"...and finally all the tests show that the performance of the therapy will be as required," Amy reported, looking around the table. "Without a spare Quarian to test it on, of course, I can't demonstrate that, but my team is certain it'll work to specification. Every simulation we can come up with, including cell culture work in vitro, shows exactly the desired results. Absolute worst case is that it would do nothing, but the chances of that are well under one in a million. And if that did happen it would be a simple modification to fix it, once we have some test subjects." She smiled a little, shrugging for a moment. "Tali is pretty sure there wouldn't be any lack of volunteers."

Tali, across from her and next to Taylor, nodded. "I can think of at least a dozen people without even trying who would jump at the chance of a treatment that would remove the requirement for an environment suit even if the odds of success were much lower," she said in agreement. "Especially as we have me as proof that it will work." Looking around at the others as well, she added, "You have literally no true idea of just how much this will mean to us. It's almost literally beyond price, and may be the only hope of survival my people have."

"While obviously we have no direct equivalent of Amy's power," Doctor Hasim, one of the BBU biochemists on the Quarian cure team, put in causing everyone to look at him, "We agree with her summation. In conjunction with our colleagues from DARPA and using the Gravtec computational hardware we've been able to significantly advance the state of the art in biological simulations, the results of this showing a near-certainty that the final production agent will do exactly what we desire. Not only does it fix the immediate Quarian immunity problem, but the changes are to the germline, meaning it will be hereditary. Any offspring of an individual undergoing treatment will also have a fully functional immune system."

"We've produced thirty million doses of the agent now, which is far more than required but gives us spare supplies in case of any problems, so I'd say we're done." Amy closed the report she had in front of her with an air of satisfaction. "Personally I'm very pleased with the results of the project," she went on, smiling again. "It was not only a lot of fun and an interesting challenge, but it's going to help a lot of people who really need it."

Making a few final notes, Brendan nodded slowly. He put his pen down and folded his hands on top of his notebook, glancing around at everyone else present. "Thank you, Amy, and everyone else on that project, for a superb result. You've certainly exceeded our expectations nicely. That's one of the main prerequisites of contacting Tali's people finished, ahead of schedule in fact." Amy and the biological team looked pleased at his words. "How are we coming along with the other projects related to that?" he asked.

Danny tapped the screen of the tablet sitting in front of him a couple of times, then looked up. "The Armstrong has been fully finished, supplied, and tested for more than a week now," he said. "We've completed our post-test diagnostics and systems inspections and certified the ship as ready for full operational activities. The crew reported a few minor issues and requests during the shakedown cruises, all of which have been fixed, and the designs updated. We're well into the design phase of the second generation entirely domestic ship, although construction is some way off yet."

Brendan nodded again, checking a couple of points off. "Excellent. And the shuttles?"

Danny turned to the DARPA engineering team leader, Doctor Freeman, who replied, "All four F-202B craft are structurally finished, and undergoing final software integration at this moment. Once they've each had a certification flight, they can be transferred to the Armstrong. That's scheduled to happen by the end of the week unless some last minute problem crops up, but we're not expecting anything."

"Good, good." Checking off a few more points, Brendan smiled. "All coming along nicely. Now, what about the initial contact probe?" He turned to Taylor, who smiled
at him.

"It's pretty much done. The hull is complete, all the drive components and power units are fully installed, and we're doing the final work on the communications and sensory systems at the moment. We'll have it fully functional and ready for testing in..." She thought for a moment, glancing at Tali, then finished, "...about three days worst case. We came up with a few other ideas we've integrated into it which pushed out our original estimate slightly. Call it a day for full capability tests, a few hours to load everything… We can have it in a deployable state by Tuesday morning." Tali nodded agreement.

"Again, excellent news. I think that's nearly everything in place now." He checked off the last three items on his list and put the pen down again, leaning back and picking up his half-finished coffee. "The President is very happy with progress and I think quite interested to see what happens next."

