A/N: If you have not read To Survive then read at least the last few chapters of it to find out the relationship of Tali and John Shepard. It plays a big role in this story. Actually, go read the entire story before this one. :)
Chapter 1 : Silence
"Her look of terror pierces my heart, her arms flail about knocking my own away as she sinks lower. Her powerful legs kicking out trying to right her only add to the confusion as I try again to grab her once more. I try to wrap my arms around her waist but her knee breaks my grip and I start to panic. Yelling Tali stop!"
"John, wake up" he hears as a small gloved hand holds my cheek.
"It's just a dream John, wake up" she says again softly and I obey.
Staring at him through her visor he can see her concern as well as hear it in her voice. "I'm sorry Tali, I didn't mean to wake you" he says still recovering from the nightmare.
"It's the pool again isn't it. John you need to stop letting it bother you." she says trying to calm him. "It wasn't even that bad, I only swallowed a little water so please let it go. Anyway, I'm to blame for it, not you. Had I not started kicking you could have helped me sooner and you know it."
"Tali, there is no one to blame. It was an accident, an accident that scared me to death. You said you could swim and I thought float as well but as you said afterwards, you have never done it. I should never have let you slip from my hands." he says sadly.
"Well, it's my fault you got that" pointing to his eye "and I'm sorry that I kicked you too. Are your ribs better?" she asks trying to change his focus.
Chuckling now he says "Yes, I'm not that easy to break. Your legs are as strong as they are beautiful but remember, it took a steel girder to really do damage and it just cracked a few of them."
Tali was getting ready to respond to his comment when the cabin door opened and Garrus looked out.
"Thought I heard you two talking" Garrus says. "There's still 4 hours before we reach the Citadel so either you two get back to sleep or your going to tell me just how you got that black eye Shepard."
"Night Garrus" Tali said menacingly.
"Night you two" Garrus responds and reentered the shuttles cockpit chuckling.
Resting her helmet on John's shoulder, she closes her eyes and remembers the past week. Slowly she falls asleep with a smile on her face. John is not far behind her, this time the dreams are of something else entirely.
"Look, I don't care what we have heard. Shepard has been working for the council and he has not done anything against us. Look at the amount of Cerberus data he has sent our way? That should tell you where his loyalties lie" Anderson says to Udina.
"Yes, he does put on a convincing show for us. But trusting him is a mistake. Anything he touches is suspect Councilor, anything." replies Udina.
"So Horizon still surviving? All those human's he saved are suspect as well? While we sat here with our head up our own a..." Anderson is interrupted.
"Councilor" Udina says loudly. "No need to get crude. You are correct about Horizon. He really did help us but be wary, not everything he does we know about."
Anderson laughs harshly saying "Now your making him sound like a politician Udina. I personally don't believe he has fallen that low yet."
"Insults Councilor? I would expect that from a simple soldier but...Never mind. I can see your set on today's meeting. If I am needed I will be in my office. Good day Councilor." Udina states then turns and leaves.
Sitting at his desk Councilor Anderson thinks for the 10th time just today that he should have hit him harder. Reopening the message from Shepard he reads it again, then looking at the chrono sees he still has about 30 minutes to mentally prepare for the meeting. From what Shepard said, his headache will be much worse than it already is.
"T'S Shuttle 1 you are cleared for landing at Zakera ward small docking pad 12F-198" The Citadel operator said.
"Thank you Citadel control. T'S Shuttle 1 out." replies Garrus as he punches in the coordinates given. "Be down in 2 minutes Shepard. Time for you two to get decent."
"I still have that shotgun Garrus." Tali quips
"Noted" in a deadpan voice then adds "and nice job on the registry change. No glitches here. They read us clear Tali" Garrus says "Hopefully you can do the same to the Normandy. Will make it easier for us."
Looking at her John says "And nice paint job too. No one will recognize this as a Cerberus vessel. Just what kind of acid did you use anyway?"
"Well, would you prefer to be flashing that logo everywhere we go? Besides, it's now registered as a quarian vessel so it needs to look the part of a dirty, broken down and ill kept shuttle" Tali says almost sounding sad at the end.
"Somehow Tali we will change that view the galaxy has of your people. Don't lose faith in us just yet." John says looking at her eyes.
