Zenna walked into the science lab while Mordin worked on a project. As soon as she entered, he turned to her with a smile.
"Ahh Zenna, the information you gave me, yes, yes quite fascinating," he began but got a good look at the minotaur and released that she wasn't interested in a detailed explanation of what he found.
"Did you find what the scientist claimed?" she asked. "Are Chimera's immune to indoctrination,"
The Salarian paused before nodding. "Yes," he then waved her over to the terminal and showed her the data. "Due to the bacterium's effect on the nervous system, changing it on a fundamental level. For the body to develop an animal side, the nervous system needs to be adapted to incorporate the new parts. However, because Chimeras have more than one part, the nervous system becomes chaotic and jumbled to accommodate those changes,"
As he spoke, she showed two images of demi-human nervous systems. The first one being from a nekomata, while the other being from Zenna's. She would see what he meant. The nekomata's nervous system was a simple web of neurons that ran across the body. But her own was a mess. While it was a web, it wasn't anything like the other one. This web was missed with sections being disconnected from others, different sections being connected to random clusters and so on.
It was like comparing a professional artist's finest work to a child with finger paintwork. Yet it was the latter that saved Zenna from being indoctrinated.
"Send the info to the Alliance. I don't want Cerberus getting their hands on this," Zenna said.
Mordin nodded and did as she asked and deleted the local copy.
The Normandy flew into the massive fleet before it. The Migrant Fleet hosted over fifty thousand ships, more largely than any race's fleet. Hearing it was one thing, but seeing the ships now was something else. As they approached Tali began to pace impatiently.
"This is Tali'Zorah vas Neema nar Rayya requesting permission to dock with the Rayya," she said over the ship's comm.
"Our systems have your ship flagged as Cerberus, verify," the traffic controller requested.
"After time adrift among open stars, along tides of light and through shoals of dust, I will return to where I began," as she spoke, she spoke with a kind of reverence that the Minotaur hadn't heard from the young Quarrian before.
"Permission granted. Welcome home, Tali'Zorah,"
"We would like a security and quarantine team to meet us. Our ship is not clean,"
"Understood. Approach exterior docking cradle 17,"
The Normandy approached the docking cradle and attached itself to it. Several Quarrian marines waited outside the airlock waiting for Tali'Zorah and her companions.
Shepard, Tali and Garrus entered through the airlock and were greeted by one of the Quarians. But the minotaur's gained some looks as she entered.
"Captain Shepard, Tali'Zorah told me a lot about you. I wish we could be meeting under more pleasant circumstances," he said with an apologetic tone.
"Tali'Zorah helped the Normandy and her crew out of many difficult situations, I owe her a lot," Zenna said.
"I understand," the Quarian Captain said. "As the commander of the vessel that she serves on, your voice carries weight. I wish we could do more to help, Tali. The trial requires that I remain officially neutral, but I'm here if you need to talk. They are charging you with bringing active Geth to the Fleet as part of a secret project,"
Tali took a step forward and said in surprise, "That's insane! I never brought active Geth to the Fleet. I only sent parts and pieces,
"Technically I'm under orders to place Tali'Zorah under arrest pending the hearing. So Tali, you are confined to this ship until this trial is over,"
"Thank you, Captain," she said.
"Preparations got underway as soon as you arrived. The hearing is being held in the garden plaza. Good luck." The captain moved out of the way.
Before they walked down the corridor, Zenna placed her hand on the young Quarrian. "You salvaged Geth pieces?" she asked.
"Yes, for a project for my father," Tali nodded.
"Why didn't you bring me to help?"
"You had other things to do, I could ask you to take time outside of your mission," she confessed.
"Tali, I'm an engineer, I would have loved to help out,"
Tali said nothing as she shrugged the commander's grip off her. "What's done is done, let's deal with the consequences,"
Shepard, Tali and Garrus walked down the corridor. The Quarrians around were gossiping about Tali. None of them had the decency to hush their voices as they walked by. Like Tali said regardless of their last name every Quarrian considered each other to be family.
"If Tali'Zorah can't even get a Quarian captain to stand for her, she's as good as convicted," a random Quarian said aloud, most likely well aware that Tali was within earshot.
But a growl from Zenna quieted them down.
The doors opened and at the end of the corridor was a pair of Quarian women talking to one another. As the door opened one of them in black clothing looked toward Tali. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. I'm glad you came. I could only delay them for so long,
"Auntie Raan!" Tali exclaimed as she hugged her. The hug was awkwardly one-sided. She released her and stood by her side. "Shepard this is Auntie Raan,"
"A pleasure," Zenna nodded.
"It is good to finally meet you, Captain Shepard," Raan welcomed.
