Post Mortem - Tali'Zorah vas Neema
The bar shook as yet another ship-that-was-not-the-Normandy made berth. Tali'Zorah vas Neema did not bother to lift her head from the bar table – there was no point in looking; the ship was not the one she had been praying for. It felt wrong.
To onlookers, the young quarian might have appeared passed out drunk, visor down on the darkest, most out of the way table she could find. Of course, they would be wrong – Canary-9 was populated almost entirely by humans, with nary a dextro-compatible drink to be found – but Tali wasn't inclined to correct them. In fact, she was listening, her long toes splayed out on the floor like white-knuckled stethoscopes. The sounds of the space station – too low for most species to hear – reverberated in Tali's sharp ears. Every sound, from the gentle hum of the station's life support systems to the clattering steel of a half-dozen private mining ships offloading their cargo holds in the underbelly ten floors below, sent gentle vibrations rippling throughout the superstructure, and she heard it all. It took practice to resolve any information out of the jumble of warped creaks and groans, but their keen hearing was just one reason quarians made such spectacular engineers – the lopsided death throes of a failing engine stood out like a sore thumb to any quarian that paid attention.
It did her little good now. The ship landing at the moment was much too heavy, too dense and unwieldy to be the always-graceful Normandy – Tali had recognized the sound of massive load-bearing clamps deploying and the pathetic bleat as the station's overworked mass effect generators compensated for the new arrival. It was probably yet another mining barge, filled to capacity with palladium. Tali sighed and relaxed her toes, disappointed. What foolish hope she'd refused to release already was slowly wiggling its way out of her grip. As if to taunt her, the inside of her visor still glowed with the short message she'd found waiting for her on the old channel two days before.
Normandy down. Shepard MIA. Canary-9, Anjea, Amada. –GV
She'd hardly been able to believe it then and she hardly believed it now. It didn't seem possible. Not a month ago she had watched her commander emerge victorious over Sovereign. He was a hero to billions. Even after the Council had stepped in to contain the situation and sent Shepard off to fight geth remnants where he couldn't stir up any further trouble, rumors of his victory had spread through the galaxy like wildfire.
Tali had remained with the Normandy's jubilant crew those first few days, almost unwilling to believe in their success. Ostensibly they were hunting geth, but there had been a great deal more drinking and sleeping than actual work – Shepard and Pressly had turned a blind eye. Eventually, however, the humans' booze had run out, Shepard's boot had come down, and Tali had had to muster up the courage to make her departure.
Tali smiled at the memory. She remembered standing with Shepard on the docks of a turian space station, neither speaking as they awaited her shuttle, and having a distinct feeling that her commander's story – the Normandy's story – was not yet finished. The Reapers were still coming and she knew Shepard would not let the Council bench him for long. When the shuttle had finally arrived, it had taken a great deal of willpower to leave her friend and mentor behind. On some level she knew that, had he asked, she would have stayed, but of course Shepard would never ask such a thing. She had done her best to hide her disappointment. He had wished her luck, told her how much he'd miss her, how proud of her he was, and then they had parted ways, back to their respective places in the galaxy. Shepard had adventures ahead of him, and Tali had reluctantly accepted that her part in them was over.
Some adventure. Hardly a month afterwards and commander and ship were gone. Some quiet part of Tali wondered guiltily if things might have been different had she been there. More rational parts told her not – the Normandy's engineering crew was among the best, with or without her. Her decision to leave might well have saved her life. She had not abandoned her friends, not really. Still, the guilt was there. All the more because there was still no news.
She had been on Canary-9 for nearly a full day now with hardly ten minutes of sleep. As soon as Garrus' message had appeared she had taken a small ship (the captain of the Neema had granted her request without a second thought – since returning she'd become something of a celebrity on the flotilla, for more reason than one) and made for the Amada system with all haste, landing on Canary-9, one of Anjea's dozen or so orbital mining stations. She'd made it past the station's heightened security with relatively little fuss – the human dockworkers had not looked overjoyed to see her, but, perhaps sensing her fragile mood, had let her by with a few gruff warnings. Alliance men had been everywhere, rushing here and there like they were under attack. They scrambled about, hastily evacuating parts of the station of their usual inhabitants to secure them against observation, and any attempts Tali made to follow them or find out what was happening were met with stony denial.
