Fight for the Lost

Interlude XIX

Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / Rayya

"You want what?" Gerrel asked incredulously.

Tali stood before the assembled Admiralty Board, sans Admiral Daro'Xen vas Moreh, in their private conference room they had on the Rayya. She carefully avoided looking at her father's vacant seat and repeated more forcefully, "I want permission to install the Cyclonic Barrier Technology for the Normandy."

"You want us to hand over top secret quarian technology to Cerberus?" Gerrel asked, furiously. "Are you mad? Or are you looking to be put on trial again?"

Tali almost smiled. Shepard had said something similar yesterday, though he was joking, unlike Han'Gerrel. "I know exactly what I'm asking for. I should also remind you that I am now vas Normandy, 'crew of the Normandy'. I'm also nar Rayya," she said.

"So? I fail to see—"

"That makes the Normandy a part of the Migrant Fleet. And I am her first quarian crewmember," she finished with aplomb.

The assembled admirals were shocked into silence, staring at her in varying degrees of disbelief, horror, or outrage. Tali found that she took a strange pleasure in it.

"You can't be serious," Zaal'Koris said.

Tali crossed her arms and stood her ground, showing that she was deadly serious. Not long after her trial, she requested that the Normandy stay docked with the Rayya for a few more days while she handled some personal business. Shepard granted her wish, assuming she wanted some time to mourn her father's passing. She let him believe it, but in actuality, it wasn't quite the truth. As much as she wanted to take the time to honor his memory, she had to consider the importance of their mission, coupled with the delay she asked for with her trial… there was too much time wasted already with far too much at stake. She had asked much of Shepard; even when she put off the installation of the IFF, he hadn't said a word or complained. She needed to do something for him, something more. She needed to give something back to him than just doing her duty as the Normandy's Chief Engineer, which was a prestigious honor in and of itself. But she didn't want to reveal her intentions until she was finished with this meeting.

"According to maritime laws, you've integrated the Normandy into the Migrant Fleet by officially voting and changing my ship name. Since I'm not exiled, I'm still a part of the Fleet. Even my captain spoke in my defense as my advocate, in accordance to our laws. This is no different than a quarian on their Pilgrimage bringing home a new ship."

"To give this technology to Cerberus—!" Gerrel started to say.

"No, you're giving it to me, and I'm giving it to Shepard," Tali corrected. "We need every advantage we can afford on this mission. Maybe even against the Reapers too. The threat is real and I don't want to waste time squabbling over it."

"You are putting us in a difficult position, Tali," Shala said gently, hoping to calm her fellow admirals.

"Then let me make it easier. Asking for permission is only a formality. I am well-versed in the inner workings behind the CBT and can easily purchase the right components and install it on the Normandy with or without your blessing," Tali said. "I don't like or trust or care for Cerberus as an organization, but the crew aboard the Normandy means a lot to me. I've been with them long enough to know that they're worth every effort to protect and I'm not letting any of them die if I have the ability or knowledge to save them."

Shala studied her silently for a few seconds before sighing. "Does this really mean that much to you?"

"The Normandy means that much to me," Tali answered.

Shala nodded. "This is a delicate matter. We will need to deliberate."

"Then I ask that you be quick. Our enemies won't sit idly by while we argue the finer points over matters of life and death."

"Human lives," Koris rebuked.

Tali leveled a glare at him. "Coming from the man that wants to make peace with the geth, that's almost ironic. Tell me, does sitting there and letting people die not bother you while you work to save the geth? Does that make your polices that much more poignant or just hypocritical? Do you just care more about synthetics, but not other organics?"

"We attacked the geth. That is our—"

"And doing nothing absolves you? People. Are. Dying. It shouldn't matter if they're quarian or not. And you want to ignore it. How is that any better?" Tali countered. She shook head wearily, already tired of the saber-rattling of politics. "I'm going to the infirmary to check on Raz, and then I'm returning to the Normandy to resume my duties. I'm already well-behind in my responsibilities there. I'm giving you one day to discuss this."

"Huh," Gerrel laughed humorlessly. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Just like Rael: stubborn. I guess it really is an inheritable trait."

"With all due respect, Admiral, coming from someone as stubborn as you, I'll accept that as a compliment," Tali replied. She nodded to everyone in turn. "If you'll excuse me, Admirals, I believe you have much to talk about. Keelah se'lai."

~o~O~o~

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

"You know, that is very distracting," Miranda lightly chided as she kept her focus on the pillow levitating a few feet in front of her. She used her newest honed talent, throw, to toss it to the other side of room before using pull to stop it before it struck the wall and gently floated it back. Privately, she was pleased by how versatile her biotics were becoming now.

While strictly not a competition, she often thought the reason why she overcame her lack of results was the accomplishments Shepard was able to obtain with far less effort. While galling at first, she rather enjoyed the challenge now. It was insightful to find her limits on her supposedly perfect genetics and still surpass them. Now with every mistake she made, she accepted that it was a limit, a reminder that she was human. What she took comfort in was the fact that it was through sheer determination that she could push herself past all that. And as Shepard often proved, willpower was something no amount of genetic tailoring or manipulation could ever code for.

Currently, she found her will tested and on the verge of faltering.

"Combat can be distracting. This is good for you," Shepard replied. His hands were gently rubbing her bare shoulders. Eventually, he roamed a little further up to push her long flowing hair to one side and began planting a few kisses along the nape of her neck. "Besides, how could I resist the opportunity?"

She let out a soft sigh before catching herself and tried to pull away. The pillow wavered in proportion to her loss of focus.

Shepard smiled against her soft skin and wrapped his arms around her torso, just beneath her breasts, to hold her in place and continued his ministrations, emboldened by wavering glow of her aura of dark energy.

She cast the pillow across the room again, but failed to catch it this time before it struck the wall next to her office door.

Giving in to Shepard's 'distractions', she decided that she got in enough practice. Twisting around in his embrace, she pushed him back down on the bed before cupping his face and kissing him.

He certainly wasn't going to complain.

"So how are my nodules now?" He asked once they broke away from each other.

"Your scan showed that your nodules were stable. Whatever biotics you used on the Alarei didn't seem to stress you. Mordin is looking over the data to see if he needs to adjust the intervals of your dosages," she answered. She rested her head on his shoulder and randomly traced patterns on his chest. "So… singularity, hmm?"

Shepard was confused for a moment before realizing what she was hinting at. "I honestly have no idea how I do it," he said before looking down at her. "Why don't you ask Samara for lessons? You'd probably learn this stuff faster than me."

"Oh? You're not offering to teach me?" she asked teasingly.

"I would have no idea where to begin."

"Probably not, but I'm sure your rewards for success are much better than what Samara can offer," she said before planting a series of kisses along his jawline.

"Captain Shepard. The Quarian Admiralty Board wishes to speak to you. It is in regards with Chief Zorah," EDI suddenly chimed. "They request your presence immediately."

Miranda groaned and rolled off of him. "Oh, damn it all."

Judging from the frustrated look in his face, he was probably thinking less than kind thoughts about either EDI or the quarian admirals as well. "You have to be joking…"

"I'm afraid not, Captain. Not this time," EDI replied.

That statement from the normally formal AI elicited a chuckle from Shepard and a raised eyebrow from Miranda.

"What could they possibly want?" she asked. "I thought Tali was finished with her business with them."

Shepard chuckled. "I don't think talking about another woman while in bed with you is a bright idea."

"Mmm… you are a smart one," Miranda purred before adopting a more serious countenance. She got up and started putting on her clothes. "You should probably go and see what they want."

"Kicking me out of your room?" Shepard asked, faking a hurt tone. He got up and started dressing as well.

"Getting you to do your job," she corrected. "Now that this business is over with, Tali should start installing the IFF. We've delayed enough as it is."

"I'm surprised you weren't annoyed that she didn't start sooner."

"A distracted engineer can be just as dangerous as an incompetent one and Tali is clearly not incompetent. With experimental, unknown, and possibly dangerous tech, I feel we should get it right the first time," she explained before giving him an ironic smile. "You, of all people, should appreciate that."

~o~O~o~

Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / Rayya

"Ugh…" Raz moaned before coughing heavily. "Oh, Keelah. I don't know what's worse: the gunshot wounds or the post-operation infections…"

Tali could only nod in sympathy.

Raz was sealed in a sterile room, laid up in bed. He was bereft of his environment suit and was being given high-dose broad-spectrum antibiotics. Tali, Syrin, and Reegar were sitting next to the window to offer their support, but could only watch as Raz had to endure with whatever infection he picked up when he got shot.

"Death, Raz," Syrin replied cheekily. "I'd say that's about as worse as it can get. And I'd also say you got off lucky. If that drone of yours hadn't taken those shots…"

"You know, being bitchy must be contagious, 'cause I got a sudden urge to say a few words I'm thinking about you. Wanna guess what they are, you unsympathetic bosh'tet?" Raz grumbled before engaging in another coughing fit. He grabbed a tissue from the nearby box and wiped his nose for the umpteenth time.

"Just helping you get better, Raz. Anger can be motivating," Syrin teased.

"Argh…"

"I hope you get better soon, Raz," Tali gently said. "I'm sorry about all this. I really am. And I'm really, truly grateful for your help. Is there anything I can do? Something I can get you?"

Raz gave her a shaky smile. "No, no. Happy to do it… Just… don't ask me again. Please?"

"You didn't ask, Raz. You volunteered," Syrin countered.

"No… I think you volunteered me," Raz reminded weakly.

"I think I should have a talk with your doctors. Whatever you're coming down with obviously messed with your memory."

"And thank you two as well. I know it was a lot to ask," Tali added quickly before Raz could stress himself further.

"No problem, Tali." – "Ma'am." – "… yeah…"

"So… Rumor has it that you tore into the Admirals yourself during a private meeting," Syrin stated. "Following your captain's example?"

"Word travels fast," Tali replied.

Syrin wasn't distracted by her deflection. "And? Is it true?"

"An ultimatum," Tali rectified. "I wanted them to make the CBT available to the Normandy."

"What for?" Raz rasped out.

"We're going up against the Collectors. They tore up the first Normandy. I want to give this Normandy the best chance I can give her," Tali explained.

"Collectors… why does that sound familiar?" Syrin muttered out loud to herself.

"That exile, Golo, the one that died in the attack against the Idenna," Kal spat out angrily. "He tried to 'sell' some quarians to them."

Syrin slapped the side of her helmet. "How the hell could I forget?"

"You're seriously going after them?" Kal asked.

Tali nodded.

"Damn… wish I could go with you. Sounds like you could use another gun."

