A little extended introduction: The "purpose" of this is fanfic is threefold: 1) Have a Tali/Shep Romance in ME1, 2) have Shepard not be restricted by the dialogue and action choices the game presents you, that is, have some alternate dialogue/action paths and 3) smooth over some issues I always found a bit odd in the game; nothing major, though. So, if you see a derivation from how it was in the game, it is most likely deliberate. Romance development will not really show up for quite some chapters, but in any case Tali and Shepard will be the two alternating viewpoint characters. And that is also a general warning I should probably include: This fanfic is very slow-paced and long-drawn. Especially the first chapters will not be very much about action. Just so those whose tastes run otherwise might know.
Tali'Zorah nar Rayya realised that she was absolutely not cut for this sort of situations. Generally, she prided herself on being resourceful she was an excellent machinist, knew geth electronics inside-out, had sufficient military training, and could probably utilise and repair just about any mechanic or electronic system. But secret deals in shady backroom corridors, with unknown, alien opposite sides, on a space station housing nearly a dozen races? That was something else entirely and taxed her capabilities most sorely. After all, after 300 years far away from any planets, mostly isolated from other societies and crammed on ships so overpopulated that they left little room for any sort of secrets, quarian culture did not truly include movies or novels with spy plots any more (though there had been such things on Rannoch, the quarian homeworld), so Tali could not even draw from bad fictionalisations of such events, never mind having any real experience with them.
It was not like she had a choice, though, as her situation had become desperate. It was ironic, in a way the data she possessed had great value, she knew that. Few people had ever successfully captured data directly from a geth platform, and the information revealed about Saren Arterius, apparently a turian Spectre, had potentially great political weight. And yet all that potential value had been of absolutely no use to her. In the past days she had been forced to live in the streets, to seek medical treatment in a charity hospital, and generally to hide like a fugitive. In fact, it had been this very data which had caused all this, as Saren was now hunting her.
Tali had never wanted to be drawn into galactic politics, of course. No self respecting quarian would ever want to have anything to do with that, not after what their race had experienced after the Geth War. All she had wanted was to find that perfect prize she could return home to finish her pilgrimage, ideally ignored by any other society. However, as the last three centuries had shown to the quarians, the universe was an imperfect one and most of the time people did not get what they wanted, or even what they deserved. Instead, they got to face realities. So since Saren was in fact hunting her, she had taken actions to do something about it actions that in the end had led to her current, uncomfortable situation.
Dr Chloe, the human doctor running the hospital where she had been treated, had informed her about the so-called Shadow Broker, apparently an information broker of great and wide-ranging resources. Though reluctant at first, Dr Chloe had put her into contact with Fist, an agent of this mysterious figure. Like Chloe, Fist was a human, though what Tali primarily associated with him was not his race, but rather his repulsive nature. Why such a man would make a good contact for the Shadow Broker, or for well, anybody, she could not quite fathom. Still, she worked out a meeting time and place with him, for her to meet the Shadow Broker, and that was after all that mattered. Or so she had thought. Now, she was not quite so sure any more. After having waited two hours for the Shadow Broker to appear, she began to have second thoughts. The corridor she was standing in was very far away from any traffic lane, far away from any people, and full of clutter and dark corners. Perfect ambush territory. Keelah, and I only have my shotgun with me. Anybody really hostile will make short work of me. And the more she waited, the more such thoughts she had, and the more nervous she became.
After two hours on the edge, finally she noticed somebody coming. Two people in fact, armed and fully armoured salarians. Nervously, Tali's hand went to grab her shotgun, but a third figure, a turian with the strangest face paintings she had ever seen, came into view, making calming gestures. "Calm down," he said, walking towards her. "Where is the data? Did you bring it?".
This was definitely not the way Tali had envisioned the meeting. Who the hell is this guy? Surely not the Shadow Broker. "Where is the Shadow Broker?" she asked tensely "Where is Fist?"
"They'll be here" the turian answered, tracing the outline of her helmet with his talons. "Where is the evidence?"
That was definitely not good. Maybe Tali was paranoid, but a little paranoia seemed like a good idea in this situation. "No way," she replied, "The deal's off."
The turian looked to his two salarian guards and stepped back from her. Tali narrowed her eyes just as she had feared. This were not agents of the Shadow Broker, but a hostile third party. Saren's agents, most likely. But they were way too confident, taking all the time in the world. Before they could even properly bring their guns in position, Tali threw a tech proximity mine at them and jumped behind one of the crates. This, however, proved to be only a short term solution. The salarians had been knocked back by the mine, but their shields were hardly scratched. And while Tali had a weapon, a shotgun is not exactly the best choice for suppressive fire, meaning her enemies could close in again. Tali cursed Fist and the entire situation, trying to gain distance. Walking backwards, she fired several pot-shots at her opponents, but she knew this would not distract them for long, and in a serious fire fight she would have no chance. Still, practical as she and most her people were, for now she concentrated merely on firing and walking.
