Rael'Zorah stared at the four familiar people in the holo image in his personal display, each of them one of the remaining members of the Admiralty Board. He was in his office on board the Yipson where he'd gone after hearing his formerly missing daughter's story, and had just finished replaying the recording to them. Tali was currently talking to his wife, and probably going over the whole thing again, but he had to do his job.

After a substantial length of time had passed in stunned silence, Admiral Zaal'Koris stirred and said in a voice that sounded like he was having trouble with quite a lot of things, "Your daughter would appear to have had a rather more exciting Pilgrimage than most manage."

Rael'Zorah couldn't help a moment of near-laughter. Despite their differences in the past, the other man was intelligent and fair, and seemed to also have a gift for understatement.

"So it would seem," he agreed, feeling a little light headed still.

They all looked at each other for a little longer.

"I'm still having difficulty with all this," his old friend Admiral Han'Gerrel finally admitted, shaking his head slowly. "Tali'Zorah's Pilgrimage ship is attacked by Batarian raiders in an isolated system far off the common routes, leaving her as the only survivor. That part is… plausible, I suppose. The damned Batarians are certainly capable of, and known to, attack ships anywhere they think they can get away with it."

"Not that the Council will do anything to actually prevent that," Zaal'Koris grumbled under his breath, making a couple of the others nod agreement, as it was all too true.

"Your daughter manages to survive for weeks, somehow repairing enough of the life support and power systems to keep herself going, which is testament to how talented she actually is," Han'Gerrel went on after a moment. "Even that is acceptable, although there are very few who could match such a feat single-handed. But then… she somehow invents out of nowhere a method to do something bizarre with part of the damaged drive core in an attempt to build a superluminal gravity distress beacon. Which is not even theoretically possible as far as my own knowledge of eezo technology goes. Admittedly I'm not a physicist, nor a mathematician, but I'm fairly sure no one anywhere has ever even contemplated doing that, or would have the faintest idea how to even if they did."

Rael'Zorah shrugged. "Apparently she succeeded. So there's that, I suppose." He couldn't believe it himself to be honest but the proof did seem insurmountable.

"There is indeed that, yes. And not only did she succeed in a feat that should probably not actually be possible in the first place, but she exceeded her own ideas by managing to communicate with a species new to everyone who aren't even in the same parallel world as the rest of us!" His voice had risen during this comment, exhibiting a considerable amount of disbelief.

Rael'Zorah just nodded in a rather bewildered manner. Han'Gerrel appeared to take a few breaths to settle himself, then continued, "A species that doesn't, or rather, didn't, even possess spacecraft beyond basic orbital launchers. Not only that, her contact was with a teenager not even old enough in our terms to go on her own Pilgrimage!" He audibly swallowed. "A teenager who managed to learn our own language in under twelve hours, design and manufacture a real time translation system, open full contact with your daughter, then design from scratch a Rannoch-damned teleportation machine which she used to recover Tali'Zorah half way across the galaxy and to her own world in seconds as easily as going through a hatchway."

They all stared at each other some more. Not one of them could really wrap their minds around quite how bizarre this entire situation was even now.

"I know. It's completely insane," Rael'Zorah replied in the end, shaking his own head. "The more I think about it the more insane it gets. But all the evidence is that it's also entirely true. Tali managed First Contact with a species who seem able to do things that not even the Protheans would have dreamed of. And that species not only rescued my daughter, but have gone out of their way to help her, trade information with her, and promise to return her to her home regardless of what they needed to do to achieve it."

"And to that end they salvaged the Klaatu, entirely rebuilt it from scratch if Tali is to be believe, fitting it with an entirely novel superluminal drive system that doesn't even have the decency to be powered by eezo while they were at it, which was designed in months from first principles by this… this… human child and your daughter working together. Ancestors only know what else they've added to it." Han'Gerrel's voice was weak by now, as he like the rest of them attempted to come to grips with the revelations of the last few hours. "And that's entirely ignoring the supernova in the system of the little matter of these people somehow fixing our immunity problem!" He waved his hands around like he didn't know what to do with them. "And if your daughter is to be believed, also arranged to make it possible to use both levo and dextro food! This is…"

The poor man trailed off into silence, his overall demeanor that of someone who was holding onto sanity by a very thin thread indeed.