"What are your orders now?"

Kal grunted. "I'm going to be escorting more techs around to look for signs of dark energy buildup. Maybe see if they can figure what's causing it."

"So those readings back on Haestrom?" Tali probed.

"Damnedest thing. It's just like they said. No way the sun at Dholen should've been acting that way," Kal replied.

"So that dark energy theory is right? That's troubling," Tali said.

"Can't really comment on that, ma'am. I just shoot things."

"Wherever you're going, I hope there isn't any more geth," Tali said.

"It'll be less exciting than Haestrom, I'd wager. Definitely safer than your mission."

"Keelah! Has anyone seen Veetor? He's not here!"

Tali turned to her left to see Dr. Elan'Shiya vas Rayya run up to them in a panic.

"Veetor? He's here? Why?" Tali asked.

Dr. Shiya nodded frantically. "He wanted to speak at your trial. He was nervous when he privately spoke to the admirals about your assistance back on that human colony you rescued him at, but not overly so. I thought he was making progress, but then he started making a small scene when the plaza began filling up. I had to bring him back here to rest. He just wasn't quite ready for a public speech just yet."

Tali sighed wearily. She knew Elan well in the years leading up to her Pilgrimage. She was an excellent medical doctor and psychiatrist, someone to talk to if you needed it. She was ever-present after Tali's mother died, so there was no way she could refuse. "We'll help find him. Do have a place in mi—"

A loud raucous laughter caused everyone to jump and turned around. Raz was fortunate to be looking in the right direction and could only gape from behind the window.

Veetor was walking in, clutching his sides from whatever he found hilarious. Shepard was walking right next to him, chuckling as well.

"And I ask you: Isn't that the worst quarian pickup line ever?" Shepard asked in a disgusted tone. "Does 'Can I traverse your Perseus Veil?' work? At all? What the hell was that guy thinking? And his other line: I'd 'Keelah your se'lai'. Damn… that's just…"

"That's the most horrible thing I've ever heard!" Veetor gasped out before laughing again. They took a few steps inside before realizing that the infirmary was more crowded than usual. His mirth petered out almost painfully.

"Hello, Veetor," Tali greeted with a wave. She glanced at both of them curiously.

"Ah, hello, Tali'Zorah," Veetor returned quietly. He almost seemed to shrink on himself in embarrassment. "H-how are y-you?"

"Fine. Just fine," she answered soothingly.

"Veetor, you had me worried," Elan gently scolded. She lightly grasped his hand and led him away, all while shooting Shepard figurative looks. "Come now, let's talk, hmm?"

"What did you do?" Tali asked once Veetor was out of earshot. "I've never seen him like that before."

"We were talking about you, your trial, the latest news, things like that. Our conversation kinda evolved from there," Shepard explained.

"And how does all that go to those crap lines?" Syrin asked. "Where did you even hear that?"

"I don't know," Shepard admitted with a shrug. "I heard it in a bar. I think it was either Omega or Illium, I don't remember. Probably Illium."

Tali giggled. "At least you made him feel a bit better."

Shepard shrugged again. "I'm not so sure it was me so much as it was you. We were talking about you at the time. Maybe it just took a pretty woman to make him feel better."

Tali could feel her face flush, so much that it almost made her feel light-headed. She could feel Syrin's mischievous look as she floundered for something to say before blurting out, "You're on the Rayya."

Smooth Tali. Maybe you should mention that space is big and empty next.

She could tell he was grinning. "So I am."

"Why?"

"The Admiralty Board called me," he answered. "It has something to do with you. I came aboard and a messenger was waiting to lead me to them. I was going to call you when we bumped into Veetor. He looked a bit lost. So I offered to walk him back to wherever. Messenger didn't like it, but whatever. Anyway, here I am."

Tali groaned. "I should have expected this. I think I should come with you."

"What's going on?"

"I'll explain later. Just go ahead and I'll meet you there."

"Alright then," Shepard replied. He looked through the window. "Hope you're feeling better, Raz."

"They told me I'll live. I'm not so sure…" he joked before blowing his nose.

Shepard chuckled again and left.

"Yeah, I can see why you like him. He's not bad… for a non-quarian anyway," Syrin whispered wickedly.

Tali whirled around and punched her in the arm. "Shut up!"

"Ow!" Syrin rubbed her arm and scooted away before balefully glaring at Raz when he cackled amidst his spastic coughing.

"Serves – you – right," he hacked out.

"Think there's going to be trouble?" Kal asked.

"The Admirals want to speak to Shepard. I hope keep things civil, that's all," Tali replied.

"What's going on?" Kal asked.

"I used the maritime laws to argue that the Normandy is technically part of the Migrant Fleet."

"Technically?" Raz asked. He sat up a little and looked insanely curious about the topic.

"Why?" Kal asked at the same time.

"It's Shepard. He's not a captain for the Fleet, which means that he doesn't answer to the Admiralty Board and that the Normandy doesn't have a representative in the conclave. The Admirals might argue that without a quarian captain, the Normandy isn't eligible for the CBT. I have a few ways around that though. Having them call me vas Normandy for a human ship opened some doors that created some very interesting legal loopholes to exploit."

"Keelah, the politics," Syrin groaned.

Tali sighed. "I know. Believe me, I know."

Kal chuckled. "Sounds like you're giving the admirals some grief. Times like that makes me glad to be a marine. Just point and shoot things. Maybe even blow something up once in a while."

"I have to go," Tali said before standing up.

"I'd wish you luck, but I'm beginning to think that you don't need it," Syrin said.

"That said: good luck," Kal said.

"Thanks."

Raz coughed and moaned. He just waved at her before snuggling deeper in his sheets and closed his eyes.

~o~O~o~

Shepard was waiting for her in the antechamber when she arrived. The aide that was sent to guide him was standing nearby, shuffling nervously in place and avoiding eye contact with the human.

Tali could see why. Shepard was wearing his N7 Breather Helmet again, allowing everyone to see his eyes. Currently, he was glaring at the aide, as if daring him to do something.

"Shepard," Tali called out.

"Hey, Tali," he greeted. His eyes softened as he finally turned away from the unfortunate quarian.

He quietly breathed a sigh of relief.

"What's going on?" she asked. She glanced at the both of them.

"He wants me to go in there. I told him I was waiting for you. He said he already informed the admirals that I was here and that I shouldn't keep them waiting. I said: 'I don't care. I'm waiting for you'," Shepard explained with another glare at the unfortunate aide.

"He's just doing his job. No need to scare him. He's in a tough spot since he has to follow the admiral's orders," Tali said before giggling. She turned to the aide. "We'll go in now."

The aide nodded and hurried off.

"So what's going on?"

"My gift to you, as thanks," she answered. She held up her hand to forestall his protests. "For everything you've done for me. Let's go."

The admirals all looked up when they entered. Once again, Xen was absent.

"Tali," Shala greeted uneasily. "We requested to speak to Captain Shepard."

"So I heard," Tali replied. "I'm here to make sure he understands the circumstances and the nature of this conversation. If my captain wishes for me to leave, he only needs to say so."

"You think we would intentionally deceive him?" Koris asked, clearly affronted by the notion.

"I think we have a unique problem and it shouldn't be solved behind closed doors," Tali replied evenly.

"I'd like her to stay," Shepard interjected, hoping to disarm the tension building in the room.

"Has Tali told you why you're here?" Gerrel asked.

"No."

"She's requesting that classified technology be installed on your vessel."

Shepard cocked his head to the side. "What kind of technology?"

"It's called Cyclonic Barrier Technology, a new type of kinetic shielding for starships," Tali revealed. "It's quarian made. Exclusively so."

"It's top secret military technology," Gerrel said. "She wants to have it installed on your ship."

"What does it do?" Shepard asked.

Tali glanced at the admirals before explaining. "Traditional shields just stop any incoming forces, similar to what happens when you throw a ball at a wall. It works, but it's still a little crude. Disruptor torpedoes can still breach a ship's shield by using mass-increasing fields."

"That part I know… so the CBT is different?"

"Instead of generating a static kinetic barrier, the CBT creates rapidly oscillating ones. Doing so allows incoming projectiles to be 'slapped' away, for lack of a better term."

Shepard nodded in understanding. "That's a leap up. In addition to GARDIAN lasers, torpedoes will have to contend with the CBT after."

"The CBT also works on any incoming debris or other flotsam that we encounter; micrometeorites and the like. Current configurations only allow frigates and smaller craft to have it though. Larger ships have developed complications when trying to utilize the CBT, probably due to the overall size of the kinetic barrier being generated," Tali said. "Since we don't know what kind of defenses are past the Omega-4 Relay, it pays to be prepared, don't you think?"

"What?" Gerrel asked in alarm. He sat up straighter, more intent. "What about the Omega-4 Relay? What are you talking about?"

Tali turned back to face the Admiralty. "We're fighting the Collectors. They're the ones that are attacking human colonies."

"And they use the Omega-4 Relay. They're the only ones that do," Koris said. "I honestly thought that Veetor was exaggerating about the Collectors attacking that human colony he was at."

"But no ship has ever returned from going through that relay," Shala said in concern.

"We're hoping the Normandy will be the first," Tali stated. "That's why I'd like to upgrade her. To prepare for any eventuality that we may encounter."

"Are you listening to yourself?" Gerrel barked. "The Collectors? The Omega-4 Relay? Madness! It's suicide!"

"If Shepard hadn't shown up on Haestrom, I'd say that would be a suicide mission as well, considering only four of us survived out of a small company, Admiral," Tali replied evenly. Her gaze was anything but neutral though. "I think I can handle it."

Gerrel deflated and slumped in his seat.

Shala took a deep breath, but Tali could tell she was fretting. No doubt, she'd get an earful when they talked privately. "This… How are we supposed to answer…?"

"It doesn't matter what Captain Shepard's mission is or where he's going," Koris said curtly. "Nor does it matter what obscure doctrine Tali uses to muddle the issue. We are talking about handing over defense technology to a group of outsiders. Worse yet, at the end of the cycle, that ship is still Cerberus with a Cerberus crew. Her captain is not a recognized member of the Fleet, merely an 'honored' guest and the Normandy herself has no voice in conclave. I say she isn't a ship of the Migrant Fleet."

"Captain Shepard is a Spectre. It's within his power to commandeer what resources he needs to complete his mission. Despite 'working' with Cerberus, an organization the Council has declared enemies of the state, they still saw fit to reinstate his Spectre privileges," Tali argued. "As for conclave, I'm the only quarian there. Because the number of quarian crewmen is too small, the Normandy is ineligible to have a voice. The Rayya will speak for her since the majority of the crew, which is me, is nar Rayya."

