Three years have passed since the Reapers were defeated.
Commander John Shepard used the Crucible to wipe out the looming threat in one fell swoop during the Assault on Earth, rescuing the galaxy from complete annihilation.
It is a time of healing wounds and rebuilding what was lost. It is a time of prosperity for the galaxy.
In that time, many of Shepard's old colleagues, including himself, have moved on with their lives, trying to find their place with no immediate purpose in sight.
But, there remains one person who has waited all this time, delaying themselves so that they could find their own closure in a plot seven years in the making.
The peace masks the looming danger that this person brings. They will not stop until they have fulfilled their goal.
Commander Shepard is the target, and the mastermind behind the scheme is an old enemy from the past, one that had been thought dead and forgotten.
But that enemy survived…and she did not forget.
Serpent Nebula – Unknown System
Private Shuttle Osiris
"A name, bitch!"
The soldier threw his arm out and smacked the bound woman hard. The human's head reeled backward and a small stream of blood flew out of her mouth and stained the ground to her side. The armored man quickly backhanded his captive once his initial blow had finished traveling, propelling her head in the other direction. His two comrades chuckled ominously, their arms crossed over their chests as they surveyed the scene.
All three of the armored soldiers were similarly garbed in the same brushed grey armor. The diodes in their helmets projected aquamarine circles where their eyes should be. Their bodysuits were awash in a tundra camouflage pattern and their survival packs that contained their gear were bulky and bulged a ways out from their body. If anything, they looked a lot like the high-tech death squads that had plagued Europe roughly a hundred years ago during the cyber-terrorism crisis.
The soldier in the middle stepped forward, eying the bound woman apprehensively. "Are you going to give me your real name this time?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he slugged the woman in the face so hard that her jaw broke; a horrid mumble coming from her as speaking became a whole lot more difficult for her now.
"Iris…" she coughed feebly from her smashed lips. "Iris…S-Sego-Segovia…"
The woman had looked considerably more attractive in the beginning, before the mercenaries had captured her, that is. Blood matted her dark hair to her face, her brown skin was marred by slashes and cuts, and she couldn't stop trembling while being restrained to the chair. Her hands were behind the back, electro-cuffed to the other and her gaze was tilted downward, as if she wanted to address the floor.
The soldier talking to her now, however, shifted his posture uncomfortably and stood up in defeat, his arms hanging at his sides. "Shit," he sighed out loud.
"Number…3…0…GH…51…" the woman babbled weakly, her speech not focused on anyone at the moment.
"This isn't working at all," the trooper on the left grumbled.
"What's not working at all?" a quiet voice came from behind the bound woman. All three interrogators looked up to see a silhouette enter the room before the door slammed shut behind them, casting the place into darkness once more. With a slow gait accompanied by a mechanical whirring and clunking, a tall, also completely armored form walked into the only lit area provided by the lone lamp situated in the corner.
Their armor was an intricate and complex puzzle of polished, angular plates. It almost looked insectoid and was quite foreign on the eyes. The majority of the armor, though, was covered up by the black duster the figure had chosen to throw over themselves. The cloth covering draped around their legs, hiding the telltale sign of their bowed calves, making them hard to identify right off the bat.
Their walk was a bit heavier than someone with their average height and weight. Instead of a low thump from the armor, their footsteps were heavier and more forceful, a byproduct of the cybernetic legs grafted onto their body. The metal appendages were smooth and fluid, but they also were powerful enough to crush skulls, jump three meters in the air, and even reach speeds of up to forty miles an hour.
But perhaps the most noticeable thing about this person was the mask that they had chosen to don over their face. Four red orbs, two for each eye slit, glowed expectedly from their positions in a spider-like formation. The covering was a light grey and the face was relatively flat, a small grill hissed from the speech box implemented in the covering. But the most distinguishing thing about the mask was the fact that near the bottom, portions of the armor split away and moved in time to the person's voice. It was not a single piece that moved in tandem to their jaw, but two that pushed away and could be manipulated to emulate emotions humans could identify without much difficulty. In short, they were a set of metallic mandibles.
