Note pertaining to this chapter

Background: Shepard is moving on his list of odd jobs, requests for help and the like while he awaits further intel, either on Saren's whereabouts or on where to go after passing the Mu relay. He's also waiting for a call from the System's Alliance Navy, which is still scouting to assess the geth presence in the Armstrong nebula.

Setting of this chapter: The action takes place one week to ten days after Luna's mission (chapter 11). The chapter is divided in two parts. The first happens on the MSV Fedele (Dr. Saleon's ship) and is a novelization of Garrus' side mission with - hopefully - an original twist. The second part happens in the immediate aftermath (of the first).

As usual, there's a hefty author's note at the end of the chapter. It contains a summary of Garrus' side mission as it appears in the game (ME1), plus some related discussions/speculations.

My thanks to Vocarin for persisting in beta-reading my chapters.

Chapter 12: Mission Creep.

The first room beyond the airlock was practically empty. Hardly surprising, thought Kaidan as he walked toward the door at the other end of the small area, while the commander and Garrus were covering him from the sides.

The MSV Fedele had been right where Garrus' transponder frequency had indicated, in high orbit around a large terrestrial planet called Clugon, but the ship had failed to answer all hailing calls. As Joker had slowly maneuvered the Normandy closer, taking care to stay out of the path of the planet's numerous moons, scans had shown that the ship's escape pods were all gone - which was puzzling considering that there were no visible signs of damage or even a scorch mark on the hull. Up to now, everything seemed to indicate they had found a ghost ship.

That was more to Kaidan's liking as, for once, maybe there would be no fighting. This would be a nice change of pace compared to the last few days, which had been busy dealing with Corporal Toombs, his little army of mercs and the complete mess they had caused in the neighboring Newton system. Kaidan was glad Dr. Wayne and Toombs had both been transferred to an Alliance Navy cruiser… Toombs was clearly crazy, and the scientist was just creepy. Very creepy. And all those allegations about Cerberus were unnerving… As if Saren was not enough, now we have to worry about being stabbed in the back by a shadow organization.

But more than anything, no fight meant that he could avoid further strains on his biotics… and the ensuing headaches. He had not rested quite enough since the last fight and, even now, he felt he was playing with fire just by keeping a charge of dark energy at the ready. In that kind of situation, the recommended strategy was to rely more on weaponry and keep the mass effect powers as a last resort. That was nice in theory, but sometimes biotics were the perfect and indispensable response to a problem.

Kaidan cleared his mind as he reached the door. He scanned it with his omnitool, making sure there was no booby trap or other detectable threat, and then put a temporary lock on its control system. Turning to his teammates, he gave the all clear signal.

Shepard nodded back at him and brought a hand to the side of his helmet. "Joker. Any progress?"

On the other hand, Kaidan thought, exploring a ghost ship would likely provide ample opportunity to practice some of the decryption tricks Tali had shown him. He had always thought himself a reasonably good tech specialist, but the quarian had made him realize the humbling truth; he was barely brushing the surface of all that a tech could do with an omnitool. And she had plunged without hesitation into the innards of his trusty old Logic Arrest – something he'd never dared – and significantly boosted its performance. Good thing Shepard brought her along. He was looking forward to learn more from the quarian's expertise.

Thinking of aliens, Kaidan glanced at Garrus. While the commander was consulting with the pilot, the turian was pacing along the length of the room, obviously impatient to get on with the 'visit.' Dr. Heart - or Saleon, if he got his information right - is probably gone on one of the escape pods. The poor guy was obviously upset and Kaidan could understand why.

Shepard's voice on the general comm channel yanked his attention back. "OK team. All aboard the Fedele; we'll need everybody for this."

The airlock door opened again and the rest of the ground team crossed over from the Normandy, making the room suddenly feel much smaller. Kaidan looked at them; they were all properly geared up in their hard suits as per standard protocol. Whatever danger had caused the crew of the Fedele to use the escape pods, it probably was still there; they had to be ready for anything.

Shepard signaled for them to pay attention. "Joker is having a hard time getting around the Fedele's computer. Apparently, someone grafted a salarian operating system on it, several subsystems have been disabled… and the rest is behind more firewalls and passwords than a paranoid volus banker's vault. He was able to confirm some basic intel, though: there's no hull breach, the life support systems are on, but the fusion plant is running at low power for some reason. He was also able to provide us with a map."

