Chapter 3: Preparations and Farewells

Zaar was not impressed with Tali's decision.

"Tali," he grumbled through the vid comm, "you're an admiral. If Adrienna is going to insist on doing this herself, find someone else to accompany her. You don't need to do this."

"Gabriel's coming too."

Zaar frowned. Tali already knew that Zaar thought Gabriel was young and impulsive—a bizarre notion to apply to a geth, yet true of Gabriel nonetheless. But Tali had a considerable amount of empathy for those particular characteristics. She had been young and impulsive once too…and maybe the latter description still applied, given what she was trying to do at the moment.

Zaar thought that being one of the first geth to be outfitted with an eezo core processor had gone straight to Gabriel's head. Although it allowed him to be among the first geth to utilize biotics, the extra amount of energy required to power the processor meant that Gabriel's systems would burn out well before any of the non-eezo geth. No one knew how long that would take because no one yet knew what a geth's natural lifespan would be either. The geth had already determined that new bodies could be grown and new programs created by transferring select amounts of information between ships—a mutated approximation of reproduction—but the process was relatively slow. The picture of what long-term geth population statistics would look like had yet to become clear. There were theories, of course. Always theories.

"Besides, Zaar, I'm retired now," Tali continued, ignoring the issue of Gabriel for now.

"Exactly."

Now it was Tali's turn to frown.

"You can't expect me to just sit around at home, can you? I miss the kids."

"And the solution to that is to visit Shala. Or try to use some of your motherly wiles to get Zeri to stay on the homeworld for more than a week at a time. That doesn't mean you have to go off on some dangerous mission halfway across the galaxy."

Tali looked away. She loved Zaar. She always had and always will, ever since he had taken her hand into his own as they both stood watching the ceremonial engraving of Kal'Reegar's name on a memorial slate. Tali had attended countless memorial services in the days following the flotilla's departure from Earth. She had watched innumerable memorial slates being carved, had been surrounded by crowds of quarians weeping beneath their masks, had seen the rosters of casualties in the Admiralty Board meetings, had understood that each one meant another quarian would never return to the homeworld except in spirit. But Reegar's ceremony had finally been the one to break her. As the last letters of his name and rank were burned into the memorial slate, Tali had felt the emotional barrier she had formed around herself suddenly give way, and all the grief at everything the Reapers had done was let loose from her body in a torrent of sobs. Remembering Reegar meant remembering everyone she had lost who, like the marine, had fought until the end. Her father. Mordin. Thane. Miranda. Javik. Legion. Shepard.

And Zaar, the only surviving member of Reeger's squad, had come up beside her, squeezing her hand gently in his own. They had been complete strangers to each other then, but everything about him had suddenly been familiar: their mutual survivor's guilt reflecting in each other's eyes through their face masks.

With Zaar, Tali had begun to build herself a life. Shala and Zeri had been born in clean rooms on the flotilla on the journey home to Rannoch. But Kal had been born under the roof of this house after Tali and Zaar had built it on Rannoch's rocky bluffs in the exact spot where she had told Shepard she would. And, with Zaar, Tali had been able to remember that war wasn't just about loss. Without the sacrifices, she wouldn't have had her three beautiful children. She wouldn't have had her house. She wouldn't have had Zaar. She had lost so much. But those losses meant something. They meant Zaar returning to her embrace after every peacetime patrol. They meant a galaxy where Shala's confident stride, Zeri's shining eyes, and Kal's shy smile could exist without fear that Tali would never see them again whenever they stepped out the front door.

And, today, honoring those sacrifices meant helping the daughters of her old friends.

"Zaar," she said, trying again to make him understand. "I can't make this an official operation. Cerberus is masquerading under the Alliance's name. They might know who Tiersa's parents are. And they managed to track Adrienna even when I couldn't. There's just too much here that doesn't make any sense yet."

"Fine, but—"

"—This is about Adrienna and Tiersa," Tali continued. "This is about owing those people who got me through the War. Liara. Garrus. And…Shepard. All that's left of them is contained within these two girls. Please, Zaar. I have to do this."

Zaar looked away, running a hand through his cropped hair.

"Just…just be careful."

Tali nodded, silently promising herself that, for Zaar's sake, she would be.

"I don't think you'll be able to contact me once we leave Rannoch," she added, feeling like this was the real blow. "I don't want anything to get traced back to you. I'll check in when I can."

"Understood," said Zaar, nodding. He was all soldier again for a moment, but then something on his face shifted and that mask fell away. "I love you."

"I love you too," she said, smiling sadly. "And I will be careful."

Tali shut off the vid comm before he could see the tears glistening in her eyes. But she was determined not to change her mind. She wiped away the purple streaks left by the tears and started making the appropriate preparations, including a little surprise for Cerberus if they chose to visit the house again.

