"All right," Tali said. "Now that we have the data, I guess we should move as quickly as we can."
"Yeah. They'll realize I'm not still in the interrogation room sooner or later." Garrus brought up the C-Sec schematics on his omni-tool. "All right. The C-Sec complex is huge. If we take this route here, we'll come out fairly close to the embassy section of the Presidium. We'll have to commandeer a vehicle, but it will be a short trip."
Tali nodded. "Okay. It wouldn't be better to get out of the building quickly and travel outside of C-Sec?"
Garrus hesitated. "I don't think it would be any faster, and it might endanger civilians."
"Okay, then. Let's go."
She started toward the door, but Garrus caught her good arm for a moment and looked at her carefully. "Are you going to be all right with this trip?"
Tali already felt too warm. The fever was coming on. She could see the blinking indicators showing that the suit was feeding her antibiotics and antipyretics. Garrus's expression suggested that he knew she was ill. Biometric monitoring on the visor, probably. "I don't see that I have a choice."
"Then let's try to make this quick."
She could thoroughly agree with that sentiment.
They left the office, corpse and all, and headed back toward the elevator. As they approached the corner, Tali saw the prone form of the officer who'd shot at her on the floor. "Garrus... did you leave him like that?"
"I cuffed him, but otherwise... damn it." He sped up and Tali followed. Her breath caught as they drew near. The young human was clearly dead, his throat cut. "Damn it," Garrus repeated, fists clenching.
"This isn't your fault, either," she said.
"Maybe not, but I made it possible." He shook his head, gathering himself with visible effort. "Let's go."
They rode the elevator down several levels in silence. When the doors opened, Tali followed Garrus's lead. She had the route marked on her own omni-tool, too, but her head was beginning to ache, and her mouth felt dry. This was the beginning of a bad reaction, she could tell, and she could only hope that she wouldn't collapse or make some terrible mistake that would put them both in jeopardy. They could hear distant alarms from time to time, so her programs still seemed to be running in C-Sec's systems.
The route they took seemed relatively lightly populated. They did pass a few officers: a turian questioning a volus, a couple of asari in conversation. Each time, Garrus took Tali's arm, as if escorting a prisoner or a witness. The first time, she flinched as he touched her injured arm. "Sorry," he murmured, shifting his grip lower.
"It's all right," she whispered back. There was something comforting about the pressure on her arm, now that it didn't hurt any more.
They were halfway to the garage when they heard a faint whine. The consoles, door locks, and surveillance cameras within view all cycled off, and then back on. Tali glanced up at Garrus. "They must have cleared my programs from the system," she said.
"I know," he replied, just as quietly, and without saying another word, they moved faster. The corridor ended in a T-intersection. They turned to the right, to reach the elevator that would take them down to the garage. Behind them, there was a shout: "Stop! Both of you! And surrender! You're under arrest!"
"Run," Garrus said, giving Tali a push on the shoulder. She broke into a halting run, glancing back over her shoulder, to find him just behind her, tweaking something on his omni-tool. Further back, she could see the turian detective who had taken him in for questioning, flanked by several more officers. They had their weapons drawn. Tali ran faster.
She reached the elevator at the end of the hall moments after the first shots, panting and feeling dizzy. The elevator wouldn't respond to her calls; they must have shut down the controls. Grimly, she crouched down and began to hack her way into the control system. Garrus caught up with her a minute later. "I'm working on it," she said.
"Work fast. I tweaked my armor shielding, but it won't hold forever."
"Can't you do anything to slow them down?" she asked, breathless.
"I'd rather not shoot at my colleagues if I can help it," he said.
"This is your last chance to surrender," called the turian. It sounded as though he was moving closer.
"Under arrest for what?" Garrus called back. "I didn't kill Pallin."
The other growled. "Still lying. The path you've left through C-Sec argues against you."
"I didn't kill your guards at the interrogation room, did I?"