Grevel stepped to the side of the woman, not looking at the human while the masked turian appraised the three men in front of her. "Two hours have passed," she growled quietly, "and judging by your nervous postures indicates to me that nothing of value has been obtained from this little session." The words felt dangerous because the mask automatically lowered the pitch of Grevel's voice to make her sound more masculine. It worked well for her before and Grevel did not want to change old habits that she knew were successful. "She hasn't said anything useful, has she?"
"Operant Grevel," the third man said stiffly as he motioned towards the human woman. "The captive resisted all our methods for the first hour and fifteen minutes. It's only been in the last forty-five that we actually got her to make a sound, and even then she's given us three different aliases when…prompted. She's just not talking."
The mask's mandibles clacked in thought and Grevel wished she had access to some truth serums at the moment. That certainly would make things a whole lot easier. But, instead of complaining, Grevel walked around the woman from behind, staring at her blood-soaked hair as the captive shook.
She stopped next to the woman and glanced back at the soldiers, seeing their insignia glisten back at her from their shoulders. From Grevel's perspective, she could see the light black outline of a tiger imposed on the plates, its jaws bared as it looked ready to strike. Below the insignia, in block letters, was the word CAT6 printed there.
"Cerberus certainly does do a good job in making their agents incredibly resistant to torture, I'll give them that." Grevel mused. "You tested her for any facial explosives?"
"Found none," the first man said. "She wasn't implanted with any of the usual booby traps. Odd, I'd say, considering that the majority of Cerberus operatives are usually loaded to the brim with explosives. Perhaps it's an indication of this woman's importance?"
"Not…" the woman gagged in her position. "Not…Cerberus…"
Grevel blinked, waiting a few seconds to let the silence sink in before she responded. "Not Cerberus, you say?" she chuckled as she knelt down, facing the woman's right side. "Tell me, if you don't belong, or ever belonged, to that terrorist group, then why did we catch you in a vehicle registered to Cerberus? How come you are wearing Cerberus armor? And why do you have a Cerberus black project sitting in your cargo hold?"
The woman only coughed, bubbles of blood frothing at her lips. Grevel peered at her in disgust before she leaned over to catch a glimpse at the other side of the human's face. The diodes on her mask pulsed in a blink before Grevel stood up and wrenched the woman's head so that the men could see it.
"You slashed her cheek," Grevel stated, not in an interrogative manner.
It certainly was the barest description that she could say at the moment. The human's cheek on the left side of her face had actually been carved in a half-circle, and the hanging flap of skin had folded down her face. The top and bottom portions of her jaw, teeth gleaming white, were clearly visible, just like a representation from an anatomy book, and blood completely coated that side of her face, dripping down her in a red torrent.
The men did not flinch at the sight of the wound. The second one just shrugged. "Yeah, I did that," he admitted. "Got a little frustrated with her after she proved to be quite uncooperative."
"Yeah," the first man bobbed his head. "I also did her legs too, but she still never uttered a single intelligible word. She certainly is a tough bitch to crack."
At the very mention of legs, Grevel stooped down to look at the prisoner's legs only to find that there weren't any midway below the calf. Stained red and orange bandages were wrapped around the woman's stumps and the severed limbs slowly leaked blood from where they lay. Grevel looked at one of the legs and saw that the edges were blackened, like someone had held it up to a roasting fire for too long.
Standing back up, Grevel adjusted her coat before she turned back to the men. "From what you've indicated, after you cut her legs off with a laser saw, making sure the wounds were cauterized so that she wouldn't bleed out, and slashing her cheek completely open, she still did not say anything of use?"
"Nothing," the first man said in disgust. "The woman has been stubborn as a rock the whole time."
A grunt went through Grevel's mask. "Or maybe it never occurred to you that she has nothing of use to say to us, yes? Maybe we don't need to hear what she has to say because we already know what she's going to say."