Eventually Zaal'Koris put in, "The thing I find most incredible about the entire situation is that these humans are apparently perfectly willing to simply give us whatever medical miracle they've invented without any strings attached at all. Assuming this isn't some preposterous trick, that little ship out there has the future of our entire species sitting in its cargo hold, free for the taking." He looked at each of them in turn. "The real question is... do we take it?"

The silence this time stretched for longer than before. Several times one or other of them stirred, started to say something, and subsided again. In the end Admiral Shala'Raan finally said rather cautiously, "I believe that, before we can truly make that decision, it would probably be wise to find out more about our apparent benefactors. What do they really want? Not specifically with us, but in general? They've gone to a completely ridiculous level of effort to contact us, far more than literally any Council species would ever resort to. Even if they actually cared about the Quarian people. To them we're an inconvenient left-over from a series of bad decisions and questionable thinking and I doubt they'd be overly concerned if we all met some grisly fate."

"Which we will soon enough if nothing changes," Zaal'Koris commented acidly. "The liveships are barely able to support us now, and we already have dietary issues with micro-nutrients and the like as it is. Given another thirty, fifty, eighty years..." He made a gesture of resignation. "We are living on borrowed time and everyone knows that even if they won't admit it to themselves. Frankly I'm surprised that there are as many of us left as there are. Not to mention that half the fleet is at best partially functional, we have a severe lack of almost everything you can imagine, from parts to basic elements, and we have no practical way to get any of it in the quantities required since every time we try the damned Turians chase us away from any resources..."

He was completely right, of course, and they all knew this full well, although it wasn't generally put so baldly.

Shala'Raan nodded slowly. "I agree, certainly. But that means we need to be even more careful, because desperation could lead us into a situation even worse than we currently have."

"I fail to see quite how it could get worse," Zaal'Koris grumbled almost under his breath. "Some days I wake up thinking it would be a mercy if we just randomly exploded..."

"Don't be an idiot, Zaal," she snapped. "We didn't make it this far to give up. All I'm saying is that we don't want to jump headlong into something we'd regret."

"There's no indication that the humans have any malign intent towards us, though, Shala," Rael said, trying to forestall an argument. "Quite the reverse based on all the available information."

"Which is extremely limited at this point in time and makes little sense," she pointed out, accurately, making him reluctantly nod.

"That much I can't deny," he admitted. "I agree that before we do anything else, we need to get more information. We know nothing about the humans other than that they are either genuinely helpful to a level that's almost beyond belief, or running some form of subtle scam or something of that nature for reasons I can't imagine. And that they seem capable of feats of engineering, biology, and physics that are so far past even the Protheans it beggars belief."

"They can't really have gone from a pre-spaceflight civilization to one able to produce novel superluminal drives and actual teleportation in under a year," Admiral Daro'Zen put in, speaking for the first time and sounding thoughtful. "That part I simply don't believe. Even producing a drive that is independent of eezo would be a technological feat on the level of the Relays themselves. No one has ever managed it. Not even us at our height would have considered such a thing. To think that these people could magic one up just to solve a specific task like this is..." She shook her head. "There's something we're missing."

They all thought it over, until Rael remarked, "Well, the only way to find out what the truth of all this is seems to be to talk to them, so I think we don't have much choice there. I'm reluctant to hand this over to the Conclave without full data available. And we all know that no matter what we do sooner or later the information that there is apparently a solution to our immune issues will leak. We need to be able to be sure, one way or the other, of all the facts when it does."

"Agreed." Zaal nodded, as did the rest of them, one by one.

"In that case, I suggest that the best thing to do is to ask Tali to put us in contact with someone in the human government who can, hopefully, shed a little more light on this whole bizarre issue," he added.

They discussed the idea for a while, finally settling on allowing Rael to continue being the lead communicator for now, with the other Admirals listening in and able to raise questions. He sighed a little to himself when he stood, metaphorically readied himself for battle, and strode out of the room towards the bridge and a conversation he expected would be at least as weird as the one he'd already had.

