Since everyone else puts it here, I might as well do the same: I don't own Mass Effect or the characters within it, I'm just borrowing them for a bit. This is my first attempt at a fanfic, and as if that wasn't bad enough English is not my native language, so expect grammar mistakes (though I think I got the spelling right), shoddy language, a mix of UK and US English and general misuse of everything literary.

General Shepard information: John Shepard, mostly Paragon, spacer and war hero, so not really much in the way of psychological trauma. Soldier class, but not completely ignorant when it comes to technical stuff and biotics (though he can't use biotics himself, of course). Buzz cut, blue eyes, a knack for spacing out and an abnormal fondness of quarians (not creepy).

Prologue

How did she ever get herself into this mess?

When she first recovered that data from the disabled Geth straggler, she had expected to make some relatively easy money from it. Probably not enough to afford anything spectacular to bring back to the Migrant Fleet, like a new shuttle or a used cargo ship, but at least enough to make the rest of her Pilgrimage easier. With a decent amount of seed money she would at least have a much easier time getting around, as it was difficult to get any kind of passage on ships as a Quarian with no credits.

Instead, she had been shot by hired thugs with a vested interest in the data not falling into the wrong hands, and before she had a chance to fully recover she again found herself in a great deal of trouble, trapped in a narrow alley with three assailants.

The odds really weren't in her favor. She could probably take out the turian with her shotgun at point blank range, but the two salarians would be on her as soon as she left cover. She had used her last grenade to try and take them out, but it had only knocked them down temporarily, and she was fast running out of options. Now, making a run for the door on the other side of the stairs behind her seemed like the only chance she had. More than likely she would get shot in the back before she could reach it, but a confrontation head on had an even lower chance of succeeding.

'Stupid girl, why did you agree to a meeting in a secluded alley instead of a public place like the markets?'

She chided herself for having been so naive. She should have known better than to agree to it, especially after she had already been attacked once, but the doctor had pointed her to Fist, telling her that he was an agent for the Shadow Broker. She had been desperate to trade the data for a safe place to hide before more thugs came after her, and against her better judgment she had agreed to meet in the alley.

The turian suddenly popped into view right in front of her, and she quickly raised her shotgun towards him. Before she could pull the trigger, he kicked her arm to the side and lowered his pistol, aiming directly at her visor. She stared up at the gun, the turian's face painted in a sneer a short distance behind it.

The sneering face vanished, along with most of his head, as an anti-personnel round penetrated his skull and tossed his body sideways towards the other end of the alley. More shots were fired in rapid succession, and the two salarian mercenaries who had been closing in behind the turian collapsed on the floor a few meters away.

Still sitting on the ground, she slowly turned her head to the left, towards the source of the gunfire and the stairs she had considered making a run for. Three people, two male humans and a turian, were coming down the steps. The human in the front was moving at a slight trot, a heavy pistol still in his right hand. He slowed down a few steps away, holstered his pistol and calmly came to a halt in front of her.

She was still holding her shotgun, her arm pointing to the side where it had stopped after the turian kicked her. She raised her head slowly, looking up at the face of the man who was standing next to her.

"Are you ok? Were you injured in the fight?".

A slight smile turned into a worried frown as he looked down at where she was sitting, still unmoving while trying to gather her wits. She replied with a slight shake of her head, unable to make her voice work properly.

Looking relieved, the smile returned to his face, and he slowly extended his hand down towards her. Hesitating for a moment, she took hold of it and pulled herself up.

She glanced at the hand that was holding hers. It was a fairly big hand, at least compared to hers. Five fingers covered by a slightly armored glove, holding her three-fingered hand in a gentle grip. She looked up at his face and noticed that he was studying her hand intently, staring at it with curiosity in his eyes as he gently turned it around several times, looking at it from all angles. He suddenly gave her hand a very light squeeze, as if to test its consistency, causing her to let out a slight yelp of surprise and embarrassment.

Upon hearing her voice he instantly became aware of what he was doing, quickly letting go of her hand, saying "Oh, I'm sorry!", looking somewhat embarrassed.

He straightened up a bit, cleared his throat and moved both of his arms behind his back.

"I'm Commander Shepard. We were conducting an investigation, looking for evidence against a rogue Spectre named Saren, when we happened upon Dr. Michel's clinic in the Wards. She was being threatened by thugs regarding a young quarian who had come to her earlier for treatment."