"That's a definite possibility, but I'd say it's a bit above my pay grade for me or any of us boys to make that decision on our own. I just hurt people. I don't think we would know if there was another aspect to this whole encounter."
"You catch on quickly," Grevel chuckled before she moved over to the desk behind the men. Knocking aside a few spare tools, she grabbed a long screwdriver and quickly slid back over to the woman. With a cold precision, she slowly slid the tool into the woman's ear, stopping after it only went in an inch. The captive whimpered but said nothing else, choosing instead to remain mum.
Grevel looked up in satisfaction. "You see? She knows that her life hangs by a thread and yet she chooses to do nothing to save herself. That either tells you two things: that she is keeping a secret, or she has nothing to say." The men were standing straight while listening to Grevel, hung on her every word. Grevel basked from the attention for a moment before her mask's mandibles rose in a grin. "But unfortunately for her," she patted the shoulder of the woman, "she has no secrets to keep from us."
Grevel's hand moved to the other side of the woman's head, holding her in place while her other hand rose before it savagely swung downward. Her palm impacted straight on the screwdriver, driving it through the woman's eardrum and straight into her brain, causing an instantaneous death. Blood burst from the destroyed ear and began to dribble out. The human's mouth slackened and drooled as all neural activity ceased. In seconds, the corpse in the chair was now slumped completely over, stone dead, the screwdriver still hilted in her ear.
"Come with me," Grevel said, abruptly turning away from the woman's body and back toward the door. The men complied with her, following the turian out into the hallway of the tiny ship and down a cramped stairwell. They passed through a sliding door before entering the hold and stopping in front of the lone object positioned there.
There were two other men analyzing the object, along with a third figure who remained silhouetted against the eerie green glow it gave off. The three mercenaries who entered with Grevel hung back while she walked up to the smaller figure, easily standing a head above them.
Grevel peered through the liquid that the glass cylinder housed and looked at the stirring object within. The tank contained a humanoid figure through the murky liquid, one who feebly twitched as if they were in the throes of a dream. The body was hairless and muscular, one Grevel recognized instantly.
"Cerberus really did leave nothing to chance," Grevel pondered out loud before she turned to the two technicians. "Did you find anything about why this…thing is here of all places?"
One of the technicians checked his omni-tool before responding. "Best we can come up with is that the woman who took this vessel was intending to open the pod up soon before we interrupted her. Guess Cerberus wanted to take all the precautions by allowing this to come into existence."
Grevel nodded once before she looked at the small person standing right next to her. They were rapt with attention at the figure housed in the nutrient tank, watching them stir with the flow of the liquid. Grevel watched their posture go unchanged for almost a minute before choosing to address them.
"Tell me, what do you see in the tank?"
The figure leaned closer and Grevel could see their eyes squint a little. "A…man," they said. Their voice had an electronic tinge to it that Grevel found eerily familiar but drove her misgivings into the ground as they continued. "A…human is in that tank. He looks familiar but I can't make out his features."
The mandibles on Grevel's mask parted in a smile. "He is whom we are going to kill, the man in the tank. But this is not the same man. This is merely a clone, confined to this tank until it has fully matured or until someone cracks it open."
"A clone…" the smaller figure murmured, their eyes blank with confusion. "So…this is a clone of-"
"-Admiral John Shepard," Grevel said with finality. "Correct. Cerberus, in all their wisdom, had created a clone of the human in their quest to control the man himself when he proved to be a hindrance to their objectives. Apparently, they utilized it too late since Cerberus has now been dissolved for years and this clone has remained dormant as a result."
"Interesting," the figure considered. "But what does this mean, exactly? A clone of Shepard could be useful to the plan that we have in place. It actually might make everything a lot easier for us-"
Grevel shook her head with a low chuckle. "And what would happen afterward? After we have dealt with the real Shepard, we still would have to contend with his clone. No, we don't need it. The galaxy doesn't need another Shepard. It will just have to contend with the one, for now."
