Captain Tiere sat in his office on board the Conestoga, going over the reports of all the material his ship was transferring over to the Quarian Flotilla. Within several hours, they had moved a few tons of raw material. At least, material they could spare. Thankfully most of the technology of this galaxy centered around the material Element Zero, which was somewhat plentiful if not difficult for Conestoga's refinery to separate out. The Quarian ships had seen a rough life, three centures (sometimes more when it came to an outside acquisition) in space without ever being evacuated or put in a dry dock facility for refurbishment. Conestoga was pushing six hundred, but many of those years were spent in mothball, not to mention regular overhauls of critical systems.
Commander Tupalo had informed Tiere that all damage done by the 'reapers', as Shepard called them, had been repaired. Save for the Conestoga's primary FTL drive core. Unfortunately they lacked the facilities capable of producing another one of those technological marvels, at least on the scale needed for a ship of Conestoga's mass. Instead Tupalo had managed to get their own make-shift Mass Effect core setup as the ship's primary means of interstellar propulsion. Not something the captain was very comfortable with. After all, it seemed they had just made a very powerful enemy that had ensured that all sentient life in this galaxy had become fully dependent on the technology. Still, it beat being adrift for who knows how long.
With all that had happened in just the past few days, Tiere welcomed the seeming lull in activity. He thought back on his career, his duty as a member of his people's high guard. None of that seemed to matter anymore, it was literally lightyears behind him. He lost a lot of good people, good friends, during past conflicts. Now he had to worry about who was going to be next with a new conflict with an entirely new foe. At least I can sit here at my desk and think about these things without worrying the crew. He said to himself.
Tiere's train of thought was disturbed by CONI's voice coming in over the intercom. "Captain, the Normandy is under heavy attack and I need immediate assistance."
"You mean your avatar?" asked the captain incredulously.
"Apologies captain, I am still adjusting to being in two places at once now."
"Is our business with the Quarians complete?"
"Yes Captain, however, the Professor asks that you first evacuate the civilian crew to the gunboats before we arrive."
Tiere thought about that request for a moment, technically the professor was in command of the entire expedition, even in command of him. Not only that, this same topic had come up before. Using Conestoga's compliment of gunboats to evacuate the civilian compliment in the event of an attack. Not something Tiere was very comfortable with given the ship's former role as a carrier. The smaller ships were supposed to be a defensive screen for the carrier not the other way around.
"Send the orders to the gunboat crews and the civvies Connie, and get the okay with the Quarians that we leave them in their care." Said the captain complying with his superior's wishes.
Tiere thought how best to assist the Normandy straight away. He could launch the fighter wing, but their charts would have to be updated for this galaxy.
"Connie, how long would it take to get the fighter wing updated with the Prothean star charts?"
"I have already updated the fighter wing's navigational data with charts provided by the Geth, Captain."
"Launch the alert fighters, tell them to head straight for the Normandy's last known posistion, and get us underway as soon as possible. All hands, general quarters."
Tiere rushed out of his office to head to the CIC as the claxons began wailing all over the ship. All through the corridors crew members were assuming stations. Without her civilian compliment, Conestoga still had about five thousand people aboard. Each one of them pulling double duty due to the reduced crew. Tiere wasn't too concerned by that, he hand picked the crew himself from the best their navy could offer.
The captain's office was on the same deck as the CIC but it was still about a hundred meters away. With crew members shuffling about it made getting to the CIC more difficult than it would be if the ship wasn't on high alert.
Commander Fellarin, Conestoga's XO was ready to greet the captain with a sharp salute. "Sir, sit-rep?"
"Commander Shepard's ship is in trouble, we're going to help them any way we can. Are the fighters away?"
"The last squadron is in the tubes now sir. Alert fighters have already entered FTL."
Captain Tiere took his station next to the Conestoga's main display showing all the vital readouts of the ship as well as a tactical assessment. "All stations report in."
"Engineering ready!" said Tupalo.
"Medical is prepped for casualties captain."
The Captain nodded to each member of the crew acknowledging their status updates. "What's the status of the civilian evacuation?"
"One third of the science team is aboard the gunboats captain. Quartermaster says they're still loading provisions to the last four." Replied Fellarin.
"Tell the quartermaster to speed things up."
"I have sir, she says cramming three hundred civvies into ships barely designed for half that isn't easy."
"I understand that commander, but we're in a bit of a rush." The captain turned over to helm control, "Helmsman make your heading two zero eight by one zero. Send our reduced mass to the relay and prepare for transit."
"Sir," said the Commander, "We're not done with the evacuation yet."
"I am well aware of that Commander, have the gunboats exit through the aft tunnel door. We'll drop them off on the fly."
As seen from the Quarian Flotilla the sleek silver body of the Conestoga made a very sudden and hard turn towards the local mass relay. The mighty engines' fiery glow increasing as the ship accelerated. Carrier class vessels like the Conestoga were built for speed and thus their engines were much larger than most dreadnoughts of similar size. Carriers had to be in order to keep up with their fighters.