It was even worse than that, of course.

Taylor watched as Tali's father talked to Ambassador Prender, who along with President Andrews was discussing the various ideas that had been suggested by various parties as the best way to open a relationship with the Quarians. She glanced at Tali, who was leaning back in her own chair with an expression of mixed relief, concern, and triumph, smiling a little to herself as she studied her friend.

"It's going to work out, Tali," she said softly, having muted their microphone a while back. Their channel could connect into the conference call, as could the one using the camera and monitor aimed where Brendan and her own father were sitting, both also carefully following the progress of the talk, but at the moment none of them were directly involved.

"I hope so," Tali replied, her voice quiet but hopeful. "They're suspicious. Of course they're suspicious… No one has ever, in three hundred and nineteen years, offered to help my people. Certainly not without payment and many conditions attached." She shook her head a little, not taking her eyes off the screen where separate windows showed the bridge of the far-distant Yipson, the ultra secure room deep under the Pentagon, the Gravtec logo in place of the control room in the DWU facility, and two currently blank views that were her camera and her dad's one. "I would be paranoid about all this if I wasn't so deeply involved," Tali continued. "And if I hadn't started the whole thing almost accidentally."

Taylor grinned as her friend shook her head, a weird smile coming and going for a moment. "Sometimes it still seems like a dream, you know?" the engineer said in a far-off tone. "I almost worry that I'll wake up and it'll all have been a dream caused by me running out of air and I'm actually dying on a shot up ship far from my family..."

She reached out and gently touched the image of her father, who was gesticulating wildly in a manner suggesting he was having real trouble with life at the moment. "But Dad's right there, and soon I'll see him again. All thanks to you."

With a slight laugh, Taylor shook her head. "I did my part, so did you, and so did everyone else involved. And there was a lot of luck involved. Don't worry. It will work out. I'm sure of that."

Tali looked at her for several seconds, before finally nodding and returning her attention to the ongoing talking on screen. "I believe you," she almost whispered. "Thanks."

Putting her hand on the other woman's shoulder, Taylor squeezed it for a moment, then both sat and listened in silence.

"...derstand that you will have doubts about much of what we've discussed, Admiral, but I assure you that it's all true, and furthermore that my people are more than willing to, and indeed looking forward to, entering into a mutually beneficial arrangement with yours. We have extensively studied the documentation that your daughter provided on your history, that of the Citadel species, and the various historical issues surrounding the Quarian situation. We also salvaged a vast amount of data in addition to that which was on the various omnitools Tali'Zorah acquired from the former Klaatu's computers, which we've cross-correlated with everything else. It's very much apparent that your people have been extremely badly treated by those who should have provided aid, in a number of ways that are frankly disturbing and not at all in keeping with the position the Citadel Council has put itself in."

Ambassador Prender shook his head as Rael'Zorah sat down again, having been pacing back and forth as he talked. "In all honesty we are far from impressed by the Council. The information available shows that on a number of occasions they have acted in ways we feel are duplicitous, against their own long term interests never mind those of other species, and in our terms completely illegal. There are examples of actions they've taken that are illegal even in their terms, yet still they took them and do to this day."

Picking up a glass of water he took a sip from it, then put it down, as the Admiral leaned forward a little, clearly listening carefully. "For example, ignoring entirely your own plight for the moment, the situation revolving around the Batarians is… very suspect. I will admit that our own history has a horrific relationship to slavery, but I would like to think we've outgrown such things by now. The data we have studied seems to suggest that many other species have had similar histories, yet all but the Batarians would appear to have also managed to move past such things. Any technologically advanced society should, in my view, have no requirement for slavery even leaving aside the ethical issues. Which are, of course, extremely important. Yet the Batarians not only enslave their own species, which is bad enough, but they actively raid essentially everyone else to take slaves as well! And the Council, the supposedly top level authority over your entire galactic civilization, not only allows this to happen but claims it is unable to intervene as this is an 'internal cultural matter'."