As she was saying this, Grevel moved away from the figure, who still stood in their spot, to the side of the nutrient tank. At the control panel housed on the side, Grevel typed in a series of buttons until the screen spat out:
ORDER:/SHUTDOWN [ARKP51 –r] – SYSCANC 10:32 FRCRBT
Without any hesitation, Grevel tapped a key and a slight whirring sound was heard, like a generator powering down. The lights on the tank dimmed abruptly and the human suspended in the tank began thrashing for a few seconds before the lack of oxygen caused him to pass out. On the auxiliary panel, Grevel watched the clone's heartbeats grow fainter and fainter until they flattened out completely. There was no noise to alert anyone, no shrill wail that blotted out any other sound, just a flashing icon on the screen denoting the deteriorating status of the person inside.
As the clone perished before their eyes, the room was filled with silence, except for Grevel's stomps as she strode out of the cargo hold, followed briskly by the smaller figure that had been present for the entire ordeal.
Apien Crest – Trebia System
1.5 AU away from system's center (by Palaven's standards)
The two fleets sluggishly moved toward one another, their intentions less than friendly. Each side positioned amongst the other held over two hundred ships, all crawling amongst the stars. The winged shape of the turian frigates seemed to be gliding through space while the blunt, heavy human cruisers powered on through, their engines operating at maximum thrust.
The area around them was completely devoid of life for millions of miles, but a few minutes of FTL travel could put them in the middle of one of the most populated planets in the galaxy, oddly enough. Still, space was big, and there was plenty of room to go around.
The two sides may have only been hundreds of thousands of miles apart, but the gap was being closed quite rapidly with each second. The stillness of the void could be disconcerting and everything, from the outside, appeared quite calm, as if two huge armies were not about to confront one another. The calm before the storm was amplified by space's relative silence. It was just the reverberations that the ships picked up that produced the illusion of there being any sound to accompany any outside stimulus.
Suddenly, with little warning, the ships leading their respective pack broke away at a diagonal heading, putting them above their foes. The rest of the fleets made similar maneuvers in that they seemed to organize themselves into a haphazard formation, one intent on spearing through the lines of their enemies. They positioned themselves to and fro, adjusting themselves so that their guns had a clear line of sight on the nearest frigate. Not waiting for another moment, they began firing in earnest.
A good distance away from the carnage, John Shepard, Admiral, stood in the war room of the SSV Normandy, surveying the results on the holomap in front of him, which projected each and every ship with their orientation in real time. Opposite from him stood the current Primarch of Palaven, Adrien Victus, an old comrade from the Reaper War and a personal friend of Shepard's.
Shepard wore the standard dress blues as befitting his rank. He always felt that the uniform was too restrictive but he was painfully aware that he was no longer a soldier but a marketing tool now. All he did was shoot a bundle of wires on the Citadel, wound his ass up in a hospital for a month, and suddenly his face was plastered over every billboard in sight.
The publicity was tiresome. Shepard never really liked the limelight before and he certainly was dreading it now. For the first two years, he had been bombarded by requests for interviews, most of which he declined (the ones he accepted were merely standard participation ordered by the Alliance) and it was only recently that the interest had become to dwindle.
His face had gained quite a few age marks in that time. His crow's feet were now more evident and there were a tad more stretch marks lining his cheeks, making him look at least ten years older. He actually felt fifty years older, believe it or not. All the stress from running, gunning, and being gunned has quite an effect on the body. To this day, Shepard still wondered how he had survived so much crap when any one of his exploits would have killed anyone else.
People said he was lucky. There were days when he definitely didn't feel lucky, that was for sure.
In the war room, Shepard and Victus said nothing to each other as each of their ships catalogued their hits and misses on the board, the experience a lot like a very specialized video game. Within moments, one of Victus' ships flashed and turned red. A casualty. In the next minute, two more of the Primarch's ships followed suit while only one human ship registered that they had fallen victim to the guns of the turians.
"Hmm," Victus mused as he leaned over the map. "Your captains adhere to their commands well, Shepard."
Shepard smirked from the compliment. "Don't give up so soon, Victus. The exercise isn't over yet."