There was a moment of hesitation. "No."
"Why wouldn't I, if I'm as bad as you think? Use your head, Junius."
"I don't need advice from you on how to do my job, Vakarian," said the other detective coldly. A spray of bullets followed.
"I've got it!" Tali exclaimed. Garrus shoved her into the elevator before the doors were fully opened, following rapidly. She pressed herself to the wall of the elevator car, hacking into the controls. The door slammed shut and they started down, faster than the elevator's usual speed.
Garrus pulled out his omni-tool. "What are you doing?" Tali asked.
"Thought maybe I should let the humans know we're coming." A moment later, he said, "This is C-Sec Officer Garrus Vakarian. I need to speak to the ambassador. No, I don't have an appointment. I'm afraid it's urgent."
The elevator suddenly stopped moving, the mechanism groaning.
"Tali?" Garrus asked in a strained voice.
"I'm working on it," she said, trying to get back into the system.
He said into the omni-tool, "Yes, I said urgent. Tell the ambassador I have evidence regarding the attack on Eden Prime."
Tali got the elevator re-started, with a jolt.
Garrus sighed deeply. "Tell him I have evidence linking the attack to Spectre Saren Arterius. Yes, I thought he would want to know, too. I'm on my way to the embassy from C-Sec, but there, ah, may be some pursuit."
The elevator settled to a stop and the doors opened. Tali started to step out, only to yelp and fling herself back into the car as warning shots rattled over her head.
"Yes," said Garrus into the comm, "some assistance would be useful, if possible." To Tali, he added, "We're going to have to run for it. Just... don't aim too carefully, okay?"
She leaned out into the doorway, set off a sabotage attack, and readied her shotgun. "Okay," she said, forcing down the feeling of dizziness.
Together, they sprinted for the nearest vehicle. There were no shots at first, as the weapons Tali had just overheated cooled off. Then several rifles fired. Tali ducked and fired back without looking. She felt out of breath already. The nearest car seemed very far away. She stumbled and Garrus hauled her back to her feet, yanking her behind a concrete pillar. "You all right?" he asked.
Her head felt like it was on fire. "I... just need to catch my breath..."
He leaned out and fired a burst from his assault rifle, deliberately aimed high, she thought. "We don't have a lot of time here."
"I know." She punched in another dose of drugs for herself and took two slow, deep breaths. "Okay, let's go."
Inside, she knew the drugs wouldn't take effect quickly enough, and she was right. The next minutes passed in something of a haze. She nearly ran into the car they were aiming at; her fingers fumbled as she tried to hack the lock, but she got it open, and they both piled in.
"Can you drive?" Garrus asked, and Tali realized that she'd ended up in the driver's seat.
"I think so," she said, starting it up. She'd flown shuttles and small craft on many occasions, and a skycar's controls were designed to be simple to use. She was a little worried about her fever and dizziness, but the medication should be kicking in soon, and it would take time to change places. A couple of shots hit the rear of the car as she lifted off, making it veer as she aimed at the brightly-lit exit. That wasn't hard to see at all. "I just don't know where we're going."
Garrus flinched as they narrowly missed the side of the exit. "I'm sending coordinates to the car's nav computer." That done, he leaned out the window and fired behind them, to discourage pursuers.
Garrus wasn't sure if Tali was naturally this bad a driver, or if it was just the fever—he was well aware she was getting sicker by the moment—but the ride to the embassy, though short, was one of the worst of his life. Tali had no sense of the Citadel's normal traffic lanes or patterns, and overcorrected wildly whenever he called for a change in direction. At least it was making their car difficult to hit, he reflected. He fired off a few bursts of suppressing fire, trying his best to avoid civilian traffic. What were a few more charges to his record, anyway? Garrus tried to quiet the part of his mind that was listing the laws and regulations he'd broken in the last few days, and the other things that he hadn't done but might get charged with anyway. That part sounded remarkably like his father. When he spotted their destination, he called, "Down! Down! Set it down there!"
