*There's no excuse for the abysmal time that's taken me to get this chapter out and I apologize for anyone that I've left dangling during the wait, I've had a lot of finals coming up, was away for two weeks and some family issues have cropped up keeping me away from the computer for any length of time to get into writing.A massive thanks to 10isboy for messaging me and getting me back into writing,Equally massive thanks to blackwind 2254 for taking the time to read through my work and improve the quality for my readers*
''Raan, I've been looking through my reports and it seems that a large amount of medical equipment has been shuffled through the fleet, it seems that some of this has been passed with your authorization?'' Han'Gerrel asked the question good-heartedly, the pair of them had remained on rather good terms throughout their careers partly based on both their connections to the Zorahs and Shala considered the old soldier one of the more trustworthy admirals on the fleet.
''Yes, one of my assistants showed me that a lot of our resources in the fleet had not been proportioned out thoroughly and some of our less used vessels had an unneeded amount of equipment. Naturally I relocated some of them to improve efficiency.'' the lie rolled of her tongue and was grateful she had spent a considerable amount of time thinking of lies and excuses she could use to slow down and deceive the rest of the admirals. The fact that it was Gerrel who had first brought the matter to her was a double edged sword, because of their friendship he was more likely to believe her deception but having to lie to a friend pained her deeply and she almost cursed the ancestors for bringing such events to fruition.
''I see…'' he replied slowly glancing down his the data-pad in his hands and back to the vid-screen of Shala clearly seeing a conflict in the information. ''Just that the equipment you've…shuffled has yet to arrive at the other ships.''
''Well the loading of such equipment may take a while and our shuttles certainly aren't what they used to be.'' the comment producing a sad chuckle from the both of them. ''plus our relocation to the Crescent Nebula stalled a lot of transportation.
''Of course.'' Han nodded, a seed of scepticism remained though the trust he held for Shala meant he held his tongue.
Shala feigned her Omni-tool activating and quickly glanced downwards to avoid meeting the other admiral's gaze. ''Oh, I'm sorry to cut this short, but I've just got an message apparently there been a mishap in the Tonbay's commerce deck and a few families are getting all riled up.''
Han let our a tired laugh. ''An Admirals work is never done.''
''No its not.'' agreed Shala. ''We must all server the fleet, goodbye.'' she cut the link and suddenly she felt as if she had aged a decade, throughout her career as an admiral she realised it wasn't the prestigious privilege that the majority of the fleet thought it was. It was full of tedious reports and sessions with almost everyone of them driving home the grimness of their situation as they read the dwindling fuel reserves and crop fertilisers every year.
Despite all this if someone had asked her a month ago that she would have to lie to a fellow admiral about grievous misuse of fleet property she would have laughed and thought them crazy. Now, she cursed her luck and hoped that this whole nightmare would end soon.
A small bleeping sound came from her Omni-tool flicking open her inbox she knew that such hopes were unlikely to come true, a vid communication session invite was sent to her from Daro'Xen and her heart was in her throat. She was reasonably confident in keeping the truth from Gerrel whose trust and his rigid belief in quarian honesty and dependability, Daro on the other hand one was of the more shrewd Admirals on the board and her quick wit and sharp mind meant that the only thing from quickly gaining dominance over the board was her general lack of interest in anything over than experiments relating to the Geth.
Shala knew that attempting to try and deceive her would be futile so she quickly declined the invitation and stood up, deciding that a tour around her ship would hopefully alleviate some of her worries. As she quickly left her room she wondered how far she could run before her actions caught up with her.
''Joker!'' Shepard almost shouted as he thundered out of the Airlock leaving his team behind.
''Way ahead of you Commander.'' he quickly shot back his arms already quickly flying across panels and readouts faster than Shepard could register them showing the natural skill that Joker handled the Normandy. The ships engines quickly powered up and its engines began to pulse with immense power as the ship prepared to shoot away.