Thus she was stunned when she saw the salarians, and the oddly face-painted turian, too, suddenly receiving way more fire than her gun could ever provide, causing their shields to flare up wildly.
What in the ancestors name?
A quick glance revealed that a three men fireteam had joined in on the fight, apparently for whatever reasons on her side. She held off wondering for later, though. If she survived this, she would have all the time in the world to ask questions, but that was still a rather unsure if, and so she kept firing. Her enemies, on their part, now dug in behind crates, too, and a vicious firefight ensured. It was clear, though, that those thugs were no match for the newcomers, who acted like professional soldiers. Two humans and, ancestors preserve, a krogan. One of the humans, apparently the team leader, gestured her to stay safe behind one of the ubiquitous crates, and then ordered his comrades to rush forwards. From that point on, the fight lasted only some short more seconds.
And I thought those salarians dangerous. Careful now. The threat is not over yet, not before I know who those people are.
When she heard no gun fire any more, Tali left her position, walking towards the team. The krogan was one of the biggest she had ever seen, admittedly not many on her pilgrimage so far, and the two humans still glowed blue with biotic energies. Ancestors, who were those people? They had just saved her, true enough, but she still did not feel entirely secure yet. Her heart pumped at the highest frequencies and she was still utterly nervous.
"Fist set me up," she blurted out, the first thing that came to mind, more to herself than her apparent saviours, "I knew I couldn't trust him."
The team leader nodded, saying: "Are you all right? Were you hurt in the fight?"
"I'm okay," Tali replied, though she still was not fully ready to trust him. "I know how to look out for myself. Not that I do not appreciate the help." That was probably the best neutral middle ground, not offending her saviours and not opening out too much to a potential new threat, either.
The krogan made a somewhat frightening sound somewhere between a grunt and a laugh, but the human speaking to her ignored him:"You are the quarian who wanted to make a deal with the Shadow Broker?"
"Yes. The name is Tali, Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. And just who are you?"
"Commander Jonathan Shepard, Systems Alliance Navy. My sources told me you might have proof linking the Spectre Saren Arterius to the geth attacks on our colony on Eden Prime."
She breathed out, deeply relieved. Just as she had suspected, military professionals. That was good, very good. Officials would most likely not shoot her, and the Alliance did have a valid interest in discovering facts, instead of hushing things up or violently cutting down loose ends. "This is correct," she answered. "If you want the evidence, then I have a chance to repay you for saving my life. But we should talk about this somewhere more private and safe."
"Indeed. I already had sent one of my soldiers notifying the Human embassy in advance, so if you would please follow us to there, Miss... Zorah? Or is it Miss nar Rayya?"
That question both amused and surprised her. The stumbling did absolutely not fit to the warrior she had just observed, but few enough bothered with quarian cultural sensibilities to ask such things at all. Of course, maybe he was just very rigid with right etiquette, many military officers were after all and that across many species. Hence she should not bore him with details: "My people use the given name as short form in most situations, so you can just call me Tali. Zorah is my clan name, so if I understand human naming conventions correct it would be Miss Zorah... but as said, that would be an unusual construction among quarians."
"Well then, Tali..." the Commander replied, making a gesture for her to get to move. "Let's get to some less shady parts of the Citadel."
And so they did. In fact, the public elevator they were soon using could hardly go to a less shady part of the station than their destination the Presidium, heart of political power in the entire, galaxy-spanning Citadel Space. She had been here before, of course, once shortly, immediately upon arriving at the station. It was after all, still a public place, even though one including many off-limits locations, most famously the Citadel Tower, the nearly fabled meeting place of the Council. And truly, the Presidium had been a magnificent sight to behold, with its lush gardens, its pristine lake and its elegant architecture. Not the best place to hide, though, so she had quickly left the area again.
Maybe I should have stayed here. After all, C-Sec would never allow open firefights here, she thought wryly. Then again, most likely they also would not have allowed any injured quarian staying day and night cycles in the streets.
"You should probably know," Commander Shepard began after having entered the elevator, "Fist is dead. Killed by Wrex, the krogan here, under the Shadow Broker's orders."
Another reminder of the danger of these people, but still it was rather good news.
