A Gentle Breeze Before the Storm
It was any day now. Stress from the upcoming trial tugged on Shepard's face, it looked as if he had aged a decade. Tali knew it was the stress and she felt it constricting in her chest, making her breaths shorter, as if an orgy of snakes were choking the life from her lungs like they would a stubborn rodent. After their vacation on Diamond Cove in Illium, taking out the Shadow Broker, and Shepard's lone mission that led to the trial, she knew time's tether was pulling them closer to the climax. Sighing, Tali grabbed Shepard's hand, playing with his fingers once again, like she always does. It was a nervous habit she had picked up, but Shepard didn't mind it at all. Their taxi hummed and the driver was speaking softly into his headset as he weaved through the capital city of Terra Nova. The Normandy was resupplying herself before making her final destination to Earth for the trial all of them dreaded. This trip, as Shepard said, was probably going to be their last time in peace before the war.
Timidly, Tali whispered, "Shepard, what…how do you know this is going to be the last time we get to spend in peace?" Her voice lightened the mood in the drab interior of the taxi and his mouth sloped upwards into a crooked smile.
"We will talk about this later." He motioned his head towards the driver, mouthed "top secret," and grinned. The last time they were off world and not getting shot at was back on Illium during their wonderful "vacation." Tali had the sinking feeling this was to be their last until the Reapers arrive, whenever that was going to be. Honestly, she didn't want to think about it; today was their day and Shepard said he was bringing her to a very special place on this human colony. The driver flicked his eyes to the rearview mirror giving Tali a suspicious look. He obviously has had his head in the sand as he hasn't noticed Shepard, nor knew who he was in that case. This city was different compared to all of the others she has seen. The buildings were all white and clean, glazed in one of summer's sporadic rain showers. She liked the rain, a lot in fact, but the sun has always been a more enticing sight than bruised sky. The taxi's seatbelt dug into her hips as they decelerated towards low-set buildings on the ground.
"Can you tell me what we are doing, Shep?"
"Not yet, I want it a surprise. I know you are going to love it."
Tali patted her lap and tapped the heels of her feet anxiously. She hated surprises and always had. When younger, she remembers whenever it was her birthday, she couldn't sleep the previous night as she wondered what her parents would get her as a gift. Squirming in the seat, Tali gripped her shoulder harness and leaned to peer out the window of the cab. Shepard's arm snaked around her shoulder, pulling her away from the window, the gateway that taunted her undying need for an answer.
"I haven't seen you like this in a while."
Tali batted his hand away from her and spat, "I hate surprises, and you know that!"
"Yeah, good. It will make it all sweeter. I can't wait to see your face."
"But you can't see my face, Shepard."
"I know what your grin looks like." He closed his eyes and smiled. "I can see it as clear as day."
She couldn't help but smile.
"Thirty credits," he driver coughed. Shepard swiped his credit chit and both exited the taxi. Swiveling her head, Tali searched for clues. The building was sail-shaped with cobalt glass and had big letters painted on the front saying Ron's Historic Transportation.
Before Tali could lay a thick blanket of questions on Shepard, a man in a striped suit walked out, his voice booming across the landing pad.
"Welcome Commander, good to finally meet you!"
"Shepard?" Tali asked. Both men shook hands and Tali stared at the funny looking man's attire. He wore black leather shoes that were so polished, they hurt her eyes, a bowler hat, and his suit was striped with robin-egg's blue and yellow fabric. Every finger on his orange had held huge rings and his wrist weighed down by a gold, old-fashioned watch with three little ticking hands. Tali affixed an unbreakable gaze on the watch, fascinated by its mechanical design.
"Mr. Gooding, this is Tali'Zorah," Shepard introduced. Shepard's powerful arm pushed her into his chest trying to get her attention.
"Oh, hello," she stuttered.
"Do you like my watch?"
"I…no, I was just…"
"Yes she does, Mr. Gooding. Tali here is my ship's chief engineer and mechanical genius."
"How old is that," she asked, still targeted on the watch.
"It is about two-hundred years old, made in Switzerland." Tali raised an eyebrow. "Oh, yes. That is a country back on Earth. Fine engineers, not as good as you quarians are."
"Were," Tali said.
"Were, then." Mr. Gooding clapped his hands, cutting the awkward moment. "Well then, do you want to see the car you rented? I think Misses Zorah is going to appreciate it." Both Shepard and Tali smiled bashfully at the title Mr. Gooding gave her. She would have corrected him, but she liked it that way better.
"Misses," she lisped under her breath. One day hat is going to be her official title. After the war, one day they will make that last official bond. For now though, she was going to enjoy this day and she could feel it revving up to be a stellar one. The business was located on an airfield right outside the city. For miles, white stretches of pavement filled the empty landscape like smears on an oil painting, and Tali could see the heat's hot, sweaty breath rippling off of the damp concrete. The man in the funny suit led both of them to a canvas hangar on the airfield. If they had more time, she would have loved to look at all of the old human aircraft strewn across the field. From history books growing up on the Flotilla and her from her own entertainment, Tali knew exactly what these aircrafts were. Quarians once had propeller and jet mounted aircraft many, many years ago and she has always wanted to lay eyes on one in the flesh.