The commander activated his omnitool, and a tridimensional diagram of the ship appeared above his wrist. "It's a simple linear design." He pointed at a spot on the side of the map, "We're here…" then at a tubular structure just behind it, "…and the main corridor is just there, on the other side the door. Priority is to secure the ship, then we'll search more thoroughly to find out what happened to the crew and our target…" He glanced at Garrus. "Hopefully, we can find some hint as to where the doctor went."

Garrus nodded at that, and Shepard gave his orders, "Garrus and Kaidan will come with me to secure the cockpit." He looked at the others. "Ashley, you'll lead the rest of the team to secure engineering. Tali will make sure the fusion plant is alright." He exchanged a brief nod with the quarian and looked around at everybody again, "I want locks on all the side doors along the corridor – we'll look into those places once the two main objectives are secured. Let's move."

Without words, weapons at the ready, everyone took position in preparation for the opening of the door. Shepard was taking point, as always. Walking to the side of the door to his usual 'doorman' posting, Kaidan almost smiled as he surveyed his teammates. The ground team's a well-oiled machine now… Despite their differences, everybody had learned to work together and some special relationships had developed. Even Wrex – who had been so difficult at first – had started sharing some of his experience with the others.

But for him, the most surprising member of the team was Liara. She still lacked tactical finesse, although the power she was able to pour into her biotics compensated largely for that, but she had improved at an unbelievable speed. And to say that I first thought of her as an egghead… He briefly wondered if the strange mindmeld he and the rest of the team had seen her do with Shepard when they had left Feros was for something in that. Was it possible for Liara to 'absorb' Shepard's abilities through her melding? And what if Shepard turned into a bookish nerd because of it? Nah… that's just nonsense.

There was one issue with Liara, however: her rather obvious infatuation for Shepard was causing tensions among the other women on the Normandy. It was most obvious with Ashley, as far as he could tell. The rules against fraternization were there for a good reason in his opinion, and it was Shepard's role as CO of the ship to enforce them even if - technically - the same rules didn't apply to him anymore. Still, Kaidan could see the effects of Liara's behavior and was worried with the potential consequences. I'll have to gather my courage and test Shepard's 'open door' policy one of those days… A good, frank man-to-man talk… But he could not pursue his line of thought as the signal was given and he promptly removed the lock and activated the door's opening mechanism, ready for anything.

As with the first room, the corridor on the other side turned out to be empty and the lights were on. Kaidan put a temporary lock on a door on the other side of the corridor and followed Shepard and Garrus on the right, toward ship's prow. The others went on the left, toward the stern.

After barely ten meters, Kaidan's team met another door which, according to the map, would lead into a large room. They formed up and, following the standard procedure, they gained access to what looked like labyrinth; the room was filled with piles of crates up to the ceiling, with no direct line of sight to the other side.

Moving forward along a winding path, they had crossed no more than a third of the room when they stumbled on a body. It looked like a turian, but it was hard to tell with the greenish goo that was covering most of it and the floor around. Kaidan grimace at the grisly sight, thankful for the hard suit – he could only imagine the stench. The goo looked familiar for some reason, but he could not put his finger on why exactly. It looked like a weird fungus taking advantage of some dead dextro meat.

Garrus looked on too. "Spirits, another of Saleon's victims…"

Shepard nudged the body with a boot, then turned-it over. "It's really light… Like it's dry or something. Must have died a while ago…"

Kaidan could not tell – turians were already pretty thin and dry-looking when alive. He spotted an omnitool on the dead man's wrist, but his attention was drawn to a large gash in the body's mid-section, making him grimace again. "It's like he's been sliced open with a-"

He was cut off by a loud, almost mournful moan, making him jerk upright in alarm. The sound was followed by a few others.

Shepard was the first to connect the dots. "Shit! Creepers! OK, let's pull back… fast! Switch to your shotgun and use high impact ammunition."

Now it all made sense to Kaidan too; the green goo and the gash in the dead turian's belly. He vividly recalled that thorian creepers, just like husks, had sharp claws and were dangerous only if they could get in close quarters. The best way to prevent that was a weapon with lots of stopping power. Biotics would do also, but he'd rather keep that in reserve.

In good order, they traced their way back to the room's entrance. While doing so, Kaidan kept checking the Doppler scan on his HUD; five red dots were in the room and getting closer, but not fast enough to cut their retreat. I was a fool to hope for a fight-free mission - there's always a fight when Shepard's there. Between the screeches of the creepers, he heard Garrus grumble, "Saleon… bastard… What have you done again…"

When they reached the door and moved into the corridor, Shepard was talking with Williams. "Ash… We've run into some creepers… Negative. We'll handle them. A leak? …Yes, and stay safe."