''EDI, do we have clearance to leave, if we end up getting spaced because a geth gunner got a funny idea I'm going to be pissed.'' His voice was full of energy at their victory and the closeness to their goal.
''We do Commander, also the geth request that you provide me with Legions storage unit so I can transmit the necessary data for the collective to incorporate it back into the consensus.''
Shepard nodded and quickly fetched the small device out of his pocket and tossed it towards Joker who quickly inserted it into a small import slot.
''Thank you Shepard, process will be done by the time we leave the Peruses Veil.''
''How long till we hit the nearest mass relay?''
''Approximately two and a half hours commander.''
''Make it two hours, I don't care if we shoot out our engines afterwards, time is of the essence.''
''Yes commander.'' she replied before her hologram winked out.
''Planning on busting out our engines Commander? I'm almost insulted.'' he replied jokingly although it was somewhat forced, they both could feel the tension in the air, they hadn't heard from the Migrant Fleet in a while and they were completely in the dark about Tali.
''I trust you can keep her together, Tali's counting on you.''
''No pressure.'' he smirked. ''Now at this point I'd probably crack my fingers in an impressive display but yeah… I don't want to shatter my knuckles.''
Shepard laughed slightly at the pilots attempts at lifting the mood. ''While we are in transit I'll be in my cabin, EDI if anyone wishes to contact me send them to Deck 1 and give me prior notice.
''Of course Commander, logging you out.''
With that Shepard turned around and marched through his ground team, patting shoulders and offering words of thanks to the people who had risked their lives for him as he headed to the elevator.
''EDI.'' Joker said as his eyes flickered over the various screens in front of him. ''Do we have a location of the Migrant Fleet?''
''Indeed, Tali'Zorah's previous details about fleet movement and comm-buoy pick ups using Quarian encryptions pin-point the fleet at the Zelene system in the Crescent Nebula.
''Maybe we'll be able to pick up a few souvenirs on Illum while we are there.''
''Shepard.'' Miranda said in a subdued voice as she stepped into the cabin.
Shepard's head flicked up from looking at the floor: he attempted to find a way to occupy his mind but there were no ship related issues that needed him and he quickly tired of flicking through the extranet. Giving up he finally just sat onto his bed and contemplated his thoughts and the mission ahead, his torso was wrapped in dozens of bandages and only a dull ache in his body and some red marks on the side of his face were testament to the beating he took Chakwas is probably on expert on treating cyborgs by now he thought to himself.
''Yeah?'' he responded he knew this conversation was coming and he had been dreading it.
Miranda stepped forward, her earlier hesitation replaced by the mask of confidence she showed the rest of the crew though Shepard could see the cracks in it. ''I think we need to talk about.'' she paused slightly unsure what exactly she should describe it as. ''recent events.''
''Aye that we do.'' Shepard nodded solemnly, he motioned for her to sit at the couch and stood up to move there himself.
''Miranda, we both know that for the past couple weeks things between us have… developed into something.''
''that's one thing to call it.'' she smirked.
''I'm not going to insult you by saying that this whole thing has been one way.'' It felt weird for Shepard to openly admit to such a thing and any kind of relief that he was hoping to come from vocalising his thoughts unfortunately didn't come.
''But you care about Tali too much?'' she asked, her eyes not full of anger or hurt just an acceptance. ''I'm not going to lie to you, it hurts, getting this close to another person but I understand the need for this to stop and I'm grateful it has before things have gotten too deep, it'll hurt for a while but I'll be fine in the end, I've always been good at taking care of myself.'' for a brief second all of her walls of self assurance in her body and mind faded and she was laid bare.
Shepard was shocked at her statement but after a brief pause he remembered who he was talking to, Miranda was one of the most intelligent and perceptive crew members he had so he shouldn't have been surprised that she had come to this conclusion.
''Yeah, I do, despite everything that's been happening I can hardly picture my life without her.'' he said with conviction.
''She does the one thing that I can't.''