Responding she says "I know John, just at times it's hard for me to remember that. Anyway, hatch is opening. Time to go."
Garrus joins them as they depart the shuttle and seal it again "You completely changed the locking codes and protocols as well Tali?" he asks.
"Yes, a real quarian ship does not use the standard systems. We take security very seriously in the fleet" she responds. "Let someone here try to hack those controls" she adds smugly.
"Alright you two" John says grabbing the small case at his feet, "lets get a transport. We still have Zakera security as well as the Presidium's to pass through."
"Commander Shepard. This is a meeting of the Council and one of it's Spectres. Though we acknowledge that both Garrus Vakarian and Tali'Zorah have assisted you, do you really think they should be here now?" asked the asari Councilor.
"To set the record straight Councilor, her name is Tali'Shepard. Legally bonded by quarian law and will remain by my side. Both Tali and Garrus know everything here in this case and can offer different views on it." he says.
Behind Shepard, Tali stands straighter. Her hands, so close to fidgeting now hang relaxed by her sides.
"I see, very well then. Please present your finding." the asari says.
"Yes, yes. Proceed. No need to draw this out any more Shepard" says the turian Councilor.
Taking a breath he starts "12 days ago the Normandy and her crew passed through the Omega 4 relay. What..." he is interrupted by the turian.
"12 days ago and you just now make a report? You better have a good explanation for the delay" the turian says.
"The Omega 4 relay? You survived? Obviously but what did you find?" the salarian Councilor adds.
"Councilors, if I may make my report you will have your answers" Shepard says calmly then continues "What we found was a collector base orbiting a black hole. After a heated battle to reach the base we destroyed it. And yes it was necessary as the data contained in this case will show."
"As to your question Councilor" looking at the turian, "the Normandy was severely damaged in the battle and due to the efforts of the engineering team" glancing back at Tali briefly "barely escaped the destruction ourselves. My ship and crew were fully prepared to die in the base explosion. It was that important."
"Once emergency repairs were made we were able to pass the Omega 4 relay and have been recovering from injuries sustained the the battles." reaching up he gently touches his black eye and grins. " Also, during this time all contacts with Cerberus have been severed" He finishes.
Seeing his hand touch his black eye Tali says under her breath "Keelah" in embarrassment.
Garrus just did his best to not laugh out loud.
"The news of your departure from Cerberus is good news Commander but we must see this data to understand your motives in destroying an entire base." says the asari.
"Councilor, I understand that. In the case I have the Normandy's data-files from the moments before we entered the Omega 4 relay up to the loss of power during our escape. Suit telemetry and audio files from the three of us here as well as a few other personnel who's suits provided that data."
"Included is the personal video log of Tali's. From the actual data-feeds of her visor during the battles. The feeds were never meant to be used with a recording device so the quality is poor. There is personal data in her files that I would appreciate not being disseminated among any other personnel." He says.
"Along with this data are the data-mined files from the base itself and the Dreadnought under construction there." Looking at Anderson he adds "I'm sorry. All kidnapped colonists were dead or dying by the time we were able to assist them."
"A Dreadnought Shepard? Do you intend to once again scare this council with tales of Reapers?" asked the turian.
"No councilor. I have given up trying to convince you of anything. I am here to make my report and provide hard data for you to review. What you decide to do with that data is up to the council." he states flatly. "Now, I am ready to proceed with the data if you wish Councilors. Just let me know which data you would prefer first."
The asari councilor raises her hand saying "No, not in these surrounding. Councilors, I believe we should move to our private meeting chamber to review this."
"Yes, quite right. Best to limit the number of eyes that can see this." says the turian councilor.
"Yes, yes. Data too sensitive to view here" says the salarian councilor.
"Lets go and get this started Shepard." said Anderson as he led the group out of the office and towards the tower.
"Look at all the wreckage."
"That base is massive!"
"What type of weapon was that?"
"Just what type of weapon did Cerberus mount on the Normandy?"
John, Tali and Garrus answered each and every question that the council threw at them. After an hour of review they had finally finished the Normandy's logs up to the crash landing on the base itself.
"From here councilors we proceeded on foot into the base. We met stiff resistance but luckily my team was good." John said glancing at first Tali the Garrus.
"Pity there was barely any data on that oculus mech." the salarian councilor said.
"Yes, you stated that Tali's data contained video data? I think we should continue with that next." said the asari.