"Shepard, those airplanes are magnificent!"
"They are very old, but have lots of charm. Those were flown in a time when men were men and those used liquid propellant." He pointed at one about fifty feet away. "I think that is a MiG 15, and old human aircraft. Now that, one day, we will have to fly."
"Do you know how to fly?"
"Uh, no. Joker can't fly it either, it would kill him with gravity."
Tali thought about having all that power jammed between her legs, literally sitting on a rocket and being one with the machine. The ships nowadays are better, but flying one of those older ones would be magnificent. She had to tear her gaze away from the aluminum body and the yellow tipped wings when they walked into the hangar that held a car Shepard rented for the two them.
"Well, here it is you two," the funny dressed man said. Tali's breath was stolen from her when she saw the car. It looked funny though. There were two circles on both ends of the sleek red body and it was smaller than the cars she is used to seeing flying in cities.
"Are those…what are those rubber air sacks on it?" Tali looked up to Shepard's face, frantically grabbing his hand. "What is it?"
"A 1967 Corvette ," Mr. Gooding replied with a grin.
"Wow." Shepard ran a hand through the stubble on his chin. "Tali."
"As a kid, I had this car pinned on my wall. I have never seen one in person before because they are so rare. I know there are a couple on Earth, but I never really lived on Earth, so I never saw one." The grin on his face was priceless. Grabbing his hand, she led him over the candy apple red vehicle, pulling him closer to the machine of his childhood dreams. The creases of stress evaporated from his face as he ran a hand over the hood of the car.
"I take it this doesn't fly around like a normal car."
"Correct, Tali." Mr. Gooding popped the hood and what lay under the bonnet was, to say the least, engineering porn. Gasping, Tali recoiled when she set eyes on the heart and soul of the machine. Her eyes, like a starved beast, ravenously feasted on the chrome knobs, tubes, lumps, curved pieces of metal and blue rubber wires spouting out of the engine. She had no idea what she was gazing at, but it was so sweet to stare at she could have contracted diabetes.
"I have seen some of the most advanced engines, ships, and craftsmanship in my twenty-four years of life, but this is gorgeous, Shepard. Can you…explain to me what I am looking at, though?" Chewing on her tongue, Tali gripped both hands behind her back and stood on her heels. Both men explained the combustion engine, something about 427 cubic inches of something-or-another, rubber tires, transmissions, and a bunch of other stuff she couldn't recall, but seeing Shepard talk engines was…arousing.
"Well then, I should leave you and Misses Zorah to your day out." Mr. Gooding backed away, his shoes clapping loudly against the pavement until he disappeared completely, leaving Shepard and Tali alone with a monster dressed in an elegant red gown.
"Well then, Shepard," Tali made two fists, flicking her wrists upwards, anxious to pull on the chrome door handle, "May I?"
"Be my guest."
Hungrily, she yanked on the handle and she could feel the old world engineering in the solid unlatching sound. Metal on metal always made her happy. Shepard followed suit and Tali plopped herself in the black leather seat. Through her mask, she could pick up the trace scent of animal hide and its conditioning compound. It was the closest she has gotten to Shepard's home planet.
"Isn't using animal skin kind of…gross to sit in?"
"It is the highest quality stuff to use in cars, Tali." His browns knitted together. "Yes, it is clean."
Embarrassed, she batted off the fire in her cheeks and played with the mirror. Even though Shepard couldn't see her face, he knew her well enough to know she was on fire. Flustered, she knew her body moments gave her away, she shot a glance at Shepard to see if he noticed.
"Stop squirming Tali, it is okay," he chuckled.
"Start the thing up," she spat half embarrassed, half amuse by the whole silly situation. Sometimes her ignorance about the human culture and anything else not starships got on her nerves; most of all though, Tali felt she was rubbish at romance, but Shepard didn't seem to mind, nor notice. For romance tips, Tali would talk to Kasumi about it all. Through their many talks and helpful guidance Kasumi gave Tali about the whole subject, she knew she could trust her judgment. Feeling her thoughts wondering, she shook her head and gripped the door, having no idea as to what this Karvette, or whatever it was called, was going to be like. Shepard sensed her trepidation and grinned.
"I know I know, Shepard."
"I have been on ships with a million times more power than this and I am kind of nervous about an engine that can fit on Grunt's dinner plate and he would still have room for desert and a gallon of milk."
Chuckling, he responded, "Milk?"
"Yeah, milk." Raising an eyebrow, she said, "Have you never seen his late night raids in the kitchen?" Shepard slung his arm over the car door intrigued about this news. "Oh, well I have seen Jack and Grunt have milk drinking competitions when most of the crew is asleep."