But Kaidan didn't have time to wonder about any leak though; he just got into position along with his two teammates five meters or so outside the cargo bay's door, quickly made sure his dark energy charge was holding and did a last check on his weapon. He was not as good with a shotgun as the commander, Wrex or Tali, but at close range even he could not miss.

The three men were ready just in time to tear to shreds the first creeper to appear in the doorway. Fortunately, the four other mindless creatures came out one at a time, rushing headlong into a barrage of fire from three shotguns and it turned out to be an easy fight; no biotics required. When it was over, the doorway and the corridor were painted in sickly green goo.

Garrus voiced what was on everyone's mind, "How did Saleon lay his filthy hands on thorian creepers?"

For Kaidan, there was only one possibility. He turned to Shepard. "They have to be from Exogeni. The Alliance will want to know about that…"

Shepard nodded. "Agreed. But all in due course. First, we secure the ship." He brought a hand to the side of his helmet. "Ash... We're clear and back on our way. …Sabotage? We'll discuss that later …OK. Yes, you can start exploring the side rooms. …Anything." He brought his attention back to his two teammates and gestured forward. "Let's move."

They went back into the large room and reached its other side without further incident. Along the way, Kaidan was able to download the dead turian's omnitool data. Quickly going through the owner's personal files, he realized this had been the Fedele's engineer. There had been no activity on the man's tool for about a month.

Informed of these findings, Shepard pondered, "Hmm… this could explain why the ship's stranded. And this guy was killed by a creeper at about the same time we were fighting the Thorian… That's a bizarre coincidence."

The door on the other side of the room opened to a ten meter long empty hallway leading to the cockpit. Moving slowly, they came across two side doors. Garrus went for the left, and Kaidan went for the right. As with the other doors, he was about to put a temporary lock on it, but his omnitool's scanner picked up some faint noises coming from the other side. Linking his suit's audio system to the scanner, he listened for a few seconds and decided the faint scratching sounds he heard were not from a machine. Quickly, he stepped back and pointed his shotgun at the door. "Commander, there's somebody… or something in there."

Once again, they formed up. Kaidan wondered what it would be this time. More creepers, husks or another nasty surprise?

What they saw through the now opened door left them speechless. In the middle of a small room stood a salarian with an assault rifle on his back. The two parties considered one another for a brief moment, but the salarian was the first to react, saying, "Thank you, thank you for saving me from those… things!"

To Kaidan, he looked just like any other salarian, talking fast as if high on stims. He frowned though; this could be the infamous Dr. Saleon… If it is, then he's armed, and probably dangerous. Tightening his grip on his shotgun, Kaidan checked on his dark energy, making sure the charge was ready to be used.

Garrus turned to Shepard. "Commander! That's him… That's Dr. Saleon!" He was talking faster than usual, his intonations conveying an excitement that was unusual for him.

The Salarian took a step back, protesting, "What? …My name is Heart, Dr. Heart!" He turned to Shepard and implored, "Please… get me out of here."

Glancing at Garrus, Shepard asked, "Are you sure it's him?"

"Positive." Garrus turned to the Salarian and, hefting his gun, he threatened, "There's no escape this time doctor. I'd harvest your organs first, but we don't have the time."

Kaidan was taken aback by the turian's words. Wow, that guy's serious? He knew Garrus' story with the doctor, but what he had just said was definitely over the top.

The salarian took another step back, looked at the turian and said exactly what Kaidan was thinking, "You're crazy…" He turned to Shepard again, pleading, "He's crazy! Please… don't let him do this to me!"

In a cold tone, Shepard decreed, "We'll take him in. We'll drop him with the military."

Garrus turned to the commander and tried to plead his case, "But we have him. We can't let him get away! Not again!"

To Kaidan's relief, however, Shepard wouldn't budge. "If he dies, we'll never know what he's been up to… or how he did it. We'll take him in, interrogate him, and he'll serve his time."

Kaidan understood that the commander was talking about the creepers, and wholeheartedly approved his decision; executing people in cold blood - without due process - was a horrible crime. He had seen Shepard kill the Exogeni executive on Feros, but that had been different; the man was pointing a pistol at him and was on the verge of ordering his guards to eliminate the surviving exogeni workers. He looked on in silence as Garrus dealt with Shepard's approach… and wondered briefly if the turian would just shoot the salarian to get his way.

But Garrus finally relented. "I… OK… You're right." He turned to Dr. Saleon and said, with obvious regret, "You're a very lucky salarian. You owe the commander your life."

The salarian glared at them – at least, that was how Kaidan interpreted the doctor's body language - and said, in a tone dripping with sarcasm, "Oh... Thank you so very much!" He then suddenly turned and ran for cover, pulling his assault rifle out with the obvious intent of using it.