Once programming security measures like these would have required an omnitool and actual contact with an interface. Now, with the binary abilities the Synthesis had given all quarians, Tali needed to do nothing more than close her eyes and run her fingers gently along the console, speaking to the house's electronic systems with an ease that still astounded her, even after all these years. Before the Synthesis, programming had felt like trying to communicate to machines with nothing but primitive hand gestures. Now, it was more like singing epic poetry: levels of language and understanding opened up to her now that Tali hadn't even known existed back then, even though she'd been an accomplished engineer. She knew that many people were concerned with the changes that the Synthesis had wrought in all species. Tali understood that, but she also appreciated how far quarian society had progressed with these new advancements.

Adrienna entered the bedroom. She sank down on the bed with a sigh, like she had used to do when she was significantly smaller and wanted to talk to Tali about something serious.

"I considered sneaking out while you were on the comm with Zaar, you know," Adrienna said with no introduction.

"Oh?" said Tali, amused and looking up from her work. "Why didn't you?"

Adrienna didn't answer the question immediately, instead looking down at her feet. Tali could remember when she had been small enough that the little human's feet would dangle off the edge of the bed without touching the ground. Tali waited for Adrienna to answer her question and, finally, the girl looked up and met Tali's gaze.

"Do you have any idea how upset Dad would have been if I let something happen to you?" Adrienna said quietly. "If I took off and you came after me yourself and…and something happened?"

Tali laughed, even though Adrienna furrowed her brow at that.

"I can assure you," Tali said, "that goes double for me. Imagine what he'd do to me if something happens to you."

"Yeah…I guess…but…" Adrienna sighed. "You don't have to come with me to Earth. I can do this. And you've got so much here. Zaar. And your kids. You should be here for them."

Tali fixed her with a blazing stare.

"Adrienna, as far as I'm concerned, you and Tiersa count as my kids too."

Adrienna looked away, but Tali could tell that she was touched.

"Still, I dunno…"

There was something that the human wasn't saying, Tali realized.

"Adrienna," Tali said suddenly, shutting down her console entirely, "why did you leave?"

Adrienna continued refusing to meet Tali's gaze. It was hard to believe that this was the same young human who, only hours earlier, had shot off a Phantom's head with not even a glimmer of hesitation. There was no trace of that self-confidence now as Adrienna struggled to answer Tali's question. She opened her mouth, shook her head, and then cleared her throat.

"I found out. About Tiersa's…umm…father."

"…her father...?"

And then Tali understood. Shepard.

"Oh."

There was a moment of awkward silence.

"I mean," Adrienna continued, "there had been…conversations between Tiersa and Dad. Especially when she first started living with us. But I didn't realize what they meant. Not really. And then, one day, I was just thinking things over and I figured it out. I asked her about it and Tiersa didn't deny it or anything…but, after that, I just needed some time away. Some time to think about…about who I was and who she was and…everything." She sighed. "And maybe I was a little hurt that both she and Dad had kept a secret that big from me for so long. And I didn't really blame Tiersa, but…but I'm worried that she may have taken it that way."

Tali nodded, understanding now after all these years why the relationship between the girls had dissolved overnight two years ago without either of them giving her any explanation. Adrienna, only fourteen, had disappeared in the middle of the night leaving only a datapad. And Tiersa…

"Tiersa didn't stay for long after you left," Tali admitted. "I remember asking her if she was going after you, but she told me she wasn't. That she was going back to Earth to become…to become her mother."

Tali shivered at recalling the memory. She had suspected that something had gone on between Adrienna and Tiersa that had spurred Adrienna's departure, but she had been absolutely sure in that moment when Tiersa announced that she, too, would be leaving Rannoch. The two girls had been practically sisters: one asari, one human. Yet the coldness in Tiersa's eyes as she had announced her return to Earth had startled Tali. In that moment, Tiersa had reminded Tali not of Liara and not of Shepard, but instead of Garrus. The way he had been when he had talked about Omega. The way he had been when they had returned to Earth after repairing the Normandy only to discover that Shepard was gone.

And Tali had known that, once Tiersa took her mother's place as the Shadow Broker, the young asari was planning on using her power over secrets and intrigues to do some serious damage to whomever she could. The only other thing Tali had managed to pull out of Tiersa before she left was a grudging, mumbled comment as she boarded the ship to Earth.

"It doesn't make any sense, Tali," Tiersa had mumbled. "How would those mercs find Garrus? After all these years? And my mother was also killed by old enemies that just seemed to show up out of nowhere. It's just too coincidental. There's something missing here. Something that I need to find out. And it's better if Adrienna just stays wherever she's gone. I need her out of the way. I need her out of danger to do what I'm going to do."