Her shoulders slumped ever so slightly, her eyes looking down at the ground. As if it wasn't bad enough that she had been hounded by thugs, shot at and almost killed, she had gotten the doctor who saved her life earlier in trouble as well. She couldn't do anything right, it seemed.

"The doctor implied that you might know something and pointed us to Fist, who kindly offered to tell us where we could find you, after a little persuasion." She wondered what he meant by the last part.

"Fist set me up!" she said, a mix of anger and left-over anxiousness creeping into her voice. Right now she wanted nothing more than to cave Fist's skull in for everything he had put her through.

"Yeah, he won't be doing that to anyone else now." Shepard replied, his eyes still reflecting the calmness and care they had conveyed when they first met. Judging by the way he said that, it was likely that Fist's skull already had some structural integrity problems.

Suddenly remembering something, she briefly looked down at the ground before turning her head back towards the man in front of her.

"I am forgetting my manners. My name is Tali. Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. Thank you... for saving my life. If you are looking for evidence against this Saren, then at least I can repay the favor. But not here, we should go somewhere safer".

Shepard put his hand on her shoulder, gesturing towards the stairs they had come from with the other.

"We should get a shuttle, head to the human embassy and show the evidence to the ambassador. It's about as safe as it gets on the Citadel as well".

Although they had just met, Tali didn't mind his hand gently holding her shoulder. Maybe it was simply comforting, having been in mortal danger just a few minutes earlier, but there was something about this man that made her feel at ease. Maybe it was the gentle blue eyes, the subtle smile that told her everything was alright, or the confidence with which he carried himself. Or maybe she was just severely traumatized by all the recent ordeals and ready to throw herself at the first sentient being that would offer a semblance of comfort and protection.

Yes, it was probably the trauma, considering everything that had happened since finding that data. But she could think of worse things than throwing herself at than this man if that was the case. The thought made her mouth twist slightly in a wry smile, invisible behind her visor to anyone around her, before blushing at the brief mental image it conjured.

Not that she'd ever do that. She had turned beet red when he had squeezed her hand after looking at it for what seemed like an eternity. His five fingered hand had gotten a cursory glance from her at first, but it wasn't like she'd never seen one before. The Asari had five fingers, and they could be seen pretty much everywhere in civilized space, and humans were getting pretty common by now as well. By contrast, her hand must have seemed like a true cosmic mystery to him, what with the scrutiny he was giving it when he helped her stand up. If it hadn't been for the sudden embarrassment he had displayed afterwards, she would have thought it a peculiar human greeting ritual.

Walking next to Shepard as they headed towards the nearest shuttle, Tali pondered what she was going to do after handing the salvaged data over to him. From what she had seen already, there were some very serious implications if everything in it was true. Not only for the humans, but every species in the galaxy, quarians included. She couldn't just hand the data over and pretend that everything would solve itself after, that everything would be just fine and that it somehow didn't concern her. There had to be something more she could do... But she was just one young quarian, not even done with her Pilgrimage, not even an adult by quarian standards. What could she possibly contribute with against a threat of such magnitude?

She stole a glance at her savior, the man who out of nowhere had come and saved her life, asking for nothing in return except a little information. She knew next to nothing about him, but he had an air of absolute confidence about him, like he could take on anything the galaxy threw at him and come out victorious. If anyone could make a difference, it would have to be someone like him. Tali was no hero, but her skills with tech and everything mechanical were second to no one she knew. Surely she could be of use to him, if he would have her. Alone there was very little she could do, but with someone like him...

Tali straightened up, a sense of renewed purpose and confidence coming over her. She had made up her mind about what to do now. If the humans believed the information the data held, they'd definitely try and do something about it. And she would insist on helping. Once they found out what this data contained, and if they believed it, they would accept any help they could get anyway...


Well, that's the prologue over with. Nothing anyone hasn't seen before, but I felt I needed to start somewhere to set things in motion. Hopefully future chapters will be less slow paced, but who knows (I don't)? Written mostly for my own enjoyment to pass the time until Mass Effect 3 comes out, if anyone else gets any enjoyment out of it then all the better.

While I'm trying to stay mostly true to the game regarding actual in-game events and quests, I will deviate from it somewhat. If there are any glaring consistency errors though (like me saying turians have 8 fingers or something), feel free to leave a note telling me to get my head out of my posterior.