"True," the turian nodded. "But I will remain skeptical until definitive proof arises of victory for the turians. After all, we know human resiliency better than anyone else in the galaxy."
If one were to look out a window and spot the four hundred-odd ships engaged in their deadly dance, they would probably be confused as to why there was a distinct lack of gunfire amongst the warzone. There was no wreckage to be seen or anything denoting any damage whatsoever. The absence of havoc was the result of the invisible beams the ships were firing at one another, infrared lasers that pulsed from the guns instead of missiles or plasma. These lasers were programmed to represent different weapons and reflected back to the source if they hit an object, causing the ship that fired the laser to register a hit on the enemy, which in turn would send an alert to the enemy ship that someone had hit them. This was all done instantaneously and helped indicate which ships were theoretically "destroyed" or "operational," based on the sensitivity of the areas hit.
Space was a big place and the isolated area of the engagement made it so that the two sides did not have to worry about their mock weaponry causing false hits on civilian craft, a moon, or a planet. The two sides just carried on with their maneuvers, trading false blows with the other. If a ship registered too much "damage," they would carefully break off from the group and loiter in a safe spot until the exercise had concluded. One key omission from this was that no fighters were being utilized in order to carefully monitor the interactions between the capital ships. Also, fighters had much more significant dangers to worry about as they were small, fast, and filling the combat zone with thousands of them would just create more objects for them to fly into. Therefore, they were sitting it out this round. Truthfully, this made the exercise a bit less realistic, but after staving off their death three years ago, safety was key in everyone's mind at the moment.
On the board, Shepard watched one of his heavy cruisers dive underneath its equivalent in the turian navy. Having been positioned squarely underneath its unarmed belly, the cruiser fired and the turian ship quickly flashed red on the board. Disappointment radiating off of Victus, the turian sighed as he watched. Like the others before, the "dead" ship ceased all fire and moved to the protected quadrant so that it wouldn't interfere with the simulation.
Occasionally, when Shepard would spot an advantage, he would type the commands out (they were preset so that he wouldn't have to waste any time actually writing them out) and send them to his ships that he wished to follow his orders. Victus, merely a bystander, just watched.
Shepard's military equivalent, who was aboard his own ship in the midst of the "fighting," was doing an admirable job in keeping the humans at bay, but his defensive formations were quickly being overrun by the more aggressive humans. More and more red flashed on the map, the majority definitively on the turian side. Shepard didn't allow himself to feel cocky just yet. Turians very rarely gave up a fight.
Four more hours passed and it was clear that the pride of Shepard's foes was still heavily engrained in them, having lost over three quarters of their forces while the human fleet was still over half strong. They still refused to falter, mounting up a strong defense even though their strength was slowly getting whittled down. Still alert at his post, Shepard eyed three of his ships approaching the turian capital vessel at speed and commanded them to make a triangle formation in three dimensions so that it couldn't escape and that any crossfire would be limited.
Instantly responding to his orders, his ships accelerated and quickly surrounded the capital ship. Before the turian commander knew what was happening, his cruiser was suddenly being bombarded on all sides and he was effectively trapped in his position. The turian cruiser could only concentrate on one ship at a time, not all three, and effectively floundered for a second before the infrared pulses finally registered too much damage and the ship flared red on the screen.
Shepard grinned at the tiny victory. This would certainly shake things up in his favor.
Without their commanding officer, the rest of the turian fleet scattered aimlessly, lost and confused. Without any clear direction, they found themselves unable to coordinate with the rest of the ships, unable to regroup in defense. In response, all of the human ships flew back into one large formation and effortlessly moved forward, concentrating all their fire on one ship at a time, a huge clump of metal hurtling in one direction. In minutes, the turian ships were being felled almost inconsequentially, as if it took no effort on the part of the humans to eliminate their foe.
Victus grimaced for a second as the final turian ship filed their status as a total loss before he shook his head and walked over to Shepard, offering his hand.
"Congratulations, Admiral Shepard," Victus nodded respectfully. "Despite your humility, I had a feeling the game would be over as soon as our side registered the first hit."