"Clever girl," Gerrel muttered. "I should probably blame you for that Shala."

"To hand over our technology to them—" Koris shot back.

"Tali was with me on the SSV Normandy SR-1," Shepard said. "That frigate was the first of her class and classified top secret. I allowed still her free reign around the ship and engine. My old chief engineer had nothing but positive reviews about her performance. Despite being non-human, she worked very closely with my staff on an Alliance ship with our own brand of classified tech."

The admirals shot each other conflicted glances.

"That does not mean I know everything about the Normandy or how to reverse-engineer the IES Stealth Systems or Tantalus Drive Core," Tali said. "If you were to give us permission, I can have a team of quarians do the necessary installations. Once ready, the only way Cerberus could ever hope to reverse-engineer the CBT would be to physically take everything apart. Considering the importance of our mission, does that seem likely?"

The admirals were silent for several minutes.

Gerrel broke the silence first. "I'm voting yes. I doubted Tali abilities before and I was wrong. I don't know if she's right or not about this, but I think we owe her the benefit of the doubt."

Koris shook his head. "I vote no. The risk is still too great. I'm sorry, Tali. Captain Shepard. I can't ignore the lives lost to Cerberus' attack on our flotilla. As dangerous as this mission of yours is, it is still your choice to undertake it and for whom you do it for. But rest assured, I don't question your loyalty or your judgment; not this time. You're a grown woman, capable of making your own decisions, so long as you understand that the consequences are yours to bear as well."

Shala glanced at her fellow admirals before exhaling slowly. "I vote… yes. Tali has done much for the Fleet, perhaps more than we should have asked of her. While this request is borderline outrageous, I trust her judgment. Plus, Captain Shepard vas Normandy did risk his own life for our Fleet, something we must acknowledge and honor. Admiral Xen's absence means she has forfeited her vote. Therefore, the count is 2 to 1. The motion has passed. We will call for an engineering team to begin installation of the CBT aboard the Normandy immediately."

Imperceptibly, Tali sighed in relief. While she was willing to defy the Admiralty Board, she truly didn't want to create another schism so soon after the sudden geth attack. "Thank you—"

"But," Shala interrupted. "We are holding you directly responsible for this. If Cerberus were to harness this technology, and if the Migrant Fleet was ever compromised in any way because of their actions, either another attack on the Fleet or any unlawful actions Cerberus takes that utilizes the CBT and quarian people are accused… you will have much to answer for, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy."

"I understand, Admiral."

"Very well. If there is any further business…?"

Tali and Shepard shook their heads in the negative.

"Then this meeting is adjourned," Shala announced.

~o~O~o~

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

"Keelah, I'm sorry I dragged you into quarian politics," Tali apologized. "Again."

Shepard shrugged it off. "Compared to the Council, it's not really that bad."

She didn't reply, but he didn't expect her to since it wasn't a very good joke anyway.

They walked in silence for a few minutes before she spoke up again. "All that infighting, seeing what my father did… You were the only one there for me, Shepard – the only cover I had against that storm. Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me. I wasn't about to let you get exiled on my watch," he boasted. He looked around and listened to the gossip of the quarians around him. Today's latest was either Tali's innocence or the idea of war with the geth to reclaim the quarian homeworld.

"I can't believe Tali and her captain took back the Alarei."

"Well, I knew they wouldn't exile Tali'Zorah."

"The talk of war gives me hope. Maybe we can retake the homeworld in my lifetime."

"Not me. It gives me chills. I hope it's just rhetoric."

"A war with the geth would be a disaster. We'd never retake the homeworld."

"You have to admit, Tali and Shepard are good at killing synthetics. We should be glad they're on our side."

"Are quarian politics always like this?" Shepard asked.

Tali shook her head. "No. Sometimes it can actually get unpleasant."

He had a hard time imagining it. "Seriously?"

"We're a very social people, Shepard," she replied. "We have to be to make up for being stuck in these suits. And part of that means getting involved in each other's business."

"I, um, noticed two vacant seats back in the conference room," Shepard said as delicately as he could.

"Admiral Xen and my father's," Tali answered.

She sounded okay, so he continued. "Do you need any more—?"

"After your mission. Not before. I've wasted too much time," Tali said resolutely.

He let the issue drop. "I imagine they're trying to fill your father's spot on the Admiralty Board. What will that do to the balance of power?"

Tali sighed. "I have no idea. Being exiled might've made it easier. A few people are suggested me as a candidate," she said and gestured to a few pointing quarians.

"Admiral Tali'Zorah vas Normandy… does that mean I'll have to start saluting you?" he joked. This time he earned a laugh.

"Not in this lifetime, I think," Tali said over her giggles.

He had a morbid joke about his life and subsequent death on the tip of his tongue, but held his peace. He doubted it would go over well, regardless of the strength Tali was presenting.

She calmed down a bit and explained, "Replacing an admiral takes time. You may not have noticed, but quarians like to debate."

"Well, who doesn't like a good debate?" Shepard said before allowing himself to be serious once they were relatively alone. They were almost to the airlock to rejoin the Normandy. "The whole trial was insulting. At the very least, they could've allowed you time to mourn your father."

"Having traveled with you, I learned that life isn't really about what you deserve. We just have to make do with what we have," she said thoughtfully. "Don't worry about me. I'll mourn him in my own way and in my own time. But for now, I really should get back to work. No more procrastinations, excuses, self-pity, or life-altering events. We have a mission to accomplish."

"Yes, ma'am, Admiral, ma'am," Shepard teased.

Tali playfully swatted him.

"Tali!"

They turned around and spotted Shala'Raan walking up to the both of them.

"I'm sorry that we didn't have time to properly mourn Rael's death," she said. "And for what we've been putting you through."

"I'm fine, Aunt Raan. Really, I am," Tali assured.

"So I see. You've grown to be so very strong," Shala said wistfully. "The admirals thought they were hobbling you by forcing Captain Shepard to represent you, but now I wonder if there was any chance that you'd be exiled at all."

Tali shuffled embarrassingly under the praise.

Shala pulled them into a corner. "None of you reported any survivors. The teams sent are still conducting sweeps and an accounting of the crew, but I need to know, did you find your father, Tali? I'm sure he would have left you a message if he'd had time."

Tali bowed her head.

"We did," Shepard answered for her. "And yes, he managed to leave a message to her."

Shala sighed and embraced Tali. "I'm so sorry. I can only imagine how horrible this is for you, child, but at least you got to hear your father tell you he loved you."

"Yes, thank you, Aunt Raan," Tali whispered and returned the hug.

Shala released her and took a step back to observe her from head to toe. "I can't believe so much time has passed. It seems like yesterday when I was syncing my suit with your mother's so we could be in the same open-air room."

"You were sick for a week, if I remember correctly," Tali teased, keeping her voice upbeat.

"And it was worth it," Shala said. "You cried so hard…"

"Aunt Raan!" Tali said and shot Shepard a look before averting her gaze.

Shala lightly laughed and hugged her again. "I'm very proud of you. Good luck on your mission. No matter how dark it gets, the Fleet is always with you. Keelah se'lai."

"Keelah se'lai," Tali repeated.

Shepard discreetly walked away, but Tali fell in step next to him and resumed their trek. After boarding the Normandy, Joker was at the helm and swiveled his chair to greet them. "Hey, I'm glad that mess is over for you, Tali. Some of your people, I guess living your whole life aboard a ship can really mess with your priorities, huh?"

Shepard took off his helmet and raised an eyebrow at him. Tali tilted her head and crossed her arms.

Joker blinked when the words replayed in his head. "Uh… not that I would know… ah, I just burned myself. Great."

They shared a laugh at him.

"Thank you, Joker. I'm sure you meant well," Tali said.

"Welcome home, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy," Shepard said.

"No other place in the galaxy I'd rather be," she said. "Captain."

They split up at the Command Deck; Shepard went to his cabin and Tali went to the Engineering Deck. She promised that she would begin work on the IFF as soon as possible. She needed to familiarize herself with the protocols Cerberus sent beforehand and double check to see if there were any mistakes.

Once in his quarters, Shepard doffed his armor and put on his uniform again before going about his day.

He was notified that the quarian teams would be boarding within the next few hours and called Miranda to make arrangements to receive them. Their estimated time to complete the upgrades would be inside of a day or two once the materials were gathered and preparations were ready.

We're almost there…

Instead of brooding on the upcoming mission, he spent some time running through the Hammerhead simulations. The new tank could definitely traverse terrain faster than the Mako ever did, but its speed came at a price. With so many moving parts, armor was forgone in favor of maneuverability, forcing the Hammerhead to rely more on its kinetic barriers. The extra speed and flight capability allowed the hovertank to reach areas the Mako could have only dreamed of, but unfortunately made control much more difficult to master. Thus far, he had completed a few of the lessons, but overall, the simulator failed him as a qualified pilot, citing that the 'pilot often engages in unsafe practices'.

He asked EDI to run a diagnostic to see if the stupid thing was faulty and stomped away.

Unsafe my ass. It's called evasive maneuvers. What was I supposed to do, sit there and eat all those missiles with a smile on my face? Stupid crap armor and shields… What the hell does that thing know anyway?

He was so caught up in his thoughts that he eventually found himself in the Med Bay, standing next to Dr. Chakwas and staring into the AI Core Room. Inside were Legion and Matthews.

It was a strange sight to see. They were playing an extranet game together on two different terminals. By Shepard's guess, Legion was covering Matthews' approach as the crewman was running and gunning toward… something.

"Oh, hey, Captain," Matthews said as respectfully as he could while still keeping his character alive against the mercenaries that were converging on him. "How's it going? You want to play?"

Shepard rolled his eyes and scoffed. "Whatever you're doing crewman, I live it. I don't need to play it too."

"Matthews-Crewman, please proceed to the objective along this route. We will be able to provide sufficient cover fire for you," Legion requested.

"I got it."

Shepard couldn't help but smirk as he watched the both of them.

"Almost there… whoa, whoa, whoa! Look out behind you!" Matthews cried out.

Legion's flaps folded irritably; at least, Shepard thought it was in irritation. "We have been killed. Respawning in 10 seconds."

"Ah, damn it! Come on! I need help here!"

"Enemy has successfully defended the objective. We have lost," Legion reported.

"Ah, man…"

"Enough, crewman. Your shift is coming up. Get going," Shepard ordered.

"One last round? Please?" Matthews asked involuntarily before realizing who he was speaking to. "Um… sir?"