"Please ignore the more personal aspects of this log. I will fast forward over as much as possible." John says and starts the playback.
He has to fast forward through about 10 minutes of video showing just himself as he set assignments. It didn't help that a few of minutes were centered on his ass." Looking at Tali all she did was say "oops, forgot to cut that" as her hand covered her visor.
"If you would like, I will fast forward until the final battle. That is unless you prefer to see it all." John says addressing the councilors.
"Yes" the asari said looking at Tali with a small smile on her face. "I think it might be best to do that. We will be able to review the data later for details."
Fast forwarding the playback the scene changes from battle as the first doors close and Tali looks around the room they are in settling on the pods with people in them. "Stop here please" says the salarian.
The view was at the beginning of the dissolving process. "Oh by the goddess" says the asari.
Reversing the playback to just before the colonist wakes up he pauses saying "I'm sorry about that. These pods were where the humans were stored until they could be broken down into an organic slush. Later on we found out where that slush was being sent."
"Please, continue forward Shepard." said the turian councilor quietly.
Once more they were treated to a view of his ass as he told Grunt to escort the non-combatants back to the ship and make sure they all survived. This time both the asari and turian councilors snickered as Tali said "Sorry" in a low voice covering her visor again.
"I must apologize for my team members inattention to the task at hand councilors" he says flatly. "Lets continue shall we?" and started the fast forward again. The battle through the seeker swarms went quickly and he paused just as he was giving his speech to the team"
"We have reached the access to the center of the base. The next segment will show the Dreadnought as well as what that human slush was for earlier." and John hit the play but in normal speed.
Pausing it when the reaper came fully into view he let the image sink in before saying "This, councilors, is what we found in the base. The number of questions that followed took up most of two hours to answer. Moving forward they saw the battle to destroy the feed tubes and the argument with the Illusive man ending with the grenade placed into the core. John paused it then.
"Forgive the delay but" looking at Tali he says "Tali, you might want to look away now."
"I'm okay John, I'm here. I'll stay." she said quietly.
The battle with the Reaper finally ended and when the platform was hit the view from Tali's visor just showed her moving away from John quickly. They watched as he dove at her as he yelled 'Tali', missing her hand then showed the immensity of the base when she went over the side."
The asari councilor was watching Tali more than the video. The important sections over she was more interested in the reactions of the young quarian. She had her eyes closed but still faced towards the display, everything she had been through and the only fear she showed was when she fell away from her bondmate. The councilor realized for the first time in a very long while that the quarian's have been treated unfairly.
John's head and shoulder popped into view and finally held her arm firmly. He froze the playback there, the picture displayed his face looking straight into the visor. Fear clearly visible.
Looking at the councilors he says "Yes councilors, I was afraid. Afraid I would lose one of the two people in this galaxy that truly believed in me since this all began, and the woman I loved. That is what I put on the line here, not some ideal or half believed truth."
Pausing a moment for effect he continues.
"Inside this case is all the data we have on that station and the Reaper found in it. The base is gone. Had it not been destroyed we could very well have been looking down the barrel of a Cerberus controlled monstrosity. Without the support of the council we had to do what we could to protect this galaxy." John says and finally turns off the image that so bothered Tali.
Walking over to Tali he says quietly "I'm sorry Tali but I needed to prove a point."
"I know John, but thank you for turning it off." she replies shakily.
"Commander Shepard please. Without proof what could we do?" said the asari.
Still standing by Tali, looking at her he says loudly enough for the councilors to hear "Your proof is in the case. I can offer no more." Turning to them he says "I have fulfilled my pledge I gave to you long ago. It is time that you step up and fulfill yours."
"You don't tell us what to do Shepard" says the turian councilor.
Looking at the turian he shouts "You yourself stated 'Spectres are the your first and last line of defense.' councilor." Pointing to the asari says "Your right hand, determination and self-reliance. And you" indicating the salarian "Chosen from the rank and file."
Both Tali and Garrus stand there shocked. He was yelling at the council!
Moving towards the center of the room he continues "I was chosen by you, I have defended this galaxy with my life and the lives of my friends and loved ones. I have done this without any support from you, using only my determination and support of my shipmates. Either you accept me fully as a Spectre or tell me here and now that I am unneeded."
Silence fell in the room.