"Why haven't I been told about this?"
Shrugging, Tali said, "Well, I didn't think you would care. Although Zaeed spiked Jack's gallon with alcohol once time and you know what? She acts like a really normal person when drunk, which I thought was weird. Oh, I am babbling again…"
"That makes sense. Gardner wanted to put a lock on the refrigerator because he has been planning on making something with the milk, but he said it keeps on disappearing."
Giggling, she said, "I didn't mean to rat them out." She put a hand over her mouth.
"I will keep quiet and let Gardner do his own investigation work. Milk is the last of my worries" Shepard handed Tali the keys to the Kornvette, or whatever it was called again. "Do you want to start it up?"
Placing a fist on her chest, she asked in a squeal, "Me?"
"Yeah, put the pointy end into the slit and twist to your right."
Tali slammed it into the hole and pulled the key hard to the right. The car coughed then roared to life, sputtering a chorus of crude notes. Both Shepard and Tali died laughing at the obnoxious noise of the eight cylinder engine. It was fantastic. Nothing could compare to it. The Normandy was quiet and smooth, but this car's vibrations races up her back giving her goose bumps and the desirable urge to hear more of the engine's obscene voice. Shepard pulled a lever with his right hand and the car roared out of the hangar. Raw wind ripped by her helmet and she had to quickly reprogram the audio sensors so she could hear the soundtrack of the car and the wind in her hood as the helmet sensed too high of a decibel level. The car, as Shepard said, was a convertible, so the brilliant blue sky was the only thing hanging over their heads. Total freedom, this was the definition of it. Looking in the rearview mirror, Tali could see the city dissolving into a silver line on the horizon. As Terra Nova is now booming with development, the city is the hub of the planet and the rest is rural grassland with forest, but will soon be developed. Because of this, there are crudely paved roads running south into soon to be developed suburban areas.
The engine roared, shooting a sense of ecstasy up Tali's spine. She was grimacing, wanting more power, wanting to go faster into the far unknown. The Hornvette, or something like that, was pumped so full of testosterone, she could feel its gravitational pull and sense its indoctrinating effects tearing at her feminine qualities. All she wanted was more of it. Her finger tips were digging into her palms and all muscles were tense. She felt herself leaning forward, gripping onto the dashboard as the white painted lines in the center of the street changed to a zipping blur of ice. Shepard found another gear and the Vette bellowed like a fog horn, building up RPMs and hitting 120 miles per hour. She knew that this speed was nothing compared to her baby, the Normandy, but damn did this feel quicker than anything else. Over 500 horses, which she knew was an animal and couldn't see how this measurement was calculated to a brick of metal, was about two feet away from her curled up toes. To her left, a shaft was spinning at blazing speeds, smoothly spun by greasy ball bearings and oily nuts and bolt. Keelah, she just wanted to tear her teeth into the car, learn everything about it, take it apart, get all grimy and greasy. This is the pinnacle of her engineering career, riding in a true machine that is over 200 years old. Tali unsnapped her hood and let it flail hopelessly behind her. She knew that it was causing drag and all she wanted to do was go faster.
"Faster, Shepard, faster!" She patted the dashboard and rocked in her seat, trying to give the car more forward momentum. Teeth clenched tight, Shepard took her hand and put it on the steering wheel.
"Steer it, Tali!" Laughing childishly, she gripped the wheel and delicately kept it stable. "Pull the shifter down, Tali!" She let go of the wheel and pulled the white knob towards her lap. It snapped into place and the engine's revs went down. This was fantastic, beyond anything she would have hoped for on this trip. It was just her, Shepard, and a beautiful machine. "Tali, let go of the shifter, I need to slow down." Still gripped by excitement, she let go of the knob and forced her hands to their designated position: in her lap.
Shepard laughed and noticed her hands were shaking,
"Incredible, isn't it?"
"Why do people pilot flying vehicle? This is so much better!"
"That, sweetheart, is just one of those unanswerable questions."
Finally, it hit her. Why were they driving out to the middle of nowhere? Surely the car wasn't the only reason why they are making a trip out here.
"Shepard." Tali put a hand up to her mask, instinctively attempting to flick away a wisp of hair from her face from the ferocious wind, but remembered the helmet. "Where are we going?" Shepard fixed the collar of his leather jacket and his grin went wide with untamed excitement.
"We are visiting two people that are very, very special to me."
Wrinkling her brow, she thought for a second, but couldn't figure it out.
"Yes. If these two people didn't exist, then I would never have met you, Tali." She pulled a fist up to her chest when it finally sunk it.
"Are we going to see your grandparents?"
Shepard's two blue eyes glassed over and he nodded his head up and down.
Well then, it has been a while since I wrote a funfiction staring your favorite crew member! Here is a shot at it again, I will attempt to melt faces, but I fear I am rusty/lost my touch. Let me know how I am doing so far….