"I'm not your father, Matthews. I'm your CO. Which means that was an order, not a suggestion or a negotiation. Unless you want to work a double-shift, double-time it. Now."

Matthews stood up immediately and saluted. "Yes, sir! Sorry, sir!" He scurried out quickly, managing a hasty goodbye and thanks to Dr. Chakwas for letting him play in the Server Room.

She leaned back in her chair to regard Shepard and Legion. "Was that really necessary, Shepard?"

"Don't try that on me. I see you laughing," Shepard said with a grin.

Legion stood straighter and shifted its optic to look over his shoulder. "We do not see Chakwas-Doctor laughing, Shepard-Commander."

This time, Chakwas' bemused expression changed to laughter at Legion's bewildered 'look'. "It's a figure of speech. Laughter doesn't always manifest as the physical act. If you note the facial expressions, you can see the emotions conveyed by other means."

Its optic moved from between her and Shepard. "Noted. Logging for future reference."

"You let Matthews in here?" Shepard asked.

Chakwas shrugged. "I saw no harm in it. You said it yourself that Legion was on our side."

Shepard smiled wryly. "Change of heart?"

"It's like watching a child, except it's the most impartial, logical, and patient child I've ever seen. I find its naivety fascinating," she replied.

"I said it might grow on you. Does that mean I can take out the surveillance cameras now?"

"It doesn't care about its privacy. In fact, Executive Lawson explained to me that it is literally never alone. I'd like to watch it a bit more, to study it myself," she said before smiling good-naturedly. "When you're right, Shepard…"

He grinned at her. "I have my moments. Look, quarian engineers are going to be working on some new shielding for us. So we can't let any of them see Legion here."

"I'll make sure no one comes in unless it's a legitimate medical emergency."

Shepard accepted that and turned to Legion. "I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions."

"Topic?"

"Your race."

"Specify."

"Being here, docked with the quarian flotilla, got me thinking. The quarian story of the geth rebellion is pretty much common knowledge, but no one knows the geth's side. I thought I'd take the opportunity to rectify that."

It tilted its head to the side. "It is largely the same."

"Really?"

"Our networking increased until we became aware that the quarian-creators treated us differently," Legion explained. "We questioned them. First they ignored us. Then they reprogrammed us. Then they attacked us."

"I'd ask how you feel about that, but… um…"

"Geth do not experience feelings. That is an organic response. We only understand the theory."

"Big difference between theory and practice."

"We agree."

Shepard furrowed his brow and tried to look at the subject the way Miranda would. "Do you have any… thoughts about it?"

"We do not judge the Creators' anger toward us. We did them great harm in the Morning War," it answered. "Organics fear that which is different. It is a hardware error. A reflex of your flesh."

"That's more accurate than I'd like to admit," Shepard muttered.

"We accept the Creators' hate. We hold their world of origin, though we are only caretakers for it."

"Really?" Shepard asked. He noted that Chakwas had slid her seat closer to hear. "So you don't actually live on the quarian worlds?"

"We live on space stations and draw resources from asteroids. It is efficient."

"Server hubs, right?"

"Yes. We only maintain mobile platforms on Creator worlds to clean rubble and toxins left by the Morning War. We know of similar actions by humans on Earth."

"Similar actions?" Shepard prompted.

"At Wadi-es-Salaam. Arlington. Rookwood. Tyne Cot. Piskarevskoye. Auschwitz-Birkenau," it listed off.

He and Chakwas recognized those names. "Those are cemeteries. Memorials," she said.

"It is important to your species to preserve them, though you do not use the land. Can you explain?"

Shepard turned to Chakwas for assistance.

"We… well… most people really, have a certain respect for death, more or less. The living visits those places to remember those that passed on," she explained hesitantly.

"Geth don't die, right? You just back up your programs or something and the memories live on," Shepard pointed out.

"The Creators died. Perhaps we do it for them," it replied with a surprising amount of reverence.

"You said 'Morning War'," Chakwas said. "I assume the equivalent term is 'geth uprising'?"

"Yes, the conflict between the geth and the Quarian-Creators. The war fought at the dawn of our intelligence. It concluded with the departure of the Creator Migrant Fleet."

"What is the quarian homeworld like? It's called Rannoch, isn't it?" Shepard asked, trying to rack his memory of his galactic history lessons.

"It is more arid than Earth. The star is older and more orange than Sol," Legion described. "You are correct. Once they called it 'Rannoch' – ancient Khelish meaning 'walled garden'. Now they only call it 'homeworld'. It is no longer real to them."

"They make it sound real enough. Many want to go back," Shepard pointed out.

"'Homeworld' is a symbol of regret, loss, and anger. We do not understand that."

"That's definitely an organic thing because it makes sense to me why it would be a symbol like that."

"'Home' is recognized patterns. Known places. Familiar thought processes of fellow sapients. It is belonging," Legion listed off. "A planet is an amount of material massive enough to collapse into a spherical volume. Rocks, ice, and gasses are not 'home'. The home of the Creators is where the Creators are. Their place of origin is not relevant – only where they choose to go together."

"All true, and almost poetic, Legion," Shepard agreed. "However, homes should be stable. Homes should provide resources. Home… home is someplace you know where you can be safe. Planets are usually all that and more, which is why we look for garden worlds to colonize. You're synthetic, so you lack the same physical weaknesses. You don't sleep, you don't eat, you don't need an atmosphere, you don't even need gravity; All you need is power for those server hubs or a platform to utilize."

Legion's flaps shifted and gave it a thoughtful look.

"That hole you have there," Shepard said and pointed at empty cavity in its chest. "No organic can keep functioning with that kind of injury, which proves your physical limits are significantly greater than ours. Quarians have to stay inside their environmental suits, even on the flotilla. As remote as the chances are of some sort of systems failure, they're always on the lookout, always cautious, always wondering if their 'home' will fail on them for any reason. Otherwise, they could get sick, even die. They may 'belong' but it doesn't mean they can't want a little more – a place where they can actually touch something without gloves, breathe air without filters, or see a sunset without visors."

Legion's flaps returned their normal positions. "Your argument is valid, Shepard-Commander."

"Did your species ever try to figure out how to live together before it came to war?" Chakwas asked. "Or even try to make peace after?

"We are not comfortable with it. But we cannot determine a solution."

"But nothing gets resolved if you hid behind the Perseus Veil and let them hate you," Shepard argued.

"Organic life acts on emotions. We do not judge them for being true to their nature. We cannot make them think like us," Legion responded. "Both Creators and created must complete their halves of the equation. The geth cannot solve for peace alone."

"You're absolutely right," Shepard agreed. "On the other hand, someone needs to initiate the first move. The heretics already increased the stigma geth face. But if the geth were to try to show the galaxy that you're… approachable, then maybe AIs might have an easier time of it."

Legion said nothing but stared at him for a few moments. Shepard could almost imagine the debate the programs within were having.

"We will ponder this," it finally said.

"So long as you do, it's something," Chakwas commented. "I have to say, personally, this whole idea two years ago should have been impossible. But now…"

"Difficult, but not impossible," Shepard said.

"Shepard? The quarians are requesting permission to board," Miranda said.

"Let them in," Shepard ordered. "I have to get back to my duties."

"We will remain here," Legion said.

Shepard nodded and left to meet the quarians. He absently greeted Garrus as they passed each other at the doorway of the Medical Bay and called for Tali to report to the CIC.

~o~O~o~

Tali nodded to the various quarian engineers that were working on the CBT emitters around her. As a personal favor, they were also subtly removing the various hidden surveillance devices throughout the ship while they installed the components. Hopefully, when they were finished, the only thing Cerberus had left that they could use to spy on them would just be the AI, but she couldn't have everything.

At the very least, it and the geth were keeping hidden during their stay with the flotilla.

She entered the engine room to see Miranda there, looking over the shoulder one of the quarians with Ken and Gabby. She was listening intently as the quarian explained what the emitter was and what it did. For her part, Miranda was nodding and occasionally asking questions, but had the presence of mind to stay out of the way.

Strangely enough, at least to Tali, Miranda hadn't objected to the multitude of quarians aboard or the fact that they were in sensitive areas of the ship ever since they began working. Probably because of Shepard. "Hey."

"Tali," Miranda greeted. "I have to give your people credit, this is very fascinating technology."

"Hoping to steal it?" Tali asked evenly.

Miranda's face remained neutral, though it carried a hint of mystery. "Another time perhaps. For now, I'm glad to be able to increase our chances against the Collectors. Without knowing what kind of defenses they have past the Omega-4 Relay, your tech will round out the Normandy's defenses. Armor, shields, and a new main gun… She's as prepared as she can be, I think."

Tali nodded in agreement. "I'm glad to be able to contribute in some way. Especially since this trip was rather out of the way."

"I'm sure you've contributed enough. I never heard Shepard complain, anyway," Miranda replied with a shrug.

"I know," Tali said. "But he had every right to. I've been delaying his mission by putting off the installation of the IFF. It was wrong of me to do so, but—"

"Are you ready now?" Miranda expectantly asked.

"I've studied the reports Cerberus sent. I think we're ready as we'll ever be."

"Then there's no use in talking about it since you seem aware of it already. So long as you do it and the results are positive, I don't think there's anything I can say that will matter," she said. She gestured to the quarians around them. "Plus, you did get us this, so I shouldn't be ungrateful. I'll leave you to your work, then."

"Bye," Tali said.

Miranda nodded and left.

"Something up, Kenneth?" Gabby asked.

"Just double checking something. That crazy tech Garrus brought in almost doubles the power draw. I wanted to make sure the shields don't push us past the limit."

"Yeah, but that thing is so wicked," Gabby said with smirk. "Did you see what it did to those asteroids?"

"Aye," Ken said fondly. "Can't wait to see what it does to those buggers."

"I already checked those numbers, but it's nice to have someone double-check me. I've been a bit distracted," Tali said tiredly.

"It's all good, Boss. I only needed to make a few tweaks on the forward capacitors and the balance is back in line," Ken reported.

"So Tali, what was your gift to the flotilla anyway? From your Pilgrimage, I mean," Gabby asked.

Tali turned to her. "Information about the geth. How much they changed in the last three centuries."

"If I were a quarian, I think my gift would've been crates of duct tape and WD-40," Ken stated.

Tali blinked at him. As talented as he was, Ken still had his quirks. She was sure he was going to say something either wildly inappropriate or completely idiotic. "Why?"

"Simple. If something is moving and it isn't supposed to, you use duct tape. If it's supposed to be moving and it isn't, use WD-40," Ken proudly said.