Shepard accepted the hand, shaking it firmly. "Careful, Primarch," he responded with a smile. "If you keep flattering me I just might assume that you gave us this win."
Victus laughed. "You are certainly very perceptive, Admiral, but I doubt General Kylrus would appreciate me trying to cover for him when I happen to know that he did his damnedest out there today."
"I'll be sure not to tell him that, then."
The turian's initial weariness had dissipated by now, to Shepard's relief. Victus was a whole lot more looser with this exchange, as well as the fact that they had no real war breathing down their necks at the time. It was merely a benefit that the extra security of living could afford.
"Hah! Although if he had lost to a different opponent, I'd be willing to bet that he would be in a much angrier mood afterward. Right now, I'd reckon that he is in a state of glum acceptance now."
Shepard raised his hands in mock surrender. "I'm not gloating, Primarch. That's the point of all these war games, right? To detect and address faults in our strategies so that we can be ready for anything else that comes our way. It isn't exactly a competition."
"Our competitive spirit does have a way of revealing itself from time to time," Victus remarked sagely. "And you're assuming that there is still something out there, Admiral. More Reapers, perhaps?"
"After all that has happened," Shepard sighed as he rubbed the back of his head, "I'd rather not take any chances."
"Neither would I," Victus agreed. "In any case, we'd better invite the command staff over to recap the exercise and trade our strategies soon. How long do you think that will take to accomplish, an hour?"
Shepard checked the time on his omni-tool. "That sounds about right. It will certainly take that amount of time for everyone to get organized. We'll all meet in the conference room then. I'll make sure that we have enough chairs set up."
"Excellent," Victus said. "I'll see you then."
As Victus walked out of the war room, Shepard began to mindlessly plunk at the keys in front of him, opening up a wealth of statistics recorded from the game. He tried to concentrate on some of the more important data points but all of the numbers began to blur together. He rubbed at his eyes, the gradual decline of tension made him feel drained, like he was about to keel over.
There was a coffee pot at his back, one implemented there at his request. Shepard grabbed a disposable cup and poured himself a generous amount of the murky liquid. Taking a sip, he winced as the coffee burned his tongue and promptly set the cup down to wait for it to cool.
Minimizing the statistics, he sent out a burst message to the commanders of the fleet out in the system, inviting them to rendezvous with the Normandy for the end of match discussion. He closed the text box before he could see if anyone had replied or not and began considering what he wanted to do for the next hour.
It took a few minutes before he took a hearty swig of the coffee again (this time it was at the perfect temperature) and headed over to the CIC, and towards the elevator located on the rear wall. Once inside, he punched the button for his personal cabin and walked in seconds later. He twisted the shower knob and waited for it to heat up by checking his personal messages in the meantime.
At the moment, he was not in a mood to converse with anyone, that and the fact that there was no one on the Normandy anymore that he really wanted to talk to right now, sans Joker but he was busy with his duties. Opening his console, he filtered out all of the spam before he checked for himself that he had received no correspondence from anyone. Zero worthwhile messages.
Concern lining his face, Shepard sighed before he walked back into the bathroom, stripping off his clothes before he stepped into the spray. He stood in the scalding water for two minutes, letting it drip down his scarred body, before he pronounced himself reasonably clean and shut the shower off. He grabbed a towel and walked back out with it wrapped around his waist, looking out into his spacious cabin, with the fish tank quietly gurgling in the background. It was home to him, but for years now, it always felt strangely empty to him.
She always made this place worthwhile, he thought instinctively. The comparison had been painfully obvious for years.
Biting his lip in regret, Shepard sat back down again at his desk and opened his console again. He activated his mail application and indicated that he wanted to compose a new message. In the recipient box, Shepard typed in the letter "T" and selected the first name that showed up on the screen.