"What, here?" she asked, jerking the skycar toward one of the Presidium lakes.
"No, not here, right there!" he shouted.
It wasn't quite a crash landing, but it wasn't a gentle landing, either. Their car jolted to a stop in a plaza right in front of the embassy offices. Garrus winced as civilians fled screaming, though he had to applaud their good sense. Tali's head drooped toward her chest as she let go of the controls. Garrus looked at her with alarm, but said calmly, "Okay, Tali, we're just going to need to run over there and up the stairs. Think you can make it?"
"Sure," she said, sounding breathless but lifting her head. He gave her vital signs a skeptical look. "No problem," she said, noticing his scrutiny.
He grabbed her arm, nonetheless, her good arm, and prepared to carry her if necessary. There was no way he was going to leave her behind at this point. He opened the door and ran.
They hadn't quite made the base of the steps when three C-Sec cars settled in behind them, and he heard Aediem's voice shouting, "Halt!" Garrus ignored him and kept running. Then there was a barrage of gunfire. His shields flickered and gave out, and he felt a couple of rounds slam into his armor. He pushed Tali between himself and the wall.
"Cease fire, C-Sec," called an unfamiliar voice. "We'll take this from here."
"You don't have the authority," Junius Aediem returned, sounding furious. Garrus couldn't help feeling just a little pleased by that fact.
"Your head in my sights is pretty much the authority I need," said the first voice. Human male, Garrus thought. "The rest you can take up with my ambassador. In fact, I think he's calling your superiors right now."
There was a short, seething silence. "Hold fire," Aediem snapped. Everything became quiet.
Garrus glanced around. At the top of the stairs was a human marine team. Just three people, but all of them had weapons aimed at the C-Sec investigator, who stood furiously in the plaza. Cautiously, Garrus edged his way up the stairs. Tali followed, and he tried not to worry too much about her ragged breaths. The human in the middle gestured Garrus and Tali behind his team. Then the five of them moved smoothly away from the plaza entrance, back toward the embassy offices. Once they were out of sight of the plaza, the marine commander holstered his rifle. "Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance," he identified himself. "I hear you've got something for us."
Inside the embassy offices, Garrus recognized the human ambassador, Udina. He didn't know the others, but the older man in Alliance uniform quickly introduced himself as Anderson and the younger marines, in armor, as the ground team from Eden Prime. Tali launched into her explanation of how she'd acquired the geth data, an explanation which was a little more scattered than the first time Garrus had heard it. He frowned at her, noting her rising fever, but the humans all seemed to be listening intently.
They listened even more intently when she played the recording. "That's definitely Saren," Anderson said, sounding excited. "We've got him this time."
Garrus cleared his throat. Uncomfortable, he nonetheless felt obliged to put in, "The voice match isn't close enough to pass the C-Sec evidence standard."
Udina brushed it off. "No matter. Together with Shepard's report from Eden Prime, it should be enough." His thin lips stretched out into a smile. "We can take this to the Council. I'll set up a call immediately."
"Do you think it'll be enough for them to authorize going after Saren?" asked the marine commander, Shepard, speaking for the first time since he'd ushered Tali and Garrus into the office.
Udina's smile grew wider, even predatory. "Better than that, we should be able to accelerate the process and have you named Spectre."
Garrus swallowed. His heartbeat suddenly seemed loud in his own ears. The man had been under consideration for Spectre? He hadn't realized that. There had never been a human Spectre before. He lowered his eyes. He'd given up that dream, long ago, to pursue a career in C-Sec, a career that now seemed ashes behind him.
"Really, sir?" asked one of the other marines, the male; Garrus had missed his name. "It wasn't Shepard's work that got us that evidence—uh, no offense, Commander."
"None taken," said Shepard dryly. "I've been spending the last few days on a wild goose chase. It was these two." He gestured in their direction. "Tali'Zorah was the one who found the evidence, and Vakarian was the one who recognized it was significant."