Rael'Zorah snorted with anger. "The Batarians are barbarians, who think themselves superior to all others, and are a scourge upon the galaxy. Everyone is fully aware that the so-called 'rogue elements' and 'pirates' who engage in slave raids are backed at the highest level of the Batarian government. They deny it, of course they deny it, and the Council merely looks the other way. Even as Asari, and Salarians, and even Turians are taken and enslaved. And my people, yes."

"Exactly. This is not the behavior that one would wish to see in a government that controls multiple species across vast amounts of space," Prender nodded. "Raids such as the ones I've read about would be tantamount to a declaration of war under our own laws. We find it odd in the extreme that nothing is done unless the pirates are literally caught in the act." He looked annoyed, glancing at President Andrews, who was listening with a neutral expression. "I can assure you that if any of our people were affected by something of that nature, we would move heaven and earth to retrieve them and make certain that the problem didn't reoccur, internal cultural matters or no. I fail to understand why the Council does not do this, as they clearly have the military ability to do so if required."

Making a gesture of resignation, Rael'Zorah nodded. "I personally agree entirely. But we have long given up on expecting the Council to do the right thing, or even the sensible thing, unless it benefits someone in power. They betrayed us, they betrayed the Krogan, they have ignored the Batarian problem from the moment the Batarians made contact…" His voice faded in disgust. After a pause, he finished, "We are not enamored of the Council," with considerable sarcasm apparent.

Prender smiled darkly. "This fails to surprise me, Admiral."

"Unfortunately we do not have the ability to do to the Batarians what someone should have done to them centuries ago," the Admiral sighed. He waved a hand around at the interior of the bridge, implying much more as well. "We are the remnants of a once mighty people, brought low by our own stupidity and that of those whose job it was to help. And we are still blamed for our own failures centuries after anyone who might possibly have been involved has long since passed on." He laughed a little hollowly. "One might, if one was superstitious, consider us cursed by our ancestor's actions."

Taylor squeezed Tali's shoulder again as her friend sagged a little.

"In all honesty, Admiral, the data suggests that while your people are in some way responsible for what happened, the responsibility is by no means yours alone," Prender commented after a moment. "It is shared between all parties, including the Geth, and what has happened since the Morning War is something that the Council and their respective peoples should have done, but notably failed to do, something about. Our own military analysts are highly confused why literally no one has apparently bothered to even try to find out what the Geth are actually doing, or have been doing all this time, just as one aspect of the whole sorry affair. It seems at best irresponsible and at worst completely idiotic not to investigate, but all the evidence is that as soon as your survivors fled, everyone else washed their hands of the whole affair and just assumed nothing else would happen. This seems… hopelessly optimistic at best."

He glanced at the President, who was slowly nodding, but still said nothing, then back to Rael'Zorah. "Note that we don't suggest for a moment that your people should have risked their entire existence on such a task, since it's obvious that you don't have the resources to succeed anyway, and arguably it's the responsibility of those who have decided they're in charge of galactic security. We just find the whole thing highly odd."

"So do I, when you put it like that," Rael'Zorah commented thoughtfully. "I've never really considered it, I have to admit, which is also odd. On the other hand, we prefer not to think about what we've lost in many cases, and one thing that's guaranteed to spark an argument is talking about the Geth..." He shrugged a little.

"Understandable. And right now not something that we need to consider, although it's on the list of things to think about eventually." Prender nodded, taking another sip of water. "Returning to the main point, I assure you that we do not have any malign or hostile intent towards you and your people, as I have already explained. We would like to help, and in the longer term come to an arrangement both sides would find rewarding. However, if you feel that you can't trust us, for whatever reason, we would reluctantly accept that decision. The therapeutic agent we developed is yours regardless of your ultimate conclusion, along with all the relevant biological data."

He smiled as the Admiral stilled, seeming shocked, as did Tali. "Tali'Zorah is an exceptional individual who has the respect of everyone who's met her, or knows of her, all the way to the top of our government. The agent could be considered a suitable Pilgrimage gift to you from her as a result of that respect, if you wish to think of it like that. Or you can think of it as our way to provide aid to someone who needs it, as we feel we have a duty to do. In either case there are no conditions attached."

Rael'Zorah didn't respond for some time, and Tali turned to stare at Taylor who merely grinned back. Eventually he said, rather weakly, "That is… unprecedentedly generous of you, Ambassador."

