Tali was desperately running, trying to get to cover. There was a YMIR heavy mech walking towards her, readying its weapons.
This was all Prazza's fault, her second-in-command on the mission. When he saw a Cerberus shuttle fly overhead and land, he decided they had to quickly find Veetor—the one they came to the abandoned human colony to find—and leave. Tali ordered them not to run ahead, but they ignored her command. Despite their foolishness and insubordination, she couldn't just stand back and let them fight alone. She joined their fight, but it was too late; they had all been cut down by the heavy mech. Now it was just her.
The mech launched a missile in Tali's direction as she ran. The missile flew past her and exploded against some crates, several yards in front of her. The blast didn't cause her any direct harm, but the explosion sent a piece of metal shrapnel flying. It struck Tali in the upper part of her left thigh. She instantly collapsed to the floor, with a loud, sudden yell of pain. She immediately kept moving however, crawling around the corner of the nearest modular trailer, which had once served as a home for some human colonists. There was nothing but a concrete wall on the side of this trailer, it was a dead end. She had no where to hide, and nothing to shield her from the mech. The injury her leg had sustained prevented all flight. She was in a bad situation.
The mech was on the move. She could hear it walking parallel to the trailer. Approaching the corner that Tali had turned. Each step made a loud thud; a reminder that it was approaching. Each step brought certain death closer.
Tali desperately began to type into her omni-tool. She locked onto the mech, and began attempting to hack into it. She managed to acquire access to some of its systems, and found the processes that handled the flow of energy to its kinetic barriers. After adjusting some values and executing, there was the loud, zapping sound of the mech's shields dropping. It was a small triumph.
Tali quickly looked up from her omni-tool, the mech was not visible, but its shadow was stretching on the ground. It was nearly around the corner of the modular trailer. She immediately looked back down and kept working. Her fingers were trembling, yet they were fast and precise as Tali desperately tried to hack further into the mech's system. Her omni-tool, fingers, and technical expertise were both her only weapon and her only defense.
She tried everything she could, but she simply did not have the time needed to hack into the mech and disable it. Her eyes looked up again, and she saw the mech; it was finally around the corner. It stood there, Its optics glowing bright red. It raised its arm, preparing its weapon. Tali's fingers stopped moving, and just hovered over her omni-tool. All she could do was look on at the mech, as it stood there. There were mere seconds left before the mech's weapons would open fire.
It was over; this would be her final moment alive. Her life would be extinguished by this damn mech; this damn machine incapable of compassion or emotion or any feeling. Tali was filled with hatred towards this machine; she despised it. She wished she wasn't wearing a mask, just so she could spit at it. It was disgusting; to die to a synthetic being was both tragic and insulting to a Quarian. To die to this mech was worse than dying to a Geth; this wasn't even capable of sentience.
Suddenly, all of the negative emotions Tali had been feeling—desperation, anger, fear—they fled as she looked on at her executioner, as it truly sunk in, that she would die. Perhaps her anger and fear fled because she was in shock, or maybe all living beings experience calm before they die; a mechanism to bring peace and comfort to one in their final moments.
Her eyes were fixed on the mech, but she didn't see it anymore; her mind wouldn't process the visual information being transmitted by her eyes. Her killer would not be the final image in her mind. Flashes of her life were all she could see. She saw random images of her childhood. She saw when she reached adolescence and received her first suit. She saw her mother's body, after she died from the outbreak. She saw the Flotilla from a distance, when she left on her pilgrimage. These and countless other images of her life appeared to her, each lasting an infinitesimal amount of time. She arrived to one image in particular, however, that stuck; her mind didn't move to another one after reaching this one. This was the image where her mind found the most peace in.
It was Shepard's face. During her time as crew of the Normandy, she had seen Shepard's face countless times in countless different angles, but this particular memory of his face, was very specific. He was smiling, something he rarely did. It was after she had asked him for the Geth data they found. He had handed an OSD that contained it, and their fingers touched as she reached for it, and he smiled at her. Though Tali loved him, she had convinced herself they could never be together. But during this very specific moment, with their hands touching as he handed her what would complete her pilgrimage—and just maybe, get her people their home back one day—they had shared a moment. She had felt loved by him. This is what her mind chose to be the final image it processed, the final thing her sentience would experience.