"That is good. I do not think of myself as revengeful or vicious," Tali replied more or less truthfully, "but Fist was dangerous."
"And while we are at introductions as said, that is Urdnot Wrex, bounty hunter. And this here is Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko, regular crew member of the SSV Normandy, the ship I am also stationed on."
"Well then, Commander Jonathan Shepard, Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko and Urdnot Wrex, thank you again for saving my life, and also for taking care of Fist."
"Rank and family name is usually enough in human naming conventions," Alenko chimed in.
"I must admit," Shepard continued, "I have never seen one of your people before."
How could it be any different? Tali thought and replied: "There are only few of us left. No more than 17 million people on the Migrant Fleet, plus way less than half a million outside it at any given time."
"I see," Shepard answered, with some caution in his voice. "I know about the geth rebellion of course, but only in abstract. Never learned much detail about it."
"Huh," Wrex commented from behind the two, "what is there to know? The quarians built a slave race, and then lost against them. Hard."
"The geth were no slave race," Tali hissed, outraged. "'Slave' implies living, sentient creatures. 'Race' also implies living creatures. The geth are neither. They are just machines. A faulty production series of machines."
She actually felt a little self-conscious after this outburst, in front of people they had just gotten to know. And Wrex had been part of the effort to save her life. Nonetheless, all she had said was simply the plain truth, so she decided to regret none of it. And judging by the quick, sharp look Commander Shepard was giving the krogan he did not really appreciate his comment, either.
"Well, living or not, that seems like a highly sophisticated philosophical question to me" he said. "Nothing that helps you on the battlefield. Purely pragmatically, it seems we and your people now have a common enemy."
"Yes, I have heard about the attack on the Eden Prime colony," Tali answered. And in fact, it had left her utterly dumbfounded. A major geth attack, on what was probably the most important colony of a Citadel Space race, after centuries of hiding? She had been on a geth planet herself when she had learned, hence used to the constant threat the machines represented, and still the implications had sent chills down her spine. She could only imagine what sort of uproar these news would cause on the Flotilla. "It is disquieting, especially for us quarians. Since the end of their rebellion, the geth have remained hidden from organic life behind the Perseus Veil. If they attack now, it might mean they have prepared for war for over three centuries!"
Shepard shook his head. "This was not a planetary conquest, though, or anything like that. It was a major strike, yes, but it seems to have had well defined aims. They came solely for the prothean beacon that had been unearthed there, captured it and left again."
"They did also try to blow up large parts of the colony," Kaidan argued.
"The parts they had operated in," Shepard replied. "To destroy evidence, most likely."
"You were there when it happened? Tali asked, somewhat stunned.
"In the midst of it all. We ran right into the attack, the only Alliance ship within range to offer military support to the colony. So I have first hand experience with the geth now. Fought enough on them on the planet."
"You are too modest, Commander," Alenko commented. "It was you who saved the colony from blowing up."
"It was you who actually defused the explosives, Lieutenant. The team did it."
Well, that definitely made Tali's respect for the human Commander rise by several magnitudes. Not only the successful rescue of a colony. That was good, but still a rather distant fact to her. That he apparently also had rather successfully fought geth with just an impromptu attack force and no reinforcements at hand, though, that was of course something every quarian could appreciate very much.
Even if the geth have prepared for war so long, it seems organics can still be every bit a match for them.
The surprisingly slow elevator arrived at its destination just as Shepard wrapped up his explanation: "Unfortunately a Spectre we had on board got killed in action. Backstabbed and shot by Saren, most likely. So that's why we are here, reporting to the Council. They did not believe our story, though. Saren even mocked us at the hearing, present via tele-hologram. Your proof will hopefully shut him up good. Too bad I won't be able to see his face."
Tali followed him outside, into the Presidium. Seeing the place again was quite less of an experience for her than her first brief exposure to it. She could at first not quite put a finger on it - nothing had changed in the place, after all.
It feels empty she realised Almost lifeless and over-sterile. And gaudy other races with more plentiful resources can afford to have some ceremonial decorum beyond mere practicalities, especially at such important places, but this goes way beyond that. A ten kilometres ring dedicated to nothing else but the self-celebration of Citadel Space, its members and its Council is just silly and wasteful. The Presidium would probably be able to house half the people of the Migrant Fleet!
As far as she was concerned, it only went to show that good taste was nothing that could be bought with ample resources.