Prender waved a hand, smiling. "It is the right thing to do. And in absolute terms the cost is insignificant to us while being immeasurable to you. My government sees no reason not to give you the agent. Manufacturing it was quite inexpensive and we learned a lot in the process, so both sides gain."

The Admiral looked to the side for a moment, then appeared to sigh inaudibly. "My apologies, Ambassador, but one of my fellow Admirals has asked to join the conversation."

"Of course. Please, feel free."

The screen split to show another Quarian. "That's Admiral Shala'Raan," Tali commented quietly. "An old friend of my fathers. She's… a little paranoid at times."

"I am Admiral Shala'Raan, Ambassador Prender. I and the rest of the Admiralty Board have been monitoring your conversation and I have some questions I would like to ask," the new participant said.

"Certainly, Admiral. Ask away, that's the point of this exercise after all," Prender replied with a friendly smile.

She looked at him for a few seconds, then asked quite plainly, "Why are you prepared to help us like this? That is one of many things I personally find… puzzling… about the whole thing. You ask us to believe that you have technology far beyond anything we know, which I will admit is clearly the case, but even given that I can't help wondering why you would go to what is obviously a vast amount of effort to contact us in the first place, then on top of that you offer us something almost inconceivable. Something that could mean the difference between our species going extinct in the dark between the stars and surviving to grow strong again. In my experience no one is that generous unless they have something to gain, and the stakes are so high that I can't help think whatever that something is, it is exceptionally important."

Ambassador Prender leaned back in his seat and inspected her, before looking at President Andrews who was doing much the same. The President nodded, Prender reaching out and slightly adjusting the camera to point directly at him. "Admiral Shala'Raan, allow me to answer that question, which is a good one." He thought for a moment, before continuing, his voice firm and careful, "There are a number of reasons, of course. Our own world has been, and still is, threatened by a number of issues that could easily be described as genuine existential hazards. We are all too aware of how fragile life truly is, and have bitter and recent memories of being driven to the edge, losing hope bit by bit and wondering if today is the day it all finally ends. If something we can't prevent, even though we can see it coming, will destroy all hope once and for all. Or if something entirely out of the blue will do the same thing."

Shala'Raan and Rael'Zorah didn't say anything as he spoke, merely listened intently, but their body language showed they were concentrating hard.

"We have a certain… similarity… in our recent history, in a sense," he went on after a second to allow his words to sink in. "The details are very different, of course, but the overall picture isn't entirely inconsistent between both of us. Our population has been drastically lowered due to outside forces, we have faced disasters of a scale that we would never have imagined possible, our world has changed out of all recognition within the lifespan of many of us… yet we are still here. Somehow we have pulled through one horrific event after another, never quite reaching the point of complete collapse. Yet we could see that sooner or later we would reach a tipping point, although very few people wanted to think of that." He shook his head, his face grave. "However it was inevitable that in the end, we would fall."

Again, he paused, no one saying a thing. Rubbing the back of one hand with the fingers of the other, he looked down at them for a moment or two, before raising his eyes to look into the camera. "But then something changed. Out of nowhere, we found a remarkable young woman who almost single-handedly changed everything. And we began to have the hope that perhaps our fate wasn't set in stone, perhaps by throwing our resources behind this extraordinary person, we might be able to overcome the most intractable problems we faced and have a future after all."

Taylor's face was red and Tali was looking at her with a grin at this point. She was more than a little embarrassed by the whole speech, although deep inside was a little pleased too. And somewhere very near and very far another friend of hers was in its own way smirking at her embarrassment.

He went on, as they listened, "So we threw caution to the winds and went all in on helping our young friend help us, and the results have been incredible. Although it's still very early in the process, we're making enormous strides on a daily basis, and we fully expect this to continue. Where it will finally end we have no idea although it's practically guaranteed to be preferable to what would have occurred otherwise." Andrews smiled slightly, Prender nodding at his words. "Then Tali'Zorah happened."