There was suddenly a loud bang, and Shepard's face disappeared, it was gone. But she did not see blackness; she was not dead. Tali was still alive. She snapped back to reality, just in time to see a flash of sparks appear behind the mech's head. Someone had shot at it before it could attack her.
The mech began to turn around to assess the threat. Someone was running towards it, with great speed and determination, shooting pistol rounds at it, drawing its attention. Before the mech could complete its rotation, the attacker had reached it, dropped the overheated pistol, and jumped unto its side, quickly moving to its back and climbing up to its shoulders.
Tali observed, still partly in shock. She noticed that the one attacking the mech was a human male, fully clad in combat armor and wearing a helmet. He was clearly one of the Cerberus crew members that arrived on the shuttle. He was hanging unto the mech's shoulders, as it violently swung its arms, trying to throw him off, but he would not be moved.
His left hand grabbed unto the Mech's head to stabilize himself, and he pulled himself up. Then with his right hand, he pulled out his shotgun and positioned the firing end of it to the mech's equivalent of a neck, and the opposite end of it against his right shoulder. The shotgun was locked firmly in place, and he began to shoot. The explosive sound of each shotgun blast resonated loudly through the Mech's metallic body, and flashes of electrical sparks and bits of metal flew out with each pull of the trigger.
On the surface, attacking a YMIR heavy mech in this manner could only be considered stupid; A brutal and savage attack, with no strategy or planning. The mech was large and powerful, all instinct and common sense said to stay away from it, to keep distance. But the truth of the matter is, attacking the mech like this was pure genius. This strategy against the heavy mech was the product of a man who was both absolutely fearless and a master strategist.
The mech's incredible firepower and impenetrable armor were utterly neutralized by this style of attack. It could not attack the human; it could not even defend itself. All its might, all its power, accounted for nothing. It was unable to properly reach behind its back, and it could not move fast enough to shake the attacker. It's slow, awkward, and ultimately useless movements, were all it could do. This person had pinpointed its biggest weakness and was brutally exploiting it.
The shotgun began to click as its trigger was pulled; it was overheated. To most, the clicking sound of an overheated weapon would be terrifying, a signal of a sudden disadvantage. To the warrior battling the mech, this was just an invitation to alter his attack. He let the shotgun drop to the floor, and he wrapped his right arm under the mech's head. He began pull, as hard as he could. He pulled against the Mech's head with every muscle fiber in his body. After mere seconds, the mech's critically damaged neck finally gave way. Its head was ripped off, and electrical sparks flew everywhere as the head fell to the ground. It's red optics instantly dimmed. The mech was completely neutralized. The head was never damaged, and it never got a chance to send the electrical signal that would initiate a self-destruct.
The mech's immobilized body fell to the ground. The man let go as it fell and he landed on his feet with his back to Tali. She couldn't believe what had happened. She was astonished. In just over the span of time it took two thermal clips to reach capacity, she went from certain death to salvation. All she could think to do was simply be thankful.
"Thank you…" Tali stuttered to the man standing in front of her. He stood in the exact same spot where the mech had been. "That was…amazing. I, I haven't seen anyone fight like that since…well, a long time..."
He turned around and looked at her, not saying a word. His helmet blocked his face, but there was something eerily familiar about this human male. The way he stood, his posture, his height; Tali had seen it all before. It couldn't be… could it? Her mind told her it was impossible, but her heart wanted to believe. She had to ask. "Who are—what is your name…?" She asked, slowly; cautiously.
"Shepard!" Another man yelled as he ran towards the figure standing before Tali. "Holy hell Shepard, that was incredible! Crazy son of a bitch, there isn't a damn doubt in my mind why we brought you back." He was a dark skinned human male, wearing a black and white suit, with the Cerberus insignia on it.
Tali was shocked. "S-Shepard…?" she muttered, staring at him. The man then removed his helmet, and she saw Shepard's face. He sighed, and smiled at her. It was the exact same smile that she remembered; the same smile that flashed into her mind when she was going to die. It was him; there was no doubt in her mind.
"Hey, Tali…" Shepard said softly.
The other man observed how they looked at each other, and he immediately realized that this was the Quarian from his original crew. He decided to give them some time alone. "Shepard, I'm going to go help Miranda, let me know if you need me."
