W/N - Merci to Jen, Thug, and Kaarlo. Let's continue with the tank battle and a few romance plot tidbits. I'm hoping the feeling of armored combat translates here. These are just snapshots of different parts of the game that I wanted to expand on. I'm thinking about a post Virmire one shot next.

Other malarkey - Too much aviation excitement... Preparations for the Nidan exam. I've started swimming again to build stamina as well as consulting with a sports performance coach.

Fields of Armor

Noveria - Aleutsk Valley – 1230 hours

Urdnot Wrex

He'd waited for this very moment. Up until now, Noveria was downright boring him to tears. Sure, there was a brief firefight in the Synthetic Insights office with the corrupt ERCS guards and then a skirmish in the vehicle bay with some Geth. But otherwise, it was talk, talk, and more talk. So, there was no way he was going to be left behind when Shepard headed out into the storm, even if he had to ride with the turian.

He had to admit that Garrus wasn't that bad a guy. The turian could fight and that was a good thing. If only he and that Fredericks kid could get over all of this self doubt. The only thing that mattered was a good fight and the sooner they realized that, the sooner they would stop whining.

The Mako flew by them as it rounded the turn and their M29 Grizzly popped into the open right into the forefront of the Geth assault. Those dumb-ass machines fell right for Shepard's trick about her shields being down. He let out a snorting chuckle.

On the guns, Wrex launched an armor-piercing round that ripped into the lead Armature. Just after impact, the shell blossomed into fire and was immediately followed by two more shots from the trailing Grizzlys. The Armature spasmed with each hit, finally falling flat on its face in a thunderous crash.

The krogan slapped the dashboard with glee. "Haha!" he bellowed and then slapped Fredericks on the head. "Full ahead, boy!"

Garrus just rolled his eyes, but then looked intently at the scanner scope. "Infantry deploying at two o'clock. Squad strength."

Wrex' ears perked up and he swung the turret to the right. The scope showed Geth troopers bounding over the snowy ground into a wedge formation. A couple of rocket troopers took a knee to line up a shot.

"Target, two hundred meters," Wrex said as he put the targeting sight in the middle of the formation. "HE shot away." He felt a warm tingle in his belly.

A deep boom rang through the cabin as a high explosive round burst from the barrel and streaked into the wedge of Geth. The proximity fuse detonated the shell in the middle of the group, five meters off the ground for maximum lethality. In the blink of an eye, the entire squad was engulfed in fire, followed by a shockwave that ripped them limb from limb into metal bits.

"Nice shot, Wrex!" Fredericks shouted over the grinding sound of the Grizzly's wheels. The young marine had really come to follow the krogan since they rescued Chairman Burns and Wrex was finding a tiny soft spot for the boy. He might be a real killer one day if he just let go of that thing humans called a conscience. Humans…they had more hangups than turians.

"Find me another target," Wrex called out to Garrus.

"Armature at eleven o'clock, two-hundred meters."

Wrex began to swing the turret to the left when something slammed into them. The entire tank lurched backward followed by a massive explosion. The krogan was momentarily deafened and his ears rang like a gong had been pounded in his face. "Son of a varren!"

He could see dull flames and smoke pouring into the cabin as red lights flashed all around him. He tried to look through the targeting scope, but the turret was gone, blown away by whatever hit them.

"We're dead in the water!" Fredericks shouted and then began coughing as smoke engulfed the marine.

Garrus waved his three-fingered hand to fan away the fumes. "We're being lined up for another shot. Bail out!"

Wrex growled and pounded his fist on the flickering console. He did not want to abandon the fight. Not when there were so many enemies to destroy. A krogan will pick fighting for credits every time, he once told Shepard and he was no exception. He did not kill the Maw on Tuchanka for the honor of Clan Urdnot just to run away from a little smoke now. Besides, he couldn't keep letting Shepard hog all the glory.

"No! We can still fight!" he said with a snarl, wanting to knock some sense into the turian.