Kaidan had been ready for something like that and was the first to react. Holding his gun in his left hand, he quickly raised his right and let the dark energy he had been keeping in reserve flow through it and toward the running salarian. With luck, he'll be stunned, easy to capture. Garrus and Shepard automatically adapted to the situation, training their weapons on the man but refraining from shooting. Kaidan's throw took the alien straight into the wall at the other end of the room. The impact made the doctor fall on the floor and drop his gun, but also a grenade that he apparently had just activated. The ensuing explosion ripped Dr. Saleon apart as he was trying to get back on his feet. Kaidan grimaced at the sight. Tough luck.

Garrus looked at the doctor's broken body and shook his head. "And so he dies anyway… What was the point of that."

Shepard lowered his gun. "You can't predict how people will act, Garrus. But you can control how you'll respond. In the end, that's what really matters."

True, Kaidan thought. Saleon was offered his life, but he chose to go with a bang.

Garrus looked at Shepard. "Yeah… I don't think I've ever met anyone like you commander."

Shepard was probably smirking under his helmet when he replied. "I know... I'm unique." He looked around. "But we're not done yet. We'll come back to sift through this guy's stuff later."

They moved out of the room, but before they reached the cockpit however, Shepard got a communication from Williams. "Yes. Bodies? The crew… What? Get Dr. Chakwas over right now! Have all the medics escort her aboard."

Shepard looked at them. "They've found bodies in the crew's quarters… and two survivors, but they're not doing great."

Garrus said, "Spirits… Say what you want Shepard, but I'm glad the monster is dead."

Shepard replied somberly, "Maybe if we hadn't lost so much time with Toombs and Wayne…"

Kaidan just shook his head. "Nobody could have known, commander…"

Garrus took a step closer to Shepard and put a hand on his shoulder. "We'll have drinks when this is over. I'm sure this mess won't look as bad through the bottom of an empty glass."

Shepard nodded back at him, straightened up and looked ahead. "Right. Let's finish the job."

Kaidan too felt sorry for Saleon's crew, but he knew that Chakwas would do whatever she could for the survivors. He understood Shepard's reaction, though; the man had a heart, and it was in the right place. But the circumstances had been truly out of his control. Briefly, he wondered how hard it would be for the commander's morale if he really had to make a choice between two equally bad outcomes... This situation is bound to happen at some point; it comes with any position of responsibility. And few positions had more responsibilities than that of Council Spectre.

Twelve hours later, in the medical bay of the Normandy.

Professional as ever, Dr. Chakwas did not let the desperate situation of her last patient cloud her judgement. He was a complete mess, exactly like the other had been. And despite being of another species, he was doing exactly the same thing too: going downhill, and fast. Barring a miracle, she was going to lose him too. She and her medics had heroically done everything they could with the state of the art equipment and medical VI of the Normandy's med bay. Even the extracorporeal circulation unit had been put to contribution, with its dialysis and liver support modules. Unfortunately, saving these two would have required the fully staffed intensive care unit of a major hospital, with access to specialists and organ transplants. And even then...

Thompson, the best medic aboard in her opinion, was looking on also, no doubt feeling as helpless as she was. He pointed at the now inert body on the other bed. "Huh… Should I tell the engineers? We're going to need two more caskets…"

"Yes, that's a good idea." Glancing at the big man – he looked like a giant, his blond hair almost brushing against the medical robot attached to the ceiling – she added, "There's no emergency, but I'm sure they'd appreciate the heads up. It takes time to make those things."

He shrugged. "Yeah well, at least those two will be fresh… Some of the bodies on that ship were disgusting."

"Believe me, I've seen much worse." She remembered an episode early in her career where she had been part of a medical team on the site of a train crash in Central America. With the heat and the humidity, it had taken less than two days for the bodies they were still finding to become bloated, their bellies almost ready to burst due to the gas produced by the microorganisms spilling out of their digestive tract. And the maggots... That had been particularly horrible, along with the unforgettable stench. No, the state of the bodies on the Fedele just didn't compare. She turned to the medic to explain, "These people died in a state of hunger and advanced dehydration. Combined with the dry air aboard the ship, their decomposition has been slowed to a crawl. They would have turned into mummies, given enough time."

"Ugh…" Grimacing, Thompson gestured at the body again "I still can't believe something like that can happen nowadays… I mean we're in 2183!"