The tiny little cursor began to blink in the body of the message. Shepard cracked his knuckles and set them down appropriately on the keys, ready to type. He looked long and hard at the screen, envisioning what the receiver's reaction would be to whatever he was going to say right now. He hoped they would respond just as emphatically as he would, showing that he wasn't being a fool for nothing. In his mind's eye, he imagined joyful surprise and a longing from looking at the words he was about to type.
But his fingers merely remained perched on the keys, depressing nothing. Shepard's mouth was a long line as he kept on drawing a blank internally. So many things were rushing into his head that he had no idea what to say. Would it be appropriate to include everything in one message or should he split his meaning into several successive messages?
Why couldn't he convey exactly what he wanted to say to her?
I have everything I've ever wanted. Except you.
Frustrated, Shepard closed the message application and abruptly stood up out of his chair, pushing it aside so that he could get dressed for the upcoming meeting.
There would be another opportunity for the words to come later, he reasoned.
Migrant Fleet – Hourglass Nebula
The door to the cabin opened and Tali'Zorah stepped inside, relieved at having an opportunity to rest after being up for almost eighteen hours. She yawned loudly in the cramped room, shuffling over to her tiny desk so that she could finish up a few administrative things before she took a few hours to sleep.
She opened up her console and began typing mindlessly. Being an admiral of the Migrant Fleet was much different than being a simple mechanic. No longer could she tinker with machines anymore for she had the power to order others to do such menial labor. Still, she occasionally took the time to play around with a few odds and ends she collected from various locales scattered across the galaxy. That curious side of her hadn't been stamped out yet.
In the middle of a sentence, Tali began tugging at her dark purple hood absentmindedly while glancing down at her black and gold bodysuit. She had taken to fidgeting a lot while typing as the act itself was still relatively foreign to her. That was the one thing no one warned her that her promotion would entail: the endless paperwork.
Tali signed a few requisition orders, using her ship name as vas Shellen. The liveship was one of the biggest vessels in the galaxy built by organic hands and the fact that she was now its captain was almost hard to believe. It had taken half a year after the conflict had ended for the Conclave to recognize her achievements throughout the Reaper War in order to officially assign her a post instead of having her title stand as a mere formality. Fortunately, the former captain of the Shellen had just resigned, intent on retiring to Rannoch to live out the rest of his days with his wife and child. The recent opening was just the perfect opportunity for the new admiral. All it took was a few scraps of documents to sign and Tali suddenly found herself commanding one of the most important ships in the fleet, one of the fleet's three liveships.
Sometimes she would rather have wished that she got the Rayya under her command, her birth ship, but she had learned long ago to be grateful for what she was given. Besides, commanding a liveship was one of the noblest professions in quarian culture as they were responsible for growing food to feed the millions of quarians still living in space (farmland on Rannoch was still being cultivated). Not bad for someone who had almost been exiled for treason.
Interestingly, her new station provided a huge source of confusion for Tali. She was rather bemused to learn that her culture had a bit of a flaw regarding their place of residence in their names. Technically, her full name was Tali'Zorah vas Shellen, but she also happened to own a plot of land back on the homeworld, the exact spot where she had stepped on the planet for the first time. By that logic, she sometimes referred to herself as Tali'Zorah vas Rannoch, but grew ever more bewildered at what to do with the technicalities. She had to remind herself for the umpteenth time to check up on quarian law so that she could solve this conundrum.
No wonder outsiders found quarian culture to be so foreign. Even Tali couldn't understand it half the time and she was a quarian to begin with.
She finished up her missives and closed the console, gazing around her small room before she sat down on the small bench that was her bed and proceeded to get a bit of sleep. But she still felt wide awake for some reason, like there was something she still needed to do that was on her mind. Tali grumbled as she fidgeted on the bench, looking back at the console expectedly. Was there one more notification she needed to write? One final order before she could sleep?
Whatever it was, it was on the edge of her mind but she could not grasp it. Sighing, Tali checked her omni-tool and did the arithmetic in her head, figuring out that it would be fifteen minutes until the jump towards the Citadel would be underway and a six hour long journey to the relay would begin. Napping that whole time would be great for her. She barely got enough sleep as it was. Now desperate for some shut-eye, Tali considered running over to the medic's office to procure a sleeping aid but decided to stick it out here.