So now she sat in an overcrowded bar and hoped beyond hope that Garrus had been wrong. She did not know the turian to be one for jokes, especially about something so serious as this, but she did not think she could accept any other explanation. Shepard couldn't be dead. Still, with every hour she listened, every ship-that-was-not-the-Normandy that pulled up to the station, every frustrated Alliance officer she saw running by, the impossible seemed realer and realer. Still, she kept herself as composed as possible and sat and waited for a ship that she secretly knew would never come, the whirr of her helmet's dehumidifiers her only company.
"I knew C-H was on hard times, but I didn't realize we'd already sunken to bringin' in quarians." The voice practically spat that last word, and Tali's eyes narrowed under her helmet. She lifted her head to face the trio of oil-stained humans that approached her little corner, darkening her visor on reflex. "Guess they ain't heard we don't want 'em here," the leader said, stroking the bristles on his chin with one hand while the other gripped a short dagger. Tali felt a pang of anger flash through her. How dare they speak to her like this? Had she not earned better? She wanted immediately to unleash all the pain and anguish of the past two days on the humans, but, like a true quarian, quashed the urge behind the necessity of being diplomatic. On the flotilla or off, quarians were raised knowing that they only survived by getting along. Perhaps that was part of why the rest of the galaxy felt so confident pushing them around.
"Nobody brought me anywhere," she replied quietly, noting how the men had chosen to stand close, walling off her escape with their tall forms. Diplomacy or not, almost automatically she was planning contingencies. Her eyes flitted across the humans, taking in every detail. Lessons Shepard and others had given her on her first days on the Normandy came back to her mind, lessons about situational awareness, about fighting or fleeing, about prioritizing targets. One of the humans in the back was doing a poor job concealing a hold-out pistol in one pocket – he would be most dangerous. Of course, all three of the men were solidly-built and probably outweighed her by half. Even an unarmed human could crack a visor. She couldn't give them that chance. Her hand slithered down to rest on the grip of her shotgun.
"Maybe you can't hear too good in that helmet," the leader said again, taking a step towards her. "But you ain't welcome here. We don't go through all hell and creation to get these contracts so you goddamn quarians can come and snatch them out from under us." Behind him his cohorts nodded solemnly.
Tali frowned. She had been too fortunate lately, flying with Shepard's crew and her own people, and had nearly let herself forget what sort of place the galaxy could be. Most of the miners on Canary-9 were contractors for the human Cord-Hislop firm. The Amada system lacked the infrastructure to support large-scale mining operations within legal safety constraints, but there was nothing to stop unscrupulous companies from letting non-employees take the risk. Thousands of humans worked the mines, filling their ships with as much ore as they could get their hands on and carting it to one of the stations orbiting the gas giant Anjea, where it could be loaded onto proper CH freighters and shipped elsewhere for refining. It was filthy, dangerous work – unfortunately, exactly the sort of work the quarians were known for tackling. Her kin were competent and often willing to work for low pay, the bane of blue-collar laborers the galaxy over. Tali felt for the humans, she really did. Still, their words made her blood boil with righteous anger. She clenched her teeth, containing herself.
"Sorry," she managed, not meaning it. "I'm not here to take your job. I am here looking for… a friend." The human misinterpreted the hesitation in her voice for fear and took another lurching step forward, offering Tali a good look at the sweaty sheen on his face. Her olfactory sensors gave a disapproving beep as they detected the alcohol on his breath.
"Get off this station," he said, grinning lecherously.
"You are treading in still air," Tali warned, hoping he would understand the quarian phrase. "I am not helpless." Her face was grim and determined – she had no intent of backing down. In her time on the Normandy, she had faced charging krogan and colossi, sentient plants and cyborgs, mercs and husks and all manner of foe. She liked to think they had underestimated her, and that their final taste of what the quarian people could do had rung true in their last moments, courtesy of a blast from her shotgun. Now her friend was missing or worse, and three drunkards thought they could muscle her away?
The man slid into the seat next to her, unaware of how close to death he was coming. Her defiance only seemed to encourage him. Behind him, his friend had drawn his weapon, and now all three pressed in on her, cutting off all possible escape. Tali silently disengaged the clamp on her shotgun, feeling its reassuring weight drop into her hand. She did not want to have to do this – these men were drunk and desperate, not in control of themselves – but she would defend herself. It was what Shepard would do.