Shepard turned his head and raised his eyebrow waiting for her to continue.
Miranda looked and him and a small sad smile appeared on her face. ''She reminds you of peace Shepard, that's the one thing no one on the Normandy can do. To them, hell even to me no matter what the first thing you are to us is a soldier. To her though you're a soldier second and a man first. Through out your life you've known nothing but war but when she is with you-''
''I can remember peace.'' he finished with a smile. ''When did you get this smart, I think Mordin will feel threatened if he ever found out.''
''Can't have that now can we.'' she said. ''Honestly though Shepard, Grunt can probably see it its so obvious, whenever she's nearby you look like you've just shrugged 20 kilos off your shoulder, can't imagine how you feel when you're both here. ''she said gesturing to the cabin.
''That and she has a pretty cute accent.'' Shepard joked.
Miranda laughed at the comment and lightly pushed his shoulder. ''Nice way to ruin the mood we had there Commander, and don't worry we're going to solve this problem we've got the flower and its not going to be long until we're in the Fleet.''
''Not soon enough in my opinion, I just can't wait until this nightmare is finally over.''
''I think we can all agree on that she said.'' and the pair sat in comfortable silence with each other for a couple minutes until Miranda Omni-tool gave a small beep, glancing down she flipped open the window and Shepard watched as she read it trying to gauge her reaction.
''Seems Mordin and Chakwas require my help with the flower apparently my 'forward thinking and biotic capabilities' may make it useful for helping prepare the flower.''
''I don't even want to know what ideas he has.'' Shepard with a shake of his head.
''Unfortunately I'm about to find out, bye Shepard.''
''See you Miranda, and its been good to talk about this.''
''No problem, we needed to clear this matter.'' and Shepard could only nod his head in agreement.
Miranda stepped out of the door and turned her head towards Shepard. ''Tali is a lucky women.'' she said before the doors closed.
Shepard stood there in silence for a while thankful that the pair of them were able to resolve the issue without any sort of hassle and again he was grateful for the clear head his XO possessed.
''I bet Tali isn't feeling so lucky right now.'' he muttered before returning to his bed.
A recent comment brought his head up though. ''EDI? I thought I said that if any personnel were coming to Deck 1 I was to be given notice?''
''Sorry Commander.'' came the voice. ''But I thought that it would be better if you were caught by surprise my Operative Lawson, often over analyzing can lead to poor actions.''
Shepard nodded his head surprised at how human EDI seemed sometimes.
''Doctor! Her lungs are collapsing!'' one of the aides cried, the room was a flurry of activity and the assistants quickly hopped between machines or held equipment in their hands ready to leap into action if they were required.
The medical team had spent the better part of an hour hooking up various machines or rolling new ones in to the room once the loading crews had finally manage to relocate it to the medical rooms, few questioned where exactly they had found all this new machinery each content in the belief that the ship captain and their superiors would have the answers.
''What are you a fresh graduate?'' he shot back as he surveyed the room quickly viewing thereadings of the various machines.
''it's tension pneumothorax so before I'm looking at a corpse quickly deal with it, and you'' he said pointing at another aide. ''I want an increase to her antibiotic and immuno-suppressionboosters to counter the hole we will need to make."
They nodded their heads in agreement as one the quarians quickly started to adjust one of the drips attached to Tali's arm while the other quickly pulled a reinforced needle attached to a syringe from one of the trays, giving a brief pause to remember where he should make the puncture he quickly stabbed downwards the needle sinking through the enviro-suit, the doctor quickly withdrew the syringe and almost immediately another pair of hands reach out and applied a loose patch to the punctuated area and sealed three of the sides.
''Well done.'' he nodded pleased that the assistants had managed to keep their calm under this pressure though he knew they weren't safe yet, not by far. ''I expect heart failure to begin to set up soon, I want defibrillators set up incase of irregular rhythms and adrenaline shots ready to be administered.''