A near miss rocked the tank, nearly upending it. The smoldering hulk slammed back down on the trail, knocking everyone around. Fredericks was hacking and flailing weakly now. Garrus snarled back through the fumes, his face glowing in the light of the nearby flames. "Don't be a fool, Wrex! We've got to go!"

The krogan was about end the debate decisively when the radio crackled. "Get out of there!" Shepard commanded. "You're holding up the assault!" Her voice told them that only the mission mattered at that moment. If they continued to be stupid, she'd mourn them later. Wrex bit his lip.

"Fine, Garrus, let's get out of here," he said, but the turian had already opened the hatch in the belly of the tank.

Garrus rolled down and out of the hole onto the ground up snow. "Wrex, Fredericks, c'mon! We've got to go!"

The krogan started to move when Fredericks grabbed his arm. "I'm stuck! I'm pinned in the seat!" the marine called.

Fire was beginning to spread and small caliber rounds pinged off of the ruined hull. Wrex started to pull his arm away, but he could see the fear in the boy's eyes. The flames were getting close. Wrex normally loved that look in people…that hopeless, terrified look. He'd seen it in hundreds, if not thousands of fallen foes. He'd even seen it in his traitorous father's eyes and he cherished that memory. But this was different.

"Don't let me burn, Wrex!"

Dammit. Shepard tried to teach him this stupid human trick she called compassion. Maybe it was working. With a thunderous growl, the krogan ripped the entire seat from its supports and threw it down the hole, jumping after it.

He landed on top of Fredericks, still strapped to his seat, and a moment later, another Grizzly rammed the ruined hulk, sending it over the ledge into the abyss. Snow blew up into their faces and Wrex was hit by a blast of bone-chilling cold as the blizzard raged around them. His wide eyes focused on a large object nearly upon them.

It was the following tank, just about to run them over.

Wrex grabbed the seat that was stuck to Fredericks and hurled it out of the way as Garrus scrambled aside. Wrex dove the other way just as the Grizzly's tracks ground the snow into a mushy mess. The krogan blew snowflakes from his face and sighed. This was something he couldn't get pissed off over. Despite her squeamish soft side, Shepard won battles. Shepard killed the enemy. That was something he could respect.

His earpiece crackled. "Glad to see you still alive, Wrex," Shepard said. "Now get back in the fight, krogan!"

He snickered. She really knew how to push his buttons, that human. If her humps weren't so small she might even be attractive by krogan standards. "Hrmph, mating with a human…." The thought was nearly enough to make him run screaming back down the hill like a salarian. He pulled himself out of the muck and drew his shotgun. "Yeah, fuck you too, Shepard."

Just then, the Mako flew overhead and bounced in the snow on its way into the battle. Pillars of exploding ice erupted all around as the Geth tried to stop the counterattack. With renewed ferocity, Wrex bounded into a run to catch up. Damn, this was going to be a good day after all.

Tali'Zorah nar Rayya – 1235 hours

Tali's stomach practically sank into her legs once more as the Mako lofted into the air over the burning Grizzly ahead of the armored column. "Oh, Keelah," she groaned and grabbed onto the back of Shepard's seat. She was really going to have to fine tune that Mass Effect generator and tweak the artificial gravity…assuming they lived that long.

As they reached the peak of the jump and began their downward path, her stomach felt like it floated up into her throat and her head felt like it was spinning in circles. The quarian closed her eyes and grit her teeth a moment before the impact and the horrible grinding noise of the torsion bars as they absorbed the weight of the Mako. Forcing her eyes back open, she peered out of the window over Shepard's shoulder and saw Geth troops running about as the Mako's machinegun mowed them down. A charged bolt whizzed past the bow of the tank and Tali involuntarily gasped.

"Take us down the left flank, Ash," Shepard barked. "All tanks, deploy in line!"