The man in front made his move, and she made hers.
His clumsy strike undershot her by a foot as she twisted backwards, planting a foot in the man's gut and drawing her shotgun in one fluid motion. Quarians were stronger than they looked – the kick was like a cannonball to the stomach, and the man went down without delay, clutching his sides in pain. Servos clicked as Tali's shotgun expanded and she shoved it against her aggressor's soot-stained forehead. Still wincing, the man eyed the barrel as his mind struggled to catch up with what had happened.
She was spared the need to pull the trigger when a mountain of flesh peaked behind the men. The krogan towered over the humans, his bulk seeming to swallow up all the light in the bar. He bulldozed through them without breaking stride, casually shoving the incensed leader to the floor as he eased his great body into the bench opposite Tali. One crimson eye alighted on Tali's raised shotgun. Wrex grinned amusedly, as if only now realizing what he'd interrupted.
The man limped to his feet, staunching the fresh flow of blood coming from his nose with one hand. He glanced about - his friends had already bid a hasty retreat – and Tali could almost see the rage seep out of him, replaced by resignation. He stared, utterly defeated, at the shotgun still trained at his face. Wrex rumbled with laughter.
"I don't think you know who you're messing with," he said, chuckling. "If you did, I think you'd be apologizing." He flicked his massive head towards Tali.
"S…sorry, ma'am," the human said once he'd found his tongue.
"Get out of here," Wrex commanded. The human didn't need to be told twice, and practically fell over himself in his rush to escape. Tali watched him scamper away, the twist of a grin on her lips. At length she lowered her weapon.
"Making new friends everywhere you go, huh Tali?" Wrex asked, and she couldn't help but laugh. It surprised her how happy she was to see the krogan. Back on the Normandy he had always been aloof, rejecting her occasional attempts to talk with irritated snorts that spoke louder than words. Still, Shepard had trusted Wrex, and had included the great tank of an alien in his ground parties at almost every opportunity. He had nearly died protecting Shepard during their final battle with Saren. For all his brutish behavior, Wrex was a friend. Tali managed a smile at him behind her mask as he ordered a drink from the nervous human tending the bar.
"So." Wrex started. "Where's the turian? He'd better have a damn good reason for calling me here." Tali frowned. Did Wrex not know what had happened? That their home and commander had fallen in battle? Or did he know and not care? Surely he felt something – why else would he be here? – but to look at him, Wrex had nary a care in the world.
"I don't know," Tali admitted, wringing her hands. "I haven't seen anyone. A few Alliance men heading to the lower levels, but they wouldn't let me pass." Wrex said nothing. "I hope they're alright," she added after a minute – Wrex only grunted noncommittally. His craggy features did not move, except for his huge red eyes flitting about in their sockets, taking in every detail of the bar. Sizing up foes, Tali imagined. She wondered if beneath his calm exterior Wrex was as worried and angry as she was and immediately decided she hoped he wasn't – she had half a mind to start a barfight herself, if only to take her mind off of things, and she didn't weigh seven hundred pounds. Who knew what kind of damage a bereaved krogan could do?
Luckily, if Wrex was holding back despair he was doing a very good job of it. Eventually his drink arrived and his eyes stopped their relentless scanning. A drink sized to a krogan was a great bucket of liquid, almost a sink to Tali, but still it disappeared down Wrex's maw without delay. Only once the last few drops were gone and he'd set his empty tankard aside did one of his eyes roll down to gaze at her again.
"Survived your rite," he observed. It took Tali a moment to realize that he meant her Pilgrimage. She did not bother explaining that quarian 'rites' did not involve the same sort of violence as krogan rites did. Something told her it was Wrex's best approximation of a compliment; and if Wrex was handing out compliments, he really was broken up.
"Yes. I am Tali'Zorah vas Neema now," she said, trying to sound proud. Wrex nodded his approval. "How have you been?" In answer, the krogan shrugged again and squeezed his way out of the booth, apparently having had his fill of small talk already.
"Alive," he confirmed, plodding towards the exit. "Come on."