"Thank you, Jacob." He responded as Jacob walked away.
Shepard looked at Tali for a short while and suddenly noticed the finger-wide piece of flat metal dug into her thigh. "Tali, your leg! Are you alright?" He moved quickly to her, and kneeled in front of her on one knee as he looked at her injury.
"No…my leg, took a bad hit. The injury itself isn't too bad, but a lot of foreign bacteria is in my system now. I'm…worried, Shepard." Tali answered, still amazed over seeing Shepard alive.
"We need to get you some medical attention. Damn it, every colonist is gone, they would've had a doctor. I don't even have medi-gel on me; we didn't expect any fighting here." Shepard said with concern in his voice. He looked at Tali, at the metal sticking out of the upper part of her left thigh. "Tali… I'm sorry, but the shrapnel needs to come out right away."
"I know, Shepard. Do it." Tali responded, and held her breath.
"Clench your teeth" Shepard advised and readied his hand. He suddenly grabbed the shrapnel and pulled it out, fast. Tali let out quick groan as her torso jerked forward. Some blood began to flow out, and Shepard quickly loosened the cloth wrappings around Tali's leg, and positioned them higher. He wrapped the cloth tightly around the wound. The beautiful purple fabric that had adorned Tali's thigh was now a makeshift bandage.
"This will hold for now, but you need treatment. We especially need something to fight infection." Shepard said.
"We have some medical supplies on the shuttle; medi-gel, antibiotics, antiseptics—they'll help a lot. I should be able to make it back to the Flotilla once it's treated." Tali told him. She paused for a moment, and continued "Shepard, I… need help getting to the shuttle. Will you, um… help me? My other leg is fine, I just need some help keeping weight off my left leg."
Shepard smiled at her, and sighed softly "You clearly haven't changed a bit, Tali"
"What do you mean?"
"Even now, with your injury… you ask for the bare minimum of help. You've always been like that; asking for the smallest amount; always being utterly selfless." Shepard answered, and added "You've always deserved more than what you've asked for." And with that, he leaned forward and slid his left arm under her knees, and his right arm around her back, and lifted her off the ground. He was going to carry her. "Now, where's your shuttle?" He asked as he held her.
Tali suddenly felt butterflies in her stomach. She had never been held like this by anyone. Her mind lost all track of the pain in her leg. She just felt happy and comforted; she was in Shepard's arms, somewhere she longed to be for so long; somewhere she believed was impossible to ever be, even before he died. There was no safer, better place in the entire galaxy.
"It's past the gate, to the right. It's not very far." She answered him, and he began to move. There was a peaceful silence as he walked with her in his arms, but Tali needed to disturb the quiet; she had many questions, she needed to find out what had happened to Shepard. "This is…so confusing, Shepard. Just mere moments ago, you had been dead for two years. But here you are now, carrying me to my shuttle. Where have you been? Why didn't you ever communicate with m—with your old crew? What did that other man mean by 'brought you back'? And Shepard…why are you with Cerberus?"
"I understand that it's confusing to you, Tali. It's very strange to me as well. I did die when the Normandy was destroyed. I…woke up just yesterday. Apparently Cerberus had recovered my body, and spent the last two years rebuilding me. They spent a fortune to bring me back" He explained, his eyes looking at hers.
"That's… amazing. Cerberus finally did something good." She sighed, and then continued "It's… really good to have you back. But Shepard, you remember all the terrible things Cerberus has done; we even investigated some of their experiments while hunting down Saren. You remember what they did to the Admiral of your Alliance. While you were gone, they even attacked the Flotilla. You…haven't joined them, have you Shepard?" She asked with concern in her voice.
"No Tali. I don't care what they did for me, I haven't joined them, and I never will. I'll work with them for now, to find out what's happened to these human colonies, but after this is over, I don't want to hear from them again." Shepard told her, now looking straight ahead.
"Good" was Tali's only response. She was relieved, and she felt at peace understanding how it was possible for Shepard to be here now. Feeling relieved and relaxed as Shepard carried her, she let her head slowly lean to the side, and it eventually pressed against Shepard's shoulder, resting against it. She wanted to do that since he had picked her up. Tali saw Shepard look down at her again, and he just smiled at her as he observed her head resting against his shoulder. His reaction of simply looking at her and smiling, made Tali very happy.