Created for the 2012 Mass Effect Big Bang
Illustration at silvermittt dot deviantart dot com by silvermittt
Thanks to w0rdinista/Niamh St George and flippedeclipse for beta reading, to thetricia for comments on the action, to tarysande and my spouse for consultation and cheerleading, and to anonymous moose for suggesting the title.
Tali'Zorah nar Rayya sat on an examination table in a Citadel clinic and desperately tried to think through her options.
When she'd left the Migrant Fleet for her Pilgrimage, she had thought she was prepared. She couldn't have been more wrong. She hadn't been prepared to meet geth, to be chased by enemies she didn't even know, to end up here on the Citadel, injured and alone. She sniffed, and the noise came out sounding like a sob.
"Don't worry." The human doctor in front of her patted Tali's shoulder. "You're going to be just fine. I removed the bullet. Fortunately it didn't hit bone or any major organs. The antibiotics should prevent infection, but you can call me if you have any problems. Oh, and don't overexert, or the stitches may pop."
"Thank you," said Tali dully. The wound in her side still hurt, in spite of the painkillers Dr. Michel had given her. Worse than that, though, was the insecurity of having to disassemble her suit in front of a stranger—an alien—and in a strange place. She hadn't removed the entire suit, of course, only the damaged sections, but it still made her anxious to be exposed like that, even in a sterile room in a medical clinic.
Dr. Michel shifted her weight and brushed a lock of red hair out of her face. "Listen—are you in some kind of trouble?"
Tali flinched. This was the kind of question she'd been afraid of. She'd hesitated to seek help, even after being shot, because she just didn't know who she could trust. She pushed herself off the table and onto her feet. "It's nothing..."
"Even around here, people don't get shot over nothing." Dr. Michel looked at her earnestly. "If you've done something wrong, I promise I won't turn you in."
"I haven't," Tali blurted. She wrung her hands. "I just... I have some information and I think it's valuable to someone." Or dangerous to someone, she thought. "I don't know what to do with it."
"Well... you could talk to C-Sec. There's a detective I know is reliable, I can call him for you—"
Tali shook her head. "No. I... I'd rather not." Part of her wanted to agree with the human, but the rest of her shied away from the idea. She had been taught all her life that Council authority never gave quarians anything, and she had heard so many terrible stories about C-Sec from quarians returned from Pilgrimage: harassment, questioning, arrest, even deportment from the Citadel. She wanted to avoid C-Sec as much as possible. "Do you know if there are any information brokers around here?"
Dr. Michel frowned. "Well, there's Fist. He runs a nightclub a level down called Chora's Den. He's into some dangerous things, though… you might be better off talking to Barla Von. He's a volus, he has an office on the Presidium."
"Thank you," said Tali. "I really mean it. You've helped me a lot." She was grateful just for the woman's kindness. She had treated Tali just like any person, and she had known how to treat a quarian patient. She'd even found materials for Tali to patch the damage to her suit.
Dr. Michel smiled. "It's no trouble. I'm glad I could help."
"Well... thank you, again." Tali bowed her head politely and left the clinic.
Outside, Tali found herself a quiet corner, watching the bustling crowds of the Ward move past her. She tried calling the volus Dr. Michel had recommended. A cheery-voiced VI assistant answered, stating that Barla Von was exceedingly busy, and inquiries were best done in person in his office. She cut the call without leaving a message and sighed. She was worried about going all the way to the Presidium by herself. She would stand out there, far more than she did among the more varied population of the Wards. She activated her omni-tool again and called Fist.
Dr. Michel watched the young quarian leave her clinic with a frown. She seemed so scared, and whatever her secret was had already gotten her hurt once. She went back to her work, taking inventory and restocking supplies, but she couldn't get the incident out of her mind. Finally, she made a decision. She should at least try to get the young woman some help.
Garrus Vakarian sat at his desk in C-Sec and seethed.
He wasn't the only one; the attack on Eden Prime, only a few days earlier, was making everyone at C-Sec edgy. There had been a lot of muttering, especially among the human officers. To make matters worse, they had very little in the way of real information. The news reports said there had been a geth attack on a major human colony, and that was all; the rest of the details were vague and cryptic. There were rumors that a Spectre had been involved, or possibly killed; no, there had been more than one Spectre, and they'd fought a duel. What a Spectre would even be doing on an innocuous human colony wasn't clear. A few hours after the attack, Executor Pallin had called a general briefing, but it had been singularly unhelpful, merely outlining the protocols for identifying and responding to a geth incursion on the Citadel. Ridiculous. And then Pallin had looked over the corps of investigators, straight at Garrus, before he glanced aside and called, "Aediem. I have a special assignment for you."