"We all are," Angus commented with a grin, causing everyone to nod.

"Indeed. Well, unless there's a catastrophic problem in the next few days, I think we're probably going to be able to begin the process of introducing ourselves to Tali's people on Tuesday, then," Brendan replied, chuckling. He looked at the Quarian engineer, who smiled a little nervously. "Hopefully our ambassador from the Quarian people is in agreement with that?"

"Very much so," she replied, taking a deep breath. Taylor put her hand on her shoulder, making her relax a little. "I can't help being a little worried, since it's been so long, but at the same time I'm… really looking forward to seeing my parents again."

He gave her a sympathetic smile, everyone else looking much the same. They all liked their alien friend a lot and it was clear this was something that she was more than slightly tense about for a number of reasons. "That's entirely understandable, Tali, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that I'm sure your people are going to be very proud of both you and everything you've done. I know we are. You're a valued member of this group, as well as being a friend and someone we all respect very much."

"Thank you, Brendan," she said after a moment, swallowing momentarily then straightening up. "That means a lot."

Taylor grinned at her, making her smile back. "Don't worry, it's going to work out fine," the girl assured her friend. Looking at Brendan, Taylor asked, "The President and everyone are OK with Tali and I doing the initial contact like we discussed?"

He nodded. "It's not entirely the normal practice, but what about any of this is normal?" he quipped, making her laugh. "You're the one who started it all, there's no reason not to have you be the one to do the next part. Mr Prender is ready to do his job when required, and the entire Department of Extraterrestrial Relations is still manically working out all the details of an official First Contact, but that can wait until we've opened a dialog."

"And set up the all the things to protect the Quarians," Amy commented, looking somewhat amused as she studied Taylor and Tali. "Just in case any of those other idiots over there try to stick their noses in." She, like everyone in the know, had spent quite a lot of time reading all the documentation on the other species in Tali's home universe along with the conclusions and reports elements of the NSA, CIA, and a number of other intelligence analysis organizations had come up with based on the data Tali had provided. On balance no one was all that impressed with the Citadel species in quite a few areas.

"Yeah, that's something we're doing immediately," Taylor agreed with a small dark smile that was genuinely a little worrying. Tali was wearing something awfully similar. "If some annoying Batarians try anything this time they're not going to enjoy what happens next..."

"We will at least try to avoid starting an interstellar and interdimensional war, I hope?" Danny requested with a tired sigh, although he looked slightly amused albeit resigned. His daughter snickered, but nodded.

"We won't start anything, Dad," she assured him. "Only finish it."

"Oh, lord," he mumbled, causing Brendan to shake his head with humor.

"I'm sure things will work out fine, Danny," he said mildly as he put his documents away into a folder, then dropped that into his briefcase. "I'd better go, I've got a meeting with the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary in about six hours. Good work everyone, and I'll be back two days from now." He stood, most of the others doing the same and heading off in different directions. With a wave to Angus and Danny who were now talking quietly to each other, and a nod to Taylor, Amy, and Tali who exited just in front of him and disappeared into the bowels of the Gravtec complex, he headed for his car while mulling over all the things that would shortly come to pass.

Lying on the grass in the Hebert's back yard, Tali smiled gently to herself as she listened to one of the pieces of music she'd become rather fond of during her time here. Danny had suggested a few genres, as had Taylor, Amy, and Vicky, and she'd ended up in her spare time building a list of favorites encompassing an enormously eclectic range. The warm sun on her closed eyes was a sensation she was still not fully used to, but it was a nice sensation.

A tickling on her nose made her blink, then open her eyes to see an extreme close up of one of the large insects that Taylor seemed very fond of, which was peering at her from centimeters away with what she imagined was curiosity. The young woman smiled, amused yet again by how fearless the little creatures were. She felt no worry about them at all, even though Amy had told her they could in fact bite extremely hard if they really wanted to. In practice, they were docile and inquisitive and often ended up sitting on anyone who ventured out into the yard.