Tali did not bother to argue, and simply fell in tow behind the krogan as he worked his way towards the Alliance-held lower decks. She didn't know if the guards would be any more forthcoming with Wrex than they'd been with her, though they might be more inclined to talk if they thought they were about to be smashed into a fine paste. Mostly it felt good to be doing something, not just listening for a ship that would never come. She stuck close behind Wrex, letting him clear a path through the throngs. The station was crowded – more so than usual – ever since the Alliance had commandeered parts of the lower decks, and more than a few displaced miners squatted in hallways, playing cards or sleeping on makeshift beds. Tali could not help but notice the angry undercurrents everywhere they went. The Alliance was not doing much to improve its already-rocky reputation among humans out on the fringe.
Wrex didn't seem to need any guidance to reach the lower decks (Tali wondered if he'd been on this station before) and before long they found themselves in a dirty steel hallway, empty except for two Alliance marines. The hustle and bustle of the upper decks was gone, replaced with a tomb-like stillness. From somewhere past the far end of the hall, soft, electronic voices spoke, too quietly for even Tali to make out any of the words.
Wrex plodded up to the marines without hesitation, stopping only when they stepped into his path.
"Excuse me sir," one of them said with an authoritative voice, "but the lower decks are off-limits." He stared at Wrex, his bravery looking almost comical in the krogan's shadow. Wrex just stared back as if the marine was something he'd just scraped off of his boot. He leaned into the marine's space, mere inches away, the challenge clear. To his credit, the marine did not back down.
"We want to see Shepard," Tali spoke up, hoping to defuse the situation.
"The lower decks are off-limits," the marine repeated, and stood firm. He was young, brave, and devoted, an ideal soldier, and Tali could not help but respect him. He was also, however, going to get himself killed. Tali could almost feel Wrex's incoming attack, and looked pleadingly at the second marine. Obviously Wrex could swat the two men like insects and Tali had no wish to see that happen. Luckily, the second marine seemed to agree.
"Let's just let them through, Will," he said, lowering his weapon. "They obviously know what's going on already, and Anderson said they might show up." Wrex's face split into a victorious smirk as he stared down the first marine who, after a few more defiant seconds, nodded and stepped aside without a word.
"Thought so," Wrex snorted, and continued down the hall like nothing had happened.
They walked. The voices coming from the end of the hall grew louder as they neared, resolving into words. Human voices – sad ones – speaking through some kind of communicator. Words about death, about loss, about unmet potential. Words about Shepard. Tali felt the tears reappear in her eyes as they met a windowed alcove. Garrus was slumped atop a nearby bulkhead, the omnitool on one fist glowing as he listened to the eulogy.
"Tali. Wrex," he said, nodding as they approached, but Tali said nothing, too lost in what she was hearing. She walked past the turian to a narrow window into a small hangar bay, where a dozen or so uniformed humans stood at solemn attention, listening to a dark-skinned man speak.
"Shepard was an uncomplicated man," the voice from Garrus' omnitool was saying behind her. The silent Anderson below her gestured to the frontmost of two dozen unremarkable metal coffins. It bore a single red stripe to differentiate it from the others, but otherwise looked wholly antiseptic. Nothing at all to indicate that it held the remains of a hero. "Uncompromisingly moral, uncompromisingly driven," Anderson said, standing ramrod straight at the podium. "He was stubborn. Rash, even, sometimes. But he believed in himself and those around him. The consummate soldier, loyal to a fault. There for the Alliance. There for the Council. There for the galaxy. In many ways Shepard was the best humanity had to offer. In others, the best anyone had to offer. I count myself lucky to have known him." It went on. Tali felt the moisture on her face begin to fog her helmet. Her dehumidifiers clicked up another notch.
"So it's true, then," she managed, voice cracking. She turned and looked for the first time at Garrus. He looked terrible – mandibles drooping, eyes bleary – like he hadn't slept in days. The ghost of a blue/black bruise graced one of his plated cheeks.
"It's true," he confirmed quietly, turning off the eulogy. "The last of the escape pods was recovered today." He stared solemnly into the floor for a long moment, and Tali knew he was feeling the same soul-crushing finality she was. "He's gone. Alliance troops have been scouring the system for days. Nothing. No traces at all." Tali turned back to look down at the funeral, her eyes brimming. Anderson was placing something small and metallic atop Shepard's empty casket, before standing solidly next to Liara and an ornery-looking Joker.
