Quarian with a Shotgun
Note pertaining to this chapter
Barely named Spectre, Shepard is already beset with administrative worries. Taking command of the Normandy certainly is a good thing for his mission, but the privilege comes with strings attached and lots of paperwork, both with the Citadel and the Alliance. Too busy to do it himself, he asked a very reluctant Chief Williams to introduce Garrus, Wrex and Tali to the ship and its Alliance crew…
Yes, Ashley is not in her best mood here. But hang-on... I can guarantee she gets better later on in the story.
A rather hefty author's note is appended at the end of this first chapter, if you're interested.
Also (April 7, 2014): Credit should be given where credit is due. Obviously, none of this would have been possible without Bioware's Mass Effect. The cover image for this story (Tali with a shotgun) is the work of talented 'JosephB222' from (www.)deviantart(.com) (pending permission to use).
Chapter 1: Checking In.
Ugh… For what must have been the fifteenth time, Ashley was considering the aliens following her. She had stopped at the end of the row of sleeper pods on the crew deck and was watching them as they slowly caught up with her. Like a circus parade… and I'm with the freak show. First, there was the turian – she could not think of him as anything but 'the enemy' – walking rigidly, the despicable beady eyes in his hybrid bird and dinosaur head darting here and there, watching. Then there was the hulking giant lizard, showing no emotion and saying even less… She knew it was stupid, but she could not suppress a feeling of dread at the sight of the krogan, as if he could launch into senseless violence at any moment. She actually had to will her hand away from the reassuring pistol holstered at her hip. Then, last and slowest, almost bouncing around as she looked at everything, reminding her of a kid in a candy store, was the quarian. Must be seeing lots of stuff to grab… Aren't all quarians supposed to be filthy thieves or something?
Why me… For what must have been the fifteenth time, Ashley sighed. A soldier through and through however, she knew better than to dwell on orders. But still… it was hard for her not to resent the fact that the commander could have asked Kaidan to give these aliens the tour… Lieutenant Alenko didn't seem to mind being with aliens, she thought. Even better, the commander could have left them on the Citadel. Looking at them as they gathered in front of her, she considered again the fact that, not only were they aliens, but they were civilians too. What's the idea, bringing people like that on a military ship… But Commander Shepard wanted it this way… and she knew her duty.
She sighed again. Just get through with it, soldier. Maybe she would discuss the matter with him later, if a less formal opportunity presented itself. Less formal… It lasted less than a second - she quashed the image almost as soon as it came into focus in her mind – but she could not deny having imagined the commander's shapely ass in his tight uniform… Ugh, let's not go there.
The three aliens were now arrayed in front of her, waiting for what would obviously be another set of explanations. She put her right hand on the cover of a nearby empty pod and started. "These are standard Alliance issued sleeper pods. I'm sure you…" she pointed in turn at the turian and the quarian "…can use them too. The temperature and humidity can be adjusted to your needs, and you'll see other functionalities if you do a bit of exploration." While she had been talking, the quarian had approached the control board of one of pods and started playing around the haptic menus. She continued, ignoring the alien's apparent lack of attention. "Using the ship's system, as Pressly showed you when we were on the command deck, you can check for available pods and even make a reservation… They're really quite simple and you'll quickly get used to them."
Ashley turned to the krogan "Obviously, you won't fit in those… so we'll have to find something else for you…" Wrex just snorted, as if these matters were beneath him. She sighed, glancing at the quarian, still playing with the control board. At least the lizard seems to listen a bit…
Apparently satisfied with her fiddling, the quarian approached her "Everything is so new… It's incredible! I don't know when was the last time a quarian stepped on a new ship… All we have on the flotilla are pieces of junk nobody else wants. But these pods…"
Ugh… There she goes again… Ashley was not interested in the least in the trivia this "girl" was spewing about her alien home or fleet or whatever. Despite the accent and the flashing light of her helmet's mouthpiece, the quarian almost reminded her of Sarah, her youngest and most annoying sister, with the way she was going on and on… As if what she has to say is important or interesting… Signaling them to start moving, Ashley took the lead and cut the quarian off as soon as the latter paused for breath, saying "That's all very interesting, really… but we don't have much time and I have to explain how to get your food in the mess hall…" And to not make a mess of it, she thought as she glanced at the krogan's huge and toothy mouth.
"No, for us…" Ashley gestured with her right arm to indicate the ship and her fellow humans but, as she looked around – they were now standing close to her workbench in the cargo hold - she suddenly felt quite alone in the company of the three aliens. She could see only one other human - the Requisitions Officer - and he was at the opposite end of the large room, near one of the doorways to engineering. She looked back at the quarian – Tali, she reminded herself – and tried again to answer her question. "Um… I mean for humans… the title of Captain can be used loosely in many situations to indicate a leader or the person in charge of a vehicle… But it's also a military rank in the Alliance, and then it's not necessarily related to being in charge of a ship."
