for a guilty/not guilty at the judges.
Shala heaved a regretful sigh. "Very well. Is the Admiralty Board prepared the render judgeme—"
She fell silent when she was saw that the crowds were no longer looking at her. Instead they were whispering and muttering and pointing at something. She realized that Tali and her entourage had arrived and were making their way to their table.
"Sorry we're late," Tali said sarcastically.
"You didn't waste much time declaring us dead," Shepard said scornfully. "Go get your ship."
"We apologize, Captain Shepard. Your success in taking back the Alarei is… very unexpected," Gerrel said.
"Really? You didn't think we could take back one ship full of patchwork geth?" Shepard asked sardonically. "So when Tali and I fought against Saren and his army of geth, it was, what? A fluke?"
"You're presence here very welcome," Shala interjected quickly to keep things civil and to move things along. "I'm glad to see that your mission was successful. Survivors?"
Both Tali and Shepard shook their heads.
Shala looked to see Syrin and Kal standing nearby. "Casualties?"
"Raz'Sela vas Tonbay was shot, but not fatally. He's being treated now. We're told that he'll be fine," Shepard reported.
Gerrel cleared his throat. "Did you find anything on the Alarei that could clarify what happened here?"
Tali felt her blood chill. She looked at Shepard and tried to silently convey her wishes to him one last time. He looked back at her with an unreadable look in his eyes, just as effective as her opaque faceplate.
He stepped forward.
"Shepard… please…" Tali begged.
"Does Captain Shepard have any new evidence to submit to this hearing?" Shala inquired.
Shepard scoffed. "Is that what this? A hearing? And I thought this was a waste of time, especially since Tali's achievements spoke for themselves. I'm surprised you're even taking the effort to act like you care about her."
Tali felt her lungs seize.
"Captain Shepard, you will mind your tone. This is a formal proceeding!" Koris shouted.
"Is that what you think? Because I think this is a sham! This trial isn't about her. It never was. It's about the geth and your own political agendas. Not one of you gives a damn about her, only how you can use her! Just like how you don't care how many people died on the Alarei, only that there were geth."
Tali felt her heart join her lungs in inactivity now.
"This has nothing to do with the geth!" Koris argued.
Shepard pounded the table in front of him hard enough that it rattled, despite it being bolted to the floor. "You want people to sympathize with them, just to forestall the war effort!"
"That is completely—" Koris sputtered.
"Han'Gerrel wants to throw the Fleet at them!"
"I… I…" Gerrel stammered under the accusations.
"Daro'Xen wants to dominate and enslave them!"
The artic glare Xen leveled at Shepard was the first hint of emotion she showed during the hearing, other than boredom.
"Not once, did I hear anything about Tali except that she's a message for your own political bullshit! Not one shred of evidence to back up your accusations! " Shepard roared. "You want to exile the woman that's engaged with more geth than any other quarian alive! You should be listening to her, not parading her around for your own ends!"
"Damn straight!" Kal shouted.
"Order! I will have order!" Shala cried out.
"You're pissing on everything I fought for. Everything Tali fought for!"
"Yeah!" Syrin shouted.
"Tali was with me from the beginning. The geth attack on Feros, the Citadel, and here on the Alarei. Hell, she held her ground for your data on Haestrom while everyone was dying around her! She's the paragon of what the quarian people can offer to the galaxy, and you want to exile her. What the hell does that say about you?" Shepard asked.
"Hell, yeah! If you exile her, you might as well do the same to me!" Kal said.
"Me too!" Syrin staunchly said.
"Personally, I've had enough of this," Shepard continued in disgust, even as the quarian crowd rallied behind him in a frenzy. "Do whatever you want. Exile her or don't, but she's a part of my crew now. And I never leave anyone behind."
The panel of judges was shocked into silence.
The crowds started calling for Tali's innocence.
Shepard stood there, as if he were looking down at them, not the other way around.
And through it all, Tali watched silently with bated breath.
"Are the admirals prepared to render judgment?" Shala asked formally. Her quiet voice served to silence the chattering people.