"Wait!" Tali said in realization. "You called me vas Normandy," she said as she went back to Shepard's side.
"I'm afraid I did, Tali. The Admiralty Board moved to have you tried under that name, given your departure from the Neema," Rann confessed
"What does that mean?" Garrus asked.
"This means that the Admiralty Board are prematurely exiling her," Rann said. "But she still has friends who will still know her as Tali'Zorah vas Neema, whatever we must call you legally,"
"I guess this means I'm her defence representative in this hearing," Kira stated.
"It does." Raan confirmed.
She looked to Tali. "I'll do everything in my power to help you."
"Thank you, Shepard. I could not ask for a better councillor," Tali nodded.
"Our legal rules are simple," Raan explained to Shepard. "There are no legal tricks or political loopholes for you to worry about. Present the truth as best as you can. It will have to be enough. Now come. I promised that I would not delay you any longer. Follow me please,"
The three followed behind Raan into the plaza. The Quarians in the plaza gathered on the steps to watch the hearing. The other admirals stepped up on their stands in the centre of the plaza. Garrus stayed within the crowd. He would only step in if there was trouble. Shepard and Tali approach the stand.
As they did, several stared at the minotaur walking down before standing in front of the stand. Compared to the others, she looked like a giant demanding your attention to be focused on her.
"This Conclave is brought to order," Raan declared. "Blessed are the ancestors who kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. Keelah se'lai"
"Keelah se'lai!" the assembly echoed back.
"The accused, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, has come with her captain to defend herself against the charge of treason," Raan said, but before she could continue, some of them had a problem with the minotaur in the room.
"Objection!" the Quarian in the red suit roared. Shepard recognized him as Admiral Zaal'Koris. "A human… demi…." he floundered as he looked up to Zenna. "Sorry, but what do you go by?"
"Human, demi-human or minotaur," Zenna shrugged. "Any of those work,"
He nodded. "A human has no business in Qurrian matters. Especially ones that have sensitive military secrets,"
"Then you should not have made me her captain!" Zenna argued. "According to the Quarian Military Doctrine, in hearings that involve high-end crimes, such as treason, a Quarian citizen or soldier is to be represented by their ship's captain." Shepard noticed the shocked stance that Zaal'Koris was in. "Yes, I did my homework," she said baring her fangs
Everyone was shocked by Shepard's display. None of them could expect someone so affluent in knowledge of their laws. Even someone within the Fleet would not be so knowledgeable. Tali was feeling a little better after seeing this display. She knew Zenna was only warming up. After all, minotaur's loved a good fight. Words or fists, it didn't matter to them.
Zaal's stance became tense after Shepard's argument. "Objection withdrawn," he said clearly feeling humiliated.
"Shepard vas Normandy, your crewmember Tali'Zorah stands accused of treason. Will you speak for her?" Raan asked.
Shepard leaned against the stand. "If it helps Tali, I will. But in her heart, she remains Tali'Zorah vas Neema, a proud member of the Migrant Fleet. I regret that her captain is forbidden to stand by her side today,"
"No one is forbidden from anything," Zaal countered. "It is a simple-"
"Lie to them if you must, Zaal'Koris, but don't lie to me and expect me to stay silent," Gerrel interrupted. "The human is right!"
From the reaction Kira could see that there was clear tension between the Admirals, if she played her cards right she could use them against each other and save Tali.
"Admirals please!" Raan said to stop the argument she leaned forward on her stand. "Shepard's willingness to represent Tali'Zorah in this hearing is appreciated." Raan pushed herself off. "Tali, you are accused of bringing active Geth onto the Fleet. What say you?"
"Tali would never endanger the Migrant Fleet," Shepard responded. "She pleads not guilty,"
"I left parts and technology for teams to pick up," Tali explained. "At my father ord... request for me to do so," looking around she couldn't see her father making her wonder where he was. Was he so disappointed in her that he refused to show up? "But I would never send active Geth to the Fleet! Everything I sent was disabled and harmless,"
"Then explain how the Geth seized the lab ship that your father was working," Zaal'Koris replied in an arrogant tone.
The area was aloud with the voices of the people.
"What are you talking about?" Tali demanded. "What happened?"
"As far as we can tell, Tali," Gerrel answered, "the Geth have killed everyone on the Alarei. Your father included,"
"What! Oh, Keelah."
Zenna quickly stepped in to control the situation. As much as it angered her at the obvious political ploy they were playing, she needed to keep her cool for Tali's sake. "I appreciate the need for this trial, Admirals," she lied. "But our first concern must be the safety of the Migrant Fleet. The Normandy stands ready to assist in whatever capacity is necessary,"
"Thank you," Raan said. "Quarian strike teams have attempted to take the Alarei. So far, without success,"
"Shepard, we have to take back the Alarei," Tali said to Shepard.