"Wish I knew. I was working on the Mako's undercarriage when the ship started shaking; damn thing nearly fell on me. Some kind of cruiser hit us, but apparently not one in anybody's records. Tore through the Normandy like paper. Didn't stand a chance. Then it just disappeared." Garrus stopped, flexing his jaws in agitation. Tali could hear his pent-up sadness and anger trying to break free. Garrus had always had something of a temper, even if he kept himself on a short leash. Without Shepard that leash was already fraying. Tali rested a gentle hand atop his armor-clad knee, trying to project a confidence she didn't feel.
"Alliance was on the scene in a few hours," Garrus continued. "Me and the other survivors spent the night in a cold hangar bay while they decided what to do with us."
"What do you mean?"
"Council officials have decided to keep this a secret," Garrus said, his tone of voice making it abundantly clear what he thought about the decision. "They don't want anybody to know their champion went down, especially when their heads are so far up their asses they can't even figure out how it happened. So they shipped us here. Citadel, C-Sec, Alliance, they're all here. Trying to contain the mess."
"It's crap is what it is," Garrus interrupted, eyes flaring to life. "Shepard gave them everything and this is how they repay him. Lay him to rest in a damn mining station, surrounded by politicians who are only worried about how his death will reflect on them." Tali looked at him, shocked by his outburst. She had never seen Garrus so angry. At her glance, Garrus stared ashamedly into the wall, chest heaving as he fought to calm himself. "They're going to throw it all away," he said after he'd regained control. "Undo all he did. All of it. Half of the crew has already been reassigned and shipped away. The Council is going to use this as an excuse to ignore the Reapers. Ungrateful bastards." Tali frowned down at the mourners below her. They were few in number, just a handful of privileged Alliance officers and council representatives, only those who could be trusted to keep their mouths shut as long as possible. Of Shepard's loyal crew, only Joker and Liara were present.
It didn't seem right. Shepard deserved more than a cold reception like this, more than a formality. Half of the galaxy should have been there to pay their respects and celebrate all he'd done for them. But instead he was being shoved into obscurity, his victories already forgotten.
"They should be in those coffins," Garrus muttered darkly, shaking his head in disgust. Behind them, Wrex chuckled, the first noise he'd made in ten minutes.
"So let's go down there and do some rearranging," he rumbled, shotgun in hand. Tali couldn't help but frown at his cavalier attitude.
"Shepard wouldn't have wanted this," she said, gesturing towards the window, "but do you really think he'd want you turning his funeral into a battlefield?"
"Yes," Wrex said simply. Aghast, Tali looked to Garrus for help.
"Don't bother causing trouble Wrex," the turian said, not bothering to lift his gaze from the floor. Tali couldn't help but notice that he did not explicitly disagree with Wrex. "The decision is made, apparently." Wrex rumbled with laughter again.
"That how you got the eye?" he asked, pointing to Garrus' bruise.
"I… may have come to a… disagreement with one of the citadel representatives," Garrus admitted. "Otherwise I would be down there."
"Ha!" Wrex barked approvingly. "Kicked out of a funeral for fighting. There's hope for you yet, C-Sec." He turned down the hall. "Come on, Tali. Our turn."
"I… No," she stammered. "That thing down there isn't Shepard."
"No, it's not," Wrex agreed, turning to look at her. "Even if he was dead, Shepard wouldn't lie around in a box. That man will die on his feet." Wrex's stare was dead serious in its denial, and Tali felt her heart break all over again for the krogan. He looked as scaly and heartless as ever, but inside he wasn't even willing to consider that his adopted warlord had fallen while he wasn't there.
"Wrex," she said quietly, "Shepard is dead." Wrex just shrugged.
"We'll see," he grunted, plodding away.
Tali and Garrus sat in the alcove pretending to listen to the funeral proceedings. Tali was too deep in thought to even hear Wrex kick Shepard's coffin across the room.
It didn't matter. Shepard was dead. His ship was gone and him along with it. Along with all the good things he'd tried to accomplish. Not since the death of her mother had the galaxy felt so small and dark. Tali's tears fell freely and she let them, ignoring the gurgle of her overworked dehumidifiers. Her brain scrambled to make sense of it all, to find a way to rationalize Shepard's loss. He had been a mentor to her. A surrogate father, a bastion of protection against the rest of the galaxy. A friend. It hurt Tali now to remember thinking of Shepard as perhaps someday being even more. Her crush had been foolish – he wasn't even the same species – and yet he was loyal, brave, and kind. And now he was dead and the galaxy had forgotten him.