Tali glanced down at the tactical display and saw the slow Grizzlys forming a wall in front of the enemy. The hated Geth were in for it now. Admiral Rael'Zorah would be proud of her – the young quarian had helped to deal the Geth many blows in her short time aboard the Normandy. In fact, she'd already sent the Migrant Fleet exceptional data on the Geth…a gift from Shepard. One day, they would surely retake the homeworld. One day.

"Incoming!" It was Kaiden Alenko.

A tremendous jolt shocked Tali back into focus. Surges of blue energy hammered through the cabin, followed by sparks and then smoke. She cried out as she was thrown to the side of the cabin – the Mako was in a spin, skidding over the ice. She held a death grip on Shepard's seat and could see the world swirling around through the window. Then, her worst fear became reality. The Mako's right tires left the ground and the tank began to tumble. She wrapped her arms around the seat and the commander and held on for dear life as the Mako landed on its top and bounced back upright, each impact hitting Tali like a sledgehammer.

"Breathe, by Keelah…breathe," she said to herself through gritted teeth. The Mako had come to a stop and all was nearly quiet except for the thrumming of its engines reverberating through the cabin. Tali inhaled like a newborn baby, filling her lungs with filtered air. As she got her bearings, she could see Chief Williams slumped over the dashboard, blood soaking her hair while a fire smoldered at her feet. Part of the forward hull and the window had been sheered away from the Geth's shot, leaving jagged glass and metal behind.

With a grunt, Shepard was back on the guns, hammering away at the approaching Geth as Alenko ran his hands over his console.

"Deploying smoke!" Kaiden called as he blanketed the wounded tank. "Fire suppression inop!"

"Get us out of here, Ash!" Shepard ordered, apparently unaware that the chief was down.

Tali didn't have time to think. She scrambled forward and popped Ashley's harness, releasing the chief into her grasp. Tali pulled with all her might, yanking Ashley from the seat. Williams groaned weakly. With a grace of a dancer, the quarian slid into the driver's seat, oblivious to the growing fire on the floorboard.

"Moving, Shepard!"

She jammed her foot on the accelerator and the jolt of forward movement slammed her back into the seat. She ignored the increasing heat around her legs, hoping that her hardsuit would keep her from burning. The Mako jumped from the smoke screen into the open and Tali kept the wheel straight, veering the vehicle along the Geth's flank as wind and snow blew hard into the gaping hole in the hull. Then, the smoldering flame at her feet burst into a hot fire. The urge to flee…to save herself washed over her, but she couldn't let the commander down. Fire…what a horrible way to die. She'd seen it before in the Migrant Fleet. Ancient wires and systems would overload and the results were never pretty. She could still remember the charred bodies and the stench of burnt flesh. Would her father ever know how brave she was?

The report of the Mako's cannon kept her mind focused away from the pain and she saw a large red diamond on the tactical display fade to black.

"Kill one Armature!" Shepard called. "Keep us moving, Tali!"

Just when she thought she couldn't stand it any longer, she felt cooling foam wash over her legs. She turned quickly to see Kaiden hosing her down with the extinguisher. With the fire out, he looked down at her legs.

"How bad?" she asked, too afraid to look down herself. Burns always left horrible infections.

Kaiden licked his lips and narrowed his eyes. "Not bad at all, Tali." Humans were still tough to read for her. Was he lying?

The quarian kept her foot down on the accelerator, fighting past the fear and the painful tingles on the skin of her legs. Frost now coated the near opaque mask over her face and she could feel frozen tears on her cheek. "Which way, Shepard?"

"Left, thirty degrees!"

Tali spun the wheel and the Mako skidded in the opposite direction as the wheels tried to dig into the ice. The rattle of machinegun fire filled her ears along with the shriek of charged bolt roaring by. A quick glance at the display showed the armored ERCS charge forcing the Geth back though another Grizzly had been taken out.

"Full ahead!" Shepard yelled and Tali saw the red diamond just ahead of them on the display. Then, through the blizzard, the sight of an Armature getting larger and larger caused the quarian to gasp. "Ram it!" the commander ordered.

