A/N: What is this? Another story? Already? Honestly, I blame BioWare. Damn them for giving us such a brilliant universe. And one with such awesome possibilities! I've never been this inspired in my entire life. Haha. Anyway. Yes. This is a new story. Except it's not about Shepard! (Gasp, shock, awe - I know.) If you read on, I'm sure you'll get the gist of it. It's based after the end of ME2 and before ME3. Any mistakes in the future canon are totally not my fault since I'm not working with much here.
Please don't hit me.
And remember to enjoy! :)
It was hard to forget what she'd seen.
The Collector base was nothing but broken pieces lying beyond the Omega 4 Relay, but the knowledge that they'd wiped it out did nothing to ease the sick feeling in her stomach when she remembered. When she slept, she didn't dream. She felt. She could feel the heat rising in the vents, the anxiety clawing at her stomach as she waited for Shepard to open the valve, the sheer terror that forced her hands into a frenzy when the door stuck, leaving her open to Collector fire.
Grief. Grief was another one. She could almost taste the bile rising in her throat as her mind strayed upon seeing the spatter of green blood on the ground. Mordin. She'd never been very close to the doctor, but he'd been there on the Alarei. He'd helped her and Shepard fight their way through the geth.
And of course Shepard brought her with him when they split from the rest of the group. She was given the opportunity, though she was quick to wish she hadn't, to see exactly what the Collectors were planning. The human Reaper. Even now, weeks after they'd destroyed the thing, she could still see it as plain as day. She could still hear the metallic whirring of its laser. She could recall the surge of pride she felt when it was finally dead.
Then she was falling. In its death throes, the Reaper larvae tore the platform they stood on downwards. She slipped. She fell. Her lungs ached as she shrieked for Shepard's help, only to see him jump after her. His hand - she could almost reach his hand. But she was falling too fast. He wouldn't catch her. She was going to die.
That was usually when she woke up with a start, out of breath and shivering. She wasn't used to nightmares. Before those images were burned into her head, she found a way to adapt to any situation in order to sleep soundly. As a child, her mother would often get a laugh out of finding her asleep sitting up or half-leaning, curled up under a table, anywhere she could lay her head. Even on the quiet SR-1, so different from what she was used to, she found a way to sleep.
Tali slipped her legs off of her cot, her hands running over her arms. She was lucky she wasn't being forced to shoot things anymore, not with the effects of the nightmares wearing on her concentration.
Standing up, she glanced around the lab. It was odd being here. Some would even equate her taking up a position on the Alarei to her lack of sleep. Many worried about her. Shala was one of the many, but she was certainly the most vocal. When Tali found her way back to the Migrant Fleet in order to work as an envoy to the quarian people, Captain Kar'Danna openly opposed her acceptance onto the Alarei. This was quickly turned over by the Admirals, citing that Tali was no longer part of the Neema. She was there acting as an emissary, nothing more. If she chose to call the Alarei her temporary home, then that was her decisions. They were just happy to have the pride of the Fleet back among their ranks.
While being there was unsettling, there were perks. She enjoyed being in the company of other quarians, especially while she was working. And no one could be uncomfortable knowing they actually had assistants. Her - of all people! Assistants! Aron'Vehor and Nesi'Ronna were as different as night and day, perhaps the reason behind their being chosen to help her. They were now both "vas Alarei" and fresh off of their Pilgrimage, awarding them a clarity that most older quarians lacked.
At first it was odd working with anyone besides the humans that filled both renditions of the Normandy, but they were growing on her. The one thing she wasn't getting used to was the fact that the Admiralty Board felt it vital for her to be assigned a Marine to oversee her research and whatever mindless tinkering came into play when her focus floundered. Even after she'd tried her best to persuade them that she could take care of herself, they did not change their mind. Not in the slightest. They tried their hardest not to mention her father. Empathy kept them from doing so, a figurehead of quarian politics often completely left out of their human counterparts. Instead, they warned her of the danger of dealing with the geth, as if she hadn't already fought them in close quarters before.
Their immovable offer was punctuated with a, "with all due respect," calling forth the memory of a quip from the smart mouth of Ashley Williams.
Wary about endangering her mission to improve relations between Shepard and the quarian people, Tali kept quiet. She stood very still and bit back any response as she listened to them give their tired warnings. Dangerous to bring active geth aboard. Earn their trust. Extensive study of the one called Legion.
"Legion isn't with Shepard anymore," she'd protested. "He's trying to get the geth to fight the Reapers. Shepard needs all the help he can get. Synthetics can help." In hindsight, she could hardly believe how quick she was to stand up for the geth. But in the short time he'd been a part of Shepard's crew, she learned a great deal about the faceless "threat" that haunted the Migrant Fleet. The geth were interested in a peaceful solution. After much consideration and a few annoyed rants with only Ken and Gabby to hear, she came to the conclusion that, should the geth and the quarians fight alongside each other against the Reapers, an amicable resolution could be possible.
Her own conscience couldn't keep a firm grasp on the idea of hating a sentient species, not when her own people were so openly reviled among the other races. She'd seen first hand what it was like to be met with prejudices and animosity. While she wasn't eager to share a bunk or even the same space as Legion for very long, she eventually slipped into a shaky feeling of acceptance for the synthetic. She could tell he was genuine. Or, at least, however genuine an AI could be, given their lack of the necessary parts required for true emotion.
So here she was on the Alarei, given the task to prove to the Admiralty Board that the geth could be trusted. Menial tasks filled up the time that she'd normally be fretting over exactly how she'd be able to prove such a thing. Even while she calibrated this or ran diagnostics for the tenth time on that, her mind was still going absolutely crazy trying to think of how she'd be able to prove to the Admiralty that it was possible.
Every potential road led directly into putting herself into danger. Part of her figured this was from being a part of Shepard's crew for too long, but another understood that this could be the only direction she could go in. She either had to prove that a geth would sacrifice its well-being to attend to orders given by his superior or to save said superior from being shot down.
Her own doubts colored these ideas. If she put herself into direct danger, what if the geth didn't react? What if it stood there and did nothing? If she put the geth into danger, its destruction would be her fault. And for what? A stupid test.
But even before she was able to even think about how the mission could possibly end, she had to figure out what she really wanted to do. Where would she go? Could she ask Shepard for help? Legion? And what about her assistants? What would the Admiralty Board think if she failed? Would they even agree to her plan of action? They didn't have so many people as to willingly let her go again. Not after hearing what nearly happened on the Collector base.
"Oh, Keelah," she murmured, her helmet sinking into her hands.
What had she agreed to? Resting the fate of not only her people, but the geth, in her hands was a true sign of faith from Commander Shepard. She didn't feel ready.
She knew she wasn't ready.