"We won't let it happen," she said firmly, breaking the silence. Behind her, Garrus arched a plated brow. "He was our friend. We won't let his death mean nothing." Exactly how they would go about doing that, she did not know, but it was all she could come up with so far. She turned and looked to Garrus for support. The turian's face was grim as he rose to his feet, shouldering his sniper rifle. Suddenly Tali pitied very much whoever next ended up on the receiving end of Garrus' gaze. All the same, he tenderly set a hand atop her shoulder.
"No," he agreed. "No we won't."
Codex entry: ICEA Felsingar Lo-Orbital Platform (Canary station)
A common sight throughout human occupied space, the Felsingar platform has represented one of the most widespread space station geometries for over two decades. Originally developed by the Earth-based ICEA corporation, the Felsingar has gained a reputation as one of history's most dangerous, haphazardly-constructed engineering failures.
Shortly after first contact, human interest in deep space colonization skyrocketed. Believing that humanity had to make as big a foothold in the galaxy as quickly as possible to compete with alien species, many Earth governments offered lucrative incentives to humans and companies willing to advance colonial interests. Millions of colonists took the opportunity to trade their overcrowded former lives on Earth for fresh starts on unsettled worlds. Despite ready availability of alien technology, billions of dollars in government contracts were given to companies to develop new space equipment. Expansion of a galactic human industry was considered paramount to avoid dependence on extraterrestrial states. ICEA, a Swedish engineering firm, was tasked with designing a cheap, modular, low-altitude space station that could be assembled and moved easily, allowing temporary housing for colonists and equipment before they could be shipped to a planet surface. ICEA's engineers managed to meet the short deadline with their now infamous Felsingar platform.
In its standard configuration, the Felsingar is a dumbbell-shaped craft approximately 800 meters long. Much of its volume is occupied by large modular bays, which can be modified to contain lodgings, heavy loading facilities, or landing bays for small spacecraft. While cheap to produce and assemble, the Felsingar was plagued from the beginning with severe maintenance issues. Most notably, the positioning of its mass effect generators at one pole made for an inefficient design, leading to increased power draw and occasional catastrophic blackouts. Even well-maintained Felsingar platforms typically need their mass effect generators replaced every four to six years to avoid the risk of falling out of orbit. Despite the design flaws, human companies ordered the construction of thousands of Felsingars and spread them throughout the galaxy to act as trade hubs, orbital Ellis Islands, or even corporate headquarters.
ICEA's success was short lived, however, after several of the platforms failed and crashed into their respective planets. Relatives of colonists killed in the well-publicized accidents filed criminal charges of negligence, and, buried under bad press and litigation, ICEA folded quickly.
While the Felsingar is now discontinued, hundreds of the platforms still remain, having been auctioned off to mining companies or privateers for rock-bottom prices. Human miners coined the Felsingar's modern nickname, the Canary station, in reference to its mass effect generator issues – a weakening of the station's artificial gravity was considered the canary in the mine shaft, warning miners that it was time to move on and find a new job.
A/N: So... First fanfiction in a long time. I intend this story to be a series of one-shots that weave in and out of the main ME2 plot, focusing particularly on what I consider to be lesser used characters. I will try to be faithful to the ME2 plot for the most part, though I may make minor continuity changes here and there (for instance, some of the dialog in the game implies that Tali was aboard the Normandy when it went down. I prefer to think she and Wrex had left by that point, but that Garrus, Liara, and Kaidan had stayed on.) I will try to work in larger plotlines amidst my disjointed oneshots, but not sure how well that'll go. As for shipping, if it shows up at all it will mostly be Tali/Shepard. That said, I'm not really that big on writing romance so it'll be secondary.
I have so much fun writing stuff like the codex entry - I think I'll come up with one for each chapter. It's boring and dry, I know, but I enjoy coming up with it. I have to fight tooth and nail to make my general story not come across like a textbook, so I figure I deserve a little dry nerdery at the end.
Anyway, stay tuned for chapter 2. And please don't hesitate to offer criticism (or even effusive praise, I'm cool with that too). I'm also open to suggestion for characters/scenes to explore.