Obviously, the explanation was not entirely clear as Tali just stared back at her without moving. Glancing at the two others, Ashley noticed they were also looking back at her, waiting for an elaboration.
"This ship here…" She emphatically pointed an index toward the floor as she looked successively in the eyes of each of the three aliens in front of her, her voice taking more volume and authority as she realized the importance of what she was going to say "…is an Alliance military ship, so… Alliance military ranks are in use. As for Commander Shepard, he is the chief officer in charge of this ship and of the mission… but he has not yet been promoted to the Alliance military rank of Captain. So… to facilitate your interactions with the people aboard this ship, you should familiarize yourself with the Alliance ranking system."
Ashley smirked, satisfied at seeing her 'drill sergeant act' have some effect on the three others. They nodded to her and did seem to stand a little straighter… For a couple of seconds, that is.
The turian – Garrus - broke the spell. "Thanks for clearing that out, Chief Williams… Ranking is something turians understand well…"
The krogan – Wrex - snorted at the comment and Garrus turned to him, making a face that might have been a glare… Not that Ashley was able to tell for sure. Wrex turned toward the turian and just returned his glare, not blinking once.
Ugh… Not again… Like kids at school. The two had been at it on and off during most of the visit and now, she just had enough of it. "Alright you two, that does it! There won't be any fight on this ship. Keep your aggressiveness for later, when we might need it..." Satisfied at having the attention of everybody again, Ashley continued "The tour is finished. So… now that you know where to store your stuff, where to eat, where to pee and where to sleep… I suggest you find something to do until your appointment with the doctor later on…"
Wrex rumbled and made some kind of shrugging gesture, pointing toward the end of the nearby row of lockers "Tell Shepard I'll be over there if he needs me." He then simply left, hulking his way toward the designated location.
The krogan had barely started moving when Tali stepped forward, saying "Good… Um, I mean thanks for the explanations… I'll be going back to engineering right away, Adams wants me to be there so I can watch how they replace a fusion plant's manifold… Apparently it did not react well to the ship's first mission."
"Yeah… and remember to follow Adams' orders to the letter. This is a military ship, not a pleasure cruise." Ashley still could not really believe what had happened back there. Not only did the quarian appear to know a surprising amount of things on ship engines, but Chief Engineer Adams seemed to have taken an immediate liking to her, and asked her to come back… She had no authority on Adams and could not openly object, but she doubted letting a quarian work on Alliance cutting edge prototype technology was a good idea. Am I the only one on this ship worried with the security of our military secrets? Or am I paranoid? She shook her head, trying to focus her attention back on Tali who had unhitched the weapon that had been on her back since they had met on the Citadel a few hours earlier.
Presenting her weapon, Tali said "I'll leave my gun here if you don't mind. I'll come back later to check it over… It was heating too quickly during the fight earlier today so, obviously, there must be a problem with the cooling components."
Ashley took the thing from the quarian's hands, frowning slightly as she gave it a quick and superficial appraisal "No problem… I'll leave it on my workbench." Looking back at the quarian, she politely offered "I can look into it, if you want."
"No… thanks… Please don't bother with it. I'll come by later and do it myself… It's customized and I would not like you to lose too much time with it."
The quarian thanked her again and quickly moved toward engineering, leaving her alone with the turian, who seemed to be patiently waiting his turn to take his leave.
In his strange voice that sounded as if he had a double set of vocal cords – but then again, maybe his voice came from a completely different anatomical structure for all Ashley knew – Garrus said "I would like to do something useful on the ship… I have some technical expertise and was wondering if it is ok for me to look after that armored vehicle." With a finger ...or a claw - Ashley tried not to look at it too much - he indicated the Mako just behind him.
"The M35? I don't know… It's been sitting there since I got onboard and I don't think we have anyone actually assigned to its maintenance right now… but I'll make sure to ask the commander about that." She didn't trust Garrus… She didn't want to see a turian lay one claw on some critical piece of equipment… and put lives in danger. He's a freakin' turian for the love of god… Anyway, authorizing this was beyond her authority and, since the aliens were the commander's 'guests', the decision was ultimately his. If she had anything to say about this, it would be an unqualified no. But with his apparent fascination with aliens, she was practically sure Shepard would let Garrus do whatever he wanted with the Mako. She sighed as she looked back at him. "Well, maybe you can start by getting acquainted with it, but don't do anything until we get the commander's official approval."
The turian nodded, but Ashley was unable to read his facial features for any sign of frustration, displeasure, or whatever. He just turned and walked up to the Mako, where he activated his omnitool, apparently trying to scan its systems. She smirked. Good luck without the access codes.
