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Although they had met only hours ago, Commander Shepard could tell he was going to get along well with his new quarian crew member, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. She was skilled in combat, and the fact that she managed to extract data from a geth memory core—something alliance research teams had repeatedly failed to do—was a testament to her technological skill and knowledge. But even beyond all of that, there was something unique about her. Something not quite tangible that subtly alluded to a worth beyond that of others.
Tali was special. It was obvious from the moment they met. She was friendly and polite, and there was always a sense of humility in her words. She gave up the evidence that Shepard so desperately needed without asking for anything in return. Information was a valuable commodity in the galaxy, and what she had was worth a large fortune. Yet she had gladly given it up; her only concern was to do what was right and submit it to the proper authorities, and repay the man who had saved her life in the process. Beyond that, after the evidence had served its purpose, she asked to be allowed to join on their mission, risking herself and putting aside her pilgrimage—an important rite of passage to all quarians—so that she could help save the universe.
All of this appealed to Shepard. He was a man who longed to forget his harsh upbringing, and the positive, cheerful energy the spunky quarian radiated gave him joy; it gave him a feeling of peace. He had grown up in poverty on Earth without parents or family, and was forced to scrap together a meager existence through petty crime, relying on the street gangs of Earth's metropolises for survival.
Being raised in such an environment, with no real guidance throughout childhood, would often have a negative impact on a person; forging them into an uncaring, rebellious individual. But it had the opposite effect on Shepard. Having experienced firsthand all the darkness and negativity that life can offer a person, he came to have a clear understanding of what was wrong, and by extension, what was right.
He wanted to flee from the negativity of his life. He knew there had to be something better, and when he turned eighteen, he went looking for it in the depths of space; he joined humanity's Systems Alliance. He found a life he could feel proud and satisfied with, and took great joy knowing he was working towards positive goals. He quickly progressed in his military career. Just a few years after enlisting, he demonstrated unparalleled bravery and skill as he risked his life repelling a large assault against the human colony of Elysium. In addition, Shepard had also achieved N7 status; the highest proficiency of the Alliance Special Forces. And just hours ago, after presenting the evidence given to him by Tali, he had become a Council Spectre. He was the first of his entire species to achieve the position.
"Today has been such an amazing day," Tali said, as the elevator from C-Sec Academy began its assent to the docking bay.
"Tell me about it," Shepard said with a grin. This had been possibly the best day his life. It still felt unreal that he was now a Spectre.
"I can't believe I was actually allowed up in Citadel Tower, or that I stood before the Councilors themselves, and saw history happen firsthand. Thank you so much for letting me come along," the cheerful and excited quarian said.
"Thank you for the evidence. None of this would have happened without it," Shepard responded. "I don't want to think about how long it would've taken to find evidence against the Council's top Spectre." Shepard looked directly at her, "If it weren't for you, we may never have even found any. Thank you. I'm glad to have you on my crew."
Tali didn't know what to say. Ever since arriving on the Citadel, very few people had treated her with any kind of respect or decency. Citadel Security questioned her for hours, people looked down at her as they spoke, shop owners kept vigilant eyes on her at all times—nearly everyone she met, had treated her like a thief and a beggar; like a quarian.
She had been taught to expect all this, and although she thought herself ready to face it, the truth was that it was worse than she ever imagined. But this man, who was a high-ranking Commander of the Alliance, a decorated war hero, and now humanity's first Council Spectre… it was as if he didn't even know she was a quarian. He made her feel like an equal since the moment they met.
"That's so… no one has ever—thank you, Commander Shepard, that means a lot to me," Tali muttered in response, taken aback by his kind words.
"Don't get too flattered," said Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. She was standing at the opposite side of the elevator. "I've noticed the Commander seems to be big on positive reinforcement."
While Shepard knew she wasn't xenophobic, he was aware that Ashley didn't fully trust alien races, and wasn't particularly thrilled to have a turian, a krogan, and now a quarian serving in one of humanity's most advanced ships. He didn't fret about it too much. They hadn't known each other very long, but he was a good enough judge of character to know her distrust wouldn't be an issue.
"Of course I am. It encourages trust and loyalty among soldiers under my command. It makes them want to follow orders," Shepard said. "But don't worry, I'll still shout worse than any drill sergeant if I have to," he added with a smirk.
I hope he never has to yell at me. I hope I'm good enough, Tali thought to herself with a silent gulp.
The elevator stopped and the door opened, revealing a private docking bay. In front of the docking bridge stood Captain Anderson and the human ambassador, Udina. Tali was glad to see them again. She felt comfortable among them and Shepard.