The dragonfly examined her for a few seconds, its head tilted on once side and the sunlight glinting from innumerable facets in the huge eyes, before lifting off with a faint rattle from its wings, circling her once, then zipping away. She snorted with laughter and closed her eyes again, humming along to the music.

Tali'Zorah vas Gravtec was in a very good mood.

She had very good friends, the respect of an entire government even if it was an alien one, some absolutely fascinating work, and a pile of oranges right next to her elbow. And very soon she'd be talking to her own people, with a story they'd probably find hard to believe.

Where this would all end up she didn't really know but she was fairly sure it was going to be entertaining.

Reaching out she grabbed an orange, then without opening her eyes, took a bite from it.

"You really aren't supposed to eat the peel," an amused voice said from a few meters away. She laughed, rolling her head to the side to see Amy grinning at her, Vicky and Taylor standing next to her near the big tree in the middle of the yard. Danny was coming down the stairs from the rear porch behind them, Brendan and Angus accompanying him, and carrying a tray.

"I still think it's the best part," Tali chuckled, the running joke making them all smile. She sat up on the grass, turning slightly to lean on the wooden chair next to her, which she'd forgone in favor of closer contact with nature. It was an experience she couldn't get enough of after a lifetime of not being able to touch anything much other than the inside of her suit. Running her fingers through the grass, she took another bite from the orange. "These are so good," she added with a feeling of happiness.

"You may have a slight addiction there, Tali," Taylor snickered as she sat down near her, leaning back on the tree. Amy and Vicky plopped themselves down too, while Danny and the other two sat in the free chairs. Putting the tray down, Taylor's father started pouring some coffee and handing it out to those who wanted it.

"Are you ready to make contact with your people, Tali?" Angus asked, accepting a mug of coffee with a nod of thanks.

"Yes, I think I am," she replied after a few moments of thought. "I can't deny I'm nervous, though. I've been away for nearly a full year, and I'm sure they think I'm dead, or at least missing." She swallowed a little, then took a breath. "It upsets me to think how upset my parents will be and I wish that hadn't happened."

"On the other hand, if what happened hadn't happened," Vicky pointed out, "none of what going on now would have either. And all this is going to really help your people, not to mention I'm happy to have met you, so..." She shrugged with a grin as Tali nodded, laughing a little.

"True," Tali admitted. "I could have done without most of the beginning parts of the experience, but I certainly wouldn't want to have missed everything since Taylor rescued me." She sighed faintly. "But that said, thinking about all the people who died when those bosh'tet Batarians attacked us..." She shook her head, feeling morose. "I lost some good friends because of that. People who didn't deserve to have something like that happen to them."

"All the remains are properly stored and will be repatriated to their own people as soon as possible," Brendan put in gently, causing her to look at him. "They've been treated with care and honor, as innocent victims of a crime. We'll send them home, don't worry."

"I know, and I thank you for that," she replied sadly. "But I'd rather have them alive."

He nodded, understanding on his face, but said nothing.

There was silence for a little while as everyone drank their various beverages, busy with their own thoughts. When Tali looked up once more, Taylor was smiling at a bright red dragonfly that was sitting on her fingertip staring at her, the two apparently communing deep thoughts, while Amy was watching with a small smile. Vicky was floating on her back looking up at the sky, about ten centimeters off the grass and making it look entirely natural even though it was anything but.

"Thank you all for being such good people," Tali said quietly. "And such good friends. Whatever happens next, I'll always value my time here as the best thing that ever happened to me."

Taylor didn't look away from the insect on her hand, but smiled to herself. "No matter what happens, you're our friend, and you always have a home here. Even if you have to leave for a while. Like I said, we don't forget our friends, and one way or another you're going to see all of us again sooner or later even if you have to leave for a while."