"True. And Dr. Saleon was a graduate from Pranas Central University, on Sur'kesh. How could they let him through their ethical screening?" She looked at the medic. "Even if Saleon's dead, I should probably report this… incident… to the Medical Board of the Salarian Union. I would be surprised if it changed anything, but maybe they will at least review Pranas Central's ethical screening process."

Shaking her head, she looked at the last man from the Fedele's crew, lying on a bed, unconscious and hanging to life by a thread. "We've done everything we could, Thompson. Thank you very much for precious help. I think I can handle this one's last moments all by myself. And thank you for taking care of the casket issue."

The large man hesitated, then shrugged again. "Yes, Ma'am."

As the door closed behind the medic, Dr. Chakwas walked to her desk and sat down in front of the terminal. I'll have to get the facts from the commander himself but, for now, I can at least put some ideas down… She had been stuck in her med bay for more than a full shift, so most of her information regarding what had happened on the other ship had come through the medics as, every couple of hours, they had replaced one another at her side. They had kept her updated on the results of Shepard's ongoing investigation.

Her fingers danced on the haptic keyboard as she typed quickly.
Medical Certification Board, Salarian Union.
Re: Dr. Saleon (get full salarian name and copy of practice license no.).
Through my practice, I Dr. K. Chakwas (append resume and practice license no.), have come to witness severe breach of ethical behavior from the late Dr. Saleon.
Dr. Saleon was conducting research on the MSV Fedele, a laboratory ship that he owned.
His multispecies crew (salarian, human, turian and batarian) comprised eleven persons, which he was treating like slaves (include financial data). He was providing them with substandard living conditions (include pictures of crew's quarters/slave pen) and was using food and water as means of control (include plan and pictures of ship with location of food and water reserves close to his private quarters). There are suspicions Dr. Saleon was also abusing his employees by conducting biological experiments on them (find proof in Dr. Saleon's research data, include pictures of bodies with suspicious looking scars – ask Garrus for C-Sec documents about old case on Citadel?).
As a result of some other biological experiments (not tell about thorian creepers… call them animals?) escaping control, things became tense aboard the Fedele. In order to force the crew to subdue the dangerous escaped animals, Dr. Saleon cut their access to water. The crew rebelled and retaliated by cutting Dr. Saleon's control of the ship's drive core, thrusters, and communication equipment. It is not yet clear how it happened, but somehow the evacuation protocol was bypassed and all the escape pods were jettisoned, trapping everybody on what had become a wreck.

A noisy breath from the patient stopped her typing and prompted her to get up and check on him. From the nearby monitors, she could see that his blood pressure was getting progressively lower, despite all the drugs that he was being administered, and the EEG tracings were becoming more erratic. She shook her head again. He's really not going to make it. With practiced ease, she diligently checked on all the tubes and wires connecting the man to the medical machines and monitors, making sure all was in good working order before going back to her desk.

She took a minute to re-read what she had written so far. It would have to be re-worked extensively, and she would have to double check all the facts, then append all the necessary documents as proof, including pictures and vids when necessary… That would be a lot of work, but she felt it was her duty to go through with it; that was the least she could do for her dying patient and the other victims. For now, however, the draft was good enough.

She continued typing.
For three to four weeks (get more precise timeline from on-board data), the crew managed to survive by recycling their urine and extracting water from a coolant contained in the ship's fusion plant (include picture of filtering devices cobbled-up by crew). To get the coolant, they had to breach the fusion plant's shielding and were thus exposed to ionizing radiation from the reactor itself. The crew knew about that and took turns at drawing the coolant out. After several days, however, each had accumulated sufficient radiation damage for toxicity to set in. No doubt that their hunger - and having been subjected to experiments - contributed to their fragility. When Council Spectre John Shepard and his team boarded Dr. Saleon's ship, only two of the crew were still alive-

She was interrupted by the swishing of the med bay door. Turning, she saw the commander coming in, soon followed by Tali.

He looked at the two occupied bed and asked, "How are they doing?"

From her chair – she felt too tired to get up - she answered without hesitation. "Bad, Commander. One died half an hour ago… and it seems like the other will follow soon." She shook her head. "We've done everything we could, but radiation sickness combined with severe malnutrition and dehydration was just too much. Irreversible organ failure has set in. A body can only be pushed so far…"

As she finished, Shepard seemed to deflate, his shoulder sagging and his usual air of being on top of things replaced by a weary frown as he slowly shook his head. "Shit… I had hoped…" Noticing the chair beside her desk, he sat heavily and sighed noisily as he leaned forward, elbows on his knees. Looking at the floor, he massaged his temples for a few seconds. "We were too late..."