A chorus of acknowledgements answered him and a few more machines were rolled up around Tali's already surrounded by machines. ''Kelna.'' he said singling out one of them, she quickly set down one of her data-pads and practically raced towards him. ''Good work so far, now can you tell me what sort of readings we are getting now.''
She paused briefly and he saw her eyes flicker up into the corner of her visor where he knew read outs and information would be streamed directly onto the interior of the plexi-glass, it was one of the newest innovations in the fleet and the Quarian who had brought the technology that made it capable was guaranteed a position on the Moreh which was one of the fleets forward ships on technology and developments.
''Tali'Zorah started to loose control of her internal body temperature close to ten minutes ago, we are having her suit try and maintain her as best we can but it's far from ideal, and with her recent lung collapse and what appears to be irregular heart readings starting to appear I doubt she will be able to support herself without machine aid.''
''How long exactly, vague answers are not going to save her life.'' he snapped.
''Optimistically, I'd say thirty-five minutes.''
''Optimism hasn't really been working for us so far.'' he muttered, as he pondered over the news.
''Indeed doctor, if we are looking at a worst case scenario then we need to get those machines operational now.''
Dal saw a brief message flash up on his Omni-tool and glanced down to see it was from Shala, knowing that the contents of the message most likely contained things no one else should happen to glance upon he quickly walked towards one of the theatres corners and pretending to look like he was adjusting equipment.
Flipping open the message he quickly scanned the contents
Dal, I cannot keep the other admirals in the dark for too long, as soon as Daro'Xen gets suspicious the time you have is in hours.
Please Hurry and save my Tali
Dal closed the message and fought to maintain his posture so as to not give away his feelings, he knew of Admiral Daro's reputation for a cold, calculating women and he feared what she would do if she found out of his involvement in this whole scandal.
''EDI, I'm reading some energy fluctuations in engine four?'' asked Joker puzzled. ''We haven't even got the girl sprinting yet, why's the dam thing bugging out now.''
''Because Jeff, anytime the ship needed to go at such speeds we have had Tali'Zorah attending to the core and engines, without her technical expertise our output isn't optimal.''
''Fantastic.'' Joker muttered. ''How likely is it of damage coming to the engines?''
''Currently 9.87% chance of critical damage occurring to engines, if we maintain current speed or more chance increases to 34.38% within an hour.''
''And if we maintain this until we hit the relay?''
A brief pause that Joker knew was from EDI's reluctance to share the grim news, her processors could have calculated it before the words even left his mouth. ''Maintaining current speed until nearest mass relay leads to a 89.76% chance of critical failure to an engine, 32.12% of Normandy becoming completely immobile from damage until lengthy repairs are conducted.
''Should we tell Shepard? Possibly reduce our speed.''
''It would be unwise to burden Commander Shepard further .'' EDI replied. ''Also I estimate that Shepard would not reduce the ships speed even knowing these statistics.''
''Stubborn as a mule.'' he muttered.
''I have assigned engineers Donnelly and Daniels to there stations and they are currently working as quickly as possible.''
''Lets hope it is enough, EDI do you have any idea how we are going to get into the Fleet, we are lacking a certain Quarian to give us the pass code and as much as I have faith in you we are outnumbered I think… around fifty thousand to one. Granted it'll be a close battle but I'd prefer not to risk it.''
A brief pause followed the question causing Joker to wonder what was taking the AI so long and he knew she had a plan of some sort.
Then in a voice that if he didn't know she was in a different end of the galaxy he would've thought she was standing right behind him, Tali's heavily accented voice came over the comms. ''I think I should be able to fool the quarians monitoring the fleets perimeter joker.''
A grin spread across Jokers features as the flawless impersonation EDI managed, she even produced the voice a slight synthetic quality that Tali's visor gave off. ''EDI have you always been this devious or am I just rubbing off on you?
*Here you go, and again sorry for the massively long wait that its taken me to produce this chapterAs always hope you enjoy and review if you feel there are areas I can improve on*