we have lingered in the chambers of the sea
by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
'til human voices wake us, and we drown.
-t.s. eliot

and we drown

The power supply to the aft cannon's been surging for twenty minutes.

At first Garrus thinks it might have been the new wiring, but dismisses that idea almost immediately. It couldn't possibly be the wiring. The wiring is perfect. He checks it anyway.

"EDI?" He looks up. (He always looks up when he talks to her, a habit he hasn't been able to break even with her new mobile platform. EDI, for her part, made a few suggestions regarding retraining; most of them involved the judicious application of electric shocks.) "Can you check the power lines up here? I'm getting some strange readings."

"The medbay is on the same segment of the grid, including Dr. Solus' laboratory equipment."

"I know that, EDI, but Mordin is-"

"Deceased. Correct. His equipment, however, is still active, and currently in use by Tali'Zorah." The speaker clicks off for a moment, then reactivates. "She reports that she will be done in half an hour and you 'can wait on your damn calibrations' until that time, in her words."

Garrus powers down his omnitool. "We'll be to Horizon by then. It can't wait."

He covers the distance between battery and medbay in a handful of irritated strides, barely waiting for the medbay door to open before he wedges himself in sideways. Mordin's old equipment is at the back, hidden behind the door that in the old Normandy would have hidden Liara's office; it was all they could do, now that the old lab had been commandeered as meeting space. They made do, as they always did.

"Tali?" He knocks on the inner door as it starts to slide apart. "Tali, I've got to get the cannons back online. Can whatever you're doing in here wait?"

Tali whips around to face away from him, holding one hand up to her face. Her other hand is bare, skin exposed, her gauntlet detached from the rest of her suit and resting on the work table. "Keelah, Garrus, I told EDI I needed a few minutes!"

He takes a step back reflexively before the thick plastic wall between them registers. The soft hiss of the vacuum seals holding the panel door in place and the low whirring hum of the filters remind him of the evidence processing room at C-Sec- which, Garrus supposes, isn't far off. "I didn't know Mordin had a clean room in here. Explains the power draw."

"I need to fix this rip before I power the room down," she sighs, raises her hand again, wiggles pale fingers, "and put my mask back on. I keep trying to fix things and it kept fogging up, and my hand hurt-" her voice cracks.

"What happened, Tali?"

"I got into a fight with the lounge wall. I was winning until I split a seal on the corner of the door panel."

Garrus leans against the far wall, arms crossed against his chestplate. "Let me guess. The wall got into the brandy again?"

She hrmphs and bends her head over the workbench.

"Seriously. What's wrong?"

"You wouldn't understand, turian." Tali blows her nose, loudly, on a grease-smeared rag and replaces the repaired gauntlet, locking the clamps down with a series of sharp clicks. "I'll be done in a minute. Get out."

The overhead speaker hums, Joker's voice crackling over the system as they both look up. "EDI and Major Alenko, please report to Armory for loadout. EDI and Alenko, loadout in 20."

"Guess that means we're off the hook," Garrus turns back to look at her, "and I understand more than you think. Did something happen on Rannoch?"

She slips her faceplate into its correct place, and as the vacuum seals reengage her voice changes- more synthetic, more mechanical through the little mask-mounted speakers. "No, not on Rannoch. On Palaven." Tali runs one finger along the keypad next to the clean room's door and is halfway through before it's completely open.

"Palaven?" He tilts his head, mandibles flaring in confusion. "It's a war zone like everywhere else- maybe a little better after the counterattack, but the Hierarchy's in tactical withdrawal. What happened?"

She pushes past him into the medical bay and rummages through the refrigerator, grabbing a vial of antibiotic and a syringe from an adjacent shelf. "Apparently they're still routing comms through a tower on Palaven. Five days ago it went down, and a quarian commando unit was ordered on-planet to repair it- damn it!" She drops the syringe, fumbles for another one with shaking hands. "Mordin used to help me with this."

"And Doctor Chakwas is off shift for hours yet. Let me." Garrus draws up the medication, pops the needle from a fresh syringe and screws it into the port on Tali's forearm; she hisses as it starts to flow. "Quarian commandos… I assume the mission went bad?"

"Yes and no." Tali slumps onto one of the treatment tables. "They fixed the relay, but a Reaper blew the transport before they got off the ground- a 'partial success'." She raises her free hand, fingers bending in mock quotation marks. "I guess dead quarians don't count for much against mission parameters."

"You know that isn't true."

She unhooks the empty syringe, closing the port. "On this ship, maybe, but the Hierarchy doesn't give a damn about us. This isn't Fleet and Flotilla where we'll all hold hands and sing and bond over dextro whiskey."

"I thought you loved Fleet and Flotilla." Garrus sighs. (Of course she loves the show. She watches it every Friday on the viewscreen in the lounge- or she tries to, on Urban Combat League nights. Those days she's usually overridden.)

"That's not the point. We keep trying to make your people see we're useful, and at the end of the day… even the Reapers don't have any use for quarians." Tali turns from him, looking out the window at the slowly approaching curve of Horizon.