As Conestoga plodded toward the Mass relay, three, then four small winged vessels departed from the stern of the vessel. They were decade class gunboats, or at least refitted gunboats for both escort duty and colony ferry. The ships were only a few hundred meters long, barely larger than the SR1 Normandy. Quarters were cramped to say the least on board those vessels as nearly two thousand civilians huddled together wondering just if the Conestoga would return.
"Captain," shouted Conestoga's helmsman. "Mass relay has received our data and is ready for transit."
"Mass Effect core at full charge, no instabilities detected." Chimed in Tupalo.
"Make it so!" ordered the captain as he braced for the acceleration. In spite of Conestoga's advanced technology her inertial dampening systems were unable to fully compensate for the near instant travel afforded by a Mass relay.
Conestoga arrived in the Pax system with no ill effects from the travel. However, the communications boards instantly lit up with all the incoming traffic.
"Captain, we are receiving communication from the second planet in the system. They are requesting we identify." Said Conestoga's communications officer.
"Ignore it Lieutenant," snapped back the Captain. "Helm, prepare to engage Mass Effect drive, and don't spare the throttle on this one."
"Aye aye captain, Navigation estimates ETA at two zero minutes."
"Let's hope we aren't too late."
"Commander," said EDI, "Sensors are picking up several new contacts on an intercept course."
Shepard regretted having to do this again so soon, but he gave the order anyway. "All hands to the escape shuttles."
"Wait," said Connie almost before Shepard could finish giving the order, "the new contacts are transmitting an IFF, its my fighter wing Commander."
"And here I thought we were about to lose another Normandy." Remarked Joker from his station. "Receiving message from the flight leader… He's requesting targets."
"EDI, upload the IFF information to the fighters." Ordered Shepard.
"Patching through the flight leader." Said Joker.
"Normandy," came the unknown pilot's name over the radio, "This is Conestoga flight leader, stay on your current heading. We'll tear these bastards to shreds."
Shepard, Joker, and Connie watched out the Normandy's windows as several fast moving objects streaked past emitting angry yellow beams of light. The Conestoga's fighter wing had managed to get into knife fight range with the Occulus replicas Bell had sent to deal with the ship. However, they proved little match for the advanced technology of Conestoga's fighters. The tiny fighters quickly dispatched the hostiles closest to Normandy. Which certainly distracted the attackers.
The enemy weapons broke off their assault on the Normandy and took to engaging individual fighters. The small spherical objects too fired their yellow lances of light. However, Conestoga's fighters proved to be a bit too nimble for such tactics. The friendly fighters remained paired together wingman to wingman often turning into each other to throw the enemy off balance. Their fluid movements almost in harmony with each other. It didn't take long before a full scale furball erupted just behind the Normandy.
Within minutes the tide of battle had changed and as the weapons fire died down, only the Conestoga's fighters remained flying. The flight leader formed up off of Normandy's port side and gave a sharp salute through his cockpit canopy.
Shepard exhaled deeply out of relief that this fight was now over and that the Normandy made it through. "Damage report."
"Kinetic barriers, FTL, and long range communications are offline Shepard. We also have extensive damage to our outter hull plating. I estimate a one week minimum stay in a dry dock facility to complete repairs." Said EDI almost with a hint of sadness in her voice.
"Bridge to Engine room," said Joker into the intercomm, "can you give us an estimate on restoration of our FTL?"
"Bridge, engine room," came Donnely's voice, "we had a power surge start a few fires down here. We got them out and Legion is working on getting several systems back up and running. Gabby and I are trying to restore shields."
"What about Tali?" asked Shepard.
"Tali is in Sickbay, we had a support member fail and it slit open her suit on the way down."
But before Donnely had finished, Shepard had already dashed for the elevator. He wasted no time in making his way to sickbay where he saw Tali sitting up on one of the beds with doctor Chakwas tending to her. The look of relief on his face was unmistakable.
"Are you okay Tali?" asked Shepard.
Doctor Chakwas continued looking over her omni-tool data. "Miss vas Normandy is a very lucky woman Commander. She only received a minor abrasion to her shoulder and her suit will be easy enough for her to repair. Fortunately for her EDI tends to keep this ship impeccably clean, no signs of infection."
Tali rubbed the bandage on her bare shoulder where Chakwas had treated the wound. "I don't think I would have made it if Legion hadn't noticed that beam cracking in the first place. It pulled me out of the way just in time. Never thought I'd thank a Geth for saving my life."
"I'm certainly thankful that Legion was down there with you." Said Shepard with a smile. "How long do you think your suit repairs will take? Ken and Gabby are going to need you down in engineering."
"It shouldn't take too long," said Tali as she sifted through some of the pockets on her suit, "I have everything I need with me. It was a pretty clean cut."
"Don't take too long, the Normandy needs her chief engineer."
Shepard stepped out of sickbay and headed back towards the elevator to CIC. Once the door opened Joker was already on the intercom. "Commander, the Conestoga's just arrived in system and Captain Tiere wishes to speak with you."
"Patch him through Joker." Said Shepard as he stepped towards the Galaxy map.
"Shepard, this is Conestoga actual. I trust we weren't too late." Said Tiere.
"Thanks for the assist Captain. I don't think we could have held out much longer. Are your pilots alright?"