Tali grit her teeth. "Oh, Keelah!" As the humans say, this was going to suck.

The impact into the Armature threw the team forward and Tali put her hands up just before her head pounded into the dashboard. It felt like her arms had been ripped off, but it cushioned her face. White spots danced in her vision and she groaned weakly, her body numb with pain and cold. Flakes of snow landed on her mask and melted into slush. Nearly delirious, Tali thought about how she liked the snow. It felt 'outdoorsy'…it felt like nature. The sound of grinding metal and cracking ice made her look forward just in time to see the Armature tumble off the cliff into the ravine below.

"See yah, asshole," she said in slurring words.

Her head lolled to one side and she saw Wrex and Garrus running up the pathway, gunning down scattered Geth troopers. She couldn't quite figure out the krogan, but Garrus…she liked Garrus. He was quite handsome…for a turian. Then, strong hands seized hold of her shoulders and pulled her from the seat. Her vision was blurry, but she thought Shepard was looking down at her.

"Tali…Tali, stay with me."

The quarian blinked and, the next thing she knew, she was lying on the ground looking up at the snow swirling in the sky. It was really beautiful. If only her friends could see it. Kal'Reegar would love snow. She started go close her eyes. Life would be ok without her. Shepard would tell Rael'Zorah of her bravery. Shepard would tell the Council of the quality of the quarian people. Maybe, someone would help them find a world to settle.

"It's beautiful, Shepard," Tali whispered. She felt a slight sting on her thigh and knew it was an injection of medigel. A warm, soothing sensation coursed through her veins and she vaguely felt a blanket being thrown over her.

Shepard's hand caressed her mask. "Relax, Tali. You're going to be fine. Your hardsuit kept the fire away. Liara will stay with you and Ash now."

Liara? How did she get here? She must have come in one of the other tanks. Tali liked Liara – they were kindred souls in many ways, young and, in many ways naïve. She saw the familiar blue face smiling down at her.

Tali blinked and then watched as Shepard rose and pointed up the hill. "On me, Alenko. Let's finish them for good."

The quarian tried to rise, but her head throbbed and dizziness forced her back on the ground. She grasped the asari's hand. "Liara, I wouldn't have traded this experience for the homeworld."

"I understand, Tali. It has been a journey of exploration for me as well."

The sounds of battle grew fainter and Tali looked over to see the Mako sitting on the ice, slowly being covered in snow. It didn't look too bad, really. With a little work and some tech powers from her omni-tool, the tank would be up and running in a jiffy. 'Jiffy'…what a funny word. She found that she loved the quaint way humans used language and the odd way they had of expressing themselves. She knew her mind was rambling now so she propped herself up on her elbow, feeling stronger with each passing minute. Medigel was nothing short of a miracle.

"I'd follow Shepard into any battle," she said, turning to see if the battle was still within eyesight. It was not. The commander had the Geth on the run and was pursuing them relentlessly towards Peak 15.

She noticed Liara turn a different shade of blue at the mention of the commander's name. Liara broke eye contact and made a nervous smile. "I…I…uh, yes, I would do the same. I am greatly intrigued by the commander."

Tali was young, but she wasn't blind. Shepard had been spending a lot of time with Liara as of late. When the quarian went to visit Doctor Chakwas, she would hear them, deep in conversation about life, culture, the galaxy…. But, something didn't compute. Quarians had a special skill in blending in and observing things. She often saw the commander spending time with another member of the crew. "I thought that…uh…you know, Kaiden and Shep…," she said, but then trailed off. Perhaps her thoughts, and her observations, were better left unsaid.

Liara's mood visibly changed at that moment and a sudden chill came between them. The asari flared her nostrils and moved over to Chief Williams, who was just beginning to stir. "I should tend to Ashley," she said, turning her back on Tali.

The armored action taking place up the hill wasn't the only battle that was brewing. Tali took a deep breath and winced at her mistake. "Oh, Keelah, I have a big mouth."

CODEX –

Inop – Inoperable.