Garrus lifted his head. For a moment he had a wild hope that he might use this, somehow, to request Spectre evaluation again, but the two older men had fallen silent, both frowning. Udina shook his head abruptly. "The Council doesn't have to know that."
Anderson's frown deepened. "Now wait a minute..."
"It was a human colony that the geth attacked." Udina's voice grew sharp. "The Council wants to write it off as a human problem. Well, then we must have a human Spectre to solve the problem. You know better than anyone we've been working toward this for decades, Anderson."
Anderson stiffened very slightly. "I'm well aware, Ambassador," he ground out.
"So. Officer Vakarian." It wasn't his correct title, but Garrus couldn't summon up the energy to correct him. Now that the need to run was gone, the nagging aches in his head and knee and shoulder turned to throbbing, and his body was flooded with fatigue. The ambassador moved toward him with assurance, his stare surprisingly compelling. "I am sure you are no stranger to expedience, and there is a great deal at stake here. You must be aware of how important Spectres are."
"I am," he replied, struggling to keep his tones neutral, even though it hardly mattered, since no one in the room could hear him properly anyway. "I was once considered a prospect myself."
Udina's mouth drew together. "Then you can surely understand how important it will be to have the first human Spectre authorized to hunt down Saren Arterius."
Garrus couldn't help but bristle, even though he was convinced of Saren's guilt. The human sounded just a little too pleased with the idea of hunting the Spectre as if he were vermin. The demand underlying the ambassador's speech hit him like a hammer a moment later.
"You want me to lie."
"Think about it, Officer," said Udina. "A mission like this requires a full-fledged Spectre. A new Spectre. All the others have past associations with Arterius. If anything were to impede Shepard's appointment as Spectre, that would be... irresponsible."
Garrus's head throbbed. He could hardly believe what he was hearing, but it made a kind of sense. Part of him resisted, wanted to rage against the blatant manipulation. The notion of lying to the Council, playing into the ambassador's political games, disgusted him. The idea of pretending his own actions had been done by another stung his pride. But maybe it was fitting. He'd screwed up. His actions had led to Pallin's death, left a trail of chaos through C-Sec. It seemed petty to demand he get what little credit he'd earned. Besides, the ambassador was right that it was important to pursue Saren as quickly and as vigorously as possible.
Lying, though—that still stuck in his gizzard.
Garrus looked up, and all five of the humans were frowning in his direction. He shook his head slowly. "I don't know."
"The sooner you make up your mind, the sooner we can bring this criminal Spectre to justice," Udina said.
Tali touched his elbow. Garrus pulled away. "I need to think about this."
"Of course. As much time as you need." The ambassador smiled.
Garrus stalked out onto the balcony and rested his hands on the railing, trying to clear his head.
Tali bit her lip as she watched Garrus go, leaning against the railing. She could see his shoulders drooping even in his armor. It wasn't fair to demand he decide this right now, after all they'd been through in the last few days. She didn't entirely like that they were behaving as if the decision were solely his to make, either, though she knew deep down that she'd go along with his choice. That still didn't make what they were doing right. Tali glared at the ambassador, who looked rather pleased with himself. Everyone else, she thought, looked uncomfortable. Commander Shepard, in particular, was rubbing the back of his neck and shifting his weight from side to side. Were they really going to go along with this? She marched toward him.
"You can't let this happen," she said.
The human shifted his weight to one foot and crossed his arms over his chest. "Look, it's not up to me. The Council's going to decide what to do about Saren and who's going to be a Spectre."
Tali planted her hands on her hips and rocked forward on her toes, wishing that she were tall enough to really face down the man. "And if you become a Spectre, do you want it to be because you took credit for someone else's work?"
He winced and lifted a hand to rub the back of his neck. "It's not like that..."