Just a tiny bout of insomnia, she reasoned. That's all it is.
Tali folded her hands over her chest and twiddled her thumbs. Since she still was conscious, she was painfully aware of how lifeless her cabin seemed. She had been living her for almost three years now but no matter what she added to it, small tapestries, assorted mechanical objects, she still could not shake the utterly cold notion she got from the room.
Of course, she knew exactly what the problem was. It would only take but a moment to correct her problem. All she had to do was go back to her console and type out a series of words that made sense to her. It sounded easy, but the reality made it much harder because Tali had no idea what to say.
Tali adjusted herself on the bench and supported her head with her arms as she looked up at the ceiling. John, she thought. What can I say to you? When will I get to see you again?
It had been months since she had last corresponded with the human and two years since she last laid eyes on him. Their respective duties had completely wiped out whatever time they had for interactions outside of their jobs. Were they both just not ready to abandon their people? Was her need for him overshadowed by her need to the fleet? Was he experiencing the same problem, caught at the same crossroads?
Tali sighed a curse and turned on her side, slamming her eyes shut so as to cut off her intruding thoughts. There will be another time, she assured herself. There will be a time when you will see him again. Things will be different. I know that things will be-
As her eyelids relaxed, she cracked them open just in time to see a black form squarely seated at her desk. Through her hazy vision, she could glimpse the edge of a dark coat, powerful arms, and an ivory and grey colored mask, one which had an artificial jaw that began to smile at her…
Startled, she sat up, heart racing, to find that she was still alone in her cabin. Anxiously, she glanced at the door and saw the locked icon blinking back at her. Putting a hand over her heart as if that would help slow its pulse, Tali slowly breathed out in relief as she decided that it was just another fabrication that her mind ruthlessly provided.
It's been seven years, Tali, she told herself. Seven years and you still believe that Grevel's alive when you know John put her down back on Anhur. Seven years…Keelah, I'm so messed up.
Turning herself to face the wall, Tali begrudgingly came to terms with the fact that this was just going to be another sleepless night. Making a bitter noise, she willed her thoughts to turn to Shepard. Thinking of the human always put her mind at ease. Always had.
Lying on her bed, Tali considered for the millionth time if she had made a terrible decision by being here. If her and Shepard had thrown their previous obligations aside in order to be with each other, would they have regretted it? Could they possibly have done such a thing, even though their people desperately needed them, now more than ever?
Assaulted by questions, Tali grew more and more concerned the longer she remained awake. She had no answers and there was no indication that they would ever be solved, that she would ever be fully healed.
But there were a lot of things that Tali'Zorah did not know.
A/N: Couldn't keep my damned hands off the keyboard for very long, could I? Borderline addiction, that.
Anyway, I've been working on this chapter for a few days but I have to warn you that my work schedule is going to make updating very challenging as I'm going to be doing a lot more travelling over the coming weeks. Therefore, keep your expectations somewhat reserved when I fail to post anything more than 1 chapter per week.
This is a bit of a gamble for me because I've had worse experiences with sequels to my stories in the past. Hopefully I can clear that hurdle this time.
A few notes to start off with: just in case anyone is confused with the timeline, since The Disengaged, Shepard spent two years dead, roughly a year fighting the Collectors, about a year and half after that fighting in the Reaper War, and spending the other three in his new command position: equaling seven years.
Also, before any of you freak out, Shepard and Tali are still on very good terms (I'm going by the fact that they actually did form a relationship in the games), this isn't an angsty piece like Interval of Calamity. Their separation will be fleshed out a little but it has to do with the fact that both of them dearly miss and still love the other, and that there will be no unnecessary hatred in order to tamper with any emotions. (I can do that in so many other ways, though!)
It's a different start out to the relationship the two have with each other that I've written and I've got a few ideas to keep the experience fresh and exciting. And with Grevel lurking in the background, who knows what will happen?
...well, I do, but that's beside the point!