Tali stood next to her father as they moved towards the solar system. The Humans had amazing technology, they had swarms of drones that could surround a ship and repair it a fraction of the time it would take for the Quarians to do it manually.
In a matter of hours the human engineer cruisers have gotten enough of the ships in a serviceable enough state that they could begin the journey into the main solar system.
"It's almost hard to believe…" Rael muttered.
"I know… all our problems ended in a moment… if only everyone was here to see it… if only mom was…" Tali replied softly.
At those words Tali felt a gentle hand on her head, she turned to see Rael looking at her. She could sense a small sad smile behind her father's facemask.
"I know it feels like we don't deserve it. Why us and not them, but every single one of our people knows that we work to preserve us. I am sure your mother and the ancestors are looking down on us with pride. We have come so far since the morning war…" Rael said gently as he stroked Tali's head.
"And you have grown so much… I still remember when you were as tall as my knee…" Rael said gently as he pulled Tali into an embrace.
Tali shut her eyes and allowed herself a moment of quiet. No responsibility, nothing else but this… she couldn't remember the last time she saw her father this happy.
He was always strict and harsh, especially after her mother died of an airborne infection. Maybe this horrible crisis had a way of bringing them together…
Then the moment was over and Tali separated from her father as they turned their gaze to the windscreen. Tali looked past the glass just in time to see the view change again…
"Keelah…" a navigator muttered as he stood back up.
Tali's eyes widened as she saw the view, so there was another illusion veil…
From the outside Sol looked just like a normal solar system but… it was anything but. The inner three planets looked normal. It was what was on the outside that shocked her…
There weren't that many inhabitable planets per solar system even having one was a rarity. Yes some could be terraformed but terraforming candidates were at most two per system since the planets needed to be in the goldilocks zone where liquid water was a possibility.
In back of her mind Tali wondered how a race confined to a single solar system could possibly field a fleet of this size… they would have to be better at cramming people in tight than the Quarians, and the Quarians were really good at that…
Past the third planet was a massive ring surrounding the star. All the outer planets were just… gone… no asteroid belt… nothing…
"Is that a… ring world?" Rael said in shock.
A ring world was a mega structure that thus far has only existed in theory. It was a massive ring-like structure around a star that could be used to house a population or other industries. To be fair the ring world wasn't complete the overall structure was but Tali could see only about half of the ring world was completed.
"They must have stripped the materials from… everything else in the system…" Rael said in shock.
"The size of it… the scale… this is a feat of engineering far beyond anything the rest of the galaxy has." Tali said.
Then a group of transmissions appeared on the console, Rael numbly pressed the button on the console and the face of the other admirals appeared.
"Are you all seeing this?" Gerrel asked shakily.
"Yes… how many Humans do you think could live on something like that?" Koris asked.
"Probably 20 Billion… if you gave everyone a nice garden…" Xen replied dryly.
"That's not all, they have a partial dyson sphere. The top and bottom of the star is covered with solar panels. There's just a gap at the equator to make sure the ring world doesn't freeze." Xen said.
"Then what's that massive construction on the upper pole?" Raan asked.
Tali shifted her gaze to the top of the star and saw a massive installation. It looked like… a giant sensor… a sensor the size of a moon…
"I think that might be how the Humans are keeping tabs on the wider galaxy…" Xen replied.
"Where did they get materials for all this? The planets and asteroids aren't enough for all of this…" Rael muttered.
"Humans must have more up their sleeve. The question still stands. They are the youngest of the races, so how are they so advanced? This goes beyond Prothean ruins, this is what a civilisation looks like in a tens of thousands years. Even the Asari aren't remotely close to this level of technology.
To a brittle mind these constructions look divine…" Xen said.
"Divine… I suppose that's one way to put it…" Koris said with a shake of his head.
Tali watched silently as the Migrant Fleet moved towards one of the ring world segments. The very fact that as they moved the size of the ring world didn't seem get any bigger was a testament to it's scale. In space it was often hard to get a true sense of scale since there was nothing to act as reference.
Technically there was the star but stars come in many shapes and honestly… most minds struggled to fully comprehend anything on the stellar scale…
It took hours but finally they were close to the ring world. Tali could only watch mutely as they sailed along the massive structure, this place made the Citadel look like a toy. Then they were led to what must have been dry dock area and Tali got the first look at what was to be her race's new home.