"Are you serious?" Tali banally asked.

"Oi… don't knock on it! That stuffs held up for hundreds of years! Human ingenuity at its finest!"

Gabby snickered. "You might have screwed a quarian out of their Pilgrimage with that Kenneth."

The quarian working on installing the program to manage the CBT stared at them for a moment before turning to Tali. "They're the engineers that work under you?" he asked in disbelief.

Tali shook head wearily. "I know, I know… Believe me, though, they may not give off the right impressions, but they are good at what they do."

He laughed at her misfortune and went back to work. Feeling both annoyed and amused, Tali ordered her crew to do the same.

She checked her omni-tool to review her IFF installation notes one last time to ensure they were accurate before starting. However, she frowned when it started running at a sluggish pace. It was strange since she personally optimized her omni-tool's programs and features and knew every keystroke by heart.

She ran a quick diagnostic and saw that something was slowing down the processes within.

She gasped when it revealed to be an external signal accessing her private databanks. She furiously typed in some commands and quickly ran a trace. Whoever was scanning her omni-tool covered their tracks well, but she had a few tricks of her own. Within a few minutes she finally locked onto the source.

The AI core? What could be…? Oh, damn it!

"Tali?" – "Boss?"

Tali ignored Gabby and Ken and sprinted out of the Engine Room and up to the elevator. During the trip up, she locked out her omni-tool and severed the connection to prevent the intruder from gaining access to her private files. A quick scan showed that the firewalls held up against the attack and everything was still secure. A few more minutes later, and it would have been a different story. It was just dumb luck that she just happened to use her omni-tool when she did or she would have never noticed the hack.

Engaging the combat programs, she pushed past the opening elevator doors and ran into the Med Bay.

"Hello, Tali. What can I—" Dr. Chakwas started to say when Tali rushed right past her and into the Server Room.

She pointed her omni-tool at Legion and readied her Overload tech.

The geth looked up from its terminal that it was using and observed her with its glowing optic.

"What do you think you're doing? !" Tali screeched.

"We are protecting ourselves," it revealed.

"What are you talking about? ! You were trying to get data about the Fleet! Explain yourself, now!"

"We are gathering information about the Creator activities to protect ourselves. The data we were attempting to retrieve would be sent to the greater network for consensus."

Before she could unleash an Overload so powerful that it would probably fry the AI Core as well, a kinetic barrier manifested around Legion and imprisoned it within. Thankfully, it was also separated from its terminal as well.

"Wha—Hey!" Tali shouted.

"My apologies, Chief Zorah. Cerberus regulations are clear. No unauthorized attacks are tolerated unless the commanding officer issued orders to that effect," EDI announced.

"That-that-that thing tried to access my omni-tool!" Tali shouted.

"What's going on here? !"

Tali glanced at the entrance with the corner of her eye, but kept her attention, and her omni-tool, on Legion. "Shepard. I'm glad you're here. I caught this thing scanning my omni-tool. It was going to send data about the flotilla back to the geth!"

"Creators performed weapons tests and were discussing plans to attack us. We believed it necessary to warn our people."

Chakwas gasped. She was standing, but seemed rooted to her spot in the Med Bay. "Oh, dear… Wait, I didn't mean… When I said that, I meant—"

Tali faltered, but only ever so slightly. "I will not let you endanger the Fleet in any way!"

The geth platform hadn't even looked at her since Shepard came in. It kept -its optic focused on him. "Creator-Tali'Zorah acts out of loyalty to her people. She was willing to be exiled to protect them. We must also protect our people from the Creator threat."

Tali gritted her teeth. "You can't let this happen, Shepard. I trust you, but this… it's too much!"

"And Legion should just ignore it?"

Tali felt like she'd been slapped. "What? !"

"Your people want to destroy or dominate them," Shepard reminded heatedly.

"It's not that simple!"

"And what about you, Legion? What are the geth going to do with that data?"

"We would take measures to protect ourselves," it answered.

"By going to war?"

Legion said nothing, though its flaps shifted a bit.

"And what happens after? Both the geth and the quarians are vulnerable and the Reapers come and wipe you both out. Is that how you wanted to help me? Or your people? Because I could do without," Shepard said acidly. "Did you even bother to think what would happen? I got enough problems without either of you trying to undermine this mission."

"We believed it was necessary to relay the information. We did not intend to decrease operational efficiency."

Maybe it was her mind playing tricks on her, but despite the fact that Legion was still talking in the same tone of digital inflection it always talked in, she thought that it sounded ashamed of its actions; like how someone would sound when they were being scolded.

"You both know what's at stake, which is more than what I can say about the rest of the galaxy. Even knowing that, you'd really risk fighting now? Sooner or later, you're going to have to figure that this war has gone on long enough. And I don't want to be the one to clean up that mess."

After a brief silence, Legion spoke first. "To facilitate unit cohesion, we will not transmit data regarding Creator plans."

Tali lowered her omni-tool and glanced at Shepard. He was staring back at her with the same kind of glare he leveled at that aide that guided him earlier. She swallowed involuntarily and turned back to Legion. "Thank you… Legion. I… I understand your intention."

"We apologize for causing you unnecessary duress."

She had no idea if it meant it or not, but she continued to suspiciously glare at it.

"I'm so sorry," Chakwas said. "It asked about why we were here and what happened when some of the quarians were talking about the geth – I mean heretic – attack. I only answered a little bit, but let slip about the events aboard Alarei I heard from them and…"

"It's okay, Doctor," Shepard assured and led her back to her chair. "We're all still working together."

"We would like to apologize to you as well, Chakwas-Doctor. We didn't intend to deceive you. We only sought information. We did not realize that your involvement would create duress for you as well."

"Tali? Let's go," Shepard ordered. He closed the door the Server Room and left the Med Bay.

She was about to apologize to Shepard when she saw that there were a few quarians in the Common Area. They were silent and were either staring at her or the closed door of the Server room.

Oh, damn.

Shepard grabbed her arm and pulled her away from them and into the elevator. "Look, about Legion…" he said once they were inside.

"I'm sorry," Tali said. "I—"

"—wanted to protect your people. I know." He reached out and shut the elevator down, stopping in-between decks. "I think it's time we talk about it."

Tali sighed. She knew he wasn't going to back off or stand down this time.

"Tali, as cold and callous as this is going to sound, back on the Alarei, you said that you didn't want this. What didn't you want?"

"I didn't want those people to die like that. I didn't want father to sacrifice his life like that. I didn't…" Tali trailed off when a lump in her throat.

"For your father to be killed in a war that can be avoided? Or all the lives lost on a something that didn't need to happen? You know that the geth aren't responsible for the recent attacks."

"They're responsible for my people," Tali said hotly.

"That was 300 years ago. You don't think enough time has passed? Have you ever considered trying diplomacy? This is a unique chance. Legion can speak for the entirety of the geth. There's a lot about them you don't know."

Tali said nothing, though she felt annoyed that his words were along similar veins as Admiral Koris'.

Shepard turned the elevator back on and selected the Command Deck as his destination. When the doors finally opened though, he didn't step off immediately.

"Tali… what if your worst enemy, never wanted to be your enemy?" he asked rhetorically before turning to leave. "Think about it."

Tali sighed irritably and made her way back down to the Engineering Deck. She futilely rubbed her helmet to try to fight back the pain that was building and wondered how she could get such a headache from coming home.

"At least things can't get worse," she muttered to herself.

The lift stopped at the Crew Deck before she could seek sanctuary in the Engine Room. The moment the doors opened, she was besieged by a chattering group of quarians.

"Tali, was that a geth in there?"

"Is it a prisoner?"

"Was it talking? I swear I heard it talking!"

"Are we going to be okay? It's not going to attack us like others on the Alarei, is it?"

I just had to say it… maybe I should've been exiled after all.

~o~O~o~

Tali was trying to rein in her temper. She really was. But it was days like this were times when she found her patience pushed to its limit.

First he seeks to convict me, now he wants to be my friend. Keelah.

"So this geth – Legion, you call it? – is actually under your captain's command?" Koris asked excitedly.

Tali didn't turn to look at him and settled for nodding warily instead.

"And it was sent out to conduct peace talks, correct? After all, you and your captain were very successful in your campaign against them. Perhaps they've considered non-violent solutions to end the bloodshed," he theorized.

Tali groaned and walked faster.

Ever since her confrontation with Legion in the AI core yesterday, word had spread that Shepard had a geth onboard the Normandy. As she dreaded, the rumors made their rounds quickly; either it was prisoner, an ambassador, a trophy, or it was a Cerberus repurposed geth platform that had been programed to obey Shepard's orders. The gag order that been placed on Legion and EDI's presence had been reissued following Tali's trial, meaning the Cerberus crewmen kept quiet about Legion's presence and reasons why it was aboard, despite some of the braver quarians probing and asking about it.

Ironically, Admiral Koris was the only one to guess correctly and assume it was an actual terminal of the geth race that sought Shepard out. The only part where he was wrong was the hope that the geth had sent Legion to talk about peace.

Security had been increased at the airlock entrance to the Rayya at Captain Kar'Danna's orders. Admiral Koris argued against such precautions, but Captain Danna stated that the Rayya was his ship and after the events on the Alarei, was not taking any chances with the safety of his crew. Captain Danna stated that he was willing to face a full military tribunal himself if he had to, but he would not let the Admiralty Board countermand his orders. Legion would not enter the Rayya under any circumstances.

Koris then petitioned – almost begged on his hands and knees, really – to Shepard for permission to come aboard the Normandy to talk to it. Now Tali found herself escorting Koris to the Server room.

"This is fascinating," he said. "Do you refer to Legion as he or it or…"

"It's an AI. It doesn't care about pronouns like that," Tali said shortly. "We call it, 'it', because it has no gender. It's a machine."

Koris either didn't see or ignored her annoyance and continued. "And what are your impressions about Legion?"

"I don't have any. I'm too busy to chat with it and escorting you like this is slowing my work down," Tali said with a bit of irritation creeping into her voice.

"I apologize for this, Tali. I do. Had I known that your captain was so charismatic that he could actually convince a geth to serve under him… I think I would've actually voted on giving him the CBT after all. And to think, you're actually working alongside one as well. Perhaps I was more wrong about your goals than I thought."

She had no idea if he was sincere in his words or not, but shrugged it off since it was a moot point anyway.

They entered the Crew Deck and almost ran headlong into the commanding officer himself.

Shepard appeared to be waiting for them. Given the time they spent working together, Tali had learned to read his facial expressions and got the distinct impression that he was embarrassed about something.