Tali had let her go, but only because she had thought they would stay in contact, that she'd be able to temper the young asari's rage from a distance. But after the ship touched down on Earth—less than six months after leaving Rannoch with the latest FTL drives—and deposited Tiersa T'Soni back onto Earth's soil, all contact had ceased. And Tali had spent sleepless nights staring up at her ceiling and wondering how she could have failed her dead friends so horribly by losing track of not just one, but both of their children in the wilds of the galaxy.

Until, months later, Tali had received a single photo from an untraceable address: a young asari, smiling shyly and standing in front of an ocean as the waves lapped up against her blue ankles.

After that, every few months, Tali would receive a photo. Tiersa hadn't changed as much as Adrienna: her asari genetics meant that her aging process had slowed down and she remained saddled with the lankiness of adolescence. Tali was observant enough to notice the darkness and the strain growing in Tiersa's blue eyes though, and she couldn't help but continue to worry about what the young asari was up to on Earth.

Tali pulled up the latest file Tiersa had sent her: Tiersa was barely smiling this time and the background was nothing but white. Tali showed the photo to Adrienna and the sight of her asari sister brought a rare smile to her lips. The crinkling of her soft human cheeks distorted the blue turian facial markings in a way that wouldn't have been possible on an actual turian.

"I'm glad that she looks okay. When did you get this?"

"A week ago."

Adrienna nodded.

"That's well after the Alliance—I mean, Cerberus—found me on Tuchanka. That was almost six months ago now. So that's good, I guess. They haven't found her yet. Do you know where she is? Can you contact her?"

"All I get are these encoded photographs every month or so," Tali said, shaking her head. "I've tried tracing the signal, but all I can really tell for certain is that they do come from Earth. Tiersa clearly doesn't want to be contacted by me….though at least she sends me these to let me know that she's still okay, which is more than some…"

Tali glared at Adrienna.

"I know, I know," Adrienna said. "Haven't I apologized enough already?"

"Maybe…" Tali said, looking at the human and frowning a little. "Adrienna, why Tuchanka? What exactly did you do there?"

Adrienna got that grin again—the one that had broken across her face the first time the planet had come up in conversation.

"Well, I thought about going to Palaven, but Gabriel pointed out that the turians would be a little offended by the tattoos. And I figured Auntie Sol's would be the first place you'd check. So I thought I'd try Tuchanka instead."

"Let me guess," Tali said dryly, "the krogan thought the tattoos were hilarious."

"Yeah," said Adrienna. "When they found me stowed away among the supplies, they took me to Urdnot Wrex because they thought he'd get a laugh out of seeing my face." Adrienna tried to lower her voice by about four octaves to impersonate a krogan's rumbling drawl. "'You've got a quad, little human, insulting the Hierarchy like that. Wrex is gonna want to see this.'"

Tali laughed and Adrienna grinned shyly.

"Urdnot Wrex…He was my hero, you know," Adrienna continued. "Growing up on Earth. I worked him up to be the most powerful warrior in the galaxy. I was pretty sure nothing could stop him."

"I remember hearing about that," Tali nodded.

"Well, I was wrong. Turns out a little human wearing the facial tattoos of his only turian friend will stop Urdnot Wrex in his tracks. He let me stick around, despite some of the misgivings of the other krogan. But he had Grunt to back him up, so it's not like any of the other krogan even dared to question his decision to let me stay in the new Capital. And Dad may have taught me how to shoot…" She gestured to the scar across her forehead, "…but Urdnot Wrex taught me how to fight. And when those Cerberus troops dropped in on the city…Let's just say that Grunt was kind enough to leave a few troops for me and I was able to get in some target practise for the first time since…since Dad died."

The human looked immensely proud of herself, her brown eyes glowing.

Tali tried to look impressed because she knew it would mean something to Adrienna, but she couldn't help but feel some misgivings towards Wrex. Was teaching a human girl brutal krogan fighting techniques really necessary? She supposed Garrus had started it with the rooftop sniper training, which was one of many of Garrus's parenting decisions Tali hadn't agreed with…not that Garrus had ever asked her for her opinion…

Still, Tali wholeheartedly wished that when the krogan had discovered Adrienna stowed away on that ship, Wrex had just stuck Adrienna on the next ship leaving for Rannoch. This girl had seen enough bloodshed for one lifetime. Adrienna was still a child and she deserved some peace—something, Tali acknowledged, was probably difficult for a krogan to understand. Yet Tali was grateful that Adrienna had ended up somewhere safe in her self-induced pilgrimage. Well, relatively safe.

But Tali could see the pride burning in the human's eyes and she had no desire to smother that out with her disappointment in Wrex. So she forced smile and then turned away, making the last adjustments to the house's new security system and sending out secured deactivation codes to Zaar and the kids.

"Come on," Tali said, "I think I'm ready to go. Are you?"

"Absolutely," said Adrienna, nodding solemnly. "Do we have a ship?"

And Tali smiled.

"Yes. And I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."