They were authority figures, which she instinctively respected due to the fact that she grew up as the daughter of an admiral. In addition, they had pulled her from danger and hiding, and let her join something important; an adventure that potentially involved saving the galaxy, and maybe even one day getting her peoples' home world back, since the geth were involved.
Tali had always found humans to be interesting. A very new species to the galactic community, she often grew up hearing news that dealt with humans. When she was a child at the age of four, humans became a major topic of debate among quarians. In the year 2165, the biggest news in the galaxy was that an Alliance team lead by Dr. Shu Qian had been found performing illegal research on artificial intelligence, which caused humanity to be reprimanded by the Council. This was particularly big news among the quarians, given their history of creating the geth and interest in AI.
Dangerous research with AI was one of the several things quarians and humans seemed to have in common. Though there were some definite differences, both species had many biological similarities. They shared a very similar facial structure; they both had two eyes with eyelids and tear ducts, protruding noses, and mouths with lips and teeth. Both species also had comparable life spans, were dual-gendered, weren't natural biotics, and—despite humans being slightly larger in both height and build—comparable in body size and shape.
Shepard, Tali, and Ashley approached Anderson and Udina. Shepard started speaking to them, but Tali's attention immediately drifted to the human frigate before them. She slowly walked toward the rail to get a better look at it. She was completely in awe at the vessel before her. The words being exchanged among the humans were just garbled noise in the background as she stared at the ship. All her attention was focused on it.
It was absolutely amazing. The design of the ship was sleek and elegant. It was a beautiful vessel, but beyond that Tali could tell it was an advanced warship. The dual thrusters on each side were massive for a frigate of its size, a feature that instantly told her that this was the fastest, most maneuverable frigate she had ever seen. The plates of the hull, and the style in which they had been laid out, as well as the GARDIAN point defense laser turrets, were also a testament to the frigate's combat capabilities. Tali had no idea Alliance ships were such engineering marvels.
Tali observed the writing on the side of the ship. She couldn't understand the strange human symbols, but fortunately the helmet she wore provided much more functionality than simply keeping out foreign bacteria. The helmet provided audio enhancements, which improved her hearing, and the vis-glass of her mask gave her better vision by enhancing the image of whatever she was looking at. By being an actual display device, the inside of the mask could provide her with relevant information by way of a heads up display. Upon looking at the writing on the side of the ship, the mask automatically detected the human letters, and displayed a phonetic translation under them in her native quarian language.
"Normandy," Tali whispered to herself as she looked on at the ship.
"She's beautiful, isn't she?" Shepard's voice startled Tali. She turned and saw him standing behind her, to the side. She also noticed that the other humans were gone now.
"Yes, it is," Tali said with a light stutter, caught off guard by his comment. "This is your ship?"
"It is now. Anderson was her captain, but they've given it to me," Shepard answered, and then sighed, "I'm grateful, but it doesn't feel right. It's like I took the ship from him."
"Ships are my peoples' most valuable resource. I know no quarian captain would be happy if his ship got taken away, but you shouldn't feel bad, Commander. You didn't take it from him. And we need a vessel to track down Saren," Tali said.
Shepard smiled at her words. He knew she was right. "Thank you, Tali."
Tail felt a subtle chill as she heard him say her name for the first time. It was also one of the few times since she left the flotilla, where she hadn't been referred to as just 'quarian.' There was a big smile under her mask, though Shepard couldn't see it.
"We should go," said Shepard. "Ashley's already gone inside. Come see the interior." Tali nodded in response, and walked behind him as they proceeded into the Normandy's airlock.
"Decontamination in progress," was heard from the ship's VI as beam of energy moved through the airlock. Tali made sure to make note of this; a room that could double as a clean room might come in handy at some point.
The door that led into the ship opened, and they stepped through it. Tali made sure to stay behind Shepard, as she didn't know anything about the ship's interior. She was going to just follow him.
"Hey Commander, I heard about what happened with the Capt—whoa, is that a quarian?" was heard from the bridge of the ship. It was the Normandy's helmsman, Jeff "Joker" Moreau.
"She sure is, Joker. Her name's Tali," Shepard responded as to moved towards Joker, whose chair was turned around and facing down length of the ship, "Thanks to her, we were able to prove that Saren was behind the attack on Eden Prime."
"So she's the one responsible for putting us on the hit list of the Council's former top Spectre? That's awesome, Commander." Joker joked in his typical snarky fashion, "Wait, I shouldn't have said that. She's making faces at me under that mask now, isn't she?"