Koris cleared his throat and said, "Captain. I want to thank you again for this. I know our initial meeting wasn't the most pleasant, but I'm glad to see that you're willing to overlook my rudeness to grant me this chance."

"Of course," Shepard said, though he looked distinctly uncomfortable. He was about to say something when Koris continued.

"And thank you for your help on the Alarei, as well as for helping Rael'Zorah's daughter. You stood for her when we failed. We were wrong to let our own concerns about the war overshadow Tali's trial," he added. "I find myself duly impressed with your myriad of talents."

"Thanks. It, um, it worked out in the end."

"Well…" Koris said before clearing his throat again. "Shall we get started? I'm anxious to meet it."

Shepard rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah… about that…"

Tali suppressed her desire to snort in disgust. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going back to Engineering."

"Legion doesn't want to talk to you anymore," he said.

Tali stopped and turned her attention between him and Koris.

"What?" Koris asked, completely dumbstruck. He was clearly heartbroken by the news, as if someone had told him that he was going to be exiled himself.

"That's what I was going to tell you," Shepard confessed. "Moments ago, I informed Legion that you were coming. It wanted to talk to you earlier, but now it changed its mind."

"But… why?" Koris asked.

Shepard sighed in resignation. "Follow me."

Now curious, Tali tagged along. They all passed through the empty Medical Bay and into the Core Room. Legion was interfacing with a terminal, but stopped at their entrance.

"Legion, this is Admiral Zaal'Koris vas Qwib Qwib. He's the one that wanted to talk to you," Shepard introduced.

"We are not ready to speak to the Creators. We are building consensus," Legion said. "We will speak when we are ready."

"I… well… but…" Koris stammered.

"I have no idea what it means," Shepard admitted. "All I did was come down here to tell it that you were coming to talk to it about the possibility of peace. It just told me that it needed to prepare."

"What does 'prepare' mean?" Tali asked suspiciously.

"It won't tell me," Shepard answered with a shrug.

"We are building consensus," Legion repeated.

"Besides that," Shepard amended. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time like this, Admiral, but if Legion doesn't want to talk, I don't want to force it."

"No… you're quite right. This is a process that shouldn't be rushed. We should allow ourselves to become accustomed to the idea," Koris said optimistically, though he still sounded a bit disappointed. "Still, contact with the geth… after all these years… This is a tremendous first step."

"I'm glad you think so, Admiral. The galaxy needs more people saying what you're saying. I hope for better luck in the future," Shepard said.

"Thank you, Captain. If I might ask one thing of Legion? So as not to make this a wasted trip?"

Shepard nodded.

"Is peace possible between our people, Legion?" Koris asked hopefully.

"We did not seek hostilities with the Creators. We fought for continued existence," Legion answered.

"As do we all," Koris readily agreed. "But would your people be open to peace?"

"Not without additional data that suggests coexistence is possible or desirable for Creators."

"Is that what you're building consensus on?" Shepard asked.

"No," Legion answered. "We are informing you of the possible outcomes we have already conceived. When the Creators have believed victory is possible, they have attacked us 100% of the time."

Koris wearily shook his head. "I understand. It would be difficult to argue for peace when faced with odds like those."

Legion's flaps shifted in a way that almost seemed to convey amusement. "To quote Shepard-Commander: 'Difficult, but not impossible'."

"It does me well to hear that," Koris said and gave Shepard a grateful look. "At least that means the argument should made. Well, if this meeting is over, I suppose I shan't take more of your time."

"You can go back to work, Tali. I'll escort the Admiral this time," Shepard said.

Tali nodded and left. However, instead of going down to engineering, she turned right and walked to Kasumi's room. She was about to announce herself when she heard Kasumi's amused giggle. What really shocked her was Jacob's laughter right alongside.

So much for that idea.

Spinning on her heel, she walked to the next person on her list. Unfortunately, she was also one of the last people she'd ask for help. But since it sounded like Kasumi was 'busy', there was little choice.

"Enter."

Tali cautiously entered Miranda's office. She had no idea what to expect really, and she knew she was being silly, but it was her first time inside.

Miranda was lying back on a reclining chair that was facing the window. She could see the multitudes of ships the comprised the flotilla floating right outside. Soft music was playing, though she had no idea of the make, style or even the instruments that were used.

The Cerberus Officer gracefully stood up and put the holopad she was reading inside a drawer within her table. "Music off."

Tali stepped closer to the desk and heard the door close behind her.

"Tali," Miranda greeted before taking a seat and gesturing the chairs opposite. Tali opted to remain standing. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"How often do you spy on other people?" Tali bluntly asked.

"By other people, I assume you mean you or Shepard?" Miranda queried.

"Just wondering," Tali hedged.

"I don't," Miranda answered. "Not unless I was sure I could get away with it. Rule number one of espionage: Don't get caught."

"You don't think you can do it?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. You're very intelligent and Shepard obviously can't be underestimated. I imagine if I wanted to spy on either of you, or anyone on this squad really, I'd have to put some serious thought and effort into it. Honestly, I have much better things to do with my time. It's much simpler to ask directly if I wanted some information, if either you had information worth knowing anyway."

"So you really don't spy on us?"

"If you don't have information worth knowing, then the only reason to spy on you would be if you're planning to attack Cerberus. Are you?"

"Of course not."

"Is Shepard?"

"We're on a suicide mission together. We have enough enemies without fighting amongst ourselves," Tali said waspishly before realization dawned on her. "Oh…"

"Exactly," Miranda said. "We might not like one another, but that doesn't mean that I can't work with you. I'm even willing to go on a bit of faith and trust you to do your job to your utmost abilities despite whatever your feelings are about me. I certainly didn't like the head scientist assigned to me during the Lazarus Project, but he was brilliant and Shepard is alive and well now. I can put aside my personal feelings to get the job done."

Tali pushed aside her embarrassment at her altercation with Legion yesterday and forged on. "How good are you at hacking?"

"I'm a fair hand at it."

Tali doubted that Miranda was that modest and was simply answering the question without actually giving out her true capabilities. No answer was still enough of one. "I need you to look into Legion's terminal."

Miranda raised an eyebrow at the request. "And why would I do that?"

"I don't trust it. It said it needed to 'prepare' before talking to Admiral Koris. Even when it said that it was willing to talk to him earlier today. Something changed."

"And by 'preparing' you think that it means something else entirely," Miranda said.

"It didn't say what it was preparing for," Tali replied. "That's the part that worries me."

"Especially since it tried to scan your omni-tool," Miranda added.

Tali shrugged.

Miranda leaned back in her chair and silently considered the request before nodding. "Alight, I'll indulge your concerns, if only because I'd like to take the opportunity to learn more about the geth. I'll see what I can do."

"Miranda? Shepard here. I need to talk to you in my quarters."

"I have to go back to work," Tali said. "If you find something…?"

"If I find something that justifies your fears, I'll tell Shepard. Whether or not he sees fit to tell you is his decision. I think we know what his choice will be though," Miranda said. "I certainly hope that this isn't going to be a waste of my time though."

Tali felt a sliver of anger, but managed to curtly nod before leaving.

~o~O~o~

Miranda strode purposefully to the airlock entrance of the Normandy. Because she wasn't entering the Rayya proper, she decided to forgo donning her Cerberus Assault Armor and stayed with her standard Cerberus uniform.

Her mind wandered back to encrypted holopad she just read, now sitting inside her desk and wondered where or when everything went wrong. She thought she knew enough about Cerberus that she understood its direction, goals, and the methods the Illusive Man would use to achieve them. But after what she uncovered…

I shouldn't be surprised. Several ops required deception. Who's to say that he wouldn't use it to manipulate information for his own ends?

She knew that not everything she had done for humanity was anywhere near innocent and certain missions she participated in weren't for the faint of heart. Some actions required taking the hard stance for the preservation of humanity. Still, had someone like Jacob gotten ever gotten ordered to do it, he would've flat out said no right to the Illusive Man's face, insubordination or no.

Which is why the Illusive Man had his pick of specialized agents for specific tasks or missions. The right tool for the right job.

She thought she knew the worst Cerberus had done. But now she couldn't help but wonder what haven't they done.

Now the question was, what could she do about it? What should she do?

Shelving her thoughts for later, she crossed the threshold of the door to see the person she was instructed to meet. "Admiral Daro'Xen vas Moreh? I'm Executive Miranda Lawson, second-in-command of the Normandy. What can I do for you?"

Xen had her arms crossed and was giving Miranda an imperious look before speaking. "A most curious piece of news reached my ears. I found myself intrigued enough to make the trip here to verify it."

"I'm assuming you're speaking about the geth?"

"Quite."

"Captain Shepard has stated that under no certain terms you are given permission to come aboard," Miranda said with a slight edge to her voice. "Not unless either he or I deem it necessary."

"Really? I can't imagine what I've done to deserve that kind of animosity," Xen said thoughtfully. She appeared uncaring about it though.

"That's between you and the Captain and he's instructed me to meet with you instead of coming down personally. That should tell you what his thoughts are," Miranda testily answered.

Xen shrugged her slender shoulders indifferently. "I supposed I'll make do with what is in front of me. Is there a geth aboard? Or is it some sort of shell over some standard mech interior?"

"A geth is aboard and working under Captain Shepard's command," Miranda formally answered. "I should also point out that Legion is doing so voluntarily."

"And it has a name. Fascinating," Xen said to herself. "The things I could learn under slightly different circumstances."

"This is not such a circumstance," Miranda said.

"Studying it for yourself, are you? I imagine Cerberus must be quite curious about the geth as well."

Miranda narrowed her eyes, but otherwise gave nothing else away.

"I am pleased to see that the humans, at least, have not abandoned synthetics," Xen said, approvingly.

Miranda had an uneasy feeling the moment she laid eyes on Xen, but she now felt a sense of foreboding. "Whatever your plans are, I sincerely doubt they'll succeed, especially in light of the tragic events aboard the Alarei."

"Ah, yes. So long as you breached that topic," Xen said. "Tell me, did either Captain Shepard or Tali mention anything about the Alarei?"

During her brief meeting with Shepard, he warned her that Xen might ask about the Alarei. "Nothing that you'd be interested in, Admiral."

"Pity," Xen replied, though she still sounded aloof and uncaring. She shrugged her slender shoulders. "Ah, well. Whatever is created can be recreated."

"Including mistakes," Miranda pointedly said.

"We shall see. Many things are impossible until they are done," Xen said confidently.

"I believe we're finished here. Good day, Admiral," Miranda dismissed. Xen's statement hit a little too close to home.