The humans walking at her sides seemed to view it differently, though. It was of course difficult to discern, what with them being aliens, and new to the galactic scene as well. Tali's translator program did not yet have all human body language cues properly installed as with anything else, translator technology on the Flotilla lagged behind some decades, so the best they had came from when humans had just been discovered by the turians. Still, as far as she could discern it, the two humans seemed amazed, or even a little bit joyous about the view of the Presidium, having wide eyes and a the smallest hint of smiles on their faces. Wrex on the other hand seemed entirely unmoved in either direction. Of course, from what little Tali had seen of him it would be rather surprising if he were in fact moved by anything at all.
Once, over three hundred standard years ago, the quarians had an embassy here, too, being a respected associated member of the Citadel, renowned for their technological and engineering skills, and respected as a society rapidly building up a technological utopia, based on automated labour. That had ended with the Geth War, when the Council had added insult to injury and the quarians had lost their associate membership. They of course had not been the first race to lose their embassy, that were the krogan, and they also were not the last, as that were the batarians. And in the meanwhile, a new race had been granted an embassy, only some short years after their first discovery. The Migrant Fleet did not quite know yet what to think of those newcomers, the humans from Earth, as contact with them had been very limited in the short time, not even thirty years, since their first appearance on the galactic scene. If bothered to think about them at all, most quarians would mention their excessive ambition, their attempts to claim large swathes of space all at once, and their apparently never-ending zeal for ever greater political power. Troublemakers, in short, if not quite as violent as the batarians, the previous enfant terrible of Citadel politics. However, right now of course, Tali was quite glad about their presence on the Citadel. Nobody would dare attack one of the official embassies on the Presidium. She was safe for now.
Being seamlessly integrated into the wider architecture of the Presidium ring, just as all 'buildings' here, there was nothing really remarkable about the human embassy. Like all its surroundings it was elegantly curved, spotlessly clean and shining white. Immediately upon entrance, an aide took them in, and directed them to the balcony. Gunnery Chief Williams stood at the entrance of it, visibly uncomfortable in this place and relieved to see Shepard appearing again. Next to her stood Ambassador Udina and Captain Anderson. All three looked rather intensely at the Commander's arrival, anxious to see what he had achieved.
"You are not making my life easy, Shepard," Udina began. "Gunnery Chief Williams informed me about your plan, and I see you got the quarian, but firefights in the wards? An all-out assault on Chora's Den? Was that really necessary?"
Shepard sighed inwardly. How had such an aggressive and short-tempered man been chosen for the most important diplomatic position humanity had? he wondered. Maybe there were some advantages in aggressive negotiating, but the problem with Udina was that his short temper affected absolutely everything, not just Council audiences and the like.
"That firefight was started by Saren's agents, who were attacking her" he replied, pointing towards Tali. "We arrived just in time. And had we been any subtler in Chora's Den we maybe would not have arrived in time."
"Hm. I suppose it is nothing that cannot be smoothed out. Was your little operation a success, at least?"
"Yes, Ambassador. Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, the quarian, does have evidence linking Saren to the attack on Eden Prime."
"Really? What do you have , Miss Zorah?"
"An audio file, recovered from a geth memory core," she answered, with a clear and steady voice. Shepard liked how professionally she carried herself in this situation, especially so shortly after having been the target of a firefight.
"I thought the geth had self-defence mechanisms frying their memories when they die or when extraction is attempted," Captain Anderson commented.
"Maybe you should start at the beginning, the Ambassador suggested. Audio files may be contested as evidence, anyway, so we might need contextual information."
"Right", Tali answered, "I was on my pilgrimage. I still am, in fact. It is a tradition among my people, our rite of passage into adulthood."
"I have heard little of it," the Ambassador commented, "quarian cultural information is hard to come by. Some kind of challenge to prove one's worth, if I remember correctly?"
"Yes. When we reach maturity, we leave the ships of our parents and our people behind. Alone we search the stars, only returning to the Flotilla once we have discovered something of value. In this way, we prove ourselves worthy of adulthood. Often, it is merely a symbolical act, but I wanted more, something of real value. During my travels, I began hearing reports of geth activity, outside the Perseus Veil. Since they drove my people into exile, the geth have never ventured beyond it, so I was curious. I found a patrol of them, and tracked it to an uncharted world. I waited for one to become separated from its unit, then I disabled it and removed its memory core."
Shepard was intrigued. Just having passed adolescence, isolated from the environment she had known all her life, this young quarian had been able to hide from geth, disable one, bypass all mechanical security and capture the data. And apparently she was also ambitious and self-secure. Putting this into words he said: "That is rather impressive, especially considering what Captain Anderson said about the geth's memory self-destruct mechanisms. How did you manage to gain the data?"