Dr. Chakwas felt it more appropriate to let him vent for a while as he digested the bad news. She glanced at the quarian; she had taken a step aside and was watching him also.

But Tali and her both jerked in surprise as the commander uttered a loud and angry "Shit!" and slammed his fist on the edge of the desk. He then leaned back in the chair, his anger apparently spent, repeating "Shit" several times in a decrescendo as he gazed at something beyond the opposite wall of the med bay.

Dr. Chakwas, who knew Shepard's psychological profile very well, realized that she should have seen this coming. Examining his face with more attention, she noticed how exhausted he looked; while she had worked non-stop in her med bay, she knew he must have worked even harder on the Fedele, leading the investigations as well as the preparations for the ship to be transferred to the Alliance Navy. He's tough, but even he has limits…

She decided the best help she could provide right now was to give him a figurative kick in the butt. Frowning at the man, she put a bit of harshness in her voice as she said, "Shepard, don't give me that. You know you can't realistically expect to save everybody in the galaxy."

The commander continued gazing straight ahead for a few seconds, then he seemed to pull himself together as he looked back at the doctor. "So... you're going to lecture me about my savior complex?"

That he had cited verbatim the term used in his psychological profile did not faze her – Alliance personnel were in fact encouraged to see their own profile, as it had been shown to encourage personal growth. But he had challenged her, and she felt the need to exercise her authority as the ship's medical officer. Dr. Chakwas got up from her chair, crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked straight into the man's eyes. "Since you've preempted my lecture, I'll just go straight to the recommendations, which you may or may not chose to follow. You need rest, commander, and some constructive activity to take your mind off a sorry situation that, by all accounts, should not weigh on your shoulders."

She paused for effect. Another important component of his psychological profile was his exceptionally high score on the standard Alliance Resilience Scale. The man certainly didn't need to be coddled, but some temporary and emotionally neutral help could still be offered. "I can give you pills, anxiolytics, for a couple of days… It would help you to relax and sleep more soundly."

The commander shook his head. "Thanks, doctor. I'll manage…" A weak smirk appeared on his lips. "We've looted the evil doctor's personal reserves and found a few good bottles. Garrus and I will make good use of them…" His smirk disappeared as he glanced at the occupied beds. "…in a therapy of our own."

Dr. Chakwas raised one eyebrow as she considered him. That was not an acceptable course of action, according to Alliance regulations… And she had recommended a 'constructive activity', not 'getting drunk.' But he was a Spectre after all, and this was an exceptional situation. Also, she was pretty sure he would disregard whatever she said if she tried to dissuade him. "Shepard, it would be wrong of me not to say that you should avoid getting drunk… But if that's your plan, at least be careful not to overdo it."

He nodded at her tacit approval. "Thanks, doc."

She hoped he would be fully functional when the Alliance cruiser showed up to take charge of the Fedele. Ah well, Pressly can always take charge if he's not.

There was a slightly awkward pause, and the doctor glanced at Tali, who was still watching the commander with attention. Wondering why the quarian was in her med bay at all, she asked, "Tali, can I do something for you?"

The quarian crossed her arms in front of her chest and replied, in an annoyed tone, "Shepard insisted that I come..."

At these words, the commander looked at Tali and suddenly seemed to remember something. "Ah, yes…" He got up from the chair and continued, "...When we secured the ship earlier in the day, she insisted on repairing the fusion plant's shielding…" He gestured toward the quarian. "...So I had to insist for her to come here and make sure she didn't get too much radiations."

Tali replied at once, gesturing toward the commander. "I told him I didn't get more exposure than necessary. I know what I'm doing."

Dr. Chakwas didn't want to take sides in what appeared to be a mild disagreement between the two, but at the same time she didn't want to rub Shepard's inflamed savior complex the wrong way. As diplomatically as she could, she simply said. "There's no harm in making sure, Tali." She turned to the Commander. "I'll run a few tests to make sure there's nothing to worry about."

Shepard nodded at that, said another thank-you, glanced at Tali and left.

Dr. Chakwas looked at Tali and smiled reassuringly. "I'll take a blood sample to run a few tests, then we'll just do a quick check-up and verify the readings on your suit's dosimeter."

Tali sighed. "Alright… if everybody thinks it's necessary."

As they walked toward the only unoccupied bed, Tali looked at the last crewman of the Fedele, breathing feebly on another bed. "It's sad. Most of the crew would still be alive if they had known how to read a blueprint… It's actually easy to access the coolant fluid from outside the reactor's shielding."

"I'm sure they did all they could," replied Dr. Chakwas as she took some instruments from a drawer.