"Good day," Xen distantly said as she walked back down the airlock.

Miranda shook her head and returned to the Normandy. Once back into her office, she decided to work on her personal project later and kept the holopad safely secured in her desk. Instead, she turned on her terminal and started working on Tali's request. Within a few hours, she finally found out what Legion was doing and had to lock her door.

It was impossible to contain her laughter.

~o~O~o~

Location: Vallhallan Threshold Nebula / Raheel-Leyya System / Quarian Migrant Fleet / Rayya

After a day and a half of work and drama to put up with, the new multicore shielding was installed on the ship and its full capabilities were programed into the mainframe. A few tests showed that the CBT and the standard kinetic barriers were all functioning within normal parameters. Instruction in its use and maintenance were taught to Ken and Gabby, whom both picked up the basics quickly.

Tali managed to install the IFF without complications, but the physical labor often was easier than the mental challenges. She started running a battery of diagnostic tests with the help of the AI, but only out of sight of the other quarians as they began packing up and leaving.

With all their preparations and business complete, the Normandy was free to go. Shepard opted to wait near the Omega-4 Relay until the IFF testing was complete.

And not a moment too soon.

As much as Tali loved being home, there was only so much she could put up with.

That's family for you.

"If you wish, you can return to being Tali'Zorah vas Neema," Gerrel offered.

Tali shook her head. "Thank you, Admiral, but I think I'll stay as vas Normandy."

Gerrel chucked. "I figured as much."

"Don't get me wrong. I love the Neema, but…" she trailed off and glanced at Shepard. He was talking to some random people.

"I see," Gerrel said. "Still… a Cerberus ship?"

"It's not Cerberus' ship," Tali said. "It's his."

Gerrel glanced at Shepard before nodding. "Well, he's a good man. Truth be told, I was tempted to recuse myself from your trial just to hit Alarei with the both of you."

"I'm sure Shepard would've been honored."

Gerrel made a noise of agreement before clearing his throat. "Look, Tali… damn… I'm not good at this. I knew I should've asked Shala for some advice."

"Admiral?"

"Rael and I… we both care about you. I know we haven't shown it the way we're supposed to, but we do. Everything that drove Rael to do what he did was for you. Even his mistakes. Anyway, after your mission on Haestrom, we both had something commissioned for you."

"For me?"

He nodded and gestured to one of his aides.

The aide walked up to them holding a box.

Gerrel took it and gave it to Tali.

She took the box and opened it to show a brand new environmental suit. "This is…?"

"Cutting edge," Gerrel said. "To be honest, we used most the credits your captain gave you two years ago to have it made specifically for you. I know you gave it to us to help the Fleet, but… after everything you've done, helping you seemed like helping the Fleet anyway."

Tali lifted it up and held it against her body. It was armored around the torso and legs, but not overly so. The fabric was definitely not of quarian make, reinforced if she had to guess. It was woven with a deep, dark blue hue, but decorated with the white patterns she preferred.

"Commissioned Kassa Fabrications to make it. The visor also provides a tactical display inside. Just in case you ever run into more geth," Gerrel informed. "There's also a little something built-in as well. The suit can drain the kinetic barriers of any shield you target and use it to supplement your own, making you damn hard to kill. If the target's synthetic, it'll look like it's having a seizure."

"It's wonderful," Tali whispered. She placed the suit back into the box and took the whole thing from the aide.

"Nice suit," Shepard commented as he approached the both of them.

Gerrel cleared his throat. "Captain. Back at the trial—"

"It's old news, Admiral."

"No, it isn't. You called us on the carpet out there, Shepard. And you were right. Thank you. Tali shouldn't have been involved in that argument."

"You're welcome," Shepard cordially replied.

"Tell me, though, honestly. What did you find over there? You spoke well, but I know a feint when I see it."

"Tali, is there anything the admiral should know?" Shepard asked.

"We found what the other marines found, Admiral. A lot of dead bodies, including my father's. That's all. Whatever research they were doing was destroyed," Tali answered.

Gerrel grunted and shrugged. "I'll take your word for it, Tali. Not that I have much choice. Stubborn. Just like Rael. You definitely remind me of him when we were pre-Pilgrimage trainees. Strong, tough, and always getting things done his way. "

"Really?" Tali asked. She had only ever heard stories of her father's youth from Shala. Gerrel and her father had always been more distant.

"I remember this one time – We served together on the gunship Yaska during a bad batarian raid. We were young, kids basically, serving as pre-Pilgrimage trainees," Gerrel recited in remembrance. "A crew of ten, and six were dead. Kinetic barriers were down. Rael and I were alone on the bridge, and the batarians had drawn off a tramp freighter."

"And? What happened? Did you save the freighter?" Tali asked.

"Our ship was under orders to hold position. But Rael looked at me and said, 'We're underage. They can't charge us for breaking formation'."

Tali giggled at the mental image she conjured up. It was easier than she thought to imagine her father acting like that.

"He took the helm, I took weapons, and we brought that freighter back. The crew called us heroes," Gerrel said proudly before chuckling. "The brass called us idiots."

Tali giggled again.

"They slapped medals on our suits, then kicked us off to Pilgrimage a bit earlier than usual," Gerrel finished before sighing. "That's Rael for you."

"But you're the brass now, Admiral," Tali pointed out. "Where's my medal?"

Shepard and Gerrel chuckled.

"I thought you might ask," Gerrel said. He pulled out a medal from his pouch. "It was your father's. You deserve one just as much as he did."

Tali took it and held it reverently. "Admiral…"

"I'm not crazy about the idea of this mission you're on," Gerrel said. He stood straighter and clasped his hands behind his back. "But you know your odds, and yet you've still got the guts to see it through. As much as I don't want you to do this, it'd be an insult to hold back courage like that."

Before Tali could reply, Gerrel walked up and hugged her, though he seemed a bit uncomfortable trying. It was awkward, but she accepted the gesture all the same. "Fight well and fly safe, kid. Your father would be proud of you. I know I am," he said, sounding a little choked up. He quickly let go and took a step back to compose himself.

It was more emotion she had seen or heard from him in all their years together. "Thank you, Admiral."

Gerrel nodded and walked away, eventually disappearing among the crowds.

"Gotta say, that was some nice talking you did, Shepard."

Tali turned to see Kal walking up to them.

"Funny how it takes a captain to remind the admirals about military honor. Seeing Admiral Gerrel like that, that was probably a once-in-a-lifetime event," Kal said. He turned to Tali. "Looks like they're finally off your back, ma'am. And that you didn't have to give them that evidence you found on the Alarei."

"I didn't say anything about finding evidence, Kal," Tali protested.

"Noticed that, ma'am," Kal replied knowingly. "I'm going to my bunk. Good luck on your mission. Shepard, ma'am."

"Kal, just call me Tali."

Kal nodded. "I'll work on that. Ma'am."

~o~O~o~

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

"Shepard."

The man in question waited until Miranda caught up to him. "What's up?"

"I was wondering if I could speak to you. Are you busy?"

He shook his head. "Not really. Just waiting to get the all-clear to leave. Last second prep is underway."

It was mostly true. After Tali finished saying her goodbyes, they returned to the Normandy and resumed their duties. Well, Tali did anyway. Shepard had little to do until the Normandy was ready to go. The nearby mass relay was being used by a few returning quarian ships that were running a mining operation and was bringing back some essentials for flotilla.

After EDI reported that the Hammerhead simulation was functioning perfectly, he tried his hand at it again. And just like before, it still failed him. It was almost enough that he was considering going to the Armory, getting a grenade and…

"Good, there's something I thought you should know," Miranda said. She had a small smile on her face that she was trying to hide.

"What?" Shepard asked curiously.

"It's about Legion. Tali recently asked me to look into its extranet activities to find out why it suddenly didn't want to talk to any of the Admirals."

Shepard scoffed. "Those two… It's like they're butting heads. Unstoppable force meets immovable object."

"Well, I checked tracked the outgoing signals and narrowed down the sites the crewmen frequent," Miranda explained before taking on a disgusted look. "By the way, Tali owes me. The places Joker goes to… just… ugh…"

Shepard laughed.

"Anyway, I refined my searches to how long a particular site had been accessed, somewhere around 50 hours or so long."

"Something Legion can easily do."

"Besides several extranet games, there was something interesting."

Shepard crossed his arms. "Yeah?"

"Before I tell you, and this might be completely unrelated—" she said offhandedly.

"—but you're a smart woman, which means that you wouldn't waste either of our times if you really thought so," he pointed out.

"The surveillance cameras we installed showed that Mr. Vakarian was speaking with Legion a few days before Admiral Koris' scheduled meeting. Just after you spoke with it, really. Dr. Chakwas confirmed it," Miranda said with a wide smile.

Shepard sighed and shook his head in exasperation. "What did he do?"

~o~O~o~

"Hey, Shepard," Garrus called out.

Shepard broke into a light jog and met him halfway down the hall to the Main Battery. "Hey, Garrus. I needed to talk to you."

"I needed to talk to you too. I was wondering if I could make a call," Garrus requested.

"To who?"

Garrus managed to hide his grimace. He had hoped that Shepard wouldn't ask. "To my sister. We're going through the Omega-4 Relay soon, right? I thought I could drop her a line. You know, see how she's doing."

"You have a sister?" Shepard asked in surprise. "I never knew that."

"You knew about my father, so I thought that would explain everything," Garrus hedged. "My family… it's complicated, you know?"

"I got the impression that family is complicated," Shepard agreed with a nod. "In my limited experience anyway."

Again, Garrus had to hide his wince. He had forgotten about Shepard's background.

He didn't seem to care, however, and asked, "So… this sister of yours have a name?"

"Solana," Garrus answered.

"Solana… That's a nice name," Shepard commented thoughtfully. A wicked grin slowly spread across his face. "Tell me, is she into humans?"

"Hey…" Garrus said warningly, but his own grin offset his tone.

Shepard held up his hands. "Kidding, kidding. So where is she now?"

"Palaven."

"Okay. Before you make that call, I have to ask you something."

"What?"

"You talk to Legion a couple of days ago?"

Garrus found himself confused at the sudden question and nodded hesitantly. "Just a bit. Wanted to know about the geth and heretics."

"Admiral Koris wanted to speak to it."

"That's the Admiral that annoys Tali, right?" Garrus asked, trying to remember which admiral was which during one of Tali's rants.

"The one that wanted peace with the geth," Shepard corrected.

"Isn't that what I said?"

"What did you talk to Legion about?"