The Arks were truly beautiful ships, massive in their construction and dwarfing even the Asari's Destiny Ascension. Their hulls painted a gleaming white, their defense guns standing tall and proud. These armaments beat anything the other races could bring to bear and from what she had been told these ships were designed for defence not offense. So these monsters were more than capable of defending themselves from any attack. With a thick hull of reinforced armor and powerful shields, they can weather most blows.
Even the Turians would now need to think twice before having a go at the Quarians…
"Come Tali, the humans wish for the Admiralty to be the first to step aboard our new home." Rael said as he looked down at the dashboard.
"But I'm not an admiral." Tali said.
"The Lord Commander said to bring you as well, probably since you were there during the meeting." Rael said as he stood back up straight.
"Reha you have the Alerai." Rael said as he turned to his second in command who nodded in response.
When Tali stepped off the shuttle, she couldn't help but feel a little embarrassed. The shuttles they used were beat up old vessels. This one was probably at least eighty years old, the Quarians called these ships amalgamations, since their internals were cobbled together messes from multiple different ships.
Tali looked around at the Human ships and saw that they were shiny and new. Even the floor was spotless…
Tali turned to look at the Quarian migrant fleet and saw how run down the fleet looked in comparison.
"Ah Admirals, I hope all is well." Tali heard the familiar voice of John say.
Tali turned to see him walking towards them with a retinue of heavily armed and armoured guards. The guards carried tall tower shields and held a ceremonial halberd in the other hand. At the front of the formation next to John was a human female, in contrast to the towering men in armour she looked so small. The woman was also wearing what looked to be an envirosuit, probably because she didn't want to contaminate the ship.
"Lord Commander, all is well. Will your sister be joining us?" Raan asked courteously.
"Jane is overseeing the… questioning… of the Batarian prisoners. They have made an enemy of us and we would do well to extract whatever information we can." John said nonchalantly.
Tali privately wished that John's sister wouldn't be gentle, those brutes tried to kill all of them just to prove a point. But she instantly chided herself and banished the dark thoughts from her mind.
"Tell the Lady Commander there is no need to be gentle. Those four eyed brutes would have done the same to you if you were in our position." Gerrel said.
"Gerrel…" Raan chided.
"It is fine Admiral Raan, gentleness is not my sister's strong suit anyway, most get one attempt to answer before Jane starts taking out the pliers, knives and shock rods. Sadly I think a gentle approach would be ineffective against the Batarian prisoners. The only way to get through to a zealot is break them down until nothing remains but a shell only cognisant enough to answer questions." John said with a sad shake of his head.
"Do you question prisoners?" Tali asked curiously.
"I do, but I prefer a civil approach. My sister and I, we divide the labour. To the more amicable individuals I can persuade and cut deals but for the more… barbaric ones… well… If they wish to behave like mad dogs, then the only thing they will understand is the fist and the boot." John replied.
"Now then, come you should get a look at the ship, this is Oriana Lawson, she was tasked with overseeing the retrofits to these ships for Quarian specifications." John said as he gestured to the woman.
"Yes, I have much to show you. I hope our work is to your liking." Oriana said with a barely concealed excitement in her voice.
Tali and the admirals were led into one of the arks. The first thing Tali noticed was the decontamination chamber, it was a state of the art chamber. With something like this the chance of infections would greatly decrease.
"We did a lot of work these past two years, the major retrofits of removing the cryosleep functions were done ten years ago. Originally this was designed to be a luxury cruise ship for vacation goers. Naturally, that wouldn't need so many rooms, so many were turned into recreation rooms, cinemas, swimming pools, arcades, casino's things like that.
But once the order came down that these ships would be used to help you we had to revert the rooms back into living quarters. We were worried about having unequal room quality so we ended up downgrading the most luxurious rooms and upgrading the lower class rooms.
But it's still all very good!" Oriana said as she caught herself.
"This ship was designed with luxury in mind so the rooms are very accomodating…" Oriana said as the group entered what looked like a main hall.
Tali's eyes widened as she saw the massive space, on the ground level were parks and what looked to be empty shops. On each side of this massive atrium there looked to be rows of corridors. The open space dragged on and on far into the distance…
"Ah those corridors above lead to individual rooms. It's supposed to be an open concept… kind of. We felt the narrow corridors were so dreary so we decided to open it up a little. That way whenever you exit your room you'll see the beautiful view below and greet each other!" Oriana said excitedly as they walked in the massive atrium
"Also you might be interested in this…" Oriana said as she showed them a tree.
"Wait…" Xen said as she peered at the tree.
"What is it Xen?" Gerrel asked.