"What?" Tali responded in surprise, "No! I would never do such a—"
"Relax, Tali. Joker's not being serious. You'll soon learn just how appropriate that nickname is," Shepard said, amused at Tali's reaction. "Come on, I'll show you the rest of the ship. Joker, get ready, we're leaving shortly."
Walking down the Normandy's Combat Information Center made Tali feel nervous and out of place. There were multiple humans in combat stations to both her sides as she walked, and though she remained facing straight ahead, she could tell from her vision's periphery that many were looking at her. Like Joker, most of them had never even seen a quarian in person. She had been eager to examine the interior of the ship, but the feeling of alienation kept her from concentrating on it now.
As they reached the commanding officer's station in the rear of the CIC, Tali's eyes met for a moment with someone who was staring at her with a particularly unsettling look of distrust and confusion. She had no idea who he was, but it was obvious from his uniform and his aged appearance, that he was one of the officers of the ship. The way he looked at her made her feel especially nervous. Now more than ever, she found herself comforted by the fact that Shepard was the one in charge, as he had treated her so well thus far.
Shepard led her to one of the doors that was at the end of the CIC, and guided her down some stairs. They reached the bottom and walked into the new area. He said, "This is the crew quarters of the ship. The mess hall is right here. The sleeper pods are down there, and there's the med-bay." Shepard explained, pointing at each one as he mentioned them. "My quarters are over there," he said as he pointed across from the med-bay, "Feel free to come see me if you have any questions or concerns." He gave her a reassuring smile. He imagined she likely felt out of place.
"Thank you, Commander Shepard," Tali replied, "If it's not too much trouble, could you show me engineering? That's where I'd like to work," she requested, but then immediately realized it wasn't her place to decide where she got assigned. "Um, if that's okay with you, I mean. Wherever you want to put me is fine."
"Engineering is fine. It's this way," Shepard responded pleasantly, which instantly made Tali feel relieved, "I take it you're into ship tech?" he asked as the elevator began its short descent.
"Yes, very much so. Most quarians are. We have to be; ships are our homes, we need to be familiar with how they work. Our survival depends on it."
"I see. It sounds like you'll know your stuff, then. I'm sure Adams will be glad to have the extra help."
"He's the Normandy's chief engineer. He's a pretty friendly guy, I'm sure you'll get along well with him."
They stepped out of the elevator, and Tali took a quick moment to look at the cargo hold of the ship. The first thing she noticed was a six-wheeled armored vehicle near the end. She also noticed the turian that was with Shepard when he saved her, though she didn't remember his name. There was also a krogan who she didn't know yet. She followed Shepard down the small hallway that lead to the Normandy's engineering area. Tali's jaw dropped when the door open, and she saw the absolutely colossal drive core of the Normandy.
Keelah! How is it possible that such a large drive core can fit in a ship this small? Tali thought to herself as she quickly walked over to the railing at the end of the room to get a closer look at it. Shepard smiled to himself, seeing her so excited.
"Commander Shepard, this is amazing! I've never seen a drive core like this! How can it possibly fit in a ship this small?" Tali eagerly exclaimed, "I had no idea Alliance ships were so advanced."
"Most Alliance ships aren't. The Normandy is cutting-edge, and has a lot of prototype equipment and technology." Shepard explained as he stepped forward and stood next to Tali. He placed his hands up on the rail, joining her in admiring the technological marvel before them, basking in the beautiful bright blue light it emitted.
"The Tantalus Drive Core is the most notable feature of the Normandy." a voice said from the side. "Proportionally, it's twice the size of any other ship's." They both turned their heads and saw Chief Engineer Adams approaching. "Who's our guest, Commander?"
"This is Tali. She's going to be joining us on our mission. She requested to help out here in engineering,"
"Pleased to meet you," greeted Adams.
"Thank you. It's good to meet you too," responded Tali.
"Adams, I'd like for you to show her the Normandy's systems," Shepard said. "See what she can help you with. I'm going to head back up to the CIC. We're leaving shortly." He turned around to head towards the exit.
"Hey, Commander?" Tali said. Shepard stopped and turned to look at her.
She hesitated for a moment and mumbled a bit as she composed her thoughts. "Thank you. Thank you for… everything. For saving me earlier. For letting me join your crew—serving on a ship like this is a dream come true for me. And thank you for… um, just being so nice to me."
Shepard smiled. "You don't need to thank me for any of that. It's the least I can do. This mission wouldn't be happening without you." He gave her shoulder a gentle pat and then continued on his way to the exit.
Tali just stared at him as he walked away, again smiling under her mask.