"Thanks," Tali answered. "It is possible if you know how, and my people created the geth, so we know best how. If you're quick, careful and lucky, you have a chance to save small caches of data. I was lucky. Most of the core was wiped clean, but I managed to salvage some general information, and some files from its audio databanks."
She fiddled with her omni-tool, and a voice filled the balcony: "Eden Prime was a major victory. The beacon has brought us one step closer to finding the Conduit."
"That's Saren's voice!" Captain Anderson exclaimed. "That proves he was behind the attack!"
Anger rose in Shepard. That goddamn turian bastard. He was it. He had brought war to pristine Eden Prime. And then denied it all and called for humanity's 'proper role' as good, obedient little servants at the Council meeting. "We got that son of a bitch," he said, almost hissed, laying all his viciousness and vindication into it. He had to compose himself, would not do to make a scene in front of Udina, before continuing: "What is that 'Conduit' that he mentioned, though?"
"I have not heard of a 'Conduit' in this whole affair before," Captain Anderson replied, "but it seems finding it is the overall aim of Saren. If the beacon aided him in that, then maybe it's some sort of prothean technology. A potent weapon, in the worst case."
"Wait," Tali interjected, "there is more. Saren wasn't working alone."
Again Saren's voice could be heard, this time followed by a female one: "And one one step closer to the return of the Reapers."
"I don't recognise that other voice," Udina commented, "the one talking about Reapers."
"And just what are those 'Reapers'"? Shepard asked. "Pretty dramatic name. A new alien species, maybe?"
"The geth data catches I salvaged had information on that as well," Tali answered. "According to them, the Reapers were a hyper-advanced machine race, and it was them who wiped out the protheans fifty thousand years ago. They hunted them to total extinction, and then they vanished. The geth revere them as pinnacle of non-organic life, and think Saren knows how to bring them back." She seemed to realise how enormous this all sounded, and went on somewhat self-consciously: "At least, that is what the geth believe. According to the memory core."
The extinction of the protheans - A campaign of war spanning the entire galaxy... violence in untold dimensions... the end of all living things... That that was what he had seen on Eden Prime. Violence, blood and warfare. The end of the protheans. And the Reapers had done it, apparently. He felt a little nauseated by all that. Dear God, over what have I stumbled here?
The ambassador seemed to share Tali's doubts, though. "Sounds a little far fetched," he commented.
Sure, he has not seen the vision. Shepard wondered whether anybody would ever truly understand him concerning that experience, and also believe him. He rubbed his forehead and finally managed to bring out: "It's... it's not."
That got their attention, and they all looked a bit queerly at him. And he still felt somewhat weak.
"The vision," he continued, "The vision on Eden Prime. I understand it now. A prothean beacon, showing the protheans being wiped out by the Reapers."
"So you claim Saren wants to bring back the race who destroyed the protheans?" Udina asked. "The Council's just going to love that."
Just what Shepard had thought, too. The ambassador is right, no way was the Council going to believe that. If the Reapers were really returning, then all evidence on that, and hence the security of the galaxy, hinges on a small comment on an audio file and a garbled vision. Just great. "They won't believe it," he admitted, "but at least it proves Saren is a traitor. They will have to believe that much, at least." Little steps can be taken, at least.
"That is true, Commander. Miss Zorah, if you would be so kind to transfer your data, so that I in turn can transfer it to the Council? This should give us an audience in a matter of minutes."
Tali nodded, typing on her omni-tool to do so.
"It is probably best if you and Commander Shepard will appear at the Council in person. They are unlikely to make specific questions, but it's always better to be sure. And maybe one of the Normandy's ground team as a guard. Anderson, you and the rest of your people can stay in the embassy in the meanwhile."
Just as Udina had predicted, the confirmation of an audience came quickly enough, and the Council wanted to see them in a matter of minutes, something that made the ambassador smile gleefully.
Maybe that is why he always seems so short tempered: He just takes every victory and every defeat personally. Heh, that might even help him in diplomacy, as it guarantees he will always without end work and push towards success.
Be that it may, now he was over-energetic. He directed Shepard and Tali towards the embassy's own Diplomatic Shuttle, urging them to make haste. Shepard for his part chose Kaidan as the token 'guard'. It was not just that he was a biotic, and that hence he did not need weapons, which were of course barred in the Council chamber. The Commander did not truly think anything could happen there. However, Chief Williams would most likely have been either frightened or bored to death by all the politics around her. She had been nervous enough the first time they had been summoned before the Council.