"It's exactly like that," she hissed. "You couldn't come up with the evidence you needed on your own. Garrus and I had to figure things out all by ourselves. He risked his career and his life to help me because he thought it was right. Not because of the politics of it. If he thought like your ambassador, he would have helped cover up for Saren. I risked my life, too. This isn't just about you humans. The geth are a threat to everyone." A fit of coughing suddenly shook her. Her head swam, and her arm throbbed. She really needed to see a doctor soon.
The human frowned at her. "Are you all right?"
"No, I'm not all right!" she shouted. "I've been shot and cut and I have an allergic reaction setting in."
The other human male reached toward her, his brow furrowed, but somehow Garrus had a steadying arm around her shoulders first. She hadn't heard him come back in. He said, "Easy, Tali. We should get you to a doctor."
"'M fine," she grumbled, trying to shrug off the support.
"Try that again, with less swaying," he suggested, a thin note of humor underlying the fatigue in his voice. Tali sighed and stopped resisting.
"Listen," said Shepard. "Detective Vakarian—"
Garrus growled under his breath and gave the man a hard look. "If you're going to try to convince me to lie for you, save your breath."
The human woman scowled and took a step forward. "Watch it—" she started, but the commander held up a hand.
"Easy, Williams. I respect your honesty, Vakarian, but—"
"That's not what I meant. Look, I don't like this, but... stopping Saren is more important than I am. If you need me to say that you found the evidence, I'll do it."
Tali closed her eyes. He was really going to do it, pretend he'd done nothing, and let the humans have their way. "Garrus, don't," she said.
"It's fine," he said, sounding very weary. "Or, it's not, but it's necessary. The only thing I want in exchange is help clearing both our names."
"That's not what I was going to say," said the human. Tali opened her eyes again.
Shepard gave them both a crooked smile. "I think we got off on the wrong foot here." Tali looked down, baffled as to which foot could be the wrong one. She looked up when he continued, "Tali's right. If I'm going to be the first human Spectre, I'm going to earn it. Both of you have put in a lot of effort here, and you can clearly handle yourselves. I mean to find Saren and stop him, whatever his plans are. I could use you both on my team."
"You want us to join your crew?" Tali asked, startled.
"That's right," he said, looking her over. "We can even offer medical attention." He turned his attention back to Garrus. "And nobody needs to lie about anything."
The arm around Tali's shoulders relaxed very slightly. "That's good," Garrus said after a moment. "I'm really a very bad liar. Chances are Councilor Sparatus would be able to tell."
Shepard's smile widened. "Best we avoid that, then. Let me go talk to the ambassador."
He headed over to talk to the older men, the other two marines trailing after him. Tali coughed again, and Garrus led her to the nearest chair and deposited her in it. "You should sit, too," she said, looking up. "You don't look so good."
"Fine," he sighed, and pulled over a second chair, settling into it and leaning his elbows on his knees.
"Do you really think they're going to let us join the crew?" Tali asked.
They both looked over at the humans. Ambassdor Udina was frowning and gesturing vigorously, but Captain Anderson was looking at Shepard and nodding slowly. Shepard glanced back at them, closed one eye, smiled, and held up his fist, his thumb protruding upward.
"What does that mean?" Tali whispered.
"Uh... I think that's a good sign?" said Garrus doubtfully. "I think I've seen human C-Sec officers do that sometimes?"
This could actually be happening. They might be able to see this struggle through. A thrill, or a shiver, went through her. She hoped it wasn't just the fever. "We're going to try to stop the geth."
"And get justice for Pallin's murder. While chasing down a rogue Spectre." Garrus glanced sideways at her. "It'll probably be dangerous."
Tali smiled. Definitely a thrill. Shyly, she reached for his hand. He closed the distance, hands interlocking, and squeezed. "I can hardly wait," she said.
He probably couldn't see her smile, but his mandibles flared out, and by now she'd learned to read his smile. "Neither can I."