Daro'Xen sighed in annoyance and activated her omni-tool to transmit her vote.
Han'Gerrel followed next.
Zaal'Koris bowed his head briefly before looking back up to meet Tali's eyes.
She gamely met his gaze.
He transmitted his vote last.
Shala looked down at her omni-tool and nodded. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy nar Rayya, in light of your history of service, we do not find sufficient evidence to convict. You are cleared of all charges."
Relief crashed down on her like a storm. She took a deep shuddering breath and felt her heart change from stopping, to hammering inside her chest, to an irregular beat of joy and sadness.
The witnesses broke out into applause and cheers all around her.
"Captain Shepard vas Normandy. We thank you for taking the time to represent one of our people," Shala said gratefully. "Know that you are always welcome in the Migrant Fleet."
"With all due respect, Admiral, I didn't represent one of your people. I represented one of mine," Shepard said.
Tali felt a few more tears run down her cheeks.
"So you did, Captain. So you did," Gerrel said. "Thank you."
"This hearing is concluded," Shala stated. "Go in peace, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy nar Rayya. Keelah se'lai."
"Keelah se'lai," the crowd intoned.
"Keelah se'lai," Tali whispered.
After enduring the hand-shaking and congratulations of the people around her, she finally managed to break away and find Shepard. It was easy enough since he was the tallest in the room and decked out in full armor, rather than the colorful robes of an environment suit.
He was doing something with his omni-tool when she caught up to him.
She suspected that he was deleting his recording of her father's records, and felt another wave of gratitude toward him. "I can't believe you pulled that off. What you said… I've never had anyone speak like that on my behalf."
"Never? I would've thought it happened all the time for you," Shepard joked.
Tali felt a smile break out across her face. "Thank you. For being there for my father and me, even when…" she swallowed and closed her eyes, remembering the events she saw on the Alarei. "… Thank you."
"We can still go back in and get you exiled, if you want," Shepard teased.
Her smile changed to a small giggle. "Thanks, but I'm fine with the way things are now. Though it's fun watching you shout."
"Tali," Shepard said quietly, his voice now serious, "about what your father said, what he did… you deserved better."
"I got better, Shepard. I got you."
He chuckled. "So you're still Tali vas Normandy?"
"You disapprove?" Tali asked teasingly. She knew he would always welcome her aboard his ship, exiled or not. Somehow, he managed to make everything turn out all right. She wasn't cast out from her home, and she had a new ship name now; one she was more than honored to have. The only thing that prevented her from truly enjoying the moment was the knowledge that her father was gone. And yet, with standing by Shepard by her side, the pain was more bearable than she had thought.
"Not in the least," he said. "It's actually kinda flattering that you'd want to serve on my ship instead of your old one. I mean, we have Cerberus, Legion, EDI… Not exactly standard quarian fare."
"I know what you mean, but… I learned something during my trial. Or maybe I just remembered it."
She smiled, and though her face was hidden beneath her helmet, she knew that he could see it all the same. "Friendship isn't about who you've known the longest… it's about who came and never left your side."
Sorry for the delay! I was really, really hoping to get this up by Father's Day. Make it more poignant, but I missed it. Ah well.
This one ran a little long, but I've always found the quarians the more fascinating races in the ME universe. The other species have an established presence in the galaxy, for better or worse. They know their places. Quarians don't and they practically created a whole new culture around that. I got a teensy bit carried away with typing it all out.
And I'm still not done yet! Oi…
A new poll is up in my profile page. I've been to different forums and saw both sides to Legion's Loyalty Mission in an attempt to find out what is the best choice. Ultimately, I'm playing Devil's Advocate now. Both sides made very compelling arguments that I have no idea what the 'best' choice is. It's to the point where I decided to toss it up to the air and leave it to you. Vote and let me know. The deadline is when I get to Legion's LM (Which is very soon!)
Again, lines were borrowed from Serenity. No doubt many will see it. What can I say? "The Man They Called Jayne"!
Also borrowed a line from Bulletstorm.