"A few of our birds are wounded, but nothing some time in the repair bay won't fix. We're beginning salvage operations now. Squadron leaders will be examining gun-camera footage."
"We've taken some heavy damage Captain, I don't suppose your ship has any facility capable of getting us back underway?"
"It'll be a tight squeeze, but the docking tunnel should be able to fit the Normandy. Commander Tupalo is already making the preparations. Aft docking control will signal when they're ready and guide your helmsman in."
It didn't take very long before Joker received word from Conestoga's docking control officers that they were ready for the Normandy to make berth.
"Normandy," came a voice over the radio, "This is Conestoga control, you are cleared to dock proceed to aft tunnel door."
Joker immediately brought the Normandy into Conestoga's approach pattern per the controller's instructions. The Normandy gently nestled into the almost too small dimensions of the Conestoga's docking tunnel with not so much as a ding in the paint on either vessel.
"See, like a glove." Joker said triumphantly at his latest feat of piloting prowess.
"This is Conestoga control, nice flying Normandy. Mooring clamps are engaged. Welcome aboard."
Connie got up from her station, "Commander, I can coordinate repair efforts with EDI. My docking tunnel is fitted with an automated system designed to act as a make-shift drydock."
"EDI," said Shepard turning towards the lavender orb projection in the cockpit, "work with Connie as quickly as you can. I have a feeling we're going to need Normandy back at one hundred percent sooner rather than later."
Shepard proceded to the Normandy's airlock and was greeted outside by a smiling Commander Tupalo.
"Commander, welcome back aboard the Conestoga." Said the Carrier's chief engineer.
"How long before the Normandy will be back up to speed?" asked Shepard.
"Not long Commander, our automated repair systems should have your ship Repaired in about a day." said Tupalo. "Oh, and Captain Tiere wishes to see you up in the CIC."
Shepard said nothing as he continued along the gantry to one of Conestoga's elevators. The ride was short and he once again found himself in the middle of crew busily rushing about the room with datapads in hand. Captain Tiere stood in the center overlooking his command displays.
"Welcome back on board Commander," said Tiere as he shook Shepard's hand, "I hope we didn't take too long in getting here."
"We're still in one piece Captain, thanks to your fighters."
"No thanks necessary Commander, we were just returning a favor." Tiere paused as he looked over a few reports on his displays, "With those pleasantries out of the way, what is the situation here?"
Shepard keyed up his Omni-tool to transfer data from the Normandy to the Conestoga, "Your ship's avatar and my chief engineer were abducted by mercenaries hired by a researcher working in this system. We came to investigate and were expected by the man responsible, Walter Bell."
Shepard continued, "Upon meeting Bell we were apprised of his goals of artificially extending his life. He then escaped the facility left us to deal with his security."
"What was the nature of Bell's resarch?" asked Tiere with a cocked eyebrow.
"Bell was studying the remains of Sovreign, a reaper that attacked the Citadel two years ago. My team and I helped track it down just before it signaled the rest of the reapers to invade this galaxy."
"I see that you escaped Bell's facility Shepard, but what of him?"
Before Shepard could answer EDI had patched herself through Conestoga's intercom, "I detected a small shuttle departing the surface of the planet just before we were engaged by Bell's automated drones."
"Any idea on where that shuttle was headed EDI?" inquired Shepard.
"No, tracking was lost as the shuttle jumped into FTL." She said.
"We may be able to help on that front Shepard." Said Tiere as he punched up a few commands on his terminal. "Conestoga's sensors are quite advanced compared to the Normandy's."
"Shepard," said EDI, "Connie has shared with me that Conestoga's sensors are capable of detecting ships even with Normandy's level of stealth capability."
"That is correct," said Tiere, "we go far beyond detecting mass and Infra-red emissions. It's somewhat a byproduct of our native FTL technology. I'll spare you the details Commander, but we should be able to find out where this Walter Bell is hiding."
Tiere once again keyed something into his terminal and then summoned a subordinate to him, "Tell the wing commander I need to see him as soon as he's done with his debriefing… Oh and have the deck crew prep the longprobe squadron for a recon mission."
"Aye aye Captain." Responded the crewmember with a stern salute.
"Anything else I should know about this Walter Bell character?" Tiere asked of Shepard.
"He alleged that he is over two hundred years old, far older than any known human. He claims to have extended his life through his research into genetic modification and cybernetics."
EDI's lavender visage appeared on one of the CIC displays, "Information on Walter Bell's activities is scarce. Alliance databases have been purged of any information linking him to any research. He may be using shell companies similar to Cerberus."
Just as EDI finished, another of Conestoga's crew walked up to the Captain and immediately stood at attention with a salute from his right hand. "Captain, reporting as ordered."
Tiere turned to the man returning the salute, "Commander Shepard, this is Lieutenant Grenaga, Commander of the Conestoga's fighter wing. Lieutenant, we have a recon mission for your longprobe squadron."
"Give me the details captain and I'll get the team briefed. Birds are in the tubes and ready for launch."
"Thank you Lieutenant, dismissed."
With the captain's dismissal the Lieutenant quickly exited the Conestoga's CIC to brief his pilots.