Her friend looked up, meeting her eyes. The dragonfly swiveled around to also look at her, the alien gaze somehow giving the impression of more intelligence than should be possible. "I think that Earth and the Quarian people are going to have a long relationship as a result of us meeting," the girl added, her face serious. "One that is going to take all of us to interesting places."

She smiled as Tali nodded slowly. "And we still have a lot of things to design, you and me."

"I'm looking forward to it," Tali replied completely honestly and feeling abruptly much less worried. Yes, she was going to speak to her parents for the first time in many months, and yes it was going to cause no end of confusion, but now it was something she was certain she could handle.

Danny glanced at his watch. "Two hours. Have you two decided on what you're going to say?" He looked at his daughter and Tali, who exchanged gazes.

"We've got a rough idea, Dad, but I think we're probably going to have to see what happens and pretty much wing it," Taylor replied after a moment, causing Brendan to sigh heavily and Angus to start laughing quietly. "Tali's dad is one of their Admirals, and we're aiming to get him involved immediately, but we can't plan too specifically because a lot of it depends on their initial reactions." She shrugged. "We'll use the basic outline and modify it as circumstances require."

"This has to be one of the strangest diplomatic exercises in history," Brendan muttered, sounding both amused and mildly worried. "It's certainly not going by the book in any way at all."

Taylor grinned. "We don't do by the book around these parts," she said airily, making Amy start laughing and Vicky grin at the sky. Danny shook his head, smiling.

"That much is very apparent and has been from the moment I met you, Taylor," Brendan replied with a long suffering look. "Sometimes I think you exist purely to make my life… interesting."

"That's just a bonus," Taylor giggled.

Tali picked up another orange and started nibbling it, relaxing and listening to her friends talk about the upcoming first contact scenario while thinking with a sense of amusement how the Asari would probably explode if they could overhear any of this.

She was very much looking forward to seeing what eventually happened when someone other than her people finally met the humans. Especially Taylor…

It was going to be hilarious.

"We're about thirty minutes away from the start of the mission, sir," Secretary Robinson said, looking around at President Andrews who was staring out the window of the Oval Office at the sky, a small smile on his face. The other man nodded, giving the clouds a final glance, then turned his chair around and stood up.

"Well, we don't want to miss a moment of history happening in front of us yet again, do we?" Andrews said lightly, moving towards the door. The two secret service agents standing next to it, a pair who were among the small number cleared for this, looked at each other, then one opened it as Andrews reached it, Robinson following. Not long afterwards they were in the same secure room at the Pentagon that they'd watched the initial trials of the Armstrong from, everyone present sitting down and turning their attention to the big screen, which was currently showing the Gravtec logo and a countdown clock. This was currently ticking down from 05:37.

"The Prime Asset and Miss Tali'Zorah will open the initial dialog with the Quarian people," Robinson said, looking around at everyone. Ambassador Keith Prender of the Department of Extraterrestrial Relations was sitting opposite him, scanning a thick folder with care, but clearly listening. "We don't know how long it will take for Miss Tali'Zorah to explain to her people exactly what happened and where she's been for the last year or so, but she believes she can persuade them everything she'll tell them is true. We do, after all, have a large amount of very convincing evidence." He smiled a little as Andrews made a sound of amusement, and several other people chuckled.

"The long term goal is to open full relations with the Quarians, but the first stage is to return their wayward daughter to them, along with our gifts to fix a number of their more egregious problems. Including defense from a number of provably hostile forces in their own space. The Gravtec probe is the main part of that process, and the Armstrong is on standby for the next phase. Once we've established contact, we have a number of possible scenarios for our next move depending on precisely what the Quarians desire, and require."