"I know… And the only engineer aboard was killed by the creepers right before the mutiny started… He would have known how to do it..."

Dr. Chakwas sighed. "Yes, this was a tragedy. But the person responsible for all this is Dr. Saleon, despite what the commander may feel."

Tali acquiesced. "He can be very stubborn, sometimes. His reaction… it's that complex you were talking about?"

Dr. Chakwas replied, "Oh yes… I'm sure you've noticed by now how he always gets involved when he comes across innocent people being victimized. And he'll be the most miserable of men if he thinks he has failed." She glanced at the quarian and gestured toward her "…And that's also why he may suddenly become overprotective…"

"Ah… That would also explain why he worked so hard to save everybody in Zhu's Hope, with the gas grenades and all… Do you think it's related to the incident in his youth? I mean on his native planet?"

As she prepared her equipment, Dr. Chakwas replied over her shoulder, "Exactly, Tali. You're very perceptive."

"Hmm… Well, it's not rocket science, as humans say."

"True. But he should get over it in a couple of days or so… with some rest and-"

Tali cut her off, "And drinking with Garrus… That must not be healthy." She pointed at herself. "And I'm the one having to undergo a medical examination because somebody worries about my health..."

Dr. Chakwas felt a little guilty for having played a part in this small injustice. She looked at the frustrated quarian and smiled weakly. "Drinking is not necessarily bad, Tali… as long as it does not get out of control, of course."

She knew all about that from personal experience, and this last comment led her to think of her own stash, well hidden under the bottom left drawer of her desk. The more she thought about it, the more she was looking forward to sample some of it when everything was over and she could close shop for the day. It's been a long day… I need to relax too.

Author's Notes

Garrus' side mission (Dr. Saleon):
At some point in ME1 (the player has to talk to Garrus several times before this topic is broached), Garrus tells Shepard of a crazy salarian geneticist (Dr. Saleon) that, some years before, had been growing cloned organs inside the body of his 'employees' (in reality, the 'employees' were people desperate for money), and selling them on the Citadel's black market. Before Garrus could capture him however, Dr. Saleon blew up his lab, took his 'employees' as hostages and fled aboard a ship. Garrus apparently ordered Citadel Defense to shoot down the ship, as stopping Dr. Saleon was more important to him than the life of the hostages (which, in his mind, were already dead anyway as the geneticist would just continue using them to grow more organs). He is very frustrated because C-Sec headquarters overrode his order, which was deemed too risky, and Dr. Saleon managed to escape. Somehow, Garrus knows of the geneticist's whereabouts (he has changed his name for Dr. Heart and has bought another ship - the MSV Fedele) and even has the transponder frequency for the ship. He's frustrated that nobody's willing to follow-up on the case. Paragon Shepard of course berates Garrus for his drastic viewpoint, saying that "If you don't care about the fate of the hostages, then you're no better than he is. You're just a terrorist with a badge." But Shepard takes the transponder frequency, saying that he/she'll check out the coordinates of the ship when there is an opportunity.

The in-game mission itself is not complicated. The MSV Fedele is a modified freighter ship of human build, and is located in the Herschel system (Kepler Verge cluster), close to planet Clugon. Boarding it is very easy, and a cargo bay containing several creatures exactly like thorian creepers (which are designated as 'test subjects' in the game) has to be cleared before getting to Dr. Heart, who is alone in another room near the ship's cockpit. Dr. Heart greets Shepard by thanking him: "Thank-you for saving me from those… things!" When confronted, Dr. Heart denies being Dr. Saleon, but Garrus is sure it's him and wants to execute him right away, saying, "There's no escape this time, Doctor. I'd harvest your organs first, but we don't have the time." Of course, Paragon Shepard does not agree, saying "We'll take him in. Drop him off with the military." Garrus objects to that, but Paragon Shepard convinces him: "If he dies, we'll never know what he's been up to, or how he did it. We'll take him in, interrogate him, and he'll serve his time." But Dr. Saleon does not like this idea and decides to fight. The salarian dies quickly in the ensuing battle. Garrus is a bit frustrated with this: "And so he dies anyway. What was the point of that?" Paragon Shepard replies, "You can't predict how people will act, Garrus. But you can control how you'll respond. In the end, that's what really matters." Garrus looks at Shepard. "Yeah… I don't think I've ever met anyone like you, Commander." Then, Garrus looks around and concludes: "Well, I guess we're done here." The mission is essentially finished: the player can loot a few crates and then leave the ship.