Rael'Zorah made a sound suspiciously like a laugh, causing Tali to groan and put her hand over her eyes. Taylor giggled a little. "Taylor found her, and took the decision to help without even considering doing anything else. It was the right move and one I fully support. Tali'Zorah has been welcomed among us without reservation, and repaid us many times over with her technical knowledge and skill. For that alone, we would gladly help you even if it wasn't the only ethical thing to do anyway."

His eyes shifted to each of the Admirals in turn. "Your people are facing a fate at least as bad as we were. Your population is, as I understand it, barely at the point of being viable as a civilization, your ships are slowly breaking down past even your remarkable ability to maintain, you are faced on all sides by danger, hostile forces, and potential disaster. That is something we understand, and it's something we can help with. In fact, one could easily take the position that legally we are obliged to help you."

Shala'Raan tilted her head curiously. "I don't fully understand you, I'm afraid."

Andrews nodded. "It has been suggested by our legal experts that the laws surrounding space travel could quite plausibly be derived from those surrounding travel on the ocean, which is something we have hundreds if not thousands of years of history for. If one takes that viewpoint, it's a small step to consider a body of law set out by an international organization here called the United Nations, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea." He grinned briefly.

"I suspect we may eventually have that as the Laws of Space which will confuse everyone as the acronym would remain the same… However, Article 98 of the UNCLOS states, among other provisions, 'Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers, to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him.' Admittedly the framers of this law didn't have anything like the current situation in mind, but I doubt they would disagree that the spirit of the law is applicable even if the scenario isn't one they considered."

Admiral Shala'Raan stared at him for a long time, then nodded. "I believe I understand your point. Forgive my suspicion, President Andrews. We have for so long had such bad experiences with literally almost everyone else we encounter that it's hard to throw off the feeling that everyone is either plotting against us or is simply utterly indifferent to our fate."

"It's not really paranoia if they actually are out to get you, as our people would say," Ambassador Prender commented with a wry grin. She made a gesture of assent.

"That is true, unfortunately."

"In the end," Andrews put in, "We can help you, and we believe you can help us. You know many things we do not, we have technology and resources you do not. Coming to an equitable agreement would seem to satisfy all sides. And in the long run, who knows where it would go? It might be interesting to find out. Together, ideally, or at least that's my own hope."

The two Admirals exchanged glances. "Obviously we will need as much information as possible on what you propose before we can put it before the Conclave, but I think we have little choice other than to consider your offer," Rael'Zorah finally replied.

The President nodded, as did the Ambassador. "Hopefully we can satisfy your people's questions," Prender said. "Tell me what you need and I'll arrange it."

Taylor listened for a while as Tali's father spoke at length, his colleague adding suggestions here and there, but finally stood up. "I need something to eat, this is going to take a while before either of us need to get involved again," she said to Tali. Her friend nodded and also stood. "Dad? You want a sandwich and some coffee?" Her father looked up from his screen and smiled.

"Thanks, Taylor. Yes, please." He glanced at Brendan who nodded absently while making notes as he listened to the discussion. "Two cups, I think."

She nodded and headed for the kitchen, Tali following.

On the whole things seemed to be going well, she thought as she turned the coffee maker on. It would be fun seeing how it all worked out

Rael'Zorah studied the sensor display, as did everyone else on the bridge. A couple of minutes passed in silence until the sensor operator said, "Superluminal breakthrough detected one hundred and thirty thousand kilometers away above the plane of the ecliptic, as predicted."

The holotank zoomed in on the distant vessel, which glittered under the light of the unnamed star the Fleet was orbiting as it slowly turned to face them, then accelerated almost instantly to a high subluminal velocity. Only seconds later it was slowing again, fifty kilometers away. The speed with which it maneuvered was incredible, surpassing even a Turian interceptor. He studied the ship which showed enough design elements in common with Salarian craft that its original nature was obvious to anyone who knew the subject, but also had many significant changes that implied it was not the work of the Salarians. At least any more.