The shuttle landed at the Citadel Tower, where the Council Chamber was located, at the very top. A cheap symbolism, as Shepard thought. A theme that continued in the Chamber itself: It was strangely enough not very well decorated, there were no insignia or signs of glory - however, it covered a very wide space, and the places of the Councillors were removed from the petitioners by a very wide gap. The petitioners had to stand on a sort of bridge leading halfway over the gap, while the Council could look down on them. Even more nonsensical symbolism. Udina showed some skill in it, too, though, placing the timing of their arrival just right, so that the Council could not display its dominance by having them wait. The small group arrived just mere seconds before the three Councillors entered, walking with obvious and surely highly trained gravitas and dignity to their respective stations.
"This meeting of the council," the asari councillor and current chairwoman began "is in session."
"We have gone over the proof you presented to us," the salarian continued. "The implications of geth data for the science and intelligence communities will be interesting, but more to the point the evidence against Saren is damning."
The asari typed something on her work station, and once again the audio clip could be heard. Ambassador Udina smirked, still glowing from the vindication he and Shepard had just received.
"You wanted proof?" he shouted, "There it is!"
"This evidence is irrefutable, ambassador" the turian councillor replied. Even across the species barrier one could her the dismay and disappointment in his voice. Or maybe the translators provided that. "Saren will be stripped of his Spectre status and all efforts will be made to bring him in to answer for his crimes."
"I recognise the other voice," the asari commented, "the one speaking with Saren. Matriarch Benezia."
"An asari matriarch is helping Saren?" Udina asked, sounding both unbelieving and worried.
"This is troubling indeed. Matriarchs are powerful asari who have entered the final stage of their lives. Revered for their wisdom and experiences, they serve as guides and mentors to my people. Matriarch Benezia is a powerful biotic and she had many followers. She will make a formidable ally to Saren."
"I'm more interested in the Reapers," the salarian went on. "Your files, ambassador, claims the geth revere them as gods, and see Saren as their prophet. Do you have any additional information?"
"Not yet" Udina replied, "but the geth have attacked a human colony, and Saren has directed them. This makes this information highly important!"
"There is also the fact that they wiped out the protheans fifty thousand years ago," Shepard interjected. Damn it all, maybe they will not believe me, but how many people have a chance at all to speak before the Council? It's worth trying, at least."If the geth are right about Saren, that he wants to bring them back, then the entire galaxy is threatened."
Udina seemed to be a bit troubled, maybe even embarrassed by Shepard's comment, but did go on: "We believe that is why Saren is searching the Conduit. It might be vital in bringing those 'Reapers' back. That is why he attacked Eden Prime."
"Do you even know what this 'Conduit' is?" the salarian asked.
"Not yet," Udina answered, "but it is clearly Saren's strategical aim. We must be quicker than him. Whatever it is, Saren thought it worth an attack on a colony, the murder of a fellow spectre and the risk of exposure to his rogue activities! That makes it quite a strategical objective for us, too!"
"And Saren thinks it can bring back the Reapers", Shepard added. "That is bad enough. Ambassador Udina is right, we must stop Saren and find this Conduit!"
"Listen to what you are saying!" the turian exclaimed. "Saren wants to bring back the machines that wiped out all life in the galaxy? Ridiculous. Where did the Reapers go? Why did they vanish? How come we've found no trace of their existence? Do you have any more proof besides the say-so of some rogue machines thinking they are alive?"
If nobody else, at least Tali sure might like this guy, Shepard thought. Damn, I had not planned to mention the beacon again. They were right after all a vision, how ridiculous! And yet, it was not just a vision. It had been an effect of the beacon, prothean technology.
"I saw it happening!" he thus began, almost shouting. "On Eden Prime. This was not just a hallucination. It was triggered by the prothean beacon on Eden Prime. The protheans themselves had recorded their extinction!" He paused for a moment, unsure. "It is not exactly readily verifiable information, but it is additional evidence. It adds up."
"Direct neural stimulation is one of the leading theories for how prothean communication technology worked," the salarian councillor admitted. "Still, this is too flimsy as proof. The beacon is destroyed, and we do not know for sure whether it really was a communication attempt or normal stress-induced hallucinations. Meaning no offence, Commander, we just do not know. This makes an alternate explanation far more reasonable: That Saren is using the Reapers, a fictional construct, for memetic engineering, his way to control the geth."
"Possible," Shepard admitted, his anger rising. "All matter of things are possible, though. Would you bet your life on it? Or maybe gamble with the lives of everybody in the galaxy? If Saren is a lunatic, or lying to the geth, then we have nothing to worry. But if not, and if Saren finds the conduit, then the Reapers will destroy everything!"