As with a few other secondary missions in ME1, Garrus' side mission (finding Saleon and taking care of him) is not very well developed and leaves a lot of questions unanswered (holes). I'm not ranting here… I'm just stating a fact: ME1 is an amazing game, but Bioware probably didn't have enough resources to complete all the smaller/secondary threads of the story. This is not a bad thing, as it leaves the door wide open for lots of creative interpretations.
Here are some thoughts/speculations on some of the questions raised by Garrus' side mission:
1. Why are the 'test subjects' exactly like thorian creepers? For a long time, I thought Bioware simply did not have the resources to make another type of 'critter' and decided to just recycle the thorian creeper model; I thought these could be other 'employees,' victim of Dr. Saleon's crazy experiments and having turned berserk. Note however that Garrus' side mission happens years after the incident on the Citadel (with the cloned organs), so we can't expect Dr. Saleon to be still doing the same thing; he probably moved on to other shady but maybe more lucrative activities. Having taken this into consideration, I eventually convinced myself that the 'test subjects' really are thorian creepers. That would fit with Dr. Saleon calling them 'those… things' and it would fit also with Shepard saying of Saleon: "If he dies, we'll never know what he's been up to, or how he did it." In the latter comment, I suppose Shepard is wondering how the evil doctor got hold of creepers… Also, from another side mission (Nodacrux), we know that some creepers were sent away from Feros and used as 'docile' servants; these creepers went berserk when the Thorian was killed. I suppose the same could have happened on the MSV Fedele and, in that case, because of the timeline of 'Quarian with a Shotgun,' the creepers would have been out of control for close to a month!
2. Why is Dr. Saleon the only person aboard? Shouldn't there be a crew? This reminds me of Therum (Liara's recruitment), where there was absolutely nobody except Liara. I understand that a salarian scientist may be able to run a lab alone (like Mordin in ME2), but a whole ship? There could be several interpretations: a) he really is alone, b) he was using the thorian creepers as a crew, c) his crew has left (escape pods), d) the crew was entirely killed by the torian creepers or e) there was a mutiny.
3. Why is Dr. Saleon hiding in the little side room Shepard finds him in? Shouldn't he be in the cockpit, flying his ship to the nearest pest control outlet (to get rid of the creepers) or radioing for help? In the game, the creepers are entirely contained into the large cargo bay that separates the back and front parts of the ship, so there is no reason why Dr. Saleon cannot reach the cockpit… My take is that the cockpit of the MSV Fedele is useless since the ship's controls are not responding and communications have probably been lost too. Most likely, the problem is in engineering (which would be at the back of the ship, as usual), but Dr. Saleon obviously cannot get through the cargo bay by himself because of the creepers.
4. The mission ends abruptly as Shepard and his team leave, with no word on what will be done with the ship (MSV Fedele) or its contents (including Dr. Saleon's body, his data, etc). My take is that, before leaving, Shepard would try to find how the evil Dr. got himself a few creepers and he likely would explore the whole ship too, especially the stern (which cannot be explored in-game). What would he find back there? My idea is that he would find what remains of Dr. Saleon's crew… In the end, Shepard would probably turn the ship and Dr. Saleon's body over to the Alliance as part of the evidences in an inquiry into Exogeni's activities. An alternative would be to turn the ship and its contents over to C-Sec (because of Dr. Saleon's crimes committed on the Citadel years ago).

Other notes.
1. Garrus' side mission happens in the Herschel system (in the Kepler Verge cluster). There is only one relay in the Kepler Verge cluster, and it is in the Newton system (which contains planet Ontarom, where the assignment 'UNC: Dead Scientists' is available). My interpretation (as alluded to in chapter 12) is that the Normandy would arrive through the relay in the Newton system and Shepard would then be compelled to complete the 'UNC: Dead Scientists' assignment (the episode with Corporal Toombs and Dr. Wayne) before going on to the Herschel system to find Dr. Saleon.
2. Would fusion plants be radioactive? I remember having heard somewhere that nuclear fusion did not generate nearly as much nuclear waste as nuclear fission. I researched this topic and it is apparently true: the by-product of nuclear fusion would be inoffensive Helium, while the by-product of nuclear fission (the spent fuel) is much messier, with a bunch of radioactive isotopes, some with a very long half-life (50 thousand years...). However, stray neutrons are liberated during the fusion reaction and these will interact with the nuclei of atoms forming the structure of the fusion reactor itself; this will result in the reactor itself becoming radioactive over time. Thus, the nuclear waste due to fission includes the spent fuel and the reactor itself, while the nuclear waste due to fusion would be only the reactor (that is: nuclear fusion is not so clean after all).