Junius Aediem. Garrus's least favorite fellow investigator. Oh, he was smart enough, and diligent enough, Garrus supposed, but he was also rigid, unimaginative, and too attached to protocol. Whatever Pallin wanted him for, it was obviously something to do with the Eden Prime attack. Aediem would get the inside scoop; he would hear crucial information, and might be in a position to make a real difference, if any of the rumors were true. Much as Aediem had gotten accolades for his recent cases, Garrus was privately certain he himself could have done better. And would do better with this case, if Pallin had only chosen him instead. But no, Aediem got hand-picked for the special investigation, and Garrus had to sit through several more days of briefings on how to spot a geth.
"I told you not to annoy Pallin," said Chellick.
Garrus glanced up at the other turian, leaning casually against the doorframe of his office. "My report was accurate—"
"I saw your report. It was accurate, and late, and included gratuitous commentary on how much unnecessary procedures had slowed you down. If you want the plum assignments, Garrus, you really need to stop pissing off your superiors."
Garrus clenched his jaw. "So you've said."
Chellick shrugged. "Sorry."
Garrus bit back several rude responses. Chellick was a friend, and it wasn't his fault that Garrus wasn't in the mood for well-meaning advice just now. "Yeah. I guess I'll just—" Garrus stared at his desk, at the giant pile of overdue forms he needed to complete. Days like this made him wonder why he was still sticking it out at C-Sec. For lack of any better idea what to do with his life, probably.
His omni-tool beeped, the tone indicating an incoming message, and Garrus lunged for it, grateful for any distraction. "Vakarian here." He waved absently as Chellick nodded and departed.
The voice on the other end was breathless and female. "Garrus? It's Chloe Michel."
Dr. Michel was a regular informant of his; he'd helped her out when the local gangs were hassling her at the clinic, trying to shake her down for medi-gel and restricted drugs, and he'd cultivated her since. A woman who ran a charity clinic down in the Wards saw a lot of the seedier side of the area. She'd given him useful information more than once. "Dr. Michel, how are you? Are you having any problems?"
"I'm fine, but something happened today that I thought you should know about. I had an unusual patient, a quarian female with a gunshot wound—"
"Gunshot wound? How'd she get that?"
"She wouldn't say. Fortunately it wasn't serious. But she did say that she had some valuable information. She's looking to make a deal to sell it, but... I don't know, I have a bad feeling about the whole thing."
Garrus's mind raced. "Do you think she's dealing with Fist?" That was not a good position for anyone to be in, especially someone who didn't know the territory well.
"I'm afraid she might be."
"All right. Give me her name and description, and I'll see if I can track her down. Thanks, Dr. Michel."
"Garrus, I told you before to call me Chloe."
He shifted in his seat. "Right, of course." He recorded the description she gave him.
At the very least, this quarian was a probable crime victim, and might have evidence about something more significant. So it wasn't a total waste of his time, and was far more interesting than paperwork. He eyed his desk disdainfully. And it wasn't as if he had anything better to do, thanks to Pallin and Aediem.
Locking his office behind him, Garrus went down the hall and rapped on Chellick's door. "Are you still running that operation at Chora's Den?"
Chellick eyed him warily. "Yes. What about it?"
"Anything unusual going on there today?"
Chellick leaned back in his chair. "I haven't gotten any emergency messages from my source, so probably not."
"Any idea who's pulling Fist's strings?"
"That's one of the things we're trying to figure out. Why? What's it to you?"
Garrus shrugged. "Nothing. Probably nothing. Got a tip on something, but it's probably not important."
"Is it relevant to my investigation?"
Garrus shrugged again. "Not that I know of."
Chellick's eyes narrowed. "Don't interfere with my operation, Garrus. I do not need months of work wasted because you went tearing into Chora's Den on a whim."
Garrus bristled. "I don't act on whims. I act on leads."
"Fine. If you get a lead related to Fist, you tell me before you go anywhere near the Den."
"Fine," Garrus snapped back, and stalked off down the corridor.