"The safest course would be to simply destroy the ship," Zaal suggested.
"Really?" Shepard exclaimed. "Destroying a ship that is surrounded by ships? What is acceptable collateral damage to you? Aside from what Tali has told me it's a science ship, I highly doubt you can destroy such a valuable ship. Send us in. We'll clear the ship. But as we do so I must request that you push the ship out of weapons range so that I can be destroyed, if need be,"
Zaal was annoyed at the Human who was calling him an idiot again.
"You intend to take the Alarei back from the Geth?" Raan asked for clarification. "This proposal is extremely risky,"
"With respect Admiral, the safety of the fleet comes first. Plus, I'm a minotaur. Other than machines, we live for a good fight,"
"Agreed," Gerrel commented. "And if you die on this worthy, Tali, we'll see that your name gets cleared,"
"We can discuss that later," Zaal said to him in a hushed tone.
"Then it is decided," Raan announced. "You will attempt to retake the Alarei. You are hereby given leave to depart the Rayya. A shuttle will be waiting at the docking hangar. Be safe, Tali. This hearing will resume upon your return or upon the determination that you have been killed in action,"
The crowd quickly dispersed upon the recess. But Shepard Garrus and Tali made their way to the ships to take them to the science ship.
The ship was eerily quiet. A large puddle of Quarrian blood was splashed against the hallway. Tali looked at the blood as they walked by. The door opened at the end of the hallway. The next room had three Geth on the other side.
Garrus opened fire on the Geth to the right blowing its head off. Tali fired one round from her plasma shotgun at the one in the middle. While Shepard fired a couple of rounds from her assault rifle, ripping the final one apart. They then charged into the next room several more Geth entered the room. Three troopers and two hunter-class Geth. The group dived into cover as the Geth opened fire. Zenna was a little slow as she threw a grenade.
It detonated letting out arcs of electric charge stunning the machines and leaving them open to be taken down with ease by the crew.
A room across from the one they were in had a Geth unit inside. Tali entered the room and examined the inactivated construct. "This is one of the storage units I sent to my father. Looks like parts from a disabled repair drone, plus a reflex algorithm that I didn't recognize. I got this on Haestrom,"
"How did you pull that off? Haestrom was a war zone." Zenna asked in a surprised tone
"These suits have more pockets than they look. Quarrians have learned to salvage whatever we can whenever we can. Within reason. We're not Vorcha. But we repair what most people would throw away. Hundreds of the ships in our fleet were salvaged wrecks, either found dead in space or purchased for next to nothing,"
"Does that salvaged Geth give you any clues as to what happened here?"
"No. I don't know. Shepard, I checked everything I sent here. I passed up great finds because they might be too dangerous, prone to uncontrolled reactivation or self-repair." Tali sounded stressed in her voice. "I don't know which possibility is worse. That I got sloppy and accidentally sent something dangerous, or... that father actually did all of this,"
"Come on, let's find out," Zenna motioned to the door.
They continued down the corridor. Along the way, they watched several logs of the Quarrian scientists. Many of them did not sound good, especially one of the mothers leaving a message for her children. The videos did nothing to make Tali feel any better. The group of three fought their way through a couple of labs before they encountered a terminal inside a small room. Tali walked up to it and accessed its files.
"This console might have something," Tali said as she accessed the console. "Most of the data is corrupt, but a few bits are left." She took a minute to quickly read over the data that was left over. "They were performing experiments on Geth systems, looking for a way to overcome Geth resistance to reprogramming,"
"Anything on that console could be used to clear you?" Garrus asked.
"Doubtful. This is mostly results data. Effects of different disruptive hacking techniques. I don't understand it all. But... they may have been activating Geth deliberately. Nothing says specifically. But if they were... then father was doing something terrible. What was all this, father? You promised to build me a house on the homeworld. Was this going to get us back home?"
"Sounds like he made a girl a promise he could not keep. But one I will try to," Zenna said encouragingly.
"Right," Tali sounded a little more positive.
The door led to a two-levelled cargo room. Several Geth entered the room through the door on the left, and about half a dozen entered the room on the bottom floor. Zenna jumped over the railing axe in hand.
"I'll take care of the group down here. You take the ones on the top floor,"
Zenna charged into the group of Geth and was firing at her at point-blank bringing her sword at them cutting them in half followed by a howl. As she did that the other two supported fire for the commander taking down the last of the Geth. Once the area was clear, they moved only to come across a sole dead body, a body that Tali recognises.
"Father!" she cried out running up to his dead body. "No, no you didn't, you promised that you…" but Zenna pulled the Quarrian into a bear hug saying nothing. "Damn it why? Why did he have to do this?"