It also looked brand new. There wasn't a mark on the hull to indicate repairs, or battle damage, or simply wear and tear from long use. Unfamiliar running lights glowed red and green on opposite sides, with a blinking strobe on the dorsal and ventral sides. Weapon turrets protruded subtly in a few places, and he could see what were almost certainly hatches for other such things. None of the normal armament was visible, the main spinal gun for example being entirely missing, which changed the profile of the ship more than almost every other modification. He couldn't see any signs of the usual laser-based anti-fighter defenses either, although he assumed the humans had something equally as effective. Most likely much more so, based on what he'd seen of them so far.

Overall, he was both highly impressed and rather envious. No one in the Fleet had possessed a ship this new for well over three centuries.

'Perhaps we will soon,' he thought, almost reluctantly. Four solid days of discussion, both with the humans and each other, while studying the vast amount of data they'd handed over, had left him thinking that the future was going to be quite different than he'd been expecting. He was still having trouble with parts of what they'd learned, but… All the evidence seemed to be verifiable.

Which had led inevitably to this point.

"Communication from Armstrong received, Admiral," the comms officer announced.

"Put it through," he replied, sitting down from where he'd been standing staring at the sensor display.

Moments later the main holoscreen switched to the image of a human male. "Hello, Admiral Rael'Zorah, I am Captain Simon Leeds. We're ready to bring you over whenever you wish, sir. Our shuttle can dock with your personnel port, we have a matching docking adapter fitted."

Rael'Zorah nodded. Of course they did. "In that case, I'm ready now. I'll meet your shuttle at the starboard port."

Captain Leeds looked to the side and nodded, then turned back. "Shuttle on its way, arrival in eight minutes. Armstrong out."

The screen went back to showing a view of the galactic core, and Rael'Zorah stood up, a little apprehensive. "Well, this should be interesting," he muttered as he headed for the starboard docking port, accompanied by a couple of security people.

Shortly he was watching as the small but nimble human shuttle moved closer to the Yipson, until the two ports lined up and connected with a faint tremor that ran through the deck plates under his feet. The indicators on the airlock changed, showing a positive lock, and a pressurization match moments later. He prodded the pad that opened the inner door which slid to the side. "Do you want us to come with you, Admiral?" one of the guards asked.

He shook his head. "No. I don't think that's necessary in this case. It probably wouldn't help anyway if anything went… badly."

They exchanged a look but nodded. "Sir. Good luck."

Nodding back he tapped the control on the inside, waited for the door to close, then hit the one for the external hatch. It slid open, revealing another somewhat smaller airlock on the other side. Taking a breath, he walked through, watching as the hatch closed behind him. Shortly thereafter the inner door opened and he saw a human standing on the other side. The woman facing him saluted. "Admiral Rael'Zorah, welcome aboard. Captain Leeds sends his regards. Please have a seat, we'll be docking with the Armstrong very soon."

A little startled he looked back at the porthole in the airlock, seeing that on the other side of the external hatch was a field of shiny points, the Fleet at a distance and rapidly receding. He hadn't even felt the shuttle detach from the Yipson or accelerate.

This little shuttle was impressive.

"Thank you," he replied, returning his attention to the human woman, who smiled. She indicated a row of seats, all empty, and he picked one and sat down, finding it very comfortable. She sat in another one leaving him some room. "Can I ask your name?"

"I'm Lieutenant Liz Holmes, the executive officer on board the Armstrong and Captain Leeds' second in command, Admiral."

He nodded, while examining her own environment suit, which bore a striking resemblance to a standard Quarian one although like the Armstrong with a lot of obvious changes. She looked down, seeing the direction he was looking, then met his eyes with a small smile. "Yes, it's patterned in part on the Quarian design," she answered his unasked question. "Our scientists studied Tali'Zorah's suit with her aid and improved it. They were very impressed, actually, the design is extremely good, but they managed to build on that."

"I see," he replied slowly. "Have you met my daughter?"

"I have, yes sir. She is a remarkable engineer and a very interesting person. You should be proud of her and what she's done."

Rael closed his eyes for a moment, then looked directly at hers. "I am. More than anything, I am. And I am incredibly grateful that your people rescued her. We've had our arguments in the past, every parent has that, but… thinking she was lost was almost unbearable." His voice trembled a little for a moment but it passed as she smiled sympathetically.

"I understand, Admiral," she replied softly. "My own daughter is only three, and if something happened to her..."