"Saren is a rogue Spectre on the run for his life," the turian replied. "He no longer has the rights or resources of a Spectre, the Council has stripped him of his position. There is no way he will achieve anything at all."
"That is not enough!" Udina replied. He was in his element now again, shouting even at the Council and pushing for additional concessions as if his life were at stake.
This time it maybe even is, Shepard thought dryly.
"You know he is hiding somewhere in the Traverse," the ambassador thundered, "You know he is still in contact with the geth. He is still a danger. Send your fleet in!"
"A fleet cannot track down one man," the salarian answered.
"It would secure the entire region. Saren and his geth are still out there, a Citadel fleet would ensure they do not attack any further human colonies."
"Or it could ensure a war with the Terminus Systems" the turian said. "We won't be dragged into a galactic confrontation over a few dozen human colonies!"
"Few dozen human colonies?" Shepard exclaimed. That goddamn bastard. "Are you always that callous with the lives of other species, Councillor?" The way he spat the title out it was practically an insult. "Would you also do the same if turian colonies and turian lives at stake? Hell, if it were not for those few dozen human colonies, the Attican Traverse today would still be just as lawless as the Terminus Systems. And yet, every time humanity asks for help you ignore us!"
"Shepard is right," Udina agreed, "I'm sick of this Council and its anti-human bullsh..."
"Ambassador!" the asari interrupted. "There is another solution. A way to stop Saren that does not require fleets or armies."
She looked to the turian councillor for approval, revealing the inner power structures of the Council. The turian understood immediately what she meant, but he did not agree: "No! It's too soon. Humanity is not ready for the responsibilities that come with joining the Spectres."
Naming me Spectre Shepard had not expected that this would come up again. Yet, it made sense. He could see what the asari wanted to achieve. And it was something at least. Small steps, again, he thought, and said: "You don't have to send in a fleet, and the ambassador gets his human Spectre. Clever, a diplomatic compromise and additionally it will look like the Council actually did something about the situation!"
The turian lunged forwards a bit at that, clearly provoked. But then he looked to his asari counterpart, and nodded. All three councillors began to type on their work stations.
"Commander Shepard, step forwards," the asari ordered, and continued when he had: "It is the decision of the Council that you be granted all the powers and privileges of the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance branch of the Citadel."
"Spectres are not trained, but chosen." the salarian went on in a clearly ceremonial voice, "Individuals forged in the fire of service and battle. Those whose actions elevate them above the rank and file."
"Spectres are an ideal, a symbol", the asari explained in the same tone, "the embodiment of courage, determination and self-reliance. They are the right hand of the Council, instruments of our will."
Even the turian took part in this ceremonial speech: "Spectres bear a great burden. They are protectors of galactic peace, both our first and last line of defence. The safety of the galaxy is theirs to uphold."
"You are the first human Spectre, Commander", the asari finished the speech, "This is a great accomplishment for you and your entire species."
"I'm honoured, councillors" Shepard answered, moved by the ceremony, despite all circumstances.
"We're sending you into the Traverse after Saren. He's a fugitive from justice, so you are authorised to use any means necessary to apprehend or eliminate him."
"I'll find him," Shepard promised. How strange, he thought. He never had been one for ceremonies, but this one, with himself at the centre, had left him emboldened and ready to take on the galaxy.
"Congratulations, Shepard", Captain Anderson greeted the Commander back in the embassy. "Humanity's first Spectre."
Udina seemed more reserved and thoughtful "We've got a lot of work to do," he said "You're going to need a ship, a crew, supplies... Anderson, come with me, we will have to coordinate all this."
Anderson gave Shepard a slight smile and a shrug, before following the energetic Udina out of the room and leaving the Commander behind together with Williams, Alenko, Tali and Wrex.
"Hm," Wrex commented. "So you are a Spectre now? You don't look much different since you left. I could still take you on."
"Yeaaah, comforting thought," Shepard answered.
"Nothing like some stabilising continuity," Alenko joked.
"Especially as it looks like you'll be on the move again soon, sir," Williams commented.
"Sure looks like," Shepard replied. "Udina looked like he won't be wasting any time." He turned to Tali. "Well then, Tali, as I'm surely soon recalled on short notice, and you're certainly anxious to go on with your pilgrimage thank you again. Without your evidence this all would not have been possible. Where will you go now?"
"That... depends." The quarian seemed to hesitate, which surprised Shepard, given how self-secure she so far had always been. "I would be willing to offer my help to you in your fight. You know I can handle myself, you saw me in the alley, and well, I could offer my experience and knowledge concerning the geth."