Still holding the quarian's weapon, Ashley watched the turian for a few more seconds, she then glanced back at the krogan, leaning on the bulkhead not far away. Whatever Commander Shepard may think, I sure will be keeping an eye on both of you. And I hope Adams does the same with the quarian.
Finally, turning her attention to the strange weapon in her hands, she wondered how Tali had managed to survive alone with what looked like an old shotgun. She was not entirely sure of its make… maybe asari… or salarian. It seemed well maintained, despite obvious signs of wear - some of the markings on it were worn smooth. It probably dated from before the first contact war for all she knew. Curious, she started searching for the latches that would allow access to its inner secrets. After a few moments of tinkering, she managed to open a well hidden panel on the stock and proceeded with her investigation.
She sighed and shook her head at the sight of all the non-standard pieces in there, some of which she was not even sure she recognized… Damn aliens and damn their gear. She sighed again, realizing the commander would probably want the quarian to get a better shotgun anyway… directly from the ship's limited supplies. The thought of the quarian getting a free ride at the Alliance's expense was doing nothing to improve her mood.
Closing the panel on the weapon's stock and pushing it aside, Ashley took a moment to reflect on some of the day's events. She trusted the commander, but she definitely was uncomfortable with how easily he seemed to put his trust in a bunch of aliens that he just met by chance. Turning, she glanced at the turian and krogan again. Just a bunch of random alien freeloaders…
Quarian with a Shotgun is going to be a 'back to basics' collection of episodes centered on Tali and her interactions with the crew of the Normandy SR1. The POV will vary, will be mostly other than Tali's and probably never Shepard's. I'll try to keep close to canon in terms of lore, with a few minor impovements where I think it may be indicated. Note that I write with a paragon MaleShep in mind, from Mindoir and probably war hero.
I did re-play ME1 for the fun of it and to get a fresh look at the characters. Ashley does come out as a bitchy bigot in the early part of the game. For her part, Tali comes out being rather chipper, ready for anything, and not shy at all. She does tend to talk a lot about her home & people though, but in the context where she has been on pilgrimage for less than a month when she joins up with Shepard's crew, and considering this is her first time away from the Flotilla, I think it makes perfect sense for her to behave in a way that may be reminiscent of the stereotypical farm girl who has just arrived in the big city.
Tali's character. As she explains in ME1, she was pushed to excellence while growing up and it was tough trying to meet her father's and other people's expectations, but she realized at some point that it was for the best and does not regret or begrudge it. She knows life is hard, and that one has to earn what one gets. It makes sense that, having internalized all of this, she would talk and act boldly, stepping forward at every opportunity, eager to get involved. Giving of herself for the greater good is the basis of her identity and her self-assigned role in the universe. The other side of the coin is that she probably is very hard on herself, deeply convinced that she has to be flawless to be up to the task. Because of that, she may come out as constantly trying to prove her worth. Trust necessarily must be an issue for her too, since trusting somebody else implies the relinquishing of a measure of control. This self-consciousness and need for control may also result in her being a little awkward socially. Being smart and having a thing for tech, she may have a tendency to use her competence and knowledge to compensate for her character flaws.
Considering her character as described above, it makes sense that Tali would have boldly gone after the geth in search of data about them, as this seems to be the best pilgrimage gift one can bring back to the Fleet, the quarian equivalent of the Holy Grail. She must have been shocked however when everything spun out of her control after having inadvertently put herself in Saren's path.
Being saved in extremis, owing her very life to somebody else (Shepard), was probably quite shocking too. Tali probably saw this as a failure on her part. Her character, I think, would be more congruent with her being a savior than the other way around. That Shepard's intervention would make a deep impression on Tali is understandable, I suppose, given her character and her inexperience. Note that Shepard also saved Ashley's life, but Ashley is more mature and experienced, so the perspective necessarily is quite different. Shepard also saves Liara's life later in the game, but Liara also has a different perspective on things (being more than 100 years old and having close to 900 more years to live would do that, I suppose). By the way, it is interesting to note how, in ME1 (but not in ME2), Shepard does save the life of each and every female recruited on his team, but none of the males. Obviously, Bioware has been abusing of the 'damsel in distress' archetype...
So, why does Tali boldly step forward at the human embassy and offers her help to Shepard, even if she obviously knows very little about him at that point (other than him being an Alliance officer on a mission against Saren and the geth)? She says it is an opportunity to give of herself for the greater good. But I like to think there must be other reasons. She may want to get back at Saren (the attempt on her life is still very fresh…), but there is also the obvious opportunity of going after the geth and gathering more data on them. I also suspect she may want to repay the debt she feels toward Shepard (for her life), or simply to demonstrate (to herself, to Shepard and – symbolically - to her father) that she is good enough to be on his team. Likely, it is a combination of all of these possible reasons. Note that Shepard is not yet a Spectre when Tali offers her help.