Their eyes met again in full understanding.

"Docking in thirty seconds," a voice said through an intercom, presumably the pilot of the shuttle.

"You'll see her soon," Holmes added, smiling.

Very shortly the little craft entered the docking bay of the Armstrong, Lieutenant Holmes standing up and gesturing towards the hatch. "If you'll come this way, Admiral?" He followed as she opened the airlock, the outer door opening as soon as the inner one shut. He looked around as they descended the short flight of steps that had folded out of the shuttle's hull, seeing they were parked on a flight deck similar to what he'd have expected from a ship the size of the Armstrong albeit laid out slightly differently from what he was used to. Three more identical shuttles were neatly parked next to theirs, a few meters separating them. The pilot was exiting a hatch at the nose of the small ship, glancing at them for a moment before joining a group of crew-members who were standing off to the side.

Holmes waved him towards a large door at the far end of the flight deck, where he could see Captain Leeds waiting for them. Both walked over to him. "Admiral Rael'Zorah, it's an honor to have you on board. Welcome to the Armstrong." Leeds saluted, Rael'Zorah returning it automatically.

"An impressive ship, Captain," he replied, looking around. Leeds smiled.

"We think so, but then it's our first one and we're quite excited about it."

Rael'Zorah chuckled a little. "Understandable, if incredible," he commented.

"We're heading to the transportation room," Leeds continued, indicating aft. "It's up two decks, the nearest elevator is this way." He started walking, Holmes and Rael following. "I think you'll find the experience one worth remembering."

That much was almost certain, Rael thought to himself with some incredulity, even now.

After a short trip, during which Rael examined everything with the eye of someone who knew their spacecraft engineering and found himself impressed all over again at the quality of the construction, they entered a fairly large elongated room which had a control console at one end, and… something… at the other.

Rael stared at the shimmering semi-transparent wall at the far end of the space for several seconds, almost unable to believe his eyes. It very obviously wasn't a hologram, he was quite familiar with that sort of technology and this was not that. What it was he had no idea at all but it somehow made something inside his brain try to look around a corner that didn't exist.

"What is that?" he exclaimed in shock, pointing. Captain Leeds grinned.

"Goes right inside your head and wiggles around, doesn't it?" he said, looking amused. Rael nodded, as the description was oddly appropriate. "I don't understand the technology at all past the basics, but your daughter could probably tell you everything you wanted to know about it. Essentially that's the interface between real space and something that isn't real at all, although in another way it's supposedly more real than almost anything else." He shrugged a little as Rael looked at him in bemusement. "Like I said, it's not something I even pretend to understand. But that's what an active portal system looks like."

The captain studied the phenomenon for a moment, then shook his head. "Bizarre, I admit, but it works." He turned to the console and tapped a few controls. "Gravtec Operations, we're ready here."

"Roger, Armstrong, stand by for transportation," someone replied immediately.

"Watch," Leeds said, looking at Rael, before giving his attention to the shimmering curtain. Rael did the same, as did Holmes. Nothing happened for a couple of seconds, then a figure appeared like magic, stepping through the shimmer like it was a doorway.

Which, in effect, it was, Rael thought numbly as he stared at his daughter, who was smiling happily at him, no helmet present at all..

"Hi, Dad," she said, walking over to him. He put his arms around her without replying and held her like he had when she was a small child, feeling emotions so complex he couldn't put words to them.

Tali watched her father as he looked around in stunned amazement, glancing at Taylor who was smiling a little for a moment, then returning her attention to him. "Welcome to Earth, Admiral Rael'Zorah," Brendan said after a few seconds when her father finally seemed to notice the others present in the room. "If you'll come this way, we can get the medical process out of the way, then show you around. Ambassador Prender is due in approximately an hour."

Her father nodded almost absently as he followed them out of the room and towards the medical department, where Amy and her team were waiting.

"Told you it would work out," Taylor whispered to Tali, who snickered.

"This is just the beginning," she replied quietly. "We've barely even started yet."

They shared a gleeful look then hurried after the others.

She was looking forward to giving her father his first orange. Especially the peel.

It was the best part after all.