This left Shepard surprised. Well, I already did agree to have Wrex come along. But then, you can always use a biotic krogan supersoldier. And if Tali is really in her 'rite of passage into adulthood' how old is she? That all might be a bit too much for her. Then again... To win time, Shepard asked about the most immediate thing that appeared like an obstacle to him: "And what about your pilgrimage then?"
"Officially, so to say, I am on my pilgrimage from the time I leave the Flotilla to the time I return. How we spend that time and how we try to find anything of value is up entirely to us. It would not interrupt the pilgrimage, merely changing its course for a bit. And through this rite we are expected to show our willingness to give for the greater good. Saren is a threat to everybody, including the quarians. This is how I feel I could best serve that greater good."
"I could use expertise on the geth," Shepard mused, and it was true. The Alliance did not exactly have many informations on those synthetics, and he would surely encounter them en masse in the near future, seeing how Saren controlled them. He sighed. "All right. You made your case, and you are right. Welcome in the team. And thank you."
At that moment Shepard found it too bad he could not see the quarian's face. Judging by her unsure movements, she seemed to be uncertain, maybe flustered, but without any facial impression it was hard to tell. "No," she said finally, "thank you for giving me this chance."
"Touching," Wrex commented sarcastically.
"Any ideas where you will go, Commander?" Alenko asked. "The Traverse is a big place."
"Hopefully the Council can give me some leads," Shepard answered. "Or Udina."
"What about that turian at C-Sec, Agent Vakarian? Maybe his data hunt had some success."
After having met Garrus Vakarian under interesting circumstances at Dr Chloe's hospital, Shepard had asked him to look up and gather all information he could find about Saren. Saren was a spectre, of course, so surely not well registered and documented, but if somebody had additional information about him, it was C-Sec. And Vakarian also had assured Shepard he could handle some decrypted files, too. Still, whatever he might found would most likely be known to the Council as well, so the Commander had no too high hopes.
Still, better than nothing.
"You're right, Lieutenant. Maybe I should pay him a visit, see how far he has come. Until the ambassador finds a ship for me, or gives me some resources so that I can buy permanent transit, so long I'll be stuck here on the Citadel anyway. Mind, it's a great place to be stuck in, but it would be even greater if I could finally hunt down Saren."
"He is way ahead of you and knows that you're coming, Sir" Williams analysed. "Sounds like your chances will be small no matter the transport. Uh, no offence, Sir."
Shepard chuckled at that. He liked what he had seen of the Gunnery Chief's wit and temperament in the short time the two had been assigned to the same ship, and it was always quite humorous when she caught herself having been out of line.
"It's easy," Wrex disagreed, "Saren wants the Conduit. Find the Conduit, and you have Saren."
"Yeah, quite easy," Williams replied, "except that we do not even know just what the hell it is. Never mind where."
"Neither does Saren," Shepard pointed out. "Or he would have used it already. So I'll just have to be quicker in finding it."
"Could you, though, Commander?" Alenko wondered. "I mean, not to drag you down or anything, but since we do not know what it is, you could walk right besides it without even knowing."
Shepard nodded. "Yeah, well," he said, "I already have somebody for the sheer fire-power, and somebody with knowledge about the geth. Seems I need to extend my team and find somebody with knowledge about the protheans."
"You could extend your collections of aliens, sir" Williams quipped. "Ask a hanar, and you will enough about the Enkindlers to last you a lifetime."
"His collections of aliens?" Tali complained, "We're standing right here!"
"Yes, yes, sorry," Williams apologised, somewhat taken aback. "That was a bad way to formulate a joke about the hanar. I didn't mean to give offence."
"I'm not offended", Wrex stated, "I'm also having a collection of aliens."
Perceptive Shepard thought and smiled. "As does Tali then, it seems" he pointed out. "Anyway, yes, might as well look how far Agent Vakarian has come. Wrex, Tali, do you want to accompany me? Ah, well, not that it's your fault at all, but some of the embassy staff already seem somewhat... uh, uncomfortable due to your presence."
"I'm used to that," Tali commented. "Few people trust us."
"Their problem," Wrex stated, "But I'll come along if you want."
"Good," Shepard said. "Chief Williams, Lieutenant Alenko, seems like you have some free time now, due to a vacuum of orders. I wouldn't want to disrupt it, so enjoy it. Oh, and of course do inform me once Ambassador Udina and Captain Anderson are finished with their work."
And with that, he turned and went, followed by Tali and Wrex.