"That's… it looks like the old paintings… is this tree from Rannoch?" Xen asked as she turned to look at Oriana and John.
"Yes, we are tapped into the Geth network. They have been archiving the natural ecology of your homeworld. They have also been maintaining the habitability of Rannoch. The planet has recovered ecologically to the state it was before your people's industrialisation.
We also got some of your artwork from their databases and replicated it…" Oriana said casually as she turned it to show them this mural painted on the wall.
Tali followed the group and saw this old mural of old Quarian design. Her mind was reeling, the Geth, their ancient enemy, was taking care of Rannoch? One of the major concerns their people had was that the Geth would render the planet uninhabitable because they are synthetic. They do not need a habitable biosphere to exist. The only differences between a barren moon and a habitable world of them would be the foliage getting in the way, the temperature and the moisture.
"Wait, they are taking care of our home world?" Koris said.
"Yes, they act like custodians from what we have discovered in their archives." Oriana replied as she turned as if unsure why they were asking this.
"When did you last tap their archives?" Raan asked her tone betraying the fact she could barely believe it.
"Yesterday, admiral. This has been the status quo for years, going back to the morning war as far as we can tell. They mostly inhabit the space stations, so there is little to no practical reason for them to take such good care of the planet below them. They behave like custodians if anything. Your art was in their database because they needed a reference in case they needed to restore any art pieces." Oriana replied as she tilted her head seemingly confused but she quickly recovered and turned back around to face the mural.
"I've always found your culture fascinating, especially with your ties to the local flora and fauna of your planet." Oriana said.
Tali somehow got the feeling Oriana didn't know why the Quarians were out here stuck in space…
The tour continued and eventually the group ended up on one of the artificial beaches. The beach filled with the red sand to imitate the likeness of Rannoch. The admirals were silent the entire way, their minds on the Geth and their homeworld.
"Oriana thank you for the tour, could I have a moment with the admirals?" John asked as he faced the false sun as it set over the horizon.
"Oriana doesn't know why all of you are in exile." John said.
"The official story is that you left the planet behind because it was too ecologically damaged by your industrialization. So you left the Geth behind to clean the planet and you stayed in space because of your weakened immune systems." John added calmly.
"Why would you lie about this?" Xen asked softly.
"Because sapient AI are granted full citizen rights in the Imperium of Man. Public opinion views synthetic life as just… life… They see little difference between flesh and metal.
If news spreads that you tried to slaughter them, there may be some bad impressions. That may affect the quality of work for the retrofits. Some may feel you do not deserve this second chance, some may view all of you as genocidal murderers." John replied calmly.
"What? You allow AI full citizen rights? What if they rebel?" Rael asked.
"What if the humans rebel? It's the same risk, we just have to manage it in a different way. The AI are taught that they are different and we are taught that they are different. But there's nothing wrong with being different. There are some things metal can do better than flesh and there are things flesh can do better than metal. We can work together, co-exist, it doesn't have to be war and fire…" John said calmly.
"Some AI in our society are even researching how to make biological bodies for them to download their minds into. They are willing to give up their immortality to feel the breadth of human emotions. It seems there is something about our organic bodies that gives us just that little something extra.
Most AI are fascinated by art, they don't understand it and they try so hard to make sense of it. They study composition and geometry but whatever they try to do just seems a little… off." John said with a small chuckle.
"I have a suspicion that there is a similar reason as to why the Geth have been studying your art so extensively. It baffles them just as it attracts them, it's quite charming actually… it's almost like a childlike curiosity." John mused.
"Why are you telling us this?" Tali asked curiously.
"Simple reason really… the crux of the reason is this…" John said as he walked forward until his boots reached the edge of sloshing tide. He drew a line in the sand with his armoured boot and turned back around to look at the Quarians.
"We like to categorise things, it makes things easier to understand. So we do this for life as well, what defines life? Somehow along the way all of you decided the Geth didn't qualify. But these lines we draw in the sand are arbitrary, they bear little meaning to reality." John said and Tali looked down to see waves crawl up the red sands and wash over the line. When the waves retreated the line was fainter, still there, but fainter…
"So I ask all of you a simple question. This beach is but a pale imitation of the real thing. Will you be willing to share this? With the Geth? Not as master and servant but as equals…" John said as gestured to the beautiful serene beach.
"You have already lost so much, will you be willing to sacrifice more when bloodshed can be avoided? You don't have to fight each other, you can co-exist, just as we have." John said.
And for a moment Tali started to doubt the idea of mutually exclusive existence between the Quarians and the Geth…