They're getting close. He tries not to think about the guns, idling in the battery, Cerberus attack ships launching even as they draw closer- or worse, if they've allied fully with the Reapers, something hiding in the shadow of the planet-

"You're not listening." She's staring when he snaps back into focus, and he can feel her eyes like twin lasers boring holes in the plate of his right cheek. "Did you ever notice that? Humans, asari, turians, krogan- we've been fighting them for months. No quarians, though. Never quarians."

(He remembers Menae, and the first time he saw a brute. The top half was his roommate, his first year in C-Sec; Garrus recognized his facial markings underneath all the tubes and lights.

After he killed him- no, it, definitely it- he snuck behind the bunker to vomit.)

He fights the urge to take her by the shoulders and shake her. "You think that's a bad thing?"

"If we lose this war, Garrus, we go extinct." Her shoulders droop; she slouches forward. "Made it through a four hundred year war and recaptured our homeworld, but if the Reapers win we'll be thrown away like garbage."

Two fingers pressed to the middle of her forehead, he holds her upright. "Is that better or worse than ending up like the Protheans?"

"I don't know." Tali hangs there for a moment, suspended against his hand, before she straightens and shakes her head. "I think… I think I know what Javik would say, though."

"You must win the war, then, primitive." He's never been much of a mimic and it comes out sounding more like Wrex than the Prothean, but she half-laughs anyway. "Tali, I'm sorry. Was the team anyone you knew?"

"I knew all of them. It was Reegar's team." She grips the edge of the table, fingers digging into the padded surface. "This war better be over soon. I'm out of family and I'm running pretty short on friends."

"We've all lost friends. I miss them too- Mordin, Ashley…"

Springing to her feet, she plants her hands in the middle of his chest and shoves him hard; he stumbles back, then steadies himself after a moment and stares.

"Don't you dare try to out-grieve me, Garrus Vakarian. I promise you won't win." She's coiled like a spring, ready to fly at him again, her drone humming into shape behind her right shoulder. "Your family made it off Palaven. What would have been mine died there."

"I- I didn't know you and Reegar-" he raises his hands, palms out, conciliatory. "I don't know what to say."

She sways a little, side to side. "Of course you don't. Shepard's practically immortal. You wouldn't understand."

He flinches.

(she didn't make it, Garrus- the ship broke up, I could see her from the pod-

I don't know how she does it. took a rocket square in the back, got up and brushed herself off-

Shepard's fine. nothing a few days of rest won't handle- assuming we get to rest, anyway…

stop worrying about me. you know me, Garrus- I always scrape through.)

"You're right, Tali." He tries to ignore the chill crawling slowly up his spine, vertebra by vertebra, arcing forward into his heart. "I couldn't possibly understand."

If he expected her to catch the sarcasm it was a mistake; it goes sailing squarely over her head. "What if we hadn't met Shepard? You'd still be in C-Sec, I would have figured something out for my pilgrimage, gone back to the fleet…"

"I'd have been kicked out for insubordination and you'd be-" he stops. You'd be dead, and I'd have been tagging one more dead quarian in the back alley of Chora's Den. "Never mind. I'm sorry."

She folds her arms, twin barricades across her body. "You said that already. It didn't work for my father and it won't help now. Sorry doesn't raise the dead."

"Pretty sure only Cerberus has managed that one so far." The noise that escapes him would have been a chuckle had he not choked it back at the last moment (it's only funny because it's true, he thinks, but you've got lousy timing, Vakarian), instead coming out halfway between a snort and a varren being strangled.

Tali pauses, her face contorting beneath her helmet enough that he can just see the outline of her eyes, right eyelid twitching. "That's not- it isn't-"

The speakers activate once again, breaking off her indignation with new orders. "Ten minutes to shuttle launch. All crew to stations."

When the echoes of Joker's voice fade, she's laughing- quiet, at first, her shoulders shaking, so quiet he can't be sure she isn't crying and so he waits, then louder and freer and genuine and so he waits again until she is done. She reaches out, prods his chin with the tip of a finger. "How do you even make a noise like that?"

"Like wha- oh, that?" He shrugs. "Turian vocal folds. We've got a good line in ventriloquism, too."

"Very funny."

Bending at the waist in a proper bow, Garrus inclines his head to the door. "I try. Don't you need to be down in engineering?"

"Daniels and Donnelly can handle it. I've tweaked everything and modded the tweaks- we're good. Besides, I need another antibiotic dose in twenty minutes, so I might as well stay here." Tali gestures back toward the table. "I go septic in engineering, I cause more problems than I fix."

"I've got a better idea." His arms are longer than hers, and he reaches the cabinet before her, palming a second vial of medication. "You look like you need to shoot something." A clean syringe, still in its sterile plastic wrapper, joins it.

"Is it that obvious?"

"Let's just say I remember how I felt on Omega. Come on." They walk out of the medical bay, rounding the corner to the battery, and when the doors slide open he gestures at the main cannon. "You want to run the guns?"

"Can I adjust the-"

"Nope." He knocks against her, shoulder to shoulder, until she smiles. "Give 'em hell, Sparks."

She does.