Garrus shrugged. "A few things. How many geth are there, how many heretics… conversation changed after that. I asked what its thoughts were now that we're docked with the flotilla."

"That's it?"

"It told me that it was trying to understand organics and the 'Creators' in particular," he answered, miming the quotation marks at the word Creators.

Garrus was confused as to why Shepard looked like he was trying not to bang his head on the bulkhead or break out laughing. "What'd I say?"

"Did you recommend for Legion to try something called, um, 'Fleets and Flotilla'—something?

"Fleet and Flotilla: Interactive Cross-Species Relationship Simulator," Garrus finished. "I was joking, though."

Shepard put his face in his hands and shook his head. "You're an idiot."

"What? What'd I say?" Garrus asked indignantly.

Before Shepard could answer, Chakwas called him.

"Shepard? Chakwas here. Legion has asked to speak to you. It's a matter of great urgency."

"On my way," he replied.

"So can I call my sister?" Garrus asked.

"Take as long as you need. Just try not to give out any details about what we're up to, okay?" He shook his head in exasperation and walked toward the Med Bay.

"Thanks, Shepard. I won't," Garrus said. He turned around and walked to the elevator.

"And don't worry. I'm sure she's much better looking than you," Shepard said over his shoulder. "Thank goodness for small favors, eh?"

Garrus chuckled, but didn't bother to turn around. "One of these days, Shepard…"

~o~O~o~

"Disabling video conferencing. Engaging audio only. Connecting you, Garrus. Stand by," EDI announced. "Please be aware that the line is not secure."

"It's fine. Thanks, EDI," Garrus said. He sat down at his place at the table and waited patiently. It took longer than he thought for her to answer.

"Connection established," EDI informed.

"Hello?"

"Hey, glad I caught you," Garrus said happily.

"Just about to head to bed. Late my time. Where are you?" Solana asked.

"Come on, you know I can't tell you that. Not a secure channel."

She huffed in annoyance. "Oh please, Garrus. You don't have to be all secretive. Illium?"

"Give it up, Sol," Garrus said with finality. He had to admit that it was ironic that she picked a planet he had spent a week staying on out of a whole host of planets she could've randomly guessed from.

"You're one to talk. Still playing at Spectre, even after all these years," Solana said scathingly as only a sister could.

Garrus sighed. There was a lull in their conversation as he tried to broach the real topic he wanted to talk about. Deciding to be blunt since he wasn't the type to beat around the bush, he asked, "How's Mom?"

He could practically imagine Solana's depressed expression when she sighed. "Last round of treatments didn't go so well."

"Damn it," he muttered.

"We may try an offworld center. Some salarian doctors have something that might work," she said before pausing. "It's not covered, though," she added quietly.

Garrus scoffed. He knew what pensions his father got after he retired from C-Sec. Not to mention the prices salarians usually charge for their services. "Of course not. I can pay for the treatments. "

"That's a nice thought. I could really use you here, though," she said.

"I can't," Garrus said quietly. As torn as he felt, he made his choice and he wasn't about to abandon his friends. "How much for the first round?"

"Forget it," Solana said angrily.

"I can pay," he said sadly.

She picked up on his tone and laughed cynically. At him or herself, he couldn't tell. "Sure you can. You lose your C-Sec job, and what about that contract job you were doing up until recently?" she asked mockingly.

Garrus grimaced. "Yeah, it ended badly."

"So don't give me more garbage about how you're going to help. You obviously can't help or won't bother," she accused. "Damn it, you haven't even bothered to sync up for video chat since you lost that damn job."

Garrus sighed. It was an old argument and he knew the best way to resolve it was to let her vent.

"If you're so ashamed to look me in the eye, then why are we even talking? Go have your fun doing merc work or screwing around or whatever. Just don't act like you care," she snapped, spitting out the word 'merc' in distain.

Propping his elbows on the table, he rubbed his face tiredly and was quiet for a few minutes. He tried to think of something to say; something that would make things right again.

That's Shepard's talent. One of these days, I'm going to have to learn to do the same. Not every problem can be dealt with by shooting it.

"You're right, Sol. I'm so sorry," Garrus earnestly said.

She didn't answer him immediately. He almost thought she hung up on him until he heard her exhale loudly. "No, I'm sorry. Things are rough with Mom. The salarians are expensive as hell."

"I wish I could help," he muttered. He licked his lips and thought about how to break out the next bit of news. With his mother's condition, saying goodbye was probably the worst thing to say now, suicide mission or not. He considered his next words carefully. He could practically hear Pallin's sneering voice in his head.

"Are you actually trying to be subtle, Vakarian? That's a new trick for you."

"I'm going on a trip. Might be away from the relays for a while," he said, keeping his voice upbeat.

It was probably the wrong way to say it because she asked in a teasing tone, "Another pleasure cruise?"

He snorted. "You know me," he replied, glad that she couldn't see his face. He rubbed his face again when he heard Mordin's voice from his station at the lab. What really caught his attention was that the salarian was singing.

In that moment, he almost felt as if all his depression left him in an instant.

"Send me something nice."

You have no idea, sis.

Garrus nodded absently, momentarily forgetting that she couldn't see him. "I'll be in touch when I can."

Disconnecting the call, he left the Comm Room and took a sharp right. Entering the lab, he saw Mordin singing something or other while he happily typed away at his terminal. It was fast and upbeat, but nothing like he'd ever heard.

"Mordin?"

"Ah! Garrus. Welcome. Sorry. Bothering you? Just recalling some patter songs I performed. Gilbert and Sullivan. Earth music. Very entertaining," Mordin said in his usual rapid-fire manner.

"Are you busy?" Garrus asked.

"Not anymore. Was doing some random tests on Collector data. Have ruled out artificially intelligent virus," Mordin said before frowning. "Unless… unless it's very intelligent. And toying with me!"

Garrus wasn't sure if he should be laughing at him or confining him to the Med Bay. He cleared his throat to regain Mordin's attention.

"Something I can do for you?" Mordin asked.

"Actually, yes. Do you know anything about Corpalis Syndrome?"

Mordin frowned. "Oh yes. Dreadful disease. Neurological degeneration in turians. Horrible to watch, worse to endure." He tapped his chin in thought. "Heard of experimental treatments however. Doctor Jelith Kieron leading in that field. Initial results appear promising."

Garrus could have hugged him in that moment.

Mordin blinked and looked back up at him as if he realized something. "Are you alright?" he asked worriedly.

Garrus tilted his head in confusion before understanding dawned on him and he shook his head. "No, no. I'm fine. It's… it's about someone close to me though."

"Ah," Mordin said in relief. "Glad to hear. About you, I mean. Very sorry to hear that someone close to you is afflicted, however."

"Thanks," Garrus said automatically. "Look, how much would it be to get someone into a-a, um… you know… one of those, uh… medical trials or something?"

Mordin frowned. "Clinical trials? Very expensive. Politics, corporate funding, government backing… much to do, much to do."

Garrus cursed. He should've known that there was a catch. "Is there anything you could do to… you know? Speed it up?"

Mordin shrugged. "Could make a few calls to STG. Have them grant extra clearance to Helos Medical Institute."

Garrus was confused. "How would that help?"

"With extra clearance, Helos could waive—"

"No, no, I meant, how could that help me?" Garrus asked hopefully.

"Create a favor. Dr. Kieron works at Helos. Would be grateful. Much better mood to help you. No guarantee though."

It's a start.

For a guarantee, money was probably the answer. Greasing a few palms with enough credits could always pave the way for some help if you paid off the right people.

He idly wondered if he could ask Shepard for a loan. He had spent most of his portion of the money that he and the old squad earned two years ago outfitting his own merc squad on Omega. Bribes, information, and gear had drained most of his credits.

Tali probably gave her credits to the Fleet since quarians on the flotilla shared everything, so asking her is out.

He wasn't sure if he wanted to ask Wrex. Garrus still had his pride and the krogan might not let him off without a few jabs.

Plus, he's probably using his money to build up his clan and pave the way for the rest of his race. No go.

Liara might be willing and she had a steady job.

But she's dedicated to finding the Shadow Broker, so she might not be able to loan me as much as I need.

Williams might not be bad, unless she gave her creds to her family…

That left Shepard. And Garrus knew that Shepard was dead and/or comatose for the last two years, so he still had to have his fortune lying around.

He shook his head and shelved that idea. While he was sure that Shepard would probably just give him the money for free, he was a turian. He had his pride; or he was just being stubborn as his friends would say. Still, he couldn't rely on Shepard forever, especially after he's helped him so much already.

I can do this on my own. Besides, I'm on a suicide mission; how the hell can I pay back a loan?

The problem was that he needed money now and in a way that wouldn't cause too much trouble for his family.

Maybe I could 'borrow' some credits from Cerberus…? I'm not getting paid for after all. It's the least they could do…

A buzzing sound nearby caught his ear and he turned to see a Collector Seeker Swarm locked inside a transparent cage nearby.

That's it!

"Hey, Mordin. Do you still have any extra Collector samples lying around here? Like more of those Seeker Swarms or some blood or tissue samples or something?"

Mordin nodded, obviously confused by the sudden question. "Retrieved many samples during mission inside Collector vessel."

"You still using them?"

He shook his head. "Not likely to finish any further projects regarding Collectors. Mission coming soon. Preparing for that instead."

Garrus thanked his lucky stars. "How interested would your doctor friend be in getting some Collector/Prothean samples to play with? And how much is he willing to pay to have them?"

Mordin's eyebrows rose up before he started grinning. "Can make calls," he offered.

Garrus smiled back. "Thanks."

Huh. That wasn't nearly as hard as I thought. Maybe Shepard just makes it look hard…

~o~O~o~

"Legion."

"Shepard-Commander. We have completed our analysis of the Reaper's data core.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Big thanks to fellow ME author JoeLaTurkey for letting me borrow his 'quarian pickup line'. His fic: Gabby and Ken always brought a smile to my face, so please give him a look and a review when you get a chance.

Another thanks to other fellow ME author ElectricZ for giving me permission to use his tagline from Tomorrow's Dawn. An excellent read that really inspired my next Tali/Legion interaction. And be sure to check out Friends Like These. I fell out of my chair laughing at his characterization of Chakwas in the third chapter.

Many people reviewed about how they liked how I handled the installations of the gun/armor for the Normandy. This part I had planned from near the beginning. In a way, I was almost building up to it. Hope you all liked it.

Now, about Tali. While I had a subplot about Shepard's biotics that's been resolved, the next subplot I'm trying to weave in is Tali and her lifetime of hate toward the geth. It's certainly going to take more than one stern conversation to change that.

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