"He wanted you to be happy," the commander said. "But this won't clear your name or honour his memory,"
"My father might have left a message," Tali said as she pulled away and activated her omni-tool. A hologram appeared of him.
"Tali, if you are watching this, then I am dead. The Geth's main hub will be on the bridge. You'll need to destroy it to stop their VI processes from forming new neural links. Make sure that this ship is destroyed. I hid for as long as I could but I was what happened they..." he broke into a run as he finished.
"Thanks, Dad," Tali said in a solemn tone.
"He knew you would come for him," Shepard tried to comfort her. "He was trying to help you. It's not perfect. It's not what you wanted, but it is the best he could do,"
"I don't know what's worse. Thinking he never cared, or that he did, and this was the only way that he could show it. It doesn't matter. One way or another, I care. And I'm here, and we're ending this. We'll find out in the control room," Tali said.
The three went up the stairs and opened the door to the bridge. Several Geth Surrounded a Geth hunter and prime. The three looked to one another before they moved in and took out the troopers first. The hunter turned invisible but Zenna moved and ripped it appear while Tali's drone distracted the Prime allowing Garrus to take out the shield and managed to get in a few shots before Tali finished it with a shotgun blast.
With the area clear, the group moved up to the terminal. "Is this it?" Zenna asked
"Yes, this is the console hub my father mentioned," Tali replied. "Disabling it will shut down any Geth we might have missed." She accessed the console. "It looks like some of the recordings remain intact. They'll tell us how this happened, what father did,"
"It sounds like you don't really want to hear it," Shepard observed.
"No," she answered him. "We have to, I know. I just... this is terrible, Shepard. I don't want to know that he was part of all this,"
Tali started the video log. It showed a couple of Quarian scientists standing at the terminal. Rael approached them from behind.
"Do we have enough parts to bring more online?" Rael asked the two scientists.
"Yes," the male scientist replied. "The new shipment from your daughter will let us add two more Geth to the network,"
"We are nearing a breakthrough on systemic viral attacks," the female scientist added. "Perhaps we should inform the Admiralty Board just to be safe,"
"No," Rael asserted. "We are too close. I promised to build a house on the homeworld. I'm not going to sit and wait while politicians argue,"
"We'd have an easier time of it if Tali'Zorah could send us more working material," the male scientist suggested.
"Absolutely not," Rael scorned. "I don't want Tali exposed to any political blowback. Leave. Tali. Out of this. Assemble new Geth with what we have. Bypass security protocols if need be." The video cut out.
"He really wanted to keep his promise," Shepard said.
"I never wanted this," Tali said. "Keelah... I never wanted this." She walked away from a few steps. "Everything here is his fault! I tried to pretend it didn't point to him, but this... When this comes up in the trial, they'll..." Tali spun around and walked up to Shepard. "We can't tell them, not the admirals, not anyone,"
Zenna looked towards the video and nodded. "This still has to be settled," she muttered. "And I have an idea,"
The team exited the shuttle and made their way to the hall.
"It's been several hours," Zaal's voice said over the ship's PA. "There is no reason to believe that Tali'Zorah survived,"
"It looks like the hearing has already started," Tali observed.
"We can't just lose hope," Raan argued. "It's only been a couple of hours,"
"A Quarian strike team didn't even last five minutes," Gerrel countered. "Call it,"
"It's a shame that Shepard was a better speaker than he is a soldier," Zaal scoffed. "I would like to propose that we posthumously exile Tali'Zorah."
"That will not be necessary," Zenna said as she said as the three entered the plaza and up to the platform.
"Tell us, Shepard. What did you find on the Alarei?" Gerrel asked.
"What evidence do you wish to present before the Board?" Raan asked.
"Zenna please," Tali begged as the commander stepped forward.
"The data we pulled from the Alarei shows that a virus entered the system," she said shocking both the board and Tali. "The virus can be connected to a message that anyone can get. This particular virus linked itself to other systems to syphon off small amounts of money. Somehow it found its way into one of the deactivated Geth systems and reactivated them," as she spoke, she sent them the information. "Tali and the scientists' abord had nothing to do with the Geth activation. It was just poor virus protection,"
The admirals looked at the data. "This data is good," Gerrel said with a nod followed from the others.
"I believe we can vote then," Raan announced.
The admirals raised their omni-tools and cast their vote. Raan looked at the votes tallied. It was not a surprising result. "On the crime of treason, Tali'Zorah has been found not guilty. Congratulations." She breathed a sigh of relief. "This concludes the hearing. Keelah Se'lai,"
Tali let out a relieved sigh before hitting the minotaur in the arm. "Faking evidence?" she whispered.
Zenna just smiled. "Minotaurs love a good challenge,"