"From our point of view there's no immediate rush," Ambassador Prender pointed out, looking up from his documents, which he'd been making a few notes in the margin of. "Any time related problems are more likely to come from the Quarian end. But we're hoping that we'll have the luxury of slowly building up trust, and it seems likely that Tali is going to be a critical part of the whole process. She is after all related to a high status individual on the Quarian side, her father being Admiral Rael'Zorah, one of the five members of their current Admiralty board. Which would appear to be effectively their government. Returning his daughter safely to him should hopefully go a long way towards easing any possible suspicions they'll have, which to be honest are probably entirely valid considering how their people have been treated in their own space for centuries."

He shook his head in disgust. "I would expect them to be justifiably more than slightly paranoid, after the appalling approach the Citadel species have used when dealing with them. Never mind the Batarian problem which is… something we're definitely going to have to think about."

"A very large amount of time has been spent on analysis of the political situation in their space, Ambassador," the CIA director said calmly. "We have quite a number of possible scenarios plotted out covering every plausible outcome we could think of, and several very unlikely ones just to be safe. Once we've gathered more up to date information we can feed that into the models and I feel fairly certain we'll come up with a viable series of actions as and when required."

Prender looked at him and nodded his understanding.

"Ten seconds," someone pointed out.

Everyone stopped talking and looked back at the screen, settling in for however long this phase took.

Moments later the screen changed to show an image of the Gravtec probe ship floating in the middle of the huge space deep under Brockton Bay. Familiar voices sounded, going through a checklist.

"All internal diagnostics passed with no errors. Primary reactors running at nominal output. GRF systems online, local reference frame established. Structural reinforcement field active. Shear field generators on standby. SQUID self tests complete. Sensory instrumentation running. Optronic computing nodes all report ready status. Portal beacons locked for outbound transit. Friendship ready for transportation."

Angus nodded as the main operations controller, not Tali this time as she was at the Hebert house along with Taylor, Brendan, and Danny, spoke into the microphone. Everything was proceeding to plan. He hoped that would continue.

"Probe Three reports Quarian Migrant Fleet still at last known location. No indications of any non-Quarian ships within scanning range. Beacon laid at insertion point, nine light years from Fleet. Beacon reports green status. All recording systems running. All operators, report go/no go."

"Transport is go."

"Sensory is go."

"Drive is go."

"Power is go."

"Navigation is go."

"Shields is go."

"Communications is go."

"All operators report go status. Friendship now live, local control active. Initiate transit."

"Transit to Quarian Galactic Zone in five… four… three… two… transiting."

They all watched as the twenty meter long sleek craft shimmered and vanished, its destination tens of thousands of light years and inconceivable dimensional shifts away.

"Transit complete. Friendship reports success. All systems active, course plotted, SQUID engaged. Punch-out successful, velocity at eighty percent, arrival at destination in thirteen minutes forty seconds from… Mark."

"Now we wait," Angus commented quietly, glancing at the monitor next to his elbow that showed a view from nearly two hundred and fifty thousand kilometers away of a vast field of different sized glittering points of light, lit from the side by an orange star in the distance like shards of glass on a black background. "And we see what happens..."

He raised his eyes to look at another screen above the first one, and the camera next to it. Tali and Taylor looked back, the former seeming nervous again. Taylor patted her friend on the arm, then handed her an orange, which the Quarian quickly bit into making him grin.

"Don't worry, Tali," he said into the microphone, a private channel to the Hebert house. "It's only history in the making."

"Oh, thanks," the Quarian woman sighed, while Taylor started laughing a little. He grinned, then turned back to watch the progress of their mission.

"Take a deep breath, then let it out slowly," Taylor advised her friend as Tali tapped her fingers on the table, clearly apprehensive. "It works for humans, I bet it works for Quarians too."

Tali did as she suggested, then again, before nodding. "Sorry, every time I think about my parents, it gets..." She made a little motion with one hand. Taylor held the other one, meeting her eyes.

"I know. But it's going to be fine. Trust me."

"I do." Tali smiled at her before putting her environment suit helmet on. Then they both looked at the pair of monitors in front of them, on the table they'd set up in Danny's study with the window to the back yard as a backdrop. Several cameras were aimed at them, and there was a computer to one side, linked through Taylor's main system in the basement to the Gravtec network and through that ultimately to a top secret room far underneath the Pentagon in Washington.

Tali was desperately trying not to think about just how many people were both watching and listening to her, or would be very shortly. Taylor knew that, although she herself wasn't as worried. It was a slightly odd feeling but not something that was really that important.

The important part was Tali talking to her people and letting them know that she was alive, healthy, happy, and had made some interesting friends.

"Thirty seconds to destination," Gravtec operations stated. Tali took another deep breath.

Taylor waited quietly, glancing to the side where her father and Brendan were watching from a couple of chairs out of view of the camera. She smiled at them, getting smiles back. Returning her attention to the screens she watched the navigation display showing their probe ship about to decelerate from SQUID velocities.

"Five seconds… four… three… two… Punch-in successful. Friendship is now in normal space, fifty thousand kilometers from Quarian self defense boundary. GRF engaged at point zero five c, destination fifty kilometers from vessel identified as Yipson. Arrival in ten seconds… five… Friendship at destination, GRF shut down, residual velocity nulled with respect to Yipson. Awaiting communication from Quarian Fleet."

The view relayed from the probe's camera showed a ship some five hundred meters long, displaying the typical Quarian design features that everyone was now well familiar with from Tali's data. It was quite a sleek vessel, but at the same time it looked somewhat battered if well maintained, betraying its age and hard life. No one said anything, as they waited.

A few minutes passed in silence, Tali looking at Taylor a couple of times and her friend smiling reassuringly at her, meeting her eyes through the faceplate of the helmet. Eventually the operator's voice sounded again.

"Communications from Yipson received. Patching the signal through to Tali'Zorah. Stand by."

Tali twitched, then stilled, as a Quarian voice said in Khelish, "Unknown vessel, this is the Quarian ship Yipson, please state your intentions. You are within the self defense zone of the Quarian Migrant Fleet without authorization."

Taking one last deep breath and letting it out slowly, Tali worked on her rebuilt omnitool for a couple of seconds. "Sending authorization codes," she commented as calmly as she could while Taylor and the others watched. "That should do it," she added almost under her breath. "I hope."

"Handshake accepted, channel open. Go ahead."

Looking into the camera as the screen below it flickered momentarily before showing a scene of a number of Quarians in environment suits, all of them looking back with postures that seemed to indicate shock, Tali smiled.

"Hi, Dad," she said.

"Tali?" One of the Quarians stared at her, as the others all looked at each other.

"It's me, yes," Tali replied a little nervously.

There was a pregnant pause, before Rael'Zorah shouted, "Where on Rannoch have you been for the last year? The ship you were last reported being on disappeared! There was a rumor that the Batarian scum got it! Do you have any idea how worried your mother and I have been?"

Taylor listened to the shouting for a while, feeling satisfied that things were going well. She greeted Tali's father when she introduced her to him, then sat back to let her friend explain her story.

It seemed to make the other Quarians rather excited. Which was fair enough all things considered...

While Tali talked, and everyone else listened, Taylor made plans inside her head for a number of possible outcomes of the next part.

She was rather looking forward to being able to try out some of them, depending on which irritating elements were the first to turn up. It seemed pretty likely that someone would sooner or later, based on Tali's data.

A very long way from the isolated sector currently home to the Quarian Migrant Fleet, in a room inside an ancient and quite substantial space station, Asari Councillor Tevos shivered at a sudden chill. Getting up she checked the environmental controls, shook her head, and went back to her desk to finish reading the report she'd been working on.

Probably just a minor glitch with the air circulation, she thought before dismissing it from her mind as she grumbled about the perfidy of certain people who really were more of a nuisance than ideal. Soon she was deep in planning how to bypass their more aggrieving idiocy, as she'd been doing for a long, long time now.

On the whole she felt she was rather good at it, all things considered.